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First Drive – 2018 Honda Odyssey: the modernized minivan

Charlottetown, PEI – The stigma that comes with owning a minivan can be harsh. Most of it is mental, as parents battle a full-on “soccer mom” image, while jealousy of friends without kids or empty nesters rage on.

Regardless whether that's a reality or not, families with multiple kids can benefit from the versatility and convenience a minivan brings. And that's why Chrysler re-branded and re-designed its Pacifica minivan in 2016 – formerly the Chrysler Town & Country – and for this year, it was Honda's turn to showcase how good a minivan can be with its all-new 2018 Odyssey.

“The 2018 Honda Odyssey has everything you need in a minivan,” explains Jean Marc Leclerc, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Honda Canada, at a first drive program in Charlottetown, PEI.

With the surge in new mid- and full-size SUVs on the market, more options have been presented, making the choice of a full-size SUV or minivan not so clear cut. With automakers sprucing up their minivan offerings, it's hard to argue with Leclerc. Honda has made it easy for families to live with a minivan by packing the eight-passenger hauler with new technologies, more connectivity, better fuel economy, easy entry and exit, more interior and cargo space, as well as standard safety features not seen anywhere else.

As for its looks – it's hard to change a boxy behemoth, but Honda has found a way – like the Pacifica – to round out its frame and give it more character with sharper edges and cut lines. It's front fascia led by its chrome grille is reminiscent of the Honda Pilot, and there's nothing wrong with that. It's styling is safe, but in the end, it's a minivan, so safe is probably the right way to go.

Comfort and entertainment awaits inside

Pull on the door handle, and let those sliding doors work their magic. Sliding doors are the most recognizable staple in any minivan, and no longer do we have to manually slide them with force. And with no all-wheel-drive option, that step up is low-to-the-ground – 35 mm lower than the previous iteration – allowing children to easily hop in and out.

But that's not all, as my commercial voice takes over. Honda's second row seating are called “Magic Seats.” With a seven-seat configuration (only two seats in the second row), the magic seats can slide side-to-side or forward-and-back for people to access the back row with plenty of room, and this can be done with a child seat still attached. In addition, these second row seats can either slide together or further apart, which could be crucial to surviving the squabbles that way take place on a lengthy road trip. The only catch is the middle second-row seat has to be physically removed by pulling a few latches, so as easy as this all sounds, there's still a little work to be done.

New high-resolution technology screens modernize the cockpit with a seven-inch TFT unit and an eight-inch touchscreen situated on the leather-filled dash. The navigation system can be finicky at times, but that can be avoided by using Apple Car Play and Android Auto functions through your mobile device, saving you money by moving down a trim or two. A 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot capability comes in the top Touring trim allowing everyone to stay connected while on the road.

Also featured in the top trims are large and comfortable soft leather seating in the front row, as well as an abundance of technology. Two new technology features: CabinWatch (on Touring trim) and CabinTalk (starting at EX-L trim) aim at easing parental worries and allowing for better communication without causing driver distraction through the press of a button. For CabinWatch, a ceiling-mounted camera keeps an eye on both back rows; while CabinTalk allows the front-row occupants to talk to the back row passengers through the rear speakers, muting audio in their headphones.

Safety is imperative for family hauling, and the Odyssey ticks many boxes with a standard suite of Honda Sensing safety technology that includes Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Keeping Assist, Road Departure Mitigation, Collision Mitigation Braking System for vehicles and pedestrians, Forward Collision Warning and Lane Departure Warning. Lane Watch and Blind Spot Information System is available as you go up trim levels.

How does it drive?

Driving is always secondary when it comes to a minivan. It won't be the sole reason one chooses a model, but it plays a part in the decision making process.

The 2018 Odyssey has one engine offering: a direct-injected 3.5-litre V6 that produces 280 hp and 262 lb.-ft. of torque. Both numbers are up from the 2017 model by 30 hp and 12 lb.-ft. of torque, but the interesting story comes in the form of a 10-speed automatic transmission for the upper trims (a nine-speed automatic is the standard option).

The 10-speed gearbox is pretty seamless on the road helping it achieve a class-leading 12.2/8.5/10.6 fuel economy split (city/highway/combined in L/100 km) with the aid of a variable cylinder management system. But it's not just the gearbox that's non-disruptive; the whole vehicle is a quiet sanctuary when cruising with no floor vibrations and the placement of acoustic glass and windshield to allow conversation to flow effortlessly.

When pushed, especially uphill, the Odyssey – like many other larger utes – blurts out faint huffing noises to lug its 2,086 kg frame. It's not the quickest vehicle in the lot, but it's not supposed to be, and the ride stays comfortable and relaxed whether on the highway or in the city, and even stays composed on shoddy roads. The electronic steering corners more like an SUV or crossover with precision and decent road feel.

The only thing that needs to go is its electronic gear shift. It's situated below the touchscreen in order to provide more room for cubby holes, but ends up only being an irritant for the driver. It doesn't even look good with its blocky buttons, and most importantly, it's difficult and slow to use due to its “trigger-type” reverse button, especially on three-point turns.


The all-new 2018 Honda Odyssey does have everything you need in a minivan. It really just comes down to whether you can cope with the stigma attached to these minivans, but these automakers are making it easy to shed those worries with better styling, added comfort and technology, versatility and cargo space, and class-leading fuel economy numbers that saw me achieve a combined 9.5 L/100 km on my tour of Charlottetown.

It's starting price of $34,890 is higher than others on the market, but it also comes standard with many features including heated seats and a suite of safety equipment not found at the base trim level. For the base price, it's a reasonable package received, and a lot better deal than the Touring model that tops out at $50,290 – a steep price to pay for LED headlamps and fog lights, Wi-Fi, CabinWatch and a 10-speed automatic transmission.

The 2018 Honda Odyssey puts some spice back into the minivan segment and will give the Chrysler Pacifica a run for its money. The Odyssey arrives at dealerships on June 8.

First Drive – 2018 Chevrolet Equinox: it's all about timing


Niagara, ON – Whenever a new vehicle goes through a generational cycle, a spike in sales is imperative. With the compact crossover segment in a current sales boom, there's no better time to release the all-new 2018 Equinox and reap the rewards.

The timing of the Equinox's release has thus far panned out. Through March 2017, the Equinox has been on a surge, sitting in sixth position with a 43.7 percent year-over-year Canadian sales jump.

The Equinox has not gone through a major makeover since 2010, making the third-generation model one of the most, if not the most, important vehicle for the Chevrolet brand, as it takes on the likes of the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Toyota Rav4, Ford Escape, Hyundai Tucson, Mazda CX-5, and the list can keep going on.

Chevrolet is going into battle with a product that's shorter and lighter, yet more spacious than its previous iteration. Weight has been reduced by 181 kg (400 lbs.), thanks in large part to its shorter frame, as well as its chassis being made of high-strength steel. But Chevrolet used a little ingenuity to find more cargo space with an added 3 cu.-ft. of storage space underneath the trunk for a maximum cargo space (while the second row is folded flat) of 1,798 litres.

Another major change comes under the hood with three new engine choices being offered – two gas versions and a diesel. They will all be released at different times, starting with the currently available turbocharged, 1.5-litre four-cylinder that produces 170 hp and 203 lb-ft of torque. The base unit is matched only to a six-speed automatic transmission with a choice of standard front-wheel-drive (FWD) or the optional all-wheel-drive (AWD).

If those numbers seem a bit odd – they are. The 2018 version's horsepower gets lowered 12 hp, while its torque gets a boost of 31 lb-ft. The reduction in weight and additional torque create the necessary power for the Equinox to keep pace with other vehicles on the road, as well as those in its segment.

In June, production will begin on the 2.0-litre four-cylinder that has 252 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque matched to a nine-speed automatic transmission geared for impressive fuel economy. To be followed in the fall with a segment-first 1.5-litre diesel powertrain that generates 136 hp and a whopping 236 lb-ft of torque paired to that same six-speed automatic unit. According to Chevrolet Canada, the diesel will achieve segment-leading highway and combined fuel economy rated at 7.4 L/100 km in the city, 5.7 L/100 km on the highway and a 6.9 L/100 km combined.

But for this first drive program around the scenic roads of Niagara, Ontario, our chariot was the volume-selling 1.5-litre unit. The drive was quiet, unassuming and smooth – a perfect companion around the equally-smooth roads of Niagara-on-the-Lake and Niagara Falls. Everything about it was comfortable from its two-tone leather seats (a Premier trim addition) to its decent amount of headroom and legroom in both rows. Even its centre console acted as the perfect armrest while navigating through city traffic or on the highway.


When cruising, the Equinox proved its worth as an errands-soldier for families. However, when pushed, the gearbox gets a little noisy with some high revving, but that comes with the crossover territory. Even though, it won't set any speed records, the ute handles sharp turns effectively without need for correction or much body roll. Steering finds a nice, middle-of-the-road balanced setting that's not to loose, allowing you to fully keep control on turns.

According to Chevrolet Canada's presentation, the Equinox is being labelled as the 'perfect balance of style and function' – and it totally makes sense. Not only is its interior well crafted with soft-touch materials (especially noticeable in the Premier trim provided), it's versatile with room to fit five passengers comfortably, carry a big load with the second row folded flat, or tow up to 1,500 pounds. In addition, I was able to achieve a 7.8 L/100 combined fuel economy rating – a notch below its official combined AWD rating of 7.9.

As smooth as it drives, one of its best attributes comes down to value. Like other Chevrolet products, the Equinox possesses many standard features such as a rear vision camera, On Star with 4G LTE WiFi, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a parental control safety system called Teen Driver, a seven-inch touchscreen with MyLink, standard stop/start technology, heated front seats and heated rear view mirrors. It's a lot to receive starting at a price of $26,995 that already includes freight and A/C tax.

As you move up the ladder, the prices go up – all the way to a starting price of $35,395 for the Premier AWD, but that even comes at a discount from the previous iteration that didn't possess even close to the amount of technology and elevated design.

The all-new 2018 Chevrolet Equinox has all the tools to be a successful crossover at a time when crossovers are in high demand. It's not the most exciting crossover offered, but it offers a complete package of design, value and reasonable fuel economy, only to be made better by the soon-to-market diesel in the fall that will resonate with many families.

First Drive – 2017 Land Rover Discovery: still the all-versatile warrior

St. George, UT – Snow-covered mountain peaks, large red rock formations and a deep sand dune were all part of a playground for the all-new 2017 Land Rover Discovery. Seems fitting for the capabilities of a Land Rover product, even though they're customers rarely taken to task. On this two-day journey through the heart of both Utah and Arizona desert country that saw us cross into Zion National Park and Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, Land Rover aimed to prove how capable the newly-sculpted Discovery still is.

The Discovery nameplate may not be new globally, but in North America, it's taking over for the LR4. A refreshing change to an off-roading SUV that needed a complete overhaul from its mundane name to its aging boxy style. Canadian sales stayed status quo for the LR4 in 2016, but the British brand needed to aspire for more than triple digit sales numbers, which meant being niche in its off-road capabilities and not in the looks department as well.

A transformation in design

At 2,080 kg – 20 percent lighter (480 kg) than the LR4 with most of its construction out of aluminum – the Discovery resembles other luxury SUVs with a rounded, more aggressively-sculpted appearance. According to Phil Simmons, Land Rover’s Studio Director for Exterior Design, Land Rover wanted to “build on the [Range Rover] Evoque's styling cues that resonated emotionally with customers. A progressive more adventurous design that goes along with the brand's heritage.”

The driving force behind the sleek look comes down to aerodynamics – the 2017 model achieves a coefficient drag of 0.33. The smooth front corners remove bulk in front of the wheel allowing it to not only look planted, but have air flow around the sides to the back of the wheel arch, reducing wind noise and fuel economy in the process. The rear end takes on a whole new look with horizontal LED taillights and an off-centred license plate that bucks the trend.

Its exterior takes a while to get used to, but don't judge a book by its cover. This Discovery can still sit seven, has class leading ground clearance of 283 mm, 900 mm of wading depth when in need of some refreshment, can climb large mountains and tow up to 3,500 kg. And outside of the towing, that's exactly what we accomplished, and all of that with ease.

Conquering challenges along the way

Before we get into its on-road and off-road prowess, let's go over the two engine choices offered: a supercharged, 340-hp 3.0-litre V6 gas unit with 332 lb.-ft. of torque and a turbocharged, 254-hp 3.0-litre diesel V-6 with an impressive 443 lb.-ft. of torque. Both are matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission and a top-of-the-line four-wheel-drive (4x4) system.

That 4x4 system is what separates the contenders from the pretenders and Land Rover has numerous drive modes that include: Auto, Rock/Crawl, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud/Ruts and Sand. Land Rover didn't hold back on the Discovery's capabilities, putting on a first class presentation of its skills with no stone left unturned.

Sandy trails were just an appetizer for the Discovery, as the diesel unit powered through those quicksand dips, turns and inclines with only minor moments of fear, but that was more to do with the driver getting acquainted with the sandy terrain.

Once settled in, it was those Coral Pink Dunes that teleported us to a scene in a modernized movie version of Lawrence of Arabia. The sand was deep, the inclines steep, and the Discovery had to find its own lines to gain any traction. After watching the lead instructor get bogged down in some heavy sand twice, it was clear this was no easy task, but this is why our tire pressure was lowered. Amazingly, every single Discovery made its way up, down and sideways through the dunes. The key was keeping momentum and powering ahead, and when done successfully without driver error, the Discovery made it past every challenge.

The last major off-road obstacle was a rock crawl. Once again, this wasn't your typical trail, but plenty of instructors were on-hand. The rocks were large, edgy, and at times, they appeared never ending. The Discovery was put in low-range and outside of a little slip right at the beginning, yours truly made a slow crawl through the most difficult rocks without any second attempts. I've been with other capable off-roaders, granted not on the same course nor with these amount of instructors, but that typically comes with a few gear shifts to get the job accomplished.

Calm, composed and quiet

The off-road obstacles were clearly the highlight of this first drive. But on reflection, it was the on-road component that became the most impressive part. And before you roll your eyes, give me a second to explain.

We expect a Land Rover to be able to be an off-road warrior – it's been doing that since its inception. What makes this new version unique is that it turns into a quiet and composed drive that allows all occupants to sit back and enjoy the plush luxuries of its cockpit. It's all about versatility and the fact that it can transform into a regular SUV with improved fuel economy – we managed a combined 10.5 L/100 km in the diesel version and 8.9 L/100 in the gas model in mostly highway driving – gives it an edge over its luxury competitors.

The LR4 never had great handling skills, but for a girthy SUV, that comes with the territory. For 2017, the Discovery still isn't the easiest to manoeuvre, but advancements have been made with turning more direct and in less need of wheel correction. In addition, braking tended to be a little slow and in need of additional pressure, but that's something that can be worked out over time.

Overall, the gas and diesel powertrains were similar rides. A few key differences of note came down to acceleration and off-road climbs. The gas version showed better chops when in need of some acceleration on the highway or while navigating city streets. On the other hand, the diesel accessed that extra amount of torque to perform some difficult rock climbs at an easier rate.

Tech-savvy interior

The technology used in its off-roading capabilities may be equal to the ones found inside. The layout is easy to understand and filled with gadgets that include 21 storage bins, nine USB ports, six 12-volt power outlets, a Wi-Fi hotspot and a rotary transmission dial. The only downside was its new 10-inch touchscreen that may use vibrant colours and graphics, but became difficult to use with slow reaction times and buttons too small to accurately press when scrolling through radio stations and other functions.


As frustrating as the touchscreen can be, Land Rover makes up for it in the cargo department. A one-piece liftgate breaks away from the previous split setup and supplies a handy hop-on shelf that can hold three people. In total, there is 2,500 litres of cargo space with both rows folded down, which reduces to 2,406 litres in the seven-passenger setup. Seat folding controls are made easy with electronic switches in the trunk or on the touchscreen that fold in 14 seconds. If only the third row needs to be flattened, the second row intelligently slides forward to allow for a fully flat canvass.


The 2017 Land Rover Discovery turns a chapter on the boxy-look we've all grown accustomed to. Its new sleek and rounded exterior may resemble a similar tone like most luxury SUVs on the market, but it's a whole lot more. The Discovery showed its strengths during rock climbs and sand dunes, but its transformation into a quiet and comfortable street cruiser makes it the total package.

Not only will it appeal to more consumers, it has everything that was rugged and versatile about the LR4 carried over along with more technology and improved fuel economy. The Discovery will start at $61,500 and go up to $82,500 with Canadian sales to begin in May.


A Ford showcase of winter performance

Notre-Dame-de-la-Merci, QC – Depending on where you live, winters in Canada can be harsh with snow- and ice-covered roads to tackle on everyday commutes. 2017 has taken that a step further as piles of snow have touched down across the country from the west to east coast.

Some may see this cold and snowy weather as a negative, but there's another side to this coin, and that's how much fun you can have in it. Snowboarding or tobogganing are always great choices, but Ford had a different plan in mind, and that was to show off two very distinct vehicles in its production line – the Ford F-150 Raptor pickup and the Ford Focus RS.

The Raptor and Focus RS are high-performance variants, and Ford wanted a host of journalists to see how well they can tackle the snow, ice and even muddy tracks of the Mecaglisse Motorsport Complex, a few hours north of Montreal.

Both products were fitted with winter foot gear: BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2s for the Raptor and Michelin Pilot Alpin PA4s for the RS, which switched to studded tires for a closed-course off-road session.

The all-conquering Ford F-150 Raptor

The Raptor is all about conquering various terrain, and the ice and snow of Mecaglisse would be no exception. To fully test the truck out, a street and off-road trail section were set up. We won't get too much into the street portion, as it did its business in routine fashion. The few takeaways were a quieter ride than expected, as well as a smooth transition of gear changes up and down its new 10-speed unit. Outside of that, it charged through the snow and handled those skinny roads gracefully. When needing to back out or make a three-point turn, it was still as challenging as any truck would be.

The true test came down to the off-road trail that was littered with icy patches and a splashy mud pit. With its 3.5-litre EcoBoost V-6 engine producing 450 hp and 510 lb.-ft. of torque – increased numbers from the outgoing V-8 – the Raptor had no issues getting going; it was just a matter of staying on track.

Most of the time, staying balanced on ice has more to do with the driver than the vehicle. If the driver understands the proper techniques of lifting and accelerating when necessary to gain traction, the truck will do the proper work. However, all of that was achieved with once again, a smooth determination that stayed relatively balanced and comfortable at all times. There was no bouncing, sliding or vibrating around the cockpit, leading to a composed ride that felt lighter, thanks to a weight savings of 227 kg from the use of military grade, aluminum alloy for the body and high strength steel for the frame.

The driver's decisions could be key in any icy situation, but it was the Raptor that cut through those divots like a champ, especially the mud pit. With exceptional ground clearance and absorbent FOX Racing Shox under the chassis that stiffen the suspension, the Raptor powered through without any damage to the underbody. We even put it in Sport mode on the second run, and the same results were achieved at a quicker pace.

Slip and sliding with the Focus RS

The Ford Focus RS was made for extreme conditions. Perhaps, Ford had in mind some race tracks and rally courses littered with pavement and dirt, but the icy and drift-worthy track of Mecaglisse fits right in. The combination of the RS' 2.3-litre EcoBoost inline-four that produces an impressive 350 hp and 350 lb.-ft. of torque, a standard six-speed manual gearbox, and an all-wheel-drive (AWD) system with torque vectoring, makes for one eventful day in a hot hatch.

On this particular day, we wouldn't be testing out its straight line speed; rather we would see first hand its handling prowess, stability, braking abilities and pure fun factor. Just like the Raptor, the Focus RS handled a different closed off course with ease. Its twin-scroll turbocharger assisted on initial acceleration which quickly responded and pushed ahead, never getting bogged down in the snow. Furthermore, it was able to stop in a quick fashion when needed.

There are four drive modes: Normal, Sport, Track and Drift, but drift would be the only option on this day. The most notable moment was around an icy circle without any traction. The RS slid its way tippy-toeing at first and then gradually finding traction on the outside snow in pure drift style. Much of this balance is due to the AWD and torque vectoring that can send 70 of its engine power to its rear wheels, and 100 percent of that to either side, eliminating any understeer. The system works in such a rapid pace through the monitoring of multiple vehicle sensors 100 times per second.


It's rare for the Ford F-150 Raptor and Focus RS to come together at one event, but this true winter test showed the extreme capabilities of both variant products. The Raptor and Focus RS stayed balanced and wanting more, and the best part about it was, you knew both machines could be pushed even further.

The starting prices of $48,418 for the Focus RS and $68,399 for the Raptor won't be the cheapest out there, but that's what makes them variants. This was only a winter test, but if they can be so smooth and effective in these situations, can you imagine what both are capable of the rest of the time?

First Drive – 2017 Hyundai Ioniq: the power of three

Kelowna, BC – It seems like each month another automaker rolls out a new alternative powertrain vehicle. It's simply the wave of the future, but one that hasn't caught on in the sales department.

Hyundai is hoping to change that static trajectory with its first dedicated electrified vehicle – the Ioniq. The name sounds a bit futuristic, but this will be one of many new eco models – 28 to be exact between Hyundai, Genesis, and sister brand Kia – by 2020. According to Hyundai CEO and president Don Romano, “we're in this alternative powertrain for the long haul...we don't know what that ultimate solution will be, and it may just be a combination of all.”

And with the Ioniq, it's clear Hyundai isn't putting its eggs in just one basket with three drivetrains: hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric. The first two to be released to the public are the hybrid and electric, and those versions were available to test on this exclusive test drive in Kelowna, BC. The plug-in hybrid will be released closer to the end of the year.

It can be tricky to find a mild climate in February, especially in Canada, and that would be the case on the snowy streets of Kelowna after a 20 cms snowfall. Not an ideal setting for an electrified vehicle, but sometimes that's the unexpected way life is, and the one positive it provided was the opportunity for a practical situational weather test.

As much as the Ioniq was built for optimal fuel efficiency, Hyundai made sure that the look and feel of the vehicle would appeal to everyday consumers. Therefore, we see the combination of style and substance that Hyundai is calling 'Visual Aero.'  Both the hybrid and all-electric versions start with a forward-moving aerodynamic silhouette that provides some nice curves and visuals for the hatch, along with a class-leading drag coefficient of 0.24 that is supported by air curtains that divert airflow.

The big difference between the two is found smack dab in its grille. The hybrid sports Hyundai's signature hexagonal grille with rakish horizontal slats, while the electric has the same shape but with the entire grille blacked out. The blacked out look may stand out more, but it's not the better of the two. The hybrid grille simply adds more character to its exterior and provides a better design flow throughout. The electric version does receive its own styling for its bi-xenon headlights and LED taillights.

Without styling, it's hard to break in any new product, but the key to Ioniq is clearly in its powertrains. The hybrid utilizes a new direct-injection 1.6-litre Atkinson four-cylinder engine that produces 104 hp and 109 lb.-ft. of torque that's matched to a six-speed dual clutch transmission (DCT) – the same setup found in the new Kia Niro. When combined with a 32 kW electronic motor that's powered by 1.56 kWh lithium-ion battery, the total performance of the vehicle ramps up to 139 hp and a whopping 195 lb.-ft. of torque. In addition, the hybrid has a world's first consolidated 12-volt battery, which can be accessed when a jump start is needed.

The all-electric version naturally discards the gas engine and runs solely on an 88 kW electric motor in conjunction with a 28 kWh lithium-ion battery and matched to a single-speed reduction gear shifter to a tune of 118 hp and 218 lb.-ft. of torque. The EV can go a fairly long distance, up to 200 km/h on a full charge that takes up to 4.5 hours on a Level 2 charging station and only 30 minutes on a Level 3.

There are several key attributes to the electric system. The first is a battery management system that pre-warms the battery while charging for a 14 percent improvement in quick charge time. Secondly, a new heat pumping system reduces the use of the Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning System (HVAC) that allows an increase of 16.1 percent driving range.

The day started in the electric version that was fully charged up and ready to go. Initial acceleration was championed by its instant torque, as it pushed forward in the hotel complex in a quiet and smooth manner. Once hitting the main roads, it was quickly discovered that this drive would be more about traction than gradual coasting. It was a balancing act for an EV drive, as it's rare to press the accelerator to the max, quickly draining the battery in the process. Sport mode is available, and that's a bonus for those moments when the pace needs to be picked up.

With the heating only slightly on, the initial range was lowered to 184 kms, and after a lengthy hour and a half drive, we managed to still have 96 kms left thanks to a sophisticated regenerative braking system that worked effectively when coasting or braking without the typical EV sounds. For more control of the regenerating process, there are paddle shifters on the steering wheel with three levels that controls the aggression of energy recuperation.

From a gas savings perspective, the Ioniq electric did its job as it's officially rated ahead of some heavy hitters in the Chevrolet Bolt, Volkswagen e-Golf and Nissan Leaf with a combined fuel economy of 1.7 Le/100 km. There were some traction issues, as the weight of the battery is found under the second row, so this car wouldn't be the recommended choice during a cold and heavy snowfall for various reasons.

When switching to the hybrid, an entirely different picture was painted. The hybrid possessed plenty of traction, and it didn't just look like a regular gas car, it drove like one as well. The DCT enhances the drive with a more rapid throttle response and overall lively drive that was demonstrated during a handling exercise. The Ioniq hybrid was placed into Sport mode and accelerated briskly to the stopping zone. After that, it was all about its dutiful handling through a slalom with quick reactions to minor steering inputs from its flat-bottomed steering wheel. It didn't carry the overwhelming speed needed for a exhilarating ride, but in the end, it's a hybrid, and that will always be structured to maximize fuel economy over speed. And when you see a combined 4.9 L/100 km fuel economy rating as I did at the end of the drive, you'll understand why and be happy about it.

The drive through the picturesque roads of Kelowna through the vast wineries was pleasant. Very little road noise or vibrations were felt in an overall comfortable ride in a cabin that was neatly organized, comfortable and easily laid out through its seven- or optional eight-inch screen and LCD information screens. Hyundai uses a host of recycled or eco-friendly materials such as sugar cane and powdered wood that doesn't get noticed, which is a win-win for the owner and the environment. The one thing that became a nuisance while driving was visibility. Yes, the snow had an impact on this, but the split rear window was too narrow causing difficulty at certain times along the drive. 

Technology features are abundant throughout the trim lines, but the Ioniq receives a few standards that include heated front seats, a rear view camera, as well as Apple Car Play and Android Auto. For heated rear seats, you need to go up a trim level from the base; while a heated steering wheel is standard on all trims except for the base hybrid. Other safety technology options include Lane Departure Warning, Blind Spot Detection with Lane Change Assist and Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and Autonomous Emergency Braking with pedestrian detection.  

Cargo space in all Ioniq versions are similar with a total of 3,474 litres in the hybrid with the second row down, while the electric gets 3,375. Cargo space is identical in the passenger compartment areas, and it only changes in the trunk with the hybrid receiving 100 litres more for a total of 750.

The 2017 Hyundai Ioniq will be on sale shortly at a starting hybrid price of $24,000. Other prices will follow, as the Ioniq attempts to be the value option that competes head-on with the Toyota Prius for its hybrid and the new Chevrolet Bolt when it comes to all-electric. Hyundai will be hoping that its price advantage, multiple powertrain options and large cargo area become a decisive turning point for buyers.

The concentration of sales will clearly be in the provinces of British Colombia, Ontario and Quebec where government incentives can tip the scale in making the electric version max out in Ontario at $14,000 less than the asking price. The hybrid will only receive a $500 break in Quebec, but when the plug-in version arrives that can save up to $8,200.

Test Drive – 2016 BMW 650i xDrive Cabriolet

The 6-series is a unique proposition from BMW filling the brand’s void of a high-end coupe in its line-up. Making its debut in 1976, the model was discontinued at the end of the 1980’s only to be resurrected in 2003. And what a comeback it was.

The 6-series featured a sporty exterior accentuated by drooping taillights and BMW’s second implementation of the controversial split trunk lid designed by Chris Bangle, after the E65 7-series. The 6-series gave the now-defunct Mercedes CL coupe a run for its money.

The third-generation of the 6-series, launched in 2011, is a physical representation of what a 7-series coupe would look like sans two doors. With its low profile and sweeping styling, the new 6-series is a strong contender against current Mercedes high-end coupes like the SL and the S-class coupe. For those who need more room than the SL’s two seats, and can’t imagine spending over $150,000 on a 2-door S-Class, the 6-series is a perfect blend of space and value in the high-end segment. One might even argue that the 6-series, like the X6, is inventing its own category by providing a unique offering. Luckily, I had the opportunity to get behind the 6-series to put it to the test.

My tester was a 650i convertible equipped with a twin-turbo, 4.4-litre eight-cylinder engine outputting 445 hp at 5,500 rpm. Those wanting a smaller engine would have to trade out two cylinders for two more doors, as the 4-door Gran Coupe is the only 6-series offered with a 3-litre six-cylinder engine.

Both engine choices are paired with ZF-derived eight-speed automatics as standard equipment. This lively transmission shifts rapidly between gears, and does a fantastic job of matching the driver’s throttle requirement with the relevant gear. Those seeking a clutch pedal for some shifting pleasure will be hard-pressed to find one on anything less than an M6.

The 650i has had a mid-cycle refresh since its third-generation launch, but only a true BMW aficionado can point out what’s changed. While the changes are mild, the original futuristic design still proves timeless, and still very much in line with the latest 7-series design language. The minor design changes include a refreshed air intake and an updated kidney grille. The headlights have also been updated, moving the turn signals to the top and aiding to a slimmer profile. Adaptive LED headlamps are now standard and have a beautiful fade effect when they are toggled. All else is consistent with the pre-refresh model, which is a good thing.

Stepping inside, one will notice the flawless blend between design and technology. It’s great that BMW stuck with the myriad of buttons inside the cabin to control everything from the radio to the climate control, instead of assigning it all to the iDrive system. The iDrive system itself has a very executive feel with its slick interface and large dial – all displayed on a 10.2-inch super wide non-touchscreen. The dashboard features another 10.2-inch digital display that's partially covered to make the gauges look realistic. Toggling between the driving modes brings the digital dash to life, displaying different gauges depending on what information is relevant to the driving experience.

What I enjoy most about mid-to-high range BMWs is the configurable and highly responsive driving modes. There are five driving modes: Sport+, Sport, Comfort, Comfort+, and EcoPro. On EcoPro, the on-board computer limits the response level between the throttle and the engine, while also limiting the RPMs. Even under this fuel-efficient mode, pushing hard on the throttle for longer, temporarily disengages the EcoPro mode and the engine outputs more power to meet the driver’s requirement. Sport+ on the other hand just brings out the raw power of the engine and an unadulterated relationship between the engine and the throttle comes to life. The ZF transmission performed consistently fast under all modes, although its quick shifts and high notes were most notable in Sport+.

With its 5-series derived platform and massive twin-turbo V8 engine, the 650i is not a light car by any means. This heavyweight weighs 300 kilograms more than the 449 horsepower V8 Mercedes SL550. Even with its much heavier body, it still manages to do 0-100 km/h run in close to 4.2 seconds, compared to the SL’s 4.1 time.

Overall, the 6-series is a distinct high-end offering for the discerning car buyer in the market for a unique product. With its athletic styling and driver-centric performance – all in a relatively spacious package, it offers the sheer driving pleasure and brand distinction craved by the affluent alike.

2017 Lincoln MKZ review

Lincoln has spent the past few years introducing their crossover and SUV lineup, equipping them with the latest technology and cutting-edge designs. While we have seen these in the new MKC and MKX crossovers, it’s now time for the luxury automaker to rejuvenate the sedan category as well.

With only two sedans being offered, Lincoln doesn’t provide a full offering like BMW, Mercedes and Lexus. Instead, the brand plays in a different luxury space along with Infiniti, Acura and Cadillac.

Its fleet-preferred Continental was discontinued in 2012 and brought back this year, while the alternative MKS has been deemed one of the slowest sellers in the full-size segment. Hence, Lincoln has been heavily reliant on the success of its entry-level offering, the Lincoln MKZ.

The Lincoln MKZ is currently the sole breadwinner for the brand in the sedan segment. Redesigned in 2013, its state-of-the-art technology and futuristic design was lauded by buyers. Arguably, it was the first Lincoln to reposition the entire brand toward a younger market.

For 2017, the MKZ has been redesigned with the most striking changes at the front of the car. The sweeping headlights on the outgoing model have been replaced by multi-element LED headlights. There's nothing conventional about them with five individual HID lighting elements that offer great wide-angle visibility on the road, while the bright LED lighting strip accentuates the sheer width of the headlights. The dual grille has been replaced by a chrome-infused Jaguar-like design that echoes the shape of the Lincoln logo.

When inside, one realizes how modern the interior has gotten. The annoying touch-sensitive buttons on the outgoing model that required you at times to take your eyes off the road, have been replaced by physical dials and knobs to control temperature and audio.

Another welcome change, the old MyLincoln Touch system has been replaced with Sync3 through an eight-inch touchscreen. How is this better? The outgoing Microsoft-based touchscreen was terrible for its performance issues and screen freezing. The completely redesigned Sync3 is based on Blackberry’s QNX system over a Linux platform. Aside from the logo and background, it doesn't differ from the Sync3 system found on Ford vehicles.

The MKZ offers up three performance variants. The base model is offered as a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo outputting a healthy 245 hp (@5,500rpm) and 275 lb.-ft. of torque (@3,000rpm). Step up to the twin-turbo 3.0-litre V-6, and you're in hot-rod territory with a mind blowing 400 hp (@5,500rpm) and 400 lb.-ft. of torque (@2,750rpm) at your disposal. For fuel economy buffs, the MKZ is also offered with a 2.0-litre hybrid engine that puts out 188 hp and a paltry 129 lb.-ft. of torque. The best part about it is you can get the hybrid for the same price as the base model.

It also has some very cool options, some of which have been transported over from Ford. Unfortunately, to get most of these options you would need to upgrade to the Reserve trim and fork over some extra money. For instance, $2,450 can get you the Technology Package with Park Assist which can essentially park the car via a parallel or perpendicular position. Or you can pay an exorbitant $3,450 to turn your car into a four-door convertible. The panoramic roof option replaces the entire roof with one enormous pane of glass that shifts itself over the rear windshield with the push of a button.

Although its tame performance and profile isn't going to turn the heads of Mercedes C-Class, BMW 3-Series or Lexus IS owners; the MKZ’s larger size is attractive to younger family-oriented buyers looking for more space. With 436 litres of cargo space, there's a lot of space in the back, however a narrow profile could cause a bit of stress when travelling. 

The verdict: The 2017 Lincoln MKZ is an attractive entry-level luxury sedan that's perfect for individuals looking for a luxury car with mid-size space at an affordable compact price starting at $42,000. With an outstanding array of luxury, technology and prestige that’s reflected through its rarity, the MKZ is almost as exclusive as any of its German counterparts.

First Drive – 2017 Honda CR-V

Victoria, BC – No one will argue about the Honda Civics success, especially in Canada, as the No. 1 selling passenger car for 18 consecutive years, soon to be going on 19. The Civic has been a pillar of strength for Honda, but there are other reasons why Honda has been able to retain a top-three brand sales position in Canada.

One of those reasons is the CR-V; it's compact crossover, now in its 20th year and onto its fifth-generation. Sales are still strong, but recently the CR-V has taken a step back in terms of 'wow' factor, compared to its other big rivals in the Toyota Rav4, Ford Escape and even the Nissan Rogue. These points haven't been lost on Honda and were even pointed out by Dave Gardner, Senior Vice President of Operations at Honda Canada.

“The compact SUV has been one of our few blemishes,” said Gardner.

Now let's be realistic for a second, the CR-V isn't a blemish. It's refreshing to hear someone talk about its faults, but the 2016 version is still a decent crossover that happens to be tailored to a more conservative clientele. Yes, it also lacks in performance; however, it's nothing to be ashamed about.

In their rhetoric, what Honda wanted to make clear was that there's much more to the company than simply the Civic. And that comes at a time when the largest sales segment is compact crossovers/SUVs, so the Japanese outfit is making its move in prime time. After all, the CR-V helped to invent the compact crossover segment 20 years ago with the debut of the CR-V, when many others doubted its longevity for the North American market.

For 2017, Honda isn't holding anything back on the CR-V as they take every main negative: exterior styling, plain cabin experience, vehicle performance and value; and turn all those into positives.

“We want this [fifth-generation] CR-V, the Civic of the compact crossover segment,” said Hayato Mori, Senior Manager of Product Planning and Business Development at Honda Canada.

For the first drive, Honda hosted a group of journalists on the west coast of Canada on Vancouver Island. We were stationed in Victoria, and the drive would take us down the coast through Sooke and due to personal navigational error into Port Renfrew.

The navigational error wasn't a bad thing at all, as the roads to Port Renfrew were some of the more challenging, curvy roads we would encounter, and that made for an exceptional test of the CR-V's new turbocharged, 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine and its handling prowess.

The new turbo engine – the same one found in the Civic – is the only one offered in Canada on all trims from LX to Touring. It produces 190 hp and 179 lb.-ft. of torque (more than the Civic) and matched to a reasonably-sounding continuously variable transmission (CVT). All-wheel-drive (AWD) is standard on all trims, except LX, where its placed as an option above 2WD.

Performance improvements were definitely needed on the CR-V. The turbo engine won't show it too much in the numbers, but I definitely sensed some more pep behind the wheel. Throughout the drive, it seemed to carry the perfect amount of power needed for this utility vehicle. Sometimes, there's more than enough power; while other times, there's a lack of oomph, but Honda seems to get it right with this new setup.

It all starts with a smooth initial acceleration that quietly gets up to speed. As you press down on the accelerator, the typical CVT whining doesn't show; instead a more linear acceleration is noticed and appreciated. The quiet ride enhances the tranquil state that's felt behind the wheel, only to be made more comfortable by its seating that provides not only great visibility, but an exquisite driving position with a healthy does of head and leg room. There are many vehicles I get into where I fiddle in agony over an ideal seating position, and the CR-V I have to say, was a pleasure to be in.

As tranquil as it is, there still is a tendency for boredom behind the wheel. It should still be noted, that many crossovers fall into this lack of energy category, so the CR-V shouldn't be picked on. It's still conservative in many ways, just a lot better than it was, and that pleasantly shows in its handling and balance as well. Small inputs to the steering wheel were needed throughout the twists and turns, keeping the CR-V direct at all times, while soaking up plenty of the imperfections on the road. There were, however, certain corners where steering response was a tad slow. Once again, it should be noted, that we were coming in hot, something the CR-V had a bit of trouble managing.

One attribute that Honda was raving about was class-leading fuel economy numbers. For the AWD units, a rating of 8.7 L/100 km can be had in the city and a 7.2 L/100 km on the highway. During the ride on Vancouver Island, the CR-V was able to muster a combined 7.4 L/100 km, mostly from highway-type driving. Regardless of the reason, the number is still pretty decent for a hauler that weighs 1,557 kg, and those numbers can be enhanced by using an Eco driving mode.

One of the glaring blemishes discussed earlier was exterior styling. Honda's conservative nature is well documented, and they didn't re-write the book with this new CR-V, but they sure tightened its shape and image.

It all starts with the new platform its sits on that's broader, bolder and wider. The most noticeable change occurs in its front fascia that showcases a two-layer chrome grille with cool-looking flared fenders and standard LED lighting, that's also featured on the back side. Overall, it's more sleek and larger appearance will attract more attention and that's exactly what the bland looking previous iteration desperately needed.

As impressive as the outside looks, more significant changes are found on the inside. The wider and taller makeup is noticed immediately with a more spacious back row. At times, a crossover can only be as good as its versatility, and Honda made sure of that with increasing rear leg room and cargo space (1.8m of flat cargo space), while retaining a similar overall length. In addition, the centre console can be constructed in three different ways, while a hands-free power tailgate can be accessed through an upward kicking motion and also adjusted with a choice of three heights. 

The design takes on plenty of hard and soft materials that help to elevate the look and feel of the CR-V. Yes, once again it's a big improvement in soft-touch leather, but the faux wood trim comes off a bit cheap. On the other hand, the seven-inch touchscreen is less clunky and easy to use, and that includes the addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. What it also includes is the rebirth of the volume knob. Honda has listened to its critics and brought this simple feature back after a two-year hiatus.

Canadians will be treated to a few exclusive perks that include a heated steering wheel and heated rear seats in EX-L and Touring models, as well as a panoramic moonroof for the Touring trim.

Lastly, CR-V owners will be treated to Honda's suite of safety technology, called Honda Sensing, that's standard on all AWD units. New technologies for 2017 include: Adaptive Cruise Control with Low-speed follow and Road Departure Mitigation, and that's on top of the plethora of technology aids that are already a part of the system.

The 2017 Honda CR-V goes on sale in late December at a cost that's only $400-$1,000 (depending on trim) more than its outgoing model. The starting price is $26,690 for the LX 2WD, but for AWD, you will need to go up to $29,490; while it tops out at $38,090 for the Touring trim.

In the fastest growing segment, Honda isn't taking any chances with its CR-V. Honda doesn't want it just to not lose ground to the Rav4 and Escape, it wants to take over the segment, just like the Civic did in its sedan class. To achieve this goal, improvements to inside-and-out styling will be a big help, as well as the standardization of safety technology, enhanced interior volume, better performance and lower fuel economy.

Will that be enough for Honda? It's hard to say, but with Honda's pedigree and the positive history of the CR-V, it sure can't hurt.

Test Drive: 2017 Cadillac XT5

After being in the market for twelve years, Cadillac’s top-selling vehicle in Canada, the SRX, is being replaced by the all-new XT5. It's a little curious for a brand to transform its top-seller, but it's a fresh start for the mid-size luxury crossover.

From our test drive, the XT5 does a pretty good job at filling its predecessor’s shoes. But the question remains whether it will be strong enough to compete against its highly-acclaimed luxury competitors?

One things for sure, the XT5's looks are a step above its previous version. The crossover balances its sharp lines and edges with smooth curves regardless of your angle. The headlights now blend seamlessly into the curvaceous front while the vertically-stacked LEDs stretch from the mid-section of the hood all the way to the bumper. The high placement of the vertical headlights emphasize the height of the vehicle while the linear LED daytime running lamps distinguish the vehicle as a Cadillac.

In the rear, the signature taillights feature multiple vertical LED elements that run along its side. It looks rather simplistic upon first glance, but it’s at night that the jewel-like taillights really show off the details concealed within.

The interiors can vary considerably depending on trim. The Platinum Luxury Plus trim that we tested showcased an interior laden with soft material – including leather stitching and a micro-suede finish. The leather was of a decent quality, but a few fellow passengers commented the micro-suede looked a bit unpolished and wondered if it might attract dust or lint in the long run. In addition, the XT5 also features Cadillac’s upgraded CUE system now featuring Android Auto and Apple CarPlay – allowing enhanced communication with your phone using Google Maps, Google Now, and Spotify.

A unique feature worth mentioning is the Rear Camera mirror which, with the flick of a switch, transforms your rear view mirror into a full colour 1280x240 wide screen that uses a camera mounted at the back of the vehicle to give you a near-180-degree view of everything behind you. Although it's only available on higher trim levels, it's certainly worth the upgrade. In many cases, I didn’t need to use my side view mirrors for most lane changes as it captured almost everything behind the rear quarters of my vehicle.

Cadillac offers the all-new XT5 luxury crossover in five trim levels including the base XT5 and Luxury on the front-wheel drivetrain, and a choice between Luxury, Premium Luxury, and Platinum on the all-wheel drivetrain. All trims draw power from a 3.6-litre V6 mated to an eight-speed automatic that puts out a class-leading 310 hp at 6,600rpm and 271 lb.-ft. of torque at 5,000rpm.

The standard V6 also features cylinder deactivation, which turns off two of the six cylinders under low engine demand. My test had all six cylinders activated around 65 per cent of the time. The cylinder deactivation kicks in while coasting in the city or lightly engaging the accelerator at a fixed speed.

Cadillac claims the XT5 is 300 pounds lighter than the outgoing SRX. All this combined yielded me a fuel economy of 12.6 L/100m – comparably similar to the fuel economy of the 235 hp Lexus NX 2.0 Turbo I tested last year.

The compact luxury SUV segment is very lucrative for many automakers, attracting entry-level luxury buyers with more space – all for just a few thousand more than a compact luxury sedan. It's also one of the most competitive, with new products constantly being launched, while existing vehicles are being rigorously redesigned.

In the past two years alone, we’ve seen the launch of the Mercedes GLC, the Lincoln MKC, and the Lexus NX – all worthy competitors to the XT5. With its advanced technology and cutting-edge design, the XT5 is a strong contender that is poised to catch attention from buyers and admirers alike.

Comparing the 2016 Ford Mustang to other muscle cars

The sixth-generation Ford Mustang has been in the market for just under two years and it’s still as eye-catching as ever. Having the chance to take it out for a week-long spin, it was strange to see most people staring at it, as if they’re seeing one for the first time.

With a rich history, Ford has managed to creatively modernize this Mustang inside and out. By its sleek and futuristic look it may appear foreign to its retro-looking predecessor, but after closer inspection, you'll clearly see that this new Mustang retains its iconic history.

Among the big three muscle cars: the Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger; it's the Mustang that's the least brawny of the bunch. Recently redesigned, the Camaro maintains its hefty profile; while the Challenger offers the most interior space in the category.

When taking a full walkaround, the headlights are slimmer and wider than the outgoing iteration, while the grille is embossed a few inches ahead of its headlights giving the front a more rounded appearance. Its hood features elegant lines that add dimension to the front, while flared fenders enhance and add width to its overall profile.

Checking it out from the back side, the roof gets more narrow as it slopes into the trunk. The taillights feature all red elements sitting atop a glossy black panel with the Mustang emblem positioned in the middle. Except for the shape of the taillights, the shiny black rear can be reminiscent of the previous decades' Ferrari 360 Modena.

Engine offerings start with a turbocharged, 2.3-litre four-cylinder that puts out 310 hp @ 5,500RPM and 320 lb.-ft. of torque; an upgrade over the 3.7-litre six-cylinder. If performance is your thing, Ford alternatively offers up V8 excitement in the form of a 5.0-litre GT or the 5.2-litre Shelby GT350 – both putting out 435 hp and 526 hp, respectively.

The four-cylinder turbo and six-cylinder deliver similar performance, which begs the question why Ford doesn’t just get rid older less-efficient V6 engine? It could be because the V6 is one of the main qualities that allows Ford to actively market this as a muscle car. In a category where size matters, getting rid of the V6 might alienate the car from its muscle car fan base. On the flip side, Chevrolet scrapped its V6 in the Camaro, replacing it with a turbo, 2.0-litre 4-cylinder, similar to the one on the Cadillac ATS.

On paper, the four-cylinder Mustang is more powerful than the 275 hp Camaro and the 305 hp Challenger equipped with a V6. The six-speed manual is still the base transmission choice on both the Camaro and Mustang, while the Challenger only offers a manual option with their V8 engines.

What Ford offers in the Mustang is a great looking performance coupe that proves you can get class-leading power and technology without having to break the bank. The fact that it’s a Mustang, is just a bonus.

With amazing innovations such as its efficient four-cylinder turbo engine and SYNC 3 touchscreen technology and connectivity, the 2016 Ford Mustang should be on the shopping list of anyone looking for a performance-oriented sports coupe.

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