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CAR REVIEWS

Porsche try to change fortunes of Panamera

Each automaker wants every vehicle produced to be a success. Outside of a halo car, that theory makes sense. Everyone strives for better and that's exactly what Porsche is doing with its second-generation Panamera.

It was time for a change and Porsche has put into place a 2017 four-door car which is longer, wider and taller than its predecessor. Regardless of its dimensions, the new Panamera looks like a winner without any bad angles.

There will be two versions arriving in Canada in early 2017: the Panamera 4S and the Panamera Turbo. In the 4S, there will be a 2.9-litre twin-turbo V-6 under the hood sporting 440 hp and 405 lb.-ft. of torque; while the Turbo version will receive a 4.0-litre V-8 with 550 hp and 568 lb.-ft. of torque. Both of these engines are brand new and they will be linked to a new eight-speed dual-clutch transmission and all-wheel drive.

The main initial excitement may be its 0-100 km/h times of 4.2 seconds with the Sport Chrono Package in the 4S and a 3.6 in the Turbo, but it's interior can be a selling point for some. Inside, you'll find a 12.3-inch infotainment screen with a copious amount of functions to play with that include a night vision assistant that uses a thermal imaging camera to detect humans and animals. Furthermore, many of these functions can be remotely used from your very own smartphone application.

The first units should begin to arrive in the first quarter of 2017 with pricing to start at $114,300 for the Panamera 4S and $167,700 for the Panamera Turbo.

Fun Drive: Nissan Rogue Warrior

 

Monts-Valin National Park, QC – Since its complete remodel in 2014, the Nissan Rogue crossover has seen a large uptick in sales with a streak of month-over-month record sales. This surge in sales has led to it being the 12th best-selling vehicle in Canada and the No. 1 selling Nissan vehicle.

In order to build on this momentum, Nissan Canada got a little creative by building a rugged Rogue prototype. It wouldn't be just any rugged variation, but a warrior that could conquer real-life conditions. And that's the story of how the Nissan Rogue Warrior was conceived.



A regular Nissan Rogue was taken to the Quebec-based Motorsports In Action (MIA) tuning specialists and after a little consultation with Nissan Canada, a few helpful tips from Nissan France who assisted with the building of the Nissan Juke-R, and a solid 40 hours of work: a snow-tracked Rogue Warrior was built and ready for action.

Nissan Canada was proud to show this prototype off at the Montreal International Auto Show in January and then again in February at the Canadian International AutoShow in Toronto, but now it was time to put this beast to the ultimate test. Nissan Canada sent a few journalists to the Station de Ski Valinouet in Monts-Valin National Park, Quebec, where we would see how well it could perform up some tricky ski slopes and back down.

Before I get started on the actual climb, let's talk about these snow tracks. First off, the height of the Rogue was raised two-inches in order to fit its 30”/76 cm in height, 48”/122 cm in length and a track width of 15”/38 cm snow tracks.  This was the maximum amount it could be raised for the suspension to not be severely altered. In addition, the front bumper, fenders and shocks were modified, while mud flaps were added to prevent snow from being flung in every direction.



Once I learned the basics of the Rogue Warrior – it was time to buckle up and drive. I took a big leap into it (no running boards) and started it up. The engine and transmission have not been altered at all, as it uses the same 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine matched to Nissan's Xtronic CVT. The only thing I couldn't do was make any steering inputs while static. Everything would have to be done in motion in order for no potential problems to occur.

I put the Rogue Warrior in drive and we were off and running. The steering and handling surprised me the most. I thought going in that such a large vehicle would be hard to turn and would need plenty of force, but it was quite the opposite. The Rogue Warrior adjusted to any steering input and turning the beast took little energy – it was exactly how the regular crossover would react.



The CVT played the most fundamental role of this drive by keeping my momentum going. Without it, I'm not sure where I would be, probably stuck in the middle of the climb. The CVT managed to always find the right gear, even when we got bogged down in heavier snow. The transmission accounted for various driving scenarios and adjusted its gear settings instantly.

We managed to get up to 80 km/h on a flatter surface, but took it easy while scaling down the ski course. According to Nissan Canada, it's capable of achieving a top speed of 100 km/h, which is more than enough to navigate some challenging ski slopes.



The Nissan Rogue Warrior was a blast to drive, and we could only hope it resurfaces somewhere down the road. For now, Nissan Canada will be prepping it for the Vancouver International Auto Show that runs from March 23-27, and after that it's anyone's guess.

If you do wish to have one, I'm sure MIA will be happy to help you out. Just keep in mind, it won't come cheap as the price will hover around $25,000-$30,000 on top of the cost of the regular Rogue that starts at $24,948.

First Drive: 2016 Honda Accord

 

Markham, ON – Now well into in its ninth-generation that began in 2012, the Honda Accord is still holding court as a family pleaser. The evidence is there with it being the No. 1 choice for Canadian consumers in the intermediate sedan segment, but with current advancements in technology and a strong competition presence, Honda felt that it was time for it to be upgraded.

New for 2016, the Honda Accord has been refreshed with some added styling and technology to take on that competition and according to Honda Canada, “set a benchmark for the intermediate segment.” That statement seems counter intuitive to the conservative styling nature of the brand, but the Japanese-company plans to set those marks by offering modern technology that focuses on connectivity, as well as safety technology not seen throughout the spectrum of trim lines.



The centrepiece of Honda's connectivity plan is Apple Car and Android Auto. It's not new to the automotive game, as I recently encountered this in the new Volkswagen Jetta, but it's a first for Honda. The practice of this system is to create familiarity for the passengers. All you need is your Smartphone plug-in chord and connect it to the Accord. From there, familiar apps pop up on the screen, similar to your iPhone or Samsung Galaxy. Therefore, you can use your favourite apps that might include Google Maps or Slacker Radio the same exact way you would use them on your phone in the comfort of your car.

After testing out both Apple Car and Android Auto, the best part about this system is that the functions work quickly without any lag. You don't have to wait for things to load up. Once the Accord detected the device and we went through the approval process, I was allowed to rifle through menu options, or talk via Siri to give navigational or text message instructions.



Honda's intuitive seven-inch infotainment system wasn't just about Apple Car and Android Auto. We tested out its on-board Garmin navigational system, and it was a relief compared to the other archaic and inferior base options around. Honda could better its touchscreen if it does away with the touch volume scrolling system, but that will have to be an argument for another day.

As seen on both the new HR-V and Pilot, the new Accord will come with the host of Honda Sensing safety technology in an aim to be the safest Accord ever. For its efforts, the 2016 iteration has already been awarded top-honours with a Top Safety Pick + from the IIHF. The suite of Honda Sensing technology that includes Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS), Road Departure Mitigation (RDM), Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS) and Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) is available for all trims, but comes standard in the sedan from the EX-L trim and up.

Technological additions are not the only changes made to the new 2016 Honda Accord. Both the sedan and coupe have gone through front fascia alterations that come off more aggressive and sporty. I mentioned the conservative nature of Honda, and especially the Accord, but these changes even though not earth shattering, provide a glimpse of a subtle spark within the culture.



The sedan gets a lot of chrome as two horizontal bars sit underneath a larger silver chrome strip that stretches towards the “Jewel Eye” LED headlights. As for the coupe version, it differentiates itself with a copper brushed chrome strip that sits on top of a sporty mesh design. Both get standard LED taillights, as well as an aluminum hood that takes over from the heavier steel version.

Under the hood, the Accord 2.4-litre four-cylinder (185 hp and 181 lb.-ft. of torque) and 3.5-litre V6 (278 hp and 252 lb.-ft. of torque) are carry-overs, so there's not much new to report. However, Honda has improved fuel economy rating slightly with a revised 8.6 L/100 km in the city and 6.4 L/100 km on the highway split. All sedans and coupes can be paired with either a six-speed manual or continuously variable transmission (CVT).

On the drive around Markham into the community of Kettleby, situated in the northeastern King Township in Ontario, I was able to take out the automatic Touring sedan that sits on 19-inch aluminum wheels. It wasn't a long drive, but it allowed me to experience the comfort and driving capabilities of the new Accord.



Honda has made improvements in its ride and handling, but they were hardly noticed on this drive, perhaps more time might have played the trick. But for this mid-size sedan transporter, it does everything you want it to. Not only is it super quiet, it drives like a gazelle, smoothly accelerating and coasting on highways and city streets. We managed to achieve a 7.8L/100 km combined rating, which is right in there with the best of them.

The seats have ample legroom and headroom, and place you in a driving position that's upright and comfortable. The same can be said for the rear seats; while the trunk was spacious and had room for at least three-to-four sets of golf clubs.



What more can you want from this family sedan? If I had the choice, I was ready to sign this out for my next long road trip, and it had Sirius satellite radio to boot.

There are many great choices in the market without a clear-cut favourite that include the Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata and Nissan Altima. For a starting price of $24,150, and the Touring cost beginning at $31,090, the 2016 Honda Accord is the reliable and respectable choice of the group, and these refreshing changes certainly provide it a modern touch and a little bit of flair that could potentially separate itself from the rest of the pack.

Going exploring, platinum-style with Ford

 

Big Sky, MT – Throughout the auto industry, there's a certain confusion growing that has blurred the lines between mainstream and luxury. Mainstream automakers have been going against the grain, offering luxury touches at affordable prices. This is turn, has forced luxury automakers to go further providing laser-etched wood and hand stitching to please consumers wanting that little bit more.

For 2016, Ford is jumping into the fray with its all new Ford Explorer large-size three-row SUV. The model has been completely refreshed with a new look and an added engine choice that offers best-in-class fuel economy, but the one thing they really wanted to show off was their new Platinum trim offering.



The Ford Explorer Platinum might be classified in the mainstream division, but there's nothing mainstream about it. The Explorer Platinum utilizes a vision of no compromise and is catered to the consumer who wants it all. Not one option will be found, as everything comes standard. The only decision you're left to make is a choice between bench or bucket seats in the second row.

Showing its enthusiasm for this vehicle and trim, Ford created an epic six-leg journey throughout the Western part of North America. In total, nine cities would be crossed covering 4,406 kilometres with the use of 187 media members. We were separated in waves, and yours truly took the third one that had us fly into Bozeman, Montana.



The journey through America's heartland to the west was a great opportunity to take the full-size SUV on a road trip and explore the beautiful roads of Big Sky Country into Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park, before concluding in the affluent town of Jackson. It's a trip that many take each year to discover nature and wildlife, not to mention the mountainous backdrop that is just breathtaking.

As you enter the Platinum, luxury surrounds you with a leather-wrapped interior that has a quilted design panel on the doors, dash and seats. My test vehicle had the new Ebony with Anthracite headliner combination that was pristine with a brushed-aluminum Platinum logo. The seats are plush, but they're complemented well by real ash-wood touches and more shiny aluminum.

Ford made sure to show that this Platinum offering is not just another trim choice by changing the famous blue oval centred on the steering wheel with one that is made out of that same brushed-aluminum. Just above the steering wheel, you'll find another first for Ford as a 10.1-inch digital display with analog components put an exclamation mark on the term 'upscale.'



Now that all the luxury touches were described, it was time to set out with the Explorer. My driving partner and I packed our luggage into the trunk within seconds, thanks to the PowerFold third row. After a few button touches, the third row seats get tucked in to expand trunk space to 43.9 cu. ft. from the 21 cu. ft. of space with all three rows up.

Our starting base was in Big Sky, a tourist attraction for skiing in the winter and fly fishing in the summer. If you've ever seen the movie A River Runs Through It starring Robert Redford, you would know how beautiful the Gallatin River is. As the Explorer crosses by that famous river surrounded by mountains, fly fishers are found flinging their rods to reel in some fish.

The scenery is as peaceful as the ride itself. As much as the luxury touches catch your eye at first, it's the calm and quiet nature of the Explorer Platinum ride that wins you over. Ford has focused on sealing off road noise to allow occupants to rest their arms on those thick arm rests, turn on those massaging front-row seats and enjoy the adventure ahead, the original purpose for the Explorer.



We soaked in plenty of Montana's nature, but we knew it was time to start moving on as we needed to see one of the world's greatest attractions and wonders, Yellowstone National Park. We cranked the industry-first 500-Watt Sony audio system with live acoustics and clear phase technology and booked it on US-191 S, testing out the standard 3.5-litre direct-injected twin-turbo EcoBoost V6 that produces 365 hp and 350 lb.-ft. of torque. The Platinum offered plenty of power when needed, while still maintaining that quiet ride that seamlessly transitioned through its six-speed SelectShift automatic transmission. The roads were relatively smooth, but when we encountered bumps, not much noise or vibration was heard or felt.

Once we hit the park, it was all about adventure. Within 10 minutes of being in the park, we came across our first obstacle, a 2,000-lb. Bison. The Explorer brakes worked to perfection, and we were literally eye-to-eye with the gargantuan hairy land mammal. It was a sight to see; one that was both amazing and scary.



As the Bison slowly walked off heading into the opposite direction, we parked the Explorer off the road and onto the hilly grass to catch a glimpse of Yellowstone's remarkable geysers. The most incredible of them all is called Old Faithful, due to its predictability. It shoots out hot water and steam every 35-90 minutes, allowing visitors to see one of nature's beauties. Through our many stops, we were thankful that the Platinum had a 180-degree camera with a wash for both ends of the SUV, identical to the one found in the Edge

We didn't fully get to test the Explorer's Intelligent four-wheel drive with a Terrain Management System, but it's there when needed. Just select what terrain mode you want with the dial below the gear shift. You can choose between Normal, Sand, Snow/Grass, or Mud/Ruts.



The 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum has everything you want in a large, adventurous SUV. Its versatility of performance, luxury and off-roading abilities are hard to match, to go along with fuel economy numbers that have improved. We ended up averaging a respectable 10.0L/100 km on the dot, which isn't too shabby for a large SUV that weighs 4,890 lbs. and can tow up to 5,000 lbs.

As luxurious as it is, it comes with a price tag that's typically attached to entry-level Mercedes and BMWs. But for the one price of $58,599 and a destination and delivery charge of $1,690 – this Platinum edition comes with all the fixins. It's only available in all-wheel drive and will be coming to showrooms this September. If you're not about wanting that label, this Platinum Explorer provides all the luxury and performance you will ever need.

In short – 2015 Buick Verano

Likely safe to say that, unless you have been living under a rock or visiting a distant galaxy, you may be fleetingly familiar with General Motors' renaissance marketing and advertising campaign for their previously staid Buick marque. With Buick now being touted as “no longer the car your father would drive” (paraphrasing), I’m here to tell you that I would agree. And, for the most part, overall, they may be onto something with design, styling and technology which now has much broader and ready appeal.

The 2015 Buick Verano boasts an interior that's high on quality materials and comfortable seats. The model tested and driven came with leather seating. The front passengers are quite comfortable, with the driver's seat especially well bolstered for a car of this size. The rear seat isn't as generous – if you are an average-size North American adult.

The Verano's standard seven-inch touchscreen interface is generally agreeable, but honestly, Buick has fallen into the more button approach that other manufacturers seem to love. Note to engineers – less is more – please. Determining the appropriate button to push while driving is a distraction.

The Verano Turbo which, not surprisingly, comes with a turbocharged engine generates 250 horsepower from its 2.0 litres, and comes with either a six-speed automatic (as tested) or a six-speed manual transmission. To be clear; all Veranos are front-wheel drive.

The Buick Verano has a driving style that makes it feel like a bigger, more substantial car. That’s meant as a compliment. It's quiet, the ride is smooth (too much for some tastes, perhaps), and this small Buick sedan manages to evoke driving experiences of larger, more expensive (Buick) models such as the larger Regal and LaCrosse. What makes this all the more interesting, size-wise, at least, it’s much closer to its corporate sibling, the Chevy Cruze.

While the Verano would never be considered “sporty”, the turbo offers zippy acceleration but it feels as if the suspension is still tuned more for comfort. There is also some terrific technology on board such as forward-collision warning.

For the record, the 2015 Buick Verano, as tested, is probably way up there as one of the most comfortable cars available at this specific price point.

The base engine can run on regular unleaded gasoline, while premium is recommended for the turbo. But I digress.

As tested:
Price: $35,950 – plus applicable taxes
Engine: 2.0L 4 cylinder turbocharged EcoTec
Power: 250hp/260 ft-lb of torque (yes, you read that right – no corrective lenses for you!)
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Fuel economy (L/100km): City 11.4/ Hwy 7.9

Pros: A well-appointed value-laden North American built compact sedan. Quite comfortable up front for the driver and passenger, less so for adults in the rear. As a small family “take-me-to-Grandma’s-house” car, overall, few complaints. For the price as tested, this Verano is in some pretty good company – from the usual Asian manufacturers.

Cons: Tight for space in the rear for two average-size adults – especially for longer trips. Small point, but premium gasoline is recommended for the turbocharged engine. If you are not aware, when a manufacturer “suggests” premium, higher octane gasoline, know that it does, indeed, make a difference to the vehicle’s overall performance.

Long and the short: Worthy overall of consideration for your everyday transport dollar. Will new – and old – consumers embrace the new Buick, breathing life into this mature marque? Time and sales will tell.

First Drive: 2016 Nissan Maxima

 

Ottawa, ON – Floundering in a diminishing segment, Nissan was at a crossroads with the Maxima, it's full-size sedan. The choice was simple: completely change or pull the plug on the second-longest Nissan nameplate, beginning in 1981.

Now in its eighth-generation, Nissan went ahead and launched the 2016 Nissan Maxima in a very lucrative Super Bowl advertisement back in February. Nissan executives wanted to create a luxurious marvel that seems to be more premium than what we are accustomed to, a similar situation to what Nissan has done with its Murano SUV.

To test out the new refined showpiece of Nissan, they invited a number of journalists to Ottawa for a drive up to the Quebec Laurentians, and back. It was a great opportunity to not only feel the comfort of what Nissan is calling a jet fighter-styled cockpit interior, but also the power behind this so-called “sports sedan.”



Nissan simplified the buying process by only offering up four trim levels with no options. The base SV starts at $35,900, more than $2K less than the previous starting price; the second-tier SL at 38,950; the sports-tuned SR at  $41,100; and finally, the Platinum edition that tops out at $43,300.

It's a system that's less complicated at the dealership level, but customers might have a hard time deciding what's more appropriate for their lifestyle. The two trims on hand for the drive were the SR and Platinum, and after a day with them, I still can't figure out which I prefer.

On one hand, the range-topping Platinum is decked out with a panoramic moonroof, wood-tone finishes, an around-view monitor and power tilt/telescope steering. That all sounds great, but then you go to the SR and its sporting 19-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, a leather-wrapped heated steering wheel, and a sports-tuned suspension with some features that include Active Ride Control, Active Trace Control and Active Engine Brake.

A big drawback for the SR is not being able to have it with that panoramic moonroof – it just couldn't be done for lower body rigidity of the vehicle. So instead, you're left with a decision.



One decision that doesn't have to be made is with the engine. All Maximas come with an updated 3.5-litre V6 that not only improves on power from 290 hp to 300, but betters its fuel economy numbers to beat out other like-minded V6s in the premium large sedan category, as well as some in the mid-size sedan range. On our drive, the Maxima managed both in both trims an 8.5L/100 km with plenty of power surges to see what's really under that hood.

Also new in the Maxima is a refined Xtronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) that's been fine-tuned to have a wider gear ratio range that can get aggressive when pushed. I did find their to be a little lag after acceleration contact, but it's miles beyond what we used to think of CVTs.

The drive through the twisty Laurentians areas was a perfect spot to test out the handling of this large sports sedan. The most notable thing about the drive was how quiet it was. Only when that accelerator got pressed down to pass a few slow moving vehicles and trucks when two-lanes turned to one, the Maxima lit up and loudly CVT'd its way passed them. Otherwise, the journey was consistently relaxed and smooth, aided by the updated version of Nissan's NASA-inspired zero-gravity seats.



The interesting thing about the new Maxima is given its large dimensions, its width is not noticeable while driving. It seems less like a full-size, as in the Hyundai Genesis, and more like its sibling, the Altima. I'm not sure whether it's the sleek silhouette design that makes the Maxima feel smaller or the lightweight feel (the Maxima dropped 82 lbs., giving it an excellent power-to-weight ratio), but it was evident and that's a big check mark for me.

The two drive modes offered are: Normal and Sport, so naturally we tested both out. Normal mode added an extra layer of comfort and smoothness in the Platinum trim, especially over some rough chopped up areas around Quebec; while the SR felt more suitable in Sport mode with quicker response times and better cornering stability. Road feel was always present allowing you to manage the steering with crisp and accurate responses.

As smooth as the drive is, so is the design. Nissan turned this sedan from just another number option in its portfolio into a star. The V-motion grille might seem a bit large and more suitable for a larger vehicle, but the signature boomerang LED headlights supply it with a lot of character. The silhouette gets a sleeked-back cool look with a blacked-out A-Pillar and aggressive lines going across its body into its rear, where it takes on a more muscular backside.

Inside, the all-new Maxima shines with soft comfortable leather that's elevated with authentic contrast stitching on the dash, seats, door panels, you name it. The craftsmanship feels luxurious and more in-line with the Infiniti brand than Nissan.



A Nissan-first is a flat-bottomed leather-wrapped steering wheel that's steals the show. It's thick and handy with plenty of buttons to toggle between the radio stations, making a phone call, or figuring out your fuel economy numbers. If you don't like to use your steering wheel for controls, don't worry, you have a eight-inch colour touchscreen or a display commander rotating dial behind the gearshift. A little redundant, and not necessary, but I gather they're trying to accommodate all preferences.

I had a chance to sit in the back, and there's enough leg room for Dikembe Mutombo to relax in and not have to wag his finger. Headroom can be an issue for the taller individual, mainly due to the sloping silhouette, but if you're under 6'2”, there should be no trouble at all. The trunk is spacious, but it doesn't compare to some of its competitors.



Is the 2016 Nissan Maxima a sports sedan? The quick answer is no, but it's a well-designed full-size sedan that's focused on style and performance. The new iteration is light years ahead of the old, and it comes with many standard luxuries, such as heated seats and steering wheel, navigation, a rear view camera and advanced safety technologies that many other premium offerings don't have.

At $35K, the Maxima seems like a perfect choice, but the sales side can get murky, as we reach the $40K-43K mark. Many consumers in that range want to see a distinguished badge, and I'm not sure the Nissan one is what they want. If you take away the desire for status and take this Maxima out for a test drive, you will be pleasantly surprised not only by its exquisite styling, but also by its opulent cockpit.

The Nissan Maxima is currently on sale at dealerships across Canada.

In short – 2015 Chrysler 300C Platinum

Back in the day when car rental companies, especially in popular tourist destinations such as Florida offered unlimited mileage and “full size” vehicles, they were not the most popular choice. Yet it always seemed that the mid-size car you had booked was always conveniently “oversold” and you would cheerfully be “upgraded” (at no additional charge) to a gas-guzzling V8 monster that drove as if it had marshmallows for shocks.

Many was the time when in the late 70’s and early 80’s (decades, not temperatures) when I would spend up to six weeks at a time in the Sunshine State on business, driving from region to region, spending nights in towns to this day I often wish I had never heard of. Such was the life of a product buyer for a Canadian travel wholesaler, inspecting hotels, negotiating for blocks of rooms and taking a whittling knife to suggested room rates – all for the benefit of the Canadian traveller.

I would be one of the few individuals who would gladly accept that full size automobile, the veritable land cruiser on wheels that perhaps “achieved” single digit miles per gallon as I drove south, north, east and west, criss-crossing the state in “classics” such as the Oldsmobile Delta 88, the Dodge Magnum and the Buick Riviera. Those cars were almost as wide as they were long and were heavy, lethargic lumps of steel and glass. But I loved them. Why? The feeling of safety. Of invincibility. Of believing that anything that big would take half the time to get to its intended destination.

The memories flooded back when I initially approached the Chrysler 300C recently. This was/is a large, full-size car. It looked solid. Heavy. Dare I say, gangster-like?

I was home!

Powered by a 5.7L HEMI VVT V8 mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, this is a vehicle that would likely do well in a fleet of airport limousines where business people could languish in great comfort in the Nappa leather upholstered rear seats, listening to MSNBC via satellite radio through the top of the line Harmon/Kardon system and the non-invasive 19-speaker system as they are driven from the airport to home – or the next hotel for the night.

Do not misunderstand, as far as large luxury sedans go, this, for the dollar, may be one of the better values out there. Heck, there are even cup holders which may either, depending on the rocker switch, keep your beverage warm – or cool – as you desire.

The cabin interior is surprisingly elegant in an understated manner. Everything was where you would like it to be and nothing was a stretch to initiate.

Perhaps most pleasing is the dual-pane panoramic sunroof – especially on a clear still night when the moon is full and the stars fight for dominant position.

But I digress.

As tested:

Price: $51,125
Engine: 5.7L HEMI VVT V8
Power: 363hp/394 ft-lb of torque.
Transmission: eight-speed TorqueFlite Performance automatic
Fuel economy (L/100km): City 14.8/Hwy 9.3. Actually averaged 10.1L/100km combined driving from Mississauga to Barrie.

Pros: A comfortable land cruiser with the soul of a large block V8 HEMI! Room to spare in the front and back seats and room for two full sets of golf clubs and more (or similar cargo) in the capacious trunk.  All in all, excellent value for the dollar for anyone looking to (visually) improve their lot in life – or an airline limo service.

Cons: Not a fan of the dial up transmission – on this or any car, for that matter; I prefer to hold a shifter from time-to-time.

Long and the short: if you are considering a large sedan that can impress on the highway and at the country club, this all-American luxo-barge with the muted growl of a slightly sedated predator is for you.

In short – 2015 Porsche Macan S

When Porsche first entered the SUV market back in 2002, there were hushed whispers in some circles about the move.

Enjoying considerable success and accolades for their sports performance vehicles built to exacting German standards and engineered within an inch of their lives, Porsche’s foray was, to say the least initially questioned.

Until you got behind the wheel of the still impressive Cayenne luxury sport utility vehicle – then all bets were off.

Performance? Check. Handling? Check. For some, they had to remind themselves that this was an SUV, the category created almost single-handedly by Jeep a lifetime ago.

To suggest that a driver should expect the unexpected would be an understatement – in the extreme.

And so, when Porsche announced its entry into the rapidly growing and becoming crowded crossover category with the introduction of the Macan, there was no pre-emptive apathy, rather eager anticipation. Could Porsche once again capture lightning in a bottle?

While that statement itself is more than a little hyperbole, it would be safe to say that yes indeed, Porsche has succeeded where other mainstream manufacturers may have stumbled.

The Macan is the real deal – in so many ways.

This is a vehicle that celebrates its heritage. With great pride.

Some (visible) features will be familiar to those acquainted with the Porsche marque.

But where this vehicle shines – check that – excels – is what you cannot see – yet will soon appreciate and, dare we say, love.\

From the tired and tested receptive engine to the responsive and intuitive dual clutch automatic transmission: note – seven-speed as opposed to trendy eight- or even nine-speed to the air suspension with self-levelling function incorporating height adjustment to the throaty growl of the sport-tuned exhaust system, the attention to detail is something that the team of designers and engineers have not sacrificed.

Perhaps as an automotive journalist I am spoiled; after all, most weeks I have an opportunity to drive many disparate vehicles: sedans; coupes; trucks; convertibles; SUVs; CUVs; and yes, even today, the occasional minivan. While driving this low slung manoeuvrable rocket was a pleasure, for north of $60K, you would almost expect a navigation system. Are we so demanding of technology that features some manufacturers include as standard, their omission induces a mild hissy fit? Then reality sets in; this is a Porsche. It’s meant to be driven. It wants to be driven. And it really doesn’t care if it gets lost in the process!

But I digress.

As tested:

Price: $63.145
Engine: 3.0L twin-turbo V6
Power: 340hp/339 ft.-lb. of torque.
Transmission: seven-speed (dual clutch automatic) Porsche Doppelkupplung (PDK)
Fuel economy (L/100km): City 13.7/Hwy 10.3. Actually averaged 11.2L/100 km combined.

Pros: It’s a Porsche! Within the relatively new crossover category, this is a vehicle that could be driven almost anywhere by anyone, and enthrall an enthusiast and a layperson simultaneously.

Cons: One too many buttons in the cockpit for a new driver/owner could be an unwanted distraction. And, if we’re being picky, for $63K, the inclusion of a navigation system and cooled seats would be welcome additions.

Long and the short: worthy of consideration. A lean, mean driving machine with plenty of get-up-and-go.

In short – 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland 4X4

With the introduction of the 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland 4X4, the manufacturer made what some might call a bold and daring move. The vehicle as tested recently, excluding HST, had a price point small change north of $70K. For a Jeep. The venerable, grandfather to the still-expanding SUV category – a market segment which is ever-so-slowly, beginning to outsell Canadians beloved light truck sector.

Jeep categorizes this SUV as a class-leading mid-size. Fair enough. But in this configuration, it competes directly against the likes of the Audi Q7; BMW X5; Infiniti QX70; and the Land Rover LR4 – among others. Perhaps it needs a catchier alpha numeric name?

Can this vehicle compete with the rich pedigree-laden luxury vehicles it might sell alongside?

Simply; yes.

Today's Jeep Grand Cherokee is a good looking, stylish and yet immensely practical vehicle. This SUV will surprise many. The cabin is richly furnished, with well-chosen textures and materials and provides an inviting layout and design. Frankly, this particular Grand Cherokee is loaded – the end result being a very pleasant surprise.

One of the main reasons for the larger than expected sticker price is the availability of an efficient and torque-rich option with the most welcome Ecodiesel 3.0-litre V-6. Offering 420 ft.-lb. of torque, and an inspiring 11.2L/100km in the city and 8.4L/100km on the highway. A full tank of diesel fuel yields approximately 1,200 kilometres and offers best-in-class towing of 7,400 pounds. Coupled with an eight-speed automatic transmission, and you have a vehicle that can drive great distances – all in practical comfort.

Putting aside the fact that it’s a Jeep which to some potential buyers may hold some stigma, this is an impressive, all round vehicle that will offer everyone something more than expected.



The Grand Cherokee has a feel secure on wet or dry pavement, but it's also vastly talented off-road. The most advanced versions can still clamber over boulders and logs with ease, and the new automatic enables a lower crawl ratio that suits the torquey Ecodiesel especially well.

Jeep continues with the well-tested and accepted Quadra-Lift air suspension, as well as the three four-wheel drive systems – Quadra-Trac I, Quadra-Trac II, and Quadra-Drive II. It also has the Selec-Terrain management system, which automatically caters the powertrain settings for either sand, mud, auto, snow, or rock.



My time spent with this model reminded me of some off-road escapades in the Kawarthas some four years ago. The Ecodiesel would have likely “solved” some of the deep mud terrain issues we experienced, overcome by towing winches and three, non-standard Jeep Wrangler Rubicons. But I digress.

As tested:

Price: $70,375.

Engine: 3.0L V6 turbo diesel.

Power: 240hp – and a stump-pulling 420 ft-lb of torque.

Transmission: 8-speed automatic.

Fuel economy (L/100km): City 11.2/Hwy 8.4. Actually averaged 7.4L/100km on the initial drive from Mississauga to Barrie.

Pros: a value-laden family hauler – just as comfortable driving to and from the cottage or the board room. Excellent fuel economy – do not be reluctant to consider because it is diesel. Over a seven day period with this SUV, we drove almost 600 kilometres for a combined fuel consumption of 8.0L/100km.

Cons: lack of a third row of seating; pricing – to some. Diesel may also be a negative to those that still associate this fuel with farms and tractor trailers.

Long and the short: worthy of consideration. In this configuration, you will be pleasantly surprised.

Lexus shows off its F-Sport lineup

Mirabel, QC – The Lexus brand is synonymous with luxury, status and safety. Those are many of the key reasons why consumers flock to Toyota's luxury option. Lexus still stands for all that, but over the past half-decade they've wanted to showcase more of its performance-portfolio, and with that they unleashed the F-Sport lineup.

The F Sports name gained plenty of steam when the production LFA super car was introduced at the 2009 Tokyo Motor Show. The plan was to show it as a technological showpiece along with its sporty styling and carbon fibre materials that could trickle down throughout the roster. The excitement from the LFA delighted the entire auto industry leading to the more stylish LF-LC Concept that struck to the core of the car enthusiast. Lexus clearly had something here to make this F-Sport lineup fly, and they quickly acted to offer more of these F Sport variants for purchase.



What is F Sport?

I'm still not sure what the “F” stands for, but when an invite was received to test four of the F Sport models at the iCar race track in Mirabel, Quebec – it sure sounded like something “fun” to do.

To gain more information about what F Sport means to Lexus, I chatted with Romaric Lartilleux, Public Relations Consultant at Lexus Canada.

Romaric explained that: “the F Sport division shows that Lexus isn't just about good cars for the road, but also for the race track. The goal is to attract younger customers, who wouldn't necessarily have picked Lexus in the past. When you see how Lexus is now – you surely can't say we're boring.”

These statements peaked my interest and I was ready to test these puppies on the track. It was a nice buffet of models on-hand that included the all-wheel drive versions of the IS 350 and GS 350 sedans, the RC 350 in both rear-wheel and all-wheel drive, as well as the RC F sports coupe. We weren't provided many restrictions. The only thing they asked was for us to be cautious (it was raining), but have at it within our limits. To me that just resembles the “F” spirit of the event.

Lexus RC F

The star attraction to the event was the two-door RC F coupe that's fitted with a 5.0-litre V8, ready to show off its 467 horses and 389 lb.-ft. of torque. The RC F is based off of both the IS and GS, but takes on a shorter, sleeker and more sporty profile. Between the smooth coupe silhouette with the two-tone roof and the large hourglass spindle grille with Nike swoosh LEDs – this was built for today's event.



One look at the RC F and you know it's out for trouble. It probably wasn't the wisest move making it for my first choice, considering I wasn't familiar with the track, nor the wet conditions, but I knew there would plenty of time to play around with it.



I slid into the sports-tuned leather bucket seats, fired up the monster and let it roar. Out of the four drive modes (Eco, Normal, Sport and Sport-plus), there were only two to choose from for this mission. I started out in Sport to feel things through, and quickly I learned that the RC F might just be too much car for this wet track. The second you push down on the throttle, the RC F instantaneously bolts out with aggression. This track had many twists and turns along the way, moving the eight-speed automatic transmission constantly between second and fourth gear, only to reach the top gears on the few longer straights.

The RC F is just pure fun. The track is the environment it feels most comfortable in, allowing it to let loose. To make it more interesting, the RC F has a special button, exclusive to it called TVD (Torque Vectoring Differential), that comes with the RC F performance package for an additional $8K. TVD allows you to choose between three additional driving set-ups that can be tuned for either standard, track, or slalom. These functions work independently of the Drive Mode Select, which does mean that you can distort and confuse the RC F's drive by choosing both Eco and Track mode.



As you would figure, slalom mode focuses on quick steering responses and agility; while track mode places an emphasis on stabilizing the vehicle during high-speed turns, as well as assisting that quick acceleration after hard braking. It's all about transferring torque between the left and right tires depending on your situation on track. All of these actions help to improve grip and assist you where your steering inputs imply.

Unfortunately, on this day, letting fully loose in Sport-plus, would have been a tragedy into the guard rail. The combination of the puddles and the tires being slightly worn out by the media wave ahead of us, led to a slight loss in traction, turning the coupe close to sideways in a few instances. Correction was quick and provided a lesson of how quick you should go on iCar's wet track.



The RC F showed a lot of potential, however it can be costly, especially with the performance package that tops it out at $88K. Regardless, it should still be in the conversation with the likes of the BMW M4, Audi RS5, Jaguar F-Type R and the Mercedes C63 AMG Coupe.

The rest of the F Sport division on-hand

I could go on about the RC F for a while, but for now let's go through the rest of the F Sport roster on display. All of the other vehicles I tested were of the all-wheel drive variety, starting with the RC 350, and followed by the GS 350 and IS 350.

The other three will be grouped together, because even though they're different in terms of dimensions, the F Sport packages provides similar elevated driving characteristics from its regular offerings. The performance package set-ups in all of them away from aesthetics included suspension tuning, performance braking and a tuned exhaust that achieved overall better handling, balance and grunt.



The IS 350 and RC 350 provided great traction throughout at speeds topping out at 135 km/h, with a bit more body roll coming from the IS. But it was the mid-size sedan GS350 that I found to be best suited for the iCar track. I'm only assuming that the added weight helped it stay grounded and provided that added confidence for me to take those turns at higher speeds. There was a nice flow and crispness to the sweeping lefts and rights without any need for acceleration release.

I never thought the GS would be my favourite on the day, but that's a true testament to the excitement and flair that the F Sport package brings. All of the vehicles on the day showcased their sporty talents on a rainy day in Quebec without any incidents.



The question that still remains is whether consumers will spend an extra $5-8K for the F Sport package? Many will not get the opportunity to ever fully test it on track, so is it worth it to the buyer? The answer is all about what that extra power and suspension will do for you. Some definitely will take it on track; others might just want to have that sports potential.

All I can say is Lexus has taken the time to develop this sports-performance division – and it shows. The F Sport line is for real, and it definitely stands for “fun”. If you're in the market for something that provides a performance punch, you need to at least take a look at this F Sport lineup before making any decision.

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