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CAR REVIEWS

CAR REVIEWS

First Drive – 2015 Ford Edge

 

Phoenix, AZ – Simply put, the Ford Edge as we know it has been transformed. Now in its second-generation, the 2015 Edge is all-new in all the right places as it gets ready to be launched globally, and for the first time in Europe as part of the “One Ford” global plan.

Ford's mid-size five-seat crossover made its debut in 2006, but it was in 2009 after a major refresh where the Edge took a more modern and technologically-savvy appeal. Gone is the trendy, but gimmicky tools, and inserted in its place is a more luxurious makeup that would appeal to those who want to move away from the entry-level Escape, but don't need something as big as the seven-seat Explorer.

“With the Edge, we wanted to keep what's classic and working, but leverage that lineage,” said Kevin George, Design Manager at Ford.

We were given a complete walk around of the Sport and compared to the outgoing model – the new Edge has definitely evolved. The front fascia gets the new Fusion grille treatment without the chrome. In its place is a refined black grille with silver piping crossbars that lean back to set up a sporty and bold appearance. The overall length grows 99 millimetres, but the silhouette pushes that 'Edgy' boundary with LED taillights that horizontally wrap around the rear with 3D Graphics.


Not only does the wheelbase expand for more interior space, the interior transforms into a “dynamic sanctuary,” according to Hak Soo Ha, Ford's Interior Design Manager.

Seeing the outgoing insides compared to the latest version, it truly is a night and day comparison. It makes you wonder, how pedestrian was the previous interior? Soft-leather with stitching replaces hard plastics. An open and airy concept with window dividers removed. A longer and more sculpted arm rest and fancier elongated door levers. Every little nook and cranny was dissected and altered in order to create a refined look and comforting experience.

Overall, it's a dramatic makeover that changes the feeling of the entire crossover. Maybe its a mindset, but I felt more relaxed and comfortable during the drive, aided by the active noise cancellation technology found in the Sport trim. Apparently, those soft-touch materials and the front side windows assist in helping with sound acoustics. Don't worry about the rest of the lineup, as they all get a host of noise cancellation technology, it's just more enhanced in the Titanium and Sport packages.

The only drawback would be that Sync 3 has not yet come to any Ford product, so this new Edge still has Sync with My Ford Touch. It slightly kills the buzz of the “Dynamic Sanctuary,” but at least they've done away with volume and climate control touch buttons and brought back some hard buttons and knobs.

Under the hood, consumers will get three choices, but just to be clear not all are available for each trim. The base engine for the SE, SEL and Titanium trims is the all-new 2.0-litre twin-scroll turbo EcoBoost engine. It has maximum horsepower of 245 and 275 lb.-ft. of torque that's mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters (standardized throughout the roster of engines). Outside of a little bump in horsepower and torque, the new 2.0-litre reduces turbo lag thanks to its turbocharger. Additionally, for the first time it will be offered in all-wheel drive and can tow up to 3,500 pounds.

In all of those trims, except the Sport, you can upgrade to a naturally aspirated 3.5-litre V6 that gets added power producing 280 hp and 250 lb.-ft. of torque.

When it comes to the Sport – “the pièce de résistance” during the product launch, you can only get it with the 2.7-litre twin-turbo and direct-injected V6 that generates the most power with 315 hp and 350 lb.-ft. of torque. The only drawback is that it comes with zero towing capacity, so you can't get the best of both worlds.

It was with the 2.7-litre Edge Sport where I spent most of my time behind the wheel and that's the exact set-up where the Edge shines. The drive itself shows its torque with instant initial acceleration that responds smoothly like a luxury counterpart would. Even though, the ride is calming and smooth, the 2.7-litre will let you know it has a wild side with some engine noise. Push the button behind the gear shift and you can put it into Sport mode to keep it in lower gears for longer stretches.

Driving through the sandy roads of Phoenix, the Edge Sport showed off its handling down some windy roads, and if you're not careful, you'll quickly realize it's a bit faster than expected. There were many occasions that I had to look down to realize I was going over 80 mph. The handling is crisp given its 4,400 pound curb weight thanks to electric power assisted steering. It managed to stay balanced on some hard lefts when realizing late that a turn was needed.

On the other hand, the 2.0-litre was capable during the early stretches of my drive at lower speeds. The problem I faced was when it needed to be pushed on the highway. That's where the lack of power compared to the Sport was evident. I have to stress that our car had to sprint back to the hotel in order to make a flight, so it wasn't the most ideal experience for testing this engine. It's not built to be a highway speedster and seemed to be unable to stay fully composed and balanced on some twisty stretches. All I can say is that the 2.0-litre seemed to be a nice commuter vehicle for families, but put to the test, you will find plenty of acceleration lag.

In terms of fuel economy, the Edge 2.0-litre in all-wheel-drive is rated at 11.8L/100 km in the city and 8.4L/100 km on the highway. In comparison, the Sport version I drove is rated at 13.7 and 9.6, respectively. None of those numbers stand out, so it appears Ford focused on the drive and appearance, over fuel economy.

A major note with the new Edge has to be in the amount of new technology Ford has put into it. Before the drive, an automatic perpendicular and parallel-parking assist demonstration was shown that could put many family parking stresses at ease. Parallel is nothing new, but perpendicular parking is a nice touch. All you need to do is press the top button to the right of the gear shift and the Edge will find a spot to park through 12 sonar sensors including some located on the side of the vehicle, It will turn the wheel on its own, and back in-between two vehicles for a perfect perpendicular parking job with the driver only working the gear shift, brake and accelerator. By the way, it can also drive you out of the spot when you're ready to leave.

Additional technology assists include: lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control and blind spot detection. In top trims, the Edge has a brake-assist feature that will automatically apply the brakes to avoid an oncoming collision. On top of that, a 180-degrees front camera system with a built-in washer shows off another luxury touch. To round out the technology buffet, the Edge has heated and cooled front seats, and a hands-free liftgate for the trunk that can be useful when carrying groceries or other packages. 

Overall, the 2015 Ford Edge is a large step-up from its outgoing model. It has more bold styling and tightened the whole package up inside-and-out providing more of a luxury feel. There might only be two rows to sit in, but that should be fine for those with a family of four, but wanting the elevated height and space. When you fold the rear seats down, there's tons of space to put your hockey equipment or boxes for a small move.

All trim levels are offered in all-wheel drive, but the true winner for me is the Sport offering. My argument is only enhanced when you look at the pricing sheet. The Titanium all-wheel drive I drove was priced after options at $44,685 USD. In comparison, the Edge Sport with all-wheel drive was only $1K more at $45,785 USD. In my mind, there's no decision here, unless you're in desperate need of some towing capacity. Otherwise, you have to choose the more refined and powerful Edge Sport.

The new 2015 Ford Edge starts at $31,999 CDN and works its way up to $45,199 for the Sport that's only offered in all-wheel-drive. The Edge will go on-sale in Canada in the spring and will be built at Ford's Oakville Assembly Plant.

2015 Toyota Camry – What We Like & Dislike

The Toyota Camry is a celebrity among the Toyota family. Outdone by only its smaller Corolla sibling, the Camry sold a respectable 400,000 units in the US last year alone. So with so much riding on its reputation, Toyota had to redesign the Camry without necessarily reinventing it. With the Accord, Mazda6 and Chrysler’s 200 receiving recent redesigns as well, consumers definitely have some fresh options. So what makes the Camry a viable option? I had the opportunity to drive one and find out for myself. Here’s a summary of what I like and dislike about the Camry XSE that I tested.

LIKE: Front design

The new Camry is definitely a welcoming sight compared to the outgoing Camry that has been on the road since 2006. Although Toyota claims the Camry was redesigned in 2012, I’d say it was more of a refresh than a redesign.  But the new Camry doesn’t have much in common with its predecessor. The front grille is bold and aggressive, stretching all the way to the bottom of the bumper. The daytime running lights and indicators are vertically stacked along each side of the bumper, and the LEDs within them are certainly a welcoming sight.



LIKE: Great standard technology

The Camry comes loaded with an impressive list of features – even on the base model. I think every car over $20,000 needs to have some type of colour display. The base Camry comes with a 6.1-inch Display Audio system – an interactive colour touchscreen multimedia player that displays information on the music you’re listening to. Although it’s not the best looking interface, it’s sufficient and functional. Did I mention that’s standard? And while it has a colour screen in there, Toyota took it one step further and added a back-up camera as well. Personally, I think a few dents in the back would definitely help the rear-end of this car look more exciting. Read my gripe about the rear design for more.



LIKE: Powerful & Efficient

The Camry offers enough power to satisfy any buyer shopping in this segment. The throttle feels responsive and the feedback from the wheels is instantaneous. Punch your foot into the gas pedal completely but make sure you keep both hands at 10 and 2, because the response is enough to make you nervous. The steering is agile and the car feels nimble enough for quick lane changes.

We drove the Camry around 2,100 kilometres – on a weekend road trip in Montreal, all the way to the North American Auto Show in Detroit. From Toronto to Montreal, I carried four passengers (plus myself) and everyone’s weekend suitcase. Even with five people on-board under terribly snowy roads, the Camry was able to average 9.2L/100km.

My drive to Detroit was a different kind of intense – I was driving 100 km/h on a snow-covered highway. Even with winter tires on, the Camry struggled slightly over the icy patches like most cars. On this 370-kilometre leg, the Camry was able to achieve 9.5L/100km. Our drive back from Detroit was snow-free, providing our Camry with a slightly better combined average of 9.1L/100km.

DISLIKE: Rear design

Although the front looks pretty impressive, I was disappointed with the amount of effort put into the rear design of this car. The rear is pretty boring looking on all. It’s simple and elegant, yet monotonous and boring. It’s the section that proudly bares the Camry logo, yet it’s the least exciting.

First Drive: 2015 Ford Focus 1.0-litre

Whitefield, NH – When you think of the highest-selling vehicles in the world, cars like the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic and Volkswagen Golf may pop-up in your mind. However, for two years straight, it's been the reliable Ford Focus compact sedan that has taken the honours.

According to GoodCarBadCar.net, the Ford Focus for 2014 ranks 21st among all vehicles sold in Canada, but it's in China where it does most of its damage that makes it Number One. Through the “One Ford” program, Ford has been able to develop its vehicle in Europe and provide some tweaks and technologies that has not been seen across the pond.

With the likes of the Corolla and Golf on its global heels, the Focus has no intention on losing its momentum that has led to 12 million Focus' sold since inception. For 2015, Ford listened to certain consumer complaints to better the spunky and funky compact. The focus of the refresh (no pun intended) was towards a more progressive front fascia, advanced smart technology and a new, more-efficient 1.0-litre EcoBoost three-cylinder engine that's also found in the subcompact Fiesta.

Lots of attention was placed on exterior styling with the inclusion of an Aston Martin-esque front grille that makes the front appear larger and in-line with the stylings of the Fiesta and Fusion. Additionally, the Focus' head and taillights have been refined with optional LED signature lighting. The new refresh provides an extra bit of quality and refinement to a car that can at times appear pedestrian.

The new look takes on added aerodynamic performance with the use of Active Grille Shutters that manage the air flow with the engine. Combine that with the new 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine and the Ford Focus has efficiency covered hands down.

For this review, I focused my attention on that 123-hp, 1.0-litre engine. Also offered is the base 160-hp, 2.0-litre four-cylinder, the sports-oriented ST version that cranks it up to 252 horses of turbo excitement, and the pure-electric running version.

The 1.0-litre option has some limitations in that it can only be had starting at the second-tier SE trim level, only offered in sedan form, and only comes with a six-speed manual transmission (inexperienced right-handed gear shifters beware).

Our drive through the roads of New England and the Eastern Townships near Montreal brought about more highway than city, but that's where the Focus excelled. We travelled through some hilly and elevated terrain, but it felt more like a practical vacation drive route down to the States, which works well for lots of seat time in order to feel out the pros and cons of any vehicle.

What stood out the most with the new 2015 Focus was its quiet, composed ride. This came about from a combination of many good attributes that included an easy to handle gear shifter that transitioned smoothly, as well an advancements in noise, vibration and harshness thanks to improved door seals and within the front and side glass.

I found its take-off to be a touch slow, but once you get into its mid-range sweet spot of third-to-fifth gear – the Focus 1.0-litre has you wondering whether it actually has only three cylinders. It's remarkably quick to accelerate using every bit of its 125 lb.-ft. of torque. The European touch can be seen on the handling side, as the Focus is smooth and crisp on turns due to improvements in electronic stability control.

You're not going to win any races or getting that extra turbo boost, but if you drive it smooth and consistent – you will be laughing all the way to the gas station. With its three-cylinders and start/stop technology, The Focus is rated at 8.1L/100 km in the city and 5.9L/100 km on the highway. We might have only combined for 7.2L/100 km, but you would have to factor in the amount of idling during picture sessions.  

Since I mentioned practicality in assessing a vehicle, where Ford loses some points right away comes down to limiting consumer options to only a sedan and manual gearbox. Auto enthusiasts love a manual, but the reality is, most people cannot drive them. Additionally, the Focus hatch can be more stylish choice to many that may not settle on the sedan. These are big drawbacks that many other nameplates never deal with. Therefore, more sales will go away from the 1.0-litre, but as long as they end up in a Focus, I guess it makes no difference to Ford.

When it comes to technology, there are many positives for the full range of the Focus with an optional eight-inch Sync with My Ford Touch screen, standard rear-view camera, and a host of safety technology that includes Lane Keeping System, Blind Spot Information System with Cross Traffic Alert, Reverse Sensing System and Active Park Assist. This is all fine and dandy, but unfortunately that little 1.0-litre isn't offered with the enhanced eight-inch Sync My Ford Touch screen, and therefore cannot come with a navigation system.

Throughout the drive, the Focus displayed a sense of roominess with ample headroom and legroom despite its small frame. On the contrary, the cockpit appears fairly open and surrounded by upgraded finishes throughout including heated seats and steering wheel. Ford has simplified the technology and buttons inside to create a more manageable console that doesn't take much to understand, while limiting distractions. The buttons are nicely organized throughout with climate control re-formatted to the bottom making it easy to control.

The 2015 Ford Focus 1.0-litre provides a nice option for those looking for a peppy ride that doesn't have to cost you much at the pumps. To put this into perspective, the 1.0-litre cut carbon dioxide emissions by 15 per cent from the 2.0-litre GDI engine that used to come with a five-speed manual.

With a starting price of $16,799 for the base Focus and $23,314 for the SE trimmed 1.0-litre that we were driving – there's no wonder that the Focus is one of the top nameplates in Canada and enjoyed around the world. With gas prices climbing once again, the Focus 1.0-litre might just be a wise environmentally-friendly choice that comes with a fun manual gearbox to play around with.

Slip-sliding away – and loving it!

Baie-Sainte-Paul, Québec – The official invitation from Hyundai Auto Canada Corp. contained the sentence… “This program will expose the Genesis and Santa Fe XL to a wide variety of wintery, public roads and give you the opportunity to fully appreciate the capabilities of Hyundai’s AWD system in a controlled environment.”

As an automotive writer, there was no need to enlist the services of an expert such as the late Alan Turing or any of his dedicated team to decipher this encrypted statement. Translation? Unabashed winter fun and excitement on ice, snow and goodness-knows-all-what in two quite different automobiles – which amounts to (manufacturer sanctioned) drifting!

February in rural Québec may, to some, be the last place to expect Hyundai Canada to demonstrate the features and strengths of two flagship vehicles: the 2015 Hyundai Genesis V6 (second generation); and, the 2015 Hyundai Santa Fe XL – but why sugar coat it? These two disparate vehicles were presented to showcase their cold weather capability and durability in pretty interesting conditions. Did I mention all vehicles driven were with available all-wheel drive (AWD)?

The morning of the event, a group of automotive writers from across Canada were briefed on the virtues of two distinct AWD systems. It had been snowing steadily most of the previous 12 hours or so – and there was no obvious end to the white stuff and sub-zero temperatures in sight. We had, on hand, pretty much perfect conditions to experience… “Snowmageddon”!

The all-wheel systems found in the 2015 Genesis and 2015 Santa Fe XL operate quite differently with diverse, innovative technology – remember, the Genesis is first and foremost rear-wheel drive (RWD) and the Santa Fe front-wheel drive (FWD). Both are, however, designed with the same goals of improving traction and providing driver confidence.

The Hyundai traction (HTRAC) system found in the Genesis was designed specifically for premium sedan applications to provide high levels of performance and control with full-time all-wheel drive featuring a distinct RWD bias. On the other hand, customers in the midsize utility segment are more concerned about utility and traction. For that reason, the Santa Fe XL behaves like a FWD vehicle – until such time as the system detects slippage and sends up to 50 per cent of power to the rear wheels.   

Hyundai’s all-new HTRAC active AWD system was developed in conjunction with Magna Powertrain to offer consistent all-weather traction while improving the vehicle’s overall dynamic behaviour. Simply, the HTRAC system electronically controls torque split between the front and rear axles depending on road and driving conditions, offering greater stability on slippery roads – and in corners. The actual power distribution is adjusted depending on the drive mode selected and surface traction.

The FWD 2015 Santa Fe XL features an advanced active AWD system and is so equipped on all but the entry-level model. This sophisticated electronic AWD system automatically activates under any driving condition as needed.  Apportioning torque between the front and rear axles in order to optimize traction, it can even anticipate traction requirements. In normal driving, the system distributes power only to the front wheels, helping to reduce fuel consumption. A control unit continuously analyzes data from the vehicle controller and actuates the system through a multi-plate clutch. The AWD system in Santa Fe models incorporates Active Cornering Control (ACC), an element within the Vehicle Stability Management (VSM) system which helps the vehicle manage acceleration in a corner. To improve traction and cornering performance, braking force is applied to the inside rear wheel when accelerating through a turn.

Vehicles and partners assigned, we were to drive south to Le Massif – the mountain, a hugely popular ski resort which presents 770 metres of vertical height – the highest east of the Rocky Mountains. Leaving the relatively warm embrace of Hôtel La Ferme by Le Massif de Charlevoix, some 100 kilometres or so north of Québec City and with poor to non-existent visibility due to driving, practically sideways snow, we tentatively set out. During the whole day of driving, I do not think we ever saw, let alone drove on dry pavement. In spite of the valiant efforts of an occasional plow, the snow continued to accumulate. All participating vehicles were equipped with winter boots – each Genesis, regrettably, was shod with performance-oriented winter tires which, under so-called normal winter circumstances would excel on ice and in cold conditions. Deep snow? Well that’s another tale entirely. Consequently, the HTRAC system really had to be on its game to keep this premium sedan from becoming bogged down. 

About 10 to 15 minutes from our starting point, driving cautiously – but with confidence – we came upon a long, slow left hand turn. Manoeuvring into it was no problem. However, almost simultaneously, the rear end began to come loose. Turning into the “drift” only helped to line up the heavy sedan as, in Sam Peckinpah-like slow motion, it careened side-on into a tall and fortunately soft, snow wall on the passenger side. There was an explosion (no, not the noise) of a massive amount of snow that engulfed the sedan as we came to an abrupt – yet safe stop. What ensued was a major case of the giggles as we slowly, and practically blindly, drove out of this natural obstacle and pulled over – none the worse for wear.

At the ski resort and under controlled and well-supervised conditions, we participated in two different run-throughs to test the HTRAC’s abilities. Ice, snow and dirt were to all be part of the “trial” and part of the autocross-style course included an ice section that was too slippery to walk on. Here the Genesis had no issue – even with traction control (TCS) turned off. Whether from a dead stop, or on a slight incline, the HTRAC system would easily allow the wheels to bite into the ice.

Here we also had the chance to test the Santa Fe on a different course – with deeper snow. The mid-size SUV handled each assessment with enthusiasm and confidence. There was never any doubt about its ability to perform in winter conditions. This would be underlined later in the day when we drove from our luncheon stop back to the hotel. The Santa Fe accepted every challenge regardless of the conditions, superbly – and seamlessly. The right rubber for the conditions made all the difference.

While there are differences between both AWD systems, the intent is similar – to provide agility and stability when cornering and traction for slippery and uneven surface roads. Neither automobile as stock vehicles, is intended for off-road capabilities – but percentage-wise, the same may be said for their owners who expect tremendous value for the money – and AWD – in a handsome, performance-oriented package.

Having driven the Genesis in the fall on some rural roads in Ontario I can attest to the cat-like ability of this performance-oriented premium sedan. Similarly, in the interests of full-disclosure I cheerfully have a 2010 Santa Fe Limited in our home driveway. I can say, that the 2015 model would definitely be under serious consideration if I was in the market for a replacement.

The Santa Fe is tried, tested and true – no doubt.

Hyundai wants the Genesis to be taken seriously as a premium yet affordable luxury sedan; having a sophisticated all-wheel drive system is essential. With the right tires, make no mistake that the Genesis will fulfill – and possibly exceed any and all expectations of any individual considering a change in the higher-end luxury AWD sedan category. What’s more, you’ll likely fulfill your list of required performance and features – and still have change – more than enough for a getaway weekend in rural Quebec as you tour the country side in luxury, comfort and safety, stopping off long enough to sample some marvellous cheeses and other local gastronomique delights.

The 2015 Ford F-150: the versatile giant of the winter

Quebec City, QC – Since the reveal of the all-new 2015 Ford F-150, Ford has proudly claimed that it's the toughest, smartest and most capable F-150 ever. A big statement for a company that uses the word “tough” in its truck slogans.

We've heard a lot about the new F-150's body frame made up of high-strength, military-grade aluminum alloy.  It's well documented that it has helped to shed 700 pounds from its outgoing model and reduce fuel efficiency up to 20 per cent. However, the areas of improvement that seem to get lost in the buzz about aluminum might just be the most important aspects of the new truck. We're talking about best-in-class towing up to 12,200 pounds, best-in-class payload of up to 3,300 pounds, faster acceleration, improved handling, better braking and more advanced safety features.



We can hear about all of these new attributes from Ford and about its 49 straight years of being Canada's best-selling truck, but it makes more sense to prove it through real-life practical tests. And that's exactly what Ford Canada did by sending a group of journalists to Quebec City to thoroughly test the new F-150 in a series of activities that include: off-roading, handling, towing, payload and everyday highway and road driving.

These days, versatility in a truck is everything. Not only is it vital to perform heavy towing tasks; it's imperative to have the handling and agility of a smaller vehicle when driving around. After spending a few days with the big blue oval, I'm happy to say that its versatile nature shined.



Let's start with the off-roading adventure. The F-150 easily climbed a few steep hills, challenged itself to cross some elevated logs and finally made its way down some slopes via hill descent. This is not saying much, as it's expected from the F-150, but it was the ease of which it performed those tasks that opened my eyes. Never once did an adjustment or reverse occur showcasing the balance, steadiness and toughness that the F-150 possesses.



Next in line was the handling course. A completely different task that can be challenging for certain trucks. In the past, trucks are well known more for towing and payload before even gesturing the thought of weaving its way through a slalom course. But the times they are changing and the F-150 made beautiful 's' strokes in-between those pylons. The combination of grip between the all-wheel drive system and the replacement BF Goodrich KO2 tires were a match made in heaven. Currently, the OEM vary between seven different tires in the F-Series lineup, but we were treated to these more-than-capable KO2s that assisted to better grip and handling while conquering the icy and snow patches on the course.

Towing and payload are expected features for the F-150 and that's why Ford made sure they were class-leading. Ford Canada had set-up some practical tests around town that included hauling around a John Deere excavator and some machinery for close to maximum payload capacity. After driving around with both objects – it was incredible to see how little change was felt on the drive. Payload seemed to make no difference whatsoever without any additional weight felt in the back; while towing had me focused more on turns, but once again not much impact when driving straight.



No truck test is complete without some regular road driving. We might utilize these tools for tasks once in a while, but every truck owner deals with city and highway roads on a daily basis. Plenty of time was spent manoeuvring the F-150 around the streets of Quebec City and around those more than aggressive drivers. The F-150 blended into the crowd and kept up speed throughout acting more like an SUV than a truck. It stuck in its lane and forged ahead regardless of terrain becoming the all-around versatile beast that Ford enjoyed creating.

Not only is the all-new F-150 a better product, Ford made sure to assist its new and returning consumers with a more organized trim level offering that's easy to understand. Even with the reduction in trim levels from eight to five, consumers can still get a variety of offerings with each trim that includes your choice of chrome or sport – something that wasn't available throughout the lineup in the past. I know that I've looked at a pricing list of Ford F-150s in the past, and it's just too overwhelming. I don't even know how long the customer/sales process takes place at the dealership level due to the amount of choices. It's nice to see that the less is more argument holds true and will make both the customer and automaker happier in the end.



As much as we talk about the other more alluring features of the F-150, the excitement comes down to the many ways you can utilize its features. There are four engines to choose from including the 3.5-litre V6 Ti-VCT, 2.7-litre V6 EcoBoost with auto start/stop technology, 3.6-litre V6 EcoBoost and the 5.0-litre V8 Ti-VCT. That leaves a broad spectrum of choice to find the right engine that best suits you. After that, it's all about enjoying the various capabilities of the beast incarnate.

Did the all-new F-150 hold true with its motto that its the tough, smart and most capable than any other previous  version? You better believe it. There's nothing in the exercises around Quebec City that placed it in a slow or incapable position. The F-150 performed admirably and showed the quickness and versatility that would please any new or returning truck lover. Additionally, these new F-150s have thicker panels for dent resistence and are naturally resistant to rust to keep that fun going without the need for repair. What's evident is the onus isn't on the F-150 to achieve those versatile activity stunts, but on the new owner to find time for said activities.

Tire Review: Cooper Tires Discoverer X/T4

 

Notre-Dame-de-la-Merci, QC – The winter/all-season tire debate is typically a long one that usually ends with a cost versus commute and safety discussion. Additionally, decisions can differ depending on where you live. If you take Canada for example, you will most likely need winter tires in the provinces of Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and parts of Alberta; however, on the far west and east coasts – winter tires are not too common.

And then there's Quebec, who's not just the only province whose sole official language is French, but the only province where winter tires are mandatory between December 15 and March 15. Apparently that's not so much the case, as they just have to be winter certified. That's noted by the Severe Winter Rated snowflake logo on each tire. The Severe Winter Rated tire information is not well known around Quebec, but Cooper Tires is hoping to get that message across with its all-new Discoverer X/T4 All-Terrain, Severe Winter tire specifically designed for SUVs and light trucks during all seasons.   



To show Cooper Tires determination to provide a tire for all of the seasons, they brought a handful of journalists to the depths of hell at Circuit Mecaglisse in the Laurentian area north of Montreal. Okay, it's not that bad, but this area of Quebec in late January can be brutally cold and icy – a true test for winter tires.

Cooper Tires showed off a host of tires that included this Discoverer X/T4 along with its specific winter tires – the Weather-Master SA2 (performance touring and studless) and WSC (for SUVs/CUVs that are stud capable). But for this review, we will go in-depth on the one tire that adds a grey area to the winter tire/all-season tire debate – the Discoverer X/T4.



The Discoverer X/T4 was pitted against a true winter tire – the Firestone Winterforce UV on Chevrolet Tahoes through the race track with handling and braking obstacles along the way. We compared the two tires back-to-back starting with your typical slalom test to check out the handling of both vehicles followed by an emergency braking test in-between four pylons. The course then takes you towards an emergency lane change ahead of a plethora of pylons and a stop sign. Once you clear that, you can pick up speed to about 45 km/h before another emergency stop that tests the braking grip of the tire. Lastly, the course slopes upwards and down through a few icy sweeping rights and lefts to finish off a full test on snowy and icy conditions.

Now that you know the race course, let's take you through the areas where each tire excelled. Keep in mind we are pitting a Cooper Tires Discoverer X/T4 all-terrain/all-season tire against a true winter tire in the Firestone Winterforce UV that's built for winter performance.



At the start, the Firestone tire seemed to have a touch more balance and control when weaving through the man-made pylon slalom. The Discoverer X/T4 was not too far off from the crisp lines with the Firestone, but more steering guidance was used to navigate to avoid those pylons. In that type of test, I would feel more comfortable pushing the Firestone with more throttle, while I would lower my speed slightly in the Coopers to have a less stressful drive.

That first part goes to the Firestones, but for the rest of the way – it was the Coopers that shined. Immediately following the slalom, the Coopers came to a close to perfect emergency stop in between the box, while the Firestones came to a stop just a smidge past the box. They both struggled for traction immediately after when attempting to accelerate going up an icy incline. Eventually, both found grip and continued on. 

After a slippery start, the Discoverer X/T4 picked up speed and shot its way through a right and left slope before comfortably manoeuvring passed an emergency lane change to the left away from those pylons and into a clear stop well ahead of the stop sign. This is the part where the X/T4's Micro-Gauge Corrugated Siping and SnowGroove 2.0 Technology came to good use. The Siping tightened up and dug into the snow and ice to gain additional traction and control; while the SnowGroove packed in some snow to create snow-on-snow traction. Additionally, the sipe density in the Discoverer X/T4 kept the Tahoe stable throughout without any worry along the way.

On the other hand, the Firestone's wouldn't have made that emergency left without laying off the throttle on approach and braking hard before that yank left.



As speed picked up, the emergency brake comparison ended up being no comparison at all. The Discoverer X/T4 broke immediately within two feet from the braking point. On the other hand, the Winterforce UV tires finally came to a complete stop at the four foot mark. To me that's a significant difference that can avoid a potential accident and/or injury.

I'm staying on the emergency lane change and brake test at 45 km/h, because that opened my eyes to the largest discrepancies between the two tires. Even though, the Firestone Winterforce UV is a true winter tire, they're only labelled that from an outdated winter tire test that only has to accelerate 10 per cent quicker than a UniRoyal Tiger Paw All-season tire. There are no tests for braking and handling under ice or snow conditions, which can be crucial under dangerous Canadian winter months.



Cooper Tires were out to prove that an all-terrain tire could match-up with a dedicated winter tire in the province of Quebec and that they succeeded in accomplishing that goal. The Firestone Winterforce UV does excel under initial acceleration and in some handling and cornering conditions, but the X/T4 held its own. However, under regular and emergency braking tests, it was the Cooper Tires brand that I found to be far superior and placed the driver under more control.

When you factor in that the Discoverer X/T4 can perform under hot temperatures, wet conditions and off-road handling – it's truly an all-in-one stop for any adventurous driver. Clearly an all-year round tire will deal with more wear and tear, but Cooper Tires claims that even at three-quarters worn, these X/T4s will still bite down for exceptional braking and handling performance. It's possible that the coupled silica compound tread used in the X/T4 plays a significant role in increasing its tread life.

The Cooper Tires Discoverer X/T4 went on sale throughout North America in September 2014. For all those that have been hoping to save some money on one tire all-year round, especially those in Quebec – this all-new, all-terrain, severe winter rated tire might be the best one out there. If it can handle some of the icier conditions at Circuit Mecaglisse, it can handle those crazy snow days around the country. 

First Drive – 2015 Nissan Murano: luxury car for not a luxury price

Whistler, BC - “We hit the reset button,” said Jill Young, Manager, Product Planning at Nissan Canada about the all-new Nissan Murano.

That's just the way Nissan has been rolling lately. As the fastest growing company in Canada, Nissan has increased its stock with churning out fresh looking vehicles at the right price. That's the formula that has led to 17 months of consecutive sales growth and a market share increase from 5.2 to 6.2 per cent, the largest jump by far from any automaker in 2014.

Despite not having a refresh since 2011, Nissan's mid-size five-seater crossover, the Murano surprisingly assisted the Japanese-brand's growth with a 39.1 per cent increase in sales. But that wasn't enough to stop Nissan from making bold changes to its flagship, as they focus on bettering all of its products.

The focus for the all-new 2015 Murano was for a modernized style that would shape the future. Not to be similar to a typical crossover, but one that breaks the conventional mold, similar to the first-generation that broke away from many boxy frames – a reset, if you will.

It all starts with sharp boomerang signature lamp headlights and a V-motion grille that allows the Murano to stand out. Its floating roof line provides a sleek flowing look to it that's capped off with LED taillights that resemble a shooting arrow. This look started with the Resonance Concept first displayed at the 2013 North American International Auto Show in Detroit and its boldness continues inside with a choice of two vibrant themes of cashmere or graphite, along with soft touch materials and back seat roominess that provide a luxurious touch not seen in many crossovers that start at $29,998.

For Nissan, it's the look that will make the Murano become a winner, because the engine has not changed. Inside, the Murano has the same 3.5-litre V6 that produces 260 hp and 240 lb-ft of torque, but its the weight loss of 146 pounds that has helped to improve its fuel economy with help from its Xtronic CVT transmission to a combined 9.9L/100 km for the all-wheel drive version. There's also the standard front-wheel drive that's available in the first two trims that combines for a similar 9.8L/100 kms.

At times, many complain about a CVT system that appears artificial while driving, but the Murano manages to shift gears at a proper rate as opposed to one that focuses on higher gears at low RPM's for optimal fuel efficiency.

It won't be the fastest crossover on the market when you need a quick sprint, but it sure maintains a smooth sweet spot at regular speed limits. The target market are 45-year-olds with teenagers, so speed is not the main concern. Instead, the best driving attribute of the Murano is its superb handling. The steering is that perfect blend of not being too hard or soft, but just drives with a certain simpleness that allows you to drive with ease and comfort. The Murano has an exceptional turning radius and direct precision that's hard to beat.

The comfort inside the Murano is complemented by its quiet cabin environment typically seen in luxury vehicles. It's rare to hear a peep from the outside thanks to an acoustic laminated windshield and its roof line that absorbs acoustic sounds. Additionally, the Murano receives the NASA-inspired “Zero Gravity” seats in both the first and second rows that make a monumental difference in comfort, especially during long commutes. The combination of the quiet ride, the absorption of bumps and the soft touch materials truly pushes the Murano towards the luxury side.

Cargo space behind the second row is best-in-class with 39.6 cubic feet to store at least four suitcases and two other smaller bags comfortably. The Murano has plenty of flexibility if you need more space, as the second row folds down for an additional 30.3 cubic feet.

This all-new Murano is better in every way from the outgoing model with a decrease in price in every trim by at least $2,000. Nissan made a conscious effort to get the price of the Murano below the $30,000 mark assisted by the addition of a front-wheel drive option. However, it's the additions of a navigation system and satellite radio as standard equipment that are impressive. Nissan expects most sales to come in the SL and Platinum range ($38,398-$43,498) that host a bevy of safety technology including Predictive Forward Collision Warning, Cross Traffic Alert, Forward Emergency Braking and Moving Object Detection.

There were a few nagging details on the two day trip around Vancouver to Whistler that's worthy of note. First off, I found it hard to come close to the combined fuel economy number and only managed to average 12.9L/100 kms throughout the drive. Secondly, the power locks don't automatically unlock when going from drive to park. I can understand the automatic locking of the vehicle when travelling past a certain speed, but you shouldn't have to constantly unlock your vehicle after going into park. However, according to Terry Stang, Technical Services Manager at Nissan Canada there's some good news about this, as the locking system can be customized to your liking at the dealership level on purchase or afterwards.

Nissan has positioned its flagship Murano to be the more luxurious option of its four-headed SUV/crossover roster. It has all the elegant styling inside and cutting-edge styling outside to be a very successful, reasonably-priced luxury alternative. It reminds me of that cutting-edge trendy restaurant that has superior food at a surprisingly reasonable price. Sometimes, there's just no need to pay more. If you're in the market for a mid-size crossover with some flair and comfort – I would place the all-new 2015 Nissan Murano near the top of the list. It just seems to have the total package.

Winter fun with Mercedes' 4Matic system

Montreal, QC – Introduced back in 1987, the Mercedes-Benz 4Matic system has blossomed into a must have. It has not only become a desire, but reached a point where it's the only option offered on certain vehicles. This surge in 4Matic vehicle sales has led to an incredible take rate of 83.5 per cent in 2014 and an expected growth to 91 per cent with the inclusion of the B-Class and CLA.

The aforementioned two cars are part of the reason Mercedes-Benz sent a host of journalists to Montreal and through the Eastern Townships of Quebec for a winter driving clinic to showcase the 4Matic all-wheel drive system. A few challenges were set-up around the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve to showcase 4Matic's optimal traction that best known for making the best use of all four wheels during slippery conditions.



The CLA250 received the option of 4Matic in 2014; while the B250 gets it this year, making it the 37th vehicle to carry it. Mercedes-Benz believes for only an additional $2,200 – most consumers will opt for the additional comfort and confidence provided in an all-wheel drive system. And with that extremely high take rate – why wouldn't they?



At the race track, the B250 and CLA250 took on a slalom course, an ice circle and a braking control test. The slalom exercises showcased how the 4Matic system stayed balanced and on course with little correction. I varied my speeds on each run alternating with the ESP (Electronic Stability Program) on and off, and could definitely notice the difference. When enabled, I found myself able to comfortably hold acceleration longer, while directing the B250 and CLA250 exactly where I needed to go. On the flip side, under a disabled system I managed to keep between the pylons, but with less of a rhythm and more steering adjustments.

The ice circle was a different animal altogether. This was more to do about technique and driving awareness than anything else. At times, understanding the way to drive on ice or slippery conditions is just as crucial as your set of winter tires. The combination of a set of winter tires, an all-wheel drive system and the proper driving technique might save you from imminent harm. A part of the Mercedes-Benz Winter Driving Academy teaches you to work with your vehicle, which includes precisely knowing when to take your foot off the throttle in order to correctly position the car back on course and in the direction you desire. This exercise gets a little out of hand when the 4Matic vehicle's ESP is disabled, but can still manage to stay the course when the proper throttle and steering is enforced.



Lastly, the braking tests were an eye opener on avoiding the use of your ABS system. The simple technique of guiding your transport vehicle into a mild and smooth stop was taught, but only after a little fun with timing the perfect stop with the use of ABS. It's nice to know that your ABS back-up is there when needed, but more importantly, it was important to learn what can happen when you take a slippery road too fast. On my first run, my confidence ran high, and naturally led to my detriment. Not only did I shoot past the stopping pylon point – it was so ridiculous that after failing to stop, I just continued on back to the starting gates without ever coming to a full stop. Clearly, having winter tires doesn't provide you free reign to accelerate and push your vehicle to the limits.

After a few more runs, my understanding of the ABS system in the CLA250 was absorbed and I could handle both ABS stops and smooth braking without the use of extra support. With the proper technique and acceleration, the sedan became a champion of the snow with the triple threat of proper driving technique, all-wheel drive and winter tires.



After those fun exercises, it was time to test both 4Matics on regular road conditions. We travelled on a journey through some windy roads and uphill battles around the Eastern Townships of Quebec. It was the perfect mix of paved and unpaved roads to test the traction abilities of both vehicles. Regardless of which wheel felt some slippage, the system maintained the crucial balance of power for added control.

This was the first opportunity I've had to drive the B250 and I have to say it's the quintessential luxury starter vehicle that can hold its open on the slipperiest of conditions. It not only looks the part with a new front fascia for 2015, it's small enough to weave its way through windy roads, while managing to fit nicely into downtown parking spots.



The CLA250 is a different animal that provides a reasonable option for those looking for a sedan. It might have the looks and flash of a typical Mercedes-Benz, but you will find it lacking in the power and smoothness department. However, if you take the plunge – the 4Matic system will provide you that added comfort and reliability you come to expect with the Mercedes-Benz brand.

The 4Matic word might be a nice marketing name for Mercedes-Benz's all-wheel drive system, but it sure makes up for it with a tremendous sales take. Not only is the system equipped for those treacherous winter conditions, but it can also attack mud and excels into corners. With the rise of more compact car sales, it was only logical for these two vehicles to be equipped with one of the better all-wheel drive systems offered. After a real-world test on a controlled track setting and regular road conditions – there's no surprise to why most people shell out those extra $2,200 shekels.

2015 Acura TLX – What We Like and Dislike

The Acura TLX is a refreshing take on an entry-level luxury sedan with its edgy design and sophisticated profile. Priced perfectly at $34,900, it's an affordable alternative to its counterparts. But is it compelling enough to attract buyers in the market for a 3-series or the newly designed C-class? I recently had the opportunity to test one and here’s what I like and dislike about it.

LIKES

LIKE: Great fuel efficiency



Throughout my test, I was surprised by the fuel economy I achieved in the TLX. My test vehicle was a 3.5-litre V6 engine that generates 290 horsepower. Most of the V6 cars I have driven achieve an average fuel economy between 12 and 14 liters/100 kilometers (L/100km). The Acura achieved an average of 10.6 L/100km. To put this in perspective, a Ford Fusion 1.6 I drove achieved 11.4L/100km and the Ford Focus achieved 9.8L/100km.

LIKE: Concept-like headlights

The jewel-eye headlights on the TLX have a sleek appearance, yet are quite functional. The five square projector bulbs similar to the ones found on the Acura RLX and MDX look stunning at night, while also acting as LED daytime running lights during the day.



LIKE: Performance when you need it

My first few days of testing the Acura left me unsatisfied and wanting more. I wondered how a 290-hp V6 engine made me feel like I was driving a four-cylinder Accord. After some research, I noticed I wasn’t taking advantage of the IDS system. The Integrated Dynamics System allows the driver to select between a range of driving modes such as Economy, Normal, and Sport-plus. Most of my driving was done in Normal mode. To solve its performance issues, I shifted the TLX to Sport-plus which instantly boosted the RPMs delivering a roaring sport-tuned sound and increasing throttle sensitivity in the process. The result is an exhilarating drive – and the most fun I’ve had behind the wheel of an Acura.



LIKE: Power seatbelts

The seatbelts on the TLX are unique because they dynamically adapt to the way you drive. The seatbelt is generally loose and comfortable until you take a tight turn or apply the brakes hard – at which point the seatbelt tightens itself and holds you in your seat.



DISLIKES

DISLIKE: Unintuitive Gear Shifter

The gear shifter on the TLX isn’t very welcoming. The traditional shifter is replaced with a series of buttons that read P, R, N, D and S. Now usually if I wanted to shift into a gear, I would simply move the lever up or down without having to look. On the TLX, I found myself constantly looking down at the buttons in order to shift into the right gear, requiring me to take my eyes of the road.

Test Drive – 2015 GMC Canyon and Chevrolet Colorado

AJAX, ON – I'm sure you've heard by now about General Motors' (GM) push in the mid-size pickup truck segment with the brand-new 2015 GMC Canyon and Chevrolet Colorado. It's all part of GM's three-truck strategy (the only automaker to offer that) to offer a full variety of trucks in their lineup.

The mid-size pickup truck segment has been growing cobwebs for a decade, and GM hopes that its latest additions can invigorate it with two sharp-looking and technology-laden trucks. GM is hoping that those customers who flocked to the crossover market will come back, as well as many new clientele, who are looking for something a little bit bigger with a bed for hauling purposes. It's an unconventional theory, but one that GM is sticking to.



There are very few segments that can be quickly penetrated and GM saw an opportunity with the departure of the Ford Ranger and Dodge Dakota. Forever, the segment sales leader has been the Toyota Tacoma, but this movement even re-charged Toyota's batteries. In reaction to GM's assault on the segment, Toyota is ready to unveil the third-generation 2016 Tacoma at this year's North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

On a rainy morning, east of Toronto in Ajax, Ontario, GM set-up a day where we were able to test out the mid-size twin sisters. They both share the same set-up and engine, but differ in other respects. The GMC Canyon is your more refined sister with expensive taste and a sweet spot for chrome and leather; on the other hand, the Chevy Colorado is your tomboy with a more sporty and no-fuss attitude about it. The Colorado has the looks to take on its competition without the need to show off. They both have an edgy look to them, which is in line with today's modern styling.



When it comes to interior styling, both trucks are leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of the segment. Above the base level, both come with an eight-inch touchscreen with navigation, comfortable bucket seats and OnStar with 4G LTE and a built-in Wi-Fi hot spot. Furthermore, you will receive technological safety assists that include a rear view camera, Lane Departure Warning and Hill Descent controls.



Everything about the new trucks help to make life easier for the driver and passengers. The seats are more comfortable, there is more room in the second-row and even the tailgate is easy to lower, as it goes down slowly to avoid any injury. The only thing I felt the Canyon should have was an eight-or-ten-way powered driver seat. For now in both the trucks, you can use the powered seat to move back-and-forth and up-and-down, but not to recline – a lever still does that trick.



These twin trucks might look and feel like new cars and crossovers, but what's even better is that they drive like them too. I manoeuvred around with confidence whether it was a curvy road or performing a u-turn. This is an important note to mention, as the full-size GMC Sierra and Silverado cannot do such acts with ease, proving that there is a need for a mid-size truck.

It was only when I got out of the Canyon SLE long bed when I noticed how long and non-compact it was. Granted, these new crossover buyers will be opting for a short bed, it was still shocking to see this truck that seemed to have no end point.



All of the vehicles provided by GM were fitted with the 3.6-litre six-cylinder engine that produces 305 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque with best in-class towing and payload of 7,000 lbs. and 1,800 lbs., respectively. They're all mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, which I found to be slow upon initial acceleration in the 4wd Canyon in SLE trim with the all-terrain package and long bed. However, when levelling off your acceleration at 60 km/h, it seemed to go forward without any lag. On the other hand, the 2wd Colorado in the off-road-inspired 7Z1 trim with the short bed pushed off quickly with less noticeable gear shifts.

The other engine option for both is the 2.5-litre four-cylinder with 200 hp and 191 lb-ft of torque. There is a third option to be added shortly and it will be an intriguing 2.8-litre four-cylinder Duramax Turbo Diesel.



During the drive, both trucks got an equal taste of smooth suburban driving roads and gravel roads. They were both surprisingly quiet and relaxed throughout, as well as being fun to drive. There were many bumps, pot holes and puddles along the way, but both trucks tackled those obstacles with ease and without much impact on the occupants.

In the past few years, many consumers went smaller to avoid high fuel economy bills. They need not worry much with these trucks as the Canyon SLE 4WD crew cab long bed rates at 13.5L/100 km in the city and 9.8L/100 km on the highway; while the Colorado Z71 2WD crew cab short bed rated at 13.0L/100 km in the city and 9.2L/100 km on the highway. Almost identical numbers to the Hyundai Santa Fe XL I just drove in.

I didn't get the chance to tow anything or go off-roading, but there was a snowmobile attached to one of the Canyon long boxes that from what I hear was easily manoeuvred around the area.



When it comes to trucks, there's always too many prices to list. What I can tell you is that the six-cylinder Chevy Colorado starts at $30,900 and the Z71 that I had topped out at $37,565. While, the six-cylinder GMC Canyon starts at $36,200 and the SLE long bed with all-terrain package ended up being $41,725.

The twin trucks showcased their versatile skills that could be used for long hauls when needed. The trucks felt quiet, composed and nimble throughout the drive without ever feeling the weight of a typical truck. The question remains, whether GM's gamble of re-entering the mid-size pickup segment pay off? Well, considering Toyota is making a new next-generation Tacoma – I would say they've already made an impression. And with time, new customers will inevitably enter or re-enter the segment with many taking home new GMs. In the end, it's a practical choice for those that need the space and capabilities of a truck without the worry of fuel economy.

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