Recently, I had afternoon tea with a butler. He was hired by Ford of Canada to help the company improve the customer experience at its dealership service departments. Have a look at my story here, at Driving.ca.
Monthly Archives: August 2014
Looking for a new family car?
First, have a look at my Autofocus.ca review of the 2014 Toyota Camry, a big comfortable sedan that, despite having been last redesigned in 2012, still feels current among today’s crop of mid-size sedans.
Meanwhile, the Accord Hybrid, also reviewed at Autofocus.ca, signals Honda’s renewed commitment to hybrid vehicles, with a new gas-electric powertrain that kicks the company’s old integrated motor assist (IMA) system back to the dark ages, where it belongs.
1. This one goes to 11
Subaru’s STI takes the WRX sports car and cranks everything up: there’s more power, more grip and more tech, including an adjustable centre differential. If you want a taste of what it feels like to drive a rally car, this is the one to try.
2. (Not-so-) little wing
If someone you know buys an STI, here are some questions to ask them: Is the wing FAA-approved? How quickly does your laundry air-dry when hung from it? Does it improve your cell reception? (It’s standard on the pricier two of three STI models, and not included on the base model.) (Credit for the wing jokes goes to my friend Steph Willems. When you’re done here, go read his excellent blog.)
3. What’s this button do? Oh shi—
The STI gets limited-slip differentials front and rear, and a driver-controlled centre diff: you can fiddle with the latter’s various adjustments to change how the car handles when flung around corners. It all makes it easy to forget you’re driving a real car, and not in your basement playing Forza Motorsports; I prefer the relative simplicity of the standard WRX.
4. Gripping story, bro
Between those differentials and a set of grippy tires, the STI drives much differently than the WRX. It was impossible to break the rear end loose on public roads, whereas the WRX seemed more willing to drift through fast corners.
5. Power play
Despite its bigger engine and extra power, the STI doesn’t feel much quicker than the WRX, and you have to beat the crap out of the car to feel what difference there is in a straight line.
The last STI that I drove was a 2008 model. Where I remember that car having a surprisingly comfortable ride, this one does not. It’s punishing, actually, and as a result, the car isn’t much fun to use for everyday driving. The new WRX is much easier to live with as a daily driver.
7. Big gulp
My average fuel consumption was higher than 12 L/100 km in city driving, and barely better than 9.0 on the highway, making it a solid 20 to 30 per cent thirstier than the WRX I drove a few weeks ago.
8. No hatchbacks allowed
Subaru disappointed countless fans of the old WRX and STI (including me) by building this new one exclusively as a sedan. It’s still a perfectly practical car—just not as practical as it used to be.
1. Five alive
This is the Kia Forte5. It’s the hatchback variant of the brand’s compact car, a competitor to the likes of the Honda Civic and Mazda3. Those 18-inch wheels fill out the fenders nicely, don’t they?
2. Flower power
Wait, the wheels look like flowers. When did this turn into a review of a 1999 Volkswagen New Beetle?
3. It wants to be sporty
The car looks good, especially from the rear. The black lower bumper insert and dual exhaust tips are pretty sharp.
4. It tries to be sporty
Kia says the Forte5, in my tester’s SX Luxury trim, has a sport-tuned suspension, but the soft ride doesn’t feel like it. Also, the suspension has a hard time keeping those big, heavy wheels planted on the road over rough pavement. The resulting unsettled ride really doesn’t work for me.
5. But it’s not all that sporty
Power-assisted steering is nothing new, but adjustable power-assist is. Press a button on the wheel and choose from “comfort,” “normal,” and “sport” modes. None of these settings does anything to improve the Forte’s vague steering feel.
6. Turbocharged torque
All that said, the turbocharged engine is a fun little thing, even when hitched to the automatic transmission. Despite its small 1.6-litre displacement, it makes lots of torque at low revs. It deserves a better-sorted chassis than this.
7. Stick to your strengths
Rear seat space approaches that of mid-size cars, and the trunk is nearly as large as that of many small crossovers. The front seats are comfortable, but the cushions are quite firm. This car’s interior is very well put together.
8. The price of luxury
If you had $29,000, would you spend it on this car? Because that’s what Kia asks for the SX Luxury model I drove. It comes with a lot of nice stuff – heated steering wheel, heated rear(!) seats, HID headlights, proximity key, automatic air conditioning and a backup camera – but the Forte5 is a better deal closer to its $20,000 starting price. At that point, you don’t get the flowery wheels, but that’s okay with me.
Exterior photos by Chris Chase; Interior photos courtesy Subaru Canada
1. More than meets the eye
Subaru’s high-performance WRX is based on the compact Impreza, but the differences between them are greater than they might appear based on exterior appearance. The WRX’s turbocharged motor nearly doubles the power output of the Impreza’s, and its drivetrain is beefed up to handle all that power.
2. Surprisingly practical
Due to its four-door sedan roots, the WRX is that rare sports car that comes with everyday practicalities such as plenty of rear-seat and trunk space. I do miss the hatchback body style of the previous-generation model, though.
If you’re like me, you’ll forget about the lack of a hatchback once you hit the gas. It’s not a scary-fast car, but it’s pretty damned quick, and the all-wheel drive system gets the power down efficiently. Want to feel like a rally driver? Hit the gas as you power through a corner, and feel the rear wheels push the car through the curve.
4. Transmission switch-up
My tester had the standard six-speed manual transmission. The option is a continuously variable automatic, but – no offense to those who don’t drive stick – that’s not the transmission that belongs in this car. The clutch is heavy for driving in heavy traffic, but the shifter feels deliciously precise and mechanical in its movement.
5. What’s that sound?
I’ve long complained about Subaru’s poor-sounding stereo systems. This one’s better than in the last WRX I drove (a few years ago), but it’s clear that Subaru’s focus was on making this car fun to drive, not fun to listen to.
6. Efficient fun
The WRX’s fuel economy has come a long way: I averaged 8.0 L/100 km in an even mix of city and highway driving, which matches the Subaru’s highway estimate for the car. In straight highway driving, I averaged less than 7.0 L/100 km, which is pretty great for a performance car at cruising speeds close to 120 km/h.
7. Comfortable support
Well-bolstered seats are a necessity if your plan is to drive this car in any manner close to what it was designed for. These ones are, but not so aggressively that they’re a pain to repeatedly get in and out of while running weekend errands. Plus, they’re comfortable for long drives.
8. Lower price, low profile
At $30,000, the 2015 WRX costs $2,500 less than the car it replaces, which is always good. But my favourite thing about the WRX? It looks enough like its downmarket Impreza cousin to avoid attracting too much attention – especially from the cop you just sped past.
1. New look
What you see here is the third generation of the “new” Mini Cooper. Base price is $20,900; options in my tester ran that up to $24,470. Its larger, bulky-looking exterior is polarizing; personally, I prefer the looks of the previous car.
2. Big comfort
I day-tripped this one from Ottawa to a friend’s house on the east side of Toronto, and after the eight-hour round-trip, I was less tired than I have been after long drives in more luxurious cars.
3. Great soundtrack
Entry-level models use a new turbocharged three-cylinder engine that’s more powerful than the four-cylinder in last year’s base car, and it produces an adorable, hilarious symphony of turbo-related whooshes, whistles and sighs as you accelerate and brake your way around city streets.
4. Thrifty shifting
That extra power is tempered by “taller” gearing that keeps engine speeds low, and bumps fuel economy up: my test car averaged 8.0 L/100 km in the city, and 5.0 L/100 km in highway driving at an average speed of just under 100 km/h.
5. All grown up, sadly
There was an urgency to the previous Cooper’s driving feel. Where’d it go? The new one is still fun to drive, with a nice balance in turns and sharp steering, but on the whole it feels softer and more relaxed.
6. Rev me up
The manual transmission has a rev-match downshift function that makes you feel like a superstar driver every time you downshift for a corner, and generates more of the engine’s fun noises. However, I prefer doing this myself when I drive a stickshift, and I couldn’t find any way to disable it.
7. The fun switch
Toggle the car into sport mode: throttle sensitivity goes way up, and you discover that this is the best way to experience this car. Sport mode also firms up the optional adjustable suspension ($500!), but this makes the car uncomfortable on rough roads. Thankfully, you can set it to leave the suspension alone.
8. Dude, where’s my speedo?
You’ll notice some changes inside. I like that there’s a bit more space, and that the electric window controls now live on the doors. I never thought I’d say it, but I miss the massive speedo in the middle of the dash that was legible from three cars back and two lanes over.
1. A nice price – to start
The Grand Cherokee has been Jeep’s flagship model since1993. A starting price of about $40,000 makes it affordable for a comfortable, capable SUV, but that number reaches well north of $60,000 in Summit trim, and that doesn’t count the hip-hop video-worthy high-performance SRT-8 model.
2. Diesel powered
With its optional 3.0-litre diesel V6, the Grand Cherokee is the only American-branded SUV offered with a diesel engine. That puts it in the same league as some pretty fancy competition, like the Mercedes-Benz ML-Class, Audi Q7, BMW X5, Volkswagen Touareg, and Porsche Cayenne.
3. Fuel economy
My test vehicle averaged 10.5 L/100 km in city driving, a solid 25 to 30 per cent better than you could expect from the Grand Cherokee’s base gasoline V6, and about equal to a six-cylinder family sedan.
Modern diesels are known for their quiet, smooth performance. Jeep’s is quiet on the outside, but from the driver’s seat, it feels a little rougher and more truck-ish than most.
5. Interior space
There’s less space inside the Grand Cherokee than its commanding exterior presence suggests. Hyundai’s Santa Fe is smaller on the outside but, subjectively, is about as roomy inside as the Jeep.
6. Off-road capability
Pair the Quadra-Drive II 4WD system (the most capable of the three on offer) with the optional height-adjustable air suspension (my test vehicle had that, too), and you’ve got a luxurious truck that could go just about anywhere, if not for the tires obviously biased toward mall parking lots.
7. Cool tech
Jeep uses a thin-film transistor (TFT) instrument panel in the Grand Cherokee, a technology that’s becoming common in upscale vehicles. It allows a customizable gauge display, and in this case can be toggled between a digital speedometer and a representation of an analog gauge.
8. Jeep vs. Porsche
The Grand Cherokee you see here costs nearly $70,000. So does the diesel version of Porsche’s Cayenne SUV. That’s a lot of money no matter what, but the phrase “$70,000 Porsche” has a much different ring to it than “$70,000 Jeep,” don’t you think?