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Category Archives: What I Think

Does Land Rover’s new Discovery Sport have Nordic roots?

Land Rover just revealed its 2015 Discovery Sport, a sharp-looking compact crossover/SUV powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine.

2015 Land Rover Discovery

2015 Land Rover Discovery

But I can’t be the only one to see more than a passing resemblance to a couple of Saab models developed just before the Swedish company was dissolved. Check out the 9-4x, a crossover that barely made into production before Saab shut its doors.

Edit: No, I’m not alone! Sniff Petrol thinks so, too!

Saab 9-4x

The new Disco Sport isn’t a carbon copy, and its styling does fit well with Land Rover’s current styling language, but it does look a bit Nordic, no?

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And now, compare that rear-three-quarter shot of the Discovery Sport with this image of the 9-5 SportCombi, another Saab that never made it past the auto show circuit:

Saab 9-5 SportCombi

Finally, here’s a Land Rover promo video for the Disco Sport—made to show a vehicle apparently well-suited for life in Iceland. Or does it highlight the Nordic influence in the car’s styling? You decide.

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Posted by on September 3, 2014 in Design, Land Rover, What I Think

 

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What I think: 2014 Cadillac CTS V-Sport

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At one time, the Germans had a lock on the mid-size luxury/sport sedan segment: it just didn’t get better than a BMW 5 Series, an Audi A6, or a Mercedes-Benz E-Class.

It’s a different story now with the recent introduction of the third-generation 2014 Cadillac CTS. Through its first two generations, the CTS was a good car that never quite had what it took to unseat the Germans’ mid-size supremacy. But now, Cadillac has a sedan that could easily convert a loyal German buyer with a car that, simply put, feels pretty German.

I drove a CTS in V-Sport trim, which tacks a couple of turbos onto the available 3.6-litre V6, to create a hot, hot car that is surprisingly easy to live with.

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Getting big power out of a medium-displacement engine is no stretch any more, thanks to modern turbocharging tech; putting that power in a car that feels as well-suited to the rat race as it does the race track is another matter, and that’s where Cadillac has truly succeeded.

I often scoff at cars with adjustable drivetrain and chassis settings. It seems like a cop-out that lets engineers get around the work of creating a solid all-round car. Too often, none of the available settings do anything just right: either the suspension’s too soft and throttle response too lazy, or the ride becomes uncomfortable and the throttle too touchy. So, credit to Cadillac: the V-Sport includes such a system, and while I find it superfluous as ever, select the “sport” setting and you get a near-perfect balance of ride comfort, handling and, in particular, perfectly-tuned throttle response.

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Hit the gas, wait out the half-second of turbo lag, and revel in how the car surges forward on a tide of torque. This isn’t the first sedan to do speed well, but it’s the manner in which the car delivers it that’s so impressive. The rear-end squats—just a little—and the car hauls arse against a backdrop of one of the most intoxicating six-cylinder exhaust notes I’ve heard in some time. The V-Sport handles brilliantly as well, thanks in no small part to the adjustable suspension, which limits lean in turns and controls body motions over rough pavement.

It accomplishes all of this with poise—quite a feat, given that this car doesn’t even enjoy the traction benefits of all-wheel drive, usually a requirement for making a high-powered car enjoyable in hard-charging.

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In a week of enthusiastic city driving—this much power really does corrupt when it feels and sounds this good—my test car averaged better than 15 L/100 km, an impressive number for a 420-horsepower car.

Factor in the $75,000 price tag for my V-Sport tester, and you’re looking a true performance bargain when stacked up against the likes of a BMW 550i, Audi S6 or a Benz E 550 (all of which come standard with all-wheel drive, by the way). Cadillac is doing a lot of things right at the moment, but nothing in its lineup is more right than the CTS V-Sport.

 
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Posted by on September 2, 2014 in Cadillac, What I Think

 

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Reviewed: 2013 Ford Fusion Energi

2013 Ford Fusion Energi

There are a number of cars that can be classified, accurately enough, as transportation appliances, but it doesn’t get much more appliance-like than a family sedan that you plug in when parked. The Ford Fusion Energi is far from the first car to come with a power cord, but it is one of the first PHEVs (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) based on an existing car, and expands the Fusion line, which also includes conventional gasoline powertrains and a regular hybrid model. Read my full review at Autofocus.ca.

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2013 in Autofocus, Ford, Test Drives, What I Think

 

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What I think: 2013 Nissan Altima

Nissan’s Altima doesn’t have the brand heritage that the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry possess in the family car segment, but Nissan must be doing something right: in 2011, the Altima outsold both of those cars.

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Good news for Nissan, but all three of those cars were redesigned recently: the Camry for 2012, and the Accord and Altima this year. Given the improvements that Honda and Toyota have made to their family sedans, Nissan had some work to do to keep the Altima in the game.

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Looks are important in any car segment, but are not paramount to success for a family car. The 2013 Altima does away with the frumpy look of the outgoing car, replacing it with a design reminiscent of a generation-old Lexus ES. Classy, but unexciting.

On the other hand, the interior design has been dumbed down, in my opinion. It looks fine and works well enough, but has a cookie-cutter look to it, where the old Altima’s interior neatly incorporated stylistic elements borrowed from the sporty 370Z coupe. Sporty isn’t what family sedans are about, so the 2013 Altima edges closer to the automotive equivalent of sensible shoes.

One of the most important parts of any car is a set of sensible seats. Nissan co-developed the Altima’s front chairs with NASA. These “zero gravity” buckets are presumably comfortable for someone, but not me; they hurt my back and made me glad I wasn’t doing any long-distance travel in this car. Balancing out the weirdly-shaped backrest was a soft bottom cushion. (At least one part of my backside was well taken care of.)

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The rear seat cushions are similarly soft, but here, the backrest angle is raked a few degrees too far back. It’s great for napping, but less so for those following mom’s advice to sit up straight.

Headroom is more generous here than in the new Accord, but that car feels roomier overall. The Altima boasts similar trunk space and trumps the Accord by including a split-folding rear seat; in the Accord, you either fold all of it, or pay someone to deliver your Ikea purchase.

I was less impressed with the Altima’s interior quality. To be fair, everything looks good, and the materials mostly feel like they belong in a $30,000 car, but the dash generated a couple of buzzy, creaky noises that didn’t go away once the car was warm. A speaker grille in the top of the dash – front and centre for all to see – was poorly fitted, looking like it had warped slightly over years of exposure to hot sun, but my test car had just 4,000 km on its odometer.

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Nissan’s 2.5-litre four-cylinder is the volume seller in this car, and it boasts a nominal power increase to 180 hp for 2013. It’s not a sweet-sounding motor, so it’s best that the continuously variable transmission (CVT), standard in all Altimas, is good at keeping engine speeds well below the “buzz point.”

Nissan is known for CVTs and says this one has been redesigned with a view to reducing friction and increasing efficiency. The company’s fuel consumption claims are 7.4/5.0 L/100 km (city/highway); those are very impressive numbers that my test car didn’t stand a chance of matching in a week of cold, snowy weather, instead averaging just below 10 L/100 km in city driving.

I’ve long liked Nissan’s CVTs, but have found in the past that they favoured refinement over performance, so the cars felt slower than their power numbers would suggest (even if that was just a seat-of-the-pants perception). This Altima felt more responsive and eager to let the engine spin when acceleration is called for.

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The ride is fabulous, a near-perfect balance of comfort versus body control that trumps the Accord’s too-firm suspension tuning. Steering response is decent, but the electro-hydraulic power assist is a bit over-boosted; that’s a good thing at low speeds (like parking lot crawling), but makes the car feel less poised at highway speeds. Plus, the steering feels a bit “off” in sweeping corners, where Nissan’s Active Understeer Control kicks in to help keep the car on course. The company says it’s “almost undetectable,” but I detected it, and I didn’t like it. It sounds like a feature meant to augment performance at the car’s handling limit, but Nissan says its aim is to help improve steering accuracy in normal driving. Here’s something else I detected: Nissan overthinking the steering system in a family car.

No doubt, the Altima continues to be a good car. Its problem, following this redesign, is that it is neither as cushy as the latest Camry, nor does it boast a personality as sharply defined as the new Accord’s. It tries to strike a balance between the two, and mostly succeeds, but not comprehensively enough to make this a great car.

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2013 in Nissan, Test Drives, What I Think

 

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What I think: 2013 Honda Accord

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For the first time in a long time, Honda has a hit on its hands with the redesigned 2013 Accord. Click here for my review at Autos by Sympatico. In short, there is very nearly nothing wrong with this car.

 

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What I think: Long-term Toyota Prius C

I, with the help of the Autos.ca team, am conducting a three-month, long-term test of Toyota’s newest — and smallest — hybrid model, the Prius C. Click here to read my Autos.ca Long-Term Introduction of this car.

 

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What I think: Long-term Hyundai Genesis Coupe

I’m in the early weeks of an extended, four-month test of the Hyundai Genesis Coupe, a rear-wheel drive car that challenges many of the negative stereotypes that continue to dog this carmaker, in spite of the recent, massive strides in quality they’ve made. Click here to read my Autos.ca Long-Term Introduction.

 

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