It’s high time we start comparing it to the Lexus ES and Acura TLX rather than the Camry and Accord. As it stands, the Mazda6 GT remains the “enthusiast’s definitive choice.”Read More
The XJ doesn’t kowtow to the zeitgeist of big luxury cars. In fact, it’s as if nobody remembered to tell the XJL that it’s a full size luxury sedan in the first place. What it is, is a very big sports sedan with a timeless design sensibility both inside and out. It does its job with characteristic British wit and charm, and without feeling like the inside of an IMAX theater made of iPads.Read More
The latest Camry proves that Toyota is serious about making more exciting cars in every segment, even the traditionally boring ones. While it may not be about hot-laps at the track, there's a lot to be excited about in a car this thoughtfully engineered.Read More
The Jaguar XE is proof once again that Tata Motors is doing a fantastic job of letting Jaguar do what it historically does best: building luxurious sports sedans. If you're shopping in this category, you haven't done your homework until you drive this car.Read More
The Qashqai has proven a perennial favourite in Europe over the past decade, and this newest one continues to deliver on its promises of practicality, ease of use, and efficiency. Canadians historically share some common automotive tastes with the Europeans, particularly their affection for practical hatches, so don't be surprised when Qashqai becomes a household name.Read More
Fifteen years on, Infiniti isn’t targeting the same type of person as with the G35--they’re targeting the same person. The Q60 has become better-looking and more mature with time. We should all be so lucky.Read More
For the driver who wants show-stopping looks, the safety and practicality of a crossover, and a top-notch sales experience, Lexus presents a very compelling option in the RX350 F-Sport.Read More
Taken as an exercise in substance without scale, the QX30 starts to make a lot more sense. Infiniti’s done their own bodywork for the QX30, and it’s gorgeous. Where the GLA looks a bit squished and stunted, the QX30 looks muscular and sculpted. It’s low and wide; a more expressive face in a segment populated by more upright trucklets.Read More
The A3’s MQB-platform structure is remarkably solid for a car missing the structural robustness provided by a permanent roof. bumps and imperfections in the road are well isolated, and there’s none of the cowl shake often associated with convertibles. The ride is firm, but not harsh. Hurl it into a corner, and you’ll get predicable understeer and good communication from the front wheels. Think about it like a GTI that’s come to the party dressed to kill, not to fight.Read More
If Lincoln can follow this Continental with unique models that bring this new energy and style to other segments, they've got a real shot at reclaiming their prewar status as a premier American luxury marque.Read More
While new Discovery will undoubtedly be more efficient, better-handling, and more competitive than the LR4, I can’t help but feel that we are losing an icon to progress. From its humble beginnings as a hail-mary from the parts bin, to this distinctive and luxurious swansong, the big, boxy Discovery is a true original, and will be sorely missed.Read More
Rolf the Golf GTI was thrust into action immediately, logging 1,500 miles in his first week. As Winter Storm Jonas threatened to immobilize much of the eastern seaboard, I aimed the GTI at New York City and hit the road. I had to: my snow tires were in New Jersey at my family's house, bolted to my 2013 Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic, which is approaching the end of its lease.
It was something of a relief to find that the pricey (for winter wheels, anyway) BBS SR wheels I'd splurged on for the Mercedes would fit the GTI, and that the 215/55 R-16 Firestone Winterforce tires were the right size. I ordered the correct hubcentric rings from The Tire Tack, and I was in business.
I got the tires swapped just in time for #snowpocalypse2016 to pound northern New Jersey with 24" of snow. I was eager to see whether my little GTI would become a ferocious little snowcat, or if I would be stuck with three years of Bambi on Ice. The snow tires were transformative. I did two hot laps of the subdivision, including a few cul-de-sac donuts that had me feeling like Sébastien Ogier in the 2013 Rallye Monte Carlo. Sort of.
This is my third set of Winterforce tires, and I can say with certainty that they offer some of the best bang for the buck of any snow tires out there. The directional tread pattern is chunky, with deep siping carved into the tread blocks for excellent water dispersion. The impact on dry weather performance is less than you'd expect, and snow traction is significantly better than more expensive Bridgestone Blizzak or Dunlop Winter Sport tires I've had in the past. This particular set has traveled 10,000 miles and still has plenty of tread depth to spare. I expect to make it through the next three winters without replacing them. Not bad for the cheapest snow tires I could find.
On the 1000-mile roundtrip to New York and back, the GTI impressed me with its quiet ride and thoughtful features. The unexpected champions of convenience were the Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane Assist. A car like this, you see, begs to be driven fast. This car would cruise along quite happily at 100+mph, so 74 miles per hour (my unscientifically devised safe cruising speed of +9 above the limit) feels like a snails pace.
With Adaptive Cruise, I simply found another car willing to move at a brisk pace, set the cruise just slightly faster than their average, and set the following distance to three car-lengths. The car kept pace effortlessly, and slowed to accommodate other cars changing lanes into the forward sensing area. It's worth noting that I didn't have to consult the owner's manual once to learn how to use any of these high-tech features; they are completely intuitive. The only downfall of the system is that the forward radar sensor becomes obstructed with snow easily, rendering the system inoperable. A small heating element which activates in cold temperatures to thaw the sensor would solve this problem.
Lane Assist was similarly useful and unobtrusive. When the car detected that I was drifting toward the lane markers, Lane Assist steered the car back into the lane. It works on curves, too. After a few second of intervention, the display in the instrument cluster would flash a warning, reminding me to pay attention. With these two features, I can't help but think that VW (and other manufacturers) are spoon-feeding us bits and pieces of autonomous driving technologies, thus shortening the leap to fully autonomous cars in the future. I'm a keen driver, but I wouldn't have argued if my car offered to drive itself the majority of that 450-mile road trip while I caught up on some light reading or looked at videos of narcoleptic dogs on YouTube.
A major justification for getting a hot hatch over a similarly priced V8 muscle car is fuel economy. I'm averaging 28 mpg or better in mixed driving, and saw upwards of 34 mpg in extended highway driving. To encourage better driving habits, the MIB-II Discover Pro Infotainment System has a screen called the "Think Blue. Trainer," which gamifies efficient driving by rewarding the driver with a ThinkBlue Score, and a graphical readout of average fuel economy. It's similar in concept to the systems in hybrid cars, and I found it a worthwhile feature. I rented a Prius back in 2008 for a road trip around the American West, and the gamified efficiency readout was the only thing fun about the car. Fortunately, the "Think Blue. Trainer" in the GTI is merely a clever diversion and not the main event.
On the subject of the Discover Pro infotainment system, I've spent a significant amount of time testing it in both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto modes, and I'll dedicate the next post to the pros and cons of each.
Overall, my initial impressions of the GTI continue to be reinforced, with nary a whisper of buyers' remorse to be heard.
What is there to say about the seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf GTI that hasn't already been said? Introduced as a 2015 model in North America, the Golf line won pretty much every major award it could win. Despite the diesel-fueled drama stemming from VW's emissions-test-cheating software, the Golf remains the most compelling entry in the global compact segment. For 2016, the GTI is equipped with VW's new MIB-II Infotainment system, which features support for Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Mirrorlink smartphone interfaces.
My car is a Canadian-spec 5-Door GTI Autobahn in Pure White, with 6-speed manual transmission. It's equipped with the Leather Package (Leather seats with red stitching, driver power adjustment, driver power lumbar support) and the Technology Package (Adaptive Cruise Control, Blind spot detection plus heading control, Discover Pro radio, Front Assist- Automatic Emergency Braking, Park Assist, Rear view camera, Satellite navigation). The Performance trim line would have added Dynamic Chassis Control, an additional ten horsepower, and $2,300 to the bottom line. Had I opted for Dynamic Chassis Control, I would have certainly put my driver's license at risk by constantly trying to test the differences between the settings. You know, for science. Furthermore, as an American accustomed to rock-bottom lease prices, the lofty $650/mo lease payment for this Canadian model was already giving me vertigo.
The shopping process for this car was short. I've had four Volkswagens and three Audis in the past, and wanted to challenge myself to branch out. After driving the new MINI Cooper Clubman S, I was basically sold on that car. It's fun and quirky and has lots of options for customization. But a $950/mo lease payment with $5,000 due at signing really dulled the Clubman's lustre. Does MINI know who it's competition is at that price point? Visions of Jaguar XE's danced in my head. I drove the MINI a second time, this time with the lease payment echoing in my head, and I started to find its cuteness a bit contrived. The experience fresh in my mind, I went to the nearest Volkswagen dealership and drove the GTI. It was immediately apparent why this is the car that won all the awards. It's fast, agile, stylish, and insanely well-equipped. One week later, it was mine.
The GTI is the undisputed champion of hot hatches, and no other car has come close to matching its well-rounded, tradeoff-free formula. Push it into a corner, and it responds with reassuring feedback, suggesting that you could go a little faster, push a little harder. After nearly 2 decades of front wheel drive cars, I'm accustomed to varying degrees of understeer and torque steer. Not so, here. Accelerate through a turn, point the wheel where you want the car to go, and, as if by telepathy, it goes there. The XDS "simulated differential" uses the braking system to slow the inside wheels in a turn, keeping things flat and predictable. No wheel spin, no body roll, no drama. It's uncanny.
Volkswagen products have a bit of a checkered history when it comes to reliability. My own recent experiences, however, have been promising. My old 2007 Audi A4 2.0T quattro is still running flawlessly with its current owner. My 2011 Tiguan S Manual had exactly zero problems in the 36 months that I had it. My sister's 2011 GTI MK6 served her without fail for 4 years until the birth of her daughter necessitated a bigger car. She likes her 2015 Volvo V60, but she loved her GTI.
Will the love affair last? Over the next year, I'll be posting updates on reliability, and highlighting the special features of the GTI. Look for photos on Instagram with the hashtag #LifeWithGTI.
MINI has been getting a lot of flak from enthusiasts and press for tiptoeing away from the business of making cars that are, well, mini. The critics have a point: today’s MINI Hardtop is 2,625lbs, which is some 310lbs heavier than the 2001 MINI Cooper that rebooted the brand. It’s not apparent when viewed on its own, but park them side-by-side, and you’ll see what’s happening. Pedestrian safety standards have raised the profile of the nose, and consumer demand for more comfort and features have contributed to a scale that grows larger with each iteration.
It’s happening across the industry. The new Audi A3 Sedan is the size of the original B5-chassis A4. The new Honda Civic is significantly larger than an 80’s Accord. A VW Jetta is the size of the classic B3 Passat, while the Passat has ballooned to Buick Regal proportions. Automakers seem find it more profitable to redefine each model as a larger car with each generation, than to introduce a new, larger model that meets the market’s needs. I’ve got some opinions on this which I will share in another post.
And so, like everyone else, MINI is scaling up to stay competitive. The 2016 Clubman is significantly larger than the outgoing model; the longest and widest vehicle ever to wear the MINI badge. The logic behind the move is to give MINI a car to sell to the person who had a Hardtop 10 years ago, but now needs something more practical.
MINI didn’t start with aspirations for a full line, at least not out of the gate. In the early days of MINI’s renaissance, BMW Group viewed the Cooper as a car they could sell you until you could afford a BMW. It was an incubator; a feeder marque. But the brand has developed a cult following over the last fifteen years, and its identity couldn’t be farther from that of BMW. If you’re a MINI enthusiast, there’s probably not a single BMW model that will be of any interest to you. It’s just the wrong image—too mainstream, too pretentious. Fortunately, the overlords at BMW have given MINI the leeway to explore what it wants to be, and what it wants to be is a full line of cars for quirky, design-conscious driving enthusiasts.
In person, this F54 Clubman looks big, long and wide. It is. The asymmetrical rear-hinged access panel from the previous R55 has been jettisoned in favor of a pair of front-hinged doors for easy access to the rear sear. The new model has grown from 155.9″ long, to 168.3″. 4.8″ worth of the extra length is between the axles, where it adds to rear seat leg room.
With the driver’s seat set for my 5’-8” frame, the rear seat was legitimately spacious. MINI says that a 6’ passenger can sit comfortably behind a 6’ driver. In the passenger seat on my test drive, my partner David (a 6’3, 270lb beast monster) was able to sit comfortably without feeling cramped. In the standard hardtop, his head grazed the sunroof and our shoulders touched in the middle when seated side by side.
The dashboard is an upscale riff on the traditional MINI stack, with a big round center display and lots of toggle switches. The speedometer has moved from the top of the stack to a small cluster on the steering column which moves with the tilt-and-telescoping wheel. It’s a nice touch, and it means the gauge is visible to all drivers regardless of wheel position. The large center display is now the size of a dinner plate and contains the display for the MINI Connected + Navigation system. Not sure what a switch does? There’s a menu option which plays a small video explanation for every switch and system in the car. The system is fast, intuitive, and makes basically every other infotainment system look like it’s running Windows 3.1.
My Canadian-spec Cooper S Clubman test car was outfitted with the John Cooper Works appearance package, which features Chili Red Paint, unique 18” wheels, and a bespoke interior trim package with leather and cloth seats. It also had the Loaded Package and the upgraded Harman Kardon stereo.
I flicked the toggle switch to start the motor, and the 2.0 Liter, 189hp twin-scroll turbocharged four cylinder engine greeted me with a gentle purr. The shifter is precise, with short throws, and the clutch has a nice, natural weight to it. At city speeds, the Cooper S Clubman is a sweet, playful little kitten. When the road opens up ahead, kitty shows her claws.
Acceleration to 60 mph is a respectable 6.9 seconds. Honestly, it didn’t feel quite as brisk as I was expecting, even with the ECU in sport mode, but it sure sounded great. As I tore along drove at or below the posted speed limit on a wet service road in Oakville, ON, the grin on my face widened. I realized that I didn’t need the car to go any faster to enjoy myself. Cornering is flat, with just the right amount of understeer. The ride is remarkably compliant and comfortable, even with 40-series tires that come with the JCW Package.
This car is a different experience altogether from the Cooper Hardtop. It’s a more refined, grown-up take on MINI’s much-touted “go-kart style” handling. I could have flogged it all day on backroads and onramps, but what really struck me was how much fun it is to drive lawfully, under normal circumstances.
Brand purists grouse about how MINI has lost the script, that they’ve become the fat ex-track-star at the high school reunion. MINI has put a lot of effort into expanding its selection of cars for grownups, at the expense of their hardcore enthusiast base. MINI owes them a new model; a truly mini MINI. Production models based on the Rocketman and Superleggera concepts will shore up the other end of the product line, though those models are still a couple of years away.
Think of your favorite pair of jeans: you wore them for years, and now you’ve outgrown them. Do you just give up, go to the mall, and get some Dad Jeans? Hell no, you don’t. You go and you get the same jeans in a larger size. With the Clubman, MINI is now selling your old favorite jeans in a size that you can actually wear.