With apologies to Jim Kenzie…

The column by Jim Kenzie published on Saturday October 1st, 2016, needs a little editing. Jim’s words, my words.

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Is the time finally right for electrically fuelled cars?

It’s long past time.

There is little doubt that electric motors are a pretty good way to power a vehicle. Maximum torque at zero r.p.m., so excellent launch characteristics and strong acceleration. Low to no noise, compared to ‘infernal’ combustion. And zero emissions from the vehicle itself.

None of this is news. It was all true of the Baker electric, which went out of production in 1916.

The problem with the Baker Electric remains the problem with all modern battery-powered cars.

It’s called “energy density”, which is a measure of how much power you can get per kilogram of weight.

And, frankly, we are a heck of a lot farther advanced now than we were a century ago. Continue reading

I love Jim Kenzie, but…

I’ve read Jim Kenzie’s columns in the Wheels section of the Toronto Star for more years than I can remember.  He’s a great read: informed, enthusiastic, and not afraid to have a politically incorrect opinion about the vehicles he reviews.

I have to take exception to his column in the Saturday, March 12th edition of the Toronto Star.  In it, Mr. Kenzie goes to considerable lengths to declare electric cars a waste of time and taxpayer money.  Let’s take a look at each his arguments. Continue reading

No allergy to duck fat: 2016 Honda HR-V vs 2016 Mazda CX-3

On a recent trip to New York, we found ourselves in a great French restaurant on Park Avenue.  While ordering, I asked if their ‘frites’ were cooked in oil that was shared by breaded items.  The owner happened to be sitting nearby at the bar, and he assured me that there was nothing to fear in the fryer, unless I was allergic to duck fat.  He said he’d give up wine before giving up duck fat.

North Americans are having their wine/duck fat moment.  Large SUVs are giving way to small CUVs.  People are downsizing their vehicles, and not a moment too soon. Continue reading

Spied: Top Secret Telsa Model “T”

Much has been made of the soon-to-be-released Telsa Model X.  This will be Tesla’s foray into the sport utility market.  The Model Three, a more affordable sedan, is still on the drawing board.

Unknown until this past weekend, we discovered a new entry for Tesla.  With a more mainstream sedan, a luxury sedan and full-size sport utility on the market, Tesla will enter the light pickup truck market soon.

Spotted at the Buffalo Supercharger station, the heavily camouflaged truck is, as expected, not sale ready.  Further research reveals that it is almost identical to the previous generation Chevrolet Silverado, obviously trying to slot the new vehicle between the current mid-size (Chevrolet Colorado) and full-size (MY15 Silverado, F-150) truck offerings.  The truck will be charged at the front of the vehicle, rather than the hidden charge port on the left rear of the current
Model S.

Choosing to compete in the most brand loyal segment, pundits will ask if Tesla has bitten off more than it can chew.  But if Tesla can snag even a small sliver of the light truck market, the investment will be worthwhile.

Here’s a quickly grabbed shot of the new Tesla T. Continue reading

What’s in a Name?

At the recent New York Auto Show, I had the opportunity to speak with Andrew Smith, Executive Director of Global Design at Cadillac about the new CT6.

Andrew said the design was deliberately polarizing.  Not everyone will like it, but those that do, will embrace the new sheet metal language.  I complimented him on the illusion of the short front overhang of the vehicle, giving it a racing, almost snub nose appearance in profile.  It was a deliberate attempt at making the vehicle look larger than it is, with the added benefit of maximizing the wheelbase for a more comfortable ride.  It’s a skillful illusion, as the nose protrudes as much as any vehicle’s, and the effect is taut and lean for a very large car.  I commented on the homage to the late 1970s Seville with the suggestion of a bustle-back (which dates back to the 1930’s, and has been seen in a number of GM vehicles over the years) and it adds to the visual interest of the rear.  Andrew smiled at the reference, and we compared notes on the success of the BMW 750’s bustle back on sales (it was the biggest selling 7 series in BMW’s history at that time).

 

Like a number of luxury manufacturers, Cadillac is changing the formula for naming its vehicles.  In the past, this car would have been know as the XTS, the flagship of the line.  Its replacement, the CT6, borrows from its slightly smaller sibling, the CTS, with the S changing to a ‘6’.  When the CTS is replaced in a few years (it was pretty much all new last year), it will undergo a re-naming, and the ATS will come to a similar fate.  We’ll see if the naming scheme confuses buyers or positions the vehicles in their minds the way Cadillac intends.

 

2014 Mazda 3 GX vs 2014 Toyota Corolla CE

Today is the battle of the light weights (low curb weight, excellent fuel economy, inexpensive to operate), while they’re heavy weights in the automotive world (biggest market segment), especially in Canada.  The compact arena is a smack-down, blow-out, take no prisoners fight, where customers often purchase their first brand new car. A manufacturer like Toyota needs these customers to be happy so they can put them into a Lexus in 30 years.

So let’s take a look at the lower end of the compact scale, which doesn’t mean low-end in terms of amenities and features.  What would a prospective purchaser look at, and likely buy? Continue reading

Category Busters

As a new year begins, and the automotive press works through its “best of” lists to close out 2013, I can’t help but wonder about the year that wasn’t.  We don’t have an affordable electric vehicle that will travel more than 200km on a single charge.  We don’t have a charging system that will top up that battery in the same time as it takes to fill up an internal combustion engine powered vehicle. Continue reading

Los Angeles 2013 Day 1

A number of world debuts by BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and others were highlights of the first day of the Los Angeles Auto Show. Among them:

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Cadillac Elmiraj concept

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Lincoln MKC small crossover SUV

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Subaru WRX

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BMW 4 Series Cabriolet

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BMW i8 EV

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Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Final Edition

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Mercedes-Benz AMG Vision Gran Turismo concept

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Mercedes-Benz GLA small crossover SUV

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Volkswagen Cross Blue Coupe

There are more to come.  The Porsche Macan, Jaguar F-Type Coupe, BMW X4 Crossover and Infiniti Q30 Crossover are on my list for photos today.

Note the emphasis on the small crossover, especially in the luxury segment.  Mercedes-Benz (GLA), BMW (X4), Lincoln (MKC), Infiniti (Q30) all have new vehicles coming.  With a new push for fuel efficient, low emission vehicles, and buyers who want to move down from their current behemoths without giving up any luxury features, the marketplace has spoken and the manufacturers are listening.  Audi has a Q3 coming, and Lexus teased a LF-NX compact crossover this past fall at the Frankfurt auto show.

I had a great conversation with a BMW designer.  We discussed the use of run-flat tires on much of the BMW line-up.  He said that they are now working with the third generation of run-flat tires, and that they are much improved and not worthy of their current reputation for a harsh ride.  He admitted that the ride is firm, and that the tires are not as compliant as regular tires.

However, he pointed out one fact that I hadn’t considered.  The safety factor.

If a run-flat tire loses air pressure on the highway, the vehicle can still be controlled and driven, albeit at a lower speed. I’m not talking about a catastrophic failure, where the tire has hit something and is badly damaged.  If you hit a sharp object and the tire is punctured, the tire will still function.  Not so with a normal tire.  He has put run-flat tires on his wife’s car.

Martin went on to tell me about the wind blocker used in the 4 Series Cabriolet.  This version of the Cabriolet has a fold-down rear seat, allowing for a much-needed pass-through from the very tiny trunk.  But, fold the rear seat forward, and you’ll find the wind blocker, neatly stowed.  It’s not in your garage or basement gathering dust. It’s kept in the car, where it’s needed.  It needs to be moved when you want to use the pass-through, but that’s a minor inconvenience.  The wind blocker is light, can be used at 200 km/h without being knocked down, and is easily installed by one person.

Martin also reiterated BMW’s commitment to quality. If the new 4 Series is any indication, this is holding true.  The last generation of 3 Series sedans and coupes seemed to suffer from hard plastics, and interiors that didn’t fit with the price paid.  BMW seems to be getting back on track.

2014 Lexus IS 250 F Sport vs. 2014 BMW 328i xDrive

Habemus Papem! 2013 BMW 335i M Sport vs. 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6, 2014 Lexus IS350 F Sport – Comparison Test – Car and Driver.

The new car business is like running a marathon.  You can’t win it in the first half of the race, but you can certainly lose it in the first half of the race.  If you go out too fast, you won’t have the energy for a strong finish.  If you don’t hydrate, you will feel more fatigue sooner. If you don’t adequately fuel your body in the lead up to the race, you will, literally, “hit the wall”, or “bonk” before finishing, when you feel like you won’t be able to take another step.

Running a marathon is all about preparation.  I’ll be running my third half marathon tomorrow.  Eighteen weeks of training, almost 500 kilometres divided over that time, at various speeds and intensities, will culminate in one day and one race where it will all be put on the line.

Come Sunday afternoon, I can sit back and rest.  The car business? Not so much. Continue reading

2014 Acura MDX

In the summer of 2000, I was out for a walk.  My travels took me past the local Acura dealership, where hordes of people were clustered in a make-shift lineup. I was at a loss to understand what was going on, until I saw the all-new Acura MDX pull into the parking lot.  People poured out of the MDX, and new passengers piled in. Repeat in 15 minute intervals.  I had never seen people line up for a test drive in the past, and I haven’t seen it since. Continue reading