2016 Nissan Sentra SL
After an extensive refresh, can the Sentra rise to the occasion?
Nissan is saying the Sentra has been heavily updated- what does that mean?
If you park our 2016 tester next to last year’s model, you will agree that Nissan didn’t just add a couple of paint choices and different wheels to the Sentra and call it a day. The same basic shape remains, but now the Sentra is sporting duds that recall the best mixture of Altima and Maxima styling cues with the V-Motion front grille acting as the exclamation point on the visual front. They’ve updated some of the oily bits too, and the Sentra now boasts retuned suspension with 10% stiffer springs and dampers, power steering with more feel and a chassis that has been stiffened to chase off the limpness imparted by the outgoing model. The engineers also spent a considerable effort trying to eliminate undue noise, vibration and harshness from the driving experience by adding generous amounts of sound deadening material.
2016 Nissan Micra SR
A pint-sized package that delivers big time value
Nissan Micra, huh? Where have I heard that name before?
If your bells of familiarity are ringing, you are dating yourself. The last time you could buy an Nissan Micra in Canada was from 1984 to 1991, a time when C + C Music Factory was basking in the success of Gonna Make You Sweat, the Pittsburgh Penguins were hoisting the Stanley Cup and Brian Mulroney was Prime Minister. Much has changed since the Micra was relaunched in 2014, and yet some things remain the same- this little runabout is still meant to serve the purpose of maximizing your dollars where cheap transportation is concerned.
Is it really the cheapest new car you can buy in Canada?
This is a bit of a moving target, what with exchange rates and manufacturer incentive programs available at any given time. If you require a new car and want to spend the least amount of money as possible, your choices will include the Micra, the Mitsubishi Mirage and the Chevy Spark, all of whom boast a starting MSRP of less than ten thousand dollars. These base models represent a small percentage of overall sales- and they are so lightly equipped that they’ve got roll up windows and no air conditioning- but they exist to lay claim to the easiest access financially to a new car in 2016.
FCA Family Feud- 2016 Dodge Durango SXT AWD VS. 2016 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo 4X4
What have we here?
You’re looking at the latest vintage of SUVs to come off the same Chrysler Jefferson North assembly line in the Dodge Durango SXT and Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo. Under the skin, these two customers are pretty much identical. They use the same engines and gearboxes. Their interior bits are pretty much duplicates and their dimensions are within millimeters of one another- even their respective price tags are within spiting distance. And yet, the two have very distinct personalities in the same as the way you would with your sibling- you are both made up of flesh and blood but are so much different below the surface.
2016 Subaru Crosstrek
A more impressive Impreza.
What have we here?
You’re looking at the best looking vehicle to come out of the Subaru factory these days. Sorry BRZ and Impreza STi- you may be flared out and botched up in some areas, but you’ve been upstaged by a perfect mix of truculence and wedgy styling served up by this heavily massaged version of the familiar Impreza. Formerly known as the XV Crosstrek, the XV nomenclature is gone for 2016, and so is the retina searing tangerine paint you’ve no doubt seen covering Crosstreks in all manner of advertisements. Our candy dish hued Hyper Blue example looked particularly fetching though, so those intent on making a statement should gravitate towards this livery.
So this is just a raised up Impreza, right?
While that statement is technically true, Subaru has managed to create something that feels different from the platform on which it is based. Impreza switchgear, drivetrains and four-wheel drive systems all carry over and yet the Crosstrek has its own identity. Yes, it is raised up- to the tune of 220 millimeters of total ground clearance- which makes it the most adept off-road in its class, even besting the Jeep Grand Cherokee in this department.
I like horsepower, so I’ll just order mine with one of Subaru’s turbocharged engines.
Er…that may be a problem. You see, despite the fact that you can get an Impreza with turbo engines of varying strength including the mighty 305 horsepower STi version, those do not carryover into the Crosstrek’s engine bay. Instead, you’ll find the same 2.0 litre engine from the entry level versions of the Impreza which makes a pavement buckling 148 horsepower. Not surprisingly, this engine endows the Crosstrek with anemic performance, even when you bury the throttle to the firewall. Our tester had a 5-speed manual in place of the CVT, which does help with the accelerative urge and usually something we prefer. However, the action of the gearbox isn’t terribly precise and you better not rush your shifting. The absence of a sixth gear means the engine turns a busy 3,000-plus rpm at highway speeds.
2016 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
Subaru’s flagship has still got it
What have we here?
While it didn’t invent the high-riding wagon genre (that honor goes to the AMC Eagle) you’re looking at the Subaru Outback, the car responsible for reviving interest in this niche segment thanks in no small part to Crocodile Dundee in the early Ought’s. The Audi Allroad and Volvo Cross Country are similar in nature, but are much more luxurious vehicles with price tags to match; the only other direct challenger the Outback faces is the upcoming VW Golf Alltrack. The Volksie has its work cut out for it- the Outback has enjoyed robust sales increases over the last few years and the interest in the Outback as people flock to crossovers hasn’t really waned whatsoever.
The badges on the back say 3.6R- Explain.
It’s not a fancy alphanumeric name for an option package you can opt for, but rather it specifies the engine size. In this case, it refers to the 3.6 flat six toiling under the hood delivering 256 horsepower and 247 lbs/ft. of torque. This engine is interesting for two reasons: one is that Subaru is the only manufacturer after Porsche who employs this architecture, and the other is that a six-cylinder option is even part of the deal. Most manufactures are using turbocharged four cylinders as the “bigger” engine option including all those luxury players we mentioned earlier. As for the R, that usually stands for “Race” and is meant to conjure up visions of hair trigger reflexes and a screaming redline. Those looking for that kind of experience will come away disappointed, as the R should probably stand for Relaxed. Although the engine musters decent output, its mated to a CVT that slurs between ratios with a distinct lack of urgency. We live in a time where four cylinder turbos are making 300 horsepower and above, so you can expect this larger displacement engine to disappear from the lineup for the next generation.
2016 Subaru Forester Touring
Tried and true.
What have we here?
Ever been to Vermont, or Colorado? If you answered in the affirmative, you’ll be forgiven if you think that driving a Subaru in these locales is mandated by their respective local governments. Their unique combination of go-anywhere capability and impressive efficiency packaged in a roomy, safety leading package is pretty hard to resist. The Forester you see here is particularly endearing to crossover buyers who have made it responsible for roughly a quarter of the brand’s volume. As with many offerings from Subaru, the Forester punches above it’s weight; head over to YouTube to see these plucky trucklets pulling big rigs out of snowdrifts.
Sounds like an ideal mode of transportation for the Zombie Apocalypse…
If the world is suddenly overrun by the walking undead, motorists would be wise to grab the keys to a Subaru Forester. It’s got lots of room in the cargo area, so you’d be able to take a whole cache of supplies with you. During our test, we achieved 9.8L/100km with minimal effort so you can rest assured in knowing that it would take you as far as possible without wasting precious fuel. Lastly, Subaru’s raison d’etre in the form of its trademark Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive and generous ground clearance would afford you the kind of capability to flee as far off the grid as possible.
2016 Toyota Tundra 4X4 Double Cab SR5 5.7L
Just shy of it’s 17th birthday, we spend some time with Toyota’s full-size truck
What do we have here?
You are looking at the Tundra, a truck that since its major rethink in 2007 has meant to show the world that Toyota is serious about taking on the Big Three for truck superiority. Even with Toyota’s exhaustive supply of market research, endless stream of R&D dollars and reputation of steamrolling its competitors in large volume segments (think Camry, Corolla and Prius) probably caused a few sleepless nights just across the Detroit River. And yet, as we ready to celebrate almost two decades of existence it has become clear that these ambitious plans haven’t exactly come to fruition- just last year, one of the best for CanadianTundra sales since 2007 paled in comparison to the Ford F-150, who sold exactly that many in just the first month of 2015. That handily eclipses the Tundra’s yearly volume by some 108,000 units, and it’s a similar story when you compare the numbers for Chevy and Dodge as well.
2016 Lexus RX350
Lexus’ best-seller gets some new duds
What have we here?
This is the new(ish) Lexus RX350, an edgy, boring-be-damned replacement crown jewel in the Lexus portfolio. Actually, this does represent a significant risk for Lexus- dressing up your best selling vehicle in polarizing duds means you potentially piss off a lot of buyers, many of those who are on their second or even third RX.
The styling is, um…distinctive.
You are not going to confuse the RX with a Volvo XC60 or any of the other segment usual suspects, that’s for sure. Lexus is tired of being typecast as milquetoast and decided to shed the conservative, softly rounded style that has become so familiar across suburban soccer pitch parking lots for something more in-your-face. When we first clapped eyes on it, the dominating exterior design flourish was the grille. It was at this point that we wondered aloud whether Lexus might have moved too far from its anonymous looks in the past to the jarring manifestation you see here. Like it or not, the grille is a unifying styling trait of all Lexus vehicles. With its embellished Norelco Shaver-inspired shnoz, one may worry about small children and lap dogs accidentally getting swallowed up by it. Once you get used to the gaping maw, you’ll take in a cornucopia of creases and scything angles and LED headlights that squint angrily at you. Its kind of like one of those kids who goes off to summer camp all proper and staid, with retainer and violin lesson schedule in tow and then comes back pieced, tattooed while listening to heavy metal.
2016 Scion iM
A former Scion fills a gap in Toyota’s lineup
Are we looking at a future entry into the Concours d’ Elegance 2033?
Will Scion ever go down as a collectible brand? Probably not, but if it does, the iM will have a special spot on Pebble Beach’s 18th green as the last of the ‘real’ Scions to roll off the line before the brand was euthanized in early 2016 and only a few key models were saved in the transition to Toyota. Scion as a brand will be remembered for its youth oriented and quirky vehicle lineup that was popular amongst shoppers much older than the targeted demographics had forecasted. Mostly, it will be remembered as a very expensive experiment that didn’t pan out.
Can the iM be thought of as a continuation of the Matrix legacy?
The Matrix (and corporate twin, the Pontiac Vibe) gave shoppers who loved the Corolla’s dirty bits but needed a more practical hatchback something that would fill that niche. Locally, they were fairly popular- from 2003 to 2014 many of these found their way onto Canadian roads. These cars were known not only for their ability to carry more stuff than a similarly sized sedan but also for their nearly flawless record of durability. The option of all-wheel drive broadened their appeal even further. When Toyota announced that Matrix production would cease at the nearby Cambridge assembly plant, a gaping hole was left in the lineup. Because we’re talking about Toyota, they didn’t have to head back to the drawing board and set to work on a costly replacement- rather, they just plucked the Corolla wagon (known as the Auris throughout the world) from their myriad of overseas offerings and slapped a Scion badge on the grille, which will in turn shortly be ditched in favor of Toyota’s logo.
2016 Honda Civic Touring
A cause for celebration in Civic Nation
What have we here?
Dear readers, feast your eyes on the 10th generation Honda Civic. In case you haven’t been paying attention to the recent automotive headlines, this is the Civic’s return to greatness after emerging from the darkest period in its history. From 2005 to 2015, the Civic was a shadow of its former self; think of it as “The Edsel Era”, if you must. Adjectives like light, tossable and fun were scrapped in favor of the new normal- heavy, lazy and merely adequate. Clearly, those vintages were designed for a much broader audience which is why enthusiasts and card carrying members of Civic Nation felt a bit left out in the cold. Eventually Honda got its act together, undertaking an unprecedented redesign twice within a span of a few short years because it was so wonkily executed from the get-go. After a forgettable 8th and 9th generation, the Civic we all lovingly remember is back. The motoring press across here in Canada along with our counterpart’s south of the border have been paying attention as well. Recently the highest level of flattery (in the form of the Car of the Year award) was directed at the Civic from the motoring press here in Canada but also across North America.