Michael Palmer, his wife and their three children
With close to 900,000 kilometres of roadway, Canada offers an abundance of options for people who love nothing more than to get behind the steering wheel for some adventure.
As the self-appointed CEO of family travel and fun for his household, Michael Palmer (no relation) has the road trip routine down pat. Palmer, in fact, went on a 17,000-km, 63-day road trip two summers ago with his wife and their three young children, and tales of their adventures could, quite literally, fill a book. So it’s not at all surprising that Palmer, a Calgarian who works in the oil and gas industry, is the author of No Tranquilizers! 17,000 kms, 63 Days, 3 Kids, 1 Van, a book that is due out in early 2016. Keep reading…
2015 Ford C-Max Hybrid SEL
Still the biggest threat to Prius domination.
This isn’t our first go-around in Ford’s C-Max Hybrid- we had one in the Carpages Garage a few years ago shortly after it made its Canadian debut. Since then, not much has changed. It’s still based on the sprightly Focus platform, it still packs the same hybrid drivetrain and it still represents a compelling alternative to the Toyota Prius. Folks who need more space than your typical compact but still require a hybrid setup seem to have noticed the many virtues of the C-Max- as of 2014, Ford had moved 1,411 C-Max units with Toyota holding down a slim lead with 1,819 Prii. That the Ford has closed a considerable gap between itself and the hybrid that started it all in a few short years is not something to be taken lightly.
PROS: Excellent to drive, terrific value, roomy and well-equipped.
CONS: Droning CVT transmission, MyFord Touch, can be difficult to attain lofty fuel consumption claims.
2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport HSE Luxury
Disco makes a comeback.
It’s a universally accepted truth among automotive marketing types that it is best not to associate anything so profoundly negative with your product, especially if you plan on reviving a nameplate from the past whose mere mention causes people to wrinkle their noses in disgust. So it’s probably a safe assumption that Chevrolet won’t be reviving the Vega nameplate anytime soon, and Ford will probably elect not to breathe new life into the Pinto brand. With that in mind, Land Rover is defying convention and bringing back the Discovery name for another go around. A decade has elapsed since the Discovery was sold here, and Land Rover is betting that is enough time to erase memories of deplorable reliability; so much so that a few owners were choosing horses instead for their transportation needs- not as glamorous or comfortable, but certainly more reliable.
Gross hyperbole notwithstanding, the old Discovery was such a fragile vehicle that it ushered in a new naming era for Land Rovers- think LR2 (nee Freelander) and LR3/LR4 (Discovery.)
How does this experiment in marketing counter-thinking fare? Like any sequel, it improves on the original in many ways but falls short in others.
PROS: Attractive styling, cosseting ride, Land Rover capability.
2015 Ford Fiesta ST
Ford’s little pocket-rocket is a huge delight.
I took Ford’s Fiesta ST to a local Cars and Coffee event recently and something unexpected took place- amongst a gaggle of Porsche 911’s, AMG tuned Mercedes Benz and Corvettes the little Fiesta garnered a lot of attention. Yes, parked amongst a who’s-who of automotive titans the diminutive Feista ST drew an impressive crowd. You might think that would be because of the can’t-miss Molten Orange paint ($400) with matching trim inside, all topped off with accompanying racing stripes ($495). Extroverted add-ons notwithstanding, the real reason it stole the show is because of what it can do.
Those not familiar with the Fiesta ST should know it starts out life as Ford’s humble but inspiring econobox. We’ve driven the least spicy version powered by a 1.0 litre 3-cylinder, and even that one is a hoot in its own way. For full-on ST duty, Ford Performance adds a bunch of habaneros to the recipe- an ST specific engine, revamped suspension and upgrades inside and out are a comprehensive summary of what happens to the Fiesta when it goes under the knife. When it rolls off the assembly line, it’s suitably beefed up and looks seriously more badass than pedestrian Fiestas.
PROS: Enthralling to drive in any situation, frugal when you want it to be, by far and away the most fun you can have for less than $30K.
2015 Ford Mustang GT 5.0 Convertible
Al fresco motoring in Ford’s newest pony.
We aren’t shy about unleashing a torrent of praise from the Carpages Garage whenever we have a Ford Mustang under our watchful eye. It doesn’t matter if you fancy yourself a hard-core enthusiast or simply a casual admirer (and there are many examples of both that no doubt help the Mustang earn the distinction of The Most Liked Car Ever on Facebook) there is a lot to be smitten with: bedroom wall poster styling, intoxicating sound effects and the performance chops to back it all up. With that in mind we embrace our first foray into the new generation known internally as the S550- we said a tearful goodbye to the S197 version several months ago, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the new breed. While we hung on for the new model to hit the streets, a question began to fester in our minds- what if, despite the progress of an independent rear suspension and the re-introduction of an available four cylinder turbo would see the new ‘Stang became too tame a pony?
I’m happy to report that those fears were ridiculously unfounded. The Mustang has gotten steadily better since the wretched 2nd generation, where buyers were subjected to the horrors of the Mustang II chassis/styling combination and even lost the option of a V8 in 1974. Inflicting this kind of pain on pony car faithful is a heinous crime, and the Mustang has been steadily repaying its debt to the society comprised of legions of fans culminating in this eye-searing sunburst yellow GT convertible you see here now.
PROS: Glorious powertrain, super-fast convertible top, Line Lock feature!
2015 Cadillac CTS 3.6 AWD Premium
There’s a new benchmark in town.
You’ll often hear automotive marketing types breathlessly claiming how their newest sports sedan offering will emerge as the class benchmark, especially in terms of driving dynamics. The phrases ‘sport-tuned suspension’ and ‘unrivaled handling and control’ are often thrown around with reckless abandon, but the fact is these exercises in chest-thumping are usually little more than just that. Every so often, a car will actually deliver on those promises, sometimes even displacing the class of the field in handy fashion. As unlikely as it may seem to some, that’s exactly what Cadillac has done with the CTS- each generation has become progressively better right up to the present day offering. But Cadillac has not only successfully closed the distance between its German rivals within the segment, it has soundly replaced them as the car to have if you emphasize “sport” in your sport sedan.
If you haven’t driven anything that plays in this sandbox for a while, know that there’s a distinctive trend taking place- these so-called sport sedans are moving away from the values that made them so much fun in the first place. Back in the day near-perfectly tuned suspensions, a dedication to keeping needless weight at bay and steering that actually gave drivers an idea of what’s happening at the front wheels was de rigueur. Cadillac could only watch longingly from the sidelines as buyers flocked to BMW, Audi and Mercedes Benz, their offerings being pooh-poohed by shoppers who knew Cadillac only by its defining traits of yesterday: bloat, float, and general malaise.
But what a difference a few short years make.
PROS: Scalpel sharp chassis, luxuriously trimmed interior, all-weather versatility thanks to all-wheel drive.
2015 GMC Yukon XL Denali 4X4
After the Infiniti QX80 spent some in the Carpages Garage a few months ago, the general consensus was that it’s a properly enormous vehicle. That was before we picked up the keys to GMC’s range-topping Yukon XL Denali, whose modest dimensions eclipse the monstrous QX in every measure. So who buys these behemoths anyway? Why do you need something so vastly immense? The answer is inevitably the same- those who’ve got minivan style hauling priorities but abhor the Box-on-Wheels shleppers. More often than not these folks have something heavy to hook up to a trailer hitch, like a boat. General Motors practically invented this segment back in 1934 with the original Chevy Suburban. Since then, these full size leviathans have moved significantly upmarket, culminating in the Yukon XL Denali you see here; not exactly a Caddy Escalade, but pretty darn close.
That means the Yukon carries a sticker price that is creeping up on Escalade territory and is not for the faint of heart. $83,675 is a whole lot of dough for what is essentially a Sierra pickup with seating for seven. But you know what? As expensive as this rig is, it doesn’t feel like an exercise in frivolity. If you genuinely do happen to fit within the profile of needs typically associated with a truck like this, it feels like money well spent. If you turn your nose up at the Yukon/Suburban twins, your only real choices are the aforementioned Escalade, the baleen-inspired QX80 and the recently revamped Lincoln Navigator.
PROS: Drivetrain is easily the class of the field, mega capability, all the toys.
2015 Chevrolet Colorado LT 4WD Extended Cab
Chevrolet’s resurrected Colorado makes perfect sense.
I find it puzzling when I see people running errands or simply commuting in a full size truck. Fine, you need the towing capacity and payload area here and there, but what about the vast majority of the time? Seems kind of silly to have all that capability wasting away. Never mind that these are the folks who typically slow to a crawl to go over a speed bump with their increased ground clearance and off-road conquering componentry. Hopefully the days of purchasing a truck that are clearly overkill can be put behind us. As this optimistic new era dawns, enter Chevrolet’s reborn Colorado.
Or re-enter, as it were. The Colorado (and corporate twin, the GMC Canyon) have been resurrected from their embarrassing past of anemic 5 cylinder engines, (a V8 was hastily offered for a few years) a cockpit saturated with industrial grade plastics and relatively diminutive payloads. They join the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier as the only choices in the “real-world” sized pickup segment. The Dodge Dakota and Ford Ranger used to play in this sandbox until they were called home for dinner by product planners, citing lack of buyer interest. It stands to reason they did this to focus on their full size truck programs which were enjoying explosive growth, while sales dwindled for these more manageably sized players. In typical cyclic fashion, the mid-size pickup sector is hot once again, even if the Tacoma/Frontier are so aged that their basic formulas go back to the days when the Colorado was a first weak-kneed effort from GM. Until their replacements arrive, the Colorado/Canyon are the most bleeding edge, state-of-the-art small(er) pickups you can buy.
PROS: Perfectly sized, healthy dose of refinement, impressive capabilities.