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2016 BMW 340i xDrive Sedan

Another name change, another (new) engine.

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Hey, wait a minute! What happened to the 335i?

We were asking the same question about the 330i 9 years ago when the 335 was introduced into the BMW lexicon. Just as it was the case then, the same holds true for this new designation- the numbers on the trunk lid have absolutely nothing to do with what’s under the hood. For model year 2016, 340 refers to yet another new inline six turbo.

Whoa. How many different versions have there been?

Since 2007, the highest rung on the 3 series ladder has been powered by no fewer than three different inline six turbo engines, or basically a totally new design every 3 years. We’re pretty confident that you won’t find another example of such brisk engine bay turnover in the entire industry. And its not like the earliest versions were clunkers- far from it. BMW is among the best makers of inline sixes, and their expertise wasn’t at all dulled by the addition of turbos- this fastidious tweaking and massaging didn’t have a big effect on outputs (nearly all of the N54 twin turbo/N55 single turbo examples produced 300 horsepower/300 pounds feet of torque) but made a significant difference in the linearity of the power delivery, increased efficiency and better low end twist. Now we have the B58 engine for 2016, hence the nomenclature change to 340i.

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2016 BMW 328i Touring xDrive

BMW’s dynamic brilliance wrapped in a sensible package

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It looks like wagons are making a comeback…

Finally! The wagon renaissance appears to be alive and well, and we fully welcome the ever expanding offerings of this body style. We Canadians tend to thumb our noses at them… but why? They are better to drive than their SUV counterparts, get better mileage, and hold more stuff. In some cases, they look even better than the sedans on which they’re based. BMW has always offered a wagon throughout its lineup (remember the delicious but Euro-only M5 Touring?) but over the years they’ve only been available sporadically to us Canadians. It appears as though that’s about to change.

The 3-seires went under the knife recently, didn’t it?

Yes. Those intimately familiar with the F30 vintage (hard to believe its been almost 4 years since its inception) will spot new LED head and tailgate treatments with revised facias, as well as some minor interior changes. There are slight tweaks to the available option packages and pricing as well. That’s all well and good, but the changes that get our attention take place beneath the skin.

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When it comes to wintertime, you can bet that you’ll have to contend with some less-than-ideal road conditions.

Young Drivers of Canada President Peter Christianson

Young Drivers of Canada President Peter Christianson

Roadways covered in snow, slush and ice can intensify any problems stemming from driver error, and then there are the motorists out there who seem to believe that they can drive the same way in the winter as they do in the summer. So it definitely pays to be extra vigilant while out and about.

Asked what Canadian drivers can do this winter in the event that a mishap leaves them stranded, Peter Christianson, president of Young Drivers of Canada, mostly focuses on what drivers can do to avoid the sort of problems that could leave them susceptible to vehicle problems in the first place.

For instance, he says that drivers can steer around some adverse problems if they ensure that their vehicles are prepared to handle arguably the toughest driving season of the year.

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2015 Mini Cooper John Cooper Works 3 Door

All Hail the Fastest and Most Powerful Mini Ever.

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What have we here?

For those with performance bent, let us introduce you to the ultimate Mini. John Cooper Works is the in-house speed shop tasked with turning up the wick on the already potent Cooper S and they’ve done a particularly good job this time around. The 3rd generation (known as the F56) strikes a nice balance between the untamed madness of the first one and the somewhat underwhelming follow up a few years later. It’s crazy enough to keep you chortling when sashaying through the twisty bits but offers enough refinement that you could easily use it as a daily driver.

Look at the size of those brakes!

They’re pretty massive aren’t they? In this genre of hot hatches, we often talk about what’s going on under the hood but the braking hardware package on the Mini is a big part of the story- they’re simply superb. The brakes on the JCW are so large that the engineers had to increase the wheel offsets so they could fit rolling stock over them. Our winter tire equipped tester’s 17” wheels looked like they could barely contain them. They bite down on the discs with startling ferocity and none of the hair trigger jumpiness we experienced the last time we flogged a JCW. During our Road Test we never came close to even a hint of fade, and they look like they’d be up for the rigours of lapping a racetrack.

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Bill Gardiner, Motoring TV contributor - http://www.motoringtv.com/

Bill Gardiner, Motoring TV contributor – http://www.motoringtv.com/

Bill Gardiner, the resident mechanic on TSN’s Motoring TV show, has quite the resume.

After graduating at the top of his class in the late ’70s with an automotive mechanic license, he started up his own automotive repair shop and eventually took on the job of automotive columnist for The Toronto Star’s Wheels section. He held the columnist job, which saw him write the popular Trouble Shooter column, from 1986 to 1997.

So when it comes to looking for an expert to talk about the importance of winter tires, Gardiner is a logical choice. Read on to learn more about what Gardiner had to say about winter tires…and about why be insists that an absorbent towel is critical this time of year.

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2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI Performance

VW adds a few hot peppers to a deliciously familiar recipe

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What’s the deal with the VW GTI? Why does everyone love it so much?

There are many ways to answer to this question, but most people would agree that the following pretty much sums it up- It’s the car that created the hot hatch genre. There are others like it but none have been able to hit that magic balance of the ability to have serious fun while swallowing up a surprising amount of say, IKEA furniture. It’s priced at a threshold some would say is a bargain, and it caters to those who demand high levels of safety and efficiency in whatever they drive in one total package.

Got it. What makes this particular one so special?

The GTI you see here is different because of the Performance Package, a series of hardware upgrades that make the GTI experience even more rewarding. The first thing the PP does is turn up the wick a bit under the hood, lending a total horsepower count to 220, an increase of 10. Unless your butt dyno is extremely sensitive, you won’t much notice the difference (torque output continues unchanged at 258 lbs/ft.) So, if you’re plunking down the $4,000 for the upgrade in the name of quicker sprints to 100km/h, don’t expect to blow the doors of your neighbour’s example. What you will feel is the shocking amount of front end grip afforded by the limited slip differential and the confident bite of the upsized brakes. Around a track the extra suds won’t do much to lower lap times, but the trick diff coupled with the bigger anchors should allow you to find seconds to lop off your time.

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2016 Volkswagen Jetta 1.4 TSI Trendline+

The Jetta seeks to make up some ground, and succeeds

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So, the VW Jetta- wait, are we going to hear more about Dieselgate?

If you’ve happened on this review thinking you’ll get an in-depth analysis of Volkswagen’s recent spate of diesel emissions issues, please move on- you won’t find that here. That’s because A) much ink has been spilled on the subject already, and B) the Jetta you see here is powered by Volkswagen’s newish 1.4 litre turbo four, a gasoline engine that is vastly more welcome in the engine bay than the wretched old “2pointSlow” four or even the unique sounding but unrepentantly gruff inline five.

OK, fine. The Jetta doesn’t look all that different from the last time you tested one. What gives?

You’ll be forgiven if you cannot differentiate the Jetta you see here from the 2014 version we sampled a few years ago- actually, you might have a tough time separating the newest vintage from the version that VW debuted in 2011. That was the first year of a new marketing strategy that saw the Jetta moving decidedly downmarket, and although sales were healthy, people missed what made Jetta so great in the first place- solid German engineering and dynamics on a budget in a package that didn’t feel like you “settled”. Since the bean counters axe swinging has ceased, Volkswagen has carefully added back the stuff we missed- an independent rear suspension here, the upgrading of interior surfaces and trim there. As the Jetta’s push upmarket subtly continues, we should point out that the Jetta isn’t based on the MBQ modular architecture underpinning so many VW/Audi products these days- it’s bones are slightly older and not as cutting edge.

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2016 Volkswagen Golf R

We attempt to answer the question: Is the Golf R a worthy step-up from the GTI?

2016 Volkswagen Golf R

Well, what have we here?

May we present the VW Golf R (nee Golf R32.) You’d be right to think of this as the pinnacle of the Golf range, thanks mostly to its engine output and AWD. Some will wonder if this is simply a case of VW turning up the boost and adding a rear differential and on paper, it would be hard to argue otherwise. Yet the Golf R is much more than the sum of its parts. The GTI has always been known as one of the best front wheel drive cars you can buy and the extra helping of thrust and driven wheels does add a compelling dimension to the Golf experience. It allows for a sort of dual personality to the car- it’ll switch roles from refined and relaxed commuter to back road apex stormer as easily as you would activate the front defogger.

Refined and relaxed, huh? Aren’t AWD performance cars supposed to be a little raw?

Traditionally, players in this marketing segment have always been a little rough around the edges. When the original STI and Mitsubishi Evo used to vie for supremacy, air conditioning and maybe some leather trimmed seats were the only nod to comfort- nothing was supposed to take away from the laser focus on going as fast as possible. People who actually used these things to get to work and back in between track days longed for something a little more enjoyable to drive when not at 10/10ths.  While the segment has slowly allowed for luxury trimmings to trickle down into their cars, there really hasn’t been anything that balanced the need to have a little fun when no one’s watching while not getting pounded into exhaustion when simply running errands. This is where the Golf R shines brightest- its hardware will allow for some pretty wide grins but will whisk you places in refined silence and comfort when you ask it to. Not only that, but it’s vastly better built than its competitors- actually, it would acquit itself extremely well against cars costing much more.

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$20 gifts for motorists

With Christmas now just a week away, you might have already completed your shopping. But if you’re like many of the procrastinators out there, perhaps you still have a few more gifts to find, buy and wrap before the big day arrives.

Carpages.ca recently reached out to two Canadian retailers — Canadian Tire and Best Buy Canada — to get their suggestions for gifts priced at $20 or less for drivers. So if you’re seeking low-cost options for people on your gift-buying list, you’re in luck.

What follows are some recommendations for you to consider:

$20-or-Less Gift Ideas

Melissa Arbour, associate vice president of automotive accessories at Canadian Tire, says that the retailer offers lots of options for the driver on your shopping list.

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If you’re looking for some great deals on things for your trunk, windshield or glovebox, why not try out your neighbourhood dollar store?

Recently, I stopped by two stores in North Bay, Ontario, a Dollarama and a Dollar Tree. Of course, Dollarama has higher price points than does its rival – up to $3.00 for some items (though it plans to start selling stuff for as much as $4.00). Dollar Tree, meanwhile, sells items priced at no more than $1.25, and you’d be surprised at what you can get for a mere buck twenty-five! Keep reading…

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2016 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD

Car Reviews & Road Tests

2016 Mazda CX-5 GT We have another go-around in Mazda’s delightful crossover So what’s different this time around? Thankfully, not much- they knew not to mess with the original recipe. When Mazda introduced the CX-5 a few years ago, it represented a paradigm shift for CUV’s- it brought us around to the idea that you [...]

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2015 Mazda3 Sport GT Review

Car Reviews & Road Tests

2015 Mazda3 Sport GT A manual gearbox makes things even better The Mazda3 has already sent time in the Carpages Garage…what’s different this time around? Thankfully, not much has changed since we last drove a loaded GT with the 2.5 litre engine and 6-speed automatic. It’s still one of the most compelling choices in the [...]

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2016 Mazda CX-3 GT AWD Review

Car Reviews & Road Tests

2016 Mazda CX-3 GT AWD Mazda reminds us that crossovers actually can be fun to drive So…just another crossover, huh? Yes, but this one isn’t like the others. Crossovers are known for versatility and practicality, and the CX-3 has a bit of both. What sets it apart from its competitors is that it is actually [...]

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Porsche e-Hybrid Canadian Tour

Automotive News

Porsche e-Hybrid Canadian Tour Coming to a venue near you. Most people can’t believe it, but it’s true- Porsche is the only manufacturer on Earth who currently offers three plug-in hybrid vehicles for sale. What makes this particularly interesting is Porsche is a manufacturer not known for their environmental stewardship. Rather, what makes Porsche such [...]

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2016 Mazda MX-5 GS

Car Reviews & Road Tests

2016 Mazda MX-5 GS Mazda’s 4th generation roadster continues to delight So the world has a new MX-5. What’s the big deal about a car that only 511 Canadians bought last year and has almost no room to put stuff? If you judge the goodness of the MX-5 based on sales numbers or how practical [...]

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2016 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription AWD

Car Reviews & Road Tests

  2016 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription AWD We spend some time in Volvo’s newest Luxo-SUV   It’s…beautiful. Is this the nicest looking SUV you can buy right now? To our eyes, it just might be. It is easily the most striking vehicle in the Volvo portfolio. These days, high-end SUV’s are having a bit of [...]

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