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Short time, but still sweet.

scion-frsThere are certain things in life that are just too irresistible to turn down, like free money and the keys to exciting sports cars. No offers for cold hard cash materialized recently, but Toyota did offer a scant few days in Scion’s mildly updated funster, the FR-S, and we quickly accepted.

We very much indeed liked the FR-S the last time we drove one and gushed, “…so much fun to saw away at the wheel and travel up and down the gears, it’s pure automotive bliss.” Heady but wholly deserving praise indeed, especially when you consider the Scion FR-S is a practicality-be-damned, extremely low and somewhat underpowered conveyance.

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It had a good run.

fjThis Road Test can be considered a eulogy.

That’s because after model year 2014, Toyota’s FJ Cruiser will be relegated to the pages of history, another vehicle marched into irrelevance. I’m just not sure that’s a fair way to sum up the FJ’s life.

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The 4 series drops its top for the first time.

IMG_9051Despite the fact that they’ve been around for a while, folding hardtops are still one of the remaining examples of curbside automotive theater. Flick a switch and try not to be fascinated by the insanely complex hydraulic and steel ballet that ensues, exposing you to the elements and neatly stowing the resulting metal origami discreetly into the trunk. This effect is heightened, as I learned while doing so in stop-and-go traffic, when you can do so at speeds just below 20km/h- a new trick the 428i Cabriolet brings to the table for 2014.

Also nearly as complex, it offers the ability to stow more of your gear even with the top down, allowing you to move it out of the way in the name of recouping some of those precious available cargo litres.

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Less MINI, more BMW.

DSC00530Back in 2001 the MINI brand emerged from the shadows of bankruptcy, solidly backed by BMW and almost singlehandedly introduced a market segment we North Americans weren’t familiar with – the premium small car. The R50 generation landed with great fanfare as retro resurrections tend to do (VW’s New Beetle that debuted a few years earlier comes to mind) and customers loved the modern take on what made MINI’s so great- being the automotive equivalent of a gnat, buzzing nimbly from street to street with four occupants seated in modern comfort and safety.

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History repeats itself. Enthusiasts: cue celebration.

DSC00438I will readily admit that I’ve been guilty of BMW double talk. On one occasion, I’ll wax poetic about the brand that has clung fiercely to its defining trait as purveyors of Ultimate Driving Machines. And yet, out of the other corner of my mouth, I’ll bemoan the prevalence of artificially aspirated engines and the piping of their sound inside the cockpit, or the heresy of sacrificing the enchanting status of the M sub-brand at the alter of increased profits. Maybe I’ll gripe about softer suspensions and steering feel that sometimes feels like its left the building. Either way, change is afoot, and it’s not always warmly embraced.

Or is it? Recently BMW wisely sent the 1 series to pasture in favor of the 2 series you see here. Never mind that the name further convolutes BMW’s model naming strategy; the main idea here is that the ungainly 1 has been replaced by a much better looking 2.

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No need for earplugs anymore.

cherokee-ecodIf your experience with diesel engines installed in Jeep products includes the Jeep Liberty CRD, that’s too bad. From 2005 to 2007, this spoon-in-a-blender masquerading as an engine could be found displacing 2.8 litres under the hoods of the poor folks who actually ordered one. As a fairly modern diesel, it was disappointing the way it clung steadfast to all the qualities we hate about diesels- thrashy vibration, weak kneed power delivery and a noise that could make your teeth itch, assuming substantial hearing loss hadn’t set in already.

OK- perhaps that’s not fair, but the 3.0 diesel engine tapped for duty in the Jeep Grand Cherokee is so vastly, monumentally better than the outgoing unit that you may be surprised to find out they came from the same factory, VM Motori Cento in Italy.

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All hail the reigning King of the Pickups.

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It’s far from an exact science, but you can assert with confidence that whichever manufacturer- usually referring to the Big Three domestics in this case- brings the latest pickup truck to market that it’ll all but certain take home honors for Best in Class/Truck of the Year. In true fashion, Chevrolet’s most recent addition to the ranks is the newest, and therefore best- so it should shock exactly no one that it took home AJAC’s Canadian Truck of the Year as well as some other impressive hardware south of the border.

Before I clambered up to the driver seat of Chevy’s newest offering, I began to question the wisdom of my AJAC colleagues. Before I even turned a wheel, I glanced up from an underwhelming spec sheet to find a truck that doesn’t really look groundbreakingly new compared to its predecessor. I’m not a truck guy, but I know this- shoppers who patron this segment do so with a generous dollop of loyalty, and also expect to be blown away when their truck of choice is replaced with a new variant. With the revolutionary-rather-than-evolutionary machine in front of me, I wondered how it would stack up against stalwarts like Ford’s well-received Ecoboost engines or RAM’s wind cheating and velvety ride delivering air suspension.

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Not a Grand National, but that’s the point.

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If you count yourself amongst China’s burgeoning populace who drives, trends are strongly suggesting that more than likely you fancy a Buick. If young professional best describes who you are, more than likely you don’t fancy a Buick. After General Motor’s great reorganization of brands, Buick survived the firing squad but found a pressing question on its hands: Now what? And how do we get posteriors under the age of 50 into the seats of our cars?

The tried and true path of making comfortable transportation appliances for retirees was one that was rightfully deemed unsustainable, and one that wasn’t serving Buick particularly well when sales figures are periodically released. No, fresh young blood would be needed to keep the brand on the good side of relevancy.

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IMG_4182BMW calls their entry-level driver training program “Advanced”, but don’t be mislead into thinking the curriculum includes storming apexes and trail braking behind the wheel of an M3. Those who are out to improve lap times will be disappointed; those that aim to improve their overall skill as drivers will be rewarded.

Like many driver training courses extant, this one starts in the classroom. Ex –racer Jason Carvahlo was acting as our chief instructor and went on to explain the day’s schedule, what exactly we’d be doing and some basic theory. The real fun began on the makeshift course BMW had set up- made even better by the fact that our steeds were 435i M Sports (the automotive gods blessed my co-driver and I with the only manual gearbox example on hand.)

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Distancing itself from the Malibu’s of the past.

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While spending time recently in Chevrolet’s Malibu LTZ, I wondered why this car isn’t on more people’s radar screens. It competes in one of the most popular and hotly contested segments in the market and thanks to a last minute refresh for 2014, happens to be pretty good. After spending a week driving it around, I’m still not sure I understand why people aren’t more aware of it.

The Malibu enjoyed its greatest sales success in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s, but that isn’t saying much- that was a truly terrible era in automotive history, known affectionately as the Malaise Era, and wasn’t known for virtually any cool cars period. The prevalence of mediocrity was already so wide spread at that point that it took domestic auto manufactures years to shed the reputation of truly crappy, unreliable product; something that has dogged the Malibu for years.

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2014 Nissan Juke NISMO RS Review

Car Reviews & Road Tests

They took a Juke NISMO and gave it more power and a clutch. We said “thank you.” When we discussed the Juke NISMO last year, we mentioned that it had its flashes of brilliance. We did say, however, that if any crossover needed a manual transmission, then this would be it. Well, lucky for us, [...]

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2014 BMW 228i Coupé Review

Car Reviews & Road Tests

More than a 1 Series plus 1. In the ever-evolving volume that is BMW’s model names, the 1 Series is gone in North America for 2014, to be replaced by the 2 Series. Now available only in coupe form (there was a 1 Series convertible), the new car is a little bigger, a little more [...]

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Top five car-related products priced at less than $30.00

Automotive News

Now that the summertime driving season is here, Carpages.ca has decided to mark the occasion with a list of the top five car-related products that cost less than $30.00. While there are undoubtedly other products that are worthy of being on the list, the five that were selected can definitely make for happier drivers. Now [...]

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First Impressions 2014 BMW i3

Car Reviews & Road Tests

The Ultimate (Electric) Driving Machine. Strange things are happening across the automotive landscape. Don’t believe it? Witness that honors for the world’s fastest production car are being contested by a trio of hybrids. Bentley, one of the most rarified and aristocratic brands there is has confirmed that they will be bringing an SUV to market, [...]

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2015 Nissan Micra Review

Car Reviews & Road Tests

Driving downtown just got easier. In an unprecedented move of not shilling to the enormous American market, Nissan is returning with the Micra microcar (or is it “Micracar”?) to Canada for 2015, and not the US. It’s usually the opposite, with manufacturers building sedans they only plan on selling to Americans. The rest of the world [...]

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2014 Honda Accord Plug-in Review

Car Reviews & Road Tests

Honda has built a reputation on manufacturing vehicles with above average fuel efficiency. So it is with trepidation they are testing the 2014 Honda Accord Plug-in in the Canadian market. The lynchpin behind this Accord, which you can plug in to the wall, is it will offer up to 28 kilometres of battery only driving. [...]

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