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2015 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid

Sometimes, greatness is found hiding in plain sight.

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You’re forgiven of the name “RLX” flies right over your head. We’ll look the other way if one were to drive right by you and you wouldn’t notice whatsoever. That’s because Acura’s RLX, perhaps one of the most underrated and painfully neglected cars out there, is styled to look like a toaster.

That’s not exactly fair; it looks much better than a toaster, but its shape isn’t going to keep you tossing and turning at night. That forgettable styling is but one of three major problems facing this car, the other two being a woefully small cargo area in the trunk (blame the hybrid hardware) and terribly wooden brake feel (more on that later.) Other than these faults, the Acura RLX Hybrid is a tremendously enjoyable car to drive.

PROS: Wonderfully innovative hybrid system, intelligent four-wheel drive, one of the quietest cars we’ve ever driven.

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2015 Honda Accord Touring

Like fine wine and cheese, it keeps getting better as the years go by

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The Honda Accord is the vehicular equivalent of a Golden Retriever- eager to please, loyal and extremely well liked by everyone. When you look at it on the same level as the lovable pooch, it should come as no surprise that Honda sells hundreds of thousands of them every year, numbers that keep it at or near the top of midsize sedan sales charts. With such a large ubiquity index, how is it that they manage to keep it feeling like such a special car?

The Accord Touring we drove was only one unit out of many, many thousands, but it didn’t feel like it. Somehow, in the fevered pitch that they build these things they still make certain that each nut and bolt and panel feel like they were assembled with care and patience. That feeling of bespoke is hard to find anywhere in the automotive industry these days, let alone one of the most populous classes of car.

PROS: Extremely comfortable, excellent road manners, effortlessly capable.

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2015 Honda Fit EX-L

Honda’s smallest car will perfectly “Fit” the bill for many situations.

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I remember the first time I drove the Honda Fit: it was a revelation. At the time of its introduction, you simply could not put the words “fun” and “subcompact cars” in the same sentence. Being accustomed to morale-sapping rides like the Toyota Yaris and Chevy Aveo, I figured it was going to be a very forgettable week behind the wheel, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The Fit embodied everything I love about the “VTEC, yo” era of Honda- playful, flickable chassis, zingy engines, slick gearboxes and pretty much no low end torque so you had to drive them in a keep-up-the-momentum kind of way. Not only was it a gas to drive but it also had an interior that acted like a Black Hole, meaning it could easily swallow whatever we tried to put in it. No other small car offered as much fun at such a low price point and could hardly touch the Fit’s ingenious packaging and practicality.

PROS: Super practical, delightfully fun-to-drive, sips fuel.

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Ignition: 2016 Honda HR-V

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Miami Beach, Florida- Remember in the early Oughties at the height of the SUV craze- everyone complained that they were too big, too ponderous and too thirsty? Fast forward to today and while SUV’s are still popular, there’s an emerging shift towards downsizing this popular vehicle type. People are starting to come around to the fact that sky high ground clearances make getting in and out a pain in the butt, and won’t do driving dynamics any favors either. They don’t want to be shelling out mega bucks in fuel costs or for off-road capable technology they’ll frankly never use. That’s why the hottest segment in the industry at the moment is the mini-subcompact CUV market- vehicles that are built for life in the urban jungle rather than the actual one.

Drawing on the success of the best-selling (and Canadian made!) CR-V, Honda plans to take the core ingredients of what made it such a runaway success and adapt them to the HR-V platform. They aren’t going to be using the CR-V’s architecture, instead opting for the Fit as the bones of the HR-V. Actually, it’s a modified version of the Fit platform- it’s wider, longer and taller than its donor, a platform that has already been garnished with high praise for its ingenious packaging and commodious interior.

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2015 Honda CR-V SE

The plans said facelift, but the result was major surgery.

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We came away with a better understanding of why Honda’s CR-V is the best-selling vehicle in its class when we Road Tested the 2014 model about a year ago. It was comfortable, spacious and well-built yet still engaging to drive. The basic recipe contained a fundamental goodness any small CUV shopper would appreciate, and we wouldn’t have opined that major changes were needed to keep it at the top of sales charts.  Honda brass may have slightly disagreed and decided when it became time for a facelift, instead of the usual suspects like different wheel styles and minor trim upgrades the CR-V got a whole lot more than that. It looks richer than the model it replaces, and even our mid-level SE tester had stuff like aluminum wheels and dazzling LED daytime running lamps.

How ‘bout a whole new powertrain? Again, not an area we thought needed addressing, but who are we to argue with progress? The outgoing 2.4 was a sweet engine, making 185 horsepower and happily signing to the redline in delightful Honda fashion. It was paired with a 5–speed automatic gearbox that made the most of the engines output, but we still clamoured for more power and maybe an extra gear in the transmission to relax highway cruising a bit. Honda was listening (mostly) because our 2015 tester in SE trim had the same 2.4 litre engine from the Accord making…185 horsepower. OK, so horsepower numbers doesn’t budge, but torque swells to 181 lbs/ft, an increase of 11%. It may not seem like much, but it is a marked improvement. You feel it shove you off the line and getting you up to speed nicely. The difference is most pronounced when dashing from light to light; the new engine ensures the CR-V effortlessly keeps up with traffic. The extra gear for the automatic was traded for no gears at all, meaning Honda’s CVT handles transmission duties.

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CAA Tow TruckJulia Kent knows a thing or two about how to cope when her vehicle refuses to start.

A few months ago, Kent, manager of public affairs for CAA National, climbed into her car that was located in a parking garage – only to find that the battery was dead.

“I was very happy to be a CAA member that day because I was rushing to another commitment, and they came so fast,” said Kent who unsurprisingly requested help from the roadside assistance company. “They came in less than 25 minutes.”

Being stranded on a highway, on a roadway or, in Kent’s case, in a parking garage is obviously no fun, but there are things you can do not only to reduce the odds of a breakdown, but also to stay cool, calm and collected if you’re ever left stranded.

First things first, though. The old adage, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, definitely applies here since bringing your vehicle in for preventive maintenance at regular service intervals will help to keep it in top shape. But even if you do all the right things — oil changes and other required service — vehicle failure is still possible. In such cases, there are tips to help you get through the ordeal.

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2015 Lexus NX200t F Sport

Lexus refuses to be typecast. Here’s proof

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Since they burst onto the luxury car scene in 1989, Lexus has been carefully cultivating a reputation for its products, one that is founded on precise craftsmanship, obsessive pursuit of automotive serenity and attention to detail. No one is disputing those claims, but neither is anyone using the words “sporty”, or “edgy” to describe a Lexus, perhaps ever. OK, so there was the bonkers LFA of a few years ago (and to a lesser extent, the V8 powered IS-F/RC-F), but they only built 500 of ‘em and it cost $477,900 Canadian dollars- so, not exactly the kind of car you can put on the same plane of existence as an ES350. But the arrival of the LFA signified that the winds of change are blowing in Japan that Lexus is trying follow the path of so many halo cars before it- hopefully injecting some much needed sport into lesser-models DNA.

First, just look at this thing- did you ever expect a Lexus crossover to have the kind of styling the NX200 has? Neither did we. It’s quite a polarizing design-that gaping maw in the front didn’t make many friends over the course of our road test- and more than once we heard people quip that it looks a lot like the automotive incarnation of The Predator. Like it or not, you have to admit that a styling departure like this took some serious cojones on Lexus’s part. I think the NX200 neatly straddles the camps of edgy/ground-breaking design and the garish visual cues of Lexus’s own RC-F, and seeing it in person is more rewarding than beholding it in pictures. I’m particularly fond of the intricate LED headlights (who do a fantastic job at illuminating the road, mind you) and the equally intriguing manifestation of the taillights. Sharp scythes and creases pepper the sides of the trucklet, providing some visual wattage and do a nice job from keeping the NX looking like a kitchen appliance- something that cannot easily be said about its traditional, larger RX cousin.

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2015 Toyota Camry XSE

A bland dish receives some much needed spice.

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Toyota is the world’s largest automaker (they’ve closed the book on another year of over 10 million units sold globally) so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they are amongst the world’s biggest spenders on Research and Development. On a per-hour basis, these folks are shelling out a staggering 1.1 million dollars. With that kind of scratch to throw around, you’re able to do things that would otherwise financially paralyze competitors, like significantly refresh the bestselling model in your portfolio three years ahead of schedule.

Except Toyota insists this isn’t a mere refresh but rather a holistic re-imagining of North America’s most popular car. Line up a 2014 model beside our tester and you’d be had pressed not to agree. The styling is all new, so’s the interior and you can now have access to models you didn’t before (Hybrid SE, anyone?)

PROS: A genuine improvement over the last generation in every way, feels more expensive than before but isn’t, starting to show signs of life in the driving dynamics department.

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2015 Toyota Avalon Limited

Toyota’s flagship starts acting more its age.

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Typically, twenty-one year olds are most concerned with proliferating the latest social media app and partying, not making sure the PVR is set to capture Perry Mason reruns and being mindful that one’s patent shoes and belt are the same hue of white. Yet that is precisely the kind of stuff the young Avalon has been burdened with since it burst onto the scene in 1994, the product in Toyota’s lineup tasked to catering to the geriatric set. Built as an answer to the floaty land yachts built by the likes of Cadillac and Buick, the Avalon was always anonymous, blending into the background as easily as roadside guardrails. Things took a particularly bad turn for the worse in the model’s second generation, when it became a bleating, slab sided appliance, complete with optional bench front seats and column gear shifting.

Nowadays, even Cadillac and staid ol’ Buick, two brands who’ve always counted the blue-haired set as some of their core customers, actually make stuff that doesn’t feel like a living room on wheels any longer. The target in this segment is one that doesn’t tend to move all that often, but expectations have clearly changed. Cadillac is making edgy, beautifully crafted vehicles that are actually fun to drive, and even Buick has followed suit, offering up the handsome Lacrosse and showing us exciting things to come with the Avenir concept.

PROS: Easy on the eyes, actually enjoyable to drive, Lexus kit at Toyota pricing.

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2015 Toyota 4Runner

When resistance to change pays off.

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Usually, brisk change is synonymous with automotive industry product cycles. Nowadays, if a car sticks to its basic recipe for more than five years it’s considered ancient. There are exceptions to this rule, and perhaps the most well documented example of adamant resistance to change can be found in Porsche’s 911. Around basically unchanged since the 1960’s, it has seen its fair share of criticism- the engine is in the wrong place, it’s too much of a handful to drive- and yet throughout the years they’ve honed the car into something that is often mentioned as one of the world’s greatest cars. The 911 is laser-focused on delivering leading edge performance and fulfilling the souls of passionate drivers everywhere and certainly delivers.

If one looks hard enough, the same resistance to accept the status quo can still be found within the automotive landscape, and we can find another instance in Toyota’s 4Runner. Since 1984, the basic recipe remains the same while the vehicle has grown, gained weight and evolved its styling. The 4Runner traces its lineage directly to the Hilux pickup, the vehicle responsible for mobilizing folks in the most hostile and remote regions of our planet (the same one the blokes on Top Gear tried to kill, unsuccessful, multiple times.) The platform is resolutely capable and durable, of that we can be sure.

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2015 BMW 740Ld xDrive Sedan

Car Reviews & Road Tests

2015 BMW 740Ld xDrive Sedan Diesel power and a Long Wheelbase 7 series, together at last If a full size, fuel-sipping German luxury sedan is on your shopping list, the usual suspects (Audi, Mercedes Benz and now, BMW) have you covered- all offer models with diesel power. BMW continues to offer a 7 series ActiveHybrid, [...]

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BMW Advanced Driver Training Program

Automotive News

BMW 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 [...]

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2015 BMW 435i Gran Coupe xDrive

Car Reviews & Road Tests

2015 BMW 435i Gran Coupe xDrive Yet another 3 series to choose from. It’s a good thing that the BMW 3 series is inherently a good car. Otherwise, folks might get pretty annoyed that yet again, the Bavarian Motor crew has filled yet another niche no one knew needed filling. As of this writing, there [...]

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2015 BMW M235i xDrive Coupe

Car Reviews & Road Tests

2015 BMW M235i xDrive Coupe The darling of enthusiasts, now with more traction! One of the most compelling cars we Road Tested this past summer was BMW’s renowned M235i. You remember that one; finished in Estoril Blue, it was optioned pretty much how we would have asked- a few niceties on the inside, yes, but [...]

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2015 BMW 435i xDrive Cabriolet

Car Reviews & Road Tests

2015 BMW 435i xDrive Cabriolet It’s never too cold to drop the top. Although it may seem like we’re nuts for Road Testing a convertible in the depths of a Canadian winter, it gave us a chance to verify that yes, BMW’s trick folding hardtop on all Cabriolet models will work just fine in ambient [...]

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2015 Volvo S60 T6 Drive-E Platinum

Car Reviews & Road Tests

2015 Volvo S60 T6 Drive-E Platinum Change is a-comin’. You may be forgiven for passing over the S60 you see here as just another Volvo, albeit one with a healthy level of optional equipment in Platinum trim. The ordinary vehicle you see here is actually much more than that; it packs some serious tech under [...]

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