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.
2016 Honda Accord Sport
The best-selling midsize sedan continues to improve the breed
What do we have here?
Most of you know what this is, and if you don’t, well, that’s surprising consider there’s a glut of these plying Canadian roads. Honda put over 14,000 examples in various driveways across our great country just last year alone which solidified its position as one of the best selling midsize vehicles you can buy around these parts. After a go-around in the refreshed-for-2016 model, we remember why. The Accord offers up a compelling mix of value, efficiency, safety and comfort while even being capable of having a little fun now and then. Various articles and reviews for the car have all more or less stated the same thing over the years: The Accord is better than it has to be.
This is the Sport model, so it’s got a big engine and relishes attacking corners, right?
Not so much. The Sport packs the same 2.4 litre 4-cylinder engine you see on all Accord trim levels unless you step up to the V6 model. Here, it makes a slight power bump of four horsepower over pedestrian Accords for a total of 189 ponies which is all motor, baby- there are no turbos to speak of here. Attacking corners is a bit of a stretch, even with the upgraded 19” rolling stock. That’s not to say the Accord shies away from the proceedings when the road gets squiggly. In fact, it’s quite competent in the twisty bits for a midsize people schlepper. There is a threshold that should be observed, because crossing it turns the Accord from a surprisingly graceful backroad ally into a predictably understeering mess. That is a good thing because those that patronize Honda for the Accord don’t have trail braking at the top of their list of priorities, nor would they care to swap ends in a corner. So what does the Accord have that lends itself to the Sport in its name? There are the aforementioned upsized wheels and dual exhaust outlets as well paddle shifters for the CVT transmission.
2016 Honda Pilot Touring AWD
Growing family but too cool for a minivan? Take a look at this.
So…It’s NOT a minivan, right?
Correct. Well…sort of. The Pilot (and many other large CUV’s) share a platform, electronics and running gear with their minivan counterparts. In this particular case, that means the bones and various other bits come from the Honda Odyssey, one of the best family haulers you can buy- so good we dubbed it “easily deserves mention at the top of its class…it’s the minivan for drivers.” So the new Pilot gets off to a good start. Before you go hitching up a large boat or planning an off-pavement excursion, realize that all the chassis components were meant to serve duty as getting kids to school and band practice, not taking the role as towing workhorse (although our Pilot was rated to tow loads of 2,268 kilos.) So while there may not be any sliding doors or box-on-wheels styling to be found, the Pilot is for those who flatly refuse to put a minivan in their driveway but concede that they require the practicality afforded by this market segment.
Head-to-Head Test: 2016 BMW X5 xDrive 40e VS. 2016 Porsche Cayenne S E-hybrid
Trying to decide which luxury hybrid SUV to put in your driveway? You need to read this…
Well, what have we here?
Ladies and Gentleman, feast your eyes on two new(ish) key players in the niche luxury hybrid SUV segment- The BMW X5 xDrive 40e and the Porsche Cayenne S E-hybrid. These two will vie for your monthly payments in a segment growing in popularity that includes the likes of brisk sellers Infiniti QX60 and Lexus RX450h, although these two don’t directly compete with our testers. The Germans have never met a segment they’ve wanted to slice into ever-thinning pieces, and so BMW and Porsche step up to the plate with these two rides. Although late to the party, Mercedes Benz and Audi shouldn’t be far behind with models of their own.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen hybrids from these two, is it?
You may recall that both brands offered hybrid mechanicals just a few short years ago. BMW named theirs the ActiveHybrid (available not on the X5 but on its kissing cousin, the X6) and honestly, it was kind of a flop. An outrageously expensive and prohibitively weighty thing it was, but the biggest disappointment was that its hybrid credentials gave it the paltriest of edges where efficiency was concerned compared to a standard petrol engine. Porsche fared better, but not by much- its Cayenne S Hybrid was only marginally better than the V8-powered Cayenne S on which it was based. In terms of performance, BMW’s system delivered slightly better numbers than the Porsche but the more seamless nature of the Cayenne’s system made it the better choice.