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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

Diesel power and a Long Wheelbase 7 series, together at last

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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, but we’ve driven the technology on 3 and 5 series models- two examples that embody the Law of Diminishing Returns for fuel savings when you consider the premium you’re asked to pay over the standard version. That, and the stark reality that “Your Mileage May Vary” mean that these cars aren’t particularly good at achieving better consumptions figures than their conventionally powered counterparts.

If stretching each droplet of fuel as far as it can go is a high priority, diesel is the only way to go. A nice by-product of diesels is a deep well of low end torque, goading you to effortlessly harness the wave of thrust that results even from smaller throttle openings. The lazy and relaxed feel to the way these cars pour themselves down the road is perfectly fitting for a big luxo-barge. Although a tad late to the party, BMW will satiate well-heeled diesel shoppers with their excellent 3.0 inline six oil burner- the very same one found under the hood of the 535d.

PROS: Hedonistic luxury, torque rich engine does the ‘wafting’ thing pretty good, can still be a willing partner for fun despite its size.

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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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2015 BMW 435i Gran Coupe xDrive

Yet another 3 series to choose from.

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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 are seven different takes on the old stalwart of BMW’s ever burgeoning lineup- wagons, convertibles, coupes and now this Gran Coupe, which isn’t a coupe at all.

Those familiar to this space know we’ve spent time in the Gran Coupe realm before, although that was in the much bigger (and more expensive) 6 series/M6. Need a refresher of what the heck a Gran Coupe is? No problem: it’s BMW speak for swoopy, coupe-like styling proportions on the basis of a sedan profile; you know, the kinds of cars with four doors (once you wrap your head around that fact, you won’t wonder if we’ve lost our minds calling a 4 door a coupe.)

PROS: Easy on the eyes, holds more stuff than a regular 3 series sedan, Gran Coupe sounds cooler when you’re telling people about the car you drive.

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2015 BMW M235i xDrive Coupe

The darling of enthusiasts, now with more traction!

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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 most importantly an honest to goodness manual transmission. By now, you’ve heard how the M235i approaches the vaunted E36 M3 in terms of sheer joy to drive, and it’s muscled enough to post performance numbers that nip at the heels of one of our other all-time favourites, the V8-powered E92 M3. Enthusiasts take note- cars like this don’t come around too often, and this one’s made for you.

PROS: Peerless driving dynamics, four season usability, an automatic transmission that adds to the fun instead of taking away from it.

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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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2015 BMW M4 Cabriolet

Car Reviews & Road Tests

Another look- 2015 BMW M4 Cabriolet Is the end of December a good time to grab the keys to a seriously high performance drop-top? No, it isn’t, a fact that should surprise exactly no one. What is surprising is how good the BMW M4 Cabriolet fares as a winter car- it’s amazing. After getting dumped [...]

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2015 Volvo V60 Polsestar

Car Reviews & Road Tests

Another Look- 2015 Volvo V60 Polestar A couple of months ago, we Road Tested Volvo’s hottest offering du jour, the S60 Polestar. We enjoyed the experience quite a bit but were left wanting somewhat. As good as the sedan was, we couldn’t help but wonder why anyone would choose it over its significantly better looking [...]

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2014 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD Platinum Review and Road Test

Car Reviews & Road Tests

2014 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD Mom would approve.   The Volvo XC60 is the vehicular equivalent to eating granola or running that extra mile- you feel good about driving it. During our time with the turbocharged CUV we kept arriving at the same conclusion- the XC60 is good for the soul. For starters, it’s pretty [...]

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2014 Ford Focus SE

Car Reviews & Road Tests

2014 Ford Focus SE All the Focus you’ll ever need. It wasn’t that long ago when auto scribes lashed out at Ford for not supplying North America with the light-years better Focus they’d been enjoying in Europe for years. In 2011, Ford provided us the keys to the first “world” Focus (the same kind whether [...]

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