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Finding BMW’s X6 too big? You’ve gotta see this!

When I picked up the keys to BMW’s new X4, one of their public relations staff told me that like the bigger X6, the little smaller X4 is “quite a polarizing car.”

Turns out he was right.

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Throughout my time with BMW’s newest model, reactions were split evenly. “That car looks awesome!” blurted one person excitedly.

“It looks too much like a Pontiac Aztec. And where am I supposed to put my stuff?” asked another.

Polarizing stuff indeed. But whether or not you like the X4, you can’t blame BMW for building it. Despite the X4 being the answer to a question most people aren’t asking, they will probably sell as many of them as they can build. The bigger X6 has been something of a quiet sales success, racking up impressive numbers in a few markets across the globe, one of them being Canada. If you’ve spent any time commuting anywhere across our City of Toronto, you’ve probably seen your fair share of them. There are those extroverts who go for that Armadillo profile but don’t want to step up to the X6, be it for size reasons, cost, or both. BMW will now happily fill that void in their lives with the X4.

PROS:

  • Brilliant BMW driving dynamics
  • Handling limits are high and delightfully neutral for a small SUV
  • Comfortable interior that makes incremental ergonomic improvements

CONS:

  • Less practical than an X3
  • More expensive than an X3
  • Wooden brake feel

THE VERDICT:

  • For those that don’t mind making compromises in the relentless drive to get noticed, your Sports Activity Vehicle is here.

So what is the X4 exactly? It’s the spawn of BMW 3 series and X3 parts and interior bits, all the way down to the engine and transmission choices. An 8-speed automatic is your only option, but we Canadians can choose whether we want 4 cylinder or 6 cylinder power. At the moment there aren’t any plans to offer a diesel.

Our tester had the latter engine, a perennial smoothie churning out 300 horsepower and 300 lbs/ft of torque. The four banger is no slouch, but who’d complain about more suds under the hood? The result of that creamy power is the turbo six wasn’t shy about drinking premium gas- 14.2L/100km is certainly not going to amaze anyone.

BMW’s drivetrains always impress, but what grabbed my attention was the wheels and tires shod to the X4. At first I thought there must’ve been an error and the little guy left the factory with the incorrect rolling stock. I had to check the spec sheet to verify, but BMW will in fact install 275 section width rear tires, a choice that surely endows the X4 with the distinction of being the most amply tired small luxury crossover ever. The generous meats allow the X4 to handle way better than it ought to- the downside is they don’t do much to smooth out what is already a firm ride.

The interior is not ground-breaking in anyway, save for the new fonts on the climate control readouts and the relocation of the door lock switches to their proper place on the doors. It is typical BMW, and in our tester’s level of spec had a bunch of unnecessary niceties which made it a pretty nice place to be (and also more costly.) The driving position is near perfect, and the chunky steering wheel is an embellished delight.

The only major downside is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the rear visibility. The price for that distinctively plunging roofline means you won’t be able to carry as much stuff as your neighbours X3, nor will you be able to see out of the darn thing too well. Sure, it has a terrific suite of cameras that provide a good idea of what’s going on around you and it does help. And if you’ve got people over 5”9 with you? They will have to hope the journey will be a short one- the plunging roofline makes no promises of comfort.

There are a few other missteps, the most surprising being the terrible brake feel. The first few centimeters of pedal travel don’t do much, and when you push harder you get more stopping force than you asked for. We noticed this behaviour in the 428i Cabriolet we drove not long ago, and I hope that these are isolated incidents and not a disturbing trend developing.

Speaking of disturbing trends, BMW’s apparent mandate of building a car for every type of taste and context will not be going away anytime soon. What’s next, an i3 Gran Coupe? Maybe an X7 M sDrive? (Actually, that last one would be kinda cool.) For the many folks who will no doubt wind up buying the X4 will do so simply because of that characteristic styling.  Really, if they wanted something that was more practical (and slightly cheaper, too) they would probably just opt for the X3.

2014 BMW X4 xDrive35i SAV – Specifications

  • Price as tested: $66,295
  • Body Type: 4-door, 5 passenger SAV
  • Powertrain Layout: Front engine/all-wheel drive
  • Engine:  3.0-litre V6 turbo, DOHC, 24 valves
  • Horsepower: 300 @ 5,800-6,000 rpm
  • Torque (lb-ft): 300 @ 1,300-5,000 rpm
  • Transmission: 8-speed automatic
  • Curb weight: 2,350 kg (5,180 lbs)
  • Observed Fuel Economy: 14.2L/100km (16.5 mpg)

 

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A Corolla? Oh yes. Sporty? Um…

DSC01143With more than 1.3 million examples parked in driveways across Canada, the Toyota Corolla has enjoyed the kind of sales success many manufacturers dream about. Over the years it has solidified its reputation as a durable, loyal method of transporting its owners, many of whom appreciate its thrifty pricing and low cost of ownership. Despite these accolades, one thing the Corolla has never been known for is sportiness, or even fun.

OK, so we’re leaving out the spunky rear-drive AE86 version, but that one was short lived and wasn’t wholly embraced by enthusiasts until it was out of production.

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Lexus builds a spiffier Prius, but falls short on Sport.

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The Lexus CT200H has a number of things going for it. It’s nicely appointed. It skips across city streets in hushed comfort while returning stellar fuel economy. It even looks pretty cool, a sort of Japanese take on the Volkswagen GTI. In F-sport trim as worn by our tester, it’ll throw itself into corners with more enthusiasm that you’d expect.

Ah yes, the F-Sport trim level, something people ostensibly select if they like all the virtues the CT has but want them delivered with a sporty edge. Judged within that framework, the CT falls quite a bit short.

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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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Distancing itself from the Malibu’s of the past. 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 [...]

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

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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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