TechnoFile
| Car and tech rants from Jim Bray | Publishing online exclusively since 1995 |
Updated
January 11, 2018

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Honda Odyssey

Looking for a good minivan? You Odyssey Honda's entry

It may be a bad pun, but the headline above is a good piece of advice if you're one of the people thinking about making the move to a new minivan.

I'm not a minivan guy at all - my wife wanted one when our kids were sized and had lifestyles that were "minivan friendly" but I always managed to stave it off, until now they're long-married and on their own and a minivan is even less of a necessity for empty nesters. But I understand and laud the minivan as perhaps the ultimate in family-and-their-stuff hauling (at least until the three row SUV came along) and I've driven enough of them over the years to appreciate their utility, if not their fun.

Alas, the Odyssey isn't quite as interesting to drive as the Chrysler Pacifica, but - if only because it's a Honda - it may be a better vehicle overall, especially over the life of its service (Hondas, indeed most Japanese vehicles, are legendary in this regard - and the last Odyssey I reviewed got rear ended but was still eminently driveable once the first responders had pried off its rear bumper and stowed it inside).

It has some pretty cool stuff in this new, fifth generation version, too, stuff that makes it more like a science fiction-type shuttlecraft than a plain vanilla people hauler. more...

Christopher Nolan's Interstellar is a fabulous foray onto 4K

Hot on the heels of his tour de force from 2017, Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan's previous film has also arrived on 4K disc now and it's well worth your time and/or money.

Nolan, who before Dunkirk was probably most famous for his excellent "Dark Knight" trilogy (also available in 4K), really pulled out all the stops when he followed up "The Dark Knight Rises." "Interstellar" is a science fiction tale of hope for the future of Mankind (oops, Personkind, for all you in the ranks of the perpetually offended) that begins on a dying earth that's threatening to starve its billions of residents and ends up with a re-energized human (or huperson, if you will) race reaching for the stars.

It's quite the journey and Nolan takes 169 minutes to tell it, which is a tad long but never made my bum squirm in my seat from boredom. In fact, while I doubt Interstellar will be one of my "desert island discs" (unlike Dunkirk), it's a movie to which I return periodically for its great "serious science fiction" story and its attention to detail.

And now, with the 4K disc release, Interstellar soars even higher. It's a great home theatre treat! more...

All-new Camry aims to please everyone - and it just may!

Toyota's all-new 2018 Camry is quite a revelation. It's not only a great mainstream "bread and butter" car, it's also a car an enthusiastic driver could - well, if not exactly "lust after" then "learn to love and not be ashamed."

Sure, it'll never go head to head with such sporty sedans as the Audi A6 or BMW 5 series, but those are also higher end vehicles and the Camry doesn't pretend to be in their league (that's why Toyota has Lexus). In its own market niche it faces such worthy competitors as the all-new Honda Accord (which is pretty tough competition on its own), Nissan's Maxima, the Mazda 6, Volkswagen Passat, Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima, and others such as the domestic competitors from the once-Big Three (i.e. Ford Fusion, etc.).

Clearly, the Camry has its work cut out for it. On the upside, the car has sold well traditionally anyway, so all they really have to do is not screw up (and/or not lose ground to the competition) and they should be fine.

To Toyota's credit, they also took some risks with this new generation Camry. The car has traditionally been considered boring by some - I've called it "vanilla" in the past, stating that I'd rather have "butterscotch." But I also remember writing in my review of the last generation Camry that it was "an extraordinary ordinary car," calling it "a fabulously designed and rendered sedan that gives a driver everything needed and most of what could be wanted - in an unassuming but handsome package that's as state-of-the-art as most people could want." more...

Meet Roku's new entry level unit - and a high tech backpack that can charge your phone

Cord cutter wannabes, also known as folks who want to pull the plug on conventional television delivery systems such as cable and satellite, have a new low cost reason to make that move thanks to Roku's new entry level Express.

This $40 CAD unit is the latest in the Roku line of streaming devices that all offer similar programming but with different capabilities - from "entry level" HD to 4K with HDR.

And if you're using your cord cutting experience as a way to get out into the supposedly great outdoors, Lifepack has created a backpack that not only carries your stuff, it helps keep your tunes close and charges your electronics at the same time. more...

Dunkirk soars onto 4K disc - while LEGO's ninja flick plummets

Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk is a marvelous cinematic achievement, and the best way to experience it is not only on the biggest screen you can find, with the biggest sound, but also via Warner Brother's new 4K HDR disc version of the 2017 hit.

Dunkirk, of course, was a terrible defeat for the Allies at the beginning of World War II. The German forces' invasion of western Europe had stranded hundreds of thousands of soldiers, the lion's share of whom were British, between the Axis advance and the English Channel. There they waited either for rescue, or death - depending who got to them first.

That's where Nolan's film begins, literally with a bang as one soldier (well, he wasn't alone originally, but such is war) flees the invaders, climbing a fence and running down narrow streets until he emerges onto the Dunkirk beach to find he's no longer alone: he's just one of those hundreds of thousands of souls with nowhere to go. more...

New Honda Accord a major step backwards - and that's a good thing!

It may not be back completely but, as evidenced by the newly redesigned 2018 Honda Accord, it looks as if the honoured Japanese carmaker is back on track. Or at least well on the way.

I've been particularly vociferous about my Honda angst in recent years. The company makes terrific cars - and they still do, for the most part - but somewhere along the way between adding all the new drivers' aids and pursuing ever more strict fuel economy mandates the company seemed to lose its way.

They also seemed to have fired some of their great designers of the past, as evidenced by the current generation Civic, one of the ugliest cars on the road today in any of its in-car-nations. I realize that beauty is in the eye of the key holder, and Honda's sales don't seem to have suffered a whit just because I've been poking at them with a pointy stick but, to me, the company seems to have been sucked into a styling rut in recent years.

As I wrote in my review of the Civic Coupe in March of this year: "…there's something awry about today's Honda and it really has me scratching my head. Civics have always been cute, or at least inoffensive, but this current (tenth) generation - which includes sedan and coupe versions as well as this new hatch - is bloody ugly." I did also note, however that "Honda is only one of the Japanese carmakers currently over styling their vehicles (some Lexus and Nissan models come to mind as well), but the new Civics are full of creases and bulges that look almost as if it were designed by a committee of people who never spoke to each other."

Methinks they may have started hanging out with each other again, however, because this new Accord, while not nearly as attractive as the one it's replacing, is a big step forward from the dumpy Civic and Accords of a couple of generations ago. more...

Paramount Transforms giant alien robots into 4K

If you're looking for a home theatre experience that's state-of-the-art, but won't tax the little grey cells excessively, Paramount Home Video has just the new titles for you: Transformers!

I'm usually up for suspending my disbelief when it comes to a good yarn, whether sci-fi, fantasy or whatever, but I must say the Transformers movies really, really challenge that. It isn't just that the screenplays of the sequels I've seen are incoherent, but I find the whole concept of a race of giant living robots that can change into a variety of cars, trucks, aircraft and the like kind of, well, silly. But if you can get past that, like I got past it in the first movie, you're in for a typically Michael Bay action shoot 'em up.

Paramount is releasing four of the five Transformers movies on 4K disc, with HDR, in Canada - though a shortage of review samples led to them sending only the second and fourth outings in the profitable franchise: Revenge of the Fallen and Age of Extinction. And as much as I enjoyed the 4K versions for their excellent audio and video, I was more than ready to stop watching after sitting through this pair and grateful that I'd dodged a bullet by not having to watch the others as well.

How's that for high praise? more...

Mazda CX-3 manual - a low end SUV that's plenty of fun

The entry level version of Mazda's smallest SUV is not only a great vehicle that's a blast to drive, it also shows clearly that there are plenty of common features on today's vehicles that aren't really necessary.

I mean, for 20 grand Canadian, you can have a great-looking "crossover" that's also a great driving one (it feels kind of like a tall Mazda 3). It's almost enough to make me want to think about owning an SUV, without simultaneously ducking to avoid a lightning strike from Heaven.

Sure, for that $19,995 entry price you don't get adaptive cruise control, lane departure warnings, blind spot monitoring, and that type of thing. But you do get manual cruise control, and vehicle that handles so nicely that you should have no trouble keeping inside your lane (as long as you pay attention - and if you don't, why are you there?). You also get outside rear view mirrors you can adjust to virtually eliminate blind spots - and plenty more standard features, like airbags, belts and the like. Just like every car today, pretty well. more...

Higher Standards keeps vapes clean while Aerospaced makes the daily grind better

Vaping may be all the rage for partakers of medical marijuana, but while the technology does offer a relatively safe and clean way to get one's hits, it isn't all sweetness and light.

Besides the moral and legal issues behind medical and/or legal cannabis, there's also the issue of maintenance if you want to keep your equipment humming along nicely. That's why Higher Standards has introduced a line of cleaning products that they say offers a, well, higher, standard of performance to what you can get from the average bottle of generic rubbing alcohol and pack of Q-tips and/or Kleenex/toilet paper (or whatever). more...

Mercedes' golden age of design continues with 2017 C-Class Wagon

Mercedes-Benz' C Class wagon is a lovely and wonderful car that combines the best of a sedan with most of the utility of an SUV/Crossover. I call that a winning combination.

When I learned that I was going to get a week behind the wheel of Mercedes-Benz' current C-Class wagon - the C 300 4MATIC - I was ecstatic: not only do I love wagons but Mercedes-Benz is currently (in my never humble opinion) in a golden age of automotive design. The company has traditionally made excellent luxury cars but they haven't always made the most attractive ones. Some generations have been a tad dumpy, or too angular, or whatever, with stodgy interiors that may have befitted the legendary marque's historic reputation, but which didn't make my heart go 'zing' like others did.

That, obviously, was then. But today's Benzes - at least their bread and butter C and E classes, are beautiful inside and out. Oh, I still don't think they're as attractive as, say, Audi or Jaguar, but they've come a long way and I definitely wouldn't be embarrassed to have one in my garage. Even better, Mercedes' cars are beautiful underneath the skin, too, thanks to their state-of-the-art design and technology. more...

Arizer ups its Solo ante with a sequel - while Vie vies for vapourizer success

One of the most popular ground cannabis vapourizers - though definitely not the most affordable - has received a serious upgrade, one that's well worth a view. And if the Arizer's too rich for you, Vie has unleashed a much different and less expensive model it thinks should be, well, high on your shopping list.

It's always nice to have choices!

With medical marijuana all the rage and legal marijuana on the Canadian horizon, it seems that it's more a matter of "when" the stuff will become mainstream, rather than "if." But there are still the issues of smoke, second hand smoke, and all those arguments - which combine to make a compelling case for a good vapourizer with which to consume the stuff rather than smoking it. more...

Honda refreshes the Fit for 2018

Does Honda's mid-cycle refresh of its little Fit mean the car's a little Fitter now?

Indeed. The Fit is a good little car - despite the Honda-isms of the company's current line that continuously drive me crazy - and Honda has indeed made it even better than before. They've even returned the volume control knob to the centre stack, proving that they either do listen to their critics or that they've actually started driving their own products for a change.

Once upon a time Honda's entry level vehicle in North America was the Civic, but as that popular and iconic car grew it re-opened the niche it occupied originally, creating room for a newer, smaller model to, well, fit in there.

This growing of segments is, of course, not unique at Honda at all. For example - and this is only one of many such examples - Toyota's smallest offering in North America was the Corolla many years ago, but over time it grew as well, making room for the Tercel (then the Echo and the Yaris). And so the market goes.

So the Honda Fit fits in this "entry level" niche, going against such vehicles as the abovementioned Yaris, as well as the Nissan Versa, Hyundai Accent and the brand new Kia Rio - and more. How does it fit? Quite well. more...

Potter totters onto 4K disc with release of first four films

Warner Brothers plants its corporate feet even more firmly in the 4K UHD disc marketplace with the release of Harry Potter and his little friends' first quartet of adventures. These four titles join the final four that were released on 4K earlier this year.

Alas, while they're all terrific movies - and these new versions are definitely their best video incarnations yet - they aren't the stuff of 4K dreams. But if you're a Potter fan (a Potter person?) and you haven't yet added the series to your library, this is the best way to get them all without worrying about them becoming obsolete due to the onward march of technology. more...

Toyota sports coupe a relatively cheap way to have fun behind the wheel

Toyota, please don't even think about 86ing this great little smile generator!

The Toyota 86 - the Scion FR-S before Toyota said sayonara to the Scion era - and its virtual twin from Subaru (named after a Business Revitalization Zone or something) are relative rarities in this era of high tech gadgetry: they're raw and unsophisticated, but they also hearken back to the days when cars were simpler, more direct and, dare I say, visceral.

Not that the 86 is primitive. Indeed, it comes with everything that someone who enjoys the act of driving needs. Sure, it could use a little more oomph and better rubber, but like its chief rival in the marketplace (Mazda's little bundle of joy MX-5, of course!) it's so much fun in which to zip around that I'm surprised it hasn't been banned yet.

And in Toyota's case, it's shining proof that the company can still make an exciting car as well as ones that'll run like watches for 1,000 years. Heck, when the next sportiest model your line is a Camry, or a Yaris, there's room for a little smilemobile. And this is a fine one! more...

Pixar's Cars 3 a spectacular 4K disc experience

It may not be the strongest Pixar outing, but Disney/Pixar's third Cars movie offers a fantastic home  theatre experience.

Indeed, the folks at Pixar are really on the top of their game here, and Disney's 4K Ultra HD disc release is truly reference quality - so much so that I'll be using it as one of my test discs going forward. It isn't just the 4K picture, it's how the 4K picture takes advantage of the Pixar folks' hard work creating the "virtual world" of Lightning McQueen, Radiator Springs, and the "pseudo-Nascar" spectacle. It's remarkable.

In Cars 3, Lightning McQueen (once again voiced by Owen Wilson) is still racing and winning, but like legends such as A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti and Helio Castroneves learned in a real life racing series (IndyCar), you can be talented and legendary and still quick, but there's always a young whippersnapper yapping at your heels (or, in this case, bumper) and there comes a time to toss in the racing helmet. more...

Canadian Car of the Year TestFest offers great first driving impressions

Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Ontario: Some of the best or most interesting new or substantially-changed vehicles for 2018 turned out at this vintage Ontario racing facility for a two day marathon driving session designed to choose the top candidates for AJAC's annual Canadian Car of the Year Awards.

This is the place, as noted in historic pictures around the facility, where guys like Gilles Villeneuve, Jackie Stewart, Stirling Moss, Mario Andretti and A. J. Foyt plied their trade. The track owners were smart enough not to let us anywhere near that track (damn their wisdom!), but we did get to take some of the coolest sets of wheels onto the Driver Development Track, a fun series of innumerable turns designed more to teach you mettle than test your metal. more...

Lincoln's biggest car and smallest ute make driving in Southern Ontario nearly tolerable

How do you cope with stupidly low speed limits, endless semi-trailers choking the two right lanes (even if there are only two), and drivers who seem to think that, because they're from the Centre of the Universe™, they have a right to drive as moronically and/or in others' faces as they want?

Oh, and how about the endless signs peppered over the roadsides cajoling you how to drive, how to live, how to do everything except drive distracted (because it appears to only be okay when it's the government doing the distracting)?

Well, you could try driving in a Lincoln. It won't make the drive better, but it can certainly make it a lot more pleasant.  more...

Mercedes-Benz E coupe a real 'Tourer de force'

Or maybe it's a "coupe de grace!"

However you pun about Mercedes-Benz' 2018 E 400 coupe, it's an exquisite and luxurious two door E Class, and that is nothing at which to sneer. Sure, you won't get much change back from your 90 grand to get one configured as Mercedes-Benz Canada's quite loaded sample was, but that's what a car like this costs these days - and for that amount you're getting an incredible vehicle.

Can't afford that? No problem! All the technology and comforts the E Class has today will trickle down to entry level cars sooner than one might expect, judging by how quickly such stuff as lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, rear view cameras and the like have now started cropping up at the lower end of the market.

But if you want the higher end goodies in a sporty coupe - without getting into the hyper car realm - this isn't a bad place to start.

I'm a sedan kind of guy - actually, I like wagons even more - but the lines of this coupe really stir my automotive drool response. It may be a tad meaty on its haunches but the overall look is modern and high tech and continues Mercedes-Benz' current golden age of interior and exterior design. This is no turgid Teutonic tank, it's a beautiful example of today's state-of-the-art auto design.

Beauty, of course, being in the eye of the keyholder. more...

SoundLink Micro makes big sound for a tiny package; and The House falls down

First came the SoundLink, then a while later came the SoundLink Mini. So it was probably inevitable that Bose would follow up eventually with this new, micro-sized Bluetooth speaker.

It only makes sense, what with technology's continuous process of miniaturization and optimization. A computer that used to fill a room is now outclassed by a smart phone and room-filling speakers can now fill rooms from enclosures a fraction of the size of other types of loudspeaker. With audio, however, the fly in the ointment is bass.

Meanwhile, here are a few words about Warner Brothers' new comedy release, "The House," which comes to Blu-ray on October 10. It stars Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler, both alumni of Saturday Night Live, a show that used to be funny sometimes. more...

Acura adds A-Spec goodies to 2018 TLX

Honda's luxury division may have sparked the Japanese invasion of the luxury and high end sports car markets - and led the way for several years after that - but you might wonder what the company has done lately.

Well, besides the new NSX supercar, the company has continued to release well built, luxurious vehicles that are stuffed with technology. The problem is, everyone else is doing the same thing, only some have now passed Acura's lead enough that the folks at Honda's top niche may find themselves a tad lost in the customer shuffle. And that's a shame.

It's easy to see why, though. Honda/Acura still make great cars, but they seem to have forgotten about the people who actually use them, via unfathomable ergonomics and electronics controls and safety nannies that are so obtrusive at times that I wanted to smash my fist into the poor, innocent steering wheel.  

The TLX is a prime example of what Acura and Honda are doing now, both good and bad: it goes like heck, has everything you could want (and then some), and is a compelling vehicle to drive. Yet in its niche, competing against such worthies as the Audi A4, BMW 3 series, Jaguar XE, and Lexus IS, it seems to practically disappear. more...

Disney jumps into 4K disc market with a bang

Disney's first two 4K disc titles, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 and Pirates of the Caribbean Volume 5 are welcome additions to the burgeoning 4K title library, though one is much better than the other as both a home video presentation and as a movie. Still, it's nice to see Disney stepping up to the 4K world. The company may be many things, but stupid it is not. And it knows how to make money.

But there was a time when the company misunderestimated the marketplace so badly that it ended up suing a tech company for having the audacity to create a new technology! more...

Volkswagen stretching things with new generation Tiguan

The VW Tiguan has always been a great compact SUV, and for 2018 the German carmaker has redesigned the vehicle completely, crafting a new generation Tiguan that seems fully capable of slugging it out in this niche of the market.

As a VW fan, I'm always nervous when they release a new model because I'm afraid they'll screw it up. It's like your favourite sports team coming off a championship-winning season, and you just know the team will be different next year thanks to retirements, free agency, etc., and you dearly hope the new team will be everything the old one was. Fortunately, at least in Volkswagen's case, their history is generally one of steady development and refinement rather than the company rushing to throw the new baby out with the ancient bath water.

Some might think that makes VW's designers and engineers some of the laziest in the world - heck, a Golf still looks like a Golf even after decades of development, but can you say that about, say, a Civic? I think it means they're steady and don't throw something out just for the sake of newness. I like that.

So here we have an all-new Tiguan, hot on the heels of the all-new Atlas I drove a few weeks ago. It's bigger, bolder, more muscular-looking and with newer technology than the outgoing Tiguan. And you can even get it with a third row of seats! more...

Wonder Woman breathes new life into DC's moribund movie universe

DC Comics has a decidedly spotty track record when it comes to movies being made from their catalogue. Going into this review, I could count on one hand the DC superhero movies I've enjoyed over the decades: the Richard Donner Superman from 1978 and the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy from the 2000's, with perhaps an honourable mention for Tim Burton's first Batman from 1989. That leaves more than a few Superman movies out, as well as such forgettable titles as Green Lantern.

Then, along comes Wonder Woman - starring a woman, directed by a woman and featuring a nicely mixed cast racially and ethnically - and I figured it would just be another of "Hollowwood's" attempts to preach social justice warrior propaganda to the unwashed masses.

Except that I was wrong. more...

Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid hits the right notes except for some weird sounds

Minivans. These people haulers have been around for years and for a while were some of the most popular vehicles on North American roads. Then came the "crossover," a combination of car and SUV, and the minivan segment in which an abundant number of automakers had participated started dwindling down until today there's only a handful of models available.

One of the more interesting is from Chrysler, via its Pacifica - a name that once applied to one of the early crossovers, a seven seat people hauler that was more a long and a tad taller car than a minivan. I reviewed the first Pacifica back in 2007 and thought it was pretty neat - a decent carrier of people and not necessarily their stuff. But that Pacifica is long dead and the new one comes down firmly into the minivan segment - and it also offers what the company says is the first hybrid minivan on the market.

That's the version that Chrysler sent me to drive for a week, a model that starts at $56,495 CAD, which is surely not chicken feed. Granted, the Pacifica actually starts at $36,595, but that's still a bit of a premium compared to other minivans on the market. The Toyota Sienna, for example - according to Toyota's Canadian website - starts at $33,690 and tops out around $51,715, while the Honda Odyssey starts at $34,800 and tops out about $52,156 (also sans extras and taxes). Kia's Sedona make the gap even wider: a starting price of $27,995 that rises to about $46,995 with the top trim level. more...

TP-Link Router offers plentiful features and good range

If your home is plagued by Wi-Fi dropouts and other router issues, you may want to think about an upgrade, perhaps to one that offers multiple bands to up your choices and, with luck, performance.

Hence TP-Link's AC5400 Wireless Tri-Band MU-MIMO, also known as the Archer C5400 Gigabit Router. This sucker offers a total of six distinct networks, kind of: 1 x 2.4 GHz, and 2 x 5 GHz, with all three options available for both regular use or as specially noted "Guest" networks, so you won't get in trouble for some overnight interloper's porn downloads. Or whatever your issue may be. Of course, offering a guest network means your visitors can have Wi-Fi without having to know your Wi-Fi password - and in this case you can also choose whether to allow guests to see each other and/or whether to allow them access to your local network (you can let them use the internet but not get at your files). more...


We welcome your comments!


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