| Car and tech rants from Jim Bray | Publishing online exclusively since 1995 |

Updated September 6, 2019
TCL 65 inch 4K TV

TCL makes a big and affordable statement in the 4K TV market

Consumers looking for a 4K smart TV that won't break the budget, yet offers a big "WOW!" factor, should check out the offerings from TCL.

I've been using their 65-inch 65S425-CA for the past few weeks and, though it's definitely not up to the levels that video snobs might require – something like an OLED, QLED, etc., it offers a big and mostly very good picture, as well as the smart features so popular on TV's these days.

Even more interesting, the smart TV aspect comes from the TV's use of Roku as an operating system, which not only allows you to access your various audio and video sources but which also brings to the TV the Roku streaming apps that offer an amazing selection of streaming apps, from Netflix and YouTube to, well, just about anything.

I'd seen Roku TV's on display in local stores and always wondered how they would work. And I like how they work; the TV's interface is not only as smart as you want it to be, it's also very easy and straightforward to operate, even if you don't live and breathe home video equipment. That's the Roku factor.

And the TV's a darn good value, too. more...

Honda Insight

Honda's innovating Insight is reborn as a nice hybrid sedan

The Honda Insight may not be a household name, but the original version was a ground-breaking vehicle in that it was the first "mainstream" hybrid vehicle offered for sale in North America.

That car was an underwhelming achievement, however, a little two-seater that looked like a squashed ladybug and boasted the acceleration of a bicycle (okay, I may be exaggerating a bit). It was focused clearly on saving gas, with the driving experience secondary (if the designers thought about it at all!). Heck, its performance was such that when I reviewed one back around the turn of the century, my wife and I drove it to the Columbia Icefields in the Rocky Mountains and on some of the steeper hills it almost felt as if we should get out and push.

That said, the car was fine as a commuter vehicle as long as you didn't mind getting your doors blown off by pedestrians and not having much room for groceries.

The second generation was a nicer vehicle, but compared to the number of Prii I see on the roads around here, that Insight didn't set the market on fire, either.

This third "in-car-nation" may not turn out to be Honda's better mousetrap either, but of all the Insights so far, it's easily the nicest in which to spend some time behind the wheel.

Supposedly based on the Civic, the car actually looks and feels more like a current Accord, though it isn't as big. But if you just give it a quick look you might confuse the two – and that's a good thing considering how ugly the current generation of Civics is. more...

Toyota Corolla

Toyota's all-new Corolla goes hybrid for the first time

One of the most classic Japanese sedans is back with a new set of clothes, and it's not only a darn fine car, it's also quite comely, eschewing as it does some of the recent Japanese design trends that makes many of that nation's cars as full of ugly creases and weird-looking stuff as possible.

And if you want to save some gas over what you can already expect to spend on fuel with a compact economy car, you can even get a hybrid version for 2020.

If you've read the title to this piece you know I'm talking about the new Toyota Corolla, the new hybrid version of which I got to spend a week with recently. And it's a fine car, a handsome car, a car that's undoubtedly cheap to run and that will possible outlive you. more...

Rocketman, Godzilla and EndgameRocketman and Godzilla: flamboyant and fun fantasies in 4K

A couple of guilty pleasures premiere on 4K disc this week, and both are well worth your home theatre time if you're into the wildly different types of movie they represent.

More than a mere biopic, "The Elton John Story" is kind of a cross between a conventional biopic and something that perhaps could have been crafted by someone like the late Ken Russell. And Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a pretty cool hat tip to the old Japanese monster movies of decades past. Add to the mix Avengers Endgame, and you have a lot of compelling content for a long weekend!

Rocketman is more than just the story of the early years of Reggie "Elton" Dwight and his musical career. It's also a reasonably fully blown, old fashioned Hollywood musical that's teeming with production numbers and wild visuals. And of course, a shout out for homosexuality, if not exactly for the agenda of the "gaystapo" that we see being rammed down our throats (no pun intended) these days. more...

Toyota Prius

Toyota adds all-wheel-drive to its stable of Prii

Hybrids have come a long way since the first Honda Insight crawled into the marketplace like a partially squashed ladybug a couple of decades ago. And that has caused me to become, if not a hybrid owner then at least a hybrid tolerator. And this 2019 Toyota Prius is a prime reason why.

Hybrids are a segment that used to be mostly bland and boring, and gutless to drive, but that segment, at least as personified by the four hybrids I'll be reviewing over the next while, has evolved to the point where you don't have to put your boy racer pants back in the drawer to enjoy the fuel savings. Well, mostly.

And those fuel savings can be quite substantial. I spent a week driving the 2019 Prius Technology AWD-e as if it were a Porsche Cayman, using its "power" mode almost exclusively because it makes the car more interesting and rewarding to drive. Yet during that time, I managed to get 4.5 litres per 100 kilometres combined, which is even better than Toyota's estimate and works out to just under 63 miles per Imperial gallon (and about 53 miles per U.S. gallon).

That's pretty remarkable. It makes me wonder how much less gas I could have used if I had merely gotten with the program and driven the Prius in a more sedate and serene manner. more...


Shazam! is a better than expected pro-family superhero flick

You could look at it as a Superman meets Big. In fact, that's how the filmmakers refer to it in the supplements that accompany Warner Brothers' new superhero release, Shazam! But however you look at it, Shazam! is both fun, and worth a view.

Movies from the DC comic universe has been spotty at best, but there are a few nuggets to be found in the collection, in recent years, starting with Wonder Woman and including Aquaman. And that's about it, for quality and highly enjoyable comic book flicks among the DC flicks I've seen. Until now.

Shazam! isn't in the same league as Wonder Woman, or even Aquaman, but on the whole it's a worthy entry, enjoyable and reasonably intelligent. It also sends a real pro-family message (though not necessarily "nuclear family") that seems kind of out of place in Hollywood these days. It deals with young people from broken – or no, I assume – homes who want to feel like part of something, even if they may not initially know it. more...

Kia TellurideKia Telluride a big eye opener in the three row SUV market

Kia's new big SUV, the Telluride, is a great vehicle and if you're looking for a large, three row model such as this, you really owe it to yourself to check it out.

This advice also applies to folks shopping in the luxury SUV market – vehicles such as the Lexus RX 350L, Acura MDX and the rest of the competition from Asia, Europe and North America. The Telluride doesn't pretend to be a "luxury crossover," and it doesn't sport the amount of niceties you can find in the "higher end" models – but it's plenty luxurious enough for me (and possibly someone else…) and drives as well as or better than the competitors I've been lucky enough to spend time in.

It reminds me of the Mazda CX-9 in this regard, except I may just like the Kia a bit better.

It's priced right, too, assuming any vehicle these days is. You can get into a loaded one for $53,995 Canadian – compared to $66,250 for a base RX 350L, $56,591.25 for a base MDX, $66,300 for the entry level Audi Q7. A CX-9 Signature Edition (the top end one) is about the same price as the Kia.

Sure, there's some apples-versus-oranges comparison in there, but my point is to showcase just how great a value the Telluride is (and the Mazda, too).

And if that's too dear, the Telluride starts at $44,995 for the base, EX AWD version. more...

Jeep Cherokee

Jeep Cherokee – a classic off roader still relevant in the present

Most people, it seems to be the consensus, never take their SUV/Crossovers off the road, preferring them as more "garden variety" family and stuff haulers for their duties on asphalt wherever it may be found.

Nothing wrong with that, of course; after all, we're supposed to embrace diversity, right? Most people probably never haul building materials or furniture in their pickup trucks, either, yet they're the top selling vehicles on this continent. And it's nobody's business what someone else drives.

Some people do choose to go into the great open spaces with their SUV/Crossovers, too, and that's just fine. But these folks need something a tad more, shall we say, robust in their off-asphalt capabilities, something that will take them up the side of Mount Everest one trip, then to the side of the drive through window at Harvey's the next.

Fortunately, the relatively free market allows for such diversity of vehicle and there are plenty from which to choose. There are vehicles from Japan (i.e., the Toyota 4Runner and Nissan Pathfinder) and Germany (such as the Mercedes-Benz G class) and England (do the names "Land Rover" and "Range Rover" sound familiar?).

And for those who choose to drive vehicles whose companies call North American home (well, mostly, since the subject of this column is kind of Italian in ownership) there is probably no name more familiar than Jeep. Jeep hearkens back to World War II and the Willys GP (General Purpose) that was the "car" of the militarY. more...

Ford F-150 King RanchFord F-150 King Ranch an awesome hauler

There are Ford F-150's and there are Ford F-150s. And one of the most lusted after among them is the King Ranch.

Well, that's according to my non-scientific poll of folks who met me while I had a 2019 King Ranch for a week, a truck that garnered ooh's and ahh's from a variety of ages and, it appeared, demographic and economic groups. Truck folks, it seems, like the King Ranch.

I'm not the target audience here, alas, and so you might have to take my comments with a mine of salt: I'm no truck guy and would never buy a pickup truck, though nor am I one of those "non-truck persons" who thinks that because I don't like 'em then nobody should be allowed to have one. Trucks are big (as in popular) and here in Alberta they're everywhere.

I think it should be Porsches that are everywhere, but that, apparently, is a minority opinion. Hey, who'd have thunk: white male me is a minority!

Anyway, the King Ranch – despite its lust-inducing manner – isn't much more than half way up the Ford F-150 line, with the awesome Raptor and the Platinum and Limited trim levels above it. I kind of figured the Raptor would be the lust inducer, with its aggressive good looks and even more aggressive performance, but as usual no one asked me. And to be fair, when I last had a Raptor it had a similar effect on passersby and hangers on. So maybe it's just Ford trucks that inspire this lust. Beats me.

The King Ranch starts at $64,529 Canadian, which seems not too outrageous considering that you can spend a LOT more: The Limited starts (according to Ford's Canadian website) at $79,629 CAD – and last Christmas season I drove a RAM 1500 Limited whose Monroney topped out at about $85K. more...

Infiniti QX50Think twice before asking the government to intrude further into drivers' lives

"Why doesn't the government do something?"

How many times have you heard a comment like that, pleading for the government to get involved in some area of life that has so far managed to escape the scrutiny – however well-intended – of the nanny state? It seems a comfortable go-to position for people who either feel helpless to help/control a situation they don't like, or who just like to tell other people what to do and how to live.

I had just such a question asked of me – and, apparently, a bunch of other car writers – from someone who's either a reader or figured out how to access the Automobile Journalists of Canada's members' mailing list. This woman asked:

"Just wondering if any AJAC members have ever thought about advocating to require auto makers to make all car doors mechanically open-able when power is cut off, and, make sure, as a minimum, all side windows are tempered glass and NOT laminated glass. Laminated glass can not be broken by those little emergency exit hammers, (which often don't work anyway unless they happen to be made of carbide.)  And why should automobile users have to hammer their way to safety anyway?"

It's a point that had never occurred to the non-mechanically-minded me (assuming the questioner's facts are correct), and I wonder if carmakers have even thought of such things.

I bet they have – they're a pretty smart lot and, if only because of competitive reasons, they're always looking for ways to make their products better. more...

Infiniti QX50

Infiniti QX50 works hard not to offend

Luxury crossovers are a dime a dozen these days, especially if you include into the mix models that aren't marketed specifically as luxury items but which pack on the niceties anyway. So, if you're looking to make a splash in this crowded market, you'd better offer something interesting, if not unique.

Into this fray waded Infiniti, the high-end arm of Nissan (the same way Lexus is Toyota's, Audi is Volkswagen's, Genesis is Hyundai's…) with an entry that offers a claimed new type of engine the company says "delivers the perfect combination of power and efficiency." Not that anyone has ever made a claim like that before!

In this case, it's the Infiniti QX50 (which began life as the EX35/37, though that was a very different vehicle) and its "World's First VC-Turbo" engine that – as is depressingly common these days – shrinks from the previous generation's six cylinders to the current turbocharged four. The VC stands for "variable compression" and claims to adapt its performance to your driving style to optimize both efficiency and oomph.

According to Infiniti's Canadian website, the engine "automatically transforms to suit your drive, giving you more power when you need it, consuming less fuel when you don't. It's like having two advanced engines in one seamless package." So, it's like that old commercial about "two, two, two mints in one," except that this isn't mints. more...

13 Hours 4K13 Hours' Benghazi Heroes soar in 4K  

Want one more clear and bright reason to holler "Lock her Up!"? Try this UHD HDR 4K version of Michael Bay's 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi." The movie tells the true-life story (Hollywoodized, of course) of some true American heroes who were hung out to dry by their government.  

13 Hours is not only a good movie, it's an important one in this age of social justice BS being foisted by Hollowwood in movie after movie. It's a true blowing of the whistle on the corrupt Obama regime that appears to have treated the military as pawns to be used and abused as the elites deemed.

I've never been a huge fan of Michael Bay's films, though I admit to having enjoyed some of them. So Bay (of the Transformers franchise), seemed to me like an odd choice to helm a film about an incident that would have been a dark stain on the Obama/Clinton regime were most of the media not dedicated to ensuring the Democrats only received fawning praise."

And then came Trump! Hallelujah! more...

Lincoln MKCLincoln MKC is a nice drive – but you'd better act soon

It may appear to be a last gasp for an automobile that's long in the tooth, but the 2019 Lincoln MKC compact SUV/crossover is still a very compelling vehicle that has a lot going for it.

But since this is the last year of the MKC (it's supposedly being replaced by the new "Corsair"), you might not want to dilly dally – and you might even be able to score a better deal on existing inventory, though a lot of that depends on the dealer's hunger and your negotiating skills.

I don't know how different the Corsair is going to be, but the MKC is already a fine vehicle, building on the "more pedestrian" but still very nice Escape whose DNA it shares, while upping the luxury and performance ante.

How bad can that be?

As nice as the Escape is, the MKC gives you a lot to love for the extra cash. For example, while the base engine is shared with the Escape (a two-litre turbo four rated at 245/275 horses/torque), Lincoln Canada's sample came with the bigger, 2.3 litre turbo engine that ups the oomph ante to 285/305 stallions/torquey things. That's a noticeable difference and, while there's some lag (but not a lot) from the turbo, the engine does seem to appreciate being used. more...

Forrest GumpForrest Gump's 4K disc is a fitting silver anniversary release

Has it really been 25 years? Wow.

If you're a fan of Robert Zemeckis' Forrest Gump and haven't bought it on disc yet, you really should take a look at Paramount's new 4K UHD/HDR release. It's easily the best Gump yet, and a great tribute to this great movie.

Even if you don't yet have the equipment for 4K playback yet, it's a worthwhile package because it also contains a newly-remastered Blu-ray of the movie and – the part other than the great 4K presentation that really turned my crank – it features over three hours of extras (none of which I believe are new, however) that are some of the best I've ever sampled in my years of reviewing DVD's, Blu-rays and 4K discs. 

Forrest Gump is well worth owning in any format (I even had it on Laserdisc!), but this 4K version is easily the best.

Forrest Gump is a big movie, in its scope and execution, but at heart it's a small and intimate film that's really about love, friendship, loyalty, and the ability (and desire) to succeed regardless of what life puts in front of you. As Forrest and his mom said: "Life is a box of chocolates; you never know what you're going to get."  more...


Mazda's new 3 sedan may be the nicest all-round mainstream car

Mazda's much-honoured and popular 3 series is back with a new generation for 2019 and it's a spectacular vehicle whose design, features and quality make it stand out in a particularly crowded marketplace.

Okay, I'm a fan of Mazdas and have always loved the 3. Heck, I loved the 3 when it was the Protégé, especially the hatchback Protégé 5. But this fourth generation of the 3 is not only a spectacular upgrade, it's so nice that I think it outclasses every other car in this niche that I have driven or wanted to drive.

That would include the VW Jetta, which I love, the Hyundai Elantra, which I love, and the Kia Forte, which I haven't driven yet but figure I'd love if I had. As for other competitors such as the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, well, they're great cars but the Corolla's a tad bland and the Civic is so ugly and weird that it was the first to fall off my personal "best mainstream compact car" list.

It doesn't end there. The Mazda is so nice and is thought out and equipped so well I'd move it right out of that niche and into a higher one, where it could compete favourably with such luxury models as the Acura ILX (my current favourite Acura) or Audi A3 (which, alas, I haven't driven since the folks at Audi Canada apparently decided they didn't need writers from "flyover country"). more...

HP TangoHP lets you print from anywhere - and Bactrack can help you avoid 'Imperial Entanglements'

In today's mobile society, being able to send documents home for later perusal is a wonderful feature. But what if you actually want a printout waiting for you when you get home?

And what if, while you're out messing around with documents you want to retrieve later, you've imbibed a few "pops" and want to make sure you're still going to be okay to drive?

Well, friends, that's what's called a cheap way to introduce two topics for a single column – in this case Hewlett Packard's interesting and convenient Tango printer and BacTrack's C6 portable breathalyzer.

HP's Tango is a $179.99 (Canadian) printer you can stick just about anywhere (hey, be nice!) and to which you can print from just about anywhere. BACtrack, meanwhile, has some nice tools you can use when you're out to ensure you don't do something stupid like mow down a pedestrian as you drive home drunk. more...

Honda Passport

Honda fits a new Passport into its utility vehicle line

Honda's line of utility vehicles is pretty full already – with three SUV/Crossovers and the Ridgeline pickup truck – but Honda has discovered a hole in the team that's apparently big enough to fit a larger vehicle.

Not its largest model however. That would be the Pilot still, with the brand new Passport fitting into the line between it and the compact CR-V. That still leaves the little HR-V to occupy the "entry level" niche in Honda's utility line.

Honda Canada's sample Passport wore the top-end Touring badge (and came with all the extra goodies the badge indicates) and that meant it carried a retail price of approximately $50,916 Canadian, not including extras (though there aren't a lot of extras with the Touring version other than stuff like a towing package, lighting package, cold weather package, etc.). That's nearly 10 grand more than the base Passport, which is probably still a pretty nifty vehicle in this niche.

An interesting fact is that, according to Honda Canada's website, the base Passport starts at exactly the same as the base Pilot which comes with an extra row of occasionally usable seats. more...

BumblebeeOf superheroes and transforming insects: Bumblebee and Aquaman come to home video

A couple of toys for the eyes, as well as "action figure bait," have hit home video and both Bumblebee and Aquaman are worthy of a visit to your home theatre.

Bumblebee, which Paramount wisely sent in the 4K disc version, is a kind of origin story in which we get to see the genesis of the plucky little transformer who in the previous Paramount series was a Camaro but somehow managed to become a VW Beetle here.

Meanwhile, Warner Brothers' Aquaman may not be a great superhero film, but it's certainly one of the better from the DC universe. And that says something.

It's a lot of fun, looks great, and features a lead who's very likeable. Heck, while Jason Momoa is indeed a big, threatening guy who means business, there's usually a twinkle in his eye as well. I think he's the best thing about the DC universe since Gal Gadot. Funny how DC movies get better when Zack Snyder isn't in charge. more...

We welcome your comments!

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