| Car and tech rants from Jim Bray | Publishing online exclusively since 1995 |
|Updated June 21, 2018
What do you do if you loved your little Toyota Matrix hatchback and want to get a new one, only to sally forth to your local Toyota store and find that, like the Pontiac Vibe with which it shared its DNA, it's no longer available?
Well, you could check out the Corolla iM, which right now is the closest thing Toyota offers to that great little wagon. It started life as the Scion iM, but once Toyota decided to say sayonara to the Scion era (sorry…) it dumped all that line except for this little hatch and the wonderful little FR-S sports coupe that's now known as the 86.
The iM isn't going to set the world on fire, but during my week with it I actually fell under its spell, kind of. Oh, I had issues with it, especially when it came to its oomph output with four adults on board, but overall, I could live easily with an iM if it fit my budget and lifestyle. It's a nice little car.
If you really want the driving experience – such as it can be with a little wagon that oozes only 137 horses onto the road via its front wheels – you should opt for the base model, with its six-speed manual. Otherwise, you get the CVT, a transmission that always rubs me the wrong way. Well, nearly always. more...
As the Justin Trudeau regime lurches toward its promise of legalizing cannabis use in Canada, a steady stream of products and services meant to help the public exploit the new freedom in as many ways as possible hits the marketplace. That means there's an abundance of vapourizers on the market to facilitate such activities, and it appears that more are appearing all the time.
My friends are bubbling about a new vapourizer that not only does its job well, it hearkens back to the past days of pot parties. That's because it's kind of analogous to a vape version of the old-fashioned water pipe, or bong. From Cloudicious 9, the Hydrology9 joins products such as Arizer's Extreme Q (which is reminiscent of a hookah) as a kind of blast from the past (or, perhaps, "getting blasted like we did in the past") unit. Who'd have thought a state-of-the-art dope devourer could also be memorabilia?
This $349 Canadian vapourizer is billed as a portable unit, and it's true that you can pack it around with you, but it isn't nearly as "portable" as the manufacturer might want you to think. more...
Maybe it's Toyota's way of ensuring the long-term viability of "old growth" forests, but the Tundra-based Sequoia SUV seems more like a blast from the past than a state-of-the-art "people and stuff hauler."
That doesn't mean it isn't a great vehicle – it's a Toyota, after all, and so if nothing else the thing'll probably serve its owners forever – but it's a vehicle that, to make a Sequoia analogy, seems to have a few more rings in its trunk than some of the "new growth" gigantic SUV's with which it competes.
I think specifically of the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator I drove a month or so ago – mostly because those are the only city-sized SUV/Crossovers I've driven in the past few years. None really appeal to me as vehicles, being far too large and tall for my lifestyle and diminutive stature, but the Ford/Lincoln seemed more up to date, especially in their interiors.
For example, the Sequoia's centre stack-mounted LCD screen is not only small, it's nearly impossible to read while you're wearing polarized sunglasses. This sunglasses thing used to be common but is getting less so these days – except for the Sequoia (there may be other such offenders, too, but I haven't driven one in recent memory – though some Head's Up Displays display similar issues). more...
Warner Brothers' 2018 Tomb Raider release is a remake, reboot, rethinking of the Lara Croft films that came before it. It's also an origin story, as well as yet another girl power movie in which the only real alpha being around is on the distaff side of the humanity ledger.
Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course. But wouldn't it be a laugh if Hollywood had given the new Lara Croft the gender bending Ocean's 8 or Ghostbusters treatment and made her an Asian heterosexual male? I can imagine the heads exploding!
On the upside, Tomb Raider is also another great example of how good a film can look when given the 4K UHD HDR treatment. It's just too bad the writing and some of the production values don't match up to the 4K HDR quality.
Alicia Vikander stars as Lara Croft in this outing, replacing Angelina Jolie from the originals. I apparently saw the original Tomb Raider movie on DVD because I reviewed it many years ago, but I remember nothing about it beyond that it was okay. I'd echo that here, both that it's okay and that I probably won't remember much about it in a couple of years. more...
Truth in advertising gets even more truthful for Mazda with the release of the 2018 6 sedan and its optional choice of a turbocharged engine.
The engine, which comes from the company's big SUV/Crossover CX-9, ups the 6's entertainment/engagement ante substantially, which I imagine is the entire point behind Mazda's move.
I've never driven a Mazda that didn't put a smile on my face (well, their old pickup truck was pretty ordinary, but that was quite a while ago), and even though I'd have preferred a bit more oomph from the current generation 6 when I first reviewed it back in 2013 I still liked the car and found it to be a rewarding driving experience.
That 6 (and the current base model) uses the same Skyactiv 2.5 litre four cylinder engine that's found in the 3 sedan and the CX-5 SUV. And it's fine in both of them (though I'd love to see this more interesting turbo offered on them, too!), but the larger 6 has more girth to pull around via its front wheels and that can affect the final "Zoom-Zoom" quotient. Hence the new turbo offering.
The 6 is a lovely car and for the life of me I don't understand why Mazda doesn't sell as many 6's as Toyota and Honda do with the Camry and Accord; it's in the same market niche, but the 6 is better looking and more fun to drive than either of those other Japanese competitors. more...
In our increasingly divided and partisan society, it appears that some forces are stepping up their efforts to silence others, shutting down debate rather than taking part in it. It's a mark of folks who know they have no winning argument, so therefore have to project, obfuscate and name call rather than actually address issues.
This is nothing new, but in the Trump era – in which the losing side of the 2016 presidential election still thinks of itself as the side of goodness despite increasing evidence to the contrary – U.S. President Trump's efforts to drain the deep state swamp seem to be causing new and ever more ominous fits on that side of the ideological ledger. It's quite entertaining to watch! more...
The Honda Accord, all-new for 2018, provides substantial evidence that the Japanese carmaker does indeed listen to its customers (and maybe critics, too!). That's because, after a few years of making vehicles that are nearly as annoying as they are pleasant, the new Accord is a lovely breath of fresh air.
I used to love Hondas and always looked forward to driving them. Then the company seemed to go off the rails, doing things that defied logic (as defined by me, anyway) such as removing the volume and tuning knobs from the audio system, forcing you to use a touch screen that wasn't particularly usable – especially while the vehicle was in motion, even if you could figure out the interface.
Then there were the nannies, such as the voice that admonished you to do up your seat belt even if you're undoing it upon arrival at home, at a speed of about two kilometres per hour (not that I ever actually measured the speed), or flashed BRAKE!!! at you because it thinks you're about to rear end someone even if you have things well under control.
Then there's the styling. Take a look at that new Civic. I rest my case. more...
Despite a winter that seems to have pushed spring out of the way to make room for an early summer, the usual stuff you do during spring still need to be done.
This could be the first car wax job of the year, the final throwing out of all that Christmas wrapping you were hoping to use for re-gifting, or just the first mowing of the lawn. And according to IT security company ESET, there's some stuff you can and maybe should be doing to help ensure your technology is brought into the new year as well, whether it be kicking and screaming or not.
An email I received from ESET's PR folks pitches the plaintive plea "do we ever think about spring cleaning our electronics?" And it made me think. Heck, I've never actually considered spring cleaning my stuff (my dear wife would probably say I never think about cleaning at all – including showering – let alone spring cleaning), preferring to let things pile up until they can be ignored no longer.
The good news is that my favourite Lexus has received some tweaking for 2018, and the Japanese luxury brand has wisely refrained from messing too much with the successful NX SUV/crossover.
The bad news is that doesn't mean there's nothing to whine about, which comes in handy for a reviewer who doesn't want to seem overly hyperbolic about a vehicle. And in this case, one of my complaints is easy enough to correct: buy the turbo gas engine version rather than the hybrid, with its whiny continuously variable transmission.
It's a complaint I have with just about every vehicle I've driven that has a damn CVT. These "gearless" transmissions not only suck most of the fun out of the driving experience (instead of shifting, they feel like your vehicle is sliding along a big elastic band), they also howl like an outraged banshee when you prod the accelerator pedal, which isn't what a vehicle – especially a luxury vehicle – should do.
Lexus Canada's sample NX 300h (the vehicle was called the NX 200 originally, but that name has been upgraded even though the engines haven't been), was the hybrid and therefore I went in with more than a small chip on my shoulder. Making that sliver into a full cord of wood was the trackpad on the centre console, which is Lexus' current offering for those who want to operate the LCD that's mounted atop the centre stack. more...
Do you still print stuff out? If so, you're undoubtedly like most of us who, at least periodically, still need to print out a hard copy of some digital document – whether for archiving, legality, to put into a cookbook, or whatever.
Yet we've been promised for years that all of us using computers would mean that all those beautiful trees could be saved, presumably so we can hug them and live in them in the green paradise envisioned by some.
What happened? more...
It may be German inside and out, but VW's new small sedan makes me think in French.
French, as in "Je t'adore" because (putting it into pun-dit English) "Jetta adore" is how I came away from my week with the new, 2019 Volkswagen Jetta. This probably surprises no one who reads my columns regularly, because you know that I'm a big fan of VW's, just about any VW – and that includes Audi and Porsche as well (and would probably include such other VW brands as Lamborghini, Bugatti and Bentley, if I were ever lucky enough to get seat time in them).
But this piece is about the Jetta, which is all-new for 2019. I'm always afraid when a new generation of a favourite car comes out, concerned that the manufacturer will have taken a great car and (for whatever reason) made it worse. So, I entered this Jetta review with some trepidation that was, fortunately, short-lived.
Essentially a Golf with a trunk, the Jetta now rides on VW's MQB platform, which is shared by the Golf, the new Tiguan and the new Atlas, as well as a couple of Audis and other VW group brands that aren't sold here (such as Seat and Skoda). Upon that platform Volkswagen's designers have built the most handsome Jetta ever (beauty, of course, being in the eye of the keyholder), a car that also looks as if it should be more expensive than it is. more...
This is the perfect time of year, approaching America's annual Memorial Day celebration and the anniversary of the Normandy invasion, for Paramount to reissue a 20th Anniversary edition of Spielberg's film with an absolutely spectacular conversion to 4K disc with HDR – a UHD treatment that's a very pleasant surprise, indeed.
Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan got a lot of good press when it came out, for its tribute to those who fought and died to save our western civilization from the German Nazis. It also garnered praise for its powerful and graphic depiction of what it was probably like (Hollywood influences notwithstanding) to have made that deadly but vital beach landing on June 6, 1944.
Paramount's 4K UHD treatment of this film really knocked my socks off. I had expected it to offer an upgrade over the old Blu-ray, like most of the 4K discs I've seen to date, but when I fired up the 4K HDR disc it was as if I'd never seen the film before. I kid you not: this 4K version looks absolutely spectacular, and if you've never seen Saving Private Ryan before, this is definitely the version to try. more...
This was certainly the nicest bus I've ever driven!
Lincoln's new Navigator, redesigned for the 2018 model year, is a really nice vehicle for those looking for a motorhome-sized SUV that coddles with the best of 'em.
It isn't a motorhome, of course, just a reasonably conventional LARGE three row SUV for the luxury-minded buyer.
And it features the great new interior treatment I first saw on the company's Continental, though I don't believe it's identical to that one. I may be a voice barking in the wilderness, but I think these new Lincolns feature one of the best interior designs I've been in. In fact, if this interior keeps trickling across the Lincoln line to the little MKC (the smallest Lincoln SUV, which will apparently be renamed upon the debut of its next generation), they might have one of the most compelling interior lines in the business.
If only the Navigator didn't drive like the HMS Titanic! more...
Wi-Fi is everywhere these days, it seems, and that's a great bit of convenience. But as much as we may like free Wi-Fi when we go out and about, it's even more important to have a fast and reliable connection at home, where many of us do most of our personal computing, surfing and/or streaming.
Your router performance can depend on such things as bandwidth, number of antennae, and the location you set it in your home. This is why you need a good router, though finding one can be a chore because there are so many models available.
Into this fray comes TP-Link's Archer AC2300 dual-band Wireless MU-MIMO Gigabit Router. more...
Ford continues to expand and update its line of SUV/Crossovers for 2018, with a minor refresh of the Escape but also with a brand new Expedition.
The two units bookend the Edge and Explorer, ensuring there's a model for every person's size preference, from small to absolutely humongous. And they're pretty nice vehicles as well.
I spent a week with each of these units, an Escape wearing the Titanium trim level and an Expedition Limited, both of which come with about as much tech and toys as one can want. Of the two, the Escape would be my personal choice because, as a small person, it's much more a size I'd find useful – but that doesn't mean that larger folk (or folk who need to carry more folks and/or stuff) won't find the Expedition worth a look.
The Escape starts at a reasonable $25,199 and upgrading to the Titanium gives you stuff like 19 inch Ebony Black premium-painted aluminum wheels, halogen projector headlights with black bezels, LED signature lighting (with "non-configurable" daytime running lights), black-tinted taillights, unique black front fender grilles, gloss black painted upper grille with chrome inserts and surround, gloss black front and rear lower fascia, black roof rails, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear shift knob and partial leather-trimmed heated seats.
If you want or need something a LOT bigger – skipping right over the Edge and the Explorer - the Expedition is a heckuva vehicle. It's far larger than anything I'd consider (heck, I'm so small that if it weren't for the Limited's automatically extending/retracting running boards I'd have to either use a block and tackle or take a running jump to get into it) but if this is the niche in which you live, the Expedition has a lot going for it. more...
If you decry the lack of quality family entertainment these days, you really should fire up a copy of the new Blu-ray release of Paddington 2, from Warner Brothers.
Paddington is an animated bear who I understand is a staple of British culture via a series of books I never read. Heck, I never saw the first Paddington movie from 2014, either, and never really felt the urge to. Then Warner Home Video sent me the new Blu-ray of the sequel and I put it on hoping it might be something I could watch with my grandsons.
And boy, is it ever! I enjoyed Paddington 2 so much that I'm going to seek out the original flick as well because, well, sequels as a rule are generally not as good as the original (in my experience), and so all things being equal I should enjoy the original even more than this sequel.
Watch that blow up in my face! more...
Who'd have thought a Toyota Prius could be an engaging vehicle to drive?
I never did, until this current generation came along a year or so ago, and after having a second kick at the car a couple of weeks ago I came away liking the Prius even more. Heck, if it didn't have a loud and obnoxious continuously variable transmission, and such a strange-looking exterior, I might even think about putting one in my garage.
Oh, I'd come to my senses long before plunking down after-tax lucre on a Prius, but at least now I can see why people would buy one other than as a way to save Parent Earth and/or save gas, the latter of which the Prius does very well. Heck, I drove the car mostly as if it weren't a hybrid (and as if it were a Porsche!) and I still managed to get about 5.4 litres per 100 kilometres which, given my lead foot, is a bonus.
What we have, then, as I mentioned in my first review of this generation of Prius, is "a hybrid that gets better gas mileage than ever and is more interesting to drive than ever. If it were priced around the same as a reasonably loaded Corolla, which is sized approximately the same, I'd call it a win-win." more...
Perhaps you could call it a coda to an outstanding symphony of audio/videophile tech.
Oppo Digital, the company whose products have won it many awards over the years – and which deserved them – has announced it's winding down its operations. Say it isn't so, Oppo!
The announcement on the company's website as of April 2, came as a big surprise to me. I've been reviewing the company's products since they first appeared on the North American scene and have yet to find one that wasn't a great addition to whichever market niche it was invading. From TV's to DAC (digital-to-analogue converters) and high-end headphones, the company has offered a consistent string of remarkable performance and value, culminating in their release last year of two 4K UHD universal networked disc players. more...
It's loud. It's whiny. Its interfaces are incoherent. But it'll help you save the world, and you might be able to make other people help you pay for it!
It's Honda's new Clarity, in this case a plug-in hybrid model. Honda calls it the newest member of their "completely redesigned lineup," even though it sports exactly the same dashboard abomination – as in no knobs for tuning the stereo or tuning the volume up or down - that the company is finally moving away from with its new Accord and other models.
Claritys (Clarities?) start at a Canadian MSRP of $39,900 and if you want to step up to the top line version – the Touring trim level – it'll cost you and/or your peers $43,900 (your peers, according to Honda, thanks to "up to $13,000 of government incentives"). For that price you'll get what Honda says is "a big step forward for the company's electrified fleet, entering the Canadian market with the best overall combined range and interior volume in its class."
How's that for clarity? more...
If you've ever found your eyes tiring by the end of a movie in your home theatre – and it has nothing to do with the writing, acting, or production – you may want to look into something like a bias light.
I knew about bias lights once but over the years, and through several changes in TV's over the years, I had forgotten just how much a bias light can improve one's enjoyment. Back then, I had (among other TV's) a 57-inch CRT rear projector, but while watching it I noticed that the picture would tend to dazzle my eyes, and not in a good way.
The bottom line is that by "washing out" your TV's picture with external lighting, you aren't getting the most out of your TV purchase. Sure, you can read while the TV's on, but that kind of defeats the purpose of watching something.
Back in that CRT rear projection days, the solution was to put a special fluorescent light behind the TV, in my case a product from a company called CinemaQuest, whose Ideal-Lume bias light was (as I reviewed it back in the early years of this millennium) "an unassuming little gadget the looks to all intents and purposes like a conventional fluorescent tube in a small bracket." more...
It's green and powerful, and it isn't the Incredible Hulk. Instead, it's the new Bullitt edition of Ford's legendary pony car, the Mustang. And it looks like it'll be a heckuva ride!
The tie-in comes as the iconic Steve McQueen cop film Bullitt celebrates its 50th anniversary, assuming a movie can celebrate its own birthday, so what better time than now to exploit, er, honour, a dead actor and what's undoubtedly his most famous movie vehicle other than his LeMans Porsche and the motorcycle with which he leapt tall barriers with a single bound in The Great Escape.
Before the Bullitt was unchambered, Gerald Wood - Ford's General Manager, Western Region - previewed the new Ford Ranger compact pickup truck that's being reintroduced after several years. "We're here in the heart of truck country," Wood noted. "As Albertans we love our trucks and…building on a heritage of more than 100 years of Ford trucks, with endless focus on engineering excellence, the all new 2019 Ranger is returning to the Ford lineup."
I also got to meet with Kia Canada's Mark James at the auto show and we discussed the company's rapid growth in capabilities and credibility, much of which can be attributed to the company's wise and audacious move of hiring Peter Schreyer away from the Volkswagen group several years ago. more...
"Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean that they aren't out to get you." In this age of hacking and cyber corruption – and the deep state trying desperately to defeat the forces of light - it's becoming increasingly clear that there appears to be folks out in cyberspace who don't have your best interests in mind.
Now, these companies are private businesses and can do whatever they want as long as it's legal. But that doesn't mean you have to make it easy for them. You may have nothing to hide, but that doesn't mean black hats should have access to everything you do with your computer or smart device. It's really no one else's business, as long as you aren't breaking the law either.
Into this scenario comes the Vivaldi browser, which is partnering with search engine DuckDuckGo to help you protect your privacy. I'd never heard of Vivaldi before receiving their press release, but it looks like a pretty interesting and flexible browser, and the privacy features appear quite compelling. more...
South Korean carmakers have come a long way in a relatively short time. And they've earned their current success by offering cars that are built well, competitive in price and even more competitive in features.
Hyundai, the subject of this particular rant, has developed from the old and unloved Pony and Stellar of the 1980's, and their later and rather bizarre "relax, you'll get there someday" jingle I took to mean that, undoubtedly unconsciously, Hyundai was admitting their cars were lacking in oomph. Yes, Hyundai used to be a joke, automotively speaking.
Now, however, Hyundai and its stablemate Kia are doing to the Japanese (and other) carmakers what the Japanese carmakers did to the Once Big Three – and, later, the European luxury car makers – starting back in the 1970's. They're beating them at their own game, and they're doing it by building vehicles people like and want to own, not just because they may undercut the competitions' prices.
But one thing Hyundai didn't offer until recently (not counting its more up market Genesis entries) was a car designed to quicken the pulse of the "practical enthusiast", the he/she/it for whom driving is more than just getting from here to "there and back again" (sorry, Tolkien..), but who still wants a vehicle that offers at least four doors and works as more than just a corner carver.
Hence the Elantra Sport (sedan) and the Elantra GT Sport. more...
Warner Brothers' ongoing attempts to play catch-up with the Marvel cinematic universe continues with Justice League, their version of The Avengers, in which a group of superheroes teams up to fight a super villain bent on mayhem, conquest and destruction.
The question is, is it any good, and how does it stack up to the Marvel movies? And in the case of this sparkling new 4K version of last year's Justice League film, the answer is a decidedly firm "meh."
It's a shame. As a kid I was a voracious consumer of comic books and most of them were on the DC side of the competitive ledger. more...
Marvel's third Thor outing is one "Val-helluva" way to get into the 4K disc market, and it's also the best of the Thor outings to date.
And it's a movie that doesn't take itself seriously and even imparted quite a few laughs on its audience.
I was never a Thor comic book reader and thought Kenneth Branagh's first Thor movie was visually lovely but nearly as forgettable as the second Thor movie ("the Dark World"). The best thing about both movies (and this one, too) is Chris Hemsworth as the title God. Whether he's being tossed out of Asgard or driving a star ship or Formula 1 car, the Aussie is a very good actor and he inhabits the Thor character very well, indeed. more...
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