| Car and tech rants from Jim Bray | Publishing online exclusively since 1995 |
|Updated July 20, 2018
Compact SUV's are a dime a dozen, but if you're looking for one that's not only capable, roomy and efficient, but is fun to drive as well, the list gets decidedly shorter.
Small and fun SUV's are available, but most of the lower end ones I've driven – the mainstream stuff from mainstream companies such as Toyota, Honda, Kia, Hyundai and the like – seem to focus more on the "UV" (Utility Vehicle) than the "S" (Sport), which is perhaps why the term "crossover" has become so popular.
And while you can get small SUV's that are a blast to drive, you often have to look higher up in the automotive food chain, such as the Porsche Macan, BMW X1 and X3 and the like. What's person to do if he/she/it can only afford about $30,000 yet still loves the joy of the drive?
As is often the case, Mazda rides to the rescue with a pair of great SUV's, the compact CX-5 and, the subject of this rant, the even more compact CX-3. You can get into a CX-3 for as little as $19,995 CAD and while you don't get a lot of toys or creature comforts for that amount of coinage, or even all wheel drive, you do get everything you really need – and it's augmented by a real, honest-to-goodness manual transmission. more...
Ready Player One is a real home theatre treat, and the best way to catch it is on Warners' new 4K UHD disc with HDR.
As the headline says, it's kind of a blend between Tron – in which we're treated to a fantastic virtual world – and Roald Dahl's chocolaty morality tale in which contestants are bent on finding a golden ticket (keys, in this case) that will give the winner a huge reward.
Steven Spielberg's 2018 virtual reality flick also shares a bit of DNA with James Cameron's Avatar, in that we have real world folk using alternate personalities (and bodies, though in this case they're virtual) to interact with others from around the world. And, like Avatar, the villain of the piece is a huge corporation (IOI, which looks suspiciously like LOL on their logo) bent on maximizing their profits at all costs.
The movie is set in the year 2045, probably to give today's virtual technology time to mature, but considering the age of the cast members and the pop culture stuff they espouse throughout the film, there must have been nothing popular created in culture since before the turn of the century. So, we get The Iron Giant, The Shining, and an abundance of other references from the era, including a Zemeckis Cube (a Rubik's cube that bends time) and the Back to the Future DeLorean (kind of). There's also King Kong, a T-Rex and so much more. more...
Ray Harryhausen would undoubtedly be smiling.
Rampage, the 2018 Warner Brothers release starring Dwaye "The Rock" Johnson, is an old time, rock 'em sock 'em monster flick that hearkens back to such glorious titles as King Kong, 20 Million Miles to Earth, Godzilla and many others.
I loved it!
It's also the latest movie to appear that's based on a game. This time, however, it's based on an old arcade-type, freestanding console game in which you control a horrible monster that's wreaking havoc on an "old tech-graphic" cityscape. I'd never heard of Rampage before this movie, despite my video gaming and generally nerdy past, but according to the supplements on the Blu-ray that accompany this terrific 4K HDR disc, Rampage appears to have been kind of analogous to what a Wreck-it Ralph game would be were Ralph the "hero" instead of the bad guy.
Not my idea of a game, but Johnson and a good part of the cast and crew wax nostalgic for all the quarters they dropped into the consoles 'way back when - and their affection is contagious. more...
It's being touted as Acura's new direction and, as such, it's an interesting case study in how a company responds to the ever-evolving competition.
I was on Acura's junket to San Francisco when the original RDX came out. It was Acura's first turbo four, and it was a wonderful SUV that featured what at the time was probably the best audio system I'd experienced in a vehicle.
That ELS audio system is still around, kind of, but it has also marched along with the marketplace – which to me is a double-edged sword.
But overall, this 2019 Acura RDX is a terrific premium SUV, though as with many Honda/Acuras of the past few years I came away with less hair than when I went into the review because some fuzzy design or execution had me tearing at it.
Your mileage may vary, of course, which is why it's so wonderful having so many great choices in the automotive marketplace.
Acura Canada says this third-generation RDX represents "the most extensive Acura redesign in more than a decade" and is "the first in a new generation of Acura products inspired by 'Precision Crafted Performance' (signalling) the beginning of a new era for the luxury automaker. more...
Sam Raimi's The Quick and the Dead is an interesting yarn featuring some tight writing and fine performances from an ensemble of very good thespians. It also sports a really good 4K HDR transfer that makes it even better.
The Western drama stars Sharon Stone (who also co-produced), Gene Hackman, Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio. All are, or were, gunslingers who congregate in a nondescript one-horse town called Redemption for a gunfighting competition in which all comers shoot it out with whoever challenges them, the winner taking home a huge pot (well, chest) of money.
Stone is a woman bent on revenge against Hackman, whose character owns the town and everyone in it and who is also the target (figuratively and/or literally) of nearly every other gunslinger who shows up. Well, some are just there for the money, but Hackman's character is such a horrible person that it seems as if everyone wants him dead - and if they didn't want him dead when they got to Redemption, they undoubtedly did once they'd stuck around a bit. more...
We've been promised them for years, and periodically we get to see an interesting new supposed prototype appear in the media, or as a "character" on TV or in movies. But the real, consumer-friendly flying family car never seems to actually come to market. Why is that?
Well, it's a pretty tough nut to crack, and there are questions of what infrastructure would be required (if any) and of course there's also the question of whether or not we want to inflict a bunch of bad drivers onto the sky as well as the roads. I mean, if you think automated cars are a challenge, expand that to three dimensions!
Yet every couple of years we see reports of whatever new and exciting flying car is just about ready to, well, take off. But you never see flying car dealerships and if you look up into the sky, you don't see any Jetson-like cars flying.
It's a topic that's always been near and dear to my heart. Not only have I been a car and aviation buff for decades, I also flew light aircraft for a few years. And I would love dearly to review whatever flying car might finally make that leap skyward into the marketplace! Bring it on!
Since itisn't as if no one is even trying to build a flying car. The question remains: will they ever hit the market? more...
Cord cutters are referred to usually as people who've dumped cable TV, either going only with off the air signals or using alternative services such as Netflix, YouTube and the like as ways to get their programming fixes.
But there's another type of cord cutting that could be quite attractive to some consumers, and that's the cutting of the cord between your smart device/music player/whatever and your headphones. It's a legitimate cutting if, like me, you tend to get your cords tangled and twisted all the time.
Then the folks from OnePlus got in touch with me to offer a review of their new, and first-ever, wireless earbuds: the Bullets Wireless. These $99 CAD buds connect with your source device via Bluetooth which, while perhaps not the ultimate in audiophile audio quality, is certainly a wonderful convenience. more...
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...
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