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

Updated February 23, 2018 BMW X5

'Electric-ish' BMW X5 is a fine ride that could save you some premium fuel

BMW's first SUV - though they refer to it as an SAV - has been given the plug-in hybrid treatment and the result is a large utility (er, Activity, in BMW-speak) vehicle that might even save you some gas money.

The X5 xDrive40e is the first plug-in hybrid production model from BMW's core lineup. Starting at an estimated MSRP of $74,950 CAD, before options, it's a darn fine vehicle and equipped well even at that trim level (it's a premium vehicle, after all). And BMW seems to be listening to some of the folks who've whined about its interfaces in recent years. That would include me, who has muttered maledictions about the iDrive system, the complexity of merely storing a radio station preset and the annoying folly of having to pull door handles twice to get out of the vehicle and the start/stop button twice to get the thing to actually shut down.

I had none of those issues this time, though I still don't care for the iDrive interface - and I did have to pull the door handle twice from the back seat (once to unlock it and once to actually open it which, in this case, may be to keep the kids from zipping away from you when you park).

Sounds like numerous niggling little nits are making my praise rather niggardly, doesn't it? And you're right. But when you add them all up they become, at least to me, a deal breaker - and that's a shame because I've never reviewed a BMW that wasn't a blast to drive, including this new "electric" X5. more...

Home theatre not rumbling enough? Here are some ways to tweak your system

You've shelled out good, after tax disposable income on a home theatre setup but instead of that room-rattling bass you've been promised you're only getting a thin gruel oozing its way to your ears. Did you get ripped off?

That's always a possibility, but even an inexpensive "home theatre in a box" can deliver good, room filling sound with chest thumping low frequency effects, so before you box it up again and toss it back across the counter at the retailer from whom you purchased it, take a while to do some tweaking to ensure it's performing to the best of its capabilities.

It's best do this during your grace period - the time the retailer allows you to change your mind - otherwise you may be stuck with equipment you don't like, though you may be able to make some friends on places like eBay, Kijiji, etc.. more...

The 2018 Canadian Car of the Year is a Honda - and the Best Utility Vehicle is a minivan 

Looks like Honda might be wise to buy a bigger display case to hold all the international awards its new Accord is receiving.

That's because, after being named 2018 North American Car of the Year at the car show in Detroit, as well as scoring its way onto the Car & Driver 10 Best Cars list yet again (for about the 1,000th time) Honda's all-new Accord sedan has won the 2018 Canadian Car of the Year award, presented under the auspices of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).

Meanwhile, Chrysler's Pacifica minivan was named as the 2018 Canadian Utility Vehicle of the Year. It beat out two Mazdas for the title (CX-5 and CX-9), either of which I would have chosen over the Pacifica, though I also have to admit that I actually enjoyed driving the Pacifica hybrid when I had it. more...

Vape sequels offer high tech features and some wow factor

What does the average cannabis user look for in a vapourizer? Is it vapour quality, price, efficiency, accessories, or even the coolness factor of the machine itself?

It's probably all of the above to a certain extent - I'm certainly no expert on the topic, but in preparation for Canada's pending legalization of the evil weed this summer, I've been gathering together a group of folks who do claim a lot of experience with cannabis products. The idea has been to get their opinions on a reasonable cross section of the vapourizers that are available these days - what's the cheapest, which have the best results, which are the easiest to use, etc..

Over this series (this is the fifth such column) we've looked at portable units, tabletop vapourizers, and quite a bit between. In this column I'm going to focus on a high end and very cool unit, the Firefly 2, as well as the sequel to a vape we covered in one of the previous columns: the Arizer Air II. more...

Canadian Car of the Year gets down to the best of the best

The Automobile Journalists Association of Canada's Best Car award is now down to three finalists.

Well, six, technically - but that's a pretty steep winnowing from the 182 vehicles that were eligible for this year's Canadian Car of the Year Awards. And it means there are now only three contenders (or a contender and two pretenders?) for the titles of Canadian Car of the Year and the Canadian Utility Vehicle of the Year.

Mazda leads the way with three vehicles that are still in the running - and as a Mazda fan I'd be happy with any of them taking their categories. Alas, the prevailing "wisdom" seems to be aimed elsewhere, at least in the "car" of the year category.

That's because the new Honda Accord (Best Large Car in Canada) also made the short list and it's winning all sorts of awards from various groups inside and outside of Canada. It's a fine car, too, but I'd rather own a Mazda 3, the Best Small Car in Canada. Alas, the 3 isn't "all-new" this year, while the Accord is, so that may also work against Mazda winning yet again. Still, Mazda took three categories in 2014 (two for the Mazda 3 and the overall Car of the Year went to the Mazda 6), and it's a perennial finalist and category winner. more...

Replay software suite lets you replay, record, re-use audio and video from the Web

What happens when you watch a particularly hot - or controversial - video on YouTube and just have to have it for yourself, forever? Or what happens when you want to listen to your favourite streaming talk show but have to be away from the computer while it's on?

That's the rationale behind Applian Technology's Replay Capture Suite, a series of interacting apps that will do all that and much more. It's a pretty impressive set of tools and it appears to work well.

The $79USD suite, individual modules of which are also available separately, includes tools for capturing video or music from any website, as well as conversion and editing tools you can use to file the serial numbers off your purloined programming. And that still isn't all the suite can let you do! more..

What can you get in a great sports car for under $35,000? Quite a lot!

What would you do if you found yourself with an extra $35,000 burning a hole in your pocket? Would you give it to charity, buy stocks or other investments, or maybe just blow it on a four wheeled toy?

A good friend of mine, Blair, posed that query to me a couple of days ago and it got me thinking about what I'd do in such a situation if I didn't have to consult with anyone about how (or if…) it should be spent. I don't know if Blair has an extra 35 grand burning a hole in his pocket or if he was merely "goal setting," but his challenge was: "you have $35K and want to buy a sports car for occasional use. What would you choose?" He also mentioned I didn't have to use the full 35 grand of "play money" but I imagine that by the time all is said and done I'd have spent that amount and maybe a little more. more...

Panasonic combo oven worth getting steamed over

Don't tell my wife, but I've just spent a couple of weeks with a new "grill friend." It's a kitchen appliance that could clean up some precious shelf space because it blends the duties of disparate appliances into one unit.

Panasonic's Combination Oven NN-DS58HB, despite its $699.99 CAD retail price, is a pretty compelling piece of equipment, though it isn't without its issues. Heck, depending on your lifestyle and food habits, it could do a lot, if not most, of your cooking all by itself.

The unit really does function as a steamer (for those who are into fish or veggies), a microwave, a grill, a defroster, and a reheater - a neat bit of multitasking that's pretty darn intriguing - and I wish I'd had more time to explore the oven's many virtues. As it is, I was very impressed with some of its capability, and not as impressed with others. more...

Americans' most reliable cars are mostly Japanese - and Canada's best new car gets a step closer

What do Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Subaru and Volkswagen all have in common? They were named to the list of the 15 cars that American consumers keep the longest before putting them out to pasture.

The news comes courtesy of iseecars.com, which bills itself as "an automotive data and research company that helps consumers find the best car deals by providing key insights and guidance." I'd never heard of them before learning about this study, but after checking out their site they seem to be kind of like AutoTrader in their focus.

Toyota led the way in their survey, with Honda coming in second as the only other manufacturer to have more than one vehicle on the list. Volkswagen was the only non-Japanese marque to make the grade, thanks to its wonderful and nearly ubiquitous Golf models.

iSeeCars.com says they analyzed over 650,000 used cars from model years 1981-2002, sold between January through November 2017, to come up with the list, which stacks up like this: more...

Bad Beatles musical looks and sounds great in 4K - while Geostorm blows

Somewhere, Ken Russell looks down (or is it up?) and smiles.

That's because director Julie Taymor's "Across the Universe" is arguably as much a tribute to the late Mr. Russell's visually excessive style of filmmaking than it is a tribute to the Beatles. To me, the film felt like they took Ken Russell's interpretation of The Who's Tommy and put it into a blender with Milos Forman's Hair, but the result - other than looking and sounding fantastic in its 4K incarnation - was less satisfying to me than either of those other films. more...

Hot on the heels of new Star Wars comes the return of the Jetta - and Kia's new Forte looks cool as well

One of my favourite sedans is about to be reborn and if initial pictures are any indication it will be an interesting step forward.

That car is the Volkswagen Jetta, which until this new generation basically resembled a Golf with a trunk (not that there's anything wrong with that). The new generation is not only redesigned, but VW says it also features a transferrable six year, 72,000 mile New Vehicle Limited Warranty. Alas, that new warranty is only from VW USA; VW Canada will continue with its four year, 80,000 km warranty, but this probably isn't a big deal in this day and age of vehicle dependability.

However great the new Jetta may be, it's going to be facing off head to head (or grille to grille) against a South Korean car that's not only aimed right at it, but whose design studio has been populated in recent years by folks they hired away from - you guessed it: Volkswagen.

It's the new Forte, Kia's version of Hyundai's Elantra and if it's as good as the Elantra is those fine folks at VW - let alone the other carmakers - will have a real battle on their hands. more...

Blade Runner sequel was meant for 4K -  and 'IT' isn't too bad if given a chance

Warner Brothers may have pulled off the impossible with Blade Runner 2049. They've taken a movie for which no sequel or remake was needed, and given it a sequel/remake that's worth seeing and owning. Heck, it's much better than I expected going into it.

It's much the same with IT, a remake of a Stephen King story about a clown that terrorizes innocent people in a manner reminiscent of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Two D'oh! 

It's a 4K twofer! more...

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...


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