Auto industry Cars Driving Reviews

Behind the wheel of the 2019 Jaguar F Pace S

It can be tempting to dismiss the 2019 Jaguar F-Pace S as just another cushy, high-priced SUV.

It has a powerful engine (a 3.0 litre V6 with 380 horsepower), aggressive looks and a price to match (the S version’s MSRP is $69,900; the gloss black wheels on my review model alone added another $3,570 to the pricetag.)

So, yes, based on those few facts, this isn’t a vehicle for everybody. After all, no one needs a plus-$70,000 SUV. A Honda Pilot, Ford Explorer or Hyundai Santa Fe can pretty much do anything this Jaguar can do. As well, the F-Pace certainly doesn’t have an easy ride within the luxury market. Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW and even Maserati and Porsche are all chasing the well-heeled luxury SUV consumer. The competition is as fierce as the animal this brand is channelling.

But I can’t help but like it. What the F-Pace S does well is take many of the elements of a classic Jaguar – power, style and refinement – and recast them in the form of a five-passenger performance-oriented SUV. You ride a little taller but you still feel like you’re behind the wheel of a sports car. And therein lies its appeal.

To start with, the clean exterior lines give the F-Pace a sleek, sporty look. The design is more sport coupe than sport truck.

Inside, the bolstered leather seats remind you that you’re sitting in it, not on it, a pet peeve of mine when it comes to some other SUVs (I’m looking at you, Honda Pilot). It’s a reminder that this Jag is designed for people who appreciate the visceral side of driving. Once you’re behind the wheel, this machine that seemed so large from the outside now seems lean, muscular and nimble. The steering is precise and the handling is impressive.

Controls are laid out nicely around the driver. The 10” touchscreen is intuitive to use and the audio controls are complemented by a plain analog knob for the volume control. There’s no need to take your eyes off the road when all you want to do is raise or lower the volume. Apple and Android phones can connect to the vehicle through the InControl system.

F-Pace controls are oriented toward the driver. Everything is easily within reach and there’s even an old-fashioned analog knob to control audio volume

The dial gear selector, which rises from the console when you start the engine and disappears when you shut it off, saves some interior space but still takes some getting used to. I found that I could turn the dial faster than it could engage a gear. Most of the time that wasn’t a problem, but it did result in a sometimes awkward delay if I tried to quickly shift between forward and reverse, for example, when working into a tight parking spot.

The supercharged 380 hp V6, found only on the S version, is smooth and mostly quiet in Eco and regular Drive modes. Once you engage Sport mode and step on the throttle, though, the Jag shows its roots and the engine comes to life with a roar. There’s a slight hesitation as the horses get ready to run but the takeoff is impressive nonetheless thanks in part to the Jag’s generous helping of aluminum within its Lightweight Aluminum Architecture. Jaguar says this F-Pace can go from zero to 100 km/h in 5.5 seconds. (Switching into Sport mode also changes the interior accent lighting to red from green, which is pointless but, I admit, still kinda cool.) Keep in mind that roar comes with an increase in fuel consumption, although after a week of combined highway and city driving, the F-Pace S returned a respectable 11 litres per 100 km.

The S version has a range of high-tech driver aids available. Among others, our tester had Head-Up Display, which shows information like speed and navigation details on the windshield, directly but unobtrusively, in the driver’s eye line. Active cruise control uses the set cruising speed but adapts to keep a pre-set distance between you and the vehicle directly ahead – handy for long highway drives and a feature that adds a layer of safety without you even knowing it.

The F-Pace S has ample space your stuff and a sleek cargo cover keeps it hidden from prying eyes.

The cargo space is ample, with a capacity of 650 litres (fold the rear seats and Jaguar says you can increase that space to 1,740 litres). Of course, there’s also creature comforts like the heated steering wheel (my current favourite automotive innovation) and heated and cooling front and rear seats.

So while the Jaguar F-Pace S is not exactly for everyone, it does prove that in an era of one-size-fits-all SUVs, there’s still one out there that’s built for drivers.


Auto industry Cars Fuel efficiency Quality Reviews

Driving the Honda Odyssey

Minivans take a lot of abuse. Not just from all the stuff they cart around, the parking lot dings they endure and the variety of bumps and scrapes they put up with from kids, bikes, potholes, etc. They’re also the subject of a great deal of psychological abuse. People love to hate them, even people who own and drive them every day. There are people — and I know a few — who grudgingly accept the fact that they’re in the minivan phase of their lives but still count the days until they can move up into the luxury SUV or sport sedan market.

Now, that attitude says more about the people than it does about their vehicles. But, what gets lost in all that self- and automotive loathing is just how darned practical minivans are. There are few vehicles that can easily haul a lot of stuff and get passengers (kids and adults) into and out of them without a lot of bending or climbing.

Take the Honda Odyssey for example. It’s quiet, powerful, easy to park and easy to enter and exit. Plus it’s loaded with cupholders — which still are, by the way, a key indicator of automotive quality for many people — as well as lots of smart and compact storage spaces.

When I say it’s quiet, I mean that it’s sealed so well that most road noise is blocked out. The engine makes nary a whisper. Sad news for hardcore gearheads, but happy news for people who are trying to carry on a conversation as they drive.

After spending two weeks driving the 2015 Touring (top of the line) edition, the Odyssey felt like a capable sidekick that was able to take on pretty much anything. Granted, the Touring edition, which starts at $48,410,  included pretty much every option available (including the much celebrated, by my daughter and her friends at least, rear widescreen DVD player).

The Odyssey easily holds its own on the highway and never felt like it was labouring under any load, even when I was carting seven girls to a birthday party. That was when the third row seats came in handy. Roomy, but not really meant for adults to occupy them for any stretch of time, the third row nonetheless is a great tool to have in your minivan toolbox.

But another bonus is the configurable second row. Not only can the second row accommodate three child seats, but the middle seat folds down as needed, giving the other two passengers a bit of elbow room. They can also slide fore and aft to give everyone a bit more leg room. And, once you fold the third row down into the floor and remove the second row, you have enough room (says Honda) to load in 4′ x 8′ sheets of plywood. Want more convenience? The Touring model comes with a built-in vacuum cleaner.

The driver’s seat was extremely comfortable and all the controls were easy to reach. Another plus of the boxy shape of most minivans means great visibility with very few blind spots. Rear sliding doors on both sides made getting into and out of the van easy, especially when parked in tight spaces.

As important as comfort is, the Odyssey has power to match. The 3.5L V6 engine helped it pull away from stoplights like a pro and accelerate on the highway with no hesitation. Honda puts the Odyssey’s fuel economy at 12.3 L/100 km (city), 8.5 L/100 km. (highway).

The Odyssey is an all-round refined vehicle that serves many purposes. It’s hard to hate, so why not just enjoy the minivan years?

Auto industry Cars Content Driving Media Newspapers Reviews

NY Times Autos reaches end of the (print) road

As of the end of this year, The New York Times will end its print Automobiles section.

While it looks as though Autos content will continue in some form online, I’ll miss reading the Automotive content in print.

Part of the appeal for me was the print section published the work of great writers like Ezra Dyer and Lawrence Ulrich, who always find a smart away to approach their stories and reviews. As well, with its heritage of great journalism, The New York Times helped to legitimize the oft-criticized field of automotive journalism.

Despite its problems, the Times, to me at least, is the gold standard of newspapers and journalism. Car journalism, however is often viewed as fluff or an offshoot of the auto companies’ marketing departments. Not by the people who produce it, mind you, but by dismissive readers and media critics. Having a car section in the Times, though, gave it some needed credibility. And I’ve always appreciated how that unique Times voice of straightforward erudition was brought to bear on reviews of the Dodge Challenger or the Polaris Slingshot. Here’s hoping that’ll continue on the web.

Here’s the text of a memo that was sent to Times employees regarding the auto section by executive editor Dean Baquet (via Capital New York):

Dear Colleagues,

As I said in a previous note, we are reviewing sections of The Times as part of our effort to cut costs in the newsroom. So I regret to announce that as of the first of the year we will no longer publish a stand-alone autos section.

We will continue covering the automobile industry, of course, as evidenced by our sensational investigative reporting on the ignition switch problems in General Motors cars. And we will run consumer stories in the Business section, including regular coverage on Fridays. The Driven videos will continue online.

But despite sensational work over the years by Jim Cobb and his crew, the masthead and I concluded there is no longer an economic reason for a separate section.

Jim was there 20 years ago when the Sunday section was launched, and he has made The Times proud ever since. In the day, the insatiable demand among print advertisers had the coverage spread across several days, including Sunday. Now we’ll consolidate our print efforts on Friday, while remaining nimble on the web.

There will be opportunities in the coming weeks to single out the great work of Jim, Norman Mayersohn, Jim Schembari, Robert Peele and the many contributors, but let me start here by saying how grateful I am for two decades of imagination and dedication in making our Sunday section the best read in the business.

— Dean

Auto industry Cars Reviews Safety Technology

2014 Jeep Wrangler Sport Review

2014 Jeep Wrangler Willys Wheeler Edition
Jeep has further advanced the Wrangler line with the new Willys Wheeler edition. It maintains it’s classic Jeep-ness with some stylish touches that recall the vehicle’s WWII heritage.

In an automotive world of increasingly high-tech cars and SUVs, it’s good to know that the back-to-basics Jeep Wrangler Sport 4×4 still exists.

The 2014 Wrangler Sport comes loaded with some of the high-tech systems drivers have come to expect in current cars and trucks: electronic stability control, traction control, Bluetooth connectivity, tire pressure monitoring system and steering wheel mounted audio controls.

But, that means there are still a quite a few manual controls to remind you that the Jeep hasn’t forgotten its DIY roots. The 6-speed manual transmission is standard (mated to a 3.6 litre V6 engine) as are the manual windows, manual mirrors and fold-away fog lamps. Plus powering the entire thing is a simple key – no proximity-sensing fob that can stay in your pocket as you push a button to start the engine. You use a key to lock and unlock the doors then place the key in the ignition, y’know, just like in the old days. If you’re really bothered by having to open the doors, you can just remove them. Then once the soft-top is lowered (it’s standard equipment, but a premium version is a $350 option) you’ll have an authentic Jeep driving experience.

Which is what the longtime Jeep enthusiasts are after, according to parent company, Chrysler–just a few frills, but nothing that will prevent them from enjoying the feeling of the open road.

Classic interior style appeals to Jeep purists
Classic interior style appeals to Jeep purists

On the open road the Wrangler Sport performs well. Its relatively short wheelbase and offroad-ready suspension means you’ll feel a few more bumps in the road than you would in a typical car, but you should expect that in a Jeep. The V6 is powerful if a bit loud, but not that thirsty – my week’s drive on a combination of city streets and highways netted fuel economy of 12 litres/100 km. Not bad for a vehicle with the aerodynamic qualities of a brick. On the highway, the Jeep feels solid and centred. Driver and passenger seats are comfortable and allow for a good view of the road, but the rear seats are a bit cramped. The dash and console layout are straightforward but all controls are easy to find and use. The six-speaker audio system was a particularly great feature. Two of the speakers are located in the crossbar above the driver and passenger seats, respectively, allowing for quality sound even when the top is down.

It’s a small perk but it shows that Jeep knows what its owners will place a premium on.

The soft-top means that exterior road noise is more pronounced than on a typical car but it wasn’t as noisy as I expected. The multi-step process to lower the soft top and remove and store the rear side windows was a bit confusing at first, but gets easy after the first attempt.

All this for just under $30,000 (the review model I drove was priced at $29,970, before taxes). Less than many SUVs and performance cars and a relatively small price to pay for the ultimate summer vehicle.

Originally published on Aug. 27, 2014




Auto industry Cars Driving Reviews Safety Technology

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee review

My review of the 2014 Grand Cherokee, from the spring 2014 issue of CAA Magazine. This was one of my favourite cars of the bunch I’ve driven over the last few months. It’s a big machine that doesn’t feel big from the behind the wheel. As well, my daughter and wife (also known as the usual passengers) loved the heated seats, entertainment system and panoramic sunroof.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Review

Auto industry Cars Driving Reviews

2012 Chevrolet Volt Review

Although it could be the way of the future, there’s something odd about plugging in your car. It’s like having a giant cellphone parked in your driveway, powering up. And that’s the biggest mental hurdle you need to leap when you drive a Chevrolet Volt—the way you’ve fuelled up your car since you got your driver’s license isn’t the way this machine works. Electricity is its prime propulsion method, not gasoline.

2012 Chevrolet Volt

When I first picked up the Volt from a Toronto GM dealer, I was told it was charged up and ready to go. When I got in the car, however, it was down to 20 km range on the battery (with another 360 km range in the supplemental 1.4-litre gasoline-powered engine.) After a couple stops, I was down to about 12 km on the battery.

So, on my way home, I watched as the kilometres slowly ticked down on the battery display on the dashboard. There were no warning lights or alarm bells, just a matter-of-fact ticking down of numbers, 3, 2, 1 … and then, nothing. Seamlessly, the gasoline motor kicked in and the Volt and I kept moving. Had I not been watching the dashboard display I wouldn’t have noticed much except for a change in the engine note. Once the gasoline engine started it went from being nearly silent to sounding a like a small four-banger.

Once I got home, I parked the Volt for a while and then later took it out on a few more short trips, at first feeling somewhat guilty for driving an electric car on a normal 20th century internal combustion engine. That’s when I realized what sets the Volt apart from gas/electric hybrids: the Volt’s gasoline engine doesn’t drive the wheels, it instead uses a small amount of gasoline to create electricity to keep the car going.

When I plugged it in later that evening, it took about 12 hours to fully charge via a regular 120-volt household outlet (it doesn’t have to be fully depleted before being charged up). That’s not bad, but ideally GM engineers will work to reduce that time. GM does offer an optional 240-volt recharging unit that its says can charge the car in four hours. GM also claims that the Volt can run from 40 to 80 km on battery power alone, depending on cargo and outside temperature. My review model needed charging after just under 40 km following a single day of city driving.

During those drives, however, several people stopped to admire the car, which, to GM’s credit, is a handsome machine. It’s also a cleverly designed hatchback that doesn’t look like a typical hatch. Four people can sit comfortably in front and rear bucket seats—the battery stack runs up the centre of the car, taking up some foot room and dividing the four seats. But there’s also a substantial cargo area behind the rear seats. The sloping front windshield and large rear window also provide excellent visibility. The console touch screen works well but some of the touch controls on the console can be tricky unless you hit them exactly right.

Driving the Volt is a futuristic experience. Here’s hoping GM will be able to tweak the Volt’s battery to make that experience last longer.

This review originally appeared on

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2012 Nissan Juke Review

The 2012 Nissan Juke crosses several automotive categories

The Nissan Juke is a true crossover. At first glance it looks like a sporty, two-door coupe—until you notice the nearly hidden rear door handles. It also has the deep wheel wells and tall profile of a small, Jeep Wrangler-like SUV. And that’s the point. The Juke crosses over different car categories (compact car, crossover/SUV, sports car) to create an almost entirely new style of vehicle.

The base model SV with front-wheel drive is priced at $19,998. The Juke version I drove was the AWD model, which starts at $26,778. All four trim lines are equipped with a CVT (continuously variable transmission). Unlike CVTs on some other cars, the Juke’s is quiet and doesn’t drone at higher speeds. The 1.6-litre, 4-cylinder direct injection gas engine is turbocharged and provides strong acceleration and ample power, even in “Normal” mode. Two other engine modes are available with the push of a button on the centre console, Sport and Eco. In Eco mode, the engine’s power is reduced slightly to maximize fuel economy–perfect for a short daily commute.

The Juke’s exterior design is striking. Four headlights give the impression of two sets of eyes keeping watch on the road. Two of those eyes protrude longitudinally from above the front fenders with two circular lights below. But the design also creates some challenges. The low, sloping roofline that looks great from the outside also makes the back seat feel cramped, as does the way the cabin narrows towards the rear. A child can sit comfortably back there, but an adult would feel cramped on longer rides.

The interior design could use some work too. While the navigation/audio system is easy to learn, its buttons are small and hard to use while wearing gloves. Also, for a car that boasts such a high-tech look and is fitted with an array of toys, why are there no power adjustable seats? It seems odd to use a key fob and a start/stop button; change your driving mode with the push of a button and then resort to using a hand crank to adjust the seat. Speaking of the start/stop button, it’s located in an awkward location behind the windshield wiper stalk, making it hard to access without hunting around for it. Same goes for the switches for the heated seats. They’re located between the front seats in the centre console meaning the driver has to reach down and back to turn them on and off, taking their eyes off the road while doing so.

The rear backup camera (standard on the SL trim levels) is a great feature, even for a small car like the Juke. The cargo area is small, but is nicely concealed by the cargo cover and tinted windows.

Overall, if you’re looking for a family hauler, this isn’t the car for you. But if you’re looking for a small car that’s sporty enough to feel like a sports car with available AWD and the tall stance of a crossover, look closely into the four eyes of the Juke.

(This review was originally published on 01/27/12)