TEST DRIVE: 2017 MERCEDES-BENZ C63 S AMG COUPE

Every now and again I get my hands on a car that hits the mark so impressively it makes me want to mortgage my home and get one of my own. Such a model was the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Coupe S that I’ve been driving for a while.

The C63 in this guise is based on the C Class coupe platform, but the similarity ends about there. Almost all the body panels are different, partly because the fenders are flared to accept very wide Michelin high-performance tires. It’s a superb-looking car and attracted a lot of attention, even from people who were not particularly car fans. Naturally, people who were car fans were mightily impressed with it.

Almost every model in the huge Mercedes-Benz range of vehicles has an AMG version and fine cars they are, but the C63 is exactly the size I like in a sports coupe. It’s nicely compact and easy to manoeuvre and park. The bodywork is almost a match for some of the pure sports cars in the Mercedes lineup and it’s very sleek and impressive.

The beast is powered by a mighty 503-horsepower 4.0-litre V-8 with twin turbochargers and this gives the car astonishing levels of power. It feels like a racecar for the street, though thanks to huge brakes, it’s easy enough to keep clear of trouble. It’s a car that needs to be driven with care on wet roads because of the very large amount of torque on tap. On the other hand, it’s docile enough in heavy traffic situations and has all kinds of safety features, thanks to Mercedes leadership in that field.

AMG engines are built in a separate factory to the cars themselves and it’s an amazing place to visit. It looks more like a well-run hospital than an engine shop with gleaming floors and shining machinery and assembly equipment, some of which is pendant-mounted and pulled down from the ceiling to minimize floor clutter. There’s no assembly line as such because each power unit is built by one operative who travels around to the various assembly stations as the build progresses, pushing the motor along on a trolley. When this individual completes the engine, it’s personally signed, a nice touch which underlines the value AMG owners get for their hand-built engines.

The transmission is a 7-speed automatic and there are big aluminum paddles on the chunky leather and suede steering wheel to select gears manually. I found no reason to call on that system because the car has such enormous torque levels and leaving it in ‘auto’ was more than adequate.

The interior is fitted out to the usual high standards expected from Mercedes-Benz, but since this is a premium product, you get lots of extra luxury and convenience. The leather seating in my tester boasted a nifty red and black two-tone theme and around the cockpit, many panels gleamed with carbon fibre trim. In the middle of the dash is a conventional clock by the famed Swiss watchmaker IWC Schaffhausen, with which AMG has had a cooperative agreement for some years.

The C63 AMG S is certainly one of the most desirable luxury coupes on the Canadian market and though it’s far from inexpensive, it will give an owner many years of sporty driving and a good deal of prestige.

 

IN SUMMARY…

BODY STYLE: Two-door coupe

ENGINE: Twin-turbo 4.0-litre V-8, 503-horsepower

TRANSMISSION: 7-speed automatic

PERFORMANCE: Zero to 100 km/h in approx. 4-secs

PRICE: $85,800 MSRP

THAT’S A WRAP: A SHELBY MUSTANG GETS A COLOUR CHANGE

Have you ever wondered what goes in to wrapping a car? Well I have and I was fortunate enough to get introduced to Connor and Tyler from Coastal Car Wraps and witness their work on a 2017 Shelby Mustang. To see the transformation of the car over the few days on a weekend and what it takes to complete the job was fascinating. I had no idea what to expect when I visited them to see what exactly goes in to wrapping a car.

Tyler Vandenberghe and Connor Barr are Camosun College business student who met at school and had a mutual interest in cars and decided to start a business wrapping cars. In just over two years they have made amazing progress including winning Wrap Like a King in 2016, beating out more experienced competition. Very impressive for a couple of young guys from Victoria just starting out.

Another key to their getting together was the fact that Tylers dad was the creator and owner of the knifless tech system that was eventually sold to 3M. This opened a few doors for them and allowed them to be trained with Phil Aquin of Adhere Graphics, Masters of Branding, and is a authorized 3M trainer. Connor and Tyler are already planning on getting further training and certifications.

 

Before they even start to wrap a car they have a mechanic come in a remove the front and rear bumpers, all the trim pieces, and door handles. The object is to make sure none of the old colour shows once it is reassembled.

One of the more interesting aspects of wrapping is the use of a specialized tape that contains a very thin metal thread, the Knifeless tech system, It is laid down in the seams and the wrap is then applied on the panels. The metal thread in the tape is then pulled to make the cut in the vinyl wrap. This eliminates the need for using a knife and getting any marks on the original paint.

Watching them work with the vinyl and how meticulous they were in getting everything just right you know they are very passionate about the quality of the work they do, and it showed in the finished product.

Having witnessed what does in to wrapping a car and seeing the results first hand I just may consider it as an option in the future.

 

Connor and Tyler let their work do their advertising for them and through word of month and they continue to attract more customers. These guys certainly look to have a bright future ahead of them. You can see more of their work at www.coastalcarwraps.com.

 

TEST DRIVE: 2017 LEXUS NX 300h HYBRID

Lexus gives its customers an amazingly wide range of products to choose from in every configuration. Compact luxury SUVs are often a gap in auto builders’ model ranges, but not at Lexus where the NX model is offered with both conventional (2.0-litre turbo) and hybrid powertrains.

I tested the NX 300h hybrid variant in a very wide range of road and weather conditions as it was my “vehicle of choice” for the entire holiday season when I took a trip from Richmond to Vancouver Island. It was the perfect vehicle for the task as the weather ranged from dry and sunny to raging snowstorms with icy roads in between.

I should mention right from the start that this was without doubt the most economical vehicle I’ve ever driven on a road trip that wasn’t an out-and-out EV. Fuel sipping wasn’t the word for how well this one performed. I picked up the NX in North Vancouver, drove to Richmond, spent several days involved with local shopping runs and than it was off to Tsawwassen and the ferry. Having crossed to the Victoria area for Christmas and also driven up to Sooke and back, I headed home the way I came and after driving through snow back to Richmond I confirmed that I’d only used a quarter of a tank of fuel. At times, the fuel computer was reading less than 7-litres/100 km combined (Lexus claims 7.4-litres). I should add that my test NX was as fully equipped as it could be and carrying a considerable load for the trip, along with two occupants.

Although the NX falls into the compact class, it’s very roomy and has excellent cargo space. Using the maximum available cargo area by folding the back seats was easy on my NX because it was equipped with power controls. This eliminated the usual struggle it’s possible to have with manual-folding seat backs. The styling is very bold with all kinds of sculpturing in the bodywork, fronted by the big grille we’ve come to associate with Lexus vehicles. Being a Lexus, it’s beautifully finished with flawless paintwork and trim.

The seating is very comfortable and supportive, especially the front pair which have high, cleverly-integrated, head restraints. All the expected convenience items were available including traffic proximity warning devices, navigation (with an iPad-like screen) and an outstanding sound system. I liked the heated steering wheel rim, which must be great therapy for anyone suffering from arthritis. Certainly it’s very welcome on a chilly morning and saves you wearing potentially slippery gloves.

The power unit is a 2.5-litre 4-cylinder with electric motor developing a combined 194-horsepower. That may not seem like a lot of power, but given the great torque performance of electric motors, the NX feels peppy and accelerative and can certainly get smartly off the mark when required. The hybrid battery is split into two parts for better weight distribution and to enhance interior space. Transmission is a continuously variable unit with Eco, Normal and Sport modes. Since I drove mostly in traffic, I used the Eco mode all the time and still got lots of throttle response.

The NX 300h is a remarkable vehicle in many ways. You get all the luxury that could possible be desired if the options list is exploited and despite the extra weight you get with adding extras, the fuel economy is remarkable. There are certainly rivals to the NX from various luxury automakers now, but this Lexus in hybrid form is a fantastic buy that won’t cost that much to run.

IN SUMMARY

BODY STYLE: 4-door & hatch SUV, 5-seater

ENGINE: 2.5-litre 4-cyl Atkinson Cycle 194-horsepower

TRANSMISSION: Continuously variable (CVT)

PERFORMANCE: Zero to 100 km/h in approx. 8.5 secs

PRICE: Base MSRP $54,150. As tested $62,971.25 inc. freight etc.

REVIEW: 2017 NISSAN PATHFINDER

Nissan’s Pathfinder has undergone a major workover for 2017 and the occasion prompts a look at the history of this very long-lived SUV. It’s been in the marketplace for more than 30 years and was one of the pioneers of the most popular vehicle segment in this country. It’s certainly improved vastly since those early days, as has almost any product Nissan or anyone else has produced. Even so, I can remember the older models and they were always highly capable, well-equipped and reliable. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the early models were still on the road. The last major Pathfinder update was in 2013, so in today’s competitive market, the time had arrived for something fresh and according to Nissan, it’s not just a facelift, though it’s not a total redesign either – the product didn’t really need that.

The Pathfinder now has more power; better towing capability, improved dynamics and many new driver assistance features. For 2017, you can order one in 2WD and 4WD depending on needs and usage and there are five trim and equipment levels – S, SV, SL, SL Premium Tech and top-of-the-line Platinum.

Nissan’s key design elements and recognition features are easy to spot and the vehicle uses some styling cues from the design-conscious Murano crossover and the Maxima sport sedan. Nissan’s new grille design is evident and while LEDs are used for some of the lighting on basic models, the Platinum variant is all-LED, front and rear. One interesting addition to the cargo area is a motion-activated liftgate, a worthwhile feature when you’ve got armfuls of bags to load or unload. All you have to do is use a kicking motion under the centre of the hatch and it opens. This feature is standard on the three top trim packages in the range.

Power comes from a 3.5-litre V-6 which, at 284-horsepower, is more potent by 24 hp over the last model. The transmission is a continuously variable unit, which is a third-generation Xtronic system that Nissan has refined over the years. Nissan says the new transmission gives a more natural acceleration feeling. Those who tow boats or trailers will be happy to know that the towing capacity has been upped to 6,000 lbs, which Nissans says is a “best in class.” To get that rating, buyers have to uprate the vehicle a little with an available package. Nissan’s research has indicated that buyers want the ability to tow two-axle recreational trailers for watercraft or for campers.

Although many owners won’t need the capability, the Pathfinder remains a very “off-roadable” SUV and can handle some pretty rough trails. Helping with this chore are selectable 2WD, auto or 4WD lock modes. There’s also a hill start assist system which aids starting or stopping on hills and a descent system that adjusts speed and brake pressure when driving slowly down rugged off-road grades. Like so many vehicle in this class, the Pathfinder has a long list of safety and stability technologies.

It’s likely that the updated Pathfinder will renew buyer interest in this product, which has a lengthy service record and also an excellent record of durability and reliability. A top-of-the-line variant is more or less a luxury SUV, but it’s a little ahead of the crossover pack when it’s time to head off the paved roads.

IN SUMMARY…

BODY STYLE: Four-door/liftback mid-size SUV

ENGINE: 3.5-litre V-6, 284-horsepower

TRANSMISSION: Continuously variable (CVT)

TOWING CAPACITY: 6,000 pounds, properly equipped

PRICE: From $32,498 MSRP

REVIEW: 2017 JAGUAR F- PACE CROSSOVER SUV

Years ago, even before its fairly short period of Ford ownership, Jaguar, management made it quite clear that the famed British carmaker would never build an SUV. It was “not Jaguar’s thing” and the very idea of offering such a vehicle, rather than concentrate on sports sedans and pure sports cars was not even worth thinking about. I once put the question to the then-chairman of Jaguar over lunch and he said “not a chance.”

But times change and the vehicle buying public clamours for SUVs, with even Bentley and Rolls-Royce getting in on the act. Luxury SUVs are particularly hot and products from Mercedes-Benz, Land Rover, Audi, Lexus, BMW, Acura, Infiniti and others have been strong sellers, some of them for many years.

Finally, Jaguar has taken the plunge with its all-wheel drive F-Pace crossover/SUV and anyone who’s driven it will confirm that it was worth the long wait. From a styling angle, the vehicle is fairly conservative and Jaguar has taken a cautious approach, rather than try anything too radical. The company has a great understanding of its customers and research must have proved this was the best way to handle the design job. It’s a handsome vehicle from every angle and the grille area is, expectedly, an adaptation of the company’s current ‘nose job.’ It looks distinctive, fresh and athletic. Like other models in the Jaguar range, it’s produced from aluminum and the structure is both rigid and light. The manufacturer always strives to endow its products with what it calls ‘Jaguarness’ and with the F-Pace; they’ve probably pulled this off nicely.

F-Pace buyers can choose from three engines – a 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo diesel with 180-horsepower or two 3.0-litre supercharged gasoline V-6s with 340-horsepower or 380-horsepower. There are also various trim ranges and all kinds of tempting extras to choose from and this contributes towards the very wide price range of the new F-Pace. The transmission, incidentally, is an 8-speed automatic, that uses Jaguar’s excellent rotary shift dial, which glides handily out of the console when you fire up the engine. There’s a pair of paddles behind the steering to give the give the driver a degree of manual control. No manual transmission is listed.

The roomy interior is very Jaguar-like, even on the least expensive models. It’s very tastefully done with excellent materials and lots of colour choices. I found the rig very comfortable to drive and it’s certainly a vehicle that could be driven 1000 km or more in a matter of hours without discomfort – a true ‘grand tourer’ to be exact. Cargo space is very good and the rearmost seatbacks can be folded down to create even more space. Buyers can opt for a very large touch screen for various functions, including navigation. Tests have proven that the F-Pace offers more space than almost all its main rivals.

Just recently, Jaguar announced its concept electric I-Pace which uses the basic F-Pace platform but upgrades sportiness with different bodywork, emphasized by a lowered roofline and a coupe-like profile. Jaguar has promised that we’ll see the I-Pace on the road in 2018.

 

SPECS AT A GLANCE…

BODY STYLE: Four doors and hatch crossover/SUV

ENGINE: 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel or 340 and 380 V-6 engines

TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic

PERFORMANCE: Zero to 100 km/h in approx. 5.5-secs (V-6)

PRICE: $49,900 to $66,400 MSRP

REVIEW: 2017 BENTLEY BENTAYGA SPORT UTILITY

At first, it was a shock to diehard Bentley enthusiasts when the fabled British carmaker announced that it would build an SUV. After all, Bentley has always been best known for either stately sedans or stylish, sporty, models like the Continental series. But all manufacturers ultimately have to give customers what they want and today, there’s no doubting the widespread popularity of SUVs, even in the super-luxury class.

Looking back at Bentley history, utility vehicles are not entirely new to the company. Over the decades numerous coachbuilders have created station wagons or “shooting brakes” based on standard Bentley models. A full-blown SUV, though, is something new, but most makers in the premium class have been more or less compelled to offer a model in this segment due to customer demand.

Twenty years ago, who would have thought that Porsche, Jaguar, Cadillac, Lincoln, Audi and others in the luxury sedan/sports class would have come up with sport utility models? And it won’t be too long before no less than Rolls-Royce joins in with its contender. If that sounds unlikely, a local dealer friend told me that he has 17 firm orders for the Rolls and it may not arrive until 2020!

Bentley’s luxury SUV entrant is the Bentayga, a model that is clearly meant to set the class on its ear. The name was inspired by the remote Taiga forested wilderness area in Siberia. It’s a superbly styled and appointed vehicle that’s clearly aimed at the very pinnacle of the SUV fraternity. The styling is, as one might expect, tastefully restrained and offers the same elegance and unobtrusive imagery as the cars. It’s a full-sized rig and combines it’s high level of practicality with astonishing comfort and interior opulence. Since Bentley is part of the Volkswagen Audi Group, it’s bound to use some of the all-wheel drive expertise built up over many years by Audi and few will complain about that.

Under the Bentayga’s regal hood (which of course has the iconic Bentley radiator grille) is a mighty all-new 6.0-litre twin-turbocharged W-12 developing a lusty 600-horsepower. The power unit is mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission and permanent four-wheel drive gets all the power to the tarmac or to whatever gnarly off-road surface you’ve decided to travel on.

The performance of the Bentayga is remarkable and Bentley, probably with full justification, is describing its new hauler as the fastest SUV on the planet. Zero to 100 km/h in only a shade over four seconds is out there in supercar territory and this is a large, heavy, vehicle. Likewise, the beast will top 300 km/h flat-out, which again, puts it into a very exclusive group. It’s been tuned to handle exceptionally too, so despite its bulk, this can be a pretty wieldy vehicle. It rides on huge 20-inch Pirelli-shod alloy wheels.

The interior, unsurprisingly, is well up to Bentley’s finest standards, with superlative detailing, outstanding materials and despite a mass of instrumentation and controls, a fairly easy-to-learn layout. The aroma of leather is alone worth the price of admission and the highly polished wood trim is a delight. The seats are partly quilted and even the embroidered Bentley logos on the leather are beautifully stitched rather than being embossed. Available extras include a fitted Mulliner fly-fishing outfit in the rear cargo area, a ‘must have’ for the serious angler. This Bentley must be the most comfortable and satisfying way ever to ride in speed and comfort to your favourite fishing stream.

The Bentayga, despite its price, is sure to be a very successful product for Bentley and will certainly give Rolls-Royce a run for its money when that more expensive rival is launched. And according to several off-road enthusiasts, the big SUV will go just about anywhere you could take a wheeled vehicle so it’s not just a plush 4WD for boulevard cruising.

 

IN SUMMARY…

BODY STYLE: Five-place luxury SUV

ENGINE: 6.0-litre twin-turbo W-12 600-horsepower

 

TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic with permanent AWD

 

ACCELERATION: Zero to 100 km/h in 4.1-seconds

 

PRICE: $242,000 MSRP

REVIEW: 2017 HONDA RIDGELINE PICKUP TRUCK

Honda introduced its Ridgeline sport utility truck in 2005 as a 2006 model and it was something of a sensation at the time, being the only pickup class vehicle Honda had ever offered in North America. The first generation truck has had a very lengthy lifespan, no bad thing for people who like their new vehicle to “stay current” for a few years and not go out of date.

Honda never set out to steal sales from well-entrenched pickup manufacturers and the main aim was to offer Honda buyers something from every sales niche in the industry. It’s also worth mentioning that Honda has never had a V-8 engine, something buyers of trucks for work or towing often demand. Honda did find a slot in the market for the Ridgeline and right through its long life, it’s been a steady seller.

The Honda Ridgeline uses unibody construction, rather than the body-on-frame method used by top domestic manufacturers and two Japanese nameplate truck builders. Truck purists scoff at this kind of body construction, but when the truck first appeared, I tried one in some very demanding country and it surprised me, being able to climb very steep grades over loose rocks with ease and, it’s worth adding, in considerable comfort. One of the more credible US car magazines tested the Ridgeline against mid-size pickups of the day at the time and it came out on top. The Ridgeline was always a comfortable and reasonably powerful SUV with the convenience of a pickup box.

The 2017 Ridgeline follows Honda tradition with unibody construction but this time around, considerably beefed-up, but it’s closer to conventional pickup design than the first model. The earlier truck had novel slanted sides to the box which made it easy to spot on the road, but the new Ridgeline takes a more conventional path, which might appeal to buyers of larger pickups who’d like something lighter and more comfortable inside but want it to look like market rivals. The new truck may look more conventional but there are lots of standout features, not the least of which is a huge lidded compartment in the bed of the truck. This is wide and deep enough to accommodate even large suitcases, something I tested by taking a group of people to the airport for a long trip. It’s lockable of course and very easy to use. The box itself is impressively large (it’ll take a full sheet of drywall, flat), without being a match for a big Ram or anything like that. There’s an optional bed expander, which provides extra cargo space

The truck is powered by a 3.5-litre V-6 producing 280 horsepower, which seemed to me to be more than adequate. Canadian Ridgelines are all-wheel drive, though a 2WD version is offered in the US. A towing capacity of 5,000 lbs. is claimed by Honda. Transmission is a 6-speed automatic. As before, the Ridgeline comes in one size and there are no extended wheelbase or two-seater cab variants. Track testing has proved the new Ridgeline very quick indeed for a truck with zero to 100 km/h times inside the seven-second mark.

The roomy cab is just great and much like the one you’d find in an upscale Pilot SUV. It’s beautifully executed in true Honda fashion and more or less a joy to operate in. It also has lots of useful stowage areas and best of all, is very easy to climb in and out of. This impressed me a lot, having reached an age when I no longer take flying leaps into the driver’s seat, James Bond style. It would be a great buy for older drivers or people with back problems who aren’t too happy hauling themselves up into a full-size truck. My Black Edition test truck looked very sharp with a gleaming black paint job and wheels to match.

This truck could be a big hit for Honda when people discover what it offers. My advice to buyers of traditional trucks is to take a look at a Ridgeline before opting for one of the big truck players in the auto industry. They might get a surprise that will change their attitude towards trucks for good – it’s also the pickup truck for people who never considered buying one before.

IN SUMMARY…

BODY STYLE: Four-door pickup truck

ENGINE: 3.5-litre V-6

TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic

TOWING CAPACITY: 5000 lbs.

PRICE: $35,590 base MSRP

REVIEW: 2017 PORSCHE 718 BOXSTER RANGE

p16_0071_a4_rgb

There’s nothing more exciting in the world of sports cars than an all-new Porsche and for 2017 it’s the turn of the mid-engined Boxster roadster to get the makeover. The first-generation Boxster was launched in 1996 and became a major success for the company. It was a reasonably high-performance German roadster that was a lot less expensive that its ‘big brother’ 911 model. Later, a coupe variant was launched as the Cayman, but the car has a different character than the Boxster and I’ve always considered it a separate model. Even so, there will be a new Cayman for 2017 too.

Porsche is adopting the name ‘718 Boxster’ for its new model to completely differentiate it from earlier cars. The fact is that the car boasts one very radical change in that it has a 4-cylinder engine. Porsche marketed cars in the 1960s with 4-cylinder power (remember the 912?) and raced them successfully too, but they’ve just about faded from memory. But with recent advancements in 4-cylinder engine technology, it’s become possible to create powerplants with the same levels of get-up-and-go as 6-cylinder units, more so in fact. Of course, there are major fuel consumption benefits too.

Thanks to a turbocharger, the base 2.0-litre engine produces an impressive 300-horsepower and if you move up to the 718 Boxster S with its 2.5-litres, the hp jumps to 350. These are amazing figures for four-bangers as it wasn’t long ago that car manufacturers were struggling to get 300-horsepower out of a V-6. Buyers can opt for a 6-speed manual gearbox or a Porsche PDK auto/manual with steering wheel paddles for manual shifts when needed. Like all Boxster and 911 engines of the past, the new four is designed in horizontally-opposed configuration.

p16_0074_a4_rgb

When it comes to styling, the 718 certainly follows the basic form of its predecessors, but it is completely new and features a more sculptural form than before. It’s wider at the front and the rear, and the cooling air intakes are bigger to feed lots of air to the turbo. As with so many cars nowadays, lighting is all LED and this is outstanding for fast night drives on unfamiliar roads. The nose of the car looks more 911 than ever and it seems the cars have been growing closer in appearance over the years, especially in open configuration. 19-inch wheels are featured with 20-inch available as an option.

It’s very swift to get the hood down and enjoy open-air motoring and this can be done at a stop light. With the hood up, it’s nice and cosy in the cockpit and the interior trim on the inside is very neatly done. The Boxster has always been a very well balanced sports car and even in demanding conditions, it drives rock-steady and feels very dependable. I once drove a Boxster something like 900 km over a major mountain range with rain all day long and the car never missed a beat. Even though these cars are rear-wheel drive, they seem to hang in like AWD models, thanks to the weight distribution you get with mid engine designs.

p16_0084_a4_rgb

The cockpit is beautifully trimmed and looks a lot like the more costly 911 range. Earlier Boxsters were quite spartan inside with the console and other trim components simply sprayed with a textured paint. Over the years, though, they’ve become more luxurious and sophisticated. Once snuggled in the driver’s seat, you feel very much part of the car and this is aided by near-perfect pedal and steering wheel locations. An available navigation module has voice control, which is no bad thing in a performance car when the driver often has a heavy workload. Although the price has crept up over the years, the Boxster remains a great buy with just about all the benefits of the range-topping 911 models. It’ll take us a while to get used to that 718 designation, but it’s fitting that Porsche should want a special identity for its first 4-cylinder model in many decades.

ENGINE: 2.0-litre 4-cylinder 300-horsepower (base car)

TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual or PDK automatic

ACCELERATION: Zero to 100 km/h in 4.7-secs (base car)

TOP SPEED: 275 km/h

PRICE: Around $64,000 MSRP, (base car)

REVIEW: 2017 HONDA CR-V, BUILT IN CANADA

crv17-160

An all-new Honda CR-V is an important event for the Canadian market. This compact crossover has always been very popular in Canada and has been a leading product in its class right from the first model back in 1995.

The fifth generation 2017 CR-V has big shoes to fill. This is a critical product for Honda and has been its best-selling utility for as long as I can remember. There are still large numbers of the original model on the streets and just about all of them I see are holding up well and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a rusty one. In case you’ve always wondered, CR-V stands for “compact recreational vehicle.”

Built in Alliston, Ontario, the CR-V will do battle in the largest and fastest-growing segment in the Canadian vehicle industry – that of compact crossovers. It seems that this class of vehicle is the one favoured by most Canadian buyers nowadays.

The 2017 CR-V uses all-new sheet metal and although it has lots of curvy lines and interesting styling details like the wing-shaped LED lighting array up front, it’s not quite as wild as some of its rivals, which long time CR-V buyers will appreciate. It’s not a conservative design, but it’s not outlandish either. Let’s just say that Honda’s design team reached a very satisfying “happy medium.” Honda’s term for the look of this crossover is “sophisticated and athletic” and it’s hard to argue with that. Like just about all of its rivals (and there are many), the bodywork has a four-door, five-passenger, layout with a large hatchback (power operated as an option) to allow easy access to the generous load space.

crv17-163

One of the biggest changes for 2017 is the adoption of a turbocharged engine – the first ever for this model. This is really no surprise because the Honda Civic, which shares its platform with the CR-V, has gone the turbo route too. The turbo powerplant is a 1.5-litre rated at 190-horsepower, quite a punch for a compact crossover. The CR-V uses a continuously variable transmission that I’ll comment on more when I’ve tried the vehicle. Engine designs like this usually provide exceptional fuel economy and I’d expect this Honda to rate with the best in its class when statistics are announced by the federal research people. The suspension has been upgraded to provide improved handling along with better ground clearance and flatter cornering.

Previous version of the CR-V had lots of great safety features, but the 2017 model adds many more. Depending on the trim level and how the buyer uses the options list, a CR-V can feature such technologies as collision mitigation, forward collision warning, road departure mitigation, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control and blind spot information with rear cross traffic monitor. It all adds up to a very safe crossover and if the worst happens, crash resistance is as good as it can be in this class and has earned a Top Safety Pick rating from the US Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (NHSTA).

The new CR-V should be arriving at dealers any time now and as soon as a media test vehicle is available, I’ll review the product again with a wider range of comments.

IN SUMMARY…

BODY STYLE: Compact crossover with rear liftgate

ENGINE: 1.5-litre 4-cylinder turbo plus other options

TRANSMISSION: Continuously variable (CVT)

TOWING CAPACITY: 1,500-lbs

PRICE: From $26,290 MSRP. Full across-the-range pricing details in Decemb

TEST DRIVE: 2017 MERCEDES-BENZ SLC 43 AMG

fullsizerender-3

Among the pure sports car models offered by Mercedes-Benz, the SLC 43 is “entry level,” but don’t get any ideas about this being some kind of poor relation in the family. The SLC, especially in the AMG guise my tester featured, is fast, nimble and very good to look at.

Just as a reminder, the SLC range succeeds the earlier SLK models that have been around for many years. The SLK was one of the very first production sportsters to feature a fully retractable metal roof, rather than a fabric top. The 2017 SLC carries on this tradition. When the top is down, this is a fully open roadster, but with it closed, it becomes a weather-tight and cosy small coupe. Retracting the roof is a reasonably swift operation, carried out using a lever that hides under a pop-up cover on the central console. It’s very neatly positioned and easy to use.

The SLC is a beautifully car from a styling standpoint and boasts many of the detail features you’ll find on more expensive Mercedes-Benz sports cars. Some of these have been picked up from the legendary Mercedes sports racing cars of the 1950s. It’s a fairly short car as far as the bodywork goes, but it does have a fairly decent trunk that will easily handle a couple’s luggage for a road trip. Although a lot of the roof folds into the trunk area, there’s still plenty of room in there.

 

fullsizerender-2Older SLK AMGs used V-8 power but the 2017 car has switched to a twin turbo V-6. The 3.0-litre unit in the AMG model I drove produces 362-horsepower, more than enough for any driver, especially given today’s busy road conditions. Even so, some automotive scribes have moaned about the reduction in horsepower. The old V-8 certainly had a few more horses, but the new arrangement makes far more sense when it come to real-world driving. The V-6 mates to a 9-speed automatic transmission – yes, that’s nine speeds! The engine makes all the appropriate noises and hearing the drivetrain working its way through all those gears is a delight. Using the now ubiquitous steering wheel paddles, the transmission can be shifted manually. This is a very nimble car and can be driven through tight turns quicker than many a more powerful sports car. I had some track experience with the earlier SLK AMG and it really impressed me.

fullsizerender

The cockpit is very snug – perhaps too snug for larger occupants – and the car is designed purely for two. There’s nothing behind the hip-hugging front seats except, perhaps, room to throw a light jacket or a sweater. As with all Mercedes-Benz products, the interior is a joy to work in with outstanding fit and finish and a satisfying feel to all the controls – and there are lots. My test car had some great-looking carbon fibre trim items here and there. Out on the road, the car is enormous fun, even at legal speeds. An early morning drive along a winding, mountainous, highway would be an exciting run, even sticking to the speed limits, especially with the top down. I was very impressed with the brakes on the SLC too.

There are a number of competitors for this model out there, including rivals from BMW and Audi, but few can match or exceed the SLC AMG and few have the remarkable history of the Mercedes-Benz brand behind them. For many buyers, the big three-pointed star on the elegant grille is all the excuse they need.

IN SUMMARY…

BODY STYLE: Two-seat sports convertible

ENGINE: 3.0-litre twin turbocharged V-6

TRANSMISSION: 9-speed automatic

PERFORMANCE: Zero to 100 km/h in approx. 3.8-secs

PRICE: Base $60,300 MSRP

Photos Courtesy of Spencer Whitney