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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

TEST DRIVE: 2016 VOLKSWAGEN JETTA SEDAN

 

2016_jetta_5169_13669_14236-copyVolkswagen’s Jetta sedan has been around for many years after starting life back in 1979 as more or less a “Golf with a trunk.” Since then it’s acquired a character of its own and many people would never know that it uses Golf running gear and much of its general trim. Part of the difference between today’s Golf and Jetta is that they don’t share any body panels and the sedan has a longer wheelbase. The 2016 Jetta is the sixth generation of the car and it’s widely popular in North America.

The Jetta I tested recently was very well equipped, but not top-of-the-line. It’s nice to get this trim level now and then because most automakers tend to loan media test vehicles that are so “loaded” you never get to find out what more basic versions are like to live with. So my tester came with wheel covers over steel rims, non-soft touch interior trim and various other ways of keeping down costs. Of course, for owners who want to jazz up their cars a little, VW has an extensive “extras” catalogue.

Having said that, the basic car has all the necessary conveniences most buyers in this class would want, including power windows and mirrors, remote power locks, air conditioning and other good stuff. It certainly doesn’t feel in any way like a “cheap” car or simply bare bones transportation. Like other VW products, it’s very well put together and finished and the interior trim uses sturdy and tasteful materials. The seats seemed just as comfortable to me as those in a much more costly Audi.

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What will impress anyone who takes one of these for a test spin is the powertrain. Though it has the most humble engine in the Jetta lineup at only 1.4-litres, it’s surprisingly peppy and an impressively sporty little car to enjoy. It sprints away from stops amazing well and in fact, it’s possible to spin the wheels even on a dry road. Credit must go to VW’s TSI technology which makes use of a small turbocharger to maximize displacement. Similarly, the automatic transmission is an excellent piece of engineering and shifts are positive and responsive. Like some of the Jetta’s high-performance cousins, the car must be faster with the automatic than it is with the (available) manual box. Incidentally, there are two other engines in the Jetta range – a 1.8-litre and a 2.0-litre.

The interior is quite roomy for a small car and easy too get in and out of. There’s room for adults in the back seats, which is more than can be said for some models in this class. I’ve always like the seating position in Golf/Jetta models as VW always seems to nail the correct relationship between seat location, steering wheel and pedals. The suspension is firm but comfortable too and although this is no racer, it handles competently in most conditions. I tried some fast driving on winding roads and it hung in very well indeed – stable, predictable and safe. A Connectivity Package costing $400 gets you a wide range of communication and entertainment upgrades and is well worth having. Pairing a mobile phone is an especially easy task and takes less than a minute.

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While my own preference is for hatchback vehicles in this class, I can see that many buyers prefer a trunk for its security. Thankfully, Volkswagen offers both on the same platform and buyers can make their own decision. Either way, these smallest of VW sedans are excellent products from just about every standpoint.

IN SUMMARY…

BODY STYLE: Four-door front-wheel drive sedan

ENGINE: 1.4-litre 4-cylinder 150-horsepower TSI

TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic

PERFORMANCE: Zero to 100 km/h in approx. 8-seconds

PRICE: Starts at $15,995

TEST DRIVE: 2016 MERCEDES BENZ S 65 AMG COUPE

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For many years, Mercedes-Benz has been almost the only car manufacturer to include in its range a two-door coupe based on a large sedan. The reason many makers shy away from this layout is the belief that most buyers want four doors when they purchase a large car. But for Mercedes, the company not only perseveres with a big 2-door coupe, but makes the model one of the most opulent and expensive it produces. In fact, the S Coupe has always been a showcase for the very best styling and technology the company is capable of and this is understandably reflected in the price.

There are three S Coupes to choose from, two with V-8 power and one with a magnificently silky V-12. We’re focusing on the range-topping S 65 AMG because it has the best performance and the most lavish specification to gloat over. It costs more than $234,000 and it’s possible to spend even more by adding some extra carbon fibre parts.

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The new coupe is superbly styled and the word ‘svelte’ must have been conjured up for this car. It has sleek, sinewy, lines and seems to flow down the road rather than merely drive. It’s a real standout car and could easily upstage the most costly of exotics. The 20-inch AMG wheels look wonderful and through their spokes, you get a glimpse of the big ventilated disc brakes which bring the beast well under control. It’s a big car, there’s no doubt about that, as its based on the saloon platform, but somehow it doesn’t look bulky in any way. The two doors are very wide, so it’s no problem for people to climb into the back. There’s also generous amount of cargo space in the trunk, with 400-litres available. Because of its basic platform, it is quite roomy in the back seat, if not as spacious as it is in the sedan equivalent. Let’s just say that a couple of taller folk won’t want to travel very far in this otherwise wonderful machine.

 

The engine is an absolute delight and is super-smooth and very flexible, as you’d expect with six litres and twelve cylinders. Engines like this are designed for response and refinement, rather than flat-out speed, but even so, this is a very fast car. The basic Mercedes V-12 has been around for years in one form or another and I must have covered thousands of kilometres in cars so equipped. It is the ultimate engine configuration and not many manufacturers offer them nowadays. Jaguar stopped making V-12s many years ago and to be frank, the less expensive V-8 powered S Coupe is probably just as fast, but that’s not the point. If it’s the best you’re looking for, this IS the best.

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The huge powerplant is aided by twin turbochargers and power is fed to the wheels via a 7-speed automatic with paddle shifter manual controls on the steering wheel. This is a rear-wheel drive car and traction control does take care of handling the serious power delivery quite well. It would have been nice, though, to have all-wheel drive with that many horses on tap. This is a car we’d choose to cross a continent in and on winding roads, it handles with great precision and engenders a feeling of safety and solidity.

The interior is a total delight with every imaginable convenience item possible and some you’d never think of. There are two very large infotainment screens and the flow of the dash and door panels is as sensuous as the exterior styling. Even the controls for the power seats are designed with a flowing look to them. The chunky steering wheel, which is host to multiple controls, is flattened a little at the bottom to give a little extra thigh clearance. Naturally, the fit and finish is impeccable and the materials throughout the cabin are of the finest possible quality, as expected given the price tag.

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The Mercedes-Benz S 65 AMG is one of the world’s supreme cars and you won’t see too many of them about. It offers everything anyone could possible dream up for a luxury car and then adds a few dozen more features. How can you go wrong with a car that has LED headlights with Swarovski crystals. Who’d have it any other way?

ENGINE: 630-horsepower 6-litre V-12

TRANSMISSION: 7-speed automatic with manual override

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

TOP SPEED: 300 km/h, electronically limited

PRICE: $234,000

TEST DRIVE: 2017 HYUNDAI SANTA FE XL AWD ULTIMATE

 

45008_2017_santa_feThe Hyundai Santa Fe is a mid-sized SUV and the largest in this class produced by the Korean automaker. It originally appeared in 2000 and the current model is the third generation of the product and was launched in 2014. I recently drove a 2017 model, which refreshes and updates the vehicle in many ways, making one of the company’s top sellers even more of a desirable proposition. To give it its full name, my Hyundai was an XL Ultimate AWD, which is as far up the spec sheet as you can go and a very luxurious vehicle. Incidentally, there’s a Sport variant of this product that’s 215 mm shorter.

As just about everybody knows by now, Hyundai started in Canada with humble beginnings (the very forgettable Pony!) and grew to become an automaker that’s now mentioned in the same breath as the best names in the business. The Santa Fe is quite a large vehicle, but doesn’t look that way from the outside. It’s one of those rare products that appears compact, but climb inside and the spaciousness is amazing. My tester came with three rows of seats but even that didn’t cramp the interior. The rear row of seats fold down in a few seconds by pulling a strap and since they fold flush with the rear load deck, you instantly get a vast and very usable cargo area.

Expectedly in this class, this vehicle has four doors and a big rear hatch which in the case of my Santa Fe, could be opened remotely with the key fob or from inside the vehicle. It closes with the touch of a button too, so if you’re loading a lot of cargo, you can open and close the hatch more or less “hands free.”

Exterior upgrades that are part of the 2017 package include new headlights, grille, taillights, bumpers, wheel design, LED daytime running lights and a lengthy list of other goodies. The basic body styling is very attractive without being “quirky” in any way. Hyundai calls it “Fluidic Sculpture.”

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Power comes from a fuel-efficient and peppy 3.3-litre V-6 producing 290-horsepower. I used the Santa Fe for a long-weekend road trip into the Fraser Valley and taking in Harrison Hot Springs. I was driving some freeway, but also lots of winding roads off Hwy 7 and close to the mountains. On these twisty roads I found that handling was very good indeed and whether on the backroads or the freeway, fuel economy was excellent. Economy is pretty well at four-cylinder levels and I’d expected the V-6 to be a lot less fuel efficient given the power it developed.

The V-6 also means that the Santa Fe has very good towing capability. The 6-speed automatic took care of business with ease and was very smooth and seamless. All XL models are all-wheel drive, but I didn’t take my test vehicle off road or drive it in wet weather. I’d expect it to perform well in such conditions having had off-road experience with other Hyundai SUVs and crossovers.

The interior is very nicely done and everything is in the right place for ease of access. The XL Ultimate has a very long list of features and certainly nothing was missing from the example I drove, including a very easy to operate navigation system and a nicely intuitive hands-free mobile phone interface. Other Ultimate features include a multi-view camera, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection and lots of other good stuff. The whole vehicle has an aura of refinement about it – it’s comfortable to ride in, evens out road undulations effectively and shuts out exterior noise very well. The general feeling is that of a luxury vehicle.

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The Santa Fe has lots of competition, but it does get overlooked sometimes by people shopping this market slot. It can hold its own with the best though and deserves a place on the shortlist of buyers looking for a lavishly-equipped, refined mid-size SUV with a reasonable price tag considering the equipment level.

IN SUMMARY…

BODY STYLE: Four-door, 7-seat hatchback

ENGINE: 3.3-litre V-6, 290-horsepower

TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic

TOWING CAPACITY: 5,000 lb.

PRICE: Base XL MSRP $32,199. As tested XL Ultimate $48,299

PORSCHE CLUB WHISTLER WEEKEND

 

p1040123One of the great benefits of belonging to a car club are the events that are organized for its members. Being a Porsche owner Marilyn and I belong to the Porsche Club of America, Vancouver Island Region which allows us to participate in other regions events, so this year we decided to take in the Porsche get together at Whistler on August 26-28. The annual event is hosted by the Canada West region based out of the lower Mainland and the Pacific Northwest region which includes Washington and Oregon.

So on Friday morning we packed up our 86 944 turbo and headed over to the mainland on the 8:00 ferry out of Swartz Bay and then an uneventful drive through Vancouver and up to Whistler. The weather was sunny and on the warm side but we made it there without a problem which is never a sure thing in a thirty year old car.

We checked into the Aspen lodge, parked the car and headed into the village for a late lunch. After walking around the village and taking in the sights we headed back to the lodge to get ready for registration and the opening night barbeque and meet and greet. By now the lodge entrance and parking lot is full of Porsche’s of all kinds and made for quite a show for the rest of the guests.

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The evening get together of almost two hundred attendees was a fun time with the opportunity to meet new people from all over and of course talk about our cars, where they were from, and what events they were participating in. We had decided we would be in the Show & Shine on Saturday in the village along with the cars in the concours judging, the Saturday night Banquet at the Fairmont Chateau, and the Sunday drive to Lillooet on the infamous Duffy lake road.

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Saturday morning greeted us with sunshine as we made our way to the upper village square to get the car in place and do some final preparation for the Show & Shine. This is always a fun time with everyone prepping their cars and of course people looking and what and how others are doing it. We managed to get it done quickly and get over to the area where the cars entered in the concours judging were set up and take in some very well prepared and beautiful cars. Now those guys are very methodical in their preparation and you have to admire their efforts in getting ready for the judges. I always manage to stick my nose in and get some detailing tips along the way and appreciate their patience in taking the time to share their knowledge.

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Now it was time to head down to the lower village and get some breakfast and check out what was happening . One of the highlights for Marilyn was the opportunity to check out the new Audain Art Museum which had just opened in April. The building is impressive in itself and after viewing the display inside I will admit It was worth it. Later in the afternoon the cars were on their way back to the lodge and I was ready for a siesta and down time before the banquet that evening.

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The banquet was a formal event and our table included folks from, the US, lower mainland, interior, and Alberta so there was no shortage of conversation. We were lucky enough to be an early table to the buffet where there was a good variety and everything tasted fantastic. The evening activities included a presentation of the new Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit, the concours and show & shine awards, and the drawing of the door prizes. Sadly we didn’t win anything in the show & shine and we missed out on the grand prize which was trip for two to Germany including a tour of the Porsche museum. I thought for sure we would get a special prize for being the only front engine Porsche there.We didn’t go home empty handed though as Marilyn did win a Porsche, a 917k diecast.

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Sunday was the drive to Lillooet and with over forty cars attending we were divided into two groups. The drive was organized by the Pacific Northwest region and I must say they did an excellent job. The drive up to Lillooet was great fun with some spirited driving and some very courteous Rv’s that pulled over to let us by. In Lillooet we arrived at the Fort Berens Winery where we were treated to a wonderful lunch on their patio with great views of the vineyard. Of course we purchased some wine to enjoy at home. The drive back proved to be equally enjoyable and again we had the opportunity to exercise the cars on occasion.

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Sunday evening we decided we would take a break from all things Porsche and heading out to dinner on our own down in Creekside and tried the Red Door Bistro and that proved to be a culinary delight as well, highly recommend it.

Monday morning it was time to head back to Victoria after saying a few good byes, exchanging email addresses and checking out of the lodge. As we headed out on the Sea to Sky Highway we talked about how much fun we had, how friendly everyone was, and we look forward to keeping in touch with new friends. We will definitely be back. For more pictures see the full photo Gallery.