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.

TEST DRIVE: 2016 LEXUS IS 350 F SPORT AWD

 

96 2014 IS WP PR_G (F SPORT) 20130115Lexus’ answer to demand for a performance-oriented compact sports sedan is the IS 350 F Sport, which is around the same size as an Audi A4, Mercedes C-Class or BMW 3 Series. Fast cars in this class have always been favourites for me, especially if they offer something extra in performance and cosmetics and this Lexus delivers on that score.

The car is now available with all-wheel drive and that’s the way my tester came. AWD is a great asset in a performance car as it safely places all the power right where it belongs – straight to the road via all four wheels when needed. This is a performance sedan you could really trust for a long trip across the mountains in winter. My car was equipped with Bridgestone Blizzak winter tires, which are the best I’ve ever used on ice and snow. They do wear quickly on paved surfaces though, so it’s best to use them when you know you’re going to be encountering icy conditions as I did earlier this year.

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With the various cosmetic upgrades that come as part of the F Sport package, this is a great looking car and mine was especially eye-catching in its Ultrasonic Blue Mica, a colour that seems to be popular with Lexus buyers right now. It’s good to see some of these brighter colours coming back as we seem to have gone through years of ‘sameness’ with so many shades of silver grey chosen for vehicles. My test IS looked very spiffy with its 18-inch alloy wheels in a gunmetal colour.

IS 350 power comes from a 3.5-litre V-6 which really gets this car off the mark quickly. With 306-horsepower, it needs watching in urban areas because you’re up over the speed limit very quickly indeed. It’s exceptionally smooth and responsive and also refined and vibration-free – this is Lexus after all and that kind of silky power delivery is expected. The only transmission is a 6-speed automatic but I had no complaints at all. The transmission can be set for various levels of performance – I used ‘eco’ around town to save fuel and to take a little off the edge off the acceleration levels.

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Given the engine’s high torque levels, it makes for a very flexible driving experience and the car is just as happy around town as it is on a fast mountain road like the Coquihalla Highway. The driving position is just about perfect with optimal positioning of steering wheel, pedals and seat. The seats are very well sculpted and hold everyone in place, especially up front, with great effectiveness. The instrumentation and switchgear is ‘busy’ but an owner would soon get used to the impressive array of controls. I was happy to see one of my favourite ‘pamper the driver’ features – a heated steering wheel.

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The car is a delight to drive, thanks to the Lexus engineering team paying lots of attention to the suspension of the IS F Sport. Like all Lexus products it’s built to the highest possible standards of assembly and design. It’s a very luxurious car that’s even better thanks to the F Sport package and the numerous goodies that come with the upgraded specification.

IN SUMMARY…

BODY STYLE: Four-door sports sedan

ENGINE: 3.5-litre direct-injection V-6, 306-horsepower

TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic

PERFORMANCE: Zero to 100 km/h in approx 5.6-seconds

PRICE: Base MSRP $51,900

COLLECTOR CLASSICS: B.C.’s COLLECTOR VEHICLE PROGRAM

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Former B.C. Solicitor General looks back more than 25 years to the beginning of one of North America’s most unique collector vehicle insurance program

A lifelong classic car enthusiast, Russ Fraser owned a 1939 Buick convertible sedan for 30 years, a classic which reminded him of the cars his father drove back in the day. In fact, 18-year-old Russ and his 15-year-old brother were dispatched by their father to the General Motors factory in Oshawa, Ontario, to drive the family’s new 1952 Buick sedan back to their Vancouver home.

The idea for British Columbia’s program to offer special licensing and insurance for collector vehicles came from fellow B.C. cabinet minister Claude Richmond, who was the Member of the B.C. Legislature for Kamloops.

“Claude came to me to suggest the program,” Fraser recalls. “Tommy Holmes was president of ICBC and he was dead set against it.”

The insurance corporation chief said the police didn’t want the program. But, as Solicitor General, Russ Fraser was in charge of policing in British Columbia.

“I went to the police and they had no objection,” he says.

The argument then became that the Motor Vehicle Branch was opposed to implementation of the program. But then Superintendent of Motor Vehicles Keith Jackman was a classic car enthusiast himself and supported the move to special collector vehicle licensing.

With the dual portfolio of Solicitor General and Attorney General, Fraser was in charge of ICBC. Overruling objections, he instructed CEO Holmes to implement the program which would allow owners of special interest vehicles 25 years and older or limited production vehicles to get special collector license plates, making them eligible for reduced insurance rates.

He also oversaw implementation of the Collector Multi-Vehicle licensing program, enabling those with a numerous classic vehicles to have one license plate and insurance policy for all.

Typically, the cost of insuring a collector vehicle in British Columbia is as low as $300 a year. The vehicle must be in good original condition, used for pleasure driving only and cannot be driven to work.

Modified vehicles built in the 1958 model year or prior can also qualify for vintage vehicle status.

Russ Fraser proudly displays collector plate: B00 000. It is still in its original plastic wrapper. The first collector plate – B00 001 – was issued to car collector and president of the Specialty Vehicle Association of B.C. Ron Peigl, who chaired the committee that developed the collector licensing program.

“Russ Fraser has to be given an awful lot of credit for making the collector plate happen,” says Nigel Matthews, former head of the ICBC collector vehicle program. “British Columbia has one of the best programs in North America, if not the best. The nice thing about the collector plate is that it is very unrestrictive.”

He says the government of the day had a perfect reason to bring in the program as the previous administration created outrage in the collector car hobby by auctioning off vehicles in the B.C. Car Museum.

He also credits hard work and consultation by the Vintage Car Club of Canada and the Specialty Vehicle Association of BC, of which Matthews is currently president.

ICBC reports there are more than 26,000 active and insured collector plates in use. More than 5,000 applications for collector status are received every year, with a 28 per cent rejection rate. The number of collector vehicles in the program has nearly doubled in the last decade.

The SVABC is currently working to get the cutoff for modified vehicles to qualify for vintage plate status raised from the current 1958 model year to 1974.

Ironically, Russ Fraser’s wife Jone has a vehicle that has qualified for collector vehicle status for more than a decade but it does not display a collector license plate.

In order to qualify for collector license and insurance status, owners must have a vehicle registered in British Columbia with regular insurance.

The 1980 Mercedes-Benz 380SL that Jone bought new is currently her only car.

The two-top convertible she affectionately calls “Baby” is in amazing condition. It has only traveled 68,000 kilometres, has never spent a night outside or been driven in the rain.

Jone had fallen in love with a new Mercedes-Benz convertible she had seen in Seattle and resolved to buy one. She put money down on a new 450SL but the Vancouver dealership couldn’t deliver one.

So Jone enlisted the help of a relative who owned a Ford dealership. He subsequently located her car in Montreal. She picked it up at Waterloo Ford in Edmonton and drove it home to Vancouver.

Over the 36 years she has owned the Mercedes, she drove a second car to ensure her convertible was protected from the elements.

“I kept the car because I have always liked it. I don’t like the new Mercedes cars because they do not look like anything meaningful,” she says, proudly adding, “My car has never been in an accident and has never needed repairs.”

The convertible continues to be used for top-down summer fun. Otherwise, Jone rides with husband Russ so her convertible can remain safely stored in her garage.

Russ Fraser will be honoured for his contributions to the collector car hobby by the Greater Vancouver Motorsport Pioneers Society at its induction ceremony on Saturday September 24th.

FRASER VALLEY TRACK HOSTS HISTORIC RACE CARS

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The British Columbia Historic Motor Races is a unique event in the province and an opportunity for both drivers and fans to see some fascinating older cars being driven in anger.

The event takes place on August 20th and 21st 2016 at the Mission Raceway Park Road Course. The event, which attracts entries and spectators from all over the Pacific Northwest comprises two days of action-packed racing with cars from bygone eras. Included in the closed-wheel groups are BMWs, Alfas, Sunbeam Tigers, Volvos, Camaros , Jaguars and even cars like organizer Paul Haym’s Datsun 510. Formula Fords and Formula Vees compete in the open-wheeled group. Spectators are free to roam the paddock, inspect the cars and talk to the drivers.

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Another attraction is a car corral where many spectators display “interesting” cars, and take a couple of Parade Laps during the lunch break.

The lunch break also features the event’s popular “charity rides,” where for $40 spectators get to ride in real racing cars for 3 laps, all proceeds going to the very worthy Mission Hospice Society. The Historic Races make for a fun event for the entire family where any car guy or gal can have a very enjoyable couple of days. Admission is $15 per person and children under 12 are admitted free.

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For more details, check bchmr.ca

REVIEW: 2017 ACURA NSX

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There’s a very special Acura sports car coming to the dealerships fairly soon – a new NSX, which stylishly fills a gap in the automaker’s range which has been evident since the earlier model was phased out some years ago.

Acura launched its first-generation NSX in 1989 it proved something of a sensation. For starters, it looked like no other Japanese sports that had gone before and the general view at the time was that here at last was a ‘Japanese Ferrari.’ Early in its life, Honda filmed TV commercials in Italy with a red NSX, which involved two elderly locals arguing whether or not the car was, in fact, a Ferrari.

The pioneering NSX was a great-looking car and with its mid-mounted V-6 and aluminium bodywork, it proved even more satisfying from behind the wheel. It was superbly balanced, agile and responsive in all the right ways. Before the TV commercial NSX was shipped to Italy, I managed to borrow it for some track time at Westwood under the nervous eyes of the car’s “minders.” It turned out to be one of the best road cars I’d ever driven on a track and it still lingers in my memory. The model was dropped in 2005, to the dismay of fans.

Fast forward to 2015 when Honda announced a replacement for the iconic sportster and (thankfully) retained the NSX name rather than trying to get clever with something cute.

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If the first NSX had an Italianate look about it, the 2016 version looks as though it could have come rolling off the assembly lines at Maranello, home of Ferrari. If that’s possible, it’s even more elegantly styled than its predecessor with lots of dramatic curves and the usual array of air vents and scoops. It’s a little larger all-round than it’s forebear, but not so you’d notice. As before, the engine is mid-mounted, just behind the driver and up front there’s some storage space. It’s a very ground-hugging design and I would imagine that the NSX would reveal outstanding aerodynamics in the wind tunnel. The bodywork is mostly aluminium, but this time around, Honda has also made use of composites, some of which may not have been available back in ’89. The floor, for example, is made from carbon fibre to endow the structure with a high level of stiffness.

Expectedly, there’s a lot of technology packed into this new Acura. The engine is a twin-turbo 75-degree V-6 and it makes use of a three-motor ‘sport hybrid’ system. Those electric motors should add useful torque to the engine and contribute towards some impressive performance figures. The transmission is no less fascinating. It’s a 9-speed dual clutch automatic unit with the now-common steering wheel mounted paddles for manual operation. Four drive modes are available, depending on conditions or the whims of the driver.

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The new NSX will be built exclusively at a new factory in Marysville, Ohio. According to Acura, there will only be 100 people there to produce the car, so it’s clearly hand-built in most respects (and priced accordingly). The car was also developed in the US by a global design and engineering team.

This NSX is so new; no solid performance data is available right now. The engine develops 500-horsepower and it delivers power to all four wheels. There’s not much doubt that this is a 300 km/h car with a zero to 100 km/h time of 4-seconds or less. Despite all this get-up-and-go, the car should be quite economical on fuel, given its hybrid powertrain. Brembo brakes from Italy help stop the beast and these use carbon ceramic discs for extra efficiency.

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The interior of the NSX is certainly attractive and welcoming. It is, of course, a two seater and there’s probably just enough room behind the seats to stow a couple of slim briefcases and a raincoat or extra jacket. The seats are comfortable and very supportive and they adjust in several directions. The instrument panel is mostly electronic, a move that is finally beginning to appeal to sports car fans, possibly because just about all competition cars these days feature this approach. The chunky steering wheel carries a host of controls for various functions. The usual infotainment screen is sited at the centre of the dash panel. A two-tone theme is used for the leathers and vinyls and the interior styling is enhanced by wide use of titanium-coloured trim items.

Owners who loved the earlier car have been pleading for years for a new model and now it’s set to arrive. Initial demand is bound to be high and serious buyers should get their names on the list as soon as possible. It’s been a long time coming but it looks like a car that was well worth the wait.

IN SUMMARY…

BODY STYLE: Two-place sports coupe

ENGINE: 3.5-litre V-6 delivering 500-horsepower.

TRANSMISSION: 9-speed dual clutch automatic with manual override and four modes.

PERFORMANCE: Zero to 100 km/h in less than 4-seconds (estimated)

PRICE: $189,900 base

TEST DRIVE: 2016 NISSAN VERSA NOTE HATCHBACK

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The Versa Note is Nissan’s entry in the hotly contested and now well-populated subcompact hatchback market. Products like this are very appealing to a very wide range of buyers from young people perhaps buying their first new car to retirees who are downsizing from a larger sedan but still want something attractive and practical.

This Versa is a new design, which made its debut in 2014, so it won’t look dated for a very long time yet, if ever. Nissan’s design team went for a highly sculptured look and there are flowing curves everywhere. This design theme doesn’t always work with smaller bodystyles but the Versa is very easy on the eyes and super-contemporary from nose to tail. It also has a nice hunkered-down sporty appearance with its steeply sloped windshield – you just know it’s going to be fun to drive before you even get behind the wheel. The headlights really set this car’s styling off and the grille is black mesh with a big Nissan badge at its centre. At the rear, the lighting resembles that of the Nissan 370Z and Juke and is thus another design signature of the brand. Nissan calls the styling “energetic” and there’s not much arguing with that. To set off the nifty styling, Nissan offers an unusually wide range of colours – seven in all.

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All models are 5-door hatchbacks and no 2-door model is available. More than likely, there isn’t much demand for one with the average buyer preferring the utility values of a full set of doors. There are now four models – S, SV, SR and SL in ascending order of equipment level. It’s worth mentioning that even the least expensive S has air-conditioning and Bluetooth hands-free phone hookup. Again, these features are a matter of market demand. Just about everybody nowadays wants air and Bluetooth, even on the cheapest products. Like many vehicles sold in Canada right now, the Versa Note is assembled in Mexico.

Behind the wheel, the car feels very responsive and agile, aided by a 109-horsepower, 1.6-litre, 16-valve 4-cylinder driving the front wheels. The transmission for most variants is a Continuously Variable unit (CVT) and it functioned very satisfactorily on my test car. You can only get the 5-speed manual transmission with the base S model. The power-assisted braking system uses a disc/drum combination and all models have ABS plus electronic brake force distribution and brake assist.

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The cabin is nicely trimmed, despite the car’s low entry level price. This is a full five-passenger car, but understandably, youngsters will be happiest with the room available in the back. Buyers needing space for three adults back there would be better off looking at Nissan’s Sentra or Altima, though the Versa’s headroom is pretty good. With the rear seatback folded forward, there’s a fair amount of cargo space, something you don’t get with subcompact cars with sedan bodywork. In the floor of the cargo area, there’s a useful removable lid, which reveals a stowage compartment, handy for hiding valuables out of sight. As far as the interior goes, there’s a very long options list which is best discussed with your dealer, but even the S model seating is well-formed and comfortable and the base car spec sheet quite well filled.

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Buyers can upgrade the spec considerable by choosing items from the options list, but entry-level Versa Notes come very well fitted out. A navigation system is available, not always the case in this class. Buyers can also opt for snappy-looking cast aluminum wheels and all variants come with heated outside mirrors. There’s an AM/FM/CD player and illuminated audio controls on the steering wheel.

The Versa has always been a strong seller for Nissan and this latest version adds features which will likely make it more popular still. The little car looks good, is great fun to drive and is very fuel efficient with almost hybrid-level consumption figures. There’s lots of competition in this class, but the Versa Note stands out as one of the better examples of a thrifty hatchback that’s well suited to all kinds of owner demands.

 

IN SUMMARY…

BODY STYLE: 5-door hatchback

ENGINE: 1.6-litre 16-valve 4-cylinder

TRANSMISSION: 5-speed manual or CVT

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

PRICE: $14,230 base MSRP

REVIEW: 2016 MCLAREN 675LT SPIDER

 

6449-2016+McLaren+675LT+Spider+Media+Launch+-325If there’s anything more thrilling than a top-end McLaren coupe it has to be a McLaren with convertible bodywork. It’s always exciting drive somewhere interesting on a fine day in any open car, it could be argued, but a McLaren 675LT Spider is a lot more than just another wind-in-the-hair experience.

Obviously, the Spider is based on the limited-edition 675LT Coupe and if you fancy the open version, get your order in now because they’re only going to build 500 of the beauties. It’s said to be sold out, but like all ‘sold out’ cars, somebody will sell you one somewhere no doubt. And to get one historical point out of the way, the term ‘spider’ has its origins in horse-drawn coaches long before automobiles turned a wheel. It usually means a light, open, carriage and has been adopted by several carmakers from Germany and Italy though sometimes, the spelling is ‘spyder.’

As with all McLarens, even the lower end models, the styling is superb with sinuous, flowing lines that in recent years, have come to characterize this nameplate. The British carmaker is beginning to carve a niche for itself among established supercar makers like Ferrari, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, Lamborghini and others and the models have a definite ‘brand identity.’ The inevitably costly 675LT Spider has a carbon fibre monocell chassis and is exceptionally light and stiff as would be expected with this exotic material.

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The folding roof is a remarkable piece of work because when you look at the open car with its twin ‘head fairings’ reaching from cabin to tail, you just wonder where it all went. Even so, fold away it does and it’s a proper hardtop and not a roll-up canvas arrangement you stuff behind the seats. I suppose that in fact, it’s more of a ‘Targa’ (to use Porsche’s terminology) than a full convertible, but few owners will quibble over that. At the 326 km/h this car is capable of, you’d probably be blown right out of your seat with a more conventional roof design anyway.

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Mounted amidships is a highly potent 3.8-litre V-8 developing a whopping 666-horsepower so it’s right up there among the most powerful in its class. When I first started looking at McLaren models, I was a little surprised to find that they build their own engines, no small feat for a low-volume carmaker. Many makers with limited production runs to deal with look elsewhere for powerplants, or at least the basic design. Not so McLaren. The engine is mated to a highly sophisticated dual clutch 7-speed automatic transmission with manual override via carbon fibre paddles on the steering wheel hub. The automatic is certainly the best choice despite what manual-loving purists might say. After all, you have a lightweight car here with vast levels of torque.

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Other mechanical features include lightweight carbon ceramic brakes and ultra wide wheels, 19-inch at the front and 20-inch at the rear, shod with Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R tyres which are just about the best out there for a car like this.

The cockpit is snug for sure, but the car has the usual list of electronic high-techery wherever you look. Not too many of the goodies you’d find in a larger luxury car are missing from the 675LT Spider. Stowage space is scant, as it usually is in cars like this, but I’d guess that anyone who owns a 675LT one would figure that one out and travel light.

 

IN SUMMARY…

ENGINE: 3.8-litre twin turbo V-8

TRANSMISSION: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic

ACCELERATION: Zero to 100 km/h in 2.9-seconds

TOP SPEED: 326 km/h

PRICE: Upwards of $400,000