TEST DRIVE: 2017 Hyundai Elentra

2017 ELANTRA SEDAN

For 2017, Hyundai introduced an all-new Elantra, a product that long been very popular in Canada with tens of thousands on the road going back several generations. Part of its popularity is linked to its “ideal” size. It’s not too large and bulky, yet it’s no cramped subcompact either. It’s been popular with families, especially the various liftback or ‘Touring” versions. Interestingly, it’s classified as a midsize car and not a compact – a notch above many key rivals.

The latest Elantra is the sixth generation and is new from bumper to bumper. Although the last model was an exceptionally attractive small car, the new one takes contemporary design trends a step further and features a bolder, more assertive look. Even a glance around the body panels will reveal that Hyundai’s every-growing reputation for build quality is evident everywhere. The shut lines, the points where various panels meet, are flawless and well up to the best industry standards. The paint also is very well done with a clearcoat that should preserve this car’s finish for many years, even without waxing.

2017 ELANTRA SEDAN

For 2017, Hyundai has made wider use of advanced high-strength steels and this will make a major contribution towards stiffer bodywork and subsequently enhanced handling. The material also reduces cabin noise and eliminates the possibility of squeaks and rattles. In fact, Hyundai says that making the body 53 per cent high-strength steel, against 21 per cent with the old model, increases torsional rigidity by almost 30 per cent, which is a big improvement. This steel is especially used at high stress points around the body and it has been Hyundai’s aim to top the stringent federal safety ratings set in the US.

According to which model you buy, you can get 17-inch wheels, which add a sporty touch. Novel new features around the bodywork include LED door handle approach lights, turn signals in the mirrors, LED taillights and high intensity discharge headlights. The new Elantra is 20 mm longer than the old model and the car is very slightly higher (5 mm).

Hyundai has gone for an all-new powertrain for 2017 and the basic powerplant is a 2.0-litre MPI Atkinson cycle unit which produces 147-horsepower. According to Hyundai, this is the only Atkinson cycle engine to be combined with multi-point injection in its class. Atkinson cycle engines embody some fascinating technology and for seeking full details of what happens, the internet has many lengthier descriptions than can be incorporated here. The 2.0-litre four is paired with a new six-speed automatic transmission – a better choice than a CVT for a car like this.

Inside the Elantra, Hyundai has gone for what it calls “a jet fighter look” so it’s all very cockpit-like. It’s certainly a great looking cabin and rear legroom is surprisingly generous. All models come with standard mobile phone hookups and there are also USB and auxiliary input jacks – a very “connected” car indeed. Current Hyundai models are the fastest cars I’ve ever come across to pair mobile phones with and I figure it can be done in less that 30-seconds. Some vehicles leave a lot to be desired in this respect. The central screen for navigation and various vehicle systems (including the phone) is a big 8-inch unit and very easy to scan from the driver’s seat.

Naturally, all kinds of safety equipment is standard or optional, including autonomous braking, pedestrian detection and the usual backup camera. Also on the options list are lane keep assist, blind spot detection, rear cross traffic alert, lane change assist and other near-essential technologies. There are several trim levels available and also a more powerful Sport variant with a 200-horsepower 1.6-litre turbo under the hood. Buyers of this model can order a manual transmission too.

IN SUMMARY…

BODY STYLE: Four-door midsize sedan

ENGINE: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder

TRANSMISSION: Six-speed automatic

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

PRICE: $15,999 base MSRP. Top model, $28,799

1955 Lancia Aurelia Gran Turismo (GT) Coupe Series 4 – Speciale

Victoria and the Island is known for its large number and variety of collector and vintage cars. We are lucky to have such a variety of special and rare cars, both domestic and foreign brands. One that recently came to my attention and is owned by a Victoria area collector is the 1955 Lancia Aurelia GT Coupe. I first saw this car at a European cars & coffee event at the Oak Bay Marina earlier this year and manged to get myself invited over to the owners garage to take a closer look.

This is  a significant  vehicle as there were very few imported to North America and most of them went to the USA, this cars is one of them.  The Aurelia was manufactured from 1950 – 1958 with 1955 being the first year they were available in left hand drive and imported to the USA. Another unique feature was the 2.5 litre v6 engine which was the very first ever  V6  developed for a production car.

One of a limited run of cars that were assembled in the Pininfarina works with special interior (such as original leather interior) and mild exterior fittings (such as original tinted windows). The entire batch (about 10 cars) were all shipped to the USA and sold mainly to the west coast, this car was even displayed in the 1956 Pebble Beach Concours. Interestingly this car comes with a floor mounted shifter when most were built with a column shifter. This car originally came in light blue but was changed to Magenta during a restoration in 1977.

The owner says it is a pleasure to drive and wouldn’t hesitate to take it on a long distance trip. In the past the car has successfully completed a 1,000 mile rally with no problems. I gladly volunteered to be the copilot should he decide he wanted to do another such trip, here’s hoping!

TEST DRIVE: 2017 JAGUAR XE SUPERCHARGED SPORTS SEDAN

It was rumoured for a long time that Jaguar was working on a sports sedan sized like such competitors as the Lexus IS, Audi A4, Mercedes C-Class, BMW 3-Series and one or two others. This is a hot-selling segment in the auto industry and it’s good to see Jaguar back in contention.

Some years ago, Jaguar launched its X-Type, which slotted into the midsize sports sedan category. It was a fine car in many ways but for whatever reason, Jaguar did not replace it when the time came to drop that model. Right now Jaguar is enjoying tremendous success all over the world and its cars are selling like never before. Clearly, the UK automaker decided to cover as many size segments as possible and take advantage of its resurgence. Having introduced its highly successful F-Pace SUV, the company now has several segments covered with some excellent products, the newest of which I’ve tried being the XE.

One look at this sleek all-aluminum sports sedan will tell you that it couldn’t be anything else but a Jaguar. It has several recognition features common to other Jaguar models from the XF to the XJ and even the F-Type sports. It’s very low-slung and somehow Jaguar has managed to get the floor quite close to the road so that climbing in behind the wheel is something of a sports coupe experience, making the car a dubious choice for older folks or anyone with lower back problems. It’s easy enough to get used to and once tucked inside, it’s very comfortable with all the controls within easy reach. It offers just about the perfect driving position for a car like this. This is not a large car by any means and for buyers who must regularly carry multiple adult passengers; Jaguar has more suitable choices in the XJ and XF. The trunk is huge (455-litres) and would easily take a family’s luggage for a weekend trip.

My test XE was powered by a 3.0-litre supercharged V-6 developing 340-horsepower. It’s a very refined and exceptionally smooth powerplant and if the need arises, the car will take off like a rocket on full throttle. The engine is mated to an 8-speed ZF automatic transmission which seemed the ideal choice to me. The shifts are quiet and hard to perceive when accelerating, though it makes lots of them on the way to a high cruising speed.

Unusually, there’s an interesting alternative engine in the form of a 2.0-litre diesel with 180-horsepower, which I plan to drive quite soon. It’s bound to have excellent torque and that may well make up for some of the “lost’ horsepower compared to the V-6. All versions of this car come with all-wheel drive, a nice security feature and one I was glad to have when I ran into a severe hailstorm on my Vancouver Island test run.

The car has a very sophisticated chassis design that includes all kinds of fascinating technical advancements. It certainly makes for a comfortable ride and endows the car with excellent handling characteristics. On winding roads it hangs in very well and feels stable at all times. Obviously, the design team was determined that the car should have sporty handling and they certainly scored in that department. The Sooke Road towards Port Renfrew is a great place to check out any car’s handling on a quiet day and the XE showed itself very capable.

As one would expect, the car has an array of convenience features suited to the luxury market (including a favourite of mine: a heated steering wheel). At the centre of the dash is a big eight-inch infotainment touchscreen and it functioned very effectively. It was easy to set up the navigation system and mobile phone hookup took seconds. The Meridian sound system was a pleasure to travel with when driving around on Vancouver Island.

This new Jag should prove an effective competitor for existing market leaders in this class. It has outstanding performance and handling and lots of that wonderful Jaguar ambiance which is often copied but rarely equaled.

IN SUMMARY…

BODY STYLE: Four-door sports sedan

ENGINE: 3.0-litre supercharged V-6

TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic ZF

PERFORMANCE: Zero to 100 km/h in approx. 4.9-secs (supercharged model)

PRICE: $57,500 MSRP, as tested

REVIEW: 2017 AUDI R8 V-10

It’s about ten years since the Audi R8 was introduced but it remains a fresh and exciting design and upgrades have been minor over that decade. On its release, the world’s motoring press universally agreed that it was an outstanding sports car in every possible way and few were the voices that had anything even mildly critical to say.

The R8 was one of those rare cars that was ‘right first time’ and Audi has sensibly strayed little from the original concept over the years. The styling is a total delight and the R8 is low-slung with sensual curves and a very well balanced look about it. As most people know by now, Lamborghini is part of the big VW Audi group and the R8 is based on a platform from that maker’s Huracán model, a point that few would complain about. Incidentally, there is a roadster version of the R8 too for those who prefer the wind in their hair.

As with some other Audis, the car uses aluminium space frame construction so the body is very rigid and exceptionally light. I’ve visited the Neckarsulm, Germany, plant where Audi builds aluminium bodies and were surprised at how much laborious hand finishing was involved. Audi claims that the bodies are just as durable as steel ones and less expensive to repair.

At the heart of the R8 is a V-10 engine, a 5.2-litre unit developing a whopping 610-horsepower. For those who think this is a little over the top, there’s a less powerful V-10 available with ‘only’ 540-horsepower. We drove the big engined R8. The V-8 offered in the original car has gone now, so the V-10 is the only one available. The transmission is a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic with steering wheel ‘paddles’ to select speeds manually if that’s your preference. When I drove the first R8 I thought the automatic transmission was awful and preferred the manual box, but with Audi’s new S-tronic, all that has changed and it’s a joy to drive. The shrill note of the those 610 horses being fully exploited is so delightful to the ear of a sports car enthusiast, it’s worth the price tag for that experience alone. Thankfully, the car delivers in numerous other ways too, so it’s good value compared to some other exotics.

It’s not the easiest car to get into and the same can be said for most sports coupés. Once you’ve threaded yourself inside, the ambiance is so outstanding you’ll never want to get out. The driver becomes part of the car and nestles into a fine leather cocoon with all the controls well within reach. As the old saying goes, you wear this car, rather than sit in it. Fire it up and you’ll feel as though you’re on the starting grid at Le Mans but in fact, this is an easy car to drive for just about anyone. Even hard acceleration doesn’t compromise the car’s traction, thanks to the great balance of its mid-engined design and to Audi’s much-vaunted Quattro all-wheel drive. While many high-powered cars twitch and protest under hard acceleration, this one just gets on with the job and lays down the horses with no drama at all.

The Audi R8 is certainly one of the finest serious sports cars to come along in a generation and there’s almost nothing Audi could do to improve it. The latest version is quite a lot more expensive than the original car, but still carries a reasonable price sticker and after all, it’s now joined the rarefied class of superpowered exotics with performance only corporate cousin Lamborghini can match.

IN SUMMARY…

ENGINE: 5.2-litre V-10, 610 hp

TRANSMISSION: 7-speed, dual clutch

ACCELERATION: Zero to 100 km/h in 3.2-seconds

TOP SPEED: 330 km/h

PRICE: Starts at around $184,000

REVIEW: 2017 TOYOTA 86 SPORTS COUPE

When Toyota decided to retire its Scion brand there was a lot of concern over what would happen to some of the stars of the lineup, cars like the FR-S sports coupe. Thankfully, one of the survivors was the FR-S, which has surfaced in the Toyota range as the Toyota 86. In fact, in other markets outside North America, this great little sports car was always a Toyota 86 and thus has all the attributes of the brand like durability, build quality, buyer appeal and performance.

The 86 was inspired in part by one of Toyota’s great sports cars of the past – the mid-sixties classic 2000GT, now a much prized collectible which still looks fresh today. In fact, the design team ordered that a 2000GT be placed in their studio while they were penning the sleek 86. It proved a wise move and as a result, the 86 packs all the visceral excitement of the 2000GT but adds the most advanced performance and safety technology available today in the form of the company’s Star Safety System.

The compact and agile 86 is styled and engineered very much in the great traditions of grand touring cars old and new and with its affordable price, fills a big gap in a market dominated by exotic, high-priced sports cars with large and complex engines. Lovers of classic GT car features and performance can now enjoy outstanding driving fun for a lot less money with this visually appealing and responsive car.

The car’s classic and well-proven front engine/rear drive layout has at its core an advanced horizontally-opposed four cylinder engine with Subaru origins that takes up minimal space and allows for a very sleek hood line plus a low centre of gravity. In fact, the 86 has a lower centre of gravity than a Porsche Cayman or Nissan GT-R with highly beneficial effects on handling and agility.

A reminder of the unconventional power plant can be found in the 86’s fender side emblems. The emblem features opposed pistons – the key boxer feature – with a central ’86’ logo, which has fascinating origins. The 86 looks back to the FT-86 and AE86 concept cars which pioneered what became the Toyota 86. Also intriguing is the fact that 86 X 86 is the bore and stroke of the 86’s 4-cylinder, 2.0-litre, 200-horsepower engine.

Advanced engine technology boosts fuel economy while stabilizing combustion and aiding high-output performance. The technologically-advanced engine makes for a thrilling drive with zero to 100 km/h times of close to six seconds. It’s also one of those rare cars that feels just as exciting cruising around at the speed limit as it does when driving it on the track. It has a nice throaty growl too.

The 86 can be extensively customized and the driver-focused interior was even designed to be fitted with a rollover bar for competition purposes. Visually appealing and with timeless lines, the 86 offers true sports car enjoyment at a very affordable price and is right in there with the ever-popular Mazda MX-5. 

Buyers can choose either a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic with manual modes via steering wheel mounted paddles. A well-proven Torsen limited slip differential makes for sharp response characteristics and adds up to enhanced cornering performance with optimal traction.

The design team kept the overall weight of the car below 1,200 kg by using advanced lightweight materials wherever possible. The body is rigid as well as light and aerodynamically efficient. It boasts a drag coefficient of just 0.27, edging out several highly-rated and expensive exotic sports cars. Weight-saving features include an aluminum hood, composite fuel tank, composite intake manifold, hollow camshafts and light alloy wheels. 

Coaxial electric power steering gives the driver outstanding controllability, fast steering inputs and excellent ‘feel’ under all conditions. Ventilated disc brakes with ABS front and rear impart a feeling of solidity and safety, even under demanding conditions of terrain and weather.

  

When the 86 was developed, considerable attention was paid to sound technology as an aspect of driver enjoyment. When cruising around city streets, engine noise is lessened, but under hard acceleration on the highway, the engine note is enhanced to levels that impress the enthusiast driver and solidify the car’s sports car ambiance.

The Toyota 86 packs in lots of thoughtful engineering and advanced technology plus features often found only on more expensive sports cars. It offers an exceptionally high level of performance, handling and safety in a highly attractive package with build quality that sets standards throughout the auto industry.

 

IN SUMMARY…

BODY STYLE: Two-door, 2+2 sports coupe

ENGINE: 2.0-litre 4-cylinder horizontally opposed

TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual or 6-speed auto

PERFORMANCE: Zero to 100 km/h in approx. 6-secs

PRICE: Base MSRP $30,780

REVIEW: 2017 JEEP WRANGLER RUBICON RECON 4X4

You can buy an off-road capable 4X4 for a surprisingly reasonable price if you look around, but when it comes to getting involved in serious trail-bashing activity involving very steep grades, loose rock, ford-crossing and deep sand, the choice begins to narrow to a very few elite off-roaders.

For 2017, Jeep has added to this exclusive club with the Wrangler Rubicon Recon Edition, a rig that comes fully equipped for the worst the exciting world of unexplored back country can throw at it. This Jeep variation doesn’t come cheaply, but the serious off-road crowd will certainly think it worth every nickel.

This is a good place to confirm that this highly capable Jeep will take you to places that shouldn’t be tackled without some experience in the sport, or at least, without taking along someone who does know rugged territory. There’s plenty of good advice around for back country travel and the BC coast has several excellent clubs where experts have advice well worth listening to for the novice off-roader.

But back to this exciting new Jeep. It’s based on either the four or two-door Wrangler like other Jeeps in this range but adds a long list of trail-capable goodies for the most severe terrain. Basic upgrades are a stronger front axle, enhanced rock rails and heavy-duty cast differential covers for better rock resistance. Beefed up components really enhance off road capability and buying them in the aftermarket can be very expensive. This new Jeep is pretty well “ready to go” with very little, if anything, needed to improve it. It also happens to be a great-looking vehicle and a real attention grabber.

Power plant is a 3.6-litre Pentastar VVT V-6 with 260 lb-ft of torque, which is the most important part of the engine spec for off-road work. Buyers can choose from a 6-speed manual transmission or a 5-speed automatic and the Jeep is equipped with Wrangler’s part-time shift-on-the-fly 4X4 system with electronic locking front and rear Dana 44 axles with power sent to each through a Rock-Trac transfer case with a “4-Low ratio of 4:1. Standard equipment is a 4:10 front and rear axle ratio as are the Tru-Lok locking differentials. These features mean very impressive crawl ratios that make climbing obstacles a breeze.

All Wranglers feature body-on-frame architecture, which is the way serious off-roaders like to go. The Recon is raised half an inch compared to other Jeep Wranglers and the chunky 17-inch wheels are painted cast aluminum and clad in BF Goodrich KM off-road tires. Various creative finish highlights combine with “Rubicon” and “Recon” badges to make this Jeep just about as attractive as an off-roader can get. Finishing off the front end with the traditional Jeep grille (which dates back to WW2) are red-finished tow hooks.

All these models come with an eight-speaker speaker system for the audio kit (which includes satellite radio) and the seats are black leather, which are certainly easier to clean dust off than cloth. There’s a choice of soft or hard tops too. On the dash is Jeep’s “Electronic Vehicle Information Centre” with added readouts for this model.

This is certainly one of the most interesting Jeep variants to come along in some time and builds on 75 years of experience in the off-road field. It’ll get you just about anywhere you can take a wheeled vehicle and take you there in great style and safety. The only feature anyone with serious backcountry travel plans could add is a good winch to use if anything does go wrong out in the bush.

 

IN SUMMARY…

BODY STYLE: Four-door with soft or hard tops.

ENGINE: 3.6-litre V-6

TRANSMISSION: 5-speed automatic or 6-speed manual

TOWING CAPACITY: 3,500 lbs.

PRICE: $47,040 two-door; $49,440 four-door MSRP

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