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[REVIEW] 2013 Ford Fusion Titanium All-Wheel-Drive

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Renowned journalist Allan Fotheringham once called Vancouver the Canadian city with the best climate and the worst weather. Snowfall is rare in winter, but rain is the norm – especially in November and December, Vancouver’s rainiest months.

Environment Canada meteorologist David Jones reported that September 2013’s rainfall at the Vancouver airport was 144 millimetres, making it the third wettest in 77 years of records, behind 2004 at 169 millimetres and 2010 with 166 millimetres.

Think that Seattle is a rainy city? Think again! Seattle’s yearly average rainfall is 36.2 inches versus Vancouver’s 44 inches.

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So it’s no surprise that all-wheel drive cars are very popular in our Pacific Northwest to deal with all of the varying intermittent weather.

If you’re looking for a capable all-wheel drive mid-sized family car, you can now add the Ford Fusion EcoBoost AWD to the short list that also includes the venerable Subaru Legacy, as well as the 2014 Buick Regal AWD.

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Stretch your budget a little more, and you’ll also find yourself in the same price range as a base Audi A4 Quattro, a base BMW 320i with xDrive, or a Mercedes-Benz C250 with 4MATIC. However, all of those 3 German cars are significantly smaller than the Fusion and therefore don’t really compete directly.

Those of you who have been following my reviews for a while probably also recall that I tested a Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid a few months ago and commented about the many choices that Ford offers its consumers as far as the Fusion global portfolio.

This EcoBoost Fusion AWD is certainly another variation on the same award-winning formula that has won over many consumers from their Honda Accords and Toyota Camrys.

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The Fusion brings alive the next generation of more expressive vehicles from Ford, and is the first sedan to offer gasoline, hybrid, and plug-in hybrid versions.

My 2013 Bordeaux Reserve Red Metallic (yes, that’s actually the colour) all-wheel-drive tester came in the top-of-the-range Titanium specification which includes all of the bells and whistles that you would expect in one of the aforementioned German marques. More on those active safety systems later.

In this top spec, my test car was shod with some gorgeous looking 19” H-spoke dark stainless aluminum alloy wheels fitted to Continental all-season rubber. These wheels were probably one of my favourite aspects of the car, and help to set it apart from the crowd of ordinary family looking family sedans on the road.

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It wouldn’t be a stretch for me to say that this Fusion Titanium looked more entry level luxury than rental agency fleet car.

And as Martha Stewart would say, “That’s a good thing”.

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Oh my, don’t you have a pretty face?

Chris Hamilton, the chief exterior designer for the fusion explained that “Our design brief was to give the mainstream sedan buyer a top-drawer visual experience, adding some emotional appeal to an already sensible choice”.

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The Fusion’s “silhouette innovation” profile is what sets it apart from the traditional midsize sedan “three-box design” (i.e. engine, cabin, trunk) by blending sweeping character lines from the front to the rear and thin roof pillars to evoke a sense of nimbleness and efficiency. Even the Fusion’s hood has not been left out as part of this refined surface language.

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The functional design elements such as the projector headlamps, LED tail lamps, and rear bumper integrated polished exhaust tips also communicate a sense of sportiness.

Aside from the pretty Aston Martin inspired front end, the rear is also impressively handsome with integrated chrome exhaust outlets, and a small lip above the taillamps that curves in the right places. Even the trunk lid spoiler doesn’t look out of place.

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I do wish, however, that the projector headlamps were at least available as high intensity discharge Xenons rather than the rather ho-hum halogens. With the latest Honda Accord Touring now equipped with the jewel-eyed multi-lens LED headlamps, Ford has a bit of catching up to do.

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Regardless of my little niggles though, I really do think that this car has a great sense of high style and massive curb appeal.

I never thought that I would stop and look at it in the morning and think, “Damn that’s a good looking car”. But I found myself doing that frequently! When was the last time you did that with your family car?

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Interior accoutrements

The Fusion’s cabin, however, is more function over form. Spacious, functional, and attractive enough with its high centre console and clever storage areas, it checks off all the right boxes with styling that is tasteful luxury and restrained.

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I’m not sure that I buy into Ford’s marketing department’s spin about a “sporty driver-orientated environment” though

I will, however, completely agree with the marketing brochures that by moving the instrument panel towards the windshield, the cabin has a far more airy, open feel to it. I especially appreciated the quarter vent windows in the front doors that allowed for added visibility around the A-pillars.

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The comfortable front leather seats make way for 44 inches of legroom and there is a 3 position memory configuration for those of you with multiple drivers in the family. Unfortunately it only works for the seats, and not the wing mirrors or steering column. The latter is a do-it-yourself manual rake and telescopic adjustment.

Out back, the rear seats are fantastic, with 38.3” of legroom and almost as much headroom.

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All Fusions have acoustic underbody shields to minimize road and powertrain noise while boosting aerodynamic efficiency to help save fuel. The engineers have even gone to the lengths of fitting a full perimeter hood seal to reduce wind noise.

And with all of these noise reduction measures put in place, I was better able to enjoy the upgraded Sony premium audio system that is included in all Titanium-spec Fusions. It was a notable improvement over the Fusion Energi SEL’s base sound system, adding in a switchable digital surround sound mode and better speakers.

Controlling those speakers was the integrated MyFord Touch headunit with the large 8” touchscreen. This car seemed to be equipped with a newer version of the Microsoft Sync system as it was much faster to respond than the previous Ford vehicles I have tested.

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That being said though, it still suffers from some user interface confusion that I’ve mentioned in the past. And I still dislike the redundant soft-touch buttons under the LCD screen.

The only software glitch that I came across was when the interface refused to recognize my iPhone under certain circumstances (e.g. when the phone’s Bluetooth was turned on only after the car was started).

Even after turning on/off/on the iPhone’s Bluetooth, the head unit refused to pair with the iPhone or in fact even see it. This was all resolved by a Ctrl-Alt-Delete-like Master Reset of the system. But that took 15 minutes to reboot.

Hopefully Ford keeps improving on the firmware updates, and our next car’s system will be even better.

Giddy-up: Engine and Transmission

The “EcoBoost” nomenclature refers to the 2.0L turbo-charged 4 cylinder engine fitted to my car. This all-aluminum mill produces 240 hp and 270-ft-lbs of torque and employs sophisticated direct fuel injection for maximum efficiency.

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Ford also offers a smaller 1.6L EcoBoost engine with 175hp, but that is only available on the front-wheel-drive Fusion.

I was initially concerned that there would be a fair amount of turbo lag but was quickly proven wrong. Not only does this engine have no turbo lag, but its torquey (at low rpms) nature made it fun to drive while sounding surprisingly sporty. This is one 4 cylinder engine I can actually live with on a day-to-day basis. Jaguar seems to think that it’s a good powerplant too, and has fitted the engine to its base XF 2.0 Luxury Sedan.

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If you’re worried about the lack of a V6 option, don’t be. Most Fusion buyers don’t seem too concerned, with 51% of of them choosing the EcoBoost option.

A little less successful in execution is the dual clutch SelectShift 6 speed automatic transmission, but let me give you some context first.

If you are expecting SelectShift to be as responsive and quick as the dual clutch gearbox that VW and Audi vehicles employ, you will be disappointed. Ford’s variation is programmed for efficiency, and behaves more like a conventional automatic slushbox.

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The shifts while smooth, are not lightning quick even when using the steering wheel mounted paddles. I also didn’t like how the trip computer screen reverted back to the small analogue tachometer whenever I used the paddles to downshift for engine braking.

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If you don’t care about shifting manually, the gearbox works well and feels like an auto transmission that probably 90% of people will be used to in other vehicles.

As far as fuel efficiency, I thought that the “Eco” part was only acceptable. While the 2.0L EcoBoost engine is rated by the US EPA at 22 city/33 hwy/26 combined mpg, according to the trip computer, I averaged 12.6L/100 kms in mostly city driving in the 500+ kms that I drove the Fusion. This is around 19 mpg, and definitely lower than the advertised figures.

That being said though, I think that part of the reason why this average fuel consumption is lower was because I took advantage of the factory-equipped remote starter frequently to pre-warm the car before getting into it. During my test week, the temperatures dropped lower than their seasonal norms and I really came to appreciate this feature!

Of course, idling the car for an extra 2-5 minutes each time is going to contribute to increased fuel consumption, but with the reward of getting into a warm vehicle with seat heaters already “blasting”.

The key remote has impressive range, and I was even able to remote start the car from inside our office building!

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European Ride & Handling

Despite the big 19” wheels, the Fusion soaks up bumps with European firmness but without compromising American levels of expected comfort. The ride is on the slightly firmer side, aka not like a pillow, without being busy on rough pavements.

With its MacPherson strut front suspension, and a premium-level multilink rear suspension, Ford’s vehicle handling and ride team has done a good job at striking a nice balance between handling and comfort.

Intelligent All-wheel-drive

The fact that the Fusion is offered with all-wheel-drive sets it apart from the two kings of the mid-car segment: The Camry and the Accord.

Ford’s Intelligent All-Wheel-Drive system works automatically, transparently, and gives you grip when you need it. Using a myriad of sensors, the clutch-based system is primarily front wheel drive until slippage occurs. It then balances torque between the front and rear wheels to enhance handling and maximize traction, transferring up to 55% of torque either way as needed.

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I couldn’t find a whole of technical information from Ford on the system past the above. Suffice it to say though that when accelerating on icy roads during the week that I had the car, the system worked as advertised.

For the ultimate in winter handling, I would still equip the Fusion AWD with dedicated winter tires.

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Technology lovers galore!

This segment is probably better titled “active safety features”, but I wanted to touch on the high level of driver assistance and convenience technologies that the Fusion Titanium was equipped with.

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It’s nice to see that all of the Ford’s systems are so easy to use, and offered at such a great value these days. It was only a few years ago that something like adaptive cruise control was a $2500 option available only on the flagship Mercedes-Benz S-Class luxury sedan.

The Fusion’s specific technologies include the following:

  • Lane Keeping System: This class-exclusive technology consists of three elements to help a driver maintain proper lane position. Using a small, forward-facing camera behind the inside rearview mirror, the system “looks” down the road, monitoring lane lines to determine that the car is on course. The system will alert a driver if drowsiness or erratic lane-keeping is detected. The second element warns a driver with a steering wheel vibration if the Fusion drifts too close to lane markings. Finally, lane keeping aid will actually apply pressure on the steering to help bring the car back into proper lane position
  • Adaptive cruise control: Using forward-looking radar, this system “looks” down the road when activated, slowing the Fusion when slower traffic is detected ahead. Adaptive cruise control enables collision warning with brake support to help slow the car if the potential of a crash is detected

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  • Active park assist: Employing sensors, this technology can identify a suitable parallel parking space, calculate the trajectory and steer the car to properly position it within the spot. All a driver need do is operate accelerator and brake pedals. This system is not just a party trick, but in fact was able to consistently place the Fusion within 1 foot of the curb each time. It is also able to read the size of a parking space faster than many competitors’ systems on the market.
  • Blind Spot Information System (BLIS®) with cross-traffic alert: Sensors in both Fusion rear quarter-panels are able to detect traffic in a driver’s blind spot, providing both audible and visual warnings if traffic – unseen by the driver – is detected. BLIS technology enables cross-traffic alert, warning the driver of oncoming traffic when backing out of a parking space with obstructed views, such as between two large vans or SUVs.

On the passive safety front, high strength steel such as boron is employed in the car’s structure, along with adaptive front airbags, side curtain airbags, and dual front row knee airbags..

Because the Fusion has also been designed for the European market, it also comforms to Europe’s tough pedestrian protection standards.

A few niggles

Aside from my one major issue with the MyFordTouch system, it was difficult to find much about the car to complain about. However, there are two that stand out in my mind.

Firstly, with lane keeping assist activated on twisty highways with undulating road surfaces, the electrically assisted steering felt a bit artificial. Similar to that of a game console’s force feedback steering wheel. While precise, the steering just felt a bit strange at times with extra steering assist when it didn’t seem necessary. Turn the lane keeping assist off when in these situations and all is well.

Secondly, the trunklid spoiler combined with the thick plastic valance (that fills in smooth back end) makes the trunk lid too heavy for the springs to handle when the vehicle is parked nose up on a slope. I definitely bumped my head into bottom of the trunklid a few times when reaching for something deep inside the expansive 16 cu.ft trunk! Stronger springs are needed here. For some reason, the grab handle is also on the left side of the trunk lid’s interior. Not on the right where you would expect. Perhaps the designer was a lefty?

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Overall Impressions

If you’re looking for a mid-sized family sedan with the safety and security of all-wheel-drive and aren’t too hung up on the name badge, give the Ford Fusion EcoBoost AWD a try. It strikes the right chord when it comes to value for money, styling, technology, luxury, drivability, and safety.

It’s definitely a fantastic mid-sized 4 door sedan for Vancouver’s fussy weather. At this the time of this review, it remains my favourite car in this category, and one that I would seriously recommend to friends and family!

I don’t think I can give a much more positive review than that. I’ll take mine in white Titanium-spec please!

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My ratings (each category out of 10)

Power: 8

Handling: 8

Ride comfort: 8

Controls: 7.5

Quality: 8

Fuel consumption: 7

Technology: 8.5

Value for money: 7.5

TOTAL: 62.5/80

 

Andrew is a proud car and tech geek who has worked in Surrey for over the last 10 years. He comes from a communications/marketing background and has worked for automotive-related companies such as Edmunds.com, BenzWorld.org since 1999. From track driving, to rally driving to autocross, he has done it all! When he’s not reading about the latest automotive news, he can be found outdoors snapping pictures at various events around town.

Automobiles

[REVIEW] 2020 Acura ILX A-Spec

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The dream of owning a car with a luxury name brand is just that, a dream, for many. The challenge that luxury auto manufacturers have is how they can fulfil that dream by selling entry-level models that are still more in-line with the average consumer’s budget while still not diluting their luxury name brands.

The trick is to offer enough flash that aspiring consumers are willing to pony up a few more dollars for, and also just enough content that is also accessible on the brand’s higher end models. The idea is to keep the consumers in the brand as they grow throughout life.

While history has shown some terrible rebadging examples of entry-level luxury models, such as the Cadillac Cimarron, some brands have succeeded better than others in this exercise.

Acura’s first attempt at an entry-level luxury model was the Integra, a car that still has a cult following today. It was replaced by the EL, the CSX, and finally the ILX that we have today. All of the models have shared their platforms with the Honda Civic but with revised styling, interiors, and tuning.

What’s new with the ILX?

At a starting price of around $30,500 CAD, the 2020 Acura ILX continues to be the company’s foray into entry-level luxury.

Honda’s luxury division is already prone to pricing its cars lower than that of other makes in its class. This “cheaper” value equation has not always worked in the company’s favour as some people have forgotten that Acura is technically a luxury auto manufacturer. Strong performers such as the Acura RDX and Acura MDX crossovers have helped though.

The ILX is presumably supposed to appeal to those who feel like they’ve upgraded past their Honda Civics but still want to remain loyal to the Honda brand.

Facing modest sales, Acura made some extensive changes to their entry-level luxury compact car in 2016 both in engine choices and also in styling.

Gone is the hybrid model and the lower end 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine. The lone engine choice is now an eager 2.4-litre four-cylinder producing 201 horsepower at 6,800 rpms and 180 lb-ft of torque at 3,600 rpms. The only transmission choice is an 8-speed dual clutch gearbox with steering wheel mounted flappy paddles.

Acura probably made a wise decision with the powertrain as the base 2.0-litre engine and 1.5-litre hybrid engines were economical, but acceleration was rather uninspiring.


Styling-wise, the ILX received a significant change in styling to bring it in line with the rest of Acura’s corporate line-up. Inspired by Acura’s Precision Concept, the refresh worked well to deliver a sportier and more premium vibe.

The changes include Acura’s now ubiquitous Jewel Eye LED headlights, a more sculpted hood, and the company’s Diamond Pentagon Grille.

Out back, the Precision Concept’s styling theme continues with an all-new decklid and rear bumper with lower diffuser, moving the rear license plate to the bumper.

While all models received revised 17-inch wheels with trim specific finishes, my A-Spec test vehicle was equipped with larger A-Spec-exclusive 18-inch wheels.

What’s in “A” name?

Like the TLX sedan, RDX and MDX crossovers, the ILX has now also been fitted with the latest generation A-Spec treatment, designed to give a more performance inspired character.

On the exterior, the new ILX A-Spec is distinguished by dark chrome trim for the front grille and lower fascia, LED fog lights, dark appearance for the headlights and taillights, and a gloss-black decklid spoiler.

A-Spec models feature 18-inch wheels with an aggressive new design and Shark Gray finish. Apex Blue Pearl, also only found on A-Spec variants of RDX and MDX, is available on the ILX A-Spec.

Interior enhancements for the ILX A-Spec include a graphite-silver dash accent with chrome insert, A-Spec badged steering wheel with contrast stitching and aluminum sport pedals.

The all-new sport seats are finished in A-Spec exclusive Ebony or, as fitted to my test vehicle, Red leather with black Ultrasuede centre panels and high contrast stitching.

Active and Passive Safety Technology

Although the comprehensive suite of AcuraWatch active safety and driver-assist technology isn’t cutting edge anymore, Acura is the only brand to provide all of these features as standard equipment across all its sedans and SUVs.

This includes an alphabet soup of systems including Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS) with Forward Collision Warning (FCW), Lane Keeping Assist (LKAS), Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), and Road Departure Mitigation (RDM) with Lane Departure Warning (LDW).

Acura’s available blindspot information system and rear cross traffic alert was also fitted to my test vehicle.

Oddly, I found that the blindspot warning system didn’t have a tremendous amount of range, something that I’d never experienced before on other cars (usually they’re too sensitive). I found that the system only illuminated when the trailing vehicle was a bit too close for comfort in my blindspot, and the warning fell off a bit too early when a vehicle was alongside.

Interior Accoutrements

The ILX’s interior is nice enough thanks to last year’s interior upgrades. Compared to a more expensive Audi A3, Mercedes-Benz A-Class though, it is behind the times in tactile feel and design despite its excellent build quality. Perhaps it’s no surprise as the ILX is based on the previous generation Honda Civic.

Nonetheless, flashy high-contrast piping and stitching, reshaped sport seats should interest enough millennial luxury car shoppers. The ILX does pack a bit of value as even base cars get leatherette-trimmed heated upholstery, keyless entry, and as previously mentioned, the AcuraWatch suite of systems. Rather strangely, blindspot warning is an optional extra.

My A-Spec ILX with the Tech package also added leather upholstery, an ELS 10-speaker upgraded audio system, and Acura’s connected services. Although upgraded to version 2.0 in 2019, like the MDX, I found the ILX’s dual screen infotainment system is a bit outdated with a steep initial learning curve to navigate through all of the (recently revised) menus to adjust settings.

At least Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility are standard though, and the system has an operating system that is supposedly up to 30 per cent faster than before.

Thanks to the flat rear floor, the compact sedan’s back seat is one of the car’s strength. There is decent room considering the car’s exterior size. Folding down the rear seat opens up trunk space for longer items.

However, the rear seatback isn’t divided as with most SUVs, so it’s not possible to still carry a rear passenger or two on one side while expanding trunk space on the other.

How does it drive?

While the ILX’s dutiful engine doesn’t have any turbos, the normally aspirated VTEC-equipped engine works well at full steam. There isn’t a whole lot of torque compared to the turbocharged engines, so you do have to rev it a little to get the feeling of speed. The 8-speed dual clutch automatic gearbox works well for the most part, but occasionally clunks around when shifting.

Road and wind noise do indeed permeate the cabin at highway speeds more than the A-Class or A3. Still, as the ILX shares much of its basic architecture with the previous-generation Honda Civic, at least the handling is poised and confident. Morever, like most Acuras and Hondas, the brakes have excellent pedal feedback.

I found the ILX’s ride to be occasionally too firm on the verge of being a bit jumpy on poor road surfaces. This is surprising given that Acura touts the ILX as being fitted with their Amplitude Reactive shocks.

Final Thoughts

The well-built ILX’s value proposition is its biggest strength. Although some aspects of the car are showing their age despite the recent redesign, after factoring in the standard safety and technology content that is extra cost on competing European models, the Acura truly is a great value for money.

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How Changes at ICBC Will Affect BC Drivers

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ICBC has emerged with new additions to their insurance policy and it’s been met with mixed reactions. According to their report on the new changes, this is the first time ICBC doesn’t have to increase basic rates.

The changes by ICBC shows the Insurance company is moving to a no-fault style insurance.

For those who don’t know, a no- fault style insurance is when both party’s insurance companies handle the claim so no one has to go to court. No lawyers or lawsuits are involved in the process of handling the claims and determining who’s at fault.

The insurance company reported that this new change is expected to save drivers in B.C. an average of $400 per year.

For a recap on the current policy, when a driver is involved in an accident and they aren’t at fault, they are able to sue the person at fault for things like damages, pain and suffering, etc. However with the new system ICBC determines who is at fault and decides how much compensation to give to the party affected by the accident.

Obviously the lawyers are taken out of the whole process because it saves money.

However, many people have had to go to a lawyer because they felt their claims weren’t handled properly, and they weren’t given enough compensation.

The new system still allows the affected person to sue, they just have to go through the process of ICBC trying to determine the right compensation.

Along with the new no-fault changes, ICBC is also implementing a new collision repair and glass supplier program, an Enhanced Care auto insurance, and introducing two new amendments to the evidence act.

With the evidence act, ICBC is limiting the amount of experts and experts reports that are used in trials. Also, restricting the “reimbursement amount for an expert report and put a cap on total recoverable disbursements”

According to ICBC’s report these amendments are put in place to encourage early settlements and aide to reduce the cost settling injury claims.

It’s clear that these changes are put in place to ensure that B.C. drivers receive the right compensation when an accident occurs, but it’s also to ensure the insurance company doesn’t lose more money as they go through the process of handling the claims.

To some, these changes seem fair for B.C. drivers, however there are others who want to change some things about the policies, especially the new no-fault style system.

A recent global news article features Vancouver lawyer, Joel Zanatta speaking about the new system and how it’s unfavourable for B.C. residents.

He speaks on the new system and how it enables the affected party to get whatever ICBC grants them, as opposed to the old system where the affected person could sue for damages, pain and suffering, etc.

It’s clear that the new system will benefit more drivers than others. The amount of benefits that will be brought is unknown at the moment.

However if the legislation is passed, the system should be in place by May 1st, 2021. Until then, B.C. drivers will have to wait to see how much money and time can be saved on the new system.

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[REVIEW] 2020 Acura MDX A-Spec

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Costco runs, after school sports, family road trips. These are just some of the common activities that are shared amongst many who are toying with the idea of owning a 3 row crossovers. SUVs with 3rd row seats have continued to be one of the most popular types of vehicles on the road.

Honda/Acura was one of the companies who jumped onboard the trend relatively early on with their Honda Pilot/Acura MDX models. With the current generation originally launched in 2014 and facelifted in 2017, the MDX is now in its third generation.

As before, Acura has essentially taken the practicality and user-friendliness of the Pilot and added a more premium image, bolder styling, nicer cabin materials, and of course, a higher price tag.

For years, the upscale MDX has been a popular choice in Canadian suburbs so much so that it doesn’t draw too much attention on the street these days. It’s not difficult to see why as it is still rather conservatively styled, comes with Japanese brand reliability, and carries over Acura’s “fun to drive” reputation.

When it was redesigned for 2014, Acura introduced a lighter-weight body structure that was a whopping 700 lbs lighter than its predecessor. Impressive given that the new design also added new reinforcements to help the MDX score well in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) new small-offset front crash test.

What’s new for 2020

Not much changes for 2020 with the MDX carrying over its appearance, mechanical components, and available features. My test vehicle was the A-Spec model, which joined the regular MDX and MDX Sport Hybrid model in 2019.

Since the MDX is Acura’s bread and butter, leading the company’s sales for years on end, it made sense for Acura to add a sportier trimmed model much like its sedans. The revised “diamond pentagon” schnoz that replaced the odd-looking Acura “shield” grille has aged well and looks cleaner and less bizarre than the beak that it replaced.

As cool as the A-Spec may sound though, the trim level doesn’t go too far beyond unique exteriors colour, wheels, and badging. The MDX wears it well though, as the attractive package helps it to stand out from the rest of the line-up.

I particularly liked the A-spec-only Apex Blue Pearl colour which certainly adds some excitement compared to the drab white/silver/black colours that most vehicles seem to be painted in these days.

The half-inch-wider 20-inch grey aluminium wheels wearing lower profile 265/45R20 tires are rather fetching when matched with larger (real) exhaust tips, body-coloured rocker panels, and a unique A-spec front fascia. Body coloured rocker panels and gloss black and dark chrome exterior trim finishes off the package.

Inside, the seats are wrapped in either perforated red or black leather with black Alcantara inserts. I found the front seats a little bit short on thigh support but were otherwise very comfortable. My vehicle was fitted with the Alcantara trim with contrast stitching, which makes it pop out nicely.

Other interior goodies include A-Spec red gauges, A-Spec-badged door sills, black Alcantara door panels, and even a wonderfully perforated thicker-rimmed steering wheel with paddle shifters. There is also red ambient lighting to match and a red engine start/stop button.


My A-spec tester came particularly well equipped with a blind-spot monitoring system with rear-cross traffic alert, rain-sensing wipers, parking sensors, as well as the whole Acura Watch suite of driver assist features. The MDX’s semi-autonomous driver aid systems, once cutting edge, are getting a bit long in the tooth on though, and cannot keep the vehicle in the lane in sharper corners.

Compared to the previous Acura MDX which I drove several years ago, the infotainment system has been updated to include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality.


Alas, what you cannot get on the A-Spec is the Entertainment package, with a rear-seat entertainment and comfort package. Nor can you get the Tech Plus package’s second-row heated captain’s chairs, surround-view camera, and active dampers. The A-spec makes do with the standard vibration-reducing amplitude reactive dampers.

Price-wise, the A-Spec is actually the mid-model in the range at an MSRP of $59,690 versus the Tech at $58,090 and the Elite at $66,190.

What is it like to live with?

The MDX’s 290 horsepower, 3.5-litre V6 with 267 lb-ft of torque offers more than sufficient power that most drivers will expect in a crossover SUV. With variable valve timing and lift (aka VTEC), direct injection, and cylinder deactivation, Acura has designed the V6 for efficiency.

The naturally aspirated V6 does need a bit of time to get to power, but its strong and the engine note is pleasant. There is even a bit of an unexpected snarl higher up in the rev range.

Is it as torquey as other SUVs on the market (particularly from the Germans) with their turbocharged engines? No, certainly not. You’ll have to go for the MDX Sport Hybrid and its additional torque and power for that.

Nonetheless, the regular MDX A-Spec can still tow 5,000 pounds when properly equipped, so the engine has been tuned with family hauling duties in mind.

The new 9-speed automatic transmission works well, for the most part, and typically starts off in second gear for smoother take-offs. Flooring the throttle does result in it stepping down to first gear for maximum trusts. There is also a selectable “dynamic” mode, which holds the gear changes till higher revs and is also more aggressive with the engine mapping.

The ride is satisfyingly firm but not harsh and the MDX’s accurate steering rack continues to be a strong point.

What exactly is SH-AWD?

Acura heavily advertises that the MDX comes with SH-AWD; the acronyms short for “Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive. Since the majority of SH-AWD Acuras are based on front-engine, front-wheel-drive platforms, up to 90 per cent of the power is initially directed to the front wheels.

Under hard acceleration, or upon slippage, sensors detect rearward weight transfer and can alter clutch engagement to direct up to 45 per cent of power to the rear wheels for better acceleration.

The way that SH-AWD gets its so-called “Super Handling” characteristics is by the rear differential being able to vector torque (aka the power balance) between the rear wheels.

Depending on the cornering forces, up to 70 per cent of the engine torque can be sent to the rear axle, of which 100 per cent can be directed to the rear outside wheel, helping to push the vehicle forward. This inward yaw moment gives the feeling of rotation through a corner, reducing the need for steering input and allowing power to be applied sooner.

The system noticeably works, and you can really feel it in more aggressive corners where it helps to minimize understeer or oversteer. It was certainly more evident on snowy surfaces, such the week where I had the MDX, and performed flawlessly in poor road conditions.

Just don’t expect the MDX’s system to act as dynamically aggressive as the Acura NSX sports car’s system, as it is still set-up for safe understeer if you go into a corner too hot. Entertainingly, a small display in between the speedometer and tachometer displays a live view of where the torque is going side-to-side.

Tell me more about the interior

It’s easy to see why the MDX has been a popular choice. The cabin is well-rounded and does most things well, such as keeping noise at bay. Better sealing and insulation along with thicker acoustical glass quiet the cabin nicely.

Although it has been around for a couple years now, Acura’s clever one-touch button function to fold the second row seats forward is still rather unmatched for ease-of-use and speed. There are actually two buttons, one on the back of the seat and another on the side, cleverly both are lit at night.

Press either one and the second row can be slid all the way forward on tracks that permit the fore-and-aft adjustment. The system is so easy to use that kids can climb aboard unassisted. When fully folded, the middle and rear seats form a flat cargo floor for maximum utility. There is some cargo area behind the third row, but it’s best saved for a few small backpacks or grocery bags.


The MDX’s third row is perfectly ok for children and smaller adults, even on longer trips. However, due to the limited legroom, average sized adults will likely start grousing after the 45 minute mark. A flat floor, both in the second and third row footwells, maximises as much foot room as possible. Kudos to the engineers for packaging things very efficiently.

Perhaps the areas in which the Acura shows its age the most is in certain interior plastic quality (such as the turn signal stalk and window switches), as well as the dual-screen infotainment system and gauge cluster (no virtual cockpit here).

Yes, I do concede that it is a bit unfair to compare the MDX’s interior with those of posh European competitors since the Acura does cost quite a bit less. Nonetheless, even the MDX’s domestic rivals have caught up.

The infotainment system splits duties by having a lower touchscreen for certain inputs, and a upper display unit that is primarily controlled by the physical knob on the dash. HVAC operation from the dash is intuitive enough, thanks to the physical buttons, but the multifunction knob and the complex menu structure is cumbersome to live with.

While you do get used to it in time, changing radio stations or turning on the heated seats can be a multi-step process.

It’s also a bit weird, and slow, to control Apple CarPlay with the knob as CarPlay seems to really be designed for touchscreens. Acura’s new trackpad infotainment system, on their latest RDX crossover, is significantly easier to use.

Final thoughts

Like the Acura brand, the MDX continues to occupy a sort of middle ground in the automotive world. While the brand aspires to be true luxury, it sometimes doesn’t fit the bill but yet is certainly far above mainstream brands.

Despite its jack-off-all-trades-master-of-none positioning, the MDX remains competent, practical, and surprisingly fun to drive for a seven-passenger crossover. The A-spec trim just adds a bit of pop to a recipe which Acura hasn’t messed too much with due to its success.

If you’re looking for a mix of technology, handling, value, reliability and more luxury than the typical mainstream brands, the MDX continues to fit the bill as a fine choice for a family crossover.

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Automobiles

North Surrey Sport & Ice Complex Hosts Official Grand Opening

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Surrey, BC – The North Surrey Sport and Ice Complex marked its official grand opening today, with a community event attracting over 500 guests to the state-of-the-art facility in the Bridgeview community. The celebration included free skating and rentals, access to the fitness centre, family entertainment and an artist talk with Katzie Nation artist Trenton Pierre.

“The North Surrey area of our city has long been underserved when it comes to having recreational facilities and programs close at hand,” said Mayor Doug McCallum. “With the opening of this new complex, that all changes and I invite everyone to take the opportunity to visit and make full use of this state-of-the-art facility. This new complex is also an illustration of how Surrey is combining thoughtful and advanced design to ensure that our spaces provide accessibility for all ages and ability levels. The City of Surrey is continually pressing forward as one of Canada’s most accessible and livable cities, offering recreational opportunities for everyone.”

The North Surrey Sport & Ice Complex features three sheets of ice, spectatorship opportunities for large-scale events, a state-of-the-art fitness studio and weight room, outdoor activity areas, multi-purpose room programming, rentals and food services. First Nation artist Trenton Pierre’s public artwork, Guardian Spirits, wraps the building exterior, which is mirrored inside the facility from the windows of the modern fitness studio.

Accessibility features include:

  • Level access to the ice from dry surface, built to para ice hockey standards
  • Players boxes and penalty boxes made of clear lexan, instead of regular puck board, allowing para ice hockey players a clear view from their sledges
  • Removable benches in the players boxes, allowing for para ice hockey players to remain in their sledges when off the ice
  • Universal hook heights and depths of benches in dressing rooms
  • Fully accessible change rooms, referee rooms, sound room, multi-purpose and fitness studios
  • Fully accessible washrooms
  • Vehicle drop-off area accommodates side-loading vans

Utilizing the three sheets of ice, large-scale spectatorship seating capacity and meeting rooms at the new facility, Surrey will host Olympic Gold Medalist Hayley Wickenheiser’s WickFest Tournament from January 30 to February 2, 2020. This is the tournament’s second year in Surrey, which has now expanded from hosting 800 young female athletes to 1500, as a result of North Surrey Sport and Ice Complex’s increased capacity for ice and meeting space.

Click here for a message from Hayley Wickenheiser about WickFest 2020 at the North Surrey Sport and Ice Complex.

For more information, visit surrey.ca/arenas

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Automobiles

[REVIEW] 2020 BMW M4 Competition Cabriolet

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As they say, all good things must come to an end. As BMW is preparing a new generation of the 4 Series, the F82 and F83 M4 is at the end of its lifecycle.

First launched in 2014, the M4 made its debut under some controversy as BMW purists were lamenting BMW’s change in nomenclature. Long regarded as one of the benchmarks by which sport coupes coupes were measured, gone was the legendary name badge, replaced by the new fangled M4.

As far as the fanatics were concerned, the roots that led all the way back to the legendary E30 M3 homologation special were now not severely tangled.

Nonetheless, as time passed, BMW’s boffins proved that despite turbocharging the engine and changing the name, the M4 had its own snarling aggression that won fans the world over.

As a last hurrah and to prove that there is still plenty of life left in the current-gen M4, BMW Canada is now offering the M4 coupe and cabriolet with an all-inclusive “Ultimate Package”.

To illustrate this point, the company handed me the keys to a 2020 BMW M4 Cabriolet equipped as such.

What makes it “Ultimate”?

BMW Canada says that the Ultimate Package “encompasses all the very best options on offer and is a simple way for customers to take advantage of the high specification at a lower cost”.

It’s literally the epitome of having your cake and eating it too, though that cake comes with a lofty $26,000 price tag on top of the M4 cabriolet’s base MSRP of $89,000.

The exhaustive list of included options includes:

• Adaptive M Suspension
• 20″ M Light Alloy Wheels, Star-Spoke 666M, Black, Perf. Non-RFT
• Universal Remote Control
• Storage Compartment Package
• M Seat Belts
• Park Distance Control, front and rear
• Adaptive Full LED Headlights
• High-Beam Assistant
• Active Blind Spot Detection
• Surround View
• Head-Up Display
• SiriusXM Satellite Radio Tuner
• Wireless Charging with Extended Bluetooth and USB
• WiFi Hotspot
• High-Gloss Black Kidney Grille with Extended Contents
• Competition Package
• M Driver’s Package
• BMW ConnectedDrive Services Professional
• Speed Limit Info
• High-Gloss Black Kidney Grills
• Carbon Fibre Front Inserts and Black Lower Lip
• High-Gloss Black Side Grill
• Carbon Fibre Side Mirrors
• M Performance Titanium Exhaust with Carbon Tips
• Black Side Skirt
• Carbon Fibre Rear Diffuser
• Metallic Paint

“Ultimate Package” equipped M4s can also be spec’ed in with one of five BMW Individual exterior colours and one of five BMW Individual upholstery colours at no extra charge.

My test vehicle was outfitted in a stunning combination of San Marino Blue exterior and Silverstone full Merino leather interior as a homage to the Silverstone motor racing circuit in England.

Since the Ultimate Package also includes the Competition Package, my M4 tester included the optional 7-speed M Double Clutch transmission (M-DCT) as well as a hike in power from 425 horsepower to 444 horsepower.

Since the Ultimate Package also includes the Competition package, owners will benefit from the Adaptive M suspension that has new springs, dampers, anti-roll bars along with reconfigured driving modes. The standard rear Active M differential has also been configured to match these upgraded dynamics.

My favourite part of the Ultimate package has got to be the inclusion of carbon fibre rear diffuser and the M sports exhaust with black chrome tailpipes. Aside from its good looks is the exhaust system’s starting rumble and distinctive burble on overrun. Sounding like thunder generated from the gods themselves, it never failed to excite me time and time again.

Yet, in comfort mode, the M4 proved to be a surprisingly comfortable and quiet everyday driver, even if it was to and from the office in stop and go traffic. Sure, there is the hum of the synthesized engine note, particularly in Sport mode, but does it really matter if one still ends up with a Cheshire cat grin one one’s face?

What about the M2 though?

Despite loyalists and some magazine proclaiming at launch that the M4 wasn’t as sharp as the M3 coupes of yore, a few days piloting the 2020 M4 Cabriolet in various conditions still confirms that the vehicle is far from the Novocain meathead that some critics had made it out to be.


Despite the M2 now being the smallest member of the family, the M4 still feels nimble, powerful, capable, and actually rather analog compared to the G20 3-Series. The front axle refuses to understeer, giving the M4 fantastic pace down a road.

The M3 and M4 were the first ones to make the jump to electrically powered steering but over the years, the system seems to have improved. I still find that the heaviest steering feels too artificially weighted but thankfully, BMW does give you the option to pick and choose your suspension, steering, gearshift, and engine performance settings a la carte.

The excessively thick steering wheel still feels wonderful, special, especially with the oversized steering wheel paddles.

With the 3.0-litre putting down an impressive 111 lb-ft more torque from 2,350 rpms onwards compared to the bygone V8 powered E90 M3, there is the temptation to find holes in stop-and-go traffic that you may not ordinarily even attempt to squeeze into.

Even till today, one has to marvel at how BMW’s M engineers have managed to reliably squeeze 406 lb-ft of torque from only 3.0-litres.

The 7 speed twin-clutch gearbox may not shift at the same speed as the very latest dual clutch gearbox today, but it’s clearly still a very effective transmission. Only the latest track heads will grouse about the few hundreds of a second difference in shift times.

Contrary to what so many have said, I think that the M4 is a well-rounded car even in cabriolet form, Despite what the BMW alarmists proclaimed in internet forums several years ago, the M4 has proven to be not only more than capable as a sports coupe/cabriolet, but also an impressive candidate for a daily driver.

The M4 truly never lets its driver forget that he or she is piloting something special, something serious, even when poodling around town.

Rivals

Fitted with either the Ultimate or Competition package, the M4 is closer in power to the entry-level Mercedes-AMG C63 coupe. The Merc still outguns the BMW though, with an output of 469 horsepower in base form and up to 503 horsepower in S form.

The M4 has also long been considered a cut-price alternative to the Porsche 911 but with even more power. Despite the significant $26,000 bump in sticker price, the Ultimate Package M4 cabriolet still undercuts the base 991.2 Cabriolet by thousands of dollars.

Creature comforts, the weakest link?

Perhaps the weakest part of the shuffle for the current M4 towards the end of its life is related to the new 3 Series.

After being spoiled by the latest BMW tech in the 2020 M340i test vehicle I drove a few weeks back, there is no doubt that the 2020 M4’s cabin feels dated in some respects. Certainly not so much as far as fit and finish or seat comfort/support, but more with the infotainment system and cabin technology.

Sure, there are gobs of genuine carbon fibre trim, and all of the dash surfaces are deliciously covered in soft nappa leather with contrast french stitching. It’s still a quality place to spend hours.


However, the M4’s traditional analogue gauges are what the kids call “old school” these days, and the iDrive infotainment system’s screen, once cutting edge, feels its age compared to the latest touchscreen iDrive system with gesture control.

Oh mon dieu, there is also no semi-autonomous driving system! The travesty! But I kid, I kid.

At the end of the day, for this sort of car, for this sort of target customer, does it really matter?

I’ve got to say that at the end of my review week, I didn’t remembered the smaller size of the icons on the iDrive screen…or fact that the ambient lighting system that only has two colours rather than the rainbow palette of the latest BMW.

What I fondly recalled is the big smile on my face every time I got in and got out of the M4. I still remember the times I walked away from the M4 only to turn back, pause, and smile.

And isn’t that the magical stuff that these M cars are supposed to be all about after all?

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