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[REVIEW] 2014 Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid – An old name for a new way of thinking

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As a small boy, one of my favourite toys was a scale model of a Nissan Hardbody pickup truck. I carried that toy truck almost everywhere I went, keeping it in pristine condition. Even customizing it as it got older.

Using a fine tip silver pen, I strategically painted in the matte black plastic areas to simulate a chrome brushguard. I even added tiny luminescent strips to simulate the turn signals and lighting.

I scoured the pages of car brochures and magazines to find the right sized Nissan logos to simulate decals on my beloved toy truck. But not just any magazine would do. The paper stock had to be thick enough to match the longevity of the truck. This, ladies and gentlemen, was arts and crafts to me. Yup, my love/obsession with cars goes back that far.

Who knew that 27 years later in the making, my little pickup truck would lay see its claim to fame as the foreword in my review of the Nissan Pathfinder.

It’s almost like fate…like kismet.

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History

My first experience in a Nissan Pathfinder was around the age of 10. My classmate Stuart (Hi Stuart!) was picked up and dropped off from elementary school by his mom in a red Pathfinder.

On a school field trip day, I was assigned to his car as his mom chaperoned us to the UBC museum of Anthropology.

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Back in those days, the Nissan Pathfinder was based on the Nissan Hardbody pickup truck, just like my scale model toy. Over the next 2 generations, the Pathfinder would continue to be built this way, honing its reputation as a tough machine.

And as such, the previous generation Nissan Pathfinder was genuinely capable in the rough stuff. For the first time ever, its cabin even offered seven-seater versatility.

However, because it was still based on the Nissan Frontier, it rode and handled like the pickup truck that it shared its chassis with, and was outmatched by more civilized unibody-based competitors with their car-like handling and ride characteristics

Although the previous gen Pathfinder still garnered loyal fans, especially due to its ability to tow heavier loads as a result of its body-on-frame construction and available 5.6L V8, its rough and tumble nature didn’t win enough new fans, especially from those who were looking to buy an SUV for the school run.

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Traditional fans of the Pathfinder name may lament the death of the SUV as it used to be, but the sales numbers tell the story. In the past, Nissan used to sell two Pathfinders for every Xterra SUV. With this new 4th generation Pathfinder, they sell five for every Xterra sold.

Like it or not, Nissan is a business and in the words of our favourite Dragon (or Shark, depending on which show you watch), Kevin O’Leary, they have to “make moneeey”.

The Exterior Looks

Pathfinder three-quarter front

In a nutshell the 2014 model is attractive, has a dose of Nissan DNA (at least from the front), but is also now rather generic past the A-pillar.

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While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the design is forgettable, unlike some of my fellow automobile journalists out there. But I will concede that it is pretty telling that Nissan has finally given into years of Consumer Reports’ complaining, and even done away with the trademark Pathfinder high mounted C-pillar rear door handles.

Consumer Reports has long groused about this quirky Pathfinder characteristic, saying that the high mounted door handles were out of reach for small children.

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And so this gives us a first indication as to what today’s Pathfinder is designed to be. A proper kid and family-friendly 7 passenger seating crossover SUV.

But all hope is not lost for traditionalists. If you want a mid-sized off-road capable SUV that you can take off-road, you can still go for the Nissan Xterra.

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With its chrome nose, the Pathfinder still looks somewhat brutish, truckish. I think it still gives buyers the tougher SUV, minivan-rejecting look that they’re looking for. Moving further further back though, the shape blends into a more generic rounded SUV tail-end.

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I think Nissan’s designers have done a good job here in keeping the Pathfinder looking more SUV and less minivanish. While the Hyundai Santa Fe XL, one of the Nissan’s main competitors, has a prettier nose, the Pathfinder has a better looking rump that will be sure to avoid any comparisons with the dreaded “v” word.

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Finished in a classy dark blue paint job (called Artic Blue Metallic) and attractive 20” two toned wheels, my top level Platinum Premium-trimmed Pathfinder was definitely still pleasing to the eyes.

But wait, there’s more! These little badges on the front doors and tailgate are a hint of something a bit more special, or at least more unique, with my test vehicle.

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Yup, for the first time ever, the Pathfinder is now available in hybrid form, entering a relatively empty space in the market place that is currently only occupied by the other non-luxury three-row hybrid crossover, the Toyota Highlander Hybrid.

Aside from the special badging, the hybrid Pathfinders are fitted with unique LED tail lamps that are unavailable on the purely petrol powered models. Otherwise, else is essentially the same. A good thing especially when we delve into the cabin.

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The Cabin

The Pathfinder’s interior won its way to the prestigious WardsAuto World 10 Best Interiors list for 2013 and it’s not difficult to see why. Inside there is a neatly trimmed interior. Everything is put together very nicely, in typical Nissan fashion. Functional, pleasant but a bit boring. The dashboard plastics are hard, so you’ll have to go to luxury branded Infiniti for soft-touch materials.

But at least the textures and grain look nice, match well, and seem like they’ll last decades. Even the plastic wood trim is decent.

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A large 8” touchscreen display is mounted high up for easy viewing. The Platinum Premium trim includes the Nissan Navigation System with NavTraffic real-time traffic information (via SiriusXM), streaming audio via Bluetooth, and a standard RearView monitor.

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The buttons are refreshingly simple with clear fonts and good sizing. I really liked the hard button controls for the climate and audio system. Much better than the half-baked unresponsive touchscreen nonsense from other cars.

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However that being said, I wish Nissan took a stand in some respects. For some information displays, you have to use a mix of the hard button and touchscreen controls and it can be slight confusing at times which is what.

With the Platinum you also get a class-exclusive AroundView Monitor system which gives the driver a virtual 360-degree image of the area around the vehicle. The system uses a front mounted camera (in the Nissan badge), two side mounted cameras integrated into each wing mirror, and a rear view camera under the tailgate latch.

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The result is a beautiful and useful top-down look at where you’re going, sort of like a video game. Parking is a snap especially where there are painted lines, as you can see exactly where you are positioned in the spot.

Kudos to Nissan for using a headunit with enough computing power to process the multiple video feeds simultaneously, and also for using high quality cameras with decent low light sensitivity. During my test week with the Pathfinder, I was also testing a $125K 2014 Range Rover Supercharged.

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The Range Rover’s cameras and headunit were nowhere as good as the Pathfinder’s, with disappointingly grainy images in low light and laggy live video footage when there was more than one video feed being displayed onscreen. Great job Nissan!

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Other standard technology on the Platinum Premium includes heated and cooled front seats, heated 2nd row seats, and even a heated steering wheel! Tri-Zone Automatic Climate Control, Bluetooth® Hands-free Phone System, and a power rear liftgate are standard on this trim level.

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Also fitted to my test Pathfinder was iPod integration and tri-zone entertainment system with 2nd row head restraint-mounted DVD display screens and RCA inputs.

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In an era where even kids have iPads, I was ready to write off the head restraint-mounted DVD displays. However after spending some time using them, I have to say that I really liked them for their optimal positioning and their image quality. With the Pathfinder’s adjustable 2nd row seats (for both legroom and seatback angle), the rear cabin experience reminded me of a business class seat in a commercial airline.

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And so the well packaged interior means that there is loads of storage space and getting in and out is a snap with the low door sills. No running boards or sidesteps needed here.

It’s not even bad getting into the 3rd row seat, where there is ample room for two smaller adults. A unique feature of the 2nd row sliding seat is that you can move it forward without removing a child seat that is installed in it.

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The huge panoramic moonroof, standard on this Platinum Premium Pathfinder, while not as large as the Hyundai Santa Fe XL’s, is positioned further back and really does help to open up the space and eliminate any claustrophobia. A power sliding sunshade blocks out the light when it’s too sunny or hot.

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With all these features in play, it’s easy to see that the Pathfinder is going after a different audience and doing a great job at it.

Hybrid Technology

For the Hybrid Pathfinder, the well renowned Nissan 3.5L V6 engine is replaced by a new supercharged 2.5-litre gasoline engine and an electric motor paired with a compact Lithium-ion battery. The 15 kW (20hp) electric motor and gas engine work in tandem to provide performance similar to the conventional Pathfinder.

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The system is rated at 250 net horsepower and 243 lb-ft of torque – versus the 3.5-litre V6’s 260 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque.

The hybrid system also uses a Nissan Intelligent Dual Clutch System (one motor / two clutch parallel system) that efficiently manages power from both the electric motor and the gas engine.

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Positioned between the gasoline engine and the next-gen Xtronic CVT transmission (where the torque converter would normally be), the motor also functions as a generator, conveying energy from the CVT to the battery upon deceleration. One clutch is installed between the gasoline engine and the electric motor, the other between the motor and the CVT.

In order to preserve the Pathfinder’s unique 2nd row sliding functionality and easy access to the 3rd row, engineers cleverly positioned the space-saving Lithium Ion battery under the 3rd row seat. The result is no loss in passenger or cargo room at all.

The hybrid’s 2nd and 3rd row seats still fold completely flat. Very impressive as other hybrids I’ve tested have had significantly compromised cargo room.

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A regenerative braking system automatically recharges the battery by converting the vehicle’s kinetic energy that would be otherwise lost in braking.

The downside of packaging a small battery and motor is that Pathfinder rarely runs in pure EV mode. I only experienced the EV mode when coasting downhill, or when waiting in traffic with the air conditioning off (as the compressor is otherwise powered by the gas engine).

Fuel economy is officially rated at 7.4L/100km combined, an improvement of 22 percent over the standard Pathfinder. With the Pathfinder Hybrid’s large 73-litre fuel tank, the same as 3.5-litre V6 models, driving range (highway) is more than 1,000kms. I averaged about 11.2L/100 kms in mixed city/highway driving.

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Putting it all together…how does it drive?

By switching from a body-on-frame to a unibody design, the Nissan engineers saved about 300-500lbs of weight. This pays dividends as the power from the hybrid drivetrain is good but not mindblowing. The CVT dulls the overall responsiveness and unless you stab the accelerator pedal, the power delivery is smooth but won’t pin you into your seat.

The sensation from a dead stop is also a bit weird because you can feel and hear the clutch “slipping” as it balances between battery and traditional engine power. It almost sounds a bit like a manual transmission car. A new experience for me in an SUV.

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At full throttle, due to the CVT holding the engine revs, the supercharger makes its presence noticeable with a characteristic whine. It’s not unpleasant but unexpected. The supercharger whine is also particularly noticeable when engine braking downhill in the manually selected low gear.

But like all Pathfinders, the hybrid version still offers an otherwise quiet, comfortable ride. Handling is provided by an independent strut front/multi-link rear suspension combined with an electrohydraulic power-assisted steering.

Handling, while acceptable, is nothing groundbreaking. Due to the soft springs, there is a fair amount of body roll when pushed, along with slow weight transfer motions. But this is not to say that the ride is at all wallowy because it isn’t. It’s just comfortable but not sporty.

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As for the steering, it’s efficient but not sporty either. I didn’t find it to be as vague on centre as I had read in other road test reviews, however I did find it numb and the weighting rather artificial. It’s not particularly quick either, unlike the Mazda CX-9. But honestly speaking, will buyers notice it? Probably not. Nor would they care.

With an available intuitive all-wheel drive system, Pathfinder continues to serve as an excellent vehicle for inclement weather driving conditions.

It’s the only vehicle in its class with selectable 2WD (front wheel drive), Auto or 4WD Lock modes for its “ALL-MODE 4×4-I” system. The system lets the driver choose full-time 2WD for maximum fuel economy, Auto mode to automatically monitor conditions and adjust the balance of power between front and rear wheels for best traction, or 4WD Lock mode when the confidence of full-time AWD is desired (with a 50% front/50% rear torque lock). In addition, standard Hill Start Assist helps add control when starting and driving away on a steep incline.

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I left the system in Auto mode 98% of the time. The other 2% of the time I tested the 2WD mode or 4WD Lock. I didn’t like the 2WD mode mainly because the front wheels would easily spin due to the torque from the electric motor plus the less than impressive Toyo winter tires (which I also complained about in the Mazda CX-9).

There is a nifty display in the 4.2” LCD screen between the speedometer and tachometer that can be configured not only to show hybrid power mode, but also to show the live torque distribution between the front and rear wheels.

In Auto mode, most of the time 90% of the power is going to the front wheels upon acceleration. When you’re up to speed, the system gradually tapers to 100% front wheel drive anyway.I really liked that the system was dynamic enough to actively transfer power to the rear wheels to prevent front wheel slippage before it occurred. A far more intelligent system than a purely part-time all wheel drive reactive system.

According to Nissan, with the exception of what’s under the hood and the lower tow rating, the Pathfinder hybrid is pretty much the same as the gas-powered Pathfinder.

Hybrid-equipped Pathfinders retain the ability to tow boats, ATVs, trailers and a variety of other recreational gear up to 3,500 pounds (1,588kg) when properly equipped.

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Final Thoughts

To be competitive these days, a car company needs a car-based 3 row SUV. The segment has really shifted from the demands of a body-on-frame design to a unibody construction which is focused more on fuel economy, passenger comfort, and the safety and security of all-wheel-drive to get to the campground (but not necessarily past it).

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When Nissan last designed the Pathfinder they went the truck based route when many of the top sellers were based on car based platforms. Oops.

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There are a few things you give up. It’s no hard-core off-roader, but with enough ground clearance, it’s certainly enough to go off onto a dirt road to a camp site. With a 5000lbs towing capacity (for the non-hybrid version), this is down on the previous generation Pathfinder but more than enough for most buyers.

But more buyers are going to enjoy what they gained rather than what they lose with this latest Pathfinder.

This new car-based platform (shared with the Nissan Murano) means that this 4th generation Pathfinder rides better, handles better, and is more economical on fuel than before. It drives a lot like a jacked up Altima sedan.

So while it’s no longer just a rough and ready SUV based on a pickup truck like my toy, it’s certainly better suited to today’s families. And these families have indeed been flocking to the Nissan dealerships to check out this strong contender in the competitive crossover market. Guess what? So should you.

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2014 Nissan Pathfinder Platinum Price Sheet

 

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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