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[REVIEW] 2019 Honda Clarity Touring Plug-in Hybrid

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You’ve probably heard the old adage before: “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, or “It’s what’s on the inside that counts”. Perhaps there is no other vehicle in the Honda line-up that resembles these statements other than the Honda Clarity.

Looking like a vehicular muckbang between the cars in RoboCop, a Citreon SM, the first-generation Honda Insight hybrid, and the Honda Accord, the Clarity certainly won’t be mistaken for anything else on the road.

What is it?

The all-new Clarity series, led by the Clarity Plug-In, is at the forefront of Honda’s initiative to bring electrified vehicle technology into the mainstream. The bigger picture here is they Honda is aiming for electrified vehicles to make up two-thirds of its global automobile sales by 2030.

Those who still profess that true Japanese-built cars are higher in build quality will rejoice that all Clarity models are manufactured in Honda’s Saitama factory in the Sayama prefecture, Japan.

Why is the Clarity an important car for the company? Because the Clarity completes Honda’s first-ever vehicle series that offers customers an array of electrified powertrain choices in one sophisticated, spacious and comprehensively equipped 5-passenger sedan. No doubt this is just a preview of what is to come in the future.

Incidentally, the Clarity Plug-In Hybrid (PHEV) is the only model in the range that is available in Canada. However, our neighbours south of the border also have access to the Clarity Fuel Cell and Clarity Electric, the latter of which is sold in all 50 states.

However, as the volume leader of the trio, the Clarity Plug-in Hybrid sedan is what Honda Canada hopes customers will gravitate to when looking for a PHEV. One that delivers a highly refined technologically advanced driving experience with no compromise to driving range, performance or comfort. Or at least that’s what it says on the outside of the tin.

You might ask then, why buy a Clarity and not the Honda Accord Hybrid? Well, for one, the Honda Accord Hybrid is not available in Canada in a plug-in variant, therefore the Clarity is going to be always more economical than the Accord Hybrid, period.

Depending on the province that you reside in, the Clarity PHEV will also qualify for provincial green vehicle rebates whereas the Accord Hybrid does not.

Powertrain

The Clarity Plug-In Hybrid’s locomotion consists of Honda’s innovative two-motor hybrid technology. This includes a 103 horsepower 1.5-liter DOHC i-VTEC® Atkinson-cycle in-line 4-cylinder engine coupled to a starter/generator motor. This gasoline engine is then paired with a 181-horsepower AC synchronous traction motor powered by a 17-kilowatt hour (kWh), 168-cell lithium-ion battery pack.

Combined, both powerplants output 212 horsepower. Working together, they can extend the total range of the Clarity to well over 500 kilometres on one tank of gas plus a fully-charged battery.

This flexibility with a Plug-in Hybrid, to be able to drive wherever and whenever is what many customers want, at least psychologically, in order to free themselves from range anxiety. It also alleviates recharging concerns that they may have from even long-range battery-only electric vehicles.

If you want to be technical, the Clarity’s gasoline engine is able to assist in directly driving the front wheels, or it spins the generator to provide additional current to the electric motor and to recharge the battery. Charging from a 240 volt Level 2 charger takes about 2.5 hours, but on a standard 120 volt household wall plug, a full charge can take as much as 12 hours.

If you live close to work, as most Canadians do, you could theoretically run the Clarity in pure-EV mode for almost all the time. Like most typical PHEVs, just the electric battery range is enough to meet the daily driving needs of many Canadians and then some.

Distinctive or Polarizing?

Unique exterior design elements set the Clarity apart from most vehicles on the road. The unmistakable corporate Honda grille is blended with a distinctive front-end styling, encompassing distinctive L-shaped LED DRLs and slim LED headlamps.

Out back, the taillight lenses are optimized with a “washboard” surface that is wind tunnel tested to let the air flow smoothly across them, reducing minute amongst of drag.

The decisive angular shapes and flowing curves do look high-tech and futuristic. Still, the rear side profile of the Clarity is where it starts looking a bit off, a bit RoboCop, a bit Citroen SM, a bit early 1990’s era Ford Taurus.

Special “air curtains” built into the front fenders and rear doors help air pass over the wheels with minimal disturbance, rather than tumble across the wheel openings. Honda says that these front air curtains, rear tire covers, and rear air curtains allow the Clarity to slip through the air with as little drag as possible.

However, the looks are definitely not to everyone’s liking. The big question will be how many people will sacrifice looks in the name of saving a few bucks, or the planet.

Riding on a 108.3 inch wheelbase and at over 192.7 inches long, the Clarity is half an inch longer than the Accord and therefore the largest sedan sold by Honda Canada. However, curiously, its wheelbase is 3.1 inches shorter.

The chrome accents help to make the Clarity look a bit more upmarket, but there’s no hiding its junk in the stylistic trunk.

In fact, by comparison, an Accord Touring 2.0T is more than 600 pounds lighter than the Clarity PHEV. At 4,054 pounds, the Clarity far surpasses the Accord’s weight, most of it attributed to the former’s battery pack.

Thankfully though, the battery does not eat up any trunk space, leaving the Clarity with ample (albeit odd-shaped) trunk and interior space for hauling family, coworkers, and their stuff. Despite the Clarity’s fastback styling and transparent double window rear, it does not have a tailgate but indeed a regular trunk lid.

How does it drive?

Modes galore! Like most plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, the Clarity offers a choice of three driving modes—Econ, Normal, and Sport—each delivering progressively more aggressive acceleration and pedal response.

Cleverly, but perhaps not that original of an idea, Honda allows drivers to control the four regenerative-braking system settings via the steering wheel mounted flappy paddles. There are also a further three choices for controlling how the Clarity deploys its battery charge.

Sport mode holds onto the selected regeneration level till the vehicle comes to a halt, but annoyingly, in other drive modes, the regen level cancels and goes back to zero when one touches the throttle pedal. On hilly roads, I had to manually increase the regen to maximize “engine” braking.

Most of the time, the front-wheel-drive Clarity runs solely on its 181-hp AC motor. With 232 lb-ft of torque from essentially 1 RPM, there is plenty of power on offer. Despite its curb weight, the car never felt sluggish and there was plenty of power on tap for almost all conditions.

Of course, there’s no way 181 horsepower is going to propel more than two tons with much urgency. For comparison, with a fully charged battery and with the gasoline engine assisting, the Clarity Touring will achieve a 0-100 km/hr run of about 7.8 seconds. The lighter Accord Touring with a 252-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four and a 10-speed automatic will do the same run in about 5.7 seconds.

Once the Clarity’s lithium-ion battery pack is drained, the 1.5-liter inline-four (rated at 103 horsepower and 99 lb-ft of peak torque) fires up to feed current to the battery pack. Compared to the Accord Hybrid, the Clarity’s changeover between battery and battery/gas engine is much less apparent. I was impressed by how quiet the gas engine was except when climbing hills. Overall, the Clarity is a reminder of how much fun a good electrified powertrain can be.

The Clarity drives nicely too, feeling like a more expensive version of the Accord. Canyon-carving is perhaps a bit too ambitious with the low-grip eco-friendly tires, but the ride is well-composed. Handling is a bit awkward when pushed, thanks to the curb weight. Body lean is acceptable, but the electric power steering is comfortably numb.

That being said, the Clarity’s combination of electric power, acoustic glass and a slippery body shape results in a very serene cabin. Once again, one can’t help but draw comparisons to the Clarity feeling like a more upscale (albeit less sporty) Accord in how it rides and drives.

On the inside

The inside of the Clarity is a lot more conventional than the outside. Bright, modern and sophisticated, the Honda’s interior offers a premium feel coupled with exceptional comfort and refinement.

I was a big fan of the Alcantara inlays on the centre console, wrapping into the front and rear doors. The trim panels with the natural-looking exposed wood grain also felt upscale, restrained, and well thought out.

Neat touches include phone pockets for backseat passengers, but I found that they were a bit small depending on the phone you have. Rear legroom is generous, and the seatback angle is comfortable.

The floating centre console stack with push button transmission gear selectors felt totally appropriate, given the high-tech electrified nature of the Clarity. As expected these days, Honda’s infotainment system supports both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Surprisingly though, the Clarity does not have the latest iteration of the Honda’s system, and still has the annoying volume control slider versus a control knob.

Happily though, Honda’s excellent LaneWatch blindspot display system is also available on the Clarity, with the video feed appearing on the infotainment system.

With the rear view camera and the unique design, the view out back from the driver’s seat is a bit odd albeit functional. There is a Honda CRX-like transparent window beneath the actual glass window, separated by a crossbar.

Strangely, there is even a plastic covered porthole or gunslit that runs partway the length of the rear parcel shelf behind the rear seats. One can look through this area through the back of the car, supposedly for improved visibility.

Active safety equipment-wise, the Clarity comes standard with forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and lane-keeping assist.

Final Thoughts

The plug-in hybrid market is an interesting place to be right now. The Ford Fusion Energi is making an exit as Ford transitions out of the passenger car market. GM has cancelled the PHEV Volt in favour of keeping the pure-electric Bolt EV. But yet, Toyota is making great headway with their Prius Prime Plug-in Hybrid, with inventory flying off the dealership lots almost as soon as the Primes land. Incidentally, the Prius Prime is cheaper than the Clarity but also less upscale.

Moreover, premium brands such as Jaguar, Land Rover Range Rover, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi, Volvo, to name a few, have all also tossed their rings into the PHEV game.

Looks aside and on paper at least, the Clarity PHEV is very competitive. Admittedly, the more I drove it, the more I liked it. The outgoing Volt may be more fun to drive than the Clarity, but the Honda has a far more upscale interior, a more refined driving experience, and more bang for your buck.

As they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If you’re shopping in this segment, you just may be surprised by the Clarity. Its pleasant, quiet cabin, standard tech features, and larger battery size may just be enough to get pass its looks.

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 Nissan Armada Platinum

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Nissan has had a storied history when it comes to building four wheel drive vehicles. The company’s first such vehicle started with the Japanese domestic market-only 4W60, which had overall styling similar to the Willys Jeep.

In 1958, the first use of the “Patrol” nomenclature appeared with the Nissan 4W65 Patrol. The four wheel drive vehicle had a “Nissan” badge on the grille and “Patrol” badges flanked the sides of the bonnet.

Fast forward over 61 years and the iconic “Nissan Patrol” lives on as the “Nissan Armada” in North America, having been launched in its current second generation in 2017.


Known for its durability, reliability, premium design, safety, comfort features and unmatched all-terrain performance, the Armada remains the flagship of Nissan’s extensive 4×4 and crossover lineup.

Engineered from the wheels up to tackle the most demanding driving conditions on the planet, over the years, the Nissan Armada has more than earned its reputation, providing the same outstanding level of comfort cruising on the Trans Canada Highway, or negotiating rocky mountain terrain.

It is interesting that Nissan Canada has decided to continue to bring the Armada here despite the fact that it is almost identical to its much more expensive twin, the Infiniti QX80. This platform sharing has both its positives and negatives.


Updates to styling and cabin technology…just not in Canada just yet.

In late September 2019, Nissan unveiled the new 2020 Nissan Patrol in the Middle East, its largest market, with a facelifted model and upgraded infotainment system.

These changes have not carried over yet into the 2020 Nissan Armada, which remains unchanged since the 2017 model year. This is not necessarily a bad thing as Nissan’s V-motion grille and strong angular front still look surprisingly bold and in line with the rest of the company’s products.


The Armada may not be the most popular large SUV on the Canadian market, but Nissan’s reputation for quality, the vehicle’s attractive bold exterior and serene interior are underrated compared with more mainstream vehicles such as the Toyota Sequoia, Chevy Tahoe, GMC Yukon, and the Ford Expedition.


Inside, the Armada’s classy outer shell, its cabin is extremely well insulated from outside noise.

Material quality is almost indistinguishable from its QX80 twin, a boon for owners.

My top-of-the-range Platinum model added top grain leather surfaces and a lot of chrome surfaces among other things.


Unfortunately, some of the glossy wood trim looked as dated as the infotainment system.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity are not yet available, nor is a colour driver’s info display in the gauge cluster.

If you’re a hater of touchscreens but a lover of hard buttons to control the climate control and infotainment systems, you won’t be disappointed as there are plenty.

Pushing some of these control buttons will also reveal the thunderous 13-speaker Bose audio system.


My three-row Armada Platinum test vehicle easily accommodated seven passengers with its second row captain chairs and massive centre console. The chairs folded easily and quickly with a handle that springs the seat forward.


Third row seats are power folding on the Platinum model, controlled via buttons in the cargo area or on the third row’s armrests. Just don’t plan on doing this action if you’re in a rush as the motors move at a snail’s pace, if not slower.

Nonetheless, when you’re back in either the second or third row, you’ll find competitive amounts of legroom and cargo space.

My vehicle was also equipped with the rear-entertainment system option with wireless headphones, sure to be a hit for whomever is occupying the rear seats on long road trips (or for wary parents sitting up front).


Active safety systems

The 2020 Nissan Armada also stands out for its extensive suite of advanced safety and security technologies.

In addition to the Nissan Intelligent Mobility technologies already available, the Armada is also equipped with Nissan’s latest Intelligent Emergency Braking system with pedestrian detection, Intelligent Cruise Control, and an Intelligent Forward Collision Warning system.

Like its more expensive Infiniti counterparts, just a push of the steering wheel button activates the majority of the systems whether or not you actually have a cruise control speed set. One could conceivably drive the vehicle with just one pedal in stop-and-go traffic, making the day-to-day driving tremendously more relaxing.

New from the 2019 model year onwards is Nissan’s Rear Seat reminder feature. Also found in other Nissan vehicles, Nissan’s system detects if a rear door was opened or closed before the car was started, but then wasn’t re-opened again after the vehicle was put in park and turned off. The system notifies the driver with display notifications in the instrument panel of the car.

If the driver still fails to open the rear door, the car will then emit subtle but distinctive chirps of the car horn.

The idea came from Nissan engineers Elsa Foley and Marlene Mendoza who wanted to find a way to remind drivers to check the backseat before leaving the vehicle. It is part of a growing effort by automakers to help tackle the problem of children dying of heat stroke from accidentally being left in vehicles.

Drivetrain and NVH

One engine choice remains, a smooth running 5.6-liter “Eudurance” V8 producing 390 horsepower and 394 lb-ft of torque. Both work through a very civilized seven-speed automatic transmission.

However don’t look for paddle shifters or selectable drive modes, such as with the Ford Expedition, as you won’t find any. Fuel economy was also below average even for a big SUV with me averaging a high 19L/100 kms in mostly city driving.

However, what the Armada lacks in engine options it makes up in acceleration. 0-100 km/hr runs take only 6.1 seconds with the powertrain making hearty exhaust rumbles while doing so.

For comparison, this 0-100 km/hr run is roughly equivalent to what you will find with the Nissan Maxima sedan.

There is a selectable “tow” mode on the transmission which holds the shift points to higher revs, and the Armada is capable of towing a trailer up to 8,500 pounds.

You will have to add an aftermarket trailer brake controller though as there isn’t an option for an integrated OEM unit.

Also unchanged for 2020 is the Armada’s excellent all All-Mode 4X4 system with high and low range. As before, the advanced system lets the driver select various modes which have been designed to handle different on- and off-road conditions.

Nissan’s Hydraulic Body Motion Control ensures a more comfortable ride thanks to the improved suspension and vibration reduction.

Despite what its size suggests, the Armada handles surprisingly well. Sure, its soft suspension has an air of floatiness, but that doesn’t negatively affect the driver’s sense of control. My test car had a very comfy and quiet ride even though it rolled on large 20-inch wheels fitted with softer compound winter tires.

While it is far from sporty, the Armada feels more refined than its GM rivals; those alternatives, however, have much better steering feedback than the Nissan’s slow and imprecise steering rack.

Parting thoughts

The 2020 Nissan Armada has the content and capabilities to deserve some attention for those in the market for a big three-row SUV. These customers will likely be looking for the small choices of SUVs on the market that that can carry a load of cargo and seating for seven or eight while still towing a boat or a trailer.

The Armada’s quality cabin is a nice and quiet place to chew up some highway miles as long as you don’t mind passing up on the latest in driver technology.

Nissan’s solid predicted reliability will also attract those who have been burnt in the past by domestic brands who haven’t fared quite as well in this category.

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REVIEW – 2019 Ford Expedition

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The 2019 Ford Expedition is a great choice for those with a small family or perhaps just want a mid-range SUV for camping and other outdoor activities. The 2019 Ford Expedition weighs in at 5,900 pounds and offers you up to 17 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway. It seats up to eight people comfortably and has plenty of storage in the back and even more when the seats are folded down.

Performance

The 2019 Ford Expedition comes with a 3.5L EcoBoost engine that feels the most responsive of any sport utility vehicle on the market today. The direct injection helps maximize the amount of power squeezed out of the EcoBoost engine and it even has twin air-to-air intercooled turbochargers for a boost of power when you need it.

The 3.5L EcoBoost gets up to 375 horsepower and produces a stunning 470 pounds per foot of torque.

The 2019 Ford Expedition also has a best-in-class towing ability with up to 9,300 pounds of towing capacity when the Heavy-Duty Trailer Tow Package is installed.

Trim Levels

The 2019 Ford Expedition for sale at a new car dealership comes in three available trim levels — the XLT, Limited, and Platinum. Each of these trim levels comes with a six-cylinder 3.5L EcoBoost engine with twin air-to-air intercooled turbochargers. The XLT, Limited and Platinum trim levels all seat eight people and all come with a 10-speed automatic transmission. There is also an extended-wheelbase version of the XLT and Limited called the Max.

The XLT is already equipped with 18-inch alloys, running boards, an 8-inch touchscreen, leather-wrapped steering wheel, power-adjustable driver’s seat, and the choice of four-wheel drive. There are four USB ports and a 6-speaker audio system with satellite radio as standard.

Move up to the Limited for 20-inch wheels, parking sensors, heated seats throughout, and an upgraded Bang and Olufsen 12-speaker audio system.

The Platinum builds on the Limited and adds interior wood accents, an improved leather trim, noise cancellation, and the ability to increase horsepower and torque when 93 octane fuel is used.

There is also a variety of small upgrades such as aluminum wheels as opposed to hubcaps that can be chosen on the Limited and Platinum models.

Interior

Every part of the interior is classy and looks immaculate. The tasteful chrome accents and light tan leathers make the 2019 Ford Expedition a pleasure to be in.

The 2019 Ford Expedition is loaded with technology for modern times with a Wi-Fi hotspot build in that can connect up to ten devices at a range of 50 feet, a wireless charging station, and an 8.5-inch infotainment system at an easy to reach level.

The seating arrangement benefits from the added dimensions of the body and the 2019 Ford Expedition is roomier than ever before.

Exterior

One thing that Ford has changed about the 2019 Ford Expedition is the seams and contours of the different panels from the quarter panel to the doors. Now the vehicle feels even more seamlessly connected than before. The great line work in the Expedition shows the level of sophistication that modern sport utility vehicles are capable of.

Newly designed front grilles with LED headlamps cut through the snow and fog.

Safety

The 2019 Ford Expedition is one of the safest vehicles on the market in the sport-utility division. There is nothing but great safety technologies between you and the roadway when you’re driving the 2019 Expedition. The NHTSA has given the 2019 Ford Expedition a five-star overall rating.

Features such as Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop and Go make driving a hassle-free experience and help prevent collisions with its many sensors. There is also a Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection system that will automatically brake in the event that the driver fails to do so. BLIS, or Blind Spot Information System, is another excellent feature that reduces common accidents by showing drivers what is in their blind spot.

It is hard to choose which color looks best on the 2019 Ford Expedition, but if push comes to shove the Blue Metallic is looking like a very nice choice. There are a host of other colors to choose from such as Stone Gray, Silver Spruce, and Ruby Red.

If you haven’t been won over by the 2019 Ford Expedition yet just take one for a test drive and you will feel what it is like to ride in comfort and class without sacrificing any of the power we have come to expect from a sport utility vehicle.

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Is It Safe to Work Under a Car on Jack Stands?

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Any auto owner needs to access the underside of their vehicle, at least occasionally. However, lying under a heavy object poses risks. Manufacturers of modern ramps, as well as jack stands, guarantee safety. But is there truth in advertising?

Of course, nothing can beat a professional hydraulic system. In general, ramps are regarded as more reliable. Consider some of the top low profile car ramps sold on Amazon. Jack stands, though, will also be safe as long as you follow these basic guidelines.

Precautions

Whatever maintenance you are planning, begin by choosing the surface. Your car must be placed on hard and even ground. Under no circumstances is it possible to perform the work on gravel, dirt, let alone a slope! The same gravity that keeps your automobile steady may cause it to roll back down.

If you think lack of hardness may be compensated by sliding wood under the jack, think again. Another mistake that could prove fatal is propping a vehicle with breeze blocks, bricks and similar items that may crack.

Which Jack is Best?

It may be tempting to go with the device that came with your vehicle. Although it may be suitable for tire changes, relying on it for something more complex is precarious. Therefore, always choose a top-quality support system. Never work under a car which is supported by a single jack!

Base your choice on objective criteria, including the weight limit. Remember that you will not be lifting the entire weight of the vehicle. A two-ton device may be strong enough to raise a car weighing two and a half tons. Ensure a certain safety margin is allowed. Generally, use stands capable of supporting no less than half of the weight.

The second dilemma is the choice between low-entry and high-lift models, which are suitable for low and higher vehicles, respectively. Thirdly, remember that a large jack is heavy, so make sure you can carry it from the storage to the car. It may be best to choose a lighter model provided it can support the required weight.

Additional Precautions

Overall, these tools are less safe and more difficult to use than car ramps, as confirmed by reviews on jonsguide. With the necessary precautions, you can ensure a safe working environment. Here are three important conditions.

  1. Extra Support
    Although a jack is supposed to ensure safe access to the underside, it should not be used on its own. Use additional supports, such as a trolley jack. This will prevent potential damage to the sill, even though a standard jack should fit into the corresponding jacking points.
  2. The Right Points
    Refer to your guides for both the car and the supports to identify safe points. Avoid raising the vehicle by placing the supports under its gearbox, engine or plastic undertray. The perfect locations include chassis rail, subframe, and suspension mounting point.
  3. Chocks
    Chocks provide support regardless of their material. They may be produced from rubber, metal, wood or plastic. Once your transmission is in the park or in gear, place two chocks around the wheel on the side opposite to the one being raised. One of them is put in front and the other one behind, so the wheel is firmly secured.
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[REVIEW] 2020 Mercedes-Benz A250 4Matic hatchback

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The Mercedes-Benz A-Class has sure come a long way. Even though it wasn’t available in North America in the 1990s, the A-Class was a huge seller in Europe.

Perfect for narrow European cobblestone streets, the first-generation vehicle sold over a million units despite its infamous elk-avoidance test issues.

Fast forward to present day and the all-new Mk4 A-Class. The baby Benz is now so posh that the front half of the car looks like it was borrowed from the up-market CLS-Class.

Why the need for a hatch?

You may be wondering why the A-Class is even coming to Canada when we have the CLA-Class. Firstly, the CLA has been a tremendous global success in its first iteration and therefore keeps its place in the line-up as a sportier and prettier vehicle, albeit sacrificing some practicality for style.

The A-Class may be new to the Western Hemisphere, but this latest iteration shares its platform, engine, and transmission with the all-new 2020 CLA-Class.

Canadians, as it turns out, like our small hatchbacks and wagons. Just look to the success of the Nissan Micra in Canada or the Volkswagen Golf.

Regardless of whether some of the reasoning is partly due to our European heritage, Mercedes-Benz Canada saw enough of a sales potential to justify a business case for bringing over the A-Class as a five-door hatchback, something that our American neighbours will have to do without.

What is it?

This is pretty much an all-new platform (dubbed MFA2), stronger, lighter, and 4.72 inches longer than the previous generation A-Class that we never got in Canada.

As mentioned, the styling of Merc’s new entry-level model draws heavily on the look of the recently unveiled CLS-Class, most notably at the front.

Both cars share what has been dubbed a “predator face”, with an AMG-inspired grille and angular headlights that sweep back aggressively into the front fenders, giving it a distinctly more aggressive stance.

The A250 isn’t really aimed at being a VW Golf GTI but instead more of a practical upmarket hatchback aimed to set standards for poshness and comfort, both of which it does so quite convincingly.

Its sharp exterior looks and E-Class levels of technology impress, as does the cabin ambience.


While the Audi A3 e-tron hybrid hatchback may give you slightly better rear passenger space, its base price is much higher than the baby Benz’s $35,990, nor is it available with all-wheel-drive. The latter is available for a reasonable $2,000 extra on the A250.

There is a reasonable amount of space in the A-Class hatch for four average-sized adults with 370 litres of space behind the rear seats. Fold the second-row seats down for an impressive 1,210 litres of total space.


How does it drive?

With 221 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque from the 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, 0-100 km/hr runs are completed in a sprightly 6.2 seconds. Peak torque is easily accessible throughout much of the rev band from a low 1,800-400 rpms.


Fuel economy is pretty good too. Officially rated at 9.4L/100 kms in the city and 6.8L/100 kms on the highway, I averaged around 9L/100 kms during my time with the A250 hatch in mostly city driving.

The seven-speed dual clutch automatic gearbox is smooth and attentive most of the time, but occasionally gets the gears wrong at lower speeds such as when crawling through traffic.

While this was more an exception rather than the rule, the VW group still reigns supreme in when it comes to dual-clutches. At least paddle-pulls are responded to snappily, a good thing too as there is no manual box coming to this model.


Most of car’s shortcomings are easily forgiven though, as the optionally available adaptive dampers add a welcome sharpness in bends while maintaining reasonable suppleness in urban settings.

But the A250 hatch clearly sits in the middle of the road as far as dynamics. It’s certainly sure-footed and a comfy daily driver with neat and tidy manners, but the steering responsiveness and the car’s behavior has been tuned to be more anodyne than dynamic.


It looks like you’ve got to spring for the upcoming A35 AMG if you’re looking for a truly proper hot Benz hatchback.

The newly developed 4Matic all-wheel drive system features electro-mechanical operation instead of the electro-hydraulic set-up used on the previous gen A-Class / CLA-Class. The system now provides a fully variable apportioning of engine’s power between the front and rear axles for improved traction.


Interior trimmings

The slick high-tech cabin design makes the A250’s rivals look positively clunky. This category has got to be A-Class’s stand-out feature as it is where Mercedes has concentrated much of its efforts.


Yes, the previous-generation CLA-Class was criticized for its cost-cutting. Despite having an even lower base price than the CLA, the new A-Class works off Mercedes’ Glass Cockpit concept from the higher-end models and condenses the experience into a smaller package.

Standard fare across the A-Class range is Mercedes’ MBUX system; MBUX is short for Mercedes-Benz User Experience. In my A250 hatch test vehicle, the interface consisted of twin 10.3 inch screens presented seamlessly as a massive single screen.


Not only is it very pretty to look at, it also feels unlike any other car in a sensible class like this. Because the centre console is pushed away from the front passengers, the overall effect is one of a high-end lounge rather than anything traditionally automotive. More on that later.

At night, a 64-colour ambient lighting system adds both theatrics and practicality. No doubt it will impress those who ride along with you and makes the A250 feel a whole lot more expensive than it is.


General material quality is high throughout, but there are some cheap plastic parts such as the speaker grilles on the A-pillars. It is also annoying that among the flimsiest and cheapest-feeling parts are the two you often use, the left and right column stalks which operate the wipers, turn signal indicators, and transmission gear selection.

Infotainment Technology

Mercedes has carved out a niche for making some of the most desirable interiors in the business. If a cutting edge look is your thing, the A250 doesn’t disappoint. In top tech spec, the A-Class has a WiFi hotspot and is fitted with a live traffic navigation system that has augmented reality. More on this later.

The twin 10.3 inch screens feature high-end looking graphics and have snappy-responding smoothness. Brightness and contrast are on-point, and the centre display is now a touchscreen.

This is a huge improvement thanks to MBUX, as it makes navigating through the layers of menus much easier, especially when using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

MBUX can be configured in so many ways Mercedes actually has a demo app for customers’ iPads so they can try it out at home. There are even pre-set or customer configurable themes that tie in the ambient lighting and driver’s display setup.

Though it’s a bit intimidating upon first introduction, there is a handy set-up wizard to help. Given the younger target market for ownership of this vehicle, I suspect that they’ll no doubt quickly figure out what’s what, set it to how they like it and just crack on.

The augmented sat nav system uses a live camera feed from the high-def camera mounted ahead of the rearview mirror and displays a video of the road ahead on the centre screen.

The screen’s refresh rate is excellent and as you drive towards your destination, big animated arrows show up to guide on the right path. There are even pop-up street names that get overlaid on the video feed to help you drive you down trickier side streets.

This is gamification at its best and is hugely impressive. Perhaps it’s Just a bit of a shame the Google Maps or Waze on your phone will likely always know a better route, making the car’s system a bit more of a show-off piece at times.

As with other late model Benzs, both the driver’s digital screen and the centre screen can be operated via the left and right steering wheel mounted touchpads respectively. You truly never have to take your hands off the wheel for most common tasks.

Another highlight of the MBUX connectivity system is an advanced optional speech recognition system designed to work along similar lines to Google Home or Amazon’s Alexa voice service.

Best when connected to the cloud, it permits users to provide spoken commands through a “Hey Mercedes” voice function that has been developed to recognize conversational language rather than specifically worded commands.


You can ask a wide variety of commands or questions such as, “What is the weather going to be like tomorrow”, or “Lower passenger temperature to 18 degrees Celcius”. These are no doubt the first baby steps that auto manufacturers are taking towards fully autonomous vehicles and integration into our homes.

Parting thoughts

The A-Class sets new standards for infotainment technology and interior quality in this class. Despite its junior status in the Benz line-up, it still feels and drives like a grown-up Mercedes-Benz vehicle, even if it’s not the most thrilling to drive.

Practicality and roominess are just great, and the A250 hatch will reward its target audience sufficiently when they find roads worth making the effort for.

If you fancy a likeable new hatch which has a distinguished name badge, high-brow tech, and an easy yet satisfying drive all year round, the 2020 A250 4Matic hatchback may just do it for you.

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Automobiles

[REVIEW] 2020 Mercedes-Benz C43AMG wagon

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The letters “AMG” stand for Aufrecht, Melcher and Großaspach. Founded in 1967 by former Mercedes-Benz engineers, Hans Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher in Burgstall an der Murr, near Stuttgart, AMG was founded as a company specializing in racing-engine development.

While AMG initially started off by designing and testing racing engines, it expanded its business into building custom road cars based upon standard Mercedes cars.

The story goes that in 1993, with AMG having become a high-profile purveyor of modified Mercedes-Benz cars, Daimler-Benz AG and AMG signed a contract of cooperation, allowing AMG to leverage Daimler-Benz’s extensive dealer network and leading to commonly developed vehicles.

In January 1999, DaimlerChrysler, as it was called between 1998 and 2007, acquired 51 percent of AMG shares, and AMG was renamed to Mercedes-AMG GmbH.

Although most people continue to associate Mercedes-Benz vehicles with AMG, AMG is clearly not exactly the same as Mercedes-Benz.

Now as the in-house performance division/trim of Mercedes-Benz, AMG Mercedes-Benz automobiles are tuned in a specific way and upgraded for additional power.

Case in point is the C43 AMG. This model is a mid-way point between the Mercedes-Benz branded C300 and the full tamale AMG-branded C63. Think of the C43 as the AMG-lite.

While the C63 may still steal the limelight with more power and presence, the C43 shouldn’t be shunned because it still offers great AMG performance, a wonderful exhaust noise, and a lot of luxury for a considerably reduced price.

The C43 is also available with 4Matic all-wheel-drive whereas the C63 isn’t.

Moreover, in Canada anyway, only the C300 and C43 are available in Euro-wagon form. In fact, the C43 wagon is not even available to our US neighbours south of the border, making it a bit of a rarity in North America.

Canada has, after all, often been used as a proving ground due to our tastes similar to American buyers and our relatively tiny market. But we’ll take what we can get, thank you very much.

How is it different from the C300 wagon?

When I was growing up in the 1990’s, my parents had 1990’s-era Mercedes-Benz 300TE wagon. Accordingly, I have a bit of a soft spot for European station wagons. Even back then, German wagons were a rarity in Canada.

Whether it was hauling my sister and I to school, carrying logs in the cargo area for building our treehouse, or exploring parts of British Columbia, the 300TE did it with aplomb.

While its 3.0-litre straight-six engine is no match for the C300’s or C43 wagon’s modern powertrains, our family wagon provided safe, reliable transportation wrapped in a prestigious package.

While I had the C43 wagon in my keep, I took a trip down memory lane to the neighbourhood I grew up in. With the wagon appropriately parked in front of our old family home, I recalled nothing but fond memories. In fact, you can still see said treehouse in the backyard.

Much of this practicality hasn’t changed when it comes to Benz wagons. That is to say that the C43AMG wagon is still a practical, family-friendly vehicle with tons of room for kids toys or grown-up toys. Mercedes-Benz has even included a clever retractable cargo divider net to separate items or pets from the passenger area.

True, the Mercedes-AMG C43 wagon isn’t adorned with the road-skimming lip spoilers or the blistered arches of the V8-wielding C63. Instead, it shares the same fenders as the C300 wagon.

However, there is a handsome looking diffuser and cannon-style black-tripped quad exhaust pipes fitted at the rear. Mercedes has also seen fit to add a tastefully small roof lip spoiler to the tailgate.

Because it’s still a proper AMG vehicle, the 3.0-litre V6 twin-turbo engine churns out a healthy 385 horsepower and 385 lb-ft of torque. This is significantly more than the C300’s 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder with only 255 horsepower. Power flows to all four wheels via Mercedes-AMG’s rear-biased 4matic system.

What’s it like to drive?

There’s plenty to like about the C43 wagon. The vehicle wears the latest more minimal front grille design and the large black-painted alloy wheels look absolutely wicked.

The engine is an absolute peach, with deep wells of power. It never feels overworked or overwhelmed as the torque-curve of the V6 is tuned to be just right. Objectively speaking, it’s more than anyone could want.

Fitted with the optional AMG performance exhaust, my test wagon sounded an aggressively sonorous bark above 2,800 rpms. At revs above 4,000 rpms, the sound changes to become deliciously ferocious.

For times when you want to avoid landing in hot water with the local constabulary, the exhaust button mutes most of the noise out the tailpipes.

The C43’s nine-speed automatic transmission can be controlled via the flappy paddles fitted to the wonderful Mercedes-Benz AMG steering wheel. The sizeable aluminium shift paddles look like they were directly stolen from the AMG GT-R sports car and are not only easy to use, but also look and feel expensive in texture.

The nine-speed torque-converter gearbox itself is competent when left to its own devices. However, in manual-only “M” mode, I found that it occasionally stalled momentarily when called into action higher up in the rev range. This meant shifting a split second sooner than when actually needed.

The wagon’s chassis is decently well balanced, with tightly controlled body roll through the faster bends. The chassis is more than capable of keeping up with the quick steering.

Some may find the newly developed AMG-exclusive elastokinematics adaptive dampers a bit firm though, regardless of whether the ride is set to Comfort or Sport.

Nonetheless, the driving experience of the C43 wagon befits its AMG namesake. With a torque split calibrated to deliver 69 per cent of what’s available to the rear axle combined with the quick steering rack, the wagon delivers enough engagement to make it worth the upgrade from the C300 spec, especially with C43AMG base prices starting sub-$59,000 CAD.

Just keep in mind that the C43’s unrelenting grip and composure means that it never truly shows a true playful side unlike its C63 sibling.

Interior Technology

The C43 wagon’s interior strikes an ideal balance between sophisticated refinement and AMG’s sporting intent. Right from start-up, you know you’re in for something special as the Bi-LED headlamps do a theatrical light show dance upon illumination.

A pair of aggressive well-bolstered AMG Performance front bucket seats illustrate how the C43 wagon is not your mom’s old Ford Taurus wagon.

Those who like the look more than the feel will be thankful for the multiple adjustments allowing the seats to be adjusted anywhere from cosseting to very supportive. Combined with the red seatbelts, it all looks particularly smart.


The technology offered in the wagon is decent too. While it is a generation behind Benz’s excellent new MBXU infotainment system interface, the 10.5 inch COMAND infotainment system is very clear and easy to read.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration is standard, and commands are completed using a rotary controller or a touchpad that’s inconveniently placed atop the controller. Response times were no better or worse than your average smartphone.

It’s too bad about the lack of a touchscreen though, as it makes for some frustrating operations such as when using Apple CarPlay.

Meanwhile, the 12.3 inch digital instrument gauge cluster is equally graphically slick. It gets an AMG-specific skin with some useful indicators (engine, gearbox oil temperature).


Use the miniature touchpad on the AMG steering wheel and you’ll also find other less pressing statistics (such as boost pressure, g-force and torque output in bar-chart form).

There’s also a new “Supersport” design mode that puts the tachometer front and centre, a la Porsche, and uses bright yellows and reds – very sporty. Overall, it’s a marked improvement over a cockpit that was beginning to feel its age.


Like other C-Classes, C43’s centre stack features a flowing design anchored by a row of expensive-looking kurled rocker switches for various HVAC functions.

Trimmed in optional carbon-fibre along with the ferociously bolstered seats and the split alcantara-leather steering wheel, my test car felt unexpectedly serious.

A highly customization 64-colour ambient lighting system and illuminated “AMG” doorsill protectors round off the package.

Parting thoughts

The C43 feels like it has been created by AMG engineers who value speed and grip over pure power. Perhaps though, we shouldn’t get too hung up on that given that this vehicle brings an AMG C-class within reach of a wider audience.

With its richly equipped cabin doing its best impression of the larger Mercedes E and S-Class models, the C43 wagon hits the sweet spot nicely blending in utility, affordability, speed, civility, as well as athleticism.

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