Getting pickup truck owners to convert brands is an immensely difficult task. Even General Motors has somewhat of that issue between its Chevy and GMC offerings, the Silverado and Sierra. Therefore you can imagine how much more of a hill it is to climb for other competing manufacturers.
Pickup truck owners continue to wage bragging rights over stats such as towing capacity, horsepower, torque, and more. Often for many buyers, the final purchase decision still comes down to brand loyalty.
Therefore, for manufacturers, it’s an all-out war as the designers crack their heads to conjure up the latest innovative storage solution, increasingly more luxurious interiors, and new technological toys to improve not only ride and handling, but day-to-day safety and usability as a work vehicle.
The second, third, and forth generation Rams all featured a front-end design inspired by a big-rig with its oversized front grille. Although this design was deemed risky, it ultimately proved very popular with customers.
This 2019 fifth-generation model, however, features a much more aerodynamic exterior design than its predecessors, with wraparound front headlamps with LED daytime running lamps that integrate into a new front grille. Gone is the old interlocking cross-hair front grille on previous Ram models, replaced by a new design with a prominent “RAM” nameplate in the centre.
In addition to its updated exterior styling, the fifth generation Ram is up to about 225 pounds lighter than its predecessor despite being larger. Two engines with mild hybrid systems are also available, thanks to the addition of a belt-drive motor generator backed by a 48-volt battery pack.
While this truck’s powertrain is familiar, the chassis is where the 2019 Ram really shines. The newly designed boxed frame utilizes plenty of high- and ultra-high-strength steel, optimized in all the right places for modest weight saving. There is also a larger midsection with specialized front and rear sections optimized for Ram’s class-exclusive coil-spring rear suspension.
Hard-working pick-up truck owners from decades ago would likely scorn at the number of interior niceties that are available on the Ram today, but even the roughest farm hand can appreciate power-folding mirrors, adjustable pedals, and a heated steering wheel.
For the purposes of this review, I tested the 2019 Dodge Ram 1500 Rebel equipped with the 5.7-litre HEMI V8.
The Rebel is the dirt slingin’ edition for the off-road enthusiast with the equipment to back up its rough and tumble good looks. Unlike the Ford F-150 Raptor, the Ram 1500 Rebel isn’t the most expensive nor does it sit at the top of the lineup.
However, like the Raptor, it comes with several options that are exclusive to this trim level. Starting from where the rubber meets the road, the Rebel has knobby 33-inch-diameter all-terrain Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tires and its own unique 18-inch aluminum wheels that are not found anywhere else on the Ram line-up.
Compared to its predecessor, the wheels are now 1” larger, and the new truck’s switch to Goodyear rubber from the previous Toyo A/T Open Country tires has resulted in a surprisingly hushed ride on tarmac despite the aggressive profile.
The suspension has upgraded shock absorbers as well, Bilstein monotube dampers all around with external reservoirs for those at the rear. My test vehicle was also equipped with the 1500’s optional air-spring suspension, good for 10.8 inches of ground clearance in the highest Off-road 2 setting versus 9.8 inches with the standard steel coils.
Handily, the air suspension system also has an Aero mode that lowers to reduce drag and therefore fuel consumption at highway speeds, plus an entry/exit mode which squats the Rebel (up to speeds of only 20 km/hr) for easier entry or egress from the cabin.
This mode also comes in handy when parking in underground parking garages. However, annoyingly, unlike the system from Land Rover, one cannot “lock” the height at low speeds, which makes it a bit dodgy when relying on the extra clearance in parking garages.
Rear and four-wheel drive setups are offered but not all-wheel-drive. Ram says that most Rebel buyers are fine with the conventional 2WD, 4WD, and 4WD low modes, which is why the full-time all-wheel-drive setup, made possible by a BorgWarner on-demand transfer case, is omitted from the Rebel’s build sheet.
When properly equipped the Ram 1500 has a towing capacity of up to 12,750 pounds and 2,300 pounds of payload.
The Ram’s air ride suspension earns high marks for comfort and control over rough surfaces that would be abusive in the standard truck. Still, tackle off-road surfaces with too much aggression and the Ram will likely still kiss its bump stops.
It is important to remember that the Rebel is a fortified version of a standard pickup truck, similar to the Toyota Tundra TRD Pro and the Chevy Silverado Trail Boss, and not a fully integrated performance rig in the vein of Ford’s F-150 Raptor. You do indeed get what you pay for, which is why the Ram Rebel is significantly less expensive than the Raptor.
When driven on the road or within its limits off-road though, and the Ram Rebel’s big Goodyears dig into corners with impressive grip and composure. On the tarmac, the large tread block pattern does compromise stopping distances and grip somewhat. To round out the rest of the tough-truck gear, the Ram Rebel is also equipped with skid plates for the front suspension, steering gear, transfer case, fuel tank as well as hill-descent control and an electronic locking rear differential.
Although the Rebel’s maximum departure angle (23.8 degrees) gives up a little to a comparable standard Ram 1500’s because of its prominent tailpipes, its maximum angles of approach (26.7 degrees) and breakover (21.8) are notably greater.
My test vehicle was equipped with the good old-fashioned optional pushrod 5.7-litre Hemi V8 producing 395 horsepower and 410 lb-ft of torque. Also available is the base 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 engine with 305 hp. Fiat Chrysler’s eTorque 48-volt mild-hybrid system comes standard on the V6 and is good for a brief boost of 90 lb-ft with the V6 and 130 lb-ft on the V8.
The Hemi V8 is not totally old school though. It has performance-enhancing and fuel-saving technology including variable valve timing and cylinder deactivation. Paired with the eight-speed automatic transmission, the V8 delivers a smooth and broad power band with a wonderfully throaty V8 rumble. Out back, there is a deep-throated growl from the dual exhaust outlets to accompany the ample shove into the seat when you floor the accelerator pedal.
The eight-speed gearbox is well tuned and downshifts fairly quickly in response to throttle in-puts. Axle ratios stats are what truck guys love, and therefore it would be remiss to leave out the 3.92:1 axle ratio and the transfer case’s 2.64:1 low-range gearing. Both help to make the Rebel a billy goat on off-road slopes.
To quell errand vibrations, such as those from the Hemi’s cylinder-deactivation system, Ram affixes active-damper modules to the frame. Think of them as essentially small cans with solenoid-activated weights inside which move to cancel out any undesired vibrations. The end result is arguably the most refined low-speed ride and interior environment of any full-size pickup.
Despite its fuel saving trickery though, this is still a large displacement eight-cylinder engine which means that fuel consumption will figures are relatively high. Perhaps this is also why Ram offers a massive 124-litre fuel tank as an option.
On the inside
This, ladies and gents, is one of the best pick-up truck interiors on the market today. The new Ram’s cabin is filled with high-tech gadgets, as well as thoughtful storage solutions for the working man or woman.
I really appreciated the measurements/conversions printed on the underside of the centre console lid as well. While unlikely to be used in real life, it’s nonetheless a thoughtful feature that can act as a conversation piece.
The overhead console is another nice touch, as is the mini console dedicated to the rear-seat passengers, which hosts a pair of cupholders, USB ports (two each, regular and USB-C), and an AC power outlet.
My vehicle came equipped with the optional leather upholstery featuring the tread pattern of the Goodyear DuraTrac tires printed on the seatbacks and bottoms. The door panels and trim panels on the dashboard and centre console are two toned black and red, something that you’ll either love or hate.
What you’ll not be likely to hate though, is the optional 8.4-inch UConnect infotainment touchscreen, as equipped on my Rebel (a 5.0 inch unit is standard, and an even bigger 12 inch unit is optional).
UConnect is a very intuitive system, fully reconfigurable, and among the best on the market. One can even set up and save multiple trailer configurations via UConnect. Something that all RV or trailer owners will be sure to appreciate.
Crew cab versions of the Ram, including the Rebel, feature a flat floor in back and seats that flip up, allowing you to store valuables in the safety of the cabin. RamBins, hidden underneath the rear floormats, have grown in size to better accommodate hitch receivers or ratchet straps.
However, you won’t be able to hide a bag under the rear seats like you can in an F-150.
No segment is more competitive or important to Detroit’s automakers. These trucks are loved and driven by millions globally, and arguably act as the face of the brands.
For years, Ford’s F-Series has been the best-selling truck in the USA with the Chevrolet Silverado coming in second and the Ram placing a distant third. But yet, early in April 2019 something different happened when Ram passed the Silverado for the first time.
Now, these results deserve an asterisk since if you add Chevy Silverado’s and GMC Sierra’s sales together, General Motors, as a whole still sold more full-sized pickup trucks than Ram did. However, this is still worth noting as America is the land of the pickup trucks.
Overall, this latest generation Ram 1500 has been designed to satisfy the desires of the modern truck buyer. One that may go bolder bashing one weekend, mattress shopping on another weekend, but yet also use the truck for the daily school run.
With such a diverse set of skills needed, the Ram balances capability, efficiency, and quality. Despite its off-road credentials, the 2019 Ram Rebel succeeds in servicing up a polished experience, almost equal to some luxury cars, right from the moment Drive is selected via the dash-mounted shift dial.
As a whole then, the all-new 2019 Dodge Ram 1500 offers enough improvements all around in pretty much all areas that will both appeal to loyalists, but also hopefully lure buyers away from other brands.
[REVIEW] 2020 Nissan Sentra SR
Nissan’s baby sedan has grown up.
Originally launched in 1982 as Nissan’s subcompact car, the originally Sentra was the most fuel-efficient gasoline powered car at the time. Largely owing to this appeal, the Sentra quickly became a success to the tune of the best-selling import in the U.S.
38 years later, the Sentra is now in its 8th generation and no longer Nissan’s subcompact car (leave that for the Nissan Versa). With big-car levels of room and sporty driving dynamics, the compact class is one of the fiercest in Canada, dominated by the Honda Civic, the Toyota Corolla, and even the Hyundai Elantra.
So what room does this leave for Nissan? According to them, it boils down to a premium-car experience, styling, and substance.
Let’s take a look at how Nissan’s all-new compact sedan has grown up to be arguably the most handsome car in its class on sale today.
If looks could kill
The only thing that’s not new for 2020 is the name of the car. Nissan’s engineers have literally redesigned it from the ground up.
Unfortunately, the Canadian media launch coincided with the rise of COVID19 cases globally and Nissan Canada made the correct call to cancel the national press event so as to support social distancing and to prevent the pandemic from spreading within the country.
Kudos to Nissan Canada’s PR and on-ground team in offering a limited number of vehicles for auto journalists to test drive after a strict COVID19 cleaning protocol was established and observed. If anything it made the new Sentra stand out even more, purely on its merits.
A glitzy press event was clearly not necessary to highlight the Sentra’s bold new look. This thing’s a stunner!
With its broad shoulder line giving it a wider-looking stance, V-motion corporate grille and even a two-tone floating roof, the 2020 Nissan Sentra draws inspiration from its big brothers, the Altima and the Maxima.
Riding on an all new and improved platform, the Sentra sports slim upswept LED headlamps, defined bumper corners, and a sharp looking rear bumper. Compared to the previous generation, this new car is about two inches lower and two inches wider .
From its side profile and especially when judging the Sentra’s C-pillar, there are more Altima cues there with its sleek, fastback-like roof profile as part of its radical design.
Gone are the slab sides, replaced by defined character lines that run through the doors, quarter panels, and fenders.
Out back, there are slim taillights with an all-new unique shape, and the rear bumper has an integrated (purely cosmetic) rear diffuser.
Under the hood, there is a new, more powerful engine that boost fuel economy. A redesigned interior includes more luxury, more standard technology and more driver-assistance features. More on that later.
Safety and Driver Assistance Systems
Nissan’s high level of standard safety equipment jives well with the “Sentra” name which was originally created for Nissan by Ira Bachrach of Namelab.
The word “Sentra” sounds like “sentry” and “central” which is supposed to evoke images of safety. Right from the start, Nissan had wanted consumers to understand that despite its compact dimensions, the Sentra was safe.
Nissan’s Safety Shield 360, a suite of six driver-assistance features, is now standard on the Sentra, just like the other Nissan sedans.
These six features include blind-spot monitoring, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, high beam assist, rear cross traffic alert, and rear automatic braking.
These compliment the Sentra’s standard 10 airbags and even an alert to remind drivers to check the back seat for children when exiting the vehicle.
I was frankly shocked to see the inclusion of a comprehensive tire pressure monitoring system on my test vehicle, with individual tire pressure readouts versus the generic cheaper ABS wheel speed sensor type system which only tells you that a random tire is low on air.
Interior and Infotainment
The 2020 Sentra has a vastly improved interior when compared to the outgoing car. Gone is the rental-fleet vehicle feel. With greater overall passenger space, there are high-quality materials and details including contract stitching and satin-chrome aluminum accents.
While beating a Honda Civic on driving dynamics along is a tall order, beating it on interior design and quality is far easier. Nissan said that much attention was paid to engineer in premium car levels of smoothness on things such as the dials and switches.
I particularly like the circular HVAC vents, which reminded me of those found in the latest Mercedes-Benz vehicles.
The faux carbon fibre print helps to add some interesting texture to the centre console and window switch areas and Nissan’s excellent NASA-inspired Zero Gravity seats also make their appearance.
They can be outfitted as standard cloth or heated leather depending on the trim level selected. I particularly liked the sporty-looking orange accents throughout the interior on my SR trimmed model. SR Premium models get gorgeous-looking quilted leather seats with contrast stitching.
As expected, a heated steering wheel is also available. What’s less expected are the soft-touch surfaces on the dash and door panels, lending an air of quality lacking in many cars in this category.
Infotainment and connectivity-wise, the well-equipped SR trim includes the optional floating 8.0-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. SR Premium models are also equipped with Nissan’s Intelligent Around View 360 degree monitor.
Unusual for its class, this system is highly customizable, with the ability to add widgets to a customized Home screen menu.
If I had a couple of niggles it would be that there are a couple of signs of cost cutting in the trunk area. You’ll need to watch your grocery bags as the gooseneck hinges can crunch your load when the cargo area is fully.
Moreover, it would also be nice to have an interior trunk lid handle to pull the trunk lid shut, especially in foul whether when the exterior of the car is dirty, or at least for the next few months, to avoid errand COVID19 germs.
How does it drive?
The Sentra now features a new 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder engine rated at 149 horsepower and 145 lb-ft of torque. This more fuel-efficient engine offers increases of 20 per cent and 16 per cent respectively over the previous generation’s 1.8-litre engine.
A new independent rear suspension matched to a McPherson strut front suspension offers much improved driving dynamics. The SR’s ride is firm but compliant despite its low-profile tires.
Nissan has also upgraded the electric power system for a more responsive dual-pinion rack with standard Nissan Intelligent Trace Control technology.
Intelligent Trace Control is a comfort feature that uses Electronic Stability Control data to automatically and smoothly applies small amounts of braking to individual wheels to correct the vehicle trajectory to match the driver’s commands. The system can also engage when exiting a corner.
For example, if the vehicle starts understeering due to accelerating too quickly out of a curve, Trace Control will smoothly brake the inside wheels to help gently bring the Sentra back to the steered path. The amount of braking is small and does not affect the vehicle speed appreciably, but aids cornering by correcting the speed and/or adding yaw when needed
While I never pushed the Sentra anywhere close enough to experience the system, I can report its effectiveness in Infiniti vehicles.
Like almost every other compact sedan around, the 2020 Sentra continues to use a CVT. While I wasn’t a less than enthusiastic fan of the previous generation Sentra’s CVT, this latest generation unit is well-tuned and much smoother.
I liked that the transmission emulates a conventional automatic gearbox when you stomp on the throttle pedal, with a number of “fake” stepped gearshifts felt before it holds the revs steady like a typical CVT. This helps to take away the typical droney nature of most CVTs.
I almost missed the Sport mode, toggled via an unmarked button on the shifter. This increases the throttle responses and makes the CVT opt for maximum engine rpms and power sooner. Interestingly, it can even “rev-match” when it downshifts in certain conditions.
Of course, the Sentra’s CVT only has 149 horsepower to work with, but this Is enough to motivate it to the middle of the pack 8.1 seconds as far as 0-100 km/hr times are concerned in this class.
Overall, the 2020 Nissan Sentra is a much-improved choice, especially if best-in-class exterior styling, interior quality, and value for money are top priorities for you.
While the new Sentra is a little more expensive than before, its overall desirability has shot up dramatically. You might even find it unexpectedly fun-to-drive.
[REVIEW] 2020 Toyota Prius Prime plug-in hybrid
When you think of hybrid vehicles, I would venture to say that the Toyota Prius is the first vehicle that comes to mind. It’s actually rather unbelievable that the first-generation Prius made its debut over two decades ago, back in 1997.
In car technology years, that’s ancient. But over the last 20 years, the Toyota Prius has become the quintessential hybrid vehicle even though it has given up its ground to other hybrids over the years, including those made by Toyota itself.
This eco warrior has been owned by anyone and everyone from celebrities, social media influencers, to taxi fleets. Almost all of the taxis in Vancouver, for example, are Prius or Prius V’s.
While the previous generation Prius was really more of an evolution of the second-generation car it replaced, the current fourth-generation Prius (that has been with us since 2017) was truly a revolution.
While its styling was truly controversial, the biggest advance was in fuel economy, the main reason that target customers would be interested in hybrids in the first place. Fuel economy improved to a phenomenally low 4.5L /100 kms, brought on by a new, larger, and more efficient 1.8L four-cylinder engine.
Despite the improvements in fuel consumption, the fourth generation Prius was larger inside without being tremendously larger outside than before. Its aerodynamic but yet practical hatchback shape provides almost the same family-hauling space of most mid-sized sedans, and handling, interior quality, and noise levels were all improved.
Initially only available in certain USA states, Toyota also introduced the Prius Prime, a second-generation plug-in hybrid version of the Prius. This was designed for consumers tempted to buy a full electric vehicle, but yet aren’t willing to jump in with both feet just yet due to the range anxiety.
Why get the Prius Prime over a regular Prius?
The answer is simple. If you don’t need all-wheel-drive that is now offered on the standard Prius, can charge frequently to maximise the electric-only drive mode, the Prius Prime is the more compelling car.
Not only does the Prime give you the coveted “OK” sticker that allows you to drive in carpool lanes, but to my eyes, it’s also a better-looking car out of the pair.
It’s true that the first-gen Prius plug-in, introduced in 2012, was perhaps a bit of a half-hearted effort that promised some electric-only range. Even though I was generally positive on the car when I reviewed it a few years ago, it was expensive for what you go. I also noticed that the old Prius plug-in resorted to firing up its gas engine on more frequently than expected.
Clearly Toyota took notice due to its lower owner satisfaction surveys of the Prius Plug-in hybrid versus the regular Prius.
Now with its dedicated “Prime” moniker, Toyota has heard those EV-leaning buyers loud and clear.
The Prius Prime not only has a dedicated name and several styling differences, but it has the ability to stay in all-electric mode even at highway speeds. Thanks to an 8.8 kWh lithium-ion battery, the Prime has a claimed range of about 40 kilometers in all-electric mode. I found that I could eek out above this figure with careful driving.
What’s new for 2020?
Interestingly enough, one of the major updates for 2020 was a fifth seating position for the Prius Prime. Before 2020, the Prime only came as a four seater, with the alleged explanation being that if the rear were to seat three across, the car would need to have more reinforcing material and its 3.3 kW charger would need to be move.
Nonetheless, this was enough of a concern for buyers that Toyota obviously found a way to make the centre-rear seat happen. 2020 models also receive two additional USB ports for the rear passengers.
The third biggest change for 2020 is standard Sirius XM and Apple CarPlay capability, as Toyota recently included on a few of their other models.
Other than that, the Prime remains pretty much unchanged from 2019 aside for a few colour trim differences for a more premium feel, as well as relocated seat heater buttons for easier usability.
What’s it like to drive?
Toyota says that the reason why “Prime” was chosen was because the word represents “the best” or “at the top”.
With this model being the best-equipped and most technologically advanced Prius in the model’s two-decade global history, they felt that the name was a natural fit.
Plug-in hybrid vehicles have come such a long way in the last few years and the Prius Prime leads the charge. With the range being double than what it used to be, owners with frequent access to a charge point, or even a household outlet, will find that the price premium over the standard Prius will pay off rather quickly.
Keep the batteries charged and, as I did, you could feasibly run the Prius PHEV almost ever without having to fill up the fuel tank. I averaged an astounding 2.8L/100 kms in my week with the Prime due to relying largely on battery power for most of my commute.
Toyota says that the Prius Prime takes 2.5 hours to recharge at 240 volts, and can be charged overnight at the standard 120 volt in around 5-6 hours with the provided travel charging cord. There is no Level 3 high speed DC charging capability on the Prime since the Level 2 240v charging speed is quick enough already.
With its EV Auto Mode, Hybrid Mode, and EV-only modes, the Prime allows owners to juggle its power sources remarkably efficiently. Plant the throttle pedal and the revs do rise. However, the torque of the electric motor means you don’t need to bury your foot to get off the mark.
Toyota has admitted that the hybrid CVT drive is not the most pleasant way to get about if you need to move quickly. Therefore, they’ve addressed the problem with a meatier motor (with 71 hp and 120 lb ft of torque) and denser battery, as well as more noise insulation.
The battery deserves its own mention as it is twice as powerful as before while only being 50 per cent heavier and only two-thirds bulkier.
As a result of these improvements, the engine noise from the 1.8 litre, 121 horsepower, Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine is rarely intrusive. It’s a subtle improvement, but a worthwhile one. The CVT provides ultra-tall cruising ratios which the Prius Prime can tolerate due to its low aerodynamic drag.
Toyota claims that the Prius’ engine boasts the best thermal efficiency of any mass-produced engine anywhere in the world thanks to a new exhaust gas recirculation system and incremental improvements made on combustion, heat management and friction reduction.
The Prius’s remodeled lighter and smaller transaxle, which houses the electric motors and transmission, has helped the engineers reduce its length by 59mm, meaning that the auxiliary 12 volt battery can now be housed in the engine compartment instead of the cargo area.
Despite the ability to run in EV-only mode even at highway speeds up to 135 km/hr, there are limitations to the electric motor’s oomph. You’ll find the internal combustion engine firing up seamlessly to fill in should you need to make a passing maneuver.
But the brilliance of the Prius is that it never truly forgets about electric propulsion. It goes right on storing energy from its regenerative braking system and downhill coasting, ready to deploy as soon as you move away from the next traffic light.
Understandably then, the Prius Prime is best suited to around-town driving where starts and stops are frequent. Like other Priuses, the high-geared, super-fast steering makes city parking and traffic-dodging a clinch in town.
Given that Toyota has shifted over 1.5 million Priuses worldwide, clearly they know what they’re doing. The Prius prime’s ride is comfortable but firm and handling still a bit reluctant perhaps due to the eco-friendly low rolling resistance tires. However, the crucial low-speed urban ride is nicely dampened, and Toyota’s latest efforts with its regenerative braking is commendable.
Still, this is not a driver’s car by a long shot, nor does it purport to be.
Toyota’s Safety Sense technology is included, including automatic emergency braking, automatic high beams, active cruise control, and blindspot warning.
What about the styling?
While it may come as no surprise that the Prius is slipperier than before, it may be surprising to many that the Prius shares the same 0.25 ultra-low drag coefficient as a Tesla Model S.
The Prius’ appearance is said to benefit from an unusually young design team and a concerted effort to “inject ego” into what remains a largely familiar silhouette.
Compared to the third-generation Prius, its longer and slightly wide, but yet lower, with an overall height descended by around 20mm and the driver’s hip point sunk by a full 59 mm. The resulting drop in centre of gravity compliments the 60 per cent gain in torsional rigidity provided by a more extensive use of high-strength steel and additional body reinforcement.
Compared to the regular Prius, the Prime stands out with unique quad-LED projector headlights and LED foglamps, as well as lighter carbon-fibre composite tailgate with “dual-wave” rear glass. Due to the curved window, there is no rear wiper.
This unique rear tailgate also houses a different LED taillamp design which encompasses the entire width of the car.
What about the interior?
Toyota doesn’t skim on its equipment when it comes to the Prius’ interior. While the instrumentation may be slightly unconventional, it checks all of the boxes as far as usability.
There is a colourful heads-up display, the requisite digital speedometer, and a much improved colour multi-function trip computer housed in a wide instrument pod spanning the centre of the dash. The two main trip computer screens provide usage monitors which provide enough readouts to satisfy even the most discerning efficiency geeks.
My well spec’ed out Prime also came with a JBL premium sound system, GPS satellite navigation, as well as a wireless Qi-compatible phone charger.
The large Tesla-like portrait touchscreen is nice to look at, but the user interface seems very much ported over from the standard landscape-orientated Toyota infotainment system.
The learning curve is a little bit steep initially, as it takes a while to sort out the split screens and the various information that can be displayed. Arguably, the screen resolution could also be a bit higher and the graphics a bit more premium in feel.
On longer journeys, I found the front seats comfortable, but a little flat. In the rear, leg room is generous, although head room is still limited for larger adults as a consequence of the aerodynamic descending roofline above you and the battery and fuel tank packaged below.
Assuming that your head isn’t bothered by the roofline, you’ll feel well provided for in the back, with USB and 12V power outlets available between the front seats, and good-sized bottle holders in the doors.
The Prius Prime’s trunk a good size, having swollen to 343 litres below the window line. It offers space nearly on a par with its conventional hatchback rivals. Thanks to the tailgate, the cargo area is both wide and long and swallows bulky items particularly easily, although it’s shallower than you might expect.
With its manufacturer-estimated 1,035 kilometer total driving range and 40-kilometer EV range, the Prius prime raises the efficiency bar even more.
The interior doesn’t feel as cheap as before, and the odd touches that remain make it quirky enough to have some character.
All in-all, the Prius Prime is practical, yet durable and reliable enough to serve as a daily driver for years to come.
Despite the new additional standard features, the 2020 Prius Prime starts at $32,990, same MSRP as the 2019 model. The 2020 Prius Prime Upgrade package starts at $34,990 ($455 less than the 2019 model).
My 2020 Prius Prime Technology test vehicle starts at $37,990 ($580 less than the 2019 model).
[REVIEW] 2020 Chevy Bolt EV
When Chevy revealed a completely new electric vehicle as a concept car at the 2015 Detroit Motor Show, there was tremendous excitement.
Looking like a cross between a BMW i3 and a Chevy Sonic hatchback, the Bolt joined the 2016 Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid to showcase GM’s renewed focus on electric vehicles.
The Bolt was particularly appealing as it promised to be the first mainstream affordable electric vehicle that offered enough range to rival a much more expensive Tesla Model S.
Initially launched with over a 380 km range battery as standard equipment, the Bolt had significantly more range than its closest competitor, the BMW i3, which only had a sub 200 km max range.
Improved range and more for 2020
At its production launch for the 2017 mode year, the Bolt largely delivered on the promises that GM made with the concept Bolt.
At a time when most affordable EVs struggled to go even 160 kms on a charge, the Bolt EV was a revolution.
Fittingly, Chevrolet decided to show off the car at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show instead of a traditional auto show. The name was renamed to “Bolt EV” so as to separate it from the “Volt”.
Nonetheless, that confusion remains today due to the similar names. Still, Chevy applied a lot of the learnings it gathered from the experience of Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid owners and applied it to the Bolt EV.
For 2020, Chevy’s engineers have tinkered with the Bolt’s battery chemistry by changing the ratio of manganese, lithium, cobalt, and nickel, to eek out about an additional 33+ km of extra range.
These updates to the energy density of the 288 cells have increased the capacity of the under floor lithium-ion battery pack from 60.0 kWh to 66.0 kWh. This now puts the Bolt EV’s total estimated range of about 416 kms to be slightly more than the Hyundai Kona Electric and the entry-level Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus.
Aside from the additional range for 2020, the only additional changes include two new exterior colours, and upgraded hardware for the Rear Vision Camera and Surround Vision camera systems. My press vehicle tester was equipped in the new Oasis Blue paint job, but a new Cayenne Orange Metallic colour is also available at additional charge.
Vehicle Interior Highlights
With lots of light thanks to huge windows all around, the Bolt has an airy interior. The low, flat floor allows for a comfortable seating position even in the rear, and there is a decent 17 cubic feet of cargo space despite the compact size of the car.
Although it is made from a combination of lightweight materials, including aluminium, magnesium, carbon fibre and woven mesh, the Bolt’s interior is more functional and techie versus luxury.
The two-toned dashboard design is interesting and helps to break up the grey bits of plastic that look a bit cheap and cheerful.
A floating instrument panel and multi-purpose connected centre console have a compartment large enough to stow an iPad, and the pixelized flecked plastic white trim befits the ethos of the Bolt and gives it added personality. I suspect that most buyers who chose the Bolt over the Tesla Model 3 or BMW i3 probably won’t care too much about the hard plastics.
The LG-supplied large LCD display screens are crisp and clear in their presentation of key driver information, and the large 10.2 inch colour infotainment touchscreen with “flip-board” operation is impressive.
My higher end “Premier” trim also included the infotainment package with a Bose premium 7-speaker system with subwoofer, wireless device charging, and two USB charging-only ports for the rear passengers.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality worked seamlessly, and there is a built-in WiFi Hotspot with available 4G LTE data, much like other GM vehicles.
While I was impressed by the multitude of electric vehicle display screens, energy coaches, and available customizations, I was also perplexed by the Bolt’s lack of a simple “remaining percentage of battery capacity left” readout.
Hard as I tried to find it, the only place that seemed to indicate this was in the Bolt’s smartphone app. Otherwise, one must contend with the Bolt’s “fuel” gauge and range-to-empty readout.
Speaking of smartphones, the Bolt also comes with standard KeyPass smartphone entry/start operation as standard equipment.
While I have heard some people complaining about the seats being a bit firm and lacking in support up front, I found them reasonably comfortable albeit lacking in lateral support.
Heated at the front and rear on my Premier trim Bolt, the car’s seating positions are rather upright like an SUV.
Additional Tech Highlights
My Premier trim Bolt EV was also fitted with a plethora of active safety systems as part of the Driver Confidence Package II. This included blindspot monitoring, automatic emergency braking, lane keeping assist with departure warning, forward collision alert, front pedestrian braking, rear cross traffic alert, and rear park assist.
This package also added the IntelliBeam automatic high beam assist to the standard LED headlamp system.
For those with teenage drivers in the family, GM also offers Teen Driver Technology, an available built-in PIN code restricted system that helps to coach them even when you’re not there. It lets parents set a speed alert, a volume limit, and more.
For example, parents can enable a “Buckle to Drive” feature or mute the audio until front-seat occupants are buckled up. There is even an in-vehicle report card to track (and hopefully motivate improvements) the young driver’s performance.
Vehicle Driving Highlights
It’s not just on paper that the Bolt seems like a great vehicle. Until my review vehicle, I hadn’t spent any time in it, but could easily see why GM had big hopes for the Bolt.
In the three years since the Bolt has made its debut though, the electric vehicle landscape has changed dramatically with the notable arrival of the Hyundai Kona EV, the Kia Niro EV, the longer-range Nissan Leaf Plus, and the Tesla Model 3. Even more EVs are coming later this year.
Like the earlier versions of the Bolt, EV, the 2020 model still delivers smooth, linear acceleration off the line from its healthy 200 hp electric motor which also produces 266 lb-ft of torque. This results in a 0-100 km/hr time of 6.6 seconds.
While not necessarily unique to the Bolt, it is always a bit of a novelty to be able to drive an EV with just one pedal, speeding up and slowing down using only the accelerator pedal and allowing the regen to capture some of the kinetic energy while slowing down the vehicle.
Carried over from other GM hybrid vehicles, the Bolt also features a novel “regen on demand” feature which allows one to pull on the steering wheel mounted paddle to invoke a more aggressive level of regeneration. One can literally slow down the Bolt to a complete stop by just using the paddle.
Although the big battery allows Bolt owners to enjoy some great range between charges, it takes a long time to charge it back up. In my test on a Level 2 240-volt home charger, it can take almost 10 hours to charge from empty. Most drivers won’t need to wait that long if they top up the battery in between trips throughout the day.
An optional DC fast-charging capability, as fitted to my test vehicle, allowed about 140 km of extra range with just 30 minutes of charging at a compatible Level 3 DC fast charging station.
On the road, the Bolt’s large greenhouse makes driving a joy. Drivers can enjoy improved confidence also due to the upgraded second generation digital rearview mirror. Unlike Jaguar Land Rover’s equivalent product, GM’s also allows one to tweak the level of zoom and even adjust the image up or down.
As previously mentioned, the tailgate mounted cameras have been upgraded with a higher resolution unit, as have the cameras for the surround-view camera system.
A high pressure heated camera washer system ensures that the rear facing cameras can be cleaned at any time, even in inclement weather conditions.
All-in-all, I enjoyed my time with the Bolt EV. It’s not just an excellent EV, but a great car all around. It’s just too bad that aside from the initial buzz during launch, Chevy hasn’t really managed to get its model name out there very well.
The instant torque makes the Bolt EV fun to drive and its low centre of gravity afforded by the battery pack aids in its good handling and confidence on twisty roads. Although the ride can be a bit choppy on rougher roads, interior is a bit noisy and the unusual 7-shaped gear selector pattern is initially tricky, the Bolt continues to be a sharp EV.
Those minor complaints aside, if you’ve ever thought about going electric, the Bolt is a great alternative especially if you are turned off by the hype from Tesla fanboys.
If you want an EV with great numbers and a reasonable price, don’t forget the Bolt.
[REVIEW] 2020 Cadillac XT5 Sport
When one thinks of Cadillac and SUVs, the company’s first major entry into the SUV market, the Escalade, probably comes to mind.
Introduced for the 1999 model year in response to competition from the Mercedes-Benz M-Class, Lexus LX, and Lincoln Navigator, the Escalade has been a resounding success for the Cadillac brand.
Over two decades later, the Escalade is still trucking along. However, no longer is the Escalade the company’s only SUV. Indeed, Cadillac has expanded the range significantly in order to satisfy the different niches that consumers are now demanding.
The Cadillac XT5, a relative newcomer to the brand’s sable of vehicle, is now its best-selling model in the automaker’s portfolio.
What is it?
As the CT6 demonstrates, Cadillac can build some brilliant-driving vehicles. The XT5 is part of parent company GM’s $12 billion dollar plan to revamp the Cadillac brand around the world.
Built on Cadillac’s new flexible architecture for SUVs, which also underpins the XT4 and XT6, the XT5 is designed to compete with the likes of the BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class.
Styling wise, the XT5’s styling is unmistakably Cadillac, unmistakably American luxury. For those of you who know your Cadillac SUVs, the XT5 replaced the quirky-looking SRX in Cadillac’s range from a few years ago.
Originally launched in 2017, the 2020 XT5 has just undergone a refresh gaining a new turbocharged engine, slightly massaged styling, updated trim hierarchy, and new tech features.
Compared to previous model years, the 2020 model receives restyled bumpers, new wheel designs ranging from 18 to 20 inches, standard LED headlights, restyled LED taillights with new graphics, and a newly designed front grille with different mesh textures depending on the trim level.
The new base engine is a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine also found in the XT4. Producing 237 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, this engine complements the XT5’s naturally aspirated 3.6-litre V6. The four cylinder engine is fitted with a twin-scroll turbocharged and a unique three-step sliding camshaft to help the engine optimize performance across the rev band.
My XT5 test vehicle was fitted with the carried-over 3.6 litre 310 horsepower V6 which produces 271 lb-ft of torque. Like the 2.0, this engine also features direct injection, camshaft phasing, cylinder deactivation, and auto start/stop to optimize efficiency.
Additional Creature Comfort, Colours, Tech and Safety features for 2020
With so many options and choices available to consumers when it comes to shopping a midsized luxury SUV, Cadillac hopes that the sum of all its parts ticks the boxes. For 2020, Cadillac has introduced a variety of updates designed to make its best-selling SUV even more appealing.
In addition to the ubiquitous addition of new colour palettes for the cabin, a new centre console design now offers even more storage.
However, the big change for 2020 is the update to the infotainment system. The latest Cadillac User Experience (C.U.E.) interface continues to handle infotainment, with inputs made by Caddy’s next-gen rotary controller. Drivers are now able to use the controller to “jog” for more intuitive inputs.
Connectivity features also include Apple CarPlay 6 and Android Auto 7 capability, Cadillac Connected Apps and Cadillac 4G LTE with an available Wi-Fi hotspot (includes 3GB/three-month data trial).
The updated system and associated user interface is a huge improvement over the old CUE system. A much more intuitive interface combined with snappy performance makes it as good as the best systems out there. One of the biggest improvements for me personally is the ditching of the old capacitive volume touch bar in favour of a trusty and accurate volume knob.
The biggest change in the new instrument cluster, aside for a rearrangement of information, is the way the driver can now cycle through the available drive modes and engage all-wheel drive.
In the past, the All-wheel-drive menu was a bit confusing in that it was separate from the Mode menu. For 2020, it is integrated in with the vehicle’s four available drive modes: Tour (2WD), AWD, Sport (AWD) and Off Road (AWD), coherent with the rest of Cadillac’s line-up of SUVs.
There are also more standard safety features including forward collision alert with low-speed automatic braking, Intellibeam automatic high-beam lighting and pedestrian detection for front and rear.
The 2020 options list also gets fleshed out with newly available night vision, improved versions of the automaker’s HD Rear Vision rearview mirror and HD Surround Vision camera systems and more.
Further tech updates include:
• One-touch phone pairing with Near Field Communication
• The wireless phone charging now supporting up to 15-watts of charging, the addition of USB-C ports
• Enhanced Automatic Parking Assist with Braking
• Rear Pedestrian Alert system
There are plenty of bins for stashing smaller items, and an easy-to-fold rear seat allows the Caddy to easily transform to a cargo king.
With a heads-up display, clear forward visibility, and excellent side and rearward visibility afforded by the combination of the excellent digital rearview camera and large side mirrors, the XT5 is easy to drive and composed on the road.
My test vehicle was specified out in the Sport trim, equipped with the 3.6L V6 with 310 hp and 271 lb-ft of torque connected to a 9-speed automatic gearbox. The Sport trim comes standard with the V6 whereas the lower Premium and Premium Luxury trim lines come with the new 2.0-litre turbo four.
In addition to the standard equipment V6 on the new Sport trim, this line also features adaptive dampers and a new Sport All-Wheel-Drive system with a torque-vectoring, twin-clutch rear differential which is said to improve power delivery and stability while cornering.
The up-level V6 delivers power in a linear and smooth manner. However when compared to the available torque at lower revs offered by some of the XT5’s competitors’ turbocharged engines, it can occasionally feel a bit lethargic. In fact, Caddy’s smaller 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder may actually feel more responsive in daily driving, so be sure to test drive both variants before making a purchase.
Despite its similar looks to the SRX, the XT5 rides and handles far better thanks to being 300 lbs lighter and with a two inch longer wheelbase. The continuously variable damping system and strut/multilink suspension help the XT5 to feel relatively light and wieldy.
Can we say that the XT5 is fun to drive? Probably not. The Caddy is not quite in the same realm as the competition from Germany such as the Porsche Macan, BMW X3 M40i or Audi SQ5. But for normal day-to-day use, there is little reason to complain. That’s perhaps as backhanded a compliment as you can give to a crossover.
When confronted with a twisty road, the XT5 can certainly tackle it with confidence. But if it’s hairs on the back of your neck excitement you’re looking for, you may be a little disappointed. For example, the Cadillac’s steering is accurate with sell weighted responses, but I wish that it had a bit more substantial feedback.
Body roll is well-controlled and the vehicle always feels planted and substantial. Long highway stints are easily gobbled up in large chunks thanks to the impressively quiet and well-isolated cabin.
A V Sport version of the XT5 would likely spice things up a little, but with Cadillac’s large number of other models in the works right now, don’t hold your breath.
Modest improvements to the already well-packaged Cadillac XT5 make an already good vehicle even better.
While it doesn’t carry a similar degree of prestige and presence as its big brother Escalade, the XT5 should still appeal to a large group of buyers who are looking for American luxury in their crossover recipe.
[REVIEW] 2020 Acura ILX A-Spec
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.
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.
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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