BMW would like its customers and prospects to believe that its “Ultimate Driving Machine” tagline is still true, whether it’s the latest 3, the 5 or even the 7-passenger all-new BMW X7 SUV.
In order to evaluate the truth to this statement, a small group of Canadian journalists were recently invited to Vancouver Island to evaluate the company’s latest product offensives that have been mounted in order to succeed again its competitors.
I’ve often thought about why I find driving to be as enjoyable as I do. To literally be in control of a machine under one’s foot, going from 0-100 km/hr in 2nd gear, and literally feeling thrust behind one’s back. There’s nothing quite like it. The more twisty the road the better.
It’s almost the same feeling, the same rush that I can remember after learning to ride a bike for the first time.
For many, the thought of dealing with other motorists, pedestrians, construction crews, is enough to literally turn their stomachs.
Indeed, the Wall Street Journal recently noted that the percentage of American teens with a driver’s license has tumbled in the last few decades. About a quarter of 16-year-olds had a driver’s license in 2017, representing a sharp decline from nearly half in 1983, according to an analysis of licensing data by transportation researchers.
So what’s the deal here? Clearly, many young people are happy to live their lives without a car, especially in big cities where public transportation is good.
By consolidating their data from studies, they found that while millennials did show lower rates of car ownership between 2007-15, so far there was no decrease in a desire to drive. Instead, what they were doing was delaying ownership of cars instead of abandoning it. Indeed, millennials now make up the largest market segment of customers.
In order to combat the changing tastes of the consumers, including these millennials, auto manufacturers have had to diversify their product lines tremendously in the last couple of decades in order to try to find micro-niches.
No longer is it as simple as a sports car, sedan, a coupe, a wagon, a pick-up truck, or an SUV. Today, we have “shooting brakes”, four door coupes, Sport Activity Vehicles, and hot-road German station wagons which outperform what would traditionally be considered “sports cars”.
BMW is an example of just such a company who has had to diversify perhaps more than others.
If you aren’t familiar with BMW’s storied history, the B.M.W stands for Bavarian Motor Works. Founded in 1916 and originally started as an airplane engine manufacturer, after World War 1, the company focused on building motorcycles and then later on automobiles. It also survived the post-war period by making pots, pans, and bicycles until 1948, when it restarted motorcycle production.
Today, as we all know, the BMW Group produces motorcycles, plug-in electric cars and luxury automobiles and includes auto brands: BMW, MINIs, and Rolls-Royce.
BMW’s branding tagline of “The Ultimate Driving Machine”, introduced in the 1970s, is probably one of the most remembered and successful marketing campaigns. Even today, ardent BMW fans can appreciate how well the tagline still resonates with their aspirations.
The Ultimate marketing campaign
The tagline, now over 35 years old, was originally created by a relatively unknown ad agency, Ammirati & Puris. Ammirati & Puris caught the attention of Bob Lutz (yes, that Bob Lutz of Ford, Chrysler, and GM fame) by their impressive Fiat ads. At the time, Lutz was the executive vice president of BMW’s global sales and marketing and had worked with Ammirati & Puris while he was at Fiat before joining BMW.
Although it was considered a gamble to go with such an underdog agency, The “Ultimate Driving Machine” tagline became part of BMW’s marketing campaign in 1973 and the rest, as they say, is history.
The slogan became an integral part of BMW’s marketing campaigns and became ubiquitous in magazine advertisements. It drove the marketing campaigns and helped to increase sales and create a distinctive positioning for the BMW brand. The slogan adorned the best car ad campaigns from the BMW marketing works for decades.
Part of the secret of the tagline’s success was its directness. It hit consumers right between the eyes without being vague. They explicitly knew what BMW was aiming for; creating the best automobiles that would delight performance enthusiasts while still maintaining a high level of functionality, design excellence, and luxury.
Since “The Ultimate Driving Machine” also emphasised the driving experience, car owners did not need to feel that driving pleasure needed to be sacrificed at the expense of fuel economy. An important point in the 1970’s during the fuel crisis. While this is still important today – just look at electrification of vehicles – the slogan resonated with an entire generation of post-World War 2 Americans who were graduating and entering the workforce.
They wanted a symbol of their mobility that was different than that of the Fords, Chryslers, and Buicks that their parents drove, and the fuel crisis in the 1970s pushed these younger people into a preference for fuel-efficient cars.
“The Ultimate Driving Machine” is so synonymous with the BMW brand that there was significant apprehensiveness from BMW fans when the company introduced the new slogans of “Sheer Driving Pleasure” and “Joy is BMW” in the USA and European countries and China respectively.
Luckily, BMW insisted that those campaigns were there to warm up the brand and make it more approachable, but they never ever moved away from the Ultimate Driving Machine.
Do modern day BMWs still live up to their name?
So, why the history lesson you might ask?
It’s because a good slogan / tagline ultimately does one thing and that is explain a promise. However, the ability to keep that promise across and throughout all the products a company offers, is often a feat that is overlooked.
BMW spent years, decades even, proclaiming itself as the Ultimate Driving Machine. It wasn’t all just talk because the company delivered again and again with vehicles that were the benchmark of luxury and performance. Others tried, but no one could arguably approach BMW’s combined level of superiority and consistency across their entire line-up.
However, the competition hasn’t been resting on their laurels either. Something happened in the last five years or so and the rest of the industry is catching up. BMW leaders have launched an onslaught of new and updated models like never before in order to keep up with the likes of Tesla, Jaguar, Porsche, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz.
The situation is so immediately dangerous that BMW recently set up an internal conference geared toward waking up remaining employees and showing them the truth about what it’ll take to succeed against this new breed of competition.
The future is still friendly
The market is shifting in ways that were unimaginable just a few years ago and BMW has been trying to adapt but yet remain relevant in the minds of driving enthusiasts.
Gone is the popularity of the traditional BMW layout of a 4 passenger, 2 door, rear-wheel-drive front engined sedan. The diversity of new BMW vehicles that were presented on our press junket alone goes to show you just how the company has had to micro-niche its line-up to adapt to changing consumer tastes.
While I won’t go into details of each vehicle in this opinion piece, you can read my in-depth thoughts in my existing or upcoming BMW reviews..
2019 330i xDrive and M340i xDrive
Let’s start with the bread and butter vehicle, BMW’s latest 3-Series sedan, launched just this model year and longest running model nameplate of the bunch.
When you look at the history of the 3-Series as a whole, it’s easy to see how the model got to where it is today. 40 years on, this all new 3-Series doesn’t offer up any surprises. It’s comfortable yet sporty, respectable and yet smart. This all despite the fact that almost all of its components are entirely different from the last.
Switching back to back from other BMW models to the 3-Series, it’s easy to see why the model has been long regarded as the benchmark of the compact sport sedan class. The 3-Series is central to what BMW is all about. Through decades of careful evolution, it has become a standard to which everything else similar is inevitably measured again.
On the twisty backroads of Vancouver Island, the M340i felt relatively plush on some stretches where the pavement was rough, and the road contour was full of undulations. It’s easy to see why this car is a daily driver for tens of thousands of people.
BMW has impressively developed its 3.0-litre turbocharged six-cylinder engine a great amount of flexibility. Fitted to the M340i, it feels significantly less hard charging compared to the Z4 M40i roadster, but yet still eagerly revs to redline. The amount of low end torque is highly usable and the 3-Series continues to improve upon a nice balance of luxury, comfort, and performance. I wished that the M340i’s exhaust note was louder, considering that the car does wear the official “M Performance” badge.
On the Vancouver Island Motorsports track, the lower-spec 330i xDrive felt more balanced than the M340i xDrive due to its lighter engine. While it ran out of steam much quicker on the front straightaway, even the track instructors were impressed by its surefootedness.
If you’re going to buy a 330i though, opt for the optional M sport package which outfits the 330i with stickier summer rubber and M brakes. Not only do they look better, but they transform what is a nice daily driver BMW to a sporty daily driver BMW without giving up anything as far as performance.
2019 BMW Z4 M40i
The old Z4 took aim at its rival from Stuttgart, the Mercedes-Benz SLK (now known as the SLC). This new one has a fabric top, losing its hardtop and rounded looks. Not only has this lowered the car’s centre of gravity, but also reduced its weight and complexity significantly.
Apparently we have Toyota to thank for this latest iteration of the Z4. BMW saw the two seater roadster market softening and wasn’t sure if it could sell enough Z4s to justify its replacement. However, in came Toyota who wanted a new Supra but didn’t have a platform.
Since both companies were staunch proponents for straight-six engines and rear-wheel-drive, the beancounters were satisfied and an unlikely marriage was born. But make no mistake though. While the Supra gets most of the Z4’s basic engineering, it is tuned and set-up different from the Z4.
The BMW feels totally German and the only “roadster” of the pair. Despite not having a fixed roof, the chassis can easily cope with the M40i’s engine. It revs to 7,000 rpms and thanks to more power and torque than when fitted to the M340i, it has a totally different character.
And yet with its adaptive dampers, the Z4 relaxed nicely into long-haul stretches on our round-the-island media trip. In Sport mode though, it’s full-on recreation with a clearly sharper turn-in.
On the track, there is an enormous amount of grip as the suspension keeps a vigilant eye on the amount of body roll. The steering is geared to be quick, allowing for wonderful accuracy when aiming for the apex cones. As you lean into the power in the tight corners, the Z4’s e-differential goes to work to help one hang onto the edge of the immense traction that those sticky Michelin tires can generate.
Is this still an Ultimate Driving Machine? Absolutely.
2019 BMW M850i coupe
The 6 Series is gone…for now. This is BMW’s latest continent basher and backroad blaster, the M850i. In the past, the number 8 has meant a big deal for a BMW. Just think of the i8, and the cherished 850CSI and Z8.
But let’s clear up the air firstly by addressing the fact that this is not a coupe version of the 7 Series. The 8 Series is its own thing and BMW was clear from the outset of the project that this is a completely different beast. Why is it not a 6 but an 8? Arguably because the 8 is a grander car than the 6. Plus the number 6 now rests on the tailgate of a big practical BMW hatchback, the 640i Gran Turismo.
The 8 Series’ brief was to be a GT sports car that would be available in three body styles – coupe (as driven here), cabriolet, and a four door Gran Coupe. The end product is a new BMW GT sports car that is as thundering down a back road as it is crossing continents.
With its dramatic, low, broad-shouldered proportions, the M850i looks positively mean. The powerful new face of BMW is bigger-grilled and more angular than ever before. The sides are chiselled and sculpted,m hiding the 8-Series’ bulk from some angles.
Underneath the fine leather, BMW has thrown its latest and greatest technology at the M850i. All wheels are driven and steered as standard, and the dampening is adaptive. Both test M850i coupes on our media junket were fitted with the optional anti-roll system too.
There is a more powerful, sharper edged M8 coming but for now, the “ordinary” M850i gets an extraordinary 4.4 litre twin turbo V8 making an extraordinary 523 hp and 553 ft-lbs of torque at a low 1,800 rpms.
While the M850i feels like a big car on the tight track, but I ran out of confidence much earlier than the car’s limits. The four wheel steering really works marvels at virtually reducing the car’s wheelbase.
Switch to Sport Plus and the 8 Series feels so much sportier. The ride is stiffer, but not ruinously so, and the four wheel steering becomes much more aggressive. Moreover, xDrive also favours more rearward distribution in this mode. On the track, Sport Plus showcases how all four of the systems (xDrive, active anti-roll, adaptive dampers, four wheel steering) alter their thresholds in harmony to maximize the car’s driving dynamics.
At full cry and in Sport Plus mode, the M850i feels like a really well-sorted coupe a couple of hundred kilograms than it actually is. The suspension and steering chomped their way down challenging parts of the Vancouver Island Motorsport track at a crazed rate without batting an eyelid.
Until the M8 arrives, the M850i is certainly the Ultimate Driving GT car to get.
2019 BMW X7 xDrive50i
It’s finally here, BMW’s long-anticipated three-row crossover, the X7. Based on my drive, it was worth the wait.
The X7 is BMW’s biggest and most luxurious SUV and it wants to be noticed. The pair of oversized BMW kidney grills have been mocked gently by ardent BMW traditionalists, but in person, the carpets match the drapes.
Taking its themes from the facelifted 7 Series and the 8 Series, the X7 rounds off BMW’s three-flagship fleet. It’s not just about wedging in as many people as possible but rather BMW wanting us to see this top-end trio as a separate high-end luxury series for their brand.
On the inside, unlike a top end full-sized Range Rover, all X7s have three rows of seats. This large SUV can be fitted with either a three-seat second row bench or a pair of captain’s chairs. Moreover, the third row is comfortable for more than short trips across town.
A pair of turbocharged petrol engines are available. The ubiquitous BMW 3.0-litre single turbo straight-six producing 335hp, or a twin turbo 456 hp 4.4-litre V8 as fitted to my test vehicle in the xDrive50i. For the 2020 model year, both the X5 and X7 will receive new M50i performance variants positioned above the existing 50i models. Both of those will pack a whopping 523 hp as part of the M Performance brand umbrella, just like the existing M850i and M340i models.
Whichever engine you choose, the X7 is paired up with an eight-speed automatic transmission and xDrive all-wheel-drive. Four corner air suspension with adaptive damping and adjustable ride height is standard equipment. In Sport mode, things are tightened up significantly enough to feel a difference. Regardless of whether you’re in Sport or Comfort mode though, the interior is very placid despite the 21 inch wheels.
The 50i’s V8 sounded wonderfully burbley at start-up and its acceleration is far more urgent than that of its smaller straight-six sibling. If you intend on towing with the X7, the V8 is the one to get.
The X7 represents a different sort of Ultimate Driving Machine, disguising its 2.3 tonne mass in bends. It hung on with impressive dignity through our 400 kilometre round trip of Vancouver Island’s backroads.
Roll was shockingly well controlled and steering was conducted with measured authority. When fitted with the BMW Integral Active Steering system -BMW speak for passive rear wheel steering – the X7’s nose feels much quicker to react and dive into a corner. The rear wheel steering system also shrinks the turning circle, making the vehicle feel a lot smaller than it is in city centres and parking lots.
The X7 perfectly illustrates why BMW’s latest SUVs are now competing with their luxury sedans. A haughty driving position, quietness, huge living space for the family, a plush ride when you want it, but yet with just a push of a button, a surprisingly capable machine through the bends.
BMW’s expertise in chassis dynamics is evident here and far better than the typical American “sports” SUVs based on trucks. The ride was consistently good on coarse highways, the lumpy rural roads, or the urban streets in small town British Columbia.
If you really like BMWs, there is a lot to look forward to. Despite all of the technology, all of the luxury, there is a sense that each of the aforementioned vehicles embodies the all-important BMW attributes of sportiness.
While, as journalists, we often gag over manufacturer conjured buzzwords and terms, “The Ultimate Driving Machine” indeed still seems to fit.
[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.
How Changes at ICBC Will Affect BC Drivers
ICBC has emerged with new additions to their insurance policy and it’s been met with mixed reactions. According to their report on the new changes, this is the first time ICBC doesn’t have to increase basic rates.
The changes by ICBC shows the Insurance company is moving to a no-fault style insurance.
For those who don’t know, a no- fault style insurance is when both party’s insurance companies handle the claim so no one has to go to court. No lawyers or lawsuits are involved in the process of handling the claims and determining who’s at fault.
The insurance company reported that this new change is expected to save drivers in B.C. an average of $400 per year.
For a recap on the current policy, when a driver is involved in an accident and they aren’t at fault, they are able to sue the person at fault for things like damages, pain and suffering, etc. However with the new system ICBC determines who is at fault and decides how much compensation to give to the party affected by the accident.
Obviously the lawyers are taken out of the whole process because it saves money.
However, many people have had to go to a lawyer because they felt their claims weren’t handled properly, and they weren’t given enough compensation.
The new system still allows the affected person to sue, they just have to go through the process of ICBC trying to determine the right compensation.
Along with the new no-fault changes, ICBC is also implementing a new collision repair and glass supplier program, an Enhanced Care auto insurance, and introducing two new amendments to the evidence act.
With the evidence act, ICBC is limiting the amount of experts and experts reports that are used in trials. Also, restricting the “reimbursement amount for an expert report and put a cap on total recoverable disbursements”
According to ICBC’s report these amendments are put in place to encourage early settlements and aide to reduce the cost settling injury claims.
It’s clear that these changes are put in place to ensure that B.C. drivers receive the right compensation when an accident occurs, but it’s also to ensure the insurance company doesn’t lose more money as they go through the process of handling the claims.
To some, these changes seem fair for B.C. drivers, however there are others who want to change some things about the policies, especially the new no-fault style system.
A recent global news article features Vancouver lawyer, Joel Zanatta speaking about the new system and how it’s unfavourable for B.C. residents.
He speaks on the new system and how it enables the affected party to get whatever ICBC grants them, as opposed to the old system where the affected person could sue for damages, pain and suffering, etc.
It’s clear that the new system will benefit more drivers than others. The amount of benefits that will be brought is unknown at the moment.
However if the legislation is passed, the system should be in place by May 1st, 2021. Until then, B.C. drivers will have to wait to see how much money and time can be saved on the new system.
[REVIEW] 2020 Acura MDX A-Spec
Costco runs, after school sports, family road trips. These are just some of the common activities that are shared amongst many who are toying with the idea of owning a 3 row crossovers. SUVs with 3rd row seats have continued to be one of the most popular types of vehicles on the road.
Honda/Acura was one of the companies who jumped onboard the trend relatively early on with their Honda Pilot/Acura MDX models. With the current generation originally launched in 2014 and facelifted in 2017, the MDX is now in its third generation.
As before, Acura has essentially taken the practicality and user-friendliness of the Pilot and added a more premium image, bolder styling, nicer cabin materials, and of course, a higher price tag.
For years, the upscale MDX has been a popular choice in Canadian suburbs so much so that it doesn’t draw too much attention on the street these days. It’s not difficult to see why as it is still rather conservatively styled, comes with Japanese brand reliability, and carries over Acura’s “fun to drive” reputation.
When it was redesigned for 2014, Acura introduced a lighter-weight body structure that was a whopping 700 lbs lighter than its predecessor. Impressive given that the new design also added new reinforcements to help the MDX score well in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) new small-offset front crash test.
What’s new for 2020
Not much changes for 2020 with the MDX carrying over its appearance, mechanical components, and available features. My test vehicle was the A-Spec model, which joined the regular MDX and MDX Sport Hybrid model in 2019.
Since the MDX is Acura’s bread and butter, leading the company’s sales for years on end, it made sense for Acura to add a sportier trimmed model much like its sedans. The revised “diamond pentagon” schnoz that replaced the odd-looking Acura “shield” grille has aged well and looks cleaner and less bizarre than the beak that it replaced.
As cool as the A-Spec may sound though, the trim level doesn’t go too far beyond unique exteriors colour, wheels, and badging. The MDX wears it well though, as the attractive package helps it to stand out from the rest of the line-up.
I particularly liked the A-spec-only Apex Blue Pearl colour which certainly adds some excitement compared to the drab white/silver/black colours that most vehicles seem to be painted in these days.
The half-inch-wider 20-inch grey aluminium wheels wearing lower profile 265/45R20 tires are rather fetching when matched with larger (real) exhaust tips, body-coloured rocker panels, and a unique A-spec front fascia. Body coloured rocker panels and gloss black and dark chrome exterior trim finishes off the package.
Inside, the seats are wrapped in either perforated red or black leather with black Alcantara inserts. I found the front seats a little bit short on thigh support but were otherwise very comfortable. My vehicle was fitted with the Alcantara trim with contrast stitching, which makes it pop out nicely.
Other interior goodies include A-Spec red gauges, A-Spec-badged door sills, black Alcantara door panels, and even a wonderfully perforated thicker-rimmed steering wheel with paddle shifters. There is also red ambient lighting to match and a red engine start/stop button.
My A-spec tester came particularly well equipped with a blind-spot monitoring system with rear-cross traffic alert, rain-sensing wipers, parking sensors, as well as the whole Acura Watch suite of driver assist features. The MDX’s semi-autonomous driver aid systems, once cutting edge, are getting a bit long in the tooth on though, and cannot keep the vehicle in the lane in sharper corners.
Compared to the previous Acura MDX which I drove several years ago, the infotainment system has been updated to include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality.
Alas, what you cannot get on the A-Spec is the Entertainment package, with a rear-seat entertainment and comfort package. Nor can you get the Tech Plus package’s second-row heated captain’s chairs, surround-view camera, and active dampers. The A-spec makes do with the standard vibration-reducing amplitude reactive dampers.
Price-wise, the A-Spec is actually the mid-model in the range at an MSRP of $59,690 versus the Tech at $58,090 and the Elite at $66,190.
What is it like to live with?
The MDX’s 290 horsepower, 3.5-litre V6 with 267 lb-ft of torque offers more than sufficient power that most drivers will expect in a crossover SUV. With variable valve timing and lift (aka VTEC), direct injection, and cylinder deactivation, Acura has designed the V6 for efficiency.
The naturally aspirated V6 does need a bit of time to get to power, but its strong and the engine note is pleasant. There is even a bit of an unexpected snarl higher up in the rev range.
Is it as torquey as other SUVs on the market (particularly from the Germans) with their turbocharged engines? No, certainly not. You’ll have to go for the MDX Sport Hybrid and its additional torque and power for that.
Nonetheless, the regular MDX A-Spec can still tow 5,000 pounds when properly equipped, so the engine has been tuned with family hauling duties in mind.
The new 9-speed automatic transmission works well, for the most part, and typically starts off in second gear for smoother take-offs. Flooring the throttle does result in it stepping down to first gear for maximum trusts. There is also a selectable “dynamic” mode, which holds the gear changes till higher revs and is also more aggressive with the engine mapping.
The ride is satisfyingly firm but not harsh and the MDX’s accurate steering rack continues to be a strong point.
What exactly is SH-AWD?
Acura heavily advertises that the MDX comes with SH-AWD; the acronyms short for “Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive. Since the majority of SH-AWD Acuras are based on front-engine, front-wheel-drive platforms, up to 90 per cent of the power is initially directed to the front wheels.
Under hard acceleration, or upon slippage, sensors detect rearward weight transfer and can alter clutch engagement to direct up to 45 per cent of power to the rear wheels for better acceleration.
The way that SH-AWD gets its so-called “Super Handling” characteristics is by the rear differential being able to vector torque (aka the power balance) between the rear wheels.
Depending on the cornering forces, up to 70 per cent of the engine torque can be sent to the rear axle, of which 100 per cent can be directed to the rear outside wheel, helping to push the vehicle forward. This inward yaw moment gives the feeling of rotation through a corner, reducing the need for steering input and allowing power to be applied sooner.
The system noticeably works, and you can really feel it in more aggressive corners where it helps to minimize understeer or oversteer. It was certainly more evident on snowy surfaces, such the week where I had the MDX, and performed flawlessly in poor road conditions.
Just don’t expect the MDX’s system to act as dynamically aggressive as the Acura NSX sports car’s system, as it is still set-up for safe understeer if you go into a corner too hot. Entertainingly, a small display in between the speedometer and tachometer displays a live view of where the torque is going side-to-side.
Tell me more about the interior
It’s easy to see why the MDX has been a popular choice. The cabin is well-rounded and does most things well, such as keeping noise at bay. Better sealing and insulation along with thicker acoustical glass quiet the cabin nicely.
Although it has been around for a couple years now, Acura’s clever one-touch button function to fold the second row seats forward is still rather unmatched for ease-of-use and speed. There are actually two buttons, one on the back of the seat and another on the side, cleverly both are lit at night.
Press either one and the second row can be slid all the way forward on tracks that permit the fore-and-aft adjustment. The system is so easy to use that kids can climb aboard unassisted. When fully folded, the middle and rear seats form a flat cargo floor for maximum utility. There is some cargo area behind the third row, but it’s best saved for a few small backpacks or grocery bags.
The MDX’s third row is perfectly ok for children and smaller adults, even on longer trips. However, due to the limited legroom, average sized adults will likely start grousing after the 45 minute mark. A flat floor, both in the second and third row footwells, maximises as much foot room as possible. Kudos to the engineers for packaging things very efficiently.
Perhaps the areas in which the Acura shows its age the most is in certain interior plastic quality (such as the turn signal stalk and window switches), as well as the dual-screen infotainment system and gauge cluster (no virtual cockpit here).
Yes, I do concede that it is a bit unfair to compare the MDX’s interior with those of posh European competitors since the Acura does cost quite a bit less. Nonetheless, even the MDX’s domestic rivals have caught up.
The infotainment system splits duties by having a lower touchscreen for certain inputs, and a upper display unit that is primarily controlled by the physical knob on the dash. HVAC operation from the dash is intuitive enough, thanks to the physical buttons, but the multifunction knob and the complex menu structure is cumbersome to live with.
While you do get used to it in time, changing radio stations or turning on the heated seats can be a multi-step process.
It’s also a bit weird, and slow, to control Apple CarPlay with the knob as CarPlay seems to really be designed for touchscreens. Acura’s new trackpad infotainment system, on their latest RDX crossover, is significantly easier to use.
Like the Acura brand, the MDX continues to occupy a sort of middle ground in the automotive world. While the brand aspires to be true luxury, it sometimes doesn’t fit the bill but yet is certainly far above mainstream brands.
Despite its jack-off-all-trades-master-of-none positioning, the MDX remains competent, practical, and surprisingly fun to drive for a seven-passenger crossover. The A-spec trim just adds a bit of pop to a recipe which Acura hasn’t messed too much with due to its success.
If you’re looking for a mix of technology, handling, value, reliability and more luxury than the typical mainstream brands, the MDX continues to fit the bill as a fine choice for a family crossover.
North Surrey Sport & Ice Complex Hosts Official Grand Opening
Surrey, BC – The North Surrey Sport and Ice Complex marked its official grand opening today, with a community event attracting over 500 guests to the state-of-the-art facility in the Bridgeview community. The celebration included free skating and rentals, access to the fitness centre, family entertainment and an artist talk with Katzie Nation artist Trenton Pierre.
“The North Surrey area of our city has long been underserved when it comes to having recreational facilities and programs close at hand,” said Mayor Doug McCallum. “With the opening of this new complex, that all changes and I invite everyone to take the opportunity to visit and make full use of this state-of-the-art facility. This new complex is also an illustration of how Surrey is combining thoughtful and advanced design to ensure that our spaces provide accessibility for all ages and ability levels. The City of Surrey is continually pressing forward as one of Canada’s most accessible and livable cities, offering recreational opportunities for everyone.”
The North Surrey Sport & Ice Complex features three sheets of ice, spectatorship opportunities for large-scale events, a state-of-the-art fitness studio and weight room, outdoor activity areas, multi-purpose room programming, rentals and food services. First Nation artist Trenton Pierre’s public artwork, Guardian Spirits, wraps the building exterior, which is mirrored inside the facility from the windows of the modern fitness studio.
Accessibility features include:
- Level access to the ice from dry surface, built to para ice hockey standards
- Players boxes and penalty boxes made of clear lexan, instead of regular puck board, allowing para ice hockey players a clear view from their sledges
- Removable benches in the players boxes, allowing for para ice hockey players to remain in their sledges when off the ice
- Universal hook heights and depths of benches in dressing rooms
- Fully accessible change rooms, referee rooms, sound room, multi-purpose and fitness studios
- Fully accessible washrooms
- Vehicle drop-off area accommodates side-loading vans
Utilizing the three sheets of ice, large-scale spectatorship seating capacity and meeting rooms at the new facility, Surrey will host Olympic Gold Medalist Hayley Wickenheiser’s WickFest Tournament from January 30 to February 2, 2020. This is the tournament’s second year in Surrey, which has now expanded from hosting 800 young female athletes to 1500, as a result of North Surrey Sport and Ice Complex’s increased capacity for ice and meeting space.
Click here for a message from Hayley Wickenheiser about WickFest 2020 at the North Surrey Sport and Ice Complex.
For more information, visit surrey.ca/arenas
[REVIEW] 2020 BMW M4 Competition Cabriolet
As they say, all good things must come to an end. As BMW is preparing a new generation of the 4 Series, the F82 and F83 M4 is at the end of its lifecycle.
First launched in 2014, the M4 made its debut under some controversy as BMW purists were lamenting BMW’s change in nomenclature. Long regarded as one of the benchmarks by which sport coupes coupes were measured, gone was the legendary name badge, replaced by the new fangled M4.
As far as the fanatics were concerned, the roots that led all the way back to the legendary E30 M3 homologation special were now not severely tangled.
Nonetheless, as time passed, BMW’s boffins proved that despite turbocharging the engine and changing the name, the M4 had its own snarling aggression that won fans the world over.
As a last hurrah and to prove that there is still plenty of life left in the current-gen M4, BMW Canada is now offering the M4 coupe and cabriolet with an all-inclusive “Ultimate Package”.
To illustrate this point, the company handed me the keys to a 2020 BMW M4 Cabriolet equipped as such.
What makes it “Ultimate”?
BMW Canada says that the Ultimate Package “encompasses all the very best options on offer and is a simple way for customers to take advantage of the high specification at a lower cost”.
It’s literally the epitome of having your cake and eating it too, though that cake comes with a lofty $26,000 price tag on top of the M4 cabriolet’s base MSRP of $89,000.
The exhaustive list of included options includes:
• Adaptive M Suspension
• 20″ M Light Alloy Wheels, Star-Spoke 666M, Black, Perf. Non-RFT
• Universal Remote Control
• Storage Compartment Package
• M Seat Belts
• Park Distance Control, front and rear
• Adaptive Full LED Headlights
• High-Beam Assistant
• Active Blind Spot Detection
• Surround View
• Head-Up Display
• SiriusXM Satellite Radio Tuner
• Wireless Charging with Extended Bluetooth and USB
• WiFi Hotspot
• High-Gloss Black Kidney Grille with Extended Contents
• Competition Package
• M Driver’s Package
• BMW ConnectedDrive Services Professional
• Speed Limit Info
• High-Gloss Black Kidney Grills
• Carbon Fibre Front Inserts and Black Lower Lip
• High-Gloss Black Side Grill
• Carbon Fibre Side Mirrors
• M Performance Titanium Exhaust with Carbon Tips
• Black Side Skirt
• Carbon Fibre Rear Diffuser
• Metallic Paint
“Ultimate Package” equipped M4s can also be spec’ed in with one of five BMW Individual exterior colours and one of five BMW Individual upholstery colours at no extra charge.
My test vehicle was outfitted in a stunning combination of San Marino Blue exterior and Silverstone full Merino leather interior as a homage to the Silverstone motor racing circuit in England.
Since the Ultimate Package also includes the Competition Package, my M4 tester included the optional 7-speed M Double Clutch transmission (M-DCT) as well as a hike in power from 425 horsepower to 444 horsepower.
Since the Ultimate Package also includes the Competition package, owners will benefit from the Adaptive M suspension that has new springs, dampers, anti-roll bars along with reconfigured driving modes. The standard rear Active M differential has also been configured to match these upgraded dynamics.
My favourite part of the Ultimate package has got to be the inclusion of carbon fibre rear diffuser and the M sports exhaust with black chrome tailpipes. Aside from its good looks is the exhaust system’s starting rumble and distinctive burble on overrun. Sounding like thunder generated from the gods themselves, it never failed to excite me time and time again.
Yet, in comfort mode, the M4 proved to be a surprisingly comfortable and quiet everyday driver, even if it was to and from the office in stop and go traffic. Sure, there is the hum of the synthesized engine note, particularly in Sport mode, but does it really matter if one still ends up with a Cheshire cat grin one one’s face?
What about the M2 though?
Despite loyalists and some magazine proclaiming at launch that the M4 wasn’t as sharp as the M3 coupes of yore, a few days piloting the 2020 M4 Cabriolet in various conditions still confirms that the vehicle is far from the Novocain meathead that some critics had made it out to be.
Despite the M2 now being the smallest member of the family, the M4 still feels nimble, powerful, capable, and actually rather analog compared to the G20 3-Series. The front axle refuses to understeer, giving the M4 fantastic pace down a road.
The M3 and M4 were the first ones to make the jump to electrically powered steering but over the years, the system seems to have improved. I still find that the heaviest steering feels too artificially weighted but thankfully, BMW does give you the option to pick and choose your suspension, steering, gearshift, and engine performance settings a la carte.
The excessively thick steering wheel still feels wonderful, special, especially with the oversized steering wheel paddles.
With the 3.0-litre putting down an impressive 111 lb-ft more torque from 2,350 rpms onwards compared to the bygone V8 powered E90 M3, there is the temptation to find holes in stop-and-go traffic that you may not ordinarily even attempt to squeeze into.
Even till today, one has to marvel at how BMW’s M engineers have managed to reliably squeeze 406 lb-ft of torque from only 3.0-litres.
The 7 speed twin-clutch gearbox may not shift at the same speed as the very latest dual clutch gearbox today, but it’s clearly still a very effective transmission. Only the latest track heads will grouse about the few hundreds of a second difference in shift times.
Contrary to what so many have said, I think that the M4 is a well-rounded car even in cabriolet form, Despite what the BMW alarmists proclaimed in internet forums several years ago, the M4 has proven to be not only more than capable as a sports coupe/cabriolet, but also an impressive candidate for a daily driver.
The M4 truly never lets its driver forget that he or she is piloting something special, something serious, even when poodling around town.
Fitted with either the Ultimate or Competition package, the M4 is closer in power to the entry-level Mercedes-AMG C63 coupe. The Merc still outguns the BMW though, with an output of 469 horsepower in base form and up to 503 horsepower in S form.
The M4 has also long been considered a cut-price alternative to the Porsche 911 but with even more power. Despite the significant $26,000 bump in sticker price, the Ultimate Package M4 cabriolet still undercuts the base 991.2 Cabriolet by thousands of dollars.
Creature comforts, the weakest link?
Perhaps the weakest part of the shuffle for the current M4 towards the end of its life is related to the new 3 Series.
After being spoiled by the latest BMW tech in the 2020 M340i test vehicle I drove a few weeks back, there is no doubt that the 2020 M4’s cabin feels dated in some respects. Certainly not so much as far as fit and finish or seat comfort/support, but more with the infotainment system and cabin technology.
Sure, there are gobs of genuine carbon fibre trim, and all of the dash surfaces are deliciously covered in soft nappa leather with contrast french stitching. It’s still a quality place to spend hours.
However, the M4’s traditional analogue gauges are what the kids call “old school” these days, and the iDrive infotainment system’s screen, once cutting edge, feels its age compared to the latest touchscreen iDrive system with gesture control.
Oh mon dieu, there is also no semi-autonomous driving system! The travesty! But I kid, I kid.
At the end of the day, for this sort of car, for this sort of target customer, does it really matter?
I’ve got to say that at the end of my review week, I didn’t remembered the smaller size of the icons on the iDrive screen…or fact that the ambient lighting system that only has two colours rather than the rainbow palette of the latest BMW.
What I fondly recalled is the big smile on my face every time I got in and got out of the M4. I still remember the times I walked away from the M4 only to turn back, pause, and smile.
And isn’t that the magical stuff that these M cars are supposed to be all about after all?
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