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[REVIEW] 2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon

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Jeep enthusiasts can finally rejoice. The Gladiator has finally arrived.

Building upon the success of its Wrangler SUV, Jeep has created the Gladiator pickup truck, ripe and ready for Jeep fans who fondly recall the company’s past off-road ready trucks from the storied brand, such as the Scrambler and the Comanche.


Arguably, the Gladiator’s timing couldn’t have been more perfect as truck sales are red hot and the mid-sized pickup truck segment is expanding.


What is it?

In short, it’s the four door Wrangler with a pickup truck bed grafted on but yet so much more.


Jeep has actually been teasing the idea of a pickup truck since the 2005 Gladiator concept. Since then a few aftermarket companies have also created Wrangler conversions but all have been limited by the donor vehicle’s original platform size.


And now, the actual product has arrived, and it essentially looks like what you’d expect – a Wrangler with an extended cargo bed.

In order to create more of an integrated look, the designers have tried to create some continuity through a sharp character line that carries forth from the doors through to the bed.


Out back, the Gladiator has a five-foot steel box supported by four crossmembers. Jeep says that it looked at all of the materials available and decided steel was the best choice in terms of strength, durability, and cost.

The box’s layout is well thought out and functional with a low bedrail height and only 18-inches of depth. This means that even an average-sized person can palm the bed floor as it is easily accessible, no matter where you choose to load your cargo from.

The five-foot bed also has adjustable tie-down anchors, under-rail lighting, and can also be fitted with a cargo cover, a 115-volt power outlet, a bed divider, and the requisite (optionally available) spray-in bed liner.


For owners who intend on significantly modifying their Gladiator, Jeep has even designed enough room to store a tire up to 35 inches beneath the bed.

The Gladiator’s tailgate is nicely dampened so that it lowers slowly instead of crashing down. There are three positions in which it can be stopped. The 45-degree position allows for two-tiered loading, as the tailgate in this position is at the same height as the 2×4 detents in the wheelhouses. Jeep says the Gladiator can carry a whopping 20 4×8 sheets of plywood in this configuration.


Modern take on a classic design

Jeep’s design team kept the legendary seven-slot grille seen on Wrangler, but widened the grille slots for additional air intake to assist with the increased towing capacity.

The top of the keystone-shaped grille is gently swept back to enhance aerodynamics. It’s a modern take on an authentically Jeep design.


A four-bolt design at the top of the windshield’s frame allows for the windshield to fold down quickly and easily. A header bar connects the A-pillars and stays in place even when the windshield is folded down. Cleverly, this allows the rearview mirror to remain in place even with the windshield folded.

Two-piece body-colour fender flares with a black lower insert give a raised profile and are standard on Overland and available on Rubicon models.


Lightweight, high-strength aluminum doors feature the Torx bit size stamped directly onto the hinge to eliminate guessing which size bit is needed to remove the doors.

A tool kit with the necessary Torx bits to remove the doors and lower the windshield is provided as standard equipment.


All Gladiators feature body-colour sport bars, which are welded to the body and feature integrated grab handles for front occupants.

A premium Sunrider soft top provides a segment-exclusive easy open-air option, which helps to quiet wind noise and allows for access to partial and full open top positions. The soft top features retainers that slide into a track for easy rear window removal.

Gladiator Overland and Rubicon models share an available three-piece body-colour hardtop option, offering a unique, premium appearance, while a black three-piece hardtop, available on all models and as fitted to my test vehicle, offers even more options for open-air driving.


The two Freedom panels and quick-release latches enable a fast removal and installation of the hardtop. All hardtops also feature a manual rear-sliding window.

These dozens of different door, top and windshield combinations allow for endless configuration possibilities.


Mechanical bits and bobs

Jeep expects that most Gladiator owners will use their new toys for daily commutes, then haul their dirt bikes to weekend escapes. As such the vehicle has been designed with best-in-class towing and payload capacity in mind. The Gladiator can tow up to 7,650 pounds when properly equipped, and has a 4×4 payload of up to 1,600 pounds.

Weight-wise, a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is about 4,500 pounds, while a similarly equipped Gladiator Rubicon will be around 5,100 pounds or about 500-600 pounds heftier.

As the Gladiator is based on the Wrangler’s body-on-frame design, the Wrangler’s familiar 285 horsepower 3.6-litre V6 is also carried over, as is the eight-speed automatic transmission and the six-speed manual. A 3.0-litre EcoDiesel option is said to arrive sometime in 2020, paired with the auto gearbox.

As a nod to the truck nature of the Gladiator, the Jeep uses some of the smooth riding Ram 1500’s parts such as the completely revamped five-link rear suspension.

The Jeep’s forged steel upper and lower control arms are also shared with the Ram, but the shocks have been forward-tilted for better control under load. A different sway bar design is also used, and dual-rate coils replace the Wrangler’s linear rate coils for superior ride and load control. Incidentally, the Gladiator Rubicons come standard with Fox 2.0 smooth body shocks.


Impressively, even when in stock configuration, the Rubicon Gladiator already comes with 8.5 inches of front and 9.5 inches of rear travel.  Like its Wrangler Rubicon sibling, the Rubicon Gladiator comes with 33-inch LT285/70R17 tires, but switches from the BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A to either Falken Wildpeak A/T or a Falken Wildpeak M/T tires.


The latter, as fitted to my test vehicle, are sure to be great in muddy off-road conditions but are too aggressive in day-to-day driving. There is a fair amount of road wander and noise due to the large open blocks. Personally I would’ve chosen the less-aggressive All-Terrain tires rather than the Mud-Terrain ones as an acceptable compromise.

Unsurprisingly, the same off-road goodies as the Wrangler make their appearance on the Gladiator.  All Gladiators are 4x4s and the four-wheel drive systems are also shared with the Wrangler. This includes the 2.72:1 Command-Trac system and the Rubicon’s 4:1 Rock-Trac.

Curiously, it doesn’t appear that the Sahara’s Selec-Trac with 4-Hi Auto will be offered. The Rubicon gets electronic front and rear Tru-Lok lockers, as well as the disconnecting front sway bar.


For those new to off-roading, Jeep included a couple of technologies that will make any novice look like a seasoned off-road veteran.

Choose from a plethora of off-road driving aids such as Hill Decent Control (which keeps the Gladiator from over speeding down steep slopes), or the new Selectable Speed Control system (which acts like cruise control in the dirt, letting the driver concentrate on steering while the Gladiator’s computer handles the throttle).


There is even a Selectable Tire Fill Alert feature that flashes the lights and honks the horn when you air the tires back up to let you know when you are back to street pressure. This clever feature allows uses the tire pressure sensors and eliminates the need to carry a tire pressure gauge.


Experienced off-road enthusiasts will love the new Off-Road Plus button, which assumes high friction surfaces and low driving speed in 4-Low Range and high speed and low friction in 4-High range, adjusting the traction control sensitivity, accelerator sensitivity, and responsiveness (more in 4-Hi, less in 4-Lo).

Hold down down the traction control button for 5-seconds in Off-Road Plus to eliminate the stability and traction control intervention altogether.

A Jeep interior for the 21st century

The Gladiator’s cabin is essentially a carry-over from the Wrangler. Far from luxurious but rugged and ready for adventure, there are wonderful touches such as a gear selector with a red trigger release and a classic Jeep image on top.

Essentially everything from the Gladiator’s B-pillar forward is that same as the Wrangler, save for a few minor differences. Essentially the front row of the cab is shared. Like the Wrangler, the Gladiator gets aluminum doors, hinges, hood, fenders, windshield frame and tailgate help to reduce weight.


Despite its agricultural roots, there is really no shortage of technology in the cabin. Functional features, including climate and volume control knobs, media charging and connectivity ports, and Engine Stop Start control are all sculpted for quick recognition and are easily within reach of the front-seat occupants.

Inboard and outboard circular HVAC vents are surrounded by a platinum chrome bezel for a precise and premium yet rugged appearance with full functionality.


A push-button starter, featuring a weather-proof surround, is standard on the 2020 Gladiator and is easily located within the driver’s reach.

Cloth or leather-contoured seats feature accent stitching and adjustable bolster and lumbar support. Available comfort features also include heated front seats and steering wheel.


There are various other cool retro bits such as the straps on the front seat backs, a modern throwback to the seats in the original Willy’s Jeep. Clever nets in the front doors hold a variety of items. It’s simple yet effective.


The all-new rear seats feature high-quality premium materials giving the seats an athletic look that also delivers comfort and support. These rear seats, exclusive to the Gladiator, feature segment-leading rear legroom and utilizes a unique design that can be locked in place to provide secure storage behind the seat back.

The rear seats can be folded flat to access cab-back storage and provide a load floor for larger items.


With the rear seats folded flat, LED lights on the quarter trim panels illuminate the storage space behind the seats. Two storage nets on the cab-back wall provide even more secure storage.

Clever storage solutions are found throughout, including durable mesh pockets that extend the entire length of the doors and numerous phone storage areas.

The rear seat cushions can fold up into “stadium” position to reveal a standard open storage bin, which utilizes the space under the seat for stowing miscellaneous items. An optional lockable bin provides secure storage space when the top or doors are removed. The available lockable storage bin features two different size doors that correspond to the 60/40 split rear seat cushion. Removable dividers can provide up to five separate compartments and uses the same lock as the glove box and centre console.

A removable bolt bin fits in the under-seat storage space and makes it easy to secure bolts when the doors and top are removed, or the windshield is folded down. The bolt bin lid indicates the corresponding number of bolts and their location under the lid in Petroglyph style.

Electronic toys

The instrument cluster features a 3.5- or an available 7-inch information LED display. The 7-inch LED display allows the driver to configure information in more than 100 ways, including current media being played, tire pressure, tire-fill alert or digital speed readout. Integrated buttons on the steering wheel control audio, voice and speed functions, allowing the driver to keep hands on the wheel at all times.


A 7.0- or an available 8.4-inch touchscreen houses the fourth-generation Uconnect system and sits prominently atop the centre stack. The fourth-generation Uconnect system enhances the user interface and system performance with quicker startup times and improved screen resolution. A 5.0-inch touchscreen is standard on Gladiator Sport.

Directly below the touchscreen are functional features, such as climate and volume control knobs and media connectivity ports.

Exclusive to Gladiator Rubicon models, a clever forward-facing off-road camera allows obstructions ahead on the trail to be easily seen. The front camera sits behind the middle slot of Gladiator’s seven-slot grille and can be accessed through the Uconnect system’s Off-road Pages.


Two USB ports and a USB-C port up front and two in reach of occupants in the back seat connect to the media center. A 115-volt AC outlet is available to power select three-pronged home electronics.

For increased safety, the Gladiator will offer adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and a backup camera with dynamic grid lines.


Parting thoughts

As one of the year’s most anticipated vehicles, the 2020 Jeep Gladiator seems to live up to its hype. It cleverly builds upon the Wrangler’s character, creating a unique midsized pickup truck with solid off-road credentials and seemingly unlimited aftermarket support for customization.

The Wrangler’s shortcomings, such as excessive wind noise, a firm ride, and awkward entry and egress are carried forth as well, but Jeep buyers do know what they’re getting into and count it as part of the enjoyment of the Jeep experience.

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

Automobiles

[REVIEW] 2020 Acura ILX A-Spec

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

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

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

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

What’s new with the ILX?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

What’s in “A” name?

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

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

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

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

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

Active and Passive Safety Technology

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

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

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

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

Interior Accoutrements

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

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

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

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

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

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

How does it drive?

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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How Changes at ICBC Will Affect BC Drivers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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[REVIEW] 2020 Acura MDX A-Spec

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

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

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

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

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

What’s new for 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

What is it like to live with?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What exactly is SH-AWD?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell me more about the interior

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Final thoughts

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

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

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

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Automobiles

North Surrey Sport & Ice Complex Hosts Official Grand Opening

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

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

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

Accessibility features include:

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

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

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

For more information, visit surrey.ca/arenas

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Automobiles

[REVIEW] 2020 BMW M4 Competition Cabriolet

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

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

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

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

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

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

What makes it “Ultimate”?

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

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

The exhaustive list of included options includes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about the M2 though?

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rivals

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

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

Creature comforts, the weakest link?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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