Korea is among the most advanced automobile-producing countries in the world today. Did you know that the automotive industry in South Korea is the 5th largest in the world when measured by automobile unit production and automobile export volume?
Established in 1967, Hyundai Motor Co. has grown into the Hyundai Motor Group, with more than two dozen auto-related subsidiaries and affiliates. Hyundai Motors − which employs 900,000 worldwide, has seven manufacturing bases outside of South Korea including Brazil, China, the Czech Republic, India, Russia, Turkey and the U.S. They sold a staggering 4.4 million vehicles globally in 2012.
Their latest effort, the Hyundai Santa Fe XL, signals the South Korean auto industry’s coming of age stronger and clearer than ever.
The Santa Fe XL competes squarely in a marketplace now filled with other midsized crossover vehicles. These crossovers blur the line between traditional body-on-frame 7 passenger truck-based SUVs, such as the Toyota Sequoia and Ford Expedition, and the ubiquitous and trusty minivans. Offering the style and security of all-wheel-drive from an SUV, but also the people-carrying ability of a minivan, they are a common sight on the roads for the school run.
These midsize crossovers, like minivans, play a largely thankless role in the life of today’s modern family.
With the ability to keep everyone and everything in them safe and comfortable in all sorts of weather conditions day in and out, they’re the true heros of said modern family. But yet their owners often immediately forget about them as soon as their work is done.
As a car driving enthusiast though, I found myself surprisingly growing to love and enjoy the big Hyundai, despite not having any hyperactive kids to call my own.
Keep reading to find out why I found it to be a fashionably stylish and yet practical vehicle, with enough techno treats to keep both drivers and passengers entertained.
Let’s start with the design first. The Santa Fe is now in its a 3rd iteration since the model name was introduced in 2001. The latest version features a more rugged, butch version of Hyundai’s Fluidic design language that we’ve seen so beautifully executed on the Sonata, Tuscan, and Elantra. This tweaked design language on the Santa Fe is called “Storm Edge”, and it looks fantastic.
Did you know that Hyundai’s Chief Designer is now Thomas Bürkle? Yup, this is the same chap who designed the BMW 3-series sedan/wagon, and the 6-series!
I truly think this is one of the best looking faces you can find on a mid-sized SUV today, regardless of price range.
The Santa Fe XL separates itself from its smaller 5 passenger sibling, the Sport, with a larger 5 bar trapezoidal chrome grill versus the 3 bar on the Sport. The XL also has a more practical traditional side window line in front of the D-pillar, for the benefit of the 3rd row passengers, versus the stylish upsweep of the Sport model.
Shared with the Sport, the XL features the aggressive angular headlamps with unique square-shaped projectors – HID Xenons in the case of my Limited trim level tester. I really liked the LED-based “eyebrow” parking lamps too.
The XL’s rear is a little less successful in escaping a comparison with a minivan. While the designers have done a good job visually in pinching the roofline down, but there’s only so much you can do with a long vehicle and yet still have decent headroom for your 3rd row passengers. This is still ultimately a large people carrier after all. The accessory roof rack crossbars ought to butch it up for those concerned.
Regardless, with its larger dimensions combined with its smart and distinctive body lines, the Santa Fe XL has significant road presence that helps to set its apart from its rivals.
I think it looks a damn more stylish than the outgoing 7 passenger Hyundai Veracruz, which never really sold well in North America. Moreover, the Veracruz included older Hyundai design elements that just didn’t fit with the rest of Hyundai’s lineup anymore.
The Santa Fe XL’s chief rivals, all with 3rd row seating of course, include the Nissan Pathfinder, Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Explorer, and Mazda CX-9.
None of its competitors can claim the following accolades though. For 2013, the Hyundai Santa Fe (albeit the Sport model) won the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada’s Best New SUV/CUV award in the $35,000 to $60,000 category. The Santa Fe also won the coveted award for Canadian Utility Vehicle of the Year.
Inside the cabin
While the Santa Fe’s price is lower than many of its competitors, this doesn’t mean that the engineers haven’t found ways of creating an interior with a long lasting and quality feel to it. The cabin is luxury-car quiet with its double-sealed doors and more.
When designing this 3rd generation Santa Fe, engineers introduced an additional 69 lbs of noise, vibration, harshness (NVH in industry-talk) dampening improvements. This includes things like thicker floor insulation, improved bushings, an acoustic windshield, and much more. Even the wheel wells have multi-layer linings to insulate from tire and road noise, just like you would find in vehicles belonging to many luxury marques.
The Santa Fe’s dash is mixed with pleasantly textured plastic mixed with soft touch surfaces. While it’s not quite up to Mercedes-Benz or Lexus standards, it is more than adequate for the price range. I particularly liked the dark wood grain plood (plastic wood) even though it was faux. There is a surprising amount of depth and sheen to it to pull off the illusion successfully.
Other thoughtful features include a small open bin in front of the gear shifter, and easy to access auxiliary audio and USB ports. I was particularly thankful for side-by-side dual 12 volt outlets that allowed me to plug in my trusty FineVue CR500 HD dashcam, and another accessory, without resorting to a multi-plug expander.
Since the Santa Fe XL will undoubtedly be piloted by many moms, I solicited the input from a couple of colleagues of mine as well. Meet Laura, a busy mom of two, a Fitting Expert at retail footwear store Kintec, and a marathon runner/run leader. Laura has owned several cars and minivans over the years, and was a prime candidate to share her input on the Santa Fe XL.
She loved the large HVAC controls that allowed her to change the fan speed and push other buttons while wearing gloves. The heated steering wheel was also a welcome (and unexpected) feature.
One of the Santa Fe XL’s big surprises is seat quality. With a low step-in height, there’s no need for any sidesteps or running boards to get into the great feeling leather covered perches.
There is plenty of thigh and back support, and the electrical adjustable driver-side lumbar made finding a comfortable driving position easy. The side bolsters do a good enough job for SUV-duty, but aren’t so flat as to allow you to slide around in turns.
In Limited trim, our XL was also fitted with 3 level heated and cooled front seats. The latter a welcome feature in the quest to avoid sticky backs on leather during the summer months.
Even the 2nd row seats are equipped 2 level seat heaters to keep passengers comfortable. Laura jokingly quipped that the seats were just in reach from the front row to offer her kids either a treat or a punishment.
3rd row passengers get their own temperature and fan controls for better ventilation. When occupied by average sized adults, the 3rd row is mostly suited for shorter trips of under 60 minutes anyway. Children will be just fine and dandy!
For the 2013 model year, the Limited trim XL was only available in 6 passenger configuration (with a pair of 2nd row 4-way adjustable captain chairs that only seat one each). Shoppers needed to downgrade from the Limited spec to a lower trim line (forgoing leather seats) to get the 7 passenger seating.
For 2014, thankfully the Limited trim XL will be available with a traditional 3 passenger split folding 2nd row bench, bringing total carrying capacity to 7 passengers. A boon if you want all the toys and luxury features of the Limited and yet want to carry 7 people.
Also new for the 2014 model year is the addition of an available blindspot warning system. Despite the large wing mirrors, this would be a welcome active safety addition for such a large vehicle and I thought that it was an odd miss for a vehicle that has a wide variety of safety features.
Regardless of where you’re sitting in the Santa Fe XL, you’ll be able to enjoy the massive tinted panoramic moonroof which stretches almost all of the way to the rear hatch. Even 3rd row passengers can see out of it – a huge bonus as that’s usually the most claustrophobic seating position.
The forward half tilts upwards for venting, or you can slide it open for a true open air feel.
If the temperature gets too hot, a fabric power sun shade slides silently out from aft to cover the entire length of glass.
Behind the wheel, drivers will find controls in a cabin stuffed with technology. From dual zone climate controls, a CleanAir Ionizer that automatically cleans the air, to Bluetooth audio streaming and Satellite Navigation with SiriusXM traffic, this is one vehicle that is packed with useful features that will help mom (or dad) on the road.
Thankfully, most of this tech is easy to use and not distracting. Many redundant hard button controls are available without looking cluttered, and the rest are controlled from the large 8” touchscreen. I found it very amusing that there was even an option to turn on a “welcome chime” song, much like you would find in a Samsung or LG smartphone. You won’t find this sort of fun in a “serious” German vehicle!
But the cabin is not without flaws. There are a few curious ergonomic faux pas though. The all-new Driver Selectable Steering Mode (more on that later) button is on the steering wheel where the heated steering wheel button should be. The volume controls and phone controls are on the left side of the steering wheel versus the right.
Lefties, you can rejoice. The rest of us not so much. Perhaps the interior designer was a lefty?
Also the overhead switches aren’t lit, making them almost impossible to see at night. This includes the power tailgate control, which is oddly located next to the panoramic moonroof controls where you would least expect it. For the first 2 days that I had the Santa Fe, I thought that the power tailgate was only able to be operated via the remote or the latch under the handle.
I also chuckled at the “Engrish” wording as the interior lighting controls are marked “Door” and “Room” rather than “Door” and “Cabin”.
And finally, the position of the virtual clock on the touchscreen is located on different spots on different screens (e.g. phone vs radio vs navigation). This makes you needlessly have to hunt when looking for the time. Even after a few days I found it annoying. At least Hyundai includes a physical “clock” button so you can make the whole screen a giant clock!
So how does it drive?
Exactly a day after picking up the Santa Fe XL, old man winter extended his wintery grip with snowfall warnings of 5-10 centimeters in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia.
Thankfully, the kind folks at Hyundai Canada had seen it fit to equip my press car with brand new Hankook Winter i*cept evo tires. This is a a studless high-performance winter tire developed for performance vehicles.
Having spent some time on snow and ice with these tires now, I can happily vouch for their effectiveness. Since they’re higher speed-rated winter tires, there is less of a squishy feel or delayed steering response than with lower speed rated winter tires. Combined with Hyundai’s advanced all-wheel-drive system with Active Cornering Control, the Santa Fe was unstoppable in the inclemental weather.
Designed by Magna, the Santa Fe’s all-wheel-drive system is called Dynamax. Magna says, and I agree, that the system reacts nearly instantaneously to wheel slip or torque requirements. Even on dirt and gravel, slip is limited to practically nothing. Dynamax’s torque transfer assists in smoothly and accurately pointing into the vehicle into corners with confidence.
This is a sophisticated system here. Gathering information from the stability control system, it reads steering angle, wheel speed and accelerator position, factors in yaw (rotation) to determine whether it should apply traction control, brake control, or a combination. Magna says its system has less drag, an ability to decouple, and high thermal capacity for long life.
I particularly liked the 4WD “Lock” feature which electronically locks the centre differential. Rather than waiting for slippage to occur before transferring power forward and aft, this useful feature allows you to send power to both axles at low vehicle speeds to get going again. The system eventually shuts off to normal behavior as the vehicle speed increases.
On the road, the 3.3L V-6 moves the 4,068 lb. wagon without running short of breath. With Variable Valve timing and Direct injection technologies, this is an advanced engine producing 290hp and 252 ft-lbs of torque. At 290 hp, this is the same output as the BMW X5’s 4.4L V8 from 10 years ago. In other words, it’s no slouch!
The six-speed automatic shifts imperceptibly and kicks down quickly and smoothly when you put your foot in the throttle pedal. There is also a manual mode, should you want to shift yourself for engine braking or towing. While it worked well enough, I didn’t like the manualmatic feature due to its lack of tactile sensation when the gear shifter was in the manual gate. There was almost no feel to indicate that a new gear was selected, just a slight click. It felt 100% like the electronic switch that it was. While this probably doesn’t matter to 99% of the Santa Fe’s would-be owners, as a car driving enthusiast, I was slightly disappointed by the lack of feedback.
The Santa Fe XL’s ride was well controlled with no wallowing over a number of different surfaces. Body roll never got out of hand either. I was so impressed with the ride quality that I would almost venture calling it “European” with its well dampened motions.
An underrated portion of the Santa Fe’s nimble chassis is due to its use of multiple grades of high strength steels. Extremely high strength steel is used in critical side panels to reduce impact intrusion, and across and along body structural rails to move impact forces across or through the body. The strongest steel is reserved for front head-on collision strength and to create a roll cage structure around occupants.
A couple of special highlights. Firstly the Santa Fe XL’s turning circle is impressively small at only 36.68 ft. The Sport is even smaller – class-leading in fact – at 35.76 feet. This enhanced maneuverability, combined with the rearview camera and rear parking sensors, made parking a snap despite the 110.2-inch wheelbase and overall length of 193.1 inches. I sometimes wished for front sensors as well when in tighter parking spots.
Secondly, the Santa Fe also is equipped with Hyundai’s all-new Driver Selectable Steering Mode (DSSM) with three operating modes – Comfort, Normal, Sport. The Comfort setting increases the power steering assistance by 10% over Normal, and Sport decreases it by 10%. But wait, there is more! For a more natural and progressive feel, DSSM also adjusts on-centre and steering build-up feel.
While I typically don’t like electric power steering systems, they are here to stay due to higher efficiency. Hyundai has at least tried to make the best of it. Personally, I left it in Sport mode all the time.
Wrapping it up
A decade ago driving a mid-size to large SUV was usually a very unpleasant experience for a typical car lover. They were always based on trucks chassis with terrible ride and handling, slow and numb steering, and weak brakes with mushy pedal feel.
These days, SUVs and crossovers have come such a long way in the intervening period. Overall I found the Santa Fe XL to be an affordably pleasant ride and very livable. If you’re shopping for a 3-row SUV or crossover, I highly recommend adding this to your shopping list regardless of whether you have kids, want more space for road trips, or just for moving “stuff”.
As the famed late movie critics Siskel and Ebert would say, “We give it Two Thumbs Up”!
[REVIEW] 2022 Volvo V90 Cross Country B6 AWD wagon
Can you believe that Volvo’s “Cross Country” badge is now more than 20 years old? While we’ve got to hand it to AMC’s Eagle 4×4 wagon and the Subaru Outback for inventing the jacked-up wagon design, Volvo can arguably also be considered one of the pioneers of the format.
Although Volvo sells its V60 wagon in both regular and Cross Country trim levels, in Canada, the larger and more upscale V90 can only be had in rugged Cross Country form.
Sitting at the top of Volvo’s “V” wagon range, the V90 doesn’t mess too much with a formula which has worked for the brand (and others) for over two decades now. With a raised ride height, all-wheel-drive, and rugged body cladding, the 2022 Volvo V90 B6 AWD Cross Country is a direct competitor with the only other almost full-sized off-road-y wagon in its class, the Mercedes-Benz E450 All-Terrain wagon.
No doubt both the big Benz and the big Volvo are designed with the same points in mind. That is to create a neat compromise between a family car while yet being stylish, practical, and with the ability to take on a light trail without so much as breaking a sweat.
But will the Volvo stand out over and above its competition? Let’s take a closer look.
On the inside
Volvo’s XC90 SUV has won many awards globally since its introduction. Spec-for-spec, the V90 Cross Country is cheaper to buy than the equivalent XC90, though it lacks a third row.
Step into the V90 Cross Country’s roomy interior and you’ll find a gorgeous crisply tailored cabin designed in a simplistic and minimalist Scandinavian fashion. The silver Bowers & Wilkins speaker grilles add some premium highlights to the otherwise dark interior.
Every surface is essentially soft-touch, fine-grained wood, or satin metal accents. The knurled starter knob adds some delightful tactile feel to the interior and there are other small easter eggs such as the tiny Swedish flag sewn into the front passenger seatback seam. “Since 1959” is stamped into the seatbelt buckle, a nod towards the year in which Volvo introduced seatbelts.
Volvo has a long-held reputation for excellent seats and the V90 Cross Country does not disappoint. With multiple adjustments, a great deal of width, good padding, the front seat cushions provided excellent support for long drives. Based on previous experience, a broad range of body types should fit.
Surprisingly, I found access to the rear seats a bit more difficult than the Mercedes-Benz E450 All-Terrain wagon. Due to the Volvo’s rear door openings being relatively short, the footpath into the back seat is fairly narrow. The door sills are also quite high, presumably due to crash protection, so there may be a bit of fancy footwork required for taller passengers.
Thankfully, the V90 Cross Country’s taller ride height makes it easier to exit and egress than the lower S90 sedan that the wagon is based on.
How does it ride and drive?
Under the hood of the 2022 V90 Cross Country B6 wagon is the latest variant of Volvo’s 2.0-litre direct-injected supercharged and turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Unlike the previous 316 horsepower T6 setup which incorporated a turbocharger and a mechanically driven supercharger, the B6 powerplant produces 295 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque from its combination of turbocharging, electrically driven supercharging, and a 48-volt mild hybrid system.
Although the system produces less power than before, the mild-hybrid system ensures no lag at all upon throttle pedal application. Engine restarts from the start-stop system are also extremely smooth, much more so than before. This complex arrangement of forced induction, combined by the 8-speed transmission, delivered grunt in a much smoother and refined manner compared to the T6 powerplant.
Like other Volvos, the V90 Cross Country AWD uses a BorgWarner/Haldex-based all-wheel-drive system. A special “Off-Road” mode (similar to Mercedes’ “All Terrain” mode) lightens the steering and activates a low speed algorithm designed to enhance engine braking. Volvo says that this ensures better traction in slippery conditions.
Ride-wise, the V90 Cross Country’s combination of chunky tires and 2.37 inches of extra suspension travel aids in it absorbing big bumps extremely well. Ruts and potholes are handled with ease and the wagon is likely to be more capable than most owners would ever need it to be. There is a bit more pitch and wallow in sharp corners, but that’s likely to be less of a concern for buyers of this class of vehicle.
While the V90 is a competent cruiser, its chassis doesn’t offer quite the same level of agility, composure, or handling compared to the air sprung 2022 Mercedes-Benz E450 All-Terrain wagon that I recently tested.
Volvo was one of the first to incorporate a Tesla-like iPad sized portrait orientated infotainment touchscreen into their cars. After several years of trying to refine their Sensus infotainment system, they’ve decided to partner with Google in using the Android Automotive Operating System.
While much faster than the Sensus interface, I can’t help but feel that the Android Automotive interface is too simplistic now, lacking many of the shortcuts and graphical textures that made the Sensus system feel premium. My test vehicle’s system did not have Apple Carplay integration, though Volvo Canada says that this will be released in a future update. Alas, the fantastic knurled drive mode selector scroll wheel has also been eliminated.
All Volvo V90 Cross Country wagons come with a digital instrument display which is clear and easy to read. However, unless you’ve had the benefit of playing around with Volvo’s system in-depth, the user interface is slightly confusing to navigate at first blush. Most cars with digital instrument panels these days are also far more flexible and user-configurable than Volvo’s, which almost seems basic in comparison.
Fortunately, the optionally available heads-up display is useful and effective at displaying speed and other information relevant to the driver.
As Volvo has a deep-rooted reputation for making safe cars, it’s no surprise that the V90’s sedan sibling, the Volvo S90, was awarded with an IIHS Top Safety Pick+.
Part of the reason for this top-grade rating was not just the expected safety suite of forward collision warning, lane departure warning and low and high-speed emergency braking. Volvo also includes run-off-road protection, which pretensions seatbelts to hold occupants in place if the car rolls over, and deformable seats that minimise spinal injuries in the event of a serious crash. Blindspot warning, adaptive cruise control, and rear cross traffic alert are also standard equipment.
Another simple but effective system is Volvo’s rear seat belt reminder. It displays a graphic depicting everyone’s seating position and buckle status. If a belted rear passenger decides to unbuckle while the car is in motion, the graphic re-appears along with a persistent audible alert until re-buckling occurs.
Comfortable, quiet, well-dampened, capable, safe. These are the five words in which I’d use to describe the 2022 Volvo V90 Cross Country B6 AWD wagon in a pinch.
With the new and relaxed B6 powerplant, a high quality interior, and well-suppressed wind noise, the V90 Cross Country is a very pleasant way of eating up long distances and a great alternative to the ubiquitous luxury SUV.
[REVIEW] 2022 Mercedes-Benz E450 4Matic All-Terrain wagon
Ever since Crocodile Dundee introduced the Subaru Outback wagon, many have come to accept the lifted wagon body style as a smart alternative to an SUV. With the Outback wagon having a long-running reputation, other manufacturers have borrowed from the proven formula over the years.
Audi was one of the first to jump in, with their A6 Allroad introduced over 20 years ago, as was Volvo with their “Cross Country” wagons. And now, Mercedes-Benz is the latest manufacturer to jump in, albeit late to the party, with their latest E-class wagon.
In order to make the E-class wagon a bit more rough and ready and less wagon-y, the boffins at Benz have taken the latest 2022 E450 wagon and dubbed it the E450 All-Terrain. Presumably this name will attract those looking for an upmarket Subaru Outback, and as an alternative to the the smaller Audi Allroad which is based on the compact A4 platform versus the mid-sized A6 platform of the original 1999 Audi Allroad.
How is it different?
Although station wagons were found on many a suburban driveway in the 1970 to 90’s, punters decided that they were sort of lame when the SUV came out.
These days, the more off-road-y wagons are making a strong comeback, and given that my parents’ family car when growing up was a Mercedes-Benz 300TE wagon, I have a special place in my heart for any sort of Mercedes-Benz wagon.
Aside from the Mercedes-AMG E63 wagon, the E450 All-Terrain is the only way that wagon fans can satisfy their wagon-needs in Canada. There is no “standard” version of the wagon sold any longer.
The addition of the 2022 Mercedes-Benz E450 All-Terrain wagon comes alongside a refresh to the company’s entire E-class line-up. While mostly cosmetic, the requisite nips and tucks to the bumpers, headlights, taillights have been made. Inside, the infotainment system has been revised with the latest version of the MBUX system, but the rest has mostly been left alone.
In order to match the SUV-cues, All-Terrain wagons come standard with plastic fender flares and additional body cladding. There is also a signature All-Terrain front grille and a chromed skid plate. My test vehicle was fitted with the standard 19-inch wheels, but larger 20-inchers are optional extras.
Ground clearance is also greater, with the E450 All-Terrain sitting 1.2 inches higher thanks to Mercedes Airmatic air springs all-around. The system can raise slightly for additional ground clearance at lower speeds.
Under the hood, gone is the twin-turbo V6, replaced with a turbocharged 3.0-litre inline-six cylinder paired with a 48-volt mild hybrid system, similar to that in the GLE450 SUV. Although the output of 362 horsepower and 369 lbs-ft of torque matches that of the outgoing V6, the starter-generator mild-hybrid system can add another 21 horses. This system is dubbed “EQ Boost”.
Mercedes says that their EQ Boost technology helps to electrify vehicles intelligently and cost-effectively by increasing the performance and efficiency of a conventional internal combustion engine without the complexity and expense of a full-hybrid system.
On the inside
At 4.95 metres in length, the Mercedes E450 All-Terrain wagon’s most natural competitor is the Volvo V90 Cross Country wagon. Both are nearly full-sized, and both have interiors that drip in luxury finishings and technology that are befitting of their over $80,000 base prices. Audi’s All-Road wagon and the Subaru Outback are comparably cheaper but also smaller.
The E-Class wagon’s boxy styling allows for a party trick which is all but a rarity in today’s cars. Look under the E450 All-Terrain’s cargo floor and you’ll find a pair of foldaway rear-facing jump seats. Given that there is a large cargo area – 64 cu.ft when the rear seats are folded, or 35 cu ft with the rear seats up – there is just enough room to make the rear facing jump seats work.
Indeed, I have fond memories of riding in my parents’ wagon in said jump seats, though a quick seat (or attempt to) fit in the cargo area quickly reminded me that I was no longer an 11 year old. My 5 year old nephew, on the other hand, loved the novelty of facing backwards even though the vehicle was stationary. Clearly these seats are for children only, and or very small adults.
Mercedes has cleverly fitted these seats with head restraints (which stow away under the floor) and three point seatbelts as well.
The rest of the E450 All-Terrain was standard Mercedes-Benz corporate fare, which is to say that it all feels right. The optional leather or MB-Tex leatherette seats are the typical Mercedes-Benz standard of supportive, comfortable, and firm enough for cross-country hauls. As expected, they can be heated and or ventilated depending on the boxes that you check-off on the options list.
Open-pore wood trim is standard equipment, as is the 64 colour ambient light system with a seemingly umteen amount of colour themes. You can even select them to illuminate various areas in different colours or have the system cycle through the themes dynamically.
How does it ride and drive?
If you can’t stomach the me-too trend of going for an SUV, the E-class All-Terrain mixes enough wagon and SUV quality to produce a compromise that is worth having.
The wagon’s inherent lower centre-of-gravity, simply because it’s based on a car platform, simply means that the E450 All-Terrain feels more planted around the twisties versus something like a Mercedes-Benz GLC or GLE SUV.
Mercedes-Benz has succeeded if intends for the changes to the E-class wagon to appeal to someone who is looking for the ability to do some light off-roading while being sportier than an SUV. Yet, the All-Terrain is as comfortable and relaxing after a four-hour stint behind the wheel compared to a standard E-class sedan.
On my favourite backroads, the E-class’ fundamentally well-sorted out chassis shines through despite the increase in ride height. Little has been done to spoil the base car’s balance.
In Comfort mode, there is more rolling into corners but it’s far from cumbersome. Part of the trade-off is also in slightly more aggressive tires with taller sidewalls. If the going gets more ribbon-like, Sport mode seems to tighten everything up by the appropriate amount, with the right amount of dampening and a bearable ride.
Sport mode also sharpens the throttle pedal response, heavies up the steering feel, and holds the engine revs a bit longer. The EQ Boost system also seems to step in a bit more aggressively.
Another part of the reason for the All-Terrain’s surefootedness is Mercedes-Benz’s permanent 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. The system is rear-biased front-to-rear torque split of 31:69. A new five-mode Dynamic Select system adds a new All-Terrain setting not found on other E-classes.
Mercedes says that selecting this mode increases the ride height by a further 0.78 inches at speeds up to 30 km/hr, and also optimises the stability and traction control systems for lower-grip surfaces.
While the 2022 Mercedes-Benz E450 All-Terrain wagon is unlikely to be called “fun”, it did everything that I asked of it.
From hauling passengers in style, comfort, and luxury, this 5+2 passenger vehicle is a compelling and yet often forgotten rival to Mercedes’ own GLE, as well as other SUVs in the market.
[REVIEW] 2022 Honda Civic Touring sedan
While you might think that lower production luxury cars cost more to engineer than mass production compact cars, the opposite is reality. For example, the 10th generation Civic was said to have cost Honda more money, time and effort than other new models in their history.
And yet, while starting from a clean slate is never easy or inexpensive, we’re now in the 11th generation of the Honda Civic. A lot has changed since the first Civic went on sale in North America in the early 1970’s for under $3,000. However, Honda is still offering the Civic as both a sedan and a hatchback.
The Civic is Honda’s longest-running automotive nameplate, with more than 2.25 million cars sold in Canada since it was introduced here in 1973. Moreover, the Civic has been built at Honda of Canada Mfg facility in Allison, Ontario continuously since 1988. This is longer than any other Honda plant in the world currently producing the model.
Each generation of Civic has been more grown up than the previous, and this 11th generation car carries on the tradition by offering a more subdued appearance akin to its big brother Accord.
Although the previous generation Civic was offered as a coupe, this longer is the case due to declining sales of that variant. The 11th generation Civic is all-new, with a redesigned body. It is now only offered in North America as a four door hatchback (which we will review in a future article), as well as the sedan as tested in this review.
While the Civic is still considered technically considered a compact sedan, this latest version is larger, more substantial, and more upscale than its predecessors.
It’s not difficult to see why then, despite the SUV/crossover craze, the Honda Civic is still at the top of the Canadian passenger car sales segment. 43,556 units of this all-new 11th generation Civics were sold in 2021, allowing it to maintain the number one position as Canada’s best-selling car for the 24th consecutive year.
Aside from the more Accord-esque styling queues, Honda has improved the ride and handling, with the interior featuring the requisite new features, nicer materials, and new technology.
Despite compact car competitors, such as the Mazda 3, offering all-wheel-drive on their line-up, Honda insists that the Civic will continue to be front-wheel drive only.
It’s all grown-up
Honda says that the 2022 Civic Sedan is “a modern expression of classic Civic values, inside and out”. Built using what Honda describes as their “Man Maximum / Machine minimum Philosophy” (aka M/M), the design concept is supposed to use technology and design to serve the needs of the occupants.
What this marketing jargon translates into is a “thin and light” body design with a low hood, front fenders, and a low horizontal beltline. Your eyes aren’t tricking you if you think that the Civic appears bigger.
This is due to the bottom of the windshield pillars being moved rearward by 50mm, elongating the hood and stretching the Civic’s silhouette compared to the previous generation car.
Behind the new front bumper skin is a new bumper beam safety plate that has been designed to decrease leg injuries. The longer hood also has an embossed inner structure designed to improve pedestrian head protection performance.
Honda says that the new lower character line that rises through the rear doors is supposed to provide for an enhanced sense of motion. I’m not so sure if it is as exciting as the marketing-speak describes, but the car does look good regardless, even though it is slightly derivative of the Accord’s styling (not a bad thing to imitate).
The new Civic’s wider rear track is emphasised by stronger rear haunches, wider LED taillamps, and an aerodynamically efficient trailing edge of the trunk lid.
Speaking of LED lighting, Honda has used it extensively for the headlamps, daytime running lamps, parking lights, and fog lights. The new LED headlamps are excellent, casting a wide and white beam which is effective in lighting up the road ahead even in inclement weather.
Back to basics on the inside
Inside, gone are the days of the multi-level dashboards and cubbies from Civics in the past. You’ll find an uncluttered cabin design heralding back from the days of the very early-generation Civics.
Nowhere better can you see this change than in the top of the Civic’s instrument panel which has been redesigned with minimum cutlines to reduce both visual distraction sand windshield reflections. In my eyes, this is a welcome improvement that fits in well with the premium new exterior design.
Remember the windshield A-pillars that have been moved back by 50 mm? That change, combined with the low hood, flat dashboard, and tucked away windshield wipers, has improved forward visibility with more clearly defined corners. It’s easier to place the Civic’s edges than ever before during parking situations. The low cowl height is matched with the door’s sills and carries through to the rear doors.
Perhaps the most striking interior element is the new metal honeycomb mesh accent that stretches from door to door and across the dash. This accent clever hides the air vents while still creating a dramatic visual separation between the infotainment system and climate controls.
The metal-look HVAC controls feel high-quality. Overall, all of the switchgear has a distinctly more expensive feel to it. Honda says that they’ve even paid attention to smallest details, such as a new premium centre control trim that is specifically designed to hide fingerprints and smudges to help maintain a high-end appearance.
For anyone that has suffered through the scratches in the piano black plastic trim of vehicles in the same class, this subtle but significant innovation will certainly be welcome.
All Civics also benefit from a new generation seat design, with a new frame designed to enhance comfort on long drives.
My top-of-the-range 2022 Civic Touring sedan debuts with Honda’s all-new 9-inch high definition touchscreen infotainment system. This new touchscreen is the largest ever in any Honda vehicle, and the system supports both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
While it has taken Honda several tries to get the touchscreen right, I’m happy to say that they’ve nailed this one out of the park with the combination of touchscreen, soft buttons, and hard button controls.
The Civic now builds upon the foundation laid by the Display audio system in other Honda models such as the Odyssey, Pilot, Passport, and Accord.
The physical volume knob, simplified user-interface design, and cleanly designed icons make the system easy-to-use even for those new to the Civic. I particularly appreciated the effort that has been made to simplify the system’s navigational structure with fewer menus. The hard buttons for Home and Back functions were nice to have when toggling through the menu screens when wearing gloves.
Standard on my Touring-trim model is also the first use of Bose audio in a Civic, with Bose Centrepoint 2 and Bose SurroundStage digital signal processing.
On the safety front, this latest generation Civic earned a U.S. IIHS Top Safety Pick + Rating. This is in part thanks to all 2022 Civic trims receiving new frontal airbags designed to better control head motions in certain types of crash, thereby better reducing conditions associated with brain injury.
The driver’s airbag uses a new donut-shaped structure to cradle and hold the head to reduce rotation, and the passenger front airbag uses a innovative new three-chamber design to achieve a similar result.
The standard Honda Sensing suite of active driver-aids include a new single-camera system which is capable of more quickly and accurately identifying pedestrians, cyclists, and other vehicles.
My 2022 Honda Civic Touring tester was also further enhanced with expanded driver-assistive tech, including features normally found in premium brands.
In addition to the now ubiquitous automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, and lane keeping assist, there is also a Traffic Jam Assist feature. I noticed that the Adaptive Cruise Control system has also been improved with more natural brake applications and quicker response times.
The Civic, for the first time, now features Low-Speed Braking Control, and front and rear false-start prevention.
So, how does it drive?
There are two engine choices available for the 2022 Honda Civic: a turbocharged 1.5-litre four-cylinder (as equipped on my Touring test car) and a naturally aspirated 2.0-litre four-cylinder. Both engines have outputs of 180 horsepower and 158 horsepower respectively. Torque figures are 177 lb-ft at 1,700 to 4,500 rpm, and 138 ft-lb at 4,200 rpms respectively.
I found the turbocharged engine more than adequate for its class, with strong initial acceleration off the line. The wide torque band was appreciated in passing maneuvers regardless of speed. I’d suspect that the naturally aspirated 2.0-litre wouldn’t be quite as flexible.
Both engines are paired with Honda’s latest CVT transmission, uniquely tuned for each engine. The CVT paired with the turbocharged engine has improved torque converter performance and Step-Shift programming which does a pretty darn good job at simulating actual gears. This eliminates much of the rubberbanding sensation commonly found in conventional CVTs.
In addition to the standard Normal and Eco driving modes, 2.0L Sport and 1.5L Touring trims of the 2022 Civics now feature a user-selectable Sport mode. Using a toggle switch on the centre console, the new Sport mode alters the drive ratios and mapping for a sportier feel and changes the meter lighting to red. Eco mode reduces throttle and transmission sensitivity, as well as air conditioning output to help preserve fuel efficiency.
Handling is nimble, with little body roll and quick steering.The Civic felt capable, secure, and sporty for a compact car. No doubt this is thanks to a stiffer body structure and the additional 35 mm of wheelbase versus the previous-gen Civic.
Road noise, a former complaint of other Civics, was nicely muted even at highway speeds. But one caveat is that my top Touring trim had added sound insulation. Reviews from other auto journalists have stated that lower-trim Civics could also benefit from this added insulation, so be sure to test drive different trim levels.
If you’re looking for more performance and better handling, you’ll have to step-up for the Civic Si model, which once again represents the sportiest Civic in the range till high performance Civic R makes its debut. The Si is only available with a six-speed manual transmission and a 200 horsepower turbocharged engine.
35 years later and with nearly 11 million units produced in North America (5.3 million of which have been in Canada), the 11th generation Civic appears poised to continue its success with Canadians looking for a reliable compact car.
Later this year, the all-new Honda Civic Type R will be officially unveiled. This highly anticipated model will be the best performing Type R ever, capping the current 11th generation Honda Civic model line-up.
[REVIEW] 2022 Mercedes-Benz S580 4Matic
For decades, people at the very top – be they CEOs of international companies, presidents of nations, or royalty – travel in Mercedes-Benz S-classes. Often dubbed the “best car in the world”, Mercedes-Benz has long since launched their latest in luxury, technology, and design on this model, their flagship product.
And now, there is a new one. When I say new, I really do mean new in every respect. After all, the 2022 Mercedes-Benz S-class is supposed to represent the pinnacle of the Mercedes-Benz brand.
As expected, there is the requisite new body, new engine, new suspension, new interior heights of luxury, and the latest technology.
Mercedes-Benz continues to expand the S-class range to include Mercedes-AMG models and now also even more luxurious Mercedes-Maybach models.
For this review, we’ll be sampling the mid-level version of the personal limo for the ultra-wealthy, the 2022 Mercedes-Benz S580 4Matic.
Have the very best of Mercedes’ engineers, designers, and craftspersons created another technological tour-de-force? Let’s take a closer look.
Now in its seven-generation, this all-new S-class can still be regarded as the iconic flagship of the brand. That being said, after almost half a century of existence, the lines have blurred a little whole lot in the luxury marketplace, including the shift to electric vehicles and consumers still favouring SUVs.
It’s no surprise then that there is a Mercedes-Maybach version of the GLS SUV, with the “S” part of the nomenclature added on purposely to draw upon the association with the success and status from the S-class.
While we live in confusing times these days, the S-class is still supposed to be the company’s most important brand exercise and the epitome of the company’s latest tagline of “The Best or Nothing”. With electric vehicles now manded by many countries within the next decade, we’re at the cusp of a changeover for both the auto industry and the consumer. Mercedes themselves have launched the “EQS580”, once again borrowing on the “S” nomenclature. Yet, both models exist simultaneously, for now anyway.
The 2022 S580 is a good example of this leading edge of the wave towards electrification of traditional ICE vehicles. Look no further than its impressive 48 volt mild-hybrid Mercedes EQ Boost technology, unbelievably opulent creature comforts (along with eye watering option list prices), and an impressive array of electronic and infotainment technology. This includes 3D OLED displays to facial recognition technology to a GPS navigation system with augmented reality.
While V8 engines seem to be on their way out, Mercedes-Benz has managed to keep one under the hood of the S580 in the form of a 4.0-litre 496 horsepower twin-turbo V8.
Like every S-class of recent vintage, every model rides on the Airmatic air suspension system. Optionally available is the E-Active Body Control system, which has a “curve” function that leans the cars into corners so as to reduce the centrifugal forces of going around a corner. For the first time ever, there is also a rear-wheel steering system that helps the big Benz to maneuver easily in tight spaces.
Interior: Comfort and Technology
The 2022 Mercedes-Benz S-class introduces a whole new corporate dash design, which we have already seen replicated in the all-new 2023 C-class and the upcoming GLC-class.
Gone is the wide central touchscreen, replaced by an even more massive centre touchscreen with an aspect ratio that is more squarish than it is rectangular. A 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster is fitted in front of the driver, but alas my test vehicle S580 wasn’t equipped with the 3D OLED screen nor the enhanced oversized heads-up display which is said to show navigation directions, via moving arrows, in augmented reality.
Wherever you look you’ll find multi-coloured and control responsive ambient lighting, leather, wood, chrome, satin metal finishes, and screens screens screens. Even if you don’t opt for the rear system, as with my S580 test vehicle, there is a rear centre console mounted Android tablet which can be used to control various functions for the rear seating area.
To make it easier to buckle your seatbelts at night, the seatbelt anchors are even lit. Opt for the optional executive rear seating package and the rear anchor point will also motorise up to make it easier for the buckle to be inserted into the slot. You won’t think you’ll need it till you use it for the first time!
Naturally, both front and rear seats are heated (and ventilated), as are the steering wheel and armrests. There are more intricate massage programs versus the model’s predecessor, for, both front and rear. Even the headrests can be spec’ed out with special pillows, rivalling the comfortable beds pillows you’ll find at high end hotels.
As you would expect, the 2022 Mercedes-Benz S580 is equipped with every advanced safety feature and then some. There is the usual cocoon of airbags that one would expect, but also airbags mounted in the front seatbacks for the rear passengers, and one mounted in the centre between the driver and front passenger. This new centre airbag is designed to deploy in a severe side impact, reducing the risk of front occupants cracking heads.
Moreover, aside from forward collision warning and mitigation, blindspot warning, lane departure warning, the latter two systems can also provide corrective action if so desired. The blindspot warning system even ties into the vehicle’s door locks, warning about a vehicle or bicycle passing should someone attempt to open the door into the path of either.
Ride and handling
My 2022 Mercedes-Benz S580 4Matic test vehicle was equipped with the latest system dubbed E-Active Body Control. Falling under the company’s “Innovation by Intelligence” umbrella, the system uses the 48-volt architecture and a network of over 20 sensors, five computer processors, and a stereo camera system to corroborate inputs at 1,000 times per second.
The Road Surface Scan system uses the stereo camera to proactively look at the road ahead, detecting changes in the road as small as two millimetres. This allows the system to predictively adjust the suspension ahead of time, readying it for a bump that is coming versus reacting to one that has already occurred. The feeling is a bit uncanny as ride motion over speed bumps are significantly muted by almost 80 per cent.
The same E-Active Body Control system has a safety party trick called “Impulse Side”. When tied into the side-mounted radar sensors, the system has the ability to recognise a potential side impact and raise the vehicle by 3.14 inches (80 mm) in just tenths of a second. As the side rocker panel sill is the strongest part of the car, there is potentially less intrusion into the passenger safety cell in the event of a side impact.
Despite the S580 being a massive car, the chauffeur doesn’t have to have all the fun. It feels surprisingly sporty, even in non-AMG form, and handles incredibly well in-spite of its size. Quick steering and good steering feel inspires confidence, even without the optional rear steering system, and S580’s permanent 4matic all-wheel-drive system worked flawlessly in poor weather conditions including during heavy snowfall.
The twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 engine and Mercedes’ 9-Gtronic automatic transmission are an incredibly well-matched pair, able to deliver both strong, push-you-into-the-seatback acceleration or graceful slow-speed departures with little fuss and few hiccups. Acceleration comes on quickly with a mere dip into the throttle pedal.
It’s difficult to be disappointed whether you’re riding in the 2022 Mercedes-Benz S580 as a driver or a passenger. There is a reason why you still see leaders arriving in S-classes and significantly less so in competitors’ vehicles of the same class and size.
While its days as an executive limo, at least in its traditional form, may be numbered thanks to Mercedes’ EQ-line-up of fully electric vehicles, I doubt that Mercedes-Benz will retire the legendary “S-class” name badge anytime soon.
No doubt the S-class will continue to live on as the best car in the world, in any way, shape or form.
[REVIEW] 2022 Mercedes-AMG E53 4MATIC coupe
Mercedes-Benz has had a long history with B-pillarless coupe. Starting from the 1968 Stoker/8 Coupe with its frameless and fully retractable side windows, the B-pillarless design was intended to create a generous and less restricted overall appearance. In 1992, AMG got involved in tweaking what was then known as the W124 300CE E-Class-based coupe.
If we look back at the timeline, from a 51 percent takeover in 1998, the influence of Mercedes-Benz continued to grow until AMG became a wholly owned subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz in 2005.
Although today AMG is known to the vast majority of younger car fans as the Mercedes-Benz sports department, the fact that this company from Affalterbach was once an independent tuning company has been almost forgotten in many places. Officially, the present day name of the division is now “Mercedes-AMG”.
Before the cooperation agreement came into force, AMG took a 300CE (E-Class coupe) and fettled it with their specially tuned 6.0-litre V8 from the S-Class and SL. Featuring 381 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque, this car was aptly named “The Hammer” and accelerated to 100 km/hr in just 5 seconds. Even by modern day standards that is an impressive time.
With only twelve such cars produced, the Hammers are highly sought after by AMG collectors today.
Is the E53 coupe a Modern day AMG Hammer?
It has taken until this latest generation of E-Class coupe for Mercedes-AMG to be involved once again with an E-Class.
Mercedes’ newish 53-badged AMG vehicles are supposed to represent a perfect halfway point between the standard models and the much more expensive fire-breathing 63 variants. While it’s not a full-blooded eight-cylinder kind of AMG, since there are no plans for a 63 version of the E-Class coupe, this is currently the most powerful model that you can get in either E-Class coupe or convertible form.
To differentiate the 2022 Mercedes-AMG E53 coupe from its non-AMG stablemate, the former is marked by unique tailpipes, AMG badging, the new Panamericana-grille with vertical chrome slats, and unique AMG 20” wheels.
The large outer air inlet grille features two transverse louvres and a new front splitter. The grille also features inner Air Curtains, giving an overall aerodynamic advantage, and a subtle similarity to the AMG GT sports car family.
Kitted out in black and blacked out wheels, my car’s “murdered out” looked positively aggressive.
Under the hood is the now familiar 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder twin scroll turbocharged engine mated with an electric-starter-alternator combo for 48 volt mild-hybrid assistance. Known as EQ Boost, this system can boost fuel efficiency slightly but is really more designed to eliminate turbo lag.
The electric hybrid technology can add 21 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque on its own to supplement the high-tech inline-6 which produces 429 horsepower and 384 lb-ft of torque from 1,800 to 5,800 rpms.
With power flowing to all four wheels via a 9-speed AMG Speedshift dual-clutch automatic transmission and the company’s 4MATIC+ all-wheel-drive system, 0 to 100 km/hr runs can be accomplished in just 4.4 seconds, a whole 0.6 seconds quicker than the mighty “Hammer”.
The AMG DYNAMIC SELECT modes lets drivers fine-tune the E53’s performance via controls on the console or the standard steering-wheel AMG DRIVE UNIT. Five driving modes, one customizable, adapt the throttle, shifting, chassis and more from Slippery to Sport+.
The fully variable AMG Performance 4MATIC+ can send torque to the wheels that can best turn traction into action. From launch grip to cornering, 4MATIC+ can go from 50/50 front/rear, up to 100% rear-wheel-drive.
My car’s optional AMG Sport Exhaust, included in the AMG Driver’s Package, turns the rise and ebb of rpm into a rousing soundtrack. With multimode internal flaps, the different drive modes and the exhaust button lets you heighten the crescendos, or tone them down.
How does it drive?
All this tech and all of these numbers translate into impressive performance in the real-world. While the E53 coupe lacks the V8 engine and exhaust soundtrack of the AMG 63-models, the way the E53 coupe builds speed is still very impressive. Sure, it won’t pin you back in your seat like its four door E63s sibling, but it’s still very involving. The E53’s exhaust is rather unique but still pleasing under hard acceleration, particularly in Sport+ mode.
The car’s AMG RIDE CONTROL+ turns pressurized air into agility by adapting within milliseconds to changing roads, loads, and the modes of AMG DYNAMIC SELECT. It’s self-lowering and self-leveling and totally automated. At speed, the system gently supports the body while leaving it largely impervious to body roll.
Although it might be a mild-hybrid system, the E53 does not have the ability to cruise around emissions-free around town. Apart from the improved responses, you rarely notice the EQ Boost system working its magic. Aside from the very visible EQ Boost digital gauge in the speedo, you might notice that the engine shuts down earlier than you might imagine as you come to a halt.
My test vehicle was fitted with Mercedes’ semi-automomous driving system which now features a steering wheel sensor mat to recognise if you’re “hands-on”. If the driver does not have their hands on the steering wheel for a certain time, a warning is displayed in subsequent annoyance until Emergency Brake Assist.
Compared to other Mercedes models, I found the system too sensitive, frequently telling me to keep my hands on the wheel when they were already indeed on the steering wheel.
Aside from these little niggles, the E53 coupe is perfectly at home cruising at 200 km/hr on the autobahn or carving up some backroads on the weekend. You could easily drive this car from dusk till dawn and still feel relaxed on the other end. In this sense, it is a proper E-Class.
On the inside
Although the cabin is shared with other E-Class models, the extensive optional carbon fibre trim fitted to my test vehicle was drop dead gorgeous. It truly brings a different vibe to the cabin when compared to the open pore wood trim option that was fitted to my 2021 Mercedes-AMG E63s wagon test vehicle.
The sporty and comfortable seats provide strong lateral support which translates into comfort during long drives. They come in either Artico man-made leather or Dinamica microfibre in black with an AMG-specific design, red contrasting topstitching and the AMG badge, characteristic for the 53 models.
Aside from the AMG Drive Control unit on the latest AMG Steering wheel, the AMG badging in the virtual dashboard and the AMG apps in the MBUX Infotainment system, there is little else to give the game away (on the inside anyway) that this is special AMG model.
Some people may like this, but others may subscribe to the thinking from BMW’s M Division. That is to say that M cars have a bit more glitz, glamour, and pantomime.
The 2022 E53 coupe’s four seats and a 435-litre trunk give it more than adequate practicality for four adults and their luggage. There are all the accoutrements you could possibly need, from seatbelt extenders, to heated/ventilated seats.
Curiously, Mercedes-AMG also chose to leave in the AirScarf neck warmer option from the E-Class cabriolet. While this system is designed to warm-up passengers during top-down motoring, it was nonetheless a welcome but unexpected addition to the E53 coupe.
On that point, the addition of 4Matic+ all-wheel-drive also means that the E53 coupe is an all-weather vehicle, able to hit the ski chalets’ snow covered driveways or the golf course with equal comfort and presence.
While it may lack the exclusivity of the 300CE Hammer, the 2022 Mercedes-AMG E53 4matic+ coupe is worthy at taking up the baton as the latest AMG four-seater two-door E-Class coupe.
Although coupes and cabriolets are sold in relatively small numbers compared to SUVs, this vehicle seems to be a worthy successor to continue Mercedes-Benz’s long tradition of producing sporty and elegant two-door cars with style and performance.
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