“Sign up now for your chance to become part of a history – one that’s been in the making for over half a century now”.
Sounds pretty enticing doesn’t it? What car fan can resist the temptation of being part of automotive history? OK perhaps that’s a bit lofty of a statement created by the advertising agency and the marketing department. But what car fan can resist a free track day where a bunch of go-carts agile “sooped up” John Cooper Works MINIs lie at the ready?
I was recently invited by MINI Canada to participate in their John Cooper Works “Drive it like John” track days event. Here I would get a chance to experience the fun side of the performance-orientated John Cooper Works MINIs. All 7 of them!
MINI hired the guys at NVRVR to document the day for them. Check out their video!
In more detail…
Track Days with MINI John Cooper Works is an exclusive, invitation-only event where approximately 50 Mini fans/customers were invited to a private track event to test the performance and handling of all seven agile MINI John Cooper Works models. The invitation says it in a much more fun way, “there’s a cherry on this chocolate-covered sundae: you’ll get to drive these high-performance beasts around a real racetrack, just like the pros. How delish is that”.
I think you get the point of what the invite was trying to say! Vancouver was the first stop in MINI Canada’s tour, which then was to move onto Montreal and finish off in Toronto.
For those of you who don’t know who John Cooper is, a little history lesson can be found here. John Cooper Works (aka JCW) has been whipping out tuned MINIs since the 1960 and has been an in-house division of the MINI brand since 2008.
The Vancouver event was hosted at Mission Raceway. Pretty much the only road course in the Lower Mainland.
Upon pulling into the gates to the Raceway, a non-descript “Drive it like John” themed sandwich board presented itself. Like a horse with a carrot being dangled in front of its eyes, I pressed on.
In the parking lot were 16 JCW MINIs around. MINI Canada went all out and wasn’t playing about! As I was later to learn, the plan was for about 25 of us to share the cars (in two separate groups), so everyone would get the chance to drive all 7 JCW models.
After the typical registration and disclaimers were signed off, I ventured further into the tent. A light breakfast was being served, and the tent was decorated with some fun MINI items. On each table was also a very nice (and expensive looking) John Cooper Works souvenir book/brochure along with a checkered flag Mini branded pen.
MINI History, Heritage, and everything else…
We kicked off at 9am with a great presentation from Debra Tovell, MINI Canada’s product planner. She talked about the heritage of the MINI brand, the latest product lineup, and specifically who John Cooper was. After years of seeing JCW MINIs on Top Gear and other UK TV shows, I was really happy to see MINI Canada’s commitment to bringing more powerful engines to suit the nimble handling of their vehicles.
Debra explained that all the JCW MINI vehicles that we were to be driving would be sharing the same 1.6L 4 cylinder turbocharged engine with 208hp @ 6000 rpms. This engine is tuned for a wonderfully flat torque “curve” of 192 ft-lbs of torque at 1900-5000 rpms. What this translates into in the real world, is a consistent pull in everyday traffic situations. In essence, no dead spots in the power band when you need it (e.g. when squirting around the person that signals for a left hand turn at the last minute on Hastings St).
How not to crash on the course: Safety, communication, and driving techniques…
Next, the professional drivers took the stage. One of the benefits of MINI being owned by the BMW Group is that they had access to the BMW Performance Driving school instructors (who incidentally taught the BMW M Performance Driving school the day before on the same track). We were given a tutorial on proper hand, shoulder, and seating positions.
In a nutshell, with your hands at the 9 and 3 o’clock positions, you have a full 180 degrees of rotation of the steering wheel without your hands having to leave those spots. Compare this to only 120 degrees of rotation if your hands are at the 10 and 2 o’clock positions. That 60 degrees of extra steering lock can make the difference between avoiding an obstacle on the road and hitting it! Most people also sit too far away from the steering wheel and pedals, resulting in lack of control and increased the odds of getting into an accident.
After a rigorous “crash” course on weight transfer, braking points, entry, apex and exit, we headed out like a pack of eager sled dogs to get some seat time!
Our morning “exercise” consisted of getting familiar with the Mission Raceway track and the cars. We were all paired up with other drivers, and would rotate throughout the day to allow for equal seat time. Since most drivers had never been on a track before, a lot of the emphasis was placed on safety and communication via in car radios.
I was impressed by the level of attention that was put into the program, but wasn’t surprised given the professionalism of the staff thus far and having been to other BMW Group driving events.
And now the fun begins…
The driving activities of the day ultimately consisted of the following.
- Follow-the-leader in a MINI JCW Countryman ALL4 around a short section of Mission Raceway in an track orientation exercise
- One-on-one coaching over the walkie talkies while we drove the short inner course of Mission Raceway ourselves
- Slalom course to evaluate the tossable fun nature and go-kart like steering that MINIs are renowned for
- Follow-the-leader in a MINI JCW Countryman ALL4 around the full Mission Raceway track for 14 full laps of the track (as the driver then as the passenger)
- HOT laps in the MINI JCW Countryman ALL4 with the pro drivers at the helm
Without a doubt, exercise 4 was the pinnacle of my day. Essentially, we were lined up in a single file behind an instructor piloting the Countryman. After one full lap around Mission Raceway, the car that was immediately behind the Countryman would pull off to the left and slow down with its hazard lights on. The next car behind was then to move forward in the line to fill the gap so that it was now directly behind the Countryman. The car that had pulled off to the left and slowed down would then rejoin the back of the pack.
If this sounds a bit complicated, all it meant was that it was an efficient and effective way to ensure that everyone got to drive a 7 full laps while enjoying the view behind 7 different MINI JCW models.
As it turns out, because my co-driver was not fond of twisty roads and ended up being motion sick after 3 laps (sorry Marie!) I got the opportunity to do 14 full laps of Mission Raceway in the JCW Clubman.
We ended off the day with hot laps in the Countrymans with the pro drivers. 3 of us packed into each vehicle, and we truly got to see the vehicle “dance” at the limit in the skilled hands of the instructors. Needless to say, it reinforced how most drivers’ limits are far below what any of these vehicles are truly capable of.
My general thoughts about the 3 vehicles I spent the most time in…
MINI JCW Clubman: This was favourite vehicle, much to my surprise, and happily the one that I had the opportunity to drive the most extensively on the track. I say “much to my surprise” because I fully expected the MINI JCW Hatch to be the best handling vehicle on a tight road course like Mission Raceway.
However, the Clubman’s extra 80mm length in its wheelbase versus the hatch, paid huge dividends on the Raceway. The Clubman simply felt more stable and comfortable on the rougher sections of track. And of course in the real world, this extra 80mm translates in to more usable cargo room as well.
Despite the slightly heavier curb weight of the Clubman, the wonderful tossable go-kart nature was not in the least bit lost. It felt just as agile as its brethren. From a visibility standpoint, whether or not the central pillar caused by the two cargo barn doors will get in the way of your view out back remains to be seen. Of course, it wasn’t an issue on the race track, and I love that the barn doors had their own novel wiper blade on each side.
And as a special note, I have to say that the engine and exhaust noises this puppy was making was bloody thrilling! MINI absolutely nailed the exhaust note in this car. I generally don’t like FWD cars or 4 cylinder engines noises, but this vehicle changed my mind. And that says a lot about how impressed I was with it.
MINI JCW Countryman ALL4: Having driven the Cooper S version of the Countryman before, this was the most familiar vehicle to me coming into this event. My “problem” being a motorhead, is that more power is never a bad thing, and I always wanted more than what the Cooper S Countryman had to offer in this department. The JCW version fixed the biggest reservation that I had. More power! Plus it just looks badass in the Black and Chill Red colour scheme with the big black 19″ wheels.
Handling was neutral in the corners, with far less understeer than expected from an SUV-type vehicle with all-wheel drive. Traction was never an issue as the ALL4 all-wheel-drive system sorted out the power where it was needed. The system worked invisibly and imperceptibly, just what you would expect from a well engineered vehicle. All around, this is an SUV that is fully worthy of the MINI brand. And thank you MINI for finally offering a 5 seater version of Countryman with the deletion of the centre rail option.
MINI JCW Paceman ALL4: I wasn’t sure what to think of the Paceman coming into this event. While I am generally a fan of the jacked up two door SUV look (e.g. I love the Range Rover Evoque Coupe), I wasn’t sure how this was going to translate to the MINI brand. With purists and critics initially crying sacrilege upon the Countryman debut, I wondered how the Paceman would look In the flesh.
Overall I think it’s a success having seen and driven the vehicle. While I’m not a big fan of the upturned frowny grill, it does look mean in the JCW black or white and red colour scheme. With the Paceman, you get the ALL4 all-wheel-drive security from the Countryman, combined with more of the handling dynamics of the Clubman. The Paceman is just that little bit quicker than its Countryman relative, a little lighter, a little more hunkered down.
For me personally though, if I was going to go with a higher seating position, I would probably go all in and get the Countryman for the extra practicality of the two rear doors. Of course this is just based upon just the couple of hours I spent with the vehicle, so your mileage may vary!
I would fully welcome the further opportunity to test and report on all 3 of these vehicles in a more extensive fashion in everyday life <hint hint, wink wink @ MINI Canada>
My Parting thoughts…
Thank you MINI Canada for giving me the opportunity to participate in this event. Huge kudos to the events team and the pro drivers! Not only was it well organized from start to end, but I appreciated that it was FAR more extensive of a program than simply driving around cones in a mall parking lot for a 30 second lap. I always wonder if you can even call that a lap?
This JCW Track Day event truly allowed myself, along with my fellow “classmates”, the opportunity to sample the full JCW MINI lineup in its entirety, and what sets it apart from its more common variants. From the slalom course, to the high speed sweepers of Mission Raceway, this day was far superior than any free driving event that I’ve been to in the Lower Mainland.
I want to also make a point to mention that one of my non-driving highlights of the event was that we got to hear from Debra, the MINI product planner. Her friendly approachable nature and product knowledge was bar none. The pre-driving product presentation was one of the best I’ve seen; engaging without too much of a “rah rah, we’re the best” marketing play. Since it is rare that an automaker sends its busy product planner to a public event, I noticed and appreciated it.
So, if any of you are in the market for a new premium sporty car or compact SUV, be sure to head down to your MINI dealer to “Drive it like John” for yourself! With the full lineup of vehicles that they have today, John Cooper Works or otherwise, you owe it to yourself to consider the MINI lineup in your vehicle shopping adventures.
[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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