TechnoFile
| Car and tech rants from Jim Bray | Publishing online exclusively since 1995 |
Updated
June 15, 2017

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Mazda CX-9

Mazda's little bundle of joy continues to please

Ah, the Mazda MX-5. Once called the Miata, the Japanese carmaker's little open top roadster has been around for nearly 30 years and during that time has evolved and grown like most cars.

But unlike some cars that get overstyled or "over-teched" or which lose their original mien over the years, Mazda has never lost the Miata's focus of delivering the kind of driving joy that used to be found on such cars as the MGB, but without leaving you on the side of the road every time it rains.

Okay, that may be an exaggeration about the old British sports cars, but I've owned three MGB's (in various states of repair from "on its last legs" to "brand new") and they all left me on the side of the road - so much so that I look back now, decades later, and find it hard to believe I could have been so stupid as to get kicked by that particular mule three times. What can I say? I was a kid. more...

Lego Batman Blu-ray laugh out loud funny

I thought my pants would never dry!

The Lego Batman movie, now on Blu-ray from Warner Brothers, may not seem like something worth watching unless you're five year old, but it's full of laugh out loud moments young kids are likely to miss, which makes it a good movie to watch with said kids - you can not only explain some of the jokes but you can spend some quality time with the ankle biters without worrying about the latest Hollywood assault on their minds. Add a lack of sex and (other than comic book) violence, and even some personal growth that didn't really need to be there, and you have an enjoyable 104 minutes in the home theatre for the whole family. more...

Mazda celebrates a half century of Wankels

It turns out that the phrase "Wankel rotary engine," unlike how it's described in an old Monty Python sketch, is no reason for embarrassment. Especially for Mazda, the only carmaker with the pluck to realize - and do its best to prove - that Wankels weren't just for wankers.

Sure, it hasn't worked out as Mazda may have liked - the last rotary Mazda was the now-defunct RX-8, a terrific sports car - but it isn't as if the technology doesn't work. It just may not work as well as the conventional internal (a.k.a, to greenies, as infernal) combustion engine, especially in this day and age of increasingly mandated fuel economy.

But 50 years ago as of May 30th, the Hiroshima-headquartered carmaker began its legacy of, as Mazda's press release celebrating the anniversary said, "doing what was said couldn't be done." Mazda wasn't unique, if my aging memory is still working. General Motors was also looking at rotary engines at one time, but I don't believe they ever followed through. That would make Mazda the only major carmaker to wish the Wankel onto the world, and the company did it not only via its sports cars (though never the Miata) but also via some very nice sedans and coupes. A coupe de grace, perhaps? more...

Toyota's 2018 C-HR plows smaller fields with a new crossover

Think of it as a Juke that's less a joke, or as a little sibling to the RAV4 - but however you choose to gaze upon its little fullness, Toyota's latest SUV/Crossover is definitely an interesting little vehicle.

Whether or not it's blazing a new sales trail for Toyota will be known somewhere down the, er, road, but in the meantime, this is definitely - well, reasonably - another compelling vehicle from the land of the rising sun.

Just don't sit in the back!

Toyota, not surprisingly, hypes the C-HR as something really new and exciting (and they'd be pretty lousy marketers to do otherwise!). Here's how their PR stuff describes it: "When a deputy chief engineer who is passionate about motorsports is put in charge of turning a high-style concept model into a road-ready compact crossover, great things happen. Great things like the 2018 Toyota C-HR – an all-new, coupe-inspired crossover hitting the streets across Canada this spring." more...

Time Sagas

New apps claim help for gift givers and narcissistic navigators

Have you ever been stuck for gift ideas? Have you ever been bored by the generic computerized voice programmed into your vehicle? Well, folks, the free market has solutions for both of these vital issues and the world may be a better place because of them.

Or not. But they are interesting apps regardless of their overall impact on modern civilization, and I figured you might like to know about them. more...

Toyota Prius C a cheap and cute way to save gas

It's pretty Spartan, all things considered, and it's about as much fun to drive as a hobby horse, but Toyota's 2017 Prius C hybrid hatchback is still a decent little car that does a lot with a little. And, at a starting list price of $21,975, it doesn't cost a huge amount of cash to save the Earth.

On the other hand, you could buy a gas-fueled 106 hp Yaris SE five door hatch with an automatic transmission for about $19,510, sans taxes, fees and other kilos of flesh. The Yaris probably won't get the excellent 4.5 litres per 100 km that I achieved in the Prius C (despite my lead foot), but Toyota claims 7.9/6.8 (City/Hwy) for the Yaris, which is still darn good. And the Yaris is a heckuva lot more fun to drive, if only because it doesn't come with a whiny continuously variable transmission.

Sure, you'll be poking the Al Gores, David Suzukis and "Science Guys" of the world in the eye, but how is that a bad thing?

Toyota Canada's sample Prius C, which is "designed for the city," according to Toyota's website, wore the Technology moniker, which adds to the mix stuff like a backup camera, Toyota Safety Sense C (Pre-Collision System, Automatic High Beams, Lane Departure Alert), a power moon roof, heated front seats and a smart key system with push button start/stop. The Technology raises the Prius C's base price to $26,980 CAD.

On the other, other hand, The Prius C Technology is equipped better than the loaded Yaris hatch, which is about the same size and market niche. I checked out Toyota's Canadian website and it looks like you can't get a moon roof or rear view camera at all on the Yaris, which is a darn shame. I think a rear view camera is a more important safety feature than air bags (you'll use the camera every day, but the airbags will hopefully never be used) and while I can live without a moon roof I certainly wouldn't want to. more...

Fist Fight offers good audio and video - but that doesn't help

If you like your comedy movie foul mouthed, mean spirited and populated with sexual predators, Fist Fight is for you. But if it's representative of today's comedy films, I weep for popular culture and the society it supposedly reflects. Rocky or Fight Club it ain't!

Fist Fight is set on the last day of school, also known as Prank Day, when the students perform pranks on the faculty. Judging by the pranks, these students put a lot more effort into this day than they do into their studies. On the other hand, I think if these folks were my teachers I'd have played hookey a lot more than I did in my misspent youth. more...

CX-9 brings Mazda's fun driving experience to the three row crossover

It's big and it only sports a four banger engine, but the Mazda CX-9 SUV/crossover is one of the best driving vehicles in the class.

In other words, it's a typical Mazda.

Mazda is a relatively small car company, and for the last few years the Hiroshima-headquartered Japanese carmaker has had to forge its own path without another carmaker having its back (Ford used to be a partner). Yet it consistently comes up with vehicles - sedans, SUV/crossovers and, of course, sports coupes - that are just plain fun, yet are also featured fully and exude an air of quality that makes them seem more expensive than they are.  

The CX-9 is Mazda's biggest vehicle, but slip this baby into sport mode via the little rocker switch on the centre console and the vehicle seems to shrink a tad, just enough to make it sit up and take notice that you're looking to play. It still feels big, of course - even Mazda can't change the laws of physics - but it goes from feeling like a nice, big SUV to a nice, big Mazda SUV, and all the "Zoom-Zoom" that brings. more...

Women's rites? Interesting new app brings meaning to the life of your relationship - or not

There've been battles of the network stars, the Battle of the Bulge, battles with city hall, and many other battles - but the one that predates them all, and still goes on today, is the so-called "battle of the sexes." Men are from Mars and Women are from Oz, or Middle Earth or something, and never the twain shall meet.

Except that the twain do meet, often and repeatedly, so it's best that we learn to get along. And of course to do this in today's society, men have to understand women. Women don't have to understand men because women are downtrodden and innocent victims of a patriarchal system and so if there's going to be any movement toward mutual understanding it'd better damn well be the men doing it. Right?

On the other hand now, thanks to an app, men can play women like a fiddle! And isn't that empowering for women? more...

Toyota Camry: the extraordinary ordinary family car

It's been called vanilla, boring, bland, but what the Toyota Camry really is, is a fabulously designed and rendered sedan that gives a driver everything needed and most of what could be wanted - in an unassuming but handsome package that's as state-of-the-art as most people could want.

It also sells oodles (it's been one of the top selling cars for years now) and, judging by the Toyota logo and the number of old Camry still on the road, it'll probably run forever.

That, to me, makes it an automotive masterpiece.

The Camry has grown in looks, driving feel, and features - so much so that this current version (which will be replaced for 2018 with an even newer one) really is pretty much all one could want in a car. And it's even decent to drive!

Do I smell the ozone of a pending lightning strike at my head? more...

Top Bose SoundTouch a worthy successor to the SoundDock 10

Big sound from a small box, with enough connectivity to please nearly everyone. That's what Bose's SoundTouch line of speakers offers, and the flagship of the series is a remarkable unit, indeed.

A while back I got to wondering if Bose had added any new features to the SoundDock 10 - specifically, I was looking for better connectivity options beyond its auxiliary input and the optional Bluetooth module I'd been using in place of an iPod docking mount. So I surfed by their website and, much to my surprise and chagrin, I noticed that Bose no longer offers the SoundDock 10 for sale at all!

Not to worry, however. Before I broke into tears, my contact at Bose reminded me that the newer SoundTouch series not only offers the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity I was seeking, but that the top line SoundTouch 30 actually uses the same audio engine that was in the wonderful SoundDock 10. So I begged them to let me review one. more...

Sporty Hyundai sedan ups the fun factor of an already great car

It drives like a Volkswagen Jetta GLI, and it feels like a German car in its construction. But it's not German - it's from South Korea, proving once more that the "traditional" automakers had better be taking the Hyundai/Kia twins very seriously lest they end up on the government dole.

The car under discussion here is the Hyundai Elantra Sport, the winner of the Best New Sport/Performance car from AJAC's Canadian Car of the Year awards - an annual fall TestFest that also resulted in the more "pedestrian" Elantra winning its category as well. Quite a feat for a company whose cars used to be the butts of many automotive jokes (though that was a long time ago now!).

This means I have a certain amount of egg on my face - never a good thing when you have a beard! more...

LG OLED TV a true game changer for home theatres

The quest for the best TV picture possible has been a long one, stretching back to the early days of cathode ray tubes and muddy black and white pictures on small and, compared with even the worst of today's TV's, grainy screens.

Then we had colour and, decades later, high definition, both of which were game changers. The next game changer was the evolution from big, fat and heavy CRT's to liquid crystal, or LCD – the flat screens that have freed up space in our viewing rooms while also offering us better quality and larger pictures. LCD evolved to LED, which are really LCD panels with different "back lighting."

Now there are two new technologies vying for your after tax dollars, one of which is a logical next step in the high definition evolution – 4K – and one of which is an absolutely ground breaking leap in picture technology: OLED. more...


Honda and Toyota offer wildly different visions of Crossover styles

One's a truck that drives like an SUV; the other is an SUV that drives like a truck. Which one makes more sense?

Naturally, it depends on the task at hand. If you're looking for a small pickup truck that rides like more a car, the Honda Ridgeline is the clear choice. But if you want a brawny adventurer that'll be as comfortable off the asphalt as it is inside the city, the Toyota 4Runner is the winner.

And never will the twain meet, except perhaps in this column.

Honda's new Ridgeline - in the "Black Edition" livery of this review - is built on the same basic platform as the company's big SUV, the Pilot and, while it'll probably be fine for many off road excursions, it's more of a city folk vehicle than a backwoods brawler.

On the other hand, Toyota's 4Runner - in the "TRD PRO" livery of Toyota Canada's sample - is a tough off roader that shares DNA with the Tacoma pickup truck. And it's happy to bounce you along the paved roads before devouring happily its natural element, the great outdoors. more...

Latest Underworld is 'gore-geous' in 4K - while Teen Titans storm onto Blu-ray

Kate Beckinsale is back and kicking werewolf butts in Underworld Blood Wars, which debuts from Sony on 4K UHD disc next week. And if you're tired of computer generated landscapes, blood and characters, Warner Brothers has a more classically animated superhero title that might catch your eye, though it isn't available in 4K as of this writing.

Teen Titans was a bit of a trip down memory lane for me, thanks to its Saturday morning cartoon look and feel - the type of superhero animation I used to watch with my kids when they were, well, kids. more...


Ford SUV's offer good driving and plentiful technology for 2017

Ford offers a long list of SUV's for sale, from the entry size Escape to the humongous Expedition, all of which face stiff competition from a huge number of SUV/Crossover models available. So how do the three most popular models stack up for the 2017 model year?

Pretty well, I'd say, though I haven't driven all of the competition recently. But after a week with each of the Escape, Edge and Explorer (with a week off between to fall under the spell of the exquisite new Lincoln Continental), I came away impressed with how well the vehicles drive, how easy they are to operate, and how nice they are overall.

I slid my prodigious posterior into the Edge first, Ford of Canada's sample wearing the Sport trim level that immediately caused my ears to perk up. Sure, it's a bigger SUV than I like (which makes the Explorer even more so…), but - at least in the Sport trim - it drives  smaller than it looks, and that made a huge difference to my enjoyment.

Part of the reason for that, undoubtedly, is the adaptive steering feature Ford introduced to the Edge in 2016 and which is standard equipment on the Edge Sport (and optional on the Titanium). It's analogous to power steering, except that - according to the gentleman at a local Ford and Lincoln dealer - it's a system that's mounted right inside the steering wheel and uses an electric motor and gearing system to function. more...

Big Brother really is watching you - and he ain't a commie!

A special TechnoFile rant.

Did you know that when you're watching your favourite TV program, your TV program could be watching you as well?

It's true, if you believe what a company called FlySwipe is selling. That's because, according to a press release coming from the upcoming National Association of Broadcasters convention, broadcasters and marketers now have the ability to know exactly who's watching a program thanks to advancements in artificial intelligence technology.

FlySwipe says they can use facial recognition and "big data" to help the broadcasters and advertisers figure out exactly which commercial a particular viewer should be shown, based on the viewer's age and gender. On the upside, perhaps, they say the technology can also limit adult-oriented ads while there are kids in the viewing room. more...


New Hyundai hybrid an interesting and rewarding drive

Hyundai's Ioniq green car is so new we don't even have a published price for it in Canada yet, but it's worth waiting for because the hybrid is so good to drive I kept forgetting it's an earth saver.

Heck, I liked driving the Ioniq so much that, after all my hybrid humour and hammering over the years, I figure I'm risking a lightning bolt from above just for saying I like this car. And isn't that ioniq, er I mean ironic?

The Ioniq may also be quite iconic in the world of hybrids, in that - according to Hyundai - it offers three variations on its theme: hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and all-electric and, again according to the company, it's the only hybrid on earth that offers a dual clutch automatic transmission, in this instance a slickly-shifting six speed. This is especially interesting in a market niche dominated by continuously variable transmissions (CVT) that may help increase gas mileage but usually decrease the driver's involvement significantly.

Hyundai Canada's sample was of the straight hybrid variety, which means it (and the plug-in version) comes with a new Kappa 1.6 litre four-cylinder, direct injection engine. more... 

New LG G6 worth getting hung up on

In the war of competing cell phones, LG has just fired off a new shot, and if my very short time with a preproduction sample is any indication, it's a bullseye.

It also features a surprisingly large screen for a phone that still fits easily into my paw, a 5.7 inch QHD+ "FullVision" unit that's colourful and very easy on the eyes.

I also love how you can wake or put the phone to sleep merely by tapping on the screen twice with your finger. That might be a very small thing - and in the grand scheme of things it probably is - but it's a wonderful ease of use thing in a world or smart phones where there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to where a manufacturer puts the buttons. In this case, as with the last LG I reviewed, the power button is on the back, nicely out of the way but not as easy to access quickly as the double tap method. more...


New Continental puts Lincoln firmly back on the map

It doesn't wallow, nor does it feel like a car my grandfather would drive. In fact, it looks as if Lincoln has thrown down a gauntlet with the 2017 Continental, announcing to the world that the famed marque is not only back, but capable of taking on the competitors head to head.

When was the last time you read that about a Lincoln Continental?

It's something I had never written before, let alone thought. Oh, I liked the MKZ I drove last fall a lot, but as nice as it was it still felt like a "gussied up" Fusion (which it is, really), whereas after spending a week in the grand new Continental I came away excited for the future of the famed nameplate, which had kind of gone to sleep as a major luxury brand.

Yep, the new Continental is that good! Welcome back!

It is quiet, and it is luxurious - but what really turned my crank about the new Continental was its exquisite interior design and its driveability. This, to rip off an old ad campaign from a competitor that no longer exists, is not your father's Lincoln. more...

Visiting Potterville in 4K - now with Fantastic Beasts

Potterville is a marvelous place to visit. It's full of wonderful lives and interesting, nice people, with enough evil around them to make for good drama. And now it's an even better place to visit on home video, thanks to brand new 4K releases from Warner Brothers.

Potterville in this case isn't the renamed Bedford Falls of George Bailey's wonderful life "gift" from angel Clarence. No, this Potterville is a British place that kind of floats - via flying car or dragon, or broomstick - between Little Whinging and Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I speak of Harry Potter, of course, the boy who lived through enough books and cinematic stories to choke a centaur. more...


Whether in rear or all-wheel drive, Lexus' IS sedans are luxurious and fun

The Lexus IS has always been a nice and sporty sedan - with various levels of sportiness - and for 2017 Lexus has upgraded its interior and exterior styling, while adding more stuff and upgrading its technology.

I guess you could say it's the "IS-ing on Lexus cake…"

The IS has been my favourite Lexus sedan for quite a few years and - full disclosure - there's an original generation IS in my family, where it serves loyally and enjoyably. I'm still more than a tad ambivalent about the current exterior styling, especially the cowcatcher-like "spindle grille" and the pinched taillights, but overall it's an eye catching and modern-looking vehicle. And inside it's even nicer.

For 2017, the IS "sports" a redesigned front fascia with bigger air intakes in the bumper and revised headlamps that now feature LED's on all IS's (I guess that's the way it "IS"!). The taillights have been restyled as well, with a more pronounced (but not more attractive) L-shape, and cool new rectangular chrome exhaust tips that hint at the vehicle's purportedly sporty nature. Non F SPORT models get new wheel designs as well.

There are several enhancements inside, too, including tweaks to the audio and HVAC control panels, a new dashboard-mounted analogue clock, new stitching on top of the instrument panel's hood and new cup-holders. more...

Arizer offers big vape from relatively small devices

I had no idea there were so many different ways to vape - so many solutions for using a product that in most jurisdictions is still capable of getting you into trouble with "The Man" (or is it "The Person"?).

As before, I assembled a panel of friends and acquaintances to test the units. These are people who've been partaking of pot for decades, responsible citizens who happen to enjoy marijuana when the workday is done - just like they enjoy beer, or wine, or whiskey (or all of them at once!). I introduced them to the vapourizers I was sent, they provided the insights and I took the notes.

The two vapourizers that are the focus of this piece are variations on the same theme. The larger one, the Arizer Solo, has apparently been around snice 2011, while the smaller one - the Arizer Air - is a more recent addition to Arizer's line. Both are great vapourizers! more...


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