| Car and tech rants from Jim Bray | Publishing online exclusively since 1995 |

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May 19, 2016

M:I Rogue Nation
You could think of the Mission: Impossible movies as candy floss for the brain, in that's it's sweet and fun but there isn't much to them. more...

Terminator Genisys
Arnold is back, in various guises, and he's really quite good. more...

My Fair Lady
A gorgeous restoration of the classic musical whose eschewing of Julie Andrews helped launch her Oscar-winning film career as Mary Poppins. more...

Pixels still manages to be an entertaining romp in the home theatre. more...

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Lexus RX 350

Lexus RX 350 ups its popular ante, but is it better to drive?

Lexus' top selling model has a new set of clothes for 2016, as well as some new toys and capabilities. But has the redesign done anything to make the SUV/crossover a more interesting and/or fun vehicle to drive than before?

Not really, alas, though it's still a very fine vehicle and will undoubtedly please its owners over the short and long terms.

But I remember when the RX was a tad more fun, when I drove the customer shuttle for the local Lexus dealer some 10 or so years ago. I'd do one day a week, to get me out of the home office and get some real human contact, and the shuttle then was an RX 330 Sport model, which even had a decent manual shifting mode. On the other hand, Lexus dealers have a better vehicle to use as a shuttle now - the new RX is roomier and, thanks to its lack of driver involvement, it can undoubtedly be a little more relaxing for the passengers being shuttled by lead-footed drivers. more...

Canadians rate automakers' websites and find many lacking: J.D. Power

Carmakers who want to convince consumers their creations are the champs need a compelling website with which to do it, according to the 2016 Canadian Manufacturer Website Evaluation Study released last week by J. D. Power.

Their websites need to actually facilitate consumers finding the info presented on the site, too, and that's something that doesn't necessarily happen. Unfortunately, carmakers' site are by no means unique in this criticism, which is mine and not J. D. Power's. After all, what's the point in spending money on a website if your visitors leave in frustration? more...

Mercedes-Benz Metris van brings driving pleasure to utility

If your company is looking for a utility van that rewards the person behind the wheel, look no farther than Mercedes-Benz new Metris.

It's a work van that takes a lot of the work out of driving, offering a more compelling experience behind the steering wheel than I expected out of a utility vehicle. And it starts at a reasonable $33,900 CAD ($37,900 when you configure it as a passenger van).

My recent week of Metris seat time was actually my second time behind the wheel of the van, though it was also my first opportunity to drive it for more than a few minutes. The Mercedes-Benz folk invited me to the model introduction in southwest Colorado last year, where we got to sally forth through and around the Rocky mountains in a high altitude adventure that convinced me the van would be a pretty nifty vehicle for those contemplating such a product. more...

WeKast sends your presentations to TV's wirelessly

Think of it more like a strongest link, rather than the "wekast" one.

WeKast is a new hardware and software solution for people who make presentations on the go, whether in corporate boardrooms or wherever. It's a way to leave the cables at home and just carry along with you your smart device and the little WeKast dongle.

And it appears to work, if my rather quick and limited tests of the system are any indication.

Here's how the company positions the product on its Kickstarter page: "We have all been there. You have an awesome presentation, you're dressed to kill and then the technology fails. The Wi-Fi is down, you have the wrong plug or it is plain taking forever. Now, you're stressed and the clients that you are supposed to impress are…staring at their watches, or worse -- glaring at you. Not a good way to make a first impression. Even if you get it to work - you've lost your edge." more...

Time Sagas

Honda Civic Coupe nearly a really great ride

"Half the doors. Twice the fun." That's how Honda Canada's website describes the new Civic Coupe and it's a pretty decent description of the newest version of the award-winning Civic.

It's still over styled and has annoying interfaces, but I agree with Honda that the coupe provides a lovely helping of the fun to drive factor that can make small cars such a blast - and which the new sedan version lacks. It's a Honda that feels more like Hondas of old, and that's great.

According to Honda Canada, virtually everything about the 2016 Civic Coupe is new. It "sports" a new architecture, a new interior (though it's pretty much like the new sedan's) and new exterior styling. It looks better from inside than out, thanks to Honda's decision to add creases and stuff to the exterior. Its bum looks particular chubby, but that seems to be a common thing in today's society, and I'm not talking about cars… more...

Toyota Prius moves from merely pious to pretty nifty

Don't sit too close to this column lest you become collateral damage from the lightning strike it may prompt.

Why? Because for the first time ever, I spent a week driving a Toyota Prius and I didn't hate every second behind the wheel. And I have to be honest enough to tell you that.

What's going on here?

What's going on is a new generation of Prius. Oh, it's hardly the perfect vehicle, and it has undergone an appalling uglification process in the creation of this fourth generation of Toyota's world-beating hybrid (what's with this current trend among some Japanese manufacturers to over style their vehicles with excess pleats, wrinkles and the like?), but I have to admit that I had a comparative blast in this car compared to my usual problem of staying awake while behind the wheel of previous generation Prii.

I still wouldn't buy one, but for once I liked the car. Mostly. more...

Roku offers smart TV features without needing a smart TV

Endless entertainment! That's how Roku's Canadian website describes their service, a hardware and software-based solution that competes head to head with such other systems as Google's Chromecast. And they're right about the "endless" part, at least to a point: there's so much stuff you can access with your Roku it might make your head spin.

The downside to all of this, if you can call it a downside, is that some of the content isn't free and a lot of the stuff that is free adheres strictly to Sturgeon's Law, which I paraphrase as saying "90 per cent of anything is crap."

Yet as Roku says, there are "2000 channels and counting." more...

BMW 328i xDrive Touring a sporty crossover alternative

In an era where SUV's and crossovers dominate the utility market, there's still a classification of vehicle that offers most - if not all - of that utility while still imparting the driving experience of a sports sedan. Unfortunately, this small niche seems to get ignored in the North American market, with only a few entries still available.

I'm talking about "station wagons," also known as "touring," "estates" or "shooting brakes" in other parts of the world. Today's wagons are a far cry from those 1960's land barges with their rear-facing bench seats and stuck on fake wood accents. Today's wagons, at least as far as those from the German Big Three are concerned, are just as great to drive as their more "trunk-ated" versions and, in fact, thanks to a bit of extra metal and other stuff at the back, may even offer slightly better weight distribution than their sedan counterparts - though with the penalty of higher overall weight as well. more...

Hyundai knocks it out of the park with new Elantra

So this is how they do it!

Hyundai and its sister carmaker Kia have come a long way in a relatively short time, from the days in which their wares were basically automotive jokes until today, where they're whipping members of the established competition on a regular basis. And if you've ever wondered how they do it - which also (purely coincidentally, I'm sure) is their current advertising theme - one drive in the 2017 Elantra will show you why.

And while I hate the ad campaign, in which they dump all over their apparently dimwitted and stereotyped competition (just tell me why you're better than them and spare me the dirt), I certainly can't argue with the vehicle quality.

I'm not surprised, really. A few years ago, Kia hired a guy named Peter Schreyer away from a long and honoured career with Audi and the Volkswagen group, where he was responsible for creating some of the most beautiful Audis ever, and he's also behind the exquisite styling of the past few years' worth of Kias. more...

Bose updates its SoundTouch line software

Audio giant Bose has announced a tweak to its SoundTouch line of Wi-Fi-enabled music systems, adding some extra value to an already-great product line.

According to a release by the company, the new software update adds new functionality to the "old" equation via a clock that shows up on the little OLED screen on the units' front. So the SoundTouch 20, 30 and Portable can now give you the time when you have the inclination.

Here's how Bose describes it: "It taps into the Internet, so it's always accurate and never needs setting. It automatically changes in and out of Daylight Saving Time. And the readout wanders slowly across the display to avoid long-term "burn-in." We experimented with dozens of movement variations before landing on this one—just the kind of attention to detail we believe really makes a difference." more...

VW Jetta gets new motivation for 2016

Volkswagen's Jetta was a terrific car before the 2016 model year, but the addition of a brand new engine to the mix makes creates even more powerful reason to give the car a look if you're shopping in this market niche.

The engine is a 1.4 litre turbocharged four cylinder unit that replaces the two litre power plant that populated VW's before. It's a peach, too, upping the engine output ante from the old unit's 115 horsepower to a much more interesting 150 horses - and an even more interesting 184 lb.-ft. of torque (compared to the old engine's 125) that comes on at a low 1400 rpm.

The new engine doesn't really make the Jetta feel like a GTI, or even a Jetta GLI, but it isn't meant to. Rather, it's a modern take on the entry level engine species and as such it's a real joy. more...

Adventurer's Pole2Pole journey warms up in Alberta's Rockies

G, wouldn't you love to have a top line Mercedes-Benz off roader to support you on your globetrotting adventures?

Mike Horn certainly seems to love it. The "21st century adventurer" brought his pair of "G" Classes - which will be joined on his upcoming global circumnavigation by a sailboat as well as his own physical abilities and guts - to a press event at Calgary's Lone Star Mercedes-Benz dealership on Monday, April 4, after having tested a pair of the German carmaker's G-Class units in Alberta's mountainous wilderness. more...

Toyota's biggest get updated for 2016

Are Toyota's two biggest vehicles too big, or just right?

It depends what you're looking for. One - the Tundra - is a full sized pickup meant to compete head to head with the likes of the Ford F-150 and Nissan Titan. The other - Avalon - is a full sized family sedan that offers a lot of room and a lot of other nice stuff, not including a real fun to drive factor. 

And while they're still the same vehicles as ever - big haulers of people and/or stuff - both of these mega-Toyotas enter the 2016 model year refreshed and enhanced to ensure they remain up to date in a marketplace that seems to change overnight. more...

Google Chromecast helps turn dumb TV's into smart ones

Smart TV's are all the rage these days - it seems as if that's practically all you can buy - but what if you have a more old fashioned TV that doesn't come with a bunch of apps built in, yet you still want to exploit the capabilities of the online (or merely networked) world?

There is a variety of solutions available to drag your TV kicking and screaming into the current age, whether it be app-enabled Blu-ray players such as those offered by Oppo Digital and others, a dedicated media player-in-a-box such as those offered by Western Digital and others, or a "dongle" type of device you plug into a vacant HDMI port. more...

Honda creates a 'pooka' ute while the Accord gains new features

The HR-V is a handsome little thing. And despite its location at the low end of the market, it appears quite classy.

Harvey gets his motivation from a 1.8 litre four banger rated at 141 horses/127 torque, which is fine in this segment. Power comes on well, though as is typically Japanese, it likes the higher revs. Honda rates Harvey's base front wheel drive configuration at 9.3/7.0/8.3 litres/100 km/h (city/highway/combined).

So far so good. But that four banger gets its power to the wheels (front wheel drive is standard but Honda Canada's sample came with the optional all-wheel drive system) through a continuously variable transmission and with a few exceptions, they're loud and annoying and, since they don't shift gears (there are no gears), they change the driving experience substantially, and not for the better.

That's what we have here, in Harvey. Strangely, the Accord Touring has a CVT as well, but I didn't hate it nearly as much. Of course the Accord is bigger and more robust and undoubtedly has more sound insulation, which may account for the difference. more...

Online stations offer excellent alternatives to local radio

Are you sick and tired of cookie cutter local radio stations that, even though they may play different musical genres, all sound pretty much the same? Are you tired of having your intelligence insulted by smug, know-it-all deejays who live in a media bubble and prattle "conventional wisdom" and the latest pop culture news as if it's actually important - or even true?

Or do you merely like listening to a talk show in a different city because its host is smarter and better informed - or perhaps shares your ideology better - than the local dude and/or dudette?

Well, friends, there are places you can go to avoid the crap and to find what you want - and it doesn't have to cost you a dime. All you need is an Internet connection and web browser - or a variety of apps - to cut yourself free from the mindless patter and the same old songs over and over and over again (and, in Canada, mandated Canadian content because it's Canadian, not because it's worth playing). more...

Ford introduces magic trailer-backing technology

Talk about having a backup plan!

Whether you're towing a boat trailer, a camper - or a howitzer - one of the biggest challenges is backing the thing up without your little train skewing off in the wrong direction. But Ford thinks it has the solution, with a nifty wrinkle it's making available on some of its new pickup trucks.

Called "Pro Trailer Backup Assist," the thing is kind of analogous to the self-parking feature Ford and others have introduced over the past several years, except that instead of being designed for cars driven by the parking-challenged and aimed mostly at parallel parking, it's meant to help truck drivers back their trailers into spaces - boat launch ramps, loading docks, driveways, whatever - easily and reasonably quickly.

The company demoed the feature at a recent event on the eve of the Calgary Auto Show, an event at which they also introduced their new Super Duty and Raptor pickups, a couple of workhorses (well, one could be thought of as a "funhorse") that look extremely capable. more...

Blumoo turns your smart device into a universal remote control and music streamer

Does a pile of remote controls on your coffee table make you pine for a smart solution, a kind of Lord of the Rings-type "one remote to rule them all and in the home theatre bind them" idea?

If so, you might be interested in a new hardware/software solution from Blumoo. It's a pretty well universal remote and music streamer that hooks into your electronics and controls them from your smart phone or tablet via an app and Bluetooth connection. more...

Rotel's range-topping home theatre components amp up their audio antes to new heights

It's been over two years in development, but Rotel's new surround sound preamp/processor was definitely worth the wait. And if you couple it to the brand's top end five channel power amplifier, you may find it a match made in audio/video heaven.

I certainly did, not that I'm surprised. Some years ago, I fell under the spell of Rotel's then-top of the line preamp/surround sound processor, the RSP-1098. It was bigger than many receivers, offered state-of-the-art audio and video features and specifications for its day and, best of all, had glorious sound - like every other Rotel component I had tested till that point but on an even higher plane.

These new units embrace today's technological advances, such as HDMI, 3D, high definition TV and the new lossless sound formats, and they do an excellent job. more...

Toyota kind of sort of makes two great entry level cars

One's a Scion that's really a Toyota and one's a Toyota that's really a Mazda - and both are very nice entry level cars that can offer a lot to buyers on a budget.

The new for 2016 Scion iM is a little wagon reminiscent of Toyota's now defunct Matrix, and since Toyota has announced that it's shuttering its Scion wing it could even show up as a new Matrix in the future. That's purely speculation on my part, however. In the meantime, if you're looking for a little wagon like this - and Pontiac Vibe owners needing a replacement might want to pay attention as well - the iM could be a nice choice.

On the other hand, if you're looking more for a conventional little sedan, the new Toyota Yaris should be on your list of cars to check out. It's a lovely little critter that, underneath the Toyota logos, is actually a Mazda2, with all the fun to drive goodness that being a Mazda at heart can bring. more...

We welcome your comments!

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