TechnoFile
| Car and tech rants from Jim Bray | Publishing online exclusively since 1995 |
Updated
September 19, 2017

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Chrysler Pacifica

Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid hits the right notes except for some weird sounds

Minivans. These people haulers have been around for years and for a while were some of the most popular vehicles on North American roads. Then came the "crossover," a combination of car and SUV, and the minivan segment in which an abundant number of automakers had participated started dwindling down until today there's only a handful of models available.

One of the more interesting is from Chrysler, via its Pacifica - a name that once applied to one of the early crossovers, a seven seat people hauler that was more a long and a tad taller car than a minivan. I reviewed the first Pacifica back in 2007 and thought it was pretty neat - a decent carrier of people and not necessarily their stuff. But that Pacifica is long dead and the new one comes down firmly into the minivan segment - and it also offers what the company says is the first hybrid minivan on the market.

That's the version that Chrysler sent me to drive for a week, a model that starts at $56,495 CAD, which is surely not chicken feed. Granted, the Pacifica actually starts at $36,595, but that's still a bit of a premium compared to other minivans on the market. The Toyota Sienna, for example - according to Toyota's Canadian website - starts at $33,690 and tops out around $51,715, while the Honda Odyssey starts at $34,800 and tops out about $52,156 (also sans extras and taxes). Kia's Sedona make the gap even wider: a starting price of $27,995 that rises to about $46,995 with the top trim level. more...

TP-Link Router offers plentiful features and good range

If your home is plagued by Wi-Fi dropouts and other router issues, you may want to think about an upgrade, perhaps to one that offers multiple bands to up your choices and, with luck, performance.

Hence TP-Link's AC5400 Wireless Tri-Band MU-MIMO, also known as the Archer C5400 Gigabit Router. This sucker offers a total of six distinct networks, kind of: 1 x 2.4 GHz, and 2 x 5 GHz, with all three options available for both regular use or as specially noted "Guest" networks, so you won't get in trouble for some overnight interloper's porn downloads. Or whatever your issue may be. Of course, offering a guest network means your visitors can have Wi-Fi without having to know your Wi-Fi password - and in this case you can also choose whether to allow guests to see each other and/or whether to allow them access to your local network (you can let them use the internet but not get at your files). more...

New CX-5 continues Mazda's zoomy tradition

Here we go again, another Mazda review, another vehicle that does everything it should well, but which adds a little extra "zing" to the equation or, as Mazda has put it for so long, with "Zoom-Zoom."

Sure, it could use a little more "Zoom," but it's still pretty good, and it's a darn fine mid-sized SUV as well.

I love Mazdas and have only found one over the years I've been reviewing them that was lacking enough in "Zoom-Zoom" for me to whine about it - even though I'd love to see a little more of it in most of their current vehicle line. It was the original CX-5, back in 2012, the first Mazda product to offer its SKYACTIV technology. The two litre engine in question only put out 155 horsepower, which prompted me to quote the book of Daniel: "For what doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul?"

My point was that I hoped Mazda, while attempting to appease the greenies with its SKYACTIV technology (which, to be fair, involves more than just their engines), didn't enrage their fans at the same time. I know they annoyed my best friend, who drives a first generation Mazda3 and is seriously looking at a new CX-5 for his next vehicle, because after he drove that original CX-5 he referred to it as "Snooze-Snooze," and he doesn't even have my lead foot.

Fortunately, that, as they say, was then and this is now. more...

Oppo's new flagship 4K player continues the brand's record of excellence

Relatively hot on the heels of its outstanding UDP-203 universal player comes Oppo Digital's UDP-205, a sequel that not only equals the previous player's great video quality but which also ups the audio ante substantially.

And how often can one say that a sequel is better than the original?

The UDP-205 is also the successor up to the company's BDP-105, which was a heckuva tour de force in its own right. But like its little brother, the UDP-205 adds 4K disc playback capability to the mix. That could be enough to justify it for folks who've embraced - or are planning to - the 4K disc format (and if you're a "home theatrephile" you really should). But 4K is only one thing that's great about this high end disc player that's also perfectly happy to function as a media hub and more. more...

Time Sagas

Does VW's Atlas hold the company's future on its shoulders?

Volkswagen's first all new SUV since the Tiguan is here, and it's bigger, more angular - and more modern in VW's inventory, than the Tiguan and the Touareg.  Will it be enough to help turn around any negative public impressions there may be coming out of the diesel kerfuffle of the past couple of years?

Who knows? I doubt one model could do that - though the Atlas is a darn fine place to start. Besides, I think the whole diesel thing was BS anyway - and a shame from consumers' standpoints. That's because, if I were to buy a vehicle today that was offered in gas or diesel, in most cases I'd opt for the diesel. Sure, they're down on horsepower, but they generate gobs of torque, which is more important for the lead footed, plus they get terrific fuel mileage. And, though prices wobble wildly, diesel is often cheaper than gasoline.

But back to the Atlas, which Volkswagen Canada said in its press release "launches a big new chapter in the company's history." The new, seven passenger Atlas replaces the two row Touareg, at least temporarily, and also points the way toward where Volkswagen is taking its vehicle design. To that end, it has a more angular and chiseled look than either the Tiguan or the outgoing Touareg (the 2018 Tiguan will adopt the theme as well) - but it also looks more "modern" since both other models are very due for updating (though I think they've aged gracefully). And it still looks like a Volkswagen, which is a bonus. more...

Tablo makes a DVR for cord cutters - while Kensington offers dual USB in its power adapter for travellers

Dumping cable and/or satellite appears to be quite the trend these days but what happens, once you've gotten rid of the service, if you want to record your favourite programs for watching later? Equally important: how are you going to watch the shows in the first place?

Well, that's the idea behind Nuvyyo's Tablo DUAL, which the company claims is the first network-connected over-the-air (OTA) DVR to also include 40 hours' worth of onboard high definition recording storage. In other words, it has a hard drive built in by which you can record your favourite TV broadcasts that spew into the air from your local TV stations.

Kensington's International Travel Adapter with Dual USB is aimed at the international traveller who spends time in hotel rooms or other venues around the world whose electrical systems and outlets aren't like those we use here in North America. Well, that's not entirely true. The $40 USD device also works in North America. In fact, Kensington, on the unit's box, claims it'll work in 200 countries. more...

Fusion Sport and MKZ offer sporty variations on a mid-sized them

One is the sportiest version of Ford's mainstream mid-size sedan, while the other's Lincoln's variation on the theme. So, when it comes to a choice between the Fusion Sport and the Lincoln MKZ, which is the better car?

Waffle time (syrup, anyone?)! As is so often the case, the answer is a clear "it depends." Mostly, it depends on your budget, I suppose, because the loaded Ford Fusion sport Ford loaned me to wring out for a week is priced at $42,388 (sans taxes, etc.) while the MKZ stickered for $59,300. That's a pretty big spread for what beneath the surface are two cars who share a lot of their DNA.

The Fusion Sport is the top line Fusion - well, there's also the Platinum and Energi Platinum trim levels that can raise the ante a bit - but they don't offer the performance upgrades of the Sport, chief of which is the 2.7 litre twin turbo EcoBoost V6. This engine is quite lovely; Ford rates its output in the Fusion Sport as 325 horsies @ 5,500 rpm with 380 lb.-ft. of torque @ 3,500 revs.

If you want even more bang - not necessarily for the buck, though - Lincoln's MKZ is an uber-Fusion, a luxury sedan that's solid and comfortable and chock full of the most up to date features (not that the Fusion is any slouch when it comes to tech and nannies). more...

Rotel's new nearly-all-in-one audio component sounds very sweet

Perhaps you could call it an "unreceiver." Or maybe a "deceiver."

However you refer to it, Rotel's RAP-1580 is a one box solution to most current audio needs.The only mainstream feature it doesn't have on it is a radio tuner, which would make it a "receiver." And as popular as receivers are, I can't see why many folks would care about that in 2017, since the RAP has Bluetooth capability by which you can stream your favourite radio stations from around the world via a smart device and the Internet. more...

Lincoln MKC and MKX - Ford's upmarket brand Escapes its roots and hones its Edge

If you're looking for a compact or mid-sized crossover from Ford but want something a little more exclusive, Lincoln just may have what you're seeking.

The MKC and MKX, which are up market versions of the Ford Escape and Edge, respectively, are both comfortable and luxurious vehicles that drive well and will coddle your bones nicely. I spent a week in each of these vehicles recently and came away quite impressed. I think they'd be even more impressive if the manufacturer would integrate more completely the terrific new interior found in the excellent Continental, but in the meantime you get a better and nicer Ford for a not-too-unreasonable premium over the garden variety Fords.

My favourite of the two is the MKC, for the mere reason that it's more a size I like. It isn't hard to see the Escape under the surface, but the MKC manages to Escape its more mainstream brother by adding a more attractive body style and a bunch of luxury and creature touches designed to raise this vehicle's premium profile - which it does quite well. The MKX is to the Edge as the MKC is to the Escape, and of course there's nothing wrong with that. more...

Three old dudes go out with a bang - while Unforgettable and Arthur blow up in their own face

A remake of an old comedy and two movies I hope are never remade are on tap for this week's Blu-Ray releases. "Going in Style," "Unforgettable" and "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword" come from Warner Brothers ("Going in Style" is being released this week, while the other two appear to have escaped, rather than been released). more...

Consumers still love that new vehicle smell - and German quality smells the best

Ah, that new car smell! There's nothing quite like it.

As a car nut, it's one of the nicest aromas I can think of, and as someone who reviews cars regularly it's a welcome odour I get to experience all the time. The only "new" smell that can match it is the spit up from a newborn family member - but, unlike a new family member, you don't have to hose yourself down after experiencing new car smell.

It appears I'm not alone in this penchant for "l'odeur de voiture nouvelle" (or however it translates into Canada's other official - and the preferred one, it appears, if you're with the government -language). According to J.D. Power's 2017 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) study, consumers are finding the lure of the new set of wheels even more compelling than before.

"Car owners' love affair with new vehicles is stronger than ever," says J.D. Power's press release, "as evidenced by a nine point increase in the APEAL index from last year—tied for the largest gain ever." The industry average APEAL index increased to 810 points this year (on a 1,000-point scale), helped along by significantly better scores in nine of the 10 categories the group measures. Not only that but 19 of the 32 brands included in the study made positive gains in their performance compared with 2016.

So it's not only that people like new cars, it's also that new cars are getting better and more appealing. And are therefore more appealing to people. And isn't that how it should be? more...

Ghost in the Shell a surprisingly watchable sci-fi Blu-ray disc

It may have started life as a Japanese comic book, but Paramount's Ghost in the Shell is a compelling and eye-dazzling adventure that's much better than I had expected going in.

The movie, debuting on 4K and conventional Blu-ray (our sample was the Blu-ray, darn it, which comes with a DVD and digital code in the package as well - and a 3D version is available, too) hearkens more than a little to Blade Runner, in its look and overall storyline, but more in an "inspired by" or "homage" manner than being a complete rip-off. It made me curious to see how the Blade Runner sequel will turn out when it debuts later this year.

Speaking of a not-too-distant future, Ghost in the Shell is set in just such an environment. Look at the streets, with their obtrusive (but perfectly logical given the way our society is going) holographic ads all over the place - and the abundance of neon and other signage, and it looks exactly like a 21st century take on the 21st century envisioned by Ridley Scott and his collaborators back in the 1982 Blade Runner (though I don't remember seeing flying cars in "Ghost"). There's less rain in this vision of the future, it seems, but that's okay because perhaps it means the seas didn't really rise after the United States withdrew from the Paris Climate accord. more...

Ford F-150's blend comfort with utility and size - and even some fun!

Ford's F-150 truck line has been at or near the top of the vehicular sales heap for decades, and that's a laudable achievement in an ever-more-competitive automotive marketplace. Especially for a truck!

And even though the joy of a full sized pickup truck is nearly entirely lost on me, I just got to spend two weeks behind the wheel of two Ford F-150 samples, a fairly conventional (but quite loaded) F-150 Lariat edition and (drum roll…) the Mighty Raptor.

Trucks being not only big in size but in business as well, it's nice to slide the Bray buttocks into a representative sample periodically if only to see how the "other half" lives. So with that in mind, I tackled the Lariat and the Raptor with gusto - the former of which is likely to rope in many sales thanks to its all-around capabilities and goodness and the latter of which could very well cause rapture among those for whom its capabilities and goodness are aimed because it's not only a very capable truck, it's also a comparative blast to drive. It's also a "truck guy magnet," as evidenced by the number of people who wanted to talk about the Raptor during my week with it. And not just guys! more...

A bigger Kong hits the smaller screen

The good news is that Kong: Skull Island isn't as bad as I had feared it would be. The bad news is that it isn't as good as it could have been. However you slice it, however, it's an excellent example of how good home video can look and sound in 1080p HD.

Warner Brothers' latest take on the giant ape theme comes courtesy of some of the folks who made the last Godzilla remake, so if nothing else it shows they have a history of remaking "classics" for better or worse. Yet this Kong has very little to do with the "Kings Kong" that preceded it, which was one of the things that had me more than a tad scared going into this review (I thought they'd be painting a moustache onto the Mona Lisa). more...

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...

CHIPS motors onto Blu-ray

It's a blast from the past, kind of, as the "classic" TV show CHIPS makes its way to moviedom thanks to writer/director/star Dax Shepard's remaking of the series. It's also foul mouthed in the extreme and so full of sexual talk and innuendo - hetero and homo - that kids should probably be kept far away from it.

Other than that, CHIPS would be a decent cop/buddy flick and it does boast good performances and some pretty cool stunting. Heck, I even liked Michael Pena's new Camaro, which is a really great looking muscle car - and I haven't found a Camaro particularly attractive since the 1969 model.

Pena's Ponch (as opposed to Bray's paunch, I suppose…) is an undercover FBI agent sent to smoke out some bad cops in the California Highway Patrol. He joins up with misfit CHP rookie Jon Baker (writer/director/star Shepard), whose only real skill is as a motorcycle stunter and who's trying to put his life together so his estranged wife will love him again, or respect him again, or something.

We get treated to lots of gunfire, a whole bunch of swearing and sex stuff, and a story that's better than I had expected going in. 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...

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...


We welcome your comments!


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