Jim Bray's Car & Tech rants - publishing online exclusively since 1995
Updated: September 23, 2021

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Honda Ridgeline

Honda Ridgeline may be a niche pickup truck but it's still a nifty vehicle

The Honda Ridgeline is an interesting beast, a mid-sized SUV crossed with a pickup truck's DNA to offer what Honda thinks is the best of both worlds – the utility of a truck with the comfort and capabilities of a two row SUV.

In short, a true crossover, if you permit me the use of that term for what isn't really an SUV. And as such, it has occupied a unique niche in the vehicular market since it was introduced back around 2006. It must be working, because Hyundai and Ford are throwing their corporate hats into the niche with their upcoming Santa Cruz and Maverick which, like the Ridgeline, are unibody trucks rather than full body on frame ones as you'll find with pretty well all of the competition.

It's a pretty neat vehicle, too, if you don't need the robustness and capacity of a "real" truck. And it also offers some nifty features you can't find on other trucks regardless of their size, configuration, and capabilities.

For example, the Ridgeline comes not only with a bed for carrying your truck-like needs, it also has a trunk built into that bed, a trunk that locks and therefore lets you store stuff you don't want stolen from the bed while you're in the mall. Assuming that stuff fits into the trunk, of course.

That trunk can also be filled with ice and beer for those times you're tailgating or picnicking. It's pretty cool.

You also get a "dual action" tailgate, which means you can lower it as if it were a conventional truck tailgate, but you can also swing it sideways, in a manner reminiscent of the old 1960's domestic station wagons with their "magic" tailgates. It's a nice bit of flexibility that makes it easier to load stuff directly into the bed without having to slide it across the tailgate.

There is also a number of thoughtful features available, including stuff like dual exhaust with chrome finishers, front and rear splash guards, front wipers de-icer, eight heavy duty tie downs cleats, integrated bed lights with an auto off timer, LED fog and taillights, memory-linked side mirrors with reverse gear tilt-down, projector-beam LED low beam headlights and reflector beam halogen headlights, a one-touch power moonroof with tilt, power folding mirrors, a powered sliding rear cabin window, variable intermittent rain-sensing wipers and a rear window defroster. more...


Nissan Rogue

Nissan SUV isn't particularly rogue – but it's a nice thing anyway

What's in a name? In the case of Nissan's Rogue, it's a carryover from a previous generation, but rogue (defined, among other things, as "a dishonest, knavish person; scoundrel") is not something the Nissan SUV is.

Who'd want it to be, anyway? I mean, do you want a vehicle that's dishonest, knavish or a scoundrel?

So forget the name. The Rogue is a straightforward mid-sized SUV and judging by the number of them I see around here, a lot of people like that it's just a straightforward, mid-sized SUV. And that's fine.

I hadn't had a chance to review a new Nissan in several years, so looked forward to seeing how the brand is coming along. Full disclosure: I've owned two Nissan products over my driving life, though neither were badged as Nissans: a 1972 240Z and a 1991 Infiniti Q45. Both of these vehicles were breakthrough products for Nissan – especially the Z – and though my tenure with both of them came toward the end of their lives (the Z was old and rusty, and the Q was old and neglected by the time I got it), they were both exquisite vehicles.

The Q45 is long dead, and just as well (alas), but the Z is still around and is about to be reborn as a whole new generation (and it's about time!). So Nissan is still alive and kicking and the Rogue is one of their more interesting mainstream products.

Getting into Nissan's sample Rogue SV AWD will set you back $37,098, which is in line with at least two of its main competitors: the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V (all trim levels and options being equal) and it's better looking than the Toyota and less annoying than the nanny-heavy Honda. So that's good.

It doesn't hurt that this new generation of the Rogue, Nissan's best-selling vehicle in Canada since 2012, won the 2021 Best Mid-Size Utility Vehicle in Canada during last year's Canadian Car of the Year balloting by the members of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. On the other hand, AJAC lets me be a member so that may not be great for their credibility… more...


Star TrekJustice League and Classic Trek get the 4K disc treatment

Fans of the cinefantastique are in for a treat – well, maybe – with new 4K disc releases from Paramount and Warner Brothers. One is a boxed set of the four earliest Star Trek movies and the other is a massive upgrade – well, maybe – of a major DC comics universe stinkeroo.

Let's talk Trek first. I've been wanting to see these movies in 4K since there was 4K, especially the first film – the ponderous Star Trek the Motion Picture. It was, as was advertised back in the day, a "toy for the eyes" with fantastic special effects that made the trusty old Enterprise look simply splendid. Alas, that was about all there was to it; the story was a rehash of the old TV series' The Changeling, except that the old TV episode was better and accomplished its story in an hour-long venue with cheap and cheesy special effects.

It was the best looking of the early Trek films and I really wanted to see it upgraded to the 4K experience. And Paramount has done a reasonable job. The studio says in its press materials that it, and the other three in this boxed set, have all been remastered from their original elements, and that's a good place from which to start. more...

Honda Civic SedanHonda Civic rings out the old in preparation for the new

It may have started life as basic transportation, an affordable alternative to the Big Three's coupes and sedans of the 1970's, but since then the Honda Civic has grown up in every way. And now that it's in the process of being replaced by a new generation, this classic family car could offer you some deals if you can still find any on a Honda lot.

Note that I said "could" rather than "will." Kind of like COVID COULD kill 90 per cent of the population but probably WILL not. You'll have to do your own homework here (including looking for lease returns) and not just trust some guy with a word processor. Even if he's me!

Anyway, Honda Canada sent the Touring version of the sedan, a car that's much more attractive and straightforward-looking than some of its other, bumpy and bulbously creased versions. I hated those Civics, if only for their looks (though Honda has some other issues I'll address below), but ever since the 1976 Civic hatchback my wife and I owned back then (or perhaps before) it has always been a very good car, efficient and reliable.

And surely that's what's important to many people. more...


Lexus IS 350

Lexus IS 350 a beautiful and classy sleeper that makes Bangle Butt beautiful

Lexus' IS series sports a new set of clothes for 2021 as well as some tweaks the company thinks should make this sporty sedan an even more compelling choice for folks shopping in this market niche.

Arguably Lexus' sportiest sedan, especially in the V-8-powered IS F trim level that appears occasionally, the IS has been around for some 20 years now and through at least three generations. My son has had a first generation IS 300 for many years now and still loves to drive it. He'd love it more were it equipped with a manual transmission, but such is the case with any IS today anyway – a stick is not available at all. And that's shame.

It means you're stuck with an automatic transmission, and depending upon the IS model you get it could have six or eight speeds. Six is best, for driving enjoyment though perhaps not for fuel mileage, and the subject of this particular rant – the IS 350 AWD F Sport – comes with the six speed. And, unlike what you don't get with the stock eight speed, it comes with paddles behind the steering wheel that give you back some of the control an automatic takes away.

So that's good. What's also good is the beautiful 3.5 litre V6 that comes in it, as well as in the IS 300 AWD (though it's not as powerful in that version: 260 horses versus 311 – with 280 torquey thingies – for the IS 350). This is a silky and smooth engine with lots of oomph and a lovely voice when you press it. more...

Bowers and Wilkins P15

Great new ear buds from Bowers and Wilkins truly rock

Earbuds are a dime a dozen these days, and wireless ones are really charging into the marketplace. But is there a way to find a great noise-cancelling set of wireless buds that actually sound great?

Well, I haven't tried nearly all of the offerings out there, but I've tried several and these new P15's from Bowers and Wilkins are easily the best I've tried. They ain't cheap, but it does appear to be a case of one getting what one pays for.

Bowers and Wilkins also introduced the P17's, which take what's great about the P15's and adds even more goodness. I haven't tried them, but if my experience with the P15's is any indication, they're undoubtedly even more terrific.

Developed by the same team behind the Bowers & Wilkins 800 Series Diamond loudspeakers, which they claim are found in Abbey Road Studios (and I assume, used there as well, otherwise what's the point?), they feature "industry-leading sound quality, immersive Adaptive Noise Cancellation, intuitive Wireless Audio Transmission, and wireless charging to benefit an on-the-go lifestyle," according to their press materials. more...


Mazda3 Turbo

Mazda offers the high and low of driving pleasure with turbo CX-30 and Mazda3 sedan

Talk about a tough decision!

Which is better, the Mazda 3 or the Mazda CX-30? Both are mostly the same under the skin – or close enough anyway - and both are relatively inexpensive (comparatively, anyway) in their very competitive marketplaces.

And both are available with Mazda's terrific 2.5 litre turbo four engine and all wheel drive.

Which would you choose?

I guess it depends on whether you're a car or an SUV guy. I'm a car guy – actually I like hatchbacks and wagons because of their storage space and a bit of extra weight not on the front wheels – so I'd lean toward the 3 over the "taller 3" represented by the CX-30.

Then again, I absolutely hate the styling of the current 3 "Sport" hatchback, from the beginning of the C pillar back. It reminds me of one of the huge butted Shaak critters from Star Wars Episode II (the Clone one), when Anakin and Padme are falling in love on the planet Naboo.  

And it's enough to make me think of embracing the dark side of the force and opting for a damn SUV over a beloved sports wagon. more...

Flight to Mars

Flight to Mars: a mostly forgotten sci-fi classic comes to Blu-ray

It may not be in the league of Forbidden Planet or Destination Moon, but Flight to Mars is a fun outing from the early 1950's, when the exploration of space was starting to become a hot topic for Hollywood to handle.

And now it's out on a special edition Blu-ray, from the Film Detective.

I try to stay away from Blu-rays these days, preferring to help the 4K disc format find an audience, but once in a while a title will come along that intrigues me enough to break that rule of thumb. And this is one.

I'd never seen Flight to Mars before, though I've certainly heard of it, and I've certainly seen my share of such flicks over the years. My favourite space movie from that time is Destination Moon, the George Pal-produced look at how a trip to Earth's satellite may have looked to post World War II society. It was a serious and quite scientifically accurate story that benefited from the mind of the great science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein.

Flight to Mars doesn't have that benefit. In fact, it starts off seeming like it's going to be a "poor man's" Destination Moon, but it goes a lot farther than just charting a flight to Earth's nearest planetary neighbour and back and actually raises some pretty hefty issues both scientific and cultural. It's a neat yarn. more...


Almost Famous

Almost Famous a fascinating 4K time capsule – while  Mortal Kombat 4K will test your TV's reds

Cameron Crowe hit it out of the park with Jerry Maguire, and followed it up with this even better movie, a semi-autobiographical tale that's also a wonderful capturing of a moment in pop culture history.

And if you like your game-inspired movies violent and graphic, Warner Brothers thinks it has you covered.

Parmount's Almost Famous, unlike Maguire, doesn't come with a built-in high-powered star, and I think that works to its benefit. As for the pop culture moment, just like George Lucas' American Graffiti captured the feel of its era, so too does Almost Famous. It's a time I happened to live through, and in fact its 1973 setting is the year I got married. I had also dabbled with bands by that time and after, and also with producing the written word. So, yeah, this movie really got to me.

And now, Paramount Pictures has produced a nice steel book 4K version of the film, complete with both the original theatrical version that I prefer, as well as the extended "Bootleg" edition that was how the original DVD came out.

Crowe's story is of a young writer, 15 years old, in fact, coming of age as he struggles with his first major assignment as a rock journalist, going on tour with the minor-but-maybe-major-someday band Stillwater. more...

Ford ExplorerFord Explorer charts new ground again

Ford's Explorer came back with a mostly all-new generation for 2020, and if you're a traditionalist – or a hooner – you might like what it has to offer.

That's because the new generation Explorer has returned to its roots, as a rear-wheel drive model that can send torque to the front wheels when it's needed. That's as opposed to the last couple of Explorers that were front-drive-based but could send torque to the rear wheels if necessary.

"Who cares?", you may say. "What difference does it make?", you may say.

Well, if you aren't an enthusiast, it may make little difference, especially if you've been told over and over over the years that front wheel drive is better for traction because the engine's weight is right over the front wheels.

Fair enough. But there are definite advantages to rear wheel drive as well.

I could tell the difference between FWD-based Explorers and the new RWD-based one almost as soon as I drove away from the dealership at which it was stored. You feel it push you along, rather than pull you, and it felt really good! Not that the last Explorer sucked in that way! Sure, I love RWD – and in AWD modes I daresay you may not feel much difference, depending on how much torque the vehicle sends to the other axle – but the rear drive just felt more right, more capable.

This was an easy call for me because I've spent many an hour in the previous generation of Ford Explorer: for about a year and a half, I worked one day a week as a shuttle driver for an area Ford dealer. And as good as that vehicle was, this new one drives better. more...


Honda Pilot

My Fair Lady a bloomin' nice experience on 4K disc

Wouldn't it be loverly if one of the all-time great musicals found new life in a pristine 4K video presentation, with newly-remastered and remixed Dolby Atmos audio?

It would, if you ask me. But no one asked me and we have to live with a newly scanned (at 8K, apparently) version of the restored and remastered My Fair Lady that debuted on Blu-ray several years back. So instead of a brand, spanking new and pristine print with state-of-the-art audio, we get a major upgrade from the Blu-ray as far as video quality is concerned, but that's about it.

Fortunately, that's enough.

I was all set to be disappointed. After all, Warner Brothers has made some really great 4K discs in the past, including ones from decades ago. Stanley Kubrick's 2001: a space odyssey, for example, looks and sounds so great in 4K it's almost like seeing it for the first time. Ditto for Paramount, who now appear to be distributing Warner video stuff.

Then I revisited the excellent "making of" documentary on the Blu-ray that accompanies the My Fair Lady 4K disc and was reminded just how much better the picture and sound are already compared to what they had to work with when they started the restoration process way back when. And I am once again amazed at what they've managed to pull off.

And it isn't as if the new 4K disc presentation isn't better than the Blu-ray. It is – appreciably. I A/B'd the 2015 Blu-ray with this 2021 4K disc and, while it definitely isn't as great a video experience as the abovementioned space oddity – and the new Raiders of the Lost Ark 4K is appreciably better as well – it's easily the best video version of this Lerner and Loewe classic, hands down.

So, yeah, if you love this film and you have the equipment to exploit the 4K disc, put aside some of your after-tax income to partake of this beauty.

It's as elitist as all get out, but a marvelous fish out of water story made even more marvelous by Lerner and Loewe's music. more...

Honda Pilot

Honda Pilot a decent three row SUV in a crowded field

Three row SUV's are a common sight these days, whether from mainstream or luxury names, and some are much better than others.

This isn't surprising, of course; some things are better than others in any field. My beloved Calgary Stampeders are tops when it comes to regular season performance in the Canadian Football League, for example, whereas the damn Toronto Argonauts seem to have the number of most teams when they actually make it to the final. It's really annoying.

So if you're looking for a three row SUV, you don't have to look very hard. In mainstream trim, you can find them from Mazda, Toyota, Hyundai, Kia, Volkwagen, etc. etc. etc. And in this niche, Honda offers the Pilot, which is a decent vehicle based upon the company's high end Acura division's MDX. And that's a pretty good place to start!

Vehicles such as this make a decent choice for people who think they need a minivan but who would rather be torn apart by wild dogs than drive one. They have nearly as much room and in general drive much more nicely than the typical minivan does – though such folk really ought to try the current Toyota Sienna if they want a minivan that doesn't really drive like one.

The Pilot comes only in an all-wheel drive configuration in Canada, and all versions get most of the same underpinnings. This includes a 3.5 litre V6 engine Honda says puts out 280 horsepower @ 6000 rpm and 262 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4700 rpm. These are decent figures and competitive, though I must admit that V6 felt very much like a turbo four according to my experience. In fact, it felt a tad anemic compared to a turbo four-equipped Ford Explorer I'd driven shortly before that – which isn't surprising since the Ford offers more horses and torque from its 2.3 litre EcoBoost four.

Actually, when I first picked up Honda Canada's sample Black Edition Pilot, which carries a window sticker price of $56,805 Loonies, I didn't notice that it had been left in Eco mode and I spent about a day and a half driving with it thus afflicted before I figured out what was going on. And during that time, I came to hate that V6, which in Eco mode has about as much apparent oomph as the original Honda Insight – by which I mean not much at all, thank you. It was awful!

So if you're interested in saving that much of Gaia's remaining grace, you might be better served walking. And if you're an auto enthusiast, well, enough said. more...


Indiana Jones

Paramount gives Indiana Jones a sparkling new 4K makeover

Paramount studios obviously cracked the whip on the people who do their restorations of films, because their, and Steven Spielberg and George Lucas' swashbuckling series, has just been released in the UHD format and it looks and sounds fantastic.

They've even stuck in a whole Blu-ray of extras that I didn't expect to see!

Indiana Jones first came to the big screen back in 1981, when Lucas got together with his friend Spielberg to bring to life his vision of an action film that hearkened back to the old Saturday afternoon serials that used to be shown in movie theatres. The result, Raiders of the Lost Ark, was a huge hit – and a deserved one, too.

I remember when my wife and I first saw Raiders at a theatre in Ottawa, Ontario, while we were back in the belly of the beast visiting my parents. We loved the movie so much – and knew my Dad in particular would also love it – that we dragged him to the first showing the next day. And he loved it, too – or at least he made the appropriate cooing noises when we asked him.

Since then, there have been three sequels of varying quality – though every one of the films is eminently watchable – and now there are rumours that they're going back to the well again. To which I quote Sean Connery as Henry Jones Senior in "Last Crusade:" "Let it go".

Anyway, Spielberg, Lucas et al brought the action serial concept to the big screen with their typical production values (which means they were terrific from a technical point of view), and the subsequent video releases have all done their best. more...

Godzilla vs. Kong

Giant monsters soar – and smash – in glorious 4K

If Hong Kong is going to be the setting for a sequel to this smash-em-up giant monster film, it would behoove the city poohbahs to up their building code requirements substantially.

Why? Well, because in Godzilla vs. Kong, a great part of the city is laid waste as the titular Titans tussle against each other and, eventually, an even bigger threat than that of "merely" two giant monsters laying waste to your city.

I didn't want to see Godzilla vs. Kong, but I watched the 4K disc last night and I'm really glad I did. I love monster movies – a lifelong Harryhausen fan, am I – and the original King Kong is one of my desert island discs (Peter Jackson's remake is nearly as good, but a tad bloated). I've seen a few Godzilla movies and always thought for the most past that the Toho universe (the Japanese company that brought us Godzilla and other silly critters like Mothra, Ghidra, etc.) wasn't fit to shine the real Kong's, well, fur. There were a few Godzilla flicks that were pretty cool, but mostly the producers chose hack writing and havoc wreaking over high drama.

And that's fine; to each his/her/its own (did I miss a gender or several there?).

As it turns out, Godzilla vs. Kong shows you don't really need a compelling – or at least a logical – story in order to craft a fun flick. And it does so in spades! This is a popcorn movie at its most basic, but done with state-of-the-art technology that's an absolute joy to behold.

Especially in 4K! more...


Ford Bronco Sport

Ford Bronco Sport a real head-turner

I have a funny feeling that Ford is about to sell a ton of its new "baby Bronco".

That isn't judging from my impressions driving the newly spawned SUV, but from the reactions I got to driving the newly spawned SUV – from neighbours, passersby, perhaps even from passengers in aircraft flying over at 40,000 feet.

This vehicle, which I happen to find quite unattractive and not particularly compelling, garnered so many stares and thumbs up gestures (and possible a few other gestures aimed at the driver) that I couldn't believe it. I've had Porsches and BMW's and Lexi and Jaguars and Mercedes and Audis, and some of them bring crowds – but nothing like this new Bronco Sport.

Obviously, this is yet another vehicle for which I am far removed from the target audience. What can you do?

The Bronco Sport joins its new big brother, the Bronco (non-sport, I assume), as a 4x4-only SUV and it competes in a niche where on-road performance is only as important as its off-road capabilities. Or so they say.

"Bronco Sport has the toughness and smarts to help turn off-road novices into 4x4 pros," said Hau Thai-Tang, Ford chief product development and purchasing officer. "Bronco Sport embraces the needs of outdoor enthusiasts – every inch of it was designed and engineered with weekend adventurers in mind." more...

Ford F-150Ford adds hybrid tech to its venerable pickup truck line

If you drive a pickup and find its fuel mileage a tad, shall we say, anemic, would you think about embracing hybrid technology to help ease that fuel bill?

How about if the raise in mileage was only a few miles per gallon?

I suppose it would depend on how much of a percentage improvement that might be – and in a pickup truck (a genre not known for fuel mileage) even a few MPG could be a large percentage improvement.

There are other reasons to think about a hybrid now, though. Time was when buying a hybrid meant you were paying through the nose for a small and light – and gutless – little car that may have improved your gas mileage and given you an excuse to signal to the world how wonderful and green you are. I mean, I remember driving one of the original Honda Insights (the first widely available hybrid) and that little squashed bug of a car nearly had me (well, my wife…) getting out to push it up some of the mountainous hills in my neck of the woods.

I hated hybrids back then. But that was then and now there are many compelling reasons to buy a hybrid as long as you can live with the damn continuously variable automatic transmissions with which most of them come saddled. Those reasons include increased oomph, where today's hybrids offer performance that feels very much like a turbocharger, but without the "whoosh" of a turbo coming on. more...


Roku Streambar

Jeep pickup picks up diesel power and off-road sportiness

The most legendary off-road brand in North America is back with a CJ-based pickup truck the company hopes will take its legendary off-road reputation even farther off road.

It's the Jeep Gladiator, wearing its High Altitude 4x4 livery (that's "altitude", not "attitude" so if you find the vehicle gets in your face, that's probably just its default position). And if you're into this type of vehicle, chances are you'll love this new version of the pickup first introduced a couple of years ago.

Jeep's Gladiator take the classic Jeep Wrangler – the old army-type thingy – and turns it not only into a pickup truck, but a convertible pickup truck! I don't know of any other pickups from which you can pry the roof, so there's one marketing point already.

You can also remove the doors and fold down the windshield to create what I imagine would be a lovely open-air experience as long as all those onboard remember to hook up their seatbelts lest they be tossed out at the first big rut. Being a complete oaf when it comes to such things, I didn't try removing the roof and doors, mostly because I figured if I succeeded in getting them off, I'd never succeed in getting them back on again.

Besides, it was cold during my Jeep week. Yeah, that's my excuse!

The Gladiator starts at $47,743, but one tricked out like Jeep's High Altitude one adds to that substantially. Jeep's sample tipped the fiscal scale at $76,210 (including destination, etc.). Talk about High Altitude! more...

Roku Streambar

Roku Streambar adds audio capabilities to its streaming skills

Roku makes one of the greatest media streaming devices on the market – actually, several of them – but the company is also "streaming out" to new areas – including the introduction of a sound bar as well as some original programming to watch on its eponymous app.

It's pretty cool stuff, too.

Let's start with the "Streambar," the soundbar you can use to replace (and probably upgrade) the speakers built into your TV. Soundbars are nothing new, and in fact there are so many of them on the market that choosing one is probably a real treat.

But Roku's offers extra value, in that it is not only an audio device but it's also a fully-fledged Roku, with all of the streaming goodness that means.

One thing it isn't is a real audiophile device and, while I was a tad disappointed to find that, I wasn't surprised considering its size and price. And even though it may not be up there with the high-end speaker companies' soundbar offerings, it does elevate the audio quality from my TVs' internal speakers, which is a great start, and it also lets you operate the TV using the Roku's remote.

Mostly. And of course, it's a Roku, so it's marvelous in other ways. more...


TechnoFile publisher Jim Bray's print columns are available through the
TechnoFile Syndicate.
Note: Unless otherwise noted, prices in this publication are quoted in US dollars.

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