Jim Bray's Car & Tech rants - publishing online exclusively since 1995
Updated: June 10, 2021

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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."

To that end, the Bronco Sport is ready to haul a couple of mountain bikes (which can stand up in its cargo area) and enough "factory-backed standalone accessories" to let Bronco Sport owners customize their vehicle the way they want, whether they're carrying bikes, kayaks, skis, whatever.

Hardly unique, but undoubtedly welcome for those who want these capabilities in a Ford.

Bronco Sports come in three trim levels besides the base model: one call Big Bend, one called Outer Banks, and, the one Ford sent for review, the Badlands model. 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.

So it is with Ford's F-150 PowerBoost, which is a full hybrid powertrain that enhances Ford's 3.5 litre V-6 and is, according to Ford, the only full-hybrid powertrain available in a pickup. The company also says the PowerBoost system cranks out a lovely 430 horsepower and 570 lb.-ft of torque - the most torque ever offered in an F-150.

And it feels as robust as all get out! This was one of the most fun and interesting pickup truck drives I've experienced – and as a "not a pickup truck guy" I came away impressed. Not enough to run out and buy a pickup truck (I think I'd have to have a stroke first…), but enough to see why some folks would want to pick up such a pickup. 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!

One of the big selling points for the 2021 model year is the availability of an optional diesel engine for about $7,400. This three-liter V6 cranks out a reasonable 260 horsepower and a heady 442 lb-ft of torque. That's the engine Jeep's sample had and I really liked all that torque. It comes on at low revs, too, making this beastie bounce along with abandon. 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.

The Streambar, which lists for about $190 Canadian dollars, also includes a voice-operated remote that works quite well and can make finding your specific program or app a heckuva lot easier than having to scroll around an onscreen keyboard for searching. You can even use it to control the built-in Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Stream music apps, too, as well as stuff like Apple AirPlay 2, Bluetooth, and Spotify Connect. more...

Acura TLX

Mostly terrific new TLX points the way toward an even nicer future for Acura

It's handsome, it's fast (enough), it's luxurious and it's comfortable. Is there anything the 2021 Acura TLX isn't?

Well, it isn't a panacea for all the Honda-isms I've complained about for several years, but it is a big step forward in many ways.

The TLX, which started life as a kind of blending of the old TL and TSX, is a mid-sized luxury sport sedan, the type of car the company has made for decades – right back, really, to the original Legend. It goes head-to-head against such tough competitors as the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Lexus IS and Genesis G70. The Acura and the Audi are based on front drive platforms, though both offer all-wheel-drive options – as do the rear drive BMW and Genesis.

Tough competition, indeed, and that's only a few of the models the TLX has to beat out in this busy segment. Does it?

Well, if it doesn't beat them out, it's certainly very competitive. And later this year, Acura says, it'll become even more competitive as the company adds a turbo V6 to the mix, supposedly its most powerful V6 ever - which says something, since the mighty NSX has always been V6-powered and no one ever accused it of being slow.

Right now, the TLX only comes with a turbo four and, while I'm sure I'd prefer the six a lot more, the four banger is very good – and its specs are competitive with both the Audi and the BMW's turbo fours. The A4, for example, boasts 261 horses from its two litre four, while the BMW 3 series offers 255 nags. The TLX's four puts out 272. more...


Theragun promises to rub sore users the right way

Are you bothered by muscle pain, tired or pulled muscles, or are you just looking for a way to get a nice massage at home without hassle?

Well, folks, the people at Theragun think they have your magic bullet, in a line of personal massagers that promise "deep muscle treatment, in an ultra-quiet smart percussive therapy device with advanced sound insulation."

I would personally rather be torn apart by wild dogs than massage myself or anyone else, yet after the Theragun folks sent me a sample of their Elite model, I found myself rubbing my wife the right way – for a change! – and, even better, she'd give relief to herself with the device without me having to move a muscle.

I like that part the best!

Naturally, portable massaging devices are nothing new – heck, you've even been able to get massaging chairs for many years. So why would any self-respecting consumer want to shell out the not-unsubstantial $549 CAD for such a device?

I can think of many reasons, not the least of which is that if you use the thing and it works for you, it will probably pay for itself just in saved trips to the masseur (can I say "masseur" any more in this day and age?). It's been years since I've had a professional massage but I seem to remember them being about a hundred bucks a pop, so if you frequent masseurs frequently, it seems like a good investment.

As long as it works, of course. And in our limited experience with the Theragun so far, it does seem to do the trick. Quite nicely. more...

Acura MDX, 2022

Acura MDX gets a major upgrade for 2022

Acura's new flagship SUV, the MDX, is back with an all-new set of clothes in what the company says is "a quantum leap forward with a bold exterior design coupled with a sophisticated and elegant new interior featuring the most high-tech and advanced cockpit in the brand's history."

And it's all true, though I'm not as ready to heap praise on the "most high-tech and advanced cockpit" part.

Still, as someone who hasn't had a lot of nice things to say about Honda and its higher end division for several years now, I will tell you that this new MDX (and the new TLX that'll be the subject of my next car column) is a great vehicle to drive, has lovely styling outside and, mostly, inside, and (since it's Japanese) will probably last long enough to hand down to your grandkids when the time comes.

My angst with most things Honda-related has stemmed from design and execution choices that beggar logic – things such as removing the volume and tuning knobs from the audio system, overly obtrusive nannies that holler at you verbally or via flashing lights, a weird shift selector, and styling (on some models) so horrid that you have to approach the vehicle backwards so as not to be forced to look at it.

Improvements have been made over the years. For example, the volume control is back – but not the tuning one, which is actually the more important of the two unless all your favourite radio stations are saved in presets, a process that would be a true pain in the buttocks to perform here.

And I noticed with this new MDX that you can shut off the most annoying nannies and they'll stay off. Hallelujah!

But, undoubtedly in an attempt to prove that some people just can't be pleased, they've now put a damn trackpad on the centre console, and it's even more fussy to use than the ones I already hate in Lexi. more...

The Ten CommandmentsThe Ten Commandments 4K disc is a serious upgrade

If you thought Cecil B. DeMille's epic The Ten Commandments looked great in its Blu-ray version, wait till you get a view of the new, 4K disc version.

It may have been created from the same master as the 10-year-old Blu-ray, but the extra resolution and High Dynamic Range allow for a spectacular "new" version of this spectacular film.

It's kind of analogous to the 4K Lord of the Rings trilogy, which looked tremendous in its DVD and Blu-ray versions, but then the 4K version came along and blew them right out of the water.

And, funny, while upping the video ante often makes the seams, the flaws, show up more, here, the obvious blue screen shots are still obvious, but appreciably smoother than they appeared on the Blu-ray version (which also accompanies this new 4K pressing in the box – along with a digital code).

Yeah, as someone who watches this movie every year around this time, this is the version to cherish.

At least until the 8K version arrives!

The remastering/restoration of the film for its 2011 Blu-ray turned the film into a 6K file, so even in the 4K version it's "dumbed down" a tad. Doesn't matter, but it does make me wonder if they'll have to upconvert it to 8K from 6K when the time comes (assuming it does). I'll be curious to see.

In the meantime, check out the fine detail here, especially in close up shots. And the colour! more...

WW84 4K Wonder Woman 1984 – or whatever it's called – is a victim of 'sequel-itis'

Warner Brothers' latest Wonder Woman movie is a bold attempt at following up the terrific original from 2017 but, it falls well short of being close to its quality.

There's a reason I love "origin stories," such as the first Superman (1978), Batman Begins, the first Spider-man, Guardians of the Galaxy 1, etc. etc. etc. Sure, they spend half the running time building background and the world and its characters, but we also get to see the heroes at the beginning, when they're learning their abilities and also learning that (to coin a phrase) "with great power comes great responsibility".

Then, with the second, we're faced with filmmakers who think the sequel has to be "bigger and badder" in order to ensure bums in the seats. They're wrong, in my never humble opinion, but what can you do?

Still, Wonder Woman Won, er One, was a terrific film, as good as many of the Marvel-ous competitors. I'd never read a WW comic book nor seen the old Lynda Carter TV series – and these days I'm suspicious of anything overtly sex – oops, gender – based because I don't trust Hollywood not to beat the audience over the head with Narrative/Agenda crap. And I was afraid that would happen with The Lady of Wonder (oops, did I just assume her gender?). But it didn't. It was great! more...

The Stereo

New book and disc combo promise help to budding audiophiles

Want to enter the world of audiophile listening but don't know where to start? There's a new book and accompanying high resolution disc combination available now that can help you learn where to start, where to focus your time and attention, and even how to listen critically. 

The book is "The Stereo", an "Audiophile's Guide" coming from the word processor of long-time audiophile and entrepreneur Paul McGowan, who also happens to be one of the movers and/or shakers behind Boulder, Colorado's PS Audio company.

It isn't for everybody, but if you plan to drop even just a few grand on a higher end audio system, the $58US the pair costs could be an excellent investment that could actually save you money by helping you not waste it.  

The book promises on its cover to help you "unlock the secrets to great sound" and after having read the book I'm on board – although as a contemporary of Mr. McGowan (I never had an audio company of my own, however, just a long-term abiding love for good audio and video) I already knew a lot of the wisdom imparted in the pages.

That didn't prevent me from doing some tweaking anyway, based on McGowan's advice, and the results improved my listening experience – which was already pretty darn fine anyway. more...

Mazda6 KuroToyota Highlander a nice three row SUV choice

With a new trim level and other upgrades for 2021, Toyota thinks its three row Highlander SUV/Crossover thingy is now an even more compelling buy than it was already.

And it probably is, though it's fighting in a tough arena these days, with excellent competing vehicles such as Kia's Telluride and the Mazda CX-9. And while it's probably the least interesting of these three vehicles to drive, it does offer all the usual Toyota goodness when it comes to build quality and features that are included in the price.

This is about midway through the current Highlander version, which came out in 2018, and this year Toyota has upped the creature features ante (no, there's no horror movie playing on the LCD screen…) with the new XSE trim level, which the company says adds sportier performance and style.

It could certainly use a sportiness upgrade – like a lot of Toyotas – but if you're comparing driving fun between the Highlander and the CX-9 (check out my recent review here), the Toyota is going down for the count compared with "Zoom-Zoom." And that's even though the Toyota still offers a lovely V6! more...

Mazda6 KuroMazda's CX-9 and Mazda6: two ways to enjoy the company's great turbocharged engine

One's a big, three row SUV and the other's a midsize sedan. And they're both Mazdas, turbocharged for maximum "Zoom-Zoom" effect.

How can that be a bad thing?

Regular readers of my columns (you both know who you are!) know undoubtedly that I'm a big fan of all things Mazda. I love their typically Japanese build quality; I mostly love the way Mazdas look – and most of all I love how Mazdas drive. While it appears that they've put their "Zoom-Zoom" marketing strategy to rest in recent times, it still applies to the feeling you get when driving one of their vehicles, whether the smallest or the largest in their stable.

And because of that I'm going to keep using "Zoom-Zoom" until they send me a cyst and decease notice.

The company seems to be moving its emphasis quite a bit toward adding luxury touches now, though, elevating their mainstream models to a level of equipment you might not expect in these particular market niches. And all without harming the "Zoom-Zoom." more...

Utilian 421

Entry level vapes offer good performance and price

Want to try vaping, but don't want to pay through the nose for something you may end up not enjoying?

Well, friends, the folks at TVape  (short for Toronto Vaporizer, which causes my Albertan flesh to crawl, but which is actually a pretty darn robust site for those interested in imbibing cannabis without the smoke and other assorted bad things connected with burning it) have a couple of suggestions for trying vaping without breaking the bank.

They offered me two models for review and, since I'm an idiot when it comes to stuff like this, I once again trotted out (well, virtually exhumed) the panel of friends and acquaintances I've used in a series of other columns looking at vaping and the innumerable ways of doing it.

The two vapes are the $97.79 CAD Utillian 421 and the LITL1, which their site lists for $39.99 USD. Both offer good vaping experiences, though one rose to the top of the comparison easily and for a few specific reasons. more...

Lexus RX 350Lexus RX 350 Black Edition pairs lots of luxury with a not particularly exhilarating drive

When looking for a Lexus vehicle – SUV, car, whatever – do you look for luxury and quality construction foremost, before other aspects such as driving dynamics?

If so, you'll probably love the current RX 350 SUV/Crossover. It's been a top seller for years now, one of if not Canada's top selling Lexus model.

And it's a very nice vehicle, indeed, comfortable and cozy and full of creature comforts. But it ain't no Cayenne or X5, etc. Not that it claims to be.

So, if you care about having a bit of fun with your right foot, this may not be your vehicle. On the other hand, one can't argue its success, nor its excellence.

And for 2021, Lexus has added a supposedly limited-edition Black Edition. more...

LG gram PC

LG's new gram series of laptop PC's packages performance in a small footprint

LG seems to be on a roll these days. Whether it's smart phones, appliances, televisions or whatever, the company offers innovation and quality that used to be reserved for tech companies from different parts of the world such as Japan, Europe and North America.

It's kind of the way the car market is going as well: South Korean companies used to be known for junk (remember the Hyundai Pony?) but have come a long way in a relatively short time. Heck, I remember when LG was "Lucky Goldstar" (well, I remember Goldstar products) and you'd buy their equipment not in high tech stores but places like Sears or Canadian Tire, where they'd share shelf space with brand names such as Candle or Lloyd's.

Now, LG (and its South Korean competitor Samsung) need apologize to no one. In fact, they're now leading the way in some areas that were traditionally the playing field of older big, established companies. For example, LG is the leader in OLED TV technology today and that's the best type of flat panel TV you can buy. But it's a technology pioneered years ago by Sony – who, ironically, are now buying OLED panels from LG. more...

Toyota SiennaIs the new Sienna the world's first sports minivan?

Minivans and sports cars. Shall the twain ever meet?

I mean, when one talks of utility vehicles – as opposed to SUV/crossovers – one can be forgiven for thinking of minivans, pickup trucks, "real" vans and delivery vehicles, etc. But, while I've seen some rather lame – er, sorry, physically challenged – analogies to minivans and sportiness over the years, they're few and far between. And, in my never humble opinion, they're mostly BS.

Why? Minivans are the height (and width and length) of practicality for family hauling, whether hauling the family or the family's stuff (or both). And they're great for that.

One thing I've never known them for, however, was being compelling driver's vehicles.

Enter the 2021 Toyota Sienna. Oh, sure, it's still a minivan in every way, and Toyota's new generation of its long-lasting family hauler is now available in these parts only as a four-cylinder hybrid. Despite that, this is a minivan that's actually quite a bit of fun to drive. more...

TechnoFile publisher Jim Bray's print columns are available through the
TechnoFile Syndicate.
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