Jim Bray's Car & Tech rants - publishing online exclusively since 1995
Updated: July 29, 2021

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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.

Still, as I say quite often, beauty is in the eye of the keyholder, and one person's huge ass is another's "yummy bummy", and the current 3 sedan is one of the nicest looking mainstream sedans I've seen. So what else is there about these two similar but different vehicles to love?

Just about everything! 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...


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

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...


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