Jim Bray's Car & Tech rants - publishing online exclusively since 1995
Updated: January 20, 2022

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Honda Civic Sport Hatchback

Honda Civic Hatchback Sport Touring – nice 'stick-toitiveness'

It's getting to be hard finding a manual transmission these days, and that's a real shame. But Honda is riding to the rescue with a stick version of their new Civic – in some versions, anyway – and it's a wonderful thing to use even if it isn't the best stick Honda has made.

Part of the reason I love a manual is that it not only gives you better control over the vehicle, it also helps make you part of the process of driving, making you pay attention to what you're doing (theoretically, anyway). If you love driving, this can be a big deal. If a vehicle is just transportation to you, you may not care – and you may even prefer not having to shift it yourself.

That's fine; to each, his/her/its own.

Another reason to love a stick is because it's very handy when the roads get less than optimal – via snow, rain or whatever. You can use the transmission for the most part, rather than the brakes, on slippery roads and that helps prevent the wheels from locking up (when you hit the brakes) and causing a slide or a skid.

Alas, the majority of consumers appear to prefer going through life in a rather shiftless manner, and so manual transmissions are an endangered species.

So, thank you, Honda, for preserving the manual transmission – especially since the alternative in the Civic line is a damn CVT, one of those continuously variable transmissions that don't shift at all (even a conventional automatic does shift) and which in the process sucks a good amount of the "joie de conduire" from the process.

The CVT that's standard on Civics is actually one of the better ones, but I'd still walk right past it if I were looking for a new car. I love to drive, and that's why I still drive a manual transmission. Heck, a nice stick and a hand brake (another endangered species) can also be highly entertaining.

Anyway, if you like shifting for yourself, your choices are limited and Honda offers you a good one on this new generation of Civic Hatchback. more...

Dune 4K

Dune 4K disc is half way to being a true Sci-Fi epic

Fans of classic science fiction literature are sure to be familiar with Frank Herbert's Dune, an epic if there ever were an epic. And now, finally, there's a film version that comes close to bringing Herbert's vision to the screen.

Alas, it's only half way to being an epic – at most – because it only deals with the first half – at most – of the book, so we have to wait for more Dune goodness to come out. But based on this first film, it should be worth the wait.

Still, while director Denis Villeneuve has created a movie epic that's amazingly faithful to the original novel, there's just something missing – a spark, a grandeur, something like that. It's hard to put my finger on.

Oh, there's plenty of grandeur. Heck, this Dune looks and sounds terrific, the potential for which is why I was so pleased when Warner Brothers' 4K disc review copy showed up at my front door.

I'm a Dune fan from long back; I first read the book on my honeymoon back in 1973 and, much to my new wife's chagrin, I couldn't put it down. Then she read it and I was just as ignored, so it worked out – and 48 years later we both still love Dune. I haven't re-read it for a couple of decades, but it's a story that sticks with you – and it always cried out to be made into a good movie.

Then there was the David Lynch Dune of the 1980's. I was so excited about it that I dragged my two best friends to it, telling them it was one of the greatest books ever. Afterward, they looked at me as if I were some kind of nut, the Lynch Dune being what it was.

But it had one thing that this new, much superior for the most part, Dune isn't: that sense of gravitas in from a story that spans solar systems and Great Houses and is populated by many larger-than-life figures. more...

Volkswagen Taos

Brand new Volkswagen Taos is a mostly great little SUV

Volkswagen has a solution for any consumers who may think the Tiguan has gotten too big for its britches. It's the Taos, a new and smaller "SUVW" that's poised to go head-to-head with such competitors as the Honda HR-V, Toyota CH-R, etc.

It's really nice, too, though that doesn't surprise me because I happen to love Volkswagen products for the most part. This is the first VW I've had a chance to review since the current Jetta was new, about three and a half years ago, and I'd heard rumours that the company may have done some really dumb things in the meantime, like removing the tuning knob from the centre stack's audio system controls – following the lead of Honda, who did that stupid deed several years ago.

The good news is that this is a new but "classically Volkswagen" Volkswagen and, as someone who nearly bought a used Tiguan a few years ago and who drives a different Volkswagen Auto Group vehicle to this day, I think it's a winner. And, yes, I would buy one. I'd prefer a wagon, but they're getting hard to find these days and, really, the Taos is kind of like a tall wagon. Not as much as Mazda's CX-30 is, but it's still pretty good.

Except – well, the darn German company DID remove the tuning knob, even though when you first check out the dashboard it looks as if it's still there. I don't like that, but I can live with how they've done it – and will opine more about this later when I rant about the interior.

The Taos differs from the Tiguan in many ways, but one big one is that its engine is smaller – and another one is that you can't get a third row of seats for the Taos. Neither of these are necessarily big deals, depending upon your needs and wants. 

Power in the all-wheel drive versions goes to the front wheels under normal conditions (as it does with nearly every other so-called mainstream "cute ute" you can buy) but 50 per cent of the oomph can be sent to the rears when required. There are also selectable drive modes for snow, sportiness, etc.  more...

Cry Macho

Warner Brothers cries Macho and lets slip the Cock of War

Legendary actor and director Clint Eastwood's latest film is a leisurely but ultimately enjoyable and mostly entertaining story that, as it turns out, took about 50 years to make.

Not that Eastwood is a particularly slow director, but as you'll see in the supplements that come on the Cry Macho Blu-ray (a 4K disc wasn't offered for review yet, and that's a shame because the film looks terrific), Eastwood first came in contact with the story way back then, but for various reasons (including that he thought himself too young to play the lead) it took until now to come out.

It was worth the wait.

Oh, sure, it's no Unforgiven, and I don't think it's quite up to the cinematic heights Eastwood reached with Gran Torino, but Cry Macho is a lovely story about an old and burned-out retiree who finds new life – and a new life – after his former boss hires him to drag his 13-year-old son back home to Texas from his mother in Mexico City. more...

Subaru Outback WildernessTime at home – enforced or not – gives an opportunity to really listen to your music library

A special Technofile rant.

Music lovers suffering the socially distant blues have an interesting and rewarding musical experience available that they may not even know is there. And it could really up your enjoyment ante, depending of course on your taste, technology, and budget.

I'mreferring to the average home theatre today, whether stereo, 5.1, 7.1 or Atmos-compatible. Even entry-level home theatres today can offer spectacular audio quality, as you may have noticed the last time you played an action movie with Big Sound. And this newer technology even gives you a chance to experience audio formats that came along a long time ago, had their swing at the marketplace, and died.

Yes, it's like Jurassic Park for audio – except there's little chance of the music turning on the owners. So far… more...

Subaru Outback Wilderness

Lincoln Navigator a comfortable people hauler – and Explorer hybrid gets the job done

It's comfortable, offers all of the electronic features we've come to know and perhaps to love (or not), and it's big enough to cut a major swath through traffic as you pilot it around town. But is the Lincoln Navigator any good?

I suppose that depends on the eye of the beholder. After spending a week or so with the 2021 Lincoln Navigator, I came away impressed with its capabilities but also grateful that I have bus driving experience in my past so I was much more comfortable behind the wheel than I might have been otherwise.  

Yep, it's that big! So big that my wife refused to get behind the wheel (the baby!). And that's too bad because I think she would've enjoyed the experience once she got used to being at the helm of a road-based aircraft carrier.

Oh, well.

Huge or not, the Navigator is all Lincoln – by which I mean luxurious as all get out, with three rows of leather-trimmed seats and about as much comfort and convenience as one could expect from today's auto marketplace. more...

Subaru Outback WildernessLimited Edition Subaru Outback lives for off-road action

Subaru's Outback is branching out for 2022, offering a new, limited edition "Wilderness" trim level that ups the off-road ante in a vehicle already known for its non-asphalt manners.

Like most Subarus, the Outback – which arguably came to fame when Australian actor Paul Hogan pitched them back in the 1990's as the world's first sport utility wagon – has a loyal following, and the vehicles are very popular in areas where outdoorsy folk congregate.

When I was in Alaska about a decade ago, for example, it seemed as if the only vehicles around were either pickup trucks or Subarus. Ditto for rural areas of the British Columbia interior that I've frequented. And of course, city folk embrace them as well, undoubtedly for their all-wheel drive prowess that comes in handy when the roads get less than optimal.

At the heart of Subarus' appeal is its full-time all-wheel drive, which every Subaru except for the sports car BRZ comes with as standard equipment. It's a kind of nod to Audi's quattro system, in that it isn't a front or rear wheel drive car that can send torque to the usually non-powered axle when necessary. Nope, this is a real AWD wagon – Subaru calls it Symmetrical Full-Time AWD – and that's a wonderful feature on road and off because it can take an already good handling vehicle and make it seem as if it's on rails. more...

Roku Streaming Stick 4K

Roku upgrades its 4K Streaming Stick as well as its programming content

Roku, the maker of some really great streaming devices, is raising its ante with a new version of its streaming stick, an affordable and efficient way to bring an entire world of free and/or paid programming to your home (or wherever).

It's also adding lots of new stuff to watch on it, thanks to additions to its free Roku Channel, a "broadcasting outlet" that not only offers a wide variety of old and new programming but also some "live" TV channels on which you can watch – for example – 24/7 streams of old Johnny Carson and Carol Burnett shows. It's quite the thing.

The new 4K streaming stick, which retails for about $70 CAD – cheap for the potential goodness you get from it – is claimed to be faster and more powerful than ever. It does seem to boot up faster, which is always nice, and it also includes Dolby Vision and HDR 10+ capability to up the 4K ante even more.

The thing is so darn portable, too, that you can take it with you when you travel, using it in your hotel room, or to blow away whoever you're visiting with the programming content you can carry with you in the palm of your hand (or in your carry-on luggage). more...

The Suicide Squad

The Suicide Squad – now on 4K disc – is a dark anti-super hero adventure

The Suicide Squad is the latest in the DC comics universe to come our way and, unfortunately, it suffers from the same fate as most DC Comics movies – it just isn't very good.

I could live with that, but it's worse than merely not being very good. It's very bad and it's also a lousy home theatre experience on 4K disc if you don't have the ambient room light controlled tightly.

Now, I managed to avoid the first Suicide Squad movie; Warner Home Video never sent me a screening sample and from what I'd seen and read about the film I didn't mind. This time, however, they did send a screener and, since it's the kind of movie I would like, normally, I felt obliged to sit through its interminable 132-minute running time.

Wish I hadn't! Naturally, your mileage may vary and according to some online reviews I've read, this James Gunn version of the franchise is just what the doctor ordered. Probably Dr. Fauci… more...

Honda Civic

Latest generation of Honda Civic builds on an already-firm foundation

It looks pretty new inside and out and it sports a lot of things to love. And it'll probably become a top selling sedan in a marketplace increasing eschewing such sedans as folks seek out SUV's instead.

It's the 2022 Honda Civic, a really nice new entry in the long line of Civics. And I liked it a lot, Honda-isms that I've whined about in recent years notwithstanding. Even with my Honda-ism angst, I think this new generation Civic is terrific, and I can't wait to see what Honda does with the hot versions that are sure to follow.

The new styling on the outside makes the Civic look more aggressive – and dare I say fun? – than the outgoing model I reviewed a while back. It's still inoffensive enough to not frighten away folks who just want a car rather than a racing vehicle, but the new look is terrific, especially after some of the recent Civics with their heavily creased bodywork that made them look as if they were designed by a committee of the blind. This one is, if nothing else, much more subtle. more...

Ford Mustang Mach E

Mock Mustang is a darn nice electric SUV as long as you aren't going anywhere

Electric cars are all the rage these days, or probably would be if more people would buy them without coercion or other people's money. We're promised – well, beaten over the head with – an inevitable electric future, even though it appears few have given thought as to from where the electricity to charge these vehicles will actually come.

Yeah, we're led to believe the power will appear magically, where in reality it's coming generally from coal, natural gas, hydroelectric or nuclear sources. But at least it isn't filthy oil, right?

I've only driven a couple of electric cars over the years, from the silly little Mitsubishi iMiev I spent an interminable few days with in 2012 (it was like a $32,000 Toyota Yaris, only not as nice as the real Yaris) as well as some quick drives in a couple of electric cars at AJAC's Canadian Car of the Year Testfest. I liked their performance as cars – the instant torque, for example, is quite intoxicating – but felt that until they get the prices down and the ranges up they'd only be curiosities. more...

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. 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.

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. 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...

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