|Updated: June 16, 2022|
I have a soft spot for older cars, simpler cars, cars that are more fun – and less annoying – than many, if not most, of today's. Does that make me an atavism, or a Luddite?
Maybe. But if so, I wear those badges proudly. Here's why:
Cars today may positively bristle with lots of new features and the like, but I think they've also lost something, and that means they're not giving as much enjoyment as they could to those who truly love to drive and who don't particularly want to be beaten over the head with the technology.
It's a shame, but it also may be leading people to hold onto their older cars longer. And I think that's great, in a sad way.
I love driving cars. That's why I started writing about cars in the first place, so I could live, Walter Mitty-like, the fantasy of driving a wide range of vehicles of different makes and class.
And it's been great! One thing I've noticed over the past several years, however, is that carmakers are making their vehicles less compelling – to me, anyway. By this I mean they're adding so much crap – nannies, connectivity options, supposed safety systems, and the like – that I'm finding it less and less interesting driving many of today's supposedly state-of-the-art vehicles. I want to drive, not be driven nuts. Well, more nuts.
Part of this is government regulation. For example, cars now have to be capable of mowing down pedestrians safely, even if the pedestrian in question walked obliviously out in front of your car, ear buds firmly in place, unaware of the world around him/her/it. Some might consider such people as ideal candidates for Darwin awards recipient membership, but governments have forced carmakers to make their vehicles' front ends safer for idiots and innocents alike.
And of course, this doesn't come for free. It takes research and development. And researchers and developers don't work for free.
One of the first "cute utes" has, after decades, shed the "cute" aspect and is apparently upping the "ute" ante to make the vehicle an even more compelling choice for those who eschew asphalt periodically.
It's the RAV4 TRD, which stands traditionally for "Toyota Racing Development," not something one would necessarily connect with a compact ute like the RAV4, but Toyota has a long history of adding TRD trim to a variety of its sporty and non-sporty vehicles. And with varying results of sportiness.
And that's on top of an abundance of other RAV4 trim levels, from entry level to hybrid – 16 of them in all!
The RAV4 has been a top seller for the Japanese brand as the marketplace, alas, moves from cars to utility vehicles. Through its successive generations it has matured into an excellent vehicle that – as is typical of Toyotas – may outlive its owners.
My wife and are haven't been immune to its charms, either. Full disclosure: we own a 2013 RAV4, which is early in the previous generation and, while I'd rather be driving something a tad more fun (regular readers know I rant about Mazdas) and in this niche the CX-5 would be my go-to SUV, except that at the time we were shopping we couldn't find one in our price range that wasn't bagged. But my wife wanted a RAV4 anyway, so, we have one and are very happy with it. more...
Who would you want protecting your city: the Caped Crusader or a G-Man and his team?
Well, I suppose it depends on the movie in which you find yourself, which brings up a couple of new 4K disc titles, each of which is worth seeing for mostly different reasons.
First up is The Batman, the hot new title sent to me by Warner Brothers. Yeah, they've taken another dive into the stuff whose rights they own, bringing a whole new Batman and a whole new feel to the guy.
The other is The Untouchables, director Brian De Palma and writer Douglas Mamet's cinematic version of the old TV series starring Robert Stack. I never saw that series, but I do like the movie – very much. In fact, between these two, I'd pick Untouchables every time. It's a tad more graphic in its depiction of violence, but overall a better story and a better movie.
Not that The Batman, directed and co-written by Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Planet of the Apes reboots), isn't worth your time – even though, at 176 minutes, it's going to require a lot of it – too much, in fact. more...
This is not your average Western! And it isn't your average 4K disc package, either.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is a classic western from John Ford, one of the last major outings for the four-time Oscar winning director (at least, that's what they say in the generous extras that come on the included Blu-ray disc). It features a cast of big names and small names – journeyman actors all, and all combine to create a believable and compelling drama. Warts and all.
Yet nowhere in the movie or its supplements – except for a brief teasing mention at the end of the original theatrical trailer – does the Gene Pitney hit song appear. I almost cried myself to sleep!
Anyway, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance pairs James Stewart with John Wayne, apparently for the first time together. Stewart plays Ransom Stoddard, Attorney-At-Law, a wet behind the ears dude who follows Horace Greely's advice to "Go West, Young Man" and heads to the town of Shinbone to hang out his shingle.
Before he gets there the stagecoach on which he's riding is attacked by Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin, in a deliciously evil performance) and his gang, and Stoddard is beaten up and given his first lesson in the law of the jungle that prevailed in the territory at that time. Once in Shinbone he's befriended by most of the locals, including the lovely Miss Hallie (Vera Miles) who just happens to be the girlfriend of rugged Tom Doniphon (John Wayne), the only man who seems able to stand up to the vicious thug Valance.
This movie has nearly everything. more...
The 2022 Acura RDX is a mostly terrific mid-sized luxury SUV that goes head-to-head with some pretty high-powered competitors from around the world.
The vehicle, now in its third generation, balances luxury and style with performance, while adding Honda/Acura's usual annoyances that try very hard to suck out any of the joy the driving experience might otherwise bring you.
And that's too bad. I've always liked the RDX – it's more my size of vehicle than its big brother the MDX, for example, more like a Porsche Macan compared to a Cayenne. Not that I want you to think the RDX can go head-to-head with that lovely SUV (well, to be fair, I haven't driven a Macan since the model first came out, so Porsche may have ruined it as well, though I doubt it), I'm just putting it into market perspective.
Actually, a better comparison might be to Lexus' brand new, second generation NX, which I reviewed here. It's ironic, in a "there's just no pleasing some people" kind of way because I liked driving the RDX better than the Lexus, but I'd rather live with the Lexus.
A big part of the reason is the damn trackpad Acura has decided to inflict upon its owners – just as Lexus starts getting rid of its version of the abomination. Trackpads are finicky and require you to take your eyes off the road far too much.
Oh, sure, there's voice recognition and activation, but I think it's going to take several more years for such systems (not just Acura's, but most – if not all – of them) to really become useful.
Why not just make things simple? more...
Honda's Ridgeline, Black Edition, is the top trim level of Honda's pickup truck, and it continues the company's tradition of offering an unconventional, car-based choice in a market dominated by "body on frame" trucks.
It must be working, because after over a decade of being alone in the marketplace, the Ridgeline is finally getting some competition for your pickup truck budget: Ford's Maverick and Hyundai's Santa Cruz. I haven't driven either, but I've driven the Ridgeline several times, in both of its generations, and have always liked it a lot.
Oh, it suffers from the Honda-isms that drive me nuts these days (stick around and I'll whine about them yet again), but on the whole it's a great vehicle – a modern-day interpretation, you could say, of such oldies but goodies as the Rancheros and El Caminos. Except it's also a real truck rather than just a two-seat car with a bed.
Now, I'm not a pickup truck guy and never will be, which may be one of the reasons I like the Ridgeline: it's more of a car/SUV than a traditional truck. Think Honda Pilot with a bed. That means that, unlike the old Rancheros et al, you get seating for five. It also means that, unlike traditional pickup trucks, you still get a real, live trunk – and a lockable one at that. In this case, it's in the bed, back near the tailgate.
There isn't a lot that's new about the 2022 model compared to 2021, but there were many changes and upgrades last year and the only things I could think of for them to upgrade would be the nannies and other stuff I've grown to hate about a car company whose products I have traditionally loved. Things like no tuning knob for the audio system and an LCD screen on the centre stack that's busy, hard to fathom, and insensitive enough to the touch of a human finger that I mulled bringing in a ball peen hammer to help. more...
Mazda's great CX-5 SUV/Crossover continues to get even better with some upgrades for 2022 that up the performance and comfort antes.
It's my favourite model of the ones in this niche that I've driven – and even in some higher niches in which it doesn't pretend to compete, such as the luxury market. In fact, if you drove it back-to-back with some higher end product such as Lexus, Infiniti and the like, you might just find that the Mazda offers nearly as much luxury, but is easier to live with and more fun to drive.
How can that be a bad thing?
For 2022, those ante updates include adding its i-Activ all-wheel drive across the line, from the base model right up to the one of Mazda Canada's sample, the Signature Edition.
Fans of the CX-5 may notice that for 2022 the vehicle has also received a freshening of its already handsome exterior, with tweaked front and rear ends (wish I could tweak MY rear end!), with the front fascia getting a new "signature wing" extending out from the new grille. The head and taillights are also new, each of the lights featuring horizontally spaced, rectangular LED lights. New aluminum alloy wheels also enhance the vehicle's stance.
Opt for the GT trim level and the 2022 version also gets you the option of a "sport appearance package" with gloss black finishes and an interior with red accents and stitching. Not a big deal, for sure, but still nice.
The Signature model also ups the appearance ante, with body coloured exterior cladding with bright silver-finished wheels. The interior is appointed with premium quality materials such as Nappa leather and real wood. more...
I may have a new favourite Lexus and, risking being struck by lightning, it's an SUV!
Last year I was impressed mightily by the new IS 350, which is a really nice sports sedan as long as you don't drive it like a sports sedan. And, being a car guy and not particularly an SUV guy, I really wanted to love it. If Lexus updates it with the new stuff they've crammed into the NX, I might love it again.
But in the meantime, wow, this is one really nice SUV and, unlike some other Lexi I could mention, it's also a relative blast to drive, with an honest to goodness Sport (and, even better, Sport +) modes.
And even better: they've dumped that horrible trackpad on the centre console that I've complained about ever since they introduced it several years ago. more...
Can a minivan be sporty?
Well, I guess it depends on your definition of "sporty," but the current Toyota Sienna comes as close to being a "sports van" as any I've driven over the years. Oh, Porschefiles and aficionados of stuff like "Zoom-Zoom" may not find it truly sporty, and in the grand scheme of things it probably isn't, but I find it quite amazing just how driveable this minivan is.
Even with a damn CVT transmission!
Sportiness is probably not something most minivan shoppers seek out, but if you can get it and you enjoy the art of driving, why not? more...
Paramount Pictures has given one of the most honoured films in Hollywood history – and its two sequels – a new lease on life thanks to a meticulous 4K restoration of Francis Ford Coppola's Godfather trilogy. And, especially if you don't own the movies already, it's definitely worthy of your time.
I'm not going to get into the storylines of the films, which have been discussed ad nauseam, but rather I'll go over this terrific new five disc set (four 4K discs and a Blu-ray full of mostly great extras) so you can know what to expect from it.
I didn't remember the third movie that well, and it seems as if a lot of people had a really good time dumping all over it when it came out so many years after we assumed the saga had ended. I remember thinking it was better than many folks had made out – of course, one person's feast being another's famine – but it wasn't as memorable as the first two.
Now, however, Paramount has given Coppola a chance to rethink that third feature and the result is the re-edited The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone, which is now the "official" third film in the trilogy's set. more...
The Subaru Forester was arguably the company's first SUV, though it may have seemed more like a tall wagon than a Sport Ute. Since then, the company has expanded its SUV offerings, but the Forester is still around and there are still a lot of things to like about it.
It's still my favourite Subaru, in fact, one which I would have put one on my short list back in the day had I been in the market. And the stuff that made that Forester so compelling then are still there: symmetrical all-wheel drive, good ground clearance, plenty of storage/hauling space and good driving dynamics.
This current model is the fifth-generation of Forester and Subaru unleashed it on the marketplace in 2019. Typically, this means it's time for a mid-cycle refresh and that's exactly what Subaru has given it. There isn't a lot that's new, but the tweaks include a new bumper and headlights, a redesigned panel under the rear bumper and new trim around the rear window.
You also get some new materials and colours – at least you can on the top-line Premium trim level of Subaru's sample.
But this stuff is really just gilding the lily – and adding marketing opportunities for Subaru – for what was already very nearly a great car, er, SUV. more...
"Go fourth and multiply" may be Warner Brothers' catchphrase upon the unleashing of the latest entry in its very profitable Matrix series of movies. And for fans, it's probably well worth the time.
It's also a darn fine presentation if you're looking for an excellent 4K picture to show off your video equipment and make your friends jealous.
I saw all three of the original Matrix movies, the second and third reluctantly since I had to review them – otherwise I wouldn't have sought them out at all. Oh, I enjoyed the first two films, but the third seemed to me quite incoherent and suffered more than a tad from "sequelitis", a disease from Hollywood where the marketing potential seems to push the story telling potential to the sidelines.
That made me not really interested in seeing this new version – The Matrix Resurrections – but Warners sent me the 4K disc and so I fired it up and swallowed the red pill. And while I was mostly right about it – it didn't really need to be made nor does it really move the Matrix bar a lot – it's still quite enjoyable, and it does look really good in 4K! more...
Looking for a sound bar with audiophile credentials? If so, you might want to take a look at a brand new sound bar from British high end audio company Bowers & Wilkins, a bar the company claims "delivers the ultimate one-box immersive audio experience."
That's quite a boast, but is it true?
Well, alas, I have no idea because this sound bar is so new I haven't actually heard it, let alone played with it. But the company has a long and honoured history of making quality speaker products, from the tiny but exquisite P15 wireless ear buds I reviewed last year to the gigantic and lusted after Nautilus floor standing speakers that look and sound spectacular – and retail for a whopping $70,000 Canadian dollars (for the pair, fortunately!).
And, naturally, there's a lot in the middle there, too, including the M-1 satellite speaker you can team up with a subwoofer for a great 2.1 system. They've even made some darn fine computer speakers, such as the MM1's I use currently despite them being over a decade old, and they also make some very nice conventional, over the ear headphones.
And now they're back in the sound bar biz. more...
One of the original SUV's in the marketplace – and showing its age – still offers a lot of Toyota goodness for folks looking for robust off-road performance.
It's the 4Runner, of course, the bulletproof SUV based off the Tacoma pickup truck. Toyota sent the TRD Sport edition, which isn't really a lot sportier than the "pedestrian" versions, though it does up the off-road ante a tad for those who might want to exploit the 4Runner's legendary prowess away from the asphalt.
That package adds $3210 CAD to the 4Runner's base prise of $50,270, which is starting to be serious money, especially for a vehicle that feels as if it's 10 years old. I daresay many people don't care about either the price or the "seasoned" feel of the vehicle, because the 4Runner continues to show up in good numbers on the roads around here. And there are reasons for that – ruggedness, reliability, all the stuff like that for which Toyota is known.
For example, my eldest son has an old 4Runner that's still a great vehicle, and he swears by it. more...
John Carpenter has made a lot of great – or at least very good – movies over his career, and most of them have never had sequels, or at least sequels he was actually involved in (I can't blame him for the abundance of Halloween movies that came after his, for example).
An exception is his sequel to "Escape from New York," in which war hero gone bad Snake Plissken (the always great, and often Carpenter-collaborator Kurt Russell) was forced to enter Manhattan – now a maximum-security prison – to rescue the kidnapped President of the United States. It was a ripping yarn, despite the overall silliness of turning Manhattan into a prison.
Oh, wait, hasn't the government there done that already, with its COVID crap?
But I digress… more...
The Toyota Corolla is a great car, one that has helped propel its maker to the heights of automotive success over its many decades of production and sales around the world. And now Toyota is upping its ante – by which I mean it's jacking it up higher than a traditional sedan would be and turning it into a little SUV/Crossover thingy, undoubtedly as a way to convince folks currently eschewing sedans that they can have their Corolla cake and eat it, too.
It's a decent vehicle, too, though it makes me wonder why Toyota would bother with it when they already have the little CH-R for offer. On the other hand, the CH-R is smaller and isn't available with all-wheel drive. So go figure. And the CH-R is, to these old eyes, weird looking, with its multiple creases and folds and stuff, whereas the Corolla Cross looks pretty much like a smaller RAV4.
Alas, the current RAV4 got a substantial uglification during its switchover from the previous to the current generation, though that doesn't seem to have affected its sales any. And as I've said before, beauty is in the eye of the keyholder, so one person's assault on the eyes is another's Automotive Mona Lisa.
Whatever way you slice it, they're all excellent vehicles and this new Corolla Cross will also undoubtedly serve its customers well. more...
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.
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. more...
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. Then there was the David Lynch Dune of the 1980's. It had one thing that this new, much superior for the most part, Dune doesn't: a sense of gravitas from a story that spans solar systems and is populated by many larger-than-life figures. more...
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. more...
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