Jim Bray's Car & Tech rants - publishing online exclusively since 1995
Updated: July 9, 2020

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2020 Toyota Highlander

Toyota's Camry offers multiple compelling versions of the family sedan

Toyota's mid-sized mainstream sedan has always been a good car, but it hasn't always been a really compelling car to drive. Those days appear to be over, at least partly.

Camrys have also been known as excellent, well-built and engineered cars, something you can buy and drive comfortably and affordably over the long haul. But if I were looking for a Japanese car in this market segment, one that's also interesting to those who enjoy extending their right feet a little, I'd have sent you scrambling for the Mazda6, though you can no longer get it with a V6 engine. Still, "Zoom-Zoom" and all that.

With this current generation of Camry, however, Toyota is clearly intent on adding some sweet flavour to the vanilla puddling. This extends not only to its driving dynamics, but to its styling as well which, like many other Japanese cars these days, means adding a bunch of creases and other busy-looking things that may be more interesting than before but which – in my never humble opinion – makes it less attractive than the smooth-sided version it replaced.

The beauty of a vehicle, of course, is in the eye of the keyholder. But while I really like how these current Camrys drive, I find their looks a tad off-putting, from a hood whose creases remind me of a Klingon's forehead (not the original Klingons, but the ones from later series and movies) and a puckered grille that looks like a face that smelled something foul that someone else might have left behind.

It's also a tad artsy fartsy inside, thanks to a centre stack that's sculpted like Renaissance statuary, but at least the interior is clean and modern and, well, darn fine overall. more...


Braveheart

New Toyota Highlander Hybrid is a very nice place to spend some time

It may not be the most compelling vehicle to drive, but Toyota's Highlander is a wonderful place in which to go from point A to point B, and its hybrid version may even save you some gas money.

But, oh, does it wallow! And that CVT!

Still, that could just be me. I don't like driving a vehicle that handles curves like a hovercraft, but I can see why people would love this vehicle. It's modern, it's powerful enough, it's equipped very nicely, and it has an interior that's nothing short of exquisite. And it's apparently all-new for 2020.

Toyota, not surprisingly, calls it the "Best Highlander ever" and says it's been redesigned from the ground up. The base 2020 Highlander lists from a pretty reasonable $39,990, but you can go up – a lot up – from there. And unlike years past where there was a hefty enough premium for going hybrid that you'd have to drive to the moon and back to cover the extra cost, Toyota says this new hybrid version will only set you back an extra two grand over the "equivalent gas" version.

Toyota also touts its newly available "Dynamic Torque Vectoring All-Wheel Drive with Driveline Disconnect and Multi Terrain Select," which in theory should enhance handling and performance on and off the road, and the company also says that all 2020 Highlander models come with Toyota's Safety Sense 2.0 suite of nannies and aids and stuff, and connected services including stuff like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which in my experience can be really handy at times – especially if you don't want to pay for a navigation system in the vehicle itself.

I spent a week in the Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD, recently and I liked it a lot. A lot. Mostly because of that terrific interior, which is comfortable and classy and works very well. more...

Braveheart

Best Picture Oscar-winners get a new lease on life with terrific 4k disc packages

One of the big hits of 2000, and one of the year's most honoured films, has now premiered on 4K disc in a 20th anniversary collectible that's a joy for the eyes and ears. And it's accompanied onto the video store shelves by an even better movie, the best film of 1995, and if you have the hardware in your home theatre, you really should check them out.

Dreamworks' Gladiator, now in a nice steelbook presentation from Paramount Pictures (there's also a conventional plastic-cased edition), is an epic tale of honour, loyalty, bravery, lust, and treachery during the Roman Empire. It's kind of like Spartacus meets Ben-Hur in a way, as our hero – played in an Oscar-winning performance by Russell Crowe – is betrayed and left for dead (well, they thought he was dead…) but then, after a circuitous route that sees him go from slave to hero, he gets his revenge on his tormentor, who also just happens to be Caesar.

Ridley Scott, as usual, has made a visually beautiful film and it works well on many levels. Scott has built his cinematic career on his ability to create believable movie worlds (Blade Runner, Alien, Black Rain, The Martian, etc.), and so his 2000 Best Picture Oscar-winner looks fantastic to begin with.

And that's why I wanted to see the 4K version, and the UHD HDR treatment really elevates Gladiator to the next level of video quality. It's quite exquisite.

Now, take all of that and make it even better and you get Mel Gibson's Braveheart, the other Oscar-winner now out on 4K disc in a conventional or steelbook incarnation. Braveheart was only Gibson's second directorial outing, but he managed to create an epic even grander and more compelling than Gladiator – and many, many other so-called epics. This is undoubtedly one of the reasons it won Best Picture for 1995. more...


Toyota Tacoma

Toyota's Tacoma TRD an exceptional off-roader

It may be a tad long in the tooth for this generation, but Toyota's Tacoma pickup truck is legendary for its durability on and off the road. And if you want to make it even nicer, one of the TRD packages may be right up your alley.

The Tacoma has a history that stretches back to the famous old Hilux (and maybe even farther!), a compact pickup truck that was so durable the folks at the BBC's Top Gear even had it ride down to earth on an imploding building's roof to try killing it, after having put it through numerous other torture tests that it survived. Indeed, while the truck was a wreck cosmetically, it still started and, were its body and frame not ready for receiving the last rites, it probably would have driven!

That doesn't mean you should deliberately try to off your Tacoma, but it should indicate that your hard-earned after-tax income would be spent well on such a beast, if such a beast is what you're looking for.

Toyota says the Tacoma has been the best-selling mid-size truck for the past 14 years and for 2020 features some freshened styling, more multimedia stuff, and more comfort and convenience features. The truck, besides in this this 4x4 Double Cab TRD configuration, is also available in some 30 other versions, so good luck figuring out all the differences!

There are off road versions, small cab versions, more luxurious versions, and you can even opt for a six-speed manual on one version.

Toyota Canada sent the 2020 Tacoma with the TRD Off Road Premium package, which adds three grand to the sticker price but which also gives you a whole bunch of goodies. more...

Twexit

Twitter gets some competition that promises to welcome conservative voices

There's a new, well, newer, social media outlet in town and the folks behind it are looking for a scalp named Twitter.

It's Parler, founded in 2018 and which bills itself as "the People-driven social platform," claiming a user base of a million people. That's undoubtedly chicken feed compared to the number of folks being forced currently into Twitter's liberal gulag, but it's also nothing at which to sneeze.

It appears to be a pretty pugnacious platform, too. I'd never heard of Parler before the company sent out a series of press releases last week, one of which condemned Twitter's labelling of a couple of President Donald Trump's tweets as "misleading information." Twitter, you may remember, got all a-twitter over the President pointing out that mail-in voting – a scheme being pushed hard currently by Democrats who'll do anything to get the world back to its headlong rush toward socialism – heightened the risk of election fraud. 

So, to show the unwashed masses just how credible Twitter is, the Twits in charge enlisted fake news Washington Post and CNN as their credible sources. It is to laugh.

Oddly enough (to those incapable of conscious thought), Twitter appears to see no problem with Antifa or other left wing groups and, to the best of my knowledge as of the time of this writing, isn't inserting its own editorial slant and censorship to the folks who appear to ride the same ideological train as the Twits.  

Seems, then, that Twitter isn't any kind of public square, town hall, or place for the open and free exchange of information and ideas. And that's fair enough: Twitter can do what it wants with its platform. I only object to the feigned non-partisanship – the same crap being spewed by most of the mainstream media, with its constant barrage of left-wing indoctrination pushed as actual balanced information. more...


The Invisible Man

Classic horror movie remake's 4K disc features a transparent plot

Universal Studios' latest attempt to bring new life to its catalogue of classic horror movies is an interesting take on an old story and how to make it new again. Oh, it's not nearly as good as some of the movies it remakes, but it's probably worth a look if you're into the genre.

It's the Invisible Man, a title/franchise that can be traced right back to the original golden age of Hollywood horror, an era that brought us Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's monster, Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula, Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man and, of course the great Claude Rains as the Invisible Man.

There've been invisible man movies since then, of course, including such films as John Carpenter's Memoirs of an Invisible Man and Paul Verhoeven's Hollow Man. Neither was as good as the James Whale original, but both were decent trips through the home theatre.

In this Invisible Man, we barely see the scientist (okay, the pun is intended) whose creation proves so problematic – and instead the focus is on our distaff lead, Elisabeth Moss, who isn't invisible but who is stalked by her former main squeeze, who she thinks is invisible. more...

Top Gun

Classic Tom Cruise trio's 4K treatment takes our breath away

Paramount Pictures has just unleashed three new – well, old – Tom Cruise movies on 4K disc and they're all good examples of the species.

Not necessarily the greatest movies, but in my experience a Tom Cruise film is almost always worth watching and these three – well, two of them anyway – are no exceptions to the rule.

The three are Top Gun (the original, just in time to help promote the sequel that's coming out later this year and isn't that an interesting coincidence?), Days of Thunder (aka "Top Gun at NASCAR") and War of the Worlds. Of the three, Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds is the best (though I didn't like it much the first time I watched it), with Top Gun close behind and Days of Thunder (which doesn't even have an upgraded audio track for those who have Dolby Atmos systems) bringing up the rear.

All are worth watching, and all really benefit from the 4K treatment, so if you haven't bought any of these discs for your library yet, but want to, these are definitely the ones to get. more...


Overdrive City

Overdrive City brings sim gaming to car nuts

Are you a car nut who's tired of being locked down and not able to drive anywhere any more? If so, I have a pastime for you that might make your house arrest a little more palatable.

It's called Overdrive City, a "free" sim-style game for iOS and/or Android operating systems, and according to the press release I received announcing the game, it'll be available on the Microsoft store, too. It is, indeed, a free download but as with so many other free games you'll have to beat off with a stick the many offers that'll pop up as you play, offering you game resources you'll either have to purchase via their offers, or to earn a lot more slowly by playing the game itself over time, rather than opting for the cash outlay.

I don't opt for such cash outlays, which slows down the game's progress substantially, and that tends to make me play rather spottily – I'll go gung-ho until I run out of resources, then slow down dramatically until the resources are available.

According to Gameloft, the company behind the game, Overdrive City provides "a fresh take on city-building while delighting car aficionados with licensed brands and racing gameplay. Car enthusiasts become automotive visionaries and celebrate their passion from the factory floor to the fast lane."

The Montreal-based creator of Overdrive City has indeed unleashed an attractive and fun way to build your "Motor City" (I called my city Animoscity, just because I could), in which you buy and "build" (you place them on the game surface, then they "build" themselves) car parts and other factories and, eventually, factories that build brands of cars – Ford, Mitsubishi, Chevrolet, Volkswagen, etc. You can also perform service on a variety of "other peoples'" cars (if you have the resources), export shipments, and do other stuff such as upgrading your own vehicles (if you have the resources) to make them racier. more...

Mazda CX-30

Mazda joins the mini-ute fray with its CX-30

Take Mazda's award-winning, and terrific, 3 hatchback, raise it a bit and add some plastic cladding and what do you have?

Well, if you've read the title to this piece, you're already a step ahead and know I'm talking about the new for 2020 CX-30, a compact SUV/Crossover that's based on the 3 – and that's a heckuva great place to start!

I love the Mazda 3, though I think this current generation's hatchback model has a rear end only a Kardashian fan could love. But the car is terrific and arguably the nicest and most fun compact coming from Japan these days. Zoom-Zoom, even though I've heard that Mazda is apparently not using it any more, is not just a slogan; it's a fact.

But it appears the marketplace is moving more toward SUV/Crossovers and though Mazda already has a terrific lineup in its CX-3, CX-5 and CX-9, they apparently felt there was a hole in their inventory where such vehicles as Toyota's C-HR, Honda's HR-V, Hyundai's Venue or Kona and Kia's Seltos and Niro live.

Hence the CX-30. And judging from my week with it, just as winter was trying to end and the Coronavirus was trying to begin, it's a fine entry. And as a car guy as opposed to an SUV/Crossover aficionado, I actually think it's nicer looking than the 3 hatchback, from the B pillar (between the front and rear doors) back.

It's probably fair to look upon the CX-30 as a tall 3, kind of like the Audi A4 Allroad is basically an A4 wagon raised a bit from the regular model. So, you get a little taller view of the road, which apparently is one of the selling points for SUV/Crossovers compared to cars, and perhaps better off road performance (especially if you opt for the all wheel drive version). more...


Honda CR-V

Honda CR-V Sport – a pretty nice vehicle, but Sport?

Honda's CR-V has been around nearly as long as the so-called "cute ute" market niche and, as is Honda's wont, there's a lot to like about it.

But is the Sport version really sporty?

Nope. And that's a shame because, other than the "sportiness gap" it's a pretty nice vehicle in its own right, Honda-isms notwithstanding.

The good stuff starts with a 1.5 litre turbocharged four banger Honda says puts 190 horsepower @ 5600 rpm and 179 @ 2000-5000 lb.-ft. of torque @ rpm. Hardly world-shattering figures, but competitive in this niche: the current Toyota RAV4's 2.5 litre "non-turbo" four-cylinder engine is rated at 203 HP, while Mazda's CX-5 puts out 187/186 hp/torque, for example.

Alas, Honda has chosen to inflict a continuously variable transmission onto the CR-V and it's enough to suck any potential sportiness out of the equation. It's typical of the species, in that it's loud and whiny and tends to make it feel as if you're driving a vehicle powered by an elastic band rather than a real, live (well, not really alive…) automatic transmission, of which there are many good examples these days.

Making it worse is the lack of paddle shifters to help at least make the CR-V's CVT pretend to be a conventional manual like some other CVT's do. In fact, there's no sport or manual mode at all other than a "S" setting on the shift selector, which does little (if anything) to impart a sporty feel.

Okay, no one in his/her/its right mind buys a CR-V thinking it's a Porsche Macan, and there's plenty of other reasons to like the vehicle anyway – but why call it a "sport" model when it's clearly not a case of truth in advertising? more...

Lincoln Aviator

Lincoln reaches for new heights in luxury SUV performance

Ford's upscale division has kind of been missing in action for a while, but with its new, aviation-inspired naming regimen it's aiming to come back with a vengeance. And judging by the first two new models I've driven, they've done a pretty nice job of it.

The Aviator, which is based on Ford's popular Explorer SUV that's also offering a brand-new generation this year, is a "mid-size" model with three rows of seats (in this case, the third row raises and folds via power, too, a nice touch). It rides on a new, rear drive platform but all-wheel drive is standard in Canadian trim and, according to Lincoln "gives you the propulsion-like feel of rear-wheel drive, and the confident grip of standard all-wheel drive."

Can't argue that. As much as I love rear wheel drive, there's something to be said for all-wheel drive when the roads get to be a tad more challenging than standard summer driving. Heck, full-time awd can even tighten up a vehicle's handling on dry roads, as evidenced by awd sport wagons such as those by Audi and Subaru, vehicles that stick to the road like, well, like the dickens.

Naturally, a vehicle the size of the Aviator isn't going to handle like a Porsche 911, but judging from my week in the Lincoln Canada's sample Aviator Reserve it does a pretty decent job of its duties. And if the base model's apex-carving (which includes an adaptive suspension) isn't good enough for you, you can opt for the optional Air Glide Suspension, which Lincoln says "replaces traditional hard coil springs with air bladders that can be inflated and deflated to help soften your ride-creating the sensation of riding on air." This system can also make the Aviator "kneel-down to greet you as you approach and to raise and lower based on specific drive modes", Lincoln says. That's mighty subservient of it!

It's also hardly unique in this type of vehicle, but that doesn't mean it isn't welcome. I'm not sure it's really necessary – I thought the "base" suspension was just fine, but it's there if you want it. more...


Lincoln Corsair

Lincoln takes flight with new Corsair

Lincoln is out with a set of new SUV models that updates its line with a decidedly airplane-like – or tech-like anyway – mien, and judging from my couple of weeks in a pair of them they've done a very nice job of it.

The two I drove are the new Corsair, which replaces the Escape-based MKC, and the Explorer-related Aviator that sent the horrid-looking MKT to the showers. Between them there's also the Nautilus, which has no aviation connection in its name at all and fits in the product line like the Edge fits into Ford's (between the Escape and the Explorer).

Hopefully, the Nautilus won't lead to Ford shareholders getting a "sinking feeling"…

Anyway, my first experience with the new line was with the Corsair, which if I were looking to purchase or lease a Lincoln would be my choice, because it's small and I like small. And I liked it a lot. It's handsome, has a beautiful interior and it drives very well.

Corsairs' new bodywork differentiates itself from the more mainstream Escape very well; if I didn't know they were related under the skin I probably wouldn't have realized it. It's cool and classy inside and out, drives very well, and coddles you very nicely. more...

Jumanji 2

Jumanji sequel a better-than-expected frolic in the home theatre

Sony Pictures' sequel to its Jumanji remake is a surprisingly enjoyable and entertaining couple of hours in the home theatre and you don't need to have seen the "original" to appreciate it.

That was my case, anyway. I never saw the original remake (how's that for an oxymoron?), nor did I see the original original with Robin Williams. But I've enjoyed the Dwayne Johnson movies I've seen and I've liked Karen Gillan since her days as Amy Pond in Doctor Who. That, plus the promised exquisite picture quality possible from the 4K UHD HDR disc version made me interested in this latest bit of escapist entertainment, interested in seeing it, and in reviewing it.

Alas, Sony Canada only sent the conventional, 1080p Blu-ray, so the closest I could get to UDH's 2160p was to up convert the Blu-ray via my Oppo UDP-205 player – and if you have to do an up conversion like that, the Oppo is probably the best way to do it. Too bad it's no longer available.

The movie follows the adventures of Spencer (Alex Wolff), Fridge (Ser'Darius Blain), Martha (Morgan Turner) and Bethany (Madison Iseman) three years after their first trip to Jumanji's virtual world. more...


Ford Escape

Ford's Escape sports a nice new suit of clothes for 2020

The new, mostly carless era at Ford is beginning and one of the newest salvos in the company's battle for market success is personified by the latest version of its popular SUV, the Escape.

And it's a pretty nice item for the most part. I like its looks compared to the also-handsome outgoing model, and I was even happy with the performance obtained by Ford Canada's sample SEL trim level's 1.5 litre turbo three. Sure, it doesn't offer a huge amount of horsepower or torque, but in my week driving it in various winter road conditions – from bare and dry to awful – it performed just fine.

Well, there were a couple of electrical gremlins, which in my experience isn't unusual in Ford products, but they were pretty minor and would hopefully be taken care of under warranty. more...

Volvo V60 CC

Volvo V60 a very nice wagon that claims off-road strength

It almost seems as if station wagons are an endangered species in North America. Oh sure, there are hatchbacks, and "crossovers" but honest to goodness wagons seem limited to European manufacturers these days and even those are hard to find on Canadian streets.

I love wagons. They give you everything good that you can find in a sedan (such as the convenience of four doors) and add a lot of the storage you can get from an SUV. And because they're (mostly) still as low as a car they can offer sports car handling and fun.

When Volvo Canada offered me some quality seat time in their new V60 Cross Country I jumped at the chance. I was a fan of Volvo's vehicles when I got to review them in the past, which hasn't happened for about a dozen years, so I was doubly excited to pick up the V60 to see if the ghost of Volvos past were still Volvos to be enjoyed in the present. more...


The Hunt for Red October 4K

The Hunt for Red October gets the 4K disc treatment in honour of its 30th anniversary

John McTiernan's The Hunt for Red October is a perfect kick off to the films based on Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan stories. And now it's available in an anniversary steelbook edition that brings it into the ultra high definition world of 4K discs.

That's a good thing, though not as great as I'd hoped because so much of the film is dark (inside submarines, nighttime scenes, etc.) and so the 4K treatment isn't the eye-opener I'd hoped it would be. Still, the High Dynamic Range does add some depth and "pop" to the movie and that's better than a kick in the teeth. more...

Subaru Outback

Award-winning Subarus bring Big Brother to some otherwise nice vehicles

Subaru, the Japanese car company, has won two Automobile Journalists Association of Canada "Best Car in Canada" awards, for its new Legacy and Outback, and on the whole they're very nice vehicles.

Though neither won the Best Car in Canada award for 2020 (that went to Mazda's terrific 3 sedan/hatchback), the Legacy took its category as Best Large Car in Canada for 2020, while the Outback was named Best Mid-Size Utility Vehicle in Canada for 2020. That's pretty good!

And then they went all Big Brother. more...


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