2018 Hyundai Accent: skip the small SUV and save $6,000 or more with this hatchback

Hyundai’s Accent hatchback is a delight.

Nothing cheap about this cabin.

It is handsome, entertaining, functional and completely modern, with flip-and-fold-flat rear seating and a lively and thrifty 130-horsepower four-banger (with direct fuel injection).

The recently reinvented Accent is a tidy runabout with lots of features: colour touchscreen with rear-view camera; stability and traction control; six airbags; and, power windows and door locks. Best of all, it’s wonderfully affordable: $14,776 in cash for the base model (in Aurora Black, a $150 option), or $45.04 a week with $0 down (84 months at 2.99 per cent).

If you go for a slightly pricier version ($17,331) and throw in a $795 down payment, Hyundai will slice a point off factory financing (to 1.99 per cent) to keep your weekly payments to $45 for seven years.

Look, you almost certainly don’t need more car than this. You don’t. You might want something with a fancier badge, with more cachet, but it won’t buy you better quality. Hyundai and its Kia sister brand have been leading the entire auto industry in quality for years now. Put that worry to bed.

You won’t be bummed out by the styling.

And I know SUVs (sport-utility vehicles) are on fire and all the rage with millennials in particular. But the cheapest SUV Hyundai sells is the perfectly good Kona – and it will cost you a $6,000-plus premium over the Accent, at a minimum ($20,999).

(Note: With $6,000 you can top up your TFSA and go out for a very fancy meal. Or, as Ignite.com tells us, you can buy a pair of diamond studded earbuds or “have American Idol contestant William Hung or America Pie actress Tara Reid pose for selfies with you!” Heck, $6,000 will get you a used Honda Civic or Toyota Camry, or any number of other older cars, but that’s another story.)

Okay, now here’s the problem if you go for the least expensive Accent: it comes with a six-speed manual gearbox. I very much like this shifter; the throws are clean and short and the clutch pedal action is smooth and perfectly weighted. Fuel economy is superb: 8.2 city/6.3 hwy/7.3 combined, L/100 km.

Clean gauges.

Still, I know a lot of millennials can’s shift for themselves and have no interest in learning. To get an Accent with a perfectly good six-speed automatic, you’ll need to jump up to a $17,349 model. But for that you also get Bluetooth, air conditioning and steering-wheel mounted audio and cruise controls.

You will, I expect, very much like driving the Accent, the exterior design is fluid and balanced and the cabin is roomy, with comfortable and supportive seats, not to mention controls, gauges and interfaces that are thoroughly intuitive.

The car feels solid, thanks to a structure with plenty of high strength steel (Hyundai is also one of the world’s great steelmakers, BTW). At highway speeds, sounds are well muted and in town, the steering, braking and suspension responses are better than rivals such as the Honda Fit and Nissan Versa Note.

So, go ahead and spend $6,000 or more on an SUV. But it will be an image thing for you and you’ll be delaying your retirement by a few years (read up on the power of compounding $6,000 over, say, 30 years).

But if what you want and need is a reliable, inexpensive and new hatchback, one with a five year/100,000 km warranty, and one flexible enough to haul home IKEA boxes and truck around your friends, you simply must give the 2018 Accent a hard look.

Flexible enough for hauling home IKEA boxes.

2018 Hyundai Accent L manual

Base price: $14,599 plus $1,605 for freight, PDI.

Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder (130 horsepower/119 lb-ft torque

Transmission: six-speed manual.

Drive: front-wheel.

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 8.2 city/6.3 hwy/7.3 combined.

Comparables: Honda Fit, Nissan Versa Note, Kia Rio, Chevrolet Sonic, Toyota Yaris, Mitsubishi Mirage, Ford Fiesta.




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2018 M-B S560 Cabriolet: six-figure hedonistic grandeur

Let’s see now.

We have Bentley’s Continental GT, nice and new and glitzy.

And then there is Aston Martin’s DB11. So very sexy and rare.

But in the world of quite amazing cars of a very personal and thoroughly hedonistic nature, we shouldn’t overlook Mercedes-Benz’ new 2018 S-Class coupe and convertible. To do so would be a crime.


Let’s not commit one. Instead, as we head into summer, I want to focus on the open-top S560 Cabriolet. It is a jaw-dropping beast, an intimidating two-door that is as delightfully overwhelming as any car you can buy.

Yes, of course it’s technologically magnificent. The design and all the styling details – that powerful front apron, the chrome-plated splitter, the huge air inlets and 66 organic LEDs of the taillights – are, well, startling, and in a good way. And the car is stunningly powerful:  the new 4.0-litre, 463-horsepower V-8 biturbo is a lovely engine, and even better than the 4.7-litre twin turbo it replaces. 0-100 km/hour: 4.5 seconds.

I won’t bother dazzling you with too many engine details. But allow me to mention the centrifugal pendulum that reduces vibrations in both four- and eight-cylinder modes. (To save fuel, four of the eight cylinders are deactivated at lower engine speeds.)

As well, I expect you might have only a passing interest in the spray-guided direct injection that allows for wonderfully efficient combustion. I suggest you appreciate the engineering details and their complexity, then move along.

Move to something exceptionally pedestrian and thoroughly illuminating, fuel economy: here, it comes in at 13.9 city/9.2 highway/11.8 combined (litres/100 km). Whoosh. That in a car with staggering power and the kind of size and heft one can only appreciate in person — when you stand beside it, then slide into a driver’s bucket seat as generous and comfy as your favourite La-Z-Boy.

Indeed, great automobile seating is hard to come by, especially of the adjustable type that can be customized to suit just about any human shape and size. You’ll find it here, along with a cabin design of wood and leather look that feels modern, rather than tweedy and old.

The centrepiece or modernity, in fact, is a widescreen, all-digital display that dominates the cockpit. It is everything and everywhere and quite an achievement.

The S560 is a smart car, too, allowing you to dial up and tune in every feature and element built into this tremendously sophisticated car. Even the windshield wipers get into the act: if the powered, triple-layered top is down, the washers won’t soak you.

This is no man-cave, however, despite the sweep and scope of all on offer, from a joyous sound system with embedded subwoofer and tweeters, to hands-free communication. It is, in fact, an automobile with all the fancy driving nannies – distance control, active steering, emergency evasive steering, speed adjustment in bends – that leave it just short of a self-driving wonder.

Somewhat more pedestrian, though vital for comfort and driving responses, is Merc’s Airmatic semi-active air suspension. It’s a delight. I found myself floating along in traffic and dancing through corners. Depending on your mood, dial up a choice of Comfort, Sport, Sport+ or Race mode to tailor engine, transmission, suspension, and steering responses.

The rich and famous can spend much, much more on a six-figure two-door – a comparable Bentley or Aston Martin — but I am not sure they would get more car, just a hood ornament less common than the three-pointed star.

2018 Mercedes-Benz S560 Cabriolet

Base price: $166,600. As tested: $173,100

Power: 4.0-litre biturbo V-8 (463 hp).

Transmission: nine-speed automatic with shift paddles on the steering wheel.

Fuel economy (litre/100 km): 13.9 city/9.2 highway/11.8 combined.

Comparables: Bentley’s Continental GT,  Aston Martin DB11.




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2018 Genesis 3.3T Sport: time for the Germans and Japanese to worry

On a dreary, drizzly evening in Seoul, South Korea, I found myself at a dinner with a small group of very senior Hyundai Motor leaders. The mood amongst them was at first celebratory, then nostalgic and quite emotional.

Genesis G80 cabin: sumptuous.

Over Korean barbeque washed down with beers and wine, and followed by nightcaps of Johnny  Walker Black, they talked of how important it is for the Hyundai and Kia brands to rank with the auto industry’s quality leaders – Lexus, Porsche and  most important of all, Toyota. They spoke proudly of many recent design awards, too.

After decades of toil, Hyundai and Kia’s future, they said with slightly watery eyes, is  solid and filled with high-tech and handsome automobiles. Electrification, autonomous drive, hydrogen fuel cells…technologically, Hyundai Motor is a fearsome and accomplished car company. Wickedly ambitious, too.

It wasn’t always so. Decades ago, the fledgling Korean auto industry was pathetic. The designs were horrible, the quality worse. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, however, what the company lacked in technological expertise and design flair was made up for in grit. The motto around Hyundai: BEAT TOYOTA.

To learn how to do that, one very senior boss told me, they we went to Japan. In great numbers.  The Japanese car companies, at the time selling the Koreans second-hand engines and transmissions from third-Japanese makers, were willing to let foreigners visit their manufacturing facilities and development centres to see how great cars are made. And gloat.

Genesis is the spearhead in Hyundai Motors’ quest to BEAT TOYOTA!

“But we couldn’t take notes or pictures,” said my dinner companion.

The Japanese, he said, were amused by the hordes of engineers the Koreans would send. Flattered, even.  We could not record we saw and heard, my dinner companions said, so the Japanese thought their secrets were safe.

They weren’t. Every Korean engineer was charged with memorizing the most minute details of development and production. At night, the Koreans would return to their cheap fleabag hotels and over noodles and beer they would piece it all together on charts and in notebooks. The Toyota Way was laid bare for them and they studied it as if their lives depended on it.

“They (the Japanese) were amazed at the size of our groups,” he told me, laughing. What the Japanese didn’t understand, he said, grinning, is that we were spying on them in plain sight.

I thought about that night as I took to the wheel of a shiny, new Genesis G80, Genesis being Hyundai’s stealth upscale brand that is slowly and steadily seeping into the consciousness of the luxury market, not with dealerships but with one-on-one customer service and delivery. The car has the looks of German and drives like one. Beat Toyota? How about beat Mercedes and BMW?

Genesis: as nice a cabin as you can find.

There are four models in the current Genesis lineup – G70, G80, G80 Sport and G90 – and all, I am told, are built on stand-alone underpinnings, completely separate and unique to Genesis. There is Hyundai in Genesis, but not in the hardware. Rather, it’s in the spirit that drove young engineers to soak up everything they could from their unwitting and swaggering Japanese

teachers, decades ago.

The G80 3.3 Sport ($62,000 base) I just tested is as fine a luxury sedan as you can buy.  Sure, it is a Top Safety Pick+ by the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) and the build quality is superb. Feature-for-feature and in the execution, the car is outstanding.

The engine is a twin-turbo V-6 (365 hp, 376 lb-ft) and all-wheel-drive is standard. The aluminum alloy wheels and quad exhaust outlets speak to a sporty sort of luxury defined more broadly by the car’s clean lines and balanced proportions. There is nothing noxious or excessive in the styling. It’s as elegant as the best German cars and far ahead of the design jumble of premium models coming out of Japan.

I thoroughly enjoyed the G80. It’s fast, but easy to control. Yes, it has a fancy sport-tuned suspension with electronically controlled adaptations to the road. And it’s precise and responsive, without being harsh. The cabin is delightful, from the carbon fibre trim to the large touchscreen navigation system with its high-def display. Very easy to use. The sound system is staggering: a 900-watt Lexicon surround arrangement with 17 speakers.

Genesis: German design lessons well learned.

I would buy this luxury sedan in a heartbeat and I could see myself living with it for a decade. It’s that good. Perhaps some of the Japanese marques should now go on fact-finding missions to South Korea. Maybe even team up with some Germans?

2018 Genesis 3.3T Sport

Base price: $83,000. Delivery: $2,480. BMW Canada also throws in something called a $595 Retail Administration Fee which sounds. What?

Power: 3.3-litre turbocharged V-6 (365 hp, 376 lb-ft).

Transmission: eight-speed automatic.

Fuel economy (litre/100 km): 13.8 city/9.7 highway using premium fuel.

Comparables:  Audi A6, Jaguar XF, Mercedes-AMG E-Class, Lexus GS, Acura RS, BMW 5-Series, Cadillac CTS.



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2018 Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in hybrid: brilliant. But pointless?

When at a loss for words and wisdom, it’s never a bad thing to turn to Confucius, who said: “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”

Here we have the world’s best-selling plug-in hybrid.

Then in the 20th century, noted management guru Tom Peters had a different view: “If you’re not confused, you’re not paying attention.”

Life in the car business here in 2018 is anything but simple. If you take a good, focused look at the latest electrified rigs – like the five-seat Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) – the American Peters’ words ring far truer than those of the sixth-century Chinese teacher, editor, politician and philosopher.

Mitsubishi has a long history of producing odd and often half-measure electric vehicles. The sorry-looking wheeled phone booth called the i-MiEV is exhibit A. But the Outlander plug-in is something quite impressive.

Mitsu’s triumph is that that this Outlander is a stunning achievement in complexity that looks and drives like a very simple SUV. There’s a small gas engine (2.0 litres, 117 horsepower, 137 lb-ft torque) that teams with an electric motor (80 hp/101 lb-ft) to drive the front wheels through the kind of transmission you’ll be familiar with if you drive a ski-doo. There’s a second electric motor (80 hp/144-lb.-ft.) for the rears and like the fronts, power goes through a single-speed gearbox.

This being a limited-range EV (35 km or so, depending on driving conditions and regenerative braking), there is a 12kWh lithium-ion battery tucked in the central tunnel (recharged in 2.5 hours via a 220-volt outlet). (Note: the powertrain bits and pieces are warrantied for 10 years or 160,000 km.)

What the driver sees.

To sum up: one gas motor, two electrics, one battery pack and two transmissions. This adds up to all-wheel drive and a combined output of 200 hp and 250 lb-ft or torque. Of course, this AWD system has a mouthful-of-letters name: Super All Wheel Control or S-AWC.

Naturally, Mitsu loads this rig up with a phone app that allows you to monitor everything and control many things. Geeks will love it and I suppose if I paid the $42,998 price tag (to start), I would too.

As long as the small battery is charged, you can drive this Outlander in EV model only – the default mode. Or you can fire up the gas engine to generate electricity for the battery. Of you can use the gas engine as the driving force, with the EV parts helping when needed. At it’s best, you can do 0-100 km/hour in less than 11 seconds.

You can see and I hope appreciate the brainpower that has gone into all this – hardware — engines and batteries and gearboxes –and then the software that conducts everything so that all these bits and pieces sing like the gospel choir of plug-ins. This plug-in hits low and high notes perfectly and all together or at times separately. Simply amazing.

Dial up your preferred driving mode.

I mean, at times you can order up electric mode only, until you’re out of juice. Or you can drive around on gas while charging the battery. Or just use the gas engine, saving the battery for city core driving.

I applaud the genius here, but I can’t quite get a grip on the point of it all. It’s pretty easy to burn through 35 km of battery power and then you’re back to using gas for propulsion. Seem to me, this is a lot of complexity for marginal reward. And all the engines and batteries and gearboxes and such add plenty of weight and take up space which in a normal SUV would be used for cargo and cabin room.

I’ll just say that I paid a lot of attention to the Outlander plug-in and – and cheer it as an engineering achievement – but I am at least a little confused by the effort to deliver just 35 km of battery-only driving.

With respect to Winston Churchill, when it comes to plug-ins – not just Mitsubishi’s — never has so much been done by so many engineers in an effort to deliver so little benefit.

Very good seating.

2018 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

Base price: $42,998.

Powertrain: gas engine (2.0 litres, 117 horsepower, 137 lb-ft torque); 2 electric motors (80 hp/101 lb-ft torque for the front; 80 hp/144-lb.-ft. torque for the rear; two one-speed transmissions, front and rear; 12kWh lithium-ion battery pack; combined output 200 hp/250 lb-ft torque.

Powertrain warranty: 10 years/160,000 km.

Drive: all-wheel.

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 3.2Le combined.

Comparables: BMW X5 xDrive 40e, Volvo XC90 PHEV, Mercedes-Benz GLE 550e, Porsche Cayenne S-E Hybrid.





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Review: there’s the Mazda3 Sport GT and then there’s VW’s Golf

On a dewy Sunday morning – early, early – I grabbed the keys to a new Mazda3 Sport GT hatchback and smiled.

“I’m gonna enjoy this,” I murmured to no one but myself.

This infotainment interface screen is functional.

And then it was up the Sea-to-Sky Highway, a Slinky-like stretch that runs along the fjords of West Vancouver to Squamish, then onto to Whistler, B.C., a favorite of skiers, mountain bikers and the gastronomic crowd who fill up the Barefoot Bistro, Araxi’s and Trattoria di Umberto.

Aside from Volkswagen’s latest version of the Golf (a brilliant but more expensive hatchback), I cannot imagine a $25,000-ish compact that is better suited to dance along this 120-km run – especially if it’s bare of snow and sleet, and other drivers, as it was this Sunday. I like the Mazda3 Sport a lot and you should, too.

Mazda is perhaps the only mainstream automaker that fully embraces the pleasures and rewards of actually driving, unabashedly, unreservedly. Honda has also paid some lip service to this idea, but Mazda makes “Driving Matters” and “Zoom Zoom” the centrepiece of its entire advertising and branding push.

“We love cars,” Mazda CEI Masamichi Kogai tells every reporter holding a microphone. You would consider a Mazda, and most especially a Mazda3 Sport, if tight steering, responsive brakes, and flat cornering trump the joys of Apple Carplay and Android Auto – though the Mazda3 is compatible on that infotainment front.

Lots of plastic…

But let’s be clear: Mazda’s entirely functional infotainment interface is unadorned and visually uninteresting, despite it’s recently updated screen. It’s exceptionally user-friendly, though not a work of art – a tablet-like piece atop the centre stack with a screen that operates by touch or joystick/button controller on the centre console.

But if you’re a Picasso of driving, the top-of-the-Mazda3-line GT – starting at $25,000 – is worthy of its own showing. The engine is a lively 2.5-litre four-cylinder (184 horsepower) and in my tester the power went to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic – a no-charge option in a car that comes standard with a very good manual gearbox.

Ah, options. My tester had $4,550 worth of extras, including a “Premium” package that loaded me up with leather upholstery, power-adjustable driver’s seat, premium stereo and navigation, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, an auto-dim rearview mirror, automatic high-beam headlamps regenerative braking, satellite radio and more.

I ignored most of those upmarket features, nice as they might be, instead focusing on the razor handling and smooth ride. The 3 is predicable and responsive; you are not surprised by its responses.

On top of that, the car is available with something called G-Vectoring Control (GVC), an electronic bit of wizardry that matches engine power to steering. This little bit of technology is subtle but effective at improving handling performance.

How so? By reducing engine torque for an instant when you turn the steering wheel in a curve, a bit of weight moves to the front wheels. That adds grip and this helps you pivot around a corner. If you are a skier, you do something like this when you turn – just a bit of weight towards the tips, gently unweighting the tails, and then pivot around the apex.

At the end of my drive, I paused a moment to sip a take-out Starbucks while I took in the car’s cabin. Nothing fancy here, just straight ahead stuff with clean gauges, nice but hard plastic and even a 60/40 split rear seatback. Pleasant enough but not particularly special as a design piece.

The exterior is another story entirely. A gem of gentle curves and balanced proportions, with a distinctive grille up front and no excessive brightwork to blind you.

A lively four-cylinder engine.

So this hatchback looks the part of a driver’s car — enjoyable, all around.

2018 Mazda3 Sport GT

Base price: $25,100. Delivery: $1,695. As tested: $31,345.

Power: 2.5-litre four-cylinder (184 hp/185 lb-ft torque).

Transmission: six-speed automatic.

Fuel economy (litre/100 km): 8.7 city/6.6 hwy using regular fuel.

Comparables: Honda Civic, Ford Focus, Subaru Impreza, Chevrolet Cruze, Mini Cooper, Volkswagen Golf, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte.





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