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AmeeReehalBlog...It Just Got Personal

 

For all those following my new car reviews, bike and tuner features, please note all new auto content will now be available at WWW.TRACTIONMAG.CA

Traction is a new Canadian online automobile outlet with more car reviews, classic motorbike and tuner features. Plus, daily auto news updates. More contributors, also. You'll like it. Trust me. Check it out.

...to follow my photography, published work, and Gate58 Travel Art, and/or other ramblings, please keep on this blog. Always appreciate your feedback and support.

Thx!

Amee

Tested > 2011 Ford Explorer Limited

2011 Ford Explorer Limited

Review & Photo: Amee Reehal ©

 

Perhaps no other SUV is as iconic at the Ford Explorer. Once a box on wheels, the all-new 2011 Ford Explorer is totally redeveloped--a stylish, more sophisticated full-size SUV, the new Ford Explorer is like a well-travelled globetrotter with a better (wiser) outlook on life, exuding a whole new level of panache and style. Goodbye Samsonite. Hello Tumi.

Inside and out, the fit and finish of the 2011 Ford Explorer is evident. Producing a good-looking, well-crafted, high-quality SUV, that is not only refined but on the open road, very quiet as well, which Ford claims will rival the much more costly premium SUVs on the market. Ford has inundated the Explorer with technologies and features, including MyFord Touch and SYNC--again, rivalling the premium SUVs on the market. For 2011, the Explorer also finds more head and shoulder room, and the third-row seating is now a standard.

My Explorer Limited came with a few cabin options, including all-weather floor mats ($30); 2nd row dual captain chairs (500); a dual panel moonroof (1750); luxury seating package with powerfold third row seat (900); the navigation system (700); and the Technology package (2400) with active park assist, adapt cruise/collision warning, rain sensing wipers, and blind spot monitoring. Also optional, found on my tester, 20-inch polished aluminum rims ($600) and a trailer tow package-class III (500).

The idea that a full-size SUV's fuel efficiency can be in line with a full-size sedan may sound preposterous. Except to Ford with their introduction of the insane EcoBoost. Available later this year, the 2011 Explorer will be fitted with an optional EcoBoost 2.0L I-4 V6, providing huge fuel efficiency without comprising power. Combining gasoline and turbochargers, the EcoBoost puts down 237HP at 5500 RPM and 255-lb.ft of torque. Ultimately, rendering a 30-percent increase in fuel economy, which Ford claims is playing ball with the likes of Honda Accord V6. And even better fuel efficiency than the Toyota Highlander Hybrid (…Hybrid!).

Standard powerplant in the 2011 Ford Explorer is the 3.5L V6 with four-wheel drive and terrain management at the touch of a button. This V6 delivers 290HP and 255-lb.ft of torque. Mated to a unique six-speed transmission, performance and economy are increased with flexibility of optimum gearing for different situations. Optional in the 2011 Ford Explorer XLT and Limited models is the SelectShift Automatic transmission allowing manual shifting via a shifter-mounted button for thumb activated + or - gear changes.

The 2011 Ford Explorer adds an impressive list of innovative safety features, raising the safety bar within the SUV segment. The most notable of these include the industry-first inflatable rear seat belts. Ford recognized second-row passengers, including children and mature passengers, can be more vulnerable to head, chest, and neck injuries. Thus, the world' first inflatable seats belts. Upon deployment, these belts spread impact forces over five times more than the conventional seat belt, reducing pressure on the chest while helping control head and neck motion.

Here are the standard safety features found in all Explorer models:

  • AdvanceTracwith RSC features Curve Control functionality to provide braking – optimized by each individual wheel
  • Second-generation first-row airbags, side seat airbags
  • Belt-Minder® for driver and first-row passenger
  • Front passenger sensing system
  • Energy-management system pretensioning for height-adjustable first-row seat belts
  • LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren) system for outboard second-row positions, for safely securing child safety seats
  • SOS Post-Crash Alert System
  • Safety Canopy® side curtain airbags
  • Tire Pressure Monitoring System

Optional safety features include Adaptive cruise control/collision warning with brake support; and BLIS (Blind Spot Info System) with cross-traffic alert.

For more info on the 2011 Ford Explorer, visit Ford Canada.

 

2011 FORD EXPLORER

2011 Ford Explorer Prices                                                                                          MSRP

Base V6 FWD

$29,999

Base V6 4WD

$32,999

XLT V6 FWD

$35,899

XLT V6 4WD

$38,899

Limited V6 FWD

$41,199

Limited V6 4WD

$44,199

Destination and Delivery

$  1,400

 

2011 Ford Explorer Optional Equipment Prices                                             MSRP

TIRES
XLT - 20 inch Polished Aluminum Wheels with P255/50R20 A/S BSW

$1,200

Limited - 20 inch Polished Aluminum Wheels with P255/50R20 A/S BSW

$   600

SEATS
Limited – 2nd Row Captain's Chairs (LTD requires Luxury Seating Package)

$   500

Limited - 2nd Row Console (LTD requires 2nd row Captain's Chairs)

$   150

Limited - Luxury Seating Package

$   900

XLT – Leather Trimmed Seats

$1,200

OTHER OPTIONS

 

6-Speed Selectshift Automatic™ Transmission (requires and only available with Trailer Tow

Inc

DVD Headrest (XLT, Limited)

$2,100

Technology Package (requires Luxury Seating package)

$2,400

Trailer Tow Package – Class III (including and requires 6-Speed Selectshift Automatic™ Transmission)

$   500

BLIS® (Blind Spot Information System) with Cross Traffic Alert (requires Reverse Camera) (XLT, Limited)

$   500

Floor Mats – Carpeted and All Weather (front/rear)

$   100

Moonroof – Dual Panel (XLT, Limited)

$1,750

Power Liftgate (XLT)

$   500

Rear Outboard Inflatable Seatbelts (XLT/LTD)

$   250

Reverse Camera (XLT)

$    500

Reverse Sensing System (Base)

$    400

Red Candy Metallic with Tinted Clearcoat

$    300

White Platinum Tri-Coat (XLT, Limited)

$   300

AUDIO
Voice Activated Navigation System (XLT, Limited)

$    700

SIRIUS® Satellite Radio (Base)

$    200

 

2011 Ford Explorer Fuel Economy                                   City L/100 km    Hwy L/100 km

Ford Explorer 4X2 3.5L – V6 6 speed automatic 11.9        8.0
Ford Explorer AWD 3.5L – V6 6 speed automatic 12.5

8.8

Ford Explorer 4X4 3.5L – V6 SST 6 speed automatic 12.5

8.8

 

 

Tested > 2011 Porsche 911 Turbo S Coupe

2011 Porsche 911 Turbo S

Story & Snaps: Amee Reehal ©

Ironically, the most powerful, most dynamic press car I’ve tested to date, in the 2011 Porsche 911 Turbo S, perhaps proved to be one I drove most conservative. Why? When you’re behind the wheel of a coupe that reaches 200km/h in under11 seconds (and100km/h in only 3.3 seconds), a speeding ticket will not only wipe out your HELOC, it will inevitably land you in jail. Or even worse: lead to divorce.

With that said, the Porsche 911 Turbo S is undoubtedly a track car. Freeways and highways reserved for the commoners simply don’t do this coupe justice unless you’re doing at least a buck-fifty and weaving through traffic like pylons, while playground zones, construction zones, and every other speed-prohibiting instrument will just get in the way.

Last year, the week my son was born, I was testing the 2010 911 Turbo, doing diaper runs at lightning speeds. This year, diaper runs were a little quicker; the Turbo S adds 30 extra horses to the Turbo, providing the Turbo S with 530-hp. Even better, despite increased power and performance, the Turbo S, at 11.4-L/100km, won’t consume any more fuel than the Turbo. Plus, options in the Turbo all come standard in the top of the line Turbo S, priced at an even $200,000 MSRP CAD. The only option on my 911 Turbo S was the PDK Gear Selector at $1470.

The 2011 Porsche 911 Turbo S, the first Turbo S in five years, is available in either coupe or cabriolet form, both powered by a 6-cylinder boxer engine equipped with a couple turbochargers, making 530-hp and 516lb-ft of torque. Paired with Porsche’s revolutionary seven-speed PDK double-clutch gearbox, along with all-wheel drive and Porsche Traction Management, the 2011 911 Turbo S tops out at 315km/hr (195mph). And stopping power is flawless with the Porsche Ceramic Composite Brakes (PCCB)—a $15,000 option in the Turbo; now standard in the Turbo S.

To read my review on the 2010 Porsche 911 Turbo, visit 2010 Porsche 911 Turbo.

For more info on the 2011 Porsche 911 Turbo S, visit Porsche Canada.

 

 

Tested > 2011 Chevrolet Camaro SS Convertible

2011 Chevrolet Camaro SS Convertible

The Muscle Beach cruiser returns

Review by Russell Purcell; Snaps by Amee Reehal

 

When the Camaro returned from extinction last year it proved a sales winner as performance car fans clambered to dealerships to place their orders and put some new muscle in the garage. When GM followed up this launch with news that a new convertible version was on the horizon the surge to Chevrolet dealers gained momentum and pre-order lists started to amass extra pages. Well the Camaro convertible has now arrived, and after spending the better part of a week with one I must say I was impressed.

My test vehicle was a loaded 2SS model equipped with a six-speed automatic transmission. It was cloaked in an eye-popping Rally Yellow and featured the optional stripe package ($585) and black leather seating. The car looks very aggressive as it rolls on large 20-inch wheels and features performance styling cues such as a front air scoop, brake cooling slots, rear spoiler, and a rear diffuser. With the top in the “up” position the car looks somewhat taller than the coupe model due to a slight alteration in the profile of the roofline and the use of larger side windows. In reality however, the convertible is only one-half inch taller than the coupe. With the top down the car looks very muscular and your eyes are immediately drawn to the wide rear haunches and raised fenders.

The Camaro SS convertible is available with your choice of one of two 6.2-litre V8 engines (both of which share their architecture with the Corvette LS3 engine) and either a six-speed manual transmission or optional six-speed automatic with manual shift mode. If you choose the slush-box you will find Chevrolet’s L99 V8 under the hood, which generates a potent 400-horsepower and 410 lb-ft of torque, and also includes Active Fuel Management capabilities, which effectively shuts off half the engine’s cylinders when cruising. Those buyers who truly appreciate the act of driving will probably purchase the SS fitted with the manual transmission, a decision that will deliver the more powerful LS3 to the engine bay. This big thumper will put 426-horsepower and 420 lb.-ft. of torque at the ready but will rob you of some fuel efficiency.

The convertible top seems well constructed, taut, and did an excellent job of insulating the passenger compartment from excessive wind, road and engine noise. Visibility is still an issue for taller individuals due to the short windshield and tiny rear window (rear park assist is standard), but outward visibility through the side windows is much improved due to the frameless construction of the doors. Obviously outward visibility is much improved with the top retracted, which is a plus for taller drivers, but it is still hard to see beyond the tall corners of this car when it comes to placing it in your lane of travel.

Roof operation is quick and simple. There is a single latch at the centre of windshield cap which is operated by a lever to disengage it. At the touch of a console-mounted button the windows drop and the top folds quickly (about 20 seconds) into its recess in the trunk. Like previous GM designs, there is a rollaway shield that must be secured in place in the trunk for the roof mechanism to deploy.

The car comes with a semi-rigid, snap-in tonneau cover to hide the top when it is down, but this is best reserved for times when you plan to leave the top down for extended periods. Without it in place however, I did notice that the folded roof succumbed to a substantial amount of lift created by wind turbulence when travelling at highway speeds. It also makes the car look unfinished. The tonneau comes complete with a storage bag which allows you to safely store it in the trunk, but doing will rob you of even more of the convertible’s limited trunk space. Note: The tonneau was missing in my test unit so my photos reflect the look of the car without it in place.

My test vehicle was able to perform runs from 0-100 km/h in about five seconds all day long. The truth is, the Camaro SS is a fast car in any form, but the convertible variants are a little slower off the line than the fixed roof cars due to fact that they carry more weight (121 kg). Much of the weight gain can be attributed to the additional bracing and structural reinforcements required to preserve the stiffness and handling prowess of the new Camaro in an open car. I went out of my way to seek out railway crossings and drive on less than perfect road surfaces in an effort to induce cowl shake and squire out rattles, but nothing was significant enough to report on.

Handling is very good and the suspension delivers a very sporty feel. Weight distribution is near perfect (52 front /48 rear) and the car has a low centre of gravity. The car responds well to driver inputs and steering is precise and predictable due to the serious chassis strengthening program undertaken by the engineering team at Chevrolet.

Left alone the automatic transmission seemed to promote efficiency rather than brute force, so I found myself selecting my own shift points using the button shifters mounted to the back of the steering-wheel spokes. This allowed the fun factor to rise, but I would have preferred a proper paddle shifter design. This car is deceptive, as for some reason the designers created fake paddles to act as markers to indicate to the driver whether the hidden shift buttons perform upshift or downshift functions.

The four-piston Brembo brake units are heavy-duty and held up very well to my abuse. They are backed up by GM’s excellent StabiliTrak stability control, traction control, and a full complement of airbags.

There are two trim levels available, 1SS and 2SS. Both share styling and are very well equipped in the comfort and convenience department, but the 2SS adds a very nice Boston Acoustics audio system,  Bluetooth connectivity, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, USB port, and a driver adjustable Head-Up Display. Other niceties include the console mounted  multifunction gauge set, auto-dimming rearview mirror, heated mirrors, heated leather seats, tonneau cover and a universal home remote.

Conclusions

There are very few sporty convertibles in the marketplace and fewer still that can comfortably haul more than two passengers. Factor in the relatively low price of entry for a car with the performance of the Camaro SS and this car starts to look pretty attractive if you live in a region with the appropriate climate.

 

 

Technical Specifications: 2011 Chevrolet Camaro SS Convertible (2SS)

Base price (MSRP):  (1SS): $43,255 / (2SS): $47,835

Price as tested: $53,600 (Includes $100 A/C tax, $4,215 options, $1,450 destination charge)

Type: 2-door, 5-passenger, full-size convertible

Layout: Front engine, rear-wheel drive

Engine: 6.2-litre V8, OHV, 16 valves

Horsepower: 426 @ 5900 rpm (LS3) /400 @ 5900 rpm (L99)

Torques (lb.-ft.): 420 @ 4600 rpm (LS3) / 410 @ 4300 rpm (L99)

Transmission: 6-speed manual / 6-speed automatic with steering-wheel shift controls (optional)

Brakes (front /rear): Brembo four-piston calipers / four-wheel disc with antilock

Weight (kg/lb): Auto - 1891(4168) / Manual - 1867 (4116)

Cargo capacity: Top up- 288 L (10.2 cu.ft.) / Top down- 220 L (7.8 cu.ft.)

Fuel economy (L/100km):  Manual- City 13.2 (21 mpg) / Hwy 8.2 (34 mpg)

Automatic- City 13.3 (21 mpg) / Hwy 8.0 (35 mpg)

Tested > 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK 350 Roadster

2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK 350 Roadster

Review & Snaps: Amee Reehal ©

Some may deem the luxury roadster, including the SLK convertible, a ‘chick car.’ Derogatory term, perhaps, but that’s the argument. However, the third generation 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK 350 Roadster shatters that stigma—a completely redesigned, ultra-aggressive front end and a new, more powerful 6-cyclinder engine, just a couple new features in the 2012 SLK 350, adds a good dose of masculinity missing in the previous models.

We’re not advocating more ‘manly cars’ here, but nobody will argue with a beefier roadster with more attitude, much like the classic Mercedes-Benz 190 SL roadster from the 1950’s. Today, Mercedes is back on track with the completely newly developed 2012 SLK 350.

Powered by a newly designed 3.5L V6 engine with direct injection, the 2012 SLK 350 puts down a very respectable 302-hp, going from 0-100km/hr in an estimated 5.6 seconds. Acceleration is surprisingly quick; throw the 7-speed automatic into the Sport Shift mode via steering wheel paddles for a much more spirited drive, hitting the shift points at higher (more jovial) rpm. Hey, this ain’t no SL 65, but the 2012 SLK 350 easily holds it’s own.

Starting at $66,500 CAD MSRP (reaching $76,500 starting price for the highest trim), my 2012 SLK 350 found the Premium Package adding Parktronic system, an analogue clock mounted upper dash, Airguide with aluminum roll-bar inlay, Airscarf, panoramic vario-roof, SIRIUS satellite radio, and Harman/kardon LOGIC 7 Surround Sound System. The Edition 1 Package (as in this tester) adds to the Premium Package: Comand APS with navigation, AMG 18-in. bi-colour wheels, Keyless Go, designo titan pearl/black nappa leather, designo glacier grey MAGNO paint and aluminum trim.

From parking lots to the open roads, the new SLK 350 will garner a great deal attention and finger pointing—the upright (opposed to severely slanted as per outgoing model) and aggressive SLS AMG inspired front end is totally foreign at this time. The all LED technology headlamps (a first for this model), flowing to a stretched out hood, over the classic roofline, into the shorter rear end renders a sporty yet sophisticated 2-seater with pristine proportions.

Despite having the most compact interior dimensions in its class, the 2012 SLK 350 cabin feels totally spacious yet well-appointed and comfortable. The SLS AMG theme continues inside with four round, galvanized air outlets nestles in the dashboard, adding huge visual impact. Chilly outside? No sweat, despite the cooler evening temperature, we dropped the top anyway, rolled up the windows, activated the heated seats, and turned on the neck-level AIRSCARF heating system integrated into the seats…super cozy, totally brilliant. Most importantly, the rear trunk with carved out inlets on either end allows for a golf bag. Sold.

Innovation keeps Mercedes-Benz ahead of the game. They were the first to introduce AIRSCARF, first to introduce the button activated, retractable hardtop in a coupe (dubbed the vario-roof). And, now, in the 2012 SLK 350, they’ve introduced MAGIC SKY CONTROL—a freaky name for a freaky feature, allowing the panoramic glass vario-roof to toggle between light or dark, offering an open, transparent feel or something more private and shaded (or you can just drop the top and blare the heat!).

For more info on the 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK 350 Roadster, visit here.

Tested > 2011 Lexus CT200h

2011 Lexus CT200h

Review & Snaps: Amee Reehal ©

 

Renowned for their hybrid luxury product line, Lexus adds a fifth hybrid to the stable with the all-new 2011 Lexus CT200h. Starting at only $30,950 CAD MSRP, the CT200h is the first dedicated luxury compact hybrid to hit the market. Sharp styling, well appointed, and a killer price point, the 2011 CT200h is practically a bargain, in the luxury segment, at that.

The hybrid powertrain in the CT200h is a 1.8L Atkinson cycle four-cylinder gas engine with VVT-I and Lexus Hybrid Drive technology consisting of both an engine-driven generator providing extra power when needed, and a drive motor offering electric power driven by the battery pack. Ultimately, this garners excellent fuel efficiency with 4.6L/100km.

Hybrids aren’t just for David Suzuki or celebrities jumping on the eco-bandwagon…they can be fun to drive too, and the 2011 CT200h is no exception. The sport-tuned suspension provides a spirited drive, handling corners with ease. A low ride height and with the seats sitting as low and as close together as possible, coupled by concentrating the CT200h’s mass to the centre, all lead to a better handling, more dynamic driving experience.

Equipped with four drive-modes (Normal, Eco, Sport, and EV), the Sport mode, a first for the Lexus hybrid lineup, increases throttle response, boosts the drive voltage (more power), and tones down the CT200h’s traction and stability control functions, all resulting in a sportier, tighter experience—and the difference switching from Sport to the other, more conservative drive-modes is certainly evident.

In addition, when Sport mode is selected, the hybrid power gauge on the instrument panel turns into a tachometer. Pretty cool. Though not a ‘sports car,’ Lexus has made strong efforts to ensure this CT200h compact, while still a hybrid, doesn’t compromise in the fun-to-drive department. And they’ve done a decent job.

This ‘sporty’ theme continues to the exterior styling: a steep windshield flowing to a long roofline into a rear that sees wraparound windows and an integrated rear spoiler all contribute to an athletic feel, while still exuding elegance with touches like the stylish LED daytime running lamps and a clean, uncluttered front grille with deep inset fog lamps. Overall, the 2011 CT200h possess muscular lines with a sophisticated vibe.

The cabin is spacious, comfortable, and of course, sporty. The focus is really on the driver here, with a cockpit that finds divided operational zones favouring quick driver access to functions like Remote Touch. A wide-grip steering wheel and well-bolstered bucket seats with 8-way power control (optional for passenger seat) ensures comfort and confidence when behind the wheel. Fold-flat rear seats and the SmartAccess key system are both standard.

Also standard is a 6-speaker Lexus Premium audio system with CD, auxiliary and USB inputs, Bluetooth audio wireless connectivity, and XM Radio with a 6-month free trial. While the audio system integrated iPod control is awesome, providing the USB port on the centre console near the cup holders is a huge design flaw—totally inconvenient: iPod flops around, USB cord is invasive, and it’s a pain having to disconnect and hide the device every time you leave the car. Planting the USB port inside the armrest storage, as per other vehicles, is the smart way to go.

Some other standards in the 2011 CT200h include 16-inch aluminum wheels; heated front seats; dual zone auto climate control; and touch sensors on exterior front-door handles, to name a few.

Touring package adds 17-inch wheels and a power moonroof. A Premium package further adds significant comfort and convenience features including a 10-speaker and 6-disc CD changer; rain sensor wipers; leather seating surfaces; driver seat memory with mirror linked to seat memory; auto dimming side mirrors/rear view mirror; and rear view mirror backup camera, all included in my tester. My CT200h also came equipped with the Technology package, building on the former two, to include LED headlamps and headlamp washers and a voice activated HDD Navigation system with Remote Touch.

For more info on the 2011 Lexus CT200h, please visit here.

 

Tested > 2011 Ford Edge Sport

2011 Ford Edge Sport

Review & Snaps: Amee Reehal ©

 

Ford takes their brawny yet stylish Edge crossover and makes it even bolder with the 2011 Ford Edge Sport with AWD, paving the way with class-leading features and industry-first technologies—a habit Ford is becoming accustomed to these past several years.

A new 3.7L V6 makes 305-hp, 40-hp more than the outgoing Edge Sport. Advanced valvetrain technology contributes to impressive fuel economy as well, getting 18 mpg city and 25 mpg on the highway. For a more spirited drive, the 2011 Edge Sport also finds new steering wheel mounted paddle shifters.

Arguably the best-looking, most fearless midsize crossover on the market with the Ford Edge, the 2011 Ford Edge Sport takes exterior styling even further, adding class-exclusive 22-inch (yeah, 22-inch) wheels. These forged aluminum rims feature Tuxedo Black spoke accents and a polished finished giving the Edge Sport that aftermarket impact.

Matching Tuxedo Black painted front grille along with dual chrome exhaust tips and distinct headlamps/taillights reaffirm that this is indeed the Edge Sport trim. Body-color front and rear fascias, door caps and side skirt rocker moldings all contribute to the sleek, stealthy look.

MyFord Touch comes standard in the 2011 Ford Edge Sport that includes a 4.2-inch full colour LCD screen nestled between an analog speedometer and an 8-inch touch-screen LCD located top and centre. Pumping out 390 watts of continuous power, the 12-speaker Sony Audio System with a Class D all-digital amplifier sounds brilliant.

Inside, the Edge Sport cabin sees leather-trimmed seats with contrast stitching, Silver Smoke metallic leather inserts and 10-way heated power driver seat with power lumbar and memory settings. Both accelerator and brake pedals are aluminum-covered, providing that extra sporty flair.

The 2011 Ford Edge Sport starts at $39,734 CAD MSRP. For more info, please visit here.

 

 

Tested > Road Trip with the 2011 Kia Sportage SX Turbo

2011 Kia Sportage SX Turbo

Story & Snaps: Amee Reehal ©

 

When the Calgary Stampede rolls into town, tourists flood the streets, and everything from the bank to the butcher becomes a ‘saloon’ or ‘corral’ for nine days, adorned with western frill and hay barrels (allergies, anyone?), it’s time to take off for awhile. So, when our friends invited us to their pad in Fairmont, British Columbia for a weekend, we were all over it—our first family road trip (slash golfing excursion) in the 2011 Kia Sportage SX Turbo: a 2.0L AWD compact CUV starting at $36,995 CAD MSRP.

Don’t get me wrong, The Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth is a majestic splendor of agriculture lifestyle fused with fifteen-dollar Mini Donuts and toothless carnies. But after 35 years, the nostalgic twang can get to you. Plus, if you’re lame like me and avoid the party vibe (i.e. arbitrary beer tents and obnoxious drunk asses), or self-employed, missing out on infamous corporate hoedowns (9 day siesta of free pancakes and adultery…it’s like a weeklong western Christmas party without the eggnog) you’d see where I’m coming from.

All cynicism aside, enjoying the Stampede with our son, for his first time, brought a smile to my face, bringing back memories of when my folks first took me. What was evidently becoming stale is now new again. And that’s always a good thing.

So, for our three-hour journey through The Rockies en route to Fairmont, nestled in the heart of the Columbia Valley and renowned for it’s warmer weather and breath-taking scenery (and, of course, awesome golfing), we chose the award-winning KIA Sportage, available in either a 2.4L, 176HP trim (FWD or AWD) starting at $29,395 CAD MSRP, or the SX Turbo (as tested) with the AWD 2.0L, 260HP V6, coming in at $38,745 CAD MSRP (including charges/fees before tax).

If you’re able to get past the fact that this is a KIA (and by now you certainly should), at this price point the Sportage SX Turbo is a bargain with essentially no need for options…they’re all thrown in. Standards in the SX Turbo include 18” alloy wheels; Navigation with rear view cam (yes, standard); a panoramic sunroof; leather seats and trim; Bluetooth handsfree connection; front heated seats; dual zone climate control; and Smart key/Push buttons start, too name a few. An impressive list of inclusions seldom offered by manufacturers.

On the highway, the Kia Sportage SX Turbo drives super smooth and handles sharp corners with ease (the traction control system is also standard). The 2.0L V6 offers all necessary power alongside 4-cyclinder fuel efficiency. While a turbo may not seem ideal for family highway driving, it proved invaluable with sporty acceleration and low-end torque when quickly merging back onto the open road, while the ECO Minder indicates when optimum fuel efficiency is reached when coasting at higher speeds (a little indicator on the gauge). The SX Turbo makes 269 lb-ft of torque at 1850-3000 rpm.

Exterior styling is sharp: wide, aggressive stance with sleek lines and dual muffler—Kia certainly paid attention to the details here. The 18” rims make a bold statement: sporty yet tasteful. Overall, stylish, sporty, and not bubbly like several compact CUVs on the market.

Inside, the cabin feels compact yet comfortable with adequate legroom for rear passengers. Toggling between my iPod with the iPod connectivity and SAT radio (also both standard) solved any music contention; a 7-speaker system with sub-woofer and steering wheel audio controls are standard in the SX Turbo. The entire instrument panel is super clean and easy to manage, finding the climate control cluster below with the main nav/audio screen nestled above. An uncomplicated, well though out interface makes it easy to get acquainted to—this can’t be said for all vehicles. Only gripe: the USB/iPod port should be in the armrest storage or glove compartment opposed to centre console where the device and cable flop around in the open, seeing as iPod/MP3 integrates with the vehicles audio controls anyway (an issue I have with many vehicles).

Cargo volume in the 2011 Kia Sportage has increased over last year’s model. The respectable 740L of rear luggage area (1547L when second row folded down) provided enough space for our gear, including baby stroller (one of the most compact on the market, mind you), a small cooler, bunch of bags, etc. Remember, the Kia Sportage is a compact CUV, decent for a small family of three; for something a larger with more cargo space, consider the full size Kia Sorento.

Below, rear cargo and two golf bags with single seat folded down:

The 2011 Sportage SX Turbo finds several standard features, including dual advanced front airbags; front seat mounted impact airbags; curtain airbags with rollover sensor; active headrests, ABS, TCS, ESC, and EBD, plus high-tensile steel panels.

As a proud Calgarian, I’ll endure The Stampede (always do). And, now with a little one, might even look forward to it. But if the opportunity to leave presents itself, and the Kia Sportage SX Turbo is available...and there's golfing, we’re out of here. Yahoo!

For more info on the 2011 Kia Sportage SX Turbo, visit here.

 

Below, 18th hole at the Fairmont Resort Golf Course...yours truly making a very rare par, caught on film (kind of).

 

 

Tested > 2011 Porsche Cayenne

2011 Porsche Cayenne V6 Tiptronic

Review & Photos: Amee Reehal ©

Can you believe it’s been more than seven years since the Porsche Cayenne launched in North America? Can you believe, after all these years, the 2011 Porsche Cayenne is only now the 2nd-generation offering? Well, when your SUV is your top-selling product selling over a quarter of a million units worldwide, why meddle with a sure thing? But onwards and upwards, the all-new 2011 Cayenne is lighter, more fuel efficient and spacious, and inevitably, coming from Porsche, a little sportier.

Starting at $58,200 CAD MSRP, this 2011 Porsche Cayenne with the 3.6-litre V6 and Tiptronic is the entry-level model. My version came equipped with some extras, including the Meteor Grey Metallic paint ($1080); 18-inch Cayenne S III wheels ($540); the 8-speed Tiptronic with Auto Start-Stop ($4090); comfort lighting package ($350); power tilt/slide moonroof ($1630); driver memory package ($540); ski bag ($560); PCM with Nav ($4970); front and rear park assist ($1500); Bi-Xenon lights and PDLS ($2540); and a BOSE surround sound system ($2410). Ringing in at a total price (before taxes/fees) of $78,310 CAD.

The philosophy or premise behind Porsche’s development mandate is too increase power on less fuel, create greater efficiencies, and lower CO2 emissions—a principle the company dubs “Porsche Intelligent Performance,” epitomized by the all-new 2011 Cayenne where Porsche managed to increase horsepower to 300-hp while reducing fuel consumption by 20-percent compared to the former model by way of the all-new Tiptronic S eight-speed transmission with the Auto Start-Stop. Innovations contributing to these efficiencies in this new eight-speed transmission include a wide spread of gear ratios, thermal management on the engine and transmission cooling circuit, on-board network recuperation, variable engine cut-off and intelligent lightweight construction.

You’ll notice the reworked exterior styling—a lot sleeker and elegant with longer, flowing lines while retaining a bit of that beefy SUV appeal. Porsche made strong efforts to give the 2011 Cayenne more car-like character, more inline with its other product lines. Many claimed the original Cayenne looked nothing like a Porsche. Personally, I disagreed, but perhaps now we can put that to rest; the all-new sportier 2011 Cayenne certainly makes a statement with styling that is truly Porsche: new headlights; strong rear shoulderlines; rear wings typical of Porsche. The 2011 Cayenne gets a little bigger too with a wheelbase almost 1.6-inch longer, and 1.9-inch longer overall than the outgoing model.

Above all, the cabin in the all-new Cayenne is dramatically different than its predecessor, finding a much needed, newly designed interior that was long overdue. Perhaps the most significant upgrade being the centre console with completely new instrumentation and buttons flanked by a couple grab handles. The entire console now sits nice and high, with a comfy yet aggressive cockpit feel. Majority of the new cockpit carries over from the new Panamera sedan, including the optional Burmester high-end sound system. The extended wheelbase makes way for more rear legroom, while the front seats are upgraded for greater comfort.

A few other new features, all optional on the entry-level Cayenne, include the PDLS Porsche Dynamic Light System: the current xenon light system but now with speed related headlight control with various light modes including bad weather lights. There’s also the option Lane Change Assistant (LCA) monitoring the lanes right and left of vehicle up to 70 metres, including driver’s blind side; and the Auto Cruise Control (ACC), using radar sensors to automatically monitor cruise control speeds by gauging distance to nearby vehicles.

Porsche has taken a proven, winning product and made it dramatically better in the 2011 Porsche Cayenne V6 Tiptronic. From the sportier and more elegant exterior styling to the completely redesigned and roomier cockpit interior, along with the introduction of some new assistance systems thrown into the mix, the Porsche Cayenne is arguably the most dynamic, well-rounded SUV on the market. Hands down.

For more info on the 2011 Porsche Cayenne please visit HERE.

Tested > 2011 MazdaSpeed3

2011 MazdaSpeed3

Review & Photo: Amee Reehal ©

 

As nimble and sleek as ever, the sporty 2011 MazdaSpeed3 (the flagship of the 2011 Mazda3 lineup), starting at $29,695 CAD MSRP for the 5-door hatchback 6-speed manual, retains the reigns as Canada’s top-selling passenger car, knocking off the Honda Civic last year.

The 2011 MazdaSpeed3 is nearly identical to last years model: still putting down 263 horses from a MZR 2.3-litre direct injection turbocharged engine; rolling on 18-inch alloy wheels; boasting a comfy yet super-sporty cockpit with race-inspired aluminum alloy foot pedals and foot rest; just to name a few, plus a long list of standard features that set the MazdaSpeed3 apart.

However, the 2011 MazdaSpeed3 does see one major change by way of an all-new Technology Package. A no-brainer option at only $2440, this new tech package includes an Adaptive front light system (AFS); Bose audio with 10-speakers (yes, 10) and 6-disc CD changer; Centerpoint and Audio Pilot; SIRIUS satellite radio; Intelligent key system; Push button ignition; colour MID with Navigation; and power driver’s seat. Also new to the 2011 model is a blue temp gauge in the meterset, and gone is the memory seat function.

 

For a more comprehensive review on the 2011 MazdaSpeed3, please check out my review from last years 2010 MazdaSpeed3 here.

For more info on the 2011 MazdaSpeed3, please visit Mazda’s site here.

 

2011 Mercedes-Benz GLK 350 4Matic Review

2011 Mercedes-Benz GLK 350 4Matic Review

 

Review and Photos by Amee Reehal ©

 

READ MORE AUTO REVIEWS AT TRACTIONLIFE.COM

 

 

 

Few years back, Mercedes-Benz Canada held one of their Driving Academy courses here in Calgary at Racecity Speedway. Aside from a full day of track training from esteemed instructors, this was a great opportunity to get into a wide range of MB products all in one day, on a track no less—from the surprisingly swift B200 Turbo to the remarkable (and perhaps underrated) E63 AMG sports sedan, with everything in between. The single most prevalent thing I came away with from this was how refined the MB product is. Sure, Mercedes is synonymous with luxury and quality, however, the consistency in the level of refinement across each and every vehicle, despite class or price point, was impressive. Fast track a few years, just wrapping up my one-week test drive with the 2011 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 4Matic, brought me back to that glorious day…refinement is the name of the game, and the 2011 GLK350 4Matic is no exception.

The 2011 Mercedes Benz GLK350 is, as the company puts it, a completely original form of Mercedes. While it is built on the C-class platform, the GLK certainly retains its own personality, especially when compared to its older, wiser, and significantly larger G-class, GL-class, and M-class siblings—distinct personality that also carries with it a $41,300 MSRP CAD starting price-point; more than $15,000 less than the step-up M-class.

With the increasing popularity of the compact sport-ute market, jumping into this segment with the luxury GLK, coupled with this enticing starting price, only makes sense for the company. First introduced in North America for the 2010 model year, and now available in a RWD version for 2011, the GLK-class offers the single GLK350 model available in two versions: the GLK350 and the GLK350 4Matic (as per my tester), the latter starting at $43,500 MSRP CAD. Both powered by the same 3.5-litre, 24-valve V6 producing a respectable 268-hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. A seven-speed automatic transmission, dubbed the 7G-Tronic, comes standard.

But it’s the 4Matic permanent AWD system, now in its fourth-generation, that really shines. Though I never scaled any mountainous terrain in my luxury media-loaned press GLK, that’s precisely what the 4Matic is for, splitting the engine’s power and torque between all four wheels, providing better traction and stability. Paired to various other features including the Electronic Stability Program (ESP), this system provides even further performance, but more importantly, increased safety on the open road for the Soccer Moms and media-dudes alike.  For a mere $2200 extra, you get the 4Matic AWD version, so I’m not clear why anyone would choose the non-4Matic version, or why Mercedes even offers this, seeing as this appears to be only thing that really sets the two apart; everything else is offered with both versions.

The exterior styling of the 2011 GLK350 is stunning, void of any round, bubbly attributes that often plague this segment. Instead, a well proportioned ride with strong, clean lines; the long front end adds some beef, while the steep rear truly gives it character (plus, excellent visibility in the corner windows behind the C-pillar)—overall, luxurious yet sporty and masculine. And, of course, refined. Exterior power folding mirrors, aluminum roof rails, a heated windshield washer system, and huge 20-inch alloy rims all come standard. New for 2011 is the AMG Sport Package for an extra $2500, adding a little more aesthetic love to include AMG style wheels at 20-inch; steering wheel shift paddles; active Bi-Xenon headlamps with cornering function; LED daytime running lights and taillights; and headlamp washers. Few notable options include 20-inch 7-spoke (not standard 5-spoke) silver rims; a front spoiler and/or rear roof spoiler; and chrome door handles.

The cabin is equally as stunning: comfortable, stylish, and totally intuitive. All controls are within easy reach amongst an overall streamlined design and logical layout. You wouldn’t expect anything less from a Benz, I’m sure (my only beef: the cruise control lever is situated on the steering column much like a turn signal, finding myself activating cruise by mistake, often). Considering the smaller dimensions of the GLK350, the cabin feels spacious—similar to the feel of a full-size CUV with the comfort of a luxury sedan. Real estate around the back seats is fairly decent; seats that find split-folding backrests and a folding centre armrest with a convenient storage spot with a couple cup holders.

A pair of 8-way power adjustable heated front seats, Burl Walnut wood trim, and the Thermatic dual-zone automatic climate control all come standard. So does an Audio 20 audio system with a 5-inch screen mounted upper dash, and the totally awesome central COMMAND controller: a large ‘master dial’ ergonomically placed at the end of the driver’s armrest where your hand sits, allowing easy toggling through one of the best (thus, easy to navigate and understand) menu programs I’ve probably used in some time. My GLK350 4Matic came equipped with the $3400 Premium Package upgrade, adding a slew of goodies including a Panoramic sunroof and 3-position front seat memory, to name a just a couple.

Also available is the Technology Package at $2200, adding a 6-disc DVD changer; 4GB music register; LINGUATRONIC voice control; the COMMAND APS with hard disc-drive navigation; and media interface that includes USB inputs and an auxiliary input.

For more info on the 2011 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 4Matic, visit HERE.

Tested > 2011 Mitsubishi RVR GT 4WD

2011 Mitsubishi RVR GT 4WD

Review: Amee Reehal

Photo: Mitsubishi Canada

Next time you’re driving, take a quick look around and you’ll agree there is no shortage of compact CUVs on the roads these days; nearly every manufacturer with something to offer. And while the all-new 2011 Mitsubishi RVR may be a bit late to the party, it is certainly a contender. In fact, the relatively unknown RVR is perhaps the best styled, most fuel efficient in the segment.

Available in three trims, The 2011 Mitsubishi RVR starts at $21,998 MSRP CAD for the base SE 2WD (front wheel) version; $24,998 for the SE 4WD; and  $28,498 for the GT 4WD (as tested here). All three RVR versions are powered by the same 2.0-litre, 4-cyclinder MIVEC engine, producing 149-hp at 6000 rpm and 145-lb ft of torque at 4200 rpm. A 5-speed manual transmission comes standard with the entry-level SE 2WD, or go for the optional Sportronic CVT with 6-speed and wheel paddle shifters, a welcomed standard feature on the 4WD versions.

These all-wheel drive trims find a control knob in the cabin, allowing driver to electronically toggle between 2WD and/or 4WD/4WD-lock modes—a tremendously useful, fuel saving, function all compact CUVs should employ, but don’t. And not all CVT systems are built equal, but my RVR GT felt great, shifting on-point, getting the most out this 2.0-litre engine.

From front to back, the 2011 Mitsubishi RVR GT is proportioned just right with aggressive overall styling without going overboard or overcompensating for it’s smaller size (as a few competitors are guilty of doing). The front end is stout yet stylish with the classic Mitsu-styled front grill. The side shoulderlines running along the doors are boldly indented and flow on an angle giving the beefy RVR a more sporty appeal.  The super-wide range HID headlights come standard on the GT version, along with the chrome grille surround, a single exhaust outlet with a chrome tip, rain sensing windshield wipers, and a panoramic roof with power sliding sunshade and LED lighting. The RVR GT also finds larger, standard 18-inch aluminum rims over the 16-inch wheels. Offered in seven colours, the Kingfisher Blue Metallic looks hot, but so did my tester in the Diamond White Pearl.

The 2011 RVR cabin is spacious with a simple, easy-to-use centre console layout including three large dials nestled below leading to a cleaner setup above. Magnesium-alloy paddle shifters for the CVT; a high-contrast meter with full-colour display; and a Multi-Information Display (in colour) all come standard with the GT (the lower trims also find this MID but without colour and a few less features). All three RVR versions find a healthy dose of included cabin features, but a few exclusive to the GT, as per my tester for the week, include an automatic climate control with pollen filter; a one-touch Start/Stop engine switch; visor vanity mirror with illumination; a rear seat centre armrest with two cup holders and a pass-through; the FAST-key passive entry system with panic feature; and premium 3D emboss fabric trimmed seats.

Perhaps the greatest leap from the SE models is the audio system, going from a 140-watt, 4-speaker setup to the GT’s 710-watt, Rockford-Fosgate 9-speaker system with a 10-inch sub, including Sirius satellite radio with a 6-month free subscription. This sound system is stellar, but this large 10-inch sub eats into the cargo space behind the rear seat, offering 569-litre (20.1 cu.ft) of storage real estate.

Consumers today have an array of choices when shopping for that more-storage-than-a-sedan but not-as-overwhelming-as-an-SUV vehicle. And if Mitsubishi’s reputable, next step up Outlander SUV is perhaps a bit much, then the 2011 Mitsubishi RVR is the perfect compromise—with excellent fuel efficiency, stunning looks, and the company’s 10-5-5 Warranty with limited 5 years for 100,000km and 10 year/160,000km coverage, it’s easy to see why.

For more info on the 2011 Mitsubishi RVR GT 4WD, visit HERE

2011 Ford Explorer > Quebec City

2011 Ford Explorer – Quebec

Story & Snaps: Amee Reehal ©

“Reinvented Explorer” is the mantra for the all-new 2011 Ford Explorer. A bold new design, standard 3rd row seats, twenty-two percent better fuel economy, award-winning inflatable rear safety belts, a $4500 price reduction; these are just a few things separating the 2011 Explorer from the outgoing model. Above all, there’s much more to the new Explorer that will separate it from the competition within the busy SUV segment where Ford innovation continues to pave the path to the top. And starting at just $29,999 CAD MSRP for the entry-level model, and hovering around $50,000 CAD MSRP for the top-trim Limited version with all significant options priced in, the 2011 Ford Explorer looks to conquer the SUV summit in no time.

Officially launched in late July 2010, it appears just now the 2011 Ford Explorer is gaining traction with recent awards and a marketing campaign blitz including TV commercials in high rotation, where the focus is less ‘people-mover’ and more towards a ‘lifestyle-machine.’ From sand and surf to snow and sledding, the Explorer strives to suit all lifestyles and activities for the masses.

Hence, Ford Canada felt now was the opportune time to showcase the winter-lifestyle side of things, with a media event that found us in-and-around historic Quebec City, Quebec, putting the Explorer through the paces while taking in the gorgeous scenery through the foothills north of the St. Laurence River, finding ourselves as far north as La Malbaie, home to the stunning Fairmount Le Manoir Richelieu hotel, our pad for a night. And, of course, there was French fromage at Laiterie Charlevoix cheese factory, dog sledding, snowmobiling, and old-school maple syrup. Not to mention, dinner and tour at the Hôtel de Glace, a very cool, very James Bond-esque hotel made of snow and ice, open for three short months only from January to March.

The 2011 Ford Explorer is truly just that: an explorer, assimilating to nearly all conditions. Production tested in unforgiving environments from scorching Dubai to freezing northern Manitoba, Ford ensured the Explorer would be a worldly vehicle, taking people where they need to go. The result includes the Terrain Management System, providing driver with more control via four settings to better adjust to the conditions outside; these include Mud Rut, Sand, Normal, and Snow/Gravel/Grass—assess the situation, turn the dial to the correct setting, and you’re set. For our journey, the latter Snow setting was default and served us well, providing the added traction, especially along some spontaneous, icy patches on the highway. A private snow-slalom setup at the La Malbaie Airport provided another chance for us to really put the Explorer’s TMS to the test.

Ford also managed to get a local snowmobile association, apparently 47,000 members strong (yes, 47,000), to open up their paths to our 4WD monsters, where we made our climb through their narrow, full-snow covered path to the hilltop. Great chance to really test out these traction settings. An even better opportunity to try out the new Hill Decent Control on the way down, which automatically maintains speed, power, and braking for a safer descent. The best part is? This stuff really works. Winter tires are compulsory in the province of Quebec, so our Explorers’ 20-inch rims were fitted with Continental Tire’s V-rated performance winter rubber…performance winter tires are the only way to go if you’re planning on these sorts of excursions; the difference is paramount.

Powered by a new 3.5-litre Ti-VCT V6 engine, the 2011 Ford Explorer sees a twenty-two percent improvement in fuel economy while adding 80 new horses compared to last year’s model, now producing 290-hp—that’s only 2-hp less than the V8! Soon, the Explorer will also be available with a 2.0-L I-4 EcoBoost engine Ford claims will increase power with a thirty-percent increase in fuel economy.

The new 2011 Explorer’s styling is stunning—long, clean shoulderlines that wrap around the body; an elegant yet sporty front grill that doesn’t see huge invasive fog lights, just a couple tiny ones that look sharp; large rear windows behind the c-pillar that won’t hinder visibility…overall, the perfect blend of bold, sporty, refinement. The cabin is equally stellar inside our Explorer Limited version, with 6-passenger seating with 2nd-row bucket seats and 2nd-row centre console (optional on the Limited); a 110-volt power outlet in the 2nd row standard; and decent cargo behind the 3rd row, expanding to 2285-L of cargo space with 3rd row folded down. Of course, the Explorer finds the award-winning, voice-activated FordSYNC setup, now paired with MyFordTouch for even further features.

Just a few short days with the new 2011 Ford Explorer, it’s clear the company has a clear winner. And exploring the Quebec City region couldn’t have been any better, both for its winter activities as well as its charm and beauty.

For more info on the 2011 Ford Explorer, please visit HERE.

Tested > 2011 GMC Sierra Denali HD Pickup

2011 GMC  Sierra 2500HD 4WD Crew Cab Denali

Review & Snaps: Amee Reehal ©

Some may find the idea of a luxury, heavy-duty truck a bit peculiar—almost an anomaly. But here in truck-country Alberta, the more the merrier, where the notion of merging the opulence of the Denali brand with the work ethic of the Sierra HD only makes sense. Hence, for the first time, feast your eyes on the 2011 GMC Sierra Denali 2500 HD pickup; an absolutely gorgeous looking machine with a cabin that almost rivals a luxury sedan, without compromising big balls to get the job done. Hey, heavy-duty trucks need love too.

Granted, I’m not a ‘truck-guy.’ I don’t tow a trailer nor haul stuff like they do in the commercials. But I fall in love every time the opportunity to test a pickup presents itself, so do my friends, many of them with new one-ton trucks themselves. Particularly, when it’s as stunning as this 2011 Sierra Denali (and particularly, when it’s minus 30-degrees Celsius for a week straight). Hovering above the commoners, passing them by on the road, gives this sense of entitlement. And despite not hauling stuff, I take comfort in knowing that I can, especially in an $80,420 MSRP CAD guise. It’s all a little narcissistic and totally against my personal values, but maybe that’s the idea. Either way, it’s pimp. And it’s fun. And my truck is waaay better than your truck…for a week.

The 2011 GMC Sierra 2500HD Denali Crew Cab, starts at $59,210 MSRP CAD. Again, my tester came loaded with over $20k in options, ringing in at $80,420 total, before taxes/fees. Powered by the standard 6.0L SFI V8 flex-fuel engine mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission with OD, this loaded Denali pickup finds the $9,670 upgraded 6.6L V8 Duramax diesel powerplant with a $1445 upgraded 6-speed Allison transmission making 397-hp and a whopping 765 lb-ft of torque. Payload of up to 2631 lbs and towing capacity of up to 13,000 lbs with ball hitch.  The 2011 GMC Sierra pickup is available in various trims with the three Denali versions at the top, available only as a crew cab 2500HD (as tested) with the 6.6-ft box, or the larger 3500HD crew cab with choice of 6.6-ft box or 8-ft box.

First glance, the 2011 GMC Sierra Denali is bold and brawny in this Onyx Black paint scheme, flashing a little posh without going too far. The huge, chrome honeycomb front grill with matching lower grill below the bumper flanked by a couple integrated fog lamps, looks both menacing and classy at the same time. 18-inch polished aluminum wheels come standard, but you’ll want to opt for the 20-inch rims, as seen here, for an extra $1015. Few other options include a power sliding rear window ($350), power sunroof ($1325), and the high-gloss hard folding Tonneau bed cover ($985). Some notable exterior standards include the Denali-specific front chrome grills and chrome door handles; fog lamps; Solar-Ray glass all around; body-coloured bumpers and mouldings; and dual-automatic halogen composite lights including exterior lamp control with flash-to-pass feature. From the rear, this Denali version looks similar to the non-luxe Sierra with the classic Z71 logos adorned on the rear-sides; logos that add an off-road Z71 package including rear monotube shocks, off-road jounce bumpers and stabilizer bars.

Nearly all the press pickups I’ve been testing from various manufacturers, come equipped with stellar interiors. Frankly, I’ve become accustomed to this and would expect nothing less in a truck. More importantly, the real customers, like my buddies, would expect nothing less. Sure, an HD pickup needs tenacity to get the job done, but unless you’re bringing those barrels of hay or bags of dirt into the cabin, there’s no reason a pickup truck be void of luxury behind the wheel. Site Supervisors, Construction Managers, or truck-wannabe’s like myself, may not actually require heavy-duty haulers for their daily treks from site-to-site (or coffee shop to post office, in my case), but they’ll certainly want a truck, certainly without any compromise. The 2011 GMC Sierra Denali is definitely for those executive blue-collar dudes.

The list of interior standards is lengthy, including full-featured front reclining bucket seats with 10-way power adjustments with 2 memory buttons; heated leather-wrapped steering wheel with wood grain; power adjustable pedals; a premium instrument panel, and much more. It’s the $4760 Entertainment package that shines, adding a variety of features including XM Satellite Radio; Bluetooth system; rear DVD setup; Bose speakers with sub; 6-disc changer with USB and auxiliary input; and of course, Navigation with voice recognition. Rear view camera is an extra $565.

The 2011 GMC Sierra Denali 4x4 Crew Cab successfully fuses the proven reliability in the Sierra with the ritz of the Denali. And while the idea of an $80k luxury truck may appear to defeat the purpose of the ‘truck,’ clearly not for the masses, this well-appointed Sierra indeed has it’s niche market, where most of the upgrades actually pertain to performance and utility (i.e. Duramax engine, tonneau cover) and less with esthetics anyway. At the end of the day, the 2011 GMC Sierra lineup, including the Denali version, is the company’s most powerful Sierra HD yet.

For more info on the 2011 GMC Sierra Denali visit here.

Tested > 2011 Subaru Legacy 2.5i

2011 Subaru Legacy 2.5i with CVT

Review & Snaps: Amee Reehal©

THIS FEATURE ALSO POSTED AT TRACTIONLIFE.COM

Following a week with the 2011 Subaru Legacy 2.5i, it comes as a bit of a shock as to why more Canadians aren’t flocking to this mid-size sedan considering the main rivals like the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord both eclipse the Legacy in sales. With a standard full-time AWD system, smooth handling, ample cargo, and perhaps the best design in its class, plus a starting MSRP CAD of $23,995, the Legacy deserves some props (a Legacy or Chevy Malibu for the same price? Hmmmm).

The 2011 Subaru Legacy is available in three trims including the 2.5i (as per my test vehicle); the Legacy 3.6R with 256-hp and 247 lb-ft of torque, starting at $31,895; and the bad boy Legacy 2.5GT, the turbocharged version producing 265-hp and 258 lb-ft of torque priced at $38,595.

Without a larger displacement nor turbo, the base Legacy 2.5i, with a horizontally opposed, 4-cyclinder Subaru Boxer engine, still puts out a respectable 170-hp and 170 lb-ft of torque. A 6-speed manual transmission comes standard, or the optional CVT (Continuous Variable Transmission) with paddle shifters, as equipped in my Legacy. Not all paddle shifter equipped rides are created equal, in my experience, where response is often slow (unless we’re talking sports coupes, of course). But the Legacy shifts on point and feels good. Not gimmicky.

Subaru’s celebrated full-time AWD setup finds its way in the base 2011 Legacy 2.5i, along with the Vehicle Dynamic Control system and Traction Control System. 16-inch aluminum wheels are standard on the 2.5i with four total wheel options offered, from 16-inch steel to the sportier 18-inch aluminum set.

The 2011 Subaru Legacy 2.5i exterior styling is straightforward yet stylish and sporty; successfully avoiding the try-too-hard conundrum. For 2011, the Legacy sits a little taller and 30mm longer then the previous generation, both features contributing to efficiencies including less wind noise and increased space utilization, respectively. Folding side-view mirrors are also new for 2011; so are the rear doors that open 78% wider than the previous version…a very (very) welcome attribute for (new) dads like myself installing the baby car seat, particularly without the seat mount. The Sport Package on the 2011 Subaru Legacy 2.5i (priced at $27,995 with 6-speed manual) adds front fog lights; 17-inch wheels with Bridgestone Turanza all-season rubber; and power tiltling/sliding sunroof, to name just a few. Also, gone is the Harvest Gold Metallic for the incoming Caramel Bronze Pearl and Sky Blue Metallic available for the 2.5i.

For 2011, the Legacy cabin finds improved features including more efficient centre console storage via the all-new electronic parking brake systems replacing the space-hogging brake lever; redesigned front seats to help reduce whiplash in a rear collision; and the seatback of the front seats tweaked to provide further rear passenger leg/knee room. A few standards in the 2011 Subaru Legacy 2.5i include fully automatic headlights; heated front seats; premium cloth upholstery; and a 4-speaker audio system with an auxiliary audio input and steering wheel controls, to name a few.

Three available packages for the 2011 Legacy 2.5i add a plethora of features but certainly add to the final price. These include the Convenience Package available on the 2.5i CVT version only (i.e. voice-activated blueconnect Bluetooth hands-free); the Sport Package (i.e. 17-inch wheels, Sirius Satellite Radio, iPod/MP3 audio integration); and the Limited Package offered only with the 2.5i with CVT (i.e. 9-speaker Harman Kardon system with a 440-watt amplifier, woodgrain interior, plus an added MultiMedia option with rear-view camera, GPS...).

Starting at $23,995 for this base model, the 2011 Subaru Legacy 2.5i, even without options or CVT, is an affordable, well-equipped mid-size sedan perfect for any small family. With the full-time AWD and attention to the minor tweaks with huge impact, such as the wider rear door openings and sculpted seats for added rear passenger space, Subaru continues to add value.

For more info on the 2011 Subaru Legacy lineup, visit HERE.

Tested > 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe

2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe RWD

Review & Photos: Amee Reehal ©

Joining the CTS stable of cars is the all-new 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe—a radically designed, 2+2 coupe promising to turn some heads. Available in three trims including the CTS Coupe 3.6 RWD (as tested) starting at $47,625 MSRP CAD; the CTS Coupe 3.6 AWD starting at $50,255; and the mind-blowing, pant-wetting 556-hp V8 CTS-V starting $71, 425 (Note: If you’re planning to buy the Coupe, and unless you’re seriously considering the CTS-V, I strongly suggest you don’t even test drive this monstrosity…otherwise, you’ll be surely disappointed and better add an extra 20k in your budget! The CTS-V is truly in a league of it’s own, the most powerful coupe in Cadillac’s history; hopefully, there will be a proper review in the near future).

Alright, back to the 2011 CTS Coupe RWD, a stunning luxury car in it’s own right. Both the RWD and AWD versions find a 3.6-litre V6 with Direct Injection and Variable Valve Timing (VVT) producing 304-hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. Paired to a standard 6-speed automatic tranny in the RWD.

Despite being the larger guy in the luxury coupe class at a curb weight of 3909-lbs for the RWD with automatic transmission, the 2011 CTS Coupe retains great handling, riding low and wide. A 4-wheel, sport-tuned suspension is standard, along with 18-inch aluminum rims wrapped in P235/50R18 V-rated all season blackwall tires. My 2011 CTS Coupe came equipped with the $1770 Sport Package, adding larger 19-inch x 8.5-inch wheels with high polished finish, wrapped in P245/45Z19 Y-rated summer tires; performance handling suspension with auto rear load leveling; performance speed sensitive variable assist steering; paddle shift steering wheels controls; and performance cooling system and braking setup.

Long, angular lines paired with expansive body panels, renders this beefy yet incredibly sexy and sporty 2-door rocket, all while retaining the class and luxury Cadillac is renowned for. From all angles, the 2011 CTS Coupe is stunning…a near-flat rear window (reduced visibility, but hey), high shoulderlines coupled with a low roofline, and a menacing frontend all lend to serious curb appeal and impact. Again, while retaining class by means of clean, streamlined features including invisible exterior door handles (they’re hidden, but they’re there. Trust me). Some standard features include a power tilt sunroof (tilt only, unfortunately); HID xenon headlamps with adaptive forward lighting system and flash-to-pass; fog lamps; dramatic LED tail lights; heated, body-colour dual electric remote control, folding mirrors; and solar-ray glass windows all around. The fiery Crystal Red paint scheme costs an extra $1295.

The cabin is equally dramatic and well-appointed as you’d expect from Cadillac, finding only premium materials and hand-crafted stitching along the doors, centre console, and instrument panel, as found in the CTS Sedan also. A shortlist of standards include heated/ventilated driver/front passenger leather surfaced seats with the usual adjustment controls (plus 60/40 split folding seats in the back); a leather-wrapped steering wheel with controls that include HVAC and the OnStar & voice recognition system (the only luxury coupe to offer OnStar); the EZ key passive entry system and remote keyless entry; Automatic Recall for a variety of driver settings; and dual-zone climate control with air filtration, alongside a cabin odour filtration system. The cabin also finds a wood trim package, adding Sapele wood to the instrument panel, centre console; door trim; steering wheel and shift knob. The interior accent lighting with LED light pipes and spot lights are pretty cool at night, adding a little something to the mix. On that note, so are the interior door handles, doing away with the typical hinged door lever in lieu of a button to pop the door ajar.

The Navigation System in this 2011 CTS Coupe, including the pop-up screen as seen here, is optional. The standards are impressive, including a 40 GB harddrive with USB and audio connectivity; a 10-speaker 5.1 surround sound system by Bose; XM Satellite Radio; and the Bluetooth setup allowing Bluetooth-enabled phones to access the CTS’ audio system, microphone, voice recognition and steering wheel controls. With just over 10k in options, this 2011 CTS Coupe rings in at $57,700 MSRP CAD, before taxes/fees.

Cadillac’s first 2-door offering in about a decade, the 2011 CTS Coupe is a luxury performance car setting itself apart from it’s European counterparts—dramatic styling, luxurious cabin, spirited handling, the all-new CTS Coupe is pure Americana, in a good way, recently winning the Best Performance/Sports Car as voted on by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), of which I’m a member. Now, if GM would only send me the CTS-V!

For more info on the all-new 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe, visit HERE.

Tested > 2010 Porsche 911 Targa 4

2010 Porsche 911 Targa 4

Review & Photos: Amee Reehal ©

No turbo. No PDK. No paddle shifters nor a plethora of steering wheel controls. Just a 6-speed stick shift, glowering dark rims wrapped in fat-ass tires, a malicious exhaust note paired to an equally menacing near-black vehicle, all with a roof that opens up to the sky. Following a string of Porsche press cars showcasing the company’s latest and greatest offerings (and I’m not complaining), it was refreshing to test a something a little more nostalgic; something a little more familiar and fundamental, particularly in the stick shift. But at nearly $150,000 Cdn MSRP for this particular model, the 2010 Porsche 911 Targa 4 is anything but fundamental. With enough Porsche product options and OEM customization to make a grown man giggle, this 2010 Porsche 911 Targa 4 is built just right—understated and sexy yet overly capable.

While cabriolets may have a bad rep with the purists opting for nothing but a hardtop, the targa certainly closes that gap, providing the best of both worlds (arguably, best of all three). Gone is the cumbersome, removable hardtop targa first introduced in the 1960’s; thirty-years later into the late 1990’s, welcome the first retractable glass roof. Essentially, it’s an over-sized sunroof, and it’s awesome. When fully open, the glass roof panel slides back underneath the rear window. Visibility out the back is severely hindered, but hey, give and take people. A targa-top provides more than enough fresh air and sunshine without compromising any stability issues found in a drop top.

The 2010 Porsche 911 Targa 4 starts at $113,700 Cdn MSRP; this version with all options comes in at $142, 040 before taxes/fees ($149,875 final price excluding GST/HST, if you’re wondering). Powered by a horizontally opposed, 6-cylinder 3.6-litre engine, the 2010 911 Targa 4 makes 345-hp at 6500-rpm and 288 lb-ft of torque. The ‘4’ in the Targa 4 denotes an AWD system, with majority of the power at the rear wheels. The 6-speed manual transmission is standard, as enjoyed in this version, while the PDK is an optional $5560.

Drop a mere $3250 and you’ll find your 911 Targa 4 with a set of multispoke, retro-styled 19” Carrera Sport Wheels, opposed to standard 18-inch alloy wheels with 235/40ZR18 tires front and 295/35ZR18 rears, alongside 13-inch vented rotors. Porsche’s PASM electronic damping control system is an extra $2720, as found here, while the various other stability and safety features such as ABS, PSM, and ASR are standard. The PASM (Porsche Active Suspension Management) is brilliant, offering a ‘Sport’ button that does more than offer a slick Sport button—press this magic button and stiffen your suspension for harder damping and better, tighter control. And to make things really magical, and immensely giddy, press the Sports Exhaust System button ($3830 upgrade): a curious little control denoted by a little icon of twin tailpipes, producing loud, burly exhaust tones out the exhaust pipes. I still have no idea whether this impacts performance in any way, but it’s totally gnarly and worth the money just to wake up the neighbors (sorry people who live down the street on the corner).

Inside the cabin, the 2010 Porsche 911 Targa 4 is equipped with many valuable standards including a 235-watt, 9-speaker audio system; full climate control with active carbon filter; 3-spoke leather steering wheel; and leather seat surfaces, to name a few. All 911 Carrera and 911 Targa models find a standard PCM 3.0 system (Porsche Communication Management) adding a 6.5-inch touchscreen controlling all audio, navigation, and communications. This 911 Targa 4 saw optional black/sand beige interior ($5570); a gear/handbrake lever with aluminum look ($1470); power comfort seats with driver memory ($2120) along with seat ventilation ($1090); Bluetooth Phone Interface ($950); and nav module for the PCM ($2880). Nearly all Porsche products offer an optional Sport Chrono Package, enhancing and adding various features to the respective model. This 2010 911 Targa 4 finds the Sport Chrono Package Plus ($1310) delivering even sportier tuning of the engine and chassis. This package also adds the digital and analogue timer nestled on the upper dash, the Sport select function, and the performance display and personal memory function with the PCM system.

The Atlas Grey Metallic is a gorgeous exterior paint setting you back at $4280. A variety of other exterior features on this Targa 4 have been colour-matched (including the 19” Carrera wheels), at a premium, but the final result looks stunning, creating this furtive 911 Targa 4 certainly setting it apart. A speed activated rear spoiler is standard while self-dimming mirrors and dynamic cornering lights are optional ($580 and $940, respectively) as in my tester.

Clearly, each Porsche can be customized over and above, and this 2010 911 Targa is no exception. So, when evaluating a Porsche, the personal agenda should definitely be taken into account. While all Porsches are exceptional, they’re not all equal. Nor should they be. With nearly $150,000 to spend, there’s a few ways to do it. But this 2010 Porsche 911 Targa 4 is flawless (okay, maybe add the PCCB brake upgrade, but hey).

For more info on the 2010 Porsche 911 Targa 4, visit HERE

Tested > 2011 Ford Fiesta SES Hatchback

The 2011 Ford Fiesta just took home the hardware for Best New Vehicle-Under $21k as voted on by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) during TestFest held last month in Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ontario--an annual week long event where journalists vote on the 'Best New' vehicles within various segments and price-points, conducting back-to-back road tests within each class. The Fiesta beat out the Mazda2, Scion xD, Scion xB, and VW Jetta. And now, finally, the best-selling car in Europe for years and with over half a million whipping around Europe and Asia, Ford has finally brought the chic Fiesta across The Pond, returning to North America after a nearly 30 year hiatus (remember the 1982 Ford Fiesta?).

Exactly one year ago today, I had the chance to attend the Canadian media launch for the Fiesta in Vancouver. At the time, the official Fiesta release date was still 6 months away and the versions we experienced where all Euro spec. One year later, not much is different between the two. The 2011 Ford Fiesta today is just as stylish and sleek, with a starting price-point of $12,999 Cdn MSRP for the entry-level S Sedan. From here, choices include the SE Sedan ($16,099), the SE Hatchback ($16,799), the SEL Sedan ($18,199), to the grand daddy SES Hatchback Fiesta, as per my tester, ringing in at $18,899. Add $1200 for the leather seat upgrade, as with my hatchback, and we're well above $20k for this subcompact rocket. However, more than likely, Ford expects it's entry-level SE's to be the volume sellers, catering to the younger, money-strapped demo seeking that value subcompact. The 2011 Fiesta is that, and much more.

Powered by a 1.6-litre DOHC I-4 engine producing 120-hp and 112 ft-lbs of torque, the Fiesta is fun and nimble yet incredibly fuel efficient, offering a best-in-class 4.9-litre/100km on the highway. In the city, the Fiesta handles brilliantly, negotiating tight turns and narrow roadways with ease. Specially tuned front struts, bushings, dampers, stabilizer bars and a rear twist-beam axle give the Fiesta that spirited, sporty edge; something I'm sure Europeans certainly valued. Equally as confident on the highway, the Fiesta handles great on the highway, a pleasant surprise in a b-segment car (I had the Fiesta for a few days during the AJAC TestFest few weeks back, driving up and down the QEW from Toronto to Niagara-On-The-Lake and back; the Fiesta felt great at high speeds with enough high-end torque when needed). A six-speed manual transmission comes standard with an optional industry-exclusive PowerShift six-speed auto that combines responsiveness and fuel efficiency found with a manual tranny with the benefits of the automatic, including a dual dry-clutch setup.

Perhaps we have the Europeans to thanks, but Ford has taken the innocuous subcompact car and made it sexy, realizing that 'small' need not equate to 'bubbly,' that often includes cheesy styling cues that no young hipster would dare drive. Where other subcompacts like the Toyota Yaris and Nissan Versa totally missed the styling mark, Ford has designed a progressive, sporty ride in the 2011 Fiesta. Muscular, sculpted front fenders and sleek elongated headlamps, for instance, are two things on the Fiesta you probably wouldn't expect on a b-class car. Add to this, nine colour options for added individuality (my Fiesta came in Lime Squeeze...a vibrant colour that looks much cooler in person than it sounds). Every angle of the Fiesta looks hot, particularly the hatchback. Compared to it's competitors, with exception to maybe the all-new Mazda2 with which it shares the same platform, the 2011 Fiesta is by far the best looking.

The cabin is just as bold, with surprisingly ample space, especially head room. The North American Fiesta finds bucket seats up front with 60/40 split second row seats allowing even more space. While the entire front dash is progressively styled, it's not gaudy or over-the-top. Everything is well-balanced and easy to reach and use. The centre stack setup looks sharp, is well laid out, and the abundant radio memory buttons are a welcome feature. My SES Fiesta came equipped with the optional class exclusive 4-inch LCD multifunction display placed up and centre, providing audio system data, vehicle settings, and of course, Ford SYNC info, to name a few. You can also scroll through seven different interior 'mood' lights, subtly lighting up areas including the cup holders, above the glove compartment, and floor mat area...a small little thing thats actually pretty cool.

For more info on the 2011 Ford Fiesta, visit HERE.

Tested > 2010 Chevy Camaro RS

2010 Chevy Camaro RS

Review & Snaps: Amee Reehal ©

Arguably the sickest, best-styled rendition amongst the recent wave of throwback muscle cars introduced by American automakers, is the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro. While the Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger are equally as daring, and without any bias or at risk of drawing parallels to the originals released back in the 60s as many current die-hard enthusiasts rightfully have been doing, as far as curb appeal goes, this average dude finds the Camaro unquestionably the baddest and most fearless. And starting at only $26,995 Cdn MSRP, you'd be hard pressed to find a vehicle that can make such an impact at this price-point; turning Minivan-Dads into temporary rockstars.

My tester is the 2010 Chevy Camaro RS (1LT) starting at $28,065 Cdn MSRP; the second offering in a stable of five trims available. Earlier this year, GM invited me to Whistler, BC for a few days during their Chevy sponsorship at the Telus World Ski & Snowboard Festival, where I had the opportunity, along with fellow journalist Russell Purcell from Vancouver, to rip around the post-Olympic ski resort in a yellow 2010 Camaro SS--the cream of the crop, V8 behemoth that proved to be incredibly fun to drive, both on the highway and through the twisty village roadways. Though not quite the ominous SS, this RS is equally as stunning and the likely the front runner in sales, rolling off the dealer lots.

Powered by a 3.6-litre DOHC V6 engine, the RS puts down 304-hp and 273 lb-ft of torque; just enough RWD power, as I realized, to sustain a joyous grin. A 6-speed manual transmission comes standard, and for an extra $1435 as in tester, add the 6-speed automatic tranny with steering wheel mounted tapshift shifters for a bit more control. Other notable standards on the RS includes a sport suspension, front multi-link strut suspension with coil springs, and dual exhaust with polished stainless steel exhaust tips, to name a few.

Aggressively chiseled from front to back, the Camaro RS looks absolutely menacing just sitting there. And the longer I gawked at it, the more I realized how incredibly dissimilar this 5th-generation Camaro is from the previous version as recent as 2002 when production on the Camaro ended (crazy to think it's only been eight years). Without question, the new Camaro is a true throwback in terms of exterior styling to the original introduced in the late 60s…not the IROC-Z in the 80s, nor the convertible in the 90s. Just a modern version of the original, the way it should be! Standard features include body coloured door handles and rocker mouldings; solar ray glass; fog lamps; halogen headlamps with auto on/off control, to name a few. 18-inch painted aluminum wheels are standard, but opt for the Rally Sport Package upgrade at $1995 as in my tester, adding 20" x 8" front and 20" x 9" rear flangeless painted aluminum wheels with a midnight silver finish wrapped in performance BSW tires; body coloured roof ditch moulding; a rear spoiler; and HID headlamps and unique taillights.

Again, I'm not a Camaro-aficionado but a quick look inside the cabin and it's evident Chevy retained some prominent styling attributes from the earliest version including the larger old-school analog styled, recessed gauges. Front bucket seats, cloth seat trim, a driver 6-way power seat and passenger 2-way manual adjuster/power recline are all standards in the RS. So is a long list of others including the driver information centre; remote keyless entry; two auxiliary power outlets in centre console; folding rear seat back with trunk pass through; outside temperature display, among others. This RS came equipped with the Convenience & Connectivity Package at $1050, adding a cargo convenience net; the leather-wrapped 3-spoke steering wheel with audio controls; leather wrapped shifter knob; Bluetooth; wireless PDIM and USB port; and rear ultrasonic park assist.

Even with $5775 in options (frankly, not a huge premium considering all you get…bigger rims, enhanced exterior styling, upgraded cabin), this Camaro RS rings in at only $33,840 before taxes/fees. For a sports car with distinct styling, huge impact, and nostalgic flair hovering around the 30K price point, the 2010 Chevy Camaro RS can't be beat.

For more info on the 2010 Camaro, visit here.