Well I’m feeling fortunate this week. Not only do I have another new 2017 Lincoln Continental at my disposal, but this version is even nicer than the 3.0 GTDI AWD Reserve I drove back in April. Don’t…

2017 Lincoln Continental Reserve 3.0L AWD RSP

2017 Lincoln Continental Reserve 3.0L AWD RSP
The new 2017 Lincoln Continental Reserve 3.0L AWD makes for a quick and comfortable luxury conveyance. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Well I’m feeling fortunate this week. Not only do I have another new 2017 Lincoln Continental at my disposal, but this version is even nicer than the 3.0 GTDI AWD Reserve I drove back in April.

Don’t get me wrong, as that previous Burgundy Velvet painted example was stunning, especially inside where its Cappuccino leather-lined interior was downright opulent. This time around the exterior colour is Midnight Sapphire Blue and the cabin is once again finished in the new Cappuccino theme, which is only a shame because I’d have liked to try its saddle brown Terracotta leather, or maybe Jade Grey.

2017 Lincoln Continental Reserve 3.0L AWD RSP
It’s long like a classic Lincoln luxury sedan, but not so much that’s its cumbersome. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

More traditional luxury buyers can opt for Ebony black, but this ain’t no Town Car so why be normal? In fact, the new Continental is unlike anything Lincoln has ever produced before. Truly, I haven’t liked a Lincoln four-door as much since the opening scene of Thunderball, the Lehmann-Peterson crafted ‘64 Continental Executive Limousine being Albert R. Broccoli’s chosen ride of Colonel Jacques Bouvar’s bereaved widow (and Jacques/Spectre Number 6 himself, we’ll later learn), a car I could get used to having in my personal collection. The four-door ‘65 Continental Convertible that James pulled up to Emilio Largo’s Nassau waterfront estate in halfway through the film was even prettier, although I like the original front end design of the version used to drop 007 off to Fort Knox in Goldfinger better.

2017 Lincoln Continental Reserve 3.0L AWD RSP
There’s nothing else quite like it on the road. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

That’s how cool Lincoln used to be, and while I highly doubt we’ll see a four-door convertible version of this new Continental anytime soon (although it would be sweet), I could certainly see the likes of modern-day Don Drapers pulling up to their wannabe Manhattan offices in one of the two new Continentals I recently drove. While behind the wheel I find myself contemplating the purchase of a classic Brooks Brothers ‘60s-era styled suit of my own, and of course something along the lines of an Omega Seamaster Deville or Tudor Oyster Prince for the wrist.

While sporting a vintage watch and classic styled suit won’t likely leave you stranded on the road or cause any bodily harm if you get in an accident (unless the watch makes you late), living with a classic car might. They’re just not good daily drivers, lacking the reliability, safety, comfort, performance, and technology of today’s machinery, but the new Continental combines all of the above in a respectful homage of the early-to-late ‘60s model that previously bore its name.

2017 Lincoln Continental Reserve 3.0L AWD RSP
The Continental’s cabin is an ideal mix of old world opulence and highly advanced technology. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Maybe homage isn’t the right word, as the new Continental’s chromed mesh grille, available bejeweled LED headlamps, single-piece LED taillight cluster, and many other finely crafted details are nothing like that early car, but its big blocky upright three-box luxury sedan lines and its commanding overall presence conjures the spirit of classic Lincolns better than anything in the brand’s recent past. In other words, I like it. I like it a lot.

Details worthy of closer attention include the artfully shaped metal side mirror posts that provide a perfectly flat base for the housings’ power-folding pirouette when approaching the car, the unique exposed hinge-like chrome fender/door trim just beneath, and the gorgeous chromed door handles that perfectly align with the side window beltline trim until protruding outward to meet your hand. It’s features like these that make this new Continental the Jaeger LeCoultre Grande Reverso Ultra Thin Duoface of cars.

2017 Lincoln Continental Reserve 3.0L AWD RSP
These 30-way seats are beyond incredible. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

OK, I’m having a little fun with this one, but that’s only because the new Continental makes me feel different than most others in this class. Maybe I’m a bit bored of the usual Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Lexus, etcetera, and want to spend time at the wheel of something with a little more majesty. If you feel the same, you should consider the Continental, as it pours on old world charm in a similar way as a Bentley or Rolls-Royce, albeit with better electronics and a much more approachable price tag.

The Continental Reserve interior is fabulous, with equal parts elegance and technology. Most surfaces that aren’t genuine open-pore hardwood, chromed metal, or digital interfaces are soft to the touch, whether made from composites or supple leathers. Front and rear seat adjustability borders on the ridiculous, and they’re four of the most comfortable chairs in the industry. Those in the first row of my tester are Lincoln’s $750 optional 30-way powered multi-contour type—seriously. Lincoln registered no less than 50 patents for these, whereas the two outboard passengers in back are treated to the $5,000 Rear-Seat Package (RSP) that includes 40/20/40-split folding/reclining via powered actuation, four-way powered lumbar support, airliner-style head restraints, heated and cooled cushions, side window sunshades, a twin-panel panoramic moonroof, rear-duct B-pillar registers, inflatable safety belts, and a flip-down centre armrest with an impressive set of integrated audio, climate, and sunshade controls, plus cupholders.

2017 Lincoln Continental Reserve 3.0L AWD RSP
A dual-pane panoramic sunroof adds an open, airy ambience. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Our tester also includes the $5,500 Luxury Package boasting premium LED headlights and 19-speaker Revel Ultima audio, as well as a $4,000 Technology Package that adds a 360-degree surround parking camera, active park assist semi-autonomous parking, a head-up display, adaptive cruise control, pre-collision alert and assist with pedestrian protection, active braking, brake support, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, a driver alert system, and more.

Standard features on my $63,900 Continental Reserve 3.0L tester (the base model starts at $57,400) include most anything you can think of not yet mentioned, with some highlights being a beautiful set of machine-finished 19-inch alloys with black painted pockets, auto high beams, remote start, proximity-sensing keyless access, ambient lighting, pushbutton ignition, power-cinching doors, a powered tilt/telescoping steering column with memory, a leather-wrapped heatable multifunction steering wheel, a fully configurable TFT colour gauge cluster, Lincoln’s trademark pushbutton shifter, 24-way heated and cooled front seats with independent powered thigh extenders and driver’s side memory, Bridge of Weir Deepsoft leather upholstery, tri-zone auto climate control with rear seat controls, heatable rear outboard seats, Sync 3 infotainment with a 8.0-inch LCD capacitive touchscreen featuring swipe capability, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, voice-activated navigation, and a rearview camera.

2017 Lincoln Continental Reserve 3.0L AWD RSP
The Rear Seat Package (RSP) adds this fold-down console filled with features. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Additional Continental Reserve features include an embedded modem, Wi-Fi, 13-speaker Revel audio with HD and satellite radio, a universal garage door opener, rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming rearview and driver’s side mirrors, a 110-volt household-style power outlet, front and rear parking sensors, blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, active noise cancellation, a powered rear window sunshade, power-folding rear headrests, a hands-free powered trunk lid, and plenty of active and passive safety features.

My tester was upgraded from the standard 2.7-litre V6, six-speed auto with paddles and torque-vectoring AWD combination, the engine good for 365 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque, to a 3.0-litre V6 with 400 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque, plus the same gearbox and AWD.

I won’t go into any driving dynamic info in this garage overview, as that needs to be saved for my road test review, but suffice to say it feels a lot more substantive than the MKZ that shares much of its chassis architecture components. Where the MKZ is mid-size the Continental approaches full-size, which is easy to easy inside and out. Some chassis highlights include continuously controlled dampers to simultaneously improve ride quality and road holding, while its adaptive steering is designed to enhance turn-in and high-speed stability.

Come back to check out my full road test review soon…

With a shiny new 2017 Honda Pilot in the driveway, I can’t help but glance over at my recently updated sales chart spreadsheet to see how this relatively new model is stacking up against its closest…

2017 Honda Pilot Touring

2017 Honda Pilot Touring
Like what you see? It’s an Acura MDX with Honda styling, and therefore great value. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

With a shiny new 2017 Honda Pilot in the driveway, I can’t help but glance over at my recently updated sales chart spreadsheet to see how this relatively new model is stacking up against its closest competitors. I keep track of such things as it helps to build the narrative, especially if a particular model isn’t quite measuring up to its associated brand power.

Honda has mega brand power in this country, having long held bestselling status in the car sector (not the pickup truck sector—that was a joke, as its Ridgeline owns “most exclusive” status here and everywhere else it’s sold) with the Civic; currently (as of Q2 2017) in first place in the mid-size car segment with its Accord (yes, ahead of the Camry); also number one in the subcompact SUV segment with the HR-V; constantly contending for top three spot amongst compact SUVs with its CR-V, second as of December 31, 2016 with the Fit in the subcompact car category (albeit it’s plummeted to fifth in just six months), and 11th (as of Q2 2017) for the subject of this review; but that’s better than 12th, where it finished up 2016.

2017 Honda Pilot Touring
Top-tier Touring trim adds LED headlamps, 20-inch alloys, and other niceties. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

To be fair, if you pare the segment down to car-based crossover SUVs from its 21 overall contestants it registers 10th, although the segment shrinks to 18. We can get rid of a couple of tall wagons that don’t really compete directly, mind you, which yanks the Pilot up a notch to ninth yet removes another from the total tally resulting in 17 direct rivals, and if we’re going to get so granular in our competitive analysis we really should clump models with five and seven passenger variants together (like the Santa Fe Sport and XL), which places the Pilot in 8th and overall list down to 16. Still, it’s hardly reasonable to include the new VW Atlas on the big list, as it’s only been available for two months, while the same brand’s Touareg is a $50k luxury SUV that competes in an entirely different class. This makes the Pilot eighth most popular out of 14 direct competitors (and no we can’t divide things up into five- and seven-seat challengers because Honda doesn’t offer a five-seat variant.

2017 Honda Pilot Touring
You can only get a black interior if you don’t want a black exterior… seriously. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

That’s an issue it will need to address, as class dominating Hyundai found nearly three times as many buyers for its five-seat Santa Fe Sport over the first half of 2017, while Ford’s five-seat Edge wasn’t far off the mark. And if you think things even out much more when comparing seven-seat SUVs, consider that Ford’s Explorer sold more than twice as many units, while Toyota’s Highlander, Dodge’s Journey, and Kia’s Sorento came close to doubling Pilot sales. Grinding salt into the wound, this is ramping up to be a particularly good year for the big Honda’s big SUV, with 4,079 units already down the road compared to 7,279 last year. Then again, Honda sold 8,230 in 2015 when the new model was introduced (in May), which while a massive bump over the 6,113 units sold in 2014 while the old model was winding down, and much stronger than the scant 4,328 sold during the model’s emotional low of 2007, is a big hill to scale in comparison to rivals. In other words, the Pilot significantly underperforms on the sales charts for such a mega brand.

It’s not like it’s suffering from new kid syndrome either. The Pilot has been around for a long time, 15 years to be exact, but the rather bland looking first-generation wasn’t exactly a homerun, and Honda’s second kick at the can, a boxy, upright, traditionally styled SUV was only moderately more successful.

2017 Honda Pilot Touring
All black interior is joined by loads of piano black lacquer trim, the only colour being some superb digital interfaces. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Having previously tested a 2016 version in top-tier Touring trim, this is the second modern-day third-generation Pilot to be parked in my garage. Odd that Honda provided a Touring trimmed model once again, and stranger still that it coated both in the same grey-blue Steel Sapphire Metallic hue, especially when so many other colours are on the available palette, such as darker and bolder Obsidian Blue Pearl, dark green Black Forest Pearl, Dark Cherry Pearl, and all the usual shades from White Diamond Pearl, Lunar Silver Metallic, and medium grey Modern Steel Metallic, to Crystal Black Pearl.

Opting for the latter would have allowed perforated Beige leather upholstery instead of the same old Black hides, but it’s even more interesting to note you can’t get the lighter beige cabin with some of the complementary colours just noted (dark green and beige is a no-brainer). It must be difficult to select colour combinations knowing ahead they won’t appeal to everyone, but one reason top sellers perform well is the variety they bring to the market. Limiting the beige interior to those wanting a black exterior seems self-defeating.

2017 Honda Pilot Touring
The primary instruments are unique and filled with a large colour TFT multi-info display. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Interestingly, Honda’s U.S. division forces those who purchase black Pilots into black or grey interiors, with beige totally off the menu, while those opting for the green or cherry red exteriors are mandated into beige. Either blue exterior paint removes black and beige from the equation entirely, leaving just grey, but at least more options are on the table. Such is life with a ten-times larger market, but then again a little more colour variety wouldn’t hurt the Pilot’s potential sales.

I won’t use the word austere, but even when Honda tries to bling up the top-line Pilot Touring’s cabin it uses yet more of the inkiest shade in the form of piano black lacquered plastic. There’s no warm wood tones, sophisticated satin-finished metals, or any as avant garde as the Nissan Murano’s radical mother of pearl inlays, and while I’m not decrying Honda goes that far to wow would-be buyers, something a bit more daring might be in order. That piano black lacquered plastic is impossible to keep free of dust, scratches easily, and looks passé in anything but a Rolls-Royce Ghost is another valid issue against this overused embellishment, the other being way too much of a “good” thing in its application here.

2017 Honda Pilot Touring
EX-L and Touring trims feature navigation along with voice recognition. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Where more is better is in seating, the Pilot standard with eight seatbelts, albeit the second-row captain’s chairs in our tester resulted in the usual count of seven seats from its three rows. I’ll let you in on the third row’s ability to haul more than just kids in my upcoming road test review, at which point all also be critiquing other considerations like roominess and comfort in the other seating positions, overall refinement, how well the configurable TFT instrument cluster and top-line infotainment touchscreen do their respective jobs, how much the full-load model’s optional nine-speed automatic improves the standard 280 horsepower 3.5-litre V6 engine’s performance and whether or not I’ve learned to appreciate its whacky electronic gear selector.

I can say the upgraded transmission is a win at the pump, with its claimed five-cycle fuel economy rating dropping to 12.4 L/100km in the city compared to 13.0 with the standard six-speed autobox; they both consume an estimated 9.3 L/100km on the highway.

You may also want to know that Honda now believes less is more when it comes to available Pilot trims, the Canadian version having lost its base front-wheel drive LX model, which also means the 2017 Pilot’s base price has climbed to $40,090 plus freight and fees instead of $35,490 last year. That new price is also $1,600 more than last year’s LX AWD, so Honda isn’t trying to spur more sales by slashing the Pilot’s MSRP.

2017 Honda Pilot Touring
These perforated leather front seats feature forced ventilation in Touring trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

It does come well equipped in standard guise, however, with Honda’s Intelligent Variable Torque Management (i-VTM4) AWD that includes dynamic torque vectoring and Intelligent Traction Management with Normal, Snow, Mud and Sand modes, Agile Handling Assist that adds brake pressure to the inside wheels during high-speed cornering to limit understeer and therefore improve control, Active Eco Assist that reduces engine and HVAC performance while minimizing output when using cruise control (aiding fuel economy while reducing emissions), and more under the skin.

Additional standard safety kit includes the usual four-wheel discs with ABS, electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, traction and stability control, hill-start assist, trailer stability assist, tire pressure monitoring, and HondaLink Assist Automatic Emergency Response telematics, while items that were previously optional but are now standard include forward collision warning, collision mitigating autonomous braking, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, road departure mitigation, and Honda’s exclusive LaneWatch blind spot display system that uses a rearward facing camera on the passenger-side mirror to project live video of the blindspot when activating the right turn signal. This is enough for an IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus rating, while the NHTSA gave it a best possible five stars for safety. My Touring trimmed tester includes blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, but loses the LaneWatch system in the process, while the usual combination of airbags help to make the Pilot one of the safest SUVs on the road.

2017 Honda Pilot Touring
The Touring features a dual-pane panoramic glass sunroof is split by a rear entertainment system. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Incidentally, dynamic cruise control is also standard fare, impressive, as are 18-inch alloys, daytime running lights, LED taillights, remote start, proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition, auto on/off headlamps, a windshield wiper de-icer, heatable power-actuated side mirrors, a colour TFT multi-information display, tri-zone auto climate control with second-row controls, 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a multi-angle backup camera with dynamic guidelines, three USB ports, an aux input, wireless smartphone connectivity with audio streaming, Wi-Fi, Siri Eyes Free, SMS text message and email functionality, 225-watt AM/FM/CD audio with seven speakers including a sub and speed-sensitive volume control, active noise cancellation, a compass, a sunglasses holder that doubles as a conversation mirror, heatable front seats, and much more.

Upgrade to the second-run EX and you’ll get upgraded LED daytime running lights, fog lights, turn signals integrated into the side mirror housings, roof rails, a 10-way powered driver’s seat, a universal garage door opener, a powered moonroof, the aforementioned LaneWatch blindspot monitoring camera system, etcetera.

2017 Honda Pilot Touring
How’s that for second-row seating? The captain’s chairs are standard in Touring trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

You can build on EX trim by upgrading to EX-L, which either comes with the name “Navi” or “RES” attached. Both feature an acoustic windshield, a heatable leather-wrapped steering wheel, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, front and rear parking sensors, satellite radio, a powered front passenger seat, leather upholstery, heated second-row outboard seats, one-touch folding second-row seats, a powered tailgate, and more, with the former incorporating navigation with detailed mapping into the infotainment display, and the latter anteing up with a rear entertainment system (hence RES) boasting a 9.0-inch ceiling-mounted display, two wireless headphones, a HDMI input, a 115-volt household-style power outlet, and second-row sunshades.

As you may have guessed, if you want navigation and rear seat entertainment you’ll need to move up to Touring, which as you can see from the photos incorporates a nice bright colourful map and full route guidance within the centre stack display as well as a flip-down TV monitor overhead, this latter item capable of Blu-Ray movies and neatly placed between a double-pane panoramic glass sunroof.

2017 Honda Pilot Touring
How’s that for cargo space? Of course, the rest of the third row and second row fold flat too. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Additional Touring features including 20-inch alloys, full LED headlamps with auto-leveling and auto high beams, chromed exterior door handles, acoustic front door glass, ambient interior lighting, rain-sensing wipers, upgraded 540-watt audio with 10 speakers including a sub plus 5.1 surround, HD radio and two more USB ports, driver’s memory that includes the side mirrors which are also power-folding and incorporate reverse tilt-down, upgraded perforated leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, second-row captain’s chairs, blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and more.

And I haven’t even mentioned a thing about what it’s like to drive. Come back soon for a complete road test review where I’ll cover that all-important issue as well as everything else experiential…

I bet you can think of a dozen or more things you could do with this full-size Transit 350 Diesel cargo van if it was in your possession for a week. Whenever a commercial van maker provides us with one…

2017 Ford Transit 350 Diesel Van

2017 Ford Transit 350 Diesel Van
Ready to deliver near anything you can think of, the 2017 Ford Transit 350 Diesel Van is an impressive beast of burden. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I bet you can think of a dozen or more things you could do with this full-size Transit 350 Diesel cargo van if it was in your possession for a week. Whenever a commercial van maker provides us with one of their wares for a weeklong test we go through our own mental lists, which sometimes turn into long, detailed to-do menus.

The van in question makes the just noted term “full-size” seem understated, as it’s a bit too big for our garage. It’s sitting on the long patch of gravel in front of our office, although it’s sheer mass has us a bit worried it’ll cave the side of an adjacent ditch in and we’ll walk out to find it lying on its side. We’ll let you know how that goes.

As it is, we’ll keep this “In Our Garage” segment (or rather “Out On The Street” segment) short, as we’ve literally got loads of errands to complete and just six days left to accomplish them.

2017 Ford Transit 350 Diesel Van
This is the Medium roof, Long Van, the Extended body only available with the High roof. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Our Transit 350 Diesel should have no problem accommodating our every wish, mind you. My tester’s massive passenger side-slider and tall 50/50-hinged rear doors provide access to a cavern of cargo capacity, while its rubberized floor and finished sidewalls mean our various loads won’t scratch any inner paintwork or vice versa.

Without further hesitation, Ford makes two Transit models and three trims for 2017, the base unit simply dubbed Van due to its cargo hauling focus, whereas the Passenger Wagon XL and XLT trims are ideal for hotel/airport shuttles, sightseeing tour companies, or any other duty that requires comfortable seating for eight to 12 people.

Within these categories there are three different roof heights and another three lengths to consider, the former named Low, Medium and High, and the latter dubbed Regular, Long and Extended. Yes, Ford’s commercial sector doesn’t get fancy with nomenclatures (like we do), but that’s not to say our Long-length, Medium-roofed 2017 Transit 350 Diesel Van wasn’t nicely equipped.

2017 Ford Transit 350 Diesel Van
The windows in back are optional, but helpful when parking. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Incidentally, the passenger side-sliding door comes standard with Medium and High roof models, replacing the base Low roof Transit Van’s 60/40-hinged side doors, whereas the 50/50-hinged rear doors swing open to 180 degrees in base Low roof guise or open all the way to 237 degrees with the Medium and High roof upgrades.

Before delving into all of the Transit’s details, take note that Ford gives its commercial buyers 64 choices when it comes to configuring the 2017 Transit, which is up from 58 last year. Considering 2017 is only the model’s third year of availability, that’s a lot of variety that will no doubt keep increasing as its popularity grows. Ford claims the van’s many fleet buyers were influential in the upgrades made since it arrived on the scene, one of which is a new lower-profile centre console that reportedly makes stepping directly from the driver’s seat into the rear cargo area easier.

2017 Ford Transit 350 Diesel Van
The Transit’s cabin is a no-nonsense, straightforward, down-to-business office. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Heatable front seats are now on the options menu too, whether upholstered in leatherette or fabric, while choosing the plusher material allows for available 10-way powered seats as well. What’s more, the stereo is now made up of four speakers instead of just two, with tweeter and woofer included.

On a purely practical point, the Dearborn-based automaker relocated the 2017 Transit’s electrical connections for more convenient access, this change thanks to feedback from upfitters who customize commercial vehicles for fleet buyers.

Powertrain choices, which were carried over from last year, are included in Ford’s list of 64 possible Transit configurations, with the van’s three available engines including a base 275 horsepower 3.7-litre V6 good for 260 lb-ft of torque, a 3.5-litre turbocharged and direct-injected EcoBoost V6 capable of 310 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque, and lastly the as-tested 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo-diesel capable of 185 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque. All of that output gets fed to the rear wheels via a proven six-speed automatic transmission, with no four-wheel drive option available (look to the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter or Nissan NV for 4×4 capability).

2017 Ford Transit 350 Diesel Van
Are these seats as comfortable as they look? Read our upcoming review to find out. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Being that most Transit buyers will never set foot in one (the majority being fleet buyers for large companies), don’t expect to find a lot of fancy features. Nevertheless, base models won’t cause you to roll your own windows, as the standard features list includes powered front side glass, as well as powered locks with remote access, power-adjustable side mirrors, tilt and telescopic steering, variable intermittent wipers, air conditioning, a backup camera with Trailer Hitch Assist, an AM/FM stereo with an aux input, vinyl flooring, a fabric front cab headliner, two-way manual front seat adjustment, 16-inch steel wheels, an engine block heater, and more.

2017 Ford Transit 350 Diesel Van
Now that’s big! (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I won’t bother going into passenger model features, because that’s not the van we’re dealing with this week, but suffice to say they’re a bit more plentiful in XL trim and much more so in XLT.

Come to think of it, I’ve already said too much for a garage review, so catch up with me soon for the full road test review at which point I’ll talk about general comfort, ride quality, handling, low-speed manoeuvrability, performance, fuel-economy, overall ease of use, capability during loading, and anything else I can come up with.

Now we’ve got some stuff to haul. Keep your eyes peeled to these pages for more…

Volkswagen had big hopes for its American-sized Passat when it replaced the smaller Euro-spec B6 model back in 2011 for the 2012 model year. I tested and reviewed a TDI Trendline+ and a 3.6 Highline that…

2017 Volkswagen Passat Highline 3.6 VR6

2017 Volkswagen Passat Highline 3.6 VR6
The 2017 Passat is a handsome car, yet does it stand out enough in its crowded mid-size class? (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Volkswagen had big hopes for its American-sized Passat when it replaced the smaller Euro-spec B6 model back in 2011 for the 2012 model year. I tested and reviewed a TDI Trendline+ and a 3.6 Highline that year, and while impressed with the styling, performance and roominess, I was a bit put off by its downgraded interior refinement.

After a first foray with the car my review comments included, “The dash, door uppers and inserts remain high-quality soft touch synthetic, but that’s about it for premium pliable composites as the rest of the cabin is less impressively finished in hard plastics, a disappointment when compared to most top-line models in the mid-size segment, and a downer considering just how well-made the old Passat’s interior was.”

2017 Volkswagen Passat Highline 3.6 VR6
Rear styling is classy in an understated Germanic way. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

To make matters worse, the replacement Euro-spec Passat B7 was a move up in every respect, and likely a model that would’ve worked very well here in Canada where we traditionally appreciate smaller cars. VW followed this European market sedan up with a unique five-door Passat Alltrack (similar to our Golf Alltrack, but larger), a model VW’s U.S. division must now be lusting after considering how well Subaru is doing with its Outback, while the entirely new Passat B8, introduced in 2014, is such a styling knockout and appears so upscale inside that any knowledgeable North American Volkswagen fan (the majority of which are quite well versed in the brand’s global affairs) will feel slighted.

2017 Volkswagen Passat Highline 3.6 VR6
This top-tier Highline model’s two-tone interior colour scheme is certainly eye-catching. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

After all, we had to wait until last year for a mid-cycle update to a Passat design that’s been in our market for seven years without much noticeable change. As you might expect, the car’s sales are considerably softer than its interior plastic these days, with the first half of 2017 resulting in just 1,793 units (including the CC that gets lumped into the Passat’s Canadian sales numbers). All of last year was slightly stronger at 4,023 deliveries, but the model’s steady fall from its initial 2012 calendar year high of 8,019 units is evident in the numbers in between, which included 7,909 units for 2013, 7,520 for 2014 and 5,838 for 2015.

This loss of favour is shared with some other mid-size sedans that have been shoved aside for the current crossover SUV trend, VW’s own 2018 Atlas hoping to alleviate some of the brand’s mid-size four-door pain, but the Passat never owned as much market share as its rivals and continues to be a minor player in the lucrative mid-size sedan game. It currently sits ninth most popular in Canada, behind the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion, Nissan Altima, Chevrolet Malibu, Hyundai Sonata, Chrysler 200 (that’s already been cancelled), and Kia Optima, only beating the Subaru Legacy and Mazda 6.

2017 Volkswagen Passat Highline 3.6 VR6
The Passat’s clean, uncluttered instrument panel mirrors the rest of the car’s minimalism. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

If you think it enjoys any more success in the U.S. market where it was purposely designed to compete you’re right, but its current eighth placement is only one better because Chrysler has stopped shipping 200s and its dealer stock is almost depleted. In other words, VW will want to rethink its approach to the mid-size market when it comes time to replace this aging model.

For the time being it soldiers through the 2017 model year with a slightly refreshed uniform as of last year, plus some important updates inside, its completely revised infotainment system featuring proximity-sensing plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto especially notable, while specific to this year its base Trendline trim has been scrapped, as has its top-line Execline offering. This leaves the Passat Trendline + as the new base model, plus the Comfortline and the new top-tire Highline in the mix, the latter trim available with the base 1.8-litre turbo four as well as the 3.6-litre VR6 currently in our garage.

2017 Volkswagen Passat Highline 3.6 VR6
Faux woodgrain galore! The Passat pulls some traditional American car design cues. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

VW shipped this car in Deep Black Pearl with a gorgeous Titan Black and Golden Oak interior, the latter saddle brown colour referring to the second hue of its two-tone interior motif, which is used for the door panel inserts, the ribbed leather seat inserts, and the contrast stitching found on those seats. The cabin is further upgraded with glossy grey-stained faux hardwood in classic American sedan tradition, and yes I say this last part with tongue firmly in cheek—I’d rather be surrounded in the optional matte light oak woodgrain that looks and feels a bit more realistic. A generous dose of piano black lacquered plastics adorn key areas as does VW’s usual assortment of satin-finish and bright metallic accents, while a merely average colour multi-information display set within the Passat’s classic analogue gauge cluster is totally upstaged by that aforementioned infotainment touchscreen.

2017 Volkswagen Passat Highline 3.6 VR6
There’s nothing even remotely average about these front seats. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I’ll go into more detail in my upcoming review with respect to the usability and capability of this infotainment system including its standard navigation and backup camera, how well the Highline’s standard 400-watt Fender audio system pumps out tunes, the ease and simplicity of smartphone setup and audio streaming functions, the quality of interior furnishings and overall comfort and roominess of the cabin, its trunk size and ease of rear seatback cargo expansion, plus of course how well it drives with this more formidable 280 horsepower powerplant.

Plus I’ll take a look at how well its new $1,350 Driver Assistance package measures up to other active safety suites in the class, this one including adaptive cruise control, lane assist, park assist, and park distance control, but no auto high beams, autonomous braking, etcetera.

Is the Passat really a cheaper alternative to an Audi A4 or A6, or just a mid-size wannabe that’s not worthy of going head-to-head with our current bestselling Accord? Stay tuned…

Kia Soul fans rejoice! The Kia Soul, which was introduced to the market as a 2009 model, now has an optional turbocharged engine. The new Soul has a 1.6-litre turbocharged inline four engine paired with…

2017 Kia Soul Turbo SX

The Kia Soul Turbo looks awesome in its Wild Orange paint

Kia Soul fans rejoice! The Kia Soul, which was introduced to the market as a 2009 model, now has an optional turbocharged engine. The new Soul has a 1.6-litre turbocharged inline four engine paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission with manual shifting.

The new turbocharged Kia Soul now develops 201 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 195 lb-ft of torque at 1,500 rpm. The Soul will reach 100 kph in 7.5 seconds (est) from a standstill and will keep on going to a claimed top speed of 200 kph. Interestingly the engine in the new Kia Soul Turbo is the same engine found in the Kia Forte Koup, Kia Optima, Hyundai Elantra Sport, Hyundai Sonata, Hyundai Tucson and the Hyundai Veloster Turbo.

The Kia Soul sells extremely well in the small car, tall hatchbacks & crossover vehicle segment in Canada. In 2016 it led the market segment with 12,672 units sold. The closest competitor to the Kia Soul in this segment was the new Honda HR-V. In 2016 the Honda HR-V sold 12,371 units.

A VW GTI-esque red stripe nicely compliments the athletic looking Kia Soul Turbo.

To distinguish the turbo model from the base model there have been several visual refinements. A Volkswagen GTI inspired red accent line just below the door runs along the rocker panel. The piano black grille is sharper and also sports a red accent line near the bottom of the fascia. Our test vehicle also included 18-inch sport alloy wheels with P235/45R18 tires, upgraded fog lights, dual exhaust tips, a front skid plate and distinguishing Turbo badges.

The Wild Orange coloured stitching looks great on the sport shaped steering wheel and the sport seats.

Inside, you will find comfortable, high quality black cloth sport seats with leather bolsters trimmed in “Wild Orange” stitching. Both front seats are six-way power adjustable and heated however, only the drivers’ seat has lumbar support. The Kia also has a heated sport steering wheel (shaped like a downwards facing “D”) wrapped in leather and also trimmed to match the seats. The automatic gearshift is wrapped in leather and accented nicely with more stitching and a black and orange plastic knob.

 

The control knob for the footwell lighting can be set to respond to the music or apparently even your mood.

Underneath and to the left of the steering wheel there is a control knob for the foot well lighting which you can set to react to mood or music. It worked extremely well for music however stayed permanently blue while on mood, which I thought was weird because I couldn’t resist smiling the entire time. The tester also came with a beautiful panoramic sunroof that made the already spacious car feel even more so.

Speaking of space, the cargo capacity for the Kia Soul Turbo is 532-litres which climbs to 1,402-litres once the rear seats go down. The trunk also comes with a clever hidden floor panel, which can be used to store valuables.

The eight-inch multimedia interface comes with voice activated navigation, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

On the Soul Turbo the Tech package option adds $3,000 making the Kia $31,000. The option package includes dual USB charge points, eight speakers, Harman Kardon premium audio system, eight-inch multimedia interface with voice-activated navigation, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, LED cabin lighting and a cargo cover with luggage net.

There is so a lot more to delve into when it comes to the Kia Soul Turbo so make sure to come back and read our full road test review. I’m excited to tell you what it’s been like to drive, how comfortable it is, its livability, the fuel efficiency and why it’s worth the extra money for the Turbo.

I don’t know why I still call this little car the Tercel. I worked for a Toyota dealer way back in ‘87 and the Tercel was one of the most popular cars we sold at the time. That was already the third-generation…

2017 Toyota Yaris SE Hatchback

2017 Toyota Yaris SE Hatchback
The 2017 Yaris Hatchback looks pretty sporty in SE trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I don’t know why I still call this little car the Tercel. I worked for a Toyota dealer way back in ‘87 and the Tercel was one of the most popular cars we sold at the time.

That was already the third-generation Tercel, which was replaced by the Echo in 1999. This oddly styled yet undeniably practical subcompact was one of my first-ever manufacturer-supplied weeklong test cars (thank you F. David Stone) when I entered the professional journalist fray in 2000, and one I’d still love to get my hands on in five-speed manual Hatchback RS guise. I first drove that little number at a press launch in Niagara, Ontario during the fall of 2003, but it was another such launch program in autumn of 2005 that saw a redesigned version of the same car debut, and with it the odd yet catchy Yaris name.

2017 Toyota Yaris SE Hatchback
The machine-finished 16-inch alloy wheels with black painted pockets and rooftop spoiler are part of the SE upgrade. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Interestingly, the Echo was actually a rebadged Yaris, but most of us don’t pay attention to European nameplates here in North America. I didn’t even realize both cars were also shared with the Vitz, Platz and Vios in Asian markets, four-door sedans of which are my regular rides while taxiing around my second home of greater Manila (there are millions of these things throughout the Philippines).

I had already experienced just how much fun the Yaris was to drive with that aforementioned Echo Hatch RS, but it was during the second launch event that I first autocrossed one. The car has only improved over time, although I must say this latest version isn’t as capable of sneaking past the constabulary is it once was.

At least this top-line Yaris SE looks a lot subtler in Magnetic Grey Metallic than Absolutely Red, or even more jaw-dropping Ruby Flare Pearl with Black Sand pillars and rooftop, the latter two hues making the car’s massive black maw pull eyeballs as if one of Gazoo Racing’s WRC rally cars was nonchalantly passing by (ok, that race-only car has a lot more white in its livery, but you get my point).

2017 Toyota Yaris SE Hatchback
Toyota improves the SE’s interior with soft-touch surfaces and sportier trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I only wish Toyota had shaved $1,000 off my tester’s bottom line by forgoing the rather pedestrian four-speed automatic, the much more engaging standard five-speed manual a lot more in keeping with the Yaris SE’s hot hatch styling.

Yes, the Yaris is one of the only cars still sold in North America with a four-speed autobox, most of its peers having gravitated over to a continuously variable transmission or a much more fun to drive dual-clutch sequential gearbox. The Yaris’ automatic doesn’t even include a sequential manual mode, but rather a gated shifter that lets you manually select all of its lower gears—I suppose that’s better than nothing. I love that Toyota raises the excitement bar by calling it a four-speed “Super ECT with Overdrive,” as if its SLAM overdrive-equipped Class 0.5 jerry-rigged Isu-Sim SSP05 hyperdrive-enhanced Girodyne SRB42 sublight engines can whisk the little YT-1300 to 1,050 km/h in atmosphere or 3,000 G in space.

2017 Toyota Yaris SE Hatchback
Not a bad looking little economy car, don’t you think? (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Before you start thinking that I’m ripping too hard on this cheap little hatch (it’s less than $20k as tested), appreciate that its four-speed auto drives better than many newer CVTs, but I’ve already said too much as this is seat-of-the-pants info for my upcoming road test review—stay tuned.

I’ll mention a thing or two about the Yaris’ sole 106-horsepower 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine with 103 lb-ft of torque in the review as well (which is actually two horsepower and two pound-feet less formidable than the Echo hatch noted earlier), along with the usual comments regarding drivability, overall comfort, interior quality, refinement and equipment usability, but I might as well cover its base and optional features now.

2017 Toyota Yaris SE Hatchback
This leather-clad gated shifter hides a four-speed automatic, but don’t worry performance fans as a five-speed manual comes standard. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

For just $18,510 plus freight and fees, the 2017 Yaris Hatchback SE hits the road running with machine-finished 16-inch alloy wheels on 195/50 all-seasons, signature LED driving lights within the halogen projector headlamp clusters, fog lights, a unique black mesh grille (the base car’s is horizontally ribbed), blackened front trim (normally chrome), a body-colour rear rooftop spoiler, powered locks with remote access, powered windows, a contrast stitched leather-wrapped tilt (non-telescopic) multifunctional sport steering wheel, a leather-clad shift knob, a soft-touch synthetic instrument panel, soft door inserts, power-adjustable heated side mirrors, a trip computer, cruise control, air conditioning, a 6.1-inch colour infotainment touchscreen incorporating a backup camera, six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio with aux and USB ports, Bluetooth, front sport seats with contrast-stitched ribbed premium cloth upholstery, a 60/40-split folding rear bench seat that expands on the already sizeable 433-litre (15.3 cubic foot) cargo area, and most impressive of all (especially because it’s even standard with the $15,475 base Yaris), Toyota’s Safety Sense C combo that boasts auto high beams (seriously!), a pre-collision system, and lane departure alert.

2017 Toyota Yaris SE Hatchback
These ribbed and contrast stitched grey cloth sport seats are part of the SE upgrade. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Of course, the Yaris also comes standard with the usual active and passive safety gear like ABS-enhanced four-wheel disc brakes (the SE is upgraded over the usual rear drums) with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, traction and stability control, all the usual airbags including one for the driver’s knees, etcetera.

People normally buy into this class because they’re not required to spend much initially or ongoing, with even this sportier Yaris capable of a claimed 7.8 L/100km city, 6.5 highway and 7.2 combined fuel economy rating. The Yaris is renowned for its reliability, just like the Echo, Tercel, and Starlet before.

2017 Toyota Yaris SE Hatchback
The rear seats aren’t as fancy, but plenty serviceable. Come back to find out if they’re comfortable and roomy too. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

My tester was pretty well loaded, although a person could spend extra for paint, the aforementioned two-tone colours costing an extra $540. The cargo liner in back was an add-on too, this from the accessories catalogue at a mere $90 and change. Ask nicely and your dealer might even throw in all-season floor mats, these only setting them back $165, while a cargo net is just over $130. You can get a block heater for just under $210, and the usual paint protection, hood deflector, and body side mouldings too, but the coolest dealer-added accessories include the $465 Bongiovi Acoustics DPS radio upgrade that really improves audio quality, and the (rather pricey) $1,123 navigation system that adds detailed mapping and real-time routing to the stock display, plus SMS text message/email read and reply, “one shot” voice commands, “Playmore Like This” and Gracenotes apps, plus more.

The Yaris is about to be updated with an even more aggressive look for 2018, so if you like what you see you may want to grab a 2017 while you can. I’ll be back soon with my full review and a considerably larger, much more detailed photo gallery, so until then enjoy the small batch of photos supplied…

If the new 2017 Envision looks like a Buick that might have been envisioned a few years ago, complete with a chromed waterfall grille and “ventiports” atop the hood, there’s a good reason. It was…

2017 Buick Envision Premium II

2017 Buick Envision Premium II
The 2017 Envision offers a classic Buick look in a compact SUV package that’s already appealing to Canadian buyers. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

If the new 2017 Envision looks like a Buick that might have been envisioned a few years ago, complete with a chromed waterfall grille and “ventiports” atop the hood, there’s a good reason. It was actually a two-year old model when it arrived here late last year, having initially only been available in Buick’s largest market, China.

It hails from GM’s very successful SAIC General Motors Corp., which manufactures and sells Buick, Chevrolet, and Cadillac brand vehicles in Mainland China, a Shanghai-based venture that first produced the Buick Regal in 1999 and has since resulted in one of the most formidable U.S.-Chinese corporate partnerships. Those paying attention to all things Buick have likely heard stories about nicer, more opulently trimmed models available in China that couldn’t be had here in North America, so it’s nice to see some of the fruit from this relationship finally heading our way in the form of this very impressive new compact SUV.

2017 Buick Envision Premium II
It doesn’t look like a smaller Enclave by accident, the Envision playing on the success of its larger sibling. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Yes, the Envision is produced in SAIC-GM’s Shanghai facility and then shipped here, which only makes me wonder why it took so long. Certainly they could’ve picked a better year to do it, with President Trump’s anti-offshoring rhetoric and all, but the U.S.’ bombastic new commander in chief seems more twitterpated with “unfair” Canadian trade practices than anything the Chinese might be doing. Of course, I digress as usual, but in the case of anything Buick related, a “Made in China” stamp makes perfect sense.

After all, if it weren’t for the Chinese market there wouldn’t be a Buick today, which means our friends across the Pacific deserve all the jobs this once solely domestic brand can allow for. If it were up to the North American market, we’d be wandering through show ‘n shine shows on Sundays telling our kids about this great tri-shield brand that made now legendary nameplates like the GNX/Grand National, Riviera (how I love anything from 1963–1965), Roadmaster (especially the Skylark), or the Model 40, but now this history is still part of a brand that teases us with new dream cars like the fabulous Avista and Avenir concepts, just like the Y-Job did to our forefathers. Yes, if it weren’t for the Chinese market Buick would likely be history along with Pontiac and Oldsmobile.

2017 Buick Envision Premium II
There’s no shortage of premium-level features, but how’s the quality? We’ll tell all in an upcoming review. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

To be completely clear, global Buick deliveries were 1,432,679 units last year, beating its previous best year ever (2015) by 200,698 for a 16.3 percent increase. Can you guess how many of those sales were from the U.S. and Canada? The world’s largest vehicle market accounted for just 229,631 Buick deliveries during the 12 months of 2016, whereas Canadians purchased just 19,053, no doubt many sold to new Canadians of Chinese descent (or at least that’s what my local dealer tells me). So on behalf of all classic automobile brand lovers, thank you China for saving another storied American brand from elimination. Now, can you please do something about Chrysler before it’s too late?

While the 2017 Envision might not be the newest looking SUV on the block, or within Buick’s ranks for that matter, it is ideally positioned in the market to push Buick’s North American sales up considerably. The compact luxury SUV segment is Canada’s third largest category amongst premium brands, just behind D-segment cars (sedans, coupes and convertibles) and mid-size SUVs, but it’s one of the fastest growing and therefore represents the greatest opportunity. This is especially true for Buick that’s a virtual no-show in the D-segment with Regal at 841 units in 2016 compared to BMW 3 and 4 Series at 12,217 or Mercedes’ C-Class at 9,954. It did better in the mid-size SUV class last year with 3,632 sales compared to the bestselling Lexus RX’ 8,147, and to its credit owns the subcompact premium SUV category with 4,765 sales, but its Encore is priced nearly $10k lower than its closest competitor so it’s not really a true premium player there.

2017 Buick Envision Premium II
Those leather-covered seats look comfortable enough. Want to know more? See you soon for details. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The Envision is, however, in both its pricing that starts at $40,295 plus freight and fees, which is square in the middle of the premium pack (and a lot lower than GM Canada initially targeted), and its standard and available feature set. As for build quality you’ll need to come back and read my review for the pros and cons, and believe me I won’t hold back.

My tester is equipped in full load Premium II trim, which means its equipped with almost everything Buick can throw at it, except some obvious options that should have been added to optimize the experience. That’s no fault of the vehicle, the Envision an SUV worthy of mixing it up in the premium crowd, but I can only imagine the folks in Oshawa didn’t want any of us journos to gripe about a price tag that rubs up against $60k when optioned out (its fully equipped MSRP is $56,825 before freight or dealer fees). Still, do so with most of the Envision’s competitors and you’ll face similar sticker shock, or considerably more if it’s European-sourced, which makes this Buick a more value-oriented premium compact SUV, and reason enough for strong early sales.

2017 Buick Envision Premium II
The Envision’s rear quarters certainly look inviting. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

A total of 1,208 Envisions left GM dealer lots over the first five months of 2017. That’s pretty good for a newcomer, the compact Buick already outpacing Jaguar’s 1,118 F-Pace sales during the same period, or for that matter the Land Rover Discovery Sport’s 979 units, Lincoln MKC’s 975, Infiniti QX50’s 777, or Volvo XC60’s 559—although these last two long-in-tooth models will soon be replaced. Onward and upward for Buick, the Envision already seventh out of 12 competitors, and it’s only getting started.

Come back for my full review when I’ll cover all the detailed, including performance from its optional 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that puts out 252 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. All Envisions get a six-speed automatic with manual mode, but this more potent powerplant benefits from a torque vectoring rear differential and 19-inch alloys to aid handling, while the rest of the Premium II upgrade list is long and plentiful. Stay tuned…

Mazda has a much stronger following in Canada than the U.S. We tend to like smaller, sportier, fuel-efficient cars and SUVs, while our American friends traditionally purchase their vehicles one size larger.…

2017 Mazda3 Sport GT

2017 Mazda3 Sport GT
Still one of the best looking cars in the compact class, this 2017 Mazda3 Sport GT deserves its strong sales. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Mazda has a much stronger following in Canada than the U.S. We tend to like smaller, sportier, fuel-efficient cars and SUVs, while our American friends traditionally purchase their vehicles one size larger.

Case in point, from a list of 13 direct competitors the Mazda3 was fourth most popular in our compact segment through 2016, but only ninth in the U.S. I think it deserves better here in Canada let alone its poor showing in the States, but the success of any car is as much about the massive marketing spend of the industry’s big players, as it is quality of goods and value for money. Mazda has long made excellent products that perform better than average and deliver a near-premium look and feel, yet they’re a relatively small independent Japanese brand that doesn’t have the advertising clout of Toyota, Honda, Nissan, the big domestic brands or the Koreans.

2017 Mazda3 Sport GT
The “Sport” designation refers to the 5-Door hatchback model in Canada, while the sedan only goes by Mazda3. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Fans of this alternative import carmaker tend to like Mazda’s more exclusive cachet, especially those who appreciate better than average driving dynamics. I happen to like Mazda’s styling more than most other brands as well, while its interiors are second-to-none within the categories it competes in.

Take this Mazda3 Sport GT. Its deep, wide, chrome-trimmed grille with blackened slats has great style and a totally unique presence on the road, its top corners visually bleeding into this model’s projection LED headlamp clusters, while its sporty yet clean lower fascia incorporates tasteful splashes of chrome, LED driving lights, and the tiniest of LED fog lamps.

The rest of the bodywork flows gracefully from front to back, the car perfectly proportioned despite its compact dimensions, while its backside is finished off with a discrete body-colour rooftop spoiler, elegantly simple LED taillights, and a matte black diffuser-style bumper cap with integrated dual chromed tailpipes at each side. It’s one great looking ride from all angles.

2017 Mazda3 Sport GT
This GT model’s two-tone leather, metal and high-quality composite interior is a step above most rivals. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Inside it’s downright premium, especially in my tester’s two-tone black and “Pure White” motif. The dash top, much of the instrument panel, and the door uppers are surfaced in high-quality soft touch synthetic, whereas the door inserts and armrests are finished in padded and stitched leatherette, and the seats get covered in optional perforated leather.

A semi-digital colour TFT primary instrument display is laid out in a sporty motorcycle centre-pod design, while an available class-exclusive head-up display powers up from the dash top to project critical info where it’s easiest to see without taking eyes from the road. At centre, a 7.0-inch fixed tablet-style infotainment display could be straight out of an Audi, BMW or Mercedes, and just like these premium marques it’s controlled with a knurled metal rotating dial on the lower console. Another metal-trimmed dial allows volume control, while an electromechanical parking brake joins an aluminized Drive Selection rocker switch featuring “SPORT” mode next to the leather-clad/satin-silver aluminum adorned shift lever.

2017 Mazda3 Sport GT
The leather-wrapped sport steering wheel, semi-digital gauges, tablet-style infotainment, and dual-zone auto HVAC give the GT premium appeal. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The stylish metallic treatment enhances other areas in the car as well, including the steering wheel that’s also leather-wrapped and filled with high-quality, well damped, tight fitting switchgear, this at least as good as the buttons, knobs and switches on the centre stack that include a nicely sorted dual-zone auto HVAC interface in GT trim.

I almost forgot to mention my favourite steering wheel appendages, a set of paddles for swapping gears. The Sport GT comes standard with a six-speed manual, as do the base GX and mid-range GL, but the GT is the only trim to get paddle-shifters when upgrading to the six-speed automatic. I’ll go into more detail about these and how the entire car drives in my upcoming road test review, the GT also on the receiving end of a more potent 2.5-litre direct-injection, DOHC, 16-valve four-cylinder making 184 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque instead of 155 and 150 respectively for the base 2.0-litre four.

2017 Mazda3 Sport GT
The autobox gets paddles on the steering wheel, Sport mode can be selected via the metal rocker switch, and infotainment is controlled with this knurled metal rotating dial. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

All Mazda3s ride on a fully independent MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension with stabilizer bars at each end, while new for 2017 G-Vectoring Control (GVC) optimizes handling by momentarily retarding engine output when vehicle weight transfers from front to back upon turning the wheels, which shifts weight back towards the front wheels for added traction. This is similar to how racing drivers “load” the front wheels by subtly tapping the brakes before a corner, giving them a cornering advantage, but this automated system goes about its processes completely unnoticed.

Along with all the features mentioned so far, the $26,820 Sport GT includes standard 18-inch alloys on 215/45 all-seasons, auto on/off and auto-leveling headlights, power-adjustable heated side mirrors with integrated turn signals, bright finish window trim, pushbutton ignition, a tilt and telescopic heatable leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, a leather-wrapped shift knob, rain-sensing wipers, an intermittent rear wiper, heatable front seats, a wide-angle rearview camera, Bluetooth hands-free phone and streaming audio, a six-speaker stereo, HD radio, AHA and Stitcher internet radio, two USB ports and an aux jack, SMS text message reading and reply, illuminated vanity mirrors, an overhead console with a sunglasses holder, a powered moonroof, a rear armrest with cupholders, 60/40-split folding rear seatbacks, tire pressure monitoring, hill launch assist, Smart City Brake Support sub-20-km/h autonomous emergency braking, advanced blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, all the usual active and passive safety equipment, and more.

2017 Mazda3 Sport GT
Again, love the two-tone leather. Will fill you in on comfort and support in an upcoming review. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The aforementioned leather upholstery, metallic interior trim, and head-up display comes as part of a $2,900 Premium package that also adds proximity-sensing keyless access, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a six-way powered driver’s seat with manual lumbar, auto high beams, dynamic cruise control, voice-activated navigation, nine-speaker Bose surround audio, and a slew of active safety features including forward collision warning with high-speed autonomous emergency braking, and lane departure warning with lane keeping assist, these features making the Mazda3 one of only a handful of compact models to achieve a best-possible Top Safety Pick Plus rating.

On top of this my tester is upgraded further with a $1,350 Technology package that boasts adaptive cornering headlights, satellite radio, a HomeLink universal garage door opener, traffic sign recognition, active air shutters to reduce drag and help safe fuel, and Mazda’s i-ELOOP regenerative braking system that first harnesses kinetic energy when slowing or braking and then repurposes into the electrical system for yet more energy savings.

2017 Mazda3 Sport GT
Is it roomy or comfortable enough? Stay tuned… (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

So equipped the Mazda3 GT achieves a claimed 8.7 L/100km city and 6.6 highway, which is considerably better than the regular GT automatic that’s rated at 9.0 and 6.7 respectively—the GT manual gets an estimated 9.6 city and 7.0 highway. Those that prioritize fuel economy over performance can opt for a more basic Mazda3, which gets an 8.4 L/100km city and 6.4 highway rating for the auto or 8.6 and 6.4 with the manual.

I’ll go into more detail about Mazda’s advanced Skyactiv engine and transmission technology in my review, these being critical components of the company’s core ethos of simultaneously maximizing performance while minimizing fuel consumption and emissions, a philosophy that driving enthusiasts can easily get behind…