Full disclosure: I’ve been a fan of Fiat’s 500X since it debuted two years ago as a 2016 model, and certainly didn’t hold back sharing such positive sentiments in my review of a Trekking Plus AWD…

2017 Fiat 500X Sport

2017 Fiat 500X Sport
Now well into its second year, the 2017 Fiat 500X delivers excellent value, especially in Sport trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Full disclosure: I’ve been a fan of Fiat’s 500X since it debuted two years ago as a 2016 model, and certainly didn’t hold back sharing such positive sentiments in my review of a Trekking Plus AWD model, that trim actually discontinued for 2017. We now have a 500X Sport in our garage, and while not as fully featured as the Trekking it’s nevertheless amply appealing. Unfortunately, the 500X hasn’t done as well on North American sales charts as I first expected or Fiat initially hoped.

As with any new model, the buying public has to like its familial design language in order to enjoy success, and to that end the Fiat brand suffers a similar fate to Mini. I’m not saying that the 500X or its siblings are unattractive in any way (ok, the 500L is a bit odd), but like the iconic British carmaker, the equally storied Italian brand has chosen to cling to its past for all North American offerings instead of offering the many more modern designs within other market segments sold globally, and retrospective styling isn’t for everyone.

2017 Fiat 500X Sport
The 500X uses fewer retro styling cues than its smaller 500 sibling. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I can’t say for sure that styling is central to Canadian’s lack of interest in the 500X or Fiat in general, nor the U.S. market that mostly shuns the Italian carmaker, but the impressive little SUV remains almost as exclusive as a near-exotic Maserati despite doubling its numbers over the first half of 2017.

Last year Fiat found a mere 766 500X buyers, whereas by the close of Q2 2017 it had already purveyed 786. That’s impressive growth, but still not enough to get it out of the subcompact SUV basement. The only competitor selling less is Mini’s Countryman that arguably targets the premium sector due to much higher pricing, the next slowest selling model being the platform-sharing Jeep Renegade with 3,962 sales last year, albeit a much stronger showing over the first six months of 2017 thanks to 2,968 sales. By comparison, Honda’s HR-V found 12,371 buyers last year and a shocking 8,219 over the first half of 2017, with others in the class being Subaru’s Crosstrek with 9,723 and 3,945 deliveries respectively, Mazda’s CX-3 with 9,354 and 4,873, Chevy’s Trax with 9,072 and 3,202, Mitsubishi’s RVR with 6,196 and 3,443, and so on.

2017 Fiat 500X Sport
These 17-inch machine-finished alloys are $300 upgrades over the standard Sport model’s 17s. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I’ll tell you why I think these numbers aren’t fair in my upcoming review. For now, suffice to say there’s a lot more to the little Fiat 4×4 that a simple pricing, specs and features overview can attest to. As for pricing, the base front-wheel drive 2017 500X Pop starts at $23,245 before freight and fees, although Fiat is currently offering a $3,000 no-haggle discount, getting the base price down to $20,245. This makes it one of the most affordable in its class, and therefore an even more viable alternative to the aforementioned big sellers than usual.

With the Trekking Plus now gone, Fiat provides four 500X trim levels for 2017. Already noted base Pop trim is immediately followed by the $27,745 Sport (now available for $24,745), plus the non-Plus $28,745 Trekking (now $25,745), and lastly the top-line $31,740 Lounge (now $28,740). I won’t detail out all the features of the two upper trims in this overview, but in short the Trekking gets a sporty off-road theme and the Lounge is downright luxurious, and these models are positioned above a subcompact SUV that starts out fairly well equipped in base trim.

2017 Fiat 500X Sport
The 500X interior is bright, colourful, cheery, well made, and full of top-tier features. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Standard Pop goodies include bifunctional halogen projector headlamps, body-colour powered heatable side mirrors with integrated turn signals, chrome door handles, a body-colour rear rooftop spoiler, a chromed exhaust tip, a capless fuel filler, an engine block heater, remote keyless entry, an electromechanical parking brake, a body-colour instrument panel, a tilt and telescopic multifunction steering wheel, a 3.5-inch multi-information display, micron-filtered air conditioning, a Uconnect 5.0 multimedia centre with 5.0-inch colour touchscreen, four-speaker AM/FM audio with a USB port and aux input, premium soft-touch interior surfacing, cloth upholstery, powered windows, 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks and a fold-forward front-passenger seat, tire pressure monitoring with a display, hill start assist, seven airbags, an antitheft engine immobilizer, a security alarm, and more.

2017 Fiat 500X Sport
The 500X combines fabulous style with superb functionality. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Safety in mind, top-tier trims earn IIHS Top Safety Pick status when optional front crash protection is added, but this level of active safety isn’t available with our Sport trimmed tester. Instead, Sport trim moves its standard feature set up a significant notch from the base 500X thanks to 17-inch alloys on 215/55 all-seasons in place of 16-inch steel rims on 215/60s, a sportier 3.73 final drive ratio instead of 4.43, Fiat’s Dynamic Selector with three driving modes, auto on/off headlamps, fog lamps with cornering capability, deep tint privacy glass, remote start (with the automatic), proximity-sensing keyless entry with pushbutton ignition, a “Premium wrapped” leatherette steering wheel rim, a leather-wrapped shift knob, six-speaker audio, satellite radio with a one-year subscription, Bluetooth phone connectivity with streaming audio, a front centre sliding armrest, another USB port, illuminated vanity mirrors, a reversible height-adjustable cargo floor, etcetera.

2017 Fiat 500X Sport
Our 500X Sport tester includes almost every option, including a backup camera and navigation for its upgraded 6.5-inch touchscreen. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The only trim standard with a backup camera is top-line Lounge, but don’t worry because Sport buyers can add Fiat’s ParkView monitor separately for $475 or upgrade to the $1,250 Driver Assist Group that includes the camera as well as Park-Sense rear sensors, blindspot monitoring with rear cross-path detection, and a colourized version of the base model’s 3.5-inch multi-information display.

Additional Sport options include a $695 Cold Weather Group with a windshield wiper de-icer, a heatable steering wheel, and heated front seats; a $1,295 Convenience Group with everything from the Cold Weather Group as well as dual-zone auto climate control, an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with four-way powered lumbar support, ambient lighting, and a cargo cover; and a $1,100 Navigation Group that includes navigation with detailed mapping within a larger 6.5-inch touchscreen, plus a compass.

2017 Fiat 500X Sport
Dual-zone auto HVAC is a nice comfortable touch. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Standalone Sport options include a fabulous $1,295 dual-pane panoramic moonroof, a $995 BeatsAudio sound system, a sportier set of $300 machine-finished 17-inch alloys with black painted pockets, and a $295 compact spare tire. My tester includes nearly everything on the options list, making it especially good for my detailed hands-on review.

Something else I like, Fiat offers the same number of paint choices no matter the trim level, and it’s a massive 11-colour palette allowing buyers a lot more personalization than most competitors. Along with four base colours, which even include trendy Arancio orange and classic Italian Rosso Passione, a colour Fiat clarifies as “Hypnotique Red” as if that should help us picture it, are five $195 metallic hues including stunning new Rame Chiaro, a light copper, and two $995 tri-coat colours, the latter including bright Giallo Tristrato yellow, and Rosso Amore red.

2017 Fiat 500X Sport
The supportive front seats live up to its Sport trim designation. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The base 500X Pop can only be had with front-wheel drive, but all models above can be outfitted with Fiat’s all-wheel drivetrain, which comes standard with the Lounge. This is nothing unusual, but offering two engines isn’t the class norm. Even base models have a choice of powertrains being that the puny but potent 1.4-litre MultiAir four-cylinder is the designated engine for the six-speed manual, front-wheel drive variant and the larger 2.4-litre Tigershark MultiAir four is dedicated to the ZF-designed nine-speed automatic that comes standard with all-wheel drive. The smaller turbocharged unit puts out a commendable 160 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, whereas the bigger naturally aspirated engine makes 180 horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque.

Our Sport had the former drivetrain setup that’s good for a claimed 9.5 L/100km in the city and 7.1 on the highway, although thanks to the optional engine’s nine-speed automatic it’s not much thirstier with an estimated rating of 10.7 city and 7.7 highway.

2017 Fiat 500X Sport
Roomy for rear passengers and cargo? Come back for the full review for all the most important details. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

As noted earlier, Fiat’s Dynamic Selector configurable drive modes let you choose pre-programmed settings to manage throttle response and engine revs before shifts, which is an unusually welcome feature for an SUV in this class, giving the 500X a sportier character than most of its rivals. What’s more, the little Fiat SUV’s available all-wheel drive system boasts a disconnecting rear axle to minimize fuel consumption when extra traction isn’t required.

I’ll go over all of my 500X Sport tester’s mechanicals and how well they work in my review, and also point out what makes this SUV more and/or less appealing than key rivals. The subcompact SUV segment is now one of the most competitive after all, with a total of 13 entrants, two of which arrived for this 2017 model year. Three more are expected soon, so it won’t get any easier for Fiat and its unorthodox 500X. Stay tuned…

Listen up. Just in case you haven’t already heard, there’s no better new car for your money than Nissan’s Micra. For just $9,988 plus freight and dealer fees, which makes it the least expensive…

2017 Nissan Micra SR

2017 Nissan Micra SR
Nissan’s 2017 Micra remains a great looking little entry-level hatchback, especially in top-line SR trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Listen up. Just in case you haven’t already heard, there’s no better new car for your money than Nissan’s Micra. For just $9,988 plus freight and dealer fees, which makes it the least expensive new car in Canada, the 2017 Micra represents the best value in the entire auto industry.

What’s more, it’s so much fun to drive that Nissan Canada developed a spec racing series dubbed Nissan Micra Cup to tout its performance prowess, a smart way to change common perceptions about life with an entry-level sub-subcompact economy car.

In case you’re wondering, the Micra Cup racing-spec car is no more formidable off the line than the stock machine being sold for less than $10k, its DOHC, 16-valve, 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine making an equal 109 horsepower and 107 lb-ft of torque, which is sports car territory when factoring in its scant 1,044-kilo (2,302-lb) curb weight.

2017 Nissan Micra SR
The black mirror caps, door handles and stripes are from an accessories option package. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

To put that last claim into perspective, the pre-owned 1985 Toyota MR2 mid-engine sports car that I managed to talk my boss into giving me for a daily driver after a particularly good sales month (I sold cars for a Toyota dealer in the late ‘80s) tipped the scales at a nearly identical 1,035 kilograms (2,282 lbs) and made 112 horsepower and 105 lb-ft of torque from its AE86 Corolla-sourced 1.6-litre four. It was ruddy quick for its era, and while I won’t directly compare Toyota’s brilliant little “Twin Cam” and its sonorous 7,500-rpm redline to the Micra’s more utilitarian 6,600 maximum spin, both cars utilized standard five-speed manuals and optional four-speed automatics.

2017 Nissan Micra SR
The 16-inch alloys, rocker extensions, additional chrome, unique headlights and tail lamps, plus more comes with RS trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Rather than be forced to respond to all the MR2 faithful’s hate mail pointing out the obvious benefits of a short-throw manual gearbox, lower centre of gravity, mid-engine rear-wheel drive chassis layout, etcetera ad nauseum, let’s just agree that owning a modern-day subcompact with a similar power-to-weight ratio to a revered classic sports car can result in plenty of smiles at the wheel, whether you have the talent of current 2017 Micra Cup season leader Olivier Bédard, or simply enjoy a spirited drive while commuting back and forth to work, university, or running errands.

2017 Nissan Micra SR
Just because it’s inexpensive doesn’t mean the Micra comes without flair, the roof getting these cool sculpted swoops to aid aerodynamics and style. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

In truth, today’s Micra has more in common with Toyota’s superb little 2004–2005 Echo Hatchback, which was also a tall, two-box front-drive subcompact, albeit with a 1.5-litre four making 108 horsepower and 105 lb-ft of torque, a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic, and once again a featherlight curb weight of 944 kg (2,081 lbs). It was a cute looking little hatch as well, especially in sportier RS trim, a car I’d love to pick up with its base manual gearbox in good condition. Being that the base Echo Hatch started at $12,995 back in its day, the pricier RS still fetches $4,000 to $5,000 now, which makes the 13-year newer Micra seem all the more appealing.

2017 Nissan Micra SR
The 2017 Micra SR offers a lot for just over $16k. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

As you can probably tell from the photos, the 2017 Micra SR currently in our garage sells for considerably more than the base S model Nissan woos us down to its dealerships to check out. While the Micra S starts at $9,988, it moves directly up to $13,648 when adding the aforementioned automatic, an upgrade that also bundles in air-conditioning and steering wheel-mounted switchgear complete with cruise controls (the base model’s “naked” steering wheel looks a bit odd in a new 2017 model).

I should also mention these features come alongside a standard menu that includes tilt steering, a trip computer, variable intermittent wipers, an intermittent rear wiper, AM/FM/CD audio with speed-sensitive volume control and an aux jack, fabric seat trim, 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks, vented front disc and rear drum brakes with ABS, electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, stability and traction control, all the expected airbags, plus more.

2017 Nissan Micra SR
Upgraded sport upholstery includes cool blue and black patterned seat inserts for a classier effect. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Second-rung SV trim, available from $14,048, makes those last items standard no matter the chosen transmission, while also adding illuminated audio and Bluetooth phone controls to the left spoke of the steering wheel, powered windows and locks, the latter featuring remote keyless entry with a panic alarm, body-colour power-adjustable heated side mirrors, body-colour door handles, two more driver’s seat adjustments for a total of six, a flip-down driver’s seat armrest, upgraded cloth upholstery, chrome interior door handles, two more stereo speakers totalling four, and more.

2017 Nissan Micra SR
Rear seat comfort and roominess is… we’ll tell you all when we publish our upcoming road test review. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Put beside these two models the top-line Micra SR seems ultra-luxe, thanks to unique sport headlights and taillights, fog lamps, chrome around those fogs as well as the front fascia’s lower grille, side sill extensions, a rear rooftop spoiler, a chromed exhaust tip, and machine-finished 16-inch alloys with black painted pockets on 185/55 all-season rubber (instead of 15-inch steel wheels with covers encircled by 185/60 all-seasons) on the outside, plus a leather-wrapped steering wheel rim, a leather-wrapped shift knob (on manual transmission models), sport fabric seat and door insert upholstery, a 4.3-inch colour display audio system with an integrated rearview parking monitor, a USB port, and more for $16,188 plus freight and fees.

2017 Nissan Micra SR
Likewise for luggage space… more details to come. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

My $17,188 tester, which includes $1,000 for the automatic transmission, adds $135 for Gun Metallic grey paint while boasting a $460 Colour Studio Trend package from the accessories catalogue featuring coloured mirror caps, door handles, and side sport stripes (glossy black the chosen “colour” in this instance), boosting the as-tested price to $17,783. Despite the Micra’s fabulous base price, I’d be tempted to choose this very trim and accessories package upgrade because it looks so great and drives so well, minus the autobox for improved performance and a lower price.

I’ll go into more detail describing this 2017 Micra SR’s driving dynamics in my upcoming review, while also going into more detail about features usability, interior quality, comfort, roominess, and more. I might even talk sales numbers, being that the Micra outsells all of its key competitors by a grand margin, even shaming larger subcompact models when it comes to popularity. Of course all this makes sense, the Micra being a street-legal race car and all. Come back soon for my full review…

Exactly why Ford and Dodge (now Ram) gave up on the small truck market is difficult to surmise. There’s a sizeable market for smaller trucks after all, evidenced by key models like Toyota’s Tacoma…

2017 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain

2017 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain
The 2017 GMC Canyon looks fabulous in black, not to mention 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Exactly why Ford and Dodge (now Ram) gave up on the small truck market is difficult to surmise. There’s a sizeable market for smaller trucks after all, evidenced by key models like Toyota’s Tacoma and General Motors’ Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon. For this reason it’s equally odd that Nissan hasn’t redesigned its Frontier pickup in so long it should be facing child abandonment charges.

Rubbing salt in blue oval brand’s wound, the Ranger was once the bestselling pickup truck in the compact class, as was the Dakota in its slightly larger mid-size segment. I’m not sure if the Frontier ever held the top spot, although Datsun probably did back in the ‘70s when my dad, my sister, and just about everyone else owned a “Sportruck”.

2017 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain
The stylish mid-size Canyon offers plenty of trim options as well as highly efficient turbo-diesel power. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Of course, the only brands suffering from this lack of investment are Nissan, Ram and Ford. Ford and Ram will argue their clients are merely purchasing lower end versions of their F-150 and 1500 pickups respectively, but Nissan’s Titan doesn’t attract enough buyers to make such a claim. As it is, Nissan could only find 2,293 Frontier buyers over the first six months of 2017, whereas Honda’s all-new Ridgeline managed a much healthier 2,579. Next in line was this very GMC Canyon that sold 2,792 units at the close of Q2, whereas its badge-engineered Chevy Colorado sibling managed 3,583 deliveries. Altogether, General Motors sold 6,375 collective examples of both trucks, which are pretty well identical under the skin, resulting in 61 more than the total number of Toyota Tacomas delivered over the same six months—6,314 if you’d rather not pull up your calculator app. I think congratulations are in order, or maybe such applause comes a bit early being that the year was only half over when I tallied up these numbers.

2017 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain
The Canyon’s optional 2.8-litre turbo-diesel makes 369 lb-ft of torque yet gets a claimed 10.3 L/100km combined. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Still, I can’t help but give GM a big pat on the back every time I test one of its new mid-size pickup trucks. Just take a look at this GMC Canyon in its 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain setup. I think it looks great, and always enjoy spending time behind the wheel thanks to its class-exclusive turbo-diesel four-cylinder powerplant, the type of engine Toyota should be putting into its Tacoma and Nissan needs to consider for its long overdue Frontier replacement.

I spend a lot of time in and around Metro Manila, Philippines, my second home (Antipolo City to be exact), and have witnessed all the diesel trucks on offer. The Ford Ranger mentioned earlier is easily one of the best looking trucks there or anywhere, also diesel powered, whereas the Asian-spec Navara is the pickup Nissan should’ve imported to North America along with its fuel-efficient turbo-diesel powerplant. The Philippine-market Toyota pickup is dubbed Hilux and diesel-powered as well, while Chevy also sells a diesel-powered Colorado in the Philippines, although the rebadged Isuzu D-Max isn’t even close to North America’s Colorado.

2017 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain
The Canyon delivers a well organized cabin with some truly top-tier equipment. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Diesel power is the first reason I’d recommend our Canadian-spec Canyon or Colorado to truck buyers here, even over the Tacoma. Some Canadians might pretend that fuel economy isn’t as big an issue now as it was before the oil crash, but a quick study of our current economic situation will show that it’s even more important to find economical transportation now than it was then, especially in a smaller, less-expensive pickup class that’s likely being purchased for financial reasons first and foremost. Last week pump prices rose to more than $1.40 per litre in my part of the country, which is considerably higher than just before the bottom fell out of big oil. What’s more, the majority of Canadians should be well aware how these low oil prices hit our collective Canadian gross domestic product (GDP) bottom line, not to mention the wallets of many Canadians’ personally, plenty which come from parts of the country where pickup trucks are a larger percentage of the market, such as Alberta, so it’s probably not a good time to be loose with our fuel budgets.

2017 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain
This is one of the best infotainment systems in the mid-size pickup class, while auto climate control is a nice upgrade too. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

As for where the Canyon and Colorado fit within the overall scheme of things, let’s face the fact that most buyers would rather own a full-size Sierra or Silverado than anything midsize. Bigger trucks deliver more space, performance and functionality, albeit at a higher price. This need to target entry-level pickup buyers is exactly why the smaller Colorado and Canyon exist, but before I go on let’s make sure we’re both perfectly clear about why these two trucks are succeeding in a market segment where others have failed miserably: they’re sensational.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I happen to think both trucks look great. I’m a bit more partial to the Canyon that Colorado, unless the latter is upgraded to new ZR2 off-road race truck spec. Interestingly, styling might matter more amongst pickup trucks than the sports car market, buyers in this sector wooed by rugged designs that appear like they could trek across seemingly impassable terrain as if they were domesticated equivalents of an M1A2 Abrams tank, or in the case of this smaller pickup something along the lines of the now-discontinued M551 Sheridan.

2017 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain
Comfortable powered seats? An upcoming review will reveal all. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Adding an oil-burning variant only ups their go-anywhere character, the 2.8-litre Duramax turbo-diesel under my 2017 Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain tester’s sculpted hood capable of a stump-pulling 369 lb-ft of torque from just 2,000 rpm, not to mention a very efficient 12.0 L/100km in the city, 8.2 on the highway and 10.3 combined. It makes 181 horsepower at 3,400 rpm too, incidentally, but that’s not as important a number in pickup truck circles, where useable towing twist is king for some and the ability to delve deeper into the wilderness on a single tank of fuel reigns supreme for others.

Another GM pickup game-changer is the CornerStep-infused rear bumper, an intelligent design that adds handy toe cutouts to the corners of the back bumper to ease smaller statured and/or maturing folks up onto the cargo bed with more grace and less potential bodily harm, the latter especially relevant when wet weather transforms the otherwise tiny rounded nubs at each corner of every competitive truck’s rear bumper into a slippery accident waiting to happen.

2017 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain
GM’s intelligently designed CornerStep bumper is a key dealmaker. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I’ve said too much, this being an “In Our Garage” story and all. Then again there’s plenty more that makes the Canyon worthy of your attention, all of which I’ll go over at length in my upcoming road test review. Until then take a glance at the photo gallery for some details, my 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain nicely outfitted with 17-inch alloys, a Z71 off-road suspension, skid plates, body-colour bumpers, side steps, remote start, powered and heated front seats, auto climate control, 8.0-inch colour touchscreen infotainment with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth streaming audio, voice activation, satellite radio, four USB ports, OnStar 4G LTE and Wi-Fi, plus a sliding rear window, a tow package, etcetera.

Come back soon to get my take on how all this gear works, how it’s all put together, plus how this particular diesel-powered Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain drives…

Two things matter most with electric cars: range and price. If it can drive far enough on a single charge to be practical and doesn’t cost too much more than a conventionally powered equivalent then…

2017 Ford Focus Electric

2017 Ford Focus Electric
The 2017 Focus Electric might not look any different from its predecessor, but it can now be driven almost 40 km farther on a single charge. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Two things matter most with electric cars: range and price. If it can drive far enough on a single charge to be practical and doesn’t cost too much more than a conventionally powered equivalent then some semblance of sales success will follow.

Being that the latter situation hasn’t fully materialized I probably should’ve mentioned a third criteria to electric vehicle success, government support. Everywhere that EVs are relatively plentiful you’ll also find well-funded taxpayer programs, first to reduce the cost of initial purchase through rebate programs, and secondly to supply the necessary public charging stations to facilitate life with a plug-in vehicle.

Until recently, the highest EV rebate payout in Canada was Quebec at $8,000 compared to $5,000 in BC and zero anywhere else, other than Ontario that now gives buyers of some electric cars, including Ford’s Focus Electric, up to $14,000 back through various programs. We can discuss how fair it is that many hardworking Canadians who can’t afford a new car are stuck paying for those who have more, but that’s a philosophical and/or political question for another time. Rather, it’s probably better to talk about how you can get your hands on some of that “free” money by purchasing one of these electrics, because it might be a lot more within your reach than you may have previously thought.

2017 Ford Focus Electric
The Focus Electric gets sporty hatchback styling, its rear design particularly attractive despite getting on in years. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Let’s start by doing some elementary math. The 2017 Focus Electric starts at $31,998 plus freight, fees and taxes, but Ford is currently (August 26, 2017) offering $3,595 of no-haggle discounts so you can have it for $30,153 including freight before taxes, or maybe less if you ask nicely or play as if your trade-in is worth more than you know it actually is. This means you can be driving a Focus Electric for a bit over $16,000 and taxes after rebates if you live in Ontario, $22,000 and taxes if you live in Quebec, or $25,000 and taxes if you live in BC.

Factor in that you’ll be paying a fraction of what you’d otherwise ante up for fuel, or potentially nothing at all if you coordinate your daily outings so as to plug-in at the many aforementioned charging stations that have yet to start charging users money in most jurisdictions, and you should easily be able to add up exactly how much you’ll be saving by chopping 100 percent off your auto fuel budget.

2017 Ford Focus Electric
The big black cover makes it look like an engine, but this Focus is 100 percent electric. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Electric car maintenance is much lower too, especially under the hood where there’s so much less to go wrong, and while it’s difficult to put a price on using HOV lanes with only a driver in the car, to some people “time is money,” as Mr. Franklin once said.

But does the Ford Fusion Electric meet the other key EV objective? Does is supply enough range after a full charge to satisfy practical applications. After a week spent in the original 2013 Focus Electric back in the fall of 2012, I certainly didn’t think it was worth my tester’s rather steep $42,749 as-tested price, especially with 122 kilometers of best-scenario range in ideal conditions, a maximum of 89 being all that ever showed up on my tester’s gauge cluster. I never dared try to find its real-world limit, because it was too difficult to guess and I didn’t want to get stranded on a bridge somewhere.

2017 Ford Focus Electric
In case you’re wondering whether the Focus Electric makes up for its low price by cutting features and quality, take a look around. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

That was then, this is now. Where the old 2013 Focus Electric was better left in the hands of adventurous souls not affected by range anxiety, today’s 2017 Focus Electric qualms any such worries thanks to 161 km of EPA-estimated range. That’s still 11 km short of the Nissan Leaf, the world’s best-selling electric, and eons less capable than the new Chevy Bolt that can manage up to 383 km per charge (believe me, I couldn’t drain the Bolt’s batteries no matter how hard I flogged it), but the Bolt begins at $43,195 before freight and fees, while the Leaf’s price range starts at $33,998 and rises to a lofty $40,848 when fully trimmed out, which makes the Focus Electric appear pretty thrifty even when paying an extra $550 for its fanciest paint job and another $1,000 for leather upholstery.

But still, is the new Focus Electric liveable? Not from an interior ergonomics and passenger/cargo practicality perspective, but with respect to real-world range? I’ll delve into both issues when I publish my full review, but for now will focus on standard features that are one of this car’s strong suits.

2017 Ford Focus Electric
Not one, but two 4.2-inch high-resolution colour multi-info displays are standard. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

First off, Ford keeps things simple with one trim level and a couple of available options, just noted a moment ago. This means every single 2017 Focus Electric gets a completely unique one-piece grille with chromed with piano black accents that you’ll either love for looking like an Aston Martin or loathe for the same reason, plus standard auto on/off headlights with signature LEDs, dedicated DRLs, LED taillights, power-adjustable heated side mirrors with integrated turn signals, approach lighting and special blindspot mirrors, chrome beltline mouldings, a rear rooftop spoiler, 17-inch Sparkle Silver-painted alloys, an SAE J1772 CCS charge port with a new illuminated LED state of charge indicator, and that’s only on the outside.

2017 Ford Focus Electric
Standard navigation joins a backup camera with dynamic guidelines as part of the Focus Electric’s superb 8.0-inch Sync 3 infotainment system. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Remote start will get prepare the Focus Electric before you get there via MyFord Mobile with remote cabin preconditioning, while proximity access with pushbutton ignition gets you inside and ready to go. Additional standard features include illuminated entry, ambient lighting, an electromechanical parking brake, a tilt and telescopic leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, Ford’s SmartGauge with EcoGuide instrument cluster, two driver configurable 4.2-inch colour LCD multi-information displays within the same primary gauge cluster, a message centre with a trip computer, variable intermittent wipers, cruise control, dual-zone auto climate control, Sync 3 infotainment with an 8.0-inch capacitive touchscreen with tap and swipe capability, enhanced voice recognition, navigation, a rearview camera, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, Bluetooth, nine-speaker Sony audio, satellite radio, full-floor centre console with storage, cupholders and two chargeable USB ports, a leather-wrapped shift knob, illuminated vanity mirrors, heatable front seats, rear heat vents, a rear centre armrest with storage, one-touch up/down powered windows front and back, a removable rear package tray, and 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks.

2017 Ford Focus Electric
Leather upholstery is one of two options, the other being my tester’s $450 Ruby Red paint. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

On the safety front, the 2017 Focus Electric includes hill start assist, tire pressure monitoring, traction and stability control, ABS-enhanced four-wheel disc brakes, and all the usual airbags including one for the driver’s knees, but so far no advanced driver-assistance systems like forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, blindspot alert, lane departure warning, self steering capability, self parking, dynamic cruise control, auto high beams, etcetera.

I doubt those looking for a relatively inexpensive EV will care all that much about such advanced safety systems, which of course would push the Focus Electric’s price much higher if standard or available. This car is more about getting environmentally conscious consumers on the road to a brighter, cleaner future.

2017 Ford Focus Electric
Room for rear passengers? I’ll tell you all about that in my upcoming review. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

To that end the power unit has been upgraded for 2017, its lithium-ion battery now more “energy dense” than the outgoing model, says Ford. Now it can manage 33.5 kWh instead of 23.0 kWh, which makes it more capable than the Leaf’s 30-kWh battery and Kia Soul’s 27-kWh power unit. Altogether, the new Focus Electric makes 143 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque from a 107 kW electric motor, while using a single-speed direct-drive transmission to power the front wheels.

Also important, the new Focus Electric will recharge faster due to a new standard 50kW-capable DC fast charge port, the result being full depletion to 80 percent in less than half an hour. This will eventually make it easier to charge when traveling long distances, although you’ll be hard pressed to find a publicly available DC fast charging port now. Alternatively, you’ll need five and a half hours to charge from zero to full via a 240-volt charge station, or 30 hours from a regular household outlet.

2017 Ford Focus Electric
Cargo galore? I’ll show you how Ford makes the most of small spaces later. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Additional 2017 improvements include a new braking coach that trains you to decelerate more effectively so as to recover more energy from the car’s regenerative braking system, plus new White Gold exterior paint.

The Focus Electric is underpinned by MacPherson struts and a stabilizer bar up front, and a Control Blade independent rear suspension with a stabilizer bar, while steering comes from an electric power-assisted steering, while torque vectoring control aids handling.

Come back soon to find out how all of this works, and especially how far I’m able to drive on a single charge…

And the winner of the 2017 Auto Journalist Association of Canada’s (AJAC) Canadian Car of the Year award is (insert drumroll here)… the 2017 Volkswagen Golf AllTrack! Well that one caught me by surprise,…

2017 Volkswagen Golf AllTrack

2017 Volkswagen Golf AllTrack
The new 2017 VW Golf AllTrack is a Golf SportWagen on mild steroids. We think it looks fabulous! (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

And the winner of the 2017 Auto Journalist Association of Canada’s (AJAC) Canadian Car of the Year award is (insert drumroll here)… the 2017 Volkswagen Golf AllTrack!

Well that one caught me by surprise, as did the selection of the 2017 Subaru Forester for the Canadian Utility Vehicle of the Year. Not that these two compact crossovers aren’t worthy, but the Subie was merely a mid-cycle refresh, and a mild one at that, and the COTY winner was (as just stated) more of a crossover SUV than a car (or at least that’s how VW classifies it on their retail site).

Yes, I’m aware that it’s actually Golf SportWagen and therefore kind of qualifies, but it’s adequately raised and moderately pumped up on Var (Anavar or oxandrolone for those not familiar with one of the milder and therefore more popular anabolic steroids) thanks to plenty of matte black body cladding including a quad of flared fenders, slick looking aluminized front and rear undertrays and rocker moulding trim, a set of aluminum roof rails up top, plus some trick aluminum-finish mirror caps to each side, not that these have anything to do with SUVs. No matter how you slice it, VW was trying to turn its wagon into a compact crossover SUV and did such a good job they won AJAC’s Car of the Year title.

2017 Volkswagen Golf AllTrack
With all the practicality of a Golf wagon, the AllTrack adds ground clearance and a rugged looking body kit. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

This wasn’t the first time a Volkswagen Golf won AJAC’s Car of the Year, the GTI deservedly taking top honours in 2010, but it’s the first time sport utilities won both the COTY and the CUVOTY. The rugged looking VeeDub first won the “Best New Large Car” title last fall, which is certainly a big title for a compact wagon, but hey. As long as automakers are bending categories to suit their current lineup of rolling stock, why not bend a few rules about what actually constitutes a “large car”.

Of course, I’m having a bit of fun with my esteemed auto journo colleagues (a number of which are highly intelligent, incredibly hard working, very dedicated, wholly professional, and damn nice… the others we won’t mention) and the results of what is no doubt a mind-numbingly complicated rating process that’s horribly challenging to organize and then vote upon, so I hope they don’t take offence. They were certainly right in choosing two great crossover SUVs as their topmost winners, this new 2017 Volkswagen Golf AllTrack combining almost everything I’ve always loved about the Golf SportWagen with a certain cool factor that non-wagon lovers might say was missing.

2017 Volkswagen Golf AllTrack
We’re missing the TDI, but the little gas-powered 1.8-litre four still puts out 170-hp and 200 lb-ft of twist. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Almost? Yah, it would’ve been better with if TDI were stamped on the back and the awesome 2.0-litre turbo-diesel still bolted into its engine bay. I know the dirty little devil isn’t exactly on good terms with the world right now, but those of us who love modern-day oil burners are lamenting their loss from VW’s lineup and most other Euro brands.

As it is this beefy little five-door gets VW’s still impressive gasoline-powered 1.8-litre direct-injection four-cylinder that puts out 170 horsepower and 200 lb-ft of torque, which is plenty to propel its “large car” mass forward in lickety–split quickness no matter the slipperiness of tarmac or alternative road surface underneath, thanks in part to standard 4Motion all-wheel drive.

The AllTrack’s increased ground clearance combines with an “Off Road” driving mode that is claimed to optimize “traction on uneven surfaces,” says VW, so this week we’ll just have to find out firsthand. I can’t say its all-season rubber or 18-inch Canyon alloys fill me with rock-crawling confidence, but a little summer beach sand might be a fun in the absence of any knee-deep powder.

2017 Volkswagen Golf AllTrack
There’s so much good about any Golf interior, and the AllTrack gets filled up further with loads of standard features. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I think Volkswagen had the latter in mind when creating the Golf AllTrack, along with weekend jaunts to the cottage, weeklong road trips with a tiny Boler or Scamp in tow (I wonder if you can get one of those in Tornado Red?), or any other light duty use for strong torque and four-wheel traction.

I don’t have either so I’ll likely keep my upcoming road test comments to driving sans camp trailer, not to mention the usual laurels I laud on any Golf’s superb interior, which in this case includes VW’s excellent 6.5-inch proximity sensing, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink infused touchscreen infotainment system.

All Golf SportWagens benefit from an outrageously roomy interior, especially in the very back for cargo, not to mention a centre pass-through that makes the 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks more flexible, so being that this new AllTrack is no different from the wagon in this respect it should work well for the heavy hauling I’ve scheduled.

2017 Volkswagen Golf AllTrack
This is one very nice, extremely large panoramic glass sunroof, just one of the Golf AllTrack’s many standard features. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I won’t go into too much detail about features, but suffice to say that exterior colours are your only options, with the base 2017 Golf AllTrack packed full of everything already mentioned as well as a six-speed automatic with manual mode, auto on/off headlamps with static cornering capability, fog lights, powered and heated side mirrors with integrated LED turn signals, proximity keyless access with pushbutton ignition, ambient LED interior lighting, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, shift knob and handbrake lever, rain-sensing wipers, cruise control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming, voice activation, two SD card slots, navigation, a rearview camera, satellite radio, dual-zone auto climate control, leather upholstery, a 12-way powered driver’s seat, heatable front seats, a really nice panoramic powered sunroof, variable cargo load floor, a 115-volt household-style power outlet in the cargo area, etcetera.

I’ll come back and report on how all this stuff works very soon…

I was about to start this story by saying there has never been a more successful luxury SUV created than the Lexus RX, but after some in-depth research I’m finding out that’s an old, outdated statistic.…

2017 Lexus RX 350 F Sport

2017 Lexus RX 350 F Sport
Lexus’s RX 350 looks great with its F Sport upgrades, appearing more like a “sport” utility with every passing generation. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I was about to start this story by saying there has never been a more successful luxury SUV created than the Lexus RX, but after some in-depth research I’m finding out that’s an old, outdated statistic.

The RX, which was the first car-based luxury crossover SUV ever produced, has been amazingly successful here in North America where it remains number one by a long shot, but within Canada alone it’s currently second behind Audi’s smaller albeit almost as accommodating Q5, while globally they both get beaten badly by Buick’s number-one selling Envision that sold 123,397 units worldwide during the first five months of 2017 (you can thank China for that), as well as Mercedes-Benz’ GLC runner up that found 117,856 global buyers over the same period. I don’t have exact numbers for the RX in all the countries it’s sold in because it didn’t make the top 100 vehicles list. So much for starting out this garage overview with a bang.

2017 Lexus RX 350 F Sport
Tiny rear quarter glass and a gently sloping rear window hardly make the RX the most practical SUV in its mid-size class, but its styling and stellar reputation make it number one in North America. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Of course, with 109,435 total U.S. sales last year and 8,147 here in Canada, and 46,737 in the States over the first half of 2017 and 4,501 north of the 49th, Lexus and its RX have nothing to be ashamed of. Toyota’s luxury division is really only getting its feet wet in China after breaking through the six-figure threshold for the first time last year with 109,151 total sales brand-wide, while Lexus International reported 677,615 global deliveries in 2016, which is a four-percent improvement over 2015 and its fourth consecutive record year of sales growth. Yup, it’s tough to complain with numbers like that.

It’s difficult to complain after picking up Lexus’ latest 2017 RX 350 either. The five-passenger SUV was redesigned for the 2016 model year and still looks very sharp, literally. There isn’t an edgier sport utility available, now that Lexus’ ultra-wide spindle grille is front and centre, made even bigger and bolder in our tester’s F Sport trim. It flows into a deeply sculpted hood up top, while yet more jagged edges outline each of its triple-stacked LED light cluster elements to each side, these finished off with checkmark LED DRLs at bottom. Even more radically shaped fog lamp bezels are immediately surrounded in chrome before getting finished off with apostrophe-style vertical vents at each corner, all sitting atop razor-thin lower valance detailing.

2017 Lexus RX 350 F Sport
The RX is nearly as angular inside as it is outside, while premium features abound. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The RX 350 F Sport’s flanks are almost as chiselled, each fender shaved flat ahead of gloss black, chrome and LED-infused side mirror housings on the beltline and deeply gorged, upward sweeping rocker panel sculpting across the lower doors, former foreshadowing a glossy black D-pillar depicting a floating roof while the latter visually melds into a chunky rear bumper encasing a sporty rear diffuser and two angularly shaped exhaust ports. By comparison the LED taillights are almost conservative, although a nice fit just the same, while plenty of satin-finish metal brightwork combine with fabulous looking 20-inch dark graphite multi-spoke alloys on 235/55R20 rolling stock. Lexus is hardly a boring brand anymore, and its once conservative RX is now one of the more avant-garde in its class.

The RX 350 F Sport’s cabin is almost as creased and creviced as its origami-folded exterior sheetmetal, but I leave any comments about style, materials quality, refinement, switchgear, electronic interfaces, and feature usability to my upcoming road test review, due out soon so to beat the arrival of the 2018 model.

2017 Lexus RX 350 F Sport
These configurable colour TFT gauges are plenty nice and feature filled. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Other than rumour about a longer extended-wheelbase three-row seven-passenger version expected early next year I don’t have any info about that the new model year, but the five-occupant version arriving this fall is expected to be mostly carryover so you shouldn’t feel any hesitation about buying a 2017. Lexus made a few changes to this year’s model too, including the addition of a new Safety Sense+ suite of advanced driver-assistance systems, now standard. On the list is millimeter-wave radar sensing pre-collision warning, lane departure alert, dynamic cruise control, and auto high beams, all items that were previously bundled in with expensive option groups yet are now standard across the entire model range.

Other standard safety features include auto on/off full LED headlamps, LED DRLs, LED fog lamps, LED brake lights, auto-dimming rearview and side mirrors (the latter power-folding with heat and integrated turn signals), a backup camera with dynamic guidelines that’s projected onto a large 8.0-inch infotainment display, blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, active front headrests with whiplash protection, front and rear outboard seatbelt pretensioners and force limiters, plus more.

2017 Lexus RX 350 F Sport
Now that’s how a premium grade infotainment display should look. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

On the options list is new Intelligent Clearance Sonar, which is collision mitigation for low-speed situations such as parking, while additional active safety options include Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM), a wide-view front, rear and side parking monitor, and a 12.3-inch Electro Multi Vision (EMV) display that most companies would call a head-up display, but as slick as some of these systems are Lexus has yet to adapt much in the way of autonomous mitigation systems to the RX 350, such as automatic corrective steering, but its aforementioned pre-collision system is designed to apply emergency auto braking after an initial warning.

The RX 350’s numeric designation actually refers to its 3.5-litre V6 engine, unlike so many other models that have deviated from this sensible practice (the RX 450h hybrid being one), its output a commendable 295 horsepower and 268 lb-ft of torque thanks in part to D4-S fuel injection that combines direct injection with conventional port injection in order to best balance performance and efficiency. Aiding both objectives is an eight-speed automatic gearbox, while standard all-wheel drive is par for the course in Canada’s premium SUV sector. Lastly, Lexus’ standard Drive Mode Select adds Sport, Eco and Normal modes to either enhance the driving experience or minimize fuel usage and emissions.

2017 Lexus RX 350 F Sport
Hmmm… I’ll comment about this later. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Once again I’ll leave any experiential comments to my upcoming review, and instead give you a rundown of some additional standard and optional features not yet mentioned, the $55,900 base RX 350 receiving a pretty impressive list of items including 18-inch alloys, a heated windshield, roof rails, proximity keyless access with pushbutton ignition, a heatable multifunction leather-wrapped steering wheel, a powered tilt and telescopic steering column, a 4.2-inch colour TFT multi-information display, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone auto climate control with a dust, pollen and deodorizing air filter, 12-speaker audio, satellite radio, Bluetooth phone connectivity with streaming audio, eight-way powered front seats with two-way powered lumbar support, perforated leather upholstery, driver-side memory, heated and ventilated front seats, heatable rear outboard seats, a garage door opener, a powered moonroof, and more.

As with most vehicles in this class there’s no shortage of available options with the 2017 RX 350 thanks to four packages. Rather than organize them by price, with the least expensive being the $7,600 Luxury package, followed by the $8,700 F Sport Series 2 package, and either the $13,450 F Sport Series 3 or identically priced Executive package, I thought it best to go over the two F Sport packages and then the two other option groups.

2017 Lexus RX 350 F Sport
Upgraded F Sport seats look fabulous, but how do they feel? Come back for the full review to find out. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

While all RX 350s are plenty sporty, adding the F Sport Series 2 package makes a difference visually thanks to a unique black mesh grille insert, premium LED headlights with cornering lamps, sportier lower fascia detailing, 20-inch dark-grey painted F Sport multi-sport alloys, upgraded LED combination taillights, and F Sport exterior badging, while that F Sport branding also enhances a unique set of treadplates, an upgraded gauge cluster, a three-spoke leather-wrapped sport steering wheel with paddle shifters, a special leather-wrapped shift knob, and a different set of sport seats. Additional F Sport Series 2 improvements include aluminum foot pedals with rubber inserts, that 12.3-inch EMV head-up display mentioned earlier, an automatic air recirculation control system, voice-activated HDD navigation with Lexus’ joystick-style console-mounted Remote Touch Interface, front and rear parking sensors, an adaptive variable air suspension, and VDIM.

2017 Lexus RX 350 F Sport
Five-seat SUVs have some very real benefits. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

My tester is fitted with the F Sport Series 3 package, which means everything above is included plus Qi-compatible wireless smartphone charging, the previously noted wide-view parking monitor, a 15-speaker Mark Levinson surround sound audio upgrade, a panoramic glass sunroof, power-reclining and power-folding rear seats, and a touch-free gesture-controlled powered rear liftgate.

Alternatively the Luxury package forgoes the F Sport styling and performance upgrades yet adds its own 20-inch alloys along with the aforementioned premium LED headlamps and taillights, parking sensors, 12.3-inch EMV, auto air recirculation, and navigation, plus includes LED illuminated aluminum treadplates, a leather-wrapped and wood-trimmed steering wheel rim, 10-way powered front seats with four-way powered lumbar support, premium leather upholstery, and rear side sunshades. Move up to the Executive package and everything just noted in the Luxury package is included, plus all F Sport Series 3 package upgrades. The only negative to the way Lexus Canada has packaged up its top-line RX 350 is an inability to get an F Sport with “the works,” or rather all available options.

2017 Lexus RX 350 F Sport
How does cargo space measure up? See you soon for the review. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Lexus also limits exterior colour options, my F Sport tester only available in five shades and hues including its chosen Nebula Grey, the remaining four being Atomic Silver, Obsidian black, Ultra White, and Matador Red Mica, although the ability to add a stunning Rioja Red interior to default F Sport Black is certainly notable. If you choose base, Luxury or Executive trim the exterior paint palette grows to include Eminent White Pearl, black metallic Caviar, and dark blue Nightfall Mica, yet excludes Obsidian and Ultra White, whereas a golden beige Satin Cashmere Metallic is exclusive to Luxury and Executive trims. The more luxury-oriented RX 350 gets more interior colour choices too, eliminating Rioja Red but adding Parchment beige and Noble Brown to the usual Black.

That’s probably enough detail for now. Stay tuned for a full road test that will include all of my dictated notes organized into slightly more readable commentary. Until then you can check out my review of the 2016 Lexus RX 450h F Sport…

Getting an economy car doesn’t have to be boring or uncomfortable, Nissan’s Versa Note especially good at relieving the latter problem. The Japanese brand’s second smallest hatchback gets a mid-cycle…

2017 Nissan Versa Note SL

2017 Nissan Versa Note SL
Love the new retro Coca Embers metallic brown paint, just one option for the refreshed 2017 Versa Note. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Getting an economy car doesn’t have to be boring or uncomfortable, Nissan’s Versa Note especially good at relieving the latter problem.

The Japanese brand’s second smallest hatchback gets a mid-cycle update for 2017, highlighted by a particularly attractive new “V-Motion” chromed grille design sourced from previously restyled models within Nissan’s every growing lineup of cars, SUVs and trucks.

Along with the tiny Micra city car, plus the Juke and new Qashqai SUVs, the Versa Note is in charge of attracting newcomers and fixed income earners to the automaker, its very approachable $14,498 base price one of its more agreeable attributes. For that you get a nifty looking little runabout that’s better made than many in subcompact class, its 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine producing a rambunctious 109 horsepower and 107 lb-ft of torque and its claimed fuel economy an even more smile-inducing 7.5 L/100km in the city and 6.0 on the highway when hooked up to its optional as-tested CVT. A five-speed manual transmission comes standard in base S and second-rung SV trims, as well as this top-line SL, whereas the CVT is optional in all three of these and standard in the “sportier” SR, which sits between the SV and SL in the Versa Note trim hierarchy. Just why Nissan decided a CVT would endear performance fans to a sport model is anyone’s guess, so let’s just say the SR’s sporting prowess is limited to styling plus wheels and tires.

2017 Nissan Versa Note SL
The 2017 Versa Note gets a new chromed grille and more up front plus the sportier rear bumper from the SR in back. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

You’d be forgiven for thinking my tester’s slick looking new machine-finished 16-inch alloys on 195/55HR16 all-seasons were part of the sportier package, but these are unique to the top-tier SL, some of its other features including fog lamps, heatable powered side mirrors, proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition, a larger 5.8-inch colour infotainment touchscreen (up from 5.0 inches) with navigation and a 360-degree Around View parking camera, voice recognition, satellite radio and SiriusXM Traffic, plus more.

Additionally, key features pulled up from lesser trims include a leather-wrapped steering wheel with illuminated controls, premium cloth upholstery and door inserts, piano black inlays, extra silver interior accents, Fine Vision electroluminescent primary gauges, a trip computer, outside temperature display, cruise control, air conditioning, vanity mirrors, NissanConnect with mobile apps, Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity with streaming audio, text messaging functionality, aux and USB ports (with the latter port relocated to the front portion of the lower console), a six-way manually adjustable driver’s seat, heatable front seats (that are now standard on the SV and SR trims), a rear-seat centre armrest with integrated cupholders, variable intermittent flat-blade wipers, intermittent rear wiper, rear cargo cover, Divide-N-Hide adjustable cargo floor, 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks, and all the usual active and passive safety features.

2017 Nissan Versa Note SL
The SL packs in a lot of standard kit for a car in the subcompact class. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Of course the 2017 Versa Note SL is priced higher than the base S, but it’s less than $20k at $19,748, and can only be pushed higher by adding dealer-installed accessories like a $329 body-colour rear rooftop spoiler, $100 chromed door handles, a $49 chrome exhaust tip, $151 illuminated metal treadplates, and plenty more, the only extra I’d add being a $329 auto-dimming rearview mirror with an integrated Homelink garage door opener.

I’ll comment more on comfort in my upcoming review, and of course go on at length about driving dynamics, interior quality, feature functionality, and critically important in this class, passenger roominess plus cargo capacity and flexibility.

Until then take note that the grille isn’t the only new item on the 2017 Versa Note’s update list, other modifications including the front bumper and lower front fascia, plus the rear bumper that now features last year’s sportier SR styling across the entire range. The SL isn’t the only one to get new wheels either, with new 15-inch alloys for the SV and new covers for the base model’s 15-inch steel wheels. Those looking to stand out from the crowd will appreciate new Monarch Orange paint too, whereas Deep Blue Pearl makes the little hatch look richer and my tester’s Coca Embers adding a retro ‘70s cool factor. Other than the feature adjustments already noted, the only notable changes inside are larger cupholders across the line and a second 12-volt power outlet on all but the base model.

Come back soon for the full review…

Remember when full-size truck-based SUVs were the environmental equivalent of the antichrist? Hummer was the “Chucky” poster child brand of everything automotively evil, and its 2010 demise at least…

2017 GMC Yukon XL Denali

2017 GMC Yukon XL Denali
The 2017 GMC Yukon XL Denali looks positively rich with its massive chrome grille, 22-inch chrome wheels, and gorgeous optional White Frost Tricoat paint. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Remember when full-size truck-based SUVs were the environmental equivalent of the antichrist? Hummer was the “Chucky” poster child brand of everything automotively evil, and its 2010 demise at least partially due to socially falling out of favour with the do-gooder elite that helped it get a foothold in the mainstream market in the first place.

That would be pre-California governator Arnie Schwarzenegger in the driver’s seat, the real Col. John Matrix even influencing the design of GM’s Tahoe/Yukon-based H2 before turning up personally to introduce it in concept form at the 2001 New York auto show. Not long after it became politically incorrect to be seen in anything so carelessly gluttonous with fossil fuels (he first ran for governor in 2003 and was elected in 2006), a photo of Arnold spinning a globe of the world on his finger with the words “Save the Planet — Or Else” on the cover of Newsweek comes to mind. His environmental scorecard wasn’t exactly agent orange, but then again it wasn’t anywhere near as green as predecessor Gray Davis’ agenda, or for Jerry Brown that both preceded and immediately followed, but the True Lies star had to at least look more steward than predator.

2017 GMC Yukon XL Denali
Long? This Ohio-class SUV needs a nuclear reactor of its own. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Not anymore. Arnold drives an even bigger military grade Hummer H1 now, while relatively cheap gas and even cheaper money has caused a spike in the number of big SUVs leaving domestic and imported brand showrooms. Only Toyota’s Sequoia (What’s that you ask?) has taken a downturn in recent years, with every other full-size mainstream branded SUV having had its best year in a very long time in 2016, if not its best year ever. GM dominates this segment, with 10,681 Chevy Tahoes/Suburbans and GMC Yukons down the road last year, while the next-best Ford Expedition found just 3,729 buyers. Nissan’s new Armada saw considerable growth in 2016 with 716 sales, whereas the aforementioned Sequoia dropped to 697 units.

Here in Canada, GMC regularly outsells Chevrolet in the full-size SUV category, with last year’s totals being 5,446 units compared to 5,235, whereas it’s a much bigger gap in the opposite direction in the U.S. market where Chevy sold a total of 163,388 Tahoes and Suburbans to GMC’s 90,501 Yukons for a much greater per capita total of 253,889 units. Just for fun, can you guess how many plug-in hybrids and full-electric vehicles sold during the same 12 months? Out of 30 unique offerings, U.S. sales totalled a mere 159,139 units, and that’s after baiting customers with mega government handouts. So much for the environmental movement hitting the mainstream.

2017 GMC Yukon XL Denali
There’s lots to love about the Yukon XL Denali, including a full 14 inches of wheelbase and 20 inches of extra length over the regular Yukon. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

To GM’s credit its Chevrolet Volt was a major player on that list of 30 plug-in models, while the new Bolt EV is a very real, affordable electric that consumers can buy now—no jab at Tesla intended. These (likely) money-losing bowtie projects are funded by the aforementioned high-profit SUVs, as well as even higher profit pickup trucks, ultra-popular crossover SUVs, and a number of strong selling conventionally powered cars (the new Malibu is superb, by the way), which is just another reason for Arnie and company to embrace the big SUV.

Don’t get me wrong. I fully respect and appreciate Arnold Schwarzenegger; I loved Hummer, especially the final H2 and H2 SUT while rock-crawling around Aztec, New Mexico in 2008; and I adore the Yukon, especially this mammoth Yukon XL, GMC’s version of the 14-inch extended-wheelbase Chevy Suburban, making both 20 inches longer overall and more than doubling cargo capacity behind the third row. The Denali is even better, coming close to the ultimate Cadillac Escalade ESV experience without the, “In yo’ face mutha f…” hip-hop star attitude.

2017 GMC Yukon XL Denali
The Denali comes very well stocked with luxury and convenience features. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Its massive 420-horsepower 6.2-litre V8 feels like it’s got enough twist on tap to spin the world in the opposite direction when accelerating westward, its standard 275/55R20 or even meatier as-tested 285/45R22 rubber churning asphalt from all four corners via an efficient eight-speed automatic fed by 460 lb-ft of torque. Despite pushing 2,605 kilos (5,743 lbs) of bulk it feels light on its feet, but I best not go into driving dynamics details before the upcoming road test or this wouldn’t be a “Garage” teaser story, now would it?

I will fill you in on some 2017 updates, mind you, a new “Teen Driver” feature allowing some parental guidance when the big ute is out of site with kids at the wheel. Safety issues in mind, low-speed forward automatic braking is now optional on lesser models and standard with the Denali, while all trims get new active front aero shutters to improve highway economy.

I thought you’d never ask. The Yukon XL is five-cycle Transport Canada rated at 15.1 L/100km city and 10.4 highway with the base 5.3-litre V8 and RWD, while that engine with 4WD is good for a claimed 15.2 city and 10.8 highway. The as-tested Yukon XL Denali gets a 16.0 L/100km city and 11.7 highway rating, which is actually pretty good compared to some full-size SUV rivals.

2017 GMC Yukon XL Denali
Do you think you might fit in? You’d need to be 251-cm (8-foot-2.8-inch) tall Sultan Kösen to feel cramped, not Arnold who’s “only” 188 cm (6-foot-1.6). (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Other than the obvious chromed styling enhancements and larger engine, multi-speedier transmission, standard 4WD configuration, and 20-inch rims, the XL Denali gets a standard magnetic ride control suspension, heavy-duty trailering package with an integrated trailer brake controller, transmission oil cooler, HID headlights with auto high beams, fog lamps, an acoustic laminated windshield, rain-sensing wipers, power-folding side mirrors, chrome-accented assist steps, proximity-sensing access with pushbutton ignition, a unique leather-clad interior, a heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, power-adjustable pedals, heated and ventilated power-adjustable front memory seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a universal garage door remote, tri-zone auto climate control, 8.0-inch customizable colour TFT driver information display, a head-up display that projects key info on the windshield, a rear parking camera, OnStar with 4G LTE and a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot, wireless phone charging, active noise cancellation, 10-speaker Bose Centerpoint Surround audio, HD and satellite radio, front and rear parking sensors, blindspot monitoring with lane change alert and lane keep assist, forward collision alert, a safety alert driver’s seat, power-folding third-row seats, a powered liftgate, and plenty more.

2017 GMC Yukon XL Denali
Cargo space? Unless you’re hauling a house you’ll probably be ok. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

My stunning White Frost Tricoat-painted tester, an $1,195 option, was completely loaded up past the Yukon XL Denali’s reasonable $82,290 asking price, with gorgeous $3,195 22-inch six-spoke chromed “Multi-Feature Design” alloys, plus $1,920 power-retractable assist steps that neatly tuck up within the rockers to look like a nice strip of chromed trim.

Additionally, a $2,900 (including a $795 option credit) Open Road package added a powered glass sunroof up front and a ceiling-mounted flip-down Blu-Ray DVD entertainment system in back, the latter with Wi-Fi wireless projection capability, a remote, four pair of two-channel wireless digital headphones, a cluster of auxiliary HDMI/MHL audio/video inputs, two rear USB ports, plus nine months of SiriusXM radio and NavTraffic service. Not so obvious but appreciated even more was $1,095 worth of adaptive cruise control with the fortunately unsung benefit of Automatic Collision Preparation, which replaced the previously noted standard Low Speed Forward Automatic Braking with full forward collision mitigation. There was more, adding $11,350 in options for a new total of $93,640 before freight and fees, but we’ll leave it there.

Come back soon for experiential details from the driver’s seat, plus the good, the bad, and the… no there’s nothing ugly inside, the pros and cons of its infotainment touchscreen, switchgear quality, overall comfort levels, load-holding, load-hauling and towing specifics, and anything else I can think of adding. Until then, don’t go and buy a Sequoia…