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Straight Eight: 2015 Chevrolet Malibu

2015 Chevrolet Malibu

1. Fun in the run-of-the-mill
Malibu, in southern California, is sexy and sunny. A car named after such a place must be a sleek convertible, right? Nope. It’s a family sedan, and a bland-looking one, but if you can believe it, this is the most interesting-looking Malibu since the mid-1970s.

2015 Chevrolet Malibu

2. Simply motivated
Just as the look is what we expect from a mainstream sedan, so is what’s under the hood. Our test car had the base engine, a 2.5-litre four-cylinder; the only transmission is a six-speed automatic. Ho-hum.

2015 Chevrolet Malibu

3. Good on its feet
But start driving, and you discover there’s a little more to this car than meets the eye. Okay, it’s not exciting, exactly, but the steering is quite good, and the Malibu handles better than I expected it to.

2015 Chevrolet Malibu

4. Self-starter
The 2.5-litre engine has an auto stop/start feature that shuts the engine off at stoplights, to save fuel. In my chilly winter test, it only worked about half the time, typical for this technology in cold weather. When it works, its operation is largely transparent, better than similar systems in some more expensive cars (right, BMW?), and contributed to a respectable fuel consumption average of 10.7 L/100 km.

2015 Chevrolet Malibu

5. Touchy, touchy
Touchscreens are quickly becoming a staple of car interiors. Chevrolet’s version of this technology is called IntelliLink. This one’s better than many, but still doesn’t always respond the first time, which not handy when you’re trying to, you know, drive a car. In fact, the best thing about this touchscreen is the storage compartment hidden behind it.

2015 Chevrolet Malibu

6. Never look back
Small, oddly-shaped side mirrors seem better suited to sparing you the worry of what’s behind you, rather than aiding visibility.

2015 Chevrolet Malibu

7. Put some junk in this trunk
Making up for that, perhaps, is the trunk, large enough to fit (for example) a two-drawer filing cabinet and a printer stand at the same time.

2015 Chevrolet Malibu

8. Identity crisis
A few people asked if it’s fun driving “a cop car.” Nope, that’s the larger Impala, I reminded them. This sedan is good at what it was designed for, but as those cases of mistaken identity illustrate, if you want something that’ll leave a lasting impression, Malibu – the place – is a better bet.

 

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Straight Eight: 2015 Toyota Tacoma

2015 Toyota Tacoma

1. That’s near Seattle, right?
Tacoma. Colorado. Canyon. Sierra. Silverado. Dakota. Is there a rule that pickups have to be named after American places and geological formations?

2015 Toyota Tacoma

2. Don’t call me small
The Tacoma is smaller than the brand’s full-size Tundra (see what we mean about names?), but they refer to it as “mid-sized.” This is the Double Cab version; the base Access Cab model also has four doors, but the back ones are smaller and the tiny rear seats useless.

2015 Toyota Tacoma

3. A step in the wrong direction
OK, let’s get in the truck – but watch out: the side steps are too high and just get in the way, and once you’ve climbed up, you have to duck down to avoid whacking your head on the door frame.

2015 Toyota Tacoma

4. It’s raining on my groceries
For stuff you don’t want exposed to the elements, the back seats fold to create a flat load surface. You have to remove the headrests first, though, and there’s nowhere to stow them.

2015 Toyota Tacoma

5. Get into bed
For less-perishable cargo, there’s the bed. Curiously, Double Cab trucks with a manual transmission get a five-foot bed, while the automatic version I drove has one that measures a little longer than six feet. The bed was just a bit shorter than the junk I had to haul to the dump. (Of course it was.)

2015 Toyota Tacoma

6. Rough, going
Many modern trucks ride surprisingly smoothly, thanks to sophisticated suspension designs, but Tacoma’s decade-old design barely qualifies as modern, and shows its age in the poor ride quality.

2015 Toyota Tacoma

7. Small(er) truck, big thirst
My tester’s V6 moves the Tacoma well, but average fuel consumption was higher than two V8-powered Chevrolet trucks I tested earlier this year.

2015 Toyota Tacoma

8. Priced to stay put
Pricewise, at $40,000, my top-of-the-line test truck lacked many creature comforts. I’m okay with a basic truck, but similar money will buy you a V8-powered, full-size truck that will tow and haul more weight. Oh, well. Maybe if they’d called it the Seattle.

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2014 in Straight Eight, Toyota, Trucks

 

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What I think: 2015 Chevrolet Traverse

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It’s not difficult to make a big crossover interesting: what’s difficult is making something that’s interesting and still appeals to the mass-market consumers who buy these family-friendly vehicles. The Traverse does some things well, and others not-so-well, but does them all with a distinct lack of personality. Read my full review at AutoFocus.ca.

 

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Straight Eight: 2015 Hyundai Veloster Turbo

Hyundai Veloster Turbo

1. Stands out in a crowd
The car is the Hyundai Veloster, and the colour is called Vitamin C. Loud colours work best on cars that look loud no matter what shade they’re painted. Four years since its introduction, the Veloster remains controversial, and that’s just how it should be.

2. Three-fer
Hyundai calls the Veloster a coupe, but technically it’s not, if your definition means only two doors. The Veloster has three: from the passenger side, it looks like a weird four-door hatchback, while the driver’s side paints the car as the rakish coupe it purports to be.

Hyundai Veloster Turbo

3. Humble roots
Believe it or not, the Veloster is based on Hyundai’s Accent subcompact; its wacky styling is the most notable part of the transformation into a wannabe sports car.

Hyundai Veloster Turbo

4. Glass ceiling
There’s a ton of glass out back, but little rearward visibility. When reversing, the best view of what’s behind you is through the standard backup camera.

Hyundai Veloster Turbo

5. Trunk line
Beneath that big hatch lies (unsurprisingly) a big trunk, and the rear seat won’t make your friends curse you out for making them ride back there. On the downside, your friends will keep asking you for rides.

Hyundai Veloster Turbo

6. Close, but kind of meatless
The Odds song “Someone Who’s Cool” (quoted above) is about trying to look cool even when you’re not. That’s you if you buy the lukewarm base model. The car I drove had the optional turbocharged engine, which brightened performance significantly, but not quite enough to match the promise of that orange paint: the Veloster isn’t as sharp to drive as the Mini Cooper S, Honda Civic Si or Ford Fiesta ST.

Hyundai Veloster Turbo

7. Get in, hold on
Check out the grab handles on the centre console – great to give the passenger something to hold onto when the yahoo behind the wheel gets heavy with the right foot. Similarly-styled door pulls look good, but are also easy to reach when it’s time to close the cabin door and prepare for takeoff.

Hyundai Veloster Turbo

8. Cheap thrills
It’s not as much fun to drive as some competitors, but the Veloster Turbo is a great value. A similarly-equipped Cooper S costs thousands more, the Civic Si is dowdy in comparison, and the Fiesta ST rides hard and has sport seats that are uncomfortable in daily use. The Veloster combines standout looks with a useful interior and a dash of fun – a combo that’s hard to resist.

 

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What I think: 2015 Volkswagen Tiguan

2015 volkswagen tiguanIt’s normally easy to like a Volkswagen. They build great small cars, spacious family cars, and the Touareg mid-size crossover is a fantastic vehicle hampered only by a high price and VW’s upscale aspirations. Maybe it’s those same high hopes that left me disappointed in the company’s Tiguan compact crossover. Read my full review at TractionLife.com.

 

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What I think: 2015 Chrysler 200C

2015 Chrysler 200Transforming a car that was forgettable (or that you’d maybe wish you could forget about after driving it) into one that looks very promising is one thing; endowing the new car with driving characteristics that live up to those looks is another. Read my full review of a car that’s been transformed for the better—much better—at AutoFocus.ca.

 

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What I think: 2015 Chevrolet Suburban

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When I was a kid in the 1980s, my best friend’s parents had a Chevy Suburban that they used to tow an RV large enough to accommodate their family of five. Having grown up around the small Japanese cars my dad drove, I was amazed by this beast of a truck that, if I recall correctly, I was lucky enough to hitch a ride in just once.

No doubt many other kids and their families have spent time in Suburbans: it’s one of the oldest SUV names in the business, first seen in a showroom in the 1930s. About 80(!) years later, the Suburban carries on, having just enjoyed a redesign into its 12th(!!) generation for 2015.

No surprise, the Suburban’s still a big boy, stretching nearly 19 feet long. That, for the sake of perspective, is nearly a foot longer than my little townhouse is wide. All those jokes about piloting a Suburban being like driving around in your living room are suddenly much less funny.

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For all its size, Chevrolet’s designers have done a good job masking the Suburban’s bulk. It isn’t until you’re in the driver’s seat and you see, through the rear view mirror, how much SUV there is behind you that you realize how large this truck really is.

My tester was done up in top-end LTZ trim, including GM’s magnetic ride control suspension, which the company says “reads” the road and adjusts its responses every five milliseconds. That’s a fancy way of saying it makes the Suburban drive like a vehicle two-thirds its size and weight. If you ignore how the heavy rear live axle clomps over rough pavement, the ride is more like that of a big sedan, not a nearly three-ton SUV.

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Magnetic ride control does wonders in other ways, too: body roll feels nearly non-existent in aggressive cornering, and in a near-panic stop, there was none of the body-pitching-forward drama that normally accompanies that sort of maneuver. Having driven the previous-generation Chevy Tahoe (a shorter version of the same truck) both with and without this trick suspension, I can say that its effect is even more pronounced in a back-to-back comparison. The LTZ is a $71,000 vehicle before options (Suburban’s base price is around $52,500), but it’s nearly worth that for this suspension alone.

Other standard kit in LTZ trim includes heated and ventilated front seats, heated second row seats, power-folding second- and third-row seats, intelligent keyless entry, electric steering column adjustment, heated steering wheel, power-adjustable pedals (these come in mid-level LT trim, too), front and rear park assist (a backup camera is standard in all models), Xenon headlights, auto-dimming side and rear view mirrors, and a 10-speaker Bose stereo.

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As good as the suspension is at suspending the laws of physics, the truck’s ample mass reveals itself in other ways. The sole engine available is a 5.3-litre V8, rated at 355 hp and 382 lb-ft of torque, and while it has no trouble moving the Suburban at a relaxed pace, it works hard at wider throttle openings. Three tons, remember?

Fuel consumption is estimated at 15.4 L/100 km (city) and 10.8 L/100 km (highway) (impressive numbers given Natural Resources Canada’s more stringent five-cycle test, which applies to all 2015 models). However, the reality of moving this much truck around is more like 17.0 L/100 km in the city, even with a light right foot. That said, the truck’s informative trip computer says that my tester had, at some point, done as well as 9.4 L/100 km, presumably in relaxed highway driving.

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We tested the Suburban’s carrying capacity a couple of times: once with a flat-packed Ikea sofa (two large boxes fit handily, along with two passengers); and again, with a shipment of donations headed to the food bank (which started out piled five-and-a-half feet high on a skid) that also fit easily, though we suspect that load came close to maxing out the truck’s 782-kg (1,725 lb) payload.

I didn’t have an opportunity to test the Suburban’s towing capacity, but Chevrolet rates that at 3,765 kg (8,300 lb), or a little less with four-wheel drive.

There’s not much clearance under the open tailgate; even at five-foot-seven, I instinctively ducked every time I had to load or unload. Yes, that was with the power tailgate (standard in LT and LTZ models) set to open all the way; it can be toggled to open just three-quarters of the way for loading in confined spaces, like a low-ceilinged parkade.

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For anyone accustomed to how “badly” large trucks traditionally go over the road, the Suburban will be a pleasant surprise. Certainly, much of that is owed to the engineers behind the magnetic ride control suspension, but it’s easy to see how, even without it, this truck would still be a manageable and, dare I say, pleasant vehicle to use, in spite of its size.

During the course of the week, many people asked me who buys such a “ridiculous” vehicle. Well, families like my old school friend’s, I told them. There are many vehicles that can tow large trailers, and many others that can move five people in comfort, but the Suburban is one of a rare few that can do both.

If I was amazed back then by the Suburban’s sheer size, I’m even more impressed with how easy it can be to live with one—even if I don’t have three kids and an RV to haul around.

This article previously appeared in the Montreal Gazette.

 

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