01-23-18

CHEVY’S NEW CRUZE DIESEL COULD BE THE SALVE FOR THOSE MOURNING THE DEMISE OF VW’S TDIS

Cruze DieselBy Peter Bleakney, Driving.ca - Just when you thought the diesel-powered compact car was dead in the water, GM comes rattling to the rescue.  The Chevrolet Cruze Diesel, available in both sedan and hatchback, could very well be a salve for those who mourn the tragic demise of Volkswagen's cruelly deceptive yet otherwise excellent TDIs.

Up until that VW's emissions scandal blew up real good, the diesel-powered Golf and Jetta enjoyed cult status here in Canada, accounting for a sizable percentage of those compact car's sales.  Canucks have a penchant for diesels, and really, what's not to like?  Amazing fuel mileage along with gobs of relaxed torque is hard to dispute.

So, can this diesel Cruze pick up where the compact VWs left off?  Will it ever garner the kind of love and emotion the TDI faithful still harbor in their hearts?  Will it spawn a new crowd, proudly willing to wield their stinky yellow pump handle?

I will say this: after a week in the saddle of the 2018 Cruze Diesel sedan, the on-board computer showed a heart-warming fuel consumption rating of 5.4 L/100 kilometres, and with diesel currently cheaper than regular gasoline, that's a sweet thing.  So yes, this diesel sedan delivers hybrid-baiting economy without the attendant weight and complexity of battery packs, electric motors and mega computing power.

However, pricing is an issue that weighs down the Cruze Diesel.  It's only available in the second-from-top tier LT trim, with the six-speed manual sedan starting at $24,395.  Add another 41,500 for the six-speed automatic in this tester, and that represents a $3,250 hike over the comparable gas models that run with a 1.4-L turbo-four making 153 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque.

The heart of the matter here is an all-new 1.,6-L turbodiesel four-cylinder engine, with a variable-vane turbocharger, and aluminum block and heads.  This Hungarian-built oil-burner is 20 kilograms lighter and a claimed 68 per cent quieter than the 2.0-L turbodiesel it replaces.  The engine is also available in the Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain crossovers, so yes, GM seems serious about this diesel business.

While this new diesel's 137 hp might sound a bit paltry, it's the robust 240 lb-ft of torque available from 2,000 rpm that does the talking.  hooked to an excellent nine-speed automatic transmission that expertly slurs the gears while keeping the little oil-burner in the meat of its torque band, the Cruze Diesel never feels flat-footed.  There's always a big slug of torque at the ready to urge you forward from just about any speed.  It certainly feels more fleet than the gasoline car.

In Europe, this engine gets the nickname "fluster-diesel" - fluster is German for whisper.  indeed, once warmed up, it is a civilized unit.  Sure, there's an earnest - some might find it endearing - grumble emanating from under the hood when accelerating, but when cruising, it's as quiet as a church.  And with the necessary down-stream urea-injection exhaust scrubbing, it meets all North American emission regulations.  You'll need to top up the DEF (diesel exhaust fluid) every 8,000 to 10,000 km.

There are a few reasons diesel engines are so much more efficient than gas engines.  Diesel fuel is more energy-dense, containing about ten per cent more bang-power per litre.  Additionally, parasitic pumping losses are reduced in a diesel engine because engine speed is dictated by fuel supply; it doesn't have to work to suck air through a restrictive opening (the "throttle", get it?)  And finally, the super high-compression ratio, needed to ignite the fuel because there are no spark plugs, contributes to more efficient combustion.

As for the higher price compared to gas-powered vehicles, chalk that up to robust construction and the extremely precise, high-pressure fuel-delivery systems.

In all other aspects, the Cruze Diesel lines up with the gas model.  It's an agreeable compact sedan with fine road manners that lean more toward comfort than sport.  however, its numb on-centre steering feel won't win over any Volkswagen fans.  Likewise, the interior quality trails the VW's, but you can say that about most competitors in this segment.

In the plus ledger, the Cruze's ergonomics are good in LT trim with an intuitive, seven-inch touch screen-based MyLink infotainment system featuring Bluetooth, USB, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, plus SiriusXM satellite radio.  you also get six months of free, full-service OnStar that spoils with turn-by-turn GPS navigation, 4G LTE Wi-Fi hot-spot connectivity, and more.

This tester had the $3,200 True North Edition Package that adds leather seating, a heated steering wheel, blind-spot and lane-change alerts, rear park assist and rear cross-traffic alert, a sunroof, ambient lighting, a colour screen in the gauge cluster, a pretty decent nine-speaker Bose audio system, and the touch screen is bumped up in size to eight inches.  spicing up the exterior is the RS body package ($795) and Cajun red paint ($595).

All in, we're looking at a pretty pricey Cruze; just north of $30,000 before freight and taxes.  I would also posit it is the best-driving Cruze, because the 1.6-L turbodiesel and the slick nine-speed transmission give this little sedan a relaxed, V6-like urge from step-off to highway cruise.

There's no arguing its parsimonious fuel sippage.  One could, however, argue-with the financial hit this 'fluster-diesel" inflicts on the Cruze's bottom line.  Justifying the cost would require driving it around the globe a few times.  We will accept fanatical, flag-waving, diesel enthusiasm as well.

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01-23-18

THIS ALL-NEW SUV PACKS SOPHISTICATED TECH IN A MORE ‘MASCULINE’ PACKAGE

2018 TraverseBy Jil McIntosh, Driving.ca - My Chevy traverse has a rattle in it.  It's a brand-new vehicle and it shouldn't have a rattle, but there it is.  Over a rutted road, there's an annoying, plasticky, nasty rattle that won't go away.  I touch parts and panels, trying to figure out what's making the noise.  And after all that, it turns out to be a loose cap on my water bottle.

I remember when SUVs were just trucky boxes of noise on wheels.  They've all been getting more car-like for quite a while, but it's still impressive when one's quiet enough inside that I can hear a wobbly lid.

The Traverse is all new for 2018, starting with a stiff new platform that gives it a comfortable and - as I discovered - very quiet ride.  The vehicle's overall length remains virtually the same from the last-generation model, but the wheelbase is longer, which provides more interior space.  The third-row cushions are still uncomfortably hard and flat, but there's now enough legroom there for most adults, and of course children will love being back there.  There's also an impressive amount of cargo space, even when the back seats are up, which is often a weak point for many three-row vehicles.

Naturally, the styling also morphs with this new model, with a more angular design that gives it a bigger-than-it-is look that GM's rep described as "more masculine" (although I'm not quite sure what made the last one apparently more feminine-looking).  in any case, it's a handsome beast.  The large windows provide good visibility, and while slightly bigger mirrors would improve that even more, all models come with a standard rear-view camera, and mid-level trims and up add a 360-degree view.

The new 3.6-litre V6 engine is the usual more-power-less-fuel improvement over the old Traverse, making 310 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque.  Eventually it will be joined by a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, with 255 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, which will come solely in the new RS trim level, and only in front-wheel drive.  It's mostly aimed at urban drivers who don't want a bigger engine, although the fuel savings will be minimal.  The V6 with FWD is rated at a combined city-highway rating of 11.0 L/100 km, the four-cylinder at 10.5.  Even the all-wheel V6 isn't that huge a jump over the front-wheel model, with a combined rating of 11.8 L/100 km.

The V6 Traverse comes in five trim levels, starting at $34,895 for the LS and climbing to an eye-watering $58,495 for the top-line High Country.  The two lowest levels come in FWD or AWD, while everything else is all-wheel.  Even so, the all-wheel can be switched into front-wheel only through a dial on the console.  I'd leave it in all-wheel anyway, because the Traverse runs primarily in front-wheel, but distributes power to the back whenever needed to maintain traction, giving peace of mind with a very small difference in fuel economy.

The High Country exclusively includes a more sophisticated all-wheel system with torque  vectoring, which gives it more stability on sharp curves.  It may eventually find its way into lower trims, but for now it's kept at the higher level primarily because it's a costlier system to build.

There's a lot of technology in this new model, but one feature that grabbed my attention is a program in the electric power steering.  Turning the steering wheel the right way in a skid can help get you safely back on track.  if the Traverse detects it's going sideways, it will make the wheel easier to turn in the correct direction, and harder if your wrong move will make the skid worse.

The V6 is a smooth performer, as is the nine-speed transmission that's mated to it.  It includes start-stop, which shuts the engine off at idle to reduce fuel consumption and emissions, but while most manufacturers give you the option of temporarily disabling it, GM doesn't.  I much prefer having the choice.

My noise bottle cap aside, the traverse is a pleasant driver.  It feels smaller than it is, helped by the responsive steering and tight turning radius.  The seats are supportive, both on the leather- clad High Country and cloth-upholstered LT trim levels that I drove.

The wide centre console makes the front foot wells a bit tight, but there's good legroom for second-row passengers.  One middle seat can be slid forward while upright, so a child seat can remain in place while providing third-row access, and it's a relatively wide opening to get back there.

Connectivity is the big deal these days, and all models come with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, seven- or eight-inch infotainment screen, Wi-Fi hot spot and a rear-seat reminder lest a child be forgotten back there.  The screen itself slides up to reveal a hidden storage cubby, and you can set a PIN to lock it.

Canadians have consistently been buying more SUVs than cars, and so automakers have been putting their efforts into making their people-movers better.  There are a few minor flaws, but overall, this Traverse revamp is pretty impressive.  It's roomy, it looks good, and it drives well, and that's what most people prioritize in a family vehicle.  Just be sure to secure all drink-container lids before driving.

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Equinox

By Lesley Wimbush, Driving.ca - We're more than 3,800 feet above the Pisgah National Forest, where mist envelops the shoulders of the Appalachian Mountains.  Below us lies the Pink Beds Valley, a swath of lush growth tinted by the blush of blooming rhododendrons.

We'd been given the option of making our own way across the Carolinas, the only caveat being that we arrive intact by dinner.  My driving partner had a hankering to experience the Tail of the Dragon, 18 kilometres of serpentine road that's virtually a rite of passage for any driving enthusiast.  I pointed out that our trip gave us a chance to visit one of the remove, mountainous creeks where we could search for the elusive Hellbender, an exceedingly rare giant salamander, charmingly dubbed the "Snot Otter."

The Blue Ridge Parkway proved an acceptable compromise, though its abundance of looping curves had us yearning for a nimble two-seater instead of the crossover we're piloting.  To be fair, our Chevrolet Equinox handled the hairpin twists quite admirably, with none of the lumbering wallow once characteristic of this segment.

Completely revised for 2018, the third-gen Equinox returns with a shorter, stiffer platform, an available nine-speed automatic transmission and the choice of three engines.  Based on the same D2 architecture underpinning the Buick Envision, the Equinox sheds 400 pounds (180 kilograms) - a 10 per cent weight reduction - over the previous platform.

As with nearly every other vehicle in the industry-wide quest for better fuel economy, the chassis has been lightened by using high-strength and hot stamped steel, fewer welds and more industrial adhesives.  This gives the new Equinox an added bonus of great torsional rigidity and less flex, meaning a more stable ride.  The smaller body, shorter wheelbase and slightly lower ride height not only aid in the Equinox's stability, but also improve aerodynamics.  Visually, the Equinox isn't as compelling as the Mazda CX-5 or Ford Escape, but it is neat and tidy, if rather unremarkable.

In this segment, space and utility are paramount.  Despite its compact size, the Equinox's cabin space remains virtually the same as the outgoing model.  The rear seats have given up their ability to slide fore and aft, providing a more usable and flatter floor when folded.  Maximum cargo space increases to 1,798 litres, including a hidden compartment beneath the trunk floor.

The cabin's overhaul follows the same conservative yet functional design principles as the Cruze.  Premier models feature more soft-touch materials and leather, but cheaper plastics creep into use as you move down through the trim levels.  The Equinox follows Chevrolet's familiar packaging strategy by offering three models (LS, LT and Premier) and two packages (Confidence and Convenience, and True North) are available on the LT and Premier.

All trims are available in front- or all-wheel drive, but it seems Canadians prefer AWD, which accounts for 80 per cent of all Equinoxes sold here.  New for 2018, the AWD system can help conserve more fuel by directing power to just the front wheels when extra traction isn't needed, or torque to all four wheels can be manually locked in by the driver.

The mid-range LT AWD is predicted to be the volume seller, but even the base LS has a good level of standard features.  They include keyless entry with push-button start, Chevrolet's MyLink Infotainment system, rear-vision camera, Teen Driver (which lets you restrict and monitor driving habits), one-touch folding second-row seats, heated front seats and heated rear-view mirrors, a remote starter, start/stop technology and both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.

Moving up through the trim lines adds extra goodies, such as a heated steering wheel and rear seats, HID headlights, a hands-free power liftgate, an eight-inch in-dash touch screen and 4.2-inch instrument cluster display, and wireless charging.  The Premier trim gets rear park assist, plus side blind-zone and rear cross-traffic alerts.

Available packages add forward-collision alert, 360-degree surround vision, low-speed automatic braking, safety-alert seat and lane-departure warning.  Only the True North package includes GPS navigation, which leaves the rest of the model lineup to rely on either OnStar's turn-by-turn navigation services, or Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which rely on the user's own data plan.

Unfortunately, the new 2.0-litre turbo-four and the 1.6L four-cylinder turbodiesel engines weren't available yet and probably won't arrive until summer.  The diesel, producing 136 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque, is rated to deliver 6.9L/100 km in combined city and highway driving for FWD models, or 7.4 with AWD.  The larger 2.0L turbo-four, producing 250 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, will be the only one paired with the new nine-speed automatic transmission.  It will deliver 8.7 L/100 km combined on FWD Equinoxes and 9.4 with AWD.  It will also offer a maximum towing capability of 3,500 lbs (1,588 kg), compared with 1,500 lbs (680 kg) for the other powertrains.

"There are advantages to using the nine-speed, from a fuel economy and from a performance standpoint," says Larry Mihalko, engineer and performance manager for Chevrolet's crossovers.  "But this segment is also price-sensitive, so if you want the nine-speed you've got to check the box and get the bigger motor.  But we've got pretty good fuel economy with the six-speed, and quite frankly, the diesel is the true fuel economy play on this vehicle."

Our sole available choice was the base 1.5L turbocharged four-cylinder engine paired to a six-speed automatic.  It seemed quiet enough on the highway, thanks to noise cancellation provided by the audio system and an abundance of sound-deadening material.  But it was slow to respond after braking through the tight turns, which was probably a combination of the engine's modest 170 hp and 203 lb-ft of torque, the transmission's limitations and perhaps the altitude's effect on the power output.

Given the Equinox's nicely controlled handling and the suspension's ability to soak up the bumps and potholes we encountered, the power output was rather disappointing.  Although it was possible to awkwardly induce shifts with the gear lever, I couldn't help wishing for paddle shifters in the corners.

While we'll have to wait to see if the Equinox's new powertrains match the impressive handling, the more compact size and better manoeuvrability should help it chase down segment leaders.  And with its all-in base price of $26,995, including PDI, is should finally be able to succeed.

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malibu-17
The 2016 Chevrolet Malibu is a big improvement on the outgoing model
with a hint of the Audi A7 in the rear three-quarter

By Graeme Fletcher, Driving.ca - With only a brief hiatus, the Malibu has been a Chevrolet staple since it was introduced at around the same time the Beatles first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Over the years, the good, the bad and the plain ugly have worn the nameplate.  The ugly badge is pinned to the tail of the so-called Iraqi Malibu.

In 1981, GM produced a special version of its popular sedan for the Iraqi government.  It had a V6 engine, a three-speed manual transmission and precious little else.  The order was abruptly cancelled, so GM sold the majority of these oddball orphans in Canada, and at a fire-sale price.

Fast-forward to today and the all new, ninth-generation Malibu is as far removed from that abomination as is possible.  For example, the designed-by-committee interior has been shelved.

This is not your father's Malibu anymore.  Gone is the fuddy-duddy finish in favour of a more upscale look and feel that's dominated by the iPad-like screen and Chevy's MyLink infotainment system.  It now looks like it was designed to be there, not like it was an afterthought.

The system is readily mastered.  It supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and also delivers a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hot spot.  CarPlay proved to be remarkably easy to use once the phone was paired, which was itself a simple task.  Hold the talk button for two seconds and the on-board "Molly of the maps" is overridden by Siri.  Ask "where am I?" and Siri gives you the exact address and then puts the location on the map in the screen.  Having Siri read or respond to texts is also easy, as is placing a call or finding a song.  Even more impressive is the quality and clarity of the screen.  The high-definition colours are vivid and the clarity better than many similar setups.

As for the driver's lot in life, the seat is comfortable and offers lots of adjustments, so taller folk will find ample legroom.  And it's more of the same in the back - lots of toe-leg- and headroom.  A 6-foot-2 passenger will find a comfortable, un-scrunched seating position.  With split/folding seats and 447 litres of space, the trunk accommodates a family of five's luggage with ease.

The latest Malibu is offered in three very different flavours.  The tester arrived with GM's Ecotec 1.5-L turbocharged four-cylinder married to a six-speed automatic transmission.  The 160 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque it puts out is enough for most eventualities.  Yes, it takes almost nine seconds to trot to 100 kilometres an hour, but the plus proved to be the fuel economy - a test best of 5.7 litres per 100 kilometres.  The average for the entire test was 10.8 L/100 km, and this included the acceleration testing.

That said, the better choice is the 2.0-L turbocharged four-cylinder that's married to an advanced eight-speed automatic transmission.  It brings a rabble-rousing 250 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque and is much quicker, running to 100 km/h in 6.7 seconds.  The vigour arrives at the cost of fuel efficiency, but it transforms the Malibu into a smile inducer.  The final alternative, if you're really into fuel economy, is the Hybrid.

The six-speed transmission worked well with the base engine, especially on the highway, where it kept the revs low and the cabin eerily quiet.  The anomaly proved to be the controls on the back side of the steering wheel; they control the audio, not the shifting.  The latter is done through a toggle switch atop the shifter, and then only after selecting low.  Given this 1.5-L engine does not tempt the driver to play cowboy, this setup was passable, but it will likely be awkward with the sportier 2.0-L engine and the performance it puts at the driver's right boot.

On-road comportment is where the Malibu comes into its own.  The new car is significantly lighter, which makes it feel much more agile on its P225/55R17 tires.  This new-found nimbleness makes the Malibu an entertaining drive; nobody could ever accuse previous generations of the car of being fun!  The amount of body roll is minimal and the response to driver input is crisp.  Ditto for the steering and brakes; both have a much sharper feel than before.

It is the quality and quietness of the ride, however, that will be the Malibu's defining quality and strength.  The rigours of a rough road simply disappear.  In the end, the Malibu does a very credible job of mimicking a luxury car.

The latest Malibu represents a vast improvement over the outgoing model.  It has style (some will see shades of the Audi A7 in the rear three-quarter, which is not a bad thing), a broader model mix, a swanky new interior as well as the aforementioned ride quality and cabin quietness.  The combination means it now has the wherewithal to cater to a much wider array of potential customers.  Heck, even younger buyers looking to start a family will find it appealing.

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Spark

By Justin Pritchard, The Globe and Mail

TECH SPECS

  • Base price: $9,995 ... as tested $9,995
  • Engine: 1.4-litre EcoTec four cylinder
  • Transmission/Drive: Five-speed manual or CVT with manual mode shifting
  • Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 7.6 city; 5.7 highway; 6.7 combined, regular fuel
  • Alternatives: Nissan Micra, Mitsubishi Mirage

 

In the push to purvey Canada's least-expensive car, Chevrolet and Nissan engaged in a charming pricing scrum.  When Chevrolet parked the MSRP of the 2016 Spark just three dollars below the Nissan Micra's then-cheapest Canadian price of $9,998, Nissan countered with a $10 price drop to $9,988.  Now, with the dust settled, Micra maintains the title of Canada's most affordable car, beating the $9,995 Spark at the base-price game by just $7.

A brand-new car below the magical $10,000 mark represents a compelling alternative to a used car, creates buzz and puts brands strongly on the radar of first-time buyers.  With the new Spark, Chevrolet has dropped another sub-$10,000 model into this rapidly growing segment, and it has more going for it than just that new car smell.

Millennials:  They share, they co-operate, they're connected and creative, and they're a conundrum to product planners and marketers, who discovered that, in general, millennials care little about cars, more about tech, and don't like compromise.  That's why for $7 dollar premium over the Micra, Chevrolet's latest might just offer about the most relevant feature set going for this demographic.

Integrated Bluetooth is standard kit on all Spark models - an instant advantage over Micra and others, who bundle it with an added-cost package.

OnStar is also standard, for push-button access to real-life help summoned via an integrated GPS and cellular connection.

OnStar advisers can send help automatically after a crash, summon a tow truck, beam navigation directions into the dashboard, and more.  OnStar can be a confidence-booster for students (and parents of said students), who may, for instance, be making a lengthy highway trek home for the weekend.

OnStar's cellular and data connections also let Spark owners check fuel and tire pressure levels, operate door locks, and even remote-start the engine (with proper equipment) via their smartphone.  Further, a built-in hotspot turns the Spark into a four-wheeled WiFi router, with fee-based high-speed mobile data.

And here's the big one: All Spark models ship with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which upscale the user's smartphone into the 7-inch colour touchscreen display, also standard.

Contact lists, maps, voice assistants, notification screens and the like are mirrored from the handset, complete with the same menu structures, gestures, look and feel.  Distracting functions are locked out, as is the handset itself, and Siri or OK Google functionality is accessible with a tap.

Apple CarPlay and Android are heavy hitters in the mobile infotainment game, and offering them standard at this price point is a big deal.

Further, since the Spark's touch-screen happens to be a great place for a backup camera display, all models get one of those, too.

Spark's eggs aren't all in the connectivity and tech baskets, either - as most dynamic attributes and driving characteristics are right on the mark, too.  The 1.4 litre four-cylinder musters 98 horsepower and nearly as much torque.  With the Spark's small size, light weight and lack of power-sucking air conditioning on the tested entry-level model, that output goes a long way in scooting things along nicely in city traffic, and translates into pleasing responsiveness on the highway.  The Micra is slightly punchier, though Spark's engine operates with more refinement and less noise, even when worked.  Gears are browsed via a precise shifter that feels great in the hand, and a clutch that's forgiving in stop-and-go traffic, with just enough bite.

Around town, good outward sight lines and properly sized mirrors help drivers stay aware of their surroundings, a small turning circle enhances manoeuvrability, and even over the roughest roads available during an afternoon spent exploring downtown Toronto, the ride maintained a more solid, dense and robust feel than typically expected from a car this small.

Spark's highway manners are similarly refreshing.  Where Micra, Mirage and comparable compacts are largely at the mercy of the wind and weather, often shifting and squirming beneath the driver, Spark stays on course, remains absolutely planted and stable, and sticks to the driver's requested line like a bigger, heavier car.

The writer was a guest of the auto maker.  Content was not subject to approval.

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