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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2018 EquinoxBy Pedro Arrais, Times Colonist - If there was a list of desirable features people usually look for when buying a compact SUV, the 2018 Chevrolet Equinox would surely hit all the boxes.

This market segment is the largest and has seen the most intense competition for consumers' attention.  General Motors has stopped at nothing to make sure its new entrant stands head and shoulders above the crowd.

First off, GM put the Equinox on the automotive equivalent of an extreme diet.  It shrunk by 118 millimetres in length.

While it used to be almost stuck in the grey zone, caught between compact and mid-sized SUVs, it is now firmly a compact - in the same segment as the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape and others.

In the process, the Equinox has shed close to 300 kilograms (it's now even lighter than the Honda CR-v).

But this is a formidable crowd and, if the changes are not done right, it runs the risk of taking the Equinox out of the frying pan and into the fire.

The base front-wheel-drive Equinox starts out at $25,195, and trim levels include LT and Premier. Canadians would likely opt for an all-wheel-drive vehicle instead, which drives up the cost by $2,400.  There are more trim levels for the AWD line, with the top being the Premier 2LZ at $37,195.

I drove a Premier 1LZ, which starts at $34,195.

My first impression on getting in the driver's seat was "Wow!"

The previous-generation Equinox was a vehicle that tried hard, but was utterly outclassed by its competitors.  It featured acres of hard plastic and reeked of a design by committee.

The pendulum has swung completely in the opposite direction with the 2018 edition.  The new model reeks of quality and attention to detail.  Any interior designer would be proud to look around and appreciate the carefully laid-out cabin (in two-tone leather on some models).

Not only is the interior welcoming, the materials used have similarly received a substantive boost.  As my hand rested on the steering wheel, I noticed that even the spokes of the wheel are covered in a supple material that was pleasing to the touch.

The equipment kit reflects GM's desire to elevate the Equinox into territory it could never had imagined before.  My tester boasted a large panorama roof, 19-inch wheels, a Bose sound system, low-speed auto braking, forward collision alert, lane departure, lane-keep assist and auto high beam, surround cameras, ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, heated outboard rear seats, eight-way power front and passenger seats, and wireless cellphone charging - and that's only the highlights.

For the infotainment system, the Equinox features an eight-inch colour touchscreen with MyLink, Apple Carplay, Android Auto and Sirius satellite radio.  The system is also a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hot spot, so that passengers can connect their tablets wirelessly on the road.  Buyers will also get an OnStar five-year basic plan.

Engineers tossed out the old V-6 and replaced it with a choice of two turbocharged four-cylinder engines - a 1.5- and a 2.0-litre.  I drove the 1.5-litre mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.

The engine may be smaller, but I daresay the Equinox feels more spirited, with 300 kilograms less to push.  The 1.5-litre produces 170 horsepower, about average in this segment.  But the kicker is the 203 foot-pounds of torque, which comes on as low as 2,500 rpm.  It is the most torque produced in the segment.  By comparison, the Ford's turbocharged 1.5-litre four produces 185 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,320 rpm.

The new engine is also much more fuel-efficient than the V-6 it replaces.  While it is not the segment leader, it still bests similar offerings, such as the above-mentioned 1.5-litre from Ford.  Technology in the form of a gas-saving stop/start function helps lower consumption.

The 1.5-litre will soon be joined by a more-powerful 2.0-litre and a more frugal 1.6-litre diesel in the months ahead.  The latter would be of interest for people who tow or for those looking for the best fuel economy.

The Equinox is quiet on the road, with a compliant ride and predictable handling.

Did General Motors produce a winner this time?  If you compare it to last year's model, there is no doubt this year's vehicle is superior.  But most importantly, the 2018 Equinox's blend of functionality, features and performance now makes it competitive against the best in the segment for the first time.  It is the best contender GM has fielded for a shot at the top.

THE SPEC SHEET

Type:  Compact SUV, front engine, all-wheel-drive

Engine:  Turbocharged 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine, 170 hp at 5,600 rpm, 203 lb.-ft. of torque at 2,500 to 4,500 rpm

Transmission:  Six-speed automatic

Dimensions (mm):  Length, 4,652; width, 1,843; height, 1,661; wheelbase, 2,725

Curb weight (kg):  1,580

Price (base/as tested):  $34,195/$40,740 (includes $1,700 freight and PDI and $100 AC tax)

Tires:  225/60 R18 on alloy wheels

Fuel type:  Regular

Fuel economy (L/100km):  9.8 city/7.9 highway

Warranty:  Three years/60,000 km new car, five years/100,000 km powertrain and roadside assistance

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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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2016 SilveradoTHE SILVERADO'S BOXY STYLING IS SUBTLY UPDATED FOR 2016,
MAKING IT A HANDSOME BEAST.

By Lesley Wimbush, Driving.ca - When you live in the city, it's easy to dismiss pickup trucks as being over-compensating gas-guzzlers, hauling air while hogging most of the road.  To truly appreciate the beauty of a good truck, you've got to experience it in its own environment.  And there's nothing like 10 kilometres of unplowed cottage road to make a four-wheel-drive truck seem as attractive as any premium German sedan.

The unpaved road north of Apsley would've been completely impassable in any but the toughest of all-wheel-drive cars.  Heavy snow through the forest gave way to patches of yellow mud in the clearings, warmed by the sun and thick as gumbo.  Treacherously greasy, it sucked and pulled the wheels of the 2016 Chevrolet Silverado, skewing us sideways down the slick incline.

When we ground to a halt, bogged down to the running boards and flanks spackled with muck flung by the spinning rear wheels, it was time for intervention.  Switching to 4-LO engages the heavy duty locking differential, and with power driving all four wheels, we easily shook free of the mud and continued on our way.

Canadians bought more than 46,000 Chevrolet Silverados last year; it's one of the most important products in GM's portfolio.  For 2016, the Silverado receives a couple of important changes to help it stay competitive in a field that includes a fully revised Ford F150 and the Ram 1500, with its popular coil spring and air suspension.

The Silverado's boxy styling is subtly updated for 2016, with new trim-specific grilles and LED head and tail lamps, while upper trim levels get segment-first LED fog lights.  Divided by a strong, horizontal bar, the truck's new face appears wider, and a revised hood gives it a stronger, more muscular look.

Perhaps more important than the external changes is the increased use of GM's eight-speed transmission, which is now available with the 5.3-litre V-8 engine on LTZ and High Country models.  It's a big improvement on the six-speed, providing quicker torque delivery, faster acceleration and better fuel economy.

The Silverado is a handsome beast, particularly in my tester's LTZ trim, which eschews chrome bling for a more subtle look.  Running boards finish off the look nicely, and corner bumper steps provide easy access to the bed.  I particularly liked the "EZ Lift and Lower" tailgate, which can be locked remotely, keeping cargo safe beneath the tri-fold tonneau cover.

The cabin retains its blunt and chunky design, with most of the changes centred on technology.  The crew cab is an enormously roomy environment, and even the rear seats have enough legroom for a pro basketball player.  The flat and boxy centre console has plenty of cubby space, and a gigantic storage area beneath the armrest.

The eight-inch colour touch screen now features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and there's on-board 4G LTE Wi-Fi and wireless cellphone charging.

Safety systems include adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, driver's safety-alert seat, and a rear-view camera.  There's a heated steering wheel and front seats are heated and ventilated.  Surprisingly, given the amount of sophisticated technology, there's no push-button start, even in this upper-trim-level tester.

Although you never forget that you're driving a very large vehicle, the Silverado is well mannered and very quiet, with a minimum of road and wind noise.  While the lane-keeping assist initially feels rather intrusive, it doesn't take long to appreciate its ability to keep the big truck within the lines.  Combined with adaptive cruise control, it takes a lot of stress out of commuting in congested traffic.

The big V-8 features active cylinder management, which shuts down four cylinders during light load for better fuel efficiency.  It's smooth and seamless, with only the TFT display informing you that the truck is operating as a four-cylinder.

Steering is very good, with the right amount of heft for a vehicle this size, but having separate adjusters for tilting and telescoping the column is confusing.

Apple CarPlay is literally plug and play; tethering an iPhone instantly launches the application and it's ready for hands-free messaging.  But the Bluetooth system had the annoying habit of occasionally interrupting the audio system to make contact with my phone.

The Silverado Z71 is a formidable off-roader, with Rancho shocks, transfer case, locking differential and underbody shields.  Equipped with the Max Tow package, it's capable of towing up to 11,000 pounds (4,990 kilograms), which is less than the F-150's 12,200 lbs. (5,535 kg) but just over the Ram 1500's max rating of 10,800 lbs (4,900 kg).

Although the Silverado is up against some stiff competition with the Ram's cushy, self-leveling air suspension, and the F-150's slick new trailer backing-up technology, there's a lot to like about this smooth and capable pickup truck.

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2016-Chevrolet-Cruze-RS-109-876x535By Lesley Wimbush, Driving - Any way you look at it, the Cruze has been a success for Chevrolet and General Motors, with over 3.5 million sales, since its 2008 inception.  Sold in more than 115 countries around the world, the Cruze has been instrumental in bringing in customers, since 35 per cent of buyers are new to the brand.

"Cruze is the global face of Chevrolet," said Alan Batey, Senior Vice President Global Chevrolet, at the Detroit event.

Unveiled in Detroit today, the new 2016 Chevrolet Cruze is larger, yet more streamlined, shedding 250 pounds over the outgoing model.  Now 68 millimetres longer in length and 25 mm lower, the Cruze appears longer and leaner.  The extra length adds spaciousness to the interior and more rear legroom.

Inside, the Cruze now projects a more thoroughly modern, and sophisticated atmosphere featuring more soft touch surfaces, premium touches like available rear heated seats, wireless phone charging and a 4.2-inch high-res driver information display between the gauges.  There's a full suite of safety systems including Side Blind Zone Alert, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Lane Keep Assist and Forward Collision alert.

Replacing the current 1.8-litre base engine is a new 1.5-litre four-cylinder Ecotec with either a six-speed automatic or five-speed manual transmission.  An all-new 1.4-litre Ecotec turbo-four is also available.  Engineered with extensive use of aluminum and low-friction materials, the new engine is extremely lightweight and efficient and shares no common parts with the 1.4L found in the outgoing Cruze.

I's rated at 153 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque, and comes with either a six-speed automatic or manual transmission.  An automatic start/stop system is also standard.  GM predicts that this engine should have a fuel consumption rating of 5.9 L/100 km with the automatic transmission.

A 1.5L diesel engine, nick-named the "Flusterdiesel" (whisper) which is already in use in Europe will also be available.  Transmission choices will be the six-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission.

The Cruze will be one of the first Chevrolets to feature Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (Corvette will be the first).  The connectivity features have been adapted to work within Chevrolet's MyLink infotainment system, not replace it.  "It's an 'and', not an 'instead' situation," said Phil Abram, GM Global Connected Consumer's chief infotainment officer.

The Cruze will be able to connect up to seven different devices when equipped with available 4G LTE Wi-Fi.

"The 2016 Cruze has as many features as the Mercedes-Benz C Class at half the price," said GM CEO Mary Barra.

The 2016 Cruze will be offered in more than 40 markets worldwide, beginning with North America.  It's scheduled to arrive during the first quarter of 2016, with the diesel models following later that year.

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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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2016-chevrolet-malibu-005-1The Ottawa Sun - The Chevrolet Malibu has remained an enduring classic among its peers since it was introduced more than 50 years ago.  Now, the quintessential midsize sedan boldly steps into the future with an all-new 2016 model that is completely restyled and engineered to offer more efficiency, connectivity and advanced safety features than ever.  The 2016 Malibu reaches an exceptional level of fuel efficiency with an all-new hybrid powertrain that uses technology from the Chevrolet Volt.  The hybrid helps offer a GM-estimated 4.9 L/100km city, 5.2 L/100km highway - and 5.0 L/100km combined.  The Malibu's standard 1.5L turbo powertrain is projected to offer 6.4 L/100km highway.

Longer and lighter, the new Malibu also offers more interior space.

"Midsize car customers tell us they want great fuel economy and connected technologies, wrapped in a gorgeous exterior.  This is exactly what the 2016 Malibu was engineered to do," said Jesse Ortega, Malibu chief engineer.

With a wheelbase stretching 91 mm (3.6 inches) longer than the current Malibu, along with a 58 mm (2.3-inch) longer overall length and the same overall width, the 2016 Malibu strikes a sleeker looking proportion.  The added wheelbase helps provide better in-cabin comfort and functionality.

With styling influenced by the 2014 Impala, the all-new Malibu advances Chevrolet's global design language with features such as slim, sweeping headlamps and a progressive take on the brand's characteristic dual-port grille.  Three body-side creases also add drama to the design and help distinguish the Malibu as a contemporary Chevy.

Beneath the new Malibu's athletic-looking skin is a stronger, lighter body structure that contributes to its efficiency and driving dynamics.  Greater use of high-strength steels enables engineers to design the body structure with thinner components in some areas, delivering comparable crash performance with lower weight.  The all-new body structure accounts for more than one-third of the Malibu's nearly 300-pound weight reduction.

Android Auto and Apple Car-Play compatibility Malibu's 7-inch MyLink infotainment system gives owners a smart and simple way to access Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.  The eight-inch version of MyLink will be compatible only with Apple CarPlay at the beginning of the 2016 model year.  While development and testing are not yet complete, Android Auto compatibility may be available on the 8-inch version of MyLink later in the 2016 model year.

Each system builds off of the features smartphone users rely on most.  Android Auto is built around Google Maps, Google Now and the ability to talk to Google, as well as a growing audio and messaging app ecosystem that includes WhatsApp, Skype, Google Play Music, Spotify and podcast players.

Apple CarPlay takes the iPhone features customers want to access while driving and puts them on the vehicle's display in a smart, simple manner.  That allows drivers to make calls, send and receive messages and listen to music right from the touchscreen or by voice via Siri.  Apple CarPlay supported apps include Phone, Messages, Maps, Music and compatible third-party apps.

Many features can be controlled via voice commands through a button on the steering wheel, helping drivers spend more time with eyes on the road and hands on the wheel.

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2017 SonicFRESH LOOK, SEGMENT-FIRST APPLE CARPLAY/ANDROID
AUTO COMPATIBILITY LEAD CHANGES

Oshawa, Ontario - Chevrolet introduces the 2017 Sonic - a more expressive, sporty take on the brand's fun-to-drive small car.  It offers big technologies such as a new MyLink system with segment-exclusive Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and a fresh exterior with new LED signature lighting.

The updated styling complements new comfort and convenience features such as an available heated steering wheel and a standard 7-inch-diagonal colour touchscreen for the new MyLink system.  Rear Park Assist is also new, adding to one of the most comprehensive safety packages in the segment.

"This is an important segment for Chevrolet in Canada, especially in key urban markets like Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal where small cars like the Sonic are popular and offer the opportunity for Chevrolet to introduce ourselves to new buyers," said Laura Pacey, brand director, Chevrolet Canada.  "The new styling and features of the 2017 Sonic reinforce its position as a fun, efficient small car with leading technology - all at an affordable price."

Like the new Trax, Sonic brings new, younger customers to the brand, with almost 20 percent of them younger than 35 and is one of Chevrolet's top vehicles for first-time new buyers.

The 2017 Sonic goes on sale this fall, offered in LS, LT and Premier trims on sedan models.  The hatchback returns exclusively in RS guise offered in Lt and Premier trims.  An RS package is also available on the sedan.

Refined design

Sonic's athletic exterior has an entirely new, expressive look echoing the global Chevrolet cues seen on vehicles such as the Cruze, Bolt EV and 2017 Trax.

It is a richer, more detailed design, with the front end featuring a new hood, new front fascia and new lighting elements.  Projector-beam headlamps are standard, along with available LED daytime running lamps.  Likewise, the rear fascia is new.

"With its trademark wheels-at-the-corners stance, the dramatic changes to the Sonic's design give it a even sportier stance and attitude," said Justin Thompson, exterior design manager.

There are also new 15-, 16- and 17-inch wheel designs and four new exterior colours offered in 2017: Orange Burst Metallic, Brimstone, Cajun Red Tintcoat and Arctic Blue Metallic (late availability).

Interior and technology enhancements

Sonic's thoughtful interior retains its focus on delivering comfort, convenience and technology.  A new, detailed gauge cluster incorporating an analog speedometer adds a higher degree of refinement to the cabin, complementing addition new comfort and convenience features.

For 2016, Sonic becomes the first in its segment to offer a power driver's seat.  Additional new features include:

  • Keyless Open and Start
  • Available heated cloth seats with new heated steering wheel
  • RS trim includes RS-logo floor mats, piano black décor, RS-badged flat-bottom steering wheel - with new, red cloth seating available

Also new is a 7-inch-diagonal infotainment system designed to support the latest connectivity technologies, including Apple Car/Play and Android Auto compatibility and 4G LTE with Wi-Fi hotspot.  With the available 4G LTE connection, Sonic provides a Wi-Fi hotspot that allows passengers to connect up to seven compatible devices such as smartphones, laptops and tablets, to high-speed wireless Internet.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility is a subject to their terms, privacy statements and data plan rates, as well as a compatible smartphone.

Safety first

Sonic offers safety features designed to alert drivers to potential crash situations.  Forward Collision Alert and Lane Departure Warning are available active safety features.  Sonic also offers 10 standard air bags, Stabilitrak electronic stability control and an antilock braking system to help provide peace of mind.  Rear Park Assist is new for 2017 and a rearview camera is now standard on all models.

Turbocharged performance

The Sonic's standard Ecotec 1.8L engine is estimated to deliver similar fuel economy numbers for the 2017 model year, however official EPA estimates are not yet available.  Sonic's fun-driving spirit returns with an available Ecotec 1.4L turbo engine, backed by a six-speed automatic or manual transmission.  Rated at 138 horsepower (102 kW).

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