If you wanted to gain insight into just how quickly generations come and go in the auto industry, consider the status of the Kia Sportage.

Fresh and edgy when it was all-new in 2016 for the 2017 model year, Kia’s strong-selling compact crossover now appears dated, a faded talisman that marked where the fast-moving Korean automaker once was, but not where it’s going. Next to the all-new K5 sedan and Sorento SUV, the Sportage’s age is showing, which proves just how much can change in five short years.

And while spy photos of a purported next gen Sportage are easily found online, the aging fourth gen car soldiers on. That said, the current Sportage will leave big shoes to fill as it has remained one of Kia’s best sellers throughout its lifespan, including during a pandemic-ravaged 2020 when it was the no. 2 Kia in the U.S. behind the Forte.

To its credit, Kia has made efforts to keep the Sportage fresh. It received a styling update in 2019 (2020 model year) that included a raft of changes. Among them are new front and rear fascias, new front grille, bumper, air intake and skid plate, new LED headlights, redesigned rear bumper, taillights and new 17-, 18- and 19-inch wheel designs. The 2020 model year also ushered in a new S trim designation which delivers sportier interior and exterior design treatments.

Review 2021 Kia Sportage EX

For 2021, the Sportage is available in six grades for the Canadian market: LX FWD, LX, LX S, EX S, EX Premium S and SX. All grades are powered by a 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine (181 hp / 175 lb-ft) apart from the range-topping SX which receives a more powerful 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder (237 hp / 260 lb-ft). Both engines are paired with a six-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive is standard on all models above the base LX FWD.

For the purposes of this review, I recently spent a week driving an EX Premium S finished in snow white pearl with a synthetic black leather interior. The only option on my tester is a $250 paint charge which brings the total before taxes to $35,845.

Standard equipment on the EX Premium S includes 18-inch alloy wheels, smart power liftgate, LED headlights, LED lightbar taillights, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, rear parking sensors, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and wireless phone charger, among other features.

As mentioned, the Sportage is an old vehicle, but its age is much more noticeable on the inside. Owing to the many changes thrown at it for 2020, the exterior doesn’t feel as old. Not as fresh as it once was, but not ancient either. Its rather bulbous and rounded off proportions are a bit dated compared to the more angular and creased Kias of late, but the Sportage’s lines can still pass for handsome, especially on higher trims like my tester which has bigger wheels and fancier LED headlights.

Review 2021 Kia Sportage EX

Review 2021 Kia Sportage EX

The interior is a different story, however. Despite being the second highest trim available, my tester’s cabin feels quite dated, both in terms of design and materials used. Loads of hard black plastic that looks and feels cheap is used liberally throughout the cabin, especially in the dashboard, centre console and door panels, which is disappointing for a vehicle in the $40K range with fees and taxes included.

Apart from lacklustre materials, the Sportage’s design is also showing its age with a smallish multimedia screen that features dated icons and lower resolution graphics. Even buttons and switches look like they’re nearly a decade old. But on the plus side, they’re smartly located and easy to use.

Some touch points, such as the leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, are of higher quality and are more pleasing to use. Same goes for the synthetic leather seating – not great, but better. Generally, the Sportage cabin is comfortable and spacious with good visibility, but it’s in need of a design and construction overhaul.

On the road, the Sportage delivers adequate performance for routine driving situations. Its driving character is neither bad, nor spectacular, but somewhere in the vast middle, which is the spot most car-based crossovers occupy, at least in my view.

The 2.4-litre four doesn’t feel especially refined or powerful, but it has enough muscle to move the Sportage along with reasonable haste. It’s somewhat noisy under acceleration, as many four-cylinder engines are, but it’s quieter at speed which will no doubt please those intending to use it as a commuter vehicle.

Review 2021 Kia Sportage EX

A drive mode selector (sport, normal and eco) is there if you wish to tune the Sportage’s character more towards performance or efficiency, but the drive doesn’t change much. It’s not a hybrid or a performance vehicle, so you’re likely best to just leave it in normal and carry on, which is what I did most of the time. The sport mode does provide snappier acceleration and a more aggressive shift pattern from the six-speed automatic, but it’s not game-changing.

Ride quality during my test was decent, neither soft nor harsh, with a cabin that does a reasonably good job of sound isolation, apart from some engine noise under acceleration. Everyday handling felt fine, responsive and well-balanced for an SUV, but how it operates in a dynamic situation on a closed course is an open question. I acknowledge it likely won’t be much of a factor either way for most intenders.

As with many vehicles of this type, the Sportage is equipped with an AWD lock mode and hill descent control for light off-roading, but that’s not really its game. It’s engineered to serve as a pavement vehicle, so I’d recommend sticking to tarmac as much as possible. Towing is similarly limited with a 2,000-pound maximum rating.

In sum, I think the Sportage is a decent vehicle with enough content and versatility for it to remain attractive to crossover shoppers. That, combined with a reasonable pricing structure with adequate everyday performance and practicality almost guarantees it will remain a good seller for the remainder of its lifespan.

Review 2021 Kia Sportage EX

Review 2021 Kia Sportage EX

However, there are better choices in the category that offer sharper styling, better cabin amenities and an equal amount of practicality and content for money. And unlike the Sportage, several of its class rivals also offer some form of electrification. Until the next gen Sportage arrives, it would be wise to give these competitors due consideration.

The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.

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After an absence of nearly three decades, the Wagoneer name has finally returned to the tailgate of a Jeep. Showing up in dealerships later this year, the large-and-in-charge family of SUVs will pack a choice of V8 engines and enough space for the whole family (plus a few from your immediate bubble). If you want to tow up to 10,000 lbs, this truck can do that as well.

And it is a truck, make no mistake. Built from the bones of the current (and well-received) Ram 1500 pickup, the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer will take on the likes of Suburban/Escalade and Expedition/Navigator at their own game. At launch, only the six-figure Grand Wagoneer Series III will be available; we’re focusing on the standard Wagoneer Series II model. What happened to Series I, you ask? That’ll show up later still, explaining why we’re discussing the $79,995 Series II today.

Powered by a familiar 5.7-litre Hemi V8 making about 400 horsepower, the Wagoneer sends power to its four-wheel drive system via the brand’s tried-and-true 8-speed automatic. If this combo operates with the level of unobtrusiveness as it does in Ram trucks, it will make for a good match to this luxury SUV. It also doesn’t hurt that every Wagoneer (Grand or not) comes with a three-year maintenance plan.

This thing’s a looker in your author’s jaundiced eyes, with Wagoneer models set to feature LED head- and fog lamps, accent badging, and a standard sidestep. Out back, snazzy tail lamps stretch from the rear quarter panel to the hands-free power lift gate, while unique “Series” badging on the rump is sure to ignite new class wars at the country club. The rig rides on standard 20-inch aluminum wheels though other configurations are available.

Base Camp Review 2022 Jeep Wagoneer Series II

Jeep set out to capture a piece of the luxury market with these machines, and first looks at the interior show they have brought their A-game. Perforated Nappa leather seats are standard across the board, heated and ventilated for front-row passengers in the Series II. There are eight USB ports, an Alpine-branded audio system, and a 10.1-inch touchscreen infotainment display. Note that a sunroof isn’t part of the deal unless you want to front the cash for an optional package.

What We’d Choose

In case you’re wondering the difference, Wagoneer is powered by a 5.7-litre V8 while the Grand Wagoneer gets the hairy-chested 6.4-litre V8 engine. Beyond that distinction, all external dimensions are within a sliver of each other.

When a customer is swimming at this level, the addition of $6,000 represents just a 7.5 per cent walk in purchase price, as if someone added $750 to a base model Chevy Spark. That’s the difference between the Wagoneer Series II and Series III trims, making the latter a no-brainer since it adds standard equipment like an air-ride suspension and better 4WD system in the form of a two-speed transfer case. The inclusion of items such as heated rear seats and a heads-up display system are no small matters.

It took almost thirty years for Jeep to bring back the Wagoneer. Looks like they got it right.

Find rest of the Base Camp series here

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GM’s Ingersoll, ON, assembly plant recently got news that the automaker was planning to build its EV600 electric delivery van there. For now, though, the plant continues to sit idle thanks to the global semiconductor shortage. The closure first started in February, and now Automotive News reports that it will be closed until at least the week of June 28th. The plant, with more than 2,000 hourly workers, normally builds the Chevrolet Equinox for three shifts each day. Toyota’s operations in Ontario were also temporarily halted as major supplier Toyotetsu’s location in Simcoe, ON, closed on the 28th after eight employees tested positive for COVID-19 per Toyotetsu’s Facebook account. No re-opening date has yet been announced.

 

The City of Winnipeg is looking at a new pilot project set to start this summer that will lower speed limits to 30 km/h on some urban streets that are also greenways and popular cycling routes. “What greenways are, or what they’re meant to be, are places where people are encouraged to cycle to avoid the heavier traffic streets,” Councillor Matt Allard told CTV News. Allard said that each person who walks or cycles means fewer cars and less congestion for road users. The move to slow vehicles to cycling speed is expected to increase safety and encourage more active transportation. Other traffic calming measures will be installed on the same streets to help enforce the limits.

Ultium Charge 360

 

General Motors has announced a new one-stop charging program called Ultium Charge 360. To create the network, GM has signed charger roaming agreements with multiple charge system operators and GM’s EV customers will be able to see real-time information from nearly 5,000 charging plugs in Canada. From a mobile app, users will be able to initiate and pay for charging on all networked stations with a single account. GM says it will also work to update vehicle and mobile apps to continue to make the charging experience easier and more intuitive for customers.

Ultium Charge 360

 

Ford is helping you take a load off, or at least put the right load on with its new Onboard Scales system for the 2021 F-150. It uses sensors in the truck to measure the payload you’ve added to the bed, and then shows you how close you are to being full on the infotainment system, in Ford’s phone app, and with light-up LED indicators in the taillights. The system is programmed for each truck, so it knows the correct maximum weight for your particular pickup with no work from you. Along with that feature comes Smart Hitch, which measures the tongue weight of a trailer and helps you distribute the trailer weight correctly and make sure your load is optimally balanced to make it easier to tow safely.

Ultium Charge 360

 

The Ontario government has introduced new legislation that it says will “combat high-risk driving and improve road safety.” Called the Moving Ontarians More Safely Act, it would increase roadside license suspensions and vehicle impoundments for stunting to 30 days and 14 days for a first offence. It would also raise post-conviction license suspensions, lower the threshold for stunt driving on roads signed for under 80 km/h, and add a default speed limit on some highways. Other road user protections include photo enforcement of drivers passing streetcars, better tracking of cyclist “dooring” collisions, and it would include new truck safety standards, highway worker protections, and add towing oversight and licensing.

Ultium Charge 360

 

Hyundai’s latest Kona is the 2022 Kona N. A high-performance version of the little crossover that offers a 2.0L turbo-four making 276 hp. It will drive the front wheels through an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic and has an N Grin Shift mode that speeds up shifting and temporarily increases maximum power. The N will also get an electronic limited-slip differential, launch control, and will include extensive changes inside and out to match the sporting look and feel of Hyundai’s other N models. Expect the model on sale here later this year.

Ultium Charge 360

 

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The Kia Soul is a funky compact car with a bumping stereo and ambient lighting that pulses to the beat of your favourite dub-step. It’s geared to a youthful audience and its mail truck aesthetic bucks tradition and is strange enough to be cool.

The Soul EV is very much the same and most will never know that they’re looking at anything different, let alone an electric car.

Basing a battery-powered car on a widely available platform is a good idea. People like what they’re familiar with and the Soul is a popular vehicle that has carved out a boxy little niche of its own.

Split into two trim levels, the Soul EV Premium starts at $42,995 and is equipped with a 134 hp motor and a 39 kWh battery good for about 240km of range. The Soul EV Limited is priced from $51,995 and gets a liquid-cooled 64 kWh battery, a beefier 201 hp motor, and can travel 383 km on a single charge. Torque is identical for both trims at 291 lb-ft.

Thanks to a charging rate of up to 100kW when connected to a compatible Level 3 DC fast charger, both Souls can be charged fully in about an hour. Level 2 charging will take 9.5 hours for the big battery and just over 6 hours for the smaller one.

If your eyes popped out of your head when you read that the base electric Soul costs double what the gas version does, don’t worry, I initially felt the same way. However its main competitors—think Nissan Leaf and Chevy Bolt—are priced similarly, and all are eligible for the federal EV rebate. And depending on which province you live in, there are further government incentives to take advantage of.

Good thing then that the Soul EV is very well equipped out of the box with a large 10.25” UVO infotainment system with embedded navigation, a 7” digital instrument cluster, smartphone integration, UVO intelligence connected car services, and a full suite of driver-assist tech like lane keep assist, forward collision assist, and smart cruise control.

The Limited trim adds the 64 kWh battery, leather seating, the aforementioned music-synchronized mood lights, a thumping Harman Kardon sound system, a head-up display, and ventilated front seats.

Instead of a standard gear lever, you get a rotary dial and there are a few EV-specific buttons on the dashboard.

2021 Kia Soul EV

As common as the Soul is, I’d be willing to bet that many don’t know an EV version exists, and that’s a bit of shame because it’s an excellent vehicle.

We had a go in the Limited version with the larger 64 kWh battery. Picking it up fully charged, the indicated range was a hair below 400 km.

Setting off is the same as in any other Soul, push the start button, put the car in drive, and off you go. In here, though, there’s no noise, and no vibrations coming through the firewall like in most internal combustion vehicles. Below 50 km/h, the cabin remains completely silent, but as you pick up speed, wind and tire noise inevitably takeover.

Thanks to the instant torque production of an electric motor, the Soul EV has a lot more pep than its numbers suggest. There’s enough to overwhelm the front tires and peel them out as you get pushed back into the seat. It makes the Soul EV feel like a tiny front-wheel drive muscle car.

Behind the steering wheel, there are paddle shifters, but these aren’t for shifting gears, the Soul EV doesn’t have any. Instead, tugging the left paddle increases the amount of brake regeneration you get when lifting off the accelerator pedal. Set it to level 3, and the Soul EV will quickly come to a near stop without ever touching the brakes. All the energy harvested from slowing down is then fed back to the battery to be used at a later time. A brake and hold system will bring the Soul to a complete stop if activated.

2021 Kia Soul EV

Four drives modes are available to use: “Eco” is selected by default; there’s “Comfort”, “Sport”, and “Eco+”. These modes adjust motor power output, regenerative braking settings, and climate settings. Eco+ is interesting as you lose all climate function and your speed is limited to 90km/h, in other words, not for highway use.

I’ve driven a plethora of electric vehicles and the Soul has quite a few nifty features to help you eke the most mileage out of a single charge. If you opt for the Limited trim you see here, it comes equipped with a heat pump. This innovative device can scavenge waste heat from the batteries and electronics and then feed that into the cabin, reducing energy consumption.

The Soul EV takes things a step further by giving the driver an option to quickly turn said pump on and off with the push of a button. You can also direct heat to the driver only, rather than warm up the entire cabin, once again to reduce energy consumption.

Even the navigation system will actively find nearby charging stations and list them along your route. The Soul EV can then, rather smugly, let you know how much C02 you would have emitted had you been driving a car with a tailpipe.

The extra weight of the battery pack doesn’t seem to affect the handling either. The Soul feels nimble and tossable, but pronounced body roll and feather-light steering keep the handling envelope modest. On the highway, the Soul is quiet and composed but the ride can get jittery at higher speeds.

2021 Kia Soul EV

At 6 feet tall, I had a ton of space in the front and back. And the boxy dimensions mean that things like head and elbowroom are generous for a compact. All controls are easy to reach and material quality is good for this class, but not quite on par with what you expect on a $50,000 vehicle. A strong smell of degassing plastics was also ever-present, but likely due to the newness of the Soul EV I was driving.

Charging the Soul was simple. The charge port conveniently mounted on the front bumper, accepts CCS connectors for either Level 2 or Level 3 fast charging. Kia claims a max charge rate of 100 kW but when hooked up to a 50 kW fast charger, I didn’t see anything higher than 25 kW. It could have been the battery’s state of charge or the ambient temperature, or one of a bunch of factors, but the point is I had to wait a bit longer than anticipated.

Entry-level electric cars like this Soul EV make a great case for themselves. During a week of putting one through its paces, I felt nothing that resembled range anxiety and I live in a downtown condo without the convenience of being able to plug in overnight. Safe to say, running out of juice wasn’t a concern and EV ownership is more viable now than it was even just a few years ago. As soon as the charging infrastructure catches up, there will be no stopping them.

The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.

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I was watching Formula One this weekend (the Grand Prix of Portugal was won by Lewis Hamilton and here’s a link if you missed it),  and it suddenly hit me that the series doesn’t practice what it preaches. The lack of diversity is, frankly, frightening.

What makes it worse is that the best racing series in the world could be so much better if the people in charge could just bring themselves to make the changes that are necessary.

Except for Lewis Hamilton, there are no people of colour racing in F1. Except for the women hired to handle public relations and communications (and, in the case of Hamilton, his physical health), there are no women or women of colour working in F1.

Formula One is a rich, white-man’s sport. Just about all of auto racing is a white man’s game but we’re talking about F1 today. How F1 goes could have a positive effect on the remainder of the sport.

Okay, let’s take a closer look.

Lewis Hamilton, who comes from a broken family of modest means, won a karting championship and was invited to the Autosport magazine British champions awards gala in London. While there, he walked up to Ron Dennis, introduced himself and told him that someday, he would be driving for him. Dennis was impressed and became Hamilton’s mentor, financing his career through all the lesser formulai before signing him to his first F1 contract.

So, every team owner in Formula One has to take a page from Ron Dennis’s book. They have to dispatch scouts to find the next Lewis Hamilton. And then they have to finance his or her career through Formula Two and into the Big League. It is imperative that they do this. F1 owner Liberty Media should make it a condition of involvement in the sport.

When those scouts are out there, they should also be looking for the next Janet Guthrie or Danica Patrick. The Formula W Series is okay in and of itself. But women racing against women won’t get the job done. Like Janet and Danica and Lyn St. James and one or two others, they have to race against men.

Guthrie was an SCCA champion; Patrick caught the attention of Bobby Rahal when she finished second in the British Formula Ford Festival. Both had modest success as professionals but could hold their own. And that’s the key: any woman signed to drive in F1 has to be able to race the car competitively and they can only learn to do that by racing against guys. Those women are out there. Those F1 bird-dodgers I’m talking about just have to be on the lookout.

Meantime, do you want to tell me that the best aeronautical engineers in the world are all white and graduates of British universities or British tech schools? Some are, of course. But all of them in F1? What we are seeing there is the old-boys network in high gear. Once again, the teams have to start looking around the world and pick the absolute best rather than someone who’s a friend of good old Charley.

And if you’re going to hire two, you’d better make one of them black. He or she is out there. F1 just has to find them.

I can go right down the list here. Tire changers, roadies, truck drivers, secretaries, office assistants and so-on. It’s time.

Do you ever look closely at one of those “team pictures” that the manufacturers have taken each year, either at the start of the season or at the end? Everybody employed by, say, Williams? All 600 of them come out of the offices and machine shops and line up behind the drivers and everybody smiles? Well, the next time you see one of them, count the number of non-white faces.

I rest my case. If is 2021 and it took the murder of one man to wake up the whole world. I really hope F1 is paying attention.

Formula One will conduct three sprint qualifying races this season, one each at Silverstone, Monza and one other. Normal qualifying will now take place on Friday instead of Saturday, a 100 km sprint race will be run Saturday and the finish will determine starting positions for the full Sunday GP. The top three finishers in the sprint races will earn points, likely 3, 2 and 1.

I, personally, think this is a great idea and I hope it works this season and becomes the norm for 2022 when, hopefully, every GP will have spectators.

There was a flurry of activity surrounding the Grand Prix du Canada early last week. Pay attention, as there will be a test later.

When the dust settled, it was revealed that the new owner of the Grand Prix is Bell (CTV, TSN, RDS, etc. – and you just thought they were a phone company). Promoter Francois Dumontier, president of Octane Racing Group, which is now an independent branch of Bell, previously owned the race. Bell’s Grand Prix contract with series owner Liberty Media has been extended for two years and will now run through 2031.

This year’s race, however, has been cancelled for the second consecutive year. In the meantime, representatives of the federal and provincial governments as well as Tourisme Montreal announced continuing financial support for the Grand Prix.

Dumontier and his team will continue to do what they’ve been doing with the GP all along and that’s to market it. A search for a title sponsor will continue because, although Bell owns the race, they are not the sponsor. He might have a tough time.

(I want to interrupt this column for a moment and tell you a great Canadian racing story. It involves a company, Gulf Canada, which sells oil and gasoline; a guy named Stan Houston, who pioneered Canadian sports and event marketing and communications, and millionaire Canadian racing driver George Eaton. Eaton had hired Houston to find him a sponsor for the 1969 Canadian Formula A Series because, well, why spend your own money when you can spend somebody else’s, eh?  

(So Houston, along with some others from his company, the Houston Group – Chick McGregor, Paul Dulmage, Sid Priddle – lined up Gulf Canada to sponsor Eaton. The VP of Marketing for Gulf Canada (sorry, don’t know his name) was all ready to sign the contract when – at the very last second; the pen was poised just above the paper – the guy looked up at Stan Houston and said: “The only thing that bothers me about this is, why does George Eaton need a sponsor?” 

(“And Stan Houston, being the brilliant marketer that he was, said: “You’re right.” He took back the contract, scratched out Eaton’s name and wrote in ‘Canadian Formula A & B Series’ before handing it back. And that’s how the Gulf Canada Series for Formula A & B racing cars came to be. True story. Okay, back to my column.)

Anyway, Dumontier told a Montreal reporter that the cancellation was a shame for many reasons but, among them, was that Canada was scheduled to be one of the locations for the sprint-races experiment. He wouldn’t say what circuit would replace Montreal. We know Silverstone and Monza are locks. Some people are saying Brazil, but unless they get Covid under control in that country, it’s unlikely that race will happen. So I say the U.S. Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas will host a round of the sprint series.

Now, while Bell owns the race it doesn’t, as mentioned, sponsor it. And it has to bid for, and ultimately pay for, the national broadcasting rights. So subsidiaries TSN and RDS own those rights till 2024. TSN just buys the whole package from the U.K.’s Sky Sports and puts it on the air in Canada. That is unlikely to change. But you would think they would do something special for the Canadian GP, now that they own it, and we have the people in Canada who can do it.

I suggest a 30-minute lead-in just before the race, hosted by TSN’s Cory Warren with a panel of Canadian journalists made up of Tim Hauraney, Stephanie Wallcraft, Juliana Chiovitti and Jeff Pappone. The focus would be on Canadian F1 drivers past and present with particular emphasis on Canadians in the race next year. This is something you would never get from the Sky crew, a knowledgeable and talented bunch but particularly enamoured of British drivers. That’s fine most of the time but if the race is in Canada and the race is owned by a national broadcaster, then consumers would have every right to expect some home-grown commentary.

Okay, so that’s enough about F1 for this week, other than to note that our two Canadians didn’t do well in Portugal. Lance Stroll of Montreal finished 14th, one place behind his teammate, Sebastian Vettel. And Nicholas Latifi of Toronto finished 19th, the last of the cars that were still running. Both those guys have to pick up the pace.

NTT INDYCAR SERIES 

I didn’t see the first IndyCar race from Texas on Saturday because the only way to see it would have been to pay Rogers more money and I already pay them enough and I am not paying them one more cent. I saw the second one on Sunday because it was on a channel I can get, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable race after they got it going. They had an awful wreck at the start that eliminated six cars but didn’t hurt anybody. And thank God for the Aeroscreen that protects the driver. It saved one in particular, Conor Daly, from serious injury.

Scott Dixon won on Saturday and Pato O’Ward was first Sunday (and won a McLaren F1 test as a bonus).

Short Notebook Jottings: 

If IndyCar wants to kill somebody – and they will if they let this nonsense continue – is to not do anything about the slow starts and restarts in oval-track racing and the blocking that’s going on when someone attempts a pass. I couldn’t believe it when I saw a tape of Jack Harvey driving almost all the way over to the infield wall to keep somebody from passing him and this was at 200 miles an hour. If they want to do this in road racing, I’ve given up that fight. But blocking at 200 mph on an oval is insane and IndyCar has to put a stop to it pronto.

And the cat-and-mouse game that’s crept into oval track starts and restarts, which piled up the field Sunday and at a race last year, is also something that has to stop. It’s dangerous and expensive. Many of those smaller teams don’t have any money. Remember Alex Tagliani and Paul Tracy fighting that time in San Jose? It was because Tag was on a team without a pot to piss in. They couldn’t afford a crash like the one Tracy had caused.

The person at fault here is the IndyCar flagger. Really at fault. The drivers will try anything and it’s up to the flagger to stop them from being stupid. If the leaders aren’t on the gas by the time they come into the view of the starter’s stand, the starter should throw the yellow and make them go around and keep doing it until they behave themselves and get it right. And after three tries, the two in front should be made to relinquish their spots and be sent to the back of the field.

There are some in that league who will look at you and say, “You know, Norris, there’s a difference between short-track speedways and what we do,” and I say, “So how come the best flagger IndyCar racing has had in the last 50 years was a guy named Nick Fornoro Sr.? He flagged midget races in the U.S. northeast. He was as good as a guy named Shim Malone, who was the chief starter for USAC before he was killed in a plane crash. He was also the guy who ran USAC’s midget division. So, don’t give me that guff. “Those two guys grew up around racing. They lived and breathed it. They understood the rhythm of racing; they felt it in their bones when things were right and when they were wrong. They had a sixth sense. With due respect, the guy who succeeded Fornoro was a guy who painted landscapes. He went to races, but he wasn’t part of them. It’s gone on from there.

“I’ve said it a million times: go get Roger Slack, the best flagger on Earth today. He’s at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio.

Defending Sportsnet: I don’t do this very often; not at all, in fact. But Rogers Sportsnet was caught in a perfect storm Saturday night that prevented them from showing the first IndyCar race from Dallas (except on Sportsnet World, which costs extra money and I won’t etc.). They had the Blue Jays on Sportsnet 1. The Leafs and Canucks were on Sportsnet Ontario, Sportsnet Pactific and Sportsnet East (the Maritimes, where the Leafs are still the team). The Canadiens and the Senators were on in Quebec and eastern Ontario and parts of New Brunswick. The prairies got the Senators-Canadiens or Leafs-Canucks. In short, there was no way to get the IndyCar race on the air. Oh, Sportsnet360, where the races usually appear, had a Raptors pre-game show starting at 9:30. So, they were snookered. If they took a chance that they could get the race in on Sportsnet360, fine. But there was a weather delay and the race wouldn’t have been over when the Raptors pre-game show came on. At which point Sportsnet had no room anywhere to move the race. The screams heard Saturday night when fans couldn’t find the race would not compare to the ones we’d have heard if Sportsnet had said goodnight with 50 laps remaining. I don’t think this will happen again this year. But they couldn’t do anything about it this time.

Back in the 1950s, the Game of the Week baseball game on CBS (Channel 4, Buffalo) featured an announcing team made up of Buddy Blattner and a retired St. Louis Cardinal legend named “Dizzy” Dean. “Dizzy Dean” regularly murdered the English language (‘an’ he SLUD inta third. . .’) and frequently broke into song. He’d murder the music, too. He was the first announcer of a major league professional sports broadcast to sing on the air.

Back in the 1970s, the original Monday Night Football announcing team was made up of sportscaster (and retired football legend) Frank Gifford, “Dandy” Don Meredith, another retired football player, and Booklyn lawyer Howard Cossel who had an ego the size of Nebraska and loved to think he knew what he was talking about. They put on a wonderful show and Meredith, in the closing moments of the game (sometimes way before) would signal the end by murdering an old country and western song that started with the words, “Turn out the lights, the party’s over.” He was the second to sing on the air.

Sunday, at Texas Motor Speedway, mid-way between Dallas and Forth Worth, during the second NTT IndyCar Series race of the weekend, retired racing legend-turned broadcaster Paul Tracy of Scarborough started to sing. “It’s too late baby,” or something like it. He did not murder the song, nor did he disgrace it. In fact, with a little training, he might be on the cusp of a third career.

I think. It’s late. But he really is turning into an all-‘round entertainer and it’s no wonder NBC backtracked on an earlier decision to only have him on the air six times this season. I might be his friend, and a fan, but if you had a choice between Townsend Bell and P.T., which one would you pick?

OTHER NEWS 

I will comment at length on the Vancouver Formula E race next week. I think, of all the places in Canada, though, that Vancouver is the perfect place for electric-car racing.

NASCAR: Kyle Busch won the NASCAR Cup Buschy McBusch Race at Kansas Speedway on Sunday, his birthday. For all the details, please click here

Camping World Truck Series race results: Kyle Busch. Who else? Kansas-Truck-results.pdf (nbcsports.com) And congrats to Quebec racer Raphael Lessard, who finished eighth.

NHRA: Antron Brown (photo, above) wins final Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway.  Antron Brown cements Atlanta legacy, beating Steve Torrence in final round | NHRA More results and stories at NHRA.com

One of the longest-running teams in the IMSA paddock announced its 2021 WeatherTech Sprint Cup program late last week. Compass Racing, started by Karl Thomson of Toronto, announced that its new No. 76 Richard Mille Acura NSX GT3 will debut at Mid-Ohio for the first round of the series, May 14-15, with Jeff Kingsley and Mario Farnbacher assigned driving duties.

I’m sure there’s more, but I’m done for this week.

Norris McDonald / Special to wheels.ca 

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The N performance brand continues to expand over at Hyundai with the release of the 2022 Hyundai Kona N compact crossover, which Hyundai is calling a “true hot SUV”. It’s also the first time the N brand has graced the flanks of something other than a fast hatchback, which it has done for a handful of models including the surprising Veloster N hatchback, which is the only “N” vehicle we’ve seen in North America to date. But far as Hyundai is concerned, a CUV it may be, but it still ticks all the right “N” boxes.

“The philosophy of N is basically being fun to drive,” said Thomas Schemera, global chief marketing officer at Hyundai.

“Hyundai N also addresses a much younger and more affluent target group,” said Till Wartenberg, vice-president and head of N brand management and Motorsport. “You will never just drive because getting from A to B will never be boring and that inspires and invites new drivers to join the N community.” Which means that it was no longer enough for the N brand to appeal to the backwards hat-wearing hot hatchback types. If the N brand was going to grow, was going to become a staple of the Hyundai brand, then it was going to have to branch out to vehicles with a wider appeal – and it doesn’t get much wider these days than compact crossovers.

Make no mistake, the Kona N is an “N car”, through and through, and has gotten what Albert Biermann, president and head of R&D division, calls the “full N treatment”.

“If you look at an N vehicle, it looks quite similar (to its non-N counterpart), but there are many changes,” he said. “We stiffen up the body-in-white in certain areas…there is more steering response, more steering linearity, the brakes of course are much bigger for track driving, the whole cooling system is a lot more powerful and you can enjoy track driving for several laps without degradation (and) the N is of course, more powerful.”

“Track driving”. “Bigger brakes”. “More Power”. That’s all well and good, but this is still a compact CUV, right? Surely, the track is farthest from most owners’ minds in this segment. Maybe so, but the power figures suggest otherwise. Hyundai has cranked up the Kona N’s power to 276 horsepower and 289 pound-feet of torque courtesy of a turbocharged inline-4 (same as the Veloster N), fed to the front wheels through an eight-speed wet-type dual clutch transmission. In addition to that, drivers have access to an extra 10 hp for 20 seconds with the push of a wheel-mounted button marked “NGR” for “N Grin Shift” – don’t ask. There’s also launch control and a variable exhaust system, enough to propel the Kona N to 100 km/h from stop in 5.5 seconds.

That sounds pretty race car-like to me and indeed, Hyundai has taken the N division racing both on the road and off it; they have competed in the TCR touring car series as well as the World Rally Championship. Throw lessons learned from those two disciplines together and all of a sudden, a performance crossover that can actually be tracked doesn’t seem quite as far off.

Kona N

Plus, there’s very little question that it looks the part. The 19-inch wheels plus side skirts and front lip spoiler provide a much lower stance, and the track is wider as well. There’s also a great roof-mounted spoiler, but the detail you really want to look for is the triangular foglight that’s integrated into it, as that’s a direct lift from various racing car series. It also gets a Sonic Blue colour option that’s only available on the Kona N. Speaking of that colour – you’ll see more of any colour you choose for your Kona N than you will on other Konas because the former eschews the plastic cladding ‘round the wheels and rocker panels that the latter gets. Just another way of showing what “the power of N” can do to a Hyundai vehicle.

It comes as little surprise that the interior has been given a once-over as well; those familiar with the Veloster N will notice the blue-hued wheel-mounted buttons that serves as shortcuts to “N” mode, which can be configured to suit specific driver profiles – just like you’ll find in a BMW M car. Pretty high-level stuff.

Other interior adds include special seats, a 10.25-inch digital gauge cluster whose two-dial default mode gets swapped to a touring car-esque singe digital display when N mode is active, 10.25-inch infotainment display and heads-up display (HUD) – although the way the panel on which the HUD is reflected rises up from the gauge hood may not be to everyone’s liking; the more popular format is to have it reflected off the windshield ahead.

Other interior adds include special seats, Performance Blue highlights throughout, special thick-rimmed steering wheel, special shift knob and metal pedals.

Kona N

What of that FWD-only powertrain, though? Seems a little strange that they’d release a performance CUV without AWD, doesn’t it?

“We believe that a front-wheel-drive, well balanced and orchestrated powerful car is what we need right now,” said Wartenberg. “And it’s also a reason to stay affordable and accessible in this car segment.” Which, according to Hyundai, is kind of a brand-new segment in the U.S. in which there aren’t all that many – if any – players right now. Plus, with the standard electronic limited slip differential – and the final testing being done on the Nurburgring Nordschleife, where Hyundai has a dedicated facility – there should be plenty of performance even without AWD.

Having said that, a big part of both Hyundai and N’s future has to do with sustainability and electrification – they’re already prepping their entrant into the all-EV version of the TCR series – and all signs point to the brand working feverishly to develop EV versions of N performance vehicles. Remember that the Kona electric already exists, and switching to an electric powertrain often turns FWD-only vehicles into AWD vehicles so why not the Kona N? Seems like the next logical step.

For now, though, the Kona N will be arriving in showrooms later this summer as ICE-only, but that’s only just the start as the manufacturer promises to continue growing the N brand through both its “N” and “N-Line” products over the coming year.

Kona N

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My name is Michael Eatson, and I am the new president of the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association (TADA), the largest provincial dealers’ association in Canada. It is an honour and a privilege to provide leadership to our 1,100 member dealers across Ontario. One of my goals as president is to represent our association and to promote the career and education opportunities that exist in our industry.

My TADA involvement was inspired by my father, who was past president of the former Ontario Automobile Dealers Association (OADA). After my initial involvement with that association, I was fortunate to be involved with the merger of the TADA and the OADA.

First off, I would like to acknowledge the many past presidents of the TADA who have served before me. All of these past presidents contributed their time and expertise to our industry and served our association with distinction – I consider these leaders my mentors.

I have been involved in the retail automobile industry since the late 1970s. During my high school and university years, I worked at our family Volkswagen dealership in all departments. From 1983 to 1987, I attended University of Guelph, playing varsity soccer and graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Prior to graduating from university, I took a year off to work as a teaching and coaching assistant at a private school. That experience taught me important lessons about communication and an understanding of how we all learn differently. This was a valuable experience in the running of my dealership.

After graduation, I moved into a full-time position at the dealership, working in the service, parts and sales departments. At the time, we also owned a Volvo and Mazda dealership and I eventually cut my teeth as a manager of these combined stores.

Eventually, we made a decision to focus completely on the Volkswagen brand and I moved into the position of sales manager at our Volkswagen store. I’ve been fortunate to be a member of the Volkswagens Dealer Marketing Association as well as its dealer council, representing Ontario dealers outside the Greater Toronto Area.

In 2009, after 40 years in downtown Peterborough, Peterborough Volkswagen moved into a new  and larger facility in the north end of the city. With this move, Peterborough Volkswagen has been able to better serve the transportation needs of its growing customer base.

In October 2019, our dealership celebrated its 50th anniversary. My parents opened Peterborough Volkswagen in September 1969, and the journey from then until now has been extraordinary. To have my parents on hand to participate in that milestone was a proud moment for our family and staff.

Peterborough Volkswagen’s 50th Anniversary event included an Oktoberfest theme, in keeping with the dealership’s ‘VolkFest in the Kawarthas’ event that it has hosted in recent years, which celebrates the heritage of the Volkswagen brand.

From a young age, my parents instilled in me a philosophy of giving back. I have sat on the boards of local organizations and coached amateur sports teams. Our dealership contributes to many important causes, including Community Care, Hospice Peterborough and the YWCA.

The entire auto industry – from design and manufacturing to retailing and marketing – is evolving at a faster rate than at any time in history and, over the next 12 months, I look forward to discussing these changes and how they are impacting our lives.

Although the focus of this column will be dealership and consumer issues, I will occasionally venture outside the showroom and service department to discuss broader automotive themes and where our industry is going. I welcome your comments and suggestions. If you have an idea for a topic, please send it along.

The outgoing TADA president, Cliff Lafreniere, will now serve as president of the 2022 Canadian International AutoShow. Good luck, Cliff!

Michael Eatson is president of the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association and is president of Peterborough Volkswagen. This column represents the views and values of the TADA. Write to president@tada.ca or go to tada.ca. For information about automotive trends and careers, visit carsandjobs.com.

 

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Carolina Batica has had a love of dancing and fitness her entire life. So much so, that she recently turned what was once a part-time job into her full-time profession. The Argentina-born mother of two now teaches up to six virtual fitness classes every week with a focus on Zumba — an exercise program full of upbeat International music, Latin-inspired dance moves and the enormous smiles of her students.

Describing her previous vehicle as “cool but not practical,” the recent approach of Batica’s 60th birthday saw her searching for a new set of wheels — one that would keep her safe, warm and ready to Zumba for many more years to come. With her new career path in motion, Batica leased a vehicle to match her upbeat attitude, a 2021 Toyota RAV4 XLE AWD.

“There was one morning last year I’ll never forget it,” said Carolina Batica. “They were calling for a lot of snow. I had been at my hairdresser and when I came out, it took me half an hour to get my car to go. It was stuck — completely. And I was praying; ‘Okay I have to get home.’

“I was in Pickering and I took the 401 to get home to Oshawa and I will never forget how bad it was. I remember just watching the trucks and the Jeeps and four-wheel-drive cars driving by me so confidently. I thought, ‘Okay this is what I need’.

“I was doing my research and it came up as RAV4 as one of the top cars for snow in Canada, so I gave it a try and I’m very happy with it,” said Batica, who leased her new vehicle from Whitby Toyota. “Driving on the 401 this last winter when it was windy, I felt very safe, steady and confident.

“Before COVID, I was teaching almost five classes a day in-person, so I was driving back and forth constantly. But this is life now, with everything done through Zoom. It’s a little bit sad but at least I am still connecting with these people. We are still smiling through these classes, and someday soon I’ll be able to use my new car to go dance with them all again.

“I did get to see some of them recently — it was my 60th birthday two weeks ago and one of my Zumba groups came. It was raining, and all of them were standing outside with umbrellas singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to me,” said Batica.

“Not everything you do in life for work gives you back such moments that make you feel like people appreciate what you’re doing for them. It’s not only a workout, or just about burning calories, it becomes something else.”

Review 2021 Toyota RAV4 XLE

A CLOSER LOOK:

Seasonal safety

“Now that I’m aging, and we live in Canada, I need a car that’s truly ready for snow and big storms,” said Batica. Luckily, the Toyota RAV4 XLE has drivers covered in any condition with its active torque all-wheel drive system, which dynamically shifts from front-wheel-drive to all-wheel-drive as soon as the system senses wheel slippage. Also making it a top choice for cautious drivers is the RAV4’s signature long wheelbase and wide track, which help deliver a more stable, confident drive during any season.

Interior comfort

Ensuring that drivers feel just as comfortable inside their vehicle as they do on the roads, the RAV4 XLE model boasts Dual Zone Automatic Air Conditioning as well as an eight-way Power Driver Seat with Lumbar Support. The driver’s seat even features a memory mechanism which adjusts to your preferred position. Sliding the comfort scale even further, the RAV4 XLE comes with front and rear heated seats and a heated leather steering wheel, perfect for those frosty Canadian mornings on the road.

Stop & Start Engine System

A huge plus for the environmentally and economically conscious driver alike, the RAV4 XLE AWD feature a Stop & Start system which automatically stops the engine while the vehicle is temporarily motionless. Especially useful for city driving, where traffic lights and stop signs abound, the engine will restart automatically when the driver releases the brake pedal. That’s it, that’s all. Nothing more needs to be done but to count all the coins you’ll be saving on gas.

This article was edited for space and clarity. Want to be featured in Why I Love My Vehicle? email us at Wheels@thestar.ca.

 

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In the opening scene of the 1958 creature-feature “The Blob,” Steve McQueen is seen sitting in a blue 1953 Plymouth Cranbrook convertible. It’s first shot of McQueen as a leading man and established a link between the actor and cool cars that would continue throughout his career both on and off the screen.

From the Porsche 917K seen in his 1971 film “Le Mans” and the 1951 Chevrolet Styleline DeLuxe in his final film, “The Hunter,” to the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow from “The Thomas Crown Affair” and the iconic 1968 Ford Mustang GT 390 Fastback he drove through the streets of San Francisco in “Bullitt,”  McQueen was most comfortable on screen when he was behind the wheel of an automobile.

“Bikes and cars weren’t just a hobby for McQueen,” said Kelsy Norman, the Calgary-based host of the Speeding Bullitt: The Life and Films of Steve McQueen podcast. “For him they were a lifestyle. They were a way for him to escape Hollywood. Anything with a motor represented freedom to him.”

This relationship also helped cement his profile as a cooler-than-cool film star who exuded a rugged self-assurance both on the big screen and on the racetrack. It’s a larger-then-life legacy that still attracts people today, more than 40 years after his death, thanks to his films, his racing achievements and the memorabilia associated with both.

“Steve McQueen crosses the line between entertainment memorabilia and car memorabilia,” said

Morry Barmak, owner of Collector Studio. The Yorkville business sells high-end automotive memorabilia, everything from film costumes and museum quality posters to racing helmets and model vehicles. It is also home to a number of items tied to McQueen’s film and racing careers and helps, in a physical way, to understand his lasting appeal.

Legacy of Steve McQueen

McQueen, the actor

How hot is McQueen today? Barmak pointed to the two-piece Nomex cream uniform the actor wore while filming the classic racing movie “Le Mans,” which celebrates its 50th anniversary this June. The costume bears his character’s name, Michael Delaney, and is one example of how in-demand items tied to McQueen and his iconic movie career, he died from mesothelioma in 1980 at age 50, still are among  collectors.

“The movie suit was actually given by Solar Productions (which made the film) to a contest winner in the U.K., and it was presented by the actual Le Mans race winner Richard Atwood,” said Barmak. “It had a beautiful provenance trail, one ownership and all documented. It’s also probably my best one-that-got-away story because I basically spent a year-and-a-half publicizing the suit. I offered it to every collector on the planet and, in the end, I sold it for $160,000 (U.S.), which was great. Then, three-and-a-half months later, my buyer put it up in a celebrity auction where it sold for a million dollars.”

Barmak still has the Solar Productions jacket McQueen also wore while filming the movie. “I ended up buying that from the estate of a guy named Mr. Chaumont, who was Steve’s personal assistant while they were filming the movie,” he said. “It’s one thing to have a piece that’s been owned by a number of people, but this comes directly from someone who knew him,” Barmak said.

Legacy of Steve McQueen

McQueen, the driver

McQueen’s famous quote, “I’m not sure whether I’m an actor who races or a racer who acts,” was never truer than in March 1970. With a broken foot, he and Peter Revson, heir to the Revlon cosmetics fortune, came in second place at the gruelling, 227-lap 12 Hours of Sebring race in his Porsche 908 /2.

“He was a serious driver; he wasn’t just an actor-driver,” said Barmak. “Up against the likes of Mario Andretti, he literally took this car, which was not the best car on the track, and finished second. I have the actual second-place trophy that was awarded to him. It has wonderful provenance. There is even a photo of him receiving it at the award ceremony. So that’s a very special piece.”

McQueen’s performance at Sebring lit up the racing world. To celebrate, Porsche released a ‘McQueen Drives Porsche’ poster featuring the car and a larger-than-life image of the actor. Unfortunately for Porsche, but fortunately for collectors, the manufacturer didn’t clear the rights to use the actor’s image.

“They had to pull the run,” said Barmak. “No one knows exactly how many were made, but since I’ve been selling that poster, it’s only gone up in value. In the early years I was selling them for $2,500. Now they’re making about $10,000 apiece.

“I think he’s always going to be hot. It really depends on where cars are going in the future because in 20 years if it’s all electric cars, I think people are going to start coveting the gas era and the people who made cars famous,” Barmak said. “There are some icons that don’t get stale.” 

Legacy of Steve McQueen

Known as “The King of Cool,” McQueen starred in more than 30 movies and was nominated for a best actor Academy Award for his role in 1966’s The Sand Pebbles. He also competed in various car and motorcycle races. In 1978, he was inducted in the Off-road Motorsports Hall of Fame.

Richard Crouse Special to Wheels.ca

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Ensuring your tire is properly inflated is important for a number of reasons. Not only will it result in a smoother ride, but proper tire pressure also results in, for example, better fuel efficiency and smoother steering. Both Michelin and Bridgestone, two major tire manufacturers, recommend you check your tire’s PSI (pounds per square inch) every month to ensure they are properly inflated.

On its website, Bridgestone offers a comprehensive and useful guide to checking tire pressure. It recommends you start by grabbing a piece of paper and mapping out your vehicle, identifying the front and rear left and right wheels. Then, using your owner’s manual or the information located in the door jab on the driver’s side of your vehicle, mark down what the recommended PSI is for your front and rear tires.

Both companies advise you check your tire pressures only when they are “cold,” meaning they have not been used in at least last three or driven less than 1.6 kilometres (equivalent to a mile). Begin by removing the valve cap from the tire you are checking and placing the pressure gauge on the valve and pressing down until the hissing sound stops. The gauge will then give you a PSI reading that you should write on the piece of paper next to the corresponding tire. You then repeat the process on your vehicle’s other tires (and don’t forget to check you spare).

Michelin recommends that you invest in a good tire pressure gauge. Depending on the model you purchase, the pressure gauge will either give a digital readout or, in the case of the pencil-shaped gauge, will feature a bar that moves upward with measurement units etched on its side.

Once you complete all the wheels, you can use an air compressor to fill your vehicle’s tires to the correct PSI. If you do not have one at home, many gas stations have them available for public use for a fee. You fill each tire by placing the hose over the valve stem and pressing the hose’s lever. Once you fill the tires you should check your PSI again. If you over filled your tires, you simply let some air escape and then recheck the reading. Do not drive on overinflated tires, Bridgestone warns, as overinflation can result in decreased traction, premature wear and decreased impact absorption.

One note: if you drove more than the recommended 1.6 km to the gas station to fill your tires, the wheels won’t be “cold.” Bridgestone recommends you “set their pressure to 4 psi (14 kPa) above the recommended cold inflation pressure” and then you recheck your tire pressure once they are “cold” again.

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