Automobile Test Drives
For the final week of the kids' summer vacay, I borrowed a GMC Yukon XL Denali. To be honest, I'm not sure if "Denali" belongs in the full name of this full-sized luxury SUV, but that word is prominently written on the car so I'm going with it.
Sure, it's big, but how big? Here's the Yukon XL handling all the wood required for the new loft bed my wife built for the two little ones.
And throwing my bike in there was ridiculously easy. Look at all the room to spare.
It turns out Hamilton is the city of waterfalls and home to more than 100 waterfalls and cascades, so we took a road trip to the Hammer to check out a couple of them along the Bruce Trail. This beaut is Sherman Falls.
This is Tiffany Falls, which seems to attract a lot more people.
Note to self: explore more of the Bruce Trail.
It was an amazing week and now that the kids are all back in school, it's time to get some work done.
A couple of years ago, the six of us drove to PEI for what I thought might be a last hurrah of sorts. My oldest son was 14 and I wasn't sure how interested he'd be in future family road trips. Luckily, the now 16 year old still digs me and we got to do it all again, this time with two teenagers in tow.
This time, we rented a ski chalet via Airbnb in the resort town of Mont Tremblant, Quebec, right by Pedestrian Village. We drove in a 2018 Ford Expedition SUV which was... enormous. Two adults, two teenagers and two toddlers and plenty of room to spare. Seriously, this is one big automobile.
It was about 600 KM door-to-door, but smooth sailing. With the toddlers, you can only drive so many KMs in a row, so there were stops at Onroutes and in Gatineau to break things up. We were driving the 2018 Expedition Platinum so we were loaded with USB ports, charging pads, and a premium 12-speaker audio system from HARMAN that kicked ass.
Mont Tremblant was fantastic. In addition to great hikes on the mountain, we drove to the national park for more tremendous hiking. I wore the two year old so she couldn't slow us down.
On the way home, to break things up, we stopped in Brockville to check out the Brockville Railway Tunnel, Canada's first railway tunnel. I highly recommend it!
When we took our monster road trip to the east coast last year, I was planning on driving a Chevy Tahoe. The Tahoe is very large, and with the six of us driving 5837.4 KM, I wanted the space. Instead, we took that trip in a Chevy Traverse, but I had a mental note to try out the Tahoe next summer.
That's exactly what I did last week. With the week off work, I planned a camping trip for me and my oldest and family trips to the aquarium, CNE and bowling alley. As advertised, the Tahoe is full-sized. Three rows of seats and 94.7 cu. ft. of cargo space.
When I parked my '99 Mazda Protege and hopped in the 2017 Chevy Tahoe, I not only had to adapt to the size difference, but the upgraded power. It's great fun zipping along in a 5.3L V8 and rather addictive. My kids also appreciated the 4G LTE Wi-Fi while I enjoyed the satellite radio.
Another feature I quickly took for granted and seriously missed when I returned to my Mazda was the in-windshield display. As you looked through the front windshield, you could see your current speed. It wasn't distracting or annoying but rather clever and convenient. Now that I have to take my eyes off the road to check my speed, I realize how much safer this was in the Tahoe.
In summary, if you're looking for a large SUV with power, the Tahoe fits the bill. It's one of several 3-row cars I'm test driving before I buy something that will fit my entire family of six. Here are previous such test drives:
A typical "road trip" for me is a long drive to a campsite or cottage where we'd stay for a few days before returning home. This summer, we decided to do something different.
GM Canada kindly lent me a 2016 Chevrolet Traverse so I could go on an east coast adventure with the entire family. That includes a baby, a toddler, a pre-teen and a teenager. All accomodations were booked in advance via Airbnb. When I left home a couple of Sunday mornings ago, I had no clue how it would all unfold.
It couldn't have gone better. The Traverse was perfect, providing enough space for all six of us and the necessary gear when you travel with youngins. We needed a stroller, play pen and cot, for example.
I did all the driving on this trip, which totalled 5837.5 km. The Traverse was comfortable and smooth, and the Sirius XM was fully utilized. I don't think I've driven 5837.5 km the past four years combined.
Here are the locations we spent the night in Airbnb rentals that could accomodate the six of us. I'm listing them in order. We stayed in each location one night, except Cavendish and Halifax, where we spent two nights each. The final spot was my wife's cousin's house, so it didn't cost me a cent.
- Montreal, Quebec
- Mont-Joli, Quebec
- Moncton, New Brunswick
- Cavendish, PEI
- Port Hood, Nova Scotia
- Ingonish, Nova Scotia
- Halifax, Nova Scotia
- Fredericton, New Brunswick
- Quebec City, Quebec
- Gatineau, Quebec
Along the way there were trips to Chaudière Falls, the Cape George Point Lighthouse, Hopewell Rocks in the Bay of Fundy, Charlottetown, Cavendish Campground in Prince Edward Island National Park of Canada, the Skyline Trail at Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Peggy's Cove, Lunenburg and the prettiest drive I've ever enjoyed, along the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton.
In a span of two weeks, we visited five provincial capitals, enjoyed Cow's Ice Cream, plenty of seafood, and Schwartz's Deli, and all four kids were amazing. That was the most pleasant surprise of all. I watched my oldest bond with his little brother and everyone get along in the tightest of quarters for 5837.5 km. I'm so glad we took this trip.
Best of all, I have a new appreciation for our eastern provinces (with apologies to Newfoundland and Labrador which I simply didn't have time to experience). Previously, I had never been east of Quebec City. I've now seen first hand the natural beauty down east, the beautiful architecture and the nicest people on the planet and return home with tremendous memories that will last a lifetime.
I'm in the market for a car that seats at least six. For the past couple of weeks, I've been test driving a new Buick Enclave which seats seven comfortably. It's been absolutely ideal.
My youngest is now three months old, so at some point I'm going to have to make an actual decision and buy something. In the meantime, we make do by picking destinations some of us can bike to. My oldest two have been racking up the cycling KMs lately.
The Buick Enclave is a large automobile that doesn't drive like a large automobile. I like that. It's also nice that, once the two car seats are installed, my other two kids can easily access the back row of seats without having to climb over anything. There's a convenient path for them to follow.
I'll admit, by the time the two weeks was up, I had forgotten I didn't actually own this car and had to return it. One reason I've delayed making a final decision is that there are several excellent options for one looking for a car with three rows of seats.
I'm planning a road trip for the whole family in August. We're finally going to head east and experience the Maritimes. For that trip, I'm driving a GMC Acadia.
I just spent a week driving a new Ford Flex, and it all started with this tweet that prompted me to seek out a Ford Flex test drive.
@torontomike check out a Ford Flex if you don't mind the boxy look ... lots of space inside (because it's a big box) and they drive nicely— Ed Nicholson (@fastEdCanuck) April 15, 2016
Ed wasn't kidding when he referred to it as a big box. That's exactly what it is, a very big box. But because it's a box, it's incredibly roomy.
The Ford Flex seats seven comfortably which is precisely why I wanted to test drive it. I have a family of six but only have five seatbelts in my Mazda. This past week was the first time we all travelled somewhere together.
There was actually room to spare. It's an incredibly roomy crossover, but it didn't drive "big". It really felt like I was driving a car, and I was only reminded how big it was when it came time to park.
Some say the Flex is ugly. I cannot state clearly enough how little I care about a car's appearance. I need a safe car that seats at least six people, and I can't have it destroy my bank account. When it comes to cars, I'm all about substance over style.
The Ford Flex fits the bill. I'll be testing a few other cars over the summer. I'll let you know how those drives go.
After our visit to Sandbanks, we spent a few days in the city before hitting the road again for a trip to Huntsville. Technically, we went beyond Huntsville into Dwight, but telling people you're driving to Dwight is a recipe for confusion.
For this family road trip to White Birches Cottages we drove an Explorer Sport from Ford Canada. I have a sudden interest in cars with more than five seats, and the Explorer comfortably seats seven. Perfect.
The Sport's twin-turbocharged and direct-injected 3.5-liter "EcoBoost" V6 is good for 365 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque! If you're a guy like me, who isn't certain what that means, be assured it's awfully powerful and great fun to drive. In fact, if you want power, you won't do any better for the price.
And now a word about SYNC... SYNC is Ford's "integrated in-vehicle communications and entertainment system that allows users to make hands-free telephone calls, control music and perform other functions with the use of voice commands" and I was first exposed to SYNC back in 2008. No other manufacturer's system is as easy and pleasurable to use. I could see myself buying a Ford just to get SYNC.
I haven't returned the Explorer yet... my oldest son and I drove it to hockey last night and it was nice not having to cram our gear inside. Over the next several months, I'll be checking out other cars with three rows of seats, but the Explorer has set the bar awfully high.
I took a couple of weeks off to spend time with the family, first camping and then renting a cottage in Muskoka. There are five of us, two tents, a cooler, several sleeping bags, a BBQ and, well, everything else. To borrow a line from Martin Brody, we're going to need a bigger car.
GM Canada came through with a bigger car. Except it's not just big, it's absolutely humongous. The GMC Yukon XL has seats for nine and a mind-boggling amount of space in the trunk. Here's the little guy for scale.
I had come from a Mazda Protege, so it took me a little time to adapt to my new size, but in no time I forgot I was driving a small bus. It was a quiet, smooth ride to Sandbanks, and its 5.3L V8 EcoTec3 engine was a welcome change.
What a great week!
On Halloween, I exchanged my '99 Mazda Protegé for a week with a 2015 Hyundai Sonata. It was orange, of course.
As usual when you borrow cars from a media fleet, it was fully loaded. We're talking a touch-and-swipe navigation screen, backup camera, heated front and rear seats, high-power audio system, LED running lights, and Bluetooth phone capability. Convenience features included the smart trunk, which unlocks when the proximity key is within three feet of the trunk for more than three seconds. Another useful item is the adaptive cruise control, which monitors the speed of the car ahead and adjusts the Sonata’s speed to maintain a safe distance.
I could honestly see myself in a Sonata long-term. It's a very fun drive, and surprisingly roomy. Five of us fit without that cramped feeling, and the trunk had room for both the baby stuff and my oldest son's hockey gear.
And the Hyundai truly gets the touch screen right. This car had Sirius/XM and it was easy to toggle between Howard Stern, FM/AM and my smartphone. The navigation system's interface was both intuitive and efficient.
This is my second great experience test driving a Hyundai automobile. If they have a most improved award in the auto sector, it's got to go to Hyundai.
I just dropped off the Buick Regal AWD Turbo lent to me by GM Canada. I could have had it longer, but I'll be out of the country for a bit so I drove it back today.
It was damn fun enjoying the 259hp. 259hp, but still very, very quiet. When I drove my '99 Mazda Protege home today, it wasn't quite the same.
I'm still planning on comparing the Chevy Malibu with the Buick Regal as soon as I come up for air.
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