Wednesday, November 30, 2005

DRIVEN: 2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

By Russ Bond
Photos courtesy Russ Bond and GM Canada

Ever heard the saying, “Couldn’t drive a nail in a snowbank,” or “can’t fight your way out of a wet paper bag

This is how I feel right now – I am in car guy hell! And I’m not exaggerating!

Picture this if you will. A nice little place in the country, a quaint circular gravel driveway, a Le Mans blue Corvette – not just any Corvette, but a Z06, the monster of monsters – and... wait for it... three inches of snow. Yes, friggin’ snow, for the last flippin’ four days.

Yes, there is a 505hp dream machine stuck in my driveway. What are the odds? It is just killing me to see it sitting there. I want to use all six gears; I want to feel the monster brakes like I did at Shannonville a few weeks ago. I want to get looks as I rumble through town. I want to feel like the king of the world. But right now, I am a hostage in my own house.

I have driven the ‘regular’ Corvette C6, and from my brief taste of the Z06 at Test Fest, I can tell you it is a vastly different machine, which to me is the best thing about the Z06. It will never be confused with a C6. A C6.R maybe, but not a C6.

Often manufacturers will make sport or performance models that, on a good day, might beat the base model. The Z06 will make a mess out of what is already a great car: the C6. The horsepower difference alone tells you GM was serious. Going from the 400hp LS2 in the C6, to the 505-hp 7.0 Liter LS7 aluminum block engine with a dry sump system in the Z06 is a serious jump.

GM has also taken the time to make the rest of the Z06 blend in with that jump in horsepower. Just about everything is upgraded to give more performance, and GM makes good use of extensive racecar technology and lightweight components – such as carbon-fibre front fenders, wheelhouses, and floorboards (with balsa core).That makes it actually 22 kg lighter than the C6; 1421kg total. It also features massive six-piston front and four-piston rear disc brakes – stopping is not an issue, unless of course it’s snowing!

Chevrolet did all this without taking away from the daily drivability – a huge plus. The Z06 is as refined as the C6 on daily commutes or just tooling around the countryside. Inside the differences are minor, other than the speed at which that the world passes the windshield.

The gearbox seems much better, especially in feel compared to previous models. The torque is brute force in action and yet on the highway at 130 km/h, it is running at about 1,200 rpm. So, if you want to cruise, it is perfect. If you want to race, track day, or do spirited driving, it is perfect. If you want to look good doing both, it’s perfect. Are you seeing a trend here?

Before it started to snow, I went for a brief shopping trip in it. No problem, pop the hatch and there is a good amount of space. Heater works great, the satellite radio – which has great comedy channels by the way – is a good traveling companion, and the Z06 is fairly easy to park. Watch the splitter on the front, though, as it won’t clear the cement stops, and the nose is longer than you think.

But sadly, all I can see is it covered in snow out the front window of my house as I sit here and type this.

With a price tag under $100,000, the Z06 is like stealing candy from a baby. There is no way that if you buy one you would have to feel that you’ve taken GM to the cleaners. This performance of a true supercar with these looks at this price – something doesn’t add up here. Seriously – the Z06 could easily be priced at $150,000 and they’d sell just as many.

There is no competition for it at that price. Nothing even remotely compares, and for the minor jump in price from the C6, you should seriously consider ‘upgrading’ – if you can find one.

Speaking of which, availability might be the Z06’s biggest problem. It might well be a case of ‘who you know’ in order to get one. [I do happen to know Peter Klutt at Legendary Motorcar has a red one in stock,]

Never, ever, would I say that I thought a Corvette Z06 would be an eyesore, but, sadly, it is just that. It’s killing me that it is so close, and yet so far away. Why me? I have the key, I am allowed to drive it. I didn’t know my mother was Mother Nature, and apparently she is a little pissed at me.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

DRIVEN: 2006 Dodge Magnum RT

Story and Photos by Mike Galipeau

The family vacation – a drive halfway across the country in the middle of the summer, with two children. For this story, I’ll be Clark Griswold, my wife will play Ellen, my son is Rusty, and my daughter will be Audrey.

The old family wagon has 270,000 km on the odometer. It’s a Volvo, so I know it will make the 5,000 km trip to Wally World. Alright, so we weren’t going to Wally World, but we were heading to the East coast, to visit cousin Eddie (My brother). Ellen was a bit concerned about the reliability of the trusty wagon.

Off to the dealership I go to find a new family car. There it was, the 1983 Family Truckster in Metallic Pea, with wood paneling and eight headlights. I wish…

Truthfully though, DaimlerChrysler Canada, hooked us up with a 2006 Dodge Magnum R/T, almost as cool as the Truckster. Instead of Metallic Pea, we got Cool Vanilla and no wood paneling. It was the first time I had seen a Magnum in that colour, and it really brought out its muscular look. Well that, and the HEMI badges, the dual exhaust, and the 18-inch wheels and tires.

Gas was $1.04 a litre in Eastern Canada, so Ellen was not impressed to see a 5.7-liter 345-hp, 395-ft-lb powered car show up in the driveway. More about that later!

Wally World, er, sorry Halifax, was waiting so it was a 5:30 a.m. departure for 10 days of family bliss. However, the night before was spent loading the car.

My initial thought when I popped the trunk on the Magnum was “this is smaller than our Volvo back here.” However, the Magnum’s cargo space is deceiving. The sloped roofline and tiny rear windows make it seem small. The rear floor has a removable system that provides added cargo space, but I found this out after we had returned from our trip.

Even without the floor panels removed the Magnum swallowed a full-size stroller, two huge (and heavy) suitcases, a playpen, two diaper bags, a massive bag of toys, and various other items that we never looked at again.

Audrey and Rusty were ecstatic about the optional DVD system in the back – I got to listen to the Wiggles and Bob the Builder the entire trip, as Rusty didn’t want to wear the supplied headphones. I was excited to use the DVD based navigation system, though.

Our departure time felt very, very early, and we were off. Ellen was expecting to have to fill up every hour, but I secretly kept my eye on the mileage as we went. The number finally settled on 10.5 L/100km while on the highway – I was amazed. I had not seen the old 5-cylinder turbo Volvo do that. I had really hoped that the MDS (Multiple Displacement System) would prove Ellen wrong.

And yet, when you wanted to pass, the five-speed auto downshifted smoothly. It didn’t matter that we had a full trunk, two adults and two children in the car going up a 50 per cent grade with a headwind and the A/C on – this car moves!

My 2 1/2-year-old son “Rusty” put it best. “Dad, when you pass someone, I hear the HEMI, I like it.”

Eighteen hours later, thanks to the engineers at DaimlerChrysler for the DVD system, we were at Cousin Eddie’s in Porter’s Lake, NS. Eddie is a die-hard Dodge fan, and was blown away by the Magnum. We spent the next three days at their trailer. Alright, it’s a house, and a very nice one.

While in the Halifax area, we took a Griswold family day-trip to Peggy’s Cove. We had parked right beside a couple who had rented a V6 Magnum. It really occurred to me then how much the R/T package adds to this car. Yeah, you get the HEMI, but the car just looks more aggressive. While he was whining about the cost to rent a car and the rearward visibility, I was telling him about the 100-foot patch this thing laid. I mean, could lay if you wanted it to…

It was time to hit the Cabot Trail. I had been looking forward to this part of the trip the most. A friend had told me that he had to have the brakes done on his car immediately after driving the loop! With the Griswolds in the car, though, I’d have to take it easy and enjoy the ride. Turns out, the Cabot Trail is the most scenic, twisty, hilly road I have ever been on.

The Magnum is a big car. I didn’t realize it until we got back in our Volvo wagon – it felt tiny by comparison. However, the Magnum does an amazing job of shrinking itself on the tight, twisty sections, then feeling like a ‘60s Big Block beast when the road straightens out. The ability to manually select the gears on the Mercedes-Benz-sourced five-speed automatic worked well when heading downhill into a 180-degree bend. The brakes never even felt like they were working too hard, although I did think the steering was a bit over-assisted.

The rest of the trip was amazing although the Cabot Trail was my Wally World, and as far as I was concerned, we had made it. With three days to go, we hopped on the ferry in Pictou, NS, and headed to PEI. From PEI we drove the 11 km Confederation bridge back to New Brunswick. We stayed another night in Moncton, then drove the next day straight to Burlington, on the west side of Toronto.

We had put the 2006 Magnum R/T through a lot – we drove a total of 4,980 km in 10 days. We had the car on two ferries, one big bridge, through five provinces, took it to the beach, the Cabot Trail, through Montreal and spent a grand total of only $512.00 in fuel door to door. That’s only 10 cents per kilometre. Considering we had budgeted $800.00 for gas for the trip, Ellen was now a believer that a big-cube V8 could be practical and fuel efficient when built and packaged properly.

However the car is not perfect. The interior door panels did feel and look a bit plasticky in areas, but overall the interior has an upscale feel. Ellen felt that the seats could have been a bit deeper, and some more bolstering could be added, but stepping up to the SRT-8 package should take care on that.

The Magnum truly is practical power. It worked as a Family Truckster, it satisfied my need for grunt and handling, it kept the kids entertained. The entire Magnum line-up should be high on your list if you’re looking for the next Family Truckster – just pray you don’t have to deal with a salesman that looks like Eugene Levy in a cheap suit.

DRIVEN: 2006 Audi A3 2.0T

By Mark Atkinson
Photos by Mark Atkinson and Michael Banovsky

Look back through the history of premium-brand entry-level small coupes, and there’s lots of wreckage piled high. The E36 BMW 318ti Compact and more recently the Mercedes-Benz C-class Coupe have all failed miserably when it comes to sales in North America. The fact that their high-gloss badges weren’t enough to justify their high price tags – relative to their performance and equipment – should be a warning to any up-market brand.

So why has Audi chosen this point in time to launch the second-generation A3 – the first one was sold everywhere else – into the North American marketplace, especially when the United States is very fickle when it comes to hatchbacks? It’s a big gamble, especially given that the upcoming Volkswagen Golf GTI and Jetta GLI will be mechanically identical and arguably lower priced.

Yes, the A3 shares the same platform as the new Jetta and upcoming Golf – and stretched to fit in the brand-new Passat – replacing the venerable ‘MKIV’ architecture that underpinned everything from the Seat Leon to the Audi TT, and everything in between.

The main feature of the new design comes in the form of an independent rear suspension – a first for Volkswagen. After fielding bags of criticism about the old car’s rear beam axle, VAG went out and poached the engineer responsible for the excellent class-leading ‘Z-axle’ found initially under the Ford Focus and now spreading across the entire Ford/Mazda/Volvo lineup.

What does this mean? Sharper responses and a more controllable ride, for starters. The A3 has excellent turn-in, despite the typically numb steering, and feels quite nimble when thrown about. This really is a car you can take by the scruff of its neck and muscle it around – it will plough into understeer at the limit, of course, but at 9/10ths it’s rewarding in a solid, Germanic way.

Powering the A3 is VAG’s new 2.0-liter FSI turbocharged engine, replacing the ubiquitous 1.8T that found its way under millions of car hoods. The FSI stands for Fuel Stratified Injection, which is essentially means the fuel is injected directly into the combustion chamber like a diesel rather than back in the intake manifold. First seen on the nearly unbeatable Audi R8 racecar, FSI increases power and improves fuel economy.

The new engine produces a neat 200 hp at 5,100 rpm and 207 lb-ft at 1,800 rpm. The engine is then mated to either a six-speed manual transmission, or Audi’s very trick six-speed DSG gearbox. Either way you go, the car is quick, but the DSG is worth every penny, not only for the quicker acceleration, but also for the seamless operation across the board. Whether you keep it in automatic, sport or shift it yourself, the DSG is a hugely impressive piece of technology, making BMW’s SMG technology look clumsy in comparison.

The downsides of DSG when compared to SMG are courtesy of Audi’s lawyers – it doesn’t give you absolute control over the gears selected – i.e. it’ll shift to first when you come to a stop, shift up if you bang it off the rev limiter long enough. And Audi still won’t let you press the gas and brake at the same time – in either the manual or DSG cars – so forget serious bouts of left-foot-braking as the engine will just kill any and all power. BMW will let you do whatever you want with its SMG, although both companies have disabled their respective ‘launch control’ features for North America.

Still, despite the relatively minor headaches, the DSG shifts keenly with either the steering-wheel-mounted paddles, or with the floor-mounted shift lever. Floor it from a stop, and the 1,510 kg DSG-equipped A3 will hit 100 km/h in 6.7 seconds, 0.2 seconds faster than the six-speed car, despite a 30kg advantage for the stick-shift. The one complaint about the A3 is the lack of Quattro availability, at least for now. It appears that Audi plans to release a V6-powered model, which will feature all-wheel-drive. Whether or not Quattro will be an option on the 2.0T remains to be seen.

Besides the attractive spec sheet, the styling will hook you, of course. Whether or not Audi’s now-signature big horse-collar grille and squinty headlights looks good depends heavily on what’s tacked on behind it. The A8, where the corporate face first appeared, is large enough to compensate, while the new A4 looks very awkward, mainly because the rest of the car didn’t change with the facelift.

The A3 somehow makes it work, despite being the smallest of the redesigned cars. Strangely, while the five-door A3 is shaped like a typical small wagon – and stretched compared to the three-door version sold everywhere else – Audi calls it a Sportback. Anything to avoid that station wagon stigma...

The lines are tasteful and sharp – Audi design chief Walter da Silva’s guiding hand is very much apparent – and helps justify the price.

Inside, the design is very much new-Audi, although the materials can be hard and hollow in some spots. The airbag cover on the three-spoke steering wheel is supposed to evoke that horse-collar grille, and the controls are located within easy reach. The DSG paddles also feel worth their price thanks to a fluid action and tactile clicks with every shift.

So what we have is a semi-luxurious, semi-performance-oriented ‘hot hatch’ that’s trying to take customers away from both its lower and higher-priced competitors. Not an enviable position to be in, frankly.

Pricing for the A3 2.0 T is like a bad dream. It starts at $33,650 for the six-speed manual, and $34,600 for the DSG. Then you get to the options list: Sport package ($2,500 for 17-inch wheels and tires, leather seats, three-spoke steering wheel, aluminum trim, fog lights, sport seats, tighter suspension and a roof spoiler), the Cold Weather package ($950 for heated seats, mirrors and windshield washer nozzles), Sound package ($1,250 for Bose premium audio package and six-disc CD changer), Open Sky system ($1,500 for the dual-pane panoramic glass roof, rear side airbags ($500), Bi-Xenon headlights ($900), Convenience package ($950 for Homelink, storage package, trip computer, auto-dimming interior mirror, rain/light sensor), and finally the Navigation system for a whopping $2,750.

That totals $45,650, a not inconsiderable sum for what is essentially a front-wheel-drive compact car with a huge number of more able competitors at that price.

Canada would appear to be the ideal place for the A3 given our love and acceptance of five-door vehicles – witness any number of Mazda Protégé5’s, Mazda3’s, Volkswagen Golf’s, Toyota Echo’s, Subaru Imprezas and Ford Foci in our cities. Canadians love the practicality of a hatchback and buy them in droves. And while the high price point of the A3 relative to its class competitors may be a big hurdle for most, you only have to glance around at the dozens of no-option BMW 320i’s running around with plastic hubcaps to realize that there are many who are willing to part with big sums of money to be on the lowest rung of a brand’s ladder.

It’ll be up to Audi to convince potential customers to spend with their hearts and not their heads if they want the A3 to really thrive.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

DRIVEN: 2005 Toyota Prius

Story and Photo by Michael Banovksy

I just got back from the book store. Never one to pass up a good deal, I picked up arguably the most influential piece of literature published in the last 200 years or so: The Communist Manifesto.

How good of a deal, you ask? Well, considering that it gave reason to some of the bloodiest conflicts in the history of the globe, I bought it for the princely sum of $10.

Just as the Manifesto was once at the center of global conflict, so too is the 2005 Toyota Prius. Automakers around the world are weighing up the hybrid equation, with the little Toyota at the centre of the movement. Since its inception, the Prius has single-handedly taken the concept of being green out of consumers’ minds and into Toyota’s pockets.

On the surface, it’s really a case of what’s-not-to-like? Seating for five, family car dimensions – oh, and did I mention somewhere between 50 – 69 mpg?

The original Prius sold like… well… 8 track tapes next to an iPod. Now, with a little refreshing and slightly better performance (handling, horsepower, economy, you name it), it sells like hot cakes. Leonardo DiCaprio has like a half dozen of them, for Pete’s sake.

When the original debuted, consumers were like: “Oh, how cute! The Japanese turned the Playstation into a car.” The new Prius is like the Playstation 2. Good thing the Americans have their XBOX: The Ford Escape/Mercury Mariner SUV hybrids and the upcoming Ford Fusion/Mercury Milan hybrid sedans. But for now – in the eyes of most consumers and based on the pocketbooks of the filthy rich – the Japanese are still the hybrid leaders.

Anyway, save for Toyota’s decision to scale the USS Enterprise’s bridge as the Prius’ dash, the interior works extremely well. My only complaint is the screen.

It’s a full-featured touch screen, with graphs, bars, and all sorts of seemingly important numbers displayed with colourful graphics. The problem is, the important chart (which displays minute-by-minute fuel consumption) scrolls right-to-left, just like most Asian newspapers. Unfortunately Asian newspapers are by far the most confusing in the world.

Driving a Prius, though, is probably close to being in an isolation chamber. Think green thoughts, think green thoughts… It’s so quiet that after a while, you get the impression that every other car is killing the earth. Naturally, the only saviour is you, your Prius, and its Hybrid Synergy Drive.

The drivetrain alone reads like the Death Star plans. Sometimes the battery powers the car, sometimes not. Sometimes the battery helps accelerate the car, gets re-charged by braking, or allows the engine to turn off at a stop. That’s the best part, and the most useful. Not only does the car save fuel, it also lets passengers talk over the droning of a fossil-powered pollution pump.

It’s so beautifully executed that you can hear a passerby’s iPod playlist.

The handling is mushy – what would you expect? My only gripe is the steering wheel – shaped like the Oval Office, it’s horrible for tight parking-lot control.

I suppose the most remarkable thing about the Prius is that – forgetting the car’s engine auto stop function here – you’d never know it was a hybrid.

But if this exact car, powered by just a gasoline engine was say, the current Camry – would it sell? No.

My only concern is that when the hybrid hysteria dies down, will the Prius and other hybrid cars be the automotive equivalent to finding the Communist Manifesto in the bargain bin for $10? In 20 years, will the hybrids die and be relegated to dissection duties in high school shop classes?

All I know is that for now let the Big 3 tremble at a hybrid revolution.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

NEWS: Dodge Nitro's a Go!

With files from DaimlerChrysler Canada

ANAHEIM, CA – At the California International Auto Show on October 5, the Chrysler Group confirmed production of the Dodge Nitro mid-size SUV for the 2007 model year. Nitro will be the first mid-size SUV for Dodge, completing the brand’s current lineup of cars, minivans, trucks, commercial vehicles and a full-size SUV.

Using the stretched underpinnings and power-trains from its corporate sibling the Jeep Liberty, the Dodge Nitro is based on the Dodge Nitro concept vehicle that was unveiled at the 2005 Chicago Auto Show in February, 2005.

With a uniquely bold, powerful design statement that will ignite the mid-size SUV segment, the Dodge Nitro’s crisp lines and substantial body size create a brawny character not found in any other mid-size SUV. The Dodge Nitro’s spacious interior is both functional and flexible for people and cargo. Chrome, silver and red accents have a dynamic presence throughout the interior.

The five-passenger Nitro is designed to attract a customer seeking a distinctive style, sporty performance and cargo flexibility.

NEWS: 2006 Acura CSX to replace EL

With files from Acura Canada

TORONTO, ON – Acura Canada announced on October 5 the introduction of an all-new luxury compact sedan. The Acura CSX will launch across the country later this fall and will be exclusive to the Canadian market.

Presumably based on the all-new 2006 Honda Civic, Acura Canada has yet to release any images of its new entry-level challenger.

Power for the new Acura CSX luxury compact will come from a 155-horsepower 2.0-litre DOHC engine that features i-VTEC “intelligent” valve-control systems, combining VTEC (Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control) with VTC (Variable Timing Control). The i-VTEC system delivers enhanced performance across a broad power band in addition to enhanced fuel efficiency and low exhaust emissions.

The suspension has been tuned for a performance-oriented feel. The CSX will feature drive-by-wire throttle control, 4-wheel disc brakes and a speed-sensitive electric power steering (EPD) system for sporty driving performance.

The Acura CSX will feature a wide range of distinctive luxury and convenience features, and a full complement of standard safety features, including the new Advanced Compatibility Engineered (ACE) body structure for enhanced safety in a frontal collision with a vehicle of differing size.

NEWS: 2006 Dodge Ram Mega Cab Dually Introduced

With files from DaimlerChrysler Canada

In a salute to the largest pickup truck market in the United States, Dodge tipped its hat to Texas at the end of September and unveiled the all-new 2006 Dodge Ram Mega Cab Dually.

The 2006 Dodge Ram Mega Cab – the most spacious and versatile pickup cab on the planet – adds a dual-rear-wheel model that takes towing and hauling capability to new levels of performance.

Featuring dual rear wheels that expand the rear-wheel track to two metres (six feet, four inches), the 2006 Dodge Ram Mega Cab Dually provides more payload capacity and enhanced trailer-towing stability. To supply class-leading muscle, the Dodge Ram Mega Cab Dually model comes standard with 610 lb.-ft. of torque, courtesy of its 5.9-litre Cummins Turbo Diesel engine.

Available as a 3500 series, configured with 4x2 or 4x4 drivetrains, in SLT or Laramie trim and with a one metre, 90 centimetre (six-foot, three-inch) box, the all-new 2006 Dodge Ram Mega Cab Dually comes standard with a six-speed manual or optional automatic transmission. An electric-shift transfer case is standard on four-wheel-drive models, and a limited-slip differential is optional.

The all-new 2006 Dodge Ram Mega Cab Dually arrives in Canadian dealerships in January. For more information on the glut of options, GVWR and other options, visit

NEWS: Nissan Canada Inc. Posts Best Ever September

With files from Nissan Canada

MISSISSAUGA, ON – In the same week that Nissan announced they had achieved their ambitious goal of 1 million additional sales, Nissan Canada Inc. (NCI) had another successful month, one of the best in their history.

NCI recorded its best September ever last month, selling 7,085 units versus 6,119 a year ago – an increase of 966 units or 15.7 per cent. September was NCI’s fifth best month for total sales in company history. August had been the third best ever.

The Nissan brand had its third best September ever with Altima, Frontier and Quest all having their best ever Septembers.

Altima sold 1,968 units to lead the way, an improvement of 274 units over September 2004. X-Trail had another solid month with 1,004 units sold, 137 over September 2004. Quest moved 430 units, an improvement over September 2004 of 107 per cent.

Infiniti Sales were led once again by the G35 models – the sedan and the coupe accounted for 332 units, while the all new M had its second best month ever with 128 units sold during September. The Infiniti brand improved 13 per cent over September 2004.

NEWS: 2006 Hyundai Sonata and Tucson Earn 5-Star Crash Test Rating

With files from Hyundai Canada

Hyundai Auto Canada has announced that its all-new 2006 Sonata mid-size sedan earned the highest rating in the latest U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) crash tests.

The 2006 Sonata received five stars in the frontal and side-impact crash tests for both the driver and passenger seating positions. The test results are measured from one to five stars, with five being the highest. The NCAP side impact crash tests are conducted at 38.5 miles per hour (62 kilometers per hour), and full frontal barrier impacts at 35 miles per hour (56.3 kilometers per hour).

The previous Sonata generation was recognized as one of the safest mid-size sedans on the market but the 2006 Sonata offers even greater safety. An all-new computer-designed rigid body structure features reinforced bulkheads, pillars and side-impact protection to provide the foundation for a stiffer front sub-frame. Extensive testing using computer simulation as well as real world testing has further optimized crumple zones and impact load diffusion paths.

Every 2006 Sonata is equipped with advanced dual front airbags, seat-mounted side-impact airbags for the driver and front seat occupant and side curtain airbags designed to help protect the driver, front seat passenger and outboard rear seat passengers. In addition, the front seats feature active head restraints for extra protection against whiplash in rear collisions.

The Tucson is engineered to provide its passengers with multiple defensive layers. The steel unibody has designed-in crumple zones and a high-tensile front sub-frame that are designed to work together to reduce the forces that reach the passenger compartment. To help resist intrusion, four structural rings encircle the body. All four doors also have internal guard beams to protect passengers in a side-impact collision.

The Tucson’s passenger restraint systems help minimize injury. Three-point belts are provided at all five seating positions, and the front seatbelts have pretensioners and load limiters. There are two outboard rear LATCH child-seat anchors.

A total of six airbags are positioned in the Tucson’s interior. Dual advanced frontal airbags are complemented by front seat-mounted side-impact airbags and roof-mounted side-curtain airbags that cover both the front and rear rows of seating.

NEWS: Subaru Announces Pricing for 2006 Legacy and Outback

With files from Subaru Canada

Subaru Canada has announced pricing for the 2006 Legacy and Outback. For the new model year, the Legacy and Outback lineups have been enhanced with more power and performance and additional standard features, while emissions performance has also been improved.

The Legacy 2.5i Sedan with 5-speed manual transmission has a Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of $28,495; the Legacy 2.5i Wagon with manual transmission has an MSRP of $29,495. The Outback 2.5i has an MSRP of $32,995. For a complete listing of model pricing, please go to

The 2006 Legacy 2.5i models gain a more powerful engine, standard 17-inch alloy wheels, larger brakes, an air filtration system and an engine immobilizer for added security. The flagship Outback model, the 3.0R VDC Limited Wagon, adds the Subaru Navigation System as standard equipment. The DVD-based navigation system uses a seven-inch touch screen panel in the centre dash.

NEWS: Nissan Announces 2007 Versa Hatchback and Sedan

With files from Nissan Canada

Nissan announced the addition of an all-new Nissan Versa hatchback and sedan for the 2007 model year. The new entry-level Versa is expected to have a MSRP starting in the mid-$14,000 range in the Canadian market. The hatchback model is scheduled to go on sale in early summer 2006, with the Versa sedan following in late 2006.

Versa is an international design, built on Nissan’s advanced “B” platform, shared with various Renault models sold worldwide. Versa models sold in North America will be assembled at Nissan’s Aguascalientes, Mexico facility, which also builds the current Nissan Sentra.

The name Versa reflects the “versatile space” provided by the roomy interior and cargo area. Versa is called Tiida in Mexico, Japan, China and other markets where the car is sold.

Versa offers a high quality interior design and craftsmanship. The interior features a clean, simple design and layout that accentuates its surprising roominess. The Versa exterior features a dynamic look and attention to detail, with the body forms and long rooflines suggesting both the roominess inside and Versa’s performance capabilities.

Every Versa comes with a standard 1.8-liter DOHC inline 4-cylinder engine designed to satisfy both performance and environmental requirements. The all-new engine is rated at an estimated 120-horsepower and 125-plus lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy is estimated at 6.2L / 100km with the available Nissan Xtronic CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) transmission

The Versa sedan and hatchback will be offered in several models and with a long list of standard and available features and amenities, including Bluetooth Hands-Free Phone System, and Rockford Fosgate-powered subwoofer.

NEWS: Hyundai Tucson and Santa Fe Top AutoPacific Vehicle Satisfaction Award Categories

With files from Hyundai Canada

The Hyundai Tucson and Santa Fe sport utility vehicles each captured top honours in the AutoPacific 2005 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards announced on Sept. 16.

The owners of the all-new 2005 Hyundai Tucson rated it tops in Vehicle Satisfaction for the Compact SUV category. Consumers noted overall quality, interior styling, interior comfort, interior storage, seating capacity, power and acceleration and the Tucson's warranty as strengths of the vehicle.

Other factors strongly contributing to Tucson's winning score were exterior styling, handling, braking, driver's visibility as well as reliability and dependability. Tucson tied with the Honda Element for the top overall score in the compact SUV category. The award adds to Tucson's trophy case, which includes honors from J.D. Power and Associates as the highest-rated all-new vehicle in the 2005 Initial Quality Study.

Santa Fe owners rated it tops in the Standard Mid-Size SUV category for the fourth year since its introduction in 2000 as a 2001 model-year vehicle. Drivers noted overall owner satisfaction, instrumentation, interior comfort, interior materials, price, reliability and dependability, and Hyundai's warranty as strengths of the vehicle. Other factors contributing to Santa Fe's score were anti-theft features, audio system controls, interior styling and seating capacity. Santa Fe tied with the all-new Chevrolet Equinox for the top honors in this category.

The AutoPacific report stated, "The Hyundai Santa Fe continues its string of category-leading performances. Santa Fe has won or tied in its category for four of the five years it has been on the market. This is a testament to Santa Fe's strong combination of product competence, value and warranty. Santa Fe satisfies its owners and continues to help Hyundai build its brand image in the United States."

NEWS: 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara

With files and photos from Suzuki Canada

The only thing the all-new 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara has in common with the outgoing model is the name. Completely new from the ground up, the Grand Vitara now offers sleek styling, a more powerful standard V6, comprehensive safety, advanced handling characteristics on- and off-road and useful technology.

Inside the chiseled exterior of the Grand Vitara awaits a thoughtfully designed interior with materials, fit-and-finish standards, safety, and technology features that compete with vehicles costing thousands more. From roof-mounted, supplemental side curtain airbags to help protect occupants in side impact crashes to an available SmartPass™ keyless entry and start system, the Grand Vitara reaches a new level of sophistication in this price range.

Also new for 2006 are two available four-wheel drivetrain options, a full-time four-wheel-drive system (JA, JX, JLX models) and a four-mode, dual-range four-wheel drive system (JLX-Leather). All models feature the same lightweight, stiff unibody construction, enhanced with a robust built-in ladder frame to offer the best of both worlds - a refined on-road ride and the rugged off-road performance expected from Suzuki SUVs.

The stiff, lightweight frame structure is teamed with a fully independent suspension system that features MacPherson struts in the front and a multi-link system in the back.

To help the driver maintain control, particularly in emergency maneuvers, Electronic Stability Program (ESP) with traction control and an anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) are standard.

The standard 2.7-liter, six-cylinder, 24-valve DOHC engine generates 185 horsepower and 184lb.-ft. of torque, giving the Grand Vitara a 3000-lb. tow capacity, enough to haul small recreational boats or a pair of personal watercraft. Also, a specially tuned variable induction system (VIS) improves throttle response and overall engine efficiency, while the engine rides on hydraulic mounts to further reduce noise and vibration

The Grand Vitara delivers 12.4/9.3 L/100 km. city/highway with the optional five-speed automatic.

The Grand Vitara is offered in 4 model trim versions. The Grand Vitara JA starts at an MSRP of $24,495 with a five-speed manual transmission and all wheel drive.

The Grand Vitara JX 5-speed M/T has an MSRP of $26,495. Move up to JLX for $28,995. The top of the line fully loaded JLX-Leather model has an MSRP of only $29,995.

DRIVEN: 2006 Mazda MX-5

Story and Photos by Mark Atkinson

In this time of ever-increasing levels of complication and computer assistance, it’s always nice to find something so (comparatively) basic and simple. That’s what has always made the Mazda Miata so appealing – it’s an affordable, easy to live with, unpretentious two-seat roadster in a sea of 4000-pound sedans and sky-high SUV’s.

That the Miata is a highly-capable sports car only helps its cause.

Since its introduction in 1989 – and the subsequent freshening in 2001 – the little Mazda has caught the hearts of more sports car owners than anyone else. In fact, it’s in the Guinness Book of World Records as the best-selling sports car of all time.

If you go back a few issues, you’ll remember that we were big fans of the Mazdaspeed Miata – it proved an excellent platform for our High Performance Tire Test in April thanks to its low weight, nimble responses and just-right power.

So given all the history, all the hearts and wallets on the line, do you suppose Mazda may have been a just a little nervous to completely redesign the world’s favourite roadster?

It certainly seemed that way during the Canadian press launch in Kelowna, BC in August as Mazda executives seemed wound fairly tight when discussing the third-generation’s attributes. After spending a full day driving on spectacular roads from Kelowna, down to Osoyoos near the Washington border, and back up through the Okanagan to complete the circle – and another full week with one in Toronto – I can quite faithfully say they have nothing to be afraid of.

Except the name. Quite confusingly, we were made aware that in keeping in line with the rest of the world, the new Miata would now be called the MX-5 – which is how Europe has known it from its inception. In Japan, it used to be sold as the Roadster or Eunos Roadster – don’t ask – but even the home country is getting the memo.

It just seemed so strange to build 15 years of equity in a name – Miata – and then just give it up to follow some silly alpha-numeric system. That would be like Ford ditching the Mustang badges and calling the car a ‘Feelgood’ just because it wants its car names to start with ‘F’.

Even more confusingly, the Canadian Mazda executives were wishy-washy on just how hard-edged the changeover would be. The car itself doesn’t have a Miata badge on it anywhere, but the customer literature and commercials might refer to it as the ‘MX-5 Miata’ and see how it goes.

So, to aid in any confusion, both the old and the new cars will be referred to as Miata, because that’s just what they are. Stubborn, I am.

At any rate, the really positive thing is that even though this Miata is all new – with some drastically changed styling if you look really hard – from 30 (or more) feet away, it just looks like a Miata.

Now the gory details. The one complaint that could regularly be leveled at the old Miata was its size – or more specifically, the size of the drivers who could actually fit comfortably in one. I was at the extreme edge of the scale, and once wedged behind the wheel with my knees jammed between the rim and the door and console, could only pray that an accidental airbag deployment would not deprive me of my goal to one day have children.

The new Miata is larger in every dimension than its predecessor – length, width, wheelbase and weight. However, thanks to a weight-loss diet that comprised not of trying to pull out pounds at a time, but of shaving ounces wherever possible, the new Miata weighs only an unbelievable 22 pounds more than before. Twenty-two lousy pounds. I’ve seen bigger Thanksgiving turkeys.

Anyway, what that’s allowed is for Mazda to make the new Miata not only a better performer, but also a more livable car day-to-day – more on this in a minute.

The platform is a shortened version of the one used to underpin the brilliant RX-8, albeit with a different front sub-frame to accommodate the new all-aluminum 2.0-liter 16-valve four-cylinder engine. The four-banger puts out a healthy 170 hp at 6,700 rpm and 140 lb-ft at 5,000 rpm, a substantial 30-plus horsepower increase over the old 1.8. Coupled with the Miata’s legendary slick-shifting transmission, the car scoots to 100 km/h in the mid seven-second range.

The suspension features coil-sprung double wishbones up front, with a coil-sprung multi-link in the rear; both ends also get stabilizer bars. Combine this with the engine placed behind the front wheels, and you get a very nimble and responsive car that’s a cinch to drive.

The styling is a mix of the RX-8 ‘big fenders’ and the Ibuki show car from 2003. Whereas the original had a Coke-bottle figure, the new one is much more curvaceous. Even the top’s been improved – while still a do-it-yourself affair, it now folds in a Z-shape, which eases operation and allows for a much cleaner look when stowed.

Mazda will be offering three versions of the new Miata in Canada. First is the GX, which comes complete with 16-inch aluminum wheels and a five-speed manual transmission. Next up, the GS is the performance-oriented package, with upgraded Bilstein shocks, stiffer spring rates, a six-speed manual, 17-inch wheels, Dynamic Stability Control and a limited-slip differential. The GT has none of the performance upgrades other than the bigger wheels and the six-speed manual, but it comes loaded with leather seats, automatic climate control, air conditioning, ABS, a seven-speaker Bose audio system… you get the point. Seems a bit confusing, right?

Well, if you want your cake and to eat it too, then the ‘Third-Generation Limited’ is the way to go. Based on the GS mechanicals and associated performance upgrades, the Limited comes with the retina-searing metallic red paint, an equally bright red-leather interior, silver-finish trim, the chrome windshield and headlight surrounds, and generally everything Mazda could throw into the diminutive two-seater.

Amazingly, a five-speed automatic is an available option on the GX and GT models – you can even specify wheel-mounted paddle shifters in the GT…
In Kelowna, we had the opportunity to drive both the GT and Limited models, and found both to be highly entertaining choices. The Limited was just that much sharper and more focused, but the GT was certainly no slouch. Whichever way you choose, chances are you’ll be more than happy with the decision.

The biggest complaint comes from the Miata’s tires – they’re just too big. Well, let me qualify that by saying that the sticky rubber does a great job of keeping the car planted, but with the current power levels, you’d have to be an absolute loon to get the tail out under power. The LSD seems superfluous in everyday driving, but for those with an interest in competing, it’ll prove a vital companion.

Other minor quibbles include brakes that can be a tad snatchy at low speeds – but which really are quite acceptable when really pushing on, and the molded door-mounted cup-holders, which really are only good for banging your knee on. There are two console-mounted cup-holders as in previous versions… how many bottles of water do you really need in a Miata?

At any rate, pricing for the new Miata starts at $27,995 for the GX, moving to $30,995 for the sport-oriented GS, and on to $33,995 for the leather-lined GT. The Limited actually seems quite a bargain compared to the GT; at $34,495, it's only $500 more for all the performance goodies, and the visual upgrades as well.

The question we’re all waiting for now is whether or not Mazda will push forward with a Mazdaspeed version in the near future. The answer at the launch was ‘no’, but given the company’s past actions, keep your eyes peeled in the next year or two.

DRIVEN: 2006 Mazda5

Story and Photos by Michael Banovsky

Remember when the minivan was mini? Better yet, remember the Nissan Axxess, the Toyota Van, and the original Honda Odyssey? (And the original Dodge Caravan, for that matter.) They were all from a time when the marketers were convinced that less was more.

That’s what Mazda would like you to think with their 2006 Mazda5. Part of the largest-growing segment across the globe – mini-MPVs – the Mazda5 is the first ‘mini’ to hit North America running.

It’s built off of Ford’s award-winning C1 platform – already seen here in the Mazda3 and Volvo S40/V50 – stretched a bit in all directions, and fitted with dual-sliding doors. It’s also fitted with Mazda’s sprightly 2.3L 4-cylinder engine, developing (in soccer dad guise) 157 horsepower and 148 lb/ft. of torque.

If it sounds anemic, it isn’t – with only one person on-board. Filled with people, luggage, or furniture, and it’s a bit challenged. Blame the lithe Japanese nation – anything more than two North American-sized adults and the engine sounds like a blender.With one person on board; however, it’s a hoot.

The manual gearbox has a long throw, which encourages full use of the engine. Handling is predictably predictable, right up to the limit. At the very low-low limit, the 5 displays (at first) somewhat unnerving characteristics.

I apologize to the trees that were scared in the making of this article. At the limit, a slight lift will bring out (not d0rift car levels here, folks) the tail, giving the sliding doors a better view of the road ahead. If you’ve driven a (BMW) Mini, it’s a similar at-the-limit feeling.

Because the 5 responds to a little bit of sliding, it’s much quicker in the corners than its large-van brethren, which just roll. The 5 rocks.

Inside, it’s standard-fare Japano-box construction (The only difference is that it’s in Mazda black). The first two rows are adjustable; all four seats have tilting backrests and are on sliders. The second row seats also fold forward sans-backrest to provide storage. When all three rows of seats are folded (yes, the six-passenger van that’s called the 5), the load area is cavernous.

Everyone I showed the 5 to was impressed. Basically, the 5 lets you to hold onto a long sweeper, your wife, and your kids. If DVD systems are entertainment for kids, the driving dynamics of the 5 are entertainment for adults.

If it doesn’t win AJAC’s coveted Car of the Year award, the voting journalists are probably too old and crotchety to understand.

Finally, the execution stays true to promise. Less is more.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

NEWS: Jeep Patriot and Jeep Compass Concepts

With files from DaimlerChrysler Canada

Jeep designers have gone to the extreme once again, creating two all-new sport-utility-vehicle (SUV) concepts that could expand the Jeep brand into new territory.

The Jeep Patriot and Jeep Compass concepts are compact Jeep 4x4s that would deliver fun, freedom, utility, capability, as well as the potential for exceptional fuel economy and interior flexibility – all at a great value. Making their debut at the 2005 International Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt, these concepts hint at two future compact SUVs that the Jeep brand could build for global markets as soon as next year.

With the potential for the powerful yet fuel-efficient all-new 2.4-liter World Engine and a state-of-the-art 2.0-liter diesel (for international markets), the Jeep Patriot and Jeep Compass concepts could be coupled with a new Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). All-new Jeep technology also would give these two concepts Jeep 4x4 capability.

The two very distinct interpretations of a compact Jeep complement each other, yet target different sets of customers who seek great value and fuel efficiency. The Jeep Patriot and Jeep Compass concepts would expand the brand’s global lineup, which includes Jeep Commander, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Jeep Liberty (Cherokee outside North America) and the legendary Jeep Wrangler.

Jeep Patriot Concept: A Modern Interpretation of Classic Jeep Styling

Strong and capable, the Patriot concept is unmistakably Jeep, designed to appeal to compact SUV buyers who want traditional Jeep styling with best-in-class off-road capability. Jeep Patriot is rugged, exuding the brand’s key attributes of mastery, authenticity, freedom and adventure, but would still offer exceptional fuel economy, interior flexibility and utility at a great value.

Painted Armour Green with black door handles, body-side moldings, black accents, dark tinted windows and a stiffer windshield, Jeep Patriot would be built for maximum cargo volume, rugged driving conditions and excellent utility. Four doors and a rear liftgate provide easy access to the Jeep Patriot concept’s spacious and functional interior.

Classic Jeep design cues include aggressive 17-inch off-road wheels and tires housed inside signature Jeep trapezoidal wheel openings. These combine with a raised roof rack that can hold additional gear to provide a no-nonsense, functional statement. Jeep Patriot’s higher beltline completes the vehicle’s protective profile.

The rear of the vehicle features an upright backlight and a bold bumper that further illustrate the Jeep Patriot concept’s interior spaciousness and add to its rugged appearance and capability.

Jeep Patriot not only looks like a Jeep, but all-new Jeep off-road technology would ensure Jeep Patriot could be a Trail Rated 4x4, which would make it the most capable vehicle in its class.

Jeep Compass Concept: A New Type of Jeep in a Contemporary Package

Sleek and sophisticated with a rally car toughness, the Jeep Compass concept would deliver Jeep fun, freedom and capability, broadening the global appeal of Jeep and attracting new buyers who might not have previously considered the brand.

True to Jeep’s signature design cues, the Jeep Compass concept features the brand’s signature seven-slot grille, round headlamps, large and capable fog lights and trapezoidal wheel openings.

A steeply raked windshield, an expressive hood, low-to-the ground stance, deep fascia, wire mesh grille texture and prominent lower intake give the Jeep Compass concept a powerful and capable appearance.

The Jeep Compass concept’s side profile is highly sculptured. Powerful fender forms exaggerate the Jeep Compass concept’s athletic stance, performance 19-inch wheels and red-line tires.

From the rear, a roof-mounted spoiler completes the Jeep Compass performance message. The deep fascia is uniquely styled to accommodate a large chrome dual exhaust system, which also reinforces an aggressive, performance-oriented character.