Wednesday, May 25, 2005

NEWS: Mazda Launches Production Version of Mazda MX-Crossport Concept

With Files from Mazda Canada
Photo by Mark Atkinson

Mazda North American Operations today announced that the MX-Crossport concept car, which debuted earlier this year at the 2005 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan, will formally move from concept to production vehicle. The company also confirmed that the vehicle will be named the Mazda CX-7.

Featured at a number of global auto shows in the past few months, including the Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto, the MX-Crossport has received high-praise from the public for its Zoom-Zoom exterior styling and driver-oriented interior. The production version, which will be built in Japan, will pick up many of the concept car’s design themes when it goes into production in 2006. It will be launched first in the North American market, and Mazda will continue to study launch feasibility in other global markets. Additional product information and launch timings will be made available as the year progresses.

In Mazda’s new global naming strategy, crossover-type, sport utility vehicles will carry the CX designation—as in Mazda CX-7; rotary engined sports cars carry the RX designation (RX-8) and piston-engined sports cars carry the MX designation (MX-5, as will be seen on the all-new 2006 MX-5 Miata). Core production vehicles will continue to carry the name ‘Mazda’ and a number, based on vehicle size (Mazda2, Mazda3, Mazda5, Mazda6); Tribute, MPV and B-Series Truck will continue with their current nomenclature until further notice.

DRIVEN: 2005 Jeep Liberty CRD

Story and photos by Mark Atkinson

The Jeep Liberty has become a familiar sight on Canadian roads since replacing the original Cherokee back in 2002. By switching to a unibody chassis, incorporating independent front suspension and offering a new V6 to replace the old inline unit, the middle rung on the Jeep ladder was immediately more competitive with its rivals.

On road, at least. Off road, it would scare them silly. The Liberty was still designed to be a Jeep, which means skid plates, optimized approach and departure angles, high ground clearance, and everything else neede for a day of rock crawling. And most importantly, the Liberty features a ‘real’ four-wheel-drive system that uses a traditional transfer case and locking differentials rather than the part or full-time all-wheel-drive that characterizes most ‘soft-roaders.’

For 2005, Jeep has given the Liberty a mid-life facelift, which incorporates the usual freshening of headlights, the trademark seven-slat grill and front fascia, along with different wheels. It’s a tasteful difference, although certainly not extreme. It’s still very obviously a Liberty.

In fact, the most appealing thing Jeep offers for 2005 isn’t apparent from the outside. You have to raise the hood and take a peek at the engine that could hopefully spark a revolution in North America.

It’s a diesel.

Now, for those of you who haven’t stopped reading because of some traumatic event involving one of GM’s old gasoline-turned-diesel V8 anchors from the ‘80s or a glow-plug equipped U-Haul van, stay with me. The 2.8-liter 16-valve, four-cylinder, direct-injection common-rail diesel, features the very latest in clean-burn technology. It’s a Detroit Diesel-built unit, rather than one of Mercedes-Benz’, and has served the European market for some time.

In North America, the Liberty CRD, as it’s called, offers 160 horsepower, which doesn’t sound like much, until you consider the 295 lb-ft of torque that comes along with it (at a low 1,800 rpm). The 3.7-litre gasoline V6 only puts out 235 lb-ft at its peak. Channeled through a new five-speed automatic transmission – well, more like a four-speed with two second gears – that’s exclusive to the diesel unit, the Jeep offers ‘right-now’ power no matter what you’re doing.

While the zero to 100 km/h run isn’t stellar compared to the gasoline unit – few diesels really like that test – in-gear and part-throttle acceleration is stunning, meaning you can pass slow-moving traffic with ease, and steep hills generally don’t even require a downshift. The Liberty CRD is also rated to tow 5,000 lbs, making it quite the hauler for a small SUV.

Fuel economy numbers are impressive, with Jeep claiming a 30 per cent reduction in fuel economy as compared to a similarly sized gasoline unit. For my week spent with the CRD, it was the first time I didn’t have to fill up a Liberty mid-week, despite the liberal application of the ‘go’ pedal. Getting near 600 km to a tank with mostly in-town driving was highly impressive.

There is a small noise penalty paid as the CRD exhibits some of its diesel brethren’s clatter and whirr on idle and during acceleration, although once underway, it’s barely noticeable.

The rest of the package is typical Liberty, which means relatively nimble handling, great turning circle, decent brakes and more grip in the corners than you give it credit for. The interior amenities were numerous in our Limited 4x4 tester, including power sunroof, ABS, AM/FM/CD player with a GPS unit, side-curtain airbags, vehicle information center, etc., etc.

Pricing for the Liberty CRD is broad, mainly because there are so many different options you can choose to outfit your Jeep with. The CRD itself is a $1,990 option on the highest-spec model, the Limited 4x4, so the entry price is already near the top end of the model range.

The CRD option also forces you to select the $275 five-speed automatic. So a base-priced Liberty CRD Limited 4x4 runs $36,935. Our tester also featured the $1,895 six-speaker AM/FM Stereo with CD player and GPS Navigation; the $590 overhead mini console with trip computer, HomeLink and Vehicle Information centre; the $1,050 power sunroof; and the very trick $155 rear cargo organizer that flips and folds away in the cargo area, making the most of the Liberty's small hatch. And just about everything else Jeep could throw at it.

If you tick all the option boxes, including the Trac-Lok rear differential, the tire-pressure monitoring display, and power heated and colour-coded mirrors, you could conceivably end up paying $42,495, including $1,050 destination fee. It’s a pretty price to pay for a small SUV, but tallying up the benefits of extra range and all that torque – plus its genuine off-road credentials – the Liberty CRD makes a good case for occupying space in your driveway.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

NEWS: Victoria Day Roundup!

By Michael Banovsky
Photos courtesy their respective manufacturers.

So much news, so little time. While we were sipping iced cappuccinos and watching fireworks, one of the most exciting cars in recent memory was released, a still-yet-to-be-made car *might* get a hardtop, the New Beetle II was shown, Saab production will move, and Porsche discussed their hybrid plans. Whew...

Porsche Cayman S

Isn't this awesome? The first small crocodile let into Porsche showrooms will be the S, with a 295 horsepower, 3.4L flat-6. 0-100km/h will be in 5.1 seconds, with a max speed of 171 mph (275 km/h). Eighteen-inch wheels and stability control are standard. Options include the Tiptronic automatic and Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM).

Not optional is a luggage area twice as big as the Boxster's... Prices for the Cayman rise about 10 per cent over the equivalent Boxster, so expect to pay around $84,900 if you want the first one on your block.

Hardtop Solstice?

Sources and suppliers have confirmed Pontiac will offer a hardtop for their Solstice Sports car - in order for the car to compete in SCCA club events. The new car will fit into SCCA B-Stock competition against the Miata, or in the Grand-Am Cup's ST class with the BMW 330 and Mazda RX-8.

Pontiac also showed a fixed hardtop version called the Solstice GT recently, under evaluaction for a 2007 introduction. The next variant; however, will be an Opel version for export to Europe.

Time to trade in your Fiero...

New New Beetle

It was going to happen sooner or later. The New New Beetle (or Beetle II, New Beetle+, or whatever) will now feature the same 2.5L 5 cylinder engine as found in the new Jetta. The engine makes 150 horsepower, and will scoot the Bug 0-100 km/h in about 7 seconds. Even better news? It's the base engine.

And you've seen the styling changes before: the Beetle does a Lindsay Lohan-like transformation from Disney movie child star to bedroom pinup with accents found on the VW Ragster concept shown at the Detroit International Auto Show 2005.

Saab production of the 9-5 will move to an Opel plant in Russelsheim, Germany. The move will happen in 2008, and the 9-5 will join the Saab 9-3 in Germany. Saab's Trollhattan, Sweden plant? It will make 'niche' vehicles with a total output of 20-40,000 cars per year.

Porsche's hybrid plans will be announced at the Frankfurt auto show in September. While the production version will not be shown, Porsche will announce whose system they will use. Toyota, Volkswagen, and DaimlerChrysler hybrid drives are under consideration. Expect the hybrid powertrain on the Cayenne... Or maybe a Carrera EV.