Wednesday, June 01, 2005

NEWS: Toyota and Nissan sales, BMW V10

By Michael Banovsky

Today’s news roundup is not particularly exciting (unless you enjoy graphs), so I’ve kept the numbers brief and saved the most interesting news for last.

Toyota sales

(TORONTO) ­ Toyota Canada Inc. (TCI) today announced that it has achieved an all-time record Canadian market share of 12.4 per cent, thanks to strong sales in the month of May.

Lexus set an all-time sales record with sales of 1,107; up 32.4 per cent for the month. Lexus car sales of 454 units are 33.9 per cent ahead of last May. Lexus truck sales set a new May record of 653 units and are 31.4 per cent better than a year ago.

“Outstanding customer demand for the new Lexus RX 400h gasoline/electric hybrid SUV has helped shatter sales records for the popular RX lineup,” said Stuart Payne, Director responsible for Lexus in Canada. “Strong sales of the ES and GS sedan lineups also helped propel Lexus to this record-breaking sales month.”


Best month ever for Echo lineup (Sedan and Hatchback), with 3,817 units, outselling last May by 8.4 per cent.
Best month ever for Matrix, as 2,878 units sold leap sales ahead by 35.8 per cent.
Tacoma truck sales of 663 units are ahead of last year by 212.7 per cent.
Total sales of Lexus RX SUVs reach an all-time high of 594 units, up 41.8 per cent.
Sales of 102 Lexus GS sedans are up significantly over last May.
Sales of 266 Lexus ES sedans are up by 26.7 per cent.

Nissan sales

(MISSISSAUGA) - Nissan Canada Inc. recorded a strong May, which follows a record setting April. Nissan Canada Inc. sold a total of 6,831 units, a 328 unit increase over May 2004.

Nissan division beats May 2004 numbers by 202 units.
Nissan division posts 3.4 per cent increase in April 2005 versus April 2004.
Nissan truck sales were strong with Frontier sales up 207.8 per cent over the previous May, selling 102 units.
X-Trail sales strong with 935 units sold this month.
Altima:1680 units sold.
Xterra continues its strong year with 265 units sold.
Infiniti Sales up 3.7 per cent in May 2005 with 847 units sold versus the previous Month when 816 units sold.
Infiniti sales up 17.4 per cent in May 2005 versus May 2004. Overall a 7 per cent increase in total sales by May 2004.
G35 sales continue strong with 528 units sold in May (an 11 unit increase over April
Infiniti sold a record 115 units of its all new M45 luxury sedans in May.

International Engine of the Year Award


BMW takes home a record six trophies in one year – haul includes the overall International Engine of the Year 2005 title for the M5 V10

BMW’s Formula One-inspired 5-litre V10 that powers the M5 and M6 super-sedan and super-coupe has been named the best engine in the world in the International Engine of the Year Awards 2005.

The Bavarian car maker, which has also won Awards for its M3 3.2-litre and its new twin-turbodiesel 3-litre in this year’s competition, walked away from the seventh annual International Engine of the Year Awards Presentation with a total of six trophies, the newly crowned V10 having also dominated the Best New Engine, Best Performance and Best Above 4-litre categories. The unit beat tough competition from rival and previous Awards’ winner Mercedes-AMG and from last year’s overall International Engine of the Year, the Toyota Prius 1.5-litre Hybrid Synergy Drive, which in 2005 has won the Best Fuel Economy and Best 1.4-litre to 1.8-litre categories.

Juror Van Tune, America’s most-watched TV automotive pundit said of the BMW 5-litre, now International Engine of the Year 2005: “Who in the world needs an Autobahn-eating 507bhp V10 with a bloodthirsty battle cry that frightens Ferraris, but morphs into a dutiful pussycat in city traffic? You and I do, of course.” Van Tune was one of 56 motoring journalists from 26 countries who voluntarily give their time to choose the greatest powerplants in the world.

Elsewhere in this prestigious contest, the 1.3-litre Multijet turbodiesel that was jointly developed by Fiat and GM took the 1-litre to 1.4-litre honours, while Honda’s Insight 1-litre hybrid won the sub 1-litre category for the sixth consecutive year. The Japanese firm’s 2.2-litre turbodiesel won the Best 2-litre to 2.5-litre sector.

BMW wasn’t the only German manufacturer to experience success with its performance engines: Volkswagen’s Golf GTi 2-litre FSI turbo engine topped the 1.8-litre to 2-litre class.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

DRIVEN: 2005 Suzuki Aerio Sedan

Story and Photos by Michael Banovsky

It started to make sense only last night. Well, this morning if staying out ‘till 3:00 a.m. constitutes feelings of an early morning trip to the washroom, and not tooting around in the chemical epicenter of North America.

I was trying my hardest to make the Aerio look interesting. Set against a bleak backdrop of the land of chemical spills and towers that rise high into the night sky to belch smoke, the Aerio looked even less imposing. Its black paint seemed to suck in light instead of reflect it, making it look more like half a black hole than a $20,000 car.

Since I picked it up I’ve been trying to decide what to call it. I found out on a run to Mosport International Raceway that it’s not an economy car – a discrepancy that’s down to the engine not being broken in (I don’t believe it), to me going the speed of traffic (somewhat likely), to Suzuki’s claim that it will do 40 mpg (bingo). It’s also not a small car in the traditional sense.

If you will, visualize something between a Toyota Echo Sedan and a Honda Civic. That’ll get you the Aerio’s length. It’s as wide as a Mazda3 and as tall as a small van. So while from the beltline down it looks athletic and purposeful, from the beltline up it looks like a domed aquarium.

The Suzuki has something I alluded to earlier with the van comment. The seats are upright, like in a van. The view out the front is all glass, and the ‘windowettes’ in front of the doors are pure Pontiac Transport, circa 1989. So you either feel like you’re in a van or really, really tall when you drive it. It truly affords a commanding view of the road. And, because you sit upright, putting one foot on the dead-pedal and one on the accelerator is more like being in a Lazy-Boy than driving a car.

I don’t need to explain what a whole lot of metal and glass sitting on top of the generous 185/65/R14 tires does for handling. To be fair, it’s much better than I thought it would be. Then again, I also agreed with my friend who said it would roll like a football at the sight of a corner.

It can be fun, I’ll admit – mostly because the high driving position affords a view of an apex that would make Ricky Carmichael jealous. It’s pointy and tossable until the grip runs out, and then the car – instead of understeering – does its best impression of an oil rig off the Grand Banks…in a heavy storm.

If the heavy listing doesn’t discourage your fun, you’ll be pleased to notice that poking the gas pedal makes the Aerio scoot. Its twin-cam 2.3L inline-4 cylinder engine is rated at 155 horsepower – until recently the most horsepower per dollar you could get in a car. But while the engine does have a nice output, the vibrations and buzzing caused by putting your foot down make the power best suited to racing cabbies – and not Hondas – off of stop lights.

But then again I said I had this car figured out, didn’t I? And honestly, all this talk of handling and power don’t mean anything to the people who should be buying this car. My friends and I aren’t really in the target market – and no matter how funky and cool Suzuki tried to make the Aerio, it’s not a youth car.

So my father and I hopped into the Aerio and took it to my grandparents’ house for my grandmother’s birthday. This was the test. My grandfather is used to driving large sedans and trucks (his current fleet is an older Chevrolet S10 and a 1989 Lincoln Continental). I imagine the sight of his son and grandson pulling into the driveway in a small Japanese car was a bit out of the ordinary.

Surprisingly, it didn’t take much arm-wrangling to get him behind the driver’s seat. I turned off the stereo, closed the windows, and let the A/C whisper softly as he backed out of the driveway. “So what do you think, grandpa?” I asked. “It’s really nice,” he said. He accelerated down the street and stopped at the corner. It was rush hour. He turned without difficulty, and started to drive down one of the busiest streets in the city.

My grandpa loved the high driving position, the windowettes, the power, and – unexpectedly – remarked at how solid the car was. I mentioned the sunglasses holder above the driver’s door, the automatic climate control, CD player, dual front and side airbags, power everything, and the fold-down rear seats. Then came the question of price.

“$21,195, grandpa.”

“Well [in 1990], my Lincoln was $30,000,” he said.

I think he was sold. It’s just a good thing I didn’t tell him how comprehensive the warranty is. You might be thinking that this was just a gimmick – yes, my grandfather’s approval was too convenient when you thought I was going to hate the car.

No, I don’t hate it. It’s an awesome little car; but like anything, it helps to see things from a different perspective. The Aerio does everything a car should do. Truthfully, I haven’t seen my grandfather handle his Lincoln like he did the Aerio. Everything just fit, fell into place, whatever.

That brings me back to Sarnia’s Chemical Valley, where I figured out that the Aerio is a perfect car for older people, and people who need to take short trips around town. Canada’s population is ageing, much like the thousands of smoke stacks that light up this end of town. They just need a good car, so they can spend the rest of their time on enjoying life. Thank goodness the Aerio passed the test.

Just before we left my grandparents’ house, my father remarked that the car was “a bit ugly.”

“I think it’s cute,” my grandmother said. Case closed.

DRIVEN: Suzuki Aerio SX AWD

Story by Mark Atkinson
Photos courtesy Suzuki Canada

The Aerio sedan is only one half of Suzuki’s compact offering – the other is the sportier five-door SX hatchback.

Mechanically, the two are identical, sharing the 155-horsepower 2.3-litre DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder engine, with either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. Visually, all SX models differentiate themselves from the more plebian sedan thanks to an 'Aero' kit, which features side skirts along with front and rear air dams, fog lights and 15-inch aluminum wheels. And of course the tall-wagon styling.

The SX is Suzuki’s more sporty offering – compared to the sedan, at least – and is the only model available with full-time all-wheel-drive, albeit only with the automatic. It's certainly a benign system, allowing you to put your foot down anywhere without having to deal with torque steer, and really makes the SX fun and secure to drive in nastier weather.

However, the AWD does bring forward a large penalty: weight. The curb weight for a front-wheel-drive manual transmission SX comes in at 1,214kg. When you add the automatic transmission, it adds another 25kg. The AWD system then tacks on a significant 91kg to the final tally.

This means the SX AWD has a certain 'point-and-shoot' quality about it, asking to be flogged and coming back for more. It’s not razor sharp by any stretch – in fact, it feels like a much larger, more mature car thanks to the extra weight and suspension tuning. There is a fair amount of body roll built in, but Suzuki isn’t pitching the Aerio as their next sports car.

Thankfully, the SX AWD doesn’t suffer too badly in the fuel economy stakes compared to its lighter siblings: 29 mpg (vs. 30) in town, and 37 mpg (vs. 40) on the highway.

The cabin itself is well designed, with some clever touches throughout, and the seats are comfortable, if lacking in side support. One complaint leveled at Suzuki when the Aerio first hit the street was the absence of tilt steering. That’s now been rectified, but it’s still a tight fit for taller drivers – the upright seating position and the limited seat travel means the steering wheel is still awfully low.

Small complaints aside, what Suzuki has done is position the SX AWD into a corner of the market that no one currently occupies – the small, five-door hatchback with all-wheel-drive segment. Alright, I suppose Subaru comes closest with its Impreza 2.5 RS Sport Wagon, but the Aerio’s upright styling will fit larger objects more easily in the cargo area thanks to the Subie’s trademark angled rear window.

And even though the base price of the Impreza wagon is $1,000 less than the $23,995 Suzuki is asking for the Aerio SX AWD, the former is fairly stripped compared to the latter’s very long feature list.

Standard equipment on the SX includes ABS with EBD (electronic brake force distribution), AM/FM/CD changer with six speakers and subwoofer, cruise control, climate control, a height-adjustable driver's seat, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a ton more. All-wheel-drive is the only option available.

If we had our way, Suzuki would be offering a five-speed manual with all-wheel-drive, a slightly tauter and sportier suspension tune. Perhaps a turbo too. Maybe even a full-on WRX fighter, and paint it bright yellow like the Suzuki rally cars.

Greedy? Oh yes. Dreaming? Certainly. But if Suzuki’s spending money on a program like that, why not capitalize on its competition success?

But while we’re waiting for a day that will most likely never happen, the Suzuki Aerio SX AWD will continue to sell to those looking for reliable, comfortable and somewhat different transportation, with the added bonus of all-wheel-drive.

Monday, May 30, 2005

SNEAK PEEK: Facelifted Subaru Impreza WRX STi

By Mark Atkinson

Well, as you can tell by these unofficial photos, it appears that Subaru's new corporate 'face', already seen on the new B9 Tribeca, is being applied to the rest of the company's range.

As these pictures can attest, the Impreza is gaining a 'nip and tuck' - the second in its four-year lifespan. The new model features the upside down horse-collar grille flanked by two extra vents, and the headlights take on a more aggressive appearance.

The hoodscoop is smaller as well, something that plagued the previous (current) version.

No word on mechanical upgrades, but there is strength behind rumours that claim the WRX will gain the de-tuned 2.5-liter engine - the one found in the Forester XT and the Legacy GT - and do away with the 2.0-liter unit used for years... What is certain, though, is that the car should be even more entertaining to drive, even if the redesign isn't to everyone's tastes.

The rest of the Impreza model line should receive the updates as well, including the TS and RS sedans and wagons.