Thursday, June 30, 2005

NEWS: Toyota gets bigger

By Michael Banovsky

Well, it’s no secret that Toyota intends to fight the “Big 3” on their own soil – in fact, nearly all of their cars sold in North America are produced here. And after a fierce bidding war between Ontario communities, Woodstock was on top of the lumber pile. Press release is as follows:

“WOODSTOCK, Ontario (June 30, 2005) – Toyota announced today that it will construct a new plant here employing 1,300 team members to build the RAV4 sport utility vehicle. The new plant represents an approximate C$800 million/US$650 million investment and will be Toyota’s second Canadian assembly plant. It is the first green field automotive assembly facility in Canada in almost 20 years.

Additionally, Toyota announced an expansion of Canadian Autoparts Toyota, Inc. (CAPTIN) in Delta, British Columbia. As a result of the C$39.0 million/US$31.6 million expansion, wheel capacity at the facility will increase by nearly 17 percent per year, starting in July 2007.

The new plant will open in 2008 and will have the capacity to build 100,000 units annually. Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Canada, Inc. (TMMC) in nearby Cambridge, Ontario, will manage the plant. TMMC builds the Toyota Corolla and Matrix and the Lexus RX330 in Cambridge, where it employs 4,300 team members.

This new facility will boost Toyota’s manufacturing employment in Ontario to about 5,600.

By 2008, Toyota will have the annual capacity to build 1.76 million cars and trucks, 1.44 million engines, and 600,000 automatic transmissions in North America. The company’s direct employment is 37,000 and direct investment is nearly US$16.6 billion with annual purchasing of parts, materials, goods and services from North American suppliers totaling nearly US$25 billion. Toyota’s North American-produced vehicles include the Avalon, Camry, Corolla, Matrix, Sienna, Solara, Sequoia, Tacoma, Tundra,
and the Lexus RX330.”

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

DRIVEN: 2005 Hyundai Tuscon

By Michael Banovsky
Photos by Michael Banovsky

I must admit that the guys at the office were laughing at me. Not because the new Hyundai Tuscon a cute-ute, not because the other two testers usually get things with big engines, and not because it looked like a Tonka toy.

They were laughing at me because of its colour.

Hyundai calls it “Aqua Silver”, and it reminds me of an old linoleum floor my grandparents had in their kitchen. I think it reminded my colleagues of their grandparents’ kitchens, too.

I could care less, really. I’m not an SUV person, and no amount of car-like handling will persuade me otherwise. The newest form of SUV, the mini-SUV, is kinda like a restaurant saying its pies are homemade. I know it’s reheated frozen dough, and so do you – so why are you giving me the impression your mother slaved over a wood stove all morning?

It’s the same with these mini-SUVs. I know it won’t handle, be as efficient, or perform like a car – and so do you – so why are you saying any different?

But alas, as soon as I saw the console-mounted purse hook I knew the final judgement wasn’t mine.

See, my girlfriend is the target market for the Hyundai Tuscon. She’s 20-something, has a relatively good job, and is fresh out of university. She owns a few knock-off Louis Vuitton purses, calls her friends “divas”, and wears entirely impractical footwear.

Since I started at Inside Track, she has been bombarded by words like “apex”, “braking point”, and “drafting”. To her credit, I think she’s beginning to understand some parts of auto racing. Hell, I even explained downforce and lift to her by having her curl her outstretched hand out of the passenger window of the Tuscon.

But I know as hard as I try – and as hard as she tries to listen – there will be some things she won’t get. Shortly after I went on a tirade about the Tuscon’s “he-told-me-they’re-leather” seats and really sloppy automatic transmission with useless tap-shift controls, she discovered the purse hook.

I think the word is “sold”.

She was impressed by the off-line performance of the 2.7L 6 cylinder engine (as seen in the Tiburon), and the chunky styling, but was more scared than usual at my off-ramp antics – suitably controlled by my tester’s Electronic Stability Program (ESP).

Okay, okay. It’s not a performance car. BMW and Infiniti would never have come up with the purse holder or the reclining rear seats... or the in-door cupholders big enough to swallow my morning banana and strawberry soy smoothie. The glass lifts independently of the tailgate, too – another detail my girlfriend loved.

For the as-tested price of $28,725, the Tuscon delivered above-average levels of fit, finish, and performance. But unfortunately, like my recently-tested Tiburon, the weak point was its drivetrain. Oh right… I suppose the target audience won’t care about that, will they?

They’ll care about the little interior details and the fact that visibility and parking are great (two areas women on the go appreciate above all else.)

But back to the knockoff purses I mentioned. What is the point in having something that looks the part when it won’t be able to do any of the things that made the original brand famous in the first place?

Why have a mini-SUV that’s hapless off-road and compromised on-road?

Because – like my girlfriend’s “Louie” – it’s the look that counts. The Tuscon, then, can be likened to paying for a car and getting an Aqua Silver mini-truck.

Yeah, she loved the colour, too.

DRIVEN: 2005 Hyundai Tiburon

By Michael Banovsky
Photos by Michael Banovsky

I’m breaking the rules here.

It’s actually the little matter of journalistic integrity – a matter not very little at all. Unlike the politicians, I haven’t taken bribes, jumped parties, misspent public money or fast-tracked strippers into the country.

I’m using quotes without a source. Which, as my teachers told me, is a big no-no. Whoops.

Well try telling that to a hoard of race fans at the Montreal Grand Prix (the only F1 race in North America). With temperatures hovering north of 40 degrees Celsius, everyone was running for the comfort of their air-conditioned cars. None of which, of course, were as bright red as the Hyundai Tiburon Tuscani I was driving.

Back to the un-authourized sources. I didn’t get their names, because it really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

The important thing – at least to Hyundai – is the following. During the GP weekend, seven (!) people walked up to me and asked what exactly the blushing Korean was. These were not the uneducated, beer-slinging, Montel-appearing masses. These were race fans.

The Tiburon has been on the market in a couple of forms over the last few years, starting out as a pretty little prince of a car (that only women seemed attracted to), which then was turned into some sort of bug-eyed frog. For this latest generation; however, the looks have been subtly pieced together from a wide variety of other cars.

The details are all Audi TT – even the climate control seems shamelessly reverse-engineered – and the profile is a cross between a Nissan (Datsun) 240Z and a Ferrari 550 Maranello.

It all works rather well, and to Hyundai’s credit, they take no kudos for the design. Except, of course, the modest chrome “Hyundai” on the Tiburon’s behind. All major exterior badges are a big “T” – for Tuscani, the name of my tester’s trim level.

It worked flawlessly. Without the melted capital-H logo and a huge (optional) rear wing, my people (the race fans) thought that the car was far more upscale than its $28,000 price tag suggested.

At that price, it is the cheapest GT car on the market.

Yes, I said Grand Touring. Just like an Aston Martin or something equally as expensive. It’s not cheap – the interior trim and surface finishing is aimed at Mercedes-Benz – if not Japanese – levels. No, I mean it is capable of soaking up kilometers faster than a downpour.

Consider this: I drove six hours to Toronto directly after sitting in the Montreal sun for seven hours on Sunday. We didn’t stop for gas. My ever home-improving father had no complaints of back pain (and even slept a few winks.) In fact, his first impressions of the car confirmed that it was far better suited to long-legged cruising than his luggage-limited Audi TT coupe.

There are some bad bits, though – namely the engine. Kudos to Hyundai for making the equivalent of a Fisherman’s Friend wrapped in a Ferrero Rocher wrapper. The engine is not particularly powerful at 170 horsepower, and is even more anemic when you consider that all the empty space in the engine block adds up to 2.7L.

The other sour note was the notchy gearbox. I am not one to speculate the benefit of fitting a short-shifter, but I was tempted to fork over my own money for something – anything – to improve shift feel.

Other than those minor problems, the Tiburon was excellent fun to drive. Without gobs of tire-shredding power, the handling was all about balance and finesse. It had no more power than is necessary. There was no torque steer all weekend – thankfully.

At any rate, the combination of stellar looks and a first-class cabin makes the Tiburon the king of the compact GT class. What is the compact GT class, you ask?

Well, it was summed up by one Montreal parking attendant.

“I know, I know…you’ve got an expensive car,” he said. “And you don’t want anybody parked beside you. Here, park next to the shack and I’ll watch it for you.”

Finally, Hyundai’s shark is worthy of the name Tiburon.

Monday, June 27, 2005

NEWS: 2006 Mazda Miata pricing

By Michael Banovsky

Okay, I know many of you are itching to see how far your Solo2 budget can stretch next year, and if…if you can be the first between the cones to have a DIY turbo kit for the all-new Miata.

Good news: The new Miata starts at $27,995 (the same price as this years’ model), up to $33,995 for the luxo-spec. Press release is as follows:

“Mazda Canada will offer the 2006 MX-5 in three versions: GX, GS and GT.

“The 2006 MX-5 Miata GX is ideal for driving enthusiasts looking for an
affordable sports car. Standard equipment includes a 170-horsepower,
2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing; 5-speed manual
transmission; 16-inch alloy wheels with 205/50R tires; 4-wheel disc
brakes; front and rear stabilizer bars; power windows and door locks;
AM/FM/CD with 6-speakers and steering wheel mounted audio controls; tilt
steering, cruise control, keyless entry and fog lamps. Starting at $27,995
the 2006 MX-5 is the same price as the 2005 model, but has even more
standard features. A new 6-speed sport-shift automatic transmission, air
conditioning and a detachable hard top are available options.

For sports car lovers who are especially looking for an exhilarating
driving experience Mazda Canada offers the 2006 MX-5 GS. Upgrades from the
GX model include a 6-speed manual transmission; 17-in alloy wheels with
205/45R 17 tires; anti-lock brakes (ABS); limited slip differential (LSD);
dynamic stability control (DSC); strut tower bar; sport tuned suspension
with Bilstein shock absorbers. The price of the 2006 MX-5 GS is $30,995.
Air conditioning and a detachable hard top are available options.

If luxurious amenities are of prime importance then the 2006 MX-5 GT is
available. The GT model comes equipped with a 6-speed manual transmission;
17-inch alloy wheels with 205/45R 17 tires; ABS; strut tower bar; Xenon
(HID) headlights; heated leather seats; cloth convertible top (vinyl on GX
and GS); air conditioning; side airbags; smart card keyless entry and
Bose® audio system with 7-speakers. 2006 MX-5 Miata GT models start at
$33,995. A new, 6-speed automatic transmission with steering wheel mounted
paddle shifters is available as an option, as is a detachable hard top.”