Thursday, July 07, 2005

NEWS: Ford GT to be Sold in Canada

With files from Ford of Canada

TORONTO, ON – For the first time, the Ford GT supercar will be available for sale in Canada, Ford Motor Company of Canada, Ltd., announced today. Race fans can catch their first glimpse of the incredible 550-horsepower Ford GT in action at the Canadian Champ Car World Series races in Toronto (July 10), Edmonton (July 17) and MontrĂ©al (August 28).

Ford of Canada will offer 200 unique, limited production Canadian cars for sale during the 2006 model year after working with Markham, Ont.-based automotive supplier Multimatic Inc. to customize the vehicle to Canadian standards.

“Multimatic is extremely pleased to be working with Ford of Canada to bring one of the world’s best supercars to Canadians. Having worked with Ford on the original development of the Ford GT concept vehicles, it is great to see that our partnership will bring this exclusive car to Canada,” said Hao Wang, assistant general manager, Multimatic Technical Centre. Multimatic supplies components, systems and engineering services to the global automotive industry and has operating divisions in North America and Europe with partners in Asia, South America and Australia.

The Ford GT motor, based on the largest V-8 in Ford’s modular engine family, features 85 per cent new moving parts and produces 550 horsepower and 500 feet-pound of torque.

The 5.4-litre powerplant is all-aluminum and fed by an Eaton screw-type supercharger. It features 4-valve cylinder heads and forged components, including the crankshaft, H-beam connecting rods and aluminum pistons. Power is put to the road through a Ricardo six-speed manual transaxle featuring a helical limited-slip differential.

Major features on the GT include Brembo monoblock brake calipers; one-piece BBS wheels 46 cm (18-inch) front, 48 cm (19-inch) rear; Goodyear Eagle F1 supercar tires; carbon-fibre bucket seats with ventilated leather seating surfaces; 6-speed manual transmission; AM/FM stereo with CD; bi-xenon headlamps; fog lamps; driver and passenger front air bags; ABS; leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel; passive anti-theft system; power exterior mirrors, windows and door locks; air conditioning; remote keyless entry and rear window defroster.

Pricing has yet to be announced, but don’t expect much change from $300,000 after taxes.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

DRIVEN: 2005 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T 4Motion

By Michael Banovsky
Photos by Michael Banovsky

If you’ve flown anywhere in the last oh, say 20 years or so, you should be familiar with the Boeing 767. The first variant, the 767-200, was originally launched in 1978 and produced from 1981 to 1984. Most worldwide airlines still use them extensively for long-range journeys. In fact, it even broke the flying distance record for twin-engined aircraft several times.

The only problem with the aircraft (besides having its origins in the Jimmy Carter presidency) is that its chief rival, the Airbus A330, practically killed the 767 in the commercial jetliner business.

So what does all of this have to do with the 2005 Volkswagen Passat 4Motion? I’ll get to that later.

I’ve never driven a car as anonymous as the Passat. Forget beige Toyota Corollas and silver Honda Accords, the Volkswagen Passat will get you unnoticed. Walking up to it while the lights flash as the doors unlock is like finding a wanted man.

Think about it: All of the artist’s renderings of what criminals look like now, 10 years after the deed, have a bit of someone you know built into them. Your wife’s eyes, your best friend’s nose, the cable guy’s hairline. But they never add up to anyone specific. The Passat is the man on the 6 o’clock news, ten years later – and all grown up.

Because while its rivals have been introducing hybrid drives and sharper styling, Volkswagen engineers haven’t done more than nip and tuck the Passat since its 1998 introduction. So the current car is yes…gasp…almost seven years old. That means I was just entering high school when it came onto the market.

I won’t describe the year-by-year changes since its introduction, because they’re rather boring. The Passat did briefly feature the much-vaunted W8 engine, but the projected customers were already too attached to their BMWs.

The important thing to consider is that when Hyundai, Subaru, Honda, Nissan, Toyota, Ford, Chevrolet, Chrysler, and Mazda were designing their current-generation cars, the Passat was sitting in their laboratories being dissected. It’s that build quality, those materials, and this comfort customers want.

Think rubber-coated switches are neat? Red gauges? Vibration-damped door handles? Side airbags? Traction control? Volkswagen pretty much brought those touches to the masses as standard, circa 1998.

Its been around so long that some of its parts have found a home in more exciting automobiles. The 170 horsepower 1.8L turbocharged inline-4 cylinder engine? Found in the 180 and 225 horsepower Audi TT in a slightly different tune. Its 4Motion all-wheel-drive is merely a re-badged version of Audi’s World Rally Championship-winning Quattro system. Other interior parts have found their way into other VW-group cars, and for good reason: in 1998, there was no Phaeton or Touareg. The Passat was the top-of-the-line Volkswagen.

So back to those airliners. Just last weekend I took the Passat, my girlfriend, and some luggage to Montreal. On the highway this car is a gem. The seats kept me fresh and un-cramped for 6 hours. The steering was nice and light. The centre armrest could be extended to support my right arm. The glovebox is air-conditioned. The rear sun shade kept the interior relatively cool. Simply put, the car was rock-solid (both inside and out).

The accommodations are very much like a Boeing 767 jet. So instead of getting a container ship full of cup holders, there’s two. Instead of integrated power plugs for your cell phone, you get a cigarette lighter.

In fact, if you don’t mind throwing all of your crap in the trunk, you’ll be amazed to find that other than the two cupholders and door bins, there’s practically no room for anything else. Where competitors have fitted a coin holder, VW gives you an ashtray. Where other midsize cars have under-armrest storage for CDs, VW gives you two slots – both big enough for even the largest packet of sugarfree gum. So it really is like an airliner, then.

On the highway, I did Toronto-to-Montreal on half a tank of (recommended) 91 octane gas. So impressive is the fuel consumption that the trip gauge was (for about 45 minutes) showing increased range.

At just-below-what-the-police-set-their-guns-for, the Passat is gold. I think for the highway portion I was averaging about 7L/100km – or a real-world range of slightly over 700 kilometers. Not bad for a non-diesel, non-hybrid car.

But as soon as the Passat enters the city, things change. The turbo, usually dormant on the highway, starts pushing you into the seat like a jet does on takeoff. The steering becomes numb, and the gearshift an anesthesiologist’s wet dream. It becomes an airplane taxiing into a gate. In other words, in the city it’s absolutely useless.

So as Boeing watched their market share dwindle with the 767, so did Volkswagen with the Passat. With each, the competition simply caught up. But both companies have a plan: Boeing has the upcoming 787, and Volkswagen the new Passat.

For the 767 and the current Passat, its successors are considerably roomier, quieter, and even more capable. But the reason for spending almost $39,000 on a largely outdated model is that, like the 767, the things that made it so successful in the first place are still there. The features and engineering that made the Passat a benchmark in the mid-size pack are all packed under its German skin.

On the right road, with the cruise control set and the stereo tuned into smooth jazz, the Passat does the most convincing impression in its class of an airliner. For those who don’t mind its obvious shortcomings, your flight has arrived.

Monday, July 04, 2005

NEWS: Hyundai climbs J.D.’s scale

By Michael Banovsky
Photo courtesy J.D. Power

Another year, another survey. Don’t ask us why Mercury is ranked higher than Honda… But you can’t argue with the industry’s two biggest improvements: Porsche and Hyundai. Hyundai’s press release is as follows:

“Hyundai displayed dramatic improvement in the 2005 J.D. Power and Associates Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS) with an industry-leading reduction in problems reported by owners. Problems per 100 Hyundai vehicles declined by 31 percent, and Hyundai moved up 12 places in the nameplate rankings.

“Hyundai has dedicated itself to quality over the past several years, and this year’s Vehicle Dependability Study ranking demonstrates the results of this emphasis on quality,” stated Steve Kelleher, President and CEO of Hyundai Auto Canada. “We understand that quality is the number-one priority for Canadian consumers, and we’ve responded with constantly improving initial quality rankings, and now a dramatic improvement in long-term dependability.”