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.