Are you of an age that the expressions “three on the tree” and “four on the floor” actually mean something? 

Prepare to have your mind blown. 

Just the other day Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. signed an agreement under which both companies will jointly develop an all-new generation of advanced technology 9- and 10-speed automatic transmissions for cars, crossovers, SUVs and trucks. 

The new transmissions, to be built in both front- and rear-wheel drive variants, will improve vehicle performance and increase fuel economy. 

And how many remember that for improved fuel economy, manual transmission, not automatic used to be the (preferred) way to go?

Where will it all end?



Other than this being a pop culture reference from a decade or two ago in the comparison of a value-priced detergent and the (at the time) number one selling brand, blind tests have been a tried and tested form of instant affirmation of a brand’s status – regardless of the product.

And so it was one morning in early fall as the leaves were beginning to turn that a small group of automotive journalists made their way to Mosport, now more correctly referred to as Canadian Tire Motorsports Park or CTMP near Bowmanville, Ontario.

We were here to test a Sailun Tire against a very popular competitor in the Canadian marketplace.

Initially assembled in the now demolished Castrol control tower, we sat and listened, made notes as we were told the story of Sailun Tires, their origins and future plans – specifically in Canada.

To many of you reading this, Sailun is a typo, a name not currently in your lexicon – automotive or otherwise. And for the most part, that was pretty close to the mark for the assembled auto writers in the room. In fact, employees and technicians of Sailun painfully outnumbered writers.

Some had heard of the brand before, but no-one had any direct experience. Or had ever knowingly driven any vehicle clad with Sailun rubber before. There was a palpable nervous chuckle and anxious glances at this fact from Sailun employees over this reveal.

But let’s address the back story before we go any further. Sailun Tires are a division of a bigger organization; Dynamic Tire Corp. Sailun Tires are made in China. OK, there we go; the 800 pound gorilla in the room. The tires are made in China! But wait, there are more than 600 tire manufacturing facilities in China including some ‘household’ names, such as Goodyear, Michelin, Pirelli and Bridgestone, to name a few.

That tidbit certainly got the attention of the assembled writers and the room was silent: Brian Mielko, Vice President Marketing certainly had our attention.

First and foremost, Sailun recognizes that it is not an industry leader. They are quite comfortable in the value tier segment of the tire world. Some of the facts that got knowing nods at appropriate moments included 41% of aftermarket tires are sold from the value tier segment; the value tier market comprises some 24%.Within this market there are dozens of choices.

Is there one that is any better than the other?

To be clear, Mielko and his team were not here to take on the world of tires. They were here to attempt to demonstrate that there is another viable alternative in the crowded value tier tire landscape. However, because their brand is not first on the lips of drivers and dealers and not  being in the top five, by sales volume in any market does not mean that they cannot produce a great tire. Sailun’s goal today and every day after this is not to prove their tires are the best. They want an opportunity to demonstrate that their brand is as good as anyone else’s. Not a lofty goal, perhaps, but the proof would be there for all to see shortly.

We were now ready to head out to the Driver Development Track (DDT) of CTMP to play with the tires and of course, cars. Before leaving it was suggested that there would be a reveal of the competitor’s brand at lunch time, half way through our testing. To a person this notion was, to the obvious pleasure of Sailun execs tossed out. This was to be a true blind test all the way through. No reveal until the last brake pad and rotor had a chance to cool down.

All of the tires we would test drive had the names and identifications buffed off the tire’s sidewalls. So, unless you were an expert on tread pattern there was no way of knowing which tires were fitted to the car. Our cars for the day were Ford Fusions and needless to say, everyday driver’s are not encouraged to do what we did to the cars and especially the tires over those the next few hours. Do not try this at home.

The first test consisted of drives around the DDT in the opposite direction to the way it was designed. We were requested to travel at a maximum of 80 km/h to simulate driving on rural two-lane highways. Cars were marked clearly either “1” or “2”. On this test the tires on “1” produced minimal road noise and did not squeal under moderate cornering loads while offering good levels of grip in generally accepted non-aggressive driving conditions. The “1” tires were almost predictable – a good thing, especially as they seemed to subliminally grip through all corners – in my opinion. Generally, the tires on “2” car did not feel the same – less comfortable over all yet perhaps providing a marginally better steering response.

After each lap in every car, eager techs descended upon us with tablets looking for us to offer immediate opinions on predetermined test templates while the ride was fresh in our minds. This would occur each time any driver stepped from a Ford Fusion. A little annoying but definitely necessary.

Next we were taken to the wet slalom, where we performed the autocross course at speeds of 50 km/h, 60 km/h, and then as fast as we could. The cars were still “1” or “2” – some were FWD, some AWD but regardless, we drove all configurations equally.

Again every vehicle and their buffed rubber seemed very close in performance – this was, indeed, the Pepsi challenge revisited.

After lunch it was hot laps on the DDT – going the right way around the course that many of us had experienced before – in fact, my first turn around this track was on a Bridgestone-sponsored event. Long story short, in spite of every driver’s best efforts, no cars ploughed the in-field and no tires were blown. It appeared that none of us could really tell the two seemingly different sets of tires apart.

To Brian Mielko and his team, this was a dream come true.

Over coffee in the old Castrol tower, we waited patiently as the survey results were carefully tabulated. It was then revealed that tire “1” had been the Sailun Z4+AS and that tire “2” had been the Continental Extreme Contact. As stated, anecdotally we all thought that overall there were no discernible differences between the popular Conti rubber and the Sailun contender. Then came the actual results.

Sailun’s Atrezzo Z4 AS tire

On the wet slalom, tires were rated on four criteria: overall control and predictability; cornering stability; steering feel; and, traction under acceleration. Sailun performed marginally better in all categories.Next was the road drive with one added category – drive comfort. Sailun prevailed again.

Then we had tracking. Five categories similar to the slalom with the addition of confidence on braking. Sailun bested Conti in four of five categories, being narrowly edged out on steering feel and responsiveness.

Continental’s Extreme Contact tire

So at the end of the day with a possible score of 40, Continental came in at 30; Sailun edged them with 31. Then a marketing manager shared additional information: a couple of phone calls moments before to tire dealers in the Toronto area revealed that the Sailun Z4+AS retailed at $111 per tire and the Continental for $189. That’s a huge 70% price difference!Smiles all round; mission accomplished – at least as far as the day was concerned. Tires as good as a major competitor – and way less expensive.

Can Sailun succeed in their quest to be seen as an industry leader in the value tier segment? They are making all the right moves at the back end with expansive new warehouse facilities in Brampton and with major quality control measures for every tire that comes off the production line – yes, you read that correctly; each and every tire is tested before it heads out to any market for resale.

Time, of course will tell. They are taking their future very seriously and carefully. They’re not looking for global domination, merely some respect and the ability to sell more tires – especially in the challenging Canadian market. Remember, this test was for all season radials; we’ll see in the near future how Sailun stacks up in snow and much colder weather conditions at a later date. Then, and only then can Sailun truly hold their collective heads a little higher – if their winter tires compare as favourably. We shall see.

As we left the parking lot we could see high fives and broad smiles being exchanged.

My thoughts? I wish them every success. On the day, their tire performed well. It stood up against a brand leader. And bested it by 70% on price. I’d buy them and give them a chance. As a true Canadian my response is not “Why?” but a resounding “Why not!”

Kia’s 2013 Rio SX sedan – loaded.

You’re no doubt familiar with the phrase, “Good things come in small packages.” When we talk about small cars, specifically the 2013 Kia Rio SX sedan, just about any one out there can have something positive to say about this stylish 4-door vehicle.

While it is classified as a compact automobile, the interior space may well surprise. OK, so you will not be holding any parties in the back seat any day soon, but as a mode of transport to take you and three adults to your destination, this Peter Schreyer-designed car need not offer any apologies to anyone.

Perhaps it’s not a car for drifting or even performing burnouts in a remote parking lot, but as a well-engineered and relatively-speaking stylish mode of transportation, this third-generation Rio blows the doors off its competition when the whole value-added package is examined. And not just inexpensive-this-should-appease-all-customers-value-added, either. There is an abundance of features – most standard – in this as tested at $21,895 sedan. And this model included a credible and intuitive navigation system with satellite radio, too.

How many brand new off the lot cars with a list price of just shy of $22 grand can you name that have a heated leather steering wheel?

The answer, to save you time and worry is none. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

But Kia has not stopped there. This delightful small car comes equipped with standard (note the use of the word standard) features such as:

  •    Rearview camera
  •    Fog lights
  •    17” alloy wheels and low-profile tires
  •    Bluetooth connectivity – and easy to set up into the bargain!
  •    Full navigation system
  •    Leather seats – front and back – again, on a $22,000 car – leather!
  •    Heated seats up front
  •     Power windows and locks
  •     Automatic climate control
  •     Power folding heated side mirrors
  •     Power sunroof
  •     Smart key with push button start
  •     Vehicle stability management
  •     Electronic stability control
  •     4-wheel disc brakes (larger than LX and EX models) – and ABS
  •     6 airbags
  •      A 1.6L Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI) 4-cylinder engine providing 138hp and 123 foot pounds of torque.

All of the above and also a more than respectable EnerGuide/Government of Canada gas consumption rating of 6.8L/100 city, 4.9L/100km which to the non-metric among you translates into 42 mpg city and 58 mpg on the highway.

With its sport-tuned suspension, 17” wheels and available 6-speed automatic transmission, good things do indeed, come in small packages.

Soaking wet and weighing in at just over 2,400 pounds, this smart-looking, surprisingly spacious and quite respectable small sedan will not look out of place on many driveways. Some owners may even make a point of leaving their Rios on their driveways – just to show off a little. Laugh if you like, but you know it’s going to happen.

Along with sister company Hyundai, Korean manufacturers are doing their bit to turn an often staid automotive industry on its ear. Even today, they are beating Japanese manufacturers at their own game by adding incredible and desired value-add all the way through their product lines.

But can they produce stylish in-demand cars? Yes.

Interior of the 2013 Kia Rio SX sedan – surprised? Don’t be.

Can they consistently engineer and build reliable vehicles. That’s how things seem – especially when you look at what may well be coming down the proverbial pike.

The conclusion? Well, that will be up to consumers. From this person’s perspective, these days, there are now several very attractive 800lb gorillas in the room from this one manufacturer.

And aren’t we all now just a little bit mad as hell? Perhaps. The next year or two will tell the complete story.

Almost across the board, Asian manufacturers and designers can continue to hold their head a little higher.

Based upon recent driving experiences, the more traditional Japanese car builders are upping their game, too. Will the North American Big Three respond? Let’s hope so. At the end of the day, it will strengthen the industry generally.

And for the record, did no-one learn anything from the days of too many multiple marques and variations just a few short years ago?

Ever been in a car which from the get go you really did not want to like?

I have to admit that was the case with yours truly when I picked up the 2013 Dodge Dart Rallye.

My position on this 4-door sedan changed somewhat as the days flew by. At the risk of being crude and to quote a dear departed friend of mine one week later, “It didn’t suck!”

So let’s put that phrase into context, shall we?

As soon as I saw the car, my hackles went up; what was this bright red car (to be technically correct, Redline Red Pearl Coat)? And just who was it trying to mislead?

The answers? It’s a Dodge Dart and it made a fool of me.

With the introduction of this vehicle, execs on both sides of the border can breathe a sigh of relief. However, for the record, it will take more than one model to eliminate some of the bad taste that is still lurking reluctantly with some faithful Chrysler consumers who in the past five years or so have been wondering what was going on with their beloved yet smallest manufacturer of the Big Three.

There may well be a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel and it may be an advancing Dart, heading to market via dealerships everywhere waiting like an eager puppy to make loyal Chrysler consumers believe again.

Like many of my colleagues I drive a fair number of vehicles every year. However, this particular model got a total of five direct unsolicited responses from various inquisitive consumers. Five. Not the norm. There may have been more, but these five I personally witnessed including one couple who wandered up my driveway to peer inside this red machine. Even the attendant at the car wash I usually frequent early Monday mornings made a comment. At best, if I get “Have a nice day” you know that he long before fulfilled his daily caffeine quotient. This day he was, for him, quite effusive.

So what is it or was it about this car that seemed to cause these reactions?

Its European heritage? Perhaps. After all taking a vehicle that sells as an Alfa Romeo Giulietta in Europe and making it work for North America is a fairly straightforward proposition. Cars like the Golf, Focus, and Cruze are very similar to their foreign market counterparts. But the very (resurrected) name of the 2013 Dodge Dart suggests Chrysler feels this car has an important role to play within Chrysler hierarchy. What, precisely remains to be seen.

The vehicle as tested had a price tag of $25,085. Not bad, but not wonderful either, considering other vehicles in the category, such as the Chevy Cruze, Ford Focus, Honda Civic. Nissan Sentra, Hyundai Elantra, Mazda3 and the Volkswagen Jetta.

But again, the model I was driving was, perhaps a little sportier than many comparable models.

The Dart’s entry-level engine is a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter I-4 with 160 hp and is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. I drove the higher spec engine; also 160 hp, but with a turbo feeding a 1.4-liter I-4 that transfers its power through a six-speed manual. The big difference between the two engines is torque. While the 2.0-liter twists out 148 lb-ft, the 1.4-liter turbo gives the driver 184 lb-ft.Alright then. I have to confess for the first few days I wondered aloud about this. Was the turbo broken? Since it never really seemed to ‘respond’ and there was no obvious visible indicator advising said extra ‘oomph’ had been engaged. Until late one evening driving north on Hwy. 400, that was. Minimal traffic, I cruised along in the right hand lane at 105kmh. With no other vehicles of any description anywhere close, I dropped from 6th to 4 and gave the willing engine the gas it craved. OK, so no appreciable turbo lag (revs were high) and the car behaved and responded quickly – and willingly. So the turbo was there – it had been resting, never really having a chance to show or prove itself until then.

OK, so we know the car can move. What else? The transmission was pretty good – everything did what it was supposed to – when it was meant to – always a good sign.

This particular testing model was not what could be called luxurious. It was a ‘driver’s’ car – including the well-bolstered bucket cloth seats. It came with navigation and even heated seats – never really understood heated cloth seats, but… Back up camera made its now almost ubiquitous appearance as did 17×7 ½” aluminum wheels, fog lamps, leather-wrapped steering wheel and available satellite radio.

At night, the interior of the car, especially the dash, was, for this driver a bit too much – but in fairness, I’m not the dart’s demographic. I came close to a combined EnerGuide Government of Canada city highway rating of 5.1L/100km – not too bad.

Like I said, at first, I could not see myself liking the Dart. When I turned it back in, I still had a smile (albeit faint) on my face.

We’ll all need to keep an eye open for Chrysler and their future. Can they do something engineered from the wheels up via Detroit? We’ll see. We’ll see.

SCOTTSDALE, AZ: So before we get all down and dirty on Acura’s latest venture in providing an entry-level luxury vehicle (sounds almost oxymoronic) to the North American and even the fastest-growing market in China, market. Let’s deal with some tasty bites of information.

1. Acura’s newest model, the ILX, slots in below the Acura TSX and is loosely based on the Honda Civic platform.

2. Three models are offered, including a base 150 hp 2.0L 4-cyl, a 201 hp 2.4L –and a 38 mpg combined Hybrid.

3. Pricing for the base ILX starts at $29,790 and tops out at $32,900. The ILX 2.4L is priced at $29,990 and the Hybrid at $34,990 to start.

Acura Canada has some interesting sales projections for this model and believe that the bulk of their numbers will be made with the 150-hp 2.0-litre when coupled with a five-speed automatic. The ‘drivers’ out there will be attracted immediately to the 201-hp 2.4-liter with a six-speed manual. And then there is the Hybrid which uses the Civic hybrid’s power train – but with a slightly jumpier throttle. Sales numbers? Well, Acura Canada are being quietly optimistic; the addition of the ILX will take Acura’s overall vehicle sales to more than 20,000 – 5,000 of those numbers being directly attributed to the ILX.

Photos: David Taylor

I had the opportunity of driving all three vehicles on the terrific US Army Engineers-designed roads sweeping through the hills/mountains outside Scottsdale, Arizona. Initial thoughts? A Hybrid with CVT is not a great choice for roads where the incline changes quickly and often suddenly. As a commuter vehicle involving in-town and highway driving, fine. The 2.4L with MT was a fun ride. The vehicle responded very well – whatever it was asked to perform. The downside is that it’s only available with standard transmission. Acura may have missed the mark with this decision. As an entry level sedan for a luxury brand, the 2.0 does not miss the mark, either. We were advised that the ILX has class-leading safety performance and is expected to achieve industry leading safety ratings from both National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

While the similarities to the 2012 Civic are, perhaps a little obvious, at this point, we cannot comment on this vehicle as it relates to the anticipated Civic ‘refresher’ expected later this year. We may well be dealing with a chicken and egg situation.

Regardless. the suspension and floor are vintage Civic.  Acura stylists have stretched the hood – perhaps to match the ILX’s premium aspirations? Stylists also worked at moving back the A-pillars 7.9 inches and the windshield base only  3.9 inches, necessitating deeply curved glass.

The Civic’s traditional front overhang has been stretched slightly while the rear was chopped – a little abruptly, creating odd visual proportions when the car is viewed in profile. Acura engineers and stylists refer to the exterior design concept as ‘aero-fused dynamics’. To use their words, “Cabin and body feel like they are pulled back, creating an impression that the rear is firmly planted.” Right.

The interior is comfortable and familiar buttons are positioned on the console – in fact, it appears that the audio and climate controls are from the TL.

In the ‘boiler room’ the 2.0-litre is bigger than the 2012 Civic’s engine and the 2.4 is the same as the Civic Si’s. Acura’s engineers and stylists have worked hard to provide a car that is quite quiet in the cabin at highway speed. The ILX achieves its targets by being quieter and feels more substantial, especially with its deluxe Acura interior, though there us some road noise from the standard all-season tires – especially when imperfections on the blacktop were hit. The electric-assist steering is almost typically light and drivers will not struggle to place the vehicles longer nose in its best driving position while the aforementioned tires and suspension keep it there. Getting back to the chicken and egg premise, this ‘driving feel’ is something that all Civics should have – including the Si.








Will the Acura ILX succeed?

Acura is introducing a luxury, albeit entry level vehicle to the market with a starting price point under $30,000. That is a good thing. Considering the level of finish inside and out and compared to their direct competition, they may well have a winner on their hands – especially with the 2.4L when compared to the BMW 3-series or even the less expensive Buick Verano.

Acura sees the ILX as a true luxury gateway model. And maybe that’s not a bad way of looking at things. Other premium manufacturers have almost stepped back from the compact segment in recent years. Acura has a huge opportunity to make premium compacts a mainstream category.

The Acura ILX offers luxury for less and is certain to also deliver brand qualities like reliability and durability. And, customers have a choice, too; not just one model fits all.

We’ll pay attention to the monthly sales numbers and see if they, Acura Canada are being, like Acura owners, aspirational.

Three jet black Civic Si HFPs… there were also three white ones!

A little while ago an invitation came into my email inbox asking if I would be interested in attending a session on driving vehicles with a standard transmission.

Given that the invite was via Honda Canada, I mentally narrowed down the list of available Hondas – and Acuras – that are available with standard transmission.

On the Honda side? Civic, Fit, Accord and the only hybrid with standard, the CR-Z.

And on the Acura side? The TSX, TL and the new just released ILX.

But there was something more intriguing about the invite. The concept for the event was to take those that drive standard would be transformed into drivers – by teaching the principles of safe, controlled handling and the art of the manual transmission.

The giveaway? Our instructors were to be Daniel Morad, a World Karting Association Manufacturers Champion and who recently signed to Status GP in the newly formed GP3 series. The icing on the cake? Chris Bye. A former race car driver with a long and distinguished list of achievements to his credit and now president of Franczak Enterprises Ltd.

So now, with an invite specifically from Honda Canada, the field was narrowed down to two possible cars: the Civic Si or the CR-Z.

Imagine our surprise when we showed up on a glorious sun-drenched afternoon at Polson Pier, east of the heart of Toronto’s downtown to see three black and three white Honda Civic HFPs. Surprised? Sure, here were six of those vehicles – and only 200 have been manufactured and distributed for sale around the world!

What is HFP? Honda Factory Performance (HFP) is about more than Honda’s commitment to crafting reliable, high-performance vehicles. It’s about fuelling excitement and exhilaration to those who know driving is so much more than getting from one place to another. It’s about taking Honda’s race-inspired engineering to a new level. It’s about transforming already head-turning vehicles into awe-inspiring works of performance art. Most of all, Honda Factory Performance is about the pure thrill of the ride.

Each of these nimble warriors comes standard with a laundry list of equipment, but the heart and soul? Standard 2.4-litre, 16-valve, DOHC, i-VTEC® 4-cylinder engine with 201hp and 170 lb.-ft. torque; 18″ HFP alloy wheels with Michelin Pilot® Super Sport performance tires; HFP suspension package; and, HFP front, side and rear under body spoilers. Not too shabby at all.

Slow corner at Polson Pier

We were going to have an afternoon full of fun and promise!

Game on.

Most people think they drive fast. Some even consider themselves to be speedy pseudo ‘race’ drivers. Frankly, while some did impress, most of us, although we might have the ability to double declutch and employ the classic heel-toe manoeuvre, at the beginning of the afternoon, we were all rank amateurs. Learners, really.

However, all was not lost. Some classroom-like instruction and then time on a make shift track with terrific instruction and practical pointers soon made a huge difference in our respective driving styles. By the time the afternoon was over, everyone, men and women were totally jazzed and in possession of a much better understanding of driving a standard transmission car. And not just fast. We learned control. To think ahead, to visualize next moves… all very Zen-like for sure – but it made a difference.

Even now, a couple of weeks after the fact, as I zip onto a highway on-ramp, I can hear either Daniel or Chris’ voice in my mind, repeating simple instructions, over and over ultimately making me and my passengers feel safer somehow as I negotiate and better appreciate the camber and line of the ramp.

Thanks, everyone. Lessons well taught – and well learned.

Ford of Canada at the Princes gates in Toronto

On May 31st Ford of Canada was at the Allstream Centre in downtown Toronto to offer information and test drives for the local auto press with their latest offerings of electric and fuel efficient vehicles. The Power of Choice Tour (going for the rock star image?) in Toronto was one of eight tour stops to take place across Canada through April and May; Toronto was the final stop on the tour.

Ford presented a variety of eco-friendly engine options; from fully electric and plug-in hybrid, hybrid, to EcoBoost engines. Vehicles available for very brief trips around part of the perimeter of the CNE grounds included the Ford Focus BEV, the all new 2013 Escape , the 2012 Fusion Hybrid and on display in the foyer area of the Allstream Centre, the Aston Martin-looking 2013 Fusion – some spill over family DNA at play here?

The Aston Martin-looking pre-production 2013 Ford Fusion

While many manufacturers are openly flirting with all-electric and electric/hybrid technology, do these vehicles ever really stand a chance in the highly competitive automotive world? The EV Ford Focus is a sharp, sub-compact vehicle that looks good, feels pretty good and for commuters that know they will never exceed a daily charge range, may be one of the preferred choices in EVs today. But realistically, without a suitable and far-reaching infrastructure (ubiquitous charging stations) in the short and long term, do EVs truly stand a chance?

Of course, manufacturers have also placed a few of their eggs in the hybrid basket and here Ford is certainly not the exception. Their respective offerings makes sense, mostly have considerable curb appeal and come with an eco-feel-good aura already initiated.

But listen to what Ford says of their truck engines with EcoBoost. More economical motors that provide considerably superior mileage than their once-preferred and oft revered engine of choice, the V8 – without a major sacrifice in power – specifically, torque. In fact, in the F150 line (46 years as the top selling vehicle in Canada – and counting), demand has been so strong this past year that keeping up to demand for the V6 with EcoBoost has been a daunting yet pleasant challenge. And now, Ford’s category leader, the Escape is now available with an EcoBoost engine. But here, the Ford story veers ever so slightly; EcoBoost in a four cylinder engine! An optional 1.6-litre turbocharged EcoBoost four with 178 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque is available. Coupled with self-closing grille shutters (they open for breathing at low speeds and close to reduce drag at higher speeds), the 1.6-litre engine is estimated by Ford to return 23 mpg city and 33 mpg highway – and on regular fuel.

The all new Ford Escape on the road in Toronto

As many of us have suspected, but Ford has now begun to underline, does the future of the automotive industry lie with the internal combustion engine (ICE) – the once revered technological marvel that brought us all to this point?

Perhaps. Ford anticipates making EcoBoost available in many of their product offerings over the next few years. Whether driven by gasoline or diesel fuel, as another manufacturer once said, so prophetically many years ago… tried, tested and true.

Will, indeed ICE be the industry’s ‘saviour’ – even if – or as gasoline prices and demand continues to rise?

Time alone will tell. Meanwhile, a canny manufacturer such as Ford, appears to have all bases pretty well covered.

2013 Acura RDX at The Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona

With Acura’s introduction of the 2013 RDX, it would be safe to say that the Japanese manufacturer’s latest and improved version of their popular entry-level crossover SUV will be a consistent performer. In every meaning of the phrase. In fact, at a recent unveiling inScottsdale,Arizona, company spokespeople went out of their way to tell the world that they are very optimistic about the 2013 model. In fact, they anticipate selling 4,500 vehicles which represents 500 more than the RDX’s previous best sales numbers back in 2008, two years after its introduction to the buying public in 2006.

And there is much to suggest that this target could well be achieved – easily. Think of the all new Honda CR-V but with more power, features and cache. Truthfully, what’s not to like in this 2013 RDX package – especially if you have never been exposed to the slightly more spirited 2012 model with its turbo-charged four cylinder engine? A feature which some drivers seemed to prefer – but were often vocal in their complaints since many felt it lacked some of the expected refinement associated with a premium brand. But if you were only using it to shuttle your kids to school and sundry practices on city roads, it likely never really had any negative impact.

Available in dealerships across the country at the beginning of April 2013, the MSRP for the 2013 will start at CAD $40,990 and the model with the Technology Package which we test drove on terrific roads north and east of Phoenix through seemingly endless scrub lands, desert and mountains, for CAD $43,900. It should be noted that for 2013, Acura has added significant additional features worth about $3,400 and some major engineering refinements – yet the price is only around $500 more than 2012.

So, as stated, it’s safe to say that the 2013 RDX has managed to significantly up its game with all new looks, increased comfort and new technology. The RDX features a new 3.5L V-6 engine with 33 more horsepower than the outgoing model, mated to a new 6-speed automatic transmission and a new, all-wheel-drive system.  Alexandre Roger, VP of Acura Canada enthuses, “It’s more powerful, roomier, quieter and has improved fuel efficiency. In short, it’s everything we know customers in the luxury SUV market expect – and more.”

Interestingly enough, the 2013 RDX with a bigger, more powerful engine also manages, according to the manufacturers, to achieve superior fuel economy than before. While we road-tested the vehicle over the better part of a day, we were not looking for numbers that would cause excitement in the hypermiling community. We were driving. Often hard. Especially when the opportunity presented itself on the spirited jaunt onArizona’s Hwy. 87 into Payson. Here, the vehicle felt most comfortable and that gas consumption willing, might have cruised forever. The 2013 model is also significantly quieter and smoother (some might say too much so) than previous iterations thanks to a longer wheelbase and all-new Amplitude Reactive Dampers and a new motion adaptive electronic power steering system. No compromise in the audio level of conversation in this luxury; most occupants will likely appreciate the new interior design with increased utility, rich interior materials and the generous use of noise insulation throughout.

Standard features on the RDX include leather seating surfaces, heated power front seats, a power moon roof and a 360-watt audio system. New technologies such as an SMS text messaging function (which this writer has difficulty comprehending given many provinces new distracted driving laws), a keyless access system with the convenience of pushbutton start, an active noise control system and the most welcome addition of a rear view camera system with three unique viewing angles are also standard on all RDX models. This latter feature is also now standard on all levels of the all new Honda CR-V.

The RDX tech package adds Acura navigation system with (bi-lingual) voice recognition; a hard disk drive (HDD) system with 60 GB of storage capacity; GPS-linked solar-sensing, dual-zone automatic climate control system; power rear tailgate; and an Acura/ELS surround premium sound system with 10 speakers, DVD-audio, multi-format CD player, AM/FM tuner and XM radio.

The 2013 RDX is then, in its competitive category with Audi Q5, MB GLK and Infiniti EX35 and BMW X1, in pretty good company. With its expected Acura-styling, room and highway driving comfort and handling, the future should auger well. Acura hopes to appeal to more women drivers – without producing an overtly feminine vehicle – whatever that might be. Will they succeed? We’ll leave that to the buying public at large. However, nothing has been done to deliberately alienate any demographic with the introduction of this safe – in all respects, CUV.

You can be sure that February 16, 2012 is a date that will long resonate in the hallways of Hyundai around the world – but especially here inCanada.

It was that morning when Richard Russell, Chair of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) opened an envelope and declared the 2012 Hyundai Elantra had been awarded AJAC’s Car of the Year.

Just a few moments before, a room full of media from across North America exploded when Steve Kelleher, President and CEO, Hyundai Auto Canada Corp. made the short walk to the podium to accept the “Best New Design” award for 2012 for the new and innovative Hyundai Veloster.

For Hyundai, this morning was, indeed a moment to savour.

Earlier this year at the Detroit Auto Show on January 9, the Elantra was selected as the North American Car of the year for 2012.

A double honour; one that many had been quietly debating around water coolers and in the shadows for some weeks.

Validation for the Korean-based manufacturer who has slowly convinced many auto journalists and aficionados over recent years that their engineering, value proposition and fluidic styling were the real deal. In fact, back at the beginning of 2009 those two exact same awards were bestowed upon Hyundai’s rear-wheel drive sports coupe, the Genesis. What made this award all the more special was that the three finalists for this honour were all Korean manufacturers. Hyundai with the Accent and the Elantra and sister company, Kia, the upstart, new kids on the block, with the Optima.

No longer would Hyundai be considered a one trick pony – pun completely intended.

Now, the general public will have to pay attention to another Asian manufacturer of well-engineered, value-laden and stylish modes of transport for practically every budget.

Later the same morning, I was able to sit down with the affable Mr. Kelleher for a quiet, far-reaching and informative one-on-one interview as he and his staff slowly began to realize the enormity of their accomplishment.

DT: Congratulations on this win. Feel any different today than you did yesterday?

SK: Thank you. I have to admit that it was all a bit nerve wracking early on. While we did have finalists for two of the three cars, there was always the thought what if we split the vote? Even with the Veloster’s win earlier, we were still unsure.

DT: Now do you believe that consumers will afford Hyundai the respect that you deserve? Do you see a pay off now for the value proposition – that and the fact that you may now be more than just a rational purchase?

SK: We’re not about bragging rights. We do what we do very well and have been consistent in our styling, engineering and value-proposition for some time. It’s true that in the early years, we struggled. No question. But we stayed our course and made it through. 2011 was where many things went very well for us as a manufacturer and a marketer. From a consumer point of view, in the past, we would be perceived as a rational purchase – the price was right. But now, we offer a complete package. It’s not multiple choice. Now a car buyer will look at the design, the technology, the performance, the mileage – and, of course price and is more likely to want to buy us! Becoming an emotional purchase? That’s a change for us that while slow in coming, has built in momentum. We need to maintain that and build upon it.

You know, Japan has been looking at us for a few years now – as has Detroit. We believe that Japanese manufacturers will work very hard to regain any lost market share from 2011 as a result of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and later flooding inThailand.

We respect our competition. All of it. It makes us stronger and hopefully better. We expect that Honda, for example, will do what they do best with their marketing and product, and will likely regain some of the market share they lost in 2011. Our goal is to build upon our successes.

DT: The Elantra saw an overall increase in sales acrossCanadaof 30.1%, representing 44,970 vehicles. This January, Hyundai sold 7,460 vehicles, an 11.6% increase over last year. Where do you believe your sustained growth is coming from?

SK: It’s a well-known fact that sales in Quebec and Eastern Canada for our various models have, until last year been the heart of our combined efforts inCanada. It’s practically been that way since 1984, our first full year in Canada. Ontario consumers have been rewarding us over these last few years with significant increased purchases. Approximately 20% each year. In fact, inCanadawe are fortunate to have enjoyed 37 consecutive months of year-over-year sales growth. It is our belief that going forward, we will likely not lose ground as far as market share goes. But we are not going to rest on our laurels and expect results.

Going forward, we need to continue to offer our loyal customers the innovation, styling and pricing they have come to expect. This morning, we unveiled a 2-door coupe of the Elantra; later this year, an exciting all new Santa Fe will be rolled out.

DT: So, complacency is not about to set in any time soon?

SK: (smiling) Let’s hope not! We’re serious about who we are and what we can do. As a global corporation we’re proud and pleased to be in the position we are today. But we keep thinking “what have we done lately?” Just a few days ago I was in Korea for a series of meetings with head office. I also spent time in our design facility. The Namyang R&D Centre located in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi (about one hour south of Seoul) is a world-class technology research centre. Hyundai now employs approximately 10,000 engineers, designers and researchers here working around the clock to create and develop the best automobiles in performance, quality, and eco-friendliness. A year ago, it was around 8,000.

DT: Since Hyundai came to Canada, you made it clear that value-pricing and innovation was going to be your calling card. The Pony arrived with three price points: $3,999; $4,999; and, $5,999 – almost take it or leave it. Should what you are accomplishing today inCanadaand many other major markets come as a surprise?

SK: Yes, the Pony! It’s true; we made no secret of our planned intent from day one. In many ways, we took what many of our Japanese friends were already doing and stayed pretty much on message.

DT: How does Hyundai consistently package great styling, quality and technology for such a great price?

SK: Obviously, we have been true to our intent. We work hard as a corporation to keep manufacturing costs as low as we can. We have the added advantage of producing our own steel inKoreain our own plants. Hyundai is a global entity with a great deal of vertical integration. Stepping back, consider the message – some would say commitment – from our Chairman Mong-Koo Chung. He stated that in 2011 Hyundai Motor Company would launch a campaign to ensure the energy for growth with a new slogan: “New thinking. New Possibilities.”

DT: Meaning?

SK: Simply, new ideas create new values. Hyundai will respond to the fast-changing international management environment by constructing a system for organic cooperation between production factory and sales headquarters in each country worldwide.

DT: So there is buy-in around the world – including Canada?

SK: Yes. Absolutely. Our corporate team and dealer network has been working harder to prioritize our customers and also the talent in all departments. It’s important we remain competitive. We will continue to do so through exceptional and even fundamental technologies; with environmental management and by continuously expanding our overall R&D and investment in eco-friendly vehicles. Hyundai Motor Company will work hard to provide this new value to yet more customers.

We call it our modern premium concept. We need to give our customers the best car per dollar. What it means is that we put the features in the vehicle that people really want and need. Features in a compact car that are unheard of. Heated rear seats in the Elantra for example. We look at our competition. Very closely. We also noticed that some manufacturers were losing some of the quality on the interior. We made it clear internally; there could be no compromise. No damage to the integrity of the brand.

DT: In a relatively short space of time, Hyundai has turned the industry on its ear. Now you have a line up of vehicles that can cater to almost any budget. Starting with the Accent and all the way to your super-premium Equus – the flagship marque. Is being all things to all people a misstep?

SK: It’s tough to sell both. Each buyer’s wants and needs are so different. Two things: Equus and Genesis as a halo have done a lot for us as a manufacturer. I think they’re brand builders. It adds credibility. But is it the right move? Maybe… perhaps. Let’s look atToyota for example and their Avalon. Similar situation to ours. Do they sell many? No, not really. But it does sell and it does not seem to affect their brand – overall.

DT: OK then, so why create an Equus… a Genesis? Because you can?

SK. (laughs) Well, there is truth in that. But regardless, at this stage, if we do bring product to market, even with limited production, it must still be designed and built with our core principals in mind.

DT: Where do you see the industry going long-term?

SK: Long term? This year? Next year? Five years from now?

DT: Do you see more hybrids, for example?

SK: There’ll be variations. They may not sell well. But they will be there. We need to produce them for many reasons, optics included. However, technological innovations for the internal combustion engine will continue. Remember our engineers were the first to bring out gasoline-injection. Everything you can do to increase efficiencies will continue to be developed. We mentioned our steel plant earlier. We’re now producing lighter, much stronger steel than before. This year? The light truck market will continue to do well, but will probably slowly decline – unless gas prices go really high. Probably flat, over 2011. Perhaps a 2 – 3% increase across the board…

DT: Does Canada have much influence in Korea as far as product development is concerned?

SK: Well, the Elantra for North America has heated rear seats. Not available elsewhere.Canadadoes have influence, definitely. From the get go, Canadian input from this cold weather climate market was important. We even set up a cold weather test facility here.

Getting back to your earlier question; I also believe that there will be greater innovation in 4-cylinder engines – from everyone – and especially ourselves. Turbo-charge technology will continue to be developed to bring performance and economy to the fore. Wait until the all new Santa Fe comes out…

DT: Yes…?

SK: (grinning) That’s about all I’m allowed to say right now! But it is something. You’ll see soon enough!

DT: Are there similarities to the car market in Korea compared to Canada?

SK: The fundamental difference is that larger cars are the norm; just like in Japan. OK, so that’s a generalization. The car market in Korean is pretty much the same size inCanada. But look around the roads for Hyundais and you’ll see more Genesis, Equus and of course Sonata than you will our own compact and sub-compact cars.

DT: Now that’s a trend you’d like to emulate here.

SK: Yes, but as long as we can sell and make competitive automobiles for any market, that’s our job.

DT: Thank you.

Just recently, my wife bought a new car.  It’s been 11 years since her last purchase so she was particularly excited over the end result, considerably less enthusiastic about the actual process.

Over the course of a month or so, she had narrowed down her selection.  Her biggest considerations?  Does it look good; will she look good in it; is it comfortable, will our Bernese Mountain Dog fit in the back; and, can two sets of snow tires and steel rims fit in the rear twice a year.  Her final selection made, negotiations, such as they were, commenced.  All went well until the ever-obliging sales representative proudly placed a brochure on the desk.  He started to make the pitch.  I could see my spouse’s eyes glazing over.  She turned to me.  “What is this? I don’t understand.”

Long story short, this manufacturer’s dealer was ‘subscribing’ to the benefits of tires on all their new vehicles being filled with nitrogen in lieu of air, plain old boring air. Fair enough.  My wife’s disenchantment with this discussion was becoming evident.  “Will this cost me more?  We already agreed on a price. I don’t wish to pay any more than we have agreed.”  Recognizing the  distinct possibility of a customer walking away, our ever-genial representative quickly and quite professionally agreed that arrangement would be made to still provide this ‘premium service’ –  but at no additional cost.

Smiles all around, papers were signed, the meeting with the dealer Business Manager occurred and everyone was happy. This, however, got me thinking.

What are the benefits to nitrogen-inflated tires?

For some time, nitrogen has been used for inflating tires in aircraft, military vehicles, race cars, and heavy off-road equipment.  However for a few years, this odorless tasteless inert gas has slowly been creeping into the everyday lives of the general public.  It all started innocently enough, but soon, in apparent stealth mode, nitrogen as an inflation option, managed to make its move toward its mission of ubiquity.  Costco/Price Club, the single largest retailer in the world for Michelin tires, started to offer nitrogen fills for all new tires sold.  They would also provide the same service for previously air-filled tires, too – at a price.  Soon, inNorth Americaat least, other retailers also offered the same service.


The three main reasons as stated by proponents of the practice, including a Canadian company, Sym-Tech (, would appear to be:

  1.  Nitrogen  increases gas mileage.  Filling your tires with nitrogen ensures constant proper inflation of tires, therefore increasing gas mileage.
  2. Nitrogen decreases tire wear.  When a tire is properly inflated it wears out evenly giving you more miles/kilometres on the rubber.
  3. With improved wear and tire, tires are less likely to be dumped in landfills sooner than later, therefore initiating environmental rewards all around.

Interesting, but what does it really mean?  Well, when it’s all distilled, here is the ‘pitch’ for: nitrogen is a more efficient and effective gas for filling car tires as opposed to oxygen due to the fact that molecules of nitrogen are larger, relatively speaking, than molecules of oxygen. Oxygen and nitrogen are both diatomic (composed of two atoms) molecules but since oxygen has a smaller kinetic diameter, it flows through polymers that make up the structure of the tire and may lead to poor tire inflation if not checked regularly. Nitrogen and oxygen also expand and contract differently. Nitrogen is not as responsive to heat fluctuations as oxygen and therefore, pressure irregularities within the tire are not as pronounced or pervasive. This translates into reduced tire wear and overall improved efficiency of the tire. OK, so there may be a longer-term benefit to one’s pocket book – after an initial upfront investment.

Advocates of plain old ordinary dry compressed air would like to point out one or two key arguments to the pro-nitrogen position:

Tires wear from the outside, not the inside.

‘Plain’ air’s make up is approximately 20% oxygen, 80% nitrogen. Is that 20% critical?  Maybe yes, maybe no.

By way of casual research, we visited a few major tire manufacturers’ web sites.  We saw no statements from a single one making any relevant reference to inflating their brand of tires with 100% nitrogen, instead of compressed air. While the Internet can be a wonderful resource, there are occasions when the voracity of certain claims needs to be verified.

In an interview with Jeremy Smith, Manager, Brand Public Relations Community and Corporate Relations for Bridgestone Americas, Inc. we asked the question; air or gas for tire inflation?  Cutting to the chase, Smith made it clear that for Bridgestone, in consumer or general commercial vehicles, they do not necessarily advocate one over the other. “However, any tire, when properly inflated and whose pressure is checked regularly, will offer definitive economies to the end user.”  While clearly sitting on the political fence, a gentle nudge suggested that paying to maintain proper pressure really did not make much sense.  A similar response was given by Darla Elkins, Smith’s counterpart in the motorsport division.

To round things out, we had similar discussions with representatives of Michelin, BF Goodrich and Uniroyal.  Each of those three companies recommend nitrogen inflation but make it clear that they are not insistent.  Nitrogen-inflated tires will lose pressure more slowly, but if any tire is properly and regularly maintained and inspected, it really makes no difference.  It is, to these major manufacturers, all still a matter of preference.

Looking for further ‘proof’? Visit any top automobile racing group website, and you’ll find the same… Indeed, if nitrogen inflation was so critical, surely NASCAR, F1, Indy and others would be strong proponents of this idea?  Instead, nothing is heard from some of the most critical tire users out there. Again, in fairness a few years back, the world of motorsport racing embraced nitrogen.  Studies were conducted and ultimately no outrageous advantages were clearly evident.

In fact in January 2007, Honda issued a bulletin to all their dealers; we discussed this with Richard Jacobs of Honda Canada. “When it comes to inflating automobile tires, it’s our position that ordinary, dry compressed air – which is about 80 percent nitrogen already – is the best choice. That’s because it’s more readily available, and the benefits of using nitrogen simply don’t appear to outweigh those of using compressed air.”

Honda goes on to state that the practice of inflating tires with nitrogen has been around a long time. It’s been commonly used on aerospace vehicles, commercial and military aircraft, military vehicles, race cars, and even heavy off-road construction equipment. And here’s why:

• To meet rigid safety and performance specs, the required tire inflation pressures are often very high, especially in the aerospace industry. The tire inflation pressure for NASA’s space shuttle, for example, is an astounding 315 psi – close to 10 times the pressure in the tires on your every day vehicle.

• Nitrogen is an inert gas; it doesn’t combust or oxidize.

• The process used to compress nitrogen excludes water vapour. Water vapour can expand if the temperature climbs above 100°C.

• Tires inflated with nitrogen leak slower over time than those inflated with compressed air.

So, there is a definite case to be made for the use of nitrogen for tire inflation – under the above scenarios.

However, with automobile tires, they on the other hand, are subjected to an entirely different set of conditions. Here’s Hondas position on why inflating tires with nitrogen offers no significant or real advantages:

• Nitrogen offers no better protection against road hazards such as cuts and punctures. So no matter what you inflate the tire with, you still need to check the condition and pressure of the tires at least once a month, just as recommended in any vehicle’s owner manual.

• Tires that are inflated with compressed air and properly maintained offer the same fuel economy tread wear, and ride comfort as those inflated with nitrogen.

• Nitrogen inflation does offer the advantage of having little or no water vapour present in the tire which can cause internal corrosion of the wheel or damage TPMS (tire-pressure monitoring system) sensors. However, if your dealership, tire store of even local gas/service station uses and properly maintains air drying equipment on its compressed air supply, this isn’t an issue with normal air inflation.

• Nitrogen for automobile tires is produced by nitrogen generators, which typically achieve about 95 percent purity. But to actually get that level of purity into an automobile tire, you would have to deflate and inflate that tire with nitrogen several times – it’s like purging a new propane tank before first use. If you’re not careful doing this repeated deflation and inflation process, the purity level winds up being closer to 90 percent (compared to the approximate 80 percent nitrogen already in compressed air). Because of this, those claims of less pressure loss with nitrogen are not entirely valid.

So at the end of the day, what to do?  Like many things in life, you have a choice.  Is either method necessarily better?  Is either method necessarily worse?  Let’s be perfectly clear; it’s personal – and, it comes down to dollars and cents.  And yes, while it is true many gas stations now offer air from machines for a very small fee, which is still considerably less than an up to $10 per tire charge for a nitrogen fill.

If a major tire and automobile manufacturer do not believe there are any inherent benefits, then, what are you going to do?

Let’s allow Honda to have the last word (for now) on this topic; if nitrogen offers no apparent advantages over dry compressed air, then what is their advice to you? Are you ready for this? Stick with the air you breathe. And check your car’s tire pressure regularly. Saving gas consumption through better mileage from properly inflated tires, regardless of the method selected, will have ecological and cost benefits for us all.

If nothing else, remember this; it’s all more than just hot air.

Imagine that you were one of the last drivers to see Dan Wheldon as medical staff frantically wheeled him into the on-track medical centre at Las Vegas Motor Speedway that fateful afternoon, October 16, 2011.

Wheldon’s death that day was devastating.

Especially to Paul Tracy who saw his friend and fellow driver being frantically worked on by medical staff as the gurney careened through doorways and down cold, fluorescent lit hallways to waiting additional medical personnel.

“I saw things that day I wish I hadn’t,” says Tracy on a recent visit to Toronto as he participated in the celebratory 25th Anniversary of Rick Hansen’s Man in Motion world tour. “Much of the accident was a blur, flying parts, debris going everywhere, cars literally flying… and the smell of burning. And then… after… seeing Dan. Laying there being wheeled in. I pretty much knew that was it…” he turns away, voice trailing.

For the record, Tracy’s preference is to see more limited fields – 24 cars, just like the Indy 500 many years ago. That way, you are racing because you qualify; you deserve to be there.

Regardless, that day was life-altering. Many questions are yet to be answered. Some drivers are still distraught. In spite of on-track rivalries, many, especially the veterans are tight. Phone calls filled with long stretches of silence. Text messages and emails that say so little – but also say way too much.

That day has forced many drivers to look inward. To reluctantly face demons. What to do? Was this a result of a too short track and too many cars? Driver error? Opinions and theories vary. There may never be any absolute resolution. Many will take the long off season to think things through.

Paul Tracy has already done that. Alone. With his wife, Patty. And with his two children, Alysha and Conrad.

The last few months he was working hard toward finding a full-time ride for the 2012 season. He’d had enough of being a part-time driver.

That terrible accident reinforced his resolve. His driving career would not end with a whimper; he would end his professional driving days behind the wheel.

With the support of his family, Tracy is working the phones. Taking meetings. Going through “… the whole grip and grin routine.”

“I may be 42 years old, but I still believe that there is a place in racing for drivers with experience. Look at Dario (Franchitti); he’s a little younger (than me) yet the man has won four championships – three back-to-back. Knowledge and skill counts for everything.”

Paul Tracy refuses to deal in what ifs, as in what if he doesn’t get enough sponsorship to run what he calls his “farewell tour” of IndyCar racing next season. Remember, this is a man who has accumulated 31 victories in 20 years of racing in the big leagues.

“We’ve been talking to a few teams,” Tracy said. “Ideally I’m looking for a team that already has some sponsorship money; what I can bring
will be enough to put them on the track for a full season.”

Tracy does have a long-standing partnership with Honda Canada through its Honda Dealers network that provides enough sponsorship for him to race at the Honda Indy Toronto and the Edmonton Indy. While that may sweeten the pot as he goes looking for a deal, it also handicaps him; next season the IndyCar Series adds Chevrolet and Lotus as engine suppliers and it is believed that at least two of the teams Tracy has talked to will use those power plants.

“Honda has been a great supporter of mine and I would like that association to continue,” he said. “Ideally I would like a deal with a team that runs Honda engines.”

Meantime the Thrill from Westhill is putting all his future marbles into one basket; he’s not looking beyond 2012 in his racing life. Asked about his life after racing Tracy quickly and firmly replied, playing with the ubiquitous can of Diet Coke, “I haven’t even thought about it. I still have work to do.”

Just announced earlier this morning from Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, The Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) announced the names of 11 vehicles that will now compete for 2012 Canadian Car, and Canadian Utility Vehicle of the Year.

The annual event known as Testfest and held in Niagara-on-the-Lake, brought 70 Canadian automotive journalists together to road and track test some 57, 2012 model year vehicles now arriving in dealer showrooms.

Today’s announcement followed almost a week of rigourous road and track testing by AJAC members, with the purpose of narrowing a field of 57 entries down to winners in 11 categories.

The winners in the 11 categories are:

  • Best New Small Car under $21K: Hyundai Accent
  • Best New Small Car over $21K: Hyundai Elantra
  • Best New Family Car under $30K: KIA Optima LX
  • Best New Family Car over $30K: KIA Optima Hybrid
  • Best New Luxury Car: Mercedes-Benz C-Class C350 4MATICSedan
  • Best New Sports/Performance Car under $50K: Hyundai Veloster
  • Best New Sports/Performance Car over $50K: BMW 1 Series M Coupe
  • Best New Prestige Car over $75K: Mercedes-Benz S-Class S350 Bluetec 4MATIC
  • Best New SUV/CUV under $35K: Dodge Journey
  • Best New SUV/SUV $35K-60K: Volkswagen Touareg TDI Clean Diesel
  • Best New SUV/CUV over $60K: BMW X3

Did you spot the lonely North American automobile? Does this surprise you? Seriously?

The AJAC 2011 car of the year was General Motors Cruz; is that once highly regarded vehicle now considered flavour of the month – yesterday’s news?

Of the 70 Canadian journalists who participated in Testfest this month, there are few, if any changes from last year. Why the apparent about face? Public opinion? Or can North America not build a decent automobile? Hold on a moment; consider Honda Canada with their Alliston manufacturing facilities. Recently back on line at full production, they are producing between 1,400 and 1,600 Honda Civics per day for the North American market. A Japanese car, built in Canada that may well lay claim shortly to its 14th consecutive year of being Canada’s number one selling car. When was the last time we saw that honourable statistic bestowed upon one of Detroit’s Big 3? Oh yes, right… before there was any serious competition from European or Asian manufacturers, that’s when.

I digress. As can clearly be seen, Korean automakers did extremely well, actually winning five of the 11 categories — including the KIA Optima, which sewed up both family car categories.

If you follow cars, the end result may not come as a complete surprise to many. For the past couple of years, Korean manufacturers Hyundai and Kia, a once bankrupt manufacturer not too many years ago has been bringing cars to the market with tremendous style and appeal while loaded with safety features and excellent value for the dollar.

We’ll still have to wait a few months to hear the declared overall winners for 2012 Canadian Car of the Year and Utility Vehicle of the Year; they’ll be announced at the Canadian International AutoShow in Toronto in February 2012.

One wonders; given the bailouts in North America to some automakers who were teetering on the brink, can they too, in the future return to their once former glory? Or are the stakes quite simply way too high?

Time and public opinion will tell.

“Get your motor running
Head out on the highway
Looking for adventure
In whatever comes our way”**

These lyrics mean many things to so many people. It is an anthem really that perhaps is instantly identifiable with a lifestyle – that of the motorcycle. From the immediately recognizable opening guitar riff, this classic rock radio staple was Canadian rock icons Steppenwolf’s single biggest release. When it was attached to the soundtrack of ‘Easy Rider’, that one movie in its own way did more for motorcycles and the life on the road than any other movie before or since, including Marlon Brando’s ‘The Wild One’. Remember Peter Fonda’s chopper for the picture? This bike was specially built for the low budget film; one of four custom builds from Harley-Davidson® Hydra Glide® bikes – all previously owned by police departments. Wonderful irony.

At the end of the day, the name Harley-Davidson® is synonymous with larger machines, often inappropriately associated with bike ‘gangs’ and the like. Truth be known, many bike owners, regardless of the brand are members of clubs – organizations, not gangs that often arrange various events and even fund raise for a charity of choice. Once considered a domain for men only, today both sexes consider motorcycles as a mode of transport – for that spirit of adventure.

“Owning a Harley is a lifestyle,” says Alex Carroni PR maven of Deeley Harley-Davidson Canada. “Once you experience your first, it’s unlikely you’ll move to another brand. Sure, as you mature and your road experience changes and the physical demands on your body take its toll, you may move around among the models. It’s not unusual for a rider with the initial purchase of, say a Sportster® Nightster® XL1200N – with its classic vintage motorcycle appearance to trade up for an awesome cruising road machine, the six speed transmission CVO™ Street Glide®, almost 900 pounds of supremely-engineered, controlled power.”

She, Alex, is quick to point out that these days, with Harleys being built in Milwaukee and the strength of the Canadian dollar, there has probably never been a better time than now to invest in a North American-made machine compared to an import. In fact, since the end of August 2009, prices of Harley-Davidson machines have been reduced by about 14½%.

“I can practically guarantee that once you come through our doors, at some point, you will be the proud owner of one of the best engineered driving machines on the planet – bar none. There’s just something about the name and experience that compels you to come back.”

Let’s take a look at some of the exciting line up for 2012; what does Harley have in store for the newcomer to motorcycling and the enthusiastic, alike.

2012 Sportster Custom

Now for the first time ever, any Harley-Davidson customer that wants to purchase a 2012 Sportster 1200 Custom with a base MSRP of $11,389 will, with the aid of a powerful online tool at be able to build and visualize their own, custom bike – and pricing. Choose colour; wheels, front end components – as many as 2,600 different combinations including foot-control location, seat and handlebar choices all of which may be selected to adjust the fit of the actual motorcycle to an individual rider’s specific stature. Once you have finished building your bike, print off the detailed description and take it down to your closest Harley-Davidson dealer. There a professional, highly-trained staff member can review your planned bike. They might even suggest items you had not considered, perhaps even removing others that, based upon your intended usage, may not be either necessary or appropriate. Finalized, place the order and expect to take delivery of a brand new, fully-customized bike within four weeks. All work will have been done at one time, leaving you to enjoy your new-found freedom with minimal interruption as you take to the open road and a lifetime of new adventures.

2012 Dyna Switchback

Harley-Davidson now gives you the opportunity of owning two bikes – and all for the price of one! The new Dyna Switchback is indeed a true quick change artist; with colour-matched hard saddlebags and a fork mounted windshield, you’re sitting astride a 1,690cc beast with 100-foot pounds of torque at 3,500rpm. The Switchback is considered a custom touring motorcycle. However, remove the saddle bags and detach the windshield (all without tools) and voila, you’re now looking at your new custom street cruiser. The choices are yours and it all takes but a few moments depending upon how you plan to use your bike that day. This is a motorcycle that is sure to impress, regardless of your intended use. The H-D Dyna Switchback is designed and styled to evoke a classic proportion and clean, straight lines – from the fuel tank to the full-coverage rear fender. This bike will make a impression wherever it goes. And regardless of how you configure it in the morning, hours later on a winding, undulating two-lane highway in Northern Ontario, you’ll still feel alert and comfortable, thanks to a responsive riding package that Harley’s engineers and designers have worked hard to accomplish. Weighing in at only 718 pounds, it’s ready to handle whatever you throw in its path, delivering strong performance on the boulevard and the highway. Consider taking a Switchback for a test ride and see for yourself what enthusiasts and engineers alike are talking about. And yes, with its straight cut muffler, this machine’s chrome exhaust is tuned for a deep exhaust tone that makes it sound the way a Harley should.

2012 V-Rod® 10th Anniversary Edition

This very special motorcycle is a stunning tribute to the original V-Rod and will only be available, in this 10th Anniversary edition for 2012. At a suggested base MSRP of $17,559, this stunning machine is lovingly finished in a Brilliant Silver Pearl custom paint job and a unique colour-matched frame. With loads of extra chrome and polished surfaces, this bike will literally dazzle, gleaming from the engine, exhaust and speed screen. This motorbike announces its presence loudly. Check out the 240mm wide rear tire, and the 10th Anniversary graphics. Not only does this V-Rod look terrific, it is backed up with a rubber-mounted (to reduce vibration and road noise) liquid-cooled 1,250cc Revolution® engine with electronic sequential port fuel injectors. Generating 125hp at 8,250rpm and all linked to an assist and slip clutch, five-speed transmission and a high-performance carbon-fibre belt drive. And that awesome rear tire? Combine it with Brembo (yes that’s right, the same braking system found on high-end aspirational sports cars) triple disc brakes with an anti-lock braking system, and you have a commanding performance vehicle that looks and acts the part – in spades. Remember, the V-Rod’s pedigree was originally inspired by drag racing bikes and monster-motor custom
performance motorcycles.

2012 CVO™ Road Glide® Custom

This is one bike that demands respect, commands the owner and onlookers alike to admire and nod in appreciation. This is a hot-rod touring performance motorcycle drenched with chrome that is only available in limited numbers so if you gaze at this machine with slack-jawed awe and reverence, it’ll take a strong will and an open cheque book to purchase one of only 2,100 units being produced. Not for the faint of heart, this bulging, limited-production motorcycle features the most powerful V-Twin engine offered by Harley-Davidson, an exclusive multi-coloured paint scheme and a brand new high-output Harman/Kardon sound system with MTX speakers and a host of other custom components, unique to this bike. And yes, the starting MSRP is $33,689. Everything about this machine shouts out its quality and complete synergy with the Harley-Davidson brand. When Bill Harley and Walter Davidson built the very first one-cylinder motorcycle in cramped quarters in Milwaukee, in 1903, would they even have dared to imagine a magnificent road machine such as this? OK. So technology aside, probably not. Regardless, everything about this bike speaks to its long, illustrious heritage and the highest standards. So much so, Harley-Davidson CVOs are backed by a two-year unlimited mileage warranty. Combine all this technology and style with the Screamin’ Eagle® Twin Cam 110™ engine, electronic throttle, electronic sequential fuel injection, a six-speed cruise drive transmission, all new black internally-wired handlebars with matching black hand controls and a whole host of additional features and amenities that make this a machine to be reckoned. Available in three absolutely gorgeous paint finishes, our vote goes to the White Gold Pearl and Starfire Black with Real Smoke graphic. Absolutely magnificent and a traffic stopper, to be sure.

While you may never quite pull off the Peter Fonda look from the late 1960’s, know that on any Harley-Davidson you choose, you are practically guaranteed to look the part – especially if outfitted from your local Harley-Davidson dealer. You’re a rider that knows who they are and where they are going. The fact it may take a little longer to get there since riding is so exhilarating makes no difference.

Drive well. Drive long. Drive safe.

“Like a true nature child
We were born
Born to be wild
We have climbed so high
Never want to die.

Born to be wild…”**

** ‘Born to be Wild’ – Written by Dennis Edmonton, aka Mars Bonfire.

When the sirens started their relentless wail on March 11, 2011 along the eastern seaboard of Japan, who could have imagined that similar, metaphorical sirens might also be resonating in a community in Central Ontario, over 10,000 kilometres away?

We’re talking about the small town of Alliston, situated north and west of Toronto.

Since 1986 when Honda Canada first opened the doors to the fledgling state-of-the-art operation, Honda of Canada Manufacturing (HCM) have been producing Honda-brand vehicles for the North American market and beyond with great success. In fact, HCM has produced more than 5.4 million vehicles.

Events of mid-March saw production of all vehicles produced on these shores reduced by 50%. It could not have happened at a worse time: HCM’s Plant 1 was beginning to ramp up for the introduction of the 2012 model year Civic. All Civics destined for North American with the exception of the Hybrid are built there. The Civic has been the top selling passenger vehicle in Canada for the past 13 years with more than 1.6
million of them being sold in Canada since 1973.

While the sudden slow down affected Honda Canada and HCM’s 4,200 employees (Associates), not one single Associate was laid off in the months after the tragic Asian disaster.  Production of all Honda Civics suffered; so did that of the Acura MDX and ZDX, also built in Alliston. It’s important to note that not only was HCM affected, so too was the extensive Canadian dealer network and of course, local suppliers of many
key components used in production of Honda automobiles.

In September of this year, production at Plant 1 (which builds the Civic Sedan, Coupe and the Si coupe), returned to two shift operations. Jon Minto, senior vice president of HCM, and Jerry Chenkin, executive of Honda Canada announced on October 19, 2011 that full production on all four shifts and Plants 1 and 2 have now resumed. Plant 1 will produce 800 vehicles a day and Plant 2, 600. Plans are underway, however to increase Plant 2 production to 800 vehicles by the end of November. 400 new associates have been hired and are presently undergoing extensive training.

Both senior executives made a point of thanking everyone within the Honda family in helping to weather difficult circumstances. Throughout it all, orders for the 2012 Civic continued thanks to the enthusiasm of their loyal dealers. Now the first order of business is to ensure that back orders are filled and that a comfortable inventory of vehicles is maintained. Interestingly enough, while sales on a year to date basis for the Civic are down, as of the end of September, the Civic may be on track to hit the number one spot for the 14th consecutive year.

All while maintaining a safe and productive environment in this highly-efficient manufacturing facility.

These days, even with gas prices running at least 40% higher than they were 12 months ago, car manufacturers and their dealers are doing just about anything and everything they possibly can to entice you behind the wheel of a brand new vehicle.

Scan your newspaper (yes, people still do that, you know) and check out the full-page advertisements for new cars, trucks, SUVs and vans on either a Saturday or Sunday and be prepared to be bamboozled and confused.

Sometimes the colours of type in the advertisement will subliminally tell you who the manufacturer is. Blue? Well, that’s easy – it’s Ford. No, wait; it could be Hyundai – my mistake. Wrong shade of blue. Red? Got to be Toyota – or is it Honda?

Even after a credit meltdown these past couple of years, the inducements are often still beyond belief. For example, what follows are just some things that Detroit and Asia have seen fit to throw at us,  and, for the record not all necessarily bundled together. Usually.

  • No money down.
  • No security deposit.
  • Zero percent financing.
  • We’ll pay the tax!
  • First three months payments are on us!
  • Free gas for a year.
  • Save $x per gallon/per liter for 12 months.
  • Free delivery.
  • Free tank of gas.
  • Free oil changes for as long as you own the vehicle.
  • Free tires for as long as you own the vehicle.
  • No charge scheduled maintenance.
  • Free courtesy vehicle when your car is in the dealer’s shop.
  • And my personal favorite, employee pricing – meaning you were being taken if you considered paying anything close to the suggested MSRP.

As alluded earlier, business, generally thanks to the recent ‘downturn’ in the economy took a nosedive. Automobile manufacturers went cap in
hand to their respective governments looking for bailout money. Why, like the debacle in the mortgage market, Detroit especially, in its own inimitable fashion followed suit and offered the automotive equivalent of mortgage-backed securities, one of the core reasons for the financial meltdown we all still struggle to make our way out from under. Easy credit and alarmingly disarming terms and sales tactics sucked in many individuals who seemed to believe that, the ‘dream’ that Madison Avenue had been promising for years, was attainable.

Just sign here. And here. Here, too.

People… are we not going down that very same road again?  If something sounds to good to be true…

Did we learn nothing?

That, my friends, is the perfect example of a simple yet rhetorical question.

In this part of the country, we love our trucks.  ½ ton pick ups and up. Some use them as a primary vehicle, some for work. Some drive them on weekends. Some drive them day in, day out. In rural Canada, trucks are king. No question.

For the most part and to this point, to get the job done, owners traditionally looked to growling V8 monsters (gas or diesel-fuelled), capable of performing just about every task thrown in its 4 x 4 or 4 x 2 path. There was no task too big, no task too small for the venerable workhorse.

In Canada, pick up truck sales consistently lead the way for vehicles purchased, month over month. As a matter of fact, the top-selling pick up in this country for 45 years now is the Ford F-150 series, a pick up that comes in about as many variations as Baskin Robbins has flavours.

As popular as the F-150 pick up might be, the Ford Motor company has not sat back complacently and watched the orders come in, month in, month out.

Well, they have made note of the orders, but a few years back, Ford, like many other manufacturers out there began to realize that the salad days of big honking, fuel guzzling stump-pulling trucks was perhaps nearing an end. People were finally starting to pay attention and made demands on Detroit and Canada’s Big 3 and even popular import manufacturers. Greater fuel efficiency was required. But for trucks, the message was even clearer. Improve the efficiency of the motors to reduce wear and tear on wallets, but don’t even think about sacrificing power and raw, brute strength.

Those that work the land or haul loads of lumber and equipment from job site to job site have high, some might argue unrealistic expectations when it comes to their trucks. But now, especially with the high cost of fuel, they want everything they ever had when they turned on their pick up’s engine. And more. Saving money has never been more important – without sacrificing raw power.

A tall order, and over the past few years, there have been many close calls from all the major manufacturers. Even some of the imports were getting it right – to a point. As much as there may be loyalty to North American trucks, if off shore manufacturers presented a diesel-fuelled  option, there would be many folks tipping their hats, rubbing their chins and saying, “Show me!”

Now it seems that the engineers at Ford may well have come up with a winning formula with the introduction of the 2011 F-150 with EcoBoost.

EcoBoost is a name that Ford has pinned on one or two engines over the past couple of years, especially with the SHO passenger vehicle and the large family-oriented Flex SUV. So what exactly is this EcoBoost they’re almost bragging about? Well succinctly, EcoBoost is a family of turbocharged and direct injected six-cylinder (and four-cylinder) gasoline engines built by the Ford Motor Company. Engines equipped with EcoBoost technology are designed to deliver power and torque consistent with larger displacement, naturally aspirated engines while achieving approximately 20% better fuel efficiency and 15% reduced greenhouse emissions. Imagine that; an eco-oriented pick up! Simply put, relative to the power output and fuel efficiency of hybrid and even diesel technologies, Ford sees EcoBoost as an affordable and versatile alternative and intends on using it extensively in more future vehicle applications – hence the F-150.

This truck is a definite game-changer in the world of pick ups. The leopard has managed to change its spots. Really. Under the hood of this venerable pick up is an all new 3.5L V6 with the aforementioned EcoBoost. Will this V6 convince die hard V8 believers? If you look strictly at the numbers, there is little doubt. This engine is a twin-turbo, DOHC – practically unheard of in the truck world. And it runs on regular, readily available unleaded gasoline. Fuel economy is also impressive – 12.9l/100km city and 9.0l/100km highway. Pretty darn respectable for a truck. But what’s next makes it stand out from the pack. This blown V6 motor generates 365hp and 465lb.-ft. torque way down low in the rev range – putting it in the same class as similar trucks with massive V8 engines – but with respectable fuel economy. In fact, fuel consumption even for this twin turbo engine, is reduced by 20 per cent. Even when compared to the F-150 Platinum with a 411hp 6.2L V8, the Ford F-150 V6 with EcoBoost shares a towing capacity at an axle-ripping 11,300lbs and 3,060lbs payload, respectively. That’s right. V8 performance in a V6 package. Some observers have stated for the record that this truck drives more like a turbo-diesel, providing loads of low-end ‘grunt’ with what would appear to be little effort.

For the first three months of this year, Ford sold 20,000 trucks in Canada. By comparison, Honda, manufacturers of the top selling passenger car in Canada for 13 years running, rang up sales of 12,000 units.

It remains to be seen if this new dog can teach some old dogs a trick or two. Ford is expecting big things from this truck. Convincing die-hard ‘big-must-be-better’ customers to consider switching will tell the story. This is a serious contender with a considerable pedigree that cannot nor should not be denied. To appease some skeptics, engineers may have to tweak the exhaust systems, allowing the vehicle to actually ‘sound’ like it’s exerting itself. After all, that’s what everyone is used to. Not this good looking, performance-oriented street or off-road mainstay.

Ford F-150 V6 with EcoBoost doing a day's work

OK, so let’s be clear. Yes, there are some amazing ‘supercars’ out there that right off the dealer lot showroom would impress any calf-skin leather gloved, short espresso with a twist aficionado.

But the cars we are talking about here are for the average ‘Joe’, the individual who does not own a black AMEX card nor has either Brad or Angelina on speed dial.

So without any unnecessary fanfare, here’s our final selection.

2011 Dodge Challenger SRT8 392

Dodge has done an absolutely stunning job of camouflaging the Challenger SRT8 392 as an automobile. When compared to its most direct rivals, the Challenger is the design that most successfully draws on its muscle-bound coupe heritage. Just look at it. Raw animal like power oozes from the sheet metal – and then some.

Look at the hood scoops and beefy oversize tires – it all adds up to one menacing muscle car. Not beautiful, almost mean, poised like a tightly wound spring, and ready to leap into action at the drop of a hat – or flag.

The new 6.4L HEMI pumps out 470hp and 470 lb ft. of torque – 50 more horses and 90 lbs more twist than the previous model. That extra torque results in some impressive straight line acceleration: 0-100 km in the high 4-second range. Fortunately for everyone, Brembo brakes are standard issue on this built-for-speed beast. The boys in the backrooms must have been chuckling when they came up with this monster.

Traditionally cars with this much heat under the hood are good for one thing – going fast and in a straight line. However, it would appear that the engineers built a spectacular muscle car with aspirations of German sports-car agility.  Really.

Only a limited number of these driving machines are destined for Canada so keep a wary eye – and your wallet wide open.

2011 Ford Mustang GT Premium

With the arrival of the new V8, ‘5.0’ badges make a return to the Mustang’s flanks after an 18-year absence. Mustang GTs are also quickly identifiable by their grille-mounted fog lamps and 18-inch wheels that fit snugly under the boldly flared wheel arches. Make no mistake, the 2011 Mustang is no wallflower.

From behind the wheel, it’s soon evident that the Mustang GT even with automatic transmission is not your grandmother’s Ford. When filled up with wallet-draining premium fuel, the 5L 4V Ti-VCT V8 kicks out 412hp and 390 pound-feet of torque. You’ll still see gas station owner’s smile when you drive in.

OK so we know this is a driving machine. How does it stack up, overall?

Chances are, you’re going to enjoy the time you spend inside the 2011 Mustang GT. Ford do not appear to have ‘cheaped’ out on materials and finish.

The by now almost ubuitous (Microsoft) Sync infotainment system is pretty amazing, but it’s perhaps not quite as instinctive as TV spots might have you believe. Spend time with it and it is impressive and quite versatile. Word to the wise; the navigation system might even make getting lost fun. It’s one of the best out there – especially in this price range which, incidentally, starts around $40,000.

The 2011 Ford Mustang 5.0 V-8 launch in LA

2011 Golf GTI

In 2010, Volkswagen (VW) overhauled the GTI, adding fresh changes that included chrome exhaust pipes, angular headlights and an upscale interior that rivals Audi. In fact a well-known on line reviewer, stated, “The VW GTI’s interior is quite simply, the best in its class. It’s so nice, in fact, that it could be mistaken for a cabin from sister company Audi, save for the plaid fabric seats.”

The interior and exterior receive minor updates for 2011. VW also added classier features to the premium packages. Volkswagen hasn’t touched the mechanics because the Volkswagen GTI is one of the best driving sporty hatchbacks on the market. While it might not be perhaps as quick or even nimble as other sport hatchbacks, it does provide an overall superior driving experience. German engineering, after all.

Available with a long list of options as standard equipment such as Bluetooth and satellite radio, the 2011 GTI, starting with a manufacturer’s suggested price of $28,875 however, isn’t best in class performance-wise. But unless consumers plan on drag racing, the GTI is near perfect for driving-enthusiasts. Available with optional 18” alloy wheels and low-profile performance tires, coupled with the ever-reliable 2.0 TSI, 200hp, 6-speed manual or optional 6-speed automatic DSG with Tiptronic® and all tied into dual chrome exhaust pipes, this is one serious vehicle for the driver that wants to make a statement; looking cool but being a little eco-minded, too. It is still a turbocharged 4-cylinder.

2011 Volkswagen Golf GTI somewhere near Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON


These days life continues to develop at a fast pace – some might argue too fast.

Regardless, one of the things that we might likely all agree is we like cars. We like cars that look good. We like cars that look performance-oriented and if they can deliver, even better.

While customizing cars is still a popular activity, it is most often done to cars that might have a few miles under the hood.

Unless you are a professional athlete with unlimited funds, it’s unlikely you’re going to take a brand new ‘super car’ like a Ferrari, for example and change the angle of the seats, or the colour of the leather upholstery, or rip out the OEM sound system and install customized sound equipment that could rival a stadium-playing metal band. It would be safe to say that Will Castro, the well known vehicle customizer to the stars in Miami, is likely not on your speed dial.

But still you want to drive a car you can be proud. You want to receive nods of acknowledgement from your peers. You want it all, but without breaking the bank.

These days, many of the manufacturers have been paying attention. Rather than lose a customer, some have gone out of their way to build performance-oriented machines that will turn heads at every opportunity.

Let’s examine some of those choices. The following are direct from the dealer floor. What you might choose to do with them is your prerogative. But any one of the following will fit the bill – depending upon the budget you have available.

2012 Honda Civic Si

The all new 2012 Honda Civic Coupe Si is an affordable sports coupe for drivers of all ages. Especially if you’re looking for performance – and excitement and at affordable price point, too.  Starting at $25,990 the all new 2.4-litre, 16-valve, DOHC, i-VTEC® 4-cylinder red lines at 7000rpm while producing a very respectable 201hp. But the biggest surprise? The innovative engine generates a phenomenal 170 lb.-ft. @ 4400 rpm – a 22% increase over the old model!

Nudge the 6-speed manual transmission through the short gates and be prepared for truly spirited performance as the harnessed raw power is efficiently transferred to P215/45R17 tires. If you’ve driven an Si before, good for you. This is different. Feel empowered as the vehicle quickly accelerates from a standing stop and listen to the delightful sound of the engine as its controlled power is unleashed.

This vehicle will bring a smile to drivers, passengers and onlookers alike. Handling is very comfortable and sure-footed.

All in all, a worthy addition to the Honda line-up; perhaps exterior styling is not as ‘drastic’ as some might want, but overall, it definitely delivers.

2012 Honda Civic Si on the course at FedEx Field in Washington, DC