Mazda celebrates 25 years of Miata at NYIAS

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For sports car fans, perhaps the most significant presence at this year’s New York Auto Show was Mazda’s display commemorating the 25th anniversary of the worlds most faithful roadster. A collection of significant models was on hand that included some of the little car’s history.

At the front of the line were production numbers 14 and 15, cars that were on the show stand at the 1989 Chicago Auto Show. Who could have guessed what an impact the tiny machine would have on motoring history.

In the next row sat #17, the first Miata race car. With 6,500 racing miles on the odometer, this is the first of over 5,000 Miatas that have been raced over the years. More than any other model. It truly changed the face of auto racing.
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Day one at the New York International Auto Show

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Here I sit, in Hudson Station Bar & Grill, with a cold pint of Bronx Lager and my laptop, which must mean that this year’s New York show has come to an end. It has for me anyway, as some journos are still slogging around the show floor or working in the somewhat dark and dingy media center. I am much happier to work here at the bar.

I have had mixed feelings about this year’s show, as in many respects in was a great show, and yet I came away somewhat disappointed.

There were several very important reveals this week, as Hyundai and Toyota introduced the new Sonata and Camry respectively, two of the most important models in the passenger car market. Kia dropped their new Sedona, the newest player in the all important minivan market. There were several other launches in smaller niches as well.

There was lots of exciting new product on the floor, and yet the show lacked some something. There were  some who went so far as to express boredom. This is an intangible contrast to Detroit just a few months ago, where the vibe was almost electric.  Cobo Hall seemed alive with excitement, despite the insanely cold Winter weather. Does that mean that that NYIAS wasn’t up to snuff? [Read more...]

Review: 2014 Subaru Forester

091_2014Forester25iAh, Subaru. While the company has made great strides in going mainstream over the past few years, they still are not quite on the radar for the casual car buyer, who cannot be bothered to think about cars. You buy a Subaru because you seek one out. Sure, the easy thing is to just walk into a Honda or Toyota showroom, but even as Subaru is losing its quirkiness and expanding their appeal, their legion of fans remain loyal. I should know, I have relatives who have owned Subaru’s for nearly thirty years. And I get the appeal. My cousin taught me how to drive a stick shift in his 1976 Subaru wagon, which was an absolute riot to drive. Tall and narrow, we would navigate completely unmarked trails at the local park with nary a problem. Light blue with a blue plaid and vinyl interior, I was smitten with that car, and I wanted it badly, but by the time I was of driving age rust had taken its toll on the old girl.

So I had to smile when a 2014 Marine Blue Pearl Forester was dropped off to me, which has been redesigned for this year. Sadly, without a matching plaid interior. Yes, it is far more refined than the old ’76 Subie, but is the modern iteration of the tall, narrow wagon, or should I say crossover. What I miss about Subaru’s are their endearing but dorky looks. To the casual observer, this could be any car. Subaru has never been a company that looks to seek attention to itself, or be flashy, but the stylists took conservative styling to an extreme. Yes, it is a fine looking car, but what it lacks identity and character, qualities that were once the hallmark of Subaru.

137_2014ForesterLtdSubaru is known for their utility, and the interior of the Forester continues that tradition. Yes, it’s a little short on style, but that isn’t the point here. What we do have is a roomy interior with an impressive amount of cargo space. Finding a comfortable driving position is simple enough, and most of the main controls are intuitive to use. Unfortunately, our test car’s navigation and infotainment system was frustrating to use, and lags behind the competition. Selecting the SiriusXM satellite radio station you want should not have to be that hard. So, if you are in the market for a Forester, skip the high-end options, you will be much happier for it.

The new Forester is available with a choice of two engines, the first a 2.5L boxer four rated at 170hp, and a 2.0L turbo boxer four rated at 250hp. Of course, all Foresters are all-wheel drive. Base 2.5 Foresters can be had with a six-speed manual, but once you move up to higher trim levels, a Continuously Variable Transmission is your only choice. A manual tranny is not available with the turbocharged engine. Acceleration around town is adequate, the ride is comfortable enough, steering a bit numb-but the same can be said for most four cylinder small crossovers. The Subaru does the job it is supposed to do, but you never forget you are driving an appliance. Even the Subie’s signature boxer four’s engine note is muted. To quote, isn’t that what makes a Subaru a Subaru? The Garage are no fans of the mooing CVT transmissions which extracts all the joy out of driving, but buyers will no doubt appreciate the 24/32 MPG city/highway EPA fuel economy figures.

102_2014Forester25iThe Forester is available in six different trim levels. Our test car was the 2.5i Touring, the top-spec for for the base non-turbo engine. Standard equipment includes 17″ alloys, panoramic sunroof, dual zone auto climate control, 6.1″ LCD touch screen control panel with Navigation, Bluetooth, Harmon Kardon audio with HD radio and XMSirius satellite radio, power driver’s seat, power rear lift gate, leather interior, and heated front seats. Our test car added an option package which included keyless access and start, EyeSight Driver Assist, Pre-Collision braking system, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and pre-collision throttle management system and HID headlights, which are some pretty high-end tech items for such a modest CUV. All in, our Forester has an MSRP of $33,220USD. This is on the high end of the compact CUV price scale, but not a bad value for having the latest in high-tech safety features.

For sure, it was impossible to not recall my fond memories of my cousin’s beloved ’76 Subie, and as I watched the Forester drive off, again, I smiled having lived with a light blue, tall Subaru wagon. Yes, it still has the basic elements that make a Subaru a Subaru, chiefly a boxer engine, all-wheel drive, a no-nonsense interior and plenty of utility. What it lacks from Subaru’s of yore is that quirky character, but Subaru will quickly point out to me how much their sales have improved since they went mainstream. And they would also likely counter if it turned off their previous customers? To answer that, Subaru would also point out my cousin just bought a Subaru XV CrossTrek. His wife has a new Outback. And their son has a new Legacy. Question answered Subaru, carry on.

Arie Luyendyk Jr. injured in wild TORC crash

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While some race car drivers are happy to pursue the dream in one series or another, real racers can often be found spending their personal time racing other types of cars. Those guys tend to be the ones that compete in different series at the same time and when the paying rides in one series dry up, they head to some other form of motorsport. They race because they have to in order to fuel their passion. It would seem that Arie Luyendyk Jr. is just one of those guys.

The son of Indycar legend Ari, Arie Jr. is best known for his stint on the popular television series The Bachelor. Lately, Luyendyk Jr. has been playing in the dirt at the wheel of a TORC racing truck. The series was in Primm, Nevada last weekend and the hunky racer had a massive roll in his Gunk sponsored truck. The impact broke Luyendyk’s collarbone, but fortunately he was fine otherwise, being awake and even Tweeting out pictures of himself from the ambulance on the way to the hospital.
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Onboard Audi S1 video will blow your mind

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Back in the mid-Eighties, the Group B days, there was a video floating around about the series and Audi’s involvement. Chances are that you have seen bits of it that are now mashed-up with other stuff in modern YouTube videos. The flick featured lots of incredibly cheesy 80s Euro synth tunes and fantastic footage of the most fearsome cars ever built, complete with flames and jumps. Also on tap was a decent amount of in car footage, something we didn’t see too often at that time.

There was one particular scene that featured the fancy footwork of one Walter Rohrl. That scene is what taught me how to left foot brake, heel and toe downshift and the near dead art of double clutching. I pretty much wore out the VHS tape because I watched it so many times. It was great footage for the time, but modern action cameras are so much better than what we have now.

Ride along with Polish rally driver Josef Beres during a hill climb last year in his Audi S1 Quattro Group B car. While we don’t see any foot action, the sound is utterly fantastic and gives a small glimpse into what it must have been like to rally these monsters back in the day.

Source: YouTube via Motorsport Retro

Crazy Leo enjoys successful first WRC event in Portugal

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Crazy Leo Urlichich, the Canadian rally driver who came by his nickname thanks to his wild driving style, has successfully completed his first ever WRC event, in Portugal. Taking part in a driver search program called the Drive DMACK Fiesta Trophy, saw the fan focused driver trading his signature orange and black Subaru for a front wheel drive Ford Fiesta.

Saying that the competition at an FIA World Rally Championship event is stiff would be stiff is somewhat redundant, but the DMACK Fiesta Trophy itself features some tough competitors including Max Vatanen, son of rally legend Ari Vatanen.
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Review: 2014 Hyundai Tuscon GLS AWD

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When the Hyundai Tuscon first came out in 2009 as a 2010 model, small SUVs were practical but not very attractive. Many were boxy and functional but not something that you could call “pretty” to look at.

Hyundai changed all of that by adding some spice to the small SUV segment. These days most of the small SUVs have become more shapely, more attractive, and arguably we have Hyundai to thank for that.

In this increasingly competitive small SUV market, can look-at-me styling and newfound efficiency still keep Hyundai’s trucklet as a contender? Keep on reading and find out.

EXTERIOR

Gone is the love/hate puppy dog styling of the previous generation Tuscon. The current model features swoopy styling with its stylish taper from the A-pillar to the D pillar.

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The rising beltline looks nice but it is more difficult for kids to see out of the rear door’s windows because of this styling trait.

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Personally though, I didn’t find it to be too much of a problem when merging or checking blindspots. With its large windshield, visibility out front is excellent. Just be careful when parking as the nose tapers off significantly. Fortunately, the Tuscon’s snout is not too long so judging where the front end is will not be too difficult.

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Speaking of snouts, new for 2014 is the addition of Audi-like LED daytime running lights. They definitely help to bring the Tuscon upmarket.

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INTERIOR

Inside you’ll find a basic but well organized interior. Step-in height is reasonable with its low floor and seat height. No need for any running boards or side steps here.

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My only complaint was the width of the sills. You’ll have to step in and lift your limbs up carefully or your pant leg may get dirty from touching the sill.

The dash is organized in a no nonsense fashion with large and easy-to-use (and find) buttons. The controls are at a nice height with not too much reach from the driver’s seat.

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There was plenty of legroom and headroom for myself at 5’9”. The seat has a wide range of adjustments and can be lifted quite high for shorter drivers. The steering wheel also tilts and telescopes for maximum adjustment.

One small complaint is that the plastic trim on the steering wheel extends all around the lower inside circumference of the wheel. I thought that it was a tad hard and uncomfortable over longer drives but your mileage may vary.

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The front cloth/leatherette seats in my Tuscon GLS were surprisingly sculpted for a small SUV. There is an above average amount of lateral and thigh support but no lumbar support. A small demerit there.

While the lateral support is great for driving enthusiasts such as myself, my passengers were divided into two camps. Half found the front seats really comfortable and supportive, the other half flat and a bit firm for longer hauls. I should note that the leather seats in the Tuscon Limited do feel more cushy than in my GLS tester, so be sure to try them out in that trim level when shopping around.

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The rear seats were very roomy for up to two large adults or three smaller ones. The outboard rear positions were even heated, a rarity in this class.

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The only complaint I heard from my rear passengers was that the seat base angle is a bit low and could use more thigh support for longer trips.

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Happily, the rear floor is nearly flat with minimal driveshaft intrusion, thereby resulting in no rear centre floor “hump”. This contributes to more rear leg and foot room especially for the centre rear passenger.

Despite the niggles, all passengers unanimously enjoyed the trucklet’s expansive glass moonroof. It really brightened up the interior significantly.

Cargo space in the Tuscon is much improved over the previous generation vehicle but it still has less cargo space (25.7 cu ft with seats up) than some competing vehicles in its class. The steeply raked tailgate window eats up some room here.

The Mazda CX-5 for example, has 34.1 cu ft with the rear seats up. For the most part, I don’t think this is too much of an issue unless you need to move a lot of stuff in one trip.

Notable mention: While my Tuscon GLS did not come with a navigation system, Hyundai cleverly integrated a trick rearview camera display into the rearview mirror.

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The built-in screen is totally hidden until the reverse gear is activated at which point a small but clear view of the area behind the Tuscon is displayed on the left of the mirror.

It was much appreciated as the Tuscon’s view out back is a limited due to its smallish rear window.

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SO HOW DOES IT DRIVE?

Handling-wise, the Tuscon feels quite agile and nimble. There is an acceptable amount of body roll unless you really push it hard in the twisties. Because the Tuscon is one of Hyundai’s older designs, it has an honest to goodness hydraulic power steering rack. It has a decent amount of road feel, much better than electric systems. My only complaint is that it is a bit numb off-centre and that the steering ratio could be a bit quicker.

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The Tuscon’s good handling helped it through any slippery conditions and emergency manoeuvres I had to put it through. The stability control seemed to be well calibrated enough to step in only when needed and the intelligent all wheel drive system seemed to work quite well. Drivers can also lock the torque split 50/50 between front and rear wheels for deep sand or snow.

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What isn’t as impressive about the Tuscon is its ride on rough roads and the road noise. Small SUVs as a class are a bit noisy and the Tuscon is no exception. Wind noise is acceptable at low speeds but as you make it up to highway speeds it gets a bit loud inside.

On well paved surfaces the ride is perfectly acceptable. However on poor roads, the ride is a bit too stiff and the suspension lets even minor surfaces undulations ripple through more than I liked.

Power comes from Hyundai’s 2.4L 4-cylinder direct injection engine with 182hp and 177 ft-lbs/torque. It has adequate power around town and is competitive with other vehicles in its class. It won’t blow your socks off, but it’s responsive and delivers decent fuel economy.

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The 6 speed transmission also performs well with no delays in kickdowns upon command. My only complaint was that, like its big brother Santa Fe, the auto-manual shift gate lacks some feel.

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Hyundai claims fuel consumption ratings of 10.2L/100 kms in the city and 7.8L/100 kms on the highway. My observed fuel consumption after 80% city driving was 10.5L/100 kms.

Like some other Hyundais, there is an “Active ECO” function that can be activated to save fuel. Essentially, it modifies engine operation so you get more gradual acceleration. Transmission behaviour is also altered so that it tends to shift to higher gears sooner and isn’t as quick to downshift for passing. Active ECO also cuts off the fuel supply during deceleration. Hyundai says all this electronic management can increase fuel economy as much as 7%.

WARRANTY

Normally a vehicle’s warranty coverage is not worth of being mentioned in a review. However Hyundai is so confident in the quality of its products that it provides an absolute standout in the industry.

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Whereas other vehicles in its class only include a 3 year/80,000 kms warranty, the Tuscon, like other Hyundais, comes with a 5 year/100,000 kms comprehensive limited warranty (that includes powertrain and emissions). It also includes a 3 year unlimited mileage roadside assistance program.

WRAP-UP

It’s really quite amazing how much progress the South Korean auto manufacturers have made over a few short years.

My Tuscon GLS came in at an MSRP of $28,899. This is over $3,000 cheaper than a comparably equipped Mazda CX-5!

Overall, the Hyundai Tuscon is a pleasant small SUV.  While the platform is starting to show its age a little, the Tuscon is still worth considering particularly due to its outstanding warranty and unbeatable value.

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Intern Todd goes to St. Petes Indy

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At last weekend’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Indycar team owner and long time racing fan, David Letterman turned Intern Todd from the Late Show loose in the paddock with a camera on his tail. Hilarity ensues.

New car delivery squad charged with street racing

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Many consumers worry about car dealership staff driving their new car before they take delivery, fearing that dealership employees are laying down smokey burnouts or racing around the neighborhood for kicks. The truth is that dealership staff rarely have time for such shenanigans and even if they did, most dealership workers sadly are not car enthusiasts. They just don’t have the interest in ripping up someone’s new pride and joy. Besides, most consumers don’t realize how many people may have been behind the wheel of a car before it is even offloaded from the truck at the dealership.

A story this week in Canadian Manufacturing is a perfect, although extreme example.
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