On board with Martin & Johnson at Tall Pines

It has been a week since the 2011 edition of the Rally of the Tall Pines in Bancroft, Ontario and the onboard videos are beginning to pop up. The warm weather brought unusually high speeds, which led to a high attrition rate. Pines is usually known for having lots of “offs” due to snowy roads, but this year there was just one roll. Even still, just 25 of 60 teams finished the rally!

Our first video comes from Chris Martin and Brian Johnson, who put on a great show before becoming one of the casualties of Tall Pines.

On board video after the break.
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Win a the Ultimate Rally Experience with Crazy Leo at Tall Pines

The Rally of the Tall Pines. An icon on the North American rally scene. The final major motorsports event of the year.

As always, The Garage Blog will be there to bring you the sights and maybe even some sounds of the 2011 Rally of the Tall Pines in Bancroft, Ontario. You can be there too, for a rare opportunity to get up close and personal World class rally cars and their drivers. Best of all, it is free!

Of course, the best way to see the event would be to spend a few bucks on the Tall Pines VIP pass which includes transportation to and from the stages, food and special perks along the way. Perks like heat! They even throw in a bunch of official Tall Pines swag. For just $145 it is one of the best deals in all of motorsport and sells out every year. To learn more, visit the VIP program page.

The 2011 running of Tall Pines promises to be the biggest ever, with 60 teams entered ranging from classics to open class monsters. Along with the usual Subaru and Mitsubishi suspects, we’ll also see new Ford Fiesta rally machines. Add in a vintage Volvo, a Corolla and even a Datsun and there should be some great drifting action all day long. Mother nature is hard at work freezing the ditches solid and laying down a bit of snow to make things more challenging for the drivers, more exciting for the fans!

If you are really feeling lucky, you should enter Crazy Leo’s contest over on his Facebook fan page. The Crazy Leo VIP Rally Experience is like the VIP program on steroids. The winner gets a ride with Crazy Leo in The Beast, an open class Subaru WRX, during Friday’s shakedown stages. The prize also includes admission to Leo’s Tall Pines after party, complete with free beer!

All you need to do is submit your favorite rally photo to chris@crazyleo.net and you will be entered in the contest. Better hurry though, the contest closes on Wednesday at 10 pm.

Regardless of how you choose to watch the event, you HAVE to go to Bancroft this Saturday to check out the action. Come early and dress warm!

Photos from the 2010 Rally of the Tall Pines

Review: 2011 Subaru Forester 2.5XT

Auto journalists are a fickle bunch, and I will be the first to confess that at times we’re sometimes at odds with auto manufacturers. Subaru is a prime example. Us journos loved oddball Subarus, and praised them for catering to a rugged, left of center crowd that was small, but fiercely loyal. But the truth is, this is the car business, and Subaru is in the business of selling cars-and they wanted to appeal to more than quirky people living in New England and the Pacific Northwest. So, Subaru went mainstream. But with its strong selling Forester, was Subaru able to make an appeal to a larger customer base while still maintaining the ingredients of what makes a Subaru, a Subie? Read on.

The Forester is a familiar and well-loved fixture in the Subaru family. Now in its third generation, Subaru made a dramatic move with the Forester, changing it from an eccentric, tall station wagon to that of a more conventional small SUV designed to go head to head with the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. The Forester is an inoffensive design that assumes the silhouette of its competition. In other words, apart from the grill, it’s very hard to know you are looking at a Subaru. Our test car, finished in Sage Green Metallic seemed to make the Forester all the more transparent. That said, high-end touches such as chrome door handles and aluminum roof rails added a touch of class to its appearance. It would take a pretty astute Subie fan to note we were driving a turbocharged Forester, as a hood scoop and dual exhaust pipes are the only exterior hints of the extra power. From outside, the hood scoop isn’t really noticeable, but from the driver’s seat it is extremely pronounced, and does no favors in forward visibility.

Subaru’s are traditionally known for purposeful, but somewhat austere cabins, so it was a little odd to climb into a a plush, fully-featured Forester. The seats were comfortable, but offered no lateral support. Apart from aluminum pedals and an interesting weave on the floor mats,  there isn’t much to differentiate the Subaru from any other small SUV. The gauges were crystal clear, and most controls were intuitive to use. However, the audio and navigation interface seem behind that of the competition, and it puzzled me to no end that I could not figure out how to manually move from one satellite radio station to the next. It shouldn’t have to be that hard, guys. Stranger still were the cupholders in the center console-they were squares. With my wife’s iced coffee moving around I was terrified to approach corners with any level of enthusiasm for fear of the cup flying out of its square. Awful design. Fix it. In its favor, the Forester boasts a roomy cabin, a comfy rear seat with copious leg room, and an impressive amount of cargo space. I did wonder how our test car’s light-grey leather interior would stand up to the wear, tear and abuse a typical family would exact on this car.

Subaru recently overhauled its engines for the Forester. True to form, Subaru continues to offer a boxer four cylinder, this time a 2.5L rated at 170hp. This engine can be teamed to either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic. Our test car was equipped with the turbocharged 2.5L, good for 224hp, but the only transmission available is the four-speed automatic. While the tranny has no glaring issues in performance or execution, Subaru is down one or two cogs its competition offers. In other words, this transmission is an antique, and should have been updated when the engines were. Naturally, all Foresters have all-wheel drive. Our turbocharged Subaru offered plenty of pep around town, and hit highway ramps with authority. I’d have preferred a firmed up suspension and more steering feel to go along with the quickness, but again, I know Subaru is going for a broader market, and the 2.5XT was never meant as an Impreza WRX SUV. That said, the ride quality is about where it should be for a family friendly small SUV.

A base Forester will run you $20,495USD, but our test car was the top-spec 2.5XT Touring model. Standard features included HID headlights, panoramic power moonroof (it’s huge), dual-zone auto climate control, Bluetooth, power driver’s seat, leather heated seats and a rear vision camera. The only factory option was GPS navigation, which brought our as-delivered price to $32,320. The price may sound high for a Forester, but it actually falls right between a top-spec Honda CR-V which has less power, and a V-6 powered Toyota RAAV4 which is more powerful, so taking that into account, our test car seems priced right for its power and features.

But the question remains-did Subaru sell itself out in its quest for greater marketshare? Did they abandon the loyal buyers who have supported them for decades? The simple answer is no, they have not. All Foresters continue to have all-wheel drive as standard equipment. A boxer, horizontally opposed four cylinder resides under the hood, and Subaru continues to support turbocharging as they have since the early 1980′s. These are the basic ingredients that make a Subaru a Subaru, and in spite of more conventional styling, Subaru has remained true to what has defined them as a car company.

In sum, the Forester can sit comfortably with the best in its class. With an improved audio/navigation interface, a six-speed automatic and some workable cupholders, Subaru has the potential to keep the sales momentum of the Forester going strong.

Subaru Holds Pricing for new Impreza

Subaru is introducing an all-new Impreza for 2012, and the good news is the base price remains the same as the outgoing 2011 model. A four door 2.0i with a 5-speed manual will start at $17,495USD. A new CVT equipped car will add an additional $1,000, while the same car in 5-door hatchback form will add another $500. Buyers can upgrade to Premium and Limited models in both body styles, while Sport Premium (available in 5-spd and CVT) and Sport Limited (CVT only) models are restricted to the five door topping out at $22,595. Options such as moonroof, alloy wheels, all-weather package and navigation can be bought separate or grouped together. Conspicuous by its absence is the availability of an Outback model.

The 2012 Impreza is endowed with an all-new 2.0L boxer four rated at 148hp, and as before, all Imprezas will be equipped with all wheel drive. EPA gas mileage is rated at 27/36 MPG when equipped with the CVT, and Subaru boasts this makes the Impreza the most fuel efficient all-wheel drive car in North America. Expect the new Impreza to hit the showroom floor this November. For enthusiasts hankering for the more powerful WRX and WRX STI versions, watch this space as we promise to keep you updated as soon as we get more details.

Crazy Leo can’t stay away from the dirt, even at Mosport

They call him Crazy Leo and he’s a fiend in a Subaru on loose surfaces. Crazy Leo drives rally cars. This weekend though, Crazy Leo traded in his gravel tires for slicks for his first ever road race in the Castrol Canadian Touring Car Championship at the legendary Mosport International Raceway.
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2010 Mitsubishi Evo X long timer review

This is not so much of a long term test, as it is a long timer test. The lovely red Evo in the pics is a 2010 model that has been on the press fleet for a long, long time. Most press cars come off the manufacturers fleet after 10 or 12,000 km, but this poor beast has well over 25,000 on the clock. Hand the keys to a hot rod to some auto journos and they become teenage hooligans again, so those 25,000 km are probably more like 100,000 km in the hands of a loving owner.

This car has had its wheels refinished recently and yet all 4 BBS rims look like they were sourced from a scrap yard. The car has been repainted and looks like someone decided to detail it with steel wool. Overall, Journos Behaving Badly have beaten the living daylights out of this 4 door rocketship. In other words, this is the perfect vehicle to see how the Mitsubishi’s flagship stands up to the real world.

The first time I drove an Evo X (it might have even been the same car) was shortly after it was released and I was still working as a Subaru dealership Service Manager. This may surprise some of you, but I thought that the WRX Sti was just ok. Yes, it was fast, it just felt a bit too mature for the juvenile that still lurks within my soul. Getting behind the wheel of the first version of Mitsubishi’s weapon to be sold in Canada was a revelation. This was how the STi should feel. The car felt rough and raw, like a race car that isn’t happy until the driver starts to pile on the throttle. It darted around on the road on acceleration and even worse under braking, because the suspension was set up for a quicker turn in, just like a race car. Here was a car that appealed to the hoon in me.
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4 camera onboard view of Pat Richard attacking Tall Pines

Pat Richard on maximum attack!

On stage A7 at Tall Pines a couple of months ago, I met an interesting camera crew. They were working on a multi camera experiment with Pat Richard’s Subaru. The plan was to mount 4 separate cameras and then allow viewers to choose which one they want to watch. Cool stuff.

Even cooler, they have now shared a video from stage A4.
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Subaru and…The Pogues?

Cars and music are two of my greatest passions in life. In fact, they easily go hand in hand. What can make a blast up your favorite country road even better? Easy, by picking the music that enhances the experience for you. As soon as radios were installed in cars, music and the automobile became permanently entwined. While there are those of us who happily trundle down the road in silence, or accompanied by the dulcet tone of news radio, I personally cannot drive unless I have music on.

Which partly explains a dilemma I have-when advertising fuses music to cars. Granted, this has been going on for ages, but when it’s a band that exists outside the mainstream, whose fans are more of a cult following than casual listeners, acceptance that the artist sold the song is heartbreaking. Again, it’s not new. In 2000, The Smiths sold “How Soon Is Now?” to Nissan in a global advertising campaign for the Maxima. Earlier this year, Sia covered The Church’s “Under the Milky Way” for the Lincoln MKT. But perhaps the most shocking use of a song in a car commercial is Subaru, who used The Pogues’ “If I Should Fall From Grace With God” to advertise the Forester. Why? Read on! [Read more...]

Super Production rally teams receive support from Subaru

Contingency programs are always welcomed by motorsport competitors, even more so when the package is a real winner. Subaru may not be supporting the WRC these days, but they are certainly bringing the goods to North American rally competitors.
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Subaru enlists Tommi Makinen to wring STI’s neck at The Green Hell

They are calling it the The Fastest WRX STI Ever. Subaru brought 4 time World Rally champion Tommi Makinen to the Nurburgring in a effort to show how much they’ve improved the breed in the past 10 years.

Political correctness aside, you just know they were gunning for a production car record.

While they’ve fallen 33 seconds short of the current Viper record and 29 seconds short of Corvette and GT-R, the 7:55 time that Makinen set is actually in line with a Caterham R500 Superlight and a Ferrari F430. That is some pretty darned impressive company, especially when you consider the difference between something race bred like the Caterham and a 4 door sedan.
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