A biweekly roundup of automotive news, good, bad and just plain weird:
Honda takes a mulligan on new Civic
To say the motoring press was not overly fond of the redesigned Honda Civic would be a slight understatement. A Canadian best-seller for umpteen years, Honda played it too safe with the last model update - meanwhile, other manufacturers advanced.
Result? A perfectly competent little car, but one without a lot of razzle or dazzle (sporty Si models notwithstanding). Particularly cruel was the blow dealt by the usually taciturn Consumer Reports, which panned the interior quality and noise levels, not picking the Civic as a recommended purchase for the first time since about the Cretaceous.
Much smiting of foreheads and wrenching at ties later, Honda is back already with updates to their bread-and-butter compact car. Exterior changes include a new front end that falls more in line with the redesigned Accord, a restyled rear end and updated alloy wheel choices.
Inside, more of the same, with an overall improvement to interior material quality. However, it's too soon to tell if Honda has also recaptured some of that quintessentially Civic-like fun-to-drive character.
Tesla Model S wins car of the year honours
Motor Trend has been handing out their coveted golden calipers since 1949, and it's safe to say that manufacturers make the most of the designation, should they win. This year, and for the first time ever, it's an electric car that receives the laurels: the Tesla Model S.
The win is richly deserved, in your author's humble opinion, as the Tesla is more than merely a car, but perhaps a glimpse into your motoring future. It's not just unique, but powerful, beautiful and incredibly good fun to drive.
The Model S joins such luminary past winners as the VW GTi (iconic!), the Nissan GT-R (dominant!), and the Renault Alliance (um . . . oops). Even so, it remains to be seen whether this electrifying space-shot will survive as a good business proposition, or merely pass into the history books.
China rapacious for Raptors
It's no secret that automakers are falling all over themselves to grab a slice of the Chinese car market. With North American consumption slowing down every year and an enormous demand for automobiles from the far East, we're starting to see shortages of premium vehicles like the new Porsche Cayenne as production is diverted.
Of course, what constitutes a premium vehicle in China can vary widely. With enormous duties levied on foreign imports, even ordinary cars and trucks can get extremely expensive.
Take, for instance, the Ford SVT Raptor. This specialized version of the F-150 pickup truck is all set up as a desert racer, and will set you back a little less than $60,000 in Canada. In China, on the other hand, huge demand and punitive taxation mean it'll cost you a bit more.
The Detroit News is reporting that as much as US$160,000 is being paid on the grey market for the uber-pickup, putting it in the same rarefied air as a Mercedes S-Class or BMW 7-series. With roads outside of urban centres often being so rough, I think I'd also rather have the Raptor over a limo for a Chinese road trip. Ford releases small-footprint seven-seater
The Transit Connect has done well in Canada already; a small van with big cargo-hauling abilities, it's perfect for the lone tradesman who might find a cube van too bulky for the city.
Taking the next step for the little box-on-wheels is this, the Transit Connect Wagon. Looking like nothing so much as a shrunk-down Mercedes-Benz Sprinter tour-bus, Ford's people-mover will come in five-seater and longer-wheelbase seven-seater configurations.
Rumoured to undercut traditional minivans like the Sienna and Odyssey by thousands of dollars, the Transit will also eschew the usual minivan V-6 power, offering instead either a 2.5litre four-cylinder or 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo. Ford's targeting minivan buyers who might be tightening belts and looking to downsize. Why not simply sell off a few of your surplus kids and buy a new Cayman instead?
Porsche readies new compact sports car
With the new Boxster already garnering near-universal kudos, it's only a matter of time before Porsche pulls the wraps off the redesigned Cayman. In fact, it's only a matter of weeks.
Of course, Porsche is playing it coy, saying only that they'll be revealing a "compact sports car" at the L.A. Auto Show at the end of this month. I think we all know what they're talking about, wink wink nudge nudge snap snap grin grin.
The reason the Cayman launch is going to be of particular interest to Porsch-o-philes is that this will likely be the model in which the baby Porsche finally eclipses its big brother, the 911. The current Cayman R already nipped at the heels of the 911, but Porsche seemed determined to make sure the less-expensive machine didn't pip its banner carrier.
Now though, the 911 is growing towards Grand Tourer status, with a more comfortable, quieter interior and longer wheelbase. The mid-engined layout of the Cayman/Boxster twins is inherently better balanced than the 911's rear-engine designation - for track day Porsche enthusiasts, the choice is about to become even more difficult. And that's a good thing.
Watch this space for all the week's best and worst of automotive news, or submit your own auto oddities to brakingnews@gmail. com.