A biweekly roundup of automotive news, good, bad and just plain weird:
Is this the end of the rotary engine?
When the last 2011 Mazda RX-8 rolls out of the showroom with some lucky owner at the wheel, it might be the last time anyone buys a brand-new rotary-powered car. Mazda is discontinuing the RX-8 at the end of this model year, and there don't seem to be any plans to replace it.
That's sad. The rotary engine was a cool concept, and while it drank fuel like a V-8 'Vette and burned oil like a half-restored AustinHealey, the RX-8 was your typical Mazda driver's car with balanced handling and creamy-smooth power. Given the choice, I'd eschew all that other mid-1990s Pacific muscle for a well-sorted FD-chassis RX-7 twin-turbo.
We were supposed to see the "RX-" designation go on hiatus until sometime in 2017, when it was to come back on an all-new sportscar. But with a weakened Japanese economy and Mazda's current focus on improving fuel economy range-wide, there's a solid chance that the rotary has spun its last.
However, take heart, rotary-motory enthusiast: if Mazda can get its Skyactiv technologies off the ground and build a solid profit structure, they'll once again have the budget to work on a Wankel-powered car. If anyone can do it, Mazda can.
Buy a brand new 1962 VW Westfalia replica - in Lego
Danish toy company Lego has been with us for decades, and over the years they've released all kinds of models from Pirate-themed playsets to enormous Star Wars battlecruisers. I grew up with Lego, and I have fond memories of successfully building intricate creations from the little plastic bricks, as well as recurring nightmares about not being able to find that one stupid special piece in a hill of parts the size of Mount Baker.
Roughly speaking, Lego is supposed to be a toy company for kids, but I'm not the only one that never quite lost that satisfied feeling you get from completing one of their threedimensional jigsaw puzzles. As such, Lego realized long ago that the people who grew up playing with bricks are only too happy to shell out big bucks for cool models that they could never have convinced their parents to buy for them as kids.
Several giant-sized classics have been released over the years, including a VW Beetle, and now Lego has announced another upcoming iconic car: the split-window VW campervan of the '60s. Boasting such super-cool details as pop-up camper-top, hideaway bed and rear-mounted flat-four engine, the Lego Microbus is sure to please VW fans and Legomaniacs alike.
The set is projected to cost
around a hundred bucks when it goes on sale in October. If that's outside your budget, why not build a realistic replica of a Volvo 240 instead? You'll need exactly two bricks.
Goodyear working on selfinflating tires
I'm willing to bet that if everyone reading this put down the paper, walked outside to their car and checked their tire pressure, they'd find at least one underinflated doughnut. Even if you try to check your pressure on a weekly basis, it's easy to skip a week, or forget about your tires completely.
Under-inflated tires are bad for your wallet: they wear out faster and they decrease your car's fuel economy. There's a very good reason why every spring, summer, fall and winter car-care guide makes mention of checking your tire pressure: everybody forgets.
Well, worry no longer, as Goodyear is on the cusp of launching a self-inflating tire. No need for external pumps or outside electronics, this development is totally tire-contained technology.
Dubbed "Air Maintenance Technology," Goodyear's miniaturized pumping system could help save consumers hundreds at the pumps.
Of course, for any of us who have Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems on our vehicles, we know how often those sensors can break: it remains to be seen what the cost is on Goodyear's AMT.
Suzuki reveals Swift Sport before Frankfurt Auto Show
If you were to find yourself in the market for a small car today, you'd surely put Honda, Toyota and Nissan on the list.
Then you'd remember what good vehicles the domestic manufacturers are putting out these days (check out this week's Ford Focus review in the www.nsnews.com online
Driving Section) and you'd jot down Ford and Chevy as well. If you're looking for something fun you'd make a note to visit Mazda, and if you needed all-wheel-drive security, you'd head over to Subaru.
But what about Suzuki?
Admittedly, the SX4 is a pretty good little car, with bargain-basement pricing and available all-wheel drive, but I rarely see a Kizashi sedan on the road, and never have I clapped eyes on the Equator pickup (a rebadged Nissan Frontier). The Swift+ though? Those are everywhere. And they're horrible.
Horrible by comparison anyway, because the Suzuki Swift is a nameplate that should remind everyone of go-kart handling and miserly fuel-economy figures. Here we get a re-badged Daewoo product, cousin to the Chevy Aveo. In Europe they get a real Suzuki product that wins almost every comparison test it enters and is a favourite with the notoriously hard-to-please Jeremy Clarkson.
Here's the new one: the Suzuki Swift Sport. It's at once handsome without being showy, and with an efficient 1.6-litre engine producing 135 h.p., it's bound to be a fun city car with plenty of pep.
This is the car Suzuki needs to survive in the North American car market, and it can't get over here soon enough. A sporty little hot micro-hatch that you fill up once a month? Sign me up.
Follow Brendan on Twitter: @ brendan_mcaleer, or submit your own auto oddities to firstname.lastname@example.org.