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Subaru's speedy WRX going solo

A biweekly roundup of automotive news, good, bad and just plain weird:

Subaru plans smaller, twodoor WRX

When you think "Subaru," one of two images immediately springs to mind: either a muddy old Forester with Kayaks on the roof, a Bhuddist bumper-sticker, and an interior fug that's one part patchouli and nine parts wet dog; or a turbo-nutter rally car sporting a scoop the size of the Sydney Opera House on the hood, red mudflaps that look like they were stolen off a Peterbilt, and blingy gold wheels. One group of owners wants to save the Earth, the other wants to drive over the entire thing sideways in a spray of gravel.

You'd think there'd be a disconnect, but the fact is, making cars that are highly capable and lightweight works in either application. A sure-footed Impreza makes for a good off-road race-car, and then you can stretch it out a bit to make a Forester: an efficient go-anywhere alternative to a hulking SUV.

Now though, news has leaked out that Subaru intends to distance the WRX from the Impreza entirely. Rather than taking a normal compact car and turbocharging it until it can

spit flame, Subaru is going to make a stand-alone lightweight WRX that will be similar in size to a Ford Fiesta, and pack a 1.6-litre turbo engine.

On one hand, this is a bit sad, as I've got a WRX wagon in the driveway and love its blend of speed and practicality. It's like driving around in a Swiss Army knife. On the other hand, my WRX goes through fuel like it was on fire.

What's more, a smaller footprint and small-displacement engine might mean a return to Subaru's WRC-rallying roots. That's sure to delight enthusiasts everywhere, and given how much fun a tiny turbo tyke like Nissan's Juke is to drive, a new smaller WRX should be a hoot. You'll just have to strap the retriever to the roof with the kayaks.

Chrysler debuts SRT high-performance models

Many moons ago, when all American manufacturers were on the ropes, none seemed more battered and bruised than Chrysler. After some callous treatment by Mercedes-Benz - who owned Chrysler briefly - the housing crisis and failing economy was a one-two punch that stunned an alreadyweakened fighter.

But first Ford and then Chevy picked themselves up off the mat and waded back in to the fray, Rocky style. Chrysler took a little longer to get going, but after an infusion of ItalianStallion from Fiat, the battered Balboa of the big three is back. And they're fighting mad.

Witness Chrysler's unstoppable power-punch: the SRT vehicle lineup. "SRT" stands for "Street and Racing Technology" but it might as well be the abbreviation for "Seriously Righteous Thunder" as the just-launched SRT versions of the Dodge Charger and Challenger, Chrysler 300C and Jeep Cherokee will all attest to.

All these juggernauts swagger into town with some old-

school muscle, and while we live in highly eco-conscious times, it's hard not to love them. In particular, the new Charger SRT8 is like some kind of anti-Prius, boasting a massive 6.4-litre hemi engine with 465 horsepower. With big brakes, some trick aero bits and a massive wheel and tire combo that means there's a Viper out there sitting up on blocks, the Charger's no straight-line onetrick pony.

Think M5 competitor. It's also incredibly good-looking, in an over-the-top, aggressive, Audi-with-rabies way. Along with the Challenger two-door and the more luxurious 300C variant, the Charger should be able to hang with the high-speed German iron for half the dollars.

Speaking of which, the specs on the SRT8 Cherokee are equally insane. Capable of a 0100 km/h spring in less than five seconds, this big-stove behemoth is going to have Cayenne owners wondering why their Porsche just got whupped by a Jeep.


Here's more good news for the oncebeleaguered manufacturer. With a minor boom going on in the construction industry, sales of light trucks are up so far this year. What's more, Chrysler's leading the pack.

Canadians are buying more Journeys, Rams, Caravans and Wranglers than ever before, and in the first half of 2011, that's been enough for Chrysler to push past Ford to claim top spot in the light truck category. Granted, the inclusion of mini-vans in the segment is sure to help Chrysler, what with the Dodge Caravan being a Canuck favourite for decades.

Still, the light truck category has been GM's domain for decades, and it's only recently that the other two domestic manufacturers have been able to pip them at the post. It remains to be seen whether Chrysler can hang on to their lead for the remainder of 2011.


Anybody who's ever driven across the prairies in summer knows two things. First, the prairies are boring. Second, getting the accumulated layers of bug guts off the front of your car post-drive is nigh-on impossible.

Smashed insects on the windscreen are just one of those things that the driving public takes for granted. It's a bit disgusting, but

really, what's the big deal?

Well, entomologists everywhere are sure to cry out in horror at the numbers that a Netherlands-based biologist came up with.

Rounding up 250 willing participants, he had drivers use their cars normally, each week taking a census of the number of bugs that met their grisly end on the license plate. Science is gross.

But science also is sometimes crazy. Listen to this: the number of dead insects recorded was 17,836 for a total cumulative distance travelled of slightly less than 31,000 kilometres. Doing a little math to expand the kill-zone to the entire front area of a car, and working out the numbers worldwide, we're talking trillions upon trillions of bugs being killed every week.

The environmental damage must be enormous. But again, if you've ever travelled across the prairies in summer, you know there's plenty more blackflies where those came from.

Hyundai takes number 1 brand loyalty spot

Earlier this month, Hyundai was paid an immense compliment by Toyota's chairman, Yoshimi Inaba, who called the Korean manufacturer, "a very honourable contender in the market." High praise indeed.

No one could say that Hyundai hasn't earned the kudos, what with their transformation from cheap transportation provider to producer of things like the Genesis luxury sedan and sport coupe. The competition has noticed, and so have the consumers.

According to the Kelley Blue Book people, who track customer retention and trending in various ways, Hyundai is now in the top spot for brand loyalty, having knocked out Toyota and Honda. What does this mean?

Well, on average, more people who are currently driving Hyundais are shopping the same brand again for their next vehicle than for any other manufacturer. Toyota et al have been doing business like this for years, with repeat customers coming back for their fourth and fifth Camry in a row. What this means for Hyundai is that they're pleasing their current customer base, as well as attracting new clients.

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