A biweekly roundup of automotive news, good, bad and just plain weird:
Why the Suzuki Jimny is the SUV we need now
In the wake of a damning report on climate change from the United Nations, it’s not hard to make the case for better public transit and cleaner-running cars.
Maybe we could also stop shipping so much plastic junk around the world on huge cargo ships? Just spitballing that personal mobility isn’t the only thing that needs to change.
A harder point to argue is that Canadians might need more choices in the SUV market. I know, I know, you’re probably thinking that more gas-guzzling off-road rigs that spend all their time in the mall parking lot are the last thing the planet needs. But let me introduce you to a little cricket called Jimny.
Suzuki exited the North American market a few years ago, and we’re the poorer for it. While the company never had a huge range of cars available, there was always the hope that some of its Japanese and European market stuff might have shaken the market up a little. They were fun, efficient, and small.
The new Jimny is a music box built around that small and fun theme. Tinier even than an original Second World War Jeep, it comes with a thrift 105 horsepower four-cylinder engine, excellent ground clearance, a rugged, boxy body, and a proper low range gearbox.
OK, so perhaps 105 h.p. is a little weedy for Canadian highways. But with a few more ponies under the hood (say, 20 or so), the Jimny would be easily able to keep up with traffic. Then, hit the trails and its narrow body would be able to squeeze down any little deer path you please.
It’d be an ideal machine for the outdoorsy type, capable as a donkey, and cheap enough that you’d have plenty of money left over for mosquito repellent. An SUV with a small footprint – both physical and environmental – just seems like the right car now. Come back Suzuki!
Ford Bronco to get seven-speed manual
While we pine for tiny bento boxes, current manufacturers can’t seem to lose by offering ever bigger SUVs. Take the new Ford Bronco, which is due out soon, resurrecting a nameplate that hasn’t been seen since the 1990s.
Ford has aggressively moved its production away from cars and sedans in North America (only the Mustang remains), which is a bit of a shame for those of us who enjoyed the hot hatchback versions of the Fiesta and Focus. However, the market has spoken, and people want crossovers and trucks.
The market has also spoken on the manual transmission, with the stick shift disappearing from most model ranges. Notably, the new BMW 3 Series won’t come with a manual anymore. However, with the Bronco, Ford obviously is looking at the retro appeal of the car, and might make a stick shift available.
According to Jalopnik, Ford has turned to German transmission specialist Getrag for a seven-speed manual transmission, to be paired with the 2.7-litre turbocharged V-6 that’s found in the Ford F150 truck. The addition of a seventh gear gives better economy and range in highway cruising.
Is it the most efficient option out there? No, but at least it’s not some huge V-8, as would be the Bronco’s calling card in the past.
Porsche announces 911 Speedster
Following in the retro manual-transmission theme this week is the new Porsche Speedster, of which just 1948 models will be produced. Based on the Carrera4 convertible body, the Speedster ditches the sensible power softtop and 2+2 seating for two seats only and a manual tonneau cover.
That’s the practical reality, the headlines are a little more exciting. The Speedster is imbued with most of the good bits out of the 911 GT3, including the aerodynamics and the powertrain. It’s also got a unique, more steeply-raked windshield, retro-look wing mirrors, and a host of new heritage-inspired details.
Essentially, it’s a 500 h.p., manual-transmission 911 GT3 with better access to that flat-six soundtrack. And I know what you’re thinking – what good is all that power on the public road? What Porsche is discovering, as I’m sure other manufacturers will discover soon, is that it’s not about the numbers on the page, it’s about driver engagement.
With an open top to tingle your ears and a manual gearbox needing attention, the Speedster won’t quite be as quick as a dual-clutch-equipped GT3, but it will be more fun. Arguably, you could have most of the same fun in a previous-generation Boxster GTS with its flat-six engine. If you like the idea of the Speedster, but not its big price tag or limited availability, maybe that’s the smart buy.
The rotary engine returns, sort of
Mazda’s adherence to the rotary engine seems confusing to the outsider. On a global scale, the Hiroshima-based manufacture is relatively tiny, and is the only company still chasing this technology. Rotary engines are low on torque, and have trouble meeting modern emissions targets. So why is Mazda bothering?
Perhaps it’s because they were the lone Japanese manufacturer to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans (until Toyota won this year), which Mazda managed to do in a rotary-powered 787B. Or, more likely, it’s because the rotary engine provided the reason for Mazda’s existence in the first place. In the 1960s, Japan’s government pushed to consolidate manufacturers, and Mazda was only able to hold out as they successfully championed the unique rotary engine.
Either way, the rotary’s been looking to make a comeback for a while, and Mazda’s just announced an official return. Don’t expect a reborn version of the sporty RX7, however, as the rotary comes back to us in a supporting role, as a range-extender for an electric vehicle. You’ll also be able to buy the car as a plain EV, non-rotary.
Being compact in size, and efficient while running at peak outputs, the rotary is actually quite a clever fit for a range extender. The lack of torque doesn’t matter, and emission worries are less of a concern when the engine is tuned for a specific r.p.m., rather than having to run up and down through the rev range.
I drove a rotary-range-extended EV a few years ago, and the concept works. It also sounds a bit like a mini-RX7, a dash of starship in your electric car. It’s not quite the machine rotary purists were hoping for, but it keeps the triangles spinning for future Mazda projects.
Watch this space for all the week’s best and worst of automotive news, or submit your own auto oddities to firstname.lastname@example.org.