GRINDING GEARS: Auto genie, please grant me these wishes

A hybrid Outback? A diesel 4Runner? Columnist Brendan McAleer details the cars that SHOULD be built

This week, Mazda announced the debut of its new Mazda3 TCR racing car.

If you, like me, were raised on a steady diet of Hot Wheels, then this thing looks the absolute business. It’s got huge fender flares, a giant rear wing, and a 350 horsepower turbocharged engine under the hood.

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Built for global touring car racing (hence TCR), this new 3 is homologated for racing series around the world, and will kick off its career at the Rolex 24 hour race in Daytona, Fla. Privateer teams will be able to purchase one, as is currently the case with the racing version of the MX-5, and it’ll be great to see the Mazda3 taking on racing versions of compacts from Honda and Hyundai.

There’s just one small problem. That 350 h.p. turbocharged engine is only for the racing car. If you want to buy a Mazda with a turbo, you have to get a crossover like the CX-5. We know one of Mazda’s turbocharged four-cylinder engines will fit in the ‘3 – so why don’t they do it?

The answer to that question is rather complicated, and involves all sorts of marketing, fleet emissions regulations, and development costs. It’s easy to make a handful of racing machines; it’s much harder to actually put out a successful vehicle that might sit around in showrooms, collecting dust.

But a guy can still wish, and if an automotive genie popped out of some ancient headlamp, I’d certainly wish for a reborn Mazdaspeed3 with, say, about as much power under the hood as the current WRX. Nothing crazy, just enough power to match the Mazda3’s excellent chassis. Oh, and like the racecar, I’d make it only available in the hatchback variant. That’d lure people away from Subaru dealerships, seeing as the hatchback WRX isn’t a thing any more.

Doesn’t that sound like it would make sense? Funnily enough, there are dozens of examples where car companies don’t build the cars they could, in spite of the fact that common sense seems to indicate that the vehicles would sell perfectly well. Let’s give this ol’ headlamp another rub or two, and see if we can’t get a few more wishes granted.

Subaru Crosstrek XT

The Subaru Crosstrek is a popular car around the North Shore, and for good reason. It’s got the easy-to-park practicality of an Impreza hatchback, but with extra ground clearance for your Squamish backroad expeditions. Plus you can occasionally get it in some interesting bright colours. They should sell them at MEC.

Unfortunately, the Crosstrek is pretty slow. Much slower than the average Honda Civic. The fuel economy is not bad, and that’s of importance to most buyers, but we could use a bit more poke under the hood, especially when you’ve got a full trunk, kayaks lashed to the roof, mountain bikes out back, and four friends riding with you.

Thus, my wish for a Crosstrek XT, a do-anything compact crossover with a little bit more rally car hot sauce dashed in. Stick ‘em in the dealership, and they’d instantly be all over Mount Seymour and Cypress Mountain on a Sunday morning, caked with mud inside and out.

Outback Plug-in Hybrid

Lest you think I’m just going to wish for turbos in everything (which, come to think of it, would be very on brand for me), here’s a greener dream. The new Outback is pretty excellent, and comes with a couple of engine options. And one is turbo! Wait I’m pretending not to be excited about that sort of thing.

What the Outback does not come with, and should, is a hybrid variant. Subaru will offer a plug-in hybrid in the Crosstrek in the next little while (it already does in the U.S.), but as the Crosstrek is a bit small, the battery eats up almost all of the trunk space.

With the Outback, you’ve got underfloor room big enough to store a full-size spare tire: there’s a full-size spare on the Outdoor model. Wait, there’s an Outback Outdoor? Do they do an Indoor version? Perhaps for driving around Park Royal?

Anyway I digress. My point is that Subaru already has the technology to add hybridization while keeping their AWD drivetrain, and with a hybrid Outback, you could keep most of the practicality. Imagine a lifted wagon that runs on pure electricity for your short commute, but can still get out into the backcountry. It’d fit the Subaru outdoorsy image perfectly.

Toyota Tacoma/4Runner Diesel

Why is this not a thing already? Yes, adding a diesel variant to the Tacoma or 4Runner would inflate the price by several thousand dollars. However, workhorse Toyota diesel engines already exist, and have a reputation for ridiculously long service life.

Given the popularity of Toyota trucks around here, you just know that people would pay the premium. They’d also be assured of getting a chunk of that premium back when it came time to trade it in. I can’t think of anything that would have better resale value on the North Shore than a diesel Toyota pickup truck. A lump of gold?

To add insult to injury, GM will sell you a compact pickup truck with a four-cylinder diesel engine in it, so it’s not that there’s not a marketability case here. The reason Toyota doesn’t already do diesel in North America? You’d have to ask them.

Nismo Micra

Now this one I know would perhaps sell like used socks, but it’s my wish and I’m spending it how I want. The plucky little Micra costs $10,488 for the base model, and is a bit more fun than you’d expect.

However, it could be better. And no, I’m not talking about putting more power into this little car. Instead, I’d like to take a host of Nismo handling and looks parts, and throw them at the Micra for a special go-fast package that doesn’t make it any faster in a straight line – only more fun in the corners.

We already have the Micra Cup in Canada, and it’s one of the most entertaining races you can watch. Nissan Canada will sell you a racing variant of the Micra – just as is the case with the Mazda3 TCR – but it’s not that cheap to run one in the series.

But imagine a little semi-hot hatchback that was affordable enough for young people to buy, and had a horsepower level low enough that your insurance was accessible. It’d be the Datsun 510 for a new generation, small and light, and with limited infotainment so you’d have to pay attention to driving.

But, sadly, like some reborn Mazdaspeed3, none of these wishes are likely to come true in the near future. If wishes were horsepower, then beggars would drive, as the old saying goes. But that won’t stop me wishing.

Brendan McAleer is a freelance writer and automotive enthusiast. If you have a suggestion for a column, or would be interested in having your car club featured, please contact him at mcaleeronwheels@gmail.com. Follow Brendan on Twitter: @brendan_mcaleer.

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