Sunday, 10 April 2005
Driving Away with Style - The 85th Annual Pacific International Auto Show
By Michael Kwan, for THECOMMENTARY.CA
As I have been legally entitled to drive for over six years now, I've gotten more and more interested and, dare I say, more knowledgeable when it comes to automobiles, be it the newest trends, the concept that there's no replacement for displacement, and reasons why I'd consider purchasing one vehicle over another. The Pacific International Auto Show (formally the Pacific International Auto and Light Truck Show) gives the average consumer an opportunity to get a first hand look and feel of some of the newest cars and concept vehicles. Some key trends that I found after spending over three hours under the dome at BC Place Stadium yesterday perusing the new offerings from car manufacturers include the following:
(1) The push for hybrid. More and more manufacturers are hopping on the bandwagon and the technology is getting more and more sophisticated. It started with the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight; imagine a vehicle driven not only by an internal combustion system but an electrical one as well. Now, we find that these hybrid vehicles are no longer just the wee ones and no longer lack horsepower. Take for example Honda's Civic Hybrid and Accord Hybrid, which give 61 and 48 miles per gallon respectively. The seventh generation Accord Hybrid is powered by a monster 255hp V6 i-VTEC engine, the world's first V6-powered hybrid vehicle, and it can be had from $38,270. 2005 also saw the introduction of the Ford Escape Hybrid and coming soon, the 2006 Toyota Highlander Hybrid and the Ford Fusion should become available. Who said hybrid vehicles have to be weak and small?
(2) Headlight and taillight design. Perhaps this is in part due to the tuner culture influence, but several cars now feature Altezza-style taillights and projector or halo-style headlights. Everything from the new Infiniti FX45 luxury sport utility vehicle to the Mazda RX-8 sports coupe depart from the conventional all-red or red-and-amber taillight housings of the past. Very few, if any cars now have the typical rectangular headlights, having crystal round projectors in lieu. The new Volkswagen Jetta even has a small VW logo within the headlight housing.
(3) More power and all-wheel-drive. At the opposite end of the spectrum from hybrid vehicles, we find the gas guzzling SUVs and sports cars. These cars and trucks sure are thirsty, but for the power you receive, they are far more fuel efficient than equivalent vehicles of years past. From the Nissan Armada to the BMW M5, engines are getting bigger and bigger and getting much more powerful. The BMW M5 is powered by a V10, putting out an estimated 500hp. The Ford Saleen (Special Edition Mustang) comes equipped with a 4.6L 325hp engine and high performance 275/35/20 Dunlop tires. That's right, it's "rolling on dubs." Of course, these still pale in comparison to the supercars at the show, including the $500,000 Porsche Carrera GT, Lamborghini Murcielago, Ferrari F430 and Bentley Continental GT. The appeal of 4WD and AWD has also influenced the development of a number of new car models including crossover vehicles like the Ford Freestyle and the new Mazda 5, as well as high-end luxury sedans like the Acura RL and Infiniti M35x, which are both in excess of $60,000 MSRP.
(4) The retro look. Some may say it started with Ford releasing the Ford Thunderbird and Ford Mustang these past couple of years. Those two models have opened the floodgates for such new models as the sporty Pontiac Solstice and four-door Dodge Charger. Indeed, the Solstice reminds me of the current Ford Thunderbird in look and it will be interesting to see how this ECOTEC equipped competitor to the Chrysler Crossfire will be priced. Focus on luxury rather than performance can be found in Chrysler's 300C and Dodge Magnum, which are trying, it seems, to emulate Bentley's style. The 300C will come with a Hemi-powered all-wheel-drive system. It seems, retro is in.
Three vehicles that don't fit into these trends, per se, but are definitely worth mentioning are the Toyota FJ-Cruiser concept, the new Mitsubishi Eclipse GS/GT, and the Lexus LF-X concept. Starting with the FJ-Cruiser, this small two-door SUV looks like it was built out of Lego. The small taillights bulge out of either side, the bumpers are flat black with aluminium accents. This is Toyota's foray into the retro look, directing our attention back to the 1960 Toyota Land Cruiser FJ-40. It is projected for the 2007 production year and will come with a 245 horsepower 4.0L DOHC V6 VVT-I engine.
The 2006 Mitsubishi Eclipse is more of a looker than its current incarnation, especially in person. With smoother lines akin to the Audi TT or Nissan Murano, the new Eclipse has a great looking dash and Sparco styled racing seats. The GT trimmed Eclipse will come with a 3.8L MIVEC V6, producing 263 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. Should you opt for the GS trim level, you would have to settle for a mere 162hp 2.4L engine. The Eclipse at the Auto Show is one of only six in existence and is worth nearly half a million dollars; that is, until it goes into production. Expect an MSRP in the neighbourhood of $30,000.
The Lexus LF-X concept vehicle is marketed as "the executive jet, only better." Indeed, it comes with airplane like steering controls; it looks like you're playing a video game. The headlights and taillights look like full LED structures with an aluminium accented bar running horizontally across the centre. With three rows of seating and suicide doors, space is not an issue. The overall lines are reminiscent of the current Nissan Murano and perhaps this is Lexus's (or rather Toyota's) super luxury answer to the likely lower-priced Murano.
The 85th Annual Pacific International Auto Show runs from April 1-10, 2005 at BC Place Stadium. General admission is $12 and more information can be found at www.bcautoshow.com.
For a some photos taken by Michael Kwan, go to: http://www.geocities.com/now_thats_entertainment/autoshow05.html
©1999-2005. The Commentary, Joseph Planta