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Nissan Juke Nismo (Darren McGee/The Globe and Mail)
Nissan Juke Nismo (Darren McGee/The Globe and Mail)

Driving It Home

Nissan comes out strong at the Toronto auto show Add to ...

It would be fair to call the 40th anniversary edition of the 2013 Canadian International Auto Show a success.

Toronto’s auto show drew 305,322 visitors. Show organizers say this was the third highest on record. Of all we saw, I was hugely impressed with the new Chevrolet Stingray (Corvette). The car looks good, but it’s the performance that is so wonderfully shocking. I hope General Motors’ marketing efforts are as strong as the product itself.

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I also think Nissan had a strong showing. This year, Nissan Canada will make a big push in the small car area that is so important to Canada. Nissan also busied itself announcing new efforts into other areas that will help put the company on the radar screen for a lot of buyers and enthusiasts. Nissan for many has come to mean the electric car (LEAF) company and that’s not accurate.

For instance, yesterday Nissan said it is going to expand its motorsports program and this will have a spillover effect in terms of the performance of its vehicles. Nissan is returning to the Le Mans 24 Hours race in 2014 with a race car that promises to push electric vehicle technology in a sexy and very fast way. The LEAF is many things, but sexy isn’t one of them. That clearly needs to change.

So look for NISMO, Nissan’s in-house skunks works, to get plenty of funding to develop dedicated performance road cars and winning race cars.

“We will return to Le Mans with a vehicle that will act as a high-speed test bed in the harshest of environments for both our road car and race car electric vehicle technology,” said Carlos Ghosn, Nissan’s CEO.

Real buyers don’t purchase race cars, so what mattered most in Toronto, however, was the new Versa Note four-door hatchback. It goes on sale this spring and should get some attention for its looks, performance and packaging. A good, competitive small hatchback has been missing from Nissan’s lineup lately.

Another small Nissan, the Juke NISMO, is more in line with the recent motorsports announcements from the company. The Juke’s design is a love-it-or-hate-it look, but I fall in the love it category. In a world where so many cars look the same, the Juke catches your eye. There is nothing else quite like it. The NISMO version is a racier Juke and it’s about time.

And while not particularly sexy, the new NV200 compact cargo van ($21,998) is one of those useful rigs that people purchase and rarely discuss. I like the strong fuel economy and handling that excels in tight spaces with a teeny, weenie turning circle for this sort of rig.

Nissan had a good Toronto show, then, and so did plenty of other manufacturers -- from new ‘Vettes to cargo vans. Until next year.

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