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Hot compact performance cars return to the auto show

The last sighting of an organized sport compact vehicle section of the Canadian International Auto Show was in 2010, when the Sport Compact Revolution area meekly bowed out, a victim of the waning popularity of the sport compact scene, and the worsening global economy for auto makers and aftermarket companies alike. For 2013, the first tentative steps towards a resurgence resumes, with the introduction of the Sport Compact Evolution section, a more mature but still show-'n-go-focused section of this year's auto show, on the 700 level of the South building.

The area will display a number of heavily modified compact performance cars, each designed and put together by the relatively few tuner shops located in the greater Toronto area, most in the east end of the city.

"We now see that not only are the [sport compact] owners a little older and more sophisticated, their rides have become more to the exotic and edgy," said Jon Rosenthall, who oversees the Cruise Nationals and other classic car areas of the show, and who helped bring about the return of what some would call Fast and Furious-type cars back to the show. "Therefore we feel the whole genre has evolved in a very classy way and we felt the need to revisit the sport."

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David Ng organized the popular Darknights shows that capitalized on the explosive growth of this market in Toronto back in the early years of the millennium, and he's still involved now. The sport compact car show organizer helped organize the vehicles for SCE, as he still works with various shops and local aftermarket tuning shops, and he also sees a marked difference now versus back then.

"There was a lot of heat around the industry, the street racing laws came in, and the police were really starting to catch some of these guys who thought they owned the road," said Ng, with police regularly setting up spot checks outside the Darknights show exits at the Markham Fairgrounds, usually to ticket for items such as overly dark window tints or for unlawfully noisy exhaust or sound systems. But the shift away from economy cars in the sport compact world also had a lot to do with OEM simply making more fun and performance oriented cars, said Ng.

"Back then, new vehicles came with 100 hp and a warranty, and that was it, so it was very easy and cost-efficient to modify the cars," said Ng. "Now cars come with seven speakers and 200 hp straight from the factory, so it makes it tougher for a lot of the aftermarket players."

As such, there has been a move to more high-end cars, said Ng, with a lot of companies leaning towards the aesthetic side of the business to create unique silhouettes for their machines, with many interested in Japanese domestic market (JDM) makeovers, as well as varying degrees of performance upgrades. Some of the cars participating in this evolution of the scene include:

Honda NSX

A championship white Honda – nee Acura – NSX, courtesy of Markham tuning shop Teknotik, featuring a complete Japanese front end with exposed, round headlights, as opposed to the flip lights more commonly seen on the Acura versions sold in North America.

Nissan Skyline GT-R

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There will be a couple of Nissan's supercar fighter in the section, a black and a white one, both done up with HKS performance parts, including upgraded turbo kits, intakes, and intercoolers. The black one, entered by aftermarket suspension specialist BC Racing, features carbon fibre side skirts and a more aggressive front lip, part of a Tonny Kaira kit that Ng says is worth $10,000. The white one, with more extreme engine work, reportedly puts out 600-plus hp to the wheels, meaning its engine cranks out 10 to 20 per cent more than that.

Subaru WRX STi

Done up with a catalogue worth of diffusers and bodywork by Varis, a Japanese company, this STi features so many Varis parts that the Toronto-tuned car is featured on the firm's website as an official Varis vehicle. It comes with a laundry list of performance upgrades as well: larger turbo, better engine management, but on a more well rounded, less extreme vehicle – though it still boasts a little more than 400 hp at the wheels.

Honda S2000

The owner tracks this vehicle at CT Motorsports Park and various other tracks, so it's a 'track attack' car. This is not your traditional lower the springs and go – it involves a real race bred makeover, with weight balanced at all four corners, and lightweight Enkei wheels that cost $5,000 each. It features a hardtop from Mugen that's no fancy folding hardtop, but fits right over the original fabric convertible roof. This one was tuned by NexMod, along with rival Teknotik, one of the top GTA shops for mods such as this.

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