Rides to set your heart racing
Most of the finalists for World Performance Car of the Year are in attendance, including the Audi RS 3, BMW M5 and Lexus LC 500
Canadians have an inexplicable need for speed, and buy performance cars at a rate that belies this country's relatively small population.
Despite months of snow, slush and freezing temperatures, despite Canada's lack of speed-limitless autobahns and an abundance of potholes waiting to destroy lightweight alloy wheels, it seems we can't help ourselves: We love fast cars. The sheer volume and variety of high-performance machinery premiering at the Canadian International AutoShow in Toronto this year is only further proof.
Indeed, most of the finalists for World Performance Car of the Year are in attendance. The shortlist includes the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, Audi RS 3, BMW M5, Honda Civic Type R and Lexus LC 500.
BMW's M Division has always done well in Canada; at one point, this country was No. 1 in per-capita sales, although we've slipped down the list in recent years. "We still are in the top five in M sales, as a percentage of overall sales," said Kevin Marcotte, national manager of BMW M. "When we look at M and M Performance automobiles, they continue to grow in Canada, and expect that trend to maintain itself."
The new 600-horsepower M5 sedan, which will make its Toronto debut at the auto show, should give M sales a boost. "As you can imagine, the first M5 with all-wheel drive is the perfect vehicle for the Canadian marketplace," said Marcotte. It should hit showrooms in March, priced from $113,300.
The limited-edition M4 CS coupe will make its Canadian debut at the show, although the M3 CS sedan will not be in attendance. They're one model-year only, with just 100 coupes and 50 sedans allocated to Canada, according to Marcotte.
The Toronto show will also be your first chance to get a good look at Audi's M4 rival, the all-new RS 5. Powered by a 2.9-litre twin-turbo V-6 making 450 horsepower, the RS 5's all-wheel drive system makes it a viable year-round performance vehicle. It's available now, priced from $72,500.
Mercedes-Benz's in-house hot-rodders, AMG, are doing a roaring trade in Canada. Only in the U.S., Germany and China does AMG sell more vehicles than it does here. In 2017, Mercedes sold more than 10,000 AMGs in Canada for the first time, a 50-per-cent increase over the previous year. Much of AMG's success in Canada last year can be chalked up to the new 43 series of lower-priced performance models.
"Three years ago, Canada was nowhere, not even in the top 10," said Tobias Moers, global head of Mercedes-AMG. What's going on here? "I don't know," Moers said. "We see an increase in performance SUVs, because SUVs are the dominant segment in almost every country."
AMG's future though, and the future of performance cars in general, will be electrified. The groundbreaking CLS 53, which will make its Canadian premiere at the Toronto show, is AMG's first hybrid.
Consider it a more practical, affordable alternative to the Mercedes Project ONE hybrid supercar, which will be stealing the show this year. Despite its $3.5-million price, 13 are coming to Canada. Sorry, though, it's sold out.
If that's too rich for you, the Canadian debut of Hyundai's Veloster N concept will be of interest. It's the first model from Hyundai's N performance brand. The hatchback concept has a six-speed manual transmission, 275 horsepower and front-wheel drive, making it a rival to Volkswagen's Golf GTI. A Kia spokesperson said the Veloster N will arrive toward the end of 2018.
The Kia Stinger GT Limited will also be on the show floor this year. Unlike last year's Toronto show, the GT on display will be a proper production vehicle, so show-goers will be able to get up close and sit inside. Initial reviews have been promising, but it remains to be seen how the Canadian market will respond to a $50,000 compact car from Kia.
The most unusual performance car making a debut in Toronto will be Porsche's Panamera Sport Turismo. Don't let the fancy name fool you; it's a station wagon.
At the show
Audi RS 3
Audi is offering its entry-level RS model in Canada for the first time. The new inline five-cylinder is 26 kilograms lighter than before, which makes a big difference in a small front-engine car like this. The turbocharged motor makes 400 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque. Can we just take a moment to appreciate that fact? Porsche's entry-level 911 makes "only" 370.
It's a "practical family sedan" that rips a hole in space-time, throttling up to 200 km/h – double our usual speed limit – in 11 seconds. The 4.4-litre V-8 has new turbos, new intercoolers, new intake systems, a lighter exhaust and new 350-bar high-pressure fuel injectors. Despite its intimidating specs, the M5 is easy to drive at the limit but will scratch any speed freak's itch.
Honda Civic Type R
Honda claims the new Type R is the fastest front-wheel drive car around Germany's Nurburgring. The 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine is unique to the Type R, producing 306 horsepower at 6,500 rpm. There's an angry-looking grille, gaping air intakes, vortex generator spikes above the rear window, three exhaust pipes and that wing, which belongs on a Star Wars set.
Lexus LC 500
At the heart of this flagship performer is a big 5.0-litre V-8. No turbochargers, just old-fashioned cubic inches breathing through a single throttle body. The 471-horsepower V-8 rips a buzzsaw hole in the air as it shreds to more than 7,000 rpm. Speed comes in a crescendo, building until, in the final sweep of the digital rev needle, it's all-encompassing. Sound – piped through a tube from the engine bay – fills the cabin.
Mercedes-AMG CLS 53
The 53 combines a turbocharged 3.0-litre straight-six engine with a beefed-up starter/alternator motor placed between the engine and transmission. It provides an electric boost (21 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque) at low engine speeds to eliminate turbo lag. The result is 435 horsepower and 0-100 km/h in 4.5 seconds.