Unexpected and crazy things can happen at auto shows.
For instance, once in Geneva I found myself wide-eyed, standing this close to the pop singer Pink, whose performance bordered on, well. … Let's just say that she can sing the doors off a Ferrari, dresses with flair, and is extremely flexible. Extremely. Her wicked show knocked the breath from most of the paunchy, middle-aged and excruciatingly dull car journos around me who had never heard her. They're all still stuck in the Madonna age. Anyway, Pink's sexy show was unexpected.
And there was the time a sheik offered former General Motors of Canada president Maureen Kempston Darkes a suitcase filled with $10-million in cold cash. It was in Dubai at the auto show and Darkes was there in her then-role as group vice-president of the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. After taking the wraps off the 2003 Cadillac Sixteen concept car, a representative of the still-anonymous sheik approached Darkes – who famously advises budding corporate leaders to "get out of your comfort zone" – with the suitcase and an offer: $10-million (U.S.) for the one-of-a-kind concept.
"At the time, my inclination was to take the money and call Detroit to order 50 more Sixteens. It would have been great to make a business of it and at the company could have used the money," Darkes told me of the sheik and his offer. "Unfortunately, Ed Welburn (design director at GM) wouldn't allow it – the sale of 50 concept cars." Darkes also mentioned that the offer definitely took her from her comfort zone.
As for crazy, I've seen car companies drop pickups out of the ceiling at auto shows, and I've seen them drive an entire herd of cattle down the street outside, just to promote updated sheetmetal and powertrains. In the case of the cattle drive, the longhorns left an odorous calling card behind, and also scared the %$#@ out of the Chrysler execs standing just to one side, uncomfortably dressed in never-before-worn cowpoke garb. City slickers.
I can't promise you live steers, raunchy (but in a good way) singers or flying pickups at this year's 2013 Canadian International Auto Show. But I can guarantee 40 Canadian firsts – the premieres of 40 models never seen before in Canada. I'll also swear that this show will have 125 exhibitors and over the 500,000 square feet of space at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre (North and South), you will find about 1,000 cars. Together, with the exhibits around them, the cars are valued at nearly $100-million. I'd also bet some 300,000 visitors will take in the show that runs from today to Feb. 24.
Here's an A-to-T rundown of vehicles to take note of at this year's Toronto auto show. And you never know, Pink, a rich sheik and the herd may just show up to amuse you.
Audi Canada hit a sales milestone in 2012: sales of 20,000. Audi's showroom action is being driven by new models and one to eyeball, for certain, is the updated 2014 R8 super sports car. To keep the aluminum super car fresh and interesting, there is now an S tronic version added to the line and the range-topper is the new R8 V-10 plus. High drool factor, there. But I'd suggest that real shoppers have a look at the Q5 small SUV which is being offered with a hybrid powertrain. The Q5 has been a huge winner for Audi.
The M6 Gran Coupe is a four-door coupe with zesty performance. BMW says you can load up four adults, but those in back will need to be short-ish. What matters most is what BMW says is the most powerful engine ever fitted to an M production car: a 4.4-litre M TwinPower Turbo V-8 with 560 horsepower and 500 lb-ft of torque, mated to a seven-speed M-Double Clutch Transmission. If your income is in the stratosphere, you might want to take in BMW's 7-Series Individual Limited Edition – an example of the sort of personalized BMW you can buy. Next door to BMW's stand you'll find the limited production and fast Mini John Cooper Works GP. We get just 50 of them in Canada. Mini says this is the fastest production car the brand has ever offered.
The 2013 SRT Viper will make you weep. It's a two-seat supercar that, unlike past Vipers, won't make you suffer as the trade-off for hot performance. Dodge is also touting the 2013 Ram 3500 Heavy Duty pickup with best-in-class 13,608 kg trailer towing capacity and an upgraded 6.7-litre Cummins Turbo Diesel engine (850 lb-ft of torque). But the star of Chrysler's Canada stand is the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee. In a conference call with analysts and journalists, CEO Sergio Marchionne pointed to updates to the Jeep Grand Cherokee. They are an example of the "staggering" development costs Chrysler faces as it rebuilds its lineup in the wake of the 2009 bankruptcy in the U.S. The star of the Grand Cherokee makeover: a new 3.0-litre EcoDiesel V-6 engine, plus a new eight-speed automatic transmission for all powertrains. The diesel comes courtesy of Chrysler parent Fiat of Italy.
The Ford Fiesta ST, a happy little subcompact, is quick and nimble and puts some "sport" into this fuel-sipper. Ford says it has a dynamic sports chassis and a 1.6-litre EcoBoost engine producing nearly 200 horsepower. There's even a leather shift knob and a big touch screen to control various systems. Ford is also pushing its all-new 2014 Ford Transit commercial van with more fuel efficient engines (standard 3.7-litre V-6, 3.5-litre EcoBoost and an all-new 3.2-litre Power Stroke diesel).
If you're shopping for a new minivan, the 2014 Ford Transit Connect Wagon is a pure passenger version of the Transit Connect van.
Electric vehicles? Fancy ones? Does that interest you? Cadillac has the 2014 ELR, then. It's the Caddy version of the Chevrolet Volt extended range electric vehicle. More interesting for gearheads is the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray with the most powerful standard engine ever stuffed into this sports car (450 horsepower): 0-100 km/h in four seconds or less and it can pull 1g in the corners. Cheap, cheerful and green shoppers take note of the 1014 Chevrolet Spark EV and you muscular types will be interested in the all-new 2014 GMC Sierra pickup.
Honda is intent on re-establishing itself as an innovative engine company and the Accord Plug-in Hybrid will help. Honda says this latest Accord Hybrid is roomy, entertaining and it has an U.S. Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy rating 115 MPGe, which is a special rating for electrified vehicles. The most important car at the Honda stand, though, is the significantly updated 2013 Civic. This, after all, is Canada's best-selling car for 15 straight years and the latest version is a huge step up from the 2012.
The Santa Fe crossover is a fine example of how competent this South Korean auto maker has become. Hyundai sold more than 130,000 vehicles in Canada last year, and its Elantra was Canada's second-best-selling car.
Kia Canada has high hopes for the 2014 Rondo wagon and here you have a vehicle that Americans to the south are not going to get. Kia in the U.S. doesn't think it will sell well enough. But Kia Canada chief operating officer Maria Soklis is optimistic about the new Rondo's prospects in Canada. And, as evidence of Kia's move upmarket to greater respectability, the 2014 Cadenza sedan will get its Canadian debut in Toronto.
Finally, a smaller two-seat convertible sports car from Jaguar after decades of waiting. It's the F-Type and its pretty as a peach. F-Type, F-Type S and the F-Type V8 S will be powered respectively by the new Jaguar supercharged 3.0-litre V-6 engine in 340-hp and 380-hp outputs. Or go crazy in the 495-hp 5.0-litre supercharged V-8. Jag is also unveiling the XFR-S, what the company says is the fastest and most powerful sedan Jaguar has ever produced. Just 100 will be for sale in the world, 20 in Canada.
Well, there's the six-generation Quattroporte to dream about. Here we have the sixth-generation version and it's one of the most stylish sedans you'll ever encounter.
For decades, mainstream Canadian buyers have had to turn to Volkswagen if they want a diesel engine. No more. Mazda Canada will launch the 2014 Mazda6 SkyActiv-D Clean Diesel later this year. The all-new Mazda6 is also worth a look for its racy styling.
Merc is updating the E-Class for the 2014 model year. All of it. Every model in the E-Class range. Visitors should also ask about the new CLA sedan which just might be priced less than $30,000. We'll find out shortly.
The 2014 Outlander crossover is the central model in Mitsu's lineup in Canada. The updated Outlander has new styling, a better cabin and richer materials all around. Canadians get their first look in Toronto.
A new Forester is on the way and it's worth asking about at the Subaru stand.
The Toyota RAV4 is all new as a 2013 model and it's better than the old version in almost every way. It's also assembled in Canada – Woodstock, Ont., in fact.
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