For a few years (2001-2005) it seemed that Honda just didn't care what anyone in the sport compact cult thought about the Civic. They were going to give us a car they thought someone wanted-apparently some senior VP at Allstate buying one for his 18-year-old daughter on her way to the University of Illinois-and if we didn't like it, screw us. Now, suitably chastened, Honda actually seems eager to please. The latest evidence is the Civic Si Sedan Concept displayed at February's Chicago Auto Show.
Look, they may say it's a "concept" but Honda admits that a four-door version of the Si is on its way as a 2007 model. Peel off the light spray of show car gimmickry on this display vehicle-the expensive Brembo brakes aren't going to be on the production version-and the substance of the Si sedan is obvious. It's going to be everything the Si coupe is with an extra two inches of wheelbase and two more doors. That includes the 197bhp, 2.0-liter K-series i-VTEC engine, six-speed manual transmission, suspension tuning, and most of the decoration.
This will be the first time the Civic Si has been offered in two body styles in the model name's history. For those of us who have mated and bred (for better or for worse) it will also be a godsend.
Expect the Civic Si sedan to hit Honda stores this fall. Then expect the Honda dealers to shamelessly demand more than sticker for it.
Gaseous RX-8The most common element in the universe is hydrogen and it burns eco-hugging clean. Sure, the vast majority of those hydrogen atoms are bonded with dissimilar atoms in things like, oh, water ... but hydrogen holds a lot of promise for the future.
Mazda is now leasing RX-8s in Japan whose Renesis rotary engines can be fueled with gasoline or hydrogen. Called the RX-8 Hydrogen RE it's based mostly on production parts. The transition between hydrogen and gas is managed by a switch on the dash that should lead to hours of entertainment. However, it can only stretch out 62 miles on hydrogen while it can go a full 341 on traditional gasoline. And when that last drop of gas is sucked out of the tank, there will probably be a gas station right there to fill it right back up again.
Hydrogen, though it's all over the place, ain't that easy. At least not yet.
Mazdaspeed Goes for ThreeIn a month filled with turbocharged goodness, nothing was gooder (blame the schools) than Mazda's announcement of the MazdaSpeed3 at the Geneva Auto Show in late February. Because there's no such thing as too many turbo cars.
Though it will be called the Mazda3 MPS in much of the rest of the world and the MazdaSpeed Axela in Japan, the MazdaSpeed3 is basically the same car everywhere. And that means Mazda is going to have to build a lot more of its turbocharged, direct injection 2.3-liter four-cylinder engines. Essentially the same wonder motor used in the MazdaSpeed6, the MZR DISI engine is especially adept at producing an even stream of torque from just off idle up to redline. Rated at 274 horsepower with 280 lb-ft of peak torque at just 3000 rpm in the MazdaSpeed6, the MZR DISI should make at least that much in the MazdaSpeed3. But as this is written, Mazda hasn't said anything definitive.
However, while the MazdaSpeed6 uses all-wheel drive to distribute all that power, the MazdaSpeed3 is a front-driver. Other details are, again, scant but this promises to be a genuine competitor to Dodge's Caliber SRT-4 for the title of world's quickest production, front-drive sport compact.
The war begins later this year.
Dodge Builds A Badder SRT-4The Neon is dead, but the SRT-4 lives on! With Dodge trading its small sedan named after an inert gaseous element for a new small wagon-like thing named after a munitions measurement, there was some speculation that the turbocharged SRT-4 version was doomed. Or at least it could have been doomed to be watered down into a lukewarm people mover wearing the same name. But no! Instead, at the Chicago Auto Show Dodge announced a nasty 300bhp, front-drive version of the Caliber sorta-ute that could crack open the sport compact market to domestic nameplates like a jet-propelled crowbar.
That's right, 300 horsepower-85 more than the original Neon SRT-4 and 70 more than the 2005 model that just left production. The beating heart of the 2007 Caliber SRT-4 is a turbocharged version of DaimlerChrysler's (and Mitsubishi's and Hyundai's) all-new 2.4-liter, all-aluminum, DOHC, 16-valve, variable valve-timed, four-cylinder "Global Engine Manufacturing Alliance World Engine." Backing those 300 ponies is a claimed 260 lb-ft of peak torque.
The turbocharger doing all the heaving is a TD04 that sends the compressed charged air through an intercooler and a 57mm throttle body. To handle the pressure, the engine is treated to various reinforcements like forged connecting rods and items like piston oil squirters to keep temperatures down. Sounds stout, sweet, and nasty.
Supporting that beastly engine is a dual-mass flywheel, a six-speed manual transmission, a wholly necessary limited-slip differential, and equal-length halfshafts. The ride height is dropped a half inch from the regular Caliber. The wheels are 19 inches in diameter and the tires are 225/45R19 Goodyears. To put a stop to things, Dodge raided the Charger parts bin for the front brakes and swiped the rear discs off a mid-size.
Naturally, the Caliber has been redecorated with a new front fascia and specific trim for the interior, but that's just icing on the 300bhp cake. Dodge is promising to keep pricing competitive and a 0-60 time under six seconds for this brat. We find out if they deliver on those promises this fall.
Galant Goes RalliartisticMitsubishi's ongoing corporate schizophrenia prevents it from fully embracing the performance course blazed for it by the various Lancer Evolutions. But they know they need something to inject some excitement into their Galant sedan line, hence the new 2007 Galant Ralliart that goes on sale this summer.
The big boost for the Ralliart comes in an expansion of the 3.8-liter, SOHC, 24-valve V-6's output from 230 to 258 horsepower. And that higher output engine is mated to a new five-speed automatic transmission with "Sportronic" manually triggered shifting. Beyond that there are new 18-inch, seven-spoke wheels wrapped in 235/45R18 all-season tires; a suspension tuned to match; and an interior stuffed with tasty plucks like perforated leather upholstery.
No, the Galant Ralliart doesn't look like it's going to threaten the Evolution for hearts, minds, and gonads of Mitsu fiends. But it could give cars like the Nissan Altima SE-R and Toyota Camry SE a run for their 72-month financing.
Koreans Work On Their AccentNow that Hyundai's vehicles are all more-or-less respectable, it's at least worth a look when a new one comes along. So here, look at the new 2007 Accent three-door hatch.
In profile, the new three-door Accent is the most unique looking Hyundai yet. The roofline and window cut line recalls the old 1971-1989 Alfa Romeo Alfasud. Since the Alfasud was never sold in the U.S. and the last one produced before you were born, you don't know what one looks like. But trust us, this new Hyundai looks like an Alfasud. However, unlike the boxer-engined Alfasud, the Accent three-door is strictly all-Korea conventional in its engineering with power coming from a 110bhp, DOHC, 1.6-liter in-line four-cylinder engine with Continuously Variable Valve Timing (CVVT) that was introduced with the Accent GLS sedan late last year.
The three-door Accent will be available in either a base GS or sportier SE trim with the SE getting more body-color exterior pieces, a slightly stiffer suspension, and 205/45R16 tires on alloy wheels. A lot of airbags are standard in every Accent should you decide to knock yours into a wall.
The Accent three-door is on sale now. Cheap.
Your Mom's Next Lexus DebutsAfter the sizzling debut of the rear-drive, 306bhp IS 350 last year it was tough to remember that the best-selling Lexus sedan remained the significantly more sedate, front-drive ES 330. Finally, the ES 330 will be replaced for 2007 with a new ES 350 that injects some excitement into this entry-level luxo-cruiser. Just not as much excitement as what's in the IS 350.
Once again sharing much of its engineering with the Toyota Camry and Avalon sedans, the new fifth-generation ES is pretty conventional. But part of that convention includes a 272bhp version of the same 2GR-FE 3.5-liter, DOHC, 24-valve VVT-i V-6 that's used in the Avalon (and the 2GR-FE is a very close relative of the 2GR-FSE that powers the IS 350). To this buttery engine is lashed a new six-speed automatic transmission that should deliver shifts smooth enough to be unnoticeable.
There's not an aggressive molecule within the ES 350's 109.3-inch wheelbase or 191.1-inch overall length. The MacPherson strut front and multilink rear suspension systems will be tuned to smother out the road rather than dominate it, but that's okay. Because when your mom sinks into the leather seats, caresses the elegant wood trim, and plays with the gajillion electronic gadgets, she'll be happy. And we all want happy moms.
The new Lexus ES went on sale in late April. Mother's Day is May 14th.
Rumors & Lies* The New York City Police Department has ordered up 15 Dodge Charger cop cars equipped with the Hemi V-8 engine as an "experiment." Um, yeah, right.
* Jason Golson, 23, of Citrus Heights, Calif., has been charged with murder in the death of Steve Skattebo, 25, after an accident arising from an alleged street race between the two young men. According to KIRO television in Sacramento, police investigators contend that Skattebo and Golson were racing along Sacramento's busy Auburn Boulevard in early February when Skattebo lost control of his Mustang and hit a tree. Skattebo was killed and his passenger seriously injured. District Attorney Jan Scully's office will press the charge without specifying a degree, but acting as if it were second-degree murder. Golson could face from 15 years to life in prison.
* Long-time import racer Shaun Carlson, 31, has left those ranks to join the senior NHRA circuit as one of two team drivers for Don Schumacher Racing in Pro Stock. Carlson debuted in the Team Mopar/SRT Dodge Stratus at February's Winternationals in Pomona, Calif.
* There's a rumor that Honda is working on a revived CRX to be based on the chassis of the dinky Fit five-door. Um, okay...
* The three teams that will initially run Camrys in NASCAR Nextel Cup next year are Bill Davis Racing (currently running Dodges), a new team led by driver Michael Waltrip, and an even newer team called Red Bull Racing with sponsorship from the energy drink. Each will campaign two cars.
* More Red Bull news: Rhys Millen has apparently gotten his wings from the famous energy drink makers in the form of a title sponsorship of his drift team. Word is Team Rhys Millen Racing (RMR) will be campaigning the turbocharged Pontiac Solstice GXP throughout the Formula D and D1 Grand Prix series in 2006.
In Case Of Challenge, CowerThis is just a quick note to let you know that Porsche introduced the latest version of its legendary 911 Turbo at the Geneva Auto Show. This sixth-generation monster features a 480bhp, twin-turbo, 3.6-liter flat-six hanging in its far-ass end; all-wheel drive; and a standard six-speed manual transmission. The turbos themselves incorporate variable turbine geometry (a first on a gasoline-fired production engine) that contribute to an extraordinary torque curve-457 lb-ft of peak torque that starts at 1950 rpm and doesn't drop off until 5000 rpm. So when it's not being used as a sports car, the 911 Turbo can be used as a bulldozer.
Porsche is claiming that a 911 Turbo equipped with the optional five-speed Tiptronic S automatic transmission will warp space, time, and its owner's driving record with a 3.4 second blast from 0 to 60. The six-speed manual will do the same trick in 3.7 seconds. And no, they haven't explained why the automatic is the quicker one. Top speed with either transmission is a claimed 193 mph-which is almost fast enough.
Prices start at $122,900. So find a finger in the next can of chili you open and hire a fast-acting attorney.
Top Ten WaysNASCAR Will Change With Toyota Running "Camrys" In Nextel Cup Next YearIt's not really a "culture clash" but a "cultural adjustment."1. Rice to be named "Official Dietary Staple of NASCAR."2. UAW 500 to include a car not built by the UAW for first time.3. Less chaw, more wasabi.4. Restrictor plates now come with miso soup and ginger.5. Godzilla to sing national anthem at all Rockingham races.6. NASCAR-owning France family will change name to Nippon pending Renault's entry into the series.7. Ancestors to officially bear shame of teams caught cheating.8. NASCAR fans now better at math and science.9. Trade-in value of used NASCAR Fords, Dodges, and Chevys already down.10. Infield drunks now more obnoxious with addition of karaoke contest.