Early spring is upon us, which means we're smack in the middle of the post-auto-show scramble of OEMs to copy each others' ideas and one-up the next guy. Amidst Toyota's sticky situation with a throttle recall, the Detroit Auto Show catching on fire, Tata apparently plotting to rip off the American consumer, a sea of electric vehicles, and the usual random three- and four-wheeled craziness, here's what we felt was most worth our ink.
2011 JDM Mazda6
Direct-injection 2.0L, AWD, Sleek Styling
Let's start by saying there are no plans for us to get it. Sure, the new USDM Mazda6 will most likely bear some exterior resemblance to what was "pre debuted" recently (full production specs to be revealed around the time you read this), and there's a good chance the front/rear torque-splitting AWD drivetrain will stay, but the re-worked direct-injection 2.0L MZR DISI engine (that boasts a 10-percent improvement in power/torque and fuel efficiency compared to a conventional arrangement) will likely remain only for the JDM market for which it was created, specifically to take advantage of an "eco-car" tax break-the USDM will keep the wildly less efficient (but bigger, and it's the only one with a manual transmission option) 2.5L inline-four. www.mazda.com
(For Real This Time)
After a million (or so) outlandish speculations, radical concept sketches, leaked pre-production spy shots and pre-debuts, production specs of the car hailed as "the new CRX" have finally been released. Said John Mendel, executive vice president of sales for American Honda, "The CR-Z is a personal sport hybrid coupe for people with a spirit of adventure and an elevated sense of responsibility toward the environment . . . It's the first hybrid designed to maximize style and fun, in addition to efficiency and economy." Are you crying yet? If not, this might help: a 1.5L i-VTEC Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) gas/electric hybrid engine, CVT trans., Vehicle Stability Assist (traction control), and MacPherson/torsion beam suspension. On the bright side, an "EX" model with HIDs, a six-speed manny, and a pretty buff Bluetooth/nav/USB audio system is available, and we half-way hate to say it, but its "green" options (like its 36/38mpg efficiency, and color-changing tach that signals fuel-efficienct driving) are kind of cool. Still, it's lightweight and looks good-engine/motor interchangeability is all we're really thinking about. www.honda.com
Scion To Grow
Amidst speculation that Scion-whose 2009 sales figures dropped 49% from their 2008 levels-may be exiting the auto-making stage, Toyota's North American president, Yoshi Inaba, retorted by promising that Scion will actually grow its youth-marketing niche by offering two new models tailored to "American tastes", which the U.S.-designed and built tC was designed to satiate. Plans have been announced to debut Toyota's 1.3L 93hp Smart-battling IQ as a new Scion model for '11, and our guess is that a production variant of last year's Hako Concept would likely beat out rumors of a Scion pick-up truck that won't seem to go away. But neither platform offers the American styling to which Inaba-san hinted. Can a brotha get some turbo/RWD love up in here? www.scion.com
Prius Starts A Family
In a bid to capitalize on the success of their Prius, Toyota, with plans to double hybrid output by 2011, recently announced their gas/electric FT-CH hybrid, designed to appeal to a younger generation that's grown up "in a world filled with video games and email". While we're not sure what email has to do with the concept's "8-bit styling" admittedly inspired by NES hits Contra, Megaman and Super Mario Brothers-nor why it's priced $8k less than the Prius, yet planned to debut as a Lexus-it's frosted glass roof, suspension fabric seating and see-through headlights were just too wacky for us to pass up. www.lexus.com
Best Resale Value
40th Anniversary Edition Released
Kelley Blue Book recently honored the '10 370Z as having the highest forecasted resale value of any in-class vehicle of the new year, based partly on the fact that it fares so well compared to European sports coupes with far higher MSRPs. "The Nissan 370Z can be considered a bargain to begin with, which can be an important part of the resale value equation," stated an excerpt from kbb.com, "Nissan's latest Z is the most powerful, most fun, most desirable iteration yet . . . we'd be happy to take one-new or used." The '10 model year also marks the Z's 40th anniversary, which Nissan will be celebrating by offering the car in a 1,000-unit limited release, complete with an exclusive "40th Quartz" exterior hue, lots of red-stitched leather inside, badges, red brake calipers, luster-finished smoked wheels, and an authenticity plaque. We were kind of hoping for suspension upgrades, racing buckets or a couple of turbos, but would be happy to take one-tuned or not. www.nissan.com
OEMs Fight the Good Fight
It's becoming increasingly obvious that despite its overall lackluster, post(?)-recessionary, bear-market state, the auto industry selflessly continues to pour out more of the capital they so urgently need to those in an even worse situation: the benefactors of Haiti Relief work. "General Public Motors" got the ball rolling with a $100k donation to the American Red Cross almost as soon as the Jan 12, 2010 magnitude-7 quake struck the South Atlantic republic, followed closely by Nissan's $30k cash, dollar-for-dollar matching campaign for employee donations, and $52k donation to Habitat for Humanity. Honda kicked in $300k in cash and equipment, and Toyota, a whopping $500k pledge to the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and Save the Children, amidst one of the company's most expensive series of product recalls in history. www.redcross.org
Tricks Of The Trade
Helping You Wrench
Increase Cooling Capacity
Aftermarket radiators using high-flow cores and powerful fans can keep engines cool under even the most demanding conditions, but ask yourself: Is your setup working at maximum efficiency? Upon analyzing radiators in various performance imports, we noticed a majority of radiator fans pulling air in from gaps alongside radiator and shroud meeting points, instead of through radiators' cores, where it's most beneficial. Even a small gap along all four sides of a radiator/shroud will actually allow a fan to draw more air from the side of a radiator than through it, thus decreasing it's efficiency in cooling your engine. Using some adhesive metal tape picked up from a local auto parts store, we were able to quickly seal the gaps in only a few minutes (this trick also works in sealing radiator cooling panels). While using foam or rubber can be an alternate solution, we found the metal tape to be a simple, yet effective fix for just a few bucks.
The Original Subaru vs. Mitsubishi Faceoff
Roots Of The 360
If you're thinking today's EVO vs. STI rivalry is simply a product of competition between car-making rally competitors, you're close . . . but wrong. Even before the Galant/Legacy rivalry that predates our current EVO/STI situation, heated bouts of one-upsmanship between the two OEMs date as far back as the early 1960s, when two different models with the same name competed for Japan's first mainstream car buyers.
In contrast to how the EVO beat the WRX to production by one year (and the STI by two), it was Subaru whose 360 became Japan's first mass-produced car, with its production debut in 1958. While Subaru's first car, the limited-production 1500 (largely produced by a division of Fuji Heavy Industries that would later become the Prince Motor Company, a predecessor to Nissan), was a luxury car built for the Japanese elite, the 360 was billed as the "people's car" by the Japanese government, much like the original Volkswagen (which, when translated from German, means "people's car") was proposed by Germany's Third Reich 20 years prior. Resemblance to the original Beetle is apparent in the 360's dual round headlights, dome shape, and rear-mounted, air-cooled engine (all of which garnered it the nickname "ladybug" in Japan). Where the 360 differed, however, was in its monocoque construction and fiberglass roof, smaller overall size, and in the two-cylinder, two-stroke, 360cc (356cc, actually) engine from which its name was taken. The 360's construction was ahead of its time, as opposed to the all-steel, frame-and-chassis Beetle, but performance numbers are a different story: the Beetle did 0-60 in 14.7 seconds, while the 360 took 37 seconds to hit 50 mph; it's 16hp engine couldn't routinely reach 60.
Inspired by the Subaru 360, Mitsubshi-who had been in the automaking game since the 1917 debut of their Model A-released their own variant of the Subaru 360, called the Mitsubishi 360, three years later. Like Subaru's car, the Mitsu 360 was built for the country's lowest automotive tax bracket with its 359cc, 17hp, two-stroke, two-cylinder mill, but the car itself was styled as a two-seat pickup and was capable of only a 50mph top speed (the next-generation model would see "significant" power improvements: one additional hp and a 53mph top speed). The success of the Mitsu version would prompt the company to quit messing around with the three-wheeled vehicles it was known for at the time, and produce the micro Minica full time (which remains in production to this day for international markets). Subie's success with their original 360 inspired the expansion of kei cars and trucks that did much to grow Japan's private industry.
The Mitsubishi 360 never officially made it to our shores, but 10,000 Subaru 360s were brought here by auto importer Malcolm Bricklin shortly after production, most with even smaller 423cc engines and MSRPs of around $1,200. Initial sales were significant, then all but stopped once Consumer Reports labeled the car "The Most Unsafe Car in America" in 1969. Unsold units were largely destroyed, but became a cult classic among collectors for their low selling price, and because their 1,000-pound weight and small-displacement engines keeps them exempt from most registering/emissions legislation to this day.
|SPECS||1958 SUBARU 360||1961 MITSUBISHI 360|
|BODY||TWO DOORS, FOUR SEATS, HATCHBACK||TWO DOORS, TWO SEATS, PICKUP TRUCK|
|ORIENTATION||REAR ENGINE, REAR-WHEEL DRIVE||FRONT ENGINE, REAR-WHEEL DRIVE|
|LENGTH||117.7 INCHES||117.9 INCHES|
|WIDTH||51.2 INCHES||51.0 INCHES|
|HEIGHT||54.3 INCHES||54.7 INCHES|
|WHEELBASE||70.9 INCHES||74.8 INCHES|
|SUSPENSION||FRONT AND REAR INDEPENDENT TRAILING ARM/TORSION BAR||FRONT AND REAR INDEPENDENT TRAILING ARM/TORSION BAR|
|LAYOUT||STRAIGHT TWIN||STRAIGHT TWIN|
|BORE/STROKE||61.5MM X 60MM||62MM X 59.6MM|
|FUEL||25:1 GASOLINE/OIL MIX||25:1 GASOLINE/OIL MIX|
|TRANSMISSION||FOUR-SPEED SYNCHROMESH||FOUR-SPEED SYNCHROMESH|
|OUTPUT||16 HP||17 HP|
|0-50 MPH||37 SECONDS||N/A|
|TOP SPEED||60 MPH||53 MPH|
Money can do amazing things. The last car we ever expected to do well in American rally was the Fiesta, but our opinions changed with the aforementioned model's near-sweep of the X Games podium last year, after Ford dumped loads of cash into promoting the newly designed model (in much the same way that GM promoted their Cobalt by competing in sport compact drag-racing and time-attack years ago). Per protocol, they've coaxed one of the sport compact world's most well-known drivers to follow their lead, by signing gymkhana innovator and DC Shoes front-man Ken Block into two purpose-built competition rides for the '10 season. While we're stoked that this keeps Ken, co-driver Alex Gelsomino, and Monster Energy Drink together for 2010 Rally America and X Games competition-and gives Ken his well-deserved first crack at WRC competition-we're really going to miss his STI . . . no matter how much the newly imported Euro-spec Fiesta (based on Europe's Mazda 2/Demio) kicks ass compared to anything the American company has actually produced for the American market thus far. Want to see more of this thing? Let us know, via firstname.lastname@example.org www.monsterworldrallyteam.com