Chevrolet Camaro convertible
Chevrolet Camaro convertible. Click image to enlarge

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Article and photos by Paul Williams

Photo Gallery:
2011 Montreal International Auto Show

Montreal, Quebec – The first auto show of the Canadian season — the Montreal International Auto Show — has become a must-see event for consumers and enthusiasts interested in vehicles new to the Canadian market. The show opened on Friday, January 14th and continues through Sunday, January 23rd.

This year, 35 vehicles and concept cars make their Canadian debut in Montreal, and underscoring the importance of the show, two vehicles make their first appearance in North America here. In addition, numerous special attractions are featured, including a Performance Zone of highly modified vehicles.

Of course, along with the new vehicles and special exhibits, just about every car available in the Canadian market is on display at the multi-level Palais des Congrès in downtown Montreal.

2012 Chevrolet Orlando
2012 Chevrolet Sonic
2012 Chevrolet Orlando (top); 2012 Chevrolet Sonic. Click image to enlarge

A resurgent domestic industry contributes to an air of optimism at the show this year. Three new Chevrolet products are presented, including the stylish 2012 Camaro Convertible, along with the Canada-only five-door, seven-passenger 2012 Orlando compact SUV. Wearing a giant bowtie on its grille, and based on the Cruze platform, the Orlando will be powered by a 2.4-litre, four-cylinder engine making 185 horsepower.

The Michigan-built 2012 Chevrolet Sonic replaces the Aveo subcompact and will be available in sedan and hatch variants. Powered with the same 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine as the larger and heavier Cruze compact, the Sonic should provide spirited acceleration. A turbo version is also available if you’d like even more.

Over at the Ford stand, the 2012 Focus is striking in its design, both outside and in. This is a completely new Focus, available as a five-door hatch and four-door sedan. A real head-turner, the 2012 Focus is being released globally, which means Canadians will no longer wish we had the European version. The Focus will initially be powered with an all-new 2.0-litre engine making 160 hp, and an electric version is in the works.

The 2012 Ford C-Max competes with the Chevrolet Orlando as a seven-passenger compact Multi Purpose Vehicle. Twin sliding doors distinguish this vehicle, which Ford has announced will be powered with the first example of Ford’s 1.6-litre Ecoboost engine in four-cylinder form. (Check the Mazda stand for the comparable 2012 Mazda5).

2012 Ford Focus
2012 Ford C-MAX
2012 Ford Focus (top); 2012 Ford C-MAX. Click image to enlarge

Among all the small cars, Ford’s Mustang muscle-car heritage is not forgotten with the introduction of the new Boss 302 Mustang. A limited edition, the Boss 302 engine will develop 444 hp, and has handling that, in Laguna Seca trim, was designed to rival the BMW M3. For the post-metric reader, “302” refers to the engine displacement of 302 cubic inches, or 5.0 litres.

Chrysler didn’t bring its new 300 sedan (examples of which debuted at the 2011 Detroit auto show earlier this month), but Canadian CEO Reid Bigland was on hand to introduce the new Jeep Compass and the engaging Fiat 500 subcompact. Pop quiz: What’s the last Fiat model introduced in Canada? That would be the Strada, in 1980. Expect to see Fiats on the road again later this year.

German manufacturers continue to delight with a range of aspirational models, including the gorgeous 2012 CLS from Mercedes, and a very limited-run (30 units for Canada) 2011 C63 AMG Affalterbach Edition. The latter arrives with a 481-hp, 6.2-litre V8 engine that propels the car to 100 km/h in 4.4 seconds.

From BMW, we’ll see the 2011 BMW X1 joining the 1 Series family. A North American launch, the X1, as you would expect, is a scaled-down version of the X5 and X3 line of SUVs. At the MINI stand, another family expansion; the 2011 MINI Countryman is a larger, front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive version of the venerable and sporty MINI Cooper. This is the first MINI with four-doors, and the first with all-wheel drive. A MINI Crossover!

2012 Fiat 500
2012 Hyundai Accent
2012 Fiat 500 (top); 2012 Hyundai Accent. Click image to enlarge

If you venture to the Audi stand, take your sunglasses. Under the bright lights, the white Audi vehicles positively glow at the show: the 2011 A7 and 2011 A8L (long wheelbase) debut in Canada.

Volkswagen and Porsche have one debut each: the 2012 Eos hardtop convertible from VW, and the 2011 Cayenne S Hybrid which is powered by a supercharged V6 engine and electric motor with nickel-metal hydride battery. The Cayenne S Hybrid can run on gasoline, electricity or a combination of the two.

Flush with recent successes, Hyundai keeps the hits coming with the North American debut of the 2012 Hyundai Accent. Using the same design themes as its acclaimed Sonata sedan, the Accent may raise the bar on what consumers can expect from a subcompact, at least in terms of styling. Other Hyundai debuts are the Canadian unveiling of the 2011 Elantra, 2011 Sonata Hybrid and 2011 Sonata 2.0T.

Also from Korea, Kia has brought its Ray concept plug-in hybrid, with styling significantly different than the new models it is currently introducing. One of those, the new Sportage, was shown in Turbo trim.

Speaking of subcompacts, Toyota brought its Scion iQ prototype, described as the world’s smallest four-seat car. This one is decked out in performance wheels and looks quite the contender in the (very) small car category. The interior is particularly interesting. Toyota also shows its 2011 Corolla and 2011 Matrix, while at the Lexus stand, the stylish and sporty Lexus CT200h invents the compact/luxury/hybrid/performance category. We can’t wait to see if it drives as good as it looks. Look also for the new 2011 Lexus IS 350 AWD.

2012 Scion iQ
Land Rover Evoque
2012 Scion iQ (top); Land Rover Evoque. Click image to enlarge

From Honda you’ll see the Canadian the Honda Civic Si sedan concept. Given that the first drive of the 2012 Civic is scheduled for April, you can expect that this concept is pretty much what we’ll see for the production model.

Nissan has several interesting vehicles to see at Montreal. The 2012 Nissan GT-R smoothes out the lines of the mighty supercar and boosts output to 530 hp, while the 2011 LEAF is an all-electric, plug-in family car that will liberate its owners from gas stations and rising gas prices. The Nismo treatment of the 370Z reasserts the performance and style of this striking sports car, and next door at Infiniti, the G Coupe Infiniti Performance Line is introduced.

After being purchased by India’s Tata company, all seems to be well at Jaguar and Land Rover. The 2012 Range Rover Evoque 3-Door Coupe has been shown at international shows, but Montreal is its Canadian unveiling. It has great looks, and Range Rover had better hurry up and get it on the road before everybody copies its design. No word on price yet, but this is a vehicle that should attract attention to the brand.

Evident at this year’s Montreal show is the return of colour. Audi notwithstanding, many of the manufacturers are favouring bright colours and a wide palette for their vehicles this year. We’ll see if this holds true at February’s Toronto show, or if it’s just a regional preference. I think we’ve had enough silver, don’t you?

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