by Paul Williams
Photos by Laurance Yap and Grant Yoxon

If you weren’t able to make the The Canadian International Autoshow in Toronto, you missed a pretty good gig. Seven world premieres, five North American premieres and 45 Canadian debuts, along with hundreds of vehicles available in Canada were featured.

Many of the displays were particularly dazzling, as manufacturers attempted to make an impact and attract attention. Several new small cars, three minivan debuts and competition among the luxury brands were key themes.

Toyota Echo hatchback
Toyota Echo hatchback

Chevrolet Epica
Chevrolet Epica

Suzuki Swift+
Suzuki Swift+

2004 Ford Freestar
2004 Ford Freestar

Subaru WRX STi
Subaru WRX STi

2004 New Beetle Cabriolet
2004 New Beetle Cabriolet

2004 Mazda RX-8
2004 Mazda RX-8

2004 Nissan Quest
2004 Nissan Quest

2004 Mitsubishi Endeavor
2004 Mitsubishi Endeavor
Click images to enlarge

Toyota Canada President Ken Tomikawa unveiled three prototypes of the new Echo Hatchback, due for release in August, 2003. The car is built in Japan, but only for the Canadian market. It returns a hatchback to the Toyota lineup, a vehicle style that was missing after the retirement of the popular Toyota Tercel.

“Canadians have been clamouring for a Toyota hatchback, and I’m delighted that we’ve been able to bring it to them in such style,” said a clearly enthusiastic Mr. Tomikawa.

The Echo sedan’s 1.5-litre dual overhead camshaft (DOHC) engine is used in the hatchback, although one of the prototypes featured a turbocharged motor. The Echo Hatchback is designed to be easily personalized, and was shown with a range of options like chrome wire wheels and performance interiors. Prices for the new Toyotas have yet to be announced.

General Motors presented a new trio of Chevrolet family cars, called Epica, Optra and Aveo. These cars are refinements of Daewoo models, formerly seen in Canada as the Lanos and Leganza (GM purchased part of Daewoo after that company ceased operations in North America last year).

The mid-sized Epica features a 155 horsepower, transverse-mounted six-cylinder inline engine. GM describes its design as classic and reserved. The compact Optra enters the small car segment powered by a 2.0-litre, 119 horsepower engine and a standard block heater. The subcompact Aveo uses a 1.6-litre engine making 105 horsepower.

You’ll be able to purchase a different version of the Epica and Aveo from your Suzuki dealer, where they’ll be known as the Verona and Swift Plus. Suzuki expects the well-equipped Verona to compete with the Camry/Accord/Altima. It arrives with the same inline six-cylinder engine as the Chevrolet Epica. The Chevrolet and Suzuki versions of these cars are due for release early in 2004.

General Motors also introduced its GMC Envoy XUV (crossover utility vehicle), Canyon mid-size pickup, Cadillac SRX luxury utility and XLR sports convertible, along with new versions of the Chevrolet Malibu and Pontiac Grand Prix. The Envoy XUV features a clever sunroof towards the back of the vehicle that can be opened to permit carrying tall cargo.

Ford introduced its redesigned 2004 F-150 pickup truck. It features a tougher look to the exterior, and a range of high quality and attractive interiors. It’s available with a new 5.4-litre Triton V8 engine producing 300 horsepower with improved fuel economy. Ford also showed its “Mighty F-150 Tonka” concept truck.

Along with the truck, Ford debuted a new family vehicle, the Canadian-built, Freestar minivan. It features an electronic stability system to control skidding and full side-curtain airbags. Its 4.2-litre engine makes 260 lbs-ft of torque, the third-row seat folds flat and the second-row seats fold and tumble.

“It has storage everywhere, including nine cupholders,” said Jim O’Connor, Ford’s vice-president of marketing.

Prices for the Freestar will be announced closer to its market introduction later this year.

Ford also presented five Centennial edition vehicles: a Focus, Mustang, Taurus, Explorer sport-utility and F-250 truck. Canada gets only 250 of each model, which are “available in any colour, as long as it’s black,” said a smiling Mr. O’Connor.

Performance enthusiasts will be pleased that the Subaru WRX STi is coming to Canada. The car now boasts 300 horsepower and 300 lb.-ft of torque from its 2.5-litre, four-cylinder engine. Look for prices in the high $40,000, maybe even low $50,000 range for this car. All Impreza models have received a facelift for 2004, and gone are the distinctive and controversial
headlights.

The Volkswagen New Beetle convertible bears a striking resemblance to the original Beetle cabriolet. The convertible top is stacked on the rear deck, behind the seat, just as before. In contrast to the mild-mannered New Beetle, the Volkswagen Touareg features a 3.2-litre, 220 horsepower V6, or 4.2-litre, 310 horsepower V8 engine. The luxury, high performance SUV goes on sale this summer.

Speaking of convertibles, the Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible looked very smart with its red metallic paint and ivory leather interior. The production version of the Pacifica sports tourer was popular. Initially powered by the 250 horsepower V6 from the 300M and featuring all-wheel drive, it could be the shape of things to come. Chrysler also brought the powerful SRT4 sports coupe and announced that this car will be sold in Canada

On the Mazda stand, the RX8 wowed the press with its aggressive lines, standard 18″ wheels, and 250 horsepower rotary engine, and six-speed manual transmission. Many people were heard to say “Now that’s a sports sedan!” The car features hidden rear doors to permit easy entry and exit for rear-seat passengers, and an appearance that’s smooth, low and flowing – quite unlike most four-door sedans. Canadian pricing was surprisingly low: $36,795 for the standard model (with your choice of manual or automatic transmission) and $39,655 for the fully loaded model with leather interior, xenon lights, limited slip differential, among other options. The RX8 will be available in June, 2003.

Mitsubishi displayed its new 2004 Endeavour and Lancer Sportback, available in September 2003. The Endeavour is a crossover SUV and the Sportback is a wagon version of the popular Lancer compact sedan. The Lancer sedan is facelifted, gets more power and a new variant, the Ralliart.

The Acura TSX fits neatly between the RSX and the TL and features a 200 horsepower four-cylinder engine mated to a slick six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission. The car is based on the European Honda Accord, which is slightly smaller than the North American Accord. The high performance engine, taut suspension, and luxury appointments are its key
distinguishing features. The car will be priced in the mid-$30,000 range and goes on sale this spring.

There was lots of activity on the Nissan stand. The new Quest minivan was featured, but smiles were on the faces of all Nissan staff because the company received the Canadian Car of the Year and Truck of the Year awards from the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. Winners were the Nissan 350Z sports coupe and the Nissan Murano crossover utility. The 350Z also took the Best New Design award, which means the company took an unprecedented three out of the four major awards available. GM took the Best New Technology award for its MagneRide system.

The 2004 Toyota Sienna rounded out the trio of newly introduced minivans. Can Chrysler be far behind?

In addition to the vehicles, many aftermarket suppliers of performance equipment, audio and accessories also participated in the show.

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