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by Paul Williams
The Salon International de l’Auto in Geneva, Switzerland is known for its specialty coachbuilders like Pininfarina, Bertone and Alpina, along with its array of quirky little cars from mainstream European manufacturers and the latest in design from the entire industry.
It’s a glimpse into new trends that will impact the international market, and may impact our market subsequently.
But this year’s 75’th annual Salon did contain some vehicles that we’ll see here in Canada very soon. The new Mazda Miata (now to be called the MX-5 Miata in North America) attracted a lot of attention even though it’s not a high-volume car. It seems that people can’t resist a handling two-seat sports car.
With fender arches like the dramatically-styled Mazda RX-8, a longer wheelbase and a smoother body, this popular roadster is trading in some (but not all) of its cuteness for a more purposeful profile. Look for the 2006 MX-5 Miata in August 2005 with a more powerful engine and significantly increased cabin room.
Lexus showed its new IS 250 sport sedan and not unexpectedly, it follows the new swoopy design cues of the recently revised GS. Now
86-millimetres longer and 76-mm wider, the IS 250 will feature a high-revving 2.5-litre direct injection V6 engine making 201-horsepower. A 300-hp version will be introduced later this year, giving Lexus two IS models set to compete with BMW’s new 325i and 330i.
A replacement for the Dodge Neon in the U.S., and the Chrysler SX 2.0 in Canada, the Dodge Caliber is kind of a scaled-down Magnum with less of the attitude. Nonetheless, it’s a cheeky little wagon with the expected Dodge truck-style grille and boxy proportions. It’s certainly a departure from the SX 2.0, and very different from the original Neon with its cute headlamps and cheerful demeanour. Power for the Caliber will come from a new four-cylinder engine and sales won’t begin until 2006.
The Mercedes-Benz B-Class was unveiled with great fanfare, and it will be seen in North America later this year. The B-Class is a crossover that combines compact exterior dimensions with enormous interior room and flexibility. All the room is possible because the drivetrain is located partially below the cabin. This is also a safety feature, as the engine and transmission will slide below the passenger compartment instead of intruding into it as a result of a collision.
While Europeans will get up to six engine choices for the B-Class, ours will arrive with fewer powerplant options. We’ll have to wait to see if one of those is a diesel.
Although we have yet to receive the new Audi A4 with its massive “look at me” grille, Geneva visitors got a look at the higher performance RS4, also slated for the Canadian market. This car is powered by a high-revving, direct injection V8 engine making 420-hp and boasts a 0-100 km/h time of barely 5.0 seconds. The RS4 is a Quattro all-wheel drive car, of course, which wears RS4-only 18 inch wheels on a body that’s 30-mm lower than standard A4s.
Finally, a new Passat. When Volkswagen introduced the current Passat in 1999, it looked fresh and modern. The look didn’t hold its appeal as competitors brought new cars to market at very competitive prices.
The new Passat doesn’t stray too far from the original design, but it does have more snap and tighter lines. Prospective buyers will
appreciate the roomy interior and a choice of four- and six-cylinder engines and available 4Motion all-wheel drive will be available as before. Look also for a high performance VR6 making about 280-hp. We may see this car in the Fall.
Also new from Volkswagen is the 2006 Jetta. We saw this car at the 2005 Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto, but its presence in Geneva contributed to the image that Volkswagen is releasing a complete range of new products.
General Motors recently confirmed that it is sticking by Saab, and the upcoming 9-3 SportCombi is another new model for the marque. Powered with a 210-hp four-cylinder engine or a 250-hp V6 with twin turbochargers for the Aero version, the SportCombi is yet another wagon in this rapidly reviving category of vehicles.
From BMW, the 1-Series tantalized North Americans with its imminent (well, next year) release here. This is a terrific-looking four-door hatch that embodies all the performance-oriented cues of the bigger BMWs and packs a 258-hp engine for what should be a very spirited driving experience.
Also from BMW, the new M6, a designation not heard from the company since 1989. The coupe will arrive with the sensational 507-hp V10 engine from the M5, and an even more performance-oriented suspension than the already competent 645ci. Acceleration times to 100 km/h in the mid-four second range will propel you to speeds alien to Canadian highway traffic legislation.
Look also for a gently massaged 7 Series from BMW for the new model year and the all-new 3 Series, covered in detail elsewhere in Autos.