Mazda5
Mazda5. Click image to enlarge

Story and photos by Paul Williams

Paris, France – In the stultifying halls of the Paris Motor Show, it wasn’t just the models, both automotive and female, that raised the temperature. With 11,000 registered journalists crammed into buildings without ventilation, under the relentless heat of powerful lights, those not using deodorant found an effective way to create some space around themselves to take notes and pictures.

Others, drenched with sweat, gave up and ran for the exits.

But those who stayed on schedule attended 33 manufacturer “reveals” on the first press-only day, which started early on September 23 and extended well into the evening.

For Canadians, only a few of the vehicles at Paris will have direct relevance for our market, but this was a chance to identify trends, take in the glamour, and see some fabulous cars in the land of people wearing pointy shoes (coming to a store near you sometime soon, I’m sure).

The Mazda5, which fits into the “space wagon” segment in Europe, will be sold here as of June, 2005, where its unique size, style and passenger capacity currently has no direct competitor (the vehicle is unrelated to the Mazda Protege5, which has ceased production).

With a length of 4,505 mm and measuring 1,615 mm tall, the Mazda5 has the general appearance of a Pontiac Vibe/Toyota Matrix. However, this is potentially a seven-passenger vehicle (or six-plus-one, as Mazda puts it) with a sliding rear door on both sides.

Mazda5
Mazda5

MazdaSpeed 6
MazdaSpeed 6

2005 Porsche Boxster S
2005 Porsche Boxster S

2005 Porsche Boxster S
2005 Porsche Boxster S

2005 Porsche Boxster
2005 Porsche Boxster

BMW 118i
BMW 118i

Mégane Renault Sport
Mégane Renault Sport

Fiat girls
Fiat girls
Click image to enlarge

We’ll get six-seat versions, with three rows of two seats configurable in a multitude of ways. The split-third row seats fold flat, providing extra cargo capacity when needed, and the second row seats fold and tumble, opening up the interior even more. Both rows of seats fold without requiring the removal of head restraints.

According to Stephen Odell, Mazda’s global chief of marketing, the space wagon segment is the fastest growing in Europe, where it’s been popular for about five years. Mazda5 brings new levels of refinement to the sector by including options such as a DVD entertainment system and, in some markets, a hard-disk based audio system able to store the equivalent of 300-500 CDs (again, we’ll get an alternative to this).

In effect, the Mazda5 is a mini version of a minivan.

A second Mazda vehicle, the Mazdaspeed 6 sedan, is also destined for Canada. It’s designed “to show what Mazda can do,” explained Mazda Canada’s Greg Young.

“We don’t just want to talk ‘zoom zoom’, he continued. “Our engineers and designers are capable of creating genuine high-performance cars, and the Mazdaspeed 6 is a showpiece for that.”

Unlike other Mazda6 models, which are assembled in the US, the Mazdaspeed 6 will be built in Japan. Its 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine is turbocharged and uses direct fuel injection to make 280 horsepower and 280 pounds-feet of torque.

With acceleration from 0-100 km/h in 6.6 seconds, power will be available low in the rev-range, a feature important in the North American market, according to Mazda, and the car comes only with a six-speed manual transmission.

Expect the Mazdaspeed 6 in March/April 2005, and pricing for it and the Mazda5 to be announced closer to launch date.

Also on view at the Paris Motor Show and relevant to our market, were the 2005 Porsche Boxster, the new Audi A4 with its controversial grille, and a V-8 version of Volvo’s XC-90.

The Boxster receives a revised exterior treatment that makes it look more like a 911, and gets an increase in horsepower from 225 to 240 for the standard car, and 268 to 280 for the Boxster S. Engine displacement remains the same at 2.7-litres and 3.2-litres respectively.

This is the first major change for the Boxster since its introduction in 1997, and the differences are evolutionary, as you would expect from Porsche. Both Boxsters will now come with stability control as standard equipment, and head and thorax airbags for greater protection in the event of a crash. The headlights are rounder, and the side air intakes larger, which are the most obvious revisions.

Looking for more muscle, Volvo introduced its first ever V-8 engine in the XC90 SUV. The Yamaha-built, 4.4-litre engine makes up to 315 horsepower and will propel the big crossover SUV from 0-100 km/h in 7.0 seconds.

Actually, several SUVs were on display in Paris, suggesting that Europeans may yet warm to the large vehicles. A Volkswagen Touareg, Porsche Cayenne, Toyota Land Cruiser, BMW X5 or Volvo XC90 could be just the thing for intimidating drivers of micro-cars on congested European streets, following the lead of trucks and buses.

Innovative small cars are the European forte, however, and those shown in Paris, from makers like Citroen, Renault and Peugeot unfortunately won’t make it to Canada. Others, like Ford’s new Focus should arrive here in a couple of years. The second-generation Mercedes A-Class is also expected to be sold in North America, along with variations of the new BMW 1-Series (rumours of a look at the new 3-Series in Paris proved unfounded).

Toyota unveiled the Prius GT, a prototype of the gasoline-electric Prius hybrid, designed to show that hybrids can be sporty as well as fuel efficient and environmentally responsible. Unlike in North America, the profile of hybrids in Europe is not prominent, with Europeans favouring diesels (gasoline is the equivalent of $2.50 per litre in some European cities). Over 40 per cent of the 15 million vehicles sold annually in Europe have diesel engines.

Consequently, both Toyota and Honda used the show to promote their new diesel-powered vehicles, with Toyota unveiling what it says is the world’s cleanest diesel engine, which will go on sale next year. Honda displayed a diesel-powered FR-V minivan and a CR-V sport-utility vehicle, which it plans to sell in Europe in 2005.

BMW showed a 300 km/h H2R V-12 hydrogen-powered vehicle, and diesel-powered versions of just about every vehicle it makes, making the point that the company can get speed and performance out of whatever fuel you like.

General Motors aims to sell at least a quarter of a million Chevrolet cars in Europe next year, with the Chevrolet brand replacing the Daewoo name in every market but Korea. Consequently, the Chevy bowtie was a common sight, even if the little cars were not what Europeans might expect from the US automaker.

The new Chevrolet Corvette, also seen at the show, was perhaps more in line with their expectations.

The biennial Paris Motor Show attracts more people than any other car show except for Frankfurt. Notable interesting cars were the Peugeot 1007 (also with sliding doors, like the Mazda5), striking Alfa Romeo GT and intriguing Peugeot 307 cabriolet.

Oh, and about the glamour. Using techniques that you won’t see in Canada, manufacturers enthusiastically employed beautiful women to attract attention to their vehicles.

The Italians, especially, excelled in this department, with the Fiat stand repeatedly diverting the attention of journalists from the more mundane tasks at hand (like paying attention to other manufacturers vehicles).

Vive la difference!

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