by John LeBlanc

And then, bien sur, the home team. All I could think of when reviewing some of the, ahem, more interesting concepts from the French car makers, Peugeot, Citroen and Renault, was Steve Martin’s take on our Gaulic friends complaining that “those damn French have a different word for everything!”

I could thoroughly detail every single new model presented at Paris this year, but do you really need to know about the new Skoda Octavia station wagon or the Lancia Musa? I think not.

First, here are my top six picks for production cars that you will soon be able to buy in Canada, and second, six of the cars that could (and should!) be sold here, with the appropriate letter campaigns. Know what I mean? Sur avec l’exposition! …

Coming soon to a dealer near you:


1. Audi A3 Sportback


Audi A3
Click image to enlarge

Ignoring the pitfalls of BMW’s 318ti and Mercedes’ C230 Coupe, the A3 five-door hatchback will be the least expensive Audi in Canada when it goes on sale next year. Offered as a two-door and four-door in Europe, initially North American buyers will get a front-wheel drive only A3 with the new 2.0-litre turbocharged inline-four cylinder engine with quattro and 3.2-litre V-6 models to follow. A six-speed manual transmission will be standard: VW/Audi’s DSG “Direct Shift Gearbox” optional. As this smallest of North American Audis is based on the same platform as the next-generation Volkswagen Golf, if you would rather have a two-door A3, consider the new Golf GTI noted below.

ON SALE: May, 2005
ESTIMATED PRICE: $32,000

FUTURE COMPETITORS: Saab 9-2X Aero $37,735, Volvo V50 T5 $36,495, Mercedes-Benz B Class $32,000 (est.)


2. Mazdaspeed6


MazdaSpeed 6
Photo: Paul Williams. Click image to enlarge

If you desire Mazda RX-8 performance, but have four friends who want to tag along, Mazda has a car for you. The Zoom Zoom Company claims the new Mazdaspeed6 delivers 0-100 km/h acceleration times of 6.6 seconds. That’s faster than the RX-8, plus real room for those buddies. With standard all-wheel drive, a turbo-charged 270-horsepower, 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine, standard six-speed manual transmission, and sport suspension, Mazda’s newest sport sedan certainly has the equipment to back up that speedy claim. Pricing that will be similar to the RX-8’s means the Mazdaspeed6 will offer unparalleled bang for your buck.

ON SALE: Spring, 2005
ESTIMATED PRICE: $39,000
FUTURE COMPETITORS: Subaru Legacy GT $36,495, Subaru WRX STi $46,995


3. Mazda5


Mazda5
Photo: Paul Williams. Click image to enlarge

Encouraged by the success of the Renault Scenic, the six-seater Mazda5 jumps into the mini-minivan class that over the past five years has seen huge sales growth in space-conscious Europe. The 5 is based on the Mazda3, itself based on Ford’s global C platform. It’s taller and roomier than the 3, and has conventional minivan sliding doors. Mazda is promising excellent driving characteristics inline with its performance image. The 5 also picks up the 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine from the 3, which sounds fine if one is aboard, but with this wagon full of pee-wee hockey players and their gear, you may wish for the 3.0-litre six-cylinder.

ON SALE: Spring, 2005
ESTIMATED PRICE: $28,000
FUTURE COMPETITORS: Er, none, as there are currently no six-seaters in the Canadian market that come in such an efficient package


4. Mercedes-Benz Grand Sports Tourer Vision R


Mercedes-Benz Vision R
Click image to enlarge

For some reason, it’s taken Mercedes-Benz two extra years to get its version of the Chrysler Pacifica to market. There’s little differing this Vision R show car from the production R Class that will be shown at the Detroit show in January, so we lumped it in with the production cars. The R Class will feature six-passenger seating and all-wheel drive with Mercedes’ new 3.5-litre V-6 initially offered. Sharing a platform with the new M Class (that will also debut at Detroit), both vehicles will come from Mercedes’ Alabama U.S. plant.

ON SALE: Spring, 2005
ESTIMATED PRICE: $55,000-65,000
FUTURE COMPETITORS: Acura MDX $50,300, Audi allroad $59,400, Cadillac SRX V6 $52,250, Volvo V70R $60,995


5. Mercedes-Benz Compact Sports Tourer Vision B


Mercedes-Benz Vision B
Click image to enlarge

Once again, little difference between this M-B Vision B concept from what you’ll be able to pick up on a Mercedes’ showroom floor next spring. North Americans won’t be getting the new Mercedes A Class; instead, we’ll get this slightly larger B Class derivative. The Paris show concept was powered by a newly designed, super-clean four-cylinder diesel, but Mercedes hasn’t confirmed what the production model’s drivetrain will be. Competing at the “premium” end of the burgeoning European mini-minivan class, at 4.27 m long it is nearly 50 cm longer than the A Class whose sandwich floor platform it is based on.

ON SALE: Spring 2005
ESTIMATED PRICE: $32,000

FUTURE COMPETITORS: Audi A3 Sportback $32,000 (est.), Saab 9-2X Linear $28,950, Volvo V50 2.4i $31,495


6. VW Golf GTI


Volkswagen Golf GTI
Click image to enlarge

Volkswagen is trying to make amends for the less-than-raw nature of recent GTIs, claiming the new fifth-generation gets back to its roots as a proper hot-hatch. VW is promising a 0-100-km/h time of 7.2 seconds. Chassis highlights include a lowered, sport-tuned suspension, four disc brakes, seventeen-inch alloys, and stability control. A red-outlined grille and plaid cloth sport seats are meant to recall the original, 1976 model. If you want a five-door GTI, read about the new A3 Sportback above, which the Golf shares its new multilink rear suspension and drivetrain.

ON SALE: Fall, 2005-maybe!
ESTIMATED PRICE: $30,000
FUTURE COMPETITORS: Acura RSX Type-S $31,400, MINI Cooper S $30,500

Passports required:


1. BMW 1 Series


BMW 118i
Click image to enlarge

Forget about the rear-wheel drive, sub-compact 1 Series as your crack at a bargain basement Bimmer. North Americans won’t be getting the two-door and four-door hatchbacks that were displayed at Paris and already on sale in Europe with gasoline and diesel four-cylinder powerplants. Come 2006, we’ll get a two-door coupe reminiscent of the groundbreaking BMW 2002 from thirty years ago. By then, the 1 Series will come with a 2.5-litre, 218-horsepower straight-six that will be priced in the mid-$30,000 range.

CHANCE OF IMPORTATION: We’ll see the 125i coupe, then a cabriolet the next year. Start lighting candles for an M1 performance variant in 2008
IN THE MEAN TIME, TRY… : Acura RSX Type-S $31,400, MINI Cooper S $30,500, VW Golf GTI VR6 $30,000


2. Ford Focus


Ford Focus (Europe)
Click image to enlarge

Just to be clear, this is the European Focus. Ford has decided that North Americans are quite happy with just a facelift of the already four-year old Focus. Therefore, we won’t receive an all-new Focus until 2010 – just in time for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. The new Euro Focus comes in three-door coupe, five-door hatchback, sedan, wagon, and mini-minivan forms. As the Focus rides on the same corporate Ford platform, ostensibly, you can buy the new Euro Focus on our shores clothed as a Mazda3, new Mazda5 or a Volvo S40/V50.

CHANCE OF IMPORTATION: None.
IN THE MEAN TIME, TRY… : Chevrolet Cobalt $17,000 (est.), Mazda3 $16,195, Mazda5 $28,000 (est.), Pontiac Pursuit $17,500 (est.), Volvo S40 2.4i $29,995


3. Honda FR-V


Honda FR-V
Click image to enlarge

While Mazda boldly goes where no carmaker has gone before in North America with its six-seater Mazda5, Honda cowers. Based on the cute-ute CR-V platform, the FR-V is another of those 2+2+2 seat mini-minivans, or “space wagons”, populating Europe like rabbits. Instead, for North America, Acura is planning a “premium” cute-ute based on the CR-V and inspired by the RD-X concept first shown at the Detroit show in 2002. All you faithful former Honda Civic and Accord wagon owners start the email campaign post haste!

CHANCE OF IMPORTATION: With Honda’s currently conservative product strategy, “Little” to “None”.
IN THE MEAN TIME, TRY… : Mazda5 $28,000 (est.)

4. 2005 Mitsubishi Colt CZ3


Mitsubishi Colt CZ3 concept
Click image to enlarge

You would think that with its sales plunging in North America faster than a cheerleader’s neckline, and sugardaddy DaimlerChrysler cancelling its allowance, Mitsubishi would ship some of its more interesting cars to Canada to boost interest in a sagging brand. With our preponderance for small, fuel-efficient cars, we think the new Colt CZ3 sub-compact, and its five-door stablemate, would give the Canadian dealers a helping hand while we all wait for the next EVO to pass our restrictive bumper laws. The top Colt CZ3, the T, is powered by a 150-horsepower, turbo-charged 1.5-litre engine that gives the MINI Cooper a run for its money. (Shown is the Colt CZ3 concept shown at the 2004 Geneva Auto Show. More pcitures of the model shown in paris can be found at www.mitsubishi-motors-europe.com

CHANCE OF IMPORTATION: Mitsubishi is working overtime just to keep the lights on, so my guess is “None”.
IN THE MEAN TIME, TRY… : Smart ForTwo Coupe $16,500, MINI Cooper Classic $22,700, Toyota Echo hatchback $12,995


5. Suzuki Swift


Suzuki Swift (Europe)
Click image to enlarge

Similar to Ford’s dichotic strategy with the Focus, North American’s are getting the short end of the stick-again. Our current Suzuki Swift is actually a re-badged Daewoo Kalos that can also be had as a Chevrolet Aveo and the exclusive-to-Canada Pontiac Wave. The new Swift benefits from the chiselled looks inherited from the Suzuki Concept-S shown at Paris two years ago and the subsequent S2 concept shown a year ago in Frankfurt, and is the first Swift designed specifically to compete in Europe. Built in Hungary, the Swift will reportably form the basis for Suzuki’s next World Rally Championship race-car. Impressive pedigree indeed, just not for us.

CHANCE OF IMPORTATION: Unless all you North American WRC fans come out of the closet, probably “None”.
IN THE MEAN TIME, TRY… : MINI Cooper S $30,500


6. VW Touareg W-12 Sport


Volkswaqen Touareg W12 Sport
Click image to enlarge

If you don’t think carmakers are in the midst of a full-on horsepower war that makes the muscle-car era from the 1960’s look like border skirmish, then explain to me why Volkswagen added a 450-horsepower, 600-pound-feet of torque W-12 engine to the Touareg SUV lineup? And then, Porsche fires a salvo by announcing a “Tequipment” package for the Cayenne Turbo that boosts its power to 500-horsepower and 515-pound-feet of torque from its turbo-charged V-8? Woo hoo! Fully optioned, the Touareg W-12 Sport’s price equals 100,000 Euros, which works out to $156,000, more than a comparably powerful Porsche Cayenne Turbo’s base price. As a consolation for us Canadians, VW has hinted that you may be able to get all of the sporty trim bits on our V-8 Touareg.

CHANCE OF IMPORTATION: As this is being written, the price of a barrel of oil is at $50 U.S-what do you think?
IN THE MEAN TIME, TRY… : Porsche Cayenne Turbo $125,100

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