1936 Ford
The Classics Concourse included 56 years of Corvette models (top), and a variety of other classic cars and trucks, like this 1936 Ford (bottom). Click image to enlarge

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2009 Toronto Auto Show

Toronto, Ontario – It may be deep in the heart of Canada’s largest city, but it’s all about the open road. The 2009 Canadian International Auto Show runs in Toronto from February 13 to 22, and offers up a number of auto-related displays, including hundreds of new cars that you can poke, prod, and sit inside to help make your buying decision.

The show is spread out over two buildings of the Metro Convention Centre, and the field and 100 Level of the Rogers Centre. It’s not the most convenient location in that the show isn’t on one floor, under one roof – mostly because it won’t easily fit anywhere else. But that’s outweighed by several advantages: it’s dead-simple to get there by public transportation, you can walk between the venues completely inside or use a free shuttle, and the floors in between the main exhibition halls are stuffed full of displays that you might not find at other shows. These include antique and classic cars, electric vehicle displays, a NASCAR Pavilion, a venue for motorcycles, ATVs and boats, a sport compact tuner display, and a massive vendor area.

Located across the street from Union Station, the show is accessible by both GO Transit and the TTC, and you can use the climate-controlled Skywalk to make your way to the Convention Centre from the station without setting foot outside. You can even use the city’s underground PATH walking-tunnel system; just follow the signs to Union Station. From 6:00 to 11:00 p.m. on weekdays, and all day on weekends or on Family Day (February 16), you can park for free in the specially-marked lots at Harbourfront Centre, and then grab a free shuttle to the show. Otherwise, there are several for-pay public parking lots, both above- and underground, including one attached to the Convention Centre (access it off Simcoe Street or Bremner Blvd).

The event is laid out in a giant loop, so you can start at any of the three entrances (Metro Convention Centre North Building, South Building or Rogers Centre) and follow the signs at the entrances – a covered walkway takes you from the sports arena to the convention centre – or just wait at one of the doors for the free shuttle that runs continuously. There’s also a wheelchair-accessible one; see the signs for details. And if you don’t feel like taking the children throughout the whole thing, Volkswagen sponsors the free Children’s Playcare Centre on the 600 level of the South Building. Tickets are sold at each entrance, but you can avoid the lines and get a 10 per cent discount by buying your tickets online and printing them at home; visit AutoShow for details.

The show is open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m, except for the final Sunday, when it closes at 6:00 p.m. The thinnest crowds are generally in the evenings, starting after about 5:00 p.m., while weekends and Ontario’s Family Day (February 16) should prove to be the busiest.

So once you’re at the show, what to see? Naturally, you’ll want to get a good look at everything, but here is my “Top Ten” for this year’s event:

Classics Concourse – Located on the 700 Level, the Classics Concourse consists of two separate events: the Cruise Nationals and a historical Corvette display. The ten cars and trucks of the Cruise Nationals represent an entire summer’s worth of shows, with cruise nights in the Greater Toronto Area picking vehicles to represent them at an end-of-season show, where the final ten are selected for the Auto Show display. These vehicles are driven regularly in the summer, and many of them were built at home by their owners.

“Corvette! An American Legend” traces the history of the all-American sports car, with a total of 29 cars on display, right from the very first 1953 model that’s on loan from General Motors Heritage. (Note that during the earliest years, the Corvette didn’t even have door handles – you reached inside the windowless roadster and pulled the latch inside.) Each series is represented by cars from the first and last years, along with Indianapolis 500 Pace Cars, and a rare appearance by the 1963 Mako Shark and 1969 Manta Ray – the first time the two concept vehicles have been shown together.

Nissan debuted its Cube by having four Toronto Argonauts players drive it onto the stage (top); the Nissan NV2500 is a handyman’s dream. Click image to enlarge

Square Cars – Designer Harley Earl may have famously said that “an oblong is more attractive than a square,” but there’s no question that upright sides make the most of interior space. With vehicle footprints getting smaller, expect more automakers to go to this cargo-convivial route. Among cars, look at the Kia Soul – including a concept hybrid version alongside the production model – and at the Nissan Cube, which the company brilliantly debuted by filling it with four huge Toronto Argonauts football players. Should you be thinking workhorse instead, you can see the Ford Transit Connect, an urban delivery truck that’s coming to Canada shortly, and the Nissan NV2500, a way-cool concept van that’s fitted with a computer desk, compressed air hookup, and tool storage.

Scion – It isn’t here yet, but Toyota’s youth-oriented brand, extremely popular in the U.S., will be coming to Canada. It’s not part of Toyota’s display; rather, you have to go into the Red Zone, on the 100 Level of the Rogers Centre, to see the Fuse concept vehicle. Expect to see a full-scale launch at next year’s event. And while you’re in the Red Zone, check out the customized sports compact cars on display.

2009 Mercedes-Benz SL 65 Black Series
2009 Mercedes-Benz SL 65 Black Series. Click image to enlarge

Mercedes-Benz SL65 AMG Black Series – A friend of mine describes this car as looking “ticked off”, and he means that as a compliment. It just looks mean sitting there. V12 engine, zero to 100 km/h in 3.8 seconds, carbon fibre trim – what’s not to love? While you’re at the Mercedes-Benz booth, check out the specially-outfitted 10th Anniversary Smart; you can enter at the display to win one of the ten cars that will be sold across Canada.

Chevrolet Volt – The concept car was on display in Toronto last year; this time around, it’s the model that the company says is closer to production. Although several automakers are now promising extended-range vehicles – which plug in and run on stored electricity, and then make their own via a small internal combustion engine when that runs out – this was the one that started it all. While you’re in GM’s booth, you can also see the all-new Cadillac SRX, Chevrolet Equinox, and the upcoming Buick Allure, which I think is one of the nicest restyles at the show.

Subaru g4e concept
2010 VW Golf
Subaru G4e concept (top); 2010 VW Golf. Click image to enlarge

Subaru G4e – It’s only a concept car, but Subaru is experimenting with electricity, and the G4e might be our first look at plug-ins from this all-wheel company. The G4e can go about 200 km on a single charge, and plug into a regular wall socket. And yes, it’s green!

Honda FC Sport Concept – Honda is looking at a variety of alternative-fuel vehicles, and already has some fuel cell vehicles running around in the real world. The FC Sport Concept is a look at what might happen when hydrogen slips inside a sports car body. The car’s major drawback is that it simply does not photograph well, and in pictures it looks snub-nosed and awkward. But in the flesh, it’s simply stunning; go see for yourself.

Volkswagen Golf – It was the Golf, then it was the Rabbit, and now it’s the Golf again, but no matter what you call it, it’s sweet. It’s now starting its sixth generation, and the Toronto event is its North American debut. Best of all, the model on display features a 2.0-litre clean diesel engine, which the company said can go up to 1,100 km on a single tank of fuel. The new Golf will go on sale in Canada this coming October.

BMW Z4 – I’m a sucker for drop-tops, and I just love this one, featuring the model’s first retractable hardtop. It’ll also come with BMW’s wonderful twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre inline six engine. Don’t miss the redesigned 7 Series (penned by a Canadian!), especially the concept ActiveHybrid, which should produce a production version in the near future.

Sports Cars of the World – Located in the South Building, this display features numerous examples of the world’s finest, including Porsche, Lotus, Ferrari and Maserati. This corner of the show is where the exotics hang out: nearby are booths for Maserati, Ferrari, Rolls-Royce, Jaguar and Lamborghini. You won’t be able to get close up and personal as you can with models from the mainstream manufacturers, but at least it’ll give you a chance to budget that fantasy lottery money you’re always spending.

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