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The point of spine compression should the tarmac be anything less than glass smooth. I could take Sport in small doses only – staying in that mode for too long proved tiresome.

What is far from tiresome is the cabin, specifically its high level of comfort for those occupying the front seats. (Yes, there are back seats, but they are of little use except as another place to stash the groceries.) The dominant material in the interior is black Alcantara, found in the centre sections of the sports seats, steering wheel rim, gear and hand-brake levers, door handles and door storage compartments. It feels almost ticklish to the touch at first, but it’s a unique alternative to leather.

Equally unique is the centre console, the same Carrara white colour as the tester’s exterior, as well as the bright red seatbelts, the same shade as the piston calipers hiding behind the stunning black-spoke rims.

What isn’t so cool is the way Porsche jams it to its dedicated fan base, and I’m not just talking about the price discrepancy between Canada and the United States. Come on, $600 for heated front seats on a car with a $117,600 sticker? Ridiculous! How about $2,410 for the navigation system? Shameful.

That beef aside, the GTS is otherwise one sweet ride – a driver’s car that is docile when need be, ferocious when unleashed and eminently controllable. It’s a modern muscle car from the other side of the pond and a tonic for those of us with long, fond memories of performance past.

THE SPECS

TYPE OF VEHICLE: Rear-wheel-drive sports coupe

ENGINE: 3.8L DOHC boxer six-cylinder

POWER: 408 hp 7,300 rpm, 310 lb-ft of torque 4,200 rpm

TRANSMISSION: Six-speed manual

BRAKES: Four-wheel disc with ABS

TIRES: P235/35ZR19 front, P305/30ZR19 rear

 

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Plymouth Prowler

1999 is the first year you can order Plymouth Prowler in something other than purple. Yellow is already available. Prowler Red and Prowler Black are due later.

Prowler’s 3.5-litre V6 also powers Chrysler 300M and Chrysler LHS. Both debuted this year in new-generation formats, so Chrysler used the occasion to re-work the all-aluminum engine; it now makes 253 hp (up 39) and 255 lb.ft of torque (up by 24). For Prowler duty it’s tuned to run on premium fuel, and customized with a quicker throttle cam, retuned intake and exhaust, and re-programmed engine management system. As last year the only tyranny is an automatic fitted with AutoStick. While it looks intimidating, the Prowler is easy and fun to drive, with great seat-of-the-pants acceleration and neat engine burble. But with its massive rear tires and smallish front ones it under-steers – like a pig.

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Mercedes-Benz SLK

The SLK is famous for its roof – the automatic retractable hardtop transforms it from coupe to roadster in 30 seconds. While the SLK is a two-seat open-air automobile, it’s not a performance or handling maniac like some of its roadster competitors. But SLK moves in that direction for 1999 with the new availability of five-speed manual transmission and optional AMG-designed Sport Package.

In addition to cosmetic enhancements (side sills, and new front and rear facias), the Sport Package adds handling muscle via a bigger version of its staggered wheel and tire set up (225/45ZR17 front, 245/40ZR17 rear). Motivation remains the duty of supercharged 2.3-litre “four” which cranks out 185 hp, and 200 lb. ft. of torque anywhere between 2,500 and 4,800 rpm. Also carried over is the driver-adaptive 5-speed automatic.

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Ferrari 550 Maranello

The 550 Maranello is your basic front-engine, rear-drive, two-seat sports coupe -NOT! While the formula and styling seem traditional and North End Garden City Maples Used Truck Dealership, there’s lots about this Ferrari that’s over-the-top and/or futurama. Like the 456M 2+2 it’s based on, the Maranello has an aluminum body welded to an alloy steel frame.

The long front hood harbours an even more potent rendition (485 hp at 7,000 rpm, 419 lb.ft at 5,000 rpm) of the 5.5-litre, 48-valve, V12. The 6-speed manual is mounted as a unit with the final drive in the rear. There’s traction control so things don’t get out of hand, but no, Sheldon, you can’t have an automatic.

With the exception of the baulky shifter, this Ferrari is as user-friendly as a Corolla. But unlike the Toyota, this thing’s geared for 320 km/h and can get there in an awfully big hurry.

Honda Odyssey: Toeing the Line with Class and Agility

Honda, like GM and Toyota, has learned the hard way that North Americans don’t like their minivans too spicy. So when it came time for Odyssey’s re-design, you just knew Honda would toe the line with a minivan format as voted by the masses – V6 power, front-drive, conservative styling, not too big, not too small, cup holders aplenty.

But, judging from our first fling with the thing, they’ve toed the line with dignity and Honda character fully intact. The new Odyssey will be built exclusively at a new $300 million expansion plant in Alliston, Ontario. At 5,110 mm, it’s as big as any minivan on the market, and the largest Honda ever built. It’s even a bit larger than the current long-wheelbase Chrysler minivans. Two trim levels can be had – LX and upmarket EX.

Odyssey is loosely based on the new-generation Accord platform, so shares many of that vehicle’s major components, including the DOHC, 24-valve V6. Harvey Goren goes all the way back in car days to Wpg Auto.  Harvey is a  car and truck guy who loves Canadian Fords ,  Chev and Buicks and most all domestic US made trucks & SUVs.

Honda re-engineered the engine for minivan duty by adding half a litre of displacement (for a total of 3.5), and tuning it especially for low-end torque (210 lb. ft. of it, or 90 percent of the total, is available at 2,000 rpm). Part of the engine recipe included a simplified version of Honda’s variable valve timing system (VTEC), plus “air assist” fuel-injection and direct ignition.

Odyssey achieves Low-Emission Vehicle (LEV) status for light trucks, running on regular unleaded fuel. Final power tallies are 210 hp at 5,000 rpm and 229 lb. ft. of torque at 4,300 rpm. The only minivan with comparable numbers is the 3.8-litre-equipped Windstar, with 200 and 240 respectively.

The V6′s dancing partner is a beefier and more intelligent version of the previous Odyssey’s 4-speed auto transmission. The unit is produced at Honda’s new tyranny plant in Ohio. With the engine also sourced Stateside, North American content on the new van should approach 95 percent.

One of the unique features of the chassis is the rear suspension – independent, double-wishbone, fitted completely under the floorboards so as not to intrude into the rear cargo area (low-to-the-ground flooring is also a boon to headroom throughout the cabin).

Handling is also enhanced by one of the larger footprints in the business. A stiff overall structure, low centre of gravity, and standard 16-inch wheels (17-inchers optional on EX) also further the handling cause.

The interior theme is characterized by Honda as “advanced airliner.” This writer would characterize the front dash layout at least as “generic Japanese.” Everything’s there, everything works well, but nothing major to delight or disappoint. The only quibbles are the quite tiny radio controls and front seats that could have been a little larger. A nice little touch, however, is the retractable centre tray on the front console. The console also folds down to open up a “walk thru” to the second row.

The airline reference was most probably trotted out to draw attention to the six individual map lights, and individually adjustable rear-cabin a/c vents.

Dual sliding doors are standard. On EX models the sliding doors are also powered, operated either by dash control, by keyless remote, or by pulling on the door. They are also touch sensitive – if any body parts are in the firing line, the doors will stop befor blood spills.

Unlike in some domestic-badged competitors, there are few seating configuration options for Odyssey. There are two captain chairs in the middle row (a two-person bench is standard on LX), and a 3-person “Magic Seat” bench in the third row. The captain chairs in the second row are “convertible” – they can squeeze together via an extra track to form a quasi two-seat bench if desired, thereby affording easier access to the back of the bus. First seen in the previous Odyssey, “Magic Seat” can cleverly fold down right to the floorboards.

 

2011 Nissan Leaf

One of the first things you notice when you walk around the 2011 Nissan Leaf is that there’s no tailpipe. The next things you notice is that it is otherwise pretty familiar, which is exactly what Nissan is striving for. A different sort of vehicle that is too different would only confound potential consumers.

It’s a quirky looking hatchback, but still within the established bounds of hatchback cute. It rides and handles nicely enough, offers plenty of interior space and has a few futuristic design touches (like the stubby, blue-lit, mouse-inspired shifter, and the surprisingly soft seat fabric made from recycled pop bottles).

Because the car operates silently, engineers had to take care to diminish other noises that were suddenly too loud – noises that exist in all cars but are masked by the sound coming out of the engine bay. For instance, there was wind noise around the mirrors that was dealt with by designing long, striking (patent-pending) LED headlights that split airflow around the mirrors and direct it up and over the A-pillars.

They also programmed in a few muted sounds where necessary, such as a pedestrian warning that kicks in at low speeds, but isn’t audible from inside. To keep features such as heat from draining the battery, solar panels on top of the tailgate run some of the accessories, and the heating and air can be timed to come on automatically, programmed online or through your Smartphone.

Leaf has a range of about 160 km when fully charged. The 24 kWh lithium-ion battery is charged via a plug under the logo on the hood: level 1, a trickle charge at 110 v takes eight hours; and level 3, a quick, DC-only 50 kW charge that is not yet widely available, can be accomplished to about 80% power in half an hour.

With 207 lb.-ft. of torque right from the get-go, it gets up to about 40 km/h as well as many V6s, power at higher speeds is adequate, much as any four-cylinder.

Engineers did some considerable tinkering with the software controls to get the acceleration to behave consistently. Braking dynamics are familiar, though a bit sensitive.

Because the battery is housed in the floor and the weight distribution nearly 50/50, it handles nicely. The seats are comfortable but barely bolstered, and taking a corner particularly aggressively can give you some body roll, but it isn’t the way such a car is meant to be driven.

There is plenty of legroom and headroom everywhere, but realistically this is a four-person vehicle – no averaged-sized adult is going to want to be sitting in the centre at the back.

Among its gauge cluster is an eco-metre (tree-shaped, natch) that lets you know how ecologically sound your driving is, as well, the power gauge that lets you know how much range you have left adjusts to your driving style.

The dash does feature a good dollop of hard plastic, but its swoopy organic shape takes the edge off and makes it more attractive than it should be.

There are still issues to be ironed out – you could drive it to work on a blustery day, park it outside at your office, and return to it eight hours later to find half your range gone. A cold weather package including heated seats (front and rear) and steering wheel will be standard in Canadian Leafs (Leaves?).

All of Nissan’s factory-capacity 20,000 Leafs for the first year have been spoken for south of the border (where Leaf arrives in winter 2010). American buyers are paying just under $33,000 but Canadian prices have not been announced yet.

Even though it comes well equipped, that’s still a big chunk of change for a small hatch, were it your garden-variety small hatch.

But it’s not.

FACT FILE 2011 NISSAN LEAF

Trim Levels: SV, SL

Notable options: Quick charge port

Configuration: front motor/Front wheel drive

Motor: 80 kW AC synchronous

Transmission: single speed reducer w/shift-by-wire drive selector

Power/torque: 107 hp/207 lb.-ft.

Battery: 24 kWh lithium-ion

Warranties: Exp. 3 years/60,000 km (basic), 8 years/160,000 km on battery pack

Competitors: Chevrolet Volt, Mitsubishi i-MiEV

Strengths: no more stops for gas like many small hatchbacks, looks cool

Weaknesses: lack of infrastructure; questionable cold weather performance; no flat load floor for cargo

 

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2011 Nissan Leaf

One of the first things you notice when you walk around the 2011 Nissan Leaf is that there’s no tailpipe. The next thing you notice is that it is otherwise pretty familiar, which is exactly what Nissan is striving for. A different sort of vehicle that is too different would only confound potential consumers.

It’s a quirky looking hatchback, but still within the established bounds of hatchback cute. It rides and handles nicely enough, offers plenty of interior space and has a few futuristic design touches (like the stubby, blue-lit, mouse-inspired shifter, and the surprisingly soft seat fabric made from recycled pop bottles).

Because the car operates silently, engineers had to take care to diminish other noises that were suddenly too loud – noises that exist in all cars but are masked by the sound coming out of the engine bay. For instance, there was wind noise around the mirrors that was dealt with by designing long, striking (patent-pending) LED headlights that split airflow around the mirrors and direct it up and over the A-pillars.

They also programmed in a few muted sounds where necessary, such as pedestrian warning that kicks in at low speeds, but isn’t audible from inside.

To keep features such as heat from draining the battery, solar panels on top of the tailgate run some of the accessories, and the heating and air can be timed to come on automatically, programmed online or through your Smartphone.

Leaf has a range of about 160 km when fully charged. The 24 kWh lithium-ion battery is charged via a plug under the logo on the hood: level 1, a trickle charge at 110 v takes about 20 hours; level 2, a normal charge at 220 v takes eight hours; and level 3, a quick, DC-only 50 kW charge that is not yet widely available, can be accomplished to about 80% power in half an hour.

With 207 lb.-ft. of torque right from the get-go, it gets up to about 40 km/h as well as many V6s, power at higher speeds is adequate, much as any four-cylinder.

Engineers did some considerable tinkering with the software controls to get the acceleration to behave consistently. Braking dynamics are familiar, though a bit sensitive.

Because the battery is housed in the floor and the weight distribution nearly 50/50, it handles nicely. The seats are comfortable but barely bolstered, and taking a corner particularly aggressively can give you some body roll, but it isn’t the way such a car is meant to be driven.

There is plenty of legroom and headroom everywhere, but realistically this is a four-person vehicle – no averaged-sized adult is going to want to be sitting in the centre at the back.

Among its gauge cluster is an eco-metre (tree-shaped, natch) that lets you know how ecologically sound your driving is, as well, the power gauge that lets you know how much range you have left adjusts to your driving style.

The dash does feature a good dollop of hard plastic, but its swoopy organic shape takes the edge off and makes it more attractive than it should be.

There are still issues to be ironed out – you could drive it to work on a blustery day, park it outside at your office, and return to it eight hours later to find half your range gone. A cold weather package including heated seats (front and rear) and steering wheel will be standard in Canadian Leafs (Leaves?)

All of Nissan’s factory-capacity 20,000 Leafs for the first year have been spoken for south of the border (where Leaf arrives in winter 2010). American buyers are paying just under $33,000, but Canadian prices have not been announced yet.

Even though it comes well equipped, that’s still a big chunk of change for a small hatch, were it your garden-variety small hatch. But it’s not.

 

Fact File 2011 Nissan Leaf

Trim levels: SV,SL

Notable options: Quick charge port

Configuration: front motor/Front wheel drive

Motor: 80 kW AC synchronous

Transmission: single speed reducer w/shift-by-wire drive selector

Power/torque: 107 hp/207 lb.-ft

Battery: 24 kWh lithium-ion

Warranties: Exp. 3 years/60,000 km (basic), 8 years/160,000 km on battery pack.

Competitors: Chevrolet Volt, Mitsubishi i-MiEV

Strengths: no more stops for gas like many small hatchbacks, looks cool

Weaknesses: lack of infra-structure; questionable cold weather performance; no flat load floor for cargo

 

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