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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.


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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Preview: 2012 Porsche Cayman R

PALMA DE MAJORCA, Spain – With the new Cayman R, available in Canada as a 2012 model, Porsche has borrowed just about every page from its Boxster Spyder playbook to create the lightest and fastest Cayman ever. The power-to-weight ratio is the end-all of automotive performance, so making the car lighter while giving it more power will significantly improve its dynamics. This is precisely what the engineers at Porsche have done with the Cayman R, which is 55 kilograms lighter than the Cayman S. And its engine develops 10 more horsepower for a total output of 330 hp. The Cayman R’s chassis is also 20 mm lower and its centre of gravity is 22 mm lower than the Cayman S. And its engine develops 10 more horsepower for a total output of 330 hp. The Cayman R’s chassis is also 20 mm lower and its centre of gravity is 22 mm lower than the Cayman S. The numbers might not read like much, but, believe me, this new car raises the bar significantly in terms of performance. Here at the RennArena race track, the Cayman R proved to be totally at ease, thanks to its perfectly weighted and exceptionally communicative steering. With the optional ceramic brakes, the braking action was stellar, with immediate response and very good pedal feel, while the standard locking rear differential made for quicker corner exits. The Cayman R is available with a standard six-speed manual gearbox, which delighted thanks to the very precise, short-shift lever throws. But Porsche’s latest track-day weapon can also be had with the seven-speed double-clutch PDK gearbox, which now features proper steering wheel paddles that are set up exactly like those on its competitors – upshifts selected via the right paddle and downshifts via the left. Porsche has finally seen the light and ditched the previous arrangement consisting of awkward and counter-intuitive steering wheel buttons.

Acceleration times are quicker with the PDK gearbox, but the Cayman R is more satisfying to drive with the manual transmission.

Aside from a few laps of the race track, most of my time with the Cayman R was spent driving on the extremely slippery, wet roads of Palma, which compared with snowy or even icy roads in Canada. Under these conditions, the car’s electronic aids proved to be very useful, especially given the fact that it comes standard with a locking rear differential and high-performance tires.

The electronic stability control was very busy on the drive up mountainside switchbacks – not only when power was applied but also during the turn-in phase to help overcome the prevalent understeer. Applying power at mid-corner, with the locking rear differential sending power to both rear wheels, had the electronic stability control working to effectively control acceleration.

Under these treacherous conditions, the challenge was to drive just fast enough to remain below the threshold where the electronic stability control kicks in. This was easier said than done, given the peculiar pavement I was driving on, but I was secure in the knowledge that the electronics were constantly on the alert should the need arise.

With its standard fixed rear wing and more pronounced front spoiler, the Cayman R certainly looks the part and can easily be differentiated from a run-of-the-mill Cayman or Cayman S.

Inside, the extreme weight-saving measures mean the car does not have regular door handles but red cloth pullers. It’s also devoid of an air conditioning system (which can be added as a $2,010 option) or even a radio (a basic unit can be added as a no-cost option). The standard one-piece sport bucket seats are very form-fitting and can be adjusted fore and aft. Wide adjustable seats are available from options list.

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The V-8 Powered M56 and M37

During back-to-back stints on the same roads with both cars, it quickly became apparent that the M37 is the weapon of choice for carving up back roads where the M56 felt more ponderous in the twisty sections. Open up the throttle, however, and the V8 delivers a steady power surge that is constant but not explosive. You know that 420 ponies are at work because the scenery goes by quicker but you don’t quite feel the rush.

There are also noticeable differences in the driving dynamics of the M cars equipped with the Sport package, which feel even sharper on corner entry with a more immediate response to steering inputs owing in part to their 20-inch alloys and high-performance tires. Sadly, the Sport package is offered only on the rear-wheel-drive M37 and M56, and not on the volume-leading all-wheel-drive models.

Amazingly enough, fuel consumption figures for all variants of the M cars have improved substantially partly because the automatic gearbox is now a seven-speed unit.

In keeping with the recent trend adopted by the Japanese luxury carmaker, the new M is chock full of electronic driving aids offered in various option packages and identified by three-letter acronyms. The list is long and most of these have been designed to reduce the stress of driving, according to Infiniti. Among them are the BSW (Blind Spot Warning) already featured on many cars, but there is also an industry-first BSI (Blind Spot Intervention) system that will actually prevent you from driving into a vehicle that is in your blind spot by alerting you from driving into a vehicle that is in your blind spot by alerting you with lights, then beeping before finally applying the brakes on the opposite side of the car to help return your vehicle to its lane.

Fortunately, the M features a single button on the steering wheel that deactivates all of these electronic nannies, and another below the dash on the left side to disable the various warning systems for those who can actually look where they are goin when driving .

Infiniti has had a lot of success in challenging the German brands in the lower spectrum of luxury cars with its G models, but the M competes in a higher league where the brand’s image is more of a factor in the buying decision.

It’s clear that the new M can hold its ground in driving dynamics and that it enjoys a significant price point advantage vis-a-vis its direct rivals from BMW and Mercedes-Benz, but making the transition from figuring on a buyer’s list to becoming that buyer’s car of choice is a different matter and the final decision is not always a rational one.

The M cars were to arrive in Canadian dealerships, with different price ranges.


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The Highlander

Even if you are ill-informed about new cars, getting into the Highlander is a subliminal lesson on how to masterfully design a car-driver interface that works with intuitive ease.

The Highlander’s interior is a good example of how Toyota has become an undisputed powerhouse in the automobile industry. Behind the wheel, all it takes is one quick glance at the instrument cluster, radio, HVAC and other ancillary controls, and the driver feels right at home.

The clean centre stack is home to a set of large dials and switches for the sound system and HVAC – a godsend not only for bifocalled baby boomers, but for any driver new to the Highlander.

In addition to the typical steering wheel controls – radio, cruise and Bluetooth – Toyota has added another unusual but convenient feature – temperature and Off/Auto controls. The only irritants in the otherwise superb cabin of our test Highlander are the front-seat heater controls – two thin-post, spring-loaded rheostat controls that are frustratingly finicky to operate with heavy gloves. Otherwise, the interior is a comfortable and welcoming space.

Our demo vehicle (4WD V-6 with sport package) was equipped with a long list of features such as leather interior, heated front seats, three-zone climate control panoramic moon roof, power liftgate, 19-inch, five-spoke alloy wheels, third-row seating, voice-activated navigation and back-up camera. Driving the full-time all-wheel drive V-6 Highlander on snow-packed streets during a -20 C December cold snap demonstrated how good the Highlander is when the road are slick.

Fitted with Bridgestone Blizzak winter tires, the Highlander is confident. Further enhancing the winter driving capabilities of this mid-size crossover SUV is a Snow switch, mounted on the centre console, which when activated, minimizes tire slip by forcing the vehicle to start in second gear. (Other manufacturers, such as Mercedes-Benz and Volvo, offer similar automatic transmission-control traction aids.)

The Highlander’s permanent all-wheel drive system works seamlessly with its electronic traction control and vehicle stability control, and it takes a very sharp stab at the throttle and a jerk on the steering wheel (neither of which is recommended) in an icy corner to cause the Highlander to slip from its intended course.

Real-world testing on ice- and packed-snow covered streets reveals the Highlander’s well-tuned suspension, which soaks up winter ruts and potholes commendably. Appropriate for a family hauler, the suspension is tuned for comfort, and highway performance is very good as well. Unlike many vehicles we’ve tested recently, the Toyota insulates its occupants nicely from suspension thumps when hitting pavement expansion joints, and the cabin is quiet on the highway.

While overall handling is best described as solid and secure, the Highlander doesn’t qualify as a sport SUV by any stretch of the imagination. For starters, the electric power steering feels numb, and that blessedly refined suspension is too soft to tolerate sportscar antics.

Complementing the Highlander’s excellent packaging, fit and finish is Toyota’s excellent 3.5-litre DOHC V-6 engine mated to a smooth-shifting five-speed transmission. With 270 horsepower, this powertrain moves the Highlander effortlessly and its quite fuel-efficient, rated at a very good 12.6 L/100 km in the city and 8.7 on the highway. But this engine is no longer the class leader. Jeep’s new-for-2011 3.7-litre V-6 Pentastar engine is rated at 290 horsepower and achieves comparable fuel mileage.

Overall, it’s easy to understand why the Toyota Highlander is such a strong seller. It’s loaded with all the features that make it a stellar family hauler: It’s right-sized, neither too big nor too small, build quality, fit and finish are excellent, instrumentation and interior controls are intuitive and ergonomically correct, and it feels safe, secure and easy to drive.

With seating for seven (yes, the third row is tight and better suited for kids, but its there) and the carrying flexibility afforded by a completely flat cargo floor, its easy to recommend the 2011 Toyota Highlander 4WD V-6 as one of the top picks in the mid-size SUV class.


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So, in specific conditions – such as hard cornering on a slippery road – as much as 70 percent of the engine’s torque can be had at the outside rear wheel, precisely where you want it for optimum handling.

Indeed, we get to test the benefits of that vectoring at the Carolina Motorsport Park where, conveniently, for proof of concept, it’s pouring rain. True to billing, the TL’s SH-AWD system makes easy work of maintaining traction through the slippery curves. Hammer the gas on exit and there’s but a momentary hiccup as the car reacts and then the computers take over, easing the car out of the apex with minimal drama. One can’t actually feel all that torque vectoring between axles and wheels, but one does get a sense that whatever the system is doing, it’s doing it right.

The SH-AWD really does handle surprisingly well. The suspension is suitably firm, grip, even in the wet (and snow, says Acura) from the new 19-inch Goodyear Eagle RS-A radials is prodigious and the steering is quite communicative. The only issue for prospective owners is that the suspension’s compliance over small bumps is not cosseting – even minor creases in the road can be felt through the steering wheel, although it doesn’t seem to affect actual comfort very much.

Inside the cabin, the TL is largely unchanged except for superior materials and a bit more elegant trim. The front seats offer ventilation as well as heating and the cabin is noticeably quieter thanks to better NVH sealants.

There are technological enhancements such as voice recognition, blind-spot monitoring and superior Bluetooth capabilities (including a display of phone functions on the dashboard-mounted information screen). The on-board hard-drive has even more space to store music (and can be accessed by the aforementioned voice-recognition system), iPod and iPad menus are more easily navigated and, perhaps even more important for we the absent-minded, there’s a power management system that reduces the possibility of a rundown battery.

The big question for Acura is for all these small improvements, along with the styling refresh, are enough reverse the recent model’s slide. And I can’t give you a definitive answer and to whether the new one will fare better since, as I’ve said, I quite liked the latter one.


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Pro: Comfortable front seats are well padded and supportive. Gauges and controls are easily seen and very accessible. Competent climate control system. Large trunk for a sporty car. Very quiet passenger compartment. Four more cubic feet of passenger space added this year. Excellent visibility.

Con: Third styling changeover since its debut is more electric in the Toyota Paseo or Lexus mold but still relatively bland. Short or tall drivers may not find the driving position entirely to their liking because the seat is low and set relatively far back. Tall drivers may find headroom lacking, especially with a sunroof. The steering wheel is a bit far from the driver in relation to the pedals. Electronic fuel and temperature gauges can’t be easily read due to insufficient back lighting. Trunk space has been reduced by three cubic feet. Back seat is not for sitting. Honda says its to be used mainly for emergencies and storage.

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Power Steering

Steering wheel, driving these cars may have been easy on the driver’s arms but not so on their legs, for the driver and passengers often walked home after the car skittered off the road. To be up close and personal with ditches was not a desired condition, but it was a frequent one.

With the introduction and acceptance of wider tires, vehicles stayed on the road better, but they were more difficult to park in small spaces. Parking a car weighing more than 2,000 pounds became a chore fit only for weightlifters.

Power steering adds the turning power of the engine  to the turning power of the steering gears. This assistance comes from a belt-driven power steering pump. This pump pressurizes the power steering fluid, which is held in a reservoir. The fluid pressure increases turning power. Consequently, less manual pressure is needed to turn the steering wheel.


The LeBaron sedan of 1993-1994 was not related to the coupe and convertible. The spirit ran concurrently with the new Dodge Stratus in 1995, and the Acclaim made way for the Plymouth Breeze in 1996.

The exterior of the Spirit/Acclaim/LeBaron sedans is bland to the point of anonymity. At one time, they became the unofficial hit car of Quebec’s biker gangs, as they were so invisible that no one could remember what kind of car they saw speeding away from the scene. The LeBaron sedan is the gilded lily of the four-door range, with layers of glitzy vinyl trim applied to the exterior to differentiate it from the cheaper – and visually more sober – Spirit and Acclaim. The interior of the LeBaron sedan is a riot of fusty velour, chromed plastic, and wood that never grew on trees. The internal dimensions that the LeBaron shares with the Spirit and Acclaim reflect good space efficiency, with enough room to keep four people happy; more people can fit, but width is a limiting factor. The seats themselves are comfortable enough, but it is not that easy for the driver to get comfortable because of the odd spatial relationships between the seats, steering wheel and pedals. The Spirit and Acclaim are quite tasteful inside and have fittings of reasonable quality that are assembled with more care than on their K-car predecessors.

In 1993 and 1994 the Spirit and Acclaim were available with the 2.5L four cylinder or 3.0L V6 engine coupled with a three-speed automatic. A five speed manual was also offered with the 2.5L motor, and a four-speed automatic with the 3.0L V6. The LeBaron sedan offered either a three-speed or four-speed automatic transmission, depending on the engine. Both engines were available on the 1995 Spirit/Acclaim, but only with a three-speed automatic transmission.

Spirited is not a word to use to describe these cars on the road. On smooth roads they are smooth, on rough roads they’re rough, and in emergency manoeuvres, forget it – the cars are very sloppy. The brakes grab and the nose plunges in panic stops. Interior noise in the Spirit is not bothersome, but there is less of it and the quality of the noise is much more pleasant with the V6.  The three-speed automatic shifts well, but forego the four-speed autobox, which shifts erratically until it loses its spirit and turns into a ghost, its internals having lost the will to live. The Spirit and Acclaim were offered with a rare five-speed manual gearbox whose operation constitutes an antidote to driving pleasure.

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Hyundai Elantra

The Elantra SE is a well-rounded package with roomy cabin, a comfortable ride, nice fit and finish, and a quiet interior. It provides excellent braking and very secure emergency handling, aided by the SE’s standard electronic stability control. Fuel economy is respectable at 27 mpg overall. Acceleration is adequate if not breathtaking. Reliability has been well above average.

Handling, Ride, and Powertrain

In addition to standard ESC, the SE has wider tires than the lower-trim GLS model. That helps it deliver notably better cornering grip and braking performance. In this group, the Elantra SE achieved the shortest braking distances and the fastest maximum speed through our avoidance maneuver. Still, the car leans a bit in turns. While the steering response is appropriate, it falls short on feedback. A relatively tight 37-foot turning circle aids in tight maneuvers. The Elantra provides a good ride for a small car, absorbing road bumps fairly well. The cabin stays commendably quiet with subdued levels of wind and road noise.

The 132-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine provides reasonable acceleration, and the four-speed automatic transmission shifted smoothly and responsively. But the zigzag shift gate can be awkward to use.

Inside the Cabin

Nicely grained plastics appoint the Elantra’s interior and most panel fits are tight. The dash top is soft to the touch, however most other interior plastics are hard. Drivers sit up high, where they have a good view over the low dash. There is plenty of head, foot, and knee room for all but the tallest people. The steering wheel both tilts and telescopes on the SE version and there is a well-placed left footrest.

Front seats are roomy and well padded but a bit flat; there is some lateral support, but it could be better. Tall drivers found the seat cushion too short for adequate thigh support. Gripes included the lack of lumbar-support and cushion-tilt adjustments.

The well-contoured rear seat is among the best in the class. Head and leg room are adequate for six-footers, but the seat is a bit narrow to fit three of them comfortably.

Most controls are simple and well laid out. But the displays tend to wash out in bright sunlight. The radio has big buttons and a tuning knob, and the climate control uses large, simple knobs. There is an auxiliary audio jack for MP3 players. The climate system is easy to use, but there is no outside temperature display.

The nice-sized trunk can be expanded by lowering the 60/40-split rear seat backs. But the deck lid lacks a liner, as well as any good place to grasp it when closing the trunk.