February 24, 2020 By C! Magazine Staff Written by: by Jose Martin V. Ursúa Photos by: by The Author

Highlights of the Toronto Auto Show: More Than Meets the Eye, More or Less

The Canadian International Auto Show is something I look forward to every year, coming as it does in the dead of winter. In February, temperatures in Toronto can, and did, drop to -20 °C, so the thought of spending a few hours wandering large, heated halls filled with new cars was very appealing. Of course, I always forget about the hassle of lugging a heavy coat and camera around, painful feet, and the sweat that eventually drips down my back. Also not helping this year are two major no-shows:  Mercedes and Volvo. Both brands cited an increased focus on social media and they are also AWOL from the Chicago and New York shows. Whether they skip the much more important NAIAS in Detroit remains to be seen, but their absence here is keenly felt.

I believe that auto shows still play a crucial role for the media, and especially for enthusiasts. It’s true that we now get to see new cars immediately and in 4K detail, thanks to the speed of the Internet and the glut of YouTube content. But looks can always be deceiving: What may seem like a luxurious, leather-and-wood interior on the screen may turn out to be intolerably plastic to the touch. Short and tall drivers also get a preview of issues with visibility and fit. While the brief in-cockpit experience will never replace a proper test drive, it is also casual and commitment-free. Whereas glancing at a dealership display model for more than a few seconds will ensure that salesmen will be your best friends for months.

The theme for this year’s show is “Transformative Times”, which is both blandly uninformative and a little arrogant. What is it about 2020 that is more remarkable than other automotive years? The poster car for the show is the one-off Bugatti Voiture Noire that, aside from being priced at a staggering $19 million, doesn’t herald any revolution, except maybe the proletariat’s, when they finally come to eat the rich! Do note that I firmly believe in free markets, and will vigorously defend the right of anyone to buy this black Bug—or a lightly-used Gulfstream G550, for the same price. As in previous years, the drift of all manufacturers toward electric vehicles can’t be ignored. Cars like the Volkswagen e-Golf will be crucial, as they look almost exactly like a regular Golf, except with blue enviro-friendly highlights. The Honda Clarity also makes a strong case for electrics, and I happen to like the Citroen-ish echoes in its shape, and semi-faired rear wheels. But the Very Big Deal of this show is Ford’s first fully-electric foray, the Mustang Mach-E. Let me remind readers that Ford has stopped making cars in North America with the sole exception of the Mustang—the real one, with the V8. The merits of this SUV in a pony costume remain to be seen, but the name has divided the Mustang faithful. Personally, it reeks of marketing MBAs convincing Ford’s top brass to leverage the goodwill of the Mustang brand and transplant it into this thing. The sword cuts both ways, though: It wasn’t long ago when Ford managed to debase the ST label (boosted by the fine Focus ST) with the dire “performance version” of the Edge crossover. At least the monstrous new Shelby GT500 and the GT Mark II are on hand to provide some old-fashioned excitement in the Ford section.

The theme for this year’s show is “Transformative Times”, which is both blandly uninformative and a little arrogant. What is it about 2020 that is more remarkable than other automotive years? The poster car for the show is the one-off Bugatti Voiture Noire that, aside from being priced at a staggering $19 million, doesn’t herald any revolution, except maybe the proletariat’s, when they finally come to eat the rich! Do note that I firmly believe in free markets, and will vigorously defend the right of anyone to buy this black Bug—or a lightly-used Gulfstream G550, for the same price.

As in previous years, the drift of all manufacturers toward electric vehicles can’t be ignored. Cars like the Volkswagen e-Golf will be crucial, as they look almost exactly like a regular Golf, except with blue enviro-friendly highlights. The Honda Clarity also makes a strong case for electrics, and I happen to like the Citroen-ish echoes in its shape, and semi-faired rear wheels. But the Very Big Deal of this show is Ford’s first fully-electric foray, the Mustang Mach-E. Let me remind readers that Ford has stopped making cars in North America with the sole exception of the Mustang—the real one, with the V8. The merits of this SUV in a pony costume remain to be seen, but the name has divided the Mustang faithful. Personally, it reeks of marketing MBAs convincing Ford’s top brass to leverage the goodwill of the Mustang brand and transplant it into this thing. The sword cuts both ways, though: It wasn’t long ago when Ford managed to debase the ST label (boosted by the fine Focus ST) with the dire “performance version” of the Edge crossover. At least the monstrous new Shelby GT500 and the GT Mark II are on hand to provide some old-fashioned excitement in the Ford section.

Back to the main halls and the mainstream brands. The Koreans are absolutely killing it at this year’s show, with some real out-there concept cars mixed in with new production models. Out of all the sensible cars I looked at, it was the Hyundai Sonata that impressed me the most both inside and out—aside from its weird fish face. Kia, Hyundai, and the Genesis offshoot all boast a good selection of sedans and SUVs in all sizes. On the other hand, one could also sense companies in trouble just from the cars they display. Nissan’s main turntable is occupied by the unspectacular-but-crucial new Versa, which had better be completely different from the mediocrity I’ve had the displeasure of driving twice last year. Even high-energy models like the GT-R and 370Z seem well past their sell-by dates. The GT-R’s once-revolutionary value proposition is now receding into distant memory as it struggles to stay relevant with crinkly new spoilers and splitters. Even worse is poor old Mitsubishi, which still manages to get away with putting a Mirage on a pedestal. Why is it here?  Who would buy this car new, when it can barely pass muster in developing markets?

Before going to the show, I had a short list of must-sees: The Mustang Mach-E, I HAD to see, even if with gritted teeth. Second was the mid-engines Corvette, which I have hotly anticipated for the better part of my life. There were two flavours of C8 on display: a red coupe and the slightly-newer, though similarly unreleased, electric blue Spyder. While I have reservations about buying a new car from GM, the C8 is the true disruptor of its segment and beyond. It is sure to eat into sales of similarly-priced mid-engined options like the Boxster, and those of much more expensive whips like the NSX and R8. Ironically, I believe this new emphasis on engine placement will end up making a stronger case for traditionally-styled, front-engine GTs, like Jaguar’s refreshed F-Type.

My other must-sees were an SUV and a truck. Regardless of its off-road bona fides, the new Land Rover Defender has a distinctive and pleasing shape. The interior, however, is so multi-layered and fussy that it made me anxious to sit behind the wheel. The hollow space behind the central screen looks like a hassle to clean, while the broad transmission tunnel reminds me of the original Hummer. More straightforward and properly utilitarian is the Jeep Gladiator. There is very little imagination behind its design work: Lop off the back of a Wrangler and replace it with a metal box! But it’s hard to deny the sheer manliness it exudes, especially once roof panels have been removed, windscreen folded, and doors replaced with roller-coaster safety bars. I imagine it would be as liveable as the average Wrangler (i.e. not very), but I kept coming back to the Gladiator, entertained.

And what of the highlight of the show, that most expensive and exclusive of Bugattis, la Voiture Noire? I completely missed it. No, this is not meant to be a poignant conclusion to this article—a metaphor for the lack of any real transformation in the industry. I just didn’t spot this black car against the black backdrop! And neither could most people, based on the absence of crowds gathered in its corner of the hall. Now that’s “stealth wealth”

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