A biweekly roundup of automotive news, good, bad and just plain weird:
Land Rover Defender to return in 2020
Boxy Land Rovers have long been a staple on the North Shore. Yes, you’ll find Range Rovers proliferating throughout West Vancouver, and more than a few of the squarish Discoveries too, but I’m talking about the Rover that sticks closest to the original Landie formula: the Defender.
Think of the Defender as Land Rover’s version of the Jeep Wrangler, as that’s exactly what it is. The original celebrated its 70th birthday last year, and because of Canada’s relatively generous 15-year grey market rules (you can import a 15-year old Defender from Europe, while Americans have to wait for the 25-year mark), there are lots of fairly recent Defenders puttering around our streets.
I grew up with Land Rovers, and regard them with equal parts fondness and wariness. On one hand, they tend to be pretty unreliable, and an out-of-warranty Range Rover should basically play the theme from Jaws any time you drive past a mechanics. On the other hand, the early cars were quite simple, and could mostly be repaired by just swearing and hitting them with an ever-increasing selection of hammers.
We only officially got the Defender for a couple of years in the mid-1990s, but it looks like the new one is coming back next year. Details are thin, although camouflaged models have been spotted testing, and it’s still as boxy as a Rubik’s Cube. Apparently this new one will feature more-comfortable independent suspension and be more environmentally sensitive.
But how are you supposed to know if your Land Rover has oil in it if it doesn’t constantly leak it out all over the ground? Truly, it’s the dawn of a new era.
Last-hurrah STI 209 headed for Detroit
The Detroit auto show has always seemed a bit of an odd place to launch sporty cars, bound up as it usually is in snow and ice. However, here’s one that makes plenty of sense: a higher performance version of the all-wheel-drive STI.
Subaru’s STI is somewhat long in the tooth these days, still riding on the older chassis architecture, and with an EJ-series engine that debuted sometime around when the dinosaurs that fuelled it still roamed the earth. The Crosstrek and the Impreza are both now on Subaru’s new stiffer platform, and we can probably expect a new STI and WRX is 2020.
As something of a send-off, Subaru’s bringing their top-of-range S model here for the first time. Ordinarily only available in small batches overseas, these usually get some minor power and handling improvements. The previous iteration, S208, got roughly 325 horsepower and a bunch of suspension upgrades.
Subaru is also a perennial favourite in these parts, and I’m sure Subaru will be able to sell every one of their limited edition performance sedans. However, I think I speak for a large section of the Subaru enthusiast community when I say: the next one better come as a hatchback too.
Forester STI concept to arrive in Tokyo
Speaking of boxy ubiquity and Subarus, the new Forester seems to be doing very well judging by the way it’s cropping up in North Shore driveways. However, they did get rid of the turbocharged engine this year, and Suabru’s own sales figures show that about 15 per cent of Canadians bought their Forester with a turbo when it was available.
Further, there’s a bit of public clamour about the new Crosstrek plug-in hybrid, which may or may not be making its way into the Canadian market. Using some parts from the Prius PHEV, the Crosstrek has a shortish range, but retains Subaru’s excellent all-wheel drive. Unfortunately, it loses at least half of the trunk space to the battery pack, making it a bit limited in practicality.
So, why not use the larger Forester and combine the two ideas? For the Japanese market only, that’s what Subaru is doing with their Forester STI e-Boxer. First, dial your expectations back. In Japan, STI exists as more of a light batch of tuning upgrades for your Subaru – it doesn’t always mean the big engine option.
The e-Boxer gets a hybridized 2.0-litre powertrain that produces around the same power as the plug-in Crosstrek. However, there’s more space to stow the batteries and so on. Then, Subaru fits some chassis and brake upgrades shared with the WRX/STI.
Again, this is a Japan-only model, and a concept at that, but if Subaru can’t market a rough-and-tumble hybrid with a bit of rally sport heritage about it here, who can?
1994 Supra Turbo an auction sensation
If you grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, your dream cars were likely a bit different. It was a time when Japanese cars seemed to explode with technology, with crazy engineering moonshots like the Acura NSX or twin-turbo Mazda RX-7. Anything seemed possible.
Now, Japanese manufacturers are a little more conservative. However, we will see a return of the Toyota Supra nameplate early this year, which makes you wonder what’s happening to the values of all those 1990s Japanese machines. Answer: they’re about to explode.
Leading the pack is the king of the hill, the twin-turbocharged fourth-generation Toyota Supra. By the time you read this, an auction on the popular site Bring A Trailer will have closed, and I’d be very surprised if the Supra sold there doesn’t fetch over US$100,000.
It’s an exceptional machine, a 1994 with just 10,000 kilometres on the odometer, but it’s also a canary in a coal mine. The prices on all these new-era classics are about to skyrocket, as a host of new enthusiasts comes to market.
Me? I’m not greedy. A first-generation Miata with collector plates sounds like a great way to have plenty of fun without breaking the bank or the speed limit. If you’ve been waiting for 2019 to pick up your own modern-classic, now’s the time.
Watch this space for all the best and worst of automotive news, or submit your own auto oddities to firstname.lastname@example.org.