Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A matter of style versus substance

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In late March, after a great day of skiing, my friend Steve and I headed south for the Vancouver International Auto Show.

In terms of these events, Vancouver is small-time, nowhere near the glitz and glamour of the big events like Geneva. That's okay -- you don't see many concept cars and exotics, but the displays are accessible and the atmosphere is pleasant rather than dramatic.

Nor can you beat the venue, Vancouver's new waterside conference centre., and it took less than a minute to collect my press credentials.

I brought Steve along because he's an absolute car enthusiast, and also a graphic designer. I'm more of a professional driver than a car nut, so how a vehicle looks is far less important to me than how it works.

Certain things about a vehicle's appearance do put me off, however, especially surface busyness and useless add-ons. Beyond that, all I want is a design that ages well. Steve, on the other hand, has strong views about styling elements -- what works and what doesn't.

First stop was the Jeep Grand Cherokee Diesel. Steve said some Jeep traditionalists were complaining about the front-end styling, which has a few Range Rover cues. I didn't mind -- my interest was in the Italian-made diesel, which produces 240 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque. That's combined with an eight-speed automatic. I look forward to doing a road test.

The one almost-new concept car worth mentioning is the Honda Gear, which was first revealed at the Montreal Auto Show. Something close to it really needs to go into production. A clean sub-compact hatchback, with what Steve considered "well-integrated, organic lines," it would be a great combo of fun and practicality.

Chevrolet had two compact concept cars that were introduced at last year's Detroit show. Steve chose the Code, for what he termed "a skilled execution of a Camaro profile on a smaller platform." My choice was the sleeker Tru -- I can only take so much retro.

As we wandered around, Steve made observations about how each manufacturer kept its brand identity throughout the model range. He thought Buick was doing well, with sleek new models that still have a few family styling cues. He was less complimentary at the Lincoln stand, saying the rear-emds of the sleeker models didn't match well with the toothy chrome fronts.

I, of course, don't care as long as the vehicles drive well, which they do. However, I might be tempted to back the thing into the driveway to avoid being dazzled in the morning by sunshine glinting off what is admittedly a lot of chrome.

Infiniti's styling harmony came in for a few jabs. Steve said it wasn't bad, just a bit busy. He liked Volvo's new look, which is kind of funny because, not that long ago, you'd have been hard-pressed to use 'styling' and 'Volvo' in the same sentence.

The star of the show for both of us was the Jaguar F-Type. The styling, by Ian Callum, is gorgeous and will certainly age well when compared to more gaudy designs. Like model Adriana Sklenarikova or actress Sophia Loren, some beauty is timeless.

On the F-Type's dynamic side, start with a stiff, lightweight aluminium chassis and go from there. There are three model choices. A racing colleague, who is doing a Jaguar track intro as I write this, has already assured me that even the base model drives exceptionally well.

Jaguar and Land Rover have improved greatly since their purchase by Indian automaker Tata Motors in 2008. Both brands always had certain good qualities, but it took that British stiff upper lip to overlook the foibles.

I did a couple of racetrack programs for Jaguar in the pre-Tata days, and quality control was marginal. Trim bits seemed attached more with hope than adhesive, and leaks from various drivetrain bits were common. It's a wonderful turnabout on colonialism that Tata now makes the best British cars.

Alan Sidorov is an experienced automobile racer, product tester and freelance writer. You can reach him at www.spdt.ca

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 3, 2013 A1

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