July 11, 2011. Sherwood Park, Alberta’s Noel Dowler returned to action in round number five of the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series this past weekend on the streets of Toronto. As part of the Toronto Indy weekend Dowler looked to continue his growth and gain more experience at the wheel of the #5 EMCO Dodge on the temporary street course.

Dowler is still getting used to the handling characteristics of these nearly 3,000 pound stock cars and learned the hard way that it’s extremely difficult to slow and stop the cars from about 150 mph on the long lakeshore road straightaway during the only practice session. “I was going too quickly into corner number three and the car went through the corner and into the run off area” said Dowler.

Sadly there was extensive damage to the #5 EMCO Dodge and the team would be forced to spend the rest of the afternoon making repairs and miss the qualifying session. “It’s not so much that we didn’t get to qualify” explained Dowler, “but I really wanted to get as much time on the track as possible” he stated.

Dowler would start the #5 EMCO Dodge at the tail end of the field for the 100km with the mission of finishing the race and absorbing as much information as he could. “I just wanted to watch the experienced drivers and learn from them and improve with each lap” said Dowler.

As the race progressed Dowler did exactly that. He showed racing smarts to never put the #5 EMCO Dodge into an uncomfortable position and continued the learning process. Noel Dowler also had the opportunity to learn from a familiar coach. His father Kevin Dowler was asked to relive another injured driver during the race and Noel was able to watch the savvy veteran. “It was really great” said the younger Dowler. “I got to follow him for quite a few laps and really learned a lot about how to handle the car” he stated.

The next event of the 2011 NASCAR Canadian Tire Series schedule for Noel Dowler takes place Saturday July 23rd at Motoplex Speedway near Vernon, BC. Dowler will participate in a total of five road and street course events, along with the two oval track races at Motoplex Speedway in Vernon, BC and Auto Clearing Speedway in Saskatoon for a total of seven races. All of the 2011 NASCAR Canadian Tire Series races will be broadcast on TSN. Check local listings for times in your area. For more information about Noel Dowler Jr. log onto www.apollomotorsports.ca

2013 Fiat 500c Abarth

Ah, come on, we all saw this coming, didn’t we? In an article from Wards, the good word is there will be an automatic offered in the Abarth. In an interview with Fiat North America president Tim Kuniskis, the company didn’t perceive any demand for an automatic Abarth, but that has not been the case. The vast majority of Abarth sales are to males, but with the upcoming drop top 500C Abarth, it is expected the car will win over more interest from women buyers, most of whom may not be interested in shifting for themselves.

That may be true, but the reality is fewer and fewer drivers know, or are interested in rowing through the gears. At a racetrack gathering of the automotive press, I saw a young man gaze longingly at the row of cars Honda and Acura brought along. He sighed, and said to his companion: “This stinks, all the cars they brought are manuals. And this is from a car journalist! If an automatic keeps the already strong selling Abarth going, then who can complain. After all, no one threatened to riot when the MINI Cooper S had an automatic offered all along.

08_tridentStanding on the corner of 7th Ave. and 33rd St., I stared up at the blue sky while patiently waiting to cross and head west. The screeching brakes and boisterous honking of midday NYC overwhelmed my ears when from out of the din, I heard a singular engine accelerating through the last seconds of the green light; my breath caught, heart quickened, and my eyes immediately shot down to earth to glimpse the back end of a Maserati disappearing in traffic. Exhaled. Amongst the highest-end luxury brands jockeying for sales and notoriety, the iconic Italian brand stands apart.

While the sixth generation Quattroporte debuted this past January in Detroit, it had yet to be seen outside of COBO and on the ground in New York City. As New York International Auto Show had the city focused on all things automotive, Maserati of Manhattan held an exclusive unveiling of the 2014 Quattroporte for top clients and admirers alike. The reveal party kicked off as the sun set down over the two draped models in the Tribeca dealership.

Two versions of the Quattroporte were uncovered. The first to be revealed was the Q4; a 3.0 liter twin turbo V6 engine powers this four door sedan, and the Q4 system equalizes the torque from rear-wheel drive to a 50/50 balanced all-wheel drive for better traction. The larger, lighter 4-door has a roomier interior, the quiet 5-seater cabin exudes comfort with leather seats and carbon fiber accents. A touch control screen is to the right of the steering wheel, and it’s equipped with wi-fi and reverse cameras, as well as adjustable pedals. The Maserati trident is embossed into the leather seats, lights up on the instrument panel, and, of course, crowns the concave grille.

An 8-speed automatic 3.8 liter twin turbo V8 Quattroporte GTS – which goes from 0 to 62* in 4.7 seconds – was revealed next. With a longer nose, this generation Quattroporte might be bigger, faster, and have better mpg than its predecessor, but retains the dangerous curves that Maserati is famous for. The Maserati Powertrain-designed engine is actually assembled in Ferrari’s Maranello plant, and both the GTS and Q4 are produced in Maerati’s new plant in Torino, Italy. This version of the V8 had the four-seat configuration and wood-accented interior. The spacious back seat featured view screens and fold-out trays on the back of the front seats, with a control panel and storage compartments between the seats, all for a base price of approximately $135,000.

Maserati sales in North America have doubled since 2009, and with the newly in-house-designed Quattroporte with all of the modern tech and more conservative fuel economy, Maserati is aggressively looking to continue this upward trend.

*Data originally given by Maserati as 0-100 kilometers in 4.7 seconds. Changed to miles for this piece because Americans most frustratingly refuse to convert. Sorry.

Maserati of Manhattan
Maserati Quattroporte Reveal NYC
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S Q4 Cf details
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Quattroporte V8 engine
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The surprise pf the show was by far the introduction of the 2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.

The surprise pf the show was by far the introduction of the 2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.

With all of the internet trolls who do their best to out new product images from manufacturers these days, it is becoming rare for an auto manufacturer to surprise the media at a show. Couple that with the latest trend of launching cars at other venues before the show and media day reveals can be somewhat of an afterthought.

It was surprising then that General Motors was actually able to surprise the press when they unveiled an unexpected treat. Finally, the Z/28 moniker is returning to the Camaro line up, this time as a kick ass track day machine. Think A/C, radio and sound deadener delete, along with big brakes, big cubes (427 of them) and big-ish horsepower. With the weight savings, 500 horsepower should be just about right.

While they were not surprises, the media were also wowed by the Subaru WRX concept and the Jaguar XKR-S GT. More subtle, but definitely packing a bigger punch was the Porsche 911 GT-3, sitting along Jerry Seinfeld’s ’64 911. Of course SRT had the new Viper on display too.

Head past the jump to check out a massive gallery of images from the show.

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The 1980′s girl band The Bangles had a song titled “Hero Takes a Fall”. That sort of summarizes what happened when Honda took the wraps off the redesigned 2012 Civic. At the Honda booth at the New York City Auto Show, media reaction to the new Civic was, to put it nicely, chilly. Then Consumer Reports reviewed the Civic, and the unthinkable happened: they removed their Recommended rating. Always the darling of Consumer Reports, Honda was quickly schooled that just because you are Honda, being Recommended is not guaranteed. In an unprecedented move, Honda went back to work quickly, and what we have is the revised 2013 Honda Civic.

So, what happened? How did the Civic fall out of favor with the media? One problem with the new Civic was that it looked almost exactly like the old Civic, a car that has been around since 2006. What was futuristic then is quite familiar now. Also, the Hyundai Elantra and Ford Focus happened, two competitors that offered style that made the Civic look like bland and uninteresting in comparison-a huge turn-off for younger buyers. In sum, the new Civic looked tired compared to what else was out there. In the span of a year, Honda has made minor changes to the Civic that go a long way. In front, there is a new hood, grille, headlights and fascia. Out back, a new trunk and taillights complete the changes. On paper, these sound minor, but all conspire for the most sophisticated looking Civic ever. Natty looking alloy wheels replace the forgettable wheels of the ’12 model. Given limited time, Honda has done much to modernize the Civic, with the upscale touch buyers now expect in this class of car.

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Another area where critics really had a problem was the interior. Cheap feeling plastics, materials, and, like the exterior, a nearly identical interior look did no favors. Although well-built, the 2012 Honda Civic just screamed commuter car from inside. You could easily imagine one of the cast from the movie “Office Space” driving this car. It wasn’t horrible, it was just…blah. After looking at the 2012 Civic and riding in it, my wife declared it one the most boring cars I had ever tested. Interior architecture remains the same, but materials are improved with softer plastics and higher quality fabrics. Even small features like silver painted surrounds for the air vents and faux stitching on the dash and door panels help to add a more upscale feel. But for a company with a reputation for an obsession to detail, it’s frustrating the press had to call them out for a lack of it.

In the engine room, Honda did not touch a thing. The Civic returns with a 1.8L four rated at 140hp. A five-speed manual is available on the base LX only. Optional on the LX, and standard on all other Civics is a five-speed automatic. The EPA gives fuel economy ratings 28/39 MPG city/highway, which is competitive in this class, but numbers I never saw in the real world. The four cylinder is, as before, smooth and refined, and should be sufficient to shuffle its owners in town and on the interstate.  However, some critics carped the Civic suffered from sloppy handling, and had lost some of the sportiness that was a part of the Civic’s DNA. In response, Honda added thicker anti-roll bars, a quicker steering ratio and re-tuned bushings. The Civic is no sports sedan, but even the ’12 model felt decent as I recall.

 

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For 2013, Honda has dropped the bargain-basement DX model. Most buyers will gravitate to the regular Civic tested here, available in LX, EX and and EX-L trims. Honda does offer an HF (for improved fuel efficiency), a Hybrid, and Natural Gas models. Our test car was the mid-level EX. Critics panned last year’s Civic for being behind in current in-car technology. For 2013, all Civics come standard with Bluetooth, a rear view camera, iPod interface, Pandora Radio functionality and a system that will allow you to hear and respond to text messages without taking your hands off the wheel. Our EX test car added 16″ alloy wheels, six-speaker stereo, a power sunroof and auto climate control. Including delivery, our Civic EX has an MSRP of $21,605USD. As before, if you want satellite radio, you must order the navigation package.

The funny thing is with this quick rehash of the Civic is that for all the beating it took in the press, sales remained strong. Your average car buyer out there simply trusts that the Civic will be a reliable car that will offer years of dependable service. Honda has so much brand equity they could have just coasted and take the beating from the media. But they didn’t, and I have to respect them for that. Honda chose instead to show that they do listen to the media. And their dealers as well. Rumor has it Honda told their dealers to dump the 2012 Civics since no one would want them when the the 2013′s started to show up. With such fierce competition out there, Honda has finally given the Civic what it needed to be a player.

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Finally! We have Indycar racing this weekend! Helio Castroneves, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Graham Rahal sat down with the Indycar media cats and gave their thoughts on racing in St. Pete’s.