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Calgary Herald, Scooters Rule by Greg Williams

published in the Calgary Herald section Sept. 7, 2007

Yamaha 125 Vino photo courtesy Yamaha Canada

In the 1952 film Roman Holiday Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck tour the city aboard a Vespa scooter. Calgary isn’t Rome, and you won’t see Hepburn or Peck cruising a vibrant 17th Avenue, but scooters are popping up all over the urban landscape. Where at one time it would have been difficult to find a new scooter on a showroom floor, there is now a decent selection of brands and models available.
Joe Sousa, 58, owns and operates Motor City Fun in the city’s northeast. He sells scooters and motorcycles, and Sousa says owning a scooter makes sense.
“The summer is short here, but (while the weather’s good) scooters are so much fun to ride,” Sousa says. “And, scooters are so economical, and easier and cheaper to park than a car.”
Motor scooters come in a range of sizes, from small 50cc units usually used for urban commuting to large 650cc machines that can be used for touring. What scooters usually have in common are a step-through frame and floorboards for the feet and an automatic transmission.
In addition to recognized brands such as Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha, here is a primer of scooters currently available in the Canadian market.

Alliance Motor Group of Montreal, Que., produces two scooters for the Canadian market. The Nitro is a uniquely designed machine that looks more like a naked sport bike than a scooter. But thanks to its 49cc air-cooled four-stroke engine, made by well-known German maker Sachs, and automatic transmission the machine fits in the scooter ranks. The Nitro has a single disc brake up front and a drum brake out back. AMG’s other machine is the Boreal, powered by the same Sachs. The Boreal more closely resembles a traditional scooter with a step-through body and flat foot platform area.

Aprilia Scarabeo 50 photo courtesy Vespa Canada

This Italian maker offers the Scarabeo 50 Street, a scooter with a sure sense of style. The Scarabeo is powered by a 49.3cc two-stroke single cylinder air-cooled engine and delivers its power through an automatic transmission. Aprila also offers several four-stroke, larger capacity Scarabeo scooters.
The Scarabeo is unique in the scooter world thanks to its lower seat height and larger diameter 16-inch light alloy five-spoke wheels. Brakes are single hydraulic discs both front and rear.

Canada Motor Import Inc. offers the Taiwanese-made SYM Mio 50, a four-stroke air-cooled single cylinder scoot with a step-through body design. Its engine measures in at 49.5cc’s, and like most other scooters of this size it has an automatic transmission.
CMI’s other scooter is a 250cc model that features a liquid-cooled four-stroke single cylinder engine. The SYM RV250 is defined by a futuristic design that sees stacked twin headlights, a windshield and 13-inch wheels with front and rear disc brakes.

E-ton Canada has two scooters: the Beamer III and the Beamer Matrix II. Essentially the same scooter as the Beamer III, the Matrix II offers a lockable luggage box for the rear rack. The E-ton scoots are powered by a 49.3cc two-stroke single cylinder air-cooled engine, and feature a front disc brake and a rear drum brake.

Honda offers a complete line of step-through machines ranging in size from 50cc to 600cc. The small scooters are the Jazz and Ruckus — each powered by the same 49cc liquid-cooled four-stroke single cylinder engine. While they share the drivetrain, they differ greatly in their appearance. The Jazz has a European body style with an enclosed cargo area under the seat, while the Ruckus has an open, tube style rear frame with a platform under the seat for awkward to carry cargo — such as a skateboard.
Honda also markets the larger 250 Reflex, a scooter with a 249cc liquid cooled four-stroke single cylinder.
The largest scooter Honda sells is the 600cc Silverwing, a powerful machine that combines the best of scooter and motorcycle design. Powered by a 582cc parallel twin-cylinder engine with fuel injection and an automatic transmission the Silverwing is not only capable around town but is an efficient highway-touring machine.

This Korean manufacturer began producing motorcycles and scooters in 1978. They now have four scooters in the Canadian market, the Sense, Rally, Prima and the new MS3 250. The first three scooters are powered by a 50cc, two-stroke, air-cooled single cylinder engine and transmit their power via an automatic drive system. Hyosung’s Rally scooter has a beefier look compared to the other two, with fatter tires and edgier styling. The MS3 250 is a larger machine with a 249cc liquid-cooled four-stroke single cylinder engine. Defined by a low seat height, twin headlights and futuristic body lines the MS3 would be great for commuting or short highway excursions.

A Taiwanese company that has produced motorcycles and scooters since 1963, Kymco is the world’s fifth largest manufacturer of two-wheelers.
In Canada Kymco offers the Vitality 50cc 4T, People S50cc 4T (both feature four-stroke engines), Super 9, ZX50 (both with 50cc two-stroke engines), and Bet&Win 150cc and 250cc scooters (liquid-cooled four-stroke engines). Kymco literally makes a scooter for every purpose and taste.

The Piaggio MP3 — three wheels good? photo courtesy Vespa Canada

While not the first manufacturer to introduce a three-wheeled scooter (British motorcycle maker Ariel introduced the Ariel Three in the early 1970s and Honda had the Gyro in the early 1980s), they are the first to have a single wheel out back and two up front. According to promo material the Piaggio MP3, as they have dubbed it; “redefine(s) the very concept of ride stability, providing an unprecedented riding experience. The independent parallelogram suspension of the two front wheels increase(s) stability and allow(s) this scooter to grip like no other”. A 250cc fuel-injected single cylinder engine provides motivation for the MP3.
Piaggio also markets the Fly 50, a lightweight 50cc scooter with contemporary Italian styling, powered by a two-stroke single cylinder engine.

Big-bore scooters are what Suzuki’s all about with their Burgman line of machines. Suzuki first introduced the Burgman to the Canadian market in 2003, and now markets the 400, 650 and 650 Executive. A four-stroke, liquid-cooled, single-cylinder 400cc engine powers the Burgman 400, while the larger machines run a twin-cylinder 638cc, four-stroke, liquid-cooled engine. All Burgmans feature fuel injection and an automatic transmission for maximum performance and efficiency, and have a tremendous amount of luggage carrying capability.
According to, Suzuki has aimed these larger scooters at riders downsizing from bigger touring motorcycles such as the Honda Gold Wing.

No other motorcycle maker offers as many scooters in the Canadian market as Yamaha, from 50cc urban scoots to 400cc commuter/highway machines. Yamaha’s most popular scooter is the BW 50. Powered by a 49cc two-stroke engine the BW 50 offers rugged practicality with big, fat tires and a minimum of plastic body panels.
Yamaha’s newest 50cc scooter is the C3 (it’s called the C Cubed), a boxy-style machine that is reminiscent of the old American-made Cushman. The C Cubed has a 49cc liquid-cooled four stroke single cylinder engine and offers plenty of under seat storage in its unique ‘cargo box’.
Also in the lineup is the Vino 50 and 125, scooters that feature retro styling coupled with modern four-stroke engine performance.
And Yamaha’s largest is the Majesty 400, which the company claims offers motorcycle performance with scooter utility. The Majesty uses a 395cc four-stroke single cylinder engine and automatic transmission for get up and go.

It’s the Yamaha C Cubed–reminiscent of a Cushman. photo courtesy Yamaha Canada

This Italian maker introduced its first scooter in 1946, and the iconic styling of that initial Vespa epitomizes what every other scooter since has looked like. Clean, simple lines define the new Vespa, which carry forward the tradition of the step through bodywork and handlebar mounted headlight. Vespa now offers the LX 50 (two-stroke 50cc) and 150 (four-stroke 150cc) scooters, and the design of these contemporary machines is closely linked to the original. Vespa also sells the GTV 250cc/LXV 150cc, GTS 250cc and Granturismo 200cc scooters.
While the Vespa is probably best suited for the urban market, more adventurous types wouldn’t have a problem with highway jaunts aboard the larger machines.


-Vespa in the Movies
The ubiquitous Vespa scooter has made appearances in several films, including Absolute Beginners, American Graffiti, American Pie, Austin Powers, The Bourne Ultimatum, Runaway Jury, Spaceballs and Transformers.

-Two-stroke vs. Four-stroke
There are advantages and disadvantages with both types of engines. Without going into techno-speak about how each engine operates, here’s all you need to know: a small scooter (50cc) is most likely powered by a two-stroke engine, because they make more horsepower, and are quicker to rev and accelerate than a four-stroke of the same size. A four-stroke engine, however, tends to be quieter, slightly more fuel-efficient and doesn’t require oil to be added to the fuel (either by pre-mix or injection).

-Clubs and Books
Calgary has its own scooter club, the Apocalypse Scooter Club ( The Apocalypse SC hosts an annual rally, and the club meets for a ride every Tuesday at Caffe Beano, 1613 9 Street S.W. Meet and greet at 6:30 p.m., ride at 7 p.m.
For the real skinny on scooters pick up the new Complete Idiot’s Guide to Motor Scooters, by Bev Brinson and Bryce Ludwig of ScooterWorld Magazine.

-Scooter Safety
In Alberta, a Class 6 motorcycle license is not required to ride a scooter powered by an engine less than 50cc. Anything over 50cc requires a motorcycle license; many motorcycle riding schools offer scooter-specific training courses. Scooters are easier to ride than motorcycles, thanks to their automatic transmissions and twist and go operation. That said, proper protective gear such as a helmet and gloves are required for scooter riding — but for true European flair be sure to wear a scarf.

photo courtesy Vespa Canada

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Calgary Herald, Motorcycle Friendly Calgary, by Greg Williams

UPDATE May 27, 2009: Note that Ride to Work Day is now the third Monday of June. Please disregard the date that is posted in this story. Thanks, Greg Williams.

When Brad Watson rides his motorcycle to work at the TransCanada PipeLines tower in downtown Calgary he says he arrives refreshed, and much happier.

“Any day that I can ride to work is a great day for me,” says Watson, a motorcyclist for more than 26 years.

Watson advocates the use of two-wheeled transport, especially when commuting into the downtown core.

And recent changes in downtown Calgary’s parking program will favour the use of smaller vehicles; motorcycles, scooters, and some cars included.

It’s not free, unlike a unique Toronto program that allows motorcycles and scooters to park on downtown streets gratis.

Says alderman Madeleine King: “It’s important that we reduce the cost of parking for scooters and motorcycles.

“And we’re at least making a start with the new parking program, with a 25 per cent reduction (in the cost of on-street parking.)”

To show his dedication to using motorcycles and scooters as everyday transportation, Watson has promoted Ride to Work Day for the past five years. Ride to Work is a non-profit organization based in the U.S. that views motorcycles and scooters as part of a transportation solution. With more motorcycles and scooters on the roads as opposed to cars and trucks there is less congestion, and there are fewer emissions.

Ride to Work Day dates back to 1992, when an editorial in a U.S.-based bike magazine advocated riders heed the slogan on garments made by a motorcycle-clothing manufacturer: Work to Ride — Ride to Work.

The first Ride to Work Day was July 22, 1992. For many years, both motorcycle and private companies promoted the day as a grassroots bike demonstration. It wasn’t until 2000 that the volunteer run, non-profit organization, Ride to Work Inc., was formed.

Now, the third Wednesday in July is Ride to Work Day. This year, Watson invited any interested downtown Calgary motorcycle riders to park on the concrete apron in front of the TransCanada tower.

‘We had 55 motorcycles in a fairly small space out in front of the building,” Watson says. “If we could only show how much space it takes to park 55 cars, it would be a very dramatic visual.”

King agrees. In regards to parking downtown, she says, “As we move forward, and realize how much we can encourage the smaller use of space, the better.”

She adds that she thinks motorcycles and scooters could play a large role in a more sustainable future, and that the City of Calgary is favouring alternative modes of transportation. King says, “It would be interesting to see some proposals from (motorcycle and scooter) users as to how they could contribute to a cleaner, greener Calgary, and help reduce our environmental footprint.”

Many downtown Calgary motorcyclists get discouraged because it seems as soon as they find a spot where they think it’s suitable to park, they are ticketed and chased out of the area.

“The motorcycle user group needs to follow the same rules of the road as everyone else,” says Calgary Parking Authority general manager Dale Fraser. “And we’re helping them understand that some of the parking areas might not have been appropriate.”

According to Watson, some of the more popular spots were under the Centre St. bridge; 7th St. between 8th and 9th Ave. S.W. beside the Enmax building; 5th Ave. between Tim Horton’s and Map Town; Barclay Mall along 3rd Ave.; and the west side of 4th St. between and 8th and 9th Ave.

“We’ve found over the years that some of those areas have become congested, and we’ve heard that that’s not what the area users want to see,” Fraser says. “Those types of uses continue today, sometimes with the goal of not having to pay, or for easier access.”

Fraser says three years ago the city didn’t offer any motorcycle parking. That’s changed, as monthly two-wheeler parking is now available in the City Centre, McDougall Centre, Civic Plaza, James Short and Centennial parkades.

“We’re recognizing that a motorcycle is taking less parking space, and we’re extending a benefit to riders,” Fraser says.

For example, Fraser cites the reduced cost of monthly parking for motorcyclists at the Civic Plaza parkade. It costs $260 a month for cars, or $80 for motorcycles.

And when the city introduces the new Park Plus system ( on Sept. 20, hourly parkers in downtown Calgary who ride motorcycles or drive smaller vehicles (those include the Smart car, Chevy Metro, Mini Cooper, Toyota Echo, Suzuki Swift and Honda Insight) will save 25 per cent. Park Plus will see the removal of all parking meters in the downtown core. Short-term parkers will activate a parking account through their cell phone, or parking can be paid for via cash or credit card at on-street terminals.

“By removing the parking meter post we’re removing a pre-determined stall length,” Fraser says. In a stretch where only 19 vehicles could park before, there is now room for 21. He adds, “And for the first time we can extend a discount to motorcycle users. We’ve been accused in the past of not being motorcycle friendly, but we applaud and support motorcyclists for their choice in transportation.”

Calgary Herald, 2007 Toyota Tundra A Real Hauler, People’s Test Drive, by Greg Williams


photo courtesy Toyota Canada

To say Kathryn Christie knows her way around trucks would be an understatement. This 45-year old Calgary driver was born in Unity, Sask., and grew up on a farm. She says she was behind the wheel of a 1956 GMC ? ton at eight years old.
?I?d drive that truck around the fields,? Christie says. ?And it was a three-on-the tree standard shift. I was driving on dirt roads when I was 12, because we were always moving machinery and equipment and I?d pitch in and drive a 3-ton truck with a grain auger and a roller; sometimes I?d drive the combine.?
Even with the amount of farmyard driving Christie says she performed, she counted down the days to her 16th birthday — so she could legally drive.
?I took my driver training through a course in high school,? Christie says, and laughs when she adds: ?We had to drive to North Battleford so we could actually learn about street lights.?
Christie, a landscape designer, now operates a local landscaping company and is still driving trucks on a daily basis. She was a perfect candidate to test the 2007 Toyota 4X4 Tundra Limited with a double cab and standard box.
The Tundra is all new for 2007 and completely redesigned, gaining bulk in just about every direction. To put their new Tundra on par with trucks from other manufacturers, Toyota says they?ve created a new chassis that extends the wheelbase and increases overall length 254 mm over the 2006 Tundra. The ?07 Tundra is also taller and wider, and comes in three cab configurations, regular, double, and Crewmax.
?The Tundra was much larger than I?d expected,? Christie says. ?I knew it wouldn?t be small like a Ford Ranger, but I didn?t expect it to be as big as my (2002 Ford) F-150.?
When Christie started the landscaping company she purchased an operating business, and that outfit came with several Ford trucks — three F-350 dually 1-tons, to be exact. The company also has a Mazda B2000 pickup.
?We?ve been happy with the Fords, and they seem to work well,? she says.
This new Tundra truck is pretty important to Toyota. It is designed, engineered and manufactured in North America and the automaker is hoping the vehicle will ?set a new benchmark in the full-size truck segment,? says Toyota Canada Inc. managing director Tony Wearing.
Engines are available in two sizes, a 4.7-litre and a new 5.7-L i-Force V8 coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission. Christie?s Tundra Limited was equipped with the 5.7-L engine.
?After we picked up the truck we pulled out onto the highway and our heads flung back,? Christie says. ?The V8 really had some punch, or, the pickup had some pick up, I?d say.?
After driving the truck for a few days, Christie remained impressed with the powerplant, and said she felt the Tundra would have the ability to haul or tow just about anything. She also awarded kudos for the Tundra?s smooth ride, and thought the steering was taut. She also couldn?t believe how tight the truck?s turning radius was, and found the vehicle easy to park thanks in part to its reverse view camera. The LCD reverse camera screen is part of the DVD based navigation system, mounted centrally in the truck?s dashboard.

photo courtesy Toyota Canada

Of the double cab, Christie says; ?The truck had a very spacious feel inside. And the seat felt like something you?d find in a luxury car, the driver?s bucket just felt like it coddled me, it was very comfortable.? The Tundra Limited is equipped with leather seating surfaces, and the driver?s seat features 10-way power adjustment, power lumbar support and it is heated. The passenger seat offers all of the same features, but with four-way power adjustment.
?The leather seats were great, and there was an overall impression of quality. It felt like a very high-end vehicle,? Christie says.
Christie spends most of her time behind the wheel picking up plants, construction materials or visiting clients, and figures that?s 80 per cent of her driving. The other 20 per cent is spent driving 10-year old daughter Rowan to school, guitar or dance lessons, or going grocery shopping.
The family?s other driver is a 2000 Volkswagen Passat wagon; but she is most often driving the Ford F-150 pickup for her landscaping business.
During the weeklong test Christie was working on a patio/hot tub project in Discovery Ridge, and she hauled lumber, paving stones, bricks, plants, power tools and a wheelbarrow. She was impressed with the truck bed liner, and says the truck box swallowed everything she put in it.

photo courtesy Toyota Canada

?Trucks (and their boxes) are so much higher now, for me to get anything over the side I had to be on the curb, and I?m not a short person at 5?8?,? Christie explains. ?That?s the downside of these new, taller trucks, that?s for sure.?
But she was impressed with the Tundra?s tailgate, which she figures might be the best in the industry.
?You could open it and it would stop, and then it would almost glide down,? she says. ?And it was very light to close, you could lift it with a finger.?
Christie thinks just about anybody who uses a truck on a daily basis would be a good fit for the Toyota Tundra. And, she adds, ?I wouldn?t turn it down; if I had the scratch to buy it, it?s not unlikely that it would be sitting in front of my house.?

– Great GPS
– Loved the reverse camera
– Storage compartments were spacious and plentiful
– Large, comfortable bucket seating
– Quick off the line


Calgary stockbroker Paul Saks, 53, is an avid outdoorsman. There aren?t very many weekends when he?s not out somewhere in the country, either hunting or fishing. Over the last 12 years Saks has owned nine Toyota 4Runners. He liked the 4Runner for several reasons, including its ease of parking, off-road capability, and overall performance. He needed more room, however, and had been looking at the Toyota Tundra for more than five years. Until the 2007 remake of the Tundra, though, he thought it was too small.

Q: Why the Toyota Tundra?
A: When I saw the new Tundra I couldn?t believe the room that was available. I kept looking at the Tundra, and always said I?d get one if it had just a bit more room. So when Toyota introduced the new Tundra I put my name on the waiting list; I think I waited for just over six months. I?m pretty sure I got one of the first ones in Calgary. Mine?s loaded, and I got the Crewmax cab and the short box.

Q: Was it worth the wait?
A: I got the truck in late March, and have put just over 8,000 km on it. So far, the handling is just amazing; it?s tighter in the corners than some of my 4Runners. The power of the 5.7-L engine is incredible. And because it?s rated to tow so much weight, I knew it would have incredible brakes; and it does. I also really like the sonar parking assist system.

Q: Any regrets?
A: No, no regrets. I?m going to fit a topper on the box so I can put my three dogs in the back, and there?ll still be tons of room for five people in the cab. My 4Runners were really good, but I needed a little bit more room, and I have it now.

Engine: 5.7-L 32-valve DOHC V8
Horsepower: 381 @ 5,600 r.p.m.
Torque: 401 lb.-ft. @ 3,600 r.p.m.
Wheelbase: 3,700 mm
Overall length: 5,810 mm
Curb weight: 2,542 kg
Price as tested: $52,250 (including freight and delivery)

photo courtesy Toyota Canada

Calgary Herald, Harley-Davidson and Buell People’s Test Rides, by Greg Williams


To the man on the street the name Harley-Davidson is synonymous with motorcycles. Note: There are other motorcycle makers out there.
But it?s not surprising, given Harley-Davidson is the longest continuously producing motorcycle manufacturer ? in 1903 William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson built their first bike in a wooden shed in Milwaukee.
Since 1903 the Motor Company, as it is sometimes called, has come a long way. While the road has had its share of potholes and speed bumps Harley-Davidson is still running at full throttle.
When Deeley Harley-Davidson Canada offered their fleet of demo-test motorcycles to the Herald, we could only choose three People?s Test Riders, and just three motorcycles from the list of 20. Luckily, each rider selected a completely different bike, so there was no squabbling over who got to ride what. And, although the machines were only available for a one-day ride, our testers put the motorcycles through their paces.

Harley-Davidson FLHTC Electra Glide Classic
The Electra Glide motorcycle debuted in 1965, and was the biggest touring motorcycle available at the time. Over the years, the Electra Glide has remained true to its roots; it?s still a full-dresser touring motorcycle. But the machine has certainly been updated with Harley-Davidson?s newest engine, the 96? or 1,584cc V-twin linked to a new six-speed transmission.

photo courtesy Harley-Davidson

Who are you? Pierre Lamarche, 56, retired.

Current ride? I?m on a 1995 Yamaha V-Max.

How long riding? Since I was 16 years old, so 40 years. I enjoy sport touring, with an emphasis on the touring. I?ve owned (Yamaha) Fj1200s and BMW RS series machines, have been across the country a few times and down into the States. But I can?t ride that style of motorcycle anymore, as I?ve had my left knee replaced and my right knee will let me know in short order if the position is not right. I may have to look at purchasing a cruiser-style motorcycle ? my days of trading up to the meanest, fastest, ego-gratifying machine are long gone.

Did you like the look of the Electra Glide? In a way, yes I did. I?ve never been a fan of the fairing shape on the Electra Glide, but on this bike with the combination of chrome and two-tone paint scheme?what can I say? It?s an impressive looking piece.

Getting aboard; how did it feel? I was quite concerned at first with the saddlebags and top box ? I didn?t want to drag a boot across them — but it was easy on and off because of the low seat height. This is a bike you sit in; you don?t sit on top of it.

Riding (handling, suspension, motor/transmission, brakes): I found there was a bit of an inherent weave at around 120 km/h, and I?m sure it?s fairing related. It was never scary, but you know it?s there. The suspension was very compliant at both ends, and is plush and forgiving in a Cadillac kind of way. The engine characteristically is all about torque, and there was no driveline lash. Sixth gear in the transmission is strictly an overdrive, you have to change down for passing. Front brakes offered good stopping power without excessive squeezing (of the brake lever). The rear brake is very powerful, and will lock the rear wheel with little warning.

Stepping off and your gut reaction? On a sport bike, after you?ve stopped, you always feel a bit of what I call ?buzzy brain?. But I didn?t need to wear earplugs and I felt zero fatigue, the ride was very quiet and peaceful.

What would your riding friends think if you pulled up on this bike for a cruise to Canmore? They?d be surprised to see me on a bike like this; typically my touring is done on bikes that can carry luggage and be thrown into the twisties as well.

SPECS Electra Glide
Engine: 1,584cc Twin Cam V-Twin
Horsepower: unlisted
Torque: 92.6 lb.-ft. @ r.p.m.
Wheelbase: 1,612.9 mm
Overall length: 2,497 mm
Saddle height: 779.8 mm
Weight (wet): 372 kg
M.S.R.P.: $23,629

— This is a big bike, a very big and imposing/intimidating machine at first glance.
— Very manageable at low speed, due to low centre of gravity, seat height, easy pull clutch, smooth throttle and no drive line lash.
— Found switchgear awkward.
— Exhaust note fairly muted, mellow up to 100 km/h or so then it is practically inaudible.
— Ground clearance adequate for a cruiser/tourer, not for sporting use, sidestand and floorboards touch early and hard.
— Seat is all-day comfy.
— Engine vibration is never intrusive even pleasant.

Harley-Davidson VRSCDX Night Rod Special
This bike continues the evolution of the V-Rod, introduced in 2001 and was the first liquid-cooled Harley-Davidson ever produced. The Night Rod Special is finished in all black ? frame, forks, swing arm, aluminum wheels, engine and exhaust. It?s all about the ?power cruiser? segment of the market place, and according to H-D literature the ??blacked-out components show a rebellious attitude.?

photo courtesy Harley-Davidson

Who are you? Dean Edgar, 45, natural gas marketer with Enmax.

Current ride? A 1993 Harley-Davidson Dyna Wide Glide

How long riding? About 20 years. I started out on a 1970s Suzuki GT750. Most of my riding is touring, down to Montana, to South Dakota, or just out for a weekend jaunt. I usually take a 10-day motorcycle trip at least once a year.

Did you like the look of the Night Rod Special? Yes, I did. I liked the blacked out parts, and the low, sleek, lines. It has a bit of a different stance.

Getting aboard; how did it feel? I was a little wobbly and uncomfortable. Moving around the parking lot I was feeling pretty amateurish, but I found it quite easy to ride after a bit of time on it.

Riding (handling, suspension, motor/transmission, brakes): I was out on the back roads near Caroline and Sundre, and was really carving in and out of the potholes. The bike responded very well, but there were a couple of bumps that really jarred me; I thought the suspension would have soaked them up a bit better.
The motor was quite enjoyable; it?s more about top end power. On the highway there was plenty of passing power, just twist the throttle and go, I didn?t have to downshift. The transmission was very smooth and efficient. I tried a couple of high speed stops and the brakes performed very well, a real good bite without having to grab a bunch of lever.

Stepping off and your gut reaction? I went from Calgary to Innisfail, up Highway 2, through Caroline and Sundre and back. The first 100 kilometres felt really good, but after 350 km I was beat. Without a windshield I was fighting the wind, and the riding position was a bit rough on my knees. But I loved the speed and the handling.

What would your riding friends think if you pulled up on this bike for a cruise to Canmore? I showed the bike to my mom, and she thought the bike looked good all in black. But when I rode away, afterward she said ?No, it?s not you.? Guess she didn?t think I suited the bike. And my friends know I?m not rich enough to have two bikes, so they?d wonder what was going on.

SPECS Night Rod Special
Engine: 1,130cc Revolution V-Twin
Horsepower: 120 @ 8,250 r.p.m.
Torque: 80 lb.-ft. @ 7,000 r.p.m.
Wheelbase: 1,706 mm
Overall length: 2,398 mm
Saddle height: 668 mm
Weight (wet): 306.6 kg
M.S.R.P.: $20,449

— Mirrors did not vibrate but I couldn’t see past my arms to tell if anything was behind me.
— I bottomed out a few times on what I didn’t think were very big bumps; really felt it in my back.
— I liked the (seating) position early but after I went 350 km my knees were sore and my shoulder hurt from hanging on. I was really blocking the wind sitting in that position.
— Loved the speed and acceleration.
— Good top end and easy, smooth shifting.
— I think this bike to me would be a short trip mountain road bike only.
— People I talked to liked the looks but were suspect of the seating position.

Buell Lightning Long XB12Ss
In 1993, Harley-Davidson invested in Erik Buell?s company. Buell had been producing American-made sport motorcycles using H-D?s XL883 and 1200 Sportster engines. The first Lightning was introduced in 1996, the S1 model. Since then, the Lightning range has expanded, with four available models: XB12S, XB12Scg, XB12Ss and the CityX XB9SX. Harley-Davidson refers to the Lightning series as ?Short, flickable, agile, aggressive, and raucous. Lightning motorcycles are the original street hooligans.?

photo courtesy Buell

Who are you? Rachel Newrick, 36, geophysicist with Nexen. I?m the president of the Wild West Vixens, a ladies riding group, and I was an instructor with the Canada Safety Council motorcycle training program.

Current ride? 2003 Kawasaki Z1000, that?s my baby. I have several others, including a 1991 Kawasaki Zephyr, 1998 BMW F650, 1996 Honda XR400 and a 1997 Honda CR80 ? something for everything.

How long have you been riding? I started riding in 1996, aboard a Yamaha FZ250 at home in New Zealand. After I learned to ride I put 32,000 km on my bike in nine months. I enjoy mostly sport touring and dirt bike riding.

Did you like the look of the Buell Lightning Long XB12Ss? I really did. I like the ?naked? bikes, and appreciate seeing just an engine, seat and wheels ? just give me my bike, I don?t need all the really pretty stuff that if I crash I?m afraid I?ll break.

Getting aboard; how did it feel? It fit. They call it the Lightning Long, but I?ve never sat on a shorter bike. I?m 5?6?, and my first thought was this bike fits me perfectly. I don?t know how it would be for taller riders.

Riding (handling, suspension, motor/transmission, brakes): I spent a few minutes in the car park doing little doughnuts, just practicing turning and finding full lock; and some straight line braking. It?s easy on this bike to come to a full stop, balance the bike without taking your feet off the pegs, and then move off again. (Those footpegs turned out to be a bit of a problem, as Newrick?s booted foot slipped off three times over the course of her test.) The suspension seemed a bit hard; I really felt the bumps. When I first left the car park and let the clutch out in first and second gears I felt like I was on a rocket, it just felt like it wanted to fly. Out on the highway, the engine delivered its power smoothly, and never hiccupped. Even though there was plenty of torque, I always felt I had to change down a gear to pass. The brakes were really good, and I was impressed with the rim-mounted front brake disc.

Stepping off and your gut reaction? I rode the bike up to Canmore on the 1A Highway. After some time, I felt a bit scrunched up on the bike, but when I got off and took off my helmet I had a huge smile on my face. Anyone can find fault with any bike, but I really enjoyed riding it, it was fun. And, I know this is a backhanded compliment, but I was surprised I liked it as much as I did.

What would your riding friends think if you pulled up on this bike for a cruise to Canmore? I stopped by the Calgary Safety Council training site on the way out of town, and two of my friends who were there thought the Buell is cool ? I?m sure that?s what most of my friends would think.

SPECS Buell XB12Ss
Engine: 1,203cc V-Twin
Horsepower: 103 @ 6,800 r.p.m.
Torque: 84 lb.-ft. @ 6,000 r.p.m.
Wheelbase: 1,372 mm
Overall length: 2,023 mm
Saddle height: 775 mm
Weight (w/o fuel or oil): 179 kg
M.S.R.P.: $12,639

— As you slow to a stop, the vibration that occurs under 2000 rpm is there to remind you that you are on a Harley
— The Buell had plenty of stomp and smooth delivery of power to be fun on the 1A Highway.
— When passing at speed I felt a need to change down to safely make the pass; which was unexpected on a big bore bike.
— While zigging and zagging on the twisty and bumpy 1A through to Canmore each bump was felt through my entire body. Especially on this bike, I recommend a kidney belt when riding along a frost heaved potholed rollercoaster road.
— At one point during the ride we stopped at the side of the road and I was barely able to remove my helmet due to the huge grin stuck to my face – I had been riding on rails and it was really fun.
— The footpegs have to go!! The third time that my Alpine Star race style motorcycle boots slipped from the footpegs in a corner was three times too often. It seems that the demo bike had the originals replaced with some cheap aftermarket rubber pegs. Bring back the metal ones.

Calgary Herald, Rocker Kim Mitchell Dreams of Cars and Motorcycles, by Greg Williams

published in the Calgary Herald July 13, 2007

photo courtesy Kim Mitchell

Canadian musician Kim Mitchell is responsible for some of this country?s most memorable rock anthems. Songs such as Go For Soda (surprisingly, there is no ‘A’ in the song title), Patio Lanterns and Rock n Roll Duty have helped define his style.
His career, which includes fronting the band Max Webster, has spanned close to 40 years. He went solo in 1982, and he?s set to release his eighth album, Ain?t Life Amazing, on July 17.
While Mitchell, 55, is all about music, it turns out he?s also got a bit of gasoline in his veins. He likes cars, motorcycles and boats ? but he doesn?t have a garage full of toys. In fact, at the moment, he doesn?t even have a garage. Mitchell?s remedying that later this summer when he moves from his Toronto apartment to a house ? with a garage.
?An American artist who has had a hit record is probably going to have a Ferrari, or at least a couple of new ?Benz?s,? Mitchell said in a phone interview. ?Well, I?m a musician who?s done okay in Canada, and I don?t have a garage full of stuff.?
Turns out Mitchell?s current rides are a 1988 Mercedes-Benz 260E and a 2002 Nissan Altima. He loves the old Benz, but is planning on selling the Nissan.
?Mercedes-Benz cars have always blown me away,? Mitchell said. ?They?re a pretty cool luxury car, they?re so solid, like a tank. My 260E drives like a dream, I love the ride and it rocks down the highway pretty good. I got the thing about 13 years ago; I bought it from my ex-wife in our divorce settlement.?
At one time Mitchell lived in Collingwood, about two hours north of Toronto, and commuting back and forth added a lot of miles to whatever vehicle he was driving. He says he still ?slams a lot of miles? on his vehicles.
Which, traditionally, have been full size passenger vans.
And that?s probably because his first vehicle was a white Ford cargo van, which he found handy to carry band equipment.
?There were two seats in the front and that was it; it was like driving a loaf of bread around on four wheels.?
He?s since owned several vans.
?I had 435,000 miles on my Ford Chateau and I had 375,000 on my old Chevy Beauville van. Those vans are underrated. You can throw an amp, a bicycle (or just about anything else) in there and slam down the highway at 120 km/h?they were my dressing room, my bedroom, my vehicle.
?In fact, one year I drove down to the Juno Awards wearing my jeans and T-shirt, and I had my suit in the back. When I got in the parking lot I changed into my nighttime gear.?
He thinks he?d like another full-size passenger van.
?I keep driving by dealerships and looking for vans, but you don?t see them very often,? Mitchell said.
In the early 1970s Mitchell was playing guitar in a country group called Dick Dixon and the Stone Mountain Band. He bought himself a Honda CB750-4 to ride back and forth to the club.
?When we broke off around 1 a.m. we?d go ride, and we?d ride until the sun came up,? Mitchell says. One of his band mates rode a Triumph Trident, and the other a Ducati.
?The noise of that Ducati, he?d just pour it on, and it was like music,? Mitchell said.
While he doesn?t have a motorcycle at the moment, Mitchell?s had his eye on the Victory line of machines ? and likes both the 2007 Hammer and Vegas models.
While growing up, Mitchell says his dad didn?t have any serious brand loyalty, and bought a new car every two years. But it was a powder blue Oldsmobile 442 that Mitchell liked best.
?My dad used to let me sit on his lap and I?d drive; that thing had some serious power, I loved that car,? he said.
The other car he remembers is his sister?s 1967 Camaro.
?My dad bought me guitars, so when it came time for her to drive he bought her the Camaro, I guess he was just trying to keep it equal. But I remember washing that car, and seeing the ?327? emblem on the front fender, it was so cool.?
The weirdest vehicle Mitchell ever owned was a late model VW Beetle.
?Not that the car was weird, but every time I stopped at a light or a stop sign I?d get swarmed by bees. It was like a strange dream, I had to sell it.?
In the garage of the mind, Mitchell would love to have a Maserati GranSport and a family-friendly Mercedes-Benz, perhaps an E55 or S55 with the AMG package.
And a van, of course.

Calgary Herald, Toyota’s Hybrid Technology, by Greg Williams

published in the Calgary Herald, July 6, 2007

photo courtesy Toyota Canada Inc., the 2007 Toyota Prius energy monitor

What does the future hold for the automobile?
If Toyota Canada Inc.?s managing director Stephen Beatty were in Las Vegas, he?d put his money on some form of liquid fuel and electricity.
Toyota is at the forefront of producing hybrid vehicles, and has just reached a milestone with the product. Worldwide, more than one million Toyota hybrids have been sold, and Canadians have helped Toyota reach that number ? they?ve bought 16,000 of the environmentally friendly vehicles.
?It seems the No. 1 issue in the public mind is the environment, and the auto sector is front and centre,? Beatty said during a phone interview. ?We?ve been actively engaged for a number of years, talking to the public about what (technological) alternatives are available.?
Toyota?s push is, of course, hybrid technology and their own Hybrid Synergy Drive. The automaker now offers six hybrids, including Camry, Prius and Highlander, plus the Lexus RX 400h, GS 450h, and LS 600h.
Beatty remembers the early days when Toyota Canada got seven right hand drive Prius cars from Japan, and he says, ?There was a metaphoric sticky note on the steering wheel that said, ?See if anyone is interested?.?
They visited shopping malls and auto shows, wanting to talk to people about clean air and what kind of commitment Toyota was willing to make to reduce tailpipe emissions.
?It was a new and different looking car, and people like to come over and kick tires,? Beatty said of his time spent gauging public interest in the first hybrid Prius.
He says he?d enter into a lengthy description about the technology involved, including the patents and the fact that the Prius has more computing power than it took to put a man on the moon.
?People?s eyes would glaze over,? Beatty said.
But then they were given the chance to drive a Prius. After the drive, ?We asked ?What did you think??, and most said, ?I was surprised, it was just a car?,? Beatty said.
That?s what the whole experience was about.
Beatty said Toyota wasn?t out to radically change the car driving experience; they simply wanted to produce a product that could move seamlessly into the lifestyle of the consumer, all the while reducing tail pipe emissions.
It doesn?t hurt in the U.S. to have Hollywood advocates of Toyota?s hybrid technology, including Leonardo DeCaprio and Julia Roberts. Here in Canada, Victoria and Vancouver taxicab drivers have championed the cause of the hybrid Toyota Camry and Prius, accumulating several hundred thousand kilometres in the cars.
A recent survey out of the U.S. by the Topline Strategy Group indicated that most buyers of the Toyota Prius were not traditional ?early adopters? of new technology. Early adopters are those willing to pay a premium to have the latest technology.
?Only 27 per cent of Prius buyers could be considered classic early adopters,? said Jonathan Klein, founder and general partner of Topline Strategy Group in a news release. ?The Prius has been successful because it represents a low-cost, stylish, practical car with a strong environmental image — a combination of attributes that tapped into a broad market of environmentally conscious people who saw it as an opportunity to do the right thing, save money, and buy an appealing car all at the same time.?
There are other environmentally friendly technologies that could be seen as viable options, including bio-fuel, hydrogen fuel cells and clean diesel power. And, the gasoline-powered internal combustion engine isn?t going to go away any time soon, either. Incredible efficiencies have been found lurking within the internal combustion engine, and fuel economy is rising while tailpipe emissions are decreasing.
But, according to Beatty, ?Hybrid has been the most successful alternative in auto technology so far.?
The problem Beatty sees with any of the other options is infrastructure and distribution that will support the average driver. And clean diesel fuel, similar to what is available in some European countries, doesn?t seem to be coming to Canada.
?If you go back just over the last 100 years there was electricity, steam, kerosene ? all these technologies were slugging it out (early in the automobile?s history), and this isn?t new in any respect,? Beatty says. ?After a period of intense competition there will be some consolidation.
?(Toyota) does do research in every major technology, but we see the hybrid as a foundation technology.?
Toyota is pleased to have sold 16,000 hybrids, and Beatty says that number needs to be put into perspective.
?We?ve sold 16,000 hybrids (in Canada) over the last 10 years,? he said. ?But 1,000 of those were sold just in May of this year.?

photo courtesy Toyota Canada Inc.

Calgary Herald, 2007 VW Eos Convertible, by Greg Williams


Volkswagen named their new convertible the Eos.
Heck of a good name, considering Eos is the Greek goddess of the dawn, responsible for bringing the sun to each new day.
But the sun didn?t shine much for Stacey Savage, our Calgary test driver who was behind the wheel of the 2007 VW Eos for a week. In fact, she only got the top down for a couple of trips ? and one of those was down Deerfoot Trail ? a noisy, dusty and busy drive at the best of times.
?I managed to drive down Deerfoot with the top down,? Savage, 35, says. ?And it wasn’t too bad. With the windows up it’s not windy at all.?
Savage is an operations manager for Shaw Communications, who was born and raised in Calgary. Her current vehicle is a 1996 Acura Integra equipped with a manual transmission, and she also rides a 1999 Suzuki 1400 c.c. Intruder, a cruiser-style motorcycle. Her first car was a 1980 Dodge Colt, and then she drove a 1986 Buick Century sedan. She bought her Acura in 1999. Savage spends most of her time behind the wheel commuting from her northwest home to her northeast office. When she?s not commuting, she?s driving to a park to play ball or to golf.
Savage took up motorcycling when she was 29. ?I kept seeing them zip down the road, and I figured I should give it a go.?
She likes the out-in-the-elements feel of riding the bike, and wanted to test a convertible to compare the experiences. However, Savage expects a large degree of utility and functionality from her vehicle, and the Eos didn?t quite meet her expectations.

photo courtesy Volkswagen Canada

?I don?t think you could carry any kind of larger object, like a new TV set from Costco, or a chair or side table,? Savage says. ?At least, I wouldn?t want to damage the interior by sitting something in the back seat.?
One gets the feeling she?s pretty comfortable with her Acura hatchback; she reports moving a barbeque and other large items in her car.
That said, though, she did end up liking the Eos.
Introduced late in 2006 as a 2007 model, Volkswagen?s Eos is not a cut-up and remade Jetta, Rabbit or GTI; it is a standalone design and doesn?t look at all like any other VW offerings. It does however share some underpinning components, including rear suspension from the Passat and the 2.0-litre turbocharged engine found in the GTI.
The Eos is a hardtop convertible coupe, and the retractable top was designed by OASYS (Open Air SYStems). Not only is the top retractable, but it also features a large sliding glass panel sunroof. At the push of a button the five-piece top articulates in a very complicated manner and stows away in the trunk in just a hair over 25 seconds.
?The roof line is what really characterizes the car,? Savage says of the exterior appearance of the Eos. ?And to see the convertible top go up or down; it?s really nifty, there are so many different moves it makes.
?When I was showing off the car (and how the top works) people who were walking by would just stop and watch the demonstration.?
While she might not have been able to enjoy too much top-down- wind-in-her hair-driving Savage did experience the performance potential of the Eos.
?It had a lot of get up and go,? she says. ?It was a speedy car.? The turbocharged four-cylinder makes 200 horsepower and 207 lb.-ft. of torque.
A good long highway excursion wasn?t in her cards, but she managed to accumulate just over 500 kilometres running around the city. Savage?s Eos was equipped with the optional six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission. She experimented with the Tiptronic feature, but in the end preferred to let the gearbox shift for itself. A six-speed manual is standard fare in the Eos.

photo courtesy Volkswagen Canada

Savage?s Eos sported the $3,835 Sport Leather Package, and it was loaded with features that met with her approval. The leather seating surfaces were heated, and the 12-way power adjustable driver?s seat was a dream, she says.
?The seat moved up, forward, down, back, tilt, lumbar ? I really liked the seat.?
The Sport package also included dual zone automatic climate control, rain-sensing wipers, premium stereo with eight speakers, and a multi-function trip computer and compass.
Savage liked the way the Eos handled. ?Going around corners it really hugged the road — very little body roll — and it just seemed very solid and well-planted,? she says. ?The car?s suspension was great, it was like driving on a cloud or like you?re on brand new pavement; the suspension really took the bumps out of the road.?
The car also had a very tight turning radius, and Savage says the Eos had great parking lot manners and was a cinch to parallel park.
Would Savage purchase an Eos?
?In a word, no. I need one vehicle that will do everything for me, and I just felt the Eos had limited space.
?I mean, you can carry a couple of bags in the trunk when the top is down, but I just didn?t see it having a lot of trunk room for a lot of stuff.?
So, just who would best suit the Eos?
?I think it would be an excellent second family vehicle, where there?s an option to carry other stuff in a van or a truck if need be. And the Eos would be good for a couple of small kids to sit in the back seat.
?I guess if I pictured myself living with my boyfriend, or in a family situation, the Eos would be kick ass.?
As she was returning the Eos, Savage says the VW GTI caught her eye. ?Now, that might work better for me.?

–Feels awkward to be driving an automatic. Tried using the manual/auto stick, but don’t really see the use of the manual so kept it on automatic.
–Silver? Doesn’t do the car justice. A convertible needs to be a bright colour.
–Awesome that there is still a bit of trunk room when you have the top down.
–Has lots of giddyup and corners really well.
–Washed the car today to keep it pretty. Unfortunately, the window seal let water get into the car and it dripped on the seat. Even when you open the car door and close it again water keeps dripping because it’s stuck in the seal. Something they need to work on.
–Played with the convertible mechanism — a definite eye catcher. I don’t mind the look of it when the top is up; it still looks more sporty than the sedan look I expected. Looks hot with the top down however!
–Am really enjoying the SMOOTH and QUIET ride, it’s really nice.
–This car is not good with the rain. (Is it just this car?) Once rain gets into the track when you open the door, it gets trapped and drips on you.
–No issues with the sunroof — and it’s awesome to have the sunroof/convertible combination.

photo courtesy Volkswagen Canada

Denise Blakely is a 46-year old Calgary driver. She bought a 2007 VW Eos from Northland VW, and in just two weeks of driving has accumulated 1,271 kilometres. Blakely is a freelance photographer, and has been shooting numerous sports events and professional athletes ? most recently quarterback Henry Burris of the Calgary Stampeders. She commutes around town and is frequently on the highway going to her Canmore summer home. As a photographer Blakely regularly carries numerous video and camera bags.

Q: Why the VW Eos?
A: I saw an article in a magazine about the Eos, and it caught my eye. My husband and I talked about it, and decided that with the kids all grown up ? I don?t have to worry about baby seats at the moment ? it would be a great car for me. This is my first convertible, but the selling point for me was that it?s a hard top. With our winters, a soft top doesn?t seem sensible. But really, it?s a sports car, it?s red, and it?s a fun car to drive. And I do plan on driving it year round.

Q: Top up or top down?
A: Oh, I definitely prefer to drive it with the top down. If the top?s up, then the sunroof is open. And there?s plenty of room in the Eos. Last weekend I had four people in the car and two camera bags, an overnight bag and two backpacks in the boot, and that was with the top down. There is a huge amount of trunk space there.

Q: How long do you plan on keeping your Eos?
A: I plan to keep it until it falls apart, so I guess forever.

2007 VW Eos Specs
Engine: 2.0-L DOHC I-4 w/turbo
Horsepower: 200 @ 5,100 r.p.m.
Torque: 207 lb.-ft. @ 1,800 r.p.m.
Wheelbase: 2,578 mm
Overall length: 4,407 mm
Curb weight: 1,590 kg
Price as tested: $48,442 (including PDI and GST)

Calgary Herald, Discovery House Hotrod for Hope, by Greg Williams

Ford Coupe fuelling fundraising efforts

Greg Williams, For The Calgary Herald, published June 15, 2007

photo courtesy Discovery House — 1932 Ford “Deuce” Coupe available to be won.

Dreaming of building a classic hotrod? You’d have to have the budget, the tools, the talent, and the space in which to work.

Doesn’t sound too easy.

It’s probably a whole lot simpler to purchase a raffle ticket on the Hot Rod for Hope, a 1932 Ford “Deuce” Coupe.

This is the second year for the unique fundraising initiative of the Discovery House Family Violence Prevention Society, a Calgary-based emergency shelter.

Last year’s draw — for a 1937 Ford Coupe — was deemed a success with 2,400 tickets sold. The goal this year is to sell 3,500 tickets; there are only 4,000 printed.

“I’d really like to sell out this year,” says Lisa Barrett, Discovery House manager of community relations.

Established in 1980, Discovery House is a second-stage shelter that offers protective and supportive housing for women with children who have left an environment of family violence.

“Our core funding is only 60 per cent,” Barrett says. “The rest of our funds must come through fundraising, so Hot Rod for Hope is an important event for us.”

Hot Rods and Cool Cars of Airdrie built this year’s 1932 Ford Coupe.

Finished in a burnt orange paint scheme, Barrett says the car attracts attention wherever it goes.

Ticket sales for the Sept. 28 draw started this spring at the Spring Thaw show and shine, and the vehicle has been on display at various events and festivals around the city and surrounding area.

Next appearance for the “Deuce” is this weekend at Race City Motorsport Park, which is hosting the 20th anniversary Father’s Day Funny Car Classic, a popular event with nitro-burning funny cars and jet cars running the length of the quarter mile drag strip.

“What a great Father’s Day gift — take him to the track for the races, and purchase a raffle ticket at the same time,” Barrett says.

Tickets are $50 each, and are available online at, or by phone at 204-6836.

Calgary Herald Saturn Aura People’s Test Drive, by Greg Williams

People’s Test Drive of the 2007 Saturn Aura, originally published in the Calgary Herald, June 1, by Greg Williams

photo courtesy Laurie Andrews

Saturn Aura

It?s a rare occasion when a vehicle looks more expensive than it is.
But such is the case with the brand-new for 2007 Saturn Aura.
Wayne Andrews, a 45-year old software product manager, is a Calgary driver with a penchant for high-performance rear wheel or all wheel drive sports sedans. He spent a week behind the wheel of an Aura XR, and he figures the car really does look rather posh.
Upon picking up the vehicle, Andrews says: ?I was immediately struck by its taut, graceful shape. It looks nothing like its Pontiac G6 and Chevy Malibu stablemates, nor for that matter any of its North American or Asian competition.?

photo courtesy GM

He figures that fact alone should attract buyers in the rather staid mid-size sedan segment that includes the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima and Hyundai Sonata. ?And, in my opinion, only the new Altima can compete with the Aura in sheer sporty good looks,? he says.
And the Aura is receiving critical acclaim. The Saturn Aura was voted the 2007 North American Car of the Year, beating out other finalists including the Infiniti G35, Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the redesigned Toyota Camry.
In 2005 thanks to steadily declining sales General Motors? Saturn division cancelled production of its previous sedan, the L-series. The company headed in a new direction, moving to all-steel bodies ? no more dent-resistant polymer panels — and updated design architecture. Elements of its successful Sky roadster, including the jewel-like headlamps and chrome grille bar, help define the Aura as a member of the freshened-up Saturn family.
?The Aura looks long and low, and has high door sills and shallow side window glass,? Andrews says. ?And, it has short front and rear overhangs, and I like that kind of appearance.?
Andrews says the 18-inch aluminum rims complemented the overall classy look of the car, and helped fill up the wheel wells of the Aura.
There are two versions of the Aura available, the XE and the XR. The XE trim level is powered by a 3.5-litre OHV V6, which produces 224 horsepower. Meanwhile, the XR features a bit peppier 3.6-L DOHC V6 that makes 252 h.p. at 6,300 r.p.m. and 251 lb.-ft. torque at 3,200 r.p.m.
The XR?s 3.6-L engine is paired up with a six-speed automatic transmission that sends power to the front wheels.
?The engine was strong, smooth and torquey,? Andrews says, and adds: ?I found I had better access to power by selecting my own gears using the tapshift paddle shifting feature. Fun for a while, but I expect for most drivers that novelty would wear off quickly.?
Andrews says he spends 95 per cent of his driving time commuting, traveling from McKenzie to downtown Calgary five days a week. He just traded in his 1998 Ford Contour and bought a 2003 Infiniti G35 Aero sedan. When shopping he says a vehicle must be ?interesting and fun to drive. I like sports sedans or AWD sedans because (the car) has to do double duty ? I need a four door car with a reasonable amount of room in the back seat, as it has to accommodate the family on certain occasions.?
Andrews has two children, son Ian, eight, and daughter Emma, six. His wife Laurie currently drives a 1999 Ford Expedition.
While Andrews drove the Aura XR around Calgary, he also got the car out on the highway to Medicine Hat. He and a colleague drove to the southeast Alberta city for a business meeting.
?The Aura has great highway manners,? Andrews says. ?It was comfortable and quiet enough for me to carry on a conversation with my soft-spoken colleague.
?We also spent part of the trip listening to the fine-sounding AM/FM/CD/satellite radio. The return trip we drove in one stint, that?s three hours in the saddle with no discomfort or fatigue, a real credit to the Aura?s civility.?

photo courtesy GM

For Andrews, the ride was agreeably firm and sporty. The brakes, however, were a little vague, with an excessive amount of pressure on the pedal required for a small amount of stopping power. He also didn?t care for the front wheel drive powertrain, but that?s just his personal preference for rear wheel or all wheel drive vehicles.
He found the Aura luxurious, and thought the leather on the seats was plush. Andrews adds: ?The interior was very well put together, and I never perceived a plastic feeling.?
As driven, Andrews? Aura featured niceties including steering wheel audio controls, eight-way adjustable driver seat, rear audio controls with a pair of wireless headphones and the $1,285 premium trim package, the $1,195 power sliding glass sunroof, and the $660 comfort package ? for a total of $35,570. The premium package adds leather seats and leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob while the comfort package includes a six-way power adjustable passenger seat and power adjustable pedals.
When Andrews had the whole family in the car the kids found there was plenty of room in the back seat, and wife Laurie thought the car was easy to get into.
Although Andrews enjoyed driving the Saturn Aura XR for a week, his final opinion is: ?It?s not perfect for me. I could be quite happy driving one, but given a choice I?d go a different direction.?
So who?s perfect for the Aura? Andrews says, ?It?s an awesome car for a family, with enough room for four people, and it?s fun for dad to drive.
?I also think the Aura is more than good value for the money. It?s comfortable, roomy, powerful. I went to the Saturn website and put every option on the car I could think of, and had a hard time to get it over $35,000.?


– The black leather seats look inviting and the pewter-look wraparound trim that extends to the rear cabin gives the interior a cohesive look.
– If you are looking for a floaty Buick-like ride, this is not your car. In XR trim, Saturn specs a firmer suspension, 18-inch wheels and low-profile 50-series rubber. Since I prefer a sportier ride, this suits me fine. Even so, crossing railroad tracks at 100 km/h caused no jarring or undue noise.
– All-wheel drive would make this car a four-season treat. While I?m noting seasonal quibbles, the door design both front and rear allows snow to fall on the seats when you open the doors.
– The Aura?s first practical chore was to fetch a six-inch Newtonian reflector telescope from another part of the city. I was skeptical the trunk would be sufficiently roomy for the 50 inch tube and hefty pedestal stand, (but) everything went in fine, despite a slightly high liftover and small trunk opening. The rear seat folds forward for even more cargo length, which is good news for skiers. The side cargo nets in the trunk were handy for small objects, but tended to snag easily.
– The combination of adjustable pedals and tilt/telescoping wheel make finding the perfect driving position a snap, though I have to say the plastic steering column surround looks out of place in this car?s handsome interior.
– Some final small criticisms. Why do the door handle recesses illuminate at night while I?m driving 110, then turn off when parked and I actually need them?
– Would I buy this car? Were I looking for an affordable, high-feature front drive family car, I would absolutely buy the attractive, sporty Aura. However, I personally still plan to hold out for a rear- or all-wheel-drive sports sedan (Andrews? wrote this prior to obtaining his Infiniti G35). Then again, should an Aura Redline (no news of this happening) come to market with 300 h.p. and all wheel drive, I reserve the right to change my mind.

photo courtesy GM

Jason Hansen can?t believe he bought a Saturn. The 34-year old customer success manager at IT SportsNet says he grew up thinking his first brand new car was going to be an import. But buy a Saturn he did. Last fall he purchased a 2007 Saturn XE at Saturn Saab of Calgary Northeast, and has since put 7,500 km on the odometer.
Q: Why the Saturn Aura?
A: I was at Saturn Saab of Calgary Northeast test-driving a Saab 9-2X, and I saw the Aura out front. I had vaguely heard about the Aura, as my group of friends and I are always talking about cars. I took a look at the features and the price, and then took it for a test drive. I couldn?t believe it, I was floored that it was a Saturn. It was so well featured and the price was right. I waited a week and looked at other vehicles but I came back to the Saturn.
Q: What else did you look at?
A: I had my spreadsheet with the Mazda3Sport, Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, but even the base four-cylinder models were out of my price range. With the Saturn Aura there was just so much car for the money. My car, even though it?s a base model, came pretty well loaded with On-Star, CD player with MP3, air conditioning and power everything.
Q: Do you have a favourite feature?
A: Oh, that?s a tough question to answer, it?s really hard to pick just one. But I guess it would have to be the car?s ride. It?s so supple yet very responsive, with an amazingly well tuned suspension. And the interior; it?s like a bank vault in their. It?s so quiet I can hear myself breathing while I?m driving.
Q: So, obviously there are no regrets?
A: Not a single regret, nope.

Engine: DOHC 24-valve 3.6-L V6 w/VVT
Horsepower: 252 @ 6,300 r.p.m.
Torque: 251 lb.-ft. @ 3,200 r.p.m.
Wheelbase: 2,852 mm
Overall length: 4,851 mm
Curb weight: 1,654.3kg
Price as tested: $35,570