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Sleuth: Hot off the press

February 13, 2008|By Wheelbase Communications

Lexus considers a small sport ute after all: While Toyota’s Lexus division has denied interest in such a vehicle in the past, the trend toward luxury compact sport utes has the company reconsidering. The new model would obviously slot below the RX 350, and compete with the Infiniti EX35, Acura RDX and the upcoming Audi Q5 and Mercedes-Benz GLK. Toyota Motor Sales USA President Jim Lentz says that a small sport ute could appeal to customers “sick of the suburbs, but who don’t want to give up the utility of their SUV,” he told industry trade paper Automotive News. The new model would likely be based on the Toyota RAV4 platform, but that’s most likely where any similarities would end.

Ford’s convertible Focus will find its way to North America: The Sleuth’s spies in Germany report that Ford is ready to unveil a Focus Coupe-Cabriolet for the Euro market at the Geneva, Switzerland, motor show in March. The newly designed Coupe-Cabriolet with its retractable hardtop will be manufactured by the Italian company Pininfarina, which also had a hand in designing the car. Ford has a history of giving its European division models that are so much more attractive than the ones we see here. But the Sleuth’s tipsters say that change is on the way. The Focus in Europe will be the Focus here — including the Coupe-Cabriolet — by 2009. It is all exciting news for a brand that needs a jolt of WOW.

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Market indicators

Direct Shift Gearbox systems: The adoption of dual-clutch Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) transmissions among automakers — particularly those selling cars in North America — might be off to a slow start, but Volkswagen has hit a milestone that shows increasing popularity. The German automaker sold its one millionth DSG-equipped vehicle last month. VW sold 400,000 units last year, accounting for 40 percent of its overall DSG sales in the last four years. Now nearly a quarter of all VWs ship with DSG gearboxes. Dual-clutch transmissions offer faster gear changes than a regular manual transmission, with the smoothness and ease-of-use of an automatic. There is no clutch pedal (and no torque converter as is the case with an automatic transmission with manual shift control), but gear changes can be made manually via paddle shifters. Or, the car can be left in an automatic mode. The Sleuth loves ’em. And the world is beginning to, as well.

Sports car revolution, but with a twist: Chevrolet is coming with its Camaro. Dodge just launched the Challenger. And now the Sleuth hears that Toyota badly wants to return to the sports car market, although with nothing like a high-horsepower V8 tarmac terror. Long ago, the company had its Celica and Supra. It appears as though the company is co-developing a new sports car with Subaru that will be available in two trim-levels: GT and GT-Four. The base GT will be reportedly get a 200-horsepower 2.0-liter Subaru four-cylinder that drives the rear wheels. Additionally, Toyota has set an internal price target for the GT at under $20,000. The up-level GT-Four will use the same 300-horsepower engine found in the Subaru Impreza WRX STI, and — as the name implies — will use an all-wheel drive system.

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