PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 March, 2006, 12:00am

Subaru dealer Motor Image will launch the R2 mini passenger car 'for about $100,000' in April, says spokeswoman Martha Leung. Launched in Japan in December 2003, the 658cc, four-cylinder, four-seater runabout 'meets potential market needs by pursuing new values of the minicar', the dealer says.

The R2 (below) looks good and is said to do 24km per litre in Japan. We can't wait to test it in the Hong Kong fug, where smaller, more fuel-efficient cars make more sense. After all, the Automotive Researchers' & Journalists' Conference of Japan last year voted the R2 best mini passenger car. The Smart Forfour, podgy Toyota Yaris and the fun Suzuki Swift face new competition, but they'll rest easier than the sports utility vehicles and three-litre saloons that crawl just as slowly, but more expensively, in Hong Kong traffic.

We hear of yet another China drive - this time for the Euro-brash. The French-run Imperial Rally for 20 classic cars is scheduled to tour 2,500km of southern China, leaving the InterContinental Hong Kong in Kowloon at 8.30am on March 22, and returning on March 31, via Guangzhou, Guilin, Liuzhou, Zhaoqing and Shenzhen.

The organisers say le rallye is 'le plus elitiste au monde, a ce jour' and promise five-star hotels and the best in food, logistics, security and mechanical help. Costs seem elusive on the website (, but its partenaires include Moet & Chandon, Lalique, Cathay Pacific, the Hong Kong Automobile Association and a few hotels.

Participants will celebrate the start of their drive with 'important French and Chinese people living in Hong Kong' at a French consulate-organised dinner, says spokeswoman Sophie Kliszowski-de Fety. 'The Hong Kong classic car clubs will be invited as well,' she says. After all, the Collectors' Club has just returned from a fine show in Kunming (above).

European participants are mostly French. 'We're expecting the registration of two Hong Kong teams,' Kliszowski-de Fety says.

The mainland is awash with luxury drives, with talk of the waft of Rolls-Royce Phantoms along the Great Wall, the drone of Land-Rovers through Sichuan, the scream of Ferrari Scagliettis along Tibetan yak trails, and another Hero 4x4 Great Tour of China planned for April 28-May 27. Then there's the Long March Classic Car Rally, whose website,, says '100 classic and vintage cars, and a convoy of 150 motor-homes and support vehicles' will leave Rui Jin, Jiangxi on September 24, and finish in Beijing on October 22.

Then there's the HKAA's Hainan Drive (April 14-19, $10,700 per car; for details, go to

But the Imperial Rally is different from the others because it's 'not a race'. Organisers say they want participants to 'enjoy their time discovering China. Not only the roads but the temples, the landscapes, the countryside way of life.' Good for them. And let's hope none breaks down - the charms of rural China are more enjoyable from the front seat of a luxury car than hitching a ride in the back of a muckspreader's truck.