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New York Auto Show – Thoughts and Judgements (Oh So Much Judgement)

The grueling two days making up the New York Auto Show press preview have finally come to a close (so many free cappuccinos…), so it’s time to reflect on just what happened. Overall, it was a pretty average show, but my gut seems to indicate the overall event was actually one of the more exciting, involving shows of late. Maybe it’s because of the infinitesimal indications that the economy is starting to climb out of the pit so large, Gerard Butler uses it for overly dramatic drop-kickings. Or maybe it was just the free beer.

Let’s talk press conferences. There were a few notable stunts and oddities this year. Mercedes-Benz chose the American 2010 Olympic gold medalist bobsled team to drive out their new, mildly updated R-class. Sadly, this was the first I’d heard of the U.S. victory. I just assumed the Jamaicans always won.

"If they make one Cool Runnings joke, we're getting back in and driving away."

Infiniti put on a brief Cirque du Soleil show before yanking the sheet off their new truck-based QX56 sport-ute. At first, I thought it was just some CDS-style dancers, but, nope, turns out Infiniti actually pulled some real performers from the famed Canadian dance-circus. All they had to do was pay a shitton of money and become the official vehicle of Cirque du Soleil, as both the dancers and the car company represent “inspired performance.” (I couldn’t make that up.) I don’t know about anyone else, but the whole thing gave me a wicked acid flashback.

Scion unveiled their new iQ and tC coupes in what can best be described as a rave setting, if most raves featured a thirty-foot tall mesh projection screen with a car behind it and house music imploring the listener to “jam it in your hole” over and over again. (Then again, maybe raves do these days. I haven’t been in a while.)

Roger Sterling takes a minute from banging his secretary to introduce the new Scions.

Unsurprisingly for anyone who’s seen one of their “cheeky” ads, Mini took full advantage of the date of their press conference to play an April Fools Day prank on the audience; touting their square, cloaked concept as a concept called the “Mini Excel,” the sheet was ripped off to reveal a large SUV-shaped plywood box with “April Fools” written on the sides. Then several roadies (Minies?) converged on the stage, each grabbing a piece of the box and removing it to reveal the Mini Countryman underneath. Incidentally, Mini’s spokesperson was the only one of the days not wearing a collared shirt; beneath his suit coat was a black T-shirt with MINI written in white print. However, his closed jacket concealed about half the word, so I spent most of the show thinking he was just a big Nine Inch Nails fan.

Of course, at any event involving a large group of competitors, there will be winners and losers. In many cases, determining which is which is pretty easy; in the event of an auto show, it’s entirely subjective. Which means it’s perfect for this site. Presenting the 2010 New York Auto Show Winners and Losers!

Winner: Hyundai. Five years ago, the idea of a Hyundai competing against Mercedes-Benz would have been much, much funnier than anything Dane Cook had ever performed. But unlike Cook, Hyundai has spent the last few years improving themselves. The Genesis sedan introduced the world to the concept of a luxury Hyundai – and the new Equus sedan sets that idea in stone.

Offering quality nearly even with Mercedes, BMW and Lexus, the Equus sets out to fight the luxury brands’ top-level sedans at a much lower price point. Fun-to-drive isn’t really the game here – leave that to the Panamera – but for those looking for a relaxed, brisk full-sized luxury sedan with oodles of comfort (and yes, an oodle is the basic unit of comfort), this Hyundai will probably be a perfect fit. It’ll probably poach Lexus LS sales like an ivory hunter with a Holland & Holland .600. Starting between $50,ooo and $60,000, and with features its competitors either charge heavily for (reclining rear right-side seat, rear fridge) or don’t offer at all (nose-mounted camera for seeing around corners, standard iPad in lie of a paper owner’s manual), the Equus will almost certainly clean up the lower end of this market.

You know how Hyundai is serious about this car? Their traditional “H” doesn’t appear on it. Instead, buyers get an abstract Y-shaped logo that looks like a weird-but-I’ve-seen-weirder sex toy.

Recline function, yes. Legroom to use it, no.

Loser: Dodge/Chrysler. Unable to muster up the energy for a press conference, the closest thing the company managed to excitement were a pair of tiny Fiat 500s from their new parent company, along with a duo of identical twins to show them off.

Otherwise, the whole display was pretty flaccid. (Yes, folks, that’s a dick joke.) Chrysler’s business plan these days seems to consist of trying to sell two-tone special editions of the 300, while Dodge is relegated to selling musclecars to the Provincetown set.

Come on, Chrysler! You used to make such great concept cars. Even had a good stretch of production models there, with the PT Cruiser and the 300. This is just sad. If Hyundai can throw two separate press conferences, you can summon up five minutes to show off something. Subaru threw a new wing on the STI and called it a day – can’t you do that to the Viper?

The model budget doesn't seem to have taken much of a hit.

Winner: BMW. Pulling the sheets off five models at the show is a pretty good way to get on this list. (Not four, Kia. Five.) Consistently building some of the most fun-to-drive cars on the road helps, too. Granted, three of the reveals were just tweaks, but if loading a 3-series with 20 extra horses and a seven-speed DSG is what ladies call “freshening up,” I understand why they do it so often and it takes so long. Same goes for the mods to the Z4 and X5. Improvements on the 7-series – like the road-going ICE train called the B7 Alpina, now brilliantly available with xDrive AWD, and the ActiveHybrid 7 capable of going 0-60 in 4.7 seconds while still allowing you to be incredibly smug – are more than appreciated as well.

Who wants to race to Alaska?

But the new 5-series could be my new “realistic” dream car. Especially in 550i form, equipped with the company’s magical 4.4 liter twin turbo V8 cranking out 400 horses – an engine capable of moving the 5200-lb X6 from 0 to 60 in 5 seconds flat – and the available six-speed manual! (Though living in the city, I might just test-drive that eight-speed automatic. Though I’d feel like a poseur every day if I bought one.) The new 5 is handsome (much more so in person than in pictures), exceedingly comfortable, and quite big inside – big enough I could fit quite comfortably in the back seat, even with my 36″ inseam. (And I’ll just say it – comfier back seat than the new Bentley Mulsanne. No one else will say it, ’cause they don’t want to get booted off the Bentley gravy train, but I speak the truth!) Hell, the trunk is huge, too. I’ll take mine in Deep Sea Blue, please.

Winner: Cadillac. They surprised all of us with a CTS-V Sport Wagon, going on sale this fall by order only. I just need a nice juicy raise by Christmas.

Loser: Toyota/Lexus. Apparently shamed by the whole “AAAAAAUUUUUUGGGGHHHH!!!” problem (also known as JESUSFUCKINGCHRISTTHECARWON’TSTOP-gate), Toyota and its luxury brand were silent for the whole show. No apologies, no on-stage seppuku, no carefully choreographed bawling. Which was unfortunate, because at the very least, Lexus had a couple models worth mentioning. The LFA supercar made its New York debut in a matte-black shade that suggests Lexus is courting Bruce Wayne and the rest of the billionaire vigilante market. The CT 200h hybrid compact showed up for the first time too, complete with an ad for an interactive BMWFilm-like promo featuring a “Driver” played by the Boondock Saint Who Isn’t Young Indiana Jones. But no one told us anything about it.

Winner: The Lotus Elise. Because I discovered, while it takes about 30 seconds of gymnastics, I can actually fit inside it. Even with the hard top on.

Loser: The Subaru WRX STI. First, Subaru bumped up the power of the regular, cheaper WRX so it actually became quicker than the big-ticket STI. Now, the company has outfitted the WRX with a new, tough-guy look rendering it all but identical to the STI. Granted, four-door STIs (a new model, by the way) receive an Airbus-grade wing on the rear spoiler, but how long ’til some dude in an Ed Hardy T-shirt sticks one on his WRX?

While fun to drive, the WRX STI can result in other people correctly assuming you're a douchebag.

Winner: The backseat of the Rolls-Royce Ghost. It’s like sitting on a cloud made of dead cattle. (Wait, that came out wrong.)

"Would you like to see my Rolls-Royce?" is ranked #6 on the list of Top 10 Pick-Up Lines.

Loser: the asshole cameraman who spent a good five solid minutes filming the back seat of the Hyundai Equus through its open door, preventing the rest of us from sitting in it. Then, when I asked him if he was going to be much longer, simply snarked, “Yes.” By far, biggest loser of the show.

We’ll have more photos – and probably some snarky remarks of our own to go with them – coming soon! So stay tuned.

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A Burst of News – Hyper Lamborghinis, AWD Ferraris, Electric Rolls-Royces, two new luxury sedans and one less Italian cop car…

We at CCO would like to welcome you to a special Holiday Burst of News. It’s pretty much the same as any other Burst, except our hearts are filled with the unique form of adrenaline brought on by massive amounts of Thanksgiving food, Black Friday debt, and ChristmuHanuKwanzaa excitement/stress. So you’ll excuse us if we occasionally pause to scream our heads off.

Our first gift this holiday season, however, comes from the good folks at Lamborghini. According to company sources speaking to CarsUK.net, Lambo is summoning up their very own hypercar capable of competing with the Ferrari Enzo and the rest of the highest echelon of automotive performance. Rumor has it the car, which will be based off the Murcielago-replacing Jota, will be named Urus, after the enormous primordial ancestor of modern cattle. (That’s not a joke.)

They really could just cut and paste the Reventon body on the Jota chassis, and I don't think any of us would mind.

While the Jota’s suspected 700+ horsepower 6.0 liter V12 and carbon fiber/aluminum chassis mean it probably won’t be much of a slouch, the Urus should blow it away, thanks to intensive weight-reducing strategies and the introduction of an 800+ horsepower V12. Price hasn’t been announced, but if you’re hoping for less than half a million bucks, you’d be better off praying for JFK’s resurrection.

But while Lamborghini is trying to out-muscle Ferrari’s old hypercars, the folks in Maranello are working on something quite different. The company confirmed last month they are developing an electric-powered all-wheel-drive system for their future vehicles.

That’s right, folks. Not only will the Ferrari of Tomorrow have four-wheel-drive…it’ll be a hybrid.

The 458 probably won't get the hybrid system. We just wanted to look at it again.

Company insiders told AutoCar the system’s first use will be driving the front wheels of the company’s front-engined GTs, effectively giving each axle a separate powertrain – the electric motor up front, and a gasoline-powered V12 powering the rear. But the system is designed to improve handling and acceleration, not fuel economy – so we don’t have to worry about Ferrari drivers getting all smug or anything.

The system will probably first be used in the successor to the 612, which will probably be breaking cover sometime in the next year or two. Don’t expect to see any hybrid Ferraris on the streets until 2014 or so, which still sounds ridiculously futuristic whenever we think about it. When they do come, the hybrid system will probably add a hefty tithe to the Monroney – but if you can afford a four-seat Ferrari, you probably ain’t too worried about it.

Speaking of mansion-priced cars, Rolls-Royce is hoping to take the wraps off an electric version of its Phantom uber-sedan sometime in the next year or so, also according to AutoCar. The Powers That Be at Rolls want to have the car on the road by 2012, in time for the London Olympics – which, entirely coincidentally, happen to be sponsored by Rolls-Royce’s parent company, BMW!

While it appears stoic, the Phantom is silently judging you for being too poor to afford it.

Rolls employees claim they aren’t particularly concerned about the added mass of the lithium-ion batteries needed to hold the car’s juice, as the conventional Phantom already pushes three tons. And while you could certainly argue a 6,000 pound sedan decorated with twenty-seven cows’ worth of leather and more wood than a freshman class trip to the Playboy Mansion is hardly eco-friendly, don’t bother telling the electric Rolls’ owners – because while they can certainly hear you, they just don’t care.

If you’re in the market for a more modest luxury sedan, however, there’s no need to fret. BMW and Audi both have unveiled the newest members of their families in the last couple weeks – BMW brought out its new 5-series, while Audi rolled out the new A8.

First up: the 5, which continues BMW’s recent trend back towards more conventional styling. The “flame surfacing” of the Bangle years admittedly remains, but at least the front end no longer appears surprised and the rear no longer frustrated.

Here in the States, only two models will be available at launch – the 550i, powered by a 407-horsepower version of Bimmer’s blissful turbocharged 4.4-liter V8, and the 535i, which comes with the latest turbocharged, 306-horsepower version of the company’s equally sweet 3.0-liter inline six. The best-selling-yet-least-arousing 528i will arrive a couple months later; however, BMW makes up for it by boosting power to 258 horses and 228 lb-ft of torque – gains of 28 for both figures over the current models. ZF’s new eight-speed automatic comes standard on the 550i, and optional on the six-cylinder models.

After debating it over several rounds of drinks at the local bar, we here at CCO ultimately came down in favor of the new 5er’s looks. (Also, we unanimously agreed that “Livin’ On A Prayer” is, like, the greatest song in human history.) While it seems almost a tad forgettable from certain angles (at least in pictures), it certainly bears a strong resemblance to the 3- and 7-series – and given that that was presumably the idea, it’s safe to call this one a success.

However, we aren’t particularly fond of the look of Audi’s new A8.  From the front, the car seems oddly reminiscent of the current Hyundai Sonata, and the LED running lights – which lend the A4/A5 family a futuristic strength, like the glowing eyes of Iron Man – angle down in just the wrong place, giving the A8 a strange resemblance to Droopy Dog. Audi is trumpeting the new A8 as the front line of its new designed theme, dubbed “Vorsprung durch Technik;” while our German is a little rusty, we can only assume said phrase translates to, “Let’s just make the A4 bigger and go pound a beer.”

"I always come to mope in front of the Brooklyn Bridge, because I'm artsy."

Thankfully, though, the interior looks like all you’d expect and more from Audi’s most luxurious model. The design is beautiful, and while we’ve heard some mixed opinions on the Interwebs about the A8’s handlebar shifter, we rather like it. And considering that shifter connects to the same eight-speed automatic as in the 5-series – and that the transmission connects all four wheels to a 372-horsepower 4.2 liter V8 – the A8 ought to be a pretty sweet drive for such a large car.

Of course, if you’re not thrilled with the A8’s styling and are willing to sacrifice a bit of space for it, Audi will be more than willing to take a deposit on their upcoming A7 four-door-coupe. According to AutoCar, the long-rumored A6-based pseudo-coupe will be unveiled at the Moscow Auto Show in August 2010.

When the A7 hits the U.S. streets sometime in late 2010 or early 2011 to engage the Mercedes-Benz CLS and BMW X6 in a Teutonic battle of “Bizarro-world coupes,” expect it to come equipped with similar engines to the A6 – naturally aspirated and supercharged V-6s, and if Audi’s feeling generous and gas is still cheap, the 372-hp V8 from the A8. According to Audi design director Stefan Sielaff, there will even be an S7 – likely featuring a turbo/supercharged V8 – for those of you who like testing the patience of law enforcement.

This is Audi's Sportback Concept. Expect the A7 to look like this, except with more Orange Country trophy wives behind the wheel.

Rumor has it U.S. prices should start somewhere around $46,000, but since the A6 starts at $45,200, we wouldn’t be surprised to see the A7 on the painful side of $50K when it hits our shores. Mercedes and BMW both charge significantly more for their faux coupes than the sedans/SUVs they’re based on, so Audi will probably follow the same logic – even if AutoCar claims there will only be a “small price premium.”

But while Audi is chopping up the higher end of the luxury car market into ever-smaller slices, BMW wants to slot yet another model into its rapidly burgeoning M line. According to AutoCar (who seem to have more anonymous sources than Seymour Hersh), someone in BMW’s high-performance division claims creating a more affordable model to slot in under the M3 is a top priority.

Details are few and far between at this point, but since the car would be based on the next-gen 1-series, there’s plenty of time for info to leak out. However, we do know two things: the car will (hopefully) be priced in the mid-$40K range, and BMW may dust off the old M1 badge for it. We’ve got our fingers crossed for a 365+ horsepower version of the company’s turbo I6 under the hood…

Of course, if Audi and BMW are hard at work crafting fun new toys for us to play with, the good folks at Mercedes-Benz can’t be far behind. In this case, rumor has it the company is working on whipping up a smaller sports car based on the new SLS.

At least from this angle, we don't have to look at its ass.

According to PistonHeads, the new model would be designed to compete against the Porsche 911. The ‘Heads claim the follow-up to the SLS – can we call it the SaLT? – will use a V8 of somewhere between 5.8 and 6.2 liters, complete with cylinder cut-off. Given that AMG spent a shit-ton of cash developing its current 6.2 liter engine and said engine has proven suitable in everything from C-class compacts to R-class megawagons, it’s probably safe to assume the Salt will just use a revised version of that engine. Expect to see the finished product in about five years.

Finally, we have another piece of tragic supercar news to round out this update. After a year of service, the Italian State Police’s Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 was totaled a couple weeks ago near the northern city of Cremona. Thankfully, neither of the officers inside were injured when the Lambo swerved to avoid a car and slammed into a group of parked vehicles.

NOOOOOOOOOOOO!

(Photo courtesy autoblog.it)

Before the accident, the Gallardo was primarily used to provide rapid response to accidents and for high-speed organ transport – because while a helicopter might be faster, the doctors wouldn’t be able to say, “They’re driving your new heart here in a Lamborghini.” No word yet on whether Lamborghini will replace the vehicle, but here’s hoping they will. In fact, here’s hoping automakers here in the States decide to follow suit and donate some choice vehicles to our local police forces. How ’bout a couple Corvette ZR1s for the Michigan State Troopers?

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Preview – 2011 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Gullwing

mercedes_benz_sls_amg_prototype_image_005

Every automaker needs a halo car – a vehicle that embodies the best aspects of the brand. It’s usually fast, often rare, and it’s almost always very pricey. And while the car may not necessarily make a profit, it draws plebes like you and I into showrooms where salespeople can try and convince drooling gawkers to buy something less exciting, simply because it shares a few minor parts with your dream car. (“Actually, the Malibu uses the exact same lug nuts as the ZR1 Corvette!”)

At first glance, it might seem like Mercedes-Benz already has more halo models than a Macy’s in Heaven. Between the super-luxurious Maybach, the Batmobile-like SLR, the teeth-rattlingly-powerful SL65 AMG Black Series and a veritable army of V-12 and AMG V-8 powered sedans, coupes and roadsters, why would they need another mouth-watering ride to suck in passers-by?

But read between the lines, and the need for a true halo car becomes clear. The Maybach models are sold under another brand name designed to distance themselves from “commonplace” Mercedeses. The SL65 Black Series, in spite of its hypertuned engine and Kirstie Alley-worthy crash diet, still looks more or less like a pimped-out everyday SL550 – and you can’t go two blocks in Beverly Hills without seeing one of those. And while the SLR’s McLaren-Mercedes parentage and Gotham City looks made it seem like a promising halo car, it never really caught on; its half-million-dollar price tag didn’t seem worth it, considering a Porsche 911 Turbo could blow it away for one-quarter the price. Besides, the SLR’s production run ends this year.

mercedes_benz_sls_amg_prototype_image_013

So what’s a luxury automaker to do? Correct the problems of the last halo car and try again. Hence, the SLS. Successor to the SLR in both position and alphabetical order, the SLS will supposedly be faster, cheaper and easier to love than its predecessor. Instead of aiming for the miniscule hypercar market the SLR was designed for, the SLS will battle against the cream of the crop in the roughly $200,000 range. Expect to see it facing off against everything from the Nissan GT-R to the Porsche 911 GT3 to the Ferrari F430 in both magazine comparisons and bonus-toting executives’ minds.

For the money, the SLS should pack a punch. Power will come from a version of AMG’s 6.2 liter V8 making 563 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque, running though a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. However, should you want something a little more eco-friendly, Mercedes will be unveiling a 526 horsepower all-wheel-drive electric version…but not until 2015.

To stand out from the pack, the SLS will come with gullwing doors that rise upwards on roof-mounted hinges, just like Mercedes’s 300SL sports car from half a century ago. (Noob alert: be sure not to confuse gullwing doors with scissor, or “Lamborghini,” doors, which also open vertically but have hinges near the base of the windshield. Also note the difference between gullwings and butterfly doors, which open both upwards and outwards in a hybrid movement between scissor doors and conventional doors. Clear?)

Photo by Konstantin Tschovikov, from Edmunds Inside Line. Thanks, Konstantin!

Photo by Konstantin Tschovikov, from Edmunds Inside Line.

Of course, the gullwing doors won’t be available on the convertible version which will follow the coupe into production, but as everyone knows, sometimes you have to forsake a little class if you want to go topless in public.

While Mercedes hasn’t yet pulled the wraps off the car’s styling, they have seen fit to tease us with plenty of pix (and even some video) of the disguised SLS kicking ass and taking names all around the world – including a video of the car lapping the famed Nurburgring racetrack. Plus, one lucky bastard journalist from Edmunds was allowed to take a lap or two around a German proving ground, which you can read about here.

The  car is reportedly scheduled to be unveiled at the Frankfurt Auto Show in September, with vehicles rolling off the production line and into the driveways of the rich and awesome next year. Should you be one of those with the means and desire to snatch up an SLS, we’d suggest beelining for your Mercedes-Benz dealer as soon as you get. Thanks to some sneaky soul, a copy of the dealer’s ordering guide has appeared on the web, giving you a chance to see just what sort of money you might need to throw down. (Ceramic brakes run $12,000, while a 1000-watt Bang & Olufsen stereo goes for $6,400.)

Picture 1

All told, expect to pay somewhere in the range of $175-185,000 for starters; add on a few fun options, like the sound system and special leather seats, and you could easily see the bill hit $200,000. Not too bad, for the world’s greatest Mercedes.

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