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2010 Beijing Auto Show Recap

Ah, Beijing in April! Where the sweet, noxious smell of pollution fills the air with the sounds of thousands of coughing Chinese children. For reasons that had nothing to do with the eruption of Mount Overanalyzed (it’s just a volcano, folks – it didn’t erupt because of global warming, and it doesn’t mean the end of air travel, so calm down), we were unable to make it to Beijing; however, we did go down to Chinatown and suck on the tailpipe of a ’62 Dodge Dart for a while, which is pretty much the same thing.

However, neither our lack of airfare nor our sudden racking cough is enough to keep us from bringing you the highlights from this year’s Beijing Auto Show. Since China has become to automakers what Jerusalem was to Moses, the show this year (barely worth covering two or three years ago) played host to several world premieres of cars you’d actually want to own. So, in no particular order, here we go!

2011 Ferrari 599 GTO

We’re gonna turn this over to special guest contributor Garth Algar for our thoughts on the 599 GTO:

Are we clear on this? The 599 GTB is already one of the top three most incredible Ferraris in history, and ranks firmly atop our Powerball Car Pavilion. Compared with the GTB, the GTO is stripped of 200 pounds and packs an extra 49 horsepower to make what Ferrari calls its “fastest-ever road car.” (Not sure how they quantify that, given the Enzo topped out at 209 mph versus the 599’s 208, but hey, who really cares?) 0-60 should come in less than 3.4 seconds, and the company’s single-clutch six-speed automated manual is the only transmission. While a stripped-down interior means the GTO is probably a bit less livable than its GTB sibling, it’s a faster, more ferocious version of an already fast and ferocious machine. And it sounds like this. There’s only one word for that:

Schwing indeed.

Mercedes-Benz Shooting Break Concept

Somehow, the bizarre evolutionary arms war between BMW and Mercedes-Benz keeps resulting in more and more perplexing (and seemingly redundant) models. For example – take Mercedes’s midsize lineup. With the Shooting Break (basically a wagon version of the next CLS), Mercedes will have three separate wagons of similar size for around the same price: the E-class wagon, the R-class, and this bad boy. Confused? So are we.

But clearly they’re selling, since the company keeps wheeling out new versions. Right now it doesn’t look like the production CLS wagon will be hitting U.S. shores, sticking to markets like, well, China. Which is kinda sad, since this is a pretty enticing shaggin’ wagon. Still, if you like the look and are willing to show restraint at Whole Foods, the 2011 CLS should look almost identical, except for a more conventional trunk.

The Shooting Break also holds the first example of M-B’s new family of engines, represented here by a 3.5 liter V6 with 306 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque. Presumably channeled through a seven-speed automatic, this engine should become the new entry-level motor for the E-, R-, CLS-, and ML-classes…at least until they make a four-cylinder engine capable of providing the power we Americans deserve. (Arf arf arf!)

BMW Concept Gran Coupé

Remember BMW’s Concept CS of a couple years back, a sleeker 7-series-based four-door-coupe in the CLS persuasion with a paint job that shone like the T-1000 emerging from a fiery wreck? It was reportedly slated for production as the company’s range-topper (presumably called the 8-series), but the Great Recession blew the hell out of that plan.

John Connor is really getting pissed about the popularity of this color.

However, good ideas never die, they just go into hibernation – and the folks at BMW have decided it’s time to wake up their stylish little cub. The Gran Coupé will likely be coming to life as the next 6-series – probably a good business move, as it allows the model to go from being a bulky, sedan-based runner-up in the  Porsche 911/Maserati GranTurismo category to the sharpest, most exciting competitor in the CLS/Jaguar XF segment.

Powertrain details weren’t released, but we figure the new 5-series’s engines and transmissions will carry over all but unchanged. No one outside of Bimmer has seen inside, but we’re imagining a plush, comfy cabin with four bucket seats. (And in said daydream, we’re in the driver’s seat, flooring the 400 horsepower V8 and rowing through the six-speed stick. Don’t let us down, BMW…)

2011 Audi A8L W12

Should you prefer the rear-right seat of a car to the front-left, the A8L makes a convincing argument to be your vehicle of choice. With five extra inches of wheelbase over the already commodious A8, the L offers a combination of space and luxury usually found only in a Bombardier Global Express jet. For chauffeured corporate titans who need that extra bit of penis enhancement acceleration, the 6.3 liter W12 spits out 500 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque – less than the competing Mercedes-Benz S600 and BMW 760Li, but still enough to motivate the enormous sedan from naught to 60 in 4.9 seconds or so. (The short-wheelbase A8’s 372 horse 4.2 liter V8 provides motivation for the standard A8L; both engines send power to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic.)

For reasons we’re not entirely sure about, the long-wheelbase A8 offers a rear-facing jumpseat that folds out of the back of the front passenger’s seat, forcing both back-right passengers to share legrooms. We think it’s actually a perch for for your cat. There’s also a center console in back that can be equipped with a fridge; no word yet whether it’ll be big enough for a bottle of Moet. (Or Donaghy Estates, if you’re so inclined.)

Chevrolet Volt MPV5 Electric Concept

Chevy’s Volt, dubbed the “Jesus of Detroit” by, well, us while writing for someone else, is finally coming to fruition; the four-door plug-in electric car-with-a-gas generator will be rolling along U.S. streets by this fall, barring any hiccups. But for all its benefits, the Volt is still a small car with a $35,000 price tag. GM swears the Volt will be profitable, but a lot of that depends on finding a way to sell as many cars with the technology as possible.

So why not throw the powertrain into something a bit more utilitarian? That seems to be the idea behind the awkwardly named Volt MPV5 Electric Concept. (How about a bit of abbreviation/Roman numeralization, and we call it the V-MPV-V?) With a 150 horsepower, 370 lb-ft electric motor for propulsion and 1.4 liter gasoline engine for recharging, the MPV5 is quoted as having an electric-only range of 32 miles and a gas-assisted range of 300; top speed is 100 miles per hour.

Not quite a minivan (the rear doors don’t slide) nor a station wagon (too tall), the MPV5 has room for five (hence the name) and an impressive 30.5 cubic feet of storage in back with all the seats up. It looks pretty cool, too – an impressive feat for an electric people-mover. Expect to see a production version fairly similar to this concept around this time next year.

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(Belated) 2010 Geneva Auto Show Recap

(A quick side note from the editor:

I’d like to apologize for the lack of postings these last few weeks. This site is a labor of love, but unfortunately, it doesn’t pay the bills as well as I’d like, so I work another job to cover the rent/food/gasoline I so depend on. A couple of weeks ago, I finally got a job in journalism that’s exponentially better than my old job was, but since that time, I’ve been so busy settling in I haven’t been able to post here. But three weeks without updates is long enough. I owe you more. )

Wow! Our editor is one sappy son of a bitch, ain’t he? God, you can’t believe what we have to put up with, the sh…

Still here.

eer number of nice things he does for us. He’s so generous. And kind. Unfortunately, while his generosity is limitless, his credit card isn’t, so we weren’t able to personally go to this year’s Geneva Auto Show. Thanks to the magic of the Interwebs, though, we can cover it like we were there! Isn’t that awesome? In fact, forget the last three sentences. We DID go to the Geneva Auto Show, and it was out of this world! We’ve just been drunk on Toblerone the last couple weeks.

So, behold – our favorite cars from this year’s Geneva Auto Show, presented in completely objective fashion by being ranked in order of how cool we think they are.

1. Porsche 918 Spyder concept

Just being a leaner, meaner, less El Camino-like successor to the Carrera GT would have probably been enough to land the 918 on the top of this list. Being a hybrid made it pretty much a shoo-in. But the real reason this bad mother(shut yo’ mouth!) ranks as the coolest car of the Geneva Auto Show? Nobody had any idea it was coming. The Carrera GT only wrapped production four years ago. Who would have thought Porsche would bust out its replacement so quickly?

This baby is the future of the supercar, folks. This is what our children will be driving in their heads when they should be studying. Lightness fused with technology. A plug-in hybrid coupled to a powerful engine. Styling that doesn’t shamelessly ape the past, but sets a brave new course without forgetting where it comes from.

The 918 Spyder concept comes equipped with a 3.4-liter V8 making more than 500 horsepower, combined with a plug-in battery-electric powertrain making a maximum of 218 horses. The electric motor drives the front wheels, the gasoline engine powers the rear tires through a seven-speed DSG. Porsche claims the car can go up to 16 miles on electric power alone, can achieve 94 mpg, yet also cook off 0-60 runs in 3.2 seconds and top out just under 200 mph. Don’t be fooled by the “concept” moniker. Porsche has never made a concept they haven’t produced in one way or another, and they’re not gonna start now.

2. Ferrari 599 HY-KERS Hybrid

The bad news: rumors of an all-wheel-drive hybrid 599 were incorrect. The good news: going hybrid doesn’t look like it’ll make Ferraris any less fun. In fact, it’ll just make living with one easier.

Which is certainly promising, given what could have been a piece of very ominous news: to conform with new EU regulations, very soon, every Ferrari might be a hybrid.

Whoa, whoa, whoa – no need to buy that Rapture insurance just yet. Judging by the 599 Hybrid, autophiles have nothing to fear. The concept features a 100-horsepower electric motor smooshed in with the seven-speed DSG transmission; at low speeds in town, the car can cruise along in electric mode, or the batteries can summon up a nitrous-like boost for the 612-horsepower 6.0 liter V12. Ferrari claims the 0-124 mph dash is shortened by 0.6 seconds over a stock 599.

Nobody outside of Ferrari has had any seat time in the 599 Hybrid yet, so we don’t yet know what it’ll be like to drive; however, given the company’s entire multibillion dollar reputation is on the line, we’re fairly optimistic Ferrari’s legendary passion and performance will be pretty much unharmed by the hybrid conversion. In addition, we’re hoping the presence of the dual-clutch gearbox here heralds its inclusion in the uber-bitchin’ upcoming 599 GTO.

3. 2010 Audi RS5

We previewed the RS5 in our last post, and nothing’s really changed, mechanically speaking – still a 450-horsepower 4.2 liter V8 with a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, still a body that’ll make your girlfriend jealous, still causing hundreds of automotive to wake up with erections after dreaming about the eventual comparison with the BMW M3. Nothing we didn’t know.

But that doesn’t make it any less badass. Or make us want one any less. As much as we love the M3, quattro is handy if you ever venture into the snowy north.

4. 2011 Ruf 911 RGT-8

While perhaps best known as builder of the car Automobile Magazine accidentally incinerated during a post-supercar-comparo dance party with inopportune song selection (“No, dude, the Ruf is actually on fire! We do need water!”), Ruf has a long history of taking Porsches and, like Kanye West did to Daft Punk, making them harder, better, faster and stronger, then slapping their own name on it.

But so far as I’m concerned, this lime-green beaut can drive right in front of Taylor Swift at the next MTV Awards, because Ruf has done what no one thought could – build a 911 with a V8.

Developed and built in-house in just two years, the RGT-8’s 4.5 liter engine pumps out 542 horsepower and 369 lb-ft, giving this naturally aspirated 911 more ponies than the new 911 Turbo S also unveiled at the show. Granted, it may not match the S’s Kryptonian acceleration (Car and Driver ran the less powerful Turbo with 7-speed PDK from 0 to 60 in 2.9 seconds, which is about as long as it took us to string together the expletive chain we used when we heard that), but it gives us hope that if Porsche runs out of ways to make the 911’s six-cylinder more powerful…life will find a way.

5. Lotus Evora 414E Hybrid Concept

This last spot on the list was neck-and-neck between the Evora and the Koenigsegg Agera. The Agera has 910 horsepower, a carbon fiber/aluminum chassis, a top speed of 245 mph and looks cooler than Timothy Olyphant in a gunfight.

But like the 918 Spyder, the Evora represents the future, a world of simultaneous pastry-consumption-and-preservation. Each rear wheel is powered by its own electric motor; together, they produce 408 horsepower – 132 horses more than the V6-powered production Evora, and 120 more than the Lotus Elise-based Tesla Roadster. Unlike the Tesla, though, the Evora Hybrid isn’t limited to the amount of energy it can suck out of your wall; should the batteries dip low enough, a 1.2 liter three-cylinder engine kicks in to recharge the battery.

Regular Lotus Evora shown. But you didn't know that, did you?

Lotus says the three-cylinder produces a meager 47 horsepower, which means drivers could be in for an trouser-soiling surprise if the battery goes dead while trying to pass a minivan on a two-lane road. Since the engine isn’t driving the wheels, it’s not like the car will suddenly lose 85 percent of its horsepower – but if you believe the performance won’t suffer significantly, then don’t listen to Alfred Molina when he advises you to throw you the idol first.

Honorable Mention:

2010 Koenigsegg Agera:

Did you read the first paragraph about the Lotus?

2010 Brabus E V12 Coupe:

Since Christian Bale’s Batman lost his Tumbler to Heath Ledger, I nominate this 788-horsepower, 1047 lb-ft beast to replace it. Let’s see the Penguin fuck with this thing.

2010 Pagani Zonda Tricolore:

It pulls 1.45 lateral g, and while the 7.3 liter Mercedes-Benz/AMG-sourced V12 isn’t new…it’s still an enormous custom AMG V12. Plus, like the Highlander, There Can Be Only One.

Dishonorable Mention:

2011 Aston Martin Cygnet:

Somewhere, Sean Connery’s balls have retreated into his body.

2011 Bentley Continental Flying Star by Touring Superleggera:

We were unaware anyone had asked for this.

Honda 3R-C Concept:

If there’s one thing people want, it’s a one-person electric scooter to replace walking around. How could that go wrong?

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2011 Porsche Cayenne Leaked, Geneva Auto Show Preview, and Don’t Text And Drive, Genius

Last Wednesday, sharp-eyed visitors to Porsche’s online car configurator might have noticed an unknown-but-strangely-familiar face among the array of cars pictured:

Yes, folks, that’s the new Cayenne,  roaming wild and free for all to see. Of course, since the new Cayenne isn’t supposed to be unveiled until the Geneva Auto Show a couple weeks from now, Porsche rapidly pulled the image off the site – but thankfully, not before at least one person snared a decent screenshot.

Car and Driver was lucky enough to take a spin in the next-gen Cayenne; in their February issue, writer/photographer/presumed bratwurst enthusiast/lucky son-of-a-bitch Juergen Zoellter states Cayenne 2.0 is about 440 pounds lighter than the current model – smart thinking, given the current Cayenne is massive enough to gravitationally suck in unlucky pedestrians. (Though that makes for a great conversation starter.)

With the standard eight-speed automatic, Porsche claims the 500-hp Turbo model should do the 0-60 in 4.6 seconds. While we can’t vouch for those times yet, we can certainly endorse the looks of the new Cayenne. Based on the picture above, it looks a hell of a lot more aggressive than the current model, which from certain angles, looks as awkward as John Edwards at a “Democrats For Fidelity” summit.

We’ll have official details of the 2011 Cayenne once the Geneva Auto Show kicks off on March 2nd. However, if you’re still itching for another little glimpse of the fun to come…take a look at the 2011 Audi RS5, also debuting at Geneva.

The RS5 cranks out 450 horses from its 4.2 liter V8 without a psi of help from a turbo or supercharger. Putting that grunt to all four wheels is a seven-speed DSG. Audi claims 0-60 comes in 4.6 seconds – oddly enough, the same as the Cayenne Turbo. That’s the good news.

The bad news is, Audi hasn’t announced whether it’ll come stateside yet. Start writing your senators now, folks.

Of course, never one to be left out, Mercedes-Benz has released details about its Geneva star, the F800 Style concept. Mercedes says the F800 indicates the design direction the company intends to follow from now on, and strongly hints at the look of the next0generation CLS. While we think it looks a bit…blunt from the front, there’s definitely potential here.

The F800 also comes with a concept car’s usual array of apocryphal wonders, like a plug-in hybrid powertrain capable of running from 0-60 in 4.7 seconds while still achieving 81 miles per gallon. To quote Broken Lizard’s magnum opus Super Troopers – “I’ll believe that when me shit turns purple and smells like rainbow sherbert.”

Yet sadly, for most of us, a Porsche Cayenne Turbo, Audi RS5, or Mercedes-Benz CLS will remain out of fiscal reach for quite some time. But if your budget only stretches to automotive crack instead of full-out cocaine, fear not: it looks like our old friends at Ford have your back.

Ford execs have dropped a couple subtle hints that the next-generation Ford Focus will not only receive a Rip-Snortin’ RS version (would you prefer “Red-asS”?), but that the hardcore Focus will be coming to the U.S. for the first time as well. One word: BOOSH.

The current Focus RS.

The 2012(ish) Focus RS should make around 300 horsepower, thanks to a 2.0 liter turbocharged inline four equipped with Ford’s EcoBoost, which is also slang for stealing power from a wind farm.

Finally, from the “No Shit, Sherlock” files, the NHTSA (click the link if you want to know what the acronym’s for, we’re sick of typing it out) is prepping legislation that would ban texting while driving.

Of course, the NHTSA has no ability to put the laws into effect; they’re meant as guidelines for individual states to adopt or edit as they see fit. 19 states and D.C already have similar measures in effect, including, hilariously, seat-belt-averse New Hampshire. (Live Free or Die! Or, rather, Live Free until You Die Being Ejected Through A Windshield At 70 MPH!)

We here at CCO think this is a brilliant idea. While we’ve got mixed feeling on hands-free-calling-only-while-driving laws (studies have shown they don’t reduce distraction compared to holding the phone, and we think people will be more likely to engage in distracting phone calls if it’s easier to do), texting while driving is just a bad idea. Period. In fact, on weekends, we at CCO like to pick up a Rent-A-Wreck and perform a little vigilante enforcement by ramming texting drivers right off the road. Tweet about that, will you.

And don't even think about using this fucker.

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Review – 2010 Audi S4 quattro

The Good: Sports-car performance, sedan convenience, inspires Kobe Bryant-levels of confidence.

The Bad: Not as fuel-efficient as the EPA would have you think, transmission a bit rebellious.

The Verdict: A near-perfect harmony of speed, style and substance.

The best automobiles are more than transportation appliances. Sure, they move you from place to place just as well as any car, truck, golf cart or Segway – but they do so much more. They inspire passion. They inspire lust. And, like Hugh Grant in any number of estrogen-tastic romantic comedies, despite their flaws, you ultimately come to love them wholeheartedly.

The Audi S4 is one of those cars.

On the surface, the S4 doesn’t seem very different from the A4 on which it’s based. While the S4 receives unique bumpers, a mildly different grille and quad tailpipes in lieu of the A4’s twin pipes, only the hardest core of enthusiasts are likely to notice. It’s a stealthy approach to speed – in stark contrast to the in-your-face aggression of potential competitors like the BMW M3 or the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG.

(Of course, Audi insists the S4 doesn’t compete with those macho models, instead preferring to stack its stealth sports sedan against the “regular” six-cylinder entry-level luxury sedans – specifically, the BMW 335i, which the S4 is locked onto like a Tomahawk cruise missile.)

The trend of stylish subtlety continues inside, where the biggest variation from the A4 are a pair of sport bucket seats up front – though a handful of other differentiators, such as S4-branded gauges and steering wheel, pop up around the interior. But lack of style was never really a problem with the A4 (at least from my point of view), and the S4’s differences, though minor, add a bit of panache to the car’s looks.

Pop the hood, though, and the changes become a lot more apparent. Instead of the turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder in the A4, the S4 runs wild with a 333-horsepower supercharged 3.0 liter V6 capable of propelling the S4 from 0 to 60 in 4.9 seconds, according to both Audi and Car and Driver.

But those numbers seem so cold and abstract compared to those 333 horses. This car is fast. Whee! Fast. The supercharger has effectively no lag (a major advantage blowers have over turbochargers) – punch the throttle, and you’re thrown back into your seat and on your way to that inevitable court date. (“Reckless driving,” my ass…)

While the S4 is based off a front-drive platform (indeed, you can buy a FWD A4 if you really want, but good luck finding one), it thankfully comes with standard all-wheel-drive, which harnesses those gallivanting ponies and sticks them to the ground with the expected Germanic efficiency. Between it and the electronic stability control, even the slipperiest Vermont roads were easily negotiable.

That said, though, click off the ESP, and the S4 will hang its tail out in curves all day long if you want it too (especially on those aforementioned icy dirt roads). I spend the better part of ten minutes baking donuts in the fresh snow of an Asian fusion restaurant parking lot – including several continuous loops around a blue spruce in the middle of the lot. (And I don’t regret it one bit, Ma.)

While a six-speed manual transmission comes standard, my tester put the power down through a seven-speed dual clutch transmission. In the past, I’ve been quite happy with this type of transmission (both in the Audi TT-S and the Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart), and the S4 was no exception – in automatic mode, shifts are as smooth as a slushbox, while in manual mode, it cracks off shifts with Barry Allen speed.

Adding a seventh, higher gear to the mix adds some virtue to the car’s hefty serving of vice, allowing the S4 to reach an EPA-claimed 28 mpg on the highway and 18 mpg in town. Of course, the EPA test cycle was designed by an engineer who drives like Ralph Nader in a snowstorm, so real-world mileage is a bit lower; I averaged 22.45 miles per gallon over a week of mostly highway driving.

The dual clutch ‘box isn’t perfect, however. Even in manual mode, flooring the throttle in high gear causes the car to drop down several cogs to put you in the heart of the powerband again. In automatic mode, this certainly makes sense, but presumably any driver who’s enabled manual mode wants to make his or her own decisions – and if he/she wants to, say, test top-gear acceleration along the New Jersey Turnpike without being unexpectedly flung towards the Pennsylvania state line, that’s his or her perogative.

Less startling but more annoying, the aluminum paddles on the back of the steering wheel are on the small side – small enough to be all but invisible behind the spokes at 9 and 3 o’clock. I presume this was an intentional move to keep them out of the way for drivers who don’t want to be bothered with shifting for themselves – but it seems kind of a burn to the enthusiasts who, presumably, make up a hefty percentage of the S4’s clientele.

Quibbles aside, the S4’s powertrain makes for one hell of a fun ride; luckily, when the road turns curvy, the suspension and chassis proves more than capable of cashing the checks the supercharged V6 loves to write all over the pavement. As with true sports cars, the S4’s limits will almost always lie beyond those of your nerves (at least on public roads).

Push the car into turns, and it urges you on, encouraging and emboldening you. While the steering can be heavy at low speeds, it lightens up as the car builds velocity, never feeling floaty or disconnected. Few cars instill as much confidence in their drivers as the S4 does.

On a side note, this was the first Audi I’ve tested lacking the Audi Drive Select system, which allows the driver to adjust the suspension, steering and drivetrain’s responsiveness. To what degree the ADS improves non-“S” models, I’m still unsure, but given my experience with the S4, I’d be hard-pressed to imagine how the system could improve on the car’s dynamics – at least, not enough to warrant its $3,950 price.

Of course, sport sedans promise a measure of convenience along with performance – after all, as Mitt Romney learned, society tends to frown on strapping your dog to the roof of your car; there will be times you need that extra room. Not surprisingly, the S4 offers all the convenience of the A4 it’s based on – it just goes faster. Granted, it’s still on the smaller end of the sedan spectrum; it’s possible to fit three adults and a week’s worth of luggage into the car, but let’s just say my backseat-dwelling father would probably not enjoy repeating that drive from Boston to New York City anytime soon. (Especially since he had to share the rear bench with several large bags.)

The Bottom Line:

For anyone seeking maximum driving excitement for around $50,000 without sacrificing utility, the S4 is as good as it gets. It’ll take winding back roads like a sports car at noon and let you drive octogenarian ladies to and from dinner at night. The S4 packs 95 percent of the fun of a sports car with 100 percent of the comfort and handiness of a four-door luxury sedan.

As an automotive journalist, people often ask, “If you could have one car, regardless of price, what would it be?” Usually, I’ll respond with my supercar crush du jour, then offer a quippy remark about the fun factor overwhelming the little inconveniences – crappy gas mileage, hefty insurance rates, lack of room, tricky behavior in town, and so forth.

But today? I might just tell them, “Audi S4.”

Base Price/Price As Tested: $48,125/$53,450

0-60: 4.9 seconds (courtesy Car and Driver)

Fuel Economy: 18 city/28 highway (EPA estimate); 22.45 mpg (observed)

Key Competitors: BMW 335i/335xi, Ford Taurus SHO, Cadillac CTS

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2010 Detroit Auto Show Recap

Well, it’s mid-January again, and all you car nuts out there know exactly what that means – it’s Detroit Auto Show time! Because as the Detroit Tourism Board will tell you, there’s no better time to venture to America’s home-grown Thunderdome than when it’s cold enough to freeze mercury.

Still, so long as the heat in the Cobo Center works, journalists from across the globe will cram their North Face parkas and .357 Magnum Colt Pythons into overnight bags and journey to Motor City for one of the largest auto shows in the world. This year was a bittersweet one for the three home-team automakers: bitter for GM, who saw four divisions exorcised from its corporate ranks after tossing all its self-respect into Lake Michigan by declaring bankruptcy and taking federal bailout money; but sweet for Ford, who managed to avoid Chapter 11 and saw its first profitable quarter in nearly two years.

And Chrysler? Well, they’re owned by Fiat now. Actually, do they even count as one of the Big Three anymore?

Regardless of whether Chrysler considers their home in The Boot of Italy or The Mitten of Michigan, in the minds of most people, they still count as a good ol’ American boys. Unfortunately, Chrysler/Fiat considered new model revelations and press conferences excessive expenditures this year, and simply left their models out on the floor for perusal. (At least they showed up, unlike Porsche and Nissan. Uncool, guys.) Luckily, though, plenty of other new models and concepts came into the light at the show. Here are the best.

Audi e-tron concept

Astute readers of this blog may be thinking, “Didn’t I already see the e-tron?” And the short answer is, yes, you did. But not this one. Audi has, somewhat inexplicably, decided to use the exact same name for this smaller electric sports car concept as they used for their larger, R8-based version. The difference, you see, is that the R8-based original is just called “e-tron,” while this new concept is…the “e-tron.” Come on, Audi! You’re German – Germans make up new words all the time by smashing them together. Couldn’t you call it the “Smallersilverelectricsportscar?”

Regardless of what you call it, the baby e-tron will reportedly run from 0-60 in 5.9 seconds with a top speed of 124 mph, thanks to a pair of electric motors with a combined output of 204 horsepower. Of course, since the baby e-tron is just a concept, this could be entirely hypothetical; the show car may well be powered by a hamster on a wheel for all we know.

More importantly for car fans, the e-tron 2-seater’s design may be a preview of Audi’s rumored upcoming R4 sports car. There’s no way to know for sure, but Audi could do a lot worse than pattern the R4 on this aggressive-looking concept. Slap the S4’s 333-hp supercharged V6 in there and stack it up against the Porsche Cayman (Whoops! VW owns Porsche now) – er, BMW Z4, and they could have a winner on their hands.

2011 BMW 740i/740Li

This isn’t the first time BMW has sold a 740i in the States – two generations of 7-series ago, it was the mainstay of the lineup – but it is the first time since 1992 that Americans can order a six-cylinder engine in the car. The last version, the 735i, made do with a mere 208 horsepower; the new 740i packs BMW’s sublime turbocharged 3.0 liter inline six making 315 horsepower.

The 740i looks pretty much like any other 7, so feast your eyes on the 500-hp BMW Alpina B7.

Presumably, Bimmer is bringing the six-cylinder 7 our way in order to improve its fuel-economy standings; odds are, if you can afford the $71,025 base price, you’re probably not too concerned with saving cash at the pumps, and if you really wanted to be green, you’d buy a loaded Prius and pocket the extra $40,000. Still, for the handful of high-powered executives who don’t care about power (Do I see one standing in the back? No? Okay.), the 740 offers pretty much all the luxury features of its pricier brethren for a nice discount.

Buick Regal GS Concept

From the land of seemingly oxymoronical concepts comes this high-performance Buick. Okay, “high-performance” is a bit of an exaggeration – the all-wheel-drive GS runs with a turbocharged 2.0 liter four-cylinder making 260 horsepower, a mere 40 more than the current top-of-the-line Regal. But the GS has a six-speed stick shift! I don’t think there’s been a manual Buick since Clint Eastwood was a sex symbol.

Buick promises the GS achieves 60 in less than 6 seconds, which probably means 5.9. What they haven’t promised is a production version; however, it seems pretty likely, as it would give Buick a strong card to play against Acura and Lexus. Buick has made impressive strides in the last few years in making their cars more attractive and elevating their quality towards the levels of other luxury makes; adding high(er) performance models would be a logical next step. It’s probably safe to expect the GS in the showrooms by spring 2011.

2011 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe

It wasn’t long ago that the idea of a high-performance Caddy would have seemed just as paradoxical as a fun-to-drive Buick; however, since the first-generation CTS and the introduction of the V-Series line of kickass Caddies, the idea has latched onto the car enthusiast population like an alien face-hugger.

U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

And the new CTS-V Coupe is probably the sweetest Cadillac yet.

Everything you love about the regular CTS-V, just in a sleeker two-door package. Same 556 horsepower supercharged V8, same choice of six-speed stick or auto – just two fewer doors. Sure, there’s less room in the back, but come on – how often do you use those rear doors anyway? Besides, chicks dig coupes. Just ask Batman.

Pricing will probably be a few grand more than the CTS-V sedan, so figure a base one will set you back around $67,000 when they land in showrooms this summer – a few grand more than its main competitor, the BMW M3. But the Caddy has 142 more horses. And, like George Thorogood, it’s American Made. So give it a little love.

Cadillac XTS Platinum Concept

The last ten years or so have been lean times for folks interested in full-sized American luxury cars. Mafia dons, Fortune 500 executives, and your Grandpa Larry have watched with sadness as their beloved Town Cars, Park Avenues and DeVilles drifted off into the ether, leaving them with a difficult choice – buy European (I ain’t buying no Nazi car!), downsize (I don’t feel safe in this thing!) or move into a luxury mega-SUV (I can’t see my grandson behind me in the driveway!).

Luckily, it looks like CEOs and coots alike will be able to breathe a sigh of relief soon. While technically a concept, the XTS is likely a very strong indicator of Cadillac’s upcoming full-sized sedan, slated to replace the STS and the DTS – both of which, remarkably, are still available at your local Caddy dealership.

In concept form, the XTS is powered by Cadillac’s 3.6 liter V6 direct injection V6 coupled to a plug-in hybrid system; combined, the car puts out 350 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque through a six-speed auto. It’s unclear from the press release how the electric and gasoline powertrains interact exactly, but we’d bet both can be used to drive the wheels – unlike the Chevy Volt, where the gas engine is used simply as a generator for the batteries and electric motor.

Hopefully, any production version of the XTS won’t differ significantly from the show car’s sleek lines, which (in our eyes) meld the CTS with the Mercedes-Benz S-class. Plan on a choice of V6 and V8 powerplants upon launch, with a hybrid option soon afterwards. As for when it lands in dealerships – summer or fall 2011 seems like a safe bet.

And on a side note, GM’s vice-chairman and Main Car Bro Bob Lutz announced Cadillac will indeed be producing its own version of the Chevrolet Volt, based on the Converj. It won’t be hitting the streets until sometime after 2012 (assuming we’re still alive by then! DUM DE DUM!), and will probably be pretty faithful to the concept – two doors and edgy styling over the Volt’s four doors and slightly bland looks. And it’ll probably cost more than $50,000. But I’d still buy one.

Mmm...eco-friendly.

Chevrolet Aveo RS Concept

Like the looks of this Aveo RS? Then you’ll probably like the regular Aveo when it hits the ground next year. Just strip off the spoilers, the ground effects, and throw on some more conventional headlamps. With its sights locked squarely on the Honda Fit, the Aveo will take the bottom rung in Chevy’s lineup.

The concept has a turbocharged 1.4 liter inline four-cylinder engine under the hood pumping out 138 horsepower, and routing it to the front wheels through a six-speed manual. If they’re smart, Chevy will actually produce a high-performance version of the Aveo; we’ve been wishing Honda would do a Fit Si for years, and if the Chevy is anywhere near as fun to drive as the Fit, they could sell a boatload. Hell, we’d probably buy one.

2012 Ford Focus

Not to be outdone in the small-car department by their arch-foes at GM, Ford unveiled the next-generation Focus in Detroit – and as Peter Griffin would say, it seems freakin’ sweet. For the first time, the Focus sold here in the States will be nearly identical to the version sold in Europe, which should mean European-style (i.e. better) handling and materials when it lands here early next year.

Equipped with a 2.0 liter inline four-cylinder making 155 horsepower and 145 lb-ft of torque, the Focus comes with your choice of six-speed transmissions – manual or “dry-clutch automatic,” which is just a fancy term for the sort of dual-clutch gearbox found in everything from the Ferrari 458 Italia to the Volkswagen Golf. Ford also announced a electric-powered version, which should be coming our way in later 2011.

Coming in both five-door hatchback and four-door sedan forms, the new Focus boasts a bevy of cool features most people probably wouldn’t expect on a compact car, from an assisted parallel-parking system (complete with rearview camera) and an eight-inch dash-mounted touch screen. Pricing hasn’t been announced, but expect it to be pretty much in line with its competitors – the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sentra, and upcoming Chevy Cruze.

2011 Ford Mustang GT

Hot on the heels of upgrading the V6-powered Mustang to 315 horsepower, Ford is throwing a new 5.0 liter V8 under the hood of the ‘Stang GT, bumping power up to 412 horses. While still down a few ponies  to the Camaro SS and Challenger SRT8, the revised ‘Stang should be lighter than its fellow muscle cars, giving it an edge in the curves (and probably on the straights too).

Pricing is still unknown, but since the installation of the new V6 didn’t jack up the base Mustang’s price very much, expect to pay around the same amount for the 5.0 as the old 4.6 liter V8. (Anal-retentives, please not the emphasis placed on the word around. There, did it once more just to ensure you understood.)

GMC Granite Concept

As the first American entrant into the “funky box”category of small cars pioneered here by the Scion xB, the Granite raises the style bar a few notches higher. Up ’til now, the small boxes like the xB, Kia Soul and Nissan Cube had convenience in spades, but good looks weren’t part of the deal.

But the Granite manages to make boxy look badass. Running the same engine as the Aveo RS Concept in a more utilitarian package, performance isn’t really the name of the game here – 138 horses is adequate, nothing more, nothing less.

However, GMC insisted on extolling the Granite as a “flexible, functional social space…equally at home at the cabin or the club.” News flash, PR flaks – any place with more than one person is a social space.

2011 Honda CR-Z

Though we’ve already seen it in leaked brochure photos, it was nice to finally see Honda’s new sporty hybrid coupe in the metal for the first time at the show. Looking pretty much like what you’d expect the Insight to be had it remained a coupe,  the tiny Honda promises to be a pretty fun drive.

While we're not entirely sure this image isn't a computer graphic, rest assured, the real CR-Z is probably solid.

With a 1.5 liter inline four under the hood connected to Honda’s “Integrated Motor Assist” hybrid bits, the CR-Z (the “Crazy?”) puts down 122 horsepower and either 128 or 123 lb-ft of torque, depending on whether you choose the six-speed manual or the CVT. (The manual has the higher torque figure, because manuals are awesome that way.) Fuel economy is estimated at 31 mpg city/37 mpg highway for the stick, and 36/38 mpg for the CVT – so if you do a lot of city driving, it might be worth it to go auto. Maybe.

The CRaZy will go on sale here in the latter part of 2010, in two forms – base and EX. The base model will hardly be a stripper, as it will reportedly feature a six-speaker CD/USB stereo, automatic climate control, stability control, power everything, keyless entry and cruise control. Should you feel compelled to move to the EX, you’ll add a 360-watt seven-speaker stereo, xenon headlights, and Bluetooth, among other features. The base sounds pretty good to us, honestly. No details on price yet, but our fingers are crossed for the base model to land under $20,000.

2012 (?) Mercedes-Benz CLS

Sadly, the next-generation of Mercedes’s four-door “coupe” wasn’t really at the show. However, M-B did have a model showing off the basic shape of the new CLS. From the looks of it, it seems Mercedes was trying to replicate the shape of the car under a sheet; however, the guys at egmCarTech thought it looked more like Robert Patrick’s liquid-metal T-1000 oozing into the shape of a car, and quite frankly, we have to agree. But if the car is as pretty as the display implies, it won’t need to shape-shift to snare people’s attention.

Image courtesy Omar Rana - egmCarTech

Mini Beachcomber Concept

Do you miss the Mini Moke? (Hell, do you even know what the Mini Moke is?) Well, for those of you with a fondness for the old pseudo-off-roader still found carving up beaches on St. Barts, Mini has just the car for you.

Well, you can’t actually buy the Beachcomber. It’s more of a concept version of Mini’s upcoming small SUV, which will probably be called the “Countryman.” (We’re still pulling for the “Countrymouse,” but only if they rename the Cooper the “Citymouse.”) When the actual Mini-SUV hits the dirt roads, don’t expect to see the Beachcomber’s removable doors or spare-tire-like “backpack;” do expect the elevated ride-height, knobbier tires and available all-wheel-drive. Hopefully we’ll be seeing the production version sometime this year.

Volkswagen New Compact Coupe Hybrid Concept

No, we didn’t add the “new” to the name – Volkswagen did. Frankly, we’re not sure why, since so far as we remember, there wasn’t an Old Compact Coupe Hybrid Concept. But whatever they call it, we’re grateful, because the NCCHC promises to be a pretty sweet little ride.

Coming across like a Honda CR-Z Plus, the NCCHC packs a 1.5 liter turbocharged and supercharged inline four connected to enough hybrid pieces to provide a combined 177 horsepower and 45 miles per gallon. I believe the technical term for that is “win/win.”

While the car may be called a concept, it looks pretty damn production ready to us. Of course, VW’s thrown us curveballs before – remember the Nardo supercar concept? – but there’s a world of difference between producing a quarter-million-dollar supercar and an inexpensive hybrid sports car. Hell, just ask Honda – who canned the new NSX most of the way through its production cycle. Luckily, rumor has it the NCCHC will be heading stateside as a coupe version of the new Jetta – hopefully with hybrid powertrain intact.

All in all, it wasn’t a huge year for the Detroit show. No show-stopping concepts, no earth-shaking revelations – just a whole bunch of pretty exciting new cars. And to be frank, we’re okay with that. Given the last couple years in the automotive world, a little piece and quiet seems rather nice, doesn’t it?

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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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From Small Things, Big Things Come…

Here at College Cars Online, we pride ourselves on bringing our Dear Readers (that’d be you) the most interesting automotive news, information and reviews in our own definitive style. As part of that commitment to you, we’d like to take a minute to let you know about some of the exciting events coming down the line in the near future.

The biggest news is – we’re moving! Well, not physically. Our butts will remain glued to the same office chairs they always have, here in the office. But in the next couple of weeks, we’ll be transitioning from our current WordPress.com address to the one we’ve been lusting after all along – http://www.collegecarsonline.com.

Now, it’s not ready as of this posting, so if you head there you won’t see anything yet. But within the next couple weeks, we’ll be mating our BRAND NEW WEBSITE to said address, so you can add that bookmark already.

As for our BRAND NEW WEBSITE, we’re going to be using Squarespace instead of WordPress, so things will be shifting around a bit. We haven’t settled on a final format yet, but rest assured, it’ll be pretty sweet. As George Foreman used to say, “I guarantee it!”

Secondly, we’ve got several more reviews coming down the pipe. This week, we’ve got an Arrest-Me-Red Mazdaspeed 3 sitting in our garage; in a couple of weeks, we’ll be driving the Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart Sportback, then over the holidays we’ll be kicking snow and taking names in an Audi S4. We’ll also be reviewing the popular car-sharing service Zipcar, to see how it stands up to owning or renting a car; that’ll be coming along in the next few weeks as well.

We’re also going to try to convince you to follow our Twitter feed, @collegecars, by offering real-time posts while testing out our vehicles. (Okay, we won’t be Tweeting while driving, because that’s just stupid. We’ll park first, then Tweet – and so should you. Don’t Tweet and Drive!)

(Now we know!)

(And knowing is half the battle. G.I. Joe!!)

Sorry about that.

Anyway, please bear with us, stay tuned, and keep watching this space! (Well, until we move.)

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