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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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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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New York Auto Show – Mitsubishi

Mitsubishi gave the New York crowd a look at their new Cute Utility Vehicle, originally dubbed the Outlander Sport. Mitsu execs avoided the name during the presentation, referring to it awkwardly as “a member of the Outlander family” – technically true, since it shares a wheelbase and much of its underpinnings with the larger SUV – but a 2.0 liter four-cylinder in any sort of truck hardly screams “sport.” (Unless they’re talking about the activities you can do after driving there.)

Still, it seemed odd that the company didn’t use the baby ‘ute’s name during the press conference. A lack of faith in the title? Is it just a placeholder name? Given Mitsubishi hopes to make it their best-selling model within three months of its arrival in showrooms this fall, that name can be pretty important. I wonder if Apple has given up the copyright on “iSlate” yet…

This post was modified to reflect the fact that we found out the car’s name after our initial post.

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New York Auto Show – Bentley

Bentley’s press conference was short and sweet – a few words about the new Mulsanne flagship, a quick introduction of the Continental Supersports Convertible, and it was on to finger sandwiches and scones for lunch. (Ham and white bread? Seriously, Bentley? At least the pesto-and-mozzarella combo was tasty.)

The droptop Supersports, for its part, can be running 60 mile-per-hour wind through your air in 3.9 seconds and top out at 202 mph (but probably not with the top down). I’d avoid the buttermilk color of their featured example, but that’s only because I don’t want everyone thinking I’m from Miami.

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New York Auto Show – Mini

Oh, Mini. Given the nature of April First and the company’s reputation, it was hardly a surprise when the company yanked the sheet off their boxy “study” dubbed the “Mini Excel” to reveal an SUV-shaped box with “April Fools” painted on the sides. But it certainly made my day.

Underneath the box, of course, was the new Countryman SUV, which continues to win me over despite how pxymoronic the idea seems. I hope CCO can get their hands on one. Having taken a Mustang convertible off-roaring at Bear Mountain, I’d like to go up there and try it again in something that’ll handle better on- and off-road.

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New York Auto Show – Hyundai

Wait, you’re probably thinking, didn’t Hyundai have a press conference yesterday? Well apparently they have money to burn, because they decided to throw a second one today to announce their new flagship model – the Equus.

While the name summons up images of Daniel Radcliffe in the nude commuting unpleasantries to horses, if it weirds you out too much, just think of it as Genesis-Plus. It looks like a larger, more angular version of the Genesis.

Considered Hyundai’s entry into the full-sized luxury sedan segment, the Equus doesn’t look like it’s trying to fight the 7-series for sportiest entry or the S-class for most intimidating. Rather, it wants to beat the Lexus LS at its own game.

Equipped with a 385-hp version of the Genesis’s V8, the Equus comes with the bevy of cool gadgets needed for its class, from a camera mounted on the front grill to see around corners to a reclining rear seat with massage function. Oh, and instead of an owner’s manual, each Equus comes with a custom iPad. Convenient? Maybe nor. But certainly awesome.

Sadly, this car didn't have an iPad in the glovebox. Yes, I checked.

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New York Auto Show – Kia

While their stand boasted four models under wraps, there was nothing revolutionary from the Korean brand this year. The big news was the world debut of the 2011 Optima, which receives an extensive redesign that looks quite stylish from every angle…except the front, which looks a bit like what would happen if you tried to splice together a Camry and an Accord. (Which was probably what they were aiming for.)

While we had our suspicions right away, it became quite obvious the Optima is just Kia’s version of parent company Hyundai’s Sonata when they announced its identical powertrain. It’ll be interesting to see how the market splits between the two models, which really seem to differ only in looks. But hey, it works for Ford and GM…

Kia also unwrapped a hatchback version of its Forte compact (which doesn’t honestly look that much bigger in back), their new Sportage (surprisingly good looking, but it’s been seen before) and a new sporty trim level for the Sorento called the SX. They lowered it one whole inch! X6 M drivers, beware…

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