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Ferrari 458 Italia Spotted!

Ferrari’s Manhattan showroom finally reopened this past week, and they had a special surprise: a white 458 Italia, sitting between a California and a 612 Scaglietti. And…damn. Just…damn.

It was late at night and the shop was closed, so we couldn’t go inside and touch the car in an inappropriate fashion take a better look, but we were able to grab an iPhone pic from outside the glass doors. (Of course, the showroom attendants don’t let you take pictures inside anyway, but that’s why Steve Jobs put a silence switch on the phone.) Even in flamboyant Don Johnson white, the 458 is a breathtakingly gorgeous car. Sex on wheels, friends. Just like when I bought a Happy Meal back in 1995 and they were giving away Toy Story figurines, I got a Woody.

We’ll sneak in and grab some more pictures sometime soon, but in the meantime, the multitudes of American car lovers can rejoice in knowing the latest Ferrari has finally reached our shores. Hallelujah!

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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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Review – 2009 Audi TT-S Roadster

The Good: Sweet-shifting transmission, stellar handling, looks like a roadster should.

The Bad: Turbo lag kind of a bummer, flatulent exhaust can be grating.

The Verdict: Convertible fun in a balanced package.

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While automotive journalists and racing drivers alike often extol the virtues of closed-roof sports cars, there is simply no substitute for the experience of a convertible. Sure, chopping the roof may give up some structural integrity and motorized tops may add weight, but no amount of lightness or strength can replace the feeling of racing along with the wind in your hair, nothing between you and the sky. For most of us, driving a convertible is as close as we’ll ever come to flying.

That said, the Audi TT-S Roadster is a wonderful substitute for a jetpack.

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Thankfully, little of the TT coupe’s clean, elegant styling is lost in the transformation from hardtop to softtop. The styling modifications baked in with the high-performance S package thankfully avoid the gaudiness all too often associated with “sportier” models; if anything, the front lip spoiler and raised wheel arches draw a strong link to Audi’s outstanding R8 supercar. And while “Brilliant Red” might not be the best choice for every car, it sat on the TT-S’s hull like the car was born to wear it. Put it this way – pull up in this car at a party, and you won’t have any trouble snaring some ass. And I don’t mean farm animals. (Unless that’s how you roll.)

The car’s expensive looks and feel are all the more impressive, given that under the skin, the TT-S is little more than a Volkswagen Rabbit (nee Golf), sharing its chassis (hence the car’s rather diminutive size) and engines – in the case of the TT-S, an uprated version of the GTI’s 2.0 liter turbocharged inline-four cranking out 265 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque.

All this juice is routed to all four wheels through the Volkswagen Group’s dual-clutch gearbox, formerly known as DSG but currently called S tronic. Whatever you call it, the dual-clutch box operates almost seamlessly. As with the dual clutch tranny of the Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart, the TT-S’s gearbox offers multiple ways of choosing your next gear.

Leave it in automatic, and it’ll shift itself without a second thought. Slap the shift lever sideways into Sport mode, and the car assumes you’re trying to recreate Ronin, holding gears close to the redline to keep the engine on the boil. And if you prefer manual override, you can pick your own gears using either the lever or the small metal paddles affixed to the back of the wheel, which feel great but can be hard to find during turns. In automatic mode or under hard acceleration, it snaps off shifts like rifle fire; driving sedately in manual mode, there can be a pause between toggling the shift paddle and the desired effect, but the gap is short enough to effectively be a non-issue.

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Slightly more annoying than the transmission’s quirks is the tendency of the quite exhaust pipes to burp quite loudly on every upshift. While it certainly adds a welcomed sense of fuck yeah! during hard-charging acceleration, it can grow a little tiresome while tooling around town. A system that restricts the belching to hard-core acceleration would certainly be appreciated.

Still, there’s little to complain about in regards to the car’s performance. Acceleration runs towards the back of the sport roadster class – not surprising, as the TT-S is quite a bit less powerful than competitors like the Porsche Boxster S, the awkwardly named BMW Z4 sDrive35i, or even the Chevrolet Corvette convertible. However, unless you’ve got the car’s competitors at hand for direct comparison, you’ll only be disappointed with the TT-S’s acceleration if you’re trading down from a Ferrari.

To access that power, though, you’ll have to punch through some turbo lag early on. Below 3000 rpm, the four-cylinder feels a touch anemic; once past that point, though, things stay interesting all the way up to the redline. Still, driving around New York City, I often found myself dropping a gear in order to keep up with traffic. (Then again, if all you need to deal with traffic in New York is a downshift, consider yourself lucky. I usually need something in a 12-gauge Remington.)

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Plus, when the roads start winding, the Audi grabs hold like an angry cat on carpet. Compact car or not, the Rabbit/Golf’s capable handling has often been celebrated, and the lowered ride height and AWD of the Audi only add to it. Should you desire, you can turn cloverleafs into G-force simulators with relative ease (but make sure your soda lid is screwed on tight).

Unfortunately, all that performance makes for quite a bit of temptation, and even if you’re lucky enough to avoid speeding tickets (good luck with that), playing with this Audi can cost you at the pump. The EPA estimates fuel economy at 21 city/29 highway; however, achieving the higher figure likely requires driving with the top up at 55 miles per hour, and if you’re driving your TT-S like that, you should just pull over and give the car to the nearest teenager. My tester’s low fuel light popped on after just 330 miles.

Inside, the TT-S boasts the same sort of quality seen all along the Audi line. You sit low in the car, with the high doors creating a mild case of “bathtub effect.” In keeping with the nature of the car, sporty touches abound, from the snug seats to the metallic finish on the shift lever and paddles and the thick, flat-bottomed steering wheel similar to the one in the Lamborghini Gallardo. (Lamborghini, like Audi, is owned by the Volkswagen Group – along with Bentley, Bugatti, and a host of European carmakers American audiences have probably never heard of.)

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Of course, no matter how committed you are to soaking up the sun – or in the case of Irish people like myself, risking melanoma – eventually some sort of event will occur (thunderstorm, hole in the ozone layer, Mothman attack) that will cause you to raise the top. Thankfully, the TT-S makes it easy; press and hold one button, and the top will rise or fall as you desire, even while driving at low speeds. While power hard tops have come into vogue in the last several years, the TT-S doesn’t suffer for choosing canvas over metal; the top boasts a glass rear window, feels nearly as strong as a hard one, and was just as effective at keeping warmth in and noise out.

The Bottom Line: From its humble roots in the Volkswagen family, the TT-S has grown into a genuine sports car. While it may lack the mid-mounted engines or hefty V-8s of other roadsters, the little Audi still kicks ass and takes names while making you feel like an action hero. Sure, it’s not the perfect convertible for everyone – there are faster roadsters, more convenient roadsters, flashier roadsters and cheaper roadsters – but the TT-S strikes a nice balance between value, size and style. Lay your eyes on one, and it’s hard to look away; drop the top, crank up your favorite Foo Fighters song and floor it through a couple of gears, and you’ll be hooked.

All figures are for 2010 models; the car is effectively unchanged from 2009.

Base Price/Price As Tested: $54,950/$54,950

0-60: 5.1 seconds (courtesy Car and Driver)

EPA Fuel Economy: 21 city/29 highway

Key Competitors: BMW Z4 sDrive35i, Porsche Boxster S, Mercedes-Benz SLK350, Chevrolet Corvette.

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Review – 2009 Audi Q5 3.2 quattro

The Good: Sporty handling, willing engine, carlike ride and a trucklike view.

The Bad: “Convenience” options can border on pointless, doesn’t make as much sense as an A4 Avant.

The Verdict: Top of the class – if that’s your style.

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As the nearest Star Trek fan will tell you, natives of the planet Vulcan differ from humans in two major aspects – pointy ears, and an infallible belief in logic. Unlike hotheaded humans, Vulcans make their decisions entirely with their brains and rarely with their hearts.

The Audi Q5 would be a flop on Vulcan. Sure, pointy-eared car shoppers would appreciate the traction-amplifying all-wheel-drive system, the refined powertrain, and the comfortable seating, but ultimately, they’d probably just find the Q5 illogical. After all, the station wagon version of Audi’s A4 is lighter, just as fast, and more fuel-efficient – and it’s cheaper to boot.

Luckily for Audi, though, the Q5 is only for sale on Earth, where emotions tend to play a large part in the car-buying process. And here in America, the Q5 will almost certainly outsell the A4 Avant year in and year out, thanks to our nation’s rather irrational love of tall, four-wheel-drive vehicles.

That said, anyone who decides to take a Q5 home isn’t likely to regret his or her choice. Once one accepts the inherent compromises of the SUV form, this Audi becomes the sort of car people recommend to their friends – often without prompting. (“Catch the game last night, Steve?” “No, but I love my new Q5!”)

It certainly helps that the Q5 doesn’t feel very SUV-like from behind the wheel. Motivated by the same 270-horsepower 3.2 liter V6 as the A4 (with which the Q5 shares its platform), the medium-sized SUV prowls the streets with the verve of a smaller – or at least shorter – vehicle. The run to 60 takes 6.5 seconds, according to Car and Driver – only eight-tenths of a second slower than the V6 version of the A4 sedan.

Strange as it might seem, though, SUVs doubling as rocket sleds isn’t exactly news. Porsche, Mercedes-Benz and BMW all make sport-utes capable of ripping off 0-60 blasts in the low five-second range or quicker; hell, the Hemi-powered Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 does the sprint to mile-a-minute velocity in 4.5 seconds, and it costs more than $10,000 less than my loaded Q5.

But the SRT8 is more concerned with novelty than utility – a third or fourth car for sophisticated rednecks and NASCAR drivers. The Q5 wants to be your first car, the one you can commute to work in during the week and take out for a weekend drive on your favorite windy road, while still traversing the worst Mother Nature can throw at you on your way to Grandma’s house for Christmas. (And if Grandma happens to live up a washed-out dirt road, you’re still good to go.)
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Impressively, the Q5 doesn’t lose much momentum when the road turns windy. On tight mountain roads, the Audi wound through turns with similar aplomb to its smaller A4 sibling (are you seeing a pattern here?). Anyone used to more traditional SUVs – or even the others in the Q5’s class – will probably find the Audi’s handling revelatory.

Like the A4 reviewed here last February, the Q5 came with Audi Drive Select, a system that allows you to manipulate the suspension, steering and throttle response with the touch of a button. The system seemed a bit more useful here than in the A4; “dynamic” mode seemed a little more buttoned down and forceful in the twisties, but “comfort” mode just seemed floaty, even potentially nausea-inducing. I left it in “auto” at least 90 percent of the time, and odds are most buyers will do the same. Better to save the $3,000 the system costs for gas money.

As for the rest of the Q5’s optional gadgets, they tended to land somewhere between usefulness and gimmickry. The blind spot warning system, which illuminates amber lights on the side mirrors if there’s a car lurking in your blind spot, ranked towards the helpful end of the spectrum; however, the yellow glow tended to get washed out in direct sunlight, which could spell trouble if drivers become dependent on the system. And the panoramic glass roof opens wide enough to finally fulfill Homer Simpson’s wish for “a sunroof for the husky gentleman.”

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The electronically-closing tailgate, however, just seems stupid. In theory, it seems like a good idea to have a powered backup method of closing the hatch – say, for when someone’s hands are full, or if the car is owned by Verne Troyer. But the button to close the hatch is on the hatch – meaning you still have to have one hand free to reach up and touch it. Worse, there’s no way to manually override the plodding system – any attempts to quickly shut the gate by hand are stymied, as the electronics keep the door from moving even an inch.

Ultimately, though, a car is judged not on its electronic toys and options, but in how well it goes about whatever task it’s designed for – in the Q5’s case, carrying four or five people in comfort and style over any road. Style isn’t a problem; like most Audis, the Q5 leads the pack in classiness. From the outside, the Q5 strikes an eye-catching balance between muscularity and curviness, like Jessica Biel during her Blade 3 days.

Inside, the theme is pretty much standard Audi corporate interior – lots of leather and a clean design. Like most luxury cars these days, a center-console-mounted knob controls the navigation system/stereo/missile targeting system/etc; Audi’s is called MMI, or “Multi-Media Interface.” As I’ve said before, it’s one of the easiest of the systems to use, but it still requires attention you should really be giving to the road. (Luckily, redundant controls on the steering wheel allow you to at least control the radio without looking too far off-course.)

As for the interior accommodations, well, let’s just call them “adequate.” The front seats are comfy during long hauls and sweeping curves, and offer plentiful room. The back seat is a little tight for full-sized adults, though; they’ll fit (at least two of them would – but don’t put anyone you like in the bitch seat), but passengers won’t be confusing the Q5 for the large A8 sedan anytime soon.

Still, the moderately-sized back seat is an acceptable compromise, given the Q5’s proportions. Only someone trading up from a Yaris would consider this Audi a “big truck;” compared to its Jelly-Bellied giant brother, the Q7, the Fiver seems downright compact. Unless you really, really need that third row of seating the Q7 offers, the Q5 will be a more satisfying choice – and if you need to seat seven people that badly, there are quite a few dealerships that would be happy to put you in a very nice minivan.

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Bottom line, though, it’s hard to make a logical case for the Q5 – but that goes for the entire small luxury SUV class. For the money, every manufacturer offering one of these vehicles – Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, Infiniti, and so on – also offers a similarly-sized sedan or wagon with superior performance and fuel economy. Most of them can be had with all-wheel-drive, and most of them are cheaper than their SUV equivalents.

If the Q5 makes a better case for itself than most of its competitors, it’s because it sits atop the class. Stacked up against the A4 Avant, it’s just about as quick, offers more cargo space and seats you a few inches higher off the ground for a few thousand dollars more. Enthusiasts looking for an all-weather people mover with added room for grocery runs will probably choose the lower, lighter Avant. But if the SUV looks and king-of-the-world seating position appeal to your heart, the Q5 will make you happy every day you climb behind the wheel.

Base Price/Price As Tested: $38,175/$52,950

0-60: 6.5 seconds (Car and Driver)

EPA Fuel Economy: 18 city/23 highway

Key Competitors: Lexus RX350, Mercedes-Benz GLK350, Audi A4 Avant

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Spy Shots – A Trio of British Luxury Cars

Pour yourself a pint of Bass and whip out that Grey Poupon, ’cause it’s time for an all-British, all-luxury future car round-up! In fact, in honour of these English saloons, we’ll be using the British spelling wherever applicable!

First up: the all-new Jaguar XJ. Now, the current XJ has been around since 2003, more than long enough for a new model; however, considering the ’03-’09 version looked about as similar to the 1994-2002 version as a jaguar does to a leopard (relevant humor! Yay!), it’s fair to say anyone holding their breath for a new-looking XJ has long since asphyxiated.

However, with Jaguar busting out a full-court-press of stylish, inventive new models capable of clawing (hah hah!) their way to the top of the segment, it’s time for a fresh take on the company’s full-size sedan.  Jaguar will be officially unveiling their new S-class and 7-series fighter on July 9th, but until then, they’ve given us a “preview” image to whet our appetites.

That's not a sunroof; that's for Austin Powers to jump through.

That's not a sunroof; that's for Austin Powers to jump through.

Test mules have also been spotted roaming about. Below, a fairly finished-looking XJ tries to camouflage itself with a BMW-like psychedelic body coating. (I would have just assumed it was an attempt by Jag to try and inspire fond ’60s memories in Jaguar fans, but no, they even stuck on a fake BMW grill.)

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According to Britain’s CAR Magazine, the upcoming XJ will be the lightest car in its class, due to extensive use of aluminium. Engine choices Stateside will be limited to a 5.0-litre 380-hp V8 or a 503-hp supercharged version of the same; Europeans also get diesel and V6 choices. A stylish, modern interior (like Bang & Olufsen modern, not IKEA modern) will come with a bunch of cool electronics, such as dual-display monitors (letting driver and passenger see different things on the same screen, which is pretty cool shit), digital instrument panel displays and – I swear, we’re not making this up – “improved electrical reliability.” Wow, this IS a new chapter for Jaguar!

(CAR’s drafted a couple artist’s conceptions of the new car, which can be seen below.)

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Next up in our English revue (I think that’s actually French, but whatever. American arrogance rules!) comes another replacement for a model that’s been around since Larry King was riding to school on a woolly mammoth – the Bentley Arnage. First introduced in 1998, the Arnage continued Bentley’s then-tradition of obese luxury cars – but like a fat man with diarrhea, it could sure move fast when it needed to, thanks to its 4.4-litre 350-horsepower twin-turbo BMW V8. (Yes, back in 1998, you needed two turbos to get 350 horses out of a V8.)

But then BMW and Volkswagen started brawling over Rolls-Royce and Bentley, and when the dust settled and VW had snagged the alphabetically (and pretty much every other way) superior brand, BMW retaliated by cutting off their fancy new engines. So VW stuffed Bentley’s old six-and-three-quarter-litre V8 into the cars. And when we say old, we mean old; the engine traces its basic structure to a General Motors V8 from the 1950s, and was first used to power a Bentley in 1959.

Since then, the Arnage has trucked along mostly unchanged; a power boost here, some added legroom there, a new transmission for fun. In 2005, Bentley introduced its first all-new car developed under Volkswagen, the Continental GT; despite sharing a platform with the $90,000 VW Phaeton, it proved a massive success, becoming the ride of choice among royalty and rappers alike. Its spin-offs, the Continental Sedan and GTC convertible, only served to further overshadow the slower, pricier, and uglier Arnage.

But after over a decade on the market, the Arnage is finally riding off into the sunset (apparently it’s going to Dublin), paving the way for what Bentley is describing as the “all-new Grand Bentley.” The image below is the only hint Bentley’s giving of what the new car will look like, but given the (admittedly veiled) image, we can probably expect evolutionary styling – think a sleeker-looking Arnage.

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Powertrain details haven’t been made available, but expect either a 600+ horsepower version of the Continental’s twin-turbo W12 or a souped-up version of the old 6.75-litre V8 again making 600 or more horses. (At this rate, the 6.75 V8 is on track to become the automotive engine version of the B-52 bomber.) Pricing will probably be somewhere between $250,000 and $300,000, with options to include anything you can goddamn think of, because it’s a Bentley. They made station wagon versions of the Arnage.

The new model may or may not actually called the “Grand Bentley” when it goes on sale either next year or the year after that (isn’t it wonderful when nobody knows anything?); let’s hope it’s called something else, because I’m not ready to deal with trying to figure out whether the full name would be the “Bentley Grand Bentley” or just the “Grand Bentley.”

Finally, let’s take a look at the all-new Aston Martin Rapide, caught for the first time without camouflage this week in the UK by a sharp-eyed CAR Magazine reader named Simon Gregg (and man, are his Google hits spiking). While the car is supposed to be officially revealed this fall at the Frankfurt Auto Show, one was driving around in the nude on public roads for some reason.

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Then again, I don’t think any of us really have a problem with such a beauty going around in the buff, do we? (At least, that’s what I keep telling Jessica Biel when I see her. Which is rarely.) When it comes to styling, Aston’s been knocking it out of the park like Barry Bonds on the ball-shrinking juice lately, and the Rapide manages to pull off four doors without looking awkward or staid. (Okay, the car’s tail looks a little…elevated in the picture below, but maybe it’s just excited. Or aroused.)

Look, Stephen - she's presenting!

Look, Stephen - she's presenting!

The Rapide should go on sale early next year, equipped with the 470-horsepower 6.0-litre (okay, that’s getting old) V12 found in the DB9. Hopefully, an “S” model with the DBS’s 510-horsepower V12 (and Daniel Craig looks) will be along soon after. Expect to pay around $175,000 for your Rapide – more than the competing Porsche Panamera Turbo, but hopefully less than the Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG.

aston_martin_rapide_read_spy_1

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2009 New York International Auto Show – Day Two Unfiltered

Welcome back to day two of our fresh, seat-of-the-pants coverage of the New York Auto Show. Without further ado:

Mitsubishi, 9:40 a.m.: The i-MIEV electric kei-car is inching closer to production. Come on – I saw this last year. But they’ve got range estimates now! 75-100 miles on a single charge, and only 12-14 hours to charge from a 110 volt outlet! Well, the thing’s basically a Matchbox car. How many AAs does it take to run the thing? Couldn’t you just swap them out like I do with my mouse?

It's actually tofu flavored.

It's actually tofu flavored.

It’s always amusing to watch the American presenters follow the foreign ones – especially when they’re forced to awkwardly thank them by tripping over the alien language. But when the foreigners do it, it’s endearing. So I guess that’s how it comes off to them.

The spokesperson says Mitsubishi isn’t going to try to be everything to everyone anymore. Well, I’m sure Porsche and Ferrari are relieved they don’t have to sweat that any longer.

The Lancer Sportback is for people with “active lifestyles.” Well, remember folks – Genghis Khan had an active, outdoor lifestyle.

And the sheet comes off the new Outlander SUV concept. Meh. Plain vanilla. (Seriously, couldn’t they have painted it something more exciting than white?)

Subaru, 10:10 a.m.: Note to Subaru – when you’re going to unveil a new model for the first time, as you’re planning with the Legacy today, don’t  leave one of them sitting right next to the throng of journalists. Even if it’s cut up so you can see inside, half the sheetmetal’s still enough to ruin the surprise.

Couldn't you have thrown a sheet over it, or something?

Couldn't you have thrown a sheet over it, or something?

Another fancy countdown…how about you just start the damn thing sixty seconds earlier and save the money!

Subie sales were UP in 2008? Significantly? And they’re up so far in ’09? Shit, they need to make this the cornerstone of their marketing campaign or something. “Subaru: The Official Car of the Great Recession.” Wait…maybe not.

Wow, the teleprompter actually says “(smile)” for the presenter’s benefit. I’m sure he appreciates that. Just put marionette strings on him, already.

The 2010 Legacy gets three engines: a 170-hp four, a 265-hp turbo four, and a 256-hp six. Um…may I ask why you need all three of them? Second note, Subaru – if your six-cylinder engine makes fewer horsepower than your four-cylinder, don’t offer the damn six cylinder.

And here it is! Not bad, not bad. Kind of looks like an Infiniti G37, but you could do worse. back end’s a little frumpy – I kinda hoped for something sportier.

One...

One...

...or two?

...or two?

Wait, there’s a surprise for us? It’s the equally new 2010 Outback! All of New England just burst into cheers! But not until we get a slideshow of the Outback’s history.

YES! SHOWING PAUL HOGAN SOME LOVE! But calling him “some Australian guy…” Come on. Not only did he make you in America…he’s Crocodile Dundee. He’s like Steve Irwin’s superbadass alter ego.

Maybe I’m just sappy, but the promo video featuring a happy couple exploring and adventuring through green meadows and across mountains actually made me want to buy an Outback. I’d buy into that fantasy.

Wow! It looks really different from the Legacy. But it looks good…even though it looks a lot taller – almost like an SUV now – it works for it.

Come on, throw Paul Hogan a bone and rehire him. God knows he's not doing anything else.

Come on, throw Paul Hogan a bone and rehire him. God knows he's not doing anything else.

Kia, 10:40 a.m.: VP Michael Sprague walks on stage, not to generic music, but to the hook from “Get On Your Boots.” They cut out before Bono started singing, so I’m happy. (Seriously, sexy boots? Why am I listening to a 48-year-old man singing about sexy boots?)

Kia had a party last night? Why don’t I ever hear about the goddamn parties?!?

Kia’s plan is to become a “world-class U.S. manufacturer,” and they’re opening a new plant in Georgia. You know things are bad when G.M. is shutting American plants while Kia is opening them.

They think we car journalists are asking, “Where do [new Kia designs] come from? What inspires them?” Dude, we’re asking two questions these days: “How fucked are you?” and “Is this an open bar?”

Oh, I get it now. They’re sticking the designers who penned the cars on the stage into those egg-shaped seats from Men In Black and telling us they’re mind-reading chairs that will show us what they’re thinking on the screen. Actual humor? Wow, this is refreshing.

Even though you have to be 18 to enter the press days, these guys keep their thoughts strictly PG. Not even some side-boob.

Even though you have to be 18 to enter the press days, these guys keep their thoughts strictly PG. Not even some side-boob.

Apparently, the Kia Soul is inspired by a boar wearing a backpack. I couldn’t make that up if I tried.

The new Forte sedan is supposed to attract “younger buyers” – which apparently means Miley Cyrus, according to the designer’s “brain imagery.” Yeah, because 12-year-olds really buy cars…

I’m sorry? Miley Cyrus fans are old enough now to drive? And some to vote? I’m officially old. And quickly growing crotchety.

Off goes the cover over the Forte coupe…and it looks good! Like a Civic. I mean, really like a Civic.

Wait, they’re spelling it “Koup?” Are they “krazie?” “Koup” sounds like some generic microwaveable ramen.

Even "Kia Forte Sexy Boots" would have been better.

Even "Kia Forte Sexy Boots" would have been better.

But you can get it with a 173 horsepower four attached to a six-speed stick that gets 22/32 mpg, and comes with standard six-speaker stereo and bluetooth. Guess most people will just chip off that “Koup” lettering.

Mazda, 11:15 a.m.: Looks like they’re just announcing some mild updates to the CX-7 and CX-9 SUVs. Screw it – I’m gonna walk around.

Wow, this Volvo XC60 is actually really nice. Roomy, seats five easily, extremely safe…do they really need the big old XC90 anymore?

The Lincoln MKT – their version of the Ford Flex – looks just as good as the Flex. Maybe better. The Flex is a bit too blocky for me. But Lord, this thing is long.

But it has an incredibly kickass stereo. THX custom-made it for the MKT, and…shit. It’s better than most home theatre setups I’ve heard. I might buy this car just for the stereo.

TURN IT UP! TURN IT UP!

TURN IT UP! TURN IT UP!

Oh, shit – time for-

Honda, 11:45 a.m.: Just one model on the stage – the Element. It says it’s a concept, but it looks just like any other Element. But there’s a giant sign that says “Dog Friendly” above the car, and fifteen-foot high paws made of LEDs beside it. Is this really…

Next year: the first car for LOLCat lovers.

Next year: the first car for LOLCat lovers.

…yes, they’ve made a car optimized for dogs. With a special pet bed strapped in back, a doggie ramp that extends from the tailgate, machine washable rear seat covers, a spill-resistant water bowl, and a fan in back for the dog. It even comes with an Element collar and leash. And it goes on sale this fall.

I love you, Honda.

And holy shit, is that…yes, they actually brought an adorable dog to show it off. And his owner’s from the Humane Society. Not his handler – his actual owner. Well played, Honda, well played. The one surefire way to crack cynical journalists? Dogs.

In Honda's defense, he likes sitting like that.

In Honda's defense, he likes sitting like that.

Lunchtime, 12:00 p.m.: Trying out a couple Bentleys. First up, the Continental GTC convertible. Very comfy. Stereo’s not as good as the Lincoln (and I never thought I’d say that). Good car to drive across the country in. I probably wouldn’t buy it, though – not really sporty enough for me.

So over to the new Supersports.

Holy shit, manual seat controls?!? This would be odd on a car that cost $27,000 – but this Bentley costs ten times that. I love it.

Bucket seats are hard and grabby, too, like your perverted uncle. Thankfully, these are a little easier to live with. But I still wouldn’t want to drive more than fifty miles in them. Or so it seems now – extended real-world testing will be needed to learn more. How about it, Bentley?

There’s suede everywhere. Not that Alcantara microsuede shit – real suede, the kind you gotta take to the dry cleaners if it gets wet. Putting it on the steering wheel seems like the sort of thing someone would do if they had the money to launder their steering wheel every time their hands get wet. Gotta love it.

Hyundai, 12:35 p.m.: Oh, Hyundai’s donated over $12 million towards fighting children’s cancer. That’s nice. Bet those other automakers are kicking themselves for not mentioning their charitable works at the top of their press conferences.

Today’s concept is called the HCD-11 Nuvis. Sounds like a gun from Starship Troopers.

Apparently it’s a hybrid powered by lithium polymer batteries, which they claim are more easily sculpted and safer than lithium-ion ones. Of course, it’s a concept car, so they could claim it’s powered by distilled gall stones or pure faith if they wanted.

Goddamn it, Hyundai, stop flashing blue rack lights in my eyes! I’m trying to watch your stupid movie!

It’s obviously a concept car, but it looks pretty good. Those gullwing doors are huge, though. The purpose of gullwings is not to create enough lift to allow flight, guys!

Cacaw!

Cacaw!

Ah, apparently there’s an “information river” that flows through the car. Can we dam that up instead? Hell, maybe stick a generator in the dam and power the car that way.

They say the styling is “a hint and a wink” towards the next Santa Fe, which is about two years away. I feel like I might be pleasantly surprised.

Spyker, 1:05 p.m.: There’s only about thirty people here. Poor little Spyker. Went to all the trouble of building an all-new supercar, and nobody cares enough to show up.

The C8 Aileron, as it’s called, runs a 400-hp Audi V8, does 0-60 in 4.5 seconds, and costs $209,990. Sorry, guys, that’s not gonna cut it. Not when BMW’s giving us an SUV that’ll keep even with you in the sprint onto the interstate for less than half the price.

But the X6M wishes it could look like this, I bet.

You will never, ever see one of these again.

You will never, ever see one of these again.

And apparently, they haven’t been hit by the recession at all! Well, that’ll probably happen when you sell five cars a year. There will always be five rich car guys.

Wandering, 1:40 p.m.: Things are winding down fast here. Time for a last sweep of the floor to see if there’s anything else worth checking out.

The Nissan GT-R? This thing could double as a Rebel Alliance fighter. X-wing, Y-wing, R-wing. Or at the very least, a landspeeder to bulls-eye whomp rats with.

According to Top Gear, it also does the Kessel Run in eleven parsecs, but everyone knows they fudged their data.

According to Top Gear, it also does the Kessel Run in eleven parsecs, but everyone knows they fudged their data.

And you practically need R2-D2 to help with the electronics. There are switches for everything in here. Pilots ought to feel right at home. Kinda cheap inside, for $72 grand or so – then again, for what it does, it’s a bargain.

The new Camaro, though, is definitely chintzier than I expected. The door slams with a hollow vibration, and the interior plastics are much harder than anyone with feeling in their fingertips would like. The controls look great, just like everything else in the car – but function’s definitely riding pillion to form here, because a lot of the switches and gauges are downright awkward to use. Damn. I had such high hopes.

With all the hard plastic and nice looks, I could go for the fake boob joke here. But I won't, because I have standards.

With all the hard plastic and nice looks, I could go for the fake boob joke here. But I won't, because I have standards.

Same goes for the new Shelby GT500 Mustang. I’d heard the new Mustangs had made leaps and bounds in terms of interior quality, but this one didn’t seem much better then the ones I’ve tried before. And this is the top-level model. It looks like a million bucks outside…but the interior in a $15,000 Honda Fit is more pleasing.

Even the new Ford Taurus SHO suffers from chintzitis. Admittedly, the interior of this one looked like it’d logged a few hard months on the car show circuit – paint peeling, colors fading, etc. Not a good sign for how it might hold up in the real world. Then again, I think both these Fords were preproduction models, so hopefully they’ll ratchet things up a notch in the production cars.

Wandering around downstairs is always creepy. There are whole sections down there where no one ever seems to go. This is usually where the big guys hide their trucks for New York. Being underground in a silent concrete bunker, alone with a bunch of trucks that don’t move? It’s like being in some Detroit bomb shelter circa 1998 nuclear attack. “Quick, save the trucks! They’ll always be profitable!”

But they usually shove a few esoteric nutter butters back here, which is worth checking out. EV Innovations? Oh, they make their own electric cars. And they convert other cars to electric, too! Hey, know what would make a Toyota Yaris great? If it cost three times as much and needed half a day to refuel!

Ooh, Confederate motorcycles. I want to make a Yankee joke, but I can’t – they’re just too cool. One of them appears to literally be an engine and wheels connected by welded steel pipe. This must be who Bruce Wayne farms out the Bat-Pod contracts to.

Imagine if there was a Confederate Batman, and he fought the regular, U.S. Batman? That would be awesome.

Imagine if there was a Confederate Batman, and he fought the regular, U.S. Batman? That would be awesome.

Finally, heading out, it’s probably worth checking out the last press conference, if just for a second…

New Jersey Motorsports Park, 2:20 p.m.: Not a single journalist appears to have come. They even set up seats, and…nobody came. I feel sorry for a moment, and think about staying just out of pity…but it’s just too weird.

You can end with this, because I certainly did.

You can end with this, because I certainly did.

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Car Consulting Service – Exclusively at CCO

I’m pleased to announce that today marks the beginning of a new program at College Cars Online – the Car Consulting Service.

The idea behind it is simple – it’s hard enough to figure out which car is right for you in this day and age. With hundreds of models in the market and thousands of options between them, just trying to figure out where to start can be headache inducing. Part of the reason I created this site was to help people sift through all these vehicles and find one that works for them, but I’ve decided to take it to the next level with this new service.

The Car Consulting Service provides customers with personalized recommendations as to what vehicle is right for them. Simply answer a couple questions via email and send them to me, and I’ll send you a concise list of vehicles best able to meet your needs.

Since this is sort of just a beta test of the program, I’m offering it for free right now. If it’s successful, I’ll start charging for it, so if you’re interested, send your form in soon. 

You can access the questionnaire via the link at the top of the page, next to the about us link. Or you can go straight there via this link. If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at collegecars@gmail.com.

Thank you very much for your support, and I hope you give it a try!

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