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Quick Drive – BMW 550i Gran Turismo

The Good: Supernatural power and handling for its size, more comfortable than most living rooms.

The Bad: Seriously dense, not as pretty as the 5-series sedan.

The Verdict: The penultimate car for the all-American road trip.

At first glance, BMW’s 5-series Gran Turismo seems anachronistic. It’s bigger than a station wagon outside, but offers a smaller place for gear. The higher seating position of an SUV without any implication of off-road prowess or obvious badassery. A very large car with room for only four. It doesn’t seem to make sense.

Until you drive it.

Because BMW has a way of making the illogical seem surprisingly sensible. Hop in the GT, jump on the highway and crank the tunes, and it all seems to make sense. Bimmer’s longtime slogan, “The Ultimate Driving Machine,” is too vague; this is the Ultimate Road Tripping Machine.

With 4,938 pounds (not including gasoline or the average American’s Cinnabon-scarfing ass) squeezing the tires to the road (almost 600 pounds more than the 550i sedan), the 550i GT doesn’t leap and scramble through the curves like a Miata – the driver is always aware how much the car weighs – but it cuts them apart just fine anyway. Like a defensive lineman who can double as a runningback in a pinch, the GT is more than capable of running circles around smaller, lighter cars not prepared for the turns. Likewise, the company’s trademark heavy steering (at least at low velocities) is exacerbated by the car’s size in parking lots, but once the 550i is moving along, the wheels slide wherever you want them to go as if on greased rails.

But it’s the straightaways and the slow sweeping turns where the GT is most at home. The 4.4 liter twin turbo V8 makes all and more of its claimed 400 horses, and the eight-speed automatic doesn’t trip over its own feet, kicking down four or more gears in an instant when the throttle is pinned. The car feels just as responsive from 60 to 80 as it does between 20 and 40.

Inside, the driver lords over the road from the Goldilocks height for a 1000 mile drive – not road-huggingly low, not Freightliner high. Several generations of evolution have refined the infamous iDrive into a control system that’s surprisingly easy to understand. The seats (power-adjustable in a ridiculous number of ways) ensconsce all four inhabitants like La-Z-Boys, sacrificing some lateral support for unidirectional comfort. Backseat passengers aren’t forced to suffer, either; their thrones make the most of the GT’s 7-series-spawned lengthy wheelbase, and rear occupants can recline to a perfect position for napping. The dual-opening hatch sacrifices some storage space for the sake of the car’s swoopy lines, but there’s still enough room for four or five duffel bags. As for those looks – well, the 5-series GT certainly looks better in person than in photos (much like its fellow luxo-hatch, the Porsche Panamera), it suffers when placed next to the leaner, muscularly cut 2011 5-series sedan.

Which could be said about many aspects of the Gran Turismo. The lighter, lower sedan would probably fulfill the needs of most 5-series GT buyers, while performing even more impressively. But for those occasions when three or four people need to take a long road trip – be it a tall family looking at colleges, buddies fulfilling a Kerouacian fantasy or a fellowship of travelers driving to a volcano to throw a ring into its caldera – the 5-series GT is as good as it gets.

Base Price/Estimated Price As Tested*: $65,775/$75,975

0-60: 5.2 seconds (courtesy Car and Driver)

Fuel Economy: 15 city/21 highway (EPA estimate)

Key Competitors: Porsche Panamera S, Audi A6 Avant, Mercedes-Benz R350

*Actual price of tested vehicle not available; estimation made by approximating features on car using BMW USA’s online configurator. Which is always a fun way to pass the time.

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Recap – 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show

(We apologize for the lateness of this posting. Unfortunately, it was a pretty hectic week here, as we were prepping for our move to a new space. However, we’re now settled into our new, better office, so we can bring you even more of the coverage you love! Or tolerate. Or hate. Just so long as you read it.)

For car enthusiasts, the Frankfurt Motor Show tends to be one of the more consequential events of the year. Not only does it segue nicely into Oktoberfest, but it’s usually home to dozens of palpitation-causing model revelations. (Though that might actually be caused by all that wurst.)

Blissfully, this year’s show was no exception, with quite a few exciting cars showing their front fascias (fasciae?) for the first time. Sadly, due to the sagging economy, we were unable to send any correspondents to Germany this year, but we’ve still prepared a recap of this year’s highlights for your viewing pleasure, divided up into appropriate categories.

SUPREME SEDANS:

2010 Aston Martin Rapide

After years of waiting and teasing, Aston Martin finally went public with all the details about its sleek sedan – or “four-door sports car,” as they prefer to call it. We don’t really care what they call it – so long as they let us stare at it. Thankfully, the sports car maker’s attempt at domestication hasn’t resulted in any loss of attractiveness; like a six-foot-three supermodel, all that extra length just means you have to look at it longer.

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Motivation comes from the same 6.0 liter, 470-horsepower V12 motivating the DB9 on which it’s based, connected to a six-speed automatic. No word yet on whether Aston will see fit to bring out a more aggressive model based on the DBS at some point, but it wouldn’t be too surprising.

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Pricing hasn’t been announced, but expect something in the $200,000 range – about $60-$100K more than its direct “competitors,” the Porsche Panamera Turbo and Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG. But odds are if you’re in the market for a six-figure sedan that performs like a supercar and prefer the looks of the Aston Martin, you can swing the difference.

2011 Bentley Mulsanne

After taking the wraps off its new flagship at the Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance last month, Bentley officially unveiled the Mulsanne in all its glory at Frankfurt – and it’s pretty freakin’ glorious.

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Power comes from a 6.75 liter turbocharged V8 (presumably the same basic one motivating Bentleys for half a century), putting out 505 horses and 725 lb-ft of torque. All that twist heads to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic – and no, there’s no good reason why a car with as much torque as a Mack truck needs eight forward speeds.

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Bentley says the Mulsanne will also come with a variety of 21st century features, such as Bluetooth, sat-nav, MP3 player hookup, and a 6-disc CD changer. Of course, if all you wanted were those features and leather seats, you could save yourself in the range of $275,000 and buy a loaded Mazda3 – but where’s the fun in that?

2011 Rolls-Royce Ghost

If there’s a new Bentley, a new Rolls-Royce probably isn’t too far behind. (After all, Kanye and Fiddy can’t both be rolling in the same whips, can they?) However, the Ghost and the Mulsanne aren’t direct competitors – the big Bentley stacks up against the heftier Rolls-Royce Phantom, while the Ghost is a “discount” model aimed at the “cheap” Bentley Continental.

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Of course, cheap is a relative term – the Rolls will retail for around $245,000 when it hits the States next year. Sure, that’s almost $75,000 more than the Conti, but that’s not too much to ask for a little brand loyalty, is it?

2011 Rolls Royce Ghost 7

Like the Continental, the Ghost is also based on a less expensive vehicle from its corporate master’s stable. The Continental shares many of its unseen bits with the Volkswagen Phaeton luxury sedan (remember that car? Well, no one else does, either.); the Ghost, in turn, shares a platform with the new BMW 7-series. Motivation comes from a slightly uprated version of the BMW 760Li’s powertrain – the Roller pumps out 563 horsepower from a 6.0 liter turbocharged V12, through yet another eight-speed automatic. Prudent buyers will probably pick the far cheaper Bimmer…but Rolls-Royces have never been about prudence.

Bugatti 16 C Galibier

While the Galibier wasn’t actually featured at Frankfurt – it was unveiled at the company’s headquarters in Molsheim, France – it deserves inclusion in this list because of its mind-boggling magnificence.

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The hatchback sedan concept looks more or less like the offspring of a Porsche Panamera and a Bugatti Veyron, and given its supercharged 8.0 liter W16 engine and all-wheel-drive, presumably performs that way as well.

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While Bugatti officially has only said the Galibier is  one of several concepts for the next Bugatti road car;however, AutoExpress claims it has been approved for production, and should start rolling out in 2013.

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Should the Galibier go into production, expect around 800 horsepower, an eight-speed dual clutch gearbox and a pricetag of about $1,400,000 – meaning the average Goldman Sachs employee will have to save up slightly more than two whole years’ worth of bonuses to buy one.

CLEAN LUXURY:

2010 BMW X6 Active Hybrid

BMW dropped the production version of its high-end hybrid SUV at Frankfurt this year, which should be going on sale here soon.

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The 2010 X6 ActiveHybrid (as opposed to the PassiveHybrid line, which mostly sits around in the driveway eating potato chips and watching The Bonnie Hunt Show) is strapped for performance, with two electric motors added onto its already hearty 4.4 liter turbocharged V8. BMW quotes total combined output at 480 horsepower and 575 lb-ft of torque – not too far from the balls-to-the-wall X6 M. However, the X6 M can’t claim to travel at up to 37 mph without using a drop of gasoline, unless it’s being pushed by a T.rex.

BMW says the hybrid X6 does 0-60 in 5.4 seconds and tops out at 130 mph, while still using 20 percent less gas than the regular V8 model. If they deliver on these promises without hurting the X6’s playful performance characteristics or jacking the price up too much, I doubt anyone will want to buy the regular old X6 xDrive 50i.

Mercedes-Benz Vision S500 Plug-In HYBRID concept

Equipped with the sort of obscenely long name currently in favor with German luxury automakers, the plug-in S500 remains merely a concept – for the moment. Mercedes-Benz engineers say the technology is being prepped for production sometime in the near future.

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The S500 Plug-In doesn’t operate quite like the famous Chevy Volt; in the Benz, the gasoline engine still powers the wheels directly, instead of simply recharging the battery. Still, by plugging the battery into an outlet, it can store up enough juice to run the S-class for a whopping 19 miles before the 3.5 liter V6 kicks in.

Mercedes estimates combined fuel economy at 74 miles per gallon, though as with many hybrids today, eking that out could prove harder than squeezing sanity from Glenn Beck. Still, if a production model can achieve even 50 mpg while still cranking out a 5.5 second 0-60 time, Mercedes will have a winner on its hands. (But can we get at least 30 miles out of that battery, guys?)

LEAN, GREEN, FAST MACHINES:

Audi e-tron

Do you like the Audi R8, but want to take the metaphorical Beano and say goodbye to gas? Then feast your eyes on the electric-powered e-tron concept, based off Audi’s sweet supercar.

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According to Audi, the concept packs four electric motors punching out 313 horsepower and an unfathomable 3,319 lb-ft of torque. Of course, you can’t use all that twist at once – it would probably send the wheels flying across the continent – but it sounds cool. Audi also claims a 4.8 second 0-60 time, a top speed of 124 mph and a range of 154 miles…but not if you’re going 124 mph.

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Of course, those figures are pretty academic, as Audi hasn’t announced any definite production plans for the e-tron. Of course, if Mercedes-Benz’s electric-drive SLS proves successful, don’t be surprised to see an electric R8 sailing silently past the gas pumps within four years.

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BMW Vision Efficient Dynamics Concept

Not content to just slap an electric motor in a pre-exising car, BMW instead toted out a brand-new concept designed to showcase what a fuel-efficient supercar of the near future could look like.

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According to BMW, the ED (snicker) gets its power from the unification of a 163-hp, 1.5-liter turbodiesel and a pair of electric motors, creating a maximum output of 356 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque. Lightweight design (is that why there are no doors?) helps the ED scoot to 60 in 4.8 seconds, while achieving the usual Bimmer top speed of 155 mph.

Not sure who this image is supposed to appeal to...aliens?

Not sure who this image is supposed to appeal to...aliens?

Fuel economy is reportedly estimated at 63 mpg, with 31 miles of electric-only driving possible. While a  production version is pretty unlikely, some of the fuel-saving technology seen here will probably show up on the rumored “Z10” supercar that’ll hopefully be coming our way in a couple of years; however, that car will reportedly run a twin-turbo 3.0 liter inline six making 450 horsepower (awesome).

SPEEDING BULLETS:

Ferrari 458 Italia

We’ve featured the Italia here on the site several times before, but since it was officially revealed at Frankfurt, it only seemed appropriate to look at it one more time.

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Replacement for the F430 and heir to Ferrari’s long line of mid-engined V8 sports cars, the 458’s 4.5 liter V8 makes 570 horsepower and 398 lb-ft of torque, and sends it to the rear wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. 0-60 comes in 3.4 seconds (probably less – Ferrari tends to be conservative), top speed is 202 mph, and combined fuel economy on the European cycle comes to 18 mpg. Pricing hasn’t been announced, but if you go into your Ferrari dealership with $300,000 in cash, you’ll probably be able to buy a baseball cap or two as well.

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Lamborghini Reventon Roadster

Likewise, the Reventon is no stranger to this site (it’s the car in our headline banner), but it’s always worth taking another look at – especially when a new version comes out.

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Mechanically and physically, the roadster is pretty much the same as the coupe – 6.5 liter V12, 660 horses, 487 lb-ft of torque, six-speed sequential manual transmission, outlandishly gorgeous styling. The only real difference is the lack of a top and the increased rarity – Lambo will be making a mere 15 roadsters, as opposed to a bountiful production run of 20 for the coupe. As Lamborghini itself proudly boasts, the odds of owning a Reventon Roadster are 1 in 700 million; however, at $1.6 million a pop, the odds of getting laid in the passenger’s seat are about 1 in 2.

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Mercedes-Benz SLS

Again, we’ve already shown you the SLS here on CCO, but since it too received a public unveiling at Frankfurt, we thought we’d take another look at it (even though it hurts our eyes to do so).

Packing a 571-horsepower version of AMG’s 6.3 liter V8 running through a seven-speed transmission, the SLS blasts from 0 to 60 in 3.8 seconds and tops out at 197 mph. When it goes on sale sometime next year, expect to pay around $175,000 before any options – slotting it neatly between the Audi R8/Porsche 911 Turbo and the Lamborghini Gallardo/Ferrari 458 Italia.

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Reportedly, the SLS is a blast to drive, capable of holding its own with any of the aforementioned competitors; hopefully the looks improve in person, as well, because it really doesn’t look too good in those pictures. But at the very least when you’re inside, you won’t have to look at the car’s ass…

GETTING BETTER ALL THE TIME:

Mini Coupe/Roadster

Now, at first, you might wonder why Mini would be building these cars. After all, doesn’t the Mini already only have two doors…and isn’t there already a convertible?

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However, you would be thinking rationally. If so, you’re not who Mini’s looking for for these two. Go buy a Clubman. No, these are for the drivers who take their Minis to the max.

[Ed: Really? Are you kidding me? That’s the best you can do?]

Shut up, Ed. You try writing this on seven Red Bulls. Anyway, the Mini Coupe will reportedly hit the streets with the turbocharged 208-hp 1.6 liter inline-four from the John Cooper Works Mini, while the Roadster plays it a bit lighter with a 175-horsepower 1.6 liter turbo four. You should be able to buy them in early 2011.

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2010 Porsche 911

Ah, 911. Tragic connotations aside, those numbers will always have a special meaning for car enthusiasts. For more than 40 years, the penultimate rear-engine sports car has been undergoing constant evolution, and this year’s Frankfurt Motor Show gave Porsche a chance to show off their latest subspecies. Both cost about the same, and both share an engine – but they’re aimed at different people, for sure.

For those who only feel alive on a racetrack, there’s the 911 GT3 RS, a 450-horsepower naturally aspirated race-ready RWD machine that’s so plugged into you, you’d swear it has one of those neck plugs from The Matrix. 0 to 60 in 3.8 seconds, top speed 194 mph, and a price of $132,800.

2010 Porsche 911 GT3 RS, seen here being enjoyed by General Zod.

2010 Porsche 911 GT3 RS, seen here being enjoyed by General Zod.

But if you need something you can drive to work every day, the new 911 Turbo offers a turbocharged 500 horsepower 3.8 liter flat six. All-wheel-drive means improved traction in all conditions, and there’s even a new seven-speed dual-clutch transmission for those too lazy to row the gears themselves. 60 mph comes in a stunning 3.2 seconds, and top speed is 194 mph as well. The coupe also starts at $132,800, while the convertible starts at $143,800.

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And Porsche, if you’re reading this, we’d kill for a Turbo Coupe for a week…

BMW 5-series GT

Wrapping things up for our Frankfurt Show coverage is BMW’s wagonoid, the 5-series GT. Not as roomy as a station wagon…not as tall as an SUV…and not as svelte as a sedan, this hatchagon sacrifices the bitch seat in back to offer prime seating for four. In addition, the rear hatch can open in two ways – the trunk lid alone can open, or the whole hatch can go up, too.

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The GT comes in 535 and 550 forms, offering a 306-hp twin turbo 3.0 liter I6 in the former and a 407-hp 4.4 liter twin-turbo V8 in the latter. An eight-speed auto provides the motivation; rear wheel drive is standard, AWD optional. And while it may seem a bit odd in pictures, we’re willing to bet it’ll prove a surprisingly convenient all-weather all-task vehicle.

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So, BMW, if you want to throw a 550 GT our way too, that’d be great.

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Spy Shots and Curiosities

It’s been a while since we featured any spy shots here on CCO, so we thought we’d take the opportunity to throw a couple interesting ones your way.

First up, the 2010 Honda Accord Crosstour. Now, that name is still just a rumor at this point, but that will probably be what it’s called when it rolls into showrooms this fall. (At least it’s better than BMW’s name for their similar 5-series-based car, the Gran Turismo. Sorry, BMW – we love ya, but calling a wagon a gran turismo doesn’t make it a gran turismo. I can call myself Tom Brady all I want, but that won’t get me Gisele Bundchen.)

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Between this car, BMW’s Gran Turismo, and a few other examples, it seems as though the Next Big Thing in car design is to blend the hatchback/wagon bodystyles – much in the way the blending of coupe and sedan has proven popular since the Mercedes-Benz CLS appeared a few years ago.

Rumors have bounced around regarding the…miniwagon‘s platform and powertrain, but figure it’ll be pretty much based on the Accord beneath the skin – after all, the Accord’s platform serves as the basis for the Pilot SUV, so it’s proven quite flexible. As on the Pilot, all-wheel-drive will probably be an option. In terms of engines, we’d expect Honda’s corporate 3.5-liter V6, making somewhere around 275 horsepower; there have been rumors of a 200-hp turbo four as well, but seeing as how Honda already makes a 201-hp naturally aspirated I4 for the TSX, it seems more likely they’ll throw that under the hood.

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Next up, we have the BMW X1, part of the German automaker’s plan to craft a vehicle for every single niche, no matter how razor-thin. The aforementioned 5-series GT is another example of this phenomenon; when it is released next year, the 5-series line will include a sedan, a wagon, a miniwagon/hatchback, a coupe, a convertible, a sport-utility vehicle, and a sport utility coupe. Overkill: not just for nuclear weapons anymore!

Anyway, the X1 will be BMW’s smallest SUV, slotting alongside the 1-series coupes and convertibles at the cheap end of the lineup. Frankly, we’re not sure what the X1 is supposed to compete against, given the X3 already competes against the smallest SUVs offered by other luxury manufacturers; perhaps BMW is hoping they can steal away Subaru Forester owners. And given that Mini will soon be introducing their own tiny SUV, it’s hard to see how the X1 is worth the trouble.

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Still, it should be a hoot to drive, especially since it’ll be coming Stateside with a 272-hp 3.0L inline-six. (BMW offers a 204-hp diesel model in Europe that supposedly gets around 37 mpg; however, as usual, it hasn’t been confirmed for the States yet.) Expect to see it in BMW showrooms next year; a correspondingly larger X3 will probably be along less than a year later.

(By the way, those psychedelic swirls you see on these spy shots are all the rage in the car disguising business these days. They’re supposed to make it harder for the human eye to pick out distinguishing characteristics – though it seems just as likely to cause acid flashbacks in passing drivers.)P90047890

Our third and final spy shot of the day is of the long-rumored BMW M7. Now, for nearly the last decade or so, Mercedes-Benz has cornered the market on souped-up full-size luxury sedans with the AMG versions of the S-class. (They currently offer two – the V8-powered, 518-hp S63 and the turbocharged V12-powered, 604-hp S65.) Surprisingly, BMW hasn’t seen fit to challenge these cars directly through their M performance division as they do in the compact and mid-size luxury markets; rather, they’ve let their semi-affiliated tuner Alpina fight back with their B7 sedan.

However, with the M division (and BMW in general) moving towards turbocharged engines, it appears they’ve decided to pull up their lederhosen and man up by sticking the twin-turbo 4.4-liter V8 from the X5 M and X6 M into a 7-series. Expect 550 horsepower, a 0-60 time of under 4.5 seconds and some heated competition between it and the Porsche Panamera Turbo around the Nurburgring.

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Finally, we want to wrap things up with a couple of unusual vehicles. Galpin Auto Sports, or GAS (a.k.a the guys from Pimp My Ride) have just unveiled a pair of cars the Air Force commissioned them to make (for recruitment purposes, not warfare), and…holy shit. These things may be the coolest cars we’ve ever seen…and we’ve seen pretty much everything.

First up is the GAS X-1. As is pretty obvious, it’s based on a Ford Mustang – but it has about as much in common with those cars in the Hertz Fun Collection as Pierce Brosnan’s Vanquish in Die Another Day had with a stock Aston Martin. How badass is this car? Well, let me put it this way: in place of the twin buckets in most Mustangs, this one has a single ejection seat.

Yes. That’s right. An ejection seat.

USAF Theme Cars

There’s also a GPS transponder, night and thermal vision cameras with in-cockpit touch-screen displays, and an actual flight stick in place of the steering wheel. Oh, yeah, and the 4.6-liter V8’s been played with to make 500 horsepower, but that’s a footnote at this point. Nobody’s gonna listen past “ejection seat.”

USAF Theme Cars

The second car, based on the Doge Challenger, is called the Vapor – apparently because the Air Force wanted everyone to think they were building a lame, unsubstantial vehicle when they were actually putting together a car that could kick Optimus Prime’s ass.

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Take the matte-black paint job. Looks like the same stuff on every “murdered out” car on the road, right? Well, it’s too bad you can’t see radio waves – because then you’d realize this sucker’s paint job absorbs radar. It also packs a roof-mounted 360-degree-rotating camera with night and thermal visions, which can be displayed on the twin instrument panel screens.

Of course, there’s also the full-windshield head-up display, the proximity sensors, the dual yoke controls (yes, the passenger can steer the car too), a stealth exhaust that allows the car to drive around in complete silence, and an advanced computer system that allows the car to be driven remotely from anywhere on Earth using the Internet.

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We don’t know about the rest of you, but to us at CCO, this black bastard screams one thing: Batmobile. All it needs is some bulletproofing and a Hennessey HPE800 engine upgrade (800 horsepower should offset that added weight nicely), and you’re ready to clean the scum off the streets of Gotham City. \

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But what do you think? Let us know below!

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2009 Geneva Auto Show Recap

To many of us here in the States, Switzerland seems like the land of the sweet life. Lax banking laws, delicious chocolate, heart-stopping cheese, and watches so precise you could set a cliche by them. However, as any car enthusiast with a reasonable proficiency at geography knows, Switzerland also boasts proximity to three countries with some of the greatest roads and spectacular automotive legacies on Earth – Germany, Italy and France.

But whether it’s the country’s tax haven history, distance to automotive nirvana, or simply because most automakers love a good Toblerone, the Geneva Auto Show always is good for some fascinating, exciting, and potentially arousing reveals. This year saw well over 20 new and improved models just by luxury, superyluxury, hyperluxury and so-fancy-even-Diddy-hasn’t-heard-of-it nameplates; we culled it down to 10 notables.

Aston Martin One-77

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James Bond’s DBS too common for you? Did you fancy a Ferrari Enzo when they came out, but you were waiting for those stocks you were shorting to pay out? Fear not, Bizarro – your steed is here. Aston Martin is making a mere 77 of the baddest car to come out of Gaydon (hence the second part of the name), each one tailored to its individual buyer (hence the first). Packing a 7.3 liter V12 with at least 700 horsepower (Aston hasn’t released specifics yet), this sleek machine will supposedly run the dash to 60 in 3.5 seconds. And how much for the privilege of owning the most exclusive Aston? The automaker isn’t saying anything officially, but rumor has it priced to sit on the showroom floor and gather dust at around $1.5 million. Here’s hoping they find at least 77 people with that kind of disposable income (somehow, I think they will.)

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Aston Martin Lagonda Concept

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From the most beautiful Aston Martin to the…uh…one with the best personality, I suppose. The Lagonda nameplate was slapped on a smattering of Aston Martins during the latter half of the 20th century, often on sedans and other less-traditional Astons; it appears the company is looking to extend the tradition with the new usage of the name. Believe it or not, this little duckling rides on the same platform as Mercedes-Benz’s Escalade-wrestling GL sport-ute, making it the first recipient of a sharing agreement between the two companies. Odds probably aren’t good that the GL will, in return, get the concept’s honkin’ V12 – but given Aston’s boasting that the Lagonda can use any numbr of more environmentally friendly propulsion units, we might not see it in this guise, either.

Bentley Continental Supersports

Bentley Continental Supersports

As part of their move to be more environmentally friendly, Bentley has unleashed their fastest, most powerful model in history. Oxymoronic? Almost, but not quite. The Supersports ‘s W-12 engine is designed to run on E85 or gasoline, a move so incrementally evolutionary, even glacial GM started doing it years ago. Using higher-octane ethanol, the new Conti puts out 621 horsepower, which, combined with a faster-shifting transmission and a 240-lb weight reduction, yields 0-60 runs of 3.7 seconds and a top speed of 204 miles per hour. Bentley claims the shift to biofuel yields a 70 percent reduction in what they call “well-to-wheel” CO2 emissions, which spans from the moment the fuel comes out of the ground to the moment the engine burns it up. So far, biofuels haven’t proven very effective at stopping global warming – it usually takes around as much energy to process it as it produces – but this will likely improve in the future. Who knows? Maybe this is the first Bentley to come ahead of its time.

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BMW Concept 5-Series GT

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Once upon a time, there was a beloved sedan named the BMW 5-series. It wasn’t too big, wasn’t too small, wasn’t too wimpy – it wa just right. And people loved it. But some people wanted more room. BMW saw this, and created the 5-series wagon. It was just like the sedan, but had a little more room in back. And people liked it. But some people didn’t like the lame image of a station wagon. BMW saw this, and created the X5 SUV. It was about the same size as the 5-series wagon, but was bigger and heavier, and had all wheel drive. And people still liked it. But some people didn’t like the frumpy, family stigma of an SUV. BMW saw this, and created the X6. It was an SUV like the X5, but smaller inside and with “four-door coupe” styling. And people said, “Okay, this is getting a little ridiculous.” BMW saw this, and created the 5-series GT. It had a slightly raised chassis and it looked like the missing link between a hatchback and a station wagon. It would only seat four people. It previewed the styling of the new 5-series. And BMW hoped there would be enough upper-class people out there to buy them without cutting into the margins of the 5-series sedan, the 5-series wagon, the X5, or the X6.

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What do you think?

Smart ForTwo Brabus electric-drive

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The Smart car has always been an odd little compromise; while small cars are usually known for fun handling and good fuel economy, the Smart doesn’t provide the levels of either you might expect from a high-top Chuck Taylor on wheels. Thankfully, there’s no shortage of Mercedes-Benz tuners out there willing to take a stab at fixing the former – but now, Brabus is trying to knock down both targets at once. So far, Brabus and Smart aren’t discussing production specifications, but an electric Smart seems like a no-brainer, so long as there’s a place to plug it in on the city streets. And a Brabus-tuned version, combined with the instant torque of an electric motor, would be quite the eco-toy for urbanites everywhere.

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Bugatti Veyron Bleu Centenaire and Mansory Bugatti LINEA Vincero

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They what? Bugatti 16.4 Veyron? Sigh. It’s so hard to care anymore. I mean, I’d almost forgotten about the fastest, most powerful, most expensive street car ever created. If it wasn’t for the fact that Bugatti cranks out new limited-edition versions like variant-costumed Batman action figures, I doubt I’d even be able to remember the name. Now I guess I have to decide which one will look better in my garage. Is it the Centenaire, with its two-tone single-color paint job? (Flat and glossy!) Or the Vincero, with an extra 100 horsepower (almost eleven percent more!) and LED daytime running lights? You know what? I’ll just get both. They’re only $1.5 million or so each.

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Ferrari 599XX/HGTC

Courtsey Asphalte.ch

Courtesy Asphalte.ch

It’s no secret among carnoscenti that Enzo Ferrari considered his street cars as a means to support his one true love – auto racing. While these days, the Powers That Be at Ferrari HQ have shifted their priority towards street-legal vehicles (they kinda tend to be more profitable), they still haven’t lost sight of their racing roots. In addition to fielding a multimilion-dollar F1 team every year, Ferrari on occasion will roll out a racetrack-only version of one of their road stable. In this case, the Ferrari 599XX. Only one “x” away from being awesome enough for Vin Diesel, the XX’s V-12 has been allowed to rev up to 9,000 rpm, one of a number of changes that boost output to 700 horsepower. Between the engine, the extensive weight savings and a faster gearbox that shifts in less time than it takes for Joaquin Phoenix to make an ass out of himself, within a year or two the uber-599 will be wowing those few customers lucky enough to be “invited” to buy one on a private racetrack nowhere near you.

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However, if you’re not privileged enough to be allowed to blow a million bucks on an XX, Ferrari would still like to talk to you about their new HGTC handling pack for the “common” 599GTB. Designed to improve acceleration and handling, the HGTC will presumably offer incremental improvements for a monumental price. Ask me, the regular 599 already strikes an ideal balance between performance and roadworthiness; still, there’ll no doubt be quite a few people willing to fork over the cash just so they can say their 599 is that much better than their neighbor’s. (Okay, like five people.)

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Infiniti Essence concept

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Sadly, this supercoupe concept is not an Infiniti version of Nissan’s kaiju-car, the GT-R. The good news? It’s a 592-horsepower monster all its own. As part of a move towards an all-hybrid lineup, the Essence features a twin-turbocharged 434-horsepower 3.7 liter V6 coupled with a 158-hp electric motor, all driven through the rear wheels. Infiniti claims the performance offers the best of both worlds – emissions-free electric driving around town combined with massive acceleration on demand. It also offers a new, 360-degree anti-collision system that senses rapidly approaching vehicles and activates the brakes individually to veer away from danger. Infiniti claims it’s one step closer to the collision-free car, though it sounds more to me like a driver-free car – and as anyone who’s seen either “Knight Rider” or I, Robot knows, they tend to crash even more than the rest 0f us. But that hybrid drivetrain would be a revelation for the next-generation GT-R – imagine 0-60 in 3.0 seconds and 25 mpg in town…

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Lamborghini Murcielago LP 670-4 SuperVeloce

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If they have karaoke competitions in heaven, it’s safe to say Enzo Ferrari and Ferruccio Lamborghini engage in regular duets of “Anything You Can Do.” Their companies certainly do. Ferrari wheels out a V8 model, Lamborghini whips up a lower-end model with a V10. Ferrari brings out racetrack-ready and tighter-handling version of its 599 flagship – Lamborghini creates a single model offering a comfortable compromise between race car and your run-0f-the-mill Lambo. With a new rear spoiler, a power bump from 640 to 670 horsepower, and a 220-lb. weight reduction, this Murcielago rips from 0 to 60 in 3.2 seconds on the way to 212 mph. Sadly, the 670-4 marks the last gasp of this family of Italian bulls named after Spanish bats; believe it or not, the Murcy has been around since 2001, and the time has come for a replacement. But until then, the son-of-Countach-looking SuperVeloce should be more than adequate to satisfy the needs of both wealthy auto enthusiasts and raging egomaniacs.

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Pagani Zonda R

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If you live Stateside, you might not be familiar with Pagani. Founded in 1992 by a contractor to Lamborghini, the small Italian company has been putting out some of the most exotic-looking cars in the planet’s history since around the year 2000 (they only began bringing the to the U.S. in 2007). Crafting less than 100 cars per year, the company’s sole model, the Zonda, has progressed through several generations since its inception. Its newest model, the Zonda R, represents the best and brightest the brand has to offer. With a 90 percent new body designed for the track, a paddle-shift gearbox and a 6.0 liter, 739-horsepower twin-turbocharged Mercedes-Benz AMG V12, the R boogies to 60 in 3 seconds flat and tops out at 233 miles per hour. Whether it’ll be available over here is anybody’s guess, but even if they do sell it in the States, good luck spotting one; only 15 will be made, they cost $1.8 million each, and there’s no way in hell they’ll be road-legal.

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