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(Belated) 2010 Geneva Auto Show Recap

(A quick side note from the editor:

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

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

Still here.

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

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

1. Porsche 918 Spyder concept

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

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

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

2. Ferrari 599 HY-KERS Hybrid

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

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

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

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

3. 2010 Audi RS5

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

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

4. 2011 Ruf 911 RGT-8

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

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

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

5. Lotus Evora 414E Hybrid Concept

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

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

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

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

Honorable Mention:

2010 Koenigsegg Agera:

Did you read the first paragraph about the Lotus?

2010 Brabus E V12 Coupe:

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

2010 Pagani Zonda Tricolore:

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

Dishonorable Mention:

2011 Aston Martin Cygnet:

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

2011 Bentley Continental Flying Star by Touring Superleggera:

We were unaware anyone had asked for this.

Honda 3R-C Concept:

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

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Mercedes-Benz SLS Double-Taps Z Button, Does Barrel Roll; Honda Rubs Canned NSX In Our Faces

In what could be the coolest piece of automotive video advertising to come out of Germany since BMW handed a group of directors their entire lineup and Clive Owen’s lanky frame, Mercedes-Benz appears to have driven its SLS supercar up the wall.

Literally.

Of course, could is the key word here. From the footage, it’s not entirely clear whether the volks at Mercedes actually sacked up and went for this testosterone-fueled stunt, or whether, like your prom date, they just faked the climax.

Most of the Interwebs seems to believe it was faked, citing everything from the over-rendered appearance of the vehicle at the Moment of Truth to the fact that only Chuck Norris possesses the ability to barrel roll a car inside a tunnel. As much as it pains us to admit it, we think it’s probably faked, too. I mean, don’t you think if Mercedes was gonna attempt this feat, they’d bring a couple journalists along to see (and Tweet about it)?

The bright spot of news here, though, is that the SLS looks a helluva lot better in motion than it does in static pictures. I mean, that B-pillar is still as ugly as Jay Leno in the morning, and the SLR packed a lot more visual Sturm und Drang. But based on the video (and that exhaust note!), we’re willing to move the SLS from the “Not Interested” column to “We’ll Consider It.”

(*Cough, cough – loan us one, Mercedes – cough, cough**)

Dynamics aside, wouldn't you rather see this car in your garage?

But unfortunately, very close to those two columns in our Enormous Anal-Retentive Spreadsheet of Cars is one entitled “Why Didn’t They Build It, God?” Populated for years by such cars as the Cadillac Sixteen, Chrysler ME412 and Bentley Hunaudières, the next-generation Acura NSX was one of the most recent and grieved-over additions to the list. Powered by a 5.5 liter, 600+ horsepower V10 routed through a race-optimized version of the company’s Super-Handling All Wheel Drive!, the NSX2 was nearly finished with development (including running the Wagnerian Nürburgring racetrack in 7 minutes 37 seconds on its first try) when Honda pulled the plug to focus on “fuel-efficient vehicles.” Dicks.

To this day, for Hondaphiles and auto enthusiasts, “Where Were You When They Killed The New NSX?” prompts the same sort of emotional jolt as asking “Where Were You When Kennedy Was Shot?” Perhaps the only real peace to be found was in Honda’s announcement that the finished product would have looked very similar to Acura’s 2007 Advanced Sports Car Concept, a supercar-shaped dose of Valium if there ever was one.

That’s it – preach it, Homer.

Then today, Honda releases photos of their HSV-10 GT race car – and it’s like seeing that girl you always wanted to ask out in high school on the cover of the Victoria’s Secret catalog.

This is what the NSX was going to look like, isn’t it, Honda? Don’t bullshit me here. I can see it in that rear angle. You were all set to unleash a 625-horsepower AWD supercar that looked like a furious Ferrari 599 GTB, and you killed it? What were you thinking?

Was it that you were going to lose money on each one you sold? Well, of course you were – Toyota’s losing money on every Lexus LFA they sell, and they’re going for $350K. You were gonna sell a comparable car for 47 percent of the price – it would have been cheaper to upholster every Accord in the world in mink.

But a car like the NSX isn’t about the cost. It’s about Showing Your Power. Screw any argument about “bringing people into showrooms” or “generating interest in the brand” – nobody goes into a Chevy dealership to ogle a ZR1 then thinks, “Gee, this Cobalt must be just as cool, since it’s right next to the Corvette!” An unprofitable supercar is an automaker’s way of saying, “Our cars are so successful, we could literally afford to flush wads of cash down the toilet. But instead, we’re gonna take that money and build a car so cool, people will idolize it for the rest of the century.”

One more thing, Honda: you also have to keep up with the Joneses. Toyota has the LFA. Nissan has the GT-R. And you’re out several million bucks in R&D with nothing to show for it. Ball’s in your court.

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2010 Detroit Auto Show Recap

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

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

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

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

Audi e-tron concept

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

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

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

2011 BMW 740i/740Li

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

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

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

Buick Regal GS Concept

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

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

2011 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe

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

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

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

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

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

Cadillac XTS Platinum Concept

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

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

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

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

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

Mmm...eco-friendly.

Chevrolet Aveo RS Concept

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

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

2012 Ford Focus

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

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

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

2011 Ford Mustang GT

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

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

GMC Granite Concept

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

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

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

2011 Honda CR-Z

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

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

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

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

2012 (?) Mercedes-Benz CLS

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

Image courtesy Omar Rana - egmCarTech

Mini Beachcomber Concept

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

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

Volkswagen New Compact Coupe Hybrid Concept

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

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

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

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

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A Burst of News – Cheap Sports Cars from Kia, Nissan and Mazda, Aston Martin Cygnet Revealed, and Two Unusual Ferrari 599s

For the last Burst of News of 2009, we’ve decided to keep things short, since, let’s face it, you’re still playing with your new Christmas toys and already pre-gaming for New Year’s Eve.

First out of the gate, some excellent news for all fans of cheap speed (and apart from drug dealers and overprotective mothers, who isn’t?). With Toyota and Subaru’s jointly developed rear-wheel-drive coupe coming down the pipe, other Asian automakers are scrambling to pump out small, inexpensive sports cars to compete with the Toyobaru. (While Toyota is now calling the concept version the FT-86, we still prefer the portmanteau.)

According to Inside Line, Nissan is considering a new small sports car for the 2011-2012 time frame, to slot under the 370Z. Should the coupe receive the green light, it will likely pack a 200-horsepower, 1.8 liter turbo four cylinder, along with the same six-speed manual/seven-speed auto choices from the Z. Insiders say styling may resemble the company’s 2005 Foria concept – which would be a shame, ’cause the Foria is kinda homely to our eyes. As for a name, we’re hoping Nissan axes the 240SX moniker for our shores. (Note to Nissan: don’t use the letters “S” and “X” next to each other in your car’s name.)

"I shall call it...MINI-Z!"

Okay, fine, here's the Foria.

While Mazda would seem to already have a strong foe for the Toyobaru in the Miata, it seems they’re not content to place all their hopes on The Car That Saved The Roadster. Instead, they’re replacing the Jack LaLanne-like RX-8 with a new RX-7. Given the name change, it’s likely the new car will ditch the tiny suicide doors of the RX-8 and return to the two-door layout of the prior RX-7. A new version of Mazda’s Renesis rotary engine will be plopped under the hood, likely pumping out between 200 and 250 horsepower. According to Inside Line, Mazda hopes to keep the price around $25,000 when the car hits the streets – hopefully as early as 2011.

Adieu, wacky RX-8. You will be missed.

However, Toyota and Subaru are facing threats from across the Sea of Japan, as well. AutoCar claims Kia is drafting up plans for a RWD sports car based off the Hyundai Genesis Coupe’s platform, and featuring styling similar to the Kee Coupe Concept. However, in a surprisingly earnest admission, Kia design director Peter Schreyer says the company needs to “grow a little more in stature” before the marketplace would be ready to accept such a sporty Kia, adding the car could be ready in around five years. We say: Kia, grow a pair and put this baby on the market in two. Charge a grand less than Toyota and Nissan, and with the Genesis Coupe’s chassis and a cleaned-up version of the Kee body, you’ll sell every one you can crate over here.

This is of course in addition to the Honda CR-Z Hybrid headed for our shores in latter 2010; while the CR-Z’s front-drive hybrid layout means it won’t exactly be a direct competitor for the spate of RWD coupes, you can bet at least a few people will be cross-shopping the Toyobaru and Co. with the Honda.

Thanks to Temple Of VTEC for this leaked CR-Z image.

For some folks out there, though, cost isn’t an issue when it comes to buying a car. We here at CCO, sadly, don’t belong to that fraternity of rock stars, trust fund babies, and un-dateable social media founders; however, should our platinum-plated ship come in (a Powerball ticket also would do it), most of us would put the Ferrari 599 Fiorano right at the top of our list of purchases. (As in, we’ve figured out how long it would take to get to Miller Motorcars of Greenwich, CT and place our order.)

So when we saw what one wealthy bastard fellow had done to a perfectly good 599, we wanted to pull an Elvis and put a couple .44 Magnum hollow-points through our television. No, we don’t browse the Web on our TV – it’s just that the prick gentleman in question happens to be the son of John Walson, inventor of cable television.

"Hello, U.N.? I'd like to report a crime against humanity."

Edward Walson (bet he doesn’t like being called Eddie, either) used a portion of his shit-tastically huge inheritance to commission Ferrari’s Special Projects Division (Motto: “Cooler Than Your Job”) to whip up this golden turd after being inspired by a one-off Ferrari from the 1968 Federico Fellini film Tony Dammit. This is like asking Lockheed’s Skunk Works to take an F-22 Raptor and attach two extra wings because you always wanted an X-Wing starfighter.

While Walson and Ferrari call it the P540 Superfast Aperta, the rest of us would rather just call it  a mistake. So if you happen to see this monstrosity parked on the street, please, do every car lover (and person with sight) a favor and drive your car into it at high speed. (Safety first, though – reverse into it, please.) If this 599 could talk, it would be begging to be put down. Don’t make it suffer.

Blessedly, our other piece of Ferrari news today is much sunnier. According to Quattroruote (the article’s in Italian), the Italian automaker will be unveiling its new hybrid system in a 599-based concept at the 2010 Geneva Motor Show. Fuel economy is expected to receive a 35 percent bump, allllll the way up to 14 miles per gallon. Should the electric motor power the front wheels as we previously reported, Geneva will be unveiling a 599 with all-wheel-drive, improved handling and more miles per gallon. It’s as though God heard the prayers of every Ferrari-lover in New England.

A Ferrari 599 GTB, in what is obviously New Hampshire.

Finally, Aston Martin has released a few images of the completed version of its Cygnet concept, and it looks as adorable as a cartoon owl. Which is to say, pretty damned un-Aston Martin like.

The Aston Martin Cygnet

Owly

The Cygnet – which we remind you is pretty much a Toyota iQ under those pretty headlights – remains a concept for the moment, though Aston’s press release reiterated the company’s desire for the car to “become a production reality,” in an apparent effort to negate the machismo imbued upon the brand from the last three Bond movies. (And that Daniel Crag musk doesn’t come off easily.)

If Aston really wants an environmentally friendly micro-car for their line, we’d like to make the same suggestion we made to Mercedes-Benz when they brought to Smart over here (and by “made,” we mean “yelled at a billboard”): MAKE IT ELECTRIC. Yank out that dinky gas engine and strap in an electric motor with enough torque to chirp the tires. If it’s supposed to be a city car, low-speed performance is far more important than top speed. You only need enough juice to make it 50-75 miles, anyway; any further than that, and your driver will probably want to take their other Aston anyway.

Anyway, that’s it for us this year! Happy New Year, and here’s to an exciting and successful 2010!

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A Burst of News – Hot Supercar Designs, Toyobaru Revealed, an electric Audi and a new Porsche 928?

Welcome one and all to another burst of automotive news, straight from the broken faucet of the Internet and into your unsuspectingly open eyes!

Let’s start off with something sexy. Over the last couple of weeks, no fewer than three boner-inducing artist’s concepts have appeared for potential supercars from some of the world’s foremost makers of excitiong cars. Now, unfortunately, none of these are anywhere near cleared for production – they’re just artistic visions of potential supercars. But at least we can imagine ourselves in them – which is all most of us would be doing if they were real, anyway.

First up is a concept for a successor to the former fastest car in the world, the McLaren F1. McLaren recently unveiled their first all-new car since the F1; named the MP4-12C, it’s designed to fight in the highly competitive supercar middleweight category, against such Worthy Opponents as the Ferrari 458 Italia, the Porsche 911 Turbo/GT2, the Audi R8 5.2, the successor to the Lamborghini Gallardo, and Stephen Colbert.

McLaren has stated the MP4-12C (which sounds more like a submachine gun than a car to us) will occupy the middle of their three-supercar lineup, leaving room above and below it. With that in mind, Coventry University student Matt Williams whipped up this concept called the LM5, a hypercar to fit above the MP4 and challenge the Bugatti Veyron for global supremacy. (Imaginary power comes from a 700-horsepower version of the BMW M5’s V10.)

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Next up comes a design for a potential Porsche supercar to succeed the Carrera GT of a few years ago. Crafted by an Iranian designer named Emil Baddal, this exotic-looking machine currently goes without any imaginary powertrain at all. (It also goes without a name, so I guess Baddal is one of those artists who likes to title his works “Untitled” because he thinks it’s avant-garde.)

Since Baddal apparently wants to leave the details up to the imagination, I’m going to call it the “Rapier,” after the runner-up name for the F-22 fighter, and pretend it’s powered by a 745-horsepower 6.8 liter turbocharged V12 based off the Panamera’s V8, connected to an all-wheel-drive system by a seven-speed PDK transmission. Then I will pretend to drive it across the country to Jennifer Aniston’s house and take her out for a fancy dinner before parking on Mulholland Drive and getting busy on the hood.

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Baddal also brings us the third in our list of imaginary playthings, a real-life version of the BMW Vision EfficientDynamics concept from this year’s Frankfurt show. That concept was “propelled” by a 163-horsepower turbodiesel 1.5 liter three cylinder connected to a pair of electric motors; sources claim the production version, rumored to go by “Z10,” would run a 450-horsepower twin-turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine (also rumored to be the engine of the next M3). Combined with a low curb weight, the Z10 ought to be as ballsy as a triple shout of Jåger.

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But enough fiction. If you’ve been following this site for a while, you’ve probably read our posts on the “Toyobaru,” the sport coupe under joint development by Toyota and Subaru. Well, the wraps have finally come off, and it looks pretty sweet.

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Currently going by the name of the Toyota FT-86 Concept (excitement fail), the car is powered by Subaru’s 2.0 liter boxer four-cylinder engine, hopefully putting out at least 200 horsepower. Supposedly, the car will be rear-wheel-drive only; whether that’ll preclude it being sold as a Subaru in the States remains to be seen, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see an AWD system slung under there for the U.S. market.

The production FT-86 will reportedly be coming our way in 2011, hopefully priced around $20,000. RWD or AWD, it looks like it’ll be a great car – it’s about time manufacturers started making more small, fun cars for less money.

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Vying for the FT-86’s recession-paralyzed youth, though, will be a similarly priced sports coupe from Honda – and it’s a hybrid, which scores you bonus points but means you have to scrape Ed Begley Jr. off your car more often. (He’s like a starfish!)

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Successor to the beloved CR-X hatch of eons ago, the CR-Z (I guess CR-Y just sounded too sad) will only pack a hybrid powerplant, so don’t expect many smoky burnouts. Rumor has it the powertrain will be a 1.5 liter four-cylinder connected to Honda’s usual hybrid gear and your choice of six-speed stick or CVT automatic; expect somewhere around 125-150 combined horsepower, a 0-60 time of around seven seconds, and moderate-to-heavy smug levels.

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But there’s more news from Subie-land these days – and this next tidbit is a bit…unexpected. Apparently, Motor Trend has named the 2010 Subaru Outback its SUV of the Year. To which we at CCO respond…really?

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As readers know, we really like Subarus. They’ve been making tremendous strides in quality without sacrificing their core values, and remain some of the best cars in their price range. And the Outback, with its elevated stance and versatile AWD, does offer most of the ability of a sport-ute while retaining most of the virtues of a car.

But that’s because it is a car.

Now, I’m sure Motor Trend will say the line between cars and SUVs is blurrier than ever, and that the newest Outback features enough differences from the regular Legacy that it should qualify as a separate category.  Sorry, MT. We love ya, but the Outback is a car. To paraphrase our well-spoken president, you can put all the lipstick you want on a pig, but she’s still Sarah Palin – and you can put all the off-road trappings you want on a car, but it’s still a station wagon. In our minds, the winner should have been the Audi Q5.

Speaking of Audi, some good news from our friends in Ingolstadt. According to AutoExpress, Audi will be bringing the electric e-tron concept from the Frankfurt show to production as a new smaller sports car called the R4.

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Reportedly, the R4 will be based on the production version of VW’s Concept BlueSport, a small diesel-powered roadster from this year’s Detroit show. No idea what sort of output we should expect from the production electric R4, but given that the concept’s 3,319 lb-ft of torque could probably fling the space shuttle into orbit, it’ll probably be a mite less when it lands on our shores around 2012. (There will likely also be gas-powered version, for those of us lucky enough to still have access to fossil fuels after the zombiocalypse of 2011 price of gas goes up.)

But if electric-powered sports cars aren’t your bag, how about a convertible Porsche Panamera? No, the Germans aren’t bringing back the four-door convertible. That’s not coming back until somebody goes back in time and saves JFK. But according to Automotive News, a topless two-door version of the Panamera will be hitting the streets sometime in the next couple of years. No word yet on whether they’ll also offer a two-door coupe version to combat the Mercedes-Benz CL and BMW 6-series, but given Porsche’s 928 filled a similar GT coupe role from 1978 to 1995, you’d probably be safe putting down a deposit…just in case.

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Or, if you’d prefer something equally luxurious but a bit more insane sensible, Automotive News also says Aston Martin is considering putting its Toyota/Scion-based Cygnet runabout into production. For around $32,000, drivers could have an Aston Martin the size of a Smart car with the same Toyota suspension and drivetrain as the iQ upon which it’s based. Aston Martin engineers say they got the idea after watching Daniel Craig get whipped in the balls in Casino Royale.

"The world is gonna know you died designing a ridiculous car!"

"The world is gonna know you died designing a ridiculous car!"

Still, if you decide to spend your thirty-two grand on a Cygnet instead of, say, a Mustang GT, at the very least you’re less likely to see one of Chevrolet’s new Caprice police cars in your rear view mirror. For those of you who just exploded at the thought of a Chevy version of the wonderful Pontiac G8, sorry to burst your bubble, but the G8’s still marked for termination as of this writing.

2011 Chevrolet Caprice Police Patrol Vehicle (PPV)

Those of you who’re envisioning a four-door Camaro, though, are much closer to the mark – like the Camaro, the Caprice is based off GM’s Zeta platform. However, don’t get too caught up in dreams of drag-racing with the wife and kids; the Caprice will only be available to police here in the States. (It’s available for civilians in the Middle East, because apparently GM easily confuses that region with the Mid-West.)

Loaded with a 355-hp 6.0 liter V8 mated to a six-speed auto, the Caprice should run 0-60 in the mid five-second range while driving up police academy recruitment from Pennsylvania to Nevada. Expect to be checking your six for them in 2011; V6 powered versions will be available in 2012, but…why?

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Review – 2009 Mazda3 s Grand Touring

The Good: Playful handling, you’ll never have trouble finding it in the parking lot.

The Bad: Hefty price for a compact car – a really compact car.

The Verdict: A good little car trying to be more than it is.

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In the economy car market, buyers tend to consider one factor above all others – price. Admittedly, cost plays a role in most vehicular transactions (unless you’re lucky enough to be cross-shopping Ferraris and Lamborghinis, in which case, screw you), but especially so in the cheaper segments of the market, where buyers tend to be…well, let’s just say it: poorer. If they had more money, logic goes, they’d buy a larger car.

So the $24,445 sticker price of my Mazda3 came as quite a shock. “Who in their right mind would spend 25 grand on this tiny car?” I asked myself.  Yet while passersby on the sidewalk clearly heard me, their responses involved veering away from the man talking to himself instead of answering my question.

If you need a sedan for that kind of money, a Honda Accord EX automatic runs only $670 more, with great handling and interior room that seems limo-like in comparison. Even within Mazda’s own ranks, the larger Mazda6i Touring automatic can be had for $23,600.

In general, added performance tends to be the main reason compact buyers tolerate higher price tags – but the 3s only offers 167 horsepower from its 2.5 liter four-cylinder. A Honda Civic Si sedan can be yours for $22,815 and offers thirty more horsepower and a racier suspension – and hell, Mazda’s own MazdaSpeed 3 goes for $23,945, and offers 263 horsepower and a lot more driving fun.

So how does Mazda justify this price? In a word repeated three times: features, features, features. The 3s is loaded with enough gear to make a Mercedes blush: xenon headlights that turn with the steering wheel, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth (which refused to work on my tester), and heated leather seats with power controls for the driver. An optional 10-speaker Bose stereo and moonroof also came on my tester; however, it lacked a few other options, such as a navigation system. Check off every option possible, and you’ll be confronted with a $26,285 tab.

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To be sure, they’re nice features to have – some more so than others. Heated seats, for example, are awfully handy come the colder months, as they usually take less time to warm up than the entire interior of the car, and the high-powered swiveling headlights could save your life if they light up a Sasquatch in the road that much earlier. But for the most part, they’re like whipped cream on top of your Ben & Jerry’s – nice to have, but hardly necessary.

Luckily, the basics of this particular sundae are quite tasty even without all the toppings. The cheapest of the range can be had for a mere $15,795 – but at that price, you’d better know how to use a clutch, because you can’t get an automatic on the bargain-basement i SV model. Nor can you have air conditioning or power locks, so it’s perfect for anyone who feels nostalgic for driving back in 1979. (Sadly, a CD player is standard, but you could always cover it up with electrical tape.)

The best bet of the range is the i Touring model, which offers a Goldilocks-like mixture of features (16” wheels, Bluetooth, power locks with keyless entry, traction control and cruise control) and price ($18,250 – a little more if you want the automatic). However, that model – like all Mazda3s with an “i” suffix – comes with a 148-horsepower 2.0 liter four-cylinder engine. If you want the bigger 2.5 liter, you’ve gotta step up to the s Sport; it’ll cost $1,240 more than the i Touring, but at least they’re kind enough to throw in electroluminescent gauges and a “welcome lighting system.”

Luckily, both i and s models come with the same suspension setup – meaning even stripper models should be plenty of fun when the road turns twisty. Mazda has done a good job in the last decade making sure “zoom-zoom” isn’t just a slogan whispered by one of those creepy kids from The Bloodening.

On the highways and byways of Westchester County, the Mazda3 proved a willing playmate (does that sound dirty to you, too?), bobbing and weaving through tight turns and long sweepers quite happily. For its part, the engine provides adequate power; while it’s not likely to be confused with the Batmobile anytime soon, the 3s accelerates with enough verve to keep from feeling underpowered. (However, spirited drivers will definitely want to become accustomed to the manual shift gate of the 5-speed automatic…if they haven’t decided to buy the MazdaSpeed3.)

Still, one might expect a little more performance – or at least craziness – out of a car with the sort of styling the 3 exhibits. No dowdy Corolla looks here – this Mazda isn’t afraid to let its freak flag fly. Mazda describes the car’s styling as “Nagare inspired,” after a recent concept car, but given its Japanese heritage, angular headlights and utterly enormous maw, “anime inspired” would probably be a better way of describing it. (Though “whale inspired” might work too, given that it looks like it could suck in its body weight in krill every day.)

Birds, however, did not seem fond of the styling. And they voted with their poop.

Birds, however, did not seem fond of the styling. And they voted with their poop.

Inside, the sporty design theme continues onto the dashboard, where a high-mounted display makes glancing over to check the radio frequency quick and easy. The large central-mounted audio controls are pleasantly easy to use –more so than many of the complex computer systems in far more expensive cars, even.

Still, the interior has a ways to go before it could be considered perfect; the interior plastics seem awfully hard; it would be excusable in a $15,000 car, but when you add on ten grand of options to that same car, it doesn’t seem like too much to ask for a classier feel to the interior. And what’s with the retro pixilated display for the radio? Yeah, red is better for night vision, but is there any reason it has to look like it’s from the Reagan administration? Maybe Mazda and Mitsubishi share a supplier.

Interior room is tight at best, cramped at worst. Even the front seats are a little tight for people of Conan O’Brien-like proportions (such as myself), while the back seat is just about useless with someone my size up front. It’s small enough to be a potential deal breaker for potential buyers – though if they’re considering the Grand Touring model, they might just sacrifice the leather seats and buy a much more accommodating Mazda6 instead.

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The Bottom Line:

The Mazda3 is a fun-to-drive little car ideal for those who want to stand out. Lanky people might want to look elsewhere, but if you fit inside, you’ll probably be quite happy.

The Grand Touring model isn’t the best deal in the lineup – at this price point, buyers are more likely to cross-shop with larger sedans better able to fit their lives. Most people will probably consider cheaper trim levels that offer most of the important features for a much more reasonable monthly payment.

But whether you spend 15 or 25 grand, you’re still getting the same car beneath the surface – a playful compact that’ll make you smile along with it.

Base Price/Price As Tested: $23,050/$24,445

0-60: 7.7 seconds (courtesy Car and Driver; manual transmission model)

Fuel Economy: 22 city/29 highway (EPA estimates)

Competitors: Honda Civic, Subaru Impreza, Toyota Corolla, Ford Focus

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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.

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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.”

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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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Ford’s Fiesta Movement

No, this has nothing to do with your toilet habits on Seis de Mayo. Get your mind out of the gutter. (Though I’ll admit that’s where mine resides about 85 percent of the time.)

You see, everyone, while Ford may simply be seen as Those Guys Who Make Your Mom’s SUV here in the States, elsewhere in the world, they actually make some pretty sweet cars. In Europe and Asia, Fords are well-made, popular vehicles that proudly stand up to any Honda, Toyota, BMW or Mercedes in their price bracket.

Here, however…well, the best news to come out of Ford in the last few year is that their finances are just good enough and their sales just high enough to avoid a government bailout. Which is sort of like bragging that your pay was cut to minimum wage instead of going on welfare – sure, it’s better, but when the guy next to you is still making most of what he used to, you kinda look like you’re clinging to some pretty thin straws.

So what’s the obvious thing to do? Try and rub some of that high-quality European image off on your American product, of course. Beer companies have been doing it for years, and isn’t that who car companies should be associating themselves with?

In Ford’s case, this means bringing over one of their most popular European cars, the Fiesta. (It was Europe’s best-selling car in March, and anything popular in Europe must be popular here!) It’s a small hatchback, around the size of a Honda Fit, and like the Honda (and unlike most of Ford’s U.S. lineup), it’s proven surprisingly fun to drive. Power isn’t great – U.S. specifications haven’t been released yet, but expect around 120 horses – but it should be fine for day-to-day driving, and the suspension keeps its European tuning (read: fun). Plus, an estimated fuel economy of high 30s/low 40s will make the Obama administration happy (and allow Ford to keep making Mustang GTs).

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The Fiesta will be showing up in U.S. showrooms in summer 2010 if all goes according to plan. (This probably means we’ll see it sometime around the next presidential election, but we can hope.) However, not content to twiddle their thumbs and watch America’s youth snatch up Fits and Scions in the meantime, the marketing gurus at Ford decided to raise awareness of their new car by putting 100 of them in the hands of their target audience – young, trendsetting people like you – and having them fulfill “missions” and post online about their experiences.

Does this mean there’s Twitter involved? How did you guess?

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Yes, the world’s most idiotic fastest-rising social medium plays a key role in the Ford Fiesta Movement. The “agents” frequently post on their own Twitter accounts, being sure to throw in the requisite “#fiestamovement” tag –  so everyone knows they’re not part of an unauthorized Fiesta movement. (That one is sponsored by GM, and does involve what you do on the toilet.) Luckily, you don’t need to go to Twitter to follow their feeds – you can catch all the Fiesta fever on the movement’s homepage, letting you sample such brilliant observations as, “Utah!” and “I peed on a mountain!” (Those courtesy of @BrooklynHilary and @supricky06, respectively.)

The “missions” vary from month to month; this month’s theme is travel (way to stretch there, Ford – what do you expect people to do with cars?) and the missions range from cliche to corny to cool. “Take a road trip with three of your friends” is pretty trite, and “Have a party in your car” sounds like a dare in Truth Or Dare Jenga – but “Go to farmers (sic) market, visit one of the stands’ farms, and milk an animal” takes some serious guts.  (Note: they don’t specify whether it has to be a farm animal.)

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I stumbled upon one of the Fiestas two blocks from CCO’s East Village offices here in NYC yesterday, so these people are really out there. (If you happened to be the driver of the maroon Fiesta parked on 5th Street between 1st and 2nd avenues on May 19th, shoot us an email at collegecars@gmail.com, or tweet us @collegecars.) They’ll also be holding ride and drive events across the country throughout the summer, which you can find out about via the program’s website.

Personally, I hope the Fiesta finds healthy sales here in the States. If it does, it will hopefully convince other automakers to send us their affordable Euro-candy (Damn it, Volkswagen, I want a Scirocco!). If you happen to be part of the Fiesta Movement, score a drive in one, or even just see one on the streets here in the U.S., let us know. We’ll keep trying to score a drive in one so we can let you know what we think of the car firsthand.

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2009 New York Auto Show Review

This year’s New York Auto Show was, for the most part, notable for its lack of notability.

While the NYIAS usually ranks as America’s most heavily attended auto show, with around a million visitors a year, the automotive industry has never treated it quite with the gravitas they do for other shows – the Detroit Auto Show, for example. This is pretty sensible – Detroit is Motor City, while in New York, the people ride in a hole in the ground.

But even considering its location in one of maybe two places in the U.S. where having a car is treated less like a modern convenience and more like an annoying rash (“I have to treat it twice a week?”), this year’s NYIAS was rather listless. Or, as the kids might put it, meh. There were no spectacular new models revealed. The press conferences were quite reserved – no Jeeps erupted out of volcanic calderas constructed in the parking lot. (That happened in 2007. Seriously.) There wasn’t even any apocalyptic undercurrent to the affair – no Hail Mary concepts (“it’ll run on urine!”) or manic attempts to convince everyone that things were great. There was just a slight sense of melancholy draining the energy out of the place.

But that’s not to say the show was a loss. There were still quite a few manufacturers who availed themselves of the opportunity, in true New York tradition, to whip open their trenchcoats and flash the goodies for the world to behold.

The new Acura ZDX concept, for one, has the potential to prove reasonably successful – at least, by the standards of the “Four-door Utility Crossover Koupe” class. (If Kia can spell coupe with a K to be “cool,” I can do it for a cheap joke.) Sadly, boss company Honda’s decision to freeze development on its V-8 means the ZDX will be handicapped from day one against the competing Infiniti FX and BMW X6,  both of which offer six- and eight-cylinder models. Still, the Acura MDX crossover upon which the ZDX is based has done all right with just a V-6 – it offers top-of-the-class driving dynamics and quality. If the ZDX manages to improve on its brother while coming in around the same price as the six-cylinder Bimmer and Finnie, it should do well for itself.

acura-zdx-prototypejpg

And while we’re on the subject of FUCKs, I’d like to point out that, mocking acronym aside, I don’t find them nearly as insensible as some others in the automotive industry do. While the idea of them as anything close to a proper coupe is hilarious (and not lame Jimmy Fallon hilarious, but seriously Tina Fey hilarious), they offer what people like about SUVs – high seating, ground clearance, all-wheel-drive, roomy interior – with a more attractive design and sportier performance. That sounds like a win-win.

Another example: the BMW X6 M, also unveiled at NYIAS. 555 horsepower, 500 lb-ft of torque, 0-60 in 4.5 seconds. All the straight-line performance of a BMW M5, and probably 95 percent of its handling capabilities – plus you can drive the bastard through a blizzard, carrying twice as much in the trunk. It’s the logical extension of convenient performance: the sport sedan gave us sports-car performance with room for four; the sports-FUCK gives us equal performance with room for four and all-road capability. In fact – and I may be going out on a limb here – I’d take an X6 M over a current generation M5, given the sedan’s unsatisfying choice between the harsh, grabby sequential gearbox and the performance-crippling manual.

2010_bmw_x6_m

Volkswagen took the wraps off the American versions of the new Golf, complete with hot-to-trot GTI edition. The biggest news here is the new styling, which depending on the angle, can either make the car look tough or raccoon-eyed. Still, the sleeker lines are a definite improvement over the current, bland-looking car. VW’s betting heavy on their 50-state-clean diesel technology in this car – they guesstimate 30 percent of sales will be oil burners in the first model. Diesel Jettas, for their part, have been scooping up 30 percent of Jetta sedan sales and half of the Jetta wagon market, so this might be realistic. Still, will people want “sportier” gasoline engines in the cooler Golf?

2010_volkswagen_golf_gti

The other big news, of course, has nothing to do with the mechanics of the car; VW changed the car’s name from “Rabbit” to “Golf.” This marks the second time VW has executed this exact name change in America for the car, having done so decades ago. They switched it back to “Rabbit” for the new 2006 model – I can only assume to capitalize on some perceived nostalgia for 70s-era compacts. Judging by the reversal, I’d wager they didn’t find any.

Mercedes-Benz used the auto show to unwrap a somewhat surprising ML450 Hybrid – surprising because M-B seemed to be putting its eggs into the efficient diesel market, especially on its SUVs. Nevertheless, Benz fused a 3.5 liter V-6 to a pair of electric motors to make a combined 335 horsepower and 385 lb/ft, while eking out an estimated 21/24 mpg, city/highway. In contrast, their ML320 BlueTEC diesel pumps out 210 horsepower, 398 lb/ft and makes 18/24, city/highway.  Assuming they both cost about the same, the hybrid has a definite edge around town – factor in the cheaper price of gasoline than diesel and the cache of the “Hybrid” badge, and the new model will probably outsell the oil burner by a decent margin. But it’s good to see Mercedes taking the green thing seriously.

mercedesbenz_ml450_hybrid

Jeep, sadly, doesn’t seem to be following the same track, at least if the 2011 Grand Cherokee is any indication. It still limits your choices to gasoline six- and eight-cylinder engines –  a 3.0 liter diesel is only available outside of the States. (Strange, given that Jeep’s website lists the current model rocking the diesel six. Expect to see that remedied within the next three years.) The V-6 is all new, a 280-horsepower, 260 lb/ft 3.6 liter that’s supposed to deliver a whopping 11 percent improvement in fuel economy. Given the current 4WD model gets 15/19 with its V6, that should at least bump it over the 20 mpg mark – but being unveiled just after Mercedes’s 24-mpg hybrid M-class, and just before GMC declared the 2WD GMC Terrain will get 30 mpg, the Jeep’s figures hardly look like the sort of leap forward Chrysler needs right now.

2011_jeep_grand_cherokee-thumb

But thankfully, the Grand Cherokee’s physical figure comes damn close to making up for it. This is one good-looking truck. Previous GCs have bounced between ruggedly square and generically curvy, but this is the first one that could genuinely be called hot – er, in an automotive sense. In fact, pretty much the only reason this baby’s on this list instead of the Terrain is because of how it looks. The GMC gets 30 mpg on the highway, has a quality interior, is big enough for four of me (if you’re above 6’2″, you know how hard it is to find cars in which you can sit behind yourself), and will probably cost at least eight grand less when it comes out this summer – a full year before the Jeep. But the Terrain is a 5. The Grand Cherokee is a 9.

While the Honda Element continues on with its admittedly…homely styling, the new “Dog Friendly” package transforms the car from a utilitarian box to a utilitarian box every one of the 43 million Americans with canine companions will look at and say, “Aww…” In all honesty, I’m shocked that no one’s thought of this before. Car companies have made specialized models for all sorts of esoteric markets – wealthy ranchers,  yuppie outdoorsmen, extraordinarily rich socialites, and most notably, Frank Sinatra fans – but so far as I know, no one’s ever arranged such a simple, yet logical, package for such a wide market. (Well, Dodge did build a model called the LaFemme just for ladies, but it failed, in no small part because the idea was utterly moronic.)

Dog Friendly Honda Element Concept

Let’s face it – despite the fact that most of us love our dogs more than we love our second cousins (fine, first cousins), the vast majority of us simply let them hop into the back seat and drive off without a second thought. We don’t belt them in, transforming them into living cannonballs in an accident. We don’t buy them Powerades at the 7-11, and rarely consider the climate back there. The average American’s consideration for his or her dog’s well-being in the car probably extends to cracking the rear windows.

He's too darn cute not to see again.

He's too darn cute not to see again.

But when dog owners hear about this package, I’m willing to bet they’ll at least be intrigued enough to come in and take a look. And, sure, you could probably build your own version of the kit at Petsmart for far less than it’ll retail for, but remember, we’re lazy! Anyone motivated enough to do all that work must be some kind of weirdo. But buying a pre-made package…that shows love. I’ll bet you Honda won’t have a problem selling any of these – and I’ll bet every manufacturer you hear snidely deriding the option is working on copying it.

Speaking of plagiarizing Honda, a round of applause for Kia, ladies and gentlemen! If you slapped a Civic badge on the new Forte Coupe, not only could you pass yourself off as someone with classier taste in cars, you’d probably be able to score service at a fair number of Honda dealerships across the nation. I mean, you couldn’t have your catalytic converter replaced without being noticed, but you could probably snag an oil change.

2010_kia_forte_koup

Though in all honesty, you’ll probably be getting a fair number of complements from Honda owners, because this new coupe is…alluring? Wait a second – has Kia actually made a cool car? Remarkable, but true. Kia quality has been steadily increasing since the brand’s arrival (not like it had anywhere to go but up); that, combined with their T.J. Maxx pricing, has been their ace in the hole these last couple years. Throw in eye-catching styling and halfway decent performance, and we may have ourselves the automotive equivalent of the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays – an upstart franchise without any big names that surprises the hell out of everyone.

Now, astute readers (or Kia fans – do they even exist?) will point out that I have the two-door Forte’s name wrong, and that it’s actually called the “Forte Koup.” My misspelling is entirely intentional.  Not long ago, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine (who happens to be a professional writer) about when it’s acceptable to change the spelling of a word for artistic reasons. He pointed out that while it often looks better, if you want to be taken seriously, you need to spell it right. Kia ought to know better – and I’m not going to disgrace all the hard work of the engineers and designers by referring to it by a bastardized moniker.

That, and I simply can’t stand typing “koup.”

Finally on our list of noteworthy NYIAS debuts comes a pair of cash cattle from Subaru – the brand-new Legacy sedan and Outback wagon. If you’ve ever ventured into one of the New England states, you’ll understand what this means. Up there, the arrival of new Subarus is celebrated in much the way a bountiful harvest or the birth of a new child is. Farmers and their families congregate in the village green, often traveling ten or twenty miles along muddy, washed-out excuses-for-roads in their old Subies to reach the festivities. The local minister leads everyone in a prayer, glorious odes are sung, then everyone sits down for an enormous potluck supper. Afterwards, the assembly examines every inch of the new models; questions are asked and answered, brochures poured over, Subaru salesmen toasted with cider and beer. Eventually, the masses place their orders for the vehicles that will carry them through the worst God and nature can throw at them through the next four to eight years of their Rockwellian existence.

Though they mask it well, the hearts of stoic New Englanders warm for this car.

Though they mask it well, the hearts of stoic New Englanders warm for this car.

So, yes, this is a big deal.

But aside from the joyful noise arising from parts north, it was a pretty low-key auto show. It seems like most people in the automotive industry are just trying to ride things out as best they can. Perhaps one of the most surprising turn of events was the number of new SUVs – even with gas prices reduced from last year’s highs, “green” remains the color of choice these days, so it seems a little odd that out of this list of notable, five of the nine vehicles are sport-utes (not including the Outback, whose impression of one has gone from Frank Caliendo quality to Sasha Baron Cohen caliber). Here’s hoping next year’s show finds the industry on more stable ground – so we can drool over something better than a new Jeep.

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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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