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Review – 2010 Mercury Milan Hybrid

The Good: Excellent gas mileage, high quality inside and out, makes driving efficiently fun.

The Bad: $32 grand for a family car, not long for this world.

The Verdict: Mercury finally has a sedan people want—too late to make a difference.

Watch our video review too!

A moment of silence, please, for Mercury.

Decades ago, Ford’s midlevel brand had panache. During the Heyday of America (1945-1968), the brand was a step on the ladder to success; driving a Mercury meant while you may not be able to afford a Lincoln just yet, you’d pulled yourself up high enough by your bootstraps to graduate from those run-of-the-mill Fords.  Much like Buick over at GM, Mercurys were just fancy enough to make their drivers feel slightly superior.

However, much like Buick, the brand lost their way in the last few decades of the 20th century, and spent much of recent history cranking out mildly gussied-up versions of Ford vehicles. (The last Mercury to differ in more than badging from a Ford product was the Cougar—and that cat went extinct in 2002.) So it was no surprise when Ford announced on June 2nd they’d be euthanizing the nameplate this year. While Buick escaped the executioner’s block by virtue of its immense popularity in China, the 72-year-old Mercury remained unloved by any rapidly expanding consumer nations, and so we bid it adieu.

But come December, don’t be surprised if the last Mercury to ever roll off the assembly line is a Milan Hybrid—because this is the first Mercury in a long time to instill in its owners that tiny feeling of supremacy. Sure, the car’s pretty much a clone of the Ford Fusion Hybrid (though a bit less plebian to my eyes), but who cares? This car makes you feel just a bit better than all those clods in their Foci.

But in this eco-conscious age, those feelings stem less from the car’s price (though if you can afford a car that costs more than $30,000 in this economy, you can probably pat yourself on the back) and more from the impressive fuel economy figures eked out by the gasoline-electric powertrain. By mating a 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine to a 275-volt nickel-metal hydride battery, the Milan achieves 41 miles per gallon around town and 36 mpg on the open road, according to the EPA. (Fast fact: at a combined 39 mpg, you could drive the Milan hybrid 1,111,500,000 miles on the amount of gasoline that could have been made from the crude leaked so far by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill! That’s 2,326 round trips to the Moon!)

However, unlike some hybrids, the Mercury doesn’t sacrifice much power on the altar of efficiency; the engine-motor combo creates a combined maximum of 191 horsepower, par for the midsized hybrid sedan segment where it competes. (The comparable Nissan Altima Hybrid and Toyota Camry Hybrid make 198 and 187 horses, respectively.) With the power traveling to the front wheels through a continuously variable transmission, the dash from 0 to 60 arrives in 8.5 seconds, according to a Car and Driver test of the mechanically identical Fusion Hybrid.

The trunk's interior latch appears aimed at kidnappees.

Impressively, the Milan/Fusion duo of hybrids can reach a claimed top speed of 47 miles per hour on electricity alone; I never quite reached that mark just on juice, but did once make it up to about 45 only on electrons. As John Mellencamp said, that’s close enough for rock and roll. However, making maximum mpg means driving like a rock star is out of the question; a feathery touch on the accelerator is required to keep the inline four from leaping into action. Remember when your parents/driver’s ed teacher/arresting police officer told you to imagine there was an egg under the pedal? If your aim is to use as little gasoline as possible in the Milan, it’s best to picture a helium balloon tied to your right foot. Or better yet, actually tie a helium balloon to your right foot.

But there’s an unexpected side effect to this: it makes driving slow fun. Instead of seeing how quickly you can swoop through the turns or bomb the quarter mile, the joy comes from toying with the formerly-known-as-the-gas pedal, trying to use as little energy as possible to move about without risking incoming gunfire from drivers behind you. (That’s not a joke here in New York City.) In an increasingly common burst of creativity and wisdom, the folks at Ford Motor Company included multiple means of informing the driver just how eco-friendly s/he is being—most inventively, by including a virtual patch of vines on the digital instrument panel, which grows leaves when the car is driven efficiently and sheds them when you’re pissing off the planet. Sounds stupid, but I found it surprisingly effective—and guilt inducing. (“NOOOOOO! THE LEAVES ARE DYING!”)

Apart from the powertrain, the Milan is pretty much standard Ford material—which is to say, a lot better than it was five or more years ago. (Maybe it’s time to reanimate that old “Have you driven a Ford lately?” tagline.) The gray leather seats in my tester were comfy on long hauls, but not particularly well-bolstered; of course, the hybrid Milan really isn’t aimed at those who’re big into hauling ass and taking license plate numbers, so this comes as little surprise. But the leather was soft, the plastic on the dashboard pleasant to the touch, and the interior proved quite appealing to at least four senses. (I did not lick it.)

This Milan was also equipped with Ford’s Sync system, designed by Microsoft to make ease integrating your cell phone/iPod/microwave oven with the car’s computer. It let me play music from my iPhone through Bluetooth, but wouldn’t read my incoming text messages to me because my phone was “incompatible.” Plus, Sync repeatedly “lost” my phone’s signal, forcing me to dive into the car’s submenus to manually reconnect. (I imagine the car did this passive-aggressively as part of a “I’m a Mac / And I’m a PC” interaction.)

But the rest of the car’s tech proved well above and beyond what I expect from family sedans. The rearview camera and parking sensors were, as always, handy, and the navigation system never steered me wrong. (It does leave “bread crumbs” on the screen to track where you’ve been; after several days driving around New York City, however, it was starting to look like Little Billy’s dotted line from The Family Circus.) The Sony-designed 12 speaker, 390-watt stereo knocked my ears out of the park; I never had to turn it up past 30 percent power. And having two 12-volt cigarette lighter-style and one household-style 110-volt three-prong outlets was quite nice. Finally, I could use my MacBook, my iPhone and my iPad all at once without fear of low batteries—while driving!

[Editor’s note: he did not actually do this. But if Apple wants to give us some freebies so our passengers can try it, we won’t say no.]

The Bottom Line:

The Milan will all but certainly be the last new car made by this septuagenarian brand, unless Ford decides to reward the brand’s tiny audience of fans and unveils a Mercury version of the Mustang. (The Pegasus?) But this hybrid’s virtues have earned it a place in the brand’s history—not just because it was the last in a long line of Mercurys, but because it was the last Mercury anyone could drive and feel proud that they were doing so. Death will guarantee the Milan Hybrid shall remain a rarity on our roads; the company sold only 1, 486 in 2009, and pre-extinction-purchase-fever aside, I doubt the company will sell more than that this year. (In contrast, the Fusion Hybrid sold 15,554 units last year.)  But those 3,000 owners can take pride in knowing they’re driving a unique version of the best family sedan Detroit has made in a very long time—and that’s starting to mean something again.

So with that, we say goodbye to the brand with a phrase most apt for a car company named after the messenger of the gods:

Godspeed, Mercury.

Base Price/Price As Tested: $31,980/$32,980

0-60: 8.5 seconds (courtesy Car and Driver)

Fuel Economy: 41 city/36 highway (EPA estimate)

Key Competitors: Toyota Camry Hybrid, Nissan Altima Hybrid, Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid

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New York Auto Show – Porsche

To my crushing sadness, Porsche didn’t bring their awesome 918 Spyder concept to the Big Apple. God only knows why.

However, they did bring the new family of Cayennes, which are certainly the improvement many of us were hoping for. The new Cayenne addresses the two main criticisms of the old – a lot of mass and less-than-pretty looks – by shaving off more than 400 lbs and sculpting the body into a shape you don’t want to peel your eyes off.

Nobody was complaining about the performance, but Porsche went ahead and pumped that up too. (They wouldn’t be Porsche if they didn’t.) With its 500 horsepower V8 and eight-speed auto, Porsche says the Cayenne Turbo runs the 0-60 dash in 4.4 seconds. And they’re usually conservative in their estimates.) There’s also a Cayenne S Hybrid with a combined 380 horsepower; they claim a 20 percent fuel economy improvement over the conventional 2011 Cayenne S.

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New York Auto Show – Hyundai

No all-new models for Hyundai this year, but the two new versions of the Sonata they showed off were hardly a disappointment. The sporty Sonata 2.0T takes the place of a V6 trim level; “We’re leaving the V6 behind,” said a spokesman. But don’t fret, power junkies; the turbocharged 2.0 liter engine cranks out 274 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque, bettering its six-cylinder competitors. Plus, Hyundai said they’re dedicated to bringing a “well-equipped” version to market for less than $25K.

The Sonata Hybrid aims for the opposite end of the lineup, offering the best fuel economy. (However, at 209 combined hp, it betters the regular Sonata by 9-11 horses.) With an estimated 34 mpg city and 39 highway, the Sonata Hybrid pulls down solid numbers for a car so large; plus, it has the highest electric-only top speed of any hybrid family sedan. (I could have sworn I heard Ford execs cursing a blue streak at that remark.)

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New York Auto Show – Ford

Ford’s press con was devoted to touting their eco-friendly lineup and future. Among the cars they showed off was an electric Focus “produced for the Jay Leno Show” (I came very close to heckling, “I’m with Coco!”).

But the “big” news was devoted to the company’s hybrids. They boasted of their four current hybrids – however, given that two of those are Mercury twins identical to their Ford counterparts, this is like having Red Delicious and Macintosh apples and claiming you have two kinds of fruit.

So to no one’s surprise, Ford brought out a Granny Smith – a hybrid version of the Lincoln MKZ. Pretty much the same as its Ford Focus and Mercury Milan triplets, the MKZ differs in that not only does its digital gauge grow leaves…it also grows apple blossoms.

Seriously. That was it.

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New York Auto Show – First Sighting!

Not even at the show, and we’ve already spotted our first piece of car-ass. We saw this Porsche 911 GT3 Hybrid in a parking garage on 34th St.

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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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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 – Lexus LFA supercar revealed, new BMW 5-series spied, next-gen Mitsubishi Evo will be a hybrid, and more

Time for another burst of automotive news, everyone!

Our top story of this installment: after years and years and YEARS of teasing, Toyota has finally unveiled Lexus’s first supercar. Called the LFA, the supercar is a clean-sheet design with a front-mounted 4.8-liter V10 that spits out 552 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque. With the help of a six-speed sequential manual gearbox, Toyota claims the car dashes from 0 to 60 in 3.5 seconds before topping out at 202 miles per hour.

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If it sounds to you like the LFA will line up pretty squarely against the Ferrari 458 Italia, congratulations, you know enough about sports cars to make up for your Archie comics collection. However, there’s a catch – the Ferrari is significantly cheaper than Toyota’s latest ride. (And there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.)

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Yes, the LFA can be yours for not a Benjamin less than $375,000 – at least $100,000 than the 458 will likely cost here in the States. And while the Lexus is pretty cool, it’s hard to imagine many rich car enthusiasts would pick the uglier, more expensive LFA over the latest addition to Ferrari’s stable. Of course, most of them won’t have to – in this price range, if you can buy one, you can probably buy both.

But Toyota isn’t the only Japanese manufacturer with big performance news. According to AutoCar, the next-generation Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution will be powered by a plug-in hybrid powertrain similar to that of the company’s PX-MiEV concept from this year’s Tokyo Motor Show. The PX-MiEV, which sounds like a bad hand of Scrabble, has two electric motors powering all four wheels;  a 1.6 liter four-cylinder engine pulls double-duty, both generating power for the battery and powering the front driveshaft.

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The PX-MiEV. Not the Evo XI, thank God.

Now, we here at CCO aren’t quite sure how Mitsubishi intends to pull this off. Even if they can drastically cut the Evo’s weight (which would be difficult to do while adding all the new tech), the car will still need at least 250 horsepower in order to maintain its performance credentials. But that’s 250 horsepower all the time. Not, 250 horsepower until the battery runs out of initial charge, then 100 horsepower while the gas motor recharges it. Then again, the next-gen Evo isn’t due until 2013, so they have time to sort it out.

Speaking of potentially stupid ideas, Porsche recently announced they would be willing to share both the Panamera and, more frighteningly, the 911 architecture with their new corporate masters, the Volkswagen Group. We’re not sure if this is Volkswagen exacting punishment for Porsche’s earlier attempt to conquer the VW Group (super-short refresher: Porsche AG tried to take over the VW group in 2007, but it fell through – so the VW group proceeded to take over Porsche, instead), but using the 911 platform for anything other than Porsche 911s just seems blasphemous.

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Of course, it’s unlikely VW will ever use the 911’s underpinnings for anything else, since the demand for rear-engined sports cars is pretty slim. Porsche has only managed to perfect the form after 40-plus years of refinement; if it weren’t for the 911’s immense heritage, they likely would have dumped the car in favor of a bigger version of the mid-engined Boxster years ago. (That said, don’t be surprised to see the next-gen Boxster/Cayman sharing a platform with Audi’s R4 roadster…)

In other German car news, prototypes of BMW’s next-generation 5-series have been spotted prowling around Deutschland. Clad in BMW’s groovy camouflage designed to confuse camera lenses and attract aging hippies, the new 5 looks to us like a cross between the new 7-series and the most recent 3-series – which is probably what they were aiming for. Once the acid trip stickers wear off (hah!), expect a more conventionally attractive sedan than the current 5.

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Courtesy Autowereld.com

Expect the same inline six-cylinder engines from today’s lineup, but the 360-hp V8 of the current BMW 550i will be supplanted with the oh-so-sweet turbocharged 4.4-liter, 400-hp V8 from the 750i and X6. Rumor has it the next M5 will come with a similar turbocharged V8 pumping out around 550 horsepower, connected to a 7-speed dual clutch gearbox – and the line for that sonofabitch forms behind me, so stop cutting.

On the complete other end of the performance spectrum, Nissan pulled the wraps off the production version of their Leaf electric car last week at the Tokyo Auto Show. To dust off the old SAT-style analogy format, Leaf:Nissan::Volt:General Motors, and if you can’t figure that out, well, you probably shouldn’t be reading “College” Cars Online.

2010-Nissan-Leaf-Front-Side-View-588x391

Nissan claims the Leaf offers all the convenience and range necessary to wean the majority of automobile users (at least those in First-World Countries – sorry, anybody who’s name ends in -stan) off the internal combustion engine. With a 100-mile range, 107 horsepower, a top speed of 87 mph and a pricetag of around $25,000, we’ll probably be seeing quite a few Leafs (Leaves?) on our roads soon.

Nissan claims recharging on a 200V outlet takes 8 hours, which is all kinds of helpful, considering pretty much every electrical appliance in the U.S. operates on either a 120V or 240V circuit. Figure around 8 hours on a heavy-duty 240V outlet, whereas if you’re plugging into the same 120V outlet your iPhone uses, you might as well just walk wherever you’re going.

I don’t really have any creative segue for this next story, since it sort of goes directly in opposition to the point of this site, so let’s just dive right in and avoid this awkward moment. According to the omnipresent J.D. Power and Associates, Generation Y doesn’t care as much about automobiles as they used to. After the Big Brother-ish group tracked thousands of conversations on Facebook and Twitter over an eight-month period (um, creepy), they determined teens and “early careerists” – 12-to-18-year-olds and  22-to-29-year-olds, respectively, because college students don’t matter – showed “shifts in perception regarding the necessity of and desire to have cars.”

The Power Co. goes on to posit that either the recession has left America’s youth with less cash to spend on cars, or that social media has replaced face-to-face interaction to such a degree we no longer feel the need to meet up in person as much. If number two is correct, then God help us all.

On a completely unrelated note, be sure to follow us on Twitter, @collegecars! Also, become a fan of us on Facebook!

However, the survey does go on to point out the two most popular automotive topics on social media during that time were NASCAR and “Transformers: Rise Of The Fallen.” Please excuse me while I slam my head into a brick wall.

original

Optimus Prime never saw a dance-off he couldn't win.

Finally, a moment of silence, please, for the passing of a legend. Land Rover has announced that after six decades on the market, the Defender will be retired in 2013. While the Defender proved itself capable of conquering the worst nature could throw at it, there was one foe it proved unable to defeat: government regulations.

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Thanks to new European emissions and pedestrian-safety regulations, an all-new or heavily revised replacement will be required for the aging yet capable SUV. While the Defender hasn’t been sold in the U.S. for quite some time, your editor will always have fond memories of clambering up a seemingly impassible trail in the Vermont woods in a Defender 90.

However, Land Rover claims the replacement will be more versatile and more practical. If that means it’ll be just as capable and can come back to the States, well – the king is dead, long live the king!

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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.)

mclaren_lm5_renderings_mw_images_005

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.

porsche_supercar_baddal_images_003

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.

bmw_sportscar_concept_study_images_main-1

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.

toyota_ft_86_concept_images_main

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.

toyota_ft_86_concept_images_006

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!)

2009_honda_crz_hybrid_concept_images_002-1

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.

2009_honda_crz_hybrid_concept_images_main

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?

2010-subaru-outback-front-side-588x413

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.

audi_etron_concept_main_a

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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