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2010 Beijing Auto Show Recap

Ah, Beijing in April! Where the sweet, noxious smell of pollution fills the air with the sounds of thousands of coughing Chinese children. For reasons that had nothing to do with the eruption of Mount Overanalyzed (it’s just a volcano, folks – it didn’t erupt because of global warming, and it doesn’t mean the end of air travel, so calm down), we were unable to make it to Beijing; however, we did go down to Chinatown and suck on the tailpipe of a ’62 Dodge Dart for a while, which is pretty much the same thing.

However, neither our lack of airfare nor our sudden racking cough is enough to keep us from bringing you the highlights from this year’s Beijing Auto Show. Since China has become to automakers what Jerusalem was to Moses, the show this year (barely worth covering two or three years ago) played host to several world premieres of cars you’d actually want to own. So, in no particular order, here we go!

2011 Ferrari 599 GTO

We’re gonna turn this over to special guest contributor Garth Algar for our thoughts on the 599 GTO:

Are we clear on this? The 599 GTB is already one of the top three most incredible Ferraris in history, and ranks firmly atop our Powerball Car Pavilion. Compared with the GTB, the GTO is stripped of 200 pounds and packs an extra 49 horsepower to make what Ferrari calls its “fastest-ever road car.” (Not sure how they quantify that, given the Enzo topped out at 209 mph versus the 599’s 208, but hey, who really cares?) 0-60 should come in less than 3.4 seconds, and the company’s single-clutch six-speed automated manual is the only transmission. While a stripped-down interior means the GTO is probably a bit less livable than its GTB sibling, it’s a faster, more ferocious version of an already fast and ferocious machine. And it sounds like this. There’s only one word for that:

Schwing indeed.

Mercedes-Benz Shooting Break Concept

Somehow, the bizarre evolutionary arms war between BMW and Mercedes-Benz keeps resulting in more and more perplexing (and seemingly redundant) models. For example – take Mercedes’s midsize lineup. With the Shooting Break (basically a wagon version of the next CLS), Mercedes will have three separate wagons of similar size for around the same price: the E-class wagon, the R-class, and this bad boy. Confused? So are we.

But clearly they’re selling, since the company keeps wheeling out new versions. Right now it doesn’t look like the production CLS wagon will be hitting U.S. shores, sticking to markets like, well, China. Which is kinda sad, since this is a pretty enticing shaggin’ wagon. Still, if you like the look and are willing to show restraint at Whole Foods, the 2011 CLS should look almost identical, except for a more conventional trunk.

The Shooting Break also holds the first example of M-B’s new family of engines, represented here by a 3.5 liter V6 with 306 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque. Presumably channeled through a seven-speed automatic, this engine should become the new entry-level motor for the E-, R-, CLS-, and ML-classes…at least until they make a four-cylinder engine capable of providing the power we Americans deserve. (Arf arf arf!)

BMW Concept Gran Coupé

Remember BMW’s Concept CS of a couple years back, a sleeker 7-series-based four-door-coupe in the CLS persuasion with a paint job that shone like the T-1000 emerging from a fiery wreck? It was reportedly slated for production as the company’s range-topper (presumably called the 8-series), but the Great Recession blew the hell out of that plan.

John Connor is really getting pissed about the popularity of this color.

However, good ideas never die, they just go into hibernation – and the folks at BMW have decided it’s time to wake up their stylish little cub. The Gran Coupé will likely be coming to life as the next 6-series – probably a good business move, as it allows the model to go from being a bulky, sedan-based runner-up in the  Porsche 911/Maserati GranTurismo category to the sharpest, most exciting competitor in the CLS/Jaguar XF segment.

Powertrain details weren’t released, but we figure the new 5-series’s engines and transmissions will carry over all but unchanged. No one outside of Bimmer has seen inside, but we’re imagining a plush, comfy cabin with four bucket seats. (And in said daydream, we’re in the driver’s seat, flooring the 400 horsepower V8 and rowing through the six-speed stick. Don’t let us down, BMW…)

2011 Audi A8L W12

Should you prefer the rear-right seat of a car to the front-left, the A8L makes a convincing argument to be your vehicle of choice. With five extra inches of wheelbase over the already commodious A8, the L offers a combination of space and luxury usually found only in a Bombardier Global Express jet. For chauffeured corporate titans who need that extra bit of penis enhancement acceleration, the 6.3 liter W12 spits out 500 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque – less than the competing Mercedes-Benz S600 and BMW 760Li, but still enough to motivate the enormous sedan from naught to 60 in 4.9 seconds or so. (The short-wheelbase A8’s 372 horse 4.2 liter V8 provides motivation for the standard A8L; both engines send power to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic.)

For reasons we’re not entirely sure about, the long-wheelbase A8 offers a rear-facing jumpseat that folds out of the back of the front passenger’s seat, forcing both back-right passengers to share legrooms. We think it’s actually a perch for for your cat. There’s also a center console in back that can be equipped with a fridge; no word yet whether it’ll be big enough for a bottle of Moet. (Or Donaghy Estates, if you’re so inclined.)

Chevrolet Volt MPV5 Electric Concept

Chevy’s Volt, dubbed the “Jesus of Detroit” by, well, us while writing for someone else, is finally coming to fruition; the four-door plug-in electric car-with-a-gas generator will be rolling along U.S. streets by this fall, barring any hiccups. But for all its benefits, the Volt is still a small car with a $35,000 price tag. GM swears the Volt will be profitable, but a lot of that depends on finding a way to sell as many cars with the technology as possible.

So why not throw the powertrain into something a bit more utilitarian? That seems to be the idea behind the awkwardly named Volt MPV5 Electric Concept. (How about a bit of abbreviation/Roman numeralization, and we call it the V-MPV-V?) With a 150 horsepower, 370 lb-ft electric motor for propulsion and 1.4 liter gasoline engine for recharging, the MPV5 is quoted as having an electric-only range of 32 miles and a gas-assisted range of 300; top speed is 100 miles per hour.

Not quite a minivan (the rear doors don’t slide) nor a station wagon (too tall), the MPV5 has room for five (hence the name) and an impressive 30.5 cubic feet of storage in back with all the seats up. It looks pretty cool, too – an impressive feat for an electric people-mover. Expect to see a production version fairly similar to this concept around this time next year.

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2011 Porsche Cayenne Leaked, Geneva Auto Show Preview, and Don’t Text And Drive, Genius

Last Wednesday, sharp-eyed visitors to Porsche’s online car configurator might have noticed an unknown-but-strangely-familiar face among the array of cars pictured:

Yes, folks, that’s the new Cayenne,  roaming wild and free for all to see. Of course, since the new Cayenne isn’t supposed to be unveiled until the Geneva Auto Show a couple weeks from now, Porsche rapidly pulled the image off the site – but thankfully, not before at least one person snared a decent screenshot.

Car and Driver was lucky enough to take a spin in the next-gen Cayenne; in their February issue, writer/photographer/presumed bratwurst enthusiast/lucky son-of-a-bitch Juergen Zoellter states Cayenne 2.0 is about 440 pounds lighter than the current model – smart thinking, given the current Cayenne is massive enough to gravitationally suck in unlucky pedestrians. (Though that makes for a great conversation starter.)

With the standard eight-speed automatic, Porsche claims the 500-hp Turbo model should do the 0-60 in 4.6 seconds. While we can’t vouch for those times yet, we can certainly endorse the looks of the new Cayenne. Based on the picture above, it looks a hell of a lot more aggressive than the current model, which from certain angles, looks as awkward as John Edwards at a “Democrats For Fidelity” summit.

We’ll have official details of the 2011 Cayenne once the Geneva Auto Show kicks off on March 2nd. However, if you’re still itching for another little glimpse of the fun to come…take a look at the 2011 Audi RS5, also debuting at Geneva.

The RS5 cranks out 450 horses from its 4.2 liter V8 without a psi of help from a turbo or supercharger. Putting that grunt to all four wheels is a seven-speed DSG. Audi claims 0-60 comes in 4.6 seconds – oddly enough, the same as the Cayenne Turbo. That’s the good news.

The bad news is, Audi hasn’t announced whether it’ll come stateside yet. Start writing your senators now, folks.

Of course, never one to be left out, Mercedes-Benz has released details about its Geneva star, the F800 Style concept. Mercedes says the F800 indicates the design direction the company intends to follow from now on, and strongly hints at the look of the next0generation CLS. While we think it looks a bit…blunt from the front, there’s definitely potential here.

The F800 also comes with a concept car’s usual array of apocryphal wonders, like a plug-in hybrid powertrain capable of running from 0-60 in 4.7 seconds while still achieving 81 miles per gallon. To quote Broken Lizard’s magnum opus Super Troopers – “I’ll believe that when me shit turns purple and smells like rainbow sherbert.”

Yet sadly, for most of us, a Porsche Cayenne Turbo, Audi RS5, or Mercedes-Benz CLS will remain out of fiscal reach for quite some time. But if your budget only stretches to automotive crack instead of full-out cocaine, fear not: it looks like our old friends at Ford have your back.

Ford execs have dropped a couple subtle hints that the next-generation Ford Focus will not only receive a Rip-Snortin’ RS version (would you prefer “Red-asS”?), but that the hardcore Focus will be coming to the U.S. for the first time as well. One word: BOOSH.

The current Focus RS.

The 2012(ish) Focus RS should make around 300 horsepower, thanks to a 2.0 liter turbocharged inline four equipped with Ford’s EcoBoost, which is also slang for stealing power from a wind farm.

Finally, from the “No Shit, Sherlock” files, the NHTSA (click the link if you want to know what the acronym’s for, we’re sick of typing it out) is prepping legislation that would ban texting while driving.

Of course, the NHTSA has no ability to put the laws into effect; they’re meant as guidelines for individual states to adopt or edit as they see fit. 19 states and D.C already have similar measures in effect, including, hilariously, seat-belt-averse New Hampshire. (Live Free or Die! Or, rather, Live Free until You Die Being Ejected Through A Windshield At 70 MPH!)

We here at CCO think this is a brilliant idea. While we’ve got mixed feeling on hands-free-calling-only-while-driving laws (studies have shown they don’t reduce distraction compared to holding the phone, and we think people will be more likely to engage in distracting phone calls if it’s easier to do), texting while driving is just a bad idea. Period. In fact, on weekends, we at CCO like to pick up a Rent-A-Wreck and perform a little vigilante enforcement by ramming texting drivers right off the road. Tweet about that, will you.

And don't even think about using this fucker.

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A Burst of News – Hyper Lamborghinis, AWD Ferraris, Electric Rolls-Royces, two new luxury sedans and one less Italian cop car…

We at CCO would like to welcome you to a special Holiday Burst of News. It’s pretty much the same as any other Burst, except our hearts are filled with the unique form of adrenaline brought on by massive amounts of Thanksgiving food, Black Friday debt, and ChristmuHanuKwanzaa excitement/stress. So you’ll excuse us if we occasionally pause to scream our heads off.

Our first gift this holiday season, however, comes from the good folks at Lamborghini. According to company sources speaking to CarsUK.net, Lambo is summoning up their very own hypercar capable of competing with the Ferrari Enzo and the rest of the highest echelon of automotive performance. Rumor has it the car, which will be based off the Murcielago-replacing Jota, will be named Urus, after the enormous primordial ancestor of modern cattle. (That’s not a joke.)

They really could just cut and paste the Reventon body on the Jota chassis, and I don't think any of us would mind.

While the Jota’s suspected 700+ horsepower 6.0 liter V12 and carbon fiber/aluminum chassis mean it probably won’t be much of a slouch, the Urus should blow it away, thanks to intensive weight-reducing strategies and the introduction of an 800+ horsepower V12. Price hasn’t been announced, but if you’re hoping for less than half a million bucks, you’d be better off praying for JFK’s resurrection.

But while Lamborghini is trying to out-muscle Ferrari’s old hypercars, the folks in Maranello are working on something quite different. The company confirmed last month they are developing an electric-powered all-wheel-drive system for their future vehicles.

That’s right, folks. Not only will the Ferrari of Tomorrow have four-wheel-drive…it’ll be a hybrid.

The 458 probably won't get the hybrid system. We just wanted to look at it again.

Company insiders told AutoCar the system’s first use will be driving the front wheels of the company’s front-engined GTs, effectively giving each axle a separate powertrain – the electric motor up front, and a gasoline-powered V12 powering the rear. But the system is designed to improve handling and acceleration, not fuel economy – so we don’t have to worry about Ferrari drivers getting all smug or anything.

The system will probably first be used in the successor to the 612, which will probably be breaking cover sometime in the next year or two. Don’t expect to see any hybrid Ferraris on the streets until 2014 or so, which still sounds ridiculously futuristic whenever we think about it. When they do come, the hybrid system will probably add a hefty tithe to the Monroney – but if you can afford a four-seat Ferrari, you probably ain’t too worried about it.

Speaking of mansion-priced cars, Rolls-Royce is hoping to take the wraps off an electric version of its Phantom uber-sedan sometime in the next year or so, also according to AutoCar. The Powers That Be at Rolls want to have the car on the road by 2012, in time for the London Olympics – which, entirely coincidentally, happen to be sponsored by Rolls-Royce’s parent company, BMW!

While it appears stoic, the Phantom is silently judging you for being too poor to afford it.

Rolls employees claim they aren’t particularly concerned about the added mass of the lithium-ion batteries needed to hold the car’s juice, as the conventional Phantom already pushes three tons. And while you could certainly argue a 6,000 pound sedan decorated with twenty-seven cows’ worth of leather and more wood than a freshman class trip to the Playboy Mansion is hardly eco-friendly, don’t bother telling the electric Rolls’ owners – because while they can certainly hear you, they just don’t care.

If you’re in the market for a more modest luxury sedan, however, there’s no need to fret. BMW and Audi both have unveiled the newest members of their families in the last couple weeks – BMW brought out its new 5-series, while Audi rolled out the new A8.

First up: the 5, which continues BMW’s recent trend back towards more conventional styling. The “flame surfacing” of the Bangle years admittedly remains, but at least the front end no longer appears surprised and the rear no longer frustrated.

Here in the States, only two models will be available at launch – the 550i, powered by a 407-horsepower version of Bimmer’s blissful turbocharged 4.4-liter V8, and the 535i, which comes with the latest turbocharged, 306-horsepower version of the company’s equally sweet 3.0-liter inline six. The best-selling-yet-least-arousing 528i will arrive a couple months later; however, BMW makes up for it by boosting power to 258 horses and 228 lb-ft of torque – gains of 28 for both figures over the current models. ZF’s new eight-speed automatic comes standard on the 550i, and optional on the six-cylinder models.

After debating it over several rounds of drinks at the local bar, we here at CCO ultimately came down in favor of the new 5er’s looks. (Also, we unanimously agreed that “Livin’ On A Prayer” is, like, the greatest song in human history.) While it seems almost a tad forgettable from certain angles (at least in pictures), it certainly bears a strong resemblance to the 3- and 7-series – and given that that was presumably the idea, it’s safe to call this one a success.

However, we aren’t particularly fond of the look of Audi’s new A8.  From the front, the car seems oddly reminiscent of the current Hyundai Sonata, and the LED running lights – which lend the A4/A5 family a futuristic strength, like the glowing eyes of Iron Man – angle down in just the wrong place, giving the A8 a strange resemblance to Droopy Dog. Audi is trumpeting the new A8 as the front line of its new designed theme, dubbed “Vorsprung durch Technik;” while our German is a little rusty, we can only assume said phrase translates to, “Let’s just make the A4 bigger and go pound a beer.”

"I always come to mope in front of the Brooklyn Bridge, because I'm artsy."

Thankfully, though, the interior looks like all you’d expect and more from Audi’s most luxurious model. The design is beautiful, and while we’ve heard some mixed opinions on the Interwebs about the A8’s handlebar shifter, we rather like it. And considering that shifter connects to the same eight-speed automatic as in the 5-series – and that the transmission connects all four wheels to a 372-horsepower 4.2 liter V8 – the A8 ought to be a pretty sweet drive for such a large car.

Of course, if you’re not thrilled with the A8’s styling and are willing to sacrifice a bit of space for it, Audi will be more than willing to take a deposit on their upcoming A7 four-door-coupe. According to AutoCar, the long-rumored A6-based pseudo-coupe will be unveiled at the Moscow Auto Show in August 2010.

When the A7 hits the U.S. streets sometime in late 2010 or early 2011 to engage the Mercedes-Benz CLS and BMW X6 in a Teutonic battle of “Bizarro-world coupes,” expect it to come equipped with similar engines to the A6 – naturally aspirated and supercharged V-6s, and if Audi’s feeling generous and gas is still cheap, the 372-hp V8 from the A8. According to Audi design director Stefan Sielaff, there will even be an S7 – likely featuring a turbo/supercharged V8 – for those of you who like testing the patience of law enforcement.

This is Audi's Sportback Concept. Expect the A7 to look like this, except with more Orange Country trophy wives behind the wheel.

Rumor has it U.S. prices should start somewhere around $46,000, but since the A6 starts at $45,200, we wouldn’t be surprised to see the A7 on the painful side of $50K when it hits our shores. Mercedes and BMW both charge significantly more for their faux coupes than the sedans/SUVs they’re based on, so Audi will probably follow the same logic – even if AutoCar claims there will only be a “small price premium.”

But while Audi is chopping up the higher end of the luxury car market into ever-smaller slices, BMW wants to slot yet another model into its rapidly burgeoning M line. According to AutoCar (who seem to have more anonymous sources than Seymour Hersh), someone in BMW’s high-performance division claims creating a more affordable model to slot in under the M3 is a top priority.

Details are few and far between at this point, but since the car would be based on the next-gen 1-series, there’s plenty of time for info to leak out. However, we do know two things: the car will (hopefully) be priced in the mid-$40K range, and BMW may dust off the old M1 badge for it. We’ve got our fingers crossed for a 365+ horsepower version of the company’s turbo I6 under the hood…

Of course, if Audi and BMW are hard at work crafting fun new toys for us to play with, the good folks at Mercedes-Benz can’t be far behind. In this case, rumor has it the company is working on whipping up a smaller sports car based on the new SLS.

At least from this angle, we don't have to look at its ass.

According to PistonHeads, the new model would be designed to compete against the Porsche 911. The ‘Heads claim the follow-up to the SLS – can we call it the SaLT? – will use a V8 of somewhere between 5.8 and 6.2 liters, complete with cylinder cut-off. Given that AMG spent a shit-ton of cash developing its current 6.2 liter engine and said engine has proven suitable in everything from C-class compacts to R-class megawagons, it’s probably safe to assume the Salt will just use a revised version of that engine. Expect to see the finished product in about five years.

Finally, we have another piece of tragic supercar news to round out this update. After a year of service, the Italian State Police’s Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 was totaled a couple weeks ago near the northern city of Cremona. Thankfully, neither of the officers inside were injured when the Lambo swerved to avoid a car and slammed into a group of parked vehicles.

NOOOOOOOOOOOO!

(Photo courtesy autoblog.it)

Before the accident, the Gallardo was primarily used to provide rapid response to accidents and for high-speed organ transport – because while a helicopter might be faster, the doctors wouldn’t be able to say, “They’re driving your new heart here in a Lamborghini.” No word yet on whether Lamborghini will replace the vehicle, but here’s hoping they will. In fact, here’s hoping automakers here in the States decide to follow suit and donate some choice vehicles to our local police forces. How ’bout a couple Corvette ZR1s for the Michigan State Troopers?

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Mercedes-Benz SLS finally revealed. Can we send it back and have them try again?

Thanks to an Australian auto website called CarPoint, the first undisguised images of the new Mercedes-Benz SLS supercar have been brought to light. And…um…

mb sls one

Listen, Mercedes guys, can we have a word?

I know you guys want to make a distinctive looking sports car that honors your heritage while simultaneously gives you a halo model to stack up against the best of the world. I get that. You want the car to resemble its predecessor, the old Gullwing, while still looking modern.

The old Gullwing.

The old Gullwing.

The new Gullwing.

The new Gullwing.

But you shouldn’t sacrifice beauty for the sake of some “design theme.”

This car’s exterior is trying to be so many things, it doesn’t look good. The Audi R8 didn’t become the automotive equivalent of The Hangover just by being distinctive and fun to drive. It came out of nowhere and became a hit because it was fun to drive – and it looked good.

mercedes_benz_sls_amg_leak_images_005

This new SLS just looks weird. Dear God – what’s with those B-pillars? They look like they came off an old Viper RT/10! And what’s with that slanted rear deck or those tiny tail lamps? Okay, the front doesn’t look bad, but if you want to make a fast car, it better look good from the rear, too – ’cause that’s the direction most people are gonna see it from.

I’d been hoping this would become one of my personal “lottery cars” – you know, a car you’d buy if you won the Mega Millions and had, say, a million bucks to stock your garage. But it looks like I’ll still be grappling with the same two contenders as before in this price range. Audi R8 5.2, or Porsche 911 Turbo?

mercedes_benz_sls_amg_leak_images_004

Epilogue: To illustrate our broken dreams, here’s a collection of renditions of what various artists thought the new Gullwing should have looked like. To each their own…but I think I like all these designs more than the real one. At least for the moment.

060514002-1

0806_25_z+2011_mercedes-Benz_AMG_gullwing+front_three_quarter_view

all-new-2009-mercedes-benz-300sl-gullwing2

mercedes_benz_slk_gullwing

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Preview – 2011 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Gullwing

mercedes_benz_sls_amg_prototype_image_005

Every automaker needs a halo car – a vehicle that embodies the best aspects of the brand. It’s usually fast, often rare, and it’s almost always very pricey. And while the car may not necessarily make a profit, it draws plebes like you and I into showrooms where salespeople can try and convince drooling gawkers to buy something less exciting, simply because it shares a few minor parts with your dream car. (“Actually, the Malibu uses the exact same lug nuts as the ZR1 Corvette!”)

At first glance, it might seem like Mercedes-Benz already has more halo models than a Macy’s in Heaven. Between the super-luxurious Maybach, the Batmobile-like SLR, the teeth-rattlingly-powerful SL65 AMG Black Series and a veritable army of V-12 and AMG V-8 powered sedans, coupes and roadsters, why would they need another mouth-watering ride to suck in passers-by?

But read between the lines, and the need for a true halo car becomes clear. The Maybach models are sold under another brand name designed to distance themselves from “commonplace” Mercedeses. The SL65 Black Series, in spite of its hypertuned engine and Kirstie Alley-worthy crash diet, still looks more or less like a pimped-out everyday SL550 – and you can’t go two blocks in Beverly Hills without seeing one of those. And while the SLR’s McLaren-Mercedes parentage and Gotham City looks made it seem like a promising halo car, it never really caught on; its half-million-dollar price tag didn’t seem worth it, considering a Porsche 911 Turbo could blow it away for one-quarter the price. Besides, the SLR’s production run ends this year.

mercedes_benz_sls_amg_prototype_image_013

So what’s a luxury automaker to do? Correct the problems of the last halo car and try again. Hence, the SLS. Successor to the SLR in both position and alphabetical order, the SLS will supposedly be faster, cheaper and easier to love than its predecessor. Instead of aiming for the miniscule hypercar market the SLR was designed for, the SLS will battle against the cream of the crop in the roughly $200,000 range. Expect to see it facing off against everything from the Nissan GT-R to the Porsche 911 GT3 to the Ferrari F430 in both magazine comparisons and bonus-toting executives’ minds.

For the money, the SLS should pack a punch. Power will come from a version of AMG’s 6.2 liter V8 making 563 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque, running though a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. However, should you want something a little more eco-friendly, Mercedes will be unveiling a 526 horsepower all-wheel-drive electric version…but not until 2015.

To stand out from the pack, the SLS will come with gullwing doors that rise upwards on roof-mounted hinges, just like Mercedes’s 300SL sports car from half a century ago. (Noob alert: be sure not to confuse gullwing doors with scissor, or “Lamborghini,” doors, which also open vertically but have hinges near the base of the windshield. Also note the difference between gullwings and butterfly doors, which open both upwards and outwards in a hybrid movement between scissor doors and conventional doors. Clear?)

Photo by Konstantin Tschovikov, from Edmunds Inside Line. Thanks, Konstantin!

Photo by Konstantin Tschovikov, from Edmunds Inside Line.

Of course, the gullwing doors won’t be available on the convertible version which will follow the coupe into production, but as everyone knows, sometimes you have to forsake a little class if you want to go topless in public.

While Mercedes hasn’t yet pulled the wraps off the car’s styling, they have seen fit to tease us with plenty of pix (and even some video) of the disguised SLS kicking ass and taking names all around the world – including a video of the car lapping the famed Nurburgring racetrack. Plus, one lucky bastard journalist from Edmunds was allowed to take a lap or two around a German proving ground, which you can read about here.

The  car is reportedly scheduled to be unveiled at the Frankfurt Auto Show in September, with vehicles rolling off the production line and into the driveways of the rich and awesome next year. Should you be one of those with the means and desire to snatch up an SLS, we’d suggest beelining for your Mercedes-Benz dealer as soon as you get. Thanks to some sneaky soul, a copy of the dealer’s ordering guide has appeared on the web, giving you a chance to see just what sort of money you might need to throw down. (Ceramic brakes run $12,000, while a 1000-watt Bang & Olufsen stereo goes for $6,400.)

Picture 1

All told, expect to pay somewhere in the range of $175-185,000 for starters; add on a few fun options, like the sound system and special leather seats, and you could easily see the bill hit $200,000. Not too bad, for the world’s greatest Mercedes.

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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.)

spy_shots_honda_accord_crosstour_a_003

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.

spy_shots_honda_accord_crosstour_a_005-1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes. That’s right. An ejection seat.

USAF Theme Cars

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

USAF Theme Cars

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

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

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

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

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But what do you think? Let us know below!

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2009 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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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