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New York Auto Show – Thoughts and Judgements (Oh So Much Judgement)

The grueling two days making up the New York Auto Show press preview have finally come to a close (so many free cappuccinos…), so it’s time to reflect on just what happened. Overall, it was a pretty average show, but my gut seems to indicate the overall event was actually one of the more exciting, involving shows of late. Maybe it’s because of the infinitesimal indications that the economy is starting to climb out of the pit so large, Gerard Butler uses it for overly dramatic drop-kickings. Or maybe it was just the free beer.

Let’s talk press conferences. There were a few notable stunts and oddities this year. Mercedes-Benz chose the American 2010 Olympic gold medalist bobsled team to drive out their new, mildly updated R-class. Sadly, this was the first I’d heard of the U.S. victory. I just assumed the Jamaicans always won.

"If they make one Cool Runnings joke, we're getting back in and driving away."

Infiniti put on a brief Cirque du Soleil show before yanking the sheet off their new truck-based QX56 sport-ute. At first, I thought it was just some CDS-style dancers, but, nope, turns out Infiniti actually pulled some real performers from the famed Canadian dance-circus. All they had to do was pay a shitton of money and become the official vehicle of Cirque du Soleil, as both the dancers and the car company represent “inspired performance.” (I couldn’t make that up.) I don’t know about anyone else, but the whole thing gave me a wicked acid flashback.

Scion unveiled their new iQ and tC coupes in what can best be described as a rave setting, if most raves featured a thirty-foot tall mesh projection screen with a car behind it and house music imploring the listener to “jam it in your hole” over and over again. (Then again, maybe raves do these days. I haven’t been in a while.)

Roger Sterling takes a minute from banging his secretary to introduce the new Scions.

Unsurprisingly for anyone who’s seen one of their “cheeky” ads, Mini took full advantage of the date of their press conference to play an April Fools Day prank on the audience; touting their square, cloaked concept as a concept called the “Mini Excel,” the sheet was ripped off to reveal a large SUV-shaped plywood box with “April Fools” written on the sides. Then several roadies (Minies?) converged on the stage, each grabbing a piece of the box and removing it to reveal the Mini Countryman underneath. Incidentally, Mini’s spokesperson was the only one of the days not wearing a collared shirt; beneath his suit coat was a black T-shirt with MINI written in white print. However, his closed jacket concealed about half the word, so I spent most of the show thinking he was just a big Nine Inch Nails fan.

Of course, at any event involving a large group of competitors, there will be winners and losers. In many cases, determining which is which is pretty easy; in the event of an auto show, it’s entirely subjective. Which means it’s perfect for this site. Presenting the 2010 New York Auto Show Winners and Losers!

Winner: Hyundai. Five years ago, the idea of a Hyundai competing against Mercedes-Benz would have been much, much funnier than anything Dane Cook had ever performed. But unlike Cook, Hyundai has spent the last few years improving themselves. The Genesis sedan introduced the world to the concept of a luxury Hyundai – and the new Equus sedan sets that idea in stone.

Offering quality nearly even with Mercedes, BMW and Lexus, the Equus sets out to fight the luxury brands’ top-level sedans at a much lower price point. Fun-to-drive isn’t really the game here – leave that to the Panamera – but for those looking for a relaxed, brisk full-sized luxury sedan with oodles of comfort (and yes, an oodle is the basic unit of comfort), this Hyundai will probably be a perfect fit. It’ll probably poach Lexus LS sales like an ivory hunter with a Holland & Holland .600. Starting between $50,ooo and $60,000, and with features its competitors either charge heavily for (reclining rear right-side seat, rear fridge) or don’t offer at all (nose-mounted camera for seeing around corners, standard iPad in lie of a paper owner’s manual), the Equus will almost certainly clean up the lower end of this market.

You know how Hyundai is serious about this car? Their traditional “H” doesn’t appear on it. Instead, buyers get an abstract Y-shaped logo that looks like a weird-but-I’ve-seen-weirder sex toy.

Recline function, yes. Legroom to use it, no.

Loser: Dodge/Chrysler. Unable to muster up the energy for a press conference, the closest thing the company managed to excitement were a pair of tiny Fiat 500s from their new parent company, along with a duo of identical twins to show them off.

Otherwise, the whole display was pretty flaccid. (Yes, folks, that’s a dick joke.) Chrysler’s business plan these days seems to consist of trying to sell two-tone special editions of the 300, while Dodge is relegated to selling musclecars to the Provincetown set.

Come on, Chrysler! You used to make such great concept cars. Even had a good stretch of production models there, with the PT Cruiser and the 300. This is just sad. If Hyundai can throw two separate press conferences, you can summon up five minutes to show off something. Subaru threw a new wing on the STI and called it a day – can’t you do that to the Viper?

The model budget doesn't seem to have taken much of a hit.

Winner: BMW. Pulling the sheets off five models at the show is a pretty good way to get on this list. (Not four, Kia. Five.) Consistently building some of the most fun-to-drive cars on the road helps, too. Granted, three of the reveals were just tweaks, but if loading a 3-series with 20 extra horses and a seven-speed DSG is what ladies call “freshening up,” I understand why they do it so often and it takes so long. Same goes for the mods to the Z4 and X5. Improvements on the 7-series – like the road-going ICE train called the B7 Alpina, now brilliantly available with xDrive AWD, and the ActiveHybrid 7 capable of going 0-60 in 4.7 seconds while still allowing you to be incredibly smug – are more than appreciated as well.

Who wants to race to Alaska?

But the new 5-series could be my new “realistic” dream car. Especially in 550i form, equipped with the company’s magical 4.4 liter twin turbo V8 cranking out 400 horses – an engine capable of moving the 5200-lb X6 from 0 to 60 in 5 seconds flat – and the available six-speed manual! (Though living in the city, I might just test-drive that eight-speed automatic. Though I’d feel like a poseur every day if I bought one.) The new 5 is handsome (much more so in person than in pictures), exceedingly comfortable, and quite big inside – big enough I could fit quite comfortably in the back seat, even with my 36″ inseam. (And I’ll just say it – comfier back seat than the new Bentley Mulsanne. No one else will say it, ’cause they don’t want to get booted off the Bentley gravy train, but I speak the truth!) Hell, the trunk is huge, too. I’ll take mine in Deep Sea Blue, please.

Winner: Cadillac. They surprised all of us with a CTS-V Sport Wagon, going on sale this fall by order only. I just need a nice juicy raise by Christmas.

Loser: Toyota/Lexus. Apparently shamed by the whole “AAAAAAUUUUUUGGGGHHHH!!!” problem (also known as JESUSFUCKINGCHRISTTHECARWON’TSTOP-gate), Toyota and its luxury brand were silent for the whole show. No apologies, no on-stage seppuku, no carefully choreographed bawling. Which was unfortunate, because at the very least, Lexus had a couple models worth mentioning. The LFA supercar made its New York debut in a matte-black shade that suggests Lexus is courting Bruce Wayne and the rest of the billionaire vigilante market. The CT 200h hybrid compact showed up for the first time too, complete with an ad for an interactive BMWFilm-like promo featuring a “Driver” played by the Boondock Saint Who Isn’t Young Indiana Jones. But no one told us anything about it.

Winner: The Lotus Elise. Because I discovered, while it takes about 30 seconds of gymnastics, I can actually fit inside it. Even with the hard top on.

Loser: The Subaru WRX STI. First, Subaru bumped up the power of the regular, cheaper WRX so it actually became quicker than the big-ticket STI. Now, the company has outfitted the WRX with a new, tough-guy look rendering it all but identical to the STI. Granted, four-door STIs (a new model, by the way) receive an Airbus-grade wing on the rear spoiler, but how long ’til some dude in an Ed Hardy T-shirt sticks one on his WRX?

While fun to drive, the WRX STI can result in other people correctly assuming you're a douchebag.

Winner: The backseat of the Rolls-Royce Ghost. It’s like sitting on a cloud made of dead cattle. (Wait, that came out wrong.)

"Would you like to see my Rolls-Royce?" is ranked #6 on the list of Top 10 Pick-Up Lines.

Loser: the asshole cameraman who spent a good five solid minutes filming the back seat of the Hyundai Equus through its open door, preventing the rest of us from sitting in it. Then, when I asked him if he was going to be much longer, simply snarked, “Yes.” By far, biggest loser of the show.

We’ll have more photos – and probably some snarky remarks of our own to go with them – coming soon! So stay tuned.

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New York Auto Show – Mini

Oh, Mini. Given the nature of April First and the company’s reputation, it was hardly a surprise when the company yanked the sheet off their boxy “study” dubbed the “Mini Excel” to reveal an SUV-shaped box with “April Fools” painted on the sides. But it certainly made my day.

Underneath the box, of course, was the new Countryman SUV, which continues to win me over despite how pxymoronic the idea seems. I hope CCO can get their hands on one. Having taken a Mustang convertible off-roaring at Bear Mountain, I’d like to go up there and try it again in something that’ll handle better on- and off-road.

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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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Recap – 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show

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

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

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

SUPREME SEDANS:

2010 Aston Martin Rapide

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

Aston-Martin-Rapide-3-lg

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

aston-martin-rapide-production-9

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

2011 Bentley Mulsanne

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

2010-Bentley-Mulsanne-05

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

2010-Bentley-Mulsanne-Pebble-Beach-Rear-Angle-1280x960

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

2011 Rolls-Royce Ghost

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

2011 rolls ghost

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

2011 Rolls Royce Ghost 7

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

Bugatti 16 C Galibier

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

2009-Bugatti-16-C-Galibier-Concept-car-wallpaper

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

bugatti-16-c-galibier-concept-side-view

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

bugatti-16-c-galibier-concept-rear-view

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

CLEAN LUXURY:

2010 BMW X6 Active Hybrid

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

BMW-X6-Active-Hybrid-14

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

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

Mercedes-Benz Vision S500 Plug-In HYBRID concept

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

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

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

LEAN, GREEN, FAST MACHINES:

Audi e-tron

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

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

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

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BMW Vision Efficient Dynamics Concept

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

BMW Vision EfficientDynamics Concept 585

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

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

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

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

SPEEDING BULLETS:

Ferrari 458 Italia

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

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

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Lamborghini Reventon Roadster

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

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

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Mercedes-Benz SLS

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

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

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

GETTING BETTER ALL THE TIME:

Mini Coupe/Roadster

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

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

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

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

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2010 Porsche 911

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

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

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

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

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

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

BMW 5-series GT

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

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

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

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A Burst of News – Mini brings the Coupe, Land Rover goes green, Bentley goes epic, and more Ferrari 458 pix

We’ve got a couple more reviews coming up in the next couple weeks on CCO – not to give it away, but they rhyme with “Audi A5” and “Audi TT-S.” In the meantime, though, here’s a quick shot of sweet, sweet automotive news smack to mainline straight into your veins.

First up comes news out of Germany that Mini will be bringing a coupe to market in the next two to three years, in order to compete with the Audi TT, according to Automotive News. The Mini Coupe will be able to accommodate the same engines as the current Mini lineup, even the 211-hp 1.6 liter turbo engine from the badass John Cooper Works version.

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A concept version (complete with ballsy 211-hp engine) will be brought out at next month’s Frankfurt Auto Show, but luckily, they’ve dropped a couple of preview images for us to check out. We kinda like it…what do you think?

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Next up comes very, very early news that Land Rover will reportedly unveil the production version of its compact LRX sport-ute in June 2010. According to Autocar, the small SUV will be unveiled on or around the 40th anniversary of the Range Rover brand (June 17, 2010, as if you didn’t know), and will attempt to be a more Earth-friendly Range Rover. Not sure how, unless they build the thing out of hemp.

Expect the production LRX (possibly renamed RRX? Or Range Rover Xtreme?) to begin rolling off production lines in 2011. It will likely cost at least $35,000, will compete with the Acura RDX and the BMW X1, and even though it will be heavily marketed towards upper-middle-class young adventurers (a.k.a you, dear reader), it will probably be bought mostly by yuppie suburbanites.

The owner is currently at a rock-climbing nightclub.

This car's owner is currently at a rock-climbing nightclub.

But while Land Rover tries to put a more affordable, more eco-friendly spin on its models, Bentley has turned around and whipped out its new flagship, which they’re describing as “the pinnacle of the ultra-luxury segment.” Up yours, masses.

I just love this picture.

I just love this picture.

Introduced at the Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance (French for “buttload of rich white dudes”), the Bentley Mulsanne replaces the Arnage, a car so old, Larry King drove to the prom in one. Technical specs won’t be released until the car’s “official” unveiling at the Frankfurt Auto Show, but expect a V8 with enough torque to spin the Earth backwards and reverse time, a la Superman: The Movie.

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Pricing will probably start around $300,000, and top out somewhere around the cost of a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, depending on how many ridiculous custom options you request (“Do I want the platinum steering wheel, or the ruby-encrusted pedals? Hey, why not both?”). The first chassis was auctioned off for $500,000, though, so if you see one driving around before 2010, you know how much that guy paid for his car.

Also coming to the Frankfurt Auto Show is the new Saab 9-5. Now, the last Saab 9-5 was brought out in 1997, so to say this car is long overdue is like saying Americans love firearms, apple pie and Michael Bay movies.

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Packing all-new styling inspired by the awesome Aero X concept car, and packing up to 300 horsepower, the new 9-5 should finally offer quirky pseudo-hippies a distinct alternative to the BMW 5-series, Audi A6 and Mercedes-Benz E-class. God knows how many quirky pseudo-hippies have that much money, though, so don’t expect to be seeing too many 9-5s on the roads near you, unless you live in Vermont or Oregon.

Sadly, the ignition remains by the steering wheel. Curse you, GM!

Sadly, the ignition remains by the steering wheel. Curse you, GM!

On a side note, while it might seem these days like every carmaker is unveiling their new models at fancy-dancy auto shows or hoity-toighty concourses, it falls to Toyota to bring new vehicle presentations straight to the masses. That’s why Toyota is unveiling their new 4Runner at, of all places, the Texas State Fair.

Yup.

Toyota respects this man's opinion above all others.

Toyota respects this man's opinion above all others.

No word yet on whether the 4Runner will be deep-fried for its public appearance.

And finally, because you can never have too many orgasms, here are a few pictures of the Ferrari 458 Italia on the road.

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Spy Shots and Curiosities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes. That’s right. An ejection seat.

USAF Theme Cars

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

USAF Theme Cars

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

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

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

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

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But what do you think? Let us know below!

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Quick View – MINI Cooper/Clubman

Despite all the differences between them, there are some things that men and women come together on. Martinis.  Billy Joel. A good pillowtop mattress.

Among automobiles, the Mini tends to be the point directly between Mars and Venus. (Earth?) Women tend to love its puppydog looks, comfy interior and the fact that they can say, “Isn’t it cute?,” while guys love it for its optional turbocharged engine, sporty suspension, and the fact they can say “Yeah, it’s made by BMW.”

The Mini, of course, wasn’t always made by Bavarians who specialize in four-wheeled Viagra capsules. Originally, the car hailed from Great Britain, where it was designed and built in response to a late 1950s fuel shortage as a way of getting maximum space from the minimum car. The original Mini was a good deal smaller than today’s, maxxing out at just 10 feet long – two feet shorter than today’s Mini.

While indelibly linked with the swinging ’60s, thanks in part to a role in the 1969 film The Italian Job, the old Mini continued in one form or another all the way until the year 2000, at which point BMW (owners of the Rover group – the same people who make Land Rovers – since 1994) decided to sell off the cash-hemorrhaging Rover brands. However, it held onto the Mini name, relaunching it as an entirely new car in 2001 and forever linking it to the retro-crazed 1990s/2000s, thanks in part to a role in the 2003 film The Italian Job.

(I’d like to take this opportunity to point out that the new version of the car is technically known as the “MINI,” in all capital letters; however, I’m going to continue to refer to it as the “Mini,” mostly because I don’t want it to look like I’m SCREAMING at YOU several TIMES a PARAGRAPH.)

The current Mini is the second-generation of the new iteration, introduced in 2006. For the most part, the changes were minimal – a little larger, a little heavier, turbochargers instead of superchargers in the performance versions. The model range also is nearly identical, with only one major addition (which I’ll get to in a bit, hang on.)

The base model sold in the States is the Cooper, which comes with a 1.6 liter, 118-horsepower four-cylinder engine and a choice of 6-speed manual or automatic transmission, a rarity among small cars; either way, the Cooper returns about 37 miles per gallon on the highway and 28 in the city. Anti-lock brakes, a full suite of front-side-and-curtain airbags, keyless entry, CD stereo, and a climate-controlled glovebox for keeping drinks cold/preserving fragile archaeological relics all come standard, along with an options roster longer than John Goodman’s shopping list. The base Mini starts at $18,700, but expect to see that rocket upwards once you start tacking on things like Keyless Go, sonar parking sensors, or a navigation system.

Above the Cooper lies the Cooper S, whose primary distinction from the base Mini is the turbocharger strapped to its 1.6 liter engine, boosting power to 172 horses and cutting the 0 to 60 time down by almost two seconds. Torque is increased from 114 lb-ft to 177, available at a much more useable 1600 rpm. However, gas mileage takes a beating, dropping to S models are best distinguished from their base brethren by the scoop in the center of their hoods. In terms of features, the S adds traction control, foglamps, a small rear spoiler and aluminum pedals (ooh!) Again, leave off the fancy options, and a Cooper S can be yours for $21,850.

For those of non-Irish origin, the Mini also comes in convertible versions of the Cooper and Cooper S. Unlike most convertibles, the Mini’s top offers an intermediate sunroof position that lets you be blasted with UV rays without messing up your hair. (It’s really more of a targa top, but Mini might well have feared 1980s Z28 IROC associations with the T-top moniker.) Of course, the top fully stows in the back, as well as sealing up against the weather.

The Cooper convertible has not been updated to the second-generation body and powertrain as the regular Mini has. Power and torque drop by three each; 0 to 60 times lose four-tenths of a second, and fuel economy falls to 23/32 city/highway, mostly due to the convertible’s added weight and the fact that the manual transmission only has 5 gears instead of 6, and the automatic is of the continuously-variable variety instead of the 6-speed. Otherwise, options and standard features tend to be the same as in the hardtop Cooper, with the exception of those changes mandated by the folding roof. 

The Cooper S convertible makes do with the old supercharged 1.6 liter four-cylinder; the engine makes 168 horsepower and gets 21 mpg in the city, 29 on the highway. A 6-speed manual is standard, a 6-speed automatic optional. Cooper convertibles start at $22,600, while Cooper S convertibles begin at $26,050.

The newest addition to the Mini family is the Clubman, a stretched version of the Cooper. 9.4 inches of added length give the Clubman room for a half-door along the right-hand side of the vehicle and allow actual-sized humans to sit in back without eating their kneecaps. It also comes with two horizontally-opening rear doors, instead of the regular Mini’s hatchback, for apparently no reason except to be different. The base Clubman model is pretty much identical to the Cooper, other than the added space; fuel economy and power output is the same, and acceleration suffers by four-tenths of a second, again due to added weight. Dynamic stability control also comes standard on the Clubman; in addition, the rear seats fold flat, making transport of large items easier. Base Clubmen start at $20,600.

The Clubman S, as you might imagine, just takes the Cooper S and sticks a few more inches on it. Fuel economy and power are the same; acceleration to 60 drops three-tenths of a second. Again, Dynamic stability control and flat-folding seats come standard, along with a $24,100 pricetag.

There’s also a high-performance John Cooper Works edition of both Cooper and Clubman available, with souped-up (208 horsepower) versions of the turbo engine, along with other options. The Works edition of the Cooper starts at $29,200, while the Clubman is the only Mini to break the 30-grand barrier with a base price of $31,450.

However, it’s easy enough to push the prices on regular Minis up into heady territory; I configured a Cooper S on Mini’s website, and even without a leather interior, navigation system or automatic transmission, my car listed for $26,850.

Bottom line: the Mini is a unique car. There are plenty of far more practical rides out there for the same money,  and plenty of sportier ones as well. But few cars on the road bring about the same sort of emotional reaction as the Mini. If you get it, you’ll want one despite the cost; if you don’t, you’ll cross it off your list early and never look back. 

Also Consider: Volkswagen Rabbit, Mazda3, Honda Fit.

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