Tag Archives: nissan

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

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

Literally.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s it – preach it, Homer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay, fine, here's the Foria.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Aston Martin Cygnet

Owly

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

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

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

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

Time for another burst of automotive news, everyone!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Courtesy Autowereld.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

original

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

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

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

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

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Review – 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart

The Good: Dual-clutch transmission more appliance than gimmick, good mid-range power, the badass looks of an Evolution for a discount.

The Bad: Economy car interior, a backseat only children could love, and it’s not that much of a discount.

The Verdict: The Coke Zero Evo.

DSCN2238

The trouble with jacks-of-all-trades is, as the aphorism points out, they don’t usually master any of them. This is just as true in the automotive world as anywhere else. For example, minivans promise the space of a van and the driving experience of a car, but end up giving you a top-heavy ride and room for only seven people. Same with sports sedans – they promise the comfort and convenience of a sedan with the performance of a sports car, but often end up compromising on one of those goals in favor of the other.

The Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart is a compound compromise. Not only is it a sports sedan, it’s the reduced-calorie version of Mitsubishi’s gonzo Lancer Evolution. The Evo gets a twin-turbo 291-horsepower 2.0-liter inline-four; the Ralliart makes do with a single-turbo version making 237 horses. The Evo also receives some heftier go-fast parts – bigger brakes, tighter suspension, and so forth. In exchange for all this, the Ralliart shaves a few grand off the sticker price.

However, Mitsu deserves a lot of credit for not shaving off two handy performance bits during the cost-cutting: the Evo’s all-wheel-drive system and its dual-clutch automated manual transmission, known at Mitsubishi by the Air Force-grade acronym TC-SST. While the former feature is rather common these days (see our featurette on all-wheel-drive), the dual-clutch transmission has mostly remained the provenance of high-priced sports cars; the Ralliart is the cheapest car in America to offer it as standard equipment. (Seriously, who ever thought of Mitsubishi as leading the charge to bring racing technology to the people?)

DSCN2243

It doesn’t take much time behind the wheel to see why Mitsu felt confident plopping this tranny into every Ralliart. (Sorry, RuPaul, not you.) While the transmission’s automatic mode isn’t as consistently smooth as a traditional torque-converter automatic transmission, I never had any problems with it, even in New York City stop-and-go traffic. It’s good enough you could leave it in auto all the time without complaint…

…but you’d be doing yourself a disservice. No, this transmission shines brightest when you slide the gearshift over into the manual notch and let your fingers do the driving. Steering-column-mounted paddles behind the wheel let you flick through the gears without taking your hands off the leather-wrapped rim; slap the right paddle to upshift, pull the left to downshift. Suddenly, merging onto the freeway feels like coming out of the pit lane at Indy – floor the gas and flick your right fingers three times, and you’re ten over the limit by the time you hit your blinker.

And if you forget to uphift, don’t worry; the transmission is smart enough to know you’d rather bounce off the limiter and upshifts all by itself rather than introduce your forehead to the steering wheel. Should you prefer the forearm-strengthening motion of a regular manual transmission, you can also shift with the lever. Whether you use the paddles or the gearshift, it’s a logical, intuitive system. Porsche could learn a thing or two from Mitsubishi here.

Wait, did I just say Porsche could learn something…from Mitsubishi?

BOOM! (That’s the sound of my brain exploding.)

Swiffering.

As a whole, the Ralliart performs impressively. Performance isn’t quite at the balls-to-the-wall level of the Evo, but the lesser Lancer grips turns like a 15-year-old grabbing second base for the first time and hurls itself down the road fast enough to put a devilish smile on your face. The sole turbo pumps the engine without significant turbo lag; unlike some cars, you won’t be constantly reminded of the engine’s forced induction by a sudden burst of whoa! halfway through the rev range. That said, strong midrange power is the engine’s best characteristic – you’ll never need to worry about whether you’ve got enough oomph for a (reasonably sane) passing maneuver.

Unfortunately, you can’t spend all your life driving switchbacks and idyllic back roads – and if you could, you’d buy a Lotus, not a sedan. And it’s when you start considering day-to-day life in the Ralliart that the luster starts to fade.

Stock photo - my tester wasn't equipped with a navigation system.

Stock photo - my tester wasn't equipped with a navigation system.

For example, those optional Recaro front bucket seats that hold you so well in the turns start to get a little uncomfortable after a few hours in the saddle. It’s far from a dealbreaker – the seats are still awesome, and given that they come packaged with the 650-watt Rockford Fosgate stereo and xenon headlights, I wouldn’t buy this car without them. But my gangly-assed legs were too long to fit comfortably under the steering wheel, so I had to kink my throttle leg out to the side – causing the bolster to render much of my quadriceps numb. Those seats are nice, but they’re not worth getting deep-vein thrombosis over.

But bolsters aside, the Recaros are the best thing about the interior. Sadly, that’s not so much praise for the front seats as it is unhappiness with the rest of the inside of the car. The back seats seem better suited for the 12-and-under set; for the rest of us, its tight quarters will likely turn games of shotgun into scrums as people claw for the only decent passenger seat.

Interior quality needs some improving as well. The Ralliart’s hard plastics and fake-fur headliner would seem cheap in the $15,000 base Lancer; at twice that price, it just seems inexcusable. I’m glad Mitsubishi decided to spend the money on the performance bits, but it’s hard to justify a 30 grand car with this kind of interior.

The other major annoyance inside the Ralliart was the red, Atari-grade digital information cluster between the speedometer and the tach. It was perfectly legible, day or night – but the blocky low-fi graphics are so dated and cheesy, I half expected to find Pong in the trip computer functions.

It wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for the fact that ALL secondary information (beyond speed and rpm) is displayed on this – including the gas gauge. Due to its pixellated nature, I was never sure how much gas I had left; the “miles to empty” feature on the trip computer would tell me I had used up three-quarters of the distance I’d started with, but the gauge seemed to be informing me I still had half a tank. Note to Mitsubishi: the gas gauge is probably not a good place to experiment with new ideas.

DSCN2242

Luckily, the outside of the car does a lot to restore the badass image Mitsubishi wants this car to have. Thankfully, they didn’t water down the Evo effect for the Ralliart; the two cars look similar enough to be easily confused (indeed, I overheard a few passersby who mistook it for the tougher model). The enormous grill is done right – it looks menacing and hungry, as opposed to some Audi models that sport the slack-jawed look of Luke Skywalker after Darth Vader dropped a certain paternity bombshell.

But the Ralliart’s similarity to the Evo just draws out the identity crisis this little Mitsubishi faces. It’s trying to be a cut-rate performance car, and to a large extent, it succeeds – it has all the performance anybody would ever need. Problem is, the people who buy cars like this want all the performance they can get; if they didn’t, they’d spend the money on a nice Camry instead. The people who would buy this car are probably gonna be people who aspire to an Evolution – but an Evo starts at $33,685, and my Ralliart cost $30,065. (All prices here and below include destination charges.) It’s hard to imagine people not trying to stretch into the Evo.

But intra-brand competition aside, it’s still hard to know where the Ralliart is trying to belong. At that price, it’s facing some pretty stiff competition on both the “sport” and the “sedan” ends of the spectrum. If someone were looking for a kickass performance car, a Ford Mustang GT with Track Pack runs $30,340, while a base Nissan 370Z goes for for $30,650. Sure, each gives up some back seat room, but they’ll both rip off 0-60 times at least half a second quicker than the Ralliart, and look much better doing it.

On the other hand, if someone’s looking for a sedan that happens to be fun to drive, an Acura TSX retails for $30,120. It’s not as fast as the Ralliart, but it’s tossable, fun-to-drive and comes with an interior that looks like it belongs in a car costing $50,000.

But of course, the Ralliart’s real foe lies in the Subaru dealerships. The Ralliart exists almost entirely due to the Subaru WRX; to put it in SAT terms, Ralliart:Evolution::WRX:STI. The STI and the Evo have been butting bumpers for half a decade, but until now, Mitsubishi hasn’t stacked up a challenger to the lesser WRX.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like this first shot at the Rex will be the one to claim the prize. The WRX packs 265 horsepower, roughly 10 percent more than the Ralliart; Car and Driver ran one from 0 to 60 in a slightly ridiculous 4.7 seconds. In addition, assuming the WRX’s interior is like the Impreza I just drove (stay tuned for that review next week), it’s a far nicer place to spend time than the Ralliart. And the Subaru is cheaper to boot: the Premium model equivalant to my Ralliart goes out the door for $28,190, but a stripper model with all the go-fast bits can be bought for $25,690 – $1,475 less than the Ralliart. (Subaru also offers a choice between sedan and hatchback/miniwagon body styles).

So in the end, the Ralliart, in spite of its twin clutches and ripped shitless exterior, is all about compromise – between utility and performance, between econocar Lancer and bat-outta-hell Evolution. But in trying to compromise, it ends up looking like a perennial runner-up no matter what angle you’re looking at it from. To make this car a winner, Mitsubishi either needs to compromise a little less on the quality – or compromise a little more on price.

Base Price/Price as Tested (inc. destination): $27,165/$30,065

0-60: 5.4 seconds (courtesy Car and Driver)

EPA Fuel Economy: 17/25 miles per gallon

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2009 Geneva Auto Show Recap

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

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

Aston Martin One-77

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

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Aston Martin Lagonda Concept

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

Bentley Continental Supersports

Bentley Continental Supersports

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

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BMW Concept 5-Series GT

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

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What do you think?

Smart ForTwo Brabus electric-drive

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

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Bugatti Veyron Bleu Centenaire and Mansory Bugatti LINEA Vincero

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

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Ferrari 599XX/HGTC

Courtsey Asphalte.ch

Courtesy Asphalte.ch

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

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

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Infiniti Essence concept

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

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Lamborghini Murcielago LP 670-4 SuperVeloce

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

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Pagani Zonda R

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

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A Burst of News – Hot Camaros, cheap Mazda3s, green Nissans and cute Fiats

A few quick items to whet your salivating appetites for automotive news – some good, some bad.

First off, Motor Trend reports that Chevrolet has a massively hung Z/28 version of the Camaro pretty much ready to tear up the streets – but the car’s on hold indefinitely, as GM’s powers-that-be contemplate whether releasing an even-more-steroidal muscle car looks like a good use of taxpayer money in this day and age. (That is to say, they’re worried how they’ll be able to explain it to the Senate should they be subpoenaed.)

 

Courtesy Motor Trend

Courtesy Motor Trend

In my view, they ought to just build the damn thing, and if anybody in D.C. complains, take them for a lap or two around the nearest racetrack in the Z/28. Besides, it’s only the politicians complaining – the people want ridiculously powerful cars. Anyway, the Z/28 features the 556-horsepower 6.2 liter supercharged V8 from the Cadillac CTS-V, dances from 0-60 in 4.1 seconds and tops out at 193 miles per hour. If we’re lucky, we’ll see it on the streets and making rednecks jizz their pants come next year.

In better news, Mazda revealed the prices for its new Mazda3 sedan, and they haven’t climbed too much. Base models start at $15,045, up from $14,690; mid-level “i Touring” models go from $17,995 to $18,350; higher-level “s Sport” sedans bump from $19,085 to $19,540 while 5-door hatchbacks go from $19,575 to $20,030. (All prices are for automatic transmission-equipped versions, except for the base model.) However, those living near the oceans can expect to see some of that cost deferred by driving into the ocean and using the car’s maw to refuel with plankton instead of gasoline.

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In other fuel-saving news, Nissan revealed that its upcoming electric car will have a 100-mile range when it hits our shores in fall 2010. The compact car, which, like Oscar-worthy movies, will be appearing only in select areas upon arrival, will supposedly be capable of carrying five people, and “filling the tank” will only cost about 90 cents. (However, it will take four to eight hours to charge up, as opposed to the five minutes at the pump – so no electric road trips anytime soon.) Exact pricing wasn’t discussed, but expect to see it somewhere around $30,000 before being knocked down by a $7,500 federal tax credit. (From the Detroit Free Press)

Finally, Automotive News reports that Fiat is hoping its deal with Chrysler goes through so it can begin bringing adorable Fiat 500s and the not-yet-released Alfa Romeo 940 sedan to our shores sometime in 2010. In what seems like a very strange turn of events, the cars will be sold though Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep dealers (what, like they couldn’t find any empty dealerships to buy up?), so we can expect to see mousy 500s sandwiched between Jeep Grand Cherokees and Dodge Rams. The Fiat has received a lot of good press; however, it remains to be seen how Americans will take to this new model, given that we haven’t had Fiats for sale here in decades.

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