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A Burst Of News – $99 Smart Cars, an Aston Martin Scion, BMW X1 Revealed and Mazda’s Micro Miata

This week’s burst of news, for the most part, concerns a segment of the automotive industry we’ll be seeing quite a bit more of in the near future – small cars. Now that the Obama administration has signed stricter fuel economy standards into effect, automakers will be forced to find ways to bump up the average mileage of their lineup – and the easiest way to do that is to add on dainty, fuel-sipping models at the lower end of the range.

Perhaps the oddest example of this is the Aston Martin Cygnet concept, an Aston-designed version of the Toyota iQ microcar. We know how ridiculous it sounds, so before we go any further, take a look at the picture so you know we’re not just yanking your chain.

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If whipping you in the balls doesn't work, Le Chiffre shows you this picture.

Aston CEO Dr. Ulrich Bez says this joint project will provide “customers a distinctive, intelligent and exclusive solution for urban travel in style and luxury,” and believes it could go into production “in the not too distant future.” (Daniel Craig is praying that means “once someone else is playing James Bond.”)

The iQ, for the record, is powered by a 1.3 liter four-cylinder making 93 horsepower, and should be coming (in Scion form) to the States in 2011. No word on what engine might motivate the Cygnet, but we doubt they can fit the DBS’s V12 under that hood.

But Aston Martin isn’t the only one considering smaller vehicles. According to AutoExpress, Mazda, who have managed to carve out a nice niche for themselves in the U.S. as Honda’s fun roommate, will be bringing out a smaller version of the MX-5 Miata convertible sometime around 2012.

Photo courtsey AutoExpress. Thanks, guys!

Photo courtesy AutoExpress. Thanks, guys!

Little is known about the Mini-Miata so far, but it will probably be called the MX-2. According to company insiders, the MX-2 will have styling similar to the current Miata, and feature normally aspirated and turbocharged 1.6 liter four-cylinder engines. No word on whether this means the MX-5 will jump up in size, but it seems likely.

In other downsizing news, after weeks of blurry images and extreme, detail-free closeups posted on the BMW X1’s Facebook account, official images of the finished product have snuck onto the web. So far, reaction on the web to the styling has been mixed, but we think it actually looks pretty good.

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The only engine available at launch here in the States will be the 3.0 liter inline six, making 231 horses and 199 lb-ft of torque; however, a 300-horsepower turbocharged model will probably be along not long after, given that every other BMW model with the base six also offers the turbo version. A larger replacement for the aging X3 (which is around the same size as the X1) based off this architecture is probably likely in the next two years.

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Our last piece of small car news comes from Smart, who announced that qualified buyers with a “Cash For Clunkers” trade-in will be able to lease a ForTwo for a mere $99 a month – meaning you can drive a new car for less than your monthly iPhone bill. (“Cash for Clunkers” is a new federal rebate program offering between $3,500 and $4,500 to buyers who trade in an old, gas-sucking vehicle for a new, fuel-efficient ride.)

"You shut up!" "No, you shut up!"

"You shut up!" "No, you shut up!"

The good news is, this offer is a pretty good deal if you want to get out of your old, junky ride and into something not likely to shed parts every mile or two; there’s no money down, and while that $99/month price applies only for the cheapest Smart, even if you upgrade to a higher trim level, you’ll still probably get a good deal.

The bad news is…you’re still getting a Smart. Which means only two seats, a herky-jerky transmission,  a 0-60 time of around 14 seconds, and only 41 mpg on the highway (and that’s if you never use most of the car’s meager 70 horsepower) for your $13,355. In comparison, a Honda Fit gives you seating for four (five if you have one friend who’s an elf), 117 horsepower, 33 mpg highway and several times as much driving fun for $15,460.

But if all this talk of tiny, fuel-efficient cars is making your enthusiast mojo shrivel up, fear not – the sleek, powerful machines that make us Andy Samberg in our pants aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. So, for your trouser-staining pleasure, Shelby is unveiling two Super Snake packages for the Ford Shelby GT500.

Car porn: still legal in 49 states. (Thanks for nothing, Oregon.)

Car porn: still legal in 49 states. (Thanks for nothing, Oregon.)

$29,495 will buy you an upgrade to 630 horsepower, while true Tim Allens and Jay Lenos of the world can get the whole-hog 725 horses for $33,495. (Not including the $46,325 for a new GT500, of course.) Improved handling and stopping hardware gets thrown in for good measure, too.

And finally, we reported a couple weeks ago on an M Performance version of BMW’s 7-series sedan. Turns out BMW is denying any such car, claiming the photographed tester was just an example of the new Sport Package for the 7-series. But we still wouldn’t be surprised to see an M7 sometime soon – after all, if they’re making an X5 M, they clearly aren’t too picky about M-ing out their vehicles anymore.

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Ford’s Fiesta Movement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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