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A Burst of News – Hot Supercar Designs, Toyobaru Revealed, an electric Audi and a new Porsche 928?

Welcome one and all to another burst of automotive news, straight from the broken faucet of the Internet and into your unsuspectingly open eyes!

Let’s start off with something sexy. Over the last couple of weeks, no fewer than three boner-inducing artist’s concepts have appeared for potential supercars from some of the world’s foremost makers of excitiong cars. Now, unfortunately, none of these are anywhere near cleared for production – they’re just artistic visions of potential supercars. But at least we can imagine ourselves in them – which is all most of us would be doing if they were real, anyway.

First up is a concept for a successor to the former fastest car in the world, the McLaren F1. McLaren recently unveiled their first all-new car since the F1; named the MP4-12C, it’s designed to fight in the highly competitive supercar middleweight category, against such Worthy Opponents as the Ferrari 458 Italia, the Porsche 911 Turbo/GT2, the Audi R8 5.2, the successor to the Lamborghini Gallardo, and Stephen Colbert.

McLaren has stated the MP4-12C (which sounds more like a submachine gun than a car to us) will occupy the middle of their three-supercar lineup, leaving room above and below it. With that in mind, Coventry University student Matt Williams whipped up this concept called the LM5, a hypercar to fit above the MP4 and challenge the Bugatti Veyron for global supremacy. (Imaginary power comes from a 700-horsepower version of the BMW M5’s V10.)

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Next up comes a design for a potential Porsche supercar to succeed the Carrera GT of a few years ago. Crafted by an Iranian designer named Emil Baddal, this exotic-looking machine currently goes without any imaginary powertrain at all. (It also goes without a name, so I guess Baddal is one of those artists who likes to title his works “Untitled” because he thinks it’s avant-garde.)

Since Baddal apparently wants to leave the details up to the imagination, I’m going to call it the “Rapier,” after the runner-up name for the F-22 fighter, and pretend it’s powered by a 745-horsepower 6.8 liter turbocharged V12 based off the Panamera’s V8, connected to an all-wheel-drive system by a seven-speed PDK transmission. Then I will pretend to drive it across the country to Jennifer Aniston’s house and take her out for a fancy dinner before parking on Mulholland Drive and getting busy on the hood.

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Baddal also brings us the third in our list of imaginary playthings, a real-life version of the BMW Vision EfficientDynamics concept from this year’s Frankfurt show. That concept was “propelled” by a 163-horsepower turbodiesel 1.5 liter three cylinder connected to a pair of electric motors; sources claim the production version, rumored to go by “Z10,” would run a 450-horsepower twin-turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine (also rumored to be the engine of the next M3). Combined with a low curb weight, the Z10 ought to be as ballsy as a triple shout of Jåger.

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But enough fiction. If you’ve been following this site for a while, you’ve probably read our posts on the “Toyobaru,” the sport coupe under joint development by Toyota and Subaru. Well, the wraps have finally come off, and it looks pretty sweet.

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Currently going by the name of the Toyota FT-86 Concept (excitement fail), the car is powered by Subaru’s 2.0 liter boxer four-cylinder engine, hopefully putting out at least 200 horsepower. Supposedly, the car will be rear-wheel-drive only; whether that’ll preclude it being sold as a Subaru in the States remains to be seen, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see an AWD system slung under there for the U.S. market.

The production FT-86 will reportedly be coming our way in 2011, hopefully priced around $20,000. RWD or AWD, it looks like it’ll be a great car – it’s about time manufacturers started making more small, fun cars for less money.

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Vying for the FT-86’s recession-paralyzed youth, though, will be a similarly priced sports coupe from Honda – and it’s a hybrid, which scores you bonus points but means you have to scrape Ed Begley Jr. off your car more often. (He’s like a starfish!)

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Successor to the beloved CR-X hatch of eons ago, the CR-Z (I guess CR-Y just sounded too sad) will only pack a hybrid powerplant, so don’t expect many smoky burnouts. Rumor has it the powertrain will be a 1.5 liter four-cylinder connected to Honda’s usual hybrid gear and your choice of six-speed stick or CVT automatic; expect somewhere around 125-150 combined horsepower, a 0-60 time of around seven seconds, and moderate-to-heavy smug levels.

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But there’s more news from Subie-land these days – and this next tidbit is a bit…unexpected. Apparently, Motor Trend has named the 2010 Subaru Outback its SUV of the Year. To which we at CCO respond…really?

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As readers know, we really like Subarus. They’ve been making tremendous strides in quality without sacrificing their core values, and remain some of the best cars in their price range. And the Outback, with its elevated stance and versatile AWD, does offer most of the ability of a sport-ute while retaining most of the virtues of a car.

But that’s because it is a car.

Now, I’m sure Motor Trend will say the line between cars and SUVs is blurrier than ever, and that the newest Outback features enough differences from the regular Legacy that it should qualify as a separate category.  Sorry, MT. We love ya, but the Outback is a car. To paraphrase our well-spoken president, you can put all the lipstick you want on a pig, but she’s still Sarah Palin – and you can put all the off-road trappings you want on a car, but it’s still a station wagon. In our minds, the winner should have been the Audi Q5.

Speaking of Audi, some good news from our friends in Ingolstadt. According to AutoExpress, Audi will be bringing the electric e-tron concept from the Frankfurt show to production as a new smaller sports car called the R4.

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Reportedly, the R4 will be based on the production version of VW’s Concept BlueSport, a small diesel-powered roadster from this year’s Detroit show. No idea what sort of output we should expect from the production electric R4, but given that the concept’s 3,319 lb-ft of torque could probably fling the space shuttle into orbit, it’ll probably be a mite less when it lands on our shores around 2012. (There will likely also be gas-powered version, for those of us lucky enough to still have access to fossil fuels after the zombiocalypse of 2011 price of gas goes up.)

But if electric-powered sports cars aren’t your bag, how about a convertible Porsche Panamera? No, the Germans aren’t bringing back the four-door convertible. That’s not coming back until somebody goes back in time and saves JFK. But according to Automotive News, a topless two-door version of the Panamera will be hitting the streets sometime in the next couple of years. No word yet on whether they’ll also offer a two-door coupe version to combat the Mercedes-Benz CL and BMW 6-series, but given Porsche’s 928 filled a similar GT coupe role from 1978 to 1995, you’d probably be safe putting down a deposit…just in case.

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Or, if you’d prefer something equally luxurious but a bit more insane sensible, Automotive News also says Aston Martin is considering putting its Toyota/Scion-based Cygnet runabout into production. For around $32,000, drivers could have an Aston Martin the size of a Smart car with the same Toyota suspension and drivetrain as the iQ upon which it’s based. Aston Martin engineers say they got the idea after watching Daniel Craig get whipped in the balls in Casino Royale.

"The world is gonna know you died designing a ridiculous car!"

"The world is gonna know you died designing a ridiculous car!"

Still, if you decide to spend your thirty-two grand on a Cygnet instead of, say, a Mustang GT, at the very least you’re less likely to see one of Chevrolet’s new Caprice police cars in your rear view mirror. For those of you who just exploded at the thought of a Chevy version of the wonderful Pontiac G8, sorry to burst your bubble, but the G8’s still marked for termination as of this writing.

2011 Chevrolet Caprice Police Patrol Vehicle (PPV)

Those of you who’re envisioning a four-door Camaro, though, are much closer to the mark – like the Camaro, the Caprice is based off GM’s Zeta platform. However, don’t get too caught up in dreams of drag-racing with the wife and kids; the Caprice will only be available to police here in the States. (It’s available for civilians in the Middle East, because apparently GM easily confuses that region with the Mid-West.)

Loaded with a 355-hp 6.0 liter V8 mated to a six-speed auto, the Caprice should run 0-60 in the mid five-second range while driving up police academy recruitment from Pennsylvania to Nevada. Expect to be checking your six for them in 2011; V6 powered versions will be available in 2012, but…why?

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Review – 2009 Subaru Impreza 2.5i Premium

The Good: Solid fit and finish, all-wheel-drive security and handling, hatchback looks good and adds space, too.

The Bad: Four-speed auto just doesn’t cut it, a little sluggish off the line, fuel economy suffers in-town.

The Verdict: A great all-around economy car – if you know how to use a clutch.

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For those of you who read the site regularly, this car might seem rather familiar. The Impreza Premium, as tested in five-door form, is nearly identical to the Outback Sport we reviewed last June. This shorter review, as a result, will mostly focus on the differences between the cars; for a more complete summary, please check out our Outback Sport post.

Plopping down into the Impreza, it’s not hard to see why Subaru was the only carmaker to see U.S. sales rise in 2008; their cars have reached the highest levels of quality in the econocar segment. Fit and finish inside are top-notch, with soft-touch plastics and smooth lines abounding inside. The doors slam shut with a cast-iron thunk far more satisfying than the tinny sound of, say, the Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart I tested a couple weeks ago.

In large part due to its quality, the Subie’s interior proves a very pleasant place to be. The tan fabric and plastic is a sunny antidote to the charcoal tones all too common in cars these days; for some reason, interior designers in the automotive industry seem to think people want the inside of their car to resemble a well-used pizza oven. (I assume people like the dark colors because they make stains harder to see – but why don’t manufacturers just Scotchguard their cars?)

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The interior is reasonably roomy for the segment. The front seats work well for short trips or long ones; the backseat isn’t about to be confused with a Maybach’s, but I was able to cram three medium-size adults into it for a two-hour drive to a New Jersey barbecue. Trunk room is adequate, with 19 cubic feet available behind the rear seats (though don’t count on using more than 3/4 of that if you want to see out the rear window). It proved more than enough for five people’s overnight gear, with room to spare for the plastic-bagged skeleton of a pig. (Don’t ask.)

Mechanically, the Impreza is solid as well – its 170-horsepower 2.5 liter boxer four-cylinder engine moves the car along with verve, if not excitement, and the all-wheel-drive combines with the suspension to give the car great handling for its class. However, all this makes for a heavy compact car – and it proved too much for the four-speed automatic transmission affixed to my tester. The manumatic function just seemed silly, given the scarce number of gears; four speeds just doesn’t cut it in this day and age, when most automatics have at least five, and six is becoming the norm.

As a result, acceleration suffers; accelerating up inclines can be a struggle, especially with the car loaded down, and passing on two-lane roads requires equal parts runway-length straightaways and blind faith. Fuel economy takes a hit, too; while Subaru claims 20 mpg city/26 mpg highway, the car’s trip computer (which proved accurate on the Outback Sport) told me I averaged a craptastic 21.3 mpg over 222 miles. (However, much of that was New York City parking-space-hunting, while the rest was highway driving in a laden car. Expect your mileage to be better.)

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But apart from the automatic transmission, there’s little to complain about here. Even when it comes time to pay the piper (or your bank, if you’re found one still giving out car loans – in which case, let me know, would you?), the Impreza treats you well. The base Impreza five-door gives you AWD, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, keyless entry, power windows/locks/mirrors, A/C, cruise control and a CD stereo for $18,690 (with destination charge). The four-door sedan version costs $500 less, but it’s less attractive and less accommodating; the hatchback/miniwagon is worth the extra money.

My tester also had the Premium Package, which brings the car pretty much even in terms of features with the Outback Sport: moonroof, 10-speaker six-disc stereo, fog lamps, leather steering wheel with audio controls, and alloy wheels. Combined with the $1000 automatic tranny and a $249 “Popular Equipment Group” (two cargo nets and an armrest extender), the car MSRP’ed for $21,939.

So which is the better buy – the Outback Sport or the Impreza Premium? In all honesty, it comes down to taste. The only difference between them is whether you want a moonroof (Impreza) or heated seats (Outback). In my mind, the Outback Sport looks better, so I’d probably pick it; but if you like the sun on your face, the Impreza Premium will treat you just fine.

Base Price/Price As Tested: $18,690/$21,939

0-60: 8.4 seconds (manual transmission; courtesy Car and Driver)

EPA Fuel Economy: 20/26 miles per gallon

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2009 New York Auto Show Review

This year’s New York Auto Show was, for the most part, notable for its lack of notability.

While the NYIAS usually ranks as America’s most heavily attended auto show, with around a million visitors a year, the automotive industry has never treated it quite with the gravitas they do for other shows – the Detroit Auto Show, for example. This is pretty sensible – Detroit is Motor City, while in New York, the people ride in a hole in the ground.

But even considering its location in one of maybe two places in the U.S. where having a car is treated less like a modern convenience and more like an annoying rash (“I have to treat it twice a week?”), this year’s NYIAS was rather listless. Or, as the kids might put it, meh. There were no spectacular new models revealed. The press conferences were quite reserved – no Jeeps erupted out of volcanic calderas constructed in the parking lot. (That happened in 2007. Seriously.) There wasn’t even any apocalyptic undercurrent to the affair – no Hail Mary concepts (“it’ll run on urine!”) or manic attempts to convince everyone that things were great. There was just a slight sense of melancholy draining the energy out of the place.

But that’s not to say the show was a loss. There were still quite a few manufacturers who availed themselves of the opportunity, in true New York tradition, to whip open their trenchcoats and flash the goodies for the world to behold.

The new Acura ZDX concept, for one, has the potential to prove reasonably successful – at least, by the standards of the “Four-door Utility Crossover Koupe” class. (If Kia can spell coupe with a K to be “cool,” I can do it for a cheap joke.) Sadly, boss company Honda’s decision to freeze development on its V-8 means the ZDX will be handicapped from day one against the competing Infiniti FX and BMW X6,  both of which offer six- and eight-cylinder models. Still, the Acura MDX crossover upon which the ZDX is based has done all right with just a V-6 – it offers top-of-the-class driving dynamics and quality. If the ZDX manages to improve on its brother while coming in around the same price as the six-cylinder Bimmer and Finnie, it should do well for itself.

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And while we’re on the subject of FUCKs, I’d like to point out that, mocking acronym aside, I don’t find them nearly as insensible as some others in the automotive industry do. While the idea of them as anything close to a proper coupe is hilarious (and not lame Jimmy Fallon hilarious, but seriously Tina Fey hilarious), they offer what people like about SUVs – high seating, ground clearance, all-wheel-drive, roomy interior – with a more attractive design and sportier performance. That sounds like a win-win.

Another example: the BMW X6 M, also unveiled at NYIAS. 555 horsepower, 500 lb-ft of torque, 0-60 in 4.5 seconds. All the straight-line performance of a BMW M5, and probably 95 percent of its handling capabilities – plus you can drive the bastard through a blizzard, carrying twice as much in the trunk. It’s the logical extension of convenient performance: the sport sedan gave us sports-car performance with room for four; the sports-FUCK gives us equal performance with room for four and all-road capability. In fact – and I may be going out on a limb here – I’d take an X6 M over a current generation M5, given the sedan’s unsatisfying choice between the harsh, grabby sequential gearbox and the performance-crippling manual.

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Volkswagen took the wraps off the American versions of the new Golf, complete with hot-to-trot GTI edition. The biggest news here is the new styling, which depending on the angle, can either make the car look tough or raccoon-eyed. Still, the sleeker lines are a definite improvement over the current, bland-looking car. VW’s betting heavy on their 50-state-clean diesel technology in this car – they guesstimate 30 percent of sales will be oil burners in the first model. Diesel Jettas, for their part, have been scooping up 30 percent of Jetta sedan sales and half of the Jetta wagon market, so this might be realistic. Still, will people want “sportier” gasoline engines in the cooler Golf?

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The other big news, of course, has nothing to do with the mechanics of the car; VW changed the car’s name from “Rabbit” to “Golf.” This marks the second time VW has executed this exact name change in America for the car, having done so decades ago. They switched it back to “Rabbit” for the new 2006 model – I can only assume to capitalize on some perceived nostalgia for 70s-era compacts. Judging by the reversal, I’d wager they didn’t find any.

Mercedes-Benz used the auto show to unwrap a somewhat surprising ML450 Hybrid – surprising because M-B seemed to be putting its eggs into the efficient diesel market, especially on its SUVs. Nevertheless, Benz fused a 3.5 liter V-6 to a pair of electric motors to make a combined 335 horsepower and 385 lb/ft, while eking out an estimated 21/24 mpg, city/highway. In contrast, their ML320 BlueTEC diesel pumps out 210 horsepower, 398 lb/ft and makes 18/24, city/highway.  Assuming they both cost about the same, the hybrid has a definite edge around town – factor in the cheaper price of gasoline than diesel and the cache of the “Hybrid” badge, and the new model will probably outsell the oil burner by a decent margin. But it’s good to see Mercedes taking the green thing seriously.

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Jeep, sadly, doesn’t seem to be following the same track, at least if the 2011 Grand Cherokee is any indication. It still limits your choices to gasoline six- and eight-cylinder engines –  a 3.0 liter diesel is only available outside of the States. (Strange, given that Jeep’s website lists the current model rocking the diesel six. Expect to see that remedied within the next three years.) The V-6 is all new, a 280-horsepower, 260 lb/ft 3.6 liter that’s supposed to deliver a whopping 11 percent improvement in fuel economy. Given the current 4WD model gets 15/19 with its V6, that should at least bump it over the 20 mpg mark – but being unveiled just after Mercedes’s 24-mpg hybrid M-class, and just before GMC declared the 2WD GMC Terrain will get 30 mpg, the Jeep’s figures hardly look like the sort of leap forward Chrysler needs right now.

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But thankfully, the Grand Cherokee’s physical figure comes damn close to making up for it. This is one good-looking truck. Previous GCs have bounced between ruggedly square and generically curvy, but this is the first one that could genuinely be called hot – er, in an automotive sense. In fact, pretty much the only reason this baby’s on this list instead of the Terrain is because of how it looks. The GMC gets 30 mpg on the highway, has a quality interior, is big enough for four of me (if you’re above 6’2″, you know how hard it is to find cars in which you can sit behind yourself), and will probably cost at least eight grand less when it comes out this summer – a full year before the Jeep. But the Terrain is a 5. The Grand Cherokee is a 9.

While the Honda Element continues on with its admittedly…homely styling, the new “Dog Friendly” package transforms the car from a utilitarian box to a utilitarian box every one of the 43 million Americans with canine companions will look at and say, “Aww…” In all honesty, I’m shocked that no one’s thought of this before. Car companies have made specialized models for all sorts of esoteric markets – wealthy ranchers,  yuppie outdoorsmen, extraordinarily rich socialites, and most notably, Frank Sinatra fans – but so far as I know, no one’s ever arranged such a simple, yet logical, package for such a wide market. (Well, Dodge did build a model called the LaFemme just for ladies, but it failed, in no small part because the idea was utterly moronic.)

Dog Friendly Honda Element Concept

Let’s face it – despite the fact that most of us love our dogs more than we love our second cousins (fine, first cousins), the vast majority of us simply let them hop into the back seat and drive off without a second thought. We don’t belt them in, transforming them into living cannonballs in an accident. We don’t buy them Powerades at the 7-11, and rarely consider the climate back there. The average American’s consideration for his or her dog’s well-being in the car probably extends to cracking the rear windows.

He's too darn cute not to see again.

He's too darn cute not to see again.

But when dog owners hear about this package, I’m willing to bet they’ll at least be intrigued enough to come in and take a look. And, sure, you could probably build your own version of the kit at Petsmart for far less than it’ll retail for, but remember, we’re lazy! Anyone motivated enough to do all that work must be some kind of weirdo. But buying a pre-made package…that shows love. I’ll bet you Honda won’t have a problem selling any of these – and I’ll bet every manufacturer you hear snidely deriding the option is working on copying it.

Speaking of plagiarizing Honda, a round of applause for Kia, ladies and gentlemen! If you slapped a Civic badge on the new Forte Coupe, not only could you pass yourself off as someone with classier taste in cars, you’d probably be able to score service at a fair number of Honda dealerships across the nation. I mean, you couldn’t have your catalytic converter replaced without being noticed, but you could probably snag an oil change.

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Though in all honesty, you’ll probably be getting a fair number of complements from Honda owners, because this new coupe is…alluring? Wait a second – has Kia actually made a cool car? Remarkable, but true. Kia quality has been steadily increasing since the brand’s arrival (not like it had anywhere to go but up); that, combined with their T.J. Maxx pricing, has been their ace in the hole these last couple years. Throw in eye-catching styling and halfway decent performance, and we may have ourselves the automotive equivalent of the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays – an upstart franchise without any big names that surprises the hell out of everyone.

Now, astute readers (or Kia fans – do they even exist?) will point out that I have the two-door Forte’s name wrong, and that it’s actually called the “Forte Koup.” My misspelling is entirely intentional.  Not long ago, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine (who happens to be a professional writer) about when it’s acceptable to change the spelling of a word for artistic reasons. He pointed out that while it often looks better, if you want to be taken seriously, you need to spell it right. Kia ought to know better – and I’m not going to disgrace all the hard work of the engineers and designers by referring to it by a bastardized moniker.

That, and I simply can’t stand typing “koup.”

Finally on our list of noteworthy NYIAS debuts comes a pair of cash cattle from Subaru – the brand-new Legacy sedan and Outback wagon. If you’ve ever ventured into one of the New England states, you’ll understand what this means. Up there, the arrival of new Subarus is celebrated in much the way a bountiful harvest or the birth of a new child is. Farmers and their families congregate in the village green, often traveling ten or twenty miles along muddy, washed-out excuses-for-roads in their old Subies to reach the festivities. The local minister leads everyone in a prayer, glorious odes are sung, then everyone sits down for an enormous potluck supper. Afterwards, the assembly examines every inch of the new models; questions are asked and answered, brochures poured over, Subaru salesmen toasted with cider and beer. Eventually, the masses place their orders for the vehicles that will carry them through the worst God and nature can throw at them through the next four to eight years of their Rockwellian existence.

Though they mask it well, the hearts of stoic New Englanders warm for this car.

Though they mask it well, the hearts of stoic New Englanders warm for this car.

So, yes, this is a big deal.

But aside from the joyful noise arising from parts north, it was a pretty low-key auto show. It seems like most people in the automotive industry are just trying to ride things out as best they can. Perhaps one of the most surprising turn of events was the number of new SUVs – even with gas prices reduced from last year’s highs, “green” remains the color of choice these days, so it seems a little odd that out of this list of notable, five of the nine vehicles are sport-utes (not including the Outback, whose impression of one has gone from Frank Caliendo quality to Sasha Baron Cohen caliber). Here’s hoping next year’s show finds the industry on more stable ground – so we can drool over something better than a new Jeep.

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2009 New York International Auto Show – Day Two Unfiltered

Welcome back to day two of our fresh, seat-of-the-pants coverage of the New York Auto Show. Without further ado:

Mitsubishi, 9:40 a.m.: The i-MIEV electric kei-car is inching closer to production. Come on – I saw this last year. But they’ve got range estimates now! 75-100 miles on a single charge, and only 12-14 hours to charge from a 110 volt outlet! Well, the thing’s basically a Matchbox car. How many AAs does it take to run the thing? Couldn’t you just swap them out like I do with my mouse?

It's actually tofu flavored.

It's actually tofu flavored.

It’s always amusing to watch the American presenters follow the foreign ones – especially when they’re forced to awkwardly thank them by tripping over the alien language. But when the foreigners do it, it’s endearing. So I guess that’s how it comes off to them.

The spokesperson says Mitsubishi isn’t going to try to be everything to everyone anymore. Well, I’m sure Porsche and Ferrari are relieved they don’t have to sweat that any longer.

The Lancer Sportback is for people with “active lifestyles.” Well, remember folks – Genghis Khan had an active, outdoor lifestyle.

And the sheet comes off the new Outlander SUV concept. Meh. Plain vanilla. (Seriously, couldn’t they have painted it something more exciting than white?)

Subaru, 10:10 a.m.: Note to Subaru – when you’re going to unveil a new model for the first time, as you’re planning with the Legacy today, don’t  leave one of them sitting right next to the throng of journalists. Even if it’s cut up so you can see inside, half the sheetmetal’s still enough to ruin the surprise.

Couldn't you have thrown a sheet over it, or something?

Couldn't you have thrown a sheet over it, or something?

Another fancy countdown…how about you just start the damn thing sixty seconds earlier and save the money!

Subie sales were UP in 2008? Significantly? And they’re up so far in ’09? Shit, they need to make this the cornerstone of their marketing campaign or something. “Subaru: The Official Car of the Great Recession.” Wait…maybe not.

Wow, the teleprompter actually says “(smile)” for the presenter’s benefit. I’m sure he appreciates that. Just put marionette strings on him, already.

The 2010 Legacy gets three engines: a 170-hp four, a 265-hp turbo four, and a 256-hp six. Um…may I ask why you need all three of them? Second note, Subaru – if your six-cylinder engine makes fewer horsepower than your four-cylinder, don’t offer the damn six cylinder.

And here it is! Not bad, not bad. Kind of looks like an Infiniti G37, but you could do worse. back end’s a little frumpy – I kinda hoped for something sportier.

One...

One...

...or two?

...or two?

Wait, there’s a surprise for us? It’s the equally new 2010 Outback! All of New England just burst into cheers! But not until we get a slideshow of the Outback’s history.

YES! SHOWING PAUL HOGAN SOME LOVE! But calling him “some Australian guy…” Come on. Not only did he make you in America…he’s Crocodile Dundee. He’s like Steve Irwin’s superbadass alter ego.

Maybe I’m just sappy, but the promo video featuring a happy couple exploring and adventuring through green meadows and across mountains actually made me want to buy an Outback. I’d buy into that fantasy.

Wow! It looks really different from the Legacy. But it looks good…even though it looks a lot taller – almost like an SUV now – it works for it.

Come on, throw Paul Hogan a bone and rehire him. God knows he's not doing anything else.

Come on, throw Paul Hogan a bone and rehire him. God knows he's not doing anything else.

Kia, 10:40 a.m.: VP Michael Sprague walks on stage, not to generic music, but to the hook from “Get On Your Boots.” They cut out before Bono started singing, so I’m happy. (Seriously, sexy boots? Why am I listening to a 48-year-old man singing about sexy boots?)

Kia had a party last night? Why don’t I ever hear about the goddamn parties?!?

Kia’s plan is to become a “world-class U.S. manufacturer,” and they’re opening a new plant in Georgia. You know things are bad when G.M. is shutting American plants while Kia is opening them.

They think we car journalists are asking, “Where do [new Kia designs] come from? What inspires them?” Dude, we’re asking two questions these days: “How fucked are you?” and “Is this an open bar?”

Oh, I get it now. They’re sticking the designers who penned the cars on the stage into those egg-shaped seats from Men In Black and telling us they’re mind-reading chairs that will show us what they’re thinking on the screen. Actual humor? Wow, this is refreshing.

Even though you have to be 18 to enter the press days, these guys keep their thoughts strictly PG. Not even some side-boob.

Even though you have to be 18 to enter the press days, these guys keep their thoughts strictly PG. Not even some side-boob.

Apparently, the Kia Soul is inspired by a boar wearing a backpack. I couldn’t make that up if I tried.

The new Forte sedan is supposed to attract “younger buyers” – which apparently means Miley Cyrus, according to the designer’s “brain imagery.” Yeah, because 12-year-olds really buy cars…

I’m sorry? Miley Cyrus fans are old enough now to drive? And some to vote? I’m officially old. And quickly growing crotchety.

Off goes the cover over the Forte coupe…and it looks good! Like a Civic. I mean, really like a Civic.

Wait, they’re spelling it “Koup?” Are they “krazie?” “Koup” sounds like some generic microwaveable ramen.

Even "Kia Forte Sexy Boots" would have been better.

Even "Kia Forte Sexy Boots" would have been better.

But you can get it with a 173 horsepower four attached to a six-speed stick that gets 22/32 mpg, and comes with standard six-speaker stereo and bluetooth. Guess most people will just chip off that “Koup” lettering.

Mazda, 11:15 a.m.: Looks like they’re just announcing some mild updates to the CX-7 and CX-9 SUVs. Screw it – I’m gonna walk around.

Wow, this Volvo XC60 is actually really nice. Roomy, seats five easily, extremely safe…do they really need the big old XC90 anymore?

The Lincoln MKT – their version of the Ford Flex – looks just as good as the Flex. Maybe better. The Flex is a bit too blocky for me. But Lord, this thing is long.

But it has an incredibly kickass stereo. THX custom-made it for the MKT, and…shit. It’s better than most home theatre setups I’ve heard. I might buy this car just for the stereo.

TURN IT UP! TURN IT UP!

TURN IT UP! TURN IT UP!

Oh, shit – time for-

Honda, 11:45 a.m.: Just one model on the stage – the Element. It says it’s a concept, but it looks just like any other Element. But there’s a giant sign that says “Dog Friendly” above the car, and fifteen-foot high paws made of LEDs beside it. Is this really…

Next year: the first car for LOLCat lovers.

Next year: the first car for LOLCat lovers.

…yes, they’ve made a car optimized for dogs. With a special pet bed strapped in back, a doggie ramp that extends from the tailgate, machine washable rear seat covers, a spill-resistant water bowl, and a fan in back for the dog. It even comes with an Element collar and leash. And it goes on sale this fall.

I love you, Honda.

And holy shit, is that…yes, they actually brought an adorable dog to show it off. And his owner’s from the Humane Society. Not his handler – his actual owner. Well played, Honda, well played. The one surefire way to crack cynical journalists? Dogs.

In Honda's defense, he likes sitting like that.

In Honda's defense, he likes sitting like that.

Lunchtime, 12:00 p.m.: Trying out a couple Bentleys. First up, the Continental GTC convertible. Very comfy. Stereo’s not as good as the Lincoln (and I never thought I’d say that). Good car to drive across the country in. I probably wouldn’t buy it, though – not really sporty enough for me.

So over to the new Supersports.

Holy shit, manual seat controls?!? This would be odd on a car that cost $27,000 – but this Bentley costs ten times that. I love it.

Bucket seats are hard and grabby, too, like your perverted uncle. Thankfully, these are a little easier to live with. But I still wouldn’t want to drive more than fifty miles in them. Or so it seems now – extended real-world testing will be needed to learn more. How about it, Bentley?

There’s suede everywhere. Not that Alcantara microsuede shit – real suede, the kind you gotta take to the dry cleaners if it gets wet. Putting it on the steering wheel seems like the sort of thing someone would do if they had the money to launder their steering wheel every time their hands get wet. Gotta love it.

Hyundai, 12:35 p.m.: Oh, Hyundai’s donated over $12 million towards fighting children’s cancer. That’s nice. Bet those other automakers are kicking themselves for not mentioning their charitable works at the top of their press conferences.

Today’s concept is called the HCD-11 Nuvis. Sounds like a gun from Starship Troopers.

Apparently it’s a hybrid powered by lithium polymer batteries, which they claim are more easily sculpted and safer than lithium-ion ones. Of course, it’s a concept car, so they could claim it’s powered by distilled gall stones or pure faith if they wanted.

Goddamn it, Hyundai, stop flashing blue rack lights in my eyes! I’m trying to watch your stupid movie!

It’s obviously a concept car, but it looks pretty good. Those gullwing doors are huge, though. The purpose of gullwings is not to create enough lift to allow flight, guys!

Cacaw!

Cacaw!

Ah, apparently there’s an “information river” that flows through the car. Can we dam that up instead? Hell, maybe stick a generator in the dam and power the car that way.

They say the styling is “a hint and a wink” towards the next Santa Fe, which is about two years away. I feel like I might be pleasantly surprised.

Spyker, 1:05 p.m.: There’s only about thirty people here. Poor little Spyker. Went to all the trouble of building an all-new supercar, and nobody cares enough to show up.

The C8 Aileron, as it’s called, runs a 400-hp Audi V8, does 0-60 in 4.5 seconds, and costs $209,990. Sorry, guys, that’s not gonna cut it. Not when BMW’s giving us an SUV that’ll keep even with you in the sprint onto the interstate for less than half the price.

But the X6M wishes it could look like this, I bet.

You will never, ever see one of these again.

You will never, ever see one of these again.

And apparently, they haven’t been hit by the recession at all! Well, that’ll probably happen when you sell five cars a year. There will always be five rich car guys.

Wandering, 1:40 p.m.: Things are winding down fast here. Time for a last sweep of the floor to see if there’s anything else worth checking out.

The Nissan GT-R? This thing could double as a Rebel Alliance fighter. X-wing, Y-wing, R-wing. Or at the very least, a landspeeder to bulls-eye whomp rats with.

According to Top Gear, it also does the Kessel Run in eleven parsecs, but everyone knows they fudged their data.

According to Top Gear, it also does the Kessel Run in eleven parsecs, but everyone knows they fudged their data.

And you practically need R2-D2 to help with the electronics. There are switches for everything in here. Pilots ought to feel right at home. Kinda cheap inside, for $72 grand or so – then again, for what it does, it’s a bargain.

The new Camaro, though, is definitely chintzier than I expected. The door slams with a hollow vibration, and the interior plastics are much harder than anyone with feeling in their fingertips would like. The controls look great, just like everything else in the car – but function’s definitely riding pillion to form here, because a lot of the switches and gauges are downright awkward to use. Damn. I had such high hopes.

With all the hard plastic and nice looks, I could go for the fake boob joke here. But I won't, because I have standards.

With all the hard plastic and nice looks, I could go for the fake boob joke here. But I won't, because I have standards.

Same goes for the new Shelby GT500 Mustang. I’d heard the new Mustangs had made leaps and bounds in terms of interior quality, but this one didn’t seem much better then the ones I’ve tried before. And this is the top-level model. It looks like a million bucks outside…but the interior in a $15,000 Honda Fit is more pleasing.

Even the new Ford Taurus SHO suffers from chintzitis. Admittedly, the interior of this one looked like it’d logged a few hard months on the car show circuit – paint peeling, colors fading, etc. Not a good sign for how it might hold up in the real world. Then again, I think both these Fords were preproduction models, so hopefully they’ll ratchet things up a notch in the production cars.

Wandering around downstairs is always creepy. There are whole sections down there where no one ever seems to go. This is usually where the big guys hide their trucks for New York. Being underground in a silent concrete bunker, alone with a bunch of trucks that don’t move? It’s like being in some Detroit bomb shelter circa 1998 nuclear attack. “Quick, save the trucks! They’ll always be profitable!”

But they usually shove a few esoteric nutter butters back here, which is worth checking out. EV Innovations? Oh, they make their own electric cars. And they convert other cars to electric, too! Hey, know what would make a Toyota Yaris great? If it cost three times as much and needed half a day to refuel!

Ooh, Confederate motorcycles. I want to make a Yankee joke, but I can’t – they’re just too cool. One of them appears to literally be an engine and wheels connected by welded steel pipe. This must be who Bruce Wayne farms out the Bat-Pod contracts to.

Imagine if there was a Confederate Batman, and he fought the regular, U.S. Batman? That would be awesome.

Imagine if there was a Confederate Batman, and he fought the regular, U.S. Batman? That would be awesome.

Finally, heading out, it’s probably worth checking out the last press conference, if just for a second…

New Jersey Motorsports Park, 2:20 p.m.: Not a single journalist appears to have come. They even set up seats, and…nobody came. I feel sorry for a moment, and think about staying just out of pity…but it’s just too weird.

You can end with this, because I certainly did.

You can end with this, because I certainly did.

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