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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.

aston_martin_cygnet_images_001

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.

hbsjerbo_pxgen_r_1100xa

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.

hbtwbbrj_pxgen_r_1100xa

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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GM and Ford really, really want you to drive their cars

Here’s a new one: according to Business Week, GM and Ford are offering NYIAS visitors $50 gift cards if they test-drive one of their cars at the dealership.

Now, some of you may have heard about the auto show presenters being heckled by passers-by at this year’s show. But this just seems like Ford and GM are asking people to make fun of their employees. “Hey lady, my taxes paid for that gift card!”

You know what would be great? If people bartered with them for more money. “Pal, I ain’t getting behind the wheel of your damn Focus for less than $100. Or lemme take home the Cobra logo on that Shelby GT500.”

And what about Chrysler? Are they gonna just claim the high ground? “We don’t pay people to drive our cars. We just plead with them. We’re not whores – we’re beggars.” Or will they offer more, setting off a price war of gift cards between the Big 3? “Come on down to Sheffield Chevrolet, where we give you a $15,000 gift card with any test drive!”

Anyway, if you’re planning on hitting up the auto show before it closes, be sure to ask about the promotion and snag your card. GM’s cards are only good at restaurants.com, while Ford takes the classy road and lets you use your anywhere you want.

(You can read the Business Week story here; find the nearest Ford dealership here, or the nearest GM dealer here.)

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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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