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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.


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.


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.


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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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


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


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


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

smart fortwo BRABUS electric drive

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.

smart fortwo BRABUS electric drive smart fortwo BRABUS electric drive

Bugatti Veyron Bleu Centenaire and Mansory Bugatti LINEA Vincero

mansory_bugatti_linea_vincero_image_004 bugatti_veyron_bleu_centenaire_image_001

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.


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


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


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


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.

pagani_zonda_r_image_004 pagani_zonda_r_image_014


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Quick View – (the) smart (car)

I’d like to start this post by mentioning, much as I did with the Quick View on the Mini, that apart from in the title, I will be capitalizing the name of the Smart car in the way the English language requests we treat proper nouns, and not continually refer to it as the “smart,” as the folks at Smart headquarters in Germany would like. Apparently they read a lot of e.e. cummings while on the john over there, and didn’t realize that naming their new car the “smart” would just be “silly.”

(And since Smart is owned by Mercedes-Benz much the way Mini is owned by BMW, now nobody can accuse me of brand favoritism. Ha!)

But other than its name, the Smart car seems at first glance an admirable automobile. Designed as the ideal car for Europe’s narrow city streets, tiny parking spaces and expensive fuel, the Smart is designed to take up as little room as possible while making plenty of room for its occupants. Kind of like the Mini. (You’ll probably notice a lot of similarities between those two as time goes on.)

The Smart was first proposed, strangely enough by Swiss watchmaker Swatch, apparently seeking a new market to cover with funky-colored Hello Kitty pictures. While the Hello Kitty Kar campaign may have never taken off, the other focus of the car – to make a vehicle as long as a parking spot is wide, allowing them to perpendicular park in a parallel spot and really fuck with Driver’s Ed teachers everywhere – turned out to be a good idea. Swatch sent out some feelers to find someone accustomed to building devices larger than a quarter, and eventually found a willing partner in Daimler-Benz (parent company of Mercedes-Benz. Don’t ask why one name is different.).

The first Smarts launched onto European roads in 1997, eventually experiencing heavy financial losses and disputes that caused Swatch to pull out of the partnership. Daimler-Benz, undaunted, pulled Smart along by introducing several new models. To complement the initial model, called the “Fortwo,” Smart unveiled a four-door hatchback called the “Forfour,” a sleeker, lower “Roadster” model, and a few other odds and ends along the way.

Of course, most of this was happening back in the glorious days of the late 90s and early 2000s, when we Americans couldn’t have given two farts about a fuel-sipping microcar. Gas was cheap! An oilman was president! The world loved us! Global warming a problem so far in the future, we’d find a way to deal with it  between the Terminator uprising and the Borg invasion. Life was good.

Then, suddenly, it all hit the fan.

So when the second-generation Smart was being readied a couple years ago, a few notable folks in America happened to let slip that they, in fact, might be interested in bringing this little car to our shores. Suddenly, it’s 2008, and voila! Smarts are available for legal sale in the land of Comin’ Again To Save The Motherfuckin’ Day.

So, now that we understand how these little cars came to be, let’s take a look at them. The current, second-generation Smart comes in three flavors here in America: “pure” (el cheapo), “passion” (political statement), and “passion cabriolet” (Hollywood political statement). All three are powered by the same engine, a 1.0-liter three-cylinder cranking out an epic 70 horsepower and an equally stunning 68 lb-ft of torque. Car and Driver tested a 1815-pound Passion coupe, and managed to coax a 14.4 second 0-60 time out of it. Transmissions are equally limited, the only choice being whether you choose to slot the five-speed semiautomatic transmission into “manual” and “automatic.” 

So, if all the engines line up the same, what sets the different models apart? Well, let’s start with a radio. Yes, that’s right, the base “pure” model doesn’t come with a radio. It’s equipped for one, coming with an antenna, twin speakers, and an iPod jack, but the radio itself is conspicuously missing. Here’s what the “pure” does come with: 15″ wheels and tires, a tire pressure monitoring system, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift, coin holder (ooh!), ABS and ESP, four airbags, and keyless entry. Air conditioning, metallic paint, a radio, power steering (holy shit!), and something called a “silver metallic tridion safety cell,” which sounds incredibly awesome but, given that it only costs $175, probably isn’t.

Next up the line is the Passion coupe, which throws in most of the above, except power steering and the silver metallic tridion safety cell. (I just had to put that in again. I mean, come on! Doesn’t that sound like something they’d have on the starship Enterprise? You know, the ship is being engulfed by a space amoeba and is about to be torn apart until Spock rerouts power through the silver metallic tridion safety cell, giving them enough time for Scotty to fix the warp core and they blast the hell out of there? Good times.)

But the options for the Passion don’t stop there. (I’d like to point out that both “additional instruments” and “solid roof” are listed as optional on the car.) Premium stereo costs $350, while the “comfort package” gives you good ol’ power steering, heated leather seats, and auto-off headlamps.

The line tops out at the Passion cabriolet, a fancy German word for convertible, which comes with the super-stereo standard in order to counteract the wind roar that shows up when you lower the “infinitely adjustable” power soft top. (Silver metallic tridion safety cell remains optional, but highly recommended, especially if you choose to forgo aftermarket phasers for your Smart.)

Of course, one place the Smart wins a lot of its friends is on price – and that price is damned low. Crazy low, it seems, for a car that was built by Mercedes-Benz. The Pure starts at $11,590. Yes, under twelve grand can buy you a German-engineered two-door with an engine, four wheels, an entire driveable car. (Space travel not recommended unless you purchase the silver metallic tridion-

Okay, enough of that tridion joke. You’ve beaten it to death.

Are you kidding? It’s still got miles to go! Besides, how could you beat it to death, it’s a silver metal-

Cut it out. Now. I am so not joking about this. 

All right. Can I make one more joke about it?


What about if it’s not a Star Trek joke, just a joke about-


What about if I told you that this entire dialogue was actually the joke, and you’ve been playing along the whole time?



A-hem. Anyway, the better equipped Passion coupe starts at $13,590, while the Passion cabrio begins moving off dealer lots for $16,590.

The other way the Smart makes friends is its cuteness. Cuteness is, admittedly, in the eye of the beholder, but it’s probably safe to say the Smart manages to look sweet in the same way a ladybug does. (However, if you ever see a red Smart with black polka-dots, they probably have some serious loneliness issues. Get them a pet.) 

However, the Smart does have two unfortunate strikes against it. First of all, its small size – while attractive in principle – does make it a bit intimidating to drive on American roads, with American-sized cars and trucks and American-sized lanes. For those handful of places in the U.S. where the streets resemble those of Europe’s cities, the Smart’s size will indeed be a boon – for everybody else, it’ll probably just be a reminder that your car will always be a bit of a stranger in a strange land.

The second, less forgiveable flaw, is the fuel economy of the car. The Smart is rated at a mere 33 miles per gallon in the city and 41 on the highway; with only 70 horsepower, you’ll probably be seeing figures a lot closer to the latter if you intend to keep up with traffic. C/D only got 32 mpg. You can get similar mileage from a lot of other cars in its price range – and you won’t feel like Spam in a can doing it.

So, in review: the Smart is tiny, weak, and doesn’t get the mileage it seems it should – but it’s the cheapest car you can buy these days, and it’s not bad to look at. For some, it will be the perfect car; for the rest of us, however, there are smarter choices available.

Even if they don’t come with silver metallic tridion safety cells. YES!


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