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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 Audi Q5 3.2 quattro

The Good: Sporty handling, willing engine, carlike ride and a trucklike view.

The Bad: “Convenience” options can border on pointless, doesn’t make as much sense as an A4 Avant.

The Verdict: Top of the class – if that’s your style.

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As the nearest Star Trek fan will tell you, natives of the planet Vulcan differ from humans in two major aspects – pointy ears, and an infallible belief in logic. Unlike hotheaded humans, Vulcans make their decisions entirely with their brains and rarely with their hearts.

The Audi Q5 would be a flop on Vulcan. Sure, pointy-eared car shoppers would appreciate the traction-amplifying all-wheel-drive system, the refined powertrain, and the comfortable seating, but ultimately, they’d probably just find the Q5 illogical. After all, the station wagon version of Audi’s A4 is lighter, just as fast, and more fuel-efficient – and it’s cheaper to boot.

Luckily for Audi, though, the Q5 is only for sale on Earth, where emotions tend to play a large part in the car-buying process. And here in America, the Q5 will almost certainly outsell the A4 Avant year in and year out, thanks to our nation’s rather irrational love of tall, four-wheel-drive vehicles.

That said, anyone who decides to take a Q5 home isn’t likely to regret his or her choice. Once one accepts the inherent compromises of the SUV form, this Audi becomes the sort of car people recommend to their friends – often without prompting. (“Catch the game last night, Steve?” “No, but I love my new Q5!”)

It certainly helps that the Q5 doesn’t feel very SUV-like from behind the wheel. Motivated by the same 270-horsepower 3.2 liter V6 as the A4 (with which the Q5 shares its platform), the medium-sized SUV prowls the streets with the verve of a smaller – or at least shorter – vehicle. The run to 60 takes 6.5 seconds, according to Car and Driver – only eight-tenths of a second slower than the V6 version of the A4 sedan.

Strange as it might seem, though, SUVs doubling as rocket sleds isn’t exactly news. Porsche, Mercedes-Benz and BMW all make sport-utes capable of ripping off 0-60 blasts in the low five-second range or quicker; hell, the Hemi-powered Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 does the sprint to mile-a-minute velocity in 4.5 seconds, and it costs more than $10,000 less than my loaded Q5.

But the SRT8 is more concerned with novelty than utility – a third or fourth car for sophisticated rednecks and NASCAR drivers. The Q5 wants to be your first car, the one you can commute to work in during the week and take out for a weekend drive on your favorite windy road, while still traversing the worst Mother Nature can throw at you on your way to Grandma’s house for Christmas. (And if Grandma happens to live up a washed-out dirt road, you’re still good to go.)
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Impressively, the Q5 doesn’t lose much momentum when the road turns windy. On tight mountain roads, the Audi wound through turns with similar aplomb to its smaller A4 sibling (are you seeing a pattern here?). Anyone used to more traditional SUVs – or even the others in the Q5’s class – will probably find the Audi’s handling revelatory.

Like the A4 reviewed here last February, the Q5 came with Audi Drive Select, a system that allows you to manipulate the suspension, steering and throttle response with the touch of a button. The system seemed a bit more useful here than in the A4; “dynamic” mode seemed a little more buttoned down and forceful in the twisties, but “comfort” mode just seemed floaty, even potentially nausea-inducing. I left it in “auto” at least 90 percent of the time, and odds are most buyers will do the same. Better to save the $3,000 the system costs for gas money.

As for the rest of the Q5’s optional gadgets, they tended to land somewhere between usefulness and gimmickry. The blind spot warning system, which illuminates amber lights on the side mirrors if there’s a car lurking in your blind spot, ranked towards the helpful end of the spectrum; however, the yellow glow tended to get washed out in direct sunlight, which could spell trouble if drivers become dependent on the system. And the panoramic glass roof opens wide enough to finally fulfill Homer Simpson’s wish for “a sunroof for the husky gentleman.”

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The electronically-closing tailgate, however, just seems stupid. In theory, it seems like a good idea to have a powered backup method of closing the hatch – say, for when someone’s hands are full, or if the car is owned by Verne Troyer. But the button to close the hatch is on the hatch – meaning you still have to have one hand free to reach up and touch it. Worse, there’s no way to manually override the plodding system – any attempts to quickly shut the gate by hand are stymied, as the electronics keep the door from moving even an inch.

Ultimately, though, a car is judged not on its electronic toys and options, but in how well it goes about whatever task it’s designed for – in the Q5’s case, carrying four or five people in comfort and style over any road. Style isn’t a problem; like most Audis, the Q5 leads the pack in classiness. From the outside, the Q5 strikes an eye-catching balance between muscularity and curviness, like Jessica Biel during her Blade 3 days.

Inside, the theme is pretty much standard Audi corporate interior – lots of leather and a clean design. Like most luxury cars these days, a center-console-mounted knob controls the navigation system/stereo/missile targeting system/etc; Audi’s is called MMI, or “Multi-Media Interface.” As I’ve said before, it’s one of the easiest of the systems to use, but it still requires attention you should really be giving to the road. (Luckily, redundant controls on the steering wheel allow you to at least control the radio without looking too far off-course.)

As for the interior accommodations, well, let’s just call them “adequate.” The front seats are comfy during long hauls and sweeping curves, and offer plentiful room. The back seat is a little tight for full-sized adults, though; they’ll fit (at least two of them would – but don’t put anyone you like in the bitch seat), but passengers won’t be confusing the Q5 for the large A8 sedan anytime soon.

Still, the moderately-sized back seat is an acceptable compromise, given the Q5’s proportions. Only someone trading up from a Yaris would consider this Audi a “big truck;” compared to its Jelly-Bellied giant brother, the Q7, the Fiver seems downright compact. Unless you really, really need that third row of seating the Q7 offers, the Q5 will be a more satisfying choice – and if you need to seat seven people that badly, there are quite a few dealerships that would be happy to put you in a very nice minivan.

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Bottom line, though, it’s hard to make a logical case for the Q5 – but that goes for the entire small luxury SUV class. For the money, every manufacturer offering one of these vehicles – Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, Infiniti, and so on – also offers a similarly-sized sedan or wagon with superior performance and fuel economy. Most of them can be had with all-wheel-drive, and most of them are cheaper than their SUV equivalents.

If the Q5 makes a better case for itself than most of its competitors, it’s because it sits atop the class. Stacked up against the A4 Avant, it’s just about as quick, offers more cargo space and seats you a few inches higher off the ground for a few thousand dollars more. Enthusiasts looking for an all-weather people mover with added room for grocery runs will probably choose the lower, lighter Avant. But if the SUV looks and king-of-the-world seating position appeal to your heart, the Q5 will make you happy every day you climb behind the wheel.

Base Price/Price As Tested: $38,175/$52,950

0-60: 6.5 seconds (Car and Driver)

EPA Fuel Economy: 18 city/23 highway

Key Competitors: Lexus RX350, Mercedes-Benz GLK350, Audi A4 Avant

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