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New York Auto Show – Thoughts and Judgements (Oh So Much Judgement)

The grueling two days making up the New York Auto Show press preview have finally come to a close (so many free cappuccinos…), so it’s time to reflect on just what happened. Overall, it was a pretty average show, but my gut seems to indicate the overall event was actually one of the more exciting, involving shows of late. Maybe it’s because of the infinitesimal indications that the economy is starting to climb out of the pit so large, Gerard Butler uses it for overly dramatic drop-kickings. Or maybe it was just the free beer.

Let’s talk press conferences. There were a few notable stunts and oddities this year. Mercedes-Benz chose the American 2010 Olympic gold medalist bobsled team to drive out their new, mildly updated R-class. Sadly, this was the first I’d heard of the U.S. victory. I just assumed the Jamaicans always won.

"If they make one Cool Runnings joke, we're getting back in and driving away."

Infiniti put on a brief Cirque du Soleil show before yanking the sheet off their new truck-based QX56 sport-ute. At first, I thought it was just some CDS-style dancers, but, nope, turns out Infiniti actually pulled some real performers from the famed Canadian dance-circus. All they had to do was pay a shitton of money and become the official vehicle of Cirque du Soleil, as both the dancers and the car company represent “inspired performance.” (I couldn’t make that up.) I don’t know about anyone else, but the whole thing gave me a wicked acid flashback.

Scion unveiled their new iQ and tC coupes in what can best be described as a rave setting, if most raves featured a thirty-foot tall mesh projection screen with a car behind it and house music imploring the listener to “jam it in your hole” over and over again. (Then again, maybe raves do these days. I haven’t been in a while.)

Roger Sterling takes a minute from banging his secretary to introduce the new Scions.

Unsurprisingly for anyone who’s seen one of their “cheeky” ads, Mini took full advantage of the date of their press conference to play an April Fools Day prank on the audience; touting their square, cloaked concept as a concept called the “Mini Excel,” the sheet was ripped off to reveal a large SUV-shaped plywood box with “April Fools” written on the sides. Then several roadies (Minies?) converged on the stage, each grabbing a piece of the box and removing it to reveal the Mini Countryman underneath. Incidentally, Mini’s spokesperson was the only one of the days not wearing a collared shirt; beneath his suit coat was a black T-shirt with MINI written in white print. However, his closed jacket concealed about half the word, so I spent most of the show thinking he was just a big Nine Inch Nails fan.

Of course, at any event involving a large group of competitors, there will be winners and losers. In many cases, determining which is which is pretty easy; in the event of an auto show, it’s entirely subjective. Which means it’s perfect for this site. Presenting the 2010 New York Auto Show Winners and Losers!

Winner: Hyundai. Five years ago, the idea of a Hyundai competing against Mercedes-Benz would have been much, much funnier than anything Dane Cook had ever performed. But unlike Cook, Hyundai has spent the last few years improving themselves. The Genesis sedan introduced the world to the concept of a luxury Hyundai – and the new Equus sedan sets that idea in stone.

Offering quality nearly even with Mercedes, BMW and Lexus, the Equus sets out to fight the luxury brands’ top-level sedans at a much lower price point. Fun-to-drive isn’t really the game here – leave that to the Panamera – but for those looking for a relaxed, brisk full-sized luxury sedan with oodles of comfort (and yes, an oodle is the basic unit of comfort), this Hyundai will probably be a perfect fit. It’ll probably poach Lexus LS sales like an ivory hunter with a Holland & Holland .600. Starting between $50,ooo and $60,000, and with features its competitors either charge heavily for (reclining rear right-side seat, rear fridge) or don’t offer at all (nose-mounted camera for seeing around corners, standard iPad in lie of a paper owner’s manual), the Equus will almost certainly clean up the lower end of this market.

You know how Hyundai is serious about this car? Their traditional “H” doesn’t appear on it. Instead, buyers get an abstract Y-shaped logo that looks like a weird-but-I’ve-seen-weirder sex toy.

Recline function, yes. Legroom to use it, no.

Loser: Dodge/Chrysler. Unable to muster up the energy for a press conference, the closest thing the company managed to excitement were a pair of tiny Fiat 500s from their new parent company, along with a duo of identical twins to show them off.

Otherwise, the whole display was pretty flaccid. (Yes, folks, that’s a dick joke.) Chrysler’s business plan these days seems to consist of trying to sell two-tone special editions of the 300, while Dodge is relegated to selling musclecars to the Provincetown set.

Come on, Chrysler! You used to make such great concept cars. Even had a good stretch of production models there, with the PT Cruiser and the 300. This is just sad. If Hyundai can throw two separate press conferences, you can summon up five minutes to show off something. Subaru threw a new wing on the STI and called it a day – can’t you do that to the Viper?

The model budget doesn't seem to have taken much of a hit.

Winner: BMW. Pulling the sheets off five models at the show is a pretty good way to get on this list. (Not four, Kia. Five.) Consistently building some of the most fun-to-drive cars on the road helps, too. Granted, three of the reveals were just tweaks, but if loading a 3-series with 20 extra horses and a seven-speed DSG is what ladies call “freshening up,” I understand why they do it so often and it takes so long. Same goes for the mods to the Z4 and X5. Improvements on the 7-series – like the road-going ICE train called the B7 Alpina, now brilliantly available with xDrive AWD, and the ActiveHybrid 7 capable of going 0-60 in 4.7 seconds while still allowing you to be incredibly smug – are more than appreciated as well.

Who wants to race to Alaska?

But the new 5-series could be my new “realistic” dream car. Especially in 550i form, equipped with the company’s magical 4.4 liter twin turbo V8 cranking out 400 horses – an engine capable of moving the 5200-lb X6 from 0 to 60 in 5 seconds flat – and the available six-speed manual! (Though living in the city, I might just test-drive that eight-speed automatic. Though I’d feel like a poseur every day if I bought one.) The new 5 is handsome (much more so in person than in pictures), exceedingly comfortable, and quite big inside – big enough I could fit quite comfortably in the back seat, even with my 36″ inseam. (And I’ll just say it – comfier back seat than the new Bentley Mulsanne. No one else will say it, ’cause they don’t want to get booted off the Bentley gravy train, but I speak the truth!) Hell, the trunk is huge, too. I’ll take mine in Deep Sea Blue, please.

Winner: Cadillac. They surprised all of us with a CTS-V Sport Wagon, going on sale this fall by order only. I just need a nice juicy raise by Christmas.

Loser: Toyota/Lexus. Apparently shamed by the whole “AAAAAAUUUUUUGGGGHHHH!!!” problem (also known as JESUSFUCKINGCHRISTTHECARWON’TSTOP-gate), Toyota and its luxury brand were silent for the whole show. No apologies, no on-stage seppuku, no carefully choreographed bawling. Which was unfortunate, because at the very least, Lexus had a couple models worth mentioning. The LFA supercar made its New York debut in a matte-black shade that suggests Lexus is courting Bruce Wayne and the rest of the billionaire vigilante market. The CT 200h hybrid compact showed up for the first time too, complete with an ad for an interactive BMWFilm-like promo featuring a “Driver” played by the Boondock Saint Who Isn’t Young Indiana Jones. But no one told us anything about it.

Winner: The Lotus Elise. Because I discovered, while it takes about 30 seconds of gymnastics, I can actually fit inside it. Even with the hard top on.

Loser: The Subaru WRX STI. First, Subaru bumped up the power of the regular, cheaper WRX so it actually became quicker than the big-ticket STI. Now, the company has outfitted the WRX with a new, tough-guy look rendering it all but identical to the STI. Granted, four-door STIs (a new model, by the way) receive an Airbus-grade wing on the rear spoiler, but how long ’til some dude in an Ed Hardy T-shirt sticks one on his WRX?

While fun to drive, the WRX STI can result in other people correctly assuming you're a douchebag.

Winner: The backseat of the Rolls-Royce Ghost. It’s like sitting on a cloud made of dead cattle. (Wait, that came out wrong.)

"Would you like to see my Rolls-Royce?" is ranked #6 on the list of Top 10 Pick-Up Lines.

Loser: the asshole cameraman who spent a good five solid minutes filming the back seat of the Hyundai Equus through its open door, preventing the rest of us from sitting in it. Then, when I asked him if he was going to be much longer, simply snarked, “Yes.” By far, biggest loser of the show.

We’ll have more photos – and probably some snarky remarks of our own to go with them – coming soon! So stay tuned.

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A Burst of News – Cheap Sports Cars from Kia, Nissan and Mazda, Aston Martin Cygnet Revealed, and Two Unusual Ferrari 599s

For the last Burst of News of 2009, we’ve decided to keep things short, since, let’s face it, you’re still playing with your new Christmas toys and already pre-gaming for New Year’s Eve.

First out of the gate, some excellent news for all fans of cheap speed (and apart from drug dealers and overprotective mothers, who isn’t?). With Toyota and Subaru’s jointly developed rear-wheel-drive coupe coming down the pipe, other Asian automakers are scrambling to pump out small, inexpensive sports cars to compete with the Toyobaru. (While Toyota is now calling the concept version the FT-86, we still prefer the portmanteau.)

According to Inside Line, Nissan is considering a new small sports car for the 2011-2012 time frame, to slot under the 370Z. Should the coupe receive the green light, it will likely pack a 200-horsepower, 1.8 liter turbo four cylinder, along with the same six-speed manual/seven-speed auto choices from the Z. Insiders say styling may resemble the company’s 2005 Foria concept – which would be a shame, ’cause the Foria is kinda homely to our eyes. As for a name, we’re hoping Nissan axes the 240SX moniker for our shores. (Note to Nissan: don’t use the letters “S” and “X” next to each other in your car’s name.)

"I shall call it...MINI-Z!"

Okay, fine, here's the Foria.

While Mazda would seem to already have a strong foe for the Toyobaru in the Miata, it seems they’re not content to place all their hopes on The Car That Saved The Roadster. Instead, they’re replacing the Jack LaLanne-like RX-8 with a new RX-7. Given the name change, it’s likely the new car will ditch the tiny suicide doors of the RX-8 and return to the two-door layout of the prior RX-7. A new version of Mazda’s Renesis rotary engine will be plopped under the hood, likely pumping out between 200 and 250 horsepower. According to Inside Line, Mazda hopes to keep the price around $25,000 when the car hits the streets – hopefully as early as 2011.

Adieu, wacky RX-8. You will be missed.

However, Toyota and Subaru are facing threats from across the Sea of Japan, as well. AutoCar claims Kia is drafting up plans for a RWD sports car based off the Hyundai Genesis Coupe’s platform, and featuring styling similar to the Kee Coupe Concept. However, in a surprisingly earnest admission, Kia design director Peter Schreyer says the company needs to “grow a little more in stature” before the marketplace would be ready to accept such a sporty Kia, adding the car could be ready in around five years. We say: Kia, grow a pair and put this baby on the market in two. Charge a grand less than Toyota and Nissan, and with the Genesis Coupe’s chassis and a cleaned-up version of the Kee body, you’ll sell every one you can crate over here.

This is of course in addition to the Honda CR-Z Hybrid headed for our shores in latter 2010; while the CR-Z’s front-drive hybrid layout means it won’t exactly be a direct competitor for the spate of RWD coupes, you can bet at least a few people will be cross-shopping the Toyobaru and Co. with the Honda.

Thanks to Temple Of VTEC for this leaked CR-Z image.

For some folks out there, though, cost isn’t an issue when it comes to buying a car. We here at CCO, sadly, don’t belong to that fraternity of rock stars, trust fund babies, and un-dateable social media founders; however, should our platinum-plated ship come in (a Powerball ticket also would do it), most of us would put the Ferrari 599 Fiorano right at the top of our list of purchases. (As in, we’ve figured out how long it would take to get to Miller Motorcars of Greenwich, CT and place our order.)

So when we saw what one wealthy bastard fellow had done to a perfectly good 599, we wanted to pull an Elvis and put a couple .44 Magnum hollow-points through our television. No, we don’t browse the Web on our TV – it’s just that the prick gentleman in question happens to be the son of John Walson, inventor of cable television.

"Hello, U.N.? I'd like to report a crime against humanity."

Edward Walson (bet he doesn’t like being called Eddie, either) used a portion of his shit-tastically huge inheritance to commission Ferrari’s Special Projects Division (Motto: “Cooler Than Your Job”) to whip up this golden turd after being inspired by a one-off Ferrari from the 1968 Federico Fellini film Tony Dammit. This is like asking Lockheed’s Skunk Works to take an F-22 Raptor and attach two extra wings because you always wanted an X-Wing starfighter.

While Walson and Ferrari call it the P540 Superfast Aperta, the rest of us would rather just call it  a mistake. So if you happen to see this monstrosity parked on the street, please, do every car lover (and person with sight) a favor and drive your car into it at high speed. (Safety first, though – reverse into it, please.) If this 599 could talk, it would be begging to be put down. Don’t make it suffer.

Blessedly, our other piece of Ferrari news today is much sunnier. According to Quattroruote (the article’s in Italian), the Italian automaker will be unveiling its new hybrid system in a 599-based concept at the 2010 Geneva Motor Show. Fuel economy is expected to receive a 35 percent bump, allllll the way up to 14 miles per gallon. Should the electric motor power the front wheels as we previously reported, Geneva will be unveiling a 599 with all-wheel-drive, improved handling and more miles per gallon. It’s as though God heard the prayers of every Ferrari-lover in New England.

A Ferrari 599 GTB, in what is obviously New Hampshire.

Finally, Aston Martin has released a few images of the completed version of its Cygnet concept, and it looks as adorable as a cartoon owl. Which is to say, pretty damned un-Aston Martin like.

The Aston Martin Cygnet

Owly

The Cygnet – which we remind you is pretty much a Toyota iQ under those pretty headlights – remains a concept for the moment, though Aston’s press release reiterated the company’s desire for the car to “become a production reality,” in an apparent effort to negate the machismo imbued upon the brand from the last three Bond movies. (And that Daniel Crag musk doesn’t come off easily.)

If Aston really wants an environmentally friendly micro-car for their line, we’d like to make the same suggestion we made to Mercedes-Benz when they brought to Smart over here (and by “made,” we mean “yelled at a billboard”): MAKE IT ELECTRIC. Yank out that dinky gas engine and strap in an electric motor with enough torque to chirp the tires. If it’s supposed to be a city car, low-speed performance is far more important than top speed. You only need enough juice to make it 50-75 miles, anyway; any further than that, and your driver will probably want to take their other Aston anyway.

Anyway, that’s it for us this year! Happy New Year, and here’s to an exciting and successful 2010!

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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.)

mclaren_lm5_renderings_mw_images_005

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.

porsche_supercar_baddal_images_003

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.

bmw_sportscar_concept_study_images_main-1

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.

toyota_ft_86_concept_images_main

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.

toyota_ft_86_concept_images_006

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!)

2009_honda_crz_hybrid_concept_images_002-1

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.

2009_honda_crz_hybrid_concept_images_main

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?

2010-subaru-outback-front-side-588x413

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.

audi_etron_concept_main_a

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.

normal

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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A Burst of News – Mini brings the Coupe, Land Rover goes green, Bentley goes epic, and more Ferrari 458 pix

We’ve got a couple more reviews coming up in the next couple weeks on CCO – not to give it away, but they rhyme with “Audi A5” and “Audi TT-S.” In the meantime, though, here’s a quick shot of sweet, sweet automotive news smack to mainline straight into your veins.

First up comes news out of Germany that Mini will be bringing a coupe to market in the next two to three years, in order to compete with the Audi TT, according to Automotive News. The Mini Coupe will be able to accommodate the same engines as the current Mini lineup, even the 211-hp 1.6 liter turbo engine from the badass John Cooper Works version.

mini_coupe_concept_press_001

A concept version (complete with ballsy 211-hp engine) will be brought out at next month’s Frankfurt Auto Show, but luckily, they’ve dropped a couple of preview images for us to check out. We kinda like it…what do you think?

P90047098

Next up comes very, very early news that Land Rover will reportedly unveil the production version of its compact LRX sport-ute in June 2010. According to Autocar, the small SUV will be unveiled on or around the 40th anniversary of the Range Rover brand (June 17, 2010, as if you didn’t know), and will attempt to be a more Earth-friendly Range Rover. Not sure how, unless they build the thing out of hemp.

Expect the production LRX (possibly renamed RRX? Or Range Rover Xtreme?) to begin rolling off production lines in 2011. It will likely cost at least $35,000, will compete with the Acura RDX and the BMW X1, and even though it will be heavily marketed towards upper-middle-class young adventurers (a.k.a you, dear reader), it will probably be bought mostly by yuppie suburbanites.

The owner is currently at a rock-climbing nightclub.

This car's owner is currently at a rock-climbing nightclub.

But while Land Rover tries to put a more affordable, more eco-friendly spin on its models, Bentley has turned around and whipped out its new flagship, which they’re describing as “the pinnacle of the ultra-luxury segment.” Up yours, masses.

I just love this picture.

I just love this picture.

Introduced at the Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance (French for “buttload of rich white dudes”), the Bentley Mulsanne replaces the Arnage, a car so old, Larry King drove to the prom in one. Technical specs won’t be released until the car’s “official” unveiling at the Frankfurt Auto Show, but expect a V8 with enough torque to spin the Earth backwards and reverse time, a la Superman: The Movie.

2010_bentley_mulsanne_press_002

Pricing will probably start around $300,000, and top out somewhere around the cost of a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, depending on how many ridiculous custom options you request (“Do I want the platinum steering wheel, or the ruby-encrusted pedals? Hey, why not both?”). The first chassis was auctioned off for $500,000, though, so if you see one driving around before 2010, you know how much that guy paid for his car.

Also coming to the Frankfurt Auto Show is the new Saab 9-5. Now, the last Saab 9-5 was brought out in 1997, so to say this car is long overdue is like saying Americans love firearms, apple pie and Michael Bay movies.

2010_saab_9_5_press_011

Packing all-new styling inspired by the awesome Aero X concept car, and packing up to 300 horsepower, the new 9-5 should finally offer quirky pseudo-hippies a distinct alternative to the BMW 5-series, Audi A6 and Mercedes-Benz E-class. God knows how many quirky pseudo-hippies have that much money, though, so don’t expect to be seeing too many 9-5s on the roads near you, unless you live in Vermont or Oregon.

Sadly, the ignition remains by the steering wheel. Curse you, GM!

Sadly, the ignition remains by the steering wheel. Curse you, GM!

On a side note, while it might seem these days like every carmaker is unveiling their new models at fancy-dancy auto shows or hoity-toighty concourses, it falls to Toyota to bring new vehicle presentations straight to the masses. That’s why Toyota is unveiling their new 4Runner at, of all places, the Texas State Fair.

Yup.

Toyota respects this man's opinion above all others.

Toyota respects this man's opinion above all others.

No word yet on whether the 4Runner will be deep-fried for its public appearance.

And finally, because you can never have too many orgasms, here are a few pictures of the Ferrari 458 Italia on the road.

ferrari_458_italia_new_press_003

ferrari_458_italia_new_press_005

ferrari_458_italia_new_press_002

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Burst of News – Hybrid Toyota Supra, the next Ferrari, and the Toyobaru Coupe

It’s once again time for one of our semi-regular bursts of news, where we bring you up-to-date on interesting things happening in and around the automotive world that you’re probably not going to read about in the newspaper. (If you actually read the paper, that is.)

Let’s start off with two bits of sports car news regarding vehicles that, like Misters Plessy and Ferguson, are quite separate but of equal importance.

First up comes news that despite several public denials, Toyota is hard at work on a successor to the much-loved Supra sports car. Rumor has it the next-gen car will pack a hybrid V6 drivetrain putting out a total of 400 horses; however, they’ll also be offering a non-hybrid version for people who’d rather screw the planet over, thank you very much. Rear-wheel-drive will almost certainly be a given; styling inspired by the FT-HS concept car is a possibility. Expect to see a concept car version sometime next year, with production models coming in the fall of 2011.

Toyota FT-HS Concept

Toyota FT-HS Concept

Given the success Nissan has had with its Z, it’s surprising Toyota has waited this long to bring out their own middleweight sports car. It should be interesting to see how the hybrid technology holds up in a performance car – especially since Toyota’s hardly the only manufacturer exploring the tech’s sports-car potential. (More on that further down.)

The other sports car news from Japan regards the much-rumored “Toyobaru” – the cheap sports car being jointly developed by Subaru and Toyota. According to 7Tune, Subaru will be making a sportier STI variant of the car, even if Toyota only chooses to offer the car with one engine.

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The insiders’ report reveals the Toyobaru will also feature styling similar to the Lexus LF-A supercar that’s been taunting car enthusiasts for years as a concept, a prototype and even a subtly disguised race car. Supposedly, the Toyobaru joint task force (I don’t know what they call themselves, I just like the sound of that) wants to keep the price under 2 million yen – as of today, a little more than $20,000.

The LF-A attempts to hide by closing its eyes and pretending it's invisible.

The LF-A attempts to hide by closing its eyes and pretending it's invisible.

If they can bring it stateside for that price, equipped with the rumored 200-horsepower four-cylinder engine and six-speed manual, they can start the line right behind me. If you want in, we’ll be lining up sometime in 2011.

In other sports-car related news, Ferrari told AutoCar they may be unveiling their successor to the F430 at this year’s Los Angeles Auto Show in December – as a hybrid. Go on, take a second to clean away that coffee you just spit-taked onto your monitor, I’ll wait.

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Yes, folks, Ferrari – who usually rank between Bentley and Pratt & Whitney in terms of environmentally-friendly engines – want to start nudging forward the idea that, hey, maybe hybrids can be fun! Indeed, they recently filed patents for an all-wheel-drive hybrid system, among other environmentally-friendly technologies that seem as bizarre as George Clooney’s bat-suit nipples.

However, don’t expect to see a hybrid AWD system under your brand-new F450, as everyone is referring to the new mid-engined Ferrari until they unveil the actual name. The company is understandably concerned about whether customers are ready for “green” Ferraris – hence the “concept” moniker attached to the hybrid version set to be unveiled this winter. Production F450 Hybrids should become available sometime in the middle of the next decade.

Few concrete details are known about the F450, but don’t expect much departure from the formula that made the 360 Modena and F430 successful – a high-revving V8, two seats, and a sleek design. Power will probably be in the 500-550 horsepower range, with the California’s seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox.

In addition, the folks at CzechFerrari.cz have posted some pictures they claim to be the F450. The pictures don’t reveal much, since the prototype in them is missing its front end…and its back end…and wheels…and most of the interior. But if nothing else, they hint at the overall shape of the car – and it looks pretty good so far. (For some reason, the images won’t seem to save, so we can’t show you them, but we can point you to the CzechFerrari page with all the images.)

Finally, Kelley Blue Book has just released a list of what they consider this year’s coolest cars for under $18,000. While we don’t like to be nitpicky (oh, who am I kidding – I live to pick nits), there are a couple worth mentioning. First off, Kelley, I think you mean cars for less than $18,000, unless you’re literally referring to cars with 18 grand of cash plopped on the roof. Secondly, some of those picks seem like padding. The Focus’s SYNC system may read your incoming Tweets aloud, but it doesn’t change the fact that beneath the skin it’s pretty much the same car that went on sale a decade ago.

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Ford’s Fiesta Movement

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

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

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

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

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

green_front

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

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

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

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

interior

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

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

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