Cars Top News

Cars and supercars top news with pictures

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Audi R-Zero electric sports car

Audi R-Zero electric sports car
Not much is known about this all-electric Audi concept called the R-Zero except that it's the brain child of three design student: Pierre-olivier
Wagner, Franck Levivier and Remi Marchand. What we can gather from the vehicle's website, which displays all non-essential information in English and the important stuff in French, is that the R-Zero has its battery packs mounted amidship and that energy is sent to electric motors contained within the wheels. Perhaps the most unique element of the R-Zero is a central tunnel that spans the length of the vehicle from the now familiar gaping Audi grille to a large vent in the center of the rear fascia. The tunnel is meant to cool the batter packs as well as contribute to the vehicle's aerodynamics.

The vehicle's styling is attractive and reminds us of a cross between a TT up front and a Mitsubishi Eclipse out back. The R-Zero, however, has no official ties with Audi, and appears to be a portfolio project for these three designers.

Check out a bunch of additional R-Zero pics after the jump...

Thanks Kevin for the tip!

GM sets pricing for 2007 Saturn Sky Red Line

GM sets pricing for 2007 Saturn Sky Red Line
The Saturn Sky is a great-looking, powerful, and immensely desirable American roadster. The Sky Red Line takes all of that goodness and infuses it with 260 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque via a 2.0L turbocharged Ecotec four. That's good for a 5.5-second 0-60 time and a 13.9-second quarter mile.

Best of all? The price of entry is a very reasonable $27,895. Given the high desirability and limited availability of the Red Line, don't be surprised to see dealer markups that will bump that number up -- in some cases, significantly.

If you can get your hands on one for MSRP, it's not like you're getting a stripper, either. A/C, traction control, OnStar, Stabilitrak, and Bilstein coilovers are among the goodies that make the standard equipment list.

Saturn dealers are taking orders now. What are you waiting for?

Update: It should be noted that Saturn's GM, Jill Lajdziak, has been emphatic in stating that dealer markups will not be tolerated on the Sky and Sky Red Line. You may need to wait, but you won't pay more.

(Press release after the jump)

[Source: GM]2007 Saturn Sky Red Line Features Turbocharged Value

260-horsepower roadster to start at $27,895

Detroit – Today, Saturn announced that the 2007 Sky Red Line will be available this fall at a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price of $27,895 (including destination charges). Retailers are now taking orders for the turbocharged variant of the Sky roadster, which is one of the hottest selling cars in the auto market.

The Sky Red Line features the 2.0L Ecotec Turbo engine, equipped with direct injection technology. It produces 260 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque, making it General Motors' highest specific output engine ever at 2.1 horsepower per cubic inch of displacement.

"Through its design and advanced technology, the Sky Red Line shows that Saturn is making vehicles like never before," said Dave Smidebush, Saturn's director of marketing. "But the Sky Red Line also demonstrates that the brand's commitment to great value and innovation in our product lineup is as strong as ever."

Along with the boost in horsepower and torque, the Sky Red Line features a long list of standard equipment including:

Stabilitrak electronic stability control
Traction control
Close-ratio five-speed manual transmission with self-adjusting clutch
Four-wheel ABS disc brakes
Limited slip differential
Performance-tuned suspension with coil-over Bilstein monotube shocks
Air conditioning
Power locks, windows and mirrors
OnStar with one year of Safe & Sound service
The Sky Red Line will accelerate from 0-60 mph in about 5.5 seconds, and will run the quarter mile in about 13.9 seconds.

Saturn, a division of General Motors Corp., sells vehicles in the U.S. and Canada through a network of about 500 retailers, with a focus on providing innovative products with solid value and excellent customer service. In 2006, the brand begins a major revitalization of its portfolio with five new vehicles: the Sky and Sky Red Line roadsters, Aura midsize sports sedan, Vue Green Line Hybrid and Outlook large crossover utility. These new vehicles join the current lineup that includes the Ion compact sedan and quad coupe, Vue compact SUV and the Relay crossover van.

Porsche wants a bigger piece of Volkswagen

Porsche wants a bigger piece of Volkswagen
Porsche AG is on its way to becoming a blocking minority stakeholder in Volkswagen AG, attempting to raise its stake in the struggling automaker by 3.9 percent of total shares to a total stake of 25.1 percent. The only thing standing in its way at the moment is clearance from the German Cartel Office.

Porsche, which is already the largest single stakeholder in VW, will be able to exert more influence over Volkswagen once the deal is done. As German laws are relaxing on how much of a company an individual stakeholder can own, Porsche's move is being looked at as a way to ensure that Volkswagen doesn't become a takeover victim.

Nissan announces pricing for 2007 Versa hatchback

Nissan announces pricing for 2007 Versa hatchback
Nissan Announces Pricing on 2007 Versa Hatchback [June 23, 06]
- All-new Entry-level Nissan Versa Starts at an MSRP of $12,450 -

GARDENA, Calif. (June 23, 2006) - Nissan North America, Inc. today announced pricing on the all-new 2007 Nissan Versa Hatchback, which goes on sale June 23 at Nissan dealers nationwide. The starting Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) for the newest addition to the Nissan lineup is $12,450 for the Versa 1.8 S with a standard 122-horsepower 1.8-liter DOHC 4-cylinder engine and 6-speed manual transmission.

Three other 2007 Versa Hatchback models are available: the Versa 1.8 S 4-speed automatic transmission (late availability), priced at $13,250; the Versa 1.8 SL 6-speed manual transmission, offered at $14,450; and the Versa 1.8 SL with Nissan's advanced Xtronic CVT™ (Continuously Variable Transmission), which is priced at $15,450.

The five-passenger Versa represents a dynamic new alternative to current entry-level vehicles. Versa offers a unique combination of class-leading roominess, exceptional interior quality and upscale amenities designed to appeal to a wide range of buyers with a variety of lifestyle needs.

"The all-new 2007 Nissan Versa is a no-compromise subcompact that offers the quality, style, roominess, comfort, performance and amenities that are unexpected in this class and this price range," said Brad Bradshaw, vice president and general manager, Nissan Division.

Versa's long list of standard equipment includes an AM/FM/CD audio system, 60/40 split fold-down rear seatbacks, an Advanced Air Bag System (AABS) and both front seat side–impact and side-curtain supplemental air bags.

In addition, the new Versa, which is built on Nissan's advanced B platform, offers over six feet of interior length and ample cargo volume. Estimated EPA highway/city fuel economy is 30/36 miles per gallon with the CVT transmission.

Versa SL models include standard 15-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, in-dash 6CD autochanger with mp3 playback, auxiliary input jack, remote keyless entry, cruise control with steering wheel controls and soft-touch interior accents. Available optional amenities include Intelligent Key keyless entry/ignition system, Bluetooth® Hands-Free Phone System, power sunroof and satellite radio.

"The all-new Versa allows small car drivers to have it all in one attractive, affordable package without sacrificing roominess, comfort, style, performance, fuel efficiency or high quality," said Brad Bradshaw, vice president and general manager, Nissan Division. "Versa provides great value without compromise."

Available packages for the 2007 Nissan Versa include the Power Package (1.8 S), Convenience Package (1.8 SL), Audio Package (1.8 SL), Sport Package (1.8 SL), Sunroof Package (1.8 SL), Satellite Radio (1.8 SL) and ABS Package (all models). Complete pricing and options are available on the attached sheet.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

New Mercedes E-Class a hit in Europe

New Mercedes E-Class a hit in Europe
DaimlerChrysler reported Monday that it has already booked more than 30,000 orders for the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class, which only went on sale in Europe June 10, after its world premiere at this year's New York Auto Show (above). A phased roll-out in other markets will get under way in the coming months.

The E-Class is Mercedes-Benz's second biggest model line, selling over 1 million units for the previous version, which debuted in early 2002. It is the biggest selling "business car" in Europe, dominating the segment with a 30 percent share in Europe and a 38 percent share in the German market.

The E-Class is being promoted as the safest vehicle in its segment, with Mercedes Benz's PRE-SAFE system offered as standard equipment. (The PRE-SAFE system automatically activates safety measures for the driver and front seat passenger when it determines that an accident is imminent.) Optional safety equipment includes Mercedes' Intelligent Light System.

A unique promotional event for the new car is planned for October, when a fleet of 33 diesel vehicles begin a road trip leave the Paris Motor Show headed for Beijing.

Iron Man! Aston Martin V8 Vantage completes Nurburgring 24 in production trim

Iron Man! Aston Martin V8 Vantage completes Nurburgring 24 in production trim
A factory prepared Aston Martin V8 Vantage has taken its place in the company's history books after finishing a credible fourth in class and 24th overall at the Nürburgring 24-hour endurance race, among a field of largely motorsport-homologated cars.

Negotiating a field of 220 cars, the four drivers: Dr Ulrich Bez, Aston Martin's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer; Chris Porritt, Aston Martin's Vehicle Engineering Manager; Horst von Saurma, editor-in-chief of Sport Auto magazine, and development driver Wolfgang Schuhbauer, all raced flawlessly through more than 130 laps on one of the most demanding circuits in the world.

Built at Aston Martin's Gaydon headquarters the V8 Vantage was almost entirely production standard, including the engine and transmission. The only modifications made were for safety and pit-lane efficiency, with the full mandatory safety cage, special fuel tank and fire system, racing seat, and built-in air jacks.

Conditions tested the drivers to the extreme with track temperatures reaching 43°C and from the initial 220 cars on the starting grid, only 141 finished. Despite these conditions, the V8 Vantage kept a steady pace avoiding traffic, resulting in a smooth race from start to finish.

Dr. Bez, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Aston Martin said: "We delivered exactly what we set out to do by finishing the 24 hours without any technical problems or team issues. It is a real achievement to complete the race in the top 25 with a standard production V8 Vantage and shows the true capabilities of both the car and the team."

Chris Porritt added: "This has been a real test of endurance for the car and the whole team. It's been a thrilling 24 hours and a real challenge for us all."

Dave King, Aston Martin's Team manager concluded: "We are all delighted with the team's progress throughout the event, it is a testament to all the members to finish with this result considering it is our first 24 hour race."

Blazin Bull - second Lamborghini LP640 destroyed on public roads

Blazin Bull - second Lamborghini LP640 destroyed on public roads
Announced in March at the Geneva Motor Show, the exclusive Lamborghini Murcielago LP640 is scheduled for delivery this September to 300 eagerly awaiting owners. Those wealthy waiters better hope they can tame this bronco buster, as Wrecked Exotics has recently reported that the second LP640 that has crashed and burned on public roads. The latest occurred in St. Andrae, Austria on June 15th while the rarest of Murcielagos was being driven to a press event. Witnesses report that the Lamborghini lost control, ran into a tree and then burst into flames. The driver was flown to a nearby hospital to be treated for a severe burns.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Caterham CSR260 Superlight hits the scene

Caterham CSR260 Superlight hits the scene
In a perfect example of automotive alchemy, Caterham Cars is set to deliver all the driving excitement associated with its stripped-out Superlight versions to the range-topping Caterham CSR260 model, to create the brand new Caterham CSR260 Superlight.
Aimed at the enthusiast, the 2.3 litre Cosworth-powered road legal Caterham CSR260 Superlight brings all the performance credentials associated with its stablemate, like a supercar-humbling 0-60mph time of 3.1 seconds and a licence-losing top speed of 155mph, yet swaps the windscreen, carpet, heater and weather gear for a limited slip differential and a quicker steering rack. Decisively, it also premiers 'Dynamic Suspensions' dampers manufactured by MTCe as original equipment for an undiluted performance driving experience.

The result is a breath-taking Caterham experience that blends no frills road legal agility with devastating track capability.

Twenty five kilos lighter than the standard CSR260, this model variant also adds distinctive Superlight styling to the exterior, including a wind deflector, a carbon fibre dashboard and wings, a black powder coated cockpit, quick release MOMO steering wheel and 'black pack' that disguises otherwise aluminium detailing.

A natural extension of the CSR range, this Superlight model delivers all the thrills of frantic acceleration, pin-sharp steering, high revving eager performance mated to a close ratio six speed box, in a sportscar that is perfectly balanced to focus the driver solely on driving and smiling.

With a power-to-weight ratio of 460 BHP per tonne, the Caterham CSR260 Superlight finds itself in similar company to the £323,000 Porsche Carrera GT or the £118,000 Ferrari F430.

In a now customary move, Caterham has developed an options list that highlights the cost alongside the weight of items such as windscreen, heater, weather gear, dry sump, track day roll-over bar and fire extinguisher.

Caterham is taking orders now with the first cars delivered in August. Prices start at £37,995 fully built. Visit for further information.

2009 Volkswagen Scirocco

2009 Volkswagen Scirocco
After months of internal struggles and arguments over its design, Volkswagen officials have finally given the low-slung Scirocco coupe the green light. Arguments over the car were heated: On one side were the pfennig-pinchers aiming to save cash; on the other, VW boss Wolfgang Bernhard and his plan to resurrect one of the most evocative models in the company’s history. The score thus far: Car Guys, 1; Bean Counters, 0.
Depicted in this series of computer-generated images, the new Scirocco goes into production in early 2008 and on sale in North America by the end of that year as a 2009 model. Information for the illustration was pried from VW’s Wolfsburg-based design studio. AutoWeek sources suggest prices for a base four-cylinder front-drive edition will start at E22,000, or nearly $28,000 and rise accordingly. The top model will have a 3.6-liter V6 and all-wheel drive.

While it would have been easy to tap into Scirocco’s design heritage to launch this renaissance, Volkswagen instead chose a contemporary look. Though it boasts a family resemblance to the Golf (Rabbit), this Scirocco’s shallow side glass and wide stance are similar to the Giorgetto Giugiaro-designed original launched in 1974.

Detailing, though, is borrowed from the low-slung EcoRacer concept unveiled at last year’s Tokyo show, with tautly drawn surfaces, a steep windshield rake and short overhangs. Sources say the three-door hatchback stretches to around 167.3 inches—or 1.8 inches longer than today’s Golf—with width and height at 70.5 inches and 54.7 inches, respectively.

Taking a page from Audi’s book, design boss Murat Gunak created a distinctive grille (maw?) that replaces the V-shaped one on current VWs. Other features include prominent shoulder- and beltlines to avoid a slab-sided look. Scirocco will be offered only as a coupe, though VW toyed with the idea of a convertible; buyers will have the option of a full-length sunroof.
Scirocco’s cabin strives for a sportier look while borrowing switchgear, seats and other bits from other VWs. One option: advanced 3D navigation with software from Internet giant Google.

More an image booster than a volume seller, the Scirocco’s business case calls for sales of no more than 150,000 cars over a six-year life—or just 25,000 per year. Insiders admit that figure is conservative and say it could sell in much higher numbers, particularly if it takes off in the United States.

The new Scirocco is built on the PQ35 platform that is underneath the Golf, with much of the hardware altered to appeal to the ride-and-handling expectations of coupe buyers. The Scirocco gets wider tracks and a MacPherson strut front and multilink rear suspension with specific settings.

Word in Wolfsburg says Scirocco may adopt some lightweight aluminum parts from the second-generation Audi TT. Steering assist is electrohydraulic, though drivers can expect sharper responses than those found in existing Volkswagens.

The entry-level model will likely get the just-introduced supercharged and turbocharged 1.4-liter Twincharger four from the Golf GT. It pumps out 140 hp to 170 hp, depending on tuning. Above that, a turbocharged 2.0-liter like that in the GTI can be massaged to deliver in the region of 230 hp, as hinted at on Volkswagen’s Edition 30 concept. A 2.0-liter diesel four will also slide into the engine bay, but that oil burner probably won’t come to the United States.

Volkswagen also plans a Scirocco 4Motion flagship, probably later rather than at the initial launch of the model. Expect it to use the new 3.6-liter 15-degree V6 with 280 hp. Transmission choices will include a standard six-speed manual, with the popular double-clutch DSG unit an option.

Volkswagen will build the Scirocco in Portugal on the same line as the coming Eos. The two cars share a basic mechanical package, and with key suppliers having established satellite operations on site, sources claim the new coupe can be produced more cheaply and with the same quality as in Germany.

Before the car goes into production, Volkswagen intends to streamline processes to ensure profits. Call that a nod to the accountants. If reports in Germany are believed, VW now loses money on every Golf it produces at home. That’s something product boss Bernhard intends to reverse—and soon.

Our moles not only gave up the goods on the new Scirocco, they also dug up what else Volkswagen is doing to fill out its future lineup. After Rabbit and Eos later this year, here’s what’s coming from Wolfsburg:

Touareg: Facelifted, the SUV offers a 3.6-liter 280-hp V6 gas engine. U.S. sales start by fourth quarter
Cross Golf: Off-road-inspired model addition

Golf Wagon: New Jetta-based load hauler
Compact SUV: Production version of Concept A show car offered in front- and four-wheel drive. Big things are expected by the home office for this in the United States
Minivan: Joint-venture seven-seater built alongside upcoming Chrysler minivans in Canada

Polo: Fifth-generation subcompact hatch under development with eye toward possible sales as entry-level U.S. model. Three- and five-door hatch and sedan versions planned
Scirocco: See main story; produced in Portugal alongside Eos
Golf/Rabbit: Sixth-generation, Europe’s perennial best-seller overhauled in a bid to make it cheaper to produce and boost VW’s bottom line
Passat coupe: Mercedes-Benz CLS fighter with a sleek coupe profile and four-door layout will be built alongside the (facelifted for 2008) sedan and wagon

Touran: Golf-based compact MPV renewed. Possible U.S. entry
Jetta: Sixth incarnation of VW’s compact sedan. The U.S. version may ditch costly multilink rear suspension for a return to torsion beam. Production stays in Mexico
Polo MPV: Subcompact, unlikely to head Stateside
Polo cabriolet: Affordable cloth roof convertible with two-plus-two layout. Possible starter for North America
Touareg: Second-generation SUV developed in joint venture with Porsche (Cayenne) and Audi (Q7). Adds gasoline-electric hybrid model, direct injection for V6 and V8. W12 replaced with conventional V12 by Audi
Phaeton: Second-generation upmarket sedan; will VW try to interest Americans again?
Source Auto-Week

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

MoPar madness! Foose "Overhaulin'" Challenger to see production

MoPar madness! Foose "Overhaulin'" Challenger to see production
The '71 Challenger that Chip Foose whipped into shape on TLC's "Overhaulin'" TV show back in 2004 must have been a big hit, because Foose is partnering with Texas-based Unique Performance to build a limited production run of Challengers based on the TV version.

The limited edition muscle cars will be quite a bit more capable than the TV car, featuring either 347 cid or 426 cid HEMI powerplants, married to a TKO 5-speed transmission driving through a Unique Performance Parts rear suspension. The updated '70 or '71 Challengers will roll on 18-inch versions of the TV car's 19- and 20-inch Foose wheels (a take-off on MoPar's classic "Rallye" rims), backed by Wilwood disk brakes front and rear.

Foose and Unique Performance have teamed up on a variety of limited production pony cars, including the Foose '69 Camaro and various Mustangs. The Challenger will be launch in July.

via Autoweek

MINI GP sells out fast

MINI GP sells out fast
The limited edition model MINI GP has already sold out before the first one has been delivered to a customer. All 444 units that MINI UK was allotted were snatched up, and the company is now negotiating with other countries and has acquired an additional 15 to sell, of which only ten are left. BMW/MINI planned to build only 2000 models of this MINI Cooper S with the factory-installed John Cooper Works GP Kit, but may think twice considering the car is selling out like a World Cup match.

The MINI GP is the fastest production money of all time thanks to its 218 bhp supercharged engine and various weight saving accoutrements. 0-62 mph occurs under 6.5 seconds later and the little hot hatch reaches terminal velocity at 146 mph. All of the add ons are reportedly worth about 10,000 ($18,440 USD), while the car itself goes for 22,000 ($40,568 USD).

Source: NewCarNet

New Ford Powerstroke to use piezo injectors?

New Ford Powerstroke to use piezo injectors?
When a new Ford Power Stroke diesel comes along in 2007 to replace the current 6.0-liter model, it may represent the first use of piezo injectors in a pickup truck. The Siemens-built injectors should help International's 6.4-liter twin-turbo meet upcoming emission standards while also improving upon its predecessor's spotty reliability record, as well as giving the Blue Oval oil burner an European-like level of technological sophistication.

The injectors work via the piezoelectric effect, as the name might hint. They use a small disc of quartz-like crystalline material that deforms when subjected to a high-voltage low-current source, which provides the injector opening and closing action. With cycle times as low as 0.2 milliseconds, such injectors are several times faster than conventional solenoids, which in turn is said to allow up to seven injector events during each compression stroke. The precision of each injector is also increased, with injector-to-injector variation of only a few percent.

All of this adds up to a significant improvement in emissions and fuel economy, but at a price; piezo injectors are reportedly up to twice as expensive as the traditional solenoid-based squirters. With the average pickup truck diesel engine carrying a $5,000 premium, we're guessing that there's plenty of room in the budget.

Source: Automotive News/Autoweek

Spy Shots: Mercedez-Benz CL Coupe

Spy Shots: Mercedez-Benz CL Coupe
Caught with nary a strip of duct tape to cover its new body (some pieces were actually digitally removed), the next Mercedez-Benz CL Coupe is seen here being driven around by the company's engineers. We can see the new CL coupe is less wide and flat than the current model and gains some of its proportions from the CLS coupe/sedan. The nose is traditional MB fare with a giant three-pointed star front and center flanked by more traditionally shaped headlights (no doubt housing enough lumens to light up a small city). The rising beltline that curves just above the rear fender meets a new rear end that seems cluttered with a bit to many intersecting lines around the taillights for our tastes.

Winding Road reports that the CL Coupe's lineup of powerplants will range from a 3.7L V6 to an AMG 6.3L V12 producing 600 hp. We'll be meeting the new CL Coupe for the first time in person at the Paris Motor Show this fall.

[Source: Winding Road]

PSA: What to do after a car crash

PSA: What to do after a car crash
Few people think about car crashes before they happen, and immediately after one occurs isn't the time to start. Therefore, putting a few minutes into post-crash preparation makes sense before finding yourself staring into a deflated airbag with a dazed look. Doug Flint from The Car Connection has some great tips - he refers to them as "rules" and has good reasons to do so - and we'd recommend giving his list a thorough read.

From our collective crash experience, encompassing everything from parking-lot fender-benders to leaving the road at 105 mph, we can indeed assure everyone that it's tough to keep your wits about you after unintended physics intervenes with driving. Make some plans now for who you'll call for a tow and how you'll pay, and don't leave the scene until things are sorted out with the authorities, medical personnel, and someone who can give a level-headed assessment of your car's drivability. A good roadside assistance plan that covers all the drivers in your family is a great idea (going through your insurance company will probably yield a discount).

Include every driver in your family in on this planning; even if you've got nerves of steel and aren't rattled by bent sheetmetal... odds are good that there's a less experienced crasher in your household.

VW of Germany looking to lengthen work week for same pay

VW of Germany looking to lengthen work week for same pay
Volkswagen is looking to lengthen their employee's work week, without any additional financial compensation, a cost-cutting move to designed to help stabilize the company's bottom line.

But before labor sympathizers get out their sandwich boards and picket signs, it must be noted that the automaker is asking for a return to a 35-hour work week- the current schedule is 28.8 hours over four days, a setup that has been in effect since 1994. The present arrangement actually came about during another bout with belt-tightening, when the measure was passed to keep 30,000 from being pink-slipped.

Predictably, German union IG Metall has rejected the plan, leaving the automaker's plans in limbo.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Return of the Slant Nose Porsche

Return of the Slant Nose Porsche
while back we showed you how a Porsche 996 owner could fast forward time and transform his car's "fried egss" headlamps into the proper ovals found on the new 997 models. Auto-expert of Germany has now stepped up to show 996 owners how to rewind time back to an era when the pages of Dupont Registry were filled with Slant Nose Porsches. The Porsche 996 Flat Nose conversion was debuted at the 5th International Porsche Treffen show in Germany amongst 1,642 Porsche owners and their cars. Auto-expert announced these Porsche 996 Flat Nose body parts would be available before the end of the year, though no prices were announced.

MINI: Diesel edition

MINI: Diesel edition
No, it's not powered by diesel fuel, it's powered by DIESEL cool. The MINI Cooper pictured was designed by MINI and Renzo Rosso, founder of the Italian clothing label Diesel, for Europe's biggest AIDS benefit, the Life Ball. It sports a blue and white "lived-in" denim convertible top, along with copper accents to replicate copper rivets seen on Diesel jeans. Look for it on Ebay June 20-30, where it will be auctioned off with the proceeds going to Life Ball 2006. If you look closely you'll also see the MINI's sheetmetal has been "aged" just like those $300 pairs of jeans crazy people buy.

2007 Saab 9-3 interior gets once over

2007 Saab 9-3 interior gets once over

Saab decided to leave well enough alone with the 9-3's exterior for the 2007 model year adding only a few new colors to the car's palette, but the interior received a lot of attention that focuses on the driver's experience inside the cockpit. The center console's button count has been dramatically reduced thanks to the addition of rotary controls for such systems as the HVAC. Take a peek at last year's center console and you'll see how far the 9-3's interior has come in terms of simplicity. The high-level supplemental display of last year's model has been eliminated as well, in favor of a new display nestled at the bottom of the speedometer.

Three levels of "infortainment" are also now being offered, all of which include a CD player and auxiliary audio input standard. Standard is the Saab Infotainment system, while the Saab Infotainment CD Changer adds an in-dash 6-disc CD changer and the Saab Infotainment Plus adds a GPS sat nav system with 6.5-inch touch screen. The top of the line audio systems gets treated to Bose hardware as well, that includes twin subwoofers and twin amps.

On the mechanical side of things the 2007 Saab 9-3 benefits from the addition of a new standard six-speed manual transmission that comes coupled with the 210 bhp turbo engine.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Ford failing to keep Focus in small car race?

Ford failing to keep Focus in small car race?
Ford's troubled path with its Focus lineup has been well documented, from its highly publicized string of recalls early in its career on through the decision to introduce a new model overseas, but merely facelift the North American model. When it first came out, the Focus was a revelation, lauded for its European handling, and crisp, edgy lines. The tarted-up SVT version carried that torch to enthusiasts to good effect, but the decision to pass over the U.S. when it came to handing out the new model has proven a tough pill for consumers and the media alike to swallow.

What's even more troublesome is the word that Ford lost an estimated $4,000 to $5,000 per Focus it has sold in the last year. This, on a vehicle whose average transaction price is in the mid-to-high teens. And now that the small car segment is hot in the U.S. again, Ford is left with but one aging iron in the fire.

According to BusinessWeek, the automaker promises that it will have a solid range of small cars by 2008, with word that "...the lineup will include a five-door sedan and a small SUV the company may call the Bronco." A third subcompact is also a possibility.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Elise S anchors Lotus lineup

Elise S anchors Lotus lineup
Lotus has announced the availability of the Elise S, a new entry-level Elise the company hopes will place its lightweight sportscar in arms reach of the mass market. Powering the Elise S will be a Toyota-derived 1.8L four-cylinder producing 134 horsepower. While some gluttonous power junkies may scoff at the relatively low number of ponies in this car's corral, the Elise S weighs a mere 1,896 lbs. That kind of power-to-weight ratio is good for a 5.8 second run to 60 mph. The pricetag of the Elise S will also be lightweight for Lotus, tipping the scales at just under £24,000 ($44,000 USD). North America, however, has been left off the delivery list, as the Elise S will only be available in Europe and Japan.

Head of Stanford DARPA Challenge project speaks about the future of autonomous vehicles

Head of Stanford DARPA Challenge project speaks about the future of autonomous vehicles
We had the pleasure of catching Dr. Sebastian Thrun's keynote presentation at the 2006 Sensors Expo on Tuesday, where he spoke to the audience about his experience leading Stanford's DARPA Challenge entry to victory last year and how the project's success may affect the way we drive in the not-so-distant future.

The technical content of "Stanley" is fascinating, of course. Due to the relative inaccuracy of GPS (2 meters of error doesn't cut it on a 2.5-meter-wide mountain pass), a variety of sensors were used for environmental recognition, allowing the vehicle to discern "good" terrain from non-drivable areas. A array of five lasers scan the area in front of the vehicle for obstacles, and their downward trajectory combines with the forward movement of the vehicle to allow for the return of 3D data. Unfortunately, the 20 meter range of the lasers and the 70 Hz scan rate limits the maximum practical speed of the vehicle to 35 MPH or so when relying solely on this navigational device.

To allow the faster travel speeds thought necessary to secure a victory, an optical camera was implemented to learn from the laser system how drivable terrain appears, eventually allowing the vehicle to see much further down the intended path and thus facilitating higher speeds. Doing so isn't as easy as it may seem - color can't be used due to the wide variety in coloration of drivable surfaces (roads may be brown, black, red, tan, or any number of other shades), and texture detection is nearly worthless as Thrun noted that the sky is smoothly textured but yet not a practical path. Radar is also used to provide ranging information.

[Click through for much more on this vehicle and the future of (not) driving...]

Eventually, the vehicle was able to autonomously travel fast enough to scare its human passengers, and so shock sensors were employed to slow the vehicle after hitting something too fast. It was admitted that this reactive system is imperfect compared to the anticipation provided by a human driver, but for now it's considered to be a workable solution.

Thrun stated that the team's success depended heavily on collecting physical data from actual driving to allow refinement of each system. Amazingly enough, the vehicle's autonomous navigation system provides all-weather capability, as proven by a video that shows the vehicle driving at high speeds across the desert in a torrential downpour (the vehicle's windshield wipers weren't even keeping up).

Thrun noted that each of the teams considering this to be much more of a contest versus nature and physics than against each other, and was careful to point out that the 11-minute gap between the finishing time of Stanford and Carnegie Mellon's second-place entry is not significant in the grand scheme of things. Instead, it's more important to focus on the fact that the competition evolved from a complete failure to one where five vehicles finished in only a year. This shows the rapid pace of advancement in autonomous navigation.

Looking past the competition and towards the future of transportation, Dr. Thrun threw out some sobering statistics. Traffic fatalities are the leading cause of death for those aged three to 33 years, and 1500 people die every year from collisions with trees - a slow-moving target if there ever was one. While gridlock remains an ever-increasing concern around the world, the average stop-and-go situation still involves roadways that are 92% free of cars; that is, due to a human's need to maintain some space to provide for sufficient reaction time, we are using less than 10 percent of a road's capacity. Essentially, people are poor drivers, and autonomous navigation will offer the ability to offload certain tasks from the wetware behind the steering wheel.

It was acknowledged that this would not happen overnight; rather, driving aids such as distance-following cruise control (including the upcoming stop-and-go versions that are useful in urban environments) and lane-departure warning systems would be the first step. Eventually, Thrun thinks that such technology would be able to improve urban environments by allowing the remote location of parking lots (your car might drop you off at the office and then park itself miles away), and could also improve the mobility of senior citizens as life expectancies continue to increase. Thrun injected a personal anecdote at this point, telling about how his family recently had to take the keys away from his elderly father. Such a collapse of one's social network often leads to a senior's demise, and as such autonomous navigation could lead to longer lives.

By implementing autonomous navigation in individual vehicles instead of trying to build "smart highways" (those with built-in navigational devices, such as magnetic strips), Thrun feels that the benefits of such technology can be brought to the average driver much more quickly and at a lower overall cost. It was suggested that perhaps special lanes could be dedicated to autonomous vehicles as a starting point, perhaps much as car-pool/HEV lanes are used today.

During the Q&A session, it was asked why an American university didn't use a domestic vehicle. Thrun stated that Ford offered some level of support but generally was not interested in being associated with a military project or the aura of failure that surrounding the inaugural DARPA Challenge, and GM showed no interest in the competition. It was said that, generally speaking, there is far more interest in autonomous navigation coming from Europe and Japan than there is from the US.

Certainly, after watching this presentation and gaining a far better appreciation for what has been accomplished and potential lies aead for autonomous navigation, we await the upcoming Urban Challenge. For this event, Stanford will be fielding a VW Passat.

British Ultima sets new 0-100mph-0 world record

British Ultima sets new 0-100mph-0 world record
For the third year in a row an Ultima GTR supercar has set a new world record for a standing start to 100 mph and back to a stop. The Director of Ultima Sports, Richard Marlow, set a new record time of just 9.4 seconds, in the process setting new world records for 0-60 mph (2.6 seconds), 0-100 mph (5.3 seconds) and for braking from 100 mph to zero (in a neck-stretching 3.6 seconds).

More after the jump....
This year's Ultima GTR record holder was upgraded with a 720 hp Chevrolet V8, and is now known as (what else?) the Ultima GTR720. The record setter was fully road legal, equipped with street tires, and outfitted with a standard G50 transmission. Amazingly, the record car has neither traction control nor ABS.

The ultralight Ultima GTR720 is a full two seconds quicker from 0-100-0 than the legendary McLaren F1 LM, and over 1.5 seconds quicker than a Ferrari Enzo.

The Ultima is sold in the U.S. as a kit car (see photo!)
Marlow's supercar is his daily driver and a company demonstrator, and was driven to and from the world record test site!

A video of the record run is here.

GM says it won't be dropping brands anytime soon

GM says it won't be dropping brands anytime soon
Saab and HUMMER won't be hitting the Orphan Car Show anytime soon, says Rick Wagoner. General Motors' top guy told shareholders yesterday that the company won't be taking the advice of new board member Jerry York, billionaire investor/GM stakeholder Kirk Kerkorian's right-hand man. York made waves in the industry just before he joined the board, when he gave a speech suggesting that GM axe the Saab and HUMMER brands, among other suggestions.

The news also means that York and GM management haven't managed to come to an agreement about branding strategy for the company, but it might be a good thing afterall -- HUMMER was one of the stars of April and May sales, and Saab's realignment alongside Opel might deserve a chance before the marque is cut. Of course, there's always GMC and Buick, but perhaps there are other ways to redefine these brands.

Mazda launches freshened Mazda3 in Japan

Mazda launches freshened Mazda3 in Japan
Mazda Motor announced Tuesday that the newest version of its Axela model (known as the Mazda3 elsewhere) will go on sale later this month in the Japanese domestic market. The Axela and Axela Sport are joined by the Mazdaspeed Axela (pictured above, this model is the Mazdaspeed3 in North America and the Mazda3 MPS in Europe, Australia and New Zealand).

More pics and info after the jump...
The freshened Axelas (Axelae?) are intended to be "dynamic sporty compacts that further exceed your expectations," with enhancements to exterior and interior styling and dynamic performance. From our perspective, the best news is the addition of an all-wheel-drive model for the first time.

On the outside, the Axela gets redesigned front and rear fascia, new alloy wheels ranging up to 17 inches for the Sport and 18 inches for the Mazdaspeed version, a rear roof spoiler and side skirts. LED taillights appear on some models.

The interior gets a materials upgrade, along with optional leather and a new optional instrument package. An MP3-enabled eight-speaker Bose sound system is an available option.

Powertrain upgrades include the introduction of an electronically controlled five-speed automatic transmission (the Activematic) for the 2- and 2.3-liter models, and the addition of sequential valve timing for the 2-liter engine to give better low-end performance. All models receive a drive-by-wire throttle. The new all-wheel-drive option is currently available only with the 2-liter powerplant, and features an Active Torque Split AWD System to dynamically distribute power between the front and rear wheels depending on conditions.

The Mazdaspeed model (still FWD-only) gets the MZR 2.3-liter DISI turbo (shown below), good for about 260 hp and 280 foot-pounds of torque, driving through a six-speed manual. A new addition is a torque-sensing limited slip differential, to help deal with torque steer. The Mazdaspeed also gets exclusive aero enhancements, including a front spoiler, floating rear spoiler and streamlined underfloor.

Spy Shots: 2007 Honda Element SC

Spy Shots: 2007 Honda Element SC
Super sleuthing spy photographer Chris Doane has captured the upcoming 2007 Honda Element SC out in the wild. The Element SC was previewed as a concept at the New York auto show earlier in the year and the production version will come with many styling cues from the show car including "Ridgeline-inspired" projection beam lamps, body color exterior panels and an "aero-enhanced" grille. The suspension will also be lowered and the vehicle's 2.4L DOHC i-VTEC engine will now make 166 hp, up 10 ponies from the current powerplant. Also notice the much larger wheel/tire combo that should enhance the Element SC's performance envelope beyond that of a toaster on wheels. Look for the upgraded Element SC in Honda dealers starting this fall, as it will arrive as a 2007 model.

Yet more on the Corvette Blue Devil... or should we say Sting Ray?

Yet more on the Corvette Blue Devil... or should we say Sting Ray?
As AutoWeek reports, it's no wonder General Motors PR and product guys smile wryly when they responded in the negative to questions about the automaker's plans for the Corvette Blue Devil. They weren't lying, really, because the oft-rumored supercar has now supposedly earned itself the Sting Ray moniker instead. The vehicle, likely slated for production starting in 2007, will sport goodies even an owner of a Z06 (pictured) would drool over, like a supercharged 7.0-liter 600-hp V8 with a carbon fiber hood. At a price of $100,000, somebody had better be drooling (and signing up for special driving classes to handle all those ponies).

Nissan to market Suzuki city car in Europe

Nissan to market Suzuki city car in Europe
As part of the partnership agreement between Nissan and Suzuki that we reported a few days ago, a Nissan Motor spokesperson in the U.K. has confirmed that Suzuki will build a new city car for Nissan to sell in Europe.

Scheduled for a 2007 launch, the city car will reportedly be an all-new model. The closest thing to a Suzuki city car so far seen in Europe is the Wagon R+, a chunky, 1.3-liter people mover (also sold as the Opel/Vauxhall Agila) that apparently has built something of a cult following.

Autoblog's vote for Nissan's new city car? The Suzuki LC concept car from the last Tokyo Auto Show .

Porsche, Lexus and Hyundai take honors in J.D. Power initial quality study

Porsche, Lexus and Hyundai take honors in J.D. Power initial quality study
Porsche, Lexus and... Hyundai? It might be a tough thing for Toyota to swallow, but the Japanese car manufacturer's goose has been cooked by Korean competitor Hyundai in J.D. Powers and Associates' initial quality survey of new car buyers. The study, which gauges consumers' reaction to new cars after they've had them for three months, tallies up the number of problems per 100 cars consumers experience in 217 categories like comfort, convenience and design. This set of results marks the first time that the Power study incorporates not only quality issues, but design problems that bother owners (e.g. flimsy cupholders). Porsche jumped from the 32nd spot last year to the top spot with a score of 91, followed by Lexus at 93, Hyundai at 103 and Toyota at 106

Who will sell Smart in the U.S.?

Who will sell Smart in the U.S.?
DaimlerChrysler Chief Executive Dieter Zetsche thinks that's the big question as the company readies the Smart ForTwo city car for sale in the U.S.
In a German magazine interview, Zetsche openly said that the company is looking for a U.S. retail partner, stating "The sales network is decisive...It is certain that we want to cooperate with a third party."

Although Mercedes-Benz Canada has been selling all the ForTwo's it can get its hands on since the brand's Canadian launch in late 2004, Zetsche doesn't think that solution will work in the U.S., perhaps concerned that adding Smart would dilute the luxury-market positioning of the Mercedes-Benz brand.

Dodge is the most likely DaimlerChrysler candidate to get Smart, but Zetsche doesn't think it's good fit, possibly thinking that the premium city car wouldn't fit well in the small car part of Dodge's product portfolio. The entry-level price for the ForTwo in Canada is about $15,000 USD.

Despite the distribution channel conundrum, Zetsche remains confident that DaimlerChrysler will find a way to sell the Smart in the U.S.

Us? Given DCX's recent tie-up with Volkswagen, we'd like to see them resurrect the fortunes of VW's killer ZX-3 trike, and pair it with Smart in some sort of alternative sales channel, perhaps partnering with a motorcycle or scooter outfit

Road & Travel lists '10th Annual Sexy Cars' for 2006

Road & Travel lists '10th Annual Sexy Cars' for 2006
Forget horsepower, fuel efficiency, or even price. Road & Track Travel Magazine (RTM) has released the winners of its 10th Annual Sexy Cars buyer's guide for 2006.

Qualification to make the list? Pure sex appeal. Says RTM editor-in-chief Courtney Caldwell, "Sports cars are about fantasy and self image. Just looking at one incites erotic thoughts and visions of grandeur. Owning one turns those images into reality!"

Winners include (in no particular order):

Chevrolet Corvette
Dodge Charger
Ford Mustang
Honda S2000
Hyundai Tiburon
Mazda MX-5
Mercedes-Benz SLK
Nissan 350Z
Pontiac Solstice

The full list and explanation will be in the June edition of RTM.
You've seen the contestants. Opinions? Comments are now open for catcalls and kudos.

European car market takes a dip with the commencement of the World Cup

European car market takes a dip with the commencement of the World Cup
Those crazy Europeans and their love of socc... er, we mean football... Auto manufacturers are bracing for impact upon the start of the World Cup, which promises to divert the attention of many a potential car buyer to the telly, where England reportedly has a brilliant chance of grabbing the brass ring in the world championships, taking place in Germany.

Now it sounds like the concept should be pretty fundamental. Potential car buyer is distracted by sporting event in June/July, then goes to buy his/her car after the Cup has finished. Not so much. Stats show that the industry doesn't make up the difference later in the summer, indicating that the World Cup truly does have a negative impact upon the automotive industry.

Captured: Next Mercedes C-Class wagon

Captured: Next Mercedes C-Class wagon

The next Mercedes-Benz C-Class wagon has been snagged testing in Germany.
Seen underneath the standard cloak-and-dagger spyshooter eveningwear is a cautiously evolutionary shape that could only carry the three-pointed star. That said, the perennial entry-level luxury player rides on an entirely new platform, with the predictable (and welcome) share of S-Class technology and styling trickledown.

According to UK magazine AutoCar, European market engine choices are likely to range from a 1.8-liter four-banger all the way up to a 6.2-liter V8 for the C63 fettled by AMG.

Expect to see the showroom-ready C-Class hit at the Geneva show next year.