Abarth 500C, Punto and Hamann: Small, Hot Cars to Die For

Fiat Abarth 500C

Speed tuning in Europe is going at a fairly furious pace, and one of the oldest and best names in the game, Abarth, is still at it. When I had Fiats as a qualifiedly young-ish man (back in the 1970s—yes, I know how “bad” Fiats were), I bought Abarth exhaust systems, suspension parts, and so forth as the cheapest and best way to bolt on Italian performance. And Carlo Abarth was king of the tuners.

His company is now making big noises, along with Fiat itself, about the Abarth 500C to be shown at Geneva. The car gets a 140-hp turbo, an Abarth-modified six-speed, hot-shoe paint and big wheels, a better suspension and, Happy New Year!, an average 36 mpg fuel economy. These are more than cute boy/girl racer cars; they are designed to wring the last bit of performance out of what is basically a small economy model.

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Tesla Roadster: Now Available for Lease!

For those of you who want to make an impact on reducing America’s consumption of foreign oil but want something a little more exciting than a Toyota Prius, Tesla has good news for you.

Leases of the Roadster are now available, according to the company’s website, for as little as $1,658 per month. Customers can either drive the car home from a dealer or delivery can be arranged within days, which means you very well could be driving to work Monday without using a drop of gas.

Not a bad deal for a car that costs $111,005 right?

Well read on, friends… the details are a bit of a buzzkill.

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2011 Cayenne Lineup at Geneva Next Week

The cars look better. The Cayenne was always a good performer, but the design, in the opinion of many, was less than successful. Now Porsche has made the car look tougher, slicker, meaner. And there are a host of new features and new trims. Fuel economy is better across the board, and the cars have lightened up, weighing some 400 pounds less.

The Cayenne S Hybrid will produce some 380 combined (gas and electric) hp and 427 lb-ft of torque, equivalent to a V8, says Porsche, with a combined fuel economy of 29 mpg. It will cruise on electric power alone at speeds up to 97 mph: “sailing,” according to Porsche. The hybrid has a long string of impressive features.

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Toyota Testimony Tells No Tales, Titillates Nobody

Bosch D-Jetronic Electronic Fuel Injection Control Unit (ECU)

The rhetoric yesterday in the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearings was that everyone is on the side of safety and getting to the bottom of things. Well, what if there were, as I suspect, no bottom? What if Toyota, instead of stonewalling and hiding, really doesn’t know what causes the acceleration problem, even if they won’t admit that?

I heard most of the blather yesterday, with the company’s James Lentz saying it was not the computers, but they would continue to investigate, it was the floor mats, blah blah. Akio Toyoda today has repeated the same line, with profuse apologies, and this thing will take years to unravel, if it ever does. There will be lawsuits galore, more recalls, finger-pointing at NHTSA and others, and no definitive studies will emerge. The electronics will have won.

We all mostly welcome the fact that computers are taking over our cars. We have yet to accept the consequences of that fact. By going whole-hog electronic, auto companies have willingly introduced a whole new set of unknowns and variables—which they have yet to learn how to control.

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Hummer: Down for the Count?

Hummer began life as GM’s heavyweight contender, crushing smaller, less-mighty opponents with the likes of the monstrous H1.

Over time the lineup got “smaller,” with the introduction of the H2 and H3, but the reputation of Hummer as a street-legal monster truck never went away. Then Hummer became the antithesis of the Toyota Prius and invoked the ire of greenies around the world.

Needless to say, when GM went bankrupt the Hummer brand didn’t fit in with the government’s plans for General Motors, so it went on the chopping block along with Pontiac, Saturn and Saab. Pontiac and Saturn are gone. Saab has officially been sold to Spyker. And Chinese company Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery is buying Hummer.

Right?

Probably. Maybe. Or maybe not.

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Another Savior for GM? Fritz Is Back.

Ed Whitacre Jr., GM CEO

Would you buy a new car from this man?

Who could have written this script? Fritz Henderson has been rehired, this time as a consultant at $59,000 a month (which comes to around $3,000 an hour for the 20 hours his monthly contract requires). His boss, Ed Whitacre (right), the one who had fired him, will be getting a $9 million pay package. That’s about $4,500 an hour.

Fritz is probably worth the money (his rate is pretty typical for top executive ranks in U.S. corporations); Ed surely is not. In any case, it’s another bad story coming to light about GM. One of our regular commenters, randy, had this to say:

So the government makes them hire a board chairman who knows nothing about the car business, who then forces out Fritz and takes his job as CEO too, all while retaining the product guy [Bob Lutz] who got them into trouble in the first place, and now wants Fritz to tell them what to do.

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Hyundai: Better Than Toyota? *UPDATED

2011 Hyundai Sonata

2011 Hyundai Sonata

One company’s crisis is another’s gold mine.

In the case of Hyundai, the gold mine keeps getting deeper.

First, the automaker saw sales increase in 2009 by 8 percent, when the rest of the industry was in crisis and sank about 20 percent. Hyundai’s market share went from 3 percent all the way up to 4.2 percent.

Hyundai, I think, owes a very large thank you to the U.S. economic crash. And now it has someone else to thank: Toyota.

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Audi RS5 Coupe Appears, Leaking Its Way into Geneva

All the headlines are screaming, “Leaked images of Audi RS5!” Well, who cares if they are leaked or not? Big deal: Somebody at Audi’s agency put the RS5 brochure out to the press a few days in advance of the car’s debut at the Geneva Motor Show on March 2. Accidental or not, such “leakages” do a lot to build demand and interest, as one can see by the number of references to the story on Alltop:Autos.

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IndyCar Delta Wing Concept: Now Racing Has My Attention

IndyCar Delta Wing Concept

The next Indy car?

I’ve never been a big fan of car racing.

I love cars, I love power, and I love speed, so you might assume being a fan of auto racing would be a natural fit. But I don’t like it very much. I’m only remotely interested in looking at race cars if Danica Patrick is posing on one.

Something from the Chicago Auto Show captured my attention, though. The Delta Wing concept, pictured above, looks like a cross between an SR-71 and a land-speed world record chaser. And it could be the next car to hit the Indy Racing League.

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