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Archive for December, 2011

Audi A1 Quattro: I Want One for Next Christmas (2012)

December 23rd, 2011

2013 Audi A1 quattro, front

With much media fanfare, the Audi A1 Quattro has been announced for production next year (only 333 cars) for Europe only. We add to the noise today so those cretins in charge at Audi will be pressured to release this thing in quantity in the U.S.

I could probably get one in Mexico, with the right connections and sufficient cash. There are plenty of A1s around—which the U.S. also doesn’t get. Sorry.

The fuss is all about a beautifully designed small hot hatch with 256 hp (258 lb-ft of torque), with Quattro drive (details here on “Vorsprung durch Technik”) to all four wheels. Sixty mph comes in 5.7 seconds, and top speed is 152 mph. Fuel economy is claimed to be about 28 mpg. Six-speed manual only.

Except for the too-large rear spoiler, Audi has finally gotten its styling cues to work in a small package. (Their big cars, like the Q7, are barge-ugly.) The A1-Q’s front end is dominated by big air intakes, reducing the effect of the yawning grille. The rear is, to my mind, perfectly proportioned. The car is lower than the A1.

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Cars We’ll Miss, and Some We Won’t, in 2012

December 23rd, 2011

BMW Active Hybrid X6

New years always promise to bring big changes. The year 2012 will be no different, with some changes sure to be good and some…not so much. One thing for sure, 2012 will arrive very soon, but some cars won’t live to see the end of it.

The Detroit Free Press put together a list of cars that will fade away during the course of the next year. Some of the cars will be sorely missed, while others should have crossed over to the great junkyard in the sky years ago.

Keep reading for a list of the cars that didn’t make the cut to exist past 2012.

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What Foreign Cars Are Selling in China?

December 22nd, 2011

Morgan assembly line

While BMW and Audi are battling it out for the top spot in luxo-car sales in China, there are many players in the game. And though carmakers like Cadillac are trying to get in on the action, a quirky English company named Morgan takes a different (as always) approach.

It has gotten inquiries from 20 potential Chinese dealers this year to sell its M3W (above, $39,000), a hand-built car, powered by a 2-liter Harley Davidson motorcycle engine that zaps it to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds. This is not a dumb idea. Morgan sells few cars, yet has managed to exist for nearly 100 years. If it sells 50 M3Ws in China next year, it will meet its goal.

Lotus is getting into the act, too, selling out its Asian allotment of new Evora GTEs as 115 customers put down deposits. Lotus has opened a dealership in Beijing, and 13 more are planned by 2012’s end. Alfa Romeo also wants to get into the game, but its prospects aren’t good.

China is a country in which uniqueness sells, and so do luxury cars—the market is projected to climb 39 percent this year. Although the U.S. still leads in luxury sales, the markets here and in Germany and Europe generally are in decline as deep economic uncertainty makes buyers reluctant and skittish.

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Cars Coming Soon: Updates for Honda Crosstour, a Better Civic and a New Lexus Stunner

December 22nd, 2011

Lexus LF-LC concept

Lexus: The Car Company for Stodgy Old People.

There was a time when that could have been the slogan for the Japanese luxury brand. The popular LS 400 is what the “in” crowd of 60+ year-olds had to be seen driving. The era of comfortable cruising cars continued with the LS 460, and Lexus’ reputation for offering “Toyotas with a spit shine” continued with its ES and GS cars. The RX, GX and LX SUVs were, and are, popular among moms in upper-class suburbia.

What Lexus never stood for before was sexy performance.

But then something incredible happened.

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Keyless Entry: Convenience or Invitation to Hackers?

December 21st, 2011

Keyless entry

The following thoughts are occasioned by a recent trip to Boston, during which I drove my nephew’s Mazda CX-9. Beautiful car, with all the goodies, including keyless entry and auto-start. My first thought was how hackable that thing was.

Hacking keyless entry to unlock and start cars has become all the rage, even in Africa. A rash of car thefts in Rustenburg, S.A., was caused by thieves using “a universal remote available on the black market that allegedly opens about 50% of the latest cars available on the market.”

The more sophisticated keyless car systems get, the more vulnerabilities they seem to offer. Bad boys can hack your smartphone pretty easily, and Apple’s voice-command Siri can be hacked to start your car with a proxy server. Media players are now a target:

Earlier this year, researchers from the University of California, San Diego and the University of Washington hid a Trojan on a CD, which, once inserted into the stereo, gave them access to the vehicle’s full computer system. And this past summer, researchers at the Black Hat Security Conference demonstrated a proof-of-concept hack in which they hacked into a car’s security system using a text message.

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Man Wins Lamborghini, Man Crashes Lamborghini

December 21st, 2011

Lamborghini winner

Regular people shouldn’t have access to supercars.

The reason supercars cost so much is so regular Joe Schmo can never afford to buy one. Ever. Because everyone knows that if Mr. Schmo ever got his foot into the accelerator pedal of a supercar, there’s a high likelihood that he’d kill himself. Or someone else. Or spin out, fall off a roadway and end up stranded in a field.

The people who can afford supercars typically aren’t any better at driving, but at least they can afford the track time or driving lessons. Joe Schmo will just test his new machine on public suburban roads, and that never ends well.

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Green Update: 2012 Passat TDI—Why People Love Diesels

December 20th, 2011

2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI SE, front

Owners of new TDI Passats have reported 45-48 mpg highway (see comments here), much better than the car’s EPA figures of 31/43. That’s one reason people like diesels. This car holds 18.5 gallons of fuel, which could easily give you close to 800 miles per tank.

The stink and clatter of older diesels is long gone. This one is quiet and clean. VW claims the engine, running on low-sulphur fuel, reduces emissions up to 90 percent over previous diesels.

We told you last month our feelings about the general snubbing of the Passat by the auto press. Though it won Motor Trend’s Car of the Year Award, there were plenty of naysayers, carpers and whiners putting it down.

The TDI has generally won their praise, though it got a predictably snide review on The Truth About Cars. Michael Karesh complains about the high mid-thirties price (he drove the top-of-the-line TDI SEL Premium), some cheap details (though its interior is much better than the bottom-line, gas-powered SE) and concludes that “it’s not the stellar car it could be with a few minor upgrades and alterations.” Hmph.

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With Saab Officially Bankrupt, What Models Will Become Classics?

December 20th, 2011

1989 Saab 900: A classic?

Saab, the brand everyone loves, but no one drives, has filed for bankruptcy (subscription).

Since being relegated to the scrap heap by General Motors two years ago, Saab has been on a roller-coaster ride of ups and downs while teetering on the edge of complete collapse under its current owners, Swedish Automobile. With this week’s bankruptcy filing, it seems the fabled car company has finally fallen off the tracks. At this point, does anybody really care?

Saab execs have courted Chinese companies, most recently Zhejiang Youngman, but serious cash flow problems and a recent veto from GM killed that deal before it had any hope for success. It may seem like GM vetoed the deal only out of spite for the brand it wanted to kill, but I think it was a valid business decision.

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Family: The Big Trend in Car Commercials

December 19th, 2011

Every ad agency loves to do car commercials, and why not? Big bucks and a chance to do some real “creative” that gets national, sometimes international, exposure.

The fact that most car ads are either obvious, pushy or sappy testifies not just to a lack of agency creativity but the typically uninspired taste of management. Once in a while, you get some breakthroughs.

Lately, the theme of family has become a big one in car ads. The classic example is The Force ad (above) for the VW Passat, which went viral after the Super Bowl and had 45,248,798 YouTube views at last count. This is a great ad, which appeals through the age-old use of kids to sell product.

But it’s more than that. The Star Wars theme is reinforced by the family setting, which gives power to the powerless. Most of the family car ads I’ve seen use that kind of device, notably Subaru’s Baby Driver ad, which you’ll see after the break, and others that use animals, like VW’s Polo ad with the singing dog.

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Look Out for 100,000 Pounds of Cheese on U.S. Highways

December 19th, 2011
Crumbling bridge

Can U.S. bridges handle 100,000-pound trucks?

Cheese doesn’t often make it into the headlines on these pages. However, this cheese is different, because it has plans to hit the country’s highways. If that happens, “The entire country’s motoring public will be put in grave danger.”

Those are the words of John Lannen, executive director of The Truck Safety Coalition as quoted by Bloomberg.

If they seem like extreme words to use in reference to cheese, consider that, according to the same Bloomberg story, Kraft Foods says it needs to pack its trucks full of 97,000 pounds of the processed sandwich slices in order to combat high diesel prices. Here’s the rub, though: Interstate highways have an 80,000-pound weight limit.

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