Archive

Archive for February, 2012

World’s Sexiest Car: the McLaren MP4-12C

February 22nd, 2012

McLaren MP4-12C, front

There’s something about the word “sexy” as applied to cars that in my book just doesn’t cut it. But what else is there to describe the McLaren, now finally coming to the U.S.? “Sensuous”? “Gorgeous”? Get outta here.

We’ve ogled this car before and discussed some of its innovations and performance. Built to compete with the Ferrari 458 Italia, the MP4-12C outclasses it in everything but its name—if only slightly. In exclusivity and style, however, the McLaren clobbers anything on the road.

And yet some idiot tuners, like John Hennessey of Texas, insist on gilding the lily and making a sow’s purse out of a silk ear. Not content with 592 stock horsepower, Hennessey boosts it to 800, adds carbon-fiber aero doodads and so on, to extort more money from you. Stock, the MP4-12C will start at $231,400; no price yet on the Hennessey.

Other tuners with better taste have left the basic design alone, simply adding bigger rims and performance items, while making a sharp car look even better. Wheelsandmore, a German tuning shop, did boost hp to 666 and torque to 472 lb-ft. It sells separate performance parts for McLaren and other rare breeds. Photos above and after the break.

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Mazda Should Learn from Toyota’s Genius Marketing

February 22nd, 2012

Mazda3 Zoom Zoom

Zoom Zoom may not be enough anymore.

Mazda’s famous tagline introduced the North American continent to the performance-bred pleasures of driving a Mazda. Whether you drove home in an RX-8 or picked up a more mundane Mazda MPV, the slogan promised that everything the company built had the soul of a sports car.

Mazda is Japan’s 5th biggest automaker and manufactures about 70 percent of its vehicles in Japan. It sells only about 10 percent of those in its home market and exports the other 90 percent. That’s not a profitable equation considering the relative weakness of the Japanese yen at the moment. The company expects to lose 100 billion yen ($3.1 billion) for 2011 and is thought to be searching for 70 billion yen to bolster overseas production in Thailand and Mexico.

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Green Update: Rising Gas Prices Become Political Football

February 21st, 2012

retail gas prices

The hot topic is once again the cost of gas and how it’s rising. This occurs every summer, and particularly in summers before presidential elections, as happened to G.W. Bush.

Well, gas prices are going up again, approaching $4.00 in some parts of the country. And they will likely go higher and hurt much more. Gas-pump anger is rising.

You could blame the disruptions in Iran, Syria and other Middle East trouble spots. You could blame the oil companies. You could blame Obama, and the Republicans are coming out in force to do that.

Newt Gingrich is the loudest, of course: Obama’s energy policy has been “outrageously anti-American.” Rick Santorum is the craziest: Obama’s “radical environmentalist policies” are what’s driving up the price of gas.

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Steve Jobs’ Mercedes-Benz SL55 AMG Remains Parked, Not for Sale

February 21st, 2012

Steve Jobs' Mercedes-Benz SL55 AMG

Yesterday we previewed the coming Mercedes-Benz SL63 AMG, a car likely to command somewhere in the neighborhood of $150,000. For the coin, you’ll get a great car, but it’ll be up to you to make it famous.

On the other hand, you could consider buying used and angling for a car once owned by a famous person. Perhaps no car is more iconic right now than the MB SL55 AMG currently parked, without license plates, at 2101 Waverley Street in Palo Alto, California.

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Benz SL63 AMG Comes to Geneva…and the U.S.

February 20th, 2012

The Geneva Motor Show, one of the world’s best, opens March 8, and you can be certain this machine, the 2013 SL63 AMG, will draw the crowds. It’s Benz’s hottest, most beautiful roadster for the street (because the SLS is just over the top and ugly to boot).

The new V8 is smaller than that in last year’s car, with higher output—5.5 vs. 6.3 liters; 571 vs 518 hp—and a likely 0-60 time of 4 seconds. (The present car makes it in 4.5 seconds.)

You can’t afford it. Base price of the present car is $140,400 (no price yet on the new one). You can buy two M3s for that and have ample change left over. But of course we’re comparing pineapples and bananas, right? No, we are not quite in Ferrari territory, and Benz cars are lots more reliable and repairable worldwide.

We hear that the first U.S. SL63 AMG will be put up for auction at the 6th annual Boca Raton Concours d’Elegance on February 25th. In April the car will be featured at the New York Auto Show.

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What Should Be Done About Teen Driver Deaths?

February 20th, 2012

“Lane ends. Merge right.”

The sign gave plenty of notice that the two-lane arterial merged into a single lane ahead. The speed limit was 35 miles per hour. I travelled in the right lane, doing about 40. My girlfriend sat in the passenger seat. To my left, I could tell the driver of a car behind me wanted to pass before his lane ended.

“No way.”

I stepped on the gas, speeding up to force the other driver to switch lanes behind me. But he sped up too, intent on getting in front of me before the lane ended. I pushed my right foot deeper into the accelerator, hitting 50-mph. The 4-cylinder engine of my ’84 Accord whined loudly, but was drowned out by my girlfriend’s screams to slow down.

But I didn’t slow down. There was no way I was getting passed. No way I’d let him have the satisfaction of cutting me off. Our cars were neck-and-neck as the lane ended. 55-mph. My girlfriend’s screaming turned to outright yelling, but I’d won. The other driver slowed and pulled in behind me.

RIGHT behind me. In my rear-view mirror I could see a fuming driver, probably 40-years-old. I turned into the driveway of my destination, a drugstore parking lot. He followed. I parked. He parked next to me. I wasn’t scared, though. I mean, I was 16. I just got my license. I was king of the world and he was an old man. Against my girlfriend’s pleas, I got out of the car and approached him.

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Tesla Gets $40 Million in Model X Pre-Orders, Signs Deal with Benz

February 17th, 2012

Tesla Model S

I learned today, courtesy of Automotive News, that

Tesla is among the most-shorted U.S. stocks. Almost 65 percent of its shares available for trading, or float, were sold short as of Jan. 31, the second-highest total in the Russell 1000 Index, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Selling short means you’re betting that the price of the stock will go down, and Tesla has lost a lot of money bringing the Model S sedan (above) to market. But it’s telling the world that 2012 will see income of possibly $600 million, and most will be due to sales of the Model S—up to 5,000 cars.

You never know what to believe with guys like Elon Musk, but he has convinced a lot of people that his Model X, the gullwing SUV we told you about, will be the latest and greatest.

After the February 9 reveal, Tesla got deposits of $5,000 a pop (or $40,000 for the top-line Signature series), representing around 500 SUVs. The top-end version will do 0-60 mph in 4.4 seconds, beating out the Porsche 911 Carrera.

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Why Arguing About the Auto Bailouts Is Pointless

February 17th, 2012

Chevy Cruze: A sales hit for GM

Politicians are like 4-year-olds.

I’ll explain my reasoning for that in a moment, but I have a feeling many of you already agree.

In 2009, President Obama authorized the bailout of General Motors and Chrysler. It was a move that started with President Bush in 2008 and cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars. Needless to say, the decision generated some serious controversy. I, for one, went on record on this blog as being against the bailouts. At the time, I figured the companies should accept the consequences of their poor financial decisions and dismal product quality. As it turns out, I don’t have a lot of say in Executive Branch decisions, and the bailouts happened regardless of my opinions.

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Useless, Redundant and Dangerous Car Tech *UPDATED

February 16th, 2012

BMW's iPhone MOG app

*UPDATE: On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Transportation released voluntary anti-distraction guidelines for carmakers. These call for disabling all electronic devices that access the Web and social media or send text messages—any in-car technology that causes drivers to take their hands off the wheel or eyes off the road for more than two seconds. That means no texting, tweeting, dialing or browsing unless the car is stopped and placed in Park.

The NTSB has called for a total ban on such devices, and other advocacy groups had skeptical comments, but this is a step forward, we think. Press release here.

Popular Mechanics did a recent piece on the “10 Most Useless Car Technologies.” I agree with most but not all of their choices, and they were being kind, given the proliferation of infotainment junk in cars. Give us some comment on a) what you think they omitted, and b) what they got wrong. I’ll add mine as we go.

  1. Paddle shifters for automatic transmissions. PM says they often don’t work well. I say, fix ’em and keep ’em. Automatics are good today, but we need the override.
  2. Interlocked seatbelts and starter. Not on cars anymore.
  3. Automatic moisture-sensing wipers. Right, they often don’t work correctly.
  4. Automatic steering headlights. No comment, never drove with them.
  5. Map lights. Wrong: Still useful.
  6. Motorized rear-view mirror. Right: Use your hands.
  7. Motorized seatbelts. Not in cars anymore.
  8. Proximity warning systems. Yes, confusing and distracting. Lane departure warning signals could be good.
  9. Electronic parking brake. Haven’t used.
  10. Chevrolet Volt capacitive touch controls. All touchscreens distract.

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Cars Coming Soon: Track-Ready Jaguar XKR-S, 2015 Ford Focus RS and a 4-Cylinder Mustang

February 16th, 2012

2011 Ford Focus 500RS

Out of all the performance-bred excitement you are about to read, this is perhaps the one piece of information that’ll make you stumble over your words and spit out your morning mocha:

The Ford Mustang may get a 4-banger.

Before horrible visions of the 1976 2.3-liter 4-cylinder Mustang II creep into your head, rest assured that, should the Mustang drop cylinders, it’ll do so with plenty of panache.

In 1976, the 4-cylinder Mustang II put out all of 92 hp. A new 2.3-liter engine, slated for use in the 2015 Ford Focus RS, could make a whopping 320 hp and, potentially, be used in the forthcoming Mustang. How’s that sit with ya?

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