Two New MINI Coopers Debut In U.S.

Although they made their official world debut at the Geneva International Motor Show earlier in March, the MINI John Cooper Works Hardtop and MINI John Cooper Works Clubman took their U.S. bows on Thursday, March 20th at the New York International Auto Show. The two new performance-oriented trims, which will be available this summer, feature upgraded powerplants as well as suspensions, exhaust systems, manual transmissions, electrically power-assisted steering, and high-performance brakes developed by British-based John Cooper Works and inspired by the shop’s fifty-year racing history.

In the 1940s, John Cooper, who was trained as a toolmaker, teamed up with his father Charles to create the Cooper 500 Formula 3 race car and form the Cooper Car Company. As a result of his success on the racing circuit, Cooper was tapped to create race-oriented versions of the British-made Mini, starting in the early 1960s. Mini Coopers, as they were dubbed back then, proved popular for decades. Today, the relationship continues, as John Cooper Works, now under the direction of John’s son Mike Cooper, has recently merged with MINI and will create high-performance versions of the popular sub-compact car. The two new MINIs just announced are the first to appear under this relationship.

The John Cooper Works Hardtop and Clubman both pack a 208-horsepower, 1.6-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine under their hoods. The engine can drive the Hardtop from 0 to 60 in just 6.2 seconds, while the larger, cargo-oriented Clubman takes 6.5 seconds to reach 60 mph. Both trims top out at 147 mph.

The engine in both trims links to a specially modified six-speed manual transmission, and both the John Cooper Works Hardtop and Clubman ride on a sport-tuned suspension and exclusive 17-inch light alloy rims with high-performance tires. In addition, both come equipped with a Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) system that incorporates Dynamic Traction Control, the first for a MINI. When the driver deactivates the DSC system, Electronic Differential Lock Control kicks in, providing enhanced stability and cornering ability during aggressive driving. This latter feature is exclusive to the John Cooper Works trims.

Both trims will be created at the factory rather than at the dealer using kits. Of course, the enhancements will boost pricing for both trims by a few thousand dollars, when compared to the standard trims on which they’re based.

World Green Car Announced in New York

For auto aficionados, March Madness of a different sort kicked off earlier this week, when the New York Auto Show opened it doors to the general public. And although it’s late in the auto show season, there were enough debuts and announcements left to make New York interesting, if not on the same level as some of the earlier shows this year.

Among other announcements, the selection committee for the 2008 World Car Awards tapped the BMW 118d Advanced Diesel, available only in Europe, as the World Green Car. Incorporating BMW’s Efficient Dynamic technology, the 118d Advanced Diesel comes equipped with a 143-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbo-diesel engine designed for fuel efficiency and low emissions. Fuel savings are also provided by brake energy regeneration, which charges the battery when the driver applies the brakes or when the car is coasting or decelerating. In addition, electric steering and an Auto Start Stop Function, which shuts the car off at stops and automatically restarts it, help provide a 21-percent reduction in fuel consumption, as well as lower carbon-dioxide emissions, when compared to a typical diesel-powered car.

The 118d Advanced Diesel was chosen from an initial field of 10 cars by a selection committee that consisted of nearly 50 automotive journalists. The field of 10 was later narrowed to three cars, including the Smart fortwo cdi and the Volkswagen Passat 1.9 TDI.

A number of other cars debuted in New York, including the 2010 Hyundai Genesis Coupe, scheduled to roll into showrooms sometime next spring. The rear-wheel-drive coupe comes equipped with a 306-horsepower V6, a manual transmission, Brembo brakes and an independent rear suspension, promising drivers a true sport-oriented coupe that will be price-competitive with coupes from Honda and Infiniti, as well as Ford’s Mustang GT. The Genesis Coupe also will be available with a turbocharged four-cylinder.

Other debuts included the Suzuki Kizashi 3 Concept sedan, which the automaker recently announced will go into production for 2010, and the Pontiac Solstice coupe. Officially a targa, meaning that only part of its hard-top roof over the passenger compartment can be removed, it’s scheduled to hit showrooms in 2009. Drawing its basic design from the Solstice convertible, the Solstice coupe should generate buzz with drivers due to its affordable price, rumored to be in the low to high 20s when it goes on sale.

Safest, Greenest, Meanest Cars for 2008

What do the 2009 Nissan Murano, the 2008 Honda Civic GX, and the 2008 diesel-powered Volkswagen Touareg have in common? They’ve all been singled out for recognition in various automotive categories — some good, some not so good.

First, the good news. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a non-profit research institute based in Arlington, Va., has named the 2009 Nissan Murano (above) the Top Safety Pick for 2008. The Murano performed best in front, side, and rear crash tests out of a field of nine mid-sized, four-door SUVs tested. Redesigned for 2009, the Murano now includes electronic stability control as a standard feature, which helped it claim top honors in the competition. It also excelled in protecting passengers from whiplash injury in rear-end crashes, and in protecting the head, chest, and abdomen in side crashes.

The Mazda CX-7 and CX-9 SUVs, as well as the Mitsubishi Endeavor, earned good ratings in the crash tests, while the Jeep Liberty, Jeep Wrangler, and Kia Sorrento came in at the bottom end of the scale.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, an independent, non-profit research group based in Washington, D.C., has assigned environmental scores to all 2008 cars and passenger trucks, and has named the natural gas-powered 2008 Honda Civic GX as the “greenest” car of the year. The innovative Civic GX, which has won this award for five consecutive years, has a 113-horsepower i-VTEC engine that runs on compressed natural gas (which can be refueled at home) and is a near-zero-emissions vehicle.

The Toyota Prius, Honda Civic Hybrid, Smart Fortwo Convertible, and Toyota Yaris joined the Civic GX in the top five greenest vehicles for 2008.

At the opposite scale, the diesel-powered Volkswagen Touareg was named the “meanest” vehicle for 2008, meaning that it’s the most environment-unfriendly vehicle. Diesel-powered cars from Mercedes-Benz, as well as a number of the world’s top exotic supercars, such as the Bugatti Veyron and the Bentley Azure, also received poor environmental marks.