The 10 Cleanest Gas-Powered Cars

2008 Dodge Ram Pickup 3500

If you’ve turned on your TV, logged onto the Internet, or picked up a newspaper in the past week, chances are you’re at least generally aware of what’s currently happening with Volkswagen. But if you’ve been living under a rock, here’s a summary: Volkswagen made an amazingly efficient, clean diesel engine…that ended up not being so clean. By using a defeat device, VW’s 2.0-liter diesel engine was able to pass the EPA’s emissions tests while actually polluting at a rate of up to 40 times the tested numbers. The audacity of the transgression is shocking enough, but now that the investigation has begun to expand beyond VW’s 2.0-liter TDI 4-cylinder, the entire future of diesel-powered cars may be in question.

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The Best New Convertibles You Can Actually Buy

2014 Audi RS5

Fun fact: Barbie’s awesome wardrobe wasn’t what made her cool. Her sweet dream house didn’t make her cool, her friend Ken didn’t make her cool, and her absurd, unattainable, and potentially psychologically debilitating body proportions certainly didn’t make her cool either. What made Barbie cool was her hot pink convertible. A quick Google search indicates that Barbie has owned a wide range of convertibles in her lifetime, all of which were hot pink. Yes, she went through the regrettable VW Beetle phase, and it looks like at one point she was driving around in a Suzuki Cappuccino, but she also had one with a distinctly Aston Martin grill – if pressed, we’d guess it’s a one-off Vanquish, customized by Mattel.

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2012 FIAT 500 Abarth Sold Out, Lots More Coming for 2013

I don’t see many FIATs in my neck of the woods.

A new dealer has opened downtown, and I see a few of the cute and sprightly little FIAT 500 hatchbacks every now and then. I’ve never seen a 500 Abarth wild on the streets here.

While sales of the 500 haven’t exactly blown the doors down, Americans have fallen in love with the performance-oriented Abarth version. In fact, the 2012 model is all but sold out.

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FIAT’s Problems with the 500

FIAT 500 Abarth

First, the company was “naive,” as CEO Sergio Marchionne has admitted, in setting a first-year sales goal of 50,000 FIAT 500s. Big mistake, and utter hubris to think the company could beat MINI its first year out. Still, nearly 20,000 were sold—no mean accomplishment.

The second big error was to push its dealers to set up separate, FIAT-only showrooms to make the car more exclusive than it should be. And then fail to give them support.

Error number three was not the J-Lo ad campaign that everyone is so quick to criticize, but the positioning of the car as something cute, customizable and upscalable (i.e., the Gucci version). See the newest Abarth ad after the break.

So the company got mired in the perception of the 500 as a girly car—because most American males think that anything small, cleverly designed and fun to drive is a chickmobile. Old habits die hard.

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The Sweetest Rides of the LA Auto Show

The city of Los Angeles and I have a long love/hate history. The traffic along the 110 brings out unmentionable evil thoughts. The traffic in Beverly Hills inspires feelings of pure love, though that’s mostly due to the rumble of Maseratis.

I love the ocean. I hate the heat. I love Disneyland. I hate earthquakes. You get the idea.

I also love the annual LA Auto Show, a showcase of shiny awesomeness with a hint of the kind of extravagance only LA can provide. This year’s show has featured plenty of exciting cars, some of the most interesting of which are shown after the jump.

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Green Update: Three Hotted-Up City Cars

Scion iQ RX

There are three transformed Scion iQ city cars at SEMA, each interesting, but the one that caught my attention is the iQ RX version, above, by Jon Sibal. The pumped-up and pimped-out cars that typify SEMA are frequently joke material, but Sibal’s car is beautiful, I think.

Details are here and include an engine fitted with a Nitrous Express injection kit. How’s that for improving fuel economy? It’s also got “an Xbox 360 game console, 32-inch Samsung LED TV and an Apple iPad2.” I know, I know.

Michael Chang’s iQ-RS, more straightforward in design, is strictly for racing and is fitted out with all the goodies you’d expect. More pix after the break.

Why are these guys modifying the iQ? Because it is coming to Scion stores soon and is arguably the best of the small city cars, or micro-subcompacts. It’s not like driving a go-kart, but the iQ is very different from most larger cars in being nimble, sporty, eminently parkable and stable—especially compared to the Smart fortwo.

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Fiat 500 Models Proliferating: Which Will Come to the U.S.?

Fiat 500 Zagato

Fiat is doing a cool thing in marketing its 500 for the U.S. It is introducing a veritable profusion of models/trims, presumably so that buyers can have a customized, personalized car.

Will the gambit work? We happen to think the 500 is a great car to begin with. Adding special features may well attract people who fancy its uniqueness—and want more of it. With famous names like Abarth and Zagato, the appeal to sports car fans will be strong.

The Zagato Coupe (above), shown at Geneva, has the famous double-bubble roof of the classic 1950s Z-cars, with some engine tweaking and a beautiful take on the basic 500 design. Even if you don’t know the history, the appeal is there.

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