Thursday, January 21, 2010

MINI Countryman Crossover: Official Details and 57 High-Res Photos

After yesterday's leak there was no point in keeping the new Countryman under wraps so MINI went ahead and released initial details and a full gallery of its first-ever crossover model. Bear in mind that the BMW Group owned automaker noted that the car may not be named Countryman in certain markets without giving out any further details.

The Countryman is not only the British firm's first-ever crossover, it's also the first modern MINI to have four doors, an available all-wheel-drive system, four full-size seats and to measure around four meters in length.

The styling inside and out is unmistakably MINI, with the Countryman trying to stand out from the rest of the range with its chunkier nose job, raised ride height and some unique styling cues such as the headlamps and the alloy wheel designs.

All-New Mazda5 with Spunkier Styling Revealed Ahead of Geneva Show

The here is new Mazda5 people carrier and it will have its world premiere at the Geneva Motorshow in the beginning of March. The Japanese firm's Renault Scenic and Opel Zafira rival in the compact MPV segment features all-new sheetmetal that brings it in line style-wise with the rest of Mazda's lineup.

As well as adopting the company's trademark smiley face grille up front, the new Mazda5 also uses swoopy elements of Mazda's 'Nagare Flow' design language that was previewed on several concept cars including the Furai.

Like its predecessor, the new '5 comes with sliding rear-doors and can accommodate up to seven passengers in three rows of seats.

2011 BMW 335is: First Official Photos of 322HP Coupe and Convertible that Bridge the Gap Between the 335i and M3

While BMW has yet to make an official announcement on the all-new 335is Coupe and Convertible, the Bavarian firm uploaded the first official photos of both models on its public website. The 335is, which is believed to be offered initially only in North America, closes the gap between the 300HP 335i (306HP in Euro spec) and the 414HP M3 (420HP for the Euro model).

As we've already informed you from our previous post, a leaked spec sheet from BMW's Canadian division reveals that the 335is makes use of a tweaked version of the outgoing 335i's N54 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged inline six - and not the single-turbo N55 engine of

Lexus LFA: Early Customer Interest Exceeds Production Numbers (You don't Say...)

To no one's surprise, in the three months that have passed since the official introduction of the LFA at the Tokyo Motor Show in October 2009, the number of formal expressions of interest in purchasing the $375,000 V10 supercar is already far greater than the limited production run of only 500 examples, Toyota's subsidiary announced today.

2010 Toyota Auris Facelift gets Subtle Makeover and New Hybrid Version with Prius Drivetrain

When Toyota introduced the successor to the hatchback versions of the Corolla (the sedan variant kept the name) in Europe in 2006, the company's bosses decided to baptize the new car "Auris", not only due to its supposedly fresh and contemporary styling, but also because the name "Corolla" had become more synonymous with dull than with quality in the Old Continent.

One more 2010 Camaro-Based Pontiac Trans Am Conversion

Not surprisingly, Pontiac's demise has spurred an interest in the creation of Trans Am replicas based on the new Chevrolet Camaro. We remind you that we've already seen a conceptual proposal for a modern-day Pontiac Trans Am from ASC Creative Services and real-life examples from Lingenfelter and Trans Am Depot.

The latest company to join the list of tuners interested in creating a Trans Am replica is a company called Gearhead Performance Group.

Kia Ray Hybrid Sport Sedan Concept Teaser Leaked, Will Debut in Chicago

A teaser shot of what is said to be the Kia Ray concept car has made its way onto the interwebs. According to the folks over at Insideline that broke the story, the sporty-shaped sedan was penned at Kia's American design studio and it's supposed to hint at a possible design direction for a plug-in hybrid vehicle.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

(Un)mellow Yellow: Upgrade your Ferrari 599 with dealer-installed HGTE package

Life is tough, we know. You sit for months on a waiting list, drop six figures, order your Ferrari just the way you want it, and then bam! They come out with an even better version. What’s a supercar owner to do? Well in the case of the Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano and the Handling GTE package unveiled to go with it at the Geneva Motor Show just a few months ago (shown above in yellow for the first time), we’ve got good news as Ferrari has announced the availability of the package as a dealer-installable kit on existing 599s.

The package includes a host of enhancements to the GT’s already superlative capabilities, grouped into four areas: handling, performance, exhaust and aesthetics. Handling includes a suspension lowered by 10mm, magnetorheologically re-calibrated and stiffened by over 15%; beefed up in anti-roll bars, and stickier tires mounted on upgraded modular wheels.

The performance enhancements include new exhaust silencers, upgrades to the transmission software that cut shift times down to 85 milliseconds, as well as new lines of code that summon improved throttle response. The performance kit can only be installed on post-2008 models with the sequential transmission, while pre-2008 or manual-equipped models can get the exhaust kit without the remapped throttle and transmission.

Finally, the aesthetic improvements consist of a new front grille and Prancing Horse emblems front and back in a burnished finish instead of the usual chrome. The only thing which the dealer-installed HGTE kit doesn’t include from the factory-equipped models is the interior trim package. Released first for the British market, the kit costs £19,703 (~$32k USD), or £17,213 (~$28k) without the upgraded transmission and throttle calibrations. Check out the fresh gallery of images below and follow the jump for the full press release and an in-car video of the HGTE-equipped 599 pouring on the heat.

First Drive: 2010 Buick LaCrosse looks to breathe life into old brand

Make no mistake, the 2010 Buick LaCrosse is the most important vehicle launched by the brand in decades. Buick, nearly consigned to the dustbin of history a few short years ago, is now one of General Motors’ four remaining “core” brands. And if it weren’t for the Chinese market’s love affair with the marque, there’s little doubt Buick would’ve followed Oldsmobile into the afterlife. Instead, GM is attempting to (once again) refashion the brand as a serious competitor to Acura, Lexus and Volvo, and the LaCrosse is the opening salvo in the battle for hearts, minds and market share – not to mention pocketbooks.

Technically, the “New” Buick was born two years ago when the Enclave debuted, but in reality, that was simply a new segment for the brand. In contrast, the LaCrosse marks the initial transformation of Buick’s future. CEO Fritz Henderson has stated that new Buicks (and actually all GM vehicles going forward) must be more than competitive – they must be superb. They can’t merely match the competition, they have to surpass them in every quantifiable way. So the launch of the LaCrosse couldn’t be more fortuitous or fraught with risk. Developed before bankruptcy, bailouts and government intervention, the LaCrosse is what GM envisioned for the future of Buick over two years ago. But is it good enough to revive the marque? Time to find out.

REPORT: Toyota in talks to provide Mazda with hybrid tech

Mazda already has one of the first non-Toyota hybrids to hit the market with its Tribute SUV (above), but that model is only on sale in California, with hybrid tech from Ford Motor Company. Now that Ford has a much smaller percentage stake in the automaker, Mazda cannot rely on the Blue Oval to develop its future hybrid technology. With hybrid sales in its home market of Japan booming, the Hiroshima-based automaker is rumored to be looking for potential partners.

According to Reuters, Japan’s Nikkei business daily is reporting that Mazda is in talks with Toyota to license the Japanese juggernaut’s hybrid technology for future models. Toyota and Mazda are thus far denying the reports, but Nikkei quotes anonymous sources saying the deal could include the licensing of batteries, motors, and other vital components. The publication further reports that the first Mazda-badged hybrid could arrive as soon as 2013. That’s two years earlier than Mazda research and development boss Seita Kanai speculated earlier in the year.

The move would benefit Toyota by boosting revenue and increasing economies of scale. Some analysts speculate that Toyota, which has been in the global hybrid game longer than anyone, could capitalize by leasing out its gas-electric tech to more automakers. Toyota already has an arrangement with Nissan to supply technology for use in its Altima Hybrid.

Officially Official: Mercedes to produce electric SLS gullwing

Mercedes-Benz has officially confirmed the rumors that have been floating around in recent days – it will build an electrically powered version of its upcoming SLS gullwing coupe. The EV version of the SLS will drive all four wheels by means of an individual motor for each corner. It will not however use wheel hub motors, since those add too much unsprung mass. The motors will be mounted just inboard of the suspension components.

Energy will be stored in a 48 kWh liquid cooled lithium ion battery pack running down the central tunnel. The combined output of the electric drive system is 392 kW (526 hp) and 880 Nm (649 lb-ft), which compares to 420 kW (563 hp) and 649 Nm (479 lb-ft) for the 6.3-liter V8 in the conventional SLS. Mercedes claims it will accelerate to 62 mph in four seconds. No range is being quoted at this time, but given that the battery capacity is lower than the Tesla Roadster and the car is larger, it will likely be well under 200 miles. No timeline for the electric version is being quoted, although earlier rumors placed it at 2015.

One of the reasons that Daimler said it was investing $50 million in Tesla Motors was the upstart’s ability to move quickly and develop systems faster than could be done at Daimler. Given that, we may well see the electric SLS sooner rather than later.

Porsche unveils facelifted 2010 911 Turbo packing 500 horsepower

As we’ve discussed, the current Porsche Turbo is much too slow. Rather than let the aftermarket have all the glory, Porsche has decided to up the Turbo’s performance for 2010. But not just in terms of power. Egged on no doubt by the pesky Nissan GT-R, Porsche is performing a complete character change for their newest Turbo, including less weight, RWD bias and a more sporting character.

The big news is of course the engine. Goodbye 3.6-liter six, it’s been fun. Hello 3.8-liter directed injected flat-six from the Carrera S. Coupled to two variable-vane turbos, power is now 500 hp. And because it’s direct injected, mileage increases from 22.1 mpg to 24.1 mpg with the manual. Should you opt for Porsche’s 7-speed Doppelkupplungsgetriebe (dual-clutch) gearbox, mileage improves from the old Tiptronic’s 20.8 mpg to a very impressive 24.8 mpg. Also gone (kinda) are the silly dual-action faux-paddle shifters. Replacing them are F1 style right-is-up, left-is-down wheel-mounted paddles — a welcome improvement, though we’d still prefer column-mounted shifters like on Ferraris and Godzilla. And you can still opt for the inferior dual-action buttons if you like.

The fun continues with a reprogrammed Porsche Traction Management system that distributes torque between the front and rear differentials via an electric multi-plate clutch. Still not convinced? The PSM (Porsche Stability Management) has been re-calibrated to provide more thrills. New RS Spyder rims are also available to decrease unsprung weight. In a word, yes please.

Texas tuner developing turbocharged V6 Camaro to take on GT-R’s ‘Ring record

Must. Beat. Godzilla. For some reason. Here’s the skinny. A tuner company called East Texas Muscle Cars is fitting a couple of turbos to a 2010 V6 Camaro in order to “beat” the ‘Ring time laid down by none other than the Nissan GT-R. That leaves us with two questions then: how and why?

Lots of folks are going to buy V6 Camaros, grok the 304 hp V6, scratch their heads and say, “More power.” In other words, there’s a market. ETMC will rip the guts come out of the 3.6-liter LLT and throw in forged rods, crank and pistons. And then, of course, you get the two Squires Turbo Systems turbos. These are remote-mounted turbos that bolt up under the car near the exhaust. With such a system, you’re basically trading a bit of lag for increased cooling and no need to mess around with new headers. East Texas thinks they can wring 500 horses out of the system no problem.

Then there’s the matter of dealing with the stock Camaro’s “tremendous understeer and cradle walk.” That’s pretty necessary if you want to do battle with a R35, which neither understeers nor cradle walks nor really does anything bad or sloppy. East Texas Muscle Cars will be addressing those issues via harder bushings and Pedders coil-overs, along with a Baer big brake kit and lightweight forged 20-inch wheels.

Then there’s the question: Why? Why go after Godzilla, such a high profile target? Unless you’re building Clubber Lang, why call out Rocky? Publicity, obviously. Would we even be writing about a bolt-on turbo kit for a V6 Camaro unless they publicly challenged one of the production car ‘Ring masters? Probably not. But there is one part of their scheme that we do like. Once the Camaro is finished, ETMC will be flying it and a friend’s stock GT-R out to Germany to run ‘em both simultaneously. Since that’s the case, no need to even mention the inherent fallacy of Nurburgring lap records. Good luck boys.

Rolls-Royce Star of India to go on auction for €10,000,000

As if the adventures of Bernie Madoff weren’t enough to convince you that we’re living in the new Jazz Age, this might: A very custom, one-off 1934 Rolls-Royce Phantom II 40/50 HP Continental, known in high Roller circles as the Star of India, is being put on auction for the seriously astronomical price of ten million Euros. That’s one Porsche Turbo over fourteen million Yankee dollars to you and me. Originally bodied by Thrupp & Maberly for the Maharaja of Rajkot, the Star of India has spent the last few decades in the private collection of Hans-Günther Zach at his Mühlheim/Main Rolls-Royce museum.

There’s no indication if Herr Zach is feeling the pinch of the world wide economic meltdown — or if he’s just moving on to greener pastures — but his entire collection is up for grabs. While there’s no doubt other impressive cars up for sale (like the 1926 “Aluminum Sculpture” Phantom I Open Tourer) the star is without question the Star. Never mind the royal pedigree, how can you get past the aluminum on orange carriage work?

Should it sell for its asking price, the 7.7-liter pushrod straight-six Rolls equipped with two additional headlights to follow the path of the steering (fourteen headlights total), would be the most expensive car in the world. After all, rumors of the Japanese man that reportedly paid $15,000,000 for a Ferrari 250 GTO before Japan’s economy imploded in the late 1980s have never been proved. Happy bidding. Thanks to Reddy for the tip!

Automotive Reveals Plug-in Hybrid Vehicle

UK-based car manufacturer Axon Automotive has previewed a new plug-in hybrid vehicle that runs on full electric mode in the city and uses a petrol or bioethanol powered internal combustion engine for long distance or motorway travel. The company claims that the lightweight two-seater model emits less than 50g of CO2 per km for the mix of electric and petrol modes.

Lexus IS 350C with 405HP Supercharged V6

you probably know about the custom made Lexus IS 350C that Fox Marketing is preparing for the SEMA Show in Las Vegas this November. We've already shown you a teaser rendering as well as some photos of the car taken during the development phase but now, Fox Marketing has released detailed specs along with the first live photos and videos of the lime-green hardtop convertible that comes equipped with a supercharged version of the stock 3.5-liter V6 pumping out some 406 horsepower.

Toyota Sai Hybrid

Toyota's budget version of the Lexus HS 250h, the new Sai Hybrid, just went on sale in Japan in the beginning of the month, but the automaker's TRD division has already lined up some subtle visual and performance upgrades for the sedan. In addition to the selection of aero bits, TRD has also released a new grille insert, a sport suspension kit, specific oil and fuel caps as well as a choice of 16-, 17- and 18-inch alloy wheels available in various designs.

Claims Toyota Has Been Keeping a Lid on Potential Safety Problems

In the wake of Toyota's recent recall of a record 4.26 million vehicles in the United States because the gas pedal can get stuck in the floor mats and cause sudden acceleration, the Los Angeles Times has posted an article that portrays the Japanese automaker as a company that has habitually delayed or even covered up safety recalls and tried to put the blame on human error in cases where owners claimed vehicle defects.

2010 Kia Sorento SUV Geared up by Cobra Technology & Lifestyle

The new generation Kia Sorento that made its debut earlier this year is the latest object of Cobra Technology & Lifestyle's tuning affections. Not that most Sorento buyers will actually ever need bull bars - that is, unless your parking skills are worse 16-year-old that just got his license, but Cobra offers a variety of front, rear and rocker panel guards including a lower front bar with integrated LED daytime running lights.

2011 Saab 9-5 SportCombi: Estate Version Pictured Undisguised?

The boffins over at the Swedish news site 'Aftonbladet' have posted this photo of the estate version of the new Saab 9-5 without any camouflage whatsoever. We're not entirely sure if it's the real deal or not as while the shades and lights on the body suggest it's a static picture, the alloy wheels appear to have been shot on the move. We don't know.

Ford Confirms Deal with China's Geely on Volvo Sale

While General Motors is still trying to figure out what it's going to do with its Saab division, Ford Motor Company announced today that it has settled all substantive commercial terms with China's Geely Holding Group Company Limited on the prospected sale of its Volvo unit.

Fiat 500 to get 0.9-liter Turbocharged Two-Cylinder Engine in 2010

We just got our hands on the Fiat Group's refreshed product plan for 2010 and 2011 that was introduced by the firm's CEO Sergio Marchionne in Rome today. We'll bring you the full monty later on but here's a taster of what the company is planning to launch into the market.

Next year will see the arrival of Fiat's long anticipated New Small Gasoline Engine that will make its premiere on the 500 mini. The innovative 0.9-liter twin-cylinder gasoline engine features turbocharging and Fiat's Multiair technology that controls the intake valves, depending on the horsepower needed.