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The Best of the 2009 Frankfurt Auto Show
The 2009 Frankfurt Auto Show showcased an unprecedented number of new cars. The thinking is that many manufacturers have had these vehicles in the pipeline for some time but were waiting until the economy improved to show them off to the public. These include the $150,000+ Audi R8 Spyder (a convertible version of Audi's supercar), the unpriced but surely more than $300,000 Bentley Mulsanne and the $1.6 million dollar Lamborghini Reventon Roadster, of which only twenty examples will be built. On the other end of the spectrum, plug-in hybrids and full electric cars made a big splash, with Volkswagen calling their E-Up! concept the “Beetle for the 21st century.”
Among the many cars available here in Europe that we pine for Stateside, you may be surprised that Ford minivans rank among them. We got a ride in the Galaxy-based S-Max on our way back from driving the new Fiesta in Tuscany and were thoroughly impressed, and from what we hear its Focus-based kid brother C-Max isn't half bad either. But today Ford unveiled a new C-Max, and we need pine no more, for the compact MPV is headed our way. At least, the seven-seat Grand C-Max version is, anyway. Echoing Chrysler's minivans, the new C-Max is available in two formats: standard wheelbase and long-wheelbase Grand C-Max. The five-seater has a sportier appearance with conventional rear doors, while the seven-seater gets sliding doors and a plane ticket across the Atlantic. Both are based on Ford's new global C-segment platform that will underpin the next-generation Focus and offer clever packaging with a compelling adaptation of the Blue Oval's kinetic design language.
Available: Just a concept
While it might be September of 2009, Volkswagen is looking to the future. 2013 to be exact. That's when Chairman Martin Winterkorn says they'll be launching the E-Up!, an all-electric city specialist. The E-Up!'s killer app is the lightweight lithium-ion battery that kinda tips the scales at five hundred pounds. That might sound like a lot, but keep in mind that the Panasonic Metal Case Prismatic pack in the Prius weighs over 100 pounds and has a gasoline engine to boot. Not so with the E-Up! The whole teeny kit and kaboodle clocks in at a sprightly 2,387 pounds. Volkswagen's already calling the E-Up! the Beetle of the 21st Century (no word from VW on how the current New Beetle feels about it), and based on their claim that 100 kilometers (62 miles) of driving can be had for just €2 (like five bucks) we see no reason to protest. Interestingly, the E-Up! is the smallest VW ever, so tiny in fact that it's a 3+1 seater. Because Volkswagen largely eliminated the E-Up's dashboard, the front passenger seat is about five inches forward of the driver's seat, increasing the leg room for that person seated directly behind the passenger. The person seated behind the driver, well, he's out of luck. But in a pinch you can carry around a fourth passenger.
Available: Just a concept
Those with a passion for torque were disappointed when it became clear that Audi was unlikely to ever build a production version of the R8 V12 TDI that was shown at the 2008 Detroit Auto Show. Now the automaker has come back with a new R8-based concept that puts the diesel to shame. The new e-tron packs four electric motors and a lithium-ion battery pack with a fairly tame-sounding 313 hp but an insane 3,319 lb-ft of torque. The run to 62 mph takes 4.8 seconds, but rolling acceleration from 37-75 mph takes just 4.1 seconds thanks to the e-tron's massive amount of twist. While acknowledging that electric vehicles are still far from economically viable volume production vehicles, Audi is nonetheless working on electric technology, both for hybrids and pure EVs. The pack sports a 53kWh capacity of which 42.4 kWh is usable. The pack weighs in at 1,036 pounds out of a total vehicle weight of 3,527 pounds and is mounted ahead of the rear axle and liquid cooled. Each of the axles sports two electric motors allowing the e-tron to retain Audi's signature quattro all-wheel drive. The e-tron has an estimated range of 154 miles on the EU combined driving cycle.
After months of speculation and spy shots, Maranello has finally revealed the mid-engined V8 replacement for the Ferrari F430. The all-new Ferrari 458 Italia has a new direct-injected 4.5-liter V8 ups the ante underhood, pumping out 562 horsepower and 398 lb-ft of torque. The redline? A screaming 9,000 rpm. Eighty percent of the F458 Italia's torque is now available at a low 3,250 rpm, thanks in all likelihood to the new engine's 12.5:1 compression ratio. As with last year's California, the Ferrari 458 gets a seven-speed dual clutch gearbox that directs power to the rear axle. Much has been done to reduce internal friction within the new V8, in addition aerodynamic drag improvements. As a result, the Ferrari 458 Italia's gas mileage improves to a combined 17.1 mpg (US) on the EU test cycle. As this is a Ferrari, talk of fuel consumption really does seem somewhat pointless, anyway.
It's an all-new Bentley, it's called the Mulsanne, and it's a vehicle that more than a few auto aficionados have been waiting for. Introduced recently in Pebble Beach, the Mulsanne is a clean sheet redesign of Bentley's ever-enduring flagship and according to Bentley CEO Franz-Josef Paefgen, when they sat down to figure out everything they wanted to change on the Arnage, by the time they were finished, nearly nothing remained. The Mulsanne is about eleven inches longer than the Flying Spur and rides on a new, bespoke chassis that sits so low on its wheels you can barely get a finger between the top of the front tire and the wheel well. Inside, the overhaul continues. Gone are the mid-century ergonomics and design of the Arnage, replaced by a cabin that showcases chrome-accented dials and modern switchgear -- like a joystick controller for the screen – among a forest of wood. Oh, and a brand new steering wheel.
Available: Just a concept
Amidst all the exciting and pivotal new vehicle debuts at the show, Mazda took the wraps off the MX-5 Superlight Version. Unfortunately it's just a show car, and it's not the first time Mazda's toyed with the idea (and us in the process), but the Superlight goes to show what an inventive mind and a skilled hand or two can do with the iconic Mazda roadster. Characterized by its windshield-less shape, the Superlight also features an exquisitely crafted cockpit of brushed aluminum and saddle brown leather, aluminum and carbon-fiber rolls hoops with integrated brake LEDs, an aluminum rearview mirror mounted on the hood, a wider track, dropped suspension and upgraded brakes. While the engine essentially carries over from the stock 1.8-liter, 126hp four, the Mazdaspeed intake and exhaust, coupled with the reduced 2,194-pound curb weight, bring the 0-60 run down to 8.9 seconds. Which may not sound like breakneck acceleration, but with the wind rushing at your face, we're guessing this junior Veritas is a real thrill ride.
The Volkswagen R20 returns some brawn to the styling of the body Golf after a lengthy flirtation with smaller, svelter lines. And we, for one, are happy about it. Things get started right up front with the lower grille and it's Audi-RS-and-R8-reminiscent openings and strakes. From there it's an easy flow back over a body a-bulge with just the right taste in creases and lines. We're still waiting for a less hipster tailpipe treatment to return, but we're happy with the car nevertheless. The interior gets the trim-and-texture treatment to identify it as a 270-hp flyer, and the seats complete the job by letting your butt feel what your eyes can see. Speaking of feeling, those earlier 60-mph runs were a little off: the manual gets to 62 in 5.7, the DSG in 5.5. Should we get it, we have a feeling we'll enjoy it.
The Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG is intended to redress the awkwardness – and low volumes – of the McLaren Mercedes SLR. Based on a first look at it, the supercoupe's chances are very good. That door handle is down by one's shins, but overcome that low hurdle and the reward is a cozy trip to the Sixties with millennial ergonomics. For all that bonnet, the 6.3-liter 571 horsepower engine is shoved way, way back, good for a 47/53 weight distribution. It'll do the business to 62 mph in 3.8 seconds, and has a good chance of making you feel like quite the champ while doing it. Speaking of looking good, the carbon rotors and yellow calipers promise to look awesome at a standstill and on the trot. And with the updated interior, you won't have to drive with the doors up to stay cool in this gullwing, unlike the Sixties original. If you want to get even hotter, wait for the electric version to come out. Audi e-Tron vs. electric SLS anyone?
Here's all you need to know about the Lamborghini Reventon Roadster. You have a one in five-hundred million chance of being killed by a meteor, and a one in seven-hundred million chance of owning a Reventon Roadster. Any questions? And yeah, it costs around $1.6 million dollars and Lambo's making "less than 20," though we imagine if a couple more gazillionaires pony up €1.1 -- especially in cash and/or gold doubloons -- they'd spit out a few more. The Reventon Roadster looks even more like a tangram set pumped up on growth hormones than the hardtop. And while the crazy, hard-edged angularism might not be for everyone, it's hard to do much but smile when you're standing next to it. And really, besides the price, the only possible thing to complain about is the fact that you can't get the 661 hp Reventon Roadster with a manual: it's e-gear only. But seriously, you'd be better off worrying about getting killed five times in a row by a shark. No, really.
While everybody and their brother likes the R8, there is a small, but vocal minority that's always thought coupe looked a little funny. We've heard the term "porpoise skull" bandied about. Well, that group of naysayers can now put a sock in it, as the R8 Spyder is simply gorgeous. Gone are the carbon fiber side blades, in are sensible but somehow better looking slab sides. Regardless, it's simply hot. This particular example comes with Audi's 525 hp Lambo-sourced 5.2-liter V10 so we're putting it on our "DO WANT!" list. one of the few knocks on the hardtop R8 is that you just can't quite hear enough of the engine. We imagine hacking the roof off solves that particular problem. Also, the folding soft top operation is slick, and looks like it takes less than the 19 seconds Audi's advertising. Downside? The Spyder weighs 476 pounds more than the Coupe. But seriously, when a car looks this good, would you care? If you do, please remember that the R8 Spyder 5.2 V10 hits 60 mph in four seconds. Glad you don't care either.
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