DemonologyAre the Germans trying to dump the Chrysler from DaimlerChrysler? Will GM buy it? If good cars are the result, then who cares? At the Geneva auto show, Dodge showed a concept car that looked as if it would be one dang tasty machine: the Demon.
Demon is a name from Dodge's kind-of-glorious past. It was used on a version of the Plymouth Duster (essentially a fastback version of the old Dart/Valiant) in 1971 and 1972 before cowardice set in, renaming it the Dart Sport. But this new Demon is a small roadster aimed right at the heart of the Mazda MX-5/Pontiac Solstice/Saturn Sky class.
While Dodge has teased us with mini-Vipers before, the Demon is better finished than those previous concepts, has styling that isn't so clearly derivative of the Viper, and seems to make more production sense. Riding on a 95.6-inch wheelbase (3.9 inches longer than that of the current MX-5) and powered by a 172bhp, 2.4-liter version of the 'world' four-cylinder engine used in the Caliber that's ripe for forced induction, the styling includes the Dodge signature crosshair grille and a three-plane rear surface. The wheels are 19-inchers and the transmission is a six-speed manual.
Does the world need another small roadster? Who knows? But we know we could certainly use a Demon with the 300bhp turbo engine from the Caliber SRT-4.
Rumors&Lies* Yes, it's true, the management of Primedia has put its enthusiast magazine titles up for sale. And that includes Sport Compact Car. If you'd like to buy the group and have a spare billion or so sitting around, contact our bosses through www.primedia.com.
* Toyota has decided to build yet another North American assembly plant. The latest one will go up in Mississippi, near the glamorous and sophisticated burg of Tupelo. That's right, Toyota is coming to the birthplace of Elvis Presley. From 2010, Highlander SUVs will be built there. You can't miss it. It's down the end of Lonely Street, at Handbrake Hotel.
* The XM and Sirius satellite radio systems are in the midst of a merger. Finally, the beige homogenization we've all prayed for is at hand.
* Slowing sales have led Nissan to offer early retirement and buyout packages to some of its workers at the Smyrna, Tennessee assembly plant.
* Neither rumor nor lie, Jose Manuel Espinosa, 22, said to be a member of what police call an "illegal street racing club", died in late February while allegedly street racing his 2000 Pontiac Trans Am against a late-model Mustang in Stockton, California. Supposedly racing on a Sunday afternoon along Stockton's Wilson Way, according to the Stockton Record, Espinosa swerved to avoid traffic and crashed into an abutment. He later died after being taken to hospital. Espinosa's death was one of at least seven in February attributed to street racing by California authorities.
* A bill before the Nevada State Senate would impose a minimum fine of $400 and 50 hours of community service for anyone caught street racing in the state. Driver's license suspensions and car impoundments are also part of the proposed law.
To Infiniti And BeyondInfiniti has made some big changes to its two-door coupe, widening the gap substantially from its G35 sedan brother. The biggest news is that a high-revving, 3.7-liter variant of the VQ35 engine Nissan happily shoves in everything from Altimas to Quests will now power the aptly named G37 coupe. No word on output, but it should be stout. After all, it's a non-turbo version of the engine that will power the GT-R. That's pretty juicy stuff-too bad all we have is this lousy sketch.
What on Earth?In a weird arrangement with its sponsors, the Honda RA107s competing in Formula One this year will carry an Earth-themed livery to indicate Honda's environmental awareness, with very few of the traditional sponsor decals and paint.
Apparently, it all ties into a website sitting at www.myearthdream.com. "Anyone who wishes," the site explains, "will have the opportunity to have their name on the car, make a pledge to make a lifestyle change to improve the environment and make a donation to an environmental charity. Under the concept of 'our car is your car', each name will form a tiny individual pixel which will help build the image of Planet Earth on the car. Each name will be visible on the website when you make the pledge, or under a microscope on the car." So anyone can be a teeny-weeny micro-sponsor. Universal Music and Gatorade are participating sponsors with Fila, IBM and many others. However, Bridgestone will probably be the only corporate name that's featured prominently.
When Formula One cars become environmentally aware, the world has truly changed.
Hakaze. GesundheitIt's official: Mazda's concept cars have been downright bizarre this season.
The latest is the Hakaze Concept, shown at the Geneva auto show, that looks something like a cross between a Swiss Army knife and a stick of butter.
According to Mazda, the Hakaze is "a four-seat, coupe-style, compact crossover SUV, designed at Mazda's European Design Centre and aimed at people in their 30s and 40s who lead active, adventurous lifestyles." In other words, it's a car for what a lot of people imagine they are and few actually can be. But that's true for most concept machines.
Designed along the same themes as the Nagare and Ryuga concepts, the Hakaze is unlikely to ever reach production. But apparently Mazda is committed to making something that looks like this.
A Hot AbarthWhile most of the sport compact world likes to date its origins back to cars of the 80s, like the Toyota Corolla AE86 and original Honda CRX, the truth is that there were small performance cars way before then. Even before the Datsun 510. Back when the Japanese were still digging out from under the rubble of World War II, Abarth tuned the Fiat 500. Eventually, Abarth became Fiat's in-house tuning firm, but just as the Japanese were ramping up, Fiat let the badge falter and disappear. Now it's on the way back.
At the Geneva auto show, Fiat put the Grande Punto Abarth on display, as a sort of teaser for the revived Abarth performance division. To be produced later this year (for sale in Europe), the Grande Punto Abarth will be powered by a 150bhp, 1.4-liter turbocharged four driving the front wheels. Since the car is smaller than a GTI, it should still make for some interesting performance. Particularly neat is the air vent subtly sculpted into the roof.
The even more radical Punto shown alongside the Abarth is the Grande Punto Abarth S2000, which, along with stealing its name from Honda, will have at least 200bhp and all-wheel-drive for rally competition.
Of course, with Fiat's name in America permanently corroded by the insta-rust cars sold here during the 70s and 80s, there's virtually no chance the company's products will ever return to this market.
Spied! Mercedes C63Audi already has a V8 monster called the RS4; BMW and Lexus are readying their V8-powered M3 and IS-F models. Mercedes can't afford not to have a super-high-performance version of its new C-Class sedan in the inventory. So here it is.
This is the C63 AMG with power from the same 6.3-liter V8 that's used in other AMG offerings like the S63, ML63 and E63. In the E63, this engine is rated at an epic 507bhp and backed by a seven-speed automatic transmission. If all that power comes over to the C63 (along with the expected suspension, tire and braking fortifications), the resulting performance could dwarf the 400bhp-or-so M3 and IS-F. But AMG may detune the C63 just to remain safely within the boundaries of known physics. Expect it here early 2008.
My FairladyResponding as it must to ever-improving competition, Nismo is campaigning V8-powered Fairlady Zs (350Z to us) in the Japanese Super GT Championship. That's right (and not for the first time), Nissan has built a V8-powered Z-car in order to go racing.
Running in the GT 500 class, the new Z runs a naturally aspirated 4.5-liter V8 replacing the turbocharged V6 from last year. The chassis has been modified to accept the bigger, badder engine and to provide a more solid foundation for competition.
Here's a piece of history: in 1981, Bob Sharp Racing, then Nissan's factory team in the United States, built a 280ZX powered by a 4.5-liter V8 engine-from the Japanese-market Nissan President luxury car-to compete in the IMSA's GTO series. And the primary driver of that car was none other than Paul Newman. Yup, the same guy who makes that tasty salad dressing and voiced a character in Cars. Unfortunately, the machine never had much success. Here's hoping Nismo has a better time in Super GT.
Audi-tudeAudi has pledged to compete with BMW and Mercedes-Benz in every market sector, hence the A5 coupe. The better news is this high-performance S5 version, coming to take on BMW's M3 coupe.
Naturally, the four-seat A5/S5 features Audi's signature Quattro all-wheel-drive system in a structural package based on the upcoming next-generation A4 sedan. There will ultimately be a convertible version to replace the soft-top A4. The basic A5 will be powered by the A6's 3.2-liter direct injection FSI V6 rated at 265bhp and backed by either a six-speed manual or CVT automatic. The S5 will get the 4.2-liter V8 from the S4, with addition of direct injection FSI technology as used in the R8 supercar. The S5's V8 should move to the beat of 350bhp and be mated to a new sequential manual DSG gearbox.
With the engine pushed further back than in other Audis, the 2008 A5/S5 promises to be the best-balanced machine to come out of Ingolstadt. Audi's US dealers will have them by the fall.
One LoveSpied here is the rear-drive 2008 BMW 1 Series coupe which is about the size of a VW Rabbit and will probably be powered (in America) by BMW's magnesium-alloy block, 3.0-liter, in-line six (the rest of the world will be able to buy it with four-cylinder engines, but the US will be six-only). The idea is to recapture those entry-level customers BMW has shed as it moved relentlessly upmarket. There should also be a convertible version eventually-perfect for sorority girls at the University of Southern California.
With an engine rated at about 230bhp, the 130i coupe ought to be quick even in its most basic form. And it really ought to handle like a BMW. But the best rumor is that the 335i's twin-turbo engine may make it into a 300bhp M version. If the 1M happens, expect it to get here about a year after the regular 1 Series coupe, which is slated for early 2008.
All-new xB/xD interior.
Scion of the TimesScion has finally decided to retire the xA subcompact and xB lunchbox. The 2008 xB blends elements of the first generation with more muscular styling as well as a wider track, longer wheelbase and overall length, plus a lower ride height. The car will be powered by the same 158bhp 2.4-liter VVT-I engine as the tC. and it gets disc brakes all round.
Looking more like the xB, the all-new xD replaces the xA, and is now the entry-level model. With a sharper back end and a more aggressive front, the xD packs more interior space-and more power, thanks to a new 128bhp, 1.8-liter engine. Both models are available from late summer, with five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmissions-although the xB has the option of sequential shifting on its auto.
There's a choice of base or trance club audio systems. Both the 160-watt standard or premium Pioneer audio system come with iPod connections and rear head unit outputs for additional amps. Though no word yet on the color-changing mood lights we loved so much in the xB.
The aftermarket is already gearing up, with rumors that Scion masters Five Axis Models will be producing aerodynamic and interior parts by the time they drop at dealerships. Pictured above (in gold) is a Five Axis-tuned second-gen xB with revised bodywork and Volk Racing wheels.
In addition to the new models is the slightly (very slightly) revised Scion tC for 2008. That means new headlights, new taillights, revised bumper covers, some tweaked interior bits and iPod connectivity. Otherwise, it's the tC we've all grown to sorta/kinda like. The 2.4-liter VVT-I four will remain the sole powerplant and it will continue to be backed by either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transaxle.
New Mazda2 Debut!Here is the next Mazda2: direct competitor for cars like the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris and Nissan Versa. It was just released at the Geneva auto show and is due in Europe later this year, replacing the current Mazda2. The question is, will this car be coming to America? Though Mazda has described the new 2 as having "a dynamic design to attract customers worldwide", it has yet to say whether it will make it to these shores. But the Fit, Yaris and Versa are all selling well, so why not? More details on this dinky, five-passenger, front-driver (expect the engine to be in the 1.5-liter range) as we get them.