Production EVO XWhat has it been? Months? Years? Decades? We're so used to speculation and rumors about the upcoming Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X that it's hard to remember a time when we were actually satisfied with mere Evo VIIs, VIIIs, and IXs. But finally, here it is, the production 2008 Evo X, albeit in JDM right-hand-drive spec.
As predicted back before man first landed on the moon, the new Evo X is based on the latest iteration of the Lancer platform and it's vastly more stylish than any of its glorious ancestors. Take a look at the hood, with cooling vents cut into it and that NACA duct just behind them. Or how about the vents built into the front fenders? Tasty beyond tastiness. Naturally, the fenders are blistered to cover oversize tires, the front air dam drops down to accommodate a huge intercooler, and the rear wing is big enough to double as a buffet table at a Kiwanis picnic. And out back are two tail pipes. It's still kind of stubby looking, but stubby never looked this good before.
Having gushed so far, let's point out that the standard 18-inch alloy wheels aren't exactly thrilling. The 12-spoke wheels would be better with seven fewer spokes sunk deeper into each wheel. But, hey, nothing is easier to change than wheels.
There's no reason to think the Evo X won't be exactly what we've been expecting, with power coming from the all-new, all-aluminum but-still-turbocharged 2.0-liter 4B11 four. While the 4B11 continues such 4G63 (God rest its soul) traditions as twin overhead cams and four valves per cylinder, it adds MIVEC variable valve control to the mix and weighs about 50 pounds less. Output should come in at just about 300hp and supporting that will be either a standard five-speed manual or optional twin-clutch paddle-shifted six-speed. The transmission is similar in concept and construction to VW's DSG gearbox and the power-shifting technology is likely to be named SST.
Of course, all-wheel drive is also returning and Active Yaw Control (AYC), Super All-Wheel Control (S-AWC), Anti-Skid Control (ASC), and an Active Center Differential (ACD) will all be part of the package. That much technology should mean this car will stay upright and on course under virtually any conditions, short of a Sidewinder missile detonating beneath it while cornering at triple-digit speeds along a cow path.
There are all sorts of other promises: more aluminum in the all-independent suspension to cut unsprung weight, a much stiffer structure and even something called comfort. But everyone at SCC is still frustrated. Because, dammit, no one here has driven the real Evo X yet.
The next revolution in the Evolution saga should hit our fair shores this fall. Frankly, we'd vote to cancel summer if that meant driving this car three months earlier.
Rumors&Lies* VW has introduced a seven-speed version of its DSG gearbox. It could migrate to vehicles like the GTI by as early as next year.
* According to KTVK-TV in Phoenix, two Scottsdale, Arizona residents have had their licenses suspended after they were involved in an illegal street race last April, during their off-hours, using personal vehicles.
* According to the Florida Highway Patrol (as reported in the Sun-Sentinel), in late April, Stephen Vivarttas, 18, was allegedly street racing his Dodge Neon SRT-4 against a silver Ford Mustang just after midnight, near West Palm Beach when he hit a curb, spun, and flipped several times. Vivarttas, who wasn't wearing a seatbelt, was ejected from the modified Dodge and died in an empty lot. The driver of the Mustang was still being sought at the time of writing.
* Not only is Mazda likely to bring over the small Mazda2 to the US, it looks like Ford will also bring over that car's stablemate, the next-generation Fiesta, when it debuts in 2009.
* Jeep has introduced a 'Rallye' package for the Compass model that includes some lights and wheels and stuff. It's almost enough to make the Compass a plausible sport compact. Almost.
Gran Tur-NismoHere's the most shocking thing about Nissan's current (fifth-generation Z-car) 350Z: it's already been around for five years. That's geriatric in car terms and so late in a product's lifecycle that the manufacturer's greatest concern has to be fighting off senility.
The seriously tweaked 2007 Nismo 350Z goes on sale at Nissan dealers this July and features some extensive aerodynamic rubs, including a new front fascia incorporating a massive chin spoiler, radical side skirts, an underbody rear air diffuser, and a rear wing big enough to keep an Airbus A380's ass ground-bound. With the potential of so many aerodynamic forces acting on the Nismo Z, the body has been reinforced with additional welds and front and rear structures.
Mechanically the 306hp, 3.5-liter VQ35HR used in other 350Zs carries on and it's backed exclusively by the familiar six-speed manual transmission. But there is a Nismo exhaust system, and the suspension has been tuned for even better performance. The Rays-built wheels are branded as Nismo products and are 18x9-inchers in front and 19x10s in the back. They're wrapped inside 245/40WR18 front and 265/35WR19 rear Bridgestone Potenza RE050A tires.
There are plenty of logos inside to remind the driver how special the vehicle is. And the trim has also been tweaked to be oh-so-lovely. But how special will take a test by us. That should happen soon.
Subie Builds The CamryAre you attracted to the room, comfort and bulletproof reputation of the Toyota Camry? But deep inside, would buying a car from the newly crowned 'World's Largest Car Company' make you feel ordinary and unimaginative? Here's the solution: buy a Camry made by Subaru.
That's right, Subaru of Indiana is now assembling Camrys for Toyota at its plant in Lafayette. Now you can drive a Camry while convincing yourself that deep beneath all that conventional engineering lurks the quixotic soul of a WRX or Outback. Camry production at the Lafayette plant started in April, almost exactly one year after the two companies had announced the production-sharing collaboration. The Subie plant built about 120,000 vehicles-Tribeca SUVs and Legacy sedans and wagons-during 2006 and the addition of Camry production should boost total output to well over 200,000.
"The Camrys are rolling and so is Indiana," said state governor Mitch Daniels at a ceremony commemorating the start of Camry production. "We are honored by the new investment in our state and the confidence in Hoosier workers." Who says governors won't take controversial stands? We applaud his political courage.
Suzuki's New 2008 SX4Though easily overlooked, Suzuki has carved itself a relatively secure micro-niche by selling a solid line-up of small and mid-size SUVs and quirky cars. For 2008 however, a big play for the mainstream is being made with the new SX4 sedan that debuted at April's New York auto show.
At 177.6 inches long, the SX4 is actually an inch longer than a Honda Civic sedan, but its dinky 98.4-inch wheelbase is actually a full 7.9 inches shorter than the Civic's and just 1.9 inches longer than the much smaller Honda Fit's. The Japanese-built SX4 is also tall, at 60.8 inches-3.8-inches taller than the Civic. If these seem like odd proportions, that's because this Suzuki is an oddly proportioned vehicle.
It's also an oddly handsome machine with a pronounced wedge shape to its profile and quarter windows buried into its A-pillars for better visibility. Standard 17-inch wheels and 205/50R17 tires filling out the fender blisters also help the looks. But there's little reason to believe the front-drive SX4 will be an aggressive corner carver, considering its ordinary MacPherson strut front suspension and (yawn) rear torsion beam suspension. That doesn't mean it won't be without its performance attractions, however.
Under the hood is a relatively large, all-aluminum, 2.0-liter, DOHC four, rated at a robust 143hp and supported by either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic. Despite lacking any variable valve timing, the engine is rated at 3hp more than the 1.8-liter, SOHC VTEC four that's standard in the Honda Civic DX, LX and EX. No, the SX4 won't be a rocket, but it should do an admirable job of keeping up with traffic. The 2008 SX4 should be on sale as you read this.
Spied!M3-Munching Benz At The NrburgringThe appearance of a new BMW M3 is always worth celebrating. For everyone, that is, except the guys who work across Germany at Mercedes-Benz, where any challenge from the upstart Bavarians is treated as an insult. And the only way to respond is to build a faster car.
Caught at the Nrburgring is the all-new 2008 Mercedes-Benz C63, which is basically the Stuttgart company's small C-Class sedan mated to the AMG-assembled 6.3-liter V8 installed in larger vehicles like the E63 and S63 performance sedans. In cars like the E63, this powerplant is rated at 507hp, but it's expected to be tamed to about 450hp in the C63, so Mercedes won't get a bunch of pissed-off E63 buyers complaining their car isn't as quick as a lowly C. The sole transmission offered with this engine is likely to be Mercedes' excellent seven-speed automatic.
With the M3's high-winding 4.0-liter V8 rated at 420hp, the C63's 450 horses ought to be enough to make this an interesting race. However it's also likely these two competitors will offer significantly different driving experiences, with the BMW living in the high-rev stratosphere, and the Mercedes awash in low-end torque. Expect the C63 here early in 2008.
Spied!2008 Accord V6 CoupeWith Toyota offing the somnambulant Solara coupe and Chevy putting the hideous Monte Carlo out of our misery after 2007, it might seem the market for front-drive coupes has simply vanished. But Honda still sells a lot of Accord coupes and it will be facing the gorgeous all-new Nissan Altima coupe during 2008. So Honda has responded with an all-new Accord Coupe.
Obviously, this new Accord is close in design and detail to the Accord Concept Coupe displayed at Detroit's auto show back in January. No bad thing. This is going to be a slick-looking Accord with a more angular look up front and more aggressive sculpting along the flanks than the current model. Don't expect much change mechanically, as the current four- and six-cylinder engines, with their accompanying transaxles, are likely to return intact. There's some chance the V6 will swell from 3.0- to 3.2-liters, as all V6s in the car's more expensive brother, the Acura TL, now displace 3.5 liters.
Inside will be a more extravagant interior than in previous Accords, with larger, chrome-ringed main instruments and enough on-board electronics to fill every Best Buy west of the Mississippi twice over.
Both the new Accord Coupe and its companion sedan should be on sale within the next few... oops, they just showed up at your local Honda dealer.
Chevy's TripletsA few years ago, Chevrolet sold itself as an iconic all-American brand, right up there with baseball and apple pie. But in the 21st century, Chevy is a global brand, sold in most of South America, a lot of Asia and probably Antarctica. And global brands can't just wrap themselves in red, white and blue, and hope patriotic fervor leads to sales. Nope, global brands actually need attractive products.
At the New York auto show, Chevrolet showed three micro car concepts. All three products of GM's design studio in Inchon, South Korea. Yup, no Americans were involved with developing these cars, beyond writing the press releases.
Sort of metallic frog green, the Beat is a front-driver powered by a 1.2-liter turbocharged engine and is supposed to evoke images of tuners and high-energy technology. It also kind of looks like an Equinox SUV that's been squeezed in a vise-shrunken-head technology applied to automobiles.
The brownish/reddish one is the Trax, which is, Chevy says, "an urban crossover concept equally at home on the trails or in traffic." Yeah, but will it be at home, parked in a suburban garage next to rusting exercise equipment? Whatever, the Trax has all-wheel drive and is powered by a 1.0-liter gas engine.
Finally, the ominously dark concept is the Groove, an experiment in (and this is Chevy's word, not ours) "funkastalgia." The Groove's appearance is supposed to be "too tough-looking to be cute" with a combination of bold body shapes and old-school detailing. It's a front-driver powered by a 1.0-liter diesel engine.
All three concepts are more attractive than any Chevy micro car has a right to be. But no matter if they're straight outta Inchon or Compton, what really matters is if they have an effect on future production Chevys. That's something we'll find out over the next decade.
The Second Battle Of AltamontBack in December 1969, the Rolling Stones, Santana, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Jefferson Airplane and The Flying Burrito Brothers appeared at Altamont Raceway in California's eastern Alameda County. With security provided by the beer-enriched Hell's Angels Motorcycle Club, the ill-organized event resulted in three accidental deaths, four intentional births and the stabbing and beating to death of 18-year-old Meredith Hunter. To much of the media, it all boiled down to a chaotic battle between the Hells Angels and a bunch of intoxicated teenagers.
Almost 38 years later, Altamont Raceway is now called Altamont Motorsports Park and it finds itself locked in another battle to save itself and serve the motorsport community. It seems that, in 1999, Mark Rivard bought a plot of land overlooking the track with the intention of building his home there and eventually buying the then-moribund racing facility and closing it. Instead, the same group that's developing the Riverside Motorsports Park in nearby Merced County bought Altamont in December 2005 and invested a reported $1.8 million into repaving the half-mile oval, upgrading the infield road course, and generally fixing things up. It re-opened in March 2006 with NASCAR oval racing, club events on the infield courses, and yes, drifting.
But Mr. Rivard built his dream home (and a motocross track) about 120 feet from the track anyhow. And now, apparently, he's unwilling to put up with the noise and crowds racing naturally produces. He has organized a group called 'Community for a Better Altamont' (CBA) that is dedicated to closing the Altamont Motorsports Park. And the first thing to go has been drifting.
To list all CBA's complaints against Altamont would take pages and includes everything from building code violations to promoting illegal free concerts and a threat to endangered species like the Joaquin kit fox and California tiger salamander. But drifting got some specific wrath for attracting, it was alleged, street racing on adjoining roads and illegal narcotics traffic. So drifting has been banned, while NASCAR and club events for Porsches and Ferraris and other sports cars continue-albeit under threatening conditions.
Why is drifting in particular such a problem? Some of it may have to do with The Fast & The Furious. "The movies that have come out have done a disservice to this segment of motorsports," says John Condren, the CEO of the company now controlling Altamont. "It's tough for track owners to present them in a positive light. The perception is that they're all gang-bangers. It's not my job to clean up drifting's image, but it is my job to promote motorsports."
There also seems to be confusion on the part of some Alameda County lawmakers about the differences between drifting and autocrossing. According to the Contra Costa Times, county supervisor Scott Hagerty insisted at one meeting that an "Auto-X" event was, in fact, disguised drifting. "Would you admit your 'Auto-X' was drifting?," Hagerty asked Mark Melville, the track's VP of operations. When the answer he got was "No, sir", that led to what the paper described as an "angry tirade" where he claimed the track ownership couldn't even keep its stories straight.
Here's the bottom line: California and most other states are losing motorsport facilities more rapidly than they can be replaced. In Alameda County, home to Oakland and its notorious 'side shows' the need to get people off the street and into regulated facilities is particularly acute. If the people who use these facilities don't fight for them, they'll disappear. And right now, the second battle of Altamont is at best, a toss-up.