Range Rover, roll over.
At the Geneva Auto Show, Bentley has unveiled a concept of what may be the most lavish production SUV ever built.
The EXP 9 F, especially from its tapered rear, may look like a custom Range Rover Sport with 23-inch chrome rims. But the engine, a 600-horsepower W-12 as seen in the two-door Continental GT Speed, is unlike any Range in a Wellesley strip mall. The center stack is a thin metal enclosure with a glass touchscreen -- there are actual iPads in the back seat with fold-down keyboards -- and the rest of the leather-swathed interior includes room for champagne flutes and a silver picnic set neatly folded in the cargo area.
Bentley will fit an 8-speed automatic transmission from its Mulsanne, but we don't know if the EXP 9 F is riding on a unique chassis or is simply a taller version of the Continental (a coupe that already weighs more than most SUVs). Bentley says it may also offer a hybrid powertrain or the newly introduced 4.0-liter V-8 to customers, who should likely place enough orders for the British automaker to build it next year.
But while the soft leathers and deep pools of polished wood look amazing, how much more luxurious can this Bentley SUV be from the Range Rover, the Rolls-Royce of SUVs that’s been making sumptuous trucks longer than anyone?
Last year, Range Rover introduced a limited-edition Autobiography model with similar specs to the Bentley concept: buttery-smooth semi-aniline leather covering every surface, including the roof and cargo walls; exotic woods; custom drink coolers and swiveling tray; two iPads; and a rear cargo floor made of solid teak. The engine? A supercharged V-8 with “just” 510 horsepower. All for $170,000. The Bentley will no doubt cost the same, if not more, and likely won’t be tuned to tackle the insane off-road challenges the Range Rover can.
But competition does improve the breed, and the bloodline of thirsty, exuberant, enormous trucks doesn’t look to die, even in the face of $5 gasoline.
In one Smart-sized swoop, Rinspeed has solved all of our problems with electric cars, cold pizza, and carpenters.
The Swiss concept automaker has released the first photos of its Dock+Go, a detachable, self-powered storage box that sticks on the back of an electric Smart ForTwo. In one instance, the Dock+Go is a second powertrain that extends the Smart's driving range with a rolling battery, hydrogen fuel cell, or better still, a gasoline engine. Instead of a stubby trailer, Rinspeed describes the Dock+Go as an add-on “pack” since it plugs directly into the car’s rear axle to drive the wheels.FULL ENTRY
Every year, Swiss tuner Rinspeed dreams up another wild car for the Geneva Auto Show, from tuned Porsches to a submersible Lotus to last year's iPhone-controlled EV.
This year's car is tame, even — gasp! — production-capable when it goes on display in March. At 8.2 feet long, the two-seat electric UC? (Urban Commuter, you see) is Smart-sized, yet takes design cues from the larger Fiat 500. The car's 75-mile range and 68-mph top speed don't break any EV barriers, a helpful way to trim costs for Rinspeed's grand plan: an electric car-sharing service integrated with an elaborate electric train network.
Should you wish to travel more than 75 miles, simply drive to a designated station and pull up to a reserved spot on-board, where the QC? can be charged as you're whisked away to your next leg. With Europe's high taxes and sophisticated mass-transit systems, it actually sounds practical.
So far, other companies have taken small steps. In October, an California fleet company said it would rent electric cars at Danish train stations by 2010. Last month, Daimler began producing its electric Smart ForTwo in France, and also started a pilot car-sharing service in Austin, Texas, of gasoline ForTwos. In June, Ontario battery manufacturer Electrovaya
offered hourly EV rentals in Baltimore, and Paris is trying to build a rental fleet of 2,000 electric cars by 2010.
Americans will have to suffice with the diesel-electric Amtrak Auto Train, which runs between Virginia and Florida, as the only car-train-car realization for many years to come.
More than six months have passed since Hyundai began selling its Genesis Coupe in the US, yet no one has taken a serious crack at modifying this Korean "ponycar" to the hilt.
The RMR R460, developed by Millen's aftermarket tuning company Rhys Millen Racing, scraps Hyundai's balanced rear-wheel drive layout and dumps a higher-compression version of the Genesis sedan's 4.6 liter V-8 in the hatch. This is a legitimate mid-engine configuration that, without turbochargers, produces a stout 500 horsepower.
New Zealand-born Millen, the nephew of IMSA driver Steve Millen, competes in the nascent Formula Drift series and did wheelman duty for car movies like "The Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift" and "The Dukes of Hazzard" remake. He's logged plenty of hours in the Red Bull Racing Genesis Coupe drift car, including a record 12 minute, 9 second time at this year's Pikes Peak Hill Climb.
Along with a lowered body, 20-inch wheels, covered grill, and three huge air intakes is a sequential 5-speed manual built to withstand the hefty burnouts Millen requires on the job.
StopTech brakes replace the factory Brembos, and a custom carbon-fiber hatch and minor suspension reworking complete the details. Hyundai says this super Genesis is good for 182 miles per hour.
"Millen was drawn to the design similarities between the Genesis Coupe and the new Ferrari 599XX, which influenced the vehicle’s classic low profile and race-inspired look," according to a press release from Hyundai.
We're not sold on that description, but this mid-engined Hyundai &mdash whether it's for sale or not — should do plenty for the company's blossoming ego.
(All photos: Local Motors)
(All photos: Local Motors)
Wareham-based Local Motors, the start-up Massachusetts automaker behind the Rally Fighter dune racer, has revealed an all-electric hatchback concept that will be begin production in San Francisco within the next two to three years, the company said today.
The four-seat Ethylik, penned by 21-year-old French design student Ugo Spagnolo, is a hyper-aggressive styling exercise on the European hot hatch theme, to which the Ford Focus RS and mid-engined Renault Clio V-6 have become worthy legends.
Specifications are, at this point, speculations. Will there be an electric motor at every wheel to match the car's wild looks, like on the insane Mini QED concept? Or a tamer lithium-ion pack supported by a gas engine, like the Chevrolet Volt?
"We haven't set our hearts on one yet," said lead engineer Mike Pisani, noting that "battery technology could change dramatically" by the time the Ethylik debuts.FULL ENTRY
Tesla took the cover off its curvaceous Model S sedan Thursday, the second phase of the Silicon Valley automaker's lofty plan to sell electric cars for the masses.
If the $109,000 carbon fiber Roadster signified the new company's cocksure stardom against Porsche and the Italians - after all, celebrities and rich enthusiasts are on minimum one-year waiting lists - consider the Model S a detente with Tesla's exotic rivals.
The production version of the electric sedan, absent a $350 million loan from the Department of Energy and a manufacturing plant, will be tamer in performance but no less striking in its respective segment when it arrives in late 2011. Hours after embargoed studio photos of the concept car, above, were posted to a Flickr account, Tesla revealed the specifications at the official California launch: a 300-mile range, 45-minute charging, and zero to 60 miles per hour in 5.6 seconds.
Seven people can cram into the Model S - five adults and two children in a rear-facing seat under the hatch. The entire center console is one massive 17-inch touchscreen LCD, which wasn't demonstrated at the launch. Tesla's bold 300-mile claim, however, will only be met by its longest-range battery (two others will offer 160 and 230 miles). It's likely the 160-mile battery will be standard, and the others will be very pricey options that will see the car soar past the $57,400 base price.
That puts the Model S in the range of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, BMW 5 Series, Jaguar XF, and other premium sedans. But Tesla buyers can now claim a $7,500 federal tax credit for electric and plug-in hybrid cars, which President Obama announced last week in addition to $2.4 billion in federal grants for electric car and battery manufacturers.
Tesla's grand plan to produce an electric car under $30,000 is no secret, but little more than a dream that's at least four years away, if that early. With the promised 100-mile-per-gallon Chevrolet Volt next year and Ford's 2012 roll out of plug-in hybrids, Tesla will have to compete with a slew of moderately priced EVs (and the 2013 Toyota Prius, which surely will have no less than a big fat "80" on its EPA window sticker).
According to CEO Elon Musk, Tesla is on its way to becoming profitable by mid-year after gathering $40 million in additional financing in December. That bodes well for the young automaker, but as old-timers General Motors and Chrysler can attest, a lot can go wrong in a short span of time. Hopefully nothing does until after April, when the Globe takes the Roadster for an exclusive, exhaustive three-day test in California. Check Boston Overdrive in the coming weeks for more details.FULL ENTRY
As automakers cut costs, perhaps they should become blatantly, honestly cheap and follow the Fioravanti Tris.
The Tris, which uses the same bumpers, lights, and doors on all sides of the car, first debuted nine years ago and is showing again at the Geneva Auto Show. While not much has changed since, the Tris is still a robust lesson in trimming manufacturing costs through the use of minimalist, modular design. Provided, of course, that style and embarrassment doesn't matter to the driver.
If a car like the Tris ever came to production, traffic cops would constantly ticket it for parking in the opposite direction of the street. Perhaps Fioravanti could install a steering wheel in the back to clear that up.
An array of automotive-themed iPhone applications – accelerometers, parking reminders, racing games – are little more than cute amusements for waiting in the dentist's office. But the most innovative and useful auto app isn't available for download - it controls a concept car made by Rinspeed, the wild Swiss company responsible for last year's submersible Lotus Elise.
Open the fighter jet canopy of the Rinspeed iChange, climb into the center driver's seat, and plug in your iPhone. A green starter button graphic appears; press it, and the electric sports car is ready to go. Another button closes the canopy, while another raises it several inches to accommodate two rear seat passengers (hence the word "Change"). Need to double-park and grab a quick sandwich? No problem, the hazard indicator switch is there, too, as well as the headlight controls.
It's official, iPhone fanatics: song recognition and 3-D topographic maps are officially lame.FULL ENTRY
So this, a lowered BMW X6, is Chris Bangle's latest, greatest, and final creation. Where is the media firestorm this time?
Bangle, the company's now-departed design chief, has been responsible for the most controversial cars in BMW's history, and despite the criticism, his work has helped sell more BMWs than ever.
His signature "surface flames" and infamous "Bangle butts" have turned every BMW product launch since the 2002 7 Series into a group session of electroshock therapy. Aside from Infiniti's wild FX, mainstream production cars haven't gotten much livelier than a new BMW.
But Bangle's 5 Series Gran Turismo concept looks very tame - and dare we say it - unoriginal, if only because the Z4, 6 Series, 5 Series, and X6 have completely desensitized the auto show crowd. We've seen the big nostrils before, and the body creases and flat, puffy rear ends.
The only bit of surprise comes from the marketing department, which never fails at adding new entries to the dictionary of useless automotive acronyms. Instead of admitting what the 5 Series Gran Turismo really is - a crossover, inflated station wagon, or Chrysler Pacifica clone - BMW has proclaimed it the world's first "Progressive Activity Sedan." According to the press release, that means it "combines the looks and appearance of a sporty BMW Sedan, a modern Sports Activity Vehicle, and a classic Gran Turismo."
Buyers still call the "Sport Activity Vehicle" X5 a plain-old sporty SUV, and still are figuring out what the "Sport Activity Coupe" X6 actually is. When the 5 Series PAS debuts in Geneva next month, Chris won't be there to explain.
Lots of car companies claim to build dream cars. Nearly every luxury and exotic car manufacturer has a department for special orders, and there's no shortage of tuners that turn these cars inside-out, but aside from Louis Vuitton seats and stainless steel hoods, there's not much original thought involved. Chinese brand BYD has the lofty phrase "Build Your Dreams" in its name, but its creations are nightmares. Even Tesla Motors can't climb its way out of a Lotus Elise.
Local Motors of Wareham, Mass., is building bespoke automobiles the old-fashioned way: take a sketch, bring the buyer into the shop at every step, and churn out a car that resembles no other set of wheels on earth. The company's website even invites designers to compete and submit drawings for potential production.
Globe reporter Emily Sweeney and photographer Steve Haines got a tour of the factory and its handsome Rally Fighter, above, which is an upscale Baja buggy that will cost $50,000 when it enters production this spring. Local Motors also has selected a wild design for a three-passenger electric vehicle, dubbed the "Boston Bullet".
It's certainly courageous of CEO John B. Rogers, Jr. - a retired Marine and Harvard Business School grad - to gather millions of dollars and pay 10 employees in these times. Give this man a nice federal loan - he'd deserve it.FULL ENTRY
About Boston Overdrive
|Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
|Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
|John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
|Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
|Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on About.com. He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
In the garage: Mazda 5, Dodge Neon
|George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
In the garage: Lifted 1999 Jeep Cherokee