By Carl Malek
Rather than wait until the formal start of the Shanghai Auto Show, Chevrolet has decided to give the world a sneak preview of the 2012 Chevrolet Malibu. The lone exterior image that GM has officially released showcases the models brand new LED tail lamps, which are based off the units currently on the Chevrolet Camaro sports car and are designed to help give the car a more aggressive appearance. In subsequent days, GM released two interior teaser photos that depicted the car’s significantly-upgraded center stack. It’s clear that GM means business in terms of catching up to the class leaders in in-car connectivity and technology. The photos look great; material quality and feel still remain to be seen, of course, but the Cruze acquits itself well in this regard.
When the 2012 Malibu is formally revealed on April 19th in Shanghai, expect to see a car that will be wider but shorter than the model it replaces, as well as having a much more rakish and cohesive exterior design theme. To go with its new exterior styling the 2012 Malibu will ride on GM’s Epsilon II platform. Epsilon II is the same excellent platform that is currently used on the Buick Regal and Buick LaCrosse. As far as powertrains are concerned, the 2012 Malibu will have a four cylinder only engine lineup when it does eventually go on sale, which would most likely include the 2.4 liter Ecotec four cylinder and the 2.0 liter turbo four. Unlike the current Malibu, we expect that there will be no V6 option available.
By James Wong
Sometimes too much power can be overwhelming. This sounds a bit impossible to those accustomed with the mantra ‘power is better’. Sit behind the wheel of some cars though, and a certain something in you cowers in fear, secretly hoping that you didn’t have the responsibility of driving it. You just wouldn’t make full use of the power, not on the public road, because the car just doesn’t inspire the confidence for all-out driving. Not so for the Twingo 133 Cup, which cleanly falls into the category of cars that you just want to wring out to within an inch of its life. You know the type – a revvy, naturally aspirated engine with just enough muscle to fling a lightweight body to the horizon. The Japanese Domestic Make (JDM) Civic Type-R captures this description to the highest degree, but the 133 Cup is a distilled version, although no less diluted.
The 133 Cup is the cheapest entry into Renaultsport ownership and it shows in some ways. Take the door panels, which are covered in hollow, hard plastics. There is nothing much soft to touch in the interior save for what’s important – the supple and supportive Recaro seats, the leather-wrapped steering wheel with the yellow centre indicator and the ergonomic short-shifting leather and metallic gear lever. The gearbox also features 5 gears which is a bit archaic in this day and age. The rear Twingo logo on the bootlid is also printed, unlike the metal badges that we’re so used to. But, for the money it is reasonable considering that the car retains Twingo practicalities, such as a ridiculously spacious interior with comfortable seating for 4 adults. Coupled with the fact that it is a full-blown Renaultsport product and the car does start to appear like a bargain.
By Carl Malek
Even though the MINI brand is currently seated at the bottom rung of BMW’s brand ladder, the company has always positioned itself as being more premium than mainstream. To help prove that point, MINI has pulled the curtains off the MINI Inspired By Goodwood Package, which will be on display at the Shanghai Auto Show. MINI has had its fair share of special edition models produced throughout the company’s long history, but the MINI Inspired By Goodwood will be positioned as the most expensive model in the MINI lineup.
Starting with a MINI Cooper S hardtop model, the company leveraged its connections with fellow BMW brand Rolls-Royce to bring some of the elegant equipment and features that would otherwise be more at home in Rolls Royce models like the Ghost and the Phantom. Nearly every surface in the new MINI has been covered in the same type of leather that is regularly reserved for Rolls products, and the door handles and dashboard are covered with burled walnut accents.
By Carl Malek
Earlier this year, the 2011 BMW Z4 GT3 proved to the world that it was capable of winning races when it took the checkered flag at the Dubai 24 hours race. Not wanting to rest on a job well done, BMW removed the car from its well-earned place in the winners circle and took it back to the test track to help prepare the car for the first series of customer entries in the 2011 GT3 competition.
Now, the BMW Z4 GT3 resembles its street legal cousin but only in name and in its basic exterior shape. Most of the body panels on the GT3 have been extensively modified and altered to help the car achieve maximum aerodynamic efficiency while keeping the vehicle planted on the track. BMW engineers also performed a engine transplant under the hood of the Z4 GT3, replacing the roadgoing Z4’s six-cylinder powerplant with the same 4.4 liter V8 that sees duty in the limited-edition BMW M3 GTS. The V8 channels all its horses to the car’s rear wheels through a specially-tuned six speed sequential manual gearbox that is shifted with steering wheel mounted paddles.
By Roger Boylan
The Lexus CT200h is a luxury economy car. At first I didn’t know what to make of it. In the old days, this would have been a contradiction in terms. If you had the dough, you bought a luxury car with a purring V8 and h leather sofa in front, and if you were poor,like most of us, you pedaled your econobox to and from the workhouse. In the first instance, you were resigned to having a gas guzzler on your hands, because that was the price of luxury; in the latter case, “economy” meant a raucous interior and bouncy ride, but at least you were getting good mileage. And that was that, for a long time. True, there were attempts over the years to winch faux “luxury” onto an economy platform: ”Cimarron by Cadillac” and the Chrysler-Maserati TC come to mind, although I wish they wouldn’t.
Then, in the ‘90s and early ‘00s, the market expanded and SUVs became crossovers and pickups acquired leather interiors and suddenly just about every form of automotive cross-fertilization was fermenting in the lab, from the Suzuki X90 to the Porsche Cayenne. But the CT200h trumps all thosebecause it’s not only a luxury economy car, it’s a luxury hybrid economy car, and a cheap—or should I say “inexpensive?”—Lexus, to boot, with a starting sticker price a hair under $30K (and going up to just under $40K, with all the bells and whistles). OK, that’srelatively inexpensive, but it’s still miles less thanother Lexi.