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пятница, 8 июля 2011 г.

2011 Chrysler 200 Convertible

Chrysler’s convertible becomes something people might actually want to own, not just rent.

January 2011

In its efforts to revamp an entire corporate product portfolio, there are products that Chrysler would like customers to remember fondly as they contemplate their successors—think Jeep Grand Cherokee, Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger—and others that it’d like everyone to forget. The mid-size Sebring sedan and convertible clearly fall into the latter category; not only do they get a thorough makeover for 2011, but they’ve been rechristened Chrysler 200 to put an extra measure of distance between them and their unloved predecessors. Last month, we drove the 2011 200 sedan and discovered that, indeed, it looks and drives much better than the dowdy Sebring sedan. Now Chrysler has released its first official images of and information on the 200 convertible as it attempts to turn its perennial rental car into something people actually want to own.

Blessedly Unrecognizable

Even though the 200 is merely a mid-cycle update of the Sebring, most folks will probably think it’s all-new. Whereas its ungainly predecessor was a disjointed contrivance of the Art Deco–inspired Chrysler Airflite concept car from 2003, the 200 is harmonious and in no way retrospective. The changes to the new convertible mirror those applied to the sedan; the convertible remains the longer of the two (an extension of about three inches accommodates its folding roof) but now the extended body has been made to look sleeker and more attractive.

Specific changes start with a new beak, featuring pointy headlamps and a deeper grille to visually lower the nose, while LED daytime running lamps present a light signature reminiscent of the Audi A3’s. The protective molding has been removed from the doors’ exteriors, cleaning up the profile view, with the trade-off of being more prone to parking-lot door dings. The 200 convertible’s tall decklid seems far less haunch-like than it did on the Sebring convertible, thanks to clever visual tricks that make it look wider, including a diffuser-esque lower bumper insert and a wide, chrome trim piece that spans the gap between the skinny new LED taillamps. As with the Sebring, the 200 will give customers the option to upgrade from the standard cloth softtop to a three-piece folding hardtop.

Same Space, Newfound Style

The four-seat interior has gone through a similar transformation, adopting the 200 sedan’s slick new dashboard with more-appealing gauges, as well as a multifunction steering wheel. The inboard air vents, analog clock, and central touch screen are now gathered within a chrome-rimmed bezel that echoes the new grille. Tucked below that are three climate-control dials and a redesigned center console. Notably, all components are in more or less the same place as before, yet appear far more upscale and sensible. And happily, there is no fake wood or tortoise-shell trim anywhere to be found.

Better on the Boulevard?

Under the hood, the 200 convertible will feature the same choice of engines as the sedan: a 2.4-liter four-cylinder as the base mill and the prolific 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 as an upgrade; in the convertible, all come mated to a six-speed automatic (base 200 sedans feature a four-speed auto). As with most of Chrysler’s reworked 2011 models, steering and suspension improvements have been made to the 200 convertible, hopefully with the same transformative effect.

Full specifications, feature availability, and pricing have yet to be released, but Chrysler did state that the 200 convertible will initially come in two trim levels, Touring and Limited, with a sportier “S” model coming later. The droptop 200 should be in dealerships by spring. Check back for a full report on the convertible, including driving impressions of the non-S models, in coming weeks.

2011 Aston Martin V8 Vantage S Coupe and Roadster

More power and faster looks for the baby Aston.

January 2011

It’s almost as if Aston has taken a page from the Porsche 911 Guide to Model Proliferation in creating the V-8 Vantage S: start with a base car, add some power, and give it the looks of a more expensive model.

In fact, this Vantage S reminds us a lot of Porsche’s new 911 Carrera GTS model, which provides Carrera S performance in a Carrera 4 body. The Aston packages a more powerful version of its V-8 with some of the V-12 Vantage’s aggressive bodywork.

The V-8’s Advantage

In the S, Aston’s 4.7-liter V-8 has been massaged to produce 430 hp and 361 lb-ft of torque, increases of 10 and 14. There’s a new single-clutch automatic, dubbed Sportshift II, which adds an extra ratio (for a total of seven) compared to the non-S V-8 Vantage. The new engine-and-transmission combo ought to improve on the last V-8 Vantage we tested with the six-speed Sportshift transmission, which hit 60 mph in 4.3 seconds. A Sport button activates a quicker shift map and increases throttle sensitivity while also keeping the exhaust’s bypass valves open across a wider swath of the rev range. The automated transmission is standard (read: no available manual) because, Aston tells us, a majority of V-8 Vantage buyers opt for the paddle-shifted Sportshift automatic already.

Chassis changes include a steering rack that’s quicker (15:1 versus the non-S car’s 17:1), and a suspension that has been recalibrated with new springs and dampers. The front brake discs are larger and now feature six-piston calipers.

Looks Fast, Top-Down Version

The Vantage S, which is available as a coupe or roadster, patterns its side sills, rear deck, rear bumper, and carbon-fiber front fascia after those of the V-12 Vantage. A new 19-inch V-spoke wheel design is standard, while lightweight 10-spoke wheels are optional. The rear wheels are a half-inch wider than those of the non-S V-8 Vantage, and all four wheels are wrapped in new Bridgestone Potenza RE050 tires that are 10 mm wider than the base car’s.

With a base price of $139,615 for the coupe and $152,615 for the roadster, the V-8 Vantage S isn’t a huge price leap up from a Sportshift-equipped “base” coupe ($126,365) or droptop ($139,365); those who want a manual transmission will have to settle for the non-S Vantage or trade up to the stick-only $183,535 V-12 Vantage. The Vantage S is available for order now, with U.S. deliveries scheduled to begin in early summer.

While the Vantage lineup still doesn’t hold a candle to the 22-car (and counting!) menu that is the 911 order guide, it shows that Aston Martin is committed to getting everything it can out of its models. When the results end up like this, you won’t hear any complaints from us.

2012 Mazda 3 to Get Face Lift, 163-hp SKYACTIV Engine

The popular 3 could get 40 highway mpg with Mazda’s new SKYACTIV engine and automatic transmission.

February 2011

Mazda has announced that the first recipient of its new SKYACTIV four-cylinder engine will be the face-lifted 2012 Mazda 3, set to debut at the New York auto show in April. The exterior styling has been tweaked, but the real story is, of course, the engine.

Although the company hasn’t yet released specs on the SKYACTIV engine as it will appear in the 3, we know quite a bit about it from our drive of several prototypes equipped with the mill last August. You can read all the details here, but here’s the recap: The iteration we’re likely to see in the Mazda 3 is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder, which was good for 163 hp and 155 lb-ft during development. When it’s burning regular 87-octane gasoline, though, torque decreases by about five percent. For reference, the current 2.0-liter in the 3 makes 148 hp and 135 lb-ft, while the optional 2.5-liter four produces 167 hp and 168 lb-ft.

The engine will pair with Mazda’s new SKYACTIV six-speed automatic transmission, which features an aggressive lock-up clutch for the torque converter. This, combined with the efficient engine, has Mazda hoping for an EPA rating of 30 mpg city/40 highway for the 2012 3—that’s up from bests of 25/33 and 22/29, respectively, for the current 2.0 and 2.5. Stick lovers can rest easy, as the engine will also be available with the company’s slick six-speed manual—although the company isn’t yet revealing the fuel economy for that combo.

The SKYACTIV engine and transmission will eventually be installed in the next-gen Mazda 6, it makes sense for the company to install it first in a small car, where it can reap the PR benefits of the magical 40-mpg figure. We’ll have more updated specs on the 2012 Mazda 3 as we approach its official unveil in April.

2012 Lincoln MKT Town Car Livery and Limousine

Rest easy, the Town Car name lives on.

February 2011

As the last Lincoln Town Car is set to roll off the assembly line in August of this year, many in New York and other metropolises are fretting over the future of transportation as they know it. But, as the body-on-frame sedan drives off into the sunset, livery owners and riders will be comforted by a familiar name adorning its replacement: The Lincoln MKT Town Car. Livery and limousine versions of Lincoln’s new full-size people hauler are ready to fill their cargo holds with Samsonites and Halliburtons as they transport anyone from the prom queen to company execs.

Revealed at 2011 International Limousine, Charter, and Tour show—we’re going to have to rethink our auto-show priorities—the MKT Town Car will be offered in a standard-length “Livery” body style with the option of front or all-wheel drive, as well as a heavy-duty “Limousine” model that is stretchable by up to 10 feet and comes standard with all-wheel drive. Engine info has yet to be revealed (as if passengers even care), but we’re guessing a version of the 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder could power the front-drive livery model, while AWD versions of livery and limo will pack a 3.7-liter V-6 producing about 300 hp. Neither of these boats will be winning any stoplight races, but recall that the V-8 of the original-recipe Town Car sedan was only pushing 260 hp.

Living with the Livery

On to what passengers will really care about. Both versions of the MKT Town Car feature a higher ride height for easier ingress and egress, and, in livery models, the second row is moved back 1.5 inches (the third row disappears altogether). The three-person leather seat also reclines and features a switch to move the front passenger seat if even more legroom is desired. A USB port and 110-volt outlet are available to passengers for juicing up mobile devices, which may come in handy if they spend a lot of time using the MKT Town Car’s Wi-Fi system. The audio can be controlled from the rear seat, so you won’t have to suffer through the driver’s choice of entertainment while sitting in traffic.

Party in Back with the Limo Edition

Stretchable by up to 120 inches, the limo version of the MKT Town Car is built on what Lincoln says is a specially engineered heavy-duty chassis. It features upgrades to the suspension, electric power steering, and transmission, as well as unique wheels and tires (with a full-size spare), different wheel bearings, standard all-wheel drive, and—thankfully—upsized brakes. Most important, the Limo has vanity mirrors in the headliner. For the safety of all—including other drivers—both MKT Town Cars will list a rear-view camera, Sync (including voice-activated controls), and a blind-spot monitoring system as standard equipment.

The new MKT Town Car models will begin rolling off the line of the Oakville assembly plant in Ontario, Canada, next spring, and more details will emerge before then. (Presumably, that timing will coincide with production of the MKT hearse.) It’ll surely be a bit of a strange sight when this Town Car pulls up to chauffer you to your destination, but as we say good-bye to the antique Town Car sedan, something just feels right about the fact that a new generation of Town Car will be there for executives on the move.

Cadillac ATS-V On the Way, Will Get Twin-Turbocharged V-6

A V version of Cadillac’s upcoming smaller sedan already is in the works.

May 2011

With the CTS-V and its awesome, supercharged V-8, GM's finest brand has a vehicle on par with offerings from Audi's Quattro, BMW’s M, and Mercedes-Benz’s AMG. And when the next-generation CTS rolls out, it will share its Alpha platform with a softtop convertible and a smaller sedan, the ATS. Given the success of the CTS-V, Cadillac insiders tell us an ATS-V also is a sure thing.

Theoretically, the CTS-V’s LSA V-8 would fit into an ATS-V, but that could cannibalize sales from the CTS-V. Rather, the ATS-V will be aimed directly at the next-generation BMW M3, which is expected to have a turbocharged inline-six. That, our sources tell us, is why the ATS-V will be powered by a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 that should make around 380 hp.

Six-speed manual and automatic transmissions will be offered. We expect outstanding performance, with 0–60 times below five seconds and a top speed in excess of 170 mph. We have to say, though, that we’d be a lot more comfortable with Cadillac using a V-8—the brand’s last experiment with turbocharged sixes didn’t go so well.

Using a six in the ATS-V also opens up another exciting possibility: a small run of über-ATS-Vs with the incredible LSA—think of it as Cadillac’s Black Series. While that seems unlikely, Chevrolet’s fitment of the engine in the Camaro ZL1 proves that forces within GM will still back overpowered, limited-interest, but boundlessly awesome products.

2012 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Roadster - Official Photos and Info

It may have lost its roof, but Mercedes-Benz’s wingless gull hasn’t lost much else.

May 2011

As soon as we learned that Mercedes-Benz had commissioned its AMG performance division to build a Gullwing redux, we knew a convertible version wouldn’t be far behind. For one thing, its progenitor, the 1950s-era 300SL, was offered in both hardtop and roadster varieties (though never at the same time). Each was beautiful in its own right, and both are pricey collectibles today. And Mercedes-Benz itself repeatedly spilled the ragtop beans, at media gatherings that took place before the launch of the coupe, by dropping the yet-to-be-revealed car into a Super Bowl commercial, and by recently offering its own “spy” shots of the car. But only now has the complete body of information on autodom's worst-kept secret, the 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG roadster, been made public.

There are few surprises. We knew, for starters, that the convertible would be built around an aluminum space frame, just like the coupe. We figured that front hinged-doors and a cloth top would not contribute much additional weight, considering the complex doors and roof-mounted hinges on the coupe. Turns out we were right: At a Mercedes-claimed 3661 pounds, the roadster weighs just 88 pounds more than the company reports for the bewinged car. This is in spite of added bracing around the windshield, the rear axle, and the base of the doors, as well as an additional crossmember to support the fixed roll bars behind the seats. Mercedes-Benz claims that the space frame weighs less than five pounds more than its hardtop counterpart.

The frame for that top is composed of steel, magnesium, and aluminum, with the cloth skin presenting a profile that appears just as sleek as that of the coupe. We expect that shape will work well with the deployable trunk-mounted spoiler to help match the coupe’s high-speed aerodynamics. The three-layer top, which is available in black, red, or tan, may be raised or lowered in a scant 11 seconds at speeds up to 31 mph. Regardless of the top deployment, trunk space roughly matches that of the coupe, at a meager 6.1 cubic feet (versus 6.2 for the coupe).

Something else we knew before the official info release is that the SLS AMG roadster would get the same glorious, AMG-designed, 6.2-liter V-8 as the coupe, sending the same 563 hp at 6800 rpm and 479 lb-ft of torque at 4750 rpm to the rear axle via the same carbon-fiber driveshaft. Likewise, the coupe’s seven-speed dual-clutch transaxle serves as the roadster’s sole gearbox, with four driver-selectable shift modes and a “Race Start” launch-control feature (though we hope that AMG heard our cries for quicker shifts in manual mode). The standard vented and cross-drilled disc brakes and optional two-piece carbon-ceramic discs also are shared with the coupe.

The roadster will offer an optional active suspension with three-mode, driver-selectable adaptive shocks; the options are Comfort, Sport, and Sport Plus. According to Mercedes-Benz, the feature will be offered on the coupe in the future, although for now the roadster alone offers this upgrade over the standard suspension (which is already rather capable). With no powertrain changes of consequence, then, the roadster’s minor difference in mass and—presumably—weight distribution may only slightly affect its ability to match the coupe’s 3.5-second 0-to-60 time and 151-foot 70-to-0-mph stopping distance. Of course, we won’t know for sure until we strap our test equipment to it, but for the record, Mercedes-Benz states the SLS AMG Roadster’s 0–60 time as 3.7 seconds, and its top speed as a very breezy 197 mph (same as the coupe).

Not surprisingly, there are almost no differences between the coupe and roadster from an equipment standpoint, with the aircraft-inspired interior carrying over virtually intact. Added to the convertible as standard, however, are sport seats with Merc’s Airscarf neck-level heaters, a detachable glass wind blocker, and an anti-theft system with cabin monitoring. Also standard are eight airbags—that’s right, four per person—including front head/thorax bags, knee-level airbags, seat-mounted side airbags, and window-level side bags that deploy from the door beltlines.

Another feature that debuts on the ragtop is the “AMG Performance Media” system that combines driver-programmable displays for the car’s navigation-, climate-, and sound-system controls with a new suite of performance-oriented displays. The latter include lateral and linear acceleration figures, engine data, and lap times. On the touchy-feely side of the order form is a new Designo package with exclusive brown paint, leather-lined roll bars, and brown mono- or two-tone leather upholstery. Also available on the SLS AMG roadster is AMG Sepang brown metallic paint and matte black 10-spoke wheels.

Mercedes will release U.S. pricing sometime closer to the car’s market introduction this fall, but we expect prices to start at about $225K, roughly $20K more than the coupe commands.

2012 Porsche Cayman S Black Edition

Shocked? Neither are we. Enticed? Yeah, us too.

May 2011

Black is perhaps most evocative of death or misfortune, but when sprayed on a car, it creates a sinister, menacing aura that we find more than a little alluring. It’s not quite magical enough to make us think differently of, say, the Pontiac Aztek, but pour it over something that has some zing and suddenly, it’s got a lot more pull. Porsche, no stranger to lusty products—and apparently with a surplus of black paint, judging by the previously revealed Black Editions of the Boxster S and 911—is now extending the Black treatment to the Cayman S.

As the name suggests—to say nothing of the other Black Edition cars—the Cayman S Black Edition is the color of evil, as are its lightweight 19-inch Boxster Spyder wheels, air intakes, and exhaust tips. The theme continues inside, including black cloth seats with leather trim—all-hide chairs are an option we expect most buyers will choose—black-faced gauges, and, of course, black trim for the dash and center console. “Black Edition” script adorns the sill plates, and a plaque on the glove box denotes each car’s production number within the limited run. The Cayman Black will be the rarest of the group with only 500 copies set for production. (Porsche will build up to 1911 Black Edition 911s and 987 Black Boxsters.)

Thanks, Cayman R

Accompanying the visual treatments is a predictable 10-hp bump in output, compliments of the Cayman R’s exhaust. The 3.4-liter flat-six produces a total of 330 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque, the latter unchanged from the S. A six-speed manual transmission comes standard, while the equally excellent but not as engaging PDK seven-speed dual-clutch transmission will be on the options list. Other costly extras like carbon-ceramic brakes and an adaptive suspension also are on the menu.

Like the Boxster Black Edition, the darkened Cayman actually represents a savings of several thousand dollars compared to a similarly spec'ed S. For $68,450, the Black Cayman includes navigation, xenon headlights, an upgraded Bose stereo system, and other assorted goodies. Deliveries begin in July, and with just 500 being produced worldwide, you’ll probably need to move quickly to get your hands on one. Given the ominous looks and bargain pricing, it’s certainly worth a shot.

Jaguar C-X75 Hybrid Supercar Headed for Production

A Porsche 918 fighter from the feline brand, albeit without the sweet turbines.

May 2011

It will be real: Jaguar has decided to put the C-X75 supercar, first shown as a concept at last year's Paris auto show, into production. It will be a joint project with Williams F1, and exactly 250 units will be produced. The announcement was made at a press conference in London, and the build run will start in late 2013 and last through late 2015.

Jaguar describes the car as the "fastest and the most efficient supercar on the market." When asked whether this includes the forthcoming Porsche 918, group engineering director Bob Joyce bluntly replied, "Yes." And he added this about the Porsche: "25 kilometers [16 miles] of electric range is good for the [fuel-economy test] cycle, but you are effectively driving with the internal combustion engine all the time." With this car, Jaguar envisions fuel economy of more than 55 mpg—although it didn’t specify if that figure is really mpge—with a pure-electric range of around 30 miles.

Yes, It Should Be Quick

More important for a hypercar, Jag says the car will hit 60 mph in less than three seconds, can achieve 100 mph in less than six, and won’t run into its speed limiter until passing 200 mph. There will be three driver-selectable modes of operation: all-electric, a hybrid mode called Dual, and a full-power Track setting. To refill the batteries, it will have typical regeneration abilities, as well as plug-in recharging capability.

The two-seater’s styling will stay very close to that of the Paris concept, and it will feature all-wheel drive with a small-displacement four-cylinder turbo engine and an "extremely powerful" electric motor at each axle. The power ratio between electric motors and internal-combustion engine is going to be 1:1. This Jaguar won't mark the return of the turbine car, as the micro-turbine technology used for range extension in the show vehicle won’t be ready for production in time. But the company "remains committed to the micro-turbine technology," says brand director Adrian Hallmark. In the long run, Jaguar intends to bring the tech to market in its series-production vehicles, although we’ll believe it when we see them in our office parking lot.

2012 Chevrolet Impala

More pep for your next full-size upgrade at the rental counter.

June 2011

The Chevrolet Impala has loitered in driveways—and more than a few rental lots—in its current iteration since the 2006 model year, picking up features like E85 capability and handful of new colors along the way. A heretical SS model came and went, too, marking the first instance of a Chevy small block V-8 powering an Impala’s front wheels. Six model years later, someone at Chevrolet must have decided a refresh was in order, and so the Impala receives both a powerful new engine and lightly altered styling for 2012.

For 2012, Chevrolet has streamlined the Impala’s engine lineup from two ho-hum V-6s to a single, more-modern V-6. To replace the Impala’s two ancient pushrod powerplants—a 3.5-liter making 211 hp and a “range-topping” 3.9-liter pinching out a mere 230—Chevy dipped into the corporate parts bin and plucked out GM’s 3.6-liter direct-injected six, here making 302 hp and 252 lb-ft of torque. The 3.6-liter can be found powering everything from the Malibu to the Cadillac CTS, and in this application pushes out just 1 hp and 71 lb-ft fewer than did the Impala SS’s 5.3-liter V-8, which was discontinued for 2010. Chevrolet also saw fit to upgrade the Impala’s transmission, yanking out the old-school four-speed slushbox and dropping in a six-speed automatic. The new engine and transmission should net the Impala improved fuel-economy numbers, but we’ll have to wait for its official EPA rating for the exact amount. The large sedan currently achieves 19 mpg city and 29 highway with the smaller 3.5-liter V-6, which isn’t terrible for a ton-and-a-half cruiser. In the somewhat heavier Buick LaCrosse, the 3.6/six-speed combo produces less power than it will here but only returns 17 mpg city and 27 highway.

The Impala’s looks have been gently warmed over, with an emphasis on “gently.” Malibu-like chrome mesh now adorns the grille and fog-light housings, replacing the horizontal slats on last year’s model. The headlights, bumper, and grille openings remain the same. The base Impala now rides on 16-inch aluminum wheels instead of steelies with hubcaps. (We expect more—and hopefully better—photos by the end of the month; the anticipation is killing us.) The interior of the Impala carries over, although Bluetooth connectivity is now standard on all retail Impalas, and optional on those destined for fleets. For driving impressions of the 2012 Impala, we’d suggest you rent one and experience it for yourself—the press fleets aren’t exactly loaded with the things.

2012 Audi R8 GT Spyder

And now, the lighter, more powerful version of the heaviest R8.

June 2011

Consider the R8 lineup complete, or at least symmetrical for now. With the addition of this lightened R8 GT Spyder, Audi has balanced the coupe and convertible sides with three models each: the V-8 cars, the V-10s, and the more-powerful V-10 GT versions. As was the case with the GT coupe, only 333 GT Spyders will be produced for worldwide consumption.

If the hardtop R8 GT is the lineup’s luxury race car, the GT Spyder is better suited for quick pre-race parade laps. It gets the same uprated 5.2-liter V-10 (560 hp, 398 lb-ft of torque) as the GT coupe, again paired solely with Audi’s R tronic single-clutch automated manual for GT duty. The Spyder also sees similar aero and dress-up doodads: a carbon-fiber front splitter and rear spoiler, a carbon-fiber rear bumper with integrated diffuser, and 19-inch wheels. The suspension gets a 0.4-inch drop here, too. The main difference is that the Spyder’s top goes down.

To create the GT Spyder, Audi put the droptop R8 on a diet comparable—but not identical—to the coupe’s. Instead of cutting about 150 pounds in U.S. spec like the hardtop GT (European cars save an additional 70 pounds with lightweight fiberglass seats), the Spyder should lose a mere 107 (availability of the fiberglass seats is still to be determined). And since the convertible car is heavier to begin with, the weight-saving measures should bring it down to the realm of a regular V-10 coupe, around 3800 pounds.

The U.S. cars’ equipment and options haven’t been finalized, but we do know that 90 or fewer examples of the Spyder will be offered in this country. We expect pricing of this now-top-of-the-line R8 to be commensurately range-topping: figure on around $40K more than the R tronic 5.2 Spyder’s base price of $176,150. And, with the added power and weight removal, look for a 0-to-60-mph time of about 3.6 seconds.

2012 Mercedes-Benz M-class / ML350 4MATIC / ML350 BlueTec - Car News

The next Mercedes-Benz ML looks a lot like the old ML, but a lot better, too.

June 2011

Now in its third generation, the Mercedes-Benz M-class is refining the Mercedes SUV experience, rather than reinventing it. The 2012 ML is the same basic size and shape as before, but the platform—shared in part with the new Jeep Grand Cherokee—is new, and the vehicle gets significant upgrades in efficiency and style for 2012.

The exterior appears sleeker and more sculpted, while the most obvious difference in the interior is a switch from round air vents to rectangular, the former now reserved for Mercedes’ sports-car lineup. (It’s worth noting just how similar the instrument layout is to the Grand Cherokee’s.) A big increase in quality and design can be felt inside. A large swath of either wood or metal-look plastic sits before the front passenger, while the driver gets a meaty-feeling steering wheel flanked by new stalks for the transmission, wipers, and cruise control. (The cruise-control stalk, thankfully, has been moved from M-B’s usual placement on the upper left of the steering column to a lower, more-conventional position.) Attractive open-pore wood is on the options sheet, as is a package that includes ambient lighting.

At launch, Mercedes will offer two familiar six-cylinders, while the company’s new twin-turbo 4.7-liter V-8 will follow later. (We’re also told to expect another AMG version soon, as well as a gas-electric and possibly a diesel-electric hybrid.) Both V-6 models will be badged ML350. The direct-injection 3.5-liter gas engine produces 302 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque, increases of 34 and 15 over the outgoing port-injection gas V-6, and should see economy increase 2 mpg in both the EPA city and highway cycle for estimated ratings of 17/22; the 3.0-liter turbo-diesel in the BlueTec is now good for 240 hp and 455 lb-ft of torque, up 30 hp and 55 lb-ft, and will get an estimated 2-mpg city mpg bump for ratings of 20/25. A switch from pressed-in cylinder liners to a spray-on coating in the diesel reduces both weight and friction. Either engine comes coupled to a seven-speed automatic transmission and 4MATIC all-wheel drive. Mercedes claims curb weights for the new model will be comparable to those of the outgoing ML, despite added content.

Look Out, Porsche 911 GT3

Diesel models also get new adjustable engine mounts. Similar in principle to the dynamic engine mounts Porsche installs in some 911 models, Mercedes’ pieces are said to improve comfort by allowing for greater isolation of the engine. (Porsche’s aim is to improve chassis dynamics.)

While VW and Porsche are pulling off-road content out of the new Touareg and Cayenne to cut weight, Mercedes will offer an off-road package on the new M-class with a six-mode selector for different types of driving—auto, sport, winter, towing, and two different off-road settings—as well as a two-speed transfer case, a skid plate, and extra functionality for the optional air suspension. The off-road package won’t be available on U.S. MLs until the 2013 model year, while the Airmatic suspension will continue to be offered here as a part of the Dynamic Handling Package, which also includes 20-inch wheels (19s come standard), adaptive dampers, and the new Active Curve system, a decoupling anti-roll bar that disconnects in off-road situations—as well as normal straight-ahead driving—but reconnects during cornering. A whole suite of driver-assistance systems, the same ones offered on the S-class, either will be included or available: lane-keep assist, blind-spot assist, radar cruise control, and attention assist. Night vision and automated self-parking also are new options for 2012.

The 2012 Mercedes-Benz M-class will go on sale here in September. Pricing will be announced in August; we expect that it, like the shape of Mercedes’ SUV, will remain largely unchanged. That means about $50,000 for an ML350 4MATIC and around $52,000 for a BlueTec.

2012 BMW M3 CRT Lightweight Sedan

BMW builds a lightweight M3 GTS with four doors—and all of its color on the inside.

June 2011

We first told you about BMW’s upcoming lightweight M3 sedan when it debuted as a concept car in April, following that up with a series of spy photos in May. Well, June is nearing its end, and we’d feel just horrible if we missed a monthly installment, so today we’re on to the thrilling conclusion in this three-part series. (At least until the surprise follow-up, when we drive the thing.)

In the lead-up to the Nürburgring 24 Hours race, BMW used its “M Night” celebration to debut the production version of this supersedan, officially called the BMW M3 CRT Lightweight Sedan, CRT standing for Carbon Racing Technologies. Unless you think every sports car needs a roll cage, which appeared on the M3 GTS coupe, the CRT won’t disappoint. (BMW has released video of the car; you can watch it here.)

Our earlier reports speculated that the sedan would make use of a standard M3’s 4.0-liter V-8, making a healthy 414 horsepower, but that won’t be the case. The CRT instead shares the GTS’s 4.4-liter, delivering 450 hp at a screaming 8300 rpm and 324 lb-ft of torque peaking at 3750 revs. Its crankcase is constructed out of an aluminum-silicon alloy, it has individual throttle butterflies, and its exhaust gasses exit through a sport exhaust system with a lightweight titanium muffler.

Carbon Fiber, Now With More Rigidity

This car isn’t called the M3 CRT Big Horsepower though, so let’s get to the things that make it lighter than a standard M3 sedan. Benefitting from new manufacturing processes developed for the carbon-intensive BMW i3 and i8 models coming in 2013, the M3 CRT has a hood that consists of two carbon-fiber sheets encasing an aramid composite honeycomb for added rigidity. As a result, it has the strength of a traditional steel hood with just a quarter of the weight. Compared to a normal M3’s aluminum piece, the weight is halved. Inside the cabin, the front bucket seats use the same process and therefore benefit from the same weight savings. The result is a car that weighs just 3483 pounds despite standard equipment that includes a dual-clutch transmission, navigation, a high-end BMW Individual audio system, and parking sensors. BMW says that, while the official weight savings is 100 pounds, if all this equipment is considered, the real savings is over 150 pounds. And considered alongside the car’s added horsepower, the cuts are good for a ratio of 7.7 pounds for each pony to carry, an improvement of roughly one full pound over the regular M3 sedan.

The M3 GTS carry-overs continue behind each of the car’s 19-inch lightweight wheels (wearing 245/35 rubber up front and 265/35 at the rear), with a set of more-rigid subframes and individually-adjustable dampers. The six-piston front brakes, also from the GTS, use calipers made of a special low-weight compound construction and, in the name of consistent pedal feel, stainless steel brake lines have been fitted.

Freeze Frame

Up until now, we’ve seen the car running around the Nürburgring in dark blue paint, but for its official debut, it now wears frozen (BMW’s word for matte) silver metallic paint with brick-red accents on the grille kidneys, spoilers, and side vents. Inside, the red theme continues, thankfully toned down by numerous swatches of black leather and aluminum trim, both in a carbon-fiber-weave pattern. Each car gets a numbered plaque and the most heavily bolstered rear seats we’ve seen since the old Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16V. It almost looks as if the outboard seats were scooped out and red leather was glued in the holes.

You’ve probably been reading all of this knowing that there has to be some disappointing news somewhere. Here it is: The M3 CRT is limited to just 67 units, and not a single one will make it to the United States. According to BMW USA, items like those revolutionary front seats, which lack airbags, wouldn’t fly here. Because of the extremely low production volume, it’s simply easier to leave our market out of the mix than to give it special treatment. We’d try to be more upset, but let’s be honest: We all saw it coming.