Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Luigi the Turbo

Five-buck-a-gallon gas is everything Fiat needs to return to an American market that has largely forgotten that "FIAT" was more a prophetic acronym than car company when it was last run out of town.

A too-darling little 500 that carries four and splits the difference between a Smart ForTwo and a Mini Cooper on the road-legal rollerskate scale is in dealerships now, but it's a 100-horsepower wheezer.

Coming for 2012 is what we really want: The turbocharged Fiat 500 Abarth, which should show 180 ponies to a mere 2,350 pounds: Luigi's own 13-pounds/horsepower laugh riot.

The Abarth joins the Nissan Juke, stripper VW GTI and upcoming Chevy Sonic RS/Ford Focus/Fiesta ST in the Big-Punch Fourbanger Rodeo that tries to mate mid-20s fuel economy to everything-you-need-for-the-street performance.

Anyone who knows how quickly a modern Mustang or Camaro can accelerate from 0-bailbond can appreciate the no-concessions brilliance of this class of car: sub-seven-second 0-60s, bring-barf-bags cornering, above-average fuel economy, tidy exterior dimensions, and somehow enormous seats-folded cargo space.

The blown Abarth arrives missing only the cargo space part of the hot hatch formula, but chances are its cuter-than-a-bug demeanor will forgive the inability to carry a snare drum set.

Fiat's generous four-year bumper-to-bumper warranty is a nice re-introduction gesture which may instill confidence in those worried about buying an Italian car manufactured in a Mexican Chrysler plant.

The real fun comes when looking at how close the Abarth comes to being a four-place, front-wheel drive, half-price Lotus Elise. With dedicated airbags showing up for every body part and impact beams all around, cars aren't getting lighter anytime soon.

Monday, June 13, 2011

VW's Black Turbo (They forgot to say "Beetle" on purpose).

The 2012 Beetle is upon us, as today VW lights the wick on its latest redesign of The Peoples' Car with a chuck 'em your credit card over the web and wait 'til September limited Black Turbo launch edition.

$495 buys you an option to purchase one of the 600 being built, but with no guarantee that your local dealership won't jack up the $24,950 MSRP owing to "Market Conditions."

But your unhumble Car Czar can confidently say that "Market Conditions" won't favor a dealer price hike on this car for three reasons.

1. The butching this cute little chick car takes in an attempt to appeal to male buyers is sort of like a three-day beard on Ashton Kutcher: A little more sinister looking, but you still know Bruce Willis can kick his ass.

2. Unlike most of today's blog photos, which show a simple, tasteful black Beetle rocking righteous chrome five-spokers, VW proposes to shoe the Black Turbo in hideous Adidas-inspired can't-go-out-tonight-I'm-still-cleaning-my-wheels busy-busy ten-spokers. The company also proposes to plaster "Turbo" on the lower door panels so that the owner's clear unease at being perceived a metrosexual may be fully advertised in 80s-style Sticker Compensation.

3. Yours Truly is an internet blogger and is unaccountably confident about everything.

Wait around for the standard turbo model and you will be rewarded with a 1/6-price 911 Turbo that's been dining on potato chips instead of prime rib. You'll get more back seat room and it will take you twice as long to floorboard your way into police custody.

Still, it's hard to believe any red-blooded male would forego the lower price and extra utility of a similarly-underpinned squarer-jawed GTI, unless to avoid the Scottish skirts VW insists on wrapping around the base seats.

Will the Y chromosome New New Beetle win its male conquest group?

Would you rather have a beer with Ashton or Bruce?