Tumid turbos: A new 911 Turbo will launch early next year. Expect about 480 horsepower from the turboed flat-six, an increase of about 36 over the 444-hp, X50-equipped 911 Turbo. The run from nothing to 60 mph should fall into the mid-three-second range. This Turbo will mark the debut of Porsche’s double-clutch gearbox that is similar to Audi’s DSG unit. The 911 won’t be the only turbocharged Porsche to get a power boost. The Cayenne Turbo SUV is also expected to increase its optional horsepower to nearly 540, up from the base 450 horses. And work continues on a hybrid version of the Cayenne expected to bow in 2007.
Mercedes moos under pressure: With the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) breathing down its neck, Mercedes decided it will offer nonleather interiors on all its models sold in the U.S. The nonleather models will likely be made to order. Here is just one of the fun facts sent to us by our animal-protecting amigos at PETA: It takes four cows to make one Benz interior, and last year alone the auto industry used enough fragrant, glove-soft leather to cover the entire borough of Manhattan two-and-a-half times. Go to the corner and think about it, buster. Mercedes joins Saab, which announced a leather-free option in December.
Cayman’s coming: After months of spy photos and suspicious comment, Porsche has finally acknowledged the existence of a Boxster coupe, to be known as the Cayman S. The newest Porsche, named after the small and swift Caiman reptile native to Central and South America, will enter the Porsche lineup as a 2006 model above the base 911 Carrera and below the 911 Carrera S. Expect a price of about $75,000. Power comes from a 3.4-liter version of the familiar flat-six that will put out 291 horsepower and may make the lighter-than-a-droptop-Boxster Cayman faster than a base 321-hp 911 Carrera.
Billion-dollar baby: GM had to write Fiat a check for about $2 billion (€ 1.55 billion) to, as GM put it, “realign their industrial relationship.” The tenuous partnership between GM and Fiat began in March 2000, when GM received 20 percent of Fiat and in exchange Fiat got 6 percent of GM’s shares. The deal also included a put option that Fiat could exercise if it decided it wanted to sell the remaining shares of the Italian automaker to GM. Fiat threatened to exercise the put option, and the General would have been forced to buy the debt-ridden Italian automaker. So in return for not forcing GM to buy Fiat, the Italian company got a cool $2 billion. As you might expect, the deal ends the pact between Fiat and GM, but GM claims there will continue to be some cooperation between the two manufacturers.
Cocky Fiat moves boldly: After Fiat got its $2 billion from the General, the company decided to kick up its heels and do some restructuring. Maserati, which had been in Ferrari’s care, was turned over to Fiat. Furthermore, Alfa Romeo and Maserati will merge and be placed under the control of Karl-Heinz Kalbfell, the recently appointed head of Alfa Romeo and now the CEO of Maserati. Kalbfell’s move ousts former Maserati CEO Martin Leach, who only became the Maserati CEO when he was blocked by his former employer from becoming the head of Fiat. How this will affect the Italian car industry is yet to be seen.
Get them while they last: GMC recently announced the death knell for a couple of slow sellers. First to go this spring is the GMC Envoy XUV, the long-wheelbase Envoy with a power-operated rear roof section above the cargo area that resembled a 1963 Studebaker Wagonaire. The idea never quite caught on in the ’60s, and the first years of the 21st century proved no different. Sales of the XUV were below 20,000 units annually, about one-tenth of what the truck maker expected to sell. Also leaving the GMC order books after 2005 is Quadrasteer, the four-wheel-steering system that was optional on full-size trucks and SUVs. Initially available as a $5500 option, Quadrasteer can now be had for $2000, a price that a GM spokesperson concedes is below cost.
Manual M5: When we drove the BMW M5 last year, BMW insisted its sequential-manual seven-speed would be the only transmission offered in the 500-hp ’06 M5. But in 2007 we will also get a six-speed manual complete with clutch pedal for enthusiasts who like to row their own. The new tranny comes primarily as a result of pressure from U.S. loyalists and BMW’s North American sales arm that forced the Munich-based carmaker to offer a traditional six-speed manual. The U.S. will be the only market to receive the three-pedal M5 because, as BMW puts it, the rest of the world, where Formula 1 is king, views the sequential manual as the most sporting and advanced option. In our Nextel Cup-loving land, we still prefer the simplicity of human involvement in our fast cars.
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