The second half of the 2012-2013 Auto Show season proved that high performance is not only alive, but thriving.
Ever since gasoline prices first soared past $4 per gallon, international auto shows have been increasingly dominated by so-called green themes and green vehicles -- hybrids, plug-in hybrids, electrics, extended range electrics, and hydrogen-based fuel cell machines.
While fuel prices still straddle the $4 threshold, nudging over $5 in certain regions, and the Environmental Protection Agency has mandated stiff new fuel economy standards, four major shows of 2013 -- Detroit, Chicago, New York and Geneva, Switzerland -- displayed a surprising revival of high performance vehicles.
Geneva, in particular, stood out for spring heat. To be sure, the Swiss show saw a number of eco-oriented fuel-sippers, such as the Volkswagen XL-1, a sleek little gasoline-electric hybrid capable of 261 mpg, according to VW. But the greens were totally upstaged by the red-hots.
Waiting impatiently since 1995, American Alfisti will finally see a new Alfa crouched in Fiat showrooms when the 4C coupe goes on sale later this year as a 2014 model. One of the sexiest Italians at the Geneva show, the 4C debuts with 240 horsepower from a 1750 cc four-cylinder turbo. That may not sound like much, but bolted to a carbon-fiber-intensive two-seater weighing around 2000 pounds its power-to-weight index measures up with some pretty rapid rides. Expect face-distorting thrust. Expect commensurate agility. Expect pricing to start north of $60,000.
Unveiled January 13 for a cheering crowd of current owners and journalists, the seventh-generation Corvette went on the next day to steal the 2013 Detroit auto show. The dramatic new shape, which inspired revival of the Stingray name, speaks for itself. But the story goes well beyond the visible. An all-new chassis. Extensive use of carbon fiber. Upgraded interior appointments, including long-awaited and much-needed new seats. And the latest update on Chevy's small block V8, with direct fuel injection. The yield: an estimated 450 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque, making this the Corvette's most powerful standard engine ever. Yes, the Camaroesque taillights are square. Get over it. On sale in October. Base price: $55,000.
Though upstaged by some of the high-dollar exotics, the Stingray convertible made its expected debut at Geneva, a follow-up to the Stingray coupe. It shares the coupe's billing as the most powerful standard Corvette. It also shares the coupe's 50-50 weight distribution and extensive use of carbon fiber. More remarkably, it duplicates the coupe's rigidity specs -- 57 percent stiffer, with an aluminum chassis that's 100 pounds lighter, according to Chevy engineers. Ragtops usually weigh more than their coupe counterparts -- unless the design begins with the convertible, as this one did. The Stingray's power top can be operated at speeds up to 30 mph, and can also be operated remotely, via the keyfob, sure to astonish folks passing by. October on sale, from $57,500.
Once again Ferrari dominated the Geneva limelight with the debut of the company's fastest-ever road car, eclipsing the celebrated Enzo. The new red rocket is a festival of cutting edge automotive technology -- active aerodynamic elements, carbon fiber tub, carbon brakes, hand assembled in Ferrari's F1 race shops -- and it also displays Ferrari's take on hybridizing. The 6.3-liter V12 engine (789 horsepower) is augmented by a 161-horsepower electric motor appended to the seven-speed automated manual transaxle. In a 2800-pound vehicle this adds up to escape velocity acceleration -- about 15 seconds to 300 kilometers per hour (186 mph), top speed 227 mph, according to Ferrari. No mention of fuel economy. Yours for an anticipated $1.2 million, provided your accepted order is among the first 499, which is where production will end.
Koenigsegg Agera S Hundra
Zero to 100 in 10 years is a relaxed rate of progress by any standard -- there are faster glaciers -- but even so it was a bragging point for Christian Koenigsegg at the Geneva auto show. The mid-engined Agera has other more conventional supercar exclamation points: 1,030 horsepower from its home-grown 5.0-liter twin-turbo V8. Guinness Book records for 0-to-200 mph (17.68 seconds) and 0-to-200-to-0 (24.96 seconds). But in this $1.5 million edition, trimmed with 24-karat gold leaf, the celebration was centered on production. Hundra is Swedish for hundred, a designation chosen because this particular car is the 100th to leave the Koenigsegg works in Engelholm, Sweden, since production began in 2002. That kind of line rate -- 10 cars per annum -- wouldn't keep an ordinary carmaker in business for 10 minutes, but at more than a million bucks per copy, Koenigsegg cars are obviously far from ordinary.
True to Lamborghini tradition, the mid-engined Veneno was named for a fighting bull, even though classic bullfighting has disappeared from the world stage. But the angles, planes, wings, and dorsal fin suggest something from a Transformer fantasy, a design recipe consisting of rocket science and menace in equal measures. Created in celebration of Lamborghini's 50th anniversary, the Veneno is based on the only slightly less wicked Aventador, propelled by a 740-horsepower version of the Aventador V12 engine. Already sold out, the entire Veneno production run will be three cars, at a reported $4 million each. Makes it hard to believe that Ferruccio Lamborghini started out making tractors, doesn't it?
A successor to McLaren's F1 superdupercar, the mid-engined P1 is another hybrid whose mission has nothing to do with fuel economy. Marginally upstaged at Geneva by Ferrari's hyper hybrid LaFerrari, the P1 brings 903 horsepower to the party, 727 from McLaren's own 3.8-liter twin turbo V8, the rest from an electric motor siamesed to the side of the engine block. Composed largely of carbon fiber and Kevlar, the F1 weighs about 3100 pounds, and is expected to generate acceleration similar to that of LeFerrari: 0-to-186 mph in 17 seconds. The car's real speed credentials will show up on race tracks, where its aerodynamic features and many driver-adjustable presets come into play. McLaren boss Ron Dennis confidently predicts that it will be "the fastest car in the world." Price: $1.15 million. Production run: 375 cars. Hurry.
Mercedes design boss Gordon Wegener calls the new CLA sedan a "style rebel," and the AMG version, introduced in New York, puts an exclamation mark on that assertion. Stiffer suspension tuning, a more aggressive tire package, reduced ride height, all-wheel drive, and aero enhancements lend a touch of menace to the four-door coupe's appearance, and an AMG-massaged 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine will lend urgency to its forward progress: 355 horsepower, 332 pound-feet of torque. On sale in November. Expected base price: $48,375.
The GT3 has always been the company's primary track day toy, and the 2014 edition promises to uphold that tradition, double in spades. All new, based on the latest 911 architecture, code 991, the latest GT3 includes a stiffer chassis, firmer suspension tuning, Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), center-lock wheels, a new electric power steering system, and -- a surprise -- four-wheel steering. There's also more power from the direct injection 3.8-liter flat six engine -- 475 horsepower, 325 pound feet -- and a new seven-speed automated manual transaxle. The big rear wing gives the new GT3 more aerodynamic downforce than its predecessor, according to Porsche. Due in showrooms in November, from $131,350.
Best known as the financial fulcrum for Victor Muller's ill-starred attempt to rescue Saab, the Dutch company soldiers on as a low-volume purveyor of exotics. Designed by Muller himself, the glass-topped Venator features carbon fiber bodywork supported by an aluminum chassis and powered by a 375-horsepower V6. With curb weights pegged at about 3100 pounds, that should provide respectable performance. Richly retro within, Muller's individualistic two-seater will need every foot-pound of torque and every ounce of offbeat character, since its projected price point -- about $125,000 -- will pit it against formidable competitors: the Porsche 911, for example.
Chrysler's reptilian supercar was revived, thoroughly revitalized, and in showrooms before the end of 2012, but that only marked the beginning of its resurrection. With 640 horsepower and 600 pound-feet of torque from its 8.4-liter V10, and top speed capability of 206 mph, it challenges the Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1 for made-in-America's fastest of the fast honors. But the SRT (Street and Racing Technology, Chrysler's in-house performance crucible) team continues to build on that formidable foundation. Mopar displayed an array of carbon fiber and aluminum add-ons at the Chicago show, and a TA (Time Attack) version -- street legal but more spartan race track ready -- made its debut in New York. Initial production: 33 cars, $116,000 each.
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