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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Early Look: 2010 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet

SANTA MONICA, California - The 2010 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe is just days away from its official debut at the 2009 Geneva Auto Show, and Inside Line now has an early look at the future Mercedes E-Class cabriolet as well.

Since the new E-Class coupe is positioned as the replacement for the current Mercedes CLK coupe and cabrio, the arrival of a convertible shortly thereafter is all but certain. In fact, IL sources claim that the convertible is already headed for production with a soft-top design similar to the current CLK cabrio to keep cost and weight down.

Power is expected to come from the same engines offered in the E-Class coupe: a 292-horsepower direct-injected 3.5-liter V6 for the E350, and a 388-hp 5.5-liter V8 in the E550.

A hot time for luxury convertibles, the E-Class cabrio is entering the market alongside a new Infiniti G37 convertible, redesigned BMW 3 Series convertible, even an upgraded 2009 Nissan 370Z drop top, which will be unveiled at the 2009 New York Auto Show in April.

But the Mercedes' stiffest competition could come from the 2010 Audi A5 Cabriolet, the A4 replacement scheduled to take the stage in Geneva next week. While the G37 and 3 Series both use a retractable hardtop, the A5 also uses a fabric top.

The 2010 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet is expected to debut this fall at the 2009 Frankfurt Auto Show.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Obama economic plan now tops $900 billion

WASHINGTON (AP) - The cost of President Barack Obama's economic recovery plan now exceeds $900 billion after the Senate added money for medical research and tax breaks for car purchases.

It could go higher Wednesday if a tax break for homebuyers is made more generous, even as centrists in both parties promise to clear away spending items that won't jump-start the economy immediately.

In an interview on CNN, Obama signaled a willingness to drop items that "may not really stimulate the economy right now." He also signaled he'll try to remove "buy American" provisions in the legislation to avoid a possible trade war.

In a victory for auto manufacturers and dealers, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., won a 71-26 vote to allow most car buyers to claim an income tax deduction for sales taxes paid on new autos and interest payments on car loans. The break would cost $11 billion over the coming decade but could mean savings of $1,500 on a $25,000 car.

"Just as we need to get the housing market going, we need to get auto sales going," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.

Wednesday's session could produce even more generous savings for homebuyers.

Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., is pressing for a tax credit of up to $15,000 for everyone who buys a home this year, at a cost of $18.5 billion. The pending measure would award a $7,500 tax credit only to first-time homebuyers.

At the same time, centrist senators, including Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, are seeking to cut tens of billions of dollars from the legislation. They're operating with the blessing of Democratic leaders, who hope a successful effort could attract some GOP votes for Obama's plan.

Obama summoned Collins to a White House meeting Wednesday afternoon, a Collins aide said.

Democratic leaders conceded they may soon be obliged to cut billions of dollars from the measure. "It goes without saying if it's going to pass in the Senate, it has to be bipartisan," said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democratic leader, adding that rank-and-file lawmakers in both parties want to reduce the cost of the bill.

In a series of skirmishes Tuesday, the Senate turned back a proposal to add $25 billion for public works projects and voted to remove a $246 million tax break for movie producers. Both moves were engineered by Republicans who are critical of the bill's size and voice skepticism of its ability to create jobs.

But several hours later, GOP conservatives didn't contest approval of a $6.5 billion increase in research funding for the politically popular National Institutes of Health. That amendment, by Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, drove the price tag of Obama's plan just above $900 billion.

Democratic leaders have pledged to have the bill ready for Obama's signature by mid-month, and in a round of network television interviews Tuesday, the president underscored the urgency. He told CNN that even three months ago, most economists would not have predicted the economy was "in as bad of a situation as we are in right now."

He also spoke out against efforts to require the use of domestic steel in construction projects envisioned in the bill, telling Fox News, "We can't send a protectionist message."

Mikulski's office put the cost of the automobile tax break she sponsored at $11 billion over 10 years. It would apply to the first $49,500 in the price of a new car purchased between last Nov. 12 and Dec. 31, 2009. Individuals with incomes of up to $125,000 and couples earnings as much as $250,000 could qualify, including those who do not itemize their deductions.

Republicans are expected to seek a vote later in the week on a plan to inject the government into the mortgage industry in an attempt to drive down interest rates on mortgages to as low as 4 percent. Democrats treaded carefully on the proposal, saying they would consider it but also claiming the $300 billion Republicans allocated would not come close to accommodating the demand.


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

JCW confirms Mini cabrio launch

The Mini John Cooper Works Cooper S Convertible will go on sale on 28 March, the same date as the standard Mini Cooper S cabrio, the company has confirmed.

The Works Cooper S convertible will be unveiled at next month’s Geneva motor show and the specification is expected to be the same as the tin-top JCW.

Improvements over a standard Mini Cooper S convertible include and improved aero kit, 17-inch alloys and bigger brakes, as well as a turbocharged 1.6-litre 208bhp engine.

The Mini John Cooper Works Cooper S Convertible should cost around £4500 more than the standard car, so expect a price in the region of £23,500.


Sunday, February 1, 2009

Mini Cooper S convertible

Granted, 2009 has barely begun, but already there is a clear leader in the race by car makers to include the most useless gizmo in their vehicles. The new Mini convertible has a dial (the "Openometer") next to the rev counter that records how long you have driven with the roof down, then saves the data to the trip computer so that drivers can . . . er, what exactly?

Although the new Mini Mk2 arrived in 2006, BMW has let the convertible model continue in its original Mk1 form until now.

As with the Mk1 and Mk2 hatchback, you’ll have to concentrate hard to be able to tell new from old, although if you look closely, you’ll see that the new convertible is larger, plumper, and with higher body sides and gentler curves.

This combines to make the Mk2 drop-top better looking than the original version it replaces, especially now that the rear rollover protection bars are hidden inside the car - only to be activated in an emergency. With those awkwardly high-set rear hoops banished, it no longer has the look of a gigantic pram.

There's more good news with the hood. When retracted, it doesn’t hang clumsily over the edge, as with the old car, instead settling into a neat concertina at the car’s rear. It retracts in 15 seconds via a button above the driver’s head, can be opened while driving at up to 20mph, and has two settings - partially open "sunroof" and full convertible mode.

To drive, the Mk2 feels a good deal sturdier: put a few miles under the wheels of the old car and it would often rattle in a distinctly non-premium fashion that must have made the bosses of BMW’s warranty department shiver. Better still, there’s precious little wind noise or buffeting with the roof open.

Chopping the roof off has inevitably increased the weight (in this case by 100kg compared with the hatchback), since the bodyshell has had to be strengthened. But this hasn’t ruined the Mini driving experience, and that is what lifts this car above being merely an object of fleeting fashion.

It has an infectious enthusiasm for carving up curves, and the kind of direct and informative steering that is forever burdened with the go-kart cliché, but that really does shape much of your relationship with the car. Whatever your interest in or knowledge of cars, the correlation between where you look, where you turn, and where the car then ends up has a cohesiveness that is difficult not to appreciate.

It’s a real giggle to drive, and despite the slightest suggestion of a quivering structure over sterner bumps, most of the Mini’s raw handling prowess has survived the decapitation procedure.

The 175bhp 1.6-litre turbocharged S engine - shared with the regular Cooper S hatch - snorts and rasps, and with no metal and glass between your ear and the tailpipe, you’re treated to its full and surprising repertoire of purrs, parps and pops. The brakes, too, are strong, while the gearshift has a light-handed action, adding to the sense of enjoyment behind the wheel.

The convertible will also be available in due course with the standard 120bhp Cooper engine, which naturally lacks the performance of the S, albeit for less money, better fuel consumption and lower emissions.

While it may have real driver appeal, the Mini convertible remains an emotional purchase. It is still comically cramped for rear-seat passengers, and the boot is hardly what you’d call commodious. And while BMW justly claims significant improvements in both fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, that speaks as much about the relative inefficiency of the old car as it does about the pious nature of the new one.

At £18,995 (before the inevitable onslaught of optional extras so cleverly marketed by Mini and adored by its customers) it is clearly costly. Yet BMW knows its brand is strong and that travelling in a Mini is unlike any other small-car driving experience - something that many consider justifies paying a premium for.

So it’s expensive and impractical, and your top-down UK motoring is likely to be either cold, or wet, or both. But if you view it as an alternative to that other cult convertible, the Mazda MX-5, it makes perfect sense. Just as long as you overlook the roof-down timer.


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