Been away from your computer this week and missed all the automotive news? We’ve gathered a few of the top stories of the past week along with the weekend racing schedule for your convenience.
Just like the 2012 Chrysler 300, Dodge has confirmed that the 2012 Charger will be offered with an eight-speed automatic transmission. It will only come with the 3.6-liter V-6 engine, but does include steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles for manual gear changes. Above all, the new transmission is more efficient: Chrysler claims an economy improvement of about 10 percent, which could mean EPA ratings as high as 20/30 mpg (city/highway.)
A new project jointly developed by Volkswagen and the Highly Automated Vehicles for Intelligent Transportation project could allow drivers to relax on long journeys. Called TAP for Temporary Auto Pilot, the experimental system could autonomously drive a car on the highway. Drivers could engage the system, which would travel at a set speed and steer the car to stay within its lane. Active cruise control would ensure the car slowed for other traffic. Volkswagen claims the system uses existing technology and could easily be integrated into modern cars. But are drivers brave enough to entrust their car to a computer program?
Since launching the Boxster in 1996, Porsche has built 300,000 copies of the Boxster and its hardtop twin, the Cayman. To celebrate, the brand will produce a special Boxster Spyder for a German customer. The car will be bedecked in platinum silver paint and Carrera red leather upholstery, a color scheme mirroring that of the original Porsche 550 Spyder.
Mini’s new coupe model will be put to the test this weekend in the 24 Hours of Nürburgring endurance race. The special race-ready model, based on the Mini John Cooper Works Coupe, will mark Mini’s first entrance in the annual 24-hour race. For race duty, Mini beefed up the suspension, added safety parts like a roll cage, plus plenty of aerodynamic add-ons to help improve downforce. The turbocharged 1.6-liter inline-four engine has been massaged to produce 250 hp and 243 lb-ft of torque, enough for the Mini Coupe to manage a maximum velocity over 149 mph.
Once again we’ve spotted a Ford Fiesta ST undergoing Nürburgring testing. The larger wheels with low-profile tires, and presence of rear disc brakes make it clear this is a higher-performance Fiesta. The Fiesta ST should debut with about 180 hp from a turbocharged 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine, likely in early 2012 alongside the 247-hp Ford Focus ST.
Enthusiasts may lust after a new Jeep compact pickup truck, but Jeep CEO Mike Manley says there won’t be such a production vehicle until there’s a strong business case for such a vehicle. For now Jeep offers a new JK8 conversion kit allowing customers to turn their Wrangler Unlimited into a pickup. If Jeep did build a production, Wrangler-based compact pickup, it could help bolster the company’s bottom line in places like southeast Asia and Europe, where compact trucks remain popular.
Fisker Automotive plans to hire 120 workers to build electric vehicles at the company’s facility in Wilmington, Delaware. The former General Motors factory will build Fisker’s Project Nina vehicles, with the first car slated to roll off the assembly line at the end of 2012. The Nina vehicles will be mid-size luxury sedans with some type of electric drivetrain. Fisker also hopes to hire another 100 people at its headquarters in Anaheim, California by the end of this month.
We put two of Germany’s finest roadsters through their paces on the back roads of Michigan. The BMW Z4 sDrive35is squares off against the Mercedes-Benz SLK350 in our latest comparison test. Both folding-hardtop roadsters are aggressive, macho, and sporty, but which is the better stylish convertible?
Hyundai recently allowed us behind the wheel of two new cars. The Genesis Sedan R-Spec benefits from a new, 429-hp 5.0-liter V-8 engine, an eight-speed automatic transmission, and mildly worked-over suspension. It all adds up to a respectable car, but the Genesis R-Spec is still far from being a true sports sedan. The 2012 Accent is at the other end of the automotive spectrum. Available as a sedan or a hatchback, the practical and economical Accent has finally caught up with its competitors in terms of quality, power, and overall pleasantness.
– NASCAR Nationwide Series, Bucyrus 200, Road America, Saturday June 25 at 5:30 p.m. EST on ESPN
– NASCAR Sprint Cup, Toyota/Save Mart 300, Infineon Raceway, Sunday June 26 at 3 p.m. EST on TNT
– Indycar, Iowa Corn Indy 250, Iowa Speedway, Saturday June 25 at 8 p.m. EST on Versus
– Formula 1, European Grand Prix, Valencia, Sunday June 26 at 8 a.m. EST on Fox Sports