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458 Italia Spider


Ferrari has confirmed that the hot Spider drop-top version of its 458 Italia will become the first mid-engine sports car to feature a folding metal hardtop.

Surprisingly, the folding aluminum hardtop weighs 25 kilograms less than the fabric roof used in the F430 Spider, the company says, negating one of the reasons the purist exotic car brand gave for many years for sticking with folding soft tops. Of course, Ferrari has slightly mellowed that stance in the past few years, especially since the California with its retractable hardtop was first shown in 2008.

Although no prices have been confirmed, given the 458 Italia coupe's $273,165 (Canadian) starting price, the 458 Spider will likely creep close to the 300-grand mark.

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Yet for potential Ferrari buyers, perhaps the more painful cost of the folding hardtop will be the loss of the clear engine cover, which triumphantly displays the 458 coupe's 570-hp V-8 engine.

Most rear-engine exotics that offer this engine peek (Audi R8, Lambo Gallardo) lose this ability in their convertible models, even with soft tops. But Ferrari managed to keep its racy red, twin cylinder banks exposed in the F430 Spider, both with the top up, and with it folded away.

On the plus side, the new 458 Spider's hardtop does a back flip into its well in an appropriately quick 14 seconds. Plus the relatively small, targa-sized nature of the top means there was enough space left over for a small cargo shelf behind the two seats.

Manual seven-speed box in next-gen Porsche 911

Porsche has finally revealed official photos and info of its next-generation 911 Carrera sports car, highlighted by an industry-first seven-speed manual transmission.

But as usual for this evergreen sports car, this new 911 won't shake the Porsche car design department's reputation as the laziest bunch in the auto design world. The new 911 generation version does look slightly lower and longer than before, with its wheelbase stretch of 100 mm accentuating the slightly lower roof. And the exterior mirrors have moved mounting points from the bottom of the A-pillar to the top of the door, while a wider body also make the automatically-deploying spoiler wider as well.

When Porsche enthusiastically suggests the "new 911 Carrera models represent the largest evolutionary step in the car's 48-year history," it's either talking more mechanically than visually, or highlighting the small styling baby steps this car has taken its five-decade lifespan.

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The manual seven-speed box is the most radical feature, as auto makers have stuck with six-speed manuals even while luxury automatic models have progressed to eight or soon nine speeds.

The new 911 will also feature a stop-start system that will help it achieve fuel consumption numbers as much as 16 per cent lower than before, as will the car's smaller base engine, a lower-displacement 3.4-litre boxer six that now makes 350 hp.

That's up five ponies from the 2011 base Carrera, and while the S will be up 15 to an even 400 hp. Combine those slight power increases with the fact that the new 911 has lost up to 45 kg of metal flab, and its key 0-100 km/h acceleration times have been shaved by a couple of tenths of a second, now in the 4.1-4.5 second range, says Porsche.

Interestingly, all of Porsche's quoted times now are with the PDK dual-clutch transmission, either with or without the Sport Chrono package that includes Launch Control. Apparently, even the new manual seven-speed is slower than Porsche's non-trick PDK automatic.

Coming to Canada in February, 2012, the new 911 will start at $93,700; the more powerful Carrera S will be $110,000. That's also up a few per cent from current models, but the percentage difference compared to American models is down notably from a few years ago. The new base prices are about 14 per cent higher than their U.S. counterparts, at $82,100 (U.S.) and $96,400.

Infiniti shows JX SUV, confirms IPL G convertible

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The seven-seat Infiniti JX crossover "concept" was unveiled last week amid the festivities at Pebble concours, with Nissan's luxury brand confirming that the SUV will arrive in spring 2012.

Smaller than its full-size QX, the JX Concept seems very nearly production-ready, with a V-6, all-wheel-drive and a continuously variable transmission confirmed as the drivetrain. Though no engine specs were revealed, the finished look and feature details suggest the "concept" label was slapped on only so Infiniti can boast a world debut with more details of the production JX at the Los Angeles auto show in November.

Besides the CVT, a rarity in the non-hybrid luxury class, other unique features include a new Backup Collision Intervention system, which can automatically press the brakes if it senses you're about to hit or run over something when in reverse.

The company also confirmed that the Infiniti Performance Line would expand to two models come next spring, with the addition of the IPL G Coupe Convertible to the current hotted-up G37 IPL Coupe. A "concept" version of such a beast was shown over the past year at various shows, and again at Pebble Beach this year, with the production version also slated to debut at the L.A. auto show next to the production JX.

Lexus shows off next-gen production GS

The Pebble Beach classic car concours was also the launching point for the all-new Lexus GS 350, which is the first example of a new sharper L-finesse design philosophy for Toyota's luxury brand.

A hybrid version of the GS will be launched early next year, the company says, as will a sportier F-Sport package that seems similar in intent to Infiniti's IPL line: sportier looks, slightly sharper handling, but not for the major price bump of a low-volume M or AMG or RS serious performance product.

Its direct-injected, 3.5-litre V-6 produces 306 hp, while its sport sedan credentials are helped by its rear-wheel -rive and standard six-speed paddle-shifted automatic powertrain, though all-wheel drive will also be available at launch.

New technologies to the GS include side-mounted bags for rear outboard passengers as well as side curtains, a transmission that can blip the throttle on downshifts, an SMS text-to-speech feature that allows the driver to hear texts and send preset responses with a compatible smart phone, and an iPad-dwarfing 12.3-inch navi screen.

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