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A concept version of the BMW 4 Series coupe


Two-door versions of the BMW 3 Series coupe and convertible are soon to become the 4 Series, as BMW adjusts its nomenclature to separate out its sportier compact cars from the rapidly mainstreaming 3 Series sedan.

A concept version of the 4 Series coupe will appear at the Detroit auto show in mid-January, and BMW has released photos and preliminary information about the car that suggests it's not going to be long before it makes it into production, likely as a 2014 model, although no official timetable was given.

The look of the concept is certainly lower and sleeker than the sedan that was redesigned for 2012, though there are still enough common elements to know you're talking about 3 Series DNA. The wheelbase is stretched 50mm over the current 3 Series Coupe, and the car is slightly lower (by 16mm) and an extra 44mm wider which, combined with the longer overall length, should translate into more overall room with perhaps a touch less headroom.

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No mechanical details were revealed, but it's a sure bet the new four will be powered by engines similar to those under the 3 Series hood: a turbocharged four-cylinder engine of 240 horsepower or more, and a turbocharged inline-six that will likely top out around 340 ponies.

BMW enthusiast site reports that the 4 Series will be on sale in the summer in the United States, and that spy shots of the 4 Series convertible prototype show that the folding metal roof will be retained in the droptop version. Car and Driver magazine also reported this week on its website that a higher performance M4 version is also coming, in about mid-2014, while the iconic M3 name will continue, but will soon designate only sedan versions of the go-fast 3 Series.

Officially, though, BMW insists that the 4 Series Coupe concept is just that.

Toyota's Harry Potter-inspired 'invisibility cloak'

Toyota is working on a way to make rear seats and pillars "invisible" using strategically placed cameras and projection technology as part of its safety research reminiscent of Wonder Woman's invisible plane, but is more inspired by popular wizard Harry Potter's invisibility cloak.

Toyota North America CEO Jim Lentz said at the Los Angeles Auto Show that researchers at a Japanese university working with the system effectively makes the back seat "disappear," so that when the driver looks back, camera images from the outside are displayed on the rear seats in proportional locations to where they are relative to the car.

With the camera technology providing a clear view of what's behind you, and the windscreen, windows and taillight providing normal views out, this gives the driver close to 360-degree visibility, a long-term goal for safety engineers often restrained by styling and structural engineering demands.

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"It makes you feel like you're driving a glass car," said Lentz.

Lincoln introduces 'Date Night' and buyer concierge

Ford's upscale Lincoln brand will soon offer qualified or confirmed Lincoln buyers weekend test drives of its new MKZ mid-size sedan, as part of a "Date Night" package that could also include either subsidized or free dinner at high-end local restaurants, in an aggressive luxury customer loyalty program to start early in 2013.

Specifics of the program were not disclosed, outside of a 48-hour weekend test drive to be made available in the Fusion-based MKZ, but Ford of Canada confirmed this week in an e-mail that it will involve dinner for two "at locations befitting the client's geographic area and with input from our local Lincoln dealers."

It could also involve entertainment after that, since Lincoln's release about the program suggested it would provide "the opportunity to spend a weekend with a new vehicle and take that special someone for a night on the town courtesy of the brand."

Later in 2013, Lincoln will also introduce a unique buyer concierge service in Canada, which will pair a potential buyer with a concierge that can answer detailed questions about ordering or buying a Lincoln, or with questions about their impending 'Date Night' or other Lincoln programs.

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This same concierge then stays on as the buyer's contact for all things Lincoln throughout the life of the vehicle with that owner. This service will launch early in 2013 in the United States, but will come after the 'Date Night' program starts north of the border, according to Ford of Canada.

Both programs are part of Lincoln's aggressive push to make itself more relevant in the luxury market, where its products have long been uncompetitive or simply seen as rebadged and lightly upgraded versions of fully loaded Ford models. This will also include an ad blitz that includes a Lincoln commercial during the Super Bowl, as well as a recent move to highlight the brand's new phase with a slightly revised name: Lincoln Motor Company.

It's a symbolic move, and doesn't create a new legal entity, the company confirmed. There's a mixed message in here though, since at the same time that the firm is trumpeting the "birth" of a more modern and customer-friendly Lincoln, it is also highlighting its 90-year history. It's a public rallying call for consumers and Ford employees alike that Lincolns from here on in will look and be different from Fords, as will the buying experience.

Audi introduces quickest wagon on the planet

The quickest wagon on the planet is coming to Audi dealers for 2013, but sadly, the RS6 won't make it here for North American buyers.

The hottest version of the A6 wagon will make 560 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque, sending that amount of power to all four wheels via a performance-oriented all-wheel-drive quattro system, an available electronically adaptable suspension with torque-vectoring, and optional carbon-ceramic brakes. The zero to 100 km/h dash takes just 3.9 seconds, with a top speed on the highest Dynamic performance package listed as 305 km/h.

Undesirable aspects of high-end performance wagon ownership one may expect from a twin turbocharged, 4.0-litre V-8 – such as scary fuel consumption and prodigious weight – have been reduced by roughly 40 per cent and 100 kg, respectively. Sure, it's still going to be thirsty, especially if you dip into that massive reservoir of power, but at a European overall average of 9.8 litres/100 km, it promises reasonable fuel efficiency when driven with restraint.

Then there are the practical aspects to its two-sided nature. Two highly bolstered rear seats come standard, with a full-on rear bench seat available for those who prefer five passenger seating. The all-wheel drive provides confidence to drive it year-round, once you replace the available 21-inch performance tires with winter rubber. And the cargo area can stretch to 1,680 litres with the rear seats folded.

Sadly, there are no plans to bring the RS6 to this continent to take on the Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG and Cadillac CTS-V super wagons.


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