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Ferrari unveils planned hatchback Add to ...

Ferrari will introduce its first three-door and four-wheel-drive car at the Geneva auto show in March, the company confirmed recently, releasing details and a few photos of the V-12-powered hatchback that's a shocking departure from any Ferrari to come before it.

Codenamed the FF by Ferrari - at least we hope it's a code name - it will ostensibly replace the decommissioned Ferrari 612 Scaglietti four-seat grand tourer, though it looks more like the short-lived BMW M Coupe hatchback introduced in the late 1990s.

By the time the production-ready car arrives, the FF codename seems likely to be replaced at least in part by the Scarica name, judging by three photo captions on Ferrari's press website that may or may not have supposed to have been there. While Ferrari says the FF acronym stands for "four-wheel-drive" and "four-seater," there's no such explanation of, or any other reference to, the Scarica name.

Scarica has two relevant and intriguing Italian meanings: one, a gunshot; the other, an electrical discharge. The gunshot reference could easily relate to the speed at which the FF's 660-hp, 6.3-litre V-12 engine propels this most "practical" of prancing horses. But could the "electrical discharge" reference mean that this will be the first production hybrid Ferrari?

There are certainly some reasonable indications that this could be, if not right at launch then soon after. Ferrari's early official specifications for the car that it released last week confirm that the FF will have Ferrari's fuel-saving optimization technology, called HELE, which is highlighted by a stop/start system familiar to all hybrid owners. Ferrari has also confirmed that it is working on hybrids, and showed off a hybrid version of its 599 V-12 grand touring two-seater at Geneva last year; the company CEO confirmed at the time that Ferrari was working toward hybrid versions of all its vehicles.

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Tempering the possibility of the FF as a hybrid are the released fuel economy numbers showing average fuel consumption figures of 15.4 litres/100 km, a very un-hybrid-like thirst for fuel. Then again, considering the 10.0 litres/100 km or so averaged by full hybrid V-8 luxury sedans like the Lexus LS 600hL and BMW ActiveHybrid 7, and the 17.7 litres/100 km averaged by its smaller-engined and less-powerful 612 predecessor, the FF's fuel consumption figures suggest either a strictly start/stop system to start, a mild hybrid setup, or an optional hybrid system to come.

Other Ferrari-confirmed FF facts include a 0-100 km/h time of a blistering 3.7 seconds, an advanced adaptive damping system courtesy of Ferrari's latest magnetorheological shocks, updated carbon ceramic brakes and a 335 km/h top track speed.

BMW X1 goes on sale this spring

Despite reports that the BMW X1 compact sport-ute may not arrive in North America until 2012, BMW Canada confirmed that it will go on sale here by late spring this year, the announcement coming soon after the small crossover became the second of two North American debuts at the Montreal auto show.

Sized closer to a Ford Escape than any other luxury crossover now on sale here, the X1 xDrive28i will debut around May with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine that is the first four to feature BMW's confusingly named TwinPower Turbo technology. Confusing because it features one turbocharger, but two exhaust paths, a system which more efficiently dole out the extra power created by the turbine, while reducing weight and complexity over actual two turbo systems.

Total power comes to 241 hp, and 258 lb-ft of torque from as low as 1,250 rpm, significantly more ponies and low-end grunt than the base 3.0-litre inline-six in all current 28i models. Combined with the advanced eight-speed automatic that will come standard on the X1, and the xDrive AWD system now used in BMW's other "SAV" models, the 2012 X1 xDrive28i averages a combined fuel consumption rate of 7.9 litres/100 km on European test cycles.

North American X1 models will be built in Leipzig, Germany, so it will be interesting to see how its yet unannounced prices will compare to the South Carolina-built BMW X3, the latter expected to be a much more mainstream player in North America than the X1. Given that the two-door 1-Series coupe and convertible models currently built at Leipzig aren't much less expensive than larger but still Euro-built 3-Series models, a price close to or even above the much larger X3's seems a distinct possibility.

Could the X1 be the first BMW to charge a premium price for a smaller size and better fuel efficiency on this continent? This formula worked for Mini, and with front-drive BMWs on the way, the ground rules certainly seem flexible these days at the Munich-based auto maker.

AJAC announces finalists for awards

The Automobile Journalists Association of Canada has announced the top three finalists for its Canadian Car and Utility Vehicle of the Year awards; the winners will be announced on the eve of the opening of the Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto in February.

Ford and Volkswagen are still in the running for both awards, with Ford's Fiesta up against the VW Jetta TDI diesel and Chevrolet Cruze for Car of The Year honours, while the Oakville-built Ford Edge is the Canadian SUV/CUV contender up against the VW Touareg and Hyundai Tucson.

After a week of testing 48 all-new or heavily revised 2011 models by more than 70 auto journalists in the fall, winners were chosen in 11 categories: seven cars, and four SUV/CUV/minivans. Eliminated from contention for the overall CCOTY award were all pricier cars such as the Porsche 911 Turbo S, BMW 5-Series sedan, Cadillac CTS-V Coupe and Oshawa-built Buick Regal, while the Toyota Sienna, named the Best New Minivan for 2011, didn't make the shortlist for Utility Vehicle of The Year.

The Sienna was the only vehicle from a Japan-based car maker to win an AJAC award this year.

The group of national auto journalists, of which I'm an active member, will also thankfully atone for the appalling Best New Design choices of the last two years. They have announced a shortlist of the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, the Jaguar XJ and the Audi R8 Cabriolet as finalists for the 2011 award.

Any of these will be more worthy winners than the cleverly packaged but mundane-bodied Honda Fit in 2009, and the BMW 335d diesel sedan last year, which looked way too similar to any other E90 (fifth-generation) 3-Series sedan built since 2005 to win a Best New Design award in 2010.

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