Saturday, November 17, 2012

Autocar Online - News

Autocar Online - News

Noble M600 vs Skoda Fabia Super 2000

Posted: 17 Nov 2012 04:00 AM PST

How does Skoda's IRC-winning Fabia stand up to the mighty Noble M600 on asphalt?

When you look at these two cars squared up to each other, side by side on the same piece of road, any comparison between them seems vaguely ridiculous. The Skoda Fabia Super 2000 rally car may well boast more than its fair share of skirts, stickers and spoilers, but it's also twice as tall and only half as long as the altogether more exotically proportioned Noble M600. It looks, indeed, a bit like a go-faster shopping trolley beside the long, wide and deliciously low-slung, classic supercar form of the M600.

Things don't get much better for the Skoda when you fling the technical notes open and compare what lurks beneath their wildly differing skins. The Noble has 450-650bhp on offer, depending how brave you're feeling and where you position the switch that leashes its twin-turbo 4.4-litre V8 engine. The Fabia, on the other hand, has a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder motor that produces a decent, but hardly hair-raising, 265bhp.

And when it comes to torque – usually the defining element of a car's acceleration – the poor old Skoda gets wrestled to the ground and kicked where it hurts most. It has a mere 180lb ft to the Noble's whopping 604lb ft (most of which is available and ready to shred any ribbon of bitumen from barely above tickover).

But the Skoda weighs less than the Noble, of course, so any kind of energy deficiency it may suffer on paper is instantly negated in reality, right? Wrong. Very wrong. Give or take a gallon of petrol here and there, they both weigh about 1200kg. Which means the Noble boasts not only gigantic power and torque advantages, but an equally unfair power-to-weight advantage, too. And it has much wider rear tyres, much bigger brakes and a classic mid-engined chassis design that makes the front-engined Skoda seem worryingly workaday.

So why did we even choose to put the Skoda through the purgatory of such a comparison, and on The Snake handling course at Chobham proving ground that could have been designed specifically to suit the Noble? Because in reality the Fabia can take it, and then some. It does have one or two tricks up its sleeve, after all, some of which even an M600 driver might be a touch disturbed to discover.

And the most effective of these is its four wheel-drive system. With mechanical diffs at the front, at the back and in the centre of the car, all of which are controlled electronically, the Fabia can generate traction and grip that the Noble, fat tyres or otherwise, can't hope to compete with. It's also geared much, much shorter than the M600 and features a straight-cut sequential transmission that can slice between ratios significantly quicker than the Noble's conventional six-speed manual.

You don't even need to use the clutch once under way in the Skoda. Everything the Fabia S2000 does once on the move has been designed to happen as quickly as possible. It even sounds rapid when you fire it up, the starter motor churning for a quarter of a second before the unsilenced engine explodes into life, completely drowning out the gentle purr of the Noble's V8.

At which point you do think, "Okay, fair enough, let's bring it on. Let's see what this snarling, flame-spitting, exhaust-popping, angry little runt of a car can really do."

So we did, and the results were a little bit weird to begin with. It was a complete and utter one-way street, with the pace being dictated not by the agility and grip of the Skoda but by the sheer speed and acceleration of the Noble. Hmm…

After a couple of back-to-back test runs, with me in the Noble chasing works-supported driver Robert Barrable in the Skoda, it was clear the Noble was quicker. By miles. It could accelerate faster in all the key spots, it had more grip mid-corner – not just through the fast bends where one might expect it to fly, but through the slower ones as well – and under braking it could take huge chunks out of the Fabia pretty much everywhere, despite having no anti-lock system.

Only on the jump section that's about three-quarters of the way through The Snake could the Fabia pull out any kind of an advantage, but only then because I was backing off in the M600 to avoid grinding its expensive carbonfibre front splitter into terra firma. All of which was a touch strange and not at all what we'd expected.

After one more back-to-back run, during which the M600 once again sat on the Fabia's tail (allowing me a grandstand view of the Skoda sliding all over the road), we stopped and chatted. Barrable reckoned the Fabia was struggling for grip "everywhere" and claimed it had "no bite at the front end at all through most corners". He couldn't really use any of the car's power as a result and suggested we take a look at the tyres.

At that point it became crystal clear why the Skoda was struggling to keep up. Its rear tyres looked like they were wearing a swimming cap, while those at the front were worn through to the canvas. So the mechanics set to and changed all four Michelins, this time fitting a harder-compound rubber on account of the unusually coarse road surface that makes up much of The Snake. And then we started our test all over again.

This time the outcome was somewhat different. Starting nose to tail again, the Noble still had the edge, just, when leaving the line. But the moment Barrable and the Fabia turned in to the first corner, a third-gear right-hander, well, that was that, really. He just disappeared, and I never saw him again until the end when we turned around and he gave me a great big grin, along with a Barry Sheene-style 'V' sign to go with it. Nice one Robert, cheers for that. And there was I thinking the Noble was king of The Snake.

Had they been sandbagging all along, or were the tyres on the Fabia merely spent before we set off? Or, indeed, had Barrable been playing games to begin with, leading me and the dear old Noble into a completely false sense of security?

Either way, it didn't matter, because when push came to shove the Fabia proved what we suspected it would all along: that it is unbeatable, even by one of the fastest supercars that money can buy, and that no amount of shove from the M600 – not 450bhp, 550bhp or the full 650bhp – would be sufficient to deal with its grip, agility and outright speed across the ground. Even on a road course such as this one.

We did a few more nose-to-tail runs, this time with me leading and Barrable in the quicker Fabia behind, just to see where the key differences in their performance lay. Inevitably it was the turn-in speed of the Skoda and its exit speed from each bend that were the winning skills. No matter how hard I tried to commit the Noble to each corner, the Fabia had the edge. And a very thick edge it turned out to be.

Because when eventually we got the stopwatch out and timed them individually on a run, just to see absolutely which was quickest, Barrable and the Fabia demolished me and the Noble completely. I drove the M600 as fast as I could, scaring myself stupid in a couple of places, and managed a time of 33.2sec. And then Barrable and the Fabia S2000 promptly went 2.1sec quicker. Over a distance of considerably less than one mile.

The point had been proven beyond all doubt. The Skoda Fabia S2000 is faster than a Noble M600 – and by a margin that not even the good people from Skoda could quite believe. I went home feeling a bit shell shocked, to be honest, having been completely blown away by this extraordinary little car.

McLaren MP4-12C Can-Am confirmed for production

Posted: 17 Nov 2012 02:00 AM PST

McLaren will build 30 track-only versions of the MP4-12C GT3 race car

A limited run of track-focused McLaren MP4-12C GT Can-Am special editions have been announced ahead of the United States Grand Prix. No more than 30 of the £375,000 track cars will be built.

McLaren describes the MP4-12C GT Can-Am has "the ultimate track car". It is based on the 12C GT3 race car and fitted with an unrestricted version of McLaren's 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8. 

The unit features bespoke engine calibration and a revised cooling system. Power is rated at 630bhp, making it the most powerful 12C yet.

McLaren says the GT Can-Am is not homologated for the road or any current race series. A spokesman confirmed there are no current plans for a one-make race series.

A large carbonfibre rear wing forms part of the car's aero package, which has increased downforce by 30 per cent. Carbonfibre door mirror mounts and covers, engine cover vents, side radiator intake vanes, sill covers and badges differentiate the Can-Am from the GT3 race car. It is fitted with black forged lightweight alloy wheels shod with Pirelli racing tyres.

The car is fitted with an FIA-approved race-spec roll cage, race seats with six-point harnesses and a steering wheel carried over from the GT3 racer. Air conditioning is fed through a bespoke carbonfibre dashboard.

Buyers are offered a range of bespoke support packages from McLaren GT.

The car has been developed after a concept was shown in Pebble Beach earlier this year. McLaren MD Andrew Kirkaldy described reaction to the car as "remarkable".

First drive review: Audi A1 Quattro

Posted: 17 Nov 2012 01:00 AM PST

Audi crowns the A1 range with the hardcore limited-run Quattro. The Audi A1 supermini, skunkworked.The most powerful mass-built A1 is the 1.4 TFSI Black Edition, good for 182bhp, but the A1 Quattro, hand-built and limited to 333 left-hand-drive examples, adds nearly 40 per cent to that figure, and the same in torque. It uses the faithful EA113 engine seen in the TTS and VW's Scirocco R, in a similar state of tune.It's not a plug-and-play job, though - bodyshell aside, there's little in common between the Quattro and common-or-garden A1s. Most significatly, there's permanent Quattro drive (apportioned electronically and applied hydraulically by a rear-mounted multi-plate clutch), a revised six-speed manual gearbox, rear anti-roll bar and multi-link suspension also from the TTS, and beefier brakes.Steering is still the standard 14.8:1-ratio, electrohydraulic set-up, though.Performance tooling like a carbonfibre propshaft doesn't come cheap, and the A1 Quattro costs almost twice as much as the Black Edition, at just over £41k. The blow is softened by £11k-worth of options, though, including rear parking sensors, a xenon and LED lights pack and bags of media treats such as DAB radio, Bose stereo, nav and web services.All examples are white with a glossy black roof and boot spoiler combo, and striking white 18-inch alloys. Inside there are hard-backed leather sports seats and smaller touches like red stitching.

BMW teases M6 Gran Coupé

Posted: 16 Nov 2012 09:56 AM PST

Official pictures of four-door M6 released

BMW has released teaser pictures of its forthcoming M6 Gran Coupé prior to the car's official debut at next year's Detroit motor show.

The images show that the Gran Coupé will wear the same subtly aggressive body kit as the M6 coupé and convertible. The four-door coupé is due to go on sale in the middle of next year and will rival the Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG and Audi S7.

The Gran Coupé will use the same 552bhp 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 found in the M5 and M6 coupé. Performance figures should comprise a 0-62mph time of 4.3sec and an electronically limited top speed of 155mph.

Prices have yet to be announced but are expected to start at just under £100,000.

Daljinder Nagra

Fiat 500e EV revealed

Posted: 16 Nov 2012 08:40 AM PST

First pictures emerge of all-electric Fiat supermini

Fiat has released initial pictures of the 500e – an EV adaptation of its popular 500 supermini – prior to its official unveiling at this month's LA motor show.

Expected to be powered by a 75kW (100bhp) electric motor mated to a lithium ion battery pack, the 500e will go on sale in California in 2013.

The exterior has changed little compared with that of the regular Fiat 500, the main changes being the addition of an aerodynamic chin spoiler and a white front valance. The unique alloy wheels are expected to be shod in low-resistance tyres.

Inside, the 500e sports a white and orange colour scheme, a revised instrument cluster and push buttons in place of the conventional car's gearlever.

There are indications that Fiat could potentially lose up to $10,000 on each 500e, and is only marketing it to meet California's zero-emissions vehicle mandate – which requires car manufacturers to total 1.5 million EV sales by 2025 – and to advance its development of electric vehicles.

Daljinder Nagra

Range Rover: Santander to Marrakesh in three minutes

Posted: 16 Nov 2012 03:14 AM PST

Join us on our epic Range Rover test

Matt Prior provides the background to Autocar's mammoth journey to Morocco in the all-new Range Rover

New McLaren P1 spied

Posted: 15 Nov 2012 02:19 AM PST

Production version of the Woking-built Ferrari F150 rival has been spotted testing in the UK

These exclusive spy shots of the production version of the new McLaren P1 hypercar confirm that it will stay true to the concept recently revealed at the Paris motor show.

The latest pictures also show the P1 in testing in the UK for the first time. The prototype test car was spotted on an industrial estate in rural Norfolk.

The P1 is tipped to appear for the first time in full production form as early as the Geneva motor show in the spring, before going on sale later in the year.

At the Paris show, McLaren sources revealed that the concept's exterior was "more than 95 per cent" representative of the production car. These pictures appear to back that up. 

Although the heavy disguise covers the styling intricacies, it cannot hide the heavily sculpted bodywork that is carried over from the Paris concept. McLaren design chief Frank Stephenson said that the P1's looks have been inspired by a Le Mans racer.

McLaren revealed few specific technical details of the P1, the successor to the F1, at the concept's launch in Paris.

However, sources have revealed that it will use a modified version of the 12C's twin-turbo V8 mated to an F1-style KERS hybrid boost system, with a total power output of about 720bhp. The power-to-weight ratio will be more than 600bhp per tonne.

McLaren has said it is not interested in making the world's fastest or most powerful production car. Instead, it wants to make "the best driver's car in the world".

The P1 will be left-hand drive only and be offered in a limited production run. It will be priced from £700,000 to £800,000 when sales start late next year.

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