Friday, November 23, 2012

Autocar Online - News

Autocar Online - News

Bring on the robot cars

Posted: 23 Nov 2012 06:38 AM PST

We should embrace self-driving automobiles – provided they behave themselves

As I am the unofficial road etiquette correspondent for, I noticed that the Institute of Advanced Motorists has found that among those they surveyed, 40 per cent of motorists would never consider using a driverless car.

Furthermore, 65 per cent of people are sceptical as to whether driverless technology is actually a good idea.

Actually, I'm not entirely sure that many cars have drivers who are that clued up or plugged into what they are doing anyway. So might a self-driving car actually do a better job than someone who is having a fag, headbanging to death metal or texting their mum?

After all, aircraft have things called automatic pilots, as well as real ones. If we knew just how much time it was on auto when flying on our hols somewhere, we might well be fine about self-driving cars. Rita the Robot can drive my car any time so that I can put my feet up.

The only issue is whether robot and human-guided cars could co-exist. Would we have to chuck away all our Caterhams and classics and just about anything built prior to 2012, or can the self-driving technology be retro-fitted?

At the traffic lights the other day, I saw someone with a dog perched on their lap. Sorry, I didn't snap a picture. The hound may well have been in control, for all I know, but the chances are the poor creature would be nothing more than a fluffy airbag.

So are you frightened by robot cars? Will you embrace them, or do you fancy training your basset hound to steer your motor? I'd be fascinated to find out.

How to drive a rally car fast

Posted: 23 Nov 2012 04:00 AM PST

The Fabia S2000 is raw, immediate, thrilling and, in the right hands, fast. Works driver Andreas Mikkelsen shows us how it's done

You drive any car by using a rudimentary combination of skills that involve your eyes, ears, hands, heart, feet and so on. But to drive a Skoda Fabia Super 2000 rally car – and, more to the point, drive it quickly – you need to dig much deeper into those individual skill sets and maximise the effort in each instance. And nothing but total commitment will suffice.

An S2000 rally car such as the Fabia needs to be muscled violently along the road if it is to give its best, and the key thing that's required is momentum. Unlike in a high-torque World Rally Championship car, there isn't a gigantic amount of straight-line performance to fall back upon in an S2000 car, if and when you make a mistake. There's about the same level of acceleration as there is in an entry-level Porsche 911. So you need to maximise the efficiency of its performance, all the time. Which means maximum attack. All the time.

When I sat beside works Skoda driver Andreas Mikkelsen on the special stage at Goodwood, I simply couldn't believe the amount of speed he carried on the way into corners. To begin with, I thought he'd either lost the plot or was showing off in order to scare me. But after a while I realised that entry speed is the holy grail in an S2000 car because of its relative lack of straight-line acceleration.

Without carrying huge speed on the way into corners, you won't generate it in the middle of them, or on the way out of them. Which means that you will be nowhere in an S2000 rally car unless you display Mikkelsen-style commitment everywhere, especially during the entry phase to whatever corner you might be flying towards.

So what do you need to do to drive one of these incredible cars quickly and, ideally, without crashing it? Over the next few pages I'll break down the requirements into individual components. The intention is to provide an inkling of the range and depth of skills needed to keep one of these things on the straight and narrow.

And remember, it's only when you put such skills together and employ them at the same time that the real magic begins to flow. It helps if you're 23 and Nordic, of course, so don't for one moment think that I'm in any way capable of driving one of these cars properly, although I'm thrilled to have had a go behind the wheel. More importantly, I also had the privilege of sitting next to someone who really can, and what follows is largely an observation of that experience.


Your hands will be inside gloves that remove an element of feel between you and the Fabia's suede-rimmed steering wheel. In a basic sense, you'll employ them merely to turn the wheel and, with your right hand, change the gears within the ultra-close-ratio six-speed sequential manual gearbox (there are no paddles in S2000). But on another level, your hands, along with your feet and backside, are the only contact points you'll have with the car itself. They are the key ingredients that connect your mind to the car, and to the road below, so they're your only means of guiding the car along that road.

Although the steering is surprisingly light and effortless due to its power assistance and the gearchange feels similarly fast yet delicate in its shift quality, your hands are always busy when driving a Fabia S2000. You will feel the balance of the car change via your fingertips as the tyres scrabble for grip beneath you.

You will even feel the way the four-wheel drive system redistributes the power of the 265bhp engine continuously between the front and rear axles when on the move, or when sliding, which happens most of the time in the Fabia on gravel. And you will feel a connection to the road, via your hands and fingers, the like of which no ordinary car could ever hope to replicate. That's how much 'feel' the Fabia S2000 delivers, and the faster you go, the deeper it gets. And the more intense the driving experience becomes.  


Your right foot is continually prodding the accelerator in a Fabia S2000. The response from the engine is instant when you press the throttle, and the amount of travel in the pedal itself is quite short, which means that you get a lot of response from the smallest of inputs. But it's your left foot that's busiest when driving this car, because it's your left foot that operates not just the clutch but the brakes as well, like it or not.

The pedal box is set up in such a way that braking with your right foot simply isn't possible physically, so you have to left-foot brake. The way Mikkelsen uses the brakes not merely to slow the car down but also to steer, drift and set it up through corners at maximum velocity is a surreal thing to experience. But it's his touch with his left foot that probably defines how good he really is.

Watching Mikkelsen in action from such close quarters is fascinating because he never stamps on any of the pedals (the clutch pedal is not used on the move, up or down, incidentally). Instead, it looks like he's dancing. His feet move in a blur across the pedals, but there's no sense of mania to his inputs. He treads the accelerator and brushes the brakes as if they were made of glass.  


If you thought logically about the amount of information being processed by your eyes as you drive the Fabia S2000 across a rally stage, your brain would probably burst. But it's your eyes that must absorb and assess the information as it hurtles towards them, and allow your hands and feet to react accordingly. And that's before you even mention the vast array of buttons that stare back at you from the centre console. Or the large gear selection indicator that takes centre stage on the digitised dashboard, which also has several different menus that can be scrolled through to provide data about the engine, differentials, gearbox, fluid levels and ambient temperature.

You also sit very low in the car in order to maximise the centre of gravity and, as a result, the view forwards is hardly panoramic. It isn't helped by the thick pillars of the full roll cage that's installed, either; they hinder your front three-quarter vision and make you wonder what's coming next when travelling sideways. But you do, after a while, get used to the super-low driving position. Eventually it feels quite natural, in fact, even if you can't see the end of the bonnet as it hurtles towards the next (potential) disaster.


The Fabia S2000 makes a fairly industrial kind of noise when you fire it up and prod the throttle for the first time. The starter motor is loud, and when the 2.0-litre engine catches, it chugs into life and settles into a mildly deafening idle of just under 1600rpm.

The response from the accelerator is immediate and total, and the sound seems to double in volume as you wap-wap the accelerator in neutral. The whole car moves as you do so, and the sheer intensity of the noise seems to fill your ears, leaving space for not a lot else.

Dip the clutch, select first gear and there's an audible 'thunk' from the transmission as the straight-cut gear goes in. Move off and the exhaust noise is joined by an even greater cacophony as the detritus from the gravel road below showers the Fabia's reinforced undertray and wheelarch liners. To top off the aural assault, there's also a distinctive series of whines and clatters from the transmission that accompany your every move.

Until you fully let rip in the Fabia, that is, at which point the screaming exhaust drowns out all other sounds and leaves you with a quite fantastic range of noises that will cause your ears to ring for several minutes after the engine has been switched off. Without ear defenders or a crash helmet, you'd go deaf driving this car, and quickly.


Confidence is key when trying to squeeze the last few tenths out of any competition car, but in a Fabia S2000, it is a grade 'A' essential. As such, your head must be totally convinced that the car will respond in the way that you want it to when you throw it towards, say, a fourth-gear, off-camber left-hander, on which there is gravel on one side and a 250-foot precipice on the other.

At the same time, you must also be as relaxed as possible when driving this car, even – and especially – in the heat of the moment. Mikkelsen looked as cool as a world-class poker player as we slithered through the Goodwood forest sideways at 85mph, the trees just inches away, left and right. The Fabia's reflexes are so immediate that nothing less than perfect concentration is needed to control it at high speed. One small mistake, one tiny lapse in focus, will put you into those trees faster than you could imagine when driving with this kind of commitment and at the speeds of which the Fabia is capable. Even a touch of arrogance might be needed to get the most out of this car on and beyond its heady limits.


The rally driver's backside is arguably his or her greatest asset. It's where your centre of feel lies when trying to work out how the car is going to react next as it slithers sideways through the forest. It's where a driver's sense of spatial awareness and balance begins and ends.

In the Fabia's case, your backside is clamped into position by a massive, high-sided bucket seat and there's a six-point harness, which is done up so tightly that you can no longer breathe properly to begin with. By the end of a stage, those belts will have loosened, as they always do, although you'll still be located just so by the bucket seat, which has an unusual amount of padding to it for a competition chair.


They say that a driver's heart rate closes in on 200 beats per minute when they're in full flight in a rally car, and I'm certain that was the case when I drove the mighty Fabia. Yet watching Mikkelsen in action, he seemed the absolute opposite of stressed. He looked calm; he even spoke calmly through the headphones to me, describing what the car was doing as we flew through the trees at 90mph, a bit like a tour guide pointing to Big Ben for the 400th time that month.

Either way, a big heart plays a vital role when trying to get the most out of a Fabia S2000. As I said at the beginning, total commitment is needed to go faster than the next person along the stage. And there's only one place that comes from: the heart.


I shall never forget the day I drove the extraordinary Fabia S2000. It was one of the scariest, most humbling experiences I've had doing this job, not least because I felt so far out of my depth.

Even so, it was sufficient to deduce that the Fabia is one heck of a fine rally car. Fast, strong, agile and quite incredibly smooth to drive, it made even a novice like me feel worryingly invincible. In the hands of Andreas Mikkelsen, it was something else again.

And that's what I'll remember most: being driven in the Fabia at full speed by someone who does it better than just about anyone on the planet at the moment. It still makes me shudder with nerves, thinking about it now, months later. Quite how we didn't crash I'll never know – but I'd guess that having a Fabia S2000 to play with, week in, week out, probably makes all the difference.

Audi S3 saloon to undercut Mercedes rival

Posted: 23 Nov 2012 04:00 AM PST

Audi set to beat its German competitors to the UK market with its hot compact saloon

Audi is set to become the first of Germany's premium car brands to commit to the compact performance saloon ranks when the new four-door S3 is revealed at the Shanghai motor show in April.

The S3 saloon was previewed as the A3 saloon concept shown at the 2011 Geneva motor show. It has been conceived to bolster Audi's already strong standing in the lucrative Chinese car market and provide an extra sales pillar for its US operations.

The S3 saloon will run the same 296bhp turbocharged  2.0-litre engine and four-wheel drive underpinnings as the recently revealed S3 hatchback. It is likely to go on sale in the UK late next year, priced at about £33,000.

Audi insiders won't be drawn on the likelihood of an even hotter RS3 saloon joining the line-up, but they admit that it is not their top priority at the moment.

"Are we excited by such a car? Of course, but we don't see it as essential," said an Audi spokesman.

At the initial unveiling in concept car form in Geneva, Audi's new price-leading saloon showcased a highly tuned version of the German car maker's turbocharged 2.5-litre five-cylinder petrol engine, delivering a claimed 402bhp and 369lb ft of torque.

At some 4500mm in length, the new S3 saloon is roughly the same length as the old Audi 80 — the precursor to today's A4. It is underpinned by parent company Volkswagen's latest front-wheel drive platform.

Although the S3 saloon lacks the outright visual drama of the slightly larger Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG with which it will be compared, Audi claims that its new performance saloon will nevertheless offer greater levels of everyday practicality, accommodation and perceived quality.

Audi R10 diesel hypercar plotted

Lightweight Audi TT 'GT3' in development

Next-gen Audi Q7 to shed 350kg

282mpg Audi city car planned

Prices confirmed for upgraded MX-5

Posted: 23 Nov 2012 03:47 AM PST

Revised styling aims to improve pedestrian safety

Mazda has revised its MX-5 roadster. The new look two-seater is on sale from 1 December priced from £18,495-£23,595.

The updates include a new front end, designed to improve pedestrian safety. The MX-5 is now equipped with Mazda's active bonnet system, which, after detecting a collision with a pedestrian, pops-up to increase cushioning between the bonnet and hard engine components.

The new MX-5 line-up also introduces the 2.0-litre Sport tech Nav model, which incorporates a 5.8-inch touch screen monitor, 4GB SD card based map, and iPod and Bluetooth connectivity.

All models now benefit from climate control, a glossy dark grey dashboard panel and steering wheel inserts as standard. Mechanically, the roadster remains unchanged, although the throttle has been modified to improve responsiveness.

Two engines are available for the roadster: a 124bhp 1.8-litre mated to a five-speed gearbox, and a 158bhp 2.0-litre with a choice of a six-speed manual transmission or 'PowerShift' six-speed sequential paddle-shift.

The revised MX-5 is on sale now, and is being offered with interest free finance with no deposit needed.

Tom Heron

Lightweight Audi TT 'GT3' in development

Posted: 23 Nov 2012 01:54 AM PST

A 1000kg performance-focussed Audi TT will feature a five-cylinder engine and four-wheel drive

Plans are underway to develop a hardcore super-light Audi TT, according to Audi's development boss, Wolfgang Durheimer.

A 'multi-material' version of the next-generation TT is being worked with a target of a 1000kg kerb weight, even though it will get a five-cylinder engine, all-wheel drive and a roll cage.

Sources describe the car - which will use steel, aluminium and carbonfibre in the construction of its MQB architecture - as a kind of 911 GT3 for the TT line-up.

Durheimer, who is leading the project's pre-development work said: "The TT is an icon car for Audi and has a very interesting future"

Audi's management team will meet over the coming week to consider whether to give the green light to such a model.

Next-gen Audi Q7 to shed 350kg

282mpg Audi city car planned

Audi R10 diesel hypercar plotted

Audi S3 saloon to undercut Mercedes rival

Audi R10 diesel hypercar plotted

Posted: 23 Nov 2012 01:52 AM PST

Audi is planning to build a diesel hypercar, using Le Mans-developed hybrid technology

Audi is developing plans for a Le Mans-inspired diesel hybrid hypercar that would sit above today's R8.

Insiders suggest the car could be badged as Audi R10, and is intended to be a road-going mirror to Audi's Le Mans-winning R18 e-Tron quattro.

That car used electricity generated from a flywheel system to power one electric motor for each front wheel, improving the car's performance, when pulling out of corners at speeds above 74mph.

There are no further details about what would be Audi's flagship model, but expect a carbonfibre monocoque and a diesel no larger than a V8. The V12 diesel in the experimental R8 was judged as 'too heavy and having too much torque for existing transmissions' according to Audi sources.

Autocar has also established that a prototype Bentley Flying Spur powered by a V8 diesel has recently been under assessment at the maker's Crewe HQ.

Next-gen Audi Q7 to shed 350kg

Lightweight Audi TT 'GT3' in development

282mpg Audi city car planned

Audi S3 saloon to undercut Mercedes rival

282mpg Audi city car planned

Posted: 23 Nov 2012 01:48 AM PST

An Audi A1-based city car could cover more than 280mpg, according to bosses

Audi is plotting a four-seat city car capable of 282mpg. The car will be based on the current Audi A1 platform.

Wolfgang Durheimer, Audi's new head of technical development told Autocar that the car, known internally as the Audi '1.0-litre car', will be based on the platform of the current A1 and will be an 'affordable' full four-seater that offers 'all the creature comforts of a normal car, including climate control'.

Although details are still sparse, what promises to be the most economical family car ever sold will have electrical assistance, but it won't use the two-cylinder diesel engine seen in the two-seat VW XLR-1 prototype.

Durheimer says the 1.0-litre car can use a modified version of the A1's steel platform "because weight is not the biggest engineering challenge with this project". However, it is expected that the car's interior will be radically lighter than normal, as will the suspension system.

Audi could use a new type of injection-moulded carbonfibre for some components, which can be made in just two and half minutes, hugely more rapid process than conventional carbonfibre manufacturing. It's thought that the project is at least three years from the showroom.

Next-gen Audi Q7 to shed 350kg

Lightweight Audi TT 'GT3' in development

Audi R10 diesel hypercar plotted

Audi S3 saloon to undercut Mercedes rival

2012 Guangzhou motor show report and gallery

Posted: 23 Nov 2012 01:40 AM PST

The Guangzhou motor show is rapidly rising in profile thanks to a number of local big-name car makers

The Guangzhou Auto Show is an interesting one. Not quite as important as Beijing or Shanghai but still home to a plethora of new model launches.

Japanese brands were the biggest draw on the day, not because of their model launches but because of territorial issues between China and Japan. Chinese consumers have reacted strongly to the perceived slight by avoiding Japanese products. Sales for Japanese brands across China are down 50 per cent.

Guangzhou is considered the back yard of the Japanese car brands in China; both Toyota and Honda have partnerships with Guangzhou Auto, and Nissan is in the next province but sees strong sales in Guangdong province.

Toyota announced it was a strong friend of China. Honda and Nissan had similar messages, promising to work together to find peaceful solutions. But the underlying message was: we need to increase our sales.

MG launched the MG6 diesel for the first time in China. It's unclear if it will be sold in China or if the Guangzhou show was a platform to promote the firm's technological progress. Oddly, the car, badged locally as MG6 DESL, was launched surrounded by black smoke.

The electric Roewe E50 was shown to the public after a small launch in Shanghai last month. The E50 is SAIC's first production electric car and is rumoured to become an MG at a later date. A full charge will provide a 118mph range, and will take 30 minutes to achieve an 80 per cent charge. A full charge will take six hours. Performance is below average, with a 0-62mph time of 14sec and by local standards it's expensive, at 230,000RMB (£23,000).

Peugeot's elderly 207 (it's actually a 206 with a 207 face grafted on) was turned into a crossover by the addition of black plastic cladding and roof rails, a common tactic in China. The much-needed 208 is supposedly coming late next year, so the crossover has to maintain the car's profile until then.

Peugeot and Citroen have been slow to provide for the Chinese market. Chinese consumers like thrifty petrol engines and automatic gearboxes; Peugeot sold cars with four-speed gearboxes and fairly inefficient petrol engines, hampering initial sales. This is now changing, especially with the locally made 3008, tailored more to Chinese buyers with 2.0-litre petrol and 1.6-litre turbo engines along with a six-speed automatic 'box. 

Ford launched its revamped Fiesta as the 'All new Ford Fiesta' with the latest wide grille from the European Mondeo. The Chinese media seems to like the car, which it's called the 'People's Aston Martin'. The new 1.0-litre three-cylinder will replace the 1.6 petrol.

Ford also showed a Focus ST, although there are no immediate plans to sell the car in China. Ford often shows cars that may or may not be coming here, which helps to create headlines and interest in the brand, although there is the option of a locally made Golf GTI, available now.

The Focus is sold alongside the last generation of the car, called Focus Classic, and the two models are generating serious volume sales for Ford.

The 2013 Subaru Forester was launched in Guangzhou with two faces. The regular Forester looks much like the last generation model, albeit with a considerably improved interior – it's now on a par with other Japanese SUV offerings, such as the RAV4 and C-RV.

The range topping 2.0-litre turbo has the more aggressive face and the engine that most buyers will want. Subaru's plans to build cars in China were scuppered earlier this year when the Chinese government denied plans for Subaru's joint venture with Chery. Still, Subaru seems to be doing okay with its range of imported cars, although the strong yen makes Subaru's products relatively pricey in China and there is talk of Subaru importing its products from America, which should cut prices.

The Audi, BMW and Mercedes stands were lost on the second day when the show opened its doors to the public. All three were lost under a throng of showgoers eager to see the new stretched 3-Series, the A6L, Mercedes B200 and the new China-built Audi Q3.

Of the three, Audi lead the Chinese market thanks to its launch in the mid 90s. BMW came later but has wasted no time catching up in the past 18 months by launching locally made models such as the X1 and lengthened 3-Series. Mercedes is less successful; the E-class has never sold as well as the Audi A6 or the 5-series and the C-class out gunned by the 3-Series and the A4L. Mercedes needs a longer C-Class to compete.

Guangzhou was the third time Seat has participated in a Chinese show, but buyers don't seem to be warming to the brand, despite the perception of it as more of a premium product than VW because the cars are all imported.

The VW range, like the Audi range, was suffering under a tsunami of visitors. The new Bora, Lavida and Santana and Jetta are essentially the same car aimed at different customers. The Santana and Jetta have been developed for the lower end of the market, which includes about 800 million people in China.

GM, with Chinese partner Shanghai Auto, wheeled out an electric version of the Chevrolet Sail, branded Springo. Volt-like styling at the front end and LCD instrument displays set the car's exterior apart from reguar Sails, and this could be the start of an electric car sub-brand for GM-Shanghai. Chevrolet also had a special edition Malibu covered in Manchester United stickers, taking advantage of China's love for the club.

Chery had a 1000sqm stand this year, but the stand was a lonely one. Chery has a big range but is short of customers. It's been exporting rapidly but the introduction of too many sub brands, such as Riich and Reely to cover too many segments hurt the company. These brands have been killed to focus on Chery but at the show, at least, the Germans were doing more trade.

BYD was once the golden boy of the Chinese car industry but its fortunes changed when sales dropped off in 2010. The company went back to the drawing board and redeveloped its range to improve quality and technology, and its new Su Rui gets a direct injection engine, a dual clutch gearbox and has achieved a five star Chinese NCAP safety rating – all for the equivalent of £10,000.

Ash Sutcliffe

Next-gen Audi Q7 to shed 350kg

Posted: 23 Nov 2012 01:39 AM PST

Audi is to expand its SUV line-up, which will include a lighter Q7

A number of new SUVs could be added to Audi's already-extensive range. 

These include a new-generation Q7 SUV, 350kg lighter than the current car and at least one more coupé-like SUV that will slot between the Q3 and Q5. A sub-Q3 baby SUV is also planned, possibly inspired by the Crosslane Coupé, which was unveiled at September's Paris motor show.

Audi's head of technical development, Wolfgang Durheimer, told Autocar the next-generation Q7 will benefit from a new 'multi-materials' version of Audi's next-generation MLB platform. 

An updated version of the architecture that underpins today's A4 to A7 models, the super-light version of the new MLB architecture used by the 2014 Q7 will mix steel, aluminium and carbonfibre structural parts. New riveting and bonding techniques are used in the construction and the bare body shell will be 200kg lighter than today's Q7. 

The new Q7 structure is also likely to be used by the next Porsche Cayenne, Bentley Continental and forthcoming SUV.

The Audi management team will meet within the next week or so to prioritise these future projects, with the most important to get the green light immediately.

Lightweight Audi TT 'GT3' in development

282mpg Audi city car planned

Audi R10 diesel hypercar plotted

Audi S3 saloon to undercut Mercedes rival

Are motorists more careless than cyclists and pedestrians?

Posted: 23 Nov 2012 01:35 AM PST

The latest advertising campaign from Brake, the road safety charity, offers a view of road users that is too simplistic

It's hard to fault the nugget of logic that underpins Brake's new road awareness campaign, which calls for drivers to stick to 20mph in built-up areas to improve the safety of pedestrians and cyclists. That's common sense.

What I do disagree with, however, is the campaign's overly simplistic notion that drivers are bad and other road users are all good. As some of you touched upon in your responses to James Ruppert's blog about cyclists last week, things in life are never quite as clear cut as Brake's campaign is suggesting.

My experience is this: just as there are car drivers who show poor road awareness, similarly there are cyclists and pedestrians who display a maddening lack of sense on our highways and byways.

On my daily commute near Kingston, it baffles me how many walkers insist on crossing busy roads within 50 metres of pedestrian crossings. At rush hour, those pedestrians often find themselves stranded between lanes of traffic as they wait for a break in the oncoming cars.

On the other hand, perhaps they are wary of using the official traffic-light-controlled crossings, because some cyclists seem to brazenly disregard red lights as if they only apply to drivers and walkers.

Another Autocar staff member tells me his wife – an experienced daily commuter on a bicycle – regards random pedestrians as more of a hazard on her journey than car drivers.

Of course, motorists are the ones with the heavy, fast objects at their disposal, and the number of road users injured by dangerous driving each year outweighs the few incidents of injuries caused by random cyclists.

Nevertheless, I would find more worth in Brake's campaign if it used the same platform to acknowledge the need for cyclists and pedestrians to adopt the same level of awareness as it is asking of drivers. In distilling its campaign to a overly simplistic slogan, I fear Brake risks alienating and patronising the people whom it is trying to target.

Brake has chosen to convey its message via the medium of billboards across London, using a series of posters that the charity describes as "head-turning".

With most billboard sites in the capital situated close to major thoroughfares, I would have thought the last thing the charity wants to do is turn the heads of road users and distract them from operating the car, bicycle or shoes they're using as a mode of transport.


Toyota GT86 cabriolet in the works

Posted: 23 Nov 2012 01:00 AM PST

Drop-top Toyota sports car tipped for Geneva 2013 debut

A cabriolet version of the Toyota GT86 will be revealed at the Geneva motor show next March, insiders have hinted.

Although nothing has yet been confirmed, it's understood the GT86 cabriolet will use an electronically operated folding fabric roof rather than a heavier retractable hard-top in order to contain weight increases.

Still to be seen is how Toyota will package the GT86 coupé's two small rear seats, if it all, and where the roof will be stored without sacrificing too much luggage capacity.

The cabriolet, particularly important for the US market, is likely to retain the coupé's 197bhp normally aspirated 2.0-litre engine.

Weight gains are understood to be small, limiting the impact on performance. Suspension is likely to be slightly softened to deal with lower body stiffness.

While the cabriolet is yet to be officially declared, the chief engineer of Toyota's sports cars, Tetsuya Tada, did confirm that a performance version of the GT86 was in the works.

But rather than using forced induction, the honed GT86 is likely to use hybrid drive to provide extra boost without impacting economy. Tada said a GT86 performance hybrid with around 250bhp was in development in Japan, with an on-sale date of 2015 mooted.

Tada suggested the test mule uses a super-capacitor rather than batteries — the same principle that led Toyota to win this year in the World Endurance Championship with a prototype race car.

"When a performance version of GT86 is announced, you will be surprised," said Tada. "These days, the public does not accept a sports car that uses too much petrol and has high CO2 emissions."

Tada said super-capacitor technology was too expensive for road cars just now, but that Toyota was working with electronics specialists to solve the issue, and that the performance GT86 could not go to market with a high price if it was to be competitive.

Francisco Mota

LA motor show: Mini John Cooper Works GP

Posted: 22 Nov 2012 03:00 PM PST

A quarter of the limited run Mini GP hot hatch are destined for America

The Mini John Cooper Works GP will be sold in limited numbers in North America, it has emerged. The car will receive its US debut at next week's LA motor show.

Just 2000 examples of the fastest-ever Mini will be built, with 500 earmarked for American buyers. It is thought Mini plans to supply one GP to each of its 115 dealer sites. Owners of the original GP will be given first refusal on the remaining stock. The remaining models will be sold conventionally.

According to one American dealer, US-spec GPs will feature individually numbered red decals on the roof, similar to those featured on the original GP.

LA motor show: Mini Paceman

Posted: 22 Nov 2012 02:55 PM PST

The Mini Paceman will receive its North American debut at the Los Angeles motor show next week

The Mini Paceman will receive its North American premiere at the Los Angeles motor show next week. 

The Paceman will launch in the USA with two four-cylinder petrol engines in Cooper and Cooper S models. Both models will feature a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, with a six-speed auto on the options list.

Cooper S variants will be available with four-wheel drive.

Recent success in America means that the US is Mini's single most important market. It says much of its growth is attributable to the Countryman, which has attracted many newcomers to the brand. The Countryman-based Paceman is predicted to continue that trend.

Quick news: Thieves avoid Prius; winter increases 4x4 values

Posted: 22 Nov 2012 09:32 AM PST

Toyota's hybrid least stolen car in US; potential bad weather makes prices rise

Toyota's Prius is the least stolen car in the US, with one in 606 models stolen compared to the national average of one in 78. The National Insurance Crime Bureau, which carried out the survey, reckons thieves avoid the car because it doesn't contain enough parts that will fit other vehicles.

Values of four-wheel drives are on the rise as winter sets in, according to auction firm BCA. Prices rose by 16 per cent last month to over £13,000 and BCA predicts further rises. "There is a well charted trend between falling temperatures and rising values for 4x4s, and we would expect to see that continue in the next few months," said a spokesman.

First drive review: Volkswagen Golf 1.4 TSI ACT 140 5dr

Posted: 22 Nov 2012 09:04 AM PST

It's the first time we've tested the Mk7 Volkswagen Golf in the UK, and its all-round competence still shines This is the first time we've driven the latest Volkswagen Golf in the UK, having been so impressed with it when we tried it overseas.Our UK test car was still a left-hooker, thus putting its driver on the kerb side of the road in Britain and leaving them susceptible to the worst aspects of a car's ride.It came with a 138bhp 1.4 TSI turbo petrol engine driving through a six-speed manual gearbox, with a cylinder-deactivation system that cuts two cylinders on a light load.

LA motor show: Kia Forte

Posted: 22 Nov 2012 09:02 AM PST

Kia Forte saloon due for LA reveal but not destined for Europe

The new Kia Forte will be unveiled at the LA motor show, although there are no plans to bring the model to Europe or the UK.

The car was first seen at October's Santiago motor show, where it turned up unannounced on Kia's stand. The car we'll see in LA is the saloon, and a two-door coupé model will follow.

In Korea and some other Asian markets, where it is known as the K3 and is already available to order, the car comes with a 1.6-litre petrol engine developing 133bhp and 120lb ft. It's available with stop-start as an option. 

It's longer, wider and lower than the current Forte – overall length is 4560mm, width is up to 1780mm and height is cut to 1435mm. The wheelbase has been increased to 2700mm, which should improve interior space.

Dan Stevens

LA motor show: Fiat 500L Trekking

Posted: 22 Nov 2012 07:39 AM PST

Soft-roader look for long-wheelbase city car

Fiat will launch a soft-roader variant of its long-wheelbase 500 at the Los Angeles motor show next week. The 500L Trekking is based on the longer 500L chassis and, compared to the 500L, has a raised ride height, a larger grille and different body mouldings.

Despite Fiat's plans to launch a small 500-based 4x4 next year, the Trekking won't come with four-wheel drive, although its traction control system will be modified to work better on wet grass and unstable surfaces. 

It's expected to go on sale in the UK next September.

How to make the perfect BMW M3

Posted: 22 Nov 2012 06:30 AM PST

What is the perfect M3 formula?

A new BMW M3 will arrive in 2014, but what should it be like? Steve Sutcliffe puts three of its predecessors through their paces at Brands Hatch to find the perfect ingredients.

Meet the ancestors: Porsche Boxster

Posted: 21 Nov 2012 02:41 AM PST

We drive the original and latest Boxsters back-to-back

The Porsche Boxster has been one of our favourite roadsters since the original car launched. But has time been kind to it? We pitch it against the Mk1 Boxster against the very latest model to find out.

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