Wednesday, November 28, 2012

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LA motor show: i3 is BMW's best electric offering yet

Posted: 28 Nov 2012 06:49 AM PST

BMW says its new i3 Concept Coupe is a precursor to an expanded line-up of electric mobility options

The big news for BMW at the Los Angeles motor show is the latest push in its electric i car programme. We've seen the BMW i3 hatchback and the BMW i8 sports car before, but LA marks an acknowledgment that the sub-brand needs to grow.

Last night, the BMW i3 Concept Coupe was revealed at a preview event in Beverly Hills. And the car we were shown is arguably the most interesting of all the i models. It injects more style and, as i design boss Benoit Jacob put it, "more emotion" into the brand.

The i8 Spyder, which we'll see later today at the show, may be the car that gets the magazine front pages and will be the car that the adolescent car buyer of tomorrow will hang on their wall, but it is cars like the i3 Coupe that are more likely to leave interested parties reaching for their wallets.

Jacob also suggested that a small, urban car and a sportscar may not be the only models the i brand will spawn. The nomenclature given certainly supports this, allowing for something smaller to sit below the i3 range, and a number of larger, more practical models above it.

But a sub-i3 offering may not necessarily be a car. Jacob said i "isn't just about car mobility", and everything from kick-along scooters to charging infrastructure is all part of the i dream.

Perhaps the bigger question is whether buyers want a 'solution', or just a car that can do everything. If that's the case, then maybe a pure electric car is just a red herring; a Minidisc moment that will pass when something more flexible comes along.

Range anxiety isn't going away, and the proliferation of range extenders proves there is another way. BMW should consider it, even if it waters down the pure i brand.

LA motor show: Bentley's return to racing

Posted: 28 Nov 2012 04:58 AM PST

Bentley's return to GT3 racing may smack of brand strategy, but it can only prove beneficial for the marque and for motorsport fans

It would be easy to be slightly cynical about Bentley's decision to return to racing next year, 10 years after it won Le Mans. After all, GT3 racing can appear all a bit gentlemanly and a good excuse for exotic car makers to flog a few cars.

But while the project is unquestionably commercially driven – what self-respecting car company wouldn't act that way? – there's also an infusion of passion about the way the men at the top are going about their business that befits a brand with the heritage of the Bentley Boys.

Ahead of today's Los Angeles motor show, Rolf Frech, the firm's technical boss, talked about the passion racing projects instil in a car company, and how much can be learned from them that can be put back on to the production line. "The road car guys can learn from the racing guys, and vice versa," he said. "The speed at which racing teams solve problems and react is invigorating, and we took the decision to run the project in-house because we wanted to take those skills back in to the company."

And for all the equalisation in performance figures among GT3 competitors – after all, how else could a wide-nosed Bentley ever take on a McLaren? – the technical challenge is very real. Brian Gush, Bentley's go-to racing man as well as director of chassis and powertrain on the road car side, talks about taking 1000kg out of the racer, moving the engine and ancilliaries around to get optimum performance and running a semi-works operation to set the car up perfectly, iron out problems and then take Bentley back to racing.

I'd guess he has a queue of professional and wannabe professional racing drivers knocking down his door – as well as a strong list of potential amateur customers. That certainly seemed to be the case when they showed the car in America for the first time last night, following its initial unveiling at the Paris motor show.

My view is that it's great to have a brand with Bentley's heritage back in racing. Great, too, that it sees a relevance in modern motorsport for promoting it brand and sales. And it'll be better still if it really whets the company's appetite for another crack at motorsport at the very top.

Receivers sell off last Saabs

Posted: 28 Nov 2012 04:47 AM PST

Final production cars up for auction, including the unlaunched 9-5 estate

The last Saabs to roll off the production line at Trollhätten, including the unreleased 9-5 estate, have been put up for sale through an online auction.

The sale has been ordered by Saab's receivers, with 68 cars in total going under the hammer. The most unusual of the lots are the 18 9-5 SportCombis, the estate 9-5 that never made it into showrooms. Only 30 were built.

Some 29 of the 54 facelifted 2012 model 9-5 saloons that were built but never went on sale are also in the auction, along with 10 9-4Xs and the last 9-5 saloon ever built. The company car of Victor Muller, who bought Saab in 2011, is in the sale – it's a 9-5 Aero V6.

Poignantly, the sale includes the two Independence Edition 9-3 Cabriolets, a limited edition that was built to mark Saab's first year as an independent manufacturer. Only 38 were built before production at Trollhätten was shut down.

Not all the cars are factory-fresh – many have been used as test hacks or company runabouts and will need mechanical and bodywork repairs.

Auctioneers KVD Kvarndammen will run the auction until December 16. All the cars are available to view in Sweden.

LA motor show: Bentley Continental GT3

Posted: 28 Nov 2012 04:38 AM PST

Bentley's return to motor racing with the striking Continental GT3 will bolster its road car expertise, according to company chiefs

Bentley chiefs say the decision to return to top-line motor racing with a GT3-specification Continental will have a positive effect on development of its road car products.

Speaking on the eve of the Los Angeles motor show, where the Bentley Continental GT3 is being given its first official North American airing, engineering boss Rolf Frech told Autocar that production of the Crewe firm's race and road cars is closely linked.

"One of the major reasons for doing this project is to give our road car engineers some exposure to the quick-fire processes involved in building and racing cars," he said.

"They can bring knowledge from the road car side to the project, but it is also clear they can take back some of the knowledge of racing to the production line. Ten years after winning Le Mans in 2003, this kind of quick thinking and problem solving is something that is very relevant to the company."

The GT3 race car was first revealed at the Paris motor show and marks the return of Bentley to front-line GT and sports car racing. A road-going version of Bentley's new Continental GT3 race car is likely to follow. It could feature four-wheel drive, a pared-down but luxury interior and possibly a 700bhp W12 engine.

The sporty model is set to occupy a similar spot in Bentley's range to the old Supersports model and would command a similar price of just under £200,000.

Key details have yet to be finalised, but Bentley is understood to be looking at a production run of around 300 cars to be built over a 12-month period circa 2014-2015.

The FIA's GT3 rules allow a radically different race-car specification from the road version. Although the Bentley racer has a rear-wheel-drive layout with a rear-mounted transaxle gearbox, the road car is likely to retain the permanent four-wheel drive system that features on all current Continental models, a senior source revealed.

Insiders are talking about a Ferrari F12 Berlinetta-rivalling 700bhp as a potential power output.

Most insiders favour retaining the twin-turbo 6.0-litre W12 for the GT3 because it's the Continental's flagship engine. However, the newer twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 is also a possibility, a move that would create two sub-brands within the Continental range: W12 luxury and V8 performance, the latter topped by a V8 GT3. The race car's extreme rear wing and the rest of the aerodynamic package would be toned down for road use.

Bentley is considering a partly stripped-out interior, but with plenty of luxury remaining. However, a roll cage wouldn't feature, because it's considered too extreme for Bentley owners.

Autocar understands that the first racing versions of the Continental GT3 will be ready by next autumn, and will be entered by the manufacturer in endurance events such as the Spa 24 Hours. After that, the cars will be handed over to customers ahead of the 2014 racing season.

Although official sources are tight-lipped, it is rumoured that M-Sport, the Cumbrian company run by rally guru Malcolm Wilson, is assisting the factory with the build and development of the Continental GT3.

LA motor show: Smart Forjeremy

Posted: 28 Nov 2012 04:16 AM PST

Bewinged special edition to make limited-run production

Mercedes has unveiled the Smart Forjeremy show car at a special ceremony on the eve of the Los Angeles motor show.

Based on a Smart Fortwo electric drive, the Forjeremy is a design collaboration with American fashion designer Jeremy Scott, who has altered the body to include his trademark wings.

Made of clear fibreglass, the wings light up to act as the rear brake lights.

Further exterior alterations include alloy wheels designed to look like airplane propellers, and 'eyebrow' design details above the headlamp clusters. Completing the unique look are a chromed grille and door mirrors.

Inside, Scott chose white Nappa leather, with diamond stitched seats, contrasted with chrome trim fittings.

The Fortwo's electric drivetrain remains unaltered, meaning there's a 55kW electric motor capable of accelerating the car up to a top speed of 78mph. Its lithium-ion battery pack gives a 90-mile range.

While currently only a one-off, Mercedes is hoping to put the Smart Forjeremy into limited-run production early next year.

Daljinder Nagra

LA motor show: Range Rover and Jaguar F-type

Posted: 28 Nov 2012 04:02 AM PST

JLR's latest reach North America

The new Range Rover and Jaguar F-type models have made their North American debuts in Los Angeles.

North America will be a key market for both models: the Range Rover is Land Rover's second best-selling model after the Range Rover Sport, with a traditionally high transaction price, while the F-type's combination of a convertible body and V6 engine in its line-up gives Jaguar a competitive rival for high-end Porsche Boxsters and entry-level 911s.

The models were unveiled by their respective designers Gerry McGovern and Ian Callum at a special 'British Invasion'-themed Jaguar Land Rover ceremony at the Paramount Studios in Hollywood.

In the US, the new Range Rover is priced from $83,500 (£52,000) in its base 5.0-litre naturally aspirated petrol V8 guise. This rises to $88,500 (£55,000) for an HSE model, and to $99,950 (£62,500) for a Supercharged version of the V8. The range-topping Autobiography costs from $130,950 (£82,000).In the UK, an entry-level Vogue model equipped with the 3.0 TDV6 diesel engine costs from £71,295, almost £20,000 more than the starting point in the US.

The new Range Rover will reach US showrooms in December, which is traditionally the strongest month for new car sales over the whole year. It will reach the UK a month later in January 2013.

The Jaguar F-type engine line-up mirrors that of the UK, so the entry-level F-type gets a 335bhp supercharged V6 costing from $69,000 (£43,000). In the UK, this engined car costs from £58,500.

The mid-range F-type S model gets a 375bhp version of the 3.0 V6, costing from $81,000 (£50,500). This model costs from £67,500 in the UK. The range-topping F-type V8 S gets a 488bhp supercharged V8 and costs from $92,000 (£57,500). The range-topper costs from £79,950 in the UK, where deliveries of the F-type start in May, the same time as the US.

Stage fright: driving the Sanremo rally course

Posted: 28 Nov 2012 04:00 AM PST

The day before the start of Rallye Sanremo, We tackle its most feared and demanding stage, the 27-mile Ronde, in a Fabia Monte Carlo

One word daubed in white paint on a rock the size of a Skoda Citigo offers a hint that Strada Provinciale 56, a mountain road in north-west Italy, is part of rallying folklore. Situated at a crossroads, the weathered monolith reads, quite simply, 'Rohrl'.

It's a succinct tribute to double world rally champion Walter Röhrl, a legend in these parts for pedalling a Fiat 131 Abarth to victory on Rallye Sanremo in 1980 and repeating the feat in an Audi Quattro Sport S1 in 1985.

Rallye Sanremo may be based in the grand old seaside town that gives the event its name, but the action takes place on closed public roads overlooking the Mediterranean coastline. In the small, quiet settlements that litter the route, rallying is as much a part of life as the olives grown on the steep hillsides by the local farmers.

Once a five-day marathon that took crews as far away as Livorno, some 200 miles along the coast, Rallye Sanremo is these days a sprint event, comprising 10 special stages packed into a manic 25 hours.

We've been drawn here by the most feared stage of the rally: Ronde. At 27.34 miles, it's the longest test in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge and splices together three roads used earlier in the rally into one über-stage.

Ronde contains everything: tortuous hairpins, fast descents, narrow bridges, blind crests, changing grip levels, bumpy sections where harsh winters have broken the asphalt, a fast and flowing forest section and some fresh-air cliff drops. Then there's the dark. Yes, the Automobile Club of Sanremo sees fit to run the stage at night, although, as one rally team manager says, "At least you can't see the drops in the dark."

Our quest is to drive Ronde at a more sedate pace and – for photographic purposes and the relief of my nerves – in daylight. Whereas a rally driver would have a navigator sitting alongside calling the shots, I've got snapper Peter Spinney taking them instead, while Skoda UK Motorsport team boss Andy Rogers and PR guru Paul Evans are running chase car and guiding us to some of the key points.

Skoda UK hasn't entered its Fabia S2000 for Sanremo, focusing instead on the season showdown in Cyprus, but it has lent us a 1.6-litre turbodiesel Fabia Monte Carlo road car in which to tackle the stage. With the rally stages of the famous Monte Carlo Rally just 50 miles west, the limited-edition model is a fitting vehicle for our adventure.

We leave Sanremo on a cloudy October morning and drive north to Gozzo, which is little more than a handful of hairpin-hugging houses. It's the day before the roads are closed and painted across the asphalt is a thin white line that signifies the stage start.

Skoda UK's efferverscent team co-ordinator, Dario D'Esposito, has written us some hints for tackling Ronde. He advises rally navigators to turn on their car's map-reading light before the start, even if the stage is being held in daylight. The reason, he says cryptically, will become clear later.

I cajole Spinney into giving me a rally countdown – five-four-three-two-one – and we swing the little Fabia through a series of hairpins and accelerate along a ridge. Less than two miles into the stage, we arrive at a wide right-hand hairpin, where we stop to admire the view across to the French Riviera.

Like rallying archaeologists, we unearth artifacts, a battered crash barrier bearing the name of Carlos Sainz in flaking blue paint. A slogan on the rockface reads, 'No Kopecký – no party'. It refers to Skoda's Jan Kopecký, the darling of hard-revelling Czech rally fans.

Some hardy spectators have already pitched their tents in a small clearing on the inside of the hairpin. They're a day early, but you have to be to bag the best viewing spots.

We press on deeper into the Scots pine, chestnut and beech trees. The road narrows, but the corners are fast and flowing. A hooked-up rally crew with accurate pacenotes could gain chunks of time over hesitant rivals here. It's fun to fling the nimble Fabia Monte Carlo through the bends, and the Skoda's 104bhp is more than enough on a route like this. Mind you, I'd feel less enthusiastic about bringing the 265bhp Fabia Super 2000 rally car down here. It is 15cm wider than our road version, and what concerns me most is that the stones that mark the edge of the road are like jagged shark's teeth. Touch one of them and you'll sustain a time-consuming puncture. There is no opportunity of 'cutting' the corner to save time; Sanremo favours drivers who can control their aggression.

"This part of the stage is strictly middle-of-the-road stuff," explains Rogers. "There are only one or two cuts that the drivers can take."

We drive on to a difficult sequence of bumpy corners. Back in 2001, when Sanremo was part of the world championship, Richard Burns put his Subaru Impreza off here, less than three miles into the event. Fortunately, it didn't derail his charge to that season's title.

After four miles, we arrive at the first junction. The road to our right leads down into San Romolo, where the stage finishes, but we're going left. We meet Oscar, an enthusiastic marshal who is laying out marker tape, and have a conversation via two languages. Turns out Oscar used to be a mechanic for the KTM bike team on enduro events. He wears a cardboard model of a car on his head for Spinney's camera.

Oscar tells us about a famous jump in Bajardo, some way further round the mountains. Through his gesticulations, we learn there's potential for some 'big air' there.

We turn our backs on San Romolo. The surface is more slippery and the road is still sinuous. Our Fabia is happy bumbling along in third and fourth gears, but on more difficult sections my hesitant stabs of the throttle around some of the blind corners are causing me more work, because I'm letting the engine drop out of the rev range and having to snick down a gear.

"Teams will fit a short-ratio sequential gearbox, so the top speed will be about 110mph, and despite the tight nature of the roads there will still be plenty of fourth, fifth and sixth-gear sections," Rogers tells me. Okay… I've barely introduced my Fabia to its longest fifth ratio since we left Sanremo.

Five miles in, we level out at 890m above sea level and take a sharp left into a tunnel that cuts through the mountainside. The burble of our Fabia's 1.6 TDI reverberates loudly in the high-ceilinged tunnel. In a performance-tuned, normally aspirated, 2.0-litre petrol Super 2000 car – where noise, vibration and harshness levels are given short shrift – it must be deafening, crash helmets or no crash helmets.

Remember that reminder for co-drivers to turn on their map-reading light at the start of the stage? Well, it's hard to read pacenotes in the dark, and the co-driver won't be able to warn of the treacherous left-hand corner that rushes up at the exit of the tunnel. Judging by the crumpled guardrail, some have learned the hard way.

We exit the tunnel and descend into Perinaldo. Just before the village there's a long left-hander where French ace Didier Auriol went off on the opening stage of the 1992 event when his Lancia Delta Integrale shed a wheel. It ruined his chances of a Sanremo hat-trick and opened the door for home hero Andrea Aghini to take his only World Rally Championship victory.

At a junction, we turn right on to an incredibly tight road, barely a car's width. I feel uncomfortable. It's bumpy and I keep imagining that there could be an over-committed Fiat Panda 4x4 speeding towards us around the next bend – not something the rally crews have to worry about.

After Perinaldo, D'Esposito's notes cheerfully tell us to "prepare to panic". Our descent gets steeper and the road gets even tighter. It is a key section, where drivers can put too much demand on brakes and tyres, which can cause difficulties later in the stage.

We negotiate a sequence of bends where Röhrl aquaplaned on standing water during the 1984 rally and wrote off his Audi Quattro Sport. At the bottom of the hill, we cross a tributary of the Nervia river over a narrow bridge and, at 13.5 miles, we arrive in Apricale, where the road starts to climb again.

We pause at a well known junction. Tomorrow, Apricale will be packed with spectators. Today, it is still early and the medieval town hasn't really woken up. I need a break and I'm relieved when the others agree to an espresso.

Back in the Fabia Monte Carlo, we start a four-mile section that's one of the most satisfying parts of the stage. The road is smooth and recently resurfaced, and it dances left and right, hugging the mountainside on the left, while on the right a guardrail separates us from thin air. Thankfully, the metal looks in a good state of repair; on other parts of Ronde, the barriers look like they'd fall over in a stiff breeze. Visibility is better too. We're out of the trees and you can see two or three corners ahead – generous by Sanremo standards – and you can push harder as a result.

A series of switchbacks takes us up to Bajardo. We remember what our new pal Oscar said about the famous jump. After a run up the hill from a hairpin, the launchpad is where our mountain road joins the main street at a junction. The crest is blind, the camber uneven. Drivers must trust their pacenotes implicitly here.

Leaving Bajardo behind, we arrive at a crossroads. Left takes us up Monte Ceppo via another famous rally road, and the route straight ahead forms an alternative version of the Ronde stage. With so many challenging roads to choose from, it's little wonder that the Liguria region breeds great asphalt rally drivers.

We turn right, past Röhrl's rock, and plunge back into the forest. The trees glow vivid orange with autumnal hues, but lingering fog reduces visibility considerably. I imagine how the crews will be feeling. Whereas the earlier descent to Apricale called for caution and discipline, this one is wider and faster, demanding bravery and precision. Shrewd competitors who haven't cooked their tyres and brakes will go on the attack. It's slippery due to the layer of mulchy leaves and chestnut husks on the asphalt.

Before long we're back in San Romolo and can sense the finish. There's a sting in the tail: a challenging left-hander over a bridge that has caught out many drivers eager to finish with a flourish. Just up the road, a white painted line across the asphalt marks the end of the stage.

As Spinney takes more photographs, I reflect on Ronde. We've cruised around, stopping for coffee and taking photos like tourists. Could I drive all the way at ten-tenths, pushing the car to the limit, maximising every braking point and throttle application, heeding the pacenotes and never putting a wheel off line? Could I do all that for 30 intense minutes in the dark? No chance.

We stop at nearby Dall'Ava restaurant in the shadow of an 800-year-old chestnut tree. Run by the third generation of the same family, the place is a shrine to rallying. The walls are covered with signed, framed photographs of every famous rally driver that you'd care to name.

I don't spot an image of Italian driver Giandomenico Basso, but he'll soon get his place on the wall because two days later he will go on to win Sanremo for the second time, equalling Colin McRae and Björn Waldegård in the record books. En route, Basso will also claim Ronde, stopping the clocks at 30min 20.4sec, which equates to an average speed of 54mph. Thinking back over our run, I can count the number of times I hit a maximum speed of 54mph on one hand…

LA motor show picture gallery

Posted: 28 Nov 2012 03:57 AM PST

Exclusive images of all the new concepts and production cars as they are unveiled at the Los Angeles motor show today

The 2012 Los Angeles motor show gets underway later today, and the team is at the Los Angeles Convention Centre to report on all the new car launches and industry developments.

Follow the news as it happens on our LA motor show homepage. We'll also be uploading the freshest pictures to this gallery throughout the day. Our team of journalists on the show floor will also be blogging and providing expert opinion on all the day's events.

We've already seen leaked pictures of the Toyota RAV4, Porsche Cayman and Jaguar XFR-S, while BMW's high-tech i3 Concept Coupe, Merc's Ener-G-Force and the Smart ForJeremy have officially broken cover.

Given the time difference to Los Angeles, the first official car launch of the show will take place on Toyota's stand at 5pm GMT, but we'll be working deep into the night to bring you all the latest updates.

You can also follow our official Twitter feed, and those of our show team, at these tags:

Autocar @autocar

Jim Holder (Editor) @Jim_Holder

Hilton Holloway (Associate Editor) @hiltonholloway

Mark Tisshaw (News Editor) @mtisshaw

Stuart Milne (Digital Editor) @stuartjmilne

LA motor show: buy it like Beckham

Posted: 28 Nov 2012 02:52 AM PST

To cater for the celebrities of Los Angeles, car dealers have to adopt a different business plan

Ever been in a car dealership and David Beckham has driven past in his Rolls-Royce and waved out of the window? Me neither, until this afternoon. An unusual event, perhaps, but then the Hornburg Jaguar Land Rover dealer on Sunset Boulevard is not your usual car dealer.

Hornburg is the JLR dealer where the rich and famous go to buy their cars. The lead singer of the Scissor Sisters was in just before me this afternoon to buy a Jaguar XKR just two days after passing his test. Beckham is a regular (an XKR and a Range Rover Autobiography Supercharged are his current JLR steers), as are Denzel Washington, Gordon Ramsey and Simon Cowell. A few years ago, Brad Pitt picked up Range Rover Sport Supercharged the day after turning up to the Oscars in a Toyota Prius.

Martin Dodsworth is the general manager of the Hornburg dealership. He moved here from a JLR dealership in Nottingham seven years ago and, ahead of the Los Angeles motor show, he described to me a car buying process that is a world away from the system we know in Britain.

"Buyers here want instant gratification," Dodsworth explained, "so if the car can't be delivered to their house by 5pm later that day then they will go and buy from somewhere else that can."

Hornburg, which was converted from a pub to a Jaguar dealer in 1948, will typically stock around 110 new cars and up to 50 used models. And if one of those models is not to a buyer's tastes, they will go elsewhere.

It is rare for a buyer to place an order for a bespoke-built model; if they do place a deposit for a new car, by the time it's ready to be delivered they will typically have forgotten and gone and bought something else.

As many as nine out of every 10 sales is done by leasing due to the huge tax advantages. And as the drivers never have any intention of owning the car outright, they are typically poorly cared for and in need of plenty of spit and polish when traded in for the latest model year.

Servicing is also a fairly alien concept to wealthy buyers; the first service has to be offered free or people would simply not bother. "There's no such thing as a full service history here," said Dodsworth.

Business is strong at Hornburg on the Land Rover side of the business in particular, with around 25 Land Rovers sold every week. Around 60 per cent of its sales are Range Rover Sports, with another 20 per cent being the Range Rover and the rest split between the Evoque and LR4 (Discovery). Competition is fierce, though, not only from rival makers offering cheaper leasing deals but from other JLR dealers too. There are five in a 15-mile radius, so having a strong stock is essential.

There are a few models Dodsworth believes will increase footfall even more. A seven-seat version of the Range Rover Sport "will kill the market", he reckons, while a smaller Jaguar to rival the BMW 3-series would give the brand "a cheaper entry point into the brand and a cheaper leasing rate". And more volume for Jaguar would increase brand awareness and improve sales of the other models as a result, Dodsworth believes.

With model expansions imminent for both Jaguar and Land Rover outside their core line-ups, and the launch of new Range Rover, Range Rover Sport and Jaguar F-type models due within the next year, times ahead look good for Hornburg, JLR and UK plc on Sunset Boulevard. They'll just be hoping David Beckham doesn't follow through on his plan to move to a new football club, but stays in LA to swap his Range Rover and XKR for a new Range Rover and an F-type. 

LA motor show: Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 10th Anniversary

Posted: 28 Nov 2012 02:41 AM PST

Limited edition Jeep loaded with off-road kit

Jeep will wheel out a limited edition of its Wrangler at the LA Motor show, aimed squarely at off-road enthusiasts.

The Wrangler Rubicon 10th Anniversary Edition comes with specialist off-road kit such as a winch, a low-ratio transfer box and low-ratio diffs, bumpers with removable end caps, rock bars and an increased ride height.

It's available as a two or four-door model, with a soft-top or a hard top, and inside comes with red leather upholstery and extra gauges for oil temperature and pressure.

Jeep is calling the model "the most capable Wrangler ever produced". Don't expect to see it in the UK though – it's a US market model only.

First drive review: Toyota Auris 1.6 Icon

Posted: 28 Nov 2012 02:25 AM PST

Pleasing exterior styling, sharper handling, a fine ride and low running costs rekindle the Auris's appeal, but its dash is a dampener It's a sharper-looking second-generation Auris, with proportions and weight distribution reconfigured to provide the more engaging drive demanded by enlightened Toyota boss Akio Toyoda. So while both platform and wheelbase are carry-over, a lower roofline and reduced ride height have yielded a roll-reducing centre of gravity affording more supple suspension. Those worrying about heads striking headlinings needn't fret, either. The height reduction has been in part prompted by the outgoing Auris's taller-than-average proportioning, and Toyota is compensating with a roof that billows above each seat row. A reduced frontal area is a useful aerodynamic gain, with the Auris's drag coefficient falling to 0.28, while its weight drops by an average of 50kg across the range.Improved fuel efficiency, handling and ride are the aims, while criticism of the old car's striking but ergonomically troubled flying-buttress centre console has provoked a major rethink of the dashboard's architecture and finish. Of which more shortly.The front suspension uses the same MacPherson strut layout as before but with tweaks, while the sophisticated double wishbone rear suspension, previously reserved for the most potent diesel, has now been bestowed on this 128bhp 1.6, the most sophisticated feature of which is its variable lift and duration valve timing. It's hooked to a six-speeder, and you'll be using it to chase a high-altitude, 4400rpm torque peak.

Toyota RAV4 images leaked

Posted: 28 Nov 2012 02:09 AM PST

Photos emerge hours before the car's international debut at the Los Angeles motor show

What appear to be official images of the new RAV4 have leaked out, as Toyota is making final preparations to unveil the car to the world at the LA motor show today.

The new crossover SUV, which will rival the Ford Kuga and new Honda CR-V, is larger than the outgoing model. Its design also reflects Toyota's current design theme, previously seen on the Auris hatchback.

As yet there has been no confirmation on specification, although we will bring you more information from the car's launch this evening.

Daljinder Nagra

New Porsche Cayman pictured

Posted: 27 Nov 2012 05:47 PM PST

First image leaks out in French magazine; official reveal due at LA motor show on Wednesday evening

This is reported to be the first picture of the new Porsche Cayman, which is scheduled to be unveiled at the Los Angeles motor show this evening.

The image, printed by a French magazine, appears to show the second-generation Cayman, which shares its lightweight aluminium body, roomier cabin and upgraded six-cylinder engines with its sister car, the Porsche Boxster.

The base Cayman engine will be a 2.7-litre flat six, downsized from the 2.9 in today's car. It's expected to produce about 280bhp, up from 262bhp in the 2.9. The Cayman S will get a 3.4-litre flat six with about 330bhp, up from 315bhp in today's car.

The new Cayman will be offered with a six-speed manual as standard and 
an optional seven-speed, 
dual-clutch auto gearbox.

Full technical details and official pictures are expected to be revealed around 8pm UK time tonight.

First pictures of Jaguar XFR-S leak out

Posted: 27 Nov 2012 05:24 PM PST

Jaguar XFR-S pictures leak out ahead of Los Angeles motor show debut; full technical details and more pictures to be revealed Wednesday evening

These are the first pictures of the Jaguar XFR-S, which will be unveiled later this evening at the Los Angeles motor show.

The range-topping performance version of the XFR super-saloon has been described by its makers as "the fastest and most powerful saloon Jaguar has ever produced."

However, although these pictures have leaked out ahead of the car's official unveiling, no performance data has been given. The car is expected to be powered by a version of the XFR's supercharged 5.0 V8, tuned to around 542bhp.

The pictures do reveal that, like the XKR-S, the XFR-S gets several aggressive bodywork upgrades.

New braking system wins Autocar award

Posted: 27 Nov 2012 02:00 PM PST

Student develops cylindrical braking system

An innovative braking system that does away with conventional discs and pads has won its inventor the Autocar-Courland Next Generation award.

Roberto Antonio Pace collected the £7500 award at the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders dinner, and he wins a five month work experience placement with Jaguar Land Rover and McLaren Automotive, as well as Peugeot, Skoda and Toyota.

Pace's design replaces the brake disc with a cylinder. Rather than the friction material in the caliper gripping the flat surface of a disc, it works instead on the cylinder, which spins around the hub.

In theory, a cylinder will warm up more evenly than a disc, reducing hot spots on the surface and brake fade. Pace also reckons that a smaller cylinder can offer the same performance as a larger disc, which will help cut vehicle weight. 

McLaren chief engineer Neil Patterson, said: "In-wheel braking hasn't seen significant evolution for decades, so for me the most impressive thing is Roberto's courage to challenge the status quo by taking it on in the first place."

Jonathan Maynard from Brunel University and James Benson from Huddersfield University were runners up, with their Cooled EGR Discharge and Car Theft Prevention System entries.

Nissan Leaf sets another record

Posted: 27 Nov 2012 08:34 AM PST

225 Leaf EVs create the largest ever parade of electric vehicles

The Nissan Leaf has once again entered the record books, after 225 examples set the record for the largest ever parade of electric vehicles.

The ensemble, which drove just over two miles around Silverstone race circuit in Northamptonshire, beat the previous record of 218 cars set by Chrysler in the United States.

The Nissan Leaf had previously entered the Guinness book of World Records by being the fastest car to travel a mile in reverse, a record set by stunt driver Terry Grant at this year's Goodwood Festival of Speed.

Daljinder Nagra

Indian tractor firm wants Aston Martin

Posted: 27 Nov 2012 07:14 AM PST

Mahindra looking to close deal for British firm this week

Indian tractor maker Mahindra and Mahindra is keen to finalise its bid for Aston Martin "by the end of the week," according to sources close to the deal.

Mahindra is thought to be offering a maximum of £250m for the firm, which would buy at least 40 per cent of Aston's equity, although for that sum Mahindra may want to increase its stake for 50 per cent.

The Indian firm is bidding against a private equity firm, InvestIndustrial, which has reportedly bid between £200 and £250m. Current owner Investment DAR paid £479m for Aston in 2007.

Many industry analysts have expressed doubts about Mahindra's acquisition of Aston, pointing to a lack of synergy with any of Mahindra's other businesses and the folly of buying trophy companies. But the bid has received support from the Unite union, which said it would prefer the Indian company to own Aston than a private equity company. 

Investment DAR has consistently denied that it is looking to sell Aston Martin.

LA motor show: Chevrolet Spark EV on sale next year

Posted: 27 Nov 2012 02:35 AM PST

Electric Chevrolet Spark EV aims for best in class acceleration

Chevrolet has released more details of its electric Spark ahead of its unveiling at the LA motor show.

The Spark is sold in North America, South Korea, India and Australia. GM will build the electric drivetrain in the US and retrofit it to the Korean-built Spark.

That drivetrain consists of 130hp motor that develops 400lb ft, and a 20KwH battery, which Chevrolet claims will give it the best acceleration and among the best range in its class. The car will be available with a fast-charge option, which enables the battery to be 80 per cent charged in 20 minutes.

On a 240v system the Spark fully charges in seven hours, although in the US this will require a dedicated charging point. And although Chevrolet is not confirming the Spark's range, it's likely to be around 60 miles.

The car's aerodynamics have been tweaked with a new grille, redesigned sill covers and an active shutter system that closes and opens the lower air intakes to control air flow through the car. The modifications are said to add 2.5 miles to the car's range.

The Spark EV goes on sale in the US next summer, and will be priced at $25,000 (£15,550), after tax reductions and incentives from individual states. However, it's not going on sale throughout North America – currently only California, Oregon and Canada will get the car, along with South Korea.

LA motor show: BMW i3 Concept Coupé

Posted: 23 Nov 2012 09:29 AM PST

Three-door concept version of BMW's electric hatch hints at potential expansion of the Munich manufacturer's electric car range

BMW is testing the market for a sportier-looking, three-door coupé version of its battery-powered i3 electric hatch with this i3 Concept Coupé, which has broken cover ahead of the Los Angeles motor show.

The BMW i3 Concept Coupé is lower and wider than the five-door i3 hatch due on sale in the UK next year and is distinguished by a more steeply sloped roofline, deeper rear side windows and slightly more angled tailgate.

Otherwise it shares the basic styling treatment, 2750mm wheelbase and carbon fibre reinforced plastic body construction — the so-called Life Module structure — with the i3 five-door.

Although the three-door has yet to be signed off for production, senior BMW officials say that cost and production feasibility studies have been carried out. And it has emerged that a soft-top version of the three-door i3 is also awaiting sign-off, suggesting the i-car line-up could eventually support up to five models — three i3 hatch-derived models and two i8 sportscars.

At 3964mm long, 1768mm wide and 1555mm high, the car is 119mm longer, 243mm narrower and 18mm lower than the five door. To put these dimensions into perspective, the existing Mini hatchback measures 3725mm long, 1685mm wide and 1405mm high.

Inside, the concept previews the i3's production interior. Less flamboyant than the cabin revealed at Frankfurt last year, it sports a simple dashboard housing an integrated digital instrument binnacle, a minimum of switchgear and a free-standing, central sat-nav monitor.

The majority of the controls are accessed via an iDrive rotary controller mounted between the front seats. The steering wheel is a basic two-spoke affair with multi-function controls and the pedals elegant forged aluminium.

Power comes from a 170bhp, 184lb ft electric motor mounted within the rear axle and driving the rear wheels through a fixed ratio gearbox. Lithium ion batteries are packed inside the floor structure. This complete powerpack is shared with the five-door.

To eke maximum energy from the battery pack, a cockpit-mounted 'Driving Experience Control' switch offers three driving modes: Comfort, Eco Pro and Eco Pro+, each with its own individual throttle mapping and climate control settings. BMW claims a range of up to 100 miles in the most efficient Eco Pro+ mode, which shuts down energy-hungry devices like seat heaters.

BMW isn't making any official performance claims for the i3 coupe. However, figures already revealed for the i3 hatchback suggest it will hit 62mph from standstill inside 8.0sec and reach a top speed of 93mph. To maximize range in Eco Pro+ mode, top speed is limited to 56mph.

BMW is also showcasing a number of new internet based functions that will be made available to buyers of its new i brand models under the ConnectedDrive banner on the i3 coupe.

They include a navigation system claimed to provide accurate assessment of range based on real-time traffic information. A so-called eRemote smartphone application developed for both iOs and Android operating systems also allows you to keep tabs on the state of the battery charge remotely, including during periods of plug-in charging. 

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