- Top 12 cars of 2012: Morgan 3 Wheeler
- Autocar behind-the-scenes 2012
- Peugeot 301 to spearhead worldwide growth
- Alfa teases 4C ahead of Geneva debut
Posted: 29 Dec 2012 10:00 PM PST
The Morgan 3 Wheeler is as mad as they come, but it's brilliant for it
The Morgan Motor Company's modus operandi is like a cardigan that, if you keep it for long enough, will eventually become fashionable again.
Things happen in Malvern that are beyond the realm of the rest of the car industry; only on Morgan's website could the top news story read, "Ash dieback disease will not affect production." And only Morgan could release a three-wheeler like this. Not just because it's the only one with the heritage, but also because it's the only car maker bonkers enough to sign it off.
But what a stroke of genius. Four-wheeler legislation is so tight that you can't have sticky-out switches in the cabin. You can't have head traps in the bodywork; you can't have remotely sharp edges. Look at a Radical SR3 SL and you'll see, with its narrow wing and slats in the side and rounded splitter, the lengths to which niche car makers must stretch to gain even limited type approval.
The Morgan 3 Wheeler, though? Well, that's a trike, not a car, so more of the 'bike' regulations apply. Want a two-cylinder, air-cooled motor hanging over the front axle and toggle switches inside the cabin? Fill your boots.
And what a machine that results. We gave the 3 Wheeler five road test stars with very good reason: we test cars on their fitness for purpose. This car's entire purpose is to make you smile and, if it doesn't, chances are you haven't driven it yet. There were a few doubters in the office that it was worth the score. So we sent them down the road in it and they came back, converted.
The 3 Wheeler brings its limits to you; it doesn't, like so many sports cars, expect you to step up to some extraordinarily heady heights that would, a few decades ago, have been the dynamic preserve of F1 and top-line sports car drivers. It's utterly relevant to the world we now live in.
So we invited it to our Britain's Best Driver's Car contest, where its suspension broke, quickly and without warning, on the circuit, of its own accord. Our driver was shaken, but there was no contact. If it had happened on the road, he might not have been so lucky.
At that point, suddenly, you realise that Morgan does exist in the same industry as everyone else. To its credit, within days Morgan had uprated the front wishbones on new-build models and promised a free set of the stronger wishbones for existing customers – although it didn't recall the 3 Wheeler or foot the cost of the swap. For what it's worth, I still think it should do both.
But don't let that affect what the 3 Wheeler represents: the industry doing what it does best, suiting our wants, not our needs. As so many mainstream car makers are learning to their cost, people don't want boring cars. What Morgan does today is arguably more relevant than ever.
Posted: 29 Dec 2012 10:00 PM PST
The stories behind the big stories of the year
For proof that the car industry moves fast, cast your eyes over these numbers. Over 51 issues and 3825 editorial pages, we've written about great cars, average cars and even the occasional poor one, revealing their first details, driving them, road testing them and offering advice on how to buy them at a better price.
We've had cars that have shocked (Range Rover Evoque cabrio, Bentley 4x4), cars that have wowed (Porsche 911, Toyota GT86, Range Rover) and everything in between. We've broken stories on cars that will rock our future (McLaren P1, Ferrari Enzo) and some that might not (already the makers of the Lamborghini SUV appear to have gone cold on the idea).
The common thread is that we are fascinated by each and every one – and as dedicated as ever to bringing you the best coverage of them all.
We wanted to gather some of the fastest and finest Fords ever made, but what we didn't expect was how we'd fall in love with something that was neither particularly fast nor a de facto classic. It all happened by accident, too. We wanted to head to Wales in a convoy made up of the Sierra Cosworth, Mk1 Focus RS, Mk2 Focus ST, Racing Puma and a Mk3 XR2i. Stumbling through Ford's heritage collection, we made a last-minute decision to bag a white, carb-fed Mk2 XR2 instead.
The delicacy, simplicity and tiny dimensions appealed. Dim headlights on Wales's dark, flooded and twisty roads en route to our shoot didn't. The chance to let the more modern metal lead the way was gratefully taken up. But once the rainclouds cleared, the baby of this test came into its own. It may have cost roughly half of the next cheapest in our test, but it was the one that we all secretly coveted.
When the 'yes' came, we weren't expecting it. We must have asked 20 times whether we could ride with Chris Porritt, engineer and Le Mans racer, in the £1.2 million One-77 supercar that he'd just spent years building. And we'd become rather comfortable with a refusal. Suddenly, they said yes. Porritt would take me on to local roads around the factory and then on some hot laps of the Gaydon test track.
He delivered, big time. He was restrained on the open road, but we truly stormed the test track. I had previously thought of it as a sterile piece of straight and curved blacktop, curiously wide in places. But at 200mph, it was just wide enough; for 15 minutes, Le Mans moved to the Midlands. I can still see the white faces of the onlookers as we rocketed by.
Porritt burned rubber for 15 minutes, producing one of the best cover pictures we've ever had. He also conclusively proved the One-77's credentials. Job done.
Our group test of the 'Toyobaru' was a very special occasion — the first true test of a car that would go on to achieve so much. You couldn't have wished for better sports cars to deploy on the Route Napoleon than the Mazda MX-5 and Nissan 370Z we had with us. Nevertheless, we got one. Subaru's BRZ showed what its rivals lacked: a totally absorbing driving experience, characterised by a rev-hungry power delivery and a spellbinding blend of grip and adjustability.
As the test wore on, our certainty about the BRZ's greatness grew and grew. Then I beached the victorious BRZ by dropping its rear wheels off the edge of the road during a three-point turn. We did finally get it moving again, but for a while I must have been the only bloke in the world to have wished that 2012's most revered rear-driver wasn't rear drive at all.
What do a £190k supercar from one of Britain's most famous companies and an LPG-powered trials car owned by a Cornish farmer have in common? Both made the cover of our 9 May issue, which celebrated the best of motoring that our fair isle has to offer.
We were the first car mag to tell the world official details of Aston's new V12 coupé, which made the Vanquish scoop a no-brainer as our cover star. First drives of the latest Lotus Elise S and Morgan Plus 8 ramped up the patriotic fervour to a level befitting a diamond jubilee year, but our road test team pulled no punches in their frank review of the mediocre Mini Roadster.
The curve balls were Steve Cropley's story detailing why Indian giant Tata is making use of Britain's finest engineering talent, and that trials car, for which Colin Goodwin was dispatched to a field on the windswept cliffs of north Cornwall to try a very British form of motorsport. From grand tourers to grass roots, this issue had it all.
Advance warning and tight planning are always good for the heart, but there's nothing that sets the pulse racing like an unexpected news story breaking. On the morning of 23 May, I woke up at about 6am, looked at my phone and leaped out of bed with considerably more speed than I would on any other day.
The dry, corporate press release from Mazda and Alfa contained a bombshell: the next-generation MX-5 would spawn a new Alfa Spider — great news for them and for car enthusiasts. First job was to get a story up on the web. Then we tore up the planned front cover (BMW's loss was Alfa's gain) as the news desk picked up the phones and searched their contacts for the all-important inside line.
There are a few places dotted around where you can get a car airborne. But there's nowhere quite like Millbrook because, well… just look at the picture below. You can get loads of air between tyre and asphalt — and land safely afterwards — without resorting to Photoshop to make it look dramatic.
The yump itself is on Millbrook's hill route, a piece of track that is, frankly, a right old laugh. Its steepest downhill section ends at a right-hand, positive-camber bend, through which you need to carry a lot of speed. Then there's a short uphill straight, on which it's important to keep the throttle nailed and hoik the car to the centre line before the crest arrives, along with an uneasy feeling that you're driving a car whose steering won't do anything. Feels great. Doesn't last long. There's a downward slope (which takes the worry out of the landing) followed by a very sharp left (which doesn't).
It was one of the most heartening things about organising our Best of British extravaganza: just about every single one of the 21 manufacturers, regardless of distance and adversity, agreed on the first phone call to come along to our event. The goodwill was palpable little beyond me saying 'hello'. So although I would love to claim full responsibility for spending hours sweating over the contacts list to make it happen, I'd have to give most of the credit to the blokes from every marque that, frankly, just agreed to come and then turned up at a terrible hour of the day, braving awkward traffic, to spend a day loitering on the Brooklands banking.
Quirky and frustrating as the British car industry can be, no one can fault its punctuality and willingness to travel. Or its ability to build the widest and most interesting range of vehicles anywhere on the planet.
Wandering eyes around the office are frequently drawn to my computer screen. Not because I'm looking at things I shouldn't be but because, as news man, I get images of new cars first to put them where they are then seen first: in Autocar's news pages. So you can imagine the crowd that gathered when the first pictures of the new McLaren P1 appeared. Autocar has a lot of history with the McLaren F1, so interest in the P1 was greater than for any other car this year.
The three pictures and a 100-word press release arrived just hours before our print deadline. We'd planned five pages and a 1000-word story. A delve into Hilton Holloway's contacts book later and we had a real scoop on our hands — and one of the defining cover stories of the year.
The all-new Range Rover, a 21st century testament to the brilliance of its 40-year-old blueprint, deserved the most comprehensive first drive review of the year, but no one anticipated just how far we'd be allowed to drive it.
A 2000-mile journey from Land Rover's Midlands home to Marrakesh gave us the necessary space to stretch the Range Rover's extraordinary new legs and deliver the earliest verdict on what makes this latest version arguably the finest luxury car in the world. The trip also put Cropley back at the wheel of a 1971 two-door — an eloquent reminder that the most iconic cars always hat-tip the past before striding triumphantly into the future.
Britain's leading automotive journalists were at Gaydon for a technical seminar on the new Range Rover. During the presentation, chief designer Gerry McGovern flashed up a rough product plan, intended to indicate how the future Land Rover range would be made up of three main types of SUV. I snapped it with my iPhone — and reckoned that if it was possible to work out the platforms they were based on, we could work out the production sites and then the actual model shown on the plan.
The key to the jigsaw was obtained later that day at Solihull's new production line for aluminium cars. I asked about the plant's maximum capacity and was told "150,000 on three shifts". This made it much easier to work out which new model was which and nail the details of all 16 of the new models.
The news that the BMW 4-series nameplate was finally coming to life was exciting enough, but what whet my appetite was the prospect of an M4. Since reading the news, I (like many like-minded souls, I dare say) have spent a fair bit of time dreaming up my ideal spec: 450bhp, 480lb ft, a seven-speed dual-clutch auto, a lighter, leaner, cleaner engine, and steering that makes your fingertips fizz. Exciting? You bet.
Posted: 29 Dec 2012 09:00 PM PST
New budget saloon aims to reduce Peugeot's reliance on the faltering European market
Peugeot's aggressive dash for sales outside Western Europe depends squarely on the success of its new middleweight Peugeot 301 saloon, according to its new brand CEO, 38-year-old Maxime Picat, who replaced the previous incumbent Vincent Rambaud in the autumn.
Loss-making Peugeot, heavily criticised in France for being too parochial, achieved only 30 per cent sales in non-Western countries in 2010. But the figure rose to 42 per cent in 2011, largely because of the contribution of its Chinese joint venture with DongFeng Motor — led at the time by Picat, a fluent Cantonese speaker.
With Picat now running the whole company, Peugeot's target for sales outside the West is 50 per cent by 2015, and 60 per cent by 2020. The 301, a big-booted 4.4metre long saloon based on a lengthened and widened 208 platform, will lead the expansion into Turkey, Central and Eastern Europe, Russia, Ukraine, the Middle East and some Latin American markets. Then, in a second phase, the car will be launched and later manufactured in China.
The new model's four-door design is crucial to non-Western sales, Maxime Picat claims. Whereas in Europe only two per cent of new cars in this size class are saloons, they account for 74 per cent in the Middle East, 64 per cent in Asia and 50 per cent in both Eastern Europe and Africa, and the trend shows no sign of declining.
Posted: 29 Dec 2012 09:17 AM PST
Italian brand stokes up interest ahead of March unveiling with new teaser image
Alfa Romeo has fired up the PR machine early ahead of the launch of one of the most anticipated new cars of 2013, by releasing this teaser image of the mid-engined 4C sports car.
The finished 4C production car won't be unveiled until the Geneva motor show in March, but Turin will be hoping to steal some limelight away from many of the big Detroit unveilings next month by turning the spotlight on its 2013 debutant early.
The teaser image only shows the car's five-spoke alloy wheel design, but promises that the car it's attached to will be 'the car to end all cars' - a claim that will go down extremely well with Alfa's hardcore following, who will welcome the 4C with open arms as the first rear-drive model for two decades.
The 4C will be powered by a new aluminium version of Alfa's 1742cc turbocharged petrol engine, producing around 300bhp. A claimed kerb weight of less than 1000kg will give the mid-engined 4C one of the best power-to-weight ratios in its class — one of the key targets of the project.
The 4C sends power to the rear wheels through a six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, which sources have confirmed will be the only transmission on offer in the new sports car.
Styling and proportions are also expected to keep faith with the acclaimed 2011 concept. Although it is intended to be a global car, the 4C will be built only in Italy. Production will not be capped at a certain number; rather, it will be "built to demand", sources claim. It is a "hardcore Alfa designed to appeal to the true Alfistas", our sources added.
Doubts had been cast over the 4C's launch date because Alfa's own relaunch in America has been pushed back. There is also continued uncertainty about the Fiat Group's model plans ahead of an announcement on 30 October.
The 4C, however, is very much at the forefront of Alfa's model plans, and will be the headline car at the brand's US relaunch in 2013-2014. An open-top version of the 4C will follow in 2014-2015, sources have confirmed.
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