Thursday, February 7, 2013

Autocar Online - News

Autocar Online - News

Quick news: Subaru's Geneva concept, VW Beetle GSR returns

Posted: 07 Feb 2013 04:35 AM PST

Subaru to reveal new crossover concept; VW relaunches an iconic Beetle; Audi offers new options for the TT

Subaru is to present the new VIZIV concept at next month's Geneva motor show. It is said to represent a future vision of innovation for the marque, hence the name, and previews a new styling direction for Subaru. Moreover, the VIZIV reportedly incorporates new technologies that will enhance the future appeal of the Japanese manufacturer.

Audi is offering a new option package on its TT Black Edition. The Amplified Black costs £700 and is available with either the 2.0 TFSI or 2.0 TDI engines. Over a normal TT Black Edition, the Amplified Black features black exterior door mirror housings, 19-inch 'Rotor' alloy wheels, black exhaust tailpipes and a black diffuser insert. The theme is continued by a front lip spoiler and a fixed rear spoiler, both in black.

VW is to produce another Beetle GSR, 40 years after the original. The Gelb Schwarzer Renner (Yellow Black Racer) has been unveiled at the Chicago motor show ahead of a limited production run of 3500 cars, some of which are destined for the UK. The Beetle GSR gets a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 207bhp. Transmission choices are a six-speed manual or a six-speed dual-clutch automatic.

Cape Town to London Fiat Panda enters Egypt

Posted: 07 Feb 2013 02:41 AM PST

Six days after leaving South Africa, world record attempt reaches North Africa

The world record attempt on the fastest time from Cape Town to London is currently on track to beat the 1983 record of 14 days, 19 hours and 26 minutes. Drivers Philip Young and Paul Brace have now crossed into Egypt.  

The pair began their journey in Cape Town six days ago, and have driven their Fiat Panda up through Africa via Botswana, Kenya, Sudan and through Egypt into Libya. They crossed into Egypt through a border point with Sudan that had never been used before.

The Panda is a near standard 875cc Twin Air  - the only modifications it has needed are stronger dampers, extra air intakes to improve the cooling and a bed in the back.

You can follow the team's progress on their Facebook page. 


Bentley promises off-road ability for its new SUV

Posted: 07 Feb 2013 01:26 AM PST

Bentley's engineering chief promises off-road ability and suggests diesel could also be possible

Bentley's forthcoming SUV will feature some level of off-road ability, according to the firm's engineering chief Rolf Frech. "We have to show that it [off-roading] is possible," he said. "It's like a Porsche 911 and the racetrack. How many customers are really going on the racetrack? The key is that they know that if they want to, they can."

A low-range transfer case is under consideration for the platform, which will also underpin other luxury SUVs in the Volkswagen Group. The current platform uses an eight-speed transmission with hill descent control to compensate, to a degree, for the lack of low-range gearing.

Frech also discussed the future of diesel. Bentley's two largest markets ― China and America ― are not keen on diesels. However, Frech said: "I think it [diesel] makes sense on the SUV. On the Mulsanne and the Continental, it depends on the business case. We are looking at diesel and a plug-in hybrid [for the SUV]."

Bentley plans to stick with the eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission across the range, instead of a dual-clutch automatic gearbox. It also sees all-wheel drive as "the clear direction" for Bentley, but is prepared to offer more rear-wheel drive models for their weight saving and emissions benefits.

A production decision on the Bentley SUV is expected to be made imminently, with an announcement possible at the Geneva motor show next month.

Marc Noordeloos

ESP: the bane of driver enjoyment or bare necessity?

Posted: 07 Feb 2013 01:08 AM PST

ESP systems are said to have saved thousands of lives over the years, but are they becoming too intrusive?

No one in their right mind would make a case for removing ESP from all cars, forever, amen. But I've driven two cars in the past week with ESP systems that were so neurotically intrusive that they pretty much ruined the handling of the motors in question.

The first was the Aventador Roadster, the second was the new Aston Martin Vanquish.

So the question I'd put to the collective is: why do the likes of Aston and Lamborghini bother to set their cars up to handle as well as they do if, when push comes to shove, you won't be able to tell anyway because their ESP systems won't let you find out?

Take the Lamborghini. I drove this on the roads of Florida and on the track around the infield at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. In Corsa mode particularly its ESP system would kick in and kill the power at the merest hint of some throttle mid-corner. So I switched the system off, gave it full throttle mid-bend in a second gear corner and... Suddenly it handled beautifully. Nice and neutral, with a touch of understeer to begin with but none of the "oh-my-gawd" tail-out antics you'd expect, having pressed the button that must not be pressed (at Lamborghini's insistence, not mine).

The car's chassis and handling came alive, basically. Even its gearbox seemed to up-shift more smoothly, because no longer was it being interfered with by the sensors that ignite the wretched ESP. And yet at no time did the car feel edgy or dangerous, or likely to fly off the road backwards, just because I'd switched the system off.

So I asked one of Lamborghini's chassis engineers (who will remain nameless) why his car's ESP system is as over-sensitive as it is, to which he replied: "Because not all of our customers can drive properly. Some of them, quite a few of them actually, don't really have much of a clue…"

Aston Martin's otherwise excellent Vanquish suffers from a similar form of electronic strangulation – until you turn its DSC off and press the Sport button, which allows the purity and balance of the chassis to erupt out of the car like a dragon fly emerging from its larva. And, much like the Lambo, it doesn't feel scary to drive with the system off, either. Unless you are overtly clumsy with your throttle inputs, it just feels better to drive. Everywhere.

So please, sports and supercar makers of the world, isn't it time you allowed a bit more drama to unfold before your ESP systems intervene, killing the handling of the cars you've worked so hard to make perfect. And if you want to know how, take a good look at the way Porsche sets its cars up with their ESP systems engaged – because, for me, the way they do it is just about perfect.

And even if I'm wrong, the extra revenue you could potentially raise in replacement parts would surly be worth considering at some stage…

New VW Golf R heads seven new models

Posted: 07 Feb 2013 01:00 AM PST

The most powerful Volkswagen Golf ever is due next year; expect 286bhp, 280lb ft and 0-62mph in 5.0 sec

Volkswagen will launch seven new variants of the Volkswagen Golf within the next 12 months, including a range-topping 286bhp Golf R version.

Other performance-orientated Golfs will include the GTI and GTD models. At the other end of the scale will be the super-frugal BlueMotion variant and an all electric version called eGolf. Four wheel-drive 4Motion Golfs and a new Golf estate complete the seven-strong new Golf offensive.

The Golf R will crown the new range. Closely related to the new Audi S3, the Golf R will be the most powerful regular production Golf in history. Its 2.0 TSI engine produces 286bhp and 280lb ft.

When equipped with the six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, the Golf R will be able to crack 0-62mph in just 5.0sec and reach a limited top speed of 155mph.

VW has also extensively tuned the sound of the Golf R's exhaust note to be louder and sportier than before.

The Golf R will again be all-wheel drive, using the new Haldex 5 system featured on the new 4Motion. VW claims that the system allows for keener handling thanks to a faster transfer of power between the front and rear axles. A pair of electronic differentials also feature on the new car.

The Golf R is also said to make use of lightweight technology in the bodywork and components, including the alloy wheels and brakes, and tip the scales at just 1200kg.

Despite the increased performance over the old 267bhp Golf R, its economy is said to have improved to 40.4mpg and CO2 emissions cut to 163g/km.

The Golf R is expected to be last of the so-far confirmed new Golf models to appear in the showroom. An on-sale date of early 2014 has been mooted after a launch at the Frankfurt motor show in September.

BMW 3-series GT revealed

Posted: 06 Feb 2013 04:05 PM PST

Longer and taller BMW 3-series GT is the third body style in the car's line-up

BMW has added a new model to the BMW 3-series line-up for the first time since the short-lived Compact was launched in 1993.

The new high-riding 3-series GT follows the template of the larger 5-series GT. It is longer, wider and taller than the 3-series Touring on which it is based. BMW claims the 3-series GT mixes the dynamics of the 3-series saloon with the practicality of the 3-series Touring and the looks of a coupé.

The five-seat 3-series GT will be offered with five engines from launch, including a 302bhp 335i range-topper, and the likely best-seller, the 320d. It is set to go on sale in the UK in late spring, priced at around £1500 more than an equivalent 3-series Touring model. The base 320i SE model costs from £28,830.

At 4824mm long, 1828mm wide and 1508mm high, the 3-series GT is 200mm longer, 17mm wider and 79mm taller than the 3-series Touring. The wheelbase is also 110mm longer at 2920mm, the upshot of which is 70mm more legroom for rear passengers, more than in a 5-series saloon.

Boot capacity is also increased in the 3-series GT over the 3-series Touring by 25 litres to 520 litres. The split rear bench folds 40/20/40 to further improve the car's LED strip light-illuminated loading area up to 1600 litres. A low-loading lip and wide boot opening also improve the car's ability to carry bulky loads. An electric tailgate is standard.

The design of the 3-series GT is much sleeker than that of the bulky 5-series GT. A sloping roofline, frameless doors and an active rear spoiler that automatically raises at speeds above 68mph are among the design traits over and above the basic 3-series themes that carryover from the saloon and Touring models.

Inside, the driving position is raised by 59mm over the standard 3-series. BMW claims three adults can sit on the rear bench in comfort.

The launch line-up of the rear-drive 3-series GT includes three petrol models (320i, 328i and 335i) and two diesels (318d and 320d). A turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine is offered with 181bhp in the 320i and 242bhp in the 328i.

A 302bhp turbocharged 3.0-litre unit powers the 335i model, which can crack 0-62mph in 5.7sec when equipped with the standard six-speed manual gearbox. An eight-speed automatic is optional with all engines.

BMW's familiar 2.0-litre turbodiesel is offered with 141bhp in the 318d and 181bhp in the 320d. In the 320d, combined economy is rated at 57.6mpg and CO2 emissions are 129g/km.

The Sport, Modern and Luxury trims from the 3-series saloon and Touring ranges will be offered on the 3-series GT in addition to a base spec. M Sport models, which will ride 10mm lower and include adaptive dampers as part of the dynamic and cosmetic upgrades, are set to be introduced from July 2013.

Quick news: Outlander goes on sale; new Mazda 5 special edition

Posted: 06 Feb 2013 09:33 AM PST

Mitsubishi's new SUV in showrooms, and new 5 Venture comes with extra kit

Mitsubishi's new Outlander is now on sale in the UK, from £24,224 for the entry-level GX1 model. Prices rise to £33,999 for the top of the range GX5. All Outlanders come with a 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel and the choice of a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic gearbox.

Mazda has loaded the 5 with extra kit to create the Venture special edition – £19,995 (for the petrol) or £21,290 (for the diesel) gets you 17-inch alloys, power folding door mirrors, parking sensors and a reversing camera.

Audi A3 1.6 TDI Sport first drive review

Posted: 06 Feb 2013 09:01 AM PST

Most frugal model in the Audi A3 range thrills with impressive economy, but it lacks dynamic sparkle The lowest-powered but least CO2-emitting diesel in the Audi A3 range, bringing with it all the broad appeal of the latest model with (for now) the added attraction of VED road tax and London congestion charge exemption.For just under £1000 more than the equivalent Sport-trimmed petrol model, this lower-powered 1.6 diesel delivers CO2 emissions of 99g/km and a claimed 74.3mpg, thanks to stop-start and other eco tech.We're testing it here in mid-spec Sport trim, which brings with it kit including dual-zone climate control, sports seats and, perhaps most controversially, sports suspension, which sits the car 15mm closer to the road.

Lamborghini Aventador Roadster video review

Posted: 06 Feb 2013 08:35 AM PST

Can the Aventador Roadster offer more drama than the coupé?

The Lamborghini Aventador Roadster promises 217mph with the roof down. Steve Sutcliffe finds out if there's more to the latest drop-top Lambo than thundering straight line thrills

New SsangYong Rodius leaked

Posted: 06 Feb 2013 08:17 AM PST

Official pictures show new Rodius adopts a much more conventional design

Images of the new SsangYong Rodius have been leaked ahead of the car's unveiling at the Geneva motor show in March. They show that although the Rodius adopts a much more conventional appearance than the current car, it will remain as a large, van-sized people carrier.

Despite the toning down of the Rodius's controversial looks, the new model retains an element of the unusually shaped rear window that made the old car so distinctive. Inside there's room for 11 seats, although it's unlikely this option will be available in the UK – like the current car, the extra seats are an option in the domestic market.

The cabin has been refreshed but retains a very similar layout, with a big central stack of controls with four dials ranged across the dashtop. There is now a digital speedo directly in front of the driver, rather than being contained in the cowled binnacle in the centre of the dash.  

Schumacher to work on Mercedes' road cars

Posted: 06 Feb 2013 08:09 AM PST

F1 champion to take on an "ambassadorial role" with Mercedes-Benz

Michael Schumacher is set to take on a role within Mercedes-Benz's road car division, following his departure from the firm's F1 team.

Schumacher will take what has been described by Mercedes F1 team principal Ross Brawn as an "ambassadorial role". He will be involved in the development of performance cars, and could spend time with AMG. "The development of models, particularly high-performance cars, is something he enjoys very much," said Brawn.

Schumacher has been used to promote Mercedes road cars in the past, having undertaken promotional work for the SLS.   

A fascinating ride in the ultimate Mercedes-Benz

Posted: 06 Feb 2013 07:29 AM PST

The Mercedes-Benz Actros heavy-duty truck offers an insight into the world of the long-distance lorry driver

First, a small apology to an unidentified HGV driver: on my way to the headquarters of Mercedes-Benz UK last Friday morning, I might have inadvertently cut you up. While negotiating the incessant, anonymous web of roundabouts in Milton Keynes, I found myself in the wrong lane and needed to slip to the left in order to exit at the correct junction.

There would have been room for the lane change but at the moment that I started to pull across, a set of traffic lights on the roundabout blinked onto red and everyone ahead of me had to pull up pretty quickly. My sudden appearance in the inside lane meant the space the following lorry driver had to bring his heavy load to a halt was reduced by a few metres. Mea culpa, and as he gave me a shrill blast on the horn to voice his displeasure I shamefully slunk low in my Peugeot's seat.

I can say with some confidence that I won't make the same mistake again, because during my day at Mercedes I enjoyed a passenger ride in the latest version of the German firm's mighty Actros heavy-duty truck, and thus got an appreciation of what life is like for a long-distance lorry driver.

It might be stating the obvious, but it is impossible to not be awed by the size of the Actros. Apparently you could fit a whole Smart car inside the cabin (sadly Merc wasn't willing to let us put that theory to the test). The whole truck can be configured in a variety of cab sizes and specifications, but to someone more used to city cars and hatchbacks, they seem to range from merely 'big' through to 'gigantic'.

Even the key is huge. Forget those show-offs who flash their 911 or M3 key fobs in the pub; the Actros comes with a remote control key that's the size of a mobile phone. It doesn't just start the vehicle, but can be configured to provide tyre pressures, suspension levels and a host of other important technical information, even if you're eating breakfast in the Little Chef and your truck is in the car park.

The vastness continues when you clamber up the aluminium steps into the high-roofed cabin. I've lived in smaller apartments: the driver and passenger seats are practically on different continents, and behind both there's a decent-sized bed, with the option of an upper bunk too. Unlike many rigs, the new Actros comes with a completely flat cabin floor. This has been enabled by compact drivetrain packaging, and it means there's more space for a multitude of drawers, cubby holes and flat surfaces to make the HGV driver's life on the road as comfortable as possible. Mind you, the ultra-supple suspension seats take some getting used to, and until you learn to master the rocking motion it's easy to precariously wobble around like a Weeble.

Merc's commercial vehicles press guru Simon Wood was my chauffeur for a quick trip around Milton Keynes, and I've never been more envious that my driving licence lacks the necessary big-rig qualifications. He made driving Actros look remarkably fuss-free; the 12-speed automated gearbox can be left to look after most of the task of speeding up and slowing down, and although there isn't a surplus of spare room on Britain's roads, the truck's design is mainly straight lines, so its quite easy to sense where all the edges are. The layout of the controls brings a whole new meaning to the phrase 'driver-focused', and visibility is second-to-none thanks to the massive mirrors.

The Actros's ride felt very firm during our journey. The rig's air suspension is set up to haul 30-tonne loads, not travel without a trailer, because a truck without a trailer is a truck that isn't making money for the haulage firm that runs it. Consequently every speed bump jolts through the cabin at 5mph when the rig is unhitched, but apparently when a loaded trailer is attached, it wafts over the bumps with all the poise of an S-class.

With the cabin well over a metre off the ground, you get a different perspective on the world. Maintaining smooth momentum is key for the big rig driver carrying a load, and the fact you can see much further down the road makes it possible to plan a long way ahead (except when errant motoring hacks are in the vicinity, of course).

Although driver comfort and hauling ability are important factors in the appeal of the Actros, the over-riding consideration for haulage contractors is a tractor unit's ability to make money. Or, at least, not burn through quite so much potential profit via fuel costs – an increasingly painful headache of hauliers. Especially when you consider your new Actros can be specified with a diesel tank volume of more than 1400 litres.

The Euro 6-compliant six-cylinder engine in the Actros is said to be four per cent more efficient than the previous powerplant. If a haulage company is operating 20 trucks across its fleet, the fuel bill savings during a year could run into tens of thousands of pounds. There's also a new system called Predictive Powertrain Control that uses GPS to read the topography of the road ahead and optimises the automatic gear changes in anticipation of hills, saving more precious fuel.

So with its sophisticated technology, excellent ergonomics, cavernous storage and monstrous hauling capabilities, the Actros would probably win most games of Mercedes Top Trumps, not least because it packs maximum torque of 1844lb ft and maximum power of 503bhp when equipped with the most powerful engine option.

Oh, and the three-pointed star on the front can be illuminated at the flick of a switch. Even I'd be able to see that looming in my rear-view mirror…

Next Porsche 911 Turbo spied testing

Posted: 06 Feb 2013 07:27 AM PST

Porsche readies new Turbo coupé and cabriolet for launch this year

Here's Porsche's new 911 Turbo testing in sub-zero temperatures inside the Arctic Circle; both the Turbo coupé and the Turbo cabriolet are undergoing the last stages of their development ahead of their launch at the Frankfurt show in September.

The Turbo will be lighter than the previous model, thanks to the extensive use of aluminium in the body shell and most of the panels – with a saving of around 45kg, the new Turbo Coupé should weigh in at around 1550kg.

A reworked version of the last model's 3.8-litre flat six increases power from 493bhp to 525bhp, and torque will rise from 479lb ft to just under 500lb ft. It uses three turbos to help deliver these increases while improving fuel consumption and cutting CO2 output. One of three is a smaller unit, which works from lower down the rev range to provide boost at low speeds, while the second and third cut in at higher speeds.

Two gearboxes will be offered – a seven-speed manual and a seven-speed dual-clutch PDK. As with the previous car, a PDK-equipped 911 will be faster than a manual car and more efficient, with lower CO2 emissions. With the increase in power, expect the new Turbo to hit 62mph in around 3.4 seconds.

Both cars will retain the Turbo's trademark split rear wing, with its characteristic air intakes. The test cars' intakes are disguised with a surround from the last car – expect a new design for the production vehicles.

Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG first drive review

Posted: 04 Feb 2013 08:00 AM PST

More power and greater handling finesse make Mercedes E63 AMG the pick of the four-door performance brigade It only seems like yesterday that Mercedes-Benz launched the latest E63 AMG, and with it a new twin-turbocharged 5.5-litre V8 engine. But, in a sign of just how quickly things move in the automotive world, we're already being served up a facelifted version of the rapid performance saloon and estate pairing.The new model is significant as it is the first AMG model to benefit from a new design lineage we're told will be reflected on all upcoming models from Mercedes-Benz's performance car off-shoot.It's immediately evident when you lay eyes on the new E63 AMG, whose aggressive new front end gives it an even more distinctive look than its predecessor and more clearly separates it visually from the E-class upon which is it based and produced alongside in Germany.The big news, however, concerns the engine. The E63 AMG's twin-turbocharged 5.5-litre V8 has never lacked for reserves, but that hasn't deterred Mercedes-Benz's performance car off-shoot from providing the new model with a touch more as sweetner to tempt prospective buyers.

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