Friday, December 14, 2012

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Skoda Octavia vRS images leaked

Posted: 14 Dec 2012 06:37 AM PST

First images show styling details of Skoda's Golf GTI alternative

These are the first images of the forthcoming Skoda Octavia vRS, which have appeared online prior to the car's official debut.

The pictures of the range-topping Octavia appear to be screenshots from an online car configurator and show the styling details that will differentiate the vRS from the rest of the range.

As with the current Octavia vRS, the visual upgrades are subtle. More prominent bumpers front and rear give the car a more sporting stance and there are new twin trapezoidal tail pipes.

Propeller-style alloy wheels, as seen on the new VW Golf GTI are also fitted, covering brake calipers that are finished in red. A small spoiler on the boot lid completes the makeover.

The Ocatavia vRS is expected to use the same 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine as found in the new Golf GTI. Developing 217bhp, power is up 20bhp over the outgoing model. It is likely to be offered with a choice of six-speed manual or seven-speed DSG twin-clutch gearboxes.

The vRS is due to arrive in the UK in July after the regular Octavia, which will be available from March. Currently there is no word on pricing, but expect the vRS to retail at just above £20,000.

Daljinder Nagra

BMW 4-series sheds disguise to reveal production car

Posted: 14 Dec 2012 04:02 AM PST

Replacement for 3-series Coupé spied testing

This is the production version of BMW's 4-series Coupé, stripped of most of the disguise that has until now hidden the shape of the finished vehicle. Recently previewed as a concept at the Los Angeles motor show, the 4-series will go on sale late next year, replacing the 3-series Coupé.

It's clear from these images that some of the show car's bolder styling details will not make it into production. The treatment of the lower rear bumper is much more conventional, without the concept's full-width mesh insert and integrated tailpipes.

At the front the concept's distinctive lower bumper is retained, along with the large air intakes below the headlamps. All of the concept's razor sharp crease lines along the bodyside are clearly evident, although the door handle has moved above the strong line that runs from the front wing to the rear three-quarter panel.

The presence of a separate piece of disguise tape behind the front wheelarch suggests the presence of some sort of air intake-style opening in the wing, as per the show car.

The 4-series range will be launched with the coupé, followed by a convertible in 2014. Later that year the much-discussed M4 will finally appear, with a cabrio version in 2015. And BMW will add a four-door 4-series GranCoupé, with the distinct possibility of an M4 GranCoupé to complete the line-up.


The very best of British: Jaguar vs Aston Martin

Posted: 14 Dec 2012 03:20 AM PST

The intangible allure of the Aston Martin badge isn't enough for the V8 Vantage to stand proud against talented competitors like the Jaguar XKR-S

Jaguar versus Aston Martin is a bit like Senna vs Prost or Borg vs McEnroe in that, as an enthusiast, you tend to be a fan of one or the other, but not both. There are Jag people and there are Aston people, in other words, and while the products themselves often share an uncanny resemblance to one another, the brands from which they emanate are subtly different.

Aston Martin has a tangibly suave allure about it, a shaken but not stirred cool that distinguishes it as being something that's almost priceless. A Jaguar, on the other hand, is more the people's luxury car – a friendlier, more attainable, but still resolutely British icon that's usually cheaper and less rare than its equivalent Aston.

Except nowadays, of course, Jaguars are becoming increasingly expensive, and although Astons aren't exactly dropping in value by proportion, the gap between the two has shrunk to the point of almost total non-existence. Which is why it was interesting to compare our long-term XKR-S convertible (£105k with options) with our V8 Vantage (£102k with options) for a video we shot just last week.

The Aston is a lovely car for all sorts of reasons, not least of which is the way it looks. It has something about it outwardly that makes you smile. It is beautiful from pretty much every angle, and although it appears quite small – dainty, even – beside the bigger and brawnier XKR-S, it is unquestionably the more elegant of the two. Not just outside but inside its hand-crafted cabin, too.

And yet… There's something about the Vantage that seems curiously unsatisfying alongside the XKR-S. In simple terms, it's fairly obvious that it can't deal with the Jaguar dynamically and it's nowhere near as powerful (420bhp vs 542bhp), so isn't anything like as quick. It also has a far less soothing ride and generates a lot more road noise at anything above 2mph.

But even if you ignore the headline stuff and focus on the details, the only aspects that distinguish the Aston are its looks, cabin quality and badge. Just about everything else – engine, performance, gearbox, ride, steering, even the exhaust note – is better in the Jaguar. In most cases, much better.

Which means what, exactly? Are Aston Martins now redundant because Jaguars have become so good? Not at all. But the writing is on the wall for Aston, and the news is this: the products simply must deliver more in future to remain competitive within their price ranges. Otherwise one day the customer will simply walk the other way, given that there's so much excellence on offer elsewhere. And if that happens, not even James Bond will come to the rescue.

Range Rover

Posted: 14 Dec 2012 02:00 AM PST

The latest Range Rover is here to be judged as a luxury car as much as it is a 4x4 There is no bolder testament to the inherent rightness of the Range Rover's design and longevity that, as the model enters its 43rd year, it is only now entering its fourth new generation. Each of which, remember, has been launched with the company under different ownership.This time the Range Rover's internal codename is L405, and it is as revolutionary as at any time in the iconic 4x4's history. Most interesting from an engineering standpoint is that it receives an aluminium monocoque; most interesting from a sales perspective is that it is now, from base model to range-topper, unashamedly a luxury model.Car manufacturers are rather catching up with the market on this one; there are plenty of models that are executive cars first and SUVs second, but not ones that are out-and-out luxury cars first and 4x4s second.Land Rover wouldn't countenance that the 4x4 aspect to the Range Rover is second to anything, but let's be clear: when your base model costs £71,295, you're dealing in luxury metal. Let's see how that blends with its other purposes.

First drive review: BMW 120d xDrive

Posted: 14 Dec 2012 01:45 AM PST

Adaptive four-wheel drive adds winter safety and dynamic interest to the BMW 1-series' solid base at a potentially attractive premium It's a BMW 1-series with four-wheel drive. UK orders for the BMW 320i xDrive since its book opened in June have been encouraging, and have had us eyeing Munich's other non-SUV four-wheel-drivers with interest. In Germany, most models can be had with xDrive, including the 1-series hatch in sprinting M135i form and in workaday 120d guise as seen here.The model answered demand from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and joins an expanding xDrive range that already accounts for a third of BMW's sales. Germany, the USA and China all buy more xDrives than Audi quattros, so, clearly, that leaves room for improvement in the UK.Most of Audi's quattro-equipped cars use a Torsen centre differential to apportion torque but, like the A3 and TT, xDrives use a multi-plate wet clutch instead. BMW claims its system is the most quick-witted, reacting in 0.1sec, and anticipating wheel slip via the DSC's myriad sensors. Torque can be totally redistributed fore or aft from the default 40 per cent front, 60 per cent rear setting.The 120d xDrive is largely identical to its rear-drive counterpart that was packaged to accommodate four-wheel drive from the start. The extra 40kg or so, plus friction increases, means a 4g/km CO2 penalty (theoretically adding £70 to the road tax bill on the smallest wheels), while fuel economy drops less than four per cent to a still-superb 60.1mpg, and performance is barely affected. BMW chassis engineers have aimed to maintain the rear-driver's sporty-yet-supple set-up using revised springs and dampers.

Fiat Panda 4x4 to cost from £13,950

Posted: 13 Dec 2012 09:19 AM PST

Fiat has announced prices for its Panda 4x4 and Panda Trekking models

The Fiat Panda 4x4 will cost from £13,950 when it goes on sale next month. The front-wheel-drive Panda Trekking will cost from £12,450.

The engine line-up for both models includes Fiat's 900cc TwinAir and 1.3-litre MultiJet units. The diesel unit attracts a £1000 premium. 

The Panda 4x4's TwinAir engine returns an average of 57.6mpg with a CO2 rating of 114g/km. Diesel MultiJet models record headline figures of 60.1mpg and 125g/km. In Trekking versions, running costs are improved: 61.4mpg/105g/km and 67.3mpg/109g/km for the TwinAir and MultiJet engines respectively.

Both models feature larger bumpers and additional protective cladding, skid plates, roof rails, 15in alloy wheels and a raised ride height.

Enough about winter tyres, let’s talk about winter driver training

Posted: 13 Dec 2012 08:50 AM PST

Should more be done to train Britain's motorists how to drive in challenging winter conditions before they take to the roads?

Cruising back from Wales on the freezing-fog-bound M4 on Tuesday evening, I began to wonder whether Britain does enough to train its drivers to cope with difficult weather conditions.

Winter tyres provide a safety benefit, but putting different black round things on each corner of your car is merely one part of the automotive jigsaw. They are only as good as the person behind the steering wheel and learning how to drive in snow, ice and fog should surely be another intrinsic element of the puzzle.

Perhaps the idea is a little bit too 'nanny state', but I don't recall having any specific driving lessons in wintry conditions when I was preparing to take my driving test, and I definitely would have benefited from some.

My lack of snow driving experience was exposed in January 2007 when I went to Norway to co-drive in a rally in a Ford Fiesta ST competition car. The day before the event in the frozen depths of the Norwegian countryside, I was driving our Suzuki Vitara hire car down a snow-covered forest road when I slid out of control on a left-hand bend.

It was a fairly slow-speed incident, but as soon as the Vitara started slipping sideways everything went into fast-forward and the next thing I knew I was admiring a snow ditch while hanging upside down – fortunately secured by the seat belt of the inverted Suzuki, but feeling like a muppet.

I put the accident down to my general lack of experience in such extreme conditions, something I've since taken steps to remedy. Autocar's readership contains a high proportion of skilled and knowledgeable drivers, but for most of the population, driving on snow-strewn public roads isn't second nature like it is for Scandinavian and Nordic motorists.

At the start of this year I went to Finland to take part in Jaguar Land Rover's winter driving experience. As the temperature plunged to minus 23 Centigrade, I drove Range Rovers and Jaguars on a beautiful ice field near Pukinpellontie, about 65 miles north of Helsinki.

Most useful was learning to drift a Jaguar XKR-S cabrio on a frozen ice lake. Multiple Finnish ladies' rally champion Minna Sillankorva taught me the rudiments of controlling a sustained slide on ice, not least the finesse of steering input and subtle throttle control necessary to maintain the drift.

Of course it was great fun, and although it isn't a lesson strictly applicable to a daily commute (although a desolate snow-covered roundabout can look quite tempting as a wintry skid pan) in terms of building my confidence on frozen roads it was invaluable.

So who feels adept in freezing road conditions? Has anyone taken part in any kind of winter driving course and did it make you a better driver? Do we even need to bother due to the amount of snow and ice we get?

Video: Jaguar XKR-S vs Aston V8 Vantage

Posted: 13 Dec 2012 08:35 AM PST

Sutters puts two V8 sportscars to the test

The Jaguar XKR-S and Aston Martin V8 Vantage. Two British bruisers. Both cost around £100k. Both have big V8s under the hood. But which is best? Steve Sutcliffe finds out.

Maserati’s masterplan for 50,000 sales per year – can it work?

Posted: 13 Dec 2012 06:55 AM PST

Are Maserati's bosses (a) deluded or (b) bang on the money with their plans to sell 50,000 cars a year by 2015? Discuss…

As someone who can remember Maserati being all but dead and buried in the early 1990s, I find it quite hard to get my head around the idea of Maserati shifting 50,000 cars a year by 2015. However, if you look at the business case with any conviction, it actually begins to make sense.

Why? Because the targets Maserati is setting itself aren't, in fact, all that ambitious. By 2015 Maserati will have the following models on sale across the globe: the latest Quattroporte, a new BMW 5-series rival called the Ghibli, a Porsche Cayenne rival called the Levante plus, we now firmly believe, a mid-engined Porsche 911 rival based on the forthcoming Alfa Romeo 4C, which may or may not be called the GranSport.

Even if the much-valued Chinese market begins to flatline before 2015, this means Maserati will have four distinctly separate models to call upon, all of which will be as fresh as newly laid snow in terms of design appeal come 2015, and all of which will have the potential to do well.

The Quattroporte is virtually guaranteed to succeed in China, which is already Maserati's second-biggest market after North America. The Ghibli, on the other hand, is bound to do well in North America to begin with and could even begin to appeal in China, too, if the average Chinese driver's tastes shift slightly toward cars that aren't always 100 feet long.

But it's the Levante SUV that surely has the most potential to up-end the apple cart and deliver the best results for Maserati, not just in the United States but globally and especially in the Middle East. And that's to say nothing of the much-mooted mid-engined sports car, which has the potential to pinch sales not just from the lower ranks of the Ferrari 458 Italia arena but from the higher end of the Porsche 911 market as well.

In light of which, Harald J Wester's plan to sell 50,000 Maseratis every 12 months by 2015 doesn't sound like hyperbole at all. "Put it this way," he said to me at the launch of the new Quattroporte last week. "If we don't succeed, I'll lose my job. And I have absolutely no intention of doing that."

So what do you think? Is he, are they (the Fiat brass) deluded in their intentions to increase Maserati's output tenfold at a time when, in Europe at least, the beginning of the end feels like it might be just around the next corner?

Or does it make as much sense to you as it does to me, attempting to do something so bold, precisely at this point in time?  

2013 Maserati Quattroporte: technical details revealed

Posted: 13 Dec 2012 06:54 AM PST

Maserati has announced full details of its Quattroporte, including a new entry-level V6-powered limo

Maserati has released full technical details of its new Quattroporte, including specifications of the 3.0-litre V6 and the new four-wheel-drive model, only available with the smaller engine.

Closely related to the V8 – it shares the same bore and combustion chamber design, valve gear, twin turbos and ignition system – the V6 manages to produce a higher specific torque output than the larger engine. It also delivers its full 407lb ft of torque from 1500rpm, 500rpm lower than the V8. Peak power is 416bhp at 5500rpm

The smaller engine results in a weight saving of 40kg over the 1900kg V8, although the four-wheel drive model adds 70kg. The rear-drive Quattroporte V6 will reach 62mph in 5.1sec, while four-wheel drive knocks 0.2sec off that time. CO2 output for the 4x4 is slightly higher, at 246g/km, than the rear-drive's 244g/km.

All Quattroportes will be available with either 19, 20, or 21-inch rims, with 20-inch wheels as standard. On 19s, the car comes with 245/45 tyres at the front and 275/40 at the rear. The 20-inch wheels wear 245/40s at the front and 285/35s at the back, while cars with 21-inch rims lowers the profiles down to 245/35 and 285/30.

While both rear-drive Quattroportes will go on sale in the UK in June, the all-wheel-drive V6 will not be built in right-hand drive.


Audi RS7 and Q3 RS due next year

Posted: 13 Dec 2012 03:38 AM PST

RS7 to be mechanically identical to the Audi RS6; Q3 RS will receive 2.5-litre five-pot from the TT RS

Audi's high-performance RS arm will launch four new models next year, including an RS7 and its first high-performance SUV, the Q3 RS.

Quattro GmbH chief Stephan Reil confirmed the launch of the new models last week, but did not go into detail. But Autocar understands that in addition to the recently revealed Audi RS6 and RS5 cabriolet models, 2013 will mark the introduction of the RS7 and Q3 RS.

The RS7 is tipped to be shown as soon as the Detroit motor show next month. It's likely to be mechanically identical to the RS6, meaning power will come from a 552bhp 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8. A top speed of 190mph to match the RS6 Avant is also expected.

The RS7 is expected to be offered instead of a saloon version of the RS6. A similar strategy is employed with RS4/RS5 models, where there are estate and coupé versions but no saloon.

The Q3 RS was previewed at the Beijing motor show in April. Reil hinted that a production version would be shown at the Geneva motor show in the spring. The concept used a version of the TT RS's 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine tuned to produce 355bhp.

Marussia B2 supercar breaks cover

Posted: 12 Dec 2012 07:24 AM PST

Marussia B2 seen testing for the first time

This is Russia's only supercar, the Marussia B2, undergoing testing in light disguise.

Essentially a heavily restyled B1, the firm's first model, the B2 uses the same aluminium spaceframe construction. The B2 will be available with a choice of two V6s, built by Cosworth. The 3.5-litre develops 300bhp and 300lb ft, while the turbocharged 2.8-litre can produce up to 420bhp and 442lb ft.

With a claimed kerb weight of 1100kg, the B2 is claimed be capable of 0-62mph in 3.8sec with a top speed of 155mph.

It will be built by Valmet in Finland, initially in kit format from components made by Marussia in Russia. It is thought that eventually Valmet will take over complete manufacture of the cars, and Marussia expects annual production to amount to "a few hundred" B2s.  It has one showroom outside Russia, in Monaco.

First drive review: Audi RS5 cabriolet

Posted: 12 Dec 2012 02:03 AM PST

The Audi RS5 cabriolet has undeniable appeal, but the drop-top M3 is still our choice Well, it's got four seats, four-wheel drive, 444bhp and a fabric roof. Only quattro GmbH could possibly assemble that kind of heavyweight concoction: that's right, it's the RS5 cabriolet, the new £68,960 A5 range-topper.With BMW's 4-series line-up destined to land next year, it's probably appropriate that Audi has offered up a musclebound reminder as to why its major rival decided the differentiated badging was necessary in the first place.The three-door A5 has proved a major coup, and even if the alfresco RS5 is unlikely to add much to the overall sales volume, it's a potent halo to have in the showroom.Inevitably it shares much with the coupé variant. The high-revving 4.2-litre V8 engine remains up front, still shackled to the seven-speed S-tronic dual-clutch automatic gearbox. The union, in conjunction with a launch control program and the familiar, highly sophisticated quattro all-wheel-drive system, delivers a brusque 0-62mph time of 4.9sec.Up top the roof has made way for a lightweight, triple-layered soft top that, up to 31mph, can be shed in 15 seconds or almost as swiftly lowered in 17. Impressively, the hood only requires 60 litres of boot space to stow, meaning there's a class-leading 320 litres left to brim with clutter.

First drive review: Volkswagen Eco Up

Posted: 11 Dec 2012 02:03 AM PST

Gas-burning supermini could provide a real alternative to limited-range electric cars This is Volkswagen's Eco Up model, which returns the CO2 performance of an electric vehicle because it is powered by compressed natural gas (CNG).  Rather than being a hasty conversion, which takes up most of the luggage space, when VW engineers were planning the Up's NSF platform they made sure that twin gas tanks could be fitted in the car without reducing the size of the boot. One of the large, cylindrical tanks is fitted under the boot floor, the other is under the rear seat.VW has also managed to squeeze a 10-litre petrol tank alongside the gas tanks. Open the Eco Up's fuel flap and there's both the gas filler and the conventional fuel filler. The car's fuel gauge is also dual-function, showing the amount in the petrol tank for a few seconds on start-up, before switching to indicating CNG levels.All the other changes are out of sight, inside the three-cylinder engine. As well as a set of specific injectors for the CNG and a new engine management system, the compression ratio has been raised from 10.5:1 to 11.5:1, the spark plugs supply a higher ignition voltage and the camshaft profiles and pistons have been modified.New materials were used for the valves and valve guides, and the variable valve-timing settings are different. The Eco Up can also detect the difference between 'High' (98 per cent methane) gas and 'Low' (85 per cent methane) gas that is on sale at Germany's 911 CNG-fuelling stations. It's the changes to the catalytic convertor that show the real environmental differences in burning CNG compared to petrol. Burning CNG releases "around 25 per cent less CO2" says VW, as well as "far less" in the way of pollutants including carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons, while fine particulates are not emitted at all. All of which means the materials used inside the convertor are different.Translated from the German showroom prices, the Eco Up costs around £2500 more than the standard petrol car, which is probably understandable considering the extra costs of the super-strong gas tanks and the engineering modifications needed for what will be a relatively low-volume car.

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