Saturday, February 9, 2013

Autocar Online - News

Autocar Online - News

Modified hot hatch mega test

Posted: 09 Feb 2013 01:16 AM PST

Does tuning a hot hatch intensify the fun or burn it into a cinder? We take a tuned Focus ST, Astra VXR, Megane Renaultsport and a Mazda 3 MPS to find out

Cast your mind back a dozen years. The undisputed hot hatch king – the Peugeot 306 GTI-6 – has just deftly oversteered into the great car park in the sky. With a fizzing 167bhp from its naturally aspirated 2.0-litre twin-cam engine and six forward gears, it convincingly held the hot hatch high ground.

Two years later sees the 212bhp Ford Focus RS and the 210bhp Seat Leon Cupra R, and an all-new breed of hyper hot hatch is born, mutating like a freak organism over time into the giant-killers of today; 250bhp has become the minimum requirement in this class.

We've gathered some tuned examples of the current breed to analyse them against the clock and along typically awkward B-roads.

The Mk3 Ford Focus ST is from Buckingham-based Superchips, a company that has existed in the engine management tuning business since the 1980s. This Stage 2 upgrade (costing £1446) features a full Miltek exhaust from the turbo back, including a high-flow sports cat and a replacement air filter. The mapping is implemented by the firm's Bluefin hand-held computer, which allows customers to switch between maps themselves and receive updates over the internet. Superchips claims a new power peak of 292bhp (up from 247bhp) and 332lb ft at just 2115rpm.

The Mazda 3 MPS hails from BBR GTI in Brackley, but because a BBR's demonstrator isn't available, we've been lent a customer's car. This Stage 2 conversion, features a remap, high-flow exhaust downpipe and sports cat and a higher-flow fuel pump and inlet hoses. It is the only car here to have modifications to the turbo. Coupled with the 2.3-litre MZR engine's big, brawny characteristics, the claims are 350bhp and a wild-sounding 368lb ft.

However, this car was booked in for a larger turbocharger (and full suspension upgrade) after we'd driven it and, in BBR's opinion, the front-mounted (as opposed to standard top-mounted) intercooler fitted by the owner hurts the claimed outputs and throttle response when combined with a standard-sized turbo. We'll see. As is, the engine mods cost £2890.

K-Tec Racing's Renault Mégane RS 250 follows the standard route of remap coupled with a replacement air filter and new cat-back exhaust, but also features a new intercooler. The claims are 295-300bhp and 320lb ft, with as much as 80lb ft more than the standard car at 2600rpm. The price for this, including fitting and a year's warranty, is £1691. Unfortunately, K-Tec's Nitron adjustable coil-over suspension-equipped demonstrator was unavailable, so we're using a privately owned car with the above modifications plus 19-inch alloy wheels and Eibach lowering springs.

Finally, there's the Thorney Motorsport Vauxhall Astra VXR-R, a limited edition of 100, although tuning parts are available separately. On the engine side, there's a three-inch exhaust with sports cat, a replacement panel air filter and a remap, giving 320bhp and 310lb ft.

Thorney has kept the standard switchable dampers but fitted its own springs and tweaked the suspension geometry, changing the factory 20-inch wheels for some lighter versions. Importantly of all, the VXR-R is available from any Vauxhall dealer, with a lifetime warranty. You'll pay £3749 for the privilege.

In a straight line

There's no denying a 0-60mph launch provides a universally-understood barometer of acceleration. But with a split between privately owned vehicles and company demos, a greasy, near-freezing runway surface, it seems neither fair nor particularly revealing to try to spring this quartet off the line against the clock.

So we've decided to stroll away from rest and then give it the lot in second gear before 20mph. From there, it'll be flat out through the gears until the end of the runway looms large, hopefully to about 150mph. We'll add in-gear runs over set increments (30-50mph, 40-60mph, 50-70mph) in third, fourth and fifth, to get an idea of real-world flexibility.

First up is the Focus. There's more of the offbeat snort filling the cabin, but it's not so raucous to be irritating. Despite a leisurely launch, introducing all the torque in second gear has the front tyres on the cusp of wheelspin. 30-70mph is dispatched in 4.9sec, a couple of tenths up on Autocar's road test figures, and it is nearly half a second quicker from 80-100mph before snagging a genuine 150mph.

However, the in-gear figures prove the most startling. All the increments in third gear are nearly half a second quicker than those of the road test car, and the unmatched linearity of the figures across fourth and fifth shows the ST has the widest and most usable powerband.

After feeling the force of the Mazda's acceleration from the driver's seat, it's a shock to discover that it takes until 100mph for it to overhaul the Focus. That's partly a result of the Ford's brazen low-revs delivery but partly as, currently configured, the 3 MPS has too much turbo lag.

With fewer gearchanges required at three-figure speeds, the Mazda is off like a greyhound and comfortably exceeds 150mph - almost five seconds before the growling Ford. Third-gear increments are as quick as anything, but higher gears show the laggy side of the delivery, particularly the yawning 30-50mph time in fifth.

The K-Tec Renault is a savage thing. The F4RT engine's uniquely nasally voice is brought to the fore here whether you like it or not. It's the quickest to 100mph, but suprisingly fails to reach 150mph. It also scores the lowest in-gear increment time: 2.3sec for 30-50mph in third, which translates as awesome and immediate overtaking potential. The figures in fourth and fifth show that it has the legs on the Ford on full boost, but not the same freakishly wide window of response.

On to the Astra VXR-R, which, because it's still in development, is not yet giving the sort of figures promised. It's close to the Ford and Renault until 60mph, and even holds a lead over the Mazda, but then falls steadily further behind, just reaching 140mph before our emergency braking intervenes. It also has the slowest in-gear times, whatever the increment. However, it absolutely demolishes the standard VXR we've brought along for comparison.

On the road

On Leicestershire's serpentine back roads, in the dark and with temperatures around freezing, the Ford is a maniac. It's non-brand tyres that scupper its chances of providing rapid cross-country pace. It wants to wheelspin everywhere, and the experience centres on how deft you are with your right foot. The new mapping allows accurate modulation of the throttle, but there's no denying that the torque comes in rapidly. Whether this unruliness comes from the tyres, or because it lacks Revoknuckle struts and a limited-slip diff is hard to say. Nevertheless, the ST is an embarrassingly effective overtaking device, as our in-gear times proved.

The Mazda is similarly wayward, if for different reasons. The limited-slip diff does its best to contain the torque, but in these conditions it's sniffing from verge to centre line and requires a firm hand. The 3 MPS was never our favourite hot hatch when new, but this 50,000 miler feels spongy and vague, dominated by the power. Having tried BBR's full-house demonstrator with Koni dampers, I know that it's a massive improvement on Mazda's offering but, as is, this is more about accelerative thrills.

The Renault is even more aggressive than usual with this immediate grunt on tap. That the car handles it won't surprise anyone familiar with the base car's talents. It's firm and uncompromising, a good deal removed from the kind of experience offered by a Golf GTI. But it's  also the most fun to drive around Bruntingthorpe's simple circuit and very effective out on the road.

The biggest surprise is the VXR-R. A 40mm suspension drop sounds like the last thing the Astra needs, but the revised spring rates work well with the dampers and even the firmest setting is now usable on the road. The new mapping has removed the standard car's petulant throttle response. Leave it in Normal and the Astra flows, damping out the worst of the sudden dips in the road. It's not as invigorating as the Renault, but right here, in these conditions and to get home in, it's very appealing.

So what have we learnt? A used Mazda 3 MPS is a cracking basis for creating a 160mph-plus hot hatch; don't fit naff tyres to a car that can breach 150mph with ease; the Mégane RS is even better with a bit more squirt; the Astra VXR has potential...

And yet, for all their speed, is this type of hot hatch heading into a developmental cul-de-sac? A humbly shod, year-2000 standard Subaru Impreza Turbo would have outrun them in these conditions, and although they're faster, they don't necessarily offer the entertainment of their forefathers with half the power.

And now, with the arrival of the £30k BMW M135i – which is appreciably faster than even these tuned cars – the high-power/high-cost hot hatch is under significant pressure from above. Nevertheless, buy used and tune intelligently and it's hard to match the package of performance and practicality on offer here.

Adam Towler

Audi S3 cabriolet due in 2014

Posted: 08 Feb 2013 11:00 PM PST

The first-ever S3 soft-top is due next year with 296bhp and four-wheel drive

The next Audi A3 cabriolet will be available as an S3 for the first time, with 296bhp and four-wheel drive. The more powerful new cabriolet ― identifiable in these spy pictures by the quad tailpipes ― is due to be unveiled at the Frankfurt motor show in September.

Based on the new A3 saloon, the cabrio should benefit from more boot space than the old model, production of which has already ended. The switch to the saloon body will make the car slightly longer, too. Both cars will be built at the same plant in Hungary.

It retains the fabric roof of the current car to keep weight, complexity and costs down. The S3 cabrio should offer potent performance. A dual-clutch automatic gearbox-equipped S3 hatch hits 62mph in 5.1sec, so the cabrio should easily be capable of a sub-5.5sec time. Cars with the standard six-speed manual will be a little slower. Engines for the standard A3 cabrio range will mirror the hatchback's.

With the saloon going on sale towards the end of this year, the cabrio is expected to follow next year.

Cutaway drawings highlight Porsche Cayman tech

Posted: 08 Feb 2013 03:00 PM PST

A series of cutaway illustrations issued by Porsche highlight the advanced technology that underpins the new Cayman

These cutaway drawings lift the lid on some of the technical attributes that underpin the new Porsche Cayman, which we've driven for the first time this week.

Sister car to the Porsche Boxster, the new Cayman receives slightly different proportions in a move that serves to stretch its silhouette and provide the basis for a larger cabin.

As part of Porsche's focus on weight saving, the body of the Cayman is now predominantly aluminium, with the rest fashioned from a combination of magnesium and hot formed high-strength steel.

Porsche is claiming a 25kg saving in the body structure compared to the first-generation Cayman, although the added dimensions and a larger interior mean overall kerb weight has crept up marginally to 1350kg.

The initial range-topping S model that we sampled in our first drive of the new Porsche Cayman runs a revised version of the old model's 3.4-litre flat six engine – as used in the latest 911 Carrera, albeit in a higher state of tune.

As with the Boxster, the base version of the new Cayman is offered with a new 2.7-litre flat-six. Buyers can also choose between two gearboxes: a standard six-speed manual or a seven-speed dual clutch unit, which can idle the engine and disengage the clutch on a trailing throttle for to save fuel.

The short-stroke unit, endowed with constantly variable valve timing and valve lift and a second induction system to enable it to breathe both through both the air ducts incorporated into the bodywork behind the doors, kicks out an additional 5bhp, delivering 320bhp at 7400rpm. Torque is up by 5lb ft, swelling to 270lb ft at 5800rpm, or 1300rpm higher than before.

The performance figures have been intentionally suppressed so as not to allow the Cayman S to encroach too much upon the more profitable 911 Carrera. But thanks to Porsche's efforts in suppressing weight to 1350kg, the new Cayman boasts a power-to-weight ratio of 237bhp per tonne.

The inherent design of the Cayman, with its engine mounted longitudinally low down ahead of the rear axle in a classic mid-engine layout, is conducive to traction. Even so, Porsche has worked hard to improve it further, providing features such as standard stability control and an optional torque vectoring function that incorporates a rear locking differential.

Also included a new optional active suspension management system with adaptive damping for faster and more intuitive changes in damping control.

The Cayman is on sale now with first deliveries due to start next month. The base car is priced from £39,694, with the Cayman S starting at £48,783.

Porsche Cayman S video review

Posted: 06 Feb 2013 08:28 AM PST

Just how much better is the new Porsche Cayman S?

Steve Sutcliffe puts the new Porsche Cayman S to the test. It offers more power, more comfort, a better interior and improved looks, but is it capable of providing even more entertainment than the car it replaces?

Porsche Cayman S first drive review

Posted: 06 Feb 2013 12:48 AM PST

The Porsche Cayman S provides an alluring combination of power, balance, fluidity, quality and price to make it the best value driver's car on sale right now Twenty three thousand pounds. That is the figure you must not lose track of when reading this first drive of the second-generation Porsche Cayman. It refers to the price difference between the new range topping Cayman S driven here and the latest 911 Carrera, whose 3.4-litre flat six-cylinder boxer engine it shares, if in lightly detuned guise. Yes, the pricing of the new Cayman S is aggressive. With a base sticker of £48,783 it is little changed from that of its predecessor. Among its more keener two-door rivals is the Audi TT RS Quattro at £48,120. But it is the £77,449 Porsche 911 Carrera against which it must surely be compared.Video: Steve Sutcliffe tests the new 2013 Porsche Cayman SSeeing it away from a motor show stand for the first time only serves to reinforce early impressions of just what a good looking car it is. As with its Porsche Boxster sibling, the new coupé adopts an edgier appearance, with tauter surfacing and crisper lines, as well as a noticeably sleeker profile. The wheelhouses have also increased in size, allowing Porsche to fit the Cayman S with 19-inch wheels as standard and offer 20s as an option. Among the features helping to distinguish the new Cayman from the year-old Boxster are daytime running lights and indicators housed within a round unit within the front bumper, more pronounced rear haunches and a heavily angled liftback at the rear.Length is up by 35mm, width extends by 1mm while height drops by 10mm over its predecessor at 4380mm, 1801mm and 1295mm respectively. The Cayman also rides on a 30mm longer wheelbase at 2475mm, while the track widths have increased by 40mm to 1526mm at the front and by 18mm to 1540mm at the rear. As part of Porsche's focus on weight saving, the body is now predominantly aluminium, with the rest fashioned from a combination of magnesium and hot formed high-strength steel. Porsche is claiming a 25kg saving in the body structure, although the added dimensions and a larger interior mean overall kerb weight has crept up marginally.

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