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Detroit 2011: Porsche unveils 918 RSR

25 Jan

Porsche has stolen the floor at the Detroit motor show with the quite sensational 918 RSR.

The RSR is a blend of the 918 Spyder road car and the hybrid tech of the 911 GT3 R hybrid we drove last year.

It looks brilliant – the closed cockpit making it look shorter and more purposeful than the 918 Spyder – and it’s got cool orange stripes, and bears the number 22, which was the winning number of the Porsche 917 K that won Le Mans 40 years ago with an average speed of 138mph, not beaten until Audi did it last year. Also, the fan sits over the engine, exactly like the one on the 917’s flat-12.

The 918 RSR uses a V8 from the RS Spyder racer, tuned for 563bhp at 10,300rpm (!). There are two electric motors for the front wheels – they’re independently powered to give torque vectoring to improve cornering – and max power is 767bhp when the driver pushes a button to activate the electric motors. It’s a six-speed paddleshift transmission for the V8.

The electric energy comes from a flywheel in the ‘passenger’s seat’ linked to a motor/generator to turn electric energy into flywheel energy and vice-versa. The flywheel spins to 36,000rpm.

By contrast the road 918 has a battery hybrid system instead of the flywheel. Batteries allow fairly large quantities of energy to be stored; it can do 15 miles of gentle driving on its batteries before the engine starts. The batteries can also be charged from the mains.

But, explains TopGear magazine Man of the Year Wolfgang Duerheimer, the RSR uses a flywheel because, crucially, the energy can be got into and out of the flywheel faster than it can be with batteries, so the electric kick out of a corner can be bigger. Also, the flywheel is lighter than batteries.

At the moment there’s no racing category that the 918 RSR is eligible for, but Duerheimer says Porsche is talking to the authorities about making rules to fit the car. ‘We think there should be a new impulse in racing, new technologies.’

By the way, Porsche hasn’t exactly opened the order books on the production 918 Spyder, but it has said it will build the car. It won’t say when (we hear about two years) or how many (but 2,500 non-binding ‘letters of intent’ have been signed by potential customers) or how much it’ll cost (er, lots).

Via TopGear


1955 Custom Ford T-Bird

5 Jan

Some design is classic. Some design is innovative. And some of the most interesting design seamlessly blends classic styling with innovation. 

Vizualtech’s Bo Zolland specializes in technical illustration and custom design – using modern influences to transform the chassis of cars from new to old. 

Zolland created a series of renderings of a 1955 Ford Thunderbird for a client.  The car will be built from the body and components of a 2009 Ford Mustang, but will be completely remodeled to resemble the classic lines  of the T-Bird – proving that the reverse can be true: from the new can come the old.


Ralph Lauren’s Garage

4 Jan

Materialiste comes through with some splendid looks inside Ralph Lauren’s garage. “By itself, this legendary car collector brought together in his garage looking like the best museums of the past 100 years in the automotive industry. A veritable archive of performance and accuracy over the world.” Take a look inside in our gallery.

Via Selectism

Ken Block’s Gymkhana – Ultimate Playground; l’Autodrome, France

29 Dec

Ken Block – Drifting

29 Dec

Audi S4 Saloon

15 Dec

“Now,” says the serene Audi chassis engineer sitting alongside me in the S4, pressing a button on the dash, “you shall understeer.”

Through the rain, we pile into a tight left-hander on the drenched Mallorcan race circuit. Sure enough, the S4’s nose pushes wide, resisting any effort to be wrestled into oversteer. Sensible. Locked down. Audi-ish.

“See?” continues the engineer in impassive Teutonic monotone. He presses the button a couple more times. “Now you shall oversteer.”

We hit a similarly tight-radius right-hander, and the S4 launches sideways into a lurid, tail-happy drift. A fraction before we reach that critical backwards-into-barrier moment, the rear end catches, and the S4 barrels out on to the straight. Most un-Audi.

It’s quite a party trick, and one that rapidly dispels TG’s biggest criticism of the old S4: that it simply wasn’t engaging enough to justify the premium over a top-spec diesel A4.

But this is the all-new S4, and that magical button is controlling Audi’s new ‘drive select’ system which adjusts the steering, dampers and, most importantly, the quattro’s new ‘sport differential’. Similar to the torque vectoring on the BMW X6, it varies the amount of torque distributed to each driven wheel. Audi calls it ‘inverse ESP’ – instead of braking a spinning wheel, the diff pumps more power to the wheel that can use it best.

In ‘Comfort’ mode, it’s set to safety-first understeer, but in ‘Dynamic’ mode – and in the right road conditions – it’ll let you get quite spectacularly crossed up before deciding to put a halt to all the fun.

It’s a similarly bipolar story with the engine: Audi has ditched its tried-and-tested V8 in favour of an all-new supercharged 3.0-litre V6. Power is fractionally down on the old S4 – 328bhp plays 339bhp – but torque is up by 22lb ft to a mighty respectable 324lb ft. That’s good news for acceleration – the S4’s 0-62mph time is down to 5.1 seconds, a full half-second quicker than the previous generation – and even better news for economy, up to 29.1mpg from 21.2mpg. That’s nigh-on BMW M3 pace with 40 per cent more economy, and vital ammunition against those who feel it might not be in the best taste to launch a big new petrol supersaloon into the current climate.

Sadly, the new V6 just isn’t as visceral as an M3’s V8 – or, for that matter, the V8 it replaces. Despite a pleasingly off-beat thrum at idle, the engine is subtle and muted at any revs, the supercharger whine registering as little more than a whispering hiss.

That’s in keeping with the performance, though. There’s a silky smooth delivery of power throughout the rev range – no hammer-blow of torque, but instead a flat, urgent, linear wave of acceleration. It’s the sort of engine that lulls you unwarily into triple figures rather than scares the bejesus out of you.

More engaging, though, is the S4’s optional S-Tronic transmission – quite possibly the best application of VAG’s double-clutch gearbox yet. Mounted longitudinally for the first time, it copes admirably with all the power, convincingly thumping the upshifts and giving a satisfying blip on the way down.

Even so, despite being significantly quicker than the 335i, the S4 isn’t quite as instinctive, as stirring as its rear-drive BMW rival. But as a stealth cruiser, an understated Q-car with the ability to go just a bit ballistic when you need it, the S4 is right on the mark.

All of which raises an interesting little question: just how quick will the rumoured RS5 be, if and when it arrives? Quick enough to show a clean pair of heels to a BMW M3, say Audi insiders. Let’s see the chassis engineers stay serene about that one.

Via Top Gear

Test Drive: 2011 Aston Martin Rapide

14 Dec

The Aston Martin Rapide is an astoundingly beautiful car. More beautiful than a Maserati Quattroporte or a Jaguar XFR. In company like this, the Porsche Panamera may as well put a brown bag over her head.

A 5.9 liter V12 four-door coupe, the Rapide is best for the businessman who needs a luxurious and powerful four-seater for city driving, or for a youngish couple who want the option of inviting friends to the country for the weekend. Rapide is a 470-horsepower sports car with great duality: it’s hotter (and a lot more expensive, sure) than a BMW 5-Series or S-Class, but it’s more practical than the DB9 or GranTurismo or Continental Supersports.

The one I drove last weekend in Manhattan and New Jersey came with rear-seat entertainment, complete with two pairs of plush headphones and in-seat LCD screens ($3,395); heated and cooled front seats (available only on the Rapide); leather trim and wooden door inserts ($750 each); a special “Quantum Silver” paint job ($1,895); and 20-inch multispoke silver rims ($2,270).

One cool thing you notice right away about the car is its doors–they hinge upward as they open, and they have a steadying component that means they stay in place wherever you leave them. They don’t ever slam shut. Inside, four big round buttons lined up on the dash denote Park, Reverse, Neutral and Drive functions (6-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters comes standard); a button to engage Sport mode sits lower down on the center console. The start button sits in the middle of the drive buttons and works only when a smooth rectangle key fob is inserted fully into the slot and held down. Do note: Parking attendants and valets tend to have a difficult time figuring that out. It helps to explain how the ignition works before you walk away from the car. Something else: It’s notoriously difficult to park this car even in midtown Manhattan, as many parking garages refuse to assume the insurance risk associated with a $215,000 vehicle. One guy told me, “If we scratch your bumper, it’ll cost me $10,000 to have it fixed. I can’t handle that.” (On the other hand, you will have men rolling down their windows in traffic to ask about the paint job, the rims, the engine, you name it. Be ready to talk comparisons with the DB9.)

The front seats in the Rapide are snug, deep and form-fitting. The two bucket seats in the rear are the same, but a dearth of leg and hip room in the back means large men or overweight women will likely find it uncomfortable back there after a short period of time.

Small details like aimed reading lights in the back, a hidden button to open the gas tank, auto-dimming interior lights and bar-shaped door handles that you have to push in to use are clever touches to the relatively simple dashboard, console and interior layout. (I’m against an overabundance of unnecessary and distracting technology, aren’t you?) A ledge behind the rear seats is good for storing lightweight things like magazines or jackets; it also folds down to provide a longer pull-through directly to the generous trunk.

When you start the Rapide, it lets out a roar will impress everyone within earshot–it’s quite distinctive and loud and sounds promising. But the car isn’t quite as fast on the uptake as you might expect. It goes 0 to 60 mph in 5 seconds, with a top speed of 184 mph. By comparison, the heavier Panamera Turbo does 0-60 in 4 seconds, with a top speed of 188 mph. Panamera is priced much cheaper than the Rapide, at $135,300. The $126,250 Maserati Quattroporte S is also less expensive than the Rapide, and it has just slightly slower drive times (0-60 in 5.3 seconds; 174 mph top speed) to match.

True, Rapide is very smooth to drive, and I loved the smallish steering wheel and close quarters of the cockpit–that real driver feel is there for sure. The suspension is taunt, which is great if you’re using the car as a coupe but not if you’re using it as a town car. Braking is alert and receptive; handling is fine going around corners, shooting through side streets and negotiating traffic.

But for 200 Gs, shouldn’t handling be more than fine? Yes. Panamera and Quattroporte hold their own against (and in the Panamera’s case resoundingly beat) the Rapide when it comes to overall performance, and they do it for significantly less money.

For the beautiful Rapide, looks go a long way toward smoothing over such comparisons.

Via Forbes