Sunday, 17 March 2013

VW Group Moves On From Conquering Speed, Conquers Economy

2013/4 VW XL1
VW is on-and-off the largest car company in the world. Or rather VW Group (Volkswagen AG or VAG) is. If VW were your boss, VAG would be your boss's boss. It owns no fewer than twelve brands, those being Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Ducati [motorbikes], Lamborghini, MAN [lorries], Porsche, Scania [also lorries], SEAT, ┼ákoda, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles and VW itself. With that list of brands you get some serious firepower, and the mighty VAG (stop sniggering) has flexed its muscles once again to give the world an amazing piece of engineering you can actually buy*. After the 268mph Bugatti Veyron Super Sport conquered the speed world, VW has realised a ten-year ambition to conquer economy cars with this, the 313mpg XL1.

*well, word on the street is that they'll lease this one.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Photoshop Game: Alonsobombing

Following Fernando Alonso on Twitter (@alo_oficial) has been an education. Not only have I learnt that he has a "Tomita" anime figurine that he takes around with him, and that he's extremely dedicated to his physical training, but he also likes to take a picture of himself with his fans behind him. Thing is, because he does this on his cameraphone, it always looks like he's photobombing his own pictures. So why not have him photobomb some others?

If you fancy a go, here's a PNG template with no background:

Place or paste it into Photoshop and have fun! Picky 'shoppers might want to smooth his thumb out a bit, though...

Saturday, 2 March 2013

NISMO Finally Developing An R35 GT-R

Painted model of a regular pre-facelift GT-R
NISMO has a long and proud history of making fast Nissans faster. Of course, this has primarily been done to the Skyline GT-R in the past, but with Nissan initially not wanting to let the R35 non-Skyline GT-R be seen as a tuner's car, lest it not be taken seriously as a global performance machine, we've had to put up with their famous motorsports/tuning arm doing cosmetic bits and a Juke hot hatch thing. Well with all the plans for expansion afoot, things are about to change...

NIS(san)MO(torsport) recently closed down and moved out of its famous Omori Factory in Omori, a kind of mythical place to GT-R fans that has every right to make people who see the bright red door hear a heavenly chorus and see an inexplicable glow around it, as it's effectively heaven, or Santa-san's workshop. Nevertheless, it was too small and they've moved to a fancy new place in Yokohama, which is called...... Omori Factory. As they plan to revitalise themselves and become Nissan's AMG or Renault's Renaultsport (even in Europe) or someone else's something else, many more NISMO models including the already-released 370Z will soon appear, and one of them will be a GT-R at last.

The thing is, they didn't mention what they were going to do to it to make it a NISMO GT-R. Some reckon it will be an extension of the Track Pack or the earlier SpecV and will delete rear seats while lightening this and stiffening that, like a Superleggera version or something. But let's look at what they're already doing:

The Juke is a marmite car if ever there was one, but those who love it will love the NISMO version, which takes the crossover's 1.6 turbo engine and tweaks it up to 197bhp from 187bhp. Only 10 horsepower? This engine was also used in the DeltaWing, and that had 300 horspower, so only adding ten more seems like they just did it to avoid criticism that the changes were purely cosmetic. There are two versions, a 1295kg Front-Wheel-Drive version with a 6-speed manual gearbox and a 1441kg All-Wheel-Drive version with a CVT drone-box, that comes with a "7-speed manual mode" so you can pretend to have gears. There's also a lot of cosmetic changes to make it stand out, including flashy NISMO badges, red highlights, some skirting and new 18" wheels. The FWD version hits 60 in 7.8 seconds, which is slow by hot hatch standards, before hitting 134mph while the AWD version takes nearly half a second longer at 8.2s and only goes 125mph. Not good enough, plus it's slightly too high to be as hoonable as say a Golf GTI or Renaultsport Clio 200. A bit of a comedown after the insane Juke-R limited edition superbox...

Ah, now this is more like it. Start with a sports car and you will get a proper sports car. Alas, NISMO's attention to the engine appears equally vanilla on paper, with the standard 328bhp and 267lb/ft only rising to 344bhp and 273lb/ft. Come one guys! Your customers want more performance! Give it 400bhp already. There is more to it than that though, of course, and the potentially-marmite bodykit gives the 370Z NISMO the same amount of downforce as the GT-R makes, which is enough for Godzilla to kill giants. As well as adding a splitter, diffuser, new side skirts and a big rear wing, the NISMO Z also gets sports suspension that lowers the ride height by 10mm, wider 19" wheels shod in bespoke Bridgestone Potenza tyres (245/40 and 285/35 front and rear) and uprated brakes, all coming together to cut a tenth off its 0-60 time, making it 5.2s. Completing the look are NISMO badges and some black and red trim, while the lightly-coaxed 3.7-litre V6 is connected exclusively to a 6-speed manual gearbox. The people behind this car say that it's "not a time-chaser, it's about getting the driver to communicate with the car", which explains the third pedal straight away. Probably quite good.

So what of the GT-R NISMO?
Well actually, they've done one before, exclusively for the Japanese market called the NISMO GT-R Club Sports. At a £28,000 premium over the regular  2009/10 GT-R, you got 19kg less weight, thanks to the same carbon fibre 20" wheels as the £125,000 SpecV, carbon fibre seats and a titanium exhaust system... like the SpecV. You also got bespoke road springs and three-setting Bilstein dampers, which made the car stiffer but better-behaved, meaning drivers could get on the power sooner. As well as using the power sooner, the new engine and throttle maps meant there was more power to use in the lower rev range as well. So it was effectively an enhancement of the standard car's characteristics using special parts everywhere. But still the power remained at 485bhp or so... just like the SpecV. Not only does it make justifying the mentally expensive SpecV very difficult, but it's also a pretty minor effort again. Perhaps the 2014 GT-R NISMO will be an extension of the Track Pack after all, adding a token 10-25bhp and making the millionth tweak to the suspension settings while adding a carbon fibre bonnet, boot and rear wing.

I'd like them to go further. If I were making a NISMO GT-R, I'd want 600 horsepower (an increase of 55bhp), carbon for the lids and wing as above but also for the doors, or possibly even the whole body. Improved underbody aero including a heftier diffuser would give it more downforce at high speed without resorting to a ricer's tall rear wing, although that would also be reprofiled to make more downforce. Using the old naming system, my NISMO would be an "S-Tune", making it a fast-road setup that balances track-munching ability with an everyday usability. Tuning the engine to have a broad torque spread would be part of this plan. These days there are engines that can sustain peak torque from say 1500-4500rpm, so that would be an aim. Most aftermarket exhausts I've heard give it a trilling trumpet sound, but I'd prefer a meaty, bassy sound akin to the RB26s of old. Any bodykit would be purposeful but at least moderately tasteful - this is a global performance car, after all - but then if you look at the AMG Black Series models, which happily now includes a 620bhp SLS, those cars are more aerodynamic while also exuding pure menace from the bigger arches and nostrils and grilles. That sort of thing would be perfect for a NISMO-tuned GT-R, perhaps like my dream machine, the extremely-rare R34 Z-Tune of which they only made 20. Only with fewer holes in the front for this more mature R35. Maybe turn those bumper ripples into SUPER GT-style canards as well.

As well as 600PS+, the weight must come down. All the carbon will aid that, but ideally the weight would drop below 1700kg by however much (ideally below the 1680kg of the SpecV to 1650 or so), while at speed the extra downforce would put the weight difference back on again. This way there's less mass and therefore more agility (and better fuel economy, but whatever), but just as much stability and even more confidence and grip, which would also be increased with stickier Bridgestone rubber like the 370Z above. They can do what they want with the interior, although expect alcantara, NISMO badging and some red flashes, as well as lightened sport bucket seats.

Can you imagine it?
Of course, wishful thinking and the truth almost never align, so the best I can hope for is something in-between my ideas and the possible Track Pack Plus that would seem likely based on NISMO's more recent past. Still, with a swanky new tuning and racing complex in Yokohama, we'll just have to wait and see what happens with Nissan's long-standing performance arm in the future...

Friday, 1 March 2013

Mercedes-Benz's G63 AMG 6x6 Will End You

It's increasingly apparent that German car companies have gone mad. Porsche appear to have made a Cayman that's better than the 911, BMW are just renaming established models and filling every niche in the world (as well as planning to make a big Mini-branded MPV), Audi are using their legendary RS moniker on a small crossover and want your car to be an HD light show that runs on carbon dioxide in the next 5-10 years, and now Mercedes-Benz is releasing an electric all-wheel-drive SLS AMG and the dystopia-ready machine you see in the hollywood trailer-style promo video above: the G63 AMG 6x6.

Yup, that's six wheels and six-wheel-drive. It also has just over 18 inches of ground clearance, five up-to-100% locking differentials - for three axles, which must mean two "centre diffs" - and military credentials thanks to being based on the stuff-carrying 6x6 used by the Australian army to carry up to 3000kg of guns and guys. This is after fitting the regular 4x4 G-Wagen with a 6.0-litre V12 BiTurbo making 603bhp and 737lb/ft (or 1000Nm) of torque to make the G65 AMG, which they call "the most powerful series-produced cross-country vehicle in the world". Jeremy Clarkson should get one of those.

But I'd rather have this 6x6 version, which while it doesn't have a 600 horsepower V12 does at least have the 5.5-litre V8 BiTurbo from the G63 AMG, which makes a healthy 536bhp and 560lb/ft. Seeing as it otherwise has the same running gear as the military one (which uses a 3.0-litre diesel V6), it can probably also haul 3000kg of kids and drum kits, which is impressive. Also impressive is its own 3775kg kerbweight, which is hefty enough to reassure any Range Rovers that were feeling fat this morning. According to development head Axel Harries during visiting hours at a mental institute, it can hit 62mph in just under six seconds, has an electronically-limited top speed of 100mph and can even manage 15.2mpg. That 0-62 time is impressive considering that the admittedly punchy engine has to push 3.8 tonnes of 5.9 metre-long four-door pickup to that speed while putting the torque (through a 7-speed auto) to six 37" tyres.

The styling effectively carries over from the normal G63, except that it's a six-wheeled dual-cab pickup with rails for mounting guns on or holding onto for dear life knowing that if you're on top of it, it can't murder you in the middle of your face. Its own face, weirdly, looks almost as upset as the trembling fool who stands in its way, until you turn the LEDs off, at which point its facial expression is strangely empty and emotionless, like a terminator or something. It also uses two strips of LEDs instead of big round spotlights atop the windscreen. Presumably that's where the extra 0.2mpg came from.

Prices start somewhere far above your annual income; Mercedes say this is the second most-expensive car they make, cheaper only than the SLS Electric Drive, although they said that without actually mentioning the price. Perhaps then the Dubai registration in the above picture is appropriate, and with approach and departure angles of 52° and 54° - much higher angles than the 36° and 27° of the lower 4x4 - Sheik Someoneorother can even take it into the dunes without much trouble. Or drive up a mountain as if it's no big deal. Perfect for the zombie apocalypse or resisting the inevitable Chinese takeover of planet Earth.