Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Mercedes Names Pointless Crossover In Honour of Lighthouse Preservation

Mercedes-Benz General Lighthouse Authority 220 Course Deviation Indicator 4MATIC, to give it its full name
Compact crossovers. Fuck 'em. They're heavier, thirstier, worse for the environment, more expensive to buy, more expensive to run, less aerodynamic, less pleasant in terms of ride quality, less fun to drive, no safer and barely any more practical than the hatchback they're invariably based on. Their supposed off-road credibility is the same as you saying you can scale mountains because you've got boots on instead of shoes, except that even they don't have boots on, because they've got big wheels with road tyres on and suspension tuned for asphalt, not Everest. Yet, for some reason, sheeple are buying them in such droves that companies who have no business making such things are making at least one of these fat bearded hatchbacks on stilts. I blame the Nissan Qashqai for this, which the ever-dry What Car? praises for its "funky 4x4 styling". Curse you, Qashqai! Because of you we now have this!

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Did I Miss The Memo Saying That All UK Torque Figures Are In "Nm" Now?

A localised rant if you don't mind. Just under a month ago, I was reading a brochure for the Peugeot RCZ that I "requested" at Goodwood (TBH when someone asks I just think "yeah why not" and get a brochure for something I'll never buy) when I spotted that the torque figure was in Newton metres (Nm), with no translation to lb/ft. Remembering that a Mercedes announcer gave the SLS E-Cell's torque in Nm at the FOS, I started looking around and all European companies are at it, even British ones like Vauxhall and Jaguar. Why change a long-standing unit to something that very few people here have any sense of scale for?

I'd be OK with it if there was a translation to lb/ft, but everyone just seems to have quietly switched units and assumes that people who actually consider such figures know how Nm relates to lb/ft. I also get that it's something that started in mainland Europe, which is all-metric (like using PS instead of BHP and confusing us into thinking, for example, that a Veyron has 1001bhp when it actually has 987, or 1001PS) that's now moved over here. But again, I personally have absolutely no bearings for Newton Metres beyond knowing - thanks to AMG's mentalist engines - that 1000Nm is ~737lb/ft (foot-pounds, pounds per foot, whichever is correct). While having a nice round number like that as a landmark gives me the rough conversion rate to work it out for myself, when it's in lb/ft - as it is in all the magazines here, I might add - I can just know that a Fisker Karma has 960lb/ft and that that's a tremendous amount of rotational force. My dad also told me at a young age that you want the torque figure to be close to the power figure, but with a different unit for torque that mental balancing scale I've developed goes all out of whack, so I always have to do the conversion with an app on my phone, which is a pain in the arse.

It irks me is all. I get that it's an SI unit, but the assumed knowledge of Nm is a bit silly. The one upside is that, as they're all doing it, it is at least easy for one to compare between cars to see which has more of the stuff (so non-car people probably won't notice). Oh, and at least it's not as alien as the "Kgf·m" that Gran Turismo uses...

Gran Turismo 6 Preview

Gran Turismo 6 15th Anniversary Edition official box art, featuring a Renaultsport Megane V6 Trophy.
The tyre tread looks like a 15!!
OK, so after being sent the Gamespot trailer and going a little crazy for five minutes, here's the actual low-down on Play Station 3's great big send-off, the sixth full game in the series of Sony's most successful gaming franchise, which has sold over 70,000,000 copies. Celebrating their own 15th anniversary, which I've mentioned before, there are many things that have been announced today and it's now time to piece them together, piece by glorious HD piece.

UPDATE: There has recently been a huge amount of new information on GT6, which you can find here.

Ford Fiesta ST Mountune - The Goodwood Mini-Review

I still think the new ST cars look a bit fish-faced, but it works better in person, as usual
This was originally written shortly after the event, at a time when I was for some reason neglecting this blog, so here it is at last. For some pictures you can check out the supercar car park for a start!

For the first time, I went to the Goodwood Moving Motor Show, which is essentially the same as the Festival Of Speed in every way, except the track is only open for people who got there early enough to book free, no-pressure test drives on the famous hillclimb course with a range of cars to choose from that ranged from the Dacia Sandero to the Audi RS6, with an R8 V10 plus and Ferrari 458 & FF being used for high speed passenger rides. The event opened at 7am, and having arrived half an hour later than planned at 9am due to a backfiring shortcut, I was shit out of luck as everything was booked. No matter, I'd simply win a test drive at the Ford stand by being awesome at Gran Turismo 6.

See, there was a special demo of GT6 at Goodwood that features the hillclimb course in it, so Ford decided that if you really knew your way up in a Ford GT, and you have a driving licence, then why not give you a drive in a real Fiesta ST, thus promoting the hot hatch to hip, cool people and also me? As well as Ford, Nissan of course have a couple of game pods set up, but they were offering a far more immersive real test drive, as it was the GT Academy Wildcard event. The fastest time (initially set in the Delta Wing, no less) up the hill would win a wildcard entry into the second phase of the famous racer-making competition. Unfortunately, this was the first one I came across, and the Thrustmaster T500 RS (I swear that isn't a sex toy) for some reason had a really slow steering setting, so it took a lot of getting used to, plus it was in cockpit view, so I'd line it up for a corner and then catch the wide tail on something and crash, which sucked. I got on the leaderboard at midday but was knocked off by the end. Alfa Romeo also had one set up, in a different part of the grounds, with the TZ3 Stradale, which if you don't remember it is essentially a Zagato-bodied Dodge Viper with some Alfa bits inside. I beat the then-record by 0.003 seconds! No prize for that, though, except to have my details sent somewhere for something**. The fourth place to play it was Mercedes-Benz, where you used an AMG SLS GT3. This had the best steering settings and the best grip. I narrowly set the fastest time of the day, which put my name in a draw with the three fastest times of Friday, Saturday and Sunday to win a real SLS driving experience (in a road car). This was after I won the Ford prize that made up for me being late. Alas, I haven't heard back so I must not have won that one...

So the Fiesta ST, then. The guy chaperoning me (who's a third-party professional driver that does work with the Paul Swift stunt driving team, by the way, and has done stunt driving in TopGear Live) had to drive me out and into the motor show area itself for insurance reasons or something. We swapped over at the little turning circle about 150m from the start line that you may have seen in some videos, and the padded Recaro seats are really fantastic. They may impede on rear legroom a bit, but they really hug you without being a squeeze, and are really supportive. For the first time in my life, I drove off without putting my seatbelt on, which was odd, but anyway, the clutch bit quite suddenly and we eased along in a queue, behind a Toyota GT86 TRD Edition. At 10mph or so, it's actually quite bassy, but in a way that sounded artificial somehow. The car on display (as terribly photographed here) had a "Mountune" logo on the back, so I don't know if this one also had a trick exhaust or not.*

At the start line, I thought aloud that I never thought I'd be there, getting ready to run up the famous Goodwood Hillclimb in real life. To be honest I never thought I'd be able to do it virtually either! A nice old man with big glasses and white overalls halted me with a raised open palm, waited for the 86 to go round the first corner, and then dropped his hand like a gentlemanly Fast & Furious remake. While I did put my foot down, I decided not to red-line it in 1st, but a booth professional told me to go for it on the first straight because it's the best opportunity to do so. Once in 2nd, I revved much higher, and the engine was fantastic! While the whooshing tells you that it's definitely turbocharged, the power builds in quite a natural way, and there's almost no lag at all. It was very responsive and gave you a nice big shove in the back every time.

We got into 4th gear before braking into 3rd for the first turn, a right-hander that opens out at the end. You can get back on the throttle very early in this corner, and the front tyres just bit, so I had no issue with being at full throttle through the final part of the turn. After a short straight I was at the top of 3rd gear, lifted off for the second right-hander that's barely more than a kink, and then got back on the power again and into 4th. This engine really is addictive. Unfortunately, due to some... overzealous drivers last year, they had put in a very tight chicane about 100m after the bridge, so we had to throw the anchors out and get all the way down to 2nd to drive around some cones and a hay bale, then off again towards a low-3rd-gear left. After this was "The Wall", which is a wall. A quick right-left to avoid it only needed a light squeeze of the brake pedal and then you could get your toe down again through the left curve. It's supposedly quite scary, this bit, but that's probably much more accurate an observation when you're in a classic racing car at full pelt. By the next corner, which is the penultimate one on the course, I had caught up with the GT86 TRD and had to hold back a bit, which satisfied me that I'd driven this car quickly enough :-)

Rather than sitting at the top and then cruising back down again like the FOS runners do today and over the weekend, we went left and down some weaving little side roads and lanes through the trees, where I chatted with my chaperone about his job and my Uni course, and occasionally the hot Fiesta's engine. We weren't really meant to go fast here, as we occasionally went past campers and stuff, but I couldn't resist one more dose of turbo rush after letting the Toyota pull away a bit. I want my next car to be turbocharged now! The steering let me point the car exactly where I wanted, but didn't really grab my attention in any way aside from that. It does handle very well, though, and it's a confidence-inspiring car to drive fast.

So overall, I definitely enjoyed my little taste of the Fiesta ST. Next year I need to get there as soon as it opens and book some test drives! Those who were earlier this year had the opportunity to test this car against the 208 GTi and the Renaultsport Clio 200 EDC, thus replicating the hot hatch group test of 2013. We'll have to see what's there in 2014...

These photos of the display car were taken casually on a phone, hence their rubbishness

* As it turns out, there is a £600 Mountune upgrade now available in the UK for the Fiesta ST, which bumps power up from 180 to 215bhp, plus the 20bhp overboost that's available as standard anyway. Now that's bang for buck! It also explains the bassy exhaust, a hallmark of theirs.

**Little did I know when I originally wrote this elsewhere a month or so ago, but that Alfa Romeo time was the fastest of the day, and as second prize - because someone beat my time on a different day - I got a free Alfa Romeo teddy bear!!

Don't worry, most people are jealous. It's only natural.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

The New Hardcore 458 Should Be Very... Speciale

Ferrari 458 Speciale. That's Spe-scha-lé, I think
After the Ferrari F360 came the 360 Challenge Stradale, whose name explained that it was the street ("Stra-da-lé" in Italian) version of the Challenge cup racer. Then, once the F430 had replaced it, along came the 430 Scuderia, a lighter, more focused version fettled by Scuderia Ferrari (the F1 team). Now, the 458 Italia replaced the F430, so here is that version again. Lighter. More powerful. Meaner. Louder. Pricier. Faster.

The name this time? Ferrari 458 Speciale. But is it special...e?

Gran Turismo 6 Trailer Reveals Some Excellent New Car Additions, Mystery Track

OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG!! OK, aside from the swooping camera shots and a release date of 6/12/13, we see in the above new trailer video (from Gamescom 2013) the following...

Concepts for GT6 by:
Alfa Romeo ("6C Biposto")
Aston Martin
Bertone (with SRT)
General Motors Design
Nike (a follow-up to the Nike One in GT4)

Real cars (all Premium Models):
Nissan GT-R GT3 N24
Audi R8 GT3 N24
Shelby Daytona
Chevrolet Corvette Stingray (C2)
BMW 507
Abarth 1500 Biposto (won the Gran Turismo Award at Pebble Beach)
Alpine A110
Ford GT GT3
Shelby Mustang GT500
SRT Viper
Chevrolet Corvette Stingray (C7, i.e. the new one)
Alfa Romeo TZ3 Stradale
Pagani Huayra (woo!)
Fisker Karma
Tesla Model S
McLaren 12C and Toyota GT86 (are in GT5)
Renaultsport Megane V6 Trophy (silhouette racer)
Lancia Stratos
Ford Focus ST250
Lotus Europa
Cizeta V16-T (!!)
Audi R18 Ultra (non-hybrid)
VW Scirocco N24 (or a cup car of some kind)
LCC Rocket (by Gordon Murray)

I. Am. Buying. This. Game. In total, there are going to be 1200 cars, as well as 7 more tracks with various layouts each. My main hope this time is that the Premium Model cars are in the majority, unlike the 80% majority enjoyed by PS2-spec Standard Model cars in GT5...

Oh, and what circuit is this? I can't tell. Maybe Algarve/Portimao?

Answers on a postcard please! Or, y'know, in the comments. That's fine too.

UPDATE: One strong suggestion by someone is Apricot Hill, an original circuit from earlier GT games. I'd be OK with that!

Monday, 19 August 2013

Toyota In Interesting Yaris Shocker!!

Toyota Yaris Hybrid-R Concept
Akio Toyoda is exactly what Japan's biggest car company needed. First he commissions a sports car that turns into the GT86/BRZ, then he decrees that Toyota enters Le Mans with an Audi-bothering hybrid LMP1 car, and all the while his Gazoo Racing Team (GRMN) has been giving us bonkers concepts and was racing the Lexus LFA at the Nürburgring 24H before it was even finished. And now we have this, the Yaris Hybrid-R Concept.

Yeah yeah, they've taken a Yaris Hybrid (mega-yawn...) and put a flashy over-the-top bodykit on it that you might see on an overpriced Limited Edition production car and that's it. Right? I mean, that's all they're really doing with their actual sports car, the GT86. Just a body-kitted TRD version for an extra £5k and lots of disappointing styling concepts. They wouldn't make the concept that's actually interesting a Yaris, would they?

Well, you'd be wrong to think that. The Yaris you see sketched above (when does a sketch just become a drawing/rendering?) is All-Wheel-Drive, has technology lifted straight out of the TS030 Hybrid LMP1, a Track Mode and over 400 horsepower. More than twice the power of the 86 in a car half the size! Well, sort of half the size. OK, not really...

Basically, up front is a 1.6-litre "Global Race Engine (GRE)" powering the front wheels like you'd expect, but then at the back is a super-capacitor just like the one in the TS030, which powers a pair of electric motors driving the rear wheels. Like a back-to-front Audi R18 e-tron quattro, the two can combine to make it All-Wheel-Drive. The power outputs of each element haven't been announced yet, mostly because the car itself won't be unveiled until the Frankfurt Motor Show in September, which is in Frankfurt. If the hybrid system really is straight out of this year's runner up at Le Mans then electric thrust is responsible for a full 300 of those horsepowers, and internal combustion is only doing a quarter of the work. Technology, eh?

The thing is that this car with its Track Mode and being a Yaris that's actually capable of holding one's attention for more than 30 seconds isn't making it into production. But it's going to be a working car, so see what magazines make of it! More importantly though, this technology is being considered as a way to finally jazz up the GT86. If they can continue leaving that poor neglected mostly-Subaru engine alone but add 150bhp with one of these two electric motors giving it the mid-range torque some Toyobaru drivers desperately crave, then they'll be happy and so will car enthusiasts capable of getting over the word "Hybrid" being on the back of a sports coupé. On top of that, Toyota say the 1.6 GRE will be testing in a rally car soon. So maybe it does make more than 100 horepower.

Alternatively, it could be something we might see on their upcoming Mk.V Supra, which word on the street says is going to be a collaboration with BMW. Well, would you expect Toyota to be able to make a proper sports car on their own? I'm pretty sure that's what the FWD Celica was...

Friday, 16 August 2013

2014's SUPER GT Cars Unveiled

2014 Lexus LF-CC, Honda NSX-GT and Nissan GT-R GT500
A lot of changes appear to be happening in the world of motorsport next year. Not only is F1 returning to turbocharged engines (which I like to think I did a damn sight better job explaining than CNN did), but the premier Japanese and German racing series, SUPER GT and Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschäft (DTM) are merging most of their regulations, with a view for the American Grand-Am series to also adjust its rules and make for a global super-touring car series by 2017. At a special event at Suzuka Circuit today, the Japanese Big Three have unveiled their latest challengers, which oddly enough includes two near-production concept cars in a series for road-based silhouette racers...

For a comparison of current (mostly 2010 in these pics, in red) and future GT500* class cars, see here:

2008 reveal car
2014 reveal car

Essentially, the aerodynamics are less extreme, with a slightly higher nose/waistline, fewer winglets and vents and whatnot, a less agressive diffuser and a skinnier, lower rear wing completing the new look. Underneath they're still silhouette racers, meaning that they're purpose-built racing cars with a unique chassis and imitation bodywork to resemble a production car (for marketing purposes). Or, y'know, a sort-of-production concept car or something...

While the chassis and bodywork match up to DTM next year, the powertrains are markedly different in 2014. While the Germans will retain their 480bhp 4.0 V8 engines (and minimum weight of 1110kg), the GT500 cars will downsize from 3.4-litre naturally-aspirated V8s to 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder units, which make a rather impressive 550bhp. Adding torque and eco-cred to that is a 50bhp KERS of some unspecified sort, making them hybrids for the first time, but then if there's any one country that's going to have hybrid racing cars it's Japan. Little more is known at this point, although they'll almost definitely have 6-speed sequential gearboxes like DTM and just about any GT series. All-Wheel-Drive is banned so the Nissan GT-R will be Rear-Wheel-Drive, as it already has been.

As well as the long-serving GT-R, there will be a New NSX from Honda:

Honda NSX-GT Concept
All of them seem to have two square holes in the back. Probably aero witchcraft

Unlike the other two, or indeed any DTM car, the NSX is mid-engined, because the imminent Acura NSX Hybrid road car will also be mid-engined. This flies in the face of even the current GT500 rules which stipulate an engine mounted in front of the cockpit, a regulation that made Honda kill off the old NSX GT after 2009 and adapt their last attempt at a successor into the Formula Nippon-powered HSV-010 GT, which promptly won the championship in 2010.

Finally, Toyota/Lexus will be fielding a silhouette of a concept that will eventually become their rival to the BMW 4-Series and Audi A5, currently called the Lexus Future-Coupe Concept (LF-CC), replacing the antiquated SC430 they've been using since 2006.

As you can see, all three of them look similar to the current-era DTM cars, aside from the Lexus and Nissan having very deep vents in their bonnets to cool the much smaller engines. It's unclear at this point whether SUPER GT will also adapt the DRS used in DTM as well, wherein the rear wing leans back to reduce its effect to nearly zero.

2012 Audi A5, BMW M3 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupé
The new GT500 cars will undergo testing this week around the 5th round of the 2013 series, the highly-revered Suzuka 1000km. Apparently the NSX will even race, but we'll find out more over the weekend. It's a bit of a shame that the GT500 cars are changing from mad GTs (FIA-spec GT cars couldn't match the high-downforce GT500s) to touring cars, but change happens, and in the grand scheme of things it's for the better. Also, don't expect DTM to suddenly be flooded with Japanese cars next year, as the powertrains are too different, but once DTM follows suit and Grand-Am responds with a very similar American series, we'll have the beginnings of a new global super touring series. Hopefully it gets good TV coverage!

*GT500 is the top tier, with mostly-factory-backed carbon fibre machines, whereas the lower-cost, privateer-friendly GT300 class uses production-based chassis with 300-horsepower engines.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Images Of The M4 Have Hit The Internet

The internet is awash with news that images of the new M4 have leaked onto the internet, which is great news for BMW fans as it's where many of them hope to be spending their time. Promising a blend of speed and cornering the like of which the world has never seen the like of which, its Bavarian builders are promising such modern features as carefully-placed cameras all over the M4 to make sure that the driver's sensation of speed is unparalleled, although it's rumoured to be an expensive optional extra. It features a six-cylinder... wait a minute...


Oh wait, are they talking about this?

Shit, sorry! Well, you can see how I'd get confused. So OK, well this makes a lot more sense to be honest, because what I was about to tell you is that the new Bavarian-built M4 fill feature a 3.0-litre straight-six engine with no fewer than three turbochargers, the power output of which is rumoured to be a numerically satisfying 444bhp. It might still have an expensive camera option though, but it'll just be for reversing rather than speed-checking. Expect it to cruise along at 95mph on the other M4 with consummate ease.

Some rumours suggest the newest M car is named after the number of wheels it has...
All right, all right, so this is the "Concept" (read: 99% accurate show-car preview) for the replacement of the M3 Coupé, in line with BMW's new more consistent naming system which I've already explained. No official stats have been revealed yet, but then BMW were hoping not to release pictures and details today. As we've been seeing more and more over the last couple of years, the press pictures leaked, the car maker panicked for a few hours and then calmly acted like it was the plan to release pictures today all along. But no stats yet. Still, we won't have to wait long as the "official" reveal is at the famous Concours event at Pebble Beach this weekend in America, where they're still trying to understand that there's a number 4 on a BMW now.

What's gutsy of BMW is painting the show car in a colour akin to the much-maligned Phoenix Yellow of the early 2000s, colloquial names of which include "Baby Pooh Yellow" and "Piss". But hey, more piss just means we can take more of the piss out of a car named after the most famous way to enter Wales.

The real Phoenix Yellow, on an E46 M3. That would be rather cloudy piss...

OK, who vent to ze toilet in ze paint-mixing room?!
Expect more details over the weekend when BMW brush this little mishap under the rug and discipline the miscreant who leaked an image onto a Belgian website thinking it was safe to do so because hey, Belgium's just chocolate, Spa-Francorchamps and a pissing infant statue, who's even on the internet there anyway?

Turns out everyone is, Hans (or is that Butter Hans?). Because the internet is everywhere all the time. Also, you can expect everything from the A-Pillar forwards to look identical on the eventual M3 saloon version, so now you effectively now what the next BMW M3 is going to look like as well. Double-prizer!!

Yup, still looks like it's wearing glasses...
So there you have it. Britain's most famous southern motorway has turned into a piss-yellow BMW. No wait, BMW are re-building the M4 motorway to have six cylinders. Oh wait, I get it now, everyone on the M4 gets a free BMW which they can piss in. Yeah, that's it. Prepare your tail, for it shall be thoroughly gated come next week!


How Close Are We To 300MPH?

Recently, I learned of a way to make a Bugatti Veyron go 300mph in Gran Turismo 5. For an idea of just how fast that is, the yellow distance markers flashing under the car are at 100m intervals. Of course, you can go 311mph - and much more easily too - if you use the Red Bull X2010/11 prototypes, but this is a road car going 300mph, and that's much more challenging to do than when you have 1600 horsepower, 545kg and a fan sucking you down to the road like the X1s. But it's got me thinking: how long will it take for a real life production car to break the 300mph barrier? For my 300th SBV8 post, I shall ponder this further...