Saturday, 26 October 2013

Chris Harris Is Allowed To Drive Ferraris Again. This Is A Good Thing

Just a heads-up: this isn't the video. You can find that further down.
About two years ago, Chris Harris wrote a post on Jalopnik which was all about "how Ferrari spins". He pointed out that unlike even its fierce rivals, Ferrari makes sure that their cars get a golden review by the motoring press, not just by being really good at making supercars and sports GTs, but by... "optimising" the press cars for whatever test it was about to undergo. This included tuning engines, fitting stickier tyres (one test of an F430 Scuderia saw the car go on a rolling road, during which the tyres stuck themselves to the rollers!) and finding out which track was to be used so they could meticulously set the car up for it in advance. This has caused me to take reviews of Ferraris with a pinch of salt ever since, including this one I'm posting now. I believe most of it, but there are one or two points where the superlatives seem... empty somehow.

But what is "[drift] Monkey" Harris doing in a Ferrari press car on film? Well, it seems that time heals all wounds. Mind you, it might have helped him get off Ferrari's shitlist when he borrowed the 458 Spider press car off Jeremy Clarkson for this million-view drift fest... the chance to drive an F40 and an F50 back to back and was turned into a 6-year-old by the experience (no bad thing)...

...and then collaborated with a musical friend on this very '80s tribute to a (1992) 512 Testarossa, which he owns and openly loves...

...oh yeah, and before he got the 512TR, he had a 599 GTB Fiorano for just under a year, and generally spoke highly of it. This is reassuring as Ferrari can't tweak customer cars in advance, something pointed out in that Jalopnik post.

But enough posting of other videos now. Whether these videos helped or not, Harris and Ferrari are nevertheless on speaking terms now, and that has lead to him being at the beautiful Anglesey Circuit in northernmost Wales standing in front of the mind-blowing F12berlinetta provided by Ferrari, and four sets of spare wheels and tyres. If you've watched the videos above, you know what's about to happen to them:

23/10/13, 13:48, 325388 views (when posted)

Clicked play yet? I'll wait.

OK, was that awesome or was that awesome? The dual-view full lap of fully sideways Fezza action was quite something to behold, if you ask me. I've also come to like the sound of that engine - which I used to think sounded a bit synthetic - much more, and in the year or so since it appeared, the looks have grown on me too. At the end of the day, a V12 Ferrari should be challenging in some way. In fact, no product from a company as... Italian as Ferrari should bend over for its laziest customers, and some of the things mentioned in this video reassure me that this is indeed a proper V12 Ferrari. Stuff like the interior layout and the very quick steering mean that it's the who has to adapt to the car. It forces you to engage with it. That's not to say the car refuses to adapt to you - there are multiple driver aid modes on the 'Manettino' switch and magnetorheological dampers to deal with bumpy roads - but instead of politely asking "What would you like me to do for you?" it's more like "Here I am, this is what I am, this is what I do, what are you going to do about it?"

A V12 Ferrari should be like that. It's a little bit fussy and demanding. You have to take time to acclimatise to the interior button layout that looks like they sneezed onto a picture of a steering wheel to decide where they all go, and then adapt the way you steer to match the very quick steering rack. It's the same sort of thing as an old 250GT Lusso requiring you to wait for a minute or so  the carburettors to prime after you've turned on the ignition before you can actually start the engine. This kind of mentality defines Ferrari, and admittedly it's also what's led to the whole How Ferrari Spins issue, because their Enzo-like ways can make them hard to like sometimes, whether it's the road cars and their contrived reviews or the race team and their rule-bending and/or hypocritical moaning about other teams' rule-bending. But it seems like when you get the opportunity to see past that and just drive their cars, none of that clouds your mind and you just revel in the fact that you're driving a Ferrari, something every single car enthusiast wants to do, or has wanted to do at some point in their lives. That's because there's nothing quite like a Ferrari.

I hope you enjoyed these videos.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Rental Car Road Test: Citroën DS3 1.6 e-HDI 115 Airdream DSport

No, your BMW "MINI" does not look as cool as this...
The 10th of October was a good day. Just like last year, the Uni's karting team is running an event each term for students, and the first one was a fortnight ago, once again at the Llandow Circuit, which is near Llandow in South Wales. Because none of us dare keep our cars in Swansea, we decided it would be best to rent something, like I did myself last year when I got a Vauxhall Corsa. This time, we got something much cooler, and I was driving again. So here's a 100-mile road test! I'll do it in the current Jalopnik Reviews format, because I can and there's nothing you can do to stop me.

(Disclaimer: Avis in Swansea wanted me to drive the Citroën DS3 so badly they labelled it as a THP 155 - which is the fastest and most powerful version - even though it's a diesel and THP means petrol engine in Citroënese. Actually though, I didn't get a choice of car because that was the only supermini they had at 9am. We didn't tell them they were lying about which engine it had. I bought MAOAMs and thought I'd left them in the car by accident, only to find them later.)

Caterham Seven 160 Is A-O-Kei

Caterham Seven 160 (and my current wallpaper)
In the post below this one, you will find a new small, lightweight, rear-wheel-drive roadster powered by a Japanese 660cc turbocharged three-cylinder engine that probably won't cost very much. So, to mix things up a bit, here's a new small, lightweight, rear-wheel-drive roadster powered by a Japanese 660cc turbocharged three-cylinder engine that, would you believe it, doesn't cost very much. But this one's even cooler, because it's a Caterham.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Honda S660 Set To Get Tokyo Dancing To A New Beat

Honda S660 Concept
Having failed to provide you coverage of the Frankfurt Motor Show due to being busy (and a little disorganised), let's look forward to the Tokyo Motor Show a month from now. This is obviously where Japanese car companies, still among the world's biggest, get to flex their robot muscles and show us what they're up to. It turns out, Honda's up to something very cool indeed. This is the S660 Concept, a near-production preview of a new small roadster that fits within Japanese "kei car" regulations.

You may not think of Honda as being a company strongly associated with sports cars and small roadsters - that's Mazda's game, right? - but their history is littered with them. Their first car (after establishing themselves as bike makers) was a weeny little front-engined roadster called the S500, back in 1962. Only two years after their first road car, they entered Formula 1 in 1964 with the entirely in-house RA271. This featured a 1.5L V12 mounted sideways behind the driver that was a stressed member of the semi-monocoque chassis. Revving to an unheard-of 11,500rpm, it didn't see success until it was put in the 1965 RA272, when Richie Ginther won the Mexican Grand Prix. This was the first Japanese F1 victory, and I think I'm right in saying that Honda are still the only Japanese manufacturer to have won races in Formula 1, as they've also supplied engines to championship-winning teams like McLaren and Williams. Meanwhile their roadsters grew in popularity with an S600, a hardtop version thereof, and later an S800. The numeric part of the name referred to engine size in cc, so we're talking the kind of engine that's not all that far away from their bike engines; tiny but revvy.

Top Half: Beat and NSX
Bottom Half: S2000 and S600
Skip forward through the decades and you find the Honda Beat [pictured left in yellow]. Designed by Pininfarina, no less, this Kei-class mid-engined roadster packed a 656cc 3-cylinder engine with individual throttle bodies producing the usual 63bhp (the limit for Kei engines, for some reason) at a tuneful 8100rpm. It lasted from 1991-1996, when there was a wave of Kei sports cars that included the Suzuki Cappuccino and Autozam AZ-1 (badged as both a Mazda and a Suzuki). It may not have made its mark like previous sporting Hondas, but there's a cult following, and anyone who likes light, simple, revvy sports cars can appreciate it. However, much more appreciation is shown for their other mid-engined car of the '90s, the superb NSX. I won't go on about the NSX long, partly because I already have and also because it doesn't really have much relevance to the new S660 Concept, but Honda's first and only supercar was the Japanese showing Ferrari how it's done, and when the Senna-honed supercar (an obligatory thing to point out) faded away in 2005, it left a simply-but-beautifully-shaped hole in the soul of Honda. The S2000 was similarly loved, being cheaper and more common as it took on the Porsche Boxster, Mercedes-Benz SLK and arguably the smaller, less powerful Mazda MX-5. Its absence from the current range is also sorely felt. Currently there are no rear-wheel-drive Hondas in production with four wheels, and the closest thing to a sports car they have is the CR-Z, a car that promised both a Lotus-worthy drive and Prius-worthy fuel economy in a shape akin to the old CRX, but failed to deliver on either of the former promises with its meager 123bhp and lack of an all-electric mode for cities. We did have the Civic Type-R, and there is another one coming with 280bhp and a turbo, but is a hot hatch really a sports car? Perhaps debatable.

That brings us back to the S660 Concept, a more realistic update of the electric 2011 EV-STER Concept. Honda desperately needs an image-boosting car again, and seeing as the "new NSX" is primarily being done by their American luxury brand Acura, it could fall to this car to inject some much needed fun into the H badge. As the name suggests, this Sports car has a 660cc engine - still three cylinders but this time turbocharged - which is mounted sideways behind the driver and produces the usual 63bhp that Kei cars cannot legally exceed. It won't need 8100rpm to make that power, as things have advanced since the '90s, and it ought to be very economical too, because unfortunately it's connected to a CVT dronebox with seven simulated gears, one element that doesn't pay tribute to the Beat, which had a clutch pedal and a gear stick whether you liked it or not. It's expected to weigh around 900kg, so 63 horsepower is actually not bad. If you think back to your first cars, they probably had those sorts of figures, and I certainly enjoy revving the crap out of my 64 horsepower, ~1000kg car and throwing it at some corners on a Sunday. Driving a slow car fast trumps driving a fast car slowly all day every day, and that method of driving in a mid-engined roadster would be fantastic!

I should point out that production is in no way confirmed, and it would likely stay in the Japanese home market like the Beat did, what with Kei cars not being a thing anywhere else. But considering they've taken a concept from two years ago and turned it into something production viable (the joysticks have been replaced with a steering wheel, for one thing), you'd have to assume they're serious about it. There's already a rumour that they could later export it to other markets with an enlarged engine, displacing a whopping 1000cc - a whole litre! - and producing a thunderous 100 horsepower. Steady on, Honda!

We'll find out more at the Tokyo Motor Show in a month's time, when Honda will also display some uninteresting compact SUV crossover concept and the New NSX Concept. Again. That hints at the production version coming soon. AGAIN. In the meantime, here are a couple more pictures of the cute little sports car for the masses that could just help to turn Honda's image back round again. Hopefully someone out there can find a manual gearbox for it when it does reach production...

The production version will come with a roof that folds away on top of the engine. Japanese folk know tight packaging

Honda refer to this as an "open-top sports-type mini-vehicle." Personally, I prefer "Kei roadster"...
F1-style shift lights aren't so big a deal with a CVT. I get the fuel economy thing, but fun and pretend gears don't mix...
Yes, this is my first blog post in a month. If you follow me regularly, I'm sorry, but then you're used to this kind of thing already. Sorry. Again. I have a window to do some blogging now and I'm damn well using it!