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Sunday, 18 January 2015

2015 Detroit Motor Show Highlights

The presence of a Ford GT40 will become relevant soon......
The 2015 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) has come and gone in the past week over in Detroit, Michigan. While understandably biased towards the North American market, Motor City played host to some important - and surprising - world debuts as well. Let's take a look at some of the more interesting ones.

These ones are only mildly interesting, so I'll get them out of the way first. Alfa Romeo had already previewed a targa-topped 'Spider' version of its downright sexual 4C sports car, but the production version landed in Detroit to complement Alfa's return to the US market after saying they would for literally a million years. Not literally. Still powered by a 1.75-litre turbo engine producing 237bhp and 258lb/ft, the structural changes required to give it a removable roof adds just 10kg to the overall weight, pushing it up to 905kg dry for the European version, or 1060kg for the US version (US regulations make cars uglier and worse, it's a fact). The car also comes with new 18/19" wheels, an Akrapovic exhaust with a button to make it louder and pretty new headlights that look more expensive and, ironically, less like spider eyes. It'll hit the road soon.
More than twice as heavy but no less of a speed machine, the new Porsche Cayenne Turbo S is more interesting than the new 430-horsepower 911 Targa 4 GTS because it has a monstrous engine... and a 'Ring time. Range Rover Sport owners will be crestfallen to know that Stuttgart's new super utility vehicle can be hurled around the infamous Nürburgring Nordschleife in a staggering 7:59.74, which is around 14 seconds faster than the new supercharged Range Rover Sport SVR. Take that, Rooney. This comes courtesy of Porsche living at that track, but also due to standard-fit carbon ceramic brakes and a 4.8 V8 BiTurbo engine throwing 562bhp and 590lb/ft at all four torque-vectoring wheels, enough force to yield a 0-60 time of 3.8 seconds - making it as quick and as powerful as a Lexus LFA - and a 176mph top speed. Not bad for a 5-seater weighing 2.2 tonnes!
Also surprisingly fast for a weight figure over the double tonne is the Tesla Model S P85-D. The P85 is the most aggressive spec of battery and motor for the 422bhp, all-electric Model S, but the American company recently whipped out the D...... by which I mean "Dual motor" version. This adds a second electric motor to power the front wheels, and the result is a four-wheel-drive car with an Aventador-matching 691bhp (that's 470bhp at the rear and 221bhp up front). In a car with five seats and a hatchback!! Couple this with 864lb/ft of torque that arrives literally instantly and this ~2100kg executive car hits 60mph in 3.2s and makes a Ferrari 458 look asleep in a drag race. It may be expensive and it may struggle to get far past 250 miles before needing more electricity, but there's something extremely impressive about the Model S, a car whose exterior design I initially found derivative but grows on me all the time. I want to experience that instant torque!
It's certainly a hell of a lot more impressive than the Volvo S60 Cross Country. You can turn a perfectly reasonable compact executive saloon into a head-scratching niche too far in three easy steps: 1) Raise the ride height a noticeable amount. 2) Add some black plastic edging. 3) Claim to have invented a new market segment called "crossover sedan..." even though Volvo haven't invented anything. AMC offered the Eagle as a 4-door in 1981 and that rode even higher off the ground, while Subaru offered a jacked-up version of the Legacy saloon in Australia nearly twenty years ago, based on the Outback estate. The S60XC is also based on an estate, the V60 Cross Country, a car which makes a lot more sense. High-riding off-road cars have always had estate or pickup bodies because they're utility vehicles. They explore places and to explore places you need to carry loads of stuff. You need a long roof to carry bicycles and tents and stuff on it. An executive saloon? Do you commute to the office across a field? Can your normal car not get across a gravel driveway? Yes it can. You don't need one of these. This is just desperation to stand out, both by Volvo and by anyone who buys it. Possibly the dumbest car they've ever made......

Right, now the big deal reveals:

2016 Ford GT





Wow. Nobody expected this. Despite years of wistful speculation that the much-loved 2005 Ford GT would one day be replaced, it never really seemed likely, just wishful thinking that kept being reported on. But suddenly, with not a single teaser image or leak of information, here it is: Ford GT Mk.2. While the previous car was so retro that untrained eyes couldn't tell it apart from the 1960s Le Mans-conquering GT40, the new car merely carries a few visual references to the original inspiration, while moving the nameplate firmly into the future in every other way. What it shares in side profile and headlight shapes, it differs from in surfacing, interior design, engineering philosophy and rather controversially, engine. Rather than a typically American V8 nestled behind the driver, the new GT features a 3.5-litre twin-turbo V6. No supercharger whine, no octo-cylinder bass thunder blasting out the back, just a medium-sized Ecoboost engine. What kind of European nonsense is this?! Well, to be fair, we're talking about a racing-derived engine that makes "over 600 horsepower" and promises torque across the rev range at the twitch of an ankle. There's none of your pansy-ass Prius-propaganda hybrid nonsense, either. That adds weight and takes up space, two things in which Ford are not interested.
Instead, they promise "one of the best power-to-weight ratios of any production car" when it hits the road on the 50th anniversary of Carrol Shelby bitch-slapping Enzo Ferrari at Le Mans (2016). This will partially be down to carbon fibre bodywork, a McLaren-style carbon tub with aloooominum [aluminium] subframes, carbon-ceramic brakes as standard and the aforementioned smaller-displacement engine. Said "V6 motor" uses the architecture (essential layout) that Ford uses for the V6s in its Daytona Prototype endurance cars that race in the USA - including at Daytona, no less - and features a trick new fuel system that combines the now fashionable direct-fuel injection with port injection to increase overall response, along with a low-friction "roller finger follower" valve operating system. Whatever that is. In another bid to scare off muscle car guys, the GT will be available with any gearbox you want, so long as it's a 7-speed paddle-shift DCT. Making sure it corners like a Ferrari will be suspension combining an active torsion bar with pushrod-actuated springs. Another clear and immediate signifier that Ford means business with the new GT is the presence of some pretty extreme aerodynamics. There is obviously a pop-up rear wing that may or may not double as an air-brake, but would you just look at those air channels behind the doors that go between the wheels! It takes some clever packaging of the suspension and engine cooling system to have what can only be described as a canyon between the rear wheel and the mid-mounted engine, and I reckon the V6 engine being physically shorter by nature than a V8 plays a key part in this (see yellow arrows above). The resultant teardrop shape of the upper body will contribute to a lower drag coefficient, increasing both top speed and fuel economy. How very Le Mans. In fact, fuel economy is said to top 30mpg, and that's with smaller American gallons.

Finally, the other main headline for now is that this car will be taking on the likes of the Ferrari 458 Speciale and McLaren 650S, but not only on the road; just like the original Anglo-American GT40, this car was built to win races, potentially as early as this year. Ford didn't say in which series they'll race, but the GTE class at the 24 Heures du Mans surely beckons, along with the Tudor Sports Car Series in the USA. Basically, you're going to be seeing and hearing a lot more of this car over the next couple of years. So hopefully you can acclimatise to the mad semi-retro styling. Personally, my first impressions were that it was a bit too busy-looking and that if Ford were going to be this bold, they shouldn't have held onto the retro themes and should've let it be its own thing. As I see more photos, though, I'm starting to appreciate it more. I wonder if Jeremy Clarkson will make another order......


2015 Acura NSX




Not so wow. Everybody expected this. Actually, maybe a few people out there really didn't believe that Acura (Honda's US premium brand) would actually put its successor to the legendary Honda NSX into production, as we've been seeing this car in concept form since 2012 and the exterior has barely changed beyond some new wheel designs. But now, finally, at long last, after three years, it is finally actually literally definitely going to go into production and turn into a road car. For real. Legit. Not a word of a lie. It, like, so totally is.

Not really.

Oh wait, YES really!

The reason this somewhat familiar-looking car has taken three years to transition from show to street is because halfway through, they decided to completely re-engineer the car's not insignificant hybrid power unit. What was previously a naturally-aspirated, laterally-mounted 3.5-litre V6 from an existing model is now a twin-turbo, longitudinally-mounted V6 of unspecified displacement, moving it further away from the original NSX and closer to Formula 1, as it happens. The new engine, which sports a 75° bank angle (unusual for a V6 but probably to make it lower) is completely bespoke, with a dry sump for a lower centre-of-gravity and a clever valvetrain, and will combine with a comprehensive hybrid system to give a total power output of "over 550bhp." How much of that total output is the engine, we're not allowed to know yet... because it's not like we've already waited a long time for this car or anything. Another thing we do know is that it also has an entirely in-house 9-speed dual-clutch transmission. Nine! What will it use them all for?!

While the car itself is meant to rival the Ferrari 458 Italia - and now, probably much to their surprise, the new Ford GT - the hybrid system itself is a set up to rival the Porsche 918 Spyder. This picture of the powertrain shows a black T-shaped battery, which feeds no fewer than three electric motors. One at the back augments the engine with a function called "torque fill," which compensates for areas of the engine's rev range when it isn't making much torque, as well as filling in the gap in power delivery during a gear change, by producing a carefully-specified amount of instant torque. This is the kind of thing that the BMW i8, McLaren P1 and LaFerrari have, and it's the future. Meanwhile, there are two motors at the front, one for each wheel, which provide instantaneous torque vectoring as you go around corners, meaning that precisely the right amount of thrust or braking is applied to each front wheel to keep the car pointing in the right direction at high speed. All this function as part of something Acura are calling "Sport Hybrid Super-Handling All-Wheel-Drive," or "Sport Hybrid SH-AWD" for short-ish. What it will all mean is huge thrust in all conditions, and plenty of grip without it being boring, as the torque-vectoring front wheels will keep the front-end response nice and sharp. Acura have released precisely zero performance figures, but if 0-60mph takes more than 3.5 seconds then they've majorly screwed up.

Because the original Honda NSX was the "everyday supercar," practicality is considered too. Acura say it can fit a golf bag and two overnight bags in it somewhere. For me though, the biggest question mark hangs over the weight of the thing. With three motors, a huge battery and no mention of carbon fibre construction, it could be heavy, especially as the car has grown 3" longer and an inch wider compared to the original concept. Could we be looking at something over 1500kg? Would that be acceptable? The Nissan GT-R weighs 1740kg with the same power but without a hybrid system, and that's a pretty ballistic performance car...

America's attempt at a Japanese supercar will go on sale this summer with a target price of around $150,000 (which depressingly also means about £150,000 due to UK taxes...). It won't be built in Japan, but in Marysville, Ohio. Can an American car really be wearing such a legendary Japanese name just because its manufacturer is an offshoot of a Japanese company? Honda seem to be OK with it, as they'll be putting the 'H' badge on it in Europe and Japan. Owners of the "real" NSX from 1990-2005 might not see it that way.


Honda FCV Concept




But wait, if we're talking about technology of the future, weren't Honda making hydrogen fuel cell cars? Indeed. The limited-run FCX Clarity of 2008 was a perfectly good car hampered by high cost and a lack of places to refuel it. In 2015, the infrastructure for hydrogen is growing, and while the FCX isn't around any more, Honda have been working away at improving their technology in this area, as they really do believe that it really is the future. Given that Toyota also released a (truly hideous) fuel cell car recently, and agreed to share all their technology patents until 2020, they might be right this time. Detroit played host to a preview concept for their Fuel Cell Vehicle, called "FCV Concept." Clever. In March next year, a car looking very very similar to this will hit the roads, hopefully with a more interesting name. So aside from updated, more streamlined bodywork, what's different from the FCX Clarity?

I am so glad you asked. Much like a battery, one single fuel cell isn't enough to make sufficient energy to propel a car, so you have to stack lots of them together. In the Clarity, the fuel cell stacks sat not only under the bonnet but where an ordinary car would keep its gearbox, between the front seats. Much like computers, this technology has evolved to become simultaneously more powerful and more compact, meaning that the smaller fuel cell stack of the new car now fits solely under the bonnet. In fact, despite being 33% smaller, the power density has increased by around 60%, to 3.1kW of energy per litre of hydrogen consumed. This energy then drives an electric motor that produces 134 horsepower, or 100kW (the same power output as the Clarity). The fact that it does fit under the bonnet obviously means that it can be used for any kind of car Honda see fit to turn into an FCV. Meanwhile, the large tank of hydrogen - which is kept at a pressure of 70MPa - is stowed behind the rear seats. [N.B. before anyone mentions it in a fit of paranoia, the Hindenburg blew up because of the helium, not the hydrogen] Honda say it has a "cruising range" of 700km, which is to say that at a constant speed when it's barely using power, you can go up to ~435 miles, however the realistic range is more like 480km (~300 miles). Unlike a battery EV or plug-in hybrid, refuelling an FCV takes about 5 minutes, as it uses the same format as filling up with petrol or diesel. All we need is a pump at every other petrol station and it's as easy to run as a normal car, while emitting nothing but water vapor. You could even tape an Evian bottle to the exhaust if you wanted to! The fuel cell stack unit is the top part of the image this paragraph surrounds. The bottom item is a "Power Exporter" that comes with the car. Plug it in and the fuel cell can be used to power anything that takes AC current at a max of 9kW. Your car can power things in your house! Come March 2016, you could play electric guitar in a field! Or play your PS4 in a cave! Maybe! Oh, the possibilities. Honda want this to be the start of humanity's journey towards a CO2-free society. They've got Toyota and their minging Mirai to race against for now...


Infiniti Q60 Concept




Meanwhile, Infiniti's future is altogether more conventional. It's a pretty future, though. This is the preview concept for the upcoming Q60 coupé, a rival to the BMW 4-Series, Mercedes E Coupé and Audi A5. Will it be the car to beat the Germans? No, probably not. Will it tempt some people in with its decidedly un-German looks and character? Yes, it's likely it will. Infiniti are always good at giving us a sensual concept to drool over, but this one's actually hitting production in this very year, with a direct-injection twin-turbo V6 displacing 3.0 litres and making as much as 400+ horsepower at full chat (there will likely also be some lesser engines to pad out the range and give more affordable options). The styling takes cues from the Q80 Inspiration concept, but just as a 4-Series is a 3-Series with two doors missing, so this 2+2 will be based on Infiniti's Q50 executive sports saloon, from the chassis to the interior layout. The car this replaces was previously known as the G37 Coupé, or, if you're in Japan, the Nissan Skyline 370GT Coupé. As such, there are also subtle visual references to the GT-R powered Q50 Eau Rouge Concept, which is allegedly never going to make production as new management have chickened out. Dammit Infiniti, I thought you were cool...

There isn't much to say other than to comment on the silky-smooth exterior. Divisive though some of their cars are - I would mention one but they've recently all been renamed so it'd be too confusing - I love Infiniti's surfacing when they get it right. While the silhouette is fairly normal for a four-seat coupé, the contours of the body are flowing and elegant, with the high-finish silver paint giving it a look of liquid metal like Infiniti concepts always have. Hopefully it will look this good in the cold light of day at a set of lights. I also hope it doesn't just feel like a Nissan Z with some posh bits on it.


2015 Cadillac CTS-V






The fifth and final Car Of Interest should be something American. Something worthy of debuting in "Motor City." Something that screams freedom with a supercharged wail beset by V8 bass thunder. Something like the new Cadillac CTS-V. A four-door "sedan" with a giant engine, an automatic gearbox and a huge grille. Sorted. The engine in question is a General Motors 'LT4' 6.2-litre supercharged smallblock V8 lifted from the new Corvette Z06 (C7), a car I should've mentioned on this blog by now. While it sports direct injection and active cylinder deactivation to save fuel, it's detuned by 10bhp and 20lb/ft compared to the Vette... but that's OK, because compared to its German rivals the CTS-V is almost overkill.

Let's play dick measuring Top Trumps with the Germans (and for argument's sake, a Jaguar and a Lexus):

Super-Saloon
Power (bhp)
Torque (lb/ft)
Weight (kg)
0-60mph
Top Speed (mph)
BMW M5
552
501
1945
4.3 s
155 [limited]
Mercedes E63 AMG S
577
590
1870
(4MATIC = 1940)
4.1 s
(4MATIC = 3.6 s)
186 [limited]
Audi RS6 Avant
552
516
1950
3.6 s
155 (189 optional)
Jaguar XFR-S
542
502
1875
4.4 s
186 [limited]
Lexus GS-F
467
389
1830
[TBD]
[TBD]
Cadillac CTS-V
640
630
1880
3.7 s
200

First of all, the brand new Lexus GS-F appears to have performance figures from a generation ago. Secondly of all, how heavy has this class become?! Should a mid-sized saloon weigh nearly two tonnes? Another rant for another time. The point is, America has predictably brought out the big guns. The CTS-V is packing nearly 90 more horsepower than most of its rivals, significantly more torque even than an AMG, a 0-60 time that can only be beaten with all-wheel-drive and a top speed of 200mph. Two hundred miles per hour!! A big comfy five-seater that goes as fast as a Ferrari is cool in anyone's books, even if you think it looks tacky and should've been offered with a manual gearbox for driving enthusiasts such as your good self. Still, it's not the only car with an 8-speed auto, as the Jaguar and Audi also have one. Plus it has launch control and paddles, like an F1 car! Of course, it won't corner like an F1 car, but making sure it corners like an M5 will be "Magnetic Ride Control" - "magnetorheological dampers" is hard to spell - as well as an LSD, various traction control modes and the fact that the chassis is 25% stiffer than the normal CTS, with wider tracks and beefier Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres to boot. Oh, and massive brakes (steel, 390mm/6-piston up front and 365mm/4-piston out back). The result is a car that can allegedly pull 1g of lateral acceleration through the right kind of corner.

It'll hit US showrooms this summer for a hitherto undisclosed price. If it's as good as every American magazine and internet forum will inevitably say it is, then I'll take one in the most sinister shade of black they do, thanks. Maybe in this fantasy where I have the requisite funds, I'll swap in a Corvette Z06 7-speed manual gearbox while I'm at it.

And that's all for now, folks! Stay tuned later this month for the reveals of this season's Formula 1 cars!

This has been written for SmallBlog V8. Do not copy it without the author's permission.

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