Sunday, 31 January 2016

Warm Up For F1 2016 With Some OVERTAKES!

Hey, remember the F1 2015 season? No? Yeah, can't blame you. Still, there were some good bits amongst all the Mercedes victories and complaining about "the state of the sport" (more on that in an upcoming post). There was the race in Hungary, which was mildly chaotic. Then there was the race in Austin, which was very chaotic. But mostly if you wanted entertainment, you looked at 17-year-old rookie Maximum Verstappen... or browsed the hashtag #PlacesAlonsoWouldRatherBe, which was hilarious.

Seeing as Formula 1 has an official YouTube account these days (how progressive!), here are the top ten overtakes of 2015 to get you ready, as we will soon head into car unveilings and pre-season tests for 2016. I have a full preview coming as soon as I can be arsed to finish writing it, so stay tuned!

Jaguar F-Type SVR - 200mph Art

2016 Jaguar F-Type SVR
The Jaguar F-Type has caused quite a stir since it first appeared three years or so ago. Partly this is because the tail-happy V8 version is the loudest thing in the world (probably), partly because it starred in the "It's Good To Be Bad" advert, but mostly I suspect because it looks truly desirable from any angle, and especially so in person. In fact, the short but sweet two-seater has grabbed the car world's attention so completely that nobody even remembered the bigger XK... and nobody noticed it go out of production in mid-2014 either.

With either a supercharged V6 in two tunes or a thunderous supercharged 5.0 V8, the lesser-cylinder'd engines later became available with a manual transmission - something Jaguar hadn't offered in decades - and to rein in the mighty 490-550bhp V8 versions, All-Wheel-Drive became an option too.

Then, for a bit of fun and a chance to reference the '50s Le Mans winners, there was the Project 7 speedster, with even more power and even more loudness from the V8, a chopped windscreen and a slightly out-of-place-looking rear wing. That had 575 horsepower and was preposterously over-engined for a little rear-wheel-drive car.

But that was a limited-run special edition. What about everyone who missed out? Well, now that Jaguar's Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) division have finished building P7s, they can build a new hotrod version for the rest of us: the SVR... which stands for... Special Vehicle...... Roperations??? I'm not sure.

Regardless, the SVR was leaked onto the internet and we now know that it's a pretty serious beast, with flared this and louvred that and the Project 7's rear wing. We also know that this one is all-wheel-drive to contain the mighty 575PS and 424lb/ft of oomph. The extra driven wheels mean it can do 0-60mph in 3.7 seconds, 0.4 faster than the non-SVR equivalent despite only a small power increase and the same ZF-supplied 8-speed automatic gearbox.

Top speed? A headline-grabbing 200mph. That makes this the first Jaaaaaaaag to do the double-ton since the XJ220 of the 1990s, and yet SVO say that, despite the adaptive sports suspension, electronic LSD, titanium exhaust and (optional) carbon-ceramic brakes, this wild cat still manages to have all the civility and everyday usability of an XF or something. Yup, another "everyday supercar." Maybe that explains why, despite boasting an all-aluminium structure, it weighs about the same as a Nissan GT-R at over 1700kg...

Prices and more comprehensive stats will be available when it's unveiled properly at the Geneva Motor Show. For now, here's some moody action shots and some exhaust growl. Grrrr.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

NISMO 400R - The Real Gran Turismo Simulator

Show me a Midnight Purple R33-generation Nissan Skyline GT-R and I'm happy. I'm also about 7 years old, given that I got a PlayStation with Gran Turismo for my 7th birthday and immediately became obsessed. So, when evo magazine decided to track down and film the ultimate version of my PlayStation hero car, it made for something I was always going to watch instantly, and multiple times at that. Here is the NISMO 400R, a limited-run special edition taking part from the JGTC and Le Mans cars (including a race-spec engine block) and sticking them onto a beefed-up, 400-horsepower R33 GT-R. It's way cool. Watch it being way cool.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Porsche 718 is a Boxster with an Eco Engine

Downsizing and turbocharging. It's a thing. In fact, it's probably the main theme of this decade other than the beginning of the now-inevitable rise of electric cars. Name a car and it's probably had a decent-sized, naturally-aspirated engine replaced with a smaller, turbocharged one that's lighter, more efficient, emits less CO2 and yet produces more power and a broader spread of torque. All the way from the Ford Focus 1.0 Ecoboost to the Ferrari 488 GTB, this trend has swept the world of cars and is killing sonorous, free-revving engines indiscriminately in the process.

The Ferrari V8 I've mentioned, but this year even the Porsche 911 Carrera succumbed to the peer pressure with a smaller, twin-turbo boxer-6 that revs lower and sounds more synthetic, in the name of greater efficiency and power-per-emission to match the advancing rivals. Oh, they tried to hide it from the driver; the turbos don't deliver their boost in a big wallop like a Ferrari F40 or Nissan GT-R, instead piling on the extra power progressively to mimic the feel of the old atmospheric 3.8 engine, and attempt to mimic the sound too with lots of exhaust trickery. The idea is that enthusiasts who care more about experience than raw numbers can still have the same fun as before, while Porsche quietly meet their targets as a manufacturer. Reviews have shown mixed responses about whether this has really worked...

...and their next new victim will find it almost impossible to hide.

This is the newly facelifted - and newly-renamed - Porsche 718 Boxster. It now has a number attached to its name (there will be a 718 Cayman too) as a nod to one specific part of Porsche's enviable history, namely the typ-718 open-top racing car from the turn of the 1960s that won the famous Targa Florio road race, the European Hillclimb Championship (twice) and even won its class at the 1958 Le Mans 24 Hours, finishing 3rd overall. Of course, car companies reference history whenever their marketing department think they'll get away with it, so why does it matter here?

Because the reason they chose to reference the 718 is for its four-cylinder engine.

Yup, this is the first Porsche with a flat-four behind the seats since the 914/4. Unlike the 2016 911, which replaced a flat-six with a quieter engine of the same type, the Boxster has shed a third of its engine altogether in the name of efficiency, now packing either a 2.0-litre single-turbo unit producing 300 horsepower and 280lb/ft of torque (the latter available in full from 1900-4500rpm) or a 2.5-litre, 350bhp, 310lb/ft version of the same engine for the 'S' version. Those are impressive numbers from a little engine, but then we saw on the track last year what kind of performance the Stuttgart massive can extract from little turbo engines. Fuel consumption is claimed to be up to 13% improved over the old 2.7 and 3.4-litre six-cylinder engines, and if you spec the PDK paddleshift gearbox you can improve that further at a cruise when it partially engages the next gear by slipping a clutch and doing nerdy witchcraft. 0-62mph (100km/h) sprint times depend on the gearbox and whether you use the PDK's Launch Control function. The 2.0-litre does it 5.1 seconds with the 6-speed manual 'box, 4.9 with PDK and 4.7 with LC on. The 2.5-litre S is exactly 0.5 seconds quicker in each respective configuration. 0-62mph in as little as 4.2 seconds is very quick, in case you were wondering.

But there is inevitably a problem once you look up from your spec sheet.

Here's what the new engine sounds like (spy video of a Nürburgring test car filmed last year):

That does not sound like the outgoing six-cylinder Boxster/Cayman. Not even a little bit. Here's proof:

I know sound is not the be-all and end-all of the driving experience, in the same way that a manual gearbox isn't, but it does play a big part in defining a car's character and identity. That flat-six sound in the second video is The Porsche Sound. Nothing else sounds the same and it's instantly recognisable. The four-pot sounds like, well, any old four-pot. It doesn't have the bassy off-beat burble of an old Subaru Impreza, it just hums along quietly sounding no more interesting than a hot hatch.

The thing is, if it delivers its power in a similarly undramatic way, then it could well be a Porsche sports car that's... uninspiring. The red-line is surprisingly only 200rpm down, at 7400rpm, but it might well not be worth going there in the new car. This would not be good. Not only would this be not-good for the future of the legendary marque's products, but it would also be not-good because the desirability - and therefore the prices - of the outgoing '981' Boxster and Cayman will rise steadily as the years go on... meaning I will never be able to afford one. Like, ever. Why do you want to make me sad, Porsche? Why?

Ah, but history! See? It's valid! And there was the 914/4! And the original Porsche, the 356! So it's OK! Look, it even looks a tiny bit like the old 718 RSK!

[insert fatuous Clarksonian joke about Porsches looking the same, here]
Yes, it sort of does, and the interior is largely carried over from the outgoing cars too because they sit on the same platform. So not only does it look like the car we love but cleaner, in the corners it will also feel and steer the same but cleaner (electrically-assisted steering is said to be "10% more direct"), despite revised suspension settings. I suppose it depends what you're buying it for, but I bet even the empty, soulless people who buy a car like this as a status symbol will be a bit crestfallen to find that it sounds almost exactly the same as a hot Golf...

Insert comfortably numb person here
The 718 Boxster and 718 Boxster S will appear in showrooms this summer at a slight premium over the outgoing six-cylinder Boxster/S/GTS/Spyder, although for the first time it's the convertible that will cost more than the coupé. My advice? Try getting a good deal on the car this replaces before it gets there. As well as most likely having more theatre to its driving experience, it ought to be a sound investment.

[images from Netcarshow, videos from YouTube. This was written for SmallBlog V8. If you see this article on another site then it has been stolen]