|Ferrari 488 GTB, Lamborghini Aventador LP750-4SV, Mercedes-Benz AMG GT3, Honda Civic Type-R Mk.4|
Ferrari 488 GTB
The 458 Italia will go down as one of the great Ferrari road cars. Its lean, athletic shape immediately made the F430 and F360 that came before it look years older than they already were. The eponymous 4.5-litre V8 engine screamed to 9000rpm as it generated 562bhp, before a flick of the right paddle incited a racecar-fast shift from the 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox and the growing rush of noise started all over again. The chassis received universal praise as well, and if you ignore the early problems with flammable adhesive (some refuse to forget...) then it truly was a car worthy of being named after the country that spawned it. It was that great. But now, after six years and a track-focused Speciale edition, the 458 Italia is gone from out midst, taking the naturally aspirated Ferrari V8 with it. Please let's have a moment of silence...
This decade's obsession of replacing big atmospheric engines with smaller turbocharged units may have just claimed an important victim, but don't think the future of Ferrari is dark. Not yet, anyway. Replacing the 458 Italia - and eventually its topless twin sister - will be this striking machine, the 488 GTB. Essentially a heavily revised 458, the new name is a reference to the 1975 308 GTB (Gran Turismo Berlinetta), with the three-digit number now referring to the capacity of a single cylinder in the engine, just as it did 40 years ago (and 60 years ago, all the way up to the mid-1990s). It's not a 4.8-litre V8, but the cylinder count is at least the same. 488cc multiplied by 8 cylinders means we're dealing with a 3.9-litre engine, fitted with two turbochargers. Quick! Someone reference the F40!
see here). I say whopping. It's now even whopping-er for the GTB, pushing as it does 670PS (661bhp) through an evolved 7-speed DCT to the rear wheels. Yet it's not the 100-horsepower increase over the standard 458 that's particularly of note here. No, that'd be the fact that it can muster 561 lb/ft of torque at as low as 2000rpm, despite the engine revving out to 8000rpm (high for a turbo motor). That much torque delivered that early was impossible for the outgoing engine, which could only give a max of 398lb/ft, and made you wait until you were at 6000rpm before the full grunt was realised. That's the true performance advantage of these new downsized turbo engines. That and greater fuel efficiency - even Ferrari are bound by regulations to reduce average CO2 output, and the MPG figure goes up in turn. Slightly. But you don't care about that. You care that the junior supercar in Ferrari's range now has the same power and more torque than the V12-powered FF. As the linked video above claims, there is a rumor that this engine can even match the F12 Berlinetta at 750bhp if you really turn things up to 11! Alas, doing that would probably incite major turbo lag, and as the replacement to one of the great naturally aspirated engines, Ferrari know that this new motor must be as crisp and responsive as it possibly can, and they claim that clever torque mapping and other witchcraft have lead to it only taking a tenth of a second longer to respond to your right foot than the old 4.5 V8, at 0.8s, whereas an un-named rival's turbo engine allegedly takes up to 2.0s. But it gets even cleverer than that! Ferrari's "Variable Torque Management" means that the turbos behave differently and give different power deliveries in each gear, to make it feel more naturally-aspirated, more linear in its delivery.
Other clever bits include an evolved Side Slip-angle Control - essentially a drifting aid in the stability control system that lets you be a hooligan without consequences - along with 50% extra down force with 0% more drag over the 458, thanks in part to those huge and rather fussy-looking air intakes behind the doors which funnel air through the car and out of the holes beside the tail lights, and a "blown spoiler," wherein air passes over the rear window, under the tail of the car and out of the little moustache above the rear licence plate. The three-element central exhaust has also been binned in favour of two pipes set higher up and further apart, to allow for a larger diffuser. It all adds up to some fierce numbers for a "junior" supercar: 0-60mph in 3.0 seconds, but more impressively 0-124mph (200km/h) in just 8.3 seconds, making it twice as accelerative as most normal cars. The top speed is 205mph, the weight is a reasonable 1370kg dry with 53.5% of it at the rear, and CO2 output is 260g/km, with potential fuel economy of 25mpg thanks in part to a Stop/Start function. Tifosi will be interested to know that it laps the Fiorano test track half a second faster than the 458 Speciale.
Expect it to be available soon and cost loads of money. Whatever list price they announce will be irrelevant as nobody buys a bog-standard Ferrari...
Porsche 911 GT3 RS (991)
Another major unveil at Geneva is this, the most sought-after version of any water-cooled Porsche 911, or indeed any generation of 911 at all - the RS version. This is the new GT3 RS and let's just be clear here: there is no manual gearbox. If that comes as a shock, then I'm afraid you were being a bit naïve. First of all, the normal GT3 is PDK-only. Second of all, this car is the closest relation to a 911 GT3 Cup racing car that road regulations will allow, and the racing car has a paddleshift gearbox. Finally, if you're so interested in choosing purity over performance, just save yourself a bundle and buy a Cayman GT4. That's what it is for. That is why we must love it.
Meanwhile, the GT3 RS is serious business. The front and rear lids are carbon fibre. The roof is magnesium. It has a massive rear wing, BECAUSE RACECAR. The aero package also includes vents over the front wheels to reduce pressure in the wheel arches and increase front downforce. The main body originally came from the super-wide, super-muscular new 911 Turbo, yet despite using a bigger body than the GT3 it's 10kg lighter. It comes with a rollcage behind the seats, BECAUSE, well, y'know...... and then there's the engine. Despite producing almost identical figures to the ultimate previous-gen GT3 RS, it's actually the direct-injection unit from the current GT3, but tweaked, tuned, and enlarged. At 4.0 litres, it's 200cc bigger, enough to give it 500PS (493bhp) and 340lb/ft, up by 28 horses and 15 torques. The only thing that isn't an improvement is the 8800rpm redline, down from 9000. It had better sound good.
The rear-wheel-steering and active torque-vectoring LSD remain, while chassis mods include wider tracks front and rear, and wider tyres. In fact, the 265-section front tyres and 325-section rears are the widest tyres a road-going 911 has ever had (before going to RUF, Singer or RAUH-Welt, at least). Porsche must know that with the 997 GT3 RS considered a highlight in the 911's illustrious history, the new car's got some big shoes to fill...... but isn't this taking things a bit literally?
Hopefully it fills them subjectively as well. Objectively, it hits 60mph in 3.3 seconds, 124mph in 10.9 seconds, giving the 488 GTB some context, and tops out at 192mph. The Nordschleife? Dealt with in 7:20, which is a full seven seconds faster than the V10-powered Carrera GT of a decade ago, five seconds faster than the 997 GT3 RS (despite weighing 50kg more at 1420kg) and two seconds faster than the 620-horsepower 997 GT2 RS. So it's quick, then.
The 991-generation 911 GT3 RS goes on sale in the UK in May, for £130,000. That's a £30k premium over the standard GT3, and yet for reasons beyond logic the £6250 carbon ceramic brakes are still an optional extra! Grooved magnesium roof panels must be very expensive...
Lamborghini Aventador LP750-4 SuperVeloce
Ferrari are on a roll with their road cars, but let's not forget the other Italians here. Lamborghini, after admitting that they don't really want to build hybrid GT cars, unveiled the harder-core version of their Aventador supercar, the LP750-4 SuperVeloce. If you're not clued up on Lambo's nomenclature, "LP" means "Longitudinale Posteriore" (longitudinal, rear-mounted engine), "750" refers to the metric power output (meaning 740bhp for imperial types), the "-4" denotes four driven wheels and SuperVeloce is their name for the high-performance version of a model. The previous SV, the Murciélago LP670-4, was the ultimate version, the run-out special before the breed died out all together. I'd be surprised if the same's true this time around, given that we've only had the Aventador since 2011 and Lamborghini models tend to last for as long as ten years. With the Huracan getting mixed reviews, the Sant'Agata psychopaths clearly feel a need to attract more positive attention.
So what's this eye-grabber got going on? Well, it's got a rear wing on the front, a bigger rear wing at the rear, engine cooling intakes that look like they were computer-modelled in the '80s, a bigger diffuser and black side skirts which - to my eye at least - make it look from the side like it's bent in the middle. Oh, and some good old SV badges. Under the wilder skin lie wilder mechanicals, with Lamborghini claiming that the LP750-4 is "the more reactive car in the world," and the "most emotional" car they've ever made, whatever that means. Maybe you have to consider its feelings as well as yours on a track day. The silly descriptions are countered by serious mechanical changes. It's 50kg lighter at 1525kg (with 43:57 distribution) thanks to more carbon fibre and less noise insulation, generates 170% more downforce than the standard Aventador with overall aero efficiency 150% improved, sports standard-fit 400mm/380mm carbon ceramic brakes that bring the car to a halt from 60mph in just 30 metres (40cm less than before) and a race-spec version of the clever pushrod suspension with revised magnetic-fluid dampers. The 6.5-litre V12 is making the same 509lb/ft of torque but 50 horsepower more than before, with revised valve timing to "achieve an enriched torque curve" and a lightweight exhaust that's probably very loud. Controlling the power is a mechanical LSD at the rear and ESP designed to reduce understeer. Maybe.
It also gains the Huracan's Audi-derived speed-sensitive "Dynamic Steering," which has been a point of contention for all who've tested it due to a lack of feel. But hey, maybe the poseurs that actually buy Lamborghinis won't know anything about steering feel anyway and it won't matter. They'll probably also ask for Lamborghini to put the stereo they removed back in again, despite it adding back some of the weight saved.
They'll probably also never test the claimed figures of 0-60mph in 2.8 seconds, 0-124mph in 8.6 seconds and 217+mph flat-out. The price is somewhere near £250,000 until you take advantage of the all-but limitless customisation programme, at which point it's anyone's guess.
Audi R8 e-Tron
(Engine-powered R8s also available)
Meet the new R8, same as the old R8. Audi's first supercar caused a stir from day one when it was originally offered in 2007 with the RS4's 4.2 V8, before gaining a worked-over version of its platform-sister Lamborghini Gallardo's 5.2 V10 and making one of the greatest sounds ever heard on the road, or indeed various race tracks as it took countless victories in FIA GT3 spec. Now it's time for a new one. You'd be forgiven for thinking that this all-new car is just the old R8 with sharper creases, but then that's how Audi designs its new cars these days, and more or less has been doing for the entire century thus far. Underneath, it really is an all new aluminium-meets-carbon chassis using the same platform as the Lamborghini Huracan with the same basic V10 engine and all-wheel-drive as well, but all given Audi's touch through and through to make it feel different to drive. There is currently no V8 version on the horizon, nor manual gearbox option to complement the 7-speed DCT (a shame as the first-gen R8's manual gearbox had an awesome metal open shift gate). The signature "side blade" has also been split into two elements, which doesn't really do much for me. It will be positioned marginally under the Lamborghini price-wise, but with a 0-200kmh (124mph) time of 9.9 seconds, the fastest version is hardly slow. In fact the V10 Plus matches the Huracan in a straight line. So if you fancy that engine but not the flashy Italian styling, go drive Tony Stark's new car.
Although actually, Tony Stark would probably be driving the R8 e-Tron. After a few concepts and false starts, the electric Audi supercar is finally here. We saw an electrified version of the first R8 back in 2010, but the project was later canned by Audi's previous boss. After current boss Dr. Ulrich Hackenberg took over, the project was reignited with a mission to achieve a battery range of over 250 miles. The Geneva show car can go as far as 276 miles between charges - just over twice as far as the original - despite still having no range-extender engine. The T-shaped 92kWh battery is structurally integrated and runs between & behind the seats, keeping weight balance and centre of gravity low, while each rear wheel is powered by an electric motor making 230PS and 339lb/ft. Combined they make 460PS (456bhp) and 678lb/ft of instant torque, enough to propel the car of undisclosed weight from 0-60mph in 3.9 seconds and on to a limited top speed of 155mph.
Once you've experienced the joys of balancing speed with battery life, aided by a drag coefficient reduced to 0.28Cd, you can recharge the e-Tron in as little as 2 hours thanks to a "Combined Charging System" which uses both DC and AC power... assuming you live near such a charger or can afford to have one installed at home. Otherwise it will take much longer, I suspect. But that's the penalty of contributing to the maturation of electric cars, and let's be honest, as EVs go this one's pretty awesome, If you plan on drag-racing a Model S though, make sure it's not the 700-horsepower "P85D" version. I wonder how long it'll be before Audi makes a four-motor 'quattro' version with 920PS and 1360lb/ft? That would be pretty incredible off the line!!
The R8 e-Tron will be available to order before the end of 2015 for a hitherto unannounced price. It will also serve Audi as a rolling laboratory for them to develop a saloon car to take on the Tesla directly in the near future. Imagine an RS7 quattro with sharper creases and massive instant torque!
Honda Civic Type-R
But let's take a break from the supercars for a moment. Not everybody in the performance car world operates on that level. Instead, here's a new lap record holder at the Nürburgring Nordschleife, the new Honda Civic Type R. For those of you armchair pundits who think that being the fastest front-wheel-drive car is like having the mildest sexually transmitted disease, this 306bhp hot hatch with a manual gearbox lapped the Green Hell in 7:50.63 in normal production spec, which is faster than the 552bhp, rear-wheel-drive BMW M5 (F10) with its twin-clutch gearbox can get around it. This is a serious weapon... it's just a shame it looks like an extra's car from Fast 'n' Furious 6. The wheel arch flares are particularly offensive, as they not only look completely overstyled but are also largely unnecessary, as the wheels seem to fit under the car without them! Trying too hard? Well actually the big front splitter guides air along a flat floor to a fully functional rear diffuser to complement the downforce-generating rear wing, while the deep side skirts and elaborate wheel arch flares are reducing lift and airflow turbulence. The very aftermarket-looking louvres near the door mirrors are actually venting heat out from a busy little engine bay. And yet, people will just think you glued on some fibreglass yourself in a shed...
The Need For Speed Underground looks are at least compensated for by serious mechanical upgrades over the normal "FK2" Civic. The front suspension has an extra knuckle added to the McPherson-style set up, which Honda call a "Dual Axis Strut." Sounds like a weird dance or walk, but it actually stops the car from walking funny, reducing torque steer by 50%. Also helping the front wheels put down that significant power is a mechanical LSD, while adaptive dampers and specially-tuned electric steering help you hang onto it. Bringing things to a halt are 350mm Brembo four-piston front brakes, housed inside 19" wheels. The rear end? Some pretty ordinary-looking brakes and simple torsion-bar rear suspension. Not impressing any engineers back there, although the torsion bar does have a "crushed pipe" to increase roll stiffness by 180%, so there's that.
The engine? Gone is the screaming naturally-aspirated VTEC of old, replaced by a specially-developed 2.0 Turbo VTEC engine generating 310PS (306bhp) at 6500rpm, as well as 295lb/ft of torque at 2500rpm. That's twice the torque of the old Civic-R delivered at half the revs. It may only rev to 7000 instead of 8000+ but it'll still feel fast, and hey, maybe you'll feel like you're driving the all-conquering BTCC racing car! To make it feel even faster, press the '+R' button. Do that, and the dampers get 30% stiffer, the steering loses some assistance to give a more direct feel and the throttle response sharpens up. As well as feeling fast, it actually is fast; 0-60mph is dealt with in 5.7 seconds and the top speed is 167mph. Find a front-wheel-drive road car that can match that. You might have to wait until the next Renaultsport Megane...
How much for a VTEC Honda that actually has some torque? £29,995... or £32,295 if you want the plusher GT version. That's quite a lot for a hot hatch, but then it's quite a lot of hot hatch. Don't burn your fingers on the 6-speed manual gearbox! There's no lazy-arse paddleshift version to retreat to.
Mercedes-Benz AMG GT3 Racing Car
For all these trackday specials and track-biased road cars at Geneva, there's nothing better than an actual racing car for doing actual racing in, and if you still want you racing car to be based on a road car then your two best options are the British Touring Car Championship or FIA GT3. FIA GT3 involves sports cars and supercars, so let's focus on that, or rather this, AMG's new entrant it's preparing for customers to race in 2016. Based on the new AMG GT, which replaces the bonkers SLS not only on road and track but as Formula 1's Safety Car this year, this fully-fledged racer uses the aluminium monocoque from the road car, along with the same transaxle layout for the [rear-mounted] transmission, although that's now a 6-speed racing sequential unit. Other changes for racing include a carbon fibre seat pan, steel rollcage and a body made entirely of carbon fibre, featuring the meanest widebody flares possible, teamed with gigantic aerodynamic devices like a park-bench rear wing, frog-slicing front splitter, four front dive planes and a huge diffuser under the rear bumper. To make room for that, it has side-exit exhaust pipes. Side-exit exhaust pipes are approximately 100x more awesome than normal ones. Those side pipes are connected, oddly, to the old 6.2-litre V8 from the SLS, not the new 4.0-litre "hot vee" twin-turbo engine from the road car. Is there any problem with hearing that sound for a couple more years though? I suspect not, and gentleman/lady racers will be comforted by the use of a proven, reliable engine producing a healthy but rules-limited 540 horsepower.
Especially when it will still sound like this:
Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus 003S and 003C
The thing about that Merc is that I'm pretty sure the GT road car was built specifically with racing in mind. Why else give it such a generic name? I mean, 'GT' is a label you'll find on everything from Playstation games and Kias to sporty Porsches and old Ferraris. But if it was built specifically to be turned into a new GT-class racing car, then it all makes sense. Famous American car collector James Glickenhaus has plainly been dreaming of the same sort of thing, only he doesn't have a car company through which to bring it all to fruition...... until now.
This is the Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus 003, available in both Stradale and Competizione versions. Mr. Glickenhaus is the man who commissioned the one-off Pininfarina-Ferrari P4/5, an Enzo-based tribute to Ferrari's '60s Le Mans Prototypes. After that came an F430 Scuderia-based racing version which has entered the punishing Nürburgring 24 Hours in 2011 and 2012 (the latter time equipped with KERS). You can learn a bit more about all that here, but his escapades in customised Ferraris have made him dream bigger, and the result is a striking supercar inspired by modern-day LMP1 cars but designed for GT3 racing. The all-carbon fibre chassis is bespoke, and so stiff that it doesn't actually need the regulation rollcage, despite the central tub weighing just 73kg. The 3.5-litre twin-turbo V6 is loosely derived from a Honda racing engine. The all-carbon fibre body (designed by Granstudio in Turin) looks like a car you unlock in the last level of a Burnout game, resembling the Ferrari Enzo at the front but with much more aggressive aerodynamics overall and lots of LMP1 touches like the central fin running down the roof. The whole car weighs 1350kg fully fueled up and ready to go, balanced 49:51 front-to rear, with a 52:48 aero balance.
If you're still intrigued, you can find out Many Things on the car's official website.
Ferrari F12 Berlinetta Lusso by Carrozzeria Touring Superleggera
But now, a palette cleanser. Enough carbon tubs and wider tracks and huge rear wings and track-biased suspension settings. No more Nürburgring lap times. No more supercar nose designs that look like Pokémon faces. No more debates about manual transmissions or understeer or electric drive or all-wheel-drive or whether to even drive at all. This next car's recipe is simple, and despite being a customised version of an existing sports car, it's not a Mansory Boutique Phantom or a Hamann Tornado Manlove X6M or a bare-carbon, quad-turbo Lamborghini from somebody you've never heard of that makes you want to tear out your eyes. Just a V12 Ferrari and a traditionally coachbuilt body made with little more than aluminium, hammers and love.
Carozzeria Touring Superleggera - although let's just call them Touring for now, I'm pretty sure that's what their friends call them - were the ones responsible for the striking Alfa Romeo Disco Volante back in 2012/13, as well as shooting brake versions of the Bentley Continental GT and Maserati Quattroporte - or Cinquoporte, I suppose - but their real history of coachbuilding one-off specials and even designing for car companies started in 1927, with an Alfa Romeo chassis. After giving it a bespoke body, they started taking on projects for all the major Italian car companies and some British ones, ultimately coming to a halt after the 1966 Jensen Interceptor. They also created the "Superleggera" (super light) construction method of using fabric-covered steel tubes clothed in alloy panels - think Maserati Birdcage - which made cars lighter and more rigid, but also gave the designers a lot of flexibility to make new shapes back in the days of body-on-frame. Touring were resurrected 40 years after going bust, in 2006 by an Italian industrial group. Their back catalogue includes the Aston Martin DB5, Lamborghini 350GT, BMW 328 Mille Miglia and the very first Ferrari road cars.
Taking inspiration from the work they did on the first series-production Ferrari road car, the 166 Mille Miglia Touring, the Milan-based operation has acquired a Ferrari F12 Berlinetta and replaced the aggressive, aerodynamics-driven styling with something simpler... and beautiful.
I should make clear that I'm a big fan of the F12 in general, the clever little aerodynamic devices like the "air bridge" on each side of the bonnet and the active brake vents, the novel hatchback tailgate (find a faster car with one of those!) and styling that's forward-looking and not clinging on to nostalgic visions of the past like many prestigious car companies. It's grown on me over time and now it's high on my lottery list. However, by turning the aggressive futurist into a neoclassical purist, Touring have created something effortlessly elegant, classically correct and distinctively Italian. Just look at the complex shape behind the front wheel! That's a single piece of metal formed into shape by human beings, and it goes from in front of the door all the way around the front to meet the other door. Yet it isn't fussy, in fact the whole car is much cleaner-looking. There's no two ways about it, it's gorgeous.
Of course, finite aerodynamic performance will have suffered. The hatchback has also been replaced with a fixed rear window - inset to create minute buttresses, as a nod to Pininfarina's work in the late '60s - and a saloon-style boot. But unless you regularly take your ~1600kg grand tourer to the track, you probably won't notice if there's 10% less downforce at 186mph or whatever. What you will notice behind the wheel is that the entire powertrain and suspension are untouched, meaning it's still able to go from relaxing grand tourer to a snarling, ferocious, hyperactive 740-horsepower monster of a supercar, with what's essentially a de-tuned LaFerrari engine nestled between the front wheels and your feet. You'll also notice that the interior has been meticulously re-upholstered in Swiss leather, with brushed aluminium accents and minute attention to detail applied throughout the re-trimmed but otherwise standard cabin. Nevertheless, there are benefits beyond aesthetics and tactility to handing your F12 over to Touring; the use of their own lightweight alloy (and carbon composites for the bonnet & boot) makes this car marginally lighter, and 20% stiffer, the latter improvement gained I suspect mostly through getting rid of the hatchback and welding in a structural bar under the rear window.
The price? You have to ask them yourself. Given the quality of materials and the fact that it takes six months and 5000 labour-intensive hours to complete it, I suspect it will be a six-figure sum on top of the cost of an F12 Berlinetta, which depending on the spec is anywhere between £250,000 to £350,000 on its own. So you're looking at investing what could be closing in on a cool million. The resulting car certainly looks like that much, promises to feel that much and - if you look after it over the years - will easily fetch you that much and far more besides when you finally bring yourself to sell it. But please, enjoy it first. Do us car enthusiasts a favour and love this car like we want to be able to love it. Pick a European countryside. Go there. Make orgasmic V12 noises echo through the hills/mountains as you blow your own mind. Then, when it's time for an elaborately-presented meal near a lake, park it somewhere where people can admire it. Because I'm certain there isn't a single human in the world who wouldn't.
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