29 May, 2016
Renault Clio RS16

Renault is still considering whether to put this Clio RS16 concept in production. If it does, it will be a limited production and most likely to be assembled at the ex-Alpine at Dieppe together with the new Alpine sports car. The RS16 is basically a Clio RS fitted with the powertrain and running gears of the larger Megane RS275 Trophy-R. This means its engine is an oversized 2.0 turbo producing 275 hp, driving through a good 6-speed manual gearbox instead of the notorious DCT of Clio RS, and a limited slip differential. Since the car is about 100 kg lighter than Megane, its performance should be even better. The same titanium exhaust should give it throaty noise.

The chassis is also modified with many components from its larger brother, such as Ohlins adjustable dampers, PerfoHub strut front suspension, 360 mm Brembo front brakes (from the Nurburgring pack of Trophy-R), 19-inch wheels and 235/35 Michelin PS Cup 2 tires. To accommodate the 60 mm wider tracks, the body shell gets extended wheelarches. Meanwhile, a big rear spoiler and extended front splitters generate 40 kg downforce at 124 mph.

29 May, 2016
Aston Vanquish Zagato

Following V12 Zagato, this is another Aston Martin Zagato edition. This time it is built around the range-topping Vanquish. As before, the car is actually designed by Marek Reichman thus Zagato has no involvement except lending its name for marketing. It keeps the Zagato's trademark double-bubble roof and blackened A-pillars, as is a huge mouth inspired by DB4 GT Zagato. The rest of the body is very sleek, especially the slim tail and the stylish tailights. This could be the most beautiful design among the current generation Aston Martins.

The 5.9-liter normally aspirated V12 receives its last boost to 600 hp in this car before its retirement. The suspension's adaptive dampers are retuned to be stiffer. Otherwise, the chassis should be just the same as Vanquish.

Officially, the Vanquish Zagato is still a concept, but undoubtedly a small batch will be built and sold at a very high price.

29 May, 2016
BMW M140i and M240i

Following 3-Series, the 3-liter straight-six turbo engine of M135i and M235i has its output lifted from 326 hp / 332 lbft to 340 hp / 369 lbft. As a result, BMW renames them into M140i and M240i. When mated with automatic transmission, both cars take only 4.2 seconds to go from 0-60 mph, an improvement of 0.3s. Meanwhile, fuel consumption is claimed to be reduced by 7 percent thanks to electric wastegate, on-demand water pump, auto stop-start and brake energy regeneration.

12 May, 2016
Mitsubishi acquired by Nissan amid fuel cheating crisis

It has been almost a month since Mitsubishi was found cheating in fuel economy testing for its cars sold in Japan. Initially, Mitsubishi admitted 625,000 units of its Kei cars had their fuel economy figures overrated by manipulating test methods. This made them look more competitive as well as qualified for tax break. These cars include the pictured eK Space, eK Wagon and their Nissan sisters, Dayz and Roox. Later on, the scandal widened as it was found the firm started cheating since as early as 1991. Until this moment, it is not sure how many cars were affected. But one thing is sure: Mitsubishi will be heavily punished, not just by the Japanese government but also by the buying public. Those old enough might remember the same company concealed the faults of its cars from the mandatory reporting system in the early 2000s, which eventually led to recalling 1 million cars and seriously damaging its reputation. It never fully recovers from the scandal. If anything, the new scandal could be even worse. Since its exposure, Mitsubishi's stock price plunged by 43 percent. This reflects how negative investors see its financial prospect, which is already fragile before the scandal. Mitsubishi is facing the biggest threat of its very existence!

Fortunately, the white knight arrives just in time. Nissan takes this opportunity to take over Mitsubishi at a bargain price. According to the agreement announced today, Nissan will buy newly issued shares worth US$2.2 billion, which accounts for 34 percent equity stake of the company. The Mitsubishi group companies, i.e. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Mitsubishi Corporation and The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, will keep a significant stake expected to be around 30 percent. According to Japanese laws, a 34 percent stake is sufficient to control the company. Nissan will have 4 seats in the board of directors, including the position of Chairman.

What attracted Carlos Ghosn to take over the ailing Japanese rival/partner? There are a few reasons. The first is Mitsubishi's Kei cars. Nissan no longer builds its own K-cars and relies on Mitsubishi to supply. If Mitsubishi goes into trouble, Nissan will suffer as well, losing a large portion of the Japanese market immediately (K-cars accounts for 40 percent of the domestic market). The Dayz and Roox sold very well in Japan until the scandal uncovered, so it would be foolish not to save them. The second attraction is Mitsubishi's factories in Thailand and other Southeast Asia countries, which could supplements the weakness of Nissan and fuel its global expansion. Thirdly, Mitsubishi's product portfolio has relatively few overlaps with Nissan's, thus they are perfect match for merger.

On the downside, the investment of $2.2 billion is just the beginning. Undoubtedly, Nissan needs to inject more cash into Mitsubishi when the crisis deepens. Over time, I expect Mitsubishi will be fully integrated into Renault-Nissan alliance, just like AutoVaz, Dacia and Samsung. There is not much regret though, because we have lost interest in the brand long ago.

6 May, 2016
Porsche shows new V8

Porsche's new V8 is another new engine shown in Vienna Motor Symposium that is worth our attention. It is to replace the 4.8-liter unit on Panamera and Cayenne, whose roots could be traced back to 2002. Its capacity is undisclosed, but very likely to be 4.0 liters as the engine is known to be built upon the same modular family of Audi's new 3.0 twin-turbo V6 (which debuted on S4). Its output is rated at 550 hp and 568 lbft, released at 5750 rpm and 1960-4500 rpm respectively. That's about the same as today's Panamera Turbo S.

As seen in the picture, the new V8 has its two twin-scroll turbos located in the hot valley between the cylinder banks. This implies cross-bank turbocharging like BMW and Audi's V8. To save fuel, it also features cylinder deactivation, which shuts down half the cylinders under light load, and automatic stop-start. Besides, it is designed to be compatible with hybrid function.

The new V8 will serve not only Porsche but also the rest of the Volkswagen group, including Lamborghini Urus SUV, most Bentleys and the high-end cars of Audi. This means it is compatible with both the Audi-developed MLB platform and Porsche-developed MSB platform.

The only thing I don't quite understand is, the existing Audi 4-liter twin-turbo V8 has virtually all the good features of this Porsche V8 (reduced capacity, cross-bank turbo & cylinder deactivation), and, in the case of S8 Plus, it is even more powerful at 605 hp. Why is the need to develop another?

4 May, 2016
VW Golf GTi Clubsport S: fastest FWD in Nurburgring

The title of "fastest front-wheel-drive car in Nurburgring" has changed hands a few times since Seat Leon Cupra broke the 8-minute barrier in 2014. The specially prepared Leon (available as road car later) set a record at 7 min 58.4 sec that year. Soon afterwards, Renault Megane RS275 Trophy-R lifted the bar to 7 min 54.4 sec. In 2015, Honda Civic Type R rewrote the record to 7 min 50.6 sec. Now its laurel is taken over by Volkswagen Golf GTi Clubsport S, which has set a new record at 7 min 49.2 sec. Who knows how long it can stand!

As usual, the key to record breaking pace is the combination of more power and less weight. The GTi Clubsport S gets the most powerful version of EA888 2.0 TSI engine available in the group, i.e. the 310 hp / 280 lbft version already seen in Audi TT S. That makes it 10 ponies more than even the 4WD Golf R. Its chief difference from the Golf R engine is larger exhaust, which also produces angrier noises according to the company. To save weight, the engine is mated to 6-speed manual gearbox instead of DSG.

The DSG would have added 20 kg. As it is not used, the car tips the scale at only 1285 kg (DIN), which is 30 kg lighter than the production GTi Clubsport or 116 kg less than Golf R. Weight saving comes from a variety of means, such as deleting the rear seats (yes, it's strictly a 2-seater), some sound insulation, carpets, the parcel shelf and adjustable floor in the boot. Aluminum front suspension subframe and aluminum brake covers also shed some weight.

As expected, the car gets VAQ active front LSD from GTi Performance to enhance cornering prowess, as are the sticky Michelin PS Cup 2 tires in 235/35ZR19 shod around lightweight wheels. The front suspensions are tied with a tower bar. Adaptive damping and DCC driver control remain. The latter gets an extra Individual mode in addition to Normal, Comfort and Race. It allows customizing the steering, throttle response, ESP and suspension. The default setting of Individual mode is tuned specially for Nurburgring, which means everything is dialed to Race except the suspension, which is left in Comfort to absorb the notorious bumps in Nurburgring.

The car is good for 162 mph thanks to a rear spoiler which keeps it stable at that speed. 0-60 mph sprint is quoted at 5.5 seconds, inevitably slower than the 4WD Golf R, but in the twisty I think the much lighter Clubsport S should have an upper hand. Its price is not announced yet, but expect it to be more expensive than Golf R, especially as it is a limited production run of only 400 units. I think Volkswagen should build more to satisfy demand, because the Golf R400 is known (if rumour is true) to be cancelled amid the dieselgate crisis.

4 May, 2016
Vienna "Motor" show: Volkswagen 1.5 TSI and BMW 3.0 quad-turbo diesel

Vienna Motor Symposium is an industrial exhibution for engines and powertrains. This year 2 new engines catch our attention:

1. Volkswagen 1.5 TSI (EA211 evo family)

Currently a large portion of Volkswagen group's C-segment cars employ the popular EA211-series 1.4 TSI engine in various tunes (such as 122 hp or 150 hp). Now it is to be replaced with a new 1.5 TSI unit as part of the updated EA211 evo family. The increased capacity (1498 c.c.) is obviously chosen to take advantage of the tax band in China. This could allow the 1.5 TSI to replace also 1.8 TSI and save tax. However, what surprises us is not the capacity but the many advanced features introduced in this mass production engine:

- Miller cycle: first seen on Audi's 190 hp 2.0 TSI Ultra engine. It ultilizes variable valve timing to close the intake valves earlier to realize a compression stroke shorter than expansion stroke. Unlike the Audi engine, however, the smaller 1.5 TSI always runs in Miller cycle, unable to switch to Otto cycle (at least on this version).

- VTG turbo: this is the world's first mass production application of VTG turbos in gasoline engines (until now only Porsche 911 Turbo, 718 Boxster/Cayman S and Bugatti employ that). Volkswagen said it is used to compensate the Miller-cycle engine's weaker charge pressure at low rpm. This explains why the peak torque arrives as early as 1300 rpm.

- 350 bar direct injection: higher pressure means finer atomization hence better mixing.

- ACT evo cylinder deactivation: as before it shuts down cylinder 2 and 3 under partial load to save fuel. Not sure what has been improved, but now it enters volume production.

- APS cylinder coating: Atmospheric Plasma Spray coating reduces friction.

The 1.5 TSI is available in two states of tune: 130 hp and 150 hp. Volkswagen said its fuel consumption is 10 percent lower than the old 122 hp 1.4 TSI.

2. BMW 3.0 quad-turbo diesel

Left: the current tri-turbo 3.0 diesel; Right: the new quad-turbo arrangement

BMW's unique tri-turbo diesel straight-six, currently available to M550d, is to be upgraded to quad-turbo. The first car to use it will be the new 750d. Previously, the tri-turbo engine used 2 smaller (but high-pressure) turbos connected in series to a large (but low-pressure) turbo. Now the large turbo is replaced with 2 smaller low-pressure turbos working in parallel to reduce inertia. The result is 400 horsepower at 4000-4400 rpm (up from 381 hp) and 561 lbft of torque at 2000-3000 rpm (up from 546 lbft). Its specific output of 133 hp per liter sets new record for diesel engines.

4 May, 2016
BMW i3 gets larger battery

Sales of BMW i3 is not so good, and it is likely to dip further under the pressure of Tesla Model 3. To help easing the situation, BMW is offering a battery upgrade from 22 kWh to 33 kWh. This should lift the car's modest range by about 50 percent, although different measuring standards have different results. In the US, EPA rates its EV range at 114 miles, up from 81 miles. In the more relaxing European NDEC standard, it achieves 300 km range instead of the previous 190 km. Besides, range-extender version gets also a 25-pecent larger fuel tank. On the downside, the larger battery adds a little bit more weight hence a slight drop of performance.

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