27 Oct, 2017
Citroen C4 Cactus "facedip"

Sometimes "facelift" could make a car uglier, so I have invented another word to describe it: Facedip. The Citroen C4 Cactus shown here is obviously a facedip. We love the 2014 car (see below) for its radical, unconventional design. It did not have a normal face, and the "Airbumps" clad on its doors made the car truly special. Now Citroen is ruining its own party with a much more conventional front end, which is simply indistinguishable from other Citroens. The airbumps are significantly minimized and moved out of sight level. In short, it looks just another compact crossover.

Why is it made more conventional? Because Citroen is going to kill the 7-year-old C4 at the end of this year without replacement. Since the market positionings of C4 and C4 Cactus are largely overlapped, the latter will take care of its target audiences, which are more "matured" buyers.

2014 C4 Cactus

Changes to the interior is more subtle. The most significant change is the front seats. We described the old seats too soft for long journeys. Now the new seats are made of high-density foams thus are more supportive over long distances.

There are a couple of mechanical changes worth mentioning. The first is the availability of 130hp version of 1.2 Puretech turbo 3-cylinder engine (previously only 110hp version available). It should enable 0-60 mph to dip below 8 seconds. Another addition is PHC (Progressive Hydraulic Cushion) suspension. It is purely mechanical and fully integrated in the shock absorbers. 2 hydraulic bump stops are added to each shocks, one located at the top end to control compression and another located at the lower end to control rebound. When the car rides over large bumps, they will help absorbing the shocks and avoid bottom out. This in turn allows the car to use softer springs and damping for better ride comfort.

27 Oct, 2017
Mercedes M264 inline-4 debuts on E350

This time last year, Mercedes unveiled its new generation M264 petrol 4-cylinder engine. Now this engine goes into production and makes debut on E350 Coupe and Cabriolet.

Figures first: the 1991c.c. engine produces 299 hp and 295 lbft of torque at 3000-4000 rpm, very powerful for its class. This is obviously enabled by a larger turbocharger, but turbo lag is reduced by using twin-scroll design like the even more powerful AMG M133 engine on A45. To enhance thermal efficency, it adopts Nanoslide cylinder coating and Camtronic 2-stage variable intake valve lift (following the M270 engine of A and B-class). Mercedes' sophisticated spray-guided direct injection is used as well, of course.

The M264 is the first Mercedes four-cylinder engine to offer 48V mild hybrid system, which is called EQ Boost by its marketing guys. This is implemented by using a belt-driven starter-alternator, which provides up to 13.6 hp and 111 lbft of torque when the engine is running below 2500 rpm. It may recapture 17 hp from braking, or power the car during coasting with engine shut down. It goes without saying the starter-alternator facilitates automatic engine start stop as well. The car keeps conventional 12V battery system, but the starter-alternator and water pump are driven by the 48V system.

The E350 Coupe and Cabriolet fill the gap between the existing E300 (245 hp 2.0 turbo) and E400 (333 hp 3.0 V6 twin-turbo) thus they are likely to be volume sellers. In the case of Coupe, 0-60 mph takes 5.6 seconds. The existing M274 four-cylinder engines will phase out gradually in the next couple of years.

25 Oct, 2017
Apollo Intensa Emozione

Another day, another supercar. However, Apollo Intensa Emozione is different, because it returns to the classic naturally aspirated V12 and lightweight formula, much like the legendary McLaren F1. Everything of the mid-engined chassis is made of carbon-fiber, including the tub, front and rear subframes and even the front crash structure (which must be very expensive to repair), ditto the full bodywork and aerodynamic kits. This explains why the car weighs only 1250 kg, a figure not even Koenigsegg or Pagani can match.

The engine is a 6.3-liter V12, good for 780 hp, 560 lbft and 9000 rpm. It is said to be developed by Autotecnica Motori, a very small Italian racing engine builder. I suspect the donor engine comes from Ferrari F12 / 812 Superfast, as their specifications closely matched. The transmission is a motorsport-sourced 6-speed sequential with pneumatic shifter, supplied by Hewland.

The car's massive wings and diffusers generate a staggering downforce of 1350 kg, so in theory the car can run upside down on the ceiling. The downforce is distributed 44.5% front and 55.5% rear, matching the weight distribution of the car. In corners, it can generate 2g of lateral acceleration, again an unheard figure for road cars.

But then this is not a normal road car but a road-legal LMP1 or GT1 racer. Its suspensions follow the GT cars to employ double-wishbones with pushrod-operating in-board springs and dampers at all corners. However, to avoid rocking your eyeballs off, the Bilstein dampers are electronically switchable among 3 modes. Besides, there is a hydraulic lifter system to drop the ride height by up to 50mm at speed. It even offers another pneumatic lifter to enable quick change of tires in pit, so its racing purpose is clear.

Needless to say, stopping the car are Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes, with 380mm diameter discs each corner.

The car is claimed to top 208 mph and does 0-62 mph in 2.7 seconds, not as quick as its fastest rivals, but its lightweight and responsive naturally aspirated engine should guarantee plenty of thrills. Oh yes, "Intensa Emozione" is the Italian for intense emotion.

What is Apollo then? You might remember Gumpert Apollo, a very fast road-legal track car built by German engineer Roland Gumpert. Gumpert went burst 4 years ago, but in 2016 it was resurrected by Hong Kong businessman Norman Choi through his company Ideal Team Venture, which also bought De Tomaso earlier. Gumpert was then renamed to Apollo.

The company plans to build only 10 Intensa Emoziones, each for €2.3 million. It probably sounds bargain for its rarity, but I suppose the same architecture could give birth to other models in the near future.

25 Oct, 2017
Mazda steals Tokyo show with 2 concepts

Mazda shows 2 beautiful concepts at Tokyo motor show. The Vision Coupe is a 4-door coupe which previews the 2nd generation Kodo design theme. It is extremely sleek and devoid of complex details. The long bonnet and forward-placing front axle imply an FR layout, but this concept is not slated to production, so don't take it seriously.

Another concept is called Kai. It is believed to preview the next generation Mazda 3 hatchback, although the production car might need considerable changes to be practical. Again the concept features a very sleek nose and swoopy long bonnet. The side profile is especially clean as it is devoid of rear quarter windows in the expense of visibility. The concept is longer, wider and lower than the current Mazda 3.

23 Oct, 2017
Aston Vanquish Zagato Shooting Brake!

Aston Martin has unveiled the Shooting Brake version of its very exclusive Vanquish Zagato family. As can be seen here, the sport wagon is very stylish, even more attractive than the coupe unveiled earlier. Its extended roof keeps the famous double-bubble profile of Zagato, but the glass section runs nearly the full length of the roof to brighten the interior. Like its siblings, all its entire body is made of carbon-fiber. Production is limited to 99 cars to justify its £650,000 price tag - about 3 times of the standard Vanquish S.

Apart from Shooting Brake, the Vanquish Zagato family also includes the Coupe, Volante and Speedster. The Speedster is even rarer, with only 28 cars slated to production at around £1 million each. Its unique feature is the camel back behind the seats.

However, in my opinion the Volante shown below is even more beautiful with its sleekest profile. It is also cheaper at £500,000, like the coupe, as production of both will be 99 units. As a result, the total production of the family will be 325 cars. Aston is happy to announce that all these cars have been sold.

Regarding mechanicals, all of them are derived from the Vanquish S, so they are served with the company's very last naturally aspirated V12 with 600 horsepower, mated to 8-speed automatic gearbox. Performance is almost identical to the donor car as well.

Mind you, Zagato has no role in the making of these cars except lending its family name. It is a pure marketing tactics, as traditionally the most expensive and exclusive Aston Martins were designed and built by the Italian coachbuilder. All these cars are actually designed by Aston Martin's design chief Marek Reichman and built in-house.

23 Oct, 2017
Porsche 911 Carrera T

Another day, another 911. The Carrera T is the purist version of the base Carrera. It gets rid of the rear seat, some sound insulation and infotainment system, while the inner door panels are simplified (with GT3-style fabric door pulls), the rear and rear side windows are replaced with lightweight glass. However, standard fitment of PASM adaptive damping added back some weight, limiting the weight reduction to only 5kg.

The engine still produces 370hp, but the standard 7-speed manual gearbox is mated to a shorter final drive ratio to boost response, reducing 0-60 mph by a tenth and top speed by 3mph to 180mph.

Besides, the car is cosmetically differed from the standard car by unique wheels, paint graphics, door mirror color, interior trims and front seats etc. Whether these mods justify the 10 percent price increase is another matter.

23 Oct, 2017
Industrial News

Gordon Murray Automotive

An exciting news: Gordon Murray is entering car production! He is launching a new company called Gordon Murray Automotive (besign Gordon Murray Design) to build limited production cars using the iStream production method he invented. More details will be announced next Friday. At the moment he only said the first car will be a flagship model which "bucks the current trend for ever more complicated and heavy vehicles" and "will demonstrate a return to the design and engineering principles that have made the McLaren F1 such an icon".

It seems to me that it won't be another supercar, because he just lacks the funding and infrastructure to do so, but more likely a back-to-basics lightweight small-engined sports car in the form of Lotus Elise or even Seven. Perhaps the Yamaha Sports Ride concept that he built 2 years ago (and won AutoZine Concept Car of the Year award) might be the best hint. It was a tiny mid-engined sports car weighing only 750kg, using an iStream Carbon chassis. Unfortunately, Yamaha is still wondering whether to put it into production. In fact, a few years back Murray said a number of car makers were discussing to employ the iStream production method, but until today only the partnership with TVR is materialized. Perhaps Murray is losing patience thus decides to do it himself. In a couple of weeks time we shall know more.

20 Oct, 2017
Goodbye true Commodore! Goodbye Australian cars!

The day has come. This morning, the last Holden Commodore rolled off the production line at its Elizabeth plant. That was the 7,687,675th car Holden built since its production started in 1948. Marking this memorable moment was a Commodore SS-V Redline, a 362hp V8 monster. The next generation Commodore will be sourced from Opel in Germany as it is basically a retuned Insignia Grand Sport. It will be front-drive, much lighter and a lot more efficient, but unquestionably the old Commodore will remain the definitive Australian car, and long live in our memory. 955 workers lost their jobs together with the Australian motoring dream.

20 Oct, 2017
Audi A7

The second generation Audi A7 takes the company's new styling language which sports a sharper hexagonal grille and angular nose. However, it keeps the old car's sleek proportion and fastback tailgate to make itself like a 4-door coupe. At 4969mm long, 1908mm wide, 1422mm tall and 2923mm in wheelbase, it is virtually the same size as its predecessor. It sits on a steel-aluminum hybrid chassis which will underpin also the next A6.

Inside, the A7's cabin look very close to the new A8, especially the dashboard architecture with twin-touchscreen at the center console area - the upper one is for infotainment system while the lower one is for climate control etc. The instrument is a 12.3-inch TFT screen which doubles as the sat nav screen.

All A7 models will be provided with a 48V mild hybrid system as standard. The only engine unveiled at launch is the 3.0 TFSI single-turbo V6, which is compatible with Miller-cycle combustion. It is rated at 340hp and 369 lbft as on the A8. 0-60 mph takes 5 seconds dead. Other engines are expected to be 3.0 diesel V6 and 2.0 four-cylinder petrol and diesel. V8 will be reserved for S7 and RS7.

The Quattro system on A7 has turned to the new Quattro Ultra, which normally drives the front wheels and only engages the rear axle and prop shaft on demand to save fuel. As for suspension, there are 4 choices: standard suspension, 10mm-lower sport suspension, adaptive damping and air suspension. Torque vectoring sport differential is optional. 4-wheel steering is added to improve agility.

18 Oct, 2017
Porsche 718 GTS

Porsche has introduced GTS version of both 718 Cayman and Boxster. The GTS is the last stop before the track-oriented GT4, so it is the highest performance 718 without losing any road car comfort. Disappointingly, the upgrade from S to GTS is rather modest. Its 2.5-liter boxer-four engine is given a revised intake duct and turbocharger to produce another 15 horsepower, taking the maximum to 365hp. Maximum torque inches up from 310 to 317 lbft, which is available across a wider band (1900-5000 rpm versus the previous 1900-4500 rpm). As a result, 0-60 mph is improved by a tenth while top speed is lifted from 177 to 180 mph.

There are no changes made to the chassis, although the GTS includes PASM suspension, Sports Chrono pack (in case of PDK), sport exhaust and 20-inch wheels as standard. The Cayman GTS now sells for £60K in the UK market, compared with £43K and £52K for Cayman and Cayman S, respectively. £60K is a lot of money for a 4-cylinder car.

17 Oct, 2017
Polestar 1 is neither S90 Coupe nor C70

Interesting, very interesting. I haven't expected the next generation Volvo C70 or the first S90 Coupe to be like this. No, this is neither of them but the first dedicated model developed by and branded as Polestar. The story can wind back to 4 years ago when Volvo unveiled the impossibly beautiful Volvo Concept Coupe. That car was so great that it inspired not only the current S90 but also the desire of Volvo's management to put it into production. Somehow, as development unfolded, Volvo found it too good to be badged as an S90 Coupe or C70 Mk3. Its T8 plug-in hybrid powertrain produced significantly more power than the version on S90 T8, so only one badge is suitable: Polestar.

You know what Polestar is. Once an independent racing team, Polestar became the official motorsport partner of Volvo, then its official tuner and eventually acquired by Volvo in 2015. Since then it has been Volvo's AMG, developing and building high-performance models like S60 and V60 Polestar. Now following the birth of Polestar 1, the performance division is assigned a new direction: electric performance. Volvo's parent company Geely wants Polestar to lead the electrification technology of the group, so Geely and Volvo pumped money to form a joint-venture in Chengdu, China, dedicated to develop and build the electric vehicles for Polestar. The Polestar 1 is just the forerunner of the plan. Ironically, it is also the only future Polestar to have an engine, because the next Polestar 2 and Polestar 3 will be pure electric cars. By the way, the Polestar 2 will be a mass market EV in the mold of Tesla Model 3, while Polestar 3 will be a luxury electric SUV based on XC90.

Unfortunately, this means the Polestar 1 coupe will be built in China. If Volvo sells it in conventional ways, I'm afraid it could be a very difficult business case, because the car is likely to cost £115,000, more than a Mercedes S500 Coupe! Therefore, Volvo opted to offer it in the form of subscription. You can subscribe the car for 2 or 3 years at yet-announced prices. After that period, the company will take back the car, refurbish it and lease it as second-hand. Production of the car will be very limited. Only 500 cars will be built a year, and the total is expected no more than 1500 cars.

So what is the Polestar 1? It is a luxury 2+2 coupe built upon the SPA platform of S90, but heavily modified. About half of the components are new, and the coupe body is a lot shorter. Its overall length is just 4500mm. According to Volvo, its wheelbase is 320mm shorter than an S90L (which means 2740mm) while some 200mm is chopped from its rear overhang. Unexpectedly, nearly the entire outer body is made of carbon-fiber reinforced plastic, including bonnet, boot lid and doors. Some structural parts, like cross secitons of the roof, are also CFRP.

Moreover, like BMW 7-Series, Lamborghini Huracan and Audi R8, the rear floorpan section consisting part of the transmission tunnel is also made of carbon-fiber to improve rigidity. As a result, the body's torsional rigidity is increased by 45 percent to 32,000 Nm/degree. Overall, Volvo said the carbon-fiber parts save 230 kg while lowering center of gravity, although the plug-in hybrid coupe is still unlikely to slip under 1800 kg in my opinion.

The hybrid powertrain is similar to the existing T8 "Twin-Engine". Up front is the supercharged and turbocharged 2.0 Drive-E four-banger driving exclusively the front axle through an 8-speed automatic. It is believed to be producing around 340 hp, slightly more than the existing T6 engine. The engine is assisted by an integrated starter generator which produces 46 hp and 111 lbft. At the rear axle, a subframe holds 2 electric motors and a planetary gearset. These motors are much stronger than those on the S90 T8 or XC90 T8, producing a combined 218 hp instead of 88 hp, and doubling torque to 354 lbft. The planetary gearset enables torque vectoring between the rear wheels, too. Overall, the system output is said to be 600 hp and 737 lbft, nearly matches a Mercedes-AMG S65 Coupe!

The lithium-ion battery is splitted into 2 packs, one situated within the transmission tunnel and another mounted right above the rear axle motors. The latter counterbalances the engine and reverses the front-to-rear weight distribution to 48:52. Battery capacity is 34kWh, good for a 150 km (93 miles) NDEC range in zero-emission mode.

The suspension follows S90 to feature double-wishbones up front, integral-link and glass-fiber transverse leaf spring at the rear. However, the coupe ditches air suspension for a set of brand-new Ohlins CESi (continuously controlled electronic suspension) adaptive dampers. Their electronically controlled valves allow the damping force to be adapted to road and driving conditions as well as to driver-selectable modes, a big advantage over the manually adjustable Ohlins dampers on S60/V60 Polestar.

The car rides on 275/30ZR21 and 295/30ZR21 tires front and rear, respectively. The front brakes consist of 400mm ventilated drilled discs and aluminum monobloc 6-piston calipers supplied by Akebono, which supplied also McLaren P1 if you remember.

Inside, the cabin carries over pretty much everything of S90, which is actually good. The car is standard fitted with a panoramic glass roof. Despite the airy ambience, don't expect the rear seats to be able to carry regular adults. The Polestar 1 is shorter than a BMW 4-Series, so it is not going to be as roomy as Mercedes S-class Coupe.

The car is still undergoing final development. Order book has been opened, but it is not going to arrive the market until mid-2019. Final specifications and pricing will be revealed closer to that date. It will be interesting how Mercedes-AMG, BMW's iPerformance and Audi E-tron respond to its far-sighted move.

14 Oct, 2017
Aston Martin DB11 Volante

The open-top version of DB11 is no less beautiful than its coupe sibling. Its 8-layer fabric roof opens or closes in an average 15 seconds at up to 31 mph. Weight is up by 110 kg, but those extra kilos are mostly concentrated at the rear of the car, thus weight distribution is improved further from 49:51 to 47:53. Compared with its predecessor DB9 Volante, Aston said it is 26kg lighter and 5 percent stiffer.

Note that the Volante is available only in the form of V8. The 510hp AMG-sourced engine propels the car from rest to 60 mph in 4.0 seconds, a tenth slower than the coupe. If it were installed with the V12 (which might arrive later if buyers are not satisfied with the V8, though I doubt), it would have weighed nearly 2 tons. Another advantage of the V8 is that its top speed is "just" 187 mph, so its soft roof does not need to withstand the test of 200 mph.

5 Oct, 2017
Toyota renews its Century, finally.

It does not last a century, but not far off. This is only the third generation Toyota Century in exactly half a century - the first was introduced in 1967 and the last generation debuted in 1997. As before, it remains a rather exclusive choice for few people - the Japanese royal family, senior government leaders and rich businessmen with a patriotic mind - so rare that the last generation found only 8700 such people in its 20 years lifespan.

Yet the new Century does not look too new. In fact, it seems like a facelift of the outgoing car as it keeps the same, 1950s-style boxy shape inspired by Cadillac and Lincoln of the time. Underneath, however, seems to be all new. The heavy steel body is slightly larger at 5335mm long, 1930mm wide, 1505mm tall and runs a 3165mm wheelbase. The headlights become LED, but they are just as large and square as before. Ditto the radiator grille.

What changes dramatically is the engine. Bye-bye the 5-liter V12 (the only V12 made in Japan), welcome a 5-liter V8 hybrid powertrain, which is probably taken from the outgoing Lexus LS600h. On that car, it pumped out 440hp, but on the Century it might be detuned for more refinement. Likewise, the hybrid electric system is reconfigured to work in 2 stages to smoothen the power delivery, something its old occupants demand. No word about the chassis, but expect the good old air suspension is carried over.

Inside, it is just as old-school as before. The dashboard reminds me the old Lincolns we used to see 20 or 25 years ago. The upholstery remains to be wool, something the car has been persisting in the last 50 years. It must be a nightmare to clean, but then again, the Japanese people are clean and tidy. For sure the bosses will take off their shoes before using the footrests, or brushes their hairs before sleeping on the reclining chairs. You had better to get used to these, because the new Century will last for another couple of decades, perhaps until petrol cars are banned from the road.

5 Oct, 2017
Industrial News

Koenigsegg smashes Bugatti's 0-400km/h-0 record

Just a couple of weeks ago I was still wondering when Koenigsegg will respond to Bugatti Chiron's 0-400km/h-0 record run in 41.92 seconds. Now it comes! A Koenigsegg Agera RS - not even the fastest One:1 - has been tested at an airfield in Denmark before delivering to customer. The car is good for 1160hp on petrol and weighs 1395kg kerb, translating to a power-to-weight ratio of 832hp/ton. Not quite the level of One:1, but comfortably higher than Bugatti's 752hp/ton. It took 26.88s from standstill to 400km/h and another 9.56s back to dead stop. The total time is 36.44s. Bugatti spent a lot of time to prepare for the record run, but Koenigsegg broke it straight out of the box, so embarrassing!

Correction on Oct 6: Koenigsegg said the car has the optional power upgrade to 1360hp, the same as One:1. However, it is a little heavier due to the fitment of a rollcage.

Porsche 911 GT2 RS sets Nurburgring non-EV record

The new Porsche 911 GT2 RS has set a new Nurburgring lap record at 6:47.3, eclipsing the previous record of Lamborghini Huracan Performante at 6:52.0. In fact, it is faster than even Porsche's own supercar, 918 Spyder, which did 6:57. However, electric supercar Nio EP9 still holds the overall road car record at 6:45.9, although that car was still a prototype. The 911 GT2 RS is good for 700hp and weighs 1470kg DIN. I am quite sure some other cars will better it soon.

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