30 Nov, 2017
New Mercedes CLS

The third generation Mercedes CLS, codenamed C257, has been unveiled in LA auto show. As always, the CLS is derived from the E-class underpinnings but packaged like a 4-door coupe. Compared with the Mk2, its body is sleeker, getting rid of the controversial sculpted rear fenders and many sharp crease lines of the old car. The nose gets smoother and the LED headlamps slimmer. The tail looks close to those of the C-class Coupe and E-class Coupe, although it sports sharper taillights.

Inside, disappointingly, the CLS has abandoned the unique design of its predecessors and opt for the same dashboard, console and pretty much everything from the E-class. This means the dash is dominated with twin-12.3-inch TFT screens, while the material and build quality are impeccable. The only noticeable differences are the more sculpted seats and the reduced headroom at the back.

As the car is built on the E-class, not just platform but basically the entire floorpan, there is no surprise in the mechanical aspect. As for engines, it will adopt the latest petrol and diesel straight-six from the recently facelifted S-class and the new powerful 4-cylinder petrol (see news on 27 Oct):

CLS350: M264 2.0-liter inline-4 turbo, 299hp / 295 lbft.
CLS450: M256 3.0-liter inline-6 turbo + electric turbo, 367hp / 369 lbft. It is paired with EQ-boost mild hybrid motor and 48V electrical system to provide another 22hp / 184 lbft in short burst.
CLS350d: OM656 2.9-liter inline-6 twin-turbo diesel, 286hp / 442 lbft.
CLS400d: OM656 2.9-liter inline-6 twin-turbo diesel, 340hp / 516 lbft.

As for AMG models, the straight-six-powered CLS53 and V8-powered CLS63 are expected to join later next year.

30 Nov, 2017
BMW i8 Roadster

It takes BMW nearly 4 years to introduce the open-top version of its i8 sports car. The new i8 Roadster sacrifices its +2 seats for the power soft roof mechanism, whose 3 elements fold vertically in an Z behind the cockpit. Underneath the roof storage compartment there is a 100-liter storage space which is accessible from the cabin. Otherwise, you have to rely on the tiny 88-liter boot to take your weekend luggages. Thanks to its carbon-fiber central chassis, few reinforcements are needed in the conversion to open-top. The Roadster is about 60kg heavier than the Coupe.

Both the i8 Roadster and Coupe enjoy a slight improvement to powertrain. While the 3-cylinder petrol engine and the electric motors are practically unchanged, the battery is upgraded from 7.1 to 11.6kWh. It is also capable to supply higher current to the motor, lifting its output by 12hp, and the combined output is improved from 367 to 374hp. That said, performance quote for the Coupe remains unchanged, while the heavier Roadster takes 0.2 second more for 0-60 sprint. On the plus side, zero-emission range is improved from 22 to 33 miles, which in turn reduces its carbon footprint.

30 Nov, 2017
Mazda 6 updated

The 5-year-old Mazda 6 has undergone a surgery to keep itself fresh. Up front, the new mesh grille, slimmer headlights and more use of chrome make it more elegant. Underneath the bonnet, the 2.5-liter Otto-Atkinson-cycle engine gets cylinder deactivation function, which shuts down 2 cylinders under lighter loads, to save further fuel. Better news is the addition of a 2.5-liter turbo engine, which is good for 250hp and 310 lbft. Inside, the dashboard is also overhauled to appear more tasteful and upmarket.

30 Nov, 2017
Industrial News

Jaguar XE SV Project 8 takes Nurburgring 4-door record

Jaguar XE SV Project 8 (see news on 28 Jun) has broken the Nurburbring 4-door record of Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio by a significant 11 seconds, at 7:21. That is not much of a surprise if you remember the compact Jaguar saloon is good for 600hp, 200mph and 0-60 in 3.3 seconds.

ECOTY finalists

The 7 finalists of European Car of the Year has been announced:
  • Alfa Romeo Stelvio
  • Audi A8
  • BMW 5-Series
  • Citroen C3 Aircross
  • Kia Stinger
  • Seat Ibiza
  • Volvo XC40
Which one will be the winner? Seat Ibiza might be small, but don't underestimate it.

NACOTY finalists

The forthcoming North American Car of the Year 2018 will be certainly an Asian car, as the 3 finalists are Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Kia Stinger. I think Honda has a good chance to take the honour.

21 Nov, 2017
New Aston Martin Vantage

Having soldiered on for 12 long years, the outgoing Aston Martin V8 Vantage is finally replaced. The new Vantage - now losing V8 in its name - will be again the company's entry-level sports car. However, it gets slightly larger. At 4465mm, it is 85mm longer than before but still shorter than Porsche 911. Meanwhile, its 2704mm wheelbase is a massive 104mm longer, which should improve ride and stability. Predictably, the new car is also more expensive. It will start at £121,000, a considerable increase from the old car's £93,000, though still undercuts the £145,000 DB11 V8. In return, you get significantly more performance and sophistication.

The Vantage has taken a new styling direction. It looks more muscular and radical than either the old car or DB11. The front end is characterized by a shaver-style huge mesh grille, which is stretched right down to the front splitter, quite oddly in my eyes. Equally a bit strange is the contoured clamshell bonnet, which seems unneccessary considering the compactness of its AMG V8. The small, characterless LED headlamps lack sparkles, too. However, the rear styling should be universally acclaimed, especially its stylish LED stripe tailights and aggressive diffusers. This car does not need active rear spoiler to generate positive downforce.

Like DB11, it is built on the new generation VH platform. The chassis is made of bonded aluminum, but 70 percent of its parts are bespoke. Suspension is implemented by forged double-wishbones up front and multi-link axle at the rear. Rear subframe is now rigidly mounted on the main chassis for enhanced response and precision. The AMG V8 motor is positioned as far back as possible, while the ZF 8-speed automatic transmission is located at the rear axle, a trademark layout of Aston. That said, its front-to-rear weight distribution is barely 50:50. Both the DB11 V8 and the old V8 Vantage achieved a slightly better 49:51.

The AMG 4-liter "hot-V" twin-turbo engine is familiar. As in the case of DB11 V8 but on the contrary to AMG GT, it is wet sumped, although Aston specified a bespoke, slimmer wet sump. Maximum output is 510 horsepower at 6000 rpm, identical to DB11 V8, but its peak torque of 505 lbft at 2000-5000 rpm is marginally higher. That is a lot more powerful than its 4.7-liter naturally aspirated predecessor, of course. Meanwhile, the whole car weighs 1530 kg dry, just a couple dozen kilos more than before. As a result, performance is vastly improved. 0-60 mph now takes only 3.5 seconds instead of 4.6, while top speed is lifted from 190 to 195 mph. It is also noticeably faster than the larger, heavier DB11 V8 (187 mph and 3.9 sec).

Power goes to the rear axle through an E-Diff (electronic LSD), a first for Aston. This should improve its handling significantly. Adaptive dampers, torque vectoring and electric power steering are also new features to the Vantage, if not the brand. The four corners roll on Pirelli P-Zero tires measuring 255/40ZR20 or 295/35ZR20. The brakes use ventilated cast-iron discs of 400mm or 360mm, clamped with 6-piston or 4-piston calipers.

Inside, the Vantage has also taken a new styling direction. Instead of a sloping center console , it turns to a more space-saving design. However, it looks cheaper and busier than the DB11's interior. There are deliberate use of old-school rotary knobs and toggle switches. Mercedes donates its touchscreen infotainment system and mouse-like COMAND controller. As before, the Vantage is strictly a 2-seater, in contrast to the 2+2 DB11. This leaves a quite generous 350-liter boot behind the front seats. The car will start delivery in Q2 next year.

17 Nov, 2017
New Tesla Roadster: 250mph, 1.9sec 0-60 !

Interesting, interesting. We have never experienced this before: since the beginning of this month, 7 pieces of news in a row are superfast exotics. The latest entry is Tesla Roadster. Its figures are no less startling: 250 mph top speed, 0-60 mph in 1.9 seconds and 0-100 mph in 4.2 seconds. For comparison, a McLaren P1 does 217 mph, 2.7 seconds and 5.0 seconds, respectively. And you think the P1 should travel longer than the EV? No, the new Roadster offers an incredible range of 620 miles from its 200kWh battery! Hybrid supercars suddenly becomes a breed of the past.

The new Roadster is very different from the original. Instead of a mid-engined roadster, it is more like the coupe version of Tesla Model S. It uses 3 motors to drive both axles. The mega battery is believed to be located at the floorpan like the sedan. It must be a heavy machine, but then the car is also much larger, more luxurious and offers 2+2 seating. It has a removable roof panel that converts itself between coupe and Targa. What a pity it is not power folding or sliding, just a simple manually detachable roof.

Production of the car is still 3 years away (if no more delay in Tesla fashion), so we are safe to say it is now only a design prototype. However, Tesla is already taking advanced orders for the 1,000 units of launch edition, each costs an eye-popping $250,000! The base car is barely cheaper at $200,000. Will you spend so much for a silent-running EV? How do you define exotics?

16 Nov, 2017
Dallara Stradale

Giampaolo Dallara won't be a stranger to our readers. The 81-year-old Italian racecar engineering legend designed many exotic machines in the 1960s, including Lamborghini 350GT and Miura, De Tomaso Mangusta and Pantera. Then he became known for building race car chassis in many categories, most notably F3, Indycars and endurance sports prototypes. Lately, Dallara also builds carbon-fiber chassis for Bugatti Veyron/Chiron, KTM X-bow and Alfa Romeo 4C. Strangely, he has never produced a road car bearing his own name, until today - his 81st birthday! Congratulation to Mr. Dallara!

Stradale - the Italian word for Street - is the first Dallara road car. It will be rather rare as Dallara's workshop can build only 10 cars a month, 120 a year and a total of 600 cars over 5 years. In Dallara's fashion, it will be carbon-fiber intensive - the tub and all bodywork are made of carbon-fiber, whereas the front crash structure and rear subframe are aluminum. The car weighs only 855 kg dry in its leanest form, which is the roofless and windscreen-less roadster shown at the bottom. It reminds me the old Maserati Barchetta Stradale.

The Stradale is powered by the 2.3-liter four-cylinder turbo engine of Ford Focus RS, which is tuned to produce 400 horsepower - easy, as Mountune already has such a power kit. Naturally, it comes together with Ford's 6-speed manual gearbox. The powertrain is mounted transversely between the rear wheels, capable of propelling the car from 0-60 mph in 3.4 seconds. Top speed is 174 mph, but in case you install it with the optional rear wing, it will be lowered to 165 mph in exchange for an eye-popping downforce of 820 kg! This allows the car to corner at 2g!

The aerodynamics should be top-notch, as Dallara is also an expert of aerodynamics (his company owns 3 wind tunnels in Italy). As for styling, it is penned by ex-Pininfarina design chief Lowie Vermeersch, whose previous projects include Ferrari California, Maserati Birdcage 75th concept and Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus SCG 003. Meanwhile, the ride and handling was developed by none other than the famous Loris Bicocchi, whose CV listed Bugatti EB110, Dauer 962LM, Edonis, Pagani Zonda, Koenigsegg CC8S / CCX, KTM X-Bow and Bugatti Chiron. The Stradale has no power steering, like Lotus Elise, but considering its lightweight, it doesn't matter. However, it does has ABS, traction control and stability control as a bundle from Bosch. This allows it to get type approval in EU and Japan.

The interior looks more interesting than an Alfa 4C, although it is even more cramped. It is also more difficult to enter and get out, because the car has no proper doors. You have to get through the gullwing-style windows like a Le Mans racer. On the plus side, this leaves the sides of the car for air channels that improve downforce and reduce drag, just like a Le Mans car again.

The base Stradale roadster has no windscreen and roof, thus is primarily a track car or an occasional showcase in sunny weekends. You can buy an optional windscreen, carbon-fiber T-bar roof and windows, eventually converting it into a glass-roof coupe - no, the transparent canopy is actually made of plexiglass (plastic) as in race cars. The base car is priced at €155,000 before tax, while adding all the glasshouse parts will top nearly €190,000, i.e. the price of a V8 Ferrari. Too expensive probably, but then this is the first car bearing the name of the legendary old man, and we don't know whether there will be another.

13 Nov, 2017
ZR1: the ultimate front-engined Corvette

As everybody knows, GM will change Corvette to mid-engined next year. Before that historic change happens, the front-engined C7 will bow out on a high with its ultimate version, ZR1. Yes, this is the most powerful and fastest ever Corvette in its 64 years history. Headline figures are 755 hp and 715 lbft of torque, exceeding the current Z06 by 105 hp and 65 lbft. It will top out at over 210 mph and do 0-60 sprint under 3 seconds. Price is expected to start from $130,000, well over the $85K Z06 and the $56K base Corvette. However, unlike the Z06, it will be bound in the US/Canada and forgo the European market.

The new ZR1 can be easily distinguished from Z06 by its huge power bulge on the bonnet. This is to accommodate its larger supercharger and intercoolers, which is 75mm taller. Made of carbon-fiber, the power bulge is actually the intercooler cover thus it is separated from the carbon-fiber bonnet. In driving, it moves under every prod of throttle, which must be interesting to view from the driver seat. The nose of the car is obviously dominated by massive intakes, because this car has as many as 13 heat exchangers, including 4 new radiators. The standard aero package is also a little more aggressive than the Z06's, including large front splitters and a bigger rear spoiler. It generates 70 percent more downforce than the standard Z06.

However, should you want the ultimate ZR1 for track abuse, you must take the ZTK package. It adds vertical fins to the sides of front splitter and a huge, high-mounted rear wing whose angle is manually adjustable. At the highest angle the car generates 430 kg of downforce at top speed, 60 percent more than the Z06 fitted with Z07 package (confusing names, but fans of Vette should understand what I mean). Scale back to the lowest angle and you can achieve that 210 mph+ top speed. What a pity you have to adjust it outside the car with tools, as GM thought an active rear wing too complicated and costly to develop for a bow-out model.

Apart from aero kits, the ZTK package also brings stickier Michelin PS Cup 2 tires (instead of Pilot Super Sport) and specific tuning of the Magnetic Ride Control adaptive dampers. Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes, however, is standard for even the base car.

The engine is still that 6.2-liter supercharged pushrod V8, but it gets a new codename LT5 accompanied with various modifications, most notably a 2.65-liter Eaton supercharger (up from 1.74-liter) and double-size intercoolers. The direct injection system has added supplemental port injection. The crankshaft is strengthened, while the new exhaust has mechanical instead of electronic-controlled bypass valves for angrier noises. The latter is made possible by forgoing European type approval, similar to the case of the rigid power bulge which is impossible to pass European pedestrian safety law. Power and torque are released at 6300 rpm and 4400 rpm, respectively. The 7-speed manual or 8-speed automatic transmission are carried over intact from the Z06.

GM wants the ZR1 to maintain good road manners, so its suspension is not set overly sporty. The interior is by no means stripped-out, leaving only the carbon-fiber trims and sport bucket seats to distinguish from lesser models. Kerb weight is quoted to be 1615 kg, only 13 kg more than the Z06. Strangely, different sources say the car is heavier by 60 to 140 pounds (depending on which source you read), and nearly all of those pounds are acted on the front axle. It might be the fastest and maddest Corvette ever, but unlikely to be the best balanced. The ZR1 is not a limited edition. It will be produced as far as there is demand, but GM expect to sell 2000-3000 cars in its entire lifecycle of a year or so.

9 Nov, 2017
Lotus Exige Cup 430

Here is yet another fastest Lotus ever. The Exige Cup 430 is upgraded from the Exige Cup 380 launched last year. As its name suggested, it is a track-oriented road car powered by the same engine as the recent Evora GT430, i.e. a 436 hp (DIN) supercharged V6. That's as much as 56 hp more than its the Cup 380. Meanwhile, its dry weight is reduced by a single kilogram to only 1056 kg (compared with 1076 kg of Sport 380 and 1258 kg of Evora GT430), while maximum downforce is lifted by 10 pecent to 220 kg. No wonder it can lap Hethel circuit in 1:24.8, a full second down from Evora GT430. Acceleration is also the fastest ever for Lotus, taking 3.2 seconds to complete 0-60. Compared with Cup 380, top speed is lifted by 5 mph to 180 mph. Predictably, its price is elevated again, now taking £100K, although that's slightly cheaper than the Evora GT430.

5 Nov, 2017
Koenigsegg sets 277.9mph speed record

It has just gunned down the 0-249mph-0 record of Bugatti last month. Now Koenigsegg Agera RS has made another history: breaking the top speed record of Bugatti Veyron Supersport. The venue is a long stretch of flat and straight highway between Las Vegas and Pahrump, Neveda, USA. The local government closed the section of the road for this attempt. The 1360-horsepower Agera RS set a two-way average of 277.9 mph, comfortably higher than the Bugatti's old record of 268 mph, leaving Bugatti in the cold without any records in its hands. That said, the new record might not be high enough to fend off the challenge by Bugatti Chiron, which is believed to be good for at least 280 mph. Stay tuned.

3 Nov, 2017
This is Gordon Murray's new flagship sports car! or is it?

Gordon Murray has released a concept picture of his forthcoming flagship sports car. It will be branded IGM, or Ian Gordon Murray (his full name), and built at a new factory in Surrey, England, close to the existing office of Gordon Murray Design. Unfortunately, this is the only picture and details are scarce. When and how much? No one knows, probably not even Murray himself can answer at the moment. It seems to be at the early stage of planning. What we do know is that it will feature a new version of iStream chassis called iStream Superlight, which uses high-strength aluminum instead of steel tubes in the original design for lower weight. It will feature the most advanced aerodynamic design as well, according to the company.

The pictured car looks very much like McLaren F1. It is clearly a mid-engined car with a roof-mounted ram-air intake for the engine. Note the forward placement of the headrest, which implies a 3-seat layout like the McLaren F1. The long distance between the doors and rear axle implies an engine consisting of at least 12 cylinders. The ram-air intake implies that it must be naturally aspirated. The huge wheels look like 22 or 23-inch items, supposed to house mega-size carbon-ceramic brakes. If the drawing is true to the specifications, this must be a 1000hp+, 300mph+ Ultracar. No question to me.

Unfortunately, Autocar's long-time journalist Steve Cropley said it will be a flyweight sports car in the mould of Smart Roadster, probably powered by a 3-cylinder turbo engine mounted transversely between the rear wheels. Moreover, it will have only 2 seats. These sounds sensible enough to me considering the finance of Gordon Murray's company.

Conclusion: don't take the picture too seriously. It might be something taken from the old drawings of the McLaren F1 in conceptual stage. Maybe Murray is just too busy to draw a new one.

2 Nov, 2017
Hennessey Venom F5 claims 300mph

For long Hennessey has been known as a tuning specialist for Viper, Mustang, Corvette, Camaro and virtually any American musclecars. This was changed until a few years ago when it built its own supercar, Venom GT. In 2014, the Venom GT set an unofficial speed record of 270 mph (it did only one-way run thus was not recognized). It was powered by a GM-derived 7-liter twin-turbo V8 good for an astonishing 1244 horsepower. However, built around the chassis of Lotus Exige and sharing much of its exterior styling, it was not taken seriously by car lovers outside America, including myself, admittedly.

Now Hennessesy has learnt the lesson and returns with a new car, Venom F5. It gets a bespoke carbon-fiber tub and all-carbon-fiber body to achieve a vehicle weight of 1338 kg. Meanwhile, a new 7.4-liter twin-turbo V8, claimed to be its own work this time, increases output to 1600 hp and 1300 lbft, good enough to eclipse Bugatti Chiron. Coupling to a 7-speed automated manual gearbox, top speed is claimed to exceed 300 mph!

Though it sounds incredible, 300 mph is possible because the F5 has lowered its drag coefficient from the old car's 0.44 to just 0.33, identical to Koengisegg Agera and lower than everything else in the class. Whether its tires could withstand such a high speed run is another matter. It is quoted to employ Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires but it seems that the French giant is not working with the small American firm to develop bespoke compounds.

More promising is acceleration. Thanks to the unrivalled power-to-weight ratio, Hennessey claims the F5 can do 0-300kph (186mph), 0-400kph (249mph) and 0-400kph-0 under 10, 20 and 30 seconds, respecitvely - very easy to remember! For comparison, the recent record-breaking Koenigsegg Agera RS did the same sprints in 13.3, 26.88 and 36.44 seconds, respectively. Bugatti Chiron recorded 13.1, 32.6 and 42 seconds. If Venom F5 delivers the promise, it will be easily the fastest car in the world.

However, the car is still under development. Not even its engine specifications have been finalized. Don't expect the first delivery to start within 2 years. Hennessey will sell only 24 cars, each at the price of $1.6 million. It seems a bargain compared with its rivals, but then the American supercar is relatively conventional in technology.

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