21 Feb, 2018
Ferrari 488 Pista strikes back McLaren

Last year McLaren 720S gave Ferrari 488GTB a hard time as it is more powerful yet lighter thus faster. Now Ferrari finally fights back with the new 488 Pista. As suggested by Pista, an Italian word for Track, it is the successor to the line of 458 Speciale, 430 Scuderia and 360 Challenge Stradale. In other words, it is very likely to be the last variant of the 488 series before its complete replacement in late 2019 or early 2020.

Numbers first: compared with the standard GTB, this car is 90kg lighter (exactly the same as the weight reduction from 458 Italia to 458 Speciale), but its engine produces 50 more horsepower at 720hp and 7 pound-foot of extra torque at 568 lbft. They are released at the same 8000 rpm and 3000 rpm, respectively. More interesting, both output figures are identical to the McLaren's, whereas its 1280 kg dry weight merely undercuts the McLaren by 3 kilos!

Predictably, performance quotes are also slightly better. 0-60 mph now takes 2.75 seconds, 0.05 less than the McLaren. Top speed runs neck to neck as the McLaren quoted 212 mph while Ferrari claims 211 mph+. Most important perhaps, the Pista needs 7.6 seconds to go from 0-124 mph, 0.2s less than McLaren. It also beats the new 911 GT2 RS by 0.7s. Job done.

In terms of aerodynamics, the Pista is heavily revised from GTB. Its front end is sculpted massively to take advantage of an F1-inspired S-duct, which draws air from the front splitter to the bonnet, generating downforce. The sides of the front overhang have new winglet extensions which seem to incorporate air outlets as well, although Ferrari did not explain its function. At the rear fenders, the huge intakes of the GTB have been made smaller because it needs to feed only the intercoolers now, whereas engine intakes have been moved back to the top of the fenders near the rear spoiler. The rear spoiler is obviously enlarged, being longer and curvier. When viewing from the back, it is now clearly separated from the body, although its "blown spoiler" function remains. The sides of the rear bumper has opened new air outlets. Overall, Ferrari claims downforce is increased by 20 percent, which is impressive considering the 488GTB is already good for 325kg at 155 mph.

The engine is still that 3.9-liter twin-turbo V8, but it gets new carbon-fiber intake plenums, lightweight Inconel exhaust manifolds, lighter crankshaft and flywheel and the return of titanium con-rods. The turbos now incorporate rev sensors. Variable boost management remains as the peak torque is only available at 7th gear.

There are not many changes made to the chassis hardware, but the software of Side Slip Control is updated, which can now adjust brake caliper pressure through so-called FDE (Ferrari Dynamic Enhancer). While Ferrari did not mention, you can expect weight reduction comes from the usual practices, such as some carbon-fiber body panels, lightweight glass/polycarbonate windows, lighter wheels, carbon-fiber seats, Alcantara an carbon-fiber trims, deleting sound insulation and carpets etc. New items include carbon-fiber rear spoiler, bumpers and optional carbon-fiber wheels.

21 Feb, 2018
Porsche 991.2 GT3 RS

Spot the differences! Can you find out what's new compared with the last GT3 RS? Yes, very slightly: slightly larger front bumper intakes, GT2 RS-style NACA ducts on the bonnet (which helps cooling the brakes), restyled side intakes, different rear wing brackets, larger outlets at the rear bumper, slightly revised rear diffusers... I am not sure if these changes mean progress though. Porsche said its downforce is unchanged, although the slightly repositioned rear wing reduces drag a little.

The engine is basically the same 4.0-liter unit as the new GT3, but it gets revised induction and larger titanium exhaust for an additional 20 horsepower at the top end. That 520 hp is released at 8450 rpm, 200 rpm higher than the old car, while redline is also 200 rpm higher at 9000 rpm. Peak torque inches up from 339 to 346 lbft. In other words, its peak power and torque are increased by only 4 and 2 percent, respectively. Predictably, gains in straight line performance is modest. Its 194 mph top speed is only 1 mph higher than before, while 0-62 mph is cut by a tenth to 3.2 seconds.

Nevertheless, the new car finds more performance from its revised chassis. While the old goodies like 4-wheel steering, adaptive engine mounts, PASM and PDK remain, they have been recalibrated. The suspension learns from GT2 RS to adopt rigid ball joints instead of rubber bushings, as well as helper springs. The Michelin PS Cup 2 tires keep the same sizes, but with new bespoke compounds. Weight saving items are familiar, i.e. carbon-fiber bonnet, front fenders, engine lid and rear wing, magnesium roof (optional carbon-fiber), lightweight forged alloy wheels (optional magnesium), optional carbon-fiber anti-roll bars, optional PCCB brakes and a stripped out cabin. However, in its lightest form it weighs 1430 kg, 10 more than before. Still, Porsche claims the revised chassis and tires are the key reasons why it can lap Nurburgring in about 7:05, compared with 7:17 of the old car and 7:12.7 of the latest GT3. That said, GT2 RS remains the big daddy of all at 6:47.3.

21 Feb, 2018
Industrial News

Porsche ends diesel production

In response to tightening testing procedures, legal disputes and downgrading perception, Porsche has ended production of all its diesel models, i.e. Panamera 4S Diesel and Macan S Diesel. Instead, it is concentrating resources to electrification. In fact, diesel Porsches are not big sellers. Last year, only 15 percent of all Panameras sold were diesel, whereas petrol contributed to 35 percent and, surprisingly, the boring Panamera 4 E-Hybrid made up half the sales. Moreover, the diesel engines are all sourced from Audi/VW, so the decision to axle diesel is not too difficult to make.

15 Feb, 2018
Last Focus RS comes with 375hp

Production of Ford Focus RS is coming to the end in early April. The last batch of cars to be built is this special edition called Heritage Edition. Only 50 of them will be built, each costing £40,000 or a substantial 30 percent increase over the standard car. In return, you will get a power boost of 25hp and 29 lbft to 375hp and 376 lbft, thanks to a Mountune kit that includes remapped ECU, revised turbo recirculating valve and freer induction. Meanwhile, the increased power is better handled by the Qualife LSD added to the front axle (GKN Twinster setup remains at the rear). Other changes are only cosmetic.

15 Feb, 2018
Kia Ceed Mk3

Kia has unveiled the 3rd generation Ceed - note that its name has lost the apostrophe ('). Compared with Mk2, I think it looks more matured and less dynamic, just like its sister car Hyundai i30. While the old car employed a sweeping waistline, the new one turns to a straight, horizontal but more pronounced shoulder, which gives it a stronger sense of solidity at the price of sleekness. The car keeps its 4310mm length and 2650mm wheelbase unchanged, but 20mm has been shifted from the front overhang to the rear overhang, while another 20mm is added to the width. The roof is lowered by 23mm to 1447mm. Up front, the tiger-nose grille and multi-contour headlamps are more stylish than before. At the back, the tailgate gets wider, deeper and more upright, enhancing luggage space to 395 liters (+15) and improving access.

As before, the Ceed rides on classy multi-link rear suspension to better serve its demanding European customers. Engines are shared with Hyundai i30. The sophisticated 120hp 1.0T GDi three-cylinder and 140hp 1.4T GDi four-cylinder are the focuses, whereas 100hp 1.4 MPi is entry-level. Meanwhile, 1.6 CRDi turbo diesel offers two states of tune, i.e. 115hp or 136hp. 6-speed manual gearbox is standard while some engines can be opted with 7-speed DCT.

Inside, the car guarantees upgraded build quality and infotainment touchscreen system, although plenty of hardware switches are left.

3 Feb, 2018
Mercedes A-class W177

This is the fourth generation A-class, or the second since it was reborn as a conventional hatchback. The switch to MFA platform has been proved correct, as it accommodates a wide range of models, i.e. B-class, GLA and CLA, and together they captured 620,000 sales last year. Now one in three Mercedes are the small cars.

Thanks to its success, the new generation is built on an updated version of the existing platform, or we can call it MFA2. Its wheelbase is stretched by 30mm to 2729mm, while overall length is even longer (+127mm), ditto the body width (+16mm) and height (+7mm). The body profile seems boxier, as the roof gets flatter and the rear door windows get squarer. Obviously, these changes intend to increase cabin space and make entry and exit the rear seat easier. On the flipside, the car looks less dynamic and not quite as special as before.

Up front, the new nose design is also controversial. While design chief Gorden Wagener said it is pure and emotional, I think otherwise. Its reshaped front grille and slim, wing-shape headlamps are shared with the recent CLS. The grille is set lower thus the bonnet drops more heavily towards the nose. Nevertheless, the new headlamps with its inverted profile works against the sense of sleekness, although the new car has its aerodynamic drag actually improved to a class-leading 0.25. Both its upper and lower grille feature active shutter to achieve that figure.

As expected, the chassis employs higher percentage of high and ultra-high strength steel to enhance rigidity, while more attention to NVH suppression was paid to address the complaints associated with the old car.

One big change is the suspension. To reduce cost, Mercedes learns from Volkswagen Golf to equip the less powerful models (i.e. A180d and A200) with torsion-beam rear axle, while more powerful models (from A250 and all cars with 4matic) employ 4-link suspension mounted on subframe. The wheel carriers and spring control arms are made of aluminum to cut unsprung weight. Up front, all models employ MacPherson strut setup, expectedly, but again weight is saved by using forged aluminum tranverse control arms and cast aluminum steering knuckles. There are 2 options for suspension tuning: a standard comfort setting and a sportier, 15mm lower setting. In addition, you can opt for adaptive dampers.

The interior design is overhauled. Like many recent Mercedes, it features 5 jet air vents, a low-set dashboard and a flat-panel instrument plus infotainment display. The latter consists of a pair of 7-inch screens as standard, but you can upgrade to 7in + 10.25in or twin-10.25in units, which is shown here.

In the beginning, the A-class is available in 3 models:

A250: it is powered by the M260 2-liter turbo engine, which is the transversely mounted version of the M264 we have seen on E350 Coupe/Cabriolet. Output is rated at 224 hp and 258 lbft. The former is improved by 13hp. New features include Camtronic 2-stage variable valve lift, friction-reducing conical shape cast iron cylinder liners, piezo injection, electronic wastegate and a centrigal vibration damper to support the twin-balancer shafts.

A200: it introduces the new M282 1.33-liter turbo motor co-developed with Renault-Nissan (the latter calls it 1.3 TCe 160, annoucned in December). Interestingly, Renault-Nissan describes its plasma-spray bore coating as taken from GT-R, while Mercedes uses its patented Nanoslide trademark to call it. The Mercedes unit produces a remarkable 163 hp and 184 lbft of torque. It features a new, compact delta-shape cylinder head, 250bar direct injection and electronic wastegate as well as cylinder deactivation which shuts down the center two cylinders at partial load to save fuel.

A180d: this is the least interesting, not least because small diesel engines are dying but also because it is an updated version of the Renault 1.5d engine used previously. Its output is improved slightly to 116hp and 192 lbft thanks to some refinement like higher injection pressure. Emission is taken more seriously by using SCR and particulate filter.

Apart from the standard 6-speed manual gearbox, two 7-speed DCTs are offered, one for lower power models and another for A250 up. The latter is said to be developed from the existing unit, so the lower power DCT should be sourced from Renault.

3 Feb, 2018
Industrial News

BMW M3 to be dropped early

BMW will stop building M3 from August when the next generation 3-Series is launched. Unfortunately, the next M3 will not arrive until 2020. This means there will be an empty window for more than a year.

Traditionally, the M3 is kept building well into the first model year of the next gen 3-Series. However, since the new WLTP emission test method has come into force, it would not be possible to fulfill the emission standard without installing particulate filter and reapplying for type approval. As the current 3-Series will be no longer produced by then, BMW considers doing the re-certification independently for the M3 would be too costly, thus decided to axe the model earlier than planned.

Don't worry, you will be still able to buy its coupe version, M4, though. Since the 4-Series is not going to be replaced soon, the entire range will be modified to comply with the new test method.

2017 sales results

The second round of 2017 sales results:

- Volkswagen
- Audi
- Renault
- Dacia
- Samsung
- Volvo
- AutoVAZ
- Proton

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