28 Jul, 2017
Rolls-Royce Phantom VIII

The outgoing Rolls-Royce Phantom VII lived for nearly 14 years before its retirement earlier this year. Now its successor, Phantom VIII, is finally unveiled. Its exterior design is hardly new, which is probably right to the conservative taste of its customers. The tall and blocky shape is kept intact, only the design details and the faster rear window distinguish it from the old car. Again the wheels are giant 22-inch items. Even so, they fail to hide the bulk of the car. At 5762mm long, 2018mm wide, 1646mm tall and 3552mm in wheelbase, the new car is roughly the same size as the old car. Its 2625 kg kerb weight is 140 kg more than the early Phantom VII though.

The new chassis is again an all-aluminum spaceframe (without carbon-fiber elements, unlike the BMW 7-Series of the same group), but its rigidity is lifted by 30 percent. Rolls-Royce improves NVH suppression further by a lot of measures, such as applying 130kg of insulating materials, using foam-filling double-aluminum skins at the floor and bulkheads, 6mm-thick double glazing windows and even specially developed tires with a foam layer. The result is 10 percent lower noise level.

The chassis rides on a new double-wishbone front axle and 5-link rear axle. Self-levelling air suspension is standard again, but it is now added with Magic Carpet Ride technology, which is BMW's version of Mercedes Magic Body Control. It uses a 3D camera at the windscreen to scan the road ahead and adjust the suspension stiffness accordingly.

The V12 engine still displaces 6.75 liters as in the tradition of RR, but it is now added with twin-turbochargers like Ghost (whose engine is 6.6-liter). It produces 571 hp and 664 lbft of torque from 1700 rpm. The engine is hooked to an ZF 8-speed auto which is again linked to GPS. Top speed is regulated at 155 mph, while 0-60 mph takes 5 seconds, which is slower than the lighter Ghost.

Access to the rear seats is again provided by huge rear-hinged doors. The center console between the two individual seats contains a cooled wine cabinet with Whisky glasses. Rear passengers are served with individual infotainment systems with dedicated controls. Oh yes, the LED startlight roof is carried over to the new car. Everything sounds familiar to the existing owners of Phantom.

24 Jul, 2017
Jaguar XJR575

Jaguar has given its long-serving, 7-year-old XJ a refresh. The new line-up is headed by the updated performance flagship, now called XJR575. As suggested by its name, its 5-liter supercharged V8 has its output lifted from 550 to 575hp, while max. torque increases from 502 to 516 lbft. This state of tune is exactly the same as F-Type SVR, if not the 600hp version of the latest XE SV Project 8. The additional power improves its 0-60 mph sprint by two-tenths to 4.2 seconds, and its speed regulation is lifted from 174 to 186 mph, so it is finally a 300km/h car.

Like lesser models, the XJR575 has been given a new electric power steering, which enables it to equip automatic driving aids like parking assist and lane-keeping assist. Otherwise, the XJ range gets only some minor cosmetic tweaks and an updated infotainment system. It does not receive any more mechanical updates, as the next generation XJ is tipped to arrive in 2019, most likely as an all-electric car.

21 Jul, 2017
Lotus Evora GT430

The Lotus Evora gets more and more powerful through the years, from the original's 280hp to 350hp when a supercharger was bolted on its Toyota-sourced V6, then enhanced further to 406hp on Evora 400 and 416hp on the Sport 410. It also gets more and more expensive in the process, from £50,000 to more than £80,000. However, that is not the end of the upgrade. The latest GT430 lifts the Evora further to the territory of Porsche 911 GT3, thanks to a power upgrade to 436hp (DIN) at 7000 rpm, 325 lbft of torque at 4500 rpm (up from 302 lbft on the 400 and Sport 410), and its price jumps to £112,500 - yes, the same as the new 911 GT3! This might raise some eyebrows, but Lotus boss Jean-Marc Gales will tell you that the GT430 is a limited edition with only 60 units to be built, although he won't tell you iterations of similar "limited editions" will follow, and the volume Evora will inevitably adopt many of its new parts soon.

Anyway, the Evora GT430 has a look deserving that high price. I have never liked the 400 and 410's angular front end and rectangular intakes, which didn't gel with the original design of Evora. Now the new car finally rights the wrong with redesigned bumpers and aero kits. It looks not only far more beautiful but also more like a track car. Both front and rear bumpers are made of carbon-fiber, which partly explains the car's elevated price, as are the aero kits (including the high-mounted rear spoiler), the roof panel and louvered tailgate. The front bumper incorporates channels that draw air towards the outside of the wheels to form air curtains, reducing tubulence hence drag. The larger diffusers, the huge rear wing and larger boot spoiler explain why the car can produce 250 kg of downforce at top speed, a massive increase from the 64kg of Sport 410. It needs only 90mph to match the max. downforce of the latter.

With the 10kg-lighter titanium exhaust fitted as standard (it was optional on Sport 410), lighter springs and dampers and rear brake discs etc., the car is said to be 26kg lighter than the Sport 410, with a dry weight of 1258 kg.

Lotus did not detail the changes to the 3.5-liter supercharged V6, but you can expect conventional means like a faster-spinning supercharger to increase boost and a remapped ECU, no space science. The V6 is mated with a lighter single-mass flywheel and, as before, a Torsen LSD. A new traction control offers 5 levels of slip for you to choose from.

Both front and rear tires are 10mm wider at 245/35ZR19 and 295/30ZR20 respectively, and they remain to be Michelin PS Cup 2 (what else could be better suited to a road & track car?). The suspension is upgraded with Ohlins (manually) adjustable dampers and stiffer Eibach springs, and they save 10 kg combined. The AP Racing brakes at the rear use 3-piece discs with lightweight aluminum hub, saving 2 kg.

So how fast is the GT430? Lotus claims 0-60 mph in 3.7 seconds, two-tenths shorter than the Sport 410, while top speed is unchanged at 190 mph, not bad considering its massive aero kits. Most important, it laps the Hethel track in 1:25.8, 2.4 seconds quicker than the Sport 410 and 0.7 second faster than Exige Sport 380. This means it is currently the fastest Lotus road car. Whether it is fast enough to rival the new 911 GT3 on track is not sure. Previously, Gales claimed the 400 and Sport 410 offered the highest performance for their class. This time I haven't heard such claims.

20 Jul, 2017
Opel Insignia GSi and Buick Regal GS: twins with different hearts

With no plan for OPC version, this GSi is going to be the range-topping model of Opel Insignia Grand Sport. Disappointingly, it uses the same 260hp / 295lbft 2.0 turbo motor from the existing Insignia 2.0T as well as the same 9-speed automatic transmission, GKN Twinster 4x4 (with rear-wheel torque vectoring) and CDC adaptive damping. Therefore, its performance is expected to be the same as well, i.e. 155 mph top speed and 0-60 mph taking just under 7 seconds. Not exactly a performance sedan (well, it's a hatchback actually). What differ it from the lesser 2.0T are minor: Brembo brakes, 20-inch wheels, stiffer suspension setting with 10mm lower ride height, a hardcore "Competition" mode and sport bucket front seats. The front and rear bumpers have been smartened up as well.

Although the GSi loses 2 cylinders and 65 horsepower from the last OPC, it is 160 kg lighter, thanks to the E2XX platform as well as the downsized engine. As a result, Opel claims the car laps Nurburgring quicker than the OPC.

Meanwhile, its American version Buick Regal GS is unveiled on the same day. Outside, it shares the GSi's bumper treatment, so only the badges differ. What makes it superior to its twins sister is the engine. It adopts GM's 3.65-liter LGW naturally aspirated V6, with direct injection and cylinder deactivation that leaves 4 cylinders running in cruising. Output is rated at 310 hp and 282 lbft, identical to the version employed by Buick LaCrosse, so the car should be a little faster than its Opel sister.

However, the Regal GS is not the only version of Insignia Grand Sport to feature a V6. Last December, Holden Commodore was already unveiled with both the V6 and the 2.0T engine.

The Regal also features the same transmission, 4WD and adaptive dampers. Its suspension setting is likely to be softer than the Opel's, and it rides on smaller, 19-inch wheels, which is evident from the larger wheel well gaps shown in the picture. Inside, the bucket seats are virtually identical.

15 Jul, 2017
Honda Accord Mk10

The current Honda Accord is not exactly a good-looking car. Comparatively, the new, 10th generation Accord has a sleeker shape, but it seems to me uglier still, blame to the strange nose and headlights that are toppled by the extensions of the chrome grille. Its proportion isn't much better either. There are sedans and fastbacks in the mid-size family car segment, but the new Accord seems undecided on which way to go. The result is a fastback followed by a small boot, which isn't easy on eyes. The side profile is equally flawed. It adopts a banana-shape side profile that so far only Mercedes-Benz managed to look stylish. Instead, the Accord looks fat in the middle, like an average American man in his 40s. Yes, the Accord is 41 years old now.

However ugly it is, its proportion is sportier than its predecessor's. Honda managed to cut 10mm from its length but inserted 55mm to its wheelbase, extending the latter to 2830mm. Meanwhile, the car gets 10mm wider and 15mm lower. Its center of gravity is lowered by 10mm as well.

Inside, the extended wheelbase liberates 50mm to rear legroom, so it should be one of the roomiest in the class. By putting the front seats closer to the center line, Honda claims some improvement to hip and shoulder room, too, although it declines to comment on headroom.

The interior design is all-new, of course. The design and materials look more up-to-date. The dashboard is set lower and sleeker. The infotainment screen is now free-standing rather than recessed into a pod, as it is now a touchscreen.

54 percent of the monocoque chassis is made of high-strength steel now, among which 29 percent is ultra-high-strength steel. As a result, torsional rigidty is lifted by 32 percent, while kerb weight of the car is reduced by 50-80 kg depending on models.

Suspension continues to be MacPherson struts up front and multi-link at the rear, but there are detailed changes. The front suspensions now use aluminum lower control arms to save weight. They are also mounted on an aluminum front subframe. The rear are mounted on a more rigid subframe. All four suspensions are mounted through hydraulic bump stops for better NVH suppression. Big news is the availability of adaptive dampers for the first time.

The case of 80kg weight saving must be the range-topping model, because it follows the segment trend to abandon the outgoing 3.5-liter V6 for a 2-liter DI turbo. The four-cylinder motor is said to be a detuned version of the Civic Type R's. The turbo and intercoolers are smaller, of course, but it seems to retain the i-VTEC system consisting of dual-VTC and exhaust variable valve lift. It produces 252hp and 273lbft, good for its kind but in terms of horsepower it still trails the old V6 by 26 ponies. It offers more torque, and way more at lower rpms, but don't expect it to be quicker against the clock. This engine mates with a new 10-speed automatic whose ratio spread is a massive 68 percent wider than the old 6-speeder yet weighs 10 kg less. The outgoing 6-speed manual is carried over. Since only 4 percent of Accord drivers take this option, new development is not justified.

The outgoing 2.4-liter base engine is also replaced by a downsized turbo. It is the new 1.5-liter DI turbo found on Civic. Max. output is 192 hp and 192 lbft, both more than before. It is mated to either the 6-speed manual or a new CVT, whose ratio range is again stretched wider.

Honda said the lighter 2.0 turbo and 10-speed auto result in front-to-rear weight distribution of 61:39, "a significant improvement versus the current V-6 and 6AT Accord". However, my fact check from C&D road test found the old car recorded 61.7:38.3, so it is not exactly a significant improvement.

13 Jul, 2017
Hyundai i30 N

Hyundai has finally introduced its performance brand "N" on the i30. It is supposed to capitalize on the company's participation in WRC. However, that is more about image than content, because the i30 N follows very much the formula of VW Golf GTi and Peugeot 308GTi to be a practrical hot hatch rather than the equal of Civic Type R or Focus RS. Like its rivals, it is available in 2 versions, one cheaper and another with higher performance. Both are powered by the company's 2.0 T-GDI turbo engine, but while the standard car produces 250 hp, the car with Performance package generates 275 hp. These numbers are very close to Peugeot's but more than VW. Both versions deliver the same maximum torque of 260 lbft, and both cars are capped at 155 mph. The standard car is good for 0-60 mph in 6.1 sec, while Performance pack improves that to 5.8 sec. A 6-speed manual gearbox is mandatory, but it features rev-matching function on downshift.

The i30 N features launch control and adaptive dampers. The Performance pack brings also an electronic-controlled LSD (like Golf GTi Performance), larger 19-inch wheels, Pirelli P-Zero tires, larger brakes and sportier-sounding variable exhaust to the equation. The other side of the equation is an additional weight of 29 kg.

Outside, the car features more aero kits as expected, but overall it is not a great-looking design, just like the regular i30. Inside, bucket seats are the most obvious change, yet they are not expecially attractive to eyes.

What does "N" mean? According to Hyundai, it has double meaning: Namyang and Nurburgring. The former is the location of the company's R&D center in Korea, while the latter is the place at which it underwent extensive testing and chassis development. Like the rest of the range, the hot hatch is built at the plant in Czech Republic.

13 Jul, 2017
Industrial News

Viper to say goodbye

Production of Dodge Viper is finally coming to the end next month, as its assembly plant is scheduled to shut down on 31st August. The car will not comply with new safety regulations enforced from September anyway. Through the first six months this year, just over 400 Vipers have been sold. That is also why it is not going to be renewed. The first generation Viper was born in 1992, but its formula has never changed, so it is already 25 years old.

12 Jul, 2017
Aston Martin Valkyrie prototype

Aston Martin revealed its supercar AM-RB 001 this time last year. It was designed by Red Bull Racing's star designer Adrian Newey using his F1 know-how. 150 road cars (plus 25 race cars) will be built, each at a cost of £2.5 million, making it even more expensive than Bugatti Chiron. Now after one year, the concept has been developed into a prototype, which is said to be 95 percent close to production. The car also gets a formal name, Valkyrie.

As these pictures show, the car has underwent some big changes in aerodynamics, mainly to increase downforce. It is said to be capable of producing 4000 lb (1800 kg) of downforce at top speed! A figure I have never heard for road cars. A key contributor is the massive venturis built under the car, which is evident from the picture below.

The prototype shows the interior for the first time. The carbon-fiber passenger cell is extremely narrow. Moreover, you get into it from the very small gullwing doors like Le Mans car drivers. In fact, you might just call the doors as windows, because they open up to the shoulder line only. This means you have to climb into the cockpit skillfully. I hope Aston will offer free Yoga lessons to help its billionaire customers mastering that technique!

The cockpit has 2 seats but absolutely no shoulder room for both. The seat pads are moulded into the floor to save space like LaFerrari. The footwell seems to be seriously offset to the center line as the carbon-fiber monocoque is shaped like F1 cars to increase air flow passing either sides. The only luxury item is as many as 4 LCD screens on offer, but each of them has special purposes. The one on the racing-style steering wheel displays the driving information as the car has no instrument pod. The one on the center console (is it a console?) displays secondary information as well as rear view from the rearward camera, since the car has no rear window at all. Likewise, the screens at either sides of the dashboard replace door mirrors. The Valkyrie takes aerodynamics to the extreme.

No technical specifications have been confirmed, but insiders said the car's Cosworth-built 6.5-liter V12 in combination with an electric motor will produce around 1130 hp to the rear wheels through a Ricardo-built 7-speed single-clutch automated manual. Meanwhile, the car will weigh around 1030 kg, so its power-to-weight ratio will exceed Koenigsegg One:1. In addition to that massive downforce, no wonder Aston said it will lap Silverstone circuit just as quick as an F1 car!

However, there is still a lot of work to do for the development and testing. First delivery is not expected until 2019. Ironically, such a lengthy development is very un-Newey.

12 Jul, 2017
Industrial News

Faraday Future cancels factory

Back in January, I already said the future of Faraday Future FF 91 electric crossover was highly doubtful. Now it is closer to death. The company has announced the cancellation of the plan to build a factory in Nevada, USA, which was originally supposed to start production at the year end. This means the FF 91 has to be built elsewhere, probably by a contract manufacturer like Valmet or Magna, but considering the company owes its suppliers substantial money, I suppose no one will be dare to help.

Faraday Future's parent company, LeEco of China, is in deep financial trouble. Recently, Shanghai court freezes US$180 million worth of its assets as it is being chased by China Merchants Bank. Its founder Jia Yueting stepped down last week as Chairman. I believe the white knight would cut unprofitable business like the electric car operation.

11 Jul, 2017
Audi A8 Mk4: high on tech, short of style.

Welcome the new, 4th generation Audi A8! Not so welcomed is its conservative, or even dull exterior design. Obviously it is a small evolution from the old car's styling. The key change is the wider hexagonal front grille, but its front end looks bulkier than the old car's, more like that of the current Q7. Sadly, this car shares little of the aesthetic of the 2014 Prologue luxury coupe concept, which was ironically tipped to be previewing the next A8!

The new A8 is marginally larger than the old car. In standard form it is 5172mm long (+37mm), 1945mm wide (-4mm), 1473mm tall (+13mm), while its 2998mm wheelbase is barely 6mm longer. The long wheelbase version adds 130mm to the car's length and wheelbase.

In terms of technology, this car should eclipse Mercedes S-class and BMW 7-Series to be the world's most advanced mass production car. This starts from a multi-material spaceframe chassis that consists of aluminum, magnesium and carbon-fiber reinforced plastics (see illustration below). The majority of it (58% by weight) is still aluminum in various forms, i.e. stamped, extrusion and casting, but the places subjected to the most severe side impact, i.e. side rails, A and B-pillars, are now made of ultra-high strength steel, which is stronger than aluminum. Meanwhile, the wall separating passenger cell and boot is made of CFRP, and the front suspension tower brace is made of magnesium. Torsional rigidity of the chassis is lifted by 24 percent, although it is an alarming 51kg heavier!

As before, all suspensions are aluminum 5-link and mounted on subframe. They are served with adaptive air springs and damping, but now you can specify a fully active suspension called AI active suspension. Each corner is served with an electric motor, which can apply up to 811 lbft of torque to the suspension through a coupling rod, raising or lowering the suspension rapidly to react to bumps or driving needs. In case a side collision is anticipated by the clever impact detection system, it can jack up the suspension of that side so that the strongest section of the body (i.e. the sills) can be positioned optimally against the impact. The electric motor at each corner is supplied by the car's 48V electrical system. This means the A8 is the second car in the production world (just behind SQ7) to feature 48V system.

The active suspension needs better road-reading. This is made possible by using a new laser scanner (mounted at the front bumper) in conjunction with long-range radar and cameras. These hardware also allows the A8 to be the world's first production car capable of Level 3 autonomous driving under some conditions without needing the driver to keep monitoring. In traffic jam, the driver can activate the autonomous driving function, then the car will follow the traffic, applying accelerator, brake and steering automatically. However, it is not yet developed to be fool-proof at higher speeds, so above 60km/h (37mph) it will give control back to the driver. If he fails to react, the car will brake to stop.

The 48V electrical system is supplied by a Li-ion battery mounted under the boot. It is charged by a new, more powerful starter-alternator which can recover as much as 13kW from braking. Predictably, this allows the A8 to feature standard mild-hybrid power. You might remember I talked about ZF's hybrid 8-speed transmission in AutoZine Technical School not long ago. It contains a disc-shape electric motor inside the transmission casing. With this transmission, the A8 can utilize electric power to assist propulsion in coasting mode. This allows the car to coast up to 100mph with the engine shut down for up to 40 seconds. The electric motor may also assist acceleration. The mild-hybrid tech reduces fuel consumption by 0.7 liter/100km.

The engine range is more predictable:
  • 3.0 TDI V6: 286hp / 442lbft
  • 3.0 TFSI V6: 340hp / 369lbft. It is a detuned version of the one serving S4 and S5. Single-turbo, Miller-cycle compatible.
  • 4.0 TDI V8: 435hp / 664lbft. Comes from SQ7, with e-booster.
  • 4.0 TFSI V8: 460hp. A development from the existing engine, with cylinder deactivation.
  • 6.0 TFSI W12: 585hp / 590lbft. Audi finally adopts the W12 turbo from Bentley, but it is the new version of Bentayga, with cylinder deactivation and 2 twin-scroll turbos.
The last one is e-tron. It is a PHEV combining the 3.0TFSI engine, an electric motor and a 14.1kWh Li-ion battery under boot floor. It offers an EV range of 50km. Again, the electric motor is part of the ZF Hybrid transmission, but it opts for the largest (122hp) motor available. Total system output is 449hp and 516lbft.

As expected Quattro is standard. It uses crown-gear center differential to split torque 40:60 front to rear under normal condition. Active rear differential is optional.

Other technologies include headlights employing HD LED matrix high beams and laser spot (like R8 LMX), OLED taillights, rear-wheel steering, remote parking and active noise cancellation (to deal with cylinder deactivation).

What a pity it looks so boring!

1 Jul, 2017
Porsche 911 GT2 RS

Another car has entered the 700hp Club. The new Porsche 991 GT2 RS features a revised 3.8-liter turbo engine to make 700hp and 553 lbft of torque, which is 120hp and 37 lbft more than the current 911 Turbo S. Compared with the last generation, 2010 GT2 RS, it is 80hp stronger. The extra power comes from larger turbos and the addition of water injection to the intercoolers, very simple. On the downside, the new car weighs 1470 kg DIN, a full 100 kg heavier than the old car, although it undercuts the Turbo S by 130 kg. As before, the car is rear-drive, but the change to 7-speed PDK gearbox accounts for some of the weight gain. Others include the stronger engine and the larger, 991-series chassis. Standard titanium exhaust saves 7kg, but not enough obviously.

Many of the chassis parts mirror the naturally aspirated GT3 RS, such as the similar carbon-fiber bonnet, front fenders (with air vents) and huge fixed rear wing, the magnesium roof, the same tires (Michelin PS Cup 2, 265/30ZR20 front, 325/30ZR21 rear) and 4-wheel steering. However, the nose looks rather different, thanks to XL-size intakes. Inside, it shares the same racing buckets with the GT3 RS as well, despite the "GT2 RS" wording. Expectedly, the rear seat is ditched in favour of a half roll cage.

The GT2 RS is very expensive. In the UK it costs £208,000, the same as a McLaren 720S, which is a lot of money for a 911. If you take the optional Weissach pack, it will add another £21,000 for a weight saving of 30kg by means of carbon-fiber roof, anti-roll bars and magnesium wheels.

How fast is it? Porsche claims 211 mph top speed and 0-60 mph in 2.7 seconds. The former is 3 mph shy of 918 Spyder, while the latter is merely a tenth inside the time taken by the regular Turbo S. Moreover, many publications found the latter actually took 2.5 or 2.6 seconds to do so. In reality, I guess the 2-wheel-drive GT2 RS will struggle to match the Turbo S for standing start. However, once it has overcome traction problem it will be very quick. It takes only 8.3 seconds for 0-124 mph, identical to Ferrari 488 GTB, if not quite as quick as McLaren 720S (7.8 sec). The Turbo S needs 9.9 sec. Besides, Porsche also hints that it will lap Nurburgring under 7 minutes.

1 Jul, 2017
Industrial News

AMG chose 53 as its new model number

As reported before, the new Mercedes 3-liter straight-six turbo engine (with an electric charger and a large exhaust gas turbo) will produce in excess of 400hp. Now it is known that its AMG version will make 435 hp, and it will be paired with a 67 hp electric motor for a total of 503 hp, even more than the base version of AMG 4-liter V8 (476hp on AMG GT) ! Cars equipping with this engine will be called -53. The first appearance will be CLS53, then followed by C53, E53 etc., replacing the existing -43 models.

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