Thursday, 27 January 2011

Fonder of the Zonda: Part II

Following the leaked magazine shoot of the Pagani Huayra last week, the official shots of the car have now been released, along with some concrete stats. The headlines are a 6.0 litre twin turbo V12 bespoke from AMG, using the SL Black Series block with bespoke internals. A seven speed paddleshift gearbox, not a dual-clutch but a lighter automated manual, and rear wheel drive transmit the power, which will be available in two states of tune, the sensible 700bhp and a sports model with 730 brake and a further 150lb/ft of torque, producing 811, due to the tuneable blown nature of the engine. Active aerodynamics on all four corners take the form of moving aerofoils to produce tailored downforce, helping to a 3.2 second 0-60 dash and 235mph tops.
In these properly shot pictures the 'God of Wind' Huayra (apparently and unfathomably pronounced "Wirer") does look better than before, with the classic Pagani quad exhausts and intricate wheels and air scoops. The front apron still jars for its toothy, fussy nature, dwarfing the tiny headlights to give a whale's face on a shark's body. The profile itself is very Great While-alike, though does take adjusting to due to the adsence of a trademark Pagani permanent wing.

Inside is the usual bling-tastic affair of leather, carbon and titantium to give a uniquely insane cockpit, though the new infotainment system and larger interior dimensions contribute to Pagani's claims of this being a more GT focused car, and therefore 140 kg heavier than the Zonda. This is due to the car's homologation for the American market, as seen with Koenigsegg's CCX - bigger dimensions, less focused, equals stateside sales. American noise legislaltion is also the reason for a very muted exhaust note at idle and low speeds, often the case with turbocharged motors but still a shame; Pagani will offer a sports exhaust system if customers want to bait the law.

Yet another 'better in the metal' car? Possibly, though the Huayra always had a hard act to follow thanks to the Zonda in a world where million dollar supercars are less and less acceptable. See what you think to the photos, and mull over a group test between this, the new Lambo Aventador, the Porsche 918 Spyder and the upcoming Enzo successor.

Does the front panel - fit look right to you?

Speaking of Ferrari, here's the latest picture of the FF. Whether you agree with a practical Ferrari or not, it's a head turner.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Fonder of the Zonda

New Italian exotic news is coming thick and fast. Ferrari unleashed the FF yesterday, and Lamborghini has announced production plans for the Estoque saloon as well as the Sesto Elemento, and of course the eagerly awaited Murcielago flagship replacement.

One of the most hotly anticipated performance cars of 2011, another Italian supercar, has just been leaked onto the internet, and rendered its expensively shot teaser films rather a waste of time. The successor to the Zonda, the Pagani Huayra, has been spilled onto the web following a magazine cover shoot, and while styling is of course the most subjective aspect of car preference, it has to be said that the new car is much less of a looker than the Zonda.
The test hacks seen patrolling around Italian country roads were intially forgiven as camoflauged unfinished examples but as these first pictures display, the new twin turbo V12 Pagani isn't as coherent as its father. It enjoys the same quad headlamps, trademark tailpipes and agressively styled stance, but it remains nowhere near as classic as the original Zonda in any of its forms.

As more (official) pictures get released, along with performance figures and initial drive impressions, the Huayra may well grow on petrolheads, but as yet it's pretty hard to swallow, and especially ironic since as Ferrari regains its styling mojo, Pagani has well and truly dropped the ball.

The New 4 x 4 x Ferrari

If you've already heard about it, then you've already got an opinion. If you haven't, then you're about to. Today's shock reveal is the explanation behind the very odd-looking test hacks doing cold weather testing in the hands of Ferrari engineers recently. The Ferrari FF. 'FF' meaning For Four (four seater) and, in a first for a production Ferrari, a four wheel drive transmission layout.

So as one would expect from the 612 Scaglietti replacement, it's got four seats, though more interior space from an idential road footprint, more power, up 22% from the 612 to give a sonorous V12 with a 599 GTO-chasing 651 bhp. Garnishing the package mechanically are the standard Ferrari ceramic brake systems and a seven speed dual clutch transmission. It's the all wheel drive that will get motoring forums chattering the world over though. Like the systems seen in ordinary soft-roaders, just working in the opposite configuration, the FF is maintained in an anti-understeer, performance orientated rear wheel drive state until the stability control systems (dubbed here by Ferrari as 4RM) sense slip in the front wheels and channel a portion of the power forwards, pulling the nose back into line and increasing traction. It's very trick stuff, and added to the fact that the FF comes in 50kg lighter than the RWD 612, is undeniably impressive. In addition to the low weight, the more advanced launch control and power output give the FF superior perfomance figures to the tune of 0-62 in 3.7, and 208mph flat out, the first time a four seat Fezza has officially been able to achieve the double ton. Further engineering voodoo allows the FF's naturally aspirated motor to produce more torque and less CO2 than its predecessor, and while potential customers may not be fussed about a 5mpg improvement, it looks good on Ferrari's behalf.

Ah yes, the customer. Ferrari are pitching the FF (surely it needs a more emotive name) as an alternative to AWD saloons and premium SUVs used in winter environments and holidays - attarcting a new "all roads, all weathers Ferrari customer." This is perhaps the contentious part. Audi proved with the R8 that an exotic car can have the merits of AWD, ie better traction and stability and yet be just as playful as a RWD car, while Porsche have been using it to control the 911 Turbo for decades. Quattro is now an integral part of the Lamborghini brand under Audi. This is under the assumption that the cars are better for having four driven wheels in all environments, not merely to apply to one demographic of customer who wants to find the limits of drivability on the way to his ski break. Like the fashionably folding roofed California, the FF does prove further than unlike ten years ago, when Ferrari made desirable fast cars and the customer comprimised for them in order to enjoy the privilege of owning a Prancing Horse, now Ferrari are chasing customers and being dictated to themselves.

Should probably wrap up with a word for the styling. These studio based shots invariably make cars appear more plain than the do when photographed in 'real life' but to these eyes the FF is quite a success, proving the 458 was no fluke. The Italia-esque headlights and grille make for a less garish face than either the 599 GTB or the 612, and the rear is tidy too.

The profile is interesting, with hints of the 250 GTO Drogo or 'Breadvan' from the 1962 24 Hours of Le Mans. Clearly the shape has allowed a good mix of beauty, aerodynamics and interior space, but I immediately likened it to something a little less cultured, more controversial, as have many motor website members around the world. See the resemblance?
Speaking of new car updates, my own latest acquisition will be gracing these pages soon... but it's not a Z3 M Coupe.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Cometh the Hour. Cometh The Plan.

Last week saw the reveal of the next step in Caterham's 'natural progression' of models, and the first non-Seven car in 15 years. The clumsily titled Caterham-Lola SP/300.R was one of the stars at the Birmingham Autosport International Show, with good reason, with stats of 300bhp Ford Duratec power and a typically Caterham sub 600kg weight. Simple sales facts state that while penned currently for a one-make race series and serious track day enthusiasts, in the vein of a budget FXX (without the test bed system or Ferrari bureaucracy) the 300.R will eventually spawn a road legal version to take on cars such as the Lotus 2-Eleven, and that other British manufacturer of spartan racetrack specials, Radical. Speaking of which...

Also at the Autosport show, Radical unveiled a similarly large step in car production, their equally seductively named SR3 SL, Radical's first car designed, in their eyes (and words) specifically for road use. Of course, large pinch of salt included, this is Radical's interpretation of road use, so if as a possible potential customer, you're after heated cupholders, cruise control and parking sensors, don't hold your breath. The SL (Street Legal) boasts creature comforts that amount to slightly more compliant dampers, mated to road legal wheels and legislated tyres. Propelled along by the EcoBoost engine Ford will be hoping for good things from in the new Focus ST, it turns the wick up to chuck out 300bhp, which by pure coincidence of course is exactly the same power output quoted slightly earlier in this post. The car doesn't deserve mocking however; a six speed sequential 'box and very BMW Art Car-esque livery show the new Rad means business, especially in its natural habitat of the summer track day.

That's the facts and figures dealt with, and you may very well be thinking that they're really not that important, that two very similar looking cars, evolutions on a common theme, from two tiny fringe manufacturers appealing to a marginal target audience of enthusiast petrolheads with £40k going spare are wholly irrelevant.

That's the exact reason that they're worthy of mention, since nothing could be further from the truth. Hate to preach the facts of motoring life once again, but as all drivers know the cost of fuel, the relentless war on the car and its driver through tax, speed policing, congestion and yet more tax means it's pretty hard to enjoy a good car on a good road, in the UK anyway, right now. Yet Caterham and Radical have weathered the economic storm, invested, and now produced cars which are very much of their time. Light weight, heavy on interaction, small capacity, medium output, but enormous set-up know how to produce what will no doubt be excellent drivers' cars.

They are by no stretch of the imagination practical, the Caterham isn't even road legal yet, but since it's nigh-on impossible to enjoy sustained periods on the majority of roads nowadays, so what? These cars are purely an indulgence, a pared down minimalist concept to give maximum driver satisfaction, and in an age where everyone from BMW to Lambo are trying to save weight, fuel and money, while keeping driving pleasure (Joy?) on a high, Caterham and Radical couldn't be more of the moment. The same goes for Ariel, and Lotus for the time being, before the ambitious new range direction coughs into life. The featherweights may possess qualities only a lucky few will ever get to experience, and not have to conform to countless obstacles that befall the mainstream car industry, but they do prove sports cars have a future, as does enthusiast driving, and that's a lead to be grateful for, and that the rest of the world will follow.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

The World Is Not Enough

There's been a great deal of talk in the motoring press recently regarding the slow death of the old order of sports cars, and how in a time of increased financial and environmental responsibility, the sensible path to go down to keep cars relevant is with small capacity, assisted induction engines, powering lightweight cars through dual-clutch semi-automatic gearboxes. Elements of this technology are by no means in their infancy, with aspects being evident in everything from a standard Volkswagen Golf right through to the latest high performance supercars. And the current supercar king is the Ferrari 458 Italia. It's won deserved praise for looking great, a proper return to Pininfarina form, but the real merit, and the source of its domination, lies in the sophistication of its drivetrain, and its relationship in turn with the extremely sophisticated aerodynamics and electrical systems.

The aggressively pretty body features sculpted surfaces to direct and manipulate the air, cooling the car and pressing it into the road. The front winglets balance downforce with minimal drag at speed, while beneath the surface there's a seven speed dual clutch transmission with seamless gearchanges. This is connected to another remarkable achievement: a 4.5 litre V8 that produces 562bhp and revs to 9,000 rpm. Working out at 125 horsepower per litre is an achievement of such epic scientific and engineering proportions that if it appeared in a military tank rather than the back of an Italian berlinetta, it'd be regarded as top secret. Furthermore, it's a naturally aspirated engine. No turbos, superchargers, hybrids or KERS here. The 458 may therefore have extremely advanced traction systems and a gearbox that can outperfrom the humans that designed it, but at its heart is a last vestige of the old school: a high revving, refined, powerful, and above all unassisted motor that has propells the car to 202mph, and the top of a fair few perfect garage wishlists. It is certainly one of the best cars in the world right now.

And yet, it is not enough. Not finished in the eyes of some. The thirst for human individuality, and oneupmanship, knows no bounds, and the 458, for all of Ferrari's investment and tinkering, is not exempt from this.

Enter Undergroud Racing, and American outfit in the vein of Germany's Novitec Rosso, who specialise in tuning up the world's ultimate cars. If you've heard of them before and remember them with foreboding it may be due to their effort last year to clock their twin turbo kit Gallardo at a Veyron-baiting 250mph. Specifically, this effort. Non-fans of, look away now...

Assume it comes as standard with a rear panel
No doubting the potency of Underground Racing (UR)'s additions then. And now, as you may expect, they've turned their attentions to the world's best supercar, the 458. The last vestiges of natural aspiration are discarded in favour of upping the powerplant through twin turbos to give an as yet unquoted horsepower output, but expect something approaching four figures in order to stay fashionable with the top of the tree offerings from Bugatti, Hennessey and SSC. It is an impressively neat installation, and the end result will no doubt be capable of spectacular performance. But with the naturally aspirated petrol engine perhaps not long for this world, and the stock factory 458 already revered as such a sensational driving machine, you've got to be a serious speed freak to not see this as slight sacrilege.

This is not a blatant attack of UR, since in part they should be applauded for being the first tuners to bite the bullet and try to improve Ferrari's efforts. Also, thankfully UR do their best to keep the orignal car's looks, making it the most tasteful conversion if you really do need it. Soon the floodgates will open and all the usual suspects like Hamaan, Hartge, Mansory and TechArt will follow suit with turboed and supercharged add-ons, though most of the extra power is required to haul around the obligatory unattractive bodykit and enormous deep-dished wheels. If you like tuners and support them for pushing the boundaries, then the 458 as a base car could in due course produce some of the most outrageous driving machines on the road. If however you view it as the 'more money than sense' side of the fence, and wish the last NA cars weren't being interfered with, stay away from MTV. A tuned motors' finest hour is never on the drag strip. It's as a music video accessory, a display of wealth and scene of seduction for any self-respecting boy from the hood. You pays your money...

This used to be an innocent Enzo. Cheers, Gembella...
Hooray for tuning

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Year of the Sports Car

Happy New Year all. Apologies for being a bit thin on the new post front over the festive season, due to two reasons: there's very little car news or motorsport going on this time of year to get worked up about, and I have been preoccupipied with the delightfully stressful experience that is buying myself a car at last. More on that as things start to happen in the coming weeks, fingers crossed.
Apart from my own motoring treat to look forward to, it does seem that there's plenty for all car fans to get excited about in the coming year. If you're down with the winter, post-Christmas blues, check out the rundown below to see just why 2011 is a performance car fan's dream

Since the timing of such releases is subject to change I'll ignore the chronology and get straight in with the heavyweight new showings. Due this summer is Lamborghini's headliner, the lighter, 700bhp Murcielago replacement, most likely to be named Jota or Aventador. Tantalising sample drives of test hacks have proved promising for several journos so the future looks bright.
It could only be a Pagani
Wading into battle against the new Sant'Agata car is the new Pagani model, taking over from the hallowed Zonda with another bespoke AMG V12, this time assisted by flavour-of-the-month twin turbos to give likely well in excess of 700bhp also. Could be quite a clash, as Lambo tries to prove it can still produce outrageous yet driveable cars in the wake of economical and environmental obstacles, while Pagani must simply ensure the beloved Zonda wasn't a fluke. Stopping constant 'last ever special edition one-off' run out specials every other month for well-heeled fans might be a start. Lamborghini meanwhile has caved in to demand for its Sesto Elemento carbon concept car and looks set to make a very limited run of non-road legal special for favoured customers. Considering the popularity of the extortionate Reventon in 2009, sales won't be hard to find.

The English New World Order comes in the form of the Aston Martin One-77 and McLaren MP4-12C, the latter of which will probably provide the twin test of the year when it goes up against the Ferrari 458 Italia. Also to look forward to in the lesser powered stakes is a totally new model from Caterham to sit as a "logical expansion" to the current lightweight lineup.
The natural home of the modern exec saloon...the Nordschleife

Germany potentially has much to be proud of in the form of the forthcoming iterations of the Audi RS3, Porsche 911,  Mercedes SLS cabriolet and BMW M5. The Ultimate Driving Machine's ultimate expression of the current 3-Series, the very orange M3 GTS, will meet customers as of this month, while the hotly-anticipated 1-Series M will vie for business with the top spec Porsche Cayman R. Meanwhile fellow countrymen Seb Vettel and Michael Schumacher are again ones to watch in the 2011 F1 season.

Love or loath it, the 911's back (no pun intended)

Still keeping up? In that case enjoy the thought of Ferrari publicly revealing three new models this year: a convertible 458, the SA APERTA (read open-top 599 GTO) and 612 Scaglietti replacement for the 2+2 GT model line. Versions of some of the supercars mentioned above will also be seen doing battle on the world's racetracks in various endurance and GT3 series, all stripped out and festooned with wings that wouldn't embarrass a B-52. And there's a chance of a new world's fastest production car if the new SSC Aero-successor arrives on time.

Of course there's the usual raft of new family hatchbacks with frugal petrol and/or hybrid power, as well as controversial releases like the Range Rover Evoque and Mini Coupé. So while the mass manufacturers contine to push in ostensibly the right direction, in efficiency and safety, there's still plenty on both the road and racetracks to lust after (and aspire to) in 2011. Get the annual out, it's going to be a vintage.
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