The Ram's Eye - A Driver's Blog: January 2013


Saturday, 26 January 2013

Car and Driver's Lightning Lap 2013 - A Closer Look

They've finally posted it! The 2013 Lightning Lap feature is finally available online (full article: Lightning Lap 2013: Hot Cars, Hot Track, Hot Laps). I know it has been available in the February issue but I don't buy the magazine so I haven't been able to read it until today. It is kind of bittersweet for me though. You see, I love the Lightning Lap feature. They test all the performance vehicles that either came out or were upgraded the year before. This makes it a very exciting event/test but it also means that there is only 1 Lightning Lap feature in a year, so I am both excited for the new one and disappointed that I have to wait for a year for the next one. Anyhow, for road racers and track day veterans, it is a great test (or set of tests).

There are many reasons why the Lightning Lap feature is great IMO. Except for the SUV class, which includes vehicles like the Jeep SRT and BMW X5 M regardless of prices, cars are divided in classes depending on price ranges. This is very helpful, especially if you're shopping for a good track car with a budget because you can zero in on the specific price range and look at lap times and reviews. The reviews are also short and sweet. Car reviews don't get right to the point any more than this. They highlight the strengths and weaknesses of each car and summarize their subjective driving impressions - that's it. If you want to modify and don't know where to start, knowing weaknesses can help pointing you in the right direction and having so many reviews in one place makes it that much easier. And last but certainly not least, knowing lap times earns bragging rights.. if your favourite car (or the car you've just bought last summer) posts a quick lap. That's not always the case though. The Lightning Lap can bring just as much shame and disappointment as it can pride for cars that fail to meet their expectations.

There are many fast times and many "slow" times, but only very few are truly impressive or disappointing. It's important to note that picking a car as an impressive or disappointing one doesn't mean it is the quickest or slowest in class. It just means that, in my opinion, the car posted either better or worse lap times than their specifications might suggest.

The Highs (by class):

LLOINK (cop cars): Dodge Charger Pursuit - The Dodge Charger Pursuit was very impressive, turning in a lap time of 3:17.8. This time beats the last generation, more powerful Charger SRT8 despite all the extra weight of the police gear and nearly matches the 3:17.5 time of the much more sporty Infiniti G37 Coupe Sport despite (the Infiniti) having a better power-to-weight ratio. Better not try to outrun this one!

LL2 ($30,000-$59,000): Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE - The high here is clearly the Camaro SS 1LE. With a price tag under $40,000 and without a power bump over a run-of-the-mill Camaro SS, it is amazing how far some suspension changes can go. Forget the Boss 302 LS, which this Camaro was meant to go against (and beats by just over a second). This Camaro manages to just beat the near race-ready 2007 Porsche 911 GT3 and barely loses to GM's first iteration of the mighty C6 Z06 - the 2006 Corvette Z06. Think this is not fast enough for a heavy Camaro? Car & Driver said they made a couple of downshifting mistakes and they think that with a fresh set of tires and a completely clean lap, the Camaro could post a sub 3 minute lap which puts it in a very elite group. 

The Lows (by class):

LL1 (up to $29,999): Ford Focus ST - For me, the disappointment here is the Focus ST, with a lap time of 3:21.4. I had high hopes for this car, especially after reading about how well it handles. I am not really sure what is letting this car down but the car missed the second day of lapping, which usually is the day they record their fastest laps and that's very possible since you can record better lap times the more familiar you get with the car. 

They are suggesting that the engine may also have hurt the lap times, providing less torque midrange than its 252 lb-ft rating may suggest. I doubt that that's the main reason though. While the torque range may be weaker than expected, it is still plenty. They think the lack of a mechanical limited slip differential may have hurt lap times as they found the brake-based limited-slip-differential-effect didn't hold up to track abuse and still sent the inside front wheel spinning and wasting power. The brake-based limited slip function has been criticized by many and its shortcomings are no surprise. I think the lack of a true limited slip differential and missing second day lapping are what really hurt the lap times. I wouldn't be surprised if, with more seat time on the track and a true limited slip differential, the Focus ST may be well under the 3:20 mark.

LL3 ($60,000 - $119,999): BMW M5 - The BMW M5 was definitely a low in my opinion. This new twin-turbocharged M-badged BMW is no slouch but the latest iteration of the M5 loses to the Audi RS5 and the now-over-4-years old LSA powered CTS-V. Lap times aren't everything though, so what about driving feel? "The M5's brake pedal lacks tactility, so we struggled to find the ideal braking points," they said, "the brakes never failed, but their inconsistent performance shook our confidence." The brakes were strong one lap and weak another. It understeers and provides little communication from the front wheels to the steering wheel and it feels pointlessly hefty (which usually means the steering weight feels artificial). 

The latest and greatest from BMW's M-division understeers? Althought unacceptable for an M car, I could maybe understand if they tuned some understeer to tone it down and make it appeal to a larger market. But why the inconsistent braking feel? And the elephant in the room, why the lack of communication and steering feel in a BMW M car? Oh, and it's about 200 lb heavier than the Cadillac CTS-V sedan. The BMW M5, which used to be the benchmark for a family sports sedan, is an overweight, understeering BMW that lacks braking and steering finesse. Something is seriously wrong here. 

LL5 ($240,000 and above): Lexus LFA - The only entry in this year's super expensive class - the Lexus LFA. With a best lap time of 2:55.1, it is far from slow but after looking at other lap times, it becomes apparent why it is disappointing. For example, the Camaro ZL1 is only 2.4 seconds slower, despite being nearly 600 lb heavier and not much more powerful - the Lexus actually has a better weight to power ratio of 6.45 lb/hp vs the Camaro's 7.10. The Lexus is purpose built from the ground up with a bespoke chassis and engine and, according to Lexus, took 10 years to develop from concept to production ready. It seems like it should pull a much a greater lead, especially considering its almost ridiculous price tag of nearly $400,000. This would definitely be disappointing to (the few) Lexus owners who are car enthusiasts.

Honourable Mentions:

LL2 ($30,000 - $59,999): Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 - it's a Camaro that's as fast as a (last generation) 911 Turbo S while maintaining perfect street manners and comfort, thanks to excellent chassis tuning and magnetic shocks. Enough said. Did I mention that it's quicker than the Mercedes Benz SLS AMG?

LL3 ($60,000 - $119,999): Mercedes Benz C63 AMG Black Series - besides the awesome "Black Series" name, AMG has shown that they can build more than unapologetic, oversteering, loud and powerful Merc's. They wanted to build an excellent and balanced track car and they certainly did. 

LL3 ($60,000 - $119,999): Ferrari 458 Italia - while it is never a surprise when a Ferrari posts a great lap time, the Ferrari simply earns the spot because of what the Ferrari engineer announced when they received the car for testing. He said it "Is-a okay if you crash-a de car.. as-a long as you get a good lap-a time." Only a person speaking for Ferrari would say that.

2008 LL1 (up to $29,999): Chevrolet Cobalt SS - the turbocharged Cobalt SS, which has been out of production for over 2 years and is over 5 years old, is still the people's champion. It still holds the second fastest lap time ever in the (least expensive) class and beats several cars from the next class up. It is second only to the 2011 Mustang V6 and 2006 Nissan 350Z Track, both of which are only 0.5 seconds quicker, several thousand dollars more expensive and RWD. Plus, after accounting for inflation, the 350Z Track would actually move up into the next class.

2012 LL2 ($30,000 - $59,999): Ford Mustang Boss 302 Laguna Seca - Although it loses to the Camaro SS 1LE and ZL1, it still holds one of the quickest lap times in the class - 3:02.8. It is only beat by those two Camaros and a couple of Corvettes in its class and beats several cars from higher price brackets. The sound and driving experience are world class and I suspect it should have no problem shaving a couple of seconds off its time with simple modifications. In their review, they said the car has too much rear end grip, which is unsurprising considering the Torsen differential, wide rear wheels and staggered tire setup. This probably hurt front end bite and turn in. The tires could have probably hurt the lap times too as the stock tires don't take too well to heat cycling so they probably lost grip after the first day, which could affect the best lap time since they usually record their quickest times on the second day. With a set of tires that are sticky as the stockers but take better to heat cycling and a square tire setup, I wouldn't be surprised if this Mustang can pull a 3:00.x time or even break into the very elite sub-3-second group. 

Overall though, I think it was a great Lightning Lap. There are some cars that I would have liked to see but weren't tested. There's always next year though so hopefully we will see them. Are there cars that you would have liked to see but they weren't tested? Which cars do you think were the most impressive or disappointing?

Source: Car and Driver.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

2013 Camaro SS 1LE vs 2013 Mustang GT Track Pack - A Closer Look

Unsurprisingly, a Camaro vs. Mustang comparison grabs a lot of attention. Motor Trend's recent comparison of the 2013 Camaro SS 1LE and the 2013 Mustang GT Track Pack (full article: 2013 Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE vs. 2013 Ford Mustang GT Track Pack) has fans of each car fighting in the comments section. I'm hoping a closer look at the results and the review could clear some of the air, although I know it won't mean anything to the diehard fans.

The Camaro has been winning reviews lately. Most comparison tests between the ZL1 and 2013 Mustang GT500 crowned the ZL1 as the winner. Although the GT500 is faster in all aspects, it is less composed and loses lead as time and laps go by due to brake fade. The Camaro ZL1 also beat the Boss 302 LS because, while the Boss 302 LS is more fun on the track, the power advantage and suspension tuning of the ZL1 propelled it to a win on the track and the magnetic shocks give it a more comfortable ride on the road. The Mustang still had one comparison to win though; the Mustang Boss 302 vs the Camaro SS 1LE.

When Motor Trend tried to do that comparison, Ford declined to provide a Boss 302. They said that the Boss is a stand alone model and even gets its own engine while the 1LE package is simply an option package that is added to a standard Camaro SS, much like the Track Package for the Mustang GT. As a result, Ford provided a Mustang GT Track Pack. Regardless of the reason why Ford declined, the Mustang GT with the Track Pack is the underdog because the 1LE package was clearly put together by Chevy to have a model to go against the Boss 302 and the Mustang lost another battle.

Looking at the acceleration tests, it is clear that the two are very even matched in terms of acceleration:

2013 Chevy Camaro SS 1LE:

0-30 mph:                  1.8 s
0-40 mph:                  2.4 s
0-50 mph:                  3.2 s
0-60 mph:                  4.3 s
0-70 mph:                  5.4 s
0-80 mph:                  6.8 s
0-90 mph:                  8.3 s
0-100 mph:              10.2 s
Passing, 45-65 mph:  2.0 s
1/4 mile:                   12.7 s @ 111.8 mph

2013 Ford Mustang GT Track Pack:

0-30 mph:                  1.7 s
0-40 mph:                  2.6 s
0-50 mph:                  3.3 s
0-60 mph:                  4.4 s
0-70 mph:                  5.5 s
0-80 mph:                  6.8 s
0-90 mph:                  8.4 s
0-100 mph:              10.2 s
Passing, 45-65 mph:  2.0 s
1/4 mile:                   12.7 s @ 111.9 mph

On the track, however, the story is different. The Camaro pulls a 3.07 seconds lead, which is a lot, especially on 1.55 mile laps. The first issue is braking. It takes the Mustang 110 ft to get from 60-0 mph while the Camaro does the same deed in 101 ft despite being over 200 lb heavier. The second issue is apparent after looking at the numbers at the end of the first section of the track and acceleration numbers. In a straight line, both cars are neck and neck with identical 1/4 mile times and almost identical trap speeds. However, on the first straight, the Mustang has a top of speed of 102 mph while the Camaro goes up to 104 mph.

It is important to note that the Camaro doesn't only achieve a higher top speed, but it achieves it a little later down the straight. Based on that and the almost identical straight line acceleration performance, I can assume that the Camaro didn't out accelerate the Mustang. Instead, the driver (Randy Pobst) was able to stay on the power longer in the Camaro while having to lift off the throttle earlier in the Mustang. This probably means that he was feeling more confident in the Camaro but had to set up for the turn a little earlier in the Mustang. Problem? The Mustang is less stable. In the review, it was described as having a squirmy rear end and too much body and suspension movement. It is clear that the Mustang also has less grip as the Camaro consistently pulled more lateral g's in the corners. This is unsurprising, since the Camaro has 285 wide tires at all four corners while the Mustang has to do with only 255's.

All of this results in the Camaro taking the win and, with over 3 seconds a lap lead, it is quite the beating to the Mustang. But How did the Mustang lose? It is over 200 lb lighter, can keep up on the straights and has been compared by Motor Trend to a BMW M3 and lost by less than a second which should mean that the Mustang isn't bad around corners, and that was even before some 2013 model year upgrades. Well, it isn't bad. It's actually far from it. The Camaro is just dialled in that good. Although it is heavier, it has better weight distribution so it's easier to balance, it has an independent rear end, which is much better at keeping the rear end in check, and now it has the 1LE package which was put together with one goal in mind - to beat the Boss 302 - and it did just that, which is impressive with more weight and less power.

Mustang fans should be happy, though, not just Camaro fans. In fact, they should be proud. The Mustang has been the handling champ for 2 years while the Camaro was being criticized for too much understeer and lack of agility. Ford was the first to step up the handling game with the 2010 Mustang GT and then it gave it a stout engine to match - the Coyote - for the next model year. And even though the Mustang was already the better track car, that wasn't enough for Ford.. They pushed the envelope even further and introduced the Boss 302 and Boss 302 LS - arguably the best handling Mustangs and some of the best handling and most fun to drive cars on the road, despite being stuck with a live rear axle.

This comparison is also not the end of the story for the Mustang. There are a few things to make out of this about it:

1- It can keep up on the straights so the engine does not need work to keep up with the Camaro on a track.
2- It needs more rubber/wider tires.
3- It has a great, agile chassis but a lot of movement so more grip means even more movement. Body movement has be addressed before the grip issue is fixed.
4- It needs more stopping power (and more rubber could be enough fix that issue).

With endless aftermarket options for the Mustang, owners should have no trouble turning the performance up a notch. More damping, some front and back stiffening and more rubber and a 5.0 Mustang Track Pack should have no trouble keeping up with a Camaro SS 1LE on a track. The same can be said about Camaro owners wanting to push them even further. Both Mustang and Camaro fans should be proud of how capable they are off the showroom floor and, with street cars, the Mustang will always have the weight advantage and the Camaro will always have the more compliant rear suspension. If you are not loyal to either nameplate, go test drive each and I am sure you will be happy with at least one and be able to pick the platform you want to work with.

Think you can't live with either shortcoming? Wait until the next generations come out which should be out in 2 years or less. The next Camaro is going to utilize GM's new lightweight Alpha RWD platform and the Mustang is supposed to ditch the solid axle and gain an independent rear end.

Source: Motor Trend

Sunday, 13 January 2013

The Stingray is back! Details about the new 2014 C7 Corvette.

The stingray is back! Chevrolet decided that the new Corvette is worthy of the moniker and I don't doubt that it is. The base model is already faster than the Grand Sport of the current generation. It is all new and improved from the ground up, sharing only two parts with the C6 Corvette. The car looks very similar to the renderings that were based on the leaked drawings and it certainly doesn't disappoint. The new rear end is starting to grow on me but I can't say I wouldn't have liked to see round taillights. According to Chevrolet, form followed function when it came to the exterior design.

Chevrolet has used its racing experience in sculpting the exterior and placement of scoops and grills that all work towards improving the aerodynamics of the car. Hot air off the radiator is directed out of the engine bay, up and over the car instead of under to help keep heat away from the differential and transmission. A lower roof helps keep centre of gravity low but without sacrificing space. The car now sports a wider stance and longer wheel base which should help improve the car's ride.

The improvements also go deeper than the new skin. Technologies from the top dog ZR1 have trickled down to the base Corvette. Lightweight carbon fibre roof and hood and an aluminum frame now is the basis for the entire Corvette line up and a rear mounted transaxle helps with weight distribution, which should be 50/50. All together, the new Corvette is 99 lb lighter than the old one while the chassis is 57% stiffer, which improves both handling and ride. Magnetic shocks have also made it down to the base models as an option. An electrically assisted steering system with variable effort has been completely reworked to provide better feedback. The steering is going to be 5 times stiffer than the system in the current generation. 

Get inside the car and you'll be treated to an all new interior which is definitely a huge improvement over the last generation. The interior of the current generation has been a point of criticism among all reviews and it's great to see that GM has stepped up the game. Molded plastic will not be seen anywhere, even in the base models. Fine, soft touch materials wrap the entire interior with Napa leather available as an option in different colors and genuine aluminum and carbon fibre trim pieces are also available as options. The current generation's seats have also been criticized for not having enough bolstering and GM has addressed the issue with two seat options: a base GT seat that's designed for comfort over long distances while still providing enough support for occasional track use and a competition seat with plenty of support that's aimed at track use and includes cutouts for a 5 point harness. Both seats have magnesium frames that help save weight. 

Not much new has been revealed about the beating heart of the C7 Corvette - the new Chevy small block V8. As expected, it is estimated to produce around 450 hp and 450 lb-ft torque and return a better fuel economy rating than the current 26 mpg rating. GM is estimating a 0-60 mph time of under 4 seconds, which isn't surprising since the current Corvette is in the low 4 second range and this one has more power and torque and is also lighter. 

Connecting the engine to the wheels is either a 6-speed automatic or a 7-speed manual. The manual has rev matching capabilities on both upshifts and downshifts. The vehicle recognizes when you move the shifter towards a gear and even if you change your mind and decide to move to a different gear, the vehicle picks up on that and knows what gear you're going to get into. The rev matching function can be completely defeated though if you want to blip the throttle yourself to rev match and set for your gear changes.

Active handling, exhaust valves, throttle maps, magnetic ride control, and transmission shift patterns are among 12 attributes that the Driver Mode Select (DMS) changes based on five modes. The five modes are Weather (for low traction conditions), Eco, Tour, Sport and Track. The different modes should assist drivers at better controlling the car in different conditions and at different experience levels. The assists can be completely defeated though if you want to take full control. 

It seems like Chevrolet looked at the few shortcomings of the current Corvette, fixed them and then improved all the bits and pieces to build an outstanding sports car. I cannot wait until the first test to learn about how it drivers and performs!

Source: Information came from the live reveal video. Pictures came from Car & Driver.

Live Streaming of the reveal of the C7 Corvette!

Today, the reveal day of the C7 Corvette, has been one of the most anticipated dates of 2013 for many car enthusiasts. We don't know everything about the new Corvette but we do know a few things. The Corvette is staying true to its traditional formula since the C2, a V8 in the front and rear wheel drive. The only exception to the formula has been a straight six for the first generation Corvette. The engine will probably be set further back like the C6 Corvette for better weight distribution but a mid-engine layout is not going to be used, at least for this generation, and no twin turbo V6 is planned for the first release.

The exterior design seems evolutionary rather than revolutionary, which is great IMO because I love the shape of the Corvette. The rear split window doesn't appear to be making a comeback, according to the (supposedly) leaked drawings of the C7. The rear end will keep the signature quad exhausts but they seem to be placed closer together and look like one set of 4 tips instead of two separate sets of two tips. The signature round taillights seem to have been replaced by more rectangular shapes, reminiscent of those found on the current generation Camaro. I personally prefer the round ones but it's too early to judge the rectangular ones without even seeing them on the car instead of just a drawing.

This is doubly special because not only will we see the new Corvette for the first time, we will probably also get to find out more about the new small block V8 which will find its way under the new skin of the Corvette and different versions and displacements will probably power all the new GM V8 applications - the next Camaro, next full size trucks and SUVs and possibly the next CTS-V if it continues to use a V8 (which is likely IMO). We know it will feature direct injection, variable valve timing and cylinder deactivation which will allow it to run as a 4 cylinder V4. (Read more about the new small block V8: Chevy Unveils New LT1 Small-Block V8)

First official pictures will be posted on the reveal page on Facebook -  1.13.13 - The Reveal of the 2014 Corvette and the official reveal will be live streamed to the reveal website starting at 6:55 pm Eastern time - Countdown to the New Corvette | 2014 Chevy Corvette Reveal so be sure to stay tuned!

Sunday, 6 January 2013

2013 Cadillac XTS AWD Platinum - A Closer Look

In a 2-page, 10-paragraph, car review of a luxury sedan, Car & Driver failed to review much of the car besides the CUE (Cadillac User Experience) infotainment system. They go on and on to complain about the CUE system but they mention very little about the engine and ride of the car. There are basically only two paragraphs that talk about the engine and the suspension.

I can't say whether the CUE system is as bad as they say because I haven't tried it yet. However, in their review of the engine, they only mention two aspects; the hp output of the engine (304 hp) and the 0-60 mph time, which is 7.2 seconds. They then criticize the performance for being only adequate and move on. In the next paragraph, they criticize the suspension for not being as sporty as the ATS and a numb, light steering feel but say it has a nice balance between body control and comfort.

I do agree that the straight line performance is only adequate but I'm not sure why that's a problem. For a long time, Rolls Royce had a tradition of rating the output of their engines simply as "adequate", because that's all you need in a big luxury car. If it's not sports luxury, adequate power is enough. Very few people would argue about the Mercedes S-Class being a true luxury car. It is one of the most recognized large luxury cars (if not the most recognized) and one of the most prestigious as well. I remember reading Motor Trend's review of the Mercedes S350 BlueTEC 4MATIC (Mercedes lingo for AWD) diesel. They raved about it and said that it may be the one to have in the S-Class lineup, despite having much more powerful engine choices. 

Additional power over what the Cadillac XTS AWD and Mercedes S350 BlueTEC 4MATIC offer is very rarely, if at all, needed on the road. The Cadillac is just a little slower to 60 mph than the Mercedes (7.2 vs 7.0 seconds) but it is quicker midrange - 5 mph to 60 mph is dealt with in 7.6 seconds in the Cadillac vs 8.6 seconds in the Mercedes. Some people will disagree about that being enough. What I'm sure everyone will agree about, though, is that how quickly the engine propels a car from 0-60 mph isn't the only important piece of information. How smooth are the transmission shifts? Does it hunt for gears? How quiet is the engine? Does it feel refined? Does the engine seem happy across the rpm range or strong and smooth only in a certain range? These and many other aspects of the drivetrain are more important than a 0-60 mph time, especially in a luxury sedan, but there was no mention of them. It doesn't get much better for the suspension review.

They say the suspension "nicely mixes body control and comfort" which sounds great to me but they think it is lacking. Why must a large luxury sedan that's designed to carry people in luxury and comfort, not canyon carving, handle like a compact sporty luxury car like the Cadillac ATS? Shoppers of the Cadillac XTS and other large luxury sedans are more interested in a comfortable and composed chassis, not going to autocross them or hunting for the perfect stretch of back roads to push the car around. How well does it soak up bumps? How does it transmit bump noises into the cabin? How does it drive at high speeds? Like the engine review, they focused on one aspect they don't like (the suspension not being very sporty), and did not give a detailed review of other more important aspects.

If you look close enough though and try to find the more important details about the car, you can. Judging by how critical they were of every aspect they didn't like, it is safe to assume that the engine and transmission are refined and well matched to the car. It is very quiet and comfortable, without being floaty. It out brakes and out handles the S350 BlueTEC without punishing its occupants and although it's nearly 700 lb lighter, it does not sacrifice space in the cabin or in the trunk. It has almost every safety and convenience feature you can find in a car today. The cabin is well designed and covered in fine materials - finer than those found in a Mercedes CL63 AMG, according to Motor Trend's first drive review. Car & Driver thinks it's adequate luxury. I think it's plenty of luxury with sufficient power. What do you think?