The Ram's Eye - A Driver's Blog: February 2015



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Saturday, 28 February 2015

Chevrolet SS 1LE Handling Package Possible!




Chevrolet delighted many car enthusiasts when it announced that it will offer a new model called the Chevrolet SS; a RWD sedan based on the Holden Commodore with a standard LS3 6.2 litre V8. Many considered it a replacement to the much loved but short lived Pontiac G8 which was also based on the Holden Commodore. Unsurprisingly, the Chevy SS has been well received in reviews since its introduction, like the G8.

Chevy decided that that wasn't enough, though. Last year, it decided to give another treat to the car's fans and made a 6-speed manual transmission available instead of just the 6-speed auto and the now-well-known GM magnetic shocks also became an option. I wasn't expecting much more to be changed from now on. Since the SS is based on the Commodore and also built alongside of it in Australia, it is expected to go out of production when Holden's manufacturing operations close in Australia and start relying on global GM platforms. A Motor Trend source, though, said that another update might be coming.

A suspension package based on the 1LE packaged offered on the Camaro SS is being considered. The car would use a square tire setup as opposed to the current staggered one, like the 1LE, and offer new dampers and a retuned suspension. It's unclear if a "retuned suspension" includes only springs and antiroll bars or it is more involved. The 1LE currently brings more to the Camaro, such as upgraded wheel bearings, toe links and shock mounts as well as a strut tower brace. Moreover, the transmission gets unique, close-ratio gears more suited to the track, a Torsen limited slip differential to put the power down better and a ZL1-spec fuel pump to ensure fuel starvation is not an issue in high g corners.

The 1LE makes the Camaro SS a very formidable track machine, posting a 3:01.5 lap time at VIR in the hands of Car and Driver, which puts ahead of cars like the Jaguar XKR-S, Porsche Cayman S, Boss 302 Laguna Seca and even GM's own last-generation Cadillac CTS-V. The last SS tested by Car and Driver weighed just 50 lbs more than the last Camaro SS 1LE they tested, despite having an auto while the Camaro had a manual, so additional weight shouldn't be an issue. The 1LE package is known to be very stiff, though, so I suspect the SS would get a softer setup more suited to a large sedan and be a little slower. Still, the best the F10 BMW M5 could do was 3:05.2 so even if it loses a few seconds to the Camaro, we could still be looking at BMW M5 performance for under $50,000 plus have a naturally aspirated V8 to boot, instead of turbo. That would be phenomenal. What's even more interesting to me, though, is the fact that maybe, maybe.. this means that the SS name will live on after Holden. I know it's a stretch but bear with me.

The platform Cadillac developed for the ATS and CTS is now being used to underpin the next Camaro so GM is not opposed to letting Chevy use Cadillac platforms. We have also seen more than one large RWD concept from Buick over the last few years, hinting at a possible halo model. That platform will almost certainly come from Cadillac, if such a car were to exist, so we know that someone at GM is already considering building another large sedan on a RWD platform other than the upcoming Cadillac CT6. Maybe Cadillac's platform for the CT6 will be shared with Buick for a halo model as well as Chevy for a replacement SS after Holden? Why would they spend any more development money on a model that is going to end production in less than two years (i.e. 2017)? We can only hope.

As for the 1LE package, Motor Trend's source says that the engineers know the part numbers to use so it can be put to production very quickly (i.e. within three to six months). The only thing left to do is convincing the decision makers it is worth it.. Please, build it Chevy!


Friday, 27 February 2015

2016 Ferrari 488GTB - 458 Replacement




I know this isn't a video of a 488GTB but bear with me. This is a video by Motor Trend of a 2010 Ferrari 458 Italia. It shows a very brief review and hot lapping at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca during the 2011 Best Driver's Car (BDC) feature. Play the video, skip to 0:42 and listen. Once you get to about 1:00, you should rewind back to 0:42 and let it play again to 1:00. I did that a few times. That's what the Ferrari 458 Italia sounds like, with a screaming 4.5 litre V8 that revs all the way to 9,000 rpm, where it produces peak aural pleasure and power. Rev matching downshifts are awesome. What an engine. What a noise. Sadly, the replacement of the Ferrari 458 will almost certainly not sound like that. 




The 488 GTB will replace the 4.5 litre V8 with a 3.9 litre V8 that makes peak power at 8,000 rpm and will probably redline at the same point like the last one, which would mean a drop of 1,000 rpm. A pair of turbochargers ensure what's left of that high pitched noise is muffled and that F1-like noise is guaranteed to go the way of the actual F1 noise when they went turbo. What a shame. Check out a similar video above, this time showing a brief review of a 2012 McLaren MP4-12C and hot lapping at Laguna Seca during the 2012 BDC feature. Skip to about 0:48. That engine is very similar to what Ferrari is doing; almost the exact same size (3.8 litre), V8, twin turbocharged, with a flat-plane crankshaft and revs to over 8,000 rpm. If you want to know what the next Ferrari will sound like, this will probably give you a very good (but disappointing) idea.




It isn't all gloomy, though. The turbos, as always, bring a nice dose of torque. While horsepower gets a healthy 64 hp bump from 597 hp in the 458 Speciale to 661 hp, torque gets a huge 163 lb-ft jump from 398 lb-ft to 561 lb-ft. That torque is available at a low 3,000 rpm as opposed to 6,000 rpm in the 458, once again courtesy of the turbos.




Ferrari quotes a lap time around Fiorano of 1:23.0 which is only 0.5 seconds quicker than the 458 Speciale A. I'm surprised it's that small a difference with more peak power and a lot more power throughout the rpm range but it should also translate to a much wider gap on a longer track. Both cars will get to 62 mph in 3.0 seconds but that's mostly traction limited. As speeds increase, the newfound power starts to show, though, as the 488GTB gets to 124 mph in only 8.3 seconds and eventually tops out at 205 mph vs 9.5 seconds for the 458 with a top speed of "only" 202 mph.




Outside, the car looks like an evolution of the 458. The new car boasts 50% more downforce while reducing drag. Weight distribution stands at 46.5%/53.5% front-to-rear which seems to come closer to the neutral 50%/50% than typical mid engine cars. Ferrari quotes a dry weight of 3,020 lbs which is 22 lbs lighter than they quote for the standard 458 Italia. As is typical of European dry weight stats, though, they are far from street trim. The lightest 458 Italia Car and Driver tested came in at 3,325 lbs in road-ready trim and I suspect the 22 lbs "dry" weight advantage of the 488GTB would disappear is street ready trip after the intercooler is filled and (probably) larger radiator.




Inside, the 488GTB looks very similar to the 458 and stays true to Ferrari's minimalistic and driver-focused styling. There's still no touch screen or column stalks. The steering wheel handles just about everything you would expect column stalks to do, such as lights, wipers, and turn signals, in addition to the damper setting, engine start, and Ferrari’s manettino chassis-control switch.




I'm sure this will still wow reviewers and will probably be an excellent example of the turbocharged breed, delivering linear power delivery and smooth throttle response. Still, when the most track capable Mustang got replaced, (i.e. the Boss 302 getting replaced by the GT350), the new car stayed naturally aspirated and even increased capacity going from a 5.0 litre V8 to a 5.2 litre so there's something to be said for that. But then again, Ford went with a twin-turbo V6 on the halo car, the Ford GT, so maybe we can't blame Ferrari. Either way, I'm looking forward to how well this is received. I suspect the 458 Italia will, one day, become incredibly sought after, being the last screaming, naturally aspirated, mid-engined and non-hybrid Ferrari.


Wednesday, 25 February 2015

2016 Cadillac CT6 Surprise Unveil




In an unprecedented move, Cadillac chose to unveil a brand new car (one that is currently going to sit at the top of the lineup at that) in an Oscars commercial instead of a car show or press release. Meet the CT6, completely unveiled, although we'll have to wait until the New York Auto Show for the official debut with all the details and get a better look at it from different angles. I think it's a very smart move, capturing an unexpected moment and a lot of excitement, but only time will tell if it will pay off in sales.

I've always been a fan of Cadillac's Art and Science design language and this is no exception. I think it looks great and elegant. What's even more important to me in this segment is looking substantial but not bulky and demanding presence. I think it hits all the right marks.




As far as mechanical details, so far it's expected to receive 3.0 litre twin-turbo V6 and an optional plug-in hybrid powertrain that should get about 70 mpge. It will be RWD based and should offer AWD as an option. And despite its size (measuring over 8 inches longer than a CTS and clearly wider) it will be lighter by 53 lb. so any engine that is adequate for a CTS should be adequate for this, which includes the 2.0 litre 4-cyl turbo and 3.6 naturally aspirated V6. Cadillac CEO, John de Nysschen, said in an interview that the CT6 will eventually get a very wide range of engines starting with a 2.0 litre turbo up to a high performance V8-turbo. Yes, you read that right, a turbo V8 not a supercharged one like the CTS-V. It is expected to be unique to the CT6 and should help it establish itself as a formidable competitor in the large luxury sedan segment such as the Audi S8, although I suspect its performance will be closer to the RS7.

Pricing is yet to be announced but de Nysschen previously said that the CT6 will not be halo model for long so it should be positioned lower than the Mercedes S-Class, Audi A8 and BMW 7-series. I would expect prices to start somewhere in the $60,000-$70,000 range. I think it will be an instant hit among reviewers like the ATS and CTS and will probably be several hundred lbs. lighter than the competition. Whether it will convince large German luxury sedan buyers to go to Cadillac, though is a different story. Here's hoping Cadillac will be successful! Check out the full commercial below.




Monday, 23 February 2015

1,000 hp Twin-Turbo Dodge Viper TA




Over 1,000 hp V10 engine, in a RWD car with a six speed manual. This car also happens to be a Viper, one of the most charismatic cars on the road. This is the work of RSI Racing Solutions through their RSI Twin Turbo Race Systems kit. Starting from $89,950 on top of the price of a Viper, the kit brings Precision 72 mm turbos (76 mm are optional) with custom associated plumbing, cooling, intake and exhaust. The kit also brings built forged block and internals with a 528 c.i. (8.7 litre) stroker kit. The heads and valvetrain, fuel system and clutch are also upgraded to handle the newfound horsepower. The transmission, clutch, differential and axles can also be built to handle the added grunt. If that's more than you'd like, you can forego the built block and heads and go with smaller, 62 mm turbos along with their plumbing and cooling and upgraded fuelling which starts at $44,950. This kit, called RSI Twin Turbo Systems is good for over 850 hp at the wheels. Awesome. Check out the video to see a Viper TA with the big, Race Systems kit, run on pump gas. 




Someone wasn't happy that Car and Driver posted this, though. He commented on the post and said:

"This is a commercial and NOT car news. And a 1000+ HP from a large turbocharged V10 is certainly not impressive when countless modified compact cars deliver similar power from small engines. This demonstration is embarrassing, with a car running like s**t."

The vast majority of car news come from press releases by manufacturers or aftermarket parts producers. I don't know what makes this less worthy. What makes it news is the fact that it is new information, not that it is produced for the purpose of generating interest in a product.

The running like crap part really gets me. Someone commented on the car shooting flames and sounded like it is misfiring so I'm guessing this is what this guy is going by as well. The first shot showing backfires is clearly revving while standing still, indoors, and most likely was temporarily tuned to shoot flames on purpose for the video. The other shot that sounds like backfires is while launching and bouncing off the limiter. Other than that, the car sounds good and at approximately 0:50 in the video, the car is pushed, you can hear it clearly from inside and it sounds great. Although we can't see a/f ratios, the dyno graph seems to be nice and smooth as well.

The worst part, though, is the argument about getting only 1,000 hp from a turbo 8.4 litre V10 and how it's unimpressive and unworthy of reporting. He then goes on and implies that a 1,200 hp Civic should be more worthy of reporting by saying this should be posted in a "Euro/Asian tuning magazine with the title:" American performance company gets 1000HP from a turbocharged 8.4 V10", next to an article about a few college students who got 1200HP from their modded Civic." I don't think I've ever seen or read about a Civic putting 1,200 hp to the wheels, and certainly not by a few college students. Not to mention, a Civic with anywhere near that much hp would be far less drivable, require much more maintenance and has a power delivery that's as linear as a light switch when compared to this. That's all beside the point, though. The guy completely misses the point of the video which was clearly made to excite not impress. 

Yes, a Civic with anywhere near 1,000 hp is impressive but that's not the point of the video. The same kit promoted in the video is capable of making over 1,500 hp to the wheels on E85 or race gas which is nearly 1,800 hp at the crank based on 15% drivetrain losses. They didn't post that dyno, though. They posted the one about the performance when running on 93 octane pump gas. The "accessible" performance. Not every one wants 1,800 hp. Not everyone wants to worry about E85 or have to find race gas. The video shows 1,043 hp to the wheels on the dyno, which is 1,227 hp at the crank, nearly twice the stock hp. Forget about being impressive or reaching the potential of the engine, that is certainly something to be excited about. I can certainly understand that the Viper is not everyone's taste but if you can't get excited about a 1,200+ hp twin-turbo Viper, with a V10, a six speed manual and RWD, you are not a gearhead in my book.


Sunday, 22 February 2015

Lexus LF-SA Teaser




When will Lexus spare the world from this terrible design language? A commenter on Motor Trend Wide Open Throttle's post said: 

"What a hideous, deformed, loud-mouthed, inside-out, upside-down terror is this?!?!? This...this "thing" is an utter disgrace. Wait, I'm sorry! That statement was a disgrace to "things" everywhere! I weep for Lexus enthusiasts everywhere (except BD, he probably deserves this)! Where did they get the inspiration for this monstrosity??? From a deep sea angler???

C'mon, Akio! What happened to the people who designed the FRS?? Were they mysteriously wiped out by an asteroid one night while working on this vehicle, so you decided to hire a bunch of teenage metal-heads who spend their days playing Zombie Apocalypse finish the design??? Oh man, if only there were enough negative adjectives to describe this horrible...this horrible....phenomenon.

I heretofore refuse to call whatever this ill-conceived hunk of metal is a "car" or anything remotely connected to what we enthusiasts and/or the general public relate to as being the modern automobile.

Ugh!
"

I couldn't have said it better myself. Lexus, please stop.


Small Block V8 RWD Drifting Minivan




This "Momkhana" video commercial is a spoof of Ken Block's Gymkhana videos. A second generation Toyota Sienna minivan has had its stock engine and drivetrain thrown out and replaced with a small block V8 and RWD. This is how minivans should come from the factory. Imagine pulling up next to this at a traffic light and hearing it. If at least one manufacturer made an optional trim/package for a production minivan of this caliber or close to, even if it's a turbo V6 with a simple FWD-based AWD system, minivans will be cool again. They probably won't sell well or make money for the manufacturers so it'll never happen. 




2015 Mitsubishi Lancer Evo MR Test - A Closer Look




"True, the Evo MR is an aged dog. Its equipment is antiquated." Who would have thought this would be how to describe an Evo? It has basically been unchanged since its introduction. In fact, the pictures posted here are from Mitsubishi's website. A link that takes you to a flickr Mitsubishi account where the pictures are titled 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution.

 The Lancer Evolution has always been a performance bargain, offering performance that nothing in its budget did but, with a starting price that's as close as makes no difference $40,000 and no updates since its introduction, that's no longer the case. You can get Camaros, Mustangs and Challengers that are faster and quicker now. Many people now know that a Camaro SS 1LE or a Mustang GT Track Pack are hugely capable on a track and can easily beat an Evo but would struggle to believe that a Challenger would beat an Evo on the track but during Car and Driver Lightning Lap features, a 2011 Challenger SRT8 392 did a best lap of 3:09.4 while a 2011 Lancer Evo SE did a best of 3:10.6. You can get the same important suspension and drivetrain bits in a Challenger R/T now with the Scat Pack without the luxury features and it starts just under $40,000.




Some would say the Evo is a couple of bolt ons and a tune away from having enough power to pull away and they would be right. But the Challenger is a big soft GT at heart and I would fully expect a set of stiffer springs and dampers that make it anywhere near as stiff as an Evo plus wider wheels and tires to match the newfound poise to easily extend that lead. I do know that Evos have immense potential when fully built with enough power to take advantage of the available grip due to the AWD system but that's more effort, time and money than most people want to put into their cars.

If domestics aren't your cup of tea, you can go for a Golf R, which would be far, far more refined and comfortable, you would think you were in a Mercedes S-Class if you sit in one right after you jump out of an Evo. If you don't mind spending a few grand more and step in the mid $40k's territory, you could get a lightly optioned M235i or an S3. The same applies to a 335i, although to get a 335i close to that price range, you would have to leave all the option boxes unchecked and you would probably be hard pressed to find such an example on a dealer lot. Still, it shows you what's available in that price range. You could also give up some performance for luxury and get a well optioned A4 or 328i or step back into domestic territory and get a Chevy SS or a Charger SRT8. Much, much more car for the money and a lot more performance.




I will admit, when you stop looking at numbers and only consider the experience, it will be very different for the Evo compared to any of the other cars mentioned above. The little mechanical noises and lack of comfort that all the others lack will make you hate it on a long trip but feel a lot more "raw" when you start pushing it. And save for maybe the SS 1LE, the Mustang GT and the M235i, the Evo will feel much more agile and direct. Of course, there's also something the Evo can't give you which is the RWD driving dynamics. I've driven a new Evo GSR a few years ago and I had a lot of respect for it and what it can do but the AWD system, while very impressive, made the driving experience feel lacking anywhere short of a track. I came away very impressed but not in love. 

After looking at the numbers, though, one thing becomes clear.  The traction of the AWD system in the Evo is unmatched. Except for the Golf R and the Audi S3, all the cars below have been proven to be faster than the Evo around VIR during Car and Driver testing. The new Mustang hasn't participated in a Lightning Lap yet but the S197 Mustang GT Brembo was quicker than the Evo. The S197 Track Pack was quicker than that around a track and the new S550 Mustang GT Track Pack is even quicker. The Challenger R/T Scat Pack should be at least as quick as a 2011 SRT8 392 since it gets the same running gear and should be slightly lighter without the luxury features. Yet, their average g numbers in the MT figure-eight test are far behind the Evo despite being close in terms of time and the Camaro actually matching it. The secret? Traction, I think.

As the cars go around the figure eight, there's turning as you go through the number eight "top" and "bottom" curves, there's acceleration as you exit these turns and there's braking as you approach them. All the acceleration, braking and turning g forces contribute to the overall average g. All the cars are very comparable in terms of braking and lateral grip, with the Camaro actually being much better on the brakes. The three muscle cars are far ahead in terms of acceleration and the BMW, Golf and the Subaru are still significantly faster. These cars couldn't have lost that much in the "straight" sections in the figure eight, the braking going in the turns or going through the turns. The only possible section where the Evo could make that big a difference is corner exit; being able to distribute as much power as possible to the wheels with the most grip. This confirms the potential of Evos with a lot of power I was referring to earlier.


Test    Ford Mustang GT Track Pack          Chevy Camaro SS 1LE       
0-60 mph4.44.4
1/4 mile12.8 sec @ 112.2 mph12.9 sec @ 110.5 mph
60-0 mph braking107 ft99 ft
Lateral g-force0.960.98
MT figure-eight24.7 sec @ 0.84 g24.5 sec @ 0.87 g
Starting price (USD)$35,420$38,000
Difference (USD)-$4,385-$1,805


Test Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack                BMW M235i               
0-60 mph4.2 sec4.4 sec
1/4 mile12.6 sec @ 112.313.0 sec @ 106.6 mph
60-0 mph braking108 ft103 ft
Lateral g-force0.89 g0.97g 
MT figure-eight25.5 sec @ 0.81 g24.9 sec @ 0.78 g
Starting price (USD)$39,490$44,025
Difference (USD)-$315$4,220


Test                      Audi S3                        Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X MR  
0-60 mph4.7 sec5.1 sec
1/4 mile13.4 sec @ 102.4 mph13.8 sec @ 99.7 mph
60-0 mph braking113 ft105 ft
Lateral g-force0.92 g0.98 g
MT figure-eight25.2 sec @ 0.81 g24.5 sec @ 0.94 g
Starting price (USD)$41,995$39,805
Difference (USD)$2,190$0


Test                    VW Golf R                                Subaru WRX STi          
0-60 mph4.5 sec4.6 sec
1/4 mile13.1 sec @ 104.9 mph13.1 sec @ 104.4 mph
60-0 mph braking108 ft108 ft
Lateral g-force0.94 g0.97 g
MT figure-eight24.9 sec @ 0.85 g24.9 sec @ 0.79 g
Starting price (USD)$37,415$38,190
Difference (USD)-$2,390-$1,615


To be fair, the Evo does come cheaper and with a manual (better in my opinion) in the GSR trim but it would be slower because of less aggressive shocks and springs and the slower transmission. At the end of the day, though, I don't think the Evo's AWD grip is enough to bring more than very few new fans to the Evo in its final year of production. The power advantage of the Mustang, Challenger, Camaro and M235i have shown to be more than enough to make up for the traction advantage. I am really surprised to see the Evo die this way, as I thought it would always be a tough competitor in the segment. With a lacklustre lineup, Mitsubishi's future in North America is questionable and so is the Evo's rumoured hybrid replacement. Unless you're a diehard fan, you probably will decide that you can get much more for your money if you decide on any of the cars above. In the case of the of Mustang, you'll save a good chunk of change and end up with a manual V8 RWD car. I know what my choice would be.

Notes: Prices include Distination. Difference in price is compared to the Evo MR. Tests are on different days, so the numbers may be slightly different in relation when tested on the same day.


Saturday, 21 February 2015

Juns Subaru BRZ - 2.4 litre Synergy V8




Meet Juns Subaru BRZ. If the traditional power adding methods like forced induction or dropping a small block V8 aren't your thing, this may be it (although I imagine swapping a small block V8 into something small is typically a North American - and awesome - solution, but I digress). This one does have a V8 but it's a very different kind of V8 and, at $70,000, it will cost you a multiple of that but you will no doubt have something very unique.




The engine is based on two Kawasaki Ninja ZX-12R engines and has a displacement of 2.4 litres. Power? 356 hp at 10,680 rpm, a whopping 156 hp over stock, although torque gets a much more modest jump to 199 lb-ft, "only" 48 lb-ft over stock. This frankenstein engine is the work of Synery Power in New Zealand, which developed the engine for midget car speedway racing but they have wanted to put it in a street car. I would imagine the experience might be similar to a rotary engine, making a lot of power but all very high in the rpm range and not too much torque down low so it may not feel as strong off the line as forced induction or a good ole' trusty small block. As a result, it probably won't be sitting any records. Still, the noise is worth something and the experience of wringing out a very small V8 would be satisfying. If only F1 cars still sounded this good. For more info, visit: 11,000 rpm+ in A Kiwi Flavoured Lemon - Junz Synergy BRZ V8 or listen to it below.




Friday, 20 February 2015

2016 Acura NSX - A little late to the party




I've been asked why I haven't posted about the reveal of this car despite it being very highly anticipated so here's why. I was somewhat underwhelmed to be honest when it came out. Firstly, I make it no secret that I'm a fan of domestics so I typically get more excited about domestics and Ford stole the flashlights with three very special models; the Ford GT, Mustang Shelby GT350R and F-150 Raptor at the Detroit Auto Show. Secondly, and much more importantly, this seems like it's a few years too late in terms of specs (on paper). Acura has been teasing the return of the NSX for years. This builds up hype and expectations and when you don't deliver something really special, disappointment is inevitable. To make matters worse, Acura seems oblivious to the matter.




Mike Accavitti, VP and general manager of Acura, said (and excuse the language) that the NSX is "just badass.. in a luxury kind of way," according to Motor Trend. Acura estimates power to be more than 550 hp. In this day, car guys are spoiled with hp and 550 hp in a supercar is nothing worthy of a second look, at least in my opinion. The last generation Cadillac CTS-V, the one that came out in 2008, had 556 hp. A sedan, not even a bespoke sports car or supercar. A seven year old sedan that is now out of production. I know that power isn't everything and this car will no doubt blow the last generation CTS-V out of the water in every performance category but if I were the spokesman at the event, I would keep the estimate horsepower figure to myself and let the car speak for itself later.




The 550 hp isn't even all engine or even a pure, high revving naturally aspirated engine. It's a twin-turbo V6 that is also assisted by three electric motors; one in the rear and two in the front (providing torque vectoring). If there are three electric motors, how much is the engine making? How could 550 hp be something to brag about? It almost seems like Acura locked up its engineers while they were developing the NSX and they have no idea what power figures are like these days.




Stop talking about power figures, you might say. Okay, let's consider weight. The fact that it is a hybrid supercar means that weight will probably put it in the neighbourhood of hypercars, like the Porsche 918 Spyder, Ferrari LaFerrari and McLaren P1. With the electric motors, batteries and associated electronics and (probably) cooling, this won't be light. The power, though, puts its less than current supercars. The Lamborghini Huracan, for example, makes 602 hp. The Ferrari 458 Speciale makes 597 hp and its replacement, the 488GTB, is just around the corner. That one will make 661 hp. Acura also said it decided against active aerodynamic elements. I've always said that I'm usually against more electronics and more complexity so I should prefer that path but going to a hybrid setup with multiple motors, batteries and turbos is far, far from simple that adding active aero is a drop in a bucket. Why not gain every advantage possible?




To be fair, I am putting too much weight and judgment on the power and weight. This car hasn't even been released to testing yet, let alone sold. It's usually bad enough comparing performance numbers of two different cars on papers or "bench racing," so I am being a very bad offender as far as that goes. With that said, I can't help but be underwhelmed. How could this have a chance of keeping up with cars in its class? That will take a miracle. We'll have to wait and see.


Tuesday, 17 February 2015

A tribute to the Shelby AC Cobra




"This hand built super car combines American muscle and European maneuverability to reach speeds of up to 200 miles per hour." The purpose and the looks just scream AC Cobra to me. I don't know if the builder had it in mind when designing the car but, to me, it looks like a modern take on an AC Cobra with an AC Daytona front end. The car, named Lucra LC470, can be had with one of two GM small block V8s, though, not Ford engines. The standard engine is a 6.2 litre LS3 and, as you may have guessed, the 7.0 litre (427 c.i.) LS7 is an option, just like the legendary AC Cobra 427. This one demands a much higher premium, though, costing over $120,000 whereas the original AC Cobra 427 cost approximately $7,000 back in the day, or nearly $53,000 in today's money. Power is routed through a Tremec TKO 600RR 5-speed (H-pattern) transmission.




The car utilizes a carbon fibre body and weighs just 2,000 pounds and with small-block V8 power, it can reach 60 mph in just under 3 seconds and go on to top speed of 200 mph. Luke Richards, the man who designed the car, was brought up in "both Europe and the United States and he had a passion for both muscle and lightweight sports cars" so he decided on the concept. Sounds familiar? That's because Shelby had the same vision; lightweight and plenty of power.




Unlike many "boutique" cars, the car utilizes power steering. In the front, there is a SLA double-wishbone suspension with fully adjustable coil overs. Like wise, in the back there are fully adjustable coil overs but the rear suspension is a 5-link independent suspension. Helping put all the power down are 18" x 10" and 18" x 11" 1-piece forged monoblock wheels in the front and rear wrapped in 275/35/18 and 315/30/18 Nitto NT01 tires. A standard limited slip differential (presumably a clutch-type) helps make better use of the available traction while an optional Eaton Tru-Trac will make the most of the available traction. It all sounds great.




I wish it were something built by a mainstream manufacturer and offered for a lot less but there probably isn't a economic case for it when you factor all the mainstream manufacturer standards for crash ratings, safety and convenience features, fuel economy and emissions so for now, we will have to admire those small builders - a tribute to the legendary Carroll Shelby and the Shelby AC Cobra 427. To learn more, visit: LUCRA Cars or watch the video below where you can also hear some sweet V8 noise.


2016 Ford Focus RS




I can't believe we are getting another performance vehicle from +Ford so soon. Everyone was expecting a Focus RS but I didn't think we would see it this soon. To recap, over the last few months, Ford's lineup has gained many options for a gear head. The Mustang gained a new engine option, the 2.3L EcoBoost to bridge the gap between the V6 and the GT. The GT350 name returned with a flat-plane crank making more than 500 naturally aspirated horsepower from a 5.2L V8. Then a GT350R was revealed, a more hardcore track version of the car. The legendary Ford GT came back to, once again, take on Ferrari and a new F150 Raptor was revealed on the opposite end of the performance spectrum. Now, we have another one. A step up from the Focus ST that, according to Ford, without worry about stepping on the toes of the Mustang.

Ford said this will be the most powerful Focus, with "well in excess of 315 horsepower." If that includes the limited edition RS500, which made 345 hp, This should make as close as makes no difference to the 350 hp that has been rumoured. If it's not included, I would imagine well in excess of should mean at least 20 hp so we should still be close to the 350 hp mark.




To put all that power down, Ford gave this car a torque vectoring all wheel drive system, dubbed Ford Performance All Wheel Drive (FPAWD?). The system is based on twin electronically controlled clutch packs that manage the car's front-to-rear torque split. The unit can send up to 70% of the drive to the rear wheels. There is no mention of the maximum amount of torque is sent to the front wheels. If I had to guess, I would say that all the torque can be sent to the front wheels if there is loss of traction and one or more of the stability/traction control settings should always send some of the torque to the rear.

Speaking of stability control, Ford calibrated the Electronic Stability Control system, particularly the brake-based Torque Vectoring Control system, to work in parallel with the torque vectoring AWD system. It appears that the front wheels rely on only brake-based torque vectoring while the rear wheels rely on both brake-based torque vectoring as well as the drive-unit. The drive unit can vary the torque at the rear wheels side-to-side, with up to 100% of the torque sent to the rear wheels sent to either wheel.




The control unit for the system is capable of monitoring inputs from multiple sensors, such as steering wheel angle, lateral acceleration, yaw and speed, 100 times per second. The system will preemptively divert torque to the outer rear wheel in a corner immediately based on inputs from these sensors. Ford says, understeer is virtually eliminated and turn-in and stability are improved. The Focus ST is already one of the best handling FWD cars on the road. Sending some of the power to the back along with torque vectoring can only make things better.

Other chassis improvements include stiffer springs, bushings and antiroll bars compared to the Focus ST and two-mode switchable dampers. A re-tuned power steering system combined with a more rigid front suspension knuckle design and shorter link arms all in the name of improving steering response and feel. All these improvements, combined with the intelligent AWD system, result in lateral acceleration exceeding 1 g. In the release, Ford made sure to point out that the car has the "ability to achieve controlled oversteer drifts at the track." Thank you, Ford.

To improve stability and and handling at speed, the exterior has been optimized through the front splitter, rear spoiler and diffuser and underbody features to deliver zero lift front and rear. To make sure the car sticks to the road, Ford is offering, for the first time on an RS, optional Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires for track-ready grip. Standard tires are the excellent all-around Pilot Super Sport tires. Both come as 235/35/19 tires and optional light-weight forged alloy wheels are available.




Ford wanted to make sure the car can handle track duty so the outside has been optimized to deliver cooling air to the engine. The radiator is "significantly larger." The intercooler is "much bigger."  The brakes are fitted with brake cooling ducts. The transmission and clutch have been upgraded with stronger components. Ford really seems to have all the bases covered. The fact that Ford is offering a Michelin Cup tire on an AWD car fitted with a torquey turbocharged engine shows just how much abuse the car is designed to take.

Speaking of the engine, the 2.3L engine shares the block with the Mustang but significant upgrades support the increased power. A new twin-scroll turbo with a larger compressor wheel increases airflow, which is also aided by less restrictive intake and exhaust systems. The exhaust also features an electronically controlled valve that "helps optimize the balance of back pressure and noise output." Typically, such exhaust valves stay closed for quiet operation under light load and open at a certain rpm. To handle the added power, an upgraded alloy is used for the cylinder head to withstand higher temperatures which is also mounted on a head gasket with improved thermal capability. Inside, the cylinder block features stronger high-tensile cast iron liners.

As is now expected from Ford in high performance models, you'll find heavily bolstered Recaro seats inside that are bound to be comfortable as well as supportive. Controlling all the horses will come courtesy of, thankfully, a six-speed manual transmission with a short-throw shifter. Awesome.

This is bound to be a phenomenal performance machine. My only worry is price. I can imagine this starting well into $30,000's (USD), but that would step on the Mustang GT. I think if it starts under $35,000, it'll be very reasonable. Only time will tell. For now, I can just hope that I will get drive it some time soon, especially on the track.


Wednesday, 11 February 2015

2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 vs 2015 Nissan GT-R Nismo - A Closer Look




This is the one every one has been waiting for, myself included. The two big giant killers - the Corvette and the Nissan GT-R. Let's cut to the chase, the Vette lost and people are surprised, disappointed or both. Around Willow Springs, the GT-R Nismo posted a lap time of 1:25.7 and Corvette Z06 posted a lap time of 1:27.1. That's 1.4 sec on a 1:25 lap which isn't insignificant.




I am surprised and disappointed myself. I thought the Corvette would have easily edged out the GT-R based on the handling tests, not just expectations:


Test Corvette Stingray Z06 (Z07)Nissan GT-R Nismo
Braking, 60-0 MPH91 ft97 ft
Lateral Acceleration1.17 g (avg)1.03 g (avg)
MT Figure Eight22.3 sec @ 1.06 g (avg)23.1 sec @ 0.99 g (avg)


The gap between the two is so large, you would be forgiven to think they are in two different classes. It's hard to believe it doesn't translate to benefit on the track. I think the fact that it didn't is down to a few factors:
  • The most obvious one is the fact that this particular Z06 had a manual and the GT-R only comes with a twin clutch auto. This is worth a few tenths probably. I would imagine it would bring the gap down to 1 second or a little under a second.
  • The Level 3 aero package (Z07) is clearly too much for this track. This is evident in the GT-R, which has 50 hp less and weighs over 350 lb. more, hitting a top speed that's 7 mph faster than the Corvette on the straight. They tried to remove the Gurney flap on the rear spoiler to reduce drag but saw a small gain in top speed (1 mph) for a big detriment in handling (increased tendency to oversteer) which produced an overall slower lap time. As a result, they concluded that removing aero isn't a good idea. I'm not sure how the testing team, including a professional racing driver (a seasoned one at that), didn't think of the fact (or point it out if they did) that reducing rear downforce without doing anything about the front will upset the downforce, and therefore handling, balance. Removing the Gurney flap will not produce results as good as having a car with the Level 2 aero package and I believe that a Level 2-equipped car would be a better fit for this track but the fact that the Michelin Cup tires only come with the Z07 package could hurt it so it's hard to say if it would produce better results overall.
  • Confidence, or lack thereof. It is clear from the individual test numbers that the Corvette is more capable when the road starts twisting. I would go as far say it is much more capable in terms of raw grip and stopping power. However, after looking at the track graph, there are a few spots where Randy turns earlier, brakes earlier or brakes harder and that should never happen in a car that has that much more grip and stronger brakes. The problem is mid-corner oversteer, according to the test. If that is the case, increasing stability mid corner should go a long way in improving lap times.
  • I think I read somewhere in the comments by Scott Evans that the car tested was an early production so maybe there are minor issues with it made the car more likely to oversteer such as shock tuning, differential tuning, etc. During the first test of the car, Randy said that the car is stable enough and he wants another 100 hp. Keep in mind, that car was a Level 2 so it has less downforce and less sticky tires. Both should make the car less stable, not otherwise. How could the less grippy car with less downforce be more stable?
  • Another possibility is that the automatic transmission, which was the one in the first track test of the car, has torque management that allows for much smoother torque delivery which would make the rear tires less likely to break loose. 
  • Different tracks favour different cars. That's why racing teams test and tweak at every track; to optimize for that track. This one may simple favour the handling balance of the GT-R over the Vette.
I do believe, though, that even if that same car, with the manual and Z07 package, were driven to its true potential (i.e. by someone who knows the car very well like Jim Mero) on that same track, it would beat a GT-R Nismo driven to its potential (i.e. by Toshio Suzuki or Michael Krumm). With that said, the average track goer isn't Jim Mero. Randy Pobst, a seasoned race car driver, couldn't beat his own time in the GT-R so the bottom line is, if you plan on taking it to the track and you care a lot about the last few tenths, you can't expect to beat a GT-R NISMO assuming both are stock, well driven. That, of course, all depends on this particular Corvette tested was a completely problem-free car and a good example of the breed.

What's most disappointing to me, though, is the overheating issue. I don't know if it really is a problem or it too could be a sign of the tester being an early production unit. I find it very hard to believe that Chevy would let the problem make it to production with such strong ties to racing and endurance racing in particular, let alone the fact that this is the top Corvette. I read somewhere that the reason the ECU reduces power is for emissions reasons not to protect the engine so maybe Chevy will have an optional ECU flash to disable that if you're at the track, the same way Ford offered the red (track) key with the Boss 302 for track use. Only time will tell. If it really is a problem, I would be hugely disappointed if GM does not address it.

As for the GT-R, although this particular model is far from the performance bargain it once was when this generation first returned back in 2008, it's still punching above its weight and it is good value. Starting above $151,000 USD, it's stepping into supercar territory pricing but it's nearly hypercar performance territory now. Still, it commands a nearly $50,000 premium over the top spec Vette with plenty of luxury options and the Z07 package. Being a Corvette fan, I would take the Z06 over the GT-R in a heartbeat without even thinking about it. It will sound better, look better and drive better in every day driving and for the few track days I go to, if it turns out to be actually slower, I will still have the perfect recipe for a performance car: a V8 in the front, a manual in the middle, and RWD in the back. If I had the money, though, I would probably go with the standard Stingray with the Z51 package. It would give me most of the thrills, non of the forced induction worries and plenty of money left over for track visits!