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Red-Hot: Caterham’s New 620R

July 16, 2013 by Matt

Caterham 620R Red

Assuming the mantle previously borne by the Superlight R500 as the fastest road-going Caterham model, the British kit-car manufacturer’s new 620R represents another volley in the escalating track-day car wars.

The only logical response to such salvos as the Ariel Atom 500 and the KTM X-Bow, the 620R’s formula is simple: Retain the lightness and simplicity of the old car, but inject even more horsepower to maintain its competitive edge. Left Lane reports:

[T]he 620R is powered by a 2.0-liter Ford-sourced Duratec engine that sends 311 horsepower and 219 lb-ft. of torque to the rear wheels via a ZF-built six-speed sequential gearbox and a limited-slip differential. The sprint from zero to 62 mph takes 2.8 seconds, and top speed is electronically limited to 155 mph.

Caterham 620R Red Interior Inside Cockpit Console Dash Dashboard

In addition to the aforementioned power increase and a few new bits and bobs, it’s nice to know that in the midst of all the escalating lunacy, “Caterham ensures that it has performed all of the necessary brake, chassis and suspension modifications to keep the power in check.” In other words, they seem to have an understanding somewhat lost on or ignored by other manufacturers (e.g. Mercedes) that if you turn your car’s engine “up to 11,” that power must remain accessible and manageable for there to be any point to the exercise. That explicit commitment is what keeps the automaker’s offerings at the top of my must-drive bucket list.

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Wrong Direction, Porsche:
New Cayman Takes Styling Cues from Panamera

July 9, 2013 by Matt

2014 Porsche Cayman Yellow

The 2014 Cayman

2014 Porsche Panamera

The 2014 Panamera

It’s no secret I consider the Porsche Panamera one of the ugliest vehicles available today. In a recent post on Porsche’s much-missed 928, I pointed out Porsche’s reputation for taking what some would consider a less-than-ideal design and persisting with it, improving to the point of excellence:

It’s this resolve that gives me hope that the automaker will refine the technically peerless but aesthetically hideous Panamera to the point where I can actually stand to look at it.

However, when placed side-by-side with a rear view of the Panamera, the brand-new 2nd-generation Cayman’s design seems to take some visual cues from the supersedan. Rather than backing away from the Panamera’s much-maligned squatting, hunchbacked proportions, Porsche actually seems to be doubling down, expanding that visual feature to include at least one more model in its range.

Porsche Cayman R Green

The 2011 Cayman R

At this point, I would normally just throw up my hands and move on…except that the 1st-generation Cayman is a stunning vehicle. Shown above, with the graceful, non-concave integration of the rear deck and fenders, the 1st-gen Cayman becomes more than just “a Boxster with a roof,” achieving a level of visual cohesiveness and purity rare for a hardtop derived from a convertible. The 1st gen looks lean, muscular and lithe where its successor appears slab-sided, bathtub-ish and awkward.

If Porsche applies the same rear-end treatment to a third model, is it officially a trend? Regardless, let’s hope their better aesthetic angels wave them off before we see another example of this unfortunate design direction.

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New Cayman Takes Styling Cues from Panamera

Oak Tree Landmark Falls at VIR

July 4, 2013 by Matt

VIR Oak Tree Corner

The motor racing community lost an icon on Tuesday.

No, not a driver or a team—a tree. The slowest corner on the Virgina International Raceway (VIR) circuit, named for the massive oak tree it passes around, lost its namesake. According to the official report from VIR management, the tree fell of natural causes, splitting near the base.

Being somewhat local to the circuit (it’s 1.5 hours away in Danville, VA), I initially thought a gust of wind must’ve toppled the tree; there had been some fairly severe windstorms in the area in the past month, so I was mildly surprised to read there was no warning; the course’s caretakers apparently arrived at work Tuesday morning to find the tree in pieces.

Oak Tree was at least as iconic as the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca and nearly as renowned as the tunnel at Monaco or Eau Rouge at Spa; VIR won’t be the same without it. From the circuit’s initial opening in 1957 through its closing in 1974, then from its reopening in 2000 through the present day, Oak Tree had been a fixture of the track; its most recognizable feature, to the point where it made it way onto VIR’s official logo. I’m glad I got to drive around it one last time with my son a month and a half ago. It will be greatly missed.

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You Can’t Run From the Law in Dubai

May 31, 2013 by Matt

Dubai Police Cars

This simultaneously amazes me with the audacity of its spectacle and fits right in with what we’ve come to expect from our flush-with-oil-wealth Middle Eastern friends.

The police department of Dubai, United Arab Emirates—a city well-known for its over-the-top construction projects like the Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest structure), among others—has begun amassing a collection of supercars that would put that of many auto moguls to shame. Just to list a few, they’ve snapped up a Lamborghini Aventador, Ferrari FF, Mercedes SLS AMG, Bentley Continental GT, Chevrolet Camaro SS, BMW M6, Ford Mustang and top it all off, an über-rare Aston Martin One-77 and Bugatti Veyron. The Core77 article rightly points out that the majority of the acquisitions are two-seaters, making the detainment of a suspected malfeasant impossible, and that there are far more economical and effective ways to nab speeders in this day and age.

Like most everything else in Dubai, then, it’s done for the spectacle, the buzz, the attention. As much as I cringe at the idea of one of these exotic thoroughbreds on a police beat, it is kind of fun to imagine trundling along the highway, doing the speed limit while a teenager in a be-stickered Fast & Furious reject whizzes past and is subsequently nabbed by a highway patrolman in an Aventador. Visualize one of those in your rear-view mirror…

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Photorealistic Racing?
Forza Motorsport 5 Trailer

May 23, 2013 by Matt

It looks like I might have to buy an XBox One.

For car buffs, games like the upcoming Forza 5 qualify as killer apps for any platform, especially if the above clip represents real in-game footage (and with a few slight exceptions, there’s little reason to think it doesn’t).

I’m not quite convinced, for example, that in the actual game, chunks of rubber kick up from a car’s tires, or that carbon fiber weaves will be perfect alignment. Not only that, but contrary to what’s shown in the trailer above, it’s extremely unlikely that a McLaren F1, great though it is, would be able to hold its own around a racetrack against the upcoming P1. More likely it would get its ass handed to it.

But such disparities between the intro sequence and the game itself are expected. Even if the actual graphics are several notches less refined than those shown above, they will still represent the cutting edge of driving simulation. Couple that with refined vehicle dynamics, engaging circuits, and especially key licensing arrangements with premier performance automakers, and you’ve got yourselves a winner.

As an aside, it’s interesting to compare the clip above to the intro sequence for Microprose’s 1992 landmark racing game Formula One Grand Prix, one of the first racing simulations to feature realistic track and car detail. We’ve come a long way in 20 years.

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Forza Motorsport 5 Trailer

On Jaguar’s Search for a Sporting Identity

May 21, 2013 by Matt

2014 Jaguar F-Type Black Rear

In a recent column, Peter De Lorenzo skewers Jaguar’s latest marketing efforts:

The stewards of Jaguar have decided that they will use the launch of the F-Type to reinvent the brand so as to appeal to a whole new hipper audience. In the process of doing so they will turn the brand into a recurring joke, with “baddest ass badboys” thrown in for good measure.

It’s an insult to the brand’s legacy and a rank insult to anyone who might even be remotely interested in checking the F-Type out.

I’d take it even further, though, and conjecture the British automaker’s recent hit-and-miss attempts to reposition themselves in the marketplace extend past the veneer of marketing, down into the realm of production development. Marketers, after all, although they influence engineers and designers, can only work with what they’re given.

With the new F-Type, Jaguar’s (ambitiously) stated benchmark is the Porsche 911, and yet the car weighs 400 lbs more than a base 911 and sports no manual transmission option, at least initially. Sure, they may load the car up with enough power to dust the German sports car in a straight line, but nowadays your average high-performance luxury sedan from Mercedes and Audi can accomplish that feat—the differences lies in the dynamics. That’s what makes a car distinctive; what gives it personality, character, and over time, what builds a brand image. The F-Type, regrettably, seems to take a page from the retro-themed BMW Z8 playbook in that it tries to be all things to all people—luxury cruiser and tire-smoking sports car—and ends up not being very good at either of them. Not only that, but its design is far too backward-looking in light of the successful launch of the XF and XJ luxury sedans, whose design ushered in new themes for Jaguar and had the opportunity to help position the brand as a design leader, a British Audi, if you will—if they had maintained that forward-looking styling direction.

But…the F-Type is a step backward design-wise, and its powerplant and chassis philosophy reflect a lack of focus on the part of its manufacturer. In light of that, perhaps the marketers are simply making the best of a less-than-ideal situation.

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Is the Porsche 918
Unnecessarily Complicated?

May 18, 2013 by Matt

Chris Harris raises the question around the 2:40 mark of his preview of Porsche’s newest supercar.

His basic point is that although the combined 887 hp of the 918’s conventional V8 and electric motors may seem impressive, the car is saddled with the extra weight of the batteries and associated hardware, to the point where it tips the scales at a not-inconsiderable 3,700 lbs. Given the extra poundage, it needs the extra power just to be able to keep up with its British and Italian competition, the McLaren P1 and LaFerrari respectively, and even then finds itself nipping at their heels past the quarter mile posts. With respect to acceleration, the weight of the 918’s hybrid system takes away with its left hand what power it gives with its right.

The obvious solution, then, would be to dispense with the electric motors, leaving the car with “only” 608 hp from its 4.6l V8 and half a ton lighter—a solution Harris proposes during the course of the review. He does get some seat time around a test circuit, and his experience seems to suggest that the torque-vectoring ability of the added hardware might be of use to the chassis for more than just pure acceleration… But, somewhat annoyingly, a factory “chaperone” was along for the ride, and given the in-car audience, Harris’ comments may have been less impartial than they would have been otherwise.

Still, to take a wide-angle view of the new class of hybrid supercars, there’s little doubt the value of the older, purer range-toppers like the McLaren F1 and especially the Ferrari F40 will go through the roof as a kind of backlash against all the new techno-wizardry. That much is certain.

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Unnecessarily Complicated?

New Ron Howard Film Chronicles
1976 Hunt-Lauda F1 Rivalry

April 12, 2013 by Matt

It’s difficult to overstate how much I’m looking forward to this film.

Ron Howard’s upcoming movie Rush depicts the action, tensions and interpersonal drama that characterized the epic 1976 Formula 1 season. Chiefly concerned with the rivalry between two top drivers—charismatic British playboy James Hunt and methodical, determined Austrian Niki Lauda, both supremely quick in their own ways—the film’s trailers (you can see the first here) have set the online automotive community ablaze with commentary and anticipation.

The director, of Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind fame, is an avowed Formula 1 fan, so there’s hope for we internet F1 geeks that the gestalt of the sport will be convincingly translated to the big screen. A quick review of the trailers certainly promises a gripping, action-packed film true to the spirit of the 1976 season.

That said, I do have a couple of concerns:

  • Chris Hemsworth seems slightly miscast as Hunt. He may convey his affectations and joie de vivre, but his face has a kind of boyishness irreconcilable with that of the more grown-up looking, rakish Hunt. Casting Daniel Brühl as Niki Lauda was a masterstroke, however; he seems to have the Austrian’s appearance and mannerisms nailed.
  • Biographical accuracy. I’m not so much concerned about technical precision—the filmmakers used a combination of CGI, replicas and vintage racers for the action scenes, and Apollo 13 is renown for its level of technical detail—but the personalities, themes, and events must be presented as they existed and happened from a historical standpoint. I would less concerned if Howard’s award-winning effort A Beautiful Mind hadn’t taken rather large liberties with very crucial elements of its subject’s life story. If the new film turns out to be “inspired by” rather than “based on,” (the latter implying a more faithful rendering), I’ll be very disappointed.

Rush hits theaters in the US on September 20, 2013.

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1976 Hunt-Lauda F1 Rivalry

Home Run: 2014 Cadillac CTS

April 10, 2013 by Matt

2014 Cadillac CTS Gray Gunmetal

This is the best-looking American car to come along in the past 10 years. Maybe longer.

Aggressive, fleet, tailored, expensive… Visually, the 2014 CTS is a quantum leap ahead of its predecessor. A lot of credit has to be given to the new upright grille, which gives the nose a crisp, commanding appearance. Proportionally, the 2014 CTS echoes the latest Mercedes E-Class, but without that car’s baroque extremities and glitzy detailing. The new midsize Caddy has presence in spades; it looks chiseled and confident, borrowing its German rivals’ overall themes but imbuing them with a uniquely American swagger. It’s sub-zero.

2014 Cadillac CTS Gray Gunmetal Rear Back Taillights

Amazingly, even more than its looks, the best part about the new CTS may be its chassis. Left Lane reports that Cadillac may be taking a page from Audi’s recent weight reduction efforts with their luxury car lineup, targeting a curb weight that would undercut its competitors from BMW and Mercedes by at least 200 lbs, flashbacks of decades past when a trim, 3,600 lb luxury sedan was the norm rather than the exception. Lighter weight benefits every performance- and economy-related quality, especially handling; when an automaker choose to “add lightness,” as Colin Chapman famously put it, it’s huge in my book.

2014 Cadillac CTS Interior Inside Cockpit Console Steering Wheel Dash Dashboard

As far as the powerplant is concerned, Left Lane continues:

[T]he big news for 2014 is the introduction of a 3.6L twin-turbocharged V6 in the new Vsport model. The twin-turbo mill is based on Cadillac’s naturally aspirated 3.6L V6, but boasts a number of improvements, including a new block casting, updated cylinder heads, stronger connecting rods and a 10.2:1 compression ratio. As a result of those changes, the twin-turbo V6 cranks out 420 horsepower and 430 lb-ft of torque, good for a 0-60 time of just 4.6 seconds and efficiency of 17 city/25 highway mpg.

Other Vsport goodies include Brembo disc brakes, a driver-selectable track mode for the standard Magnetic Ride Control system, an electronic limited-slip differential, a heavy-duty track cooling package, a quickened steering ratio and 18-inch wheels shod with Pirelli summer tires (19-inchers with all-season rubber will be available).

However, sadly:

The slow-selling six-speed manual option from the current CTS has been deep-sixed.

Here’s hoping they choose to resurrect it for the range-topping CTS-V performance variant. Until then, between the new CTS’s design, emphasis on chassis lightness and fantastic new engine options, I’d say Cadillac has their latest winner on their hands.

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