jueves, 4 de febrero de 2010

Audi 90 Quattro 20 V

No question, The Audi 90 Quattro 20V, with its hunkered-down sassy stance , meaty Goodyears and bold 5-spoke Speedline wheels, looks the part of a serious competitor. And if this evokes an image of Michele Mouton expertly drifting a short-wheelbase Quattro to a new class record at Pikes Peak or one of Hurley Haywood winning the Trans-Am championship the first year out in a 200 Quattro, well, it's more than simple coincidence.

The competition breeding shines through when the Audi is pushed hard. The only car in the group with all-wheel drive, the 90's chassis is unflappably stable and never seems to put a wheel wrong. But it doesn't communicate with its driver the way the Alfa does.

The high-set steering wheel has a skinny (though leather-wrapped) rim, and there's some looseness around the center position. As the corner tightens up and more steering is cranked in, effort increases in a nice, linear fashion, but there's no intimate sense of what the front tires are doing. The brakes show no nasty habits, but the pedal feel is slightly rubbery.

For a fairly small car (having the shortest wheelbase and second-shortest overall length), the Audi is rather heavy (at 3195 lb., only the Alfa outweighs it). This taxes the limits of the dohc 2.3-liter 20-valve inline -5 that puts out a respectable 164 bhp at 6000 rpm - the Audi feels very reluctant to move away from the rest, even with moderate clutch slippage in 1st gear. There's a real sense of trying to accelerate all that mass in the drivetrain (and, of course, in the rest of the car).

Once moving, however, the engine has a strong surge of mid- and upper- range torque and is reasonably smooth as it growls its 5-cylinder song on the way to a 7200-rpm redline. Shifts have a very direct, mechanical feel about them but require a healthy tug on the polished wood shift knob, and ratios are well spaced.

Inside, the Audi is a little claustrophobic or just cozy, depending on your tolerance for this things. The high waisted design with its consequent smaller glass area makes seeing out a mite more difficult here than in the others and gives the cabin the impression or narrowness. But there's not a finer interior in the group, in terms of nicely textured plastic, beautifully finished wood and excellent assembly fit. Gauges are superb, with all in the main cluster easily visible through the steering wheel, but dials for voltage, oil pressure and oil temperature, while appreciated, are mounted frustratingly low on the center console.

Seating up front is quite good, with body-hugging bolsters and electric seat controls that are nearly second nature to use. Rear accommodations are a little tighter than in most of the others, with virtually no "toe room" underneath the front seats and cramped head room taller sorts. A ski pass-through increases utility and seems a natural offering on an awd car.

Some nuisances are the smallest trunk of the lot at 8.1 cu. ft. and lots of road noise and thumpiness from the Goodyears, which, at size 205/50R-15, are the lowest profile, most aggressive tires of any of the eight cars. But these are sacrifices in the interest of awd packaging and performance, and those not wanting the extra edge of stability and power can always save some money and still get the 90's muscular good looks in a front-drive, 130-bhp version.
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lunes, 1 de febrero de 2010

Alfa Romeo 164L

To DIE-HARD Alfisti, the news that the 164 was to be a front-drive car was absolutely earth-shattering. Unlike the Milano that preceded it, you can't pitch the 164 into a turn and then exit in your finest power-on, opposite-lock imitation of Tazio Nuvolari.  But the chassis 164 chassis is incredibly rewarding to drive. Starting with the basic platform shared with the Saab 9000, Fiat Croma and Lancia Thema, Alfa went its own way with different suspension design, chassis tuning and styling, while retaining  the very best thing of the Milano, its 3.0-liter sohc V-6.

And what an engine it is. Though a little soft on torque at low rpm, the Alfa's 183-bhp V-6 climbs to its 6500-rpm redline with a vengeance, peaking at 185 lb-ft. at 4400 rpm, making truly satisfying mechanical sounds all the way up. And the gearbox, despite its recalcitrant engagement of reverse, is a joy, with a rod-actuated gearshift linkage that manages to feel mechanically direct yet operates with a light touch.

Though at 3325 lb. the Alfa is the heaviest car of the pack, it's one of the most stiffly sprung and feels as if it has the least body roll. But don't equate this firmness with a lack of suspension compliance; the 164 exhibited leechlike roadholding when negotiating the twisty parts, with near-neutral handling (no doubt helped by shifting some weight rearward with a trunk-mounted battery) and impressive grip. Nor is it so stiff that a cross-country trip would be uncomfortable. Aiding and abetting the suspension are steering and braking systems with the same enjoyable mechanical honesty that the engine and transmission exhibit.

If a sore spot exists, it's the interior or, more precisely, the driving position. One needs an extra-long set of arms and a correspondingly stubby set of legs to deal comfortably with the steering wheel and pedal locations, seemingly a trademark of Italian cars. The steering wheel, which telescopes but doesn't tilt for adjustment, obscures a large portion of the tachometer for anyone who stands more than 6ft. tall. But the seats are comfortable and properly bolstered, and the rear-seat passengers, in addition to enjoying  a decent amount of space, have the niceties of pull-up sunshades and a storage box built into the shelf behind the seats.

And then there's the 164 subtle wedge shape, handsome from any angle, and looking like nothing else from the front with its distinctive triangular grille dipping into the bumper. Many of us were taken by the styling and handling, but turned off by little flaws in the interior - a sunroof that rattled in the vent position, the shoddy trap door that swings up when the console-mounted parking brake is set, the wobbly feel of the look-alike rows of buttons for the ventilation system on the dash, the electric seat-height adjustment that refused to work. But Alfa owners have always put up with the little eccentricities to enjoy the sporting attributes of their cars, and so the tradition continues.
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jueves, 28 de enero de 2010

Lotus Elan SE

Says Lotus of its front-drive, $34,000 sports car, "We didn't want to make another MR2."
No one believed it at first. The folks who brought us the Elite, the Elan, and the Esprit were going to build an entry level sports car with front-wheel drive. Well, so much for General Motors' policy of nonintervention in the activities of its recently acquired subsidiary in Norfolk, England. Moreover, the new Elan's engine and five-speed transaxle were to come from Isuzu, another GM associate. Lotus, it seemed, had sold out - in more ways than one.
The truth, according to Lotus's chief executive Mike Kimberley, is somewhat different. Lotus started work on its new small car way back in 1981. Back then, the two-seater was to have a front-engine/rear-drive layout, just like its nimble namesake from the sixties.
In 1983, with Colin Chapman dead and new financing on the way - including a 22-percent stake from Toyota - the project was rethought. Following a comparative assessment of similarly powered Toyotas - including front- and rear-drive Corollas and a prototype mid-engined MR2 - Lotus decided that front-wheel drive was the best choice for a sports car of this size and power. Besides, as Kimberley points out, "We didn't want to make another MR2."
After General Motors arrived on the scene in early 1986, however, there was more second-guessing. The styling of the X100, as the project was then called, was not exciting enough, and a Toyota engine was no longer appropriate. Lotus began again, this time hatching the M100, which three years later became the handsome car shown here.
In the meantime, of course, the Mazda MX-5 Miata arrived, very much in the style of the original Elan. Lotus is surprisingly relaxed about the Miata's instant success. The company asserts that it makes half of its livelihood carrying out advanced engineering for the world's motor industry, and, for the sake of its reputation, Lotus did not want to be seen offering a replica of a car from the 1960s.
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martes, 26 de enero de 2010

Variable Valve Timing

How do you want your cylinder filling: with or without inertia?

To take best advantage of the inertia in a fast-moving column of air flowing through an intake port, the intake valve(s) should be opened early, even before the piston has finished the exhaust stroke , and held open well after the piston reaches the bottom of the cylinder. Trouble is, in low-speed, part-throttle operation, timing that radical doesn't work. Airflow is inadequate to generate sufficient inertia , so a lot of fresh air is pumped back up the intake ports, reducing cylinder filling and disrupting flow in the whole intake tract.

Ideally, you'd like two completely different camshaft profiles - one for puttering around town and another for high speed blitzing -but how do you obtain that without changing cams?

Basically, changing cams is exactly what Honda does in its variable valve timing and lift electronic control system. Watch carefully. Directly above each valve in this four-valve-per-cylinder design is a cam lobe working through an individual rocker arm in conventional fashion. These are the "low speed" cam lobes, giving relatively modest lift and short duration. (The pairs are even timed a bit differently from one another to generate a swirl effect in the combustion chamber.)

But there's another, wider cam lobe and rocker between each valve pair. Here lives the wilder "high speed" timing, and it's brought into play by a computer actuated solenoid on the end of the cylinder head. When revs, throttle, and temperature dictate, oil pressure - via the rocker shafts - moves a split piston inside the rockers to lock the three arms together, thus transferring the center lobe's higher lift and longer duration to the valve stems. (A "lost-motion spring" keeps the center rocker from flailing about when it's not engaged.) The system provides a nice double hump in the torque curve and is already giving the new Japanese-market Integra a lusty 160 bhp from only 1.6 liters - with good flexibility. It will work similar wonders for the 3.0-liter NS-X V-6.
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sábado, 23 de enero de 2010

It hums with almost the same equanimity you hear (or don't hear, actually) in a big Acura sedan. Roll on the power, and the exhaust bites with a hard-edged rasp. Gear-changes are light and smooth - as you'd predict.

Nothing in the NS-X 43/57 percent weight distribution (advantage:aft), its 98.4-inch wheelbase, or its double-wishbone suspension appears noteworthy on paper, but someone has done a serious job on this chassis. Around the challenging, always-turning 1.5-mile handling circuit at Honda's Tochigi proving ground, the NS-X quickly answers the big mid-engine question: No, it is not evil on trailing throttle, the tail does not try to pass you when you lift in a bend, and you need not always be on red alert to read the car and catch it before disaster strikes. Quite the contrary.

We are prepared to name the Acura NS-X the most cooperative and best handling mid-engined car we have ever driven. It can be coaxed, cajoled, pressed, tossed, or thrown into bends, and it simply eases up to the limit with great poise and clear communication. The Yokohama Advan tires start to howl, then howl louder, then begin to chudder as the rolling mode changes over to sliding. There is about the right amount of basic under-steer built in, but you can have that or a little over-steer depending on where you've put the weight with the throttle. Practically the only dynamic condition we identified as at all adrenaline-raising was entering the slower, tightening portion of a long, long multi-apex left curve at more than 100 mph when some braking and a fourth-to-third downshift had to happen while pulling some fair g's. There was the merest suggestion from the bodily gyros that the back end might hurtle on if we were too clumsy with the controls. But this tendency was dramatically less pronounced, and we were going considerably faster, than in the Ferrari 328GTB or Porsche 911 we drove around Tochigi for comparison. In fact, in almost any way you could mention, the Acura kicked the heritage out of both European sports cars. Granted, the 911 and the 328 are old designs about to be superseded (the Carrera 2 and the 348 can't come too soon), but they still represent the standards of this market, and anyway, their, successors, will be made very much in their images.

So there's no question that the Acura NS-X, Japan's most expensive car ever, will earn a rightful place among the world's upper-midrange sports cars. And it will set new standards for refinement and civility even in that heady company. European prestige marques must take this latest Japanese move very seriously. Or they may not be able to take it at all.
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martes, 19 de enero de 2010

Couple interior issues, saying "the driver's seat squeaks while passenger's rattles." And we're also wondering why Nissan to locate the passenger seat tilt release (to give access to rear seats) closer to the driver, meaning folks entering from "off" side have to reach across the seat to trip the mechanism. Lundant controls on either side would be a better solution.

Those really living with the Nissan, the trunk provides an amount of space for groceries, although the floor is shallow the opening is fairly narrow. Still, given where the Coupe it's perfectly acceptable.

Using 301.1 litres of premium fuel in the process, meaning we're averaging 12.0 L1100 km, higher than the 11.2 (city) 17.3 (high way) as rated by Transport Canada. We'll put that down to a combi nation of engine break-in, a heavily city-biased driving environment and our tester's addiction to torque. We're hoping to stretch its legs on a couple road trips to see if we can get the numbers back in line, especially since all these kilometres are accompanied by high fuel bills thanks to its preference for premium.

For now, we'll continue to appreciate the Altima Coupe's aesthetic appeal, and hope that with less bulky clothing.
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viernes, 15 de enero de 2010

The Evolution is exactly that - the evolution of a car that has been improved by every piece of modern technology fitted to it and the Evo is magical. A colleague of mine and I were discussing how the company says the Evo seamlessly melds with the driver's brain - but it's the other way around, Matrix style: the driver melds with the car's computer brain.

So advanced and so beyond my computational abilities sits the S-AWC system, which poises the car just so in order to attack the next apex. You get the impression after a few clicks that the car's got the corner worked out. It knows how many g's you're doing, where the steering wheel is, and how it can best combat under steer on account of the off-camber surface.

It's saying: "Push the accelerator a little more to the floor, mate. I've got your back."

I'm under no illusions that I was doing any work on those canyon roads, or at the Streets of Willow Springs racetrack. I sat behind the wheel, like a good little boy, duly pushing the accelerator, brake and clutch pedals while steering where I wanted to go.

But by golly, it was fun. You could focus on improving your shifts, or analyzing the road surface, or glancing over at the desert scenery. If you're an 8/10ths driver like I am, it's like a load is lifted from your mind by not having to worry about traction in any situation.

The Evolution is exactly that - the evolution of a car that has been improved by every piece of modern technology fitted to it. It doesn't need high horsepower, bullet-like aerodynamics, or fat tires because its computer brain maximizes what's been fitted to the humble economy-car underpinnings.

As competitors go, is it as fast as an S4 or E46 M3? Of course. An STI? Nearly identical.

But for $42,000, even a university education can't buy you a brain as good as the Evo's.
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