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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sábado, 9 de enero de 2010

The 2010 Mustang's Latest Redesign

If there's one constant in life it is change. As much as you might like that favorite sandwich at the corner deli, there will come a day when you walk in and sit at your usual spot, and when you go to order you'll get "I'm sorry, we took that off the menu last week." Sound familiar? Naturally, some people embrace change and others fear it. The same can be said about Mustang owners. Some love a certain generation and think Ford can never make a better car, while others look forward to what Ford does with each new redesign.

We'll be the first to admit that some years hold a great place in our hearts and others we look at and think, What was Ford thinking? By now you've most likely seen some online images and comments on the new 2010 Mustang. We've read them all as well. Some people think Ford went too far with the whole retro thing and others  think Ford didn't do enough to the new car.

The original S197, when it arrived in 2005, was a hit straight out of the park and deep into the parking lot. The 2010 is more than a reskin. The new car has so much more technology and quality and fit and finish to it that it feels like a completely new car to us. The jump from the '05-'09 to the 2010 is akin to the '94-'98 to the '99-'04 changes. It's essentially the same car, but the progression of improvements is what makes the car ride, handle, and feel so much better.

This past December Ford invited Mustang scribes like us to California to get to know the new Mustang on several levels: From the basic walk around and technology pony show, to a day trip through the tight, winding roads of the Los Padres National Forest ending in a second day of on-track testing at Streets of Willow at Willow Springs Raceway. We've gone over every inch of the car, driven it in heavy California traffic as well as at speed, enjoyed every minute of the car's great new interior, learning about it's improved performance and handling capabilities (and the limits of our own driving), all so we could share out thoughts here in this first look. Is the 2010 Mustang all it's been hyped up to be? Keep reading to see what we found.

A Fresh Face

Upon first blush it would seem that Ford's stylists did a little tweak here and a pinch there to the Mustang's sheetmetal. In reality, the 2010 Mustang has a completely new skin. Every panel is new, designed with the Mustang's heritage in mind, except for the roof panel. The roof is the same as the current car, mainly to allow the '09 glass roof option to be available at Job 1 for the 2010. More muscle was given to the 2010 design by Chief Designer Doug Gaffka and Design Manager George Saridakis by referencing classic Mustang design.
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miércoles, 6 de enero de 2010

Mustangs New Design

Mustang fans will certainly see styling cues from several different Mustang model years: From the '69-'70 upper quarter styling to the sharper '67-'68 fender lines and hockey stick body side styling, to the new grille and headlamps. Even the Pony emblem got a redesign for 2010, with a leaner-looking horse in a dark chrome finish. "Everything we tried to do with this car's new exterior design is represented in the new Pony," said Gaffka. "It tells the whole story. It's athletic, aggressive and modern."

Up front, the new headlights feature inboard turn signals, moved up from the corners of the fascia. GT models feature dark chrome trim around the lights, whereas the base model V-6 has a traditional chrome appearance. The leading edge of the hood still hangs over the grille, but not nearly as much as the earlier S197 models, and we noticed a lot less hood flutter as a result (actually, it was none existent, in our test driving). The GT still utilizes grille -mounted foglamps, which look much more proportioned to the headlamps now. The V-6 Pony Package cars will get their foglamps in the lower fascia, like previous generation Cobras and the Gt-500 ). The front of the new Mustang is lower and appears wider (due to the splitter), leading into sharply sculpted wheel arches pushing out of the fenders.The front splitter not only adds to the car's muscular overtone, but also aids in stability and fuel economy. Finally, the new hood features a domed power bulge that aggressive looking and quit sharp, but is not so cumbersome that we noticed it from  the drivers seat. Moving down the flanks, 2010 utilizes the same door glass, but the door structure is modified from the S197 with the new outer skin and some minor changes inside facilitate the sexy new door panels (more on the interior a bit later ). The side mirrors are all new (Yes, finally!) and while they still have great visibility, engineers spent many hours in the wind tunnel making the mirror's profile more subdued while making it quieter at speed as well. Best of all, the main mirror body is now painted body color from the factory (sorry Mr. Aftermarket).

Out back, the rear-wheel arches carry the same muscular tone from the front of the car. The rear of the Mustang has a wraparound feel to it now with chamfered corners and a tapered rear fascia, all in the name of making the Mustang look more compact. The new two-piece fear fascia, body-colored upper half and black lower, enhance the Mustang's width and stance by reducing the car's overall height visually. The Mustang's decklid spoiler has had its pedestals simplified, while the trunk lid loses the age-old trunk lock keyhole and the antenna finds its way to the right rear quarter-panel (though we'd much rather see it gone altogether in favor of an in-glass antenna).

Probably the most exciting part of the new Mustang's hind quarters has to be the full LED tail lamps. The new tail lamps possess the must-have tri-bar element design, each red chamber individually lit by a Luxion LED and separated by two vertical backup lamp segments to ensure the tri-bar design is recognized day or night. Unlike previous tri-bar designs, the 2010 Mustang utilizes all three chambers for brake light illumination, and the turn signal activation is sequential from the factory (once again, sorry, Mr. Aftermarket).

Meat and Potatoes

It's not just another pretty face for the Mustang - not at all. While the main drive line hardware remains unchanged  in 2010 (4.6L Three-Valve  in the GT and 4.0L SOHC V-6 in the base), the Mustang power-train engineers did see fit to up the ante a bit on the GT with a new cold-air induction system that breathes through the main frontal area behind the left headlamp and not the inner fender. The true ram-air box is exclusive to the Mustang and extensive tuning and sealing of the box was done to make it all work. The cold-air system actually outflows the '08 Bullitt cold-air system, thanks to some engineering help from the boys in red over at Ford Racing Performance Parts. Along with the cold-air system, some ECM calibration tweaks.
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viernes, 1 de enero de 2010

A new adaptive strategy system that allows the computer to tailor performance to the octane of the fuel used, give the Three-Valve 15 more horsepower (315 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque). The redline has been raised 250 rpm to 6,500 rpm to better use the new power found underhood.

The Bullitt program, as well as Ford Racing's foray into the Miller Cup FR500S Mustangs, lent its expertise to the new 2010s with further powertrain improvements such as larger exhaust tips (3-inch on the V-6 and 3 1/2-inch on the V-8), a short-throw performance shifter (topped with a polished aluminum shift knob on Premium models), and induction and exhaust sound tuning. We have to admit the exhaust does sound good, even for Ford having to stay within drive-by sound limits and manufacturing  hurdles. The 2010 is so much quieter now with all of its newly added insulation and wind tunnel that Ford saw fit to add an induction noise transfer system to the engine. It's essentially a small hose and diaphragm affair that pipes the engine's induction noise into the cabin. Hokey? Maybe, but it does give the casual owner the sound he or she paid for. On the other hand, we see this as another Fox Mustang air silencer type of part that'll get yanked off by the true performance owner in the first week of ownership or as soon as the twin-screw  gets installed.

Ford kept its five-speed automatic and five-speed manual setups the same into the  2010 model, but we're willing to bet there will be six-speed autos on the horizon (along with rumored new powertrains in 2011 or 2012). We'll just have to wait and see if our hunches are correct. Ford also saw fit to install its industry-leading capless fuel system, which debuted on the Ford GT supercar and is slowly making its way across the entire Ford product line.

Better Handling, Too

While more power is nice, you need a chassis and suspension that can handle it. To that end, Ford's engineers started with the enhanced Bullitt chassis as the basis for the new Mustang GT. "We adjusted the springs, stabilizer bars, and shocks to better balance the ride, steering, and handling for all models, which results in a more engaging driving experience," said Vehicle Engineering Manager Tom Barnes. "The 2010 Mustangs feel more controlled for steering and handling, yet retain a good ride balance."

For the first time Ford has included its AdvanceTrac stability control package in the Mustang. The AdvanceTrac system works with the antilock brake and traction control systems to keep the Mustang on the road in the most adverse situations by constantly examining steering rate, vehicle yaw, road speed and more. But don't worry-you can still turn it off for those nice smoky burnouts (as we did in our Red Candy Metallic Track Pack GT) and the GT package offers a Sport mode to make you look like a hero on those track days.

The Mustang's wheel and tire packages are extensive for the 2010 with no less than seven offerings. The base wheel is upsized to a 17-inch wheel and the GT wheel is now an 18-inch, while all wheel offerings now ride on Pirelli tires. P-Zero Nero all-season tires are used for most packages, with a 19-inch Pirelli dry traction summer tire available later on in the year. 19-inch wheel packages also get a strut lower brace, as the 19-inch wheel puts that much more cornering force through the chassis. "You're getting the best-handling, best-balanced Mustang ever as the base GT," said Chief Nameplate Engineer Paul Randle.

Performance options include a 3.73 axle package that includes the aforementioned gears, recalibrated AdvanceTrac, and performance front brake pads (from the Bullitt).
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