Archive | April, 2013

Better Fuel Consumption? Go Somewhere Warm!

The winter weather in the UK has been relentless. At the time of writing it is April and the weather has only just stopped freezing us. It’s like living in Winterfell, the northern capital of the Seven Kingdoms only without the massive fur coats and swords and with George Osborne starring as the evil Tywin Lannister.

What’s worse in this times of financial misery is that our cars are not as fuel efficient as they should be because the arctic conditions affect fuel use in a number of ways. For starters, engines need to be thoroughly warmed up before they reach peak efficiency. When cold, oil is sluggish and thick and, initially at least, some petrol is in contact with cold metal and condenses.

Fortunately, modern engines warm up quickly but it still takes longer in very cold weather. Unfortunately, they also get colder quicker which means on short trips the motor essentially has to warm up again if left for a while.

Conditions on the road will also have an adverse effect. With everyone taking to the heated interiors of their cars in cold weather your journey is likely to require a lot more accelerating and slowing down which consumes far more fuel than a constant speed. This is made worse by using heaters, heated windows and lights all of which contribute to a greater use of energy.

The pain doesn’t end there because tyres in cold weather tend to be stiffer and that increases rolling resistance; thus the car has to work harder to keep up performance and so on.

The combination of these various negative factors has a small but significant effect on fuel consumption to the tune of about three miles per gallon. On the face of it that isn’t much – true enough – but over the course of a year it all adds up.

The answer clearly is to go and live somewhere warm. Move to a place that all year round the only clothes you’ll need are shorts and a T-shirt. Right now, dealers are stocking up on convertibles in anticipation of that distant time when the sun shines and all’s right with the world. They need to clear that stock.

Imagine yourself driving along the Amalfi coast or parking outside a sophisticated bar in St Tropez. That’s the life you really want. As you sit shivering around the meagre fire in your hearth cheer yourself up by browsing for deals on a rag-top. For most of us a Ferrari is out of the question but if it’s at least warm most of us will probably settle for a used Mazda MX5.

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American Pickup

Across the world there is a mighty push to find alternative fuel sources for our cars. We are seeing more and more electric cars and even hydrogen is being considered as a potentially viable power source. Additionally we have some excellent hybrid vehicles and many manufacturers now produce highly efficient internal combustion engines of which Ford’s EcoBoost is an example.

None of this is troubling our friends across the ocean, however. Despite many of these alternatives being available, the really strong sellers in the auto market are, as ever, pickups trucks. The manufacturer who gets his new model pickup wrong will lose sales in a heartbeat. The rivalry between the big manufacturers is intense.

Many drivers are prepared to accept that they should buy versions with more frugal engines, like the tiny Chrysler 3.6L V6 found in the new Ram 1500 (formerly Dodge Ram – pictured). With stop/start technology and an eight-speed auto ‘box this will give an impressive 18mpg around town and 25mpg on the open road. Purists can still get a good ’ole Hemi V8 of either 4.7 or 5.7 litres. We very much like the idea of a 5.7L V8 offering fuel saving technology! With the big motor the figures are 14/20mpg. Imagine running that with our fuel prices.

Ford have applied their Ecoboost technology to a 3.5L V6 that is found in the new F150. With American preference for big V8’s the company thought this would be a minority seller. In fact, forty percent of orders are for this engine despite it carrying a one thousand dollar premium on the price tag. The eco-message must be slowly seeping through.

American pickups are not small. As is the trend generally with car manufacture, the vehicles are getting bigger. More importantly they have completely lost their agricultural reputation. The Ram 1500 is available Stateside with air suspension in a much lighter yet stronger frame. It comes with leather and all the usual mod-cons including on-board wi-fi. The cheap n’ tacky Chrysler interiors of old are long gone.

In general, the big manufacturers are ensuring that they cater for the modern motorists by making sure that there’s a greater emphasis on quality and refinement. These pickups have morphed into family cars as well as Tonka toy workhorses. They are now seen as much on the school run as they are out in the boondocks being driven by old guys with really tanned, gnarly forearms.

So despite rising fuel prices, concern for the environment and the rise of the hybrid, the good folks of the USA are not going to relinquish their right to drive what the heck they want without interference from others. Would that things were like that in Europe. So, if you are feeling butch and are flush with cash for petrol, why not buy an American pickup? Look in the right places and you can buy them new, or nearly new, relatively cheaply. They’ll be lefties of course but they are so big you won’t really care. The thought of rumbling up to the supermarket is almost too hard to resist.

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“Sorry Officer; It Won’t Happen Again.”

Yeah, right. Did you hear about the man whose wife ran away with a policeman? When he saw the flashing blue lights in his driving mirror he put his foot down because he thought they were bringing her back. Or how about the woman who assumed her speedo was deficient because she was at high altitude in the mountains?

“It never does that at home!”

Just two of the many excuses used to try and get away with a speeding offence.

No doubt any experienced traffic officer will be able to regale an audience with excuses, both clever and lame, that motorists use when caught going too fast. He probably will not reveal those where he was in the wrong – that’s another story.

The trouble with an excuse is that there is no excuse. Sure, you might get away with it if your passenger is about to give birth, but that’s about it; and anyway, there’s never a pregnant woman around when you need one (Curiously, there sometimes is when you don’t!). So, apart from matters of life or death your card will be marked, matey. Names will be taken. Heads will roll.

Modern cars have very accurate speedometers but they don’t measure how fast a vehicle is going; they work on how many times a wheel, or axle or driveshaft rotates. Then, by the power of electronics, they convert that to what a driver sees on his or her gauge. There is a variable. New tyres make the wheel ‘bigger’, if that makes sense, as does increasing the tyre pressure.

As a consequence the car will appear to travel further which will extrapolate to a greater speed. The same thing happens conversely. Thus, a small difference in wheel diameter gets exaggerated because the wheel is turning maybe six or seven times a second. Compounded, this can mean a difference of a few miles per hour. It’s a good idea to really learn the science of this. You can explain it to the boys in blue; they love a good lecture at the roadside. Can’t get enough of them.

Some people prefer to use the information provided by their navigation devices. These work by measuring the exact distance covered over time by GPS tracking. They can be affected by signal quality and, in some instances, struggle to factor in steep hills. Whichever system a driver uses there is always a margin of error.

The law requires that speedos must never show less than the actual speed and must never show more than 110% of actual speed. To counter this, manufacturers tend to calibrate their gauges high, thus helping to save drivers from themselves. This is also why the cops allow a margin of error although the same can’t be said of speed cameras which, as you know, have no soul.

Overall then, car speedos tend to read higher than sat-navs. It is not however the place of Motor Blogger to recommend one device over another. If you remain resolutely below the advertised speed limit you should be ok. If all else fails you could try slipping a fifty pound note on the ground and ask, disingenuously, if the officer had perchance dropped it. This is an especially good plan if you need a bed for the night.

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Lean Mean Audi TT

Car manufacturers have known for a long time that making a car lighter also makes it better. An instant performance increase without any engine modifications. In recent years the use of aluminium and carbon fibre has been extensive. Now Audi have taken a big step forward with the TT Ultra Quattro. Sadly just a concept for now, it could signal a new direction for the manufacture of automobiles. Lightness is good. Lightness is green.

The TT concept will be shown at the Worthersee Festival in Austria, early in May. Audi have managed to shed an astonishing 300kg from the closest equivalent production model which in turn has boosted performance from the 2.0L TFSI engine. The traffic light sprint is covered in a sparkling 4.2 seconds and the top speed is 173mph.

This is thanks to the construction which includes some materials with very long names. Here goes: Carbon Fibre-Reinforced Polymer (CFRP) and Fibreglass-Reinforced Polymer (FRP) are embellished with a touch of magnesium and it all goes into reducing the weight of the body shell alone by 100kg.

Audi are showing that by utilising an intelligent mix of materials, weight savings are possible even on existing production models. It would certainly help with cost savings on low volume production cars. Although no extra power from the engine is specifically performance derived, modifications to the crankcase and crankshaft, the balancer shafts and flywheel, the sump and other bits and pieces have all served to reduce the engine weight by an amazing 25kg.

No detail escaped the Audi engineers. FRP even replaces steel for the coil springs. The core of these springs consists of long glass fibres which have been impregnated with epoxy resin. Around this very thin core additional fibres at alternating angles. These layers support each other and act when the spring is under load. The operating characteristics are unchanged from the steel counterparts – what is changed is, again, the weight; they’re forty percent lighter.

As can be seen from the image a large motor sport style spoiler enhances the emphatic styling, as do the FRP bucket seats pinched from the R8 GT. Audi, it has to be said, have done it again by enhancing a car that has been around in various forms since 1998. It looks like a new lease of life for the TT and let’s all hope that this car – or something very similar – goes into production in the not too distant future.

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ME.WE: Toyota’s Eco-Car.

If, as an animal lover, you keep a Panda as a pet then you should steer clear of this new Toyota – should it ever make it in into production. In line with current thinking, this new concept car from the Japanese giant has been christened with a silly name. It is made, at least in part, with bamboo.

This is the latest in an increasingly long line of cars that care for the environment. Now, we don’t want to bamboozle (heh) you with a load of eco-babble about rain forests and future human challenges; suffice it to say that this is Toyota’s idea of how we can all own cars in a world without petrol.

The name ME.WE is supposed to express the company’s concern for your personal well-being (ME) and that of others (WE). It might be well meaning but it’s all a tad sickly isn’t it? Still their heart’s in the right place: – this car is, as you would expect, electric and uses the same in-wheel motors as the I-ROAD, Toyota’s city-trike concept. The batteries are under the floor as they are in the iQ. Building in this way means that all the available space can be used for passengers and luggage. See image.

Toyota see this concept as being adaptable to most lifestyle choices. It responds, so they say, to people’s behaviour and expectations. Truly a people’s car then, because it allegedly surmounts social status. The company state that “the concept should propose an alternative synthesis based on personal choices”. Terrific, but will somebody please explain what ‘alternative synthesis’ is.

Still, enough levity. This is the shape of things to come. Get over it. The purpose is clearly to demonstrate that a perfectly serviceable car can be made using the lightest of materials – in this case polypropylene panels built around a tubular aluminium frame – knocking off twenty percent of the weight of the average supermini. The body panels are 100% recyclable.

The floor is made from bamboo, as are all the horizontal surfaces in the cabin. The ME.WE is said to be easy to keep clean with just a simple wash – no expensive waxes required. So, easy to use, cheap to run, a choice of two or four wheel drive, simple to clean and kind to the environment; what’s not to like? Nothing, apart from the daft name. If it does come to market then, as a second car at least, it could do well. And if you don’t like it, feed it to the Panda. Now that’s recycling.

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When Safe Could Mean Sorry

Not that many years ago motor racing was considerably more dangerous than it is now. Tragedy was fairly common but as time and technology have moved forward so safety precautions have saved many lives, as Mark Webber can surely attest after his horrific F1 crash at Valencia in 2010.

The good news is that these racing test beds allow the science of safety to filter down to the cars that we drive today. Current studies however seem to be showing that the more aware we are of the safety features on our cars, the more likely we are to take chances on the basis that we will probably walk away from a shunt.

We have ABS, ESP, TCS, EDS and others that are variously scattered around the new and used cars on sale today. Couple these with any number of airbags which, if they all went off in a crash, would give an understanding of how it would feel to be inside a blancmange and it is no wonder that drivers are possibly being overconfident.

Surrey County Council have published research on road deaths in the first ten years of this century. Previously, give or take the odd aberration, motoring deaths have steadily been decreasing but between the 2000-2006, the number remained broadly level. There has been a drop off in the three years up to 2010 but that is thought to be the result of the economic downturn.

From these figures the researchers have deduced that some car users are being a tad reckless in their driving habits. This may well be so but it could also represent the increasing numbers of cars on our roads and possibly just a drop in driving standards because the cars have become too easy to drive. Nevertheless, it is valid research and a timely reminder to complacent drivers.

Just because there is a greater likelihood that drivers and passengers will walk away from an accident doesn’t mean to say that this will necessarily be so. That is the nature of accidents; they are unpredictable, as the tragic death of the great Ayrton Senna showed.

In the first one hundred years of the automobile drivers were more aware of the fact that they were operating machinery. Clutches and steering were heavier and suspension more basic. If you wanted to throw a car around then an accident was sure to result unless you could really drive. This isn’t the case today. Cars are so technologically advanced that they virtually drive themselves. Yet in the rush to more and more legislation inspired safety options, are we in danger of forgetting that we are in charge of a tonne or so of metal travelling at speed?

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“690BHP – You Lose!”

The next time you are in Dubai and taking advantage, Richard Hammond style, of that nation’s magnificent desert black-tops, be warned. You will not outrun their new cop car because it is a Lamborghini Aventador. The speed limit in Dubai is seventy five miles per hour. If you exceed that they will look for you, they will find you and they will nick you.

Presumably, in a nation of many supercars, the police need something that can trounce most of the miscreant vehicles. This is not, however, the first time a Lambo has appeared on the streets in official guise. In 2004 the Italian company donated a pair of Gallardo sports cars to the Polizia di Stato. They were used ceremonially and on active service – that is until an over-enthusiastic driver wrote one off!

Down under in the Land of Thunder, Sydney to be precise, the lower North Shore echoes to the sound of a Porsche Panamera. Allegedly the car is used solely for community purposes but, frankly, that’s hard to believe. Meanwhile, German police have a twin turbo Brabus tuned CLS Rocket which they no doubt put to good use on the Autobahns.

In Texas – where else? – everything is bigger and better and one sheriff (not exactly a small dude himself) chose as his cop car of choice a nice big Hummer. Not content with the basic motor he upgraded it to a 6.9L V8 with an increased displacement amongst other modifications; the car delivers 150 mph and a torque figure of 910. He also wears a big hat.

In fact, American Police have always had good cars. Many great cars have been observed in police livery including a few of the outstanding muscle cars of legend. The interstate highways of America have seen Corvettes, Vipers and Mustangs, but mainly the cruisers of preference since the 1950’s were the Chevrolet Caprice and the Ford LTD. They were cheap to buy and, most importantly, were rear-wheel drive and had the obligatory V8 engine.

In the 1970’s, the heyday of hot cars and CB radio, a popular choice was the American Motor Company’s (AMC) Ambassador with the 401 cubic inch four barrel power plant. A very capable performer. Meanwhile, in the UK, our cops were trundling around in Austin Leyland Allegros – consistently voted the worst car ever. Occasionally, off-duty British traffic policemen were seen exiting screenings of Smokey and the Bandit with tears in their eyes and wishing they drove the Pontiac LeMans with the four litre V8 just like good ‘ole Sheriff Buford T Justice. Now that’s a cop’s name!

Attempts have been made to put police onto roller skates or bikes, an idea which nobody but the originators took seriously, but the car still rules. These days traffic cars in the UK seem to be a bit thin on the ground but if you’re going to get stopped for speeding what could be better than an Aventador to do the job?

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Shanghai Surprises

Back on the 12th April we mentioned that Ford were planning a surprise concept that would be revealed at the Shanghai show. Well, as good as their word they have revealed – an Escort! Bet you didn’t see that one coming; and you won’t either because it is not for the likes of us but rather for the burgeoning Chinese market. This is presumably because the Chinese have no understanding of the connotations behind the word ‘escort’. There it is in the image and very nice it looks too. Nothing remains to remind us of that late, unlamented car.

Other releases include the Maserati Ghibli, the Panamera Hybrid, the VW CrossBlue concept and a couple of others that we have already covered, including the bizarrely code-named Nissan Friend-ME. Other cars revealed include a couple of slightly odd – and some believe rather pointless – German cars.

First up is the BMW X4 concept. They call it a concept but it is believed to be pretty much what the production version will look like. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course, but to some observers it’s not really a looker – more Zellweger than Klum, if you see what we mean. More interestingly, some commentators are wondering, what is it for? Certainly the BMW X range of SUV’s has been a huge success but there is already four of them. Why this? Despite reservations it is sure to be a success – it is a BMW after all and that means great driving characteristics and all the attributes of the brand. No doubt it will find its niche.

Basically, the same thing goes for the Mercedes GLA concept. Essentially, it is a hiked-up crossover version of the A-Class. It is expected in the showrooms in 2015. The concept is loaded with some of that pointless showing off by the technology department at Mercedes – including laser beam projectors in the headlights – but who knows what will be acceptable in a couple of years time? Expect some engine advances though. This car should go up against the Audi Q3 and will cost around £40k in today’s money.

No show would be complete without another electric car. This time it is the limited edition SP-01 from Detroit Electric. It’s a sports car reputed to be the fastest yet and it is certainly eye-catching; but what’s the point? Sorry to be a killjoy but wouldn’t it be a good idea to spend the research money on a car that will actually work and sell in the real world? Plenty of drivers would like an EV that had good range provided it was within their budget which this patently is not. Nevertheless you can buy an SP-01 now.

With first deliveries of the spectacular F-Type currently in hand, It’s good to see Jaguar Land Rover flying the flag at Shanghai. China is a growing market for the JLR brand and they had their most successful month in March, selling nearly 8500 units. There is also hope for the MG name. They’ve previewed the MG3 supermini prior to it’s European release later this year. It would be great if this venerable name can truly be resurrected in the UK.

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VW Show The Shape Of Things To Come

Volkswagen have a plan and it involves the future design direction of their range of SUVs; and very nice it is too. The photo shows the five-seat CrossBlue Coupé which will make its debut at the Shanghai Motor Show later in the month.

Here at Motor Blogger we think this one is a bit special. Size-wise, it’s about the same size as the mighty Touareg although it sits lower and has a wider, more aggressive stance. Yet this is not just a design exercise. In line with current technology this car is also a plug-in hybrid.

The engine is a turbo V6 with direct petrol injection mated to not one but two electric motors driving front and rear, generating 40kW at the front and a gutsy 85kW at the back. Combined, 516lb ft of torque is on offer. Power is via a six speed DSG gearbox and the combined whole will take the CrossBlue to 62mph in a scant 5.9 seconds.

In other words this is a family sized vehicle with the performance of a sports car. Incredibly, Volkswagen reckon that despite the bulk the coupé will sip fuel to the tune of 94.1mpg. In reality this is not likely to be achievable, as ever, but even 70+ miles per gallon is a bit of an achievement in a large car.

The CrossBlue is built on VW’s new Modular Transverse Matrix component set. Although this does not really tell us much it can be assumed that this is about shared modular construction across company products with front driving transverse engines. It will presumably allow the company to rationalise components across their vehicle range. This is much the same thinking as used by other manufacturers and clearly makes sense. Apart from anything else it helps to keep pricing competitive and that’s good for everybody.

Driven on battery power alone the car is said to cover 20 miles as a standalone EV. In E-Mode only the rear electric motor provides drive and the petrol engine is shut off. The engine will not engage until speeds of seventy five mph as long as there is battery power to spare. Once electric power is depleted the engine cuts in instantly.

Aside from plug-in recharging the car has a variety of ways to generate electric power on the move and, if necessary, the TSI engine can stand alone and drive the front wheels.

It is probably said every time a new Volkswagen comes out but it’s true – it looks like they’ve done it again: but there’s a problem. The company say that there are no plans to put the CrossBlue into production. This is a tragic mistake. Clearly this is an idea of the shape of things to come but we want it now!

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Why choose a MINI Convertible for your next car

The MINI convertible is one of those cars that drivers can desire with both their heads, and their hearts. Sure, it’s not quite as practical as some four-door cars of the same size, and the MINI’s interior is beaten on space by some. But, it is reasonably well sized and very well laid out, and about as safe and reliable as any in its segment.

The MINI convertible has proven to be a popular choice with contract lease customers, especially now that there are a full range of frugal petrol and diesel engines on offer throughout the range, to help keep taxation costs a little bit lower. Drivers that want to enjoy a little more fun in their driving life and want to feel the blast of the wind through their hair can go for the MINI convertible and have all that fun, without sacrificing the latest in technology, safety and comfort. That’s why the MINI convertible is popular year after year.

Available as a whole host of different model variants, the MINI convertible range really does offer something for everyone who’s a fan of the funky new MINI shape. And judging by the sales figures, that’s almost everybody!

The summer is almost thankfully upon us, and very soon we’ll all be looking with a little touch of jealousy at those who are enjoying the convertible side of motoring life, with the roof down and their favourite tunes up. And if you too are thinking of a convertible car as your next car, then the cheeky MINI convertible is surely worthy of your consideration.

The MINI convertible is a classy-looking drop-top that looks as good with its roof up as it does with its roof down. While convertible cars may not be as practical as their hard-top cousins, on a sunny British summer day, there won’t be many who’ll care for practicalities when driving their drop-top MINI. When the winter comes around again, the MINI convertible’s high quality fabric roof will keep the occupants just as cosy and comfortable as the hatchback car would.

Just in case your new MINI convertible isn’t funky enough, there is a huge range of customisation options available at the time of ordering your brand new car. Everything from new and bigger wheels, special paint colours and comfy new carpet trims, can be ordered to spice up your MINI exactly the way you want it. All of this means that your MINI convertible won’t be the same as the one next door. Hopefully!

Other choices to make for your new MINI convertible will be the engine under its curvy bonnet. From the small and frugal to the big and fast; there is a comprehensive range of the very latest in engine technology to choose from. Petrol or diesel, turbocharged or naturally aspirated; there’s a motor for every budget and every driving style with the latest range of MINI convertible cars. At the very top of the MINI convertible range sits the John Cooper Works, which is inspired by the John Cooper Works team that used to pep up the original range of Minis, back in the 1960s. These days none of the reliability is sacrificed to make the hotter MINIs go much faster, so if you want speed and reliability, you’re in the right place.

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