Saturday, 29 January 2011

News Roundup 28 January 2011

BMW to replace six-cylinder engines with turbocharged fours?

For me BMW is synonymous with six-cylinder engines and, in particular, the inline six. As engine layouts go it has much to commend it in terms of refinement. No V6 can match it for balance – the term used to describe the way an engines internal vibrations do (or do not) cancel each other out. Against that is the difficulty of installing what can be a long engine with adequate space for the crash protection required these days. However BMW has kept faith with its six-cylinder engines when just about everyone else has switched to V6s.

From Fourwheelsteer: Motoring Writer
A classic BMW inline six as fitted to the M635CSi

So it was saddening to read BMW’s announcement of a new, 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged petrol engine. It has 242bhp and 258lb.ft - more than the company’s ‘smaller’ six-cylinder engines. The new power unit is said to be smaller and lighter than the sixes too, which makes sense. It also makes sense within the context of engine downsizing that is going on across the industry for better mpg and lower CO2 emissions. BMW has already replaced the some V8s with turbocharged straight sixes. On the official mpg and CO2 tests the new engine is bound to be superior, it just seems unlikely that it will sound as good.

Incidentally, it seems that BMW’s model designations no longer enjoy the close relationship with engine size that they once did. For the six-cylinder petrol models (excluding the X versions) the designations and engine capacity are listed below:

BMW 325i – 2,996cc – 218bhp

BMW 335i – 2,979cc – 306bhp

BMW 523i – 2,996cc – 204bhp

BMW 528i – 2,996cc – 258bhp

BMW 535i – 2,979cc – 306bhp

BMW 740i – 2,979cc – 326bhp

Z4 23i – 2,497cc – 204bhp

Z4 30i – 2,996cc – 258bhp

Z4 35i – 2,979cc – 306bhp

Why, for example, is there a 3.0-litre engine in the 325i and a 2.5-litre in the Z4 23i?

Car of the Week: Volkswagen XL1 Super Economy Vehicle

From Fourwheelsteer: Motoring Writer
Volkswagen XP1

Launching an economy car in the Middle East is probably a sign of the German sense of humour but Volkswagen chose the Qatar Motor Show to unveil the 313mpg XL1 concept.

It is VW’s third generation economy vehicle and uses an 800cc turbodiesel engine combined with electric motor and 7-speed DSG transmission. It is also attractively streamlined, low, mid-engined and possibly more elegant than anything the company has built in over 20 years.

I think real world economy – as opposed to the artificial combined drive cycle – would be better with an ordinary turbodiesel engine and manual gearbox. Slightly more power and performance would be useful too; the XP1 has around 75bhp split 50:25 between diesel and electric motors. A 0-62mph time of 11.9 seconds is adequate but nothing special (although 30-60mph or 60-90mph times would be useful to know). It also feels like cheating to limit the top speed to 99mph – if the aerodynamics are that good it would be instructive to see how fast you can go on 75bhp.

I could see myself driving something like the XP1 – not something I can say about most concept cars.

Friday, 21 January 2011

News Roundup 21 January 2011

Possibly the biggest car news story of the week, if not the most important, was the announcement of the Ferrari FF. Whether in a deliberate or coincidental nod history it is a luxury, high-performance, four-seat hatchback with four-wheel drive – not unlike the Jensen FF from 1966.

From Fourwheelsteer: Motoring Writer

Ferrari says its FF stands for Ferrari Four (four seats and four-wheel drive) so Ferrari FF is actually a tautology. Whatever the name Ferrari claims the all-wheel drive system does not compromise the car’s ‘ideal’ 47:53 front-rear weight distribution. It also refers to the car having a transaxle. As I understand it; that means there must be one drive shaft from the engine in the front to the gearbox at the back and another drive shaft running from the gearbox to the front differential. No-one else has commented on this, it will be interesting to see what the FF looks like under the skin. Hopefully all the car’s secrets will be revealed when it is officially unveiled in Geneva this March.

If you are in the market for Ferrari’s latest offering then the Aston Martin Cygnet probably qualifies as affordable town transport. The compact, Toyota-based Aston costs just over £30,000 and production is due to start in April.

From Fourwheelsteer: Motoring Writer

Final news story to catch my eye was the report that discussions are taking place about exempting the oldest historic vehicles from the requirement to pass an annual MOT test. Justification for the move is given that the vehicles in question cover such small mileages and are usually well maintained so the safety impact would be minimal. Of course owners would be expected to maintain their vehicles in roadworthy condition – just as every motorist must.

Car of the Week – Subaru and Toyota RWD Sports Coupé

This week Subaru announced that it would show its Rear-wheel drive sports coupé platform at the Geneva Motor Show in the spring. As you might expect few facts have been revealed ahead of the official unveiling. The only thing we know for certain is that it will use a Subaru trademark flat-four engine.

Actually that’s not quite true; there is a Toyota version - the FT-86 – which has been seen at a couple of motor shows. Apparently the FT is about the same size as a BMW 1-series coupé and has room for four. It is also supposed to be light and power could be anything from 150-350bhp.

From Fourwheelsteer: Motoring Writer

If Toyota and Subaru can get the dynamics right, get details right – like the steering, gear change and pedal feel right – and price it affordably and it could be as big a success as the MX5 was for Mazda.

Friday, 14 January 2011

News Roundup 14 January 2011

Welcome to 2011 and a new idea for the blog; a news roundup. If I can do it weekly then great but hopefully it will be a regular and frequent source of updates. So, here goes…

Uninsured drivers are a menace on the roads so any measure to crack down on them should be welcomed. However, government initiatives should always be welcomed cautiously. For some time there has been talk of enforcing continuous vehicle insurance and it looks like it will pass into law in the next few months. The idea is that the DVLA and Motor Insurers’ Bureau will work together to identify cars that appear to be uninsured. The registered keeper will be informed of the situation and could face fines or even have the vehicle seized and crushed. Where a SORN declaration has been made there would be no requirement to have insurance.

The problem is that serial uninsured drivers probably don’t bother registering cars in their own name or at their own address. And even if they did, would they pay any attention to a fine delivered by post? I can’t help thinking that the best way to deal with uninsured drivers is to have more police patrols with ANPR stopping uninsured vehicles and, where the driver does not have valid insurance, taking the car on the spot and making the driver and passengers walk home. More “Police: Stop” type programmes on television showing this might get the message across more effectively. Above all, the guiding principle for the government (any government) is that effectively enforcing the legislation you’ve got is better than writing new laws.

Date for the diary

From Fourwheelsteer: Motoring Writer

A couple of years ago I want to the Historic Motor Sport Show at the showground in Stonleigh, Warwickshire, as it wasn’t far from home. Full of interesting machinery and people it seemed like an event that deserved to prosper. Now, in the guise of ‘Race Retro’, the event does indeed appear to be doing well and this year’s event takes place on 25th-27th February. Why should you care? For one thing the 1950s Moto Guzzi, 500cc V8 motorcycle will make its UK debut – not just as a static exhibit but it will be fired up so visitors can hear it running. Also running on a special rally stage will be a variety of cars including a Lancia Delta Integrale, Vauxhall Chevette HS and Mercedes 190E Cosworth.

New Car of the Week

From Fourwheelsteer: Motoring Writer

Land Rover Defender X-Tech. I have a soft spot for Land Rovers and the silver and black X-Tech Defender limited edition looks almost too cool. If only it were available with a petrol/LPG V8…

Disappointment of the Week

From Fourwheelsteer: Motoring Writer

When I saw that Skoda had produced a Fabia to mark 100 years of the Monte Carlo Rally I thought it might be a special version of the sporting vRS. Maybe an even hotter vRS, or just given a green and white body/interior like Skoda’s rally cars. Instead the Fabia Monte Carlo is based on the SE and comes with some fairly ordinary engines. I’m sure it is a perfectly fine car and that some clever person with a spreadsheet has calculated that this model will sell better than a limited edition performance variant. But when Skoda has been heavily promoting the performance Fabia you’d think a rally-themed model was just the thing to give it some serious credibility.