Friday, 28 August 2009

First Drive: Rossion Q1

Rossion Q1

"How fast can you take it?" I ask Craig Spuhler, Rossion's technical engineer and my passenger at this particular moment in time. "About 75 mph with an 85 mph exit speed." I was behind the wheel of a Rossion Q1 winding my way up a 270-degree decreasing radius on-ramp that shoots straight onto Florida's I-95. As Spuhler has put more miles on Rossions than anyone else alive, and I'd been in the car all of 15 minutes, I decided that 65 mph was a nice, sane, journalist-safe speed. Even in fourth gear there was enough twin-turbo'd torque to get me to 80 mph by the end of the ramp. Truth is, I could've done the deed at 75 mph in third, if not much, much faster.

Rossion recently relocated from Ohio to Pompano Beach, FL and invited us to spend the weekend with 'em, flogging their brand-new Q1, thus far their only product. It's hard to talk about the Rossie (pronounced in the Johannesburg accents of owners Dean Rosen and Ian Grunes as "Raw-Zee") without discussing the 2,400-pound Gorilla in the room, the Noble M12 (and to some degree, the more track focused M400). The two cars are very closely related and both come from the Hi Tech Automotive assembly line in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

Other similarities include the mild-steel space frame, integral four-point roll cage, Getrag six-speed with Quaife LSD, mid-mounted traverse 3.0-liter Ford Duratec V6 fitted with twin-turbochargers and a G.R.P. (a.k.a. fiberglass) body. And that's largely where the similarities stop. The Q1 gets its own optimized Koni dampers, H&R springs, unique sway bars and rear unequal length control arms, though the two cars do share a double wishbone design up front.

Externally, the differences are quite apparent. Whereas the Noble M400 (Rossion happened to have one in the shop for comparison's sake) resembles a caricature of a kit car with its garish, tacked on scoops reminiscent of those found on the original California Special Mustangs and panel gaps you can stick your thumb between, the Q1's a totally different – and altogether more refined – story. Not only do all the body panels look as if they were designed by the same person at the same time, but gap tolerances have been tightened up to less than 5 mm. We found the car quite handsome, though its 96-inch wheelbase makes it look small.

Inside, the two cars are night and day. Rossion has fitted, snug-but-comfy leather-coated, four-way adjustable carbon fiber seats. Not only are they light, but they look sharp. They've also covered up the standard roll bars with Alcantara padding. The rest of the innards are covered by leather and/or aluminum. Cases in points, the pedals are aluminum while the Momo steering wheel is leather wrapped. Those of you with big feet might find the pedal box a bit cramped (size 13 over here), but the pedals do adjust side-to-side. Best of all, as our late August South Floridian weather proved, the air-conditioning blows cold. All in all, a surprisingly pleasant place to be.

Especially on the road. Knowing what we knew about Nobles going in, we rightly assumed the Q1 would be quite quick and handle extremely well. But we didn't expect the ride to be cushy. However, since the steel space frame and roll cage already render the car diamond stiff, Rossion has been able to keep the damping and spring rates out of the spine-smashing range. The Q1 offers a much smoother ride, for instance, than track-focused machines like the Mazda RX-8 R3 or Lotus Elise/Exige. On Florida's smooth concrete roads it was especially subtle. Comfortable, even.

But you're not here to talk about how shockingly pleasant we found the Rossion Q1. You want to know how it drives when pushed. Exceedingly fantastic, we're happy to report. The aforementioned 3.0-liter V6 with twin-turbos produces a glorious 450 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque. Redline is 7,200 rpm (turbocharged engines don't need lofty revs) and peak torque occurs at 5,250 rpm. And the Q1 weighs 2,495 pounds, giving it a power-to-weight ratio of about 5.5 pounds per pony. For comparison's sake, a 997 GT2 has a power-to-weight of six pounds per horse.

Calling the Q1 quick is like calling water wet. It's more a question of how quick. Check out these (manufacturer claimed) numbers. 0-60 mph in 3.2 seconds, 0-100 mph in 7.5 seconds, the quarter-mile in 11.1 at about 120 mph and on to top speed of (probably) 185 mph. While the flat-out velocity may not play in the same league as today's supercars, every other number sure does. In fact, should those numbers hold up to scrutiny, the Q1 is one of the quickest production cars the world has ever seen, featuring a 0-60 mph time equal to the McLaren F1, Saleen S7 Twin-Turbo and the Koenigsegg CCX.

Does the seat of this journo's pants agree? We've been extremely spoiled in recent weeks, playing with such monsters as the Nissan GT-R and Lamborghini LP550-2 Valentino Balboni. On one run in particular, with the Q1's blowoff valve venting like a cross between a semi's air brakes and a gasping whale, the Rossion Q1 felt significantly faster than either car. Brutal, violent even. In fact, CEO Dean Rosen claims that when the Q1 laid down those numbers it was a humid, wet day. He figures that 3.1 or even 3 seconds flat to 60 mph is possible. Regardless, its kooky fast.

As quick as the Q1 is, dancing left to right is the little rocket's actual forte. Again, the numbers are silly. The Q1 can pull 1.065 g in either direction and slaughter a slalom at 75 mph. For comparison's sake, A Ferrari Enzo can "only" run the cones at 73 mph (and takes a leisurely 3.4 seconds to reach 60 mph) and it musters "just" 1.02 g around a 200-foot skidpad. Sadly, we and the Q1 were not destined to spend any time on the track together – instead we were stuck playing on off-ramps or mired in Boca Raton traffic. While we experienced moments of unfettered hoonage, the affair was far from ideal. So we phoned up someone who had put the Q1 through its track day paces: drift and rally legend and host of Supercars Exposed, Tanner Foust.

"Knowing that it's based on a car with the magical suspension geometry that the Noble was known to have is the golden gem. Normally when a car is introduced and claims to have supercar capabilities, you figure sure, yeah right. But with the Noble-based Rossion, it's worth a second look... the Rossion feels very neutral, very light and very spooky in how responsive it is, like a mid-engine car should be. It handles the bumps at the limit and all that, but most important it's very predictable. Even when you're driving it completely sideways – which I did – it just does what's expected."
High praise indeed.

So, we hear you wondering, how much? A typical Q1 with the engine installed by American Speed Factory (the same place that sets up Ferrari Challenge cars, Grand Am Racers and Pro Formula Mazdas) will set you back between $103,000 and $109,000. That's Porsche Carrera S money for a car that will frankly outrun the Turbo. True, you can go crazy with the options list, choosing exotic paint schemes like matte finishes, painted wheels and diamond interior stitching, but even then you're talking about $130,000 or so, a price that's half off what you'd pay for a Ferrari F430 Scuderia.

And speaking of Ferrari, Dean Rosen is considering a Ferrari Challenge-style spec series featuring more track-prepped Q1s (poly bushings and all that). Still not convinced? Does $100,000+ for "just" 450 horses not float your supercar boat? Well, no one is making you go with the Mondeo-sourced 3.0-liter V6. You're free to buy the Q1 sans motor and shove in whatever you like – it's just that no one has done so. In fact, Rosen himself floated the idea of using Ford's new EcoBoost direct-injected twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6, uncorked to the tune of 600 hp. But that's far in the future. For now, it's best to think of the Rossion Q1 as the American (via Britain and South Africa) supercar deal of the decade.

[Source: Autoblog]

Ferrari 458 Italia: Maranello releases more details

Ferrari 458 Italia
Ferrari 458 Italia
Ferrari 458 Italia

The Frankfurt Motor Show is fast approaching, but rather than hit the brakes as they would for an approaching corner, Ferrari is pulling out all the stops. In gearing up to unveil their new 458 Italia at the show next month, Ferrari is giving us a little more each week. We've already seen the first batch of shots, downloaded the ringtone and heard the company's brand and technical directors talk about the car; now Maranello has released an additional video of Paolo Pininfarina of the eponymous design studio talk about the car's styling, and with it released a new batch of interior, motion and studio shots.

Always eager to adopt lessons learned on the grand prix circuit into its road cars, Ferrari has further centralized the controls onto the Italia's steering wheel. What we'd usually find on column-mounted control stocks has apparently all been moved to the steering wheel's fascia, including the turn indicators, headlamps and windscreen wipers – in addition to the chassis setting switch and ignition button, while redundant stereo controls move to the back of the wheel ahead of the even larger shift paddles.

There's also a new Vehicle Dynamic Assistance system to monitor operating temperatures and tolerances of the engine, gearbox, brakes and tires and alerts the driver to whether the car is warming up, overheated or ready to go. Check out the images in the gallery below and read all about it in the press release after the jump – which is where you'll also find the video interview. Oh, and don't forget to stay tuned for the next segment, as Ferrari says it will include an interview with Michael Schumacher!

[Source: Ferrari]


More news on the Ferrari 458 Italia on new photos and interview now on the site in the run-up to the Frankfurt Show

Maranello, 27 August 2009 – In the run-up to the official unveiling of the Ferrari 458 Italia at the Frankfurt Motor Show on the 15th of September, enthusiasts can find out more about the car on There they will find the first photographs of the 458 Italia's interior and of the steering wheel and instrument binnacle which represent a significant step forward in the concept of the ergonomic interface between driver and car.

In fact the main commands are now grouped on the steering wheel, the secondary commands are handily set in two satellite pods either side of the dash and there are now comprehensive instrument displays on the panel ahead of the driver. These solutions represent an important safety aspect, enabling the driver to concentrate fully on driving. Similarly this layout ensures maximum control of the car in highperformance driving, an uncompromising approach that derives directly from Ferrari's F1 experience.

Working closely with the Ferrari Styling Centre, the engineers have thus reinterpreted the positioning of the major commands to provide a truly driver-oriented cockpit. All steering-column mounted stalks have been eliminated, with the indicators, full beam, flash and windscreen wiper functions now being activated by buttons on the steering wheel boss. The button to select the shock absorber setting is now positioned next to the 'Engine start' button where it falls readily to hand. Behind the wheel are a number of secondary functions, such as the stereo, while the gearbox paddles are now longer making shifts even easier from any steering angle.

The right-hand satellite pod on the dash incorporates controls for the infotainment, the Bluetooth connection, sat-nav, digital speedo and rear parking camera. Clustered on the left-hand satellite pod instead are the optional cruise control, buttons for choosing the video setting of the left-hand dash TFT screen and the on-board computer interface. The latter controls the trip computer, the Vehicle Dynamic Assistance and the display of the car's set-up.

The Vehicle Dynamic Assistance monitors the operating parameters of the most important areas of the car - engine/gearbox, tyres and brakes. The VDA is enabled in the following manettino settings – Race, CT off and CST off – and provides visual confirmation of the status of each component based on an algorithm from parameters reading lateral and longitudinal acceleration, revs and speed. This enables the driver to assess the ideal operating conditions for the car. There are three status settings: WARM-UP (operating temperature too low), GO (ideal operating conditions) and OVER (one or more components are no longer at their optimum level and need cooling).

Along with the photos now on-line, the Ferrari site also includes an exclusive videointerview with Paolo Pininfarina, Chairman of Pininfarina S.p.A., who provides indepth insight into the 458 Italia's design philosophy and exterior styling. The next release on will include an analysis of the car's performance characteristics with an interview with seven-times F1 World Champion Michael Schumacher.

Watermelon Juice - the next great automotive fuel?

Watermelon Juice

Corn as a source for ethanol has its problems. While there are a number of backers, there are real issues that need to be addressed, including (but not necessarily limited to) the huge amount of corn required to brew large batches of the alcohol fuel and the large quantities of water needed in the process. A new alternative is just now popping up that may offer at least a partial solution: watermelon juice.

According to Discovery News, 360,000 tons of watermelons are left to rot and spoil each and every year as farmers leave between 20 and 40 percent of their crops on the ground. Why? It seems consumers just won't buy watermelons that don't look quite as attractive as their siblings, whether that's due to an odd shape, smaller size or minor animal damage. Researchers from the United States Department of Agriculture in Lane, Oklahoma, have found that its possible to create ethanol from these unwanted watermelons. We've heard about this potential biomass before.

Though there's only enough watermelon juice available to brew 2.5 million gallons of ethanol (total ethanol production will top 9 billion gallons this year), researchers indicate that the tasty nectar can be used to displace up to 15% of corn or molasses, cut down on water usage and supply needed nitrogen to the mix.

College Station, Texas-based company Common Sense Agriculture, LLC is reportedly working on a prototype plant to produce ethanol from waste watermelons. Company President Jim Rausch points out:

"This is not going to replace corn. In that sense it will remain a niche source of biofuel. But unlike algae biodiesel or cellulosic ethanol, it's a right now thing. There's no new technology that needs to be developed to make it economical."

[Source: Discovery News]

Stillen Nissan GT-R: 620 horsepower, 0-60 mph in 2.9 seconds (w/ video)

Stillen Nissan GT-R Targa Race Car

It's been more than six months since Stillen started working on their Nissan GT-R race car and we're happy to report it's finished and already on its way to Eastern Canada where it will compete in the Targa Newfoundland in a few weeks. Before the hopped-up GT-R was loaded on the trailer, Steve Millen and his crew took the car out to the El Toro Marine base for a few shakedown runs. Road and Track tagged along to record some performance numbers that, as you might expect, are nothing short of impressive.

Thanks to a huge list of performance parts, the Stillenized GT-R produces 620 horsepower at 15psi from its dual turbochargers. Perhaps more importantly, several hundred pounds have been removed thanks to a stripped interior, lots of carbon fiber body components and lightweight racing seats. The extra power and weight savings results in a 0-60 mph time of just 2.9 seconds and a 1/4 mile pass in a mere 11.0 seconds at 127.9 mph. Lateral grip is a gut-clenching 1.1g.

[Source: Stillen]

STILLEN GT-R Targa Race Car

Performance Numbers (As Set Up For 2009 Targa Rally)
  • Horsepower: ~620 @ 15psi (91 Octane Pump Gas)
  • 0-60mph: 2.9 seconds **
  • 1/4 Mile: 11.0 seconds at 127.9mph **
  • 0-130mph: 11.4 seconds **
  • Lateral Grip: 1.1G+ **
** (as tested by Road & Track)

  • STILLEN Downpipes
  • STILLEN Secondary Cat-Delete Y-Pipe
  • STILLEN Race Exhaust w/Center Rear Exit
  • STILLEN Intake System w/K&N Filters
  • Turbosmart e-Boost Street 2-Stage Electronic Boost Controller
  • Turbosmart Dual Port Blow Off Valves
  • COBB Tuning AccessPORT
  • Dodson Motorsports Transmission Cooler
  • Red Line High Performance Synthetic Motor Oil – 0W40
  • Red Line High Performance Synthetic Gear Oil – 75W140
  • Red Line WaterWetter

  • High Performance Coil-Overs – Adjustable Bump & Rebound, Ride Height – Eibach Race Springs
  • STILLEN Adjustable Sway Bars
  • STILLEN Adjustable Endlinks
Brakes / Tires
  • STILLEN / AP Racing Carbon Ceramic Brake Rotor Upgrade
  • STILLEN / AP Racing Brake Pads
  • STILLEN Brake Cooling Package
  • STILLEN Stainless Steel Brake Lines
  • AP Racing PRF High Performance Brake Fluid
  • Bridgestone RE070R 255/40ZRF20 Front Tires
  • Bridgestone RE070R 285/35ZRF20 Rear Tires

  • STILLEN Designed & Built Custom Chromoly Roll Cage
  • STILLEN Designed & Built Custom Seat Frames
  • Status Racing Seats
  • Status Racing Harnesses
  • Monit Rally Computers
  • ChaseCam On-Board Video Camera System
  • Nordskog GPS Speedometer (KPH)

STILLEN Urethane Front Lip Spoiler
STILLEN Urethane Side Skirts
STILLEN Urethane Front Canards
Password:JDM Dry Carbon Fiber Custom Race Hood
Password:JDM Dry Carbon Fiber Trunk Lid
Password:JDM Dry Carbon Fiber Wing
Password:JDM Dry Carbon Fiber Engine Cover
Password:JDM Dry Carbon Fiber Radiator Shroud
Password:JDM Dry Carbon Fiber NACA Ducts
Password:JDM AeroCatch Flush Mounting Plates
APR Carbon Fiber Side Mirrors
BASF Carizzma Orange Sherbet Pearl Paint

Asian chefs create unreal life-size F1 car from bread

Asia's Largest race car made from bread
Asia's Largest race car made from bread
Asia's Largest race car made from bread

We know what you're thinking, and we agree – if there's one thing that we just can't seem to accept in modern Formula One racing, it's the distinct lack of edible race cars. Fortunately, that minor niggle is currently being remedied by the Culinary Executive Chef from the Royal Plaza On Scotts in Singapore, who led a team of six chefs, two artists, two technicians, two culinary staff members and five young volunteers from Metta Welfare Association to create bake the machine you see in the gallery below: Asia's Largest Race Car Made From Bread. We wonder... is there some other bread-based race car vying for the world record?

According to, there are a thousand individual loaves and 22 different types of bread in the life-size F1 car. More numbers: it took 33 pounds of yeast, 14 liters of water, 4.4 pounds of salt and nearly three gallons of varnish to finish this delightful creation. We bet it's the best smelling race car ever.


Monday, 24 August 2009

First Drive: 2010 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor

2010 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor

Although some of us have an unabashed love for all-things off-road, the Ford F-150 SVT Raptor didn't register a huge blip on our collective radar. We figured it would be a performance kit that was much more kit than performance, or an off-road wunderkind that makes life a Hobbesian kind of brutish when used anywhere but the moon. We spent two days in Southern California, one of which in the Raptor's Anza Borrego Desert birthplace, to discover one thing: We were wrong. The Raptor is all that. And a bag of chips. And dessert.

A few years ago, some of the gents at SVT decided to try their expertise on a truck that would put their particular brand of oomph on the dirt instead of on the streets. Incredibly, there were other SVT gents who weren't so keen on the idea, thinking an SVT joint is a tarmac performance vehicle, not a... truck. Yet in 2006, Ford marketing data pointed to the ascent of off-road performance as a consideration for people buying pickups, with street performance as the end-all on the decline. Thankfully, for anyone who likes bombing the dirt on four wheels, the first group of gents won. What they've given us is the Raptor, and it is terrific.

The Raptor is a clean-sheet truck. The SVT engineers wrote down what they wanted, then they took other trucks out to benchmark them. Then, according to SVT, they broke all those other trucks and still hadn't experienced anything like what they wanted. So they took their specifications list to outside suppliers, like their axle maker, Fox and BF Goodrich. And those outside suppliers laughed at them. When the SVT engineers didn't laugh, the outside suppliers said "Oh, wait – you're serious?" And then everyone got to work.

Comparing the Raptor to an F-150 is nearly useless.
Built at the F-150's production center, the Raptor rides on a chassis seven inches wider than its donor sibling, and according to one SVT fellow, "It just barely fits down the line." But comparing the Raptor to an F-150 is nearly useless. It makes far more sense to look at the Raptor as what an F-150 would be if it were the most intense off-road retail truck imaginable.

The Raptor's bed box is from the F-150, but the rear outer box is unique, as is everything forward of the A-pillar. It rides on a widened version of the F-150 frame, and the suspension points match the F-150, but some tweaks were made to the mounting of a variety of parts, including the shock mounting bolts that were moved to make clearance for the suspension travel. Mounted to those rails are a suite of beefy, highly engineered components: aluminum squeeze-cast control rods, rear axle tube shafts that are thicker and of a higher grade steel than on Super Duty trucks, upgraded hydro-mounts for the engine, microcellular jounce bumpers, high-strength steel for the rear lower shock mounts and more heat shields.

To top it off there's a unique skid plate package and a full-sized spare hanging out back. The spare is black, not grey like the standard wheels, because of the government mandate on non-TPMS-fitted wheels. Outside, the running boards are cast aluminum and coated in a Rhinoliner-like material, and they flex instead of bending irretrievably.

The wheels are 17-inches in diameter, and SVT didn't want to go any bigger because they wanted the tallest possible sidewalls for the 35-inch BF Goodrich All Terrain tires. Those BFGs, while made in the same molds -- and carrying the same tread pattern -- as traditional BFGs, have a unique compound. SVT found that the standard compound didn't work well in mud and snow, which would be a huge obstacle to Midwestern buyers (and the Michigan-based SVT workers themselves), so they worked with BFG and changed the thickness, belt angle, and compound to create a tire that could handle actual seasons and not make a lot of noise while doing it. With all that, the tires are just $200 each to replace.

Inside, it's mammoth. The seats are custom, more highly bolstered to attend to off-road jostling, but the cabin is large enough for a whale pod. The orange trim is unique, and the steering wheel gets an orange center mark to keep you apprised of what's happening up front. There are also auxiliary switches included so you don't have to patch-job them in when you want to add two light bars.

The Raptor only comes in four colors: orange, black, white and blue. The orange-accented interior trim is available as an option on the orange and black exterior-colored versions. Otherwise you get a gray metallic treatment, which we liked just because we're low-key like that, but the orange isn't bad. For the outside, we prefer black. The Raptor is a machine of function, and like most such things, it isn't, to our eyes, a looker. It is cool and awesome and badass and all that – it just isn't the most handsome thing around.

The Raptor rides 9.8 inches high, and because it's seven inches wider, the DOT mandates that it have marker lights. The two out back are red and on the rear fenders; in front the amber array sits atop the grille.

It took about 20 minutes of driving on the roads for us to figure out the urban-route Raptor: it's an F-150. The additional hours we spent behind the wheel on highways, B-roads and serpentine mountainside roads didn't change our minds. With 320 hp and 390 lb-ft from the 5.4-liter, three-valve SOHC engine working through a six-speed transmission, the truck has decent pace. Weighing in at 5,863 pounds, the engine has to put in some effort when you want quick maneuvers, but again, it just feels like a truck.

On the outside, though, it does sound very good. Hit the gas and it roars like a modded truck. On the other hand, inside all you'll get is the sound of a regular F-150.

Of course, that's also meant to be part of the triumph of the Raptor -- it drives like an F-150, not like a desert-eating monster. Even though it's huge inside, from behind the wheel it doesn't feel seven inches wider. Stopping at a 7-11 for coffee, we didn't notice the extra width when pulling in between two cars. The BF Goodrich tires don't roar. The suspension, especially that foot of travel out back, does well on roads – you don't float, nor do you get your brains beaten out by stiffness. On those serpentine roads it understeers pretty quickly if you decide to put it to the test, but again, it's a three-ton truck. There's a bit of bustle out back with an empty bed and rough roads, however the big brakes never cried for mercy and were reassuring at keeping everything under control.

It was the off-road portion of the event where we discovered equal parts praise and lament for the Raptor. The off-road vehicle ecosystem, as with every other, is changing; more vehicles can go more places more easily. The profusion of off-road driving aids means that much of the time, all you need do to tackle a tricky bit of trail is stay alive and steer. What used to require getting out, manually locking hubs, shifting gears and transfer cases, and then paying minute attention to line and throttle is now addressed with the flick of a knob and the common sense to put your coffee back in the cupholder.

Allow us the latitude to compare the Raptor to the Porsche 997. Twenty-five years ago, if you could pilot your 911 in serious anger – heaven forbid it was a turbo – over a snaking bit of road with which you weren't familiar and not end up ass-end forward, you had done something. Now a guy in an automatic 997 could do that same stretch of road faster while making dinner reservations and changing his XM presets and, Gott in Himmel, braking mid-corner. The scale of progress and the ability for Mr. Average to do what were once momentous things is impressive. The loss of that former frightening thrill does make us lament just the teensiest, tiniest bit.

After a day kicking up all kinds of Anza Borrego dust, the Raptor is to those previous modes of high-speed off-road running what the 997 is to the classic 911. What's more, it is to other hardcore off-road trucks what the 997 is to other sports cars. Yes, we said it. And we've spent a week debating and thinking about it. That's our finding.

The Raptor's central function is to travel quickly over the desert, and it does that brilliantly. Our tiny bit of nostalgia for those earlier days resides in the fact that if you haven't ripped through the desert in a truck devoid of aids, like an old Trooper or CJ-5, you'd have little idea of just what you were doing – rather, of just how much the Raptor was doing for you. Point the Raptor, hit the gas. Grab a cool drink at the end of the drive.

All right, so it's not exactly that mindless, but close enough when compared to How it Used to Be in the Olden Days. The Raptor's packing 11.2 inches of travel in front, 12.1 in back. Massive credit for how that travel is used has to go to the engineer at Fox who came up with a set of triple interior-bypass shocks that keep the truck balanced while the wheels do what they need to do. The three-stage shocks get progressively firmer, and also rebound progressively; combined with the generous suspension travel, the shocks have a wide enough window to firm up and release without hitting the proverbial wall of stiffness. The result means that you don't bounce around the way you would expect – you just ride over rough roads, you aren't being pelted. We were told that the oil alone in the Fox shock costs more than another complete shock assembly.

The most common wish was for more power. That's coming in the form of the SOHC, dual VVT 6.2-liter V8 at the end of this year.
Again, that shock and suspension setup works both ways, which is really what makes it where the Raptor's Wizard of Oz lives. Get a wheel, or all of them, off the ground and they don't just shoot back to the end of their travel. They progressively return. In high-amplitude situations, the wheels aren't being utterly victimized by two forces at once: rapid and extreme rebound crashing up against forceful compression.

The desert doesn't present a single terrain: berms, washboard, silt beds, dunes, rocks, ruts and holes all mix it up together. There are some fantastic vehicles that are very good for a number of those terrains. And to be honest, most trucks out there could cover all the ground we covered. A Wrangler Rubicon would be hideous overkill if you just wanted to cover terra firma. But none of them, at least none that we've been in, could do what the Raptor does as quickly and as comfortably as we did it. Held back so that we wouldn't hurt ourselves, we did whoop-de-doos at 35-40 mph. Given a hot lap with one of the Raptor test drivers, we were doing them at 60-65 mph and above. In Baja you'd want a buggy for that kind of work.

But then you'd be in the hurt when it came to beds of sand and the wide-open stretches. No such word as "hurt" exists for the Raptor. Sand was a laugh. Open stretches were invitations to see how fast your SVT co-pilot would let you go. On that hot lap we did 100 mph more than once. And it was exciting, sure – but it felt about as difficult as drinking tea. That's how good the Raptor is.

And we spent the entire day in two-wheel-drive.

Beyond that there were two features of the truck that stuck out. There are several different settings for the Off-Road Mode that works in conjunction with AdvanceTrac and ABS. You can't turn the ABS off, but there is an off-road setting for the ABS. Press the Off-Road button, and the throttle mapping and transmission programs are recalibrated. Press the AdvanceTrac button after that, and you get an Off-Road Sport mode that tells the Raptor you need some latitude when it comes to wheelspin, sliding and braking. The difference stood out most in the sand, when the truck let you slide around more, yet unlike some other off-road systems we've sampled, it didn't just cut power if it decided you needed help. There are vehicles out there that force you to make a devil's bargain between maintaining a conservative line or getting bogged down in the sand by the supposed driver's aids. The Raptor does not.

The ABS braking is also altered slightly. It relaxes a bit so that when you make a hard stop, the wheels will lock up some and allow sand to build up in front of them, shortening the braking distance.

The other feature we noted was Hill Descent. The same as on the F-150, it offers the kind of control we like. As opposed to a set speed or speeds, you control how fast you go, up to 20 mph. Once you let off the gas the Raptor holds that speed. If you hit the accelerator again, the Raptor holds that new speed. Hit the brake, the Raptor then holds that speed.

Keeping in mind what the Raptor is – an F-150 – it is hard to find anything wrong with it. The most common wish was for more power. That's coming in the form of the SOHC, dual VVT 6.2-liter V8 at the end of this year. The jump to 400 hp and 400 lb-ft (both numbers are estimates for now) will give the Raptor a welcome dose of dig-deep power. Still, the request for more grunt was usually phrased as "It could use more power," or "I'd like the 6.2," but we never heard it put "It needs more power." The 5.4 is better than fine; the 6.2 will be simply better.

It is so much more than Built Ford Tough. It's Built Raptor Good.
We'd also like to see some grab handles over all the windows, including the folks in back. There's a handle on the A-pillar for the passenger, but that's it. The steering wheel, while great to grab, is huge. It's an F-150 wheel, wrapped in two different coverings, and it's fine enough, but we'd fit something a little smaller.

When we asked some SVT folks what they would do if they were going to take the Raptor up a step, the only thing mentioned was installing a limited-slip diff in front. Of course, they're happy with the setup as is, but if you were looking for a modification, that's all anyone in-house could recommend.

The Raptor was designed in and for the Anza Borrego terrain. The truck performed beautifully, but after three years of constant testing over the same courses we drove, the only surprise would be if it didn't do well. We want to get a Raptor in some other desert elements, and in some situations that it wasn't purpose-built for, slow off-road environments like rock crawling and mud. Then we'll see where the Raptor really stands.

Nevertheless, there is one final Raptor feature that inclines us to think that as long as it's at least capable in other environments, there is nothing else that can beat it as a comprehensive vehicle: the price. The 5.4-liter Raptor starts at $38,995, which includes the destination charge. The coming 6.2-liter adds a few grand more at $41,995. If you built up a truck yourself to Raptor specs it would be tough to match those numbers, and then you wouldn't get the expertise of teams of engineers making sure it all works together properly, nor the warranty that comes with it. For $39K you get an F-150 with a 1,000-pound payload capacity and 6,000-pound towing capacity that doubles as a beginner's guide to trophy truck driving – but still acts like an F-150.

The Ford F-150 SVT Raptor is so much more than merely Built Ford Tough. It's Built Raptor Good. And for that, we applaud them-and shed a tear and tip a glass to The Good Old Days...

[Source: Autoblog]

Toyota recalling nearly 700,000 vehicles over melting door panels - in China

Toyota recalling nearly 700,000 vehicles over melting door panels - in China

If you just got into your China-made Toyota Camry only to notice that your door panel has inexplicably melted, it's probably not your fault and the problem is going to be fixed for free. That's good news for you, we suppose, but not so much for Toyota. New reports say the Japanese automaker is recalling 688,314 Chinese-made sedans for faulty electronic window control systems. The damaged switches were reportedly caused by excessive lubricant used during manufacturing, which can cause overheating and, in rare cases, melting. The excessive lube issue has been traced to a single supplier, according to China's breathlessly named General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine.

The vehicle most affected by the recall is the Camry, with 384,000 recalls. The Corolla comes in second with 245,000 units affected, followed by 35,000 Vios and 22,000 Yaris models involved in the recall. A Toyota China spokesman reportedly told Gasgoo that no accidents have occurred as a result of the defect.

[Source: Gasgoo]

Audi to unveil RS3 in Frankfurt?

Audi to unveil RS3 in Frankfurt?

The Frankfurt Motor Show is fast approaching with a slew of exciting debuts. And you can bet Audi will use the semi-annual home-turf show to debut some savory pieces of machinery, but just what those will be is still a matter of speculation. Earlier reports suggested the new A8 could bow in Frankfurt, along with ruminations of drop-top or even electric variants of the R8 supercar. But the latest reports indicate that Ingolstadt is secretly preparing the RS3 hot hatch for its close up.

Based on the A3 premium hatch, the RS3 would firmly upstage the existing S3 with the TT RS powerplant, only reportedly tuned up to as much as 400 horsepower. That's a lot of horses, but you can bet Audi's signature Quattro all-wheel-drive system would be up to the task. Frankfurt debut or not, this is one four-ringed circus we're looking forward to, whenever it's ready.

[Source: World Car Fans]

2010 Honda CR-V coming Sept. 17

2010 Honda CR-V coming Sept. 17

You're excused if you look at these images and see little more than the Honda CR-V that we already know and love. According to a corner of its home-market website, the Japanese automaker is debuting what it calls the "new CR-V" on September 17th, possibly at the Frankfurt Motor Show. Already a hot perennial seller, Honda is understandably cautious to mess too much with success, though calling this updating anything other than a mid-cycle refresh is a bit of a stretch.

Subtle grille and fascia changes are about the extent of what we can make out from the limited images, leaving the CR-V a good looking sales workhorse in Honda's stable. We'll all have to hold our breath until mid-September when the whole enchilada will be revealed and we'll find out if there are changes under the skin worth talking about.

[Source: Honda Japan via Carscoop]

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Review: 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid

2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid

Recently, we had our third opportunity to drive the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid. Actually, the last go around was with a Mercury Milan Hybrid, but aside from a different nose and fanny, it is the same car. Even though we did a full review of the Milan, we asked Ford for another go around because of the difference in fuel efficiency compared to the first drive we did last December in California. We managed to achieve 43.1 mpg driving around Hollywood, beating the EPA city rating of 41. But back home in Michigan, a week of driving around Ann Arbor yielded only 29.4 mpg with the first several days actually barely managing to crack 27 mpg.

Why the big drop? It wasn't that we drove the Milan like a race car, although the Fusion and Milan do have some very nice dynamic properties. No, this was all about climate. While the temperatures in Hollywood were a very temperate mid-70s in December, six weeks later in Michigan, we were barely breaking out of the teens with overnight and early morning temps in the single-digit range. What we're about to say is heresy to the hybrid true believers, but hybrids are not the best solution for every driving condition.

We've had the opportunity to drive a number of different hybrids over the last several years and, without fail, when driven in winter conditions, the mileage significantly degrades compared to summer motoring. Naturally, all vehicles perform worse when the mercury drops precipitously, but this seems to be particularly true of hybrid vehicles. The problem is that hybrids (at least strong hybrids like those from Ford and Toyota) rely heavily on their electric drive systems for their efficiency improvements over equivalent conventional vehicles.

Anyone who has ever left a laptop, phone or camera in a car parked outside overnight during winter has discovered that electrochemical batteries (at least the ones we have today) don't perform very well when temps drop below freezing. The same is true for hybrid batteries. Nickel metal hydride batteries used in hybrids are reluctant to let electrons flow at temps much below the mid-30s. That means that a Fusion Hybrid that starts silently when you turn the key in July immediately fires up the engine when the temperature is 10 degrees.

Modern engines rely on catalytic converters to transform many of the pollutants they produce into harmless gases. The problem is that the catalyst is all but ineffective until it warms up. As a result, most pollutants produced by engines are released during the first few minutes of operation after a cold start. Once the catalyst is ready, upwards of 99 percent of pollutants are eliminated. Thus, when the engine starts in a hybrid, the electronic management system is programmed to keep it running until the catalyst is warmed up enough to be effective. This obviously takes a bit longer in cold weather.

Thus, even if heaters, defrosters or lights are not turned on, a hybrid may not allow its engine auto-stop function to work for the at least the first 5-10 minutes of operation in cold weather. Yet when the ambient temperature is that low, there is no getting around using the climate control system because just breathing fogs up the inside of a car's windows. If you have a relatively short commute (5-6 miles) to the office, that means that no auto-stop will likely be available before you arrive. As a result of those conditions, the Milan Hybrid we reviewed struggled to get 25-26 mpg during that period.

The air was a bit more temperate when the Fusion Hybrid arrived this summer, remaining mostly in the mid-70s and creeping up to the low 80s. That meant we could drive around without the air conditioning on and since we were still in the long days of the year, headlights weren't needed during the morning commute as well. The difference was immediately noticeable. The SmartGauge cluster in Ford's hybrid sedans has a number of display modes from extremely basic to hyper-miler special. That latter mode provides much more information, including the accessory power draw gauge. Back in February, it quickly became apparent that switching on the window de-foggers front and rear, heated seats and lights puts a significant drain on the electrical system of the car.

With a more comfortable climate, the Fusion Hybrid will almost always start up in silent mode. That is, turning the key triggers all of the system start-up checks followed by the ready light, but no engine start. Pulling away nice and easy, you can get out of the driveway and down the street without alerting anyone to your departure. A gentle foot on throttle can get you up to 25 mph without ever starting the engine. Eventually, of course, the engine does start up and continues running until warm.

After that, however, backing off at speeds up to 47 mph signals the 2.5-liter four to switch off and cruise on the available battery power. On level ground with everything but the radio off, it's not hard to motor along silently at 45 mph for up to 1.5 miles. In the Empower mode, the SmartGauge features a power flow gauge to the left of the speedometer that includes a floating window to show where the EV mode is available under the current conditions. This makes it easy to back off just enough to get the engine to shut off.

We've already written at length about the other aspects of the new Fusion having reviewed every variant from the four-cylinder manual gearbox to the 3.5-liter Sport. Needless to say, nothing about this latest example was any different from the other models we've tested in terms of interior fit or finish and function, and it remains an excellent example for the mid-size segment. The seats in the Fusion are very comfortable and supportive and electric power-assisted steering has decent feedback and weighting. There is also a thoroughly agreeable balance between ride and handling and Michelin has done an outstanding job developing a low rolling resistance tire that still provides decent grip and doesn't always feel like you are driving on ice.

So... just how much better was the Fusion Hybrid's fuel efficiency in warm weather? We drove the Fusion Hybrid in the same area as the Milan Hybrid while replicating the driving style as closely as possible. The final tally on the Milan was 29.4 mpg. We squeezed out 38 mpg in the Fusion Hybrid with a similar mix of urban and highway driving. That's just a bit shy of what we got in California during our first drive, but since we weren't competing with other journalists for high efficiency crown, we didn't try as hard, either.

As we've said before, we generally don't recommend hybrid vehicles to drivers who spend several months of the year in cold winter weather. A diesel or conventional gas vehicle would probably be a better fit at a lower cost. On the other hand, if like an increasing number of Americans, you live in warm southern climes and you do a significant amount of urban driving, a hybrid like the Fusion is an excellent choice.

The Fusion hybrid starts at $27,700 and is also still eligible for a $1,700 tax credit from the federal government. Since Ford has now sold more than 60,000 hybrid vehicles, it is in the phase out period for the tax credit, thus the drop from the original $3,400 credit when the Fusion Hybrid launched. After October, the rebate drops to $850 and next April it goes away entirely. However, for the moment, Fusion buyers can also get a Cash for Clunkers rebate of up to $4,500 for trading in an inefficient older car that meets the program's criteria. So, if the sun's out where you live and you do a lot of stop-n-go, now may be the best time to go hybrid.

[Source: Autoblog]