Wednesday, 30 March 2011

BMW announces three two-car teams for 2012 DTM series

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Touring car racing fans are eagerly anticipating the return of BMW to the DTM series. The Bavarian automaker last competed in DTM (or its progenitors, anyway) a whopping 18 years ago, but late last year announced it would return to the German touring car series in 2012. Now it has revealed the means to that end.

Rather than field its own entries, BMW will be supplying the vehicles and factory support for three independent teams: BMW Team RBM, BMW Team Schnitzer and Reinhold Motorsport GmbH. Both RBM and Schnitzer have a longstanding relationship with BMW Motorsport, while Reinhold is a completely new outfit. Each of the teams will be fielding two of the new M3 DTMs that are currently under development.

The move to DTM comes on the back of some big shakeups in BMW’s racing program. Although it pulled out of Formula One two years ago, and eliminated its works World Touring Car Championship effort at the end of last year, it has recently pitched the Mini division into the WRC with Prodrive and launched the DTM program to pick up where it left off in the WTCC.

[Source: BMW Motorsport]

PRESS RELEASE:

BMW Motorsport presents the teams for its DTM project.

BMW Motorsport heralds a new era on its way entering the DTM. Development of the car has been running at full speed in Munich for some months now, as has the central preparation for the logistics and assembly of the race cars. Three teams, each lining up with two BMW M3 DTM cars, will be responsible for the races themselves.

BMW Motorsport has enjoyed great success in production car racing in the past with both BMW Team RBM and BMW Team Schnitzer, and all those involved are hungry for more of the same. In Reinhold Motorsport GmbH they are joined by a new team still in its fledgling stage, but which boasts individual members with a vast wealth of motorsport experience.

Mario Theissen, BMW Motorsport Director, says: “In recent months we have worked very intensely on the DTM project. The agreement with the teams was of paramount importance. We were pleased with the high level of interest and numerous applications and presentations received from a number of professional teams. The concepts presented by BMW Team RBM, BMW Team Schnitzer and Reinhold Motorsport GmbH ultimately convinced us. This is an excellent team line-up for BMW. For us, it is important that all three teams have absolute equal rights. We are looking forward to cooperating over the coming years – and hope to enjoy great success together.”

Bart Mampaey, Team Manager of BMW Team RBM, says: “The DTM is one of the toughest and the most popular racing series in the world for production cars. From a sporting point of view this poses a great challenge – but an appetizing one. We are honoured to be able to continue our successful cooperation with BMW Motorsport, which has yielded many WTCC titles, in the DTM. We still have a lot of work ahead of us over the coming months, and are now looking forward to getting to grips with the project.”

Stefan Reinhold, founder of Reinhold Motorsport GmbH, says: “In April last year, BMW announced its intention to compete in the DTM. From this day on, we have always wanted to be a part of this project. Shortly after the announcement, we presented our concept to BMW in Munich, and started to work on meeting the prerequisites for any potential cooperation. We are very proud to have been given the nod. To be part of the BMW Motorsport family with immediate effect and to strive for DTM success together is simply fantastic. We can hardly wait to get started and to vindicate the huge amount of trust BMW has placed in us.”

Charly Lamm, Team Manager of BMW Team Schnitzer, adds: “We are really looking forward to tackling the DTM project together with BMW. Schnitzer Motorsport has enjoyed a successful past in the DTM and achieved many victories together with BMW. However, past success is no guarantee that we will also be victorious in the future. The bar is set really high in DTM, and our preparations will be intensive to meet this challenge. Every team is highly motivated and the anticipation is mounting every day as we get closer to the start of the 2012 DTM season.”

BMW Team Schnitzer will run two BMW M3 GT cars for BMW Motorsport at the major endurance races in Europe and Asia. BMW Team RBM is involved in BMW customer racing projects, including the development of the BMW 320 TC and the further development of the BMW Z4 GT3.

Mario Theissen says: “While the preparation for this year’s involvement on the endurance racing circuit with the BMW M3 GT is in its final phase, the DTM project has picked up pace over the past few months. In naming the teams, we have taken the next step. As well as developing the car, it is now a matter of assigning tasks and establishing structures and processes. The cooperation between BMW Motorsport and the teams, as well as that between the team bases and the race track, must be well established. Only then will we make a statement regarding the driving line-up.”

BMW Team RBM in profile.

In 2012, BMW Team RBM will compete in the DTM with three world championship titles to its name. Under the leadership of Team Manager Bart Mampaey, the team from Mechelen, Belgium, not only won the 2004 European Touring Car Championship with Andy Priaulx at the wheel, but also proved to be the team to beat in the World Championship…
BMW Team RBM in profile.

In 2005, 2006 and 2007 the celebrations after the final WTCC race in Macau all took place in front of the RBM garage. Bart Mampaey is now looking forward to the DTM. “Competing in the DTM will be a big challenge for our team,” he says. “We are delighted that BMW is putting its faith in us again. We will use the time leading up to the first race to prepare as well as possible. The whole team is extremely motivated and hungry to get on with the development work. It is fantastic to be on board right from the start when a manufacturer like BMW launches this kind of project. We have a lot of hard work ahead of us, as the standards in the DTM are extremely high.”

Efficiency is an important factor in daily work for BMW Team RBM. Mampaey is constantly striving to use time and resources efficiently, in order to extract the full potential of the car. The team profits from the infrastructure of the BMW dealership, which the Mampaey family manages under the name JUMA. Synergies and allows RBM to concentrate on the basics: the performance on the race track.

JUMA stands for Julian Mampaey. Today’s RBM boss inherited his love of motor sport from his father. The JUMA team made a name for itself in the 1970s and 1980s, claiming three overall victories for BMW at the Spa-Francorchamps 24-hour race. Nine years after the final JUMA race, Bart Mampaey stepped into his father’s footsteps in 1995. At first, RBM was responsible for the cars in the BMW Compact Cup in Belgium. Soon after that, the Mampaey family celebrated a successful comeback at Spa: the Group N one-two in the 1997 24-hour race was followed by overall victory with the BMW 318i one year later. This was also the last overall victory for BMW to date at the “Ardennes Rollercoaster”.

RBM sent a BMW 320i to the European Touring Car Championship for BMW Belgium for the first time in 2002. One year later the team appeared for the first time in the colours of BMW Great Britain, and Priaulx was signed up to drive. After a year gaining experience in 2003, RBM caused a sensation in 2004 when Priaulx claimed the ETCC title in Dubai. Three World Championship titles show categorically that this victory was not a flash in the pan for Mampaey and his crew.

“A change of scenery will do us good, particularly when we have the prospect of lining up in a successful series like the DTM,” Mampaey says. “Having won three World Championship titles, everyone in the team is looking forward to seeing how we fair against the other teams in the DTM.”

Back to the future.

Back to the future: this could be the motto of BMW Team Schnitzer for the 2012 DTM season. Charly Lamm’s team sported BMW colours in this series back in the 1980s and 1990s – and with great success. A Schnitzer driver crossed the finish line in first place in a BMW M3 on 17 occasions, and the team also claimed eight pole positions and set 18 fastest laps.

BMW Team Schnitzer’s greatest success in the DTM came in its very first season, when Roberto Ravaglia won the 1989 drivers’ title for the team from Freilassing. BMW Team Schnitzer will make its DTM comeback in 2012, almost 20 years after its last victory in Hockenheim on 11th October 1992.

“We lined up with the BMW M3 in the DTM for the first time in 1989, and were able to win the title with Roberto Ravaglia at the first attempt,” Lamm recalls. “The four seasons up to 1992 were a great time, with spectacular and thrilling races, which will always have a special place in the history of Schnitzer. Even back then, the DTM was extremely popular in Germany. It is now almost 20 years since our last DTM race. We are well aware that the series has changed dramatically. The level of competition is extremely high and the series has a far more international flavour to it. As a result, rookies like us face a huge challenge. However, we will approach the task in hand with great verve.”

During the break from the DTM, the Schnitzer team continued to line up for BMW, adding many new chapters to the brand’s motorsport success story. In 1999 it claimed overall victory at the legendary Le Mans 24 Hours (FR) with the BMW V12 LMR prototype. In 2001, BMW Team Schnitzer won the drivers’, team and manufacturers’ titles in the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) with the BMW M3 GTR.

The team also has a very special relationship with the legendary 24-hour race at the Nürburgring-Nordschleife (DE). BMW Team Schnitzer finished as overall winner in the “Green Hell” in 1989, 1990, 2004, 2005 and 2010, making it one of the most successful teams in the history of this classic race. Schnitzer also enjoyed success after success in the European Touring Car Championship between 2002 and 2004, as well as the World Touring Car Championship between 2005 and 2009. The team’s drivers crossed the finish line as winners on 45 occasions in the European and World Championships.

In the last 50 years, Schnitzer has won 16 championships with BMW – including the 1987 World Touring Car Championship, three European Touring Car Championships, and championships in Germany, England, Italy, Japan and South East Asia.

Lamm adds: “We will attempt to readapt to the DTM as quickly as possible. We have great respect for the current manufacturers and teams in the DTM. They have set the bar very high. From now on we will be working on equalling, or even surpassing, the standards they have set as soon as possible.”

“Our greatest asset is definitely the people in our team”.

Stefan Reinhold’s team, which will line up at BMW’s DTM comeback in 2012, may be a newcomer to the series – but its members are by no means lacking experience. The team’s great strengths are its individual know-how and the precise way in which it uses each member’s skills.

“The crew comes from all areas of professional motor racing,” Reinhold explains. “From GT racing and the World Rally Championship, as well as DTM and Formula One. Almost all the team members have experience gained in several fields of motorsport. They are used to working at the highest level. Clear communication and the optimal use of experience and resources, as well as uncompromising commitment, are fundamental attributes of the team. Our greatest asset is definitely the people in our team.”

The team structure started with a blank sheet of paper. Reinhold took the time to analyse the individual strengths of his crew and used this as a basis to assemble his team step by step. By the start of 2012, 25 engineers and technicians will be involved in the DTM project.

Reinhold himself has Formula One and GT racing experience to his name and has been toying with the idea of launching his own racing team for a long time. When BMW announced its return to DTM this idea took shape and work began on the conception. “In late summer 2010 we started with the concrete planning and then applied to BMW with our concept in the autumn,” Reinhold recalls. “The fact that we won BMW Motorsport over with our concept is the perfect reward for the hard work we put in during this phase.”

The team has moved into headquarters in Niederzissen. The proximity to the Nürburgring is not the only reason for motor racing being omnipresent on the team’s premises, as its former tenant was also a prominent name in motorsport: the Zakspeed team previously operated from this site and has now rented the facilities out to Reinhold.

Over the coming months, Reinhold and his team will work at full speed on the team structure in order to be ready for the first test drive with the BMW M3 DTM. “Everything from the washers to the semi-trailer will be new in our team,” says Reinhold. “However, I do not by any means see this as a disadvantage. We are very keen to take on the established DTM teams and, along with our partner BMW, to be competitive as soon as possible.

First Drive: 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class

We usually see women behind the wheel of the Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class. Who can blame them? It’s a cute little car. The original SLK debuted in 1996 with a four-cylinder powerplant and all of 136 ponies. What it lacked in the motivation department it made up for with its Vario-roof retractable hardtop. Not since the 1957 Ford Skyliner could a car stop so much traffic while parked.

The SLK gained some testosterone with its first facelift in 2000. While the exterior was still rather tame, the chick car jokes ceased in 2001 with the introduction of the 354-horsepower SLK 32 AMG.

Things continued to get better with the all-new 2004 edition and its sleeker styling that paid homage to Mercedes’ Formula One designs and the beastly McMerc SLR. The reality that AMG could stuff its hand-built 5.4-liter V8 under the hood made the second-generation SLK a serious performance car.

For 2012, the SLK officially begins its third generation, and you can see the difference from 100 yards. Especially from the front view, the roadster looks more mature and substantial. The split-grill design reconstitutes the 190 SL’s design from the late 1950s in a handsome, modern manner. The bolder aesthetics continue in the rear, which features large arches over the rear wheels and LED taillamps. And it keeps getting better on the inside…

Inside, the modernized retro theme continues, with our SLK350 tester’s circular vent outlets ported through the handsomely contoured dash covered in hand-stitched Nappa leather (like the SLS AMG). Round analog gauges flank a center digital display in the main binnacle, while a bright, seven-inch LCD handles navigation as well as manipulating the climate control and infotainment systems.

While the interior and exterior are mostly new, from an engineering standpoint, the third generation seems more like a Gen 2.5.5; a facelift of the 2008 facelift. The 2012 SLK rides on the same 95.7-inch wheelbase. It’s about an inch longer and an inch wider (overall width and track), and the tidy dimensions help this car stay true to what SLK stands for: Sportlich (sporty), Leicht (light) and Kompakt (compact).

2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK side view2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK front view2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK rear view

Engines are familiar to fans of the Three-Pointed Star. In the States, we will eventually get two of three available engines for the new SLK: the 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder and the naturally-aspirated 3.5-liter V6. Four-cylinder models will be called the SLK250, while V6 models gets the SLK350 badge. For 2012, both engines gain direct fuel injection in a nod to efficiency. Horsepower, torque and preliminary estimated miles per gallon figures are 201, 229 pound-feet, and 23/31 for the 1.8-liter engine and 302, 273 lb-ft., and 20/29 for the uprated V6. On this trip, only the six-cylinder SLK350 was available for us to drive, as it will be the only model offered when the SLK goes on sale in June. The SLK250 is scheduled for availability in the U.S. later in the model year.

Both engines run their torque through an updated seven-speed automatic modified to accommodate a new fuel-saving start/stop functionality. Unfortunately, cars coming to the USA won’t be getting the latter feature – at least for the moment. That’s too bad, given where fuel prices are trending and the system’s relative smoothness. Mercedes-Benz engineers use the crankshaft position sensor to know which cylinder has stopped closest to the optimum position for re-starting the engine. The engine control module then re-fires that cylinder first, an action that helps smooth out and quicken the re-start event.

2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK engine

To prepare for our drive, we needed to store two large duffle bags and wondered how much room our SLK350’s trunk provided. Mercedes-Benz literature claims 6.4 cubic feet with the roof lowered and 10.1 cubes with the roof raised. Since we would soon be driving from sea level through the clouds to the observatory at Teide National Park, some 7,800 feet above the Atlantic in Spain’s canary Islands, the top would be down and up depending on the precipitation (or a lack thereof). The trunk easily swallowed two large backpacks and a camera case with the roof stowed. Nifty.

The SLK’s hallmark retractable hardtop comes in three varieties: solid steel panels, a tinted roof section or with Benz’s trick new Magic Sky Control electrochromatic roof section. The later roof’s trick is that the transparent panel can shift its tint from almost clear to heavily darkened.

The glass section is a glass-matrix polymer-glass sandwich in which nearly microscopic rectangular particles are suspended in carrier-type fluid. When a small electrical charge is put through the polymer layer, the particles obediently arrange themselves in a vertical orientation, letting light pass through mostly unencumbered. When the juice is cut via a switch on the windshield header, the particles rotate 45-degrees, blocking most of the light (and heat) attempting to pass through. The shift requires nary a second. (Geek Note: Magic Sky Control uses a similar principle to Delphi’s Magnetic Ride Control dampers that control the flow path of damper fluid.)

2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK trunk2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK side view2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK side view

When it came time to press the starter button and head for the observatory, temperatures were mild, and low clouds hung over our oceanfront starting point. With rain threatening, it neither felt nor looked like top-down driving weather, so the top stayed in place.

The imperfect roads on Tenerife presented a less-than-ideal surface that worked to shake and rattle the SLK. It accomplished neither. The roadster easily absorbed the punishment with the aplomb of a true fixed-roof coupe. Interior noise levels (engine, road and wind) were well subdued, and the exhaust note of the V6 sounded sportier than the same mill in the C-Class sedan. No surprise there, but still a welcome discovery.

2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK interior2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK seats2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK gauges2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK navigation system

Short-wheelbase cars can feel skittish, but the SLK simply doesn’t. Even at full throttle with every foot-pound of torque twisting the rear half shafts, the SLK350 felt unshakable and secure.

As we left the island’s primary roads for the twisties ascending the extinct volcano’s walls to the observatory, the SLK’s locked-down feeling continued. Our route took us into the clouds that were heavy with moisture and the narrow roads turned slick. It seemed that the entire ride up the mountain was a Falling Rock Zone, and plenty of rocks littered the asphalt – like we needed more excitement.

Even running uphill, the 302-hp six-cylinder had plenty of power in reserve. Thinking that leaving the electronic stability control in the ‘On’ position was a good idea, we’d often feel it working to keep the SLK in line. As expected, it immediately curbed any oversteer, but did so in a way that wasn’t retaliatory – it simply chided for being overexuberant.

2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK driving

What was unexpected was the so-called torque-vectoring function of the Electronic Stability Control. When diving into a corner under braking, we’re trained to expect a certain amount understeer – particular from Mercedes. The SLK senses the understeer and helps to mitigate it by adding a measured amount of braking to the inside rear wheel, helping to increase the car’s yaw rate and make it rotate more easily.

We’ll have to wait for the AMG-tuned version of the SLK to arrive before this chassis can be completely exploited, but indications are good thus far. Unfortunately, the ESC on the SLK350 cannot be completely disabled. When the dash switch is toggled off, the tires will spin to aid acceleration on snow or through mud, but any yaw immediately triggers a throttle intervention. When the AMG version arrives, expect an option to completely shut down the ESC.

2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK driving2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK driving

Even with ESC on, the SLK remained a remarkably fun steer. The traditional hydraulic rack-and-pinion box had a natural on-center feel. Rolling off of center, starting at about 5 degrees, the box cranks the wheels with a constant ratio. At 100 degrees of steering angle – just beyond a quarter turn and just before your arms get crossed up – the ratio increases and the wheels turn more quickly. This is a huge help on roads that twist enough that you spend as much time looking out the side glass as the windshield. On the roads of Tenerife, we rarely had to shuffle the wheel or get our arms completely crossed-up.

Somewhere north of 6,000 feet we broke through the clouds and the top went down. It was chilly enough for us to turn on the Airscarf, a feature that blows warm air on your neck. We also put up the Airguide windstop. With the heater cranked up, we remained warm in the cabin, and buffeting was kept to a minimum.

2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK rear 3/4 view

After shooting some photos, we headed back down the mountain. This strained the brakes, as evidenced by the soft pedal and burning odor. However, the Continental SportContact5 tires (225/40R18 front and 245/35/R18 rear) – known for their ability to shed speed with authority – never faltered. The average SLK driver probably isn’t going to give their drop-top the same workout, so for daily duty, the standard stoppers should do nicely.

In all, the 2012 SLK’s driving experience was a good one. It did, however, leave us wondering about a few things. First, we’re looking forward to some time behind the wheel of the lighter SLK250. The tonnage is down by more than 100 pounds and weight distribution should be closer to 50/50. The SLK350’s smaller-engined sibling could end up being the better of the two offerings – that is, until the V8 AMG model enters the mix. We’ll let you know as soon as we get the chance to try them out.

[Source: autoblog]

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Study reviews break-even point for hybrid vehicles


Buying a hybrid is a responsible environmental move but, given their premium over standard cars, they aren’t always a money-saving purchase. A study by CarGurus showed that gas would have to top $7 a gallon to make most hybrids the economical choice.

Hybrids command, on average, a 17-percent markup over their standard-powertrain counterparts, which stunts their economy at the pump. The $7-a-gallon break even point is an average. For some cars, the break-even is point is even higher. For a Cadillac Escalade Hybrid to make you money, gas will need to climb to $15 a gallon.

On the lower side of the scale are the Toyota Camry Hybrid and Ford Escape Hybrid. The Toyota’s break-even point came out to $4 a gallon, while the Ford bucked the trend, breaking even at $2.50 a gallon.

[Source: Detroit Free Press]

This is your 2012 BMW 6 Series Coupe, America

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The shark has finally surfaced – the 2012 BMW 6 Series coupe has officially arrived. Its lines are tighter, its bite is more potent and it’s heading to your local BMW dealership sometime this fall. Under the hood sits the same 4.4-liter twin-turbocharged V8 that our man Chris Paukert sampled in the convertible. It produces 400 horsepower between 5,500 rpm and 6,400 rpm, and a stout 450 pound-feet of torque from 1,750 rpm up through 4,500 rpm.

That power is managed by an eight-speed automatic transmission, which can be controlled manually via a pair of paddle-shifters. Should you prefer to row your own gears in the more traditional manner, a six-speed manual gearbox will also be offered. The engine and both transmission options help propel the car from 0-60 miles per hour in just 4.8 seconds and on to an electronically-limited top speed of 155 mph.

In the cabin, the 2012 6 Series Coupe is filled with BMW’s latest gadgetry. A 10.2-inch high-definition screen serves as the nexus of visual information. This modern Sixer boasts available Lane Departure Warning, Active Blind Spot detection, Rear and Top View Cameras, a Parking Assistant and a three-dimensional heads-up display.

[Source: BMW]

PRESS RELEASE:

The All-New BMW 650i Coupe.
The second new 6 Series Model Breaks Cover.

The hearts of sports car aficionados will beat a little faster with the arrival of the new BMW 650i Coupe. The third generation of the top-class Coupe sees BMW adding another chapter to its decades-long tradition in the production of exclusive dream cars. The new BMW 650i Coupe impresses with its stunning design and inspires with even sharper driving dynamics than its predecessor, noticeably optimized comfort levels and extra space. This is the only car in the segment to offer the combination of top-class sporting ability, exclusive touring comfort and a 16.24 cu. ft (460-liter) DIN luggage compartment.

Also on board to deliver the BMW 6 Series Coupe’s signature driving experience are a range of innovative driver assistance systems and BMW ConnectedDrive infotainment features. The new car therefore meets the highest expectations of driving pleasure and style in a large, premium 2+2-seater. The 650i Coupe arrives in US showrooms this fall.

Its unmistakable design language gives the new BMW 6 Series Coupe an aura of athletic elegance. The long sweeping hood, short front overhang and set-back passenger compartment team up with a 2.9 inch (74 mm) increase in body length over its predecessor and a 2.95 inch (75 mm) longer wheelbase to create the hallmark proportions of a BMW Coupe. Meanwhile, the extra width of the new car – it is now 1.5 inches (39 mm) wider thanks to its increased track width – makes for an exceptionally powerful stance that emphasizes its impressive roadholding. All of which ensures that observers are struck by the car’s dynamic forward-surging presence and promise of dynamic driving ability the moment they set eyes on it. The faithful reflection of the car’s character in its exterior styling is given particular appeal by the lines running along the full length of the body and its harmoniously sculpted surfaces. The inspiration for these design features was the natural movement of waves. In the same way as water is parted by an object in flowing water, the car body’s shaping lines fan out from the BMW badge on the hood to both sides of the body.

The innovations in the new BMW 6 Series Coupe also extend to lighting technology, in the shape of Adaptive LED Headlights. Their bright white light provides an extremely intense and evenly spread illumination of the road. This technology is unparalleled in the segment and also allows the beam of the headlights to curves of the road.

Other features that set the new car apart from its rivals are the BMW ConnectedDrive driver assistance systems and mobility services. The rear-view camera, Surround View, Parking Assistant, BMW Night Vision with pedestrian recognition, Lane Departure Warning System and Lane Change Warning System are joined on the list of available equipment items by the new generation of the BMW Head-Up-Display. The latest incarnation of the system uses a full spectrum of colors to display the information projected onto the windshield. The standard BMW iDrive control system, is the operating portal for the navigation, communications and infotainment functions. The high definition, trans-reflective technology Control Display is centrally mount high on the sweeping dash and emulates a freestanding flatscreen. Finally, the optional Bang & Olufsen High-End Surround Sound System provides a feast of aural pleasure seldom experienced inside a car.

The all-new third generation 650i Coupe will join the 650i Convertible in the US market this fall as a 2012 model. Retail and option pricing will be announced closer to the on-sale date.

Twin-Turbo V-8 engine with High Precision direct injection.
The 4.4-liter V-8 engine develops a maximum 400 hp between 5,500 and 6,400 rpm, and makes peak torque of 450 lb-ft between 1,750 and 4,500 rpm. This unique “reverse-flow” engine, whose two turbochargers are positioned in the V-area between the cylinder banks, produces an instantaneous and sustained wave of power, making it a delight for the enthusiast driver. The engine can be paired with either BMW’s new 8-speed Sport Automatic gearbox or BMW’s traditional 6-speed manual transmission, quite popular with North American enthusiasts.

The new BMW 650i Coupe completes the sprint from 0 to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds (0-100km/h in 4.9 seconds) with either the 6-speed manual or the 8-speed automatic transmission . Top speed is electronically limited to 155 mph. This engine also boasts extraordinary efficiency for a model in its output class. EPA figures will be available closer to the on-sale date in mid 2011.

8-speed Sport Automatic Transmission.
The 8-speed Sport Automatic transmission in the new BMW 650i Coupe boasts a perfect combination of speed, flexibility, sportiness, and efficiency. What sets it apart are its minimal torque converter slip and rapid gear changes. An innovative gear set configuration allows this transmission to offer eight gears, maximizing acceleration at any road speed yet allowing the driver to conserve fuel by cruising at low revs. Befitting the Coupe’s sporting character, the driver can choose to select gears manually via shift paddles on the standard Sport leather steering wheel.

In addition to the efficiency of the engine and 8-speed Sport Automatic transmission, an extensive range of BMW EfficientDynamics measures contribute to reducing fuel consumption and emissions. Brake Energy Regeneration, on-demand operation of ancillary components, intelligent lightweight construction and extensive aerodynamic refinement collaborate to ensure maximum efficiency.

Chassis Management and optional Integral Active Steering.
Cutting-edge chassis technology gives the new BMW 650i Coupe the tools to provide both sporty handling and exceptional comfort. The double wishbone front axle and the multi-link rear axle are made predominantly from aluminum. The chassis is geared to the requirements of drivers with sporting intentions, although the dampers also respond sensitively to bumps in the road surface under high lateral acceleration. The optional Active Roll Stabilization combines with the standard Dynamic Damper Control to offer the driver even more precise responses and perfectly flat cornering ability. The electronically controlled shock absorbers adapt to the road surface and the driver’s style to perfectly control the car’s body motions.

The electronically controlled damper system in the new BMW 6 Series Coupe adjusts compression and rebound settings continuously and independently. For example, a stiff chassis setting can be combined with comfortable responses to unevenness in the road surface. The control unit of the damping system processes the data supplied by sensors on the vertical motion of the wheels as well as the ride height of the car. The driving speed and the damper setting chosen by the driver are also taken into account in calculating the damping force required for each individual wheel to even out body movements. This data is fed back to the shock-absorber units at intervals of just 2.5

The optional Active Roll Stabilization feature reduces body roll in corners and in sudden changes of direction, or transitions. Sensors calculate the amount of body roll based on the driving situation at hand, and this is then counteracted quickly and precisely by hydraulic rotary actuators in the front and rear anti-roll bars.

The result is flatter cornering inspiring greater confidence for the driver as well as greater comfort for the passengers during spirited drives. The power steering features standard Servotronic vehicle-speed sensitive assistance, and serves up the familiar BMW recipe of precision, comfort and linear response.

The new BMW 650i Coupe is the first car in its class available with Integral Active Steering. This system combines the Active Steering system for the front axle (available on the previous generation 6 Series Coupe) with a new, steerable rear axle. Precisely harmonized steering angle movements at both axles create a virtual lengthening or shortening of the vehicle’s wheelbase, which fosters greater high-speed stability and enhanced maneuverability for parking and city use.

Brakes, Wheels, and Tires.
The lightweight floating-caliper brakes with vented discs are easy to use with precision, and their effectiveness is reinforced by Dynamic Stability Control. DSC brings together technology such as the Anti-lock Braking System, Dynamic Traction Control, Cornering Brake Control, Dynamic Brake Control, the Start-off Assistant, the automatic Brake Drying function and Brake Fade Compensation.

Standard equipment also includes 8.5 x19-inch light-alloy wheels, with all-season runflat tires (size 245/40 R19) and a tire pressure monitoring system.

Driving Dynamics Control.
With standard Driving Dynamics Control, the dominant virtues of athletic driving sportiness and ride comfort can be chosen by the driver as situations demand.

The driver can choose settings of COMFORT, NORMAL, SPORT and SPORT+ modes using the large rocker switch on the center console. Affected parameters include the tuning of the throttle response, power steering boost assistance, shock absorbers, automatic transmission shift characteristics and – if equipped - roll stabilization and Integral Active Steering. In SPORT+ mode, the Dynamic Traction Control mode of the standard Dynamic Stability Control system is activated, raising the thresholds for stability intervention in the most sport-oriented driving circumstances.

Unmatched chassis technology works with the cutting-edge engine to provide the driver with greater dynamic capability and improved ride comfort compared to the previous-generation 6 Series Coupe.

Design: Athletic elegance, natural sportiness.
The new BMW 6 Series Coupe again heralds the arrival of an exceptionally sporty and exclusive 2+2-seater in the premium Coupe segment. The new model’s extra length and width over its predecessor model combine with its 0.2 inch (5 mm) lower height to produce a strikingly low-set and powerful design. The new interpretation of the traditional BMW Coupe proportions is embellished by lines and surfaces inspired by the movement of waves. Flowing lines and harmonious curves create a feeling of athletic grace, complemented by extremely classic and eye-catching design features which underline the opulent character and elegant appearance of the two-door BMW.

The expressive front end is dominated by the large and slightly forward-slanting BMW kidney grille. The grille emphasizes the car’s sporting pedigree with a broad, flat design, and creates a visual connection with the engine nestling behind. The kidney grille slats, angled slightly towards the top, lend additional emphasis to the front end’s “shark nose” character. The contour lines of the hood converge towards the kidney grille, forming a V-shape which is continued by the contours of the headlights, kidney and wide air intake to give a road-focused look. High-quality chrome elements and the LED units of the foglamps positioned in front of them guide the eye to the muscular wheel arches.

High-visibility innovation: Adaptive LED Headlights.
The new BMW 6 Series Coupe is equipped with Adaptive Xenon headlights as standard. An accentuating trim element cuts across the top of the hallmark BMW twin round headlights to produce the purposeful look familiar from other BMW models. The optional Adaptive LED Headlights provide a fresh take on this established feature. The Adaptive LED Headlights for low beam and high beam contain LED light rings for the parking lights and daytime running lights, which are flattened on the lower edge and overlapped at their top edge by an accent light – also featuring LEDs. The result is a stunning, distinctively BMW showcase for the innovative light technology. In addition, they also generate the low beam and high beam light from the two light rings. The light sources are horizontal LED ribs positioned in the center of the light rings. The brand’s hallmark twin round headlight look is therefore expressed even more strikingly - not only with the daytime running lights switched on, but also when the headlights are activated in the dark.

However, the Adaptive LED Headlights are about more than just looking good; they also ensure the driver can see well. Their bright white light provides a bright and even illumination of the road ahead. From a color perspective, the light comes much closer to natural daylight than that created by conventional halogen or xenon headlights, lending even reflective objects far greater contrast.

The cornering element of the Adaptive LED Headlights is also tailored to the car’s speed, steering angle and yaw rate, allowing the pivot of the headlights to adapt automatically to the line of the corner. Meanwhile, a light source positioned specially in the headlight housing generates the cornering light which, at low speeds, ensures illumination of the road surface in the direction the car is turning.

LED technology is also deployed for the direction indicators, each of which consists of eight LED units arranged in a row underneath the light rings. As well as enhancing visibility in the dark, the Adaptive LED Headlights also significantly improve the signaling effect of the car’s lights.

Side view: elegant roofline, powerfully curved surfaces.
Tightly curved surfaces and character lines stretching the full length of the body define the side view of the BMW 6 Series Coupe. The forward-slanting BMW kidney grille is particularly clear from this angle. Despite its smooth curves and innovative pedestrian protection measures, the long bonnet still has a flat appearance. Its contour lines fan out wide and extend towards the rear. In combination with the car’s typical Coupe proportions, this creates a particularly elegant, elongated silhouette.

The exterior design has been inspired by waves with clearly defined lines and volume formed around an object in flowing water. This gives the new BMW 6 Series Coupe a naturally powerful and sporty edge. The typical BMW character line starts behind the front wheel arch, takes in the sporty gill feature and extends dynamically along the flank of the car to the rear. In so doing, it stretches the new BMW 6 Series Coupe visually and lends it a dynamic yet elegant allure. The door handles are integrated into the character line. A further character line emerges from the swell of the front wheel arch, drops down between the gill and the door and then levels out towards the rear. Its path replicates a forward-surging wave.

The door sill line underneath it and an additional crease give the lower edge of the body a light and sporty appearance.

The roofline of the new BMW 6 Series Coupe also swoops in an elegant, flat progression into the tail. It comes across as especially svelte when viewed from the side, creating a contrast typical of BMW Coupes between the powerful body and light passenger compartment. Doors with frameless windows underline this impression. The chromed side window border emphasizes the signature Hofmeister kink at the foot of the C-pillar.

Rear view: striking indications of dynamic and secure roadholding.
From the rear, the new BMW 6 Series Coupe exudes power, athleticism and solidity. Bulging wheel arches accentuate the wide track of the new car, offering a hint of its impressive roadholding. Added to which, horizontal lines and the broadening impression of the car’s shape as you follow it towards the rear paint a clear picture of the sporting performance waiting to be unlocked. The slightly concave lower section of the trunklid generates light and shade effects which lend an extra lightness to the rear of the car. The edges of the trunk lid and the license plate surround create a V-shape, which – similarly to the front of the car – steers the eye towards the road. The trapezoidal exhaust outlets are positioned on either side of the air diffuser in the lower fascia.

The two-part rear light clusters display the customary BMW L-shape in a particularly wide rendition that extends far into the trunk lid, while the character line that flows into the rear lights forges a harmonious link between the side and the rear of the car. Inside the rear light clusters, two LED-powered light strips generate the familiar BMW night-time look, an effect that is reinforced by the L-shaped lower light unit. The direction indicators and brake lights are also LED-powered. The wide third brake light is located in the upper edge of the trunk lid.

Interior with BMW’s traditional driver-oriented cockpit.
The new BMW 650i Coupe is designed to be a 2+2-seater. Its interior offers individually tailored seats for the driver, front passenger and rear passengers.

High-quality materials, carefully coordinated colors and meticulously sculpted surfaces combine to produce an ambience defined by luxury, sweeping style and Teutonic functionality. A hallmark BMW element of the interior design is the driver-oriented cockpit layout. The central section of the instrument panel, containing the iDrive system’s Central Display, the air vents and the controls for the audio system and air conditioning, are all angled slightly towards the driver. Added to which, the gearshift lever and the switches for the parking brake and Driving Dynamics Control are located on a surface that opens out towards the driver and is set lower than the front passenger side of the center console.

The front passenger area is bordered by a surface curving elegantly from the armrest over the side edge of the center console, upwards and outwards into the instrument panel and then horizontally into the door trim. This provides a harmonious surround for the front passenger area, creating a feeling of exclusive security. The contour of the rear waistline surface, which extends slightly into the interior between the head restraints, highlights the individual seat layout of the rear.

Freestanding Central Display with flatscreen design.
The black-panel instrument cluster of the new BMW 650i Coupe combines the traditional sports car circular instruments with state-of-the-art display technology. The Navigation system, telephone and entertainment functions are operated using the iDrive control system, whose Central Display boasts an innovative design.

The on-board monitor takes the form of a freestanding display with a flatscreen look. The high definition measures 10.2 inch across and features a high-quality galvanized chrome surround. The shallow depth of the display gives it a modern character. Trans-reflective technology ensures the display remains easy-to-read in bright sunlight. The new arrangement of the Central Display – which now reaches further into the passenger compartment –influences the architecture of the instrument panel, which rises steeply in front of the driver and front passenger.

This impression is further enhanced by the structure of the door trim panels. Their surfaces have a powerfully taut look and, like the black waistline surface, pull in and rise up to create a smooth transition into the instrument panel, giving the interior the effect of wrapping around the driver and front passenger.

Dimensions and Storage.
At 192.7 in. (4,894 mm) in length, the new BMW 650i Coupe is 2.9 in. (74 mm) longer than its predecessor. Its extended wheelbase now stretches to 112.4 in. (2,855 mm). The car is 1.5 in. (39 mm) wider, measuring 74.6 in. (1,894 mm) across, while 0.36 in. (9mm) have been shaved from its height (now 53.9 in. /1,369 mm). These dimensions create a significantly more powerful and elegant impression, while taking interior spaciousness to new levels.

Despite its lower height, the new BMW 650i Coupe offers greater headroom in both front and rear seats. The height adjustment of the driver and front passenger seats also covers a greater range of travel. The increase in the width of the interior is noticeable from all four seats, and passengers in the rear seats benefit from additional legroom. The tilt angle of the rear seat backrest now achieves virtually the same angle as found in BMW Sedans.

New lightweight technology, comprehensive safety equipment.
The new BMW 650i Coupe is fitted with newly developed lightweight seats with an integrated seatbelt system and standard 20-way multi-contour adjustability and adjustable lumbar support. Optionally, the Luxury Seating Package adds front ventilated seats and active fatigue reduction can be added. All seat variants come with crash-activated anti-whiplash head restraints.

The range of standard safety equipment also includes front airbags, head-thorax side airbags integrated into the seat frame, three-point automatic belts for all seats, belt force limiters and front belt pre-tensioners and ISOFIX child seat mounts in the rear.

Carefully researched advances in materials and development of the car’s load- bearing structure have significantly enhanced the body’s construction in terms of the agility and safety it offers. Its static torsional rigidity is about 50 percent greater than that of its predecessor. In the interests of perfect balance, the doors, hood and front spring mounts are all aluminum, while the front fenders, roof lid and trunklid are made from reinforced composite.

Cutting-edge features from BMW ConnectedDrive.
The new BMW 650i Coupe is available with a great variety of driver assistance systems and mobility services from BMW ConnectedDrive. The comprehensive Driver Assistance Package includes Automatic High Beams, Lane Departure Warning, Active Blind Spot Detection, Rear and Top View cameras, Parking Assistant, and a new three-dimensional, full-color Head-Up Display. Also available are BMW’s Night Vision with Pedestrian Detection and Active Cruise Control with stop-and-go capability.

HiFi stereo system.
The standard HiFi audio system in the new BMW 650i Coupe comes with an HD Radio receiver, MP3-compatible CD drive, AUX-IN connection, and a HiFi loudspeaker system with nine speakers. The available Premium Sound Package adds SiriusXM satellite radio with a 1-year subscription, iPod and USB adapter, and the Premium HiFi system comprised of 12 loudspeakers and a digital amplifier. It features DIRAC signal processing and model-specific equalizing.

Bang & Olufsen High-End Surround Sound System delivers an unparalleled audio experience.

When it comes to delivering audio pleasure of the highest order, the Bang & Olufsen High-End Surround Sound System designed especially for the new BMW 650i Coupe hits all the right notes. Jointly developed by the Danish audio specialists and BMW, this system produces an exceptionally natural sound from 16 speakers distributed around the cabin. It is a fully active system featuring digital signal processing, which means the two bass speakers, seven mid-range speakers and seven tweeters all have individual amplifiers. This technology enables the targeted modification of any sound reflections inside the vehicle. The Bang & Olufsen High-End Surround Sound System uses Dirac Dimensions™ technology to recreate the acoustics of a reference listening room in the passenger compartment. All vehicle occupants therefore enjoy the same high-quality sound stage wherever they are sitting.

The electrical signals are converted into precisely defined sound waves using neodymium magnet drivers, and the mid-range speakers feature extremely stiff Hexacone diaphragms. The outstanding quality of the Bang & Olufsen High-End Surround Sound System is underlined by exclusive design features. The form and color of the advanced all-aluminum speaker grilles have been tailored precisely to the interior design of the new BMW 650i Coupe. The special perforation pattern of the grilles is created using a very sophisticated drilling technique. The grille mounts are not visible from the outside, ensuring that the grilles stand out from their surroundings by appearing to float in a slightly raised position above the surface. This exclusive ambience is further enhanced by a discreet lighting effect, which showcases the contours of the sound sources with a subtly impressive effect. A both visually and acoustically significant innovation, meanwhile, is the novel design of the center speaker in the instrument panel area, which uses Acoustic Lens Technology developed by Bang & Olufsen to provide a particularly harmonious sound. As soon as the audio system is activated, the central element containing the integrated mid-range speaker pops up, prompting the tweeter lens to be extended at the same time. The tweeter lens distributes its signals evenly at 180 degrees throughout the interior. This extraordinarily harmonious horizontal dispersion of sound is achieved through the special design of the lens, which also minimizes unwanted vertical sound dispersion.

Industry leading new-generation Head-Up Display.
Like its predecessor, the new BMW 650i Coupe is the only vehicle in its class with an optional Head-Up Display system. By projecting important information onto the windshield, directly in the driver’s line of sight, the Head-Up Display minimizes distraction from the road and traffic. The new-generation system brings a further improvement in display quality: the symbols are projected as three-dimensional graphics and in ultra-clear resolution onto the windshield. Full-color capability makes the road sign symbols even more realistic. At the same time the Head-Up Display is now able to present a wider range of information. Depending on vehicle specification, guidance information supplied by the Navigation system, Check Control messages, status messages from the Lane Departure Warning System and warnings from the BMW Night Vision system can all be shown in the Head-Up Display. The positioning of the messages on the windshield is highly ergonomic, so that drivers are aware of them without having to refocus or take their eyes off the road.

The intensity of the projection automatically adjusts to the ambient light level, and the brightness setting can be adjusted via the iDrive menu. The driver can also choose what information will appear in the Head-Up Display in addition to road speed and warnings from the driver assistance systems.

Rear-View, Top View, and Side View Cameras.
To supplement the standard Park Distance Control, which uses ultrasonic sensors to monitor distance from objects in front or behind, the new BMW 650i Coupe also features a standard rear-view camera. The camera is integrated in the trunklid under the BMW “roundel” badge, which protects it from dirt. When the rear-view camera is activated, the roundel badge pivots up out of the way to expose the camera lens. The perspective-corrected color images are relayed to the Central Display. Superimposed on the images are interactive tracking lines which indicate the optimal steering angle for parking, as well as the tightest turning circle.

The optional Top View system with Side View provides an even more comprehensive picture. In addition to the rear-view camera and the PDC sensors, this system also uses a fish-eye camera in each of the side mirrors. The data acquired by Top View is relayed to a central computer which generates a bird’s eye view of both vehicle and surroundings and presents the image in the Central Display. This view allows the driver to maneuver precisely in confined spaces.

The Side View function uses two cameras integrated in the front fenders to provide an improved view of cross-traffic at speeds below 10mph. These images are relayed to the Central Display where they may give the driver an early idea of what is happening on the road to the left and right of the car when pulling out from narrow and concealed gateways or car park exits.

The BMW 650i Coupe: Production in Dingolfing, Germany.
The new BMW 650i Coupe is built at the BMW plant in Dingolfing, Germany. Also rolling off the assembly line at the BMW Group’s largest production plant are the BMW 7 Series and BMW 5 Series models. The flexible and efficient processes at the plant combine state-of-the-art production technology with a standard of quality defined by meticulous craftsmanship in the manufacture of premium cars configured to customer requ
irements.

Friday, 25 March 2011

First Drive: 2011 Aston Martin V8 Vantage S

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Nestled in a secluded valley in the south of Spain is the Ascari Race Resort. Celebrated as one of the world’s most beautiful tracks, the private 3.2-mile ribbon of perfectly smooth blacktop challenges drivers with 26 corners, 10-degree climbs and 18-degree banks as it weaves through the mature oak trees that dot the landscape. Named after Alberto Ascari, the first double world Formula 1 champion, the well-manicured decade-old venue is the type of circuit enthusiasts fantasize about.

Our private shuttle takes us through the manned guard gate towards the main clubhouse. As we round the corner, and head down the shallow hill, the sun reflects off something in the distance. Parked in the paddock are a dozen glistening sports cars – some coupes, some roadsters – each still dripping wet from the overnight shower that leaves the air fresh and crisp. The vehicles, the latest offering from Aston Martin, are the enthusiast-targeted Vantage S Coupe and Roadster.

Nine times zones from home with jet lag extinguished by a morning café grande, I figure it is time to get behind the wheel. Only one thing is more enjoyable than driving the new Aston Martin Vantage S through the mountains of Spain – spending a long afternoon with the sports cars on the wide-open Ascari race circuit.

The Aston Martin Vantage secured its position as the automaker’s sportiest model when it was introduced at the 2005 Geneva Motor Show for the 2006 model year. Like the DB9, the then-new two-door utilized the now common VH Architecture (the chassis is constructed with extruded and bonded aluminum panels). Today, the platform is also shared with the DBS and Rapide.

The four basic body styles in the Aston Martin lineup have much in common, but the Vantage holds the trump card when it comes to handling. Unlike its architecture-sharing siblings, the Vantage is shorter by a foot and its wheelbase undercuts the others by nearly six inches – the reduction in overall size translates to a lighter curb weight (3,549 pounds Coupe, 3,726 pounds Roadster) and greatly improved handling.

Aston Martin offers its Vantage in a dozen flavors these days, from the entry-level V8 Vantage Coupe ($120,350) to the flagship V12 Vantage Carbon Black ($194,995). Following on the heels of the limited-edition sport-tuned V8 Vantage N420 models, introduced less than a year ago, are two new models both wearing the automakers coveted ‘S’ badge - the 2011 Vantage S Coupe and 2011 Vantage S Roadster.

2011 Aston Martin V8 Vantage S side view2011 Aston Martin V8 Vantage S front view2011 Aston Martin V8 Vantage S rear view

While their aluminum platforms are virtually identical to the standard coupe and roadster models, the British automaker is targeting driving enthusiasts with these heavily upgraded Vantage S variants. Under the hood of each is a specially-tuned version of the familiar all-alloy 4.7-liter V8. Fitted with an adjustable air intake (engineered to open nearly unrestricted at 3,500 rpm), more aggressive spark mapping and the ability to take advantage of higher octane fuel, the engine delivers 430 horsepower at 7,200 rpm and 361 pound-feet of torque at 5,000 rpm (its power rating tops the N420’s output by about ten horsepower). We estimate the Vantage S will hit 60 mph in about 4.5 seconds (Aston Martin lists the maximum speed at 189 mph).

The Vantage S also boasts a new transmission. The six-speed Sportshift gearbox (a single-clutch automated manual transmission) fitted to the standard Vantage models and the N420 has been superseded by Aston Martin’s all-new seven-speed Sportshift II. While it remains a single-clutch automated manual transmission (rumor has it a dual-clutch unit won’t fit), Sportshift II is 52 pounds lighter than Sportshift I. Plus, it is at least 100 pounds lighter than a dual-clutch transmission, reports Aston. Specifically designed with the performance of the V8 Vantage S in mind, the transmission is engineered to operate automatically in Drive mode, or to be manually commanded via column-mounted magnesium shift paddles (the new transmission is reportedly able to select gears 20 percent faster than the older gearbox, in both modes). The rear-mounted gearbox is also now air-cooled, not oil-cooled like its predecessor, helping to shed an oil pump and other unnecessary ancillaries.

2011 Aston Martin V8 Vantage S engine

The exhaust system is also unique to the V8 Vantage S (it shares some commonality with the aggressive muffler system used on the V12 Vantage). Its overall capacity is larger, and the bypass valves are engineered to open earlier in the rev range to produce a throatier sound and more “crackle on the overrun,” says the automaker.

The steering rack has been modified with a quicker ratio (now 15:1, as compared to 17:1 on the standard Vantage models), dropping the number of wheel turns (lock-to-lock) down to just 2.62. The suspension has also been overhauled with retuned passive damper valves, revised rear spring coil rates and revised bump stop rates and lengths.

The braking system delivers more stopping power, thanks to larger 15-inch slotted front rotors with six-piston calipers. While their overall diameter has increased over the standard Vantage, their weight has done just the opposite (credit an innovative two-piece system that uses a lightweight aluminum hub with a durable iron braking surface). The rear 13-inch rotors are cast iron, with four-piston calipers. The braking software has been refined to take advantage of existing brake-related systems (ABS, electronic Brake Force Distribution, Traction Control and Positive Torque Control), and the three-mode Dynamic Stability Control has been specially calibrated for its new enthusiast-tuned role. The Vantage S is also the first Aston Martin to be configured with Hill Start Assist (the brakes are automatically used to hold the vehicle stationary on a steep grade for two seconds, or until the accelerator is pressed).

2011 Aston Martin V8 Vantage S side detail

Visually differentiating the Vantage S from its other siblings, Aston Martin has resculpted the front bumper and added a carbon fiber lower front splitter (its larger intake channels more air to the engine and brakes). There are larger side sills with styling derived from the GT4 race car, and a new carbon-fiber rear diffuser. Lastly, the rear decklid features the slightly raised “flip” shared with the V12 Vantage. All of the design elements contribute to lowering the coefficient of lift and drag, thus increasing high speed stability.

The wheels are also unique to the Vantage S lineup. Standard fitment is 19-inch “V-spoke” cast aluminum alloys, wrapped in Bridgestone Potenza RE050 performance tires (245/40R19 in the front and 285/35R19 in the rear - the rears on the Vantage S are 10 mm wider out back when compared to the standard Vantage). Forged 10-spoke aluminum alloy wheels, saving additional unsprung weight, are optional.

2011 Aston Martin V8 Vantage S exhaust system2011 Aston Martin V8 Vantage S wheel

A glance at the interior reveals that it, too, has its own unique look. The cabin has been upgraded with distinctive three-track stitching on the door panels and seats (Aston Martin says the design element “echoes the gills of a shark”). The steering wheel can be covered in Obsidian Black leather (or Alcantara) with matching or contrasting stitching and there is an option to specify a Piano Black package, complete with a piano black center console, door handle surrounds and handles. The option list for both Vantage S models reads nearly identical to the other Aston Martin siblings, whether one is seeking a 1000-watt Bang & Olufsen BeoSound audio system, satellite radio upgrade or a boot-mounted umbrella. Track junkies overseas will want to opt for the extra-cost carbon-fiber and Kevlar bucket sport seats, with soft leather faces, saving nearly 40 pounds of weight (sadly, the DOT won’t certify them for the States).

Aston Martin is offering the 2011 Vantage S in two body styles. The standard V8 Vantage S Coupe (with mandatory Sportshift transmission), starts with a base price of $138,000. The V8 Vantage S Roadster with a power-operated soft top (also only fitted with Sportshift) will set you back $151,000. The pricing puts the two new models comfortably mid-pack in the Vantage lineup. (All pricing includes gas guzzler tax, but exclude the $1,615 fee for delivery and destination.)

2011 Aston Martin V8 Vantage S interior2011 Aston Martin V8 Vantage S interior2011 Aston Martin V8 Vantage S door trim2011 Aston Martin V8 Vantage S instrument panel

By luck of the draw, I’m on the track in the first round. My fortune is short-lived, however, as I quickly realize my dallying in the heated lounge has cost me first choice of vehicles – I’m left holding the glass key to a bright blue right-hand-drive model. The minor annoyance accepted, my six-foot, two-inch frame settles comfortably into the optional sport seats (as mentioned, the nice carbon/Kevlar buckets won’t be offered in the States). Strapped in place with the standard three–point belts, I slide the white open-face helmet over my skull. I have plenty of wiggle room.

The new Sportshift II, like its predecessor, doesn’t have a traditional PRNDL gate on the lower console. Instead, there are four round buttons (”Sport,” “R,” “N” and “D”) high on the center stack. The Vantage S, like all Aston Martins these days, is started with the signature key held in place for a few seconds. The V8 fires over and settles to a tempered growl. I step on the brake and tap the “D” button, followed immediately by the “Sport” button – it electronically changes transmission maps so the new gearbox will shift more rapidly and hold each gear longer through the counterclockwise sweep of the tachometer. The sport mode also alters the flapper in the exhaust to give it a more aggressive note.

2011 Aston Martin V8 Vantage S on track

With an open track beaconing, and a flagman waving a bandera verde, I bury my right foot on the metal accelerator pedal. There is a very reassuring growl from the ass-end of the coupe as the 4.7-liter forces me back into the seat.

It takes about three full laps of the 3.1-mile circuit before I am comfortable with the layout. There are twenty-six corners, so much of the orientation is spent memorizing entry points (speed will come). With most committed to my internal RAM, I increase my velocity gradually. I immediately find the Vantage S very docile - it is nearly perfectly balanced (49:51 front to rear) and the steering is nicely weighed. I’m pleasantly surprised.

After ten minutes, I’m starting to really enjoy things. The Bridgestone Potenza tires are getting some good heat into them, as are the brakes. I push harder. At about eight-tenths, the Vantage S transforms from being a street car on a track to a showroom-ready racer. The back end starts to break free if power is applied on a lightened rear end (easily corrected with some opposite steering input) and a bit of understeer in the sharper corners becomes an issue. It’s time to crank things up.

2011 Aston Martin V8 Vantage S on track

At nine-tenths, I’m grinning ear-to-ear. Diving into the hairpin corners, I use trail braking to help rotate the Vantage S (masking much of the understeer). Body roll is minimal, and there is plenty of low-end torque to control rotation and bring the coupe back to speed upon exit. The width of the Vantage requires some caution in the tighter areas (unless you enjoy unsettling impacts with curbs), but nothing overly distracting. That same low stance does contribute to ample, and welcomed, grip on the small and medium-size corners. On the larger sweepers, I find it easiest to keep my foot down until I feel the rear end get light. Then I just hang it there and enjoy the ride.

The Vantage S is truly one of the more enjoyable vehicles I have ever driven on the track. The engine pulls with gusto (it prefers to spin at the top of the tachometer, so be wary of the fuel cutoff), the exhaust sounds tremendous (even through a helmet) and the brakes are more than competent for the job. And one has to mention the chassis – it is a spectacularly stiff platform. Aston Martin takes some abuse for using the same VH architecture on all of its models. I say, who cares? It works.

2011 Aston Martin V8 Vantage S on track2011 Aston Martin V8 Vantage S on track2011 Aston Martin V8 Vantage S on track

Yet hold your applause.

Even with its sexy styling and eight-cylinder rumble, there is something working against the Vantage S. It’s the darn brand-spanking new Sportshift II gearbox. While it is admirably lighter and quicker than its predecessor, it still trails the pack when compared against the dual-clutch offerings from the competition (there is no prize for inventing the ultimate VHS machine these days). Even when the transmission is in manual-shift mode, there is an agonizingly noticeable delay between gears. Aston Martin’s redesigned single-clutch gearbox may finally be quickest of its kind, but the industry moved on. Several years ago.

With my helmet back in the lounge, I grab the keys to another Vantage S and depart Ascari Circuit on two-lane public roads for the small Spanish villages of Cuevas del Becerro, Setenil de las Bodegas and Arriate. In a relaxed manner, the transmission is left in “D” allowing the electronic nannies do the shifting. Once again, I find myself flustered with the slow gearbox, so it’s back to manual mode (thankfully, it only takes a brief tap on the paddleshifter to kill the autobox and the system doesn’t revert back to automatic without pressing the “D” button again). With my brain in control, and my fingers doing the work, the Vantage S is a fun scalpel to carve local Spanish roads. I am smiling once again.

2011 Aston Martin V8 Vantage S rear 3/4 view

The British automaker doesn’t hesitate when asked to put the crosshairs on the Vantage’s direct competition. It understandably comes from the volume-selling rear-engine Porsche 911. Granted, Aston Martin money ($138,000-plus) will buy every single naturally-aspirated 911 in today’s lineup, and get you in a standard 911 Turbo – an established segment benchmark.

Aston Martin Vantage S verses Porsche 911 Turbo. That’s a tough dilemma.

If asked to choose a weekend track car with those lottery winnings, I’d toss both aside and place my money on the Porsche 911 GT3 RS – that lightweight slot car is a no brainer. But, if asked to pick a sports car to fill the void in the third garage slot, one that would shuttle me to work a couple days a week, get front billing with the valet at the country club, provide me with an engaging driving experience up Mulholland Highway on days off and make me look over my shoulder each time I park, I’d choose the new Aston Martin Vantage S. But, really… can I get one with a manual transmission?

[SourceL autoblog]

Mercedes-Benz Celebrates 125th Anniversary with special edition Viano

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Founded way back in 1886, Mercedes-Benz is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. And with a portfolio full of enticing products, the German automaker has plenty to choose from to turn into a commemorative special edition – the SLS AMG, C63 AMG or even the formidable G-Wagen, for example. So which did Mercedes go with? The Viano.

The special Avantgarde edition of the Silver Star van sold overseas gets a load of chrome trim to compliment the black or silver paint, plus 19-inch wheels and an interior decked out with six individual bucket seats (upholstered in either Lugano leather or Twin Dinamica microfiber).

Two V6 engines are available in the two-ton special edition Benz van: a 3.5-liter unit burning gasoline and churning out 258 horsepower, or a 3.0-liter diesel with 224-hp that will sprint to 60 miles per hour in 9.1 seconds.

[Source: Mercedes-Benz]

PRESS RELEASE:

Big on Class in Every Respect: The New Mercedes-Benz Viano Avantgarde Edition 125

With its extrovert appearance the avant-garde vehicle in its class

Selected equipment and appointments, sporty ambience
Dynamic V6 engines, specially tuned sports suspension

Dynamism, comfort and sportiness – the new Mercedes-Benz Viano Avantgarde Edition 125 embodies these three terms like no other large-capacity vehicle. It combines an unmistakeable exterior look with selected equipment and appointments and a dynamic drive system, making it the top model in its class. The Edition 125 of the Viano Avantgarde represents the perfect blend of MPV, saloon and sports car.

With its extrovert appearance the avant-garde vehicle in its class
The look of the Viano Avantgarde’s Edition 125 is certainly nothing for wallflowers; it symbolises the avant-garde in its class. It is shod in exquisite 16-spoke high-sheen 8J x 19 light-alloy wheels, whilst the high-gloss chromed exterior mirror housings plus side skirts and chrome trim on the front bumper and chromed rear trim on the tailgate highlight the special styling. The model is available in the metallic paintwork variants obsidian black or brilliant silver.

Selected equipment and appointments, sporty ambience
The stylish look continues in the interior: the driver and front passenger will feel at home on seats that are as comfortable as they are sporty, featuring the finest leather cover with a piping design, plus increased lateral support. Customers can choose from “Lugano” leather or the new exclusive “Twin DINAMICA” microfibre surface. The cockpit is equally impressive, with its white scale illumination for the instruments, and sports pedals in brushed stainless steel with rubber studs. The decorative strips have a black or brown burr-walnut look.

There are four individual seats for the passengers in the rear and these also feature leather covers with a piping design, and are both stylish and comfortable. These seats, too, boast special padding with increased lateral support. The inserts in the side trim panels are also in leather, whilst the decorative strips sport a burr-walnut look. The individual seats mounted on rails can be moved in 25-mm steps and include integral three-point seat belts, height-adjustable head restraints and adjustable armrests.

Dynamic V6 engines, specially tuned sports suspension
The dynamic drive system featuring V6 engines from Mercedes-Benz is the perfect match for the Viano Avantgarde Edition 125’s sporty appearance. The units are unique in this vehicle class: the V6 CDI 3.0 with an output of 165 kW (224 hp) and its extraordinary traction of 440 Nm combines power with consideration for the environment. BlueEFFICIENCY technology reduces fuel consumption and CO2 emissions to a surprisingly low level, with fuel consumption in accordance with the NEDC amounting to a mere 8.5-8.6 l/100 km or 224-226 CO2 (g/km) – a very respectable figure in view of the vehicle size and performance. The V6 petrol engine which is available as an alternative has a displacement of 3.5 l and achieves 190 kW (258 hp), blending its torquey temperament with extremely smooth running characteristics.

Performance reaches a unique level in both variants. The V6 CDI 3.0 accelerates to 100 km/h in only 9.1 s and achieves a top speed of 201 km/h. For the V6 3.5 the figures are 10.4 s and 217 km/h.

Power transmission to the rear axle is via an automatic transmission. The Viano was already characterised by its high degree of handling safety and comfortable suspension, and it has now been particularly sportily tuned especially for the Edition 125 of its Avantgarde model, meeting the most discerning of standards when it comes to driving dynamics.

The Edition 125 of the Mercedes-Benz Viano Avantgarde is available from the spring in two different lengths: “compact” and “long”.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

First Drive: 2012 Acura TL

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For years, Acura approached the evolution of its vehicles with the deliberate patience of a carpenter wielding a sanding block. Rough mechanical or aesthetic edges were banished not with axe swings, but with small motions that seemed barely perceptible compared to the ranging whims of the competition.

Then the 2009 TL came along.

While the automaker had already begun to dabble with its then-new corporate shield grille, the TL took the piece and ran with it in a direction no one else was heading. Ask Acura about the thinking behind the design, and the company will say that the look was a product of the times. When the vehicle was penned, the world was preoccupied with ever larger displays of affluence, and Acura wanted a sedan that was unmistakable in every way. Unfortunately, the fourth-generation TL landed right as the housing bubble popped and the rest of the economy began circling the drain.

In order to right the TL’s wrongs for 2012, Acura has put down the chainsaw in favor of the carving knife to build an altogether more attractive vehicle that brings additional fuel economy to the table as well. Are the small changes enough for the luxury sedan to put its dreaded beak behind it?

Acura’s designers set about reorganizing the front fascia and the rear valance of the 2012 TL to diminish the vehicle’s vertical look in favor of more horizontal lines. First and foremost, that involved shrinking the formerly massive grille by backing it away from the headlights and off of the hood. That simple change serves up some much needed proportion to the nose, and a new waterline nestled below the grille and above the air inlets is a simple detail that changes the sedan from slab-faced to athletic. The grille also wears a new variety of materials, including a set of gloss black wings tucked below the shield to help break up the negative space down low.

Speaking of those air inlets, Acura has trimmed down the size of both the turning indicators and the fog lights and added in some attractive chrome detailing to do away with the gaping holes in the old car.

As much as all of the small details help, two larger overall changes up front have made the biggest difference for the face of the TL. The designers trimmed the front overhang by a full inch and pushed the nose down for a more poised look. Park the 2012 TL and its 2011 sibling next to one another and the changes are immense.

2012 Acura TL side view2012 Acura TL front view2012 Acura TL rear view

That shorter overhang becomes more apparent as you move along the side of the vehicle, where the wheel wells seem pushed to the corners. That effect is amplified by the fact that the company’s designers trimmed an additional half-inch from the rear valance as well. Otherwise, you won’t find too many differences between the flanks of the 2011 and its replacement. While the company has brought two new 17- and 18-inch wheel designs to the option sheet for 2012, the larger 19-inch roller from the last generation will remain on hand.

Along with that diminished rear valance, the 2012 TL packs a slew of design tweaks out back, too. Those include a significantly smaller garnish along the trunk sill, smaller reflectors and a new diffuser mounted low. That last bit of kit goes a long way towards breaking up the vast cliff face of plastic that adorned the old model and does much to carry the horizontal design cues of the front around to the vehicle’s tail.

2012 Acura TL headlight2012 Acura TL grille2012 Acura TL wheel2012 Acura TL taillight

For all of the moaning that the exterior design of the fourth-generation Acura TL evoked, we never really heard too much bellyaching about the vehicle’s cabin. That’s largely because Acura got the cockpit in its bread-and-butter sedan right the first time around. Designers have swapped out the dimpled chrome accents of the dash and door panels for a fish-scale material that looks more at home in a vehicle of this caliber, and buttons along the stereo are now color-matched to the rest of the controls on the dash. It’s not a reinvention of the wheel by any stretch of the imagination, but we never felt that the cabin was an unpleasant place to spend time to begin with.

We’re still frustrated to see Acura sticking with the company’s cumbersome wheel/joystick interface for the infotainment system instead of a more natural touch-screen layout, or at least a horizontally mounted controller. The system sticks out like a sore thumb in an interior that’s largely very intuitive. While the center-stack is a bit button-happy, we never found ourselves struggling to adjust the cabin temperature or the stereo’s volume.

While buyers are likely to respond to the new face of the 2012 Acura TL, the most serious changes to the vehicle lurk under its redesigned hood. The automaker’s engineers have managed to dig up an additional two miles per gallon city and three mpg highway from the lower-rung 3.5-liter V6 engine thanks to aerodynamic tweaks, a few engineering tricks and a new-to-the-platform six-speed automatic transmission.

2012 Acura TL interior2012 Acura TL front seats2012 Acura TL gauges2012 Acura TL multimedia system

That new face doesn’t simply look better. It also helps serve up a 5.4-percent reduction in drag thanks to changes in the grille and lower fascia. Additionally, airflow through the radiator has been optimized and new underbody cladding helps reduce turbulence from below to make the sedan as slippery as possible.

Engineers also bolted on a new intake system that focuses on bringing in fresh, cool air from outside of the engine bay. Cooler temperatures mean denser air, allowing the ECU to slightly advance the engine timing to increase torque and efficiency. Additionally, the pistons in the 3.5-liter V6 now make use of a moly-dot coating to reduce friction. The piston skirts wear a matrix of lithium dots that work in concert with a new block boring process to keep mechanical drag to a minimum.

Those substantial alterations join new dual-fine-electrode spark plugs and low viscosity 0w-20 oil to make the 3.5-liter as fit for fuel economy duty as possible. All told, the engine is good for 20 mpg city and 29 mpg highway – up from 18 mpg city and 26 mpg highway in the last generation – all while delivering 280 horsepower and 254 lb-ft of torque.

2012 Acura TL engine

Of course, that leap in fuel economy isn’t solely due to the clever engineering under the valve cover. Acura finally said adieu to the aging five-speed automatic transmission in the 2011 model and welcomed a new six-speed to the party for 2012. Make no mistake, adding an additional gear makes a huge difference to how the vehicle drives and clearly helps the jump in fuel economy, but competitors from Lexus, Infiniti and elsewhere are all dabbling in gearboxes with an ever-growing number of speeds.

We pinged the company’s engineers on why exactly they opted for a more conservative six-speed automatic instead of something with a higher cog-count like their competitors. As it turns out, a larger number of gears was investigated, but officials say they were found to offer returns that paled in contrast to steep development costs and added complexity. The bottom line? At nearly 30 mpg, Acura simply didn’t need an eight-speed transmission.

Interestingly enough, even though the more powerful 3.7-liter V6 engine skipped many of the fuel-saving tweaks of its smaller-displacement kin, it also gained an additional one mpg in both city and highway cycles thanks to the aerodynamic alterations. That engine is still good for 305 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque.

2012 Acura TL badge

We were able to spend time in both the 3.7-liter-powered TL SH-AWD and the front-wheel-drive TL with the 3.5-liter V6 under the hood during our time with the vehicle. Both sedans deliver refined handling characteristics thanks to a new damper design that uses an internal bypass. Under normal driving conditions, the damper provides an aggressive rate to deliver more precise handling, but should the vehicle hit a pothole or strike an uneven portion of pavement, the valve will open to allow a greater amount of fluid to move more quickly from one reservoir to the next. The change allows the suspension in the TL to soak up irregularities in the road surface while still offering a stable driving experience.

While the TL SH-AWD still retains its specific spring and damper rates to work in concert with the vehicle’s tarmac-gripping all-wheel-drive system, the standard TL isn’t exactly a slouch when the road starts twisting. We found that both vehicles are capable of serving up an enjoyable run through the Texas hills. Unfortunately, the electric power steering on both sedans feels unnecessarily light and vague.

Still, we don’t imagine too many TL buyers will find that problem to be enough to dissuade them from writing Acura a big, fat check. The one issue that we simply couldn’t wrap our minds around was why Acura insists on offering two V6 engines with this platform. Yes, we know that the SH-AWD system adds a not-inconsequential 242 pounds to the sedan’s 3,726-pound curb weight, and an extra 25 ponies goes a long way to offset that heft, but the smaller 3.5-liter V6 is an absolute star. Acceleration from that engine is smooth and linear and seems to offer more propulsion than its power figures would suggest.

2012 Acura TL rear 3/4 view

For those who don’t exactly find themselves braving glacial roads for a good number of days out of the year, we’d just as soon recommend saving some money and sticking with the front-wheel-drive TL with its new-found enthusiasm for fuel efficiency. Speaking of money, Acura has priced the 2012 TL starting at $35,605. If you absolutely must have the SH-AWD, be prepared to fork over $39,155.

It’s worth noting that Acura kept the excellent six-speed manual transmission as an option for the TL, but it’s only available in SH-AWD configuration with the Technology Package. As such, that vehicle will command a lofty price tag of $42,885. We love ourselves some third pedal, but over $7,000 is a steep price to pay for the joy of rowing your own. Given that the new six-speed automatic transmission leaves nothing to be desired in the cog-swapping department, we’d have a hard time ponying up for the manual.

We’re thrilled to see Acura invested in toning down its over-the-top styling in favor of lines that are significantly more palatable. Here’s hoping that the 2012 TL will be the new face of things to come from Acura.

[Source: autoblog]