Posts Tagged ‘2011’

…As for the MP4-12C, well, maybe there was an excess of pressure here, too. The day before I drove an early car at Portimão, back in February, Ron Dennis – a man who’s definitely a little misunderstood, but is still the closest the car industry has to a Steve Jobs figure – claimed that McLaren has always been “passionate” about measuring things scientifically. “And we can prove scientifically that ours is the best sports car in history.”

Very Ron and not wrong. Unscientifically, however, it didn’t appear – at first – the most thrilling of mid-engined supercars. Because, pitched as it was against the Ferrari 458 Italia, it’s actually more about sheer speed than vociferous thrills. When we brought them together, the 12C couldn’t quite eclipse the 458, a car in which the myths and legends of Maranello segue perfectly with some truly extraordinary engineering. The Ferrari’s normally aspirated V8 sounds better than the McLaren’s twin-turbo unit, and its bodywork undulates as sinfully as a Fifties Italian screen siren. The 12C looks neat but functional. Plus, Ferrari would never name a car after a tumble-dryer. But the McLaren remembers when to shut up, which the more extrovert Italian isn’t so good at. Call it English reserve. That’s its character.

What if we were looking at the comparison from the wrong angle, though? Top Gear’s editor-in-chief Charlie Turner drove a 12C back to the UK from July’s Alpine performance-car gathering, and wouldn’t stop going on about how insanely good it was until we locked him in a small room and doused him with cold water. In the real world, a place we visit occasionally, the McLaren simply works. Well, it does now that the initial satnav and warning-light gremlins have been evicted.

We also thought more about the context of the 12C’s creation. From a more or less standing start to getting within a hair’s breadth of arguably the greatest-ever Ferrari is a seriously impressive feat. So here it is: our GT Car of the Year.

But not quite yet. Lewis will be driving it along a red carpet at a McLaren dealer opening, not long after our meeting. Then it’s ours, to do with as we please, for about 12 hours. Our allotted time with him is almost up. I ask him what he thought of the Senna documentary, arguably the film of the year. His answer is surprisingly reflective…

First drive: the new Fiat Panda

Posted: December 24, 2011 in Drives
Tags: , , , ,

One of James’ favourite cars gets a new lease of life (and the Twinair engine). Paul Horrell reports

Life used to be easy for the Panda. It launched against generally rubbish opposition. The new one enters a different, more hostile world.

Most obviously VW has parked its tank on Fiat’s lawn, in the shape of the Up. But there’s also the Kia Picanto, winner of a Top Gear award this year for being a generally terrific tiddler. Or the Hyundai i10. Include the three-door posse and you get the Twingo, the Ka or Fiat’s very own sibling-rival 500.

If the Panda shows any weakness, this lot will nick its bamboo straight out from under its nose.

In the measurables, it does well. It fields very competitive performance and economy, good safety, comfort and enough space to tackle those rivals. It’s longer by a pencil’s length than the old one, in the name of a bigger boot.

But does it have the joy a baby car should have?

Fiat brings the unique Twinair engine to bear again here. It pulls like a bubbly little locomotive, and in the lower gears out-performs the ability of those little tyres to apply all the surge. In fifth, no other tiny car has this sort of effortless motorway fast-line smarts. If you drive it like that the economy won’t be special, but if you go gently you can stretch fuel. And the notional economy potential is what gets it its low-tax 99g/km CO2 rating.

Pity the Twinair is an expensive option. Still, if you can’t or won’t rise to it, don’t feel snubbed. The basic version’s 1.2-litre four-cylinder doesn’t mind being wrung out to within an inch of its life. It’s quick enough for the suburbs.

There’s a cheer to the way the Panda goes around bends and roundabouts, a willingness the Up doesn’t quite manage. The Up rides better, but again the margin isn’t a deal-breaker. The Fiat is supple without being floaty, and effectively muffles the sounds of the suspension hitting bumps.

The design has been growing on me. It avoids the Bambi look, and there’s strength in the big wheel-arches. The main motif is the ‘squircle’ – rounded-off squares and oblongs that define everything from the fuel cap to the side windows to the speedo and handbrake lever. It gives the whole thing a distinct design harmony. On the other hand, if you don’t actually like the squircle, it’ll annoy your eyes as some endless chirrupping noise would your ears.

There aren’t any chirruping noises actually. Or rattles. The Panda is properly made. Everything fits well. In the cabin, solid materials come in novel textures and colours. The old Panda had a dashboard made of blister pack. The new one has a dashboard made of dashboard.

Solid effort all round then. But given the current opposition, it couldn’t have got away with anything less.

Winning the green game by stealth is this, the Vauxhall Ampera

The Ampera is here as an example of technology that’s managing to sneak under the social radar and win the green game by stealth. It combines a load of realistic green technologies to produce a car that’s practical and easy to use (this really could be your only car), at a price – £29k – that’s easy(ish) to swallow. It’s a plug-in – with an EV-range of 50 miles, so it may never need to see a fuel station. But it’s also an ER-EV, or Extended Range Electric Vehicle, so the 1.4-litre petrol engine is never connected to the wheels – it’s there to drive a generator, just like the Fisker on p140, and allow for an all-up range of 310 miles on one tank.

The battery is guaranteed for 150k miles or 10 years. With a full charge, it’ll do the equivalent of 175-odd mpg and 40g/km CO2. So this is exciting new tech in a normal, useful package. An EV without the range anxiety. A green car without the sense of self-righteous anger. The future’s bright. The future’s quite subtle.

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Looks cool, right? Finally, you’re thinking, the police get a righteous car with which to chase down the baddies.

This police liveried Lotus Evora will be making its debut this weekend at the Autosport International show in Birmingham, where UK cops will be using it as an educational tool.

They want to use it as an ice-breaker to teach young scallywags the dangers of speed. That’s right, a 276bhp sports car capable of 0-62mph in 5.1 seconds used for school.

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This month’s TopGear Magazine comes to you from 1972. Sort of. That was the year the first Lancia Stratos was given to the world, and now – 38 years later – it’s back. And we’ve driven it. We’ve driven lots of other stuff too, which you can read all about once you’ve watched your free DVD that’s all about cars with soul. Or you can read the mag first. It’s a free world.

Dust off the remote, fire up the telly box and tune in to BBC2. The boys are back and we’ve got a big fat series 16 preview in the mag, including a little insight into life behind the scenes, plus much toilet talk, with exec producer Andy Wilman.

This month’s news section is kicked off by the new BMW 1-Series M Coupe. An orange one. We snuck it into the TG studio and took some shiny pictures.

More orangeness comes in the shape of the Ford Escort Mexico, driven around the TG test track by a man called Hammond. It reminded him of peas, but you’ll have to read the story to find out why.

Then it’s off to France for a spin in the new Stratos. It’s a custom-built special, based on one of our favourite Ferraris, with some cunning German engineering. But is it any good? Hmm… does James May like a pint?

It’s been a while since Citroen made a proper hot hatch. So when the DS3R arrived, we begged for the keys and went for a drive. If anyone from Citroen is reading this, your car is fine. Well, it’s ours now, but it’s fine. Honest.

Stuck for a new year’s resolution? TopGear is here to help! Have a flick through our feature on All the Cars Worth Caring About in 2011, then promise yourself you’ll buy one. We’ve got the lowdown on all the good stuff.

If you grew up in Russia, you probably know about the Lada Niva. If you grew up in Rushden, allow us to enlighten you. Actually, allow James May to enlighten you – it’s officially being imported into the UK and he’s driven it. On some snow.

The Lambo Gallardo Performante and Porsche 911 Speedster are the ultimate playboy playthings. We arranged for them to meet in the Californian desert. Then we took some pics and wrote some words, because it’s important to share the joy.

After all the supercar frolics, we put on our road-test flat caps and arranged a fight between the Citroen C4 Grand Picasso and the new Ford Grand C Max. Which one is worth your dosh? There’s only one way to find out. Buy the mag. Go on. It’s only £3.95.

Finally, we send a hairy man up a Glacier in the new KTM X-Bow R. Why? Because it was there. And because it looked fun. And dangerous. Which it was.