Posts Tagged ‘Top Gear’

…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
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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.

Lexus LF LC concept leaked

Posted: December 21, 2011 in News
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New Lexus concept breaks cover ahead of its Detroit motor show reveal…

This slightly cryptic picture shows Lexus’s new LF-LC concept, due for a full airing at the Detroit show next month. All we know for sure is that it’s been created at the company’s California design studio, the same place where the original SC430 was drawn, presumably by someone holding a pen in their mouth with their eyes clamped shut. Could this be its successor?

Maybe. It’s about the same size and has two doors, but unlike the SC there’s a pair of seats in the back. And going by these pics, it looks like a targa top rather than a coupe-cabrio, with styling riffing the pointy bits of the new GS saloon. But could it be rear wheel drive? The Lexus people haven’t confirmed anything, but we’d bet at least £1.40 that this spaceage bodywork could be wrapped around the Toyota GT 86 platform – provided those rear seats haven’t made it too long – and become a posher version of the rear-drive coupe. Which would make it a sort of junior LF-A. But then again, it’s a Lexus, so it’ll probably be a hybrid.

Lots of questions. Much speculation. Hopefully all of which shall be cleared up in Detroit. We’ll be there with our hands in the air…

This is a Ferrari-beating Jeep

Posted: December 21, 2011 in News
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Hennessey Performance reveals its 800bhp Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8

Historian John Dalberg’s oft-quoted dictum that “power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely” can be sprinkled liberally across the automotive spectrum. Anyone familiar with an early Saab 900 Turbo (RIP) will attest to this. Here though, it takes on a grisly significance. This is the Hennessey HPE800 Twin Turbo Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8.

That 800 in the moniker stands, naturally, for how many horses have been strapped under the Santa-spec red bonnet. 805bhp, to be precise, that ride shotgun with 823 torques to give a 0-60mph time of 3.1 seconds. That’s fractionally, fractionally faster than a Ferrari 458 Italia. Mr Hennessey tells us it’ll do the standing quarter mile in 10.9 seconds, travelling at 130mph.

That massive 6.4-litre V8 gets rebigulated to 7 litres, treated to two turbos and mated to an upgraded transmission and torque converter. It also gets 20in wheels, much leather and Alcantara, a Brembo brake system, lowered sports suspension and a carbon fibre lip spoiler.

Says Mr Hennessey: “This vehicle is designed for the performance minded driver who live in Aspen or Moscow and wants to be the fastest in all weather conditions.”

Or indeed, the driver who enjoys plastering looks of sheer surprise across supercar owners at the lights. Yikes. Just 24 will be built, with prices starting from £150,000 ($235,000).

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top gear

Season 17
Episode 5 of 6
(July/24/2011)

Jeremy Clarkson tries out the new Lotus T125, which brings F1-style performance to the track, and an updated version of the classic Jensen Interceptor. Another celebrity gets behind the wheel of the Reasonably Priced Car, and for this week’s challenge, the trio employ all manner of second-hand military equipment to knock down a row of derelict houses, aiming to complete the job in less time than a team of demolition experts.

Release Date: 24-07-2011
Air Date: 24-07-2011
Broadcast Channel: BBC HD

Format: AVI at 1 255 Kbps
Length: 550 MB for 1h 1min 25sec 368ms

Video: MPEG-4 Visual at 1 110 Kbps
Aspect: 624 x 352 (1.773) at 25.000 fps

Audio: MPEG Audio at 128 Kbps
Infos: 2 channels, 48.0 KHz

Single link = no password | no extraction

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At the New York show Jaguar has pulled the bandages off the XF after its mid-life nip’n’tuck. A significant number of major parts have been changed. Bonnet, wings, headlamps, grille and front bumper are all new. But it was already a looker, so this is no extreme makeover. The changes are subtle.

Mind you, there will be a lot more XFs on the road from now on, because the new 2.2 diesel will be a hot-selling rival to BMW’s seen-everywhere 520d.

The headlamps are slimmer now, with LEDs curling around the border of the module. The grille is bigger and more upright, and the bonnet has more of a power bulge. Are you sensing an XJ there here? Correct.

The maximum-attack supercharged XFR now has three chrome-ringed lower grilles, and the sides get deeper sills. Out back, the tailpipes poke out of a mildly menacing diffuser.

Inside, there are new seats on all models and the switches are easier to read and more finger-friendly. Worthwhile detail stuff.

The main mechanical news is that competitively smooth and quick four-cylinder diesel, tested here.

The New York show was a comparatively quiet event, much of this month’s novelty having been given to the Shanghai show two days earlier. This gave Jag the chance to sweep up the lion’s share of the headlines at the end of the week.

To press home the advantage, it also served up a facelift to the XK, which also runs to new lamps and wings. The headlamps lose their angular corners, and the front wing vents are horizontal not vertical. ‘We always wanted to give it horizontal vents,’ a Jag designer told us, ‘But when the XK was new we were in Ford with Aston Martin, so we weren’t allowed to do the same as them. Now we can do what we like.’

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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.

The December issue of TopGear magazine hits the newsstands today, and features an ear-splitting match-up between two of the loudest objects known to man: the Pagani Zonda R and the Jeremy Clarkson.

Yes, in the pursuit of Much Loudness, we crowbarred our very own JC into Pagani’s Nurburgring-destroying, in-no-way-road-legal Zonda R and donned earmuffs. “It screams like a psychopath stuck in a gin trap, hurls itself at the end of the runway and before you’ve stopped gurning, the speedo is reading 200mph,” reported our intrepid correspondent, shortly before his ears fell off. Trust us: this is one power test you really, really want to read.

At the very-slightly-quieter end of the spectrum, we get under the skin of Audi’s stunning Quattro concept, built to commemorate 30 years of four-wheel drive. Time to party like it’s, erm… (TopGear takes off shoes and socks and begins tortuous process of counting backwards)… 1980!

Argh! Cover your eyes! It’s the Xenatec Coupe, a terrifying two-door based on the bilious Maybach 57S. We take a good close look so you don’t have.

Seb Loeb has just won his seventh WRC title. Seven. Seven. We talk to the people who know him best – his co-driver, his team principal, even his osteopath – to find the answer to the million-dollar question: how the hell is he so good?

The original Merc CLS was a mighty car, a banana-shaped behemoth that spawned a generation of big, fast sort-of-coupes. And now there’s a new one. Can it improve on its predecessor’s stellar reputation – and deliver a kicking to the Audi A7 and Porsche Panamera? Jason Barlow finds out.

The Lexus CT200h is what a Prius looks like if you’re not (a) a Hollywood celebrity or (b) a boring old fart. That’s the theory, anyhow. The reality of the lumpy ‘sports hybrid’, as Paul Horrell discovers, is a little less convincing.

Budget-conscious road testers that we are, we’ve conducted a thoroughly and selfless investigation of the record-breaking 268mph Bugatti Supersports, and can happily report it is the ideal car for young couples or recent retirees. We also get to grips with the new Ford Mondeo, VW Passat, Hyundai ix20 and Renault Gordini Clio.

The R8 GT is Audi’s fastest, most committed road car. The Isle of Skye is a very, very long way from anywhere. Add one Tom Ford and that’s a potent recipe for a Big TopGear road trip. And lots of unwanted police attention.

Mini and Prodrive are heading to the WRC next year with this archtastic Countryman. According to TG’s Big Book of Racing History, it turns out that both these firms have a rather illustrious history of winning rallies. Paul Horrell plays co-driver on a slidey, sideways ride to find out whether 2011 will see a little bit of history repeating…

Ha! Look at this ridiculous car! So tiny! So tall! So orange! Oh, what’s that? It has 805bhp and does 0-60mph in less than four seconds? We strap into the Tango T600, the all-electric super-thing that makes the Tesla Roadster look like an underpowered golf cart.

Gran Turismo 5 – the latest, greatest instalment of the epic Playstation franchise featuring the TopGear test track – is nearly here. No, really, it is. In a world-exclusive preview, we meet its creator to find out how the sights, sounds and unidentified smells of Dunsfold were committed to the virtual world… and why the hell it’s taken to long.

Mexico, as you may have read on the news, is not the world’s safest country at present. Especially not if you’re driving the ‘Road of Three Thousand Curves’ – the twisting mountain pass winding through the heart of drug-war territory – in a Porsche Cayman S. Can TopGear survive the drugs barons, the 1,000-foot drops and, most terrifyingly, the Really Quite Spicy Food? Find out this – and far, far more – in the December issue of TopGear magazine, out now!