£862m M4 motorway upgrades unlikely to include emergency rest areas

M4 motorway

The M4 is becoming a smart motorway like the M42 shown here

Highways England won’t add more safe zones in motorway revamp

The smart motorway upgrade for the M4 is unlikely to include additional emergency rest areas (ERA), despite a recent agreement with parliament, because the project can’t be changed at the last minute.

Preparatory work has started to switch the M4 to a four-lane motorway by making the hard shoulder a ‘running lane’, with construction due to start imminently. The upgrade will cover 32 miles between junction 3 (Hayes) and 12 (Theale) in a five-year project costing up to £862 million and due to finish in 2022.

The spacing of ERAs has become a controversial topic following several serious accidents in which a vehicle had broken down on what was previously the hard shoulder and, having not been able to reach an ERA, was hit by following traffic.

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Pressure to build smart motorways with refuge areas closer together has been building after concerted efforts by the House of Commons Transport Select Committee and the AA. On most smart motorways, ERAs have been built at intervals of 1.5 miles. Highways England (HE), which operates the motorway network, recently agreed to alter future ERA spacings to one mile but said this will only happen on “future projects”, not those already under way. Attempting to alter the agreed planning permission for the M4 project to add extra ERAs at this stage would introduce a significant delay.

“As it is already in the delivery phase, the M4 smart motorway will probably not be upgraded with more frequent ERAs,” an HE spokesman said.

AA president Edmund King said: “We are very pleased that HE has changed its mind and agreed to more ERAs. This has been a four-year struggle to make smart motorways safer, but we are now concerned about the M4 project.”

Highways England presents forecast for autonomous, connected cars on UK roads

HE has not identified the first scheme that will be built with extra refuges. “We will likely have to wait until the next roads investment period,” it said. That suggests at least three years, when the next Road Investment Strategy is finalised by the Government. In the meantime, HE has pledged to look at existing smart motorways and possibly add more refuges to carriageways where there “are issues”.

The original 2003 pilot scheme for ‘hard shoulder running’ on the M42 included ERAs at half-mile (800m) intervals. However, the specification was later changed without consultation – the distance between refuges trebled to 1.5 miles – and then implemented on a new generation of smart motorways, immediately sparking safety concerns.

A recent survey of 19,500 AA members showed low confidence in smart motorways, with 20% of respondents rating them as more dangerous than rural B-roads. Two-fifths of those surveyed said they would usually avoid driving on the hard shoulder “for fear of coming across a broken-down vehicle”.


A major shake-up in the way England funds and organises its road system was unveiled in 2015.

The Highways Agency was renamed Highways England and a five-year funding plan for motorways and the Strategic Road Network (SRN) was agreed. Regulation was introduced so that HE also answers to the Office of Road and Rail.

The idea was a good one: treat roads as strategic infrastructure such as water, power, rail and air, and apply long-term planning to building and maintenance.

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HE, led by Jim O’Sullivan, manages £15 billion allocated to RIS 1 (Road Investment Strategy 1) for 100 main projects between 2015 and 2020. A new five-year plan will run from 2020 to 2025.

Now in development is a major revamp of the SRN (the major A-roads in England) to create ‘expressways’, which will make dual carriageways safer by upgrading junctions and closing right-turn lanes and access to country lanes.

At a more local level, the Government wants to upgrade the Major Road Network (lesser trunk roads under local authority control) and improve maintenance. These roads were ‘de-trunked’ by the Labour government under Tony Blair.

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Source: Autocar Online

New Nissan Z sports car to spawn 475bhp V6 Nismo model

Nissan Z car

New Nissan sports car will be a sister model to the Infiniti Q60

Successor to the 370Z confirmed; flagship Nismo version to have hot V6 and four-wheel drive

Nissan has given a 370Z successor the green light.

The new sports car is expected to be shown in coupé guise before the end of next year ahead of UK sales starting in 2020, some 50 years after the original Z car arrived here.

Future generations of the Z model are understood to have been in doubt because of struggling profitability in the sports car segment, an issue felt more widely across the industry. Honda has admitted a similar quandary about an S2000 replacement and Toyota and BMW have teamed up in order to cut costs in the creation of their respective forthcoming Supra and Z4 sports cars.

Nissan design boss Alfonso Albaisa told Autocar last year that he was in favour of a new Z car to replace the 370Z. He said the sports car market was a challenging one but was “personally advocating” a new Z car.

The forthcoming model is known internally as the Z35 – a codename that continues a process started with the Z31 model launched in 1983. It has been twinned with the next Infiniti Q60, with which it will share its rear-wheel-drive platform, engine line-up and electric system, according to senior officials from Nissan.

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Dimensionally, the new Z car is set to mirror the more upmarket Q60. At about 4520mm long, 1890mm wide and 1240mm tall, it will be slightly larger than the 370Z, which has been in production since 2009.

As well as a coupé version, Nissan plans a successor to the 370Z Roadster, although this model is unlikely to arrive in showrooms until 2021.

Power for the new coupé and convertible, which insiders suggest could be called the 400Z, is planned to come from Nissan’s twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 engine used in a number of existing models, including Infiniti’s Q50 and Q60. In standard versions of the new Z car, the engine, which has a 60deg vee angle, is expected to run a similar state of tune to that of the Q60, which develops 399bhp and 350lb ft.

By comparison, the outgoing 370Z has a turbocharged 3.7-litre V6 powerplant that delivers 323bhp and 268lb ft.

The highlight of the new Z-car line-up is set to be a four-wheel-drive Nismo version. Due to arrive in 2021, this is earmarked to run a powered-up version of the turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 engine with a claimed 475bhp and 451lb ft.

Although it’s still early days, Autocar understands that Nissan intends to reveal the styling of the new Z car in concept form at the 2018 Tokyo motor show in October. The definitive production version is then planned to be unveiled at the 2019 Los Angeles motor show.

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Source: Autocar Online

Daniel Ricciardo: ‘Being in the F1 title fight is the minimum I would ask’

The Red Bull driver has Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel in his sights and says he has the tools to beat them in an even battle

Always suffused with conjecture and supposition, Formula One’s phoney war will end with the firing of engines in earnest at the Australian Grand Prix next Sunday. Expectations are it will herald another battle between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel. Daniel Ricciardo, however, has other ideas – this is a fight the local boy desperately wants to join.

The Australian has a point to prove and a combative hunger coupled with confidence he is reaching his peak. If Red Bull can give him the competitive car he desires, Ricciardo will be gunning for both world champions.

Related: Mercedes confidence is an ominous sign after Barcelona F1 testing | Giles Richards

In the end you have to just pull the trigger. Trust the car, trust the brakes, just go

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Source: Formula 1

BMW M2 vs used M135i: is our modified hot hatch as fun to drive?

BMW M135i

M2 looks pricier (and is) but our M135i is punchier

The BMW M135i is a good yet flawed car. But what if you could fix its shortcomings? We tried to do just that by modifying one and living with it for six months

Back in 2012, when the BMW M135i was the new skid on the block, you could barely pick up a car magazine or glance at a YouTube motoring channel without being bossily told how brilliant the rear-driven hot hatch was.

Six years ago, the M135i really was a game changer. Despite costing less than £30,000, it brought a premium badge, rear-wheel-drive dynamics and more than 300bhp to a sector that hadn’t seen that set of attributes before. It was very good to drive too. And in an instant, a front-driven Ford or Vauxhall with two-hundred-and-something-bhp didn’t seem particularly clever.

In all the fervour that surrounded the M135i at its launch, it was very easy to overlook one or two of its shortcomings, or at least put them to the back of your mind. Several years on, however, and with that early excitement having long since fizzled away, the mood has changed. Today, you don’t so much overlook the M135i’s flaws as itch to put them right.

Flaws? There are some, but not many. The first is that the ride and handling balance was never quite as brilliantly judged by BMW as you would have expected. The car crashes heavily into potholes and sunken drain covers, and yet the body feels loosely controlled on an undulating road. Hit a sharp crest at any decent speed and, for a fraction of a second, you’d swear the rear of the car is about to take off. Job one: get that body tied down.

You might also take issue with the exhaust note and the slightly goofy 1 Series styling, but the only other major dynamic weakness is the lack of a factory-fit limited-slip differential (LSD). (There was a dealer-fit option but, statistically, you’re more likely to have walked on the moon than had an LSD fitted by a BMW franchise.)

I have a couple of theories here. For one thing, not equipping these second-tier M Performance models with an LSD clearly distinguishes them from BMW’s full-spec M cars, which do all have locking differentials. And for another, in many cases, an open differential will actually be safer. After all, one spinning wheel probably won’t put the car into a slide, but two spinning wheels probably will.

The advantages of a locking differential compared with an open one far outweigh the drawbacks, though, especially when you don’t have any model hierarchies or corporate responsibility to worry about. Better traction, more predictable handling on the limit, power oversteer on demand. Job two: fit an LSD.

In our quest to realise the M135i’s potential, we teamed up with renowned BMW specialist Birds. The company, based near Heathrow airport, has developed its own package of upgrades (which can also be fitted to the M235i as well as the later M140i and M240i). Its B1 kit, as it’s known, includes new springs and dampers, a Quaife LSD and an engine remap, along with a couple of other bits and pieces.

Last summer, we bought a three-door M135i with just under 30,000 miles on the clock for £17,500. The full cost of the B1 upgrade is £6643 (fitted, including VAT and a 24-month warranty) so we’ve spent £24,143 all in. Incidentally, the upgrades can all be fitted individually. Today, you can pick up a slightly leggier M135i for £14,000 or so.

The first job was to get the car handling properly. Working with vastly experienced racing driver James Weaver and his long-standing race engineer, Peter Weston, Birds has developed its own suspension kit for the M135i. It isn’t an ultra- stiff track set-up, though, as you might expect of a racing driver and his engineer. Instead, it’s a fast road set-up that aims to better the standard car’s brittle ride and wayward body control. The dampers are from Bilstein and springs from Eibach, but they’re not off-the-shelf parts. Instead, Weaver and Weston specified their own spring rates and defined their own damper curves. Bilstein builds the dampers specifically for Birds to those specifications.

Long-term test: used BMW M135i

The new suspension lowers the front end by 10mm, and modest spacers widen the front track a little, making the car look more aggressive. The springs are 10% stiffer than the standard set-up and the dampers have less rebound damping. Sitting on stiffer springs, there is, inevitably, an edge to the ride quality over those bumps and divots in the road that you can’t see, but over the bigger stuff – potholes and sunken drains covers – the new set-up is a good improvement. Body control, meanwhile, is much better now, the car staying keyed into the surface of a yumping road rather than getting light and floaty.

After that, we fitted the LSD, which meant we had the car handling the way we wanted it to. At this point, Birds fitted the short-shift kit and modified the clutch pedal to give it a heavier action. Both tweaks are effective when you’re up for a bit of a thrash – they make the car feel tighter and sharper – but in stop-start traffic, I could do without the leg workout.

Finally, we moved on to the engine. With a simple, quick and cost-effective remap, this N55 straight six can be teased up to around 390bhp, but beyond that, you’re looking at very expensive modifications to keep it running properly. Besides, 390bhp in a car this size – not to mention a thumping 420lb ft of torque – is more than enough. The remapped engine is massively strong and the sharp throttle response and lively top end that characterise the standard motor have not been lost.

All of which makes for a very compelling car indeed. The real success of this project, I reckon, is that we’ve put right the M135i’s shortcomings while preserving its good points, notably its very strong value for money. Over 9000 miles, the car was faultlessly reliable and – upgrades, normal servicing and vandal damage aside – we didn’t spend a penny on it. I think I’ll miss it enormously.


With the two cars parked together, you wouldn’t struggle to work out which one was more expensive. In fact, sat next to the pumped-up, steroidal M2, the skinny and upright M135i doesn’t look like a performance car at all. What you probably wouldn’t guess, however, is that the plain-looking hatchback is actually the faster car.

In fact, our M135i out-punches the M2 by 25bhp and 51lb ft of torque, so it feels stronger through the mid-range and more urgent near the redline. But with less power to deploy to the road, and wider tyres with which to do it, the M2 does have better traction. The M135i counters with greater pliancy on very bumpy roads. You feel the suspension working hard to keep the tyres pressed firmly into the road surface, whereas the M2 skips along a little.

It is worth saying, incidentally, that this facelifted M2 is a big improvement over the early models, which suffered the same lack of body control that many recent high-performance BMWs have exhibited. This later car is much more confidence-inspiring. Where the M2 really gets one over on the M135i, though, is the stability and poise you feel in corners. Those swollen arches accommodate much wider tracks and you appreciate that fact out on the road.

But even though these cars share a platform and use the same basic engine, they’re not really rivals. The M2 costs £46,700 new. You could build an M135i to this specification for £20,000. The M2 is a brilliant car. If you can’t afford one, though, a modified M135i at less than half the price really is the next best thing.

Like it:

VALUE FOR MONEY – Close to 400bhp for less than £25k. You’ll spend double that on a similarly powerful new Audi RS3.

MODIFICATIONS – With new suspension, a limited-slip diff and more power, we made an already good car even better.

OVERALL QUALITY – The car was driven hard, but it didn’t let us down at any stage and it still felt fit.

Loathe it:

TEMPERAMENTAL BLUETOOTH – Bluetooth always worked for making phone calls, but it mostly didn’t work for playing music.

VANDAL DAMAGE – We came back to the car one evening to see that it had been badly keyed down one side.

Read more 

BMW M135i review 

BMW M2 review 

BMW M4 review

Source: Autocar Online

Undercover car shoppers: the buyers who check up on dealerships

Undercover shoppers

Mystery shoppers create faults to test car service centres

Horror stories about surly, inattentive or uninformed car salespeople are legion. We find out how undercover customers can help improve showroom standards

“Let’s get serious – you wanna buy this car or not?” Paul Vitti, Robert de Niro’s character in gangster comedy movie Analyze That, is the stuff of nightmares: a car salesman who’s closing technique is the equivalent of a punch in the face.

It’s a shame because until he uttered those words, Vitti was actually pretty good. Eye contact, humour, patience… it was all there, right up to the point where he gets irate at non-committal tyre-kicker. But a salesperson doesn’t have to be that rude to annoy you: ignoring you, not taking your enquiry seriously, a lack of product knowledge or, worst of all, giving the impression they’d rather be anywhere but talking to you are just as infuriating.

I recently popped into my local Ford dealer, interested in buying the 15-reg Fiesta ST-2 on the forecourt. As I walked over to it, a salesman passed me in the opposite direction, puffing an e-cigarette and studiously avoiding eye contact. Just like the smoke from his electronic fag, my excitement at test driving and possibly purchasing his ST evaporated in an instant.

Worse, when I dragged myself to the sales office, he was the only bloke free to talk. My enquiries were met with clipped answers. His manager wasn’t any better as I discovered when, with the salesman out of the way rummaging in a filing cabinet for the car’s service history, I asked him if I could speak to the friendlier sales guy I’d spoken to earlier on the phone when arranging my visit.

“He’s busy,” was his unsmiling reply. I left soon after, deflated.

As a former car salesman, I know all about the challenges of the job: the pressure of meeting targets, of dealing with ‘challenging’ customers. It isn’t easy. I also know about the steps sales people are taught to follow and which, with terms such as ‘qualifying’, ‘appraisal’ and ‘the close’, can suck the life out of a sales encounter. In fact, so hard-wired into car selling have these steps become, there’s a danger they’re displacing the most important sales skills of all – things such as good eye contact, open body language, a sense of humour and active listening.

A danger? It’s already happening. In many showrooms, these vital ‘soft’ skills have fallen by the wayside as sales people are encouraged and rewarded to follow the ‘10 steps to profit’. But here’s the thing: used in combination with well-practised sales steps, these soft skills sell cars. Fortunately, some car makers and major dealer groups have woken up to their value. They include the Volkswagen Group, Porsche, Aston Martin and Nissan. In fact, they pay a company to send fake car buyers and service customers to their showrooms and service departments to check the skills are being used.

The company, called Automotive Insights, has 6000 mystery shoppers on its books, 300 of them active at any one time. It’s the market leader in its field and the only such company dedicated exclusively to the motor industry. The shoppers – singles, couples and families ranging in age from 17 to 76 – perform up to five visits a day. Almost all of them have a compact video recorder tucked in a pocket with a button-hole camera to record their visit.

Because their job is to observe and record a sales or service encounter at its most truthful, they play things straight. Jonathan Firmin, founder and managing director of Automotive Insights, says: “The best mystery shopper is the grey man or woman. They don’t bring their personality to the encounter. Instead, they let the sales person or service advisor lead it.”

Like the showroom, the service department can also be a soft skill-free zone. It doesn’t help that you’ve probably explained the car’s problems over the phone and when you arrive, the service adviser has their nose buried in a computer screen.

However, mystery shopping the service department requires more than just a camera. To do it effectively, the shopper’s car has to be put through the workshop. But what if it has no faults? No problem: the shopper creates some. First, they clear the car’s on-board computer and the memory chip in the car key to erase the vehicle’s fault and event history. To give the impression the car is poorly maintained, they might add a dye to the engine oil to make it look old. Tyres will be randomly inflated and deflated. A clean air filter will be substituted for a dirty one.

To cover their tracks, the shopper wipes away oil drips or dye spillages, and finger marks on or around filler caps, tyre dust caps and anything else that’s been tampered with.

“It all sounds sneaky but these techniques are the only way to accurately and independently measure the performance of dealers,” says Firmin. “Our clients want to know about the customer service more than the process, which is already ingrained and easier to measure. A question we ask shoppers is: ‘Were you made to feel like the most important person there?’”

Automotive Insights can trace its roots to the US, a country Firmin calls the ‘cradle of customer service’.

“Good service grew out of the tips culture in US bars. It can sound insincere but there’s no doubting the energy and excitement the Americans bring to a service encounter,” he says.

Fortunately, ‘have a nice day’ isn’t what his UK clients are looking for. Instead, it’s our blend of gentle humour, quiet patience and straightforwardness they crave.

“When applied, no one does soft skills as well as the Brits,” he says. He should tell my local Ford salesman.

THE MYSTERY SHOP: We join an Automotive Insights mystery shopper on a clandestine visit

I don’t recall anyone greeting us as we entered the showroom.

We stood by a new car and were soon joined by a salesman. The mystery shopper stated the purpose of his visit and let the salesman lead. Speaking in a quiet monotone, the salesman quickly latched onto the shopper’s enquiry concerning finance and for the next 10 minutes explained, in numbing detail, the terms of a PCP finance agreement.

He might have been following best practice but his explanation was unnecessary at this stage and meant the purpose of the visit was lost.

Our mystery shopper said: “The salesman wasn’t especially forthcoming. He wasn’t enthusiastic and didn’t seem to be excited by the model or the prospect of selling me a vehicle. He failed to create any real desire for me to want to purchase from him.

“I wasn’t made to feel like the most important person in his world. Eye contact, body language and use of humour were all lacking, as was the personal touch of using my name and engaging with me through small talk. Would I recommend the dealer to my family or friends? Unlikely.”

John Evans

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Source: Autocar Online

The stars behind the cars: why high-profile engineers are becoming famous

Celebrity engineers

Albert Biermann: Formerly the boss of BMW’s M division, now the engineering chief at Hyundai and Kia

We examine why once-unheralded brains behind the cars we love to drive are featuring more in the spotlight

Having been teased something rotten for so many years, the world’s nerds and geeks suddenly found themselves at the forefront of style and popular culture.

No longer was the computing swot – with his trademark thick-rimmed glasses and shiny forehead – the social outcast. In a dramatic role reversal, he was, all of a sudden, the cool kid.

It was back in 2013 that the phrase ‘geek chic’ first found its way into the Oxford English Dictionary. The definition – “the dress, appearance, and culture associated with computing and technology enthusiasts, regarded as stylish or fashionable” – neatly embodies the shifting of attitudes. Once considered to be awkward and uninteresting misfits, geeks were suddenly held in the very highest regard. As nerds, squids and dweebs everywhere set about enjoying their time in the spotlight, something unusual was brewing in the automotive world.

In hindsight, the ascension of our adenoidal computing enthusiasts actually makes a lot of sense. For one thing, as pointed out by a 2013 article in The Guardian: “The digital revolution elevated alpha nerds such as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates to unprecedented power and inf luence.”

Red Bull’s Adrian Newey on the new Aston Martin AM-RB 001

And whereas many of us might once have been distrustful of new technology, the fact that we all found ourselves walking around with a quite brilliant piece of it in our trouser pockets will surely have made us all more receptive to it. Computer technology has come to form the very foundation of our day-to-day existence. Accordingly, the people behind the technology have become superstars.

Would it be too much of a stretch to declare scientists, computer programmers and engineers the new rock stars? Perhaps, but there’s certainly less clear air between the two groups now. You need only consider the vast public profiles enjoyed by two of today’s geeks-in-chief – physicist professor Brian Cox and Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk – to see that nerds no longer lurk nervously in the shadows.

But how does any of this relate to the car world? Well, exactly the same thing has happened. We have come to venerate our large-foreheaded brethren – engineers to you and me – more than ever before. In fact, we’ve witnessed the emergence of a new generation of celebrity car engineer. Yep, the guy who signs off the 911 GT3’s camber angle is now famous (well, he is among people who have a passionate interest in very fast cars).

It’s true, of course, that there have been automotive engineering folk who’ve been very well known since the earliest days of the motor car. Charles Rolls and Sir Henry Royce, for instance, were very famous in their day, but they were much better known as the founders of their great marque than strictly as engineers. The same is true of Enzo Ferrari and Ferruccio Lamborghini. The small band of individuals I present to you here, on the other hand, are but employees.

You’ll know Andreas Preuninger as the boss of Porsche’s Motorsport division, and recognise Tobias Moers as the chap from Mercedes-AMG.

Matt Becker, of course, is the guy who helped forge Lotus’s reputation for handling excellence – he’s hurriedly doing the same for Aston Martin today – while Albert Biermann is the former BMW M man who’s now plying his trade at Kia and Hyundai.

In a society that has come to idolise its boffins, Preuninger, Moers, Becker, Biermann and others, too, have seen their profiles increase. Okay, they aren’t exactly at risk of being swamped by adoring fans at the supermarket but, if you spotted one of them reaching for the Bran Flakes in the cereal aisle, you would at least do a double-take.

There is a distinction here, incidentally, between the likes of Preuninger and Moers – strictly employees of road car businesses – and engineering titans Gordon Murray and Adrian Newey (more of whom in a moment). The latter two are, of course, motorsport engineers first and foremost. They made their names in racing and subsequently moved into road cars.

It wasn’t just our new-found geek-appreciation that has made them so recognisable. They were pushed into the limelight by the manufacturers they represent too. These guys aren’t merely engineers any more; they’re ambassadors. And as the motoring press reaches an ever bigger audience through digital publishing, social media and YouTube, their faces and voices become familiar to more people than ever before. And so it is that a small number of automotive engineers are, in a very particular way, celebrities.

Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus SCG004S to use 690bhp Nissan GT-R V6

As it happens, this phenomenon isn’t necessarily a new one. Perhaps the very first automotive engineering employee to transcend his position was Rudolf Uhlenhaut, who oversaw Mercedes’ racing and high-performance road car activities between the 1930s and 1950s (and who, as legend has it, was faster during some grand prix car development sessions than one JM Fangio). Since Uhlenhaut, we’ve had Lamborghini’s Valentino Balboni and Ferrari’s Dario Benuzzi, who were perhaps better known as test drivers.

So why do manufacturers choose to make famous faces of their top engineers? “It’s because engineers are cool now,” says Aston’s marketing chief, Simon Sproule. “Some of these guys carry with them a reputation and credibility. That’s worth a lot to car companies. In fact, for a performance car manufacturer like Aston Martin, it’s super-important.” By leveraging Becker and his cast-iron credibility, be it in the press or in its own promotional material, Aston can demonstrate that its cars are as much about substance as style.

“Look at the Valkyrie programme,” adds Sproule. “It’s the ultimate example of the theory. Here is a car that is being designed by Adrian Newey and will be test-driven by Matt Becker and our new recruit, Chris Goodwin. On top of that, it’ll also be tested by Red Bull Racing drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen. Every one of those guys has a huge amount of credibility.”

In the end, then, the celebrity car engineer is just another weapon in the PR arms race. They are the nerdiest, geekiest, most swotty car guys of us all, and I can think of no higher praise than that.


Having headed Porsche’s high-performance Motorsport division for almost two decades, ‘Mr GT3’ is the definitive celebrity car engineer. Appropriately enough, he had a poster of a 911 2.7 Carrera RS on his bedroom wall as a boy.

A car guy through and through, Preuninger’s enthusiasm for even the tiniest of details is infectious. It isn’t at all unusual to find yourself discussing GT3 RS damper settings over dinner with him for the full duration of the main course.


Formerly the boss of BMW’s M division, now the engineering chief at Hyundai and Kia. Once made me look very silly in front of my colleagues by bounding over to award me a ‘trophy’ for some unimportant achievement. It was actually a bottle of fruit juice.

Embarrassing for me, but it demonstrated a point. Biermann, like most high-profile car engineers, isn’t just a robotic numbers man. He has a very funny human side to him too.


Having been responsible for vehicle dynamics at Lotus for many years, Becker took up a similar role at Aston Martin in 2015. The first car developed entirely under his stewardship, the DB11 V8, is a show-stopper.

Becker is one of the few people capable of making a 118bhp Lotus Elise powerslide like a 600bhp BMW M5. How fast is he? When Kimi Räikkönen visited the Hethel test track several years ago, Becker’s lap record remained intact.


Ask Mercedes-AMG boss Moers a question he doesn’t want to answer and he’ll reply with a grunt, or maybe just a steely glare. But ask the right one and he’ll tell you everything you want to know, much to the annoyance of his PR minder.

Characterised by a very low tolerance for corporate nonsense, it was Moers’ idea to put the multi-championship-winning power unit from Lewis Hamilton’s Formula 1 car into the road- going Project One hypercar.

Read more 

Mercedes-AMG Project One unveiled 

Aston Martin Valkyrie AMR Pro unveiled 

Lotus Evora review 

Source: Autocar Online

Porsche 911 Turbo S vs Smart Fortwo: a real-world race across Wales

Porsche 911 Turbo S vs Smart Fortwo

The Smart had to beat not only a 911 but also Mauro Calo

In a race from one end of Wales to the other, a Porsche 911 Turbo S would leave a Smart Fortwo completely and utterly for dust, wouldn’t it? That’s what we thought…

It is a question so basic and relevant to those of us who like cars, I found the fact I had no idea of the answer entirely bewildering. It is simply this: how much faster is a really quick car from one place to the next than a really slow car? I didn’t have a clue.

Of course, a lot depends on those places. If they are the start and finish lines of a race track, the question becomes easy to answer. If they lie at either end of a motorway network, it becomes an irrelevance because, if speed limits are obeyed, then both arrive at the same time, and if they’re not, what results is not a test of one car against another but one driver’s nerve against his rival’s.

I did once race a supercar against a family hatch for this magazine, but it was to prove a subtly but significantly different point. Ten years ago, I drove a diesel-powered Ford Focus from Calais to Berlin against a Lamborghini Murciélago, my theory being that whatever time he gained from being able to do 200mph on the autobahn would be lost in having to stop for fuel more often. Rather satisfyingly, we arrived at Berlin’s Schönefeld airport side by side.

This time, I wanted a pure driving test, uncomplicated by extended periods on motorways or the need to stop and refuel. A pure point-to- point contest on some of Europe’s best roads, not to see whether a fast car was quicker than a slow one but by how much, and over a 190-mile cross-country route. So we decided to go from bridge to bridge in Wales, from the Severn Bridge in the far south-east of the country to the Menai Bridge in the north-west. The cars would leave at the same time, the difference in their arrival times providing the answer to our question.

Choosing the fast car was simplicity itself. On the cold and damp roads of varying widths on which we would be travelling, I truly believe the Porsche 911 Turbo S is the fastest car in the world. With 572bhp backed by an avalanche of torque combined with four-wheel drive and compact dimensions, it was the perfect weapon for the job.

The slow car was harder to select. It could have been a Dacia Sandero, Fiat Panda or similar but the one I kept coming back to was a Smart Fortwo. Maybe it was the knowledge that we already had the 911 and I subliminally wanted another car noted for its short wheelbase and rear-engine location, but I also liked the incongruity of the tiny city car bombing along trying to keep up with quickest mainstream version of the greatest sports car of all time. Smart was unable to provide a car with the base spec engine, but the automatic ‘Prime’ model that did turn up could still only muster 89bhp and a 0-62mph time of 11.3sec – certainly slow enough to make the point.

But a third component was needed too: a driver. I had already determined I would drive the Smart but who should I put behind the wheel of the Porsche? What was needed was someone who could really drive but who’d also understand what we were trying to achieve and how to play the game. In short, I needed Mauro. Most of you will have seen Mauro Calo dozens of times without realising it, as he spends most of his working life driving for telly programmes both currently and formerly populated by Clarkson, Hammond and May.

When he’s not doing that, he works as a stunt driver on enormous Hollywood productions like Mission: Impossible and driving for people like us. He also used to be the world’s drifting champion. So I was confident that, whatever the result, it wasn’t going to be compromised by an unwillingness on his part to get his foot down.

Now we had the game and its players, all that remained were the rules, of which there were just two. The first was obvious: both cars must follow exactly the same route and not stop. The second was that neither of us was going to flout speed limits, something entirely possible even in the Smart. Yes, this would favour the Smart, but the Porsche still held a crushing advantage: I knew from the off that every overtake I made would need to be executed one car at a time and with meticulous planning. In the Porsche, Mauro would be past almost the instant he pressed the pedal.

And so with a wave of his lens cleaning rag from photographer Luc Lacey, the contest began. The route was kept as simple as possible so as to minimise the chance of either of us going wrong. The only motorway was the first short stretch down the M48 and M4 to the base of the A449, which we’d take north to join the A40 west towards Abergavenny, whereafter we’d be on single-lane roads all the way to the northcoast. We followed the A40 past Crickhowell, then turning north up the A479 to Talgarth where we’d pick up the A470 and follow it all the way to Betws-y-Coed, save for a quick blast along the B4518 from Llanidloes north where it picks up the A470 again at Llanbrynmair.

In Betws, we’d turn left onto the A5 and head through Snowdonia to our destination. Would Mauro get there a minute or an hour before me? I had no clue, though the rate at which he came past and disappeared at the first available opportunity inclined me towards the latter.

I’m not going to dwell on Mauro’s journey in the Porsche, first because you can probably imagine how much fun he had punching his way past what little traffic there was, savouring all that power and torque and ability to use it, and second because just thinking about it makes me jealous. The Smart experience was rather different.

Naturally, the biggest trouble was overtaking. The odd dawdling car was fine so long as it was going very slowly but, if it was doing 50mph when you wanted to be doing 60mph, there was very little in reserve to help you past. Lorries were predictably problematic but the nightmare was the truck stuck behind a slow moving car. Unable to divert around the problem, I had no choice but to sit there, thinking of Mauro disappearing off into the sunset.

But there were other issues too: driving a 911 Turbo S can be like the parting of the Red Sea – everything in front of you just gets out of the way. And while the scarcity of dual carriageways meant the Porsche could not take much advantage of this, the Smart suffered from precisely the opposite effect: at least four times in those few hours other road users saw the Smart and leapt out in front of it, only then to hold it up. They see this tiny little thing beetling down the road and just presume it’s going to get in their way.

Actually, I was discovering precisely the reverse was true: the fact is that once it had acquired both some speed and some free air in which to run, the Smart was not only commendably rapid in give and take conditions, it was terrific fun too. I’m not sure why I was so surprised: if you were setting out to build a car for the pure pleasure of driving, you might well conclude, as did Dr Porsche all those years ago, that a light car of abbreviated wheelbase with both its engine and driven wheels at the back was the way to go. And so it proved.

The Smart was startlingly good in slow corners, diving into the apex, clinging on doggedly and then offering unlimited traction at the exit. The twin-clutch gearbox is still not perfect but now eminently bearable and the engine makes up in sheer enthusiasm much of what it lacks in outright grunt. In short, I started the journey hoping to be mildly amused by the Smart but prepared to be bored to death, but in the end I arrived in Anglesey thoroughly entertained.

And, far more to the point, just nine minutes after the 911. Mauro could hardly believe it and neither could I. “Mate, I promise you I was not hanging about,” he said somewhat redundantly, and nor was he, but the traffic had been a little lighter than expected and the Smart quicker from point to point largely because, while it took an age to accrue speed, once acquired it rarely had to slow down for anything other than traffic. The truth is its average speed on roads for which the 911 could have born was less than 2mph slower.

As for the 911, Mauro was in awe of it, and this is a man who’s driven all there is drive, usually at 45deg to the intended direction of travel. “For this,” he said referring to the journey, “it’s the best car in the world. Nothing would have been quicker today.” He then proceeded to extemporise further on the Turbo S’s grip, traction, the accuracy with which it could be driven and how by far the hardest thing he’d had to do all day was remain within the spirit of the law. “There were times I could have been doing 180mph,” he murmured. “At least…”

Apart from being a remarkably fun way to pass the time, this was an interesting result because it means that while you may well have a lot more fun, exist in a greater level of comfort and have more toys to play with in a six-figure supercar, unless you’re prepared to play fast and loose with your licence and liberty, you’re not going to get there a great deal sooner, even if you load the dice in your favour by basing your journey almost entirely on great driving roads. So next time you find yourself in an uncomfortable rush to get somewhere and driving faster than you want, just slow down and relax because ultimately it’s going to make little difference to your arrival time.

After a few beers and a decent night’s sleep, we spent much of the next day taking the photographs you see here. Normally we’d do these things en route, but of course the nature of the challenge precluded that possibility. And then it was time to go home. I saw the Fortwo sitting there looking ugly, cute and somehow smug all at the same time and thought of the fun we could have together on the journey south. “Mate, you’re going to like that,” I said, tossing the key to Mauro. Me?

I drove the 911 home. The Smart was good – unexpectedly so, to be honest – the Porsche not one whit better than I expected. Which is to say it was sublime.

How much quicker would the Porsche have been if… 

We didn’t care about speed limits (which we do) Impossible to say for sure, but possibly up to an hour. Terrifying, huh?

The journey was from Land’s End to John O’Groats Presuming the same average speed differential, just over 40 minutes. There would be little or no advantage either way in the number of fuel stops, for while the 911 burns fuel at approximately twice the rate, so too is its fuel tank almost twice the size. It would, however, take a minute or two longer to fill.

We took the train An Anytime Single fare from Chepstow to Bangor costs £80.60 and the quickest route takes 4hr 44min with one change in Newport. The fuel cost in the Smart, taking an average price for a litre of unleaded petrol to be 123.3p, would be £26.44p. In the 911, the cost would be £51.72p.

Smart Fortwo 90hp Prime Auto vs Porsche 911 Turbo S 

DISTANCE: 190.1 miles

TIME TAKEN: 3hr 58min vs 3hr 49min

AVERAGE SPEED: 47.9mph vs 49.8mph

FUEL CONSUMPTION: 39.9mpg vs 20.4mpg

Read more 

Smart Fortwo review 

Porsche 911 Turbo S review 

Porsche 911 GT3 review 

Source: Autocar Online

Aston Martin Varekai name expected for DBX SUV

Aston Martin DBX design signed off for 2019 launch

The Varekai, as imagined by Autocar

High-riding Aston will arrive in 2019 with V12 and V8 engines to take on the Bentley Bentayga and Lamborghini Urus

Aston Martin is expected to name its first SUV model Varekai following the application of a new trademark for the moniker.

Since it was first announced at the 2015 Geneva motor show, the model, which is due on roads in 2019, has been referred to as the DBX, the name of the concept that previewed it.

But Varekai looks set to adorn the final version because it sticks to the brand’s naming convention by starting with a V, like the Vantage, Vanquish and Valkyrie. Aston Martin declined to comment when contacted by Autocar.

The production model is currently under development – its design was signed off late last summer – with intentions of drastically boosting the 105-year-old firm’s sales volumes. The company is going from strength to strength having made record profits last year that totalled £87 million – £250 million more than the £163 million loss the brand achieved in 2016.

When the DBX production model arrives, it will rival the Bentley Bentayga, Lamborghini Urus, Maserati Levante and top-end Range Rovers and Porsche Cayennes in the luxury 4×4 segment. However, CEO Andy Palmer has previously stated that the DBX will stand apart from them “because it has not sacrificed any beauty to achieve its practicality or performance”.

The SUV project was envisioned by Palmer before he took up his role at Aston Martin in 2014 and it was officially kick-started on his fourth day in the job. “When you are talking about running a company like Aston Martin, you talk through your ideas with the owners before you are hired,” said Palmer. “My message was simple: if Aston Martin wants to survive, it must do a SUV.

“On my fourth day [as CEO], I got to spend some time with Marek [Reichmann, head of design] and I told him I wanted DBX. That was in October and I told him I wanted a concept car ready to show in Geneva by the following March.

“He and his team responded magnificently. One of the many beauties of Aston compared to a large car company is that we can move quickly. If something is agreed, we can leave the room and start working on it immediately, without the need for multi-layer presentations. It’s invigorating and I think we are starting to unlock the benefits of that now. I hope the Aston of today has a swagger — but never arrogance — that it hasn’t had for some time.”

The DBX concept of Geneva 2015 was a two-door, four-seat model powered by electric motors mounted inboard of the wheels and powered by lithium sulphur cells. The car featured several other high-tech concept flourishes, such as an F1-style kinetic energy recovery system (KERS), in order to emphasise that it would be at the cutting edge of powertrain technology when it was launched, but Reichmann and his team also made a point of highlighting more practical elements, such as cabin and load space.

Palmer indicated that the final car will carry much of the DNA hinted at by the concept. He said: “There are aspects of the car that have changed dramatically — perhaps none more so than the fact that it is now a four-door — and, on a comparison basis, you will be able to pick out many details that have been modified. But in terms of the pure lines and the fundamental core principles of the car, you’ll recognise them.”

Reichmann has suggested the roofline will have to be much higher than that of the concept in order to give the production car an extra layer of practicality.

The DBX will be built on a new bonded and riveted aluminium architecture that is closely related in principle to that used by the DB11. There had been speculation that Aston would lean on part-owner Mercedes-Benz for its chassis technology, but Palmer said Aston preferred to make use of its own expertise, albeit turning to Mercedes for some sub-systems and V8 power, as it will do with all of its next-generation vehicles. The DBX will also be the first Aston to be sold with four-wheel drive, although it’s not clear if every model will have the function.

Range-topping power will come from Aston’s 5.2-litre V12, which will be retuned from the 600bhp and 516lb ft unit found in the DB11. There will also be an AMG-sourced 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 that makes 503bhp and 498lb ft and — in time — an all-electric powertrain that will be developed as proprietary technology by Aston with the input of Williams Advanced Engineering. Palmer has ruled out diesel versions of the DBX.

However, Palmer confirmed that a hybrid version of the car will be developed, but it will not feature plug-in hybrid technology because research  suggests luxury car buyers do not consider the experience to be premium enough.

This revelation raises the possibility of Aston using the high-performance powertrain from the Mercedes-AMG GT Concept that was revealed at the Geneva motor show last year. Its hybrid unit combines AMG’s twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 with an electric motor to deliver a combined 800bhp. In the GT Concept, that equates to a 0-62mph time of less than three seconds, although the DBX will be heavier. The battery is charged as the car is being driven, both through brake energy recuperation and with the aid of the petrol engine.

However, Palmer also highlighted the learnings the company had made while developing the hybrid KERS-style system with Red Bull Technologies for the Aston Martin Valkyrie hypercar, suggesting the firm could use a modified version of that instead of turning to Mercedes.

In terms of ride and handling goals, Palmer highlighted the characteristics of the Porsche Macan. “It is probably dynamically the best car in the SUV category,” he said.

The interior of the DBX is set to take a new approach, with the design team having to focus more than ever on practicality. “There are certain issues you can’t compromise on that perhaps we haven’t given such credence to in the past — ingress and egress, for starters, and whether it is a car you sit on or sit in,” said Palmer. “DBX is a revolution for Aston Martin in so many ways, and that has meant that we have had to adapt our way of thinking in places.

“We have one rule that never changes, which is that we don’t trade off beauty. But if you want the design to reflect its 4×4-ness and to deliver the sort of utility that customers expect from these cars, then you have find ways to achieve that. A 4×4 needs to be big, it needs to convey safety and security and yet it also needs to be easy to get in and out of.”

Aston has created focus groups of existing customers to provide input, including the much-vaunted female focus group, which was instigated on Palmer’s suggestion as soon as the concept car was revealed after it emerged that just 3500 of the firm’s lifetime sales of 70,000 cars were to women.

“Some very special customers have seen the car to help guide our thoughts and provide feedback,” said Palmer. “They are our jury and our anchor points to what we want the car to achieve.

“The female jury has been particularly fascinating. This is not an Aston Martin that is exclusive to any one type of buyer and these groups really help us get into and understand some mindsets that we have never focused on before.”

Preparation for DBX production at Aston’s new facility at St Athan in Wales is well under way. As well as building all large Astons, the site has been earmarked to become the firm’s centre of excellence for electrification and cyber security. Customer and staff reception areas have been built and work on three hangars being repurposed into the manufacturing plant is in full swing. At launch, 750 new employees are expected to work at the plant.

St Athan’s role in Aston’s growth will be pivotal as the firm continues to grow its line-up, following the launch of the new Vantage last year. A significantly more potent new Vanquish is due this year, while the DBX is due in 2019, a mid-engined supercar in 2020, the Lagonda saloon in 2021 and a Lagonda SUV in 2022.

Aston Martin’s fortunes have changed since the start of 2017, when the firm posted a first-quarter profit (£5.9 million) for the first time in a decade, boosted by sales of the DB11. Aston had posted an annual losses since 2011 prior to that. The brand recently re-launched the Lagonda brand as a standalone luxury electric division.

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Source: Autocar Online

Was the Connaught Type-D the best car never built?

For reasons known only to my subconscious, I woke up this morning thinking about a car you’ve almost certainly never heard of: the Connaught Type-D GT Syracuse. It was an intriguing little thing—light years ahead of its time and wildly ambitious for a tiny British startup that had taken its name from a maker of racing cars that went bust in 1957. But even though the Connaught never made it to production, it still deserves to be remembered.

Cast your mind back to 2004. Michael Schumacher was still on top of his game, racing for Ferrari. Jeremy Clarkson was still on Top Gear and still funny. Tesla barely existed, the autonomous car was a far-off dream, and I was still just reading about cars as a scientist rather than writing about them for my favorite online publication. Flicking through the November issue of Car, a short article about a reborn Connaught caught my eye—and my imagination.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Source: Ars Technica

Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus SCG004S to use 690bhp Nissan V6

650bhp Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus SCG 004S revealed with Le Mans ambitions

The SCG004S supercar will use the twin-turbocharged V6 from the Nissan GT-R

New supercar will help American brand to ‘scale up’ production; a road legal car will be entered into the 2019 Nürburgring 24 Hours

Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus (SCG) boss Jim Glickenhaus has confirmed that the American company’s new SCG004S supercar will use a twin-turbocharged V6 from the Nissan GT-R.

The 3.8-litre unit, which replaces the blown 5.0-litre V8 that the car was announced with, will produce 690bhp in the entry-level variant, with more power offered via a high-performance package.

Power in the supercar is sent rearwards through a six-speed manual gearbox. A paddle-shift automatic gearbox is offered as an option.

In an exclusive interview, Glickenhaus told Autocar that the engine change had been made because the Nissan unit was “lighter” and “practically bulletproof”. He said that the engine would also be used in the SCG004S racing model (pictured below), which will first compete at the 2019 Nürburgring 24 Hours alongside a race-prepared road version that will make the journey to and from the circuit itself.

“I will drive the car to the track and we’ll stick a race engine in it,” he said. “We’re doing it like they used to.”

Even in road trim, the SCG004S is an extreme machine. It has a carbonfibre chassis and weighs just 1179kg, giving it a power-to-weight ratio of 585bhp per tonne – 85bhp more per tonne than the McLaren 720S.

It seats the driver in the middle ahead of two passengers, in the same layout as the McLaren F1. This middle seat arrangement is used in all SCG models, including the 750bhp SCG003S.

Drivers can adjust the level of intervention from the car’s traction control and anti-lock braking system via rotary knobs.

SCG was granted legal permission to produce its cars in the US (production was previously handled in Italy) with Low Volume Manufacture approval last year. The brand can now build up to 325 cars annually and expects SCG004S production to reach 250 units per year from 2020.

Such an output is required for SCG to enter endurance racing competitions such as the 24 Hours of Le Mans – something Glickenhaus stated is an “eventual goal” with the SCG004S.

The company, which is headed by American film director and financier Glickenhaus, already provides a SCG003C (the GT3 racing version of its existing SCG003S) to race at the 24 Hours of Nürburgring, where it has achieved two class wins.

SCG is now planning to offer GT3, GTE and GTLM competition versions of the SCG004S while continuing to support the 003C.

Prototypes of the SCG004S will commence on-road testing in the coming months, with the first customer examples due to be delivered before the end of the year. The first 25 cars to be made are special Founders Edition models. SCG said it has sold out its full allocation of cars for 2018.

Prices for the SCG004S start at $400,000 (about £287,452), with deposits of $40,000 taken to reserve a build slot.

More content:

Nürburgring lap time record competition proposed by James Glickenhaus

Source: Autocar Online

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