News: Ferrari California shows off open top (+video)

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Ferrari has released a video of the forthcoming California to showcase the talents of the folding roof.

The flashy California convertible is the first Ferrari to have a V8 between the front wheels and has some purists up in arms about Ferrari ‘selling-out’. I though the first clue would have been the plethora of Ferrari merchandise like the T-shirts, socks and aftershave.

News: Smart swallows thirteen contortionists to celebrate 10 years of production

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How many people can you fit into a diminutive Smart fortwo?

The amazing answer is 13 following a car cram staged to help celebrate smart’s 10th anniversary. Owners and visitors to the annual smart Destination Brooklands event held at Mercedes-Benz World, in the UK were invited to take up the Smart-packing challenge.

With the drivers and passengers of 1,200 smarts attending the event there was no shortage of potential participants but the winners proved to be the aptly-named ‘Smart car-tortionists’, a group of body-bending specialists chosen for their gymnastic feats. They included Iona Luvsandorj, semi-finalist in this year’s Britain’s Got Talent TV series.

With remarkable flexibility, a total of 13 contortionists managed to climb aboard the micro smart which measures just 2.7 metres long by 1.6 metres wide, proving that the fortwo is small on the outside and big on the inside.

Blogs: In-flight liposuction could power aircraft

A fairly surreal conversation emerged last night at my flat when I suggested that perhaps overweight people could get liposuction on long-haul flights, and the resulting fat could be used as ‘bio-fuel’ to power certain systems on the aircraft, thus reducing fuel consumption. ‘Virgin Surgeons’ one of us said. As unrealistic as this sounds (you only have to know a bit about medicine to figure out why it wouldn’t work, and a bit about psychology to know why people wouldn’t accept it), it does highlight the fact that humans walk around either storing or generating a lot of energy that is never put to good use.

Back in the days of Vikings, the crew would row the galleons to assist the wind power. So, can the same principal be applied to other forms of transport? There have already been scooters which you can pedal to assist their engine, for example. Could this be done en masse in public transport? How about in gyms? Why hasn’t some enterprising gym owner hooked his treadmills and exercise bikes to the national grid and pumped the energy generated by the clients back into the system? This electricity can then be used to power plug-in electric cars.

It might become a noble thing in the future that people go to ‘grid gyms’ – a place where your workout actively generates electricity for the city. Perhaps  you get tax credits.

OK, so now I’ve set this idea of a utopia where there’s unlimited energy available by human work. That’s not going to be the case: a fit human can generate around 100W for a couple of hours maximum. 30 humans, if you take into account mechanical losses would therefore only generate around 2kW. That’s enough to run a heater, which isn’t bad. If you had 60,000 people nationwide you may generate 4MW of power. With a very rough calculation, that would power bugger all.

But every little bit helps.

News: Porsche releases details on new 911 Carrera 4

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Porsche continues the change of the 911 model series with the announcement of all-wheel-drive versions of the next generation of its iconic sports car. The new 911 Carrera 4 and Carrera 4S will enter the market in both Coupe and Cabriolet guise, and offer a wide range of innovative engine, transmission and drivetrain technologies providing higher standard of driving dynamics combined with much lower fuel consumption.

Porsche Traction Management (PTM)
In the new generation 911 Carrera 4 and Carrera 4S, the all-wheel drive is now provided via electronically-controlled Porsche Traction Management (PTM), which replaces the former all-wheel drive with its viscous multiple-plate clutch. The superior PTM system was first developed for the 911 Turbo and has been modified for the Carrera models. The transmission delivers an even higher level of driving stability, traction and agility, further enhanced by the mechanical limited slip differential now fitted as standard to the rear axle.

PTM feeds exactly the right amount of engine torque in each situation through an electronically-controlled multiple-plate clutch to the front wheels, supplementing the flow of power to the rear wheels. Combined with the highly dynamic PTM control system, this clutch precisely delivers a distribution of power and torque to the front and rear axles as road and driving conditions change. With the previous viscous clutch, up to 40 per cent of torque could be directed to the front axle. The new electronically-controlled PTM system delivers an infinitely variable torque split, and is able to distribute up to 100 per cent of traction to the front or rear wheels.

PTM provides a faster and more precise transmission of power in all driving situations, and this offers not only excellent stability at high speeds, but also increases further the level of responsiveness of the car to the driver.

New engines with Direct Fuel Injection (DFI)
The 911 Carrera 4 models share their all-new flat-six engines with Direct Fuel Injection (DFI) with the two-wheel drive Carrera 2 and Carrera 2S. Depending on the model, the all-wheel-drive 911 Carrera offers up to 8.5 per cent more power, fuel economy improved by up to 12.9 per cent, and 15.4 per cent lower CO2 emissions than the previous generation. Specifically, output of the 3.6-litre power unit is up by 20bhp to 345 bhp (254 kW). At the same time, a Carrera 4 Coupe with PDK transmission, to take just one example, offers fuel consumption of 10.1 l/100 km.

The improvements on the 911 Carrera 4S with its 3.8-litre power unit are equally significant, with maximum output up by 30bhp to 385 bhp (283 kW) and overall fuel consumption down in the case of the Carrera 4S Cabriolet with PDK to 10.7 litres/100 km.

The driver benefits from a further advantage of direct injection every time he touches the throttle pedal: with fuel being injected fractions of a second prior to combustion, the engines respond more directly and spontaneously to even the slightest movement of the driver’s right foot. This is not only the case when accelerating, but also when lifting off the throttle, for engine speed drops more quickly and smoothly since there is no residual fuel left in the intake manifold which might otherwise prolong the combustion process.

Depending on engine load and speed, fuel is injected into the combustion chamber at a pressure of 120 bar. The big advantage is that unlike conventional intake manifold injection, direct fuel injection serves to form the fuel/air mixture directly in the combustion chamber. This better mixes the air and fuel in the cylinder, establishing an important prerequisite for clean and complete combustion. This ensures the ‘homogeneous’ operation of the power unit with a consistent balance of the fuel/air mixture in the combustion chamber at all times and under all running conditions. Such smooth operation guarantees optimum combustion and maintains low emissions, across a range of fuel qualities.

Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe (PDK)
The new generation 911 Carrera 4 and 4S are available for the first time with the new Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe (PDK), literally Porsche double-clutch gearbox. Offering no less than seven forward gears, the new gearbox combines the driving comfort of a torque converter-equipped automatic transmission with the dynamic manual gearshift functionality of a sequential racing gearbox. PDK also boasts an entirely automatic gearshift function, and replaces the Porsche Tiptronic S automatic transmission previously offered. Through its optimised and adaptive gearshift programmes, PDK further improves the acceleration of the 911 and reduces fuel consumption to an even lower level.

In principle, the PDK consists of a conventional manual gearbox and a hydraulic control system divided into two separate transmission units. Two wet clutches in radial arrangement, controlled hydraulically, and using oil for both cooling and lubrication, form the heart of the transmission. One clutch is for the first transmission unit with the uneven gear ratios (1,3,5,7) and reverse, and the other clutch is for the second transmission unit with the even gears (2,4,6). Via a number of pressure valves, the hydraulic control unit masterminds both the wet clutches and the shift cylinders activating the transmission ratio required.

The gearshift perceived by the driver comes not from the gears actually changing, but from the change of positive clutch engagement. In this case, the clutch on one transmission opens or disengages while the clutch on the other transmission closes or engages in a simultaneous process. The big advantage is an even faster gearshift than with a conventional manual gearbox or torque converter automatic transmission. The gears are already ‘in mesh’ when shifting and the power of the engine need not be interrupted in the process.

PDK also reduces to a minimum transmission power loss courtesy of the high standard of mechanical efficiency in the double-clutch, and this manifests itself in fuel economy improvements of approximately 13 per cent compared with a conventional Tiptronic S transmission. PDK also offers an advantage in terms of weight — despite two additional gears, it weighs 10kg less than Tiptronic S.

To use the various functions of the double-clutch transmission, the driver can either shift gears by means of sliding toggles on the spokes of the new steering wheel, or via the new gear selector lever. The driver can press forwards to shift the gears up, and press them from behind to shift downwards. Alternatively, pushing the gear selector lever forwards shifts up a gear, and pulling it back shifts down.

This PDK gearshift principle was first developed by Porsche for motor sport 25 years ago. Porsche works drivers benefiting from this technology were able to accelerate faster than their competitors and keep both hands on the steering wheel while changing gears, thus avoiding even the slightest distraction while shifting.

The seven-speed PDK shifts gears up to 60 per cent faster than a conventional automatic transmission, and naturally, gives the new 911 Carrera models even better performance. And those in search of optimum driving dynamics have the option to combine PDK with Sport Chrono Package Plus, now featuring Launch Control.

News: Renntech power-up the Mercedes-Benz McLaren 722

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When Mercedes-Benz introduced its SLR McLaren 722, there was a bit of confusion about the special-edition’s name. Many believed the car would offer a fire-breathing, 722 hp supercharged V8, but it doesn’t (it makes 650 hp). Some believed that “722″ meant there would be 722 of the cars made, but that was wrong, too. In the end, the 722 badge actually referred to 7:22AM – the starting time of Sterling Moss’ epic 1955 Mille Miglia run in a then-new Mercedes SLR.

Renntech have rectified the confusion, and more, by turning the wick up on the the McLaren with upgrades to extract 740hp out of the supercharged V8.

Modifications include upgraded intercoolers, a larger crankshaft pulley, adding a less restrictive, motorsports-style exhaust system and re-mapped ECU software to achieve the headline 740hp figure and a whopping 950nm of torque. Scary.

News: Audi introduces new engine for the A5

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A newly developed Turbo FSI petrol engine available for the Audi A5 provides the coupe with a choice blend of pace and efficiency. The new 211PS A5 2.0 TFSI can be ordered in either front-wheel-drive or quattro permanent all-wheel-drive forms.

The new high-tech 2.0-litre unit is derived from the already much praised 1.8 TFSI engine introduced recently in A3, A4 and A5 models, but takes its efficiency a step further still through the use of new Audi valvelift technology. By employing sliding cam units mounted on the intake camshaft that allow for more variation in the degree of valve lift, the engine is able to ‘breathe’ even more effectively, switching to a higher cam profile when strong acceleration is required, or a lower profile that requires less fuel and air compression when throttle usage is more relaxed.

The new 2.0-litre TFSI unit delivers 211PS from 4,300rpm and a very impressive 350Nm torque maximum from just 1,500rpm — more even than the 3.2-litre V6 FSI unit also powering A5 models. It enables the front-wheel-drive A5 2.0 TFSI with six-speed manual transmission to cover the 0-100km/h sprint in 6.9 seconds, reach a top speed of 260km/h and return up to 6.6 l/100km according to the combined cycle test.  And despite doing full justice in performance terms to the purposeful styling of the A5, it also shows restraint where emissions are concerned, with an output of 154g/km for the front-wheel-drive version.

Standard specification for front-wheel-drive and quattro all-wheel-drive versions of the new A5 2.0 TFSI includes xenon headlamps with trademark LED strip daytime running lamps, 17-inch seven-spoke alloy wheels, 3-zone electronic climate control, a 10-speaker Concert CD audio system, full Milano leather upholstery and rear acoustic parking.

News: Smart Police switch to electric

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Smart is helping the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) cut carbon emissions in London as they take part in the market trial of the fully electric, smart ed (electric drive).

Four versions of the low emission, two-seater car will be used in congested urban areas for routine police operations.  Two of the cars have Metropolitan Police livery and will be deployed in Central London and at Heathrow Airport.

The smart ed is powered solely by electricity and is charged using a standard three-pin plug. The car emits no carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, unburned hydrocarbons or particulate matter. It is economical and can achieve the equivalent of around 300 miles per gallon.

The smart ed has a top speed of 60 mph and has a range of up to 70 miles in between charges. The car has all the safety equipment that customers expect: ABS, ESP, passenger and driver airbags and seat belt pre-tensioners.

Blogs: Fanging the TT-S around Pukekohe

Winter is a bit hit and miss with the weather and consequently, after doing probably more than 200 laps around Pukekohe, this was my first wet session on the Southern Hemisphere’s fastest track. I had a pretty sweet car to ‘circulate’ in as well: Audi’s brand spankers TT-S. 0-100 in 5.2 seconds, four-wheel drive, and a seven-speed DSG (oops, S tronic) gearbox courtesy of parent company Volkswagen sounds pretty appealing, and so it was that I took the passenger seat for a couple of familiarisation laps with racing driver Jody Vincent. Then it was my turn to press the pedal to the metal and challenge the ESP through the corners.

Four laps isn’t enough to get comfortable with fanging $100+k of vehicle in the wet with the barriers so close without being a racing driver myself – the last time I thrashed around Pukekohe in anger was a few years ago. Still, the TT-S hit nearly 220kph by the end of the back straight – not bad. But, driving at 220kph at Pukekohe never seems quick because it’s so wide and open. Driving the winding roads around Bombay and Buckland in the manual TT-S at 100kph was just as much fun, if not more!