Throughout the year, we've seen some pretty amazing cars at CNET Car Tech, but two stood out for our sports car-oriented gear heads. We reviewed two versions of the BMW M3, the first a coupe with a manual transmission, the second a convertible with an automated dual-clutch transmission. Given the model history, we expected these cars to be good, and they were. Between these reviews, we had the 2009 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG, which proved a more than pleasant surprise. Similar in size and price to the M3, the C63 is Mercedes-Benz's idea of a small high-end sports car, … Read more
Want to see a bunch of alternative-fuel vehicles? Going really fast? Head to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, near Monterey, Calif., this weekend, October 17 to 19, for the final races of the 2008 American LeMans Series (ALMS) calendar.
Don't look for "Gasoline Alley" at the track. The cars run on E10, 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline; E85, 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline; or clean diesel. The ethanol part of the E85 of choice is celluosic, made from waste wood, not corn, and the diesels are among the quickest cars in the world.
ALMS … Read more
The usual procedure for the driving part of an automotive press introduction is four to six hours in the car, on the road. "Road" meaning a mix of entertaining and hopefully uncrowded back roads, some freeway, and as little city traffic as possible, all with the intention of highlighting the featured vehicle's capabilities and comfort.
That is adequate, and appropriate, for most cars, even relatively high-performance cars. Most cars get used mainly around town and on the freeway, with maybe a lucky clear shot at an empty canyon road early on a weekend morning.
The Porsche 911 … Read more
It seems like every automaker with a claim to high performance and high technology has an automated-manual transmission today. Ferrari was the first, with the CambioCorsa, followed by BMW's SMG, and then Volkswagen Group's DSG. Mitsubishi has its TC-SST. What took Porsche so long to develop the PDK?
The real question is "what took everybody else so long?" The Porsche-Doppelkupplungsgetriebe name dates from 1983, when the first experimental version was developed and used in a 956 Series-produced endurance race car. A 956 with the experimental gearbox won a German national championship race, and a couple of … Read more
Audi had us drooling over the S-line cars at the 2008 Paris Motor Show, but of the three we cover here, only one will be available in the U.S. Audi showed off the new S4, based on the redesigned A4 launched last year, which has some very interesting changes over the previous S4 model. We also got a look at the S3 and RS6, the latter billed as the most powerful production sedan in the world.
Lamborghini owners must be aging, because the company just unveiled a concept four door at the 2008 Paris Motor Show. However, the Lamborghini Estate Estoque doesn't come with wood panels, instead showing design cues reminiscent of the Reventon, the limited production model unveiled at last year's Frankfurt auto show. This design language--using sharpened lines, black mesh air intakes, and LED exterior lights--looks to be the new direction for Lamborghini as it considers adding a third model to the existing Gallardo and Murcielago line-up.
Although, according to Lamborghini's news release, the Estoque could be used to take the … Read more
Acura has heard our prayers and answered with an announcement that it will be offering the 2010 TL SH-AWD with a new six-speed manual transmission for "the enthusiast driver."
The all-new transmission is a proper three-pedal deal featuring uprated internals and a stiffer case, along with a new clutch system. Acura claims new gear synchronizers and a short-throw shifter assembly generate more accurate shifting with low shift effort. With Acura/Honda's history of sweet manual transmissions, we're inclined to believe the claims.
Aside from netting an 88 pounds weight reduction and a better weight distribution, the … Read more
As I was moving the car out of the driveway to get easier access to my motorcycle, my neighbor came up to me and said "I saw you come in on a really weird motorcycle thing yesterday and what is it?"
Never one to pass up an opportunity, I replied in my best B-movie space alien voice, "It is an alien space vehicle."
"Oh. I thought so."
Well, actually, it's a Piaggio MP3 500. Piaggio, perhaps better known as the manufacturer of Vespa scooters and owner of Aprilia, Moto Guzzi, Gilera, and other brands, calls it a "maxi-scooter", and the MP3 series is unlike anything else except the closely related Gilera Fuoco, at least on this planet. The "3" comes not from any music formatting, but from three wheels. The rear wheel is conventional, if larger than the old-school scooter norm. The usual single front wheel is replaced by two, placed close together, and connected by a patented parallelogram multilink suspension system that ensures they turn and bank together. The front wheels can be locked by an electro-hydraulic mechanism so that the MP3 stays upright when stopped, with no need for the rider to put their feet on the ground. That locking system, and a parking brake, means that the center stand doesn't normally need to be used.
At $8,899, the MP3 500 is as expensive as many motorcycles.
Where other car companies build concepts with futuristic shapes that have to be towed onto the show floor, Maserati's new GranTurismo MC concept is built for speed. Maserati racing engineers have taken the GranTurismo S model and added various aerodynamic and ventilation touches to the bodywork without spoiling the fine Pininfarina styling. Maserati places air intakes on the hood and around the grille, and, at the same time, put vents behind the front wheels and at the rear of the car. The front and rear fenders are resized to accommodate a wider front track and the rear vents. Maserati … Read more
Since its introduction for model year 2003, the Mini Cooper has been one of the best bang-for-the-buck deals on four wheels. When the second generation of new Mini debuted last year, with the original naturally-aspirated or supercharged engines (Brazilian products of a joint venture between Mini parent BMW and Chrysler) replaced by much-improved naturally-aspirated or turbocharged engines developed in a joint venture with PSA Peugeot-Citroen), the bar was raised. The 115 naturally-aspirated or 163 forced-induction horsepower increased to 118hp or 172. More importantly, the driving characteristics, especially of the turbo, improved. The supercharged engine produced most of its power high in the rev band; the turbo does its work from nearly any engine speed with minimal lag.
And now Mini has improved on that. Enter the John Cooper Works version of the Cooper S. offered in both hardtop and Clubman body styles. Mini recently brought the previously separate John Cooper Works in house, much in the manner of BMW's M (for Motorsport) division. For about a $6,600 price premium, the JCW gets suspension, brake, wheel and tire, and interior upgrades over the standard Mini Cooper S. More immediately noticeable when driving are internal modifications to its 1.6-liter twincam direct-injection turbo engine that increase power to 208 hp (at 6,000rpm), with 192 pound-feet of torque available from 1,850rpm through 5,600rpm. If that isn't quite enough, a little extra overboost is allowed for short periods of time, bringing torque up to 207 pound-feet.
Which can be noticeable through the steering wheel, especially with the "Sport" button on. That remaps the electronically-controlled throttle and electrically-assisted power steering for more sensitive throttle response and quicker steering. Which will get you into overboost mode quite easily. Judicious throttle application is a necessity, and even then there is no doubt that the car has front-wheel drive and plenty of torque going through those wheels. Yee hah! It's not necessarily the best introduction to high-performance front-wheel drive for someone who never has experienced it, if any such persons are left at this time.