Saturday, July 31, 2010

Audi, Mercedes, BMW and VW offer their premium SUVs in diesel flavors, and that's got Porsche rethinking its stance re: the Cayenne. According to a Porsche PR rep in Canada, the American managers are thinking about bringing the oil-burner this way in order to fill that hole. Two years ago, Porsche tested and then confirmed a diesel Cayenne for the American market that would use Audi's 3.0 TDI. It was supposed to arrive early last year; obviously, that never happened.

We drove the Euro-spec diesel Cayenne last year, and walked away thinking it's a "no-brainer for the American market." With the new Cayenne having lost all that weight and increased its performance, a diesel engine would pull even better. And if the numbers stand, with overall diesel-vehicle sales in North America predicted to hit around 250,000 units in 2014, it could be that Porsche thinks it's a no-brainer as well.

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Audi A1: 4 more variants coming


Audi will release a flood of variants of the new Audi A1, establishing the A1 platform as a product family. Known so far are the Audi A1 and Audi S1 of course. But there’s more to come and we show you all!

First will be the Audi S1, expected for 2011 and coming with 180 bhp.

The Audi A1 Sportback will be next with an expected world premiere end of 2011.

Of course a convertible should not be missed, but street word has it that it will be more like a speedster. Please welcome the Audi A1 Cabrio/Speedster, expect to see more end of 2012.

So, what about the Audi A1 Allroad. It’s possible to be here around end of 2011, but will come without quattro.

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Friday, July 30, 2010

2012 Porsche Boxster S rendered


In a post to forums, the artist was working with the impression that the front end would be rounder, with new air intakes, and bigger panels to make "the car longer and wider." He added LED daytime lights, a redesigned rear spoiler, and a new front spoiler.

Called the 981 inside Porsche offices, the next Boxster will attempt to hit sub-180 grams of CO2 emissions per kilometer. As such, they may use a three-cylinder engine with a turbo charger to deliver around 250 horsepower (186 kW), similar to the 2.9-liter flat-six already in use.

Naturally, a larger, more powerful engine would be available on the next Boxster S. That engine could kick out 320 hp (239 kW), slightly more than the current 3.4-liter flat-six. A redesigned seven-speed PDK transmission will also be on offer.

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Misha Designs Porsche 911 Turbo


Misha Design has made a body kit for the Porsche 911 Turbo, which is also suitable for C4 and C4S, and it’s very interesting. It has very modern ingredients like lip spoiler and rear diffuser and it’s made of space age materials. And yet, mostly thanks to the yellow and black color scheme, it kinda looks like old Carrera RS models! It’s fantastic.

The car get new GTM front and rear bumpers which have very nice designs, both visually and scientifically as they have aerodynamic and cooling purposes, unique carbon fiber GTM hood and side skirts, and a big rear spoiler like the one on the standard GT2. We are particularly fond of the wheels which look classically awesome!

This is one of the very rare kits which manages to be busy and yet cool. Kodus to Misha Design.

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Porsche Panamera racecar victorious on debut


A Porsche Panamera S has won a Superstars race at the Mugello circuit in Italy.

Driven by Fabrizio Giovanardi, the N.Technology Panamera posted a time of 28:55.886 which was 2.083 seconds faster than the runner up. Unfortunately, during the second race Giovanardi was involved in an accident that affected the car's steering and knocked it out of contention.

According to team principal Mauro Sipsz, "We are of course happy and very satisfied with the results: pole position and victory in Race 1, a good loot for the debut of our newest car!"

The N.Technology Panamera features a lightweight aluminum space frame, aerodynamic styling, and carbon fiber brakes. It is powered by a 450 hp (336 kW / 456 PS) 4.8-liter V8 engine which produces 50 hp (37 kW / 51 PS) more than the standard car.

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VW Jetta: Accessory photos surface


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Some new photos of the Jetta with a factory styling kit have appeared online.
We still think the car has it's work cut out for it as it resembles a very generic Toyota. Let's hope VW has a trick or two up their sleeve. Until then, check out the pics.

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Video: 2010 Porsche 911 GT3 rolls into Jay Leno's Garage


Porsche recently dropped off a new 911 GT3 at Jay Leno's garage where racer Justin Bell picked it up for a bit of a road trip. Before the trip, Leno and Bell discuss their preference for normally aspirated manual transmission Porsches over the more powerful turbos and dual-clutch PDKs.

On his way to Laguna Seca for the spring American Le Mans Series event, Bell finds a perfect little road for his own private hill climb and gushes over the responsiveness of the non-turbo engine and enormous Brembo binders. At Laguna, Bell hooks up with factory pilot Patrick Long to discuss the differences between the Flying Lizard Motorsports 911 he races and the roadgoing GT3 which spawned it. Even within the limits of the rules set out by the ACO, Flying Lizard and Porsche have managed to find a lot of creative ways to extract more speed out of their competition machine.

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Turn your VW Jetta TDI into a Smyth Performance G3F


Reduce-Reuse-Recycle is the tri-directive that could help us become more sustainable as a society. Soon, a kit for the G3F from Smyth Performance – a new venture by Factory Five Racing co-founder Mark Smith – will follow those guidelines, enabling you to convert a previously-enjoyed Volkswagen Jetta into something you can really look forward to driving. The finished product will be lighter, faster and burn less biodiesel than the original vehicle, offering up to 60 miles per gallon and boasting a very naughty top speed of 140 miles per hour. All for about $10,000 and less than 100 hours of labor.

It's a simple recipe. You start by procuring a TDI diesel Jetta four door sedan. Cut away about 800 lbs of metal, reusing a large chunk of the chassis, including the entire safety structure. The engine gets chipped, modded and moved from in front of the driver to behind. Add the body, seats, wheels and all the other included bits from the kit and voila! You now own a recycled VW that increases your joy of driving while reducing the amount of petroleum product you'll need to pump.

Okay, maybe we're making it sound a little easier than it actually is, but Smith is confident there is enough interest to make a go of it with a line of depositors already being formed. Despite deliveries (optimistically) planned for September, the original prototype is still under construction. The operation doesn't have an official website either – that's coming this fall – but you can follow the progress of both car and company on Facebook Here.

Watch Mr. Smith explaining his concept in the video below.

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25,000th Porsche Panamera rolls off the production line


It appears that it has been an amazing year for the Porsche Panamera, which became one of the most popular sedan on the market.

Porsche announced today that the 25,000th Panamera rolled of the production line at the Leipzig plant. The anniversary vehicle, a ruby-red Panamera fitted with the fuel-efficient 3.6-liter six-cylinder engine (300 hp), will be delivered to United States. Porsche currently offers five versions of the Panamera: the Panamera and Panamera 4 fitted with V6 engines, 400-hp strong 8-cylinder Panamera S and Panamera 4S and the Panamera Turbo (500 hp). “The benchmark performance of our Panamera V6 models wins over our customers worldwide. Even in the USA, a country with a preference for V8 engines, they impress with their efficiency and sportiness. The 4-door combines these aspects with the comfort and exclusivity of the luxury class,” says Porsche Executive Vice President Sales and Marketing Bernhard Maier.

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MTM releases first round of upgrades for Audi RS5


The clever wrenches at the German tuning powerhouse MTM have gotten a hold of the Audi RS5. Always ones to turn fast faster, the group claims to have squeezed the car's top speed to 188 mph. But instead of focusing on pulling even more horsepower from the already staggering 4.2-liter V8, the company simply upped the factory speed limiter to allow for a more potent v-max. MTM will politely ask for a check for $1,429 (at current conversion rates) for the upgrade, which isn't exactly pocket change. According to MTM, the car still produces 450 horsepower, though the company will be happy to supply you with a new free-breathing exhaust system that just might turn an extra pony or two loose.

In addition to the lofty top speed, MTM has rolled out a hefty selection of wheels just for the RS5. We're guessing a new set of tires will probably be in order if you plan on bumping up against that new 188 mph top end, too. Eventually, the company plans to roll out a complete suspension for the car. And here's hoping they come up with some equally competent brakes in the process.

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The new A8 is the sweetest, most sophisticated executive sedan Audi has ever produced. Audi is also calling it the sportiest A8 yet. At a glance, this may seem a little difficult to digest. It’s hard to equate two-ton curb weights (specifically, 4436 pounds) with sporty—but that’s one of the many pleasant surprises about this thoroughly cultivated conveyance.

Basics: This is the fourth generation of Audi’s premium sedan. Like the other established players in this profitable game—BMW 7-series, Jaguar XJ, Lexus LS460, Mercedes S-class—the latest big Audi has grown bigger. At 117.8 inches, the wheelbase has stretched 1.9 inches, overall length has increased 2.9 (to 202.2), width has expanded 2.1 (to 76.7), and the roofline sits at 57.5, a 0.6-inch increase. If you’re inclined to wear a Panama hat, don’t worry about headroom. Or any other kind of room, for that matter—though we’d hate to spend time perched on the center rear seat, normally covered by a fold-down armrest equipped with cup holders and climate controls.

Audi’s extensive use of aluminum helps keep weight somewhat in check despite the standard all-wheel-drive system. And a slick new ZF eight-speed automatic transmission—plus the addition of 22 ponies to the 4.2-liter, direct-injection V-8—makes the A8 livelier than its curb weight suggests.

The engine’s basic specifications haven’t changed; the gains were achieved by adding Audi’s variable intake-valve-lift system and reducing internal friction. What this produced was a surprising 0-to-60-mph sprint in 5.1 seconds and an equally vigorous quarter-mile in 13.7 at 104 mph. That 0-to-60 time is quicker than even the previous-gen S8’s. That would be the 450-hp, V-10–powered S8.

Equally remarkable, Audi’s powertrain troops have simultaneously achieved an increase in fuel-economy expectations. Standard A8 or long-wheelbase A8L, the EPA ratings are 17 mpg city and 27 highway (21 combined). This compares with 16 and 23, respectively, for the outgoing car and tops the highway ratings of all the big luxosedan offerings from BMW, Jaguar, Lexus, and Mercedes—including hybrids. Only the Mercedes S400 hybrid and the Lexus LS600h come close to the A8’s overall ratings by matching its 21-mpg combined figure.

As usual, in our zeal for exploring every erg of  horsepower, our observed economy—17 mpg—was less impressive, falling right on top of the city projection.

Other elements also stand out. Skidpad grip came in at 0.89 g, thanks to a set of Goodyear 265/40 Eagle F1 Asymmetrics on optional 20-inch alloy wheels. From 70 mph, the A8 stopped in a very respectable 160 feet; its top speed—164 mph—is certainly enough to get you into trouble; and its interior noise levels are low.

As an aside, we must note that the subdued interior decibel level isn’t an entirely good thing. There’s very little V-8 reverb to satisfy your inner outlaw, and, more importantly, the A8 is so smooth that it never seems to be going as fast as it is. (We tried to explain this to a Michigan cop one evening. He said, “Uh-huh, this won’t take long.”)

Anyway, good numbers, but the subjective stuff is even better. The variable-ratio steering, for example. At low speeds, it’s quick—just 2.1 turns lock-to-lock in a parking lot. But as speeds climb toward flat-out, where quick might be too quick, it slows down. Steering weight is just right; accuracy is surgical.

However, where the A8 really justifies Audi’s “sportiest” claim is in its composure on lumpy back roads when the g-loads are coming from odd angles and the pace is brisk. BMW wrote the manual on this—a benchmark blend of compliance and agility. Still, Audi’s adaptive air suspension may have added a new chapter. With its combination of forward-weight bias and all-wheel drive, understeer is still the basic dynamic trait. But the push is mild, the threshold of stability-control intervention is high, and the predictability factor is exceptional. The faster you go, the more level the car’s cornering attitude becomes as it hunkers down and attacks the apexes—all this and supple ride quality, too.

Inside, the new A8 is what we’ve come to expect from Audi—tasteful, elegant, and adjustable to just about any personal dimensions you bring to the supportive leather seats. Even Quasimodo could find a comfortable driving position here, particularly with the optional, 22-way-adjustable seats in our test car. In addition to the endless alterations possible, these heavenly cathedras have five different massaging functions from which to choose. It’s the best automotive rubdown we’ve ever experienced and positively shames the functionality in the vastly more expensive Bentley Flying Spur and Rolls-Royce Ghost found elsewhere in this issue.

As you’d demand of a car in this class, the A8 is packed with all sorts of electronic goodies, including a touch-pad update to Audi’s MMI (Multi Media Interface), allowing the operator to make nav-system entries by scrawling them on the pad with a finger, one letter at a time. The system seems able to recognize cryptic handwriting, and the pad can also be used to activate six radio presets.

About the only thing we found to dislike is the new shift system, which seemed a little balky. However, this is one of those elements, like Jaguar’s dial-a-gear, that becomes a nonissue to owners.

As a piece of rolling sculpture, the new A8 isn’t vastly different from the old one. This is not a bad thing. Despite all that engine protruding beyond the front axle, the proportions are attractive, and the new front end, with its bright horizontal grille bars and festival of LED lights, makes an unmistakable identity statement, one that becomes deliciously sinister after dark. Indeed, the A8 looks best in noir, a fact that’s amplified by the U.S. color palette: It includes nine choices, and three of them are variations of black.

Audi of America was still working out pricing as of this writing—the A8 and A8L won’t appear in showrooms until November—but we’ll chance a base prediction of $80,000 (destination fees included).

This will represent a substantial hike over the current A8—by about $5000. With the various options in our test car, you’re looking at about $95,000. Still, the A8 figures to be competitive versus its German rivals. A 2011 BMW 750i starts at $83,875; the long-wheelbase-only 2010 Mercedes S550 starts at $92,475. And even just shy of $100 large, the A8’s worth it.

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Audi took off the wraps of their latest addition to the family: the Audi A7. Labeled as a modern four-door sportback sedan, the A7 combines the functionality of a hatchback with seating for four or five passengers, similar to what the 5 Series Gran Turismo offers.

The bodystyle is inline with the latest Audi models, modern, sleek, including the signature LED running lamps still present in this design. From the side, the Audi A7 leaves the impression of a child born from the matting of a shooting brake and a coupe.

Some journalists place the new Audi A7 in the same league as the Porsche Panamera, Aston Martin Rapide and BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo, but we are more inclined to believe that the Audi is going after a different niche segment, the one where the future BMW Gran Coupe and new Mercedes-Benz CLS will fight over the four-door coupe crown.

The targeted demographic for these vehicles seems clear to us: four-door coupe buyers looking for an elegant, sort of extravagant design, luxurious interior and driving performance.

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

According to Porsche enthusiast site, a hardcore version of the Cayman, dubbed CS or Clubsport, will be shown at this year's Los Angeles Auto Show in December. This isn't the first time we've heard rumblings of a lighter, more powerful Cayman, but now that Porsche has successfully launched the Boxster Spyder, it's only fitting that the same sort of package be offered on its harder-core hardtop sister.

Expect the Clubsport to produce around 333 horsepower from its 3.4-liter flat-six, an increase of 13 hp over the Cayman S. From there, lightweight 19-inch wheels will be standard, as will fabric door pulls, aluminum body components and a slightly revised front fascia that we've seen on the Boxster Spyder. Obviously, the real goal with a Clubsport model is lightness, and Planet-9 reports that the CS should be about 162 to 184 pounds lighter than the stock Cayman S.

If the LA Auto Show reveal stands true, the Cayman CS should be hitting the road sometime in 2011 as a 2012 model, priced from around $66,300. Fingers crossed, everyone.

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Audi A7 Sportback configurator site


We enjoyed playing with the configurator to build our dream Audi A7 Sportback.
What will yours look like?

Click Here

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Porsche's eco-friendly hypercar has been given the green light! In a shock announcement, the German firm's board of directors has revealed that a production model based on the 918 Spyder concept car will enter series production - in response to an overwhelming reaction from the public.

Michael Macht, President and Chairman of the Board of Management of Porsche AG, said; “Production of the 918 Spyder in a limited series proves that we are taking the right approach with Porsche Intelligent Performance featuring the combination of supreme performance and efficient drivetrain concepts.”

The concept car uses a mid-mounted 493bhp 3.4-litre V8 derived from the firm's Spyder racing car, capable of revving to 9,200rpm, plus two electric motors, which add a further 160kW (215bhp). Around town, an E-drive mode allows the car to travel up to 16 miles on electricity alone before switching to Hybrid mode, which uses both power sources in moderation. This gives claimed economy figures of 94mpg and 70g/km of CO2.

There are no details yet on the powertrain for the production 918, but the announcement is yet another sign of Porsche's commitment to electric and hybrid power. It recently announced that an electric Boxster is under development and we've already driven the GT3 R Hybrid race car.

Further product details of the 918 Spyder will be disclosed in the months to come.

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2011 Audi A7 Sportback S-Line: first photos revealed


As you may remember, on Monday, Audi made quite a buzz with the launch of its brand new A7 Sportback, a new car set to take on cars such as the Mercedes-Benz CLS.

For those who didn’t like it, the car fitted with the new S-line package might be the choice for them. As expected the S-line introduces a redesigned front bumper fitted with new air inlets as well as a front lip spoiler, new side skirts and a new rear bumper featuring an integrated air diffuser but also a set of chromed tailpipes. The design is completed by the new set of 19-inch alloy wheels. Inside, we find the S-line interior styling, inlays in brushed Aluminum Silver, black cloth headlining, gear knob in perforated leather as well as a 3-spoke multi function steering wheel.

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Video: Audi A7 Sportback - First driving scenes


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

First Drive: 2011 Volkswagen Jetta


If you think about it, it's really quite surprising that the U.S. love the Volkswagen Jetta as much as they do. It's been VW's most successful car in the states for thirty years, and yet it's been an afterthought this whole time. Take a Golf -- one of the most popular cars in the world, but never embraced by the U.S. public -- add a trunk, and voila, you have a bestseller.

VW has changed the recipe slightly for the sixth generation of the Jetta. Instead of being a near-identical twin of the Golf with a trunklike appendage on the rear, the Mk6 Jetta is more like a close cousin, no longer actually sharing parts and components with the Golf.

And the biggest change is one of philosophy: for the first time, the Jetta was designed principally to suit the demands of its biggest market, North America. To that end, VW looked around at the Jetta's competition (the Honda Civic, Mazda 3, and Toyota Corolla, principally) and found ways to make sure that the new car can compete better than ever.

Of primary importance to buyers in this segment -- and one of the reasons potential buyers don't consider the Jetta in the first place -- is price. And with careful decontenting, VW has been able to put the Jetta's pricing in line with its competitors. That means you can kiss the previous-generation Jetta's independent rear suspension good-bye.

The 2011 Jetta returns to VW's tried-and-true torsion bar rear suspension, and while that may seem like a step backward, in reality it's probably appropriate for most buyers. The really cool news is that buyers of the forthcoming Jetta GLI, which debuts next spring with the GTI's 200-hp turbocharged 2.0T four-cylinder, gets an independent rear end. That's having your Fahrvergnügen and eating it, too.

Last year's 2.5-liter inline-5 and 2.0-liter turbodiesel return to the party with minimal, if any changes. And the old 2.0-liter, crossflow eight-valve engine -- known affectionately by enthusiasts as the Two-Point-Slow -- also makes a surprise comeback. With the same ol' 115 hp it made since the year of the flood (1993, to be exact), VW promises 0-60 runs as spectacularly slow as 11 seconds (with the optional six-speed automatic) and only a 1-mpg bonus over the five-cylinder. Which has 50% more horsepower. Whatever floats your boat.

We drove both five-speed manual and six-speed automatic versions of the 2011 Jetta, both with the 2.5-liter five, and can't say that it drives appreciably better or worse than last year's car. That's a very good thing, because as stylistically challenged (read: ugly) as the Mk5 Jetta was, it drove brilliantly. An optional sport suspension stiffens up the Jetta's body noticeably, but on back roads, the Jetta is composed, quiet, and capable, with fantastic steering and very good brakes.

Of course, our top-of-the line SEL model came with four-wheel disc brakes. S (2.Slow) and SE (2.5) models use drums. (The TDI and GLI will also use the discs.)

So where's the decontenting? It's there, if you look carefully. The interior materials look nice -- perhaps best in segment, but don't feel nearly as cushy or high-quality as those in the Golf. The heavy hood no longer has struts to assist you in lifting it. The parcel tray behind the rear seats is plastic, not cloth -- something we can't recall ever seeing before. There appears to be no option for an upgraded stereo system, HID xenon headlights, or leather seats -- although the leatherette on the SE and SEL models is very nice. There's also no ESP-disable button. Like the Mk5, the rear-seat bottoms don't fold to allow the seatback to form a perfectly level load floor. You can keep the key in your pocket with VW's first keyless-go system, but you can't hold the unlock button to put the windows down.

Are we picking nits? Probably. Volkswagen seems to have done a really good job at isolating the things that are important in this class and saving money where it could. The parts most important to the Jetta have carried over intact, which means the new model feels expensive, drives (mostly) like a Golf, and has a comically enormous trunk. Just like all the old Jettas.

But this one, thanks to a wheelbase stretch, has an enormous back seat, too. Oh, and there's one more thing: it's no longer ugly. In fact, designer extraordinaire Walter de Silva has captured the beauty of previous Jettas in a very modern way: like the Jettas of yore, the 2011 is an all-business, conservative design, but one that's handsome enough to run in circles with cars costing twice as much. It may not be as pretty as the Golf, but the new Jetta makes all of its competition -- especially the smiling Mazda 3 and the space-ship Civic -- look like toys.

Thanks to careful engineering and exquisite style, the Jetta -- which should start under $17,000 and top out at $25,000 -- can finally compete on size and price. Letting go of the Golf might have been the best thing to ever happen to Volkswagen's compact sedan*.

*With the caveat, of course, that the GLI gets a dose of the magic that has made the GTI our Automobile of the Year.

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Next Porsche Boxster Spied


Next year is shaping up to be the year of the Boxster. Not only will Porsche begin testing three electric prototypes of the drop-top, but an all-new car is due to make its debut at the Geneva Motor Show in March.

And while this mule appears very similar to the outgoing car, every panel and the fabric roof are completely new. And, in typical Porsche style, while the new car may bear a strong resemblance to the one it replaces, the third gen car will be quite significantly different under the skin.

For a start, the firm is working hard to cut its carbon dioxide emissions so the Boxster will be lighter than the car it replaces thanks to the use of more aluminium. But the biggest chance it likely to come with the engines.

While the Boxster S’ direct injection 3.4-litre flat six is likely to be carried over with minimal changes, the older, 255bhp 2.9-litre non-direct injection unit in the standard car is likely to be downsized to a turbocharged four cylinder which produces around 270bhp but, crucially, less emissions.

Emphasis will also be placed on the firm’s seven-speed PDK gearbox which allows faster shifts than a manual, but also contributes to better fuel economy because of the better spread of ratios.

The Boxster will be followed by the all-new Cayman later in the year.

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Audi has officially unveiled the new A7 Sportback in Munich today.

The 5-door, fastback coupe is Audi's own unique foray into the sport coupe segment with rear passenger doors. Audi describes the car as a combination of elegant coupe, sport sedan and practical wagon.

The A7 will feature a lightweight body made with aluminum components and high-tech steels, which will allow for it to be powered solely by a set of V6 engines - at least at first. Audi will likely come to add some V8 power plants to the mix later on.

Riding on 18 to 20-inch wheels, the A7's chassis comes with aluminum control arms and a highly-efficient electromechanical power steering. A drive select system comes standard but the adaptive air suspension with controlled damping will be offered only as an option.

Also optional will be the LED headlights while bi-xenon with LED taillights are standard.

Of those V6 engines, two petrol and two diesel will be available, Audi has only named the 3.0 liter TDI with 150 kW (204 hp) for now. It says the top engine will be a 220 kW (300 hp) offering but doesn't say which V6 that will be.

Of the V6's in Audi's engine stable, there is also a supercharged 3.0 liter V6 petrol with 200 kW (272 PS) and a spunkier 3.0 liter TDI with 184 kW (253 PS) which are possibilities for the A7 Sportback.

All engines will be coupled to automatic transmissions, either the multitronic for front-drive variants or the seven-speed S tronic for the Quattro-fitted models. That new Quattro system comes with torque vectoring technology and a crown-gear center differential. It can transfer up to 70 percent of torque to the front wheels or as much as 85 percent to the rear, if necessary. The default power transfer ratio is 40:60 with a slight rear bias for sportiness. The new differential is compact and lightweight.

All variants will come with thermal management, energy recuperation and stop-start systems to improve fuel-economy. For example, the 3.0 liter TDI with 150 kW (204 hp) coupled with the multitronic gearbox on the front-drive A7 provides for a 5.3 liters/100 km fuel rating and CO2 emissions of 139 g/km.

The A7 Sportback hits dealerships in Europe in the fall with prices starting at €51,650.

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Volkswagen: Interested in buying Alfa Romeo?


This rumor has been going around for a while, but here is some new fuel for the fire. The Volkswagen Group’s Chairman Martin Winterkorn has reportedly called Alfa Romeo a “dream brand” for VW.

While Fiat has not publicly said its premium performance brand is for sale, it is easily understood that they could be willing to part with Alfa for the right price. Fiat doesn’t disclose the profit loss for each brand in its group, but industry analysts believe Alfa Romeo has not been making money for many years. This puts Fiat in a particularly tough spot recently as it sinks money into overhauling Chrysler.

Volkswagen may have some room left in its balance sheet after a failed tie-in with Proton back in May, but is VW the best fit for Alfa? Any extra reliability that would come from this marriage would be a welcomed addition to Alfa Romeo, but at what cost? Would the German company’s straight-laced engineers interfere too much with one of the most passionate car brands on earth?

There are plenty of times we see the good girl fall in love with the bad boy. In fact, the VW Group did a miracle with Lamborghini. But with a full line of Audis (and a few up-market VWs,) where would Alfa fit in this family?

This one is just a rumor for now, but if this goes forward, this may cause the largest outcry from enthusiasts since Porsche decided to build a sedan.

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Monday, July 26, 2010

Official: Porsche Panamera S Hybrid confirmed for 2011


Porsche announced today that its new Panamera S Hybrid will make its debut in 2011, and that it will be the second hybrid addition in its lineup, next to the Cayenne S Hybrid.

The new car is expected to receive the same technology found on the Cayenne: a supercharged V6 petrol engine as well as an electric motor, capable to deliver a total output of 380 hp and peak torque of 580 Nm/427 lb-ft at just 1,000 rpm. The petrol engine delivers 333 hp while the 34 kW (47 hp) electric motor is the ideal partner with its torque at low speeds. The new car will act as an all-electric car only for short distances and with speeds of up to 60 km/h or almost 40 mph.

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Audi Q7 S-Line Wide Body by JE Design


With one of their most ostentatious kits ever, JE Design gives a widebody treatment to the already huge Audi Q7 S-Line. The result is this monstrous car you see here, which from some angles looks pretty much like a Japanese vacuum cleaner! This massive kit is accompanied by some engine and suspension upgrade and new set of wheels.

The kit consists of front spoiler corners which JE DESIGN offers for the Q7 S-Line in pairs, with and without the wide body kit (690 Euro), the twelve-part flared wheel arch kit including the door trim (2699 Euro), and the rear bumper extension with lozenge-shaped double exhaust outlets on both sides (1798 Euro). There’s also headlight bezels (99 Euro), and rear spoiler which covers C-pillars (1099 Euro).

This car is based on the 3.0 liter TDI model, which has been tweaked by a new map for its ECU. Thanks to that the power has gone up from 233hp to 285 hp and the maximum torque raised from 500 to 550Nm and the top speed from 210 to 219 km/h. The acceleration is also enhanced as it now takes 8.5 instead of 9.1 seconds.

The electronic suspension system JE Design offers lowers the car by 35mm and costs 1428 Euro. Other feature is indeed the 10Jx22” alloys finished in graphite-silver with polished edge strip and Ultra-High Performance 295/30 tyres from JE DESIGN for 5190 Euro.

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Official: Porsche confirms all-electric sports car


Porsche officially confirmed today that it will produce electric cars. The German manufacturer said that electric drive will “take on an increasingly important role in the further enhancement of Porsche Intelligent Performance”.

Porsche announced that it is current working on future electric cars using three research cars with all-electric drive based on the Porsche Boxster. These cars will provide an initial first important insight into new electric drive components and battery systems for all-electric vehicle drive. Of course, the news regarding Porsche electric cars is not a premiere as several rumors already revealed this fact and the well-known German tuner RUF already revealed its electric Porsche.

And this is not new to Porsche, as the manufacturer already revealed the 918 Spyder high-performance mid-engined sports car with plug-in hybrid, which combines high-tech breakthroughs in engine technology and electromobility. The car delivers a total output of over 600 hp and delivers a fuel consumption of just three litres for 100 kilometres in the NEDC (equal to 94.1 mpg imp) and just 70 g/km CO2.

The Porsche 911 GT3 Hybrid is another proof of future electric cars featuring two 60 kW (82 hp) electric motors on the front axle boosting the 480 hp six-cylinder power unit fitted at the rear. Currently, Porsche has one hybrid car in its lineup, the Cayenne S Hybrid. The car uses a petrol engine but also an electric motor and delivers a maximum output of 380 hp while the fuel consumption is just 8.2 ltr/100 km (equal to 34.5 mpg imp). Porsche also confirmed the Panamera S Hybrid for 2011!

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TechArt Electronic Kit For Porsche Panamera Turbo


This time TechArt has come up with a light power upgrade kit for the Porsche Panamera Turbo which takes a few minutes to be installed on the car’s ECU and easy as that it raise the power up to 580 hp and 830 Nm of torque! Of course you wouldn’t normally notice the difference, unless you push the Sport button on the center console.

Do that and you’ll be able to go from zero to 100 km/h in 3.8 sec, 0 to 200 km/h in 12.5 sec and reach top speed of 315 km/h. The TECHART power kit TA 070/T1 for the Porsche Panamera Turbo comes with a two-year warranty.

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Audi A7 Sportback images leaked ahead of reveal


The first official images of the all new Audi A7 Sportback are making the internet rounds today ahead of the sport saloon's debut on Monday. These photos, which were sent our way by Carscoop reader Enrico, prove that the production car has stayed remarkably true to the 2009 Detroit Show concept's appearance.

Most differences concern practical details such as the shape and size of the exterior mirrors, and the air-inlets on the front bumper. The car also keeps the show car's five-door body style with a practical rear hatch.

In a similar fashion, the styling of the interior is almost identical to the concept, sans the colors and the decorative trim. From what we know, the just-under 5-meters long A7 Sportback will be strictly for four passengers.

Mechanically, the A5 Sportback's big brother is heavily based on the next generation of the A6 and according to our sources, at launch it will be offered with both diesel and gasoline V6 engines including the new 3.0-liter TSI unit with some 290-horsepower. It goes without saying that the A7 Sportback will be available with Audi's Quattro all-wheel drive system and S-tronic dual clutch transmissions.

Expect to see performance-oriented S7 and RS7 variants, as well as a hybrid model being added to the range within the next year or so.

The A7 Sportback will slot between the A6 and A8 executive saloons with its main competitors being the new Mercedes-Benz CLS and the BMW 5-Series GT (at least until BMW unveils the production version of the Gran Coupe).

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Driving pleasure doesn't get much more involving than this. The Porsche 911 alerts your sixth sense even in basic Carrera form, but you can, of course, upgrade according to your budget: Carrera S, Turbo, Turbo S, GT3, GT3 RS. Last in line is now the GT2 RS, which musters an awe-inspiring 620 hp. BMW tells a similar story, with the six-cylinder 3-series models meeting their master in the V-8-engined M3, which in turn is eclipsed by the brand-new 450-hp GTS. Both top-of-the-range coupes are track-oriented, featuring adjustable wings and suspension elements along with race seats and roll cages. On the road, they feel firm, look loud, and make a fair bit of noise, but if you don't mind extra tramlining and a harsh ride, these German sportsters are perfectly acceptable everyday stimulants from spring through autumn. Feel inclined to sign on the dotted line? Hold your breath. After all, the $245,000 Porsche is limited to 500 pieces, and BMW will assemble only 136 units of the fire-orange GTS, which costs about $140,000 in Europe and, unlike the Porsche, will not be sold in the United States.

Wednesday morning, Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen, Germany. The thermometer reads 82 degrees in the shade, and the one essential factory option our red 911 GT2 RS lacks is air-conditioning. "This car is for purists, and purists are used to suffering," comments chief vehicle line engineer August Achleitner, grinning broadly. I may be a purist, but by midday I'm sweating like a pig -- needlessly, because my broad six-foot, eight-inch frame carries enough surplus calories to outweigh four or five A/C units. Never mind. In this lofty pseudo-competition segment, every pound counts.

That's why Porsche will supply the GT2 RS on request with featherweight half-blind halogen headlamps instead of the much brighter bixenons. For the price of a vacation in Mauritius, you can also have a banzai lithium-ion starter battery and a pair of carbon-fiber front fenders, which together shave some 33 pounds off the total tally. All in all, Porsche engineers took more than 150 pounds out of the car that now sports plenty of dark-gray carbon-fiber body panels, spoiler lips, skirts, air intakes, and trim. There's no doubt about it: this is a very special-purpose vehicle conceived to outperform all previous 911s, including the 959 and the legendary GT1. While marveling at the tailor-made piece of ascetic engineering, though, I do wonder whether I am good enough to make full use of all these go-faster mods.

The temples throb and the discs rattle as too much man tries to bond with too little seat. Squeezing my bum into the one-size-fits-others carbon-fiber bucket adopted from the Carrera GT's is difficult enough, but fastening the seatbelt is downright painful. The driver environment is, shall we say, minimalistic. Climate controls are as basic as it gets, the inner door handles are made of red fabric loops, most cladding consists of carbon fiber, the radio slot is a gaping black hole, and the buttonless suede steering wheel sports a yellow straight-ahead marker at twelve o'clock. Right behind the torture-chamber Recaros spreads the spiderweb roll cage. The token carpets are mouse-fur thin, and the three polycarbonate rear windows distort like a large gin and tonic. While previous top-of-the-fear-ladder 911s used to be dressed in coal-mine superblack, our GT2 RS features an almost gaudy red-over-charcoal interior with contrasting Alcantara trim, real power windows, and a wafer-thin roof.

Let's get going. I turn the key above my left knee, feel that tiny flywheel kick the crankshaft into action, hear the intake snorkels cough then clear their throats, watch the needle of the rev counter tremble in anticipation, lean back and take a deep breath to fight that thump-thump in my palms, legs, and heart. Can we be friends, this Porsche and I? The clutch certainly suggests so. It is quite manageable, responds progressively, and bites with determination instead of overt aggression. The manual transmission is the same we know from the GT3. Stirring the shifter feels a bit like reaching into a sack full of antlers, but once you've got the hang of it, gearchanges are firm and positive. The effort, however, is high enough to provoke an attack of gout, and the throws are long enough to make you wish for an arm extension. Reverse requires a deep dive and then a positive push forward to the left or you'll clash with the first-gear neighbor who lives next door. Surely, the next-generation 911 GTs will benefit from the much more complete PDK dual-clutch box. Redlined at 6750 rpm, the twin-turbo flat six doesn't give you a lot of time to think about the perfect shift sequence. First gear hits the limiter before you can say "Wow!" and second is so short-legged that it will occasionally splay its cogs in protest against rushed downshifts. Sixth is a proper high-speed ratio that wrings out the engine on downhill autobahn slopes, where the red rocket will max out at an indicated 215 mph (Porsche claims a top speed of 205 mph). Where was the photographer to document this achievement? Exactly.

200-mph-plus may sound borderline insane for a rear-engine design originating in the mid-1950s, but this 911 boasts reassuring, newly found high-speed aerodynamic stability. The previous GT2 made me pale with fear above 175 mph, when the front end would pitch and waver and tramline and feel suddenly very light over bumps. That's now gone -- all of it. True, it took a rear wing that any condor would be proud of and a low-flying front splitter the shape of a giant black razor blade to fix these flaws, but the result is a 60 percent increase in overall downforce. The other major dynamic improvement concerns the substantially enhanced suspension compliance. Compliance in a GT2 RS? You bet. Ferrari reinvented compliance with the 430 Scuderia, and the rest of the gang followed suit. Porsche did so first with the new Turbo, and now the company has honed the chassis of the GT2, which feels to me even better poised than the almost equally extreme GT3 RS. Forget Sport mode -- it's suitable only for racetracks. But the Normal calibration of the adjustable PASM dampers, which was chosen to make the car shine on the Nurburgring, also works very well on highways and secondary roads.

The GT2 RS is marginally wider and lower than its predecessor. It also boasts a spicier PSM stability control setting; the tie rods, transverse arms, and spring strut lowers are attached to the body via zero-tolerance ball joints; a pair of so-called rear helper springs keep the main springs under tension even when the vehicle is momentarily airborne, which was thankfully not the case when I drove it.

Feeling and looking like a drenched wharf rat when the planet backed us into 93-degree humid heat well before noon, I had calmed down somewhat, because this obviously was no nasty beast as long as one drove it within the limits of adhesion. Which are high enough to eliminate 99 percent of competitors by simply outcornering and outaccelerating them. In the latest Swabian batmobile, 0 to 60 mph is an impressively swift 3.4-second affair. But to experience the real steamhammer effect, you need to leave the takeoff wheel spin behind you. After all, this hyperactive two-seater needs a mere 9.8 seconds to roar from naught to 125 mph, and a mere 20 seconds later you may tick the top-speed box. That's what 620 hp will do for you when it's installed in a car that weighs only 3020 pounds. This data might look invincible -- but the four-wheel-drive Turbo S nonetheless wins the sprint duel by 0.3 second, is only 9 mph less rapid overall, and costs a cool $85K less.

After half a day and many miles, the car and its driver have finally adjusted to each other. Lobster-faced and drinking water at a rate that almost matches the Porsche's thirst (about 14 mpg), I am now ready to find out whether the new GT2 is as unfriendly and unforgiving as its predecessor. Beating that model on the 'Ring by a full fourteen seconds should have been plenty of warning, but in an overly optimistic mood swing, I turned off stability control. Nah. I'll also deactivate traction control and see what happens. Let's check out whether these reflexes still work. The first run through a glassy-surfaced second-gear left-hander is spot-on. A bit of smoke, a nice slide, everything under control -- bingo. But the second run puts the alarm systems inside my brain on alert. The car understeers more emphatically, it takes a more determined effort to make the hot and grippy rear tires come unstuck, and the wide road suddenly narrows at the exit of the corner. You can guess the rest of the story: even more understeer, the slide commences even later, Monsieur Michelin's finest kiss the soft shoulder, and the car spins, which makes my heart rate go through the nonexistent sunroof.

What happened? When we stop for more water, I take a closer look at this 911's spec sheet. It reveals a maximum boost pressure of 23.2 psi, twice as much as Porsche quotes for the Turbo, along with 516 lb-ft of torque at 2250 rpm. Not to mention the 620 hp that the 3.6-liter engine dishes up at 6500 rpm. Compared with the Turbo and the previous GT2, the new model clearly needs higher revs to produce more oomph. As a result, it's an even sharper weapon, more black and white than a spectrum of grays, tuned for peak performance rather than friendliness. Second attempt, this time with a little more feeling. Stability control off; traction control on. An odd mixture -- almost every other manufacturer does it the other way around. Having said that, the setting generates a little more attitude, because it sedates the watchdog that oversees the transverse and diagonal forces. This time, I don't spin.

But this time, the car dictates the pace, the rhythm, the degree of extrovert attitude. This time, I physically feel the asymmetrical diff locking up to enhance grip and traction. This time, the chassis firms up in a semiactive manner, doing everything it can to keep the car on course. Although the tires squeal in protest, the fat and almost treadless 325/30YR-19 Pilot Sport Cup footwear in the rear sticks to the blacktop like maple syrup to your best tablecloth.

After a few haphazard tries, frustration sets in. Not so much about the sizzling, crackling, and now-parked 911 but about the obvious inadequacies of the man whose mission it is to master the monster. We spend the afternoon trying to find stretches of empty road, which ain't easy in the middle of the summer holiday period. On the autobahn, this car has no enemy but one's weaker self. Unlike the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, the Nissan GT-R, and the Chevrolet Corvette ZR1, which make high speed a relatively virtual zone you enter and leave without lowering or raising your visor, the GT2 RS is intense enough to create tension, noisy enough to phonetically distract, and demanding enough to constantly readjust the focus of your field of vision. As long as you keep your foot down, though, even 200 mph is unlikely to trigger instant cardiac arrest. But the mix of midcorner lift-off and ambitious g-forces remains as hair-raisingly eerie as it always has been in Porsche's rear-engine sports cars.

Once more, it takes time to reacquire the appropriate laissez-faire attitude. This car will sort itself out. It doesn't need an extrafirm grip, minute throttle-angle alterations, or constant corrections at the wheel. It can sort itself out. Bumps may dislocate your glasses, hydroplaning grooves may induce a roller-coaster wallop, and expansion joints may slice your flight path into disorderly pieces, but the car always sorts itself out. Until it starts to rain, until crosswinds enter the equation, or until the radius of a sixth-gear eight-tenths curve is a lot tighter than you remember it.

One can brake so late in the 911 GT2 RS that it's almost ridiculous. But of course you don't, because your passenger would jolt forward like a crash-test dummy and because public roads are poor playgrounds. This Porsche is fitted with six-piston front and four-piston rear calipers, with drilled and ventilated carbon-ceramic rotors and lightweight brake pads. To make the most of deceleration potential, the GT2 RS comes with extralarge heat-dissipation ducts in the front and with trumpet-shaped air intakes in the rear. When hot, the stopping apparatus shrieks like an old freight train, but that's a small price to pay for braking performance that calls for a replacement set of neck muscles by the end of the day. It's not just the fast-rewind negative acceleration that takes your breath away. It's also the urgency with which this Porsche squashes surplus energy that establishes real confidence, for the first time during this drive. Although it always helps to set the car straight before dropping the anchors, the computers have learned to cope very well with sudden changes like weight transfer, changes of direction, marginal adhesion, and split-friction surfaces. In the wet, it's a completely different ball game, because the Cup tires are very good at water-skiing but quite poor at carving.

One last time, we go out to explore our mutual limits. In more ways than one, the GT2 RS reminds me of the old Ferrari F40. Raw, extreme, basic, and yet very high-tech. In the F40, massive turbo lag followed by a mighty underhood explosion was what kept deflecting the line in heart-stopping fashion. In the GT2 RS, the flows of power are much more subtle. The two chargers work together, not in sequence. Throttle lag has been superseded by telepathic obedience. The torque curve is now shaped like a low, long plateau.

What does this mean to the captain at the helm? That he has even less time to respond, that the forces are even more brutal, that catch and release has turned from routine to a form of art. If you can find a reasonably smooth surface, a late sidestep followed by a brief correcting flick at the wheel is about as much drama as you want to induce. But those long slides that used to paint an unforgettable smile on one's face are much harder to ride out in this 911, which is always ready to bare its teeth. Although carefully massaging the throttle sounds like the easiest trick in the book, the ultrawide rear tires keep fighting the torque wave because their goal in life is to slice, not to slide.

I'm not sure if there exist enough rich Walter Rohrl-like bravados to fully relish the true potential of the ultimate rear-wheel-drive 911. Although I did approach the car with more respect than any other Porsche currently in production, my awe for the wild thing kept growing in the course of the day, and by evening, I handed back the key with a mix of relief and reluctance: Relief, because we have all the photos in the can and the car went back unscratched. Reluctance, because I could not pluck up enough courage, competence, and confidence to work this car through its paces and stay on top of the game at all times. It's not just the random snap oversteer that makes gray hair go white, it's also the almost forgotten counterswing that follows which proves that some skills don't age nearly as well as red wine. On a track, this is bound to be an almost invincible tool for the brave and gifted. On the autobahn, the GT2 RS has all the go one could ask for but not enough refinement so that one would be comfortable relaxing. On secondary roads, the most venomous 911 this side of the various Clubsport editions has got what it takes to throw down the gauntlet to any Ferrari, Lamborghini, or Bugatti. Except, perhaps, an adequately talented driver.

Now for the BMW M3 GTS
Sunday lunchtime, Ascari circuit near Malaga, Spain. Welcome back to a 93-degree summer day, but at least this time the heat is Death Valley-dry, and there's a stiff mistral blowing from the sea. BMW has chosen the Spanish location to celebrate twenty-five years of the M3, an event highlighted by the launch of the brand-new limited-edition GTS coupe. The demanding Ascari racetrack is a great mix of fast and not so fast, up and down, mirror-smooth and rippled. The quickest corner is good for about 135 mph, and the slowest kink is perfect for second-gear slides. There are two chicanes, a couple of third-gear bends sporting a challenging switch from positive to negative camber, three climbs and three according descents, a long start/finish straightaway, and a wide pit lane. I counted twenty-five bends, most of them left-handers. Although there are five generations of M3s to choose from here today, we quickly filter through to the brand-new GTS, which is painted fire orange -- the same color used by the long-defunct Jagermeister racing team that fielded all kinds of fast BMWs from the 2002 to the 3.2CSL. Predictably, five days were not enough to let my body recover from the Porsche 911 GT2 RS experience. The Recaros installed in the M3 GTS also looked like items out of a brochure for bondage aficionados, but they were thankfully a full size wider, more thoughtfully padded, and quite generously adjustable. Although both cars come with a six-point harness free of charge, inertia-reel belts are fitted for predominant road use. A/C and music cost extra in the BMW, and since chassis number 003 tested here will probably end up as an enthusiast's track day toy, cool air once again remained a pipe dream. Neither the GT2 RS nor the ultimate M3 need a radio. After all, what you hear is the best music in town, the goose-pimple-growing sound track of true hard-core street racers, beautiful mechanical noise, a luscious and loud concert of high-strung automobiles at work. First, we're due to run a couple warm-up laps behind an E46-chassis pace car. After that, the rarest, dearest, and fastest-ever M3 begs to be put to the real test.

With a tarmac temperature of well over 120 degrees, the slow-in, fast-out rule is absolutely critical to the BMW's cornering performance. Over-drive it, and the front tires will heat up in no time at all, first provoking terminal understeer and then shredding themselves to pieces in a smelly hara-kiri farewell. That's why a smooth sequence of motions is so important for the well being of both car and driver. Since we're not here to set a new lap record, I brake relatively early at the end of the two fast straights. And although turn-in can be quick and energetic, you don't want to fully load the car's front end until the change of direction is about two-thirds complete. It takes a while to learn and understand this track, to get the line right for the double-apex corners, to eliminate unnecessary gear changes, to settle on the best compromise through the chicanes, and to zoom in on the correct brake and turn-in points. After ten laps, I take a break to discuss the setup with chief project engineer Rolf Scheibner.

The gleaming citruswagen performs with aplomb, but I would be happier still with an even more neutral setup and with a slightly tauter front suspension for more stability in the wobbly esses. Scheibner gets in the car, drives three laps, returns to the pits, and adjusts the front tire pressure and the rear wing. "Now try again," he says. "I bet you will come back with a smile on your face."

The M3 content of the GTS version is a perceived 40 to 50 percent. True, the basic shape is familiar, but the add-ons are all-new, and the dark and barren cabin feels almost alien. There are no rear seats, the front buckets wear the Nurburgring seal of approval, the slim center console has been decontented, the steering wheel and the instruments are special to the GTS, and instead of the usual wood and leather mix, there's wall-to-wall carbon fiber with some Alcantara accents. The roll cage is painted body color, the black suede-rimmed steering-wheel rubs off like an ink pad, the rear side windows and the backlight wear plastic stickers, and the electronic damper button (EDC) has disappeared since there's no longer a comfort setting to select.

Again part of the parcel is the M Drive Mode (MDM) button, which speeds up the communication among throttle, engine, and gearbox while at the same time dialing in a more aggressive stability control calibration. With DSC off, the car reels in the entire electronic safety net, so you're on your own when the growling bigger-bore V-8 sets the fatter nineteen-inch rear tires afire.

We go back out, this time with MDM active and with the well-broken-in Pirelli tires gradually adopting a liquoricelike consistency. "They'll need replacing before the day runs out," says our friend from R&D, "so don't worry about wear and tear." I take that as an order. MDM is giving the car some leeway through the third-gear curves, but when disturbed by a sequence of vagaries in the surface, it interferes momentarily through two 125-mph-plus right-handers. Two laps later and charged with enough self-confidence to challenge the Klitschko brothers (in tennis), I remove the final filter and deactivate stability control. What a treat! The GTS is now totally at ease, and my mind-set begins to adjust accordingly, corner by corner and lap by lap. Absolute speed is almost immaterial in this getting-to-know-you process. What matters instead are concentration, accuracy, timing, and trust. No, I don't always get the line 100 percent right, I don't always brake perfectly and just in time, and I don't always manage to match revs and radii, speed and surface, approach and apex. But the M3 treats my occasional clumsiness with the nonchalance of Grandmaster Flash, shrugging off enthusiastic curb contacts, ironing out unintended line deflections, and soaking up overly optimistic dips and dives. This car doesn't punish you for making mistakes; instead, it takes you by the hand, leads you through, and shows the way, time after time.

Roughly twice as expensive as a normal M3, the Sunkist version is for obvious reasons not twice as agile or twice as fast. In lieu of the 4.0-liter V-8, the M GmbH division installed a high-revving 4.4-liter unit good for 450 hp at 8300 rpm, up from 420 hp. The maximum torque climbs from 295 lb-ft at 3900 rpm to 325 lb-ft at 3750 rpm. The acceleration from 0 to 62 mph now takes only 4.4 seconds instead of 4.6 ticks, and the maximum speed has increased from a governed 156 mph to an unrestricted 191 mph. True, the GTS is one very special M3 for the price of two, but it has much more to offer than a 0.2 second advantage against the stopwatch, such as a unique livery, a high-performance engine and transmission, an uprated chassis, a substantial 154-pound loss of body fat, clever ground-effect aerodynamics, stronger brakes, and the competition-car genes of the M3 GT2. Don't let the marginally quicker acceleration time fool you -- this is a totally transformed car, from the bespoilered bottom to the carbon-fiber top. Individually, the listed modifications may not justify the GTS suffix. As a whole, however, they turn this 3-series on steroids into a more addictive drug, a purer driving machine.

For Ascari, the M team lowered the ride height by 0.6 inch in the front and by 0.5 inch in the rear. In addition, they chose a specific fast-track setting for the shock absorbers and the wheel camber. Last but not least, they readjusted the front splitter and the rear wing. In total, implementing these changes took about fifteen minutes. I didn't drive the virginal car as it left the factory, but I did compare the Ascari special to the latest M3 with the competition package. Although the two models are quite close in character, the difference is like night and day when you put them through their paces on the circuit.

Whereas the GT branch of the 911 tree becomes more and more unforgiving the further away you climb from its Carrera roots, the top-end M3 is almost as accessible as a 335i with M suspension. No, this isn't due only to the admittedly lower limits and the less extreme velocities. What makes this BMW such an eye-opener are, above all, its even and good nature, the transparency and progressiveness, and the equilibrium between action and response. Exploring the limit is all about confidence -- the GTS provides just that, in rare abundance.

While early M3 generations celebrated power oversteer for the sake of unbridled hooliganism, the E46-chassis, the current E91-edition, and in particular the new GTS perform a much more professional and sophisticated fusion of stick and slide. Instead of being all over the place all the time, the roadholding of the GTS seems to be guided by an invisible induction loop, grip appears to be defined by a moving magnetic field, and directional stability has that unerring hypnotic touch. I must have spent about ten laps marveling at how the incredible performance can be intuitively tweaked by steering, throttle, and brakes. For the following ten laps, I was knocking on fate's door by running very wide through the second-gear U-shaped turns and a little wide over the softly curved curbs at the exits of faster corners. Then it was back to tightening and polishing the line, playing with camber changes and the variably grippy parts of the track, where cocky excess torque can be your impromptu ticket from drama to trauma. It always pays to remember that no runoff area is big enough to hide your broken ego ...

The M3 GTS is fitted with a stiffened suspension, matte-black Y-spoke rims shod with 255/35YR-19 Pirellis in front and 285/30YR-19 Cup tires in the back, an exhaust made of titanium, larger-diameter high-performance brakes, and a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission with whiplash action thanks to a momentary power boost during full-throttle upshifts. You can store your favorite setup via the MDM button, which no longer needs to be reprogrammed after the engine has been turned off. My preferred mix of adrenalin, testosterone, and Shell V-Power is the second-fastest shift speed, stability control off, and both windows halfway open for a sufficiently rich mixture of air and noise. Although a manual transmission is inherently more involving, the GTS's dual-clutch box is quantifiably slicker and quicker, period. It would be an even more functional tool if the paddles were attached to the steering column and not to the wheel itself. Although the throttle response is about as greedy as a piranha that smells blood, the shift action is still smooth enough to pardon even emergency midcorner downshifts.

Solid chassis and suspension control is essential for a car like this, and so are reassuring brakes and haptic steering. The M3 GTS does without the usual compound rotors. Although this solution may appear low-tech these days, the mix of cast-iron discs and aluminum pads connected via steel pins is just as powerful and progressive. Easy to modulate and relatively effortless, the system blends strong initial bite with plenty of staying power. But the plum in this Bavarian fruit cocktail is once again the hydraulic rack-and-pinion steering, which easily outshines those of its electrically operated counterparts. Quite meaty around the straight-ahead position, the direction-finder is sharp and quick, accurate and responsive, always connected, rarely underdamped, and never ever ambiguous. Holding a slide with the fat-rimmed wheel and supporting that vital right-foot-and-both-arms intralink is a special talent of this remarkable BMW.

There might never be a week like this again: Porsche 911 GT2 RS, BMW Megacity Vehicle, Bentley Continental GTC Supersports, Mercedes-Benz CL, BMW M3 GTS. It's funny, though, that cream-of-the-crop does not always equal most desirable. I would, for instance, rather own a sublime GTC Speed than the shrill Supersports, and I prefer the practical S-class to the pricey CL coupe. The 911 is obviously a much more complex issue. Personally, I find it very hard to argue against the Turbo S. It is incredibly quick, astonishingly sure-footed, and certainly no instrument of torture. The 911 GT2 RS, too, is much more compliant and forgiving than expected. It's only when you overstep the fence to feed the lion that the animal is liable to bite back. And when it does, 620 hp and 516 lb-ft can do more damage than the 450 hp and 317 lb-ft of the even more aggressive GT3 RS. What the GT2 deserves is a professional tamer, a driver who can handle wild animals, a pro who's not afraid to keep working on his handicap. You guessed it: that's not me. The only feline I occasionally come to terms with is Minka, our eight-year-old Siamese cat.

The bloodline of the M3 thins relatively quickly as you venture down the ladder to the four- and six-cylinder 3-series specimens. Although the 335i tops the value-for-money chart ahead of the supertorquey 335d, the M3 is still special in the way it focuses on fluency and feedback, intuitive handling and extrovert performance, grand gestures and concise control. The GTS is all that and more. More involving, more radical, more fun, more competent, as well as considerably faster, hotter, and leaner. If you can live with the humorless suspension settings and the antisocial noise levels, this BMW might even work as three-seasons car, but only with A/C and rather not in DayGlo orange. The GTS is expensive for an M3 but a bargain vis-à-vis the GT2 RS. It is also accessible in a less breakneck way, its limits are manageable enough to be enjoyed on select stretches of public road, and its appeal is less elitist but by no means proletarian.

Sadly, waxing lyrical won't help acquire either of these objects of desire. They're both sold out, so you may want to wait for next year's all-new 911 or for the fifth-generation M3, which is due in 2012.

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The 2011 Audi A8 with the 372 horsepower V8 engine will offer exceptional fuel economy of 17 city and 27 highway. These ratings place the A8 far ahead of its BMW and Mercedes V8 powered competition. Surprisingly, the A8 with its conventional V8 engine and 8 speed gearbox also tops its German rivals' hybrid efforts fuel economy wise. The BMW 7 series ActiveHybrid trails the A8 by 1 mpg on the highway and the Mercedes S400 hybrid comes up 2 mpg short.

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Road Test: 2010 Audi A6 3.0TFSI quattro
By: Kris Hansen

I’ve got a confession to make. I like big cars. I mean, I REALLY like big cars. Small cars are quick, nimble, fun to drive, and so on, but there’s nothing like taking a long drive in a really nice, comfortable, roomy, luxurious, big and powerful car. The Audi A6 happens to be exactly all of those things, and more.

The A6 doesn’t really look big sitting by itself. The proportions of the body are perfect, and if anything, it looks like it might be only slightly larger than A4. The nose is a bit deeper than that of an A4, the grille a bit taller. The body lines are not quite as flamboyant, the A6 is much more subtle, more elegant, visually masking the true size of the car.

The design is largely unchanged from when the C6 A6 was launched in 2005, though it received a subtle refreshening 2009. Even though the A6 is still is fitted with the older style door handles (the lift up type), the design is nevertheless ultra modern, and in keeping with Audi’s current look for the full range of models, with elements such as the sculpted chin and the gentle upward curving character line at the bottom of the doors.

Since our car had the optional sports suspension and 19 inch wheel packages, it took on an aggressive stance which gives it a muscular appearance, transforming the A6 somewhat. It doesn’t lose any of its luxury feeling, while it gains the look and feel of a sports sedan. The LEDs in the headlights of course helped, as did the dark color. We hard pressed to find fault with the overall look of the car, everything just seems correct. This is not a car that screams “look at me” though. We find that with smaller wheels it loses some of its sporty look, and becomes stealthier. We like that.

Inside is where big cars rule over smaller cars. No one wants to have to fold and cram themselves into a tiny car, with tiny uncomfortable seats, and nothing to look at or play with once there. Even though the A6’s interior design is now 5 years old, it still looks very fresh and modern.

We love the A6 dash. The instruments are not buried deep in a binnacle, instead they are very much front and center, essentially flush with the same plane as the MMI display screen. The driver information screen, which is located between the speedometer and the tachometer is in color when the Navigation is fitted to the car (as opposed to LCD), and is very clear. Using the controls on the windshield wiper stalk on the right side of the column, drivers can cycle through various trip related data such as time, distance, mileage, etc, and can also view navigation information, as well as display audio information.

The center console is the piece de resistance of the interior. This is the original layout of Audi’s MMI system, though updated with the 3rd Generation joystick atop the main command dial, which allows scrolling about the navigation system’s map to locate stopover points, points of interest, and more. MMI is a masterpiece control interface combining the functions of Navigation, audio, telephone, various and sundry car related items such as exterior lighting options, service indicators, and so on. It seems somehow more elegant in the A6 than in the A4/A5/Q5, given the lovely arched wooden trim plate, but it’s identically intuitive and useful.

Our car was equipped with the incredibly cool Audi Advanced Key, which allows the driver to keep the key in pocket or purse, and simply press the Engine Start button to start the car. Given that this is the first generation Intelligent Key, the A6 has a separate button to then stop the engine, and also lock the steering. The key is still of the flip-out variety, which means there is a standard type ignition switch on the dash. On cars with the Advanced Key, each of the exterior door handles is fitted with a small rubber coated button, which tucks underneath and is nearly invisible. A simple tap of that button with the Advanced Key in your pocket will cause the car to lock up. All it takes to get back in is give a tug of one of the handles. Honestly, this is one of our favorite features of the newer Audis.

Once within the spacious confines of the A6 cabin, occupants are coddled by some of the finest seats in the business. It’s quite possible to become completely comfortable in seconds thanks to the 12 way adjustable leather seats. The leather is supple, but not too soft or thin feeling. Drivers and passengers will find leg, head, hip, shoulder, knee room in abundance. Our only gripe is with the electronically adjustable steering column – we wanted it to extend farther for some reason. It seemed that we would adjust the seat to where we wanted it for a comfortable leg bend, but then we sometimes felt our arms were extended a bit too much. But that was a very minor issue most of the time. The trunk is cavernous, wide enough for golf bags, deep enough for very large suitcases.

Audi is also renowned for being fanatical about safety. The A6 comes standard with front and side airbags, as well as Sideguard curtain airbags. Other driver aids like anti lock brakes with brake assist, stability control, and the optional reversing camera and proximity sensors help the driver maintain safe operation.

The A6 is a supremely comfortable car for any length trip. The cabin is very quiet, wind and tire noise is very well isolated. Miles are gobbled up effortlessly, and you arrive at your destination with no fatigue. Even with the sports suspension the ride quality is excellent. Big bumps are gobbled up with no drama and no lingering body movements. Some larger cars like the A6 tend to be floaty at speed, but we found the A6 to be perfectly damped, while not being harsh in town at lower speeds.

Handling feel is one other area where larger cars sometimes suffer to the smaller sports sedans. We found that the A6 was pleasant to drive in a spirited fashion. Even though It’s not exactly the kind of car you’d want to toss into corners with abandon, if driven in a smooth flowing way, it’s quite possible to drive tight twisties very quickly. Certainly the abundance of power from the 3.0T, and the rear biased quattro all wheel drive system allows drivers to apply power very early to help cornering.

As is the norm with recent Audis and the rear biased quattro system, the A6 corners very neutrally right up to the limit of grip, where it begins to understeer. As we’ve found with other Audi models, when ESP is turned OFF, the handling is sportier, and the car will allow itself to rotate a bit more at the rear when trailing the throttle. If driven like a big car (smoothly, flowing it into turns instead of trying to wring it’s neck), the A6 is deceptively fast, while remaining supremely comfortable and composed the entire time.

When paired with the 3.0TFSI supercharged direct injected engine and 6 speed Tiptronic transmission, the A6 will move with surprising ease. The 6 cylinder engine is silky smooth, with good low end power culminating in a rush of power as the revs increase. The exhaust note is worth mentioning, it is very deep and throaty sounding in this car, very nearly sounding like a V8 in fact. We loved the way our car sounded as it ran up through the revs! Audi says that the engine produces 300hp at 5100 rpm, and 310 lb/ft between 2500 and 5100 rpm. Because of the flat torque curve, and smooth and quiet nature of the car which masks the sensation of speed, it’s all too easy to find yourself traveling along much faster than you thought you were.

It’s also willing to go very fast when you want to. Audi say that the A6 3.0TFSI will run from 0 to 60 in 5.9 seconds, which is quick indeed, and we suspect somewhat conservative. The engine has plenty of power on tap for getting up to speed while merging on the highway or passing slower traffic on a rural road. All it takes is a push of the accelerator, the car does the rest, and very quickly. Pre-selecting the correct gear using the Tiptronic control hastens the process, allowing the engine to be operating in the meat of its power curve before applying full power, which results in blisteringly quick response. Passing multiple cars, trucks, none of it is any kind of worry with this car.

The Tiptronic transmission is unfailingly smooth as well, which quick and crisp shifts. The control unit will dynamically alter shifting points throughout the rev band as it adapts to the driver’s style, something we liked, but we also found that we preferred keeping the transmission in Tiptronic mode, to have full command over the engine. Since our car had the optional 3 spoke sport steering wheel with the shifter paddles, we found ourselves shifting manually, even occasionally overriding the selected ratio while in D.

When it comes time to stop, the A6 doesn’t disappoint either. While not necessarily overkill, the brakes are certainly never overwhelmed in daily driving, even spirited driving. The A6 is a fairly heavy car, at 4123 lbs (though not all that heavy considering it’s size and appointments) so we’d expect that repeated heavy use of the brakes might begin to tax them after a while. But in reality, that’s not the primary intent of this car, and even under very heavy braking, we experienced zero fade or pedal softness. Part of the Anti Lock system is Brake Assist, which can actually interpret what it feels to be a “panic” situation, and indeed apply more brake pressure than the driver is applying, all the while monitoring for and preventing lockup, to prevent a collision. In our driving, we never experienced any kind of intervention from the system, but we didn’t ever feel like we were in a panic situation, so it’s hard to tell if it will kick in under normal heavy braking.

The A6 3.0TFSI is truly a magnificent car for the driving enthusiast who happens to need a bit more space, be it for family, or things, but refuses to sacrifice performance and safety. The only problem we had with it is we don't get to keep it forever. I'd love to have one in my garage, preferrably the Avant version. Even more room, more practical and best of all, it's the best kind of car for stealthy driving.

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Saturday, July 24, 2010

VW shows off hotted-up 2011 Jetta at Waterfest


Oh so tasty. Few things on this planet push our buttons like a cleanly modified car, which is exactly why we're still drooling over the shots of the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta that VW Vortex spotted at this year's Waterfest. Ze People's automaker graced the crowd with one squeaky example of its new four-door, complete with a host of new look-faster parts, presumably pulled straight from the Volkswagen Accessories Catalog. Look closely and you'll spot a smattering of aero additions, including a reworked front bumper, sculpted side skirts and similarly sexy rear fascia. The company also threw a lip spoiler on the rear deck and bolted up a set of blacked-out wheels.

As far as we know, VW didn't lay a finger on the car's engine bay, which means that even if the Jetta is packed with the company's most potent turbo 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, we're still looking at around 200 horsepower. If it were us, we'd be hunting up an ECU reflash to eek out a few extra ponies to match the menacing looks.

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