Brabus’ Biturbo monster

Brabus LogoApparently there’s a madness in the water when it comes to the world of powerful estates. Early this year we saw the launch of Audi’s RS6 Avant, while Swedish car maker Volvo have also got in on the act with their Polestar V60 estate.

While Mercedes themselves have the AMG E63, Brabus – the German high performance aftermarket company specialising in MB, Smart and Mayback – have upped the ante with the 850 Biturbo – a 6.0L 838 bhp version of the E63 AMG.

The original wasn’t exactly underpowered but this version is bonkers – a bored 5.9L engine with forged pistons and custom crankshaft, new turbos with larger compressors, special exhaust intake manifolds and an ECU upgrade gives the beast the ability to churn out a breathtaking 838 bhp and 1,069lb ft of torque (limited to 848lb ft, to ensure ‘longevity’). 0-100 takes just 3.1 seconds with a top speed of 217 mph.

Just imagine your kids’ faces when you decide to put your foot down on the school run.

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Wiping out the wiper

Though this may be more of an issue for those unfortunates with OCD, the fact is that windscreen wipers can often be as much of a nightmare as a lifesaver.

Pictured: Not fun
Pictured: Not fun

Most of us will have been there at one stage of another; watching the wipers drag themselves across your windscreen with an unmerciful screech, dragging dirt, dust and flies backwards and forwards across the glass, leaving those horrid streaks in their wake. While this complaint may sound a little pedantic, I assure you, it certainly isn’t.

Thankfully, there may be a solution, courtesy of Science, and super car maker, McLaren. The auto company are currently working on top secret plans to make the windscreen wiper a thing of the past. Believed to be an adaptation of technology currently used on fighter jets (is there any other way of making something seem awesome?), the design will apparently involve the creation of what could and will henceforth be described as a force field of sorts (it gets better and better) across your windscreen using high frequency sound waves, meaning things like water and insects won’t be able to rest on the glass.

McLaren have said that the new system could make cars more fuel efficient with weight savings, though any savings could probably be doubled if you drove in shorts rather than trousers, or left your bag at home. The new ‘force field’ system could be in place on McLaren vehicles by 2015, and it’s thought that if it’s successful, mainstream adoption will quickly follow, as if any car design updates involving the mere mention of force fields could be anything other than hugely successful.

Now, onto the final frontier of automotive design perfection – covering that blasted gap between the visor and the rear view mirror.

Motoring – It’s all in the name

File:2006 Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder E-Gear - Flickr - The Car Spy (22).jpgFor parents, naming your kids is one of the more difficult tasks, behind actually raising them. Certain names have certain connotations – positive and negative. Like Trevor. Few people name their baby Trevor and expect big things (apologies to all the Trevors out there).

And so it is with cars. Looks are important, power is paramount, but you’re going to get a slating if the name is boring. Get it right, and you end up with something like the Dodge Viper, Porsche Carrera or the Aston Martin Vanquish, names with passion and soul. Get it wrong and you have the Mitsubishi Lettuce (seriously), the Volkswagen Thing (at least it was apt, seeing as no one knew exactly what it was supposed to be)  or the incredibly unimaginative Renault LeCar, as the Renault 5 was known in the States. Not the most inspiring of monikers – the Trevor of the autoworld, if you will.

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‘Gallardo’ probably works better on this rather than a Toyota hatchback.

Traditionally, Lamborghini is one maker that usually gets it right. We mightn’t understand what words like Diablo, Gallardo or Aventador actually mean, but damn, don’t they sound cool? And the latest model is set to follow suit – apparently the upcoming Lamborghini will bear the name Huracan, which does roll off the tongue nicely. In Spanish, it means hurricane (which it could probably outrun, given rumours of a revised 5.2L V10 with around 600 hp).  And in Mayan, Huracan – suitably – is a god of wind, storm and fire. Kind of puts the Toyota Prius into perspective, doesn’t it?

If it lives up to its name and horsepower, the new Lamborghini will probably rock you like a hurricane (sorry, couldn’t resist) and kill you in a combination of power, speed and a dizzying spin out. Still, it’s better than choking to death on a Mitsubishi Lettuce.

Volkswagen’s XL1 baffles New Yorkers, petrolheads

Drivers and onlookers around NYC today were probably wondering if some futuristic car had time-traveled from 2050, and got caught up in traffic on their way to find some trash to fuel their Mr Fusion energy reactor. Actually, and a little disappointingly, this is the VW XL1, one of the latest of a line of more unconventional vehicles from Volkswagen, which made its debut as a prototype way back in 2002 and was confirmed for production ten years later.

This isn’t the first out-there automobile from VW; the German car maker has a reputation for building limited-run, expensive cars, often at a loss, as exercises in engineering to prove a technology’s viability, like the Bugatti Veyron (€1.4 million) and the Golf Design Vision GTI (€4 million). But while the Veyron has an 8.0L 987bhp engine, and there’s 3.0L 500bhp on tap in the superpowered GTI, resulting in some pretty frequent trips to the petrol station, the XL1 is a test of a different kind. That’s because it’s a diesel-electric hybrid with an electric range of 31 miles and overall mpg figures of 261. That’s right. 261.

The Golf Design Vision GTI: this is what happens when scientists have too much time on their hands, and start feeding steroids to cars.

Got your attention now? That’s like five times better than your average run around. Take that, Prius.

Boffins at the German company have really outdone themselves this time; combining an incredibly efficient hybrid engine, a lightweight carbon fiber structure and the most aerodynamic body of any production car in existence. It has a 48 bhp two cylinder diesel engine combined with a 27 bhp electric motor and a 5.5 kWh battery, but don’t let the small figures fool you; it’s not the fastest car you’ll ever drive, and 0-60 takes around 11 seconds, but you can still cruise comfortably along at 60 miles using only 8 horsepowers. That’s actually amazing. Somebody’s surely getting a bonus.

One of the failings of many electric cars is that they’re just so damn ugly – I’m looking at you, Nissan Leaf. Hang your battery-powered head in shame. The Tesla Model S is one of the first to realise that you can have an electric car that is astoundingly good looking while using to force of electrons to whisk you from A to B. I’ll stop short of calling the XL1 a beautiful machine – sure, the front end is captivating, the best of the new Golf/Passat face glaring at you to get out of its way. But the further down you go, the less sure you are about its design – VW decided against side and rear windows to keep those mpg figures as high as they could. It’s not terrible, but it’s not great either.

It’s almost as if the designer forgot to finish his drawing, and handed it in anyway.

Apparently 50 of a 250 run have been built already, with 200 to be sold to the public in 2014. Don’t get your hopes up – the registration process closed in October and in any case, pricing starts at around €111,000. Like the Tesla Model S, Volkswagen presume the first buyers to get their hands on the XL1 will be early adopters; tech heads with plenty of money and concern for the environment. For the rest of us, we’ll just have to make do with watching our fuel gauges visibly dropping as we resolutely hang on to our love of petrol and, logically speaking, distaste of disposable income. It’s a cruel world.

Sshh! It can hear you…

Google execs in one of the first driverless cars, before it whisked them away to their doom.

As 2013 winds down and 2014 is about to swing in, let’s stop for a minute, and think about all of the cool things previous generations were sure we would have by this time. Underground cities and flying cars sadly have not yet come to pass, while hoverboards remain just out of reach. (Damn Science, what the hell have you been doing? Get your act together.)

One thing which probably didn’t crop up in people’s imagination at the time is cars that can hear. No, that’s not the beginning of an undeniably frightening horror flick, but just another part of Google’s technological dreams, dreams which will be completely pointless if they aren’t aiming towards the construction of a death star of some description.

Anyway, apparently this is now a thing. Or, at least, it will be, and not that far away in time. The tech giant, which has already designed a working driverless car, with thousands of miles of testing under its belt, has also been developing the technology that would allow a vehicle to listen to its surroundings and take control if necessary. So, for example, if you’re flying towards a beeping pedestrian crossing, and you’re intent on going through, make sure you have your seatbelt on, because one way or another the car will stop, and you could find yourself sitting on the tarmac with bits of your windshield in your face.

The idea is to complement the cameras which sit on top of Google’s driverless cars – a camera is all well and good when it can see what’s coming, but on the off chance that right around the bend is a dingling railway crossing, and you’re too busy singing along to Miley Cyrus (it could happen), this mightn’t be the worst idea.

Hats off to Google, in any case. I, for one, look forward to Skynet’s inevitable takeover when it has been insulted by a frustrated driver for the last time.

Back on the Pony

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Unveiled last Thursday at Ford’s Go Further even in Barcelona was the new Ford Ka concept, available on a global basis in 2015. For the one person at the event who had come specifically to see the Ka, they weren’t disappointed. Everyone else, meanwhile, was salivating over the official veiling of an actual proper car – the sixth generation of Ford’s iconic Mustang.

Yes indeed – the slightly mad end of Ford’s lineup has been renovated and is back on the shelves once more – this time, it’s European. Available in Irish showrooms from 2015, which will probably annoy car dealers as consumer flock for a quick nose and a few sneaky pictures before taking off again without actually buying anything, the sixth generation is the first Mustang to be sold in Europe and in correct (right) hand drive.

At the entry level is a adequately-powered 2.3L four cylinder turbocharged Ecoboost engine, carrying 309 horsepowers and 300lb ft torque. Considering the previous base version had 0-60 times of 7.3 seconds, with less power under the hood, then we expect this model to be considerably faster. Respectable enough, but when you’re buying a Mustang, you want so much power going to the wheels that the G-forces rip your face off when you stand on the accelerator. Fear not, you whose Sunday fuel budget allows for such extravagance – a mind-boggling 5.0L V8 will also be on the cards, producing a jaw dropping 426bhp and 290lb ft torque coupled with a manual/selective six speed gearbox – new drivers better allocate at least a third of their petrol budget towards new tyres.

Oddly enough, for a muscle car, this Mustang will probably be much better at going around corners than ever before, adapting to our crazy European notions of negotiating bends at speed without taking out bushes, walls and pedestrians. Usually, we just presumed a straight line was all the muscle car could handle, getting ready for an oncoming bend about a mile in advance, just to make sure. But this version will have an independent rear suspension – each wheel will work in isolation, desperately searching for as much traction as possible. So, the odd looks from the Irish public at a Mustang whizzing along the back roads will only increase when they see it actually take a bend without careening into a wall.

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Pictured – the Mustang’s presumed position after taking a bend at speed.

Will it be a success, at least over here? Ford have assured the public that it won’t look a little oversized on European roads, a little out of place, like an American tourist in a large flowery shirt wandering through Cork. Shorter in length and height, though a little wider, it’s more aggressive but not quite as bulky as its predecessor. It’s more of a hearkening back to the good ol’ days of the early sixties, when the classic Mustang was first introduced to the world as a cheap and cheerful hunk of sheet metal, muscle power for the masses to enjoy. But there’s a nod, too, towards European style; where previous Mustangs could be overly boxy to be truly successful on this side of the Atlantic, this version is sleek and toned, with angry headlights and that famous Mustang rear end – it’s quite good looking, a mix of the best of American and European design, even though Ford still can’t beat the sheer beauty of those earlier models.2015MUSTANG_SV1_9281

In the age of cars like the Toyota Prius, a horribly monstrosity which is the sum of all that is wrong with cars today, the idea of the car as something more than a box with wheels designed to get you from A to B faster than your own two feet is becoming ever rarer. That’s fine for people with absolutely zero interest in what they drive, but for the rest of us, when cars like this move towards becoming the standard, when the world becomes obsessed with smaller engines, fuel economy and range, and whether the fabric inside is really just right, that’s surely cause for despair. Soul is the ideal to which car enthusiasts aspire, and if there’s one thing the Mustang – the blue collar supercar – has in buckets, it’s soul. Most people, understandably, simply haven’t the money to buy a car like this – while the entry-level prices hopefully won’t be too far north of €40,000 (similar to Toyota’s fantastically fun GT86), the 5.0L will be considerably more, and feeding the beast will leave you fairly short in pocket change. Still, for the joy of driving around in something which makes petrolheads smile and cardiganheads growl in displeasure, that’s a small price to pay.

Swedish Madness

While the design of the Volvo has evolved over the years, from a boxy tank on wheels to something which is increasingly moving136115_4_13 toward automotive design beauty, the Swedish car brand isn’t exactly world-renowned for its sporty credentials when compared to other brands, the likes of the S60R and the earlier 850 Touring Car notwithstanding. The iconic Volvo driver is probably the school-run mum, toddling along in her nondescript Volvo estate, or older drivers who feel secure in something which would probably come out on top in a run-in with a bus.

The new Polestar V60 estate is a totally different kettle of fish however, another Volvo set to tear more shreds from the company’s sensible image. Exactly how much power does it have? If you said lots, that would be a good start.

The 2.9L engine delivers 345 horsepowers at the optimum speed, for one thing. Then there’s the 0-62 time – 4.9 seconds, for another. 155 mph limit, 369 lb ft of torque at 2,800 rpm. Lots of very impressive figures, none of which you would generally associate with a car which is also capable of carrying a load of your latest flat pack purchases from IKEA.

But it’s not just the components lurking out of sight which rail against the Volvo stereotypes – the whole design is sleeker, sharper, sportier and desirable, words not generally renowned for their use in conjunction with a Volvo estate.

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It’s not by any means the first high-powered estate from a car manufacturer, it’s not even the first this year – Audi got in ahead with their RS6, a true mechanical beast with 568hp and a 4.0L twin turbo V8. Thankfully, Volvo has recently confirmed that the Polestar V60, along with a revamped S60 saloon, will go into production. One things for sure – the school run will never be the same.

Our response? Mental. We’ll take two.