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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bentley Considers S-Tronic Technology for Upcoming V8 Continental

Bentley is considering equipping its future V8-powered Continental GT variant with a dual-clutch transmission that sister-company Audi badges as S-Tronic.

Bentley's engineers are doing engineering studies on the feasibility of packaging the S-Tronic into the Continental's transmission tunnel.

The major challenge is re-engineering and producing the GT's underbody and running gear to accept the S-Tronic, which is a different shape than that of the six-speed ZF that the W12 GT will employ.

The dual-clutch transmission could benefit enthusiasts by delivering a sportier driving experience, which Bentley says will suit the new group of buyers expected to buy the V8 GT.

“The V8 will find a new audience for us,” says Bentley's new sales and marketing boss Alasdair Stewart. “There are sports-car enthusiasts out there, particularly in the U.S., who won't buy a sports car unless it's powered by a V8.”

The price of the V8 is likely to be just less than the £135,000 ($213,000) W12, although the figure has yet to be finalized.

On sale in early 2012, the V8 will help Bentley maintain sales of the new GT at the same level as that of the outgoing model, which peaked at about 5,000 cars a year. With sales falling away in the recession, Bentley said it expects to make as many of the new car as the old one, thanks to the addition of the V8.

The company is also defining the next-gen four-door Flying Spur, which is scheduled for launch in late 2012 or early 2013. The Chinese market, with its requirement for generous rear legroom, is likely to dictate a model very similarly proportioned model to today's model. China alone takes up to 40 percent of Spur production.


Monday, October 11, 2010

2011 Kawasaki ZX-10R Unveiled

The wraps come off the baddest Ninja yet!

We’ve seen it, sat on it, and heard it run! Kawasaki has unleashed a potent new literbike weapon in the form of the 2011 ZX-10R.
This is not a warmed-over version of the existing 10R – it’s a ground-up redesign with virtually zero carry-over parts. More power and less weight (22 lbs is the target) are naturally part of the package, but less expected is a new traction-control system that is claimed to be the most sophisticated on the market and comes as standard equipment.
The result is a bike said to be a huge 2 seconds quicker around Autopolis than the 2010 edition in back-to-back testing on identical tires on the same day. This indicates it has the potential to turn better lap times than its literbike competitors.
Cap: The 2011 Kawasaki ZX-10R looks especially sinister in its black version. It’s a new favorite among Japanese sportbike design.
Cap: The 2011 Kawasaki ZX-10R looks especially sinister in its black version. It’s a new favorite among Japanese sportbike design.
The Ninja’s list of new technology is a lengthy one, so we’ll go through all the detail changes in categories.
S-KTRC (Sport-Kawasaki Traction Control)
With S-KTRC, Kawasaki becomes the first Japanese manufacturer to deliver a race-bred traction-control system to the masses. As an evolution from what was learned on the MotoGP stage, Kawasaki points out that this traction-control system has been developed “to help riders push harder on the track by maximizing acceleration.”
Whereas the KTRC on the Concours 14 is designed primarily for safety, the S-KTRC helps reduce lap times by allowing a certain amount of slip before intervening. As long as “effective traction” is maintained, the TC will still allow power slides and wheelies.
Kawasaki’s sophisticated new S-KTRC traction control is standard equipment on the 2011 ZX-10R.
Kawasaki’s sophisticated new S-KTRC traction control is standard equipment on the 2011 ZX-10R.
Wheel-speed sensors are a key component of OEM TC systems, but S-KTRC does without an accelerometer (Ducati) or a gyro bank-angle input (BMW). The Kawi system (in development for five years) uses a Mitsubishi ECU to monitor engine speed, throttle position, acceleration rate and comparative wheel speeds to judge the bike’s slip angle, retarding ignition timing if the tires need to be reined back in. Data points are examined an incredible 200 times per second! By doing without accelerometer or bank-angle sensors, S-KTRC has no fixed maps, so the TC is able to adapt to modifications like exhaust systems or engine tweaks.
Kawasaki claims its TC system is so sophisticated that it can predict when traction conditions “are about to become unfavorable,” so it can engage mildly before slippage exceeds the range for optimal traction, minimizing harsh intervention.
Three levels of TC can be dialed in from handlebar switchgear, even while moving, and it can be switched off (while stopped) if you’re especially brave. Your chosen TC setting is stored in memory – like the Ronco Rotisserie, just set it and forget it!
The bottom of the new gauge pack has a 7-section bar-graph display showing the amount of TC intervention. Jeff Herzog, Kawasaki’s senior media relations coordinator and a former racer, said he saw only one bar light up during a full-throttle corner exit over a racetrack’s curb. “You’ll be amazed how often you’ll be able to use full throttle,” he says.
All-New Powerplant
With BMW’s S1000RR blowing away the competition in terms of horsepower, Kawasaki has a lofty target to reach.
Despite what you may have read elsewhere, the new 10R does not have a big-bang firing order, nor horizontal cylinders or variable valve timing. Nevertheless, this is sure to be a potent Japanese literbike engine. The focus was to increase power throughout the midrange to make it more manageable in a variety of conditions.
Kawasaki has reconfigured its inline-Four layout by moving the clutch’s input shaft much higher than previous. This enabled the crankshaft to be raised slightly, further moving the center of mass higher. Contrary to popular belief, a lower CoG isn’t always desirable on a motorcycle, and Kawi claims improved mass centralization and the higher spinning mass provides greater agility.
This diagram shows the relationship between the crankshaft (on right) and the input (clutch) and output shafts. The green triangle shows the 2011 configuration with the input shaft now above the output shaft, which remains in the same place as in 2010.
This diagram shows the relationship between the crankshaft (on right) and the input (clutch) and output shafts. The green triangle shows the 2011 configuration with the input shaft now above the output shaft, which remains in the same place as in 2010.
To squeeze out maximum power, engineers at Team K offset the connecting rod centerline 2mm toward the exhaust side from the bore center. This places less lateral loads on the pistons, reducing power loss due to friction. This process requires labor-intensive torque plates to bore the cylinders accurately.
The crankshaft is now made of a harder material to handle big power. New short-skirt pistons are lighter by nearly 6 grams, offset by stronger con-rods that add about 20 grams but help damp vibration. A single-shaft secondary balancer is said to have its vibration-damping parts simplified for less weight, yet it works well enough to enable the size of the handlebar weights to be reduced, contributing to improved steering response.
Much work was put into the new cylinder head, including 1mm larger titanium intake valves and wider intake ports with a polished finish for smooth flow. Diameters of the titanium exhaust valves remain unchanged, but the exhaust port layout is completely new. New camshafts offer increased lift on both the intake and exhaust sides, and they have changed from cast-iron construction to chromoly steel with a lapping treatment said to offer increased durability and to allow stronger valve springs.
The 10R’s 76.0mm bore and 55.0mm stroke are retained, but the rev limit has been lifted from 13,000 to 13,750 rpm. Peak torque now arrives higher up the rev zone, which is said to eliminate dips earlier in the powerband.
The 2011 ZX-10R. Note the pronounced beak that extends well past the front axle and the thin-spoke wheels that shave nearly 2 lbs of unsprung mass.
The 2011 ZX-10R. Note the pronounced beak that extends well past the front axle and the thin-spoke wheels that shave nearly 2 lbs of unsprung mass.
The 6-speed transmission has mildly juggled primary- and final-drive gear ratios that yield closer steps between gears 4 and 6. Racers will appreciate the new cassette design that greatly simplifies trackside gearing changes. A slipper clutch continues, likely still excellent.
The Ninja’s ram-air intake is closer to the bike’s nose for greater ramming effectiveness, with air traveling through the frame’s steering head to a larger airbox and a more efficient air cleaner that pledge better breathing. Larger fuel-injection throttle bodies (from 43mm to 47mm) promise more power and are fitted with sub-throttle valves and dual injectors. A new Idle Speed Control valve is borrowed from Jet Ski technology to automatically adjust idle speed and offer easier starts while helping pass emissions regulations.
This beautiful exhaust header is made of lightweight titanium and is claimed to have nearly the same diameter and length as factory racing headers, so a simple aftermarket slip-on muffler should yield a better-than-typical performance boost.
This beautiful exhaust header is made of lightweight titanium and is claimed to have nearly the same diameter and length as factory racing headers, so a simple aftermarket slip-on muffler should yield a better-than-typical performance boost.
Getting spent fuel out of the engine is the responsibility of a lovely header made from a heat-resistant titanium alloy that offers better durability than standard titanium. Aft of the free-flowing header’s hydroformed collectors is a stainless-steel pre-chamber that includes two catalyzers and an exhaust valve. This under-engine chamber allows a reasonably small stainless-steel muffler on the right side.
As is becoming standard on high-performance motorcycles, the new ZX-10R’s power production can be set to various levels that can be selected on the fly. The Low setting delivers 50-60% of maximum. The Middle setting is interesting. It clips power to about 75% of max output, as you might expect, but full power can be temporarily accessed based on throttle position and “usage.” We were shown a chart in which peak power in Middle can climb as high as Full at the upper rev zone, which sounds far more entertaining than the intermediate setting on some other power-mode systems. Unlike the S1000RR, the power setting can be set independently of thetraction control.
Chassis and Frame
The Ninja’s aluminum-beam perimeter frame is a departure from the previous bike’s over-the-engine design, resulting in a more direct line from the steering head to the swingarm pivot that is purported to offer higher levels of feedback and enhanced stability when cornering. Built from cast-aluminum pieces, the nicely finished frame requires less welding and has high rigidity with minimal wall thickness.
An Ohlins steering damper thwarts any instability caused by the Ninja’s sharper steering geometry. Note the pair of damping adjusters atop the Showa BPF fork tubes.
An Ohlins steering damper thwarts any instability caused by the Ninja’s sharper steering geometry. Note the pair of damping adjusters atop the Showa BPF fork tubes.
Similarly, the 10R’s swingarm is assembled from three cast aluminum pieces and has a high-quality look. Going against the fashionably long swingarm trend, the Kawasaki’s is said to be shorter than its competitors.
The old ZX-10R (ZX1000F) had the laziest steering geometry in its class, so it was tightened up on the new 10R (ZX1000J/K) to aid the bike’s agility. The steering rake is clipped from 25.5 degrees to a more typical 25.0 degrees, with trail also slightly reduced (3mm) to 107mm. Just as important to the J/K’s new nimbleness, says Kawi, is the engine’s higher center of gravity, explaining that it is now easier to load the front tire for better traction and feedback. The wheelbase stretches 10mm to 56.1 inches, but it can be shortened 16mm if the exhaust’s under-engine pre-chamber and two links of the chain are removed.
Weight has been shaved everywhere, including a lighter battery and ECU, contributing to a 22-lb weight loss to a stated 436.6-lb wet weight. This matches the class lightweight, the Honda CBR1000RR, and makes it 16 lbs lighter than the S1000RR.
A new shock arrangement offers shelter from exhaust heat, stabilizing its damping performance.
A new shock arrangement offers shelter from exhaust heat, stabilizing its damping performance.
Up front is a 43mm version of Showa’s recent Big Piston Fork, a design we appreciated when testing it on the 2009 ZX-6R. It provides an onset of damping earlier in its stroke to enhance stability during maximum braking, and it weighs less than a conventional cartridge fork. Like any modern literbike, the 10R’s suspension is adjustable for preload, compression and rebound.
The rear suspension also incorporates some innovation, as the monoshock is placed nearly horizontal compared to the upright unit on the previous bike. Kawasaki says this back-link design contributes to mass-centralization efforts and somehow provides more feedback. It also frees up room for a larger under-engine pre-muffler chamber, enabling a smaller primary silencer, and also features a piggyback reservoir and dual-range compression-damping adjustability.
The suspension will have an easier job thanks to lightweight gravity-cast wheels. The 3-spoke designs offer immense reductions in unsprung weight: 330 grams less up front; and 490 grams in the rear. That adds up to a huge 1.8 lbs less rotating mass!
The Ninja’s rider triangle has been tweaked slightly but significantly. The seat height drops 17mm to 32.0 inches, and the handlebars have a reduced downslope for improved comfort. The footpegs are 5mm lower and 2mm forward, and an adjustable mounting allows them to be placed a further 15mm lower for greater legroom.
Adjustable footpeg mounts provide 15mm extra legroom in their lower position while still having plenty of ground clearance for street riding.
Adjustable footpeg mounts provide 15mm extra legroom in their lower position while still having plenty of ground clearance for street riding.
A combination of LCD and LED displays make up what is one of the trickest gauge packs in the industry. At the top is a bar-graph tachometer lit by LEDs, a first on a mass-production bike. The LED illumination is massively brighter than any LCD display, so it is easily visible even in direct sunlight. How bright? The illumination is automatically reduced by 92% at night so it doesn’t blind a rider. In comparison, the brightness of the LDC panel is reduced at night by only 60%. The tach’s LEDs flash when revs reach the adjustable shift point selected by the rider, impossible not to notice.
The LCD panel relays scads of info, including the digital speedometer, dual tripmeters, coolant temperature and clock. Also to be monitored are the power-mode setting, S-KTRC levels, gear position and lap times. An Eco mode appears when you’re riding the 10R like a granny.
Bright LEDs make up the bar-graph tachometer. A host of other information is transmitted via the LCD cluster below.
Bright LEDs make up the bar-graph tachometer. A host of other information is transmitted via the LCD cluster below.
Track riders will appreciate the gauges ability to be switched into Race Mode. This replaces speed with gear position at the center position, flanked by lap times on the left (instead of odometer) and speed on the lower right (instead of the clock).
We’ve seen the new ZX-10R in the flesh, and we consider it to be the most attractive 10R ever. The overall shape is chiseled but sleek, with a pointy beak anchored by a centrally located ram-air duct and flanked by sinister-looking line-beam headlights. A nice touch is a 3-bulb LED position lamp at the top of the ram-air duct.
LEDs also provide lighting for the front turnsignals incorporated into the mirrors and the 9-bulb taillight. European ZXs get rear turnsignals faired into the diminutive tailsection, but the DOT forces our bikes to get traditional stalk-mounted clear-lens signals.
Twin line-beam headlights bookend a voracious ram-air duct, capped off by a slick LED positioning lamp.
Twin line-beam headlights bookend a voracious ram-air duct, capped off by a slick LED positioning lamp.
KIBS (Kawasaki Intelligent anti-lock Brake System)
Kawasaki Intelligent anti-lock Brake System is a $1000 option.
Kawasaki Intelligent anti-lock Brake System is a $1000 option.
Although many sportbike riders aren’t yet sold on the idea of ABS, KIBS, a “supersport-grade” system, might change some minds. This is allegedly the first ABS-equipped bike in which the fuel-injection ECU communicates with the ABS computer, taking inputs from the bike’s many sensors to make the system operate as seamlessly as possible.
Kawi says typical ABS ECUs operate at a 100-millisecond rate, but its unit blazes at just 5 ms. This yields precise control of brake pressure, avoiding the unpleasant sensation of freewheeling when the anti-lock control kicks in, and Kawasaki promises smooth feedback at the lever. A $1000 option, this new Bosch ABS unit is said to be the world’s smallest and lightest, adding only 6 lbs.
Four-piston Tokico radial-mount calipers bite on 310mm petal-shaped discs, whether equipped with ABS or not. A 220mm rear disc is squeezed by a small single-piston caliper.
The 2011 ZX-10R might be the most important sportbike to be introduced this year. Its all-new design offers a huge number of advancements over the previous 10R (last extensively revamped in 2008). Pre-launch track testing reveals it to be significantly quicker against the earlier generation, which was no slouch, and it also offers important improvements in comfort, instrumentation and curb appeal.
But the talking point most likely to be discussed is the S-KTRC traction control, noteworthy for its alleged sophistication and for being the first Japanese bike to have a performance-grade TC system. Also remarkable is that S-KTRC is standard equipment.
Yep, we already had a chance to try on the 2011 ZX-10R for size. We like the new ergo layout and appreciate footpegs that can be lowered when not mach-ing down the Corskscrew.
Yep, we already had a chance to try on the 2011 ZX-10R for size. We like the new ergo layout and appreciate footpegs that can be lowered when not mach-ing down the Corskscrew.
All this freshly hatched technology can be had for $13,799 when the bikes hit dealers by early December. We can’t wait to test it for ourselves to see if it’s ready to take on the S1000RR for our Sportbike of the Year honors.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Freshened Nissan GT-R gets more power

The mid-life refresh of the storming Nissan GT-R will feature a power increases as well as slightly updated styling and new interior trim options.

Nissan is keeping details of the extra power to itself, although rumors imply it might grow to more than 500 hp. The design tweaks are intended to flow more cooling air into the engine bay, which suggests the power might rise substantially.

The aerodynamics are also improved with a new front air dam, rear bumper and diffuser.

The nose of the GT-R now looks much higher quality with well-finished carbon-fiber inserts in the grille, new brake-cooling ducts and LED daylight running lights.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

First Look: Lotus' New Elite

Lotus further reinvents itself with a 612-HP grand tourer, set to go on sale in 2014.

Lotus Cars is giving us a first look at the Elite — a V8-powered, folding-hardtop grand tourer with an optional hybrid powertrain that Lotus says will go on sale in 2014. TheLotus Elite gets a public debut at this year's Paris Motor Show.
Under the hood of the 2+2 Elite is a 5.0-liter gasoline V8, rated at 612 horsepower and 531 lb-ft of torque driving the rear wheels. The engine has an 8,500-rpm limit and will push the car from 0 to 62 mph in 3.5 seconds to 3.7 seconds, Lotus says. Top speed is 195 mph.
The optional hybrid uses a kinetic-energy-recovery system, similar to the setup used in Formula One racing.
Lotus says the Elite measures 181.1 inches long, 74.8 inches wide and 52 inches tall, and the car weighs 3,638 pounds.
Production of the Lotus Elite will start in early 2014, Lotus says. It put an expected retail price of £115,000, or about $179,000 at current exchange rates, on the car.
In a press release, Group Lotus CEO Dany Bahar said: "There's no denying that the Elite is breathtakingly beautiful to look at, but it's so much more than that. It's a car that overdelivers in all other aspects as well. One could say it's a car of perfect contradictions: It's compact yet spacious, high performing yet low emitting, lightweight yet still reassuringly solid. It's a car that we are exceptionally proud of at Lotus and we truly believe that there is nothing else like it out there both in terms of styling and performance.
"Make no mistake, there's a definite market requirement for the Elite — it's the ultimate sports car feel with comfort and space. There will always be those who believe that Lotus should stick to small sports cars, but we didn't take the decision to design something like the Elite lightly. It's based on months of careful research and planning. It's worth noting this sector has been very successful for us in the past, and now the Elite raises the benchmark higher still."

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

BMW and Hyundai Get Top Safety Rating

The 2011 BMW 5-Series and Hyundai Sonata earn the first 5-star safety rating under the NHTSA's strict new standards.

The 2011 BMW 5-Series and the Hyundai Sonata were the first two cars to achieve five-star ratings under the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration'srevised safety ratingsannounced on Tuesday.
The NHTSA will rate a total of 24 cars, 20 SUVs, 9 pickups and 2 vans for the 2011 model year.
The federal agency has significantly modified its rating process and will now grade side-pole testing and crash-prevention technologies such as lane-departure warning and electronic stability control.
Female crash-test dummies were also used for the first time. Additionally, NHTSA will compile an overall score which combines frontal, side and rollover results and compares them with the average risk of injury and rollover potential of other rides.
“With our upgraded five-star safety-ratings system, we're raising the bar on safety” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. “Through new tests, better crash data and higher standards, we are making the safety ratings tougher and more meaningful for consumers.”
The Nissan Versa got the lowest score and was the only vehicle to earn a total rating of two stars.
BMW said it was pleased that its technology-laden sedan earned the coveted recognition from NHTSA.
“The performance of the new 5-Series in these tough new tests reflects BMW's long-held belief in a holistic approach to vehicle safety that places equal emphasis on active and passive safety,” Jim O'Donnell, president of BMW of North America, said in a statement.
The 2011 Sonata is dramatic step forward for Hyundai with new styling and turbo and hybrid variants that complement the base four-cylinder engine.
“The Sonata furthers our commitment to safety with a suite of equipment and third-party test results that are unsurpassed in the category,” Hyundai Motor America president John Krafcik said in a statement.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Paris Auto Show: Electric Cars Create Buzz


It seems just about every carmaker at the Paris motor show had an electric car on the stand, and some had nothing but electric cars. The show floor was buzzing with them.

Big manufacturers showed models with production possibilities while whacky little companies you've never heard of promised to revolutionize transportation with EVs as eclectic and diverse as human imagination.

The one that got the de facto Best EV of Show was the Renault DeZir. With scissor doors and a low, swoopy shape, as Renault said, "DeZir stands out as an illustration of the brand's commitment to more emotional styling."

That might be an understatement.

Perhaps more exciting than the styling is the DeZir's connection to production vehicles. It uses a motor and a 24-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery similar to that found in the Nissan Leaf but tuned for greater performance. Zero to 60 mph comes up in five seconds and top speed is 112 mph. All of that with a range of 100 miles. While the body is Kevlar and the frame is tubular steel, it is similar to the body used in the Megane Trophy race car. Same with the double-wishbone suspension front and rear. Imagine a Tesla built by Nissan/Renault for a price well below that of the Tesla's six figures. EVs would suddenly become cool.

Far less sexy but also Leaf-related was the Nissan Townpod, a rounded-off, Leaf-sized design study in EV chic. With hinged rear doors and a disappearing rear seat, the Townpod is a little more versatile than the Leaf. It's just a concept for now, but maybe it hints at a small electric commercial vehicle in Nissan's future. That's just our speculation. A couple Nissan Leafs (Leaves?) were also on hand.

Kia Pop. (Photo by Mark Vaughn.)The Kia Pop concept is far less practical, with side windows that look like designer salvage bits from a '60s space pod and proportions of something you'd see in a petri dish. The chrome exterior and the three purple seats also help set it apart. Its 18-kilowatt-hour lithium-polymer-gel battery makes 68 hp and zwips it to a top speed of 87 mph.

As striking as the Pop was, it actually had some competition at the Paris show from the similarly wacky Peugeot Bbl, a strikingly proportioned EV that debuted last year at Frankfurt.

Another earlier debut also shown was the Citroën Survolt, a 300-hp, 150-mph, two-seat carbon-fiber racer first shown at Geneva but which has since been finished and driven by some Euro press members (and not, unfortunately, by us).

Mercedes-Benz is leasing its A-class E-Cell to select customers in Europe. A 36-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack powers the 95-hp motor and takes the E-Cell to a top speed of 93 mph, enough to safely traverse das autobahnen. Range is 124 miles. No U.S. plans were announced.

Mercedes also unveiled a new version of its Smart Fortwo electric car, this one with solar roof panels that Benz claims extend useful range by 10 percent.

The EV most likely to populate European streets first was the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, offered not only by Mitsubishi but by partners Citroën and Peugeot. The tiny four-seater is perfect for Parisian commuters with a small turning radius, short overall length, a decent range of 50 to 70 miles and a relatively lightweight 16 kilowatt-hour battery pack for efficiency. Peugeot and Citroën finally got decent, pronounceable names for the car, too: Peugeot calls its i-MiEV the ion and Citroën calls its version the C-Zero.

Mitsubishi said it wants to sell the car in 16 countries priced between 30,000 and 35,000 euros, which is higher than the U.S. price of less than $30,000 before the massive government rebates. U.S. buyers get their i-MiEVs in about a year.

Volvo showed an electric C30, of which it will make about 250 for mostly European fleet use by this summer. A few will make it to U.S. fleets. In keeping with the company's safety image, Volvo did full crash tests on five electric C30s, which had to be reconfigured to fit underbody battery packs and to swap out the usual front-mounted internal-combustion engine. All C30 EVs meet European NCAP safety standards. The battery pack is 24 kilowatt-hours, which should give it a range of more than 100 miles. Considering how cold it gets in Sweden, Volvo addressed the climate problem by including a separate heater that runs on ethanol.

Renault Twizy. (Photo by Mark Vaughn.)Renault showed new and old versions of its ultra-stylish Twizy electric concepts.

Saab showed an electric 9-3 wagon called the ePower.

Tesla was on hand with a pair of roadsters.

And there were electric scooters from Mini, Smart and Peugeot.

Venturi unveiled an open-topped "buggy" version of its 300-plus-hp carbon-fiber Fetish electric roadster supercar first seen in 2004. Venturi plans to announce details of its Columbus, Ohio, engineering and production facilities at the Detroit auto show. The company's goals include vehicles more affordable than the Fetish's 300,000 euro price. Also on display was a Venturi land-speed car that hit 286 mph at Bonneville.

Then there was Hall 3 of the Porte de Versailles, which was packed with many, many offbeat, sometimes quirky interpretations of what an electric vehicle could be. Funding? Production? Crash testing? There were too many cars and carmakers here to sort through all those details. But we had a look at several of them.

We liked the Lumeneo Smera, a four-wheeled enclosed tandem two-seater, the front half of which leaned into corners like a motorcycle. The company also had a four-seater enclosed EV called the Neoma.

Tazzari Electric had several uprightly styled two-seaters. Matra had a GEM-like four-seater. We loved the looks and practicality of the Mega Multitruck EV. Ligier had several small commuter cars for use en ville as well as a large (relatively large) people hauler.

So whatever the future holds, at least part of it will be electric. We hope the fun and stylish cars we saw at Paris make it to our shores someday.

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Monday, October 4, 2010

2011 BMW 5-Series — Review


MSRP Price Range:$44,550 - $59,700
Invoice Price Range:$40,985 - $54,925
Price With Options:3 Trims Available
MSN Ratings & Reviews

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MSN Autos Rating:N/ARead Reviews

Rating: 9.1

Bottom Line:

BMW has succeeded in making its all-new, midsize sport-luxury sedan bigger, more comfortable and more practical but nonetheless more agile and still truly elegant.
  • Superb handling and ride
  • Faultless driving ergonomics
  • Styling at once modern and classic
  • Brake modulation a little abrupt
  • Some iDrive menus still confusing
  • Electric steering could have more feel

The welterweight 5-Series is at the very core of BMW's model portfolio and, together with the 3-Series and 1-Series, generates more than half of the German carmaker's profits. Yet the all-new, sixth-generation BMW 5-Series sedan has more in common than ever with its range-topping 7-Series sibling, including all-new multilink front suspension members. It was effectively developed on the same architecture, shares many components and will be built in the same plant in Dingolfing, Germany. It even looks like a trimmer 7, but only at first glance. The 535i we drove at the car's launch in Portugal is slightly bigger and rides on a noticeably longer wheelbase than its predecessor. It nonetheless proves impressively agile, stable and refined. In fact, this new 5-Series sedan is the best-handling, best-riding and most comfortable ever, and might just be the cream of the current crop of midsize luxury sedans.
Model Lineup
The first two sixth-generation 5-Series iterations will arrive here in the U.S. in June 2010. The 535i is powered by a revamped 3.0-liter 300-horsepower turbocharged inline six, and the 550i by a twin-turbo 4.4-liter 400-horse V8. Both are rear-wheel drive and will be delivered with a 6-speed manual gearbox — an exclusive trait in this segment. An all-new 8-speed automatic gearbox is optional. Coming later in the fall will be all-wheel-drive xDrive versions and a 528i that gets a naturally aspirated 240-horsepower 3.0-liter inline six.
A bit bigger than its predecessor, the 2010 5-Series has grown by 1.8 inches in length and about half an inch in width, and rides on a wheelbase stretched by a full 3.1 inches. The front and rear wheel tracks have increased by 1.7 inches. Since the new 5 is also 0.16 inch lower, it looks longer and slimmer. The front view is more squat and aggressive, with larger "twin-kidney" grilles inspired by the CS Concept and current 7-Series; on the other hand, the rear view evokes the 3-Series. The aerodynamic drag coefficient is unchanged for the 535i, at 0.29.
BMW upped the tech quotient in the new 5, positioning it toe-to-toe with its chief rival, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Some new systems are a surprise, given BMW's traditional emphasis on driving dynamics: Parking Assistant lets the car back itself into a space; Top View cameras show all that surrounds it; Frontal Collision Warning can apply the brakes by itself; Active Cruise Control can stop the car completely and get it going again in traffic. You can also get Blind Spot and Lane Departure warning systems, a neat heads-up display and BMW's Night Vision system.
Larger dimensions, technical changes and additional equipment have brought weight increases of 55 and 177 pounds for the manual and automatic versions, respectively, in spite of more extensive use of high-strength steel and lightweight aluminum components. The body structure is also substantially stiffer overall. Torsional rigidity, for instance, is 55 percent greater than in the previous model, which benefits passive safety, handling and ride quality.
Under the Hood
The 535i's new N55 engine is BMW's first inline six to combine turbocharging, direct injection and Valvetronic technology. Most conspicuously, it gets a larger turbocharger with two separate scrolls in place of the previous twin turbos. This is said to improve efficiency and reduce fuel consumption and emissions substantially. The 3.0-liter power plant develops 300 horsepower at 5800 rpm and 295 lb-ft of torque from 1200 to 5000 rpm. BMW is projecting zero to 60 mph sprints in less than six seconds.
A forced-induction engine is now also under the hood of the 550i, where a twin-turbocharged direct-injection 4.4-liter V8 replaces the naturally aspirated 4.8-liter unit. It carries the two twin-scroll turbos and catalytic converters between its cylinder banks, which reduces the distance to the cylinders for better response and efficiency while making the engine more compact. The new V8 produces 400 horsepower from 5500 rpm and 450 lb-ft of torque from 1800 to 4500 rpm for zero to 60 mph times of less than five seconds.
Inner Space
On the driver's side, the cockpit wraps around you without feeling narrow or confining. Accessible controls let you adjust the well-sculpted seat 10 ways, fine-tune your driving position and save the settings easily. The wheel is electrically adjustable in height and reach, with redundant controls for the audio system, onboard settings and cruise control. The rim's size, shape and texture are impeccable.
BMW pioneered driver-oriented instruments and controls long ago, and the new 5-Series rekindles this practice with controls that are angled toward the driver by about 7 degrees. The design and control layout are straightforward. No revolution here.
Speaking of which, the fourth-generation iDrive interface has been improved with the addition of separate buttons for main functions, contradicting its original intent. The standard display screen is 7 inches across, and you get a superb 10.2-inch screen with an optional navigation system that is nicely complemented by an available heads-up display. Its various menus are still too fragmented and needlessly complex, though.
The rear seat offers an extra half-inch of knee room, and you can get a 60/40 split-folding seatback, a pass-through and a ski bag as options. Trunk volume is up appreciably, to a class-leading 18.2 cubic feet, easily bettering the Mercedes E-Class and Audi A6's 15.9 cubic feet. The new 5 can also be equipped with a rear-seat infotainment system. You get a pair of 8-inch screens or larger 9.2-inch units that play independently with the Professional system.
On the Road
A multilink front suspension is a significant change from the strut-based system the 5 used for almost four decades. Its multilink rear suspension also gets a fifth link that connects upper and lower links. Also new is electric power steering, a segment first that can be combined with BMW's revised active steering system option, which provides more natural action at lower speeds.
In effect, the 4-wheel electric power steering enhances maneuverability at lower speeds and aids stability at speeds above 35 mph. It works like a charm. Another option is the Sport package, which includes Driving Dynamics Control. This one lets you pick among Normal, Sport and Sport+ driving modes. It changes steering, engine and suspension settings in conjunction with the electronically adjusted shock absorbers and anti-roll bars.
The new 5-Series sedans also get an electronic limited-slip differential and a full array of systems to optimize the action of their four disc brakes. These include ABS; Stability, Cornering and Dynamic brake control systems; brake fade compensation, Standby and Drying modes; and Automatic Hold, which prevents rollback on inclines. BMW adds an Adaptive Brake Lights mode, which activates the new LED rear light clusters more intensely in hard braking and when ABS is active.
The result is class-leading agility and balance, in the best BMW tradition. The 535i we drove during the launch had the optional Sport package and active steering. Handling is commendably composed and the ride serene in Normal mode. Punching in the Sport mode sharpens the steering and suspension response. The Sport+ mode pushes shift points a little too high for road driving, but you want it on a track. The 535i displayed minimal understeer and great poise during the dozen laps we drove around the famed Estoril circuit in Portugal. The 3.0-liter engine is a bit underwhelming in this environment; the added punch of the 550i's V8 would be noticed here.
Right for You?
BMW has virtually squared the circle by making its new sixth-generation 5-Series sedan bigger, roomier, better-equipped and more refined than ever before, while further improving its standard-setting dynamics. It also looks the part entirely, its elegant lines and chiseled features belying increased girth. The challenge now is to make this sharp new 5-Series as competitive in price as it is on the road against its direct German rivals.
A professional auto journalist for more than 25 years and the founding editor of Sympatico / MSN Autos, MarcLachapelle is a two-time winner of the Canadian Journalist of the Year award from the Automobile JournalistsAssociation of Canada, an accomplished photographer and licensed racer.