Monday, May 5, 2008

IFP creates a mild hybrid Smart that uses natural gas

The Institut Français du Pétrole (IFP, French Oil Institute), has introduced a natural gas-powered car which reduces its CO2 emissions down to 84 g/km. The prototype, called Vehgan, was made from a standard older model Smart Fortwo with several technologies added to reduce fuel consumption. First of all, there is a downsized engine which uses a turbo and an intercooler, in this case, optimized for use with natural gas. Then, the powertrain is mated to a Valeo StARS 14V+X hybrid system, for which the IFP developed a new management process to minimize fuel consumption. This mild hybrid system has a Start&Stop function and features regenerative braking.

The car has a range of about 200 km (120 miles), but the composite-made gas reservoirs don't affect the vehicle interior. IFP expects future developments to reduce CO2 emissions down to 80 g/km. That would be 32 percent less than the standard gasoline version. Oh, and let's mention that despite Smart being a German brand, the factory that makes these cars is in France

Thieves: No gearbox? No problem!

Car thieves are a resourceful lot. Despite whatever technical wizardry automakers incorporate to thwart them, they find a way. Of course, they don't just go after the new stuff. Older cars are fair game, too -- many of which are bereft of those pesky security systems the bad guys are masters at defeating anyway. Suppose, however, your car was sitting outside without a gearbox. That's gotta be enough to keep it from getting swiped, right? As the Scottish owner of an unknown-vintage Ford Grenada Scorpio learned this week, it is indeed not enough. The lack of a gearbox did nothing to deter thieves, who police believe simply towed the car away one day earlier this week. Hey, it's common practice for some regular folks bring a trailer when they go to pick up a car they've bought, so why not thieves? It's like the same thing, minus the whole "buying" part. Any U.S. readers who own Merkur Scorpios, take note and keep your heads on a swivel. These guys might have passports.

NICE predicts electric car sales increase under new London mayor

Now that the city of London has voted out "red Ken" in favor of Conservative candidate Boris Johnson, it is expected that the congestion charge scheme may undergo some changes. One electric car company, NICE (No Internal Combustion Engine), is showing no fear and is sounding positive about the future with their new mayor. They are even predicting increased business in the coming year. Julian Wilford, co-founder of the London-based company, states, "We know that Boris recognises the many benefits of owning an electric car," in a press release that extends an invitation to the politician to give their shop a visit as well as discuss their upcoming plans. Perhaps they read his "colorful" opinion piece in the Telegraph in defense of that other London-centric electric car, the G-Wiz. And what of those future plans? They plan on adding yet more models to their already-varied vehicle line-up which includes the Vectrix and Mega Multi Truck. For more a more detailed look into the future hit the jump for the press release. Continue reading NICE predicts electric car sales increase under new London mayor

Subaru Forester

  • Rating:
  • On the road price: £17,995 - £21,895
  • For : Permanent four-wheel-drive, very solid and spacious
  • Against : Uninspiring looks, disappointing drive, below-par engine

For now, the Forester comes with only one engine option – a 148bhp 2.0-litre flat-four petrol that, despite its power output, sounds and feels strained. It has neither the low-down grunt or top-end fizz to make the Forester entertaining, and it’s even worse when mated to the erratic four-speed automatic. The five-speed manual is the better option. The handling also lacks sparkle. The finesse of the Impreza-based permanent four-wheel-drive chassis shines through occasionally, but there’s too much body roll and pitch through the corners. At least it cruises quietly on motorways.

Subaru shocked us with the launch of the current-generation Forester. The all-new model takes on the appearance of an SUV, rather than the previous version's rugged estate car look. Mainstream appeal is what Subaru says it is chasing – while hoping that the move won’t alienate traditional buyers. Hawk-eye headlights and blistered ridges above the wheelarches are a nod towards individuality, but the overall design is lacking inspiration. Offered in either X or XS trim, The Forester badly needs the forthcoming 2.0-litre turbodiesel boxer engine. At present it struggles to compete with rivals including the Skoda Octavia Scout and Volkswagen Passat estate 4MOTION - not to mention base versions of the Honda CR-V, Ford Kuga, Volkswagen Tiguan and Toyota RAV4.

Inside, the Forester uses the same dashboard from the Impreza. It is hard and scratchy, but there is no question mark hanging over the Forester’s build quality. It feels solid and enduring, as all Subarus do. Equipment levels are good for the money and, courtesy of a longer, wider and taller body, it offers more space inside than ever, too. Subaru has stretched service intervals and given the Forester very competitive list prices. It’s just a shame the company can’t do anything about the petrol engine’s high fuel consumption and poor CO2 figure.

GM already working on second E-Flex vehicle for Opel (and Saturn?)

Following his speech to the Commonwealth Club a few days ago, GM CEO Rick Wagoner apparently told reporters that a second E-Flex platform vehicle was also under development at the company's Warren MI technical center alongside the Chevy Volt. This second ER-EV is destined for the Opel (and presumably Saturn) brand. Following the debut of the Volt in January 2007, GM has shown two other E-Flex concepts, the Opel/Saturn Flextreme and the Cadillac Provoq. The Provoq is expected to make the production transition in 2009 as a conventionally-powered crossover. The Flextreme, however, carries some of the design language of the new Opel Insignia that was recently revealed. The significantly more aerodynamic Flextreme also carries the hatchback/wagon type body shape that is more popular in Europe. An Opel-badged model would likely have an appearance similar to the Flextreme but with more conventional style body openings and without the pair of Segways in the back. It's unknown at this point what type of range extender would be used with the Opel although the concept used a diesel. So far we've only found one source for this report of a second E-Flex vehicle and we're still waiting to hear back from GM for any confirmation or comments on any of this. As soon as we here back we'll provide updates.

Red alert for turbo Yaris

Unveiled at recnt Tokyo Auto Salon - a motor show that gives Jap­anese makers the chance to let their hair down - the Turbo Modellista is set to go on sale in its home market in the next few months, and previews a European version. Based on the Japan-only Yaris RS, it uses a 1.5-litre engine turbocharged by Toyota's in-house tuner, Modellista, and Toyota Racing Development (TRD).

Power is increased by 40bhp to 150bhp at 6,000rpm, and with 196Nm of torque, the newcomer should cover 0-60mph in less than eight seconds on its way to a 135mph top speed.

To ensure all the power reaches the road, TRD has equipped the car with a limited slip differential, and further improved the handling by lowering the ride height 20mm and fitting spe­cially tuned sports suspension.

The looks are enhanced by a muscular bodykit, with large intakes at the front to feed air into the intercooler, plus 17-inch OZ Racing alloys. Inside, the Turbo Concept gets specially des­igned instrumentation, which includes a turbo boost gauge, plus a leatherbound steering wheel and gearknob.

Apocalypse Preparation: Geiger Ford F650

When the fit hits the shan, we've got two phone calls to make: our Cayman Islands-based banker and Geiger cars. For 99,000 euro we can protect our loved ones while punching through some of the most wicked terrain this side of Dakar in the robust luxury of the German tuner's interpretation of the Ford F-650. Weighing in at 5.2-tons and stretching over 21-feet long, the Geigerfied uber-truck finds motivation from a tweaked 6.7-liter Cummins turbodiesel putting out 320 hp and 738 lb.-ft. of torque. Grunt is shoveled to a six-speed Allison 3000 automatic gearbox and on down to a biggie-sized driveshaft that powers the four, 22-inch rear wheels. Both the suspension and brakes are air-powered, and if we're willing to shell out a bit more cash, we can get chrome fuel tanks, leather, navigation and, surprisingly, gull-wing doors. We think this would compliment our imaginary post-apocalyptic stable that also includes our all-time favorite RV, the Wothahellizat.

Design students envision a modern Model-T

Recently, Ford Motor Company sponsored a contest with the goal of modernizing the iconic Model T, a car which revolutionized motorized transportation the world over. The winner of the competition, a 24-year-old junior at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit named Dong Trang, came up with an electric crossover of sorts. That's fitting, according to Peter Horbury, head of design for Ford in the Americas, because Henry Ford's original Model T sat high off the ground and had a modular design, capable of hauling people and their stuff at the same time.

What the modern-day designs don't share with their forebear is retro looks. Each of the modern T adaptations features fairly sleek styling and alternative power that goes along with our modern-day energy and emissions problems.

Trang's design is rather unique, featuring solar panels on the vehicle along with an energy-capturing suspension design that would help recharge the on-board batteries. Those batteries are also removable to provide power outside the vehicle. The seating arrangement is modular, allowing for up to four occupants or offering increased storage capacity. The rear hatch is also capable of folding away to offer a small pickup bed. Click past the break for some videos of Trang talking about his design.

Toyota Yaris

  • Rating:
  • On the road price: £8,925 - £14,095
  • For : Nippy around town, sliding rear seats, excellent economy, cheap to run
  • Against : Corporate nose, underpowered 1.0-litre, ride lacks maturity
Driving Toyota opens the Yaris range with a three cylinder 1.0-litre engine from the Aygo. This struggles on the open road; it's clean and quiet, but is outgunned - the four-cylinder 1.3-litre is better. The 1.4-litre diesel is strong but clattery at times. However, good brakes, a neat gearchange and generally low noise levels make the Yaris a pleasant companion. It's particularly good in town, thanks to its light controls, but at higher speeds it feels more like a city car than a supermini, and is thrown off course more easily than rivals; the ride is firm. While the Yaris is fun to drive, it lacks smoothness. Marketplace The Yaris, while all new in 2006 and larger than the model it replaced, remains one of the smallest superminis you can buy. And we're not convinced by the design. With its corporate nose, the second-generation model doesn't have the same cute appeal as the original. The range is inclusive and follows Toyota's usual logic, in three- and five-door bodyshells; that means T2, T3, T Spirit and SR trims, plus various special editions. It competes with rivals including the Nissan Micra, Ford Fiesta and Mazda 2; models such as the Renault Clio III and Vauxhall Corsa are all that bit larger. At the top of the line-up sits a semi-sporty 1.8-litre variant, but this isn’t a Vauxhall Corsa VXR or RenaultSport Clio 197 competitor. Owning The Yaris has a top-quality cabin. It’s modern, stylish and boast soft-touch plastics plus tactile switchgear. Storage is good, particularly the Yaris’ characteristic twin dashtop cubbies. A split-level floor boosts luggage space in the boot, while the rear seats slide independently in a 60:40 split; the already-large 272-litre capacity can be boosted to 363 litres. In the rear, legroom isn’t vast but headroom is, and the Yaris can realistically carry three. But up front, the driving position is very high, and the seats lack side support. As for prices, certain models have a few equipment omissions but they're still competitive; in addition, most variants get a knee airbag, supporting a five-star Euro NCAP crash test score. What’s more, the quality and finish defy the price tag. It also retains a high proportion of this list price on the used market, while proving both cheap to service and fuel.

Brit magazine tries out the new Audi TT TDI

We've written here previously about Audi's new TDI version of the TT sports car and having sampled numerous other diesels recently. It's a shame this one isn't being offered in the U.S. What Car? has had a chance to to drive the TT TDI and it sounds like they really liked the 44mpg sportster. Diesel engines have a reputation for being low revving and while this one certainly won't reach the lofty heights of most gas engined sports cars it easily revs past 5,000rpm and has almost constant torque everywhere. The refined nature of the VW/Audi 2.0L diesel means that most observers will never realize what kind of fuel it consumes. This same engine in a slightly lower power tune is the one that will propel the Jetta TDI starting this summer. Please, Audi, bring the TT TDI to the U.S. market.