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Opinion: Puma gets ready to pounce on WRC

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Maybe that was just down to my imagination, but the omens remain good for a new hybrid era in which rally cars will dance once more.

How it works: Formula e qualifying

Formula E will return to London this weekend for the first time since 2016. If you will be watching it for the first time, there’s plenty to get your head around – not least the slightly convoluted qualifying format.

The main qualifying session lasts one hour. There’s nothing complicated there, you might think, but there is: the 24-car field is split into four groups of six, defined by their positions in the championship. Within the hour, each driver has just six minutes to set a time, and the six fastest from the four groups combined then go through to the one-at-a-time Super Pole shootout session.

The slowest of the six goes first, leaving the fastest driver from the four initial sessions to run last and bid for pole position. The full 335bhp is available throughout, meaning that qualifying is the best time to really see what a Formula E car can do. That, at least, is as it should be.

Motorsport greats: Carlos Reutemann

Motorsport lost one of its most enigmatic stars this month when Carlos Reutemann died at the age of 79 after an illness.

Return of the V8 Defender: Supercharged Land Rover Defender V8 video review

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The Land Rover Defender V8 is back. Until the 1990s a woofly big petrol engine was a staple in the Defender range but, barring a few special editions since, it has been largely absent from Land Rover’s most versatile vehicle.

Now, though, in this new Defender, the V8 is back. The new V8 Defender can be had in short or long wheelbase, 90 or 110, forms. And in either way, performance is strong. The V8 is a 5.0-litre supercharged unit making 518bhp and 461lb ft, which is good for 0-62mph in 4.9sec and a 149mph top speed.

What it’s less good for, perhaps unsurprisingly, is sipping only a little fuel. This is a 19.3mpg, 330g/km car. And it’s quite expensive, costing from at least £98,575.

But maybe, just maybe, the appeal of a big, lustful V8 makes it worth it? Join Matt Prior as he finds out.

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Not Quite A Classic: Lotus Europa S

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Autocar Subscriber Extra is our package of exclusive benefits for our magazine subscribers. One of these is a weekly behind the scenes email newsletter from our editors, and an exclusive monthly Not Quite A Classic column from Richard Bremner. Until the end of August, we’re giving all Autocar readers free access to these newsletters and columns. You can subscribe to Autocar magazine with our Summer Sale offer here and save 50% on your first 13 issues.

Mongrel cars: there have been many, over the years. Cars like today’s Toyota Supra, for instance, which shares more than merely its bones with the BMW Z4. And since we’re talking Toyota, the GR86 coupé, too, co-developed with Subaru to sell alongside the BRZ twin. There’s the Mazda MX-5-based Abarth 124 Spider and, in the more distant past, the series of reworked Hondas that Rover popularly sold in the 1980s and 1990s. Distinctly less successful were the Alfa Romeo Arna and Nissan Cherry Europe, identically undesirable twins spawned by an Alfa-Nissan one-night stand. This pair was an ill-chosen blend of Alfasud and Cherry, yielding a badge-engineered machine decisively inferior to the models from which it was blended.

The Arna is far from the only misfiring child of such marriages of convenience, another being the 2006 Lotus Europa S. Given its name, you might wonder what the other gene source is, and those of you in the know may well correctly mouth ‘Vauxhall’, the then-GM brand providing not only the Europa’s engine but also the long-wheelbase VX220 variation on the Lotus Elise platform. But there was another manufacturer involved, and had the project been realised as originally intended, the Europa would not have been a Lotus at all, but a Proton. More than that, it would have been built in Malaysia rather than Hethel. 

The idea was to add some much-needed glamour to Proton’s showrooms, expand the Malaysian range in new directions and turn Lotus a profit. Ultimately, Proton thought better of it, wisely (would you buy an expensive sports coupé from a showroom selling Savvys and Gen-2 hatchbacks?), and Hethel instead decided to sell 500 Norfolk-built, Lotus-branded examples.

Despite the change of mission and brand, there was no reason for this all-new Europa not to be a great drive.

Lotus has made many show-winning mongrels, combining its own genes with Ford’s to produce two generations of Lotus Cortina, with Chrysler Europe’s to produce the WRC-winning Sunbeam Lotus and with one-time owners General Motors to produce the magnificently rapid Vauxhall Lotus Carlton. There have been many others, too.

Every Mercedes-Benz model to have full-EV option from 2025

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Mercedes-Benz has revealed an ambitious plan to go all-electric by 2030 “where market conditions” allow. 

Included in a wide-reaching strategy announcement today were plans on how it will ramp-down investment in combustion engines, reduce EV manufacturing costs and maintain today’s profit margins. Most notably, it will introduce four all-new and bespoke EV platforms by 2025 for use across its entire product line-up, and has committed to building eight new battery factories worldwide – four of which will be in Europe. 

Key to the new strategy is a commitment to prioritising profit over volume, which will see Mercedes increase sales of top-rung models and standardise the majority of components it uses in vehicle production.

EV options in all segments

Accelerating a number of targets revealed in its earlier ‘Ambition 2039’ strategy, the firm will now offer a battery-electric vehicle in all segments from 2022, and in 2025 will offer an EV option for all its models.

Following the launch of the new MMA EV architecture for small vehicles in 2024, all Mercedes platforms developed will be EV-only, and in 2025 it will launch three all-new architectures catering to its entire portfolio.

The new MB.EA platform will underpin medium and large passenger vehicles, such as SUVs, AMG.EA will – as the name suggests – be developed by Mercedes’ in-house performance division for future electric sports cars, while the Van.EA platform will be used for light commercial vehicles (LCVs). 

Following the 2021 launch of the EQA, EQB, EQS and EQV, Mercedes will launch the new EQE saloon, EQE SUV and EQS SUV in 2022, giving it a total of eight full-EVs in the passenger car segment, including the existing EQC.

Two new versions of the EQS saloon are also due imminently: an AMG-badged performance option and a Maybach luxury range-topper.

Long-range plug-in hybrid models like the new C300e – which has a claimed EV range of 62 miles – will continue to play an important role in the brand’s product strategy, it said, but “more and more customers are switching” to pure EVs, so it has accelerated its transition to support the shift.

Increased investment but maintained margins

CEO Ola Kallenius said: “The EV shift is picking up speed – especially in the luxury segment, where Mercedes-Benz belongs. The tipping point is getting closer and we will be ready as markets switch to electric-only by the end of this decade.

“This step marks a profound reallocation of capital. By managing this faster transformation while safeguarding our profitability targets, we will ensure the enduring success of Mercedes-Benz. Thanks to our highly qualified and motivated workforce, I am convinced that we will be successful in this exciting new era.”

Mazda 6 2.0 Skyactiv-G Kuro Edition 2021 UK review

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What is it?

Volume-brand saloons like the Mazda 6 may no longer be in favour amongst most family car buyers but, because those firms which continue to sell them are having to work that bit harder for their business these days, some of them are becoming really quite tempting value for money.

There’s a new mid-spec, UK special edition version of the Mazda that illustrates this phenomenon rather nicely. The Mazda 6 Kuro uses the middle-sitting of three available petrol engines, and it’s based on middle-of-three ‘Sport’ equipment level. It was never in danger of becoming an over-priced showroom decoration clearly, and bundles in special paintwork and some unique exterior and interior styling tweaks for a price that still looks pretty cheap. 

It’ll be a rare spot, too; there will only be fifty Mazda 6 Kuro saloons sold in the UK and another fifty tourers.

What’s it like?

If you don’t like grey cars on black glossy wheels with black body trim, you need read no further here. That’s the only colour scheme the Kuro comes in.

On the inside you do get burgundy leather to add variety to the monotone theme, at least. The car’s cabin is showing a little bit of age, not least because it still uses Mazda’s last-gen infotainment system with its block-looking graphics, it slightly clumsy rotary input device, and no option for even the occasional fingertip screen input. But the cabin is roomy and comfortable in any case, with simple and readable, mostly analogue instruments, and material cabin quality that’s a bit mixed in places but is certainly no disgrace.

Mazda’s 162bhp 2.0-litre Skyactiv-G petrol engine can feel just a little bit gutless in some of the firm’s bigger cars, but in the 6 it narrowly escapes that, creating just enough torque to keep the car drivable in the higher intermediate gears. You do still have to shift down and let the crankshaft spin beyond 4000rpm to create any real urgency on the road but, unlike Mazda’s coarser 2.5, the 2.0-litre petrol engine revs very willingly and with just a little hint of sporting zest. The 6’s sweetly weighted and solidly mechanical-feeling manual gearbox also makes maintaining an interest in the driving experience easy.

As do the car’s handling and steering. Despite its standard-fit 19in wheels, the 6 Kuro rides quietly and pliantly – but it also maintains strong and well-balanced grip levels, has just the right amount of heft and response about its steering, and keeps easy close control of its body movements at all times.

London calling: Jaguar Racing’s quest for home glory in Formula E

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“When we entered in 2016, we hadn’t been involved in motorsport for a very long time: even in the F1 days, the team was really a separate thing,” Barclay continues. “Once we had sign-off from the board, we had to create a whole new structure and build the whole thing from scratch. We had to take massive steps to catch the likes of Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche: they’ve always had some form of racing programme. So, being honest, the timeline is what we were expecting.

“The first year was just about learning how to race again. Year two was starting to compete, year three fighting for points, year four going for podiums and then year five going for wins. We’ve always been super-clear about not overpromising and underdelivering in the world championship with the best line-up of manufacturers.”

Evans has been part of Jaguar’s team since day one, and the 27-year-old Kiwi took its first win in 2019. “The contrast between the first season and now is huge,” he says. “We’re a completely different team and operate at a much higher level. It has been really special for me: it’s rare for a driver to be able to experience that growth. The team has always been realistic, and the timeline has played out exactly as was set out to me.”

Bird, who is second on Formula E’s all-time winners’ list, joined this year from Envision Virgin Racing. He says the lure of racing for a British manufacturer “was a big part of the move for me” and admits he came close to signing three years ago. Although that didn’t work out, he says: “Over the past three years, they’ve got better and better. In one race last season, I watched Mitch fly past me on the straight as if I was standing still, and that was a switch in my head: it was time to make the move. And I’m so pleased I have.”

The slow growth of the team has in part been because Jaguar wanted to learn as much as win. “Formula E is genuinely a real-world proving ground for us,” says Barclay. “The point of doing it was firstly to tell the world we had an electric car and EV expertise, and a medium- to long-term view that we would learn about electric technology.

Mercedes-Benz Vision EQXX to have range of more than 620 miles

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Mercedes-Benz has detailed the next stages of its transition to full electrification, and confirmed its landmark Vision EQXX concept car will arrive in 2022.

Described as “a symbol of our ambition to create the most efficient car”, the EQXX has been previewed as a futuristic and heavily streamlined design study that could offer heavy clues as to what to expect from future Mercedes EVs. 

Aside from revealing the latest preview image, Mercedes has confirmed that it is targeting a real-world range of more than 620 miles, and a consumption rating of more than six miles per kWh. Previously, it suggested the EQXX would have the “longest electric range” and “highest efficiency” of any EV yet produced.

The headline claim made of the prototype at a strategy conference last year was that it will be capable of travelling from Beijing to Shanghai – a distance of 750 miles – on a single charge. Mercedes is keen to emphasise that the range has not been achieved simply by using a larger battery pack, and that the unit used in the EQXX will appear in a “future compact model”. 

The EQXX development team includes “experts from Mercedes-Benz’s F1 High Performance Powertrain division (HPP)”, hinting at the concept’s top-rung performance potential. 

As well as details of the EQXX, Mercedes made a number of headline announcements regarding its accelerated transition to electrification. From 2022, it will offer a fully electric model in every segment, and from 2025 every model sold will be offered with a pure-electric model. Also in 2025, Mercedes will launch three bespoke new EV architectures for use across its entire product portfolio: MB.EA for mid-sized and large passenger cars, AMG.EA for performance models and Van.EA for commercial vehicles.

Among the headline announcements was a commitment to building eight new battery factories worldwide – of which four will be in Europe – and that investment in combustion engines will fall by 80% by 2026, compared to 2019 levels. 

READ MORE

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Matt Prior: Forget weight and check the bottom line

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There’s some chatter among my colleagues about the weight of the new Lotus Emira. At 1405kg, it isn’t heavy for a sports car, nor is it heavy for a car that replaces the Evora, which was just 5kg lighter.

It is, though, heavier than the cars it also kinda replaces: the Elise and Exige, the two-seaters that have underpinned Lotus’s income for the past quarter of a century.

Lotus is, as you know, famous for loving lightness, and so the Elise and Exige were sufficiently spry that they could cope without power-assisted steering. The Emira, which uses a development of the Evora’s platform, retains hydraulic assistance. It’s lighter than the Porsche 718 Cayman.

There are, though, lighter sports cars. The upcoming Toyota GR 86 is sub-1300kg, and if that’s too cheap and lowly powered to be considered a true Lotus rival, there’s the modestly powered but ambitiously priced Alpine A110, which is absolutely in the Emira’s sights. In its lightest form, it weighs around 1100kg.

The Emira was never going to be that light, with a 3.5-litre V6 amidships. But we are now in the unusual position where there’s a car in the same market as a Lotus that weighs a lot less. The question, really, is how much that matters. Should Lotus always build the lightest cars in whichever classes it competes?

I understand the argument that it should. It comprises, after all, so much of the company’s ethos. But I’m a purist. I love Lotuses’ ride and handling balances and am happy to accept the compromises they bring.

But Lotuses have perennially been so hard to get into, cramped inside and noisy and tiring to use that they haven’t sold in enough numbers to keep the company viable. The truth is that a Lotus is the ‘right’ weight when it becomes a car people want to buy.

2021 Jeep Wrangler gains enhanced off-road capability

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The Jeep Wrangler has gained an updated engine, improved off-road capability and enhanced safety features as part of a mid-life update. 

All UK-bound Wrangler models will now be fitted with an updated version of the firm’s 2.0-litre 268bhp petrol engine, which produces 10g/km less in CO2 emissions than the previous engine and is compliant with Euro-6d emissions rules. 

Sahara, Overland and commemorative 80th Anniversary trims are available, producing between 243-251g/km of CO2, while the rugged Rubicon specification will emit between 261-271g/km. 

Off-road driving has also been improved with the addition of an Off-Road+ mode for the top-of-the-range Rubicon model. Jeep says this enhances capability over sand and rocks, adjusting the ABS, ESC, accelerator pedal, traction control and transmission calibrations. 

Selec-Speed, Jeep’s off-road cruise control system, will now be standard across the range. It “allows the driver to maintain a steady speed during rock-crawling and other types of low-speed manoeuvring,” according to the American firm. 

The Wrangler also gains a selectable tyre fill alert, which indicates when tyres have been deflated to the desired pressure. Adaptive cruise control, engine start-stop technology, automatic emergency braking and automatic high beam are now standard features. 

Jeep’s flagship also receives new exterior paint options, including Hydro Blue, Snazzberry and Sarge Green, which the firm says pays homage to its history, while the Nacho colour will return with limited availability on the Rubicon model.

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Eight lessons Alex Lynn can teach us about Formula E

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3 Range anxiety is a problem in Formula E, just as it is on the road for EV drivers

“The first race in Valencia this year [when a number of drivers were disqualified after exceeding their allocation of energy because of a high number of safety car and full course yellow periods] was a mathematical error. The rules are based around us taking away a percentage of energy for every minute we spend under the safety car and a full course yellow, which usually works. But if you have a safety car or FCY in the last five minutes and you take away four percent because you’ve had four minutes of safety car, guess what? Not many people are going to make it to the end. It was such an odd thing to experience and you couldn’t believe what the car was telling you, that you’ve only got a tiny amount of energy left. The rules have been rectified since, but it wasn’t the best. It ruined what was quite a cool race and I was just sad for the result. In Formula E the drivers do feel a responsibility for the show because we are trying to show off that EVs are cool and that you can race them. It is a cool series and when stuff like that happens it leaves a bad taste.”

4 Racing on the full Monaco Grand Prix circuit was Formula E at its best – and more entertaining than F1 at the Principality

“Monaco was the best Formula E race I’ve seen. We were on the right sized circuit for the cars, and vice versa. For me it was what Formula E is and should be. It’s ironic that Monaco feels great for racing given its reputation in F1, but it felt right and created overtaking on corners where we’d never seen it before. Our style of racing really worked at Monaco.”

5 Formula E is the most intense and satisfying form of motor racing Lynn has experienced

“I would go as far to say that competing in Formula E consumes you as a person. The hours and dedication it takes to extract the maximum from the car, but also to learn how to do it, is very time consuming. It takes so much mental capacity too. There are two styles of driving during the day: you’ve got the race which is all about energy saving, and qualifying which is about going as fast as you can and is more quintessential to what we’re all used to. You set the car up one way, then only in a couple of hours’ time you have a race which is the total opposite: saving energy, battery temperature, tyres. People see 45 minutes on a Saturday or a Sunday, but the preparation time… we do 10 days in the simulator for every day in the car. And those days in the sim are from 8am to 8pm. It is all consuming, this championship, but very rewarding at the same time. I don’t think I’ve raced in a championship that makes me feel as good when the result goes well, or even slightly well. To even score a point, when you look down the entry list… At Monaco I finished ninth, but we beat both factory Porsches, both factory Audis, both factory Mercedes. When you think about it, it’s not bad!”

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