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New 2021 Mercedes-Benz EQB revealed

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Mercedes-Benz’s electric car line-up continues to grow with the unveiling of the EQB at the 2021 Shanghai motor show ahead of a planned start to UK sales in the second half of the year.

Set to rival the Audi Q4 E-tron, the EQB is based on the GLB, alongside which it is produced at Mercedes-Benz’s plant in Kecskemet, Hungary for the UK market.

Full details are yet to be revealed, but Mercedes-Benz has confirmed that the top-of-the-range four-wheel-drive EQB 350 4Matic will be the first variant to hit the UK. It uses two electric motors – an asynchronous unit mounted up front underneath the bonnet and a synchronous unit housed within the rear axle – with a combined output of 288bhp.

Other models set to be added to the line-up include the front-wheel-drive EQB 250, which runs a front-mounted motor with 188bhp, and the four-wheel-drive EQB 300 4Matic, which uses the same dual motor set-up as the EQB 350 but with “around 241bhp”. However, they aren’t expected to reach UK showrooms until 2022.

Power for the EQB 350’s electric motors is provided by a 66kWh lithium ion battery, produced by Mercedes-Benz sibling company Deutsche Accumotive, housed underneath the rear seat.

It can be charged at up to 11kW on an AC system and at up to 100kW on a DC set-up

Final performance figures are not yet confirmed, but officials have told Autocar the initial four-wheel-drive EQB model will have a 0-62mph time of around 6.0sec, together with combined consumption of 3.2mpkWh and a range of 260 miles.

As with the smaller EQA, with which it shares key elements of its drivetrain, the EQB receives its own individual exterior styling elements, including a blanked-off grille, to differentiate it from the combustion-engined car. There are also EQC-aping light bands and new bumpers at the front and rear. Wheels range from 18in to 20in.

Customers will be able to order the EQB with an optional AMG Line styling pack that brings uniquely styled bumpers and 20in wheels, among other bespoke details.

Mr Le Mans: meeting nine-time winner Tom Kristensen

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The title of his new autobiography says it all: Mr Le Mans, Tom Kristensen. Except it doesn’t, because for all his record-breaking exploits at the Le Mans 24 Hours, a race that he won a remarkable nine times in 18 attempts, six of them consecutively, there has always been much more to the great Dane than the Big One in France. The best racing driver never to start a grand prix? Probably. But who cares if he never lined up in a Minardi, a Tyrrell or even a decent Williams? That was Formula 1’s loss. Instead, Kristensen chose his own path and built a wonderful career driving a selection of great racing cars in all sorts of fascinating corners of the world. And nearly every time he did so, he was blindingly fast.

The book, written in collaboration with sports journalist Dan Philipsen, was first published in Denmark in 2018 and has now been made available in English. To mark this publication, Autocar caught up with Kristensen to capture a snapshot of his remarkable career.

Turning Japanese

In the mid-1990s, Kristensen joined the throng of European talent heading east to seek their racing fortunes. For Eddie Irvine, Jacques Villeneuve, Mika Salo and many more, the Japanese scene was a catapult to success in F1 and beyond. Kristensen spent four years there, driving everything from Formula 3 and Formula 3000 single-seaters to Group A saloons and late-era Group C sports cars.

“I went to Japan as German F3 champion, so there was a lot of expectation, and it was tough,” says Kristensen. “I didn’t fly home to Europe between races, I stayed, and that meant I drove a lot of different cars. After a couple of weeks, my F3 team, Tom’s, suggested a drive in Group A touring cars, in a right-hand-drive R32 Nissan Skyline GT-R on Toyo tyres. You needed a staircase to get into that car: it was four-wheel drive and very heavy, a complete contrast to my small, light F3 car – and I loved it. It’s a cult car.

“I also did one race in the Tony Southgate-designed Toyota TS010 Group C car [at Mine, sharing with Irvine and Villeneuve]. That was the most aggressive car that I drove out there. It was very fast and incredibly stiff, with a lovely sounding F1-style 3.5-litre V10 engine.”

Plans to join Toyota at Le Mans were scuppered, delaying his debut at the race by four years. “It wasn’t an endurance car for 24 hours,” he says. “Everything was screaming to the extreme. I can see why they hit some issues at Le Mans.”

Do you remember the first time?

On his return to Europe, Kristensen shone in International F3000, before receiving a fateful call from Ralf Juttner at Joest Racing just a matter of days before the 1997 Le Mans 24 Hours. Joining Ferrari F1 veterans Michele Alboreto and Stefan Johansson, he put in a stunning performance to claim a debut victory. At Goodwood Speedweek last year, he was reunited with the Porsche-powered TWR WSC95 for the first time since.

Autocar’s favourite racing drivers: Kamui Kobayashi

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The brief was simple. An email to all the journalists on Autocar: pick your favourite racing driver of all time. 

What we didn’t expect was quite the repertoire of answers that came back. Covering most eras and a vast spectrum of the sport – from Formula 1 to club racing – it just goes to show how varied motorsport and its followers are.  For once, there are no wrong answers: it has led to many discussions and a fair amount of incredulity but, in the end, it’s all about personal choice.  

Do you agree with us? Would you go for someone different? Let us know in the comments below. 

Kamui Kobayashi

Timo Glock crashed so nastily during qualifying for the 2009 Japanese Grand Prix that he still wasn’t fit to race a fortnight later as Formula 1 arrived in Brazil. Toyota therefore had to call upon its reserve driver, 23-year-old Kamui Kobayashi.

He was fresh off the back of finishing 16th in the GP2 championship for the second season running, so I assumed that he was simply the latest in the long lineage of drivers who had been elevated above their natural station by Honda and Toyota in desperation for a home hero.

How wrong I was. Kobayashi immediately caught my eye with his full-bore driving style and sealed the deal for a wide-eyed schoolboy watching his first F1 season with his passionate defending of sixth position from Jenson Button, who was extremely wary in the chase for the title. Button described Kobayashi as “absolutely crazy and very aggressive” after the race; I agreed, and that’s precisely why I instantly had myself a new favourite F1 driver. 

A strong sixth-place finish in the season finale convinced Sauber to sign up Kobayashi for 2010 after Toyota quit the sport, and I was relieved. Glossing over a massive crash in the first race of the year, he continued to epitomise my enthusiasm with his tyre-testing, extremely-late-braking ‘banzai overtakes’, as Martin Brundle christened them, most memorably at the Suzuka hairpin.

Suzuka was also the site of his finest moment in F1, in 2012: a superb third-place finish. I can still hear the raptuous Japanese crowd chanting “Kamui! Kamui!” throughout the podium ceremony.

Although not especially one for the limelight, Kobayashi always came across as a humble, good-humoured and thoroughly decent bloke whenever he was in the public eye. That’s just another reason why I couldn’t have been more delighted to see my boyhood racing hero blossom in the FIA World Endurance Championship, reunited with Toyota, culminating in the title last year. 

High and mighty: VW Tiguan R vs Mercedes-AMG GLB 35

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However, there’s no denying the sheer second-row capaciousness of either car. If you’re three- or four-up with any regularity, your passengers will thank you for having one of these crossovers instead of either the Golf R or AMG A35. And that’s strike one.

Equally undeniable is the pace of the Volkswagen, which not only has that 99kg weight advantage over the Mercedes but with 310lb ft also makes more torque, and makes it earlier on, from a scant 2100rpm.

To make the most of the drivetrain, you need to get the car into either Sport or Race mode, at which point the piped-in noise sounds, in the poetry of fellow road tester James Disdale, “like a Subaru flat four with a manifold leak that’s been sampled through a ZX Spectrum”. But boy is this thing quick. What becomes apparent is that rather than creating a unique character for the Tiguan R, Volkswagen has attempted to transplant into it the personality of the Golf R wholesale. It means that as well as being relentlessly accelerative, this crossover is also more agile and direct than you’re probably expecting, and the body control enabled by the standard-fit adaptive dampers is uncanny. What also helps is the new R Performance torque-vectoring set-up, which sandwiches the rear differential with electromechanical clutch packs that siphon drive from wheel to wheel – potentially all of what the driveline can make available to the rear, which at any given moment is half the engine’s total output. This ability to bias the outside rear wheel works alongside the front axle’s XDS ‘differential lock’ system, which is nothing of the sort but can if necessary use the ESP to brake the inside wheel during hard cornering.

And the result? The Tiguan doesn’t corner with much in the way of flair, as the Golf R can (strike two – sorry) but it does stay doggedly neutral and on your chosen line, seemingly no matter what you throw at it. You simply point its bluff nose in the desired direction and there it goes, like a salivating bulldog chasing after its favourite fang-punctured toy.

New 2021 Volkswagen ID 6 revealed as China-only electric SUV

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Volkswagen has unveiled the new ID 6, a China-only large SUV with up to seven seats that will go on sale later this year, ahead of the Shanghai motor show.

The new machine is the largest production model yet from Volkswagen’s rapidly growing ID range of electric vehicles, which are all based on the firm’s MEB architecture, so it’s positioned above the ID 4 SUV.

As a China-only model, the ID 6 is significant in showing both the versatility of the MEB platform for vehicles of different sizes and Volkswagen’s ability to use it to more cost-effectively produce a region-specific product.

The ID 6 will be offered in China in two different versions, with one built by each of the firm’s two largest joint ventures. SAIC-VW will produce the coupé-styled ID 6 Crozz at Anting near Shanghai, with FAW-VW producing the more rugged ID 6 X in Foshang in southern China.

The ID 6 Crozz and X will be mechanically identical, with both offered with a choice of 58kWh or 77kWh batteries, offering a respective official range of 271 and 365 miles on the Chinese NEDC test cycle.

As standard, the ID 6 will provide rear-wheel drive using a single motor mounted on the back axle, with a choice of 177bhp or 201bhp. A 301bhp twin-motor all-wheel-drive powertrain, which will be seen in the UK on the forthcoming ID 4 GTX, will be offered with the larger battery.

In the 4Motion-branded top spec, the ID 6 Crozz will be capable of 0-62mph in 6.6sec, with top speed limited to 99mph. The more boxy ID 6 X is 0.1sec slower on the same sprint.

At 4876mm, the ID 6 is around 300mm longer than the ID 4, which, Volkswagen says, enables it to offer far greater internal space. The wheelbase is 2965mm, while the machine is 1680mm tall. It weighs 2280kg and is offered with 19in to 21in wheels.

The extra interior space means the ID 6 is available with a third row of seats. A panoramic glass roof will feature, with an opening sliding roof  an option. 

Noble M12: Homegrown superhero revisited at 20

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The car world is full of characters: talented, knowledgeable, professional people often at the top of their game. Catch them at a new product launch and their appearance and dialogue will be highly polished, often PR-managed and a credit to the company that employs them.

So when, in 1999, a rather dishevelled-looking chap called Lee Noble arrived at Autocar’s offices, driving what appeared to be a rather cheap and cheerful open-top kit car called the M10, we were sceptical. With some reluctance, the road test team tried the car – and the following week, this magazine proclaimed it to be “one of the most complete and exciting British mid-engined two-seaters we’ve driven”.

That marked the start of the Noble phenomenon. Four years later, I drove an M12 – the M10’s faster and more complete successor – for the first time, and of the hundreds of cars I’ve tested since, none has elicited such powerful memories for me, despite having driven my last one exactly 15 years ago.

However, back then I missed out on the first version of the M12, the GTO, and it’s this model that gave rise to this story, because 2021 marks two decades since car number one was delivered to a customer. It’s also the point at which Noble truly became a force to be reckoned with – not just in low-volume sports car circles but up against true supercar royalty, too.

First, though, let’s go back to why the M12 caused such a stir in 2001. To start with, the market was ripe for such a car. Think about mid-size sports cars with a reasonable degree of everyday usability and a BHP figure in the mid-300s and you would be looking at either the Lotus Esprit, then in its death throes, or the 996-series Porsche 911.

With plaudits for the M10 in the bag, Noble was quick to exploit that market gap and, thanks to his experience in quick-turnaround engineering projects, within two years the M12 emerged from the company’s new premises in Barwell, Leicestershire. Using the same Ford-based mechanicals as the M10 – the relatively new and highly tunable Duratec V6 – and essentially the same steel spaceframe chassis, the M12 added twin turbochargers, nearly doubling the power to 310bhp, and an enclosed, two-door fibreglass body that looked more like a refugee from a race track. And the cost? An indecently competitive £44,950.

Much of the M12’s commercial success stemmed from a deep-rooted pragmatism about how many sales were needed to make the car viable and establishing a realistic bill of material for each unit. For this reason, Noble outsourced manufacturing of the M12’s body and rolling chassis to low-volume experts Hi-Tech Automotive, based in Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth), South Africa.

This left Noble’s Leicestershire workforce to install the powertrain and deal with final assembly. It was a repeatable and efficient method that led to us recognising Noble with our Specialist Manufacturer of the Year Award in 2001, saying: “Perhaps Lee’s greatest achievement has been to take 160 orders and turn his outfit into that rarest of breeds: a successful small British sports car maker.”

How Gerry McGovern will redefine Jaguar for the electric era

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What will Gerry McGovern do at Jaguar? This has been the hottest question in British car design circles since January, when creative, combative, single-minded McGovern was elevated to the new position of chief creative officer at Jaguar Land Rover by CEO Thierry Bolloré, himself just four months into the job.

Whereas the Englishman was previously responsible only for Land Rover design (a job that he accomplished with both design brilliance and commercial acumen), he would now also be a key figure in the future of Jaguar – a brand far more troubled and far less successful.

A couple of weeks after McGovern’s promotion, Bolloré shocked the car world with a radical plan for wholesale change at JLR called Reimagine. It proposed a progressive path for Land Rover but huge changes for Jaguar.

By 2025, Sir William Lyons’ famous marque would ditch most of its line-up in favour of a smaller, all-electric, non-SUV family of cars built on one new platform. It would even kill the yet-to-launch XJ electric limousine, a flagship of the previous management’s way of doing things.

The floodgates of speculation opened wide. If Jaguar saloons weren’t selling and SUVs weren’t the future, what on earth would post-2025 models be like? Was the 86-year-old sports and prestige car marque about to move to the margins of production numerically speaking, like Aston Martin and Bentley? Would Jaguar, for all its proud Le Mans 24 Hours history, still be able to call itself a sports car company? What would now be made of the proud 1940s-to-1970s heritage so often used to shore up the company’s present? McGovern was suddenly at the centre of such decisions.

Like a few hundred other media outlets, Autocar clamoured for an interview. Unlike most, we were successful, last week enjoying an exclusive and candid 50-minute chat with him almost entirely on Jaguar matters. Land Rover was hardly mentioned; after all, with the much-acclaimed new Defender just launched, a game-changing new Range Rover ready to go and a raft of electrified models already planned, the SUV maker’s future is looking good.

In encounters like this, the first question can often be hard to frame, but this time it was easy: was it Bolloré’s arrival that triggered Jaguar’s move into EVs, and was McGovern himself implicit in that decision? “You’ve got to go back a few steps,” McGovern answers carefully. “Naturally, our whole board had been thinking a lot about Jaguar’s future, even before Thierry’s arrival.

“Thierry brought a new mindset, a fresh understanding of the luxury business – perhaps because he’s Parisian. His view was that Jaguar’s key future differentiator had to be exceptional desirability. The change to EVs was important, but that was coming at us anyway. Desirability would make the difference, and we needed to get on with delivering that.”

The obvious connection here – and undoubtedly the reason McGovern was given his bigger job – is that since his return to Land Rover in 2004, he has become increasingly expert at creating desirability in cars.

Opinion: Why Imola is wrong for modern F1

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It pains me to write this because I adore the place – but Formula 1 probably shouldn’t be racing at Imola this weekend.

Believe me, I never thought I’d tap out that sentence about a race circuit I consider one of the best in Europe, if not the world. But sadly the former home of the San Marino Grand Prix, now the host of the Emilia Romagna GP, is outdated, a throwback – and not entirely in a good sense. The 2020 return was proof enough.

In a hastily compiled ‘emergency’ calendar formed in the midst of a global health crisis, Imola was a welcome and familiar haven last November for its first F1 grand prix since 2006, especially as it is fondly remembered as a traditional European season opener from the past – just as it is this weekend, in fact.

But while the surrounding Emilia Romagna countryside was as beautiful as it ever was, the undulating ribbon of track a proper test and the grass verges and close barriers something to concentrate the minds of every driver usually pampered by acres of asphalt run-off, the long-wheelbase, heavy, hybrid F1 cars appeared to have outgrown the place. Plus overtaking was near-on impossible. It always was tough to pass here, especially after the chicanes were added at Tamburello and Villeneuve in the wake of Ayrton Senna’s death in 1994, and with the high-drag, high-grip modern F1 cars that are the fastest ever seen, the race was destined to be processional.

Sure, there were incidents. Valtteri Bottas was unlucky to pick up a piece of Ferrari debris that compromised his Mercedes-AMG, leading to Max Verstappen gaining a run through the two Rivazza corners and pulling a move into the Tamburello chicane – the only real overtaking spot on the three-mile track as it is today. But he’d have struggled to make it stick without Bottas’s clear impediment. Then Verstappen was pitched off by a tyre failure. Lucky for him, it wasn’t at the old pre-chicane Tamburello where Senna crashed. 

The race was far from the best of a generally entertaining season, and we can expect more of the same this weekend – although I genuinely hope I end up with egg on my face and it turns out to be another modern classic, just like Bahrain. Certainly, there’s plenty to look forward to, including the second instalment of the increasingly fascinating Lewis Hamilton vs Max Verstappen/Mercedes vs Red Bull duel. But strategy variation, unreliability and good old-fashioned mistakes are our best hope for a cracking grand prix rather than daring overtakes and driver skill. 

The uncharitable among you might say that’s always the case with modern F1! But in this era of DRS rear wings and wide circuits, overtaking isn’t usually such a problem at the majority of venues – ironic given that new car regulations have been created to ‘fix’ the flawed spectacle in 2022. Actually, on that thought, perhaps a third Emilia Romagna GP would be a suitably tough place to put them to the test next year…

Mercedes-Benz EQB teased ahead of Shanghai show unveiling

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The expansion of Mercedes-Benz’s electric vehicle line-up shows no sign of slowing as the firm teases its EQB electric SUV ahead of the imminent Shanghai motor show.

Featuring a seven-seat layout – a rarity in electric cars – and a large boot of up to 1700 litres, the EQB sits on a modified platform shared with the combustion-powered GLB.

However, like the GLA-based EQA, the EQB will get unique front and rear styling elements, dedicated wheel designs and other detailed design changes that are said to lower its drag coefficient below 0.30.

Technical details remain scarce ahead of the unveiling, but the car is rumoured to run a 60kWh battery for a claimed range of 310 miles. It will use two electric motors, with one powering the front wheels and the other the rear wheels – a similar set-up to its EQA sibling.

The GLB is the eighth model to be based around Mercedes’ MFA II platform, and it shares its wheelbase with the China-only long-wheelbase A-Class Saloon. At 2789mm, its wheelbase is 60mm longer than those of the other A-Class models, while a relatively long rear overhang ensures the GLB provides more luggage space than the GLA.

With production centred in Hungary and Beijing, the electric EQB launches in China initially before European sales follow later this year. The US will get the car in 2022.

When it’s unveiled this Sunday, the EQB will expand Mercedes’s electric offering to a total of five cars: the EQA, EQC, EQV and EQS. An EQE saloon is also due later this year, along with two further electric SUVs.

READ MORE

New Mercedes-Benz EQB: electric compact SUV hits the road

First drive: 2021 Mercedes-Benz EQA 250 prototype

Mercedes-Benz GLB review

New Volkswagen ID 4 GTX: hot electric SUV to launch on 28 April

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Volkswagen has confirmed that it will launch the new ID 4 GTX, the first in a series of performance-focused electric vehicles, on 28 April.

The range-topping version of the recently launched electric SUV is set to use a 302bhp all-wheel-drive powertrain, making it the first ID model to go on sale offering four-wheel drive. The system will automatically send power to the front axle when required, although Volkswagen says it will offer a performance AWD ‘Traction’ drive mode.

As first revealed by Autocar in 2019, the GTX badge will be used for future ID performance models, positioning them alongside the existing GTI, GTD and GTE model lines.

Klaus Zellmer, Volkswagen’s marketing boss, said: “The letters GT have long stood for driving pleasure. Now the X is building the bridge to the mobility of the future.”

He added: “Sustainability and sportiness are not mutually exclusive but complement each other intelligently.”

As with GTI models, the GTX machines will feature bespoke styling elements to set them apart from regular ID cars, which, Volkswagen says, will include “their own light signature”. It is not yet known if GTX models will feature a variant of the famous tartan trim offered with GTI models, and which has been expanded to GTD and GTE variants.

Autocar understands that the ID 4 GTX will feature a lower ride height than the regular ID 4, with various other chassis changes made in order to boost the handling and performance.

The ID 4 GTX is set to be followed later this year by the ID 5, a coupé-crossover version of the ID 4. It is likely that model will also gain a GTX version eventually.

With Volkswagen focused on using all-wheel-drive dual-motor powertrains to meet the performance expectations of the GTX badge, it is unlikely that a hot version of the smaller ID 3 will be offered.

READ MORE

Hot Volkswagen ID 4 GTX and rakish ID 5 to spearhead Volkswagen EV push

Autocar’s Volkswagen ID 4 review

Volkswagen to build range of hot electric GTX models

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