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New Aston Martin DBX variant is “world’s most powerful luxury SUV”

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Aston Martin is preparing to reveal a hot new version of its DBX, which it says will be “the world’s most powerful luxury SUV”.

Scheduled for an unveiling on 1 February, the new model will be the range-topping performance version of the DBX promised by Aston Martin CEO Tobias Moers last year. 

The company has yet to disclose how much more potent than the standard DBX it will be, but a 600bhp-plus output is expected, given the existing model packs 542bhp. 

One likely scenario is that the DBX ‘S’ – as it could be called, in line with traditional Aston Martin nomenclature – will take some 630bhp from a twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 running in the same state of tune as it does in Mercedes-AMG’s GT 63 S super-saloon.

Previously, it was thought that the DBX could play host to the 6.0-litre V12 from its DB11 and DBS sibling models, but recently spotted prototypes hint at a less subtle engineering overhaul, and an official teaser video hints at a distinctive V8 growl.

The model will be introduced as part of a push to create a comprehensive family of DBX models, much like rival Porsche has done with the Cayenne. It arrives following the recent launch of a straight-six-powered mild-hybrid model for the Chinese market, and is expected to be followed by additional variants – possibly including a seven-seater and a coupé. 

Alongside a substantial power boost, the new DBX will be marked out from the standard car by way of a chassis overhaul aimed at improving its dynamic behaviour; bigger brakes, stiffer suspension and stickier rubber are among the most likely upgrades.

It will also no doubt sit lower and feature a more aggressive bodykit than the existing DBX, which is more overtly focused on long-distance refinement. 

While the DBX is unlikely to receive Aston’s V12, that engine will be deployed in a new edition of the Vantage coupé – the last model to wear the Vantage V12 nameplate – which is also due in the coming months.

Porsche 911 special edition marks 50 years of Porsche Design

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Porsche is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its external design studio with a limited-run special edition of the 911

Based on the 911 Targa GTS, the 911 Edition 50Y Porsche Design commemorates the golden jubilee of Porsche Design, founded by Ferdinand Alexander Porsche – grandson of company founder Ferdinand Porsche – in 1972.

Porsche Design was set up as a design studio to focus on designing a wide variety of objects, with the notable exception of cars. Over the years, it has designed and produced a range of sunglasses, watches and other leather goods, as well as providing design services for other brands, such as Panasonic. Finished in black with a contrasting stainless-steel roll hoop, the new 911 features a number of bespoke design details, such as the retro-style Sport-Tex seat centre panels and grey side stripes.

Mechanically, the car is identical to the standard 911 Targa GTS, retaining the 473bhp twin-turbocharged flat-six, meaning it will hit 62mph in 3.5sec and top out at 191mph.

Buyers will be given the option of either a eight-speed dual-clutch automatic (PDK) or a seven-speed manual gearbox.

Just 750 examples will be produced. The car is on sale now with a base price of £144,360, with deliveries due to begin in April. 

Owners will be invited to develop their skills behind the wheel in “bespoke driving experiences” at the Silverstone Porsche Experience Centre. They will also be offered a special edition of the Porsche Design Chronograph I watch, which matches the car.

Porsche Taycan named new Formula E safety car

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The Porsche Taycan Turbo S will take on safety car duties for the 2022 Formula E championship, replacing the Mini Pacesetter and BMW i8 Roadster.

The safety car will make its debut at the opening round of the championship on 28-29 January in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia.

Porsche’s electric saloon will take to the track in a multicoloured livery representing the colours of every team on the grid, as well as the colours of the championship and the FIA. It will wear the number 22 as a nod to the number of series entrants this year. 

The Taycan Turbo S is Porsche’s flagship EV, with its 751bhp twin-motor, four-wheel-drive powertrain propelling it from 0-62mph in just 2.6sec – 0.2sec quicker than the Formula E racers themselves.  

Several modifications have been made to the Taycan Turbo S to make it suitable for use as a safety car. The front and rear bumpers feature integrated flashing lights, for example, which work together with the prominent lightbar on the roof. 

Inside, the rear seats have been replaced with a roll-cage, while racing bucket seats with six-point harnesses are used in the front. A ‘high-tech’ communication system, a Marelli data logger system and a fire extinguisher bring it into line with FIA circuit safety requirements.

Rimac Technology to develop EV tech as standalone company

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Rimac Technology, the Rimac Group’s engineering division, will become a standalone entity dedicated to developing EV technology for the Croatian hypercar maker and third-party manufacturers. 

The Rimac Group now consists of two companies: Bugatti Rimac – created when Rimac and French hypercar firm Bugatti merged last year – and Rimac Technology.

The Rimac Group owns 100% of Rimac Technology and a majority stake of 55% in Bugatti Rimac, with the remaining 45% owned by Porsche. 

Rimac Technology will expand its operations in engineering, development and production of high-performance battery systems. It will also develop electronic systems, electric drive units and user-interface components.

It will have the capability to produce “tens of thousands of high-performance systems” annually by 2024 and beyond that will eventually scale up to the hundreds of thousands.

Its output, Rimac said, will range from small hybrid battery systems to full rolling chassis, hinting at the potential for simultaneous involvement with large global manufacturers and low-volume firms. 

As its own entity, Rimac Technology will be free from any potentially restrictive oversight from other manufacturers, Rimac says, and could technically collaborate with any other firm. 

So far, Rimac Technology is known to have worked with Aston MartinAutomobili PininfarinaHyundai, KiaKoenigsegg and Porsche, but the firm said “there are many additional projects which are still unknown to the public”. 

“Separating the technology business into its own entity is a natural step, as the focus of the two markets – hypercars and components – are completely different,” said Rimac founder and CEO Mate Rimac. 

“The products of Rimac Technology, while being on the cutting edge of performance, also need to be extremely cost-competitive and producible at huge scales, while those issues are secondary for the hypercar business.

“This new structure will enable each company of the Rimac Group to flourish to their full potential while still sharing the synergies between them – for example using our own hypercars as testbeds for new technology before we offer it to other OEMs.”

Headquartered in Zagreb, Croatia, the Rimac Group currently has around 1000 employees, but it will move to a larger campus in 2023 with enough space to support 2500 workers. 

“If we go back to the very beginning of the Rimac Automobili business in 2009, the dream for me was to build my own electric hypercar. With the Nevera, we believe we’ve achieved that dream, creating a car that’s not only the fastest-accelerating in the world but also comfortable, usable and brimming with our advanced technology,” said Rimac.

Bangernomics best buys: the Vauxhall Signum is a true all-rounder

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2009 6 Vauxhall Signum 1.9 CDTi Elite, 109,000 miles, £1790: The standard-issue Signum is capable of 47mpg and this very decent Elite specification includes heated seats and even some privacy glass, so it’s ready for taxi work.

2004 Vauxhall Signum 3.2 Elite, 61,000 miles, £1995: As Vauxhall marketing intended, a posh V6 Elite with lots of life left in it. Apparently, it needs a couple of front tyres and the service history has been lost, so lots to negotiate.

Or try this…

2006 Fiat Croma 2.2 Prestigio, 74,000 miles, £1295: Here is a rarity and it’s also estate shaped. It’s an automatic and petrol powered so that should make it easy to live with and drive, plus it will do the ULEZ thing if you need it to.

Idol fancy

Nissan Murano, 2005-2008: Pushed along by the 3.5-litre V6 used in a drifting 350Z, the Murano is a proper ‘sports’ utility. It didn’t have the right badge to attract buyers when new, but it’s well screwed together and looks different. 

Its extensive array of standard kit includes leather, sat-nav and parking sensors and there’s plenty of room in the back. It has by no means the biggest boot, though, even when all the seats are folded flat. But it was never designed to lug any loads, just charge about and look the SUV part. 

Stock take: China EV sales rise dramatically

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“Fifteen years ago the logo sold the product, but many people are now proud and happy to get into a Nio or an Xpeng,” said Tu Le, founder of Sino Auto Insights. “Digital natives are much more receptive to local domestic brands than their parents.”

For all the hype around local EV brands, it’s worth noting that Tesla itself claimed second and third spots in the EV sales charts behind only the Wuling Mini EV, with both the Tesla Model Y and Model 3 selling more than 120,000 units apiece. But while Tesla flew the flag for foreign brands in China, there was less love for Volkswagen’s new ID-series models, which had a slow start but have gained momentum.

VW conservatively estimated 80,000-100,000 ID sales for 2021 but official figures for the full year have fallen short at just over 70,000. This couples with a sizeable fall in sales of domestically produced cars, down from an average of 264,495 units per month in the second half of 2020 to just 174,384 in the five months leading to December 2021. This will be a critical year for the brand’s EVs in China, especially with new competition from fellow foreigners Ford and Cadillac with their Mustang Mach-E and Lyriq SUV.

No analysis of the 2021 figures would be complete without recognising the incredible impact of the Wuling Mini EV.

Launched in mid-2020, the car has allowed young Chinese consumers onto the road like nothing else since the VW Beetle or Ford Model T. Spurred on by a starting price of just over the equivalent of £4000, almost 400,000 Mini EVs found a home in China in 2021 and they have proved especially popular with women under the age of 35, a difficult market to capture. A mind-boggling array of customisation options, and a soon-to-be-launched cabrio version, have sustained intense interest throughout the product’s life cycle. “The Wuling Mini EV is the little train that could. It started off really hot and hasn’t slowed down. It’s almost a transactional buy since it’s so cheap”, said Tu Le.

“People forget that there are still hundreds of millions of Chinese people who live in cities lower than Tier 2,” Tu Le added, referring to the unofficial hierarchy of Chinese cities based on GDP, politics and population. Only five cities – Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Tianjin and Chongqing – are considered Tier 1 cities, while a further 30 make up Tier 2, according to South China Morning Post. In total, more than 160 cities in China house over a million inhabitants, and the Mini EV has found a clear route into the hearts of many.

Bentley Bentayga S 2022 review

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What is it?

While some parts of the world still get a W12-powered Bentley Bentayga Speed, this was been dropped for Europe with last year’s facelift – slackening demand and tightening emissions standards being the official reasons. Now Bentley has created a junior model that we will be able to buy, the Bentayga S, adding most of the same dynamic tweaks to the V8.

Bad news first: there is no more power. Company insiders say the complexity of homologating different powerplants within Europe precluded the possibility of an output tweak, although the 4.0-litre V8’s peaks of 542bhp and 568lb ft remain impressive enough. On Bentley’s figures, the S’s 4.5sec 0-62mph time and 180mph top speed are just 0.6sec and 10mph off the respective figures for the W12.

Suspension changes from the standard V8 are more significant. Bentley says the dampers are 15% stiffer but that the S has also been given a more dynamic ESC tune in its Sport mode. It also gets the Dynamic Ride system as standard, this being the active set-up that uses 48V motors to counter lean under hard cornering loads by applying torque to the anti-roll bars.

Visually, the S gets the darkened trim of the Bentayga’s optional Blackline package as standard, subtle badging on the doors, a larger rear wing and oval tailpipes – plus 22in alloy wheels as standard. There is also stitched S branding on the seats.

What’s it like?

While the Bentayga’s styling and proportions have been likened to those of a stately home, the car has always felt fleet of foot when pressed hard – and the S does indeed improve on the impressive dynamic abilities of the regular V8.

There might be no more power, but a new sports exhaust has given the V8 a significant increase in character. It fires into life with a fruity idle, burbles under gentle use and develops an angry snarl when worked hard. While it sounds great to petrolhead ears, especially driving past at full throttle, the volume is getting towards anti-social levels; neighbours are certainly going to notice any Bentayga S owners trying to sneak out early in the morning.

Yet the chassis still feels impressively well judged, with even a relatively short drive in California proving the stiffened settings haven’t compromised the standard Bentayga’s pliant athleticism. Sport mode gives the ride a noticeable edge over high-frequency imperfections but never turns the car harsh. Comfort mode feels nearly as pliant as the regular V8, despite the huge wheels, and the air springs always use their travel intelligently to absorb and digest bumps rather than fight them. As before, the default ‘B’ dynamic mode leaves the car to its own devices, and it definitely makes the right choices most of the time.

Are disabled people being left behind by electrification?

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Encouraging moves coming

There’s optimism that change is coming, though. Earlier this year, the government announced plans for a more inclusive and reliable charging network in partnership with Motability, the Department for Transport and the British Standards Institute (BSI). Changes are targeted for this summer.

The Office for Zero Emission Vehicles (OZEV), Motability and the BSI will work with industry stakeholders (including charger operators) and disability charities to ensure that consumers can find the right chargers for their needs. Although operators insist that the design of publiccharge points is “carefully considered”, changes will be made to accommodate those who require increased space between bollards and to make chargers, parking bays and kerb heights more suitable for wheelchair users.

“With sales of EVs increasing and the government’s net-zero ambitions accelerating, I want to make it as easy as possible for EV drivers to charge up their vehicles at public charge points right across the UK, regardless of their mobility,” then transport minister Rachel Maclean stated in June 2021.

Badger said: “We’ve seen a lot of inaccessible chargers, but perhaps equally it hasn’t been easy for people to understand what ‘accessible’ means for EV chargers, to have time to develop inclusive design solutions. “We’re working with OZEV to develop new [charger] design standards and with the BSI, who are focused on accessibility, and the UK is the first in the world to do this. “If we get this right and standards are adopted, we can be confident that disabled people won’t be left behind in the shift to EVs.” Positives for accessibility have also been drawn from the new charger design that the government unveiled at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow in November last year.

“If we get this right now, that would be better and cheaper for the industry than having to do a retrofit process to adapt charge points later,” said Badger. “What we would like to see happen is that charge point standards are put together next year and they become compulsory.” Charitable disability design and engineering firm Designability is also hoping for change and recently conducted in-depth research into accessible EV charging. “It’s clear from our research with disabled EV users that public charging solutions are failing them in many ways,” said Keir Haines, Designability’s senior product designer. “We’ve seen some examples of good practice that the charging industry can learn from. However, usability, reliability and, most importantly for disabled people, accessibility is often poor in some if not all aspects of public charging.”

Autocar notebook: Farewell, Hakan Samuelsson

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Håkan Samuelsson is soon to step down as Volvo boss after the better part of a decade, to be replaced by ex-Dyson chief Jim Rowan.

This brings to an end one of the most transformative eras in the brand’s 95 years. Under Samuelsson’s stewardship, Volvo has refocused its product lineup, developed new architecture, set sales records and committed to a future based on electrification, while continuing to make safety a priority – having begun to limit the top speed of all its models to 112mph in an effort to reduce road traffic deaths to zero.

He remains among the most candid CEOs we’ve known in recent years, willing to talk about most subjects and always with straight answers. 

Samuelsson will also be missed for his ability to not just spot coming changes in the way cars are created and sold but act on them before rivals.  

Here are some landmark moments from his tenure.

2014 Off the back of a strong 2013, Volvo kick-started its revitalised line-up with the all-new XC90, its first car developed under Geely ownership.

2015 Volvo’s global sales soared past the 500,000 mark for the first time.

2016 In another bumper year for sales, Volvo started building a factory in the US for cars based on its new SPA platform and partnered Uber for autonomous car development.

2017 Volvo vowed to electrify its line-up in just two years and launched Polestar as a sibling brand.

2018 The Volvo XC40 won Car of the Year and took sales yet higher, while 360c concept hinted at self-driving aims.

2019 Volvo made good on its electrification promise and revealed its first EV.

2020 Samuelsson won our Issigonis Trophy for Volvo’s image reinvention, capacity doubling and rapid electrification.

Renault Group sales drop for third consecutive year

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Renault Group sales dropped by 4.5% in 2021 for a third consecutive year of decline as the French manufacturer was held back by the impacts of the pandemic and inventory shortages. 

The company sold 2,696,401 cars in but said that its European order backlog has doubled, amounting to more than three months of sales.

Renault sold 1,693,609 cars – 62.8% of the group’s overall figure, representing a 5.2% drop in year-on-year sales. It was bolstered by its E-Tech electrified models, which accounted for 30% of its sales in Europe, up from 17% in 2020. 

The firm claims it utilised a “value over volume” strategy that started before its inventory was impacted by the pandemic, representing “real price-mix progression” despite “adverse market conditions.” 

“Renault was able to achieve one out of three sales on E-Tech and one out of two sales in the retail channel,” said Fabrice Cambolive, its vice-president of sales and operations.

“Renault benefits from strong successes in 2021 to confirm its positive path to win back its position in the C-segment, through the upcoming launches of the all-new Mégane E-Tech Electric and Austral. We look at 2022 with the ambition to go forward.”

Dacia meanwhile performed positively, with sales growing by 3.1% to 537,095. CEO Denis Le Vot has described the Romanian firm as “a true growth driver for Renault Group”.

“This success is primarily due to the excitement shown by customers as they opt for the most equipped versions of all our models,” he said. 

“The increase in both market share and volumes is proof that Dacia is winning over an ever-larger customer base. In 2022, Dacia enters a new chapter as the brand continues to roll out its strategic plan with the commercial launch of the Jogger and the outcome of the new-brand-identity project.”

Alpine also recorded “spectacular growth”, with 2659 international sales for an increase of 74%. Sales of the Alpine A110 increased by 117% in France and by 92% in the UK. 

“This year, Alpine demonstrated the extent of its determination and commitment to achieve new momentum, which has already been illustrated by excellent growth in sales,” said Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi.

“We have high ambitions for the future and the brand’s international development, founded on our unique commitment to motorsports. Alpine is ready and raring to head for new summits.” 

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