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Sunday, 30 September 2012

Stop Saying That Cars Look Like Other Cars


Of course, the Paris Motor Show is upon us, which means that many new models and concept cars have been unveiled to camera-wielding journalists and subsequently (or even prematurely) sent onwards to the internet. When that happens, everyone who sees pictures of said cars becomes a styling critic, one that can often be impossible to impress because they just sit there comparing them to all the other cars out there and deciding that any coincidence regardless of magnitude makes a car's styling "lazy" or a "rip-off". This is something that's been increasingly getting on my nerves...

Take the new Jaguar F-Type as a prime case-in-point. This is a very good-looking car. I've mentioned before that I'm not keen on all the air intakes on the front bumper, but aside from that it's got the proportions and general shape of its spiritual predecessor, the monumental E-Type, combined with some well-placed modern touches and shorter overhangs for a more taut, aggressive look. Those who have seen it in person call it a stunning car. But the internet? Well, while some are smitten with it, others would have you believe that it's basically just a Nissan 350Z Roadster that's reversed into a BMW Z8. I hate that. Why can't it just be a good-looking car?

The thing is that, in the 51 years since the E-Type Jag, car stylists have done pretty much everything. We've had tall headlights, narrow headlights, pop-up headlights, swiveling headlights, LED headlights, square ones, round ones, square ones with rounded corners, eye-shaped ones, ones shaped like a company logo or a number (the daytime running strip in the left headlight of the Audi R18 LMP is meant to look like a 1 to commemorate all the winning they've done of late), the list goes on. So when car design genius Ian Callum put vertical almost-rectangular headlights on, the chances are that it never, on any level whatsoever, occurred to him that there are six or seven cars that have already done that, with one of them being a Nissan. And who's to say that, when styling the BMW Z8, Henrik Fisker wasn't inspired by the E-Type himself? It is, after all, one of the most beautiful shapes in history, to the point where it's been on display in art museums. The narrow horizontal red tail lights on the German car are pretty similar to the ones on a Series 1. So when Callum took inspiration from the same car, it's only natural that he will also have skinny horizontal red tail lights on his car, except that they're actually bigger and more interesting than the ones on either of the other two.

My point is, it is pretty much impossible in 2012 to design a new model that doesn't in any way look like any other car.

The French have tried oh-so hard for decades. Citroën, for example, smoke their favourite thing and just go mad with shapes and lines and angles to make something truly weird and wonderful. In their history, they've actually succeeded in being unique, with cars like the DS and SM. Nowadays? There's only so much they can do. Some people even accused the utterly bonkers GTbyCITROEN made-for-Playstation concept as looking like an Audi R8 crossed with a Lamborghini. Er, isn't that what a Gallardo is? Besides, the only remote similarity is in the headlights (again), with a low-set strip of LEDs. If anything, Lamborghinis like the LP560 and the Aventador have subsequently  gained the huge air intakes in the front corners that angle upwards into the main part of the nose in the middle. But look at this from any other angle and surely it only looks like itself? What else has huge chevrons cutting into the engine cover (well, fuel cell cover), or that tail end meant to look like the "whoosh lines" a child draws on a car going really fast? Or those crazy carbon fibre snakes they call mirrors? Nope, sorry, it's just an overstyled R8, apparently. Because of the headlights. I haven't even mentioned the swooping copper-laden interior...

The mainstream market is the toughest area for this kind of thing, though. With designers getting ever more creative with the traditional body shapes - hatchback, saloon, estate - mainstream cars have suddenly become very style-heavy - compare the current Ford Fiesta with the previous one for a stark contrast. What's more, when a particular car is praised for its styling and goes on to become a big success, the rest of the market notices and tries a version of the same thing because they know that that particular thing works and will sell well. Even Citroën are guilty; notice the DS3's BMW "Mini"-style "floating roof" that doesn't appear to be connected by any pillars. Retro was a big thing for a while after the Mini and New Beetle (the latter despite just being a slightly worse Golf) became a hit at the turn of the century, although thankfully the trend's starting to die out. Still, this phenomenon happens, and it doesn't just happen in the motoring world. Reading this on your iPhone-shaped smartphone?

Unfortunately, in defence of the couch critics, there are instances where following the herd starts to take over a bit. Take this for instance, the Vauxhall Adam. Named after the founder of Opel (er, yeah, Vauxhall being twinned with Opel and having to sell something named after Adam Opel is a bit awkward for marketers), it features a short, tall, round front end like Fiat 500 or a (non-)Mini. The roof may have pillars, but they're still floating and come in a small range of their own colours, like with a DS3 or, again, the BMW Mini. The very short tail with a round-ish tailgate is reminiscent of a Mk.1 Ford Ka if you squint, and it has the big mid-mounted fog lights of a Nissan Juke. Or indeed a 500. The side creases are fine though, as they're taken from other Vauxhall/Opels.

That said, there's a difference between derivative and coincidental. Sometimes other decisions lead you to a similar conclusion on a particular element.  Nevertheless, it's hard to avoid the fact that if we look at some staple segments, a common shape starts to appear. Compare the Ford Mondeo and its rivals, for instance. But it's not design teams that are to blame, it's the air. Aerodynamics have long been known to improve a racing car's high-speed cornering ability, but a low drag coefficient also improves fuel economy (oh, and top speed, but if we're honest that's neither here nor there). Enter streamlined profiles everywhere you look, and similarly-shaped noses. In the end, all the designer can do is apply their (or the company's) styling philosophy to a shape largely pre-defined by aerodynamic research and peppered with little spoilers and things to cut drag further, such as on the new Honda Civic diesel (EU) which has little bits of plastic under the tail lights to make air leave the car more smoothly, and plastic lining the wheelarches to lessen the gap between tyre and body. Every little helps. In some cases - particularly with platform-shared or badge-engineered cars - this just means putting your own grille and lights on something, and making the grille big to establish which brand it is.

So there are many reasons why cars tend to look similar to eachother, and as for people saying that modern cars all look the same? Pre-war cars all look the same, with huge running boards and round headlights. '60s cars all look the same, with chrome on each end and the same proportions. '80s cars all look the same, with lots of straight lines everywhere. Every decade has defining styling characteristics. Just because it's not the one you grew up with and/or know all about, doesn't mean it's any different in that respect. So get over it. Unless something really is a shameless rip-off and looks like a particular car from every angle, stop looking for other cars in a new model and just look at it in isolation. Does it look good? Does it make you want it? Is it otherwise aesthetically pleasing? That's all that matters. You're not big or clever for noticing any similarities. Similarities of some sort are inevitable.

I can't moan too much about the critics themselves, because I used to do it too, but frankly it's become all-but inevitable. I think the best way I can explain it is with music. Hundreds of years ago, classical musicians could blow people's minds with all sorts of clever techniques nobody had thought of. As genres like Rock 'n' Roll and Punk appeared, people's minds were blown all over again, and so it goes on. But now, you'd be hard-pressed to blow people's minds. Every musical trick has been done. Every chord progression, modulation, guitar effect, key, instrument line-up, everything. You can only hope to write something that's not exactly like somebody else's songs, and failing that, try to put your own spin on the same four-chord progression everybody else uses. Or give up and just sample other songs for your own monetary gain. Frankly, the best anyone's been able to do in recent years is come up with new electrical sound effects, and seeing as that has lead to Skrillex existing, I'm not sure it was worth it...

So stop complaining already. It doesn't matter. If you spot a true rip-off, it was probably intentional, and by all means poke fun in that case. Otherwise, think of something else to say about a new car instead, or grab a pencil, some paper, a rubber, a ruler and a compass (coins also work if you can find the right sizes), and try to do better. I bet you can't.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Porsche Makes A Hybrid Estate. WHY IS IT SO GOOD?!

Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo Concept
To survive in business, you have to go where the money is. Sadly, because rich people have no taste, that has lead to sports car companies (and other inhabitants of the premium market) making SUVs. Leading the charge was Porsche, which is a little strange considering how traditionalist they had been up until then. Nevertheless, the Cayenne opened the gates for BMW, Audi and soon Bentley, Lamborghini and Maserati. Thankfully, rich people who don't want to look quite that vulgar also buy four-door sports cars like the Maserati Quattroporte, and Porsche recently entered that market with the Panamera. However, there is now a "Shooting Brake" (read: swoopy estate that isn't a shooting brake) version of the Mercedes-Benz CLS, complete with an AMG version just for the hell of it. This along with the Ferrari FF provide supercar performance, executive luxury and the practicalities of an SUV (or, y'know, an estate car). Clearly Porsche has a new niche to fill, so here we have it: the Panamera Sport Turismo Concept.

Ten years ago, the idea of Porsche making a family estate would've been universally slated, especially a hybrid one, which this concept car is. However, now that a change of the times has occurred and they're allowed to make such a thing, I don't mind. Because it looks fantastic.

This is not something that a lot of people say about the current Panamera, which the designers had the difficult job of making both an executive saloon and a Porsche. The Porsche shape doesn't really lend itself to a three-box saloon, so instead it looks like a stretched, modernised 928 with five doors. I liked it when it came out - I still do - but then people everywhere started calling it ugly and horrible and I kept it to myself. Well, you know what? No more. You can disagree if you want to, and I don't think it's prettier than an AM Rapide or a Quattroporte, but I like the Panamera. Deal with it! That said, this version is much better-looking, because they've fixed the slightly awkward rear end by making it into the estate tail it always wanted to be.

As if it matters, this concept car is powered by a developed version of the "S Hybrid" system used in the Cayenne and current Panamera, utilising a 70kW (~95bhp) electric motor - double the capacity of current Porsche hybrids - and a 3.0 V6 Turbo making 333bhp. Together they make 428bhp and a 0-60 time below five seconds. Oh, and over 67mpg with just 82g/km of CO2. In all-electric mode, it can reach 81mph and has a range of 30km (18.6 miles), although probably not at the same time. Still, that would've been enough to get me from college and back without sipping a drop of petrol, leaving the tank full for fun time on a Sunday morning! And being a Porsche, it won't be too shabby on that front - while road testers have been just as divided by the looks as everyone else, they agree that its speed, handling and ability to eat up miles are commendable, perhaps even class-leading, and the interior's apparently great too. Adding family practicality and a prettier rear end to that package is no bad thing in my book.

Of course, being a concept car, there are other flashy touches too, like tiny headlights clustered together and cameras nestled in the air vent to look backwards instead of aesthetically and aerodynamically disruptive door mirrors. But such niceties are neither hither nor thither. The question is will they build it? Well, Porsche aren't very good at making concept cars that don't make it to production, I suspect because they only make concepts to test the water, and because they know their audience, they're always a success. Even the 918 Spyder is heading to production, with absurd economy figures for a V8 supercar making over 750bhp (one time when adding a hybrid system is actually a good thing). Thus, we can safely assume to see this soon.

But what's happening here? Is the automotive world really getting excited over sports car and motor racing legends Porsche making a hybrid family car? Well, there are a few mitigating factors here. One, it looks awesome, and aside from gaining door mirrors and losing the trick headlights, I don't see any reason why this shape shouldn't make production (perhaps in parallel with a facelifted Panamera using the ST Concept's nose). Two, it's not exactly going to cost the same as a Ford Mondeo, or be pitched at the same people. Three: If you look at it the other way round, we'll be getting a practical estate car (with non-hybrid versions as well) with Porsche power and expertise. The last time that happened, we got the Audi RS2, and that set a trend for super-estates that's still going strong 18 years later. Here's hoping that this time, people will be persuaded out of premium super-SUVs that never go off-road and into five-door supercars. Because that is a market we really want to see explode into popularity. Well, I do anyway, especially if it filters down into smaller and cheaper models in the same way that demand for SUVs has given us small cheap crossovers like the BMW X1, Audi Q3 and Not-A-Mini Countryman. The Subaru Impreza estate could be back with a vengeance! We could have an Audi S1 Shooting Brake! The Reliant Scimitar GTE would become wildly popular and potentially appear on Wheeler Dealers! Alas, one can only dream of such things for now...

This Biker's Injury Is As Fake As A Chinese Watch

I know that diving is a common element of high-end football these days. Sometimes you see a Premiership player and think they could rival Tom Daley on the high board, others look like they're shooting for an Oscar by grabbing their unharmed shin and pulling faces. Most of the time a clear dive is detected by referees and a punishment is dealt, rather than the penalty kick they were going for, but sometimes they get away with it.

However, if you really think you can get away with diving in a motorcycle race, think again.

Here is Marlinton dos Reis Teixeira - or 'Kalunga' for short - falling off his bike at a race in Brazil (the equally long-named Rio Grande do Sul State Moto Grand Prix). When it became apparent that his bike wouldn't start, he took a leaf out of football's book...


(after the camera zooms back out, you can skip forwards to 2:54)

Needless to say, when he was found to be faking it, the race organisers - the local MotoRacing Federation - promptly banned him from the championship. That'll teach him.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Jaguar Reveals F-eminate New Roadster

Now this is a version of Charlie's Angles I can get on board with.
The Jaguar E-Type was a landmark in automotive history. There, I said it. It's not because it was faster than a Ferrari for less than half the price, or because it became the car for the jet set, but because it was, and still is, one of the top 3 best looking cars ever made. Many - including some bloke called Enzo Ferrari - would even argue it's the top 1. As such, a successor would be so over-hyped that it could never live up to people's expectations. On the other hand, retro cars and cars that reference history in some way have been selling plenty in recent years, such as the current American muscle cars, the Fiat 500, BMW's loose interpretation of a Mini and the new Porsche 911, which takes inspiration from all the other 911s. So Jaguar, in need of something a bit more agile than the big XK, were in a bit of a pickle; any two-seat coupé or roadster would instantly be compare to the E-Type, so do they avoid it or embrace it?

They embraced it, as you can see here. This is the new Jaguar F-Type.

Using a sort of meta-reference in the name, like Porsche's upcoming 918, The F will sit under the XK (which is set to move upmarket when it gets renewed to really make room) and will be launched in Roadster form first. But let's get the question out of the way now: Is it one of the top 5 best-looking cars ever made? I'm not so sure. The styling is pretty much identical to the C-X16 show car revealed last year, right down to those four air intakes flanking the large grille, which I'm not all that keen on myself. I had hoped they would be removed or toned down between concept and production, but hey ho. If they serve a purpose, then I'll have to get used to them busying up the front end. Overall though, the blend of modern angles and touches with the basic proportions of the E-Type should make this even more of a stunner in person than it is in this first picture (leaked, of course, before being unveiled officially all of a sudden like with the McLaren P1).

UPDATE (26/9): There are now more pictures. See the link below the side profile image.

For more pictures, go here.
Unlike the E-Type, which started with a straight-six and later gained a V12, the F-Type will start off with a supercharged V6 in two states of tune, one with 335bhp and 332lb/ft (similar to a Cayman R or 1 M Coupé) and another with a 911-bothering 375bhp and 339lb/ft. Topping the range is the 5.0 supercharged V8 used in the XK, XF, XJ and a Land Rover or two, producing 495bhp and 460lb/ft of torque. It's meant to be sharper and more agile than the somewhat golfer-friendly XK, and of course with two seats instead of four, it's smaller too. Smaller than anything Jaguar has made since the 1950s, in fact, only stretching out over 4.4m (putting it between the lengths of the hatchback and estate versions of the current Ford Focus). Short car means short wheelbase. That means agility. Combine agility and those meaty power outputs, and the all-aluminium F-Type could set the world alight after all.

If only it could out-pace the Ferrari California for half the money. Actually, maybe the supposed V8 version will, or can at least get close...

UPDATE II (26/9): More info from Jaguar. The lightest car (most likely the base model) weighs 1597kg. Not too bad, but just as 'meaty' as the power outputs. All cars come equipped with active damping and an 8-speed automatic gearbox with paddles to make you feel like you're not so lazy, while V6s get a mechanical LSD and the V8 gets an 'active' electronic diff. The base car hits 60 in 5.1 seconds, the S does the same in 4.8 and the V8 S takes a mere 4.2 seconds. Top speeds are 161mph, 171mph and 186mph, all electronically limited. Not quite Ferrari-bashing, but there's always the later R version for that ;-)

UPDATE III (26/9): The prices in the UK (plus options of course) are as follows: £58,500 for the basic V6, £67,500 for the V6 S, £79,950 for V8 S. A bit too high for the Boxster-battling V6s, but the 911-battling V8 is about there, I reckon, especially if all versions come with more standard kit than a Porsche.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

It Turns Out Aston Martin Are As Lazy As I Feared

Ceci n'est pas une Virage.
It's no secret that Aston Martin has been basing everything on the DB9 in recent years, and while that keeps those of us with eyes relatively happy, the DB9 itself is getting a little old, so an upgrade was needed. Now, Autocar reckon they had spy shots of the new DB9, which I dismissed as just being a Virage, as every single body panel except the boot lid was identical, and even that was just the lid from the now-defunct DBS. Well guess what? Aston Martin have axed the Virage, and just updated the DB9. The picture you see here contains a pair of DB9s, not a pair of Virages. This despite every single body panel except the quiff'd boot lid being millimetrically identical to the Virage. Aston Martin, what the hell are you doing?

The new DB9 uses the body of the suddenly-dead Virage, as well as engine and chassis know-how from the new Vanquish. It now produces the same 510bhp (along with 457lb/ft of twist) that the DBS made, yet goes slower than the Casino Royale star, with a 0-60 time of 4.6 seconds and a top speed of 183mph. Weirdly, despite the extra 40bhp, those are exactly the same performance figures as the outgoing DB9, minus 3mph off the top speed. But then, if it had the same performance figures as the equally-powerful DBS, then it would also have the same performance figures as the new AM310 Vanquish, which has 565bhp and is meant to sit at the top of the range (unless you include the sold-out One-77). The thing is, that the new top-shelf Vanquish has the same torque figure and the same top speed as this bottom-shelf V12 model, the new DB9. The only difference is 55bhp and 0.5s off the 0-60 time, although mercifully, the Vanquish actually looks different to this car, with a more extreme version of the same styling philosophy, Pringles in its mouth and a Lotus Evora rear spoiler.

So OK, let's get the 2012/3 range straight here:

Cygnet:
(see Toyota iQ), £30,000

V8 Vantage:
420bhp, 346lb/ft, 1640kg, 0-60: 4.7s, 180mph, £84,995

V8 Vantage S:
430bhp, 361lb/ft, 1610kg, 0-60: 4.5s, 190mph, £99,995

V12 Vantage:
510bhp, 420lb/ft, 1680kg, 0-60: 4.1, 190mph, £134,995

Rapide (four door GT):
470bhp, 443lb/ft, 1990kg, 0-60: 5.0, 183mph, £139,950

New DB9:
510bhp, 457lb/ft, 1785kg, 0-60: 4.6, 183mph, £131,995

AM310:
565bhp, 457lb/ft, 1739kg, 0-60: 4.1, 183mph, £189,995

And the outgoing models:

Old DB9:
470bhp, 443lb/ft, 1760kg, 0-60: 4.6, 186mph, £119,995

Virage:
490bhp, 420lb/ft, 1785kg, 0-60: 4.6, 186mph, £149,995

DBS:
510bhp, 420lb/ft, 1695kg, 0-60: 4.1, 191mph, £179,995

Don't the V12 cars all seem a bit... similar? It's no wonder they had to kill the 490bhp, ~£150k Virage. Except they didn't, did they? Because the new DB9 is just a Virage with a quiff on the back and more power. Needless to say, the interior is the same as before, but now includes a standard-fit reversing camera. Oh, and it has the same updated gearbox as the new Vanquish. Still, I have new respect for the old Porsche 997 range. At least the 22 different variants all made sense somehow. Aston's range of V12 cars just doesn't. I'm starting to think they're running out of money and having to desperately find a way of updating the range without spending money making anything new. I bet it won't be long until there's a Rapide S with 510bhp, 457lb/ft and the same top speed, except it'll cost £15,000 more...

Normally I wish I had won the Euro Millions so I could go car shopping, but now the One-77's sold out, I'm glad I don't have to choose an Aston Martin, because at the moment their range is just one big mindfuck (and I haven't even included the 'Volante' convertible versions of every model minus the Vanquish and Rapide, which are all marginally slower in a straight line, a little bit heavier and slightly more expensive than their Coupé brethren). I mean seriously, couldn't they do anything at all to make the new DB9 look like its own model, or is making it clear that all they've done is renamed and lightly tweaked the Virage the best way they could think to do it? I'm amazed that it has come to this, but then rehashing the same model repeatedly makes it very easy for them to not only do it, but get away with it too, because most people won't even notice. They just want an Aston Martin, and because they all look about the same, they won't be fussed that they're being conned just a little bit by what's supposedly the coolest brand in the world.

The only question remains: which is it? Are they running out of money, or are they running out of ideas? It might just be a mixture of both...

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Proof - The McLaren P1 Is Wonderfully Bonkers

McLaren P1
The McLaren MP4-12C has had slightly mixed reactions since it came out last year. While no-one doubts its abilities to ride like a Roller and fly like a Fezza, internet and armchair pundits alike reckoned it was too boring for a supercar. I disagree, seeing as it's very low, a very sexy shape and has huge air intakes and an airbrake on it, and so far nobody in a position to change the look of the 12C has improved it. Since then, McLaren has unveiled the, er, highly personalised c. £5million X1 at Pebble Beach, which showed doubters that their designers have a wild side after all. Nevertheless, when it comes to the less unique production models, some people are still crying out for a true successor to the legendary McLaren F1. If that's you, shush. Because here it is.

Despite the dramatic proportions, this is actually shorter than a new Porsche 911, according to Autocar
Of course, internetters have known this car to be on its way for a while now, under the codename P12, but until now it was all rumours and camouflage. Leaked out early like every other new car these days, it is now clear in these three pictures that for McLaren's hypercar, Frank Stephenson and his design team haven't held back, with creases, curves, and a nod or two to the mighty F1, including the central roof scoop (although matching central driver's seat will be missing from this car) all making it onto the Surrey company's flagship model. Called the P1, it is designed and engineered - much like the F1 was by Gordon Murray - to be the ultimate driver's car on road and track, and comes with an extensively modified version of the 12C's 3.8-litre V8 Twin-Turbo, supposedly making 800bhp instead of the 600 or so it currently makes in their 458 rival. No doubt this tremendous amount of thrust will be delivered to the rear wheels via a 7-speed paddleshift gearbox, maybe even the 12C's one with its F1-style "Seamless Shift" for smooth, uninterrupted gear changes. Also borrowed from the world of Formula 1 is a device soon to become popular - even commonplace - in hypercar world: KERS. Rather than adding the 80bhp of the current cars, it will supposedly add twice as much, as per the 2014 F1 regulations, meaning that you occasionally have 960 horsepower to play with! Teamed with extreme power is a kerbweight said to be under 2700lbs, or ~1225kg, making it about 100kg lighter than the 12C it's probably based on.

I'll leave jokes regarding the size and placement of the exhaust pipe to you. And no, I don't know where the indicators are either...
At the back, there is the notable presence of a huge and complex diffuser akin to the one on their 12C GT racing car, along with the notable absence of a rear wing. While many hypercars since the Enzo Ferrari have done this, the MP4-12C had one across the top that also acted as an air-driven airbrake. Why omit that feature on something even faster? Well actually, if you look closely above the high-mounted exhaust, there appears to be a panel gap running along the top of the rear deck. Pagani Huayra-style Active Aerodynamics, perhaps? I don't see why not.

UPDATE (26/9): 7 more pictures have leaked out, mostly showing the suspected Active Aero to be a Veyron-style pop-up spoiler/airbrake. See here.

The McLaren P1 will be unveiled for real at the Paris Motor Show (29/9 - 14/10). According to Autocar, it will cost a suitably hypercar-ish £800,000 and McLaren will only make 500 of them, possibly only to be sold to select existing customers and high-profile collectors. What we do know is that it will be in production next year, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of McLaren. Oh, and we know it will look like this, because when InsideMcLaren.com posted the pictures, they were taken down again. You don't do that with speculative renderings. You do that with embargo-busting leaks.

So here it is. The McLaren P1. Your new dream supercar. And it comes from Woking.

GREAT NEWS!!!!!


The new Dacia Sandero will be on sale in the UK in January, with prices starting at £5995!



There will also be a higher-riding, chunky-bumpered "Stepway", and the boot is bigger than a Fiesta's!

So now you know (know more after clicking here).

Anyway...

Thursday, 13 September 2012

What Needs To Be Done To F1 Safety?


The Belgian Grand Prix saw one car launch off the back of another and somersault over the top of a double world champion's knees at high speed. Had the "ramp" been placed differently, we may have seen 640kg crash into somebody's head, and that's an injury that would take more than a box of Neurofen to fix, if it could be fixed at all. Naturally, this has got people talking about the dangers of open-cockpit racing, and much speculation over the idea of closing or protecting the cockpit has arisen. However, that might not be the right solution, and there is always the argument that, really, a closed-cockpit car is not a Formula 1 car, whether it's safer or not. So what other ideas are there, and what else could work? Can we improve the safety of F1 even more without compromising it?

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Aston Martin's Lazy Designers Have Fooled-- Wait, Hang On...

Ceci n'est pas une DB9. No, really...
It has long been said that, since the DB9, all Aston Martins have looked the same. Of course, because I have eyes, I can tell the difference, but some struggle with telling a Virage from a DBS and so on. This is unsurprising because people also have trouble telling generations of Porsche 911 apart, and just paying attention for a second will make that easy too. Yet people still get caught out. However, I would never have suspected Autocar - the UK's oldest car magazine - to be or contain one of those people. The weekly magazine's website has posted "spy photos" of this car, which they call a "facelifted DB9" and describe as being completely undisguised. Maybe the reason for it being undisguised is that it is actually a completely normal, road-registered, privately-owned Virage. Whoops...

I mean seriously, look at the image below:


Literally everything - the Rapide headlights, Virage-only wheels and Virage-only side vent where the chrome flash is right at the top, rather than through the middle like the other AMs, as well as the Virage-only front bumper - is exactly the same. Millimetrically identical. Even Aston Martin wouldn't make two models that were actually just the same car twice.

But what about the back I hear you say? Coming right up:

There. Satisfied, voices in my head?
The iced tail lights and rear bumper are again, one and the same. All the same elements in exactly the same places. So there. Aston Martin's if-the-design-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it attitude to a new model's exterior has fooled professional spy photographers...

...but wait a minute. The boot lid. The Virage has a flat-ish lip arching over the badge, whereas the spied car has a raised quiff and a third brake light. It's just the lid from the DBS (which was recently replaced by the new AM310 Vanquish), but what is it doing on a road-registered Virage? An optional extra, perhaps? A factory accessory or something the customer ordered politely (i.e. with a blank cheque)? Or are we actually looking at a new or facelifted model?

The DB9 does need a lift. After appearing in 2004 the only changes to the outside have been removing a bar from the grille and adding new wheels, with incremental changes underneath to keep the drive fresh. Either a replacement model or a "DB9 Mk.2" is needed to keep people interested in it. There have been rumours in recent days that the Virage will be axed to make room for a Mk.2 DB9, as the two models are so close together already and improving the DB9 (speculated to involve a small power jump) would squeeze the Virage very tightly against the Vanquish II...

...so are we to believe that the silver car in these images really is an updated DB9 after all? What's more, are Aston Martin's designers in Gaydon seriously so out of ideas that all they can think to do to improve the DB9 is to put a quiff spoiler on the back of a Virage and call it finished? I sincerely hope that's not the case, and that this is indeed just a Virage that happens to have a different boot lid on it. Otherwise Aston Martin have seriously lost their touch.