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Thursday, 11 September 2014

New Car Threesome!

Mazda MX-5 (ND), Jaguar XE, Mercedes/AMG GT
In the past week or so, three significant new cars have appeared from three major manufacturers, and all three have every right to be very, very good, given that they're entirely in their respective manufacturer's comfort zone. Up top is the internet's love thing, the Mazda MX-5. In the middle is a compact sports saloon apparently worth making a song and dance about, the Jaguar XE. Just above this text is the new AMG sports car to replace the SLS, simply called "GT." This is not a comparison, but a quick-fire report on each of them in one post. These are the latest hot properties from Planet Car.

Mazda MX-5/Miata (ND)



In 1989, Mazda unveiled its take on the classic British roadster, known in Europe as the MX-5, but also called Eunos Roadster in Japan and Miata in the US. The recipe was simple: A reliable four-cylinder engine up front, a manual gearbox and manual folding roof in the middle and driven wheels at the back. Little else mattered in the little Roadster, so good were these basic ingredients, although the engineers' mentality of "Jinba Ittai" - "Horse and Rider in Perfect Harmony" - also helped make it a highly acclaimed driver's car. It was a huge hit and its popularity has endured through 25 years and over 940,000 sales as it continues to be the ideal choice for low-budget fun, effeminate image or not. In that time the world's best-selling two-seat sports car has been modified, raced and idolised, while in recent years it has become one of The Internet's favorite cars. Mazda recognised this, with one of the quotes used at the launch event being the "Miata is the answer to every question" line perpetuated by Jalopnik and sometimes Pistonheads. So they knew they couldn't screw up this all-new fourth-generation MX-5, and they knew everyone would be watching.

Time will tell whether the mechanicals have been screwed up or not, but for now, I like the design. The proportions are so good that it doesn't need many styling features beyond the intricate all-LED lights at each end, and sure enough, it doesn't really have any, save for a big grille and a flowing waistline. That such a simple design should catch your eye out in the wild is quite some achievement. Plus it's got speakers in the headrests! The thing I wonder about, though, is how this will translate to the eventual Alfa Romeo version. Early signs are good...

Tech Specs:

Length x Width x Height
3915mm x 1730mm x 1220mm

Powertrain
1.5L and 2.0L "Skyactiv" longitudinally-mounted inline-4 engines, 6-speed manual gearbox
Unconfirmed power outputs, best guesses are 140 and 180 horsepower

Weight
Under 1010kg ("over 100kg lighter than before" thanks to aluminium body panels)
Perfect 50:50 distribution front-to-rear

Release Date/Price Range
July 2015 (UK) / Prices slightly higher than current model

More detail here and also here


Jaguar XE



Let's just say it, shall we? The Jaguar X-Type was a bit of a dud. Transferring the classic Jaaaag look onto the front-wheel-drive Ford Mondeo's platform didn't quite work, and it was no classic to drive. Even its key creators regretted it while the press sidelined it as "not a real Jaguar." Oh dear. Small wonder Jaguar have taken five years to fill the sorry hole it left in the bottom regions of their range. But now they finally are doing with a baby XF. It is called, logically, the XE. The market sector this enters is the most important and competitive one for executive saloons: The 3-Series Rival. Can this car really make a dent in the resilient Germans' armour, or will it merely be consigned to the "interesting alternatives" division with the likes of Lexus, Infiniti and Cadillac?

It's easy to argue that the designers were a bit... conservative with the XE. There's a lot of XF and hints of XJ in the exterior and interior designs respectively, while those tail lights keep reminding me of the Audi A5 or Honda Accord (EU) when they're supposed to light up like those on the stunning F-Type. Still, it's a handsome thing, and that matters for a Jaguar. Plus, with a riveted and bonded aluminium monocoque chassis to cut weight, a drag coefficient of 0.26 (the lowest for a Jag yet) and brand new diesel engines on offer, it ought to be pretty frugal as well. But if frugality's not your thing, then there's always the supercharged V6-powered XE S (does someone at Jaguar like having their intercourse backwards? Maybe it's best not to speculate...). This is the first ever Jaguar to have electric power steering, so despite its lightweight agility, rear-wheel-drive, highly sophisticated suspension and - welcome back! - manual gearbox, there's a small chance it won't be the soul-stirring drive it needs to be to attract people away from the Germans. A small chance. Still, it's got to be better than the X-Type was...

Tech Specs:

Dimensions
The same size - give or take a few millimetres - as a BMW 3-Series or Audi A4, but ~15mm lower on its suspension and with a ~25mm longer wheelbase (according to Autocar). It'll be lighter than any previous Jaguar saloon, but no weight figures have been released yet.

Powertrains
2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder petrol, ???bhp/torque
2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder diesel, 161bhp, 258lb/ft, 99g/km CO2
3.0-litre supercharged V6 (from the F-Type!), 335bhp, 332lb/ft, 0-60: 4.9s, 155mph (limited top speed)

All engines come with a 8-speed auto from ZF, but the four-cylinder engines - unfortunately nicknamed "Ingenium" by Jaguar.... - are also available with a 6-speed manual gearbox. A 9-speed auto developed by Land Rover may come later.

Release Date/Prices
Spring 2015/From £27,000.

More pictures and the Press Release here


Mercedes-AMG GT



Wasn't the SLS AMG great? A big shouty V8, an endless bonnet, gullwing doors and all the wheelspin you could eat. It was almost like a German Dodge Viper. Sadly, this year, its surprisingly short production run ended and the lovable brute went out in a thundercloud made mostly of its own tyre smoke. But what if you're not flashy enough for vertical doors? What if you don't want to drive something the size of an aircraft carrier? Fear not. Mercedes-Benz's performance division has only put down its first car so that it can bring on its second. This is the AMG GT. Long bonnet, pert rear, forced-induction engine, normal doors. It's almost like a German Jaguar F-Type.

If the old super coupé was the last hurrah for the "M156/9" 6.2-litre naturally-aspirated V8, then this new GT - only the second car developed entirely by AMG and not by Mercedes-Benz's normal-car folk, after the SLS - exists to herald in the new "M178" 4.0 twin-turbocharged V8 that replaces it. This lump will eventually be used in pretty much every AMG model from the C-Class upwards, so it needs to be good. Essentially the design started off as the four-cylinder turbo from the A/CLA/GLA "45AMG" models, but doubled up, and evolved from there. One noteworthy aspect of this engine is that it's a "hot inside vee" engine. What that means is, rather than the exhausts and turbochargers coming out the sides of the engine, they're nestled in between the two cylinder banks up top. Readers of engineering bent can hopefully see that in the image this paragraph surrounds. The advantages of this layout include better throttle response (less turbo lag), better fuel economy and a more compact engine overall, making it easier to fit into the car. Dry-sump lubrication adds to the packaging advantages by allowing the engine to be mounted lower down, lowering the car's centre of gravity (or perhaps just negating the slight rise in CoG caused by the high turbos) and, on a more relevant note to track drivers, a dry sump gives you more freedom to thrash the living hell out of it! Speaking of which, the engine revs to 7200rpm, but thanks to those turbos you get peak torque at 1750rpm, and keep it all the way up to 4750rpm. Peak Poweeerrrrrrr is reached at 6250rpm, so the last thousand revs is just for fun. Channeling the turbo power to the rear wheels is a 7-speed DCT and a locking differential, but while the standard GT's diff is purely mechanical, the higher-spec GT S features an electronically variable one which claims to improve overall sensitivity. Good for drifting? Maybe.

As for the rest of the car, the GT's chassis is in many way a heavily modified SLS, with the same floor, rear bulkhead, A-pillars and front suspension, but without gullwing doors to deal with it has a much lighter and stiffer roof, the former aspect lowering the car's overall centre of gravity (good for agility). The rest of the chassis and suspension is new, with new materials involved including lots of aluminium, so it's lighter and should achieve the target of having a better handling balance on the limit and being more agile in corners than the SLS was. While the carry-over floor gives the GT an identically vast width to the big ol' gullwing, it's 92mm shorter but 27mm taller. Most of the foreshortening is at the front end, while the wheelbase is an unknown amount shorter as well. Like the F-Type CoupĂ©, the GT features a long hatchback boot. A hot-vee hot hatch with two seats and AMG thunder? Yes please! It's even going to be about £50k cheaper than the SLS to boot, partly by virtue of being built in higher numbers.

Tech Specs:

Dimensions (LxWxH)
4546mm x 1939mm x 1289mm

Weight
1540kg (GT) and 1570kg (GT S)
47:53 front-to-rear distribution [good for traction]

Powertrain
3982cc twin-turbo "hot inside vee" petrol V8, 90° bank angle, dry sump, 209kg
GT    - 456bhp, 462lb/ft, 0-62mph (100km/h) in 4.0s, 189mph, 30.4mpg (imperial gallons, combined)
GT S - 510bhp, 480lb/ft, 0-62mph (100km/h) in 3.8s, 193mph, 30.1mpg ("", "")

Rear-mounted 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox

Release Date / Prices
Q1 2015 / Prices expected to be around £95,000 and £110,000 in the UK

More detail here and more pictures here
Learn even more about the engine here

So, whether you've been hankering for a manual Jag, or you like your sports cars big or small, the car industry's got your back. Personally I'm looking forwards to the AMG-GT and F-Type R going head to head! Maserati's upcoming V8 two-seater's got some tough competition to deal with already.

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