In spite of the global recession, the last couple of years has seen some truly wonderful cars hit the streets, both from the Far East — Nissan GT-R, Lexus LFA — and Europe — Ferrari 458 Italia, Aston Martin Rapide, and Porsche Panamera. We also have a few cars — Lambo Estoque, Aston One-77 and the hybrid Porsche 918 Spyder — still waiting hesitantly in the wings.
However, straitened times subdued the car industry to a some extent, with many designs and concepts scrapped in favour of more sensible mass-appeal models. But with the recession finally over (OK, we’ll ignore the USA) and global markets expanding, the car is back as more than just transport. The annual Paris Motor Show lines up a whole new series of automotive wet dreams; some, like the new versions of the 599 and Maserati GT, are sure to be on the roads soon, but others — particularly those French fantasies — are destined to be, at best, one-off testbeds. Here’s my pick (in no particular order):
Billed as the forerunner for a Survolt racing series, this all-electric track car will go from 0-100kmph in under five seconds, with a racing range of over 200km. More a prototype than a concept, it was unveiled at the Le Mans 24-hour race and was recently thrashed silently (electric, remember?) around the Thruxton track by a TopGear team.
Another electric car, and this one truly a concept, created to celebrate Jaguar’s seventy-fifth anniversary. Clearly Jag’s design team is as frustrated a bunch as the rest of us — this cat looks as un-Jaguar-like as it’s possible to be at first glance — you almost expect to see McLaren badges on it — but a closer look and those ancestral genes begin to appear; the family mouth, the XJ220-like flanks, and a rear screen descended from the E-type.
Each wheel beneath those dominating arches has its own electric motor, giving the C-X75 780bhp, a claimed 0-100kmph of 3.4 seconds, and a top speed of 330kmph. Unfortunately, this will allow the C-X75 a range of only 110km. Fortunately, Jag has given it a pair of gas turbines up its rear (yes, folks, jet engines), each putting out 94bhp and running on any flammable liquid, from LP gas to bio diesel. Switching on the jets allows the electric motors’ lithium-ion batteries (housed in the nose) to recharge, extending the cat’s range to over 900km. Yay.
Concept or not, this car was built to run and not just pose (Car‘s George Kacher drove it in Spain even before the Paris unveiling), but whether Jag will actually take the next step and consider it for production remains to be seen.
Lamborghini Sesto Elemento
Aside from the silly name (which means Sixth Element in Italian), Lambo’s new concept is an absolute knockout in terms of design. And after the Reventon, it’s no surprise — sharp edges are the new sexy, at least as far as Lamborghini is concerned. Macho muscle has always been Lambo’s personality, in contrast to Ferrari’s sleek curves, and looking back at the iconic cars they’ve produced over the last three decades gives you an idea of the rise and fall of the edge. When the Countach appeared in 1974, Bertone’s design was a sharp (pun intended) contrast to Gandini’s Miura, all blade edges and folds. In 1990, Gandini was back with the Diablo and, along with Chrysler Styling, had managed to soften those sharp edges again, without quite losing them altogether. Into the 21st Century, and Luc Donckerwolke’s Murcielago was even more sleek and understated, the sharp edges restricted to just the nose and tail. However his 2003 Gallardo swung the wheel back over and edges were in again. And the rest is history… or the future.
It’s also a pointer in the direction future supercar manufacturers will have to look if they’re to survive in this green millennium. The fight will no longer be for horsepower, but for weight — or rather lack of it. The Sesto Elemento is only 999kg and powered by the Gallardo’s 5.2-ltr V10 rather than the Murcielago’s 6.5-ltr V12. To weigh in under a ton, the Lambo concept is built almost totally of carbon (yup, that’s the sixth element, if you remember your O/Level tables), and what isn’t is aluminum or titanium. Just to show you what I mean, the Sesto Elemento is 341kg lighter than the Gallardo Superleggera, and will go from 0-100kmph in 2.5 seconds, which is the same as a Buggatti Veyron with almost double the power.
But fear not, this isn’t the Murcielago’s replacement; that will be revealed at the Geneva Motor Show next spring, and by all accounts will be powered by a V12. The Sesto Elemento really is a concept, an indicator of the design and technology cues Lamborghini will be incorporating into its core genetics in future cars. So will they build it? Definitely not; a peep at that name should have told you that — real Lambos are named after fighting bulls and the men and weapons that kill them, not after something in your school science text book.
Peugeot’s concept is powered by twin 170bhp electric motors that will get the 750kg speedster to 100kmph in 3.6 seconds and a top speed of 260kmph. Range is claimed to be around 450km. Just hope it doesn’t rain. Will they build it? LOL.
The first of Lotus’ new lineup of cars designed to claw up the opposition’s tailpipes, the Esprit is planned for a 2012 launch — there, it’s been said; these are all going to be built. With a body made of carbon and aluminum, the Esprit will weigh in at under 1500kg, and its Toyota-designed 5-ltr supercharged V8 will produce 550bhp on the base model and 620bhp on the Esprit R, shooting it out to 100kmph in 3.2 seconds with the R version. An optional KERS hybrid system will have an additional 50bhp on tap for short periods (ie overtaking a Ferrari 458 Italia). Both coupe and convertible models will be produced and will be yours for upward of 126,000 euros.
Designed by the man who designed the 458 Italia, the Esprit certainly is a beauty — as it needs to be if it is to compete with the Italia and even the new McLaren, not just on performance, but looks too. And all of this without losing any of the appeal that helped the original captivate everyone from little boys to James Bond.
With the first saloon since the Lotus Carlton, twenty years ago, CEO Danny Bahar says the Eterne has the beauty of a Rapide and the functionality of a Panamera. He maybe right about the looks, but we’ll have to wait and see about the functionality; the Eterne on show in Paris didn’t have an interior because it hasn’t been designed yet. Slated to be on sale in 2015 at 128,000 euros, we might have to wait till next year’s Geneva Motor Show to get a look at that interior layout. The Eterne will be powered by the same 5-ltr supercharged V8 as the Esprite, originally destined for the Lexus I-SF, but obviously mounted at the front this time. Unlike the Esprite, however, the Eterne will have the hybrid system as standard, cutting emissions by 40%. The heavier 1850kg Eterne will do 0-100kmph in four seconds flat.
The Elise is arguably Lotus’ greatest icon, outstripping even the famous JPS F1 racer. It’s the car that pops into everyone’s head whenever you hear the name Lotus. Yes, there is an Exige and an Evora, but nothing comes close to the Elise. Today’s Elise will remain in production ’til 2014, so the new Elise arrives in 2015, just in time to snap up those customers who might otherwise buy a Cayman or Boxster. The new Elise has much more comfort and usability than today’s car — bigger cockpit, bigger boot, and more options. Quite different from the hardcore car you’re used to. It’s also bigger, and 200kg heavier. In spite of this, the new car looks small and sharp, the cockpit pushed forward by the engine. And in spite of the size and weight gain, the new Elise will be faster than the old one, thanks to a beefier 300bhp 2-ltr supercharged or turbocharged 4-cylinder. The R version will sport 350bhp, promising 0-100kmph of under 4.5 seconds.
The new car will have both coupe and convertible versions, and come in both standard manual and clutchless sequential. Instruments will be track-focused, and have a sat nav giving detailed data on a range of tracks, including braking points and cornering speeds. But all this is going to cost you. The new Elise will cost over 40,000 euros compared to today’s 30k. Given that launch is still five years in the future, it’ll still keep the Elise competitive with the Porsches of the day.
More than any of its new cars, the Elise is the one car that Lotus needs to nail just right, because today the light little two-seat sports car is the core of the brand. The new Elise certainly has the look and feel, but how it handles in the buyers’ hands will be the crucial test.
Evora too light and kit-carish for you? Lotus has the answer — an up-engined, more luxurious GT based on the same chassis. It might still sport a V6, but it’s been muscled up to a supercharged 4-ltr and 400bhp on the base model, and 450bhp on the R, taking 0-100 in 3.9 and 3.5 seconds respectively. The Elan will share certain components with the Esprite as well, like its nose and cabin, however because of the transverse-mounted engine, it’ll have a 2+2 option like the Evora. It’ll also cost over 86,000 euros. So if the new Elise is set to take on the Cayman and Boxster, the Elan will target the 911, V8 Vantage, and Audi R8. Shorter and tauter than the Esprite, the Elan will be offered initially as a coupe, followed by a convertible.
The Elite will have a supercharged 5-ltr V8 which will push out 620bhp in the R version, a 3.5-second time to 100kmph, and will be launched as a folding hardtop in 2014. Long and sleek, it will need everything it’s got to compete with its rivals — the Ferrari 599 and California, DBS, SL AMG, and Corvette ZR1. Essentially a chopped Eterne, the Elite shares the saloon’s powertrains, instruments and suspension, and will enter the market at a shade over 132,000 euros.
Ferrari 599 SA Aperta
SA stands for Sergio and Andrea Pininfarina, and Aperta means ‘open’ in Italian. Each one costs 403,000 euros. Maranello built eighty (to celebrate Pininfarina’s eightieth birthday), and they’ve all been snapped up. Designed to be driven as a roadster, the SA Aperta comes with a fabric roof that can’t be used above 120kmph, and in Ferrari’s words “only if the weather gets particularly bad.”
Up front is the same 6-ltr 661bhp V12 from the 599 GTO, Ferrari’s fastest road-going car (which is also sold out btw), with none of the kilos a hardtop convertible would have stacked on. So yes, the SA Aperta will go from 0 to 100kmph in 3.5 seconds and top off at 321kmph. With a lowered ride height and stiffened chassis, Ferrari claims the convertible is as rigid as the GTB coupe.
Normally, I wouldn’t have bothered including a car that is basically a choptop version of the original, especially since the sun isn’t really a friend here in Asia, but what makes the SA Aperta stand out is the fact that Ferrari has managed to produce a convertible that performs as well as the coupe and, equally important — looks as good. Most modern hardtop convertibles look like Kim Kardashian on an all-sugar diet (anyone seen the new 911 Speedster?), but because Ferrari opted for a fabric roof, they’ve saved on its storage space, enabling the SA Aperta to stay slim and sexy.
Given the amount of engineering that has gone into the SA Aperta, it seems like a lot of trouble to go to for just eighty cars, and speculation is rife that a 599 Spider maybe on the cards. Impossible to say just yet, but if a production line is introduced, there’ll be no shortage of customers.
Maserati GranTurismo MC Stradale
The MC may not quite be a 430 Scuderia, but it’s still a hardcore version of the original Maserati GT S. While the 4.7-ltr V8’s power only increases by a slim 9bhp, ceramic brakes and carbon seats lighten the MC by 110kg. You also get gearshifts of 60ms that compare with the 599 GTO, plus aero tweaks to lower drag and increase down force, stiffer springs, and new tires.
Audi PQ3010 Quattro
Designed to celebrate thirty years of Quattro and a hundred years of Audi, the new Quattro concept started in 2008 as the “Project Anniversario” before the global market collapse. Inspired by the Sport Quattro — the limited-edition, short wheelbase Baur-built car that sealed Audi’s place in automotive and rallying history — the new Quattro is loosely based on the RS5, but with design cues that point straight back to the fibre-bodied 1984 car with its distinctive glass dimensions, flared wheel arches, and overall proportions. In a word, the new concept looks superb. Its wheelbase is 15cm shorter than that of the RS5, and its roofline 4cm lower, with an aluminum spaceframe covered in carbon panels that brings its weight down to the 1,300kg of the 1984 car. To help shed the kilos, Audi replaced the RS5’s 4.2-ltr V8 with a 402bhp 2.5-ltr turbocharged straight-five, and the double-clutch transmission with a six-speed manual. Unlike the original, which was a 2+2, the PQ3010 will seat just two. Audi claims the new Quattro will do 0-100kmph in under four seconds and be electronically restricted to 250kmph.
If the exterior is designed to bring back memories, the interior is all about the future; simple and minimalistic, sporty but sexy, with just a nod to the retro ’80s — the rev counter is a dogleg semi-analogue. The Sparco buckets weigh just 18kg each, and the entire interior is finished in aluminum and two-tone beige/black leather.
Will Audi produce this? We don’t know. The PQ3010 seems to have as many fans inside Audi as out, including (obviously) its chief designer Wolfgang Egger, and board member Michael Dick, both of whom see lots of logistical, financial and engineering hurdles that Audi will have to er… vorsprung before this concept can hit the streets. According to Herr Dick, if Audi were to manufacture just 220 of the new Quattro (as they did with the original Sport Quattro), each car would cost more than the 165,000-euro R8 GT. Even with a run of a thousand, each car would cost more than an R8 V10. The only two solutions would be to either compromise and share more components with the RS5, or go the whole hog and not restrict the new car’s production run.
Red Bull X1 Prototype
Designed by Red Bull’s Adrian Newey, 1,483bhp and 527lbft, 545kg and a top speed of 400kmph — this is the ultimate F1 car, and it’s no dream. This car will soon be racing, and driven by you. A joint project between Red Bull Racing and PlayStation developers Polyphony, the X1 Prototype will be the top dog in the upcoming Gran Turismo 5. The massive power output and blinding speed (faster than Newey’s real world RB6 F1 which max’s out at 320kmph) comes from a gas turbine revving to 15,000rpm, and to manage this the X1 has impressive aero, including covered wheels and cockpit and a huge fan at the rear producing 2,500kg of downforce. That’s roughly the weight of a Range Rover.
Sebastian Vettel was the first person to try out the X1 on GT5, and quickly set a laptime for Suzuka of 1 minute 11.540 seconds, beating his own current record for that track which stands at 1 minute 30.883 seconds. That’s twenty seconds faster than an RB6. Wanna try cracking that next week?
Mazda has a tradition of designing an idea rather than a car. Remember Nagare? That idea (translated as ‘flow’) spawned such concepts as the awesome Mazda Furai which was unveiled in Detroit in 2008. Mazda’s new idea is called Kodo, which they say translates as the ‘soul of motion’ (though Wikipedia says it means ‘heartbeat’ or ‘children of the drum’), but whatever it means, the Shinari concept certainly looks the business. Mazda says Shinari is a Japanese word that describes the tense but supple appearance of a muscle (maybe Mazda is designing languages too), and that certainly seems appropriate. The 4-door saloon unveiled in Paris looks more like a living creature than a machine, and is possibly what the next Mazda 6 or RX-8 will look like.
Chris Bangle is one of the more controversial designers of our time, you either liked his work or you hated it, and a lot of people hated it. The welcome given to the last 6-Series in 2003 was a bit lukewarm to say the least (though I like it myself), so when BMW unveiled Nader Faghihzadeh’s new take on the big Bavarian GT, the contrast was pretty obvious. Like the Audi’s retake of the old Sport Quattro, this new car takes a lot of inspiration from the old ’70s E24, designed by Paul Bracq — the shark-like nose, the long clean lines, the tucked-in tail.
Though BMW isn’t confirming anything yet, it’s pretty much a sure thing that this will be the 2012 6-Series, virtually unchanged, at least on the outside. The interior’s a different matter though — a wacky-but-cool asymmetrical design just flows across the front of the cabin, skewing everything in favour of the driver. A two-tone scheme adds to the style, but you can expect this to be turned down a bit for the production car.
The range will probably start off with a 640i and a 650i sporting petrol V8s, the top of the range powered by the X5’s 400bhp 4.4-ltr twin-turbo V8, along with a 640d, though we can expect a range of other powerplants in both 6- and 4-cylinder. If and when the M6 joins the range, it’ll no longer have the big old V10 (that’s gone forever apparently), but will use the 550bhp 4.4-ltr twin-turbo V8 currently in the M5.
Well, that’s my pick of the lot. I’m sure I’ve left out many that you’d like and included a couple you hate, but there it is. What do you people out there (I assume there’s someone) think?