Newsflash: Aston Martin gelooft nog steeds in de V12


+++ ASTON MARTIN is preparing to transform the V12-engined DBS into a bona-fide supercar, more clearly distinguished from its V8-powered DB12 and Vantage siblings. It is based on the DB12, but with a wide-reaching visual makeover that points to its extra grunt: there are huge new vents on the bonnet to keep the 12-cylinder engine cool, a much wider grille and a chunkier lower splitter that hints at improved downforce. The rear end features a larger diffuser to improve aerodynamic performance, and the twin-exit exhaust set-up has been replaced with four tailpipes, nodding to the extra cylinders. A similar arrangement featured on the final-edition DBS 770, in which the V12’s output was ramped up up to 770 hp. It could be in line to receive yet more grunt to do battle with Ferrari’s upcoming 812 Superfast replacement, potentially nudging the 800 hp mark, but it is yet to be seen whether Aston will boost capacity beyond the 5.2 litres of the previous car. Any power increase will no doubt be matched by a comprehensive chassis overhaul building on the set-up deployed on the fearsome DBS 770 Ultimate, with uprated dampers and a boost in rigidity at both ends helping to improve cornering performance and giving the supercar a broader scope of ability on track. Although the DBS successor is evidently based on the DB12, it will be “completely different” to both that grand tourer and the new Vantage, Aston Martin chief creative officer Marek Reichman has told. As for the new supercar’s name, Alex Long, director of product and market strategy, noted that ‘DB’ models tend to sit at the “core of the line-up”, suggesting that flagships such as this merit names beginning with V (such as Valhalla and Valkyrie), and understands a revival of the Vanquish badge is on the cards. There has been no official announcement on the future of the DBS, which bowed out last year with the 770 Ultimate edition, but Long said the brand “will always have a flagship”, and its desire to reinforce its sporting prowess means a top-rung supercar is clearly all but a necessity. Long added: “The focus on performance as a pillar of the brand is critical. Historically, we’ve been a performance brand as well as a luxury brand, and we’re moving back to that”. Crucial to Aston Martin’s desire to cement its status as a maker of top-drawer sports cars as well as more luxury cars will be ensuring that each of its front-engined models has its own distinct character and capabilities. “Rather than having products with two levels of power output and performance (and that includes dynamics and braking and all the other aspects of what makes a proper performance car) we now have to bring these power levels that give our cars the edge”, said Long. He also emphasised that V12 engines are “synonymous” with Aston Martin. “People still love the twelves”, he said. “As much as the electrification revolution continues, a V12 engine has a different use case, and it’s still very much a huge emotional connection for our customers”. Aston Martin is expected to unveil the DBS successor this summer, possibly at the Monterey Car Week in August where, in previous years, it has revealed the Valhalla supercar, DBR22 speedster and Valkyrie Spider. +++

+++ There are plenty of new SUVs waiting to be unveiled in 2024, but the most special one could well be the CUPRA Terramar. After all, it’s likely to become the Spanish brand’s best-seller and one of this year’s commercial successes. Think it’s an electric SUV? Not at all. On the contrary, it’s the last Cupra to come out with combustion engines (light hybridisation, it goes without saying, to obtain the “Eco” certification in Spain), although it will also have rechargeable hybrid versions that will probably offer around a 100 km of electric range. The Terramar will be part of the C-SUV segment alongside the Formentor and the Ateca. What’s more, it will share the same production line as the new Audi Q3 in Gyor, Hungary, which will probably make it the most luxurious and best-assembled CUPRA of all. Will it even reach the premium level? The answer will come when we see the car in our hands, which will be in the next few months. What does seem clear is its design, as the car has already been shown at an official event, and the attached reconstruction faithfully shows its aesthetic line. The front end, with the company’s new ‘shark nose’, adds a little more personality to the whole. As this is not a coupé SUV, it will be the perfect family model. It will have plenty of interior space and a large boot, which should have a capacity of over 500 litres. However, as a Cupra, the driver will appreciate the feeling of sportiness. The adaptive DCC suspension and progressive steering (with variable gear ratios) should not be lacking to negotiate corners well without compromising the touring character of a car of this type. I don’t yet know anything about the interior, but it’s a safe bet that it will retain the Formentor’s full digitalisation. Could it inherit the cabin of the 100% electric Tavascan? The idea is not unlikely, but we’re waiting for official images. It’s still too early to talk about the price of the Terramar. However, the entry-level price is likely to be around €48.000 in the Netherlands. That wouldn’t be surprising, given that the cheapest Formentor, equipped with a 150 PS 1.5-litre TSI petrol engine, no mild hybridisation and a 6-speed manual gearbox, retails for €45.990 (before discounts). +++

+++ In our region of the world, FIAT may be little more than a shadow of days gone by and it is also virtually non-existent in the important US car market. However, the Italians obviously know quite well how to print money in other parts of the world. 2023 marked the third year in a row in which Fiat sold more cars than any other brand in the large Stellantis conglomerate. As a reminder, the result of the FCA-PSA merger at the beginning of 2021 is a car giant with no fewer than 14 brands. Fiat happily reports that demand has increased by 12 percent compared to 2022. A total of 1.35 million vehicles were sold. The market share on the domestic market was only 12.8 percent (11.1 percent if only passenger cars are counted). The growth and overall stable figures therefore came from other regions. In Turkey, for example, the market share was 15.7 percent. In Brazil, as many as 21.8 percent of new car buyers opted for a Fiat. Still not really impressed? Well, let’s take a look at Algeria. In the North African country, 78.6 percent of new registrations were accounted for by the Turin-based manufacturer. Things also went really well in South America. More than 542.000 units were sold there; an increase of 45.300 cars compared to 2022. The overall market share: 14.5 percent. In the Middle East & Africa region, the Italians once again took the title for the brand with the most new registrations, for the fifth time in a row. The market share here was 15.7 percent. And which cars were the most popular? In Italy it was (unsurprisingly, despite its advanced age) the Panda. The relatively compact Strada pickup was once again very popular in Brazil, while most customers in Turkey and Algeria opted for the Tipo. The best-selling electric car in Europe (A and B segments) was the Fiat 500e with a market share of 14.7 percent. The stylish electric car took the lead in the segment in Italy, Germany, Spain, Belgium and Austria. The previous generation of the 500 with a combustion engine and the Panda together accounted for more than 230.000 sales on the old continent. Pure Fiat dominance in the city car segment with a share of 44.4 percent. 2024 could also turn out to be another good year for the Italians. A new Panda will finally be launched in July. The 600 crossover hopeful will also have its first full year in competition. +++

+++ Who saw it coming? It was kind of obvious, wasn’t it? MERCEDES now has to admit that it was perhaps a little too euphoric about its own transition to electromobility. During the press conference on the 2023 annual results, the Swabian premium manufacturer said that it was now aiming for a 50 percent share for plug-in hybrids and pure electric cars by 2030. Compared to the original plan, this is a delay of 5 years. In July 2021, the car manufacturer still estimated that PHEVs and BEVs would be responsible for half of all Mercedes sales by 2025. If you follow the 3-pointed star a little more closely, you may remember the “Ambition 2039” strategy that was presented a few years ago. One sentence in the extremely comprehensive document particularly caught the attention of various journalists: “By the end of this decade, Mercedes-Benz Cars aims to be fully electric, where market conditions permit”. The statement was somewhat vague, but on the other hand clear enough to address the company’s ambitious EV targets. In a new document for investors, Mercedes estimates that hybrids and EVs will account for “up to 50 percent” in the second half of the decade, but only “where market conditions allow”. The car manufacturer goes on to say that it will “be in a position to respond to various customer needs well into the 2030s”. Of course, it can also be said that cars with combustion engines will still be pumped onto the world’s markets in ten years or more. Meanwhile, CEO Ola Källenius also had to admit that conventionally powered cars will continue to form the backbone of the company’s cash flow. He told that cost parity between combustion and electric cars is “many years away”. The presentation to investors showed that the manufacturing costs of electric cars will not fall to the level of combustion cars this decade. This is despite the fact that petrol and diesel production is likely to become more expensive as soon as Euro 7 comes into force. Last year, Mercedes delivered 401.943 plug-in hybrids and all-electric cars; an increase of 20.5 per cent compared to the previous year. PHEV sales fell by 12.5 percent to 161.275 units, while EV sales rose by 61.3 percent to 240.668 units. Electrified cars accounted for 19.7 percent of the total volume (compared to 16.3 percent in 2022). The target for 2024 is a share of between 19 and 21 percent. Let’s look a little further ahead: the new MMA platform has been developed primarily for electric cars, but still supports the use of combustion engines. It will be the basis for at least four models that have already been confirmed in the product roadmap: CLA, CLA Shooting Brake and GLB. The already heavily teased “Little G”, the little brother of the legendary G-Class, is also likely to use this base. The all-electric models should deliver a range of up to 750 kilometers according to WLTP and support charging speeds of up to 300 kW. This means that a range of 400 kilometers can be recharged in 15 minutes. Mercedes also promises bidirectional charging. Depending on the model and version, the power output should be between a good 204 and 550 hp. +++

+++ An estate version of the MG 4 is set to go on sale later this year as a replacement for the ageing MG 5. The 5 was launched in Europe in 2021, but it’s based on the Chinese-market Roewe i5, which dates back to 2017, so is now at a natural retirement age. MG has previously confirmed that its new EV-specific Modular Scalable architecture, first used for the 4, will be rolled out across its line-up as it replaces its first generation of electric cars. As it does so, an extended version of the 4 is understood to be a more logical and cost-effective successor to the 5 than an all-new model. Switching onto the new architecture will make the new 5 rear-driven, rather than front-driven, and with vastly improved performance statistics across the board. The current 5 cracks 0-100 kph in 8.0 seconds, has a 320 km range and can charge at 50 kW. The single-motor 4, by contrast, can sprint from 0-100 kph in 6.5 seconds, has a maximum range of 520 km (Extended Range model) and boosts maximum charging speed to 150 kW. It’s also, unlike the 5, available in performance-focused dual-motor guise with a huge 435 hp, although it remains to be seen whether the new estate will be offered with so much power.Carl Gotham, advanced design director at MG’s European design centre in London, suggested the next-generation 5, ZS and HS will become bolder and more obviously technologically advanced than their predecessors but without moving into more premium territory. “Some of the products are coming to the end of their journey”, he said, “and we’re in a really strong position, especially at 100 years old, to take a confident, bold step forward with the new products: update the technology, update the image, but still make it still very affordable and accessible for people. We don’t want to alienate anybody from the brand. “That’s really MG’s advantage. It’s always about offering experiences that were maybe historically much more inaccessible to everyday people”. The new 5 will be sold in Europe alongside a new version of the ZS on the same platform, as well as a redesigned HS, the new 3 Hybrid and the second-generation Marvel-R. A €23.000 electric city car is also likely to join the ranks in 2025. +++

+++ We’ve all got our own idea about how much power and acceleration we need from a new car. But if you allow yourself to get suckered in by automaker’s marketing material, you’d have to conclude that it’s at least 200 hp and probably more like 300 hp. And as for acceleration, well, we’re constantly being bombarded with messages that a sub-5-second zero to 100 kph time is desirable, so anything that takes longer than 10 seconds must be Satan’s spawn. But if you’re driving a modern plug-in hybrid and maximizing its zero emissions potential, you’re probably in effect driving a sub-200 hp car whose 0-to-100 time is in double figures. You just might not have thought about it that way. For the past 3 years, I’ve driven a series of PHEV cars: Ford Kuga, DS 9, Mazda CX-60 and Lexus RX 450h. They’ve all delivered around 40-55 km of electric driving and I always tried to make the most of that capability because those electric kilometers cost less than the equivalent petrol kilometers, and because in most cases the refinement was so much better in electric mode than with the engine running. However, the Mazda CX-60 suffered horrific shunt in hybrid mode. And the sound of its 4-cylinder engine droning away ruined the otherwise impeccable luxury ambience of the Lexus RX. Both were more enjoyable when their batteries were doing all of the heavy lifting. Restricting both to electric power, though, means making a big performance sacrifice. The CX-60’s total system output is 327 hp and with both power sources contributing it’ll get to 100 kph in 5.8 seconds. But the single electric motor mounted inside the transmission is only rated at 175 hp and still has to haul 2,130 kg, meaning it takes around twice as long to get to 100 kph because it has the same power to weight ratio as a Mitsubishi Space Star with a 1,2 liter engine. Obviously there were times when I wanted more go than that, like when trying to overtake on a 2-lane road, or when I got the urge to go nuts on an empty stretch of curly asphalt and woke the 2.5-liter Skyactiv engine out of its slumber to lend a hand. But I often found myself trying to keep the ICE bit out of the equation, like it was some sort of challenge. And for the most part, when just running trips close to home during the week, there just wasn’t the need for, or opportunity to use, the full 327 hp output. The electric motor was ample. An 11-second 0-to-100 kph time might look lame, but it felt much punchier than that in reality because it still delivered its torque instantly, just like a true EV, and accelerate relatively urgently until 65 km/h. And it could still cruise at 130 km/h) on the motorway without needing to call for ICE backup. I love the kick in the back you get from launching a car that has more power than it could ever need, but driving this succession of PHEVs has made me think about how much power we really do need, and use. It’s also serves as a reminder of how our attitude to power and acceleration has changed over the years. Back in the 1990s a car that could get to 100 kph in 8 seconds was considered reasonably quick, but today it’s just as likely to get slated as inadequate, even though we’re driving on the exact same roads. One point worth making about the PHEVs I’ve run over the past 3 years is that none could top 65 km of electric driving. But some of the latest plug-ins are rated at 95-115 km of range. That means drivers of those cars are going to be spending even more time traveling purely on battery power. And what about the next generation of PHEVs? Will more advanced batteries give them a 160 km range? It seems to me that if buyers are going to be spending more time driving in EV mode, they should be offered more information about how the car performs in that configuration. Knowing that a car has a total petrol-electric system output of 327 hp and can hit 100 kph in 5.8 seconds in no way helps you understand how it’s going to feel when the you remove one of the power sources from the equation. Bizarrely, Ferrari did publish a 0-to-100 km/h time for its SF90 Stradale when the PHEV supercar was launched, revealing that the mid-engined coupe needed over 9 seconds in EV mode versus 2.5 seconds when the twin-turbo V8 was helping out. But most automakers give us no clue how fast their PHEVs go, and often they don’t make it easy for buyers to find out how much power the electric motor provides, preferring only to talk about the overall powertrain output. Years ago, Car & Driver magazine, realizing that 0-100 kph times are mostly nonsense, because real people don’t sidestep the clutch at 5.000 rpm at stoplights, came up with a 10-100 kph “street start” test; a great idea that should really have spread further. By the same token, maybe the auto industry should start publishing some kind of performance data to show how hybrids perform in electric mode to give us a better real-world insight into what they’re going to be like to drive. +++

+++ The newly reborn RENAULT 5 will be evolved on an annual model-year basis and could retain its basic form for a decade or more, instead of a conventional 3-year facelift and 7-year life cycle, company bosses have revealed. The Fiat 500 and Mini Cooper rival, which made its public debut at the 2024 Geneva Motor Show, is being launched with a choice of 5 colours and a range of accessories, including graphics, that allow greater scope for personalisation. It gets a choice of battery sizes and electric-motor outputs too. But senior project officials have suggested that upgrades are likely to come thick and fast for the car; not only in more obvious areas such as colour and trim, but also beneath the surface. The first update could even be introduced before the first deliveries of the car, in the shape of steering wheel-mounted paddles that allow different levels of brake-energy regeneration to be selected, including a mode that facilitates single-pedal driving around town. Laurent Leprieur, the 5’s project lead, told me: “We plan to launch other colors already. For 2025 we’ll have 2 more colors, including one ‘pop’ color (like the green and yellow of the launch versions). “But over time, we’ll also work to improve the efficiency, the price – maybe a new battery technology”, he added. “LFP chemistry (cheaper but less energy dense than the 5’s planned NMC tech) is one thing we could look for there, as an example. “We plan to launch just a few months after the start of the sale, a one-pedal offering. It will have four regen braking levels and then the fifth one will be full stop, ‘single-pedal’ mode. We have in mind to see how we can propose this system for customers who buy the first version without it, because it’s mainly hardware”. Renault’s boss, Luca de Meo, even hinted that this focus on under-the-skin optimisation could give the 5 a long life, like that enjoyed by the combustion-engined 500, which was introduced back in 2007 and only facelifted in 2016. “We’re not going to keep the 5 the same for 7 years”, he said, “but it’s an iconic product; so we don’t want to change the design. We can change a few colors, maybe. The structure of the thing will stay the same for a long time: maybe 10, 12 even 15 years, like 500 did. But you can change everything inside”. De Meo added that we should expect lessons learned on the forthcoming Renault 4 and particularly the even cheaper Twingo that’s due in 2026, to help make the 5 more affordable. “As we go along, if I find out I need 1 semiconductor instead of 2, or 1 chip instead of 2, I’m going to take it out”, he said. “All the things that we learn on the Twingo, we will roll back into 5 and 4. So you can expect 5 and 4 to come down in price. We’ve already learned things from the Twingo project that are relevant not just for the 5, but also for the other platform, so Mégane, Scénic and so forth”. Senior project officials have revealed some of the 5’s construction secrets, meanwhile, designed to help keep its starting price down to around €25.000 and allow an unusually short development period, between concept and start of production, of 3 years. The 5’s platform makes extensive use of Clio and Captur parts and geometry up front, and the design of multi-link back axle (necessary because a cheaper torsion beam would have forced a longer wheelbase to accommodate the larger of the 2 battery packs) relies heavily on proven parts from the 4-wheeldrive Dacia Duster. +++

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