Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering 2011 Is Stunning!

I don’t know if the 9th annual The Quail was the best so far, but it was the best show I’ve ever attended. What a $400, limited ticket sale admission buys is exclusivity and a perfect sized venue with excellent parking for the aficionado of cars and food. Make that fine automobiles and cuisines. Friday, August 19th was an unforgettable day. Be sure to see the slideshow pictures.

When 9 Bugatti Veyrons are on site in their own section, including two Super Sports, you know you’re in the right place. And then there was a $2,350,000 Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport “L’Or Blanc” which features fine porcelain on its body and in its cabin. There was a Pagani Zonda R totally overshadowing a Carrera GT and a Mercedes McLaren SLR 722 despite the bland colored carbon fiber bodywork.

Mr. Horacio Pagani was there presenting the stunning new Pagani Huayra. Intended for the US market but 15 or so are currently declined by the Feds due to airbag technology compliance, it’s an amazing piece of automotive design and engineering.

Not far from the Pagani was an Aston Martin One-77. The fabulous, million-dollar supercar definitely has Aston styling with cues that make it stand apart from the blurring of their other models.

Other outstanding manufacturer themed displays included: Lamborghini presenting the new Aventador, the 50thAnniversary of Jaguar E-Types, Ferrari America and Superamerica Models, new Jaguars, also Mercedes Gullwings and SLSs. Ferrari had a display of the California, the 458 Italia and the brand new, controversial, all-wheel drive FF. Cadillac had a display of V’s, including their CTS-V Coupe race car. Land Rover, Maserati, Audi & Rolls Royce also had outstanding displays.

Fine jewelry vendors were present. A helicopter near the show, assumed some V.I.P.s personal ride, was actually shuttle service to Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca even though Laurels Grade Road is a fun ride too.

Walk around enough and the hunger for exotic cars translates to a craving for food. The menu has cuisines specific to Carmel Valley, Italy, Spain, France and the Mediterranean region.

Other highlights included:

Bonhams & Butterfields two-day auction featuring the famed 1979 BMW M1 “Art Car”
50thAnniversary of Phil Hill’s Formula One World Drivers’ Championship
Riverside International Raceway cars that competed at that location
Sports and Racing Motorcycles

It was a very sad moment of longing when it was time to leave this spectacular display. However, thanks to a parking lot of attendees vehicles equivalent to the Concorso Italiano – Ferraris, Lamborghinis and even a red Porsche Carrera GT, it was a happy goodbye.

The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering is the most expensive “show” during the weekend and quite possibly the best in variety, size and execution. I can't wait for next year.


Monday, February 6, 2012

Brake Caliper Placement - Ask Rob About Cars

Why is it that the rear calipers are in front of the axle and the front calipers to the rear of the axle?

-Augie Ruberto, Campbell, CA.

Great question Augie! There are multiple reasons for this. For most cars, it’s a non-issue. But if you look at sports cars, it’s almost always the rule with two notable exceptions I know of. Regarding the fronts, one reason is the steering knuckle is many times designed in front of the axle and so the caliper behind the axle offsets the weight and effect of the forces acting on the steering.
Another reason is for brake cooling. Ducts are used to direct cooling air to the brakes and a large caliper will block airflow to the disc which is vented. Cooling isn’t as critical for the rear brakes and it makes sense for weight distribution between the axles.
The two exceptions that come to mind are the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and the Nissan 370Z. I haven’t heard of any issues with the Mitsubishi, but the Nissan 370Z had a notorious brake failure when Car & Driver magazine was conducting one of their “Lightning Lap” tests. Further investigating with upgraded pads and then brake fluid to reduce temperatures, their suspicion was compromised aerodynamics. If you notice in the accompanying pictures, the front caliper is in front of the axle.


Have a question about cars you would like answered? Questions about performance, racing, modifying, shopping, makes, models, events, etc? Ask me here: AskRobAboutCars@gmail.com and I'll do my best to answer your question and publish it here on Examiner.com!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Letter to Motor Trend Magazine Regarding Performance Figures

Motor Trend magazine had the Car of the Year issue for January, 2012. There were a few discrepancies and their figure eight comparison needs more comparison relevance. Below is my letter to them.

On 44, the Hyundai Accent is presented with specs for the GLS and SE. Both are listed with the same horsepower. However the SE accelerated to 60mph 1.3 seconds quicker and the quarter mile .6 seconds sooner. There is either an error or horrible driving. If you’re going to list the two different sub-models, I suggested giving some space on the differences.

When Motor Trend publishes lap times from here, it really means something!

On page 61, the BMW 650i Coupe is 298lbs lighter than the 650i Convertible yet tested to be slower. I think a closer examination of the gear ratios and a comparison of the two transmissions in the same sub-model is warranted. One could extrapolate the 8-speed automatic makes up a 400lb weight deficit or, perhaps effectively 40hp?

Finally regarding the figure-8, this is a essentially a 3-metric measurement (acceleration, braking and lateral g-force combined with handling). Due to the relative extremely close grouping of virtually all your cars, it makes a comparison or perceived value virtually impossible. Spread it out a little like your excellent Laguna Seca lap database, and you have something very useful. I suggest providing a comparison chart for the vehicle in question with other vehicles in its class. And finally, a vehicle ranking chart along with other test result summaries so the rankings can be understood.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Cadillac Ciel wows the crowd in Carmel, California

The Cadillac Ciel made a major impression on all in attendance at the unveiling on Thursday, August 18th. After showing the ELR Hybrid concept, basically a slightly redone Converj, at the Tehama Golf Club in Carmel, CA, jaws dropped as the Ciel was driven to the main display area. Cadillac hosted a delicious dinner to match the introduction

The Ciel, which is French for “sky” or as Pretty Navigator said as in, “Sky is the limit”, is a lateral step taking modern technology and features to a classic motoring level going back to the early 60s or even the 1930s. It’s a modern throwback to the elegant days of motoring in a large car, enjoying the cruise. It’s all about the style, it doesn’t matter how fast it is. It’s a timeless classic. Expected to be on display in front of The Lodge tomorrow at the Concours D’elegance, it’s a must-see.

The Ciel is a 4-door convertible with rear suicide doors and a superb technology interface for the passengers. Its wheelbase is 125”, 5” longer than a Chrysler 300C/Dodge Charger and with a length of 203”, only 3” longer than the Charger which makes it very large. It’s powered by a twin-turbo V-6 making 425 horsepower. That horsepower is very nice, but nothing crazy for a big car, just right, actually. The lines are show stopping, an instant classic. This is the kind of car that will be in the field at a D’elegance in 50 or 100 years. The BMW Z-8 also comes to mind as sportier instant classic that also will eventually sit on the lawn as well.

Numerous features include ultra-modern digital display, sloping bolsters on the seats for easier ingress, power assisted transmission shifter, LED ambient lighting, zippers in the doors, even pull-out blankets for the three passengers.

Definitely not an extension of the “Transformer” styling of the CTS Coupe, a big congratulations must go to General Motors Vice President Global Design Ed Welburn and Cadillac Global Design Director Clay Dean. As interesting as what they talked about, they really didn’t have to say a word. The Ciel speaks volumes.
Have a question about cars you would like answered? Questions about performance, racing, modifying, shopping, makes, models, events, etc? Ask me here: AskRobAboutCars@gmail.com and I'll do my best to answer your question and publish it here on Examiner.com!


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Infiniti JX Concept World Premiere

Infiniti held a different kind of premiere at Pebble Beach on Thursday, August 18th, 2012. The Infiniti JX Concept is a 3-row SUV with styling that distinguishes itself from the perceived box on wheels. Infiniti Americas Vice President Ben Poore and Senior Vice President and Chief Creative Officer Shiro Nakamura both spoke about the market segment and the impact the JX is expected to make.

Interestingly the 3-row luxury crossover (SUV, same thing) is one of the fastest growing segments. The JX is to exceed in interior utilization, safety and driver interaction. It's supposed to offer extremely easy access to the 3rdrow, back-up collision intervention and advanced telematics. The telematics features an automatic sync to the owner’s smartphone with navigation provided. Also personal concierge service with 24-hour access.

One area that I’m surprised to learn is it will be the first Infiniti with a continuously variable transmission. To my knowledge this is the first large vehicle with a decently powered V-6 offered with such a transmission as well. While a “step mode” will provide perceived shifts while in sport mode, how the driving experience is day-to-day will be interesting.

A smaller and more intimate gathering with product specialists on site, the outdoor section has a selection, seemingly their entire model line-up. It’s the equivalent of a complete factory show room that you normally wouldn’t see at the dealership.

Another bonus is one of the actual Red Bull Formula 1 cars on display for up-close viewing. That doesn’t happen at the races (so I’ve heard) and typically seen up close only years after the car is retired. It’s an impressive piece of engineering, full of carbon fiber and aerodynamic management pieces.

What you can expect from Infiniti is a great driving experience, excellent comfort, clever touches and excellent dealer service. Add the clever utility with the styling touches of the JX, and Infiniti has a winner for a crossover (SUV).

Lexus GS World Premiere at Pebble Beach

Lexus presented the new 2013 GS sedan to the world in Pebble Beach, California during the Monterey Automotive Event weekend, what I call M.A.W. On Thursday, August 18th, Lexus presented a GS that had previously needed edgier styling and better driving dynamics. Lexus delivered. This sedan could finally bring Lexus back into the forefront for enthusiasts in the mid-size luxury segment as well as those seeking the latest in high-tech.

Lexus put on a world-class event for those attending with both Toyota Motor Corporation President Akio Toyoda and Mark Templin, Lexus group vice president and general manager talking about the brand and the car itself. Lexus wants passion and emotion in their products. The GS 350 is a positive step in that direction.

The GS series has sold over 300,000 units and has always been a standard for reliability. What it lacked was driving dynamics along with styling to match. Now it has and all-new platform with crisp, sharp lines, great style and a highly advanced driver interactive interior.

Matching the first-rate atmosphere and presentation, the new GS 350 is quite a stunner for a 4-door sedan. It has styling cues from the LS460 and the LS-A supercar. Body lines are tight and crisp with very small gaps. As mentioned in the presentation, it was built without compromise.

Promising improved driving dynamics with the driver selectable ride and dynamic control, a knob/dial has a Sport and Sport Plus modes in addition to Eco and Normal modes. Although the gasoline engine is rated at “only” 306 horsepower provided premium gas is used, this is the most powerful base engine among the competition. Hybrid and F-Sport editions will follow. Surprisingly, there was no mention of the 8-speed automatic transmission. Assuming the V-8 and 8-speed automatic transmission from the IS-F is used in the F sport edition; this roomier, more advanced sedan will be a serious sport sedan contender.

The technology and features are impressive. The industry’s largest interactive display screen (it goes way beyond navigation) measures 12.3 inches. Sitting under a shaded hood, it features a high definition screen display with split-screen capability. It features online application access, highly advanced voice recognition and the best search function in an automobile.

Also included are 18-way power seats, each one having a 3-position memory settings and temperature sensors in the seats for more efficient airflow contributing to a 3% improvement in fuel economy.

For the eyes, a heads up display, a night vision display that detects movement beyond the range of the low beams, and an active eye monitoring system. The eye monitoring detects eye position in case the driver starts to fall asleep and beeps to regain the driver’s attention. The Lane Keep Assist will gently tug the steering wheel to correct the lane position. For the ears, a Mark Levinson (part of Harman International Industries) 835 watt surround sound system is offered with 17 speakers.

The key to introducing new and innovative technology is to make sure it enhances rather than distracts. Will distractions be the driving force towards autonomous cars? Will these high-tech features mean drivers will drive more often while overly tired or sick, depending upon technology to help them? As long as the systems are able to be turned off, or turned down, those that like driving will continue to enjoy interacting with their car, versus the car interacting with them.

The Lexus GS 350 and upcoming GS models promise to deliver a driving interaction, features and amenites unseen in Lexus before.

Have a question about cars you would like answered? Questions about performance, racing, modifying, shopping, makes, models, events, etc?  Ask me here: AskRobAboutCars@gmail.com and I'll do my best to answer your question and publish it here on Examiner.com

Racing in Sonoma is No Drag! NHRA FRAM Autolite Nationals

This weekend brings the NHRA FRAM/Autolite Nationals to Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California. Loud, obnoixious cars invaded a 1/4 mile strip in wine country. The sheer audacity of the visual and audio experience is why drag racing is so popular. Who would think on a Friday afternoon the grandstands at Infineon Raceway at Sears Point would be packed?

The whole experience is awesome, even for the non –car lover. Pretty Navigator can attest to that. In fact, she enjoyed it so much, she screamed every time the cars went by. But at these races, no one can hear you scream…

Why would a self-professed non-car person get some much enjoyment from such an intense experience? The reason why the drag races are so popular versus the purer road circuit or high-speed oval races is that it’s not hours of potentially monotonous droning. What NHRA drag racing offers is an intense experience lasting 4 to 6 seconds with a clear winner at the end and just a enough data, elapsed time and trap speed, to give a reference point. It’s repeated instant gratification which makes for a really fun experience. Add in some flames, like at dusk or at night, it's just way cool. Check out the video.

Even parking about 1/2 mile from the track is very organized. The shuttle service ran quickly and efficiently for arrivals and departures. Plenty of food and drink with vendor displays of types besides the action in the pits.

In the pits, it may seem boring to watch an engine get rebuilt, but upon start-up and a few revs, it’s like massive explosions happening all at once. Nitro methane exhaust will burns your eyes and throat to the point that the crew has gas masks on when the start-up occurs. A friend watching himself on video being subjected to the exhaust even had a second reaction!

Walking around there are all sorts of vendors selling the standard merchandise of hats and t-shirts, Harley Davidson was present with their 2012 bikes and a drag race simulator, the U.S. Army with a technology display including a night vision demonstration and flight simulator. If you could do a number of overhand grip pull-ups, all the way down and chin over the bar (well into the teens if not higher) you win a free t-shirt.

This is an experience everyone should have and I guarantee you’ll really enjoy it. Just bring earplugs and something warm to wear at night for Friday night qualifying. Then sit, relax and cheer, or scream!

Check out the results here:
Have a question about cars you would like answered? Questions about performance, racing, modifying, shopping, makes, models, events, etc? Ask me here: AskRobAboutCars@gmail.com and I'll do my best to answer your question and publish it here on Examiner.com!


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Indy Cars vs. Formula One - Which is faster? Ask Rob About Cars

Ferrari Formula One car at Infineon RacewayWhich is faster, an Formula 1 car or an Indy car? Joe G., San Jose, CA

As a general rule, Indy cars are faster in a straight line by design for races on oval circuits. Formula One cars are quicker around a road circuit, hands down. There are no super speedway oval tracks in that series. The series rules are what limit the power-to-weight ratios and aerodynamic aids allowed.

Indy cars are powered by an ultra-reliable “spec” race engine supplied by Honda with only one failure in years. The 3.5 liter V-8 engine produces roughly 630 horsepower and revs up to 10,500 rpm. The car minimum weight is 1,525 lbs and uses a 6-speed sequential shift semi-automatic transmission.

Formula One cars have multiple manufacturers involved competing against each other and currently have a minimum weight of 1372lbs. The engines produce roughly 730 horsepower from the 2.7 liter V-8 engines and can rev around 18,000rpm. Impressive considering the engines are restricted from using “exotic” materials. A sequential-shift semi-automatic 7-speed transmission is used.

Aerodynamics make it possible for the cars to corner as fast as they do. It was recently reported that the “Drag Reduction System” or DRS in a Formula One car can enable an extra 10-12 mph on a straightaway. That is enormous!

When the two series last raced on the same track, the Formula One cars were roughly 5 to 7 seconds quicker than the Indy cars. If you want to see the Indy cars race locally, be sure to check out the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma, August 26-28th at Infineon Raceway.

Have a question about cars you would like answered? Questions about performance, racing, modifying, shopping, makes, models, events, etc? Ask me here: AskRobAboutCars@gmail.com and I'll do my best to answer your question and publish it here on Examiner.com!


Cadillac CTS-V Coupe on the Race Track and Street

The CTS-V Coupe is not a favorite of mine. Driving it however definitely changed how I feel about it, but still not my conclusion. I’ve already stated a while back that GM shouldn’t have bothered making this car. I didn’t think the Coupe would sell very well with its Transformer robot styling, oversized doors, over-angled near-useless rear window, overweight, etc. On the other hand it definitely has serious performance capability.
The V-sedan on the other hand has none of the shortcomings. It’s a great car offering all the advantages of four doors with world class performance and world class pricing, what’s not to like?

The coupe offers the same 556 horsepower supercharged 6.0 liter V-8 as the sedan. Called the LS-A, it is a somewhat “detuned” version of the 638hp unit in the Corvette ZR1. My notes from both the public roads and Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca repeat the word, “smooth” more than once. Some say the pushrod V-8 doesn’t have the refinement of the overhead cam engines from Europe and Asia. It wasn’t apparent when driving it. I found it very easy to hit the rev limiter since there doesn’t seem to be a rising crescendo of noise nor vibration and it revs quickly. The 6-speed manual had good feel and action, no complaints.

It is so fast, it’s a hooligan car. Capable of low 12-second quarter mile ETs in the high teens with optimal conditions, other cars are thought of as a, “Why do you bother?” And, “Get off the road, this is where the big boys play.” On the track though, being a big boy is a definite disadvantage.

While on a winding and sometimes bumpy road, the active suspension with the magnetic ride control (shocks) and brakes were excellent, inspiring confidence and never a jittery misstep. The brake pedal travel is short is quickly gotten used to. All that speed and a listed curb weight of 4209lbs, only 13lbs less than the sedan and the same wheelbase but slightly wider track, meant repeated use on the track brought out wisps of smoke.

Steering effort is light but the wheel seems to sit at an angle with a shape that may be great for some hands yet not others. Definitely not a universal fit. The climate control is truly a dual unit in usage with separate controls angled towards the occupants on the center console as well as a central panel. Initial impression of the seats is that they are firm yet supportive. The door handle is an electric door release versus direct mechanical linkage. And yes, the door is long, very long. There is also an odd cut-out piece in the body work on the exterior next to the door.

Sometimes when you leave the driver’s window cracked open, the wind noise is readily apparent, not so with the coupe which was a pleasant change. As mentioned before, it has poor rear visibility. But not too poor where I couldn’t identify the Mercedes SLS closing the gap after the corkscrew at Laguna Seca. I tried to show it what American iron could do, but coming out of turn 11, I was freight trained. Considering that Motor Trend has had champion race car driver Bernd Schneider lap Laguna Seca over 3 seconds faster in the SLS than champion Randy Pobst’s time years earlier in the CTS-V, I didn’t feel bad at all. After all, a 3 second deficit comparing flying laps basically means getting pulled hard from the exit of turn 11 on to the front straight to the finish line. Think of it as something like a 30mph to 120mph drag race.

There is no denying it’s a good car, maybe even a great car that offers a lot of content and performance for the dollar. However the sedan offers all the advantages and none of the disadvantages of the coupe. Since the coupe is uniquely styled and definitely stands out, it can back up it's looks unlike past uniquely styled failures such as the Pontiac Aztek and Chevrolet SSR. So with over 500hp, as they say, there really is a butt for every seat.


Infiniti M35h - the Fun Hybrid

The Infiniti M35h Hybrid offers luxury, size and power with rather outstanding mileage, 27mpg city and 32mpg highway. Very impressive from a powertrain rated at 360hp and 457ft.lbs of torque in a 4129lb car. Wrap your head around that for a minute. A gas-only sedan of similar size and power would have a hard time getting 25mpg highway. A note about the horsepower and torque figures: The combined horsepower (302 gas, 67 electric) adds up to 369 but only has a net rating of 360. A fair estimate on the total torque may be around 460ft.lbs.

The dash layout, with nice curving shapes was rather confusing and busy. Even after spending a lot of time in a G37 Coupe, the related controls in the M35h are not as intuitive. After that, it’s like driving any other large, luxurious sedan. The corporate V-6, closely related to the previous generation 3.5 liter vs. the current 3.7s in the Nissan/Infiniti line-up seems smooth and quiet. With all the refinement and automatic transmission, the notorious NHV (noise, vibration, harshness) is completely hidden.

The powertrain is quite innovative. It has a dry clutch between the engine and the 67lb electric motor and a wet clutch between the electric motor and 7-speed automatic transmission. This means the torque converter is eliminated. There is no slop felt when driving this car. There are many more features to cover but these were the immediate impressions and highlights. What was really fun was punching the throttle while rolling and getting rubber, rather surprising tire spin in such a heavy and refined car. You can actually have fun in this "green machine." Now how many hybrid cars can you say that about in this current day and age?