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9:53 PM

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Suzuki Builds a Truck! Or, rather, Nissan builds a truck and Suzuki badges it

Rafay Ansar



Suzuki is entering the pickup arena with a rebadged Nissan Frontier and perhaps the most modest sales goals in the history of trucks--it plans to sell only a few thousand a year.

“A few to several thousand,” said Gene Brown, marketing vice president.

So why do it at all?

“We have 2 million motorcycle, ATV and boat owners with Suzuki outboards,” Brown said. “And those are just the ones in our database.”

So of that group of potential buyers, why not offer them a Suzuki truck to haul around their Suzuki toys?

Plus, dealers will love the broadening of the product offering, the company said. Suzuki claims that even at these modest sales numbers, both Nissan and Suzuki are making money off the venture.

To distinguish its truck from the Nissan, Suzuki makes its own hood, front fenders, three-bar grille and tailgate. So it’s more than just badges. Content and configuration will also be Suzuki-specific.

The Equator will come in both extended and crew cab configurations with both two- and four-wheel drive. The extended cab will come with I4 and V6 engines, while the crew cab gets only the V6. The 2.5-liter four has 152 hp and 171 lb-ft, while the 4.0-liter V6 produces 261 hp and 281 lb-ft of torque, enough to give it a towing capacity of 6,500 pounds--which is a lot of Suzuki gear.

A five-speed automatic is available with both engines while the five-speed manual comes only with the I4. The highest-zoot model is the flashy RMZ-4 Sport Package.

Prices will be announced closer to the truck’s launch in late November or early December. Visit www.suzukiequator.com.

5:32 PM

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Special edition Mercedes-McLaren roadster planned

Rafay Ansar

Mercedes-McLaren 722 S


Mercedes-McLaren 722 S

Mercedes-Benz has confirmed McLaren will build a special edition version of the SLR roadster, called the 722 S.

Set for delivery in January, the high-priced two-seater will be limited to a production run of just 150 units.





Conceived to deliver a more sporting drive than standard versions of the SLR roadster launched last year, the 722 S gets a reworked double wishbone suspension with unique springs and dampers that lower ride height by 0.4 inches. Power comes from the same supercharged, three-valve-per-cylinder 5.4-liter V8 used in the earlier SLR 722 coupe, delivering 650 hp and 604 pounds-feet of torque. Mercedes-Benz claims the 722 S will run from 0 to 62 mph in 3.7 seconds, and 0 to 124 mph in 10.6 seconds, with top speed put at 208 mph.





The new car will be the last of the standard SLR models. Next up? A swan-song speedster version of the SLR, minus the windshield and roof.

5:54 PM

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2009 Hyundai Genesis

Rafay Ansar

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Pros and Cons

* Lots of features for the dollar
* Powerful engines
* Luxurious interior
* Capable handling
* Plenty of front and rear seat room

* No split folding rear seat
* No steering wheel paddles
* Limited seat adjustments
* Ride can be bouncy
* Pricey for a Hyundai


Introduction


Hyundai claims it benchmarked such luxury stalwarts as the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes-Benz E Class, Lexus GS, and Infiniti M in developing the Genesis, the company’s first rear-drive car. But can this Korean manufacturer of economy cars build a viable luxury-oriented sport sedan? To show off the Genesis’s pedigree, Hyundai invited journalists to Santa Barbara, California, for some street and track time in its new sport sedan. I went to find out if the Genesis marks the beginning of a new Hyundai. A few hundred miles behind the wheel proved it’s the best Hyundai yet, a capable handler, and a legitimate move upmarket for the brand..
Driving Impressions

I drove the Genesis 3.8L and 4.6L models and was impressed by both. No matter what model you choose, there is more than enough power for everyday needs, and the new V8 is just plain fast. Both engines run quietly and both come mated to smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmissions with manual shiftgates. Unfortunately, steering wheel paddles aren’t provided for either model.

Hyundai pulled out the stops to make the Genesis a sport sedan, opting for a rear-drive structure and advanced five-link front and rear suspensions. In the twisties, it has a generally nimble feel and stays fairly flat in corners. Thanks to its lighter weight, the V6 rotates more easily through turns. The V8 model, on the other hand, is quicker through a slalom thanks to electrohydraulic steering that keeps up with quick, frequent changes of direction.

Ride quality is also quite good. Most bumps are ironed out easily, and there is no float or wallow to speak of. However, the ride becomes bouncy when the car encounters humps and ruts at highway speeds. On the whole, the Genesis is a legitimate sport sedan, but it’s not as agile as top performers, such as the BMW 5-series.
Build

Hyundai claims world-class levels of fit and finish in the Genesis. While that may be a bit of an overstatement, the Genesis is certainly well assembled. Panel gaps are tight inside and out, and there are no rough finishes or sharp plastic edges to be found. I got into three different cars and heard no squeaks or rattles in any of them. Part of Hyundai’s allure is the quality you get for the price, and the Genesis represents a new high in this regard.
Interior Comfort and Ergonomics

Hyundai has been making its interiors more and more luxurious and the Genesis is the best yet. Quality materials, thoughtful chrome accents, and soft-touch surfaces abound. The dash can even be wrapped in leather, a feature usually reserved for much more expensive vehicles. While the quality is high, I found the shape of the dash to be a bit stodgy, kinda like a late 1990s Buick.




Ten buttons on the center stack are devoted to the climate control system. That’s a lot to sift through to find the controls you want. I’d prefer the three easy-to-use knobs that many manufacturers are using these days.

Choose the optional navigation system and you get a multimedia controller for the radio, navigation system, iPod interface, trip computer, Bluetooth® phone, and settings in the Driver Information System. It uses a large rotating knob and six buttons mounted on the center console. This system is easier to use than BMW’s iDrive, but simple tasks like programming a radio station still take some extra steps. Nonetheless, this is about the simplest multimedia interface I’ve seen and other manufacturers should study it.

The iPod interface displays songs, artists or playlists on the dashboard screen. It works well, but it can take some time to scroll through artists or albums. Opt for the Technology package and you also get a 40-gigabyte hard drive to hold music files and navigation map information.

Drivers and passengers will find plenty of room, though tall rear passengers may want more head room. Getting in and out of both seating rows is easy. The front seats are comfortable, but they sit up higher than I prefer and they don’t have all that many adjustments for a car with this level of luxury.

Small items storage is adequate, consisting of two cupholders behind the shifter, an ashtray-type bin below the center stack, a decent-sized center console bin, and a fold-out pocket in each front door.

With 15.9 cubic feet of cargo room, the trunk is deep. Unfortunately, Hyundai opted against split folding rear seats for rigidity reasons. For some, this may be a deal breaker, but at least a rear pass-through is standard.
Performance

The Genesis 3.8L model is powered by Hyundai’s Lambda 3.8-liter DOHC V6. It makes 290 hp at 6,200 rpm and 264 lb-ft of torque at 4,500 rpm. While Hyundai quotes a 6.2-second 0-60 mph time, I was skeptical and ran an unofficial 0-60 mph sprint. The results were as expected. By simply mashing the throttle, the 3.8 is capable of a 0-60 time of about 7.5 seconds. That’s still pretty quick, and the 3.8L moves willingly from a stop and provides confident passing punch. The six-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly and quickly, and has a manual shift gate so drivers can select their own gears. The 3.8L model is EPA rated at 19 mpg city/27 mpg highway.

The 4.6L model has Hyundai’s new Tau 4.6-liter DOHC V8. It cranks out 375 hp at 6,500 rpm and 333 lb-ft of torque at 3,500 rpm with premium fuel, or 368 hp and 324 lb-ft of torque with regular fuel. The V8 is considerably quicker than the V6. Floor it, and the 4.6L model launches hard from a stop. Midrange power is willing and highway passing is worry free. Hyundai quotes a 5.7-second 0-60 mph time, and that feels right. Best of all, the V8 comes with little fuel economy penalty. It is EPA rated at 17 mpg city/25 mpg highway. Like the 3.8L, the 4.6L comes with a smooth and responsive six-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift gate. Given the Genesis’s sporty character, however, steering wheel paddles would also be appropriate. Too bad Hyundai opted against them.

Braking in both models is worry free, with good pedal feel. I had the opportunity to drive both models on a racetrack and the brakes held up well, with no fade or pulsing after several laps. That’s pretty impressive for a street car, especially one this heavy.

Handling

With benchmark models such as the BMW 5-series and Mercedes-Benz E Class, the Hyundai Genesis aims high. Hyundai gave the Genesis the DNA to compete, with five-link front (no McPherson struts) and rear suspensions and a rigid rear-drive unibody structure.

The Genesis also features multi-vein shocks, which Hyundai calls Amplitude Selective Dampers. These shocks have one mode for small, high-frequency bumps and ripples and another mode for larger motions. On the road, they help the Genesis provide a smooth, quiet ride. We experienced no float or wallow, though we did find that the ride got too bouncy over humps and ruts at highway speeds.



I had the opportunity to drive the Genesis on twisty two-lane California roads and on a road course to test the handling. At the racetrack, Hyundai provided a Mercedes-Benz E Class for comparison, and I can honestly say the Genesis is a viable sport sedan and a fair match for the Mercedes, though with a different character. While the E Class tends to lean a little more and squeal more in tight turns, it also provides a lot of feedback. The Genesis, on the other hand, provides less feedback, but it stays flatter through turns. The Genesis also feels nimble and is perfectly happy being hustle through tight, twisty stretches of road.

Of the three cars I drove on the track (the Genesis 3.8 and 4.6, and the Mercedes E Class), the 3.8L model was the easiest to rotate through turns, thanks to its 52/48 weight balance (compared to 53/47 for the V8). Notably missing from our track test, however, was a BMW 5-series. While the Hyundai handles well, it still has a long way to go to catch the BMW. I’ve also recently driven the 2009 Acura TL, and it feels lighter and more nimble than the new Genesis as well.

In both Genesis models, the steering is direct but not overly quick. The 4.6L model has electrohydraulic steering, while the 3.8L is only hydraulic. A trip through a slalom revealed that the hydraulic steering can’t keep up with several quick changes of direction, resulting in some binding. The 4.6L model’s steering, on the other hand, had not trouble with the cones, making it the better car in this type of environment even though it’s heavier.

If you push the Genesis too far, there are plenty of electronic safety nets to keep you on course, including antilock brakes with brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution, traction control, and electronic stability control. Other standard safety features include front and rear side airbags, curtain side airbags, and electronic active front head restraints.





Styling

Hyundai has historically taken its styling cues from other manufacturers, and the Genesis is no exception. The car looks like the offspring of a BMW 5-series and a Mercedes-Benz E Class. The front grille has a definite Mercedes flair, but instead of rounded headlights, it’s flanked by more modern eye-slit headlights. Fog lights are standard on the lower fascia, which also features a large lower air intake. Halogen headlights are standard, and the Technology Package includes auto-leveling high-intensity discharge adaptive headlights that point into turns to improve night-time vision on dark corners.

From the side, the Genesis is reminiscent of a BMW 5-series, though with softer lines (though still sharper than those of the E Class). The greenhouse is practically identical to that of the 5-series, right down to the dogleg shape of the rear pillars. Attractive 17-inch wheels fill the wheelwells, and the available 18s provide a sportier, meaner look.

Take a peek from the rear, and you’ll notice a high trunk line similar to the BMW design that was so polarizing when it arrived on the BMW 7-series a few years ago. Dual exhaust is also visible from the rear, hinting at the Genesis’s sport sedan intentions.

Hyundai says the overall design is “athletic, not so aggressive, assertive, but not polarizing.” I agree, but I’d like to see more passion in the design. I don’t think the Genesis will attract many customers on design alone (though the upcoming Genesis coupe might).



Value

The Genesis 3.8L model ($32,250) is well equipped, with such features as leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, XM® Satellite Radio, iPod interface, Bluetooth® wireless cell phone link, and P225/55R17 tires on alloy wheels. Available features include leather dash and door trim, navigation system, 17-speaker Lexicon audio system with 7.1 surround, HD radio, 40-gigabyte hard drive, a rearview camera, and 18-inch wheels.

The 4.6L model ($37,250) is even better equipped, with power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, leather dash and door trim, Lexicon 15-speaker audio system with 6-disc CD changer, power rear sunshade, and P235/50R18 tires.

Both Genesis models are fine values that deliver good handling, a smooth ride, and willing power. They also have attractive interiors with plenty of room. Though not quite up to the high interior and handling standards of the European and Japanese luxury cars the Genesis aspires to, it is viable and cheaper alternative to those cars and a better appointed option versus large American sedans.
Who should buy it

The Genesis will be a fine choice for families with one or two kids or businessmen who tote clients around on a regular basis. If you need to haul a lot of cargo, the lack of a folding rear seat is a definite strike against this car, though the Genesis does have a fairly big trunk. The question is, can Hyundai get people to spend $33-42K on a car that lacks the cache of brands the Genesis aims to compete with?

5:37 PM

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2009 Honda Pilot

Rafay Ansar

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Pros:

* LOVE the white dials/background on the instrument panel
* Really decent acceleration
* Comfortable front seats and the lumbar support is really NICE
* XM® Satellite Radio
* Built-in Bluetooth®

Cons:

* Square shape is great for making more inside storage, but bad for aerodynamics
* Gas mileage is not stellar (made worse with the square-er shape)
* Voice recognition (I am starting to hate these) system
* 3rd row seats are only usable by children or very short people (at 5′6″, I wouldn’t be comfortable for any length of time sitting back there)

Fuel Economy:

Advertised: 16 in the city, and 22 highway (or 18 combined for the AWD Touring Edition).
Actual: 18.7 with my un-aggressive driving style. Sightly better than the combined estimate, but still worse than other 7-8 passenger SUVs on the market.

Introduction:

Wow, the Pilot is ginormous! Okay, I know that’s not really a word, but holy cow! There is a whole lotta vehicle with the re-designed Pilot. It seems that for 2009, the Honda Element got more rounded shapes, while the Pilot got the more square shape - they completely traded places! The new Pilot appears to be significantly larger than it’s older counterparts, and the frontal view is now markedly bolder-looking with its unique grill (bad to the bone). The day-time running lights prevent having to figure out how to turn on the headlights as daylight begins to disappear. I think this really adds to the safety factor, even in broad daylight.

Driving Impressions:

The Pilot accelerated really well. I didn’t try to blast through any corners, as I was having some issues with the aerodynamics of the car. It felt a bit top-heavy, and definitely took a bit of road to get it stopped. Other than that, it was pretty fun to drive. I had a bit of trouble parking, as it’s pretty large! Add to that, one of the other reviewers had put their trailer-hitch mounted bike-rack on the back, so not only was I fighting a larger vehicle than I’m used to, but I had about 3 extra feet behind me to deal with! I reverted to a 16-year old, trying to parallel park for the first time. But it was one of those things that you could get used to, if you spent more than 3 days in a car. Due to the size of the car, I could easily see well up the road. The Pilot weighs a good deal, so that, coupled with being able to see so far ahead (well, and Honda’s safety reputation), I felt pretty darned safe. A definite bonus in my book.



Build:

The Pilot felt super solid. You could take it off-road and not be concerned at all about how it would take the conditions. The doors were solid without being heavy. The interior felt solid enough that you could bang stuff around without damaging the vehicle. We had a couple of stationary trainers in the back, behind the 3rd row seats, that were banging around a few times during an hour drive to a bike race. There wasn’t a mark one on the tailgate area, and nothing fell out when we opened the hatchback. The seats fold forward and back into place without struggle and seem like they would last a very long time. The hidden compartments in the passenger cabin are all well-built and you’d not have to worry about them breaking easily.

Interior Comfort and Ergonomics:

The good:

Tons of interior storage for people who like to carry around lots of stuff. Numerous bottle holders for those who need lots and lots of hydration. Even a little storage compartment in the 3rd row seats (sort of like a 3rd row glove-box). All compartments are tucked away out of sight, and easy to open when you need them. Have to love the the hidden sunglass holder, which doubles as a spy mirror for little, fighting passengers in the rear (possibly arguing over which DVD to watch in the rear-passenger DVD player). Okay, this spy mirror could work well for adults too!







Seats are really comfortable, although I spent very little time sitting in the 2nd and 3rd row seats. I cannot tell if they’d be comfortable for more than 5 or 10 minutes. The leather is nice, not too soft, and not too rough. Lots of adjustments for the driver (including an adjustable lumbar support, which was a really nice feature), and quite a few adjustments for the passenger. And all of the rear seats were easily folded flat, or back into the upright position. 3rd row entry was a breeze, with a quick tug of a lever from the 2nd row seat.

Cabin temperature was easy to control, and I actually got cold a couple of times with the A/C. Dual cabin controls are nice for someone like myself (who melts easily), whilst not freezing out my passenger.

Very easy to read the instrument panel in both broad daylight and approaching darkness (I really liked the white background for the instrument panel).







Given it’s size, I didn’t have any trouble seeing behind or beside me in traffic (when driving forward). I never once had a “oh crap!” moment in it (with the exception of parking). That actually surprised me. Hats off to Honda for making such a large vehicle with few, if any, blind spots!

And lest I forget to mention… I love the automatic lift gate. A push of the button, and up it goes. Another push of the button, and down it goes. In addition, the glass hatch can be opened and closed separately, just in case you only need to reach in. There’s a built-in netting to hold small items that are easily reachable via the glass hatch entry. You need to put larger things in the very back? Not an issue. The netting easily tucks away and allows larger objects behind the 3rd row seats.



There are so many other interior options that are great (rear passenger DVD player, wireless headphones, USB Audio interface, Bluetooth® Hands Free Link, XM® Satellite Radio, Premium Audio System, Navigation system…) that I could just go on and on and on. This vehicle is LOADED and with really NICE features.

The bad:

I really don’t like the gear-knob on the dashboard. There must be a lot of people who DO love it, because Honda keeps putting it there (CR-V and Pilot in my experience). It does clean up the center area a bit though. Honestly, this was the worst thing that I found wrong with the Pilot, and it’s minor.

Performance:


The 250-horsepower engine definitely got up and moved. And it had a lot of vehicle to move! At around 4,600 pounds, the Pilot is no flyweight vehicle. The weight explains its reluctance to stop on a dime, but it would be something you’d need to allow for in stop and go driving conditions.





Given the rising fuel costs, I was just a bit disappointed in the mileage. If the edges were slightly rounded, without sacrificing the added space, it would help with the vehicle aerodynamics and fuel usage. Also, because the vehicle was so new (we were among the first to drive it), it was still breaking in. I imagine that if it had a bit more mileage on it, I could have gotten better mileage, especially if I were to drive it over a longer period of time.

Given the above, I really have no other qualms about the Pilot’s performance. It was a steady drive. Accelerated easily. Got me from point A to point B quite comfortably. I felt like it was a solid vehicle that I could count on to get me up to speed and keep me safe, all while carrying a bundle of stuff and passengers, with room to spare.

Handling:

While I wasn’t crazy about how the Pilot handled in a cross-wind, everything else about it screamed: STABLE and SAFE. I should note that while I got blown about a bit in a strong crosswind, I never felt as though we were out of control. I just needed to hang on to the steering wheel and pay close attention. It behaved nicely in stop and go traffic conditions. It was equally at ease doing 75 mph on the open freeway. Uphill driving? Not a problem. It zoomed uphill and on the flats with ease. Curvy roads? Bring it on. Rolling around town looking for a parking place? It drove nicely in “parking space hunt mode”. While the Pilot certainly isn’t a sports car - the
turning radius was reasonable (as expected) given it’s size.







Value:


Overall, the Pilot is not a cheap vehicle. The Touring edition comes in at around $38k. Keep in mind, the Touring edition is also an entirely NEW model in the Pilot line, and it does not feel or perform like a cheap vehicle. It’s a very nice SUV in its price range. The features are NICE and the costs of those add up if you were to add them in separately. If you were looking to spend less for a Pilot, there are 2 lower trim lines in the family that would get you the same vehicle, but with slightly less bling.

Honda’s safety record is again evident in the Pilot. The NHTSA has given the Pilot 5 stars in both frontal and side impact safety ratings. Additionally, the Pilot is loaded with other safety features including: Vehicle Stability Assist (which helps sense over and under-steer,t hen brakes individual wheels and/or reduces throttle to help restore your intended travel path), 4-wheel disc brakes with ABS, Electronic Brake Distribution and Brake Assist. The Pilot provides superior defense in the event of a crash with it’s Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) (the body structure helps absorb and disburse crash energy over a larger area in case of a frontal impact). ACE also makes the Pilot more crash compatible in the event of a frontal impact with vehicles of differing ride heights. There are also front and side impact airbags for the passenger side, and three-row side impact curtains for your passengers, as well as a rollover sensor. This should give you and your passengers peace of mind when riding in a Pilot.

All that being said, the experience I had with the Pilot Touring edition, it’s safety record, it’s ease of drivability and the Honda name: I think it’s worth it.

Conclusion:

The Pilot is a solid, well-performing SUV. The 2009 model has been re-designed, and while it’s squarer shaped than previous years, it looks a lot more bad-*ss. It’s comfortable, spacious, easy to see out of, and the features that came with it are very useful for drivers and passengers as well. It appeared truck-like, without actually driving like one, which is a pretty great accomplishment.

5:33 PM

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Luxury safety: Stockinger and Bentley offer new line of watch and jewelry safes

Rafay Ansar



Many people keep their valuables in a safe. But only a few can say they keep their valuables in a Bentley.

Safe manufacturer Stockinger has partnered with Bentley and its design team in Crewe, England, to produce exclusive and beautiful safes.

Only 400 of the Stockinger for Bentley safes will be made, in two forms--the Arnage and the Continental.

The Arnage is made for watch collectors and features a silent, watch winding mechanism to keep unworn watches in time.

The Continental is a jewelry safe. It has six different trays to store rings and necklaces.

The safes can be customized and are available in any of Bentley’s colors. They also offer 10 choices of interior leather and three choices of wood veneer panels.

Each Stockinger safe is built in an 18-stage process which takes several weeks. The safe is primed, painted and sanded, then finished with a thick layer of carnauba wax to add depth to the outer surface.

Both safes are just less than four feet tall, 16 inches deep and 22 inches wide. The safes have a multiwall construction and can be connected to any alarm system. The Stocktronic locking system can even be programmed to trip a silent alarm, which can be set off a number of ways for in-home safety.

All Stockinger safes have an emergency-bolt mechanism, which locks the safe if an attempt is made to open it by force.

Exclusivity isn’t cheap. The Arnage safe costs slightly more than $180,000, while the Continental safe retails for about $168,000.

5:29 PM

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Volt could break 100 mpg ceiling if EPA approves

Rafay Ansar



The Chevrolet Volt could be on its way to being the first mass-produced vehicle rated at 100 mpg or more.

To ensure that happens, General Motors is asking the EPA to declare the Volt an electric vehicle for regulatory purposes. GM spokesman Rob Peterson said the California Air Resources Board has given the Volt preliminary certification as an electric.

A government rating of more than 100 mpg would give GM invaluable marketing ammunition and would be a boost for company compliance with fuel economy standards. Peterson confirmed the request today.

Loops vs. formulas

Normally, a vehicle is run on an EPA test loop, consisting of both city and highway driving, to measure tailpipe pollutants and provide data for calculating fuel economy. But for electrics, which have no emissions, the government uses a Department of Energy mathematical formula to translate energy use into some equivalent of miles per gallon of gasoline.

Using that formula, the limited-production all-electric Tesla Roadster, for example, gets rated at 244 mpg for the government's corporate average fuel economy program. Tesla officials say they look forward to being able to sell the fuel economy credits they will accumulate, even with limited sales.

The Volt is a plug-in electric hybrid, which GM calls a "range-extended" electric. Due on the market in late 2010, the Volt will be designed to go 40 miles on all-electric power. Then a small internal combustion engine would kick in to extend the range.

It appears unlikely that the government test loop could be used to accurately measure Volt emissions and fuel economy.

Removing all doubts

Simply declaring it an electric would remove any doubt.

But one government official, who insisted on anonymity, said declaring the Volt an electric would not paint a true picture. If a motorist forgets to plug in one night, then the car would run the next day using the 1.4-liter gasoline engine to generate all the electric power for the drive motor.

Peterson said if the Volt is certified as an electric vehicle, engineers could then optimize the powertrain's calibration for testing against that classification.

The Society of Automotive Engineers would not classify the Volt as an electric vehicle. SAE defines a hybrid as having two energy sources, such as gasoline and electricity. The Volt has both.

GM has not said how many miles per gallon the Volt would deliver when it is running on its gasoline engine. But the size of the Volt's fuel tank and the range GM says the vehicle can travel points to a gasoline-only fuel economy of between 35 and 50 mpg after the car's first 40 miles on pure electric power.

5:32 PM

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VW Golf GTI

Rafay Ansar

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The sixth-generation model, set for a debut at the upcoming Paris motor show, closely follows the formula established by the outgoing fifth generation. It runs a transversely mounted, turbo-charged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that channels its power to the front wheels via either a standard six-speed manual or an optional six-speed double-clutch gearbox.

With the adoption of a new powerplant engineered by VW subsidiary Audi, output increases by 10 hp, to 210 hp, while torque remains 206 lb-ft.



Suspension continues with a MacPherson-strut front and a compact multilink rear setup but now includes a new electronic differential configured to minimize torque steer. The system is incorporated into the Golf GTI's electronic-stability program, providing individual braking to the front wheels when sensors detect a loss of traction.

The ground-hugging stance comes from unique suspension tuning and adaptive damping, the latter a first for the GTI. It provides three levels of damper stiffness--normal, comfort and sport--while also altering the throttle mapping and the level of electronic assistance for the electromechanical steering system. This all should allow the new Golf GTI to continue to tread the line between everyday hatchback and back-road rally racer.

Official acceleration numbers hint at high levels of straight-line performance, with VW claiming the same 0-to-62-mph time as the old Golf GTI's 7.2 seconds in six-speed manual guise and top speed rising from 146 mph to 149 mph. At the same time, with a combined average of 31 mpg, fuel efficiency is up by more than 2 mpg.



In keeping with tradition, the 2010 Golf GTI will be available in three- or five-door hatchback form. North American sales start in October 2009, about six months after the first European deliveries.

5:30 PM

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100 and counting: Model T celebrates centennial

Rafay Ansar



A 50-car motorcade of Model Ts is hitting the streets of Detroit this weekend as Ford celebrates 100 years of the iconic ride.

The cars will set off from Ford's Dearborn, Mich., headquarters Saturday and make a stop at the Piquette Plant in Detroit, where production of the Model T started in 1908. The cars also will stop at other Ford historical sites, including the Henry Ford estate.

More than 15 million Model Ts were sold from 1908 to 1927, and it was the first car to bring affordable transportation to the general public. In 1999, the Model T was named "Car of the Century" by a panel of journalists.

There also will be a celebration of the Model T on Saturday at the Antique Automobile Club of America Museum in Hershey, Pa. The event is expected to have 50 Model Ts, ranging from rare, early versions with brass radiators to cars from the 1920s. The event runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, visit www.aacamuseum.org.

5:44 PM

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Mercedes-Benz C-Class AMG (08 on)

Rafay Ansar

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Mercedes has a great reputation for producing high performance AMG versions of its cars. However while there's no doubting these models are quick in a straight line, they've often struggled to match that performance in the corners. The C63 AMG looks to address that with more focussed handling, a wide track and a sophisticated suspension and chassis set-up. However, as you'd expect, it is still stormingly quick and with a 457bhp V8 engine it can race from 0-62mph in just 4.5 seconds. It's hugely enjoyable to drive and the sheer acceleration it delivers is addictive, but the Mercedes is also easy to live with day to day thanks to a forgiving ride. The AMG's natural environment is fast A-roads where it's poise and agility shine through but it's the all-round ability of the C63 that makes it such a great car.

Performance

As its name suggests, the C63 AMG is powered by an immense 6.3-litre engine - the V8 unit is also used in other AMG versions of other models including the E-Class and S-Class. In the C-Class it produces an enormous 457bhp along with huge amounts of pulling power and this translates into a 0-62mph time of just 4.5 seconds (4.6 seconds for the estate version). To put that into context, that makes the C63 as fast as a Porsche 911 Carrera S and fractionally quicker than an Audi R8. It's a hugely flexible engine with power available across the rev range and it sounds sublime too with a deep V8 rumble accompanying even modest acceleration. There's no manual gearbox available - instead the standard transmission is a seven-speed semi-automatic system, called 7G-Tronic. This uses two clutches (in a similar way to the Audi and VW DSG systems) to provide super fast shifts. In standard mode the AMG is easy and almost sedate to drive, while a sports mode quickens the changes by 30 per cent - it also blips the throttle on downshifts. Alternatively there's manual mode which allows the driver to control the changes via the steering wheel mounted paddle shifts. This is the most enjoyable and involving mode to use, especially on more demanding roads and unlike some systems will hold a gear until you change up, even up to the red line on the rev counter.

Handling

The C63 AMG is certainly more focussed on the road than previous AMG models and feels poised and agile. The steering is well weighted and incredibly responsive too, although at slower speeds it does require more lock through corners than you'd expect. Despite all that power on tap the C63 does well to translate it onto the road, although a heavy right foot in wet conditions will send the stability control light flashing as the rear tyres try to find some grip. The stability system (ESP) has three settings - standard, sport and off. The sport setting makes it less intrusive, allowing a little more drift before it kicks in. From the driver's seat you are always aware of that immense power under the bonnet but the C63 still feels reassuring and predictable to drive and with minimal body roll in corners and a surprising agility too.

Comfort





For a high performance car the C63 has a surprisingly supple ride and only really gets unsettled by rough or bumpy surfaces. Buyers can opt for the additional AMG performance pack (a £3120 option) which adds firmer suspension, among other extras, however this makes the AMG incredibly stiff and as a result it is uncomfortable on anything but a smooth surface. The seats are superbly supportive though and those in the front have lumbar and side bolster adjustment but rear passengers in both the saloon and estate will find space quite limited.





Practicality



The C63 features the same level of practicality as the standard C-Class. The saloon has a decent boot (which is bigger than the BMW M3 and Lexus IS F) that is more than capable of carrying a couple of suitcases, plus a wide opening makes loading easy. The five-door has 485 litres of space which isn't huge for an estate - plus this is only 10 litres larger than the saloon. However fold the seats down and this opens up to a useful 1500 litres plus there are four anchoring rings and two clever pop-out hooks to secure anything in the boot. Inside the cabin, there are a number of storage areas, such as the roomy air-conditioned glovebox, door bins and an armrest that doubles as a cubbyhole.



Equipment

As you'd imagine, the high performance C63 AMG has an extensive equipment list - no surprise given it's £50,000-plus price tag. It comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, seven airbags, an alarm and immobiliser, AMG styling kit, sports suspension, stability control (ESP), 6CD changer, automatic climate control, xenon lights, Bluetooth connectivity, electric windows, electrically adjustable, folding and heated mirrors, electric sunroof, automatic headlights, metallic paint, tyre pressure sensors and rain sensitive wipers. However there are still some features on the options list that you'd expect to be standard at this price tag including parking sensors (£605), surround sound stereo (£560) and sat nav (£1750). The AMG performance pack includes a high performance braking system, an Alcantara trimmed steering wheel, performance suspension and a rear-axle limited-slip differential but it's not cheap though at £3210.

Behind the wheel

The driving position in the C63 has plenty of adjustment thanks to the electric sports seats, plus there are individual switches for lumbar support and side bolsters. But while the design is clean and unfussy it's not that different from a standard C-Class and aside from the aluminium pedals, AMG dials and sportier steering wheel, very little else has changed. The interior is neat but it doesn't quite have the inviting feel of the BMW 3-Series and some of the materials used, most notably on the dash top, are a little disappointing for a car which costs more than £50,000. That said build quality is superb and everything feels robustly put together.

Safety

Mercedes-Benz is a pioneer in this area and the C63 AMG features a number of innovations that are also available on the larger E-Class and S-Class models, including seven airbags as standard plus the PRE-SAFE system. This makes use of the moments before an imminent accident to prepare the vehicle and its occupants for a collision. This involves pulling the seatbelts taut, adjusting the front seats and closing any open windows (including the sunroof). It's no surprise therefore that the C-Class gained a maximum five star rating in the Euro NCAP crash tests.

Reliability

Mercedes-Benz admits that its standards have fallen in recent years and reliability hasn’t lived up to the company’s reputation. This C-Class is designed to address that and the C63 AMG has been in development for three years, testing it in 20 different locations around the world, from the Arctic Circle to Death Valley in California. The engine is well proven in other AMG models and so should prove reliable and durable.

5:34 PM

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Volkswagen Golf Hatchback (09 on)

Rafay Ansar

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As the old adage goes, 'if it isn't broke, don't fix it,' and that's certainly the path Volkswagen has followed with the latest Golf. It's technically an all-new model but shares much with the car it replaces - that's no bad thing however as the previous generation Golf was a superb all rounder. The latest car is even better with a more upmarket interior, impressive refinement and a great range of efficient engines that also offer good performance. A Bluemotion model is available which uses a 1.6-litre diesel engine and emits just 99g/km of CO2 - making it free to tax. In terms of styling the Golf is hardly revolutionary, but on the move it feels even more solid and well built than before thanks to excellent noise insulation. It's not quite as enjoyable to drive as a Ford Focus but the Golf leads the way for sophistication in the small hatchback market.

Performance



The entry-level engine in the Golf is a 1.4-litre unit with 80bhp which is joined by a 1.6-litre with 102bhp. Both engines have been carried over from the previous Golf but with tweaks to make them slightly more economical. However, for its more powerful engines Volkswagen has concentrated on improving efficiency while still making them enjoyable to drive. As a result the top of the range engine may only be a 1.4-litre, but thanks to a turbocharger and a supercharger it delivers an impressive 160bhp and a 0-62mph time of 8 seconds - while still averaging 45mpg. It's a great engine to drive with plenty of punchy performance low down and a free-revving nature that's enjoyable to exploit. There's also a less powerful 122bhp version (that uses a single turbocharger) which will cover the 0-62mph benchmark in 9.5 seconds - but feels much quicker than the figures suggest with great in-gear performance. The diesel choice starts with a 2.0-litre TDI with 110bhp - this engine emits just 119g/km and averages 62.8mpg - the same as the Bluemotion version of the previous Golf while a 140bhp version of the same engine is available. Both variants are quiet and refined with plenty of low down grunt and a smooth power delivery. The Bluemotion model uses a 1.6-litre TDI engine which emits just 99g/km of CO2 and will average an incredible 74mpg - the same as the Polo Bluemotion. The standard gearbox is a five or six-speed - both versions of which are positive and precise, while a DSG semi-automatic transmission (with either six or seven gears) is available as an option.

Handling



Safe and comfortable best sums up driving the Golf - it corners neatly with precise and well-weighted steering while there's only minimal body roll. It's incredibly reassuring and never loses its composure, even if you have to suddenly brake or change direction, while the standard stability control will prevent the car from losing traction or skidding. It's an enjoyable car to drive along a twisting road, with the ability to effortlessly flow between corners plus there's plenty of grip too. An adjustable suspension system is available as an optional extra - called ACC (which stands for Adaptive Chassis Control) it uses pneumatics to control the suspension and allows the driver to choose between comfort, normal and sport. Changing the setting, which also alters the steering and throttle response, makes a noticeable difference and the comfort mode is particularly good for rough surfaces. However with the standard ride striking such a good balance between ride and handling there seems little point paying extra for it.

Comfort



Thanks to the use of new door seals and thicker glass, the cabin is well insulated from outside noise - although there is noticeable wind noise around the top of the doors at higher speeds. Overall, however it's incredibly quiet and refined while the suspension does an excellent job of absorbing bumps and potholes in the road making it ideal for long motorway journeys. The seats are comfortable and supportive, there's a decent amount of legroom in the back for rear passengers plus all cars come air conditioning as standard.

Practicality



Boot space is identical to the previous model with 350 litres available with the rear seats in place and 1305 litres with them folded down. This isn't as large as alternatives like the Honda Civic or Ford Focus but it's more than adequate for everyday use and happily swallows a couple of medium sized suitcases. Compared to the old model, the boot opening is wider making it easier to load bulky items while up front there are cavernous door pockets with sculpted bottle holders, a good-sized glovebox and a large central cubby.

Equipment



There are three trim levels available - S, SE and GT (all available in three or five-door bodystyles) and standard equipment on every Golf includes air conditioning, a CD stereo system, electric front windows, seven airbags, central locking, multifunction display, Electronic Stability Programme (ESP), gloss black or aluminium trim highlights and body-coloured exterior trim. The Adaptive Chassis Control system (or ACC for short) is available as an option as is Automatic Distance Control (ADC) a cruise control function which can vary vehicle speed to maintain a predetermined gap behind the car in front. Also on offer is ParkAssist which has the ability to operate the steering automatically during reverse parallel parking manoeuvres.

Behind the wheel



Volkswagen has attempted to give the Golf an even more upmarket interior with finishes and materials usually associated with premium executive cars. It's certainly been a big success and wouldn't look out of place in a car costing £30,000. The wonderfully comfortable cabin exudes quality with neat air conditioning controls, a stylish touchscreen stereo system and easy to read white-backlit dials. The design is similar to the previous model but now feels ever better built, while all the switchgear has a slick feel. The driving position is superb too, with plenty of adjustment in both the seat and steering column while all round visibility is good.

Safety

With seven airbags as standard (including a knee airbag for the driver) the Golf is one of the safest cars in its class and all models come with ESP stability control as standard. The previous model gained a maximum five-star Euro NCAP crash safety rating (plus four stars for child safety) and the sixth-generation car will at least equal that. The Golf also features faster sensors for the airbags and seatbelt tensioners.

Reliability

Volkswagen has a superb reputation for reliability and the new Golf should be no exception to that. The majority of the engines have been proven in either the previous Golf or other models and so will doubtless prove reliable.

5:49 PM

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Last ride: Bentley to show limited-run Arnage model at Paris motor show

Rafay Ansar



As the curtain falls on its longtime flagship, the Arnage, Bentley is offering a limited run of 150 cars, aptly named the "Final Edition," and will show one at the Paris motor show in October.

The Final Edition blends elements of the Arnage T and Arnage R, as well as design cues from the Brooklands coupe. With a sticker of more than $220,000, the Arnage is an aspirational car even for the ultra-rich. But it's been on the market since 2008 and a much-anticipated redesign is expected in 2011 as Bentley tries to compete with Rolls-Royce.

For now we get the Final Edition, which packs a monster, twin turbo, 500-hp engine that marks 50 years of Bentley V8s by staying true to the British automaker's lust for torque, rating out at 738 lb-ft. That's paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, which was introduced in 2007 model. It can be shifted into (regular) drive, sport and semi-automatic modes.

The suspension was also upgraded in 2007. The fully independent double wishbone front and rear setup has coil springs with computer-managed electro hydraulic dampers.

Calling cards of the Final Series will be special badging on the front wings and tread plates, as well Bentley's "Flying B" hood ornament. It rides on 20-inch, five-spoke alloy wheels, and exterior features include dark-tinted upper and lower grilles, body-colored headlamp bezels and twin exhaust pipes. In the back seat, passengers can enjoy their favorite beverages with a Final Series steel flask and shot glasses.

Buyers can upgrade with an optional audio head unit, iPod interface and a hide-covered boot rail.

It takes at least six weeks to build the Arnage, which is assembled by hand in Crewe, England. It's available in the full Bentley range of 42 exterior colors, 25 interior hides and three veneers.

And for a big British boat, the performance specs are top-shelf: 0 to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds and a top speed of 179 mph.

5:46 PM

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Black box on board

Rafay Ansar



New standards for automotive big brother take effect in 2012

Until a few weeks ago, Florida attorney Scott Weires was eagerly awaiting delivery of his new Nissan GT-R. But in late August, Weires canceled his order--not because he doesn't want the $82,000 Super Silver supercar he has lusted for since it was first unveiled as a concept seven years ago. Weires says he's uncomfortable with the fact that every GT-R has a recording device strapped to its chassis, an electronic black box that monitors how each owner drives his or her GT-R.

Similar so-called black boxes, or electronic data recorders (EDRs), are now standard equipment in a majority of passenger cars and light-duty trucks sold in the United States. Wired into airbag sensors, yaw and stability sensors, antilock brake and traction controllers, electronic throttle controls and engine monitors, EDRs soon will collect a bewildering amount of data in keeping with pending federal regulations aimed at standardizing information available from the devices. Those regulations, finalized earlier this year and set to go into effect Sept. 1, 2012 (on 2013-model-year vehicles), specify exactly how much and what types of information must be collected and saved electronically in the event of a crash or airbag deployment.

Though the U.S. Department of Trans-portation requirements don't mandate installation of EDRs on every car, truck and sport-utility vehicle in America, the rules do require compliance with the guidelines if the vehicle is fitted with an EDR by the manufacturer. In 2006, the National High-way Traffic Safety Administration reported that 64 percent of manufacturers were equipping vehicles with EDRs, a number the agency says hasn't radically changed. But an informal survey indicates that most automakers--with some notable exceptions--are embracing the devices. And that number seems to have grown in the four years since AutoWeek last investigated the state of automotive black boxes ("Under the Hood, with Big Brother," Nov. 8, 2004).

As a result, most of today's late-model vehicles are equipped with EDRs, ostensibly to help manufacturers engineer better safety equipment in vehicles by analyzing data collected in crashes. In reality, what started as a simple tool for safety engineers is now a key component that provides data to protect companies from safety-related lawsuits and to assist law-enforcement officials investigating car accidents.

While an EDR may seem onerous enough to those who love a spirited drive in a sports car, it was another kind of black box, a vehicle status data recorder (VSDR), that put Weires at odds with Nissan and his GT-R.

Unlike an EDR, which activates only when sensors indicate that a crash is imminent or has occurred, Nissan's VSDR runs constantly, collecting information such as wheel and engine speed. The device, thought to be a first in the automotive industry, stores more than a few days' but less than a week's worth of data on the vehicle's operation, Nissan says. The VSDR cannot be deactivated.

In technical information provided to buyers, Nissan says the VSDR does not record sounds or images but "always records and stores vehicle-operating data between periodic inspections, which can assist and be used for servicing, diagnosing and performing warranty repairs."

"It's always running," said Ed Hibma, senior manager for technical support with Nissan North America.

Bloombergconsulting.com



This kind of accident-investigation scene, tapping into the car's EDR and downloading crash-related data to a laptop computer, will become far more prevalent as black boxes proliferate in 2012 and beyond.
Nissan says the VSDR isn't intended to spy on unsuspecting GT-R drivers but is needed to help mechanics and engineers monitor the performance of various onboard systems in the highly advanced car.

It's that part about "warranty repairs" that has Weires worried. He says data collected by the VSDR could allow Nissan arbitrarily to invalidate all or part of the car's warranty. For instance, Nissan specifically warns owners that they could void warranty protection by running a car with its vehicle dynamic control (VDC), governing traction and stability, turned off. (In fairness to Nissan, the owner's manual does allow owners to defeat VDC when wheelspin is needed to rock a car that's stuck in snow or mud.)

"These warranty issues are a little unsettling," said Weires. "That was a huge part of my decision."

Nissan officials are quick to clarify that VSDR data would be used only as a secondary way to verify that a car had been abused or raced. And only the damaged part might not be covered by warranty; a record of hard use wouldn't invalidate the warranty for the entire car.

"We don't say you can't drive your car in high-performance situations," said Hibma. "We do realize that some customers will take their car to the track for all-out driving. But racing is different."

Ironically, Nissan and other Japanese automakers now rapidly implementing EDR technology had been cautious and slow to adopt the devices a few years ago. Four years ago, Nissan expressed no interest in EDRs or other recording devices, using sensors merely to deploy airbags and to record airbag and seatbelt status in a crash. At that time, no speed or g-force detail was preserved by any recording device on any Nissan vehicle.

Today, every 2009 Nissan sold in the United States is fitted with an EDR, and along with nearly every automaker selling EDR-equipped vehicles, Nissan re-cords or will be able to record the 30 data points that the federal government will require of all EDR-equipped vehicles by 2012.

U.S. automakers remain at the forefront of EDR proliferation, which isn't surprising given that General Motors pioneered EDRs in race cars in the 1970s and '80s and installed the first rudimentary black-box recorders in passenger cars in its 2000-model-year vehicles. GM vehicles equipped with OnStar tap into onboard black boxes to diagnose operating systems. With the owner's permission, OnStar will use that data to notify the owner of pending service needs.

German makers tend to avoid EDRs, partly because strict German privacy laws limit the use of such recording devices and partly because the companies tend to view EDRs as having questionable value for customers.

"We have not viewed that feature as necessary or beneficial for the brand or our customers," explained Rob Moran, a spokesman for the U.S. arm of German automaker Mercedes-Benz.

Cost-conscious Korean companies such as Kia and Hyundai haven't installed EDRs, instead using sensors to deploy airbags but skipping the added cost and complexity of EDRs.

What's the state of the art? EDRs in today's cars begin recording data as early as five seconds before a crash, and they save information such as vehicle speed, throttle position, engine speed, brake action, whether stability control was on or off, steering input and whether antilock brakes worked. At the time of a crash and immediately after, other data are added, including change in vehicle velocity, seatbelt use, airbag status and how the airbags performed in the accident. Some data also are recorded for as long as five seconds after an initial crash, including secondary impacts and vehicle roll angle.

All data recorded by the EDR technically are owned by the vehicle owner or lessee, but every manufacturer has adopted a variation of a policy spelled out in most owner's manuals that says data will be released only with the permission of the owner or under court order to third parties and law-enforcement officers. Safety agencies also may have access to the data with vehicle owners' permission.

Although NHTSA's policymaking led to an industry standard for EDR data collection, which will allow far wider use of the gathered information, the agency did nothing to place additional restraints on the use of the information. Instead, the agency cited federal privacy statutes that it says will guide its use of the data, preventing NHTSA from releasing information that could identify specific individuals involved in a crash.

But Jim Baxter, president of the watchdog National Motorists Association, noted that this does nothing to constrain law-enforcement accident investigators, private eyes and other interested parties-such as manufacturers and insurance companies-from getting a court order to download the information.

"NHTSA did issue a rule that the units must generate specific information," Baxter said, "but that doesn't prevent them from collecting more information. There's pretty much no limit on what they can collect."

Baxter said his group's efforts to push federal legislation to protect motorists against EDRs fell on deaf ears, especially now, with Americans more than willing to give up privacy in favor of safety after Sept. 11, 2001. "The general mentality is, 'If I get some benefit, here's my information,'" Baxter said. "Obviously, some quarters object, but I don't see widespread resistance to it."

Baxter said he believes objections won't grow until tiny RFIDs--radio frequency identification devices--are more prevalent and are used by private or public entities to monitor individual travel. RFIDs could theoretically allow a parent to track a teen, an insurer to watch for high-risk driving or law-enforcement officials to track a person driving from point A to point B, compute the speed and issue a speeding ticket without so much as starting a patrol car or turning on a radar gun.

"When people can't go down to the grocery store without getting a citation, then we'll see a reaction," Baxter predicted.

Before that brave new world arrives, auto companies will have to quell the immediate fears of customers such as Weires, who would love to be driving a new GT-R right now.

Weires says he'll wait and see how Nissan handles the data recorded by the GT-R black box, and then maybe he'll get back in line for his dream car. Maybe.

5:52 PM

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Cosworth name to grace Range Rover

Rafay Ansar

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At the Goodwood Festival of Speed this July, Kahn unveiled its new creation, the Cosworth Sport 300. Now it's ready to go on sale, with prices starting at £75,995.

Based on the Range Rover Sport, the Kahn version features a twin-turbocharged V8 diesel engine tweaked by powertrain experts, Cosworth. The name refers to the engine's new 300bhp output.



Performance claims include 0-62mph in about eight seconds and a top speed of 135mph.

Cosworth CEO and Managing Director Tim Routsis commented: "over the last three years the engine tuner market has become very important for Cosworth, we have successfully steered our products and services towards high end users. We are confident, that in partnership with Kahn Design, select consumers will be delighted to own distinctively styled cars with Cosworth tuned engines."



Kahn Design has taken influence from some of Cosworth's previous projects, including Fords and Mercedes from the late '80s and early '90s.

The result is a highly distinctive, and aggressive, take on Land Rover's Range Rover Sport body. Huge 22-inch alloys are covered by flared wheelarches, while a deep front air dam blends into the side sills and new rear bumper.

Buyers of the Kahn Cosworth Sport have an almost infinite number of colour and trim options, ensuring that these vehicles will remain individual and rare.