Hypercar Brawl

•July 26, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Get ready to sit back and watch the biggest car battle of the decade start to unfold in the next two years.  Four of the most iconic automotive powerhouses will go head-to-head in a market segment that hasn’t seen this much action since the launch of the Bugatti Veyron in the early noughties.

Let’s recap; when the Veyron was launched it had to go up against the Ferrari Enzo, Porsche Carrera GT, and Pagani Zonda.  Quite simply, one of the best automotive battle royals of all time.  Since then we have seen many other incredible übercars: Ferrari 599 GTO, Porsche GT2 RS, McLaren MP4-12C, etc, but nothing like the hypercars of the days gone by.  These more recent examples, while lust inducing, were not meant to be the best that their manufactures could produce.  They are supercars, what we will talk about today is a new generation of hypercars.

Ferrari F70

Ferrari’s crème de la crème offerings have always been legends: 250 GTO, 288 GTO, F40, F50, and Enzo are titles spoken with reverence and whispered by the tifosi (Google it).  We don’t know the final name of the next car to join this illustrious company, but we do know that we will likely see it either late 2012, or early the next year.

Why do we classify it as a hypercar you might ask? Because it will quiet simply be one of the most technologically advanced cars the world has ever known.  A 6.3L bi-turbo V12 shared with the F12 Berlinetta and FF (albeit they don’t get the turbos) that has been married to a hybrid-kinetic energy recovery system (HY-KERS) to produce something around 1000bhp.  And it’s four-wheel drive.  And it has a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.  And it will cost your first born as a blood sacrifice.  And it can fly.  Well, that last one’s not true, but you get the picture.

McLaren P12 SuperMac

See what they did their with the cars name?  McDonalds Big Mac, McLaren . . . forget it.  Like the Ferrari, we still don’t know the definitive title for this upcoming F1 successor.  The internal designation is P12, and McLaren doesn’t exactly have a history of creating emotional names (MP4-12C anyone?), so this may very well be what we’ll call it.

Power will be provided by the same 3.8 twin-turbocharged V8 as found in the fax machine (Jeremy Clarkson’s accurate name for the MP4-12C), but it will be massaged to produce something like 800hp.  And just to stick it to Ferrari, the P12 will also feature a Formula 1 derived KERS system that will add an additional 200hp at the push of a button.  Now take a second to do some math . . . there ya go, another 1000bhp car.

Unlike the original McLaren road car, the F1 that held the title of fastest production car for most of the 90’s and early 00’s, this new halo model is chasing rapid acceleration figures over pure top speed.  Think 2.3 seconds to 100km/h and you get the idea.  Price tag?  If you have to ask . . . it’s close to $1,000,000.

Porsche 918 Spyder

Do you like the Toyota Prius?  If you said yes please leave the computer, find a tall building, and jump off.  Now I know that only the intelligent people are reading this I can tell you that the new Porsche hypercar is a plug-in hybrid.  Wait, don’t break the computer!  It’s okay because the three electric motors work with a naturally aspirated 4.6L V8 that is based on the engine used in Porsche’s LMP2 cars.

This engine was developed exclusively for the 918, so you won’t see it in a variant 911 (but it would be cool).  It only produces 562bhp, but the electric tech contributes another 228bhp.  Not as much as the Ferrari and Macca, but the Porsche is set to be much more environmentally friendly with a high mpg figure and a C02 figure that will allow the baby whales to keep swimming.

Is this a true successor to the Carrera GT?  That’s debatable, and we will just have to wait until the fall of 2013 to find out what it’s really like.

Jaguar C-X75

Jaguar seems a little out of place in this company, but their coming hypercar is the real head scratcher of the group.  The least powerful with “only” 500bhp, but that will still enable this pussy to get to 100km/h in three seconds.  The engine doing this grunt work is a 1.6L twin-charged four-cylinder, which produces that peak bhp figure at an ear-bleeding 10,000rpm.  It just doesn’t seem logically does it?  The old mantra “there’s no replacement for displacement” was obviously not told to the Jaguar engineers.

The Jag also features two “high-powered axial fluid electric motors” that have “three times the power density of regular electric motors”.  I have no idea what that means, but I’m assuming it make car go fast.  As the other three hypercars have motorsport connections Jaguar didn’t want to be left out and joined up with the Williams F1 team to help develop their own KERS program.

Past Masters

I started by saying that the Ferrari F70 will be one of the most technologically advanced cars, but I now put it to you that all four of these models will be the most technologically advanced cars we have ever seen.  And I for one can’t wait till they’re here!

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Ferrari 599 Successor

•February 19, 2012 • Leave a Comment

This site is not a breaking automotive news kind of place.  For your daily update on our petrolhead universe there are plenty of great websites out there like evo.co.uk, worldcarfans.com, and jalopnik.com that will fill the void, and übercar will only ever be discussing “the news” when it’s a big deal. 

Well a new Ferrari is a big deal, but not in the way that it will have any effect on our lives (as the majority of us cannot afford this new toy), but because if you love cars then a new Ferrari is always something cool.  Ferrari releases a new car every year, and with the 458 and FF looking decidedly high-tech, the ol’599 is looking a bit long in the tooth.

The 599 GTB Fiorano began life in 2006 as the replacement for the 575 Maranello, and quickly began to pick up accolades as a true performance car, winning EVO magazine’s coveted Car of the Year and Top Gear Magazine’s Supercar of the Year for 2006.  With a 5999cc (wonder how they got the name) V12 pushing out a mega 612bhp and 446 torques it’s easy to see why.  This engine made the 599 the most powerful series production Ferrari road car, and was derived from the V12 used in the Enzo hypercar. 

Just like with their F1 cars, Ferrari continually revises and upgrades their products to improve their performance, and the 599 was no exception.  In 2009 Ferrari released the Handling Gran Turismo Evoluzione (HGTE) Package that brought stiffer springs, a lower ride height, faster gear-shifts, a sporty exhaust note, and a touch more carbon-fibre to the basic 599.

But the variant with a more evocative acronym was the 599 GTO announced in early 2010.  This is only the third Ferrari to ever wear the legendary GTO badge and it subsequently had a lot to live up to.   But with 661bhp propelling a car that was now 100kg lighter the GTO was able to lap the Fiorano test track quicker than the halo-model Enzo, making it the fastest Ferrari road car ever.

As owning one of the five hundred and ninety nine GTO’s wasn’t exclusive enough for some Ferrari collectors the marquee brought out a convertible version that would be limited to only 80 examples worldwide.  The SA Aperta broke cover at the 2010 Paris Motor Show, and had already been completely sold-out through special dealer and client presentations.  Another special edition, the 599 GTB HBTE 60F1 was released in December 2011 to mark the last hurrah for the 599, and represented 60 years of Ferrari F1 wins.  The variant was an HGTE model with new paint, seats, and rims, but no performance improvements (#marketingexercise).

But now the time has come for the 599 to say ciao.  Its replacement is codenamed F152 and we’ve been seeing grainy spy-pics of its camouflaged test mule for a while now.  Likely to follow the insectoid style design language of the 458 Italia and FF, the new car is expected to be revealed to the public on February 22nd with the car “launching” at the Geneva Autoshow in March. 

The model is expected to be called the 620 GT and come with a 6.3L V12 that’s also found in the FF.  Most automotive news sources are stating that this engine will have something close to 700bhp, but this wanna-be auto journalist has found out from a Ferrari owner in the know that that figure will actually be much higher.  With the same V12 expected to produce close to 920bhp in next year’s Enzo replacement it’s fair to say that the 620 GT should have a horsepower figure right in the middle of that 920bhp and the 650bhp that the FF puts out.  Let’s hypothesize 750 as it leaves room for later high-performance variants.

Whatever the power out-put it will be great to see a new Ferrari.  With a private reveal for select clients happening on the 21st of the month we can likely expect to see some low-res images surfacing the same day.  I haven’t even seen it and I want it.  A new Ferrari – what’s not to like?

Spotted in the Wild: McLaren MP4-12C

•February 3, 2012 • 1 Comment

I have to be honest: I didn’t see a McLaren driving on any of my local routes, so this can’t be a Spotted in the Wild segment.  I specifically went to the only McLaren dealership in Canada to see their newest 458 rival, but to justify the trip I’ve been telling myself I was really there to visit my favorite aftermarket performance shop that shares the same building.

Auto Park Circle.  Its automotive nirvana within 25km of my house, and my destination whenever I think, “Hey, I just need to go for a drive”.  But how, you might ask, could one street be such as amazing place? Let me answer by saying a few words: Ferrari, Maserati, Porsche, BMW, Jaguar, Land Rover, Tuning, more Porsche (a separate used department), and finally, McLaren.

On this circular piece of Torontonian infrastructure you will find all of these, and more!  By “more” all I mean is Ford, and seeing as how they no longer make the GT40 I really don’t care about them.  Sorry Fiesta.

The only place on that list where I can think about spending some of my hard earned cash is at the Pfaff Tuning shop.  I bought my delicious R8 replica rims there with the help of Eric, my Tuning Consultant (best job title ever), and they always have some nice car porn sitting on their lot.  My trips to Pfaff were great before, but with McLaren Toronto now sharing the same space I think I’ll be visiting a lot more often.

Up until 1:00pm on January 1st, 2012 I had never seen a McLaren, by 1:01 I had seen six.  A truly amazing sight, and one that was made even better when four of the cars on the showroom floor were simultaneously turned on to move them around for improved visual impact.  My iPhone voice recorder has never been used for something more important. 

The McLaren MP4-12C (otherwise known as “the fax machine” by Jeremy Clarkson) is only the second road car from the famed multiple F1 Constructor’s Champion.  Now some of you might say that the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren was the second, but that should never be considered a true McLaren, more a very fat and ugly Benz.

The company’s website states, “For McLaren, the pursuit of driving perfection means defying convention; if it doesn’t push the boundaries it’s not good enough”.  In essence, a McLaren defies your preconceptions of what an übercar should be.  Through the use of F1 derived technology McLaren are able to create truly unique and advanced vehicles.  Their first road car, the aptly named F1, represents this belief in performance through innovation.

Let me just throw out some geeky car facts about the F1 that will prove just how special and revolutionary it was.  In 1998 it became the fastest road car with a speed of 242.95mph, and held that record for almost seven years.  It takes 3.2 seconds to get from zero to 100kph, otherwise expressed as a shorter amount of time than it took you to read from the word “amount”.  It has a centrally mounted driver’s seat for optimal vision and control.  The engine bay is lined with gold to reflect heat and holds a 6.1L BMW V12 worth 618bhp.  It was the first car to have a carbon-fibre monocoque chassis.  The 17’ wheels are made of magnesium, as is the car’s tool kit.  It was one of the first road cars to have active aerodynamics.  There are fans at the rear that literally suck the car to the road.  Sheep’s blood is used to lubricate the transmission.  Well, that last part’s not true, but you get the idea.  And did I mention there are no driver’s aids?

The F1 was lighter, smaller, and more powerful than almost everything else at the time, and has been called the most influential car of the 21st century.  But all of this came with the equally impressive price tag of $970,000, with any example now fetching as high as $4 million.  So a little expensive, and also exclusive.  Only 106 models were ever made from 92’ to 98’, and some of those weren’t even street legal but fully fledged race cars. 

Ten years on from the F1 and McLaren have decided to bring a more mainstream product to market.  The MP4-12C doesn’t have the headline grabbing stats like its forefather, but it still packs a mighty punch.  Endowed with McLaren’s own twin-turbo 3.8L V8 the 12C can use its 592bhp to accelerate from naught to 100 in 3.3 seconds.  Seems like a lesser version of the F1 when put like that, but then again, the baby Macca only costs around $250,000.

The 12C is almost as groundbreaking as its predecessor, with a bunch of newer F1 derived tech used in its design (don’t worry, I won’t list them), and everything that the company learns from building it will be put into producing a true F1 successor.  I’d say it’s a pretty good base car.

By 2015, around 4,000 12Cs will be built per annum, and this will include at least two more variants.  A convertible will be on the scene by the end of 2012, and a more focused/hardcore version (think GT3 RS) will be around in a few years.  The company is also planning the aforementioned F1 successor, and a junior-supercar is in the works to sit below the 12C.

You can sum up its impressive history and performance but saying, “It looks real purrrrtty mister”.  Simple, but effective.

I’ve gone on quite a ramble about McLaren and haven’t even touched on any of the other great cars that I saw at Auto Park Circle that day.  My whole justification for writing about the 12C was that I was at Pfaff Tuning to price out some things, but that can wait for another day.  The McLaren seems to make everything else I saw and did utterly and completely obsolete.  I didn’t drive it.  I didn’t even sit in it.  But I saw my first McLaren ever.  And that’s really all that’s important.  

How Much for a Kidney: BMW 1M

•January 27, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Welcome to a new feature where I realize my need to sort through countless autotrader ads in search of cars that I can’t afford, most likely will never own, but still desperately want and will attempt to justify the purchase of through the sale of my redundant body organs.

In my continuing quest for stick shifting knowledge I have come to discover that driving a manually equipped car is a lot of work, but also incredibly fun.  Being able to perfectly blip the throttle in anticipation of a down-shift while simultaneously feeling the satisfying movement of pulling the gearlever from fourth into third is one of the most exhilarating experiences I have ever had in a car.  Granted I have only ever done this in a Hyundai Genesis Coupe and Nissan Versa, but it’s still got me day dreaming.

My fantasy garage of “What if I won the lottery today” übercars used to only contain technology riddled automatic dream machines such as the Bugatti Veyron, Audi R8, SLS AMG, and a few other choice offerings.  But after having some great interactions with a stick and clutch it would seem that some deliciously “old school” driver’s cars are now creeping into my sub-conscious playground.  The 2011 BMW 1M is one such car.

The M badge is only ever put on übercars, and this has been true for quite some time.  In the late 70’s BMW and Lamborghini began to work together on a mid-engined homologation special that would allow Beemer to go sports car racing.  Lamborghini was in the middle of one of its many financial hiccups, and backed out after only seven prototypes were produced, forcing BMW to take on the entire project alone.

The project would now be spearheaded by the BMW Motorsports Division and would lead to the creation of the first “M” car, the M1.  BMW was known then as it is now: for making saloons, so this mid-engined, hand built, 270bbhp limited edition machine was something completely out of left field for the firm.  Only 456 of these babies were ever produced, and they are now desirable collectables and routinely sell for upwards of $250,000.

The M1 was BMW’s first and only supercar.  After its production came to an end the German engineers who worked on the project began to put the same engine used in the M1 into more mundane examples of their company’s product offerings.  First up to get the engine transplant was the 6-Series, and with this quick switch a legend was born: M635 CSi (M6).  The first M5 debuted two years later and the rest, as they say, is history.

The now iconic M3 and lesser known M Coupe both joined the family over the next few decades, and along the way BMW continued to adapt and improve their M cars with each subsequent generation.  The models all began to grow in both size and speed as the company reacted to government safety regulations and customer demands for more horsepower.  This all culminated in the 2005 launch of the 500bhp V10 powered M5, and showed that M cars were now matching the performance of Porsches and Ferraris all while carrying four people in complete comfort.

For purists though, it began to seem like the M Brand was losing its way.  What started out as a division that produced hand-built driver’s cars were now responsible for the abominations that are the X5M and X6M: super-SUVs equipped with four-wheel drive and turbo chargers.  These went completely against everything the brand had represented for almost 30 years.  At the same time the newest model M3 had become the same size as the first M5 in terms of dimensions, and it seemed enthusiasts were forced to see the M Division in a new light.

This all changed with the launch of the petit 1M.  Using the same strategy that had given the M brand a cult following in the 80’s, BMW took an incredibly powerful strait-six engine and stuck it into a seemingly unassuming package.  They couldn’t call this new creation the “M1”, as this would get the fan boys into a tizzy, so they switched the letters around and called it a day.

The 1M is a driver’s tool: 335bhp from a turbo-charged inline six-cylinder engine attached to manual transmission and sending power solely to the rear wheels.  The classic BMW layout was back, but now in a lighter package that became the cheapest M car to own.  Previous M products had begun to seem like marketing exercises to just sell cars, but the 1M was never swayed in its design to conform to the marketing man’s idea of what a performance car should be.  The 1M was designed for purists, and is utterly drool worthy.

Originally intended as a limited production model of only 2,700 units, BMW was forced to re-evaluate this decision after it became apparent that demand was vastly outstripping supply.  The company ultimately decided to build as many of these little suckers as they could until the production ends in spring of 2012.  But that still won’t produce enough to satisfy everyone, and dealers are currently selling them at quite a premium. 

The 1M is a tool for enjoying the drive, not for getting from point A to point B.  Yes, you could use it as your daily commuter, but with its limited numbers and overall specialness would you really want to?  I wouldn’t.  I want this car to sit in my garage for most of the week and let the anticipation build for Sunday mornings when I can finally take it to the deserted roads north of the city and just let it rip.

This is more weapon than car.  Used to not only scare you silly, but scare the road into submission.  This little orange monster has become a fixture of my dream garage as it’s just as special as owning a Ferrari: they both create an event every time you get behind the wheel.  The 1M is the culmination of 30 years of M development and epitomizes the 21st Century’s driver’s car of choice.  Now if only I could find the $55,000 needed to own one.  You know I’m pretty sure lungs are fetching a nice premium on the black market at the moment.

Three Months Later and I’m Still Giggling

•January 26, 2012 • 1 Comment

The GTI is now three months old and so far hasn’t been damaged or impounded.  I feel a big congratulations is in order as that’s a serious accomplishment with this car.

She is an evil temptress that goads you into pushing the accelerator further and further into the carpet, while rewarding you with rapidly approaching obstacles and an amazing exhaust note.  I’ve never driven anything that makes me smile so much, and I still pinch myself every time I remember that she’s all mine.

Highlights so far?  Well, the steering is a peach: you always know exactly what’s happening under your bum, providing you with complete confidence in its precise handling.  This is what I expected from VW and they certainly delivered.  Getting out of the Jetta I had rented and back into my GTI really put into perspective the special feeling that this car bestows upon the driver.

The trick DSG gearbox is simply the best thing since freshly cleaned bed sheets.  The manual mode allows me to change gears and engine brake with slick flappy paddles.  Truth be told I prefer shifting with the gear selector as it feels more natural.  The special Sport mode does nothing but idle the engine at 3,000rpm, but this isn’t a criticism, as at that rpm the engine is in what I call “haul ass mode” and great for overtaking. 

Still, my favorite setting is plain old Drive.  I have the freedom to put the hammer down and really get up to speed quickly, or I can potter around like a little tank engine in such an effective manner that I sometimes swear I’m running a surly little diesel.  I’ve found the most amusing way to accelerate is achieved by revving the engine progressively to 3,000rpm and then letting the it naturally change gears.  Doing this rewards the driver with a satisfying “POP” from the exhaust that is felt rather than heard.     

The engine itself is something I’m still getting used to.  As it’s my first turbo-powered car I’ve had to learn how to best manage with the slight, but ever present, turbo-lag.  We’re not talking about the multiple seconds of lag found in a Ferrari F40, but a barely perceptible hesitation from the engine until it realizes that yes, you really do want to go quite quickly as there are multiple oncoming cars. 

This is quite different from my Golf, which would always allow me to pull away rapidly (Golf levels of rapidity, so visualize a Bulldog stomping towards you) in a typical naturally aspirated fashion.  The other issue I’m having is the constant interference from the stability control.  Putting my foot to the floor in anything but extremely dry conditions results in spinning front wheels while the clunky ESP ponders what to do next.  The dashboard light flashes and the car eventually and jerkily regains traction.  This is no bad thing as I feel like a hooligan, but it certainly doesn’t allow me to win every fight at the stop light drag race.

Overall though, this car is a pure delight to drive, and everything makes me think that it should be called “the little Panzer tank that could”.  But this tank just happens to look the business.  For those of you not as sorely addicted to cars as myself the GTI may seem like a run-of-the-mill Golf.  But those in the know pick out the dual shiny exhausts, the red detailing on the front honeycomb grill, and the beefier wheels that mark this out as something special.  In its striking Deep Black Pearl paint and two door layout this car has got to be one of the sexiest things on four wheels.

Jumping inside just increases this perception.  Some auto-reviewers have said that the steering wheel in the GTI is the best in any car under $200,000, and these are educated fellows so I won’t argue.  Flat-bottomed with red stitching and a GTI logo combined with paddles and numerous buttons makes this wheel something to behold (literally!).  The seats seem borrowed from an S-something Audi and root me to the spot better than a naked Jessica Alba.  But unlike Ms. Alba they are made of cow skin and come with embossed headrests.  The Dynaudio sound system is ace and the sat-nav is just such a newfangled piece of kit that I can’t get mad at it.  Even though the drunken GPS lady has told me at least once to turn left into a cement barrier while traveling at 120km/h to reach my destination of “TAROOONNNTUUUUU”, wherever that is.

The negatives?  Well, the car comes with voice recognition but I can’t for the life of me figure out how it works.  I seem to have also developed ACD (Automotive Cleaning Disorder) caused by the car looking so good that I can’t stand any dirt on or in it.  This includes snowflakes, the pesky bastards.

I have resorted to washing her (at a touch free carwash no less) at least once a week.  I’ve also bought a small cordless vacuum to routinely suck up any crumbies that are left on the seats or floor.  VW provided me with a special cloth that I use to wipe down the dash and display almost every day, and I have also resorted to using the soapy dish washing cloth to scrub out the cup-holders.  Speaking of dish soap, I’ve found that combining it with some water in a bucket provides a great cleaning solution to dirty wheels and exhausts.   God I’ve got problems.

But it hasn’t been all sunshine and daisies over the past months.   In late November I noticed a strange rattling noise coming from the exhaust when the car was accelerating at around 3,000 to 4,500rpm, and it was persistent in any temperature and still there after my running-in period.  A quick troll of the forums revealed that this is a common trait of Mk6s, and a simple clamp fitted to my wastegate would solve the problem.  A trip to my local dealer was all it took to have the noise completely vanquished, and I got a Jetta for the day with my warranty. 

The darkened windows that can be seen in a previous post did such a good job that at night my poor eyesight could barely perceive anything beyond the windows, so the illegal tinting had to go.  And yes, I felt dumb for having put it on in the first place.

Winter floor mats with red GTI logos, shiny “GTI” license plate covers, and some organizer blocks (picture velcroable “L”s that go in the trunk to create sturdy storage options) were also purchased to add to the uniqueness and practicality of my car. 

So far, the biggest and best purchases are some winter tires and dedicated winter rims.  My delicious 18’ Serrons were so nice that I just couldn’t bear the thought of any of their shiny goodness being damaged during the horrible months of winter.  I looked around for some nice OEM rims from lesser VW models, but neither eBay nor my local dealer offered anything that piqued my interest.  I then decided to have a look at Pfaff Tuning to see if any aftermarket rims could possibly fit the bill.  I was interested to see the tuning arm of Pfaff as I have been thinking about buying some aftermarket additions for the ol’girl come the New Year.  A quick trip to their shop, a leaf through a pamphlet, and a garage tour (including a fully prepped and race-ready ABT GTI on stilts) saw me purchasing four Audi R8 replica wheels with VW center caps.

Previous experience told me that Pirelli P Zeros were a good choice for winter rubber, but I really wanted to try something new.  After EVO’s 2011 winter tire test came out naming the Continental Winter Contact TS830 P the best overall choice my decision was practically made for me. 

So far the tires have been grippy, but leave enough slip to be playful when I want them to, and the R8 replica wheels are almost better looking than my standard Serrons.  At 17’ they fill the arches a tad less than my summer rims, but still provide enough beefy character to notify everyone that I care how my baby looks.

What’s on the horizon for my black beauty?  Well, you’ll just have to wait until spring time to find out.

Spotted in the Wild: Porsche Cayman R

•January 18, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Sometimes ideas for what to write about on this blog just hit me in the face.  Or, as in this instance, they haunt my rear-view mirror.

I have about six topics that are planned for future posts, and I was actually saving this one for a little later.  But after seeing a Cayman R two times in one week I took it as a sign that this post must be written now.

The first sighting of this mid-engined 911 killer occurred as I was attempting to smoothly start a manual equipped car on a hill.  It was my first attempt, and having a car that was featured in EVO Magazine’s Car of the Year 2011 drive past did nothing to improve my concentration.  Suffice to say that first attempt was bullocks.

The second encounter involved my GTI actually overtaking the green demon.  Yes, the Porsche was queuing in traffic while I was accelerating past, but nevertheless the GTI can now proudly wear a crossed out Porsche logo on its flank to denote it’s superior turbo-charged status.  Well, that might be a stretch.

As stated when the Ferrari F430 Spider was spotted, I’m currently living through a Canadian winter.  Now let’s put your preconceptions to the side and point out that it doesn’t snow here all year round as some of our cousins to the South believe.   Winter typically lasts from December to March, and on any given mid-January day you will see a few feet of snow on the ground and generally grubby driving conditions. 

This winter season will go down as one of the mildest on record, but it still isn’t exactly Southern California levels of warm and sunny, with our average temperature hovering around -10°C.  And yet, I have now spotted a Peridot Metallic (Kermit the Frog Green) Porsche Cayman R twice in the past week.  I would normally expect to find this car at a track on hot summer days, but apparently some Canadians are using their übercars as everyday drivers, and this is flipping awesome for car lovers such as myself.

As with most of the hardcore variants that Porsche offers, the Cayman R will likely be the last of its model’s generation.  The recent launch of the Mk3 Boxster points towards the styling refresh that the Cayman will receive for the 2013 model year.  So the R is really the best this Cayman is going to be, and the general consensus is that Porsche could’ve done a lot better.

Don’t get me wrong, this is an übercar and it would be an amazing experience to own one, but the Cayman package has the potential to truly beat its big brother, the 911, if Porsche wanted it to.  I’m getting a head of myself.  In truth, the Cayman R offers a lot for a somewhat small amount of money.  The base Cayman R starts at $75,600, which is cheap in Porsche land, and represents only $5K more than a Cayman S, making it pretty good value.  Just wait as that price can fluctuate a bit. 

Here’s what I think happened during the cars development: the Porsche engineers and marketing teams met to discuss how they would work together on the car; the engineers wanted to reduce the weight of the cars as much as possible to make the best handling machines; while the marketing folks knew that the majority of customers don’t buy stripped out race cars; so how did they come to a compromise?  By creating a behemoth of on options list. 

Would Sir like air-conditioning in his Cayman, well that will be $2,000.  How about a rear window wiper – $420, or front lights that turn when you dash around corners – $1,780.  Luckily, Porsche was in a generous mood and decided not to charge for cup holders or floor mats, but you still have to specify that you would like them.  For track enthusiasts there are even more options: light-weight lithium-ion battery – $2,000, fire extinguisher – $160, an electronic log book to record lap times – $750.  The best option are the “Porsche Carbon Ceramic Brakes” (PCCB) for a mind blowing $9,300, but they do come with some flash yellow brake calipers.

If every option was ticked on the “build your own Porsche” website the total price of the R can be increased to around $140,000, that’s almost $65K in options, or put another way, the price of a fully loaded BMW 1M.  That is absolutely ridiculous!

Thankfully, “my” local Cayman R seems to be as close to basic as you can get, which means the owner isn’t a complete frivolous nob.  That base package is already an improvement on a recognized driver’s toy and Porsche said its goal with the R was to make the Cayman an even more dynamic and agile car.  This was achieved using the theory that less is more.

The Slimline 19-inch wheels are borrowed from the beautiful Boxster Spyder, bucket seats are standard, the doors are made from aluminum and come from a 911 Turbo, and, as previously stated, air-condition, cup holders, and floor mats are now only options..  All told the R is 55kg lighter than its siblings while also being lower to the ground, coming with a fixed aero package, and bringing close to 10 extra ponies to the party thanks to a few tweaks to the ECU and exhaust.  Generally speaking, when a good car is made lighter and more powerful the results are good, and this is no exception.

Add in the horrid colour combination and the lettering on the side and this is one truly special Porsche.  But the engineers could have done much more.  Before the R was launched enthusiasts speculated that Porsche might plunk a 911 tuned flat-six into the Cayman’s body.  The packaging of the Cayman could allow for it, and its mid-engine layout would instantly make this “super-Cayman” a cult classic, and most likely challenge the 911 as the definitive Porsche driving tool.  And therein lies the reason why a car such as this hasn’t been, and most likely never will be, made. 

Porsche is the 911 and the 911 is Porsche.  As stated in a previous post, the 911 is an icon, and Porsche believes they would alienate a large amount of its supporters if they truly developed the Cayman into the 911 beater that it could be.  That’s a shame really, as if there’s enough room in the world for a $200K beluga whale to wear the Porsche badge (that’s your cue Panamera Turbo S), then there must be space for another equally iconic sports car to sit alongside the 911.  Putting the 911 and Cayman engineers against each other to create better and better products could only result in more amazing creations for petrolheads like us to covet and adore. 

The Cayman R is a great Porsche that will most likely be remembered as a truly special driving machine, but to many people it will just represent a lost opportunity; a lost opportunity that’s also painted the colour of puke.

For some sweet video action click the link www.youtube.com/UBERC4R to see the Cayman R on track and hear it’s throaty exhuast!

Road Test: 2012 Volkswagen Jetta

•January 16, 2012 • Leave a Comment

A road test: the definitive verdict on a given car, and a stalwart of automotive publications for decades.  The ability of a journalist to wax lyrically about applying a “dab of oppo” to any number of übercars is what gets a petrolhead’s blood flowing.  Generally speaking, the more exotic the car, the more interesting the article, and it doesn’t get much more exciting than a ride in a Bugatti Veyron Super Sport.

Anyways, why don’t we talk about what I’ve actually been hooning about in: a 2012 Comfortline Jetta. 

Let’s start by saying that this was not a proper road test where I was invited to a car’s launch with a closed off race track to exploit it to its fullest.  As I’m not an automotive journalist any reviews I do are: infrequent, out of my own pocket, and without any manufacturer’s permission.  This limits my road test possibilities, but it does make driving any seemingly mundane people carrier much more special.

Enter at your cue of “mundane” the VW Jetta, the stud in the VW stable (especially in the US market). Not particularly a muscular brute, but a fertile reproducer none-the-less who has currently sired over 10 million examples in its thirty-three years of production.  Across the globe the Jetta has been sold under many names: Atlantic, Bora, Fox, Sagitar, and Vento are just a few, but no matter the name it’s the cheap VW sedan that looks a heck of a lot like a Golf with a proper boot. 

My day with the Jetta only happened because my GTI needed some maintenance, and as I have a sweet warranty I was able to procure a rental for my commuting troubles (it’s funny to note that I get a rental, while my Mum’s Mercedes warranty doesn’t provide one).  Up pulled a 2012 Jetta with only 2000km on the odometer, and simultaneously a grimace appeared on my face.  I wasn’t expecting miracles, but I was hoping for a Touareg for some reason.

My road test was limited as I had to cram my regular life around the assessment of the Jetta, but I was able to summarize that although it’s nice to try new things, the Jetta was not a car for me.  Similar in power to my beloved old Golf, the Jetta has a 2.0L in-line four-cylinder with 115hp.  But, unlike the Golf, the Jetta is an absolute pig to drive.  I swear that this engine was designed to infuriate anyone who would be unfortunate enough to come into contact with it.  The sound, the performance, and the fuel economy are all horrible, which is a real shame as you would at least expect good gas mileage from such an un-sporting car.

Let’s start with some positives before I get up on my soapbox.  The overall look of this, the sixth generation Jetta, is very attractive.  My particular car arrived covered in Toronto-grade snowy grim, but it couldn’t hide the athletic German appearance that suggests the car was hewn from solid stone (this was helped by “my” car’s Reflex Silver Metallic paint).  The prominent front lip was a particular muscular favorite.

Unfortunately, it would seem that the designers spent most of their time weaving an attractive cloth to wrap around an unappealing package with.  This almost base line model is more spartan that the Sierra dessert, as I’m sure that the dessert at least comes equipped with an armrest.  No Bluetooth or Nav is completely acceptable, as is a lack of power seats, but no armrest?  Where in the heck would you like my right arm to go Volkswagen?  I can only assume that this glaring omission is used to keep both hands on the wheel at all times, but if a $6,000 cheaper Kia Rio comes with one as standard than you know you have problems.  Sorry.  I guess I should categorize this as “You know what really grinds my gears?” and not “Road Test”. 

After the non-existent armrest, the seats are really the only other let down in an interior which otherwise has a predictably German lay-out.  The steering wheel seems to be from a car much higher up the VW hierarchy.  Boot space is large, and the rear seats comfortably seat a six-footer with tons of leg and head room to spare.  Overall, the car is great for families, just ones with drivers who do without a right arm.

If the exterior is The Good, and the interior The Bad, then the engine, steering, and transmission have to be The Ugly.  In my ‘04 Golf the engine would sing all the way to the red-line, the steering was weighty and communicative, and the transmission was never marred by stupid electronics that force you into top gear.  As the Jetta was a rental I felt no qualms about revving the nuts off the thing at every possible opportunity, and in fact, doing this was the only way to actually achieve any form of acceleration.  Applying part throttle would produce next to no forward momentum, and when pushed, the Jetta can only reach 100km/h in 12.2 seconds.  Not exactly mind blowing stuff.

The true horribleness of the engine was exposed during some highway driving, where you would expect to achieve the best fuel economy.  It is possible to save the baby whales from your carbon dioxide, but only if you never have the need to overtake anyone.  When passing other cars I would apply just a tiny bit of throttle pressure when suddenly the car would downshift two gears and the tachometer needle would head towards the 7,000rpm limiter.  After completing the jolty pass the engine would revert back to its favorite place – sixth gear.  I say “jolty” because for some reason the creators of the laudable DSG transmission cannot make a basic auto that swaps gears any smoother than a kid learning manual for the first time.  Driving through thirty minutes of downtown traffic felt like I was stuck in a never ending earthquake.  And if you select the “manual” mode (giving you control of the shifts) this all gets much, much worse.

The last straw that broke the camel’s back was the God awful steering.  Up to this point the 2.0L Jetta would be an okay car for people who don’t really give a crap about cars.  Yes it’s jerky and underpowered, but it’s also practical and cheap, so the uninitiated into the Cult of Cars wouldn’t bat an eyelash.  But I challenge anyone to take this car for a spin and not notice that the steering has no idea what the hell is going on.  Driving this car is the closest you can get to the feeling of piloting a cloud.  You’re unsure what’s happening beneath you, and when you try to turn the experience is a slow and ponderous one.  .  You never see a cloud making tight, apex clipping turns, and the same can be said of the Jetta.  Turning the wheel while driving in a strait line results in no perciebvable change in direction, and you must provide at least a half rotation of lock to start drifting left or right.  Absolutely horrible, and not the usual precision handling that we expect from VW’s offerings.

If you like cars you should be content that the continuing popularity of the Jetta helps to pay for the creation of cars like the GTI and Golf R, and also finance VW’s ownership of Lamborghini and Bugatti.  If you don’t like cars you probably aren’t reading this, and you might think about owning a Jetta.  By all means please do.  I don’t really understand your reasoning, but someone needs to buy the crap cars if others are to have the über ones.