Under the Skin

This web-site is now closed, and has been replaced by a motor industry blog called, not unreasonably, The Motorblog. You will find it here:

http://www.under-the-skin.org.uk/motorblog/

Jaguar F-Type.

Jaguar F-Type

Jaguar’s aluminium two-seater holds out the promise of plenty of performance and driver involvement — even the economy model delivers 340PS. Structural rigidity was an understandable design priority with this open car, while four-wheel double-wishbone sus­pen­sion should please the purists and E-Type fanatics.

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Mercedes-Benz GL

The Range Rover has few direct competitors, but the Mercedes GL-class is definitely one of them. Built in the United States, it has all of the off-the-shelf driving aids imaginable as well as one or two genuinely new ideas of its own. Top of the list for us is the car’s ‘active’ anti-roll bars which — quite apart from countering roll — allow the bars to be decoupled for driving off road. There’s even a system for detecting and automatically countering crosswinds using the braking system.

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Mercedes-Benz GL.
Volkswagen Golf Mk. VII.

Volkswagen Golf

The seventh generation of Volkswagen’s popular icon is bigger but lighter than its forebear — through lean design rather than exotic materials. The most important news is that the new Golf is powered by a completely new range of engines.

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Vauxhall Mokka

Forty-four millimetres longer in the wheelbase than a Corsa and 279mm longer overall, G.M.’s new small SUV takes on the Škoda Yeti and Nissan Juke. Front-wheel drive and 4x4 versions are offered, with a choice of three power-units.

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Vauxhall Mokka.
BMW Mini Paceman.

BMW Mini Paceman

The pips are starting to squeak at Cowley as BMW announces yet another Mini derivative. The Paceman is a sort of Countryman coupé, and it goes on sale in the U.K. early in 2013. Full details are not yet forthcoming, but we can bring you the edited highlights.

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BMW 7-series

The biggest Bavarian has always been a formidable car, from die Große Baureihe to the fifth generation of the 7-series, launched just three years ago. But technology has moved fast in those three years, and BMW is launching a sixth Seven. With new engines and every possible driver assistance system, it is a technical masterpiece.

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BMW 7-series, 2013.
Volkswagen DSG transmission.

How it works: Volkswagen DSG transmission

We put Volkswagen’s twin-clutch gearbox under the microscope. With seven forward gears, dry-plate clutches and a torque capacity of 250Nm, it promises ease of driving and good fuel economy at the sharp end of the car market.

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Volvo V40

For the first time in 15 years, Volvo has a five-door hatchback to offer. Pitched against the BMW 1-series, Alfa-Romeo Giulietta and Audi A3, it promises much. We suspect it will deliver.

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Volvo V40.
Mercedes CLS Shooting Brake.

Mercedes CLS Shooting Brake

We have full details of the sporting station-wagon whose name evokes another age. Happily the car is very modern, and there’s an AMG version for when you’re in a hurry to get to the gymkhana.

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Audi A6 Allroad

Based on the A6 Avant, the Allroad features four-wheel drive and adjustable air suspension as standard, as well as bodywork modifications to make it look the part. Lightweight construction is a selling point. Engines include Audi’s new 313PS three-litre BiTDI with two turbochargers.

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Audi A6 Allroad.
Subaru XV.

Subaru XV

The XV is Subaru’s first ‘compact crossover’. It’s based loosely on the Impreza, but there are more differences than similarities. The flat-four petrol engines are new, while the Company’s diesel, which was already impressive, has been improved further.

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Mini Roadster

Introducing a second soft-top Mini might seem like squeezing the pips out of the Mini brand, but the Roadster and Convertible are quite different in style and substance.

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Mini Roadster.
BMW Active Hybrid 5.

BMW Active Hybrid 5

While any hybrid is interesting by virtue of being technically quite complex, it can be difficult to see the point if the manufacturer chooses to deploy a petrol engine rather than a diesel along with the electric motor. And such is the case here. With BMW’s two diesel Fives offering such a formidable combination of performance and economy, you will need to think very carefully before committing to the Active Hybrid.

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Chevrolet Aveo

Taking drive-train components from G.M. Europe and Fiat and fitting them into a completely new body, Chevrolet has created a supermini that undoubtedly deserves to be taken seriously. It’s sold as the Sonic in the U.S., where a three-box version is also available.

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Chevrolet Aveo.
Renault K9K dCi 110.

New Renault engines

Two important new engines have arrived in the Renault Mégane range. The familiar 1.5-litre K9K diesel has been heavily reworked in line with the approach taken on the 1.6-litre R9M unit which débuted last year. Developing 110PS, its fuel economy returns look promising. Also new is the turbocharged 1.2-litre TCe 115 petrol engine. Meanwhile, all Méganes and Scénics have been given a nose-job.

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Toyota Land Cruiser V8

Toyota’s biggest and boldest off-roader has finally gained a Euro 5 engine, while there is now more technology to help the driver negotiate difficult terrain.

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Toyota Land Cruiser V8.
Jaguar XF 2.2D.

Jaguar XF

Apart from being restyled to look more like its big brother, Jaguar’s XF has undergone some important technical changes for 2012. Gone is the old 2.7-litre V6 diesel, replaced by a version of PSA’s 2179cc four-cylinder unit. Refinement has allegedly not suffered, and fuel economy is much improved. Additionally, the three-litre diesel from the XJ is now available, and Z.F.’s excellent eight-speed 8HP automatic transmission is now standard on diesel models.

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BMW 3-series

The sixth incarnation of BMW’s 3-series offers increased bodyshell stiffness and lower kerb mass despite an increase in both overall length and wheelbase. There is also a new petrol engine and the usual crop of innovations from the electronics industry.

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BMW 3-series, 2012.
Fisker Karma.

Fisker Karma

California-based Fisker builds upmarket hybrids that offer not only cutting-edge battery technology and high performance but also some unusual features, such as wood trim rescued from wild-fires and a completely animal-free option.

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Audi A2 electric concept

Audi’s electrically-powered A2 concept car packs a lot of technology into a small space, from its hybrid construction to its fascinating — and rather alarming — steer-by-wire system.

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Audi A2 electric concept.
Renault Koleos.

Renault Koleos

Details of Renault’s heavily revised crossover, built on a platform shared with Nissan and using the Japanese company’s four-wheel drive technology.

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Z.F.’s latest

A new nine-speed epicyclic automatic transmission for transverse installation, two electric drive systems and some ideas for reducing vehicle mass have emerged from German engineering giant Z.F. over the last few months.

The most significant new arrival is the 9HP automatic gearbox. While the familiar eight-speed 8HP is designed for longitudinal installation and rear-wheel drive, the newcomer is for transverse installation and either front- or four-wheel drive. With nine gears, it offers both close spacing of ratios and a wide spread.

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Z.F. 9HP automatic transmission for transverse installation.
Volkswagen Nils.

Volkswagen Nils

Volkswagen’s single-seater electric show-car is clever, but it makes one serious mistake. It’s a single-seater.

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Lexus GS 450h

The next generation of Lexus GS executives will be with us shortly, and one of the two models initially available in Britain will be the hybrid 450h.

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Lexus GS 450h.
Porsche 911 Carrera.

Porsche 911 Carrera

A completely new bodyshell offers a useful stretch in the wheelbase and better torsional stiffness, while substantial changes to the power-units provide more power and lower fuel consumption. The standard transmission is the world’s first seven-speed manual gearbox, perhaps the best case Porsche could make for opting for its automated dual-clutch seven-speeder.

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Mercedes-Benz B-class

Despite the visual similarity between the new B-class and its predecessor, pretty well nothing is carried over. The engines and transmissions are new, and — as we have come to expect these days — there is a whole basketful of electronic driver aids. And to underscore Mercedes’ current leadership in aerodynamics, the newcomer scores with a remarkable drag coefficient — Cd 0.26 for the cheapest version.

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Mercedes B-class.
Peugeot 508 RXH.

Peugeot 508 RXH

You can’t buy one until next year, but Peugeot’s flagship 508 promises much — not least four-wheel drive, 200PS and 60mpg. It uses PSA’s Hybrid 4 system, which here provides an already torquey two-litre diesel to drive the front wheels and an electric motor, mounted in the tail, driving the rears. The possibilities are seemingly endless.

No detailed technical specifications are available yet, but we can take you through the basics.

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Toyota Yaris and Avensis

Beloved of the over-fifties, Toyota’s Avensis has been appreciably revised, while the little Yaris is now in its third incarnation. Both are made in Europe.

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Toyota Yaris.
Delphi combined radar and camera.

Delphi at Frankfurt

Engineering giant Delphi is one of the major players in automotive technology. The Company has had some troubled times of late, with its common-rail fuel injection systems causing a great deal of trouble for Mercedes-Benz and its customers. But the breadth of Delphi’s high-tech research and manufacturing is vast, so we have taken a look at its current and up-coming technologies.

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Škoda Citigo & Seat Mii

We normally expect the various parts of the Volkswagen Group to issue new models on a new platform gradually, in accordance with their own model cycles. But in the case of the Group’s new A-category cars, they’re all coming from the same Bratislava factory. And so it is that in a matter of days we have seen the announcement of the Volkswagen Up, Škoda Citigo and finally — but only just — the Seat Mii. There are stylistic differences between the three, but little else — and the only distinctions in sheet metal are the V.W.’s different rear quarter panel and slightly differing bonnets.

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Škoda Citigo.
Schaeffler roller-bearing balancer shafts in situ.

Roll with it

Roller-bearings are hardly novel or glamorous, and they might not be an exciting topic for conversation, but they are finding themselves at the cutting edge of automotive technology. Why? Because they reduce frictional losses in an engine compared with good old-fashioned plain bearings. And with more and more engines now equipped with stop-start systems, roller-bearings could ward off premature camshaft failure. We take a look at Schaeffler’s offerings.

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Look, no hands

This driver is motoring down the Autobahn without touching the steering-wheel or the pedals. Is he mad, or is he a BMW development engineer?

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Using cameras, radar and processing power, a BMW guides itself down the motorway.
BMW Turbosteamer system.

Using the heat

An internal combustion engine throws away 60 per cent. of the energy it generates. It passes down the exhaust system as heat. One way of capturing some of it is by using a turbocharger, but there are other, much more subtle devices that could soon be using exhaust heat to generate electrical energy. BMW has been working on two projects that could show the way.

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Renault R9M dCi 130 ‘Energy’

Offering 130PS from 1.6 litres, the first in Renault’s ‘Energy’ diesel engine range boasts a number of useful innovations.

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Renault R9M dCi 130 ‘Energy’.
Volkswagen Up.

Volkswagen Up

Volkswagen’s last city car, the Fox, has proved popular, though no-one could say it was exciting or innovative. The new Up is smaller and was almost rear-engined — but the numbers didn’t add up, so it goes on sale as a conservative lead-in model hoping to sell on competence. Unlike its oredecessor, the Up is built in Europe, at Volkswagen’s Bratislava plant.

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BMW i

BMW i is not just a car — or, in this case, two cars — but a sweeping statement of princicple and intent: a manifesto for the future of BMW and for private transport. While the i3 Concept (right) and i8 Concept are more intersting for their construction than their propulsion, the networking systems that BMW is developing for them really do represent a step towards holistic personal trnasport.

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BMW i3 Concept.
BMW 1-series.

BMW 1-series

It’s fair to say that the original BMW 1-series, which has been with us for seven years, was a fair success, selling over 20,000 units a year in Britain alone. It was good to drive and offered BMW prestige at a lower price — and with lower running costs — than any previous Bavarian. If it was a little cramped in the back, most owners seemed quite happy to forgive it.

BMW is clearly keen to hang on to its existing 1-series customers, because the new model is all but identical visually. But that’s where the similarity ends: the new car shares very little mechanically or structurally with its predecessor. All engines — not just the diesels — are turbocharged, and there’s the option of ZF’s excellent eight-speed automatic gearbox.

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Lancia Ypsilon

The Fiat Group’s latest small car promises to bring refinement and sophistication to the B-category. But does it share too much with its lesser brethren? We have full details.

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Lancia Ypsilon.
Magneride damper for Range Rover Evoque.

BWI Magneride

Magneride is a mechanically simple system for adjusting damper rates steplessly and very quickly over a wide range of values. The system uses monotube dampers that contain magneto-rheological fluid. The piston in each damper contains a coil, which applies a magnetic field of varying strength, changing the damping rate. The system has great significance in how ride and handling are controlled.

Previous customers for the system have included Audi and Ferrari. The latest application, using the third generation of the system, is the Range Rover Evoque.

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M.G. 6

M.G.’s renaissance under Chinese giant SAIC begins with the 6, a mildly reworked version of the Chinese-market Roewe 550. It’s technically conservative, but reports from China suggest it’s at least well-mannered. Perhaps for some, though, the most important thing is that the cars were engineered in the U.K. We have details.

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M.G. 6.
Rolls-Royce Phantom 102EX.

Rolls-Royce Phantom 102EX

There will come a time when even Rolls-Royce owners will need to abandon huge petrol engines, and no-one knows that better than Rolls-Royce. The process of finding an alternative has begun in a very decisive way with the 102EX, a fully-functioning battery electric vehicle. It has been designed, engineered and finished with Rolls-Royce’s characteristically exquisite thoroughness and attention to detail: it needed to be, because its job is to tour the world winning the hearts and minds of potential buyers.

Although the 102EX will never go into production, the reaction it receives will inform the design and engineering decisions that go into Rolls-Royce’s first production electric car. We have full details of the prototype.

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Mini Coupé

BMW’s Mini Coupé may not be a radical departure technically from current models, but it represents something completely new for a Mini: it has only two seats, and you can buy one with over 200PS on tap. It also parts company quite decisively from the traditional Mini ‘look’ and thus — some might say — its roots. We have details.

(Yes, we know BL’s Mini vans and pickups had two seats...)

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Mini Coupé.
Mercedes-Benz E-class.

Mercedes-Benz E-class

There are detail improvements to the diesel engines and two new petrol engines in Mercedes’ outstanding E-class cars. We have the details.

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Tested: The self-parking car

Regular readers will know all about the new Ford Focus and its optional Park Assist system. We’ve been putting the system to the test in a new Focus at Ford’s research and development centre, and we can say confidently that it works well — though, as is the case with any new piece of kit, there are a few things you need to know.

First, and most importantly, you need to know what Park Assist does and what it doesn’t do. What it does is to spot a parking space — by default, on the left; calculate a path for the car into that space; and operate the steering-wheel. What the driver needs to do is to operate the pedals and listen or watch for instructions — for example, to change from reverse to first gear. In the Focus, those instructions are displayed on the central screen. Care needs to be taken when reversing, because the reversing sensor does not give a ‘stop’ signal — a solid bleep — until you are very close indeed to the car behind; if you are slow in responding, you will hear a thump. That’s not a synthesised sound: that’s you hitting the other car.

Used properly, Parking Assist will get you into a space that’s 80cm longer than the car. If you imagine that distributed equally front and rear, you will appreciate that this is a very useful system.

There are limits to how fast you can drive if you want the system to spot a parking space — 22mph — and to the distance between your car and those already parked at the kerb-side — between 30cm and 180cm. The system can be a little touchy about this.

If you want the car to look for a parking space on the right hand side of the road, you must switch on the right-hand indicator while the system is operating.

Ford-Bosch Park Assist.

Park Assist was designed and developed by Bosch, and is supplied to a number of manufacturers, more-or-less off-the-shelf. It uses ultrasound transducers mounted in the sides of the front bumpers, one each side; the familar rear parking sensors; and an electromechanical power-steering system, of the kind that is rapidly becoming more common because of its energy-saving qualities. Additionally, a microprocessor plots the path the car should take: its calculations are very rapid, and the driver is not aware of any ‘lag’ in the system. While the driver takes care of the pedals, the electric motor which normally provides servo assistance to the steering takes over completely, turning the wheel as required. The driver can intervene in the process at any time, either using the pedals or by taking hold of the steering-wheel.

BMW 6-series.

BMW 6-series

The original was iconic, if flawed. Today’s Six is just what you would expect a high-end BMW to be: sophisticated and deeply rational. Two engines are offered initially, both petrol, both twin-turbocharged, and even the entry-level model offers 320PS.

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Porsche Boxster E

Porsche has demonstrated rear- and four-wheel drive electric Boxsters with lithium phosphate battery-packs. The electric sportscars have a straightforward engineering layout, the all-wheel drive variant simply deploying two separate drivetrains coordinated by an electronic control unit. Single-speed reduction gears are used.

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Porsche Boxster E.
LATEST Honda CR-V Seat Leon VW DSG 0AM transmission
Alfa Romeo Giulietta Alfa Romeo Mito AMG 5.5 V8 biturbo Arash AF10
Aston Martin Cygnet Aston Martin Rapide Aston Martin Virage Audi A1
Audi A2 electric Audi A6 Allroad Audi A6, 2011 Audi A8 hybrid
Audi R8 GT Audi RS5 BAC Mono BMW 1-series
BMW 3-series BMW 6-series BMW Active E BMW Active Hybrid 5
BMW Active Hybrid 7 BMW automated driving BMW i BMW M3 GTS
BMW Mini Coupé BMW Mini Roadster BMW Turbosteamer BMW X3
Bosch hybrid system BWI Magneride Chevrolet Aveo Chevrolet Volt
Chrysler 200, 2011 Citroën C4, 2011 Citroën DS3 R3 Dacia Duster
Delphi in Paris 2010 Delphi in Frankfurt 2011 Federal-Mogul Durabowl Fiat Group compact platform
Fiat 500 Twin-Air Fiat Multi-Air Fiat Multijet II Fiat Multipla
Fisker Karma Ford E.V.s & hybrids Ford Focus, 2011 G.M. Flextreme GT/E Concept
Infiniti V6 diesel Infiniti M30d & M35h Jaguar C-X75 Jaguar XF 2012
Jaguar XJ Kia Sportage Lamborghini Aventador Lancia Ypsilon
Land Rover Range_e Lexus CT 200h Lexus GS 450h Lotus-Proton EMAS
McLaren MP4-12C Mercedes-Benz A-class E-cell Mercedes B-class Mercedes B-class F-Cell
Mercedes C-class coupé Mercedes C 63 AMG Mercedes C-class Blue Efficiency Mercedes CL, 2011
Mercedes CLS, 2011 Mercedes CLS Shooting Brake Mercedes E-class 2011 Mercedes E 300 Bluetec Hybrid
Mercedes E 63 AMG Mercedes F800 research vehicle Mercedes SLK 55 AMG Mercedes SLS AMG
Mercedes SLS AMG E-Cell M.G. 6 Mitsubishi iMiEV Peugeot 508
Peugeot 508 RXH Peugeot HR1 Peugeot Hybrid4 Porsche 911 Carrera 2012
Porsche 911 Carrera GTS Porsche Boxster E Porsche Boxster Spyder Porsche’s hybrids
Range Rover, 2011 Range Rover Evoque Renault 1.5dCi, 1.2TCe Renault: Green technologies
Renault Dezir concept Renault E.V.s Renault in Paris 2010 Renault Koleos
Renault Mégane Coupé Cabriolet Renault R9M dCi 130 Renault Scénic ZEV H2 Renault Twingo
Renault Wind Ricardo GT transaxle Rolls-Royce Phantom 102EX Saab 9-4X
Saab 9-5 Scaeffler balancer shafts Seat Alhambra Seat IBE concept
Seat Mii Škoda Citigo Škoda Fabia Greenline Škoda Octavia Green E Line
Subaru Impreza Cosworth Subaru XV Toyota Auris hybrid Toyota Avensis
Toyota iQ 1.3 Toyota Land Cruiser V8 Toyota Prius Toyota Yaris
Vauxhall Ampera Volkswagen Beetle 2012 VW Golf Blue-e-Motion VW Golf TDI hybrid
Volkswagen Nils Volkswagen Up Volkswagen XL1 Volvo C30 Electric
Volvo V40 Volvo V60 Z.F. 9HP transmission
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