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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ford Mustang GT review

What is it?

This is the 2011-model of the Ford Mustang. This model-year sees a serious upgrade in power thanks to a comprehensively upgraded and re-designed all-aluminium V8 motor. As well as being lighter, the engine now also gets what Ford calls twin independent variable camshaft timing and a stainless steel tubular manifold. The upshot is a leap in output from 2010’s 315bhp to today’s 412bhp.

Also new for 2011 is the electrically-assisted power steering with three settings (comfort, standard and sport). The steering set-up also features something called ‘active nibble control’ which is designed to compensate for out-of-balance tyres and compensates for the road camber, keeping the car running in a straight line without the need for driver corrections.

The damper and spring rates have been revised (for both handling and NVH reasons) and the anti-roll bushes stiffened. The lower rear control arm has also been re-designed. There’s more high-strength steel in the body (which also means the cabrio Mustang is 12 per cent stiffer) and more sound proofing, including near door seals and rear arch liner, to kill road noise.

What’s it like?

Remarkably good. One of the most stand-out features - for the European driver, at least - is that fact that the Mustang still has a beam axle. When we’re talking about that axle having to deal with a meaty V8, it’s easy to dismiss the Mustang as a new-world crudity.

In fact, this Ford Mustang handles and rides like something of a thoroughbred. On the winding and dipping country roads above Los Angeles, the Mustang was impressively accurate and controlled.

It’s a very stable and level-riding car, with an impressive ride but the big surprise was the steering, which is very accurate indeed and makes the car very easy to place on the road, so reeling off a series of switchbacks is an undemanding, though satisfying, task. Adding to the ease of rapid progress is the excellent, closely-spaced, six-speed manual box.

The body control, steering accuracy and unflappable poise in bends provide an intriguing contrast to the sheer exuberance of the V8 engine in full-flow. This is a very quick car, but also one that delivers a classic, no-substitute-for-cubic-inches, sense of thrust. Although refined at part-throttle, the engine’s max-attack noise is now channelled directly to the cabin from the engine’s intake, and the driver gets an in-cabin soundtrack that you’d swear was sampled straight from Bullitt.

What really lifted this particular car as a driver’s device was the optional Brembo brake package (which comes as part of the Premium Package, including leather trim and a rear-view camera). These brakes were first-rate, picking up as soon as the driver touched the pedal and proving to be superbly controllable, making it easy to take the braking force right up to the point they were likely to lock. This might not strike you as immediately useful, but the sense of finely-tuned control offered by the Brembo brakes were a large part of making the Mustang such an impressive cross-country machine.

The only downsides were the crazy mix of instrument graphics (old-school, dowdy and blue dot-matrix) and the uninspired cockpit styling, It felt well-made, though.

Should I Buy One?

Even at £25k in the UK, this car would be worthy of serious consideration. But the chance of Ford ever producing a right-hand drive Mustang is very small. Understandably, the company probably thinks that European enthusiasts will not be able to look beyond the received wisdom about American performance cars: all grunt and not much finesse. Nothing could be further from the truth, however.

The 2011 Mustang combines the raw edge (and aggressive performance) of an old-fashioned muscle car with a surprising degree of refinement and poise. It delivers the satisfying feel of a classic with the refinements and control of a modern machine.

Hilton Holloway
Ford Mustang GT (2011)

Price: From £19,695, price as tested: £25,850; Top speed: 155mph (limit); 0-60mph: 4.9sec; Economy: 33.6mpg (highway); CO2: n/a; Kerb weight: 1655kg; Engine: 8 cyls, 4951cc, petrol; Power: 412bhp at 6500rpm; Torque: 390lb ft at 4250rpm; Gearbox: 6-spd manual.

By Unknown with No comments

Monday, November 28, 2011

Toyota GT 86 review

What is it?

This is the Toyota GT 86, formerly known as the FT-86, and created to lure young, fun-loving drivers back to a Toyota brand that has become dominated by big-selling but ultimately bland models.

The front-engined, rear-drive 2+2 has been created in a close collaboration with Subaru, in which Toyota owns a 16.5 per cent share, and will spawn three mechanically identical but differently styled cars: the GT 86, the Subaru BRZ and, for the American market, the Scion FR-S.

All three will be powered by the same 197bhp, 151lb ft flat four engine. Based on the Subaru FB20 block but fitted with a Toyota-designed head, the 2.0-litre engine has been reworked with a shorter stroke and wider bores, allowing it to rev higher. Maximum power arrives at 7000rpm, while peak torque is at 6600rpm.

In total, 91 per cent of parts are bespoke to the GT 86 or its counterparts. Current estimates suggest it will cost from £28,000, a significantly higher amount than originally speculated, but still a relative bargain should it deliver on its promised fun.

What’s it like?

At this juncture it’s worth noting that our drive was conducted at a test track in Japan, where the silky smooth surface made any conclusions about the ride impossible to gauge accurately. Also, this is a pre-production car, set up to almost launch spec save for the fitment of details such as the audio system.

Sliding into the GT 86’s bucket seats – which are snug, grippy and positioned at a perfect, low-slung height – sets the tone. With all the controls close to hand, the cockpit is as cosseting as a Porsche’s, albeit not trimmed to the same standard.

At idle, the engine note is fairly subdued, but take it up to the 7500rpm redline and it sounds growly. However, this car is all about the corners. Its relatively low power means it’s no sprint champion, and the 0-62mph time is estimated at a modest 7.0sec.

But the key facets of an 1180kg kerb weight, rear-wheel drive, ESP that can be fully turned off, quick steering and a limited-slip differential make it a riot in the twisty stuff. Also, the tyres are the same 17in low-resistance versions as can be found on a Prius, all the better to make sure their grip can be overcome if the mood takes you.

Turn in to a corner and there is some roll, but it’s well contained. On a constant throttle and steady steering, it understeers slightly, but lift mid-corner or trail the brakes – or just throw it in – and it’ll either straighten its line or flick to oversteer as you choose.

Furthermore, it never catches you out when it does start to slide because the steering is so nicely weighted and the chassis so responsive that they telegraph exactly what’s happening at all times.

There are disappointments, but they are minor. The six-speed manual gearbox is a touch notchy, while the optional six-speed automatic changes smoothly and quickly but lacks the sharpness of its dual-clutch rivals. When it’s on, the stability control system also intervenes too harshly.

Should I buy one?

Despite this, at its best, the driving experience is a match for the likes of a Porsche Cayman, and accolades don’t come much higher than that. That it can’t reach those heights across as broad a range of conditions as the German-built car shouldn’t detract from its overall success, because the fact that it can even get close is a minor miracle.

Hidemitsu Hoshiga
Toyota GT 86

Price: £28,000 (est); Top speed: 143mph (est); 0-62mph: 7.0sec (est); Economy: 40.9mpg (est, combined); CO2: 160g/km (est); Kerb weight: 1180kg; Engine: 4 cyls horizontally opposed, 1998cc, petrol; Installation: Front, longitudinal, RWD; Power: 197bhp at 7000rpm; Torque: 151lb ft at 6600rpm; Gearbox: 6-spd manual; Length: 4240mm; Height: 1285mm; Wheelbase: 2570mm; Wheels: 7Jx17in; Tyres: 215/45 R17.

By Unknown with No comments

Honda CR-Z Mugen to cost £23k

The Mugen-fettled, range-topping version of the Honda CR-Z will cost about £23,000 when it goes on sale next year.

The 197bhp Honda CR-Z Mugen is due to arrive in February. It retains the same 1.5-litre hybrid unit as the standard car but gets a supercharger, re-mapped ECU, wider tracks and stiffer springs.

The compact front-wheel drive coupé will be capable of covering the 0-62mph sprint in just 6.1sec (over 3sec faster than the 124bhp standard car). Autocar tested the car back in June and you can read our first impressions here.

Around 2000 CR-Zs have been sold in the UK over the last year, and Honda sources admit that part of the reason for the Mugen is to “satisfy Type-R enthusiasts whilst there are no other hot Honda models around”.

The arrival of the new hot CR-Z confirms a more solid relationship between the Northampton-based Mugen Euro performance tuning division and the Honda parent company, so expect to see more collaborations in future.

By Unknown with No comments
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