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Work has begun on a prototype that could become a new mid-engined successor to the Subaru BRZ, according to a report out of the US this week. The prototype, said to be a response to dealers looking for something special, would be worlds away from Subarus familiar image. But, then, talk of the BRZ was once viewed in a similar light. (And then theres the SVX) American website Car & Driver reports that inside sources have spoken of a project that combines a version of the current BRZ coupe with a petrol-electric hybrid system for a performance-focused all-wheel-drive application. That hybrid system is said to be based on the next-generation all-wheel-drive system that featured in the 2014 Viziv 2 SUV concept, which sees the front wheels driven by a 1.6-litre turbo petrol four-cylinder petrol boxer engine and an electric motor, while the rear wheels get one electric motor each. For this new mid-engined prototype, however, Subarus engineers are understood to have essentially flipped that design, moving the petrol engine backwards and the two wheel-turning electric motors to the front.
Above and top: Subaru BRZ STI Performance Concept
Interestingly, Car & Driver reports that its inside connection said Subaru is still deciding whether to develop the system further for a coupe application, or to instead build a small sports SUV. If the latter is the case, a return to the slightly more conventional layout used by the Viziv 2 would surely be likely. Fans will be pleased to hear, though, that the insider is reported to have added: a coupe seems more likely, though.Of course, if a production future is on the cards, the reported prototypes Frankensteined BRZ design is unlikely to form the basis of the final model. According to Car & Driver, and understandably so, the BRZ was used simply because its the only appropriate architecture readily available at this stage. If this report out of the US is to be believed, we should see camouflaged test cars hit the road in the year ahead.
No, thats not another version of the LF-LC its the all-new Lexus LC500 Coupe, which looks a heck of a lot like the showcar that preceded it way back in 2012. Thats not to suggest that the styling has aged well let you make up your own minds on that but at the 2016 Detroit autoshow where the car was revealed in near-production guise ahead of its showroom debut in some markets in 2017, there were plenty of jaws left agape.
There is a stunning resemblance between the concept version and the production car. But it's important to note that this is fully a Lexus project, one that was developed in-house without the assistance of any other company (so, it's not a Lexus version of the long-rumoured BMW/Toyota joint-venture model, aka the Supra). With a 5.0-litre V8 petrol engine sending power towards the rear wheels through an industry-first 10-speed automatic gearbox, the LC500 Coupe is good for about 350kW of power (no torque figure has been made available, only a target of 530Nm), and a claimed 0-60 mile per hour (0-96km/h) time of under 4.5 seconds.
Its the same engine as is used in the RC F performance coupe, and that new gearbox should theoretically be able to make good use of the power on offer. Lexus claims the transmission has shift times "rivalling those of a dual-clutch transmission" and,further, says the gearbox is smaller and lighter than some current eight-speed units. Toyota Motor Corporation president and Lexus chief branding manager, Akio Toyoda, made it clear that he wanted this model to be "exhilarating in every way - inside, outside, and under the hood".And as such, the Lexus LC500 has, as Lexus claims, a "fantastic sound". It features an active exhaust system that opens the baffles in Sport mode to make it sound aggressive from start-up. In Normal mode the car still opens the baffles above 3500rpm, and there's a sound generator system that pumps noise into the cabin, too."We dont want to make cars to simply fill a category -we want to make cars to fill people's hearts," Toyoda said."When we designed the LF-LC concept it was to showcase the future Lexus design. We had no intention of turning it into a production car, but your positive reaction - as well as the reaction of our customers -changed our minds.
"We listened - and we made it real," he said, describing the car as"the result of the combined passion of our engineers and designers who worked together to turn the LF-LC into reality".The production coupe spans 4760 millimetres in length, 1920mm wide (yeah, and it looks it!) and just 1345mm tall, all while riding on a wheelbase of 2870mm.Lexus claims the LC500 has had "all of its dynamic control elements such as power application, braking, and steering tuned to operate rhythmically in sport driving conditions". And stopping shouldn't be an issue, either, with six-piston front and four-piston rear brake calipers.
While the steering wheel in the show car is on the left, the car will be built in Japan, and, as such, will be made in right-hand drive. And Australia has confirmed the car will be sold here, but timing is still to be confirmed.In a release from the company, recently appointed Lexus Australia chief executive Peter McGregor said he was delighted that it would be made available to our market."The LC500 epitomises the new spirit of Lexus and will act as a lighthouse model for our expanding range," McGregor said.The cockpit is perhaps not as outlandishly stylised as the exterior may suggest, but as the lead designer for the Lexus LC500, Todai Mori, told CarAdvice, there are some big advances in the cabin over the current crop of Lexus cars.
"This is kind of a new direction for Lexus," Mori said. "The drivers side has a very nice cockpit area. On the passenger side you have a more open comfortable feeling. We didn't want to make a sacrifice for passengers. Both seats need to have a very nice, comfortable, welcoming space."The car, according to Mori, was designed from the start as a 2+2 seater, and he said that while the vehicle may look similar to the concept car, it was a complete rework to turn it into a reality."The car is kind of a joint-venture. The original concept is from CALTY design in the United States and we worked closely, and also we kind of handed over this design. But we had to do everything from scratch, because the concept is just a concept car," he said."So weve got to start from platforms and suspension design, but we wanted to make it as low to the ground as possible. We asked our engineers: please, please make this suspension system. They worked so hard to fit it.
"This is an original Lexus design and engineering.The motor is carried over from the RC F, thats it," he said.
The fact that there isa choice of 1.5- and 2.0-litre versions of the all-new fourth-generation Mazda MX-5 begs a simple and obvious question: which is the better buy? The answers, though, are numerous and more complex, each starting with the words it depends...It depends if you plan on using your 2016 Mazda MX-5 as a daily driver or as that third car for sunny weekend touring. It depends on whether you live in the urban crush of Sydney, the west coastal Tasmanian outreach of Strahan, or elsewhere. It depends on finance and taste, on the subjective and objective, and on various factors with which to draw suitable decision making.Instead, weve decided to hone in a particular challenge that should appeal to many buyers: which MX-5, the 1.5-litre or 2.0-litre, is the best buy as the preferred weekend warrior track car right off the showroom floor?
Simple, right? Surely it must be the larger capacity 2.0-litre more power, fitter dynamic equipment, better prospect. Well, hold your extra horses Both cars tested here are base (non-GT) manual Roadsters, so ideal track-car fodder for playing the frill-free value card. Neither is what youd call expensive. Our white 1.5-litre starts at $31,990, our red 2.0-litre $34,490 (both before on-road costs), for a difference of $2500. In academic terms, the 2.0-litres $2500 premium buys 118kW instead of 96kW and 200Nm against 150Nm. More tangibly, Mazda claims 0-100km/h acceleration times of 7.1 seconds and8.5s respectively a formidable 1.4s advantage to the red Roadster.
While thats the claim on their boxes, whats the actual real-world difference? And, importantly, how might the 2.0-litres extra outputs contribute to quicker lap times given the other spec differences in play? Those differences? The 2.0-litres premium brings broader rubber at each corner (205mm versus 195mm). In theory, this should deliver better off-the-line drive and superior cornering grip. The 2.0-litre also gets larger 280mm brake rotors all around, whereas the 1.5-litre adopts 258mm items up front and 255mm discs in the rear. Again, you'd presume the 2.0-litre might stop quicker and in a shorter distance, but by how much?
Each MX-5 gets its own unique model-specific suspension tune to best leverage tyre grip, but, further muddying the form guide, the 2.0-litre sits on Bridgestone Potenza rubber, the 1.5-litre on Yokohama Advans. At 1033kg, the 2.0-litre is also 24kg heavier than the 1009kg 1.5 not a huge disparity, though one that may or may not affect their relative abilities. Predicting the lap-time split between them looks the blurry crapshoot. But even then, does a quicker lap time necessarily equate to the better buy? Or is which is the more enjoyable to drive of greater importance? How much faster is the 2.0-litre? Which is more fun? And which one gets the CarAdvice tick as the Mazda MX-5 to have as a weekend, off-street plaything? Lets pull their strings and find out.
The Marulan Driver Training Centres main straight, with its prominent dip followed by a climb up to Turn One, mightn't provide definitive drag racing science, but it certainly provides relative pace to 100km/h from a standstill using our GPS-based timing equipment. Tyres are set at 29psi (as recommended on the cars' placards) in keeping with the spirit of showroom delivery specification. Meanwhile, while the ambient morning temperature sat at 31 degrees Celsius, the track surface itself was hot enough to fry eggs on not ideal for optimal straight-line testing, though not unusual conditions for fair-weather Australian track-day workouts. Out of the blocks, the 1.5 pulls a major surprise. With two gear changes at its 7000rpm power peak en route to 100km/h, the smaller-capacity MX-5 hooks up hard and confidently marches off in each of its three consecutive runs, returning a personal best sprint time of 7.68s a whopping 0.82s quicker than its factory claim. For the record, a mere 0.12s separated the 1.5-litre's two quickest times, demonstrating that its stunning PB was no one-off fluke. Shifting twice at its lower 6000rpm power peak, the 2.0-litre returns a 7.24-second initial run followed by a 7.63s and 7.40s. Respectable indeed. If the 2.0-litre's PB being fractionally shy (0.14s) of its makers claim was somewhat predictable, though, the fact it was only 0.44s swifter than the 1.5-litre's best time was a shocker, especially given the vastly wider 1.4-second gapclaimed by Mazda. Still, this was only almost as shocking as the 2.0-litre's unexpected yet chronic wheel spin
Out of sympathy, we give the 2.0-litre two 'bonus' runs to attempt to defend its honour, though the 7.43- and 7.63-second passes fail to better the situation. All up, we try a variety of rpm step-off points from 2500rpm through to 5000rpm all of which see the red Roadster either bog down or burn rubber (and axle tramp) off the line. We even generously reposition the launch location in an effort to cure its off-the-mark traction foibles, but to no avail. Perhaps the 1.5-litres rear Advans respond better to track surface heat than the 2.0-litres Potenzas, or perhaps the 1.5's softer suspension setup allows it to better squat and hook up off the line more confidently. Either way, the red 2.0-litre delivers its makers promise, while the white 1.5 punches well above its weight.
Each MX-5 is treated to two full-ABS stops from 100km/h to a standstill: the first with completely cold brakes, simulating an emergency highway stop, the second immediately after with residual heat in the braking hardware as youd have during sustained spirited driving. Both cars are tested at the same (slightly uphill) point on Marulans main straight. The 1.5 returns a handy 23.7-metre stopping distance, then improves 80cm in its hot stop, for a best of 22.9m.The 2.0-litre follows an identical regime, its 22.5-metre 'cold stop' beating the 1.5s best by just 40cm. It then shortens its first result by half a metre on its second attempt. With 22.9m against 22.0m, the pair is separated by a quarter of a car length, in favour of the red car.
Given the 2.0-litre accelerates quicker and stops better point-to-point along the straight, its fair to predict, everything else being equal, that the red car will widen the stopwatch gap once Marulan's eight corners come into play particularly with its off-the-mark wheel spin issues removed from the exercise. Further, the 2.0-litres extra 50Nm ought to translate into superior corner-exit and on-the-move punch compared with the 1.5-litre.With resident track test dummy Dave Zalstein at the helm, 'the Little Guy' as we came to nickname the 1.5-litre rolls up to the start/finish line first. The plan is to complete one out-lap and two timed fliers. In slightly longer than the blink of an eye, the results are in: the 1.5-litre banking a 52.27s and 52.17s. In something of a moment of truth for the 'not-exactly Big Guy', the 2.0-litre replicates the process, delivering a best-of-session time of 50.85s. The second flier coming in at 51.02s.
At the end of the Round One, the more powerful 2.0-litre MX-5 holds a fairly slim 1.32-second advantage over the leaner 1.5-litre. Slimmer than expected, truth be told. Tellingly, the scant split times for each cars respective dual runs demonstrates not only bona-fide performance but consistent performance too. Still, to further validate their abilities (or perhaps Dave's), each car heads back out for a second session. And to avoid any psychological shenanigans, Dave is spared any lap-time results until the completion of all the day's track testing. Apart from annoying Dave, this method also means he is blissfully unaware that at the end of the 1.5-litres second session, with a best time of 51.44s, 'the Little Guy' has narrowed the gap down to the 2.0-litre's 50.85s first-session PB to 0.76s off the red car's pace. He backs this time up with another pass just 0.11s slower.
On its return performance, the 2.0-litre counters its siblings 51.44s best with the quickest lap recorded for the day: a 50.54s (followed by a 50.90, for the record). Final result? The pair is split by just 0.9 of a second.
To apply an objective spin to 'fun factor', Dave completed his laps attached to a heart rate monitor, so that we could measure how heart-racing each MX-5 was compared with his track-side resting heart rate of 83bpm. The results, though, were inconclusive. In his first session in the 1.5, Daves heart rate climbed to 106bpm. The following stint, in the 2.0-litre, the rate dropped by just two beats per minutes in medical terms, next to nothing. In fact, the two-beat-per-minute variation likely came down to the driver settling in. Subjectively, though, Daves appraisals of the two cars were less ambiguous.
At their core, these two MX-5s are largely identical. But while their difference are small, they're by no means insignificant, Dave said.The 1.5-litre likes to be driven up to about eight-tenths, but doesn't like going much beyond that. It pitches and leans and rolls around on its softer suspension to a point where pushing hard is still fun, yet yields little further reward at nine- or ten-tenths.Around the circuit, the 2.0-litre is noticeably more strapped down and pointier. It doesnt suffer the body roll of the 1.5, so it feels more 'mature' and serious. But while the steering is a little more responsive and turn-in is a little sharper than that of the 1.5, the 2.0-litre is let down by the Bridgestone tyres, which lack the outright grip of the 1.5-litre's Advans. That said, the 2.0-litre's chassis is more planted mid corner.
Of the two engines, Dave preferred the smaller, revvier 1.5-litre, more due to character than sheer shove. I really like the 1.5s revvy nature. Hunting down the 7500rpm rev-limiter is a blast that reminds me of 'hurting' my first car out in the hills. Sure, the 2.0-litre has more corner-exit poke, but its power and torque are delivered in a lazier fashion."Its great for cruising around town and getting up inner-city hills, but on track, its less spirited and noticeably less entertaining.For me, the 2.0-litre simply isn't as much pure fun as the 1.5.
How much faster is the 2.0-litre Mazda MX-5 compared with the 1.5-litre Mazda MX-5? Not nearly as much as wed expected. Which is more fun? Objectively, neither. Subjectively, its almost entirely down to which of the markedly different characters a buyer prefers.So which gets the CarAdvice tick as theall-new Mazda MX-5 to have as a weekend, off-street plaything? Our pick is the 1.5-litre.
We came to this conclusion partly because it performed beyond expectations and manufacturer claims, where the 2.0-litre simply delivered on its promise, partly because, on the day, you could barely split the pair, and partly because the 1.5 delivered more fun factor than wed bargained for. Point is, you don't get some second-rung sports-car experience by opting for the cheaper and smaller-engined 1.5-litre MX-5. There is, though, the bang-for-your-buck equation: the $2500 question of value. Of which there are numerous ways to spin contrary viewpoints.For instance, financed on a three-year lease, the 2.0-litre will cost you just one extra dollar per day to own. Equally, it can be argued that $2500 is, in performance and sports car measures, chump change. And then theres stigma justified or not. Buy a 1.5-litre and you'll undoubtedly be forced to defend criticism that you chose the soft option.
Countering this is the standpoint that $2500 goes a long way in fuel, or a set of extra tyres for track work. Given how light the MX-5 breed is on both, alternatively, $2500 also buys many fun-filled hours of track time.Nevertheless, underpinning all of this is something of a cold, hard reality that theres roughly a two per cent differential in circuit prowess between the two MX-5s tested that have roughly an eight per cent disparity in price. And in this fight at least, the scale only tips the 1.5-litres way. A win for the Little Guy...Click on the Photos tab for more 2016 Mazda MX-5 2.0L and 1.5L
images by David Zalstein.
Video by Christian Barbeitos.