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Shape of things to come

Mercedes plans new hypercar with F1 powertrain

We are quite used to certain manufacturers not showing up to second-tier motor shows. Since the emergence in size and importance of the alternating Chinese shows in Beijing and Shanghai, Japan’s Tokyo show has diminished in importance. Likewise in the US, manufacturers have shown increasing willingness to forsake the frozen wastes of the Michigan winter and its Detroit show for LA’s rather more user-friendly event in November. What we are not used to seeing, however, is manufacturers skipping one of the really big shows when no immediate alternative presents itself.

That’s why one of the bigger news stories of Paris’s Mondial de L’Automobile was the one its organisers would have least wanted to read: not who turned up with what, but who did not. Bentley, Aston Martin, McLaren and Rolls-Royce all chose to skip the show. Had it just been them then perhaps we could have concluded that it was not such a big surprise for such exotic brands to forsake such a mainstream show, but Mazda, Volvo and, yes, Ford didn’t show up either. And that was shocking. It will be interesting indeed to return to Paris in two years to see if the number of desertees has risen or fallen.

Happily, and in the meantime, there was still plenty for the scrum of hacks from every corner of the world to write about, even if the most talked about car didn’t even have a name and wasn’t there on account of the fact that it’s not yet been built.

This was Mercedes-Benz’s new hypercar which, it was announced, would carry the powertrain from its current Formula 1 racer. That’s the entire powertrain, mgu-K, mgu-H and all. The fact that Mercedes is even considering entering a market hitherto populated only by McLaren, Porsche and Ferrari is interesting enough, and speaks volumes for the new-found sense of confidence that now pervades the company, but it is that choice of powertrain that marks it out as something genuinely new.

Ferrari once claimed that the 4.7-litre V12 used in its F50 was in some way related to the 3.5-litre engine used in Alain Prost’s 1990 F1 car, but declined to name how many components they had in common. I suspected then and now that the answer was none. With the Mercedes, if it’s not the vast majority then the company will have some explaining to do. 

Mercedes insists the project will be run by its in-house tuning company AMG, under the command of Tobias Moers, despite the fact that clearly its two UK-based F1 operations will be integral to the exercise, Brixworth for the powertrains and Brackley for the carbon-fibre expertise that will be required to build the two seat closed coupé.

So far as the practicalities of bringing F1 technology to the road are concerned, Moers says, “Our F1 engine is far more durable than many people expect. If you look at the load it must take in an F1 race compared with how it’s likely to be used in a street-legal machine, you can see it’s going to have a lot less work to do.” Even so, he does concede the engine will need to be at least slightly detuned from the current race spec (reportedly close to 1000bhp in qualifying trim).

According to Moers, the design target for the hypercar is to create, “The most efficient car hypercar with an outstanding driving dynamic capability, not necessarily the most powerful.” When asked what he meant by ‘efficient’ Moers simply replied “in every respect”, which indicates an unprecedented combination of power, light weight and low fuel consumption.

The car also poses questions to other manufacturers who already have hypercars to their name. With Aston Martin’s Adrian Newey-designed and Red Bull-engineered car already announced and under development, the two most successful teams in recent F1 history are now aiming to do on the road what has already been achieved on track and overturn the might of McLaren and Ferrari. It remains to be seen whether Woking and Maranello will be happy to let its deadliest competition rivals trample all over such sacred turf.

Discovery in the spotlight

Of the cars that could actually be seen at Paris, it was the new Land Rover Discovery that was the undoubted star of the show. Visually it abandons the squared-off industrial design that has seen the car through two entirely distinct generations, each with its own comprehensive facelift. Instead it adopts the sleek design language that has been the hallmark of every new Land Rover product since the launch of the Range Rover Evoque more than five years ago. Some saw its new style as improving the premium feel of the Land Rover’s family workhorse, others concluding the car looked less distinct and not so much of a Land Rover as a result. Much to the chagrin of Disco devotees, the company has also decided to get rid of the Discovery’s trademark split tailgate in favour of a single rear hatch and a pop out ledge.

Up to 480kg lighter model for model than the car it replaces, the Discovery will be available not only with a 3-litre V6 diesel, but also a supercharged petrol engine that pushes out 355bhp. However, for the most part sales are predicted to go to the new 2-litre, four cylinder ‘Ingenium’ engine that has 237bhp and is claimed to return 43.5mpg. Thanks to its reduced weight, this new Discovery is not just far more frugal, it also offers better performance with two litres than the old car managed with an engine half as large again.

Despite its reduced kerb weight, the new Discovery is larger than the car it is replacing in every significant dimension providing, says Land Rover, not just more space for seven occupants on board but additional luggage capacity.

The car is available to order now, with deliveries in the new year. Prices range from £43,395 for an entry-level 2-litre diesel to £68,295 for a fully loaded ‘First Edition’ 3-litre diesel.

Ferrari busy in France

Ferrari was one of few supercar manufacturers to take a stand at Paris, and filled it not only with the Aperta convertible LaFerrari but also the 365GTC4 Lusso T, its four-seat coupé fitted with a 602bhp, V8 twin-turbo engine.

The car is significant for several reasons. Firstly, and for more than 40 years, Ferrari has drawn a distinction between its eight- and 12-cylinder models, the latter very much being the flagships of the range. The Lusso T represents the first time in Ferrari history a car has been offered with a choice of both. Also, Ferrari has elected to remove the four-wheel-drive system of the 12-cylinder Lusso despite the fact that, with less power but more torque, the V8 turbo engine is likely to require more and not less traction. Ferrari says deleting the front driveshafts saves about 80kg.

No performance claims have yet been made for the Lusso T, which uses a derivation of the engine that first served in the California T, but it will have at least to appear to be slower than the V12 Lusso. Given its additional torque and lighter weight, however, it seems likely that any apparent acceleration difference will simply be down to inferior traction courtesy of its rear-drive layout rather than a genuine performance deficit. No pricing has yet been announced.

New 5-series breaks cover

One car that did not make it to Paris was the all-new BMW 5-series – and it seems likely we’d not be talking about it now had a full set of images not leaked onto a Chinese website, forcing BMW to go public.

As is increasingly common in these days of extreme stylistic caution, the newcomer features elements of the design of both the car it replaces and the new 7-series upon whose platform architecture (minus the expensive carbon core) it sits. It is an extremely conservative design, intended not to rock a boat that delivered record sales for the outgoing model.

The new platform has allowed a weight saving of up to 100kg, depending on the model, despite larger exterior dimensions and increased occupant and luggage space. The engine line up is too extensive to detail even at launch, but progresses from a 188bhp 520d up to a 455bhp 550i. But this is only the start; the range will expand to include a 518d at one end and at the other a 550d featuring a six-cylinder diesel with not one, two or even three turbochargers, but four to produce an astonishing 395bhp from just three litres.

As with previous generations, the new M5 will make its debut a year or more after most of the other models. It is believed to retain the 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 of the current car, with its engine output kept to the 600bhp of the M5 Competition version of the existing car, leaving extra performance to come as a result of its lowered kerbweight. It is not thought that an estate version is currently on the cards.

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