Road cars

Audi tops Detroit exhibits

New design language revealed at a shrinking show 

Those filing out of the Cobo Hall on the evening of the Detroit motor show’s first press day could be forgiven for failing to realise they’d just attended an iconic event on the automotive calendar. For decades The Big Three welcomed the world to Motor City each January and proceeded to launch cars in huge numbers and with unrivalled chutzpah. No longer: despite long overdue signs of recovery in the city,
its motor show was a small and timid shadow of its former self.

Ford, General Motors and what we must now call Fiat Chrysler Automobiles had an incredibly quiet show by their once riotous former standards, the point being that if the big domestics cannot be bothered to support their home show, one wonders how long everyone will continue to commit to it.

Of course many simply didn’t show up at all. None of the blue-blood sports and supercar manufacturers made it, nor did Jaguar, Land Rover or even Porsche. So it was left to the mainstream German premium brands to prop up a badly listing show.

Mercedes-Benz brought the most, including an attractive coupé version of its new E-class and yet another hot AMG GT, this time badged GT C, to add to its ever-expanding range of junior supercars. We even learned a little more of its forthcoming hypercar with its Formula 1-derived powertrain. Unlike F1 cars, it will have an electrically driven front axle capable of a range of 25km on electric power alone. Its power output will be ‘at least’ 1000bhp and a screen grab of a rear-on silhouette revealed the car to be a low-slung mid-engined coupé with a large roof scoop, not that you couldn’t have easily guessed that already.

But of at least equal interest was the Audi Q8, revealed in ‘concept’ form but, I am reliably informed by someone who should know, all but identical in all ways that matter to the production car that will follow later this year. You might not consider the appearance of a sleeker version of the extant Q7 exactly headline news, but the real significance is its shape. This is the car that previews the new design language Audi has been evolving for years and which should bring to the end the days of Russian doll design, during which Audi’s development has slowed to a glacial pace and its saloons and SUVs have seemed simply to be different sizes of the same car. We’ll see more on this theme with the release of an all-new Audi A8 this summer, followed next year by the A7 and all-important A6.

But of all the cars on show, just two were genuinely new production models heading for sale in the UK: one was the luxurious and distinctive Lexus LS, the other a very attractive alternative to the likes of the BMW 3-series from Kia, called the Stinger. If it’s as good as it looks, in theory it should sell well in the UK. Sadly, however, we are a nation of badge snobs and in reality it could be the greatest car ever made and I’d expect Kia still to struggle to persuade people to abandon their Audis, BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes in its favour.

Carbon captured

McLaren Automotive had a stunning 2016, not only launching the 570S ‘Sports Series’ to universal acclaim, but also nearly doubling sales from 1654 cars in 2015 to 3286. The growth was driven almost entirely by the 570S and its more touring-orientated 570GT sister, which together accounted for two-thirds of all custom.

But the company has no plans to slow down and will within the month unveil the successor to the current 650S at the Geneva Motor Show. It’s a significant car because it will be the core model in the middle of McLaren’s ranges – with the ‘Sports Series’ cars below and ‘Ultimate Series’ like the now-defunct P1 above. More significantly the car, known now only by its ‘P14’ code name, also represents the first time McLaren has completely replaced a model since its rebirth as a car constructor with the MP4 12C (from which the 650S was derived) in 2011.

So far McLaren has only released a single image of the car’s carbon-fibre monocoque, but even that reveals a car that, while similar in concept, may well be drastically different in execution. The most telling thing about the picture is the presence of a structural roof element in the monocoque, something the missing from all other current generation McLarens save the P1. It is likely that the extra rigidity that comes from having a structural element in the roof has allowed McLaren to cut carbon elsewhere, particularly in the sills and door apertures, saving weight and allowing the car to be significantly easier to access and exit with no penalty in overall strength. Indeed the P14 is said to be both lighter and stiffer than the 650S it replaces. One potential drawback of the design is that it would require more work to turn into a convertible because the roof section will need to be removed and weight added elsewhere to maintain strength.

Its powertrain will still be based around the twin-turbo V8 used by all McLarens, though with its power raised from the 641bhp seen in the 650S, probably to about 680bhp to ensure statistical clear air between it and its nearest rival, the 660bhp Ferrari 488 GTB. A derivative of this engine already develops 727bhp (before electrical assistance) in the P1. The car is likely to retain its seven-speed paddle-shift gearbox and continue to drive the rear wheels alone.

McLaren has given no public indications about the car’s appearance, but informally it is said to be a far more dramatic design than the 650S and, some say, even more extrovert than the P1. Deliveries are likely to begin this autumn.

Say it with power

How do you bid farewell to a car that has lived 14 years, saved your company and transformed your business? For Bentley, nothing says it better than 700bhp.

That’s the power output of its new Continental GT Supersports model, the fastest, most powerful car in the company’s 98-year history. With a top speed of 209mph, Bentley is also claiming it to be the fastest four-seat car in the world, eclipsing as it does the top speed of Ferrari’s GTC4 Lusso by a single mile per hour.

The Supersports is available with both open and closed bodywork and, unlike the 2009 Supersports, will not be sold as a stripped-out two-seater, a move that came to be regarded as a step too far for the Crewe-based brand. Indeed press blurb referring to ‘luxurious ride quality for passengers wishing to cover long distances in supreme comfort’ suggests a softer, more broadly focused car than the old uncompromising Supersports. And while it’s 40kg lighter than the 12-cylinder Continental GT upon which it is based, an all-up kerb weight of 2280kg still ranks it among the more hefty 200mph machines you can buy. So it’s impressive that all that mass can still be coaxed from rest to 60mph in just 3.5sec, matching the time claimed for Aston Martin’s current flagship, the Vanquish S.

 At £212,500 (£233,800 for the convertible), the new car costs £43,000 more than the hitherto range-topping 633bhp Continental GT Speed.

Range extender

Porsche has completed the line-up of the current 911 generation with the unveiling of a new GTS to sit above the standard and ‘S’, but below the Turbo and Turbo S. It will be available in all body styles – Coupé, Cabriolet and Targa – with both two- and four-wheel drive and with manual or automatic transmission. Larger turbochargers produce 30bhp more
than found in the S, bring its total
up to 444bhp.

The GTS is visually distinguished from other 911s in the now familiar way with black wheels, smoked rear lights and front air intakes, with a (black) sports exhaust as standard, a downforce-enhancing new front spoiler and rear wing plus the usual smattering of GTS badging.

Comparison with the previous generation 911 Turbo that went off sale only a year ago is instructive. The Turbo was substantially more powerful than this new GTS but if you equip the latter with the PDK gearbox and four-wheel drive the Turbo had as standard, the new GTS will pull a 3.6sec 0-62mph run, just two tenths shy of the not-so-old Turbo. The same car’s 192mph top speed is a mere 3mph down too, yet it is 12.5 per cent more fuel efficient. And at £102,120 with PDK, it’s nearly £19,000 cheaper than the Turbo, too.

A full review of the new GTS will be published next month.