Nissan eyes electric future
Will BladeGlider be the shape of things to come? | By Andrew Frankel
Recently the Olympic Games have provided a golden opportunity for manufacturers to display their wares, despite the apparent disparity between that evil old environmental criminal known to you and me as the car and the allegedly clean-living, fresh-faced five-ringed ideal. Nissan pitched hard to cover athlete and official transportation at the London Games in 2012, with its then-revolutionary all-electric Leaf, but lost out to BMW. In Rio it won the gig, however, supplying up to 5000 vehicles to support the Games and Brazil’s Olympic and Paralympic teams.
Why this now, save the obvious topicality? Well, because Rio also marked the resurfacing of an old friend from the motor racing world, albeit in radically transformed guise. If the outline shape of Nissan’s BladeGlider prototype looks familiar, that’s because it evolved from the DeltaWing racer designed by Ben Bowlby and which became the darling of the 2012 Le Mans 24 Hours until unceremoniously punted into the scenery by a Toyota LMP1 car.
You may remember the DeltaWing then spawned the Nissan ZEOD RC hybrid electric racer, which in 2014 occupied the same Garage 56 slot for technically interesting but ineligible cars as had the DeltaWing, and which would complete the first competitive lap of Le Mans by any car using electric power alone.
Nor is the DeltaWing the sole inspiration for the BladeGlider. Look at its seating position, with a central driving seat flanked on either side by recessed seats for passengers and you’ll see the same layout used by the McLaren F1 back in 1994.
Of course you don’t need to do more than look at the pictures to know there will not be BladeGliders prowling around the streets any time soon, but Nissan is adamant that it is more than just an eye-catching vanity project and actually an important vision of a future all-electric sports car.
Important because for all their merits and despite the publicity created by Formula E, pure electric cars have struggled and largely failed to make a case for themselves as sporting propositions. To counter that the BladeGlider not only features the outlandish, narrow-track, low-drag silhouette of the DeltaWing and ZEOD RC racers, but also puts a total of 350bhp through its rear wheels, enough to power it to 62mph in comfortably less than five seconds. With that heritage plus the help of Williams Advanced Engineering in its development, the BladeGlider is not short of proper racing pedigree. All that remains to be seen are the genuinely sporting all-electric Nissan road cars it is claimed its design will inform and inspire.
Infiniti breaks new ground
Infiniti, the luxury arm of Nissan, is poised to introduce the world’s first production-ready internal combustion engine with a variable compression ratio. The advantages of being able to choose a compression ratio to suit any given driving style have been known for decades, but all attempts to design a viable system for road cars have so far failed.
The first Infiniti engine to feature the technology will be a 2-litre four-cylinder turbocharged motor, capable of altering its compression ratio from 8.0:1 to 14.0:1 and it will be shown at this year’s Paris Motor Show. The technology means that at one end it can offer lower compression than almost all road car turbo engines and, at the other, a higher ratio than all but a few normally aspirated engines. This enables the engine to be optimised to produce either maximum power or efficiency depending on the driver’s requirements. Infiniti says the ratio is infinitely variable between these two points, so the engine should always be operating at the optimal compression ratio for the conditions.
The company remains coy about exactly how it has succeeded where others have failed, but essentially the engine has the ability to vary the height its pistons reach on each upward stroke, thereby also altering the engine displacement. No figures have been given to indicate what level of improvement in power, fuel consumption or emissions has been possible and it seems likely that a step-change will be claimed, not simply because of the technology but because the way in which the figures are calculated take no account of an engine’s ability to transform itself in this way.
As for its future, it now seems entirely obvious that engines should vary their valve timing according to conditions, while 30 years ago it appeared to be black magic. We’ll wait to see how the theory performs in practice, but don’t be surprised if in a very short period of time engines of variable compression and displacement are no longer the exception, but the norm.
Bristol back on the road
At approximately the same time as this magazine in published, the production version of the new Bristol Bullet will be making its global public debut at Salon Privé.
The two-seat roadster hitherto known only as Project Pinnacle was seen as a camouflaged prototype at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, but now fuller details as well as undisguised photographs have been released.
The Bullet will be built in a limited run of 70 cars, one for every year since Bristol first became a car manufacturer, each costing around £250,000. The car features a bonded aluminium chassis like those favoured by Lotus and Aston Martin, to which carbon-fibre bodywork is attached. As predicted, power comes from the normally aspirated 4.8-litre BMW V8 last seen in the previous generation X5 off-roader. Available with six manual gears or eight that select themselves, the engine produces 370bhp which, says Bristol, is enough to propel the 1100kg Bullet to 62mph in 3.8sec and on to an electronically limited top speed
Although the car is determinedly traditional in style, in execution it features not only a modern drivetrain, but also such refinements as a touchscreen offering navigation, Bluetooth and a digital radio.
The Bullet is the latest chapter in the often chequered history of Bristol Cars, a company spun off from the original Bristol Aeroplane Company. Although production was always limited, it slowed to a trickle in the 21st century, total sales of its most recent product, the Bristol Fighter, being estimated to be in low double digits. The company went into receivership in 2011 and was duly bought by KamKorp, a UK-based company that also owns the rights to the Frazer Nash name.
In line with Kamkorp’s history in hybrid powertrains, it is believed that future Bristols will all feature some degree of electrification and that therefore the Bullet will be the last Bristol powered by a conventional normally aspirated V8 motor.
The Bullet name predates Bristol Cars by more than a quarter of a century and refers to a one-off aircraft intended to be used as a test bed for engine development. It first flew in 1920 and was scrapped four years later.
Alfa pricing targets BMW
Alfa Romeo has announced UK pricing for its attractive and effective new Giulia saloon. The range starts with a 200bhp 2-litre petrol model priced to excite at £29,180 and progresses to £59,000 for the 510bhp Quadrofoglio. This market remains dominated by diesels, however, and with that in mind Alfa has priced its 180bhp Giulia Super JTDM at £31,950, £520 less than BMW charges for its closest rival, the benchmark 190bhp 320d Luxury.
Hot on its heels will come the all-new Alfa Romeo Stelvio, the marque’s first SUV that is named after the well known and tortuous pass in north-eastern Italy. The car will use the same basic platform as the Giulia and a similar engine line-up, including the 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 used to breathe fire into the Giulia Quadrifoglio. In that form it is expected to offer a stern challenge to the class-leading Porsche Macan Turbo.
Like the Giulia, however, most Stelvios will be diesels and as such will provide opposition to the established BMW X3, Audi Q5 and Land Rover Discovery Sport, as well as the well-received Jaguar F-Pace. Quite how an SUV likely to weigh more than 1.7 tonnes will tackle
a pass famed for its 48 hairpin bends remains to be seen.