• Geneva: 2017 Jaguar F-Type SVR

    February 17, 2016

    Jaguar has officially unveiled the 2017 F-Type SVR. The British company’s next sports car will greet the public for the first time in about two weeks at the Geneva Auto Show.

    The F-Type SVR is the first series-produced Jaguar developed by the car maker’s Special Vehicles Operation division. As expected, it receives an evolution of the company’s supercharged 5.0-liter V8 engine that has been tweaked to deliver 575 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 516 lb-ft. of torque from 3,500 to 5,000 rpm. A recalibrated eight-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive helps the coupe reach 60 mph from a stop in 3.5 seconds — over half a second faster than the F-Type R — and go on to a top speed of 200 mph. Bigger brakes, a revised suspension system, and a unique tune for the torque vectoring system keep the cavalry in check.

    In its lightest configuration, the SVR weighs about 55 pounds less than the F-Type R, the next model down in the F hierarchy, thanks in part to a titanium exhaust system. Buyers who want an even lighter car can pay extra to get a roof panel crafted out of carbon fiber and carbon composite brakes.

    Offered as a coupe and as a convertible, the F-Type SVR gains full body kit that includes a new front bumper with bigger air intakes and a sizable splitter, an air diffuser built into the rear bumper, and an active rear spoiler made out of carbon fiber that generates extra downforce. It rides on 20-inch forged aluminum wheels wrapped by Pirelli P-Zero tires.

    Although it was designed to hit the track, the F-Type SVR isn’t a stripped-out, back-to-the-basics model. The cabin boasts a touch screen-based infotainment system, and it has been spruced up with 14-way sport seats upholstered in quilted leather, aluminum shift paddles, and a 770-watt sound system.

    On sale now, the 2017 Jaguar F-Type SVR coupe starts at $125,950, and the convertible carries a base price of $128,800. Deliveries will begin this summer.

  • First drive: 2016 MINI Cooper S Convertible [Review]

    February 17, 2016

    Between 1993 and 1996, back when MINI was still Mini and built by Rover, 1,081 Cooper Cabriolets rolled off the line in Birmingham, England. While coach-built Austin and Rover Cooper cabriolets weren’t unheard of (some were even sold via partnerships in the automakers’ own dealerships), this run (handled by the Rover Special Products team) was the only true factory-production Mini cabriolet in the British runabout’s history.

    Fast forward to today, where in the past decade or so the BMW-owned MINI brand has sold more than 300,000 examples of the drop-top Cooper, and it’s hard to believe that such a wildly popular model was once so niche. And that popularity is not lost on BMW, who, like clockwork (we’ll try to limit the references to German efficiency, promise), has delivered a Convertible model of each generation of its new MINI Cooper lineup.

    With the introduction of the new MINI Hardtop coming a little over a year ago, it was only a matter of time before the refreshed Convertible model made its way to the show floor. Is it yet another proper heir to the Rover Mini Cabriolet legacy? Read on to find out.

    Spotting the differences
    The 2016 MINI Convertible rides on the BMW UKL platform, which debuted with the 2014 MINI Hardtop. It’s a little wider and a little longer and a little roomier than the generation it replaces, as expected, but it’s still a compact car with a curb weight just knocking on 3,000lbs. Like the Hardtop, the new Convertible gains a new interior, updated sheet metal and a host of technological upgrades.

    Let’s start with the outside. At first glance, many would be hard-pressed to identify the newest MINI models, but that’s not unusual. Without placing them side-by-side, it has been virtually impossible for the non-enthusiast observer to identify the differences between successive generations of MINI’s offerings.

    Up front, the most obvious update to our Cooper S Convertible tester is to the design of the front bumper and grille. Gone is the old model’s pronounced front bumper protrusion. Because of this, the grille now floats. It’s split along the line where the bumper meets the hood, but its widest point is further down, just above the bulging fog light housings. The lower grille is new too, with more squared-off air inlets flanking the mesh section that covers the turbocharged engine’s intercooler.

    In the rear, the changes are more subtle. The tail lamps take up more real estate than they did before, and the overall look is a bit more tall and narrow, rather than short and wide, but it’s subtle. You’d have to be looking for it.

    Perhaps our favorite new bit of exterior flash is the new Convertible’s “MINI Yours” Union Jack and herringbone roof option. It’s subtle enough to escape a quick glance, but impossible to un-see thereafter. Our silver model was so equipped, and if you’re curious as to the effect (both top-up and top-down), check out the gallery above.

    Under the fabric
    Inside, the 2016 is more practical while simultaneously appearing more upscale. Gone is the center-mounted speedometer. It now resides within the gauge cluster, where it belongs. The compact cluster integrates a rev counter and tachometer (both tightly flanking the aforementioned speedo) and a larger central multifunction display.

    The display atop the center stack is still round and pronounced, but where the speedometer once ran around the perimeter, all we find is a ring of mood lights, the color of which (along with the rest of the cabin’s ambient lighting) can be selected with a toggle on the cowl-mounted console. Inside that ring is the new infotainment display. Base models get a 6.5-inch screen; our tester showed off the optional 8.8-inch upgrade. Integrated apps include iHeartRadio, Pandora, Spotify and GoPro–which does exactly what you think it does.

    The larger unit also comes with MINI’s trick “rain warning” app, which, like many smartphone weather widgets, will warn you of impending downpours. And while that feature is neat, it seems a little unnecessary. With the roof down, one should be able to spot an incoming storm cloud with plenty of notice, and MINI touts the Convertible’s ability to raise or lower its power-folding top in only 18 seconds at speeds of up to 18 miles per hour. Convenient.

    Our tester also featured quilted saddle leather seats with white piping and contrast stitching, a more intricately stitched leather steering wheel with piano black spoke trim, and a heads-up display, all of which are new. The new model is also available with safety features such as park assist, active cruise control, collision and pedestrian warning and a rear view camera.

    Beneath the bonnet
    We couldn’t resist.

    Like the Hardtop, the 2016 Convertible boasts a range of turbocharged engines. Under the hood of our Cooper S tester is a turbocharged, two-liter, four-cylinder engine producing 189 horsepower at 5,000 RPM and 207lb-ft of torque from 1,250 RPM. We had the opportunity to drive it both with the six-speed manual transmission (good for 0-60 in 6.8 seconds and a top speed of 143 MPH, says MINI) and the automatic (6.7 seconds, 142 MPH).

    The base model is equipped with a 1.5L three-cylinder (also turbocharged) which is good for 134 horsepower. MINI did not have any of these available for evaluation. Additionally, a John Cooper Works package will be introduced later this year, which will introduce a more powerful engine and a number of suspension upgrades.

    To beef up the structural rigidity of the Convertible, BMW fit it with additional torsion struts in the front and rear underbody areas and added an additional stiffening plate beneath the engine. The Convertible’s windshield frame is also more robust than that of the Hardtop’s.

    Putting it all together
    If your aim is open-top motoring, the MINI Convertible delivers it in spades. The top-down drive is exactly as you’d expect, devoid of unwanted buffeting and other unpleasant side effects of surgically removing the roof of a perfectly good hatchback. We’ll note that the wind deflector is mounted directly across the middle of the back seat, making it an either-or prospect if you’re inclined to carry additional passengers with the top down. Owners of previous models will find this is old hat, but for new shoppers, it’s not necessarily something one might expect. With the wind deflector removed, rear seat room is, well, present.

    But how does it drive? MINI reps often repeated the concept of “go-kart” handling in our product presentation, and indeed, given its weight, it does handle fairly well. But keep in mind, at 3,000lbs, it’s not any less bulky than your average compact sedan or hatchback. The MINI isn’t so mini anymore (apologies to those trying to read this out loud for whatever reason) and thanks to the missing roof, it’s at a disadvantage compared to the Hardtop when things get twisty.

    Most notably, road imperfections do transmit more readily into the cabin than they do in the hardtop. There’s a visible shimmy in the dash whenever the Convertible encounters a ripple in the pavement or a particularly abrupt surface transition. It’s nothing alarming, but it’s there. Cowl shake is the inescapable adversary of the cabriolet, and while MINI has gone to great lengths to mitigate its effects, it’s not completely absent.

    We noticed too a bit of a dead spot in the suspension when transitioning out of corners. When coming back to center and accelerating out, there seemed to be a few degrees of steering where the chassis wasn’t quite sure what to do with itself, which manifested as an ever-so-brief window of what felt like impending understeer before everything began to work in harmony again. We never figured out exactly what it was–whether some fluke of the electronic differential lock control detecting slip and trying to transfer power or some byproduct of the Convertible’s suspension tuning.

    Our only other gripe was with the brakes. While reliable and consistent, we found the pedal to be a bit long and soft for our tastes, which didn’t impart strict confidence on some of the faster, twistier mountain roads we encountered in parts of the drive. We learned to trust them, however, and as our confidence increased, so too did our pace.

    Aside from those small quibbles, we had no complaints about the Convertible’s drive that couldn’t be attributed to the compromise inherent in an open-top design. The summer tires provide plenty of grip and both transmissions performed admirably. Kudos to MINI for keeping the manual alive even in this less-focused Cooper S Convertible variant.

    Leftlane’s bottom line
    For the performance-oriented buyer, the Convertible is a compromise. While it packs more low-end grunt (and far more practicality) than, say, a Mazda MX-5, it doesn’t offer nearly the same driving experience. If you want the closest thing possible to a Volkswagen GTI Cabriolet, the MINI Cooper S Convertible is your car. For those who value performance first, the Hardtop (or better yet, the John Cooper Works Hardtop) is the car for you.

    2016 MINI Cooper S Convertible as-tested price: TBA

  • Police union speaks out against ticket quotas

    February 17, 2016

    A Montreal police union has spoken out against an alleged quota scheme orchestrated by the city and the police department.

    Officers have reportedly been offered performance bonuses based on several criteria, ranging from call response time to arrests and, controversially, the number of tickets written, according to a Montreal Gazette report.

    “We find this totally indecent and unethical,” argues Montreal Police Brotherhood president Yves Francoeur. “We’re not a company that sells hotdogs, we’re working in public security.”

    The report suggests the program was implemented in response to a drop in ticket infractions, and associated revenue, starting in summer 2014. The incentives are said to be worth up to eight percent of a senior officer’s base salary, in some cases representing $12,000 annually.

    Ticket quotas are explicitly illegal in many US states including New York, California and Illinois. Some departments have been accused of circumventing the spirit of such regulations, however, by considering ticket numbers in officer ‘productivity’ or ‘performance’ assessments.

    The city of Los Angeles in 2013 paid $6 million to settle lawsuits filed by LAPD officers who accused the department of implementing a secret quota system for traffic tickets. NYPD officers have also claimed the department enforces an unwritten rule, described as a “20 and one” requirement for 20 tickets and one arrest per month, however officials have denied the allegations.

    Critics argue that quotas pressure officers to harass innocent citizens. Such programs also foment distrust among the population as the officers’ roles in the community shift from policing to fund raising.

    “You have a policy that encourages police to create petty crimes and ignore serious crimes, and that’s clearly the opposite of what we want our police to be doing,” Radley Balko, author of Rise of the Warrior Cop, told Reason in a statement related to a 2013 whistleblower lawsuit.

    The Missouri Senate earlier this month voted to ban ticket quotas in the state, while similar legislation is being considered in South Carolina and Washington.

  • Geneva: BMW i8 Protonic Red edition

    February 17, 2016

    BMW will introduce a limited-edition variant of the plug-in hybrid i8 coupe at the Geneva Auto Show.

    The Protonic Red edition is painted in a vibrant shade of red that was designed specifically for it. It features frozen gray accents on the rocker panels and on the rear fascia, and W-spoke alloy wheels that are offered as an option on the regular i8. The cabin gains red inserts in the seats, as well as red stitching on the seats and on the door panels.

    Power for the Protonic Red edition comes from a stock, i8-sourced plug-in hybrid drivetrain made up of a turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine and an electric motor mounted over the front axle. Rated at 362 horsepower, the drivetrain sends the i8 from zero to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds and on to a top speed of 155 mph. Alternatively, the coupe can drive on electricity alone for up to 22 miles.

    The BMW i8 Protonic Red edition will go on sale shortly after its debut in Geneva, though whether or not it will be offered in the United States is anyone’s guess at this point. Production will begin in July, and the coupe will be available to order until December. For buyers who miss out on it, BMW promises that other limited-edition variants of the i8 will be launched in the coming months.

  • Daimler extends Dieter Zetsche’s contract, appoints new R&D head

    February 17, 2016

    Daimler has extended Dieter Zetsche’s contract as chief executive officer, chairman of its board of directors and head of Mercedes-Benz Cars.

    The executive last month entered the final year of his existing contract, due to expire at the end of 2016, however the company has decided to keep Zetsche in his current roles through the end of 2019.

    “Daimler is more successful than ever,” said supervisory board chairman Manfred Bischoff. “This proves that Dieter Zetsche pursues and implements the right strategy not only aligned with the supervisory board. He also can make employees enthusiastic for the demanding targets of the group.”

    Zetsche joined Daimler’s management board in 1998 and has served as chairman for a decade.

    The company also announced that Ola Kaellenius has been appointed to succeed Thomas Weber as head of research and development. Kaellenius currently leads Mercedes-Benz Cars sales operations.

    “With his sound business education and numerous technical positions within the group, Ola Kaellenius has the expertise required for anchoring and further expanding Daimler’s position as technology leader,” said Bischoff.

    Kaellenius is viewed as a top contender to succeed Zetsche in 2020.