Subaru is a subsidiary of Fuji Heavy Industries. Which was originally Nakajima Aircraft back in 1917. It's wasn't until 1954 before Fuji Heavy Industries took on the challenge of building a road car. The name of this car was the P-1 (Nothing like the modern Subaru Impreza P1) which stood for Prototype-1. This name was later changed to the Subaru 1500. And here the Subaru was born. The name Subaru Closely translates to reference the star cluster Pleiades, which is the same famous star cluster that we see make up the subaru logo today. over the decades Subaru continued to build motor cars and in 1972 made it's first 4WD car with the Subaru Leone 4WD Station Wagon. From that point onwards Subaru made something for a name for it's self in the 4WD motor car department, almost like a trade mark. Think Subaru, think All Wheel Drive. However it wasn't until 1992 that the Subaru Impreza was born. So let's pick up the story from there.
The Launch of the Subaru Impreza (Japan) The Subaru Impreza was developed after rule changes in the World Rally Championship (WRC) demanded a replacement to the Subaru Legacy which was previously used by Subaru in the WRC. The changes meant that a new smaller, lighter and faster car was required in order to compete in the WRC. So even from day one, the Subaru Impreza was developed for rallying.
The Subaru Impreza reached the UK. Initially the Subaru Impreza was available in both Front Wheel Drive (FWD) and All Wheel Drive (AWD) versions. However the FWD was soon dropped in preference of the trademark Subaru AWD system.
The Turbo Charged Impreza 2000 AWD reached the UK (Known as the Subaru Impreza WRX in Japan). Also in 2004, Subaru Technica International (STI) was born and we started seeing STI versions of the Subaru Impreza Turbo. The Subaru Impreza WRX STI meant much more than an extra badge on the body. The STI stood for a full upgrading of the Subaru Impreza Taking was was learned on the World Rally stages and incorporating developments into the road car. Many areas were upgraded for the Subaru Impreza STI versions. Engine, Suspension and overall performance and handling greatly improved over the standard car. Top speed was limited to 155mph and 0-62 came in at just 4.7seconds for the Impreza STI. These figures made the Subaru Impreza very sought after by the local boy racers. Albeit a bit more expensive than the your every day Peugeot 205 and Vauxhall Nova.
Subaru won the World Rally Championship in a 555 WRC Subaru Impreza driven by fellow Scotsman Colin McRae. A brilliant achievement for both driver and manufacturer. Driver Colin McRae for being the first ever British driver to win the WRC, and Subaru proved that the Impreza was a World Leading rally car. To mark the success of Subaru winning the WRC championship that year, a special edition Subaru Impreza was released in the form of the McRae Series Subaru Impreza.
Subaru took the manufacturer title for a second year in a row, and promptly released another special edition Impreza knows as the Subaru Impreza Catalunya.
Subaru won a hat-trick of manufacturer championships and celebrated once again by releasing a new special edition Impreza. The Subaru Impreza Terzo (Italian for 3rd). Only 333 Subaru Impreza Terzos were made, as a mark of the three championships won with the Subaru Impreza. 1997 also saw a few changes to the Impreza road car. Interior styling was updated including an exclusive MOMO racing steering wheel. Meanwhile STI versions were given an newly designed rear spoiler. In Japan a special 2-door coupe Subaru Impreza was released which was used as the 1998 WRC car.
The Subaru Impreza 22B. A label that often conjures up thoughts of what the ultimate Subaru Impreza might be. The 22B (Note: for the computer geeks out there, 22B in hex converts to 555 in decimal.) provided a 2.2l boxer engine, more hardcore styling all round including 2-doors instead of 4 and an adjustable rear wing made up just some of the key features of the 22B. Only 400 22B's were made in order to celebrate 40 years of Subaru and only 16 of those were destined for the UK. I've seen three in total!! UK versions also had tweaked gearing which was specifically optimised to UK roads. How cool is that!
To celebrate the new driver lineup of Richard Burns in the Subaru World Rally Team, Subaru decided it was once again time for a special edition. This time the RB5 named after Richard Burns. Sadly in November 2003 Richard Burns was diagnosed with a form of brain tumour and later died on the 25th November 2005 from his illness. This makes the RB5 all the more special now. Only 444 RB5's were made, with the option of the WR Sport pack.
1999 Also saw the release of another special edition. The Subaru Impreza P1, which like the Subaru Impreza 22B was a 2-door coupe model, and like the 22B it was only available in WR Blue. However unlike the 22B the Subaru Impreza P1 delivered a 276bhp out of the box, and supporting a whole load of new accessories such as 10-spoke OZ Titanium racing wheels, improved quick-shift gearbox, rear-wiper, new front wing/splitter, new fog lamps and a new exclusive rear wing. Unlike the Impreza 22B there were 1,000 P1's made. Despite this the Subaru Impreza P1 remains one of the most expensive Subaru Impreza's to buy today.
For eight years, the Subaru Impreza remained more or less unchanged (externally) until 2000 where Subaru decided to update the Impreza for the 21st century. This change was met with mixed views. The appropriately labeled Bug-eye version by critics, was just that. Bug-eyed! One can only guess it was Subaru's attempt to make the Impreza all cute and cuddly. But this didn't go down well with the fans. Many NewAge impreza's promptly had their headlights replaces with WRC look-alike HI-Definition (HiD) lamps or the more aggressive looking Morette cluster. What was in favour of the fans was the globalisation of the WRX name. Previously only used in Japan, the WRX badge was now stuck to any Impreza with a Turbo!
To celebrate Richard Burns's win in the WRC and the launch of the of the new model, Subaru decided to launch yet another special edition Impreza. This time the Subaru Impreza UK300. Once again just like the 22B and P1 the only colour available was WR Blue. The UK300 supported new prodrive styled spoilers of which the rear wing looked like was picked from bit of an airfix kit and not put together properly. Thankfully the front end was improved slightly, with the addition of improved HiD headlamps which made the car look slightly less like a bug. Yet no matter what they did, it was still going to be remembered as the Bug-Eyed version. 2001 also saw the arrival of the NewAge (Must stop calling it bug-eyed) Subaru Impreza WRX STI to the UK. Just like previous STI's, this was based on the WRX but tweaked a little by the Subaru Technica International (STI) team. If that wasn't enough there was also the option of a Prodrive Performance Pack (PPP). The Subaru Imrpeza WRX STI saw a few key changes over the standard Subaru Impreza WRX. This time, the addition of a 6-speed gearbox as opposed to the WRX 5-speed. Also a nice welcome was similar headlamps which were found on the UK300.
It didn't take long before Subaru had to give in to pressure from fans and go back to the drawing board (literally) to come up with a new style Subaru Impreza. So in 2002, Subaru announced yet another NewAge Impreza. The MY03. Main difference here was the front end. More or less everything else stayed the same, but those bug-eyed headlamps were out and replaced with slightly less ugly ones. Also a bigger bonnet scoop was included. Not to be outdone, the Subaru Impreza WRX power was increased by 10bhp. Not surprisingly many Bug-eyed Subaru Impreza's were made available on the 2nd hand market as many owners wanted to change their driveway accessory for the new style Subaru Impreza.
Although Turbo versions of the Subaru Impreza were available in Japan and Europe from more or less day one. The US favoured their muscle cars and not these Japanese breed of performance cars. Which meant the Subaru Impreza Turbo's never "officially" reached US soil until the 2002 model. Any previous Subaru Impreza's were Imports. Unfortunately for the US market the famous 2.0l boxer engine had to go. The fuel regulations in the US meant that the high performance expected from the Subaru Impreza could not be achieved from the 2.0l engine with US fuel. Instead, the Subaru Impreza was given a nice new 2.5l boxer engine for the US market, in order to keep the power and performance up.
Another Subaru WRC title win with Petter Solberg at the wheel. Once again sticking with tradition a new special edition was released, known as the Subaru Impreza WR1. I must admit the WR1 is one of my personal favourites, if only because of the unique Ice Blue colour. Only 500 WR1's were made, but Subaru decided to throw everything at it, including PPP and Driver Controlled Centre Diff (DCCD). The Subaru Impreza WRX STI also saw further improvements in 2004 with upgraded mechanics from the Japanese models. This new revised STI saw a new front diff, along with the DCCD system which was found on the WR1 and UK300 models. Nice!
Towards the end of 2005. Again just 2 years after the previous model was replaced, Subaru decided to release another new bodied Subaru Impreza, the MY06. This time with new crystal rear light cluster and yet another new front end. The jury is still out about whether or not it is a hit or a miss. I personally think it looks Awesome. Almost as though Subaru have forgotten the last 5 years and gone back to the aggressive styling of the original Subaru Impreza from the 90's! I admit, it did take a few days to get used to, but after you see past the SEAT grill and BMW headlamps you soon realise that this is the sort of car you want other people to see you in, in their rear view mirror. (Admittedly briefly as you scream past them shortly after words :) Sadly the MY06 marked the end for the traditional 2.0l boxer engine. Instead we saw the introduction of the 2.5l boxer engine into the Subaru Impreza. A sad end which seems to have gone relatively unnoticed. But then think of what they can do with that extra 500cubic centimetres of space. Mwaahaahaahaa!...
Towards the end of 2006. Subaru / Prodrive announced the realease of a new Special Edition Impreza. Sadly without recent success in the WRC. This time the special edition was to celebrate the life of previous Subaru WRC Champion Richard Burns who sadly died 12 months previously due to a brain tumour. The New Special Edition Subaru Impreza was to be named the RB320. That's 320bhp and a limited number of 320 to be produced. Essentially the RB320 is a 2006 model Subaru Impeza WRX STi PPP with just abotu ever add on you can think of, along with bespoke prodrive/blitsen dampers, exclusive obsidian black paint work, black alloys and full dront grill set. All in all making the RB320 very exclusive and ver agressive looking with only small markings on the passenger, drivers doors and boot lid of a small orange RB320 logo. The rest of the car is very much black in respect for the late Richard Burns. A true trubite to a great champion!
I have yet to come up with a word that describes Subaru in 2007. At the time of writing Subaru had recently announced the drascically redesigned 2008 model of the Subaru Impreza (You can see some photos here) Make your own mind up about what you think of it. My initial thoughts are yuk.. And I have to say my thoughts are still more or less the same. The car does NOT look agressive as it shoudl and just looks like any other family hatchback on the road. a fair pecentage of the Impreza's appeal has always been it's agressive shape and styling. Even teh bugeye version admitedly wasn't welcomed by many had the trademark styling that for every other angle you knew it was an Impreza and more importantly a car to be reckoned with!. This new one doesn't do much for me I'm afraid. Doesn't excite me when I see pictures of it like previous styles. The same recipie is still there usign the same 2.5l boxer engine from teh MY06 models, a new intercooler has been shoved in. Power remains teh same at 225ps for the WRX model, awd as standard of course :). However the tyres are narrower than previous versions. Also it's worth noting that at time of writing there are no plans for a WRX version or saloon version for the UK. Instead we'll have the basic models then a jump up to the STi's I see this as a mistake as the WRX hits a just about affordable market for most peopel who cant afford te £25k price of the STi. However somethign new for the MY08 Impreza will be the introduction of a 170bhp Diesel Impreza. Thats right diesel. Should be interesting...Watch this space...
Watching the comings and goings of various parts of the car market, as every good Autocar reader so keenly does, grants a unique perspective on the importance of good timing for a would-be buyer.
This is a cyclical business, and whatever part of it interests you will have fertile periods of renewal and fallow stretches of hibernation.
You can find our advice on any particular class?s top entrants in the back of this magazine on any given Wednesday, of course ? and any of our segment champions will be worth your money whenever you happen to be ready to spend it. But it?s also undeniably true that right now is a particularly good time to buy an SUV, for example, and that last year was a fine one for family hatchbacks. Fresh arrivals always increase choice and renew competitive forces, which can only ever be good news for the likes of you and me.
And there?s definitely some spring-time blooming happening right now in the market for mid-sized executive saloons. Last autumn, Jaguar introduced an all-new XF. Now comes Mercedes-Benz?s latest E-Class ? which is either the fifth or 10th-generation version, depending on whether or not you count the ones that came along before Mercedes starting officially calling them ?E-Class? in 1993. So if you?d had close to £40,000 to spend in this segment in April 2015, you?d have read quite different advice on our back pages from that which you?re about to read in April 2016. Moreover, by keeping your powder dry for 12 months, your chances of getting a bad deal or ending up with a car that?s at all second-rate are greatly reduced.
So here we are, where the action is, ready to jump. The office fleet manager is on hold. What we need to know is how much the new ?W213? E-Class changes a picture that still feels familiar, the current executive saloon incumbent champion, the Jaguar XF, having only been installed on its throne when the car went through the road test mill back in December. We?re pitting the bigselling four-cylinder diesel versions against each other, because those are the ones you?re most likely to buy ? so it?s 192bhp E 220 d versus 187bhp BMW 520d and 178bhp XF 2.0d. What chance another change of executive class leadership in the space of five months?
You might think you know what to expect from an E-Class: heft, gravitas, material substance, occupant space, cabin isolation, ride refinement, some high-end cabin equipment, perhaps. But a classleading four-cylinder diesel engine? Pull the other one. Well, believe it. The new E 220 d is the first Mercedes to benefit from Stuttgart?s newgeneration, aluminium-blocked ?OM 654? 2.0-litre diesel motor, which is due to be rolled out across all of its model lines to replace the venerable ?OM 651? 2.1-litre lump that has been overdue for retirement for a while. Smaller and significantly lighter than the engine it replaces, the new 2.0-litre motor has low-friction cylinder liners, an offset crankshaft and repositioned balancer shafts. It apparently walks EU6 emissions requirements, designed as much for the EU?s forthcoming WLTP test cycle. And in the nose of the E 220 d ? a car that has grown as part of its latest regeneration and still isn?t the lightest cab on the class rank, in spite of its hybrid aluminium and high-strength steel construction ? it makes for outstanding manufacturer claims on peak power, 0-62mph acceleration, NEDC fuel economy and CO2 emissions.
But before we get into the differences made to the car?s driving experience, a pause to take in the pertinent details of the spaces in which these three cars invite you to spend such a significant portion of your working week. Our cars are within 50mm of each other on overall length and are even more closely matched on wheelbase. So predictably, they offer similar quantities of cabin space and carrying capacity. The XF is, by a whisker, the tightest car of the three for larger adults travelling in the back seats, but it?s still easily roomy enough for most. More surprising, the new E-Class isn?t the most commodious car of the trio. That distinction goes narrowly to the car that has been on sale for five years, the 5 Series, which has back seat cushions that are longer and more supportive than the E-Class?s and notably more head room in both rows.
But those objective differences do little to communicate the stark differences in ambient character between the E-Class, 5 Series and XF, which should serve as a suitable preamble for the dynamic differences to follow. You sit high in the new E-Class, aware of a higher vantage point than you could get in either of its rivals, with a good view out in all directions, a good sense for the corners of the car and a pleasing impression of space around your extremities. In the XF, you?re hunkered down more intimately, with a high-rise centre console on one side and a higher-rising door card on the other, the steering wheel and instruments closer to your down-theroad eye line. The 5 Series splits the difference: spacious and convenient, with BMW?s brilliant sports seats offering all the comfort, adjustability and support you?ll ever need.
In isolation, the Jaguar?s standards on material quality, fit and finish seem fine; the sophistication of its instrumentation and infotainment likewise. But park your XF next to a new E-Class and you?ll realise what you could have won. The Mercedes? interior is in a different league from the Jaguar?s. It?s more rich and expensive than the BMW?s, too.
The E-Class comes, as an option, with twin 12.3in ?double-display? LCD screens that stretch across most of the fascia, backlit and appearing to float in front of the roll-top dashboard. It has a newgeneration Comand infotainment system that?s vastly easier to navigate than what went before, as a result of touch-sensitive pads positioned on each side spoke of the steering wheel that make it easier to select the function you want without taking your hands from a quarter to three.
The E-Class?s switchgear and trim look expensive and feel it too. Its 23-speaker Burmester premium audio system sounds supreme. The car has wireless smartphone charging and outstanding active safety and active cruise control convenience systems. If you like to see, hear and feel what your premium-brand cash is buying in what?s directly in front of you and wrapped around you mile by mile, the E-Class just offers you more ? and the 5 Series make a better fist of competing with it than the XF.
Time to turn the form book upside down, then. Mercedes? 2.0-litre engine idles sufficiently quietly and smoothly to teach Jaguar Land Rover a thing or two about what a new four-pot diesel should sound and feel like these days. It has transformed the E-Class from one of the least mechanically refined executive saloons in the class into one of the most well mannered.
Neither the XF nor the 5 Series is very far behind the E-Class in this respect, though ? and it?s to the aid of the stragglers that whichever four-cylinder oil-burner you find in a car of this size and type, it?s still unlikely to feel special. These are the workaday grunt powerplants of the executive saloon world, originally designed for economy and costeffectiveness ? and then made the default choice by half-baked CO2- derived tax legislation and a buying public more interested in kit count than distinguishing mechanical richness and performance.
So although our test instruments confirm that the E 220 d is the quietest, smoothest, fastestaccelerating and most economical car here, those advantages will only do so much for it. Against the clock, the Mercedes accelerates from 30mph to 70mph through the gears 1.5sec quicker than the Jaguar and 0.9sec ahead of the BMW. For our True MPG testers, the E 220 d returned a 56.8mpg average and the best of its rivals was the 520d, at 48.5mpg. The E 220 d is almost 2dB quieter than the XF at a 70mph cruise. All will be meaningful advantages for the car in realworld use ? and yet none is enough to lift the impression of the car?s powertrain far above the ordinary.
You look elsewhere, therefore, to find a really convincing selling point for any of these cars in how they conduct themselves on the road ? and the first you find is the XF?s handling precision and dynamism. But before we delve deeper into this, we should note a trim level difference here. Whereas the 520d and XF 2.0d submitted for this exercise were in M Sport and R-Sport guise respectively, with the wheels, tyres and suspension tunes configured to appeal to keener drivers, the E 220 d came as an entrylevel SE model, which means 17in alloy wheels, higher-profile tyres and standard ?comfort? suspension settings. E-Class buyers will be able to choose a lowered, passively damped suspension set-up as an alternative, or a lowered adaptively damped sports suspension, or heightadjustable Airmatic air suspension ? and all ought to better prepare the car for battle with rivals that, we already know, set a high bar for driver appeal.
And yet if any new E-Class, save perhaps the Mercedes-AMG version, can approach either the equivalent XF or 5 Series on dynamic verve, we?ll be very surprised. The Mercedes seems geared for an entirely different agenda from the Jaguar?s and, to a lesser but still telling extent, the BMW?s, too. While the XF constructs its ride comfort from its subtle but progressive close damper control, acknowledging that its driver wants to feel at once connected to and cushioned from the road surface, the E-Class commits wholeheartedly to long-wave compliance and ride isolation. Everything the Benz does is done in order to add so little to the fatigue of the daily grind as to make almost no difference, so it answers the Jaguar?s perfect steering weight and fine directional responses with lightness at the rim and a stabilising sneeze zone around dead centre.
As you add steering angle in the E 220 d, the wheel weights up and gains directness in an attempt to convince you that it can be athletic through the corners. But it?s a token gesture. Where the perfect balance and taut poise of the XF make it feel lithe and lively, the E-Class lacks the simple grip and composure to go with it. The softness of the Mercedes? responses is at odds with the eventual speed of the steering off-centre, often forcing the car into understeer before it has even settled on its outside contact patches. And as it begins to heave and porpoise gently on its springs through dips and over bumps, even a seven-tenths crosscountry pace is enough to convince you that the E-Class isn?t a car that likes to be hurried along.
The 520d?s achievement, next to rivals that seem at polar opposites of the dynamic spectrum, is its breadth of ability. On optional adaptive M Sport suspension, the BMW can approach the sybaritic gentility of the Merc and the accuracy and involvement of the Jag. The 5 Series is still the executive option for any mood or occasion, still competitive in its fifth year on sale, still in possession of the keenest-feeling engine and cleverest automatic gearbox here. It?s still a hard car to see beyond.
But, for the likes of us at least, not quite hard enough. Although every group test needs a verdict, it seems particularly harsh to rank these cars, because each one thoroughly deserves its following. So this is at least as much an order of preference, as I?d expect interested drivers and readers of Autocar to exercise it, as of merit. Although there are still disappointing cars in the mid-sized executive market even in 2016, there isn?t one in this test.
No one could take much issue with what the new E 220 d does; it?s what it is that relegates the car to last place in our final order. It?s functional and understated, supremely well built and kitted out, and outstandingly refined, relatively pacey and easy to drive, thanks to that new engine. But it?s also one-dimensional ? gloriously so, in fact. Really, this is a luxury saloon running against pseudo-sporting four-doors. Those who describe it as a mini S-Class fundamentally misunderstand the E-Class?s character and role. There?s nothing grand or assuming here. There is only a deliciously old-fashioned sense of reserve and contentment in service.
In the 520d you get more: plenty of sporting edge twinned with huge everyday ownership appeal, which is enough for second place here. And in the XF 2.0d you get accommodation, equipment, quality, refinement and performance levels that pass muster ? and abundant driver appeal that makes them worth the trade. It?s as simple as that
Jaguar XF 2.0 R-Sport AT
Rating 4.5/5; Price £36,850; 0-62mph 8.1sec (claimed); Top speed 136mph; Economy 65.7mpg; CO2 emissions 114g/km; Kerb weight 1595kg; Engine layout 4 cyls, 1999cc, diesel; Installation Front, longitudinal, RWD; Power 178bhp at 4000rpm; Torque 317lb ft at 1750rpm
BMW 520d M Sport auto
Rating 4/5; Price £36,865; 0-62mph 7.9sec (claimed); Top speed 147mph; Economy 62.8mpg; CO2 emissions 119g/km; Kerb weight 1695kg; Engine layout 4 cyls, 1995cc, diesel; Installation Front, longitudinal, RWD; Power 187bhp at 4000rpm; Torque 295lb ft at 1750rpm
Mercedes-Benz E220 d SE
Rating 4/5; Price £35,935; 0-62mph 7.3sec (claimed); Top speed 149mph; Economy 72.2mpg; CO2 emissions 102g/km; Kerb weight 1680kg; Engine layout 4 cyls, 1950cc, diesel; Installation Front, longitudinal, RWD; Power 192bhp at 3800rpm; Torque 295lb ft at 1600-2400rpm
BMW is set to give the i8 more power, an extended range, various chassis tweaks, an inductive charging option and a series of new lightweight components. The changes are part of a comprehensive midlife facelift for the high-tech 2+2, which first went on sale in the UK in 2014.
The facelifted i8 is due to reach showrooms in the final quarter of next year. It?s set to adopt an upgraded petrolelectric powertrain currently being tested in a fleet of roadgoing prototypes as well as the latest iteration of the i8-based safety car seen at Formula E events around the globe.
Details remain scarce, although high-level engineers at BMW?s research and development facilities in Munich say the revised hybrid powertrain will have a more powerful electric motor than the 129bhp unit used by the existing i8.
In combination with a lightly fettled 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine, the frontmounted synchronous electric motor is claimed to provide the facelifted i8 with more than a 10% boost in power over today?s model, lifting the futuristically styled coupé?s output to around 420bhp.
Together with new software mapping for the i8?s sixspeed automatic gearbox, the boosted output is claimed to improve the performance of the BMW i brand?s rangetopping coupé, which currently has a 0-62mph time of 4.4sec and limited 155mph top speed.
At the same time, BMW is working to extend the overall range of the i8 through the adoption of a revised battery pack. With improved energy density properties ? the same is being touted for the battery in the facelifted i3 that will make its debut at the Paris motor show in September ? it is said to bring an incremental increase in pure-electric and hybrid ranges.
Secrecy surrounds the capacity of the new battery. However, BMW has confirmed that the Formula E safety car eschews the 7.1kWh unit of the production car for a larger, 10.0kWh battery, possibly hinting at what?s to come for the facelifted version. As on today?s i8, it will be mounted down the centre line inside a carbonfibre tunnel.
Drawing on further developments used by the Formula E safety car, the facelifted i8 is also in line to receive a number of chassis modifications. Nothing has been confirmed, but the two i8 safety cars at Formula E events have modified upper wishbones and mounting points, together with revised spring and dampers, a 15mm lower ride height than the production car and 20in alloy wheels shod with 245/35 front and 285/30 rear Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres.
An inductive charging system is also being tested and is expected to be offered as an option on the next iteration of the i8. Drawing on wireless charging technology developed by Qualcomm, it uses resonant magnetic induction to transfer energy between a ground-based pad connected to the highvoltage electrical system and a collector fitted to the underside of the BMW.
Further possible updates being pursued by BMW for the facelifted i8 are carbonfibre wheels. Already showcased by the German car maker, the lightweight wheels use a carbonfibre rim and aluminium spokes in a move that is claimed to reduce weight by up to 25% over the aluminium wheels used today.
The launch of the facelifted i8 coupé is likely to coincide with the introduction of the long-mooted i8 roadster, which BMW chairman Harald Krüger recently confirmed as the next new model from the company?s i brand.
The dark art of car design
We visit Nissan's Sunderland plant to meet the team behind some of its most striking designs; then we have a go at drawing ourselves
Under an array of gleaming white tube lights, an endless procession of Qashqais and Leafs trundles towards the end of Trim and Chassis Line 1 at Nissan?s Sunderland plant.
White-gloved like Tokyo taxi drivers and even more attentive, the inspectors have just under 60 seconds each to poke, ponder and fondle their allocated section of automotive anatomy before the relentless conveyor ushers the car on towards the big, wide world.
This is the UK?s most productive car plant, churning out 116 cars per hour and nearly half a million every year. One in three cars made in this country is built here by a workforce of 6700 people. Yet each of the five models the factory produces began as a designer?s scribble. For the pioneering Qashqai that kick-started the crossover revolution and the smaller Juke (which shares Sunderland?s second line with the Note and Infiniti Q30), the design element was home-grown, too, conceived and refined at Nissan?s European studio in Paddington, central London.
We?ll explore the production line later, but the main reason we?ve come to Sunderland is to uncover the design process that leads from drafting-paper doodle to production car. And to help make sense of it all, we?ve brought Autocar?s in-house car designer, Ben Summerell-Youde, who creates most of the speculative renderings you see in this magazine, artfully predicting upcoming models with considerable success.
We?re focusing on the extrovert Gripz concept, which Nissan presented at the Frankfurt motor show last September to float the idea of a Z-car crossover. As with all of Nissan?s major design projects, the brief was tendered across the company?s four design hubs: Paddington, San Diego, Beijing and the creative HQ in Atsugi, Japan. Designs are submitted anonymously ? the decision makers know neither the designer nor the hub that produced each proposal ? but for the Gripz, the winning exterior was penned in London and references the works 240Z that won the 1971 East African Safari Rally.
The ?performance crossover? brief for the Gripz was relatively specific. For the 2009 Qazana concept that spawned the Juke, although the car?s size was largely fixed, the design brief was just one word: ?Robiotic?. Which, perplexingly, isn?t even a proper word. In Paddington, the designers expanded this to ?masculine and agile? and developed it with the help of mood boards and imagery, such as the juxtaposition of welly boots with a Nissan GT-R. It?s easy to scoff but just as easy to see how the production Juke splices the spirit of those images and to observe how successful this formula has been in the market: more than 40,000 were sold in the UK last year.
Back on the Gripz, Paddington-based Croatian Goran Ozbolt ? a vehicle design graduate of the Royal College of Art ? talks us through the design process: ?We start with a footprint and an idea of the height of the car. The team discusses how the product could look or feel. Then each of us goes out and explores what inspirations we could use. Sometimes, it?s something active and performance-oriented. Other times, it?s more laid back and practical. You might look for a variety of products that you think reflect the kind of thing you?re trying to produce. Then we start sketching.?
Summerell-Youde chips in that he usually has to start with the previous generation of the car, but he considers that ?cheating?. Ozbolt disagrees. ?Everyone has a different starting point,? he says. ?Some people start with the car?s predecessor, but I tend to begin with a doodle, imagining what the car will look like from 100 metres away to make sure it has a good, solid stance. It doesn?t really matter, though. The important thing is the quality of the output. It?s artistic. There are no rules.?
Ozbolt sometimes goes straight from doodling to 3D modelling with the same software Pixar uses for animated films, but he will also scan the sketch into Photoshop and use it to develop a more detailed 2D rendering (which, incredibly, can be produced in just a few hours). But even at this stage, production realities must be considered. ?I appreciate the final design needs to be approachable to the market,? he says.
Each proposal is rendered in profile and front and rear three-quarter views, and then one or two per hub are chosen to advance to the clay modelling stage. This transformation requires the likes of Steve Ransom. His official title is digital project lead, but he reckons ?digital sculptor? better reflects the role, which is ?to bring the design into the 3D world? using CAD (computer-aided design) software. Detailed vehicle schematics are provided by Nissan?s European technical centre in Cranfield, and Ransom stretches the designer?s sketches to fit over them.
Initially, he uses a broad brush, tweaking crude 3D shapes on screen by eye. With bewildering speed, he uses a rotary controller to spin and zoom around the virtual Gripz while tapping his keyboard with the other hand, contorting the model?s countless complex surfaces as he goes. ?I?m not sure there is a more complex geometric product than the car,? Ozbolt says, and Ransom?s work certainly brings that home.Once the 3D image is smoothed and refined, the design is sent to a five-axis milling machine to become real for the first time. A model such as the quarter-scale Gripz we?re shown can be milled from clay in just four hours. Modellers then help the designers experiment with tweaks to see what works best. The model is then 3D scanned and the digital image goes back to Ransom, who makes sure that the technical package can still be accommodated.
Summerell-Youde and I try our hands at modelling. Etching away at a chunk of warm clay, he adds a horizontal strake to the chevron graphic that defines the leading edge of the Gripz?s doors. It wins highly approving nods from modellers Joanna Bond and Paul Ratcliffe. Summerell-Youde adds a second, smaller strake below it and is less happy with it, but such is clay?s flexibility that it can be removed swiftly.Inspired by another historic rally car, I add a ski-jump spoiler based on the Lancia 037. Using adapted and home-made tools ? at one point I?m handed a nutmeg grater ? I clumsily squidge and scrape before Ratcliffe refines it quickly and neatly into shape. It?s great fun and extremely addictive, and initial derision of the aero appendage gives way to very mild approval.
In the real process, a steel-framed, full-size clay model is eventually milled and refined by a team of modellers, then wrapped in vinyl and wheeled outside to capture how its surfaces reflect natural light. Despite appearances, many concepts shown at motor shows are built this way and couldn?t turn a wheel themselves if they wanted to.
It typically takes Nissan nine months to finalise a concept car design, but it?s 18 for a production model. Much of this extra time involves a feedback loop between Paddington and Cranfield. The engineers have strict technical parameters to fulfil, such as weight, performance, aerodynamics, interior space, body durability, ease of manufacture and safety, and they work closely with the designers to achieve this without relinquishing the car?s aesthetic character. It took 11 loops of around four weeks each to get the second-generation Qashqai to ?design freeze?.
At this point, a car?s image is fixed and the designers step back. If they?ve done their job, the original concept will shine through, as Ozbolt says: ?I try to create the boldest possible theme that can endure production. As long as the initial doodle is visible in the production car, I have done well.?
A colleague emails. He has details of another set of races that are more exciting than Formula 1, ?he says. It?s quick to watch, unpredictable and close, and there?s lots of overtaking. You should give it a look, he says, so I do, and realise he?s got a point.
The protagonists are easy to identify. The lead changes many, many times. It?s fast, it?s action packed and it?s over quickly. As high-octane thrills go, it?s right up there.This magical, mythical racing series? Google ?beach marble race video? and you?ll get the idea.
So, no, although there?s more overtaking in five minutes of racing between small balls rolled down a channel dug into some sand on a family holiday than there is in a typical two-hour, pinnacle-of-motorsport, multi-tens-of-million-quid Sunday afternoon romp, marble runs are unlikely to have CVC Capital Partners too concerned that they?re going to be undermined by a phone video of a lazy Thursday in Marbella.
My colleague knows this, too; he knows F1 can afford to be complacent even in the face of the deadly threat of marbles being rolled down a beach ??and, more seriously, other genuinely brilliant motorsport, of which there?s lots ? because we?ve all invested so much of ourselves in F1 over the years.
We?ve all put so much into it ? time, enthusiasm and probably money ? that we feel like we own a little bit of it, so when ?it?s going through a bad patch, we want to see it out the other side. Plus, we?re inherently lazy. In this case, we don?t resist change because we fear it, but because it takes a lot of time to learn all there is to know about an alternative.
Some race series tried to make learning them, and wanting a winner, simple. They wanted to ease you away from F1 gently. Superleague Formula aligned its cars with football clubs, reasoning that, hey, if you like Liverpool FC, surely you?d want a Liverpool-branded car ?to win a race. (You didn?t.)
A1 GP cars represented nations, in the hope that national pride would make you want to cheer for something other than this shallow, flag-waving puff to all be over, please, and soon. The racing might have been brilliant in those series. I don?t remember. And more important, I ? ?and apparently many other people ? didn?t care.
And therein lies F1?s constant advantage. It may be rubbish to watch at times, but it can afford to be. It has simply been around for too long and has established itself into our psyche and consciousness too deeply for other series to pry our attention away from it. However, I do recommend the marble thing ? watched between the opening laps and the first set of pit stops.
The UK government has announced it will carry out ?surveillance testing? on vehicles in the wake of the emissions scandal.
Alongside the already confirmed Real Driving Emissions (RDE) tests, which will begin next year, the surveillance tests will include testing a random sample of vehicles and components, which are on sale in the UK, to ensure they meet approved standards.
The Department for Transport (DfT) said this programme should ?reduce the risk that products entering the market are non-compliant?.
There is currently no more information on sample sizes, regularity of testing or possible outcomes of the surveillance, with the DfT saying more details on ?how testing will be carried out will be finalised in due course?.
The statement to Parliament on the matter stated: "We will continue working to ensure that the new rules for real driving emissions and type approval are robust, deliver the expected outcomes and that manufacturers behave consistently.
?In addition, this year the DfT will be establishing a new programme of market surveillance testing, which will seek to ensure that products entering our markets fully comply with the law."
The Europe-wide RDE tests will be introduced in stages, starting next year, and will include some real-world driving emissions measurements. Along with other emissions test and type approval changes, Europe's testing regime is set to be the toughest in the world by 2019.
The news is a result of independent UK and German government testing, which highlighted the gap between official laboratory test results and real-world emissions figures.
While no manufacturers other than VW were found guilty of using defeat devices, the German investigation called on a number of manufacturers to voluntarily recall cars that failed to meet expectations. In the UK, Audi, Mercedes, Suzuki and Vauxhall has so far confirmed it will voluntarily recall affected models.