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  • Tesla could widen release of 'self-driving' software in two weeks
    on 28th November 2020

    The automaker will make its new "Full Self Driving" software update available to more customers.

  • 50 years later: Vauxhall Astra meets Victor at Millbrook
    on 28th November 2020

    The Alpine route at Millbrook is one of our favourite test tracks How far have cars progressed since the first was signed off at Britain’s top testing facility? Millbrook Proving Ground, one of the UK’s premier car testing sites, very nearly wasn’t in Millbrook. In the 1960s, Vauxhall’s owner, General Motors, wanted a vehicle testing facility in the UK, inspired by its historic Milford proving ground in America, right down to a similar mix of flat tracks and hills: 600 flat acres, 200 hilly ones. Vauxhall searched long and hard and found only three really suitable locations, two of which were in Wales and one in Scotland. Air-freighting cars to Scotland was thought too much of a faff, so one of the Welsh sites was selected. Until, that is, during detail planning, two farms came up for sale next to each other about five miles south of Bedford, between the villages of Millbrook and Marston Moretaine. It was bigger than Vauxhall needed and two million tonnes of earth would need moving to sculpt the hills exactly to shape, but it was also just up the road from Vauxhall’s headquarters in Luton. Work started in 1968 and in 1970 – 50 years ago – the GM-owned Millbrook Proving Ground opened. The early-1970s Victor FE that you see here was one of the first Vauxhalls developed at the site. The other car is the current Astra, one of the very latest Vauxhalls to have graduated from Millbrook. Which, via being a subsidiary of GM-owned Lotus in the 1980s and then a part of GM Holdings, is today a fully independent business with subsidiaries of its own – the frozen Test World winter-testing centre in Finland and Leyland Technical Centre in Lancashire. While neither Millbrook nor Vauxhall is owned by GM any more, the German engineers from Opel/Vauxhall used to like fine-tuning ride and handling in the UK and until recently kept a unit at Millbrook for the purpose. How far have the cars developed at Millbrook come in the past half-century? It has been a while since I drove a near-50-year-old car (my own doesn’t work), but Autocar road tested this mechanical specification of Victor in period, with ‘fifth wheel’ timing gear strapped to the back for obtaining performance figures. This saloon is a 2300, meaning it has a four-cylinder 2.3-litre petrol engine driving its back wheels through a four-speed manual gearbox. Peak power is 100bhp at 5200rpm, but it’s quite a lazy unit, with 138lb ft of torque from just 3000rpm. A big family car of the time, it’s 4.54m long, 1.69m wide and has a 2.67m wheelbase. As tested, it weighed 1344kg. Today’s Astra – a small family hatchback – has an engine barely half that capacity and shorn of one cylinder. But the 1.2-litre triple makes 143bhp at 5500rpm and a fulsome 166lb ft at 2000-3500rpm, owing to a turbocharger that gets going early in the rev range. It too has a manual gearbox – although of six speeds – and drives the front wheels, as has largely become the norm for all but executive and sports cars. Perhaps surprisingly, given that cars have tended to become bigger, the Astra, which technically sits in a lower class than the Victor, is notably shorter, at 4.37m, although with a similar 2.66m wheelbase. It’s wider, mind you, at 1.81m, which is no great surprise, considering modern safety demands. It’s claimed to be lighter, at 1280kg, but I suspect there isn’t much in it once the cars are laden. The bigger numerical differences, then, come in the powertrain. The Victor, in its 20 April 1972 Autocar road test, managed to get from 0-60mph in 12.4sec, although these things aren’t totally representative, because that car was fitted with the optional three-speed automatic gearbox, not the standard manual. We don’t have any as-tested figures for the latest Astra, but we don’t usually have difficulty hitting Vauxhall’s claims, either – a 0-62mph time of 8.8sec (call it 0-60mph in 8.5sec) is a 30% improvement in acceleration, with an engine half the size and the wrong driven wheels for a quick getaway. It’s also vastly less consumptive. While we have trouble meeting most official fuel economy figures, the Astra in our experience will approach 50mpg in mixed driving. The Victor returned an average of 21.6mpg on test. When we last road tested an Astra, it stopped from 30mph in 8.2m, while the Victor wanted an additional 1.5m – 18% more road – to stop. Although retardation of 0.95g is pretty good going for the old-stager. The differences feel more marked when you drive the pair. Most of Millbrook’s roads and tracks still follow their original layout, inspired by the Milford facility. Arranging them was “like trying to follow a recipe”, according to John Wathew, who was the Vauxhall engineer put in charge of designing the layout at the time. Most notably, there’s a mile-long straight with both a short and a now rarely used longer approach road (for if you want a higher starting speed), plus a high-speed circular banked circuit with five lanes of differing neutral-steer speeds, on which Millbrook modestly claims speeds in excess of 150mph are possible (Autocar contributor Colin Goodwin once lapped it at 180mph in a Jaguar XJ220). Then there’s a short handling circuit and, perhaps best known of all, the Hill Route (aka the Alpine test track): more than four miles of hills with gradients from 6.5% to 26%. It’s still my favourite test route in the country. I drive the Victor around them first. The initial differences between an old car and a new one are how airy old cars are. That’s because you wouldn’t want to crash one, I suppose. But the fact that there’s wood and blue carpets and velour and chrome is quite cool. Dated, obviously, but so too would be a 50-year-old suit or a 1970s living room. At least there’s a bit of character to it. The engine, when it can be persuaded to start, is refined enough and the gearshift is genuinely good. But it’s noisy. Road noise, wind noise, engine noise: you name it, it has it. And although a 70mph cruise is possible, the Victor prefers 60mph. Its performance reminds you of a time when gravity was your friend. Around the concrete inner handling circuit, whose sharp road edges and gravel always worry me, it’s a physical experience – the unassisted steering is nearly four turns lock-to-lock and I find myself shifting around on the broad seats as roll slowly sets in and the looseness of body control makes me fear the Victor will bottom out through the dips. But the tyres manage to squeal enthusiastically for the cameras and ultimately there’s reasonable grip. Swapping to the Astra, though, shows you just how far things have come – and mostly for the better. Refinement levels are sky high compared with the Victor, with much reduced wind and engine noise and only a little road roar. But what’s most notable is how little effort today’s car takes; control weights have been refined and moderated, with assisted steering way more responsive and the modern car rolling far less and turning more willingly yet also proving more stable at speeds, which in turn it holds much more easily. Old cars are lovely, but the new Astra makes the Victor feel like a pram in dynamic terms. You could argue, so I will, that the new car has a less characterful interior. It’s pretty austere and dark, and there are more than 40 buttons in there. But it’s also far more sculpted and infinitely more accurately finished. There is a sense of continuity, though. The two cars do the same thing (both are better than walking), it’s just that one is rather better at it than another. The basics – four wheels, a seat – stay the same. Away from the tracks, I park the Astra near Millbrook’s offices and laboratories. There are rather more of those now than there used to be, too, up to and including facilities for autonomous and connected cars and a testing centre for electric vehicle batteries. As with the cars, the basics stay the same, but it just gets better. Making Millbrook Milford Proving Ground opened in 1924 and in the mid-1960s GM wanted a UK facility built to a very similar standard. Vauxhall engineer John Wathew, tasked with leading the layout, eventually found two farms for sale near Millbrook. “The acreage was in excess of what we required, it had the adjacent hills and there was enough flat land,” he says. “There were a few issues that had to be scheduled into the building programme but otherwise it seemed perfect. We originally decided to call it Lidlington Proving Ground, rather than Millbrook, to avoid confusion with Milford.” “It was basically farmland with a winding road going through it. Even now, there are parts of the tracks that are still on that old road,” he adds. “All the surfaces that I created were inspired by Milford. It was like trying to follow a recipe. There were even exact gradients they wanted on the Hill Route, which had to be built in to the plan. I was told that, at the time of building, it was the biggest earth-moving job in the country.” READ MORE Steve Cropley: My first lap back at Millbrook was electric  Nothing left to prove: A farewell to Bruntingthorpe  The world’s greatest test-tracks

  • Shame to Lusso you: A eulogy to the last four-seat Ferrari GT
    on 28th November 2020

    "The rear of the GTC4 Lusso is remarkably spacious. If I had to travel in the back of this or a Porsche Panamera, I’d take the Ferrari The GTC4 Lusso has taken a back seat to smaller, more glamorous stablemates, but the family Ferrari has a proud history We do write valedictory pieces at Autocar, but not many. Broadly speaking, our remit is to look forward, rather than back; but just occasionally, a car so important or beloved gets pensioned off that we would not be doing our job as the industry’s journal of record were we to fail to acknowledge the fact in some way. Now you may already be questioning whether or not the Ferrari GTC4 Lusso T falls into that category, and I’d not blame you at all. But the truth is, it’s not the car per se that we’re saying goodbye to but the full-sized family Ferrari coupé. It’s a line that stretches back essentially unbroken through most of Ferrari’s history, fully 60 years. But now it’s over. For although the new Roma does indeed have rear seats, they’re for occasional use only by small people, while the Lusso will seat four average-sized adults in greater space and comfort than certain four-door coupés. In time, Ferrari hopes that Lusso customers can be migrated across to the new SUV, currently codenamed the Purosangue, but that’s a 2023-model-year car, so it’s likely to be a couple of years before we even see it, let alone customers take delivery. Of course, because they’re seen as practical, and there’s no more boring word in the automotive lexicon, four-seat Fandangos have never quite twanged the heartstrings like Ferrari’s lower-slung sports cars, with their abbreviated wheelbases, lesser seat count and more focused role. But that doesn’t make them poor relations or anything close. On occasion, it has been the more usable version that’s proven preferable, even if the automotive media tended not to say so at the time. For instance, I always preferred the early-1970s 365 GTC/4 to its headline-grabbing brother, known to most as the Daytona. And for a couple of years in the 1990s, before the 550 Maranello was introduced, the 456 GT was not only the most powerful production Ferrari, it was also the best. I’m not sure I’d put the current Lusso in that category, especially versions like this with the V8 engine, but as a nearly new, rather than brand new proposition, they can still make compelling cases for themselves. Take this car here, resplendent in its lovely special-request Rosso Fiorano paintwork and available from Stratstone in Manchester. It’s a one-year-old car, with fewer than 2000 miles on the clock, three of its standard four-year warranty to go and five of its six years of free servicing remaining. The asking price is £168,900, which can probably be bid down a chunk, against a new list price of £202,890. What these numbers don’t reflect is the simply enormous option count it carries, too; I counted 25 items from ceramic tailpipes at one end to a carbonfibre front splitter at the other. This is by no means uncommon for this kind of car. And as you will know, Ferrari options don’t come cheap. Indeed, in 2019, the combined options cost on this car appears to have been £63,821, which means this nearly new, scarcely used example is being offered by a Ferrari main dealer for all but £100,000 off its on-the-road list price last year, even before you’ve had a haggle. Which makes you think a bit. It’s a lovely thing in which to loaf around. Not in which to blast, teeth bared, knuckles whitened, mind, for it’s not that kind of Ferrari, but for rather rapid roaming, it’s entirely splendid. Indeed, it’s at times something of a relief to drive a Ferrari without feeling in any way that you’re wasting a valuable resource when not driving as fast as you possibly can. It makes you focus on the other things that Ferraris, and not just this one, do well. Its ride quality is uncommonly good, for instance, and almost regardless of which position you choose for the manettino switch, because you always have its ‘bumpy road’ mode button. It really ought to be rechristened ‘British road’, because I can’t imagine circumstances over here when you wouldn’t want it. So you waft from place to place, saturated in the sight, smell and feel of its exquisite leather, knowing there’s more than 600bhp a twitch of a toe away should some arse in a BMW 3 Series come sniffing at your (ceramic, let’s not forget) tailpipes. This to me is exactly what a GT should be. My time with the Lusso coincided with time spent in a McLaren GT, and while the British car is a world apart as a thing to get in and drive fast, when it comes to the ancient art of being a world-class GT, it’s the Ferrari that shows how it should be done. The Lusso has the space, the ride quality, the refinement, the luggage capacity and that intangible but no less important languid character that’s so essential to be convincing in that role. But it does do the other thing, too. Although it’s pretty portly, at 1865kg, the Lusso T lacks the four-wheel drive that was something of a mixed blessing in the V12 Lusso and has four-wheel steering as standard, which means it’s actually a sight more agile than you might imagine a car with a wheelbase 300mm longer than an entire Smart Fortwo. It’s a car that you can hustle and one you can balance on the throttle. Turn in to a tight corner and you’ll be impressed by how keenly the nose bites into the apex, how little understeer is presented yet how strong remains the traction even without front driveshafts. However, its greatest appeal, and its unique role in the brand’s portfolio, is that this is a Ferrari you can take entirely for granted. It’s not a car you’d choose to spend as much time cleaning as driving. You don’t need to look at the weather forecast before heading out. If you kerbed one of those exquisite forged rims, you’d probably just leave it dinged, because if you cared that much about how your Lusso looked, you’d probably not be minded to buy a Lusso. On the contrary, this isn’t a Ferrari for the fastidious but one for people who have more important things to think about. It’s a Ferrari to use and abuse all the time and for every reason. And that’s an important and legitimate role for it to play. As a thing to drive, it’s not extraordinary enough to merit the high days and holidays special-occasion treatment; but as a thing to own, out there in the real world, where every road isn’t a deserted mountain pass and every day isn’t a stress-free day of leisure, it makes a strong case for itself, especially if someone else has already kindly borne the brunt of the depreciation for you. The secret to these cars, so far as I can tell through the generations I’ve driven while doing this job (456 GT, 612 Scaglietti, FF and Lusso), is to blend that everyday ease of use with just enough stardust to ensure you never forget that, above all else, you’re driving a Ferrari. And while the GTC4 Lusso T is not one of Maranello’s all-time greats, it understands and executes its mission flawlessly. Whether we will be able to say the same about a Ferrari SUV, only time will tell. The original Lusso Oddly enough, the first Ferrari to be known as the Lusso, and first shown at the Paris show in 1962, wasn’t a 2+2 at all. It was a strict two-seater using the chassis dimensions of the 250 SWB racing car but with its 3.0-litre V12 detuned from 280bhp to a more manageable 240bhp and mounted further forward in the car to liberate some much-needed additional cabin space. It doesn’t even appear as if ‘Lusso’ was ever an official factory title but more the name by which the car became known over time thanks to its decidedly luxuriously appointed cabin. Production ceased in 1964 after 350 units had been built. The direct antecedent of today’s Lusso was the 250GT 2+2, also known as the 250 GTE or even 250 GT/E, a car launched in 1960 and which, because of its somewhat dowdy appearance, has never enjoyed the acclaim it deserves. It was in fact the first Ferrari ever to be built in significant volume, transforming the company from cottage industry to major manufacturer and spawning a brand-new model line that would survive fully six decades. Production ceased in 1963 after nearly 1000 cars had been built, a runaway record for any Ferrari model of any kind up until that time. The Ferrari SUV The future of the family Ferrari lies in the hands of the forthcoming SUV, to be shown in 2022 for the 2023 model year. Ferrari has been remarkably good at keeping details under wraps given the car’s existence has been rumoured for years, but expect it not to confirm to standard super-luxury SUV norms. It’s likely to be more of a crossover between a GT and an SUV, lower and much more dynamic in appearance. Powertrain options will certainly include a V12 to rival those of the Bentley and Rolls-Royce opposition, but don’t be surprised to see a V8 and especially a hybridised V6, too. Ferrari GTs in the classifieds Ferrari 365 GTB/4, £625,000: Rosso Red, early-style pop-up headlights and three owners from new – this Daytona has it all. Plus, it’s one of just 158 right-hand-drive cars built. Ferrari 412i, £72,665: Not the best-loved classic Ferrari but one of the most comfortable and accessible. This late example is original right down to its radio manual. Ferrari 612 Scaglietti, £65,500: Here’s a modern Ferrari for new BMW M3 money, but the 5.7-litre V12’s thirst for fuel may very well dampen your enthusiasm. Great noise, though. READ MORE Ferrari's 2022 performance SUV: first prototype caught testing  Ferrari ends production of GTC4 Lusso grand tourer  Ferrari to slow range expansion in 2020

  • How PSA-FCA merger plan survived COVID crisis, Renault offer, cash squabbles
    by Peter Sigal on 28th November 2020

    The merger to create the world’s fourth-largest automaker was more than two years in the making and nearly collapsed at one point, according to documents filed with regulatory authorities this month.    

  • VW will ax Passat sedan in Europe, U.S., sources say
    by Christiaan Hetzner on 27th November 2020

    VW will drop the midsize sedan as it focuses on electric cars and SUVs, sources familiar with the brand's future product rollout said.

  • VW CEO Diess said to push for contract extension amid labor opposition
    on 27th November 2020

    Diess has asked VW's controlling Piech and Porsche families to back a contract extension in a bid to break a management deadlock at the automaker, Reuters reported.

  • VW still has 'old, encrusted' structures left to break up, Diess says
    on 27th November 2020

    The latest call from Diess to speed up VW's overhaul reflects the challenges he has had pushing through reforms at the automaker.

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  • Third term for SMMT President Dr George Gillespie OBE
    by Daniel Zealander on 27th November 2020

    The 81st President of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), Dr George Gillespie… The post Third term for SMMT President Dr George Gillespie OBE appeared first on SMMT.

  • 40% of potential car buyers less likely to visit a showroom
    on 26th November 2020

    40% of UK drivers say they are now less likely to visit a showroom while researching the purchase of a car, as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic, research by Marketing Delivery, has found.

  • British engine production declines by a fifth in October
    by plarge on 26th November 2020

    197,374 UK engines built in October as output declines by -20.1% Production for domestic and… The post British engine production declines by a fifth in October appeared first on SMMT.

  • New members – November 2020
    by plarge on 26th November 2020

    Find out below who has joined the premier automotive trade association and what they get… The post New members – November 2020 appeared first on SMMT.

  • UK car production down 18.2% in October as sector awaits Brexit deal
    on 26th November 2020

    UK car manufacturing output fell by 18.2% in October with 110,179 units leaving factory gates, according to latest figures by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

  • UK commercial vehicle production down -25.6% in October
    by plarge on 26th November 2020

    UK commercial vehicle production falls by -25.6% as 6,761 units leave factory gates in October. The post UK commercial vehicle production down -25.6% in October appeared first on SMMT.

  • October UK car production down -18.2% as sector awaits critical Brexit deal
    by plarge on 26th November 2020

    UK car production falls -18.2% in October with 110,179 units leaving factory gates. Subdued demand from EU and US markets drives -19.1% exports decline, as output for UK buyers also falls. Year-to-date output lags by -33.8% with 379,308 fewer cars made than same period in 2019. Automotive sector calls for urgent Brexit agreement with details shared swiftly, and adequate time to implement the deal, to help companies prepare. The post October UK car production down -18.2% as sector awaits critical Brexit deal appeared first on SMMT.

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