C A R
M I D D L E
E A S T
P U B L I C A T I O N
PLUS TOP 10 CARS OF 2009
100 THE CAR ��� 2009 AED20 An ITP Consumer Publication
9 772077 148008
CELEBRATING THE BEST
IN THE MIDDLE EAST
Perfectly composed from every angle Ghost is designed, engineered and crafted to be seductively simple, at rest and at speed. Classic Rolls-Royce proportions open up to an uncluttered, cosseting interior; while a new V12 engine makes for effortless, rewarding driving. In every respect, Ghost embodies the power of simplicity.
AGMC, Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai, UAE For a private viewing please contact Mr. Mohammed El-Arishy on 050-4785703 www.rolls-roycemotorcars-dealer.com/dubai ÂŠ Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Limited. The Rolls-Royce name and logo are registered trademarks.
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YOKOHAMA supplied ADVAN tyres for the 2008 FIA WTCC.
TA K E R E F I N E M E N T EVERYWHERE
)NTRODUCING THE ALL .EW ,AND #RUISER 0RADO 4HE 356 THAT BLENDS RElNED DESIGN WITH INTELLIGENT PERFORMANCE 7ELCOME TO DRIVING PLEASURE THAT DELIVERS A NEW LEVEL OF FREEDOM WITH A GREATER DEGREE OF SOPHISTICATION -ASTER THE TOUGHEST TERRAIN WITH CONlDENCE AND COMMAND THE CITY WITH STYLE 4EST DRIVE IT TO BELIEVE IT s , AND , 0ETROL %NGINE s , $IESEL AND , 4URBO $IESEL %NGINE s 3MART %NTRY AND 3MART 3TART s 0OWERED 4HIRD 2OW 3EATS s +INETIC $YNAMIC 3USPENSION 3YSTEM +$33 s -ULTI 4ERRAIN 3ELECT 3YSTEM WITH -ONITOR AND #AMERAS s *", !UDIO 3YSTEM WITH 3PEAKERS s #RAWL #ONTROL s 0RE #RASH 3AFETY 3YSTEM Al-Futtaim Motors is the exclusive agent for Toyota in the United Arab Emirates Dubai: Dubai Festival City (04) 206 6666 Deira (04) 295 4231 Sheikh Zayed Road (04) 310 6666 Abu Dhabi (02) 419 9999 Al Ain (03) 721 0888 Sharjah (06) 503 0555 Fujairah (09) 222 4157 RAK (07) 235 1542 Ajman (06) 711 3333 UAQ (06) 766 5087 Khorfakkan (09) 238 6033 www.toyota.ae
CONTENTS 100 THE CAR
ALL THE NEWS, THE CARS, THE DRIVES @ WWW.CARMIDDLEEAST.COM
CELEBRATING THE BEST IN THE MIDDLE EAST INCLUDING: 13
REVIEW OF 2009 Looking back at the past twelve months 20 10 PEOPLE OF 2009 The men who matter in the Middle East 22 50 CARS OF 2009 Our favourite cars of the year, including the top ten award winning cars 100 CAR MIDDLE EAST CAR OF THE YEAR Which of our top ten is the best?
103 10 CARS OF 2010 Looking forward to next year 110 10 MIDDLE EAST ICONS Some cars have legendary status 117 10 CONCEPT CARS OF 2009 A glimpse of the future 122 10 TOP DRIVING LOCATIONS The best places to drive in the region 126 CAR MIDDLE EAST AWARDS ROUND-UP
The CAR 100 Registered at Dubai Media City ITP Consumer Publishing PO Box 500024 Dubai UAE Tel: +971 4 210 8000 Fax: +971 4 210 8080 Email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org www.carmiddleeast.com ITP PUBLISHING GROUP CEO Walid Akawi Managing director Neil Davies ITP CONSUMER PUBLISHING Managing director Ali Akawi Deputy managing director Alex Reeve Director Greg Wilson ITP MEN’S LIFESTYLE Editorial director Shahzad Sheikh EDITORIAL Editor Tom Bird email@example.com ART Group art director Christine Burrows Designer Katie Archer Director of photography Sevag Davidian Chief photographer Khatuna Khusishvili Senior photographers G-nie Arambulo, Efraim Evidor Staff photographers Isidora Bojovic, Lyubov Galushko, Thanos Lazopoulos, Jovana Obradovic, Ruel Pableo, Rajesh Raghav, Nikitas Remoundos PRODUCTION & DISTRIBUTION Group production manager Kyle Smith Production manager Iain Seaton Production co-ordinator Matthew Grant +971 4 210 8290 firstname.lastname@example.org Managing picture editor Patrick Littlejohn Distribution manager Karima Ashwell email@example.com Distribution executive Nada Al Alami firstname.lastname@example.org ADVERTISING Advertising director Francis Morgan +971 4 210 8216 email@example.com MARKETING & CIRCULATION Marketing & circulation director Debs Campbell +971 4 210 8000 firstname.lastname@example.org Head of marketing Sarah Lucas +971 4 210 8171 email@example.com Head of retail & circulation Warren Harding +971 4 210 8241 firstname.lastname@example.org Subscription enquires Rose Ochieng +971 4 210 8459 www.itp.net/subscriptions ITP LIFESTYLE DIGITAL Publishing director Vidhya Thiagarajan +971 4 210 8747 email@example.com Senior advertising manager Mario Gennaro +971 50 259 1132 firstname.lastname@example.org Advertising manager Rickson Lukas +971 50 227 9467 email@example.com ITP GROUP Chairman Andrew Neil Managing director Robert Serafin Finance director Toby Jay Spencer-Davies Board of directors K M Jamieson, Mike Bayman, Walid Akawi, Neil Davies, Rob Corder, Mary Serafin Published by ITP Consumer Publishing, a division of ITP Publishing Group Ltd. Registered in the BVI Company Number 1402846 © 2009 BAUER Automotive Ltd. The publishers regret that they cannot accept liability for error or omissions contained in this publication, however caused. The opinions and views contained in this publication are not necessarily those of the publishers. Readers are advised to seek specialist advice before acting on information contained in this publication which is provided for general use and may not be appropriate for the readers particular circumstances. The ownership of trademarks is acknowledged. No part of this publication or any part of the contents thereof may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form without the permission of the publishers in writing. An exemption is hereby granted for extracts used for the purpose of fair review. Printing by Emirates Printing Press Dubai LLC Controlled distribution by Blue Truck
Editor’s Letter W
HAT A YEAR ���� HAS BEEN. There have been some truly amazing cars launched in the Middle East over the past twelve months. And we’ve brought you the CAR Middle East view on them all. My personal highlights of the year include pushing the Audi R8 V10 hard around the hills of Spain; pitching the Nissan GT-R against the Aston Martin DBS, Mercedes SL63 AMG and Cadillac CTS-V on the roads down to Kalba; enduring the worst weather possible in a KTM X-Bow on a mammoth 1000km drive, thundering around Yas Marina in a Lamborghini Murcielago LP670-4 SV and throwing my long term M3 sideways far too many times. These are just a few of the brilliant examples of new metal we’ve driven this year. In a year when the automotive industry has been turned on its head, there’s been plenty of stories to accompany the cars. In this ﬁrst edition of the CAR 100 we’re celebrating the best the Middle East has to oﬀer. In this hard-backed book you’ll ﬁnd a round-up of the events of the year, proﬁles of the men on the front line and a run down of the 50 best cars of the year. We’ve also handed out our coveted CAR Middle East Awards to the ten best cars of the year plus one overall award for our Car of the Year for 2009. We’re also taking a look ahead to what’s coming up in 2010 – there’s no let up on great cars that’s for sure. In addition, we look even further into the future as we run down the best concept cars of the year plus we celebrate some of the cars that are considered icons of the Middle East. Last but not least, we’ve found the best places in the region for you to drive – you might not realise it, but away from the busy city streets and the speed camera controlled highways, there are a some brilliant roads to drive in the Middle East. So sit back and join us as we review the past year, look to the future and celebrate the best the Middle East has to oﬀer.
Tom Bird, Editor
100 ALL CHANGE
>> The biggest news story of the year has been the fate of the US Big Three. While Ford struggled along without government help, both Chrysler and GM filed for bankruptcy. Then Fiat stepped in to partner up with Chrysler and New GM emerged from the ashes.
2009 REVIEW OF THE YEAR
The auto industry has been shaken to its core over the past 12 months. Brands have been killed off, new partnerships have started and numerous takeovers have been mooted, only to be cancelled at the eleventh hour. Here we give you a run down of the events that shaped the industry in 2009 and look back at the year's issues of CAR Middle East.
THE CAR 100 [ 13
IN THE CAR WORLD
» The Detroit Motor Show kicked off the year in style with the unveiling of the Mercedes SLR Stirling Moss & E-class, Mustang GT500, VW Bluesport, Jaguar XFR, Audi Sportback & R8 V10, Bentley GTC Speed, new hybrids from Toyota and Honda plus the first public showing of GM’s all-electric car, the Chevrolet Volt » Fiat-Chrysler talks start
IN THE CAR WORLD
» Owing to reduced demand for new cars in many markets around the world, lots of car factories are closed temporarily and production staff laid off » Saab officially files for ‘reorganisation’ as the Swedish brand struggles to turn a profit in an increasingly tough market
In the outside world » Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th President of the United States
In the outside world » Australia records its highest-ever temperatures which spark the deadliest brushfires in the country’s history
IN CAR MIDDLE EAST
IN CAR MIDDLE EAST
We start the year off on a high by revealing the hottest new metal that was due to arrive in the Middle East over the next twelve months. This included a trio of modern-day muscle cars, the sixth-generation Golf GTI and the V12 Vantage. Plus, we travel to Korea to get an exclusive go of the rear-wheel drive Hyundai Genesis Coupe.
The sensational Maserati Granturismo S graced our cover this month and kept most of the UAE awake into the early hours as we thundered around the deserted streets. Also, we previewed the Jaguar XFR, the VW Scirocco arrives in the region and Mercedes reports an increase in sales for 2008 compared to the previous year.
In other news, we took a look at the new V10 version of the Audi R8 supercar and reported on the effect of the credit crunch in the region.
We took a drive to Cape Canaveral in the epic Corvette ZR1, and asked whether the tiny Toyota iQ could work in our SUV-loving region.
We also pitched the sensible Honda Pilot against the funky Ford Flex, took a ride in an X3 rally car, and drove the Porsche Cayman, Evo X & Audi S5.
The Lexus LS600h and Mercedes S400 hybrids were put through their paces, we camped out at the Dubai 24hours and drove the new Audi RS6.
14 ] THE CAR 100
IN THE CAR WORLD
» The Geneva Motor Show is as busy as ever with plenty of new metal » Honda sells its F1 team to Brawn GP who go on to win the first race of the season in Australia » Abu Dhabi-based Aabar Investments becomes the largest stakeholder in Daimler, with a 9.1 percent stake worth $3billion » Tata Nano goes on sale » Rick Wagoner is forced to resign as CEO of GM In the outside world » The G20 meet to discuss the global financial crisis
IN THE CAR WORLD
» The world’s auto media takes a trip to the Shanghai Motor Show in China where Porsche unveils the Panamera on the top floor of a hotel » VW looks to purchase Porsche » Chrysler files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy In the outside world » The WHO expresses concern about spreading H1N1 swine flu from Mexico and the United States to other countries
IN CAR MIDDLE EAST
IN CAR MIDDLE EAST
In a Middle East exclusive, the Nissan GT-R took on the Aston DBS, Mercdes SL63 AMG and Cadillac CTS-V and wins by a country mile. We also preview the new Rolls-Royce Ghost, the BMW GT and the Aston Martin DBS Volante. Lotus arrives in the region and we look at the progress of construction at Yas Marina.
This month, the new Jaguar XFR dug its claws into the Audi RS6 and BMW M5. We reported back on the Geneva Motor Show where we went weak at the knees over the sensational Lamborghini LP670-4 SV, got confused by the new Lagonda and came away impressed after a quick spin in the Dodge Circuit electric car.
The KTM X-Bow is taken away from the track and on an epic journey to Liwa to find a brilliant driving road and we cross the Alps in a Fiat 500.
Also this month, we drove the Audi R8 V10 and question the point of the V8, and accompanied Nissan on its record run up Jebel Hafeet.
We take the Land Rover Range Rover for a long drive in the desert, get a first go in the brilliant Jaguar XFR and sample the Can-Am Spyder.
Hot hatches are the flavour of the month as the Megane R26R takes on the 300bhp Focus RS, and the Volvo C30 goes against the VW Scirocco.
THE CAR 100 [ 15
IN THE CAR WORLD
IN THE CAR WORLD
» The Italian car maker Fiat expresses an interest in buying up Opel from troubled General Motors as the US giant posts a $6billion loss for Q1 ‘09 » VW and Porsche announce a merger, only for it to be called off a few weeks later » GM and Chrysler announce plans to close thousands of US dealers
» GM files for bankruptcy protection under a Chapter 11 ruling » Akio Toyoda, grandson of the company’s founder, takes over at Toyota » Qatar invests in Porsche » Fiat and Chrysler begin their alliance » Koenigsegg annouces it is to buy Saab from GM » Jaguar Land Rover opens its first dealer in Mumbai
In the outside world » Pixar’s Up becomes the first animated film to open the Cannes Film Festival
In the outside world » The legendary pop singer, Michael Jackson, dies
IN CAR MIDDLE EAST
IN CAR MIDDLE EAST
The Dodge Challenger finally hits the region and we become big fans of its retro-cool charms. First details of the Mercedes SLS are released and Land Rover improves the Range Rover Sport. We report from the Shanghai Motor Show and the Renault F1 Roadshow which sees Mohammed Ben Sulayem crash at the Dubai Autodrome.
Sensational Lamborghini LP670-4 SV graces our cover and is tested for the first time. We take a look at the beautiful ZR1-based Bertone Mantide, attend the MINI United party in Silversone and speak with boss of Porsche Middle East about the younger buyers the brand attracts. First pictures of the McLaren ‘P11’ are leaked out.
We ride along with the Porsche Panamera as it gets a final shakedown in South Africa and speak to Dr Paefgen, CEO of Bentley, about SUVs.
In our biggest-ever group test, we pitch eight compact SUVs against each other on and off road and compare some very big SUVS.
Cars to be tested this month included the new Gallardo LP560-4 Spyder, Bentley Continental GTC Speed, and the sharp Mercedes E-class.
This month, we drove the Tata Nano, Chevrolet Camaro SS, Mercedes E-Class coupe and the Maserati Granturismo S Automatica.
16 ] THE CAR 100
IN THE CAR WORLD
» ‘Maximum’ Bob Lutz cancels his retirement plans as GM promises 17 new cars over the next year and a half >> Caterham increases its production by 10 percent » Car sales in China are up 48 percent compared to the same month in 2008 » GM Europe’s sales are down almost 20 percent » ‘New GM’ plan is approved by US Bankruptcy court
In the outside world » Strikes by 70,000 workers in South Africa halt work on the World Cup 2010 stadiums
IN THE CAR WORLD
» Nissan annouces plans for a new range of electric vehicles headed up by its all-new model, the Leaf » BMW annouces plans for electric car sub-brand » Toyota promises to start making exciting cars again » Tesla makes a profit » The Koenigsegg deal to take over Saab continues » Chrysler announces it will build the Fiat 500 in Mexico » China’s Tenghzong finalises its deal to buy Hummer from GM In the outside world » Twitter is knocked off the web after an online attack
IN CAR MIDDLE EAST
IN CAR MIDDLE EAST
The hardcore Nissan GT-R Spec-V battled it out with the Porsche 911 GT3 at the fabled Nurburgring track in Germany. We got sneak peaks at the new Bentley Mulsanne and Jaguar XJ and examined the fall out of General Motors and what it means its numerous brands. Also, we we previewed the challenging BMW GT.
The sun got the better of us as we went drop top crazy with first drives of the Veyron Grand Sport, Ferrari Scuderia Spider, Land Rover Defender and pitched the F430 Spider up against the Bentley’s GTC Speed. We previewed the new Ferrari 458 Italia, revealed Aston Martin’s city car and took a look at BMW’s new baby SUV, the X1.
After the years of drip-fed information, we finally got behind the wheel of the Porsche Panamera saloon and deemed it to be very good indeed.
Jaguar revealed the new XJ at a star-studded event in London, we get the full low-down on the new big cat. Plus we’re first to test the BMW X6M.
The Maserati Granturismo S Automatica took on the new Jaguar XKR and DB9 plus we drove the Aston Martin V12 Vantage & BMW Alpina B7.
Plenty of new metal is driven this month including the latest Ford Mustang, the Lexus IS300C and the new Land Rover Range Rover.
THE CAR 100 [ 17
IN THE CAR WORLD
» All the German manufactures try to out-do each other at the Frankfurt Motor Show with a whole host of new model reveals » GM announces it will sell Opel/Vauxhall to Magna » McLaren spills the beans on its all-new MP4-12C » Chinese car firm Geely confirms its interest in buying Volvo from Ford » ING pulls its sponsorship of the Renault F1 team after the crashgate saga
IN THE CAR WORLD
» GM closes its Saturn brand after proposed sell off to Penske falls through » The MG-TF roadster ceases production, again » GM completes sale of Hummer to Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery » The deal to sell Opel nears to completion and Ford announces sale of Volvo to Geely
In the outside world » The G20 finance ministers outline their plans for banking reform
In the outside world » The International Monetary Fund says the global economy is ‘recovering faster than expected’
IN CAR MIDDLE EAST
IN CAR MIDDLE EAST
The lurid-yellow Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 Spyder hits the region and graced our cover. We previewed the new Bentley Mulsanne and BMW hybrids, plus the 1104bhp Zenvo ST1 arrived in the region. The CAR Middle East Manifesto is published which examines ways in which we can improve the state of the roads in the region.
We get exclusive insights into the new McLaren MP4-12C from the men behind the project. And we brought you all the news from the Frankfurt Motor Show including the BMW Vision EfficientDynamics, Mercedes SLS AMG, Audi R8 Spyder, VW Golf R, Lambo Reventon Roadster, Maserati Grancabrio and MINI Roadster
We follow Arabian supercars to London as they migrate to cooler climes during the summer. Plus discuss the new Ghost with Rolls-Royce’s CEO.
Rolls-Royce gave us a Phantom for a week so we went on an epic 3600km drive in search of an amazing road in the Southern tip of Oman.
Plenty more new metal tested including the new generation Land Rover Range Rover Sport and LR4 plus the Aston Martin DBS Volante.
The diminutive Kia Soul took on the Honda Jazz and Skoda Fabia and we’re first behind the wheel of the rear-drive Lamborghini Gallardo Balboni.
18 ] THE CAR 100
IN THE CAR WORLD
» GM cancels sale of Opel and decides to keep European firm » Mercedes-Benz buys 75.1 percent stake in Brawn GP and renames team Mercedes Grand Prix – sale is funded by Aabar Investments » Spyker is to move its production to the UK » Koenigsegg pulls out of its purchase of Saab » VW announces it will buy a 49.9 percent stake in Porsche’s car business
IN THE CAR WORLD
» GM keeps Saab alive, but only until the end of the year as it frantically searches for a new buyer » Fritz Henderson steps down as CEO of GM after just nine months in charge » Peugeot-Citroen begins talks to buy a stake in Mitsubishi » The Dubai Motor Show ends the year with a bang In the outside world » Barack Obama announces plans to send 30,000 more US troops to Afganistan
In the outside world » Aerosmith rocks the crowds at Yas Marina
IN CAR MIDDLE EAST
IN CAR MIDDLE EAST
Four of the best drivers’ cars available in the Middle East are squeezed into an art gallery for our ‘Art of Driving’ feature. We previewed the production version of Lexus LF-A and asked if itwill it ever come here. Renault and Nissan reveal a couple of intriguing electric concepts and Bugatti hinted at what its next car could be.
30 of the year’s best performance cars are tested against each other on road and track as we crowned our Performance Car of the Year. Plus, we preview the hottest metal to be displayed at the Dubai Motor Show including the Aston Martin Rapide, Mercedes SLS AMG, BMW M1 Homage and the Ford F150 Raptor pick-up truck.
We drove across the middle of Australia in a MINI and competed in a gruelling 24hour endurance kart race – just for fun!
TAM Auto Engineering opened its doors to the magazine as we report on this tuning shop and motorsport team making a big name for itself.
The Aston V12 Vantage took on the Corvette ZR1 and Audi R8 V10 and we test drove the new 911 Turbo and the stripped out Bentley Supersports.
We took a long drive in the 2010 Toyota Prado and find a surprising lot of differences, plus we also drove the X5M and a special Granturismo.
THE CAR 100 [ 19
10 ROBERT HODGES
09 GLENN PORTIER
The development manager for the Emirates Driving Institute has been instrumental in introducing a raft of new schemes to try and improve the standards of driving in the region. These include courses in defensive driving, to improving the standards of teaching for new licence holders.
Motorsport in the region is booming, and it’s not just with Formula One. The UAE GT and Touring Car Championships are hotly contested with around 30 cars fighting it out every race weekend. Glenn is the man behind the House of Portier team which supports two Emirati drivers in the race series.
08 MIKE DEVEREUX
07 NASSER AL-ATTIYAH
Mike became President of GM Middle East in November 2008. In that time, he has seen the company he’s been with for over 24 years be declared bankrupt and reinvent itself within a matter of weeks. He is keen to extol the virtues of ‘New GM’ and promises a new direction for the company here.
With six Middle East Rally Championships under his belt, Nasser Al-Attiyah is proving himself to be a force to be reckoned with. Whether its behind the wheel of his Impreza or something a little more extreme like a race VW Touareg in the Dakar Rally, Al-Attiyah can drive it to victory.
06 SEBASTIAN VETTEL
05 RICHARD CREGAN
The 22-year old German put himself into the history books as he took victory at the inaugural Etihdad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November 2009. He finished a strong second in the overall championship, but showed real nerve and determination through what was a momentous F1 season.
Hosting a F1 race is no easy task and it needed someone with a detailed knowledge of the sport for the first Abu Dhabi race to go off without a hitch. Step forward past Toyota F1 boss Richard Cregan who worked tirelessly to ensure the UAE’s capital hosted a race for the sport’s 600million fans to remember.
04 IAN GORSUCH
03 JENSON BUTTON
After spending six years to make Bentley reach new heights in the region, Ian is now the regional head of McLaren Automotive. He is responsible for appointing retail partners to market the new generation of McLaren sports cars in the region, including the 2011 MP4-12C.
We doubt even Jenson would have really expected 2009 to turn out as well as it did, but the boy from Bath did extremely well to drive himself to Formula 1 championship glory at the wheel of the Brawn GP car. Next year’s looking interesting too as he’s signed to McLaren alongside Lewis Hamilton.
20 ] THE CAR 100
02 MOHAMMED BEN SULAYEM
01 HE KHALDOON KHALIFA AL MUBARAK
It’s been a busy year for the 14-times Middle East Rally Champion. As part of the Renault F1 Roadshow back in April, he was set to race a Renault F1 car at the Dubai Autodrome against Romain Grosjean in a Ford GT. However, within seconds of moving off the line, the Ben Sulayem lost control of the F1 car and it crashed hard into the pit wall. He emerged with nothing more than a bruised ego. Then just a month later he went on to set a record time behind the wheel of a Nissan GT-R up the imposing Jebel Hafeet mountain road. In addition, in his role as FIA Vice President of Sport he has worked closely with the team at Yas Marina to ensure the smooth running of the first F1 race and also helped Jean Todt’s (above) FIA Presidency campaign.
As the founding Chairman of Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management, His Excellency Khaldoon Khalifa Al Mubarak is the man with the vision who made Yas Marina circuit become a reality. In addition, he is also the CEO of Mubadala, the Abu Dhabi investment portfolio company which holds a five percent stake in Ferrari. Al Mubarak was instrumental in the negotiations to host a round of the Formula 1 World Championships in the UAE’s capital. This required lengthy negotiations with the likes of F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone and other circuits on the calendar in order for Abu Dhabi to secure its place. Once agreed, it was Al Mubarak who was responsible for overseeing the development of the Yas Marina Circuit to ensure it met the tight deadline to host the final round of the 2009 F1 season.
THE CAR 100 [ 21
BEST CARS OF
2009 Itâ€™s been a bumper year for new metal, despite all the shenanigans with the global financial meltdown. Here, we showcase the fifty best examples of automotive machinery and also highlight our top ten of â€˜09.
» LAMBORGHINI BALBONI
– PHOTOGRAPHY BY NEMANJA SESLIJA
Thought all modern Lambos were four-wheel drive? Think again, says Tom Bird
AVING A CAR NAMED IN your honour is a rare privilege. There’s been the Enzo Ferrari, created to celebrate the legacy of the man responsible for the prancing horse and, of course, the Dino after signor Ferrari’s son. But there’s never been a Cadillac CTS-V Bob Lutz special in honour of the grey-haired boss of GM’s marketing department, or a Mercedes SL63 AMG Burkhard Kruger to praise the work of the man who built the car’s V12 engine. However, Lamborghini has bucked this trend and named a car after one of its members of staff – Valentino Balboni. Balboni has been with the Italian marque for forty years and worked his way up from the factory floor to become official test driver. In his time, he’s performed the final road test of around 80 percent of all Lamborghinis to leave the Sant’Agata factory gates. He was also the development driver for the brilliant Diablo.
As a way to recongise the loyal support he has given the company over the years, a special edition Lamborghini Gallardo was named after him. What’s so special about this Gallardo? Well, it goes against Lamborghini’s self-imposed rule of only making four-wheel drive supercars as the Balboni edition is rear-wheel drive. Using the wondrous latest generation Gallardo LP560-4 Coupe as its base, the company set about removing the front driveshafts and tweaking the car’s setup to account for the rear-drive characteristics. Balboni himself was involved in the project, but was only told of the car’s name once he’d made the final sign off of the car. So as to not usurp the LP560-4 as the ultimate Gallardo, the Balboni edition’s power output has been dropped by 10bhp down to 542bhp (550ps). It doesn’t really make that much of a difference out on the road though. The run to 100kph might take an extra 0.2secs at 3.9secs compared to the 560-4’s 3.7secs, but you’re unlikely to notice.
Although the acceleration performance isn’t really that different, there is a marked change in how the rear-drive Gallardo behaves on twisty roads. The steering feels very different as the front wheels now only have to contend with steering and stopping the supercar, rather than deal with a proportion of the engine’s power. But that’s not to say that Lamborghini has produced a riotous drift machine – after all, the Italian brand is owned by Audi and they’re far too sensible to allow something like that to be built. Instead, the Balboni is a car for the true Lambo aficionado to learn, trust and savour its unique driving characteristics. It’s a different kettle of fish compared to the four-wheel drive Gallardo and requires a certain finesse to drive it well. Only 250 are going to be built, and though you can choose to have the automatic e-gear ’box, Balboni would spec it as a manual given the chance. Therefore, you’ll be doing a disservice to his name should you not follow suit.
THE CAR 100 [ 23
100 » VOLKSWAGEN SCIROCCO
– PHOTOGRAPHY BY G-NIE ARAMBULO
If you’re after a great all-rounder, then Tom Bird thinks you can’t do much better than this
HOUGH I’M NOT ��� % sure whether it’s a three-door hatchback or a two-door coupe, I have to admit I rather like the Volkswagen Scirocco. Yes, it might not be more than a Golf GTI in a lurid green short skirt, but since when has that been a problem for the Audi TT? I’m all for exploiting a car’s platform for all its worth, so long as the underpinnings are worth exploiting. But unlike the TT, the Scirocco doesn’t carry with it any feminine or – dare I say – hairdresser undertones. It’s a rather masculine looking thing with its pumped haunches, arch-filling alloy wheels and twin exhausts. It has to be said though, that you absolutely must spec a Scirocco the right way – as it is here with the big alloys and Kermit the Frog paintjob. Paint it silver and run it on 16s and all the hard work the designers put into the car is ruined – you have been warned.
24 ] THE CAR 100
All this particular version really needs to finish the concept-car-hits-the-road look off perfectly would be some limo tints. That would be mega. Things are all good inside too. Okay, so the dash has been crowbarred out of the Eos, but to be honest, even if VW had started with a clean sheet of paper, it would’ve ended up looking just the same. There are some flashes of genius though, like the triangular-shaped door handles and the flat-bottomed steering wheel. Okay, so there might not be a huge amount of space in the rear seats, but I’m not going to let that put a downer on the Scirocco. And that’s because above all else, this green VW is an absolute cracker to drive. It’s eager and determined and does exactly what you ask of it. The steering is sharp, the throttle responsive and the brakes strong. Stick the adaptive chassis into sport mode and you can barrel along a twisty stretch of tarmac with great composure.
It manages all of this and yet doesn’t have that slightly ‘sensible’ undertones that the Golf GTI has. That’s not to say it can’t do the day-to-day stuff too. Switch the chassis across to comfort mode, flick the DSG ’box into Drive, sit back and it’ll eat up the kilometres with ease. But that’s not the Scirocco’s reason for being. It’s much more at home when you’re wringing that 2.0-litre turbo engine all the way to the red line, the exhaust blaring away and the tyres squealing for mercy. It responds very well to such treatment, and you can exploit most of the Scirocco’s potential well within the legal limits. It might not be the quickest car out there, 0-100kph takes over 7 seconds, but that doesn’t really matter. It’s a great all-round car that’s just as happy to tackle the turns of Jebel Hafeet as it is the kerbs and speedbumps of a mall carpark. Altogether, it’s a great package and that’s why it’s our Small Car of 2009.
SMALL CAR OF THE YEAR
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100 » BENTLEY SUPERSPORTS Not another fast Bentley, says Tom Bird. Well, this one’s a bit special...
T’S NO SECRET THAT I’M NOT A FAN OF the Speed versions that Bentley produces. After I derided the Continental Flying Spur Speed earlier in the year – the model that really gets my back up – I was called into Bentley to explain my reasons. Well, the thing is, I don’t really see the point of them. By Bentley’s own admission, the Speeds’ purpose is to sell cars to those who’ve already got ‘regular’ Bentleys so they can now have the faster version. However, only a sadist gets out of a Bentley and wishes it was a little bit quicker. After all, that W12 is ridiculously powerful whether its pushing out 552bhp or 600bhp. However, when I drive a Speed Bentley, I kind of wish they were a little bit slower. The extra horsepower and reduction in acceleration times doesn’t add anything to the Bentley experience, in fact it rather takes away some of the Bentleyness from the equation. Now, there’s this – the Bentley Continental Supersports. And going by everything I’ve just said, I should absolutely hate it. But, I don’t. I actually rather like it. You see, rather than just up the power a little bit more – though, naturally it is even more powerful with 621bhp, making it the most powerful Bentley ever – the boys at Crewe have done rather a lot of work in creating the Supersports. It’s not just a set of multi-spoke alloys and some natty interior trim. It’s the result of two years after hours work by a small group of Bentley engineers and designers. And they’ve really gone to town on this car.
– PHOTOGRAPHY BY EFRAIM EVIDOR 26 ] THE CAR 100
For a start, the rear seats have been ditched. In their place is a leather-lined luggage shelf with a ruddy great beam of carbon fibre running through the middle. The front seats have lightweight carbon fibre shells, yet are still trimmed in the highest quality leather and alcantara. And instead of the beatifully turned aluminium or rich wood veneer on the dashboard as you’d find in other Continentals, there’s now evern more carbon fibre. This is one hardcore Bentley. The changes don’t stop there. There’s a wider rear track, the four-wheel drive system is now rear-biased to make it more lurid to drive – and yes, easier to drift. The steering and suspension have been retuned to make this Continental a proper drivers car. There’s carbon ceramic brakes as standard, and at 420mm in size are the strongest brakes ever fitted to a production car. The front bumper has been restyled so more air can get to that whacking great engine. All the fussy chrome detailing of the Continental has been blasted away leaving a dark smoked look to what used to be all the brightwork. There’s even matt paint on the options list. Everything about the Supersports means business. And although the boys have managed to ditch 110kg from the Continental’s waistline, it’s still a big old beast weighing in at 2240kg. But it performs. 0-100kph takes 3.9secs, top speed is 325kph. It does all this and is capable of running on biofuel too – so it’s hardcore and green. Utterly brilliant.
» LAND ROVER RANGE ROVER Don’t let the looks fool you, this new Rangie is a big improvement, says Shahzad Sheikh
HE FIRST THING YOU NEED TO know about the new Range Rover is that you must ignore the fact that it looks pretty similar to the outgoing model, apart from the deeper grille and more stylised side intakes. The look of the thing may be seven years old, but it remains contemporary and retains its solid integrity. Inside there is crisper, cleaner, more modern switchgear and a noticeably blank instrument panel. Don’t worry, it’s not that workers at the assembly plant forgot to put it in. Start it up and near realistic looking dials appear on the 12-inch digital display which is configurable, so it changes display in off-road mode. This may all sound a bit gimmicky, but it isn’t and it really works. In fact, the electronics have taken a giant leap forward inside the ‘world’s best luxury off-roader’ addressing many of the antiquated aspects of the old car inside. There’s even more screen-trickery from the big central display that proffers the
operating system for the sat-nav and other in-car systems. Select the split view and you can monitor the trip info, whilst your front passenger watches a movie on the same screen. Extraordinary, but very effective. There are also five cameras dotted around the car – each of which can be called up together or individually on the screen, and you can even zoom in or change the angle of the camera. It’s a perfect aid to manoeuvring in and out of tight spaces, although some of the cameras on the car we tested kept blinking out of action. You also now get keyless start, blind spot indicators, optional high-beam assist, forward alert monitor – to help you avoid crashing into the car in front – and active cruise control. The new 5.0-litre V8, supercharged for the flagship, churns out 503bhp and 461lb ft of torque. The performance is staggering which would be alarming if not for the fact that the brakes have been uprated too.
The suspension has also been reworked and it rolls, leans and pitches far less than any Range Rover ever has and at city speeds you could even slam on the anchors in the middle of a corner, and not find yourself tipping over. Adaptive dampers even mean that the car will slow itself down should you try cornering too fast. And of course it remains terrific off-road thanks to a host of upgrades to the Terrain Response System. There’s even sand launch control making it easier to move away in the soft stuff and you can now keep traction control on in the dunes. Amazingly, Land Rover has managed to make the best better without taking away any of the inherent appeal of the luxury go-anywhere car. Okay, it’s not a workhorse and you won’t want to get it too dirty, but it will handle all the rough stuff with ease and still deliver you to the hottest spots in town in the height of comfort. Plus, it now goes, stops and handles way better than ever before.
THE CAR 100 [ 29
LUXURY CAR OF THE YEAR
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» PORSCHE PANAMERA Can Stuttgart really make a luxury car? You better believe it, says Tom Bird
HESTYLINGDOES grow on you. Even Porsche admits that the first pictures it released of the Panamera made it look a bit, well, ugly. But in the metal, there’s a definite sense of Porscheness about it. That nose is pure 911. And whilst the rear view might be a little challenging on the eyes, you don’t really need to worry about that as the best view of the Panamera is from the driving seat. There’s no getting away from the fact that the Panamera is a big car – it might only be a a smidgen wider than the Cayenne, but it feels a lot bigger on the road. That’s because you sit very low in the Panamera, 911-low in fact. And despite Porsche making a song and dance about the rear seats with their climate controlled cushions, DVD players and what not, the best place to be in the Panamera is behind the wheel. From there you feel slap bang in the middle of the action, that everything has been designed with the driver in mind. This is unlike a 7-Series or an S-Class where more than likely the one paying the bills is going to be sitting in the back. Though at first glance the sheer number of buttons that reside on the centre console might seem a little daunting, it’s absolute childs play to understand what each of them does. There’s no complex iDrive, COMAND or MMI system to get your head around here, just a button for absolutely everything.
And even though the Panameras I’ve sampled have been specced up to the eyeballs, there were still a couple of blank buttons not utilised. Quite what they’d be for is beyond me – a laser guided missle defence system maybe? Given the sheer array of options available via Porsche’s Exclusive program – leather-trimmed steering column anyone? – I really wouldn’t be surprised. The quality of the interior really is something else. If you’ve ever sat inside a Cayenne, you’ll know that even Porsche can balls up cabins sometimes, but the Panamera is utterly fantastic. Everything is beautifully finished, all the controls are perfectly weighted and all in the highest quality materials. Porsche only had one chance with the Panamera – screw it up and people would never ditch their BMWs, Mercs or Audis in its favour. But now it’s the German establishment that’s on the back foot. It’s also a real stonker of a car to drive. With the 4.8-litre V8 turbocharged up to 500bhp, it’s rapid to say the least. And without an electronic nanny to limit the top speed, it’ll pass 300kph with insurmountable ease. You can throw the Panamera around with much more confidence than you could ever with a big Beemer. And the seven-speed PDK dual-clutch box suits the character of the big Panameras much better than the smaller Porsche sports car. It’s this combination of performance, quality and overall driving brilliance that makes it the CAR Middle East Luxury Car of 2009.
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100 > CHEVROLET CAMARO SS
– PHOTOGRAPHY BY G-NIE ARAMBULO
The General comes out fighting. But as Shahzad Sheikh finds, it might be a little bit too late
T’S LATE TO THE PARTY, THAT’S FOR sure. Ford’s retro-revolution Mustang has been rocking and rolling since its launch in 2005 cashing on its million-dollar looks for blue-collar money with real red-blooded redneck performance. The Chevrolet Camaro, along with the gorgeous Dodge Challenger, arrived at the party only to discover Ford relaunching the Mustang which, if anything, is now an even prettier pony than before. So the General has quite a job on its hands to unseat the Mustang from its modern muscle-car throne. The Camaro comes out of its corner fighting thanks to a combination of classic shapes with contemporary clean cut lines. Broad sides, brawny shoulders, potent bonnet, chiselled jaw, wheelarchfilling boots and narrow glass areas contrive to give it a planted hunkered-down stance. It’s not as instantly desirable as the Challenger, but it won’t age as quickly either. Looks are deceptive though as it’s smaller than you’d think
– make no mistake though, it’s still has a Yanksized footprint on the road. After the sensationally glitzy cabin of the concept car, it’s a bit of a let down in here. But the retro feel remains – you see it in the hooded dials and deeply dished steering wheel. Plus of course the delightfully pointless positioning of the stack of square dials on the centre console. Suitably the SS is endowed with some good old-fashioned cubes under the hood: a 6.2-litre V8 puts out 422bhp in manual guise – the auto gets 400bhp – pushing about 454lb ft of torque to the rear wheels and achieving a 4.7sec 0-100 run. Unfortunately it doesn’t sound quite as visceral as its rivals, the expected movie soundtrack strangely subdued. The optional performance air intake and exhaust pack is a must-fit. But the main thing to remember about this American muscle car is that it isn’t. It’s actually an Australian muscle car. For its development it was handed over to the same clever engineers that created such brilliant sports saloons as the
Lumina SS and the totally mental CSV CR8. And it’s in the drive that it scores big points over its Stateside rivals. It’s a more refined and quality steer than a Mustang, and leaves the Challenger feeling an outmoded throwback to the era of hotpants and afros. Plus it handles. Let’s be honest, it’s no Porschebeater. The steering is not quite as precise or feelsome, but that doesn’t make the Camaro any less entertaining and enjoyable. In some ways it even makes it the more satisfying car to really man-handle on a winding road. Nor is it ever quite as lairy as its rivals, but turn off the drivers’ aids and you can provoke it into misbehaving. It’s the most dynamically sorted and best handling of the modern muscle cars and certainly the one keen drivers wanting a bit of retro pony car action should opt for. It also has space for rear passengers and if you can live with poor visibility, it makes a spectacular daily driver. It’s so good in fact that it very nearly walked away with our Coupe of the Year crown. But, it didn’t...
THE CAR 100 [ 33
» MITSUBISHI EVO X
– PHOTOGRAPHY BY KHALED TERMANINI
If he lived at the end of a gravel track, Tom Bird would sell his soul for the keys to an Evo
ESPITE PULLING OUT OF TOP flight WRC rallying after the 2005 season, Mitsubishi still knows how to put all of its rally knowledge into a road car. And the Evo X is the latest iteration of a car that has heritage stretching back to the early 1990s. There very few cars out there – well, very few with four doors at least – that can travel across twisty sections of tarmac as quickly as an Evo can. It’s extremely light on its feet, has wonderfully direct steering and – so long as you keep that turbo spinning nicely – more performance than you’ll know what to do with. But the real secret of the Evo’s abilities lies within its complex Super All Wheel Control system. This box of electronic voodoo takes ownership of the active centre diff, the active yaw control, the active stability control and the ABS brakes.
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When you plant the throttle and release all 296bhp from the turbocharged 2.0-litre engine, it’s this system that makes the Evo go and grip harder than you could ever imagine. You have to reprogram your mind when you drive an Evo hard. Your braking points will be later and your cornering speeds will be much higher. This is not a car to be messed with. You really have to be up to the challenge of driving an Evo as it should be driven – ie really, really hard – to get the best out of it. Driving an Evo as if your grandmother is behind the wheel is just criminal. It also reveals the few chinks that blight the Evo experience. Like the fact that it’s not very comfortable on a long cruise, the exhaust note is loud – and not in a good way. The interior plastics are lifted straight from the mid ’90s and the stereo is utterly incapable of drowning out anything.
However, we can at least be thankful that Mitsubishi has stuck to its guns with the Evo. The company knows there are plenty of people out there who will happily put up with these foibles as those moments when you can drive the Evo hard more than make up for it. This is unlike Subaru which watered down its Impreza in an attempt to woo buyers away from the likes of the Volkswagen Golf. That was never going to happen, and Subaru has finally realised this and is now struggling to turn the Impreza back into the icon it once was. What’s the most impressive thing about the Evo is how it takes a very hum-drum saloon – everyone’s favourite rental car, the Lancer – and turns it into a rabid animal eager to bite chunks out of the tarmac at any opportunity. I couldn’t live with an Evo everyday, but I’d certainly jump at the chance to drive one.
Al Dana: Muroor Road, Abu Dhabi, Tel 02-448 8087 Al Shahama: Abu Dhabi-Dubai Road, New Shahama, Abu Dhabi, Tel 02-563 3377 Madinat Zayed: Beda Zayed, Abu Dhabi, Tel 02-884 4245 Al Bateen: Al Sulemat Road, Al Ain, Tel 03-767 8535 www.alfuttaimmotors.ae www.al-futtaim.ae
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Dubai: Al Madares, Al Ramoul, Tel 04-282 3399, Al Nahrawan, Tel 04-261 3202, Al Rajhan, Opp. Dubai Immigration, Tel 04-398 8031, Al-Garhoud, Opp. WAFI Centre, Tel 04-324 0425, Al-Safa, Al Wasl Road, Tel 04-342 2692, Karmstaji Tunis Road, Mizhar-1, Tel 04-254 3141 Sharjah: Green Belt, BMW Road, Tel 06-539 7735 Sharjah Club, Near Cricket Stadium, Tel 06-543 1435, Emirates, Opp. Home Centre, Tel 06-539 8285, Al Dorra, Dubai-Sharjah Road, Tel 06-531 6022, Al Nakheel (next to Al Qasimi Hospital) Tel: 06-538 6787, Ajman: Al Maqam, Opp. City Centre/Carrefour, Tel 06-740 0285, Al Abraq, Umm Al Quwain R/A, Tel 06-766 2713
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» INFINITI FX50 S Smaller cars should run in fear of the FX. Shahzad Sheikh is rather taken by it
HERE’S A COUPLE OF SURPRISES that you have to prepare yourself for with the Infiniti FX50 S. The first is that this is an all-new edition, even though at first glance it looks the same as before. There are new front and rear lights and those chrome vents behind the wheel arches. More significantly though, the car is actually 5cm longer with the front axle moved forward for better weight distribution and improved cabin space. Aluminium door panels, suspension arms and a plastic hatch have been called into service to help reduce weight though it’s still on the wrong side of 2000kg. There’s an all-around monitor to help park it and even more intriguingly the air-conditioning emits negative and positive ions. These attach to airborne particles such as mould, fungi and spores, making them stick to interior surfaces rather than floating into your orifices. How extraordinarily clever and thoughtful.
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But, and here’s the other surprise, the headline news is the 5.0-litre V8 that puts out 385bhp and 369lb ft through a seven-speed automatic – complete with paddleshifts. This will actually see it to 100kph in 5.4 seconds and allows it to take the fight to the $50,000 more expensive BMW X6 xDrive 50i with a similar 0-100 time. Despite its bulk, the FX50 feels remarkably quick with snappy and relentless performance. And if you’re thinking this fast SUV is just about barrelling down the road at outrageous speeds, get a load of this – this S version comes with active rear-wheel steer and adjustable suspension. If you hit the sports button and turn the drivers’ aids off you may be fooled into thinking you’re piloting a hot hatch. You can even provoke lift-off oversteer. This desire to be thrown through corners means that the FX is still a firm-riding car – surprisingly so for an SUV – though it copes well with the compromise of wearing 21-inch wheels.
This of course means that it’s also compromised as an off-roader. But that’s okay, because it doesn’t really display any inclination to wander off into the wilderness – it just wants to bully traffic. Appropriately then, it keeps its overtly aggressive, take no prisoners looks – you get the feeling that big grille has swallowed a Suzuki Swift or two in its time. Those weird Manga-esque doublebubble headlights also take getting used to, but the whole thing works much better in the metal, not quite resembling the deep ocean four-eyed predator the pictures seem to dictate. It’s comfy, but not vastly roomy inside, though it majors on gadgets and equipment. But if it’s just a big family-friendly SUV you’re looking for, this is not it. On the other hand you seek out FX50 if you are looking for a stylish and funky alternative to the Porsche Cayenne. What you have here is a tall-rider with aspirations to be a street racer, fortunately it can actually walk-the-walk too.
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» TOYOTA PRADO
– PHOTOGRAPHY BY G-NIE ARAMBULO
If you’ve got a large brood to ferry around, get one of these. Or so says Shahzad Sheikh
HENCHIEFENGINEER Makoto Arimoto started working on developing the 2010 Toyota Prado five years ago, Europe was the biggest market for the archetypal SUV. During that period, our continental friends fell out of love with SUVs and we became the dominant market. This meant that Arimoto focused a lot of his R&D on our part of the world. Folks, it’s not too far a stretch to say that this is an SUV specifically built for us. As part of the Land Cruiser line, it’s axiomatic that the Prado should not only be good off-road, but amongst the best. We know the old car was, as is the Prado-based FJ Cruiser. But the new car had to go further, and the latest model looks like its borrowed a lot of its ideas from the new generation Land Rover products. There is a host of gadgetry now to keep you moving including Multi-Terrain Select, MultiTerrain ABS and EBD, Crawl Control, adjustable height, lockable rear and centre differentials,
steering angle display and also cameras all around which allow you to monitor the terrain under the car when the going gets really tough. The only criticism that can be levelled at the Prado’s undoubtedly effective multiple systems is that there are too many of them. The plethora of switches and controls can leave a novice driver confused and overwhelmed. Admittedly, this setup offers far more flexibility for the more experienced off-roader, but for the rest of us Land Rover’s simplistic twist-and-go solution is more appealing. Whilst the off-road capabilities are assuring, most Prado owners use it predominantly as a family car. Arimoto knows this and spent a lot of time observing families using their Prados for everyday tasks such as shopping trips. From this research came keyless entry, and once you get the side hinged tailgate open, a button – on top models – that electronically unfolds or retracts the third row seats. These now disappear completely into the luggage bay. The floor in the back is also lower by 50mm, so even adults can
now actually sit and ride in the rearmost pews. In fact, the Prado is a genuinely spacious and comfortable place for you and the brood to ride in. The suspension is compliant enough to keep your fillings in when traversing over broken rocks, yet levels things off on the tarmac whilst cornering. This is all thanks to the new Kinetic Drive Suspension System (KDSS) which includes computer-managed air suspension at the back. A lot of thought has gone into creating the perfect family car for the Middle East with the best air conditioning system in the sector and other thoughtful touches including a central coolbox and a 605-watt 17-speaker stereo. Okay, so the styling is pretty conservative – it’s fractionally longer, lower and wider than the old Prado, moving away from the slightly gawky upright looks of its predecessor, and it’s competent and easy if uninspiring to drive. But as a family car for our region it ticks all the boxes, including value, and thus the 2010 Toyota Prado comprehensively wins our family car of the year award.
FAMILY CAR OF THE YEAR
THE CAR 100 [ 39
100 » FERRARI CALIFORNIA Tom Bird examines the front-engined, folding-topped Ferrari
ANY FERRARI FANS CALLED the California sacrilege to the Prancing Horse’s heritage when it was first announced. How can the purveyor of some the world’s greatest supercars sully itself with producing a rival to the Mercedes SL of all things? However, we needn’t have worried. Ferrari hasn’t gone soft – initial reviews of the F430’s replacement, the 458 Italia (see the January 2010 issue of CAR Middle East for our first full test) signal that Maranello still knows a thing or two about making sports cars. So what of the California? Well, like it or not, but the market for hardcore sports cars is dwindling. Many people like the idea of driving a supercar, but few are going to put up with the hardship – and the bills – of driving one everyday. And in these money-tight times, some people are having to reconsider the two-car garage and just stick with one. But once you’ve owned a Ferrari, it’s going to be a very difficult decision to roll into the Mercedes dealership to trade it in for an SL – excluding the hardcore SL Black naturally. Once you begin to look at it like that, the California makes a lot more sense.
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Just be glad that it’s still a rear-wheel drive sports car – albeit one with a folding metal roof – but a sports car all the same. Ferrari could have gone down the Porsche route and we’d have been lumbered with a pumped up SUV built on a Quattroporte chassis complete with plenty of space for the kitchen sink. And anyway, the California still drives like a Ferrari – and a very good one at that. This car was the first to feature Maranello’s seven-speed dual-clutch system. Here, it’s tuned for comfortable shifts in Drive mode, but still can rifle through the ratios like a possessed monkey should the feeling arise. Okay, so it’s not the most attractive looking car around. But Ferraris have never really been beautiful. For as many people who go weak at the knees at the styling of a 599, there are another bunch averting their eyes any time a 612 Scaglietti comes into view. But this car has been designed to a completely new demographic for Ferrari – women. Therefore, overt racecar-inspired slashes are out and in comes softer, more curvaceous lines. It might seem a little overstyled to some, but compare it to a Merc SL and all of a sudden it looks rather attractive indeed. This one’s a grower, trust us.
» BMW Z4
– PHOTOGRAPHY BY G-NIE ARAMBULO
The BMW roadster has gone all soft on us. What gives? Tom Bird explains all
UCH LIKE THE FERRAI, the new Z4 has also been designed to appeal to the fairer sex. So the Z4 is no longer the hardcore car that had a blatant disregard for its rear tyres should the feeling grab you. Now, it’s a car to saunter around in with the wind in your hair and a your silk scarf fluttering in the breeze. Well, it is that, but it’s also still true to some of the aspects of the old car. There’s something unique about driving the Z4 that marks it out from other roadsters on the market. For a start, you sit in the boot to drive. Not really, but it doesn’t half feel like that sometimes – especially if you have a Xenon-wielding Land Cruiser on your tail, it can feel a little bit close in the cabin. Secondly, there’s that very, very, long bonnet. It rises up like a speedboat whenever you pile on the speed – the bonnet gently moving skywards as the throttle is applied.
It’s not as aggressive as the old car, this Z4 is more subtle with its styling. There are a lot of details that start to grow on you over time, such as the deep scalloping of the doors and elegant rear. The cabin is completely new and is simple with no complex iDrive system to get your head around. To further the car’s appeal in less temperate climes, there’s now a folding metal roof instead of the canvas jobby on the old one. This does two things – keeps the elements at bay and negates the need for BMW to make two versions. However, the down side of a folding roof and all the hydraulic gubbins that goes along with it to make it disappear into the boot in just 20 seconds is the weight. This Z4 tips the scales around 240kg more than the old model. Therefore, it’s no longer the point-and-squirt machine old. No, this Z4 is much more about the shimmy rather than the sprint. It’s a car to sit back in and enjoy the scenery, listen to the birds and smell the exhaust of the truck in front of you...
Take it out along some of the wide sweeping roads that are commonplace away from the developed parts of the region and the Z4 will bring a smile to the face of whoever’s behind the wheel. Hardcore petrolheads might be a little let down, but they’re not really who the Z4’s for. Although you can play with the Z4’s adaptive damping settings and switch into Sport (or even Sport+ mode) should you feel like it, it’s much happier trundling along in the regular setting. Certainly, Sport+ mode ruins the Z4’s relaxed demeanour as the gearbox and suspension become a little too hyperactive for their own good. Though you can choose to have your Z4 fitted with the brilliant 302bhp twin-turbo engine from the 335i, it actually doesn’t really suit the car that well. The Z4 is a much nicer place to spend time when fitted with the smoother and more relaxed 255bhp 3.0-litre straight six. A Porsche Boxster is still a better car to drive, but the Z4 comes a very comfortable second.
THE CAR 100 [ 41
100 » FORD MUSTANG
– PHOTOGRAPHY BY ALAN DESIDERIO
Everyone loves the ‘Stang don’t they? Well Tom Bird does...
OR ALL ITS FAULTS � WOEFULLY underpowered V8, live rear-axle, outdated gearbox – I still have a soft spot for the Ford Mustang. That’s not to say I would actually put my money where my mouth is and actually buy one, though I did briefly consider it once. What the Mustang does well is simple – it looks great, sounds awesome and performs burnouts with ease, especially if you’re in the Shelby GT500. What more could you ask for? But the Mustang is not a great car, and nor will it ever be. It doesn’t handle as well as something like a BMW M3. It’ll never be as quick as a Mercedes AMG. And it’ll never have a quality interior like an Audi. However, it’s not supposed to have any of that. This is a muscle car for Pete’s sake. Cut it some slack. It’s a simple brute of a car, a car to drive along with the windows down, arm resting on the door, tunes blasting from the shaker sound system.
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Show it a complex stretch of road, ie one with some corners in it and it’ll fall apart. Not literally, as the quality on this latest generation is much improved. But it won’t perform anywhere near as well as you really hope it would. That’s not to say it won’t go around corners, just that it would much rather do it at a low speed so it can kick its tail out when you stamp on the throttle. Finesse is not the Mustang’s strong point. But if it wasn’t for the Mustang, we almost certainly wouldn’t have the modern Chevrolet Camaro nor the Dodge Challenger. The Blue Oval made a bold step when it launched the retro Mustang a good few years back, and it’s only recently that the other two of the American stalwarts took notice and reacted. Who said the US car giants don’t listen to their customers? They do, it just takes them a very long time to understand. If there’s one thing you can’t criticise the ‘Stang for, is its looks. It’s pure muscle-car porn that been dragged from the late ’60s to the present day.
That evocative side profile, the muscular shoulder line and those deep-set headlights are perfect representations of the original. You know, the car that Steve McQueen yumped around San Francisco in Bullitt, forever burned in every petrolhead’s memory as ‘the best ever car chase’ even though it’s actually not that good. But even with the arrival of the other two muscle cars on the scene, it’s still the Mustang that does it for me. Yes, that engine is about 15-years out of date and produces a paltry 315bhp from its 4.6-litre capacity. But that doesn’t matter as it still sounds just as good as you’d hope it would. It’s not a cultured or engineered sound, there’s no fancy baffle between the engine and the cabin to filter the note through, it’s just a deep, bassy woofle that I’ll never grow tired of. You could consider the Mustang to be the ultimate kit car. Ford’s done the ground work and now it’s up to you to tweak the handling, pump up the power and really make it your own.
100 » AUDI R8 V10
– PHOTOGRAPHY BY JAMIE LIPMAN
Anyone with a V8 R8 should look away, as this V10 is brilliant. Or so says Tom Bird
OMETIMES LESS IS MORE. TAKE the Audi TT for example. In that coupe, it’s the turbocharged 2.0-litre engine that delivers the most thrills, the heavier V6 spoiling the fun element of the car. It’s a similar story with the Boxster – the lesser powered regular Boxster delivers a much better all-round drive than the S model. Same with the xDrive50i X6 compared to the X6M – more power certainly doesn’t help here. However, in the case of the Audi R8 – more is so much more. With the 414bhp V8, the R8 is a cracking car to drive. It’s extremely well balanced, has excellent performance credentials and is considered by many as a brilliant sports car with very few faults. But, the V10 version takes all the elements that makes the V8 great and, to coin a phrase from Spinal Tap, turns it up to 11. The V10 is a development of what you’d find in the back of a Lamborghini Gallardo, and though it’s down on power compared to its Italian cousin,
it still delivers a plentiful 518bhp. And boy, does this engine like to rev – all the way to 8000rpm. It sounds absolutely awesome when spinning that fast, the twin oval pipes at the back providing an epic exhaust note. The bigger engine transforms the R8 from being a great sports car into an outstanding supercar. Audi chose to launch the R8 to the great unwashed of the world’s motoring press at the excellent Ascari race track in Southern Spain. There was to be an afternoon of driving around some very tight and twisty mountain roads, followed a morning out on the track. I made sure I was ready to go first thing so I could get out on the track early. However, this isn’t because I wanted to get in more laps than the other journalists, but so I could spend more time out on the road. So as the others queued to get their chance on the circuit, I nabbed the keys to one of the few manual R8 V10s on offer and disappeared for a couple of hours. What followed was one of the greatest drives I can remember ever having.
The manual R8 is just so much better than the R-tronic automatic version. There’s a perfectly machined open gate that surrounds the gearshift which causes an evocative scrap-clack on every change of gear. It’s just so much more involving that a soulless press of a little button behind the steering wheel. I just wish Audi wouldn’t sully the R8 V10 with the rubbish R-tronic gearbox and that buyers in the region would have the balls to specify the manual ’box and not worry about the resale value. If I was in the position to buy an R8 V10 I’d be willing to pay more for the manual gearbox. Sadly, I’m not likely to be able to afford one for a while yet, so I had to savour that drive even more. Big open sweepings roads suit the R8 best and that’s what the roads around Ascari delivered. There were countless tight corners to exploit the four-wheel drive chassis and some big straights to let that V10 sign – not to mention a tunnel or two for real aural satisfaction. It was a brilliant drive in an utterly epic car.
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» ROLLS-ROYCE PHANTOM
– PHOTOGRAPHY BY THANOS LAZOPOULOS
The ultimate expression on four wheels, says Tom Bird
NLESS I BECOME A RAP STAR in my 30s, I very much doubt that I’m ever going to be in the position to afford to own a Rolls-Royce Phantom. And that’s a bit of a shame, because I really, really want one. Sure, it’s not the fastest car out there, not the most powerful. And yes, it’s going to be absolutely rubbish on a track day, but none of that stops it from being utterly brilliant. I recently had the pleasure of the Phantom’s company when I decided to take it for a little drive down to the south coast of Oman. It was fantastic, and I can’t think of another car that would do such a journey with such little fuss. What’s most astonishing about the Rolls is that that it does everything with such ease. This is a big car – nearly 6-metres long, and it weighs the wrong side of 2.5-tonnes. But to drive, it’s absolutely effortless. Usually when you spend the best part of 12 hours behind the wheel of a car
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you’re going to emerge at the other end with chronic back pain and need a good lie down. However, after driving the 1200+kms down through Oman, I felt fresh as a daisy. And I wasn’t exactly hanging around either. The Phantom has all the performance you could ever wish for, thanks to its immensely powerful 6.75-litre V12. It’s whisper quiet at idle, yet will whisk this living room on wheels along to 100kph in less than six seconds. Overcome the wind buffetting – it’s not exactly the most aerodynamic of beasts – and you could see 250kph on the beautiful speedometer. But it was the sheer repose of the thing that struck me. The Phantom is by far the most comfortable car I’ve ever driven, and certainly there is nothing else out there that could have coped with the poorly surfaced roads I encountered on my trip as well as this car. It just glided over the ruts and bumps as if they were just figments of my imagination.
With my feet nestled deep within the shag pile carpet and the cruise control set, there was little for me to do than pilot the oversized steering wheel with just one finger. It was the least stressful journey I have ever experienced. And even if I was in a position to buy one of my very own, I doubt I could ever make my mind up on how to specify it. I mean, there’s 44,000 colours to choose from to start with. Then there’s the 12 standard choices of leather, or they’ll even dye some specially just for me. At least the choice of wood’s simple for me – piano black every time, I can’t stand walnut, even if it’s 29 layers thick. But then there’s the wheels to choose, the difficult decision of one or two coach lines – painted with a brush made from squirrel and ox hair no less – and let’s not even start on the Bespoke programme... The Rolls-Royce Phantom is the epitome of engineering in motorised form. Nothing else even comes close.
» VOLVO XC60
– PHOTOGRAPHY BY ALAN DESIDERIO
‘Safety first’ is this car’s motto. Tom Bird discusses its merits
F YOU HAVE AN ANNOYING HABIT OF bumping into other cars in the bustling city streets, then maybe you should consider ditching the dent-mobile and trading up for a Volvo XC60. You see, it has a wonderful box of tricks tucked away in its Swedish body called ‘City Safety’. And, according to Volvo, it allows you to drive around like a complete loon and not crash into anything. Okay, I might be paraphrasing just a little, but the basic concept is that the XC60 is uncrashable. Well, within certain conditions it is. And it’s not going to stop anyone from ploughing into the back of you, nor side swiping you at junctions. But it will stop you from hitting the berk in front, or at the very least minimise the impact. Basically, a laser mounted in the rear view mirror scans the road 5.5-metres ahead of the XC60. If you are travelling below 30kph the system is live and will automatically brake should it detect an obstacle ahead and the driver hasn’t reacted to it. That’s the theory anyway, but annoyingly it actually works. However, there’s a slight problem with having such a system. It makes you concentrate less on your driving.
When I tested the XC60 out on the cut throat streets of Dubai, I found I put myself into positions I wouldn’t normally be in. I followed too closely in traffic, fiddled with my phone when stuck behind someone at the lights, generally drove like an idiot. I was willing the system to fail and the XC60 to nudge the car in front. Naturally, it worked perfectly. However, it also revealed itself to be rather annoying. Upon every activation of the system, warnings of any collision would flash up on the centre screen accompanied by various beeps. But when you couple this with the blind spot indicators in the side mirrors which flash up whenever there’s another car tucked behind the C-pillar – ie, all the time in this part of the world, and the all-round parking sensors, there’s a whole cacophony flashing notifications of impending doom and bings and bongs. Not exactly what you want when you’re trying to concentrate. Therefore, I switched all the systems off and relied on an altogether simpler technology – my eyes and ears. And you know what, I didn’t hit a thing. Sometimes technology can go a little bit too far. Lest we forget, the most important part of any car is still sat behind the wheel.
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100 » LEXUS IS300C
– PHOTOGRAPHY BY ALAN DESIDERIO
This convertible is much more than just a chop job, as Shahzad Sheikh explains
OOK CLOSELY AND YOU’LL notice one fundamental difference between this Lexus IS300 and those we’re more familiar with here – yes, that’s right. The doors are longer! Okay, joking aside, the ‘C’ in the badge name stands for Cabriolet. And the transition between Lexus’ popular junior executive four-door saloon – by far the best looking of all the current offerings from Toyota’s premium brand – to drop-top has involved more than face protectors and a chainsaw. The little Lexus spent a lot of time in the wind tunnel in order to tame turbulence with the roof down so as to maintain the perfect coiffure of the typical owner – in our region that would be young college-going locals. This means that everything on the outside of the car has been changed apart from the bonnet, headlights, door handles and door mirrors. Oh and as for those doors – yes they are longer to allow for ingress into the rear compartment.
And it doesn’t stop at the exterior. Inside, the instrument dials have been revised to avoid reflections, the air-con has a speed sensitive gizmo that ramps up airflow and the Mark Levinson sound system automatically compensates for wind noise when the roof is down. There are one-touch buttons to move the front seats forward to let you into the back, the rear pews themselves are height-adjustable and there are also cupholders for occupants. Which suggests there’s somewhere for your mates to put their fizzy pop, except that they’d rather empty it over your head for even suggesting they could ride the in back. With legroom tight, the rear is really more for children than more grownup humans, even of the teen variety. But the real tragedy of this IS is a complete failure to deploy a needed increased potency power unit under the bonnet. The direct injection 300bhp 3.5-litre from the US-spec IS would have been just the ticket. Unfortunately it makes do with the lacklustre lump from the regular IS.
Which is of course is perfectly adequate for the task at hand. It’s just that the little Lexus’ competent chassis has demonstrated that it is clearly capable of handling more momentum thanks to precise, grippy handling traits. It also retains the rather pointless paddleshift gearbox that doesn’t really work the way you expect it to – it’s a pre-selector system that limits the range of ratios available to the auto ’box. Once the roof is stowed – it takes around 20 seconds – there isn’t much luggage room left, though it’s certainly enough for school bags and gym kit. The effect of the weight of the metal hard top in the back does make the front a tad lighter and turn-in is less decisive, but thanks to some body-strengthening there’s little impact on the IS’s generally impeccable manners. Lexus is targeting rivals from BMW and Mercedes, but strikes an instant win based on price alone. So if you are looking for a quality four-seater semi-executive cabriolet, there really are few rivals to the IS300C.
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EXECUTIVE CAR OF THE YEAR
» CADILLAC CTS-V What happens when you dump the supercharged V8 from the ZR1 into a saloon? Great things, says Shahzad Sheikh
HIS IS THEWINNER OF OUR Executive car of the Year award. If we’d had an award for sports saloons, it would have walked away with that too. But the title it’s most worthy of is ‘The Biggest Surprise of the Year’. Okay, we knew it wouldn’t be bad. After all it’s fitted with the 6.2-litre V8 from the Corvette ZR1 detuned slightly to produce 556bhp with 551lb ft of torque. This means dispatching the 0-100kph run in an unbelievable burst of just 3.9 seconds and it will keep going even as it passes an indicated 300kph. You might want to let that sink in a little. The BMW M5 needs 4.7 seconds to get to 100, the Audi RS6 takes 4.5, Mercedes’ E63 AMG also requires 4.5 and the Jaguar XFR is a relative slouch with its 4.9 second run. The CTS-V also laps the fabled Nurburgring in 7:59.32 – five seconds faster than a V8 Audi R8. But its real knock-out blow is its price – $72k. It undercuts the cheapest of these mighty motors by nearly $40,000. While all of this was enough to leave us picking dropped jaws off the floor, it still wouldn’t have been enough to win our hearts, earn the coveted title and produce the simply stunned expressions on our faces. That came when the six-speed manual V chased down the outrageously quick Nissan GT-R on the curvy Kalba road and genuinely held its own. How does a big, heavy rear-drive luxury saloon manage to shadow the most
extreme production road-racer to ever come out of Japan? Well, it starts with goodies like Brembo brakes, magnetic ride control, a cast iron limited-slip differential and tyres tailored to the V. Essentially though, it’s fundamentally a well-sorted car thanks to the now disbanded High Performance Vehicles Operations Unit within GM. Inside, there are Recaro sports seats and volcanic glass in the trim, they tell us. There’s decent space in the back, good luggage room, all the kit you’d expect and even a 40GB hard drive to store your tunes, plus lots of hand-stitched leather. Overall, it’s square-jawed and handsome. The CTS-V has a slightly more aggressive front and 19-inch wheels but is still relatively discreet – somewhat surprising for an American, but then this is a Cadillac. On that subject though it completely fails as a Caddy – aren’t they supposed to be old folks road yachts with soft wallowy rides? If anything the V is too stiff. The steering is weighted, if only artificially feelsome, the gearchange is clunky needing a firm and precise hand, and the clutch will wear you down in the traffic. But then you discover the innocuous little button labelled ‘TC’ sitting within fingertip reach on the steering wheel – talk about an open invitation! Stab it and the traction control disengages opening up a world of doughnuts and drift parties. The CTS-V is a ZR1 sportscar convincingly dressed up as an executive express. Brilliant.
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» BMW X5M
– PHOTOGRAPHY BY G-NIE ARAMBULO
M means motorsport doesn’t it? So, what’s the badge doing on an SUV? Tom Bird explains
UST WHERE HAS THE TIME GONE? It was ten years ago that the X5 ‘Sports Activity Vehicle’ to use BMW’s terminology was first launched to the world and kick-started the sporting off-roader segment. Before the X5 arrived, SUVs were either hard-core off-roaders or they were the Range Rover, there was very little in between. But the X5 was designed to be a road car first and an off-roader a very distant second. In the time since 1999 we’ve seen Audi, Mercedes, Volkswagen and even Porsche come to the market with sporting SUVs. Then Land Rover joined the club in 2005 when it launched the Range Rover Sport. And now we have the X5M – which is the first SUV to wear the hallowed M badge alongside its less-practical brother, the X6M. Hardcore M fans have lambasted BMW for sullying the reputation of the motorsport-derived badge with its application on an SUV. And you can see their point. How many SUVs do you see pounding race tracks on a regular basis?
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But BMW had to launch the X5 and X6M if it were to compete alongside the likes of the Porsche Cayenne Turbo, the Mercedes ML63 AMG and even the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8. Buyers in this part of the world have an insatiable appetite for big brawny SUVs that fall over at the merest sniff of a sand dune. You very rarely see an X5 off-road even here, and the X5M is even less likely to get sand under its wheels. No, the road is where the X5M is going to live. And thankfully, it’s pretty good there. With a twin-turbo V8 under that bonnet, the X5M is no slouch. It’ll crack the 100kph mark in 4.7secs and, so long as you opt for the M Driver’s package, will go on all the way to 275kph. There’s no doubting its performance credentials are up to the standard required to be an M-car, however, the driving dynamics are still very much that of an SUV. Admittedly, it’s a very well-sorted SUV, but there’s no getting away from the fact that this thing weighs as much as one and a half M3 coupes, or 2380kg to put a figure on it.
However, all is not lost for true M-fans as we’ve heard from a reliable source that this 547bhp engine is going to make its way into the next generation M5. Although it will be at the demise of that current model’s wondrous V10. To mark it out from those less-endowed X5s, the M gets the full motorsport-inspired visual treatments. The bumpers are deeper and have gaping air intakes, there’s side skirts, big alloys and all the M interior touches you’ve come to expect like the trademark heads-up display. As BMW is firmly standing by its decision to make the X5M, we’re hoping it might start up a one make series to show the car’s full potential. It could be something like Rallycross where cars race head-to-head on a circuit which runs partly on a race track and partly along gravel tracks. This way it could really demonstrate the X5M’s dual personality and certainly raise its standing amongst those grumbling aficionados. If anyone from BMW reads this and decides to set it up, I’ll happily put myself forward as a potential driver. It would be a right laugh.
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100 » RENAULT KOLEOS Don’t knock the Koleos, it’s better than it looks. Or so says Tom Bird
HE FRENCH FIRM IS NOT KNOWN for its prowess in producing Compact SUVs, or indeed any off-roader really. It did for a while build a four-wheel drive version of its Scenic MPV, but apart from a few buyers in the Alps, failed to really become a commercial success. It also produced an off-road variant of its van-based Kangoo SUV called the Trekka, but again it never really took off. Therefore, with these less than auspicious starts, we were expecting the Koleos to be more of the same. However, the Koleos is rather good indeed. Using some of the know-how from its sister company Nissan, who are a dab hand at making off-roaders, the Koleos is a rather credible alternative to the Compact SUV pack. Indeed, we pitched the Koleos up against seven other premium pocket off-roaders earlier in the year, it came runner up to the undisputed king, the Land Rover LR2, but beat the likes of the Mercedes GLK, Lexus RX350, Volvo XC60 and the VW Tiguan. It might not look like much, but the Koleos is a rather capable little thing. Its trick is in its lightness of touch. I like to think of it as the automotive equivalent of a mountain goat, eager to scramble up anything at a moments notice. During its international launch back in 2008, our Contributing Editor Fraser Martin was very impressed with the Koleos’ capability. Not least because it had managed to traverse an off-road route that was officially closed due to the dangerous conditions.
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Unseasonal rain in Morocco had turned the planned dusty route along some broken clay-surface tracks into a muddy quagmire that was deemed too extreme for the little Renault to handle. However, Fraser doesn’t let a bit of mud get in his way and although it took him twice as long to get through the route, the Koleos took it all in its stride. Progress was mainly hampered by the need to dig out the vast amounts of mud that had collected in the wheel arches. Indeed it was this tenacious attitude of the Koleos that impressed me when I tested it in the region. It feels very light from behind the wheel – actually a little too light for long on-road journeys. And I’m not usually a fan of CVT rubber-band gearboxes due to their lacklustre attitude to changing ‘ratios’. Which is to be expected, considering by its very nature a CVT doesn’t really have gear ratios. However, it’s this dogged never-going-to-change attitude that helps it off road. Driving in sand requires momentum, momentum and usually a bit more momentum thrown in for good measure. Hesitate at the wrong moment and you’ll be on first name terms with a shovel in no time. Once up to speed, the Koleos enjoys being thrown about and its relative light weight of 1655kg – very good considering how heavy some ‘compact’ SUVs can be – makes it a good choice for fun in the sand. But, would I trade my Land Rover LR2 in for a Koleos? Not a chance... you can’t get them in orange!
» VOLKSWAGEN GOLF GTI
– PHOTOGRAPHY BY NEMANJA SESLIJA
Could the VW Golf GTI be the true modern-day people’s car? Tom Bird certainly thinks so
HILST OTHER CAR MAKES come up with all manner of excuses as to why their hot hatchbacks aren’t sold here – it’s too hot, there isn’t the market, the fuel isn’t good enough quality – Volkswagen happily sells the Golf GTI no problem whatsoever. So if VW can engineer its cars to cope in the high temperatures, find people to sell them to and run with the alleged rubbish fuel, why can’t everyone else manage it? Volvo happily sells the C30 T5 here, so why don’t we get the Ford Focus ST which shares its engine? Renault sold the old Megane RS here before, so why is it dragging its heels with a decision about the new one? And if the Seat Leon, KTM X-Bow and plenty of other cars fitted with the 2.0-litre turbo lump manages to cope with the ‘dirty’ fuel here, why don’t we have the Audi S3? Anyway, it’s their loss and Volkswagen’s gain.
The Golf GTI is the ultimate modern-day interpretation of what a hot hatch should be. It’s quick – 0-100kph takes just 6.9secs, top speed is 238kph; practical – there’s room for five people and plenty of space for their junk in the boot; and is loaded up with kit – 18-inch alloys, decent stereo, leather seats. It’s a car that should suit everyone – unless of course you really need to go off-road or have more children than you know what to do with. And whilst hatchbacks themselves have never really found favour amongst the local population, there’s always a large proportion of Western expats who know and love their all-round abilities. In fact, there’s very little to criticise the GTI for. My only slight issue I have with it in its sixth generation is that it doesn’t stand out enough compared to the regular Golf. The little flashes of sportiness that marked the Mk5 GTI out against the cooking models are still there, but have somehow got lost within the car’s styling.
However, it’s certainly a marked difference to drive. Although I will always prefer to drive a manual hot hatch as it connects the driver to the whole experience of driving so much better, even I have just about been converted to the wonders of the DSG transmission. I only wish they’d give the paddles a little more tactile feedback. No car’s paddleshifts are actually connected to the gearbox via cables, they’re all just glorified buttons at the end of the day. Yet, Ferrari can make the F430’s paddle feel hard-wired to the gearbox, Nissan too with the paddles in the GT-R. At least VW’s followed the tradition of left for down, right for up, instead of coming up with new clever ways of doing things – yes BMW and Porsche, I’m looking at you with your stupid push-me, pull-you paddleshift button arrangements. The GTI is a brilliant car for those who enjoy their driving – take one of these down a twisty stretch of road and you’ll come back laughing. But it’s also great to live with on a daily basis.
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56 ] THE CAR 100
SUPERCAR OF THE YEAR
» LAMBORGHINI LP670-4 SV
– PHOTOGRAPHY BY G-NIE ARAMBULO
Teenage boys have a new poster car to stick on their bedroom wall.. Tom Bird does too
OST CAR MAKERS work hard to make their news cars more fuel efficient, and less harmful to the environment. Not Lamborghini. It’s spent its time creating fighter jet inspired hypercars, rearwheel drive sports cars, a nice side line in fashion and this – the Murcielago LP670-4 SuperVeloce. In case your Italian’s a little rusty, let me just tell you that SuperVeloce translates to ‘super fast’. Oh Lordy… I was front row at the first unveiling of the SV at the Geneva Motor Show back in March. The contingent of the vast Volkswagen empire were holding a pre-show bash. VW wheeled out the new Polo, Seat a rehashed old Audi A4 estate, Audi itself revealed a jacked-up version of the new A4 estate, boring, boring, boring. But then the Lamborghini SV took to the stage with a couple of rather buxom models.
There’s no getting around the fact that the SV is pure car porn. This is what supercars should be like. No namby pamby considerations to the environment here. Every petrolhead wants to see a car like this paraded around. It’s absolutely sensational. The audience of dishevelled auto hacks stood in awe of the SV. The combination of its sharp carbon fibre trinkets, a massively oversized exhaust and the visual delights of the models standing either side was perfect. Lamborghini was sticking it to the establishment and I for one, have to applaud the company for that. Yes, you might consider that the SV is purely a way to shift a few more Murcielagos before it’s killed off. After all, it’s been around since 2001. But, I’m all for extending a car’s life with special editions, so long as they’re as special as this. But the SV isn’t just a case of slapping on some carbon fibre and a few stickers. Lambo has upped the power – there’s now 661bhp (670PS, hence
the name) instead of the regular 631bhp. Weight’s been cut too – 100kg has been ditched by using some higher strength steel and fitting some lightweight bucket seats. The result of the beefing up and slimming down is a 0-100kph sprint in 3.2 seconds (down from 3.4), while the top speed is 336kph with the oversized aero spoiler fitted. The car you see here did originally have this outrageous piece of carbon fibre on its tail, but on the day before our shoot it was taken off and put onto another SV whose owner had foolishly forgotten to specify it. In many ways, the SV shouldn’t exist. But the mere fact that Lamborghini can still get away with selling cars as insane as this in today’s eco-friendly, ultra-ethical world is something to savour. Time is running out for cars like the SV so let’s admire them whilst we still can. We’re honouring the LP670-4 SV with our Supercar of the Year award. I can’t think of a more deserving winner.
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» BMW 7-SERIES Is this luxury barge a master of everything? BMW thinks so, but Tom Bird is less convinced
ECHNOLOGY.THAT’STHEWORD that best sums up the BMW 7-Series. It’s positively dripping with the stuff. Whether it’s the Xenon headlights that automatically switch between dipped and full beam, night vision that spots errant pedestrians who might wander into your path, seats that move and vibrate to stop you getting a numb bum or browsing the internet on the move on one of the two 10-inch screens in the back. There’s plenty more, but we really don’t have enough space to cover everything. Let’s just say, if you can find a piece of technology that the 7-Series doesn’t have, you’re going to be scratching around in the most obscure of places. The 7-Series is massively popular in the region. BMW like to talk about an ‘inverted triangle’ when they discuss sales figures for the Middle East. In most other parts of the world, BMW sells more examples of the 3-Series than the 5-Series, more 5s than 7s etc.
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However, here it’s turned on its head. It’s the 7-Series that’s the mass-market car. The 7-Series, like the Mercedes S-Class, Audi A8 and all other luxo barges, has to fulfill two very differerent roles. Firstly, it must be capable of covering vast distances with plenty of speed and give the driver as much of an involving drive as a big barge can, but without taxing him too much – not an easy task by any means. However, at the same time it must also cosset those going along for the ride in supreme luxury and comfort. This is because in Europe and the US, the person who’s shelled out for the 7-Series is more than likely going to be sat in the back planning their next step for world domination whilst perusing the business pages. Its long wheelbase – the only variant offered in our part of the world – means that there’s acres of space in the back, and it’s on this that the 7-Series trumps the new upstart on the block, the Porsche Panamera.
However here, it’s likely that the head honcho’s going to be the one behind the wheel. It’s a very difficult balanced act to get right, and its this that reveals a few chinks in the armour of the fifth-generation 7-Series. Like all proper BMWs, the 7-Series is rear-wheel drive and the boffins have worked hard to make the car quite sporty to drive – there’s even a Sport+ setting on the active suspension to firm everything up. However, if there’s someone reclining in the massaging seats in the back, they’re not going to appreciate your Sport+ style of driving. Therefore, you’re best off putting it in Comfort mode, but then the driving experience that BMW has worked so hard to endow the 7-Series is lost as the car tried is very best to waft along without ruffling any feathers. In the end, the 7-Series never really masters either of its roles – it’s not as comfortable as an S-class, nor as involving as a big Audi. The arrival of the new Jaguar XJ is going to be very interesting.
» HONDA JAZZ This little car plays some sweet music for Shahzad Sheikh
Y SISTER HAS RUN A PREVIOUS Jazz for four years. She’s never had a problem with it and doesn’t hold back from singing its praises. CAR contributor Fraser Martin still uses the first of the first generation Jazzes ever to arrive in the UAE and despite mega-mileage and daily use, it’s still running like a dream today. To prove a point, he even did a spot of off-roading in it a couple of years ago, and still it survived to tell the tale. So the old Jazz clearly has longevity and reliability as part of its genome. And it’s popular. In the automotive industry that’s as much a recipe for disaster as it is for success. See, car makers are committed to a lifecycle for their products. Which is fine, except for when you produce something as good as a Jazz – after all, how do you improve on perfection? Too strong a statement? Not really. As a city car the Jazz is darty, peppy and agile, and as a small family runabout it’s eminently practical and comfortable. It’s no surprise then that when Honda introduced the all-new Jazz earlier this year it was darty, peppy and agile. It was also eminently practical and comfortable. Déjà vu anyone? Hey you can’t blame ‘em. It even looks the same. The nose adopts headlights and a grille more in keeping with current Honda stablemates and apart from the bigger wing mirrors and wheels, you can choose from a selection of different bumpers and grilles – some of which are
astonishingly aggressive for such a friendly little car. Overall, the effect is of slightly sleeker car which has shed some of its frumpiness. But its strength remains the maximised interior space – this car is more is a true successor to Alec Issigonis’ original Mini than BMW’s. Admittedly, it’s gained 60mm in length and 20mm in width to help its cause. But you’ll still wonder at how much space there is for front and rear passengers while maintaining a cavernous luggage bay. Then there’s the versatility of folding seats, and the manner in which you can lift up the rear bench to liberate room. A 1.5-litre engine with 118bhp sees power upped by 10bhp and in our market will be found mated to five-speed auto with cute little paddle shifters. Mildly entertaining though they are, they don’t make up for the loss of the manual other markets get – its sweet change really allowing you to access the high-rev punch of the i-VTEC unit. On paper, the 12.3 second run to 100kph seems slow, but with the baby Honda you tend to drive it by wringing its neck to haul it up to a decent speed and then try and maintain the momentum by nipping in and out of traffic and cornering on the door handles as the tyres scrabble for grip. And whilst this is not a market that majors on the little cars, so to speak, driving something like this serves to remind how much fun can be had in an underpowered car with skimpy tyres.
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» AUDI Q5 Is this the best all-round Audi? Tom Bird says it is
KAY, WE ADMIT, THE Audi Q5 isn’t a car that you’d take out to the dunes every weekend. It’s just not up to that kind of task. But anyway, who really takes their Compact SUVs properly off-road? It’ll happily tackle gravel tracks, the occasional wadi and even find a prime parking spot on the beach should you be so inclined. Get yourself a battered old Jeep Wrangler, Toyota Land Cruiser or even a Land Rover Defender (so long as you’re never in a rush to get anywhere that is) if you want to go properly off-road on a regular basis. But if you want something that’s full of style, packed with kit and an ease to punt around town, then the Q5 is near-perfect. It carries off the mini-Q7 styling rather well, but manages to not be quite so aggressive as its big brother. It’s a rather sharp piece of kit with that big chrome-edged Audi goatee beard, blacked out air intakes and nicely detailed rear lights. Inside, it’s the same classy black interior that we’ve come to know and love in all modern Audis, though all the major controls and dials have been angled slightly towards the most important seat in the house – the driver’s. And it’s from here that you can relish in the best part of the Q5 – the driving. It feels very un-Compact SUV like and actually unlike any other Audi to drive to boot.
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For a start, the Q5 rides very well. Plenty of Audis suffer from extremely stiff suspension as the brand tries to sport-up everything in its range. However, there’s plenty of travel for those 18-inch wheels so bumps and nasty imperfections are swallowed up with ease. There’s also naff all body roll – follow a Q5 through a fast corner in something like an LR2 and you might as well be at the tiller of a boat. The Audi Q5 on the other hand feels like a hot hatch on stilts. The best of two engines on offer is the ultra-familiar 2.0-litre turbo. Here it’s mated to the latest version of the DSG/S-tronic gearbox with seven gear ratios. I criticised it for being a little underpowered when I first drove it, but having sampled it again since I’ve found it provides the best usable performance. Maybe that first car was a bit of a dud. The Q5’s excellent poise out on the road is helped by the fact that it shares its underpinnings with the A4 saloon – so think of it more as a four-wheel drive, practical A4 hatch/estate rather than a distinct model in its own right. In fact, it’s probably the best all-round Audi there is. The brand from Ingolstadt is hell bent on creating a car to fill every conceivable niche under the sun – and plenty more that we never knew even existed. Take the A5 Sportback for a start. Its combination of sharp style, dynamic abilities and on-road performance make the Q5 our Compact SUV of the Year.
COMPACT SUV OF THE YEAR
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100 » KTM X-BOW
– PHOTOGRAPHY BY ALAN DESIDERIO
Take the carbon-fibre beast away from the track and you’ll fall in love. Well, Tom Bird did
OR A COMPANY THAT HAS NO history in making cars – ATVs don’t really count – KTM did a damn fine job with its first attempt, the X-Bow. All the complicated chassis work was the result of the same man who has been responsible for making cars as diverse as the Pagani Zonda, Bugatti Veyron and Koenigsegg CCX go round corners as they should. The man’s name is Loris Bicocchi, and he really knows what he’s doing. The X-Bow is a car that requires you to recalibrate your senses to drive it. To start with, there are no doors, windscreen or even seats. Well, okay there are seats, but they’re not what you might expect. To save on weight, there are some special Recaro cushions moulded into the carbon-fibre tub. They look ridiculously uncomfortable, but actually prove to be anything but – something I found out first hand when I drove the trackfocussed extreme piece of motorised kit over 1000km in a couple of days.
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The plan was to find and drive the twisty stretch of tarmac that runs from the sleepy town of Liwa down to Moreeb Hill. It’s right on the edge of the Empty Quarter, but I felt it was well worth sampling with the X-Bow. Fans of a certain BBC TV motoring programme might recall the man they call Hamster driving the Lamborghini SV down there earlier in the year. Great minds think alike – but we did it first! You’d think that fact that the X-Bow is rather open to the elements wouldn’t really be a problem in this part of the world, after all, it doesn’t rain here does it… Well, yes it does. And driving a X-Bow really isn’t much fun in damp conditions. It’s not because you get wet, far from it – keep the speed up and the aerodynamics of the X-Bow blows the rain right off the car. No, it’s because you can’t really exploit the chassis to its best abilities in the wet for fear of spinning out at every application of the throttle. The X-Bow needs a light touch to drive it well, manhandle it like a muscle car and it’ll bite you hard.
Still, I’d made it down to the sinuous ribbon of tarmac in one piece, though the road was under a few millimetres of water and sand. I didn’t let that stop me getting one run in once the ran had abated. The road was everything I’d hoped it to be and the car was utterly brilliant – and now, utterly filthy too. At 4am the next morning I woke up to clear skies. The water had drained away overnight and the road was empty of traffic. Only now could I really attack the stretch in anger and make the most of the X-Bow’s 237bhp. It was absolutely sublime. The lightweight KTM revealed itself to be a true driver’s car. Pointy, sharp, direct. The steering wheel feels hard-wired to the road, the brakes powerful and the gearshift short and stubby – just how I like them. The X-Bow revealed just how far modern cars remove you from the real experience of driving. In some senses it’s like a Caterham 7, but one that has been dragged firmly into the 21st century. This KTM is a true classic of our time.
100 » GRANTURISMO S We think Shahzad Sheikh might be in love... with a car
HEN MASERATI FIRST revealed the GranTurismo it was love at first sight. From the very first pictures it was obvious that this car was going to be a stunner on the road, making no excuses for its overtly sexy contours, its luscious lines, comely cat-like eyes, and that pouting, suggestively gaping mouth. The sculptured sides, beautifully pinched rear and those evocative vents straight from a vintage warplane, instantly endowed it with the sort of grace, charisma and sensuous allure you’d want from an Italian beauty. Inside too, it made every journey special, every drive an event with the best build so far seen from the once-beleaguered but now thriving marque, plus exquisite detailing. So what if it was ergonomically compromised and gave you backache? You didn’t care because you were travelling in automotive art. It was also aptly named. With a ZF full auto mated to the 4.2-litre engine, this was a car to do long journeys in and arrive unruffled and still looking the epitome of cool. We discovered as much when we attempted to drive from the Saudi border to the Omani border across the UAE on a single tank of fuel. Not only did we easily accomplish said mission, but we had enough juice left to go for a celebratory joyride on the nearby mountain roads. This is when it revealed its failing – it was not an outright sportscar. It didn’t quite have enough go, and the gearbox didn’t really want to participate in our shenanigans.
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Maserati must have heard our frustrations echoing off the Hatta mountains because shortly afterwards it gave us the GranTurismo S. The S receives a 4.7-litre V8 powerhouse with 433bhp and 361lb ft of torque, delivering 0-100s in just 4.9 seconds and charging up to just under 300kph. But things get even better. Press the Sport button and it opens up valves in the exhaust allowing the back pressure to build up and freeing the engine to rev harder and louder. This unleashes a cacophony of mechanical orchestra which screams and farts and generally makes a delightful nuisance of itself. That’s not all though, the same unassuming button works various voodoo on the steering, suspension and transmission that engineers insist make the car more ‘sportive’. Best of all though is the clutchless six-speed automated manual. It’s the visceral manner in which this bangs in the ratios that makes all the difference, although it only does a passable impression of a slushmatic. But select MC-Shift, rev to over 5500rpm and pull the huge paddles with 80 percent throttle still on, and it’ll punch in a shift at just 100ms, and you won’t care. Great handling and superb grip are bonuses and you overlook the lack of real feel from the steering and an insistence not to indulge in hooliganism. A word of warning though, the Automatica edition features a full ZF auto and the manic engine note is relatively subdued at lower revs, which all makes it easier to live with, but our money would go on this.
» DODGE CHALLENGER SRT-8 Turn on the funk and relive the glory days of the American Muscle Car. By Shahzad Sheikh
HERE’S A BIG PROBLEM WITH the Dodge Challenger. If you’ve got even a smidgen of sentimentality when it comes to big old-skool muscle cars, if you’ve ever seen the movie Vanishing Point, if you’ve ever revelled in the rumble of a Yank-style V8, if you’ve ever indulged in a spot of rubber burning, if you like your headlights round and appreciate coke-bottle curves, and if you believe big is beautiful and smoking tyres should be a national sport, then you’ll already have fallen in love with this beast. And that’s that. Anything I say beyond this point is a waste of time and space. I will though, because there are column inches to be filled and a lot of objective criticism to be levelled at this car. Frankly though, I’m the same as you – I’d forgive this car mass murder, never mind the foibles of being a big stupid brute of a thing that ravages the earth’s meagre resources, rapes your wallet and has never heard of the term ‘efficiency’.
The styling is heart-achingly evocative – Michael Castiglione has done a sensational job of reinterpreting the original 1970s Challenger. It just oozes classic cool, and yet is clearly a product of the modern age. Out on the road it’s a proper show-stopper, and not just because of its yacht-like girth and length. You have to fork out a hefty $55,000 to park one in front of your abode, way more than either its two main muscle car rivals and dangerously close to ‘proper’ sportscars like a Porsche Cayman. But for that you do get the full-fat iron block HEMI 6.1-litre (370 cubes in old American) V8 with 425bhp, 420lb ft of torque and a propensity to light up the fat rear boots at the merest encouragement. You can tell it’s a straightline specialist by the fact that it has an in-dash display indicating 0-100kph and quarter mile acceleration runs in addition to braking distances and a g-force meter. Dodge claims 4.8ses, we managed a 5.1.
All the while you are accompanied by wonderful staccato soundtrack of the kind that is usually canned and deployed for all the best road movies. But be sure to stick some 70s funk on the 13-speaker 322-watt stereo with sub woofer in the boot, and then just cruise – whether it be down the corniche attracting the cool crowd, through the desert past bopping camels, or reverberating through the mountains – it really doesn’t feel right to get sporty in this car. A word of advice, in anything other than a straight line, do not pick a fight – you’ll lose. Remember one simple fact, the underpinnings of this car are derived from the venerable old Mercedes E-Class of 1995. No surprise then that the Challenger feels lazy and reluctant to show any athletic prowess when it comes to corners. Grip is good but slow-in and fast only once the wheels are all lined up again is a must-follow edict. The result is a flawed masterpiece that you can’t help but love.
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> PORSCHE 911 GT3
– PHOTOGRAPHY BY G-NIE ARAMBULO
Go on, take it for a good old thrash – no-one will notice... Tom Bird tries hard to control himself
VEN THE MOST HARDCORE Porsche fan is going to have trouble keeping up with the variety of flavours of 911 there are available. The last time I checked, there were 16 different variants. To start with, there’s the rear-drive Carrera and Carrera S – available with or without a roof; then you’ve got the four-wheel drive Carrera 4 and 4S – this time available with a steel, fabric or glass roof. Don’t forget, there’s a choice of manual or PDK ’box with all of these too. We then move onto the bad boys – the Turbo (and Cabrio don’t forget), GT2, GT3, GT3 RS and the ridiculously overpriced Sport Classic. I’ve probably missed out something in that list, or Porsche will have released yet another variant to fill the void. But which of those sixteen is the best 911 – if there can ever be such a thing..?
Well, for me, it’s the GT3. It’s not as scary as the GT2, nor as soulless as the Turbo and, frankly, it’s a damn sight faster than any of the Carreras. It’s also the only one that comes with a rear rollcage as a no cost option. Sure, the RS version comes with a full cage – resplendent in lurid fluorescent orange – but that might be taking things a little bit too far. The GT3 manages to be hardcore without becoming insane, meaning it’ll happily yomp around a circuit on a track day, yet will still be useable on the daily run. It keep things relatively simple – well, simple for a Porsche at any rate – it’s rear-wheel drive and is only available with a six-speed manual gearbox. No namby-pamby paddles in this bad boy. The 3.8-litre straight-six is a real peach too. It’s naturally aspirated with 429bhp making it good for 0-100kph in 4.1secs and 312kph.
But it’s the little details that really make the GT3 stand out for me. Like the fancy engine mounts which firm up under hard cornering to try and stop the back end of the car from overtaking the front. Or that big ol’ spoiler on the back, complete with subtle 3.8 etching on the ends. There’s even – and I’m not making this up – lightweight headlights available as an option. It’s a heady mix. And I have to admit that during our photoshoot of the above car in the pits down at the Dubai Autodrome I was sorely tempted to take it out for a damn good thrashing. The track was completely empty and the GT3 had a full tank of petrol. It sat on the edge of the pitlane with the exhaust throbbing away, urging me to take it for a drive. Alas, my head overcame my primal urges to burn my bridges with Porsche and the Autodrome guys in one brilliant, stupendous, tyre-smoking attack on the circuit. Maybe next time...
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100 » MERCEDES-BENZ E63 AMG Shahzad Sheikh thinks this smoking E needs some mouth wash
OR A LARGE PROPORTION OF THE populace inhabiting this part of the world, the middle Benz, the ‘E’, is the ‘made it’ car. It’s purely a statement that says I’ve worked all my life to own a Mercedes, I’ve succeeded and now there it is on my driveway. This means that for the E itself, there is little incentive to achieve anything above and beyond the role of proudly displaying its three-pointed star. But somewhere along the line the lab-coat wearing engineers working on the current E-class decided they wanted to inject a little charisma into the most hard-working of Mercedes’ saloons – it fulfils many multiple roles ranging from executive express, prestige family carrier and, in some parts of the world, plying fares on taxi fleets. And the new attitude arrives in the form of an astonishingly competent chassis that chooses not to shout about its prowess but can surprise and delight on your favourite twisty road nonetheless. Now add into the mix the E63’s monster 6.2-litre V8 producing a staggering 518bhp and 464lb ft of torque. Countenance if you will, a 0-100 time of just 4.5 seconds. It’s restricted to 250kph, but throw a little extra cash to Mercedes and they’ll happily remove the nanny so it can go to speeds past 300kph. And as you’d expect from an AMG, fire it up and it sounds like Thor gargling. Even when it idles it does so with a potent menace that sees the other motors in the Directors’ car park whimper with fear. But it’s no lazy lump either, and is quite eager to roar right
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up the rev range, blasting the cabin with awesome aural sensations. For most of us, that would be enough but this AMG is able to manage all that thunderous torque much better than any old-skool AMG saloon. You know, the ones which generally just sit there shredding the rear tyres while you’re simply trying to move from the lights. Standard three-stage adjustable dampers can give you limo-like comfort levels with still decent body control, or a tighter more fidgety German muscle car experience if you wish. The steering may not engage like a sportscar, but if you want a Porsche 911 then buy a Porsche 911. ESP can be switched between On, Sport and Off modes. The gearchanges too can be tuned via a rotary dial and the transmission is a seven-speed auto as seen in the SL and employs a lighter wet clutch of the kind usually found in dual-clutch gearboxes. This means it will slur or firm up changes at your whim. While previous iterations were the sort of cars that were humoured because of their mental hot-rod talents, the only problem with this new AMG’d E is that by raising its game, it’s opened itself up to challenges from similarly serious supersaloons. It has to contend with the technical prowess of the soon-to-be-replaced BMW M5, the charm of the Jaguar XFR and the Hollywood heroics of Cadillac’s CTS-V. But the mere fact it manages to hold its own in such company is high praise indeed. Plus it has that all-important three-pointed star.
» ASTON MARTIN V12 VANTAGE Fit your biggest engine into your smallest car. Recipe for disaster? Shahzad Sheikh thinks not
HIS CAN’T BE RIGHT. A V�� IN something this size? Double-sixes are normally bestowed on tarmacgreedy luxury automobiles or those vehicles inhabiting the rarefied realm of the hyper-exotica – think back to the godfather of supercars, the Lamborghini Countach, or for a present day perspective, something like a Ferrari 599. Majestic speed merchants or the grandest Grand Tourers that are usually found at the most exclusive nightspots in town or in a schoolboy’s fantasies. For an agile rocket of a road racer, something that flits between lanes, dicing up large tracts of traffic and which enjoys tearing across the tightest back roads, the power usually comes from a turboed-four, a creamy V6, or at most, a highly strung eight-pot. Indeed the beautiful Aston Martin Vantage is most commonly known and accepted in V8 guise and even then it is no shrinking violet.
And yet here is a Vantage with a V12. Don’t believe me? Just raise the overtly masculine vented bonnet and gawp in utter bewilderment at an engine bay stuffed tighter than a danseur’s jockstrap. It’s as if they built the car around the V12. The car seems to know it too. There’s more purpose, more menace in its whole stance compared to a ‘regular’ Vantage. Similarly, the Vantage will embarrass its big brother DBS from whom it stole the engine in the first place. The 6.0-litre lump up front produces an equal 510bhp and 420lb ft of torque, but the Vantage has the measure of the DBS with a fraction quicker 0-100kph time of 4.2 seconds – though it actually feels even quicker. Brutishly handsome, tough yet elegant, it may be a thug in a tuxedo, but it’s a very fine tux. The Aston is beautifully finished on the outside and lovingly crafted inside with swathes of leather and alcantara covering everything. It is a proper wheelman’s tool, but sliding down into
the cosy cabin is still an event rewarded with visual and tactile delights. You’ll also be greeted by a manual gearshift – it’s the only flavour it comes in – short, stubby, shiny and, here, almost unbearably hot to the touch. Don’t forget to press the Sports button, it opens up the exhaust valves for the full banshee-wail effect – few cars can attain the same levels of automotive aural ecstasy that Astons can these days – plus it significantly sharpens the throttle response. And it makes the car a more edgy, more thrilling prospect. Porsche 911 Turbo owners will reel off numbers when talking performance as if brandishing a gauntlet – but you’ll just smile back, the twinkle in your eye unmatched by your antagonist. The V12 is considerably more expensive, less reliable and frankly makes little, if any, sense in these financially and environmentally-chastened times. Which makes its unconventional and anarchistic tendencies all the more desirable
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SUV OF THE YEAR
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100 » RANGE ROVER SPORT SUVs don’t come much better than this, says Tom Bird
HERE WAS ALWAYS A little problem with the first generation Land Rover Range Rover Sport – it wasn’t really that sporty. Even with the 384bhp supercharged 4.2-litre V8 it could only muster a 7.1sec run to 100kph. When we pitched the Sport up against the X6 last year, the funky upstart from BMW had it well and truly licked. But now there’s a new Range Rover Sport in town. Honest. Okay, so the design hasn’t really changed that much, but then again, it was pretty much sorted the first time round. Yes, there’s new LED-based lights front and rear, two-stripe motifs along the side – designating the Sport as a Corporal, the daddy Range Rover gets three as it’s the Sergeant, the new LRX-based miniRange Rover will get one for Private status; plus there’s some new alloy wheels. To be honest, we’re not huge fans of the 5-spoke alloys you see here, they look a little bit ‘aftermarket’ for our tastes. We’d recommend going for the 19-inch ‘off-road’ wheels. That way, you can happily take the new 503bhp 5.0-litre supercharged beasty out into the rough stuff without worrying about scratching your precious wheels. Although the name might suggest the sport has a mechanical link to the Range Rover, it actually uses the LR4 as its base. Because of this, it’s got immense abilities in the tricky stuff. It’s all thanks to the brilliant Terrain Response System.
Although the Sport’s credentials off-road were never in doubt – it wears that hallowed green oval badge after all – it’s the on-road performance that’s been most improved. With the blown engine, it’ll crack the 100kph run in 5secs – hugely impressive for a car of its size and weight. But what’s more mind-boggling is how it will run from standstill to 160kph and back down to rest in less time than the old supercharged Sport took to reach 160kph. You have a big meaty set of Brembo brakes to thank for that stellar performance. But it’s not the straight line stuff that the Sport does well, it now handles better than you would ever expect. Body roll is tight and controlled, the steering is direct – the old Sport was lumbered with extremely agricultural steering; you can even get paddleshifts on either side of the wheel to control the brilliant swift-and-smooth shifting ZF automatic gearbox. Another failing of the old Sport was the interior, it just never felt special enough. Well, here Land Rover has really gone to town. There’s two-tone leather and alcantara on the seats, glossy lacquered wood on the dash and everything has a solidity about it that brings with it a feel of real substance. At night, there’s fancy mood lighting – a feature borrowed from the Jaguar XF – which makes it feel really special inside. It’s the combination of this, its brilliant performance on road plus its immense abilities off road that makes the Land Rover Range Rover Sport our SUV of the year.
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COVERSTORY FEATURE CAR
» FERRARI SCUDERIA SPIDER 16M If you love driving through tunnels, you’ll love this car. Tom Bird certainly does
HE F��� SCUDERIA WAS A stripped-out last hurrah for the baby Ferrari, showing what could be achieved with the mid-engined supercar should you ditch anything that wasn’t really necessary. Out went the carpets, the sound deadening, the radio. Basically all the dead weight was left out in a skip for the locals to pick over. The results were utterly intoxicating. The Scuderia was perhaps the greatest modern-day Ferrari, better even than the Enzo. You felt you could use all of its potential out in the real world without worrying about expensive maintenance bills later on. It was a car for the proper, hairychested driver. A car that required you to stand up and make yourself known. I was lucky enough to visit the Ferrari factory back in 2008 and got the chance to wring a Scuderia out hard on the hills around Maranello.
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It was a seriously intense drive. My arms ached for days afterwards. And no amount of Panadol could shift the headache it gave me. I was hooked on the buzz, the thrill of smashing through the gears via the F1-style paddleshifts after watching the LEDs chase themselves along the top edge of the steering wheel. I proclaimed it to be a car you absolutely had to drive before you died. Strong words, I think you’ll agree. We even gave it our coveted ‘Supercar of the Year’ award last year. Then, Ferrari ruined everything by chopping the roof off of it. What the hell were they doing? If ever there was a better example of ‘one step forward, half a dozen back’ then this was it. Removing the roof would surely ruin everything the Scuderia stood for – hardcore, lightweight, track-focussed – wouldn’t it? How wrong could I have been.
Opening up the Scuderia’s cabin to the elements only made the Scud even better. Now you could fully enjoy the wonderous noise of that race-bred 4.3-litre V8 as it wailed its way towards the dizzying heights of its redline. It was a car to go searching for tunnels in. I only wish I could have driven the Scuderia Spider through the Alps in Switzerland. I know of a tunnel there that’s nearly 18 kilometres long. Just imagine the sound of that V8 reverberating off the walls for a full 18 kilometres. How epic would that be? It would be so awesome, I’d turn around to do it again, and again, and again, until last dregs of petrol were expelled from those twin exhausts. Just 499 lucky people will be able to sample the delights of long-term ownership of the Scud Spider as Ferrari produced it as a special edition to celebrate winning 16 constructors titles in F1. And this is one seriously special edition.
» JAGUAR XFR Forget slippers, this big cat needs racing boots. Shahzad Sheikh ties his laces tight
AGUAR WAS ONCE PERCEIVED AS RATHER STAID and very flat cap and tweed jacket with a pipe throw in for good measure. Nowadays, things are a lot more dynamic, and this XFR proves the point by scoring a direct hit on the iconic BMW M5. Is it really as good as that standard-bearer for all sports saloons? At 503bhp it just beats the M5 on power, but more significantly it whips it on torque output – up 77lb ft to 461. Oddly it’s a couple of tenths slower to 100kph in 4.9 seconds but matches the Bavarian bruiser for limited top speed at 250kph. Then it delivers a killer punch as far as pure facts go – it’s about $20,000 cheaper. But there’s more, whilst the M5 has brutal presence it was never a looker – well there is a replacement on the way. The XF styling has matured nicely despite initial doubts and a meaty body kit adds toughness. It looks like a professional rugby player in a fine tailored suit with manicured nails. This is the best looking of all the super saloons including the Audi RS6, Mercedes E63 AMG and even the incredible Cadillac CTS-V. It also puts all those cars in the shade when it comes to boasting a finely crafted, beautifully executed and superbly thought out cabin with unique features like revolving air vents to surprise and delight driver and passengers alike. It’s a very inviting place to be and manages to achieve the sort of specialness that used to be the preserve of Audi’s saloons. The dour M5 hasn’t got a chance.
Another point it scores over its rival from the M-division is that it takes ten minutes to twiddle all the suspension, power and gearbox settings in the BMW before you can even set off. In the XFR you just wait for the gear knob to elevate from the centre console, twirl it to D and go. For added fun you then hit the Dynamic Mode button – the one with the chequered flag. This sharpens throttle response, loosens up stability control, makes the gear changes more aggressive and employ’s the R’s clever adaptive dynamics. If you’re up for it, next stab the DSC button to attain ‘Trac DSC’ which frees up the rear a little whilst keeping things in check. For wheelspins and tail-out antics hold the button down for a full ten seconds to turn it all off – and then burn a lot of rubber. You can drive it fast and hard and it rewards with agile responses, sticky roadholding, neutral direction changes and frankly remarkable coolness for a big saloon. However, you do feel the weight moving around, but then that’s true of any big sports saloon. So whilst it can really be hustled along, sounding magnificent and looking majestic, it’s best to leave it in dynamic mode to keep things from getting too unseemly. Classy, refined and sophisticated enough to impress passengers, drivers will revel in its twin abilities both as an executive express and back-street brawler. Remember how London’s gangsters loved the 1960’s Mark 2 Jag? Well, it’s back.
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100 » AUDI RS6
– PHOTOGRAPHY BY G-NIE ARAMBULO
It’s the ultimate Q-car to go baiting supercars with on the way home, Tom Bird sings its praises
O THE UN TRAINED EYE, THE RS6 doesn’t look much different to a regular Audi A6. And that’s a good thing, because there’s nothing better than surprising other road users when you unleash the RS6’s full potential. And what potential it has. The 5.0-litre V10 engine packs a punch of monumental proportions. It’s got a cool 572bhp. Just think about that for a minute. A four-door saloon with space for the kids and shopping with significantly more power than a Lamborghini Gallardo. I mention the baby raging bull as that’s where the RS6 has borrowed its engine from. Suffice to say, the RS6 is rather rapid – the 0-100kph benchmark acceleration run is dispatched in just 4.5seconds. Naturally, being a product of one of the big German firms, the RS6 is limited to the gentlemen’s
agreement of 250kph. Without the electronic gloves spoiling the fun, it would easily storm past the 300kph mark. What’s more impressive about the RS6 is just how easy it is to drive at pedestrian speeds. With that much power, you’d think it would be a nightmare in traffic – but in fact, it’s a doddle. Just slot the gearshifter in to drive, brush the throttle and away you go. In fact, one criticism we can level at the RS6 is that it’s a little too relaxed when you’re really going for it. With all that Lambo-derived power under the bonnet, I want my RS6 to emit flames from the exhaust tips every time I fully exploit their potential. But no, this is an Audi, and that wouldn’t be allowed now, would it? It has to be said that the past twelve months has seen rather a bumper crop of super executive saloons arrive in the showrooms.
There’s this sensible RS6, the big cat with claws – otherwise known as the XFR; the smoking Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG and the much-betterthan-you’d-think-it-would-be Cadillac CTS-V. If only we weren’t in the middle of a financial meltdown, we might actually see some more of them on the road. But don’t let those worries get to you when you’re driving the RS6. And anyway, should your business go belly-up and you need to hot foot it to the nearest international border, then the RS6 is definitely your steed of choice. No-one’s going to give this thing a second glance as you saunter past the border guards. So there you have it, if you’re planning on racking up loads of debt and then running away from the aftermath, get an RS6. Or if you want to embarrass supercars on the daily commute, get an RS6. But if you really want some fun, get a CTS-V...
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» GALLARDO LP560-4 SPYDER A few months back, Tom Bird proclaimed this to be best ever Lamborghini. Was he right?
UNSTROKE DOES STRANGE things to your body. Your skin can become both hot and dry. Your sweating usually stops, and your breathing can become rapid enough to bring on hyperventilation. Your pulse rides rapidly and, this is the killer, you may experience ‘mental and verbal confusion’. Mental and verbal confusion, hmmm, maybe that’s what I was suffering from when I proclaimed the Gallardo LP560-4 Spyder to be the ‘best ever Lamborghini’ when I drove it back in August. Even though it was the height of summer and the temperature was pushing past the 45-degree mark, I still drove it everywhere with the roof down. Well, I just had to really. I wanted to savour the sound of that manic V10 as much as possible. And though I did barrel the Gallardo through the tunnel on Palm Jumeirah once or twice – okay, about ten times in total – I spend a lot of time under the sun’s rays.
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So was I wrong? Is this latest version of the Gallardo Spyder really the best model to ever come out of the Sant’Agata factory gates? Well, yes. You see, whilst there have been some truly amazing cars built by Lamborghini over the years – the everyman’s Jalpa, the sensational Muira and the bedroom poster fodder that is the Countach – I still maintain the Gallardo Spyder is the best all-round Lambo. You see, it’s just so darn brilliant. It’s so easy to exploit its potential on the road. The now trademark four-wheel drive system gives it brilliant road holding, the engine is utterly fantastic and I even like the e-gear system. Press the button to engage Corsa mode and it bashes through the ratios with sheer abandon. And if you find the time to spend a few minutes studying the contents of the massive tome that is the user manual you can even engage the Gallardo’s ‘Thrust Mode’ – it sounds so much better than ‘Launch Control’ doesn’t it?
Do that and the Gallardo races off the line like a thing possessed – 100kph passes by in a blur in just 4 seconds and it won’t stop pushing hard until you’re well past 300kph. All you have to do is keep the throttle planted and the gears change themselves at the exact moment when the V10’s torque peaks at 6500rpm. Just be sure to find yourself a long enough road before you try it out for yourself. It also helps that the Gallardo looks so damn right – especially when it’s finished in day-glo yellow. Lambos do not deserve to be painted in sensible colours like silver or black, they absolutely have to wear the most ridiculous war paint possible. Orange and green are the order of the day here. Or how about matt blue? Few supercars can manage to be absolute animals to drive when the opportunity arises yet become pussycats when you’re sauntering around town. Yet, the Gallardo can do this too. Cars don’t get much better than this.
» KIA SOUL Tom Bird asks if you’ve got enough soul for the Soul from Seoul
ATHER BIZARRELY, THE KIA SOUL’S design was inspired by a wild boar wearing a rucksack. No, seriously. That’s what happens when you send an American designer over to Korea to come up with an idea for a new car and stick him in a cheap hotel with the only English TV channel available being Animal Planet. The boar with a rucksack is supposed to signify being tough, rugged and ready to go places. It’s a bit of an odd car is the Soul. On one hand it’s a decent supermini offering a nice ride and plenty of space and oddments storage for those on-board. Perfect for families who’ve not got a great deal of cash to splash out on a new set of wheels. But then in America the Soul is aimed at those annoying iPhone-wielding young hip funksters so loved by product developers the world over. You know, those geeky guys with their hilarious t-shirts and oversized glasses. There’s a whole host of cooky marketing material around the Soul squarely aimed at stopping these bods from running down to the nearest MINI dealership and ordering up a Cooper S. Kia has even created a commercial which involves hamsters driving around a city with the music pumping from the Soul’s stereo – a stereo with speakers that flash in time with the music no less. However, it seems that no-one at Kia really knows who the Soul is aimed at. Have a quick search around the internet and you’ll see what I mean.
In the US it’s the funky generation they’re after, in the UK it’s the small families, in Korea itself there’s a rather bizarre advert involving a whole host of people ‘Singing with Soul’. Yes, really. Here, nobody seems sure who it’s aimed at. What the Soul boils down to is a slightly tall supermini with a few nice touches in the cabin like the standard MP3 player connector. And, it’s actually not bad to drive once you resign yourself to the fact that it’s got a really shoddy gearbox. You have to wring the engine out for all its worth to make decent progress. However, in the stopping and cornering stakes, it’s actually rather, dare I say it, fun. The suspension is set quite stiff which stops you from pulling off an impression of a sailing dingy when you tackle a roundabout. The downside is that it’s a little bit fidgety at low speeds, but it’s a worth-while trade off in my book. Because of its raised-up stature, it’s a great little car to punt around town as you get a great view ahead – so long as it’s not blocked out by some mammoth Yukon XL that is. Though despite looking like it might pack a four-wheel system, this isn’t a weekend warrior by any stretch of the imagination. It’s purely front-wheel drive. However, there may be something very interesting on the horizon. At the Detroit show in January, Kia unveiled the Soulster. It’s a pick-up version of the Soul with a two-seat cabin and an open rear deck. It’s due to hit production in 2010, and I for one am very much looking forward to giving it a go.
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» HYUNDAI GENESIS COUPE If you overlook this car, you don’t know what you’re missing out on. Tom Bird explains more
HE KOREAN CAR GIANT HAS been happily making all manner of superminis, saloons, MPVs and SUVs for a number of years now. In fact, it’s made so many of them that it’s now considered to be the 4th largest automaker in the world. But despite all of this success, Hyundai has never really produced a car that’s pushed our buttons. You know, a car for people who actually enjoy the process of driving rather than just seeing it as a box on wheels to get from work to the mall then back home. Well, now there is a car from Hyundai that’s been designed to be driven and it’s this – the Genesis Coupe. It’s Hyundai’s alternative to the likes of the G37, the 370Z and the trio of American muscle – the Mustang, Camaro and Challenger. And you know what? It’s damn-near perfect. There’s a 3.8-litre V6 up front which drives the rear wheels – and although it does feature a sixspeed automatic gearbox, it’s the same brilliant ZF auto that you’ll find in a Jaguar XF or a
Maserati Quattroporte. Normally, I’d bemoan the fact that it’s not got a manual gearbox – the US gets a six-speed manual as standard – but when the auto’s this good, I’m not going to complain. With 314bhp available, the Genesis Coupe will crack the 100kph run in less than six seconds before going onto a top speed of 240kph. However, this car is way more than just a straight-line beast – this Hyundai can handle. To start with, the steering is perfectly weighted and tells you exactly what’s going on under the front wheels. You can be very precise with your inputs, positioning the car exactly where you want it on the road. Also, it’s got a brilliant rear-drive chassis. Though, I did find that Hyundai needs to work a little on the finesse of its electronic stability control nanny, as it is rather too eager to stop any fun within a moments notice. Thankfully, all it takes it the ightest of touches on the button and she’s silenced. And now, the Genesis Coupe really comes into its own.
It has a lightness about it that plenty of other rear-drive coupes fail to have. Even something like a BMW M3 feels very heavy when you’re really pushing it, but the Genesis never fails to impress with its featherweight feeling. I was very surprised at quite how tail-happy the Genesis Coupe is, I mean I knew it had a short wheelbase and was rear-wheel drive, but I never thought it would be such fun to drive. It’s an absolute riot – happy to step its back out should you feel so inclined. It’s perfectly controllable too – add a little more throttle or tweak the steering and you can adjust your line with ease. No wonder it’s found its way onto the American drift scene. Don’t be put off by the badge on the front of the Genesis, this coupe from Korea could teach a lot of the establishment a thing or two about driver involvement I can tell you. And it’s because of this that we have no qualms in awarding it our Coupe of the Year award. If you’re not convinced, go and test drive it for yourself. I guarantee you’ll be impressed.
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» LAND ROVER LR4 ‘It’s the perfect all-rounder,’ says Shahzad Sheikh. Need he say more? Well, he’s going to anyway
’LL TRY TO STOP FAWNING IN A moment, but the question has to be asked: is the Land Rover LR4 quite simply the perfect all-rounder? Okay let’s start by trying to define what everyday automotive perfection constitutes. It has to have the look and prestige of a car you can be proud of. This thing has the famed green oval on the grille and the heritage and credibility that immediately injects the LR4 with, is above reproach. Although the LR4 is not a Range Rover, it doesn’t look out of place turning up at the Emirates Palace, nor would it appear odd packed full of kids on the way to school sports day. It’s equally at home cresting a dune or precariously cocking a wheel as it negotiates a particularly rocky wadi bed. It was styled only with the aid of a set-square but the designers still managed to infuse it with a rugged but clean-cut appeal that imparts solid dependability and an indisputable road presence.
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There’s a subtle elegance and class within its simple lines – even more so in the LR4, an evolution of the LR3. Next you want practicality and safety, especially if this will be your sole car that also needs to endure the family chores. It’s a genuine seven-seater, and still retains enough space for most of the weekly shopping run. There are lots of storage compartments, the large glass area will ward off travel sickness and safety is self evident from the heft of the thing – crash into it at your peril. As a CAR reader, you’re also keen to learn about the performance. With a new 370bhp 5.0-litre V8 shared with its Range Rover brethren, the benchmark acceleration run drops by seven-tenths to just 7.9 seconds to 100kph. Torque is also considerably up on the old car at 375lb ft. To ensure the car remains composed despite its increased pace, it benefits from advances such as upgraded suspension with stiffer anti-roll bar and electronic air suspension, as well as improved
dynamic stability assist. It will never be a sports car, but nor will it leave you embarrassed and frankly left behind. For our region, a perfect family car should also be decent off-road, even if the only journey you take off the black-top is a shortcut in Sharjah or getting down to the beach. Fret-not though, as befitting the badge, off-road it’s even more impressive. New features include sand launch, which allows you to easily move off, and you can now leave the traction control on. Just pick the appropriate setting in the Terrain Response system and it will dial back the aids including stability to let you get on with it, but still keep you safe. It’s also available with the new all-round camera systems that employ five cameras to show you exactly what’s going on around the car – useful whilst rock crawling, or negotiating Deira City Centre car park. I said I’d stop fawning well I can now that I’m ending this piece. The LR4 really is that good.
» VEYRON GRAND SPORT Bugatti flogs its hypercar for all it’s worth. Tom Bird takes a look
F YOU’RE LUCKY ENOUGH TO OWN A Bugatti Veyron, you might have a little quandry on your hands – what to replace it with? Once you’ve taken ownership to the keys of the hypercar are you really going to want to downgrade to a lowly Ferrari or a Lamborghini? Hardly. Those cars might as well be Korean superminis for all the appeal they have to the Veyron owner. How about the SSC Ultimate Aero then? It does hold the Guiness world record for being the fastest car on the planet after all. But then again, it does look like a bad replica of an early nineties Diablo and the interior is horrible. Okay, what about something a little bit leftfield then? The Zenvo ST1. Yes, that’s the name of a car, not some knock-off MP3 player from DragonMart. It’s a Danish supercar with 1104bhp and there’s only going to be 15 of them in the world. Not interested? Right, last chance now – what about the Skyborg Fantasoba? This hypercar hails from Liechtenstein and uses a Chevrolet V8 that been tuned to 1234bhp and has an interior designed by Zaha Hadid. Sounds pretty cool right? Well, I made that last one up. So, another Bugatti it is then. But at least there’s another one to choose from now.
Yes, it’s still got the same quad-turbo W16 987bhp engine. Yes, it still obliturates the 100kph mark in less than 3 seconds. And yes, it stil costs a ridiculous amount of money. So what’s different? Well in this one, you can remove the roof – well, a bit of it anyway. And you need two people to do it. And you have to leave it behind in the garage. But put those slight inconveniences aside for a moment and savour the thought of a Veyron without a roof. Now everybody can admire your bald spot whilst your driving along... Sorry, now everybody can throw rubbish into your cabin as you drive past... Sorry, must be more positive. Err... Now you too can buy a rather large plant from the garden centre and take it home with you. There you go. And if that’s not reason enough to shell out even more money for a slightly compromised version of the Veyron, well then I don’t know what is. Sure, you’ll be able to hear the unique sound of that W16 engine at full chat. But, why would you want to do that? Honestly, it would drown out the sound of that whale music CD you’ve got playing. The Veyron retains its position as the pinnacle of motoring achievement. Only now, it’s lost its roof. Just what are they going to follow it with?
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» AUDI Q7 This is for the family that needs to get around in style whilst tackling the occassional gravel track, says Tom Bird
UST LOOK AT THIS AUDI Q�. It’s big, imposing and resplendent in a burnt orange hue selected from the Audi exclusive collection. There’s nothing subtle or unrestrained about the Q7 – but that’s not exactly a bad thing. It’s perhaps the car that carries off the four-ringed brand’s chrome goatee grille look the best. But I do think someone in Audi’s parts department must have over ordered on the LEDs when it first introduced them to its full range cars as there’s rather a lot of them sprinkled across the front of the Q7. However, they do add a certain touch of character to the big SUV. And big it is. At a touch over 5-metres long, you’re certainly getting a whole lot of Audi for your money. But it’s the sheer width of the thing that takes the most getting used to. Those massive dumbo-ear style wing mirrors make the Q7 a bit of a challenge to park in narrow spaces. Just be thankful we aren’t overrun with width restrictions on roads in the Middle East. Trying to drive a Q7 through the narrow streets of European cities is something you don’t want to do very often.
But the best thing about the Audi is that it manages to be such a leviathan without becoming an absolute pig to drive. Plenty of other manufacturers fail with this particular challenge, certainly anything made by the American Big Three feels about as agile as you’d expect a three-tonne shoebox to feel. Sure, it’s no R8 to drive when the road gets interesting, but since when can you carry six passengers and a reasonable amount of kit in an R8? You’ll be lucky to get an overnight back into the front boot of that thing. So the Q7 remains the ultimate family car for the ever-growing brood. Okay, so the rear most pew isn’t the most accommodating – get an LR4 if you have children with longer legs. But the Audi carries with it a bit more class and swagger than even the Land Rover does. It’s best to stick to the tarmac, or at a pinch some of the smoother gravel tracks – this is not a car to do rock-crawling, wadi-bashing or dune-surfing with of a weekend. But it will tackle the worst horrors of all – Mall of the Emirates car park on a weekend evening – with absolute ease. Bump up the kerb and off-load the family. Nicely done.
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» CATERHAM 7
– PHOTOGRAPHY BY THANOS LAZOPOULOS
It may be over fifty years-old, but car this is still an absolute blast as Shahzad Sheikh discovers
OTUS CARS’ FOUNDER, COLIN Chapman, used to say, ‘simplify, then add lightness’. He created the Lotus 7 in 1957 – a car that distilled the essence of what an automobile was to its barest essentials, and then took those away too. All you need to have in your ultimate road car, he dictated, was a chassis, four wheels, an engine, gearbox, some sort of skin, brakes and something to steer by. This philosophy served the 7 right up to 1972 when it stopped production. But it was clearly too good a concept to let slip into the annuls of automotive history. Caterham bought the rights to the car and, but for a few upgrades, engine changes and improved materials and production methods over the years, has continued to churn out pretty much the same car to this day. Hand over a sum starting from $32,000 to GulfSport Racing in Dubai – the Middle East reps of the cottage industry British sports car maker
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– and you can have a brand new 7 sitting on your drive today. Question is, once you’ve got it, what do you do with it? As early 21st century motorists we’ve been so dumbed down that to behold a 7 is to stare an anachronism in the face. Where’s the servoed brakes, power steering, automatic gearbox, or even the self-cancelling indicators? What about adaptive suspension, automatic lights and wipers and even the a/c? How about ABS, traction control and all the active whotsits we rely on? The first couple of kilometres you’ll drive in a Caterham 7 might be enough to make you pull over – brakes all locked up because you can’t get a feel for the pedal – call up GulfSport and ask them to take it back on a trailer. It’s hard to get in, there isn’t much space, it takes ages to get ready for the off as you have to pull on the race harness, clip back the flimsy doors and then reattach the steering wheel. The tiny wheel is too heavy at low speeds, the clutch is snappy,
grabby, impossibly heavy in traffic and a frankly a real bitch. Your first day with the car is like being back at driving school, ignominiously you keep stalling, stuttering away, or ending up with unwanted wheelspin every time you attempt to move off. In traffic you’re terrified of driving into the car in front, or losing the back end coming out of a roundabout in this overtly rear-drive racer. You’re equally concerned that some prat driving a Patrol whilst on the phone will drive over you without even noticing. The fact is that you’re just spoilt and soft, and you’ve no idea what real driving is all about. Persevere and eventually your limbs start to reprogramme and adapt to the forces, sensitivities and understanding of how to drive it. At that point the masochistic pleasures of driving a 7 become addictive, but more to the point, you rediscover the joy of driving. Even with just 150bhp, few cars can match the thrill of piloting a Caterham 7.
» NISSAN 370Z
– PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN WYCHERLEY
By all accounts, the new Z should be a great car, but it’s not. Tom Bird finds out what went wrong
HE MAIN PROBLEM WITH THE Nissan 370Z is that it had a tough act to follow. Its predecessor, the 350Z, was a real brute of a car. It had a strong V6, an agricultural manual gearbox, heavy steering and didn’t give two hoots about being refined or cultured. It was the Japanese equivalent of a muscle car. You could lay down elevens from the rear tyres with consummate ease. It was a flawed diamond, but utterly intoxicating. The other thorn in the 370Z’s side is the GT-R. That is a real animal of a car. It’s totally involving to drive and seriously rapid across any stretch of tarmac thanks to its twin-turbo V6 – officially in a 478bhp state of tune, but plenty of factory-fresh cars pack much more firepower – and the grippy nature of its four-wheel drive system.
The 370Z is not a cut price GT-R, and that’s more the pity. The ingredients are all there for it to be a great drivers car – powerful V6, rear-wheel drive, sports suspension. It should be one of those cars to take out for a quick blast only for you to return a good few hours later with the tank empty and the brakes smoking. But it’s not. It’s main failing is the automatic gearbox. Sports cars should not come with smooth-shifting slushboxes. They should either have an honest manual ’box or at a push come with a fancy-pant double-clutch wonder shifter. But the 370Z is blighted by a seven-speed automatic. Sure, it’s got paddleshifts, but it fails to be anywhere near as involving as it should be. You can get the 370Z with a proper gearbox and from all the reports we’ve read, it turns the 370Z in a great drivers car.
It even has a clever bit of tech called ‘Synchro Rev Control’. Basically what this does is blip the throttle on downshifts to match the revs to the road speed. The result is smoother changes which allows you to get back on the throttle sooner. It also makes you look and sound like a top flight driver on a hot lap, even if you’re just popping down to the shops. But as with every other decent car in the region, you’re going to find it hard to get hold of a manual car as the market demands automatics. Well, those lazy buggers can demand all they want, but Nissan shouldn’t listen. The old Z might not have been a big seller, but at least the ones that were sold had manual gearboxes. The last downer on the Z is it’s price. It’s pitched up against the likes of the Porsche Cayman. And I know where I’d rather put my money.
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> ALFA ROMEO MITO
– PHOTOGRAPHY BY ALAN DESIDERIO
Forget buying a supercar, if you really want to stand out, get yourself an Alfa. Says Tom Bird
HE PAST DECADE HAS BEEN a period of excess. Everything has been the largest, tallest, fastest and the most extravagant. Be it yachts, buildings, computers or cars. If the new one could outdo the old, it was lapped up by all and sundry. Even the humble cappuccino had to be supersized. But then, everything went a bit wrong. Banks collapsed, obesity rates soured and people wandered around in a bit of a daze. Now, downsizing is the new world order. Phones now pack as much processing power as laptops of a few years back, iPods have shrunk to the size of cigarette lighters and nobody wants to live in a penthouse apartment anymore. It’s the same with coffee – order a diminutive primo and you get a much better tasting drink with even more punch. It’s a similar thing with Alfas. For eons, small Romeos have been a bit rubbish. The 147 may have looked good, but wasn’t great to drive and would start to fall apart after a few years.
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On the flipside, the big motors – the 159 in particular – were great. They finally showed that the Italians had the nous to put the game up the German establishment. But then the Mito came along and showed what happens when you distill those Alfa genes down into a little package. For a start, it oozes Italian style. That pointed nose, the offset numberplate, the retro details. The flashes of chrome that don’t look overdone or cheap and tacky. Those fluted leather seats which are achingly gorgeous and an indication that small cars don’t have to miss out on big car niceties. Yes, some of the bits of plastic might be a little brittle, but at the end of the day it’s an Alfa – it can’t be all perfect. It has to have some foibles otherwise you wouldn’t fall in love with it. If it didn’t have a few Achilles heels you might as well succumb to the wonders of something like a Nissan Tiida. Or maybe not. It’s pure Italian to drive too. A little too eager and uncomfortable around town, but a few fiddles with the DNA system and you can adjust just
how Italian you want to be at any given time. It tweaks the steering, the throttle response and the eagerness of the stability systems from Dynamic to Normal to All Weather. Naturally, we’d opt for Dynamic every time. Yes, it might loosen a few fillings over crappy road surfaces, but it’s a small price to pay for the extra tightness it provides proceedings when the going gets good. With a turbocharged 1.4-litre engine doing a great job of providing plenty of go to the front wheels – 155bhp to be precise – the Mito ain’t exactly slow. And with – praise the lord – a manual gearbox, this is one supermini that demands to be driven. Because of this, it won’t appeal to many of the lazy so and sos in the region who demand boring automatic gearboxes. It’s also never going to become commonplace on our roads. We just don’t go for small cars here like Europe or the Far East. Not even the MINI which is a smash hit in every other corner of the planet, even in America. Nope, it’s going to a niche interest car appealing only to the bravest of buyers. And this is why we like the Mito so much.
CONVERTIBLE OF THE
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» JAGUAR XKR Shahzad Sheikh likes to smoke tyres with his top off
N THE CAR ME OFFICE WE DON’T always find common ground when discussing cars, but when it came to the XKR Cabrio, the conclusion was instantly unanimous – it was quite simply the most fun you could have in a GT car with your top off. That might seem an astonishing statement – the Jag is an old man’s car, right? Well if it is then the new XKR is a fine example of ageing disgracefully. But there’s more to it. The old XKR was fabulous, properly quick and stylish, but it always felt it had to maintain decorum and a stiff upper lip. There was also the unshakable sense that it was really just a cost-effective understudy to an Aston. Since then however the XKR has been in therapy and it’s learnt to lighten up and shed its inhibitions. Then it went back to its engineers and told them: ‘it’s okay guys, you’re off the leash, let your hair down and go crazy.’ So they did. First they installed the new family engine – the 503bhp 5.0-litre V8 endowed with a compact Roots-type supercharger – now with some high helix rotor engineering voodoo type mystical magic that vanquishes the supercharger whine. Then they turned up the volume to 11. Put the roof down and you get to soak in an aural riot – a deep-chested thrum that rises to a metallic raspy clap which, near the limiter, is shrill enough to rip paint off the buildings you fly past.
The sense of an old-skool muscle-bound V8 is amplified by bangs and pops as you lift off or change down. It’s not melodic like an Italian, but rampant and startling for a car that’s meant to err on the side of refinement. Needless to say, performance is astounding. It’ll race to 100 in less than five seconds and you’ll revel in every moment – you sit low and cosy in the exquisite cabin and really get to indulge in the sort of sensation of speed that most GT cars manage to completely dilute. It now gets the gear change with the rising rotary dial control and the brilliant paddles from the XFR. You also get all the buttons such as the one with a chequered flag and its implied naughtiness. Hit that and DSC and it reigns in the traction control to let you get lairy – to a remarkable extent of leniency. Hold the DSC down for a full ten seconds and you’ve got a muscle-bound hooligan on your hands. And inevitably a massive bill for a new set of rear boots! The new electronic differential means you can go drifting with the rice-racer crowd should you choose – that would put the cat amongst the pigeons. The grip firms up comfortingly as you press on, and the helm response is reassuring and accurate – neutral with but a hint of understeer. It’s more a very competent and entertaining muscle car than a dedicated sportscar, but it does a pretty passable impression. It’s nothing short of a youth tonic. And it’s for all these reasons that the XKR takes our award for Convertible of the Year.
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» PORSCHE BOXSTER Forget your 911s, this is all the Porsche you need. Tom Bird specs up his ideal Boxster
OU MIGHT THINK I’ve gone a bit soft. Surely the 911 is the Porsche to have, not the Boxster. People don’t call it the poor man’s Porsche for nothing. Well, those people who are happy to slag off the Boxster can’t have driven one. And that’s because this little two-seater is a real peach. Sure, it’s not over endowed with ludicrous amounts of power, but it doesn’t need to be. I’m even more of a fan of the regular Boxster than the bigger-engined S version. You’ve got to spec it right though. Ignore the urge to go crazy on the options when ordering a Boxster as it’s all to easy to get a little carried away. My perfect Boxster would be as follows – white paint, blue roof, 18” wheels, black leather sports seats, manual gearbox, limited slip diff and the Sports Chrono Package Plus. I’m forced to have the navigation system and uprated stereo if I want the last option, so I’d grudgingly accept the extra outlay. But that’s it. Just $7000 worth of options on top of the $46,750 base price, making it less than the cost of a Boxster S. You can keep all your fancy interior trimmings, exclusive paintworks and the like – seriously, you could really go to town if you’re not careful and end up with a Boxster that costs just as much as a 911.
It’s the Sport Chrono Package Plus that’s the real must-have option though. However, it’s not for the rather pointless stopwatch and all that jazz, but the little ‘Sport Plus’ button that makes its way onto the bottom of the centre console. It doesn’t look like much, but pressing this really transforms the Boxster. Take the Boxster out without this switched on and you’ll marvel at the sharp steering, the impeccable body control and the excellent brakes. However, you’ll be willing the car to go faster, wishing there was some extra horsepower and wondering whether you should have gone for the S after all. No need. Just press that button. Instantly, the Boxster will feel more potent, more alive, more fizzing with energy. The throttle is more responsive, the steering sharper and the exhaust more vocal and the car just feels more energised. Honestly, you won’t believe the difference until you try it yourself. Yes, you’ll still be a lot slower than your mate in his Carrera 4S who thinks he’s better than you, but you’ll be the one getting more out of the drive. Plus, you’ll have spent half of what he has. Still, less than 6secs to 100kph isn’t what I’d call slow and a top speed of 260kph is plenty in this day and age when you can’t go for two metres without encountering yet another speed trap. Don’t discount the Boxster, it’s a lot better than you might think.
– PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOVANA OBRADOVIC
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100 » CORVETTE ZR1 Shahzad Sheikh likes this sledgehammer on wheels
T SEEMS INAPPROPRIATE to precede Corvette with the Chevrolet marque name – a car like this road-bound supersonic missile just cannot sit in a model range alongside the likes of a $7000 Chevy Spark! That might be a bargain in one sense but if I told you that this Corvette was also a bargain at nearly $130,000, you’d look at me with incredulity. Wouldn’t it be better to spend that sort of money on an Aston Martin V8 Vantage? Indeed, that would give pause for thought. But if you’re playing the numbers game, let’s take a look at the stats: 0-100 in 4.8 seconds, 290kph top speed and 420bhp from a 4.7-litre V8. By contrast the $130k Corvette ZR1 has a 6.2-litre V8 producing 638bhp. It will rip past 100kph from standstill in a barely believable 3.4 seconds and onto a terminal velocity of 331kph. A Ferrari 599 GTB will do the acceleration run in 3.7 seconds, achieve 330kph, boasts 620bhp and costs well over $300k. You’ll pay the same for a Lamborghini LP670-4 SV, though at least its 661bhp beats the ZR1 with 3.2 seconds and 341kph. The Corvette has always been America’s best sportscar and the ZR1 is quite simply the best of breed, the ultimate evolution of the finest road racer ever to come from across the Atlantic Ocean, the fastest too. It’s also almost as rare as the finest European exotica with just 1800 ZR1s set to roll off the Kentucky production lines by 2012.
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On the same line an Eaton supercharger is bolted onto the V8 to whip up over 600lb ft of torque, which means that in a car weighing just 1508kg you can dispatch 100kph without changing out of first and less than half a minute later you’ll be over 300kph. This car is quicker around the Nurburgring than a Nissan GT-R. It stops too, thanks to huge ceramic brakes – 394mm front and 380mm rear – and if you recall the racecar harshness of the lesser Z06, you’ll be amazed to learn that the ZR1 is actually more refined – relatively speaking of course. The suspension is more compliant and the Z06’s magnetorheological dampers – also found on the 599 – are utilised to much better effect in this car keeping the shock absorbers well in check. Stick a g-force meter on this thing and you’ll regularly see over 1.0g – which for a road car, is absolutely astonishing. Of course, should those massive rear 20-inch tyres let go at speed it could well be the last time you ever soil your underwear. The cabin let’s the side down by being, well, pretty unimpressive, but it’s remarkably easy to pilot around town. Dont’ forget, it’s about the same size as that other brilliantly usable everyday supercar – the 911 Turbo. In its latest guise that’ll do 0-100kph in 3.4 secs, although its 493bhp runs out of puff at 312kph. Price? $133k. Makes you think, but for sheer drama the ‘Vette’s even got that car beat. Shock and awe, baby, shock and awe…
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100 » QUATTROPORTE SPORT GTS Shahzad Sheikh explains all about this wonderful Maserati saloon
ASERATI IS ON A ROLL. TALK to most other manufacturers about how this year has gone and they’ll all mumble something about meeting revised projections and optimism for the future whilst putting on an almost brave face. The guys at Maserati, however, are sporting smug grins below their chic designer shades. The arrival of gorgeous new sportcars has certainly helped Ferrari’s sister marque, but the absurdly stylish and achingly desirable Quattroporte continues to draw the contrary executive in to the showroom. Meanwhile, the inherently sporty saloons continue to evolve subtly and benefit greatly from each revision. Okay, so this does mean that things are getting a little confusing – what, pray tell, is a Sport GT S version of the Quattroporte when it’s at home? This model sits above the S edition and gets the same 4.7-litre V8 that lurks in the GranTurismo S – but then so does the S. The difference is an engine remap and a sports exhaust taken from the GranTurismo S. Confused? Alright look, basically all you need to know is that if you press Sport button the valves in the pipes which normally take the exhaust gases around the houses to water down their energy and quieten the output, open up. This sends the raging emissions straight out through those big oval exhausts giving this particularly QP its loudmouth nutter tendencies, plus an extra 10bhp and shaving a few tenths off the 0-100kph time (5.1 seconds for the record).
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The ZF fully automatic transmission provides fluid changes whilst cruising, but also does a great impression of a more traditional automated manual. It now boasts even faster and more aggressive changes – it even has launch control for when you want to put that upstart BMW in its place! The Beemer driver will certainly have noticed you, thanks to the new hunkered down stance and the massive 20-inch multi-spoke alloys. For anoraks and Maserati spotters it’s also important to note the new black grille with concave vertical fins, titanium-backed headlights and redaccented Trident logos. Inside there is ‘titanium coloured’ composite material featuring alloy weaved into the carbon trim, and you get new sports seats with Alcantara and leather – though they still aren’t quite what directorial bottoms are more used to from rival German saloons. You’ll love the typically exquisite handling and the brawny performance all accompanied by the burbling, crackling and popping of the mechanical orchestra emanating from the rear pipes, but there is a problem with this car – it’s all just a little OTT for a typical QP owner. This incredibly suave and classy exec compromises its ride, and is overly vocal about its potency – both visually and aurally. Most QP owners are the sort of people who could own a Ferrari if they really wanted to shout, but choose the more restrained elegance of a Quattroporte. So it’s the S for them and the Sport GT S for us. Clear?
» ASTON MARTIN DBS It might have loads of performance abilities, but you’ll never use them. As Tom Bird explains
ET’S IGNORE THE JAMES BOND connections for once shall we and take a look at the Aston Martin DBS for what it really is. A stupendously beautiful British grand tourer that’s far from perfect. Yes, it might have a 510bhp 6.0-litre V12 at the front, but it’s mated to a choice of two not so great gearboxes. The manual is clunky when changing gear, the solid lump of aluminium that sits in place of the gearstick is a health and safety hazard in the heat and the positioning of the useless cupholders makes any attempt at a swift gearchange nearly cripple your right arm. With the lazy boy Touchtronic things aren’t much better as it’s been known to give up on letting you changes gears – kind of a necessity what with it being a gearbox and all – after any decent stint at a fair lick. However, you really don’t care about those things. And nor should you. An Aston is never going to be the sharpest tool in the box on a driving front. But what is really is, is a moving piece of art.
There’s no doubting that the DBS is based on the DB9 – itself a continuation of the design direction started by the wide-arched Vanquish – but when your starting point looked that good, we’re not going to start complaining. There’s plenty of carbon fibre in play here – especially on the monstrous diffuser at the back. Drive a DBS and you’re guaranteed to draw attention on the road. It exudes class from every angle. People stop and gawp and cameraphones are unleashed at every set of traffic lights. Just don’t for a second think they’re looking at you, nope it’s all about the car. Even in this part of the world where at times it can feel like supercars are ten a penny, an Aston will still get noticed when a Ferrari would be ignored. It also carries with it a certain class that’s lacking from other supercars. You’ll find the valet parking guys will leave your car out the front in one of the special spots for all to admire. And you might even find that people let you out at junctions, which is an extreme rarity as I’m sure you know.
So despite all that performance promised by the engine – 0-100kph in 4.3secs, 307kph top speed – you really won’t find yourself using it. You’ll be more than happy just to cruise around town, soaking up the free love coming your way from every other car. We have to admire Aston Martin for getting the most out of this design of car. After all, to people who don’t live or breathe surrounded by all things car – yes they do exist, they’re usually known as women – a DBS is just the same as a Vantage, which in turn is the same as a DB9. They all merge into one shape that’s ‘an Aston’. It’s a similar story with the four-door Rapide that’s due to hit the region in early 2010. You could say that Porsche is guilty of this too. But I think not, there are more differences that mark a 911 out against a Boxster than there are between all the Aston Martins. But still, when they look this good, who am I to complain? I’m just wondering what they’re going to come up with next.
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100 » MINI CONVERTIBLE
– PHOTOGRAPHY BY ISADORA BOJOVIC
Sometimes, you can even go too far with the options on a MINI, as Tom Bird explains
F ALL THE POINTLESS PIECES of technology that have wormed their way into cars over the year – heated steering wheels, Mini-Disc players, massaging seats, automatic air-fresheners – none have been quite as useless as one feature in the MINI Convertible. It’s called the Openometer. As the name suggests, it keeps track of how long you’ve been driving with the roof open. Really. What is the point? It’s even more amusing when you learn that you actually have to pay for this as an option. Yup, MINI will happily take $200 off your hands for you to have the privilege of knowing how long you’ve had your roof down for. Whoop-de do. Aside from this rather pointless waste of an engineer’s time, the rest of the Convertible continues down the familiar path. Same engines as the regular MINI and the oddball Clubman, slightly down on performance. But it’s the changes between this second generation Convertible and the original that are most marked.
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Headline news is that the boot is now much more commodious, there’s a huge additional five litres of space. Oh, that’s enough for well, not a lot really. Yup, as before you’ve going to have to pack light if you’re planning on going anywhere long distance in the MINI Convertible. Either that or invest in some bags that will fit snugly on the absolutely useless rear seats. I once sat in the back of a MINI Convertible for a two hour journey and I have to say it was perhaps the most uncomfortable experience of my life. I had to sit sideways across the two seats as there is zero legroom whatsoever. A family car this is not. But no-one buys a MINI for its practicality. Nope, you buy a MINI because you’re young, fresh and funky – a member of the cool crowd. The other big difference in the new Convertible is the rollover bars. Before, these were fixed in position which gave the MINI bugger all rear visibility. Driving test examiners in the UK even went so far as to ban students taking their test in MINI Convertibles.
Obviously, something had to be done. So MINI invested in a pop-up rollbar, the sort of thing you’ll find in a BMW 6-Series. More expensive for sure, but then it wasn’t really something they could scrimp on. With a stiffer body and revisions to the suspension, the Convertible is a better drive than before. There’s much less of the dreaded scuttle shake to be felt through the windscreen frame which is the blight of any car that’s lost its roof. However, I’m still not the world’s biggest fan of the second generation MINI. I much prefer the first of the new MINIS. The interiors were much better that’s for sure and the engines – whilst being quite thirsty – had much more character. But you know what, it doesn’t matter what I think about the MINI. The target audience – especially for the Convertible – don’t care that much about driving finesse. They just want a cute car with bundles of kit and performance on tap so they don’t get bullied too much. And when you look at it like that, the MINI’s pretty good.
100 » NISSAN GT-R Tom Bird explains why Godzilla is so very, very good
HE ANITICIPATION surrounding the launch of the Nissan GT-R into the Middle East region was immense. Although the car only officially went on sale in February 2009 it had become commonplace in CAR Middle East ever since November 2007. That’s when Nissan revealed the first details of its new Godzilla – its car to take on the likes of the Porsche 911 Turbo. In January 2008 we published CAR UK’s first drive of a production-specification GT-R around Sendai racing circuit in Japan. The man lucky enough to be behind the wheel was Gavin Green, one of the most respected motoring journalists in the UK. He ended his drive with the following words: ‘There is no other fast car that’s so easy to steer, no car that has more armoury in its quest to go fast… one of the world’s great fast cars, a techno tour de force, one of the very best cars I have ever driven.’
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Now, with comments like that, I knew that the GT-R was going to be good, and I couldn’t wait to try it for myself. Grey imported cars had already started to make their way into the region and GT-Rs were spotted on the roads of Dubai. Nissan Middle East announced it wouldn’t honour any warranty work on these US-spec cars. But then a couple of months later, it brought in its own shipment of US-spec cars. These were for its VVIP customers. Customers who could afford to not worry about invalidating their warranty. We asked, but we weren’t allowed a drive. Other local magazines began publishing ‘exclusive Middle East first drives’ but they weren’t. They’d merely ridden along with an owner of a grey-import car and cobbled the ‘drive’ together from other sources. But this isn’t what we wanted to do. We wanted to get behind the wheel of an official GCC-car and drive it on the local roads. Negotiations with Nissan Middle East went on for many months.
SPORTS CAR OF THE YEAR
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100 And then in the first week of February, we finally got the keys. The plan was to pitch the GT-R up against some of the best performance cars we could get our hands on so we could publish not only the first Middle East drive, but also the first group test. We’d already published stories from the UK that had seen the GT-R beat everything from a 911 Turbo, BMW M3, Audi R8 plus countless other cars. The only car that had edged ahead of the GT-R was the Gallardo LP560-4 Coupe. We’d compiled a good alternative lineup in the shape of the Aston Martin DBS with a 510bhp V12, the supercharged Cadillac CTS-V super saloon and the Mercedes SL63 AMG and its monster V8. Three very different cars, but all offering an alternative take on the modern day performance car. Could a GT, a convertible or a saloon put up serious contest to the all-wheel drive twin-turbo GT-R? Er, no. It’s fair to say the GT-R wiped the floor with the lot of them. But then again, I really can’t think of car that would prove to be a worthy adversary to the GT-R. The GT-R messes with your mind. It’s a car that really takes your breath away with its sheer abilities and epic performance. I’d chosen to conduct the group test on the roads around Kalba on the East coast of the UAE. The area’s quiet and there’s a good mix of road conditions to deal with.
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As I’d not been down there for a while I took the opportunity to check out the area in the GT-R the day before the test. I collected the car from Nissan’s HQ in Jebel Ali at 11am and had made my way to the start of the main road down to Kalba at around midday. Bearing in mind I’d only been driving the car for around an hour, and hadn’t driven the road for a while, I fully expected to take things easy. But I soon had other ideas. I found myself driving at speeds I could barely believe, cornering with such conviction, holding onto the GT-R’s wheel with all my might. I was shocked at how well the GT-R handled, its immense grip levels and its supercar performance. Even though I’d read every story I could about the Nissan GT-R, nothing came close to experiencing it first hand. I got to the end of the road an exhausted wreck. Before I’d driven it, I was worried that the GT-R might feel a little distant to drive, a bit too much like a Playstation on wheels. But no, it’s one of the most involving cars I have ever driven. You can literally feel the gearbox changing through the ratios beneath you. Nissan has moved the game on for sports cars like you would not believe. And it’s because of this that the Nissan GT-R is our Sports Car of the Year and also our Car of the Year for 2009. Car of the decade? Quite possibly.
2009 CAR OF THE
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01 » FIAT 500
Can the dinky Italian really cut it on the SUV-riddled streets of the region? We’re not entirely sure, especially considering that the MINI has never really taken off here as much as BMW would like it to have. However, if a little car is going to suceed here, then it should really be the 500. It oozes charm and character from every angle. This is not a supermini to be relegated to a life on a rental fleet, this is a four-wheeled machine to be loved and cherished. With perky engines, an engaging drive and oodles of creative options, we can’t wait for its arrival.
If you thought that the past twelve months have brought some cracking cars to the streets of the region, just wait and see what the next year has to offer. Here are ten models that have got the petrol pumping through our veins in anticipation.
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» BENTLEY MULSANNE The Crewe-based firm has enjoyed a veritable feast of sales of its Continental range of cars, not just here, but across the globe. But the Mulsanne is different. As a replacement to the Arnage, this is a proper four-door Flying B designed to waft the well-heeled in luxurious comfort from place to place. Rolls-Royce has had this market to itself in the past, and though the Mulsanne is a little smaller, it’s likely to be a real thorn in the Phantom’s side.
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» MERCEDES-BENZ SLS AMG Past models bearing the AMG badge on their rump have always been fettled versions of regular Mercedes-Benz cars. But the SLS is different. There isn’t going to be a cut-price SLS 200 K to appeal to the budget-conscious buyer, no SLS 320 CDI diesel to ferry some bored European businessman along the motorway. The SLS is a proper, full-bodied, red-blooded supercar. It picks up the mantle of the SLR collaboration with McLaren, but has been developed entirely in-house by the three pointed star. It unashamedly steals its styling cues from the classic gullwing of yesteryear, but brings it bang up to date – and them some. Cars like the SLS AMG don’t come along every day and it’s sure to become a massive success in this part of the world. With big open stretches of highway, cheap petrol and some cracking race tracks, there really isn’t a better place to sample its delights. This car’s going to be a sure-fire winner in the Middle East.
» LOTUS EVORA Our colleagues back at the CAR mothership in the UK are big fans of the Lotus Evora. In fact, they went so far as to proclaim it the winner of their annual Performance Car of the Year test. It beat the likes of the Aston V12 Vantage, Gallardo Balboni and even the Audi R8 V10 into submission. The KSA dealer is already in place with the rest of the region to follow.
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» ROLLS-ROYCE GHOST Despite sharing lots of technology, the Ghost is not merely a blinged-up BMW 7-Series. It’s pitched as the truly accessible Rolls-Royce, though that’s not to say it’s going to be cheap – expect to pay a figure somewhere above $300,000 if you want to get your hands on one. However, if you’ve not already put your name down, expect to be waiting a while. Rolls-Royce has already received orders for over 1500 Ghosts and it takes around 20 working days to build each one – to each customer’s exacting specification, naturally. With a new 563bhp V12 and an eightspeed automatic gearbox, the Ghost is looking like a very impressive machine indeed. It shares many of the styling cues with its Phantom bigger brother including the trademark suicide rear doors. However, this Rolls-Royce has been designed for the person behind the wheel, not the one reclining in the back.
» FERRARI 458 ITALIA With Enzo-like styling, a howling V8 engine and three – yes three – exhausts, the 458 Italia is a true thoroughbred Ferrari supercar. It follows in the wake of the brilliant F430 Scuderia, yet is more powerful and quicker than the stripped-out special. Like the California, the 458 Italia has been designed without a manual ‘box in mind. But fear not, the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox has been designed with spirited driving on the agenda and works with a clever electronic diff to provide epic performance on road or track. Any supercar fan worth his salt should keep an eye out for one of these.
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» ASTON MARTIN RAPIDE Do not think of the Rapide as a rival to the Porsche Panamera, the BMW 7-Series or indeed any other four-door saloon. Aston rather loftily claims that the Rapide doesn’t have any rivals, it’s merely an alternative option for the would-be DB9 buyer to consider. It’s trump card lies in the rear seats that are actually usable by real human beings, though we doubt you’ll want to spend too long back there as it is rather cramped.
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08 » JAGUAR XJ
The modern reinvention of the big cat continues with the biggest of them all, the new XJ. It follows in the paw prints of the XF and XK and promises to be the ultimate 21st century Jaguar. With the same supercharged V8 that makes the R models such joys to drive, the XJ promises a lot. Think of it as a slighter more mature – note I said ‘slightly more mature’, not ‘getting on a bit’ XFR and you won’t be far wrong. Whilst the exterior styling – especially that blacked-out C pillar – has drawn some criticism, there’s been a whole world of praise for the interior. It takes its cues from the sublime cabin of the XF but moves it onto another level. The Panamera better watch out.
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» BMW GT
Unlike some other German marques, you certainly can’t say that BMW is playing it safe at the moment. The GT is based on the all-new 5-Series and features a unique double-opening boot and promises the practicality of an SUV with the dynamics of a saloon. We’re told it looks better in the metal...
» NISSAN PATROL Details surrounding the new generation of the iconic Patrol are sparse to say the least, but from what we’ve heard, the new model is going to take the fight to the Land Cruiser – and then some. However, Nissan has to be careful it doesn’t scare away its existing strong following for the car – a Patrol must be an excellent off-road car for it to be worthy of wearing the badge. We don’t want a repeat of the launch of the Pathfinder which saw a much-loved truck go soft in a bid to extend its market reach. We’ll find out more in Feb.
10 ICONS OF THE
Despite all manner of cars from every corner of the world being availble to buy here, there are a handful of models that are held in such high esteem they could be considered as not just means of getting from A-to-B, but legends in their own right.
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» TOYOTA LAND CRUISER It is considered a rite of passage for many to take a Toyota Land Cruiser into the sand, and why not? It’s not called the King of the Desert for nothing you know. Like its Prado little brother, the big Toyota is held in very high esteem across the region and as such holds onto its value like little else, despite the sheer numbers of them on the road. Whether it’s from holding on for dear life in the back of one on a ‘safari’ or being blinded by the reflection of its full-beam headlights on the highway, everyone has a story to tell about the Land Cruiser.
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» LAND ROVER There was a time when you didn’t find five star hotels, luxury car dealers and swanky restaurants on each street corner in the region. But, alongside the camels and the donkeys, you would have found the ever-dependable Land Rover quietly going about its business. Thankfully, many of these original workhorses have been kept in prime condition and still work on local farms. A true legend.
» MERCEDES-McLAREN SLR It may never have lived up to the expectations of either of its makers, but the SLR has found its way into many hearts here. The combination of shear brute-force power and outlandish styling flourishes – including that unfortunately-proportioned nose – found it many fans. Yes, whilst the SLR might not drive anywhere near as good as something wearing a Mercedes badge should, nor feel as special as a McLaren might, we still admire it.
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» JEEP WRANGLER If you want to explore the lesser developed parts of this dusty region – there’s certainly enough places to choose from – then there’s little better than the Wrangler. Whether it’s factory standard or groaning under the weight of lift kits, knobbly tyres and enough camping equipment to last out the worst sand storm, the iconic Wrangler is the beast of choice for many. As a go-anywhere vehicle, you can’t do much better than this.
» TOYOTA CAMRY There can’t be many people in the Middle East who’ve not experienced a Camry first hand. Whether it was from the driver’s seat is another matter. Nevertheless, there’s something to be said about a car that will happily travel over 250,000kms nearly non-stop in the course of a year as it plies its trade as a taxi across the region.
» LINCOLN TOWN CAR For many a year, the Lincoln Town Car (not forgetting its less premium brother, the Ford Crown Victoria) has been the steed of choice for those really long journeys. The blue oval is killing it off next year (not before time), so what to replace it with for those jaunts between the big cities? Maybe a Panamera?
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» MERCEDES G55 AMG It’s probably fair to say that if the big Mercedes didn’t enjoy such a cult following here, it would have been retired off years ago. But it hasn’t, and this hunk of German metal is now in its fourth decade of production. That’s seriously old for a car, especially one that was originally designed for military purposes. With 500bhp on tap courtesy of a supercharged V8, the G55 AMG is no slouch, but certainly isn’t endowed with what we’d describe as ‘sporty handling’. It requires a delicate touch to drive smoothly, otherwise you run the risk of flattening anything in its path. However, it seems that many owners have yet to master it.
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08 » HUMMER
Hummers are not great cars. They’re heavy, underpowered and have ridiculously cramped interiors. However, that doesn’t stop them being a firm favourite among certain demographics in the Middle East. The real nuts go after the original H1 which is about as subtle as a sledgehammer and about as good to drive. We can almost see the appeal of the H2 with its breeze-block styling and chrome-edged attitude, though never the H3. Although, we have to admit that we too have occassionally fallen for its charms, if only for a very short while.
» CHEVROLET LUMINA The Chevy four-door might not be as technologically advanced as many cars out on the road, but that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that it has the block from a Corvette under the bonnet and it drives the rear wheels. It’s crude, rude and an absolute riot to drive. There’s little else out there that’ll scrawl hundred-metre long elevens down a stretch of tarmac as soon as you dump the clutch. Of course, we would never condone such behavour out on the public road, but we admit that sometimes you’ve got to enjoy the little things in life.
» NISSAN PATROL For every hardened Toyota Land Cruiser fan, there are just as many who live and die by the Nissan Patrol. It’s a more utilitarian alternative to the big Toyota, but this just means that it’s all-but unbeatable on tricky conditions away from the confines of tarmac. The Patrol’s standing amongst its fans is also helped by the fact that it’s a rather easy machine to tune. With a little bit of help from some moderately-sized turbos you can get yourself 1000bhp to play with. How long everything holds together though is another matter.
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WHEN YOU LEAVE YOUR MARK, WILL IT MEASURE IN METERS OR KILOMETERS?
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10 CONCEPTS CARS OF Each of these concepts gives a glimpse of what we could be driving in the future. Some might be a little over the top but others are thinly-veilled showroom reality. Either way, they show that your next set of wheels could be very interesting indeed
» LAGONDA Aston Martin caused the world’s press to stop in its tracks when it revealed its modern-day interpretation of what a new Lagonda could look like. Underneath that unique metalwork lies a Mercedes GL. It promised excellent off-road abilities coupled with the kind of performance we know and love Aston Martin for thanks to the V12 engine under the bonnet. The interior even featured rabbit-fur on the seats. However, the downturn of the global economy has put the Lagonda project on hold – for now at least.
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» MX-5 SUPERLIGHT Although it can’t have taken Mazda more than five minutes to knock this Superlight MX-5 togther – remove windscreen, add rollbars, job done – we still rather like it’s pared-back demenour. It’s never going to see the light of production though, which surely is an opportunity missed.
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» TOYOTA FT-86 6 After years of creating the automotive tomotive equivalents of dishwashers on wheels, Toyota is getting its mojo back and will start making cars for drivers again. It’s all because of the new man in charge, Akio Toyoda. He’s the grandson of Toyota’s founder and was the driving force behind the LF-A supercar. However, owever, what we’re most intruiged by is this FT-86 6 concept. It’s already in development and is expected on sale next year. It’s powered by y an Impreza engine which drives the rear wheels. Cool.
» BUGATTI GALIBIER The Veyron has certainly put the historic brand back on the map. But what to follow it with? Well, this. It’s called the Galibier and promises to be the fastest, most powerful, most elegant and expensive car in the world. Only this time, instead of being a two-door supercar, this is a four-door saloon. Though it’s officially a concept car, Bugatti has already started showing the car to prospective clients around the world at exclusive events. Indeed, it got its Middle East debut in Dubai at a top secret event in December 2009. Details are very sparse at the moment, but we’ve heard that this ultimate saloon will be powered by the same 987bhp quad-turbo W16 from the Veyron. If it gets the green light, don’t expect to see one on the road until 2013 at the very earliest. Price will be $3million+.
» AUDI E-TRON If you thought electric cars were dull and slow, think again. This is the E-tron and it’s essentially an all-electric R8. And it’s no show car special, this will go into limited production next year with first customer cars going on sale in 2012. It promises a 0-100kph time of just 4.8secs, and has a 250km range before needing a recharge. Regional sales are unlikely though.
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» BMW EFFICIENTDYNAMICS Though it’s extremely unlikely that you’re going to be able pick one of these up from your BMW dealership anytime soon, expect some of the thinking behind the Vision EfficientDynamics to filter across the full range of blue-propellor cars in the coming years. This concept showcases the numerous developments that BMW has implemented in making its full range of cars more efficient. It’s It s also the winner of our Design and Technology award this year.
» VOLKSWAGEN BLUESPORT This sharp-looking convertible is a clear indication that VW is set to invigorate the two-seat roadster market. Though this concept has a diesel engine, we expect a wide range of petrol engines also to be offered for the likes of America and our market. It’s a dead-cert that one of them will be the one-size-fits-all 2.0-litre turbocharged engine. Expect it to go on sale in late 2010.
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> INFINITI ESSENCE This striking two-door coupe is what you get when you boil down every Infiniti on the market. Or that’s the idea anyway. The luxury arm of Nissan is keen to stress that it’s highly unlikely that a car like this is ever going to see production reality. However, some of the technology it features such as the high performance hybrid engine with a collasal 600bhp on tap to the rear wheels, could well filter across the Infiniti range soon.
» MINI COUPE Proof that BMW is flogging the MINI for all its worth will arrive in showrooms around the world in early 2011. There are two new models joining the flanks of three-door hatchbacks, two-door convertibles and odd-ball Clubman. One of them will be a development of this MINI Coupe concept which is BMW’s response to the Audi TT. Naturally, there’s a lot of shared parts with other MINIs, but this one is just for two bods. Also to come is a Roadster variant.
» RENAULT TWIZY You might think this is a concept car flight of fancy, but a development of this quirky two-seat electric car will go on sale in parts of Europe in late 2011.
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ON & OFF ROAD
10 QANTAB ROAD FROM MUSCAT
09 LIWA TO MOREEB HILL
This might not be the longest stretch of twisty tarmac in the region, but it’s still a rather fun drive. With big changes in elevation, tight hairpins and sweeping corners, it requires plenty of concentration to tackle it well. An added bonus is the five-star hotel at the end.
Most roads that run through the middle of deserts are arrow straight – not this one. This 20km stretch of tarmac weaves its way through the big dunes that exist on the edge of the UAE’s empty quarter. It’s a must drive.
08 KHASAB COASTAL ROAD
07 KHOR KALBA
Despite many towns and cities in this part of the world being sited on the coast, there aren’t many great roads around with ocean vistas. Well, there is one. Up in the Omani peninsula of Musandam lies a two-lane ribbon of tarmac which hugs the ragged coastline. It’s epic.
When we want to give a car a thorough working over, there’s one place we like to go – Kalba. The town itself is little more than a fishing outpost, but it’s the drive down there that keeps us going back again and again. There’s even a couple of tunnels for aural satisfaction.
06 JEBEL HAFEET This mountain road is a real car killer. With countless corners and a serious change in elevation, many an engine has overheated on a run up here. It’s best visited during the week when all three lanes are traffic free. Enjoy.
05 SALALAH HAIRPINS You’re going to have to be rather committed to get to this road as it exists in the very southern tip of Oman, right on the border with Yemen. But it’s well worth enduring the extremely dull drive through the desert to get to the Salalah hairpins. Until you go there yourself, you’ll never believe that a road like this would exist in the Middle East. It rivals the brilliant Stelvio Pass across the Alps as one of the roads you absolutely must drive before you die.
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04 YAS MARINA CIRCUIT Okay, so driving on the Yas Marina Circuit is going to take a little bit more forward planning than the others and will require you to dig into your pocket to pay for a track day, but it’s well worth the money. Yas Marina differs from other circuits in the region in many ways, not least because it runs through the middle of a hotel. Driving past the 50,000-seat grandstands makes you feel very much part of the action, rather than buzzing around a dust bowl.
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Centennial A LUXURY TO INSPIRE Engineering as an art form. Performance redefined to suit your every mood and personal style. Technology that is as smooth as silk, but with massive power reserves that are always ready to move you.
03 WADI BIH
02 HAJJAR MOUNTAINS
There was a time when anyone with a competent SUV could drive from one end of Wadi Bih in Ras al-Khaimah to the other in Oman without any problems. Unfortunately, due to a closed border crossing, that’s no longer possible. However, you can still drive most of the length of the iconic route so long as you start from the Dibba end on the East coast. With stunning vistas like the one above – it’s not called the Grand Canyon of the UAE for nothing – it’s a brilliant place to spend a few hours seeing just what your off-roader can do. Bring a tent and a few supplies and there’s plenty of spots to pitch up overnight and enjoy the wonders of a night under the stars surrounded by the mountains. Those who are a little more active might even want to explore the area on foot or a mountain bike as there are numerous trails running off the main wadi bed. Be warned though, it’s not recommended to visit here after any storm or if rainfall is forecast as the run off water has been known to wash away anything in its path.
If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, then head into Oman and explore the countless routes on offer through the Hajjar mountains. Whether its waterfalls and rockpools, tricky boulder-strewn tracks or sweeping gravel-lined passes, there’s a bit of everything out here. Be aware that all the pounding of sharp rocks and the like can be rather wearing on your SUV – especially its tyres, so make sure you go prepared for the worst.
01 THE EMPTY QUARTER If it’s desert you’re after, then you really can’t get much better than the Empty Quarter. It is, after all, the biggest sand desert in the world as it stretches from the UAE through to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and across into the Sultanate of Oman. The only limitation as to where you go and how long you spend here is just how prepared you are. Go in a group with some experienced desert drivers and you’ll have a brilliant time.
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AWARDS ROUND-UP The CAR Middle East awards are considered to be the most prestigious motoring gongs in the region. Here, we reveal the winners of our final three industry awards and give you a full run down of this year’s winners
RENAULT F1 ROADSHOW Driving an F1 car can be difficult at the best of times, but driving one whilst performing donuts on the slopes of Ski Dubai is something else. But that’s exactly what Renault did when its F1 Roadshow arrived in the region. In addition to this crazy idea, Renault’s F1 cars and Megane race cars put on a number of smoke-filled stunt shows on a specially-built stage on the lake outside The Dubai Mall. To top it all, everything was absolutely free to watch. It’s our Event of the Year.
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ABU DHABI GRAND PRIX With the world’s F1 fans watching, Abu Dhabi knew it had to deliver a great show for its first ever Grand Prix. Although Jenson Button took the championship honours in Brazil, the final race of the season was still a nail-biter. The Yas Marina Circuit proved to be a great track for drivers and spectators alike plus also hosted a number of free concerts for the 50,000 people who filled the grandstands. It takes our award for Regional Motorsport Achievement for 2009.
CAR MIDDLE EAST AWARDS 2009
» FAMILY CAR OF THE YEAR
» SUPERCAR OF THE YEAR
» COUPE OF THE YEAR
» LUXURY CAR OF TH E YEAR
» PERSONALITY OF THE YEAR
» EXECUTIVE CAR OF THE YEAR
» MANUFACTURER OF THE YEAR
» SMALL CAR OF THE YEAR
» DESIGN & TECHNOLOGY AWARD
» COMPACT SUV OF THE YEAR
» EVENT OF THE YEAR
» SUV OF THE YEAR
» REGIONAL MOTORSPORT ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
IN ASSOCIATION WITH EMIRATESNBD
ASTON MARTIN It’s been a busy year for the British sports car maker. It returned to 24hr endurance racing in Le Mans, revived the Lagonda nameplate with an interesting concept car in Geneva, showed off a city car based on the Toyota iQ and is ramping itself up for the launch of the four-door Rapide. Aston Martin is showing itself to be one of the most forward thinking and fast acting car companies around. For all of these reasons, Aston Martin is our Manufacturer of the Year for 2009.
LAMBORGHINI MURCIELAGO LP670-4 SV PORSCHE PANAMERA CADILLAC CTS-V
VOLKSWAGEN SCIROCCO AUDI Q5
LAND ROVER RANGE ROVER SPORT
» SPORTS CAR OF THE YEAR NISSAN GT-R
» CONVERTIBLE OF THE YEAR JAGUAR XKR
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HYUNDAI GENESIS COUPE H.E. KHALDOON KHALIFA AL MUBARAK ASTON MARTIN
BMW VISION EFFICIENTDYNAMICS RENAULT F1 ROADSHOW
2009 ABU DHABI GRAND PRIX
» CAR MIDDLE EAST CAR OF THE YEAR 2009 NISSAN GT-R
CAR Middle East magazine celebrates the best in the MIddle East