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First Laps: 2018 Porsche 911 Turbo S Exclusive Series

WILLOWS, California — Wealthy folk sometimes make it seem as though having cartoonish piles of money is such a bore. When you can afford anything you want, it’s apparently not worth buying if Alistair down at the equestrian club has the same, even in a different color. High-end automakers thrive on this vehicular one-upmanship, releasing limited batches of cars to appease picky, complex-ridden collectors. Stuttgart’s latest and greatest smugmobile, the 2018 Porsche 911 Turbo S Exclusive Series, is a 607-horsepower, all-options-checked monster that’s as limited as it sounds. Last month, ahead of the 2017 Monterey Car Week, the company rolled out an Exclusive Series for us to drive at Thunderhill Raceway—and discover how it feels to be the one percent of the one percent.

From a brand standpoint, the Exclusive Series makes a worryingly large amount of sense. Compared to hard-nosed adrenaline junkies who snap up offerings like the 911 R, GT3, and forthcoming GT2 RS, Turbo buyers tend to focus more on how the world perceives them rather than knocking fractions of a second off of their lap time. Ever since the 930 911 became the darling of Wall Street back in the 1980s, the Turbo badge has carried weight a GT3 just isn’t able to match.

The Exclusive Series (ES) plays to this social strength. And while Porsche GT products infamously command more for less, with no back seats, radios, or air conditioning, the Exclusive Series follows a radically different formula: pay more, get more.

Similar to the regular, hum-drum 911 Turbo S, the ES arrives wearing nearly every single accoutrement offered in the long catalogue, plus additional details from the Porsche Exclusive Manufaktur department, a faction specializing in giving extremely wealthy customers customization options limited only by their imagination and checkbook. Scrolling through endless order books can be so dull, so the ES offers rarity right off the peg.

Everything is massaged, touched, stitched, and wrapped by the Exclusive department. Visually, the ES wears the optional Turbo aerokit as standard, now with great chunks of carbon fiber hanging off of the rear bumper, plus a decklid wing, and rear intake ducts. See those distinctive hood stripes? Those are strategically masked-off portions of the all-carbon bonnet where the bare weave shines through gloss. Black brake calipers and a black exhaust outlet round out the design.

We drove a white ES, but the car might be best ordered in the debut Golden Yellow Metallic, similar to the hue featured in the wheel accents. Inside, things get a little crazy. This is where Porsche Exclusive adds color-matched stitching and extended leather to everything. Check the air vent slats—yep, leather. Underneath the steering column? Stitched leather. There’s the requisite carbon-fiber trim kit as well, but look closer. Porsche wove copper thread into the carbon strands, creating a luminous new design that is sure to make your tennis partner, Hudson, feel inadequate about his off-the-shelf black-on-black Carrera 4.

These surface-level touches are fun, but the package starts to gain momentum under the rear decklid. The 3.8-liter twin-turbocharged flat-six is fitted with a model-specific powerkit, boosting output to a stunning 607 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque. This is 27 extra ponies over the regular Turbo S, and while that torque figure is unchanged, the ES has 553 lb-ft on tap at all times—the pedestrian Turbo S only sees that peak briefly with the standard overboost function.

More carbon fiber, more power, more speed. Advertised 0-60 time is unchanged at 2.8 seconds, but the 0-124 mph time is cut by 0.3 second, down to a skin-rippling 9.6 seconds. Of course, Porsche is famous for providing conservative performance numbers, and from behind the wheel, its cars usually feel much, much faster. This definitely applies to the ES. Our friends at Motor Trend tested a regular, 580-hp Turbo S at 2.5 seconds to 60 mph, so we’ll settle for a 2.4 second sprint in the ES.

There will only be 500 of these worldwide, so imagine my surprise when this white example sat among the three 911 GT3s on hand at the Thunderhill. While the GT3s were real stars of the show at the time, now featuring a killer 4.0-liter, 500-hp naturally aspirated flat-six and the six-speed gearbox out of the 911 R, the Exclusive Series was a perfect companion piece to the track toys.

After running the sweltering, off-camber, decreasing radius Thunderhill gauntlet in the raw GT3, I fell out of the car a sweaty, sore lump. When I finished guzzling two or three water bottles, Porsche handlers dragged me over to the ES, turned on the cooled seats, and sent me on my way down the first straight, behind Le Mans legend Hurley Haywood and his regular 991.2 Turbo S, which served as the pace car.

Warp drive? This is teleportation. Leave it to Porsche to make 607 hp feel like a billion, especially when facing down a 140-mph straight. One second, you’re staring down the tarmac dragway. Mat the throttle and you hear a whoosh; then, suddenly, the first turn looms ahead. It’s that simple—point-to-point takes on a new meaning.

When you do haul the ES down from speed with the standard carbon-ceramic brakes, the plan of attack is not too far off the same method I discovered in the 991.2 Turbo I drove a few months back. It’s true, all Turbo models are heavier and cushier than their sinewy GT siblings, but don’t listen to anyone who says the Turbo’s not for turning. The trick lies in leaning heavily on the incredibly effective all-wheel-drive system, accelerating through the turn rather than maintaining or sloughing speed. If you give it too much of the 553 lb-ft, Porsche’s excellent torque vectoring and stability management (PTV, PSAM) is there to pick up where you left off.

If there’s a weak spot to be found, it’s in the standard Pirelli P Zero tires, which weren’t ideal for continuous track abuse, returning far more understeer than I would have liked when they became too hot. Granted, this relatively long-lasting rubber is ideal for the target customer, who is sure to keep his or her Exclusive Series far, far away from anything remotely resembling a road course. For those who enjoy risking such an asset, Porsche informed me it will offer buyers an optional set of P Zero Corsas, which wear out quicker and are less usable in inclement weather, but far more suited for trackwork.

I didn’t get a chance to drive the ES on public roads, but rest assured, it is as cosseting and easy to drive as the regular Turbo. It’s viciously fast when you need it to be, calm when you don’t, and fills the gaps everywhere in-between.

If this sounds fine and dandy, get ready to shell out an eye-watering $258,550 for one of the 500 examples. While this isn’t too far off the price tag of a fully loaded regular Turbo S, the ES offers a handful of high-dollar options that’s sure to push it right up to the $300,000 mark. Chief among them are the optional carbon-fiber wheels, setting buyers back $15,000, and the limited edition Porsche Design chronograph wristwatch, allowing you to show off even when you have left your car with the valet.

The 2018 Porsche 911 Turbo S Exclusive Series is a rolling manifestation of one-upmanship, and that’s fine. If you’re shaking your head in disgust, or still trying to fathom why someone would want this over a regular Turbo, that’s also okay, as you’re clearly not the target audience.

Thanks for the laughs and spinal compression, Turbo S Exclusive Series. I’ll see you on the Monaco Riviera.

2018 Porsche 911 Turbo S Exclusive Specifications

PRICE $258,550 (base)
ENGINE 3.8L DOHC 24-valve twin-turbocharged flat-six / 607 hp @ 6,750 rpm, 553 lb-ft @ 2,250 rpm
TRANSMISSION 7-speed dual-clutch transmission
LAYOUT 2-door, 4-passenger, rear-engine, AWD coupe
L x W x H 177.4 x 74.0 x 51.1 in
WEIGHT 3,528 lb
0-60 MPH 2.4 sec (est)
TOP SPEED 205 mph

The post First Laps: 2018 Porsche 911 Turbo S Exclusive Series appeared first on Automobile Magazine.

GM and Cruise Reveal Driverless Car, Claim It’s Ready for Mass Production

Third-Gen Autonomous Bolt

General Motors’ autonomous-vehicle team said it has created the world’s first mass-producible car designed to operate without a human driver. Cruise Automation CEO Kyle Vogt said the electric vehicle, derived from the Chevrolet Bolt, “isn’t just a concept design — it has airbags, crumple zones, and comfortable seats.” In a post at Medium, he said its most significant attribute is that it is ready to be built at a GM assembly plant with the capacity to produce hundreds of thousands of vehicles annually. And it meets redundancy and safety requirements needed to operate without a human behind the wheel, Vogt said.

“If something on a vehicle fails while there is an attentive human in the driver’s seat, they can yank the wheel or stomp on the brake pedal to avoid an incident,” Vogt said. “This isn’t the case for a car with no driver, so we built backup systems. And in some cases we built backups for the backups — and backups for those systems, too.” All the while, Vogt said a production symphony had to be orchestrated at GM’s plant in Orion Township, Michigan, where the automaker assembles the regular, ready-for-consumption Bolt. The wiring harness alone in the newly revealed autonomous car has 4085 wires and 1066 connectors, Vogt said.

The self-driving concept unveiled this week is the company’s third autonomous-car generation in 14 months. The first-gen car was a standard Bolt retrofitted with Cruise’s existing autonomous technology. GM bought Cruise Automation for $1 billion in 2016. This year, Cruise and GM have been working toward developing an autonomous car that could be mass produced. They cut their teeth on what is considered a second-generation autonomous vehicle, which was revealed in June as a fleet of 130 self-driving Bolt EVs. The second-gen cars were meant to get suppliers in sync with the process of equipping necessary hardware on the assembly line, but Cruise rounded out the process with its own software and had to build some of its own sensors and controllers.

The second-gen cars have key elements for autonomous driving, but they lack the safety and redundancy systems needed for full driverless operation, Vogt said. Enter the third-gen car. “Safety and validation teams have carefully considered plausible failure modes for all critical systems and fed changes back into the design,” Vogt said. “Our newest self-driving car might look like a regular car on the outside, but the vehicle’s core system architecture more closely resembles that of a commercial airplane or spacecraft.”

GM and Cruise are designing the cars to emulate human abilities without making human mistakes. The automaker sees these autonomous vehicles as geared more toward company-owned fleets that could be used in ride-hailing programs in urban areas, for example. It’s less oriented toward consumers purchasing at dealerships, in part because the technology remains very expensive. Also, just look at it: Consumers willing to spend big rarely choose tiny cars sporting giant goiters on the roof, let alone models that haven’t even been graced with a name. Private ownership of computer-driven cars could be years or even decades away, though, so there’s time.

More immediately, the newly built, third-gen self-driving cars will join a fleet of Bolts that shuttle Cruise and GM employees around San Francisco, coordinated via a mobile app for ride hailing and scheduling. “For now, there will still be a human behind the wheel,” Vogt said of the cars, which should expand their utility, since no jurisdiction has fully resolved the legal issues surrounding pilotless vehicles.

GM is far from alone in this march toward autonomy, but its claim of being ready for mass production does distinguish it from its domestic competition. Ford says its goal is to deploy Level 4 autonomous vehicles—those with systems that can handle all operations in specific areas—by 2021. By the end of this year, Ford plans to have a fleet of 90 autonomous vehicles active on public roads. Fiat Chrysler has been making Chrysler Pacificas with a wiring harness outfitted for Google’s Waymo autonomous-driving hardware, as the latter adds 500 of the hybrid minivans to its autonomous fleet.

Yes, You Can Autocross a Chevrolet Bolt

Chevy doesn’t think anyone who buys a new Bolt EV is doing it to rack up autocross trophies, but the development clearly has a lot of confidence in the Bolt’s dynamic capabilities—or at least enough trust that it won’t fall on its face when it comes time to put up or shut up. To see if the Bolt can double as both cone junkie and zero-emission eco friend, we accepted Chevy’s challenge to destroy some front tires and race against the clock.

Just to dial things up a notch, Chevy also brought along to the party a long-dominant autocross benchmark—the Volkswagen GTI Sport. I couldn’t figure out if that was a brave, cocky, or foolish move when I saw the cherry-red hatchback staged among its taller, battery-toting competitors, but it sure piqued my curiosity.

Bolt chief engineer Mike Lelli came right out of the gate, admitting that Chevy new EV was by no means designed for autocross competition. He’s just as quick to point, however, out that the Bolt was designed for driving enjoyment just as much as it was for range and charging speed. On paper, the Bolt does score some points, one being its low center gravity—a consequence of having its battery mounted low below the floor and bolted to the chassis. Plus, all of that juicy, immediate 266 lb-ft of electric torque shoots the Bolt to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds, and the car’s lively chassis tuning proved well-mated to the electric powertrain. Enough so that we named it a 2017 All-Star.

On the downside, the Bolt’s eco-minded low-rolling-resistance tires don’t do it any favors out on the autocross (especially with the intermittent sprinkles of rain we sustained). In acknowledgement of that fact, alongside the stock Michelin Energy Saver A/S Selfseal fitment, Chevrolet also supplied a Bolt shod with Michelin Primacy 3 summer tires–available in Europe, but not in the U.S. The conceit being, of course, that a fun autocross experience in a Bolt is just a set of good tires away. (The GTI came on stock Pirelli Cinturato P7 all-season rubber.)

So, has Chevrolet been drinking too much of its own Kool-Aid? Far from it, I’d say. While the Bolt is certainly not going to be lining up against the likes of the Ford Focus ST and Subaru WRX anytime soon at your local SCCA autocross, it was far from out of its depth out there.

For one, the zip of the 200-hp electric drive system is its own source of capability and entertainment. Hit the throttle just right and you’ll launch forward with impressive force, but don’t give it smooth inputs and you’ll just spin the front tires. Yessir, with all-season tires and a little wet pavement, you can do a fairly respectable burnout in an affordable EV. The future may not be as dim as we fear.

The Bolt was impressively composed and tossable for a high-riding hatchback that weights north of 3,500 pounds, especially when wearing the summer tires. There’s some body roll, but nothing egregious, and it was easy enough to place the car where I needed it tight turns. During one long, sweeping left-hander, the Bolt was still responding consistently to my small throttle and steering adjustments without upsetting the car’s balance under heavy load. And although I didn’t try this strategy, it’s possible to utilize the Bolt’s regenerative braking capabilities as an advantage in situations where you want to decelerate without shifting the whole vehicle’s weight forward with the brakes. That’s according to Corvette racer Tommy Milner, who was there with us and, fortunately for him, demolished all of the journalists’ best times.

As for the GTI, I don’t think it’s worried about the Bolt. While the Chevy EV is capable of getting the job done, the GTI is quite a bit more controllable when it comes to carrying speed into corners. The brakes have more bite. The steering has infinitely more feel, quickness, and accuracy. Powering out of corners is also a lot easier, thanks to the GTI Sport’s electronically controlled limited-slip differential. In general the GTI feels a lot more like you’re really in tune with it, rather than whipping it around and trying to keep up, like you are in the Bolt.

That said, my best time in the summer-tire-equipped Bolt was just 0.41 seconds off the pace of my best run in the GTI.

Driver confidence goes a long way in autocross, and the GTI just gave me way more of it. But Chevy was not overconfident in their gamble that I’d be impressed with the Bolt, even with the VW there as the benchmark. The Bolt is a genuinely enjoyable and satisfying car to drive, and if someone is brave enough to buy a set of summer tires and silently stalk the hot-hatches and NA Miatas in the autocross paddock, that crazed soul will have a fun time of it, indeed.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV Specifications

PRICE $37,495 (base)
ENGINE Permanent magnet drive motor/200 hp, 266 lb-ft
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-motor, FWD wagon
EPA MILEAGE 128/110 mpge (city/hwy); 238-mile total range
L x W x H 164 x 69.5 x 62.8 in
WHEELBASE 102.4 in
WEIGHT 3,563 lb
0-60 MPH 6.5 sec
TOP SPEED 92 mph

The post Yes, You Can Autocross a Chevrolet Bolt appeared first on Automobile Magazine.

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