Modified Rides, Blog
the McLaren 570GT is a supercar that’s attacking a new niche head on. It’s a car Woking wants to be the most practical, most comfortable, most refined McLaren of all. The long-distance car. The cruiser. The Gee-Tee.
But what happens if you want the power of McLaren’s more serious supercars - like the outgoing 650S - and a stiffer ride? Well, you buy a 650S. Or take a 570GT to tuner Novitec.
The German modder that’s positively stockcarphobic (we may’ve just made that irrational fear up) has taken the softer, less powerful GT and made it firmer and more powerful. Yes, it’s answered a question literally no one asked.
The 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 now produces 646bhp (76 more than standard) which skews the performance figures with a 0-62mph time now coming in at three seconds dead and its top speed to a frightening 208mph, improvements of 0.4sec and 4mph. Not bad for the slowest McLaren, eh?
Alongside the boost being turned up, a few components have been added. The anti-lift properties of the GT have been increased as there’s a new carbo fibre spoiler standing above the GT’s standard ducktail. There’s also an upgraded circular exhaust available in pauper stainless steel or lightweight Inconel, new cats, 20-inch wheels at the front, 21-inch wheels at the rear, new lower profile tyres and a suspension dropped by 30 millimetres. Yeah, how’s that comfy GT ride now?
Holy merde, what is that?
It’s the Renault Zoe e-Sport: a 460bhp, two-seater, four-wheel drive, electric supermini. Coming from any other manufacturer that would seem preposterous. Renault though, has rather a rich history of dreaming up absurd franken-hatches (see Renault 5 Turbo and Clio V6 for hair-whitening proof) and actually putting them into production. This is just another day at the office.
So I can buy one?
Erm, no. Sorry to poop the party before it’s got going, but you won’t be seeing this one at your local dealership, or wrapped around your local lamppost. That’s because the Zoe e-Sport concept is a one-off, designed to draw a link between Renault’s efforts in Formula E and its road cars. Unusually for a show car though, it’s fully functional, which is how I come to find myself strapped into the driver’s seat, an empty track in front of me and that time a Clio V6 spat me off a track at 100mph for no apparent reason playing on loop in my head.
OK, so how much standard Zoe has it got in it?
There is definitely a passing resemblance, although here the outrageously widened track and arches, but same short wheelbase, give it an almost four-square stance on the road. Carbon bits everywhere, mirror finish wheels and uselessly skinny wing mirrors are reminders this was designed to shock and delight when it appeared at the Geneva Motor Show back in March. Here, skulking in the pitlane, it looks even meaner… and surprisingly fit for purpose.
Probably because it is. Under the carbon body (which helps to keep weight to 1,400kg, 80kg less than the standard Zoe despite a 450kg battery pack on board) are two Formula E motors – one for each axle – producing a total of 460bhp and 472lb ft of torque. Cradling them is a bespoke tubular steel chassis with double wishbone suspension front and rear, four-way adjustable Ohlins dampers, and a Kevlar-reinforced, FIA-approved roll cage. The torque split is a constant 45/55 front/rear with mechanical differentials on both axles.
It’s a completely bespoke racecar then…
Basically, yes, one capable of 0-62mph in 3.2 seconds and 130mph in under ten seconds, so a straight line launch is where we shall begin. Foot on the brake, turn the key in the big red plunger, twist a dash mounted switch to activate both motors and another to engage your single forward gear. Stamp on throttle. The thrust doesn’t quite knock the air from your lungs, but it certainly peels your eyelids back a bit. I’m crushed into my Recarco seat most forcefully in the two seconds after extending my right foot, stay there until past 100mph, and then the forces tail off – the exact opposite to the crescendo of acceleration you’re used to in something high-revving and sans turbo.
And in the corners?
That’s where the real fun happens. Tread on the unassisted brakes for the first time and you realise your thighs need to work five times harder. Turn in and the steering has that delightful race-bred immediacy: zero slack and a desire to be pointed directly at the apex. Get too gung-ho with the throttle and you simply spin the tyres and push straight on, lift off and the back end moves immediately – an alarming development when you have so little steering lock to play with. And then you relax, smooth your inputs, grasp that with so much grunt and pin sharp throttle response you can’t have a binary right foot, you need to dial in the power sensitively, and it all comes together.
Like all good Renault hot-hatches this isn’t just grip and go, there are things happening in three dimensions. While the steering tells you what’s going on at the front axle, the back is up to something entirely different and all the while you’re pulling the strings with your wrists and feet. Mind suitably focused by the bill if I end up in a barrier, it’s utterly absorbing – hard work and quite fighty, yes – but rewarding nonetheless. A worthy modern successor to my old nemesis, the Clio V6.
High praise indeed. Where do Renault go from here?
Well, battery technology needs to take another leap before something like this becomes truly feasible for mass production (we were limited to around 10 laps by dwindling charge) and the lack of noise is… a challenge, but the principle works, the low centre of gravity is a big bonus and the hit of acceleration is unlikely to wear thin. The combustion engine might be under threat, but don’t freak out just yet - judging by this, what’s coming next is even madder and more capable.
Is this the greatest modified Range Rover in existence? Yes it is, and if you dare to argue, you are a fool. Estimable people of TopGear.com, may we humbly present to you… the Startech Pickup!
Startech - a Brabus Group company, which will explain literally all of the words on this page - is planning on showcasing its simply marvellous creation at the upcoming Shanghai Motor Show. And truly it is something to marvel at.
Buried under all that modification and carbon fibre and red paint lies a supercharged, 5.0-litre V8 Range Rover with 526bhp. But Startech has turned the aristocratic Rangey into what it ambitiously describes as “one of the world’s most exclusive pickups following the best coach building tradition that was once common for English luxury cars”.
So, with “harmonious fashion”, Startech has designed and manufactured 100 bodywork components from aluminium, carbon fibre and steel to make the conversion. The wall to the pickup bed - with a loading length of a whopping 110 centimetres - is welded to the shorter roof skin, and there are newly developed C-pillars to accommodate the excellence at the rear. Business in the front, party in the back: it’s the automotive equivalent of a mullet!
It’s a plastic-lined pickup bed - almost square in shape - with a remote operated tailgate opening which gives another 60cm. Perfect, says Startech, for “customers from the Arab region [who] like to use the pickup bed also for transporting a securely fastened cage that holds their falcons for the hunt”. If you’re not squeaking with joy at the mental imagery involved here, you’re dead inside.
And yet, somehow, it gets better. There’s a widebody version available - on either the SWB or LWB RRs - which incorporate new front bumpers, LED lights, a new front spoiler, wider arches (natch), and new air intakes for “a touch of motor racing flair”. Yep, MOTOR RACING. With falcons on the flatbed. What could be better?
It gets modified air suspension to allow a drop of 30mm at the push of a button, a new exhaust system, 23-inch forged wheels, ‘breathable’ black leather and carbon fibre literally everywhere inside.
And because this is officially The Greatest Modified Range Rover In Existence, Startech will even save you money. “The conversion to a pickup means the Startech multi-utility vehicle meets the prerequisites to be registered as a commercial vehicle in many countries, which often eliminates import fees,” it confidently asserts. Yep, they’re marketing this at farmers. Presumably very minted farmers of very small livestock. Premium micropigs?
Top Gear simply cannot imagine how this work of wonder could be improved in any way. No, actually, scrap that. We’ve got it: add some perspex and a pontiff to that rear deck, and you’ve got a kick-ass Popemobile…
This is the Roborace car. It’s now a real driverless electric thing, a working prototype. Roborace will be a battle of algorithms not of drivers. Identical cars will run different software from the rival teams.
The series is getting closer. During this season’s Formula E weekends, Devbot (pic ten, above) has also been doing laps, and is the development vehicle for the systems, which has a cockpit for a human driver to oversee things.
So what does that mean for real drivers? TopGear.com spoke to Formula E racer Lucas di Grassi (pic 11) – currently second in the flesh-and-blood championship. Turns out he’s a fan of the autonomous racing idea.
“Our Le Mans car was very assisted. [He did four seasons in the Audi R18 and won two WEC races.] It helped us brake, it had steering assist, it turned you into a corner. Formula One cars are also so high tech that real drivers like Alonso complain about it. Roborace isn’t trying to replace motorsport but augment it. So human motorsport could become more human.”
Good for race fans as well as race drivers, then. He has more to say for it though. “It will improve autonomous road driving.” I put it to him I have doubts about that. Road driving is a task of huge variety but comparatively low precision while racing is a task of lower variety but extreme precision and speed.
“No,” di Grassi says, “Roborace will be a complex task when all those cars are on the track at once. Besides, you could send out a robo-dog onto the track. Roborace can test cars and tyres and situations to the limit with no peril to a human driver.”
The shabby, butt-naked Devbot has a space for a human driver though. He goes round the track first to check the car’s mechanical and electric systems are in order. Then Devbot drives itself on a slow data-acquisition lap, sensing the boundaries of the track and figuring out a racing line. Finally the driver switches to AI mode, and walks away.
At which point the thing hurtles off alone. Its lap times are now within eight per cent of a human driver.
Devbot isn’t all Roborace has shown at the Formula E weekends. The prototype fully driverless car is there too. It was imagined from pure nothingness by futurologist and sci-fi movie car designer Daniel Simon.
It’s not just a thing of smooth, audacious beauty and fearsome aero efficiency. It packs a borderline-fantastical spec sheet, which we’ve simply copy-pasted wholesale because it kinda defies comment.
Roboracer “weighs 975kg and has four motors of 300kW each, a 540kW battery, is predominantly made of carbon fibre and will be capable of speeds over 320kph [200mph]. The car uses a number of technologies to ‘drive’ itself including five lidars, two radars, 18 ultrasonic sensors, two optical speed sensors, six AI cameras, GNSS positioning and is powered by Nvidia’s Drive PX2 brain, capable of up to 24 trillion AI operations per second.”
Which all sounds ridiculously high-end, but as it’ll be built as a standard machine, the teams won’t be able to spend money developing the hardware or aero. That actually makes it cheaper than most of today’s high-profile race cars, say the series organisers. The teams’ effort will be entirely spent on simulation and brainpower on the autonomous-drive programming.
Doubtless some of those algorithms will be good at sheer track speed, others at strategy, others at overtaking or defending among traffic. Or indeed at avoiding stray robo-dogs. Should be fascinating racing.