Apparently Chris Harris is now back in Ferrari’s good graces because they definitely hooked him up for this test of the F12 Berlinetta. Harris got to drive the car for a few days and then they gave him 4 sets of tires to nuke doing his signature oversteer review. Beyond being fun to watch, this video goes to show that Ferrari is approaching the use of sophisticated electronics packages correctly. Instead of augmenting a mediocre car into supercar territory, the base car is built with a superb natural balance and the electronics are used to make it more livable and usable. Sit back and enjoy the entertainment brought to you by the sacrifice of many expensive Pirelli tires:
Porsche gave Chris Harris the exclusive opportunity to drive the new 991 based GT3 and it brought up a lot of philosophical discussions about the cultural acceptance of automotive technology. Lets start with the things that were easy to like. Porsche widened the front axle on the 991 to improve turn-in grip and that decision pays dividends with the GT3 as well. Chassis agility is further enhanced with a new rear steering system that works opposite of the front wheels below 50 mph and in parallel above it. The new 3.8 liter engine is lighter and makes more power thanks to a 9,000 rpm redline. More grip, better balance and improved power to weight ratio never makes anybody unhappy.
Controversy with the new car comes from Porsche’s decision to use electric power steering and to only offer the PDK dual-clutch transmission. In an effort to reduce fuel consumption, Porsche has switched to electric power steering in the new Carrera and Boxster. Chris’s opinion of the system in his previous reviews of both of those cars is that it doesn’t have quite the feel of a traditional hydraulic system but it was adequate. He was worried about it letting down the GT3 going into the test but it seems the steering wasn’t a problem. The better chassis balance goes a long way to improve the perception of steering response but Porsche was also able to recalibrate the existing hardware improve its feel. The PDK issue is a little less resolved. Yes, the car is much faster with the dual clutch box operated with a paddle shifter. Yes, more people will buy the car with the PDK. No, the hardcore manual transmission purists do not care about any of those things. It’s all about the perception that manuals give the most in-depth control to the driver because that’s how it was for a very long time before the advent of the dual-clutch transmission.
Ultimately you have to have driven a car with a manual transmission at race speeds to truly appreciate what a dual clutch transmission can do. There will always be a place for stick shifts for driver training and as an inexpensive and less complex alternative to an automatic for a street car. The fact of the matter is that dual clutch transmissions are measurably faster and allow the driver to consistently extract more out of the car. It’s for that very reason that most race cars now don’t have clutch pedals. I think the hesitancy to accept dual clutches boils down to people being afraid of giving up unique skills that they’ve already mastered. Take heel-toe downshifting for example. Among car guys, it’s a pretty well known technique that most of us know how to do correctly. It’s a trained skill for operating three pedals, a shifter and the steering wheel all at the same time to go around corners faster. Non-car people don’t understand the importance and can’t execute it properly without training. However, put them in a dual clutch transmission car and they can intuitively do things correctly and be just as fast as somebody who understands the importance of rev-matching. That means that being able to heel-toe is no longer something special.
I find there’s an interesting parallel between the adoption of dual-clutch transmissions and the acceptance of electric vehicles. Like manual transmissions, combustion engines are something that we’ve been mastering for a very long time. We’re pretty good at building them now so it’s very hard for us to give them up for something completely new and better. Even the best of combustion engines are well under 50% efficient. In what other field would we happily accept anything close to that abysmal? My opinions of engines and oil are posted on the RX-8 EV Conversion Page so I won’t go into them here. I will leave you with a quote to ponder, though: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” -Alvin Toffler
Ford’s 3-cylinder 1.0 liter Ecoboost engine was designed to replace 1.6 liter naturally aspirated engines while providing 20% better fuel economy, 15% less emissions and more performance. It’s effect on the European small car market won the 1.0 Ecoboost the 2012 Engine of the Year award. To celebrate, Ford Europe outfitted a Formula Ford race car with the 1.0 liter Ecoboost engine and the bare minimum safety equipment to make it street legal. The turbo was upgraded to the bigger unit from the 1.6 liter 4-cylinder engine which pumped the output up to 200 hp. Race driver Nick Tandy was able to set a 7:22 around the Nurburgring which ties the time of the Dodge Viper ACR and is faster than a Nissan GT-R while delivering 56 mpg.
Ford Europe gave Chris Harris the opportunity to drive the Formula Ford Ecoboost on the streets and then take it for his own lap around the Nurburgring. The part that I found the most interesting is simply watching Harris’s reaction. He has recently had the chance to drive some of the most cutting edge green technology performance cars and has been uneasy with them. In the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Electric Drive Harris was wowed by the fact that the controls strategy for the four drive motors could completely change how the chassis reacted but wasn’t completely sold on the fact that the car was a pure EV. When Chris drove the Porsche 918 Spyder, he was very impressed with the car’s performance and engineering, but the thought of applying the same lightweighting techniques to a gas powered car would yield better performance ultimately bugged him. Here Chris just enjoys the car and hardly mentions the green aspect of the Ecoboost engine. It seems as though being able to hear the boost of the turbo and having the characteristic of a tuned engine, albeit a small one, doesn’t rob the driver of the performance experience despite getting good gas mileage.
Chris Harris brings together the Morgan Three Wheeler and Caterham Seven Supersport but not to do a head to head comparison. This video is more of a celebration of what makes the British lightweight sports car such a special experience. He says, “These cars remind us what driving, and in a sense motoring, is all about. It’s about the sensations of controlling a machine not the speed with which you cover ground, although both of these are very, very quick. But it’s also about the adventure. Wrap up warm and cover 150 early morning miles in either and you’ll be reminded why you loved cars as a kid, why your first time behind the wheel was one of your defining moments in life. These then are the essence of driving.”
I think Chris Harris may currently be the world’s favorite automotive journalist. What I mean is that many automakers enjoy giving him access to their latest and greatest cars because he always gives an honest and well articulated opinion that excites his readers and subscribers. It works out for us here at Flux Auto because we’re now entering an era of hybrid and electric supercars. McLaren just announced the P1 hybrid and Ferrari was not far behind with the LaFerrari. We already have the Mercedes SLS AMG Electric Drive and Porsche has been working on this 918 Spyder since last year. Journalists have been getting unprecedented rides in the 918’s test mules very early on in the development process probably as a demonstration on just how much work has gone into the controls architecture that blends power from the electric motors and the V8.
This video from Chris Harris is the first that I’ve found where Porsche has allowed outside personnel to drive the cars. They also prepared better finalized technical specifications and some technology demonstrations including a new technique where they are skinning carbon fiber with aluminum. Chris also gets a few minutes to pick the brain of the lead engineer and even discuss the merits and market demand for a hybrid supercar. In the end, the 918 Spyder will sell simply because it’s a technological masterpiece of a halo car. The training of engineers on electric and hybrid performance is also necessary even if the end result is a car that performs only equally as well as current technology. That’s the only way we’ll break through to green cars that perform better than gasoline cars.