A weekly round-up of automotive news, good, bad and just plain weird:
New 911 will be KERSed
In calculus, there's a concept called limits to infinity. Basically (and this is sure to have any actual mathematicians out there screaming in outrage) one applies larger and larger numbers until you reach the solution for any given equation: this is the limit.
Over at Porsche, engineers have been working on finding the limit of "Sportscar" for decades. That's why only a trained eye can spot the differences year-to-year, and that's why the 911 keeps getting better and better in tiny increments that only a very serious German with a clipboard would call "breakthroughs."
Now, though, we may be looking at a bit of a blip in the 911's heretofore smooth trajectory of refinement: they've decided to apply a KERS. No, this isn't some Indiana-Jones-type mumbo-jumbo: the Kinetic Energy Recovery System is simply F1-tech made road legal.
We first saw this system on the insane race version of the 918 Spyder concept. Porsche then campaigned a hybrid 911 GT3 R at Le Mans. The setup is as theoretically simple and as functionally complicated as a limits equation: KERS-equipped cars use the same regenerative braking system as a Prius, but instead of using batteries to conserve the energy in electrical form, the kinetic energy is stored in a spinning flywheel and then released during acceleration.
Porsche is rumoured to be including this new system on all upcoming 991-designation new-gen 911s. It's a blessing and a KERS.
Italians take Engine of the Year Awards
For all the electric and kinetic tomfoolery that may be tacked on to a car (unless it's a proper electric car like the Nissan Leaf or the Tesla Roadster) chances are it's still got a humble internal combustion engine of one sort or another. So, while the rest of the world may solely pay attention to the various 10 bests and car of the year awards, I always like to take a good look at the winners of the engine of the year ribbons to see what new trends are coming.
A surprise this year was that the traditionally Japanese and German-dominated categories were forced out by Italian marques. It's not really a shock to see Ferrari taking the prix for Best Performance Engine and Best Engine Above 4.0-litre, but for Fiat to walk away with four awards is more than a little surprising.
Even more impressive: all those awards were for just one engine, Fiat's 875cc Twin-Air. So what helped the tiny motor win Best New Engine, Green Engine of the Year, Sub-1.0-litre Engine of the Year and 2011 International Engine of the Year?
Well, the little engine that could is actually quite clever. First of all, while it only has two-cylinders (!), it's turbocharged, and that means 85bhp. That may not sound like much -- and it isn't -- but the little two-banger has such little rotational mass and such a reduced amount of friction that it revs like a two-stroke motorbike.
In the Fiat 500, it reportedly gets around four litres/100 kilometres, which is hybrid/diesel territory. It's also supposed to make the little hatchback nippy to drive with 107 foot-pounds of torque (think Honda Fit) and a frothily cheeky exhaust note.
Are we going to get it here? Not soon, that's for sure, but as gas prices climb, it's good to know that sometimes simplifying things still works.
Obama's Limo Gets Hung Up on Ireland
We're all familiar with Murphy's Law and its various derivatives (my favourite is Anthony's Law of the Workshop: any tool, when dropped, will roll into the least accessible corner). Now, does anyone remember where Murphy lives?
That's right, Ireland!
So, it should comes as no surprise to hear that, in Dublin, when the elected representative of the -- arguably -- most powerful country in the world got in his giant, bullet-proof, customized limousine to be ferried off to make important speeches in a cloud of pomp and circumstance, that something could go wrong and it did.
The presidential limo, dubbed "The Beast," can withstand missile-strikes and gunfire and spike-belts and all sorts of other ingenious weaponry. However, its kryptonite is apparently the lowly speed bump. Upon exiting the United States embassy, The Beast got wedged like Noah's Ark on Mount Ararat after the Flood receded.
No one was hurt and The Beast was finally towed off the bump, but not before a few quick quips were made by jocular types amongst the assembled crowd.
Honda Celebrates Launch of 2012 Civic With Sounds of Civic Contest
If, like me, you're a Honda fan, it won't be surprising to hear that the launch of their 2012 Civic comes with a great deal of fanfare. After all, this new generation will mark a big anniversary next year: 40 years of Civic in Canada, stretching all the way back to its 1972 launch (as a '73 model).
The little buzz-bomb that could has long been a favourite of Canadians of all kinds; it's spent nearly 15 years in the top-10 best-selling cars category. That unique Honda blend of miserly fuel economy and revvy fun-to-drive character allows you to -- apologies to Canadian Tire -- speed like Santa and save like Scrooge.
Mind you, when it comes to the Sounds of Civic, the first thing that springs into everyone's ears is the blatting, flatulent-bumblebee parping of some decrepit Honda hatch with rust, cut coils and a "muffler" the size of a megaphone. That's not the sort of tune Honda hopes you'll be playing.
What Honda has created is one of those Facebooky/Twitterish social-media thingies, whereby you can upload your musical homage to your Civic on YouTube and then have various people vote on it. You could win $2,500 worth of recording equipment or even a new Civic. Honda claims music fans and Civic fans have a high overlap, and -- oh hang on, I've just read that they're only allowing you to enter the contest if you're an American.
I have to say, it's pretty lame that the contest is only open to residents of the United States. I mean, just think of all the great artists that Canada has produced: Celine Dion, Bryan Adams, Avril Lavigne. . . . Um. I see their point.
Watch this space for all the week's best and worst of automotive news, or submit your own auto oddities to firstname.lastname@example.org.