The British are Coming
English automakers created the standard for high-line vehicles. Now after wrestling turbulent economies, they introduce some of their best and most competitive cars.
Paul A. Eisenstein
From the Print Edition:
Jim Belushi, November/December 2010
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Competing in the same rarified air as Ferrari, Aston has been struggling through the economic downturn, relying on arm-twisting and hefty incentives to keep dealers moving the metal and its assembly lines rolling. But as it prepares for a future without a deep-pocket automotive parent it is taking some risky, if intriguing, gambles.
At one end is the new Rapide, which Bez describes as “the most elegant four-door sports car in the world.” Until recently, that might have seemed a contradiction in terms, but suddenly this space is becoming crowded, what with offerings that also include the new Porsche Panamera. At Rapide’s heart is a 470-horsepower, 6-liter V12. Like Panamera, Aston is billing the new model as more of a daily driver than its typical sports car, something “the entire family can enjoy together,” said Bez during the Rapide’s introduction at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show.
Aston’s other new offering, the Cygnet, is yet again a response to changing government regulations—if not evolving consumer trends. The winged logo on the hood might seem familiar, and there’s plenty of Aston’s plush leather in the cabin, but nonetheless a minicar seems a stretch for the maker. All the more curious was Aston’s decision to partner with Toyota on the project. Based on the mainstream maker’s little IQ, Aston will charge $45,000 to $75,000 for its version. While we can imagine the legendary superspy James Bond behind the wheel of the Rapide, it’s a little more difficult to see 007 wending his way through London traffic in a minicar, whatever the brand.
Lotus: A New Fantasy
Have a fantasy of going up against the likes of Michael Schumacher? Lotus, with models like the all-new 125, Formula-One-class racer that can be run by a team of one, rather than by 80 people, has historically been the place to go. Now, the rarified, but economically fragile, British marque announces the rollout into 2015 of a fleet of new models that seem to portend—by tiny Lotus measures—a move toward more practical rides.
The announcement, made on September 30 at the Paris Motorshow, introduced five new street-worthy versions, including the entry-level (about $56,000) Elise, Elite, Elan, Espirit and Eterne, a four-door, four-seater with hybrid technology, meant to compete with the Rapide. The hoopla comes with a website devoted to the as-yet unavailable models (lotusnewera.com) and bespeaks a new dawn for the company (owned since 1994 by Malaysia’s Proton) with buzz phrases like “the end of compromise,” “the icon is back,” and “the grown up.”
Also due for new expressions is the already on-the-market Evora. They include Evora S and Evora IPS, the second of which will be the first automatic-transmission Lotus in quite a while. While details are sketchy on what is to come, the current Evora has already proved itself a winner. The latest offering, which was developed under the codename Eagle, is a punchy mid-engine two-seater—and the marque’s first 2+2 since the 1992 Excel. With its featherweight aluminum chassis and 276-hp 3.5-liter V6, Evora can keep pace with some of the best sports cars on the road, hitting 0 to 60 in just 4.9 seconds and topping out at 162 mph. It’s also as nimble as a go-kart—if only a wee bit easier to climb into.
Of course, if extra seating and easy access isn’t why you look to Lotus (and you also have an extra million dollars lying around) you can sign for the 125. But you better move fast, as the British-based company plans to produce only around 25 of what is, for all intents and purposes, a copy of the British marque’s 2010 Formula One design. Except you get a slightly longer cockpit—to handle drivers measuring anywhere from 5'4'' to 6'2''—and a downsized Cosworth 640-horsepower V8 with the luxury of an on-board starter.
Yet Lotus promises, “there’ll be a bit of Formula One in most of the new entries.” The Eterne will be one of numerous models offered with the KERS hybrid system developed for the marque’s F1 racing program.”
Morgan: Forward Into the Past
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