The Mini GP is back in its third iteration, following the template of its predecessors in offering a lighter, harder and more focused limited-run package. First revealed in concept form at the 2017 Frankfurt motor show, and since spied multiple times in pre-production testing, Mini has finally officially revealed its most powerful model yet.
The powertrain is based around the same underlying B48 2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine as found in the standard Cooper S and JCW, but with a collection of detail changes that substantially build on the figures of the standard Mini John Cooper Works. New for the GP is a larger twin-scroll turbocharger, running on a lower compression ratio with new high-flow injectors. Mini’s (or rather BMW’s) Valvetronic variable valve timing and Double Vanos systems are also standard.
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The result is some pretty substantial gains in performance, with a peak power figure of 302bhp available between 5000 and 6250rpm, a hefty 72bhp more than in the standard Mini JCW. Torque is also up, with a plateau of 332lb ft from 1750 to 5000rpm. Power is sent to the front wheels via a mechanical limited-slip differential, but the new GP will not be available with a manual gearbox, rather an eight-speed torque-converter automatic. Although immediately disappointing for those with a natural inclination towards their hot hatchbacks offering three pedals, Mini has developed a GP-specific software upgrade designed to sharpen downshifts and allow for multiple downshifts on kickdown. Also bespoke to the GP is a set of 3D-printed paddles mounted to the steering wheel that are larger and follow a 3D-printed theme throughout the car.
As a result of the powertrain upgrades, the new Mini JCW GP will hit 62mph in just 5.2sec, the fastest time yet in a production Mini, and go on to an unlimited top speed of 164mph. That 0-62mph figure is nearly a full second quicker than the standard Mini JCW manages when fitted with the same automatic transmission.
The chassis has also picked up some considerable upgrades, Mini having widened the track front and rear by 40mm, and lowered the body by a further 10mm compared with standard JCW models. Suspension all-round is typical Mini, with an independent rear suspension design, but now incorporating stiffer rubber bushings, lower springs and bespoke passive dampers. The front axle also features new swivel bearings that increase camber angle, while stiffer GP-specific engine mounts and bushings improve control at the front axle. The iconic rear bar has also made a comeback, replacing the rear seats like in GPs before.
One of the Mini GP’s most obvious aesthetic features is the return of its distinctive four-spoke alloy wheels, which are now 18 inches in diameter and forged to reduce unsprung weight. Behind the front wheels sits a set of 360mm brake discs, gripped by four-pot calipers. New for this GP are its floating wheelarch extensions made from carbonfibre, which complement the big colour-coded front splitter, rear spoiler and new diffuser, while detail aesthetic changes, such as the removal of chrome elements from inside the LED headlights and new mirror caps only emphasise how much detail effort has gone into this GP.
Although it has lost its rear seats and some level of sound insulation, the interior is not quite the stripped-out affair of previous GPs. The steering wheel and front seats are bespoke to the GP, so too the 3D-printed passenger-side clip-on trim that displays the build number of that specific car. A new highlight is the adoption of the digital driver’s display first revealed in the Mini-e, which looks far more sophisticated than the standard Mini’s analogue set-up and its almost apologetic rev counter.
It can’t be ignored that our relationship with the current third-gen Mini has been a strained one. It’s too much BMW and not enough Mini, comfortable and refined, yes, but also uninspiring and inert compared to the excellent R53 and R56 that came before. Look at the GP with a cynical eye and you might also notice its power and torque figures are identical to those of the M135i, and that its 40mm wider track is also found on the Clubman estate, but rather than see this as a parts bin special, the stance, aggression and detail upgrades deep inside the chassis point to this being more than the sum of its (borrowed) parts.
The GP will reach customers in March next year in a 3000-unit build run (1000 more than previous iterations), with 575 of those coming to the UK. The GP is available for pre-order now from £33,895, a figure that’s actually quite reasonable considering the work that’s gone into it. In an era of £72k Renaults and £50k A-classes, the JCW GP might just be the third-generation new Mini that finally lives up to its ‘Go-Kart feel’ mantra.
New Safety Gizmos Are Making Car Insurance More Expensive
American car insurance rates are going up up up. In the last decade, they climbed 29.6 percent to an average of $1,548 in 2019 from $1,194 in 2011. The surge, detailed in a new report from insurance shopping site The Zebra, outpaced both inflation (by far) and the increase in average car prices (more narrowly). And it came even as the rate of crashes has fallen year over year.
Aggrieved drivers have plenty of directions to point their fingers. Vehicle theft is on the rise, and extreme weather fueled by climate change can destroy swaths of vehicles in short order. Hurricane Harvey wrecked up to 1 million cars in the Houston area in 2017. And while crash rates have dropped, they’ve been buoyed by increasing urbanization and a strong economy, which put more drivers—many of them distracted by smartphones—in tighter spaces.
A more surprising, counterintuitive culprit isn’t the wider world or the person behind the wheel, but the car itself. It turns out that new features designed to keep vehicles in their lanes and out of trouble are contributing to rising insurance rates.
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That’s because the sensors that power those systems make cars much more expensive to fix when they do crash. Dent a steel bumper, and a few hammer blows gets you back on the road. Smash one on a new car, and it could mean replacing a radar, camera, and ultrasonic sensors, then calibrating them so they work properly. Replacing a cracked windshield now comes with the extra cost of having someone readjust any cameras that look through the glass. “Technology is playing a bigger role than ever in pricing,” says Nicole Beck, The Zebra’s communications chief. “It’s not actually making it cheaper for people.”
While some studies have shown the effectiveness of emergency braking, insurance companies haven’t yet seen enough evidence to justify a break in rates for most of these features. That’s not to say lane keeping, parking assist, and the rest don’t work. They’re all relatively new, and the actuaries aren’t yet confident that their benefits outweigh the extra costs they incur to repair. Complicating the picture is the fact that each automaker offers its own version of each feature, and that drivers may not keep the systems engaged.
“A lot of the developments so far have mixed results,” says Tom Karol, general counsel for the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies. “It’s not really been proven out yet, in terms of benefits.” Which is why, according to the report, drivers who go for electronic stability control, which keeps cars from spinning out of control, save just $8 a year. Those who pay for blind spot warning, driver alertness monitoring, lane departure warning, night vision, or parking assistance systems save nothing at all.
Still, at least one company sees the upside of sensor-driven driver assistance. “They absolutely lower the frequency of crashes,” says Alex Carges, the chief actuary at The Root, an insurance startup that determines rates based on how people drive, using accelerometer and GPS data from their phones.
Elon Musk on road to $50bn payout as Tesla’s value passes $100bn
Under pay scheme, founder must build electric carmaker into $650bn company by 2028
The Tesla founder, Elon Musk, has taken the first step to becoming $50bn (38bn) richer after the value of the electric car company surged past $100bn.
Musk, already a multibillionaire with a net worth estimated at about $30bn, secured approval in 2018 for a pay deal that would dwarf existing records for renumeration if it was paid out in full.
Hitting this landmark would make Tesla one of the worlds most valuable tech companies worth more than seven times the combined value today of automotive powerhouses Ford and General Motors .
Provided Tesla also hits ambitious revenue and profit targets, and assuming Musk remains its chief executive, such growth would also trigger payments in stock worth about $50bn over the course of the scheme.
At the time the deal was agreed in March 2018, Tesla was valued by the stock market at $54.6bn. Its share price has nearly doubled since then, breaking the $100bn barrier on Wednesday.
Improved sentiment about Tesla on Wall Street is partly down to a surprise third-quarter profit of $143m, which bolstered hopes that the company could end its habit of making significant losses.
If Musk can keep the stock market value at above $100bn on average over the next six months, he will be entitled to the first of up to 12 stock payouts, worth around $350m each.
The pay deal is staggered so that he receives further awards for every $50bn Tesla increases in stock market value, up to a maximum of $50bn in shares if the company achieves a valuation of $650bn by 2028.
Tesla supporters have argued that the way the pay plan is structured will help keep Musk focused on the company at a time when he is also increasingly involved in SpaceX, his space exploration company, and other ventures.
A Move to Make Auto-Safety Features Speak the Same Language
Pop quiz! What’s the difference between Automatic Emergency Braking, Collision Imminent Braking, Autonomous Emergency Braking, Collision Intervention, Autonomous Braking, and a Dynamic Brake System?
Trick question: nothing. All six of those terms have been used by important auto industry organizations—regulators at the US Department of Transportation, standards developers at SAE International, and influential research organization Thatcham Research—to describe automatic emergency braking systems. If your car comes equipped with Automatic Emergency Braking, it should be able to detect a potential collision in front of the car and automatically apply the brakes to avoid it, or at least to cushion the blow.
Last week, the Transportation Department said it would join an effort to get everyone in the auto industry, including safety advocates, regulators, manufacturers, suppliers, dealers, and of course drivers themselves, on the same page, language-wise. “We want to make sure that drivers are aware that these systems are designed to ‘assist,’ not replace an engaged driver,” Secretary Elaine Chao told an annual research conference in Washington, DC.
The DOT endorsed a standardized list of advanced driver-assistance terminology, released late last year by the National Safety Council, AAA, Consumer Reports, and JD Power, the automotive marketing research company. The list clarifies, for example, that even when using “Active Driving Assistance” features (like General Motors’ Super Cruise, Audi’s Traffic Jam Assist, or Tesla’s Autopilot), the “driver is responsible for the primary task of driving.” Translation: Keep your eyes on the road! Some sort of advanced driver-assistance feature is available on almost all new cars sold in the US.
If you’re confused by the way your car’s new tech works, you are far from alone. Research suggests that people wildly overestimate the effectiveness of driver-assistance features. Thatcham Research surveyed 1,500 people in seven countries in 2018 and found that 70 percent believed you could buy an autonomous car, and 11 percent would be tempted to nap, watch a movie, or read the paper while using a driver-assistance feature. (Do! Not! Do! That!) Undercover researchers with MIT found in 2017 that not all car dealers accurately describe new features’ abilities or limitations to customers. Studies by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety suggest many drivers don’t understand the range of features like adaptive cruise control, which can adjust vehicle speed when it detects another vehicle ahead. The research also suggests that, without specific instruction, drivers can’t actually tell when a feature like lane-keeping assistance is actually on.
An industry review by AAA found that automakers selling in the US use at least 20 different brand names to market adaptive cruise control; there were 19 names for blind-spot warning systems.
But advanced assistance features also make driving much safer, which is why advocates say it’s important to make sure people understand how they work. Another IIHS study compared police-reported crash data and insurance claims from cars with crash-avoidance tech to those without, and found that cars with forward-collision warning are involved in 27 percent fewer front-to-rear crashes than those without the feature; those with forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking are in 50 percent fewer crashes.
(What’s forward-collision warning? The document endorsed by the DOT defines it as a system that “detects impending collision while traveling forward and alerts [the] driver. Some systems include pedestrian or other object detection.”)
Having DOT on board with the new definitions won’t by itself fix the industry’s vocab issues, or solve its wide-ranging consumer education issues. The most important players, the automakers who devise and market the names, were absent from the DOT announcement. The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which represents the automakers that produce almost 99 percent of light-duty vehicles sold in the US, did not respond to requests for comment.
The Feds are working on performance standards for the tech, and their endorsement suggests their language might be consistent within its regulations. “Hopefully we get some commonality when the automakers start complying with those standards,” says Greg Brannon, the director of automotive engineering and industry relations at AAA. He says his and other groups pushing for more harmonization aren’t trying to get carmakers to nix their unique marketing of these features altogether. But wouldn’t it be nice if, say, Jeep were to clearly label its LaneSense Lane Departure Warning-Plus system a “Lane-Keeping Assistance” feature?
“Unfortunately, there's usually a pretty big gap between the marketing and engineering departments,” Brannon says.
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