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Boxberg 2015 - tomorrow is today
As usual, the briefing opened with a conference, at which Bosch representatives discussed the advantages of things to come. Let's have a look at automation – not only is it predicted to make traffic safer (autonomous cars are supposed to not take part in collisions at all) and more fluent, but also it will offer mobility to senior citizens, who otherwise wouldn't feel safe to drive anymore. Connectivity will augment automation, as cars will communicate not just with the Internet, but also between each other, exchanging information about traffic conditions and storing it in data clouds for others to use. As far as electrification is concerned, it's quite simple – EVs spit out no emissions and, contrary to a popular conception, can offer significant driving fun. But we'll come back to that...
Meanwhile, let's start with the car that interested us the most – the CNG-powered Audi A3 g-tron. We've written about it before, we've seen it live at the IAA in Frankfurt in 2013, but this time we actually had the chance to drive it in person. It feels pretty much like any other A3, although the 1,4 TSI engine's output is a bit modest at 110 PS (the same for CNG and petrol). Interestingly, the g-tron cannot be manually switched to run on petrol – it makes maximum use of natural gas and only resorts to using conventional fuel when the alternative one runs out. Refueling is convenient through a nozzle placed under the petrol filler flap and the boot is almost as functional as the regular A3's one, even though there are CNG cylinders underneath.
While we're at Audi A3, why not mention a developmental prototype featuring eClutch technology? At first glance, it's just an A3 like thousands of others, but it turns out you can drive it without ever touching the clutch pedal. It's still there in its usual place if you can't seem to fight the habit or feel in whatever way obliged to use it, but you can do perfectly without it. You don't even need to release the accelerator to shift gears, but the car reacts as if you did – the clutch disengages and there is a temporary drop in torque transfered to the wheels. Quite frankly, it takes more time than a regular manual shift, but on the bright side, you cannot stall the car (it automatically decouples the clutch when you brake) and the gearbox won't force-shift against your will (like automatic transmissions often do). Will it become a third option alongside regular MTs and ATs? Maybe, but the concept needs some more development and testing.
Oh, apart from the automated clutch operation, the car also featured the growingly popular coasting function – disengaging the engine from the gearbox when the driver releases the gas pedal to use the car's kinetic energy. Even if you downshift in order to engine brake, the car won't slow down. It saves fuel, but if you're used to slowing down by downshifting, change your habits or you may end up rear-ending someone.
Now, why not move to automation, shall we? Bosch has been testing autonomous cars for several years now, including since 2013 on public roads (as the first company gaining permit to use self-driving vehicles in regular traffic in Germany). This year they brought two fully autonomous cars – a BMW series 3 Touring and a Tesla Model S. They no longer need spinning radars on their roofs and look just like any other cars out there, the difference being that they don't need you to tell them what to do. They accelerate, brake and turn all on their own (although the Tesla would hit the brakes to slow down behind a preceding vehicle a bit too hard) and even though we only saw them in action on a closed track, we're told they perform equally well in the streets. If need be, the human behind the wheel can easily override the system and take over.
The other Tesla Model S available for test drive was a regular production example, if you can ever call a Tesla regular. It featured electric power steering with three steering feel modes available – Comfort, Normal and Sport. We changed between Comfort and Sport a number of times during our test drives, but – quite frankly – the difference was hardly noticeable. Still, the Model S handles and grips like crazy – its centre of gravity is very low thanks to the battery installed on the floor pan, it features four-wheel drive and very powerful electric motors, offering tons of torque from the very start. The car seems to defy physics and has an enormous active safety buffer. If only it could also offer better interior quality – both in terms of materials used and assembly. For top quality, you would have to go for the Porsche Panamera e-hybrid, but then it drives like a tanker ship compared to the Tesla. The choice is yours.
Speaking of hybrids, there were obviously many of them on display in Boxberg. The Volkswagen XL1 is one of the most impressive, but also most ridiculous ones. True, it makes do with a single litre of diesel per 100 km and if you recharge it regularly and only drive relatively short distances, you can forget about refueling altogether, but in order to enjoy its super-frugal nature, you first need to cough up 110 thousand euros to get yourself one. Quite a price for a two-seater that doesn't even feature power steering, huh? On the other side of the hybrid range there were the BMW i8 PHEV and the Porsche 918 e-hybrid hypercar. The latter one wasn't even a part of the limited production run (it was numbered 000!) and while getting one for fuel savings is laughable, its combination of combustion engine + electric motor torque is absolutely breathtaking. Literally – when the car ejects itself with you inside from standstill to 100 km/h in next to no time at all (3 s?), you can hardly breathe. And when it brakes, your eyeballs want to pop out of your head and smash on the windscreen. If you're ever offered a ride in the 918, don't waste your chance.
The i8 may seem tame compared to the Porsche, but doesn't fail to impress. From the driver's perspective, it doesn't feel like a car featuring a 3-cylinder, 1,5-litre engine (plus an electric motor, of course). It's very sharp, very rigid and next to insanely fast – doing 210 km/h on Bosch's oval high-speed track was no problem at all, with potential for more. Last but not least, the event also featured Ford's latest Mustang. Not a hybrid, not an autonomous car, not even particularly connected. So why was it there? Because it featured the new 2,3-litre, 4-cylinder EcoBoost engine. And contrary to what many people think, it actually makes sense! Of course, the 'Stang is more of a cruiser than a car you would take to your favourite mountain road, but it was fast and agile on the oval track. And, given the right settings were applied, it could even generate V8-like sound and play it to you to make you feel better. The question is: would you tell your friends you have a 2,3-liter, inline-4 Mustang? Exactly...
The Automotive Press Briefing event in Boxberg gives you the best of both worlds, or maybe even three – you get a lot of information and knowledge, you can see and touch the technology beyond the developmental prototypes and you can have a lot of fun driving some of the most exotic and exciting cars on the planet. It's all there – from minor improvements ready to be mass produced starting tomorrow to revolutionary solutions that will define the automotive industry beyond 2025, when drivers become passengers. We already want to go there again for the 63rd edition...
- LPG and CNG cars
- Hybrids and EV's
- News and tips