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Aston-Martin Rapide S. (Aston-Martin)
Aston-Martin Rapide S. (Aston-Martin)

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Aston-Martin reveals new 550-hp Rapide S Add to ...

British sports car maker Aston Martin says a more powerful and notably restyled Rapide S would replace the popular Rapide as its most practical model.

The Rapide S remains a four-door, four-seat hatchback, similar in sporting intent to the Porsche Panamera Turbo S.

Both of these models are rated at the same 550 hp, the Aston’s new power peak representing a major jump over the previous Rapide’s 470 ponies.

This power comes from a race-tweaked derivative of the same 5.9-litre V-12 used previously, and in the latest Vanquish, though Aston Martin still continues to call the 5,935-cc mill a 6.0-litre engine. Porsche’s four-door Turbo S uses a turbocharged 4.8-litre V-8.

This extra power results in a faster 0-96 km/h time, down from 5.1 seconds to 4.7 seconds, though the lack of all-wheel-drive and the Porsche’s much greater torque means the less-expensive German rival also beats it to highways speeds by a second (3.6 to 100 km/h, says Porsche) or more. Still, it’s hard to sneeze at the performance of any four-door machine with the Rapide S’s estimated top speed of 306 km/h.

More power is never a negative in performance machines. But what made the Rapide stand out in the crop of sporting four-doors were its sensuous lines, which Aston Martin has reworked to largely – though not universally – unfavourable reactions online. Most of the cyber dismay focuses on the now-huge grille, which still uses Aston’s traditionally simply horizontal slats – just much more of them, almost as if two of its previous grilles are now stacked onto each other.

Fuel-cell partnerships announced

Fuel cells are far from forgotten, but nobody seems to want to go it alone, as five major auto makers announced pacts this week to co-develop zero-emission but long-range electric vehicles.

BMW and Toyota signed binding agreements to co-develop fuel-cell vehicle powertrains, including the fuel-cell stack and hydrogen tank, motor, and battery, with a completion goal of 2020. The German and Japanese firms also committed to developing fuel cell codes and standards needed to seed and potentially grow the expensive hydrogen fuelling stations and infrastructure, as well as plans to co-develop lightweight vehicle body technologies that may be used in future green or performance vehicles.

A similar collaboration research deal was announced by Daimler, Ford and Nissan, in which each company vowed to equally split fuel cell research money, with the aim of lowering costs for each company, as well as speeding up the arrival of fuel-cell electric vehicles to market. The three-continent deal is expected to lead to the launch of world’s first affordable, mass-market fuel-cell electric vehicles as early as 2017, and is meant as a signal to governments, suppliers and fuelling industry/infrastructure policy makers that the companies are serious about developing such cars.

The announcement may also provide a boost to jobs and investment funds in British Columbia, as Mercedes-Benz Canada – through Daimler – opened a fuel-cell research and production facility last summer in Burnaby, B.C. Company officials trumpeted it as the world’s first production line for fuel-cell powerplants, though Honda officials responsible for two generations of limited-volume but still-production FCX fuel cell vehicles may disagree. At that time, Mercedes-Benz Canada officials said that this would be where drivetrains of all Mercedes fuel cell vehicles would originate, starting in 2015 with the B-Class FCEV (fuel cell electric vehicle).

Company spokespeople could not confirm by deadline whether that 2015 timing for the B-Class FC would remain, if Benz’s first FCEV will now be pushed back to the 2017 time frame set out in the deal with Ford and Nissan, or whether any Benz FC vehicle will even be sold in Canada by either of those target dates.

Officials had previously indicated that they wouldn’t sell any car in Canada without the infrastructure to support it, though they will offer an all-electric Smart fortwo starting this spring, and a case could be made that these urban two-seaters ideally need on-street fast charging for downtown dwellers without access to a garage or an overnight spot with a plug.

With Daimler the obvious leader among the three partners in the deal with Ford and Nissan to share common fuel-cell powertrains, this deal looks set to significantly increase the research funds available and 50 jobs initially set at the facility in Burnaby. This global triumvirate also plans to help shape common fuel-cell standards in Germany, North America and Japan, citing the group’s collective 60 years worth of fuel cell research.

That all those years of research, as well as Toyota’s and BMW’s, never amounted to one production fuel-cell vehicle puts a well-founded damper on the optimism behind these deals, and whether fuel cells are indeed the way to cleaner, emissions-free driving.

As opposed to current battery electric vehicles, which must be plugged in to the grid for their energy, and suffer from long recharge times and limited range, fuel cell electric vehicles have long promised the most gas-like refuelling experience: fill up in about five to 10 minutes at a hydrogen station, then drive emissions-free (save for water) for 300 to 400 km, depending on the size of your tank. Unfortunately, these stations are expensive, and neither governments nor fuel retailers have shown much interest in funding widespread hydrogen infrastructure, without which auto companies won’t release FC vehicles.

For BMW and Toyota, the two firms also confirmed plans to co-research the next generation of lithium-air batteries, as a potential upgrade to current lithium-ion technology. More imminently, they also plan to complete a study on the feasibility of a joint mid-size sports car by the end of this year, though any resulting vehicle is still years away.

Canadian Concours planned

The first Canadian Cobble Beach Concours d’Elegance was recently announced, the classic car show modelling itself closely on the well-known Pebble Beach Concours that attracts priceless antique cars and motorcycles from around the world to the 18th fairway of the golf resort in California each August.

The Canadian version is planned for the 18th hole of the Cobble Beach golf resort on Sept. 13, with the classic cars set to be displayed on the greens overlooking Georgian Bay, on the southeastern shores of the Bruce Peninsula.

It’s a significant three-hour drive northwest of Toronto, but the ambitious project has already secured such notable vehicles as the 1978 Ferrari 312T3 F1 that Gilles Villeneuve drove for his first Formula One Grand Prix win, a 1956 Maserati 200SI, the revolutionary 1930 Cadillac Series 452 Model 4302 Rumbleseat Roadster V16, and the rare 1953 Jaguar XK 120 Fixed Head Coupe, say show organizers.

Details for entrants are available at cobblebeachconcours.com, with tickets expected to start at $25.

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