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Lotus Marks The Elan’s 50th Birthday 27
Posted by Kurt Ernst in Automotive, Kurt, Lotus, Lotus Elan, News, Roadsters on 06 27th, 2012

The Lotus Elan roadster. Image: Lotus

In October of 1962, Lotus launched an all-new roadster at the British Motor Show that would eventually go on to re-write the book on modern, lightweight sports cars. Dubbed the Lotus Elan, the car debuted the use of a backbone tube chassis on a production, road-going car, sported a lightweight fiberglass body and utilized a four wheel independent suspension.

For the day, it was surprisingly well equipped, featuring amenities like wood veneer dash trim, power windows, full (but tissue-thin) carpeting and even a functioning heater. Later versions (namely, the Elan Sprint) could dash from 0-60 mph in just 6.6 seconds, which was seriously impressive back in 1973.

The Elan turned out to be a commercial success for Lotus, and quite possibly pulled the company back from the brink of bankruptcy despite modest production numbers. In total, just over 17,000 were built before production ended in 1973.

The Elan served as inspiration (and a role model) for Mazda’s original MX-5 Miata, a car that’s now gone on to become the best selling sports car in history. Lotus says the Elan influenced today’s Lotus Elise, too, although we have a hard time seeing the similarity between a front-engine, rear-drive roadster and a mid-engine, rear drive Targa, ourselves.

Today, you can still see the occasional Elan on the road or in SCCA Solo competition, proving how good Ron Hickman’s original design was. We tip our hats to Lotus on this occasion, and wish the Elan a very happy 50th birthday.

2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG Gets More Power, Better Lines 22
Posted by Kurt Ernst in 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG, AMG, Automotive, Kurt, Mercedes Benz, News, Roadsters, Tuners on 08 22nd, 2011

The 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG, Image: Mercedes-Benz

When it comes to sports roadsters with genuine pedigrees, it’s hard to beat the Mercedes-Benz SLK series. The littler brother to the SL roadster has been sold in the United States since 1997, and the car has racked up an impressive number of awards, including two Car & Driver “Ten Best” trophies and a “North American Car of the Year Award in 1998. An AMG-tuned SLK55 was even used as the F1 safety car in the 2005 season, and the SLK55 was the very first of AMG’s ultra-performance “Black Series” cars.

Image: Mercedes-Benz

If performance is your focus, the SLK to have is the SLK55 AMG, and Mercedes-Benz is debuting the most powerful version ever built for 2012. The 5.5-liter V-8 now puts out 415 horsepower and 398 lb-ft of torque, which is good enough to get the roadster from zero to sixty in 4.5 seconds. Thanks to AMG’s advanced cylinder management technology (developed for Formula One), the SLK55 AMG can shut down four of its eight cylinders to save fuel, but only if the driver selects the “Controlled Efficiency” transmission mode. Even in this mode, bringing the other cylinders into play takes just 30 milliseconds at 3,600 rpm.

Image: Mercedes-Benz

Cylinder deactivation isn’t the only fuel saving measure on the SLK55; in Controlled Efficiency mode, the engine also employs a start / stop feature to shut the motor off at traffic lights. Releasing the brake and applying throttle is all it takes to restart the engine without further driver involvement, but the start / stop feature is automatically disabled in Sport or Manual mode. The SLK55 AMG even converts kinetic energy from the braking system or a coasting engine to reduce the load on the alternator, preserving both horsepower and fuel economy.

Image: Mercedes-Benz

To optimize traction, the SLK55 AMG comes with torque-vectoring brakes and three levels of electronic stability control, including ESP On, Sport Mode and ESP Off. If you want the best handling SLK55 AMG money can buy, an optional AMG handling package provides stiffer springs and dampers, a locking rear differential and two-piece front brake rotors.

Image: Mercedes-Benz

Inside, buyers get a distinctive interior, including AMG sport seats, a sport steering wheel and a unique dashboard and center console layout. There’s even three choices for a roof, including the standard retractable hardtop, a polycarbonate panorama roof panel or the panorama roof with Magic Sky Control, which lightens or darkens the glass roof panel at the touch of a button.

Look for pricing to be announced closer to the SLK55 AMG’s launch in the spring of 2012.

Source: Mercedes-Benz

Is Kia Working On A Mazda MX-5 Rival? 25
Posted by Kurt Ernst in Automotive, Kia, Mazda, News, Roadsters, Sports Cars on 03 25th, 2011

The Kia Elan, built under license from Lotus from 1996 to 1999.

When it comes to manufacturing products, it’s best to not under-estimate the Koreans. As a Hyundai insider once told me, they’re the only people of the planet who can make the Japanese look like slackers. Just look at Hyundai and Kia if you need proof; two decades ago they were the butt of jokes, but today they’re on fire. The Hyundai Elantra is kicking ass and taking names in the compact car segment, and their Sonata is doing the same in the midsize class. Kia’s Optima and Optima Turbo are poised to give Hyundai a run for their money, and it looks like Hyundai is positioning Kia as a younger, more sporting brand. When Kia says they’re looking at building a rival to Mazda’s MX-5, I believe they’ll succeed where others have failed.

It’s not a done deal yet, but Kia is seriously considering a two-seat roadster to go up against the Mazda MX-5. That means they’ve already dissected the current MX-5 and found a way to build it lighter, cheaper, more powerful and with equivalent or better handling. Given that the MX-5 starts at around $23,000, a base Kia roadster would have to squeak in closer to the $20k price point. On the top end of the line, I can see a 274 horsepower, 2.0 liter turbo-equipped Kia coming in below $30k, which could have a huge impact on sales of Mazda’s MX-5.

Other manufacturers have tried to dethrone the MX-5 as king of affordable sports cars, but all have failed. Remember the Mercury Capri, which tried to get by on being cute? How about the Toyota MR2 Spyder, which barely had enough room to haul a briefcase, let alone a weekend’s worth of luggage? The Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky came closest to beating the MX-5 at its own game (and actually rivaled it for handling), but GM pulled the plug just as the cars were getting the bugs worked out. Kia’s got the ability to build a successful rival if they choose to do so, and I’d pay close attention to their progress if I were Mazda.

Source: AutoExpress