New: Toyota FT-1

Hot in the wheeltracks of the high-performance FT-1 Vision GT concept Toyota revealed this week, a new ‘real-world’ version has been unveiled.

The latest interpretation of the show-stopping concept coupé features new graphite paintwork in place of the vibrant red featured on the original concept, first seen at this year’s Detroit motor show. There is also a new interior treatment, with saddle tan leather elements to give a more sophisticated feel.

Toyota FT-1

The FT-1’s interior designers drew their inspiration from modern superhero films, particularly their use of high-tech performance materials for the character’s costumes, as opposed to the bright tights and garish colours sported by more traditional characters.

To achieve the FT-1’s advanced-looking, intricately detailed interior, Toyota’s CALTY design team in California compared leather thicknesses, grain sizes and textures to find the perfect combination. Raised metal mesh provides ventilation for the seats, while also lending a more textural, bold effect that compliments the cabin’s metal accents. An embossed pattern on the instrument panel leather creates a 3-D, technical look.

Toyota FT-1

Selene Lee, a CALTY designer, said: “From the start of the FT-1 project, we wanted the driver to have a feeling of flow while at the wheel – to be able to focus on the road and nothing else.

“In the colour studio we help create the atmosphere of the vehicle, and our aim was to ensure everything supported the driver through efficient choices. The saddle leather maintains that same ‘in the zone’ driving intention, while bringing in a more premium feeling.”

Tesla expands ‘supercharger’ network to UK

Tesla has opened new Supercharger locations in London and Birmingham — its first in Britain — part of a network expansion that will soon allow UK Model S owners to drive anywhere in the country and charge for free, for life.

The first new Supercharging site is located at Hyatt Regency London – The Churchill, on Portman Square. The Supercharger can be accessed in the hotel car park, which will be free to Model S owners for one hour while charging. With valet parking available, it is the first Supercharger in central London and represents the first step in Tesla’s inner-city charging strategy for the UK. Such centrally located Superchargers will allow customers who don’t have access to off-street parking or personal garages to easily find charging options close to home or work.

Tesla S at London Regency Hyatt

The second Supercharging site is at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham, on Bridge Street. As well as allowing Model S owners to charge upon arrival in Birmingham, the site enables electric travel to the Midlands and beyond.

“This Birmingham location signifies our first move out of London in recognition of the fantastic support in the area,” said Georg Ell, Tesla’s UK Country Director.

These new Supercharger locations not only energise an important route between the capital and the UK’s second city, but they also enable Model S drivers to travel long distances from the Midlands to Manchester and London, and across to France, Germany, and other European countries for free.

World’s largest fast-charging network

A Supercharger replenishes half a charge in about 20 minutes. Supercharger sites are strategically placed along well-travelled routes to allow Model S owners to drive long distances with minimal stops. They are located near amenities like motorway services, restaurants, cafes and shopping centres so drivers can stop for a quick meal and have their Model S charged by the time they’re done.

Tesla has energised 168 Superchargers worldwide, making it both the largest and the fastest-growing fast-charging network in the world.

New Supercharger Locations:

Hyatt Regency London – The Churchill
30 Portman Square
London W1H 7BH,-0.157135,1356m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m2!3m1!1s0x48761accb64f84a9:0x7d829b39546d9a0d?hl=en

Hyatt Regency Birmingham
2 Bridge Street
Birmingham B1 2JZ,-1.909561&spn=0.105931,0.298004&sll=51.517716,-0.157135&sspn=0.00677,0.018625&t=h&hq=Hyatt+Regency+Birmingham&radius=15000&z=12&iwloc=A 

Limited edition Bentley at Pebble Beach

Making its North American debut at this year’s Pebble Beach is the new Continental GT3-R – the most dynamic and fastest-accelerating Bentley ever produced.

Inspired by Bentley’s race-winning Continental GT3 race car, the GT3-R is powered by a version of Bentley’s familiar 4.0 litre V8 engine. Bentley has developed a retuned derivative of the twin-turbo V8 for this new two-seater GT, developing 577PS and 516 lb.ft of torque. Together with a 100kg weight reduction and shorter gearing, this makes the GT3-R very quick: in fact, it is the Continental GT3-R is the fastest-accelerating Bentley ever. Capable of reaching 60 mph from a standstill in just 3.6 seconds, the GT3-R is a Grand Tourer with the performance of a racer.

Bentley Continental GT3-R

Hand-built in Crewe, the car will be finished by Bentley’s motorsport department. The GT3-R is limited to just 300 examples globally, 99 of which are bound for the US market. Pricing for the Continental GT3-R is set at US$337,000. Dealers are now accepting orders for the Continental GT3-R, with deliveries to start in the Americas Region in the first quarter of 2015.

Continental GT3-R Highlights

All 300 Continental GT3-R models take design inspiration from the GT3 racer and will feature a Glacier White exterior, highlighted by the use of two-tone green graphics that trace the two prominent power lines to the side profile of the car. A new front splitter provides an assertive look to the front of the car, balanced by a new fixed rear wing fitted to the boot lid – both finished in carbon fibre. Additional unique exterior features adding to the sporting design include gloss black headlamp bezels, matrix grille, window surrounds and bumper strips. The look is complemented by an all-new lightweight 21” wheel finished in gloss black. The theme continues under the bonnet where the 4.0-litre V8 receives a unique GT3-R carbon fibre cover.

Bentley Continental GT3-R

Interiors feature a two-seat configuration of new bespoke sporting seats designed for comfort and finished in Beluga black leather with diamond-quilted Alcantara. In place of the rear seats is a new uniquely trimmed rear cabin, complete with a carbon fibre surround and finished in leather and Alcantara. Contrasting the Beluga leather and motorsport-inspired materials is a vivid accent green, used as a hide colour on the seats, instrument panel and door panels and in contrast stitching throughout the seats and diamond quilted areas. Unique GT3-R badging adorns the centre console and passenger fascia panel, while headrests receive stitched logos in contrast green thread. All 99 models bound for the US will receive sequentially numbered GT3-R sill treadplates identifying the car’s one-of-a-kind status.

Jaguar Land Rover Special Operations reveals ‘new’ lightweight E-type

Jaguar has revealed the prototype of its ‘new’ lightweight E-type – a further six of which will be built and sold.

At a glance:

  • Jaguar Land Rover Special Operations has unveiled its ‘new’ Lightweight E-type – hand-built by Jaguar craftsmen in a new facility at Browns Lane
  • The new lightweight E-type is the first recreation to come from Jaguar Heritage, which operates within the Jaguar Land Rover Special Operations division
  • Just six customer lightweight E-types will be built – each assigned one of the remaining chassis numbers originally allocated in 1963 to the intended 18-car ‘Special GT E-type’ project, of which just 12 were built
  • The new Jaguar Heritage customer workshop facility at Browns Lane is now open to offer Jaguar warrantied servicing and restoration of classic Jaguar models
  • In recreating the Lightweight, Jaguar Heritage has drawn on Jaguar’s unique engineering and design resources, including the company’s world-leading aluminium body technology
  • The specification includes an aluminium bodyshell with doors, bootlid, hardtop and bonnet also in aluminium, and is assembled to exacting standards
  • The six-cylinder XK engine mirrors the original power units, with an aluminium block, ‘wide angle’ aluminium cylinder head and dry sump lubrication
  • The cars will be sold as period competition vehicles and all will be suitable for FIA homologation for historic motorsport purposes
  • Only 12 of the original Lightweight E-types were built, all but one leaving Jaguar’s Browns Lane competitions department in 1963 (the last car was delivered in 1964)
  • A prototype Lightweight – ‘Car Zero’ – has been completed and, on 14 August, was revealed at the opening reception to the Pebble Beach Automotive weekend, the world’s most prestigious classic car event

Jaguar announced in May 2014 that it would recreate six new Lightweights, each built by Jaguar Heritage, part of Jaguar Land Rover’s new Special Operations division.

Each of the six cars will be built to a specification originated from the last Lightweight E-type produced in 1964 and will be hand-crafted at the original home of the E-type, Jaguar’s Browns Lane plant in Coventry. The cars will be sold as period competition vehicles and all will be suitable for FIA homologation for historic motorsport purposes.

Jaguar lightweight E-type

The new cars are the ‘missing’ six vehicles from the ‘Special GT E-type’ project, which originally started in February 1963 with the objective of building 18 cars. Only 12 of the aluminium-bodied Lightweight E-types were eventually built and the remaining six designated chassis numbers having lain dormant, until now. The six new cars will carry those original, historic Lightweight E-type chassis numbers.

Jaguar lightweight E-type

A race winner in the hands of a variety of famous drivers during its short competitive career, the car has achieved worldwide fame and original examples are now valued in the many millions. In recreating the Lightweight E-type, Jaguar Heritage has been able to call on the skills and experience of many talented engineers and technicians already working in a variety of departments within Jaguar.

All, when offered the chance to assist with this unique project, leapt at the opportunity. Some even have an indirect link with the E-type when it was new: one master technician calculated that his family – including his grandparents, his father and his uncle – had a collective 170 years’ service at Jaguar stretching back to the early 1960s.

Jaguar lightweight E-type XK engine

The expertise and attention brought to bear on this recreation project is staggering, with the full resources of Jaguar being applied to ensure that the six new Lightweights will not only be authentic, but will also be built to the highest quality standards.

So the six chosen customers will each receive the rarest of things – a brand new Lightweight E-type, hand-built at Browns Lane and just as desirable as one of the originals.

McLaren to launch track-only Sprint at Pebble Beach

McLaren has confirmed that it will premiere its latest and fastest model at this year’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, with the wraps set to come off the track-only 650S Sprint. The stripped-out racer will make its global debut alongside a number of other models from McLaren Automotive, and completes the brand’s display with four global debuts planned for the Californian event, including the McLaren P1 GTR.

McLaren 650S Sprint

Based on the recently launched McLaren 650S Coupe, the Sprint is fitted with developments to the Brake Steer system, further-refined active aerodynamics and a race set-up for the ProActive Chassis Control (PCC). These upgrades deliver a more engaging GT racing experience, without losing any of the refinement and balance found in the road car.

As with the 650S, the design of the Sprint offers increased levels of downforce, and the revised air intakes carried across from the road car allow for improved cooling of the 3.8-litre twin-turbo M838T engine. In the 650S Sprint, the proven powerplant is retained from the 650S road car, with a unique engine and transmission calibration to enhance on-track drivability and driver engagement.

McLaren 650S Sprint

The cabin is fully track-focused and stripped out to minimise weight, but with no compromise to driver safety or comfort. Built around the lightweight and inherently strong carbon fibre MonoCell chassis, the interior also features an FIA-approved rollcage to further cocoon the driver. A lightweight carbon fibre HANS-approved racing seat, with full six-point harness, offers an optimised driving position, while an air-conditioning system is retained adding comfort. An integrated fire extinguisher system is also installed.

McLaren recently announced the 650S GT3 race car, which will be seen on the grid from next season, and the 650S Sprint shares a number of design features with its bigger brother.  A larger motorsport fuel ‘bag’ tank with quick-fill connectors is added, as is optimised cooling through the larger GT3-developed front radiator with a GT3-inspired bonnet integrating radiator exit ducts, and the addition of front wings louvres to further optimise airflow over, and around, the bodywork.

McLaren 650S Sprint

The 650S Sprint  has a lower ride height with recalibrated adaptive damping for revised spring rates, and sits on 19-inch centre-locking racing wheels, fitted with Pirelli slick or wet tyres, while an onboard air jacking system enables quick tyre changes. Stopping power is also enhanced and provided by a race-prepared braking system developed for the 650S Sprint. This system combines with the road car’s highly effective Brake Steer system and enhanced active aerodynamics to offer superior braking performance. This allows for later braking into corners, but also improved brake feel and greater cornering speeds.

A range of further options and upgrades are available including a CFD (computational fluid dynamics) developed aerodynamic package including carbon fibre rear wing and front splitter, a passenger seat with six-point harness, and further lightweight components including a polycarbonate windscreen.

McLaren 650S Sprint

The 650S Sprint will be priced at £198,000 plus taxes, and available from all official McLaren retailers worldwide or direct from McLaren.

Solberg becomes first double winner in world Rallycross

Norway’s Petter Solberg took a sensational lights-to-flag victory at the World RX of Canada on 9 August to become the first driver to win a round of the FIA World Rallycross Championship presented by Monster Energy held outside of Europe. The PSRX driver also becomes the first double winner in RX this year. Volkswagen Marklund Motorsport’s Anton Marklund and Team Peugeot-Hansen’s Timur Timerzyanov finished second and third respectively, both drivers securing podium spots for the first time this season.

Solberg RX Canada

Staged at the Trois Rivieres street circuit as part of the annual Grand Prix Trois-Rivieres (GP3R) motorsport festival, the seventh round of World RX attracted crowds of more than 30,000 people to watch 18 flame-spitting Supercars and nine RX Lites cars in the Intercontinental Cup.  Three Canadian stars also helped draw a passionate home crowd as F1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve, former IndyCar star Patrick Carpentier and multiple Canadian Rally Champion Antoine L’Estage took to the all-new RX circuit.  Villeneuve was denied a place in the semi-finals after a fuel tank issue meant he was forced to withdraw but Carpentier wowed the crowds on his World RX debut, reaching the final and eventually finishing sixth.

“I am so, so happy right now but it hasn’t been the easiest day,” admitted Solberg who has extended his lead at the top of the standings by 20 points thanks to three heat victories, plus a win in both the semi and the final.  The former WRC World Champion, who was also awarded the Monster Energy Super Charge Award, added: “The morning didn’t start so well – we had similar problems to Belgium but the mechanics worked really hard on the car and I want to credit this win to my team.  I wouldn’t be here without them – they work harder than anyone.  It’s always been my dream to become the first person to win two World Championships and now that dream is getting closer but there are still five races to go and this sport is tough. I’d also like to thank the Canadian organisers – it’s fantastic to come to a new event, they have done a great job.”

Marklund was a model of consistency over the weekend after never finishing outside the top five in all the heats.  The 21-year-old went on to win his semi-final to qualify on the front row of the final alongside pole starter Solberg.  “This has been a lot of fun,” grinned Marklund at the press conference. “I’ve managed to score points all day and driving down the long straight at speeds of around 190kmph is just amazing.  Usually rallycross events are over two days so this has been a big challenge for my team to work over one day and they have done an amazing job. It’s also really good for VW to have three out of four cars in the final and now we’re tied with Olsbergs MSE in the manufacturer standings too – it’s been a great weekend for the whole team.”

After what can only be described as a torrid four heats for Timur Timerzyanov, the Russian defied all odds to reach the final where he drove a mature race and secured a well-deserved third place for Team Peugeot Hansen. The reigning European Rallycross Champion commented: “It’s fair to say I’ve had an active day: I’ve been fighting against rails, tyres… but somehow I made it to the final! I need to work on my driving style but for now I’m really happy and I hope this is the first of many podiums in the second half of the year.”

Two punctures for Reinis Nitiss proved costly for the Ford Olsbergs MSE driver who narrowly missed out on a semi-final spot after qualifying 13th at the end of the heats.  However, retirement for Joni Wiman before the semi-finals opened the door for Nitiss, as first reserve, to enter the semi in which he finished third.  Nitiss progressed to the final and eventually finished fourth but the lack of points gained from the heats means he drops behind VW Marklund’s Topi Heikkinen in the overall standings.  Heikkinen rounded off the top five at RX Canada.

Arguably one of the most impressive drives of the event was that of local driver Patrick Carpentier who made his RX debut in the event.  Carpentier, a former NASCAR and IndyCar driver, proved a natural talent despite having only one short test ahead of the race. “I can’t explain how happy I am to have made it to the final,” beamed the French Canadian. “Before today my only aim was to reach the semis and to be in the final in front of such an amazing home crowd on my RX debut is more than I could ever have hoped for.”

Monster Energy World RX Team’s Henning Solberg and Davy Jeanney both reached the semi-finals but a stall for Solberg on the start line saw the Norwegian denied a spot in the final. Jeanney was close to finishing in the top three in his semi but a final lap tussle saw the Frenchman lose out on the chance of reaching his first final this year.

After two heat race wins Villeneuve was on course for a spot in the semis but a heavy landing wreaked havoc with the fuel tank on his Albatec Racing prepared Peugeot 208 Supercar and forced the French-Canadian to retire. Britain’s Andy Scott made the final 12 securing crucial points for the Scottish-based team.

Vermont-based squad Subaru Rally Team USA impressed on its debut in World RX as three-time European Rallycross Champion Sverre Isachsen was on the pace throughout all four heats.  The Norwegian reached the semis but finished fifth, one place behind Olsbergs MSE driver Andreas Bakkerud who also missed out on a spot in the all-important final.

In the RX Lites Intercontinental Cup Swedish rally driver Patrik Sandell took the win, with Kevin Eriksson securing the runner-up spot.  F1 commentator and accomplished rallycross driver Julien Febreau took the third spot on the podium after an impressive debut in an RX Lites Car. The Frenchman commented: “It’s amazing to come here and take a win – the competition was really tough, the field was full of very talented young drivers but I’m delighted to have made the final and it’s even better to finish in the top three.”

Round eight of the FIA World Rallycross Championship will return to European soil as the World RX crews prepare for the hugely popular French RX event which will be staged in Loheac from 6-7 September.

For the full breakdown of results from Canada, please visit


  1. Petter Solberg, 155 points
  2. Topi Heikkinen, 135 points
  3. Reinis Nitiss, 133 points
  4. Andreas Bakkerud, 113 points
  5. Anton Marklund, 111 points


1.   Volkswagen Marklund, 246 points
1.= Ford Olsbergs MSE, 246 points
3.  Team Peugeot-Hansen, 185 points
4.   PSRX, 147 points
5.   Monster Energy World RX Team, 83 points
6.   Albatec Racing, 25 points

Third Lexus design award open for entries

  • Exhibition of finalists and announcement of grand prix winner to take place at Milan Design Week 2015
  • Entries accepted from 11 August to 3 November, via designboom website

The third Lexus Design Award is open for entries. Launched in 2013, the international competition aims to foster the talents of young creators for problem-solving design.

In its first two years it has gained worldwide attention for its mentoring programme, by which the top entrants are given guidance by world-renowned experts to turn their innovative ideas into working prototypes. Last year British designer James Fox was one of the competition’s two winning designers, rewarded for his children’s construction kit concept, Macian.

The theme for the 2015 award is Senses, offering participants a broad range of possibilities embracing seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling and tasting. This reflects Lexus’s focus on the driving experience being about sensations, from the appearance of a vehicle’s styling and the sound of its engine, to the feel of its interior.

The competition will produce 12 finalists whose work will receive wide exposure within the design community and beyond. The finalists will be announced in early 2015 and their work will be exhibited at Milan Design Week in the spring.

Lexus design judge Toyo Ito

Lexus Design Award 2015 Judge – Toyo Ito

This year, four of the finalists (twice as many as last year) will enjoy the support of international design mentors in developing their prototypes. Taking part will be architect and engineer Arthur Huang; game designer Robin Hunicke; architects and interdisciplinary designers Neri & Hu; and designer Max Lamb.

The mentors will lead development sessions for production of the prototypes between January and March. The award will provide up to 2.5 million yen (about £14,500) for each project.

Lexus will host the presentation of the completed prototypes and make the announcement of the overall grand prix winner at Milan Design Week. The judging panel will include curators Paola Antonelli and Aric Chen, architect Toyo Ito, designboom chief editor Birgit Lohmann, design commentator Alice Rawsthorn and Lexus International president Tokuo Fukuichi.

Entries are being accepted now, via the designboom website at

Kia unveils third generation Sorento

Kia has unveiled its new Sorento ahead of the car’s European lauch at the Paris motor show in October. Longer, lower and wider, with an extended wheelbase, the all-new Sorento offers more space and promises an assortment of innovative features.

The new look is an evolution of the current vehicle, incorporating fresh visual elements inspired by the Kia Cross GT concept that debuted at the 2013 Chicago Auto Show, carrying over the long bonnet and the distinctive treatment of the wide D-pillars from the previous generation.

Kia Sorento 2015

The exterior styling of the all-new Sorento was led by Kia’s Namyang design studio in Korea, with significant levels of input from the brand’s studios in Frankfurt and California.

The Sorento’s overall length is up 95mm to 4780mm, while height is down 15mm to 1685mm. The 80mm increase in the wheelbase (now 2780mm) provides more passenger space in all three seating rows.

Kia Sorento 2015

Soon-Nam Lee, Vice President of Overseas Marketing, Kia Motors Corp., said, “While we have retained the name based on the tremendous success of the current model, the all-new Sorento has been completely redesigned and re-engineered, and promises to surprise customers with its thoroughly updated styling, a host of new convenience and safety technologies, as well as enhanced space, driving comfort and handling response.”

The all-new Kia Sorento will be showcased in Korea in late August and make its European premiere on Thursday 2 October at the 2014 Paris Motor Show.  The all-new Sorento is expected to reach the UK market in Spring 2015.

Kia Sorento 2015

Hyundai reveals new i20

Hyundai Motor has unveiled the first images of the new generation i20, ahead of its world debut at the 2014 Paris Motor Show in October.

With the launch of its latest model, Hyundai Motor is hoping to continue its successful presence in Europe’s B-segment supermini class, highlighted by almost one million sales since 2002. The popularity of the original i20 has made it one of the company’s best-selling cars in the region. The key aims of the new model are to open Hyundai to an even wider audience; further develop perceptions of the brand; and confirm Hyundai’s position as a truly European car-maker.

Hyundai i20 2015

The new generation i20 has been designed and developed in Europe, and three key attributes in particular underline how it meets the needs of European consumers: class-leading interior space, a host of high-technology and comfort-enhancing features, and distinctive, refined design.

Based on a new platform, the new generation i20 features a 2570mm wheelbase – 45mm longer than its predecessor – providing European customers with one of the most spacious cabins in the segment. Efficient packaging has created a passenger compartment that can comfortably seat five adults. Combined front and rear legroom is best in class at 1892mm. Boot capacity is also segment-leading: 326 litres when the rear seats are upright.

Enhancing the comfort and the sense of space for driver and passengers is a unique-in-class panoramic sunroof. Able to both tilt and fully open, it fills the cabin with natural light and fresh air. Further features that add to the refinement and convenience of the new generation i20 include an integrated rear-view camera and front and rear LED lighting.

Hyundai i20 2015

Hyundai’s European design team in Rüsselsheim, Germany was responsible for the new hatchback. The upright chrome-framed hexagonal grille has been lowered for design and engineering purposes. A thin, horizontal grille connects the front headlamp clusters, which include bi-function projection headlamps, LED daytime running lights and LED positioning lamps. A lower grille houses the front fog lamps, and emphasises the powerful stance of the car.

The 4035mm long bodyshell incorporates a single feature-line running the length of the vehicle, sculptured undercuts of the body panels, and a waistline moulding at the base of the door.

At the rear, the new i20 features a gloss-finished black C-pillar that gives the impression of a floating roofline. The lamp clusters wrap around the rear wing into the boot lid and feature a ‘boomerang’-shaped LED design.

Groundbreaking pistons for Mercedes diesel engines

Mercedes is the first to replace the hitherto conventional aluminium pistons in passenger car diesel engines with a new high-tech generation of pistons made of steel. The advantages they bring, when combined with the innovative Nanoslide cylinder bore coating technology, include lower fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.

Mercedes is promising better engine efficiency from its new steel pistons. In September 2014, the new steel pistons will be celebrating their world premiere in a standard production passenger car, in the V6 diesel engine of the Mercedes-Benz E 350 BlueTEC. Thanks, amongst other things, to this technical innovation the saloon continues to deliver the same engine output (190kW/258PS), yet only uses around 5.0 litres of diesel fuel per 100 kilometres – the saving achieved through the use of the steel piston is thus around three per cent.

Steel pistons are already commonly found in commercial vehicle engines, where they are combined with heavy cast-iron crankcases, while aluminium pistons have over the years gradually become the norm for passenger car diesel engines. The new steel pistons that Mercedes-Benz has developed work well with the much lighter aluminium engine housings and the Nanoslide cylinder bore coating technology also developed by Mercedes.

Exploiting material advantages

Steel and aluminium have significantly different characteristics: steel expands less than aluminium when hot, conducts heat less well and is simply heavier. At first glance, this would seem to make the combination of aluminium housing and steel pistons tricky. But Mercedes has exploited the differences between the properties of the respective materials to their best advantages.
A steel piston only expands with heat to about a quarter of the extent of its aluminium equivalent, so the steel piston can be fitted more tightly within the aluminium housing, with the effect that it sits very snugly in the cylinder bore. However, as the temperature rises during operation of the engine, the aluminium housing expands more than the steel piston – and the result is a looser fit of the piston within the cylinder and thus less friction. As the piston/cylinder assembly alone causes between 40 and 50 per cent. of the mechanical friction, the potential for efficiency gains here was significant.
Stronger, smaller, lighter
The steel pistons used up until this point were ill-suited for engine housings made of aluminium. Mercedes‑Benz had to redesign the piston. The modern versions of the steel pistons that will now be fitted for the first time as standard in the V6 diesel on board the E 350 BlueTEC, within an aluminium crankcase with Nanoslide cylinder bore coating technology, are high-tech components forged out of high-quality, high-strength steel. The challenge for the piston supplier is considerable, since the manufacturing process for the new, high-strength steels is similarly complex.
Mercedes pistons
Aluminium (l) and forged steel pistons
But the effort is worthwhile, as the higher strength of the modern steel allows for a more compact piston design, which more or less compensates for the fact that the material is around three times as dense. Indeed, the innovative steel pistons that will in future be working away within the six combustion chambers of the Swabian V6 diesel engine are as much as 13 millimetres lower than the aluminium equivalents used until now (aluminium pistons in the V6 diesel approx. 71.6 mm high, steel pistons only 58.6 millimetres). Thanks to this changed geometry and intelligent design, the weight of the unit comprising piston, gudgeon pin and piston rings is on a par with that of the assembled aluminium piston. Mercedes-Benz has thus been able to compensate almost completely for the weight disadvantage of steel and even to ensure reserves of strength for peak pressures that may become even higher in future.
High efficiency, low consumption
At the same time the use of steel pistons has enabled the engineers to improve the level of efficiency, since the lower thermal conductivity of steel compared with aluminium means that higher temperatures are reached within the combustion chamber. The ignition quality thus increases, while the combustion duration is reduced. The result is lower fuel consumption and pollutant emissions. Mercedes-Benz took account of the lower thermal conductivity of steel with design modifications such as modified cooling ducts in the pistons.
Experience has shown that the innovative steel pistons optimise thermodynamic performance and, at the same time, reduce friction significantly. Furthermore, measurements showed that in the lower and middle speed ranges, so important in everyday driving, significant consumption benefits can be achieved.
Advantage steel
As far as the future is concerned, Mercedes-Benz sees further possible advantages in the use of the high-tech steel pistons:
  • Steel not only allows the piston to be made smaller, but also offers greater reserves for coping with mechanical stresses. This is particularly advantageous for further downsizing concepts
  • Since steel pistons are stronger than aluminium ones, a diesel engine fitted with them can operate at higher temperatures and thus achieve a higher level of thermodynamic efficiency.
  • Since the lower thermal expansion of steel pistons compared with aluminium also means that the engine designers are able to reduce the gap between the cylinder wall and the piston as far as the first piston ring, it has been possible to reduce both pollutants and untreated emissions.
Logical further development
These innovative steel pistons mark a logical next step in Mercedes-Benz’s work to further develop diesel technology.
The V6 diesel engine, for example, which will now be going into series production with the new steel pistons for the E 350 BlueTEC, has been through various stages of development since its first appearance in the W212 (E-class) in 2008. It also benefits from a further innovation developed by Mercedes-Benz: Nanoslide cylinder bore coating technology. This technology was pioneered by Daimler in 2006 in the AMG V8 petrol engine. It uses twin-wire arc spraying technology to melt iron/carbon wires, which it then sprays onto the inside cylinder walls of the lightweight aluminium crankcase with the help of an inert gas flow. Very fine finishing of the resulting nano-crystalline iron coating creates an almost mirror-smooth surface with fine pores, which reduces friction between the piston assembly and the cylinder wall compared with when cast-iron cylinders are used, while also being extremely resistant to wear. Further benefits are lower engine weight, reduced consumption and CO2 emissions.
All in all, the Mercedes-Benz V6 diesel today generates significantly lower CO2 emissions than it did in its previous appearances in the E-Class. In 2009 the combined figure for the emissions from the E 320 CDI was 179 grams of CO2 per kilometre; in the next-stage E-Class of 2013 this figure was 144 grams, combined. Thanks to the use of the steel piston, amongst other things, the figure for the E350 BlueTEC is now well below 140 grams. In a parallel development, the output has increased since 2008 from 155kW (211PS) to the current 190kW (258PS).
Mercedes-Benz a step ahead in diesel technology
It is envisaged that the new pistons will very shortly also be in use in Mercedes-Benz’s four-cylinder diesel engines. Joachim Schommers, head of basic engine development at Mercedes-Benz: “We are assuming that pistons made of steel will in future also be in widespread use in passenger car diesel engines.”