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Thursday, January 1, 2009

Branew 370Z

CHIBA, Japan — Tuner firm Branew has released details on its package for the Nissan 370Z that will debut next week at the 2009 Tokyo Auto Salon.

A full underbody lip kit, made of either FRP or carbon fiber, is part of the treatment and features a front spoiler, rear spoiler, side skirts and a rear wing. New alloy wheels in sizes up to 22 inches finish off the list of exterior modifications.

A new sport exhaust system and a tuned ECU will up the power on Nissan's 3.7-liter V6, and the Japanese tuning house also offers brake and suspension kits to improve performance.

Branew recently unveiled its appearance package for the Nissan GT-R at the 2008 SEMA Show in Las Vegas.

Inside Line says: Although not as extreme as the GT-R treatment, Branew's stylish 370Z body kit will definitely turn heads on the street. — Mike Lysaght, Correspondent

2010 Mustang Shelby GT500

It’s been scarcely two months since we got our first look at the 2010 Ford Mustang at the Los Angeles auto show, and Ford is already showing us what else it can do with its redesigned pony car. The new 2010 Mustang Shelby GT500 is being introduced at the 2009 Detroit Auto Show (NAIAS).

As with the outgoing Shelby GT500, the new super Stang wears muscled-up bodywork to reflect its superior status within the Mustang lineup. Most evident is the even scarier two-story grille bracketed by HID headlamps set deep beneath the canted brow. The hood domes high over the big engine and features redesigned, industrial-strength heat extractors. Other than the requisite Cobra badge and lower trim stripes, the bodysides are common to lesser Stangs, while the rear end features a diffuser-esque bumper treatment and a rear spoiler that protrudes several inches off the decklid. Filling out the coupe’s wheel wells are a set of 19-inch alloys (convertibles get 18s) that could be the best-looking rollers ever offered on a Mustang, shod by Goodyear F1 Supercar tires specially formulated for the car. Ford has also made the 2010 model year the first since the late 1960s that the GT500 convertible may be ordered with factory racing stripes. Well, there goes the aftermarket.

Throwing Power at a Weight Problem: Will It Work This Time?

Lending some credibility to those racing stripes is a supercharged and intercooled 5.4-liter DOHC V-8 tuned to produce the same eye-watering 540 hp and 510 lb-ft of torque as last year’s limited-edition, $80K Mustang GT500KR, an increase of 40 horses and 30 lb-ft compared with the previous GT500. The rear axle goes from 3.31:1 to 3.55:1, which ought to bring 0­–60 times into the low four-second range. The six-speed manual is also upgraded, with more robust innards and taller fifth and sixth gears for a claimed two-mpg improvement in fuel economy.

Sounds like fun, but as we’ve noted countless times in relation to many steroid-enhanced automobiles, brute horsepower is useless without control, and there is no control without a communicative chassis. Unfortunately, in each previous GT500 we’ve sampled, the prodigious engine has outmuscled the chassis every time. In a head-to-head matchup (“Heavy Pedal”) with a 2006 Corvette, the 2007 GT500 was far outclassed and outpaced despite a full 100-hp advantage and $10K-lower price. The chief culprits for the GT500’s loss were weight and lack of body control.

Ford hasn’t yet released curb weight or weight distribution numbers for the 2010 GT500, but at roughly 3900 pounds, the 2008 GT500 was more than 300 pounds heavier than the Mustang GT, and worse yet, most of that added weight sat atop the front axle, resulting in a pushy 57.5/42.3 front/rear weight distribution (vs. the mustang GT’s more neutral 52.5/47.5). It’s not surprising that the GT500 has been less than eager to dance each time we’ve tried to get jiggy with it, exhibiting pronounced body motions while turning and braking and shuddering violently over bumps. Convertible examples have proven even more unruly.

All that said, today’s Mustang engineers deserve some mighty kudos for turning the 2010 Mustang into an entertaining back-road romper, especially as a GT with the Track Pack. Chassis revisions for the 2010 GT500 bring it closer to that of the hard-edged KR, including springs and damper settings said to better control primary body motions. Our expectations are thus raised, and we are curious to see how far the SVT team has gone toward charming this Cobra. We’ll also be looking for a clutch that doesn’t brutalize one’s left leg after two minutes of stop-and-go traffic.

Upgrades Upon Upgrades Inside

Regardless of how much better the new Shelby may be to drive, at least we know it will be a much better place in which to sit. Indeed, among the most welcome changes between 2009 and 2010 Mustangs are the vast interior improvements, including the fitment of genuine aluminum, abundant soft-touch materials, and an array of new options including Ford’s SYNC and navigation. To that, the GT500 adds full leather/Alcantara upholstery on the seats and unique steering wheel. Cobra embossments on the seatback and unique stitch-work also commemorate this most powerful of Mustangs.

Unknown at this point is the price, but we expect Ford to take in about $45K for each GT500 coupe and $50K for each ragtop when they arrive in dealerships this spring. Given this car’s presumed collectability, dealer gouging could make the first few GT500s far more expensive.

by Steve Stiler
January 2009