Mazda’s New ‘Vision’ Concept Probably Isn’t the Next RX Car

Mazda said in an announcement this week that plans to bring two new concept cars and its Skyactiv-X HCCI engine to their display at this year's Tokyo Motor Show, scheduled to run from Oct. 27 and Nov. 5. One car is referred to as a next-generation product concept model, and will presumably inform and represent changes to Mazda's design language for the majority of its fleet for the next several years. The second is referred to as a "next-generation design vision model," using a name last seen on Mazda's RX-Vision concept car from 2015. The name lineage alone was enough to excite some into assuming that the vision concept was the RX sports car series' rebirth into the market.

That said, there is little evidence to support this viewpoint, as the RX prefix is used nowhere in Mazda's sneak preview, and examination of the concept's silhouette reveals it to be a sedan, not a coupe. Two previous RX cars have had four doors, including the RX-8, with its suicide rear doors, and the Luce, known as the 929 to Americans, which was sold as the RX-9 when when equipped with a rotary engine. That said, the full-sized sedan that the unnamed vision concept resembles would be a departure from the RX badge's heritage, the original RX-9 notwithstanding.

And the rotary-powered Cosmo grand tourer? There's an equal amount of evidence for that car's revival, which is to say, none.

The Drive reached out to Mazda for more information on the vision concept, but was directed to a similar press release, with no new information.

We know that the next generation of the rotary sports car engine is in development, and it could use a variety of technologies new to rotary engines, including electric twincharging, regenerative braking to power a hybrid system to augment low-end torque, stop-start, variable exhaust valves, and port fuel injection. Mazda also spent much of this past spring celebrating their RX cars across various forms of media, to no discernible end.

There's enough evidence to say that Mazda's closer than ever to reviving the Wankel engine, but there's not enough to name the vision concept as the chariot to chauffeur our favorite oddball engine back into production. We'll know for sure in two weeks, when this year's Tokyo Motor Show kicks off.

Polestar May Soon Reveal a 600 HP Hybrid Coupe to Beat the Germans

Polestar announced earlier this year that it will be branching off from Volvo to strictly produce performance hybrids and electric vehicles, and it looks as if we may be getting our first taste of that come Oct. 17. In a report from Dutch website Auto Motor and Sport, Polestar has hinted that the company's first bespoke model will be a 600-horsepower coupe with a partially electric drivetrain.

According to this report, the car will be able to launch from zero to 62 miles per hour in less than four seconds, making it Polestar's quickest work yet. Additionally, it's expected that production models will start shipping sometime in 2019, meaning that the concept version will likely be unmasked first.

Polestar has been teasing the design of this new model on its Instagram account with updates being revealed piece by piece. A puzzle layout leaves some to our imagination, forcing us to guess until the car is officially revealed next week.

A rendering was performed by auto artist "vvmasterdrfan" that completes the picture, creating what looks to be a spot-on representation of the sleek Swede.

I spent 3 hours creating this last night. My guess work for the remaining pieces of Polestar's concept. @polestarcars @volvocars let me know if you guys are hiring designers! ???????????????? Looks like a C60! #polestarlaunch #polestar #volvo #photoshop #volvopolestar #rdesign #swedespeed #needforswede #madebysweden #c60 #s60 #performancebysweden #volvonation #swedishmafia #swedishmetal #volvomoment

A post shared by Johnny (@vvmasterdrfan) on Oct 7, 2017 at 5:03am PDT

We don't expect to hear about pricing and availability until the car is officially launched. With the road-going version not coming for another two years, it'd be reasonable to assume a few tweaks in the design by the time it hits showroom floors. Regardless of how it looks, a 600 hp riot would be plenty to offset the German competition, and if Polestar wants to be taken seriously in this heated performance market, this could be its key to doing so.

NVIDIA AI-Driven Autonomous Cars Take Center Stage at GTC Europe

The GPU Technical Conference in Munich is an annual showcase of the best advancements in computer technology, but it seems like it's no place for cars. That is, until autonomous concept cars became the main attraction this year according to NVIDIA, a gaming technology company and now a competitive force in the realm of artificial intelligence.

Those who set foot in the International Conference Center this week were greeted with a fleet of autonomous concept vehicles powered by NVIDIA's Artificial Intelligence systems. The theme for this event was the future of mobility, displaying a diverse range of concepts that covered everything from race cars to taxis.

The most popular of the group (and the fastest) was the Roborace Robocar, a Formula E racer with futuristic styling and an NVIDIA DRIVE PX supercomputer dictating its every move. The racecar is capable of reaching 186 miles per hour without a driver.

The Mercedes-Benz IAA Concept appeared as well, a futuristic luxury car that can alter its bumpers and wheels based on its speed. NVIDIA describes it as a "Digital Transformer."

At the opposite end of the spectrum was the e.GO Mover, a Level 4 autonomous (no driver attention required) shuttle capable of transporting up to 15 people. Its compact design and self-driving system are the building blocks for creating a network of autonomous vehicles that extends well beyond private automobiles.

The NVIDIA BB8 self-driving car was there of course, a Lincoln MKZ that NVIDIA uses to test out new autonomous features. You can already spot a few of these cars commuting around New Jersey, California, and Germany.

NVIDIA also made sure to have some cars for people who prefer here and now, ones you can already purchase and drive around– or be driven around by. Guests could explore the 2018 Audi A8L and Tesla Model X equipped with NVIDIA sensors and DRIVE PX systems. The Audi A8 is a revolutionary car for the industry, as it is the first production car with Level 3 (eyes off) autonomy.

Postal Service Looks to Automate its Fleet

The United States Postal Service is looking to upgrade its fleet of delivery trucks with autonomous capability, according to a report the Office of the Inspector General released earlier this month.

The USPS has partnered with the University of Michigan to build and test a semi-autonomous prototype on lightly-traveled (and thus, relatively safe) rural routes. The school is scheduled to deliver the first prototype in December, and 10 more samples will begin real-world testing in 2019. The postal carrier will sit behind the wheel, ready to take control if need be. But when not needed to intervene, he or she will be able to sort and organize the mail while the vehicle drives itself.

If initial tests succeed, the semi-autonomous service is expected to expand to 28,000 rural routes by 2025. Looking further ahead, the USPS is looking into having its trucks self-park, and believes that one day they might even serve as mobile parcel lockers that “would come to the customer when convenient, allowing 24/7, on-demand delivery,” according to the report.

Beyond improved service to customers, the USPS sees autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles reducing accidents and costs by limiting the chance of human error. The report notes that the service's drivers were involved with 30,000 accidents in 2016 alone, and an average of 12 postal workers are killed in such incidents each year.

“Accident costs, including vehicle repair, worker’s compensation, employee lost time, increased insurance premiums, and lawsuit settlements, can quickly add up,” the report continued. As autonomous vehicles brake and accelerate more efficiently than human drivers, the USPS also hopes to save on fuel. It reported spending more than $570 million on diesel last fiscal year.

Smaller competing delivery services, such as DHL, UPS, Amazon and FedEx are also taking a hard look at autonomous vehicles to supplement, or supplant, human drivers, Wired reports. But large-scale autonomy is still a few years away.

In the meantime, the service is reviewing five finalists to replace the fleet of Grumman delivery trucks it's been using since recently published photos of one all-electric candidate that a reader spotted undergoing testing. The USPS will purchase up to 180,000 of the new vehicles.

Listen To What American Diplomats in Cuba Heard During Those Crazy Sonic Attacks

After months of investigations, the circumstances behind bizarre series of apparent sonic attacks on American diplomatic staff in Cuba, which left some individuals seriously injured, are as mysterious as ever. Now, The Associated Press has revealed the first public recording of what some sources say are the sounds they heard during the assaults.

On Oct. 12, 2017, the wire service posted an enhanced version of the noise online, having only increased the volume and removed background noise. The report did not say where the recordings had come from specifically, beyond a site or sites in Cuba, but added that the U.S. Navy also had copies for analysis. Neither the Navy nor the State Department would confirm the authenticity of the audio. Cuban officials would not say whether they had their own copy.

“That’s the sound,” one of AP’s sources said, according to its report. Beyond that, the entire episode, including how the attacks occurred and why, remains almost entirely unexplained.

At the heart of the issue is the exact reason that the wire service can safely post the clip safely online. Experts almost unanimously agree that it would be extremely difficult if not impossible to cause physical injuries like the ones American government sources have described to the press using any sort of sonic weapon that would be small enough for American officials not to notice.

Below is the recording, which AP posted on YouTube. There is no indication that it is unsafe to listen to in this format.

“If you want to produce a tight beam of energy that you can point at someone, ultrasound is the one to go for,” Tim Leighton, a professor of ultrasonics and underwater acoustics at University of Southampton in England, told The Guardian in September 2017. “If you want to put a lot of power into it so you could produce a beam that could go through windows, it starts to look more like a suitcase. In order to generate hearing loss at 50 meters away, you’d be looking at a car-sized device.”

Ultrasound frequencies are too high to be audible to the human ear. Another option would be inaudible infrasound, which is lower than the range of noise people can hear.

But as the clip suggests, the sounds are audible, at least to some degree. The recording AP obtained has the cricket-like qualities some sounds had previously noted. There were also reports of “grinding” sounds, ringing in the ears, and temporary deafness. The resulting symptoms, which have included long-lasting and possibly permanent hearing loss, disorientation and dizziness, and even concussions and brain swelling, are equally diverse.

“The concussions, brain swelling and other symptoms like that have no possibility to be created by sound,” Dr. Joseph Pompei, a former researcher and psychoacoustics expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told Public Radio International earlier in October 2017. “Somebody would have to be in a large bathtub, covered in ultrasonic transducers at a very high power.”

Cars drive past the US Embassy in Havana, Cuba.

That being said, something has injured American diplomatic staff in Cuba. The State Department has confirmed the incidents and that some individuals had to receive medical treatment. There is a distinct suggestion from the recording AP has released that sounds are man-made, too.

“What it is telling us is the sound is located between about 7,000 kilohertz and 8,000 kilohertz,” Kausik Sarkar, an acoustics expert and engineering professor at The George Washington University, told AP after listening to the audio. “There are about 20 peaks, and they seem to be equally spaced. All these peaks correspond to a different frequency.”

Whatever is causing the noise, the attacks have led to a cooling of U.S.-Cuba relations, which had been improving since President Barack Obama eased travel and economic restrictions for Americans visiting the island and reopened the American Embassy in Havana in 2015. The U.S. government has so far avoided accusing Cuban authorities of being behind the attacks, instead accusing them of failing to meet their obligations to keep international diplomatic personnel safe.

A car drives past a billboard in Havana protesting the United States' embargo of Cuba in 2016.

The United States has still retaliated over the incidents. Just in October 2017, the U.S. government expelled 15 Cuban diplomats and demanded a further 60 percent reduction in personnel working at the country's Embassy ion Washington, matching an earlier voluntary reduction in the total number of Americans in Havana. In September 2017, the State Department had ordered all nonessential personnel out of Cuba, saying it could not guarantee their safety.

Cuban officials continue to insist that they are not behind the attacks and are working through their own investigation into the incident. One prevailing theory is that at third party, most likely Russia, is behind the sonic barrages and sought to halt the warming of ties between Cuba and the United States, which it may have seen as a threat to its own interests.

Another possibility is that the Cubans were involved and were looking to retaliate against the policies of President Donald Trump and his administration. None of this adequately explains why Canadian diplomats, representatives of a country that has long had ties with Cuba, also fell victim to what appear to have been entirely separate, but similar assaults.

Based on the limited information available, it’s impossible to say for sure whether these individuals came under attack from some advanced sonic weapon or experienced some other odd confluence of symptoms. At least now you can listen to the chirping yourself.

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Man Jumps On Top of a Lamborghini Aventador SV, Gets Knocked Out by the Owner

For some reason, there will always be a small segment of the population with an irresistible urge to mess with other people's property. We've all encountered people like that, which is why it's very satisfying to watch this fool who thought it would be a good idea to stomp all over the roof of a Lamborghini Aventador SV in downtown San Francisco get punched out by the very angry owner.

Now, we should point out up front that there have been instances where these types of videos turn out to be fake. Why people do that, we can't answer. But based on the surprise of onlookers and the owner's enraged response, plus the fact that the two different angles seen in the clip originally came from two separate Instagram accounts, this all seems pretty real.

The video starts with the kid leaping onto the red Lamborghini's hood, stepping on the windshield as he vaults over the roof and runs across the engine cover before sprinting down the street. The owner, an older gentleman in matching red pants, takes off after him, but he gives up as the kid runs up the block and turns around to walk back to his car.

That's where the second clip picks up. For some reason, the vandal comes back for a second round, but the owner is able to spin around in time and yank him off the Aventador SV, throw him to the ground, and scream, "You're lucky I don't f***ing kill you right now!" The kid makes a few unintelligible excuses, and it looks like things have settled down.

But as the owner turns to walk away, the offender appears to say something else as he gets back up, causing the old man to whip around and deck him square in the face. The kid is knocked out by the blow, and the owner follows the valet's advice ("You got a fast car") and drives away after a few moments.

Again, we can't say for sure that this wasn't staged. But if it all really happened, you can't say he didn't have it coming. The 740-horsepower, V-12 Lamborghini Aventador SV costs about $500,000.

The USAF’s AC-130W Gunships Are in Desperate Need of Special Ammunition

The U.S. Army has made an urgent purchase of a specific type of 30mm cannon shells on behalf of U.S. Special Operations Command. Without the ammunition, the service said the U.S. Air Force’s AC-130W Stinger II gunships would be forced to use alternative rounds that would be unacceptably inaccurate and dangerously unreliable.

In June 2017, the Army approved a plan to purchase up to 200,000 PGU-46/B 30mm cannon rounds from Orbital ATK. The service did not publicly disclose the total potential dollar value of the contract, but had to issue a so-called justification and approval document to explain why they needed to give the work straight to the Virginia-headquartered defense contractor rather than solicit competitive bids from various companies. This document appeared on FedBizOpps, the U.S. government’s main contracting website, on Oct. 11, 2017.

The review contains a number of redactions and the released portions never mention the AC-130W or the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC). However, it does specifically mention the need for the ammunition to work with the GAU-23/A cannon without any additional modifications. The Air Force’s AC-130W and AC-130J Ghostriders are the only aircraft presently in inventory that use this weapon and the J-model is still in the operational test and evaluation process. The Stinger IIs have appeared in official photographs and video from the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria and have supported operations in Afghanistan, as well. The gunships generally support special operations forces on the ground.

Even with the redacted portions, in its justification, the Army makes a clear argument that not buying the ammunition as soon as possible would put American personnel in unnecessary danger. There is also the possibility that innocent civilians could be at increased risks if the Air Force crews had to use alternatives in high priority close air support missions, or CAS, to defend friendly “troops in contact,” abbreviated TIC.

“The inventory of PG-46/B [sic] has now reached a critical level,” the contracting document explains. “The result of using PGU-13D/B rounds would be degraded support to [redacted] placing them at increased harm and risk as the PGU-13D/B is less accurate and experiences a higher dud-rate at longer stand-off ranges.”

According to the document and information from Orbital ATK's website, the differences between the two types of ammunition are minimal. The major change is that the PGU-46/B has a new low-drag fuze that more reliability detonates the shell’s high-explosive incendiary filler when it hits a target at “extended ranges.”

Neither source provides the exact parameters. But part of the reason for integrating the GAU-23/A onto the AC-130W and AC-130J was specifically to give the aircraft increased stand-off range when using its guns.

The PGU-46/B round is also virtually identical to the U.S. Navy’s Mk 266, except that the latter has a bright-burning tracer compound at the base of the projectile itself. Censors redacted the reason why a tracer round would be unacceptable, but it could easily be because the AC-130Ws almost exclusively operate at night. The light the Navy’s shells give off might be intense enough blind the AC-130W’s electro-optical and infrared cameras, or risk illuminating the aircraft itself, making it a glaring target for the enemy on the ground.

The PGU-46/B round, above, and a cut away showing its internal construction, below.

The single-barrel GAU-23/A is a variant of Orbital ATK’s Bushmaster II cannon. The Navy has installed its own version, the Mk 44, on the San Antonio-class of amphibious ships and the new Zumwalt-class destroyers as a means of defending against small, swarming watercraft.

The U.S. Army recently began to field a new type of Stryker armored vehicle with another variant of the weapon, known as the XM813. All of these weapons use the same size ammunition as the fearsome GAU-8/A Avenger cannon on the venerable A-10 Warthog.

The older AC-130U Spooky II aircraft have smaller 25mm GAU-12/U rotary cannons with a shorter range but higher rate of fire. This had in turn replaced a pair of 20mm M61 Vulcan cannons on earlier models. By the time the Air Force retired the last AC-130H Spectre in 2015, the service had removed these guns, replacing them with observation windows, and the planes relied entirely on their larger 40mm cannon and 105mm howitzer during operations.

A late model AC-130H with a pair of observation windows in the forward fuselage in lieu of two M61 Vulcan cannons.

The main armament of the AC-130W initially was almost exclusively precision guided bombs and missiles. In February 2017, U.S. Air Force Major General Eugene Haase, AFSOC’s vice commander, revealed that so-called Block 20 Stinger IIs, armed with the 30mm cannon and an 105mm howitzer, were “down range.” Apparently for a period, at least some of those crews were firing the older PGU-13D/B ammunition.

“[Redacted] previously used the PGU-13D/B 30mm round for TIC operations, but ceased doing so because of high dud-rates and lower accuracy at stand-off ranges,” the contracting document explained. “Testing identified that the PGU-13D/B does not meet the precision weapons delivery that is required for real world TIC CAS. Furthermore the deployed units have further self-restricted that only the use of PG-46/B be used in combat for high priority tasked missions.”

This is a particularly interesting detail since the Air Force had admitted the combination of modified Mk 44 guns and the PGU-13D/B was too inaccurate for widespread use in tests almost a decade earlier. In 2007, the Air Force replaced both the GAU-12/U and the 40mm cannon on four AC-130Us with a pair of the Bushmaster IIs. By August 2008, it had returned all the aircraft to their original configuration.

On Aug. 11, 2008, U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General Bradley Heithold, then a brigadier general and director of plans, programs, requirements, and assessments for AFSOC, said the service had cancelled the project because the guns were too inaccurate "at the altitude we were employing it” during testing, according to Air Force Magazine. The U.S. Marine Corps also indefinitely delayed its own plans to add the gun to its KC-130 Harvest Hawk gunships, focusing instead on precision guided munitions.

None of the unredacted portions of the Army’s justification for the purchase of PGU-46/B rounds describe any actual instances of friendly fire or civilian casualties due to the use of the older PGU-13D/B design. The risks are obvious, though, especially during operations in densely populated urban areas.

Sieges and brutal campaigns to liberate major cities have become hallmarks of the campaign against ISIS in both Iraq and Syria. The U.S.-led international coalition and the airpower it provides has been essential to those operations, particularly in ejecting the terrorists from their main hub in the Iraqi city of Mosul and the ongoing push to defeat the group in its de facto capital in Syria’s Raqqa.

In August 2017, the Los Angeles Times reported that American forces were routinely launching drone strikes that were “danger close” to U.S.-backed forces in Syria, meaning the bombs or missiles would hit in such close proximity to friendly personnel that the attack required special approval. This report came from a visit to Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, the nerve center for the Air Force’s drone operations, so it is possible that manned platforms were seeing a similar uptick in these types of missions.

Both of these campaigns have been marked by a distinct increase in reports of civilian casualties from air strikes. A similar surge of air strikes in Afghanistan has led to an increase in claims of collateral damage there, as well. The U.S. military has previously weathered criticism over likely causing innocent deaths during counter terrorisms operations in other countries, including Yemen.

There is no information available to suggest that the use of PGU-13D/B had contributed to any earlier claims of collateral damage. Given that crews have been restricting themselves to using the PGU-46/B would suggest they themselves see significant dangers in using the other ammunition.

An AC-130W Stinger II gunship.

It is also unclear whether or not the issues with firing the PGU-13D/B from the AC-130W gunship have manifested themselves in any way with regards to the A-10s, which have also employed the rounds in combat against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The Warthog’s low-level strafing runs are completely different from the Stinger II’s higher altitude pylon turn gun runs though.

Differences in the altitudes both aircraft operate at and how steep their typical angles of attack are could easily impact the functioning of the round’s fuze and its stability in flight. At the time of writing U.S. Air Forces Central had not responded to a query about whether or not accuracy or reliability concerns had impacted the use of the PGU-13D/B more broadly.

Since the PGU-46/B has become the default for AC-130W operations, it seems clear that U.S. Special Operations Command, or another service working on its behalf, will have to find a way to keep a steady stream of the rounds coming in the future regardless. They'll need it for the up-coming AC-130Js, too.

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The Volkswagen Scirocco is Dead (Again)

Back when Volkswagen named a great deal of its cars after wind streams, it birthed a model that was meant to be a bit more sportier than the Golf. Its body lines were sharper, the engineering was more complex to deliver a different driving experience, but that wasn't enough. It's official: Volkswagen has killed off the Scirocco (again).

Back in 1974, the first Scirocco hit shores in North America. Believe it or not, the automaker's intent for the edgy coupe was to replace its aging bubbly Karmann Ghia. The Golf couldn't be that replacement, after all, that was intended to succeed the iconic Beetle platform. Expecting the Golf to outsell the Scirocco as its mass-production car, VW pushed the Scirocco ahead of the Golf's release to ensure any manufacturing complications were sorted.

The car sold quite well, despite having abysmal power and a four-speed manual transmission. So well that Volkswagen decided to re-up the model, even stuffing its 16-valve, 1.8-liter four-cylinder from the GTI into the mix. In all, nearly 800,000 units sold worldwide between the two generations. In the late '80s, VW decided that the Scirocco would be no more, and discontinued it in favor of its successor, the Corrado.

The Corrado was everything that Scirocco could have been. It featured two of VW's timeless motors; the supercharged G60 (which was based off of the same 1.8-liter in the predecessors), and the company's most unique sounding engine available in a passenger car: The 2.8-liter, 6-cylinder VR6. Production of the Corrado continued until 1995, and then, darkness.

For 13 years, the Scirocco's bloodline dried up. No clear successor in sight under either model name. Until one day, in 2008, a new Scirocco appeared. Built off of the same platform as the MK5 Golf, the new Scirocco would receive Volkswagen's newest 2.0 liter turbo motor, as well as a smaller 1.4-liter gasoline, and a diesel option. A performance version, the Scirocco R, would also make a debut, seeing a peak of 276 horsepower, more than 3.5 times the original power made by the first generation Scirocco. But this time, the long-distance cousin to the GTI wouldn't get to see U.S. soil, simply because it could negatively affect the sale of the GTI while not making VW enough money to justify the decision.

Today, if you attempt to configure a new Scirocco from VW Germany's website, you'll be greeted with a message stating that the company is no longer accepting custom orders. You'll have to settle for the last pickings of the pre-produced stock, something which has come without warning. So if you're in a country where they are sold, you better pick up your car quickly, as the manufacturer is purging out existing stock as we speak.

It's not really a surprise the the Scirocco failed (again). After all, the sales numbers were less than impressive in its run, despite higher-than-average sales for models sold in the States. In fact, earlier this year it was predicted that the fall of the Scirocco was inevitable given enough time. With all of the new electric cars being built by Volkswagen and its subsidiaries, it's possible that the model will live life as an electrified car once again. But even if that is the case, it might take some Faustian bargaining in order to bring it to North America.

Our Review of Forza Motorsport 7: Is It Worth the Upgrade?

I have my gripes with the Forza Motorsport franchise. The previous installment was pleasant, but needed attention in many areas, areas which I had high hopes for with the release of Forza Motorsport 7 last week. The demo released in September gave me but the vaguest understanding of what the final game would be like, and now, with many hours of Full Frontal gameplay of Forza Motorsport 7 and its predecessors under my belt, I think I can speak from a position of authority on the game, one not found from easily-wowed game journalists who prattle on about graphics and the numerical roster of cars before dropping the game.

I'm not here to tell first-timers whether they will enjoy the game or not. The answer to that is yes. Slick presentation is something that Forza games do well, and this title meets the standards set by its predecessors. I'm writing this review for longtime players, who have seen the Forza franchise's peaks and troughs, and are undecided on whether this iteration is worth their $59.99 plus tax.

So, is Forza Motorsport 7 a worthwhile upgrade from 6? Almost, but there's enough lacking that rushing out to buy FM7 this very second may not be the best choice, especially for seasoned players for whom this isn't their first rodeo.

I'll proceed in the format used for my look back at FM6.

The game's introduction will bore any gamer who played the demo, because it simply is the demo, albeit cut down to a one-lap affair, for which I am grateful. The game permits adjustment of difficulty and assists earlier than FM6 did, which will come as a relief to veteran players who are raring to ditch automatic gear changes and the full racing line.

While my mother told me that if I had nothing nice to say, it was better to keep my trap shut, but that's not the job of a critic, and the Drivatar system once again provokes my ire, as I have discerned almost no improvement over FM6's flawed system, and if anything, the Drivatars seem worse than before. They are far more capable of providing close, competitive racing, as they seem more focused during side-to-side racing. Unfortunately, they have stagnated or worsened in ever other area, as they brake check, block, corner slowly, and sometimes, stick with an overtake or defense attempt for far too long, carrying themselves through the corner almost glued to your door.

Furthermore, the Drivatars often prove to be a strange brew of incompetency and beyond-human speed. Their corner entry and racing line tends to be on the tentative, fearful side, with braking on the apex of a corner commonplace on all difficulties, and it sometimes seems the Drivatars don't even fully open the throttle on straights at lower difficulties, something apparent even in the game's demo.

On "Unbeatable," despite an aggravatingly weak corner entry, they occasionally exit corners like a Saturn V rocket, which is my only guess as to how they can be unchallenging one race, and unbeatable the next. One Reddit user even noted that in Formula E cars, the fastest Drivatar beat the world-best lap record on one track by 1.66 seconds.

The explanation? Probably rubber-banding, a common programming shortcut for racing games in which the computer will artificially handicap the leading racers, and power up those bringing up the rear. It's part of the game mechanics in series like "Mario Kart," where the most powerful items are reserved for those in last place, but it has no place in a game like FM7, which knocks on the door of being a simulator.

Oh, and those track-crossing cuts I complained about in the demo? Present and accounted for in the final game. Expect to get close and personal with Drivatars all too often. You can't even avoid them by starting ahead of them, either, as the lack of a qualifying feature means that you have to start in 12th position, every time.

No, I'm not saying it's absent, but I am saying that it's barebones at best. Only six playlists are available at present, and none of them are open-class affairs, limited to five divisions of cars. No ghosted or multi-class playlists are live, and the Leagues button wears a "Coming Soon" tag. In my time playing, I have yet to see someone penalized for driving like a scumbag. Vote kicking is still not optimized, and there is still no in-game report feature.

Nowhere can I find the option to go for best-in-class times at one track in particular. Have you tuned any cars to 600 PI, the top of B-class, in the hopes of driving it as hard as you can for a top time on the Nürburgring or Indianapolis? No? Good, because it doesn't seem like traditional hot lapping—with the car of your choice on the track of your choice—even exists in FM7. There are only six options under the "Rivals" tab, all of which appear to be limited-time events. One of them is locked behind the $20 investment of VIP membership, which has been a disaster for Turn 10 so far, due to the changes made, with many players demanding a refund. While all buyers of VIP are being compensated, the changes made to VIP do not reflect well upon Turn 10.

I'll talk pluses first: Even rewinding in the last sector of a track in FM6 dirtied your next lap, whereas I have had no such issues so far in FM7. The problem of having an off-track excursion in the same sector dirtying your lap regardless of how many turns from the finish line you are persists, though, as does the unclear boundary between taking a healthy portion of curbing at the apex and outright corner-cutting. Fortunately, one aspect about curbing has seen notable improvement over FM6...

Don't get me wrong, hitting a curb wrong can still upset your car, just like in real life, but the overzealous speed bumps featured on many tracks in FM6 have been reduced to rumbly zones, worthy of your attention and respect, but not fear. Some tracks, like Brands Hatch, are still far from easy to drive at ten-tenths, but they won't punish you quite as cruelly for trying.

Racing in the rain is no longer an infuriating endeavor. Gone are the olympic swimming pools passed off as puddles. They're replaced by low-grip, but not instantly-upsetting patches of standing water. Silverstone, for example, which featured the Ganges flowing down the right hand side of its pit straight, now has but a brook trickling down the port side of the grid. Puddles don't do favors for your car's stability, but running through one isn't a death sentence for your race as it was before. Rain now rewards an adaptable driver, capable of changing his or her own lines and driving style, but doesn't punish players who don't have time to memorize the location and severity of every one of the game's puddles.

The custom weather options will allow for plenty of variety in race scenarios, as players can decide how much downpour they want, and when. Choose from drizzle, fog, or a forty day flood at your leisure, and transfer between them as you see fit. Rain isn't available on all tracks, sadly, but those it is compatible with are spruced up nicely.

At present, racing freely between car divisions is allowed only in Free Play, and not in any of the Forza Driver's Cup events, or online races outside of private matches. As stated above, this feature is even missing from the Rivals part of the game. Why Turn 10 seems to have discarded one of the elements of Forza—the ability for people to race a variety of their favorite, custom-tuned cars against each other, made fair by the PI system—is beyond me. It bodes poorly for the future of the franchise, and whether or not there are plans in the pipeline to rectify this is unclear.

There is also the fact that the game tries to sell you a package of parts when you buy a car, in order to meet the car's division restrictions, often resulting in a mediocre car with no real strengths to speak of. Players are better off skipping the parts and building their own cars with parts of their choice, but even then, options are limited due to restrictions on tire compound, width and horsepower ratings.

I criticized FM6 for its lack of attention after release by Turn 10, citing the unkempt Forza TV and Forza Gallery features, which went almost totally ignored after FM6 launched. So far, Forza Gallery has received a fair amount of care, with the most recent "Turn 10 Picks" screenshot dating from the 5th, though it looks as if Forza TV has not gotten the same treatment, laying empty at the time of this article. While the Auction House has not yet been opened, I cannot imagine Turn 10 delaying this feature for longer than a couple weeks after release. Forzathon, too, has yet to debut for FM7, but considering the schedule on which the feature debuted in "Forza Horizon 3," we have a couple weeks at most until the first event begins.

So, what about the driving as a whole?

I had my reservations after playing the demo, noting the reduced feedback about the front tires communicated through the controller, but after spending more time with FM7, I think the game's physics and driving have been altered for the better, in spite of the altered feedback.

I've also discovered that steering speed is sometimes scaled to car speed, resulting in a lightning-quick steering rack at low speeds, and slower turning at high speeds.

I have mixed feelings on it so far, as it makes corners taken at a crawl, such as some found on Long Beach and Yas Marina, far easier than in previous titles, but at the same time, I have found some of the game's fastest corners tricky to take flat-out when they were a piece of cake before, simply due to a glacial turn-in.

There's also the problem of correcting a slide at low speeds, like when you're hit from the rear by an impatient twelve year old, who can't understand why you're slowing down for a hairpin instead of using the wall as a springboard. It becomes twitchy in some situations, and not sensitive enough in others.

I'm not sure if it's down to improved physics, or just the game's new "simulation" camera movements, but the driving experience, I think, is easily two rungs above that of FM6. Combine the physics, better weather dynamics, improved curbing, and the expanded roster of 32 racetracks, and I think you've got something rare: A racing game wherein the core gameplay is markedly better than any of its six predecessors.

And the rest of the game?

That doesn't mean that I can recommend "Forza Motorsport 7" to franchise veterans without reservations, however. While Turn 10 Studios has succeeded in improving much of what's great about the series already, efforts in some other areas have resulted in them falling flat on their face. Neglecting the series' existing class system in favor of a restrictive division system has not worked well at all, and the mistakes made with VIP membership make Turn 10 look greedy.

There are plenty of other controversial changes made to FM7 I haven't covered yet, either. Prize crates, though they can only be bought with in-game credits (and not real money), make the game feel like a free-to-play game, rife with gambling. The odds of getting good stuff from the crates are far from favorable, too, with one reddit user reporting a 4.6 percent chance of a "legendary" car over a sample size of 500 crates.

Some readers who haven't picked up FM7 may be wondering what a legendary car is, and that gives me a chance to talk about the game's collector level system, something I overall feel negatively about. Based on how many cars you own, and how expensive the cars you own are, you are assigned a collector level, dictating the cars you are allowed to purchase. I didn't take kindly to this at all, as I had hoped to enter the game, save up credits to buy the Renault R.S.17 Formula 1 car, and purchase it for myself.

Instead, because the R.S.17 is limited to players with a collector level of 5 or higher, I was forced to stuff my garage with cars I don't care about just to be allowed to buy the car, which in turn made it so that once I reached level 5, I wasn't able to afford it anyway. Why? Because the only ways to earn additional credits are turning the Drivatar difficulty up, and the use of expendable mods. Turning off assists no longer boosts your credit income, the way it did in past Forza games, so nearly assist-free me no longer gets the bonuses I'm used to. I suppose I should be careful what I wish for, because I found FM6 to have too fast a progression system, and now that I'm earning at a glacial pace of around 30,000 per race (mods included), I'm kinda regretting my wish to see the game's progression slowed.

The verdict?

There is enough right with FM7 that it deserves praise for what it has improved upon. Likewise, there is also enough wrong at present that I cannot recommend the game to diehard fans still on the fence about buying this iteration of the "Forza Motorsport" franchise. Given some time, I think Turn 10 Studios can (and maybe, will) do some things to change how I—and others—feel about the game, and when they do, I will follow up with a reappraisal, one a few weeks, maybe some months down the road.

My money has been spent, though, so I will do my best to continue enjoying Forza Motorsport 7, in spite of its shortcomings. In time, I may recommend others open their wallets too, but for now, hold off. Let Turn 10 Studios determine with their post-launch patches and support whether their latest title is deserving of your dosh.

It's now up to Turn 10 to decide whether to heed the criticisms of myself and others, or to ignore them, and stay the course. The inside line is theirs now.

This R35 GT-R Swapped 240Z Pushes The Envelope

Datsun Z builds have become inexplicably popular lately. Recently, we’ve shared Larry Chen’s "Orange Bang" SR20DET 240Z as well as Dominic Le’s 240Z SEMA project. Now, all the way from Australia, Joel Dimmack has been hard at work to build another 240Z and it could well be the most ambitious Z project the world has ever seen. No, it’s not an SR20DET swap this time. Instead, Dimmack will cram in a monstrous VR38DETT engine from the R35 Nissan GT-R.

In fact, I never even realized it could be done. Not only are VR38DETT engines almost prohibitively expensive, but also consider the modern GT-R is approximately 20 inches longer and almost 1,500 pounds heavier than the classic S30 platform. Nonetheless, Dimmack apparently approached his engine swap with a similar philosophy to cats and their tiny cardboard boxes: "If I fits, I sits."

Some serious rubber is necessary to transfer GT-R power to the tarmac and Dimmack has chosen a Moonbeam wide body kit by Carbon Signal Automotive to accommodate the wider tire setup. The kit has not been installed just yet, but at least the render shows a very tasteful Z that still retains a period-correct aesthetic.

But why does a 240Z require all this power and hardware in the first place? According to Dimmack, this old ’71 Datsun will be built as a competition drift vehicle and will also make its debut when Sydney’s World Time Attack Challenge kicks off on Friday, Oct. 13. Later, Dimmack will field the Z in the Honeywell Garrett International Drift Challenge against top drivers from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and the United States.

Be sure to stay tuned, as we expect to see the vehicle's completion very soon. For now, check out the progress of the build project via coverage from Speedhunters.

As we’ve learned from the past couple of Z projects, there’s no wrong way to build a Datsun 240Z. How would you build yours? Let us know in the comment section below.