Saturday, December 1, 2012

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LA motor show: top five performance cars

Posted: 01 Dec 2012 01:00 AM PST

Our rundown of the most exciting performance cars unveiled in Los Angeles

Jaguar XFR-S

Jaguar design director Ian Callum described the new 542bhp XFR-S as "as sporty as a Jaguar saloon can get", and a "formidable machine". It's hard to disagree. The XFR-S is the fastest and most powerful Jaguar saloon ever created. Not alone does the look the part with its muscular bodykit (including a mighty fixed rear wing) and bright blue paint, but it should also 'go' well too with chassis guru Mike Cross having lead the on-road development. It's cars like the XFR-S and the F-type that starred alongside it in LA that make you see why Jaguar has got its confidence back.

Volvo S60 Polestar

A Volvo in BMW M5 territory was one of the more unusual performance stars from the LA motor show. The S60 Polestar uses a 3.0-litre straight-six engine tuned to 508bhp by Volvo's performance partner. Other highlights include a 3.9sec 0-62mph time and a top speed of more than 186mph. The one major drawback? Volvo's hesitancy about putting it into production. Build it and they will come.

Ford Fiesta ST

At the other end of the performance scale was Ford's latest small hot hatch, which is being offered to US buyers from early next year. Sales of the standard Fiesta haven't exactly set the world alight, so Ford will be hoping the ST can inject some kudos into the rest of the supermini range. The major difference to the Fiesta ST offered in Europe is it being a five-door hatchback rather than a three-door, but there's no news on a saloon version of the Fiesta ST.

Porsche Cayman

The Cayman was the undoubted star of the LA motor show. It was the major world debut, and attracted the biggest crowd and was met with the most enthusiasm by the assembled press pack. Unlike its predecessor, it has the visual drama (it certainly made a statement in its vibrant yellow) to match what are likely to be the sharpest dynamics in the segment. Might Porsche have made a car that outshines the 911?

Mercedes SLS Black Series

The SLS Black Series is how supercars should look. You know it means business when the boss of AMG, Ola Kallenius, describes it as "the ultimate expression of what our engineers can do when they're allowed to go crazy". The Black Series is a rare example of race car technology transferring so explicitly to the road. Kallenius's brief was to turn the successful SLS AMG GT3 race car into a road car, and a look at the spec sheet reveals they have succeeded. Looks pretty special too, right?

Fuel’s gold

Posted: 30 Nov 2012 09:54 AM PST

Will the government put fuel duty up by 3p a litre in January? And will it actually matter in the real world, at your local pump?

The shadow chancellor Ed Balls is currently making as much ground as he can out of his 'wrong time, wrong place' campaign regarding the government's proposed 3p-a-litre rise in fuel duty next January.

He knows full well, of course, that he's pushing on an open door as far as the rest of us are concerned – because no one WANTS to pay more for their fuel at this moment in time, even if we're aware that we may be robbing Peter to pay Paul in the long run.

But here's a thing; does it actually matter if the government puts the duty on fuel up by 3p a litre when you can save four times that if you're prepared to shop around?

If you're an HGV driver, or more to the point a haulage company to whom every mile is critical, the answer is very clearly a yes. It matters. You can't just haul your rig off the M1 and into the local cheap garage to seek out lower priced fuel, after all.

But of you're a car driver, it's different. This week I've filled the Jaguar XK RS that I'm lucky enough to have been lent for a while twice. On both occasions the low warning light had come on, which meant there was about a gallon left in the tank, so 60 litres of space.

The first fill I did at my local garage cost £77.45 at £1.31 a litre; the second was on the M1 and cost £86.94 at £1.45 a litre.

In both cases, that gave me a range of around 250 miles. (I know, I know; the fuel consumption of the car is ridiculous and a range like that is absurd in this day and age. But in this case that's not really the point). What is, is that I had to pay nearly a tenner more for same amount of fuel, just because I filled the car in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

Had I thought about it and worked out a way of avoiding a motorway fill (by making sure the tank was full of cheaper, local fuel when I set off, for instance) I could have saved 14p a litre.

Over 25,000 miles – which is approximately a year's worth of driving in my world – I'd save an entire 'bag of sand' merely by going local in the XK RS. So although it might seem a touch pernickety, seeking out the cheapest fuel in a car that does 18mpg and which costs £105k in the first place, I don't care. Because anyone who's happy to wave goodbye to a relatively easy £1000 a year nowadays doesn't have their head screwed on quite right.

I can see for miles and miles

Posted: 30 Nov 2012 09:39 AM PST

A conviction for clocking-related offences has thrown up the question of what constitutes a high-mileage car

It is, of course, reassuring to know that the owner of a so called 'mileage correction service' has been jailed for nine months for clocking cars.

Apparently this is the first time that such a service provider has been convicted under consumer law.

The owner had pleaded guilty to five charges under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 and eight charges under the Fraud Act 2006. He also agreed to a further 19 offences being taken into consideration.

His Honour Judge Ambrose said: "The clocking of cars corrupts the market and brings unjustified suspicion on honest traders."

His Honour may well be right but it begs the question over just what is mileage? I'd argue it is a philosophical  question and, as ever, car buyers should look at the condition, the service history and the cut of the seller's jib before making any final decision.

Indeed, what is high mileage? Six figures, high five figures? Is 100,000 miles really a lot on a decade-old car when it averages out at 10,000 a year? And actually 6000 miles on an averagely maintained Vauxhall Corsa 1.0-litre over a decade is arguably far worse than a Jaguar XJ8 that's been ramped and stamped regardless of cost.

So the question is this: what in your book is high mileage? At what mileage point do you shake your head and move on to the next used car in the classifieds?

First drive review: VW Beetle Cabriolet Design 2.0 TDI 140 DSG

Posted: 30 Nov 2012 06:25 AM PST

A likeable take on a classic, but its dynamic character means it is unlikely to draw in car enthusiasts The 'new' Beetle may not be as iconic as the original, and it may have struggled to match the success of rival modern interpretations from Mini and Fiat, but there's no arguing that the main reason people buy it is for its looks. So much so, in fact, that Volkswagen design boss Klaus Bischoff describes it as a halo model for the brand, like a Golf GTI, but for very different reasons.In many ways this cabrio is the ultimate expression of the Beetle: roof down, sun shining, it's hard not to feel slightly carefree, even in traffic-clogged Los Angeles or fighting for space on the freeway. No question, the latest generation Beetle is good looking both inside and out, and that ensures a feel-good factor.

Nissan creates Batman inspired Juke

Posted: 30 Nov 2012 06:18 AM PST

Special one-off will be up for grabs in an online competition

Nissan has created a special edition Juke to celebrate the home release of the new Batman film.

Called The Dark Knight Rises Juke Nismo, it's based on the soon to be released Nismo model, which features a 197bhp 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine mated to a six-speed manual gearbox.

The Nismo also gets a sporty bodykit, interior trim changes and revised suspension.

In addition to this, the Dark Knight Rises Juke features Batmobile-aping matte black paint, gloss black 18-inch wheels, 'shark-fin' antenna and a smattering of bat badges.

Inside the kickplates and headrests have also been decorated with the famous bat silhouette and the seats have been re-trimmed in suede. Downlighters built into the wing mirrors project the Batman symbol onto the floor around the doors, too.

The one-off Juke will be put up as a competition prize, entries for which are open until 28 February.

Order books for the regular Juke Nismo open in January, when it will be available in both two and four-wheel-drive configurations. Full price and specification details will be announced closer to the model's launch.

Daljinder Nagra

BMW 3-series Touring

Posted: 27 Nov 2012 09:56 AM PST

Standout compact exec gains a six-pot diesel and a bigger boot As if a five-star Autocar road test accolade wasn't a big enough haul for 2012, the BMW 3-series is back for more. No doubt spurred on by overwhelming critical acclaim, Munich isn't hanging around when it comes to fleshing out the meat of its big-selling compact exec range.Having been offered a streamlined selection of models from the launch of the F30 3-series in the spring, UK buyers can now order an entry-level 134bhp 316i saloon for less than £23,000 – a sum that won't currently buy you a top-of-the-range 1.6-litre Ford Mondeo Ecoboost. You can also buy a 320i xDrive, in which four driven wheels feature in a BMW saloon for the first time since the E34 525ix of 1991, and even a petrol-electric ActiveHybrid 3.Now, the first six-cylinder diesel engine has been added to the range. And at the same time, we've been given the first alternative to a four-door saloon body style, in the shape of the added-practicality estate. This brings us neatly to a route via which we can assess the merits of a 3-series that should have performance, economy, practicality and premium allure to spare: the 330d Touring.

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