Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Autocar Online - News

Autocar Online - News

Death of the Japanese super-saloon

Posted: 25 Dec 2012 04:47 AM PST

Mourning the loss of the Mitsubishi Evo and Subaru Impreza WRX STI

Being the time of year to look back as well as forward and all, let's spare a moment to mourn the passing of a pair of performance icons from these shores, the Mitsubishi Evo and Subaru Impreza WRX STI.

This pair of Japanese high-performance saloons have fought an intense rivalry since the early 1990s, taming many an Italian supercar and German super-saloon along the way to deciding their own individual battle.

They made rallying cool and socially acceptable again for the first time since the Group B era, making household names and heroes of the likes of Richard Burns, Colin McRae and Tommi Makinen along the way. The sport has not reached these highs since.

They made Japanese cars desirable, in an era of faceless Toyota Corollas and Nissan Almeras. They didn't cost the earth either, offering a serious amount of bang for a moderate enough buck.

And they did it their way, development budgets purely being spent on maximising the performance and dynamic prowess rather than on luxurious interiors, fancy trim or unnecessary gadgets.

Perhaps I didn't realise how much I'd idolised these cars when growing up until I was scanning the photos taken on my iPhone this year on the train last night. If you take a snap of all the desirable metal that arrives in the Autocar car park, the memory would soon fill up, so I'm selective in what I point and shoot at. After the Ferrari FF, the Evo and Impreza are my most papped cars this year.

But sadly they won't be back next year. You'd struggle to fill a Tesco Express car park with the amount of Evos and Imprezas are left new in stock in the UK, and neither Mitsubishi nor Subaru will be importing anymore in their current generation.

Yes, the world has moved on: there are better and faster cars than both now, and the interior just doesn't really cut it anymore despite the honesty and integrity. And now both cars will be moving on too, with the high-revving, highly-strung turbocharged engines replaced with hybrid drivetrains.

Whether the pair can reinvent themselves and renew their rivalry for a new era remains to be seen, but the high-performance Japanese saloon rivalry as we know it is no more. Santa, if you're reading these, I'll have an Impreza P1 or Evo VI Makinen Edition in my stocking to cheer me up please.

Top 12 cars of 2012: Fiat Panda

Posted: 24 Dec 2012 10:00 PM PST

Peppy new city car with bags of character went straight to the top of the class

Bold, loveable, agile and peppy, we said in our road test verdict. Everything a city car should be. More often than not, such statements are built on quicksand – correct and concrete for the week in which they are written, before sinking into three feet of shifting ground, waiting to be downtrodden and downgraded by a successor.

But the current Fiat Panda, already, after only eight months of exposure, feels like it might just be one of those cars whose reputation continues to swell over time rather than contracting.

Why? Well, those adjectives, what we think a city car should be, are not going to change until the planners rip up our towns and start again. The successful criteria are set in stone, and the Panda ticks them off with relish. It's inexpensive, is cheerily robust inside, swallows four adults, is cheap to run and looks cute.

Most important, it drives with a singular sense of itself. It doesn't aspire to be a scaled-down saloon car like the VW Up; it's a rough 'n' tumble tyke with nimbleness and attitude to overcome its rival's po-faced refinement.

Fiat's boss has called the new model "the official car for doing whatever the hell you like", and that sentiment rings true again and again. Certainly, the year ends with us having driven objectively better cars, but very few were as attainable or as easy to enjoy in a crowd as Fiat's future classic.

Maserati plans Porsche 911 rival

Posted: 24 Dec 2012 10:00 PM PST

Mid-engined sports car to be based on the Alfa Romeo 4C; expected on sale in 2015

Maserati looks set to launch a mid-engined rival for the Porsche 911 by 2015. It will be offered with both V6 and V8 power and will get a chassis based on that of the forthcoming Alfa 4C.

Although Maserati's '4C' has yet to be confirmed, company bosses have hinted that such a model is essential if it is to reach its future growth targets.

"We are currently represented in just 21 per cent of the luxury sports car market," Maserati boss Harald Wester told Autocar. "But by 2015 we will have 100 per cent representation." That market coverage would not be possible without a Porsche 911 rival.

The new mid-engined Maserati will play a crucial role in the company's intended plans to sell 50,000 cars a year worldwide by 2015, up from the 6159 cars it delivered last year. Maserati aims to achieve this through the new Quattroporte, a new BMW 5-series rival called Ghibli, the new Levante SUV and the still-to-be confirmed 911 rival.

Speculation about the name of the new mid-engined Maserati suggests it might be known simply as the GranSport. Whatever it is called, power will come in the form of either a twin-turbo V6 or a twin-turbo V8, with approximately 450bhp and 550bhp on offer.

The target kerb weight is said to be less than 1400kg, and although the V6 model is destined to have rear-wheel drive, there's a possibility of the V8 being offered with the option of four-wheel drive, just as the Quattroporte is in certain markets.

Given the close relationship between Ferrari and Maserati, a dual-clutch auto gearbox also seems probable — although under no circumstances will the car be priced or engineered to rival Maranello's own mid-engined V8. That means a price tag of less than £100,000 and a slightly more luxurious character than that of a Ferrari.

First drive review: Jaguar XJ-e

Posted: 24 Dec 2012 10:00 PM PST

Hybrid XJ yields impressive economy, but it's not yet confirmed for production launch We're talking here about the most economical full-size saloon Jaguar has ever built, the luxurious XJ-e hybrid, which I recently sampled on public roads as part of Jaguar's three-car, six-driver entry in the 2012 Future Car Challenge, a 63-mile all-roads economy test between Brighton and London.Our experimental Jag trio, part-financed by the government's busy and productive Technology Strategy Board, proved their potential by topping their class in the Brighton to London test, winning the award for 'Most energy-efficient luxury car — prototype' and a taking a new award for 2012, the 'Technical panel's wward of merit'.The XJ-e, officially rated at 87mpg with a CO2 output of just 75 g/km, is an advanced prototype Jaguar is developing in case the world's luxury car buyers discover a taste for extreme economy. So far they haven't; companies such as Porsche have had limited showroom success with their Cayenne and Panamera hybrids. Seems those who can afford big-price cars can stump up big fuelling costs, too.However, nearly every parameter in motoring has changed over the past decade, so no-one should bet against governments abruptly erecting future tax barriers for conventional models that will make big hybrids either much more financially attractive, or perhaps the only cars permitted in certain inner-city areas.

It's been a year to forget for GM Europe

Posted: 24 Dec 2012 04:00 PM PST

Opel/Vauxhall didn't make the huge gains it hoped for in 2012, despite some high-profile product launches

It wasn't supposed to be like this. Just under two years ago, when Brit Nick Reilly announced the pain before the gain bound up in a $15 billion, five-year recovery plan for Opel and Vauxhall, the commitment was clear: "We will break even in 2011, and be in profit by 2012".

He probably couldn't have predicted the lingering torpor of the European market back then, but even so, the plan isn't exactly on course. Opel/Vauxhall announced a few weeks ago that it expects to lose somewhere between $1.5- and $1.8billion this year – double its losses for 2011. Break even has been put back to 2015.

Things don't look good for a firm that fairly recently and regularly topped the UK market share chart. But I can't help thinking that the perception of the company's worrying condition has been made even worse this year by some disappointing products and bad strategy.

Parent company GM Europe has had three presidents in 2012, and it's yet to announce a permanent replacement for outgoing design boss Mark Adams (the man who was supposed the take the job, David Lyon, abruptly left the company in July). The current man in overall charge, Dan Akerson,  takes the opportunity to reassure the press whenever he can that Opel/Vauxhall will not be sold. I'm sure it won't – but at some point the crisis management has to stop, and the brave new world has to begin.

A lot of hope was placed in the Vauxhall Adam supermini – a car that had the potential to start a recovery of sorts. I can't tell you how disappointed I was after a drive. In the metal it felt ordinary, derivative – compromised by GM's decision not to adopt the new 'Gamma II' platform for the car, but to recycle the existing Corsa platform. I heard a rumour that the Adam was actually designed by Magna back in 2009, during the course of the takeover bid that never quite was. That may or may not be true – but it came from a very reliable source, and it's highly plausible.

The Vauxhall Mokka was better – but only after the debacle that was the European press launch. The suspension set-up we were all told would be final wouldn't, as it turned out, be final after all. Final or not, it wasn't good enough. Cue a hasty UK-market re-tuning job, which eventually produced a creditable car – but that should have happened before us hacks were given our test drives, not in such undermining circumstances afterwards.

Next year will bring the Cascada convertible, but that's no more a car to transform a company's fortunes than either the Adam or the Mokka is. So the question I'm left pondering is how long it'll be until will we see a new Vauxhall that's genuinely appealing and class-leading – and that'll sell in big numbers?

Both Russelsheim and Luton desperately need one, but if they don't get it sooner or later, who knows when the job cuts and factory closures will end.

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