Saturday, December 29, 2012

Autocar Online - News

Autocar Online - News

The best and the rest of 2012

Posted: 28 Dec 2012 10:00 PM PST

A year in cars: A snapshot album from 12 months of living life in the Cropley lane

It's over, and I'm not pleased. Amid the festive spirit, it strikes me that there's room for a tinge of melancholy. 

We've had such a wonderful motoring year; can one hope for anything half as enjoyable next year? And living the privileged life I do, have I made the most of my opportunities?

This year...

...I reckon the answer to that second question is a conditional yes. You can always do better, but my resolution this time last year to happy-snap cars, people and events of significance through the year lasted all the way to last month's Classic Car Show at the NEC in Birmingham. It also brought me an affirmation that all good car stories are about people.

Next year...

...the economy's not going anywhere, but we can still depend on the motor industry to build more and better cars. Next year we're getting a new Range Rover Sport, the Jaguar F-type sports car, a Maserati SUV and the hybrid Porsche 918 Spyder. And that's just scratching the surface.

We also look forward to seeding the increasingly powerful with fascinating stuff, and producing 51 classy issues of the magazine. But none of it is half worth doing without continuing support from you, our loyal readers. We all send seasons greetings, heartfelt thanks for past support, and hopes that you'll see fit to continue the relationship in the happy new year.  

Top 12 cars of 2012: Renault Clio

Posted: 28 Dec 2012 10:00 PM PST

Crucial new supermini for Renault delivered when it mattered most

Just when Renault most needs a star performer, it seems to have produced one. The French firm has been having a hard time selling cars across Europe, challenged for every sale by a pincer movement from VW and Hyundai-Kia. Its model range lost so much momentum in the UK last year that at the beginning of 2012 it killed all but four of the models it sells here, awaiting better cars to sell.

The big fightback begins next February, when the new-shape Renault Clio goes on sale. The car – longer, wider, lower and 100kg lighter than its predecessor – is based on the well-proven running gear of the outgoing Clio, but features new and much more characterful interior and exterior designs by a team led by Laurens van den Acker, the ex-Mazda design boss appointed by Renault in 2009.

The big news for more basic models is a brand-new 89bhp, 898cc, three-cylinder turbo engine. There's still a normally aspirated 1.2-litre four for entry-level models and the familiar 1.5-litre turbodiesel is offered again. There's also a semi-sporting 1.2-litre GT petrol turbo model coming to fill the gap to a new 197bhp Renaultsport model.

There's no doubting that the new Clio looks great. We tested the Clio TCE 90, powered by the new triple, and it looked even better than you see in many photographs: fresh, modern and distinctive. Same goes for the interior. The fascia is dominated by its seven-inch touchscreen. This is the first mainstream Renault to get the new R-link infotainment system and it adds much to the car's appeal.

On the road, the new Clio instantly feels mature, because road noise is low and it seems more composed over low-speed jitters than before. But it is more agile, too, because the rack and pinion steering has quicker gearing, the suspension has been re-rated and the car is lighter. Faults? It floats a bit more than we expected at high speeds (is this the return of 'funny' French suspension?). And we were surprised that the free-spinning three-cylinder engine wasn't just a little more tractable, given the fact that its rapidly expanding retinue of three-pot rivals usually are.

Still, the Clio is a great little car again, engaging inside and out, and ready to lead a French fightback. It has much work to do.

Volkswagen Polo R could get four-wheel drive

Posted: 28 Dec 2012 10:00 PM PST

All-wheel-drive version of new hot hatch possible as part of VW's WRC entry

Volkswagen hasn't ruled out building a four-wheel drive Polo as a tie-in with its assault on the World Rally Championship.

The manufacturer recently revealed the VW Polo R WRC, a 151mph front-wheel drive supermini. The appearance of the car so soon into VW's three-year WRC programme sparked speculation that more rally spin-offs could follow.

Head of R&D Ulrich Hackenberg said VW wanted to use rallying to forge an 'emotional link' with its customers: "There could be some customer interest, so I think four-wheel drive could be great for some countries. There are no plans [at the moment], but I could imagine it."

The PQ25 platform that underpins the Polo has already spawned the all-wheel drive Audi A1 quattro.

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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