Thursday, January 10, 2013

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Adventures in various deserts

Posted: 10 Jan 2013 06:41 AM PST

Keen to do the best job for his employer, Jean Todt called a halt to his battling drivers with the toss of a coin during the 1989 Dakar rally

It is the quiet period of the motorsport year, before the first big events, although the Formula 1 factories across Europe are buzzing with activity as the teams prepare the 2013 cars for the start of testing, now less than a month away.

The major activity at the moment is the Dakar Rally, which began in Lima, Peru on 2 January and will finish in Santiago, Chile, on 20 January. The teams that get to the finish will have covered 5,600 of extreme desert and mountain terrain.

The Dakar dates back to 1978 when it began as an off-road race from Paris to Dakar, in Senegal, across the Sahara Desert. Since the 2008 event had to be cancelled because of marauding bands of al-Qaeda terrorists in Mauritania, the race switched to South America, where the terrain is just as challenging, but where there are fewer political problems. The Africans would like the Dakar to return, but with their region ever-more unstable, that is not at all likely.

The Dakar is still big business and is run by the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), which also organises the Tour de France cycle race, the Paris Marathon and a string of other sporting events, in addition to owning the French daily sports newspaper L'Equipe.

I have not covered the Dakar in South America, but back in 1989 I did go on one of the races in Africa, in fact it was there that I first met FIA President Jean Todt, who at the time was running the Peugeot rally raid team. Our paths first crossed in the town of Agadez in northern Niger, but a few days later we fell out when the rally reached the town of Gao, on the banks of the great Niger river.

There were six days to go before the rally was due to arrive in Dakar and, out in the desert, Jean's drivers Jacky Ickx and Ari Vatanen had been fighting each other hard to gain an upper hand. Vatanen had rolled his Peugeot 405 just before Gao and for Todt this was a warning signal that he could not ignore. And so he tossed an old 10 franc piece into the air: heads would mean victory for Vatanen; tails would give the win to Ickx.

Vatanen (who would later to lose to Todt in the FIA Presidential election) won the toss.

It was, in all ways, an unsatisfactory way to settle the last true motor sporting adventure, and it left a very bitter taste in the mouth. Vatanen and Ickx stopped fighting and it became rather embarrassing on the penultimate day when Vatanen took a wrong turning and Ickx found himself with an accidental lead of 20 seconds, but he gracefully stopped short of the finish line on the last day, allowing Ari to win.

We still do not agree on that decision and I did not much like his tactics of favouring Michael Schumacher at Ferrari, but over the years I have gained a great deal of respect for Jean. To understand him you need to appreciate that he handles each new job differently. His goal at Peugeot and Ferrari was to do what was best for his employer.

Today his FIA job is to do the best for the sport, and I think he has done a quiet but very decent job in difficult circumstances. The one thing we do not agree on was the decision to allow F1 to go to Bahrain last year. While the actual level of trouble in Bahrain was wildly over-exaggerated by the mainstream media, the world thought that it was a war zone. I argued that in the modern world perception is reality, whether we like it or not.

"I have to deal with realities," Todt said.

I could not argue with that.

Toyota to revive small SUV-coupé concept

Posted: 10 Jan 2013 05:20 AM PST

2001 Toyota Rugged Sports Coupé may be developed into Nissan Juke rival

Toyota bosses are considering building a rival for the Nissan Juke, using a decade-old concept as inspiration. The Toyota RSC — Rugged Sports Coupé — was designed by Toyota's California-based CALTY design studio and made its debut at the 2001 Chicago motor show.

Although nothing came of the RSC, Autocar understands that it has recently been reassessed, mainly because of the global success of the Nissan Juke, which is remarkably similar in concept to the RSC.

No decision has yet been made about giving the RSC a green light for production, but Toyota bosses would either use the Yaris platform, which would create a direct rival for the Nissan, or the new Auris platform, which would overcome the cramped rear cabin that hampers the Juke. Both of these platforms would also offer the option of a hybrid, which would be popular in the vital Californian market.

The RSC's mix of compact off-roader and sports car reflected a significant trend at the end of 1990s, which is still being explored. Under Brit Simon Cox, Isuzu's UK-based concept studio came up with the VX-2 off-road coupé as far back as 1998, and in late 2011 Volkswagen showed the Golf-based Cross Coupé concept.

New Mini set for 2014 launch

Posted: 10 Jan 2013 05:02 AM PST

Expanded third-generation Mini line-up is set to include an unusual five-door hatch; due next year

The all-new, Mk3 BMW Mini is just 12 months away from the showroom, and it promises a dramatic leap forward in handling, performance and quality. Insiders say that because the new Mini family — which could extend to as many as 11 new models — is part of BMW's UKL1 front-wheel drive platform project, factory costs can be reduced and quality increased. 

BMW sources have already admitted that as many as 23 different models could eventually be given the green light. Indeed, estimates by industry analysts suggest that, by 2020, BMW will be selling about 980,000 front-drive cars under both the BMW and Mini brands.  

All of today's Mini models will be replaced and there will be at least three new models. These will include the new Traveller, which is a kind of sporty mini-MPV similar in layout to the BMW Concept Active Tourer. Also on the drawing board is a luxuriously trimmed baby saloon aimed at east Asia. The styling of the Mk3 range is said to have been strongly influenced by the Mini Rocketman concept. 

The biggest-selling Mini newcomer, however, will be the unusual five-door hatchback, which has foreshortened rear doors primarily intended to allow children quicker access to the rear seats. The Mk3 Mini family could also introduce some significant conceptual makeovers for existing models.  

The UKL1 platform brings greater dimensional flexibility because it comes in at least two lengths and two seat heights. BMW's plans for an MX-5-sized roadster mean that today's Mini Coupé and Roadster models could become proper sporting cars, rather than modified versions of the cabrio.  

The Countryman is also expected to become a bespoke SUV, unlike today's model, which is closer to a five-door supermini with a raised ride height. The Clubman will grow longer and wider and is expected to become more of a sports estate. The controversial 'club door' layout seems likely to be dropped. 

Apart from the highest-performance models, all of the new Minis will be powered by BMW's all-new three-cylinder, 1.5-litre engine in both petrol and diesel forms.

As well as six-speed manual transmissions, the new Mini will come with the option of a super-efficient eight-speed automatic gearbox.

Four-wheel drive will be offered on more Mini models in the future. Manufacturers are finding that demand is rising noticeably for the option of four-wheel drive on road cars of all sizes.

With the promise of at least one sub-90g/km CO2 model in the new-generation diesel Mini line-up, there's no news yet on a hybrid Mini. It would undoubtedly be popular in the US market, but complexity and expense might rule it out. 

To help with this massive expansion, which should enable Mini to add at least 150,000 annual sales to its current volumes of about 300,000, a new production line is being built at Mini's Oxford plant. BMW is also in negotiations to use the old Mitsubishi Nedcar factory in the Netherlands as a satellite plant from mid-2014.

Lotus plans five-fold sales increase

Posted: 10 Jan 2013 04:32 AM PST

Growing demand for sports cars will be key to Lotus increasing sales five-fold over 2012 figures

Lotus Group's owners, DRB-Hicom, are confident the brand can achieve 4000-5000 sales annually by 2015.

The figures are based on increasing global demand for sports cars and new management under DRB-Hicom, according to DRB-Hicom chief, Datuk Seri Mohd Khamil Jamil.

Jamil said: "To change something that has been there for 16 years is not easy, but the management team is very innovative and forthcoming. We know there is competition in the market.

"However, with our quality and standard enhancements of the Lotus, we are confident we can compete."

He said the biggest markets for the firm are China, Japan and North America. It has recently opened a showroom in Kuala Lumpur, which has delivered 12 cars from a 20-strong order book.

In 2011, Lotus produced 1457 cars, which fell to 1043 last year. Lotus says the delay in introducing Exige S, due to a "significant quality overhaul of the product prior to launch", accounts for lower than forecast volumes.

Audi A3 Sportback voted What Car? Car of the Year

Posted: 10 Jan 2013 04:10 AM PST

The Audi A3 Sportback fought off competition from the Range Rover and Rolls-Royce Phantom to take top What Car? award

The Audi A3 Sportback was named 2013 What Car? Car of the Year last night. The five-door A3 also won Small Family Car of the Year.

What Car? editor-in-chief Chas Hallett said: "The Audi A3 Sportback mixes excellent refinement and an accomplished driving experience with easily the finest cabin quality ever seen in a small family hatchback."

Ford was the biggest winner of the night, taking four awards. The Fiesta triumphed in the supermini category, the Focus ST picked up Best Hot Hatch, the Mondeo Best Family Car, and Mondeo estate received Best Estate Car. BMW collected three gongs, including the SUV award for the X5

The Range Rover was named Luxury Car of the Year and the Porsche Boxster Sports Car of the Year.

Repeat winners included the Audi TT, which was chosen as Best Coupé for the seventh year in a row and the Volkswagen Up, which retained its crown as City Car of the Year.

The Most Exciting Car for 2013, voted by readers and website visitors, was awarded to the Alfa Romeo 4C.

For full list of winners, visit

Holly Stevenson

Opel Vauxhall's convincing double act

Posted: 10 Jan 2013 03:44 AM PST

Another restructuring plan for GM's European arm, but this time the men behind it seem to believe in the cause

Car industry bosses aren't always tops for charisma but if the two leaders of Opel-Vauxhall's latest turnaround plan - president Steve Girsky and Vice CEO Thomas Sedran - were rated on infectious enthusiasm alone, a planned 10-year job would already be half done.

In an impressive presentation to journalists last night, Girsky's fact-heavy, machine-gun like presentation combined with Sedran's more avuncular style to finally give the lie to suggestions that Opel-Vauxhall wasn't part of GM's core business, and might even be parcelled again for sale.

Girsky, a former auto analyst and adviser to the UAW, America's powerful auto workers union, disarmed his audience by acknowledging that this was the latest of a series of GM Europe rescue plans, but claimed it as 'the first not to include hope as part of the strategy'. It could work even though the market was expected to stay in the doldrums, he argued with conviction.

Integration of Europe into the GM empire was very much the message yesterday - in fact, the management pair suggested Europe would be used to develop a raft of modern product and business solutions that would help similar problems to be solved right across the GM world.

"The former stepchild that no one wanted to kiss has been warmly taken to the heart of the family," said one Opel official. "We have real hope this time. And don't forget - if Girsky wants to be the leader of our company after Dan Akerson [currently GM's CEO] it can only happen if he succeeds in Europe first. His arrival might just be the best thing to have happened to Opel-Vauxhall in its modern history..."

GM reveals its plan for Vauxhall rescue

Posted: 10 Jan 2013 02:49 AM PST

Restructuring will create 23 new models, plus engines by 2016, to restore Vauxhall-Opel to profitability

Vauxhall-Opel has revealed an audacious 10-year restructuring plan that, 
while acknowledging further tough conditions over the next few years, will
 have it breaking even by 'mid-decade' and moving on 
to 'profitable growth.' 
The plan, dubbed Drive! 2022, was revealed by GM Europe
 president Steve Girsky and vice CEO Thomas Sedran at the unveiling of the first production model of the new Adam.

Under the plan, which was approved six weeks ago by GM's main board,
 Vauxhall-Opel will cut fixed costs by $500m by mid-decade, launch 23 new models and 13 new engines between now and 2016 and start building non Opel-Vauxhalls (probably Buicks for China, and some Chevrolets). It will also expand and implement the recently announced alliance with PSA.

According to Girsky and Sedran, Drive! 2022 demonstrates GM's long-term commitment to Opel-Vauxhall, which it once sought to sell but decided to retain at the last minute. Opel-Vauxhall is also viewed as a microcosm of GM's global problems with costs, model range and management. Fix this, and you will know how to fix the rest.

The restructuring plan, which its authors freely admit is the latest of 
many, is the first "not to include hope as part of the strategy" said 
Girsky. A three-phase programme will "cut the cash flow gap" between expenditure and income, followed by new cars, powertrains and technologies to break even around 2016. New commercial vehicles, improving Russian sales and achieving a planned 90 per cent plant utilisation will complete the process. 

According to Girsky, some of the ground work has already been done. In 2012 Opel-Vauxhall launched six new models, sold more than a million cars as Europe's third biggest brand, slashed stocks of unsold cars, and re-configured Astra production in two plants (from three). It also faced up to the tough decision of closing the Bochum plant from 2016.

Girsky and Sedran had warm words for Vauxhall, which they cited
 as the fastest-growing retail brand in 2012, the leader in sales of
 commercials and the number one seller to police fleets. "Vauxhall 
is an example of best practice," said Girsky, acknowledging particular
 difficulty with the German market. "It shows how we can get the job done."

British student wins prize for futuristic delivery van concept

Posted: 10 Jan 2013 02:25 AM PST

Award winning modular convoy design inspired by walking ducks

Alexander Ibbett, an postgraduate student at the Royal College of Art, has scooped first prize in a Citroën-sponsored design competition to come up with a futuristic concept for a city centre delivery van.

Twenty six students from the RCA's vehicle design course made their final presentations yesterday in London to a team of senior Citroën executives from the company's design, engineering and marketing divisions.

Completed in just two months, the 'Metro Project for a Global Van' asked the students to 'develop a global van with flexible options, to move goods quickly and quietly, conveniently and with proper concern for roadspace, roadusers and yourself - the ultimate receiver of the goods.'

Ibbett's concept was inspired by a row of ducklings following their mother, which he interpreted as a tiny, single-occupant, tractor unit to which small, electric-powered, parcel carriers automatically link up and travel in convoy. Once close to the delivery address, the parcel carriers can peel off and park as close to the recipient's home as possible.

Ibbett, who has completed internships with SAIC/MG and Land Rover, was also the first recipient of the RCA's new 'Gold Medal' award for outstanding student achievement.

Citroën's judging panel, lead by design chief Andrew Cowell, gave second place to Alexander Brink, for his three wheel motorcycle-style hauler, which has a large container space upfront with the driver standing upright at the rear of the vehicle. In third place was Hoe-Young Hwang, who developed a home luxury delivery concept for the buyers of premium goods.

Andrew Cowell told Autocar that Citroën regarded the competition as a 'valuable' design exercise and he was pleased that he was able to have the company's head of marketing and engineering for commercial vehicle division at the presentation.

New Caterham coupé to rival Porsche Cayman

Posted: 10 Jan 2013 01:55 AM PST

New £40k Caterham coupé promises a sub-5.0sec 0-60mph time thanks to 270bhp Renault four-pot engine

The new mid-engined Caterham coupé being co-developed with the new Alpine will use a Renault-sourced four-cylinder, forced-induction engine with as much as 270bhp and have sub-5.0sec 0-60mph performance.

The British firm has also set an ambitious target of selling 25,000 examples of the £40,000 coupé over its eight-year life cycle, according to Caterham commercial director David Ridley.

As a result, the low, light and modern coupé is being benchmarked against the blend of dynamic and everyday usability offered by the Porsche Cayman.

"We know we can't just make a car for hardcore enthusiasts and we wouldn't want to," said Ridley. "Our new car will be aimed at a far wider audience yet dynamically will still be unmistakably a Caterham."

The Renault-sourced engine will be heavily modified to provide appropriate power and throttle response. "The world is turning back towards downsized engines," said Ridley, "and as we have found with the R600 track car, supercharging means you can have all the power and torque you need without sacrificing throttle response."

Two transmissions will be offered: a six-speed manual and a paddle-shift automatic that is described as "essential" to its sales plans.

Ridley believes the Caterham can succeed where the Lotus Evora has failed. "The Evora is too expensive and makes life too hard for owners," he said, adding that Caterham's access to Renault's parts bin would result in a fully integrated and complete car.

Ridley also insisted that the Caterham — expected to be launched in 2015 — would not simply be a rebadged Alpine. "The cars look utterly different," he said, adding that there were 70 engineers in Norfolk who were "fully involved in the development of both the parts the cars will share and those that will make our car unique".

New Range Rover Evoque special launched

Posted: 09 Jan 2013 04:00 PM PST

Sicilian Yellow Limited Edition version of the Evoque will reach the UK in May after its Brussels motor show debut

Land Rover has injected some colour into the big-selling Range Rover Evoque with a new special edition version. The Range Rover Evoque Sicilian Yellow Limited Edition is on show at this week's Brussels motor show, ahead of UK sales in May priced from an estimated £44,000.

The Evoque Sicilian Yellow Limited Edition is based on the Dynamic trim and can be had with both three- and five-door models and any of the Evoque's three powertrain options.

Its most striking feature is the black and yellow colour scheme, with the new Sicilian Yellow colour being offered for the body and Santorini Black for the contrast roof, or vise versa.

The black and yellow theme continues inside, with yellow contrast stitching being used on the seats, door trims, central fascia and central storage area.

The Sicilian Yellow Limited Edition is also the first Evoque to feature the new Black Design pack, which will be offered on Evoque Dynamics from April.

The pack includes a new rear spoiler, darkened front headlights and fog lights, clear rear lamps and special 20in Gloss Black forged alloy wheels. The Range Rover lettering is also finished in black with the Black Pack, while Santorini Black paint is used for the bumpers' painted sections and exhaust tips.

New cars 2013: hot hatches

Posted: 09 Jan 2013 09:30 AM PST

Brand new models and reincarnations of old favourites make this a year to be savoured by hot hatch fans

The UK favourite hot hatch has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years, and 2013 is shaping up to be a good year for fans of practical performance. From newcomers like the Mercedes A45 AMG to the seventh generation of the genre defining Volkswagen Golf GTI, there are no less than eight new hatches on the horizon. Here is our guide.

Renault Clio RS 200 Turbo, May

The performance Clio has been the benchmark for small hot hatches virtually since its inception (or certainly since Renault attached the word 'Cup' to it). As such, the new Clio RS would be worthy of our rapt attention even if it proved to be just a mild update of its predecessor. But the fact that the French car maker has opted to comprehensively adjust the segment-topping formula for this year makes this car's impact as seismic as anything else appearing here.

Superficially, the news isn't good. First, the naturally aspirated 2.0-litre engine has gone, which means the zingy throttle response and climactic 7200rpm performance has gone with it. Second, the six-speed manual gearbox, whose action was as cutely incisive as a three-punch knockout combo, has also been binned in favour of a dual-clutch automatic 'box. Third, the new generation Clio comes as a five-door only, so the proportions have gone awry.

Okay, so forced induction and a dual-clutch 'box don't necessarily spell diminishment of our impish hero. The 1.6-litre turbocharged motor may only equal its predecessor's 197bhp, but it adds 19lb ft of torque at just 1750rpm. Partly as a result, the 0-62mph time is expected to tumble by at least half a second from its current 6.9sec. This will be helped along by the Renaultsport-developed Efficient Dual Clutch (EDC) transmission, which will also include a launch control system. Any hot hatch capable of performing faultless, flat-out traffic light starts is likely to be popular with the target audience.

Renault has also confirmed that the fabled Cup chassis will remain an option. By ticking the right box, you'll get a 15 per cent stiffer chassis and five per cent lower ride height than with the standard Sport set-up. There are also bigger brakes, and more tech is on offer in a superior cabin.

But the real reason to keep the faith is Renaultsport's track record. The Dieppe-based magicians have an almost faultless habit of turning spectacularly mundane products (in other words, Renault's mainstream offerings) into virtual masterstrokes. And as we've already given the new Clio 4 a thumbs up, it seems like a decent bet that the superheated version will follow suit.

Volkswagen Up GT, Winter

Although not as extreme as its spiritual predecessor, the Lupo GTI, the Up GT marks Volkswagen's first entry into the performance city car since the hot Lupo.

One thing is obvious from driving the standard Up: its chassis can handle far more than the 74bhp offered by its 1.0-litre three-pot engine. The GT will get 109bhp and 120lb ft, as well as a warmed-over chassis and styling. Skoda and Seat versions are sure to follow, too.

Mini JCW GP, January

The Mini is being given one last swansong before the all-new model is launched next year. The eye-watering £28,790 price might put off most, but as we discovered when we drove it last November, the 215bhp JCW GP is the best Mini yet to pilot aggressively.

It's a serious bit of kit, with new motorsport-derived coil-over suspension, plus front and rear braces, bespoke tyres and a pared-out interior. If you're a Mini devotee, act now before the 2000 units sell out.

Mercedes A45 AMG, Summer

The all-wheel-drive A45 AMG may be the smallest model yet from Mercedes' performance offshoot, but don't expect it to be any tamer than AMG's larger machines. The key stat being pushed by AMG is the horsepower per litre figure; with around 350bhp from its turbocharged 2.0-litre engine, it will have the highest specific output of any regular production engine.

Official figures have yet to be confirmed ahead of the A45 AMG's Geneva show launch in March, but it should be good for 0-62mph in 5.1sec and a top speed of 155mph, or 168mph with the optional performance pack. It will also return 40mpg, although probably not during those timed acceleration runs.

The A45 AMG looks to be a lot of car for the estimated £36,000 asking price.

Volkswagen Golf GTI, July

You can probably already guess what the new, seventh-generation Golf GTI is going to be like to drive, although this doesn't make its arrival in the middle of the year anything less than eagerly anticipated. There's slightly more power than before from the new 2.0 turbo engine (it produces 217bhp), while subtle performance and economy gains are partly gleaned from a reduction in weight.

The big new addition to the Golf GTI is an optional performance pack, a first for the iconic hot hatch. This not only liberates — at extra cost, of course — a further 10bhp from the forced-induction engine but, more significantly, also adds an extra 52lb ftof torque, which should alter the GTI's driving characteristics. Throw in larger brakes and a new differential and you've got the most extreme Golf GTI yet — and one we can't wait to try.

Peugeot RCZ R, December

The 260bhp RCZ R will be the most powerful production Peugeot ever when it arrives in December. From our experience, the faster and more focused RCZs have always been the best in the line-up, so it's hoped this trend will continue with the R.

The launch of the R coincides with a facelift for the rest of the RCZ range that includes a less bulbous front end and an improved interior.

Peugeot 208 GTI, June

Peugeot has said the 208 GTI is the car to "regenerate the legend" of the 205 GTI. The 208's dynamics have us worried whether the GTI can live up to what's widely regarded as the finest hot hatch ever, but we'll find out in a few months' time.

At least the spec is impressive. The 208 GTI's 1.6 turbo engine produces 197bhp and 203lb ft, and it's good for 0-62mph is less than 7.0sec.

Ford Fiesta ST, March

Can the best supermini in the world turn into the best small hot hatch? The new Clio RS will have something to say about that, but with the Clio heading down a more extreme route than ever, the Fiesta ST might step neatly into its place as a usable everyday hot hatch — provided the standard Fiesta's fine blend of ride and handling is transferred to the more potent version.

Power for the 136mph ST will come from a 1.6-litre Ecoboost petrol engine with 177bhp and 178lb ft, with prices set to start from around £18,000.

Kia Cee'd GT, June

Kia's first foray into performance models arrives this year with GT versions of the Cee'd three and five-door hatchbacks. The firm's familiar 1.6 GDi petrol engine has been turbocharged to produce 201bhp and 195lb ft in the GT, which means the warm hatch should be good for 0-62mph in 7.9sec. Chassis upgrades are also promised, while the styling is given a harder edge. Should the GT be well received, expect more performance-focused Kias to follow.

One for 2014: Volkswagen Golf R

The most potent Golf is likely to be shown this year before sales start early next year. The Golf R will switch to VW's latest 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine, tuned to make 276bhp. Expect four-wheel drive and the option of a seven-speed auto gearbox in place of today's six-speeder.

Detroit motor show: Nissan Leaf

Posted: 09 Jan 2013 09:24 AM PST

Trim changes and improved charging times for US market Nissan Leaf EV

The Nissan Leaf has been updated for 2013 and will be shown in public for the first time at next week's Detroit motor show.

The biggest improvement to Nissan's electric car is the addition of a larger on-board 6.6kW charger, which reduces total charging time by nearly half, to around four hours.

Further changes include a new, more energy efficient heating system and a new drive mode, which increases regenerative braking during deceleration for greater energy recovery.

The Leaf's body shape has also been revised to improve aerodynamics and energy efficiency. Inside there is a new black upholstery option and a leather steering wheel is now included as standard.

The range-topping SL trim level now comes with more standard equipment, including leather upholstery and 17-inch alloy wheels. A new entry level S trim grade has also been introduced.

With Leaf manufacture due to commence at Nissan's Sunderland plant in the Spring, UK customers will also be able to order the updated Leaf later this year.

Daljinder Nagra

Detroit Motor Show: Volkswagen seven seat SUV

Posted: 09 Jan 2013 07:13 AM PST

Cheaper Volkswagen 4x4, based on the MQB platform, will rival the Ford Explorer and Jeep Grand Cherokee

Volkswagen's new seven-seat SUV, aimed at providing the company with a rival for the likes of the Ford Explorer in the US, will get its first public outing at the Detroit motor show.

The new 4x4 will be positioned below the Touareg as a cheaper, more spacious offering - the Touareg makes do with five seats. It will be based on VW's MQB platform, which is versatile enough to be used in cars as diverse as the Polo and this new SUV, and will be built in the US at the firm's Tennessee plant.

Large, affordable seven seat SUVS are an important part of the new car industry in the US. Honda's Pilot, the Explorer and Jeep's Grand Cherokee all cost from around $30,000, and VW will want to price its new vehicle competitively.


First drive review: Kia Sorento KX-2

Posted: 09 Jan 2013 07:12 AM PST

Heavy mechanical revisions leave the Kia Sorento painless to drive Well, this is unusual: a mid-life facelift, barely three years into a car's life, which leaves the bodywork mostly alone but completely reconfigures the mechanicals. The 2013 Kia Sorento has a new platform and sits 10mm lower than its immediate predecessor, from which it looks only mildly changed, around the nose and tailgate. The front and rear suspension are all new and the body is 18 per cent torsionally stiffer than last month's Sorento. Yet Kia says the life cycle of the car is unchanged, not extended, as a result.I'll admit that it's a new one on me, but there's sense to this move, says Kia. It brings the mechanicals into line with those that underpin the Hyundai Santa Fe to take advantage of economies of scale. Also, by dropping the two-wheel-drive and five-seat variants (which hardly anybody bought), by usefully upgrading the Sorento's interior materials and by upping the price, Kia has again put clear air between the Sorento and its smaller Sportage sibling – a car that has been doing rather well and, one suspects, had been nibbling at the lower end of the Sorento range.

Fixing my old Land Rover turned into ECU hell

Posted: 09 Jan 2013 06:55 AM PST

Diagnosing and fixing the cause of ECU warning lights can prove to be an expensive process

I've probably been very lucky over the years, shifting cars before they become an expensive liability. Well, a few months ago I set up a part-exchange of the old family Land Rover Discovery against a newer one, but ultimately it wasn't my call. Wish I had pulled rank, because over the past few weeks getting to the bottom of just why there have been so many warning lights has been a nightmare.

Not that I've been getting my hands dirty, of course. My local Bangernomics mechanics have been banging their heads against the bonnet. According to the Land Rover community, what I had was 'The Three Amigos': ABS, traction control and hill descent control warning lights. According to the first diagnostic tool, it needed an ABS sensor. With that replaced, I collected the old girl and on my way home vigorously applied the brakes. Hola Amigos.

So if it wasn't the sensor, it had to be the hub, which works with the sensor to do its clever stuff. New hub. Same problem. It's starting to get expensive now. Last throw of the desperate dice is a brand new ABS ECU.

I am told that it is no guarantee of success and the bill is skidding towards a grand. Luckily, it works. For now.

I'm sure you've all been down this ECU circle of hell to a much more expensive degree. A mate with a Sprinter van got solidly into four figures recently.

Is this, then, the expensive price we are paying for all these toys? Or is it a glimpse into an unsustainable automotive future that I have been moaning about for 20 years? Maybe I'm just upset because I had to spend some money on my car…

Now is the time to grab a great new car discount

Posted: 09 Jan 2013 06:27 AM PST

Do a little research and you'll be in the best position possible to negotiate a sizeable discount off your new car

If you're going to buy a new car, do it soon.

Discounts are the great unknown if the car industry – beyond the fact that we all know all the mainstream brands do them, and that the salesmen deny any knowledge of them.

Beyond's excellent Target Price service, which uses mystery shoppers to ascertain the most you should pay for a new car, information is scarce.

In recent weeks, though, I've been scouting around, and it's become abundantly clear that there has never been a better time to negotiate, especially if you are willing to buy from among the brands that the SMMT's sales figures earlier this week made clear are struggling.

Key to negotiating a keen deal is identifying a European manufacturer that is making more cars than it can sell. At the moment, the favoured market for pumping out the overstock of cars is Britain, because the pound is so strong against the euro. Put simply, a car sold here is worth more – or, if you haggle hard, can be discounted by the manufacturer with less pain.

Beyond that, shop for the more unpopular cars, trims or engines. The more offbeat your choice, the more desperate they'll be to shift it. Large petrol-powered SUV, anyone?

Insiders tell me that discounts are running up to 20 per cent more in the buyer's favour year on year, as the pound stands firm against the euro and increasingly desperate manufacturers ask their UK subsidiaries to shift more metal.

Quite simply, there has never been a better time to buy. But will you? And if do, what will it be?

Mercedes GLA45 AMG spied

Posted: 09 Jan 2013 06:18 AM PST

First image appears of range-topping GLA45 AMG compact SUV

Speculation that an AMG version of the new Mercedes GLA junior off-roader could be revealed this year has been given added credence by this spy picture. It is the first time that the new performance-orientated 4x4 has been snapped testing on public roads in prototype guise.

Sister car to the upcoming A45 AMG and CLA45 AMG, the GLA45 AMG is expected to run AMG's new turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine in combination with a six-speed, dual-clutch automatic gearbox and four-wheel drive.

Official details are yet to be revealed, but the new engine, which carries the internal codename 'M132', is claimed to deliver 349bhp.

Together with a higher-powered engine, the GLA45 AMG also receives a heavily reworked chassis. If this particular prototype is any indication, the ride height will be reduced by up to 25mm over standard GLA models, lowering the centre of gravity.

The new model is set to square off against the upcoming Audi Q3 RS, which is powered by a 350bhp turbocharged 2.5-litre, five-cylinder petrol engine.

The GLA45 AMG is expected to get an airing at the Frankfurt motor show in September — five months after the standard GLA makes its debut at the Shanghai show.

Detroit motor show: Mercedes E63 AMG facelifted

Posted: 08 Jan 2013 06:50 AM PST

Tweaked styling and more power refresh Mercedes' performance exec in the face of increasingly talented competition

Mercedes-Benz has given the E63 AMG saloon and estate a bold new look and increased output along with other performance enhancing upgrades as part of a comprehensive mid-life facelift that aims to keep them in the hunt against powered up luxury car competition.

Due to reach the UK in April at prices close to the £74,920 and £76,710 of their predecessors following a public premiere at next week's Detroit motor show, the heavily revised E63 AMG saloon and estate preview a radical change in direction for the styling of all future AMG models with a distinctive exterior treatment that aims to provide both greater differentiation from standard Mercedes-Benz models together with improved aerodynamic properties.

Included is a more aggressive front end that combines the twin headlamp treatment of the newly facelifted E-class with a unique grille and bumper – the latter distinguished by huge air ducts and a central splitter that is claimed to improve air flow underneath the car. The exterior mirror housings have been given a new carbon fibre look and the side sills are altered with a new two tone treatment. The rear sports a more unique looking bumper that houses a revised diffuser element and quad trapezoidal shaped tail pipes.

Mercedes-Benz's latest performance model runs a lightly retuned version of AMG's twin-turbocharged 5.5-litre V8 petrol engine. It now develops 549bhp in standard trim and 577bhp in combination with an optional performance package – increases of 31bhp and 28bhp respectively. This performance package is now badged 'S-Model'.

Torque loading has also increased, with the standard engine now delivering an added 15lb ft at 531lb ft and the performance package specification unit remaining at 590lb ft but developed across a 750rpm broader range of revs between 1750rpm and 5000rpm.

The heady reserves continue to be channeled through AMG's seven speed Speedshift MCT automatic gearbox to the rear wheels. It offers four different driving modes:  C (Controlled Efficiency, S (Sport), S plus (Sport plus) and M (Manual) as well as automatic stop/start and brake energy recupation. The performance package option also adds a differential lock.

Mercedes-Benz claims the standard E63 AMG saloon now boasts a 0-62mph time of 4.2sec, with the optional performance package at just 3.6sec – improvements of 0.1sec and 0.6sec respectively. Top speed remains at a limited 155mph and 186mph.

The increase in straight line performance comes without any change in fuel economy and emissions, with the standard E63 AMG saloon offering combined consumption of 28.8mpg and 230g/km. The performance package option is rated t 27.4mpg and 242g/km.

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