Monday, January 14, 2013

Autocar Online - News

Autocar Online - News

Detroit motor show: Cadillac wins US Car of the Year

Posted: 14 Jan 2013 06:19 AM PST

ATS beats Ford and Honda to first place

Cadillac's ATS has won North American Car of the Year, beating off competition from the second and third placed Honda Accord and Ford Fusion.

The result, announced at the Detroit show, gave the ATS 207 points, the Accord 154 points and the Ford 124 points. Jurors also voted for the North American Truck/Utility of the Year, which was won by the Dodge Ram 1500.

American manufacturers tend to win both categories, with domestics taking Car of the Year 11 times and Truck of the Year 13 times in the award's 20 year history.

Last year the Range Rover Evoque won the truck category, and the Hyundai Elantra won the car award. 

Detroit show: Right-hand drive Corvette planned

Posted: 14 Jan 2013 05:36 AM PST

The latest Corvette C7 will be engineered in right-hand drive, according to its chief engineer

The new Chevrolet Corvette C7 will be offered in right-hand drive, but not before 2015. Speaking at today's Detroit motor show, Corvette chief engineer Tadge Juechter confirmed the car will emerge "after 2015".

Juechter said the C7 would need a significant amount of cockpit re-engineering, but there is a firm intention for the Corvette to become a world car.

Corvette bosses say American deliveries will begin in the autumn, but the car won't arrive in Europe until the end of 2013. There is no official word on pricing, but Corvette says "anyone who can afford a Vette now can afford the new one".

The car is currently priced from $49,600 (£30,750).

Detroit motor show: Jeep Compass and Patriot facelift

Posted: 14 Jan 2013 05:02 AM PST

New gearbox and styling changes for last year of Compass and Patriot production

Jeep has launched lightly facelifted versions of the Patriot and Compass at the Detroit motor show in a bid to improve sales of both cars in their last year of production.

The Patriot (which is not sold in the UK) and Compass both get an optional six-speed automatic gearbox, which directly replaces the CVT unit. Both cars get safety upgrades and the Compass receives some light cosmetic changes to the design of the lights and interior and more options, including a reversing camera and 18-inch wheels.


Detroit motor show: Jeep Grand Cherokee facelift

Posted: 14 Jan 2013 04:42 AM PST

Jeep's flagship gets a new eight-speed gearbox and diesel power for the US

Jeep has launched a facelifted Grand Cherokee at the Detroit motor show as part of a midlife revamp of most of its range.

The Cherokee, along with the SRT model, gets the eight-speed automatic gearbox used in the US-market petrol Chrysler 300. It comes with paddle shifts and in the SRT a new launch control system that Jeep claims improves acceleration, although the firm is not yet revealing by how much.

The US also gets the diesel Grand Cherokee for the first time – it's the same 3.0-litre V6 sold in Europe, with the new eight-speed gearbox. There's also a lower crawler gear for off-road use, and the car's Selec Terrain traction control system has been reworked.

Jeep boss, Mike Manley said the Grand Cherokee's 3.0-litre diesel is significant for signifying a shift in American tastes. He said: "Diesel is still a minority choice, but it delivers everything out customers have been asking for. Clean, efficient and economical and massive torque. We do believe there is a market for diesel and that it will grow with pressure on fuel efficiency."

The car's appearance has been updated with a new, slimmer grille at the front, LED running lights, redesigned front and rear bumpers. The SRT comes with a black grille surround, different exhaust tailpipes and body-coloured sill covers.  Inside the centre console has been changed with new heating controls and a new touchscreen.

Jeep sales have hit an all-time high, with 700,000 sales in 2012, beating the company's previous best year in 1999.

Manley said the results were a reflection of the brand's successful rebirth since the financial crisis nearly killed it. He said: "In the past three years we have doubled sales, enjoying consistent double digit growth as we re-established the company.

"At the depth of the crisis we were the fifth SUV brand in the US, but now we're back where we belong - first here, and growing strongly in Europe and China."

Manley has targeted annual sales of 800,000 by 2014.

Mercedes CLS Shooting Brake

Posted: 14 Jan 2013 03:38 AM PST

Does the five-door Mercedes CLS Shooting Brake have the substance to back its style? Sometimes the word 'estate' doesn't quite cut it, apparently. Not content with introducing us to the concept of a four-door coupé, Mercedes-Benz is insistent about reintroducing the 'Shooting Brake' moniker for the five-door variant of its likeable CLS.It's amazing how quickly you get used to an idea. Most of us were rather taken aback when Mercedes first launched the CLS, but it slotted swiftly and easily into the range and our understanding. It came across as more dynamic than the E-class on which it is based and almost as classy as (and undoubtedly more individualistic than) an S-class. Unlike its larger sibling (as with Audi's A6 next to the A8), the CLS doesn't say that its driver is on his way to an airport departure lounge.Quite what the Shooting Brake says is what we're here to find out. Logic dictates that if you want an executive-sized Mercedes-Benz with ample room in the rear, you'd buy an E-class estate. But logic frequently works in mysterious ways, or not at all, in this sector, and sometimes what a car says about its owner is as important as what it does.

Corvette Stingray - witnessing the rebirth of an icon

Posted: 14 Jan 2013 03:36 AM PST

The launch of the seventh-generation Chevrolet Corvette was an all-American affair

You have to be in America, and Detroit for preference, to see just how important the launch of a new Chevy Corvette is to Americans.

Even representatives of rival companies understand perfectly when you tell them you can't be at their event because you've never seen a Corvette launched before and just want to savour experience. This is what I did today at the Detroit Auto Show, when they launched the latest muscular, knife-edged, quicker - but also cleaner - Corvette C7.

Over here, a press launch isn't a press launch. It seems to be more a gathering of seasoned, somewhat overweight Corvette enthusiasts and their wives, whooping, American-style, at every modest fact that is given out. This latest iteration of the 6.2-litre Small Block V8 has direct fuel injection (whoops) variable valve timing (louder whoops) and a cylinder shut-off system (yet more whoops) to make it both more economical (muted cheers) and more powerful (cheers fit to bust). This is going to be a slowly emerging story, thought the journalists in the audience. Fortunately it was all written down...

Yet the Vette looks terrific, similar in proportion to its peers (long, low, spade-shaped nose with wide, roomy cabin and short high boot) yet its details, like the little quarter window and the lines on the body, make it look quite different. But I got the feeling only a few of us in the audience cared about such details, or whether the car actually represented progress.

Most just knew it would be great because it was the latest Vette. How could it be other than fantastic? A great American tradition was continuing - enough said. On this occasion, few (even those wearing Chevy badges) knew much of the boring stuff, such as pricing, specification and launch dates. Which was fine because even fewer seemed to care.

Gulf widens between the haves and the have-nots

Posted: 14 Jan 2013 12:16 AM PST

Recent job announcements from Honda and JLR don't cancel each other out, but underline the pace of change in the industry

Amazing how quickly this industry gives and takes. Last Thursday morning Honda announced it was axing 800 jobs in the UK. Just four days later, here at the Detroit motor show, Jaguar Land Rover has announced it is creating a further 800 as part of its ongoing recruitment drive.

Of course, it's not nearly as simple as saying the two balance out, but it does once again underline the growing divide between the haves and the have-nots in the car industry at the moment.

Honda, so proud that it has never previously issued a single compulsory redundancy in Swindon, clearly sees fighting in the middle-market morass of Europe's depressed market with a mediocre product line as leaving it with a long-term problem to overcome.

Jaguar Land Rover, in contrast, clearly feels its time has come. Zeitgeist products like the Evoque and upcoming F-type help, as does a powerful, wealthy backer, but so too does its positioning in the fractious global market.

It's hard to remember a time of such divide, and such an accelerated pace of change. The only certainty is that by the time Europe recovers – something even optimists say is a year away – the car industry will look very different indeed.

BMW Z2 roadster plotted

Posted: 13 Jan 2013 10:00 PM PST

New compact roadster to spearhead BMW's 23-model front wheel-drive offensive

A sleekly styled roadster is set to spearhead BMW's keenly awaited entry into the front-wheel drive ranks in 2015. The model, named Z2 internally, will give BMW an image-building model upon which to establish an extensive range of new entry-level front-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive offerings.

The compact two-seat Z2 could sell for as little as £15,000. A low entry price is made possible by economies of scale because the Z2 is one of up to 23 BMW and Mini models that will be based on the firm's new UKL1 platform from 2014 onwards.

"We are considering a car in the spirit of the original Z3," an official with knowledge of BMW's new model programme revealed. "It is of similar size to the E36/7 [the codename for the Z3 produced between 1996 and 2002] but is planned to use the front-wheel drive platform to keep costs down and achieve a margin level that ensures it is sustainable at comparatively low production volumes."

Set to occupy a market niche beneath the existing Z4 roadster, the new BMW is planned to provide buyers with an alternative to the upcoming fourth-generation Mazda MX-5, with a limited range of petrol engines. While it's still early days, the Z2 is expected to be twinned with a successor to today's Mini Coupé/Roadster pairing, due out in 2017.

In top-of-the-line form, the new BMW roadster could benefit from a new aluminium-block 2.0-litre turbocharged engine with as much as 300bhp. This model would be sold under BMW's M Performance line and is likely to get all-wheel drive.

The reference to the Z3 suggests that BMW's new roadster will be little more than 4000mm in length, 1700mm in width and about 1250mm in height. Unlike the larger Z4, it is also expected to come with a simple fabric hood with standard manual operation in a move that promises to keep weight in check.

The long-mooted move to front-wheel drive is a revolution for BMW. The company has forged its widely envied reputation for producing some of the world's most sought-after driver's cars around traditional rear-wheel drive platforms, often going to great lengths in marketing campaigns to extol the dynamic benefits associated with such a layout.

But with its line of modern-day Mini models having successfully proven that front-wheel drive is no barrier to driving enjoyment, officials believe that the radical change in engineering philosophy will be crucial in attracting younger customers to the BMW brand in coming years.

"We are moving with the times to diversify our customer base," said an engineering source. "There is no reason why a front-wheel-drive car can't offer a similar dynamic experience to a rear-wheel-drive car. The advancement of various driving aids, with features such as electronic differentials, virtually eliminates the influence of drive forces on the steered wheels when done properly."

BMW's board members are considering a total of 23 new front-drive models proposed for introduction by the end of the decade. Twelve of them could eventually use the BMW name and 11 are conceived to carry the Mini badge.

As well as using front-wheel drive, each new model can offer optional four-wheel drive should the market and the model in question demand it. As with today's Mini Countryman, the four-wheel drive capability comes by way of a Haldex-style multi-plate clutch.

The first in BMW's bold new front-drive model push will be the 1-series GT, the production version of the Concept Active Tourer unveiled at the 2012 Paris show. It is tentatively planned to be revealed at the Geneva motor show in 2014.

But while the 1-series GT is highly anticipated, it is the secret new two-seat roadster that officials are banking on to provide an image boost to its future line-up of front-wheel-drive models.

BMW's decision to forge ahead with a range of price-leading front-wheel-drive models stems directly from internal marketing studies that reveal the majority of customers at the lower end of its line-up are, in the words of one insider, "not particularly concerned whether their next car uses a transverse-mounted engine and front-wheel drive or a longitudinally mounted engine and rear-wheel drive".

VW's Chinese budget car due in 2015

Posted: 13 Jan 2013 07:47 PM PST

Development work on the £5400 model could be finished this year, with production starting in late 2015

Development work on Volkswagen's proposed £5400 super-budget car is well underway, according to Ulrich Hackenberg VW's technical chief. It will significantly undercut both the new Up city car, which has been designed for more affluent Western European drivers, and the new Chinese-market Jetta saloon, which retails from £7500.

Speaking before the opening of the Detroit motor show, Hackenberg told Autocar that his engineering teams were still working on hitting the cost targets for the new car. 'It's a tough job, but not impossible, and we've got the experience to do it. We're still working to get to the targets.'Hackenberg revealed that 'if the design is finalised this year, we can launch the car in two years'. He confirmed that the car - which will eventually come in different body styles depending on the local market - would have a new brand name.

In order to drive costs as low as possible, Hackenberg told Autocar that not only would the car have to be built and partly-engineered in a low-cost country, but the materials would have to be sourced locally, and even the 'second and third tier' components would have to be localised. 

At the moment, VW bosses are concentrating on the creating the first version of the ultra-budget car for China, where it would also be built. A second version of the car would probably be engineered for India where it would also be locally produced. No details were forthcoming about the platform being used for the car, but it might exploit existing VW technology, such as some elements of the new Chinese-market Jetta, which uses the front structure of the current Polo.

Hackenberg cautioned that the car might have premium technology, but would be 'good quality'. 'This car is not just about fulfilling the need for mobility. It has to have good styling and the owner should be able to upgrade the specification over time. The owner wants to be proud of the car.' 

Local considerations for China could include a wider range of colours and some bright trim work to enhance the appearance. 'It doesn't want to look too cheap' Hackenberg told Autocar. VW is also working on a cost-effective way to allow smartphone integration into the car, despite the model's simplicity.

The new budget range is expected to be signed off later this year, with the first production cars appearing in late 2015. In the medium term, it looks unlikely that car would be sold in Western Europe and, if it was, it would not be exported from China.

Detroit motor show: 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

Posted: 13 Jan 2013 04:01 PM PST

The Stingray badge returns to the Chevrolet Corvette for the seventh-generation of the iconic American sportscar

The all-new 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, the seventh-generation of America's most iconic sports car, is the homegrown star of the Detroit motor show.

The new 450bhp 6.2-litre V8-powered Stingray is the most powerful standard version of the 'Vette ever in its sixty-year history, and is also the most advanced yet with technology including a lightweight aluminium structure, part-carbonfibre bodywork and a seven-speed manual gearbox. The Stingray name also returns to the Corvette for the first time since 1976.

While the look and shape of the new 4495mm long, 1877mm wide and 1235mm high Stingray is instantly recognisable as Corvette despite its new international flavour, the technology underneath breaks new ground for the the front-engined, rear-drive sports car.

At the heart of Stingray is a completely reworked version of General Motors' familiar 6162cc small-block V8. The 450bhp direct-injection LT1 aluminium engine with continuously variable valve timing also produces 450lb ft, with low-end torque between 1000-4000rpm said to match that of the larger 7.0-litre LS7 V8 from the current Corvette Z06.

The engine, which is also said to be more efficient than ever, can be hooked up to either a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters or a new seven-speed manual, only the second gearbox of its type after the Porsche 911. This transmission has an 'Active Rev Match' system that automatically blips the throttle to match the engine speed for both upshifts and downshifts. 

No performance figures for the Stingray have been revealed, but insiders have said a 0-60mph time of less than 4.0sec is expected.

Chevrolet has confirmed a new 'Drive Mode Selector' with five distinct driving modes: Weather, Eco, Tour, Sport, and Track. This selector controls and changes 12 different attributes, including throttle response, steering feel and the traction control system. 

The steel underbody structure of the current C6 sixth-generation model is eschewed for a new aluminium structure that's 57 per cent stiffer and 45kg lighter. The use of carbonfibre for the bonnet and removable roof panel, and other composite materials for the key body panels, helps shed a further 17kg off the old model.

Chevrolet has not announced a kerb weight, but these weight savings in the body along with further weight saving for components including the suspension and engine will ensure it comes in below 1400kg, enough to give a better power to weight ratio that standard versions of the Porsche 911 and Audi R8.

The short/long-arm double wishbone suspension design with transverse composite 'leaf' springs carries over from the C6 model, but every component is new and has been lightened. In fact, in the whole car, only two parts have carried over between the sixth and seventh generations.

A big improvements is said to be offered to the steering through a variable ratio electric power steering system that's said to be five times stiffer than the system fitted to the C6, with big improvements to the feel as a result.

The sum of all these chassis changes, along with a 25mm longer wheelbase and wider tracks over the old C6, claims Chevrolet, is a car with 50/50 weight distribution, and greatly improved high-speed ability and ride and handling.

Further dynamic potential in the chassis can be unlocked through an optional Z51 Performance Package. The package includes the third-generation of Magnetic Ride Control, an electronic limited-slip differential, a bespoke aero package and improved cooling.

Chevrolet is also making great noises about the interior, which is the most premium and sophisticated ever on a Corvette. High-qulaity trims include hand-wrapped leather, carbonfibre and aluminium, while two 8in touchscreens control most interior functions. The seats also feature magnesium frame for greater strength but reduced weight.

The new Stingray is set to make it to the UK though official imports by Chevrolet in left-hand drive later this year, priced just above £50,000.

Detroit motor show: VW Group reveals record sales

Posted: 13 Jan 2013 03:32 PM PST

Strong December sales key to record-breaking performance

The Volkswagen Group sold a record 9.07m cars in 2012, 11.2 per cent up on 2011.

The company's performance finished very strongly, with 784,000 vehicles sold in December, up 20.7 per cent on the same month in 2011. These figures were revealed on Sunday on the eve of the Detroit motor show by VW brand bosses.

The Volkswagen brand shifted 5.74m vehicles, Audi 1.45m, Skoda 939,000, Seat 321,000, Porsche 141,000, Bentley 8500 and Lamborghini 2100 units. No figures were released for Bugatti. Some 550,000 commercial vehicles were sold globally. All the VW brands saw sales increases, aside from Seat which was down 8 per cent. 

Porsche's 2012 sales increase measured 18.7 per cent, underpinned by 74,763 Cayenne models and 25,475 911s. Porsche boss Matthias Müller said that production of the new Macan SUV would 'ramp up' by the end of 2013, as would the 918 Spyder hybrid supercar. Bentley, which has recovered from its significant dip during the credit crunch is aiming to be back in five figures in 2013.

Detroit motor show 2013 - live pics

Posted: 13 Jan 2013 02:01 PM PST

The first major motor show of 2013 is underway, and Autocar is there to bring you news of all the show stars as they are uncovered

The 2013 edition of the Detroit motor show is underway, and Autocar is live at the Cobo Center to bring you news and pictures of all the big show stars.

More than 50 world debuts are promised at the year's first major motor show, with the home-grown star set to be the seventh-generation Corvette C7.  Chevrolet is also using its home show to showcase its revised Silverado pick-up, while fellow Detroit firm Ford is preparing to unveil a new concept version of the Silverado's great rival, the F-150.

The real-world hero of the show is set to be the Mercedes CLA, a swoopy now four-door that takes its inspiration from the larger CLS. Other star cars are set to include the Infiniti Q50 and new Lexus IS, Japan's latest attempts to take on the BMW 3-series.

The usual array of performance cars are also in attendance, with Audi showcasing its new RS6 and RS7 models, Bentley showing off its new 200mph-plus drop-top Bentley Continental GT Speed and Porsche unveiling its fastest and most expensive Cayenne yet, the Turbo S.

At the other end of the scale are new eco heroes, including the coupe version of the Chevrolet Volt, the Cadillac ELR, and the first major round of revisions to the Nissan Leaf. The Tesla Model X will also make its show debut, almost one year after being unveiled online.

Concept cars are also out in force at the show, with the main headlien grabber being the BMW 4-series coupe. Hyundai and Kia are both expected to show off new saloon concepts, while VW will show its vision for a new seven-seat SUV for the US market.

Keep checking over the next few days as the covers come off all of the show stars in Detroit, where Autocar's team of reporters and photographers will be on hand to make sure you don't miss any of the action.

Uncle Sam continues love affair with VW

Posted: 13 Jan 2013 12:34 PM PST

The Volkswagen Group is performing well in America, but its clear there is still much to do

I didn't fly straight to Detroit for the auto show but, instead, bounced through New York (almost literally: I spent around five minutes on NY pavements) to see sales presentations by three of VW Group's brands. 

First off, in the obligatory converted lower Manhattan industrial building, was Lamborghini. 2012 was good to the brand. It shifted 2083 cars around the world, up 30 per cent on last year's total of 1602. European sales were up 34 per cent at 608 units and US sales up around 50 per cent at 562 units.  

Lambo boss Stephan Winklemann told us the Gallardo has become the company's all-time best-seller, with a total of 13,000 being sold so far and 1162 in 2012 alone. An amazing 922 Aventadors were in 2012 and the car is sold out for 2013. 

All of which is good going in a market niche that's well down. What Lambo calls the global 'super sportscar market' saw sales of 35,600 cars in 2007 and bottomed out at 20,200 units during the global crunch. However, despite the the total car market recovering well, this niche only hit 25,000 units in 2012. Much of the blame lies with Europe, which saw 'super sports car' sales of 15,400 in 2007 dwindling down to around 8600 in 2012.   

Winklemann remains cautious about the prospects for the niche because it is so sensitive to the prevailing 'mood'. Indeed, sales in the company's Italian home market remain down 50 per cent because of the recent crackdown on tax avoidance. Some supercar owners were rumoured to have been investigated by Italian tax authorities.  

Winklemann also revealed the highly attractive Urus SUV concept was never intended to go on sale before 2017, even if it does finally get the green light. Because "the VW Group has to decide where to put its money" a final decision will be made by the end of 2013. 

A short hop on a coach took us to Manhattan's car dealer district were the new flagship Volkswagen and Audi dealerships sit opposite Mini, BMW and others. Volkswagen, not so long ago nearly non-existent in the US, is delighted with 2012's results. Sales hit 438,000 units, up sharply from 258,000 in 2010. 39 per cent of those sales are of the Jetta saloon and 29 per cent the Passat. The Golf GTI and Golf R - the only two Golf models sold in the US - account for just 9 per cent of sales. 

Next door at Audi's glossy showroom, there was more good news, but from a rather lower base. 140,000 Audis found homes in 2012, up from 120,000 last year and just 80,000 in 2003. The biggest seller is the A4 followed closely by the Q5.  

I pointed out to Audi's cheerleader that Audi UK managed to sell around 123,000 cars in a new car market of two million vehicles, while Audi's US arm managed just 140,000 in a new car market of 14.4m vehicles. It seems a remarkable contrast. The cheerleader assured me that Audi was competing in the US's 'upper import segment' - which includes Mercedes, Infiniti and Lexus - and that segment accounted for just 1.4m cars per year. 

However, with Audi shifting 1.455m cars globally in 2012, it shows just how much room there is for improvement in the important US market.

Detroit motor show: Mercedes-Benz CLA

Posted: 11 Jan 2013 09:59 AM PST

Four-door Mercedes CLA coupé arrives in the UK in May, priced from £25k, followed by a 349bhp AMG version

Mercedes-Benz has lifted the veil on its eagerly awaited CLA, revealing a strikingly styled entry-level four-door coupé that's set to the reach the UK in May.

The CLA is little changed visually from the well-received Concept Style Coupé, which was shown as a precursor to the new car early last year.

The CLA was revealed for the first time at a closed-door media reception prior to the Detroit motor show. The new model will enter the Mercedes line-up beneath the C-class at a starting price of about £25,000, or £3000 above corresponding A-class models.

The first public outing for the CLA will be at this week's Berlin Fashion Week, where it is set to play a prominent role as part of a broad-based marketing campaign that intends to see the CLA projected into a new segment for Mercedes.

Sales and marketing boss Joachim Schmidt said: "This car gives us the chance to draw in a huge number of customers we didn't have access to before, especially in markets where the A-class isn't sold. 

"It will be the foundation if our future growth, appealing to Generation Y buyers and those young at heart. In particular those Generation Y buyers will bring down the average age of our customers, and also most likely, be conquest customers from other brands. That is why CLA is do important to us and represents a cornerstone of our growth ambitions."

Among the CLA's rivals will be the Volkswagen Jetta, soon-to-be-revealed Audi A3 saloon and a secret BMW 1-series saloon currently undergoing development and due for launch in 2015.

Developed under the internal codename C117, the CLA is the third model to be based on Mercedes' new modular front-wheel-drive platform. It follows on from the second-generation B-class and third-generation A-class, with which it shares its mechanical package, electric architecture and interior appointments. 

Unlike the more traditionally styled C-class, with its longitudinally mounted engines and rear-wheel drive, the CLA uses a transverse engine and front-drive layout. Selected models will also be offered with optional 4Matic four-wheel drive in the UK, including a yet-to-be-revealed CLA45 AMG range-topper that packs a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine with 349bhp.

Inspiration for the new Mercedes saloon can be traced to the larger CLS, with which the CLA shares its heavily sculptured exterior design. Mercedes design boss Gorden Wagener describes the new car as a "design rebel" and suggests that its exterior will influence the look of future models, including the mechanically identical GLA junior off-roader set to be launched later this year (see separate story, p13). 

At 4630mm in length, 1777mm in width and 1437mm in height, the CLA is 40mm longer, a scant 7mm wider and 43mm lower than the existing C-class. However, the C-class is set to grow dramatically in its next incarnation as part of a significant realignment of the Mercedes line-up brought about by a decision to pursue sales more aggressively in the world's two largest markets, China and North America.

Mercedes is talking up the aerodynamic properties of its sleek new entry-level saloon. It claims an overall drag coefficient (Cd) of 0.22 for an upcoming CLA180 BlueEfficiency Edition model that will go on sale in some markets from June, although its UK launch has yet to be confirmed. Its 0.22 Cd represents a record for a series-production car. Regular models have a Cd of 0.23.

The initial UK line-up for the CLA is likely to use only the A-class and B-class ranges' more potent four-cylinder powerplants to reflect its more premium positioning. 

A 120bhp four-cylinder 1.6-litre engine, developed in cooperation with Renault, will power the base C180 model. A turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol powerplant with 208bhp will appear in the initial range-topping CLA250. The sole diesel model at launch will be the CLA220 CDI, powered by a 168bhp 2.1-litre turbodiesel. 

Other engines will follow, including a highly tuned turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder developed by AMG. Said to boast a specific output of over 174bhp per litre, it is set to provide the upcoming four-wheel-drive CLA45 AMG with a BMW-M135i-topping 349bhp.

All engines are mounted transversely and, on initial models, drive the front wheels through either a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. A 4matic four-wheel drive option, which uses a Haldex-style multi-plate clutch to apportion power to each wheel, will be offered but not from the start of sales.

The CLA uses the same suspension system and chassis geometry as the A-class, although the rear axle carrier has been tuned to provide what is described as a "unique dynamic character".

The aluminum-intensive arrangement uses MacPherson struts up front and multi-links at the rear. Two set-ups will be offered: Sport and Comfort. Sport lowers the ride height by 20mm up front and 15mm at the rear for added body control. 

The steering uses electro-mechanical assistance and, in combination with the ESP stability control, is capable of providing counter steer to improve stability in strong side winds and road surfaces that offer differing levels of grip.

Mercedes has provided the CLA with a raft of safety systems and claims that it will achieve a five-star EuroNCAP rating. Standard-fit systems include drowsiness-detecting Attention Assist and radar-based Collision Prevention Assist that helps to boost braking from a speed of 4mph to avoid or reduce the severity of impacts. A full roster of airbags features adaptive deployment for the front 'bags.

Optional safety systems include Distronic Plus, which complements Collision Prevention Assist and is engineered to provide autonomous braking at speeds of up to 124mph. Buyers can also specify the new saloon with Adaptive Highbeam Assist and a so-called Tracking Package that brings blind-spot and lane-keeping assistance.

CLAs bound for the UK will not be available with basic trim. Instead, Mercedes plans to offer the new car here in Sport and AMG Sport trim.

Detroit motor show: Volkswagen Passat Performance Concept

Posted: 11 Jan 2013 09:55 AM PST

New Volkswagen concept created to explore the sporty side of the US market Passat

This is the Volkswagen Passat Performance Concept, being showcased by Volkswagen today at the Detroit motor show.

Based on the US market Passat, it is designed to "explore the sporty side" of the four door saloon - according to Volkswagen. The Performance Concept is fitted with the 247bhp 1.8-litre turbocharged four cylinder engine already available in the European model.

Lowered sports suspension and revised electro-mechanical power steering are the limit of the performance enhancements.

The Performance Concept is visually differentiated from the production Passat by unique 19-inch alloy wheels, bi-xenon headlights and LED taillights, and carbon-effect wing mirror housings.

Inside the dashboard is swathed in carbon-effect material and the seats are upholstered in two-tone leather. Black headlining gives a cosseting feel and completes the makeover.

The Passat Performance Concept is being shown in conjunction with the launch of the R-Line trim level in the United States. It will first be offered on the Tiguan and Toureg off-roaders and will include sporty styling queues as well as gloss black and brushed metal interior trim finishes.

Daljinder Nagra

JLR creates 800 new jobs on back of record sales

Posted: 11 Jan 2013 06:59 AM PST

Global sales up 30 per cent on 2011 to 357,773 units, with new jobs to follow at Solihull

Jaguar Land Rover's global sales reached record levels in 2012. A total of 357,773 JLR vehicles were sold around the world last year, a 30 per cent increase on 2011, its previous best-ever year for sales.

The announcement has been accompanied by news that JLR will be employing 800 extra staff at its Solihull plant, to "support new model programmes throughout 2013", understood to principally include the new Range Rover Sport.

Land Rover was the star performer in the group, its sales rising 36 per cent on 2011, although JLR has not provided an exact breakdown on the split between Jaguar and Land Rover.

But with Land Rover having sold 223,600 units in 2011, the rise indicates it comfortably breached the 300,000-unit barrier for the first time. Jaguar's sales were up six per cent on 2011's 50,700 units, rising to just below an estimated 54,000.

The Range Rover Evoque was the group's best-performing model, selling 108,598 units in its first full year on sale.

China is now JLR's largest market. It sold 71,490 units there in 2012, a 70 per cent rise. The UK is the second largest (68,333), followed by the US (55,675), Russia (20,549) and Germany (16,722).

JLR was not the only group or brand to have so far reported record sales in 2012. Last year was also a record one for BMW, Volkswagen, Skoda, Audi and Porsche.

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