Thursday, November 29, 2012

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Autocar Online - News

VW's seven seat SUV here "in three years"

Posted: 29 Nov 2012 04:10 AM PST

Firm looking for Ford Explorer rival for US and Russian markets

The forthcoming VW budget seven-seat SUV will make production within three years, but it is likely to be only sold in the US and Russian markets.

The Ford Explorer rival will be built on the larger MQB platform that will also underpin the next generation Passat, according to VW USA boss Jonathan Browning, and would sit below the Touareg in the VW range. 

"The problem we have is that the Touareg is our current competitor in the class, but it is smaller and more expensive than the likes of the Explorer," said Browning. "That category of car is one of the biggest for sales in the US, so we are pushing to get a large family-oriented SUV in that sector."

Volkswagen wants to become the world's largest car maker by the end of the decade, and is attempting to develop new vehicles to for market sectors it doesn't yet compete in.

VW to kill off Eos

Posted: 29 Nov 2012 03:37 AM PST

Folding hardtop to be replaced by a larger cabrio

The VW Eos is likely to be discontinued in its current form and be replaced by a larger soft-top, according to VW head of design Klaus Bischoff.

Speaking at the launch of the VW Beetle Cabriolet in LA, which joins the Eos and Golf in VW's open-top line-up, Bischoff revealed: "The Eos will not be prolonged when it comes off the market. Retractable hardtops are disappearing from the market now, and to be honest that's not something I mind."

Bischoff confirmed plans to build a larger, full-size four-seater convertible were underway as one of 100 design studies his team is currently working on.

"There's definitely room in our line-up for a larger convertible, so why not do it?" he said at the LA motor show. "The problem with such ambitions is that all our existing factories are at full capacity, so any new additions means building new factories."

Aston Martin confirms equity talks

Posted: 28 Nov 2012 05:02 PM PST

Aston's bond holders are told talks regarding a deal are underway; reports suggest Mahindra & Mahindra is favourite to land £250m deal for 40 per cent of the company

Aston Martin has confirmed that it is in advanced talks with investors for an equity injection.

A document sent to bond holders in the firm today reported: "Aston Martin, with the support of its shareholders, confirms that discussions are at an advanced stage to secure a capital increase which will ensure it can deliver its medium and long-term growth plans."

Both Indian conglomerate Mahindra & Mahindra and Italian buyout firm Invest Industrial are reported to be vying to invest in Aston, with the former offering a significantly greater cash injection and the latter offering less financial support but a technical partnership with Mercedes and AMG.

Initial reports suggested that Invest Industrial were favourites to secure the £250m deal, but sources now suggest that Mahindra & Mahindra has moved ahead in negotiations and is the favoured partner. The winning bidder is expect to own 40% of the company and have 50% of the voting rights.

Financial analysts are reporting that the admission to bond holders that talks are underway signals that a deal is likely to be imminent, and could be concluded within a week.

Bentley enjoys 2012 sales upswing

Posted: 28 Nov 2012 03:14 PM PST

Helped by encouraging customer interest in the US, the Crewe marque has already surpassed 2011's global sales figures

Bentley has already surpassed last year's sales in 2012, and company chiefs have hailed its growing US market share as one of the key factors behind its success.

The Crewe-based company has shown off its Continental GT3 racing car and Continental GT Speed at the Los Angeles motor show. The 205mph GT Speed – Bentley's fastest production car ever – is appearing officially in the US for the first time.

Bentley continues to see strong sales growth this year with all models contributing to the uplift.

"2012 looks set to be another strong year for Bentley and last week we exceeded the total sales figure from 2011," said Bentley's sales, marketing and aftersales boss Kevin Rose at the LA show.

"The US market is playing a crucial role in our success. We continue to show double-digit growth and, at the end of Quarter 3, had seen a 25 per cent increase in global sales with 5969 cars delivered to customers. Of these, 1750 of them were sold here in the US.

"That makes the Americas our largest market, with a 29 per cent increase in sales year-on-year."

Red Bull and Infiniti plot performance road car

Posted: 28 Nov 2012 02:55 PM PST

Extended F1 partnership will see Red Bull working on an extreme Infiniti passenger car

The long-vaunted Red Bull F1 developed Infiniti high-performance car project is likely to reach fruition following the extension of the pairing's motorsport partnership.

Following Sebastian Vettel's third world title victory in Brazil last weekend, Infiniti and Red Bull announced a four-year extension of their partnership, with Infiniti moving up from being a sponsor to being a headline partner of the team, which will be renamed Infiniti Red Bull Racing. The deal includes a technical partnership, with Infiniti providing technical help on selected projects, which are thought to include the team's KERS system, and the possibility of Red Bull working on a road car project.

"It's on the table to do a proper high-performance edition of one of our cars, with the F1 team taking technical leadership on the project," said Simon Sproule, Infiniti's communications boss, at the LA motor show.

"At the moment it is nothing more than a discussion, but it's clear that the team would like to use its expertise in areas beyond F1, and we'd like to do something performance wise with them. The opportunity is there for the future now we have a long-term partnership and established working relationship in place."

Sproule stressed that any project would be based around an existing product, and that it would only go ahead with direct involvement from Red Bull, rather than using it as a badging exercise. The Infiniti FX Vettel edition was launched last year off the back of the team's partnership and world title success, but Red Bull and Vettel had only limited input in to the car's set up and design.

LA motor show: Ford Transit Connect

Posted: 28 Nov 2012 01:05 PM PST

Six and seven-seat models for US market

Ford has launched the new Tourneo Connect at the LA Motor Show for the North American market, where it replaces the 10-year old Transit Connect.

To be badged as a Transit, the Connect will be available as a five and a seven seater, and will come with a choice of two petrol engines – a 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo and a 2.5-litre four pot - both of which are mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox. No diesels are planned yet.

The Connect is aimed squarely at private buyers who want space and seats, and it's being pitched as an alternative to an MPV or an estate car. The last generation Connect was marketed as much more of a commercial vehicle in the US.

LA motor show: Porsche Cayman

Posted: 28 Nov 2012 12:05 PM PST

Longer, lower, faster and lighter - new Cayman unveiled in Los Angeles

The renewal of Porsche's sportscar line up continues apace with the unveiling of a larger and lighter second-generation Cayman at the Los Angeles motor show.

The new mid-engined coupé adopts a redesigned platform offering improved weight distribution as well as a series of weight saving measures that are claimed to result in a lighter car than its predecessor.

Sister car to the Boxster, which it will be built with at Porsche's Zuffenhausen factory (and eventually the old Karmann factory in Osnabruck), the new Cayman receives slightly different proportions in a move that serves to stretch its silhouette and provide the basis for a larger cabin. Length is up by 35mm, width extends by a scant 1mm while height drops by 10mm over its predecessor at 4380mm, 1801mm and 1295mm respectively.

The Cayman once again shares its styling with the Boxster. Distinguishing features include daytime running lights and indicators housed within a round unit, more pronounced rear haunches and a heavily angled liftback style tailgate at the rear.

As with its roadster sibling, the new coupé adopts an edgier appearance than its predecessor, with tauter surfacing and crisper lines, including a distinctive swage running through the doors and into larger cooling ducts ahead of the rear wheel arches. As part of Porsche's focus on weight saving, the body is predominantly aluminium. As on all recent Porsche models, the exterior mirrors are mounted on the doors rather than within the glasshouse. The wheelhouses have also increased in size, allowing Porsche to fit the range topping Cayman S with 19 inch wheels as standard and offer 20 inch rims as an option.

Inside, there is a higher quality interior with added levels of accommodation. The two seat layout remains, but a longer cabin provides greater levels of seat adjustment and improved storage. Porsche claims 150 litres of luggage space in the nose and a further 162 litres at the rear in the space above the engine.

As with the Boxster, the new Cayman will be sold with the choice of two flat six engines: a new 2.7-litre and a reworked version of the existing 3.4-litre. Buyers will also be able to choose between two gearboxes: a standard six speed manual or a seven speed dual clutch unit, which can idle the engine and disengage the clutch on a trailing throttle for to save fuel.

The 2.7-litre unit replaces the older 2.9-litre engine, producing an added 10bhp but 7lb ft less torque, with 275bhp and 214lb ft. It is sufficient to propel the  1310kg Cayman to 62mph in 5.7sec and up to a top speed of 165mph, while delivering a combined fuel consumption of 34.5mpg and  CO2 emissions of 192g/km, with the standard six-speed gearbox.  The dual clutch gearbox extends performance and reduces consumption and emissions, with official claims of 5.4sec, 164mph, 36.7mpg and 180g/km.

It will be joined from the outset by the reworked 3.4-litre engine. It delivers 5bhp more but the same level of torque as the old unit, with 325bhp at 7400rpm and 273lb ft at 4500rpm.  This is enough to endow the 1320kg Cayman S with an official 0-62mph time of 5.0sec in six-speed manual form and 4.7sec with the dual clutch gearbox, together with corresponding top speeds of 176mph and  175mph. Fuel consumption is put at 32.1mpg and 35.3mpg respectively for the two gearboxes, with corresponding CO2 emissions of 206g/km and 188g/km.

Underpinning the new Porsche is the same aluminium intensive chassis used by the Boxster. It receives a 60mm increase in the wheelbase over the platform used by the outgoing first-generation Cayman at 2475mm. The tracks have also been extended by 36mm to 1526mm at the front and 5mm to 1540mm at the rear, giving it an even more confident stance.

As with the Boxster, the new car also adopts an electro-mechanical steering system and comes with the option of Porsche's PASM (Porsche Active Suspension Management) that offers differing damping, throttle and steering characteristics. The Cayman wears 18-inch wheels – 8 inches wide up front and 9 inches at the rear, shod with 235/45 and 265/45 tyres. The 19 inch wheels of the Cayman S are 8 inch wide up front and 9.5 inches at the rear and come with lower profile 235/40 and 265/40 rubber. The standard steel brakes are 315mm in diameter for the Cayman and 330mm for the Cayman S up front, with the two sharing the same 299mm rotors at the rear.

The reduction in height is said to provide a lower centre of gravity – something Porsche claims is at the heart of improvements in the Cayman's overall dynamic ability. Nothing is official just yet but insiders suggest the Cayman S is up to 10sec per lap faster around the Nürburgring than the old model.

LA motor show: Jaguar XFR-S

Posted: 28 Nov 2012 11:30 AM PST

Hardcore Jaguar XFR-S to hit 186mph and 0-62mph in 4.6sec; on sale next May at £80k

This is Jaguar's fastest ever saloon car: the new XFR-S, a more powerful, more hardcore version of the firm's XFR. It has been revealed at the Los Angeles motor show today.

The new super-saloon gets the 5.0-litre supercharged V8 from the XKR-S, which gives it 39bhp and 41lb ft more than the XFR. Although the XFR-S is the quickest saloon that Jaguar has built, the official performance figures indicate that it isn't quite as rapid as the more expensive XKR-S.

The saloon reaches 62mph in 4.6sec, whereas the coupé gets there in 4.4sec. However, it's likely that the car will, in real-world conditions, accelerate faster and produce a 0-62mph time approaching that of the coupé. 

In addition, the car's 0-100mph time is likely to be "below 9sec", according to Jaguar's chief vehicle engineer, Mike Cross. That would put it very close to the XKR-S's time of 8.6sec. Top speed is limited to 186mph.

Much of the work carried out in creating the XFR-S has its roots in the development of the F-type. "There's more F-type learning than there is XKR-S," said Cross. 

So the car has the F-type's Quickshift transmission, in place of the standard six-speed automatic. Quickshift was first unveiled in the new F-type and gives the XFR-S an eight-speed gearbox. 

Jaguar claims that Quickshift allows faster gearshifts than the standard automatic and enables the car to provide smooth changes in traffic and rapid shifting under harder driving. It features what Jaguar calls Corner Recognition, by which it can detect when the car enters a bend and hold the right gear for leaving the corner. Fitting Quickshift also means that Jaguar has been able to equip the XFR-S with stop-start. 

Jaguar's engineers have uprated the XFR's suspension to improve the car's handling. The suspension is 30 per cent stiffer than the XFR's, and spring rates have been increased by the same amount. XKR-S suspension components have been used at the front, along with new wheel bearings. The rear has a completely new subframe.

As with the XKR-S, the electronic control systems from the R model have been uprated. The Adaptive Dynamics programme (using continuously variable dampers to control body movements) has been altered so that damper rates are much firmer in Dynamic mode.  

In addition, the throttle responses have been changed, the electronic rear diff is reworked to allow for the increased torque output, and the traction control now allows the driver to push the car further before it intervenes, or it can be turned off altogether. 

The bespoke 20-inch wheels (available in gloss black) are 25mm wider than an XFR's at the rear and 12.5mm at the front. Tyres are, again, unique to the S, with 265/35s at the front and 295/30s at the rear. 

Much of the car's exterior changes have a beneficial aerodynamic or cooling effect. There are larger air intakes in the front splitter that also features a carbon section said to improve airflow at high speeds. A no-cost choice of two rear spoilers is offered, the larger one being standard. Jaguar claims a 68 per cent reduction in overall lift as a result of the modifications. 

Inside, the car gets what Jaguar calls "carbon-effect leather," used on R-S models only, and stitching in red, blue or ivory, which is repeated across the top of the dash. An R-S-model-only aluminium trim is fitted to the dash. 

Although Jaguar is not specifying the car's weight yet, it is expected to be very similar to an XFR's 1891kg. The use of carbon in the body and the lightweight construction of the larger wheels has helped to keep the weight down. 

The XFR-S will go on sale in May and will cost £79,995. 

Dan Stevens

LA motor show: VW Jetta Hybrid

Posted: 28 Nov 2012 11:01 AM PST

The Jetta Hybrid has been revealed in final production form and marks the first use of VW's 1.4-litre turbocharged engine in the USA

The full production version of the Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid has been revealed at the Los Angeles motor show – and although there are no plans to bring the car to the UK, its drivetrain will be used in the Golf Hybrid due in Europe next year.

First seen in near-final concept form at the Detroit motor show, the Jetta Hybrid is powered by a 148bhp 1.4-litre turbocharged TSI petrol engine and a 20kW electric motor, mated to a seven-speed DSG gearbox that drives the front wheels. 

According to the manufacturer's claims, the Jetta Hybrid's fuel consumption is about 20 per cent better than an equivalent petrol-powered vehicle, meaning it can achieve about 54mpg. The car can also cover 0-60mph in less than nine seconds.

Like Volkswagen's bigger Touareg Hybrid, the Jetta uses a decoupling clutch that can disengage the petrol motor for pure electric drive (or when coasting or braking), disengage the electric motor (for higher speeds or when the battery charge is low), or combine the two units for maximum power. The two power sources combine to give peak power of 168bhp.

Using electric power alone, the Jetta Hybrid can be driven at speeds of up to 44mph and over a distance of 1.3 miles, depending on conditions.

The lithium-ion battery pack that powers the electric motor is housed behind the rear seat bench. The Jetta Hybrid weighs 100kg more than the non-hybrid Jetta, at less than 1500kg in total.

Under braking, the Jetta Hybrid switches to a battery regeneration mode, which decouples the TSI engine and uses the electric motor as a generator. The generating power of the motor rises with increased brake pedal travel.

The interior is unchanged from existing Jettas, apart from a dash display that shows current drive mode, energy flow and battery charge.

Externally, the Jetta Hybrid can be identified by low-drag aerodynamic tweaks including a new front spoiler, a rear diffuser and a rear spoiler. There are also new headlights with LED running lights, LED rear lights and unique 15-inch alloy wheels with low rolling resistance tyres. It also gets a Volkswagen logo on a blue background and 'Hybrid' badges on the front wings and bootlid.

A newly designed exhaust system, an acoustic windscreen and thicker front side windows help to make this the quietest vehicle Volkswagen has ever offered in this class. 

LA motor show: green shoots of growth in the US

Posted: 28 Nov 2012 09:37 AM PST

In his keynote speech at the start of the Los Angeles motor show, Toyota's US sales boss, Jim Lentz, reported that the domestic market is looking up

It's official: the American car market is back, and delivering the sort of sales figures that manufacturers with a keen presence in the US can start getting excited about again.

In the opening keynote speech to the Los Angeles motor show this morning, Jim Lentz, president of sales for Toyota America, revealed that the US market is likely to be worth 14.3 million sales this year, up 1.5 million on last year. That acceleration is likely to continue, too, with sales back to their best of 16 million within three years.

This confidence stands in stark contrast to the continuing and deepening concerns regarding the European market, and worries prompted by the Chinese slowdown, albeit to a 'mere' predicted growth rate of eight per cent a year.

The US case is driven by three factors, according to Lentz. One, there's pent-up demand for new cars, with the average age of cars on America's roads hitting an all-time high of 11 years. Two, car loans are now available at record low rates. And three, survey data suggests that a whole generation once saddled by student loans and high unemployment is now emerging, financially stronger and eager for personal transport.

For car makers with a strong presence in the US, all this is great news, just as the growth in China has been for makers performing well there. But there should also be a note of caution, because for the manufacturers still rooted in Europe only, the situation is only going to look bleaker.

Having footholds in as many diverse economies has never been more important than now. Ask Ford, which is leaning on its US and Asian success, or Fiat, which is ever more thankful for its Chrysler share.

Diversity is key – and the makers without it, or too heavily invested in Europe, are on ever more shaky ground as booming markets elsewhere allow their competitors to reinvest faster and harder, and push the gap between the haves and the have nots ever wider.

LA motor show: Seven-seat Hyundai Santa Fe

Posted: 28 Nov 2012 09:30 AM PST

The seven-seater is an important car for Hyundai in the US, but there will be no UK sales for long-wheelbase Santa Fe

The new seven seat Hyundai Santa Fe will not be sold in the UK, company sources told Autocar at the car's Los Angeles motor show launch.

The new model is for the US market only, where it will be sold alongside the five-seat Santa Fe, badged Sport. Essentially the same vehicle, the longer car has an extra 100mm added to the wheelbase, increasing the length by 216mm.

Rear legroom is increased by 50mm, and there's the option of a second row of captain's chairs, which reduce occupancy to six. The third row is a split-fold bench seat. Although the Santa Fe won't be making its way over to this side of the Atlantic Ocean, it is a key offering for Hyundai in the US market.

Hyundai CEO John Krafcik said: "Our offerings at that size have previously held us back – the Entourage and Veracruz sold 20,000 between them, and while I won't state a goal here, we are confident that we now have a best-ever offering in the segment."

Krafcik also hinted that the Korean car maker might fall slightly short of its 2012 US sales target of 700,000 cars – but not for a lack of customer appetite for Hyundai products. They are currently on target, but can't build enough Accent or Veloster to meet demand.

"It's not a bad problem to have," admitted Krafcik.

LA motor show: Hyundai Veloster C3 Roll Top

Posted: 28 Nov 2012 09:30 AM PST

Full length sliding fabric roof for three-door coupé

Hyundai has unveiled this convertible three-door Veloster, the C3, at the LA motor show.

Described by Hyundai as a "roll top," the C3 features a full-length fabric roof and a tailgate, which is claimed to add practicality to the car, along with the folding seats, so surfboards or canoes can be slotted into the back.  It also means Hyundai has been able to retain the Veloster's asymmetric third door.

Hyundai has used some unusual materials to trim the car. The roof is made from the tarpaulin from a curtain side HGV trailer, while the boot floor and seatbacks are covered in sections of recycled skateboards.

Much of the car's exterior trim has been inspired by the customising culture that is centred around fixed-gear pushbikes. The deliberately mismatched mirror and rear wheel covers can be changed by the driver to alter the car's look, while the colour scheme was influenced by those found on fixed-wheel bikes.

The car is powered by Hyundai's 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine, with 184bhp and 195lb ft.

LA motor show: act one, take one

Posted: 28 Nov 2012 08:45 AM PST

Manufacturers are starting to turn to creating high-quality movies to enhance their images and help to sell more vehicles

I have a friend who works freelance in the film industry. This, it seems, can mean corporate videos one month and Hollywood films the next. From the outside, it's a business that seems remarkably flakey until the cheques are signed and then remarkably well organised. He showed me a 'call sheet' for an episode of Spooks which detailed a day's shooting in such incredible detail that even the actors had exact timings for arriving in make-up.

Last Saturday I was telling my filming friend how hopelessly mediocre the average corporate automotive film tends to be. Limp tracking shots on a winding Spanish road may look polished, but they are usually flat and unexciting. It is obvious that the effort going into corporate films is far less than the time and money expended on design and advertising campaigns. But with visual media now reaching into every smartphone, film is probably now the most important medium.

So, right on cue, I wake up in Los Angeles ahead of the motor show to find Jaguar is ahead of the curve with a teaser for a proper mini-blockbuster film all about the Jaguar F-type. Called 'Desire Teaser', it has been put together by Ridley Scott Associates, stars "Emmy Award winner" Damian Lewis and has a soundtrack by Lana Del Ray, who has been signed up by Jaguar for wider F-type promotion.

From the clip on YouTube, it looks impressively slick and big-budget. But can it help to reboot Jaguar's image, which is currently jammed in the US somewhere between the 1960s and Ohio country club chic? Jaguar is using the brand idea of a 'Modern British Invasion' – an update of the cultural 'British Invasion' of the US in the early 1960s, led by the Beatles and backed up, in the automotive sphere, by big sales of British sports cars.

Jaguar wants to recreate that early 1960s feeling of modernity and style and is betting heavily on the F-type changing the perceptions of potential buyers and, possibly more importantly, changing the perceptions of the young today, so they're much more likely to buy a Jaguar tomorrow.

I can't imagine what the budget for the film must have been. It might have been enough to pay for the development of another minor F-type derivative. But Jaguar's marketing bosses may well be right when they figure that, in the YouTube future, an image-building film will be far more effective than a record-breaking Nürburgring run when it comes to shifting the metal.

Latest Euro NCAP scores revealed

Posted: 28 Nov 2012 08:38 AM PST

Latest safety awards recognise advances in collision protection, with a disappointing showing from one manufacturer

Vehicle safety standards agency Euro NCAP has released crash-test results for 15 new cars, including the Dacia Lodgy, which managed a poor three-star rating.

All of the other cars tested scored the maximum five stars overall. The Lodgy came in for particular criticism for its lack of safety-assist technology, an area that has become an important feature in the crash test process.

Its low safety rating could prove disastrous to the Lodgy's success, should it ever come to the UK, as it has to contend with the exceptionally safe Renault Scenic and Citroën C4 Picasso in the family-oriented MPV market.

Dr Michiel van Ratingen, secretary general of Euro NCAP, said: "It is disappointing to see the Lodgy do badly in our tests, especially coming just a week after the Sandero, branded a Renault in South America, was given a poor one star rating by Latin NCAP. The Lodgy is a budget vehicle and customers will accept compromises in comfort and performance, but not safety. Euro NCAP believes that occupants' safety should be paramount, regardless of how much they pay for their vehicle."

Despite scoring 91 per cent for adult occupant protection, Land Rover has announced that it is to fit whiplash protection to the new Range Rover, the only area where protection was considered marginal.

The plug-in hybrid version of the Volvo V60 also performed well, matching the score of the conventionally powered model despite weighing some 350kg more.

The new Volkswagen Golf, Mercedes A-class and Ford Fiesta all received recognition for their high levels of on-board safety assist technology.

The Golf is equipped with a Multi Collision Brake System, which automatically brings the car to a halt after a collision, to reduce the potential for further damage. Its Proactive Occupant Protection system further mitigates potential injury by detecting an impending collision and preparing the car's active safety systems in readiness.

Despite this, the Golf scored a relatively low 71 per cent in the safety assist category, due to the omission of standard-fit rear seatbelt reminders.

Ford's MyKey technology was singled out for particular praise. The system allows owners to provide other drivers with a separate key, which can be programmed to limit top speed, prevent electronic safety systems from being turned off, as well as numerous other parameters.

The results in full:

Dacia Lodgy – Three stars

Fiat 500L – Five stars

Ford Fiesta – Five stars

Ford Kuga – Five stars

Hyundai Santa Fe – Five stars

Mercedes Benz A Class – Five stars

Mitsubishi Outlander – Five stars

Opel/Vauxhall Mokka – Five stars

Range Rover – Five stars

Seat Leon – Five stars

Seat Toledo – Five stars

Skoda Rapid – Five stars

Subaru Forester – Five stars

Volvo V60 Plug-In Hybrid – Five stars

VW Golf – Five stars

Daljinder Nagra

Pricing announced for new Hyundai i30

Posted: 28 Nov 2012 07:32 AM PST

Three-door hatch matches entry-level Focus

Hyundai's new three-door i30 will cost from £13,995 when it goes on sale in January, making it £1000 more expensive than the cheapest Vauxhall Astra but identical in price to the entry-level Focus - both rivals are five-door models. 

That buys you a Classic model with the 1.4-litre 98bhp petrol engine, and it comes with Bluetooth, voice recognition, steering-wheel controls for the stereo and body-coloured door handles.

Top of the range is the Sport Nav trim – the 1.6-litre diesel, with 126bhp, costs £19,990, and includes touchscreen sat-nav as well as a reversing camera.

LA motor show: Bentley Continental GT3

Posted: 28 Nov 2012 04:38 AM PST

Bentley's return to motor racing with the striking Continental GT3 will bolster its road car expertise, according to company chiefs

Bentley chiefs say the decision to return to top-line motor racing with a GT3-specification Continental will have a positive effect on development of its road car products.

Speaking on the eve of the Los Angeles motor show, where the Bentley Continental GT3 is being given its first official North American airing, engineering boss Rolf Frech told Autocar that production of the Crewe firm's race and road cars is closely linked.

"One of the major reasons for doing this project is to give our road car engineers some exposure to the quick-fire processes involved in building and racing cars," he said.

"They can bring knowledge from the road car side to the project, but it is also clear they can take back some of the knowledge of racing to the production line. Ten years after winning Le Mans in 2003, this kind of quick thinking and problem solving is something that is very relevant to the company."

The GT3 race car was first revealed at the Paris motor show and marks the return of Bentley to front-line GT and sports car racing. A road-going version of Bentley's new Continental GT3 race car is likely to follow. It could feature four-wheel drive, a pared-down but luxury interior and possibly a 700bhp W12 engine.

The sporty model is set to occupy a similar spot in Bentley's range to the old Supersports model and would command a similar price of just under £200,000.

Key details have yet to be finalised, but Bentley is understood to be looking at a production run of around 300 cars to be built over a 12-month period circa 2014-2015.

The FIA's GT3 rules allow a radically different race-car specification from the road version. Although the Bentley racer has a rear-wheel-drive layout with a rear-mounted transaxle gearbox, the road car is likely to retain the permanent four-wheel drive system that features on all current Continental models, a senior source revealed.

Insiders are talking about a Ferrari F12 Berlinetta-rivalling 700bhp as a potential power output.

Most insiders favour retaining the twin-turbo 6.0-litre W12 for the GT3 because it's the Continental's flagship engine. However, the newer twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 is also a possibility, a move that would create two sub-brands within the Continental range: W12 luxury and V8 performance, the latter topped by a V8 GT3. The race car's extreme rear wing and the rest of the aerodynamic package would be toned down for road use.

Bentley is considering a partly stripped-out interior, but with plenty of luxury remaining. However, a roll cage wouldn't feature, because it's considered too extreme for Bentley owners.

Autocar understands that the first racing versions of the Continental GT3 will be ready by next autumn, and will be entered by the manufacturer in endurance events such as the Spa 24 Hours. After that, the cars will be handed over to customers ahead of the 2014 racing season.

Although official sources are tight-lipped, it is rumoured that M-Sport, the Cumbrian company run by rally guru Malcolm Wilson, is assisting the factory with the build and development of the Continental GT3.

LA motor show: report and gallery

Posted: 28 Nov 2012 03:57 AM PST

Exclusive images of all the new concepts and production cars unveiled at the Los Angeles motor show

The Los Angeles motor show is one you'd struggle to mistake for another. For as California is the world's largest market for sports and performance cars, it is here where car manufacturers come to show off their latest powered up creations.

In the recent years of economic gloom, this approach has left the show feeling a bit guilty for itself, something heightened by the fact its late in the year scheduling has people looking backwards at the year almost gone rather than forwards at the new one imminent.

But as Toyota America's boss Jim Lentz revealed as he opened the 2012 edition of the LA motor show, the US new car market is rapidly growing. So the indulgence in performance cars can be done guilt free once again.

There was plenty to indulge in at the 2012 La motor show. Jaguar led the way with the global unveiling of its new XFR-S saloon, but the real news for the firm was the North American reveal of the F-type in what will be its largest market.

The F-type joined the new Range Rover from sibling firm Land Rover in a 'British Invasion' themed press conference and event on the eve of the show at the Paramount Studios. Land Rover has had its swagger back for a while now, but there was a genuine feeling among Jaguar executives that with the F-type, a model that should pave the way to future growth, it was now its time to shine.

Another big new sports car was the Porsche Cayman. All the words you want to hear when describing it next to its predecessor could be ticked off, lower, lighter and faster among them. It's now a looker too, something you couldn't accuse the first-generation Cayman of.

Over at Mercedes was the SLS Black Series, essentially a GT3 racer for the road. That was the brief AMG boss Ola Kallenius gave his engineers, and judging by the look of it and the spec sheet, it's something that they've succeeded in. Staying with the GT3 theme, Bentley brought along its Continental GT3 racer. How long until we see a road-going version of that?

Volvo brought along an unlikely – but most welcome – performance hero in the 508bhp S60 Polestar, something that, if it makes production, would give the firm a BMW M5 rival. The only downside is that Volvo hasn't committed to making it yet.

Volvo's previous owner Ford brought along a model with a fair few less horses but something still significant nonetheless in the era of downsizing: the Fiesta ST. It will be interesting to see if California takes to the small performance car the same way it has the small economical car.

At the other end of the scale away from the performance cars was a strong display for the Californian motor industry's other interest: green cars. And with the BMW i3 coupe, the Bavarian maker has perhaps created the most desirable alternatively fueled vehicle not wearing a Tesla or a Fisker badge. All-electric versions of the Chevrolet Spark and Fiat 500 also featured, but it was the 1.0-litre Ecoboost version of the Fiesta that piqued the interest the most. Surely this is a much more viable everyday option for cheap, economical and user-friendly small car motoring for the average Californian?

This being LA and California, there were the usual array of whacky design concepts, led on the Mercedes stand by the Ener-G-Force and Smart ForJeremy concepts. Another eye-catcher was a bicycle-inspired open-top version of the Hyundai Veloster.

With the growing prominence of expos in emerging markets, the motor show calendar is becoming more congested than ever. So it's up to shows like Los Angeles – one of four international motor shows in North America alone – to remain relevant and have their own niche.

It is California's love of performance cars, bold design concepts and fuel-sipping future technology that keeps the LA motor show's formula relevant, and will keep it prosperous for many years yet.

LA motor show: New Porsche Cayman pictured

Posted: 27 Nov 2012 05:47 PM PST

First images leak out ahead of an official reveal at the LA motor show on Wednesday evening

These are reported to be the first pictures of the new Porsche Cayman, which is scheduled to be unveiled at the Los Angeles motor show today.

The images appear to show the second-generation Cayman, which shares its lightweight aluminium body, roomier cabin and upgraded six-cylinder engines with its sister car, the Porsche Boxster.

The base Cayman engine will be a 2.7-litre flat six, downsized from the 2.9 in today's car. It's expected to produce about 280bhp, up from 262bhp in the 2.9. The Cayman S will get a 3.4-litre flat six with about 330bhp, up from 315bhp in today's car.

The new Cayman will be offered with a six-speed manual as standard and 
an optional seven-speed, 
dual-clutch auto gearbox.

Full technical details and official pictures are expected to be revealed around 8pm UK time tonight.

LA motor show: Acura RLX

Posted: 27 Nov 2012 09:34 AM PST

Premium executive saloon makes first appearance in production guise

Acura, Honda's predominantly US market premium brand, has lifted the covers on its latest executive saloon, the RLX, at the Los Angeles motor show.

Previously shown at this year's New York motor show in concept form, the production version is due to go on sale in the States early in 2013.

The RLX features a 306bhp 3.5-litre direct-injection V6 engine, mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and Honda's Precision All-wheel Steering system, which can adjust toe angles on individual wheels to tighten cornering lines and improve maneuverability. Both the engine and steering system are likely to make it onto Honda's forthcoming NSX supercar.

The new headlight arrangment, in which the LED units flank the grille, will be developed into a new Acura design theme.

Acura is aiming to steal sales from BMW and Mercedes with its new flagship saloon. The company claims that the RLX will have class leading interior space and safety performance, and has used acoustic glass and 'Amplitude' reactive dampers to improve refinement and ride comfort.

"It's the job of a flagship to establish the traits of the rest of the brand, so the RLX will exhibit first class comfort and quality, as well as an incredible driving experience," said an Acura spokesman.

A hybrid version of the RLX, featuring Honda's Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system, will join the range next year.

LA motor show: Fiesta ST makes US debut

Posted: 27 Nov 2012 04:40 AM PST

Second ST model for the States hopes to appeal to growing US small car market

The Ford Fiesta ST has made its US debut at the Los Angeles motor show.

The Fiesta is the second ST model to be launched in the US this year, following the Focus ST, which like its smaller stable-mate is now being sold as a 'global car' with the same major specification across all markets.

Unlike in Europe however, the Fiesta ST will be offered in the States in five-door guise only.

It's powered by Ford's 1.6-litre Ecoboost engine, with a six-speed manual the only transmission option. Developing 178bhp and 177lb ft, it will cover the 0-62mph sprint in under seven seconds before reaching a top speed of 136mph.

Chassis modifications over the standard Fiesta include increased roll stiffness and a 15mm drop in ride-height. The electro-mechanical steering has also been quickened to improve responsiveness.

Torque Vectoring Control (to help reduce understeer) and a three-mode electronic stability control program will allow drivers to tailor electronic assistance to their requirements.

On the outside, the ST benefits from a subtle body kit, a new chin and roof spoiler and side skirts. Chrome tipped dual-exhaust pipes and 17-inch alloys complete the makeover.

Inside, Recaro sports seats are fitted as standard, and Ford's 'MyKey' technology can be fitted, allowing performance to be limited for different drivers.

Ford is hoping that the Fiesta will appeal to US buyers looking to downsize. Not only will it return 34mpg on the combined cycle, but its power output compares favourably to its main market competitors, the Mini Cooper S and Chevrolet Sonic RS.

The Ford Fiesta ST is due to go on sale in the UK in the first half of 2013.

Daljinder Nagra

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