Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Autocar Online - News

Autocar Online - News

3p fuel duty increase scrapped

Posted: 05 Dec 2012 06:39 AM PST

Tax hike U-turn welcomed by motoring organisations

Chancellor George Osborne has scrapped the planned 3p increase in fuel duty, which was due to come into effect in January.

Announcing the move in his annual autumn address to the Commons, the Chancellor confirmed the planned tax-hike was being cancelled altogether, after it was originally expected that it would merely be postponed until April.

Institute of Advanced Motorists chief executive Simon Best welcomed the news, saying: "Cancelling the rise in fuel duty will help to keep Britain's economy moving. It's not just good news for motorists — from supermarket food deliveries to life-saving emergency services, the nation depends on its roads. This is a saving for everyone."

AA president Edmund King was similarly supportive of the move, and went on to highlight the increasingly untenable situation in which UK motorists found themselves: "In 20 years, UK motoring has cut its fuel consumption by 20% (12.8 billion litres), but contributes 144% more (£15.81 billion) in fuel duty tax."

Further good news for motorists could be on the way, as the Office of Fair Trading recently confirmed it is to investigate fuel suppliers for not passing on savings to buyers when the price of fuel falls.

Daljinder Nagra

First drive review: Dacia Sandero Stepway 1.5 dCi 90 Laureate

Posted: 05 Dec 2012 05:55 AM PST

Jacked-up treatment only enhances the value and appeal of mid and high-spec Sandero models The ruggedized version of the new-to-the-UK Dacia Sandero. Roughty-tufty off-road flavour certainly seems to work well for the Romanian budget brand. It makes the Duster a singularly unpretentious and likeable sort of machine. And on the Sandero Stepway, loosely termed a crossover supermini, it only serves enhance the sense of simple, functional value on offer.Mechanically, there isn't much that differentiates the Stepway. This is ostensibly a standard Sandero hatch with plastic wheelarch extensions, faux plastic scuff plates, standard roof bars and 40mm of extra ground clearance, the latter making up 207mm in all – enough for light off-road service.There's no part-time four-wheel drive here, no entry-level 1.2-litre engine and no pared-down Access trim level. Stepway prices start from £7995 – £600 more than an equivalent Sandero hatchback. But you also get more for your money with the entry-level 898cc petrol-engined Ambiance-trim crossover, which brings with it not only roof bars but also front fog lamps, body-coloured bumpers and mirrors, and metallic paint for no extra cost. The range-topping Laureate-spec 1.5-litre diesel Stepway we tested also comes with sat-nav and rear parking sensors thrown in, offsetting more than half of the £1000 premium you'll pay for it versus the equivalent hatchback.

First drive review: BMW M5 manual

Posted: 05 Dec 2012 04:41 AM PST

Analogue gearbox feels strangely mismatched to the very digital M5 saloon The latest F10-generation BMW M5 with a six-speed manual gearbox. You can't buy it in the UK, and BMW has no plans to import it, either.It uses the same six-speed gearbox as the 550i and sends the M5's 552bhp and 502lb ft through the same rear diff as the UK-spec car. The auto's final drive ratio of 3.15:1 is retained, too.The manual version dispenses with the auto's launch control system, and the transmission is fitted with what BMW describes as a "heavy-duty" clutch.

BMW M3 DTM Champion Edition unveiled

Posted: 05 Dec 2012 04:12 AM PST

BMW celebrates recent touring car success with a special edition M3

BMW has created the M3 DTM Champion Edition, a special version of the M3 coupé to celebrate winning the 2012 season of the DTM German touring car championship.

The M3 DTM keeps the standard car's 414bhp 4.0-litre V8. It goes on sale in Germany in February 2013 starting at €99,000 (£80,357). It will not be coming to the UK.

The DTM edition is finished in black metallic paint and comes with matt black wheels, dark chrome trim and BMW M stickers.

Inside, owners will find black leather, an alcantara-covered steering wheel and carbon fibre trim, which features the car's serial number and is signed by Bruno Spengler, winner of the drivers' title.

The M3 DTM doesn't scrimp on kit, being fitted with the Competition Package, which lowers the suspension and adds a sport mode to the damping. It is also fitted with sat nav, heated seats and rear parking sensors.

Only 54 examples are to be sold and buyers will be able to take advantage of BMW M driver training courses at the Nürburgring.

Matthew Burrow

Andreas Mikkelsen: my favourite roads

Posted: 05 Dec 2012 04:00 AM PST

Up hill, down dale and everything in between - Skoda works driver Andreas Mikkelsen tells us his favourite rally stages

What's your favourite piece of road? Is it fast, twisty, narrow or wide? Every enthusiast has an answer, but few can top a rally driver's answers for quality or variety. Mud, snow or tar, they've seen it all. Fast, technical, tree-lined or teetering on a precipice, they've done it. Always against the clock and in the heat of competition, they tackle the world's toughest roads in the world's most extreme road cars.

Skoda's double IRC champion, Andreas Mikkelsen, may only be 23, but he has six years of top-flight competition behind him. He's competed across the globe in a variety of cars, and his answer to the question tells you a lot about what motivates him. There are common themes in many of his answers – notably that the bigger and faster the challenge, the happier he is – but it's just as clear that to be a successful rally driver you need to be able to deliver, whatever the conditions. Here, then, are Mikkelsen's 10 favourite challenges in the world…

Vargåsen - Rally Sweden

"This stage has everything: blind crests, tight, technical sections and really fast bits. But everyone knows it for the jump known as Colin's Crest, named in honour of 1995 world champion Colin McRae. What makes it so special is that it's not just a flat-out leap; you need to have super-accurate pacenotes, your co-driver needs to call it perfectly and you need to have a very specific line. That and super-big balls. The fastest cars jumped more than 30 metres over the crest last year. That's an awful long way to be in the air with no control when you are going at high speed — especially if you hit the jump off line."

Sete Cidades - Rallye Azores

"This is known as the 'volcano stage' because of the location, which is pretty spectacular when you're standing still, let alone going flat out in a rally car. There's a long section that runs along the top of a ridge, with massive drops on each side. The roads on this rally are generally very narrow, but in some parts they really open up. That requires a very technical style of driving, and I love that. There are also sections of the event where the stages have both gravel and tarmac sections. Most drivers hate that, as the car feels so loose on the tarmac on gravel settings, but I love the challenge."

Ouninpohja - Rally Finland

"This is one of the most famous stages in the World Rally Championship. At 21 miles, it is a really long challenge. You are flat out on gravel, moving the car around at high speed over blind crests and jumps that just keep coming at you. It is one of those stages that you will never drive perfectly, because there's so much to take in. Experience helps, but there is too much to learn in one lifetime. The speeds are also so high that you can never take risks; if you don't respect the stage, it will bite you."

Halfway - Wales Rally GB

"I actually had a pretty big crash here in 2007. The car went over five or six times after I slid offline and clipped a bank. It wasn't so bad; generally, the crashes that don't end with a sudden stop aren't so big. But what I love about this stage is what also caught me out: they are fast, flowing roads, and if you miss the line then you must accept you will lose a lot of time or risk going off. The crests are frequent and they often tighten, so you must drive with confidence and listen to your co-driver, not your eyes."

Glen Roy - Rally Isle of Man

"People say rally drivers are mad, but after rallying on the Isle of Man I know that I am completely sane compared to the bikers. This is what real rallying is about: tight, twisty stages, open, fast moorland, hairpins, crests, blind corners and everything else in between. Picking one great stage is not easy — they are all great — but Glen Roy is one of the ones that sticks in my mind, not least because I still hold the fastest time ever over it. At just over 4.5 miles in length, it's short, but it is also fun. This is such a special rally; it has a unique atmosphere, and one day I'll find a way to get back there."

Moll's Gap - Circuit of Ireland

"Rallying is a huge sport in Ireland, and the Moll's Gap stage is perhaps the most famous of all. It is so fast, and it cuts through open scenery so everyone gets fantastic views — not just the spectators, but also the competitors. In 2007 I had a great run and took the record for the fastest time. Then the next car took the record off me. I'd conquered one of the best roads in one of the toughest countries for rallying for all of two minutes!"

Anadiou - Cyprus Rally

"This isn't the best stage or even best rally in the world, but it is home to some of my most intense emotions. After a difficult start to my 2011 season when I crashed 400 metres into my first event with the Skoda team, we all worked hard to pull it together. And after all that hard work, here I was at the last stage of the season with the title in my grasp. I had a big lead, so I just needed to finish. But how do you concentrate in those situations when there's no pressure to drive fast? It really is hard to drive at six-tenths when you spend your life going flat out, and my solution is to drive more sideways for the spectators. There is less chance of crashing but it still requires your total concentration. So that's what I did. And at the end, total joy. To win that title was amazing — and to be able to go back and defend my title again this year was every bit as special."

Drummond Hill - Rally of Scotland

"I took my first IRC win on Rally of Scotland, and this was the stage that really stood out for me on this incredible event. Again, it's really fast, full of crests and a lot of the time you are driving blind, putting your absolute trust in the pacenotes. When we recce a stage we usually video it, and I'll watch it back between two and six times. This one was definitely one I watched six times, and even then I didn't learn it because it is so complex. In the dry it really is beautiful: fast, flowing and rewarding. Trouble is, it rains a lot in Scotland."

Ronde - Rallye Sanremo

"This is one of the longest stages in rallying at more than 27 miles; the last time I was there, the fastest car took just under half an hour to complete the stage. I wore a heart rate monitor for the whole run, and if I tell you I averaged 155 beats per minute for the duration then you'll get an idea of how intense it is. I peaked at 187 beats per minute. That's pretty high considering I'm in a car strapped in a seat and just moving my arms and ankles about. Even the world's best drivers have to learn to concentrate on going that fast for that long. It comes with experience."

Smaadola - Numedal Rally, Norway

"This stage is a classic Norwegian snow challenge. It is up in the mountains, and is run uphill in the morning and then downhill to close the event. And let me tell you it is fast! And so beautiful. I actually co-drove through this stage once, to learn about how a rally works. I am happy to admit now that I am the worst passenger ever, and I could never be a co-driver. But on that downhill run it is like driving through a picture at 100mph."

New Chinese saloon for Europe breaks cover

Posted: 05 Dec 2012 03:29 AM PST

Official pictures of the first car from Qoros

Fledgling Chinese car maker Qoros has released the first pictures of its new saloon, which will be unveiled at the Geneva motor show in March, along with a pair of concepts.

The new car, a C-segment rival for the likes of the VW Jetta, has been designed under the direction of ex-Mini design boss Gert Hildebrand. A saloon, it has a long wheelbase and short overhangs, which Qoros says will become a feature of all of its cars. Hildebrand describes the look of the brand as "desirable elegance".

Inside the dash is dominated by a large, 20cm touch-screen display, and Qoros says it has tried to keep buttons and switchgear to a minimum.

Qoros is keen to emphasise its European design and engineering credentials, and it has established a design studio in Munich. It also claims that the new saloon will become the first Chinese-built car to get a five star EuroNCAP rating.

The saloon will go on sale in China at the end of next year, and it will arrive in Europe at the start of 2014. More models will be added to the range at six monthly intervals.

Dacia: "we won't discount cars"

Posted: 05 Dec 2012 01:24 AM PST

Renault's budget brand won't trade its no-discounts principals for UK market success

Renault may be gearing up for the UK market launch of Dacia, but as senior company officials have warned this week, a permanent place for the Romanian budget brand in our showrooms is far from certain.

At the international press launch of the new Sandero and Sandero Stepway, in response to questions about the robustness of the firm's strict 'no discounts' policy on sales, Renault UK and Dacia representatives launched an impassioned defence of a philosophy by which models will be marketed and sold at low list prices - but absolutely no lower.

It's a strategy that runs contrary to the way that many volume-brand cars are sold in Britain – through either dealer- or manufacturer-funded list price offers. "It's a key part of the Dacia brand: transparent value-for-money," said Renault UK managing director Thierry Sybord. "And we won't kill the brand for Britain. I believe that buyers in the UK will respond to the simplicity of buying a Dacia — but if I'm wrong, we will just pull out."

Renault's plan for the UK rollout of Dacia is a tentative one, made possible by the global success of Dacia, and the lack of pressure to push cars into the market. Every Renault dealer in the country has bought into the Dacia franchise, and will represent the brand either by a specially branded 'Dacia Corner' in their showrooms or with external 'Dacia Boxes' on the forecourt. 

But cars will not be kept in stock in the UK — every one will be the product of an individual customer order, with lead times of between three- and six months expected. For that reason, and because Dacia orders will not count towards dealer sales bonuses, the kind of deals sometimes seen with other brands – often struck to deliver volume-related sales rewards or to manage supply – won't be necessary.

It isn't for Renault to rule outright on how dealers should sell Dacias, and a spokesperson did admit that, with more richly equipped cars, those dealers will have a little bargaining room. But the same source confirmed that dealer margin on entry-level Access models is very low – a deliberate tactic to motivate them to 'up-sell'. There are also special sales rewards for cars sold with extended five- and seven-year warranties.

Renault UK is aiming to secure one per cent of the UK new car market with its Dacia brand in 2013 – an ambition that will amount to selling just short of 20,000 cars, through a dealer network that will expand to just under 150 showrooms this month. There are already 1700 confirmed orders for the Duster compact SUV, which will be made in right-hand-drive form at Renault-Nissan's Chennai plant, in India. Right-hand drive Sanderos and Sandero Stepways will be built in Pitesti, Romania.

190mph Audi RS6 unleashed

Posted: 04 Dec 2012 04:01 PM PST

Rapid new super-estate ditches V10 in favour of 552bhp twin-turbo V8; on sale in UK from next July

Audi will launch a muscular new RS6 Avant in the UK next July. The estate boasts a 190mph top speed, a 0-62mph time of 3.9sec and a 28mpg official combined economy figure.

Developed and built by Audi's independent Quattro GmbH division, the all-wheel-drive, estate-only RS6 is powered by the twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 that is already used in the S6, S7 and S8.

In the new RS6, however, it develops 552bhp between 5700rpm and 6700rpm, and a constant 516lb ft of torque from 1750rpm to 5500rpm.

The power output is 28bhp down on the 5.0-litre V10 of the previous RS6, but the torque figure increases by 37lb ft.

Two large twin-scroll turbochargers sit in the 'V' of the engine alongside the intercooler, a layout chosen to keep turbo lag to a minimum.

As well as stop-start, the V8 uses fuel-saving 'cylinder on demand' technology to shut down four of the eight cylinders when the car is developing between 25 and 40 per cent of maximum torque.

In base form, the RS6 is restricted to 155mph. An optional Dynamic Package raises that to 174mph, while the next-level Dynamic Package Plus allows 190mph.

Despite these autobahn-storming top speeds, Audi claims the new RS6 is 30 per cent economical than the previous V10 model, with a CO2 figure correspondingly lower at 229g/km.

The V8 is mated to a ZF eight-speed automatic transmission, equipped with shorter, closer, lower ratios and a longer-striding top gear. Paddle shifters are standard.

The quattro drivetrain also gets a tweaked self-locking differential with its own oil cooler. A Sport differential — which can continuously distribute torque between the rear wheels — will be an option.

The RS6's air suspension rides 20mm lower than the S6 and is combined with continuously adaptive damping. There will also be an optional Sports Suspension Plus DRC set-up, which combines steel springs and Dynamic Ride Control and diagonally interconnects the three-setting dampers.

Also new are lighter brakes with 390mm front discs clamped by six-piston calipers, while 420mm carbon-ceramic discs are available as an option. Standard wheels are 20-inch forged alloys, with  21-inch rims optional.

The new RS6 is around 100kg lighter than the previous model, in part thanks to aluminium body panels and the new MLB platform's part-aluminium front structure.

In addition, the V8 engine is just 500mm long, which improves weight distribution compared with the V10 model.

A distinctive feature of the front-end styling is a 'split' grille. The grille's lower portion is dominated by a 3D 'quattro' script, which may appear on more Audi models in future.

Like all quattro models, the RS6 is individually developed and has been subjected to 5000 miles of testing at the Nürburgring before being signed off for series production. It is also built on a separate production line at the firm's Nekarsulm facility.

The quattro division expects to build around 12,000 cars this year. It built a total of 5500 V10-engined RS6s.

UK prices and specs have yet to be finalised, but a base price of around £77,000 looks likely. That will rise significantly, however, when the various dynamic package options are added in.

Lexus IS to be shown at Detroit

Posted: 04 Dec 2012 09:52 AM PST

Forthcoming replacement for Japanese 3-series rival to make its debut at the North American international motor show

The new Lexus IS will make its international debut at the Detroit motor show in January.

The IS will be offered in the UK with a 2.5-litre V6 and a 2.5-litre four-cylinder hybrid, both of which are petrol powered.

With the hybrid car, Lexus is aiming to break into the fleet market – something it has previously struggled to do with the lack of a low CO2 diesel model. Emissions as low as 99g/km are being aimed for with the new car.

The CVT transmission has also been thoroughly revised to remove the mismatch between engine and road speed so common with this type of gearbox.

Interior styling will resemble that of the CT200h hatchback, and will feature two centre-console dials — one to control the multimedia settings and the other to cycle between different driving modes.

The Detroit motor show opens on 14 January.

Daljinder Nagra

Quick news: Verso and RAV4 prices announced

Posted: 04 Dec 2012 09:10 AM PST

Chevrolet has created the fastest Corvette convertible to celebrate its 60th anniversary and Car2go brings "free-floating" car sharing to the capital

The 2013 Toyota RAV4 will be priced between £22,595 and £29,295 when it goes on sale in March. Three grades will be available: Active, Icon and Invincible. Active models feature 17in alloys, air-con and Bluetooth, while Icon models feature a top-hinged powered tailgate, dual-zone air-con and Toyota Touch multimedia touchscreen system with a DAB and rear-view camera. Top-spec Invincible models are fitted with leather upholstery, heated front seats and rear park sensors.

Toyota has also announced prices and specification for its Verso MPV. Prices are set between £17,495 and £23,445 and it will be offered in five- or seven-seat configurations and with the choice of two petrol and one diesel engine. The range is comprised of three trim levels: Active, Icon and Excel. Entry-level models will come equipped with air-con, hill start assist and quick release rear seats in seven-seat configurations. Icon models add cruise control, DAB and 16in alloys, while the Excel grade adds 17in alloys and part leather trim.

2013 marks the 60th anniversary of the Corvette and Chevrolet is celebrating this milestone with the release of the 427 Convertible Collector's Edition. Using the 7.0-litre engine from the Z06, it is the fastest-ever convertible version of the iconic American supercar. Chevrolet has given the 427 a high specification including a head-up display and selective magnetic ride control.

Car2go is the latest car-sharing scheme to be launched in London. The scheme is being rolled out in three London boroughs – Islington, Newham and Sutton – with plans to expand in the new year. Car2go differs from its rivals by allowing members to pick up and drop-off cars to any parking space in a participating borough. Car2go is currently using the Smart ForTwo city car, which costs 35p per minute to rent and, including all costs, even parking.

Matthew Burrow/Stuart Milne

First drive review: Lexus IS 300h

Posted: 04 Dec 2012 09:01 AM PST

Lexus's German-baiting hybrid promises remarkable diesel-beating CO2 figures in a compact, agile, rear-drive format This is an early prototype of the all-new Lexus IS. The IS isn't being launched until the Detroit show in mid-January so much of the car's detail, including the interior and exterior styling, was under wraps for this drive. The UK will be getting two models: a V6 petrol-powered IS250 (which is mainly for the model's UK private buyers), and the new IS300h driven here, which combines a 2.5-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine with an electric motor and a battery pack.This latter car is intended to be Lexus's big breakthrough in the UK's CO2-driven fleet market. Remarkably, Lexus is aiming to get the IS300h certified at "under 100g/km". The new car is based on the same new rear-drive platform as the recently-launched GS, although the wheelbase has been shortened and the track is also slightly narrower.Lexus's engineers say the structure is extra-stiff, using 25 metres of adhesive, extra spot welds and a new technique called laser screw welding in its construction. The double-wishbone front suspension set-up gets stiffer anti-roll bars and softer spring rates (to try to improve the ride without sacrificing handling), and the multi-link rear suspension is new. The biggest advance is the redesigned CVT transmission, which finally eliminates the widely disliked mismatch between engine speed and vehicle speed so typical of previous CVT 'boxes.The interior styling is close to that of the CT compact hatchback. There are two centre console dials, one for the multimedia system and one for switching the chassis between Eco, Normal, Sport and Sport+ modes.

Vauxhall Mokka

Posted: 03 Dec 2012 08:55 AM PST

Vauxhall undercuts the Qashqai with a supermini-sized SUV The days of the dreary old Vauxhall are numbered. That's the message being transmitted loud and clear at the moment by General Motors' UK outpost. And it's more than just talk. It's a vision translated into metal by last year's handsome Astra GTC coupé, next year's boulevardier Cascada convertible, the perky Adam 'fashion statement' supermini and this week's road test subject, the new Mokka compact crossover SUV.Past caring about overall market share, Luton says its new strategy is to target private buyers with models desirable enough to tempt them into spending their own money. Achieving that should also mean generating something Opel/Vauxhall hasn't known in longer than a decade: profit.Sounds straightforward. But the strategy won't be achieved unless the reputation of the Griffin badge can be transformed from something that harms the perception of a new car into something that enhances it. It won't be the work of a moment.Time for a temperature check, then. Is Vauxhall on course to achieve its ambitious goal at all? And will the Mokka take it in the right direction?

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