Friday, December 7, 2012

Autocar Online - News

Autocar Online - News

First drive review: Mitsubishi Mirage 3 1.2

Posted: 07 Dec 2012 04:06 AM PST

Good value and very efficient, but the driving experience is not for enthusiasts Forget the Ford Fiesta or Volkswagen Polo. I know, you know, eveyone knows, they're the best superminis in the class: pleasing to drive, pleasing to sit in. But some people don't really care. Ride and handling? Perceived quality? Surprise and delight and touchy-feely design? Not interested. They want value, space, some kit, low running costs and the peace of mind they perceive comes with a car from the Far East.Here, for those people, is the Mitsubishi Mirage. It replaces the Colt, on sale since 2004 and, you might remember, a car that shared a platform with the badge-engineered Smart Forfour. There's nothing like that this time around. The Mirage is as far removed from the Forfour or, say, the likes of a Fiat 500 or Vauxhall Adam, as it gets. It's basic, unpretentious, good value and heroically efficient: Mitsubishi says it's the first car range on sale in the UK whose every variant emits less than 100g/km of CO2.Mostly that's down to lightweight engineering and neat packaging. The Mirage is just 3710mm long (yet seats four adults comfortably and has a 235-litre boot) and is claimed to weigh, remarkably, just 845kg in base 1.0-litre form.

Skoda's forgotten Le Mans racer

Posted: 07 Dec 2012 04:00 AM PST

The 1100 OHC was built to break through the Iron Curtain and compete at Le Mans, but it never made it. We drive this little-known racer

It's a day of firsts. The first time I've watched asphalt blur beneath my feet through gaps in a floorpan. The first time I've used a dog-leg gearbox. The first time I've driven a bona fide historic race car in anger.

The dramatically nicknamed Red Racer is not a car you are likely to be familiar with. Built in 1957, the Skoda 1100 OHC Type 968 was designed to compete in the brutal arena of the Le Mans 24 Hours. It's not hard to see why. Beyond the Iron Curtain, the Czech brand was still obscure, despite some success in motorsport, including a class win at the Spa 24 Hours in 1948. So what bigger statement could it make than to create this shockingly delicate, tiny racer and run wheel to wheel with globally renowned big hitters that had already forged their reputations at Circuit de la Sarthe?

Maybe it would have worked, transforming the Skoda brand overnight. But the 1100 OHC never made it to Le Mans, and no one really knows why. Maybe it was lack of money, or the political boundaries still shaping Europe at the time. Or you could speculate that Skoda lost confidence in its flyweight (550kg) Italianate sports racer and decided that it would be foolhardy to even try to compete in such an unforgiving race. It actually wouldn't have been Skoda's first foray at Le Mans; that came in 1950 with an 1101 Sport that failed to finish. Regardless, it would have been breathtakingly audacious of a little-known Eastern Bloc brand to enter Le Mans with a bespoke racer.

Sitting behind the slim, string-wrapped steering wheel, I can't help but wish it had happened, if only for the outstanding story it would have made had Skoda's four-pot racer even seen the chequered flag, let alone been competitive.

Still, the Red Racer did see success in competition, and clearly Skoda saw justification to invest in motorsport. Two of these fibreglass-bodied roadsters were produced, with their most noticeable success coming in 1962 with a one-two in Leningrad (now St Petersburg), at the hands of Miroslav Fousek and Jaroslav Bobek. Three aluminium-bodied coupé versions were also made but none remain in existence.

The other roadster is a non-runner that is displayed in Skoda's Czech museum, making this the only working example of the dainty 1100 OHC in the world.

So it's with a little trepidation that I roll out onto Prodrive's test track in Kenilworth, looking like some sort of comedy Wacky Races rip-off in the tiny 3880mm-long, 965mm-high Skoda. Within moments it's evident that this is a spectacularly encouraging machine. As with most racing cars, it actively dislikes being driven at low revs, hiccuping and hesitating (not least as it now runs on modern fuel and not the avgas it would have used in its competitive days) until you open the throttle wide. You wait a heartbeat as the motor, with its alloy cylinder head and twin Jikov carburettors, seems to draw breath before launching itself with relish towards the 7700rpm peak power mark.

Museum-worthy gauges wobble their way erratically around the dials, white needles flickering over a worn black background and proving far less useful than simply listening to the thrummy, crescendoing soundtrack for that perfect moment to shift up through the sweet five-speed dog-leg gearbox. Suddenly the Red Racer starts to live up to the promise of the sleek, purposeful looks that designer Frantisek Sajdl surely penned with thoughts of Ferrari in his mind.

Its rear end shimmies around with alarming ease and willingness to break traction – not least thanks to its skinny tyres. But with barely a lap covered, the 1100 wins me over wholeheartedly. It's both exhilarating and refreshing to experience a car so wholly reliant on the driver's control. Nothing will save you here but yourself. Yet the visceral oneness that you have with the machine entices you to try a little harder, push a little closer and rev a little more.

It's obvious that the 1100 is a car designed for faster, more sweeping circuits than the tight handling track at Prodrive, where it suffers from a shortage of front-end grip as the nose washes out. Actively provoking it into oversteer works best to overcome this, allowing you to carry plenty of revs out of a corner, although any prolonged slides are hampered by a shortage of power.

For all that the Skoda feels primitive by the standards of my (almost exclusively) 21st-century experience, it was an advanced car in its time. Sitting on a steel tubular spaceframe, its drum brakes are mounted inboard for better weight distribution, and it uses torsion beam axles at both ends, with double wishbone suspension up front and semi-trailing arms at the rear. The gearbox and final drive are accommodated in one housing and the engine has two spark plugs per cylinder, because they delivered a more reliable and better burn under endurance conditions.

The stunning, wire-spoked wheels run on what, to the modern eye, seems dangerously narrow 5.5in-section rubber, with the result that the 1100 OHC breaks traction with remarkable ease despite its low power output. But with your posterior suspended inches above the ground, you can rely on knowing what the car is doing in time to respond.

Plus, it is a sprightly thing. With 167bhp per tonne, not to mention the slightly edgy excitement of a belt-free cockpit and the inkling that this car has the structural integrity of papier maché despite its steel cage, it is exhilarating to say the least. It takes a few laps to get past the sense that you're driving a breakable and irreplaceable museum piece and really rev the engine to its peak, allowing it to be a proper, focused track car and not an exhibit.

The steering never feels as sharp as I'd expected it to, but there's no need for the continuous steering-wheel fidget – non-stop adjustment and input – that characterises a hard-driven pre-war racer. You can let the 1100 OHC flow easily through fast corners, saving the big wrestling inputs for the tight, low-speed stuff.

So this is not a slow car; a top speed of 118mph was no small matter in 1957. And it feels way faster than it sounds, particularly when you know that the brakes are verging on ornamental. Push the pedal until you lose circulation to your foot – with all the desperation of someone facing oncoming Armco in an irreplaceable vintage car – and the speed falls away with all the urgency of a fish swimming in treacle. There is next to no feel and even less actual stopping power. Clearly, this would be an issue come the end of the Mulsanne Straight.

I can't say that I have any relevant benchmark to measure the Skoda 1100 OHC against. But, brakes aside, it's easy to see how this car saw success in many of the races it did compete in. There is great delicacy and communication to the whole experience, and you sit so low and so far back that the car seems to pivot around you, making it easy to trust that this vintage racer is more than a rolling museum piece. You can really drive it.

It is, I'm sure, a long way from the finest racer of its period. But the Red Racer is also a glimpse at the sort of lofty ambitions that Skoda once had. And how close it came to realising them.

First drive review: Citroen C3 VTi 82 VTR+

Posted: 07 Dec 2012 03:36 AM PST

Citroën's economical triple is effortless and good value, but the Ford Fiesta remains the drivers' choice This is Citroën's C3 supermini, here fitted with Peugeot-Citroën's all-new three-cylinder petrol engine, which made its debut in the 208. PSA engineers say that the engine has been awarded 52 patents, 17 of them related to the cylinder head design alone.The engine block is cast from aluminium alloys and is a complex design that incorporates the engine mounting points and the exhaust ducts. The cylinder head gets four valves per cylinder, and variable valve timing on both the inlet and exhaust valves. The company says that, compared to the current four-cylinder engines, internal friction levels have been reduced by 30 per cent.Only this, more powerful 80bhp version of the three-pot engine gets a balancer shaft. The entry-level, 67bhp version does not on cost grounds, but Citroën is not currently planning to offer this engine in the UK. Cost considerations also ruled out a start-stop system.There are a few neat engineering features: the engine's cambelt is lubricated from an oil spay in the sump and is designed to last the life of the car. The belt-driven alternator can also be de-clutched when the car is accelerating, reducing the load on the engine. Interestingly, an engineering source told Autocar that PSA had no plans to build a turbocharged version of this engine, despite the success of Ford's 1.0-litre, three-cylinder, turbocharged unit.To go along with the new engine, Citroën has modified the C3 chassis, increasing the anti-roll rates by around 15 per cent and the damping rates by around 20 per cent.

First drive review: Volkswagen Polo R-line

Posted: 07 Dec 2012 03:26 AM PST

Spunky hatch comes with low running costs, but rivals surpass its limited appeal Once upon a time, a common-or-garden supermini in hot hatch drag was about as desirable as parachuting behind enemy lines armed with a replica weapon; it looked the part, but wasn't much use when things got physical. This was because most 'minis were grossly underpowered, burdening their buyers with plenty of shout but little length of trouser.Today, the formula makes more sense. Volkswagen's new R-line trim, a styling garnish of bumpers, grille, grippier seats and 16in wheels, comes exclusively with its 1.2 TSI-engined Polo.

Quick news: Ford releases new Sport Van

Posted: 07 Dec 2012 02:36 AM PST

Ford unveils powerful new Transit Sport Van, Honda facelifts the hybrid CR-Z and Jeeps are to be sold in India for the first time

Ford is to release a new range-topping Transit Sport Van. Based on the mid-sized Custom body style, the Sport Van uses a 153bhp, 2.2-litre Duratorq diesel engine and comes with a sporty body kit, 18-inch alloy wheels, go-faster stripes and a DAB audio system. It will be available to order early in 2013.

Honda has announced pricing for the revised CR-Z. Available in two trim levels, it will start at £20,550 in Sport trim, rising to £23,050 for a GT model. Power from the 1.5-litre hybrid powertrain is up, now 135bhp and the CR-Z gets a new bumper and front grille design and a new 'Sport Plus' boost system for the electric motor.

The Jeep brand is to launch in India as part of owner Fiat's plan to increase market share from 0.4 to 5 per cent in the rapidly expanding market. India has seen a massive rise in popularity in SUVs over the past year, thanks to large Government subsidies on diesel fuel.

Matthew Burrow/Daljinder Nagra

Aston Martin stake bought by former Ducati owner

Posted: 07 Dec 2012 01:29 AM PST

Ducati's former owner has become a major shareholder in Aston Martin. The deal will see £500m invested in new product

The former owner of motorcycle company Ducati has bought a stake in Aston Martin Lagonda.

Italian private equity fund Investindustrial has signed a deal to invest £150m for a 37.5 per cent stake in the British sports car company. The deal cements Aston Martin's existing £100m a year product development programme for the next five years.

Mahindra and Mahindra was previously thought to be the front runner in the deal, offering a significantly greater cash injection. Although Investindustrial has relationships with AMG, a tie-in with Mercedes' performance arm is not part of the deal. Investindustrial has significant contacts within the industry, according to a spokesman, who referred to Aston Martin's partnerships with other OEMs, including Ford and Toyota.

Investindustrial owned Ducati until earlier this year when it sold the company to Audi for $1.1bn.

Under the new deal, Investindustrial will become a shareholder alongside current majority shareholder Investment Dar and minority shareholders, Dr Ulrich Bez and David Richards. Investindustrial will be a minority shareholder, with four of the nine board seats.

Aston Martin chairman David Richards said: "I am delighted that Investindustrial has decided to become a major investor in Aston Martin. With the support of Investment Dar, we have made substantial progress over the past five years in laying the foundations for success as one of the world's leading luxury sports car manufacturers. 

"Investindustrial's new investment reflects and sustains the unique position of Aston Martin within the industry. With this partnership and the continued commitment of Investment Dar, we look forward to working with our shareholders as we realise our vision and exciting future plans."

Andrea C. Bonomi senior principal at Investindustrial said: "We are looking forward to working with the management and Investment Dar to achieve a similar transformation and rejuvenation that we achieved with Ducati, by expanding the model range and strengthening the dealership network, throughout the world."

Seat Leon ST: first spy photos

Posted: 06 Dec 2012 09:14 AM PST

Forthcoming Seat Leon estate spied testing in Spain

The Seat Leon ST has been spied for the first time. The heavily disguised test mule – the first ever Leon estate - was spotted testing in Spain.

Seat is pitching the ST as the sportiest estate in its segment. Predicted load space is 590 litres with the rear seats in place.

The ST is expected to feature the same engine line-up as the five-door hatchback, which consists of five petrol and four diesel units with a choice of manual and DSG gearboxes.

Hatchback versions of the Leon go on sale in the UK in March 2013. ST versions will be unveiled in September at the Frankfurt motor show, with customer cars expected for delivery early in 2014. A sporty three-door SC version will be revealed at next year's Geneva motor show before going on sale next summer.

A hot Cupra version of the Leon ST is also tipped for launch, and will rival the Ford Focus ST estate should it go on sale in 2014.

Matthew Burrow

Video: Will it drift? Golf cart

Posted: 06 Dec 2012 04:34 AM PST

Will a 3bhp golf cart go sideways?

A 3bhp solution to carting golfers and their sticks around a course isn't conducive to sideways action. But then most golfers aren't drift king Steve Sutcliffe in a silly hat...

New car sales up by 11.3 per cent in November

Posted: 06 Dec 2012 03:33 AM PST

Another month of double-digit growth for the UK new car market; Focus outsells Fiesta

The UK's new car market grew by over 11 per cent in November, sales figures issued by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) indicate.

The 11.3 per cent increase is the second month in a row of double-digit growth. It has been attributed to the number of new cars on the market that are offering significant savings at the pumps through new fuel-efficiency technology.

Private buyers have driven this growth with an increase in sales of over 20 per cent on the same period last year.

"The UK new car market is now the second largest in Europe," said Paul Everitt, SMMT chief executive.

The UK has now overtaken the French market and is now second only to Germany. Of the five biggest markets in the EU, the UK is the only country to have experienced growth in the last year. The UK market has seen growth of 5.4 per cent on the same period last year.

In 2012 over 1.9 million cars have been registered, with the Ford Fiesta being the overall bestseller. Ford's Focus knocked the Fiesta off the top spot in November with 7495 being registered – 12 more than the Fiesta.

UK's best-selling new cars, November 2012

1 Ford Focus – 7495 units sold

2 Ford Fiesta – 7483

3 Vauxhall Corsa – 6164

4 Volkswagen Golf – 5165

5 Vauxhall Astra – 5032

6 Nissan Qashqai – 3403

7 BMW 3-series – 3238

8 BMW 1-series – 3135

9 Mercedes C-class – 2901

10 Mini hatch – 2787

Matthew Burrow

Caterham set to expand

Posted: 06 Dec 2012 03:18 AM PST

UK-based sports car firm plans a big increase in production with a range of "fun-related" models

Caterham, the UK-based race and technology group, aims to build "tens of thousands" of own-brand cars a year by 2020, according to its CEO, former F1 team boss Mike Gascoyne.

The company, which a month ago signed a joint venture deal with Renault to build a co-operative sports car, was bought and is being rapidly developed by Malaysian airline billionaire Tony Fernandes, after he failed in an attempt to buy Lotus a year ago.

The Caterham and Renault sports cars will be near-identical under the skin, but the partners will each create their own styling. Caterham is using a combination of its own designers and "a well known UK design house" for the task. Gascoyne says the new coupé will "draw influence" from the Seven to create a family look.

When Autocar visited the Norfolk headquarters of newly established Caterham Innovation and Technology (CTI), it viewed a covered interior buck flanked by examples of the product's eventual competitors, an Audi TT and a Porsche Boxster.

While work on the joint venture car will be the early priority, the company has already made plans for a range of "fun-related" Caterhams, not all of them sports cars.

"We're not fools," said Gascoyne. "Anyone can see that a company making nothing but two-seaters can't hope to be very successful at present. Our cars will have other body styles. Our plan is to use Tony Fernandes' contacts in Asia to sell cars into a specialist market that is expanding fast." One route could be to launch a range of sports-related SUVs.

Caterham's central aim, according to Gascoyne, is to build a profitable car company capable of helping to fund the F1 team. "We already have customers in the marine, aviation and racing industries," said Gascoyne. "But our future is in building road cars. We're here to make money."  

The Caterham empire now includes the F1 team (which recently moved to the former Arrows works in Oxfordshire), the traditional Caterham Cars business, an advanced composites firm in Germany and the Hingham-based CTI.

First drive review: Kia Procee'd GT

Posted: 06 Dec 2012 02:05 AM PST

Kia's first attempt at a driver's car shows great promise as a value performance hatchback At last, the marque which is supposed to be the more 'youthful and sporty' of the Hyundai-Kia twins is facing up to an essential question: what should a quicker, driver-orientated Kia be like? In Germany yesterday, Autocar was shown an impressive answer, which took the form of a test drive of a prototype second-generation Proceed in GT form – still disguised, but with an interior and driving characteristics close to the production spec. In essence, the car is a new-shape, 50 per cent more powerful petrol-engined version of the new-shape three-door Cee'd. It will be revealed in Geneva next March, is set to go into production in Kia's facory in Zilina, Slovakia, next May, and  be on sale in the UK in June or July at around £23,000.At that money, the car won't be a Dacia-style bargain, but its deep equipment spec — which includes standard Recaro front bucket seats — should make it look good value against similarly sized rivals. Although its 1.6 turbo engine packs a healthy 201bhp, which gives the Proceed a healthy turn of performance (a 140mph top speed and a 0-62mph time of 7.9 seconds), Kia is not making any claims about rivalling cars like the Ford Focus ST or Renaultsport Mégane, which it considers a step further up the performance ladder.The company doesn't rule out building hotter cars itself, but insists no decision will be made until the market has assessed the GT, which is to be made both as a three and a five-door. The GT uses a comprehensively developed turbocharged version of Kia-Hyundai's familiar 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, producing 201bhp at 6000rpm, along with peak torque of 200lb ft, impressively developed between 1750rpm and 4500rpm. These big hikes (power up 50 per cent; torque up 60 per cent) come from the use of a twin-scroll turbocharger (integrated closely into the exhaust manifold for quick light-up and consequent low emissions), direct fuel injection, dual continuous variable valve timing and lots of careful development at Kia's technical centre in Russensheim, near Frankfurt.

BMW 4-series coupé: why now and why at all?

Posted: 06 Dec 2012 01:50 AM PST

BMW's model line-up will grow to include a 2-series and 8-series. But are more model designations a good thing?

The BMW 4-series has long been rumoured and now, in concept form at least, it's here. And you can rest easy that the concept will become reality as sure as winter turns to spring next year.

But why now, after so many years of rumours, has BMW taken the plunge and adopted the 4-series name? At the launch event in Munich last night, marketing boss Ian Robertson was clear that the move could only be made with the right car. "BMW 3-series coupés have always been heavily derived from the saloon, but this time we've taken a bold step in terms of design that justifies the new approach," he said. "This is a car that stands on its own merits."

In fact, chief designer Adrian van Hooydonk and his team started work on the car before the name change was set in stone, but under the specific brief of designing the car they wanted, not a 3-series saloon spin-off. Be bold, they were told – and judging by the concept, they were.

That freedom was given because the business case for identifiable two-door coupés has got ever stronger. Audi has milked a clear differentiation in name very successfully with the A5, and BMW clearly sees an opportunity for a slice of the action.

"It doesn't mean we'll be pushing prices up a long way over the 3-series coupé," said Robertson. "The market decides the prices, not us, and this is a very competitive section of the market to be playing in."

Robertson also shrugged aside concerns that another nameplate is another potential source of confusion for buyers. "All our research suggests it won't be a difficult job to convey what we've done," he said. And he's equally calm about the negative connotations of the number '4' in various parts of the world.

Nor will this appetite for even-numbered cars end here. Robertson wasn't being drawn, but he did have a twinkle in his eye; with the success of the BMW 6-series and the confidence surrounding the new 4-series, a 2-series is a certainty and a new 8-series is as good as signed off.

"We've had plenty of even-numbered cars in our past," said Robertson. "So to do so again wouldn't be breaking with our history."

So what do you reckon: is a move to more nameplates a good thing?

Autocar magazine 5 December preview

Posted: 05 Dec 2012 03:02 PM PST

New BMW 4-series coupe and new Audi RS6 revealed; new Maserati Quattroporte and Toyota Auris driven; new Aston DB9 tested against its rivals; used Seat Leon and Vauxhall Corsa buying tips

The new BMW 4-series coupe heads up this week's Autocar magazine, with the full story and first pictures revealed, plus Julian Rendell's take on why the name had to change from BMW 3-series coupe and Steve Sutcliffe revealing his personal recipe for the perfect M4, which is set to follow.

Other news highlights include full details of the new 190mph Audi RS6, with its supercar-baiting power and torque figures, and an exclusive story on British manufacturer Caterham's ambitions to expand dramatically.

Our Los Angeles motor show coverage gives the inside line on the new Porsche Cayman, with Matt Prior revealing why it will never be allowed to challenge the Porsche 911, plus full details on the new Toyota Rav4, and every other show star.

In our drives section Steve Cropley reviews the new Maserati Quattroporte, Matt Saunders delivers an exclusive first drive of the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV and Richard Bremner tests the new Toyota Auris. The well priced but ultimately uninspiring Skoda Rapid is the subject of our in-depth road test.

Updates on our long-term test fleet include a farewell to our Renault Grand Scenic, plus latest news on our Subaru XV, Chevrolet Volt, Ginetta G40R and Mazda CX-5.

The new Aston DB9 is pitted against the Bentley Continental GT and Ferrari California in a high-thrills test, while Kia president Hank Lee reveals his plans to turn the Korean manufacturer in to a VW rival. Meanwhile, Steve Cropley visits Hingham to learn about Caterham's global ambitions, and Andrew Frankel takes the closest thing Renault has previously built to a Caterham – the Renault Sport Spider – and rediscovers its shortfalls.

James Ruppert champions the Seat Leon, arguing that a £800 ten-year old model is worth a punt, and a 2005 Seat Leon Cupra R at £6000 is a bargain, while we also give the lowdown on buying a quality used Vauxhall Corsa from as little as £2500.

As ever, the magazine is available from all good newsagents, or available for download from Zinio or the Apple iTunes store.

Skoda Rapid

Posted: 05 Dec 2012 08:02 AM PST

Skoda bridges the gap between Fabia and Octavia with new hatch Skoda is going places. So much so that it might need to revise its production targets upwards, even from a stated goal of making 1.8 million cars per year by 2018. Globally, Skoda has hit a chord with the buying public. Its products mean the same thing everywhere: they're good value, they're more spacious than you'd expect and they're adorned simply inside. It is an image that has resonated in a crisis-ridden world.The Rapid is its latest model in a roll-out of new product that will include a new Octavia next year and a large SUV after that. But it's the Rapid that brings some balance to the line-up, sitting as it does in the gap between the Fabia, which we'll now think of as a conventional supermini, and the Octavia, which has hitherto been small for a Ford Mondeo-segment car, or large for a Focus-sized one. The Rapid – a straightforward, spacious, good value C-segment competitor – will occupy the 'small family' ground and push the Octavia up into fleet territory. To that end, it's average-sized, of average weight and wears the kind of keen price sticker you'd expect to find on a car that is aimed mainly at private buyers.

BMW 4-series coupé revealed - updated gallery

Posted: 04 Dec 2012 08:36 AM PST

New standalone two-door scheduled for release late in 2013

BMW has confirmed that the next-generation coupé version of the 3-series will become a stand-alone model and be badged 4-series when UK sales start late next year.

The significant change to BMW's line-up is previewed by this Concept 4-series Coupé, which finally lifts the lid on one of the car industry's worst-kept secrets: that the two-door 3-series will be become the 4-series and join the 6-series as a two-door variant of a BMW saloon.

"The '4' doesn't just mark the start of a new cycle; it marks the start of a model with its own individual character and a stand-alone design," says BMW.

Although billed as a design study, the 4-series concept is understood to be a faithful representation of the production car. Only some of the more extreme elements, such as the flamboyant front and rear bumpers and air dams, will be toned down.

These first official pictures show the new two-door to be a muscular and broad-shouldered design draped over a wide-stance platform.

BMW has released the key dimensions for the concept, which are expected to be carried over to the production car with very little change. They include a 2810mm wheelbase that it shares with the 3-series saloon.

At 4641mm long, 1826mm wide and 1326mm high, the new concept is 17mm longer than the saloon, 15mm wider and a significant 67mm lower, a dimension that emphasises the two-door's sportier footprint.

The front and rear tracks reflect the squat look, too. At 1545mm, the front is 3mm wider than the saloon and the 1593mm rear is 10mm wider.

Despite the brief for a sportier, more individual look, designers have crafted bodywork that broadly follows the theme of the 3-series saloon, with a distinctive swage line running along the bodyside and linking the front and rear haunches by running through the door handles.

Where the 4-series concept asserts its identity is in the execution of the swage line, which takes a sharper, more aggressive form and mirrors the more pronounced sill cover. The wheel arches of the 4-series concept bulge more aggressively than those of the four-door. These body adornments also lend BMW's smaller coupé a more aggressive look than its bigger brother, the 6-series.

At the front, the family resemblance to the saloon is carried through, with headlights that link into the hallmark kidney grille. The grille itself is made more prominent by protruding more aggressively from the surrounding sheet metal.

"The front end displays a clear link with the 3-series family, but with a sporting take on the theme with precise contours and multi-faceted surfaces," says BMW.

The execution of the intersection of the grille and headlamps is sportier thanks to the narrower lamp units built around on-trend 'squircle' projector lamps.

Underpinning the front is a gaping front air dam that extends the full width of the nose. The production coupé is tipped to have a more toned-down airdam, although elements of this design may influence the forthcoming M4.

Another departure for BMW is the hockey-stick-shaped decoration on the front wings, behind the wheel arches. Some sort of adornment will appear on the production 4-series, but how close its design will be to this feature is unclear.

The interior is based closely on the 3-series saloon's and, ignoring the concept car decoration in this design study, appears to be directly carried over.

The instrument pack, minor switchgear and instrument panel's upper moulding, for example, mimic the 3-series saloon, with its high-mounted infotainment screen. Likewise, the radio and air-con modules in the centre console are carried over from the saloon.

BMW hasn't released any chassis or engine information with the concept. But our sources say that the production 4-series will feature engines selected from the saloon range and mirror the bulk of the line-up in today's 3-series coupé.

Today's best-seller is the 320d, which will morph into the 420d. Seven further engines are likely to result in a 418i, 420i, 428i and 435i petrol line-up and 425d, 430d, 435d diesels. The long-awaited M4 is also a key 4-series variant.

Chassis settings are tipped to be firmer than the saloon's to further establish the 4-series as a separate model.

First drive review: Maserati Quattroporte V8

Posted: 04 Dec 2012 04:00 AM PST

Maserati begins a three-year product offensive with a bigger, better Quattroporte featuring a mighty new Ferrari-built turbo V8 It's well past time for an all-new new Maserati Quattroporte. The existing car, although beautiful, has been around more or less unaltered for eight years, which is too long for for most limos. But now there's an all-new edition, to be officially revealed at the Detroit motor show in January, and due to reach its first European mainland customers in February and UK buyers next June.Most cars use carry-over pieces, but this new Maser is just about as new as a new car can get: it has a different look, an all-new platform, newly designed engines by Ferrari (entirely different in character to the old ones), considerably different dimensions and even a new role in the marque's future line-up. To cap everything, its launch begins a new phase in the company's history, one aimed at massively boosting total sales from last year's 6200 units to 50,000 units by 2015.

Nissan GT-R vs Audi A1 quattro

Posted: 03 Dec 2012 01:58 AM PST

Two very different 4WD sportscars. Which is fastest?

Steve Sutcliffe finds out if a dinky Audi A1 quattro can keep pace with the mighty Nissan GT-R

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