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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: September 27, 2012 @ 4:41 pm

    Paris motor show: the fun metal

    Neil Briscoe


    In spite of the economic and industrial gloom that surrounds the Porte de Versailles exhibition centre, the overriding message of the Paris motor show seems to be that fun cars are very much on the agenda.

    If there can be said to be a single star of the show, then it’s undoubtedly the new Jaguar F-Type. Jaguar is the current golden boy of the car industry, having pulled itself up by the bootstraps from the depths of financial crisis in 2008, to its now blooming position under Indian Tata ownership, with healthy sales and a cutting-edge model range. The very fact that Jag is willing to risk comparison with the iconic sixties E-Type with the name of its new sports car is a sign of serious swagger. And fun? Well, with a 335bhp supercharged V6 petrol, an all-aluminium chassis and a kerb weight of just 1,500kg, how exactly is it not going to be fun?

    OK, true enough a likely €80k price tag is going to make it rather unreachable fun for most of us. So how about something a touch more affordable.

    The 2012 Paris show is going to either go down as the show when the hot hatch finally took over or possibly, just possibly, the show when car makers fiddled with hot hatches while Rome metaphorically burned around them.

    Still, whether its a true revival or the last step on the road to Armageddon, at least we’re going to have some fun either way. Affordable fun to, thanks to the debuts of the new Mk VII VW Golf GTI, the Peugeot 208 GTI and the RenaultSport Clio 200.

    Of the three, it’s the Clio that makes the biggest departure from its predecessors, Where the outgoing hot Clio wore its 2.0-litre, naturally aspirated simplicity (not to mention its plain cabin and styling) on its sleeve, the new one represents a radical change. Gone is the big 2.0-litre engine, in comes a more contemporary 1.6-litre turbo. Gone too is the cheap and shiny cabin, in comes something much more chic, in keeping with the rather attractive exterior styling.

    A major mechanical shift, literally, is that it will only be offered with a new paddle-shift twin-clutch gearbox, called the Efficient Dual Clutch (EDC) unit. Renault claims that the driving experience, always an intense one in previous models, will be maintained, but there will doubtless be enthusiasts of the old car gnashing their teeth in anguish at this news.

    Will it be out-done by the new Peugeot 208 GTI? A bit like Jaguar, Peugeot is taking a big risk by comparing the new car to its beloved progenitor, the eighties 205 GTI. If the 208 fails to live up to the exciting, razor-sharp dynamic legacy of the 205 then it will be perceived as a failure. The omens are good, and the basic 208 seems to lend itself as a good starting point for sporting-up. With the memories of epic battles between the 205, 106 and 306 GTIs and the original Renault Clio 16v and Clio Williams, it’s going to be a eighties revival that will put Duran Duran in the shade when they hit the road.

    And the Golf GTI? Well, what more needs to be said, except that the move to VW’s clever new MQB chassis means a weight saving, that there will now be two GTIs; a 217bhp ‘cooking’ version and a harder-edged 227bhp version with a higher top speed and a tweaked chassis. Yum, and indeed, yum. The classy styling looks good, it’s as understated as ever and should be as practical day-to-day as ever, with improved economy and emissions figures too.

    Beyond those headline acts, Kia dropped some big hints that a 200bhp hot version of its gorgeous Procee’d hatch is on the way, Renault also announced that the rebirth of its sporting Alpine brand really is going ahead, Citroen’s DS3 cabriolet may not have garnered many headlines, but certainly looks like a fun steer and the handsome new Seat Leon looks like it will make an enticingly sporty hot hatch in forthcoming FR and Cupra forms, and that’s without even yet seeing the low-slung three-door version.

    So yes, fun can be had even in the midst of economic depression and angst.

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