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  • Paris motor show: New model highlights

    September 27, 2012 @ 5:25 pm | by Michael McAleer

    As we come to the end of the first day of the Paris motor show, time to reflect on some of the new cars heading our way in the next few months.

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    The Jaguar F-Type was one of the surprises of the show, much better looking in the metal than the press shots let on. It’s a really tidy stylish little package with a design that offers a mix of artistic lines to the rear and real menace at the front. Some suggest it has Maserati looks in its DNA, but Scottish designer Ian Callum was clearly playing on the heritage of the E-Type when he was sketching this car. And he needed to keep it modern and sleek for the F-Type has its sights firmly set on taking sales from the likes of the Porsche Cayman.
    On offer with three powertain options – 3-litre V6 in 340bhp or 380bhp format, or 5-litre supercharged 495bhp – it will hit Irish showrooms in March. Prices are likely to start at €80,000 for the 340bhp version. Launched in a soft-top, we can already start to imagine how good a coupe version would look. Jaguar might be a niche brand, but it’s really on the rise.
    Sister firm Land Rover is also bucking the industry trend with phenomenal demand for its Range Rover Evoque. Sales are up 40% year-to-date and while European sales might not be challenging the big volume players, the Asian markets can’t seem to get enough of the British brand. With that in mind the arrival of new Range Rover – the fourth since the model was launched in 1974 – should spell sales success for the firm, particularly in China. It’s got a noticeably smaller front grille that takes a little away from the usual Range Rover stance, but the car is as plush inside as any luxury car. Using aluminium the firm has also drastically reduced its weight, down a whopping 420kgs on the outgoing model. It’s still going to be silly money to tax one, but at least the emissions are going in the right direction, with promises it will come in below 200g/km. Good, but still several hundred euros a year more than most Irish motorists could afford.

    Sticking on the theme of weight loss and the new VW Golf has dropped an impressive 15 per cent on average compared to the previous version. The new car comes with a host of engine options, including a BlueMotion version that will deliver 85g/km. It’s still clearly a Golf, but has been updated and tweaked enough to please the millions of customers who keep coming back for more.

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    The flagship GTi is the hot news from the VW stand. When it arrives next year the 2-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine will be available with an optional power boost package that will bring it from the standard 218bhp to 227bhp. New to the GTi range will be VW’s progressive steering system, which reduces the number of degrees of turn the driver needs to apply to the steering wheel. That means lighter parking and tighter handling on twisty roads.

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    Over at Toyota, the big news is the arrival of the new Auris, even if it’s not quite that big news since details and images of the car have been on the go since mid-August. New to the range is the Auris Tourer, an estate version that was sadly missing from the range since the end of the Corolla estate in the early 2000s. Toyota has also confirmed new versions of the people carrier Auris variants.
    The Auris estate will arrive in Ireland in November with an engine range that includes a 1.4-litre diesel, 1.3- and 1.6-litre petrol and a hybrid variant running on the same powertrain as the current Prius. While the estate is unlikely to exceed 10 per cent of Auris sales in Ireland, on the Continent it makes up over a quarter of sales.

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    At the premium end of the market BMW and Audi both revealed concepts that showcase future production models. First up was Audi with its Crossland Coupe concept car, a sneak peek at what the upcoming Q2 will look like.

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    Meanwhile arch-rivals BMW showed off its upcoming rival to the Mercedes B-Class. The Concept Active Tourer is not only a high-roofed family hatch, but will also breaks with the BMW rear-wheel-drive tradition.
    The firm is also boasting another first in Paris in that it has opened one of the first BMW boutique shops in the city, on the famous Avenue George V. Sitting alongside the highest of high fashion brands in the plushest shopping street in Paris, the store will be a front for selling the brand not only in terms of merchandise but, BMW executives hope, selling some cars as well through association with the other names it sits alongside on Paris most prestigious avenue.

  • Paris motor show: the fun metal

    @ 4:41 pm | by 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.

  • Paris protest is a victory for VW and new Golf

    @ 3:33 pm | by Michael McAleer

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    It’s perhaps a reflection of the introspection of the motor industry these days that with the European market in the doldrums, the most talked about event of the first day of the Paris Motor show will be the banner that Greenpeace managed to unfurl during the Volkswagen press conference.
    It was a bit of a PR coup, but in some ways its a win-win for both.
    Greenpeace prove once more that they can get their message across despite security. But it hardly compares with their recent endeavours in France where they managed to sneak into a nuclear power station. The message they were trying to get across is that VW needs to come onside with moves to set low emissions targets for car firms.
    However their point was rather weakened by the fact that their protest took place during the launch of the VW Golf, which boasts in its fleet variants that achieve sub-99g/km in CO2. The eponymous brand from the car giant is in fact making great strides to reduce emissions. The Greenpeace ire is with the group and the overall averages are being pushed up by the fact that VW is a sister brand to supercar – and big emitters – like Bentley, Bugatti and Lamborghini. Their stands were untroubled with protests.
    For Volkswagen it’s not as bad in terms of PR as it might appear. The fact is the brand is making major strides to lower emissions. What’s more, the new Golf and its emissions will get far wider coverage because of the protest than its marketing team could have hoped.
    Take the caption on the Getty image that is appearing on many websites: “Greenpeace flag is suspended from the ceiling during the presentation of the new Golf VII at the Paris Auto Show on September 27, 2012 in Paris, France. Volkswagen is hoping the new Golf will help the company to overtake GM and Toyota as the world’s largest automaker. (Photo by Antoine Antoniol/Getty Images)”.
    People expect Greenpeace to protest and will be drawn to the story by the cheekiness of it. But what they take away from this is that their’s a new Golf out and if they read further into most stories, they’ll learn from the response from VW that the car has only 99g/km in emissions. Green supporter or not, one of the first things that will come into consumer minds is likely to be “that will mean low motor tax”.
    So it’s another win for Greenpeace but in its way it’s another win for VW and its new Golf, which for those eco-warriors who are wondering, will be in showrooms in Ireland from December. And with that sort of emissions it will be one of the cleanest family hatchbacks on the market.

  • First drive in Peugeot’s new 208 supermini

    March 15, 2012 @ 3:54 pm | by Michael McAleer

    Michael McAleer
    Motoring editor

    Peugeot's new 208

    Peugeot has created the prodigal son of superminis. In the 1990s it was the small hatch that others wanted to imitate. Its 205 – albeit in GTi form – adorned the bedroom walls of petrolheads from Mullingar to Majorca. While we were less enamoured by the more feminine wiles of its replacement 206, with its softer lines, we still admired its cheeky appeal.
    Then came the 207. It was like meeting your childhood hero after a few years out of the limelight and finding they’ve spent too much time in the takeaway. It was fat, frumpy and well below par. There was nothing lithe or nimble about the French lion’s offering any more.
    Well the good news is that the little Pug has been to rehab, shed the pounds and is back with a bang. The new 208 harks back to the days of the 206 in its looks and the glorious 205 in its handling. Suddenly Peugeot is back again with a car that warrants the supermini tagline.
    Everything about the new car, from its exterior styling through to the small steering wheel, is in keeping with what a supermini should be. It’s a tidy little package that can cope with the functional needs of family life but does so with fun and flair.

    The 208's smart new cabin includes a smaller steering wheel and touchscreen system


    Several new features impress, not least the new cabin layout. Peugeot has moved the central dials up to the driver’s eyeline and the smaller wheel gives a far more immediate feel to the 208’s handling and charm. A new touchscreen system in the central console – offered in the second-tier specification and a feature that’s expected to be fitted on 80 per cent of 208s sold – is a smart addition. It’s not in any way the equal to the tablet computers on the market, despite the claims of various Peugeot marketing executives, but it’s great to see it replace the plethora of buttons and knobs that have long cluttered the cabins of Peugeot cars for years now.
    The firm is launching a new stable of apps for the device, including versions of the Michelin hotel and restaurant guide, but they seem to be merely expensive gimmicks, certainly too expensive – at €350 in the initial year and €150 annually thereafter – and more immobile than what you can get on a decent smartphone these days for less than one per cent of that price. Credit to Peugeot for the effort, but don’t expect a queue of customers for this particular feature.
    Where the new car really excels is in its ride and handling, harking back to the glory days of the 205. The ride is much more refined than on the 207, capable of soaking up the bumps and potholes, particularly when shod on 16′ tyres. It’s dynamically much better as well, cornering at speeds and holding a tight line in bends without too much body roll. During our test drive we pitted it against some of the worst road surfaces we’ve come across since a recent trip to Connemara and it soaked up every bump and pothole without complaint. Its cornering ability is just what you want from a small fun car, sharp and reassuring in the bends, encouraging you to kick on.
    Overall the car feels far more nimble and eager than the frumpy 207 ever was. It all bodes well for the introduction of a GTi version which is supposedly in the pipeline.
    The 208 comes in both three and five-door formats, with little design differences between the two, including the use of chrome strips on the side of the three-door. Despite being slightly smaller in stature, the 208 manages to offer greater legroom than its predecessor. An extra 7cms has been added to the backseat legroom and it’s very evident once an adult jumps in.
    The engine line-up boasts significant improvements in both fuel economy and emissions, although not all these benefits will be reaped by Irish drivers. The impressive 1.6-litre diesel and petrol powertrains may seem perfectly mated with the new look of the car but the mainstays for the Irish market will be a 1.4-litre diesel and two versions of the firm’s new three-cylinder petrol engine.
    The new three cylinder engine comes in 1–litre and 1.2–litre format. I got to test the latter and while it’s noticeably slower off the starting blocks than the larger four cylinder engines, it is neither noisier nor slower when you get it up to speed. With emissions below 100g/km, the slightly longer take–off will be regarded as a price with paying for many Irish buyers. One complaint is that the five–speed manual gearbox on the three–cylinder engines is not as precise as the one fitted to the larger engine and there’s a noticeably longer gap between the gear gates. Engage fifth gear and you feel like your reaching for the passenger glovebox. It’s the one disappointment I had with a car that otherwise put a smile on my face.
    The fit and finish of this car is far superior to what has gone before. The smaller steering wheel makes a big difference to the cabin and the driving feel.
    Other nice touches include the new speedometer and rev counter binnacle that places the dials and information in the driver’s eyeline, and the touchscreen centre console. The latter may not be in the same league as an average tablet computer in terms of functionality or form, but it’s much better than the cluttered knobs and buttons of past Peugeots. As it comes in the middle grade equipment level – expected to make up 80 per cent of sales – it will be a common sight on Irish 208s, not simply reserved for top level variants.
    While the car is arriving here on June 30th prices have yet to be finalised, but given that its main rival will be the Toyota Yaris and its ilk, we expect the new 208 will enter the market below €15,000.

    Peugeot is going through the financial wars like many of its European counterparts, struggling with overcapacity and losses in lacklustre European markets. While a restructuring seems on the cards, everyone knows that the most important recipe for recovery remains a garage of good cars. With the 208, Peugeot is dramatically improving its chances of a return to profit.

    The french brand has a winner on its hands


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