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27th June 2011

Hybrid roadsters to fuel-efficient hatchbacks

The news this week contained exciting announcements from a number of manufacturers about new models, from hybrid roadsters to fuel-efficient hatchbacks.

Audi released news of a Congestion Charge-busting A1, with CO2 emissions of just 99g/km. The new mini Audi has a 1.6-litre direct-injection, common-rail turbo-diesel engine that produces 104bhp and returns 74.3mpg. The low CO2 emissions also mean it is exempt from VED from year two onwards. Despite its frugality, it is still capable of 0-62mph in around 10 seconds and a top speed of 118mph. Standard equipment includes stop-start, alloy wheels, air-conditioning and Electric Stability Control and prices begin at £14,480 for the base SE model and go up to £17,865 for the top-of-the-range S Line. The German marque has also released information about its 3.0-litre TDI A8 model, which will produce 201bhp, deliver 47.1mpg and emit just 159g/km CO2 to take on the new four-cylinder diesel S-Class.

The MINI Coupe has also been announced this week, with the promise of the Roadster to come later. The MINI Coupe is based on the Cabriolet and will begin in Cooper guise, with Cooper S, Cooper SD and John Cooper Works models available as well. The Coupe, which is a two-seater only, promises to be the stiffest-bodied MINI available, despite being heavier than the Hatch. The aluminium roof is lower than the Hatch, giving the car a much sleeker appearance. Strangely for a coupe, the absence of rear seats also means it has more boot capacity than its hatchback sibling. The rear spoiler (additional to the roof spoiler) pops up at 50mph, rather like that of the Porsche Boxster. In terms of power, the 1.6-litre turbo JCW engine kicks out 208bhp and provides performance of 0-62mph in 6.4sec and a top speed of 149mph, whilst returning combined fuel economy of nearly 40mpg. The diesel model of the range, the Cooper SD, provides 141bhp and 225 lb ft of torque and achieves 65.7mpg whilst emitting only 114g/km. The base prices for the Coupe, arriving in October, will be £16,640 for the Cooper, with the top-spec JCW model coming in at £23,795.

Toyota also gave us some tantalising news that it is considering producing its GRMN hybrid convertible concept car in volume. Power would come from a V6 petrol unit in a mid-mounted layout, coupled to an electric motor straight from the RX450h SUV. Overall power output would be just shy of 270bhp. The hybrid convertible would join the ranks of the Honda CR-Z as a sports car featuring both engine and battery power.

20th June 2011

Internal combustion engines - are they still the future?

Frugality has once again been the name of the game this week with vehicles of various segments benefiting from lower emissions whilst still using the internal combustion engine.

Mazda, which has somewhat shunned the idea of electric vehicles, has put its first Sky Activ petrol engine into a new model, the Mazda 2, to bring its emissions below 100g/km CO2. The 1.3-litre petrol unit should deliver around 85mpg thanks to a new seven-speed CVT gearbox, very high compression ratio, a dual sequential valve timing system, new six-hole injectors, much reduced internal friction and a new stop-start system. Mazda has also included a system called i-DM, similar to Fiat's Blue&Me setup, which shows how the car is being driven and indicates how it can be driven more economically. The Mazda 2 isn't yet set for sale in the UK and other European markets, but demand for such a frugal car should be strong.

Toyota unveiled images of its new Yaris this week, which promises to be more efficient than the outgoing model. The new model will be available with a choice of three engines, with petrol options including 1.0-litre VVT-i and 1.33-litre dual VVT-i units and the diesel choice being the 1.4-litre D-4D motor. Beyond promises of greater efficiency, the new Yaris is said to be even higher quality than the second generation model and will feature a brand new infotainment system with a 6.1-inch screen controlling something called 'Toyota Touch and Go'.

In slightly older news, Volkswagen launched a new Passat BlueMotion saloon capable of 68.9mpg and emissions of just 109g/km - remarkable for a car of its size. Under the bonnet is the firm's 1.6-litre turbo-diesel engine, producing 104bhp directed through a six-speed manual transmission. The new Bluemotion is also available in estate form, providing 65.7mpg and kicking out only 113g/km CO2. Features include stop-start, aerodynamic tweaks, lower suspension and low rolling-resistance rubber. The car should reach UK roads in July and will cost £19,875 for the saloon and £21,180 for the estate.

Finally, Land Rover's Range_e was apparently spied this week, partially disguised and in testing. The hybrid system in the Range_e should drop emissions below 150g/km and make the Range Rover an even more tempting proposition when it hits the market in a couple of years. The car was apparently spotted in the hands of Bosch engineers - a company which already supplies hybrid technology to Porsche and VW for their SUVs.

13th June 2011

Built in the UK

Fantastic news this week for UK plc as vehicle manufacturers seemed to be rushing out news of investment and production in the UK.

First up was Nissan with the announcement that it will design,engineer and produce the Qashqai in Britain, safeguarding 6,000 jobs and nearly £200 million of investment in the UK economy. The car will be penned at Nissan's design centre in London, developed at the Cranfield technical centre and then built in the Sunderland plant where first-generation models are currently made. The firm's all-electric Leaf will also be produced in Sunderland from 2013.
BMW also had good news this week with the announcement that new a range of new Mini models will be built in Britain and £500 million invested in the firm's Oxford plant. The new front-wheel drive platform will also underpin a new range of BMWs. The Mini range is growing to eight models, including the new coupe, roadster and city car. The news was welcomed as there were rumours that the investment might go to Germany instead. Up to 20 individual BMW and Mini models are expected to be built on the new front-wheel drive platform.

Jaguar Land Rover also had a great announcement this week, in that it is set to build a new engine factory in Wolverhampton. Plans for the plant are in the early stages, but it will mean an investment of around £750 million and around 700 new jobs. The engine plant, which is close to the firm's Birmingham and Solihull sites, will support the significant model range expansion planned for the coming years - with 40 new JLR models hitting the market.
Finally, Aston Martin made headlines with the news that it is relocating the production of its Rapide four-seater from Austria to its base in Gaydon next year. The four-door has been built by Magna Steyr since 2009, but the firm is bringing the car's production back into the UK. A more flexible plant in Gaydon means that production of the Rapide is now far easier to accommodate.


6th June 2011

Summer sun and soft tops

The sun has been shining this week and
car manufacturers have been tempting
us with their latest soft-tops. Mercedes-Benz took the wraps off the roofless version of the SLS AMG, likely to cost around £180k. Enthusiasts will doubtless be a bit disappointed that the Roadster loses the coupe's gullwing doors, instead getting frameless conventional ones. Performance from the 563bhp, 6.2-litre V8 remains largely unchanged, with the car being capable of 0-62mph in 3.8sec and having a top speed just under 200mph. The roof takes just 11 seconds to open and can be opened while the car is moving at speeds of up to 30mph. Audi also took the lid off a convertible this week, after the VW Group announced how it would differentiate its VW, Audi and Porsche models using the same platform. Audi's R4 will hit the roads in a few years and cost around £25k. The mid-engined model will likely have two petrol engines on offer, but these are still to be confirmed.

The range-topper is likely to offer around 350bhp from Audi's 2.5-litre five-pot turbo unit. However, there is also the possibility of a diesel engine joining the line-up. Skoda, somewhat surprisingly, has also unveiled a new roadster based on its Fabia vRS S2000 rally car. Whilst it is very unlikely to see production, a Skoda convertible isn't too unfeasible in the future. Power is supplied by a 2.0-litre twin-turbo petrol engine producing over 200bhp. The car is incredibly striking, sporting the same green paint as the road-going Fabia vRS. It also has new bonnet scoops, flared wheel arches, 18-inch white alloy wheels and a big rear diffuser. Inside the interior is awash with carbon fibre and passengers in the front enjoy proper bucket seats with four-point racing style harnesses. Finally, Volkswagen also launched a convertible this week in the shape of the R version of its Golf Cabriolet. It uses the
five-cylinder turbo petrol from the Golf R hatchback, which develops 266bhp and provides a 0-60mph time of under six seconds with a top speed of 155mph. Stopping power is equally good thanks to 17-inch ventilated brake discs. The interior is fitted out with leather, carbonfibre and blasted aluminium. Definitely time to get out and enjoy the summer weather...


1st June 2011

Choose small, Save fuel

Some good news this week for motorists
looking to save money on motoring with a few interesting superminis coming to a showroom near you. First off, journos have been off recently driving the new Chevrolet Aveo, with the 1.2 litre petrol unit seeming to be the key variant.

The Aveo wears Chevrolet's new corporate face, bringing it into
line with the Spark and Cruze, but with the double headlights
giving it a distinctive edge. The interior is also a step up
from the previous generation, borrowing much of its switchgear from the Vauxhall stable. For a small car, the new Aveo carries a lot of kit, including six airbags, cruise control and iPod connectivity. The 1.2-litre, 85bhp four-pot comes in a few hundred quid below £10,000 and for the economical buyer delivers 51.4mpg. Kia is also offering something for the buyer on a
budget with the latest version of its Picanto. The car will be available with two engines: a 1.0-litre, 68bhp three-cylinder, with CO2 emissions of just 99g/km and fuel economy of 67.3mpg; and a 1.25-litre four-pot unit with 84bhp that kicks out only 109g/km CO2 and delivers 60.2mpg. The latter model is available with an optional stop-start system that brings CO2 emissions to 100g/km and improves fuel economy by 5mpg. Standard kit is impressive and includes ABS with brake assist, ESC and hill assist and daytime running lights. Options available include alloys, Bluetooth connectivity, LED indicators and rear lights and automatic headlights. The base trim 1.25-litre model starts at just over £10,000, whilst the 1.0-litre is available from just £7,995.
Suzuki is also bringing out a frugal new model in the form of a 1.3-litre diesel addition to its Swift range. The new 74bhp oil-burner emits 109g/km CO2 and achieves a fuel economy figure of 67.3mpg. Top speed is 103mph and the Swift will get to 62mph in 12.7 seconds. Seven airbags, air conditioning, 16-inch alloys and USB connectivity all come standard in the starting price of £12,890.