High Quality Car Servicing, MOTs and Accident Repair

We are a friendly, professional and family run business based conviently off the A3. We have been servicing the motoring needs of Surbiton near Kingston Upon Thames and surrounding areas for over 30 years.

 

           

Welcome to Maypole Motors Ltd


            We are a friendly, professional and family run business based convien

Family run business

With a team of qualified car mechanics and technicians, you can be assured of a truly personal service with all aspects of repairs to your car. Being a member of 'Checkatrade', we are openly vetted and monitored and we welcome any feedback from our customers.

First registered in 1976 we have expanded from a small recovery and service garage employing three staff to its current all encompassing motor group employing in the region of forty-five people. The combination of the services we provide still holds strong links to our initial well known friendly beginnings.

Expansion over the years has merely enhanced the service we provide to all our customers. Our hand picked staff still have the pleasantries of a small local garage and the benefits of large investment in technology training and equipment.

View our promotional video here : http://bcove.me/gz6dumyp

VW reveals 167mph Ducati-engined XL Sport concept
VW reveals 167mph Ducati-engined XL Sport concept Sleek motorcycle-engined concept produces 197bhp from its 1199cc engine, which can rev to 11,000rpm

Volkswagen has revealed a high-performance Ducati-engined version of the XL1, named the XL Sport, at its preview event ahead of the Paris motor show.

The mid-engined, rear-wheel-drive XL Sport concept, which is the 200 millionth car produced by Volkswagen, is powered by the Italian motorcycle company’s V-twin engine, which is the world's most powerful two-cylinder motorcycle engine.

Ducati is part of the Volkswagen Group, having been bought by Audi in 2012.

The engine is derived from that found in the 1199 Panigale Superleggera. Installed in the sleek XL Sport, it produces 197bhp, has a top speed of more than 167mph and revs to a maximum of 11,000rpm.

This engine, together with a seven-speed DSG transmission, launches the sports car from 0-62mph in 5.7 seconds and revs up to 11,000rpm.

Although the car bears a close resemblance to the super-frugal XL1, some major design aspects have been developed completely from scratch. The XL Sport weighs 890kg and has a drag coefficient of 0.258. Volkswagen claims these factors combine to make it the fastest car in the world for its power output.

For example, the XL Sport has a number of special aerodynamic tweaks including special air curtains, wheel arch air outlets, an optimised underbody, a diffuser that reduces aerodynamic lift and adaptive exhaust heat vents integrated in the rear lid.

The concept car is slightly longer and wider than the XL1 with a length of 4291mm, width of 1847mm and height of 1152mm. It has a 2424mm wheelbase, longer than the XL1, significantly wider wings and larger wheels.

The extendible rear spoiler is powered by the same apparatus unit as in the Lamborghini Aventador. It also has adaptive waste heat vents incorporated in the rear hatch – the louvres opens and closes automatically as required to conduct excess engine heat away. The air supply for cooling the Ducati engine is via vents in the rear wings.

The car is built around a high-strength steel space frame. The suspension consists of a double wishbone front axle with the dampers connected below in a pull-rod configuration, and a double wishbone rear axle with the dampers connected above in a push rod configuration.

The tyres are 205/40 R18 at the front and 265/35 R18 and the rear, and the wheels are made from forged magnesium, which brings a total weight reduction of 23.9kg compared with aluminium wheels.

Like the XL1, many parts of the XL Sport's body are manufactured in carbon-reinforced polymer (CFRP), with a monocoque featuring slightly offset seats for the driver and passenger.

The interior boasts a number of changes over the standard XL1, such as a digital instrument cluster, with an individual lap time and oil pressure display. A flat carbonfibre part that extends the top of the instrument cluster covering to eliminate reflections in the windscreen.

“The XL Sport is based on the XL1, our lightweight efficiency champion with an extremely low drag coefficient and excellent aerodynamics. We’ve improved the aerodynamics but maintained the sporty look,” said a Volkswagen spokesman. “It has a heart made by Ducati.”

Volkswagen describes the XL1's interior as "highly influenced by motorsport". There’s no word on whether Volkswagen intends to put the striking car into production, but last year the manufacturer stated its intention to build one example of the car to gauge reaction.

The German manufacturer is expected to reveal more details of the concept at its Paris motor show press conference at 0850hrs tomorrow.

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The time is right for Audi to think big with its TT
The time is right for Audi to think big with its TT The third-generation Audi TT coupé has already proven to be a big hit with our road testers, so is it now time for Audi to expand the family?

With every passing motor show, I wonder what niche BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz will find left to fill. The German ‘big three’ are the masters of expanding line-ups you probably never thought were necessary before.

And so to Paris, and the expansion continues again. With BMW, that original niche-buster, the X6, is back again for a second generation. Mercedes is filling a Porsche 911-sized hole in its line-up with the stunning AMG GT, but for me the most intrigue comes from Audi, and the imminent expansion of its TT line-up with the TT Sportback concept.

It’s the third such new TT concept this year after the Shooting Brake and Offroad concepts, and the third time I’ve thought: why didn’t they think of that sooner? 

The TT is the Audi with the most brand kudos, and the strongest badge, so to me it’s the obvious candidate for an expanded line-up, especially when at least two of the three concepts would offer something genuinely new and interesting on the market place.

Perhaps Audi has been biding its time, choosing not to expand the TT line-up before the third generation. The second-gen TT always felt like a watered down version of the original concept, but colleagues report the new model is fabulous to drive, and to my eyes it’s a looker again, too. Our web stats indicate our readers can’t get enough of the TT, too.

So now with three proposed new TT bodystyles, Audi must decide which – if not all – to put into production. Whatever it decides, with that TT badge, those looks and strong dynamic underpinnings, the TT success story, and Audi’s expansion into ever more niches and new market segments, will inevitably continue.

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Paris motor show live blog and gallery
Paris motor show live blog and gallery Autocar brings you all the news from the Paris motor show. Follow our live blog for updates, pictures and the latest industry gossip

2100 That about wraps things up for our live coverage tonight. Join us back here tomorrow morning for a fresh day of news, pictures and analysis as the doors of the Paris motor show officially open for 2014. For now, goodnight!

2055 Hilton Holloway has been listening to VW Group chairman Martin Winterkorn speak at the group’s press night – he asks EU legislators to give the firm three years to see if EVs and hybrids can sell before setting the next CO2 target.

2050 Nismo recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. Take a look back through the company's archives with our picture special, here.

2045 It's rumoured the Pulsar Nismo will be powered by a tuned version of Nissan's turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol engine, the same unit that will also be used in the upcoming Juke Nismo RS.

2040 There's plenty still to be revealed in Paris tomorrow, including the Nissan Pulsar Nismo. Our spies caught an early look at it only yesterday.

2035 One of the models we're particularly excited to see in Paris is Honda's latest Type R concept, which is now very close to production. It's powered by a turbocharged 2.0-litre i-VTEC petrol engine developing "more than 276bhp".

2030 Want to find out more about the 503bhp Mercedes-AMG C63? See our exclusive pictures here.

2025 Andrew Frankel is with Mercedes-Benz this evening, where the centre of attention is the firm's new C63. "It looks mega," he says "and with its twin-turbo V8 engine unlikely not to deliver on the promise of those looks."

2020 Over at Infinti's pre-Paris event, Julian Rendell says the Q80 Inspiration has "more than a little hint of Renault's 1995 Initiale concept" in its styling.

2015 There's no official word on whether Volkswagen will look to put the XL Sport into production. The model is getting a decent reaction on social media, though.

2010 The XL Sport's bike engine can rev to around 11,000rpm. A VW Spokesman said the model has "a heart made by Ducati." Get the full story here.

2005 Back to the XL Sport, and we've received confirmation that the car will come with 195bhp, and will be able to hit a top speed of over 167mph.

2000 The Volkswagen Group wants to become an "engine of change in the automotive industry," says Winterkorn, who notes the firm is also working to future-proof the 580,000 jobs it provides.

1957 Winterkorn continues: "Do not consider this change to be a threat - rather, we think it is an opportunity."

1955 VW Group Chairman Martin Winterkorn is now on stage: "Everywhere in the world we are witnessing major challenges and uncertain times," he says "Our motor industry is also facing fundamental change. The expectations that people have for cars are changing."

1952 It's been reported that the XL Sport is powered by a 1200cc engine that develops 187bhp at 10,750rpm, alongside 91lb ft of torque.

1948 The idea of a bike-engined version of the XL1 was first mooted in September last year. VW board chairman Ferdinand Piëch confirmed that prototypes of the model would be built to gauge customer reaction.

1945 Here's a surprise entry - it's a Ducati-engined version of Volkswagen's super-frugal XL1, dubbed the XL Sport. The model on display in Paris is the VW Group's two-hundred millionth car.

1940 Volkswagen's Passat GTE is now on stage. It'll arrive in the UK in the second half of next year, but the real headline-grabbing stat is that it's capable of returning 141mpg.

1936 Time for Porsche now, which is showing off its facelifted Cayenne SUV. Of particular note is the new 410bhp petrol-electric S E-Hybrid model, which averages 83.1mpg and emits 79g/km of CO2.

1934 Want to know how the new Skoda Fabia drives? We drove a late-stage prototype version earlier this month.

1930 Skoda's third-generation Fabia is now on stage. Sadly, no hot vRS version is planned.

1925 Time for another big reveal now - it's the Lamborghini Asterion concept, which is an 898bhp technical showcase. See more pictures and find out more here.

1922 As the roll-out of new models continues, Bugatti shows off its recently-revealed Veyron Legends car, the last in a series of six. What do you think of it?

1920 Seat takes to the stage now, showcasing its new Leon X-Perience, which is already on sale in the UK and costs from £24,385

1917 So, with the new TT Sportback concept now revealed, is it the right time for Audi to start expanding its TT-badged range? Mark Tisshaw thinks so. Read his blog here.

1913 The Mulsanne Speed gets 530bhp from its 6.75-litre V8 engine, and can reach a top speed of 190mph. It costs £252,200.

1909 Bentley boss Wolfgang Dürheimer is now on stage at the VW Group night, introducing the firm's new Mulsanne Speed

1907 The TT Sportback is the third TT-related concept shown by Audi, following on from the TT Shooting Brake and TT Offroad models.

1903 And here’s our first look at Audi’s big Paris motor show concept – the TT Sportback.

1901 Audi boss Rupert Stadler is now on stage at the VW Group night. Speaking about the brand, he says the firm has set targets of selling 1.7 million cars in 2014. “And we’re on target to do that,” he says.

1900 Autocar has also had the chance to talk exclusively to new Citroën boss Linda Jackson. She says the French brand “will become all about the feel-good factor.” Read the full interview here.

1855 Another quote, from Ettore Bugatti, says: “Nothing is too expensive. Nothing is too beautiful.”

1852 Hilton Holloway has found some interesting quotes on display outside the VW Group night. One, from Ferdinand Porsche, reads: “In the beginning, I looked around but couldn’t find the car of my dreams. So I decided to build it myself.”

1847 Powering the Infiniti Q80 Inspiration concept is a 3.0-litre V6 engine working in conjunction with an electric motor. The car's total power output is rated at 543bhp.

1844 Infiniti European design boss Simon Cox, admits the Q80 Inspiration concept was initially designed in London.

1840 At tonight’s pre-show Infiniti event, Autocar brand editor Chas Hallett has been talking to the firm’s European boss Francois Goupil de Bouille, who says that the Q80 Inspiration is more than the concept – it showcases a new generation of Infiniti’s large engine technology. He also hints that the company will make the Q80 into a production model, or something close to it.

1835 One of the first cars to be revealed ahead of the Paris show was Infiniti’s Q80 Inspiration concept. It’s designed to showcase the firm’s new hybrid powertrain, but could also point towards a new production model.

1830 If you’ve missed any of our pre-show coverage, you can find all of the cars we’re expecting see at the show in our comprehensive Paris motor show preview.

1827 This evening our team are attending pre-show events with Renault, Infiniti, Mitsubishi, Mercedes-Benz, Vauxhall and Infiniti, as well as the Volkswagen group night.

1823 And of course, you can follow Autocar on Twitter @autocar, on Google+ here and on Facebook, here

1820 You can follow the Autocar team on Twitter using their handles: @chashallett, @mtisshaw, @StvCr, @hiltonholloway, @matty_prior, @TheDarkStormy1, @Andrew_Frankel, @JesseCrosse, @GregKable, @Matt_Burt, @theseoldcars and @darren_moss

1818 Back in the Autocar office your web team consists of Matt Burt (digital editor), Lewis Kingston (deputy digital editor) and Darren Moss (digital reporter)

1816 Our writing team at the Paris show includes Chas Hallett (brand editor), Mark Tisshaw (deputy editor), Steve Cropley (editor-in-chief), Hilton Holloway (associate editor), Matt Prior (road test editor), Nic Cackett (road tester), Richard Bremner (senior contributing editor), Greg Kable (European editor), Andrew Frankel (senior contributing writer), Dan Stevens (correspondent), Julian Rendell (industry editor) and Jesse Crosse (technical editor)

1813 Autocar has 12 reporters at the Paris motor show, as well as our two in-house photographers, to bring you the latest news, analysis, comment and pictures.

1810 Tonight our reporters are attending several pre-Paris events, including Volkswagen’s group night, which usually gives media a first glimpse at some of the new metal on display.

1808 Welcome to Autocar’s Paris motor show live blog. During the rest of today and all of Thursday, we’ll be bringing you the very latest news from the Paris show floor.

This year’s Paris event is already gearing up to be one of the biggest motor shows of the year. New car unveilings are scheduled from the likes of Ferrari, Lamborghini, Audi, BMW and many more. 

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Lamborghini showcases new Asterion hybrid coupe concept
Lamborghini showcases new Asterion hybrid coupe concept On the eve of the Paris motor show Lamborghini has taken the wraps off its new V10-engined, 898bhp plug-in hybrid concept

Lamborghini has unveiled a new one-off concept, dubbed Asterion, on the eve of the Paris motor show. The model is described as a "technology demonstrator" which shows off an in-house-developed, 898bhp plug-in petrol-electric hybrid drivetrain.

Described as having a "unique Lamborghini cruising experience together with everyday urban drivability," the concept is capable of travelling on electric power alone for up to 31 miles.

The multi-faceted Asterion LPI910-4 was unveiled by Lamborghini president Stephan Winkelmann at a media event prior to the Paris show.

Being careful to distance the new Lamborghini concept from the existing crop of petrol-electric hybrid powered hypercars such as the Ferrari LaFerrari, McLaren P1 and Porsche's 918 Spyder, Winkelmann described the Asterion LPI910-4 as being “conceived more for comfortable luxury daily cruising than for ultimate track performance”.

Power for the new two-seater hails from Lamborghini’s first ever plug-in petrol-electric hybrid drivetrain – a unit heavily tipped to make its debut in a production version of the Urus, which, despite official claims suggesting it still awaits an official go-ahead from parent company Audi, has already undergone extensive conceptual development at the company’s Sant’Agata HQ, according to Audi sources.

The advanced hybrid drivetrain is based around the latest evolution of the Italian supercar manufacturer’s naturally aspirated 5.2-litre V10 petrol engine, as used by the recently introduced Huracan.  

On its own, the longitudinally mounted V10 delivers 602bhp and 413lb ft exclusively to the rear wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox which is located behind the engine in a traditional transaxle layout.

The petrol engine is combined with three brushless electric motors – one placed within the gearbox and capable of directing drive to the rear wheels, and two more powerful units situated within the front axle, where they provide direct drive to the front wheels.

Together, the electric motors produce a combined 296bhp, raising the Asterion's overall output to 898bhp and a yet to be specified peak torque figure.

The driver can choose between three driving modes via buttons on the steering wheel. Included is 'Z' for zero local-emission running, 'I' to select Ibrido (the Italian word for hybrid) and 'T' denoting Termico, meaning thermal power.

Energy used to power the three electric motors is stored in a lithium ion battery mounted down the centre of the cabin within the tunnel usually reserved for the gearbox – a layout Lamborghini claims helps provide its latest concept with best possible combination of balance and crash safety. The battery can be charged either via recuperated means while on the run or on mains power via a conventional wall socket.

In front-wheel-drive electric mode, the Asterion is claimed to possess a range of up to 31 miles at speeds of up to 78mph. In hybrid mode, in which the individual power sources simultaneously channel drive both to the front and rear wheels, the new Lamborghini is claimed to possess a 0-62mph time of 3.0sec and a top speed of 199mph.

Combined fuel economy is a claimed 67mpg, giving the new Lamborghini concept car a theoretical CO2 emission rating less than a third of that of the 690bhp, naturally aspirated 6.5-litre V12-engined Aventador at 98g/km.

In keeping with developments seen on the Huracan, the Asterion LPI910-4 is based around a carbonfibre monocoque and clothed in a carbonfibre composite plastic body. Lamborghini has not revealed a kerb weight for the new car but the electric components and lithium ion battery used within the hybrid system weigh are claimed to weigh 250kg in total.  

Styled under the guise of Lamborghini design boss Filippo Perini, the Asterion LPI910-4 provides the first tacit clues of how the Italian supercar manufacturer aims to progress the look of future models, including the production version of the Urus.

The exterior eschews the sheer surfaces and inherent edginess of recent Lamborghinis for fuller and more curvaceous forms. There is also a smoother transition between the various panels than on current models for a more flowing form and slender appearance overall.

The most controversial feature of the new car is the styling of the front end, which appears to take inspiration from another classic Italian supercar, the De Tomaso Pantera. It is combined with a rear end that takes many of its cues from the new Huracan.

The leading edge of the bonnet sits higher than that of any current Lamborghini model in a move Perini says is part of efforts to provide the Asterion LPI910-4 with greater everyday drivability, by providing a clear point of reference for the driver during parking maneuvers and city driving.

The windscreen is also more upright than on any recent Lamborghini in an effort to ease entry to the cabin and provide increased headroom. The space behind the seats is used as a luggage compartment.

Among the developments brought to the exterior is an active cooling system. Incorporated within the front air intakes, it uses a double-layered grid in which metal and titanium are embedded into each other, the former containing a Y-shaped mesh and the later a hexagonal theme. A transparent engine cover is comprised of three panes of glass that change their position according to the driving mode.

As with the exterior, Lamborghini has used the interior of the Asterion to explore new design and packaging themes. The minimalistic dashboard is said to provide hints to future models, while the seats are mounted higher than those in existing Lamborghinis for what Perini describes as “comfortable everyday cruising rather than extreme handling”.

Sticking with Lamborghini tradition, the Asterion takes its name from that of a mythical bull. The LPI910-4 suffix can be broken down into four elements – 'LP' for the Italian 'longitudinal posteriore' that denotes a longitudinal rear mounting of the petrol engine, 'I' stands for 'ibrido', '910' is the car’s overall output measured in metric horsepower and the '4' signifies four-wheel drive. 

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Audi reveals stretched TT Sportback concept
Audi reveals stretched TT Sportback concept The third-generation TT looks set to spawn a new family of cars, as this latest Sportback concept joins TT Allroad and TT Offroad models

Audi has given its latest insight into plans to extend the third-generation TT family with the unveiling of a new 395bhp, 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine-powered five-door concept called the TT Sportback.

The practical new Sportback, revealed on the eve of the Paris motor show, is the third conceptual derivative of the TT to be aired by Audi in 2014. It follows the stylish TT Allroad revealed at the Detroit motor show in January and the high-riding Offroad shown at the Beijing show in April.

Although all three variants are billed as concepts, they are said to closely preview new liftback, shooting brake and SUV models that could complement the existing coupé and roadster in a five-strong range of TT models within the next three years.   

“In our TT Sportback we are revealing a new member of a potential TT family,” said Audi research and development boss Ulrich Hackenberg. His comments follow similar accounts of the TT Allroad and TT Offroad, the later of which Hackenberg has described as a “glimpse of a new model in the future TT family”.

The TT Sportback draws its styling inspiration from the latest TT coupé, and comes with heavy influences of the Bauhaus design lineage that has shaped the look of the Audi line-up since the mid-1990s.

While it is evident that it is not simply a stretched version of its three-door TT coupé sibling, it is clear from the similarity in appearance that the new five-door is intended to be a member of the same family of models.

Among its more prominent elements is a bold six-corner grille set within a heavily structured front bumper. The front end also features a clamshell-style bonnet that wraps into the flanks and trapezoidal-shaped headlights with distinctive laser high beam projectors that are activated at speeds above 37mph.

The new model retains the prominent wheel arch flares that have been a feature of the TT since its introduction to the Audi line-up back in 1996. They are filled out with substantial 10-spoke 21-inch alloy wheels shod with 255/30 tyres.

A defined shoulder line, referred to by Audi as the 'Tornado' line, runs the entire length of the flanks, from the trailing edge of the headlights through to the tail-lights. Four frameless front-hinged doors provide access to the cabin. A shallow glasshouse is stretched with the addition of a third window at the rear, while the B-pillar is fixed in the interests of structural rigidity.

Holding true to the layout of the TT coupé models, the new TT Sportback features a liftback-style tailgate styled in similar fashion to that gracing the Audi A7. The rear also features new slimline LED tail-lights and twin oval-shaped tailpipes set within a deep rear bumper.

At 4470mm long, 1890mm wide and 1380mm high, the five-door liftback is 290mm longer, 58mm wider and a scant 27mm lower than its three-door sibling. This makes it just 14mm longer, a considerable 94mm wider and some 36mm lower than the German manufacturer's existing A3 saloon.

Underpinning the new car is a new variation of parent company Volkswagen’s MQB platform.

To accommodate the rear doors and provide adequate rear seat accommodation for two adults, it receives a 2637mm wheelbase that is 125mm longer than that of the TT coupé and 7mm longer than the A3 saloon.

The added width in the body also suggests that it uses wider tracks front and rear than either of its siblings, although the exact measurements are yet to be made official.

To keep weight down and achieve rigidity levels described as being similar to its two-door sibling, the body structure uses a variety of different materials. The front section is made from steel, the floor uses hot-formed high-strength steel elements in differing gauges and the outer skin, including the bonnet, four doors and boot lid, are aluminium.

The interior of the TT Sportback is based closely on that of the new TT coupé. The two cars share the same high-quality dashboard, digital instruments, centre console, switchgear, multi-function steering wheel, heavily bolstered front seats and carbonfibre-look trims.

Among the highlights is Audi's new virtual cockpit display, which consists of a 12.3-inch TFT monitor set within the instrument binnacle. It works in conjunction with a rotary control placed on the centre console and boasts a customisable display.

Resisting the temptation to turn the TT into a fully fledged five-seater, Audi has given the Sportback concept individual rear seats with integrated headrests, providing it with accommodation for up to four. The rear seats, which are divided by an armrest and storage compartment, can be folded down to extend luggage capacity.

The TT Sportback is powered by a heavily tuned version of the Audi-developed EA888 engine. Mounted transversely up front, the turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinderunit is claimed to produce a heady 395bhp at 6400rpm and 332lb ft on a band of revs between 2400 and 6000rpm, endowing the new concept with 89bhp and 52lb ft more than the new third-generation TTS coupé.

By comparison, the similarly conceived turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine used by the Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG produces 355bhp at a slightly lower 6000rpm rpm and the same 332lb ft from 2250 to 5000rpm.

Audi says the aluminium block engine has undergone extensive modifications to realise a specific output tantalizingly close to 200bhp per litre.

Included is a new turbocharger running a maximum boost pressure of 1.8 bar, a reworked cylinder head with increased gas flow rates, revisions to the variable camshaft adjustment and the two-stage variable valve-lift system, indirect injection on part throttle loads for improved combustion and an exhaust manifold embedded in the cylinder head for improved thermal qualities.

The heady reserves are channelled through a six-speed  S-Tronic dual-clutch automatic gearbox with remote steering wheel-mounted paddles and a multi-plate clutch four-wheel drive system mounted within the rear axle for improved front-to-rear weight distribution.  

Audi has yet to put forward a weight claim or gearing details for the TT Sportback. However, the German car maker’s own computer simulations point toward a 0-62mph time of just 3.9sec. This is 1.1sec faster than the TTS coupé and not far off the fastest-accelerating Audi production car to date, the R8 5.2 V10 Plus, which is claimed to achieve a time of 3.5sec.

Audi is not prepared to divulge a top speed for its latest concept. However, it is safe to say any possible production version of the TT Sportback would be limited to 155mph in line with its more sporting TT coupé sibling.

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Infiniti reveals range-topping Q80 Inspiration concept
Infiniti reveals range-topping Q80 Inspiration concept Q80 Inspiration gets 543bhp hybrid powertrain and nine-speed auto transmission; could arrive in production form by the end of 2016

Infiniti has revealed its Q80 Inspiration concept on the eve of the Paris motor show.

The model, which is described as "a brave statement of intent" from the company, has been designed to "disrupt the premium saloon category." It previews a future range-topping production model which will aim to take on the likes of the Porsche Panamera and Mercedes-Benz S-class

The four-door fastback also illustrates Infiniti's new design language. Measuring 5060mm long by 2010mm wide, and 1340mm tall, the Q80 Inspiration closely matches the dimensions of its rivals. It sits on 22-inch alloy wheels.

Powering the concept is a new hybrid powertrain that consists of a downsized twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 engine and an electric motor. The V6 is the first of a new family of powerplants which will appear in Infiniti models within the next two years, as the firm plans to double its powertrain range before the end of the decade.

The all-aluminium V6 produces 444bhp and the electric motor, which draws its power from a lithium-ion battery pack, outputs 99bhp. Infiniti says that the total system output is 543bhp and 553lb ft; average economy is reputed to be 51.4mpg and CO2 emissions are claimed to be 129g/km.

Power is channeled through a nine-speed automatic transmission to the rear wheels in normal driving but torque can be split between all four wheels depending on road conditions. Drivers can also opt to place the car into all-wheel drive mode permanently.

The four-seat cabin adopts a minimalistic approach. A small infotainment screen sits ahead of the centre console, with a digital dashboard displaying relevant information to the driver. Alcantara, leather and metal trim is used inside.

On-demand autonomous driving technology, which utilises a system of cameras, lasers and sensors, can suggest actions to the driver – such as accelerating, braking or tailing the car in front. That information is relayed to the driver via a heads-up display. Passengers also get their own HUD, which can display information from a connected smartphone. Rear passengers benefit from individual touch-screen infotainment systems.

Infiniti says that launching the Q80 Inspiration in production form will mark its first entry into the high-end premium saloon market. "This is the highest portfolio entry for Infiniti and our vision is to compete with a unique approach," said Infiniti product strategy boss Francois Bancon. "Q80 Inspiration is how we see the future in terms of moving people in the higher end of our portfolio."

The firm has hinted that a production version of the Q80 Inspiration could be seen before the end of 2016. The Q30 Concept, revealed in Frankfurt in 2013, is also expected to go into production next year.

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Exclusive interview with new Citroen boss Linda Jackson
Exclusive interview with new Citroen boss Linda Jackson Ahead of the Paris show, Citroën boss Linda Jackson tells Autocar why she’ll shun industry convention in the way cars are made and sold

Perhaps the best way to experience the new Citroën C4 Cactus is to be driven, at night, through central Paris.

On my way back from interviewing Linda Jackson, the Briton who is now head of the Citroën brand, I’m getting a first-hand experience of what the C4 Cactus is all about and what Jackson says is the essential new character of Citroën.

The Cactus I’m travelling in is being driven by Citroën’s press head of international relations and, despite being born an Austrian, she looks and drives like the classic Parisian career woman. Ignoring the combination of rain and cobbles, she presses on into the wild rush-hour traffic unconcerned by the near-collisions.

“I have my Air Bumps,” she laughs as we avoid a Renault Scenic. We whizz across the city in a manner that is both urgent and yet somehow languid. I get out of the Cactus marvelling at the live demonstration of what Jackson has just been telling me about.

“Citroën will become all about the feelgood factor,” Jackson says. “The driver needs to feel relaxed and good about the car.” Which is precisely what I’ve just experienced. I think the French call it ‘insouciance’.

The big question is: will this new, very French interpretation of Citroën translate to other countries in Europe, including the UK, and as far afield as China and South America as the maker pushes to increase its international presence?

Jackson’s route to the top

Jackson became the MD of Citroën in June, having led Citroën in the UK and Ireland since 2010. Before that, she was the finance director of both Citroën UK and Citroën France. She has been in the automotive industry since a pre-university summer job at Jaguar turned into a full-time job.

Jackson worked through the final years of the calamitous British Leyland empire, Austin-Rover, BMW’s ownership of the Rover Group and the Phoenix Four’s ‘rescue’ of the company in 2000, ending her long years in the British car industry when she was head-hunted by Citroën in 2003.

It has been a very fractious few years for PSA Peugeot-Citroën. In 2012 and 2013 the company lost £6 billion, which resulted in a multinational rescue plan for the ailing car maker earlier this year.

A deal brokered with the French government and Chinese car maker Dongfeng brought investments of about £470 million from each and existing investors stumped up another £1bn or so. The upshot is that the Peugeot family found itself in a three-way ownership mix, with just 14 per cent of the company, along with the French government and Dongfeng owning stakes of the same size.

The future of PSA's brands

Former Renault number two Carlos Tavares joined PSA in April and quickly set out his ‘Back in the Race’ plan. Under this, the two brands will become much more well defined, with Peugeot aiming for the ‘upper mainstream’ as a Volkswagen rival and Citroën competing in the mainstream but defining itself by distinctiveness.

DS will now be a stand-alone premium brand and pushed heavily in China, where Peugeot, DS and Citroën are expected to triple combined sales volumes by 2020. Globally, PSA will reduce its combined output to just 26 models. Perhaps the best illustration of just how hard pressed PSA is today is that a profit margin target of just two per cent is pencilled in for 2018.

Tavares had been in the chair for only a matter of weeks before he appointed Jackson to oversee the reinvention of Citroën. She arrived on 1 June and is talking to Autocar after less than four months in charge.

“I’ve taken time to understand what’s coming [in the product pipeline],” says Jackson. “I’ve been meeting the team, the people who are already in position, taking account of what’s happening. I’ve been to China to meet our people. It’s important because one out of every four new Citroëns are sold in China.

“The Cactus is the first product that illustrates where the brand is going. It is modern but also has the basic Citroën DNA that combines creativity and technology.” Jackson points out that this seemingly innocuous combination applies as much to the original DS or CX as it does the Cactus.

“The new Citroën is also about the feelgood factor, being at ease and relaxed – feeling relaxed and good about the car,” she says. “A lot of this will come from the way you buy a car and the experience you have in a Citroën dealer.”

Jackson says future Citroën models will have much more modern design and be “innovative” (although she refuses to give any clues about the form of the C4 replacement).

“There’ll be an emphasis on comfort; Citroën has been historically good at comfort. And we’ll only fit useful technology to our cars, like the [Cactus’s] screen that encompasses everything you need to know. Citroën values will be precisely targeted to each market segment.” It seems to be working already with the current C4 Picasso, which is the best-selling car its segment.

Citroën will focus on buyers

But it becomes clear that Jackson’s emphasis will be making buyers feel “relaxed and good” about their purchase from the showroom floor upwards, rather than trying to force the message downwards by advertising.

She was the brain behind turning around the Citroën brand image in the UK from being one associated with budget cashback deals. Jackson says that selling the first Picasso MPVs at budget prices was a success in the sense that 250,000 were on the roads of the UK.

The downside, however, was that Citroën had pushed itself into budget brand status, which played havoc with residual values, in turn making it more expensive for existing customers who wanted to trade into a new car.

Jackson’s straightforward tactic was to walk away from selling cars purely on cost and instead concentrate on setting out the product attributes and introducing more options, such as better colour choices and nice alloy wheels. As a result, the cars started to be viewed as attractive in themselves.

Apparently, Jackson’s presentation of Citroën UK’s brand-shifting tactics to the main board impressed Tavares sufficiently to appoint her to head up Citroën globally. Indeed, it is refreshing to talk to Jackson, not because she is a rare female car boss but because she views the business from the showroom.

She wants to make people feel good about their purchase and their experience with the brand, rather than pushing a top-down menu of Nürburgring lap times and ever more sophisticated engineering.

New car-selling innovations

Jackson reveals that there are some very interesting customer-centric innovations being introduced throughout Citroën dealers. In cash-strapped Spain, buyers can buy a C4 Cactus on the pay-as-you-drive ‘Flexidrive’ deal, which sends you a bill via an on-board black box.

‘Simply Drive’ will allow a customer to put together a buying package, which could take in finance, insurance and a service contract to meet their monthly budget. Jackson is big on customer service – who in the industry isn’t? – but Citroën is clearly very serious about it.

It is rolling out a website called Citroën Advisor, which allows customers to leave reviews of their dealership experience. Dealers have 24 hours to respond to complaints. Citroën Advisor is already in France and is being launched in the UK and Germany.

“It is a cliché, but satisfied customers are our best ambassadors,” says Jackson. “With the advent of social media, there is nowhere to hide. We have to get it right.”

It is great, finally, to find a car maker stating simply that if multi-link rear axles and ever-more sophisticated interior treatments are not adding enough value to make a customer willing to pay for them, it is best not to try to force the issue. In a buyers' market, mainstream car makers will only come off worse.

Replacing that engineering ‘value’ with low running costs and a strong feelgood factor might be a no-brainer in Paris, but selling that very French approach to motoring might be more difficult in Preston or Portsmouth. But surely any student of the motor industry would be delighted to see Citroën successfully swimming against the high-tech tide.

Autocar magazine 1 October preview
Autocar magazine 1 October preview Aston's stunning Lagonda saloon; full specs for Jaguar XE; new Mondeo is finally here; crazy Honda Civic Type R; new Ford Mustang driven

This week’s issue of Autocar magazine, dated 1 October 2014, takes an exclusive in-depth look at Aston Martin’s new Lagonda-badged mega-saloon.

The company’s design chief, Marek Reichman, gives us a tour around the first Lagonda production car in nearly four decades.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Steve Cropley slips behind the wheel of another automotive icon, the Ford Mustang.

For the first time in its 50-year history, the Mustang is set to be sold in the UK in right-hand-drive form. So has becoming a global model diluted its muscle car appeal?

It’s been 30 years since motorsport preparation company Prodrive was formed, and its also the end of an era for David Richards’ firm, which has recently moved from its highly visible base alongside the M40. In celebration, Jesse Crosse drives two iconic Prodrive cars: a tarmac rally spec BMW M3 and an ex-Colin McRae Subaru Impreza.

Brit Linda Jackson is Citroën’s new boss, and in an exclusive interview she explains to Autocar why she’ll shun industry convention in the way that cars are made and sold – and dramatically improve Citroën’s image in the process.

The Lexus NX300h is the subject of this week’s eight-page road test. The eye-catching mid-size SUV is the Japanese company’s entry into Range Rover Evoque territory, but in hybrid form it doesn’t exactly come cheap. Our expert testers assess whether it is worth it.

This week’s news section is full to bursting with all the latest previews ahead of the Paris motor show – including the new concept version of the Honda Civic Type R, the Ferrari 458 Speciale A and UK pricing details of the new Jaguar XE.

Our long-term test fleet bids goodbye to the Audi A3 saloon, while this week’s buying used again offers tips on buying a Ford GT – as long as you have a spare £180,000 lying around of course…

Autocar magazine is available through all good newsagents, and available for download from Zinio and the Apple iTunes store.

You can also buy one-off copies of Autocar magazine from Newsstand, delivered to your door the morning after.

Alternatively, never miss an issue – subscribe to Autocar magazine today.

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Ferrari patents V-twin engine design
Ferrari patents V-twin engine design Patents suggest Ferrari may be considering a motorcycle, correlating with the newly formed Fiat Chrysler Automobile group's plans for future expansion

Ferrari appears to be exploring the possibility of producing a V-twin-engined motorcycle, according to submitted patent applications.

The patent covers the design of an "internal combustion engine having two cylinders, which are arranged in a 'V' configuration."

Images attached to the patent show the engine installed in a cruiser-style motorcycle, although this may purely be for demonstrative purposes.

Ferrari's patent also explores the vibrational forces in a V-twin engine and describes how the crankshaft could be balanced to negate them. Doing so would avoid the need to use balancing shafts, which have several drawbacks including packaging and weight compromises.

The production of a Ferrari motorcycle would allow Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) to capitalise on the vast commercial appeal of the Ferrari brand and offer an alternative to the likes of Italian motorcycle manufacturer Ducati.

Such a move would also correlate with Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne's desire to maximise the use of the Ferrari brand to benefit the development and growth of FCA, helping solidify the group's position and financial standings.

Marchionne recently replaced Ferrari chairman Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, who resigned amid rumours of clashes with Marchionne about the future of Ferrari's road car division and his reluctance to exploit the brand.

The development may be further motivated by Audi's ownership of Ducati, which places the motorcycle manufacturer close to key Ferrari rival Lamborghini – the performance and growth of which has been causing Ferrari some concern.

A trademark application for the name 'Cavallino' – Italian for pony – has also been submitted by Ferrari, with the documentation indicating it is for use on a vehicle. It is not clear if this is related to the project, however; Ferrari would not pass comment on the patent applications or trademarks.

Previously there has only ever been one official Ferrari-branded motorcycle, an aluminium-bodied tribute to Enzo Ferrari that was produced by David Kay Engineering in 1995. French manufacturer Boxer Bikes also built Lamborghini motorcycles in 1986, following a commission by then-owner Patrick Mimran.

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New Jaguar XE to cost from £26,995 - exclusive studio pictures
New Jaguar XE to cost from £26,995 - exclusive studio pictures Full specifications of Jaguar's crucial new BMW 3-series rival revealed; new line-up to be offered with engines including a 75mpg diesel and a 355bhp V6

Jaguar has confirmed full price and spec details of its crucial new XE saloon.

The XE, seen here in these exclusive photographs, will reach dealers next May, priced from £26,995 for the petrol-engined versions and from £29,775 in diesel form. Order books open this week. 

Topping the range, and available from launch is the XE S, which costs from £44,870 and shares its supercharged 3.0-litre V6 with the F-type.

Also included in the engine line-up are two new four-cylinder ‘Ingenium’ EU6 diesels and two four-cylinder petrol units. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard on the diesels, with an eight-speed automatic optional. The auto is standard on each of the petrol engines. Rear-wheel drive is standard, with four-wheel drive yet to 
be confirmed. 

The base 161bhp/280lb ft 2.0 diesel offers class-best 
fuel economy of 75mpg with CO2 emissions of 99g/km in manual form, or 71.7mpg and 104g/km as an automatic. The auto cracks 0-62mph in 8.2sec, dropping to 8.4sec with the manual gearbox. 

A 178bhp/316lb ft version of this engine is also offered, with 67.3mpg, 109g/km and 0-62mph in 7.8sec claimed with either gearbox. 

Petrol XEs use a 2.0-litre turbocharged unit shared with the XF and XJ (although not in the UK) and offered with outputs of 197bhp/206lb ft or 237bhp/250lb ft. The former cracks 0-62mph in 7.7sec, returns 37.7mpg and emits 179g/km; the latter matches the economy and CO2 but promises 0-62mph in 6.8sec.

The 3.0 V6 XE has outputs of 335bhp and 332lb ft to propel it from 0-62mph in 5.1sec and on to a limited 155mph. The XE S is rated at 34.9mpg and 194g/km. 

The XE is offered in five trim levels: SE, Prestige, Portfolio, R-Sport and S. Entry-level SE and mid-range Prestige are only available on the diesels and base petrol model, while Portfolio, the most luxurious, is offered on the diesels and the 237bhp 2.0 petrol.

R-Sport, Jaguar’s answer to BMW’s M Sport, includes a suspension upgrade and is offered only with the 178bhp diesel and 237bhp petrol. S trim is reserved for the V6 XE and includes sportier exterior styling and 20in alloys.

Standard kit on the XE includes sat-nav, DAB radio, 17in alloys and cruise control. Alloys up to 20in are offered. 

Inside, the XE features an optional 40/20/40 split for the rear seats, which can be heated, and a new eight-inch touchscreen that controls Jaguar’s new InControl multimedia system. This can be upgraded to include wi-fi hotspot, and various smartphone compatibility functions. Multiple trims and colours 
can be specified, including sporty carbonfibre and luxurious wood veneer. 

The XE gets double wishbone suspension up front and an integral link system at the rear. Electric power steering is fitted, while stopping power comes from disc brakes up to 350mm in diameter. An F-type-derived torque vectoring system, which helps to prevent understeer by braking individual inside wheels while cornering, is also offered.

A host of new technology includes a low-speed traction control system called All Surface Progress Control that maximises traction in low-grip conditions. A laser head-up display is optional. A stereo camera is standard that controls safety systems that can be included such as Autonomous Emergency Braking and traffic sign recognition.

Adaptive cruise control, two semi-autonomous parking systems and blind spot monitoring also feature.

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Citroen C4 Cactus scores four stars in latest Euro NCAP tests
Citroen C4 Cactus scores four stars in latest Euro NCAP tests Safety authority awards Citroën's new crossover four stars, while the Nissan X-Trail and Mercedes V-class both score top marks

The Citroën C4 Cactus has achieved four stars in the latest round of Euro NCAP safety tests.

The new crossover achieved an adult safety rating of 82 per cent, while also scoring 80 per cent for pedestrian protection. 

NCAP engineers said that during a front impact both driver and passenger would be well protected against injury, while also noting "good protection in all areas tested" for the front bumper in a pedestrian collision.

Also on test this month was the Nissan X-Trail and Mercedes-Benz V-class, which both scored top marks. The X-Trail in particular was praised for its inclusion of crash avoidance systems including autonomous emergency braking and lane departure warning.

The V-class, revealed earlier this year and due to go on sale in the UK next spring, scored 93 per cent in safety tests with adult occupants. Testers noted that protection for passengers was good in all areas.

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New Aston Martin Lagonda design secrets revealed
New Aston Martin Lagonda design secrets revealed A Lagonda saloon is back in Aston Martin’s range after a 40-year absence – and it’s a stunner

Getting to see Aston Martin’s pre-production Lagonda super-luxury saloon is not the most straightforward of tasks.

At the entrance to the company’s Warkwickshire headquarters, I jump into an Aston Rapide with design chief Marek Reichman, in order to get to the well hidden unit where a verification prototype of the new car is waiting.

The security detail at the super-clean facility – originally constructed to build the One-77 hypercar – appears none too happy with our attempts to gain access to the Lagonda, but eventually, after swipe-carding our way through three doors, I’m led into a darkened room. The overhead lights are switched on and, as they flicker into life, the Lagonda is revealed for the first time. 

Aston Martin couldn’t have choreographed a more Bond-like reveal of the car if it tried. I can’t help but expect Desmond Llewelyn’s Q to step forward and say: “Now pay attention, Bond.”

The first Lagonda production car in nearly four decades (nobody seems quite sure when the final example of the dramatically wedge-shaped Lagonda saloon, launched originally in 1976, left Aston’s production lines), this new saloon has surprised industry watchers who expected to see the Lagonda badge reborn on an upmarket SUV. 

Stuck in the window of the first door we passed through was a sheet of A4 paper bearing the words ‘Project Comet’. Reichman says the Lagonda project was known as ‘Comet’ from the outset. “Comets are internationally understood and have been believed to be a harbinger of the future and often a guiding light,” he explains. “We thought that was entirely appropriate for this project.”

Work on the 5.4-metre-long machine began just 18 months ago in Aston Martin’s design studio. “We always have ideas kicking around the studio and we always have ideas about what we could do with Lagonda,” says Reichman. 

Aston is aiming the new – and as yet unnamed – car directly at the Middle East market, from where, Reichman says, there has been “specific market demand” for this type of vehicle. But why did Reichman and his design team so specifically reference one of Aston’s more controversial and uncompromising historic vehicles?

Reichman estimates that 60-70 per cent of the surviving examples of the last production Lagonda model are now in the Middle East, which is partly why the new Lagonda is such a clear tribute to William Towns’ uncompromisingly edge-shaped 1976 original. “The Middle East is a unique place and Towns’ Lagonda was very different,” says Reichman.

“Lagonda has an impeccable heritage. It was a Le Mans winner in the pre-war era and was part of the avant-garde; it was always offering something different. David Brown bought the Lagonda brand [in 1947] and commissioned William Towns to stick with that. It [the 1976 Lagonda] was an attractive aesthetic; it was the lowest four-door car with a remarkably low roofline. It had daring interior technology and was a very brave car.”

It is very hard to scale the new Lagonda in this immaculate and nearly all-white room, but it is clearly an imposing machine, even if its size is well disguised by the low beltline and steeply raked windscreen.

In fact, the new car is a remarkable 5.4m long (5396.5mm, to be exact). That’s around half a metre longer than the Rapide and just a few millimetres shorter than the Rolls-Royce Ghost. The 3189mm wheelbase should open up significant space in the rear, although the doors of this development car remain frustratingly locked. Rumours are that the V12-powered Lagonda will hit a real-world 175mph.

This was a remarkably swiftly executed project, with just eight months separating the first studio sketches from the final full-size model. Lessons were clearly learnt from the One-77 project, which took two years from first sketches to production. “From the first scale models, we just knew it would be right,” says Reichman. “When the first model was revealed, the reaction was, ‘Wow’.

“This car is not retrospective. There’s a feeling of drama with the low nose, the continuous flat face and the speed of the A-pillars. The rear of the roofline pulls up over the rear edge of the roof, emphasising the importance of the rear passengers.” 

“We call this car a ‘super-sport sedan’,” Reichman continues. “It’s very powerful at the rear, and very wide at the rear. The rear track is the widest we have ever done.” Reichman points out the substantial flat shoulder that runs down the side of the car and into what he refers to as the rear deck. He says it’s a reference to the classic Riva powerboat, and apparently it’s one of the design’s most praised reference points.

In the metal, the new Lagonda is a mighty machine, which, despite what I would call some significant juxtapositions of design language, hangs together in an unexpected manner. Although there are no razor-sharp edges of the type that Towns put into production in the 1976 car, the new Lagonda mixes the impression of edginess with what are surprisingly voluptuous surfaces, such as the way the rear wing and rear door skin enclose the super-wide rear axle and huge wheels.

The whole back end of the Lagonda – or at least the volume under the bootlid – really does appear to wrap itself into a kind of rounded boat tail.

It helps to reduce the visual bulk of the car behind the rear axle (where it has something of an overhang when viewed directly from the side), but it also provides an unexpected contrast to the chromed lower edges of the side glazing and the leading edge of the C-pillars. 

It’s a pity that Reichman decided not to risk a big, wide and completely flat C-pillar panel, as on the car’s predecessor; instead, the surface is broken up by a pressed-in wavy edge.

The needle nose of the original could never remotely be alluded to in today’s legislation-heavy climate, so we get incredibly slim headlights, powered by LED units which are doing so much to radically transform the possibilities of headlight design.

The Lagonda is constructed from panels moulded from carbonfibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP), which are, in turn, partly bonded directly to the aluminium surfaces of Aston’s VH platform.

One of the most impressive things about the Lagonda is its liquid-like surfaces. They might look like precision-pressed steel, but what Reichman’s design team has achieved with a moulded material is highly impressive.

“Endless work was done on the surface quality and surface finish,” explains Reichman. “We work so that panel highlights on the surfaces of our models are replicated exactly. A painted surface looks like the surface as it is released by my department.”

Certainly, the almost flawless and highly polished surface language is probably the defining achievement of the nine years of the Reichman era at Aston Martin.

Achieving this with CFRP panels is easier in the sense that the material is more stable in very hot conditions (the panels on steel and alloy cars will move in hot weather), but it’s much harder in that CFRP is a surface on which it is often more difficult to achieve a perfectly flawless paint finish.

Reichman points out that Aston has its own patented coating which goes directly on to the CFRP panels before being given “seven layers of paint and 21 hours of lacquer and polishing”. Reichman hints that this shift towards CFRP panels made in relatively short-lived tooling could become increasingly common as the manufacturer exploits its ability to build the expensive, limited-run models which are highly prized by the world’s super-rich.

Although the Lagonda production run will be very exclusive (“into three figures”), it is not yet sold out. It was, however, developed with some of Aston’s “most important” clients in the development loop. They were allowed to see progress on the project right from the design stage and were, according to Reichman, “over the moon” about the finished car.

The Lagonda saloon will be made in the same small skunkworks facility that built Aston’s dramatic One-77 hypercar. The first examples are scheduled for delivery early next year, and the production run will finish before the year is out. 

I get the sense that Aston will build more of these short-run specials. Buyers get something that is rare and exclusive, while Aston should benefit from significant profit margins that can be reinvested in future products. In short, everyone is happy. 

A mix of mainstream models and these short-run cars could combine to become a business model that will allow Aston to flourish with a relatively small output. 

After all, with Mercedes-AMG supplying the basic transmission and electrical architecture – the two areas of development that are stupendously expensive – the British company can concentrate on design and craftsmanship.

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Honda unveils facelifted CR-V ahead of Paris debut
Honda reveals facelifted CR-V ahead of Paris debut New diesel engine and styling tweaks for fourth-generation Honda SUV, which goes on sale in March

The Honda CR-V, revealed here in official photographs, has undergone a significant mid-life refresh, receiving cosmetic tweaks and a new diesel powertrain.

Four-wheel-drive variants of the fourth-generation CR-V – which has been on sale since 2012 – will now be offered with a higher-powered 1.6-litre i-DTEC four-cylinder diesel engine from Honda’s Earth Dreams Technology series. The new engine variant replaces the 2.2-litre i-DTEC diesel, which is being phased out.

The new diesel engine produces 158bhp and 258lb ft. CO2 emissions are claimed to be less than 130g/km of CO2, when the engine is coupled to a six-speed manual transmission, which represents an 11 per cent improvement compared to the outgoing unit.

This engine will also now be offered with a new nine-speed automatic transmission in place of the old five-speed self-shifting 'box. The CO2 emissions for this combination will be less than 135g/km, 20 per cent better than its predecessor.

The two-wheel-drive CR-V, available with a six-speed manual transmission, will continue to be offered with the lower-powered version of the 1.6 litre i-DTEC diesel engine. It's the frugal champion in the range, producing 118bhp and emitting 117g/km of CO2 in its most economical guise.

The existing 2.0-litre petrol engine will continue to be offered with either two- or four-wheel drive and either the manual or automatic five-speed transmission. Official economy and performance figures have yet to be confirmed, however.

The most significant cosmetic tweaks across the range are at the front of the car, which receives new headlamps, front grille, fog lights, skid-plate and bumper. The enhancements at the rear include new LED combination lamps, a refreshed tailgate design and bumper.

Honda says the version of the CR-V sold in the UK and Europe has been specifically developed and engineered to suit driving conditions here. The car will continue to be built at Honda’s plant in Swindon.

Customers will be able to order the facelifted model next March, and the car will be seen in the metal for the first time at the Paris motor show later this week.

Honda will also show its latest Type R concept at the Paris show, alongside its reborn HR-V crossover, the new Jazz and the updated Civic range.

Read more Paris motor show news

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New estate-bodied Skoda Fabia Combi features a 530-litre boot
New estate-bodied Skoda Fabia Combi features a 530-litre boot Third-generation Fabia Combi is longer, wider and lower than its predecessor and boasts new tech and more efficient engines

The estate-bodied Skoda Fabia Combi has been revealed in official pictures ahead of its public debut at this week's Paris motor show.

Like the hatchback model, the new Fabia Combi adopts design elements first seen on the VisionC show car. The front end is identical to the production hatch.

The new model is 10mm longer, 90mm wider and 31mm lower than its predecessor, which gives it a 4257mm length, 1732mm width and 1467mm height. It has a 30mm wider track at both the front and the rear and a wheelbase that is 5mm longer.

The Fabia Combi has a 530-litre boot capacity, which is 25 litres up on its predecessor and a class leading figure according to Skoda. Folding the rear bench increases load space to 1395 litres, which is actually 90 litres less than the outgoing car.

The seat can be folded down in two positions, with the seat folding first and then the backrest.

Skoda claims items up to 1550mm in length can be accommodated in the car. The loading sill is 611mm off the ground to make loading easy, and the tailgate opens to 1900mm and is 1028mm wide.

The car's interior is wider by 21mm and longer 8mm and although the car is now slightly lower, there is more headroom for the driver and front passenger.

The Fabia Combi adopts elements of VW's modular MQB technology, such as the engines, electro-mechanical steering and electrical architecture.

The engines powering the new Fabia Combi are on average 17 per cent more efficient compared to the units in the second-generation model. These improvements are the result of a new generation of petrol and diesel engines, improved aerodynamics and all-round weight reduction. On average the car has lost 55kg across the range, the weight of the lightest variant – the 1.0-litre, three-cylinder petrol – is down to 1004kg.

Three petrol and three diesel engines will be offered, all equipped with stop-start and a brake energy recovery system. Power output in the petrol engines ranges from 74bhp to 108bhp. The new three-cylinder diesel range offers between 74bhp and 104bhp. Manual and automatic DSG transmissions will be offered.

The most frugal variant, the Fabia Combi Greenline, can return a claimed 91mpg on the combined cycle, and emits 82g/km of CO2.

Improved technology will also form a centerpiece of the new Skoda’s appeal to younger customers. The infotainment systems in the new Skoda Fabia Combi are all adopted from Volkswagen’s MIB (modular infotainment matrix) technology. Other highlights include keyless entry and start, front and rear parking sensors, a new-generation aircon system and the option of a panoramic glass roof.

It is the first car in Skoda’s range to feature Mirrorlink, a system that allows smartphone apps to be displayed on the infotainment screen. Another new function is Smartgate, where vehicle-specific information such as fuel consumption, average speed or g-force readings can to transferred and recorded on a smartphone.

Making its debut in the Fabia Combi is the new column-electric power steering, which replaces the previous electro-hydraulic power steering and saves weight and fuel.

The car also includes up to 17 of the ‘Simply Clever’ items found on other models in the range, including the ice scraper in the fuel filler cap, storage nets on the inside edges of the front seats, a smartphone cradle in the centre console and a rubbish bin in the side door.

The new Skoda Fabia Combi is set to arrive in European markets from January 2015. The estate-bodied car first went on sale in 2000 and to date Skoda has sold more than 1.1m examples. UK-specific pricing and spec details have not yet been released.

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Does the world need another super-luxury SUV?
Does the world need another super-luxury SUV? Aston Martin still hasn't decided whether to build a Lagonda SUV. The time for such a car has probably gone

The past two weeks have been pretty interesting. First, I spent a few hours at Aston Martin’s Gaydon HQ with Aston’s design chief, Marek Reichman. I should admit that I know Reichman from way back in the late 1980s, because we did our first Industrial Design degree together.

Having had a good look at the new Lagonda ‘super-saloon’ I had to ask question about the Lagonda SUV concept shown five years ago. Will the company would pursue an SUV after the launch of the new limited-edition Lagonda ‘super-saloon’, but Reichman would only hint that any decision is some way off.

“I won’t say definitely yes and I won’t say definitely no,” he said. “But will Ferrari build an SUV? Probably not,” said Reichman. Which might be the best steer yet that Aston is cooling on the idea of launching into what will be a crowded market for ‘ultra-luxury’ SUVs.

A few days after meeting Reichman, I found myself with Rolls Royce. Rolls has admitted that it is actively investigating building some kind of SUV. Indeed, the first sketching started earlier this year and my source admitted that the designer’s first attempts were not too convincing. The latest work, however, is “showing much greater promise”.

In truth, entering the SUV market seems to make more sense for Rolls Royce than it does for Aston Martin. A company that builds luxury cars probably needs to cover off the marked shift in executive travel from low-slung saloons to high-rise SUVs.

Moreover, Bentley is well on with its own SUV and there’s an argument that Rolls Royce underpinned the birth of the original ‘shooting brake’, with Rolls’ engines and chassis in the 1920s and 1930s being rebodied to accommodate shooting parties.

There’s much less of logic behind Aston Martin entering what’s becoming quite a crowded market, even if it uses its Lagonda brand.

The Lagonda 4x4 concept showed by Reichman’s team at the 2009 Geneva auto show was dubbed a ‘LUV’ [Luxury Utility Vehicle], it was based on a Mercedes GL platform, but the unusual styling proved controversial.

More seriously, building an SUV would probably be far more financially and taxing for Aston Martin than the new Lagonda saloon project, which is related to the Rapide saloon. Any homegrown SUV would require a significant fresh investment in the brand’s aluminium VH architecture, as well as significant sums on substantially new interior design.

With £500m of investment going into future ‘core’ Aston-Martin model range, the British carmaker, which is a minnow in global terms, needs to secure its future in sports cars before branching out.

Although new partner Mercedes could provide a base SUV on which to build a future Lagonda ‘LUV’, the complexity of the task (Mercedes’ SUVs are built in the US) and the investment in time and resources when Aston is renewing its road car range, probably means a decision on an SUV has been kicked at least three years’ into the future.

My own view is that Aston Martin, like Ferrari, won’t bother with an SUV. Building better, more distinctive and more solidly profitable sports cars is enough work for such a comparatively small company. 

Hyundai launches new digital car showroom
Hyundai launches new digital car showroom Korean manufacturer partners with online dealer to create digital car buying service, which will launch in November

Hyundai is launching a new digital car buying service, which will allow potential customers to research, specify and purchase a new car online.

The service, created in conjunction with dealer Rockar, will launch in November and aims to do away with traditional dealer interactions, such as speaking to salesmen.

The online service will be accompanied by a forecourt located at the Bluewater shopping complex in Kent. The complex has an annual footfall of 27 million people. Hyundai says the integration of both online and real-world elements are a world first for the industry.

Customers will be able to test drive vehicles from the site, as well as returning to have their vehicles serviced.

Hyundai isn't the first manufacturer to experiment with digital showrooms. Audi launched its first unit, dubbed Audi City, in London in 2012, and the brand has since said it plans to roll out more sites in both the UK and abroad. Similarly, the limited First Edition version of Volvo's new XC90 was only available to customers ordering the model online.

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All change for vehicle tax - what you need to know
DVLA prepares new digital car tax scheme - what you need to know From today, phasing out of the traditional paper tax disc takes place and there will be new rules governing the transfer of tax when cars are sold

From today, Wednesday 1 October, you no longer need to display a traditional paper tax disc in the windscreen of your car.

Announced as part of Chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn Statement in December last year, the Vehicle Excise Duty car tax system is moving to a fully digital service.

If you have a tax disc with any months left to run after this date, then it can be removed from your vehicle and destroyed.

Under the new scheme, there are three ways to pay for your tax – online at the DVLA's website, over the telephone on 0300 1234321 or at a Post Office branch that deals with vehicle tax.

The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) will still send you a V11 renewal reminder when your vehicle tax is due to expire. You'll have to apply for all types of vehicles, including those that are exempt from payment of vehicle tax or that have a nil rate of Vehicle Excise Duty (VED).

The police and other enforcement agencies use the DVLA's online register to check that a vehicle has valid tax, so it's vital to ensure your correct details are aligned with your car. Automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras will enforce the new system by catching motorists who have avoided payment.

Under the new rules, tax can no longer be transferred between vehicle owners. That means that when you, as the registered owner, sell a car, you will get a refund of any remaining full months of tax when you inform the DVLA that you no longer own it. There is no need to fill in a form to claim the refund. 

So if you are buying a car, you will need to get new vehicle tax in your name before you can drive it. You can tax the vehicle using the New Keeper Supplement (V5C/2) part of the vehicle registration certificate (V5C) online or by using an automated phone service. The number is 0300 123 4321 and the DVLA says it will be in operation 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

If you wish to make a Statutory Off-Road Notification (SORN) for your vehicle, you can apply online to do this using the 16-digit reference number from your vehicle tax renewal reminder (V11) or 11-digit reference number from your log book (V5C).

From November, motorists will also be able to pay for their vehicle tax via direct debit. That coincides with a new option to pay for car tax monthly, alongside the traditional six-month and 12-month options.

The new tax scheme has been criticised before it’s even been implemented, however, because the RAC estimates that switching to a paperless tax system could cost the UK Government up to £167 million. That far outstrips the £10 million worth of savings the DVLA says it will make with the new system.

The research also found that one in three people were unaware of the changes, and the DVLA has been criticised for not informing the public of its changes sooner.

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Peugeot is putting an end to the boring TV car advert
Why are TV car adverts so boring? Most car ads follow the same predictable routine. But Peugeot has a new one that even has some oversteer in it...

A week in America has convinced me once again that a lot of British telly advertising is so inventive and witty compared to the rather more simplistic hard sells you get across the pond. Even so, why are car ads so depressingly dull compared even to those pushing cat food?

We all know the weary tropes: attractive couple driving car around Mediterranean, implausibly young parents driving around with photogenic kids or, the worse one of all, car being driving at moderate pace round laughably empty road. 

See Autocar's pick of the best car ads

What you never see is quick car being driven to its full potential on the type of roads that we all recognise. And for that  you mainly have to thank the vice-like policing of the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) who ban any hint of the association with, or glorification of speed. Many have fallen foul of its rulings too. 

All of which is why Peugeot’s new ad for the special edition 208 GTi is rather refreshing see as it shows the car being driven on maximum attack, revving out to the red line, oversteering on ice and there’s even a crashed helicopter for good measure.

The ad is itself a ‘sequel’ to a classic 205 GTi ad from 30 years ago, which was itself a tribute to a James Bond-style film.

It’s all good, refreshing stuff. But it does make wonder how it passed the cold eye of the ASA? Maybe it’s because so much of it of obviously CGI-ed? Either way it opens up the possibility of more car ads that don’t make you want to just get up and put the kettle on.

See it below. Do you like it? Let me know what you think.

Nissan to show tuned Pulsar Nismo at Paris motor show
Nissan to show tuned Pulsar Nismo at Paris motor show First spy picture confirms hotter Pulsar hatchback in development; set to feature tuned 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine

This spy picture is our first look at Nissan’s uprated Pulsar Nismo, which is likely to be seen at this week’s Paris motor show.

This shot, taken during a product presentation where current Nismo owners were shown the car, reveal the Pulsar hatchback will get a redesigned front bumper with larger air intakes, a new central grille design, different LED lights and larger alloy wheels.

Other modifications should include a similarly aggressive rear bumper, side skirts and spoiler, plus performance brakes and uprated suspension. Of the most significance, though, will be tweaks to the Pulsar’s engine. 

The most likely candidate for tuning is the 187bhp turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol, which is due to be offered in the Pulsar range next year. That same engine has already been confirmed in the Juke Nismo RS, which is due to go on sale in December, where it produces 215bhp and 207lb ft.

Following up on a promise made by former Nissan boss Andy Palmer, the firm will offer the Pulsar in both Nismo S and Nismo RS forms, with the RS version geared towards taking the front-wheel drive production car Nürburgring record away from Renault.

The French manufacturer took the crown earlier this year with its 271bhp Megane Renaultsport 275 Trophy-R.

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Vauxhall developing new Corsa VXR for 2015 launch
Vauxhall developing new Corsa VXR for 2015 launch Our first spy pictures reveal that Vauxhall is developing a sporty version of the new Corsa, which is on track to launch next year with around 200bhp

These are the first pictures of Vauxhall’s upcoming Corsa VXR, which looks set to join the new Corsa range next year.

The Ford Fiesta ST rival will come with more aggressive front and rear bumper designs than the standard car, as well as sporting a new boot-mounted spoiler, a blacked-out front grille and bespoke alloy wheels. New dual exhausts can also be seen at the rear.

Power is expected to come from the same turbocharged four-cylinder 1.6-litre petrol engine as found in the current VXR. Currently, that engine develops 201bhp and 184lb ft, permitting the Corsa a 0-60mph sprint time of 6.5 seconds. 

Other performance modifications should include an upgraded interior with sports seats and bespoke trims, plus a revised suspension setup and performance brakes.

Given the late-stage appearance of this test mule, the Corsa VXR should be announced in time for the Geneva motor show in March 2015. The regular Corsa will make its public debut at the Paris motor show later this week.

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Kia updates Rio and Venga for Paris motor show
Kia updates Rio and Venga for Paris motor show Refreshed Rio hatchback and Venga MPV will open for orders in October, and both get refreshed styling inside and out

Kia will show updated versions of the Rio hatchback and Venga compact MPV at the Paris motor show later this week.

The Rio – Kia’s best-selling model in 2013 - gets revised exterior styling, most notably the adoption of Kia’s latest ‘tiger-nose’ front grille, as well as revised front and rear bumpers and new fog lights. Three new alloy wheel designs are also available.

Inside, the refreshed Rio gets a redesigned centre console, plus new chrome accents around its air vents. DAB radio will now be offered as standard in the UK, while the newest generation of Kia’s infotainment system will be used on the 7.0-inch central screen.

Engine options from the current car are maintained, and range in power from 74bhp in the entry-level 1.1-litre CRDi to 108bhp in the 1.4-litre petrol. Expect prices to increase slightly from the £9495 of today’s car.

Also on display will be the updated Venga, which also adopts the Korean firm’s new front-end design and receives new trim inside, as well as a redesigned centre console. Again, engines from the current range will be carried over.

Both models will be available from dealers early next year, with order books expected to open next month.

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So it is goodbye, but not good riddance, to the humble tax disc
So it is goodbye, but not good riddance, to the humble tax disc From Wednesday there will be no fiddling with tricky perforations as the DVLA phases out the tax disc

Unless you’ve been living on a desert island for last six months, you will know that the tax disc dies on Wednesday 1 October.

Except that even if you live in this rolling 24-hour news world and are wireless connected to just about every device and have satellite television, you may still not know this. That’s because the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) has made something of a hash of keeping 30 million motorists up to speed on their administrative changes.

Obviously I’ve been doing my bit to spread the word about the changes, but it is a thankless task. Indeed I received a terse and very bizarre email from the DVLA asking who had written a story about tax disc death with my name at the end of it. That’s how clever they are.

Now it is very easy to be negative about things, but I can’t really see any upside to ditching the disc. For starters it makes the whole process of selling a car needlessly complicated.

It suddenly becomes more of challenge to buy a car at the weekend. Well actually you can use the interweb or a 24-hour automated telephone service. But actually it is the sheer fact that you can’t take the remainder of the tax away with you which is going to potentially affect the car buying cycle and maybe prices by a fairly minuscule amount.

Car owners, especially those who are selling classics, are notoriously parsimonious and so could use the tax right up to the last day of the month and only on the stroke of midnight let you take it away.

In all seriousness, I am not sure whether that will happen at all but the fact that it could seems really silly.

More frightening, though, is that as the seller you really must tell the DVLA about the change of ownership or they will fine you £1000. That might also happen if the seller has an untaxed car and lets you test drive it and you get stopped by Plod.

The simple fact is that the tax disc is a useful reminder that a car is legal as would be another disc for the MOT or yet another for insurance.

Mind you, near where I live a local Polish-registered Mazda MX-3 has evaded the authorities for three years. And they don’t seem to care that it is untaxed and presumably uninsured and without an MOT. It was last registered in 2011 because that is stamped on Polish plate.

I will miss the tax disc, so have concocted one of my own for Shed 7. Indeed I liked it so much I’ve produced half a dozen alternative discs. Please feel free to cut out, share, or adapt and tell me what you think of the changes.

Kia to show Optima T-Hybrid concept at Paris motor show
Kia to show Optima T-Hybrid concept at Paris motor show Korean manufacturer will show the first application of its diesel-electric mild hybrid technology on the Optima saloon in Paris this week

Kia will showcase its new diesel-electric hybrid concept at the Paris motor show later this week.

The mild hybrid concept, based on the Optima saloon and dubbed T-Hybrid, combines the Optima’s existing 134bhp 1.7-litre CRDi turbodiesel engine with a small electric motor. 

The resulting concept can be driven by electric power only at low speeds and while cruising, with the model’s lead-carbon battery recharging via deceleration. Kia says it chose a lead-carbon battery over more conventional lithium-ion units because they require little cooling and can be easily recycled.

Kia first previewed the technology at the Geneva motor show earlier this year, saying the system would be offered in both petrol and diesel-powered models “in the near future” to help lower CO2 emissions while also raising power.

Other new features fitted to the concept include a new belt-driven starter generator, which replaces the conventional alternator and can start the Optima T-Hybrid concept with zero emissions, as well as “almost no noise or vibration”. A smaller vehicle battery and starter motor are also fitted.

Power from the 1.7-litre CRDi engine is also said to be enhanced thanks to a new electric supercharger, which works alongside the existing turbocharger to improve peak output and torque. The electric supercharger particularly increases engine response at low speed, says Kia.

Although Kia officials describe the Optima T-Hybrid as still being a concept vehicle, it’s extremely likey the technology will feature on the upcoming fourth-generation Optima, which has recently been spotted testing ahead of its planned launch late next year.

Kia Europe boss Michael Cole said: “The new mild hybrid system is our flagship technology for improving the efficiency of our internal combustion-powered models. In future, technology such as this will help Kia further reduce fleet emissions in Europe.”

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How to get 500bhp for £15,000 - buying guide
How to get 500bhp for £15,000 - buying guide Once, 500bhp used to be supercar power. Now you can get that muscle in a bargain used barge

Our headline stat is mouth-watering – and true. You can buy a car with 500 horsepower for the price of a decently kitted Ford Fiesta. That’s full-fat old-fashioned bhp, too, not your semi-skimmed German Pferdestarke, of which you need 507PS to make a real 500. 

Not long ago, you needed to buy a supercar to score this kind of horsepower, and a pretty serious one at that. The first wave of 500bhp-plus supercars arrived during the 1990s. But the new century brought 500bhp closer to less voluminous pockets, Mercedes-Benz progressively unleashing a whole series of AMG-tuned versions of E, SL, CL and S-class.

BMW wasn’t far behind with its V10-engined M5 and M6, Audi eventually following with its V10 RS6 and Jaguar with its XKR and XFR. And these cars are the most affordable path to 500bhp today. 

At a push, you might find a tired and leggy 500bhp AMG Merc for about £10,000, but £15,000 lets you fish in a pool of better-kept cars that are astonishing value, given their seismic go, bubblegum grip (until torque overwhelms traction), bountiful equipment and business class comfort. Very obvious, though, is that these cars can cost, with their thirst, maintenance bills, high VED rates and insurance premiums.

But the choice is big and getting bigger; Pistonheads alone lists several hundred 500bhp cars for under £50k. So here are some tempters.

Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG (2002)

Price £15,995; Power 507bhp; 0-62mph 4.5sec; Top speed 155mph

Your archetypal thunderous AMG V8 saloon and the first Benz built entirely by AMG. You get the legendary 507bhp handbuilt V8 coupled to a seven-speed paddle-shift auto. A 2006 ‘W211’ E63 can be acquired with 70,000 miles, shedding over £52,000 doing it. The model we found has a full history, two keys, a warranty, sat-nav, surround-sound and the usual executive extras.

Mercedes was stumbling through its sub-standard quality era at this point, although the post-facelift E63 was better. Check for rust, transmission issues and equipment integrity. This example looks promisingly sharp.

Chevrolet Corvette C6 Z06 7.0 V8 (2007)

Price £30,000; Power 505bhp; 0-62mph 3.9sec; Top speed 198mph

Sub-four seconds to 62mph and a 198mph top speed for £30,000 looks like value, especially when the mileage can be as low as 13,500 miles. This money will get you a genuine European-spec model, too.

Corvettes have always edged towards the crude, but this sixth-generation version came closer to European capabilities, the 7.0-litre V8 Z06 version providing real grunt. You’ll have the challenge of left-hand drive and relatively few repair specialists, but reliability is good and you’ll rarely see another example.

Jaguar XKR coupé (2009)

Price £30,900; Power 501bhp; 0-62mph 4.6sec; Top speed 155mph

A supercharged V8 in one of the best-looking 500bhp-plus cars that you can buy for £30k and one that’s more advanced than many, with its aluminium bodywork. Better still, the XK is a reliable car that has few high-mileage issues.

It’s not quite as raw with its potency as a BMW M5, M6 or Mercedes AMG 63, but it’s very liveable and is deft on meandering roads. We found an XKR that has travelled 32,000 miles and is on sale with a franchised Jaguar dealer, so a full service history and a decent warranty can be expected. There’s plenty of XKR choice beyond £31k.

Audi RS6 V10 Avant (2009) 

Price £29,900; Power 572bhp; 0-62mph 4.6sec; Top speed 174mph

Audi’s RS6 isn’t as accomplished as a BMW M5 or a Mercedes E63, but it’s a pretty beguiling device nonetheless and has the best-furnished interior of the trio. The suspension strut seals of these cars are prone to leaking, although some will have been reworked under a recall. The RS6 hasn’t fared well for reliability, though, according to Warranty Direct. Still, RS6s were more than £80k new, making five-year-old versions with full history and an Audi warranty very tempting. 

BMW M5 V10 (2006)

Price £15,995; Power 500bhp; 0-62mph 4.6sec; Top speed 155mph

Just under £16,000 will get you a 2005 BMW M5 with less than 70,000 miles on the clock and a warranty. This price will include a high specification with a head-up display, a high-end sound system, electric sports seats, navigation and heaps of lesser kit. Check for the engine-health-critical first service and evidence of diligent sating of the V10’s usual appetite for oil.

The slightly cumbersome SMG transmission occasionally needs software rebootings (shift quality improves post-2007 facelift) but the ‘E60’ M5 is sensational, especially at this price. Given its powertrain complexity, this is a car you’ll want a warranty for.

Bentley Continental GT (2004)

Price £26,950; Power 552bhp; 0-62mph 4.7sec; Top speed 155mph

Despite these handsome coupés being beautifully crafted, prodigiously fast and pretty reliable, plentiful supply has depressed their prices. You need only £25k for a car originally costing £110,000 – spectacular value. Early GTs are very capable but rather inert handlers, although this disappointment was consistently chipped away at as the car developed.

Younger is better, then, but obviously costs more. The mechanically similar four-door Flying Spur can be had for similar money. A 10-year-old GT with a relatively low 70,000 miles and a full service history can be had for less than £27,000.

BMW M6 V10 (2006)

Price £16,000; Power 500bhp; 0-62mph 4.6sec; Top speed 155mph

This is a lot of speedily sleek glamour for the cash. It’s mechanically identical to the M5 so the same cautions apply. We found a 71,000-mile M6 with a full BMW service history, refurbished alloy wheels and a relacquered carbonfibre roof for £16,000. This car also included new discs and pads and “excellent” tyres, so it should need nothing.

Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG (2008)

Price £27,995; Power 503bhp; 0-62mph 5.0 sec; Top speed 155mph

It won’t be as rewarding to drive as other 6.2 V8 AMGs, but a high-riding 4x4 that can vault to 62mph in 5.0sec is still a pretty compelling device, and it will certainly tow effortlessly. You can get them with a rear-seat entertainment system in case the kids aren’t rendered speechless by its battering-ram acceleration, with a fabulously malevolent soundtrack to match. It’s not very green, obviously, and not always trouble-free, either, but it has its appeal. A 47,000-miler can be had with a full history for this money. 

Mercedes-Benz CL63 AMG (2007)

Price £27,950; Power 518bhp; 0-62mph 4.6sec; Top speed 155mph

A real weapon of a coupé, luxurious and rich with technology that may or may not turn worrisome with age. Night-view assist, dynamic multi-contour heated and chilled seats and a TV tuner are equipment highlights. If you need something in which to stylishly scud across Europe, this is the car. The ultra-rare previous-generation CL63 is still more of a tempter, a recent example selling for less than £17,000. Back in the day, this was a Bentley GT beater. 

Ferrari 612 Scaglietti (2005)

Price £47,995; Power 532bhp; 0-62mph 4.2sec; Top speed 199mph

A 39,000-miler that we found with full history and recent belt change is described as “pristine”. There’s probably more significant depreciation still to come and you’ll certainly notice the servicing bill on your bank statement, but you’ll forget that every time you drive the car because it blends semi-practical 2+2 and supercar brilliantly. 

Jaguar XFR (2009)

Price £20,950; Power 503bhp; 0-60mph 4.7sec; Top speed 155mph

Although ageing, the Jaguar XFR is still rated highly by us for its superb handling, which is significantly enhanced by the standard-fit e-diff. It’s more comfortable than the BMW ‘E60’ M5, too. Reliability seems strong, although small issues with gear selector mechanisms, electric windows and rattling sunroofs affected early cars. Otherwise, these potent Jags make relatively untroubled used buys. You can get an XFR with 70,000 miles showing, a full service history and a spec that includes 440 watts’ worth of Bowers & Wilkins sound for just over £20,000. 

...And the first car in the 500 club

The first road-going production car to break 500bhp? That was the Jaguar XJ220, which appeared in concept form at the 1988 Birmingham show, flaunting a V12 and four-wheel drive. It took three years to produce the first customer cars, these shorn of six cylinders and drive to the front wheels, but the Jag just beat the 543bhp Bugatti EB110 and 1992’s McLaren F1

The threshold broken, it wasn’t long before there were more. It was mostly supercars at first, including the 520bhp Lamborghini Diablo SE, the 513bhp Ferrari F50, the 557bhp Aston Martin Vantage and the obscure but brilliant 612bhp Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR. 

In the middle of the last decade came a fattening wave of 507bhp AMG-engined V8 Benzes, and Bentley’s Continental GT. Once Benz entered the 500bhp club, it wasn’t long before BMW, Audi and Jaguar felt compelled to join it, too.

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New Honda Civic Type R concept unveiled
New Honda Civic Type R concept unveiled Paris motor show concept offers a close look at the production Civic Type R, which will go on sale in the UK next year

Honda has offered a thinly-veiled preview of its upcoming Civic Type R with this new concept car, which will make its debut at the Paris motor show next week.

This latest concept is a follow-up to the one unveiled at the Geneva show in March. The dramatic styling seen here has changed little from that of the original concept, and that is set to be the case again when the final production version goes on sale in the UK next year.

Most significant on this concept is the confirmation of the first technical details of the new Civic Type R. The model is currently undergoing an extensive development programme with a team briefed to make it the fastest front-wheel-drive car yet around the Nürburgring. 

The Renault Mégane RS 275 Trophy-R currently holds the record with a lap time of 7min 54.3sec.

At the heart of the new Civic Type R is an all-new turbocharged 2.0-litre i-VTEC petrol engine from Honda’s next-generation Earth Dreams Technology range.

Honda won’t yet officially confirm a power output, other than saying it will be “more than 276bhp”. However, engineering sources have privately admitted that the engine has already been tuned to produce 300bhp, and more could be possible. A torque output of 300lb ft at just 2000rpm is quoted by the same sources.

Honda has confirmed that the Euro 6 emissions-compliant 2.0 i-VTEC engine will redline at 7000rpm, maintaining the legendary high-end shove afforded by the VTEC variable valve timing technology but with the addition of extra low-end grunt from the turbocharger.

Honda is promising “a sensational driving experience” that is “unmatched against any previous Type R” and “the start of a new performance era for the brand”.

Civic Type R project leader Suehiro Hasshi said: “Honda has had four Type R model derivatives: the Civic, Integra, Accord and NSX. The engine in the new Civic Type R is unrivalled against all of them in terms of raw power, torque and engine response.

Another confirmation is the transmission. Honda has bucked the current trend towards dual-clutch automatic gearboxes and equipped the Civic Type R with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard. This is in order to “maximise driver enjoyment”, according to Honda.

“The manual transmission allows the driver to select their chosen gear, for example, down from fifth to third when approaching a corner,” said Hasshi. “The concept of the new Civic Type R is to be the complete driver’s car, so this was the best option.”

Equipped with that powertrain, a 0-62mph time of less than six seconds can be expected.

Honda is also equipping the new Civic Type R with a range of dynamic features to complement its new engine. Among them is a four-point Adaptive Damper System developed specifically for the model. Honda says the dampers, which have been tuned to offer a comfortable, compliant ride in normal driving conditions, can be stiffened to increase agility when the driver demands it, resulting in what the firm calls “high-performance handling”.

Also new is a system designed to reduce torque steer. An additional ‘steer axis’ mechanical system is added to the front suspension, supported by two kingpins which work with the suspension to reduce torque steer under acceleration. 

The Type R is at its most extreme when a new ‘+R’ driving mode is engaged. Pressing the +R button next to the steering wheel improves engine responsiveness, tweaks the torque mapping to a more aggressive and performance-focused setting, increases the responsiveness of the steering and stiffens the adaptive dampers. 

“In default standard mode, the Civic Type R is exceptionally agile, an everyday sports car with an enjoyable and fluid acceleration,” said Hasshi. “The +R button brings out a more dynamic and athletic car for the driver, sure to set pulses racing. 

“The difference in character is immense. The +R button is extreme; the car is ideal for the track and will be appreciated by the genuine sports driving enthusiast.”

For its Paris motor show appearance, the Civic Type R concept gets a striking new bright blue finish. All the dramatic styling elements from the original Geneva concept remain, with looks inspired by the firm’s latest World Touring Car Championship race car.

The Type R rides 30mm lower than the standard Civic hatchback on which it is based. It includes huge front and rear spoilers, vastly flared wheel arches and greatly increased cooling in a body that shares just the roof, front doors and tailgate with the regular five-door Civic hatch. Exceptional levels of aerodynamic performance and downforce are also promised, along with high-performance brakes. 

Test mules spied recently at the Nürburgring have indeed shown that the styling of the concept is virtually unchanged for the production car, which has been largely designed and engineered by a British team with European drivers in mind and will be built in the UK at Honda’s Swindon plant. 

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Plato wins twice for MG at Silverstone
Plato wins twice for MG at Silverstone Two wins for Jason Plato and one for Mat Jackson at Northants circuit, but Colin Turkington's consistent finishing keeps him on course for the crown

Jason Plato won two rounds of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship at Silverstone today (Sunday) but he couldn’t prevent Colin Turkington inching closer to his second title with three strong finishes.

Double BTCC title winner Plato headed to the Northants circuit in the knowledge that he needed a substantial points haul to keep his title hopes alive.

The MG KX Clubcard Fuel Save driver seized pole position for the weekend’s opening race, with Turkington’s eBay Motors BMW 125i M Sport qualifying alongside him the front row.

Championship leader Turkington used his rear-wheel-drive traction to power into the lead on the run into Copse on the opening lap.

However, the front-wheel-drive cars get their front rubber up to racing temperature more quickly than the rear-drive variants, and Plato was able to slither through under braking for the left-hander at Brooklands.

That was the end of the battle at the front, because although Turkington didn’t fall away from Plato, he couldn’t force the BTCC’s wiliest campaigner into a mistake and the MG6 driver passed the chequered flag 1.4sec ahead of his challenger.

Mat Jackson claimed third place in his Airwaves Racing Ford Focus, and came close to overhauling Turkington on the final tour too. Fourth place fell to the second MG6 of Sam Tordoff, with the Chrome Edition Restart Racing Volkswagen CCs of Alain Menu and Aron Smith rounded out the top six.

Race two followed a similar pattern. With race one result determining the grid line-up, Plato was on pole position with Turkington alongside him once again.

Turkington made another scorching getaway and led the early stages until Plato slipped through a narrow gap at Brooklands once again to seize a lead he wouldn’t relinquish.

Plato’s MG was on the harder of the Dunlop tyre compounds for this race, and was also carrying around a full 46kg of success ballast, but he managed to resist his title rival’s persistent attacks.

Turkington’s BMW was fitted with the softer rubber – which all drivers must use once during the race meeting – and he began to fall away from Plato in the closing stages.

Third place fell to Menu, who overhauled a fading Jackson in the second half of the race, attacking the Focus through Copse and completing the move at Becketts. Jackson just fended off Menu’s team-mate Smith for fifth.

The race was called to a halt one lap early after a monumental accident involving Turkington’s team-mate Rob Collard, who clipped the out-of-shape Ford Focus of Jack Clarke and was pitched into a barrel roll at 90mph. Collard was taken to hospital for precautionary checks after the incident.  

Former champion Fabrizio Giovanardi was drawn on pole position for the random reversed-grid race three, but the start was delayed when Sam Tordoff’s MG was pushed away from its front-row grid slot after it sprang an oil leak.

Giovanardi led away, but before the end of the opening lap his Airwaves Racing Ford Focus team-mate Mat Jackson slipped ahead.

After a short safety car period to clear the debris from a first-lap incident, Jackson made good his escape at the front, while Smith worked his way past Giovanardi and set off in pursuit.

The Italian had a queue of cars including Turkington, Menu and Plato – the latter now on the soft tyres – on his tail, but managed to keep them at bay for lap after lap. Turkington – with one eye undoubtedly on the championship positions – looked wary of committing to an overtaking attempt lest he get compromised at lose place and points to his pursuers.

The battle came to a head in the closing stages, as Turkington finally found a tiny gap to slot his BMW alongside Giovanardi through Brooklands, but the Italian fought back to reclaim the place.

The pair rubbed doorhandles and slowed each other up, giving Menu and Plato the opportunity to close in. Under braking for Becketts, Plato gave Turkington a small nudge which sent the BMW into the side of Giovanardi, who was pitched into a half spin.

Somehow, Turkington emerged in third place ahead of Plato and Menu as the Italian fell back to 12th position and reigning champion Andrew Jordan slotted in to sixth.

Up at the front, Jackson stroked home 2.7sec ahead of Smith to record his second win of the season.

The weekend’s results mean Turkington takes a 50-point advantage into the final three races of the season at Brands Hatch on October 11/12.

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Volkswagen reveals 141mpg Passat GTE
Volkswagen reveals 141mpg Passat GTE Plug-in hybrid Passat will go on sale in the UK in the second half of next year, and gets 215bhp from its petrol-electric powertrain

Volkswagen has revealed its new Passat GTE ahead of the Paris motor show next week. 

The plug-in hybrid can cover 31 miles on electric power alone, and comes with a combined petrol-electric range of 622 miles

This is the third such model from Volkswagen following the limited volume XL1 and recently introduced Golf GTE, and is based on the eighth-generation Passat.

It will be offered in both saloon and estate body styles when UK sales get underway during the second half of 2015.

At the heart of the front-wheel drive Passat GTE is a modular petrol-electric hybrid system shared with the Golf GTE. It uses a specially tuned version of Volkswagen’s widely used turbocharged 1.4-litre four-cylinder direct injection petrol engine that develops 154bhp at 5500rpm.

The transversely-mounted combustion engine is supported by an electric motor set within the forward section of the new car’s standard six-speed dual clutch automatic gearbox, where it delivers 113bhp and 243lb ft of torque.

More powerful than the unit used in the Golf GTE, the disc-shaped synchronous electric motor is capable of propelling the Passat GTE both independently for limited distance zero local emission capability and in combination with the petrol engine.

Energy for the electric motor is provided by a 9.9kWh lithium ion battery mounted under the rear seat. Some 1.2kWh larger in capacity than that used by the Golf GTE, it can be charged on the run via recuperated kinetic energy and the petrol engine or alternatively by plug-in means via a socket within the grille.

Charging time on a standard 240 volt system is claimed to take 4 hours 15mins. Customers can also choose an optional wallbox that operates at 360 volts and is claimed to reduce the charging time to 2 hours 30mins.

Together, the Passat GTE’s petrol engine and electric motor deliver a combined system output of 215bhp and 295lb ft, giving it with 14bhp and 37lb ft more than the Golf GTE.

As with its smaller sibling, the driver can choose between four different driving modes: “E-mode”, “Hybrid”, “Battery Charge” and “GTE”.

The interaction between the petrol engine and electric motor can be monitored on a 6.5-inch colour screen. Included is a so-called “range monitor”, “energy flow indicator”, “e-manager” and, in conjunction with the optional navigation system, “360 degree range” – the latter of which calculates one-way electric driving range over prescribed routes.

In the default “E-mode” the Passat GTE is claimed to possess an electric range of up to 31 miles at speeds limited to 81mph. In “GTE” mode, in which the efforts of the petrol engine and electric motor are combined for maximum performance, it is claimed to hit 62mph from standing start in less than 8.0sec and reach a top speed of 138mph.

With official combined cycle consumption described by Volkswagen as being “over 141mpg” on the European NEDC test procedure, the GTE boasts an average CO2 emission rating of “less than 45g/km”.

With its 50 litre fuel tank brimmed and lithium ion battery fully charged, Wolfsburg’s newest plug-in-hybrid model is claimed to boast an overall range of more than 622 miles.

The GTE is visually differentiated from other more conventional eighth-generation Passat models by blue accents within the grille, a uniquely styled front bumper with low mounted C-shaped LED day time running lamps, GTE decals on the each of the front fenders and standard eight-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels.

Inside, there is blue ambient lighting, a leather-trimmed flat bottom steering wheel with blue stitching, unique instrument graphics, a restyled gear knob plus standard aluminium and high gloss black plastic trim applications.

Read more Paris motor show news

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Comparison: BMW 420d Gran Coupe versus 330d saloon
Comparison: BMW 420d Gran Coupe versus 330d saloon The BMW 420d Gran Coupé has them queuing around the block, but is it as desirable as a fully loaded 330d saloon? We find out

Now must be a curious time to be selling BMWs if, as rumours suggest, the popularity of the evergreen BMW 3-series is suddenly under threat. Time will tell if that’s true, but it’s certainly what Autocar’s sources are beginning to hint at.

There’s no need for alarm bells, because the bedrock of a 50,000-unit sales phenomenon doesn’t just vanish overnight. But at certain points in the model range, the cracks are starting to appear. Higher-end Threes are evidently getting harder to sell.

A close friend of mine recently changed jobs, opted out of the new company car scheme, and went to his local BMW dealer to investigate financing his own new car. He wasn’t sure what he wanted, but fell quickly under the spell of the new four-door 4-series Gran Coupé

He isn’t alone in that. A big proportion of 3-series owners due for a new car this year are currently on the waiting list for a 4-series, they told him. “Everyone wants one,” they said.

When our man sat down to talk turkey, BMW’s ‘product genius’ advised that he’d be waiting several months for delivery and, with interest in the car running so hot, he’d also be paying close to full price. So far, so rubbish the sales pitch.

But it didn’t end there. “If you’re not absolutely decided on a 420d, perhaps there’s something we can do to tempt you back towards a 3-series saloon,” the salesman said. ‘Something’ consisted of a £6000 manufacturer-funded deposit contribution on a 330d bought on finance, plus another £3000 off from the dealer – making the monthly payment on the six-cylinder BMW £40 less than he’d pay for a four-cylinder 420d Gran Coupé. Crikey, thought I, £9k off a five-star car is a very good advert indeed for taking delivery of a new BMW in September.

My friend, meanwhile, was in a right old pickle: wait for the newer, prettier 4-series and put up with the four-cylinder diesel engine – or get a new six-pot 3-series saloon in half the time, with more performance and more standard equipment, for less money a month? It was grunt versus grace, and desirability versus the discount.

His monthly saving would probably be more than offset against greater insurance and fuel costs for the 330d – but which car would give him the bigger buzz? 

Being something of a brick, I volunteered to find out, imagining that this would be a straightforward choice, on behalf of a fairly low-mileage private buyer, of either 255bhp or 181bhp. Easy peasy. But with the two cars side by side in a Wiltshire car park, the complexity of the decision fully reveals itself. 

Read the full BMW 3-series review

This new 4-series is a handsome thing. It makes the 3-series look unexpectedly dumpy and awkward – all straight-sided from the rear end and ill-proportioned in profile.

The frameless doors, elegant roofline and eye-catching details of the 4-series all contribute to a much more appealing overall impression than the 3-series gives. Which is saying something considering that, to these eyes, a 3-series is still about the best-looking ‘normal’ compact exec you can buy.

On the inside, the cars are much less easily separated. To be frank, the 4-series’ cabin designers ought to have done more. The architecture, material richness and finish of both fascias are identical. You sit slightly lower in the 4-series and feel a touch more intimately cocooned by the nearer driver’s window and roofline, so the 4-series feels a bit more special, but not much.

In the back, the relative shortage of passenger space in the 420d is big enough to notice. And although the 4-series’ boot is easier to access, it’s slightly narrower and shorter than that of the 3-series.

It’s not often that a road tester gets handed two cars as precisely matched as these to compare. Then again, all-BMW twin tests aren’t normally as interesting as those involving other brands as well. This one’s certainly not short of intrigue or subtlety, though.

BMW supplied our pair with matching xDrive four-wheel-drive sport automatic transmissions and similar adaptively damped M Sport suspension set-ups, in similar M Sport trims – even with identical alloy wheel sizes and tyres. And yet they are more different to drive than the gap between their respective engines and performance levels would suggest. And that, in itself, is a pretty big gap.

There are, of course, fundamental differences between a 3-series and a 4-series that account for some of the disparity between their driving experiences. Lower and wider of both body and axle tracks, the 4-series has its own chassis tuning, intended to convince you that it’s more spry and precise than its cheaper sibling. It works.

The Gran Coupé feels a shade more taut in its body control and crisp in its directional responses than the saloon. Although outright grip levels are as evenly matched as you’d expect and both cars have excellent cornering balance, the 4-series is just a little bit more eager and direct as you turn the steering wheel.

Read the full BMW 4-series Gran Coupé review

The 330d hits back because its surfeit of power and torque makes it more engaging once you’re settled in a corner, driving out. Simply put, a 420d doesn’t have the urge to feel characteristically rear driven when you want to have a bit of fun. A 330d does. Even in xDrive form, it’ll wiggle its rear end and take a poised, neutral attitude out of a bend under power. 

In that microcosm, you could say that the 330d handles like a fully fledged BMW and the 420d doesn’t – although it’d be harsh on the 4-series to apply that generalisation more widely.

On steering feel, for example, the 4-series’ helm feels a tiny bit more fluent and connected at bumbling speeds, but both systems come alive as you load them with cornering forces, and both telegraph ebbing grip well enough.

Working against the 4-series is an occasionally nagging ride. On smooth A-roads and motorways, the 420d’s chassis flows between gentler dips and bumps well, but on B-roads it’s too firm. Even in Comfort mode on the adaptive suspension, it feels short on wheel travel and slightly aggressively damped.

The coarseness of the 420d’s engine, its relative lack of potency and that patchy ride contrast starkly with the 330d in all departments. It may not be that the 3-series’ 3.0-litre straight six is markedly quieter than the 420d’s four-pot, but it seems that way because it’s so much more smooth and suave.

On power delivery, the 330d is so much more flexible, as well as stronger absolutely everywhere, than the 420d. The 330d is every inch a distinguished premium product. And it’s a much more rounded, luxurious machine than the 4-series as well, thanks to a chassis that can be supple and forgiving at one moment and still stout and engaging the next.

The verdict

So in the end, it is a straightforward choice: for me, for my mate, and for anyone smart enough to value true class over novelty value.

The 330d remains not just the very best BMW in the real world, but also one of the most complete new cars that money can buy. A 25 per cent discount on one is sale of the century stuff – and if you can get one, regardless of which other BMW the crowds may be queuing for at the time, you shouldn’t need asking twice.

Read Autocar's previous comparison - Ford Fiesta Red Edition versus Mini Cooper and Seat Ibiza FR Edition

BMW 330d xDrive M Sport auto

Price £38,605; 0-62mph 5.3sec; Top speed 155mph; Economy 54.3mpg; CO2 137g/km; Kerb weight 1685kg; Engine 6 cyls in line, 2993cc, turbodiesel; Power 255bhp at 4000rpm; Torque 413lb ft at 1500-3000rpm; Gearbox 8-speed automatic

BMW 420d Gran Coupe xDrive M Sport auto

Price £37,975; 0-62mph 7.5sec; Top speed 142mph; Economy 56.5mpg; CO2 131g/km; Kerb weight 1675kg; Engine 4 cyls in line, 1995cc, turbodiesel; Power 181bhp at 4000rpm; Torque 280lb ft at 1500-3000rpm; Gearbox 8-speed automatic

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Comparison: Ford Fiesta Red Edition versus Mini Cooper and Seat Ibiza FR
Comparison: Ford Fiesta Red Edition versus Mini Cooper and Seat Ibiza FR Accessible, everyday fun with enough zip to make you grin – that’s what warm superminis like these should deliver. Which does it best: Fiesta, Ibiza or Mini?

What’s missing from the picture above? This is a test of the quick, small, smart and cheap. The warm, beddable end of the B-segment – more super than mini, yet without the financial drag factor of genuine hot hatch ownership. You get the idea.

But what you don’t get is the Suzuki Swift Sport. Even though we removed the relevant top five from the mag last year in tribute to its clear-cut superiority over a bunch of also-rans, we’ve chosen not to have it compete directly against a new generation of rivals.

Harsh, perhaps – but scrupulously fair. While many of its talents remain incontestable – were it here, it would still be the cheapest – the segment’s latest arrivals have slyly called the fitness of the Suzuki’s ticker into question before a wheel could be turned in anger. 

The old champ, you see, is powered by a naturally aspirated, 134bhp, 1.6-litre, four-cylinder 
petrol motor, which, in 2014 terms, is as wasteful as a Victorian paddle steamer. The latest rivals, featuring smaller turbocharged engines, now achieve the same horsepower (and much more torque) with significantly greater efficiency.

The newest among them is the most powerful version of Ford’s 1.0-litre, three-cylinder EcoBoost unit 
yet to grace a Fiesta. The new Red (or Black) Edition – a spin-off of the existing Zetec S – gets 138bhp to go with 62.8mpg combined economy and CO2 emissions of 104g/km. With a 42-litre tank, that’s a potential range of 580 miles. Plus it's all for 
£20 a year in road duty. 

The Swift can’t really compete head on with that. But BMW and Seat can. The standard Mini Cooper, lest we forget, now features a three-pot as well: a detuned 134bhp version of the 1.5-litre engine found in the BMW i8 that also manages 62.8mpg in the lab and 105g/km of CO2.

Then there’s the Seat Ibiza FR Edition, now available with the Volkswagen Group’s new 138bhp 1.4-litre TSI ACT motor that turns four thirsty cylinders into a fuel-sipping twosome when you’re not paying attention. It’s the least efficient car in attendance, yet still 38g/km and 16mpg beyond the Suzuki’s reach. 

Read the Ford Fiesta Red and Black Editions first drive review

So they’re all cleaner, more frugal and cheaper to run. But the Swift didn’t make the niche a one-horse race by virtue of its running costs alone. It did it by summoning up the kind of joie de vivre that so often makes small cars preferable to big ones, and outright speed a guilty afterthought.

Truly usurping the Suzuki means outstripping it on the grin-o-meter. Which is the reason why we made the New Forest our Yalta for the day and offered the ‘big three’ a chance to carve up the new world order between them. 

To start, stuffed into a gravel trap, they all look the part. The new, bigger Cooper is less well proportioned than the old – all trout pout, gawky rear lights and (in this case) awkwardly shortchanged on alloy inch. But it’s a Mini and, therefore, it’s as immune to subjective criticism as a pallet of Marmite.

The Ibiza, like all models built on its platform, suffers from a congenital narrowness, being 16mm thinner than the Cooper and looking more. Nevertheless, it has an aggressive nose and the widest 17-inch wheels –
 both advantages here.

It’s the Fiesta, though, perennial beauty queen that it is, that really stands out. The Red Edition’s body kit is slightly less overwrought than the ST’s and the polished black eight-spoke wheels are impeccably well matched. 

However, although it fizzes with just the right amount of hot hatch glower from the outside, its innards are less impressive. There’s a dusting of leather here and there, but it’s never easy to see past the button-festooned fascia that thrusts needlessly towards you.

Read the full 2014 Mini Cooper review

Given the target audience, the lack of a standard-fit DAB tuner and decent seat bolsters is simply criminal. With the Ibiza, 
Seat has been much more giving, even finding room for its portable Garmin sat-nav unit on the equipment list. It’s an awkward presence, mind, given the age-worn appearance of the plastic beneath – like using a phablet as the headstone 
for a stone-age burial mound. 

The Cooper’s cabin, for all of its tiresome 
Mini-ness, is light years ahead of both. Just as there’s a difference between the BMW 3-series and a Seat Leon or Ford Focus, so there is a discernible gap in quality here, the car’s dashboard, seats, (optional) infotainment and switchgear cloaked in a level of finish obviously unavailable to Ford or Seat.

The Mini’s boot, of course, is pathetic – it’s a good 70 litres behind its rivals – but otherwise there isn’t much to choose between the three on practicality. Each will seat four adults at a push, and none feels markedly more spacious in the 
front than the others. 

Initially, the new engines add to the distinctiveness. The Fiesta’s EcoBoost unit, underwritten by just 999cc of heft, has the classic, insubstantial three-pot voice – about as lusty at idle as a candle in the wind. Its bite and pull-away are strong, though, and the throttle response is the least laggy here.

Against the clock, the Red Edition may be the slowest, 62mph coming up in 9.0sec, yet it doesn’t feel markedly less hurried than the Mini through the gears – possibly because it’s a good 70kg lighter and makes its extra 15bhp over standard felt through a slightly keener top end. 

Where the Cooper exceeds it is in flexibility. It produces 15lb ft of torque more than the EcoBoost and from slightly lower down, but it’s the advantage of having six manual ratios to the Fiesta’s five that really helps, giving you better in-gear access to the fatter three-pot’s productive mid-range.

There’s more of a purr coming from those bigger cylinders, too, and it endows the Mini with a faint on-throttle burble and superior refinement at 70mph (where its gearing leaves the car 500rpm better off at 70mph and not gasping 
for a proper overdrive). 

Read the full Seat Ibiza review

The book claims virtually identical 0-62mph times for the Seat and Mini, but the subjective gap between them is far more significant than the one between the Cooper and the Fiesta. The Ibiza’s donkey is the only one here to rear up with something approaching hot hatch vigour, little squalls of linear acceleration gusting up from the full quota of cylinders half a second after you requested them.

Where the others can be revved into a sweetly satisfying, traffic-beating bustle, the little Seat sails closer to properly quick – especially out of a decidedly punchy second and third gear. 

Combined with a fuller-throated four-pot presence and almost 30lb ft more twist than the Fiesta, the 1.4-litre TSI engine might reasonably be expected to pull out a lead for Seat at this stage, but unfortunately the car around it isn’t nearly as adept.

At lesser speeds there’s the typical Volkswagen Group amenability, the steering, pedals and gearbox carefully tuned to keep driver work rate low and functionality high. Which is fine.

But there’s no fidelity with the escalating performance. Instead, under duress, the wheel goes all giddy with torque steer, the car pitches back what feels like 15deg and the FR Edition’s squashed ‘sport’ springs promptly bore into the nearest crevice. And that’s before the handling has even had a chance to underwhelm you with its pre-ordained, vanilla-flavoured take on cornering. 

It’s not bad – but it does feel uncultured in this company. Especially when compared with the Cooper, which weaves its new powertrain so seamlessly into the trademark Mini dynamic that it threatens to convert even non-believers to the cause.

That assertive thrum provides the hatch with what it has always needed: a seasoned, slow burn of a delivery, with no peakiness to adulterate the already pointy chassis – just an authoritative, willing rise in revs. With no tugs at the wheel and less bump steer through the higher-profile tyres, the Mini gets on with being enjoyably darty, rather than tiresomely so.

Twinned with (optional) adjustable dampers, the multi-link rear suspension also gets a chance to finally shine, making light work of formerly disruptive obstacles while still retaining an entertaining instinct for progressively running out of grip at the right moment. 

The new-found breadth of the Cooper’s ability is so striking that it takes a determined drive in the Fiesta to appreciate the chinks. The Ford is less flinty, less four-wheeled in its adhesiveness and less righteously flat-bodied.

Read the full Suzuki Swift Sport review

But where the Mini’s Servotronic steering is reactive and weightily precise (a trait borrowed from parent BMW), the Fiesta’s is as inherently and intuitively ‘right’ as one imagines it’s possible to be without having the rack and pinion unpowered. Its oiliness and self-centring spring are old news, yet they describe the difference here.

The Mini turns in with manufactured vigour, the Fiesta with natural finesse. The Red Edition’s advantages over its hardcore ST sibling are also familiar: less torque steer, a bit less weight over the nose and, crucially, much less pinch from the slower springs. Thus, the new model bounds across the New Forest like a euphoric astronaut, taking huge, easily perpetuated, weightless strides and requiring only an instinctive tweak here and there to maintain the heading. 

Fun? You bet. Direction changes often come with no let-up on the EcoBoost throttle at all – the unmistakable hallmark of a classically warmed hatchback. Yet apart from an obvious advantage over the solidly last-place Seat, it isn’t necessarily a clear winner.

The verdict

Every time you think The Fiesta's sprinkling of Suzuki-branded right stuff is sufficient, the Mini pops back in your head, its extra gear ratio, superior refinement, better interior quality, slightly more giving engine and generally superior all-roundedness insisting on a voting recount. Cost helps to pry them further apart. The Cooper starts at £15,300, the Red Edition £15,995. Real world, the difference is more telling.

The Fiesta on test was £16,670 with options, the Mini £23,205. Is it £6500 better? No way. Which means, at the death in the New Forest on this particular day, and in the spirit of brightening up your life for less, we crown the Ford. It’s the lighter, prettier, peachier choice and best mimic of the Swift’s soul. But I still drive home in the plusher, burlier, brilliant Cooper. Go figure.

Read Autocar's previous comparison - Renault Twingo versus Volkswagen Up

Ford Fiesta Red Edition

Price £16,495; 0-62mph 9.0sec; Top speed 125mph; Economy 62.8mpg; CO2 104g/km; Kerb weight 1091kg; Engine 3 cyls, 999cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 138bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 155lb ft at 1400rpm; Gearbox 5-speed manual

Mini Cooper

Price £15,300; 0-62mph 7.9sec; Top speed 130mph; Economy 62.8mpg; CO2 105g/km; Kerb weight 1160kg; Engine 3 cyls, 1499cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 134bhp at 4500rpm; Torque 170lb ft at 1250rpm; Gearbox 6-speed manual

Seat Ibiza FR Edition

Price £16,110; 0-62mph 7.8sec; Top speed 130mph; Economy 60.1mpg; CO2 109g/km; Kerb weight 1167kg; Engine 4 cyls, 1395cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 138bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 184lb ft at 1500rpm; Gearbox 6-speed manual

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Nissan boss rules out new Primera
Nissan boss rules out new Primera Even though Nissan has returned to the small family car segment with the new Pulsar, officials say a new Primera isn't part of the current model plan

Nissan won’t make another large family car like the Primera, Nissan Europe chairman Paul Willcox has told Autocar, even though it has re-entered the small family car market with the Pulsar.

“We took the right decision on D-segment,” Willcox said, of deciding not to replace the Primera but instead focus on crossovers and SUVs. 

He said that although returning to the C-segment with the Pulsar was the right thing to do – because that market is worth five million sales across Europe per year – the same wouldn’t be true for a car like the Primera.

“D-sector has fragmented,” he said, noting that smart non-premium manufacturers have moved away from conventional large family saloons and hatches, because they’ve come under intense pressure from Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

“What’s left is compressed into the fleet sector,” Willcox said. “We were very brave [to abandon the Primera] but it was absolutely the right decision.”

Instead, the Pulsar will fill the final hole in Nissan’s range.

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Vauxhall issues safety warning over Adam and Corsa steering component
Vauxhall issues safety warning over Adam and Corsa steering component Manufacturer urges owners with recently registered Adam and Corsa models to get their cars inspected for a possible incorrect part

Vauxhall has discovered that about 3000 Adam, Corsa and Corsavan models registered since May 2014 could have been fitted with an incorrect steering system part.

The manufacturer has recommended owners of cars registered since that date to refrain from driving their cars until they have been inspected by an expert.

Vauxhall explained that during routine quality control at the vehicle manufacturing plant in Germany it became aware that a number of the cars had been manufactured with a steering system part that does not meet its specification.

From tomorrow (Saturday 27 September), owners will be able to find out if their vehicle is affected by going to the Vauxhall website homepage at www.vauxhall.co.uk and clicking on the ‘Safety Check for Adam and Corsa’ button.

Alternatively customers can call the Vauxhall Customer Assistance Centre for advice on 0800 026 0034 between 0900 and 1730hrs.

Vauxhall added that it is not aware of any accident or injury related to this issue. 

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New McLaren 625C for Asian market revealed
McLaren reveals new 625C for Asia Visually identical to the 650S, the 625C is described by McLaren as "more refined and accessible" and is aimed solely at Asian enthusiasts

McLaren has revealed a toned-down version of the 650S for its increasingly lucrative Asian market.

Produced in response to "customer demand in the Asian market", the 625C is powered by McLaren’s familiar 3.8-litre twin-turbocharged V8 engine.

However, while power in the standard 650S is 641bhp and maximum torque measured at 500lb ft, the 625C has 616bhp and 450lb ft – the same as the now-discontinued 12C.

Nevertheless, McLaren says the 625C – the C stands for Club – can reach 62mph in 3.1 seconds, and has a top speed of 207mph, the same top speed as the 650S. CO2 emissions from the model also remain the same as its higher-powered sibling, at 275g/km, while the 625C is capable of returning a claimed 24.2mpg on the combined cycle.

The 625C is fitted with new dampers and a revised suspension setup – including softer spring rates at the rear – giving it what McLaren calls “the most refined ride” of any of its models. Also changed are the brakes, which are cast-iron discs instead of the carbonfibre-ceramic units found on the 650S. Those changes are designed to give the 625C better every day usability and comfort.

McLaren’s ProActive Chassis Control system, which offers driving modes for both normal and track use, is unchanged.

It’s little surprise that McLaren should invest so heavily in the Asian market: in 2013, the region contributed 20 per cent of the firm’s global sales. Buoyed by its entry into China in September last year, McLaren expects Asia to secure more than a third of its total sales in 2014.

Both coupé and Spider versions of the 625C will go on sale, and the model will initially launch in Hong Kong. It will be rolled out to other Asian markets in the coming months.

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Video: Porsche 911 Turbo S versus Aston Martin V12 Vantage S
Tyre-smoking high-performance convertibles from Porsche and Aston Martin go head-to-head

The Aston Martin V12 Vantage S Roadster is the drop-top version of the British manufacturer's best and most desirable model. But can it compare favourably to the brilliantly resolved Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabriolet? Steve Sutcliffe finds out.

Rolls-Royce on course to sell 4000 cars this year
Rolls-Royce on course to sell 4000 cars this year  Goodwood-based company set for record car sales since BMW took over; hybrid models and SUV still on the horizon

Rolls-Royce is in ‘very healthy profit’ and on schedule to sell 4000 cars this year, which would be a record for the brand under BMW ownership.

Although BMW does not break out the financial results for its super-luxury division, it’s estimated that the maker will bank around £500m in profit for 2014.

This is remarkable turnaround for a company that sold just 1002 cars in 2009 and, effectively, a quadrupling of the size of the maker in just five years.

A Rolls-Royce source told Autocar that the Goodwood-based company is now financing its own product development from profits and if it went ahead with an SUV model it would not need to draw funds from the BMW Group to pay for the project.

First of the ground-up new, self-financing, models is the next-generation Phantom, for which engineering work is currently underway.

The source also revealed that serious sketching work began on the Rolls-Royce SUV earlier this year: “The early design sketches – which we viewed on the design studio’s power wall – showed just how challenging it is to re-imagine a Rolls Royce in the SUV format. However, the most recent design work is showing great promise”.

Despite this, the SUV project is still some way from becoming a serious, costed proposal which is fit to be considered by the main BMW board.

The source confirmed that the next-generation Phantom and Ghost models would both be available with a BMW-sourced hybrid transmission, but a Rolls-Royce powered solely by electricity is now highly unlikely.

The 102EX prototype – which was powered by a 145Kw electric motor and a very large 71kWh battery pack – was sent on a world tour by Rolls-Royce but company sources told Autocar that it did not receive a single customer request for the concept to be put into production.

More surprisingly, Rolls Royce also had a fully engineered and costed plan to build a diesel version of the Phantom. Insiders says that the car had “an effectively inaudible” installation of a BMW-derived engine and “impressive” levels of torque-driven performance.

At an estimated cost of 30m Euros, the diesel project would also have been a remarkably cost-effective way of improving Roll’s overall CO2 fleet performance. However the project was killed off by significant hostility from potential and existing Rolls-Royce owners.

Asked whether the maker is considering short-run bespoke models, which could make use of the carbonfibre composite technology pioneered by the BMW i3, the source told Autocar that it had been approach by a very small number of customers interested in commissioning a completely bespoke Rolls-Royce.

The company is currently exploring the feasibility of one-off models for these potential customers, but early estimates suggest that – including the costs of crash tests and homologation – the final bill could be as high as “five or six million dollars”.

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Cadillac ATS coupe first drive review
Cadillac ATS coupe first drive review Cadillac aims to take on the best of Germany with its new ATS coupé, but despite being a satisfying car to drive it's likely to be a rare sight on UK roads A coupé version of Cadillac’s premium executive ATS saloon, launched in the US in 2012 to challenge the BMW 3-series, Mercedes-Benz C-class and Audi A4. Cadillac’s challenging the best of Germany might sound laughable when you recall the wheeled shortfall that was the Saab 9-3-based BLS. This sorry reskin was the brand’s last serious effort to build a car to tempt Europeans, its key class-beating feature a depreciation curve resembling a Himalayan scree-slope. But you can’t accuse Cadillac of giving up.True, you can now only buy left-hookers from long-time official importer Bauer Millet, but the company still harbours a late-decade plan to return with right-hand drive models. In the meantime, there’s this 4-series-rivalling ATS coupé. While America’s most prestigious car brand is a near silent player in Britain, in the US it has doggedly continued with its rehabilitation as a premium sporting brand. The ultra-rare, ultra-fast and hugely entertaining CTS-V proves that this mission is not so fanciful, and the ATS saloon has surprised plenty with its capabilities too.The ATS coupé gets off to a decent start with its subtly chiseled, subtly wedged style, its dynamic ambitions underlined by a promisingly athletic wheel-to-arch stance.Your hopes rise higher when you step inside, a tasteful mix of double-stitched leather, Alcantara, open-pored wood (call it textured) contrasting with piano black inserts and satin chrome highlights. It looks classy, and a little different too. Mechanically, this Cadillac could almost be European, which is less surprising when programme engineer Waqar Hashim tells you of its 4-series and Audi A5 targets. Up front there’s a downsized 2.0-litre turbo yielding 272bhp and a 295lb ft , and though you can only have it with a six-speed automatic, its ratios can be shuffled via elegant magnesium paddles. Better yet, the four pot drives the rear wheels located by a five-arm multilink axle, the front end suspended by geometrically superior double-jointed struts. And on the two-wheel drive ATS you get magneto-rheological (MR) dampers. There’s also an all-wheel drive ATS with conventional shockers among a six-model range starting at £34,395. Besides striving for an idealized suspension architecture, Cadillac has worked to provide excellent steering feel.It has also chased a rigid, low-mass body structure, says Hashim. Among the body shell’s various high strength metals is a press hardened steel so strong that it can only be stamped when it’s heated and more malleable.It allows for a usefully lighter B pillar, roof and side impact structure that complies with the assorted roof-crush and rollover tests, Cadillac eager to reduce the ATS coupé’s upper body weight in the interests of handling. The roofline sits 20mm lower than the saloon’s for the same reason. On a comparable specification basis, Hashim claims that the ATS is lighter than its three German coupé rivals, too.

New Kia Optima spotted ahead of 2015 launch
New Kia Optima spotted ahead of 2015 launch Fourth-generation Optima saloon to do battle with Mondeo and Passat in Europe, plus diesel-electric hybrid model planned

These are the first pictures of the new fourth-generation Kia Optima, which is in the final stages of development ahead of a planned launch in Europe late next year.

The saloon, which will do battle with the likes of Ford's new Mondeo and the eight-generation Volkswagen Passat when it goes on sale, is based on the same platform as the new Hyundai Sonata

Spotted here testing in the Alps, the new Optima looks set to receive a new front-end design with a revised grille, front bumper and headlight clusters. Some inspiration will likely be taken from other recent Kia models including the new third-generation Sorento, which will make its debut in Paris next week.

As well as its new exterior styling, Kia is understood to have lifted the overall fit and finish of the Optima's cabin. These spy pictures reveal a new centre console design with a larger infotainment screen fitted towards the top.

Powering the new model in Europe will be a revised version of the current Optima's 1.7-litre CRDi turbodiesel engine. In the current car, that engine produces 134bhp and 321lb ft.

Joining the range soon after launch should be a new diesel-electric hybrid variant of the Optima. Although not confirmed, Kia will preview the technology with its Optima T-Hybrid concept at the Paris motor show next week. 

The T-Hybrid is described as a mild hybrid, and mates the Optima's existing 1.7-litre turbodiesel engine to a small electric motor. The car can be driven in electric-only mode when cruising or at low speeds, with the battery recharged by deceleration. 

The late-stage appearance of this test mule suggests an unveiling at next year's Geneva motor show is likely.

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If you were the new boss of Ferrari, what would you change?
If you were the new boss of Ferrari, what would you change? It's all change at Ferrari next month, leaving Sergio Marchionne with a tough act to follow and the future of the firm in question

As far as the road car side of the business is concerned, my answer would be: I wouldn’t change very much at all.

The road cars they are producing at Maranello nowadays are out of the very top drawer, right the way across the range. I can’t actually think of a single Ferrari on sale in 2014 – from FF to 458 Speciale to LaFerrari – that isn’t the best in the business, in fact.

The products themselves are peerless, just as Ferraris should be (but haven’t always been in the past).

I also wouldn’t alter the 'less is more' philosophy that Luca di Montezemolo has pursued to great effect in recent years. The idea of selling less cars for more profit, thereby enhancing the allure and value of the brand was a bold and decisive move on LDM’s behalf. But it was also a stroke of genius, I believe.

His idea of making the cars as good as they possibly could be, both technically and emotionally, then charging fewer customers more money for the privilege of buying into an increasingly exclusive club was, I thought, pretty much the perfect template for a bright and lasting future at Ferrari. 

But then somebody, somewhere, quite clearly decided that LDM was wrong to pursue this strategy. And now, it seems, that whole business model could be turned on its head. The idea of a Ferrari SUV will, no doubt, rear its ugly head once again as higher overall sales figures become the holy grail.

So what would I change? 

One, I’d push the engineers and the designers at Maranello right to the very front of the PR machine, and let them do the talking instead. The PR machine at Ferrari is quite strenuous to work with on occasion, yet the products they are pedalling often need no PR or marketing at all.

Two, I’d bring in a whole load of fresh and, if necessary, expensive new talent to do whatever needs to be done to put the Formula 1 cars back on top – because having the fastest driver flogging himself half to death to come fifth all the time is not doing anything for the brand.

Three, and now I’m struggling. 

Be in little doubt, the continuing mediocrity of the F1 team’s achievements are what did it for Luca di Montezemolo in the end. So whatever else Mr Marchionne does with Ferrari over the coming years, he needs to make sure he cracks F1, otherwise great unrest will ensue. And eventually it will do for him, too.

Precisely how he should make this happen within the cutthroat business that is contemporary F1 I have no idea, to be honest. But that’s why his salary is bigger than everyone else’s, and it’s what he needs to work on the hardest right now to earn it.

Unless, of course, anyone else has any bright ideas about what to do with the world’s most impassioned car company, in which case feel free to give them some air right here.

BMW plans hot i9 as part of 2016 centenary
BMW plans hot i9 for 2016 launch More aggressive and powerful version of the i8 planned to celebrate BMW's centenary in two years time

BMW is preparing a more potent version of the i8 for its centenary celebrations in 2016, sources have revealed.

The new model, rumoured to be called i9, would use the same carbonfibre tub 
as the i8 but would get more aggressive styling, a larger engine and a more powerful electric motor.

The engine is understood to be the new modular 3.0-litre six-cylinder unit that is in development and set to appear first in the upcoming 7-series replacement.

The i9 will be the next model to join BMW’s i sub-brand. Also planned is the i5, a stretched version of the i3

Currently in use in the i8 is a three-cylinder 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine in combination with an electric motor. Total power output is rated at 357bhp, alongside 420lb ft.

Expect the i9 to improve on the standard car's 0-62mph sprint time of 4.4 seconds, as well as its 155mph top speed.

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Three-car teams are not the answer for Formula 1
Three-car teams are not the answer for Formula 1 Bernie Ecclestone is keen for F1's top teams to run third cars, but it is difficult to see how the proposal can work in reality

If you’re queuing and someone in front of you invites his friends to join the line, you won’t be too happy, will you?

In effect this is what F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone is proposing for the sport. His contracts with the FIA mean that he must supply 20 cars for every race, but he’s worried that some of the teams at the back won’t survive, hence the suggestion that some teams might run three cars.

The problem is that it’s unfair to those at the back who have long battled to get to the front. It’s also bad for F1 because it will weaken the manufacturing base of the motorsport industry.

If one or more of the big teams decide at some point to quit F1, it will be less easy to find replacements if the midfield outfits have been wiped out. The same thing has happened in Nascar, where the big teams, each running three or four cars, have a stranglehold on success – and money.

The fact that Ecclestone is going on about the subject so much suggests that he’s worried he might end up without enough cars on the grid. If that happens, the FIA might be able to cancel the 100-year deal that has led to half or more of the revenues leaving the sport and lining the pockets of private equity men and their investors.

The rules that govern F1 are clauses in commercial contracts which Ecclestone insists are private. Having secret rules in a sport means that there is much confusion. If the legal commitment to ensure that there are 20 cars at every race isn’t honoured, there is a danger that the FIA will declare the FIA-FOM contract to have been breached and it would then grab back the commercial rights and create a completely different structure that would divide up the revenues in a different way.

The end of the current system would also bring to an end the situation which makes some teams more equal than others when it comes to earnings. Many believe that it is wrong to give the big teams more money simply because they have been around a long time; they feel that teams should receive rewards based solely on results.

Our understanding is that teams are currently committed to do their best to provide extra cars if the field drops below 20. This is not obligatory for teams that can show that they cannot afford more cars, and it is believed that the teams that will have to supply extra cars are decided by ballot. Teams could earn money by selling a third car to a driver or sponsor, but it all smells a bit of desperation.

The idea that third cars would be good for the teams is flawed. Any results scored by third cars wouldn’t count, but the positions would not be given to the next best finisher and would simply be left open. Thus the middle-ranking teams would be pushed further down the order and would struggle even more to raise money.

The idea that the agreements can be changed is also flawed. The change would require agreement from all the signatories, but with half the teams and the FIA against the idea, it is not going to happen.

New Ferrari 458 Speciale A revealed ahead of Paris motor show
New Ferrari 458 Speciale A revealed ahead of Paris motor show Just 499 examples of this more focused, open-topped version of the Ferrari 458 will be created

The new Ferrari 458 Speciale A, the most powerful open-topped road-going 'spider' model in Maranello's history, has been revealed in official photographs ahead of its public debut at next week's Paris motor show.

The 458 Speciale A – the 'A' stands for 'Aperta', which is Italian for 'open' – is limited to 499 examples, like the flagship LaFerrari hypercar. The 458 Speciale A is described by Ferrari as "a celebration of the dazzling success of the various versions of the 458".

The car is propelled by the same engine as the 458 Speciale coupé, which is the most powerful naturally aspirated road-going V8 unit ever built by Ferrari.

The 4497cc engine has a maximum power output of 597bhp at 9000rpm and maximum torque of 398lb ft at 6000rpm. Equipped with a seven-speed twin-clutch semi-automatic transmission, the 458 Speciale A can accelerate from 0-62mph in 3.0sec – the same as the Ferrari 458 Speciale coupé – and hit 124mph in 9.5sec. Maranello hasn't confirmed an official top speed, but the fixed-head Ferrari 458 Speciale is capable of 202mph.

The 458 Speciale A's dry weight is quoted at 1340kg. Its aluminium retractable hard top, which takes 14 seconds to deploy or retract, helps to keep the weight difference to the 1290kg Speciale coupé to 50kg.

Mirroring the exterior differences between the 'standard' 458 Italia and 458 Spider, the new Speciale A features a number of changes to accommodate the retractable roof and its mechanism. One consequence of the rearranged rear deck is that there is no longer a glass cover over the engine. Instead you get a painted cover with six air vents, plus buttresses aft of the driver and passenger seats.

Ferrari claims the car has achieved a 1min 23.5sec lap time around its Fiorano test track, which is the same as the coupé. CO2 emissions are put at 275g/km on the combined cycle and the car is equipped with the HELE efficiency system.

The 458 Speciale A is also the most aerodynamically efficient Ferrari spider ever. It features front and rear active aerodynamics, a rigid chassis structure comprised of ten aluminium alloys and the Side Slip Angle Control (SSC) system. First introduced on the 458 Speciale coupé, SSC takes control of the limited-slip diff’s operation when the car is switched into Race or TC (traction control off) modes.

The Paris show car will be presented in a triple-layer yellow livery with a blue and white central stripe and five-spoke forged wheels.

The interior gets blue carbonfibre – exclusive to this model – on the dash, moulded door panels and central tunnel, as well as the newly designed seats in Alcantara with contrasting stitching and 3D technical fabric. A special plaque in the cockpit commemorates the three international 'best performance engine' awards the V8 has won.

There's no official word on price, but the Ferrari 458 Speciale coupé comes in at £208,065, almost £30,000 more than the regular 458. If Maranello were to place a similar premium on the 458 Speciale A compared to the 458 Spider, it could cost in the region of £228,500.

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Volvo V40 T5 R-Design Lux Nav first drive review
Volvo V40 T5 R-Design Lux Nav first drive review Volvo's fastest V40 hatch is comfortable and fast, but it's left lacking thanks to a bland equipment list, questionable refinement and a high price The Volvo V40 T5 is a car that Volvo’s UK marketing department describes as eclectic and unique in its class. Both are true. What we have here is the most potent version of the appealing V40 hatchback, equipped with a 242bhp petrol turbo version of the company’s all-new Drive-E motor.The T5 designation might have you thinking that this is a sonorous five cylinder, but instead it’s the company’s all-new fuel-saving four-pot, available only with an eight-speed automatic.And there’s your clue to the nature of this beast, which despite its athletic R-Design styling is what used to be known as an executive express – a fast, well-kitted car that’s about effortlessly brisk cruising rather than bulls-eyeing bends.There are premium hatches offering comparable power for the price, but all are decisively more sporting. Among them are Audi’s £31,265 296bhp S3 sportback Quattro, and Mercedes’ £30,910 A250 AMG 4-matic. And though it’s far more of a driver’s car, it’s hard to ignore the excellent three-door BMW M135i at £31,375. Especially since the two-wheel drive Volvo costs slightly more than all three, and does without the all-wheel drive of the Audi and Merc.But these strongly flavoured sports models are not what this V40 are aimed at, which is why the company reckons the model is “almost unique”. Instead, the T5 has been devised for people looking for accessible performance almost lazily delivered, says Volvo, and a subtle car that’s not about status.Subtle it may be, but it’s hardly slow, serving 6.3sec 0-62mph sprints and a 149mph top speed. Standard kit highlights include reconfigurable TFT instruments, leather trim, lowered R-Design suspension, 17-inch alloys, sat-nav and active-bending xenon headlights – not an especially generous count at this price.

Mercedes-AMG C63 Edition 1 gets early debut
Mercedes-AMG C63 Edition 1 gets early debut Leaked pictures reveal range-topping Edition 1 variant of the new Mercedes-AMG C63, which will go on sale next month for around £60,000

A second new Mercedes-AMG model slated to make its world premiere at next week’s Paris motor show has received a premature unveiling on the internet with these leaked photographs.

The images expose the 503bhp twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 powered C63 S Edition 1 in definitive production trim for the first time.

The limited edition version of the new second-generation C63, which will be sold in both saloon and estate body styles, is planned to open for orders in October with UK deliveries expected to get under way in February 2015.

Pricing is yet to be announced, although Mercedes-Benz officials suggest it will arrive here at close to £60,000 in saloon guise.

In line with previous Edition 1 models, the C63 S Edition 1 receives a series of subtle external styling changes that help differentiate it from the standard C63 S.

Included are red accents within the radiator grille and on the mirror housings, special 19-inch wheels, grey matt side strips within the lower reaches of the doors and rear bumper as well as a carbon fibre boot lid spoiler.

Inside, the Edition 1 boasts hard shell AMG Performance seats up front, Nappa leather upholstery with red diamond pattern stitching, a flat bottom AMG steering wheel, red seat belts, AMG floor mats with red piping and various carbon fibre trim elements.

The C63 S Edition 1 receives the same variant of AMG’s new twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 direct injection petrol engine used by the standard C63 S.

The unit produces 503bhp at 5500rpm and 516lb ft of torque between 1750 and 6250rpm, providing it with 23bhp and 74lb ft more than the naturally aspirated 6.2-litre multi-point injection V8 used by the first generation C63 AMG with the optional Performance Package. It is also 3bhp and 66lb ft more than the previous limited edition C63 Edition 507

Mercedes-AMG hasn’t revealed any performance claims for the C63 S Edition 1 just yet, although it is expected to boast the same 0-62mph acceleration time and top speed as the standard C63 S, which manages 4.0sec and 155mph respectively in saloon form.

The model will make its debut alongside the recently revealed GT sports car, which will also be shown in Edition 1 guise.

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Mercedes-AMG GT Edition 1 leaked ahead of Paris debut
Mercedes-AMG GT Edition 1 leaked ahead of Paris debut Limited-edition GT spied in pictures leaked on the internet. It is scheduled to go on sale soon after the Paris motor show for around £120,000

These are the first pictures of the Mercedes-AMG GT Edition 1, which have leaked on the internet and reveal the beefed up styling of the new 503bhp V8-powered performance coupé. The model is set to have its public premier at next week’s Paris motor show.

The first of Mercedes-AMG’s GT models will be offered on a limited-volume basis in line with the German car maker’s Edition 1 sales strategy, which traditionally sees launch models offered with sporting accents and high levels of standard equipment as an incentive to prospective customers.

Mercedes-AMG is yet to provide official details on the GT Edition 1. However, these reportedly official photographs confirm it is differentiated from the standard GT and GT S models revealed earlier this month by a number of subtle exterior styling elements.

Included are carbonfibre additions to the front air ducts, carbonfibre extensions on the lower outer edges of the front bumper, carbonfibre embellishments within the sills, 10-spoke alloy wheels and a prominent fixed rear wing in place of the standard GT and GT S’s retractable appendage.

Inside, the new car is claimed to receive a series of yellow styling accents and Edition 1 badges. The interior has already been partially revealed in spy pictures. Sitting at the top of the GT range, the Edition 1 will command a price tag of around £120,000, which is £10,000 more than the GT S model.

The GT Edition 1 is expected to feature the same mechanical package as the standard GT S. It is powered by Mercedes-AMG’s newly unveiled twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 petrol engine, which develops 503bhp at 6250rpm and 479lb ft of torque on a band of revs between 1750 and 4750rpm.

Order books for the car are scheduled to open soon after its Paris motor show debut. First deliveries are planned for early next year.

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Reinvented Renault Espace revealed
Renault reveals new Espace crossover French manufacturer's MPV morphs into stylish crossover available in both five and seven-seat forms, but it won't be coming to the UK

The flagship Renault Espace has morphed from an MPV into a crossover, which will be seen in the metal for the first time at the Paris motor show next week before going on sale towards the end of this year.

Renault justifies calling the Espace a crossover by saying its new shape combines elements of saloon, SUV and MPV, while retaining the light and space of the latter.

The new model will be available as either a five-seat or seven-seat, but neither version will come to the UK. A right-hand-drive option isn't available, and the Espace hasn't been offered for sale here since Renault UK's model cull in 2011.

The production Espace's design differs very little from the Initiale Paris concept revealed at last year's Frankfurt motor show. At the time, Renault bosses said the concept was "very close" to how the production variant would look.

While the interior of the new Espace has yet to be shown, Renault says the cabin will be "brightly-lit, comfortable and modular," and will feature a floating centre console. The highest-spec version of the production car is expected to feature a new take on aluminium and wood trim, as well as a glazed roof to deliver the sense of space. Renault is also thought to have worked hard on seating comfort and acoustics.

This production Espace is based on the new Renault-Nissan CFM1 modular platform and is expected to measure about 4.9m in length. Most versions of the car will be powered by a new, turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine coupled to an automatic transmission operated by push buttons.

The decision to shift away from the traditional shape of the Espace is a controversial one for Renault, with the brand's design boss Laurens van den Acker telling Autocar the current-generation car – which was first introduced in 2003 – had lived "for too long". The change to a crossover shape was designed to make the new Espace "more elegant", he added.

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Mini Cooper D five-door UK first drive review
Mini Cooper D five-door UK first drive review Fun, practical and economical – and the addition of two extra doors means families can now enjoy the Mini hatchback too The new five-door Mini hatchback, driven here in oilburning Cooper D form and on UK roads for the first time.Mini is targeting a more grown-up demographic with this five-door variant. It is designed to appeal to those with more than one child or another need for more boot space and improved access to the rear seats.To accommodate those extra doors Mini has extended the hatchback’s length to 3982mm, making it 161mm longer than the three-door version. It’s also extended the wheelbase by 72mm, while the seats-up boot capacity has grown from 211 litres to 278 litres.That length pushes the five-door Mini not only into competition with models like the Audi A1 Sportback, Volkswagen Polo and Ford Fiesta, but also very close to family hatchback champions like the VW Golf. As you’d expect, the five-door looks similar on the outside to the well-received three-door model. The floating roof in particular continues to help the car stand out among its rivals, while design elements like Mini’s round headlight clusters and new front grille give the car a premium look.That upmarket theme continues inside, too, where both quality and equipment levels are good. The standard specification includes a DAB radio, USB port and Bluetooth connectivity, keyless go and electric windows all-round.The addition of a five-door model also opens up the Mini hatchback to corporate buyers, many of whom won’t have considered the brand before. To that end, sub-100g/km CO2 emissions on the One D and Cooper D variants should help Mini get its five-door into fleets. So how much is it? The five-door commands a £600 premium over the equivalent three-door model, meaning the range starts at £14,350 for the One and rises to £20,050 for a top-spec Cooper SD. This Cooper D has a list price of £17,050, but a long list of optional extras – including heated front seats, sat-nav, dual-zone climate control and 17-inch alloy wheels instead of the standard 16s – took the total cost of our test vehicle to £22,210.

Five-door Audi TT Sportback concept leaks out ahead of Paris debut
Five-door Audi TT Sportback leaks out ahead of Paris debut Sketches purporting to be official hint at new Audi TT-based concept that will be Ingolstadt's style-led rival to the Mercedes-Benz CLA

A series of sketches purporting to reveal the sleek lines and exterior styling details of a new Audi TT Sportback concept due to make its world premier at next week’s Paris motor show have leaked to the internet.

The five-door liftback is third in a series of Audi TT-based concepts, following on from the TT Allroad Shooting Brake and TT Offroad concepts revealed earlier this year.

Based on a lengthened version of the third-generation TT’s aluminium and high strength steel platform, itself part of the Volkswagen’s Group’s Modular Transverse Architecture structure, the TT Sportback is said to preview plans for a style-led model from Audi to rival the Mercedes-Benz CLA.

Information accompanying the sketches, all credited to Audi by German media, suggests the Audi TT Sportback concept measures 4470mm in length – making it some 290mm longer than the recently introduced third-generation TT Coupé.

The addition of two conventionally hinged rear doors has been made possible by a lengthening of the three-door TT Coupé’s 2505mm wheelbase. Reports say the TT Sportback also incorporates two individual rear seats that split and fold to extend boot capacity to 850 litres.

Power for Audi’s latest concept is said to hail from the same turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder showcased in the TT quattro Sport concept revealed at the Geneva motor show last March. It is claimed to deliver 414bhp and channel drive through a six-speed S-tronic dual clutch gearbox and quattro four-wheel-drive system.

Audi has made no secret of the fact that it is considering extending the TT line-up beyond the traditional coupé and roadster models.

Speaking at the launch of the TT Offroad concept at the Beijing motor show in April, Audi research and development boss Ulrich Hackenberg told Autocar: “The Audi TT Offroad concept provides a glimpse of how we might image a new model in the future TT family."

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2014 Ford Mustang first drive review
2014 Ford Mustang first drive review In V8 guise, the most sophisticated Mustang yet is almost good enough to match much more expensive rivals, but its low-speed ride needs work The Ford Mustang has been made in hard and soft top forms for half a century, so the central purpose, mechanical layout and styling direction of this iconic ‘pony-car’ is probably familiar to most in the car world.There have been five design generations – some more successful than others – but the sixth Mustang version, revealed recently in static form and this week made available for road test, is very different from the rest.Whereas Mustangs of the past have been targeted only at US buyers, this sixth-generation car is intended to be sold across the world, not only because in 50 years the model has acquired worldwide fame by being featured hundreds of stories, songs and films, but also because it is the embodiment of Alan Mulally's One Ford plan, the company’s new philosophy of building class-leading products and selling them across the world.This new Mustang may look much like the others – in that it is a modern iteration of the car that attracted 22,000 US dealer orders on its very first day on sale in 1964 – but this time it is seriously intended to generate sales in China and the UK, and practically everywhere else in between.

Autocar magazine 24 September preview
Autocar magazine 24 September preview Mercedes-AMG C63 revealed; 500bhp for £15k; baby Jeep driven; Peugeot amazing SUV; hot Fiesta versus rivals

This week’s issue of Autocar magazine, dated 24 September, lifts the lid on the new performance car from Mercedes-Benz’s AMG operation.

The Mercedes-AMG C63 is Stuttgart’s answer to the BMW M3. It will be offered with a similar power output to the company’s recently unveiled GT car, with which it effectively shares its engine, when it goes on sale in the UK next month.

Raw power is also the subject of our 500bhp for £15k feature. Once, 500bhp used to be supercar power. Now you can get that muscle in a bargain used barge and Richard Bremner is your guide through the cars to look out for.

We also compare three of the best warm hatches on the market. Accessible, everyday fun with enough zip to make you grin — that’s what warm superminis like these should deliver. Which does it best: Ford Fiesta, Seat Ibiza or Mini Cooper?

The Jeep Cherokee gets in-depth scrutiny from our road test team. The architecture underneath the new Cherokee is fundamentally Italian. On top, it’s raked back and cleaved flat in a way no Cherokee has been before. Could this be the sight of a leaf being turned under new management?

Used car expert Lewis Kingston serves up advice on how to buy a second-hand Fiat Barchetta for as little as £2000. Fiat’s MX-5 alternative can be a lot of fun, but watch out for the quality issues, he warns.

The Honda Civic Tourer on our long-term test fleet has recently notched up 11,000 miles. It’s a Tourer by name, but is it a competent tourer by nature? A fully loaded camping trip to the south of France provides the answer.

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New boss for BMW's M performance car division
New boss for BMW's M performance car division Former Audi quattro boss Franciscus Van Meel jumps ship to head up Munich manufacturer's performance arm, taking over from Friedrich Nitschke

BMW has announced that former Audi quattro boss Franciscus Van Meel will succeed Friedrich Nitschke as head of its M performance car division from January 1 next year.

The appointment of 48-year-old Van Meel at BMW M comes less than a year after he was controversially ousted from quattro following a reported clash with Audi’s research and development boss, Ulrich Hackenberg, over the development decisions taken with the all-electric R8 E-Tron and second-generation R8.

Since 1996 Van Meel has held various management positions in chassis development and the technical steering of vehicle projects at Audi before becoming managing director of quattro in 2012.

Nitschke, who is 59 and has headed the M division since 2011, will retire after 36 years with BMW. Since joining the company in 1978 he has held management positions in various company areas before taking over as director of development strategy, steering and testing.

From 2007 to 2011 he headed vehicle development at Mini. In 2011 he became chairman of the board of management of BMW M.

Under his leadership BMW M Performance Automobiles was created and the new generation of the BMW M3 and BMW M4 models developed.

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Volkswagen reveals new Golf Alltrack ahead of Paris debut
Volkswagen reveals new Golf Alltrack High-riding Golf Estate variant will go on sale in the UK next year at a starting price of around £23,000

Volkswagen has bolstered its seventh-generation Golf line-up with the addition of a second Alltrack model.

The rugged-styled, high-riding variant of the Golf Estate will go on sale in the UK in mid-2015, and prices will start from around £23,000.

Revealed here for the first time prior to its world debut at next week’s Paris motor show, the fifth dedicated model in the existing Golf line-up is positioned in a niche between the latest Golf estate and the soon-to-be-replaced first-generation Tiguan. It aims to providing buyers with the practicality of the former with the off-road capability of the later.

In a move mirroring that taken with the larger and more expensive Passat Alltrack launched in 2013, Volkswagen has provided the Golf Alltrack with a series of off-roader inspired styling elements that attempt to distant it visually from the Golf Estate, upon which it is based and shares its steel body.  

Included are restyled bumpers with stylized plastic protection plates front and rear, black plastic cladding within the wheel arches and beneath the doors, further production plates within the sills and a set of roof rails.

The nominal ride height of the standard Golf Estate has been raised by 20mm, providing the Golf Alltrack with greater ground clearance for added off-road ability.

Volkswagen plans to launch the Golf Alltrack with a range of three turbocharged four-cylinder engines – a single direct-injection petrol and two common-rail diesels, all mated to its four-wheel drive 4Motion system which features an electronic front differential lock as standard.

The sole 1.8-litre petrol develops 177bhp and 206lb ft, providing the 1.8 TSI with a 0-62mph sprint time of 7.8sec, a top speed of 135mph, and a combined 41.5mpg and CO2 rating of 158g/km.

The diesels include Volkswagen’s familiar 1.6-litre engine. It produces 108bhp and 184lb ft to give the 1.6 TDI a 0-62mph time of 12.1sec and 116mph top speed, along with combined consumption of 60.1mpg and CO2 emissions of 124g/km.

Further up the range is a 2.0-litre diesel, offered in two outputs. The first develops 148bhp and 251lb ft, propelling the more affordable of two 2.0 TDI models from 0 to 62mph in 8.9sec. It has a top speed of 129mph, economy of 57.7mpg and CO2 emissions of 127g/km.

The higher powered 2.0 TDI uses the same engine but benefits from an additional 33bhp and 29lb ft, possessing 181bhp and 280lb ft.

This provides the range-topping Golf Attrack model with a 0-62mph acceleration time of 7.8sec, a 136mph top speed, combined consumption of 55.4mpg and CO2 emissions of 134g/km. Volkswagen also claims a braked trailer capacity of 2000kg.

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