Look forward to a smoother ride
THE SHOCKING news about banks, loan r a t e s , i n s o l v e n - cies and job losses has made t hi s a pretty devastating autumn for car sales and, even before the worst of the storm in September, the new car market declined 24 per cent. But let’s hope that the worst is behind us now. On the positive side, if you are still in the market for a new car, the dealers will welcome you with some very tempting offers.
Not all firms have suffered — Audi posted sales of 16,457 cars in September, one per cent higher than in the same month last year. This success is attributed to its widening of the marque’s appeal, from a line-up of 12 models in 1998 to 27 this year.
A recent Audi test day left me with an enjoyable dilemma — which ones did I most want to drive? Some Audis, like the RS6, are fabulously fast, with a V10 5-litre engine churning out 575 bhp; some are also fabulously expensive, such as the R8 4.2, of which the total price — including options such as a CD changer (which one might have expected to be standard) — was £98,975.
But Audi is very well aware of the need also to offer cars with low fuel consumption and emissions. There are some very tempting Audis, such as the TT sports car, now available with diesel engine. At the Paris Show this month, the company launched its A1 Sportback concept, for a five-door car, capable of 124 mph but also giving 72.4 mpg and CO emissions of 92g/km.
More new models are promised by Audi for 2009, among them the Q5, a smaller version of its Q7 off-roader, promising great capability with less bulk and lower running costs.
Coming next April is the S4, a highperformance version of the A4, powered by a supercharged V6 engine, bringing a 30 per cent reduction in CO compared with the previous model.
And what about an Audi that parks itself? The A5 does just that. Pull up ahead of a suitable gap between parked vehicles, select reverse and then — while your hands stay off the wheel — the A5 backs neatly into the space. All that you have to control are the pedals; steering is automatic. This “parallel park assist” is available for £725 extra.
Performance appeal is also the key to the Jaguar — a drive in the new XF proved every bit as thrilling as I had anticipated, especially in the V6 diesel version. I can’t wait to do the full road test.
My quick appraisal of the XF was followed by an experience of the XK on the Nürburgring formula 1 race track, where I was tremendously impressed by the handling and performance of this elegant and underrated car. Following in the tracks of a racing driver, also in an XK, I was shown exactly the line to take through the corners and where to begin braking for them — an unforgettable driving experience.
Also revealed at the Paris Show this month was the concept for a GTI version of the new Volkswagen Golf, expected to go into production next spring, with UK sales to begin in summer 2009. The 2-litre engine in the Golf GTI is claimed to give it a top speed of 148 mph, with fuel consumption of 37.6 mpg on the combined cycle, while CO output will be 178 g/km, compared with 189 for the previous model.
A recent test day provided a fascinating catch-up on Volkswagen’s latest models, headed by the new Scirocco — it’s absolutely delightful, with snug seats, crisp handling and touch-responsive brakes, while the 2litre 198 bhp engine gives phenomenal response.
I drove the Scirocco with DSG (direct shift gearbox, a form of automatic transmission in which the clutch is automated). There is no clutch pedal, and the car can be driven automatically with the selector at D position, or one can use paddle switches below the steering wheel to change up or down. There is no jerk or surge when changing gear — it’s all wonderfully smooth and responsive.
Not so good is the rather sombre black interior of the Scirocco — and riding in the back would not be much fun, either, as the forward view is blocked by the high front seats. The Scirocco with six-speed DSG automatic costs £22,270.
VW’s other new models are Passat derivatives. The CC is an elegant fourdoor coupé, starting at £21,065 for the 1.8-litre; the second is the R36. Powered by a 3.6-litre V6 engine delivering 297 bhp, the R36 offers awesome performance for its £31,015 price. The 4MOTION four-wheel drive is standard.
Imagine saying: “I’ll do the journey in my Journey”? Weirdly, that’s
the name of the new Dodge, a roomy five/seven-seater with choice of 2.4litre petrol engine or 2-litre diesel. Like most American cars it has imposing frontal styling and the petrol version is competitively priced at £16,995.
It is expected that most buyers will pay the extra £1,000 to have the diesel version, with six-speed manual gearbox, or there’s a six-speed automatic with higher-level SXT specification at £21,195.
My first impression was that the speedometer must be excessively optimistic, but a check showed it to be almost accurate. The Journey is impressively swift and effortless, and should make light work of all journeys.
Also from America comes the latest version of the Jeep Cherokee. This was launched on a most demanding offroad route, which started with a halfmile drive along a deep river and then over some frighteningly steep muddy tracks.
The Cherokee certainly proved outstanding in its off-road competence. A three-position switch gives you the choice of front drive, four-wheel drive on demand and four-wheel drive with low ratio for severe gradients. An automatic hill-descent system keeps the Jeep under control in the most severe conditions.
With manual transmission, this new Jeep Cherokee costs £24,595, or the very effective and controllable automatic model is available at £1,000 extra. The new Cherokee is offered with only one equipment level, called Limited and only with 2.8-litre four-cylinder 16valve diesel engine.
At first I was a little concerned about the indicated fuel consumption, at 26.5 mpg on the road, but then I realised that this was for the (smaller) American gallon. On imperial measurements, it averaged a more reasonable 31.8 mpg. For go-anywhere ability, the new Cherokee is a strong contender.
Chasing the quest for ever-lower fuel consumption and CO output, Volvo launches diesel versions of the C30 SportsCoupé, S40 and V50, all claimed to give better than 60 mpg, with CO below 120 g/km (tax only £35 this year and £30 next).
Chrysler has announced its intention to produce electric vehicles in each of its Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge ranges for the North American market in 2010 and for European markets afterwards.
If you want to train yourself to drive more economically, you will like Fiat’s eco:Drive system. You plug a memory key into the car at the beginning of the drive and at the end, the computer will tell you how well you have performed. But how many drivers will have the time or interest to follow this up, I wonder?
Manufacturers are backing both kinds of horsepower: offering more bhp at the top end of their ranges, yet also chasing the government-backed quest to reduce fuel consumption and CO output at the lower end of the range. The result? Something to please everyone.
Quicken your pulse with Audi’s breathtaking 187 mph R8 (left)
or the impressive Jaguar XF (right), a real thriller, especially in V6 diesel version