Look for­ward to a smoother ride

The Jewish Chronicle - - Motoring -

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

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