DTW takes a look back at the motoring year and boils it down to a manageable lump. It must be admitted a lot has happened in the US and Asian markets as well, but we´ll look mostly at European happenings.
Off the top of my head, this year´s big news events were related to Fiat Chrysler Automotive´s ongoing struggle to revive their business. Part of this has involved spinning off Ferrari and the departure of Luca di Montezemolo. Honda is grappling with a serious problem with failing airbags, a story which is still unfolding. GM has had a cross-brand PR disaster with its ignition switch problem that has been linked to 13 deaths. That too is ongoing and is part of a long run of product failures in recent years. Both the Honda and GM stories show the hazards of using common parts in as many models as possible. We have been reporting on Saab/NEV´s death-rebirth story for a while now and the latest step along the path to stability for NEV is that Tata are now confirmed as a buyer for the former Saab assets. Lotus are still in the wilderness but Hillman´s planned resurgence is coming along if rumours from Chipping Campden are to believed (see page 45 for more – Simon).
In February Jaguar announced plans to launch seven new vehicles in the coming years. This is needed as Jaguar´s sales are still far from where they should be to compete in the global market place. US sales are still weak and dependent on the F-Type which is comfortably outsold by Porsche´s 911 in all its many forms. The Nissan Qashqai Mk2 made its appearance along with the Volvo XC 90 SUV concept – an important vehicle given the volume of sales in this sector.
In March Skoda´s Yeti Outdoor appeared along with the inevitable BMW M235i. Mercedes announced a thorough revision of the E-Class for 2016 which means among other things yet another attempt to enliven what it feels is its dull styling. As I have said often, one of the hallmarks of the E-class is supposed to be its aloof and stately demeanour. If you think it´s dull, you´re not suited to owning one. BMW revealed its five-door front drive hatchback which indicates how far this manufacturer has spread its portfolio into sectors it has previously left to the “non-prestige” marques. It indicates that there were no real reasons for BMW not make front-drive hatchbacks other than they didn´t feel like it until now. It is only a matter of time before there is a BMW competitor for the Ford Galaxy and Fiesta (and I don´t mean the Mini). In the same month Citroen showed us a concept car that would become the C4 Cactus. Graphically the production car stayed quite close to the concept car (or was it the other way around, I ask again). This meant that glass and body-colour areas switched places to no functional advantage. Years ago fake exterior woodwork was a standard design solipsism; now the preferred design oxymoron is black colouring that looks like glass but isn´t.
In April motoring journalists had the chance to test the Seat Leon Cupra, the Mercedes Benz GLA, the Honda Civic Tourer, the Bentley Continental GT V8 S and the Audi A8 4.0 TFSI. Of these, the GLA is the most controversial, seeing as it is likely to steal as many sales from the A-class as from VW, Ford and Opel. Citroen, Toyota and Peugeot started sales of their trio of small cars, the C1, Aygo and 108 respectively. DTW has subjected the Aygo to an extensive test and found it to be pretty good but marred by odd ergonomics and a strange power delivery character. Of the three, I can say the Aygo is the most visible on Danish streets and the 108 is non-existent. Still on Peugeot, the firm has got involved with the Chinese. Dongfeng has bought 14% of PSA´s shares meaning the Peugeot family will lose control of the firm which has been theirs for two centuries.
May: Alfa and Maserati announced 11 new models. We´ll see how that goes. This year saw the non-release of the Maserati Levante, for example. Next year we won´t see the GranTurismo. A cabriolet is slated for non-appearance in 2016. Other hypothetical cars are the Alfa Spider, the Giulia, the Alfetta and “up-market wagon”. More realistically, the new Kia Soul had its covers removed and it has a Mini-style roof of a different colour to the lower body. It weighs 1482 kilos.
June’s** cover stars were the Bristol 401, 410 and 603 and the Jaguar XK-120. The Triumph Stag celebrated its 40th anniversary and the Marcos LM 600 was tested. The Fiat 125 showed how Fiat is leading the way in small, cubic cars.
July offered a chance to celebrate the third generation of the Audi TT which has been hailed as a proper sports car. New cars included the Ferrari California T, the Porsche Cayman GTS, the BMW 4-series Gran Coupe which is a saloon with less headroom than is available in the 3-series. Jaguar gave the XF more horses and an estate-like rear end, calling it the Sportbrake. Ford´s CEO Alan Mulally departed to make way for Mark Fields, previously the COO of Ford N and S America. Top of his to-do list is stop Ford of Europe making nice cars that lose money.
In August some more new cars came our way, none of which seem to demand any further attention for the time being. Perhaps the VW Beetle Dune seems the least consequential though the Renault Megane RS 275 Trophy and Alfa Romeo Giulietta Quadrifoglio Verde merit a mention for their very long names.
Pushing on to September, the Mercedes C-class estate appeared along with the facelifted Nissan Juke. Smart and Renault showed off their twins, the rear-engined ForFour and the Twingo which we reviewed here. VW presented their reworked Passat which is now severely rectilinear and doubtless very appealing to buyers faced with a choice in the C-D class. The 2012 Ford Mondeo née Fusion also turned up a bit later and looks very much like the outgoing model so VW will certainly do very well in that particular fight. The Mazda 2 lost its fun character as it now sports the same huge grille as the 3 and the 6. That´s a bit of a pity as the old 2 had a lot of charm and was a superb interpretation of the supermini. Opel also dropped the ball by deciding to give its
mainstay, the Corsa, a thorough but not convincing facelift in the same style as the over-wrought Adam. Back at Ford, Martin Smith who leads the European design centre announced his retirement. He will be replaced by Joel Piaskowski, an American. He claims to be more interested in how customers feel than how the cars look though a new design direction will materialise in due course. It can only get better as the Smith years have lacked much to treasure. The fact Fords are becoming world cars means the German character of EuroFords will melt into the mass of requirements for Asia and N America.
Jaguar was back on the front covers again in October. The XE will take Jaguar´s fight to the 3-series, taking up where the much-vaunted and ultimately disappointing X-type left off. It looks convincing when one considers the conservatism of this market. It has almost no chrome, at least on the versions shown in press photography. While the UK press love new Jaguars, often the story unfolds to reveal a quite good car that underperforms. Will this one be different? Subaru showed off the WRX STi which we wrote about here. The consensus is that the Golf R has nothing to fear but that the Subaru has a lot more character. I´ll take the Subaru, please. Mazda presented a new iteration of the MX-5 which cleaves closely to the long-standing formula of being small and fun. It looks distinctive and successfully uses the family look as well.
In November car news centred on the 5 door Mini Cooper, the new Nissan Pulsar and the Jeep Renegade. Renault have reworked the Espace concept so it’s not an Espace anymore while Fiat offered the 500X so that most of their European product range is now dominated by 500-themed small vehicles. The Renegade, which was styled in Europe, shares 500 underpinnings and is definitely a European take on the American Jeep theme. It is far more humorous in its looks than anything ever offered by Jeep and American fans might well be suspicious of this new arrival if they like their Jeeps square, thirsty and crude.
And now December. Finally, the Ford Mondeo came under the scrutiny of European motor testers and the general view is that it´s nice enough but its arrival has been far more low key than the 1999 car which was greeted as a major event for the corporate carparks of Europe. The truth is that the C-D class executive saloon is in a class of diminishing importance. Even BMW places less emphasis on this as their range of cars expands and expands. In the middle of December, not six months after May´s wild claims of a new wave of Alfa Romeo product, there came news of nine future Alfas. The real story here was not of some promised cars to put in Alfa Romeo showrooms but that Alfa felt the need to claim for a second time in one year that more cars were on their way. Up to now these periodic “Alfa resurgent” stories came every two years (a period related to the length of time it took for a new product manager or director to join AR, make plans and abandon plans and find another job). At the same time AR announced news of some 2.0, 2.2 and 3.0 diesel engines and a diesel to go in their not-on-sale cars. That article suggested Alfa´s mid-range car might be on sale in 2016. It might be alright but for many AR dealers it will be too late, like watering a plant that is well on the way to being dead.
More interesting but of almost no significance is Aston Martin´s Taraf, a four-door saloon that is initially intended only for the middle eastern market. Not for some time have Aston departed so clearly from the form language conceived by Henrik Fisker and Tarek Reichmann. This car, while being astronomically costly and designed for a market interested in ostentation, is rather reserved and graceful and shows how a large saloon should look. Finally, Mitsubishi is giving up hard-core road cars in favour of EVs which means Subaru´s biggest enemy, the Evo is not long for this world. Good bye, Mistubishi. File under: Renault.
And that concludes our whirlwind tour of another year of motoring news. **Sorry, I looked in a copy of Thoroughbred and Classic Cars when researching this month.