A few days ago we took a general overview of the year past and reviewed the big trends. In this article we will look at the pointless details, the stuff you’ll have forgotten by the time you swipe the screen and return to your mince pies.
Land Rover’s Discovery Sport made the front pages of the magazines and as far as I recall I didn’t read another word about this life-style accessory for the rest of the year. Jean Marc-Gales discussed his plans to save Lotus which reminds me of the perennial stories about [insert name of manager]’s attempts to save Alfa Romeo. Among his promises: a four-door Lotus, an SUV. At present, the only hybrid they have is a concept Evora and that was from 2012.
In the same month we got to read reviews of the Audi RSQ3, the new Suzuki Vitara, the Fiat 500X and Mazda 2. Maserati celebrated a 100 years by carrying on making their cars less and less attractive. The Bentley SUV’s name emerged into the world and customers soon snapped up the cars by placing orders. At the other end of the year road tests declared it to be a) big, b) fast and c) thirsty. Job done.
The world rocked on its axis as Jaguar decided to make a car people might want to buy for its own sake: the F-Pace. The new Honda NSX appeared in print and looked underwhelming. Mercedes revealed their impressions of driverless cars, a kind of lounge on wheels full of features that won’t ever make production. Driverless car interiors will look like small train cabins with more buttons. New cars of the month included the BMW 3-series e-Drive and, at the opposite end of the relevance scale, the Bentley Mulsanne Speed. Top speed: 190 mph and an official 19 mpg. Yours for the price of a one-bedroom doll’s house in East Ham. Fiat plastered some Abarth tags on the the 500 and asked £32,995 for it. Mad? Not so. There are four for sale in the UK and the ones with delivery miles are selling for £47,000 and £40,000.
News that Ferrari shares were to be put on the market for the first time surfaced around now. New cars landing? The Corvette Z06, the Jaguar F-type R AWD and Peugeot 308 GT. You’d think the 308 GTi might have made some waves. The old and much lamented 205 had super-snappy handling, oversteering markedly as the throttle was let go. This trait has returned under the supervision of modern PSA electronics and it was not well received. Fickle, those motoring writers, no? The Honda CR-V arrived with nine speed automatic gearbox and the same duff C-pillar as the old one. Another arrival took the form of the rather nice Vauxhall Adam Grand Slam which we tested on these pages and found to be a pleasant little device.
Volvo’s leviathan, the XC90, began its life in pictures around about this time. The press gave it good notices here and here and here. In the metal it is a very imposing car. It is also very, very expensive and I have not seen one in the wild in Denmark. Equally rare in Denmark is the Seat Leon ST Cupra 200. You can guarantee with a name that long it won’t be sold here. “Well rounded,” said Car. More earth-friendly, the Kia Soul EV was added to Kia’s by now completely convincing range of cars. The blanked-off grille on the EV version work rather well. Again, I have seen none in Denmark.
Much to everyone’s surprise, Jaguar showed off a Jaguar XF which looked much like the last one. I wasn’t convinced by the press images but when I saw it in action it looked rather spiffing. May generally offered little other than variants of existing cars: the Range Rover SVR, a CLA Shooting Brake from Mercedes and, as the Megane Mk 3 began to wink out of existence, Renault saw fit to try selling a GT220 version. Oddly, Lexus threw out the hybrid gear for their NX200t which is then just a 2.0 litre turbo. These cars look hideous so it’s moot. Generally, as well as being a year of electric this and diesel crisis that, it’s been a year of appalling C-pillars and nasty front bumpers. Piech left VW around this time. Ford’s plush Vignale was announced but recieved short shrift from various directions.
Yes, June now. More hot variants emerged blinking from the sands only to crawl off into the surf of forgetfulness. First among them the Audi RS3. Less forgettable is the “new” S-Max from Ford which bears a striking resemblance to the old one. The dashboard seems to be new though the vertically alligned centre vents must come directy from the Opel Zafira. The Hyundai Genesis received predictably high levels of scorn from the badge obsessed UK press. While GM and Ford struggle to sell front-wheel drive V6 cars in a class used to RWD and V8, Hyundai has gone and done it and will sell lots in the US.
I don’t expect they’ll worry BMW, Jaguar and Audi very much. However, that’s not the real target. The real target is a slew of buyers in the middle sector who might not even want a prestige car but do want something more than a blown six or even a blown four-cylinder. The Hyundai costs more than a Hyundai usually does. Again, that’s not a problem as the price is well inside the territory of makeweights from Cadillac and Lincoln. It is time Ford, Chrysler and GM USA woke up to the fact that by deserting the Olds/Buick/Chrysler audience they deserted a hefty slice of the market. In the very same month Lincoln showed off its new Continental which is either AWD or FWD and comes with a six as its biggest motor. If Hyundai can make a RWD V8 saloon what is stopping Ford and GM?
The Opel Corsa received a very thorough re-work. Like the Ford Galaxy it’s a comprehensive facelift and not a new car. The interior is new while most of the sheet metal outside is little more than moderately resculpted and the bumpers and lights have been revised. I would have expected more than this. The major architecture is unchanged and perhaps that is a mistake in this competitive sector.
Leafing through my magazines I find this “Freedom is key. Sport is art, and art with limitations would be awful.” That was Nissan’s racing boss Ben Bowlby. Discuss (hint: he’s wrong). Lamborghini’s Aventador and Alfa 4 C Spider shared page space with the Renault Kadjar, the new Opel Astra and the Ford Vignale. In the metal the Astra looks very pleasing. The DS DS5 (it’s a DS5 made by DS) had new suspension to smooth and soothe the ride. It’s still not selling well. Renault used some other kind of marketing to market the Kadjar, inviting us to break free and go hang-gliding on a Monday morning. As far I can see it’s a kind of jacked up Clio and probably does everything a Kadjar does.
Press reviews of the Vignale didn’t show it in a good light. I wrote to one of the magazine editors on this score and what they said didn’t match with what I found in the showroom. As it is, quite a lot of customer go “Brougham” with their Fords and the Vignale is an attempt to give them even more to spend their money on. If they shift 20,000 of them Ford will have made a pile of cash.
Perhaps more relevantly, Opel’s new Astra turned up. I don’t care for the looks; the current car is downright handsome. But the new car is lighter and nicer to drive so that’s a reasonable compromise. I will be testing one in the spring, I expect.