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The Saab 9000 Turbo is dead. Long live the Kia Stinger

Kia has tough competition from the Germans for its new Stinger sports saloon

MANY have tried, but none have succeeded. Who’d have thought the Saab 9000 Turbo would be such a tricky act to follow?

It’s a curious (and not particularly lucrative) corner of the car market to capture; the people who are in the market for a tarmac-snorting, junior-sized sports saloon that ISN’T a BMW, AMG-tweaked Mercedes of hotted-up Audi. This particularly elusive species of motorist is after something with just enough cachet to cut it outside a nearby golf club (so that’s virtually every fast Ford and sporty Vauxhall out), and is hung up enough about long-term reliability to give anything made by Alfa Romeo a wide berth. Not entirely fairly, I’ve always reckoned.

Just think about all those cars over the years that have offered a 9000 Turbo-esque premise but never really taken off (no jet fighter puns intended). The Lexus IS-F, MG ZT260, Mazda6 MPS, Volvo S60R, Chrysler 300C, Volkswagen Passat W8, for instance. For all their leather seats, ample equipment levels and muted growls from their exhausts none have ever really managed to convincingly win over the anything-but-a-blummin’-BMW brigade. In fact you could argue that Saab itself never nailed it either, given the Swedes ran out of cash five years ago.

But that isn’t going to stop Kia giving it their best shot anyway. Their new BMW-baiter arrives here in January and it’s already onto a winner because it has a cool name; it might not be posh and German, but you can at least tell your mates that you drive a Stinger. Which it makes it sound like an American muscle car.

It also picks up the Saab’s old trick of using turbos to rustle up the sort of mid-range thump that comes in handy on a motorway’s outside lane; in the range-topping 3.3-litre V6 there are two of them, and they send 365bhp to the rear wheels. The upshot is that you’ll end up surging to 60mph in 4.7 seconds and onto a top speed of 168mph. Yes, I know that’s academic when you can only legally do 70mph, but when you bear in mind that sports saloon ownership is basically a better funded version of Top Trumps for grown-ups the big Kia comes across quite well.

For the same sort of money as a BMW 340i you can have a four-door saloon that’s bigger, better equipped, quicker and more powerful – and it’s styled by the same bloke who did the original Audi TT, just for good measure.

So it’s a no-brainer that your next sports saloon’s going to be a Kia Stinger, then? Nope, didn’t think it was. The BMW brochure’s just over there, seeing as you’re asking…

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Toyota, thank you for making the Century so bonkers

The Toyota Century is brilliant - but unlikely to make it to the UK

THE GREATEST car you’ve never heard of has just been dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century. But you wouldn’t know it just by looking at it.

The Toyota Century is that awkward relative who cracks awful jokes, dances badly at weddings and dresses like Alan Partridge. It is, with its ridiculous V12 engine and gaudy ‘70s Lincoln looks, the Monkey Tennis of motoring. Which is precisely why I’ve always found Japan’s most extravagant bit of automotive engineering so weirdly endearing.

But now the awkwardly outdated wedding guest has been given some snappy new clothes and been informed that Taylor Swift is a pop starlet, not a brand of caravan. Well sort of, because while the new model’s been given an eco-conscious hybrid powerplant in favour of the old V12, Toyota’s also insisting that it has “a simple and modern aesthetic”. Which it doesn’t.

Not that I (or any of the Century’s customers, for that matter) care remotely. In a world full of me-too sports activity vehicles and drearily understated executive saloons there is something wonderfully refreshing about a brand new saloon that looks exactly like a car that Huggy Bear would drive.

It’s aimed at the sort of people who’d normally go for an S-Class or an Audi A8 but it’s also the only luxury offering that eschews leather seats (although you can still order them) in favour of wool-trimmed thrones. There’s also an LCD panel that allows the managing director to control all the interior settings – including those for the driver’s seat – while slouching in the rear seat. That’s exactly the sort of unapologetic luxury that you just wouldn’t get in a 7-Series.

Toyota has absolutely no plans to bring it to the UK, partly because it’d trod of the toes of the Lexus LS, an equally lavish saloon developed by the same manufacturer that just happens to look like it belongs in 2017. But it’s good to know that when it isn’t churning out Prius hybrids the world’s biggest car manufacturer has something genuinely a bit bonkers up its sleeve.

I really hope the new Century’s a raging success because it’ll prove that there’s a market for luxury waftmobiles that look they belong in the late 1970s. Hopefully it’ll encourage Jaguar to get on with making a new version of its Daimler Double Six Vanden Plas. Just a thought…

Alfa Romeo hasn’t beaten BMW with the Giulia, but it has won my heart

The Giulia is the first rear-wheel-drive Alfa Romeo saloon in 25 years

THAT distant noise you can hear is the sound of Alfa Romeo’s Giulia depreciating in value. Or perhaps it’s the sound of interior trim creaking uncomfortably during repeated use.

Or – and I reckon this is a tad more accurate – it’s the gentle groan of people who’ve grown up with Alfas of the past expecting the new arrival to be just as fragile. I can see where they’re coming from; I drove a 1990s GTV6 last year and spent the entire outing wondering what would’ve happened had Milan put as much effort into its interior as it did its V6s. But I didn’t care how squeaky the trim was, because the three litres of chrome-garnished opera up front sounded utterly enchanting.

Whereas the engine in the Giulia I tried didn’t. I’m aware that you can order Italy’s latest 3-Series basher with a twin-turbo, 503bhp monster of a V6 but the version most people are likely to be punting up an outside lane near you is the 2.2-litre turbodiesel, which below 3000rpm isn’t quite as refined as its Audi or BMW equivalents. But put your foot down and the clatter’s quickly replaced by impressive mid-range shove. In 188bhp form it’s an impressively brisk, if not lightning quick, motorway companion.

It’s also the first Alfa saloon in a quarter of a century to send its oomph to the rear wheels – the right wheels, if you want to enjoy driving a big saloon – and the end result’s a car that really lets you revel in its delicately set-up steering and suspension on the right road. It does an accomplished job of devouring A-roads, but the 3-Series is a tiny bit better.

Which is where the Giulia does a fine job of messing up my own verdict – because the BMW is a tiny bit better not just at cornering, but at virtually everything. The Alfa has B-pillars so vast that they make checking your blind spots very hard work, anyone hopping into the rear seats inevitably smacks their scalp on the low roofline, and the German offering is more likely to hold onto its value.

But I’ve never walked away from a 3-Series and given it a lingering second glance, which you do with the Giulia because it is an achingly pretty car. Just like the old 156 and 159 were.

The BMW’s clearly the better car in the same way that Birmingham’s a perfectly sensible place to live. But given the choice I’d have a cottage in the Lake District any day – and a Giulia parked outside, naturally.

Bring back the Land Rover Defender – before everyone else ruins it

Production of the Land Rover Defender ended last year

ABOUT a year or so ago Britain made an historic – but rather controversial – decision. It decided to terminate its decades-old relationship with an international institution.

Since then crime’s increased, prices have gone up and there are mutterings from our friends in the farming fraternity over what they’ll turn to now for support. There have also been heated debates in pubs up or down the land over whether pulling the plug was the right decision, but my mind’s firmly made up.

We definitely need to put the Land Rover Defender back into production.

Since Britain’s best 4x4xfar by far exited the stage last March there’s been a weird void when it comes to truly hardcore off-roaders – and no, the Ford Kuga you have parked outside isn’t going to fill it. For all its terrible handling and lack of shoulder room it had a curious role in keeping rural Britain ticking, and ever since it departed the stage some very unfortunate things have been happening.

For starters crime really has been going up. With no new Defenders to buy people have simply been nicking the old ones, so much so that NFU Mutual is now reporting that thefts are up 17 per cent over the past year. The lack of supply also means that people prepared to pay for legitimate examples are having to stump up more for the privilege; a Defender bought brand new by Rowan Atkinson two years ago has just been sold on for a £20,000 profit, and that’s unlikely to be down to simply having a famous name on the logbook.

But worst of all is that in the absence of any brand new ones the Land Rover’s hard-earned reputation is being trashed by the tuning brigade. Every week I’m sent press releases by companies specialising in aftermarket cosmetic kits for Defenders, and they’re all absolutely dreadful. But people who normally buy Audi TTs and BMW X5s are signing up, turning the poor old Landie into a bit of a glorified tart’s handbag. One of only four or so cars to have made it onto the Sub Zero section of Top Gear’s Cool Wall is now a bit of a fashion victim.

Clearly, the only answer is to put the Defender back into production and restore order.

Forget all those emissions regulations getting in the way. Theresa May needs to instigate a special Defender Reintroduction Bill in the next Queen’s Speech, and make it her top priority once Britain leaves the EU.

In fact, let’s sneak this one in early!

The Government ban on petrol and diesel in 2040 will be fine for new cars. It’s the old ones I’m worried about

Cars like the BMW i3 have made zero emissions motoring more fashionable

APOLOGIES to Mark Twain’s estate for having to shamelessly pilfer one of his better-known quotes. Reports of the car’s death – which you’ve probably read over the past week or so – have been greatly exaggerated.

Chances are you’ll already be aware of the Government’s intention to ban sales of new petrol and diesel cars as of 2040, which a million internet bores instantly took to mean the death knell for motoring fun as we know it. The party that Karl Benz and his pals threw back in 1886 is finally over, because we all overdid it and got drunk on AC Cobras and Range Rover Sports.

But calling it quits isn’t really doing us as a species, particularly those of who love cars, much credit. Ever since we figured out that we had opposable thumbs and could light fires we’ve been pretty good at working out answers to things, and even by the Government’s own prescription we have roughly 23 years to solve this one.

I’m not going to get into how we make the clean energy that propels a zero emissions car but the end result’s a lot better than it used to be. Seven years ago I drove an electric MINI that had a battery so huge it took up the back seats, a range of barely 100 miles and engine braking so severe you could pull up at roundabouts without touching the middle pedal. It only took another two years for the motor industry to invent an electric car that was fun to drive – take a bow, Renault Twizy – and fast forward to 2017 and the charging points at motorway service stations are crammed with Nissan Leafs and Teslas. If we’ve made it this far in seven years, you probably won’t need a diesel Golf as a new car in two decades’ time.

The bit I worry about is what happens with all the old ones. The more intelligent people at Westminster have already said that banning them isn’t the answer, partly because outlawing the MGB is a bit like banning Buckingham Palace and more importantly because the nation’s classic car hobby is worth £5.5 billion to the British economy (and it’s still growing). Horses have been old hat to commuters since the Austin Seven showed up, but they’re still allowed to use our roads.

But the thing with horses is that you only need straw, carrots and a decent vet to keep them going. If everyone else is driving electric cars in 2040 will there still be petrol stations to fill up the MGF or the Peugeot 205 GTI? Or places that can do a new battery for an Audi TT?

The car, I honestly reckon, will live on. It just might be a bit trickier than it used to be.

Why re-testing the over-70s isn’t the key to safer roads

Even autonomous cars like this Volvo cannot completely eliminate accident risks

ROGER Daltrey hoped he’d die before he got old but I reckon there’s loads of things to look forward to.

Cheaper car insurance, for starters. Opportunities aplenty to play golf or go on coach tours of North Wales. Or, if you’re my recently-retired father, all that free time to mend the MGB in the garage.

But Roger – who’s still very much alive and well at the age of 73 – probably won’t be looking forward to doing another driving test. Yet he and just about every other motorist over the age of 70 might be forced to, if a petition that’s already gained more than 250,000 signatures is submitted to Westminster and taken seriously.

The circumstances that prompted it were truly tragic – an 85-year-old pensioner out for a drive in his classic Mercedes-Benz SL momentarily got confused, hit the wrong pedal, and ended up killing a pedestrian. The petition it prompted is calling for all motorists over the age of 70 to be given mandatory retests every three years, to prevent similar incidents ever happening again.

I’ve been following the issue with interest ever since this truly horrific incident happened back in 2012. I’ve every sympathy for Ben Brooks-Button, the widower of the woman killed and the man who nobly started this petition – but I’m not sure mandatory retests are the answer.

Statistically speaking if the suits at Whitehall are going to retest anyone it’s the generation I was part of not all that long ago – the 18-24s, with their Calvis Harris MP3s booming out of their mum’s borrowed Corsas. Nearly a quarter of them have a crash within two years of passing the driving test. It’s even worse if you’re under the age of 19; not only do you still get ID’d going into nightclubs but you’re involved in nine per cent of the nation’s big collisions, despite only making up 1.5 percent of the motoring population.

So should they be made to redo the test every three years? Of course not, and with the possible exception of anyone who works in sales and has an Audi A3 or A4 nor should anyone else. What we should be offering are courses that don’t cost a fortune, and a campaign that encourages people to think of driving as a skill to be honed and perfected, like tennis or playing a piano. We’re never going to get rid of all the incidents on Britain’s roads (and that includes ones caused by autonomous cars, so anyone suggesting that as answer can get back in their box), but we can bring them down by encouraging people to sharpen their skills.

Maybe the Government can hire Roger Daltrey to do the jingle. I hope I drive before I get old?

Don’t buy a new Focus – buy an S-Class instead!

you-can-have-all-this-for-less-than-the-price-of-a-new-ford-focus

I WAS wondering which Liverpool player was going to step out when the black S-Class pulled up alongside me. Or perhaps it was a leading light of the criminal word, dispatched to assassinate me for something unsavoury I’d written in The Champion years earlier.

But actually it was one of the freelance photographers I work with sometimes, and he was very pleased because this enormous luxury saloon with electric everything and an AMG sports pack really was his. Not only that, but it transpired the whole thing had set him back what an entry-level Ford Focus costs.

As cars go it really is phenomenal value. The equivalent diesel V6 model today will set you back the thick end of seventy grand, meaning this one has lost more than two thirds of its value in just eight years. It’s the sort of hefty depreciation that’ll make its original managing director owner wince, but look at it from a buyer’s perspective and it’s a no-brainer. For £16,000 you can’t buy the cheapest new car Mercedes-Benz makes, but you can buy a barely run-in S-Class with everything still working.

It’s not just misunderstood Mercedes models, either. For the same sort of money you can have a BMW 730D with a full service history and 39,000 miles on the clock – not bad, considering all it’ll get you new is a top of the range Polo. How about a Jaguar XJ with the 2.7-litre diesel V6? Again, could be yours for an Astra-sized outlay.

Yes, I know they’ll be more expensive to tax, insure and service than a family hatchback, but at least with them being the diesel versions you won’t be left weeping inconsolably every time you pull into a branch of Shell or BP. Nor are they the sort of automotive antiques I normally deal with – even at this sort of money they’re all fully working cars with plenty of life left in them, gadgets that sync up with your iPhone and seats that massage your buttocks on motorway slogs.

It’s worth bearing in mind next time you’re thinking of venturing out and buying a new car – for the same sort of money you can have a low mileage S-Class, a barely used BMW or a just run-in Jaguar. 

Suddenly the snob factor of having a 66-plate on your front bumper isn’t so impressive. Although you will get Champion journalists cowering everytime you drive past, thinking their number’s up.

Suffer hay fever? Don’t worry, Audi is here to help

The new Audi Q2 arrives here in NovemberHAY FEVER sufferers shopping for a new set of wheels ought to take a look at Audi’s latest models.

It’s now fitting the A1, A3, Q3 and TT models with a new air conditioning system that neutralises virtually all particles that cause allergic reactions. The system will also be fitted to the new Q2 model (pictured) when it arrives in November, although chances are you won’t be driving up the A1 in a fit of sneezes and puffy eyes by then.

I’m lucky enough to to be one of the few Brits who doesn’t suffer from hay fever, but I know plenty of car nuts who are particularly vulnerable to the menace of the high pollen count. It’s reassuring to see one of the big boys in the new car world taking their woes seriously.