Babes - Fast Cars

Blog about the car industry and other related car news

Hummer H1

The Hummer H1 was a civilian vehicle based on the M998 High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV), popularly known as the Humvee, which was created by AM General. The vehicle was produced from 1992 through 2006.

Originally released in the civilian market in 1992, the Hummer H1 owed its birth to the popularity of photos from Operation Desert Storm and the enthusiastic campaign from actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who personally owns several variants of Hummer vehicles. GM announced that 2006 would be the last model year for the Hummer H1, with production winding down in June 2006 due to a new emission law for Diesel engine vehicles which takes effect in 2007.
Due to the requirement to meet EPA Tier 2 Bin 5 emissions standards, the cost involving recertification for a low volume civilian variant vehicle was not able to be justified. AM General currently has orders for an excess of 50,000 new HMMWVs to be produced between 2006-2009 for the United States Military. AM General also will continue to produce the H1, just not the Alpha. These vehicles will be sold through fleet sales.
It is rumored that the next H1 will most-likely bear a refined version of the prior 6.5 L Turbo Diesel engine, but that has not been confirmed. Selling the H1s through fleet sales will allow AM General to not be subjected to the new 2007 Tier 2 Bin 5 emission rules and regulations. AM General has sufficient fleet orders to produce 600-800 units per year right now. The fleet H1s will end up using the standard 6.5 L Turbo Diesel that has been commonplace in GM and commercial applications.

The Hummer H1 has three common variants: a convertible-like soft top, a four-door hard top pickup truck and a Wagon body version. Other less known variants include a two-door pickup truck and a four-door slantback. At this time, the convertible/soft top and the station wagon versions are the only ones available in the mass market. The two door and four door pickup versions are only available in fleet livery.

Currently, five engine types and three automatic transmission types can be found in Hummer H1s. The common engine/transmission combinations are:

  • 6.2 L GM Diesel V8/GM TH400/3L80 3-speed
  • 6.5 L GM Diesel V8/GM 4L80-E 4-speed
  • 5.7 L Vortec 5700 gasoline V8 TBI/GM 4L80-E 4-speed
  • 6.5 L turbo GM Diesel V8/GM 4L80-E 4-speed
  • 6.6 L turbo Duramax LLY turbo Diesel/Allison 1000 5-speed (model year 2006)

The Hummer H1 shares some common driveline parts with its HMMWV brethren. Items like brakes, differentials, frame and major body panels (hood, tailgate and quarter panels) are identical between the HMMWV and the Hummer H1. All Hummer H1s and HMMWVs come off the same first stage assembly line, and then are separated midway to either become a military HMMWV or a civilian H1.
Hummer H1s are unique in the way they handle off road, and in their interior arrangement. Passenger and highway comfort are sacrificed for maximum mobility compared to civilian SUVs, with features much more radical than the original Jeep, though they do share a similarly cut simple grille opening. They are inherently very stable, thanks to their wide stance. They also can ford 30 inches (76 cm) of water, climb a 22-inch (56 cm) step, have a stock ground clearance of 16 inches (41 cm). This high clearance is made possible by tucking driveline components inside a channel in the central space between the left and right seats. They have high approach/departure angles of 72/37.5 degrees. Most H1s are equipped with a Central Tire Inflation System (CTIS), which enables the driver to increase or decrease the tire air pressure at will- since lower tire pressures are more suited for off road, and higher tire pressures are desirable on-road.
Hummer H1s have many unusual features. They use inboard brakes. They have geared hubs, allowing the drivetrain's half shafts to be up high for greater clearance. The radiator is up high, sloping back over the engine on a forward hinged hood. The air intake is mounted high, enabling fording waist-level water. Rather than using simple runflat tires, aluminum or rubber inserts are an optional feature for runflat ability. Chemical warfare resistant paint is available only on the military version.

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Toyota FT-HS Concept

Salvation for supercar lovers in the 21st century: Toyota has turned its hand to creating a sports coupe with green credentials - and the futuristic FT-HS Concept mixes green with mean rather well, we think.

Don't believe us? Well, how about 0-60mph in four seconds and 400bhp from a 3.5-litre V6 hybrid drivetrain - in a car that runs silently on electric power through town, with nothing more troubling than an electric whirr from the quad tailpipes.

This concept heralds two new design themes: J-Factor and Vibrant Clarity. Apparently, these are a celebration of Japanese design, and the car does have some unusually sharp surface treatments; the nose is dominated by a butch snow-plough spoiler, while the rear is deeply scalloped.

From the front, the 'floating' C-pillar wraps over the rear haunches, while the roof bulges to provide more headroom where needed. There's even a folding hard top, turning the FT-HS into a cabrio at the touch of a button.

The 3.5-litre V6 hybrid petrol-electric drivetrain might sound familiar from the Lexus RX400h and GS450h, but this time it's been tuned for 400bhp. No economy claims have been published ahead of its debut at next week's Detroit Motor Show, but Toyota claims 'ultra-low emissions and fuel efficiency'.
This concept car has a 2+2 layout, with small rear seats for occasional use. The cabin has a lean, skeletal look and the engineers have tried to leave much of the car's architecture exposed.
Has any concept car of recent years not lavished its drivers with a periodic table's worth of exotic materials? The FT-HS is trimmed with carbonfibre and cool-touch titanium, while the steering has an unusual mono-spoke wheel.
There is one big stumbling block to building a hybrid supercar: weight. All those batteries and hybrid power packs weigh a lot. The petrol-electric GS is a podgy 245kg more than its petrol counterpart, for instance. Finding a way to make a hybrid coupe handle like a sports car ain't easy.

However, if anyone has the engineering nous - not to mention deep pockets required - to make this happen, it's Toyota. Nobody will make an on-the-record promise, but word is that the company is working flat out to be first with a hybrid sports car.

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Pagani Zonda R - 750hp Monster

The Pagani Zonda is a supercar produced by Pagani in Italy. It debuted in 1999 and continues through the present, with production proceeding at roughly 25 cars per year. As of December, 2005, 60 Zondas had been built. It is a mid-engined 2-seat coupe and convertible. Construction is mainly of carbon fiber.

Some early Zonda engineering was done by Formula One champion, Juan Manuel Fangio. The car was originally to be named for him, the "Fangio F1", but the name was changed upon his death in 1995, renamed after an air current above Argentina.

Here are the latest renderings of Pagani’s Zonda R. Even though the Italian company has produced the amazing Zonda F that lacks no performance with its driving time of 7:32 around the Nurburgring, Pagani wanted to set a new target for an ultimate performance racetrack car with out any rules besides safety.
With the help of Mercedes-Benz’s AMG division Pagani hopes to fit a 7.3 liter V12 engine that is capable of producing 750 horsepower.
Pagani says that the Zonda R is designed from scratch taking only 10% of the Zonda F components. The Pagani Zonda R consists of a suspension made in Avional, a new Pagani six speed transversal sequential gearbox, carbon fiber monocoque and a aeronautical four pump fuel tank.

The company plans to build only 6 units with pricing set around €1.2 million+ taxes.

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Lamborghini Reventon

What’s this? It looks like a Murcielago auditioning for the Batmobile! It’s actually the Lamborghini Reventon, a €1m special of which only 20 will be built. Named after a particularly feisty bull that killed bullfighter Felix Guzman in 1943, the Reventon features a 6.5-litre V12 producing 650bhp – just 10bhp up on the standard car with which it shares its four-wheel drive mechanicals.

Think of it as Lamborghini’s take on the Ferrari Enzo-based FXX – an extremely low-volume machine for those who find ultimate supercars a little too common. Unlike the FXX, however, the Reventon is built for the road.

  • So it’s a Murcielago with a bodykit, then?
Not quite. However, it is the styling that’s most notable here, the Reventon looking something like a high-speed collision between a stealth fighter jet and the Murcielago LP640.
Designed in-house by Lamborghini’s Centro Stile, the Reventon’s body is made, like the LP640, of CFC, a composite carbon material that’s both light and strong. High-tech aviation has been the main inspiration, hence the new, milled-from-aluminum filler cap and a flat green/grey paint scheme that suggests radar-evading properties – though we wouldn’t want to tempt fate.
  • The lights look different?
They are. New bi-xenon headlights are accompanied by seven LEDs and a further nine diodes for the indicators. Out back, heatproof LEDs are employed due to potential heat soak from a hard-worked V12. Elsewhere, the wheels are fitted with carbon fins screwed to the aluminium spokes to generate extra cooling for the ceramic brakes.

Despite the Reventon’s radical proportions, Lamborghini claims it remains entirely functional, the new bodywork helping to better cool the engine and brakes while remaining entirely usable in a world of speed bumps and kerbs.
  • Is the interior borrowed from the LP640?
The underlying basis of the interior remains the same, though the treatments of carbon, leather, alcantara and aluminum are strikingly new and, typically, exquisitely crafted. Again inspired by fighter jets, the instruments comprise three liquid crystal displays that are housed in a structure milled from solid aluminum and protected by a carbon fibre casing.

Unfortunately, all 20 cars will be built and sold next year to ‘friends and collectors’ of Sant’Agata, according to Lamborghini. Still, with such a premium price and exclusivity, we wouldn’t bet against a few replicas making it onto the road.

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Mercedes-Benz F700

So, another big lumbering Mercedes saloon then? Not a bit of it. Although the F700 might be 5.17m long – somewhere between the S-class and long-wheelbase S-class – the F700 is supposedly cleaner and more frugal than any current S-class.

This is thanks to its innovative ‘Diesotto’ engine. The F700 also features a hybrid drive and suspension that reads the road ahead. And, for those who are familiar with the online world Second Life, there's an avatar too.

Diesotto? Sounds like a mix of diesel and the Otto cycle. That’s just what this engine is. The F700 has a 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine that is supposed to combine the low emissions of a petrol engine with the consumption of a diesel. With the Diesotto engine, this very large F700 manages 55.3mpg and emits just 127g/km of the dirty stuff.

But don't think this engine lacks power, as there are two sequential turbochargers, plus a hybrid system to assist when the car moves off. The hybrid system allows stop/start running. There's also direction injection, variable valve lift and a variable crank.
This crank allows for the especially clever bit: the ignition. Running on conventional petrol, the Diesotto engine operates with spark ignition under start-up and full loads, but under partial loads (low and medium speeds) it switches to diesel-style compression ignition. Mercedes calls this controlled auto ignition (CAI) and it means lower operating temperatures. This in turn means fewer nitrogen oxide emissions, while a three-way catalytic converter mops up the rest.

The Diesotto engine makes 235bhp and 295lb ft, and the electric motor adds another 20bhp. This means a 0-62mph time of 7.5 seconds, and the aforementioned impressive consumption and emission figures. And not only is the engine very clean and efficient, but because it's smaller and lighter, it helps the F700 weigh 1700kg, whereas a base S280 is 1880kg.

  • What about this fancy suspension?
You mean Pre-Scan. Mounted in the headlights of the F700 are two lasers that scan the road ahead. The hydraulically controlled active suspension then adjusts according to their feedback. Merc claims this gives the F700 a ‘flying carpet’ feel.

Pre-Scan also has a laser scanner in the base of the driver’s door and a hydraulic cylinder stops the door being opened should the car detect a possible collision.
  • So what's all this about an avatar?
Mercedes calls its new system Servo-HMI. The F700 comes with an avatar, a virtual operating assistant. So rather than telling the car your destination, you can 'discuss' it instead. Quite why this needs discussion is another matter. And as an avatar is supposed to be your own persona in a virtual world, you might as well just talk to yourself.

Mercedes seems to have thought of this, though. Rather than rich bankers having to talk to themselves on the journey home – if they should happen be driving themselves – the avatar in the F700 is a young woman. No word yet on whether she can be personalized.
  • What else should I know about the inside of the F700?
That if this car ever makes production you won't want to sit up front. At 5180mm long, it’s only 29mm shorter than a long wheelbase S-class. However, thanks primarily to the compact engine, the F700’s wheelbase is 285mm longer than the biggest S-class's. It’s very slightly lower than an S-class too but, because it's wider than the current S, there's lots of interior room.

This allows for Mercedes’ Reverse seat. The right rear seat (in this left-hand drive car) can split apart and move to face away from the direction of travel so that the two rear passengers can interact.

Two large glazed areas in the roof allow light in, while the interior trim is made from natural materials including leather and cork.
  • The outside is somewhat challenging
Indeed, but apparently the F700’s design is ‘perfectly compliant with the brand identity of Mercedes-Benz’. To these eyes that doesn’t bode well, especially having seen the Ocean Drive concept as well.

The F700's design language is called ‘aqua dynamic’, though it isn’t quite as extreme of that of the 2005 Bionic Car concept. That car was heavily based on a Boxfish.
The doors of the F700 are asymmetrical, as the right rear door is a ‘suicide door’, a la Rolls-Royce.
  • Anything else?
There’s a transparent cover over the rear wheels to improve aerodynamic efficiency. There are also recessed door handles and tiny wing mirrors. And those big 21-inch wheels are wrapped in low rolling resistance rubber that is said to be 17 percent less resistant than regular tires.

Why has Mercedes made this car? Because, apparently, with increased traffic in mega cities we need ‘mobile living spaces which afford the highest comfort on wheels’. So Mercedes has kindly built a large car to take up more space. And it's not exactly for the masses either...

Some of these technologies, especially Diesotto, are worthwhile, others are not. Either way, big Mercedes always point towards what the rest of us will eventually drive. This is the future.

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Aston Martin unleashes two new cars

Bit bright for an Aston Martin? Yes, this orange hue is somewhat retina-searing. But don’t worry because this limited edition V8 Vantage N400 is available in other colours. However, it is this Karussell Orange that gives a clue to what this V8 Vantage is all about.

It’s built to commemorate Aston’s achievements at the Nurburgring, where the V8 Vantage N24 has competed for the past two years. The Karussell is one of the most famous, and challenging, corners at the ‘Ring. But the N400 is no stripped out racer because it comes as standard with sat-nav, cruise control and heated electrical seats.

Don’t fret, because there’s also a 400bhp 4.3-litre V8 under the bonnet, plus a Sport Pack that should filter down to the rest of the range soon. The Sports Pack comes with uprated springs and dampers, a new rear anti-roll bar, plus lightweight alloy wheels.

Just 480 will be made, half as coupes and half as roadsters. Why 480? Because that’s how many seconds there are in eight minutes. And it’s the eight minute barrier that the N400 has just dipped below while lapping the ‘Ring. The car is available with an auto or manual gearbox and prices should start from £92,000.
That’s more restrained. This is the DB9 LM and it is a lot more reserved than the tangerine-coloured V8 N400. This car is built to celebrate Aston’s victory in the GT1 class earlier this year at Le Mans. It comes as standard with the DB9’s Sports Pack. The rest of the changes are purely cosmetic, including a smoked-chrome mesh grille, red brake calipers, unique interior trimmings and the aptly named Sarthe Silver paint.

Aston will build 124 DB9 LMs because it finished first at a 24-hour race. Hence 1-24, 124… and yours for £124,000…

Both cars will be unveiled next week at the Frankfurt Motor Show, but if this DB9 isn't your thing then remember Aston Martin will also be showing the stunning DBS on its Frankfurt stand, and that’s the sort of DB9 we want.

Ben Pulman

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Audi RS6 Avant

Impatient? Well we are too, having snapped the RS6 Avant testing at the Nurburgring earlier this year, and knowing how good the RS4 is. So, without further ado…

The headline figure is 571bhp. Yes, 571 horses, so if you thought the German horsepower race was slowing down you were very much mistaken, as today Mercedes has also unleashed its C63 AMG estate, detuned to 451bhp.

The rest of the numbers are 479lb ft, €101,750 (£68,656) on the Continent, 0-62mph in 4.6 seconds, a limited top speed of 155mph and a kerbweight of 2025kg. Oh, and 1660 liters of boot space with the rear seats down.

  • But it looks understated?
At first glance, yes, but when you clock it in your rear-view mirror you’ll notice the subtly sculpted front bumper and LED daytime running lights. As the RS6 Avant passes you, and if you’re quick, you’ll pick out the bigger wheels and the chunky, flared wheel arches reminiscent of the old Ur-quattro. And, once it’s passed you, watch the two oval exhausts disappearing into the distance, and only then realise that it was an estate. Yes, it was that fast.
Standard are 19-inch wheels, though you can specify 20-inch wheels. Only with the larger wheels can you have the ceramic brake option: they’re as impressive as the engine’s outputs, with 420mm discs up front, and 356mm discs at the rear.

Also on the options list is a sports exhaust and a three-stage magnetic damping system.
  • So why is the RS6 Avant so quick?
We’ll start with the engine. It’s a V10, but not the 5.2-litre V10 found in the S6 or S8. This one's a 5.0-litre. Audi is being coy about the similarities this engine has to that in the Gallardo, but there are differences, most notably the presence of FSI in the RS6’s.

Thanks to two turbochargers, you’ll get 479lb ft at 1500-6250rpm, and 571bhp from 6250-6700rpm. The end result is 20.3mpg – but also a 0-125mph time of 14.9 seconds. It's quick, then.

The RS6 Avant comes, of course, with quattro four-wheel drive as standard, and a 40:60 front-to-rear torque split. Drive passes through a six-speed Tiptronic gearbox, complete with paddleshift.

The standard spec list is massive, with heated front and rear leather and Alcantara seats, a Bose stereo, and a tyre pressure monitoring system.

The car will take a bow at this month’s Frankfurt Motor Show before going on sale in April 2008. We should get to see the saloon RS6 back few weeks. Bring on the Mercedes E63 Estate and the BMW M5 Touring.

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Mercedes-Benz CLK Black AMG

Black Series? Sounds posh and a little edgy. What's all that about then?
AMG groups its cars into five divisions. The Black Series machines are second only to the borderline psychotic and super-expensive Signature Series (i.e. CLK DTM) cars in the line-up.

Black Series cars are stripped out, track focused and expensive (just like the Signature Series cars then) and this particular weapon is the second MB car to receive the Black treatment. A permanent hard top SLK 55 AMG with a carbon roof was the first.

  • So what's special about this CLK Black?
If you can ignore the fact that the Signature and Black Series cars appear to share a strangely similar philosophy, the CLK Black's spec is as mouthwatering as its price is eye-watering (around £100,000). AMG takes the competent but bland CLK 63 AMG Coupe and does what it probably wanted to do to the car to start with: strip it out, tune it up, fit track-orientated suspension and brakes and unleash a car that feels as tight and as trick as anything it has ever built.

Aside from the F1 safety car-alike bodywork with its assorted scoops, flips and wings, the CLK 63 Black has a not-inconsiderable 507bhp – 26bhp up on the standard model – from its 6.3-liter, naturally aspirated, mainly hand built V8.

This is a phenomenal engine; utterly smooth but revvy and angry and easily a match for BMW’s M Power V10. The Black gets a tuned exhaust system, which not only releases extra horses from the motor but also a barrage of bangs, pops, growls and grumbles.

Other mods to this all-aluminum engine include a reprogrammed ECU and a tuned intake system while those 507 gee-gees gallop to the rear wheels via AMG's Speedshift seven-speed auto (there's no manual option) with a shorter final drive ratio. There's also a limited-slip diff that feels suitably sticky on the track.
  • Crikey. Sounds fast...
Oh yes. The Black is 0.3 seconds quicker to 60mph than the standard CLK 63 AMG, hitting the magic six-oh in just under 4.3 seconds. Top speed is limited to 188mph.
That’s not a huge outright performance advantage over the standard CLK 63 (especially when you remember it costs approximately £10,000 per tenth of a second saved to 60mph…), but where the Black Series really scores is on the track.
  • On the track? Go on then, tell us what it’s like
Well, we drove it on the track and the road and initial impressions were good. Very good. The front seats (the only seats in the car) grab you tightly, the exhaust note is barking mad and the whole car feels brilliantly stiff and pure of purpose. The new adjustable coilover suspension delivered a surprisingly comfortable ride, and the composite brake discs (thicker on this Black version) provided massive braking performance and great feel.

On track, the circuit-focused Pirelli P Zero Corsas and coilover suspension set-up provided strong, consistent grip while the handling was nicely neutral and exploitable. With such a beefy engine up front, understeer came first but a few laps with Mercedes racing legend (and former DTM champ) Klaus Ludwig demonstrated the best way to drive the car – from the rear. A couple of lifts or stabs on the brakes to unsettle the car way before the apex, then loads of right-foot to throttle-steer the car all the way through the corner. Brilliant.
  • Sound great. Surely it wasn't all good?
Well, on the road the seven-speed 'box with paddle shift worked well enough, but on the track there's little doubt a manual gearbox would provide greater satisfaction. If this car is about track thrills, then the lack of a manual option is a strange one – after all you can't imagine Porsche building an auto-only GT3, can you?
Also, someone at AMG has once again confused steering weight for steering feel.
  • Ah, the sublime Porsche GT3? How does it compare?
Very favorably in terms of outright pace and price, but the Porsche is unquestionably the better car. The CLK 63 Black Series is intriguing, suitably bonkers and surprisingly capable – but at close to £100K, it is neither as focused as a GT3 nor as capable on the road as the 911 Turbo. That's not to say this isn't a good car, merely that its up against some incredible competition.

The CLK 63 Black Series has massive appeal – it’s rare, it’s fast, it’s fun and it is as charismatic as any Mercedes I’ve driven. But £100,000! Phew.

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Volkswagen Tiguan

Blame management, complicated model cycles and just about every other excuse under the sun. And speaking of the sun, those countries from the land of the rising sun have been doing the medium-sized 4x4 thing since the mid-1990s. Toyota launched the Rav4 over a decade ago, let's not forget.

Only this year have we seen offerings from Europe: Vauxhall’s Antara has just arrived, and we’re still awaiting the Ford Kuga and Renault Koleos. Now VW are plugging the small 4x4 hole in their line-up with this, the Tiguan. No, not Touran or Touareg, but Tiguan.

So if you’re late to the party you bring something special, right? Well yes and no. Nothing stands out as spectacular but tardiness does mean that the Tiguan gets the latest Haldex four-wheel-drive system. The system no longer needs to register wheelspin to engage the four-wheel drive. In general driving conditions about 90 percent of the torque goes to the front wheels but it can momentarily go 100 percent rear drive.
There’s also what VW calls APA, which is short for axle parallel steering. It’s VW’s latest electro-mechanical steering that auto adjusts to compensate for crosswinds and camber, and also reduces kickback should you ever leave the tarmac.

But perhaps the highest accolade we can give the Tiguan is that with the right equipment, right colour and a nice set of wheels, the new VW will exude enough street creed to challenge the BMW X3. It’s a soft-roader you can pose in, then.

  • VW is famous for platform sharing - so what’s under the Tiguan?
A little bit of everything all rolled into rolled one. The base platform is Golf, but there’s Passat front and rear suspension, Phaeton brakes, and that new Haldex four-wheel drive system.

There are two different set-ups. The Track & Field trim level comes with a 28-degree front approach angle, as opposed to other models' 18-degree one. Thankfully VW hasn’t compromised the majority for the sake of a minority: this off-road spec model looks a little ungainly. Opt for the Trend & Fun or Sport & Style trim, and the car looks better. Such names also give a clue to the Tiguan’s target audience.
  • So what’s it like to drive?
There’s nothing stellar in the chassis department but it all works very well. The compliant ride is excellent, especially compared to the BMW X3. It’s even more remarkable when you consider that our test car ran 18-inch wheels. What those wheels also help to do is provide lots of grip and traction.

The steering has no feel and no real feedback, but it would be more of a shocker if such a car had any. But it means the car is stable during high-speed cruising. It also stays neutral in fast sweepers, and only under steers in tighter turns.

The BMW X3 is ultimately more entertaining than the VW, and while it’s more powerful, don't forget it’s also around £8000 more expensive.
  • So if the Tiguan uses a Golf platform, does that also mean Golf engines?
But of course. Initially there will be only the 148bhp TSI and the 138bhp TDI units. The TSI unit is a 1.4-litre with a supercharger and a turbocharged, and bests the Rav4’s 2.0-litre petrol’s 143lb ft with 177lb ft from 1750 to 4000rpm. Early next year, two new 2.0-litre TSI powerplants will be added, as well as a 168bhp 2.0-litre TDI.

Our test car was the 138bhp diesel with 236lb ft from 1750rpm to 2500rpm. It’s now common-rail as opposed to VW’s old pump-duse item, and is thus quieter and cleaner. But throttle response isn’t as instant and it misses the old sledgehammer oomph that made previous TDIs such fun. If you hang on for the higher power diesel just remember that you can’t have it with the six-speed auto.
  • Golf underneath, Golf interior?
It’s close, because the cabin started life as a Golf Plus. It’s fairly compact so you sit upright, but it’s still comfortable. It is a truly decent bit of kit. The (optional) leather is nicer than in a Nissan Qashqai or BMW X3. The driving position is better, the sat-nav is more intuitive, the rear visibility superior and even the fit and finish are ahead too. Fold the rear seats and the Tiguan has 1510 litres of space.
In first gear, 1000rpm equals 4.2mph – a crawler gear, almost in line with a low range transfer case. Useful for going up steep stuff, then.
  • Verdict
Compromises don’t come much better than this, and apart from the slight increase in fuel consumption due to the four-wheel drive system, there’s little to fault the new Tiguan. It’s still compact for the school runs, but is beneficially bigger than the Golf Plus. VW might be late, but it’s been worth the wait.

And if you can wait a little longer VW is readying electronic dampers for the Tiguan, plus you’ll be able to spec wider wheelarches and 19-inch chromed alloys. Bling bling. There’s also an R-line bodykit coming, and - should VW see the demand - a V6 and a 200bhp+ diesel.

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Mazda Hakaze

Mazda claims to have reinvented the 4x4 with this new banana-coloured Hakaze concept at the Geneva Motor Show next month. It's a crossover with a twist, mixing the best bits of coupes, roadsters and SUVs, apparently. It's also, worryingly, designed to appeal to a very definite demographic: kite surfers aged between 30 and 40. Sounds like your usual concept claptrap, then...

The Hakaze is the third in a series of concept cars honed by Mazda design chief, Laurens van den Acker. Along with the Nagare and Ryuga, the Hakaze defines a new look for the Mazda, inspired by natural flow lines. Think waves, and the shape of wind-blown sand dunes. Hmm.

Sounds like another crazy concept car with zero chance of making it to the showroom...
Well, Mazda says that the European-designed Hakaze signals an interest in a 'future compact crossover vehicle'. It's desperate to launch a smaller SUV under the CX-7, since its market research shows that compact 4x4s are going to soar in popularity over the next decade.
So strip away the kite-surfing addendum (there's a storage box for your surfboard and a camera to record your mates' 'radical' moves) and show-off concept details (20-inch wheels and sand-proof switchgear), and you're left with a C-segment sized SUV which stretches to a modest 4420mm long.

There's no B-pillar and the glass roof lifts out and stores in a compartment in the rear bumper, so when you lower the four frameless windows, you can watch your mates kitesurfing on the beach.

  • Enough concept car madness... Is the Hakaze a runner?
You probably won't be late to your kite-surfing lessons, because the Hakaze runs the 2.3-litre petrol turbo engine from the 6 MPS; that means that you can expect an output of around 260bhp, driving all four wheels.

Despite all the mad show-car details, it seems that the Hakaze could be a rare Mazda concept car destined for a showroom near you. Company officials promise this concept is merely a titillating concept, but there are encouraging noises suggesting something like this could make production.

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BMW 120i

It’s a 1-series with two fewer doors. Well spotted. Two years after we first got our hands on the original five-door 1-series, BMW has given us the sportier (if only psychologically) three-door. Wheelbase, length and interior space all remain the same, but this new derivative, introduced together with a facelifted five-door, should appeal to a younger market.

BMW expects to shift 4000 in the UK this year, together with 19,000 of the original five-doors.

Not exactly radical, is it? The kidney grilles are slightly bigger, the bumpers are new front and back, and there have been some changes to the lamp units apparently, but unless you see old and new side by side, you’re unlikely to tell the difference.

Same goes with the interior changes: they’re mostly limited to new interior colors, although BMW claims to have boosted cabin quality and reshaped the glovebox area.

  • Anything else of interest?
Oh yes. How about 60.1mpg? Amazing as it sounds, that sort of supermini-shaming economy is within reach of the 118d. And the petrol engines aren’t far behind: the new 118i and 120i are capable of 44.1mpg and 47.9mpg, respectively.
  • So what’s the secret?
Clever engineering, that’s what. Every petrol and diesel engine gets electric power steering and Auto Stop Start, a Citroen-style system that cuts the engine in traffic to save fuel. Step on the clutch again to re-engage a gear and the engine restarts. We tried it in traffic and it works well, killing the engine but leaving you with power for the lights, stereo and air-conditioning.

Other fuel-saving measures specific to the new 2.0-litre engine in the 118i and 120i include direct injection, an electric water pump that only operates when needed and an alternator that only charges the battery during braking or when the engine is on the overrun. Unencumbered by turning all these pulleys, the new engines give around 10mpg more than their predecessors and more power too. The 118i climbs from 129bhp to 143bhp and the 120i (effectively the same engine but with a variable length inlet manifold) jumps from 150bhp to 170bhp, allied to 155lb ft of torque.
The diesel get more power too: 143bhp (up 21bhp) in the case of the 118d and 177bhp (+14bhp) for the 120d, and every engine comes with a six-speed box, including the 116i which, without direct injection or Valvetronic, now looks distinctly old-tech and, at 38mpg compared to 48mpg for the 118i, thirsty too.

Which is why the three-door car won’t be available with the 1.6, making the cheapest 1-series the 116i five-door at £16,360. The entry-level three-door is the £17,785 118i which costs £530 less than the equivalent five-door. On M-Sport models the difference is £495. Confusing, isn't it?
  • What’s it feel like to drive?
We drove the £20k 120i which gets to 62mph in 7.7sec, a whole second quicker than before, and liked it. In terms of pace and excitement , it lags miles behind the Civic Type R, Focus ST and Golf GTI it competes with on price. But it feels brisk, composed and fun, in a grown-up sort of way.

The electric steering loses a little in terms of feel but also the oppressive weightiness that characterised the old rack at really low speeds. There’s so much grip at both ends that you soon give up trying to coax the tail out and concentrate on pointing the 120i neatly through corners.
  • Any clues that I’m in the three-door from behind the wheel, apart from the obvious of course?
Nothing significant in terms of the way it drives, but the front doors have sexy coupe-style frameless glass and the rear seats come with a storage space in the centre of the rear bench in place of the usual cushion, reducing the number of people you can carry to four.
But since the wheelarch intrusion resulting from the One’s cab-backwards layout makes it virtually impossible to carry three anyway, it’s no great loss. But if you really want the normal full bench you can have it at no extra cost.
  • Verdict
Still absurdly expensive (and prices have risen fractionally) and still, to many eyes, uglier than a troll with leprosy. But the addition of a three-door model certainly increases its appeal and it's hard to argue with the brilliant engine line-up.

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