For 2008, the Abarth name is back – and in some style. Fiat has pumped a considerable sum of money into re-launching Abarth as a stand-alone brand, and that includes the construction of a new, purpose-built, Abarth HQ with its own sales, marketing, design and engineering facilities. The cars themselves will be sold through a dedicated dealer network, with their own brand identity. The Abarth Grande Punto is the first of those cars to arrive in the UK, with the Abarth 500 due next year. Although based on the standard Grande Punto, the Abarth features a series of modifications that improve the looks, handling and power delivery of the car, which now boasts 155bhp and an 8.2 second 0-62mph time. That said, the Abarth Grande Punto is still somehow greater than the sum of its parts. We set out to discover why.
In the face of rocketing insurance claims, local authorities across the land have re-defined what constitutes a pot-hole. What you and I would consider to be a wheel-buckling crater is now simply a surface feature. Before a man with a tin of spray-paint will even consider marking out a pond in the middle of the A31, it must be allowed to grow large enough to accommodate several outdoors-types equipped with head-torches and a stripy rope. In any other culture, you could be forgiven for contemplating buying a vehicle designed to cope with the Third World-nature of our transport infrastructure. But in these times of knee-jerk environmentalism, SUVs have been all but outlawed. Luckily, there is still one option left, and it comes from the maker of heavy plant machinery - the Subaru Legacy Boxer Diesel
The arrival of the Porsche Cayman S confused many people. Porsche believed they had identified a niche between the Boxster and the 911, whereas logic dictates that the soft-top version should be the more expensive. When the Cayman S first arrived in late 2005, it debuted the company's new 295bhp 3.4-litre flat-six and, at this point, we thought we understood what Porsche were trying to do. The Cayman, then, was a harder, more powerful, tighter-focused version of the Boxster, and that performance benefit justified the increased price. Our reasoning fell apart, however, when Porsche replaced the Boxster S 3.2-litre engine with the Cayman S's 3.4. And introduced a non-S Cayman 2.7. With identical power and performance figures, what exactly do you get for £4,000 extra?
Motoring in this country is getting increasingly depressing. Gordon Brown and the car-hating government are doing their best to price us off the road. What's left of our crumbling road network has been carpet-bombed with speed cameras and traffic calming measures to make our journeys less efficient and more polluting. We're branded planet-killers for daring to move about the place, despite the fact that just five companies in Britain produce more carbon dioxide together than all the cars on UK roads combined. And, should we buy a car worthy of our hard-earned cash in defiance of the liberal do-gooders' calls for everyone to stay at home and knit jumpers from recycled straw, some hoodie-wearing scrote will only carve his name across the bonnet using his front door key. It's not all doom and gloom, though. Those who feel forced into down-sizing will find a market positively blooming with bright and shiny superminis. Honda's effort at bringing a little sunshine into our motoring lives is the Jazz
The petulant masses should technically hate this vehicle. For a start, it's a 4x4, enough to send liberals across the country into a spasm of knee-jerk reactions while chanting "ban the middle classes!" It also weighs over two tonnes, and takes up more ground space than a Land Rover Discovery, facts that should send the greens scurrying for cover inside their Toyota Priuses. But somehow, the Navara avoids all that. The assertion of Nissan's advertising campaign, that the Navara "gets respect" might just be bang on the money. Let's deal with the uncomfortable truth first: the Navara is based on a bona-fide SUV, the Pathfinder
There was a time, not so long ago, when buying a car to make a statement came down to a simple choice - if you wanted to make your neighbours believe you were successful, trendy, and generally someone worth borrowing a cup of sugar from, you bought the BMW. Now, though, things aren't so clear. We live in a time where BMW sells more 3 Series than Ford sells Mondeos, and BMW's latest volume seller bears more than a passing resemblance to a bland Japanese saloon. In the midst of all this, Lexus has launched their new IS saloon, which they're hoping will appeal to the individual in us all. And, for the first time in a Lexus, there'll be a diesel engine in the line-up
Porsche has spent many years fiddling with their classic 911. Gone are the snappy handling characteristics of the original models, replaced by a grippier, more hedge-friendly set of abilities that stand as testament to the work of the talented Weissach engineers. Their Newtonian law-bending achievements are even more astounding when you consider the 911's engine is in the worst possible location - hanging out behind the rear axle. If Porsche's engineers can achieve that level of poise and control with the oily bits in the wrong place, imagine what they can achieve when the engine is where it should be. But then we already know the answer: the Porsche Boxster
I can't be the only one tired with the current German pre-occupation with rock-hard suspension, unfathomable control systems and poor-quality materials. What we need is a real alternative, something of a Johnny-come-lately to the car industry, to remind the sausage-sampling thigh-slappers that what their executive customers really want is reliable, usable, comfortable and entertaining transport to soothe their furrowed brows after a hard day in the boardroom. Toyota, the world's most successful car manufacturer, has been listening. They've been busily punting Lexus, their luxury offshoot, through something of a renaissance of late, with a new visual identity and a raft of new models scheduled to glide gently onto the market over the next few years. The first of which, the new GS, arrives in the UK this month (April) in two guises - 3.0-litre GS300 and 4.3-litre V8 GS430. We've tried them both
Let me save you the suspense. The new VW Golf GTI is a cracking drive. The previous Mk IV GTI had obviously attended a few too many lessons at the Elvis Presley school of growing old disgracefully. But, for 2005, Volkswagen sent their Seventies icon off to the gym. The result, is a powerful, practical, understated but classless reincarnation of the original GTI concept, brought bang up to date with the prerequisite number of pneumatic bosoms and electronic gadgety-pokery
Remember the Datsun Z sports cars? No, thought not. The Datsun name is largely synonymous with small, rusty hatchbacks with almost mythical reliability. That's a shame, because the 1969 Datsun 240Z is widely credited with bringing the affordable sports coupe to the mainstream. While Nissan, custodians of the Datsun brand, tried their best to keep the Z concept alive with a succession of powerful but largely obese Z cars right up until the mid nineties, it's fair to say their eye hasn't really been on the ball. Until now, that is, and the Nissan 350Z
Felix Wankel didn't even have a driving licence, let alone an engineering degree. Despite lacking what might be judged pre-requisites for inventing new forms of automotive propulsion, Felix developed an engine that wasn't compromised by the reciprocating mass of pistons, crankshafts or valves
If the Ramblers Association gets their way, 4x4s will soon be banned from the tiny network of off-road routes that cross the great British countryside. Despite having access to less than 5% of our ancient byways, driving an off-roader across the very terrain it was designed for could soon be illegal. If Ken Livingstone and his governmental chums get their way, 4x4s will soon be banned from our towns and cities, too. Amidst all this hatred, it takes a brave manufacturer to launch a new car that can't be driven on- or off-road