Motor Show `98: NEC debut for a new era of the car

The British International Motor Show promises innovation, like Volvo's bi-fuel system which can use natural gas

A DOZEN new models make their world debut at the British International Motor Show, which opens to the public at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham on Friday. Among them are the Jaguar S-type, the Rover 75 and newcomers from AC, Caterham, Jensen, Lea Francis, Lotus, Marcos and Westfield.

Toyota's first small Lexus, the IS200 - aimed at BMW's 3-series with a 2.0-litre straight-six engine - also breaks cover at the NEC. So do Daihatsu's new restyled Cuore and Move micros, powered by 1.0-litre three- cylinder engines.

At the other end of the scale comes the Mercedes-Benz S-class, lighter and sleeker than the outgoing giant. Flagship of these gizmo-laden marvels, making their UK debut, is the air-sprung S500. Among the options are fan- cooled seats that massage you as you drive.

Alfa Romeo's new 166 looks set to change the status quo in the executive class, as the 156 has done in the division below. Base model is the 155bhp 2.0 litre, and fastest is the 220bhp 3.0-litre V6, with six-speed gearbox.

Serious competition comes from Volvo's new S80 range, which includes a bi-fuel facility that runs on natural gas or unleaded. Mazda's executive car, the Xedos 9, gets a facelift and a supercharger to boost flagging sales.

Jaguar won't risk upstaging its S-type saloon at the NEC with the XK180 concept two-seater, shown at the Paris Salon. So the sports exotica is headed by Aston Martin's tweaked Vantage (600 bhp, 200 mph); Audi's eye- catching TT Coupe (not quite the sportster it seems); Bentley's Continental Sedanca Coupe (last of the true-blue Bentleys); Porsche's all-wheel drive Carrera 4; and VW's 420 showcase roadster, powered by a unique engine.

On a lower plane comes the new Cougar, playing second fiddle to the brilliant Focus on Ford's vast stand - its biggest ever, with a 350-seat arena. Among stiff opposition are revised Alfa Romeo GTVs (more power and equipment) and limited-edition Fiat Coupes (six-speed gearboxes, Recaro seats, air- conditioning).

Other streakers not to miss: BMW's oddball M Coupe; Chrysler's Porsche- eating Viper GTS; Mitsubishi's upgraded 3000GT, now with navigation system; Renault's wild, mid-engined Clio V6 tearaway; Maserati's exciting new 3200GT; and Venturi's twin-turbo Atlantique 300. On a more humble note, there is Mazda's updated MX5, which continues to outsell the MGF, and Toyota's MR2-replacing MRS, still a year away for UK buyers.

Don't be fooled by the carry-over styling of Land Rover's new Discovery, which heads the off-roaders. Underneath is a new five-cylinder diesel and fancy suspension (no roll), transmission (no slip) and brakes (no skids). Together they transform the Discovery's performance and appeal.

Mitsubishi's new Challenger, which slots in under the Shogun, is stronger on style than off-road prowess. Vauxhall's Frontera, dogged by poor quality, has been revamped. In come new engines, more refinement and better trim.

After years in the 4x4 wilderness, Mercedes-Benz delivers the goods with its new M-class, starting at pounds 31,780 for the 3.2 litre V6. At the other end of the scale is the Suzuki Jimny - a slim-hipped four-seater 1.4 designed for the urban mud-plugger. In between come the niche-filling Mitsubishi's long-cab pickup, the 4Life, and Subaru's 170bhp Forester S-Turbo, a more speedy estate than off-roader.

Down in the bread-and-spread division, Ford's Escort-replacing Focus, subject of rave reviews, heads a big cast. If the three-door's "new-edge" styling is too wild, try the plainer saloons and estates.

Another small debutante with a big impact is Peugeot's 206, on sale next month as the 205's spiritual successor. Destined to become Peugeot's best- seller, the 206 kicks off with 1.1 litre , 1.6 litre and 1.9D power. The 2.0 GTi and advanced diesel come later.

One size down, VW's baby Lupo is set to give Ford's controversial Ka a bloody nose.

Fitting into no established category comes Merc's new A-class - Ka sized, Escort spacious, Mondeo priced.

Small space-race contenders aimed at Renault's top-selling Scenic include Vauxhall's seven-seat Zafira, Citroen's Xsara-based Picasso, still a year away from production, and Mitsubishi's Space Star.

Nissan answers critics of its lucklustre styling with the adventurous KYXX (pronounced Kicks) - a Micra-sized concept.

Other showcase one-offs: Renault's hideous Vel Satis, said to hint at future range-toppers; and Subaru's Exiga estate.

Fiat's Brava/Bravo twins have had a makeover; Mazda's 323 has been restyled to look less aggressive; and Seat's new four-door Toledo, which includes a 2.3-litre V5, is based on the underpinnings of the Golf's saloon offspring, the Bora - also making its UK debut. Ditto VW's revived Beetle (left-hand drive only) and Honda's handsome sixth-generation Accord, set to double its share of the medium saloon sector. A new V6 rival is Hyundai's British- styled XG.

Other new cars worth a view: Ford's hot Mondeo, the ST-200 (for 200bhp); BMW's blistering 400bhp M5; Toyota's mini Yaris, said to top the class for space; Rover's red-nosed 200 BRM, which rekindles an old association; estate versions of the Skoda Octavia and Saab 9-5; Vauxhall's best-seller Astra saloon; and a turbo-diesel Chrysler Voyager.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
filmReview: In the face of all-round devastation, even Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson appears a little puny
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Bright lights, big city: Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles by dusk
books
Sport
Harry Kane makes Paul Scholes' Premier League team of the season
footballPaul Scholes on the best players, managers and goals of the season - and the biggest disappointments
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Middleweight

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's fastest growing full s...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Recruitment Genius: Commercial Engineer

    £30000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Estimating, preparation of tech...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician

    £14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will work as part of a smal...

    Day In a Page

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor