British International Motor Show: Good for motoring, good for Britain....

When the British International Motor Show opens in London today, it's curtain up on a clutch of exciting new models. So, be there or regret it, says John Simister
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Geneva hosts probably the best motor show in the world, yet Switzerland has no motor industry. So those who play down the idea of a proper international British show because our indigenous mass-production car-making base is dead are talking nonsense. We have a thriving industry making specialist cars, and we have several volume production factories that just happen to be foreign-owned. So, of course we should have a major motor show.

The British International Motor Show, back in London after the doldrum years of the NEC in Birmingham, starts on 20 July at the ExCel centre by London City Airport. It has gained terrific momentum and credibility, to the extent that those carmakers who don't think it worth making an appearance will feel seriously wrong-footed. Stand up Audi (the UK is its third-biggest market), Volkswagen, Fiat, Ferrari and Maserati...

There will be sideshows aplenty, but the main thrust will be the dozens of new cars seen in the UK for the first time. Some will be world debuts, proving that the British event has truly arrived as a credible force. Here's a taste of some of the highlights.

HONDA CIVIC

The Civic is a UK success story, the Swindon factory in which it is built supplying the futuristic new-generation Civic right across Europe. We've already seen the 200bhp Type R version in concept-car form, previewing the three-door body, but now that body is a production reality, with mainstream petrol and diesel power. The Type R itself is scheduled for the end of the year.

CAPARO

The performance of a GP car on the road; that's the promise of this carbonfibre supercar, whose 2.4-litre V8 engine produces 500bhp to power a car weighing just 500kg. That's one-third the weight of a mid-size saloon. From standstill to 100mph and back to standstill takes 8.5 seconds. The two-seater T1 coupé is made by a British firm specialising in carbonfibre products for the car industry, and its ex-McLaren designers believe that racing-car technology benefits road cars. Imagine an F1 car with roof, lights and wheel covers; it's Britain's newest, most glamorous supercar.

MAZDA MX-5

This is not only a world debut at the London Motor Show, but probably the first time an existing soft-top sports car has been offered with an alternative coupé-cabriolet folding roof. The idea is to make the Mazda MX-5 sports car into a proper hard-top coupé, but still let the roof retract when wind is required in hair. Carmakers usually explain away the lack of a CC, when keeping an old-fashioned soft-top, by saying that a proper sports car should have a fabric roof, and a coupé is a separate model. Mazda has successfully turned that notion on its head.

VAUXHALL CORSA

This, in terms of sales volumes, is probably the most significant Motor Show launch of all. Vauxhall's new Corsa, making its world debut, replaces a successful supermini and darling of the driving schools with a roomier, sharper, more dynamic car. The three-door version is especially racy; it's almost a coupé, along the lines of the bigger three-door Astra. Under the Corsa's shapely skin and high-quality cabin (soft-touch surfaces, interesting translucent controls) is a platform and suspension shared with the Fiat Grande Punto, a car praised for its driving feel. That means the new Corsa should be a much better drive than the last one, with the promise of a 1.6-litre turbo VXR version to rev up the model's enthusiast credentials.

FREELANDER

A car for our times. The new Land Rover Freelander has a similar shape to the old one but is significantly bigger, reflecting buyers' tastes for ever more space and presence. This mini-Range Rover will cost more, too, when it goes on sale at the end of the year. The need to appeal to US buyers is central to the upsizing; they will probably buy their Freelanders with the new 3.2-litre straight-six engine. Most European buyers will go for the 2.2-litre turbodiesel version. There's proper four-wheel drive, of course, biased towards the front most of the time but sending torque rearwards if needed.

JAGUAR XKR

The mesh air intakes at the front and the pair of bonnet vents give the game away. This is the supercharged version of the new XK, with its aluminium structure and 4.2-litre V8 engine, named XKR like its predecessor and delivering 420bhp for a 4.9-second 0-60mph time. The suspension is firmer, the wheels are heftier and the already class-leading automatic gearbox is said to shift gears even more quickly. Prices start at £67,495 for the coupé, with a convertible offered at £73,495.

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