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Special Report on the Motor Show (5): Latest, faster, better, bigger, neater models: Martin Derrick previews the exhibits and what is coming soon

FOR CAR buffs, the star of the International Motor Show that opens in Birmingham today will undoubtedly be Aston Martin's new Vantage model.

It shares some features with the Virage - and externally is similar in many respects - but it is essentially a new car with new suspension, even more sophisticated engineering and new interior design.

Land Rover has a new flagship Range Rover model, the LSE. With its longer wheelbase, giving more space for rear seat passengers, an uprated engine, and its air suspension and electronic traction control, Range Rover hopes it will more than justify its UK pounds 40,000 price tag. The company is also offering a 4-speed automatic transmission on the Discovery.

Rolls-Royce shows its Bentley Brooklands model in public for the first time, Morgan is to offer a new engine variant of the Plus 4 model, Lotus promises a variant on the Esprit theme, while Jaguar is making detail improvements to its XJ6 saloon range for 1993.

Pride of place on Rover's stand is shared by the Rover 200 Coupe and the relaunched MG RV8. With its 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, the 200 Coupe is the fastest production Rover ever built, the company says. In addition, both the 200 and 400 ranges are revised and get their first showing at Birmingham.

In essence, the MG RV8 is a tarted up MGB, a model launched 30 years ago. While the bodywork may be familiar, the performance is bang up to date. A top speed of 135mph and 0-60mph acceleration in 5.9 seconds would leave even the old MGB GT V8 very much in the weeds.

Of the non-UK producers, Mitsubishi is showing its Australian-built Sigma Estate imported here for the first time. It will be badged Mitsubishi and will be sold through Mitsubishi dealers.

Chrysler makes its long-awaited entry to the UK market with Cherokee and Wrangler models - the Cherokee build right-hand drive in the USA and the Wrangler is adapted from LHD once it arrives in the UK. The importers TKM also have the Dodge Viper to show to UK customers, though it is still not yet known how many of the V10 roadsters will be allocated to the UK market.

Among other new cars are the updated Peugeot 405 range; a facelifted Vauxhall Cavalier; the Renault Safrane; the Nissan Micra and Serena; the MercedesBenz 200/300 ranges; the updated Lancia Thema; the 380bhp 5.6-litre BMW 850CSi; Volkswagen Vento and Subaru Vivio microcar.

Meanwhile, of the design houses, IAD promises a 'stunning proposal' for an inner city taxi, the Eurocab. It is also showing in the UK for the first time the Magia 2+2 sports coupe based on the Lancia Dedra.

Not all the cars to come into British showrooms during 1993 will be on show at Birmingham, and despite the difficulties of the new car market, there appears to have been no let-up in new product development.

Next year BMW will introduce a V8-powered version of the 5-Series; a new 3-Series convertible is on the way, as is a highperformance M3 Coupe. Citroen relaunches the BX with an all-new model that is slightly larger than the current car but which retains Citroen's state-ofthe-art hydropneumatic suspension, while towards the end of the year a ZX estate is expected.

Fiat introduces the Cinquecento mini car early next year to the UK, and also replaces the Uno, though British sales may not start until 1994. Similarly, although the company is expected to unveil a Fiat Coupe next year, UK dealers may have to wait until 1994 before being able to offer it for sale. Still within the Fiat Group, Lancia launch the all-new Delta hatchback and Alfa Romeo launch the new 33 hatchback and new Alfa Spider during 1993, though UK sales may not start until the following year.

Ford's big launch is the Sierra replacement in January, but in 1993 it will also start selling a new Spanish-built 4x4 sports/utility and the US-built Probe sports car.

Honda's new Accord, built in Swindon, reaches dealer showrooms in 1993, probably in May. Jaguar will offer a new XJ6 model, fitted with the silky smooth V12 engine, while Mercedes-Benz will introduce its 190 replacement towards the end of the year.

Mitsubishi introduce the larger Galant that was recently launched in Japan while Nissan launch the new Sunderland-built Micra in January, followed by the Spanishbuilt Serena MPV, then - also Spanish-built - the 4x4 off- roader that has been developed in conjunction with Ford, and finally a facelift for the Sunderland-built Primera.

Still built in Britain, Peugeot unveil the new Escort-sized 306, to be manufactured at Ryton, and also facelifted versions of the 405 and a five-door version of the 106.

Renault will follow the Safrane launch with the introduction later in 1993 of the 21 replacement, which is expected to be rather larger than the current car, and a new range of engines.

At Rover, the highlight of a busy year will be the launch of the 600 Series model, which has been developed with Honda and goes on sale in May. There will also be a Metro convertible, a Mini convertible and a Mini Cooper S introduced during 1993.

Toyota will spend much of the year concentrating on Carina E sales, as UK production from Burnaston will by then be in showrooms. However, there is an all-new Supra model to look out for, and also a series of improvements to the Lexus.

Vauxhall replace the Nova next year in three- and five-door hatchback form. Estate and coupe derivatives are expected a little later, though a Nova saloon is not apparently on the cards. The company's main emphasis will be selling the facelifted versions of the Cavalier first shown at the NEC.