Not Frankfurt, but well worth a spin - Life and Style - The Independent

Not Frankfurt, but well worth a spin

the london motor show

We are on the verge of a new age in motoring, and the forthcoming London Motor Show will give punters a taste of what's in store. But in his preview of the show,

Gavin Green suggests London may be a pale imitation of Frankfurt's more exciting display of new cars

That it is a mere taste, rather than a full-blown entree, is a shame, and a reflection of London's lowly international status in the motor show food chain. Our fashion shows may now be world class; our motor shows aren't there yet.

Frankfurt last month was a breathtaking preview of frugal and imaginatively styled small cars, machines that are green and fun. Congested Britain needs such cars at least as badly as Germany. Yet only a sprinkling of the Frankfurt Show stars are crossing the Channel.

There is, for instance, no Smart Car, the ingenious little two-seater "city coupe" made jointly by Mercedes-Benz and Swatch, the watch people, which goes on sale in mainland Europe next spring. UK sales will probably start in 2000.

Nor is there the new Audi AL2, precursor to a new baby Audi, also slated for the year 2000. With its lightweight aluminium body and direct-injection petrol engine it promises marvellous economy (well over 60mpg), as well as smile-a-mile driving. Instead Audi chooses to show a more powerful version of the handsome A4. This new S4 is hugely desirable. Yet it is an irrelevant cul-de-sac in the grand scheme of things. The AL2 is the future.

We will not see the new Mini, unveiled to a select group at Frankfurt, before quickly disappearing again. That such a crucial new British car was shown in Frankfurt, but not in London, is a rude reminder of where the real power is wielded at BMW-owned Rover these days.

At least we'll see the new Mercedes A-class, 1997's most impactful car, and probably the greatest leap in small car design since the original Mini. There are so many clever ideas crammed into the A-class's Mini Metro length, not least a passenger compartment as big as a Ford Mondeo's. Independent tests have suggested that the A-class really is as safe as a bigger Mercedes saloon, an extraordinary achievement. UK sales start in June, and prices begin at about pounds l3,500.

The brand new Golf is another Earls Court must-see. It is nothing like as radical as the A-class and, in the photos, looks like a timid makeover of the old model. Yet it is such a marvellously complete small hatch, better made and classier than the outgoing model, more entertaining to drive, yet reassuringly familiar to former Golfers. British sales start next spring but prices have already been announced: they start from pounds l1,970 - excellent value. The GTi will cost pounds 15,515.

The new Vauxhall Astra also looks impressive, if conservative. As with the Golf, much is being made about its safety offerings (in Germany, even side airbags are standard). Vauxhall is also playing up its driver appeal, an aspect of the current Astra which is distinctly underwhelming. Lotus has been drafted in to give the new model some suspension finesse.

Also in the small hatchback class, Citroen unveils its new challenger, the Xsara. If you ignore the anonymous looks and the pedigree of the badge, the Xsara is actually a likeable thing. It's roomy, rides with commendable suppleness and has the odd innovative flourish to keep the Citroen flame burning, albeit dimly. It replaces the ZX, and goes on sale next month.

Apart from the A-class, the star of the show is probably the new Land Rover Freelander, the Solihull maker's first-ever small "lifestyle" 4x4. This class has bred some naff cars in the past, yet the Freelander promises to be rather different. It looks imposing (4x4s invariably do) without being too butch, and early impressions suggest a vehicle that's capable on both mud and motorways. The three-door rag roof model also promises to serve up some fun. Sales start in November. There's a choice of four- cylinder petrol or four-cylinder diesel models, neither of which should be too thirsty - unlike all other Land Rovers.

Just as important in the 4x4 market is the new Mercedes M-class, which also makes its British debut. This one targets the bigger Discovery sector, and is bound to give the ageing Disco and the equally arthritic Shogun a pummelling in the showroom. It's Mercedes' first-ever "luxury lifestyle" offroader and is a sign of how this market continues to boom. The M-class, on the Benz stand, is part of a Jurassic Park: The Lost World display, which sounds like a good reason to avoid it. Don't: the car is important, not least because it shows how manufacturers arecontinuing to diversify their model ranges.

Mind you, another new Mercedes - the V-class people carrier - also provides a clear illustration of the dangers of diversification. This truck-like van is more a luxury minibus than a car-like MPV.

The prettiest model at Earls Court is probably the new Alfa 156, the Italian maker's most serious attempt yet to give the BMW 3-series and the Audi A4 a hard time in the small sports saloon market. It is quite gorgeous. V6 and tuneful four-cylinder engines are on offer, and build quality looks to be very close to German levels. Sales start next spring.

Of technical interest is its diesel engine. It's the world's first production unit using new-fangled "common-rail" technology which, in a nutshell, means it's cleaner, faster and more frugal than diesel rivals. Other makers will follow this Fiat initiative, set to give a new lease of life to a type of engine which many thought (and hoped) was on its way out.

A final pick: make sure you see the new Porsche 911, which serves up the best driving experience you'll probably ever get. Sadly, few will ever get the chance. Just look at it, and dream. After all, for most of us, that's what motor shows are all about.

The London Motor Show, held at Earls Court, runs from 15-26October, from 9.30am-7pm (9pm on 21,22,23October, 6pm on 26October). Entry pounds 10 for adults and pounds 6 for children under 15 and OAPs.

News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
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

    Science Teacher required for a lovely Ramsgate Secondary School

    Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Randstad Education is working in...

    SEN Teacher

    £120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you an SEN Teacher loo...

    Teacher

    £110 - £125 per day + Competitive Rates: Randstad Education Maidstone: Randsta...

    Year 2 Teacher and Group Lead

    £110 - £125 per day + Competitive Rates: Randstad Education Maidstone: Randsta...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week