Motor Show 1993: Saloon showdown for the big guns: Battle has been joined for supremacy in the family car sector, writes Martin Derrick

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THE MAIN battleground of the British new market, fuelled as it is by massive numbers of company car sales, is the family saloon sector. So it is no surprise that for Ford, the most important launch for years was the Mondeo to replace the Sierra, and no surprise either that the three Japanese companies that have already set up production facilities in Britain are each building Mondeo competitors.

In the year to date, it is not the brand-new Mondeo but actually the Vauxhall Cavalier that is the biggest seller in the class. That success is based, says Martin Brown, marketing manager, on the wide range of models on offer, a high level of customer loyalty, a well-proven track record and, crucially, Vauxhall's continual improvement and upgrading of the product.

'The Cavalier may be five years old but it has all the technical features of any other model on the market, including those most recently launched,' he says.

While safety is of paramount importance for today's car buyers, both for its own sake and also because it projects a high image for Vauxhall, it is also important to ensure that the cars on offer are those the customers want to drive.

The recently introduced V6 Cavalier models are a case in point, says Mr Brown. Not only do they add spice to the range, but they are also technically advanced and about as environmentally friendly as a car can be, able to meet ultra-stringent 1996 emissions regulations.

Ford's response has been the launch of the Mondeo Estate earlier this year, which completes the line-up of body styles available. Ford expects it to become one of the top-selling versions of the Mondeo range, accounting for 16 per cent of sales in 1993.

'In the medium car segment Ford has always performed strongly,' says Ernie Thompson, director of sales. 'The Sierra Estate was Britain's top-selling estate car and the Mondeo Estate is likely to outperform it. It is a very impressive, class-leading load carrier.'

Though billed as a load carrier, there is no shortage of hi-tech available at extra cost: traction control; remote control central locking; CD player and CD autochanger; electric sunroof; cruise control; and heated front seats.

Initially the Mondeo Estate is only available with 1.6-, 1.8- or 2.0-

litre petrol engines but in due course turbo diesel versions will be launched, along with automatic transmission and 4 x 4 options.

High specification is also an important aspect of Rover's sales pitch with the new entry-level 620i model, now in the showrooms. Priced at pounds 13,995 it includes as standard power steering, electric front windows, central locking, security alarm with immobiliser and remote control door mirrors.

The new model joins the existing 2.0-litre versions launched in April to establish the 600 Series in the premium upper medium sector; 2.3-litre versions are shown for the first time at Earl's Court.

That same 2.3-litre engine also makes an appearance in the Honda Accord 2.3i SR, now being built in Swindon. The Accord joins the Nissan Primera, built in Sun derland, and the Toyota Carina E, now in production at Burnaston, as the third British-built Japanese competitor in this sector of the market. Honda claims that Accord sales are already up 19 per cent this year since the launch of the new model in May and says it is due to the car's success in attracting young corporate drivers.

Peugeot's recently face-lifted 405 continues to do good business, especially in the fleet markets, but the newcomer that has caused the biggest stir this year is the Citroen Xantia, the replacement for the BX.

Not only is the Xantia highly competitively priced - starting at only pounds 10,895 - but it is also

distinctively styled, well equipped, and offers a wide range of engines and trim levels. Particularly

impressive, both for their per formance and refinement, are the diesel and turbo diesel versions which set new standards in cars of this class.

A newcomer to the Show is Hyundai's revised Lantra saloon, with prices starting at pounds 8,999 for the 1.5-litre LS and reaching pounds 13,299 for the top-of-the-range 1.8 CD, a model claimed to be the UK's cheapest car to have air-conditioning as standard.