Motoring: They're doing it in style this year: The British Motor Show looks set to reveal some newfound quality, says Roger Bell

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The Independent Online
STYLE is a pervasive theme of what promises to be a strong and entertaining British International Motor Show this year. Later this week 30 new models are due to be unveiled here. They show that manufacturers are striving to put brand character back into their cars. You may not like the pop-eyed leer of Ford's new Granada-replacing Scorpio, but there are important under-skin improvements. Ford is not alone in breaking the mould. Vauxhall's chic new Tigra brings imaginative style to affordable, fun-car level. The little Corsa-based sportster goes on sale in January with 1.4- or 1.6-litre power, priced from pounds 11,000.

Alfa Romeo's bold new 145 is more controversial. Imagine a severely truncated wedge powered by an oddball engine, and you have the daring 145. Cousin Fiat's dashing Coupe looks strange in pictures but terrific on the road.

Not one to follow fashion, maverick Mazda has a new line of 323s, its mainstream Escort bashers. They may be less svelte than Honda's elegant new British-made Civics, but all have more presence.

Renault's showpiece Ludo is seen as the precursor of a radical new Clio. The prototype runs on environmentally friendly LPG gas. Citroen says its Xanae (pronounced Zanyay) foreshadows the next generation of people movers or MPVs.

Two of the show's stars, Jaguar's new XJ and the rebodied Range Rover, wear ultra-conservative suits. Fears that Ford's first new Jag might suffer from corporate meddling are unfounded: the XJ blends traditional looks with newfound quality. Meanwhile the Range Rover consolidates its place at the top of the heap with new engines (including a BMW diesel) and a change of attire.

The RR's main rivals are not other 4x4s but luxury saloons such as the new, ultra-conservative 7-series of parent BMW; the 750iL flagship is billed as the world's most efficient V12. Audi's new aluminium-bodied A8s, new to Britain, joins the exclusive luxury club with real authority. The 160mph Audi RS2, built in collaboration with Porsche, creates its own market niche as the world's fastest estate.

Several other new sports quickies debut at the NEC. Nissan did not read the back-to-basics script about brand character's return: styling of its new 200SX is conservative to the point of being bland. Aston Martin's DB7 is at last on sale as well as on show; depositors will not be disappointed with a car that owes more to Ford and Jaguar than to any previous Aston Martin. The 'cheap' DBY, costing pounds 78,500, competes with Porsche's new four-wheel-drive Carrera 4, Ferrari's mid-engined 355 and Maserati's Quattroporte.

Several specialists are expected to unveil sports models at the NEC: look out for exciting debutantes from AG, Caterham, Ginetta, TVR and Westfield. Other newcomers include: Bentley's Turbo S, with 6.75-litre V8 engine and 'sufficient' power; BMW's three-door, entry-level Compact, for which there is already a waiting list; Citroen's Xantia Activa, notable for its 'intelligent' no-roll suspension; and VW's new Polo, a quantum leap forward from the old model, if no revolutionary.

The British International Motor Show takes place at the NEC, Birmingham. Public days 22-30 October: pounds 8 adults, pounds 4 children and pensioners; children 2-16 free with adult on family day, 30 October. Other theme days: Ladies 24 October; Mobility 25 October; Crime and Safety 26 October; Autocare 26 October; Motorsport 28-29 October.