Next season's fare
Mini, Merc, BMW and Jag prepare their menus | by Andrew Frankel
Every year at about this time the motoring media fills up with stories about cars that will go on sale in the year to come and explains why, yet again, it’s going to be a vintage year for all those of us who love interesting cars.
But saying it’s going to be a vintage year does not mean it’s going to be a vintage year, it merely reflects the hope that if you believe it’s going to be a vintage year you’re going to keep buying the magazine to read about it.
As it happens, 2014 is looking like a pretty average year for new cars. I will next month have a brief trot through the cars that caught my eye in 2013 and I think it’s been one of the better ones, certainly in the top five in the 25 years I’ve been doing this job. But next year looks quieter, so expect the media to make even more noise trying to make sure you don’t notice. Even so, and as ever, there will be a sizeable selection of interesting and/or important all-new cars to drive, and these are just some of them.
Porsche Macan: A baby Cayenne originally called Cajun (which would have been a much better name), based on the Audi Q5 but much modified hopefully to provide authentic Porsche dynamics. At launch engines will stretch from a 260bhp 3-litre diesel to a 400bhp 3.6-litre turbo but, as is traditional for Porsche, the range can be expected to grow and grow. Not only is a Turbo S model with at least 450bhp inevitable, talk persists of smaller, 2-litre four-cylinder diesels to tap into the meat of where the market for such cars lies.
A 2-litre four-cylinder diesel SUV?
If that can be made to feel like a true Porsche, it will be one of the company’s greatest achievements to date.
BMW X4: A likely strong competitor for the Macan from a company that, unlike Porsche, has been building compact SUVs for years. Like the X5-based X6, the X4 (left) is also based on a conventional SUV (the X3) but if the concept version and scoop photography is to be believed, it will also be uglier, less practical and more expensive. But like the X6, it should also meet with wild success in a market where image is all and the idea of a car that looks like a coupé (sort of) but with the driving position and theoretical off-road capability of an SUV appears close to irresistible. BMW will also in 2013 introduce the new M3 (that will also be called the M4 in three-door form) and its i8 hybrid supercar.
Mini: Hard to believe that BMW’s Mini is about to enter its third generation; harder still that in all those years and despite the efforts of everyone from Audi to Citroën, no one has yet produced a more convincing alternative. The new Mini will be bigger but lighter than its predecessor, which will mean slightly less leg-folding for those in the back and even better fuel consumption, especially for cars fitted with a new generation of 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbodiesel engines. This is no mere facelift but an entirely fresh car based on a brand-new platform that will in time also host the first ever front-wheel-drive cars badged as BMWs.
Mercedes C-class: Of all manufacturers, it looks as if Mercedes is going to have the busiest 2014. First up is an all-new C-class, which is probably going to be the company’s most important car launch since the last C-class. We know it will follow the recent trend of gaining in size but losing weight and that much of the brain-melting technology of the recently released S-class will be carried over.
By the end of the year we should also see the AMG version, likely to be powered by the same 4.7-litre twin-turbo V8 already seen in the SL500. Other new Mercedes-Benzes for 2014 will be the GLA crossover SUV and S-class variants including a coupé and the ultra-long wheelbase Pullman.
Jaguar F-type coupé: Insiders who’ve driven it say this is the F-type that best expresses Jaguar’s sporting ambitions. Developed at exactly the same time as the convertible, but later to market for purely commercial reasons (Californians do love their drop-tops), the coupé features the same range of V6 and V8 engines, although most excitingly it is also likely to spawn an F-type RS with 550bhp – Jaguar’s probable answer to the Porsche 911 GT3.
AMG takes Aston off-road
Buoyed by the recent announcement of a ‘technical partnership’ with Mercedes’ in-house tuning division AMG, Aston Martin appears keen to expand the scope of its products, and in both directions.
The most significant development is that the SUV project remains very much alive, despite there being no official news about the car since the launch of the controversial Lagonda SUV concept at the Geneva Motor Show in 2009.
At the recent launch of the new V12 Vantage S, Aston CEO and chairman Dr Ulrich Bez told me: “Have we got prototypes running around getting ready for production? No. Is it still on the radar? Absolutely, yes.”
It is believed that the tie-up with AMG has provided the impetus to get the SUV off the backburner and into the product pipeline as between them AMG and Mercedes would be in a position to offer an almost turn-key solution to Aston Martin, a fact not lost on Bez.
“If you look at how Porsche and Volkswagen worked together to produce two completely different cars, it would be possible to have a similar arrangement with Mercedes so long as our car was clearly and distinctly an Aston Martin.”
His words are chosen carefully and reflect a change in heart since the official position in 2009, when Lagonda was going to be relaunched as a brand in its own right. Since then Mercedes has suffered the demise of its own reincarnated Maybach name and it’s clear neither company is in any hurry to repeat the experiment. So the new SUV will be an Aston Martin Lagonda, with the Lagonda name used as a model rather than as a marque.
As for timings, it appears highly unlikely that either Mercedes or Aston Martin would choose to adapt an existing SUV but would prefer instead to spin the Aston off an all-new design that could be created from scratch with such a dual purpose in mind, just like the Porsche Cayenne and VW Touareg. This means the earliest an Aston Martin Lagonda would be in the showrooms would be 2017, the date the current Mercedes M-class is due to be replaced. It is also highly unlikely that the Aston Martin versions of the car would be built at its headquarters in the Midlands. All Mercedes SUVs are built in the US and India and it is probable that the Astons will be built in one or other of those locations too. There is nothing new about Astons being built abroad by people other than Aston Martin employees: until recently all Rapide saloons were built in Graz, Austria by Magna-Steyr.
Morgan out of Morgan
Charles Morgan has lost his appeal against dismissal from the company that bears his name, so while he continues to own 30 per cent of Morgan shares and is still a beneficiary of the trust that owns the majority of the remainder, he will no longer play any part in the running of the business.
And while the official reasons for his dismissal have been cited as a series of minor managerial transgressions, it is widely believed that his departure is down to a fundamental disagreement with other board members (including other members of the Morgan family) about the firm’s future direction.
Charles Morgan is believed to want to expand the business with new models and into new markets, while those now in charge favour a more cautious approach of consolidation.
Since he has been in charge, Charles Morgan has been responsible for models including the Aero 8, AeroMax and, most notably, the 3-Wheeler that reintroduced Morgan to the US with considerable success and is credited in part with the company’s return to profitability. He also returned Morgan to Le Mans. Rumours persist that he is considering trying to raise the money required to buy his family out of the business and return to its helm.
Slow down, Sebastian...
Can you have too much of a good thing? Yes, according to Andy Palmer, sales and marketing boss of Red Bull sponsor Infiniti, responding to a question asked by Autocar about Sebastian Vettel steamrolling the opposition into oblivion this season.
“It’s a fact that we are in F1 to gain awareness of our brand, and that’s all about getting eyeballs on screens,” he said. “From that point of view you could say Sebastian has been too successful. Wrapping up the championship with four races to run is maybe not good news for us from that perspective.”
Palmer went on to say that Infiniti was taking a long-term view and it’s clear that being associated with such success can be doing Nissan’s premium brand no harm at all. But would he rather Vettel won the title in a season-closing showdown that put millions of extra bums on seats all looking as his livery? You bet he would.