My Motoring Month

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180

Renault gives Dacia Duster new polish

In this line of business you’re asked to name your favourite car on an almost daily basis, and it’s a very easy question to answer. Of those on sale it’s the Porsche 911 GT3, of those that are not it’s the Ferrari F40. Simple.

But ask me to name my favourite type of car, and I’ll be far less sure of my ground. All things being equal I guess I’d choose fast over slow, but really what I like are cars which are masters of their particular discipline whatever that might be, cars like the GT3, Land Rover Defender, Smart ForTwo and Mercedes S-class. It follows that the cars I like least are those with no particular skill set, which instead spread their meagre talents as far as they will stretch in the hope that the broad but gossamer-thin veneer of appeal that results will snare customers unaware of the alternatives. Almost all so-called soft-roaders come into this category. Even the best of them, BMW’s X1, serves only to remind how much better a car a normal 3-series is, while the poorer examples like the Toyota RAV-4 and Renault Koleos are among the least appealing cars on sale.

Oddly enough it was the fact that I found myself enjoying one of these recreational SUVs that put the thought in my mind. It was called the Dacia Duster (above), and if you’ve not heard of it or were reminded only of a ghastly Romanian heap that was briefl y imported into the UK, you’re not alone. I won’t dwell on the car here other than to say it’s now built by Renault and, unlike most other soft-roaders, it has not a fashion-conscious molecule in its make-up (the car I drove even rejoiced in paintwork that can only be described as turd brown). But underneath it all sat a spacious, frugal, robust, comfortable family hold all which will go on sale for around £11,000, or £4-5000 less than the immediate competition. For people looking for honest family transport in a cash-strapped world, it has very real appeal. Or it would if you could buy one. Much to the chagrin of Renault UK, the Duster has proven such a hit in Europe that right-hand drive won’t be looked at until 2012.

The car I’d serve up to Jaguar’s chairman…

It was one of those wonderful days: woke early and enjoyed a cross-country fling from home in the Wye Valley to Donington in the Renault Clio Gordini (of which more on page 109), discovered my favourite UK circuit had emerged from the trauma of its disastrous bid to hold the British Grand Prix actually slightly better than it was before, and then drove to Castle Bromwich for Norman Dewis’ 90th birthday party, about which I have eulogised on the Motor Sport website.

Quite rightly Jaguar pulled out the stops for its respected test driver and it was my good fortune to sit next to Jaguar Land Rover’s chairman, Dr Ralf Speth (above), over dinner. With less than a handful of journos present, all of whom have known Norman for years, in a room of over 100 people this was no press call, but it was impossible not to talk a little to him about Jaguar’s future direction.

Some things we know already about where Jaguar must go. It has, for instance, to find a small-capacity petrol engine because while such a motor might make no sense at all in Europe, in America and China particularly it’s an absolute necessity. But what I wanted to know was what form the new small Jaguar might take.

Speth, having been in the job a matter of weeks, was having none of it. Instead he gently grilled me about what kind of car it should be. So I told him.

I told him it should be a front-engined sports car with 2+2 seating in coupé form and two seats as a roadster with a fabric roof. It should be powered by six- and eight-cylinder engines ranging in output from 300- 450bhp, and Jaguar should use the unrivalled experience it has in building aluminium monocoques to deliver the car as close to 1400kg as possible. It should be more sporting than any Jaguar (XJ220 aside) since the original E-type and even be made available with manual transmission, but still be a car people would choose to use every day.

“And how much would this car of yours cost?” enquired the good doctor. For once it was a question I had anticipated. “It should start at around £50,000 to position it below the XK and Porsche 911, but clearly ahead of the Boxster and Cayman.” That then would make it possible for the next generation of XK to grow slightly and incorporate a decent rear seat package. The Pininfarina-styled Maserati GranTurismo proves you can house four people in great comfort within a fi ne-looking coupé.

I know no better than you if my numbers add up, but if they did, I think Jaguar could end up with one of the strongest product line-ups of any manufacturer of sporting cars on the planet.

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