Road car news

Merc targets the 911
AMG GT set for UK sales from April | by Andrew Frankel

There will be a few sleepless nights across town in Stuttgart, for Mercedes-Benz has released the first details of the new Mercedes-AMG GT, a car aimed specifically at the iconic Porsche 911 Turbo.

The Mercedes-AMG GT (note the ‘Benz’ has been dropped to make it sound more like the F1 team) is a classically proportioned front-engined, two-seat coupé powered by a brand-new 4-litre twin-turbo V8 engine developing either 456 or 503bhp, depending on whether you choose the standard or S model. The power is fed to the rear wheels alone, between which sits a seven-speed double-clutch transmission.

The positioning of the car is important. Its lack of gullwing doors is not the only reason this is emphatically not a replacement for the SLS supercar. It is a far higher volume and more affordable proposition, with prices estimated to start at about £100,000, positioning it close not only to the 911 Turbo but also the likes of the Jaguar F-type R coupé, Aston Martin V8 Vantage and forthcoming replacement for the Audi R8.

Like all these cars, but unlike the 911, it makes no provision for rear-seat passengers.

Mercedes claims the S will reach 62mph in 3.8sec (which means it must also have phenomenal traction) and carry on to 193mph. Thanks to aluminium-intensive construction it weighs just 1540kg, some 130kg less than a Porsche 911 Turbo.

Though not announced at launch, a roadster version of the GT is a certainty while over time Mercedes will also want to steal sales from lesser models in the 911 range, probably with a normally aspirated version of the V8. An even hotter model than the S, possibly using the Black Series moniker, will be in the product plan as will a GT3 racer to replace the current, ageing but still successful and wildly popular SLS GT3.

UK deliveries of the Mercedes-AMG GT will start in April, at prices due to be announced within the next four weeks.

Crunch launch for Jag

Jaguar has unveiled the most important car in its recent history – and arguably since the 1948 launch of the XK120. Not only is the new Jaguar XE tasked with outselling all other Jaguar models put together, it comes on a brand-new platform from which not only the usual estate model will be derived but also a small crossover SUV and the replacement for the mid-sized XF. In saloon form alone sales of 100,000 units per year are expected, with prices starting from £27,000.

There will in time be a hot R version to rival the BMW M3 and there is even gossip about Jaguar joining BMW, Audi and Mercedes in the BTCC. Coupé and convertible versions are further off but still believed to be in development. Put another way, Jaguar’s entire strategy to transform itself from a niche interest into a global player depends on this car and its underpinnings.

Jaguar has not yet provided full details of the XE, but we know the vast bulk of sales will be cars powered by its new British designed and built Ingenium engine. Unusually Jaguar uses exactly the same block for both diesel and petrol versions of this 2-litre, four-cylinder turbo. With diesel running through its fuel lines, it is the first non-hybrid car in the class with 99g/km CO2 emissions. This means Jaguar is also able to claim it will do 75mpg. Transmission choice will be a six-speed manual or an eight-speed auto. At the other end of the power table (for now at least), there is a 3-litre V6 supercharged motor (already in the F-type) producing 340bhp and powering the XE to 62mph in 4.9sec. The 380bhp version from the F-type V6S is not offered at launch and the R version, when it comes, will need at least another 100bhp if it is to be able to trade numbers with the M3 and Mercedes-Benz’s forthcoming C63 AMG.

Inside, the XE promises state of the art telematics provided via an eight-inch colour touchscreen promising the latest in navigation, connectivity and information technologies.

The Jaguar XE will be built in Solihull with powertrains supplied by the all-new engine plant at nearby Wolverhampton. Deliveries start next spring.

The brand played on…

After renewing the entire Range Rover line-up in the last two years, Land Rover’s attention is finally turning to the mothership. The strategy of turning Range Rover from a model to a sub-brand has worked so well it is now to be adopted by its stable-mates. So the Discovery Sport you’re looking at here is just the first of at least three cars that will carry Discovery branding. The same process will start with a new Defender range in a couple of years.

Despite the name, the Discovery Sport does not replace the Discovery itself. Land Rover’s stalwart – and still brilliant – full-sized SUV soldiers on despite the existence of this new Sport, which is actually a replacement for the Freelander. That name will be allowed to die because it doesn’t fit into the company’s new model strategy and means nothing in the USA, where it as sold as the LR2.

Contrary to appearances the Sport is not an entirely new car, but a comprehensively reskinned Freelander, with new rear suspension and a lengthened body to accommodate the extra seats in the back. Indeed, it sits on precisely the same platform as the Range Rover Evoque.

The car will be launched in the UK early next year in four-wheel-drive guise only and with just one engine choice, the long-serving 2.2-litre diesel originally built for Ford, Peugeot and Citroën. With JLR’s brand new and adaptable Ingenium engines being readied for the imminent Jaguar XE, it might be surprising that the Discovery Sport will not come so equipped. In fact it’s only the early cars that will have the old engine.

It’s not known whether the delay is because Jaguar demanded first shot at the new unit, or whether the engines for transverse front- and four-wheel-drive applications just come later than those for the XE’s longitudinal, rear-drive configuration.

If the Ingenium really will be on stream by the end of next year, knowing what they’re likely to do for running costs and the value of early cars without one, I’d delay my order until I knew I was getting the new engine.

In the meantime, the price for the entry-level Discovery Sport has been set at £32,395.

Changes hint at Ferrari SUV

Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo has left the company, following a falling out with Sergio Marchionne, the CEO of Ferrari’s parent company Fiat. Under di Montezemolo’s watch Ferrari revenues have increased 10-fold, while production has tripled and is now supply-limited to 7000 units per year to maintain exclusivity.

While both di Montezemolo and Fiat are saying the reason for his departure is the performance of the Formula 1 team, the spat between him and Marchionne runs far deeper.

Marchionne has been highly critical of the F1 team, which is enduring its least competitive season since the early 1990s, but the more serious rift between the two is believed to be a fundamental divergence in philosophy for Ferrari. Unlike di Montezemolo, Marchionne is believed to want to expand Ferrari significantly and make it a cornerstone in his long-term vision of turning Fiat’s car companies (which now also include Chrysler, Jeep, Alfa Romeo and Maserati) into a global competitor for the Volkswagen Group.

The easiest way to transform Ferrari sales would be to launch an SUV. This could potentially double its customer base and, were the car based on the Jeep Grand Cherokee platform as the forthcoming Maserati Levante will be, it would probably represent a highly profitable product line. Di Montezemolo always resisted calls for such a car, saying that every Ferrari road car in the future should have just two doors, like all those produced to date. With di Montezemolo out of the way, the likelihood of a Ferrari off-roader has just got a whole lot higher.

In brief

* Slow sales have killed the innovative Vauxhall Ampera hybrid – proof that even being best in class, at least before the game-changing BMW i3, doesn’t guarantee success. Able to run mostly on electric power, with a small petrol engine to top up the batteries, the Ampera was the first electric car to provide decent range. Attractive outside and in, it was scuppered by its £33,750 price and the difficulty of selling Vauxhalls to a nation of badge snobs.

* For those who find the 505bhp and 752lb ft torque of Bentley’s twin-turbo V8 in the Mulsanne a little gutless, help is near. In Paris it will unveil the Mulsanne Speed, with 529bhp and a barely believable 811lb ft of torque. Fitted with selectable tune for both steering and suspension, Speeds will be distinguished by the dark tint to the exterior brightwork, rifled exhausts, unique colours and special wheels. But don’t expect much change from £250,000.