Frankfurt and beyond…

Right, the house extension is over. No more skips in the driveway, shifting my car out of the way so the builders can access the house. No more dust, wet paint odour and getting up at the crack of dawn to let brickies, plasterers, plumbers and roofers into the house only to find that they all knock off at four. I’ve missed the car industry, but not as much as my daily rituals checking out the latest releases, motor shows, test drives and gossip, is concerned. I’ve got a lot of catching up to do and plenty of cars to drive.

Interestingly, this years’ Frankfurt motor show was a really interesting one. I can’t remember a car show to have had so much hype. To be fair, there have been some important cars to launch, and for once, we haven’t had the global-warming issue shoved in our face. Best bit for me? VW boss, Martin Winterkorn, checking out Hyundai’s new i-30. This type of product comparison normally takes place without the prying eyes of the public. But doing it in full view of the show is really bold. Still, to have the tape measures, panel gap tools and a host of VW group bosses poking and prodding around, the i-30 must have something VW are keen to examine.

It seems Winterkorn was really interested in the steering wheel adjustment mechanism. He was miffed to find that it had a better action than the current range of VW group cars – whatever floats your boat, Martin. Apparently Hyundai were frantically rushing around to entertain the big boss thinking a takeover would emerge. Even so, they weren’t prepared to reveal their engineering secrets despite one of the car industries biggest players being given the cold shoulder on inside information. Check it out on YouTube.

With so many ready to show their strength in the New Year, rather than give you the typical ‘Top 10’, here’s a few that I think are really important releases. They’re not just for our motoring pleasure but the biggest gamble for the manufacturers building them.

Jaguar C-X16
Jaguar’s not so E-type revival will cost between £55,000 and £70,000 when it goes on sale. Its 375bhp supercharged V6 hybrid helps it to sprint to 62mph from standstill in just 4.4secs, and on to a top speed limited to 186mph. This is not only a direct rival for the new Porsche 911, but also taps into Aston Martin Vantage territory, and pretty much every other sports car territory if the hype is to be believed. Word has it Jag will use the ‘Type’ moniker in its name. Any letter as long as it’s not, E.

Porsche 911
No. It’s not just another re-skinned 911. This is an all new car for the first time in 30 years. Longer, wider and more powerful than the car it replaces and now with a seven-speed manual, hybrid technology and faster lap times around the Nordschleife than the previous GT3. Not really a slimmer (45kg lighter) or more grown up 911 but a more serious and far more focused car mixed with greener credentials and promising to be more dynamic. A really big gamble especially with such a huge expectation to deliver.

Maserati SUV
Maserati making an SUV? Yep. It’s been on the cards since 2003 but they haven’t had the financial backing to build it. Called, Kubang, the name given to the original concept, Porsche finally have a rival on their hands. Maserati need to boost sales and with a rapidly moving SUV market, this might be the car to do it. Although it’s not expected to be launched until 2014, this is probably the biggest manufacturer gamble since the Cayenne.

Eterniti Hemera
The tie-up between a modified Porsche Cayenne and a completely unknown, and new British car maker, is a really interesting mix. Aimed at beating Bentley as the first super exclusive SUV, £150,000 isn’t a lot to ask for if Eterniti can get it sorted straight out of the box. I reckon this will be a real surprise in 2012, and fingers crossed, they’ll quietly chip away and set a clear plan for the future. With the press always ready to speak the truth, the Hemera has to be ready to deliver.

Renault Twingo
With Mini romping away with new derivatives every five minutes, and Fiat chasing closely behind with the 500, Renault desperately need to step up their game. With a new re-styled face, a clean, low emission 1.2 diesel engine and a new palette of colours, the Twingo is a nice alternative to the Mini range. It may not be as polished as its rivals, but French charm always seems to go a long way. I really like the look of the new Twingo and with a starting price of £8,000; this will determine the future life-cycle of the niche French city car.

Citroen DS5
A manufacturer that deserves far more credit than it gets. I think their DS range is fantastic and with the addition of the DS5 next year, a reasonably priced £20,000 isn’t a lot to ask. Boasting diesel-electric hybrid technology, stunning design and high build quality, Citroen are on a roll and are starting to become a bigger player amongst their bland German rivals. It’s about time we had an interesting alternative to the ever popular BMW’s and Audi’s.

Hyundai i-30
Are people ready for Hyundai? I hope so because the i-30 is by far the biggest gamble by the Korean manufacturer. Taking on the new Focus, established Golf and latest Astra, it’s got a lot to do. Moreover, do buyers in this market really know anything about Hyundai? They should do as I would certainly spend my £14,000 buying one. Stylish, bold and with strong aftersales, don’t discount them as a strong manufacturer. Very much like Skoda in the early days, 2012 will be the year Hyundai establishes itself and becomes a solid name for tough UK buyers.

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