Written by: Jan Tuček
In mid-September the IAA Frankfurt Auto Show kicked off the 2004 season with a stunning display of new products. From the constellation of attractive cars in all price categories, we have chosen a few to acquaint you with.
Three distinct approaches to the question of small cars are represented by new models from Citroe¨n, Fiat, and Smart. Their common denominators are inspiration and originality, and the appealing purchase price-to-utility value ratio.
Fiat has a tradition of popular small cars dating back to 1936, when the first Topolino model appeared. Over the decades the concepts and shapes have changed, but as a rule the smallest Fiat cars had only two-door bodies. That is no longer true – the new Fiat Panda is a four-door, and its 3.54 meter-long, 1.54 meter-high body offers noteworthy interior space for its class. Of course priority is given to the passengers, but even when fully occupied the car has 206 liters for luggage, and this rises to 775 l when the rear seats are folded down. An amusing detail is the gear shift in the center of the dashboard. Fresh air lovers can have an electrically controlled sunroof installed over the front seats as an extra option. The first Fiat Pandas come with 1.1- and 1.2-l, 54 and 60 hp (40 and 44 kW) gasoline engines, and at the beginning of 2004 a new 1.3 Multijet 16 V, 70 hp (51 kW) turbo diesel will be introduced, which propels the little car at speeds up to 160 km/h while consuming an average of 4.3 liters of diesel fuel per 100 km. At the end of next year a Panda SUV with 4×4 drive will come out, fitted with the same motor.
After five years, the successful noncomformist Smart brand is offering (in addition to its two-seaters and sports cars) an advanced 3.75 meter-long four-seater with a wheelbase of 2.50 m and luggage space of 268 to 910 liters. However, even at first glance the new Smart Forfour does not betray its family genes, the combination of colors and materials, and its uniquely shaped front end emphasizes its origin and ambitions. Additionally, the Forfour can boast of its solidly built chassis, and it is the first in its category to carry an ESP electronic stabilization system as standard equipment. The front wheels are driven by either a three-cylinder, 1.1-l, 75 hp (55 kW) engine, or a four-cylinder, 1.3- or 1.5-l, 95 or 109 hp (70 or 80 kW) engine. The three-cylinder, 1.5-l injected engine, tuned to either 68 or 95 hp (50 or 70 kW), guarantees very economical operation. Instead of the standard five-speed gearbox, the Forfour is also available with a six-speed robotic transmission with impulse shifting. The interior can be changed literally into a living room (for two), and the glass roof, which can be operated electrically, will allow better star-gazing in the more expensive Passion model.
Following up on the four-door, rounded C3 type is the shorter (by 18 cm) two-door C2, whose 3.67 meter-long body is marked by sharper features and the original solution for the rear end. Additionally, the rear wall of the body consists of two parts; the upper portion is a window in a frame that opens upward, while the lower part opens downward to a horizontal position. It can also serve as a bench, as it can support up to 100 kg easily. When four passengers are seated, the Citroe¨n C2 provides only modest luggage space (193 liters), but with only two, the rear seats can be folded down, resulting in 879 l of luggage space. The C2 comes with 1.1 and 1.4, 60 and 75 hp (44 and 54 kW) gasoline engines, and with an economical 1.4-l, 68 hp (50 kW) turbo diesel. The top of this line of small cars comes with a four-cylinder, 1.6-l, 110 hp (80 kW) engine that drives the C2 to speeds of up to 195 km/h. Cars with the 1.4- and 1.6-l gasoline engines can be fitted with a robotic SensoDrive transmission, which does away with the clutch pedal, and which can be driven in automatic mode or with impulse shifting.
The clash of the compacts
In the fullest class of compact cars, a great duel is impending between the Opel and Volkswagen brands, as they don’t intend to stand by while the French competition takes all the glory. And while Ford is only preparing its next generation of Focus models, its Japanese sister Mazda has already introduced a new chassis for its Type 3.
After four generations and more than 22 million cars manufactured over thirty years, the new, fifth generation VW Golf is coming – again bigger, better, and more self-confident. Its length has been extended by 55 mm, to 4.20 meters, which gives passengers more space, comfort, and safety. But it also clearly declares its continuity with its predecessors in outward appearance. Like earlier versions, it offers the choice of a three-door or a five-door body, with a basic 350 liters of luggage space. The fifth generation VW Golf comes with 1.4- and 1.6-l FSI (direct fuel injection), 75 and 115 hp (55 and 85 kW), gasoline engines, but also with 1.9 TDI and 2.0 TDI, 105 and 140 hp (77 and 103 kW) turbo diesels. The range of engines will be soon extended by additional 1.4 FSI and 2.0 FSI, 90 and 150 hp (66 and 110 kW), direct-injection gasoline engines, and a 2.0 SDI, 75 hp (55 kW) turbo diesel. The new six-speed automatic transmission with DSG direct shifting has no competition in this class. It’s hard to believe that the body’s stiffness has been increased by 80% compared with earlier generations, which again places the Golf at the top of its category.
The Mazda 3, an ambitious compact, should cheekily challenge the ensconced competition, much as its sibling in the next class up, the Mazda 6, did. But the attractive design of the 4.42 meter-long body of this new model is not its only selling point. With a wheelbase of 2.64 meters (longer than the VW Golf or the Opel Astra), the Mazda 3 features corresponding interior space, and again priority is given to passenger comfort. Basic luggage space is 300 liters – expanded to 635 l by folding down the rear seats. Besides the hatchback model with its slanted rear wall, the Frankfurt show also featured a sedan with an extended rear end with a small trunk lid and a fixed rear window, which will be on the market during the 2004 season. Under its hood the Mazda 3 has four-cylinder gasoline MZR-line engines displacing 1.6- and 2.0-l and turning out 105 and 150 hp (77 and 110 kW), and the smaller engine can be mated to a four-speed Activematic transmission. In 2004 this selection will be supplemented by a four-cylinder 1.4-l gasoline engine and a 1.6-l turbo diesel in two power versions.
The new Opel Astra, another first-rate neophyte in the compact class, catches eyes with the refined, dynamic design of its large, 4.25 meter-long body. Additionally, under its attractive exterior there lie top-flight technical solutions, the most interesting of which is the optional interactive dynamic IDS chassis system, with CDC continuous electronic shock absorber control. Opel Astra thus becomes the first in its class to offer state-of-the-art technology allowing real-time instantaneous chassis adjustment to fit conditions, in particular the status and condition of the road. Also contributing to safety is the adaptive AFL light system, which allows the driver to see ahead into turns. In addition to five comfortable seats, the Astra boasts 350 liters of luggage space. The range of gasoline engines includes 1.4-, 1.6-, and 1.8-l, 90, 105, and 125 hp (66, 77, and 92 kW) four-cylinder power plants, and more demanding customers can opt for either of two versions of a 2.0 l supercharged engine tuned to 170 or 200 hp (125 or 147 kW). But there are also new generation turbo diesels: the 1.7 CDTI, which turns out 80 or 100 hp (59 or 74 kW), or the new four-cylinder 1.9 CDTI (150 hp, 110 kW), which can push the Astra up to 210 km/h.
Three faces of luxury
Well-heeled motorists aren’t faced with simple choices – luxury vehicles abound, and are appearing in ever more configurations. While Jaguar is eager to present the first-ever station wagon with the feline emblem, in Munich designers are recalling the glory of the classically-lined 6 Series coupé, and Mercedes-Benz has boldly played its ace in the form of a super-sporty SLR McLaren coupé.
BMW 645 Ci
The new, 4.82 meter-long luxury BMW Series 6 coupé follows up on the tradition of sporty cars of the same series from 1976 to 1989, but in an entirely new form and on a technological level that corresponds to the current Munich Series 5 and 7 sedans. So even the coupé has finally gotten mixed body construction, with mainly a combination of aluminum, steel and plastic being used in the front end. The result is a weight of under 1,600 kg (divided 50-50 on the two axles) and great stiffness of the two-door body, which should very soon also appear as an open 2+2 seat cabriolet. The first-rate chassis, with classic rear-wheel drive, is very similar to the new 5 Series models. Electronic systems ensuring dynamic stability and the greatest possible active safety are a matter of course. The heart of the new coupé is its 4.4-l, 333 hp (245 kW), V8 engine, for which the customer can choose either a manual or automatic six-speed transmission. In either case the maximum speed is electronically governed to 250 km/h, with acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h taking only 5.6 seconds.
Jaguar X-Type Estate
The very first Jaguar station wagon is built on an X-Type base. Its elegantly shaped rear end holds 445 litres of luggage space in its basic arrangement, and when the rear seats are folded down it can hold up to 1,415 l of cargo while maintaining its character as a luxury sedan. The station wagon’s rear window can be raised separately, and it has many discreetly located storage spaces. This elegant station wagon will go on sale in the spring of 2004 in two basic versions. Models with four-cylinder, 2.0-l engines, either the 157 hp (117 kW) gasoline engine or the 128 hp (96 kW) turbo diesel, have front-wheel drive. The more powerful models with V6, 2.5- and 3.0-l, 194 and 231 hp (145 and 172 kW) gasoline engines come with four-wheel drive as standard, and all of them, with the exception of the turbo diesel, are available with five-speed automatic transmissions.
Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren
The super-sporty, two-seat Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, whose outer shapes and gull-wing doors are reminiscent of the racing legend of the mid-50s, is like an apparition from the empire of motorists’ dreams. This coupé, with its elongated front end and short rear end, has a wheelbase of 2.70 meters and an overall length of 4.66 meters, and is 1.26 meters high. The car’s structure, like the surface parts of its body, is made of carbon, and experience drawn from Formula 1 was used in its design and structure. The aerodynamic arrangement of the lower part of the car, which increases adhesion to the road, is of the same origin. The cherry on top is the extendable spoiler on the trunk lid, which at speeds of over 95 km/h serves as a pressure wing, but also assists as an aerodynamic brake. A 5.5-l V8 engine located behind the front axle puts out a respectable 626 hp (460 kW, and when mated to a five-speed automatic transmission with three operational modes (Sport, Supersport, and Race) lends this coupé, which weighs under 1,770 kg, devilishly dynamic properties. Its top speed is 334 km/h, and it accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in 3.8 seconds, and to 200 km/h in 10.6 seconds.