Archive for the ‘Cars’ Category

Renault Avantime: the return of an icon?

14 April 2012 1 comment
Renault Avantime

Renault Avantime (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After reading recently on Petrol Blog, about the tenth anniversary of the Avantime’s launch, it got me thinking about this historic model and how Renault should be using it to turn their fortunes around.

Although Renault may not fully realise (or admit to) it, there’s a lot of love for the Avantime which has ensured that it has reached cult status, both for owners and perhaps more importantly the younger (and far wider) Gran Turismo generation.

The Avantime also recently re-entered mainstream consciousness thanks to the BBC Top Gear episode where they modify an Avantime, enabling it to beat a Mitsubishi Evo 10 round the Top Gear test track.

So what exactly is the Renault Avantime?

Renault Avantime Français : Renault Avantime

Renault Avantime Français : Renault Avantime (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Renault Avantime was officially billed as a grand-touring coupé, combining the features of a 2+2 coupé with an MPV, and was built between 2001 and 2003. 

Starting off as  a styling exercise, it was first shown in concept form at the 1998 Paris motor Show where it received a great response from critics and the general public. A stunning vehicle with great visual impact, it wowed the crowds and was subsequently developed largely unchanged into a production model, echoing (or should it be pre-echoing?) the same journey the LRX concept/Range Rover Evoque would take 9 years later.Featuring design ahead of it’s time the Avantime (whose name infact combines the French word “Avant” meaning “ahead” and the English word “time”) was intended to combine the space of an MPV with the qualities of a coupé.

Key features of the car included unique double hinged pillarless doors allowing easy access to the front and rear seats, the (then) worlds largest opening glass sunroof featuring strengthened heat-reflecting glass, a cavernous 530 litre boot, a ‘grand air’ button which simultaneously opened all windows and sunroof, and finally a choice of powerful engines (a 3.0 V6 or 2.0 turbo) mated to a 6-speed gearbox giving a grand tourer driving style and claimed lowest 0-62mph of 8.6 seconds.

Unfortunately the success of its reception was not to reflect in how well it sold across showrooms. The market didn’t react well to such a futuristic design, and coupled with design problems and the combined launch by Renault of the similar but more conventional but more upmarket Vel Satis meant that it did particularly badly in sales.  40,000 units a year were predicted, but in reality only 4,500 vehicles sold over 18 months. Renault subsequently pulled the plug, and the Matra factory in France which produced the car, was closed. A sad end to an historic company.

The 2012 Renault Model Cull

So why bring it back now? In short Renault needs it.

To establish sustainable future profitability Renault UK at the start of 2012 axed 55 dealerships and five loss-making models; the Wind, Modus, Laguna, Kangoo and Espace.

This left just four models on sale: the Twingo, Clio, Megane and Scenic. None of which (RenaultSport models aside) conjure up much enthusiasm.

So bring back the Renault Avantime!

There have been plenty of examples within the car industry of successfully resurrecting iconic car models; the VW Scirroco, Fiat 500, amongst many.

Renault could capitalise on this and bring the Avantime back. Make it plusher, more crazy, but just as great to drive, plus serene ride comfort and with far better fuel economy.

Position it as a sporty MPV, let RenaultSport lead on the ride and handling, and let it go head to head with the Ford S-Max, a car which pretty much has the sporty-MPV niche all to itself.

The Avantime’s reputation would do the rest; great sales, a timely image boost for Renault and younger buyers flocking to follow the brand.

It’s a success story waiting to happen as far as we’re concerned.

Tell us your thoughts below.


Autocar vs. Top Gear vs. Evo

4 March 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve subscribed to three car magazines for several years now. It’s excessive I know, but a habit that I just cannot seem to kick, even though I do get the odd withering look from my wife every time they happen to all arrive together through the letterbox on the same day.

It all started when we were looking for a family car. It had to be big, easy to get the kids into (along with accompanying baby seats) and on my wife’s wishes not an estate or a diesel.

Top Gear Test Drive Directory

So I started perusing the many car mags that you get in the local newsagent or the nearest W H Smiths. I was first drawn to Top Gear’s Test Drive Directory (which is different to the main mag, and possibly the best magazine there is for easily comparing real life car choices and making informed decisions on what you should get with your hard earned cash).

From there after buying that a few times it was a short jump to subscribing to the main Top Gear Mag. Especially with some of the good deals they often offer. 3 issues for £1 anyone? Top Gear is more general entertainment, much like the TV program – laugh at the funny bits but don’t take any of it too seriously.

Some of the articles from it’s regular writers can be a bit pointless and laddish (Tom Ford for instance) , but overall it’s an entertaining  read, full of many different articles and interesting sections.

Autocar coverI then caught my sister’s husband reading the weekly magazine Autocar and was instantly hooked after reading it. Autocar is a more serious magazine covering the entire automotive world but with more focus on sports cars.

It has well written articles, several good columns and its news pages are good for keeping up to date. It does good group tests and the best road tests in the business. Aimed at the enthusiast the mag has lots of coverage of BMWs, Jags, Porsches etc but also superminis, MPVs, supercars etc all thrown into the mix.

So I just had to get that too. You soon get used to reading it every week and could at a push read the whole thing in an hour or so.

Evo car magazine

Soon after subscribing to that I was waiting for a colleague in a pub next to (my previous) work one day and spotted Evo at the bar. Turned out the landlord’s son subscribed to it and always left a stash of old mags at the bar. I started reading it and was immediately impressed with the overall quality of the photography and the mag’s layout. Delving a bit further in I realised just how good the articles were too.

Evo focuses mainly on the top end of the sports and super car market, on cars you’ll never be able to afford but have fun reading about none the less. It’s much more of a glossy magazine with good pictures, plus the occasionally brilliant technical article describing in good detail topics such as up and coming automotive technologies etc. It also has the best ‘Our cars’ section out of the three magazines.

So that was it. I soon started subscribing to that too, and to be fair it’s the magazine that I look forward to receiving the most as it’s such a good overall read.

Reading all three is actually quite good (and easy to do) as you get a fantastic overall consensus as to what the best cars are (such as the Jaguar XFR, Clio 192 Cup etc) and what’s downright crap (BMW X6 M, plus many others I cannot recall here).

It’s even more interesting though when they give completely different views on cars and don’t agree on their opinions (Audi A1 plus the RS5 drew varying reviews for instance). It just highlights the subjective nature of what defines a good car.

Get rid of one?

So which one would I get rid of if I was forced to only subscribe to two mags? It’s not as hard a decision as you might think.

It would have to be the Top Gear magazine as you could get away with just watching the TV program. The magazine is an extension of it really. That’s its problem, it’s all a bit laddish and silly and you could get away with not reading it if you just wanted to keep up with what’s going on.

However it gets harder if I had to choose between Autocar and Evo. I’d plump to keep Autocar simply because it’s fantastic, it’s weekly and its coverage of cars is so in depth. It’s the best read in the business for keeping up to date with news etc.

Our car

And what car did we opt for in the end? I was chomping at the bit for a Ford S-Max but we couldn’t afford it. So we went for a Vauxhall Zafira which was bought from Broadspeed. It has served us well over the last few years and we couldn’t fault it.

I’d like to think that it was an informed decision as to what we chose, and all down to reading car mags, but to be brutally honest the major factor is whatever deal is available at the time. It all comes down to money. That being said, I still wouldn’t give up any of my subscriptions for a while yet. Not until I get my second hand Jaguar XFR anyway (but that’s another story).

Car models that should exist

3 March 2011 1 comment

More £100K+ premium SUV's would be good for the market such as the Range Rover Autobiography Ultimate EditionRecent news that Bentley will be adding to their model line up with a third model, and that it could be a premium SUV is great news as far as I’m concerned. This will greatly help the Crewe based manufacturer and shows a good future direction under new VW stewardship and new Bentley-Bugatti boss Wolfgang Durheimer.

I’ve long thought that today’s car market is lacking in premium SUV’s and crossovers priced at £100k plus. It’s something car manufacturers are missing out on, as they’d undoubtedly sell like hot cakes especially in the Russian and middle-eastern markets.

Range Rover have recently caught on and have announced their Ultimate edition at the recent 2011 Geneva Motor show.

Diversifying your model line up can only be good. As long as you don’t tread on other model’s toes and steal customers off them then it’s great to offer more to the customer. Ferrari for instance have spotted the potential of a 4-door AWD luxury GT with the recent Ferrari FF.

Car models that should exist

This has got me thinking about what cars are potentially missing from manufacturer’s line-ups as well as other models that I’d like to see relaunched. I have no way in telling whether these would actually sell well, but to me they’d be a great idea.

Lotus – a small and sporty SUV crossover. Lotus’s ambitious new plans lack an easy money maker in a small or mid-size sporty crossover SUV that can go head to head with the Porsche Cayenne. By teaming up with Toyota again they could perhaps build upon the RAV4. Together with Lotus’s chassis and handling expertise and Toyota’s reliability, a magical combination could happen. As Porsche showed, having a popular/good selling car enables them to fine tune and invest in the rest of their model line up, which is what Lotus undoubtedly need for them to succeed.

Renault Aventime – this is crying out to be launched again, and I think to engineer this as a direct competitor to the Ford S-Max would be perfect. The GranTurismo generation perceive the Avantine’s as a sporty MPV, and Renault should capitalise on this. All they need to do is let their RenaultSport division take the reigns and work their magic. It’s a tough job as the S-Max is just so good, but there are no other choices for a sporty MPV that consumers can choose from.

Lancia Delta Integrale – possibly the greatest Lancia ever built. If they design it right and nail a new super hot hatch (unlike the chaps over at Audi with their new reincarnation of the Quattro) this would be a great way of re-entering the UK market (I honestly don’t understand why we get Chrysler and the rest of Europe get Lancia – a better known and liked brand in the UK). Of all the ideas for cars here I’d really love this one to work the most.

A small sports car from Jaguar – actually I’m cheating here. They’re building one already called the Jaguar XE. This will  be direct competition to the Porsche Cayman/Boxster in the premium sports car market and will do well judging by Jaguar’s recent form. Even Bugatti could get involved and profit within this segment by releasing a direct competitor, but VW may think otherwise now they have control of Porsche.

I’ll add more ideas to this blog as I come up with them.

If you have any ideas or thoughts please leave a comment.

Categories: Cars

Is Mercedes the new Peugeot?

20 August 2010 2 comments

AS WITH EVERY car’s life cycle, there comes a time after various facelifts when the whole look needs to be updated – this is to move the game on and not be left stagnant and looking out of date compared to its many rivals.

It’s come to Mercedes turn now, specifically with the CLS, which is basically a 4-door coupe version of the magnificent S class. This, also being one of Mercedes top models means that its new looks will also filter down to other cars in the Mercedes line-up (having taken its looks from the SL), representing what car people like to say ‘the design philosophy’ of the brand.

Now the old CLS was a magnificent looking car. Some describing it a a retro looking ‘banana-boat signifier of a car’. It had good write ups from all the usual car mags and everyone generally loved it.

A recent concept car, previewing the new look for the CLS came out in early 2010, featuring a ‘softer front nose’. I’m not sure what reaction Mercedes got to it, or even if they took any note of it, because this new look was unchanged and in the summer of 2010 the new look CLS was leaked onto the internet just prior to its release.

Ahh, my eyes, my eyes!

Now I know car looks are subjective and beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but to me this new car simply looks horrible. It looks very pig like from the front end with its smiling snout. The rear haunches just look daft too, like a pregnant Kangaroo. So there you go – a cross between a gurning frog and a hormonal kangaroo.

Now I’m not alone with this view either. A quick trawl of car forums on Autocar, Top Gear and Evo shows that overall the majority also feel that this is a bad move for Mercedes and that the new look is awful.

This of course doesn’t mean that the car will sell badly – just look at the Porsche Cayenne which is actually Porsche’s most popular model as well as being undeniably ugly (just showing that the attraction of a practical porsche with a lofty driving position can outweigh what it actually looks like). On a side note the Panamera is also a particularly gruesome looking car, and shows that the 911 look cannot be successfully transferred to models in other market segments – but that’s another story..).

Similarly Peugeot have just come out of rehab after years and years of releasing uglier and uglier looking cars featuring their ‘wide mouth’ design philospohy. They became well known for their overall (bad) design looks. Write ups from car hacks weren’t uncommon slating their look – ‘the car looks like a gurning frog on recreational drugs’ etc weren’t too uncommon themes when reviewing their cars. All models throughout their range were afflicted by this design language from the small 107 right up to the larger 407.

Fortunately Peugeot got wise, and as of mid-2010 is moving away from this look – they released the SR1 concept which previews the new look for the brand, to a particularly good reception. It moves their look away from that hideous smiling grill and everyone’s the happier for it.

I believe that with this new look for Mercedes and with their ‘soft nose’ look, that they are in danger of taking over the mantle from Peugeot and plunging to new depths of bad car aesthetics. Especially if they roll this look out over the entire Mercedes range.

Now I’m not in any way against Mercedes. It’s a great manufacturer that sells magnificent cars. I would love to have the SLS AMG as it just oozes class and style (plus who wouldn’t want gullwing doors). This is even though most car mag write-ups say it’s just a bit too inert and emotionless compared to it’s rivals, and when you’re spending £150k that kind of thing does matter.

I just wish that Mercedes would have properly researched this new look before plumping for it, as I’m positive that this new look is and will be generally derided. There’s no going back now though once the wheels of motion start to change their car design philosophy and overall brand looks (too much time and money will have gone into it for a start as well as the egg on face scenario that would happen if they pulled the look).

Mercedes will just have to ride it out and go through a period of becoming the butt of bad car look jokes, just like Peugeot did for many years.

Categories: Cars

You clipped my car you idiot!

19 August 2010 Leave a comment

I’m parking up in one of the roads near to work, as it’s always impossible to park in my work’s car park. There’s no spaces so i’m looking around for a space. I finally see one and have to go up the road, turn round and then come back to park in it. As i’m parking a queue starts to develop behind me so I quickly pull into the space, which I do fine first time, although admittedly a bit close to the car in front.

Then this woman who’s been waiting in the car infront, gets out and starts shouting at me saying i’ve clipped her car!

So I also get out and say i’m really sorry and that i didn’t realise that i had clipped her car. If i had, then it was a complete accident – I was in a rush as there was a queue behind me. I take a better look at her bumper and there is a definite paint/scrape mark (although only small) so it must have been me. The car does look a bit old and battered overall. I think it’s a really old Mondeo or similar.

But she’s still shouting at me and being really snotty about the whole thing, so after a bit I get annoyed and point out the fact that as her parking is so bad (the rear of her car was parked about two feet from the kerb at an angle) the whole thing is really her fault and she should try to be more considerate to other road users! So she stands there aghast and says in an enraged way ‘How very dare you!’. In a perfect, Catherine Tate kind of way – it’s the catch phrase of one of her characters ‘Derek’.

Which I find really funny so break out into a big grin. Which she finds even more annoying and starts getting more irate! Which in turn makes me start to laugh at the whole situation.

So i’m there in the middle of the street with people walking by, staring at us, with me laughing and folding my arms while she’s going off on one and waving her arms about!! It was a surreal situation.

So eventually I give my details, name, address and telephone and car reg. And i take a picture of her bumper on my phone and ask her if she wants to do the same. She looks surprised, ums and ers and says she’ll be in touch. We part our separate ways and I go to work feeling bemused by the whole turn of events. I really didn’t mean to start laughing at her but she was being far too irate about the whole thing and got my back up.

So I go to work wondering if my car will be vandalised/scratched etc when I come back, fretting the whole day about whether she may also try to bill me for a bumper respray.

Fortunately though when I get back to the car it looks fine. I suspiciously walk round it and give it a good check and find nothing wrong. The weeks also go by and I also hear nothing from her.

Even now when I think about her saying ‘How very dare you!’ it brings tears of laughter to my eyes, although I do feel guilty for winding her up. Classic!

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