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Maserati Quattroporte & 2004 BMW X3 - World News

Oct 1, 2003
Epcp_0310_01_z+world_news+front_view Photo 1/1   |   Maserati Quattroporte & 2004 BMW X3 - World News

Maserati Quattroporte
The first official photographs of the all-new Maserati Quattroporte reveal a full-sized sedan that is as stylish as it is powerful. The new Pininfarina-designed flagship model is 198.9 in. (5052mm) long, 74.6 in. (1895mm) wide and 56.6 in. (1438mm) high, and is powered by a 400-bhp V8. The Quattroporte will be unveiled at the 2003 Frankfurt Motor Show this coming September.

2004 BMW X3
Also due for reveal at the 2003 Frankfurt Motor Show is BMW's all-new sports activity vehicle, the X3. The X5's smaller and lighter sibling comes in two six-cylinder power modes: the 184-bhp X3 2.5i and the 225-bhp X3 3.0i; the engines are mated to either a six-speed manual or five-speed Steptronic automatic transmission.

The X3 also boasts the all-new xDrive awd system. xDrive allows infinitely adjustable and fully variable distribution of torque front to rear, resulting in superior grip and traction on slippery or rough surfaces, as well as during everyday driving.

Available options will include a nav system with color monitor and BMW's Hill Descent Control (HDC). More info is offered at www.bmwusa.com/newX3.

Notes From Europe
* Italian Style: Alfa has launched the second generation of its 156 Sedan and Sportwagon, amid a flurry of expectation that the Turin twosome will follow on where the highly successful original versions left off.

A new interpretation of the design has been crafted by Italdesign's Giorgetto Giugiaro, with the most dramatic change effected on the car's face. A more sweeping hood line sends a bolder rendition of the trademark Alfa grille plunging deep into the lower fender, while the headlights have been modified to put a real "don't mess" look in its eyes. At the back end of the sedan, the new look is more subtle but nonetheless effective. Proportions have been adjusted to create a neater composition between the rear light clusters and the Alfa badge. The fender lines have also been smoothed off and the number plate dropped to give the whole package a cleaner, stronger look. The same language transferred over to the sportwagon reflects a visual link with the 147 hatchback.

The importance to Alfa of the second generation 156 cannot be understated. The original model signalled a dramatic turnaround in the somewhat temperamental fortunes of the Italian brand. In the five years since it first appeared, the 156, and later the Sportwagon, notched up sales of 540,000 across 80 countries, making it Fiat Auto's widest selling model. The effect was to more than triple its share of the European lower medium segment, from 0.7% in 1996 to 2.5% in 2003, having reached a peak of 3.6% in 2000 following the launch of the Sportwagon. Therefore it's hardly surprising that Turin is throwing everything into its prize model.

The engine line-up features an all-new top-line second-generation common rail diesel unit -the 175-bhp 2.4 JTD five-cylinder Multijet 20V. With 76% of Alfa's European sales comprised of oil-burners, this new flagship unit will carry the diesel torch alongside the 140-bhp 1.9 JTD Multijet introduced last year, and the entry level 115-bhp 1.9 JTD. The set is rounded off by four existing gasoline offerings ranging from the 120-bhp 1.6 T. Spark up to the 192-bhp 2.5 V6 24V unit.

* A More Powerful Thesis: The new second-generation common rail 175-bhp 2.4L 20V diesel has also been fitted to Fiat Auto's flagship, the Lancia Thesis. 64% of customers currently opt for the first generation 115-bhp version, which will continue to be offered alongside its beefier brother. The gasoline range has also had a boost in the form of the new 230-bhp 3.2 V6 24V unit, which adds 15 more horses to the previous range-topping power unit.

* French Flair: Renault dealers are now taking delivery of the Mgane Coup-Cabrio, one of the show-stealers at Geneva this year. Despite a 63% parts commonality with the Mgane II hatch, the striking outside lines of the Coup-Cabrio share very little with those of its quirky sibling. The absence of door pillars and side trim strips afford it a clean smooth profile, while the coup format put paid to any temptation to integrate the new family rear.

Renault is blasting its way into this rapidly growing segment with the world's first folding glass roof, developed and built by German cabrio specialist Karmann. Weighing in at 78kg, including 15kg of 3.15mm-thick Venus 40 glass, the package is no lightweight. Nevertheless, it overcomes the bugbear of most cabrios-it's great when you're driving open, but you do feel like someone locked the door and switched the lights out when the roof goes up.

Europe's cabrio market has more than tripled in the last 12 years, while the volume of coups finding new homes has remained pretty stagnant. By melding two into one, the French firm is hoping not only to maintain the customer base held by the Mgane I Coup and Mgane I Cabrio, but also to attract conquest sales from the regular sedan market.

By producing a true four-seater, Renault has also managed to trump the 2+2 Peugeot 206CC. It has more cabin space front and rear than the Mgane I Cabrio and, in coup format, offers luggage dimensions that compete well with many saloons in the class.

At launch, the Mgane Coup-Cabrio will be offered with a choice of three power units-the 115-bhp 1.6 16V and 136-bhp 2.0 16V units from the Mgane hatchback and, for the first time in the segment, a torquey diesel in the form of the 120-bhp 1.9 dCi.

* German Problems: VW has been hit by another major recall-the second to strike Europe's largest vehicle manufacturer in just a few months. Following on from the ignition coil problem affecting an estimated 850,000 vehicles worldwide, VW has recalled 11,700 of its new Touran mini-vans. Apparently, a faulty component in the cooler fan can cause a short circuit in the fan and, in extreme circumstances, lead to fire in the engine compartment. According to a VW spokesman, two Tourans have so far caught fire in the VW factory. As the Touran has been on the market for just a few months, some 4,000 of the affected vehicles are still within the dealer network. The spokesman went on to say that it is unclear whether any other group vehicles are affected by the problem.

According to Germany's Center for Automotive Research (CAR), Porsche could soon be facing problems if it doesn't sort out its product and brand investment strategy. According to CAR's Prof. Ferdinand Dudenhffer, Porsche is likely to reach its 65,000 unit sales target in 2003, but thereafter the rose-colored mist hovering around the Porsche success story of recent years is likely to fade.

He points to slipping U.S. sales of the Boxster and stiff competition appearing for the core 911 model, while fans will have to wait until September 2004 for the next generation. He also forecasts significant problems for the Cayenne. In Europe, the absence of a diesel engine option is likely to seriously impact market take-up, while U.S. buyers are becoming increasingly sensitive to gas-guzzler issues. The close relationship between the widely admired VW Touareg also means that Porsche lacks the uniqueness that has served the 911 so well for such a long time.

Dudenhffer accused Porsche's product and engine investment strategy of being too shallow and short-termist.

"[Porsche boss] Wiedeking stands for Porsche's reorientation and text-book success," he said, "Porsche has become synonymous with the Wiedeking system. Flat structures, low risks on capacity, limited corporate information, low product development risks and, so far, unprecedented returns in the highly competitive auto sector. In the short term, the Wiedeking Way is risk-free and successful. But, paradoxically, we believe that this approach presents a risk to growth. Our analysis concludes that Porsche's growth targets-as opposed to those of BMW-carry significantly greater risk."

Art Cars in Miniature
If you've always dreamed about owning one of BMW's Art Cars, but didn't have an extra million or two to spare, your wish is about to come true. BMW has introduced a collection of 1:18-scale miniatures-15 in all-that replicate the full-size vehicles in exquisite detail. The collection has a timed release through 2005; the first four offered are those done by Alexander Calder (the first Art Car), Jenny Holzer (the most recent Art Car), Andy Warhol and Sandro Chia.

The Art Car Miniatures will have an initial offering of only 3,000 copies-although this number will not be limited-with a suggested retail price of $125.

The collection will be sold at BMW dealers and selected museum shopsworldwide, as well as online at www.bmw-online.com.

Mini Sport And Mini Convertible
The fastest MINI was seen recently at the Nrburgring. It is a lowered, lightened version of the 200-bhp Cooper S Works with uprated suspension. It has been created by the Cooper Car Company to compete in the Nrburgring 24 Hours. The super S is also acting as a test bed for next year's Cooper Challenge race series.

Another variant is the MINI convertible, whose release has been confirmed for summer 2004. Both the 90-bhp model and the 115- bhp Cooper will be available right from the launch. A 163-bhp Cooper S model follows later. The roof folds down in just 10 sec. and sits on the rear like the VW New Beetle Convertible's. It will be built on the MINI line at BMW's Oxford plant.

2003 Maserati Coupe and SpyderMaserati has tweaked its Coupe and Spyder models with an update the company calls the Evolution. The gorgeously taut Italdesign-Giugiaro skin of both the coupe and the cabriolet remains thankfully un-"improved," but useful upgrades abound underneath.

Most significantly, the company recognized that the Spyder fell short on the traditional challenge for any open-topped car-rigidity. Fortunately Maserati avoided the typical, simple and cheap solution to the plague of cowl shake, which makes too many convertibles feel like amusement park rides instead of cool rides.

Rather than larding the car up with porky braces and struts, Maserati leans mostly on a lightweight, high-tech solution: styrofoam. Okay, they call it "structural epoxy" when it is used in cars, but it is something very much like styrofoam that is injected into the A-pillars and other hollow parts to make them stiffer. Engineering also reinforced the door sills with more steel, but it only adds 37 lb to the car's mass.

The result is a car that twists at a rate of 1,200 kg/degree, compared to 960 kg/degree for the outgoing version, according to Maserati director Roberto Corradi. Seat time in the car on the twisting highways south of Maserati's Modena headquarters revealed little cowl shake and good compliance over bumps, so the surgery should be considered a success. The coupe, however, is still twice as stiff, with a torsional rigidity of 2,500 kg/degree.

The remaining upgrades are shared by both the Coupe and the Spyder. Changes to the suspension and the steering make the renewed Maseratis more responsive than their predecessors, boosting maximum lateral acceleration from 1.1g to 1.2g, the company said. The "Skyhook" active suspension system is reprogrammed for a faster 25 millisec. response time. The shocks are designed to work over a wider range of travel so they can handle little bumps and large body motions from cornering or stopping.

The anti-roll bars are fatter front and rear to help maintain the car's composure in turns, and the steering rack is now quicker, sliding 60mm for each rotation of the steering wheel instead of the previous 52mm.

If things get a bit out of hand in the curves, Maserati now provides a stability control system to help keep the car pointed the intended direction. The Maserati Stability Program system was developed in partnership with Bosch and employs both throttle and brake control to maintain stability.

The Formula One-style "Cambiocorsa" paddle shift system available on both cars is upgraded for faster gearchanges. Like the same system used by Ferrari, clicking the paddle can bang off shifts in as little as 150 millisec., depending on the circumstances. In practice, the system-which is chosen by 80% of Maserati customers-works well in both casual and hard driving. But it is at its best when making full-throttle blasts up through the gears, when the quick gearchanges make it sound like the driver is a real pro.

The MSRP for the Coupe is $81,861, while the Spyder's base price is $87,192.

Arctic Traction Circle
Volvo XC70s explore the Dalton Highway
The traction circle. The same amount of grip is available to a car in any direction. If you add turning, braking or acceleration must decrease. If you add braking or acceleration to maximum cornering effort, your line will widen.

I'm going 70 mph, the 30-mph crosswind is dusting a thin layer of snow across the completely iced-over dirt road, here and there building up small drifts. Plows work continuously to keep the road clear. To the left and the right, there is nothing but frozen white for hundreds of miles. The sun is low in the southwest, slanting shallowly for the horizon. The Volvo XC70's onboard computer indicates -22F.

I hold steering input to the left to maintain a straight line. Every once in a while, the studded Hakkepelita winter tires find more grip and head for the left side of the road, then lose it just as suddenly. Southward-bound traffic is infrequent, but always takes the form of a tractor-trailer trying to make the 170 miles from Deadhorse to the awe-inspiring, 4,643-ft Atigun Pass before the plow operators declare a stalemate and let it close for the night. Behind each truck is a long cloud of blowing snow that completely blinds me. I slow whenever I see one ahead, but the slightest breath on the brake takes its bite from traction and sends the car drifting toward the right side of the road, with steel posts marking the edge and after that-well, the snow could be 6 in. or 6 ft. It is safer to manually downshift the automatic.

There are no locals here, but farther south in Fairbanks, children wait outside for the school bus until the airport says it's -50F, as far below freezing as 114F is above it. Our destination, Deadhorse, is as far north as one can drive from here, the northernmost road in North America. Men and women who work there are asked to live in these conditions for only 2 weeks at a time and are paid well. They earn it. Deadhorse is a dry town: Survival requires that mind and body remain always at full strength. The Prudhoe Bay Hotel is temporary living quarters for most. Finished in the same materials as a double-wide, the single-story building has an aura of transience; the construction site office trailer for the fountain that quenches America's fossil fuel thirst. If not for oil, the tundra's surface would be unbroken.

In the few minutes before dinner, I decide to go for a walk and look around. I bundle up in boots, gaiters, down parka, sweater, gloves and hat. Even walking backward to protect my face from the burning wind, it's 2 minutes before my thighs tingle from the cold blowing through my jeans. Cotton Will Kill You. I try again later, adding polypropylene thermal underwear, padded ski pants, a balaclava and ski mask. With no exposed skin, I am comfortable for several minutes, but sense that at that rate of body-heat loss, I'd be lucky to stay alive half a day. Hooray for fire.

My guide, Soren Johansson, is a Swede, and to him these conditions are normal. Officially, we are here to learn about the weather capability of the XC70's Haldex all-wheel-drive system and the tall wagon's long-distance cruising legs. The truth is that he loves Alaska, spends as much time here as he can, and wanted to share it with people who would otherwise never have a chance to see it. Doing PR for Volvo meant the lucky ones were journalists.

We started in Anchorage, drove the long way to Fairbanks the first day, and joined the 414-mile Dalton Highway at Livengood just after daybreak the second morning. Except for a lunch and gas stop each day and pauses for photography, these were 10-hour days in the saddle, nearly 1,000 miles in all. The seats remained comfortable and appropriately supportive, even though I started with a black-and-blue posterior from a first-time snowboarding experience the previous day.

The Volvos never missed a beat, blockheaters ensuring the turbocharged, 2.5L engines fire right up each morning. Each car was equipped with studded Hakkepelitas, a matching spare and basic recovery equipment; all items are available as official Volvo accessories. The only mishap was when, on a relatively balmy, windless, -10F stretch, one XC70 ended up in a snowbank, due 100% to driver error. When the crew of Swedes dug down far enough for the front wheels to touch the ground, it emerged under its own power without so much as a scratch.

The Haldex awd and traction and stability control systems performed flawlessly. It was possible to pitch the car sideways for some controlled parking lot fun. One journalist intentionally explored the XC70's bumper-deep snow capability and came away impressed. Climbing the Atigun Pass, I could feel the drive being sent to the rear wheels as needed. Each car held the usual clothing for two people to travel for 5 days, plus safety extras, cold-weather gear and photo equipment with free access to any item at any time and little thought given to packing.

Nobody will mistake the XC70 for a sports car on a winding road, but cover that same road with snow and ice or add several bodies and a small mountain of outdoor gear, and the XC70 shows why it accounts for nearly two-thirds of Volvo's wagon sales.

First Look: Audi A8 Tdi
Will Audi Bring It To The U.S.? Not Likely; A PityThe pros and cons of diesel and its inability to penetrate the U.S. market have been well documented on these pages. But, as emissions issues continue to be addressed and performance just keeps on improving, the voices of dissension are finding ever-fewer arguments on which to hang their cases. The new Audi A8 V8 TDi is yet another kick in the shins to the anti-oil-burner lobby. No, it doesn't comply with EURO IV yet and, no, it doesn't have a particulate trap. But it will on both points next year.

Based on the same basic block as its 3.3-liter predecessor, bore and stroke have been increased to give the new 4.0-liter bi-turbo an extra 50 horses and 125 lb-ft (170Nm), churning out a total of 275 bhp and a thumping 479 lb-ft (650Nm) of torque. It also adopts the company's new chain-driven format, making the overall package 150mm shorter than the latest V8 diesel from BMW, as well as topping it on paper by 17 bhp and 37 lb-ft (50Nm), albeit with the help of twice as many turbochargers.

It retains common rail direct injection technology, but the question must surely be whether this will survive into the next generation. Although clever in itself, it is the only power unit in the VW Group to use it, and signs are that the rest of the group is concentrating its attention on unit injectors-something further intensified by the announcement of a joint venture with Siemens VDO for the development of this system in combination with the German supplier's piezo injection technology. However, for their part, Audi engineers insist that common rail technology was the only route that enabled them to meet their packaging requirements.

Behind the wheel, the car drives every bit as smoothly and quietly as its gasoline brothers. From outside the car there is just the tiniest hint of diesel rattle on start up, but you have to have a pretty keen ear to catch it, and from inside the cabin it's imperceptible. Most noticeable, of course, is the killer torque. There's so much of the stuff low-down that it actually takes a bit of practice to execute a completely smooth pull-away. Cruising on the autobahn is an absolute joy. It wafts along almost silently and, even at speeds of over 124 mph (200km/h), it has enough oomph left up top to pull away at a respectable rate.

With vital performance statistics of 6.7 sec. to 62 mph and a limited top speed of 155 mph, the V8 TDi is a match for any car in its class. As is typical of a turbo diesel, peak torque is a relatively short-lived affair. But it arrives early, with a deep and hearty torque-converter-assisted shove that's difficult to compare with either the delayed mule-kick of a turbocharged gasoline or the gradual build-up of a high-revving naturally aspirated motor. The important thing about driving enjoyment in a car like this is to try not to compare it with a gasoline. Driving experience and engine feedback are different, there can be no doubt about it, but that has long since stopped being a point of criticism, especially in this class of vehicle. Low-down push and comfort cruising is an ideal pairing in a flagship limo, and the TDi has both in bucketloads.

On smaller back roads, with the adaptive air suspension set on "dynamic," the whole package lowers by 20mm and the suspension stiffens up. This is a big car, so sporty is relative, but I was pretty impressed by the degree to which it let itself be thrown around. While BMW has opted to focus on executive cruising in its 7 Series diesel and gasoline models, leaving sporty to the forthcoming 6 Series, Audi has chosen to bring both together in one vehicle with the A8 and, in so doing, has created a damned good balance-AND it's a diesel.

It must be said that the "AND it's a diesel" factor is becoming less and less of an issue in these parts. The Audi marketing bod pointed out that, in Europe, 37% of the luxury class is running on oil, and that figure is set to rise. Audi is expecting an increase of 50% in sales of the A8 V8 TDi over the previous model, the vast majority of which will be in Europe. Of course, for many buyers here there are various national tax advantages to be taken into consideration when deciding for diesel. And, of course, there's the fuel consumption issue, now becoming more important in the U.S. With its aluminum space frame, the A8 already has a weight advantage on its side, tipping only 1,940kg on the scales. Compare that with 2,090kg for BMW's 740d and 1,990kg for the Merc S400 CDi. The outcome is that Audi has the best power to weight ratio of the three (0.14 against 0.12 for BMW and Mercedes) and quattro four-wheel drive to boot, while remaining competitive on fuel consumption. All three come in around the 24.7-mpg mark, which, let's face it, is pretty impressive whichever way you look at it.

Will Audi bring the A8 V8 TDi to the U.S. once it complies with Euro IV emissions legislation? Seems unlikely. It is seriously considering bringing diesel to the States once the changeover to low-sulfur fuel takes place in 2005. However, indications are that it will start lower down the range to establish a presence. Pity.

First Look: 2004 Volvo S80
The Swedish Company Hits The Mark With Its Flagship SedanIt's been a long time since I've driven a Volvo. There was the old-even-then 142 I drove in college, and then the sponge-mobile 242 I drove shortly thereafter. Both were boxy, safe and utterly dependable because of their mechanical simplicity, but, simply put, they also were boring. Volvo has changed all that over the intervening years, and with the introduction of the latest R models, the Swedish firm has brought impressive technology and performance to the forefront of the firm's philosophy. The S60R and V70R are not boring.

But Volvo also plays in the mid-luxury segment with the S80, the largest front-wheel-drive car the company has ever offered. It's the line's flagship, but the rather softly sprung S80 will never be mistaken for a performance car. Competing in a market segment that includes the Audi A6, Mercedes E-Class and BMW 5 Series may explain why sales of the 5-year-old model have dropped from 33,000 (1999) to 16,000 (2003). And this also may explain why Volvo has made over 700 changes to the 2004 S80.

"We're talking here about significant changes; changes that will give the model considerably enhanced competitiveness in its segment," said Hans-Olov Olsson, President and CEO of Volvo Car Corporation. "The Volvo S80 has always been renowned for safety, comfort and space. Now we are taking a huge stride forward in terms of elegance and driving dynamics, too."

If chrome door handles define elegance, the S80 is all set. In all fairness, the door handles are a nice accent, and the subtle use of chrome bits on the redesigned front fascia, below the side windows and rear trunk lid help emphasize the S80 design themes in a world awash with body-color details. The new soft nose sports a gentler profile, a new spoiler with larger fog lights and a new square-mesh grille. Some of us will miss the old grille.

At the rear, the trunk lid is now one piece and the bumper cover has been restyled, though the rear radar buttons look out of place and one wonders if they couldn't have been better incorporated in the bumper redesign. Volvo claims the new taillights, now with faster acting LED brake lights, are smaller, though it was hard to tell without a direct comparison.

Inside, the front door panels have been redesigned and the interior trim panels are a darker charcoal color. Along with optional walnut or aluminum insert panels, the changes help break up the potentially monotonous interior and turn it into a friendlier place to spend time. The redesigned instruments are easy to read and are surrounded by an attractive polished aluminum ring mirroring those in the R cars, at least in the six-cylinder models. It's unfortunate the flimsy-feeling cupholder didn't get redesigned as well, but the seats are very comfortable, offering good support for the long haul and lack, but only slightly, lateral support when the driving turns spirited.

Given its flagship, luxury car status, you might think this would rarely be a problem, but order up a T-6 with the 268-bhp twin-turbo six (DSTC standard) and the optional FOUR-C active chassis system, and you'll find yourself begging for bigger bolsters as you take the long way home every night. With 280 lb-ft of torque from 1800 to 5000 rpm, the T-6 moves well, and the micro-processor-controlled four-speed transmission is smoothly unobtrusive and always seems to be in the correct gear.

Borrowed from the S60R and V70R, the Four-C system has been reprogrammed for maximum comfort in the S80. Five accelerometers, three in the body and two in the front suspension, work with a host of other sensors (optional DSTC is required for FOUR-C on the S80 2.9) and is tied into the Multiplex network to provide 500 readings per second to the computers. A new valve developed by Ohlins Racing AB moves just 0.3mm between full soft and full firm, allowing the continuously controlled dampers to adjust up to 50 times per second to help reduce body roll, pitch and heave as well as help control over- and understeer.

The system is remarkable in its abilities, but the real payoff comes when you push the button and engage Sport mode. In Comfort mode the body continues to oscillate as it gently settles after a big bump, sometimes to the point of discomfort, especially over rough spots that caused a corner-to-corner pitching. After the first couple of miles, my driving partner and I agreed to leave the Sport mode permanently engaged. Push the Four-C button, and even driving down the third-world pavement of Georgetown's M Street or blasting over back-road whoop-dee-doos find the big Volvo's body motions beautifully controlled, settling quickly and inspiring confidence. Cruising down the Interstate, Four-C recognizes the more relaxed control inputs and softens the damping accordingly yet still reacts instantly to an abrupt lane change or other emergency maneuver. Squat and brake dive are well controlled, and the new speed-sensitive ZF power steering is a big improvement over the previous unit.

Volvo seems to have hit the mark with the new S80 (at least the version equipped with FOUR-C). Even a short blast in a V70R, with the Four-C set in Advanced Mode, of course, only made us wonder why the S80 couldn't have a few more ponies...and a new cupholder.

The new, base S80 retails for $37,045. With the T-6 engine, the price rises to $44,525.

We Hear
* Citron C3 Pluriel
A Car with Altitude!
Citron's versatile new convertible, the C3 Pluriel, is the car with "'altitude" as it flew up, up and away from Sibson airfield outside Peterborough to an altitude of 3,500 ft, setting a new record for the world's highest flying car.

Sponsored by Citron, Britain's youngest stunt balloonist David Fish (29) piloted the adapted C3 Pluriel suspended from a giant air balloon. He was impressed with how Citron and his team of specialist engineers turned one of the country's superminis into the world's highest flying car.

* Volvo XC90: First SUV to Get 5 Star Rating in Euro NCAP

The Volvo XC90 has been awarded the highest mark-the five star rating-by consumer car safety organization Euro NCAP in its latest survey. This makes the XC90 the first SUV on the market to be awarded five stars. Since its introduction in 2002, the Volvo XC90 has received the highest number of international awards in the shortest period of time than any other Volvo model. Several of these have been safety awards, but the crash test carried out by Euro NCAP enabled the Volvo XC90 to physically prove its merits in an independent safety survey. This was also done earlier this year when the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) tested the XC90 and gave it its best marks and the title "Best Pick."

* Beatle Presents a Beetle

Sir Paul McCartney surprised 19 year-old fan Laura Andrew with a gift of a new Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet, just before the final concert in Liverpool of his "Back to the World" tour on June 1, 2003.

The famous musician presented her with the New Beetle Cabriolet, as she was the two-millionth audience member of his concert tour. McCartney climbed into the Beetle with Laura and would probably have taken his overwhelmed fan for a drive around the dockyards, if he didn't have to prepare for his concert immediately afterwards.

Laura's example was in Sundown Orange, an exact match of a color used for much earlier Beetles. Laura, who reads tourism and leisure at Liverpool University, wants to keep the cabriolet for the rest of her life. Paul had signed the inside panel of the right door: "For Laura. Well done. 2 Millionth. Love Paul McCartney." She received offers for the car immediately after receiving the keys but promised, "I'll never give this car away."

* Triple crown for BMW in 2003 International Engine of the Year Awards

BMW has once again dominated the prestigious International Engine of the Year Awards. Officially the most successful manufacturer in the event's five-year history, BMW's latest honors came in the 1.4- to 1.8-liter, 2.0- to 2.5-liter and 3.0- to 4.0-liter categories, making the awards haul a total 18 since the first event in 1999. And the winners are:

* 1.4- to 1.8-liter: MINI Supercharged 1.6 liter (Cooper S)
* 2.0- to 2.5-liter: BMW 2.5-liter (325i, 525i, Z4)
* 3.0- to 4.0-liter: BMW 3.2 liter (M3)

Four of BMW's 18 International Engine of the Year Awards have come courtesy of its powerful 3.2-liter M3 engine, and 2003 is the third year in a row it has won its category.

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