Half a decade ago – before we had the revived MINI, let alone its cabrio-sibling – one of the hottest drop-tops one could have was MG’s delightful TF. But then MG Rover went bust and its cars, which appeared to be rather popular in SA, basically disappeared. Enter China’s Nanjing Automobile, the company that aims to revive the brands to its former glory. The company has confirmed that it will re-open the Longbridge assembly plant in England, and first up is, you guessed it, the MG TF 2-seater. While the bulk of production will take place at Nanjing’s new Chinese factory, all right-hand drive models will go through final assembly at the UK factory. No news yet whether the marquee will return to local shores.


Production of Audi’s new entry-level hatchback has been confirmed and it will be known as the A1. Drawing from Audi’s 2005 Shooting Brake concept, it is reported that the A1 is but only a few years away from full-blown production and will feature chunkier, more aggressive styling than the staid A3. Rumours have it that the front will have an edgier interpretation of the new TT’s design, and that the car will not be much bigger than a Volkswagen Polo, the car from which many bits and pieces will be borrowed to keep costs down. Considering the mammoth success Audi is currently enjoying locally and internationally, it’s almost a given that the A1 will be one very desirable car. Also, it gives Audi something that can compete with its BMW counterpart… the MINI.


Speaking of BMW, the company has admitted that its odd-looking (albeit rather eye-catching) 1-series hatch might just be getting coupé and convertible siblings. According to reports, the launch of these cars could come as soon as the Geneva Show in 2008. The logic behind the decision is to once again provide the world a smaller, more nimble little sports car because the 3-series coupé and convertible – beautiful as they may be – have become too big, heavy and luxurious to offer the sheer driving pleasure BMW is known for. Odds are that the two new models will be offered in the same engine choices currently available in the 1-series hatch, although nothing has been confirmed. Whether the 1 is really the one to bring back that driving pleasure remains to be seen…


Volvo’s popular S40 sedan and V50 wagon have gotten a slight mid-life face lift soon, which is mostly visible on the cars’ exteriors. In an attempt to distinguish the V50 as more than just a station wagon version of the S40, Volvo has tweaked the exteriors to bring the S40 closer to the rest of the “S”-range, whilst the V50 now more closely resembles the V70 wagon. The S40 now has a new grille with a larger Volvo badge, redesigned headlamps and a one-piece lower air intake, resulting in a lower, broader stance. Both the S40 and the V50 receive new tail-lamps and bumper treatments, losing the stacked colour scheme in favour of a simplified layout that utilizes LED’s and a clear section that dissects the predominantly red lens. The tail-lamps are also a tad higher to emphasise the new bumpers with integrated reflectors and more pronounced exhaust pipes. In the interior, upholstery options have been expanded to include finer grained leathers whilst a ‘Nordic Light Oak’ trim can now be specified for the beautiful floating centre console. The revised models will be available from the third quarter of this year and the engine line up, which comprises the 107 kW 2,0 litre, 125 kW 2,4i, 100 kW 2,0 litre diesel, 162 kW 2,5 litre T5 and the range-topping 132 kW D5 diesel, will continue. Prices will be confirmed closer to the launch date.


Speaking of Volvo, the company has also recently announced that as of 2007 it will no longer be producing any R-badged vehicles. Whilst the R-line Volvos offered a worthy contender to those in need of a bit more power and better handling dynamics, Volvo has announced that it is not financially viable to continue making these cars – the financial input outweighs the return on investment. Part of the problem lies with the fact that Volvo is renowned for its solid, value for money vehicles with exceptional (if not peerless) safety standards and not for scorching performance cars. The R-line Volvos will thus be discontinued as soon as the remaining stock is sold out. Volvo has however confirmed that it will continue making the high-performance variants such as the T5 C30, S40/V50 and S60/V70, as well as the V8-powered S80.


Out of the ten nominees for this year’s World Car of the Year title, it was only the second generation Audi TT, Mini and the new Lexus LS460 that managed to impress the judging panel enough to make the top three. Out of the three it was the impeccable build quality and long list of innovations (such as its automatic parking system and 8-speed automatic transmission) of the Lexus LS460 that impressed most, making it the brand new World Car of the Year. However, Audi did not walk away empty-handed: the new TT beat both the Fiat Grande Punto and Citroen C4 Picasso to the World Car Design of the Year, whilst its bigger RS4 sibling fought off the BMW 335i and Porsche 911 Turbo to win the World Performance Car of the Year title. In the increasingly important Green Car of the Year, VW’s Polo BlueMotion diesel and BMW’s Hydrogen7 lost out to Mercedes Benz’s E320 BlueTec diesel.

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