Dec 22 2008 Steve Hughes
What a performance for 2009
ONE of the great ironies of the recession and political correctness is that demand for sporting cars is soaring with no signs of a slowdown.
This looks set to continue throughout 2009 with a record number of coupes, convertibles, hot-hatches and supercars slated to go on sale in addition to the onslaught of eco-friendly models.
When Ford introduced its 65mpg Focus ECOnetic recently there was a ripple of interest but when it announced a 155mph RS version for spring 2009 there was a flood of orders that topped 1,000 in the first week.
The company says that despite political correctness, speed cameras and the current belt-tightening, the 2.5-litre turbocharged 300bhp compact supercar is creating unprecedented demand from punters prepared to pay upfront before even driving it.
The same goes for Nissan's new GT-R, which is also generating lengthy waiting lists ahead of its impending arrival in the UK in spring.
The 195mph speed machine is already a sell-out in its native Tokyo where average traffic speeds are 7mph and now it looks set for a repeat performance here.
The twin turbocharged engine generates a whopping 475bhp to launch the family-sized model to 60mph in a tad over three and a half seconds, with prospective purchasers being equally quick off the mark here at £55,000 a time.
Renault is sending us twice as many of its Formula One-inspired Megane Renaultsport R26.R models than it will make available in its native France, such is our obsession with sporty hatchbacks.
Fiat is of the same opinion, which is why it believes Britain will be the biggest market for the forthcoming Abarth version of its cute little Fiat 500.
Due here early next year, the Italian pocket rocket version of the European Car of the Year will boast a 1.4-litre turbocharged engine, which in view of the supermini's diminutive proportions will make it a real flying machine.
Another stylish slice of Italian exotica is heading for these shores in the guise of the Alfa Romeo MiTo, which has been jointly developed in Milano and Torino, hence the unusual name.
Although more show than go in pure performance terms, it will cost from just £12,000, which is less than a tenth of the price of the new Ferrari California that is also due here next year.
Designed specifically for countries with dubious climates, the inappropriately-named California will feature a folding steel roof that can transform it from coupe to cabriolet and vice-versa in seconds to cater for prevailing weather conditions.
Not to be outdone on the supercar front, British-based specialist sports car company Lotus will blossom again next spring with the introduction of its first major new model in more than a decade.
Unlike the Italians whose motor cities have a romantic ring to them, Lotus is naming its newcomer after Evora in Portugal in preference to calling it the Lotus Norfolk.
Expected to cost from about £45,000, the mid-engine 3.5-litre V6 Evora will be the antithesis of the Elise thanks to its sumptuous interior with climate-control plus a sophisticated sound system and satellite navigation operated via a touch-screen.
In addition to the fast and furious arrival of stylish and sporty new cars there will be new companies emerging too, including a rival for the luxury Lexus brand in the form of Infiniti.
When it arrives here early next year the Infiniti brand will be to Nissan what Lexus is to parent company Toyota, each with a mission to beat the Germans at their own game in the lucrative premium sectors of the market.
Infiniti's first foray will be into the prestige crossover and coupe cabriolet markets with the EX37 coupe crossover and the FX performance crossover plus the G37 coupe and saloon models.
The crossovers will come with a variety of engines including hugely powerful V8s but even the smaller V6 versions will accelerate to 60mph in just over six and a half seconds with top speeds in excess of 145mph.
Expected to cost from about £45,000, they will line up alongside the sleek coupe cabriolet, which boasts a three-way folding steel roof and will be the star of the showrooms when they open for business in selected areas of the UK from next April.
However, in the real world it will be Volkswagen and Vauxhall who will be introducing arguably the most important newcomers of 2009.
Five generations, 34 years and more than 25 million after the original went on sale, the sixth generation Golf is due on sale in January.
An indication of how technology has progressed in that time will be epitomised by the Bluemotion versions that offer a remarkable combination of 120mph performance and 75mpg economy with a CO2 figure lower than that of the combined output of half a dozen of the original models at just 99g/km.
Also from Germany is the latest family car from Vauxhall in the swish shape of the all-new Insignia.
The company is enjoying something of a renaissance since the arrival of the latest generation Corsa and Astra models, with the Insignia aiming to capitalise upon the company's stylish new image.
Facing formidable opposition from the Ford Mondeo, Volkswagen Passat, BMW 3 Series and the new Skoda Superb models, the Insignia plans to win converts by offering the best value for money in its class.
Prices will start at under £16,000 for the entry-level 1.8 Exclusiv, which will be equipped with electronic stability programme, automatic headlights, electric driver's seat-height adjuster and electrically adjustable four-way lumbar support. Cruise control is also standard, along with climate control, front, side and curtain airbags plus Isofix child seat mountings.
The 1.8-litre petrol unit produces 140bhp and is one of five engines available in the range.
There are two other petrol units - a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder and a 2.8-litre turbocharged V6 plus two new 2.0-litre diesels with either 130bhp or 160bhp. The 2.0 CDTi 130bhp Exclusiv is the entry-level diesel model at £16,935.
Innovative features on some models include a front camera system that reads traffic signs and warns drivers if they move out of their lane, next-generation lighting that sees around corners and a heated windscreen wash system plus a choice of front-wheel-drive or all-wheel drive.