Here's a guide to some of the new cars we're looking forward to seeing in 2004. Some of these have already been displayed at the motor shows around the world as manufacturers revealed their plans for 2004. Others are revisions of existing models, or completely new cars that haven't been seen in the UK or USA yet in their finished forms.
We're thinking that 2004 will be every bit as exciting as 2003 was. And there's also news about the cars that won't be available until after the end of 2004, but which we'll probably see at a show some time before the end of this year.
Word is that Alfa Romeo have the name registered for a replacement for the 156, though whether it will arrive in 2004 is not yet known. With lots of spy shots of new Alfas circulating, we're hopeful that we'll see some great new cars from the Italian manufacturer this year. The new 147 has already shown the direction in which the styling is going, and as usual, it's clear that Alfa dare to be that little bit different to the rest of the crowd.
The most stunning of those doing the rounds is the 4.3 litre Coupe Concept that will reportedly cost around 80,000 putting it firmly into Porsche 911 territory. It seems that manufacturers are queuing up to compete with Porsche, which is odd because it's a niche market, and so many have tried to take on the 911 and failed. Maybe for many, this is the response to Porsche entering their lucrative SUV market in 2003 with the Cayenne. Thought that can't be Alfa's excuse as they don't currently have an SUV; and that's something else that is believed to be changing during the course of 2004 or 2005.
Meanwhile, tuning company Autodelta have dropped their awesome 3.7 engine into their Autodelta 147 GTA. 147 owners can purchase the engine upgrade, which produces 314bhp, from the company's website for 5,450. A larger investment adds a range of additional styling to make your 147 look the part, or extra engine modifications in the form of a Ferrari developed throttle body which extracts even more power from the 3.7 V6.
Aston will of course be launching the stunning new DB9 and DB9 Volante in March and October 2004 respectively. The new DB9 is arguably one of the best looking cars on the roads, and looks like its got the performance and handling to match the best that Italy and Germany can throw at it.
We were pleased to see this prestige manufacturer come out fighting with a new model range, and had hoped to snap a DB9 at the recent AUTOSPORT International motor show, but unfortunately Aston provided the stand with a Vantage instead at the last minute.
Audi are due to release new variants of the A3 and A4 ranges, including the S3 and the S4 Cabrio performance cars. As usual, the S3 will leap to the top of the hot hatch pile, and the S4 will be a contender for the hot cab title; though of course in that sector the S4 is up against BMW's M3 Convertible which normally does enough to ward off the Audi's attempts at stealing the crown, despite the Audi having 4WD compared to the BMW's RWD layout. The S4 cabriolet will come complete with 344bhp from its V8 engine which should drive it to 60mph in under 6 seconds, but all this comes at a hefty price of around 40,000 we estimate.
The flagship Audi's looking good in the pics we've seen so far with nicely rounded corners taking the pounds of a car that's seriously big and bulky. Starting at 220bhp, the entry level model isn't a supercar, but it will no doubt make an awesome comfortable cruiser, as will its sister car which sports a 233bhp diesel.
No news yet of an S8 which would no doubt include a 4litre + version of the W12 engine.
We kid you not, this strange name belongs to the Audi off roader that will line up against the BMW X5, Porsche Cayenne and VW Toureg from summer 2004. At 50,000 it's priced between the Cayenne S and its big brother Turbo, but has serious performance from its turbocharged V8 engine (as seen in the phenomenal RS6) so it will no doubt give the bigger Porsche a run for its money. Futuristic looks may, or may not go down well; we'll see.
Set for a May release, a lot is expected of the BMW X3. Big brother X5 was an instant hit, with lead times stretching into many many months at launch. But we hear reports that the new X3 has suffered from being designed down to a price, unlike the X5 which was a prestige car from the off. We look forward to seeing if the baby off roader can live up to the high expectations set by the X5, and given that BMW don't often get it wrong, we expect that any issues will be minor, and will be quickly resolved. A shade under 30,000 is the anticipated selling price for the lower spec models up to a mere 32,000 for the slightly more racey 3 litre version. Though performance of the two will be similar given that the former's 2.5 litre 190bhp engine is mated to a six speed manual, and the latter's 3.0 litre 210bhp engine gets a 5 speed manual.
When the new 5 joined us in 2003 it was missing a pretty important team member - the touring. Priced at 25 to 48 thousand pounds, the touring gets all the toys of the saloon model, including the FSI engines, i-drive, air suspension, variable damping etc. Some models will even get some of these, particularly the suspension tricks included as standard given that they're more essential on the load lugger than they might be on the passenger car.
So, the 6 series is back, with a beautiful Bangle production based on the new 5 series. And we think it looks great from pretty much any angle, though in fact it looks best with the bulbous boot lid open when it takes on the profile of a 911. Bristling with technology, and featuring lots of composite panels, the new 6 series is, like the 5 series it follows, a marvel of innovation. Powered by a big 4398cc 32 valve V8 which produces 328 bhp, the new BMW 6 is capable of 0-62 in 5.6 seconds, but top speed of UK models will be electronically limited to 155mph. With a few pounds change from 50,000 the car's probably a bargain if you like that sort of thing, so we expect waiting lists to take on the normal BMW proportions.
Another car that's been tightly under wraps is the 456GT from Ferrari. Believed to be due in the spring at a price of a little under 200,000 the GT will give some Ferrari fans a tough choice. Do they go for the awesome F1 style Enzo, or the slightly more conventional 456?
The new Ferrari 612S arrives in March 2004, featuring its staggeringly long bonnet that houses the engine behind the front axle. This 'Front-Mid' engine layout is set to be a popular design over the next decade with many manufacturers adopting it in order to put the engine's weight more into the centre of the car. In the case of the Ferrari 612 the concept also features a transaxle gearbox at the rear, giving the car a slight rear bias as opposed to the BMW designs which mount both the engine and gear box at the front of the car. This design will be shared with a number of Maserati and Alfas, including the new 166 replacement (the Alfa 168).
The beautiful looking 612S is a replacement for the ten year old Ferrari 456 series, and in addition to the new layout it also features a large amount of aluminium in its construction to keep the weight down to reasonable levels (about 1800Kg). Prices are expected to be a shade under (or possibly over) the 200,000 mark, but it is a fairly unusual super coupe featuring four seats and its 5.750 litre engine produces a useful 533bhp. This gives the car the capability of a 196mph top speed combined with a 0-60 time of a shade over 4 seconds, making it only a fraction slower than the F1 inspired Enzo. Competition is sparse right now, though of course the new Aston Martin DB9 and the Bentley Continental GT will give it a run for its money. And you can buy both the Aston and the Bentley for not much more than the expected price of the Ferrari.
Citroen have launched their amazing C2 GT Junior World Rally Championship homologation special to a warm reception from the motoring press. A mere 2250 cars will be made, and they're all on their way to the UK, so if you're looking for a new performance car for a shade over 10,000 then this could be just the car for you. Weighing in at 1027kg the new car is surprisingly heavier than its distant relation the Peugeot 106 Rallye, despite the fact that it looks slightly smaller than the Peugeot. However, its 1587cc engine produces a healthy 108bhp and 108 ft/lb of torque so it can power its way from 0-60mph in just 8.7sec. That might not seem incredibly fast, but it's about as quick as many more powerful cars such as the standard Toyota Celica which costs 6000 more.
The great news for younger drivers is that the C2 GT attracts a group 6 insurance rating, though drivers aged over 21 may also benefit from a one year free insurance policy. The low production quantity means that residuals should be reasonable with demand exceeding supply, so the biggest problem with the new GT might be getting hold of one.
Ford's big news for 2004 is, of course, the GT40. The new GT40 re-creates the look of one of the all time greatest supercars and once again shows that Ford can produce cars that can take on and beat the best that Ferrari can offer. Unfortunately, the GT40's supply is going to fall far short of the demand for it. Prices are expected to be in the 100,000 region which really is a steal for such a Supercar. If there were enough of them about it could very much take the edge off the launch of the 456.
Ford have announced that a kit will be available in the US for around $22,000 that will convert a regular front wheel drive Focus into a 420bhp rear wheel drive monster with 370lb ft of torque. The move which will promote the 4.6 litre Mustang Cobra V8 engine gives the States the Focus we've all been waiting for, and so of course there's speculation about whether we'll see the same kit in other parts of the world.
Holden, The Australian subsidiary of GM will be launching their Monaro Coupe in the UK via selected Vauxhall dealerships this spring. Prices are expected to be 28,000 and the car offers 328bhp from a 5.7litre V8 engine which isn't bad value for money. The car is believed to handle very nicely indeed and will site nicely alongside the VX220 and its big brother Turbo in the showrooms. Vauxhall may well be back into the performance car market and that will do its image a lot of good.
Honda's NSX-R hits the streets in the spring, bringing a new lease of life to the aging Japanese supercar. Apart from not being a Ferrari, there's not much wrong with the NSX as its success has proven, and the new car is set to keep the sales rolling until a replacement in the form of the HSC is available either next year, or the year after.
A little bit of tuning sees the power output of the 2004 Honda Civic Type R sneak up to 197bhp from its 1998cc straight 4 engine. That's about 99bhp per litre, so we're left wondering why they didn't just go for 200bhp and be done with it, especially when the equivalent Toyota Celica produces 190bhp from just 1.8 litres. The verdict however is that the extra horses and other changes which include stiffer suspension, make an already excellent car even better. Honda reliability completes a package that will be too good to resist for the hot hatch brigade.
A facelift of Honda's brilliant S2000 will give it not just sharper looks, but also a significant number of suspension tweaks to further sharpen its already excellent handling. Bigger wheels and tyres complete the package. So if you like the idea of Honda's excellent two litre engine, in something a little less conventional than a hot hatch, then this is probably the car for you.
You may well have already seen the TV Commercials for the new Jag Estate! We couldn't believe it either, until we saw it, and were forced to admit that it actually does look quite nice; though the rear doesn't half look like a Volvo S40.
The big Jag could well be a success, with its light bodyweight allowing it to take on the extra mass of an estate without it becoming too lardy. Will the BMW and Mercedes estate drivers give up their German machinery for the new pretender; we think they probably will.
Adverts for the new Discovery are also appearing, despite suggestions that the car won't be around until the second or third quarter of 2004. And it looks terrific. Prices are expected to be in the 30 to 40 thousand pound range, which is a lot less than a Range Rover, for a car which in many respects isn't.
The beautiful looking Quattroporte arrives in Spring 2004, and will once again show that four door coupes can look great. The car which is going to cost around 60,000 looks a steal because it's almost as exclusive as it's sister car the Ferrari 612s and yet it will cost around a third of the cost. Don't get us wrong, it's not a 612s, and it's not a Ferrari - but it is a very nice large coupe and there's a world of difference between 60K and 180K.
The Masser will be powered by a 400bhp 4.2 litre engine driving a Maserati DuoSelect (MDS) sequential auto, and should take just 5.2 seconds for the 0-60 dash, going on to a top speed of around 170. Now in some circles, that's not a particularly impressive figure, but in the world of big automatic saloons priced under 100,000 it's not bad at all. If money were no object we'd have the Ferrari, but at this price the Maserati can afford to run with the Jags, Audis, BMWs and Mercs, and in that company it may well shine.
The beautiful SLR finally arrives with its 617bhp ready to take on the might of Ferrari and Porsche. 5.5 litres from a big V12 which sits just rear of the front wheels as dictated by current trends. With only 500 being built each year we don't expect to see many about, though there will no doubt be a queue of people with the necessary 220,000 to buy one.
Amid heaps of praise from everyone who has driven the car, there has been criticism of its braking system which is electronically controlled in an unconventional manner - the force the brakes apply, and hence the rate of deceleration varies according to how far you press the pedal, rather than how hard you push it, and most drivers found this quite difficult to get used to. Will Mercedes be forced to go back on this quaint variation on a system that has worked perfectly well for years? When they're up against the Porsche Carrera GT with its ceramic brakes, they might just be forced to, though we think they'll be pretty stubborn and stick to the guns.
The promising MG SV will launch in 2003 and join the growing line up of cars boasting a front-mid layout. A price tag of 75,000 is expected and performance should include a 0-60 time of 5.3 seconds and top speed of 170mph thanks to the big V8 which produces 320bhp from its 4.6litres. Although this should compete well with the equivalent Porsches, its clearly not enough to satisfy the designers. Despite extensive use of carbon fibre and aluminium, the car weighs in at a hefty 1540 Kg and a large part of that's due to the weighty V8. However, at 320bhp it's in a fairly low state of tune, so the good news for MG is that they can now get so much more out of the design by cranking up the engine's power, at the expense of only a modest increase in weight. The rumour is that a 400bhp version is going to be released next year, and there's talk of as much of 800bhp from the same engine using nitrous.
Britain will get an official Evo VIII to replace the 'sanctioned' grey imports that we received in 2003.
Mitsibushi's soft roader join's the fray from the start of 2004 where it faces quite a line up of competition, though most significantly the Freelander. At 18,000 it's not expensive, but we don't think it will be as desirable as the Land Rover.
We're looking forward to seeing the Boxster 550 in the flesh, as it were. The Carrera GT silver which is limited to use on this car, a small number of 911s and of course the Carrera GT itself, should look great on the Boxster. Aside from the tiny 6bhp increase in power, the changes to the Boxster 550 are mainly visiual, or include the standard inclusion of features like PSM (Porsche Stability Management) which is normally an extra on the Boxster range.
Nevertheless, the 1953 special edition 550 Boxsters that are being built will indeed be quite special. It will be interesting to see how many opt for the alternative color scheme though as the brown hood and leather seats is, to say the least, unusual.
The first production Carrera GTs made an appearance in the UK at the 2004 Autosport International show, The is identical to those demonstrated to the lucky owners to be for the first time at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2003. Porsche may have let Ferrari get away with launching the Enzo ahead of the new Porsche Supercar, but the Carrera is going to be the car to beat in 2004.
German tuning company Ruf, who have been around as long as the Porsche 911 (i.e. 40 years) have finally got a car that will bear their own name to sit alongside their special versions of Porsches. In fact the new R40 actually looks like a big brother for the Porsche Boxster, but in terms of price and performance it's considerably more than a 911. Powered by a 911 Flat Six featuring a big Turbo, the car is capable of well over 200mph and is believed to have handling to match.
2004 will be a big, big year for VW as their popular golf moves into its fifth incarnation. From the very first models, expectations for the golf have always been high, and Volkswagen have always delivered, so there's no reason to think that they won't get it right this time too. And if the A3 which appeared in 2003, and which shares the Golf's platform is anything to go by, VW Audi will have another success on their hands. All the improvements are expected to deliver, though we're slightly concerned by reports that the cabin isn't quite up to the standards set by the Mk IV. VW argue that they've spent more of the money on things that matter such as the engine and the suspension, but we feel that you spend most of your time with the car on the inside, and that's one of the most important things for any car designer to get right. Hopefully the loss of some of the nice soft touch plastics won't detract too much from the car's appeal.
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