On The Road
Automotive News and Reviews for the Petrolhead

By Garry Martin, England
Reuters Motoring Commentator

  BMW Aims to Boost Sales with New Models

BMW plans to increase sales to 1.4 million vehicles in 2008 by launching 20 new models and three new engines, a top official for the luxury carmaker says.

That's an increase of about 27 percent over its record sales of 1.1 million vehicles last year.

BMW's CEO Helmut Panke is pictured presenting the BMW X3 sports utility vehicle car during the International car show IAA in Frankfurt September"The planned investment in new models and engines will lift BMW Group to a totally new level," said Guenther Seemann, the company's new managing director for the Middle East.

Munich-based BMW has tripled the model ranges on offer since the early 1990s, and has said that its new X3 compact sports utility vehicle and 6-series coupe should help it sell more cars than ever before in 2004.

"BMW Group is to launch a total of 20 new models and three new engine series over the next four years, with the aim of increasing car sales across its premium brand range ... to 1.4 million vehicles by 2008," Seemann said, repeating a goal that appeared in the firm's 2002 annual report.

Seemann's remarks on Wednesday came in a statement issued in Kuwait City at a ceremony for the Middle East launch of BMW's revised X5 sports utility vehicle, its new smaller cousin the X3 and an all-new 6-series coupe.

Besides the BMW name in the mid-range and luxury segment, the group's various brands also include the super-luxury Rolls-Royce and the Mini hatchback in the small car segment -- a modern reincarnation of the 1960s British classic.

  Rally Around a Speedster

I'm not a great follower of the world rally scene. The thought of standing in a Welsh forest on a freezing, dark winter's night waiting for a high-speed Citroen Xsara to spray dirt in my face is not my idea of fun.

But even I have some appreciation of the rally pecking order. Right at the top sits Mitsubishi, with a fistful of titles thanks to the exploits of Tommi Makinen and a car called the Lancer Evolution.

Like the Subaru Impreza before it, Mitsubishi's rally car has become a hit with in-the-know British road car drivers. There is nothing like conquering the world's ice, gravel and mud to lend a bit of kudos to the latest turbocharged tin box. Keen drivers went to extraordinary lengths to buy into the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo cult. For many years, they had to because the UK importer did not import the car officially. As long ago as 1992, the Lancer Evo hit the rally stages and the highways around Tokyo. Since then it has undergone almost annual progressions and its iconic status has mushroomed, to the extent where a flourishing trade developed in people bringing cars over from Japan to sell on the grey market over here.

That's now all changed and the rally escapee is now on Mitsubishi's UK price list. More than that, there is now an even more extreme version specially designed for us: the FQ-300.

Catch Me If You Can

Mitsubishi's Lancer Evo, a 2.0-litre four-door saloon costing just under 30,000 pounds, can go from a standing start to 62 miles per hour in 4.9 secondsBut let me not get too far ahead. Let's get a handle on the Evo VIII first. It may be called Evolution but you have to look hard to see how the VIII has evolved from the VII. Surprisingly it was styled by a Frenchman called Olivier Boulay, who has added larger bonnet vents, smaller grille intakes, redesigned cooling ducts and a carbon fibre rear spoiler. It never was a subtle car, a point underlined by that fat, catch-me-if-you-can rear spoiler.

As I just mentioned, there are two Evos on sale: the standard one with a ?meagre' 276bhp and a new FQ-300 performance package version, developed in conjunction with the Mitsubishi World Rally Team, with a power output of more than 300bhp. A large proportion of Evo buyers opt for the FQ package, which adds 2,000 to the purchase price but persuades everyone that you haven't gone for the ?soft' version but the real, hard-core one.

It certainly feels hard-core. The first noises to emanate from under the bonnet are not especially promising: it sounds like any other shopping four-cylinder engine. Maybe a little turbo whine when you blip the throttle and a chunky sound from the exhaust, but no other hint exists of the explosion of power that awaits you.

Lift Off

Let up the very sharp clutch, floor the accelerator and your cheeks go all Yuri Gagarin, while your back is pinned to the seat like a hammer nailing a ?wanted' poster to a tree. The feel is raw: a real metal-on-metal feel as you engage with a clunk the next gear, the clutch disengages with a snap and you're back on the wave of power.

Let's get the performance into perspective. The Ferrari 360 Modena does 0-62mph in 4.5 seconds. The Lancer Evo is only just behind it at 4.9 seconds. This is a Japanese 2.0-litre four-door saloon costing 29,000, for goodness sake! It's stunningly, mercilessly, passenger-frighteningly fast.

But straight line speed is something you get used to, however fast a car might be. It's how a car goes around corners that leaves you with a lasting sense of satisfaction and entertainment: a straight is always the same, corners are always different.

Corners Nailed

So it's a delight to be able to report the Evo VIII FQ has corners nailed every bit as much as straights. The Lancer Evolution VIII has more acronyms than a business strategy meeting. It's got FWD, ACD, TCS, EBD and AYC - not just any AYC you understand, but Super AYC. So that's Four Wheel Drive, Active Centre Differential, Traction Control System, Electronic Brake Distribution and Active Yaw Control. AYC is what makes the Evo VIII truly special.

Basically it transfers more or less torque to each rear wheel depending on the demands at that precise moment. If a wheels starts to spin, or go light, Super AYC sends more torque to the other wheel. You can hear it working when you're really hammering a corner, when a strange clicking noise invades the cabin. It also functions in parallel with the active centre differential, which apportions torque between the front and rear axle in a fiendish dance of power dispersal. The basic effect is to reduce understeer and keep the car going exactly where you point it. Which it does spectacularly well.

Try as I might, I find it almost impossible to get the car to misbehave. It does, of course, but grip is finally relinquished at such insane speeds (on an airfield I hasten to add) that it's really irrelevant to road use. If you ever take the car on a track day, you may - if you're really brave - discover a small fraction of what it's capable of.

Driving the Evo smoothly is a challenge though. The turbo boost is so ferocious that if you do lift off the throttle suddenly, there is an almighty jerk. Your passengers probably won't notice - they will already be battle-scarred by the behaviour of the suspension. Springs are supposed to bounce but I detected nothing of this quality as the Evo crashed painfully over every lump in the road. Ride comfort? Not even on the options list. And as for sound deadening, I doubt there is any to speak of: every grain of gravel hitting the underside booms like fingers rapping the table when you've got a bad hangover.

All in all, the cabin is hardly the most enamouring place to spend time. Swathed in industrial quality plastics and shorn of any items of creature comfort, you know exactly where the money has been spent on this car. Despite these comments, take the Evo to an empty, twisting road in Wales and I guarantee you can forgive it anything. It's that intoxicating.

Written by Chris Rees

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Volume 10, Issue 7
February 18th 2004


The Back End
by Peter Farkas

CART and Sold
by Caroline Reid

The Readers Digest
by Karl Thoroddsen and Gabor Vizi

The Paint Job
by Bruce Thomson

2004 Countdown: Facts & Stats
by Marcel Borsboom & Marcel Schot


The F1 Trivia Quiz
by Marcel Borsboom

On the Road
by Garry Martin

Elsewhere in Racing
by David Wright & Mark Alan Jones

The Weekly Grapevine
by Dieter Rencken

  Contact the Editor

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