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Smart price rises lessens appeal



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South Korean manufacturers have new models to challenge European performance cars. The 'ultimate' Subaru Impreza, the WRX STi (here in January) is expected to cost around £30,000 and will produce more than 260bhp, for a 0-60mph of 5.2 seconds and a 148mph top speed. Seventeen-inch wheels house larger Brembo-supplied brakes, while suspension is also uprated, with limited-slip differentials and a faster steering rack. Such improvements should offer stiff competition to Mitsubishi's Evo VII, reaching the UK at around the same time at a similar cost.

The svelte new Hyundai coupe will offer 'Ferrari style for family saloon' prices from February. It is longer, wider and taller than the outgoing model, and now offers a V6 engine option. The 2.7-litre unit produces 171bhp, and complements the existing 1.6-litre and 2-litre units. Prices will start at £14,000, with the top-spec V6 at no more than £19,000. Standard equipment on all models will include air conditioning, ABS, CD player and alloy wheels.

Porsche's new Carrera 4S combines the turbo's wide body with Carrera 4 running gear, creating the 'ultimate' non-turbo 911. Four-wheel-drive, Porsche Stability Management and a unique red lamp strip across the rear are all standard, along with the 320hp 3.6-litre engine of latest Carreras. Prices are yet to be finalised, but expect a retail price below £65,000 when it arrives in early 2002. Jaguar's XKR convertible is £63,350.

A total of 1,265 improvements to Saab's 9-5 are said to boost economy, standard equipment and refinement. The new range, on sale from October 1, opens with the £21,395 2.0t Linear model, which features new 16-inch alloys and a leather steering wheel for no price increase. The sporty Vector models cost £300 less (from £23,595) despite the addition of new 17-inch alloys, improved sports seats and metal facia trim. In comparison, Audi's A6 range includes the £21,750 1.8T, and £22,500 1.8T Sport. The range-topping Aero now retails from £28,895 which represents a £1,000 increase, though Saab says added-value is £1,750 – there's an extra 20bhp, new leather sports seats and ESP stability control. Estates cost an extra £1,200 over the saloons, £100 less than Audi's Avant premium.

Peugeot has also mildly revised the 406 range, and added an efficient new 2-litre direct-injection petrol engine. With carbon emissions of 177g/km and a 37.6mpg average, it is sure to become a company car park favourite –prices start at £17,395 for the HPi GLX.

Ford's class-leading 2-litre Mondeo, in comparison, starts at £16,095, averages 35.8mpg, and produced 190g/km of CO2. Other improvements include the option of automatic transmission for the 2.0-litre HDi diesel engine. The added convenience barely affects fuel economy – it still averages 43.5mpg – and costs an extra £1,100.

Right-hand-drive versions of the Smart City arrive in November. Prices are steeper – £6,295 for Smart & Pure, £7,295 for Smart & Pulse, and £7,995 for Smart & Passion. These represent increases of £595, £695 and £795 respectively over left-hand-drive variants, and make larger cars such as Citroen's £5,940 Saxo First and Fiat's £5,940 Seicento 1.1 S appear fine value. The City Passion cabariolet now costs £9,995 – an increase of £635, with heated seats moved to the option list. A Ford Ka Sun Collection, with extra-large sunroof, costs £8,560.

First drive: Smart ForTwo – on sale September

Few cars are as distinctive as the Smart ForTwo. The original model drew a storm of publicity when it entered the UK new car market in 2000 – initially in left-hand drive.

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