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Bentley to target younger customers

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Home New Bentley design boss Stefan Sielaff says the British brand must engage with a younger generation of customers, with interior design likely to be adapted firstBentley EXP 10 Speed 6

Bentley must find ways to engage with younger customers, according to new design director Stefan Sielaff.

Sielaff joined Bentley last year, but had already worked on the Bentley Speed 6 concept car and Bentayga as part of a wider role within the VW Group. In particular, the Speed 6 was seen as a test bed for a new, more youthful interpretation of Bentley’s brand values.

“To be absolutely clear, I don’t want to destroy the heritage of the brand or even harm it in any way, but as in all life we have to improve and take steps forward,” said Sielaff. “That means making the brand and its products appeal to a younger audience, from wealthy 30-year olds upwards.

“It’s not about making change for the sake of it, but about finding ways to interpret what our customers want. We have a hugely international design team here – more than 20 nationalities – and we are an international brand, and we must reflect those tastes and aspirations in our products.”

Sielaff said technology advancements were likely to trigger the biggest changes in interior design. “This is where the biggest, blockbuster change can come,” he said. “Without a tech breakthrough we will just keep reinterpreting what we have already. With an innovation we can make a step change.”

However, Sielaff denied that this meant a digitalisation of a future Bentley cabins. “Audi is about the cutting edge – Bentley is not,” he said. “We do not want to over-stress technology. It must never dominate the car, and it must always be discrete. Whatever technology we add must be available but not domineering.”

Sielaff admitted that the use of 3D printing to create complex, uniform shapes that humans couldn’t achieve – as shown in some details on the Speed 6 – was under investigation. “A very complex piece that has been machined can create emotions so long as it is heartfelt and the very best,” he said. “A Bentley will always have a unique human craftsmanship, but we can explore both areas.”

Bentley Bentayga

Bentley takes its first steps into the world of the sport utility vehicle

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New Lexus LF-FC fuel cell concept to go on sale before 2020

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Home Luxurious saloon concept features hydrogen fuel-cell powertrain and previews a future range-topping saloon

The Lexus LF-FC hydrogen fuel cell concept will spawn a production version that will go on sale before 2020, the company has confirmed.

Speaking at the launch of the LC500h hybrid performance coupé, company officials confirmed that Lexus and Toyota boss Akio Toyoda wants the car on sale by the end of the decade.

The concept, first revealed at the Tokyo motor show last year, is said to ‘offer a peek into the design and technology direction of the brand’s future flagship sedan’.

A hydrogen fuel-cell electric powertrain powers the LF-FC concept, with one motor driving the rear wheels and electricity being sent to two in-wheel electric motors at the front. Lexus says the concept’s drive system allows it to precisely distribute torque to all four wheels, resulting in ‘exceptional dynamic handling and superior road stability’.

The firm says placing the fuel cell stack at the rear of the car – with the power control unit at the front and hydrogen storage tanks in a ‘T’ configuration – allow for ‘optimal’ weight distribution for a sports saloon.

The car’s hybrid powertrain operates in one of two driving modes depending on conditions. In ‘cruising’ mode, the fuel cell stack draws on hydrogen and creates electricity to drive the motor and recharge the battery, while in ‘acceleration’ mode both the battery and the fuel cell stack are used to power the car’s main electric motor and its in-wheel electric motors for maximum power.

The four-door, four-seat concept also features several autonomous driving functions, and is said to provide ‘a safe and efficient driving experience for its occupants and supports the vision of a world without traffic accidents’.

The concept’s styling is dominated at the front by Lexus’s signature grille, as well as a long bonnnet and swooping roofline. At the rear, the concept’s futuristic rear light clusters echo those used on Toyota’s hydrogen-powered car, the Mirai.

Inside, the spacious interior features a gesture-controlled infotainment system. Holographic projections are used to direct gestures for controlling audio and ventilation functions, while the majority of information is displayed on a digital instrument cluster in front of the driver. Rear passengers also get a touchscreen interface.

Speaking at the Tokyo show, Lexus president Tokuo Fukuichi said: “Lexus wants to surprise and evoke emotion with its distinctive design and forward-thinking technology. For us, it is more than just a car, and we should exceed conventional imagination. The LF-FC expresses our progressive luxury and high-tech vision of a not so distant future.”

“The reason we are showing this car is because we are getting ready for a hydrogen-powered society.”

The production version of the LF-FC concept is likely to become a replacement for the LS luxury saloon. The new LS would compete in the same ultra-luxury market as the Audi A8, Mercedes-Benz S-Class and BMW 7-Series, and was initially tipped to be powered by a V8 hybrid powertrain with around 535bhp. Now it looks like at least one version of the LS will be offered with a hydrogen fuel cell powertrain instead, although conventional engines and hybrid setups can’t be ruled out entirely.

Lexus Europe boss Alain Uyttenhoven said that when the production version goes on sale, it will be sold in “hundreds, not tens of thousands” of units. “It will be about adapting the technology to an existing car, not a bespoke one,” he told Autocar “A first-generation premium hydrogen-powered car that won’t compete with the Mirai even – this is a different market.”

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The Lexus LS is a huge, high-quality limo. Great refinement, but high running costs.

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Smart Fortwo Cabrio Brabus set for Geneva motor show debut

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Home Uprated version of the Smart Fortwo Cabrio confirmed for Geneva motor show next month

The Smart Fortwo Cabrio Brabus will make its official debut at the Geneva motor show, Mercedes-Benz has confirmed. 

The announcement, which was made briefly in Mercedes’ pre-Geneva motor show report, confirms the debut of the Brabus-tuned Fortwo Cabrio, although reveals no further details of the car. 

As with the previous Brabus-tuned Smart Fortwo, interior and exterior styling upgrades are inevitable, with the addition of larger, Brabus alloy wheels, upgraded bodywork, a central twin exhaust and a more luxurious interior expected.

The previous Smart Fortwo Brabus produced 101bhp and 103lb ft from its Brabus-tweaked, turbocharged 999cc three-cylinder engine, which benefited from a more free-flowing exhaust and increased boost pressure. It’s likely that the new Smart Fortwo Cabrio Brabus will feature a tweaked version of the current 89bhp turbocharged 0.9-litre three-cylinder engine as the more powerful engine among the Smart range, with suspension also expected to be upgraded, as on the previous Fortwo Brabus. 

Prices are likely to carry a premium over the top-spec Fortwo Proxy, which starts at £14,500 in manual guise. Mercedes, the parent company of Smart, remains tight-lipped on exactly what Brabus has done with the Fortwo, but full details of the Smart Fortwo Cabrio Brabus will be released at the car’s official Geneva motor show debut. 

The second generation Smart Fortwo

The first-generation Smart Fortwo was launched back in 1998

It’s bigger and bolder than before, but is this new city car any better?

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2016 Ford Kuga facelift revealed

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Home Facelifted mid-size Kuga SUV gets the latest version of Ford’s Sync infotainment system and a new 1.5-litre diesel engine

The facelifted Ford Kuga SUV has been revealed, with a new diesel engine option and the latest version of its Sync infotainment service.

The updated Kuga has a more heavily sculpted bonnet which is claimed to increase pedestrian protection in the event of an accident.

Exterior styling cues have been taken from the updated EcoSport compact SUV, with new self-adjusting bi-xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights and new fog lamps, while the rear gets restyled tail-lights and a power-operated tow bar that stores itself out of sight when not in use. The tailgate can also be opened with a kicking motion below the rear bumper.

New ranges of 17- 18- and 19-inch alloy wheels are also available, while inside there are fewer buttons, a new electronic parking brake and an improved design.

For 2016 the Kuga gets a new 120bhp 1.5-litre TDCi diesel engine with front-wheel drive, which is capable of returning 64.2mpg while emitting 115g/km of CO2. A 2.0-litre TDCi diesel unit is also available with 150bhp, in either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive; it returns 60.1mpg and emits 122g/km CO2. A 180bhp Intelligent All Wheel Drive version, delivering 54.3mpg and emitting 135g/km CO2, is also available.

The 1.5-litre EcoBoost petrol unit also remains in 120bhp or 150bhp guises. An all-wheel-drive 182bhp variant of the petrol engine returns 38.2mpg and 171g/km of CO2.

The new Sync 3 system comes with an 8.0-inch touchscreen and includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality. It allows drivers to control functions using conversational voice commands. By saying ‘I need a coffee’ or ‘I need petrol,’ for example, the system will locate nearby stops.

All-wheel-drive models offer Ford’s semi-autonomous perpendicular parking technology that helps drivers to park hands-free in spaces alongside other cars. Cross traffic alert aids drivers reversing out of a parking space, while park-out assist helps drivers as they exit parallel parking spaces. A new enhanced version of Ford’s active city stop is also onboard, now operating at speeds up to 31mph – an increase of 12mph.

The facelifted Kuga will go on sale in the UK in October.

Danni Bagnall

Ford Kuga

Ford’s targeting a class above with its bigger Kuga

The new, second-generation Ford Kuga sets a new sporting benchmark among crossovers

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Lexus LFA successor put on hold in favour of ‘affordable performance’

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A successor to the Lexus LFA supercar could be built – but Lexus Europe boss Alain Uyttenhoven says the firm’s current focus is on creating more affordable performance cars with widespread appeal than thinking about a successor to its flagship supercar.

Speaking at the unveiling of the LC500h in Holland, at which the LFA was regularly cited as an engineering and design inspiration, Uyttenhoven said: “It is possible that we will one day create another supercar, but in my view a super-high-end machine is not what we need right now.”

Production of the supercar was limited to 500 units and it went off sale in 2012. 

“The trouble with such cars is that they tend to be cherished and garaged rather than seen on the roads. We are entering more emotional territory and we want our cars to be seen. What the LFA taught us was that Lexus needs to be selling cars on emotional, not just rational, ideas,” he added.

“The LFA is an icon now and possibly always – we don’t need to replace it to keep that status. It is a car we can reference for another 25 years if we choose. Its status is assured. But what’s clear is that we can create similar emotion in more attainable cars, and that is our focus now.

“For the future, who knows? I’m not saying we won’t do another LFA. I just don’t know. But I am certain that we will surprise you in the future with the cars we have planned.”

See more of the Lexus LFA in our videos below.

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New Alfa Romeo SUV could be called Stelvio

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Home Autocar sources confirm that Alfa Romeo’s first SUV model could be called the Stelvio when it goes on sale

The upcoming Alfa Romeo SUV could take the Stelvio name when it goes on sale in the UK in 2016-17.

Autocar sources in Italy have confirmed that Stelvio is one of a number of names under consideration for the new SUV, which is intended to rival the likes of the BMW X3 and Land Rover Discovery Sport. While no final decisions have been made, the Stelvio name is understood to be a front-runner in the eyes of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles boss Sergio Marchionne.

The new SUV has been spotted testing numerous times in the run up to its market launch, and its interior has been spotted in production form thanks to a photo released by FCA’s head of design Ralph Gilles. The photo revealed that the SUV’s dashboard is similar to that of the new Giulia.

Both models are to be built upon FCA’s new modular platform, and as such are expected to share some design features.

The crossover is expected to share its engines with the Giulia saloon, meaning a 2.2-litre diesel and 2.0-litre petrol engine will likely be available in various states of tune. The twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 from the range-topping Quadrifoglio Verde could also feature with as much as 503bhp.

Alfa Romeo CEO Harald Wester hinted at the importance of entering the crossover market last year, telling Autocar’s Steve Cropley: “You can remain pure and ignore the crossover trend, but if you do, you can look forward to a beautiful death”.

FCA’s modular platform will also spawn a larger, BMW 5 Series-rivalling model, that will then follow suit of the Giulia, as well as two more ‘utility vehicles’ which will be larger and smaller than the new SUV respectively. Two more ‘speciality’ models complete Alfa Romeo’s product plans.

The new SUV is one of several Alfa Romeo models which have been pushed back or delayed. FCA’s original plan called for seven new Alfas following the Giulia to be on sale before 2018, but in a presentation to investors in January, FCA confirmed that the planned product range would now not be completed until 2020.

Testing images

The images in our gallery of a camouflaged test mule reveal provided our first glimpse of Alfa Romeo’s two new SUV models testing in Italy.

The larger SUV is expected to be twinned with the upcoming Maserati Levante, although the Alfa will get its own exterior and interior design. The smaller Alfa SUV seen here will be twinned with upcoming Fiat and Jeep medium-sized SUVs and use the same basic structure – though engines and transmissions will differ.

Although this engineering car is a heavily chopped-about Fiat 500L, it’s thought to be a testbed for those Alfa Romeo engines and transmissions. The mule’s extended rear overhang is necessary to accommodate the production Alfa’s exhaust system.

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Video: New Mercedes-Benz E-Class in detail

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2016 Maserati Levante SUV shown in official images

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The exterior design of the new Maserati Levante SUV has been revealed in official images released by the Italian manufacturer ahead of the car’s official debut at the Geneva motor show next month.

Maserati issued the pictures in reaction to leaked versions of the images which were originally published on a Dutch news website and later circulated online.

The manufacturer confirmed a few snippets of technical information about the new model, stating that its “chassis is designed to combine the outstanding on-road performance typical of every Maserati with unrivalled handling even on very low-grip surfaces and an excellent off-road performance and ride”.

All versions of the Levante will feature sophisticated electronic suspension with controlled damping and adjustable air springs, Maserati’s ‘Q4’ all-wheel drive system and an eight-speed automatic transmission calibrated specifically for the SUV.

Maserati has confirmed that the Levante – which has recently been spied testing – will be offered with a choice of petrol or diesel powerplants. However, the unofficial leaked information goes into more detail, suggesting that at least two petrol and one diesel version of the Levante will be available at launch.

It reports that both the Levante 350 and the Levante 430 will use the same 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine that already features in the Ghibli and Quattroporte. The Levante 350 is claimed to be capable of covering 0-62mph in 6.3sec with a top speed of 151mph, while the Levante 430 can manage the 0-62mph sprint in 5.2sec and goes on to a top speed of 164mph.

The diesel engine is also a 3.0-litre V6, and can cover 0-62mph in 6.9sec before hitting its top speed of 143mph.

As well as these powertrains, the Levante is likely to borrow the Quattroporte’s V8 engine in a range-topping performance version. A plug-in hybrid version of the Levante is also planned.

The images reveal that the new Levante features a dramatically sculpured bonnet with a bold interpretation of Maserti’s front grille, a new design of tapered headlights split into two elements and large front air intakes. Maserati’s trademark three air vents feature on the front wings, while there are frameless door windows, a trapezoidal C-pillar featuring the Saetta logo seen on the Ghibli and other Maseratis, a spoiler mounted at the top of the boot and four exhaust exits.

There are also stylistic nods to 2011’s Kubang concept car, which first signalled Maserati’s intent to enter the SUV market.

Also among the leaked images, but not included in the official ones issued by Maserati, is a look at the new car’s interior, which includes steering-wheel mounted paddles for the automatic transmission and a large central infotainment screen.

The launch of the Levante is a crucial moment for Maserati, as the firm looks to capitalise on the profitable and growing luxury SUV market. The Levante will compete with the likes of the Porsche Cayenne, BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz GLE and Audi Q5. The Levante could quickly become Maserati’s biggest seller, as the firm looks to grow sales to 70,000 units by 2018.

Speaking to Autocar, Maserati boss Harald Wester confirmed that the Levante would be priced to sit in between the £53,580 and the £81,660 Quattroporte. A starting price of around £65,000 is likely.

The first examples of the Maserati Levante have already rolled off of the Mirafiori production line in Turin, Italy.

Read more Geneva motor show news

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