Currently reading: Autocar's 2009 review: July
Aston Cygnet, Jag XJ, 458 Italia; chaos at Porsche; Jag XFR; MG rover fallout; Half-price heroes

There were a few hours in July, after we’d been given exclusive photos and details of a new Aston Martin, when we thought Autocar’s leg was being pulled. Sure enough, the car in the pictures was in an Aston Martin studio, with model makers applying the finishing touches to a full-scale model of an Aston. Only it looked suspiciously like, and indeed was, a Toyota iQ underneath.

July 2009 in pictures

It’s no joke: the Cygnet will be Aston Martin’s new model – a £25,000 Toyota derivation sold exclusively, at first at least, to existing Aston customers.

The official line is that the Cygnet will give Aston owners the luxury they’re used to, but in a city car. The truth is that the modifications will require re-homologation, lowering the average CO2 emissions of the Aston range – which might be useful in an age where charges will be based on a manufacturer’s range average.

Ferrari and Alfa will probably get around this by being part of a larger group of companies, so the Alfa 8C Spyder and soft-top version of the Ferrari 430 Scuderia, both launched in July, are unlikely to trouble the overall average too much. Likewise the Ferrari 458 Italia, replacement for the F430, for which we received first details during the summer.

During July, too, Porsche faced the prospect of being more closely integrated with a multinational, but not in the way it had hoped. Its audacious attempt to wrest control of Volkswagen failed and, following the ousting of CEO Wendelin Wiedeking, Porsche found the boot on the other foot. Wiedeking will have to console himself with a £43m pay-off.

That figure is more, even, than the Pheonix Four took out of MG Rover before its collapse (although they say it’s closer to £30m). The results of a report by accountants BDO Stoy Hayward into the affair were released in July and promptly referred to the Serious Fraud Office, whose report would take yet more months.

However, a source formerly closely associated with MG Rover summed it up by saying, “It’s not illegal to be incompetent.” While the government was referring MG Rover’s case to the SFO, we discovered – to nobody’s great surprise – that UK diesel prices were the highest in Europe, at 103.1 pence per litre, most of which is tax.

Two significant stories came from Jaguar in July. The Gaydon-based company took the wraps off its radical new XJ saloon, which goes on sale in early 2010. And we drove an XFR to a showdown with the new Mercedes E63 AMG. The winner was the Jag – cheaper, just as fast and more agile – but the Merc also impressed with its solid delivery of performance, comfort and power.

For less money than an XFR, we discovered in our half-price heroes feature, one could have a Ferrari 550 Maranello. Halve the price again and you’re looking at a tidy Porsche 911, halve it again for a Jaguar S-Type R, almost again for a Honda S2000 and once more for a Renault Clio 172 Cup. Which, against £25k for a Toyota-built Aston Martin, looks like conspicuously good value.

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