With the world deep in the middle of the longest recession in living memory, January didn’t prove to be the fresh and optimistic start to 2009 that we’d all hoped for. Job cuts, factory shutdowns and axed models – the month had them all.
On the back of eight consecutive months of declining new car sales, firms with UK plants – including Jaguar Land Rover, Nissan and Mini – were forced to cut jobs, reduce working hours and extend Christmas breaks. It wasn’t just UK workers who were affected, either; Toyota announced plans to close all 12 of its Japanese plants for 11 days in February and March.
Another shadow lying over the UK car industry’s new year was the future of its motor show. The organisers admitted the format needed a rethink after the lack of big-name manufacturers in 2006 and 2008, but their efforts proved fruitless.
The recession wasn’t just affecting jobs, factories and motor shows. Honda announced that all of its future rear-drive models would, like the NSX replacement, be cancelled. It had planned to launch BMW 3-series, 5-series and 7-series rivals in Europe under its Acura brand, but these were seen as the wrong cars at the wrong time. Instead, it committed to developing more hybrid models.
It wasn’t all bad news in January, though. We picked the UK’s top 10 cars, from the Hyundai i10 at one end of the scale to the Ferrari 430 Scuderia at the other. Even if car makers were busy making cuts and canning new models, it was comforting to take stock of what was currently on sale and realise things weren’t so bad after all.
Even if you did have to trade in that Bentley for a Skoda, we were as surprised as anyone to find out that the £22,000 Superb saw off its far more expensive BMW 7-series, Audi A6 and Continental Flying Spur rivals in a shock group test result.
Elsewhere, Ford’s new Fiesta comfortably saw off the challenge of its smaller Ka sibling in a twin test. Andrew Frankel found the Ka to be a “merely quite good car”, while the Fiesta was a “landmark in small car design”. Fresh from its four-star road test verdict, Audi’s new Q5 saw off the BMW X3 and Land Rover Freelander in a group test, although the Volvo XC60’s style and sophistication almost trumped it.
In the month’s most obscure twin test, Colin Goodwin pitched the Fiat Panda Cross against the Radical SR8 at Cadwell Park. With Goodwin driving the Radical, all he had to do to win was complete two laps to the one of Steve Sutcliffe in the Panda. Should have got your calculator out, Goodwin…
The month ended with a warning about the true cost of cheap tyres from the Far East. On wet roads, in particular, it was staggering to see how poor the quality was of the Chinese and Taiwanese imports against the Continental’s benchmark. The results left us hoping we’d never be following a car equipped with cheap Asian imports.