October will be a hard month for any enthusiast to forget, most of all devotees of Lotus. For it was at this month’s Paris motor show that the new management at Hethel threw what must surely be the biggest roll of the dice in the company’s chequered history. No fewer than six cars were unveiled, from a huge four-door Aston Rapide rival called the Eterne down to a cute-looking city car. In between sat a new Elise, an Elan, an Esprit and an Elite.
If success in this business depended on bravery alone, Lotus’s future would be assured. As it is, we will all have to wait, breath bated and fingernails chewed, to see if this extraordinary gamble will pay off.
Elsewhere in the show halls, we were much struck by Renault’s cute Zoe EV, proof positive that environmentally saintly engineering and great design can co-exist in harmony.
We liked Audi’s Quattro Concept, too, especially the bit where they dropped strong hints about putting it into limited production.
Back in the UK, the test team assembled at Donington for our annual quest to find Britain’s best driver’s car. The early money was on Ferrari’s 458 but, in the end, it was comprehensively eclipsed by the sweeter-handling and scarcely slower Porsche 911 GT3 RS, and also Noble’s titanic M600.
We also had our first steer in the ‘new’ Nissan GT-R, which proved to be a little better in almost every area, an improvement for which Nissan wants a lot more money.First impressions also came of the new Ford Focus, albeit only from the passenger seat. This is the most important new Ford in years, and what struck Steve Cropley more than anything was the awesome improvement in refinement it brings. We’ll drive it early in the new year but, for now, things look promising.
What we did manage to drive was the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport, a Veyron with almost 200 extra horsepower for those happy to wager £1.6 million plus local taxes because their everyday, ho-hum, bog-standard 987bhp Veyron is just not quick enough. We were blown away by it: with its 1187bhp and a top speed of 268mph, you’d have to be dead not to.
October was also a good month for peering into the future. We brought details of the BMW X4, a smaller, more sporting crossover version of the X3 scheduled to go on sale in 2013, but perhaps more exciting still was the news that Abarth is due to be relaunched as a stand-alone brand.
To achieve this, Fiat is readying an all-new mid-engined Abarth roadster, very much in the spirit of, but absolutely not based upon, the Lotus Elise. As Lotus drives itself upmarket and away from its traditional and more affordable territory, the timing could scarcely seem better. A range of engines will be available, offering up to about 170bhp, and sales are due to start in 2013. We can hardly wait.