27 October 1995

Load carriers pile in

By Peter Jones

COUNTRY people will remember the 1995 London Motor Show (Earls Court until Oct 29) for its rich harvest of mid-sized estates.

Last year it was MPVs and 4x4s. This year it is Mondeo-sized load carriers. And Ford, holding the lions share of the market, will be looking over its shoulder.

In come Citroens Xantia (Coun-try Car, Oct 20) and Renaults Laguna estates – both exceptional lookers and roomier than the opposition. Both undercut the range leader on comparable price.

Other contenders at Earls Court, from opposite ends of the price list, were BMWs 3-series Touring, with 12% more space than its predecessor and priced from £17,930, and a more powerful Skoda Felicia estate. The new Felicia is the first to have parent company VWs 1.6-litre 76hp engine under its bonnet. It arrives here in January and is likely to be priced at under £10,000.

Further estate car competition from the big fleet makers is due in the UK next year, with the launch of estate versions of Vauxhalls Vectra and Peugeots 406.

Heading into 4×4 territory, Subaru displayed its vision of future four-wheel-drive motoring, the Streega sports estate. Based on the rallying success, the Impreza, it uses the firms 2-litre "boxer" engine which puts out 240hp. Traction control, viscous couplings and limited slip diff help to make the most of that power.

This continuing investment in 4×4 technology is based on the still buoyant state of the off-roader market. And there is little indication that this trade is easing off.

SsanYong is so chuffed at selling its 1995 target of 1000 Mussos in less than five months that it has scheduled a shorter-wheelbase KJ version – also British designed – for spring 97. This Frontera Sport-sized model, which will come with limited slip diff and traction control, uses the Mussos 94hp 2.9-litre Mercedes diesel, along with the option of a 217hp 3.2-litre 24-valve Mercedes petrol motor. Three-door hard- or soft-tops will be available.

Chrysler Jeep is following up its runaway sales success – 14,000 Cherokees sold so far – with the launch of its 4×4 flagship, the Grand Cherokee and Americas most luxurious 4×4.

Attacking the top end of the market, and with 500,000 sales worldwide behind it, the right-hand-drive version built in Graz, Austria, has a 174hp six-cylinder petrol engine and permanent four-wheel-drive. Priced at £29,000, it again substantially undercuts much of the opposition.

Toyotas Hi-lux, the worlds most popular 4×4 pick-up, appeared at Earls Court as a five-seater doublecab. This passenger-carrying pick-up "steals" 750mm from the pick-up bed length and costs £16,486 including VAT.

Diesel differences for 1995/96 include Nissans Patrol, which now has a new 113hp 2.8-litre turbo-diesel, in addition to the existing 4.2-litre unblown unit. And Suzukis Vitara gets a long overdue dose of diesel next spring, when a five-door turbodiesel is due to arrive in the UK. &#42