Champions League 2017: when cars play football

This weekend, all footballing roads – or more specifically the M4 and A48 – lead to Cardiff as the Uefa Champions League bandwagon rolls into town. At the end of the day – read: 19:45 – Juventus and Real Madrid will kick-off with high hopes of scooping Europe’s biggest prize since Amar Pelos Dois won the hearts of Kiev.

These days, football and cars are as intertwined as Cristiano Ronaldo’s Ferrari 599 GTB and the tunnel beneath Manchester Airport. In Cheshire, (dis)tastefully modified cars are as common as fake tan, must-have handbags and sunnies the size of dinner plates.

But while it’s easy to poke fun at footballing car culture – hat tip to Stephen Ireland for services to the industry – the fact remains that football is big business for the car industry. And that’s not a throwaway cliché, Clive.

The Champions League gives 110%

Nissan certainly thinks so, which is why you’re forced to endure endless ads when Gary, Jake and co. have finished over-analysing misplaced passes with old pros. The Japanese firm signed a four-year Uefa Champions League sponsorship deal in 2014, reported to be worth €54.5 (£45m), replacing Ford, which had sponsored the tournament for 22 years.

Whichever way you look at it, that’s an awful lot of Nissan Micras. Or 3,750 base-spec models, to be precise.Champions League 2017: when cars play football

For Nissan, the benefits are obvious. Around 200 million fans are expected to watch the final on June 3, not to mention the countless others who have tuned in since the tournament kicked off back in June 2016. Although quite how many cars Nissan sold off the back of The New Saints vs. Tre Penne is anybody’s guess.

“The Champions League has massive power in terms of views that it can give us,” Jean-Pierre Diernaz, vice president for marketing, Nissan Europe, told the BBC in 2016.

“We are a growing brand around the world, but with the exception of Japan, and possibly the US, we are a challenger brand. To go a step further we need to grow awareness. The Champions League has massive power in terms of views that it can give us.

“It is working in terms of making sure our brand is growing,” the Frenchman said.

Interbrand’s Top 100 Best Global Brands ranks Nissan as number 43, with the brand valued at $11.066m in 2016, an increase of 22%. Messrs Iniesta, Thiago Silva and Aguero kicking a ball about in a studio are doing more than just bookending the commercial break.

A game of two halves

But the car industry’s involvement with the Champions League final goes far deeper than Yaya Touré kicking a football through the roof of a Nissan X-Trail. Real Madrid vs. Juventus presents a compelling automotive sideshow in Ingolstadt vs. Michigan. Or Audi vs. Jeep.

Audi calls itself a “partner of premier international clubs” and has been the vehicle partner of Real Madrid since 2003. The internet is awash with photos of players smiling gleefully at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu as they’re presented with the keys to their new highly-specced Audi.

Hats off to the Audi PR team for convincing Ronaldo to risk a moment of ‘helmet hair’ in the name of corporate sponsorship. He’s probably just thankful that he escaped the possibility of being given a club Chevrolet when he left Manchester United. Hard luck, Rooney, De Gea, et al.Champions League 2017: when cars play football

Not that Audi is a one-club company. Its sponsorship of FC Ingolstadt 04 is understandable, as are its links with Bayern Munich – that must sting, BMW – but a partnership with FC Barcelona? Proof that business is more important than fierce rivalries. When sponsorship deals get Messi…

Jeep: a no-nonsense player

Jeep’s sponsorship of the ‘Old Lady’ dates back to the 2012-2013 season when it signed an initial three-year deal worth €35m, or €11.7m per season. To outsiders, seeing the famous Jeep logo adorning the equally famous black and white stripes of Juve might seem like just another sponsorship deal, but to car enthusiasts and those with a thing for economics, the link is more obvious.

Juventus is controlled by the billionaire Agnelli family, the investment company with a 29.41% share in Fiat and a 22.91% share in Ferrari. In 2015, the Fiat-founding family signed a merger agreement with Chrysler, which created Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and created an indirect link between the American SUV brand and the city of Turin.

Not that Juventus has encountered anything other than smooth roads this season. Having secured the Serie A title, Juve made light work of Barcelona at the quarter final stage and saw off the attacking threat of Monaco in the semis as the Italians marched to the final in Cardiff.Champions League 2017: when cars play football

Top, top cars

Victory at the National Stadium of Wales – Uefa regulations prevent it being called the Principality Stadium – would net the winning team €15.5m, while the other finalist will receive €11m. Enough for the clubs to pick and choose from their corporate sponsor’s range of vehicles.

Leaving aside the fact that the players are given the keys to the cars of their respective club sponsors, you’re unlikely to see Ronaldo splashing out on a new Q2 or Buffon spending any time using the Renegade online configurator. The players can pick and choose from the world’s elite range of supercars.

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The animal arrive👍🔝

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Cristiano Ronaldo’s car collection has been well documented and includes a Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport Vitesse he bought to celebrate winning Euro 2016 with Portugal. He announced the purchase on Instagram with the simple caption: “The animal arrive.”

Not to be outdone by his Real Madrid teammate, Karim Benzema often arrives at training in a black and chrome Bugatti Veyron. Meanwhile, Toni Kroos drives a Ferrari 488 GTB.

Welshman Gareth Bale, who is hoping to recover from an injury to play in the Cardiff final, reportedly gave up driving supercars because he believed it was the root cause of a succession of hamstring injuries. Bale was a member of a £30,000-a-year supercar club.Champions League 2017: when cars play football

Legendary Italian ’keeper, Gianluigi Buffon is unlikely to suffer any supercar-related injuries ahead of the Champions League final. The 39-year-old Italian is more interested in clean sheets than expensive motors, choosing to squeeze his 6ft 3in frame into a Fiat 500. In his first year as a pro he’d turn up at training riding a Vespa. Once a legend, always a legend.

Predictability, many of Buffon’s teammates at Juve don’t share his love of mundane motors, with some opting to keep it in the family by driving a Ferrari. For Dani Alves it’s an FF, Leonardo Bonucci drives an F12berlinetta, while Claudio Marchisio has chosen a 599 GTO.

At the end of the day…

Not that this precludes the Juve players from partaking in the odd promotional job for Jeep. “Smile and think of the paycheque,” mutters Giorgio Chiellini as he manages something that might pass as a grin. Almost.Champions League 2017: when cars play football

Come Saturday evening, Juventus will be all smiles if they overturn the odds by beating the favourites Real Madrid. Will Italian-American grit triumph over German precision engineering in the battle of the sponsors, or will the Japanese score on the break?

It’s back to you in the studio, Gary.

Hyundai Kona

New Hyundai Kona crossover teased

[fusion_text]It’s coming soon.

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Ultimate road test: 25 cars in one day

Ultimate road test 2017Imagine a test-track with more than 150 new cars, each parked with keys in the ignition. Choose whatever takes your fancy, then simply jump in and drive. That’s the reality of SMMT Test Day, the annual road-test event organised by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

Now, we like a challenge, so we decided to see how many cars we could drive and review in one day. From an Aston Martin V12 Vantage S to a ‘classic’ Kia Pride, nothing was off-limits. The MR team comprised Richard Aucock (RA), John Redfern (JR) and Tim Pitt (TP), plus help from Mark Thomson of Tame Geek (MT).

Read on to see our highs and lows of SMMT 2017.

Mercedes-AMG E63 SUltimate road test 2017

Let’s start with one of the fastest cars of the day. Ballistic, bombastic, bahnstorming and more than a little bonkers, the E63 S is Stuttgart’s latest salvo in the super-saloon arms race. It packs a 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8, producing 612hp and a monstrous 627lb ft of torque.

On Millbrook’s high-speed bowl, the muscle-Merc accelerates from 100mph with more conviction than a Porsche Boxster at half that speed. It also has a drift mode, which we weren’t allowed to switch on. Probably for the best… (TP)

Lexus GS FUltimate road test 2017

How about another rear-wheel-drive super saloon? The naturally-aspirated 5.0-litre V8 in the Lexus GS F produces 467hp at a rev-tastic 7,100rpm, while torque is 391lb ft. That second figure seems low in a car that weighs over 1,800kg.

Unlike many of its rivals, the GS F needs to be worked hard to get the best from it. Only at the upper reaches of the rev range does it feel properly fast; you need to cling on to gears before pulling that paddle. Unmuffled by turbochargers, the GS F sounds intense. (JR)

Jaguar F-Pace SUltimate road test 2017

What to do when you want a luxury executive saloon, but with a driving position higher than everyone else? The answer used to be ‘buy a BMW X5’. Now, it seems everybody wants a Jaguar F-Pace.

Given the way it handles like a sports saloon and the 3.0-litre V6 diesel slingshots you between corners, the F-Pace makes a very convincing alternative to other similarly-priced saloons and SUVs. (MT)

Mitsubishi StarionUltimate road test 2017

According to automotive folklore, the Mitsubishi Starion got its name because Japanese engineers couldn’t pronounce the word ‘stallion’. Wide of wheelarch and squat of stance, this 80s throwback – part of Mitsubishi UK’s heritage fleet – looked fabulous in the scorching SMMT Day sun.

Despite those INTERCOOLER TURBO stickers, however, the 30-year-old Starion seems slow by modern standards. On Millbrook’s tortuously twisty city course, it felt cumbersome and uninvolving – not the ‘Japanese Porsche 944’ I’d hoped for. Like shell suits and shoulder pads, perhaps the Starion is best left in the past? (TP)

Audi TT RS CoupeUltimate road test 2017

Locked in continuous battle with the Porsche Cayman, the latest Audi TT RS has gained more oomph from its 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo engine. Peak power is now a faintly ridiculous 394hp, with torque a chunky 354lb ft. Naturally, a Quattro 4WD system is standard, as is a seven-speed S Tronic semi-automatic gearbox.

Reaching 62mph takes just 3.7 seconds in the TT RS, and it feels every bit as quick as that claim. Bar some minor turbo lag, the TT RS fires on relentlessly, feeling almost hamstrung by the confines of Millbrook’s Alpine route. The exhaust note is a fitting reminder as to why five cylinders are inherently better than four. (JR)

Audi R8 SpyderUltimate road test 2017

The Audi R8’s 540hp 5.2-litre V10 is one of the best-sounding engines available: FACT. So why wouldn’t you give your eardrums unfettered access to that red-blooded howl by choosing the Spyder version? These are the important consumer questions we’re here to answer.

So yes, it sounds fabulous – even if that popping, belching exhaust alerts Millbrook’s over-zealous marshals even time I tickle the right pedal. What struck me most, though, is how easy the R8 is to drive. With light steering and a semi-auto ’box, it’s docile at low speed – yet savagely quick when the traffic clears. (TP)

Volvo V90 R-DesignUltimate road test 2017

Well, I can safely say that I didn’t expect to drive home from SMMT Test Day wishing I was making the five-hour trip in a Volvo. But the V90 is a genuinely handsome car – and a fantastic place to be.

With a twin-turbo four-cylinder diesel engine, four-wheel drive and an eight-speed gearbox, the V90 feels like a car that will offer you decades of style and comfort. (MT)

Rover 45Ultimate road test 2017

Apparently, this is Britain’s cheapest car. A motoring writer bought it on eBay for £3.19, which, he told me, is the same price as a jar of mayonnaise in his local supermarket. “Ironic, really, given the Rover K-Series’ propensity to blow its head gasket.”

Go on – you’re thinking it was horrendous, aren’t you? Actually no, it was much more solid, rattle-free and robust than I expected. It didn’t feel like a car on its last legs, rather a perfectly inoffensive hack to get you to the station and back for the price of a coffee once you actually get to said station. A geriatric gem. (RA)

Porsche Panamera TurboUltimate road test 2017

Praise be, Porsche has finally designed a Panamera that isn’t offensively ugly. And the Turbo has the coolest rear spoiler since the original 930 Turbo whale tail. There’s also the small matter of 550hp, which equates to 62mph in 3.8 seconds and a 190mph VMax. That’s one seriously hot hatch.

At this point, I should probably admit to being a fully-paid-up Porsche fanatic. But even so, the Panamera Turbo was genuinely the most impressive car I drove all day. Switching drive modes from Normal to Sport Plus utterly transforms its character, from comfortable cruiser to savage supercar-slayer. (TP)

Aston Martin DB11Ultimate road test 2017

The car in the highest level of demand all day was, unsurprisingly, an Aston Martin. The DB11 is an all-new car from the ground up and feels it. Its twin-turbo V12 delivers 608hp and 516lb ft of torque to the rear wheels via an eight-speed gearbox.

This drivetrain, combined with an excellently-appointed cabin, allows the DB11 to shift from long-range grand tourer to corner-conquering supercar with the press of two buttons. It’s a bona fide British hero. (MT)

Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT 6.4 V8 HemiUltimate road test 2017

Does anybody really need an SUV with 475hp and 460lb ft? Perhaps not, but the SRT Hemi dishes up a super-sized slice of American pie. A 4WD system helps control all that power, while the automatic gearbox has a launch mode setting. Braking is via a suitably huge Brembo set-up.

Predictably, the Hemi engine dominates proceedings, hoofing the Grand Cherokee along with a V8 bellow. We were confined to the high-speed bowl with this one, so couldn’t test how well it fared beyond straight-line drag races. Circling the bowl also highlighted that the SRT’s interior won’t be giving BMW or Mercedes-Benz sleepless nights. (JR)

Subaru BRZUltimate road test 2017

Being crowned Jeremy Clarkson’s car of the year clearly didn’t do the Toyota GT86 many favours – it remains a rare sight on UK roads. And the Subaru BRZ version is even rarer. Which is a shame, because the Toyobaru is still, for our money, the best budget driver’s car on sale.

It’s easy to get fixated on how readily – and enthusiastically – the BRZ goes sideways. That’s all good fun, of course, but it’s the sublime steering and chassis balance that really excites. I can ignore the rubbish infotainment system, and the fact that it’s pricier than an MX-5. For now, I just want to keep driving. (TP)

Ford Focus RSUltimate road test 2017

Unless you happened to be living ‘off-grid’ during 2016, you’ll know the Mk3 Focus RS was the single most talked- and written-about car last year. Still, in case you missed it, the key facts are a 2.3-litre Ecoboost turbo engine (shared with the Mustang), six-speed manual gearbox and – for the first time in a Focus RS – power going to all four wheels.

The RS is truly a car that more than matches the hype surrounding it, with feelsome steering, nimble turn-in, a confidence-inspiring 4WD system and an engine that just keeps pushing. The pops and bangs from the exhaust system only add to the sense of riotous fun. Unquestionably deserving of its RS badge. (JR)

Mazda MX-5 1.5Ultimate road test 2017

The world’s best-selling sports car returns for its fourth act, with Mazda taking inspiration from the lightweight original. It isn’t quite a Lotus Elise, but the MX-5 – in entry-level 1.5-litre spec – is about as basic as ‘mainstream’ cars get. And all the better for it.

Driving the MX-5 back-to-back with the Subaru BRZ was an interesting – if unplanned – twin-test. The Mazda is markedly slower, but feels lighter on its feet; few cars change direction so keenly. Highlights include a super-slick gearshift and pedals that are perfectly spaced for heel-and-toe ’changes. Nonetheless, it’s still the BRZ for me. (TP)

Mazda MX-5 RF 2.0Ultimate road test 2017

Intended to be the practical and grown-up version of the MX-5, RF stands for Retractable Fastback. Gone is the folding soft-top, replaced by a folding metal roof, along with some neat flying buttresses on the rear deck. However, it comes at a cost of 40kg extra weight in this diminutive sports car.

Perhaps it was too much sun, or too much exposure to turbocharged engines, but the 160hp MX-5 RF seemed notably sedate when tackling the steep climbs of the Millbrook hill route. At least working the six-speed manual gearbox was a pleasant affair, while the delicate handling and quick steering made the twisty bits fun. Wind noise was also rather apparent, despite the RF being the ‘refined’ MX-5. (JR)

MINI John Cooper Works ChallengeUltimate road test 2017

Limited to just 52 examples, the JCW Challenge is MINI raiding the aftermarket parts bin for the best components. Nitron supplies the adjustable suspension, Team Dynamics the lightweight wheels and Michelin the Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres. There’s also an exhaust system, controlled by Bluetooth, that’s so loud it’s not meant for road use.

Describing something as ‘go-kart-like’ is a horrible cliché, but it’s almost impossible to avoid with the JCW Challenge. The steering is so direct and immediate on turn-in, the comparison feels almost inevitable. The exhaust is very loud, while the limited-slip differential is brutal in deploying 228hp through the front wheels. (JR)

Kia PrideUltimate road test 2017

Don’t laugh. The Pride was the first supermini Kia sold in the UK and it wasn’t half bad. In truth, the Pride was simply a rebadged Mazda 121 (Ford Festiva in some markets), but it did have the unique option of whitewall tyres – sadly not fitted here.

Hammering around the hill route in the Kia, Aston DB11 looming large in my mirrors, will be my abiding memory of Test Day 2017. There’s just something about driving the doorhandles off a small, underpowered car. Was it comfortable? Was it practical? Should you buy one? No idea, I was just trying – desperately hard – to avoid being overtaken. (TP)

Audi S4Ultimate road test 2017

The new Audi S4 couldn’t be any more ‘Q car’ if it tried. With almost every option available fitted here, it comes to more than £55,000. Which makes it a somewhat decadent purchase.

If you do make that choice, though, you will be rewarded with an executive saloon that holds its own against most sports cars, but then allow you cruise home in comfort and style. (MT)

Ford Mustang 2.3 Ecoboost convertibleUltimate road test 2017

The Mustang’s 2.3-litre four-cylinder Ecoboost engine is the sensible way to own a muscle car. With 313hp and 319lb ft of torque, it promises the performance of a V6, but with downsized turbo engine economy. This should, in theory, be the perfect Mustang for the UK.

It might be the Mustang you should buy, but it’s hard to see this as the one you’d truly want. Despite feeling bombastic in the Focus RS, the Ecoboost engine seems strangely devoid of character here. Although hardly slow, the lack of theatre is disappointing. If you’re going to buy a drop-top Mustang, the 5.0-litre V8 really needs to be beneath that long bonnet. (JR)

Volkswagen Golf GTIUltimate road test 2017

The most obvious update for the Mk7.5 Golf GTI is Active Info Display: VW’s take on Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, which replaces the dials with a configurable 12.3-inch screen. Also nicked from Audi are the pointless-but-cool ‘dynamic’ rear indicators, while restyled bumpers and new alloys complete the changes.

I’ve owned numerous Golf GTIs over the years, and a five-door Mk5 GTI is the current Pitt family wagon. So it’s fair to say I’m a fan of these cars. Like its predecessors, the new GTI doesn’t instantly wow you. But it feels like a car that would win your affections over thousands of miles – just like my trusty Mk5. (TP)

Volkswagen e-GolfUltimate road test 2017

Electricity is the future of motoring and, after all VW has been though with diesel, they are pushing forward with electrification. If the e-Golf is any indication, the future will great.

The e-Golf feels oddly but enjoyably light to drive. It rewards you with instant torque, meaning at no point does it feel slow or underpowered. How long before we see an electric Golf GTI? (MT)

Aston Martin V12 Vantage SUltimate road test 2017

I rounded off my day at Millbrook with the Aston Martin V12 Vantage S – this one fitted with a dog-leg seven-speed manual gearbox. The on-paper stats are impressive: 573hp, 3.9 seconds to 62mph and 205mph flat-out. The interior looks hopelessly dated, but that’s soon forgotten when you fire-up the thunderous V12.

For the uninitiated, a dog-leg gearbox means first is down and across, where reverse might normally be. This makes the Vantage awkward to get going, but no matter: there’s more than enough torque to start in second gear. Indeed, I manage a – pretty swift – lap of the hill route without shifting out of fourth gear. You can’t do that in a Kia Pride. (TP)

Mercedes-Benz E 220d CoupeUltimate road test 2017

I hopped up to Merc trying to get hold of a V6 petrol. I drove off in a four-cylinder diesel. Short straw? If it were the old 2.1-litre diesel, maybe. But this all-new 2.0-litre turbodiesel is one of the best oil-burners Benz has made. And the E Coop itself is lovely.

It was scorching hot, so I needed to cool off. Thus, after a forgettable couple of laps of the hill course, I hit the high-speed bowl, set the cruise at 100mph and chillaxed. It was bliss. An archetypal Mercedes-Benz in all the best ways. (RA)

Volvo S90 D4 R-DesignUltimate road test 2017

The saloon brother to the V90 estate, the S90 is a truly giant four-door. D4 spec means a 2.0-litre diesel with 188hp and 295lb ft of torque, powering the front wheels through an eight-speed automatic gearbox. But this car isn’t about speed. Rather, it’s an alternative to the obvious German choices.

Calm, soothing, and tranquil. Somehow the S90 manages to make everything in the world seem fine once you’re behind the wheel. It may not have been the fastest or most powerful car I tested, but it was a strong favourite for the one I’d take home. (JR)

Porsche 911 Carrera GTSUltimate road test 2017

The 911 was quite a tease, given that it was the shortest drive of the day – clocking in at total of 30 yards due to the Alpine course being closed early. In that brief distance however, I can confirm that the GTS sounds great at low speeds, has a very well-appointed cabin and a responsive throttle. After the slowest doughnut ever, there’s not much more to say except that the 911 feels every bit the super sports car at all times. Ahem. (MT)

Volkswagen praised for being a safety trailblazer

Volkswagen TransporterVolkswagen is fitted autonomous emergency braking (AEB) to every new van it sells in Britain from 1 June 2017, a move independent research group Thatcham is describing as ‘trailblazing’. Some figures suggest AEB cuts rear-end crashes by almost 40 percent – so VW’s decision could save 100 lives and 120,000 injuries in the next decade.

It beats talking about dieselgate. 

Every new VW Caddy, Transporter and Crafter will now get AEB, technology that VW says will also help reduce third party injury insurance claims by 45 percent. That doesn’t only mean less downtime as a result of accidents, it also means a 10 percent reduction in insurance costs. 

“Volkswagen is a trailblazer and should be applauded for being the first manufacturer to fit AEB as standard on all their vans in the UK,” said Thatcham Research chief executive Peter Shaw. “We are seeing a year on year rise in deaths and serious injuries involving vans, which this technology can help avoid.

“It is shocking that AEB, a proven lifesaving technology, has not been widely available to van owners or drivers until now.” 

What is AEB?

Autonomous emergency braking uses radar to monitor what’s in front of the vehicle. If it detects the risk of a collision, it first alerts the driver with a bleep and a flashing red icon. If the driver doesn’t respond, it gives a shot of full braking power to alert them – full braking power is then available when the driver actually does hit the brakes. 

The system includes City Emergency Braking as well. At speeds of less than 18mph, full braking power will be applied automatically if the driver doesn’t respond. Volkswagen says ideally, this means the system would brake the vehicle to a halt before it reaches the obstacle detected, thus avoiding a collision. 

More vans on Motoring Research


New Hyundai Kona crossover teased ahead of June debut

Hyundai KonaHyundai has provided the clearest glimpse yet of its new Kona small crossover, in a new video that provides yet another indicator it might be a little more avant-garde than the firm’s usual restrained look.

Set to be revealed on 13 June, the Nissan Juke-rivalling Kona will be based on the same platform as the i20 supermini, but is set to be rather more distinctive in appearance. ‘Voluminous’ and ‘aggressive’ is how Hyundai describes the styling, with ‘sleek and sharp shapes’ and a ‘strong and confident’ presence. Which sounds encouraging; the video provides the first indication it might just be onto something here. 

More Hyundai news on Motoring Research:

It’s to get a fancy set of sleek headlamps, Hyundai’s new family front end featuring its ‘Cascading Grille’ and, inside, a rather sharp-looking head-up display, the first time a Hyundai has featured one. It’s an eight-inch display and looks to be pretty colourful and comprehensive, judging by this early tease. 

Following its summer 2017 world debut, expect the Kona to roll into showrooms later this year. Hyundai won’t be hanging around: this is a key car in its strategy to be Europe’s favourite automotive car brand by 2021. Given how the small crossover sector is booming, expect its seemingly distinctive looks to become something of a familiar sight. 

Matching purse and lipstick: the car ‘designed for women’

Dodge La FemmeThe Dodge La Femme arrived on the scene in 1955, a year when America was thriving with post-war prosperity. The baby boom was in full swing, and more people lived in the growing suburbs than in any other type of community, drawn by elbow room, fresh air, and affordable housing for growing families.

The rise of these new communities also gave rise to commuting; the vast majority of suburban families had at least one parent who drove to work. Groceries, household items, and sundries were generally not available at a convenient mom-and-pop corner store like in the city, but rather down the road at supermarkets and shopping centers with sprawling parking lots. A second family car was needed.

Dodge La FemmeWomen were going to work in greater numbers than ever before by the mid-1950s, accounting for about one-third of the workforce and increasing overall household income. They were also taking a greater interest in cars; about one half of all adult women held a driver’s license. The automobile industry recognized that women were a growing presence in the marketplace, and actively sought to court to them.

In 1954, Nash was the first manufacturer to market a car specifically to women with the fresh, petite Metropolitan. That year saw the La Comtesse, the pink feminine half of “his and her” Chrysler show cars. General Motors also wanted a piece of the growing market, and design studio chief Harley Earl hired six women in 1955 to work across the various model lines in an effort to create cars that appealed to women. Those designers pioneered such modern automotive staples as retractable seat belts, child-proof doors, storage consoles, and vanity mirrors. One of those women, Sue Vanderbilt, overcame many obstacles to become a GM studio chief herself.

The birth of the Dodge La FemmeDodge La Femme

1955 also saw the unveiling of the Dodge La Femme, a trim package available for the Dodge Custom Royal Lancer. The car featured a pink-and-cream paint job and rose-printed upholstery, as well as a matching purse, umbrella, and other fashion accessories. It was marketed as being the first car for the modern American woman.

It can be hard to look back at a car like the La Femme. It is not an oddity; it represents the cultural values idealised by the media and advertising of its time. Today, offering a pink car with matching lipstick exclusively to women might be seen to be just as condescending as filling a car with potatoes and offering it to the Irish. Even in the period advertisement above, it’s not the driver’s door that is opened for her on what is said to be her own personal vehicle.Dodge La FemmeYet what the La Femme represents, however obtusely, is a recognition by the American automotive industry, and therefore the largest sector of industrial manufacturing on the planet, that women were an rising economic force, and that it was imperative that their specific wants and needs be addressed. So great was this tide that by 1958, GM executives from all over the country came to the unofficially named Feminine Auto Show to see the cars created by its six female designers. Not too many years later, Ford released its own car created to appeal to women: the now world-famous Mustang.

Women now drive the automotive world. Women buy more than half of all new cars and influence up to eighty percent of car buying decisions. More women hold driver’s licenses than men. Women drive more miles and take more car trips than at any time in history, while the number of miles men drive has begun to decline. Car manufacturers now market their wares aggressively to women, and usually with dignity and respect. Yes, there are companies that take spectacular pratfalls and ignite social media firestorms, but overall the trend inspires pride in our societal accomplishments and hope for the future.

The La Femme can be viewed as a cynical design exercise, as Fifties kitsch, as social commentary, and many other things. The machine itself though, made of steel and fabric and devoid of the poisonous influences of humanity, is spectacular, in the strictest sense of the word.

Dodge La Femme: the legacy

Dodge La FemmeWomen make or influence a majority of new car purchases today, and manufacturers do everything they can to appeal to them. Marketing is a science, and demographics can target a person by age, gender, region, education level, and myriad more variables. Once a target demographic is acquired, the manufacturers do their best to present a vehicle that has the performance levels, economy, and features that demographic wants. This La Femme ad from 1956 illustrates the difference between a car “designed with the ladies in mind” (as stated in the above ad) and the modern practice of designing a car that offers the attributes a particular demographic wants.

The La Femme was discontinued after 1956. As it was a trim package and not a standalone model, production numbers are undocumented, but most agree about 2,500 were produced. Because it was only a trim package, it was not widely advertised, nor were demonstration models available at most dealerships. It’s demise is generally credited to lack of widespread public awareness of the product.Dodge La FemmeViewed through today’s standards, the marketing material shouts, “Hey, princess! Pink is for girls!” which hits every wrong nerve in modern psyches. It discolors perception of the La Femme, which is a powerful, well-engineered, and stylish vehicle. It’s designed by Exner, has a wicked Hemi under the hood, and comes with a matching umbrella, just like a new Rolls Royce.

Sadly, the Dodge La Femme may go down in history indistinguishable from the gibbering chauvinism that created it. Hopefully, we can learn to ignore its questionable parentage and let the La Femme be itself, standing proudly on its own four wheels.

In pictures: the world’s greatest hot hatch festival

Worthersee Volkswagen FestivalThe Austrian town of Reifnitz on the side of Lake Worth, or Worthersee, has hosted the ‘GTI Treffen’ festival for 36 years. Originally a small meet of Volkswagen enthusiasts (just 100 cars attended the first event), more than 100,000 fans from all over Europe now head to the Alps at the end of May. We sent a snapper to the event and captured some of the weird and wacky VWs in attendance.

Mk1 Volkswagen Golf GTIWorthersee Volkswagen Festival

If Mk1 Volkswagen Golf GTIs are your thing, you’ll be well catered for at Worthersee. The event was first created to celebrate the original GTI, and there are still loads in attendance today. From the original example to modified ones like this bright yellow GTI, we can get behind the subtle look.

Mk3 Volkswagen Golf cabrioletWorthersee Volkswagen Festival

What were we saying about ‘subtle’? This modified third-generation Golf cabriolet is anything but. There really is something for everyone.

Audi A1Worthersee Volkswagen Festival

Although predominantly a Volkswagen show, there are other VW Group cars in attendance. Such as this interesting Audi A1, which we can barely see thanks to its camo look.

Audi 100Worthersee Volkswagen Festival

Brown with gold alloys doesn’t sound like a great look, but it works for us on this Audi 100.

Audi 50Worthersee Volkswagen Festival

The Audi 50 is what became known as the Volkswagen Polo… and the rest, as they say, is history. This fairly standard and incredibly tidy example received many admiring glances at Worthersee.

Volkswagen Passat CoupeWorthersee Volkswagen Festival

Remember when Passats were cool? This B1 generation Passat Coupe is closely related to the Audi 80 of the same era.

Mk1 Volkswagen GolfWorthersee Volkswagen Festival

In a town full of modified Vee-dubs, there’s something very refreshing about a pair of properly mint Mk1 Golfs as the factory intended.

Volkswagen campersWorthersee Volkswagen Festival

Well, if you’re visiting the Alps for a VW festival, is there a better way of doing it than an old-school VW camper?

Volkswagen BeetleWorthersee Volkswagen Festival

Thanks to their popularity, classic Volkswagen Beetles are still a relatively common sight on the roads. Plenty made it to Worthersee, including this lovely green example complete with skis on the back.

Volkswagen Polo G40Worthersee Volkswagen Festival

The Polo G40 is the result of what happened when VW bolted a supercharger to the 1.3-litre engine in the GT. Although it wasn’t incredibly powerful (it produced 115hp), it’d beat both the Fiesta XR2i and Peugeot 205 GTi in the 0-62mph run.

Volkswagen LupoWorthersee Volkswagen Festival

Ah, the VW Lupo. Pre-dating the popular Up, the Lupo wasn’t quite the sales success of its successor. They’ve got quite a following in Volkswagen circles, though. This was one of a number of modified examples on show at Worthersee.

Volkswagen Polo HarlequinWorthersee Volkswagen Festival

You can imagine the meeting that led to the creation of the Volkswagen Polo Harlequin. “We need to give the Polo a sales boost. Let’s launch a special edition. But what can we do with it?” The answer, apparently, was to paint every body panel a different colour. Around 3,800 were made (and presumably sold), including this modified example.

Volkswagen TouranWorthersee Volkswagen Festival

A Volkswagen Touran people carrier doesn’t seem the obvious choice as a base for a modified car. Name the VW, however, and you’ll probably find a modded version at Worthersee.

Mk2 Volkswagen GolfWorthersee Volkswagen Festival

We spotted this lovely Mk2 Volkswagen Golf in one of the car parks at Worthersee. The decals suggest it’s an Elite special edition… we don’t know much about it, but feel free to tell us more about it in the comments if you do!

2018 Megane Renault Sport teased at Monaco Grand Prix

2018 Megane Renault Sport teaserRenault F1 driver (and Le Mans 24 Hours winner) Nico Hulkenberg has helped tease the upcoming new Megane Renault Sport in a road demonstration around the Monaco Grand Prix circuit. The new car will be fully uncovered at the 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show in September.

Although Renault is not revealing much about the car right now, it has confirmed buyers will be able to choose from a manual gearbox or a paddleshift EDC auto for the first time. It’s thus not again making the same mistake, as with the disappointing Clio Renault Sport 200 Turbo, of going auto-only…

2018 Megane Renault Sport teaser

We don’t know a huge amount about the new Megane Renault Sport just now: sales aren’t even scheduled to begin until Spring 2018. However, Renault is aiming high with the new car: Renault Sport Cars MD Patrice Ratti says “we aim to make the new Megane R.S. the new compact sports car benchmark”.

This is a sector, remember, that includes the Ford Focus RS, the Honda Civic Type R and both the Volkswagen Golf GTI and R. Formidable competitors, all…

We’re not sure what sort of F1-inspired technologies Renault’s bringing across to the road car, but it does say they are focused on efficient aerodynamics, road holding and high performance. It also mentions F1-inspired reliability, although given the team’s pitiful performance thus far in 2017, let’s hope reliability in this case is not quite so heavily inspired by F1.

See the car in full at the Frankfurt Motor Show on 12 September. Ahead of that, read through our collection of 40 great hot Renaults, to see the sort of family DNA we hope this car is thoroughly infused with.  

New Hyundai Kona teased in video

Hyundai turns down the lights to film its new Nissan Juke rival.

BMW Concept 8 Series video

Up close with our first look at the 2018 BMW 8 Series Coupe.