something in the S82K region for the coming diesei GC, which will feature a new common-rail V6 from Fiat's diesei powerplant specialist, VM Motori. But offsetting the Grand Cherokee's price advantage is its use of a carryover five-speed automatic gearbox; the Land Rover currently uses a six-speed, so the Jeep's engines must bridge bigger gaps between ratios.

I Ieadlining the Grand Cherokee's powertrain upgrade is the new Pentastar V6 petrol engine, which was developed in partnership with Mercedes-Benz and Hyundai before the alliance dissolved (Fiat took a controlling 25 per cent stake in Chrysler in 2009). So consider this 3.6 a very close relative of the V6 that powers many Merc 350 models, including the Grand's rival, the $124,900 200kW ML350. With an all-alloy construction that reduces weight by 100kg, and its ability to develop 213kW of power and 353Nm of torque, the Pentastar V6 is quite capable of embarrassing the 262kW/520Nm 5.7-litre V8 of the flagship Grand Cherokee. Thanks to the extra mass of its old-school, cast-iron engine block, the latter also has a more front-heavy chassis balance.

Although the latest Grand Cherokee comes fairly loaded, there are still plenty of add-ons to customise it to your tastes. Unfortunately, a full row of spottiesfor the roof and cow horns for the bonnet aren't offered

The best reasons to buy the V8 are its increased aural appeal and extra towing capacity, given theV6 is just as quick, uses less fuel over the combined city-highway lab simulation (11.4L/100km vs 14.1), and therefore pumps out less C02 (265g/km vs 327). No doubt the coming turbodiesel will improve the fuel-use figures further.

In thc'V6, 52 percent of the 2266kg claimed mass is carried over the front axles compared to 54 per cent in the 2365kg V8, a difference in weight distribution evident during the launch drive programme when swapping between vehicles. Notable dynamic improvements shared by both the V6 and V8 versions included a hushed cabin, a greater serenity to the ride quality and a flatter cornering stance, a result of the stiffer body and active air suspension. Selecting a Sports driving mode made the stability control less sensitive, and sent more of the torque of the adaptive 4WD powertrain to the rear wheels, increasing the agility of the vehicle when cornering. Driven in this mode on the road, the Jeeps imparted something that could be called fun, although the real pleasure of ownership will come carting the likes of kayaks, surfboards, snow gear and mountain bikes to recreational locations. During the off-road drive we found the latest Jeeps just as capable as their legendary forebears, which featured rigid axles. If needed, steep slopes can be descended at an electronically monitored 2km/h, and the body can be raised to a Discovery-like 294mm.

Best of all, the flaws are much harder to find titan before. The interior is well built and economically correct, the only quibbles being a lack of driver's footrest, and the silly push-on/push-off, foot-operated parking brake. Not too shabby, then, for a Jeep-badged Fiat that's made in Michigan - Paul Owen PC

Most car distributors would kill to be in the position diat Suzuki New Zealand achieved with its outgoing Swift. It was comfortably the second-best-selling passenger vehicle last year, even getting the wood over die Commodore. And if you ignore Corolla sales to rental companies and fleets, the Suzuki Swift was the people's favourite for 2010.

Consider Uiis, too: the Swift was in its seventh year of production. People obviously overlooked the fact that it didn't sport the latest technology. Most models have a run-out period, when prices are reduced to clear old stock, but Suzuki didn't bother with the Swift. Instead, it's selling what remains, which are GL models only, alongside the new car. The old version is going for $19,990 'drive away', meaning you get a year's rego and warrant, a tank of gas and a three-year warranty with five-year

The Stats

MODEL Suzuki Swift LTD auto PRICE $24,990 ENGINE 1372cc, IL4 VVT, 70kW®6000rpm, [email protected]

4-speed automatic, front-wheel drive VITALS 11.5sec O-lOOkm/h, 6.2L/100km,147g'km, 1035kg

hand for the launch of his new baby, which he said was unashamedly evolutionary, 'more Swift' - meaning a more fun-loving car. Rather than going for extra power - which the forthcoming Swift Sport should get in six months - the story is one of improved safety, ride refinement and handling, while minimising weight gain to maximise fuel economy. The changes were enough for Japanese journalists to vote it RIC Car of die Year for 2011.

Underpinning the new Swift is a chassis now consisting of 52 per cent high-tensile steels, up from 48 per cent, but some of these are now ultra-high slrengUi steels. This means a stronger platform for the suspension to attach to, allowing for an improved ride. Takeuchi-san added NVH levels have improved, claiming a 3dB drop in cabin noise at 120km/h. Both were noticeable on the launch drive. New double door seals contribute to its quiet progress. The front suspension has a more rigid subframe for belter roll stiffness, while in die rear new bushes offer improved control and lateral rigidity, which both enhance stability. The rear axle is not only lighter but also offers 25 per cent improved roll resistance. There's also sharper steering.

One other happy outcome of the stronger chassis is improved crashworthiness, which rises from Euro NCAP rating of four stars to five, helped by the inclusion of stability control across the range and an extra knee airbag, taking the count to seven.

A skinnier Swift model line up simplifies the buying decisions. The GLis the entry-level model, in manual only trim, while the GLXgoes for S22.500 and S23.990 as an auto, a rise of S500. Respective Limited models go for $23,500 and $24,990. The auto is a four-speeder. The middle GIX model gets six-speaker sound with USB input, a tacho and multifunction steering wheel while the Limited model adds 16-inch alloys and fog lamps.

Suzuki hopes to sell 2500 Swifts locally in 2011, which works out about 230 per month, 80 per cent of them die new-generation model. PC

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roadside assist. And you get a bigger, more powerful motor than in the new car, too. Specification includes air conditioning, 15-inch steel wheels, remote locking and a Sony four-speaker sound system.

What was it about a seven-year car dial people so liked? Clearly, the average private buyer appreciated die Swift's style, which seems to have universal appeal, its reputation for reliability and its value for money. Suzuki is one of the last manufacturers not to have outsourced supermini manufacture to Thailand. Fine-tuning of production processes in ]apan means the car can still be made cost-effectively in its home market.

At the local launch, Suzuki's head of marketing, Tom Peck, noted the old Swift was 'a hard act to follow'. Suzuki NZ has moved 15,000 of diis generation of die Swift, while importers have brought in 5000. Worldwide, Swift has sold around two million uniLs.

Despite the same-same appearance of the new version - you can pick them apart by the different headlamps and taillights if you're studious - the technical services manager, Rodney Brown, reckoned there's not a single body panel that's the same as the original's. Just like the new Mini, this looks the same but is totally different. Inside though, it's clearly changed, with new instruments and centre console, increased rear-passenger space thanks to 30mm skinnier seat backs, and different mounts for the new front seats. Also contributing is a 40mm increase in wheelbase, and a 90mm stretch in overall length.

Under die bonnet diere's a new, smaller, 1372cc engine that ends up producing almost die same output as before (70 vs 75kW, 130 vs 133Nm), though is more economical (8.1 per cent for the auto, 14.7 for the manual). The new engine is responsive and feels perky above 3000rpm, and features lower internal friction and an electronic throtde. It now runs happily on 91 unleaded fuel, while average consumption is quoted at 5.5-6.2L/ 100km.

Swift's programme manager, Takeuchi-san, was on

Audi's three-in-one A7

The major German luxury car makers are now creating niche products nobody knew they wanted, like the new Audi A7, touted as a combination of coupe, sedan and estate.

We drove it first in Sardinia. We thought that the smooth European roads might have given us a false impression of ride quality, but no; on an Auckland-to-Taupo run, both models here, petrol and diesel, rode majestically over some rough roads and were relatively hushed.

As Audi reckons die A7 combines 'supreme longdistance comfort with a sporty character', we chose these B-roads to test this claim. The trip essentially followed die our COTY route, studded with lonely King Country back roads. The diesel variant didn't turn with quite the relish of the odier car, but it was still commendably agile for a five-metre vehicle. Four-wheel-drive systems have come a long way from the understeering beasts they used to be. With a self-locking crown gear centre dilf constantly shuffling power nordi and south, the A7 is a car whose feadiers are hard to ruffle. As mentioned at the original launch, 'It's well poised front to rear, and side to side, so is not easily unsetded.' And truly, we did give it our best shot.

The A7 is powered by two direct-injection, forced-induction engines, bodi 3.0-litre V6 units, one a turbodiesel, one a supercharged petrol (confusingly named die TFSI, but diere is no turbo). At die overseas launch we reported, 'If I had to pick a fave, it would be die 220kW/440Nm 3.0-litre petrol engine'; and (hat's what most said after die NZ launch as well. Only, now I'm not so sure. Yes, die revvier engine performs sweetly and Audi claims a O-lOOkm/h dmeof5.6sec, but byTe Kuiti we had cut out a tank whereas die diesel-powered A7 still had almost half left by the (ime we reached Taupo. Such is die efficiency of diis 180kW/500Nm unit dial Audi reckons it averages fi.OL/lOOkm (to iheTFSI's 8.2L/100km), with C02 emissions of 158g/km (190g/ km, TFSI). Partly responsible are stop-start and brake regenerative technology. Given it motivates the 1850kg

The Stats

MODEL Audi A7 Sportback 3.0 TFSI quattro PRICE $154,200 ENGINE 2995cc, Dl, SC V6, [email protected], [email protected] TRANSMISSION 7-speed twin-clutch, all-wheel drive VITALS 5.6sec O-lOOkm/h, 8.2L/100km, 190g/km, 1845kg part-aluminium four-seater to lOOkm/h in 6.3sec, it's only a little slower than die petrol alternative. Paddles and a Sport position for die MS gate make extracting that performance a snip.

Odier aspects to like about the A7? It catches the eye, for sure, with its low, swept-back roofiine, and from the rear the haunches give it the appearance of an Aston or 911. Front on, it's all aggression, widi LED daytime running lights, optional LED headlights, integrated fog lights and die new single-frame grille. Inside, die trickle-down effect from the A8 is apparent, with die MMI touch-writing pad facilitating sat nav use and phone calling. All the controls are nicely angled towards the driver.

Both versions of die A7 cost S 154,200; add $7000 for the sportier S Line variants. They're bodi specified with the quattro drivetrain and a sporty seven-speed twin-clutch transmission. Figure also on the MMI interface, 18-inch alloys, Audi Drive Select, and front and rear parking aids.

Optional bits include a head-up display, self-parking, a sunroof, adaptive cruise control, Bose or B&O sound, a sport differential and adaptive air suspension.

The A7 is on sale now, and a twin-turbodiesel and the S7 arrive next year. EC

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