News: Lexus tops J.D. Power survey for 14th consecutive year

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Deterioration in vehicle quality during the first three years of ownership-determined by comparing long-term dependability rates to initial quality problem rates-strongly affects overall customer satisfaction as well as customer willingness to recommend their vehicle model, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2008 Vehicle Dependability StudySM (VDS).

The study, which measures problems experienced by original owners of 3-year-old (2005 model year) vehicles, finds that, on average, customers report experiencing 75 percent more problems in the third year of ownership than during the first 90 days. Those models with the largest increase in problem levels show the most pronounced declines in satisfaction and the likelihood of owners to recommend their vehicle model. In addition, while no model has fewer reported problems in the third year of ownership compared with the first three months, those models that average less than 35 percent problem growth actually demonstrate improvement in overall satisfaction during the three-year period.

The study also finds that five of the top 10 problems reported industry-wide in the 2008 Vehicle Dependability Study were also among the top 10 most frequently reported problems in the 2005 Initial Quality Study, suggesting that the problems are identified by owners during the initial ownership period, but have not been rectified by automakers during the three-year ownership period.

The problems include:

* Excessive wind noise
* Noisy brakes
* Vehicle pulling to the left or right
* Issues with the instrument panel/dashboard
* Excessive window fogging

For a 14th consecutive year, Lexus ranks highest in vehicle dependability, improving by 25 problems per 100 vehicles since 2007 to achieve a score of 120 PP100. Following in the top five rankings are Mercury, Cadillac, Toyota and Acura, respectively.

In addition, Lexus garners six segment awards-the most of any nameplate in 2008-for the ES 330, GX 470, IS 300, LS 430, LX 470 and SC 430. Toyota follows with five segment awards for the Highlander, Prius, RAV4, Sequoia, and Tundra. Ford and Honda each capture two awards. Ford models receiving awards are the Crown Victoria and Ranger, while Honda earns awards for the Element and S2000. Models by Buick, Chevrolet, Hyundai, Mazda and Mercury each rank highest in one segment.

SAAB is the most improved brand in the study, although it continues to rank below the industry average. SAAB improves by 65 PP100 since 2007.

The study finds that long-term vehicle quality has improved by 5 percent industry-wide in 2008-with an overall decrease of 10 problems per 100 vehicles-compared with 2007. More than 60 percent of the 38 nameplates included in the study improve in 2008, compared with 2007. Among the 19 segments included in the study, the midsize premium MAV segment demonstrates the most improvement in 2008-36 PP100 fewer than in 2007. The compact car and midsize car segments also have much lower problem levels in 2008 than in 2007, and together account for more than one-half of the overall industry improvement.

The 2008 Vehicle Dependability Study is based on responses from more than 52,000 original owners of 2005 model-year vehicles. The study was fielded from January through April 2008.

Find more detailed findings on vehicle dependability as well as model photos and specs by reading an article and reviewing brand and segment dependability ratings at JDPower.com.

News: Lamborghini Gallardo by Heffner turns out 930hp, at the wheels

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For the man or woman who feels that a standard Lamborghini Gallardo is not quite fast enough, Jason Heffner is your man.

This Gallardo has undergone extensive surgery and come out with a Frankenstein-ish 930 horsepower (693 kW) and 762 lb-ft torque (1033 Nm) at the wheels. With minimal drivetrain losses the actual power at the flywheel must be well over 1100hp. Remember, the Gallardo is all-wheel drive.

The power increase was achieved by serious engine work and the fitment of two turbochargers. See the list of modifications below.

The owner of this car will now be able to bait Bugatti Veyrons at his/her leisure.

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Engine removal and disassembly
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Steel cylinder liners
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Custom 9 to 1 compression ratio forged pistons
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Polishing of crankshaft journals
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Connecting rod bearings
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Main bearings
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Balancing of rotating assembly
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Blueprinting and assembly of engine
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Heavy duty clutch & pressure plate
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Twin water cooled, dual ball bearing tubos
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Two TIAL 38mm wastegates
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Two TIAL 50mm blow off valves
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Custom made stainless steel turbo mid pipes
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Custom made stainless steel turbo downpipes & exhaust system
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Stainless steel turbo oil feed lines
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Stainless steel turbo oil drain lines
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Colder heat range spark plugs
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High flow turbo air inlet plumbing
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High flow turbo air discharge plumbing
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Spearco water to air intercooler
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Intercooler water pump
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Intercooler water reservoir
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All necessary lines & fittings
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High flow in tank fuel pumps
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Upgraded fuel injectors
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All necessary gaskets & fluids
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Optimized fuel and spark calibration
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Professional installation & tuning
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100 Octane 1000 Horsepower Upgrade: Carrillo Billet Steel Connecting Rods,
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Associated Machine Work, Two Stage Boost Controller
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1 Carbon Fiber Rear Decklid
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1 Superleggera Style Carbon Fiber Rear Diffuser
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1 Superleggera Style Rear Spoiler

News: Nissan unveils EV and hybrid prototypes

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Nissan has unveiled all-electric and original hybrid electric prototype vehicles, both powered by advanced lithium-ion batteries. Under the NISSAN GT 2012 business plan, the company has committed to zero-emission vehicle leadership, and has announced plans to introduce an all-electric vehicle in 2010 and mass market globally in 2012.

Powered by advanced lithium-ion batteries, the EV prototype is part of Nissan’s substantial research and development programme on zero emission vehicles. This latest generation vehicle features a front-wheel drive layout and uses a newly developed 80kW motor and inverter. The advanced laminated compact lithium-ion batteries are installed under the floor, without sacrificing either cabin or cargo space.

Nissan say the production vehicle to be introduced in 2010 will have a unique bodystyle and is not based on any existing Nissan model.

The Nissan original HEV delivers two breakthrough technologies — a high-performance rear-wheel drive hybrid system and parallel-powertrain hybrid system. The hybrid employs Nissan’s own originally developed hybrid technology and its first rear-wheel drive hybrid powertrain.

The parallel-powertrain system comprises an energy-optimising system with two clutches, where one motor is directly connected to an engine and transmission via two separate clutches. Under changing driving conditions, the motor switches between the two clutches to optimise and conserve energy utilisation as well as improve fuel-efficiency.

The parallel-powertrain hybrid system eliminates the need for conventional torque converters, contributing to higher responsiveness and linear acceleration for improved driving feel.

The dynamic characteristics of the clutches are as follows:

* Idle-stop: The battery is used to power the motor to save on fuel.
* Regular driving: The engine is used to power the motor as well as regenerate the battery.
* Acceleration: Both the engine and battery (power assist) is used to power the motor to achieve smooth acceleration.
* Deceleration: Energy from braking is conserved and re-routed back to regenerate the battery.

The advanced lithium-ion batteries used in both prototypes are sourced from the Nissan-NEC joint-venture, AESC (Automotive Energy Supply Corporation). These advanced batteries offer superior performance, reliability, safety, versatility and cost competitiveness, compared to the conventional nickel metal-hydride batteries. Its compact laminated configuration delivers twice the electric power compared to conventional nickel-metal hydride batteries with a cylindrical configuration. The compact batteries also allow for improved vehicle packaging and a wide range of applications.

Nissan has long experience in electric-powered vehicle development, commencing from the first EV “Tama Electric Vehicle” back in 1947.  The company introduced the world’s first application of lithium-ion batteries to the Prarie Joy EV in 1996, followed by the ultra-compact electric vehicle, Hypermini, released in 2000.  Nissan also introduced its first original hybrid vehicle Tino Hybrid back in 1999 in Japan. In 2006, the Altima Hybrid was introduced in North America using licensed technology.

Under the Nissan Green Program 2010 environmental plan, the company aims to develop new technologies, products and services that can lead to real-world reductions in vehicle CO2 emissions, cleaner emissions, and recycling of resources. Nissan continues to invest substantially in a wide range of technologies including CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission), VVEL (Variable Valve Event and Lift), clean diesels, biofuels and fuel cell vehicles.

News: Skoda releases Superb options ahead of European launch

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Å koda has released details of the first range of options available on the New Superb which will launch in Europe next month.

These include the Volkswagen developed Park Assist, a system which identifies and steers the vehicle into a parking space, will be available on the SE, Elegance models and the entry level S model. Used on a Å koda vehicle for the first time, the system makes parallel parking in crowded streets and busy roads effortless and stress-free.

Other options include a multi-function steering wheel with radio and telephone controls, prepared for Bluetooth GSM III, as well as the highly acclaimed DSG gearbox with paddles for greater driver comfort.

The S and SE trim level vehicles can be fitted with a tyre pressure monitor and all New Superb buyers can increase rear passenger safety by opting for rear side airbags.

As with all Å kodas, owners of the New Superb will be getting an extremely well equipped car across all trim levels. Features such as ESP, Twindoor, seven airbags, front and rear electric windows and alloy wheels are part of standard vehicle specification.

News: Alice McVay of Hamilton: this month’s winner of the Nikon Coolpix L15 camera

The winner of our Nikon Coolpix L15 camera for this month is Alice McVay of Hamilton. Alice subscribed to D-photo as a birthday present for her mum. Alice’s Mum is becoming more and more keen on photography and will soon upgrade her old PC to an iMac so she can really do even more clever stuff with photoshop and store all her photos.

Alice didn’t have a camera as she is at Uni and can’t afford one, so this is a great prize for her. Well done Alice!

Alice registered to the D-photo site to get info for her Mum and then saw the D-photo subscription and bought that. Alice has never won anything before and would like to thank all at D-photo for drawing her name out.

If you’d like to be in to win a Nikon Coolpix L15 to capture your family moments (or pictures of your mates being stupid), all you have to do is be registered to any one of our sites or forums. Good luck.

Fiat: Fiat 500 Lounge 1.4 2008 Review

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The Fiat 500 is not really a new styling idea. The retro angle has almost been done to death by the likes of Volkswagen, BMW, Ford and GM, all of whom have dusted off past designs and put a modern spin on the theme that was the cause of so much success in the past. And all have been successful from it, BMW particularly so with the MINI.

Now Fiat wants a piece of the pastiche pie and given the historic importance of the 500 to Fiat (and the sales precedent set by the MINI) it looks to have the makings of a winner.

Walking round the new 500 you really can see that it has the old 500’s design DNA. The lights at the front, the little ‘moustache’ on the nose, the waistline crease below the windows are all trademarks of the original. Despite being front-engined (the original 500 had the engine in the back), even the rear looks similar to the original.

Of course it is nowhere near as petite as the original (much like the MINI) and does look a bit portly from the rear but the original lines are still there, however distended.

The interior is like a really trendy party. The kind you never get invited to. It looks so glamorous and the people so alive with verve and joy, and when you finally get to go to one, you see that it is as good as you’d imagined it would be, but you start to feel slightly uncomfortable there, like you don’t fit in.

The interior really is very stylish and looks great, but just like the original Cinquecento the driving position for a tall driver is as accommodating as a sleep-deprived prison guard. The seating position is quite high and the steering wheel is adjustable for rake, but not reach. That’s where the problem starts. The Fiat 500 has enough legroom for tall people, but this comes at the expense of having to adopt a gorilla-like driving position.

I couldn’t get comfortable in the little Fiat. It was either that the steering wheel was too far away when the seat was in the right position or legroom was compromised with the steering wheel within reach. At 192cm maybe I’m just too tall for the Fiat!

Despite the awkward driving position, every time I saw the 500 parked I was excited to get in again and drive. There is something that attracts you to it. It really does have a lot of character.

The interior atmosphere is first-rate with the materials used on the seats, dash and steering wheel giving a quality feel to the inside and making it a nice place to be.

The standard glass roof along with the light-coloured interior makes the cabin feel very airy and the round all-in-one speedo/tacho was very cool and easy to read. Even the key looks like it hangs around with the in-crowd (you can also purchase optional key covers from Fiat).

The centre console plastics look a bit shiny but the functions for the heater/radio are easy to use and the circular design is very chic.

The driving experience, like the looks of the car, is unique and requires a different driving style. The 1.4 litre engine is rev-happy and when pushed gets along at a decent rate and sounds rorty.

The six-speed manual has a slightly vague throw, but this is part of the experience, as it allows you an exaggerated arm gesture every time you change gear, if you are so inclined.

Even though the majority of Fiat 500s are likely to be parked outside fashionable urban cafes, back-roads are what the Fiat enjoys and where you can have some fun. The suspension is susceptible to a bit of ‘pogo’ action over bumps and along uneven roads, which can be annoying on the motorway, but on back roads it adds to the excitement and adventure. The little Fiat is a bouncy, buoyant character that has fun when you have fun.

Grip is fine and the stability control maintains control over excess body movements.

The ‘Hill-holder’ feature is very handy and helps by braking the car for a second or so as you easy the clutch out to prevent you from rolling backward. A bonus for those who don’t like handbrake hill-starts.

The big question for the Fiat 500 is how it stacks up to the opposition.

Given the ‘cute retro angle’ has been the preserve of the MINI for quite some time now, the Fiat at $31,990 (as tested) for the most expensive petrol model (1.4 Lounge) compares favourably to the MINI One ($29,900-$35,900).

The MINI does have a better quality ride and can accommodate the ‘talls’ amongst us, but the Fiat’s engine, the standard features (USB, Bluetooth, voice activation) and the character exuded by the 500 make it a serious alternative to the now quite common MINI.

Price: from $26,990 ($31,990 as tested)

What we like

  • Interior style
  • Glass roof
  • Exterior styling charm
  • ‘Hill holder’ system

What we don’t like

  • Driving position for tall people uncomfortable

Fiat 500 Specifications

BODY TYPE
VERSION 1.4 SPORT 1.4 LOUNGE 1.3 LOUNGE
TRANSMISSION
ENGINE FEATURES
FUEL TYPE PETROL 95 RON PETROL 95 RON DIESEL
NUMBER AND LAYOUT OF CYLINDERS 4 IN LINE 4 IN LINE 4 IN LINE
TOTAL DISPLACEMENT CC 1368 1368 1248
COMPRESSION RATIO 10.8:1 10.8:1 17.6:1
MAXIMUM POWER KW 74 @ 6000 74 @ 6000 55 @ 4000
MAXIMUM POWER HP 100 @ 6000 100 @ 6000 75 @ 4000
MAXIMUM TORQUE NM 131 @ 4250 131 @ 4250 145 @ 1500
TRANSMISSION
NUMBER OF GEARS (MANUAL) 6 PLUS REVERSE 6 PLUS REVERSE 5 PLUS REVERSE
PERFORMANCE
TOP SPEED KMH 182 182 165
0-100 KMH 10.5 10.5 12.5
CAPACITIES
TOWABLE LOAD KG – TRAILER WITH BRAKES 800 800 800
FUEL TANK CAPACITY IN LITRES 35 35 35
KERB WEIGHT KG 930 930 980
BOOT (litres) 185 185 185
DIMENSIONS IN MM
LENGTH 3546 3546 3546
WIDTH 1627 1627 1627
HEIGHT 1488 1488 1488
WHEELBASE 2300 2300 2300
WHEELS ALLOY 185/55/15 ALLOY 185/55/15 ALLOY 185/55/15
LUGGAGE SPACE 185 LITRES 185 LITRES 185 LITRES
FUEL CONSUMPTION LITRES PER 100 KM
URBAN (CITY USE) 8.2 8.2 5.3
EXTRA-URBAN (HIGHWAY) 5.2 5.2 3.6
COMBINED (37% OF URBAN & 63% OF EXTRA-URBAN 6.3 6.3 4.2
EMISSION CONTROL AND THE ENVIRONMENT
LEVEL EURO 5 EURO 5 EURO 5
CO2 (g/km) 149 149 111
PARTICULATE FILTER (DIESEL ONLY) X X S
CATALYTIC CONVERTER 3 WAY 3 WAY OXIDISING
FUEL VAPOUR PREVENTION (PETROL ONLY) S S X
EXHAUST GAS RECIRCULATION (EGR) DIESEL ONLY X X S
SERVICE INTERVAL (KM OR 12THS, WHICHEVER IS SOONER) 30,000/ 12MTHS 30,000/ 12MTHS 30,000/ 12MTHS
PRIMACARE (WARRANTY AND ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE)
DURATION OR MILEAGE 3 YEARS/ 100,000KM 3 YEARS/ 100,000KM 3 YEARS/ 100,000KM
OPTIONS
SAFETY
EURONCAP 5 STAR SAFETY RATING S S S
ABS S S S
ELECTRONIC STABILITY PROGRAMME (ESP) S S S
DRIVER AND PASSENGER AIRBAGS S S S
DRIVER AND PASSENGER SEAT AIRBAGS S S S
DRIVER KNEE AIRBAG S S S
RH AND LH WINDOW AIRBAGS S S S
INERTIA FUEL CUT OFF SWITCH S S S
FOLLOW ME HOME HEADLAMPS S S S
DAYTIME RUNNING LIGHTS S S S
DRIVERS SEATBELT REMINDER SYSTEM S S S
DRIVER AND PASSENGER SEATBELTS WITH PRETENSIONERS S S S
ALL SEATS (4) WITH 3 POINT SEATBELTS S S S
ISOFIX CHILD SEAT RESTRAINTS S S S
AUSTRALIAN REAR CHILD SEAT RESTRAINT ATTACHMENTS S S S
ELECTRIC POWER STEERING S S S
FIAT CODE ELECTRONIC ANTITHEFT S S S
COMFORT
AIRCONDITIONING S X X
DUAL ZONE CLIMATE CONTROL X S S
REMOTE CENTRAL LOCKING S S S
HEATED AND ELECTRIC DOOR MIRRORS S S S
2 REAR HEADRESTS S S S
SPLIT AND FOLDING REAR SEATS S S S
ELECTRIC FRONT WINDOWS S S S
STYLE
LEATHER UPHOLSTERY $1,500 $1,500 $1,500
CHROME KIT NA S S
LUXURY PACK (CONTAINS BLUETOOTH, LEATHER GEARKNOB & STRG WHEEL) S S S
OPENING GLASS SUNROOF $2,000 $2,000 $2,000
FIXED GLASS ROOF X S S
15″ LOUNGE ALLOY WHEELS 431 X S S
15″ SPORT ALLOY WHEELS 432 S X X
16″ HOT ALLOY WHEELS 420 $1,000 $1,000 $1,000
16″ SPORT ALLOY WHEELS 435 $1,000 $1,000 $1,000
FRONT FOGLAMPS S S S
RADIO WITH CD PLAYER S S S

Words Ben Dillon – Photos Darren Cottingham

News: New Volkswagen Golf coming to New Zealand

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Five generations, 34 years and over 26 million vehicles after the original first went on sale, the sixth generation of the Golf has been unveiled.

The new model continues the evolution of an icon. The new Golf is the safest, most technically advanced and most dynamic iteration yet. Not only does the new Golf promise great value, but it aims to set benchmarks in quality, style, safety and the reduction of emissions.

The new look aims to combine the elements that define the Golf across five generations while bringing them up to date. The result is a clean, elegant design that’s easily recognisable as a Golf yet remains an all-new shape.

The same elements of simplicity and attention to detail were applied to the vehicle’s interior. A new level of quality is established in the Golf with the adoption of materials and equipment usually associated with a vehicle in a higher segment.

Clearly defined white backlit dials sit in recessed, individual cowells behind a three-spoke steering wheel with the option of controls for entertainment and communications functions.  High quality, soft touch plastics are integrated with tasteful aluminium and chrome highlights. The new look is combined with advances made by Volkswagen engineers in reducing wind noise, including a completely new design of door and window seals, a new damping film that supports the windscreen and a new engine mounting system. The result is new levels of acoustic damping to make the new Golf the quietest yet.

Aiding this refinement are advanced new petrol and diesel engines. The new 2.0-litre TDI 110 PS common rail diesel engine emits just 119 g/km of CO2 while returning 4.5L/100km on the combined cycle. Other diesel variants are available with 90 PS, 140 PS and 170 PS outputs linked to a choice of six-speed manual or DSG gearboxes.  Many of the petrol engines adopt highly efficient TSI technology with outputs of 80 PS, 102 PS, 122 PS and 160 PS.

For the first time, Volkswagen’s Adaptive Chassis Control (ACC) will be offered on the Golf. This is available on the Passat CC and standard on the new Scirocco, and allows the driver to select from normal, comfort or sport modes to define the desired suspension, steering and accelerator response settings for any particular journey.

Automatic Distance Control is also offered, which monitors the area around the vehicle through a series of sensors and will, if necessary, reduce the vehicle’s speed should an obstruction be identified. In extreme cases the vehicle can be brought to a complete stop using the system.

Building on the technical advances are new levels of safety equipment including the addition of a knee airbag for the driver to bring the total number of airbags fitted as standard to seven. A new head restraint system designed to reduce whiplash injuries and rear seat belt detection sensors are joined by new, more advanced Electronic Stabilisation Programme (ESP) software.

Prices and specifications for the new Golf will be announced closer to the vehicle’s launch towards the end of the year.

The new Golf goes on sale in the UK in January with New Zealand sales expected to commence soon after.

News: Citroen to release a ‘new’ 2CV?

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Speculation and rumour are not quantifiable properties but educated guessing and some photoshop renderings have fired the imaginations of Citroen 2CV enthusiasts world-wide.

Citroen will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Citroen 2CV this year and that coupled with the confluence of Paris hosting this years motorshow (it alternates with Frankfurt) has brought about the idea that Citroen may resurrect the 2CV. Fanning the speculatory flames are these renderings by French designer David Portela who has a vision for what a new 2CV would look like.

Citroen however is denying that it has plans for a new 2CV. It would be great timing for Citroen if they did put a 2CV concept on their stand in Paris but it seems unfortunately unlikely.