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Paris Motor Show: three new saloons, one stands out

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Three new upper-medium cars made their debuts at the Paris Motor Show.

Highest profile, it being in France, was the Peugeot 508.

Then, perhaps more important in terms of volume, was the so-called ‘new’ Volkswagen Passat.

Finally, but arguably the most impressive of the three, was the Kia Optima.

The Peugeot 508 was shown as a four-door and SW estate. Peugeot has said the 508 saloon will sell more units in China than saloon and SW combined in Europe.

To my eyes at least, the saloon is rather awkward looking at the back. The SW, by contrast, is quite smart.

Many countries in mainland Europe prefer the estate to the saloon. In the UK it’s different. We quite like hatchbacks even in cars this size.

Although saloons imply ‘upmarket’, we badge-snobs in the UK don’t buy that unless the car wears a posh badge.

Volkswagen can get away with it. Our tolerance as car buyers for both the Jetta and Passat are very high.

It’s is just as well because the latest Passat unveiled at Paris – which Volkswagen earnestly referred to as ‘seventh generation’ – was rather disappointing to look at.

A re-skin of the current Passat rather than anything new, the big news was some hi-tech safety kit.

As well as a collision-mitigation braking system – already available on the Honda Accord and Volvo S60 and V60 – the Passat also has the ability to sense imminent collisions from the rear and accelerate to avoid them, or at least help minimise their impact.

The Kia Optima, on the other hand, was refreshing. The company’s design chief Peter Scheyer seems to have found a ‘face’ for the brand, and the Optima will replace the Magentis in 2011.

Perhaps it’s most surprising of the three because we’ve had to become used to Kia (and Hyundai) improving very quickly.

Not only does it look elegant and purposeful, it has an interior to match. And it will come with a 136bhp 1.7-litre diesel with CO2 emissions of 113g/km.

Yes, the Peugeot 508 might scrape to 109g/km next year with the introduction of stop-start e-HDi technology, but its 1.6-litre diesel will produce 115bhp. The Passat Bluemotion will also reach 109g/km but using its 105bhp 1.6 TDI engine.

Kia’s potential should not be underestimated, and when the well-established Eurpoean brands come up with designs at the same time that appear complacent, they risk losing more than market share. 


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