'Fleets seem to have finally got the message that vehicles with cleaner exhaust emissions will cost their drivers less in tax payments as well as being cheaper to run,' said Paul Williams, sales and marketing director of importer Colt Car.
His comments came at the launch of the five-door Shogun Pinin, the first European passenger car to be equipped with a 2.0-litre version of the GDI unit. Aimed at eventually replacing the 1.8-litre engine currently used in the Carisma and the three-door Pinin, it develops similar power but offers significantly higher torque for more flexible mid-range performance and an easier cruising gait. A 1.9-litre Renault turbodiesel will be offered in some European markets by 2002, but the option will not be available in Britain, although the unit will feature in the Carisma line-up by next March.
Due in UK showrooms early next year, the longer, roomier five-door off-roader will come in Equippe and Elegance versions and is expected to be priced from under £16,500.
'This car deserves to make its mark because the GDI technology gives it lower CO2 emissions than any petrol-powered competitor and we're confident about its residual values,' said Williams. 'It has the potential to give us a bigger fleet opportunity because the sector for five-door cars is bigger, and sales of petrol versions are traditionally higher than for diesel.
So far this year, Colt has registered 1,900 examples of the three-door car, which is built in Italy by Pininfarina. Next year, the company aims to sell a total of 3,500 units, 60% of them in five-door form. Like the three-door model, the new car is well equipped and has twin front airbags, central locking, air conditioning, roof rails, power window lifters and electric heated door mirrors as standard. ABS brakes and a limited slip rear differential are standard on the Elegance, which boasts leather and mock wood trim.
With 200mm ground clearance and short body overhangs, the Pinin is able to take rough and tumble conditions in its stride and performed in capable fashion over a demanding off-road course.
But coil suspension at the front and rear allows for car-like ride quality over most Tarmac surfaces. Though the steering wheel is fixed, a height-adjust seat allows a comfortable driving position with generous legroom.
Less legroom is available for passengers in the rear, but there is adequate space for three and headroom is particularly good. Individually adjustable for rake, the 60:40 split seatback folds down to make a flat floor which conceals a neatly engineered fixed tray for oddments storage. Though the high stance raises the car's rear sill, access to the cargo deck is easy via the wide-opening rear door.