The Suzuki Vitara has shed its classic angular styling in its latest iteration
Fast Lane The new four-wheel-drive Vitara shows off more rounded edges. -- PHOTO: SUZUKI

SOFTER, SMALLER VITARA

The Suzuki Vitara has shed its classic angular styling in its latest iteration. The new model, with soft rounded edges, may be mistaken for a Honda CR-V.

Slightly smaller than its predecessor, it still has the one thing that makes a Vitara a Vitara: four-wheel-drive. It is a new system called Allgrip, which allows the car to go on low-fuel front-wheel-drive, but immediately distributes torque to the rear when it senses slippery conditions. A switch allows you to pick the level of grip you want for a specific driving condition or terrain - a bit like what Land Rover offers.

But the Vitara, to be made in Hungary, is likely to be far more accessible than a Landy. Engine choices include a 1.6-litre petrol engine and a 1.6-litre diesel, both mated to a six-speed autobox.

TRI-TURBO POWER

This may be a case of a Swede allowing its Viking past to resurface. Volvo Cars, owned by China's Geely, has unveiled a 450bhp concept of a 2-litre turbo. The High Performance Drive-E Powertrain Concept uses two parallel turbochargers, which are fed by an electrically powered turbo-compressor.

The compressed air from this unit, rather than being fed to the cylinders, is instead used to spool up the two parallel turbochargers. Fuel is fed by a dual pump working at 250 bar pressure. Enough said.

TT GETS STRETCHED IN SPORTBACK

What do you get when you take an Audi TT, stretch its wheelbase, add a few more doors and shod it with a 400bhp engine? A TT Sportback concept, of course.

The car is 290mm longer than the TT to accommodate a second row of seats. It is powered by a 2-litre turbo producing around 400bhp, which is transmitted to all four wheels via a seven-speed twin-clutch transmission. It is expected to hit 100kmh in 3.9 seconds, making it the quickest five-door around. It has both LED and laser headlights.

The concept measures 4.47m by 1.89m, with a 2.63m long wheelbase. It is merely 1.38m tall, which means it is best for young, flexible bodies.

BMW TESTS DRIVERLESS CARS IN CHINA

Over the next two years, BMW Group will test prototype autonomous vehicles on Chinese roads. It says China's fast- expanding urban centres present its engineers with challenges. It is teaming up with Chinese Internet giant Baidu to test a fleet of cars in Beijing and Shanghai.

As early as 2009, highly automated vehicles from the BMW Group were racing around tracks such as Nurburgring North Loop, the most challenging circuit in the world. BMW is also working on emergency stop assistance. If the driver is incapacitated, it is able to switch to a highly automated mode and bring the vehicle to a stop at the side of the road before automatically calling for help.

SYLPHY'S SPORTY SIBLING

Tan Chong has launched a sportier version of the Nissan Sylphy. Powered by a turbocharged 1.6-litre engine producing 190bhp and 240Nm of torque, the Sylphy SSS harks back to racy Nissans that wore the triple-S badge. The mighty mite of an engine is mated to an Xtronic continuously variable transmission with manual mode. It sits on 17-inch alloys and is priced at $137,800.

RACY VOLKSWAGEN CONCEPT

Volkswagen has shown off a number of racy concepts in the past, but the XL Sport looks most promising. Powered by a rear-mounted 200bhp 11,000rpm V2 from Ducati (the world's most powerful two-cylinder), endowed with the best aerodynamics of a sports car and with the weight of a carbon fibre body, the XL is said to be capable of 270kmh. VW's sister brand Audi owns Ducati.

NEW MITSUBISHI MODELS IN SHOWROOM

Cycle & Carriage is lining up a number of new Mitsubishi models as the brand returns to its Alexandra Road showroom. These include the Outlander, a 2.4-litre seven-seat SUV. A plug-in petrol- electric hybrid is also in the works. It will be joined by the ASX, a 2-litre crossover, Lancer EX 1.6 (a family sedan that was once a bestseller here) and a 1.2-litre Thai-made Attrage compact sedan. The Attrage (once called Mirage) weighs less than a tonne and has a continuously variable transmission - so it should be pretty efficient.