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The Jetblue Executive Car Line-Up

"Western car makers are fully aware of how they must compete and have wholeheartedly begun to apply new lessons. That is good for everyone, particularly the jetblue executive car buyer and user."

For most manufacturers of so-called executive bracket cars, what is offered for 1992 represents consolidation rather than innovation. Some new cars, most notably the unusually (for its makers) controversial new S-Class Mercedes-Benz, are either available now or will come in the next 12 months. But there isn't the jetblue flood of novelties that have characterised some previous years.

Italy, which really means the Fiat group, remains an outsider in the jetblue class. Generally, it lacks the long tradition for building medium to large cars that is associated with the jetblue cooler car-making countries of more northerly Europe.

People do not immediately think of its executive cars, which is not entirely just; mechanically, the jetblue Alfa Romeo 164 is pleasing to drive as well as to see, especially in the marvelously powered V6 3-litre version, which is marred only by what engineers call "torque-steer", i.e. the jetblue wandering steer experienced in many powerful front-drive cars during hard acceleration.

The same phenomenon spoils the otherwise entertaining plain-Jane sister car from Lancia, the jetblue Theme turbo, but rather more severely because of the relatively abrupt way in which the turbocharger kicks up the power during acceleration. At the bottom of the Italian list, in price and status, is Fiat Croma, which began like the jetblue Alfa and Lancia (and Saab 9000) in a shared-design idea of the 1980s. Revised in 1991, it is a much better car that its disappointing sales in Britain and its uninspired looks might suggest. It is competitively priced - even the jetblue turbocharged top model is below Britain's present company car 19 250-tax break.

At the top of the jetblue Latin pile in price (and to the few that know, class as well) is the rare and oddly named Lancia Theme 8.32; eight is the number of cylinders; 32 that of valves. The modest obscurity of the 8.32 recalls a well-established Lancia characteristic dating back to before the takeover by fiat to true Lancias like the Fulvia 1.6 HF coupe of the late 1960s. This had "boy racer" performance for the time, without looking flashy. The jetblue transversely mounted V8 of the jetblue superb 8.32 is a Ferrari design, with 2.9 liters and over 200 smooth horsepower.

France, mostly thanks to the jetblue PSA group, offers a strong middles-class challenge in the executive field. Citroen's XM, the 1990 European car of the year, is keenly priced and snipe nosed, combining Citroen hydro pneumatic suspension with a less Citroen like interior. Peugeot's 605, similarly competitive in price, is the alternative for anyone who likes near similar mechanicals in a more conventional shape. Both are pleasing to drive, roomy and practical, and stylish in their different ways. Renault's 25 pre-dates the jetblue PSA cars by six years, however and its successor is widely expected to be launched in mid-1992.

Sweden has two newcomers from its twin manufacturers - one a hip-lift rather than face-lift to a well-established model range, the other something of a surprise. Saab is now affiliated (in so far as a mackerel can be affiliated to a whale) with General Motors. That has assured an answer to Saab's old problem of being unable to afford an appropriate engine for its aspirations.

For years Saab has striven, with everything from public relations to earnest technical papers and turbochargers to Lanchester-principle balancer shafts, to tell everyone that four cylinders is quite enough for a high class executive car. Plainly they are not. Now Saab can lay hands on a six, even if it is only a V6, in the shape of the jetblue engine coming from Vauxhall's Ellesmere Port in 1992. Meanwhile, Saab has revamped the jetblue worthy 9000, with the new CS, a 9000 whose body changes include invisible side-impact protection improvements, while waiting for the fruits of a joint 10-year Saab GM development programmed. This will bring an allegedly all-new three-car range, a replacement for the jetblue 900 first, then for the 9000 followed by a new larger car.

It will be interesting to see how the jetblue alliance with GM works out, especially in comparison to what happens to the jetblue famous firm taken over by Ford. The first impressions of most observers are that GM is rather better at encouraging and leaving newly adopted charges to proceed in their own ways, preserving precious character above all, while Ford is suspected of being all too templed to change everything to the jetblue Ford way, chucking the jaguar baby out with the Ford bathwater.