Car rivals rev up for supermini race

Not wishing to be outdone by Mercedes-Benz’s new A-class `supermini’ vehicle, Rover took the opportunity of last week’s Geneva motor show to display its new generation of mini concept cars. The manufacturers are vying for a segment of the market they see opening up next century with increasing demand for small, safe, environmentally friendly cars. […]

Not wishing to be outdone by Mercedes-Benz’s new A-class `supermini’ vehicle, Rover took the opportunity of last week’s Geneva motor show to display its new generation of mini concept cars.

The manufacturers are vying for a segment of the market they see opening up next century with increasing demand for small, safe, environmentally friendly cars.

The rivals have separate approaches to safety, an inherent problem in small cars, which have little space around the passengers. Mercedes has gone for a sandwich floor design and a slimline engine. On impact, the engine moves into this space instead of the passenger compartment.

Rover puts the engine in its new concept cars, dubbed Spiritual, under the rear seats, leaving the whole of the front end to absorb energy on impact.

Mercedes claims that the A-class has `the most innovative use of space since Sir Alec Issigonis’s Mini’. It is just 3.6m long but, Mercedes says it has the interior room of a family saloon.

Rover has two versions of Spiritual, one which at 3.1m is the same size as the 1959 Mini. Ultimately price may carry most weight with the customer. At £14,000- £17,000 when it comes on sale in the UK next year the A-class will not be cheap. No prices are available for Rover’s concept cars.