PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 August, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 August, 2009, 12:00am

Bentley offers new flash dash

Bentley Hong Kong says it's working on the local launch of the Mulsanne Grand Tourer (right), which was unveiled last weekend at the Pebble Beach Concours D'Elegance in Monterey, California.

'Tentative planning is to bring it to Hong Kong by the first or second quarter of 2010, depending on availability,' the dealer says.

The muscular four-door car revives the name of the Le Mans track straight after 17 years and has yet to be priced for Hong Kong. The marque offers few technical details, but the Autoguide website says the Mulsanne 'will continue to use a twin-turbocharged 6.75-litre V8 engine that has almost been completely redesigned to make even more horsepower and torque while using less fuel'.

The Mulsanne's substantial vertical grille seems made to glare at a Phantom, but the Crewe flagship seems a boast of two halves: rounded Bentley at the back, and square, almost Rolls-like at the front.

We also hear Porsche packed a Boeing 747-400 freighter with 31 Panamera four-seaters for the concours and other US West Coast sales schmoozes. This picture (below) shows how the cars were stowed for their outward flight at Leipzig. They seem more tightly secured than a Jensen CV8 we saw ramped into the bulbous nose of a Bristol cargo plane on the Lydd to Le Touquet run in 1966. If you fly or stow cars in planes, please tell us whether you pack the biggest cars in first, last, or by the wings.

Where's the fire, sonny?

We used to think the Nissan GT-R was one of those mad rides that took years off a 50-year-old in the yacht club car park yet required the reactions of a much younger man in the confines of a Gloucester Road commute. But the GT-R seems to have found its boy-racer niche - as a fire car (below) on the Nurburgring Nordschleife circuit. Macau Grand Prix and Zhuhai track officials might take note.

'Equipped with a fire-extinguishing system with water and foam on board attached to a hose pipe accessed via the sizeable boot [below], this GT-R is designed to get to the scene of a blaze in the quickest possible time,' says Nissan. 'Even with the extra 200kg of firefighting equipment on board, the GT-R can still lap the challenging circuit in less than eight minutes.'

When hundreds of amateur drivers take on the roller-coaster circuit in Germany's Eifel region during public test drives, accidents are all too common, the marque says. 'With over [19km] of tarmac to cover, getting to the scene of a blaze in a bulky fire truck takes valuable time, so the GT-R [below] will provide firefighters with an invaluable new safety tool,' the Japanese marque says. The redesigned GT-R is a gift from Nissan to the Nurburgring operator in thanks for the company's collaboration in developing the 478 horsepower supercar, the marque says.

'The firefighting conversion was carried out by M&M Automotive, a Bonn-based specialist in car development and motor sports,' Nissan says. 'The GT-R's two back seats were taken out and replaced with a 50-litre water tank, secured with a roll cage.'

There is a medium-pressure extinguisher system (20 bars) as well as a winding device for the hose, Nissan says. 'The only other differences between this GT-R and one straight from the factory is the additional radio communication system, the new Recaro sports seats and the roll bar,' the marque says. 'With a foam reach of around 18 metres and a 20-metre hose, the unit will be able to fight fire for around two minutes on one tank.'

Students urged to major on safety

Students like flash cars with loud stereos, but they had better be safe, warns Britain's Institute of Advanced Motorists.

Cost is a key issue, says Neil Greig, the institute's director of policy and research. 'But opting for the cheapest vehicle can mean cutting safety corners and paying more to run it - newer cars tend to have better safety features and are usually more economical, too.'

Students and their parents should buy the best car they can afford and make features such as anti-lock braking a priority.

'ABS has saved lives. It has been a standard fitting on cars for many years and should be widely available in the used-car market,' the institute says. 'Electronic stability control is another life-saver and, while not as widely available on used cars, is well worth seeking out.'

In recession-hit Britain, a five-year-old 54 plate with these safety features can be had for GBP3,000 (HK$38,000). You may even have change left over to spend on modifying it to your own spec. 'But at the end of the day, safety is priceless,' Greig says.

Parents who are helping to pay for the car should insist on function over style, for example by looking for a car with Euro NCAP's four-star or five-star rating for crash protection, the institute says. But a great car is no substitute for good driving, and British drivers under 25 are involved in almost a quarter of crashes resulting in injury or death.

'You could think of the driving test as a GCSE - an important hurdle, but by no means the end of the process,' Greig says. 'Driving is a skill for life. Investing little more than the cost of an iPod in further training for a son or daughter should result in a more confident, thoughtful and safer driver - and might even repay the outlay in reduced insurance premiums.'

We recommend students look at the Smart ForTwo, Mini Cooper and Fiat 500 as they look good, seem affordable to run and are packed with safety. And former students: was your college car a glittering prize or a university challenge?