Category Archives: Motoring

Electric MG bucks the trend

MG5 Exclusive

By Bill McCarthy

NO-ONE can accuse MG of lacking ambition. Years after the brand’s disappearance and then return to British roads, it has moved on in leaps and bounds.

After a faltering start, the line-up is still limited but imaginative. This latest model, the all-electric MG5, targets the fleet market, which bucks the current trend for SUV/crossover vehicles, instead offering a repmobile-style estate car.

It is also an affordable electric option for larger families, with its impressive range, practicality and stowage space. It’s range would not be suitable for company drivers covering hundreds of miles a day, rather the local multi-drop urban work or commuting to and from an office or to visit clients, where the range 214 miles, would be more than adequate.

This alleviates one of the big problems with electric cars – range anxiety. The question of whether you can reach your destination, and if you can’t are there charging points available? Around 200 miles seemed easily achievable while living with the car.

There’s little to show the car is an electric vehicle apart from some discrete badging, the green strip on the number plate and the lack of tailpipes.

It offers smart styling, sitting low off the ground to attain better stability, ultra-low running costs, particularly with Benefit in Kind taxation for business users, just one per cent for 2021/2022 and a hugely attractive price. It starts from £24,495 (after the Government plug-in car grant), not forgetting the seven year warranty.

The vehicle is powered by a 115kW electric motor and delivers the instant, blistering acceleration associated with electric cars. Equivalent to 156PS, it can hit 60mph in 7.7 seconds.  It is a comfortable place to be and handles pretty much as well as any petrol or diesel estate and accommodates five people with relative ease.

The 52.5kWh Lithium-Ion battery pack can be charged from zero to 80 per cent in just 50 minutes using a rapid charger. A full charge at home using Type 2 fast charging can be attained in around eight and a half hours.

There’s little to show the car is an electric vehicle apart from some discrete badging, the green strip on the number plate and the lack of tailpipes.

It has a low slung profile and while it may not be the most exciting styling, the iconic MG badge on the black grille still attracts plenty of interest. The grille badge in fact discretely conceals the charging, point, swinging open to allow the car to be plugged in.

The interior feels like a much more expensive car, with a comprehensive list of standard equipment. It also has a more modern feel, with the usual gear selector replaced with a rotary knob and the instruments laid out in a clear, concise and logical manner.

There is plenty of head and legroom, even for rear seat passengers, while the front seats, on this Exclusive model are leather-style, heated and fully adjustable

 To hammer home the point of the car’s value for money, even the ‘entry level’ Excite features electric windows all-round, air conditioning, regenerative braking, cruise control with speed limiter, an auto-hold electric parking brake, rain-sensing wipers and push-button starter.

This is together with 16-inch, alloys, remote entry with push-button start, air conditioning, four electric windows, electrically adjustable mirrors, cruise control, rear parking sensors and follow- me-home headlights. This Exclusive model adds rear camera, sat nav, silver roof rails, electrically adjustable folding heated mirrors, an automatically dimming mirror and satellite navigation.

The centrepiece on both is an eight-inch colour touchscreen and seven-inch TFT display. The touch screen controls navigation, infotainment through the six speaker system and DAB radio, and connectivity for smartphones.

In addition there are four USB ports, The TFT display gives a raft of driver information, particularly on the charging and range of the car.

The large boot area is accessed through a wide tailgate opening and offers from 464 litres of space up a spacious 1,456 litres, depending on the configuration of the folding rear seats.

It’s also packed with active and passive safety systems, with front, side and curtain airbags, electronic brake assist, ABS with EBD, twin ISOFIX points in the rear and hill start assistance.

Factfile

MG 5 Exclusive

Price: £27,540

Mechanical: 156PS,115kw electric motor driving front wheels via auto via transmission

Max Speed: 115mph

0-62mph: 7.7 seconds

Combined MPG: Range 214 miles (WLTP)

Insurance Group: 19

C02 emissions: 0g/km

Warranty: 7yrs/80,000 miles

Final flourish for Exige and Elise

Iconic Lotus models get special treatment

By Bill McCarthy


Iconic is often used to describe cars, but few in reality deserve that status. Lotus most certainly does. Small in production numbers, but virtually universally recognisable, they are true drivers’ cars.

The Norfolk-based manufacturer is saying farewell to two models with limited editions of the Exige and Elise, so you can add rarity value to iconic in this case.

Both models have been around for more than 20 years and are bowing out with a bang.

Iconic? Yes, and thrilling because both offer a stripped down, raw form of driving which enthusiasts love, even if you need to be a contortionist to slide yourself into the seats.

Push it towards the red line and the roar becomes more pronounced, while the 420Nm of torque means the car pulls beautifully in all gears

Once inside having navigated the large step down into the cockpit, you are seated low to the ground, go-kart style. But there is plenty of legroom and the new flat-bottomed steering wheel also help with ingress/egress, while the seats are surprisingly comfortable.

Creature comforts are few and far between in pursuit of weight saving. Spartan, would be a kind way to describe it with aluminium dominant for dash, sills and exposed gear linkage and central tunnel. Soft touch finish is not for these models, with hard plastics prevalent, although there is some suede finish.

The Exige Sport 390 Final Edition is a real supercar, offering blistering performance and a road presence that is hard to match and, as Lotus would say, has  become the genre-defining definition of a race car for the road.

The Elise Sport 240 Final Edition is no less head turning than its sibling and says farewell after 25 years of gracing roads worldwide.

So what are the main differences? Both have stunning curvaceous styling and a choice of eye-catching, some garish, colour options, new exterior decals, lare air scoops, new wheel finishes and trim, but the Exige has a more raw, track-racing look, with its roof scoop and distinctive rear spoiler

Both are mid-engine and take advantage of their low-weight aluminium construction to offer stunning performance.

I perhaps got it the wrong way round driving the Exige first. Stripped down motoring it is with a 3.5 litre V6 supercharged engine mated with a slick shifting six speed box.

Muscle car might be a better description of this beast, with no power assisted steering and stiff clutch giving shoulders and left leg a workout before you’ve even got going.

Fire it up and it burbles calmly until you press the throttle and the roar and response is instantaneous. Acceleration through the 397bhp power unit is neck-wrenching, although care had to be taken on a wet road drive. Having said that, on long straight stretches, the car could be put through its paces. 

The lack of power steering then really comes into its own as the driver gets superb feedback, feeling every inch of the road, while grip from the combination of 17 and 18-inch wheels front and rear, means it goes exactly where you point and at blistering pace. 

Push it towards the red line and the roar becomes more pronounced, while the 420Nm of torque means the car pulls beautifully in all gears.

 It can hit 60mph in around 3.5 seconds and on to a top speed of over 170mph. The kind of car built as much for the track as for the road.

The Elise 240, in comparison felt almost pedestrian. That’s if you can call hitting 60mph in just over four seconds pedestrian.

Powered by a supercharged and charge-cooled 1.8-litre, four-cylinder mid-mounted engine, it delivers 240bhp and 244Nm of torque.

 Again response is instantaneous as you rip through the gears while the car clings limpet-like to the tarmac. It almost feels like power steering after the fat tyres of the Exige, 16 and 17-inch respectively here, but handling and steering feedback are superb.

For both cars, the excellent aerodynamics and spoilers produce huge downforce to keep both glued to the road, so wet weather could only slightly detract with what was a thrilling drive in both.

For their final farewell, both have come with what Lotus describes as the most extensive list of interior and exterior features, ever, which to be honest, aren’t that many, but that won’t matter for enthusiasts.

The biggest upgrade is the new TFT digital dashboard with the choice of two screens, one with a conventional set of dials and the other a race car-style with digital speed read-out and an engine speed bar and all with a Final Edition build plaque, plus new seat trim and stitch patterns.

Colours are split into two; Select, which includes Daytona Blue, Fire Red, Metallic Orange and Motorsport Black; and Heritage, which includes Racing Green, Nightfall Blue, Essex Blue and Calypso Red. 

Five new variants of the two cars are the Elise Sport 240, Elise Cup 250, Exige Sport 390, Exige Sport 420 and Exige Cup 430. Lotus is anticipating high demand from global markets as customers rush to buy a slice of history. Prices range from £45,500 for the Elise to £100,600 for the range topping Exige.  

Lotus owners, Chinese firm Geely are now joining the electric party with the 1,000bhp Evija hypercar set to hit the roads, while the new petrol engined Emira also on the way.

New museum motors in

A member of staff gives a Triumph Spitfire 1500 a last-minute polish at The Great british Car Journey launch

Great British Car Journey open doors

Born from an idea spawned by a 32-year-old Austin Maestro, and after four years in the making, the UK’s newest visitor attraction Great British Car Journey has opened its doors.

Making the once ordinary extraordinary, the Great British Car Journey is packed with British marques and models that dominated the roads for nearly a century.

Motors fixed in our memories, like the Morris Minor, Ford Capri, and everything before, after and in between, are cars that are now so rare that you’re more likely to see a £150,000 supercar on today’s roads.

More than 130 vehicles now fill a former wire works factory on the banks of the River Derwent in Ambergate, Derbyshire.

Richard Usher, CEO of Great British Car Journey explained: “Four years ago, when I owned and managed Blyton Circuit, a gentleman approached me asking if I’d like to buy his 1989 Austin Maestro in mint condition with just 10,000 miles on the clock. My first thought was ‘no’, but it then got me thinking about when I last saw an Austin Allegro, Metro, original Mini, or even a Ford Cortina on the road. These were cars that were once on virtually every street in Britain and sold in their millions.”

The seed was planted and Richard, together with four private investors, set about amassing one of the largest privately owned collections of British designed and manufactured cars in the country. 

Visitors to Great British Car Journey will be guided round the exhibition with a unique handheld audio device which tells the fascinating story of individual vehicles as well as the development of the UK’s motor industry.

Starting with the Austin Seven in 1922, the Great British Car Journey chronicles car design and production in the UK through to the modern-day McLaren 650S, which has been lent to the attraction by the supercar manufacturer. 

Mike Flewitt, CEO of McLaren Automotive said: “Richard and the team have done an amazing job bringing Great British Car Journey to life. I am delighted that McLaren is able to support the exhibition which celebrates Britain’s motoring history from Bruce McLaren’s Austin Seven, where our brand story began, through to modern day supercars such as our 650S.”

The collection of almost 150 cars has been brought together over the last four years. One of the most difficult cars to find for the exhibition was a Vauxhall Chevette. Only a handful of Chevettes in roadworthy condition are thought to exist in the world today, despite around half a million being sold in Britain between 1975 and 1984.

Explaining his vision in more detail, Mr Usher said: “I really wanted the cars to tell a story, so the journey charts the growth of car ownership from Austin’s Seven to the present day.”

“It has a motor show feel with cars grouped in the decades – or chapters – in which they were produced, with period adverts and graphics prominently displayed.

“The vehicles are easily accessible. We want people to smell the old car smell, marvel at the interiors and jog memories of trips in the family car, their first car or back seat fights with their siblings when they were growing up.

“Everyone who has been on the journey, whether a car nut like myself or not, doesn’t fail to have a smile on their face remembering days gone by. Great British Car Journey is the ultimate trip down Memory Lane,” added Richard.

And the cars aren’t purely for looking at; more than 30 of them can be driven.

For an authentic, hands-on trip down Memory Lane 32 cars, including the Maestro that started it all, are available to drive on a private road as part of the Drive Dad’s Car experience.

All the vehicles in both the exhibition and Drive Dad’s Car experience are in working order and fully maintained by Great British Car Journey’s own time-served technician and apprentice. Visitors are welcome to watch them at work in the onsite workshop within the exhibition hall.  

“Great British car journey is very much a working attraction. We have a large collection of well-thumbed Haynes manuals which are regularly consulted when we need to locate a bonnet catch or various engine parts to ensure the maintenance of the collection,” added Mr Usher.

Visitors to Great British Car Journey are guided round the exhibition with the handheld audio device while an army of volunteers is on hand to explain the finer details of the vehicles, from hidden petrol caps masquerading as taillights to the split bumper on the Morris Minor and one car once owned by a British music icon.

Entry to Great British Car Journey costs just £15 for adults (concessions are available) 

Tickets for Great British Car Journey and the Drive Dad’s Car experience can be booked online at http://www.greatbritishcarjourney.com and at http://www.drivedadscar.com.

Work starts on City clean air scheme

Pictured left to right: Councillor Waseem Zaffar , Councillor Ian Ward the Leader of Birmingham City Council, Mark Jones from Motorpoint and Laura Shoaf MD Transport West Midlands

Team appointed to lead scrappage initiative

Work has begun on Birmingham’s e Clean Air Zone Vehicle Scrappage and Travel Scheme. Motorpoint, the UK’s largest independent car retailer, which has branches in Aston and Oldbury, was recently selected by Birmingham City Council to help deliver the £10m scheme.  

People who work in the zone and earn less than £30,000 per annum, will now be able to scrap their vehicle with Motorpoint. In exchange, they will receive £2,000 credit towards a compliant vehicle from Motorpoint or £2,000 in a ‘mobility’ credit to use on public transport via a Swift Card with Transport for West Midlands (TfWM).

The Birmingham’s Clean Air Zone goes live on June 1, 2021. From this date the owners of vehicles that do not meet the emission standards of the Clean Air Zone will be subject to a daily fee of £8 to enter the zone.  The Clean Air Zone is an area of Birmingham city centre inside the A4540 Middleway (but not the Middleway itself).

Kevin Cartwright, General Manager of Motorpoint Birmingham and Oldbury, said: “We’re delighted to see the Clean Air Zone Vehicle Scrappage and Travel Scheme go live and with it the opportunity to further reduce the levels of nitrogen dioxide emissions in the city. 

“Motorpoint has hundreds of low mileage, nearly new vehicles all under warranty available at its branches across the city – every one of which is Clean Air Zone compliant. Plus, with our Sameday Driveaway service, people can choose, test drive and buy, all in the space of a couple of hours. We would definitely recommend anyone thinking of taking advantage of the scheme to go online and start their car buying journey at motorpoint.co.uk or alternatively pop into their nearest Motorpoint branch.”

Cllr Waseem Zaffar, Birmingham City Council’s Cabinet Member for Transport and the Environment, added: “Every year, up to 1,000 people in Birmingham are dying prematurely from conditions linked to air pollution including cancer, heart and lung disease.  This is an unacceptable situation.

Clean air should be a basic right, not a luxury and just because it is invisible it does not mean we should ignore it. The Clean Air Zone will help improve air quality within our city and the Vehicle Scrappage and Travel Credit Scheme helps tackle the source of the problem by removing the most polluting vehicles from our roads.”

Motorpoint currently has over 6,000 low mileage, nearly new cars and light commercial vehicles available from over 30 different manufacturers. Every vehicle from Motorpoint comes with the balance of manufacturer’s warranty backed by the Motorpoint Price Promise. This means Motorpoint will refund the difference to any customer within seven days of their order if they find the same car cheaper from a competitor. As a bonus, it will also give the customer £50 worth of Amazon vouchers to spend. 

Plus, as part of the company’s on-going COVID-19 safeguarding processes, all vehicle collections will be completed in specially designated areas to always guarantee social distancing while an online portal means the car buying experience is completely paperless with customers able to sign for their new car using their mobile phone. 

The full eligibility criteria and terms and conditions for the scheme are available at www.brumbreathes.co.uk

SEAT PLUGS SPORTY HYBRID

SEAT Leon hybrid

By Bill McCarthy


Sometimes its the little things the grab your attention when driving a new car. Yes, the Leon is typically SEAT; sleek profile with sharp styling and proud to be known as the sporty arm of the VW group.

But it was the puddle lights in the door mirror that caught my attention, reflecting the Spanish word ‘hola’ onto ground when activated by the key. A clever gimmick, but the new SEAT has so much more to offer.

A plug-in hybrid that offers economy and pace, low Benefit in Kind taxation benefits, starting at just six per cent for the baseline model. It’s also competitively priced, starting at just over £30k, even if this tested range topper will set you back more than £41k.

The  power unit is a combination of a turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol engine and an 85kW electric motor to offer 204PS of power, mated with 13.1kWh lithium-ion battery pack to deliver a claimed electric range of up to 38 miles and CO2 of 28g/km.

Official economy figures show between 217 and 235mpg, a figure theoretically possible, but real world figures are harder to determine. Keep it fully charged and there will be few trips to the petrol station, but running on petrol alone with the battery discharged, around 40mpg seemed possible.

‘The Leon offers a pleasing mixture of sharp angles and flowing curves’

It also delivers performance well into hot hatch territory, with rapid pace from a standing start and a top speed not nearly double what’s permitted on UK motorways. It races to 60mph in just 7.5 seconds and on to a theoretical top speed of 137mph.

Based on the Group’s MQB architecture it offers a pleasing mixture of sharp angles and flowing curves and low profile. The FR models feature sporty front and rear bumpers, dynamic, dual exhaust pipes and lowered suspension.

 The interior is dominated by a 10-inch touchscreen which controls major functions like connectivity, infotainment and navigation and the now familiar customisable digital cockpit, seen on other VW brands.

Fixtures and fittings are high quality and the bland black interior is lifted by red stitching. Seats are comfortable and head and legroom good. Hatchbacks are practical by definition, but space in this hybrid is compromised by the position of the large battery to the rear, this eats up a substantial 100 litres of stowages space over the non-hybrid models, with 270  litres available, rather than 380.

On the road, the car is a fine performer, offering sporty performance, aided by MacPherson suspension at the front and a multilink system at the rear, together with the Dynamic Chassis Control deliver a composed but firm ride.

Even the entry level FR is packed with standard kit, while this range-topping First Edition model adds luxuries like 18-inch alloy wheels, panoramic sunroof, heated front seats and steering wheel, rear view camera and keyless entry.

All have excellent safety features including full complement of airbags. and this model included, Dynamic Chassis Control, Safety and Driving Pack consisting of dynamic road sign display; adaptive cruise control with follow to stop and speed limiter.

The car  always starts in all-electric mode (when the battery is sufficiently charged). The drive switches to hybrid mode if the energy capability of the battery drops below a certain level or if the accelerator is pressed to such a point that the engine is required to assist with acceleration.

In Hybrid mode, the driver has the possibility of maintaining the charge status to a defined level. By doing so, the vehicle runs almost entirely on petrol power, using both the engine and regenerative braking to charge the battery. This makes it possible to drive into an urban destination area under electric power and with zero emissions.

Remotely, the SEAT Connect app can manage the charging process via the e-Manager, control the air conditioning – the vehicle can be pre-heated for up to 30 minutes between 15 and 22 degrees celsius – and manage departure times (to ensure vehicle is charged and ready) all from the smartphone app.

Factfile

SEAT Leon e-HYBRID FR First Edition

Price: £ 41,745

Mechanical: Combined 204PS 1498cc, four-cylinder petrol engine and electric motor driving front wheels via six speed DSG auto gearbox

Maximum speed: 137mph

Acceleration: 0-60mph in 7.5 seconds

Economy: 217-235 mpg (WLTP)

Insurance group: 27E

CO2 emissions: 28g/km

BiK rating: 12 per cent

Warranty: three years, 60,000 miles

MG steps up to the marque

MG3 

By Bill McCarthy

MG’s supermini has taken a quantum leap forward from the first version introduced back in 2013. Better in virtually every area, but still offering incredible value for money, an iconic badge and industry-equalling seven-year warranty – notot to mention low insurance rates, making it particularly attractive for younger buyers.

It’s also stylish and practical, with the largest boot space in its segment. The firm’s blurb says: “Designed to make a bold statement, the New MG3 is targeted at style-conscious buyers seeking something different from the rest of the market, offering a wealth of personalisation options.”

A typical sales pitch, but accurate in many ways. One of the first things that strikes you about it is the ease of entry and exit, the kind you would expect on a larger SUV.

It is a smart looking car, with the iconic MG badge set in the middle of a deep, wide grille flanked by LED daytime running lights, wit deep air scoops below.

 In addition there are body coloured door handles, powered electric door mirrors and rear spoiler, together with side sills with  body coloured with black insert, so it does have a funky, sporty look. 

Equally distinctive is the side profile where the body coloured side skirts lower the stance and it is all finished of nicely with 16-inch diamond-cut alloys.

“It’s quite a package and hard to argue about value for money”

 if that’s not enough, there are also customisable options, with six distinctive colour variations.

It is well equipped, with many goodies found on much more expensive cars. It features all round electric windows, all versions come with Bluetooth telephone and audio streaming and AUX/USB as standard, plus an eight inch colour touchscreen and steering wheel audio controls.

The interior continues the sporty theme, but lacks some of the soft touch plastics sophistication of some of its competitors. But the harsh dark plastics are nicely offset with a tartan finish on this model, together with matching red stitching and graphic highlights. This model also featured sports seats and multi-function steering wheel.

The centrepiece is the screen, which features navigation, smartphone connectivity via Apple CarPlay, DAB radio and also houses the reversing camera on this model. Other controls are functional, if looking slightly dated.

Underlining the easy access and exit from the car is the class-leading head and legroom, which accommodates  four people in comfort, with the fifth a  tight squeeze. No surprise really in this class of car. But it does have a roomy feel to it especially with the large glass areas allowing plenty of light into the cabin.

The 105 bhp petrol engine is a lively unit. Mated to a slick-shifting five speed manual gearbox, it hits 60mph in just over 10 seconds. It is refined enough and has just enough poke on the motorway for reasonable overtaking. Fuel economy is a claimed 47-odd mpg, but I struggled to get 40, while CO2 emissions are on the high side.

 Road performance is good with sharp, sporty handling making it an engaging drive, while the direct, responsive steering adds to the agility of the car. This can be at the expense of comfort through the firm ride. The suspension is  specifically designed for British roads and  can become uncomfortable over lesser surfaces.

In practical terms, it has one of the most spacious boots in its class, with an impressive 285 litres of capacity. Rising to 1,262 with the seats folded. A sizeable stowage space in a small car.

Versions include Excite at £12,195, Exclusive and Exclusive Nav and all featuring the single 1.5 litre petrol power unit. 

Safety features include twin front, side and curtain airbags, electronic stability control, corner brake control, hill hold control and traction control as standard.

It’s quite a package and hard to argue about the value for money, with even this range topper costing £13,840 on the road.

Oh yes, and there’s that warranty, seven years or 80k miles for extra peace of mind.

Factfile

MG3 Exclusive 1.5 

Price: £ 13,840

Mechanical: 1498cc, 105bhp, four-cylinder petrol engine driving front wheels via five speed gearbox

Maximum speed: 108mph

Acceleration: 0-60mph in 10.4 seconds

Economy: 47.1 mpg (NEDC2)

Insurance group: 6

CO2 emissions: 140g/km

Warranty: seven years, 80,000 miles’

Carving out a special niche

Audi A1 Citycarver 

By Bill McCarthy


Even superminis are getting the steroids treatment these days as the appetite for SUVs/crossovers seems insatiable.

So I suppose it should be no surprise that Audi, who produce some pretty mean SUVs already, has given its smallest car the muscle treatment.

The A1 Citycarver is a striking looking car with a striking name. What is the idea behind it? Does it carve its way through city traffic? Who knows. But it’s sure to be popular with Audi enthusiasts offering the rugged look with Audi quality and a price that will not actually blow your socks off. Those looking for all-wheel drive will be disappointed however, so despite its looks there is no Quattro version available yet.

 There’s a choice of two petrol engines, the lively 1.5 litre, 148bhp petrol on this model and a smaller, three pot one litre,113bhp power unit.

The design is based on the A1 Sportback, but the more muscular look includes wheel arch cladding, underbody protection, a stainless steel finish and raised suspension giving around four centimetres of additional ground clearance for easier entry and better visibility. The striking black grille has the knobbly honeycomb finish seen across the range while two slots above the grille differentiate it from the Sportback.

It also features a large bumper to the rear, full LED headlights, 17-inch alloy wheels and roof edge spoiler. The colour palette is extensive and features include a two-tone option like the unmissable yellow and black combo on the model driven here, enhancing, or diminishing the muscular look, depending on your point of view.

While the exterior looks different, the interior pretty much mirrors the A1 with the centrepiece the familiar eight-inch MMI touchscreen that controls major functions like navigation, infotainment and smartphone connectivity mirroring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

It sits in the middle of a sweeping, ergonomically designed dashboard, which also houses a version of the Audi digital ‘cockpit’ which can be configured in various ways to show a different combination of dials and information readouts.

Fixtures and fittings are sturdy and typically Audi with soft touch finish for the most part, but some cheaper plastics thrown in which you won’t find on some its bigger (and more expensive) stablemates.

The power unit is excellent, mated to the seven-speed DSG auto transmission, it has plenty of urge and even when pushed hard retains a sweet note.

Acceleration is brisk, the car hitting 60mph in just under eight seconds, ideal for smart getaways around town, and can confirm it is a pretty refined motorway cruiser, have completed around 300 miles on the country’s main highways. There’s plenty of power in reserve for overtaking, while road and engine noise is barely noticeable. Economy is pretty impressive to with official figures of 44mpg.

Sitting higher off the ground than the A1, handling is only slightly compromised and it feels assured when cornering, with lots of grip, while the steering is direct and nicely weighted.

Seats are comfortable with decent space in the front, even for taller occupants, but is cramped in the rear, which you would expect with this type of car.

Small it may be but it scores well with practicality with a decent sized, sensibly shaped boot. Stowage space is also good with  335 litres, increasing to 1,090 litres with the rear seats folded.

Standard spec includes  full-LED headlights with dynamic rear turn signals, air conditioning, the Audi drive select dynamic handling system and assistance technologies such as cruise control, and for safety a full complement of airbags, plus Audi Pre-sense Front with pedestrian and cyclist recognition, lane departure warning and hill-hold assist.

As ever with Audi options abound and this model included the Technology pack at £1,695 and Comfort & sound pack at £1,150. The Technology Pack incorporating the Audi virtual cockpit with an increased range of views and functions, MMI navigation plus with larger 10.1-inch high resolution screen, Audi connect with its wide variety of online services and the Audi Phone Box facilitating wireless smartphone charging.

Comfort and Sound Pack adds Parking System Plus with acoustic and visual assistance and additional front protection to complement the standard rear sensors, front seat heating and the Bang & Olufsen 3D sound system with 560 watts of music power.

Factfile

Audi A1 Citycarver 35 TFSI S tronic

Price: £25,435

Mechanical: 150PS, 1,498cc, 4cyl petrol engine driving front wheels via 7-speed DSG auto gearbox

Max speed: 136mph

0-60mph: 8 seconds

Combined mpg: 44.1

Insurance group: 24E

CO2 emissions: 145g/km

BiK rating: 33%

Warranty: 3yrs/60,000 miles

Tiguan a true ‘people’s car’

Volkswagen Tiguan

By Bill McCarthy

THE translation of Volkswagen into English could well describe the latest version of the firm’s hugely popular SUV.

‘The people’s car’ is very apt, with the VW Tiguan having sold six million worldwide since its introduction in 2007. So popular it took another nine years for the second generation to come along in 2016 and now that model has had a major revamp at the end of last year.

It is Europe’s best selling SUV and gets a new trim line-up and a choice of petrol, diesel and hybrid power units, together with design and technological advances.

Already one of the most stylish and recognisable on the market, it retains its muscular SUV look, sitting high off the ground with stylish 18-inch alloys. However the rugged look is softened with roof rails, rear tinted glass, LED Matrix headlights flanking the slim grille and large air flow ducts below.

 The firm’s Y-structure trim allows for two range toppers. It starts with Tiguan, then Life and a choice at the top end of Elegance for luxury, and R-Line, driven here, being the sportier model. This features 20-inch ‘Misano’ alloy wheels, lowered sports suspension, bespoke  bumpers and rear roof spoiler, as well as upgraded light clusters.

“Acceleration is brisk, hitting 60mph in just over nine seconds, with top seed of 121mph, if you are driving on German autobahns”

This model featured the hi-tech 1.5-litre TSI, 150 PS engine, mated with the familiar, slick-shifting 7-speed DSG transmission. The engine features cylinder deactivation, shutting down two cylinders under certain conditions to boost mpg and reduce CO2 emissions.

The interior is much improved  with the digital instrument panel ‘cockpit’ and the eight-inch touch screen dominating. The touchscreen controls navigation and sound system which includes DAB radio, and connectivity with streaming and internet capabilities. Smartphones can be hooked to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto via screen mirroring.

In typical VW style the interior is solidly built with high quality fixtures and fittings, together with high-end soft touch finish to dash and doors and leather bound steering wheel and gearshift.

It is a comfortable place to be, with 30-colour ambient lighting, heated front seats, sports steering wheel with touch control function, brushed stainless steel pedals and a black headliner and aluminium scuff plates displaying the R-Line logo.

On the road the engine is refined, with plenty of grunt, and whether in full auto mode or having fun with paddle shifters behind the steering wheel, is an engaging drive. Acceleration is brisk, hitting 60 in just over nine seconds and on to a top speed of 121 mph, if you fancy it, driving on the German autobahns.

Considering its high-off-the-ground stance, it feels stable, even when cornering at higher speeds, while the steering is nicely weighted and direct. The gearshifts via the dual-clutch box are barely perceptible, particularly around town. On the motorway is a comfortable cruiser with plenty of torque to aid overtaking at higher speeds, with only road noise from the large alloys occasionally intrusive and, if being really picky, some wind noise from the door mirrors.

 The cylinder technology helps to deliver impressive real-world economy, with nearly 40mpg possible according to the WLTP figures and CO2 emissions of 143 g/km.

There are multiple space and stowage options via the 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats which also slide back and forth. It has a large boot, which comes with the option of ‘kick’ operation for easy remote opening and easy loading, and partitions for keeping items separate.

The generous 615 litres increases to a huge 1,665 with the seats folded flat. In addition a large bin between the front seats offers further stowage space, as do the roof rails.

 There is a full complement of airbags, plus features like stability and traction control together with Adaptive Cruise Control, Front Assist and front and rear parking sensors, as well as a Driver Alert System and Dynamic Road Sign Display.

The R-Line also features Emergency Assist and Travel Assist over the Elegance trim model, facilitating Level 2 autonomous driving at speeds of up to 130 mph (where permitted).

The entry-level trim kicks off with a generous raft of equipment, including 17-inch alloy wheels and LED headlights and the goodies mount up as you move up through Life and then twin range toppers Elegance and R-Line.

Factfile

Volkswagen Tiguan R-Line 1.5 TSI 150 DSG

Price: £ 32,135

Mechanical: 1498cc, 150PS, four-cylinder petrol engine driving front wheels via seven-speed DSG auto transmission

Maximum speed: 126mph

Acceleration: 0-60mph in 9.2 seconds

Economy: 38.8 mpg

Insurance group: 20E

CO2 emissions: 165g/km

BiK rating: 36 per cent

Warranty: three years, 60,000 miles

BMW Coupe is a showstopper

Pace, power and panache . . . and a controversial style

BMW M440i 

By Bill McCarthy


THERE is no doubt that BMW builds some striking looking cars, with this head-turning coupe arguably the sleekest and most stylish of the lot.

Recently revised, it combines the brutal power of the straight six petrol engine with mild hybrid technology, plus specially tailored design features.

It’s a showstopper, shod with 20-inch black alloys, encasing huge red brake callipers and sporting a feline-like silhouette, it never failed to attract attention whether parked on the drive or out on the road.

The stiffer chassis builds on technology from the latest 3 series and it also features a high quality interior with a raft of driver assistance technologies, cutting edge infotainment and a comprehensive package of safety features.

Longer and wider than the car it replaces, it has narrower A pillars, frameless windows and huge doors, with extreme care needed when opening in relatively confined spaces.

What does mark it out from other BMWs however is the reworked grille. The firm describes it as a ‘vertical kidney grille’ and says harks back to a previous generation of cars. It is much, much deeper, is split by the number plate, and barely resembles the iconic kidney shape and seems much more in tune with the deep grille seen on Audis.

‘The interior is a masterclass, with high quality materials and subtle ambient lighting’

Flanked by slim LED light clusters and deep airscoops, it is a controversial move for BMW purists, a couple of whom registered their disapproval with me. Less so with non-BMW owners, who admired the look.

 The rear end styling is also striking and incorporates slim, darkened full-LED rear lights, dual exhausts and a subtle M Sport spoiler.

Power comes from the three litre turbo-charged six-cylinder engine, which is now mated with a 48-volt mild hybrid system which adds a further 11bhp of on-demand power. 

Here recuperated energy can be supplied to supplement the 12V electrical system, like the stop/start, or used for generating additional drive power when fed back to the 48V starter-generator. When the car is accelerating, the generator is also able to offer the driver an electric boost effect.

Not that it particularly needs that 11bhp in acceleration terms, as the car rockets to 60mph in just 4.5 seconds, accompanied by the six-cylinder roar, much amplified by the twin tailpipes.

It generates 374bhp and a huge maximum torque of 500Nm. Brutal performance while still returning average fuel consumption of around 40mpg, truly impressive for such a powerful beast.

It is an engaging driving experience, either in full auto or using the shifter paddles behind the steering wheel to race though the eight-speed box. The six-pot burble is always in the background, even when just depressing the starter button, a reminder of the power under the bonnet.

The interior is a masterclass, a four-seater, although the rear two are cramped in 2+2 style, with limited headroom. It offers high quality materials and subtle ambient lighting.

M Sport models also include specific sport pedals, driver’s footrest and the powered red leather seats match contrasting dark soft touch finish, thick carpets and anthracite headlining.

This model also has multi-function M leather steering wheel and 12.3 inch digital instrument cluster display bearing the M logo and digital radio. Options included enhanced Bluetooth with wireless charging, drive recorder and gesture control.

Central is the 10.3 touchscreen in the middle of the dash, with the central rotary iDrive on the console controlling infotainment, sat nav and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, 

In addition the BMW Connected Package Professional adds remote services and real time traffic information. 

On the road, the car is stunningly quick, throwing you back in your seat, but all that power requires the technology to keep it on the road and safe. It delivers this in spades, with the xDrive intelligent all-wheel-drive system sending power to the wheels as required, while the stiffened body structure and suspension mountings give greater stability. The handling is peerless with the slip differential, adaptive suspension and active chassis keeping the car firmly planted while sweeing through tight bends and the beautifully weighted steering is direct and responsive.

Practicality is good with a large boot which has a capacity of 444 litres which is supplemented by a 40:20:40 split backrest, and a large central oddments bin.

Safety kit is comprehensive, with a full complement of airbags, including steering wheel bag, traction and stability control plus, plus lane change warning, crossing traffic warning, rear-end collision warning and speed limit information.

Te downside is that on BMWs you can spend a small fortune on optional extras that come as standard on some competitors. This model included eight grand’s worth of enhanced, safety, communication and extra comfort features, whacking the total price to nearly £62k. Question is, do you need them?

Factile

BMW M440i xDrive Coupe

Price: £52,100

Mechanical: 374bhp, 2,998, six cylinder petrol engine driving all wheels via eight speed Steptronic auto gearbox

Max speed: 155mph

0-62mph: 4.5 seconds

Combined mpg: 39.8-41.5 

Insurance group: 40

CO2 emissions: 155-163g/km

BiK rating: 36%

Warranty: 3yrs/unlimited miles

Stylish Vitara gets electric boost

Suzuki Vitara Hybrid

By Bill McCarthy


THE Vitara may be something of a veteran these days, having been around for more than three decades.

But looking at the 2020 version, you would not believe it was the same car with its sleeker design and hybrid technology.

 If an SUV can be described as attractive, then The Vitara is a strong contender, particularly in this two-tone version.

Red, with contrasting black roof, door mirrors and wheel arch guards, it also  features raked windscreen, familiar clamshell bonnet to complement the recently redesigned front grille, lower bumper, silver roof rails, and stylish rear lamp clusters. This year new LED design headlamps have also been incorporated  for this hybrid model.

Engine choice is easy. It is powered by the efficient and powerful turbocharged 1.4 litre Boosterjet engine, mated to a Suzuki’s lightweight Integrated Starter Generator, or ISG, 48v lithium-ion battery and 48V-12V (DC/DC) converter to power some low power electrical components. All of this adds only an extra 15kg is added to the overall weight of the vehicle.

Vitara offers great value for money, with comprehensive kit and a great reputation for liability. It looks good too.

The ISG is charged by the battery which is in turn re-charged as the car brakes and decelerates.

It helps power electrical systems like safety features, air conditioning, Bluetooth and smartphone connectivity and electrical components that help the car to move.

According to the latest official WLTP figures, this can lead to a 15 per cent boost to fuel economy and a 25 per cent reduction of CO2 emissions. This was pretty much evident during a long and varied run to the coast where close to 50mpg was indicated.

It can also give an extra power boost to the petrol engine when pushed.

Suzukis are always great value for money with high levels of standard kit. The base  model includes seven airbags, assisted braking,  collision avoidance system, alloy wheels, LED projector headlamps for low and high beam, DAB Radio with CD, USB and Bluetooth connectivity,  auto air conditioning and front and auto headlights and wipers.

The SZ-T model driven here adds 17-inch  alloy wheels, white stitching for seat trim fabric, Smartphone link audio and navigation system.

If you want the bells and whistles and the option of four wheel drive, move up to the SZ5 which adds 17-inch polished alloy wheels, suede seat upholstery, keyless entry with start button and panoramic sunroof.

The interior centrepiece, the  touchscreen, controls a number of major functions including infotainment and navigation. Other instrumentation feels sturdy and logical and is easy to use.

There’s also bags of headroom and legroom is good, while the seats are comfortable and fully adjustable, while the commanding driving position is a bonus.

 A neat touch is the partial privacy glass to the rear.

The boot offers 375 litres of space, increasing to 1,730 with the rear seats folded. There is also a secret compartment space under the boot floor cover, with various oddment holders throughout the car.

It is a lively performer on the road with the combined power pushing the car to 60mph in 9.5 seconds, plenty quick enough for most needs.

 It remains well planted and stable when cornering, with little evidence of body roll sometimes associated with SUVs. The only drawback is the light steering, which at times can feel vague.

The car is also packed with safety kit to deliver a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating. 

Equipment includes: seven airbags fitted, lane departure warning and lane departure prevention; blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic alert and adaptive cruise control.

As hybrids go, the Vitara offers great value for money with comprehensive standard kit and a great reputation for reliability. It does look good too.

Factfile

Suzuki Vitara 1.4 SZ-T Hybrid

Price: £22,749

Mechanical: 129PS, 1,373cc, four cylinder petrol engine and electric motor driving front wheels wheels via six-speed manual gearbox

Max speed: 118mph

0-62mph: 9.5 seconds

Combined mpg: 49.7

Insurance group: 19E

CO2 emissions: 129g/km

Warranty: 3yrs/60,000 mile