Category Archives: Transport

In the lap of luxury with Bentley

Continental remains an icon of British motoring

By Bill McCarthy

There is no doubt that the Continental convertible is breathtaking. Breathtaking in looks, breathtaking in performance and, breathtaking in price.

Paying well north of £180k for a car takes it beyond the means of the majority, but if you can afford it, it is a hugely desirable grand tourer that remains a British icon

If a car can be described as beautiful, then this Bentley both with the roof up or open car, fits that description – a compelling combination of elegance and power.

It never failed to get admiring looks, and comments on the stunning green colour of this particular model.

Bentley is German owned, VW in fact, but the hand-built features are a tribute to the master craftsmanship of British expertise at their factory in Crewe.

On the road, the car is a superb drive and brutally powerful

Now in its third generation the GT features a tailored roof that can be deployed or stowed in just 19 seconds, with the car travelling at speeds of up to 30 mph (50 km/h).

We love our convertibles in the UK but the weather doesn’t always play ball. But the Continental makes the wind in the hair experience throughly enjoyable. A discreet neckwarmer is integrated into the front seats, together with a heated steering wheel and heated armrests.

It looks sensational, with a low slung predatory look, featuring muscular haunches, swooping bonnet and the latest LED cut-crystal effect matrix headlamps. Sitting on 21 and 22-inch wheels it looks a powerhouse – and it is, with a four litre twin-turbo V8 engine on this model propelling the car to 60mph in four seconds. 

The interior is a masterpiece of craftsmanship and opulence, almost decadence. Just like its sibling the Flying Spur, it is a riot of handcrafted wood and leather of choice and chrome, together with jewellery-inspired diamond knurled finish switchgear and classy analogue style clock.

This model added the optional Mulliner Driving Specification which includes three-dimensional diamond quilted leather to seats, door casing and rear quarter panels, sports pedals and jewelled fuel and oil filler cap and embroidered Bentley emblems.

On the road, the car is a superb drive and brutally powerful. The 542bhp V8, mated with a seamless eight-speed transmission, delivers incredible acceleration, with the throaty roar of the V8 through the quadruple exhausts adding to the enjoyment, especially with the roof down.

It goes on to a theoretical 198mph, nearly three times above the legal speed limit in the UK. All the power is all well and good, but it needs to be kept in a straight line and that is where the intelligent four wheel drive kicks in, delivering traction where required.

There are four driving modes that adjust engine, suspension and gearbox settings, which, given the enormous power in ‘normal’ mode, seems fairly superfluous.

Listing all the features would fill a book, but tin addition to a host of bells and whistles, the centrepiece is a 12.3-inch central touchscreen system including HDD-navigation, two SD card slots, Bluetooth and WiFi streaming, a CD/DVD slot and digital radio. 

Also included is Apple CarPlay, Sirius satellite radio, 60GB solid-state hard drive and 4G telephone system. 

Hugely aspirational

Like other German car makers, Bentley provides plenty of options with the rotating display, a particularly clever piece of kit. It switches between touchscreen, three analogue gauges (compass, chronometer and outside temperature) and unbroken veneer.

But boot space is also surprisingly good, even with the roof stowed in the rear, with 235 litres, enough for a couple of small cases.

Safety is vital with such a powerful car and the  kit, some optional, features huge brake callipers, stability and traction control, a full complement of airbags and features including Active Lane Assist, Traffic Jam Assist and Park Assist with 360 degree all round cameras, infra-red camera, and head-up display.

Hugely aspirational, but practical and British built. What’s not to like?

FAST FACTS

Bentley Continental GT Convertible

Price: £182,800

Mechanical: 546bhp, 3,996cc, V8 petrol engine driving all wheels via 8-speed auto gearbox

Max speed: 198mph

0-60mph: 4 seconds

Combined mpg: 22.6

CO2 emissions: 284g/km

Warranty: 3yrs/unlimited miles

Highlander makes its mark in UK

Toyota Highlander

By Bill McCarthy


The Highlander has certainly taken its time to land in this country. The big seven-seater SUV has been on sale in other parts of the world for 21 years, but it has now joined  the RAV4, C-HR and the new Yaris Cross to complete the Toyota European SUV line-up. Not forgetting, of course, the full-fat off-road Land Cruiser.

 The all wheel drive model now on sale in the UK is the  fourth generation and its full hybrid self-charging system provides up to 80 per cent emissions-free driving. 

There are just two versions Excel and Excel Premium and both provide triple-zone air conditioning, Skyview panoramic roof, LED headlights, wireless phone charging, heated front seats and 11-speaker JBL sound system. Premium adds  hands-free tailgate operation, head-up display and digital rear-view mirror, plus a host of other driver aids, bells and whistles.

The powertrain is mated with CVT transmission and high levels of torque gives a two-tonne towing capacity. The 245bhp/182kW hybrid combination delivers fuel economy of around 40mpg, which is pretty impressive for such a big vehicle.

It is  more than capable off-road, but it offers so much more and is more likely to be seen at the school gates than the Amazon rainforest.  It offers the longest load space in its class and up to 1,909 litres of boot capacity.

The rear seats slide backwards and forwards and with the rearmost two seats folded into the floor a huge amount of space can be opened up.

With the rearmost pair of seats in situ, it can accommodate adults but is probably more suitable for children. When all seven seats are in place, this provides 332 litres of storage, including 27 litres beneath the floor.

It certainly has striking looks, sitting high off the ground and with wide grille, slim light clusters and flared wheel arches encasing the alloy wheels.

The interior itself has an executive feel with leather seating, satin and woodgrain finish and soft touch materials to the door and dashboard, while instrumentation is logical and sensibly laid out.

The central point is the eight-inch multimedia touchscreen which controls major functions like navigation and infotainment and can mirror your smartphone via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, while the seven inch TFT screen provides instant driver information.

On the road, the powertrain delivers smooth and swift acceleration. It can hit 60mph in just over eight seconds and can cruise on electric power only at speeds approaching 80mph.

There are four drive modes, Eco, Normal, Sport and Trail. The final mode acts like a limited-slip differential but uses braking to help send power from the slipping wheel to the wheel with traction, between the left and right sides of the vehicle. 

All four modes can still be used when the vehicle is operating in its separately selectable EV all-electric mode. In addition the intelligent all wheel drive system delivers extra stability in slippery or rough conditions. 

The Toyota Safety Sense active safety and driver assistance include a Pre-Collision System that can detect pedestrians by day and night and cyclists during daytime driving, with Emergency Steering Assist and Intersection Turn Assistance.

On-the-road prices are £50,595 for the Highlander Excel and £52,575 for the Excel Premium. Both are protected by Toyota’s five-year/100,000-mile new vehicle warranty.

Factfile

Toyota Highlander Excel

Price: £50,595

Mechanical: 245bhp, 2487cc, 4-cylinder, petrol engine and two electric motors driving all wheels via CVT transmission

Max Speed: 112mph

0-62mph: 8.5 seconds

Combined MPG: 282

Insurance Group: 40

C02 emissions: 162g/km

Warranty: 5yrs/100,000 miles

New bikes clocking up the miles in Sutton

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street at the launch of the bike scheme earlier this year at Town Gate

They may not be to everyone’s taste, but the ubiquitous West Midlands Cycle Hire Scheme, launched earlier this year in Sutton Coldfield by West Midlands Mayor Andry Street, is claimed to be a big success by the town council.

More and more of the green bikes have appeared around the town, including at Four Oaks station and Good Hope hospital as the Midlands wide scheme gathers pace.

The scheme, which is generally welcomed as a boost to fitness and wellbeing, has faced some criticism over the cost with an hour’s ride costing £4.

But Sutton’s council, which is working in partnership with WMCH, says the scheme is very popular with residents and visitors alike, with around 25,000 km – over 15,500 miles – already clocked up.

There arena 50 West Midlands Cycle Hire bikes available in Sutton Coldfield located at seven conveniently placed docking stations:

The bikes can be unlocked and docked at any of the stations and can be used for fun, for example a leisurely ride around Sutton Park, or for commuting.

Users do not need to begin and end at the same docking station; they can begin at one and cycle to another, providing of course there is room at that docking station. There have been reports of bikes being abandoned at various docking stations in Birmingham city centre.

To unlock and hire the bikes, users will need to download the Beryl cycle hire app and register for an account through the Play Store (Android) or App Store (Apple).

Leader of Royal Sutton Coldfield Town Council, Councillor Simon Ward, said: “It has been fantastic to see the enthusiasm for the West Midlands Cycle Hire scheme, delivered by the Town Council alongside WMCA, grow in Sutton Coldfield with many residents and visitors now using the bikes to enjoy our wonderful Royal town.

“Sutton Park Banners Gate already sits within the 10 most popular destinations to hire a bike across the West Midlands. Since March 2021, over 5,000 journeys have been made with over 3,000 being regular and repeat users. There is real appetite among new riders with over 800 in April alone.

“The bikes have enabled residents to enjoy time outdoors and experience the joy of cycling evidenced by an average journey time of 60 minutes. We are so fortunate to have our fantastic park and the bikes provide yet another way to enjoy it in all its glory. The Town Council pledged to put in place a public cycle hire scheme in its early years, and we are delighted to have delivered on this promise.”

Whatever the journey, the West Midlands Cycle Hire bikes in Sutton Coldfield provide a safe, efficient and a practical way to enjoy our town.”

The bike docking stations can be found at:

1. Sutton Park Banners Gate
2. Wyndley Leisure Centre
3. Stonehouse Road (Boldmere Gate Entrance to Sutton Park)
4. The Parade in the Town Centre
5. Four Oaks Train Station
6. Boddington Gardens
7. Good Hope Hospital Rectory Road Entrance

Prices

 It costs £1 to unlock a bike and then 5p per minute. Here are some ride cost examples:

10 mins20 mins30 mins
£1.50£2.00£2.50

To find out more and register for updates visit the website at https://www.wmcyclehire.co.uk/.

BIG CHANGE WITH SUZUKI SUV

Suzuki Across hybrid

By Bill McCarthy

Suzuki is justifiably lauded for its small cars and four-wheel drive capability, but like most manufacturers is increasingly turning to electric power and in this case, a large SUV.

And like other manufacturers, Suzuki is collaborating with others in model production, sharing engines and body architecture.

The Across has been produced in collaboration with Toyota, who now have a stake in Suzuki, and vice versa and looks suspiciously like a RAV 4, because that’s pretty much what it is.

So Suzuki has joined the big boys, literally, with the Across, a AWD hybrid that looks good, has excellent range and delivers blistering performance.

OK, people buying SUVs don’t necessarily go for performance, but in typical electric vehicle style, the Across is extremely rapid off the mark, capable of hitting 60mph in six, seconds, proper hot hatch territory. The performance comes via a combination of electric motors, one on each axle, and 2.5 litre petrol engine, mated to the CVT transmission delivers a brutal 306bhp.

Add to this low emissions of just 22g/km a theoretical 282mpg economy and the ability to charge the battery on the move via the petrol engine and you have a versatile, practical performer.

This is particularly useful when entering low emission zones, where the claimed range of 46 miles on electric power only, means it is not subject to emission and congestion charging.

It is stylish and offers a comprehensive array of standard kit, but for a Suzuki it is expensive, up there in the near premium range.

It has just one specification and offers Suzuki’s E-Four electronic 4×4 system, heated front and rear seats, heated steering wheel, dual zone automatic air conditioning, auto function opening tailgate and nine-inch multimedia touchscreen as standard, together with all the electric and electronic aids you would expect from a vehicle costing north of £45k.

It is a striking looking SUV, with a sporty stance, with a large deep grille, slim headlights, muscular wheel arches and eye-catching 19-inch alloy wheels.

 The interior too, feels high end and features  quality upholstery with soft touch finish throughout, powered leather seats, multi-function steering wheel and the centrepiece touchscreen which controls sound system and connectivity through Apple CarPlay Android Auto and MirrorLink for smartphones.

There are also various storage spaces including driver’s and passenger’s side trays, centre tray, cupholders and a console box.

They hybrid system works in tandem with the 4×4 system and allows a rear motor that works in conjunction with the front motor to provide drive to either front or rear wheels, or both, depending on road conditions such  as icy road, or genuine off road conditions.

It can run on electric only at up to 84mph. Driving modes are selected by two central buttons which allows the driver to choose electric only, full hybrid, engine only or charge mode where the engine is used to replenish the battery in preparation for entering low emission areas. This obviously has a detrimental effect on fuel economy.

In addition, Trail Mode is an automatic limited slip differential control feature that ensures the best possible grip and control on slippery surfaces. It all sounds great and while it is no wallowing beast, cornering too rapidly causes the vehicle to become unsettled. Having said, that I can’t think of any SUV driver who demands sporty handling.

In practical terms. The Across has much to offer with a total of 490 litres of stowage space and the luggage compartment is equipped with a mains voltage (220V) electrical outlet and 12V accessory socket and can be accessed via kick operation electronic tailgate

It is packed with safety kit including airbags, traction and stability controls, collision prevention, radar cruise control, lane warning and rear traffic alert. If the vehicle is involved in a traffic accident, the eCall system alerts emergency services with a phone message that includes the precise location of the vehicle.

Factfile

Suzuki Across PHEV

Price: £45,599

Mechanical: 307bhp, 2487cc, 4-cylinder, petrol engine and electric motors driving all wheels via CVT transmission

Max Speed: 112mph

0-62mph: 6 seconds

Combined MPG: 282

Insurance Group: TBC

C02 emissions: 26g/km

Warranty: 3yrs/62,000 miles

Focus on quality pays off

Ford Focus

By Bill McCarthy

IT’S fair to say that the Focus, launched back in 1998, has been a game changer in the industry. It’s only just over 20 years, but it seems so much longer, such has been its impact on the car market.

Inevitably, the latest version is the best yet, with smart styling, improved interior and ever more efficient engines.

These include powerful and fuel-efficient EcoBoost petrol and EcoBlue diesel units, some of which embrace the  latest mild hybrid technology.

This model was powered  by Ford’s highly-efficient EcoBoost three cylinder engine. Not huge, Ford says it is so compact it could fit the overhead compartment on an aeroplane. But it packs plenty of power and can hit 60mph in a shade over nine seconds, and, aided by the mild hybrid technology, delivers extra horsepower together with good economy and low emissions.

Official figures suggest around 52mpg, but the onboard computer suggested something nearer 44.

The turbocharged one litre engine is assisted by a 48-volt mild-hybrid system, which features a small lithium-ion battery pack and a belt-driven integrated starter-generator, which adds an extra 20Nm of torque and helps mitigate turbo lag.

The electric motor is fitted alongside an energy recovery system on the brakes which can then be redeployed to assist the petrol engine or provide assistance to electrical systems.

It is a striking looking car with this ST-Line version giving you the sporty look, but without the performance of the firecracker ST.  It has sharp angles and curves, slim headlamps, wide grille and sloping silhouette, rear privacy glass, smart projector headlights and fog lamps with cornering lights. 

The powered door mirrors also feature smart puddle lights. It also has its own unique ST-Line badging on door plates together with red stitching to complement the dark finish.

It feels well engineered with a combination of sturdy and soft touch finish trim.

The interior is without doubt, the best yet, particularly with this range topper. And with a price tag of around £27k, it needs to be.

The interior is dominated by the central eight inch touchscreen, which controls major functions like navigation, infotainment through a high quality sound system and smartphone connectivity.

 In addition, a central 12-inch digital instrument cluster provides all the driver information needed.

This model has just about all the bells and whistles including rain sensing wipers and auto headlights, parking sensors and rain sensing wipers.

On the road, the engine has plenty of pace and delivers that throaty rasp so familiar these days with three cylinder engines.

But it’s the handling, the feature that made it stand out when launched, that is still peerless.

The ride is as impressive as ever with the independent rear suspension system featuring continuously controlled damping, which e monitors suspension, body, steering and braking inputs, and adjusts for the smoothest ride. In fact it handles brilliantly.

Boot space is good and not having a dog didn’t try this, but Ford says it can accommodate a large dog crate without needing to fold the rear seats. Fold the rear seats and a huge stowage area comes into play. 

The boot is easy to access, using a simple kicking motion under the rear bumper to open the hands-free tailgate.

Folding the rear seats is also simplified – they now drop simply by pulling a switch in the boot space. Safety kit is comprehensive with full set of airbags and includes, stability control, cruise control, pre-collision assist with brake and pedestrian/cyclist alert.

A game changer it was, and it remains one of the best in the segment.

Factfile

Ford Focus ST-Line X Edition 1.0T Ecoboost Hybrid

Price: £27,160

Mechanical: 155ps, 998cc, three cylinder diesel engine driving front wheels via six-speed gearbox

Max speed: 131mph

0-62mph: 9.2 seconds

Combined mpg: 52.3

Insurance group: 17

CO2 emissions: 122g/km

Warranty: 3yrs/60,000 miles

Buses go green with hydrogen

Sutton Coldfield residents will soon be travelling on a greener form of transport when a fleet of hydrogen powered buses take to the road in the autumn.

Birmingham City Council has unveiled the first of its 20 new hydrogen buses, which are set to be in operation later this year.  They have been purchased as part of the council’s Clean Air Hydrogen Bus Pilot, which looks to ‘kick-start’ the hydrogen market as a viable zero-emission fuel.

Hailed as another solution to tackling the city’s poor air quality and a key step towards achieving the council’s net zero carbon target.

Speaking in Centenary Square where the first bus was unveiled to colleagues today, Birmingham City Council’s Cabinet Member for Transport and Environment, Councillor Waseem Zaffar said: “Fuel cell buses offer a practical solution for cities to decarbonise public transport and immediately improve air quality. 

“The delivery of the first bus is great news for our city and the rest of the region. It means that we can now work with our partners at National Express to start testing the buses, training drivers and adding livery design before rolling the buses out for the public in Autumn this year. 

“This is a significant step towards our net zero carbon target and will provide Birmingham with a leading role in informing debate on supportive policies for zero emission public transport at a local and national level.”

The buses, which are made by Wrightbus and are the world’s first zero-emission hydrogen fuel-cell double deckers. They will be operated in Birmingham by National Express – the first in England (outside of London).

It’s intended that Birmingham’s Clean Air Hydrogen Bus Pilot will be the catalyst for the next generation of hydrogen buses, hydrogen production and re-fuelling infrastructure development.

It has been funded through OLEV (Office for Low Emission Vehicles), GBSLEP (Greater Birmingham & Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership), Birmingham City Council and JIVE project funding from the FCH JU (European Funding from the Fuel Cell Hydrogen Joint Undertaking) under grant agreement No 735582.

The FCH JU receives support from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, Hydrogen Europe and Hydrogen Europe Research.

The council have also collaborated with ITM, who will be producing and dispensing the hydrogen fuel from the new re-fuelling hub at Tyseley Energy Park.

Return of the Supra legend

Toyota Supra GR

By Bill McCarthy

WHEN it comes to show-stopping cars, a few names spring to mind. But for the majority of people, I bet Toyota isn’t one of them.

They would be wrong. The Supra is a bit of a legend with enthusiasts, but has been absent from the roads for a good while.

So the gleaming and sporty looking hunk of metal parked on the drive took a few people by surprise, even a local lad who knocked to door to ask if he could take pictures

The initial four generations of the Supra were produced from 1978 to 2002. This fifth generation has been on sale in May 2019 in three litre form, with this two-litre model on sale from January this year.

The first global GR model from Toyota Gazoo Racing, (hence GR), which the firm says was conceived as a sports car in its purest form, with no compromise

With the focus on all things electric at the moment, the Supra blends performance, agility and velcro-like grip with a choice of a three litre V6 or the two litre model here, both mated with an eight speed auto gearbox. The firm is right, it looks every inch a sports car.

Priced from £45,995 it was developed in collaboration with BMW, and shares much of its underpinnings with the German firm’s Z4.

It does look stunning, with its short wheelbase and wide stance, the long bonnet, double bubble roof, muscular rear haunches and neat spoiler.

Add to this the slim headlights, huge air scoops, and preatory looking low-to-the ground stance, it is neatly finished off with striking 18-inch alloys wheels, and visible high-performance Brembo brakes.

The two-litre driven here offers model-specific Pro specification, with standard features including those 18-inch alloys, a four-speaker 100W audio system with 8.8-inch touchscreen display, cruise control, automatic headlights and wipers, smart entry and start and heated and powered GR sports seats upholstered in black Alcantara.

The centrepiece touchscreen controls most functions, including navigation and smartphone connectivity and can be controlled via touch or a rotor knob, while the interior is classy and well equipped. In true two-seater style, entry and exit is a bit of an art form, but worth the contortions for the  sheer pleasure of driving the car. 

Performance isn’t class leading, but hitting 60 mph in a smidge of five seconds is not too shabby either. The three litre is around a second quicker.

But it’s not just about the raw speed off the mark. Handling is a delight, and while the four cylinder engine does not develop the throaty roar of a V6, there is a sporty rasp when accelerating hard, which is just as satisfying.

Maximum power is 254bhp with high levels of torque peaking at 400Nm, so it just keeps pulling hard through the gears.

It feels hugely stable, with its active differential, which can identify the road conditions, calculate the optimum locking degree, and activate the lock accordingly.

That operates both when accelerating and decelerating and can seamlessly adjust from zero to full, 100 per cent lock, with instant response.

In addition adaptive suspension and stability and traction programmes help keep the car safe even when the driver cannot.

In practice, it clings limpet like to the road, with sharp bends dismissed with ease and delivers even harder grip when accelerating out of bends, to deliver a hugely satisfying drive.

The power on tap does not mean the car is thirsty. Official economy of approaching 40mpg is pretty impressive.

It’s a two seater, so practicality is not going to be a top priority, but there is enough space in the boot for a couple of small suitcases.

Safety kit is also comprehensive with multiple airbags, a pre-collision safety system with braking function, pedestrian and cyclist detection with braking function, and lane departure warning.

Icon is a much overused word, but the Supra really does deserve that status and is a welcome return to UK roads. It looks great and is a brilliant drive.

Factfile

Toyota Supra GR 2.0 Pro

Price: £46,995

Mechanical: 254bhp, 1998cc, 4-cylinder, petrol engine driving rear wheels via eight-speed manual transmission

Max Speed: 155mph

0-62mph: 5.2 seconds

Combined MPG: 38.7

Insurance Group: 34e

C02 emissions: 167g/km

Warranty: 5yrs/100,000 miles

Cupra has new SEAT at luxury table

It may have slipped people’s notice with the pandemic going on that a new, well newish, car brand has appeared.

Cupra is a name well-known to SEAT enthusiasts and was the badge given to more sporting models, being a combination of Cup and Racing, ergo Cupra.

Now, a bit like DS with Citroen, it has split and become a brand of its own, while remaining part of SEAT, and as the new kid on the block, offering a shiny new badge.

It has become unashamedly high end and sporty and the firm has announced a number of updates for the 2022 model. And with the curiously named all-electric Born on the horizon, it ticks most boxes for drive options.

There are four models which Cupra showcased on a driving event, the Cupra Ateca, Cupra Leon hatch and estate and the Formentor SUV.

It is fair to say that the Spanish firm’s sporty tradition is in safe hands with Cupra as all feature sharp, angular styling, distinctive alloy wheels and striking light clusters. Interiors are classy and the car delivers the kind of drive you would expect from Cupra.

I drove four of the vehicles, the Formentor 1.5 TSI V2 150PS DSG, pretty much the entry level for this model and featuring a  150PS 1.5 TSI petrol engine and capable of hitting 60mph in a smidge under nine seconds.

 This was followed by the all wheel drive powerhouse Leon Estate 2.0 TSI. Priced at 40,535, the 310PS two litre power unit here propels the car to 60mph in just under five seconds, while still delivering economy in the mid-30s mpg. 

Next up, the same power in the SUV Formentor, just over £100 more expensive, at £40,620, with virtually identical performance, but as its a heavier car, a slight drop in economy into the lower 30s mpg.

Last up was the Leon hatchback, priced at £36,760 and again delivering hot performance.

This time the two litre unit develops 300PS  and hits 60 in 5.7 seconds with economy in the mid to late 30s mpg.

Even the entry level at a little over £31k offers a comprehensive list of standard kit while still delivering an excellent drive.

In true SEAT style all offer hot performance while the 310PS models, particularly when mated to the four wheel drive, offer exhilarating performance.

The separation looks to be a shrewd move by the VW-owned Spanish firm, offering traditional SEAT sporty performance, but now with an altogether more upmarket feel, while the Cupra badge is stylish enough to rouse people’s curiosity.

All variants of the Leon and Formentor equipped with a DSG-auto gearbox also get a heated steering wheel as standard, while on the Formentor an electric tailgate is now an available option on V1 and V2 trims, and a top view camera can be added to the VZ2 and VZ3 trims.

Prices for the CUPRA Leon start at £31,555 for the Leon hatch VZ1 trim 2.0-litre TSI 245ps DSG-auto and rise to £40,535 for the range-topping Leon Estate VZ3 2.0-litre TSI 310ps DSG-auto 4Drive.

Formentor prices start at £27,745 OTR for V1 1.5-litre TSI 150ps, rising to £42,990 OTR for VZ3 2.0-litre TSI 310ps DSG-auto 4Drive.

Mayor backs cycle scheme

Anger over dumped bikes and pricing

 The Mayor of the West Midlands has lauded a new cycle scheme which has been introduced across Sutton Coldfield and the wider West Midlands.

Andy Street praised the West Midlands Cycle Hire scheme, despite evidence that some of the bikes were not being returned to their docking station and dumped in the street, particularly in Birmingham city centre.

People have also complained about the pricing which amounts to £4 for a one hour hire period, which includes an unlocking fee.

Safety campaigners have warned of a new danger to pedestrians in Birmingham city centre because of the ‘abandoned’ bikes.

But users say that when trying to return the bikes, the docking bays are already full.

Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, said: “Our cycle hire scheme is providing incredibly popular in Sutton Coldfield, far exceeding our expectations at this stage.

“People who hire our bikes in the Royal Town are using them for nearly an hour on average, cycling more than 4.5km each time.

Mayor Andy Street

“These are impressive usage figures and we expect them to continue to grow as more docking stations are introduced. New docks have not long been installed at Good Hope hospital and Four Oaks Station, whilst we hope to get our planned one for Sutton Station in ASAP.”

On top of a £1 unlocking fee via an app, users are then billed at the rate of 5p per minute (£3 per hour).

So it is £4 for the first hour and then £3 per hour thereafter.

Sutton Park enthusiast Patrick James said the bikes were a good idea, but the fees were too high, especially as its a new venture.

He said: “You would have thought they could have started with a discounted price and if that proved popular, then perhaps look again at the pricing structure. But for a couple of hours riding around the park, or anywhere that hires them out for that matter, £7 is too much.”

The mayor defended the prices and said: “West Midlands Cycle Hire is a new scheme and we are confident that our pay as you go prices are competitive – especially with our offer of the first 30 minutes being free for new users.

“However as we continue to roll-out more bikes and docking stations across the region, we will of course be exploring the pricing structure and seeing if we can offer subscription packages to provide better value for regular users.”

In theory, any bicycle not ‘docked and locked’ will charge you £37 for the first 24 hours it is not put back into position.

The company website show four steps for hiring a bike:

How to ride

It’s easy to hop on a bike to get to work, pop to the shops, or even to discover new places to explore!

1. Unlock

Unlock using the Beryl cycle hire app

 2. Ride

Have fun and be safe!

 3. Dock

Find your nearest docking station to park up

4. Lock

Close the lock to end your ride

On the dumping of bikes, Mr Street added: “Hundreds of cycle hire customers use our docks without problem every day. The very small number of users who do leave bikes out of docking stations receive a fine. We’ve found that following a fine the instances of bad-parking are greatly reduced.”

Nissan retains X Factor

Nissan X-Trail

By Bill McCarthy

One of my most memorable experiences of driving the X-Trail a few years ago, was taking up around mountain passes in northern Greece, on the Albanian border and being held up by giant tortoises on the winding, twisty roads.

It was quite an experience, and this excellent SUV navigated those slow moving reptiles – and some challenging off-road stuff, really well.

That was the second generation and now years on this latest version is available with five seats or an optional extra two seats in the rear and is still visibly imposing, with its raised road height and smart profile.

While not a full-fat off-roader, it is more than capable of tackling all but the roughest terrain, while remaining very much a family orientated vehicle.

Available in two or four-wheel-drive and with a choice of either a 148bhp 1.7-litre diesel engine driven here, or a smaller 1.3-litre petrol engine. It can hit 60mph in just 10.7 seconds, quite nippy for a big vehicle and this version is mated to a slick shifting six speed manual gearbox.

It is visually imposing with this model featuring 19-inch alloys, black V-shaped honeycomb front grille, rear privacy glass, satin roof rails, panoramic roof and chrome additions to door handles, side mouldings and window surrounds.

The interior is smart and functional and feels solidly constructed.

Even the entry level model is well equipped, but this Tekna model, has virtually all the bells and whistles, from bird’s-eye view parking camera, through to heated leather seats, heated leather steering wheel, metallic grain interior inserts and panoramic roof. 

The centrepiece is the seven-inch touchscreen which controls main functions like navigation, infotainment and connectivity via smartphone.

Dials and controls are well laid out, logical and easy to use, while on this four-wheel drive version, the central rotary knob selects the drive modes depending on prevailing conditions.

The cabin feels light and airy thanks to large glass areas, which offsets the dark interior. Head and legroom are good with access, while in practical terms, it ticks most of the boxes. In addition to all the drink holders, pockets and cubby holes, the boot with the third row of seats folded offer 555 litres of space. This can be further increased with the 60-40 split second row folded down, up to a huge 1,996 litres and accessed via the powered tailgate, which also features a ‘kick’ option for remote opening.

In addition the second row of seats slide backwards and forwards allowing extra stowage space, or just extra legroom for taller passengers. A further clever touch is the stowage area which has various configurations to keep loads secure.

 The diesel engine has plenty of grunt and is surprisingly frugal. There is a bit of clatter on startup, but it offers decent acceleration and a towing capacity of two tonnes. Economy, according to WLTP figures, show between 39 and 44mpg, pretty impressive for a big four-wheel drive vehicle and it showed to be pretty accurate, if even a shade conservative, over a week of motoring.

Take it off-road and previous experience has shown the X-Trail to be a more than capable mud-plugger handling some pretty tough conditions, although tackling the Amazon rain forests or African bush might be a stretch for it.

This kind of vehicle will not handle like a sports car, but it remains fairly stable with only a trace of wallowing on sharp bends.

Safety kit is comprehensive with a full complement of air bags, traction control and Nissan’s own Chassis Control which automatically uses the brakes  to stabilise the car in difficult conditions.

Factfile

Nissan X-Trail Tekna 1.7 dCI 4WD

Price: £33,595

Mechanical: 150ps, 1749cc, 4-cylinder, diesel engine driving four wheels via 6-speed manual transmission

Max Speed: 121mph

0-62mph:10.7 seconds

Combined MPG: 39-43

Insurance Group: 18

C02 emissions: 154g/km

Warranty: 3yrs/60,000 miles