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In the News ...

What is BMW iDrive?
Posted on Tuesday July 17, 2018

Dean Gibson 2018-07-17 17:16

BMW's iDrive in-car control and infotainment system explained: what it does and how to use it

BMW 5 Series long termer - first report iDrive

With in-car technology becoming more advanced, it's vital that the driver stays in control at all times. That's why BMW created iDrive, a control system designed to allow the driver to change a variety of settings without it becoming a distraction from the task of driving.

The iDrive controller has become synonymous with in-car control systems, and even though other car companies have created their own systems (Audi's MMI and Mercedes's COMAND systems are similar in their design), iDrive is starting to become the name people associate with these set-ups.

Infotainment systems reviewed

But what exactly does iDrive do? Well, when BMW first introduced iDrive on the 7 Series limo in 2001, it created a system that put all of the cabin control functions in one place. There's a central dashboard screen displaying information on navigation, audio and telephone settings, which is controlled via a control wheel that's located next to the gear lever. Over time, BMW has developed and enhanced the iDrive system, and today it's one of the most intuitive and user-friendly cabin controllers on the market.

Initially, iDrive itself was seen as too fiddly and a distraction from driving by many people, as it required the driver to look away from the road to ensure the controller was selecting the right menu or sub-menu on the screen. But as with any new technology, once you get used to how the system works, and as BMW has developed iDrive over time, it soon becomes second nature. On the whole, users of iDrive are likely to spend less time distracted by the system than they would with a touchscreen set-up.

In time, BMW developed the iDrive system to become more user-friendly, adding shortcut keys around the rotary controller, while voice control has added another level of user-friendliness to the system.

How does iDrive it work?

The latest version of BMW iDrive in its simplest form features a rotary controller that rotates clockwise and anti-clockwise, can be moved forwards, backwards, left and right, and presses down like a computer mouse to select an option. On more advanced versions of iDrive, the top of the control wheel also doubles as a touchpad for writing characters, although this only works well in a right hand-drive car if you're left-handed or dexterous enough to write characters clearly with your left hand – otherwise you might be better off with the voice control system instead.

As well as the rotary controller, there's a group of buttons at its base that are shortcut keys to sections of the iDrive system. These can send you straight to navigation, audio, telephone and car set-up screens without having to navigate back to the home screen – although there's also a shortcut to get you straight back there.

Next generation BMW iDrive infotainment revealed

Press these buttons, and the display on the centre console will switch to the selected option, allowing you to use the iDrive controller to scroll up and down to select your preferred option. Selecting these is likely to offer up more sub-menus, and while it might be easy to get lost within the menus, it's good to know the shortcut buttons are there to get you back to the start if necessary.

When you have the navigation selected, the iDrive controller allows you to zoom in and out of the map, while sliding the controller from side-to-side will allow you to look at your surroundings. It also allows you to easily change the point of view of the map, from 2D to 3D and perspective styles, while BMWs with a larger infotainment screen can even have a split-screen view that allows you to have detailed junction information alongside the standard map screen.

On more advanced models with 360-degree cameras, the iDrive system allows you to select which cameras you want to view, zoom in and out, and change from narrow to wide-angle views.

Ironically, BMW has now started offering touchscreen infotainment systems on some of its cars, although usually this comes in conjunction with an iDrive controller. However, we think the latest iDrive control system is the best yet, because once you've taken some time to familiarise yourself with the system, it's pretty easy to use. What's more, it doesn't leave grubby fingerprints on the screen.

iDrive problems

Of course, technology such as iDrive won't be to all tastes, but the latest systems should at least be reliable. Past versions of iDrive had problems with screens going blank, the sat-nav not functioning properly and the inability to read CDs. These faults were down to the connections between the car and the iDrive system, but later models use a different set-up that should be more reliable.

If you go to a BMW dealer, they will probably charge a small fortune to get an iDrive unit replaced if you're out of warranty. But there are a number of independent outlets that claim to be able to get your iDrive system working properly again through repair, although our advice is to only go to a recommended garage and preferably a BMW specialist, and only do so once your BMW is out of warranty.

New BMWs should be easier to fix if you're having problems, and you can expect your next BMW service to also include a software update to ensure all systems on board are working properly.

Which infotainment system do you rate the highest? Let us know in the comments below...

MINI Classic electric 2018 review
Posted on Tuesday July 17, 2018

Mini Classic electric - front
17 Jul, 2018 1:30pm Jonathan Burn

The MINI Classic electric is a one-off take on a 20th century icon, as MINI gears up for a proper electric hatch in 2019

It’s no secret that MINI will launch an electric hatchback in 2019 and to fill the gap between now and the car landing in showrooms the British firm has created something rather unique. This is the Mini Classic electric, and as you may have guessed from the name, it’s a fully electric version of one of the world’s most iconic cars.

First revealed at the New York Motor Show earlier this year and built by German engineer Moritz Burmester the model is a strict one-off, but Auto Express has been behind the wheel to see if it has the potential to be more than an effective marketing tool.

Best electric cars on sale 2018

It may be a 59 year old piece of design but time has been kind to the Mini; parked up alongside its modern day equivalent at MINI’s plant in Oxford it’s impossible not to be won over by its elegant simplicity. Even though this particular model is radically different beneath the skin, on the surface almost nothing has been changed; its trademark white roof, bonnet stripes and spot lamps bolted to the grille all remain in place. The only differences are a blackened grille and headlamp surrounds.

Because of its pocket-sized proportions a 10kWh battery was the largest Burmester was able to install, which gives a total range of 65 miles. It sits on top of the rear bench, meaning the Mini electric is a strict two-seater. With a bit more time – the car was converted from petrol to electric in only six days – Burmester said a second larger battery could be installed in the boot to almost double the car’s range.

Climb in and with the exception of a small battery gauge on the dash, everything is as you’d expect in a classic Mini. You sit shoulder-to-shoulder with your passenger, your knees wrapped around your ears, while being greeted by a steering wheel that juts out from the dash almost horizontally. Ergonomically it’s appalling, but you make it work.

Despite being electric the Mini is anything but quiet; it retains its original four-speed manual gearbox and differential, and because of the amount of torque it generates, first and second gear aren’t necessary. Neither is the clutch: you simply slot it into third and hit the accelerator.

The rudimentary suspension means you bounce and skip your way down the road feeling every bump and crack in the tarmac. By modern day standards it’s awful, and about as comfortable as riding a bike down a cobbled street - but it’s all part of the Mini’s endearing charm.

Like the original this electric model is front wheel drive, and powered by one electric motor. It’s currently running at around 35bhp, but with a little more development time – the car has only been running for a total of 24 hours – Burmester says he could turn it up to around 60bhp.

Even with that modest power output the Mini remains surprisingly brisk; there are no performance figures, but when you’re so low to the ground Nissan Micras look like Range Rovers, and outright top speed doesn’t feel so important. On some faster stretches of road we hit an indicated 60mph, and in all honesty, we didn’t feel the need to go any quicker.

Weighing just over 750kg, Burmester has also managed to keep the weight of the Mini close to that of the original. That means it retains its famous darty nature with heavy but accurate steering and flat body control when cornering. The immediate hit of acceleration always making it feel nippy and alert. Sadly it remains a strict one-off, despite the levels of interest MINI has had from interested customers.

A wonderful take on an old classic that, sadly, you won’t be able to buy. If MINI can make its 21st century electric hatch as appealing and exciting as this, it’ll be on to a winner.

Higher motorway roadwork speed limits to be trialled
Posted on Tuesday July 17, 2018

Hugo Griffiths 2018-07-17 12:15

Highways England says speed limits could rise to 60mph when “less activity” is taking place on motorway roadworks

Motorway roadwork speed limits will be increased to 60mph as bosses assess if variable limits can be safely operated.

Highways England, which runs the UK’s motorway network, says it is “working hard to reduce drivers’ frustration” with roadworks, and will be conducting a trial to see if higher limits can be introduced during periods when less work is being carried out.

Variable speed limits under review

Current motorway roadworks where lanes are narrowed bring with them a speed limit of 50mph or lower, but Highways England is responding to driver feedback to see if limits can be raised to 55mph or 60mph, depending on how much activity is taking place.

Taking weekends as an example, Highways England says “the speed could be increased to 60mph on a Sunday if there is less activity taking place, and then brought back down to 50mph when road workers are working within a few feet of passing traffic.”

Weekday roadwork limits could also rise, with drivers commuting on one carriageway at 50mph, but returning home in the opposite direction at 60mph if “road workers are further away.”

Highways England says narrow lanes are typically installed during motorway upgrades in order to provide a “safe working environment for the workforce”, while also keeping as many lanes open as possible.

Previous figures show road workers face up to 300 abusive and dangerous incidents a week. And while the current thinking is that a 50mph limit is necessary to operate narrow lanes as safely as possible, the new trial of dynamic limits “will test whether it is safe to operate at 60mph in certain circumstances.” Specific aspects of the road environment - such as the width of the lanes and the nature of safety barriers - will be taken into account, although locations for the trials have yet been determined.

Jim O’Sullivan, Highways England’s chief executive, says while “people understand roadworks are necessary”, they are also “frustrated” by them. “That is why over the next 12 months we will test changes to the design and operation of roadworks,” he added.

These new trials will follow earlier pilot projects that saw motorway roadwork limits permanently raised to 55 and 60mph.

Read: most drivers believe motorway traffic is getting worse

Ford Fiesta Active review
Posted on Tuesday July 17, 2018

For 
Retains fun Fiesta driving experience, looks suitably chunky
Our Rating 
4
Against 
More expensive and less economical then a Fiesta hatch, base trim misses desirable kit
Ford Fiesta Active - front
2018

With a strong driving experience and trendy SUV styling, the Fiesta Active has a lot to recommend it – but the standard car is cheaper

Both the Ford Fiesta and SUVs are incredibly popular, so combining the two to make the Ford Fiesta Active must have seemed like a no-brainer for Ford. The company expects 15 per cent of the Fiestas it sells to be the Active variant, after all. But while some may have feared a taller Fiesta would lose the handling finesse Ford’s evergreen supermini has long been known for, in truth, the Fiesta Active is similarly enjoyable to drive. 

It is, to be fair, more expensive than a standard Fiesta, but the Active gets a plusher entry-level trim, so this isn’t felt quite as keenly as it might be. There’s room for five adults (at a push) inside, while the Fiesta Active gets the same well-designed cabin and up-to-date eight-inch Sync 3 infotainment system as the standard Fiesta – as long as you avoid that entry-level Active 1 car. As a bridge between supermini and full-on small SUV, with the impressive qualities of the Ford Fiesta thrown-in, it makes a lot of sense.

17 Jul, 2018
4

When the new Fiesta launched in 2017, its new interior put criticism of the outgoing model’s button-heavy cabin to rest – so it’s no surprise Ford has stuck with the same layout for the Active model. 

The driving position, naturally, is ever so slightly higher than it is in the standard Fiesta, but your feet and arms adopt an almost identical position, and you’d be hard pushed to tell much of a difference between the two cars from behind the wheel. This is a good thing, though, as it means the gearlever is where you instinctively reach for it and feels satisfyingly chunky, the steering wheel sits comfortably in your hands, and the pedal box can accommodate even larger feet.

Interior quality is decent enough. The Volkswagen Polo feels plusher, sure, but in general the Fiesta Active acquits itself well. Unique upholstery patterns help it stand out from the crowd. As is common in the supermini class, lower down in the dashboard there are scratchy plastics, but higher up things are more pleasant, and softer to the touch.

The range starts with the Fiesta Active 1. This includes a leather steering wheel, keyless entry and go, all-round electric windows, 17-inch alloy wheels, silver roof rails and a 6.5-inch version of Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system. 

Upgrade to B&O Play spec and you get a punchy B&O Play 10-speaker stereo, anodized yellow trim detailing, a 4.2-inch driver dashboard display, the eight-inch touchscreen, a front armrest, traffic sign recognition, auto-dipping headlights and cruise control – all for around £1,300. 

Top-spec Active X cars add power-fold mirrors, heated part-leather seats, an upgraded climate control system, a reversing camera, plus auto lights and wipers. Active X is a further £1,100 or so over B&O Play though, and we can’t help feeling the mind-range car offers most of what you want, without costing too much.

Individual options include an opening panoramic sunroof for £600 (note that this means you lose the roof rails), an adjustable boot floor for £75 (this probably should be standard), pop-out door-edge protectors for £100 (worth having) and a £200 driver assistance package. This last item can’t be added to the Active 1 model, but it’s good value if only because it includes adaptive cruise control.

Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment

Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system may not be the best in the business (Volkswagen offers slicker units, for example) but it still has a lot to recommend it. While it lacks physical shortcut buttons at its left and right edges to easily bring up the radio volume, for example, the central screen hosts large, easy-to-prod icons, and there are physical play/pause and skip buttons at the screen’s base. 

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included in the Sync 3 system, as is a physical knob for the volume and power – no prodding at a screen for these functions. Helpfully, there’s also a button that turns the screen off without shutting the entire system down – useful if you’re travelling at night and want to avoid screen glare while you listen to the radio.

Do note Active 1 trim gets a 6.5-inch screen and the Sync3 setup, though this does include a DAB radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus you can upgrade to the bigger screen, complete with sat nav, for £300.

4.5

The battle car companies face when designing SUVs is that if they make a taller car, they tend to raise its centre of gravity. This, in turn, will lead to more body roll when cornering, which is an enemy of a fun driving experience – something that wouldn’t bode well with the Fiesta’s reputation. 

Ford must have been well aware of this when designing the Active, so while the car has rugged plastic wheel arches, roof rails and more sturdy-looking bumpers, it actually rides just 18mm taller than the Fiesta hatch. To further minimise the impact an SUV stance might otherwise have and to compensate for the slightly taller frame, the Active’s track has been widened by 10mm.

These design elements are worth knowing, because they mean that if you’ve driven the standard Fiesta, the Active doesn’t deviate too much from that car’s impressive handling characteristics. There is a fraction more body lean when cornering, but nowhere near enough to dent the Active’s overall handling prowess. It also has an almost identical – albeit marginally higher – driving position to the Fiesta, plus the same snickety gearbox and sharp steering. 

All models come with what Ford terms “rough road suspension” and a driving mode selector with Eco, Normal and Slippery settings. It’s unlikely the Fiesta Active will get you hugely far off the beaten track, but the slightly raised stance should make taking it into a field, for example, less nerve-racking than it would be in a conventional supermini. The car’s underside will also be that little bit further out of harm’s way when negotiating urban obstacles like speed humps and kerbs. 

Engines 

Ford only offers the active with a 1.5-litre diesel engine and a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol unit. The diesel is offered with 84 or 118bhp, while the petrol comes in 84, 99, 123 and 138bhp formats.

Choose one of the EcoBoost petrols and you’ll be getting an eager powerplant. The slightly gruff nature intrinsic to three-cylinder engines gives the EcoBoost a pleasing amount of character when accelerating, but once on a cruise it’s a hushed companion, and an all-round solid performer. Note the most powerful petrol isn’t available with the entry-level ‘1’ trim.

Performance, naturally, varies depending on which EcoBoost configuration you choose. The 84bhp version takes 12.7 seconds to go from 0-62mph, the 99bhp version shrinks this to 11.2 seconds, while the 123bhp and 138bhp engines do the same in 10.4 and 9.7 seconds. We’d argue the 99bhp unit is the one to go for though: it’s swift enough for most needs, and you can have fun wringing out its power, while staying on the right side of the law. A sweet-changing six-speed manual gearbox is standard across the range, with a six-speed auto offered as an option, but only with the 99bhp petrol engine.

Turning to diesel, the 84bhp 1.5-litre engine is only offered with ‘1’ trim, while the 118bhp isn’t available unless you upgrade to B&O Play. You’ll probably want the more powerful diesel though– the 84bhp unit takes 12.7 seconds to propel the Active from 0-62mph, with the 118bhp version reducing this to a more palatable 9.5 seconds. Either way, the 1.5-litre engine is refined for a diesel unit in a supermini, only really revealing a slightly gruff character under heavy acceleration. Go for the more powerful variant and you’ll have to do this less, though.   

3.8

The 2017 Ford Fiesta was awarded the full five stars for safety by Euro NCAP, and this should apply to the Active variant. Adult occupant protection was rated at 87 per cent, child protection was similarly strong at 84 per cent, and safety assist was given 60 per cent.

Go for the mid-range B&O Play model and you’ll get traffic sign recognition (helpful for sticking to the speed limit), auto-dipping headlights and fatigue detection. Blind spot detection and rear cross traffic alert (this latter item warns you of objects in your path when reversing) are packaged, together with heated, power-fold wing mirrors, for £475. 

The Driver Assistance pack, meanwhile, bundles adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking (which operates at speeds up to 50mph) and fatigue detection. At £200, this kit is worth having. 

Reliability 

As a new model, judging the Fiesta Active’s reliability is more a question of providing background than concrete evidence. Ford as a company came 16th out of 26 car makers in our 2018 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, up from 19th in 2017. 

And when the Fiesta last put in an appearance in Driver Power, again in 2017, it scored 50th out of 75 cars – though an impressively low (4.7 per cent) proportion of Fiesta owners reported issues with their cars in the previous 12 months. This was for the previous-generation Fiesta, but it’s encouraging nonetheless. 

Warranty 

Ford’s three-year, 60,000-mile warranty is average for the industry, A number of other manufacturers, including Toyota, Kia and Hyundai, offer longer, more generous policies.

Servicing

Ford’s fixed-price service plans come in a number of flavours. A basic two-year plan covering one service is £260, and high-mileage drivers can opt for a two-year/two-service policy for £500. A three-year/two service policy is £530.

4.3

The latest Ford Fiesta has a more spacious cabin than its predecessor, and the Active continues to make the most of these gains. Although five adults will be a squash, this is true of most cars of a similar size, which tend not to be bought by drivers who regularly carry a full complement of passengers. 

Legroom, headroom and passenger space

As with similarly-sized cars, those in the rear of the Fiesta Active will be forced to adopt a relatively upright seating position, and front-seat occupants will have to be considerate of how far they have their seats forward if adults are behind them.

While the Fiesta Active makes a strong fist of the space its small dimensions provide, and young families should do well with it, if you want to maximise the amount of interior space your small car offers, look into the Honda Jazz– it’s the epitome of clever packaging.  

Boot 

At 311 litres with the rear seats up, boot space in the Fiesta Active is almost identical to the Fiesta hatch, which offers just eight litres fewer. Drop the seats in the Active and luggage space grows to 1,093 litres. These figures are reasonable, if nothing to write home about. The SEAT Arona, for comparison, offers 400 litres of luggage space with the rear seats up, while the Citroen C3 Aircross has 520 litres if you slide its rear seats forward. 

Towing

Ford will fit the Fiesta Active with a tow bar for £225 – though not in conjunction with the optional panoramic sunroof. So equipped, the Active will tow up to 1,000kg, and will do so most comfortably if you choose the 118bhp 1.5-litre diesel engine.

4.3

Remember those compromises we mentioned earlier about SUVs being less agile than more established body styles? The same theory applies to economy. Add size and you reduce efficiency – partly due to extra weight, and partly due to a taller car being less aerodynamic. 

Fortunately, because the Fiesta Active is only slightly larger than the Fiesta, and only weighs an extra 100kg or so, its efficiency losses are pretty minimal. Ford claims official economy of 64.2mpg for the 118bhp diesel and, while we saw a low 50mpg figure in our test drive, a diesel Fiesta Active will still be one of the more frugal small SUVs you can buy. For reference, opt for the 84bhp diesel and official economy climbs to 70.6mpg.

Specify your Active with the 1.0-litre petrol engine and official economy sticks around the mid-50s, with the 84 and 99bhp engines returning 56.5mpg, and the 138bhp version managing 54.3mpg.

Regardless of which fuel you choose, if you compare these figures to the Fiesta hatchback you’ll see a difference of between 3mpg and 5mpg. It’s noticeable, but hardly damning. 

The Active stands up pretty well to the competition where economy is concerned, too. The SEAT Arona officially manages 57.6mpg with the base 94bhp petrol engine, rising to 70.6bhp if you chose the equally powerful 1.6-litre TDI diesel.

As far as road tax is concerned, most models emit between 103 and 118g/km of CO2, so first-year road tax (which is typically included in on-the-road prices) will be £165 – though note that the automatic gearbox offered with the 99bhp EcoBoost engine emits 138g/km of CO2, so will be £205 for the first year. Subsequent years will see you taxed at £140, no matter which engine or gearbox you choose.

Insurance

Insurance for your Ford Fiesta Active should be cheap enough. Choose Active 1 trim with either the 84bhp petrol or the 84bhp diesel and you’ll be looking at group 7 out of 50, while the models most dimly viewed by the insurance industry (the 118bhp diesel and 138bhp diesel) sit in group 14; cover shouldn’t be expensive, either way, and should be slightly cheaper than it would be with the SEAT Arona, which sits in groups 8 to 18. 

If cheap insurance is the goal, though, bear in mind choosing a Fiesta hatchback instead of the Active will get you more affordable cover: the Fiesta Style sits in group 2 out of 50 – though only if you specify it with the unenthusiastic 69bhp petrol engine.

Depreciation

Our experts predict the Fiesta Active will retain an average of 42.56 per cent of its value after three years and 36,000 miles, which is roughly the same as the standard, Fiesta. Our choice, the B&O Play model with the 99bhp EcoBoost engine, should hold onto 36.5 per cent of its value, while the 118bhp and 138bhp petrols will be more resistant to depreciation - though they’ll cost you more to buy in the first place.

Updated Honda Civic Type R spied testing
Posted on Tuesday July 17, 2018

Jonathan Burn 2018-07-17 10:45

Honda Civic Type R hot hatch set for a range of cosmetic tweaks, and we've spotted it testing on the road

Honda Civic Type R facelift - 3

The Honda Civic Type R may have only launched 12 months ago but the Japanese firm appears to be working on an updated version of the hot hatch, according to the latest spy shots.

Honda Civic Type R vs Hyundai i30 N

Spotted testing on roads around the Nurburgring in Germany, updates to the Type R appear to be rather minor and limited to a new front and rear bumper. Closer inspection reveals a new set of winglets appears to have been added to the air intakes at the front and to the plastic cladding beneath the rear lamps.

Of course that doesn’t mean there aren’t further changes beneath the skin. Renault has openly admitted to chasing the Type R’s Nurburgring lap record with the new Megane RS, and Honda could be using the mild update as an opportunity to add some more power and make some chassis tweaks to help the Type R maintain its title as the world’s fastest front-wheel drive car. 

Aside from those minor visual changes little else appears to have been changed over the existing model, however the sighting of the updated Type R is tell tale sign that a range of updates for the standard Civic range is on the way. The latest hatchback launched back in 2016, and with Honda’s particularly short lifecycles that model is due a mid-life facelift. 

What are the best hot hatchbacks on sale right now? These are our top 10...

Mercedes A-Class review
Posted on Monday July 16, 2018

For 
Gorgeous interior, fantastic tech, efficient engines
Our Rating 
4
Against 
Firm ride, coarse 1.3 petrol engine, dull handling
Mercedes A-Class - front
2018

The latest Mercedes A-Class premium hatch is one of the most tech-laden cars on sale, of any size

The Mercedes A-Class has always been a compact hatch with one major selling point – that three-pointed star on the nose. But while its predecessors all lacked a little substance behind the badge, this latest generation is a genuine contender for class honours. Step inside and it blows its rivals away – the interior design and quality is wonderful, and the infotainment system is quite possibly the best on the market at any price.

Some rivals are more fun to drive and several are more comfortable, but the A-Class leads the class both in terms of refinement and efficiency. Invest in one of the higher grade infotainment set-ups, and the A-Class is one of the most high-tech hatches money can buy.

17 Jul, 2018
5

The fourth generation A-Class sports a design which amounts to a fairly conservative evolution over the old model. It’s a bit sharper to look at while the lights are pointier and slimmer. Overall, it’s a look which will neither set pulses racing nor put off existing customers.

The big changes come on the inside. The new model is a huge leap forward over the tidy, yet slightly cheap-feeling predecessor. The design is unique, attractive, well-laid out and feels immaculately put together with lots of soft-touch plastics. It all adds up to a cabin which makes the previous class design benchmark, the Audi A3, look rather old-hat overnight. The giant leap forward in appearance, however, is thanks in no small part to its fantastic infotainment system – more on which later. 

As it stands, the customisation choices on the A-Class are pretty limited. There are only five exterior paint colours to choose from (red is the only choice not on the greyscale), and the three trim levels give three variations of black on the inside.

There are only three alloy wheel designs too, and you’re tied down to one depending on the trim you go for: SE models have 16-inch wheels, Sport models are an inch larger, and AMG Line cars get 18-inch items. 

Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment

It only takes a few seconds gawping at the A-Class’s infotainment system to realise that it’s head and shoulders above any rival system. Dubbed ‘MBUX’, it features a pair of 10.25-inch screens side-by-side for an almost continuous widescreen display: the screen in front of the driver shows various driving information and data, while the central display caters for the infotainment functions. 

The latter is controlled via a range of input methods. The screen itself responds to touch, there’s a mousepad-style controller on the centre console, and it can respond to voice commands via the ‘Hey Mercedes’ operating system.

The menus are more logically laid out than in previous Mercedes systems, and the various input methods mean that you’ll never find yourself lost in a sea of sub menus.

Perhaps the greatest feature of the new system is the navigation system, which features augmented reality graphics. When approaching junctions, it displays images from a forward-facing camera onto the screen, and in real time superimposes arrows onto the display which inform the driver of the turning they need to take. It’s a brilliantly executed idea, and works particularly well on roundabouts and busy urban streets.

The digital dials are perhaps not quite as clever, but they still look great. The steering wheel gets touch-sensitive controls inspired by the S-Class, which lets the driver customise three sections of the screen to show whichever driving, navigation or entertainment information they prefer.

There is a price for all of this tech, however. The 10.25-inch screens aren’t standard – they’re available as part of the optional Premium Package, which also includes electrically folding mirrors, active park assist, heated front seats, ambient lighting, keyless go and an uprated sound system. All of this comes to £2,395. The augmented reality tech adds another £495. That’s the best part of three grand for the best tech, but in reality, it’s worth saving cash on a cheaper, more frugal engine and getting the technology – it’s that good. 

As standard, the Mercedes A-Class features a pair of seven-inch touchscreens. They don’t offer the customisation features or the stunning graphics of the bigger set-up, but they’re still a significant step up over the old car’s tech.

Of course, if you decide that the in-built system isn’t quite good enough, then it’s always possible to connect your phone via either Bluetooth, or smartphone mirroring apps like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Whichever way you choose, the devices pair quickly and reliably.  

3.5

If there’s one aspect of the A-Class that impresses the most from behind the wheel, it’s refinement. On a motorway cruise, it’s class-leading: a 0.25 drag coefficient means that there’s barely a whisper of wind noise. The engines settle down to a barely-audible hum, and the most obvious – but not intrusive – sound comes from the tyres. 

Like-for-like, the A-Class is 20kg lighter than the old one, even though it’s grown in every direction. While the handling is an improvement on before, this still isn’t an exciting car. It’s got plenty of grip, but the suspension is biased more closely towards security than fun. Things aren’t helped by steering which has very little feel, though it is precise and its light weight at low speeds makes the A-Class very easy to park. 

The model you choose determines the sort of rear suspension set-up you’ll get. The A 250 gets a multi-link rear setup, as does the A 200 AMG Line. The A180 d, however, gets a less sophisticated, cheaper torsion beam set-up. The torsion beam lacks the overall control of the multi-link, but you need to be seriously pressing-on for this to be a noticeable issue. 

There is, however, a more tangible difference in ride comfort. Around town, the torsion beam jiggles ever so slightly more over short, sharp bumps, though in reality, the more advanced set-up doesn’t fare much better when compared to class rivals. The A-Class is a car that fidgets over bumps rather than smothering them – particularly on larger wheels. 

Engines, 0-60 acceleration and top speed

Of the engines available, it’s best to aim either low or high in the A-Class range. The entry-level A 180 d has a very sweet unit: co-developed with Renault, the 1.5-litre lump is smooth (both in noise and power delivery), quiet, and easily the most frugal choice in the range. Stats of 10.5 seconds to 62mph and a 126mph top speed are leisurely rather than thrilling, but it’s otherwise excellent.

The 2.0-litre petrol in the A 250 addresses the need for performance, a 0-62mph time of 6.2 seconds and 155mph top speed puts it into hot hatch territory, and though not exactly tuneful, it sounds sporty enough. The automatic gearbox – an in-house unit as opposed to the diesel’s Getrag – can be a little slow to respond, especially when using the paddle shifters. 

The 1.33-litre petrol in the A180 and A200 uses the superior Getrag ‘box, but otherwise there’s little else to recommend it. The A180 covers the 0-62mph dash in 8.8 seconds and maxes out at 134mph, while the A 200 is 0.8 seconds and 6mph faster respectively. Both perform fine on paper, then, but the torque deficit relative to the 180 d means that these A-Class derivatives need working hard at times – effort they hastily announce through a loud, thrashy tone. They’re undoubtedly the weakest units in the current range.

3.5

All versions of the A-Class come loaded with safety kit: an active bonnet, forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, auto headlights, and a glut of airbags are standard throughout the range. Also included is ‘Mercedes me connect’; an in-built system which not only keeps the driver within easy contact of approved breakdown services, but is also able to contact the emergency services in the event of a serious accident.

Its overall safety rating for the Mercedes A-Class is yet to be assessed by Euro NCAP, but the old A-Class scored very highly. It’s safe to say that the new model – more tech-laden than ever – will do even better.

It’s too early to say how the A-Class fares in the reliability stakes, but Mercedes finished a disappointing 20th out of 26 manufacturers in the 2018 Driver Power satisfaction survey. That matches up very closely to its rival brands: Audi finished two places higher in 18th and BMW were one behind in 21st.

The previous generation model finished in the bottom half of the overall rankings. The 56th place finish was enough to put it six places higher than the BMW 1 Series, but the Audi A3 managed a more respectable 46th place.

Warranty

As with other models in the Mercedes range, the A-Class comes with a three-year, unlimited mileage warranty. That’s a match for BMW’s standard warranty, and better than Audi’s which is capped at 60,000 miles over the three year period. Mercedes also provides 30 years’ corrosion protection from the inside out, and 30 years of breakdown cover.

Servicing 

The standard service interval for the Mercedes A-Class is set to once a year or every 15,500 miles – whichever comes first. Various service plans allow buyers to spread the cost of maintenance over monthly payments. A typical plan costs 28 per month, granting the owner one annual service over either two, three or four years.

3.5

The A-Class is available as a five-door only, with seating for five. Up front, the driving position is great – there’s plenty of adjustment for both the seat and the steering wheel, so it’s easy to get comfy. Mercedes has made an effort to slim down the plastic trim around the pillars, and as a result visibility, particularly over the shoulder, has improved. However, it can feel a little claustrophobic in the back compared to some of the A-Class’ rivals because of the front seats – their shape and size block out a lot of the light. 

In terms of cubby spaces, the A-Class is pretty standard for the class. There’s a big central storage bin, a couple of cup holders ahead of the infotainment touch pad, and a smartphone-sized space at the base of the dash. The front door pockets are roomy enough for a large bottle, but those in the back are small.

Size

The A-Class measures 4,419mm long, 1,796mm wide and 1,440mm tall. That’s 30mm longer than the old car, and larger than the A3 Sportback in every dimension – the extra 106mm in length could make a difference when parking in tight spaces. The 2,729mm wheelbase is also longer than the A3’s 2,637mm space between its axles.  

Leg room, head room & passenger space

Mercedes states that there’s more elbow and headroom in the back compared to the previous A-Class. However, a lack of kneeroom means that when filled with four six footers, it’s more cramped than the Audi. Headroom is fine, unless you’re in the raised middle seat. That central berth is narrow too, so it’s not a comfortable place to sit.

On the plus side, it’s really easy to fit a child seat. The Isofix mounts are clearly exposed by plastic openings, and the doors open fairly wide.

Boot

One criticism of the previous model is that the boot wasn’t just smaller than most rivals, but hard to make use of due to a narrow opening. The new car addresses both of these issues to an extent – the opening is a useful 20cm wider, and the total volume is up 29 litres, taking the total to 370 litres. That’s a nominal 10 litres fewer than front-wheel drive A3 models, but more than quattro-equipped cars. There’s also a tiny bit of underfloor storage for hiding away smaller items. 

The rear seat backs fold in a 40/20/40 split, but the boot floor isn’t quite flat. With the seats down it increases the capacity to 1,210 litres – still 10 litres less than the Audi.

3.8

Predictably, the single diesel option is the most frugal version of the Mercedes A-Class. Officially, the A 180 d achieves 68.9mpg and CO2 emissions of 111g/km, which is better than a BMW 116d, a car the Merc matches for performance, and a tiny bit thirstier than the equivalent Audi A3, which is slower. Though we don’t have our own calculated figures for the diesel yet, it managed an indicated mid-fifties mpg in mixed driving on our test.

The A 200 is claimed to achieve 51.4mpg and CO2 figures of 123g/km. In a group comparison against the Volkswagen Golf and the Audi A3 (both equipped with a 148bhp 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol), the Merc not only delivered significantly stronger acceleration figures than both, but was more frugal too: our calculation of 41.2mpg was 2.2mpg more than the Audi and 2.6mpg better than the Golf. Match those figures regularly, and the A 200 promises a real-world range of 390 miles.

The most powerful A 250 trades some economy for performance compared to the smaller petrol, though if it gets close to its claimed 45.6mpg and 141g/km in the real world, it’s impressive for a car which offers so much performance.

The strong figures across the A-Class range are no doubt partly thanks to a slippery body shape, which Mercedes claims that is the most aerodynamic in its class. 

Insurance groups

What gains the A-Class might make relative to its rivals in terms of fuel costs are offset when it comes to insurance. The A 180 d starts from group 20 insurance, three groups higher than an A3 1.6 TDI and five groups higher than the BMW 116d SE.

The difference is as high further up the range: a high-end A 250 falls into group 34, while the BMW 125i sits in group 28.

Depreciation

Official figures have yet to be confirmed for the latest A-Class, though its likely to maintain a similar percentage of its value after three years as its closest rivals.

BMW M Performance Parts Concept previews new lightweight M2 parts
Posted on Monday July 16, 2018

James Brodie 2018-07-16 15:15

A glut of new carbon-fibre parts will be available on the BMW M2 Competition very shortly

BMW M Performance Parts header

BMW has previewed an upcoming range of new performance parts at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, showcased on a modified M2 coupe called the BMW M Performance Parts Concept.

BMW already offers a range of M Performance Parts, though the new add-ons displayed on the Goodwood M2 take things up a notch – BMW claims a 60kg weight saving, plus tangible aerodynamic improvements.

Best performance cars on sale 2018

The concept is presented in metallic Frozen Black with gold accentuations, but it’s the extensive use of carbon fibre that stands out. The front radiator grille is made from the material, and has been confirmed as available for the M2 Competition later this month. A new bonnet will also be arriving – the new M Performance piece is also made from carbon fibre and saving eight kilograms.

Other carbon fibre additions include new front wings available from November, a carbon fibre tailgate saving five kilograms, plus a full carbon roof, which BMW will sell from March next year.

The new tailgate features a revised lip spoiler and is available in tandem with an M Performance carbon fibre rear diffuser. Other new aero parts include two sets of winglets – a pair at the front of the car and a pair at on the side skirts, heading towards the rear.

Inside, the M Performance Concept features new carbon fibre sports seats trimmed in Alcantara. There are lightweight seats in the rear too, saving 13 kilos, while the driver sits behind a new M Performance Pro steering wheel. 

Sprung on M Performance coilover suspension and sitting 20mm lower, the car rides on new 19-inch forged wheels too, saving six kilograms over the standard M2 Competition wheel.

Read our round-up of the 2018 Goodwood Festival of Speed here...

Maserati Levante SUV gains 346bhp V6
Posted on Monday July 16, 2018

Jonathan Burn 2018-07-16 14:50

Further updates for flagship Maserati Levante SUV include a new 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine

Maserati Levante - front

Maserati has introduced a new 346bhp 3.0-litre V6 engine to its Levante SUV range. The new engine will also eventually be offered across the Quattroporte and Ghibli model ranges.

The new engine slots between the existing 273bhp 3.0-litre V6 diesel and 425bhp 3.0-litre V6 petrol in the Levante lineup. Maserati claims the new motor is capable of 0-62mph in six seconds and has a top speed of 156mph.

Maserati Levante GTS revealed at Goodwood

According to the soon to be replaced NEDC economy cycle, the 346bhp V6 should return up to 24.4mpg and emit 280g/km CO2.

The new engine joins the Levante range following a series of model year updates for the SUV, which debuted at the recent Goodwood Festival of Speed. The updates to the Porsche Cayenne rival include new adaptive matrix LED headlamps and 11 new exterior colour options.

Also launched at Goodwood was a new Levante GTS, which sits at the top of the lineup and powered by a 542bhp 3.8-litre V8. However, Maserati UK has not said whether this model will be reengineered for right hand drive and sold in the UK.

The new 346bhp V6 in the Levante is available to order now with prices starting from £61,425. In the Quattroporte prices kick off from £78,120.

These are the best SUVs and 4x4s on sale...

Aston Martin Vision Volante Concept aircraft revealed
Posted on Monday July 16, 2018

James Brodie 2018-07-16 10:24

Aston Martin, Rolls-Royce and Cranfield University come together to create futuristic craft for inter-city travel

Aston Martin Vision Volante Concept - in the air

Once again, Aston Martin has turned its hand to a new form of transport, this time the British supercar firm looking to the skies.

We’ve already seen Aston Martin collaborate with various specialists to create a small submarine called Project Neptune, and the £1 million plus AM37 powerboat. This new project – the Aston Martin Vision Volante Concept – sees Aston team up with Cranfield University and Rolls-Royce, to create ‘a luxury concept aircraft with vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) capabilities.’ 

Aston Martin AM37: riding the waves in Aston's £1m powerboat

Revealed at the 2018 Farnborough International Airshow, the craft is purely a near future vision of personal luxury air travel and there are no plans to make it as of yet. As such, it features plenty in the way of futuristic propulsion technology, and is autonomous.

The Volante Vision Concept boasts room for three in its cabin in a 1+2 configuration, covered by a fighter jet style canopy. Aston Martin has styled the rest of the craft, with influence from the Valkyrie spotted in the front wing element. 

The Vision Volante Concept features a gas turbine hybrid propulsion system created by Rolls-Royce, plus a tri-rotor propeller setup to enable VTOL capabilities. An on-board battery pack even means it can do short trips on electric power only. 

Aston Martin has not revealed any official performance or range figures. However, speaking with Auto Express, Aston Martin vice president and chief marketing officer Simon Sproule shone a little extra light on the concept’s capabilities:

“The study would lead us to a craft that would be able to do London to Paris non stop in about an hour. As the crow flies that’s about 200-250 miles, at a speed of about 200mph. Birmingham to London could be done in half an hour.” 

Explaining Aston’s desire to create the concept, teaming up with Cranfield University and Rolls-Royce, Sproule explained: “We’ve all got an interest in next generation mobility and low altitude airflight. 

“Marek Reichman, [Aston Martin Executive vice president and chief creative officer] and I went to see Cranfield about 18 months ago as we saw this as an emerging area of luxury mobility. They introduced us to Rolls-Royce in terms of propulsion systems.

“Their heritage in VTOL systems is quite strong. They did the Harrier system and they currently do the system for the new F-35 Lightning which has just started service with the air force.” 

Though it’s strictly a concept for now, the Vision Volante wears the government’s Britain is GREAT branding, suggesting hopes of more to come from the project. 

“If something came together from this in terms of production, it would jobs and new technology and so and on” Sproule explained.

Will the flying car market ever take off? Take a look at some of the best flying cars and concepts...

Lexus boss hints at electrified F performance models
Posted on Sunday July 15, 2018

John McIlroy 2018-07-15 06:59

The next stage in the development of the Lexus F performance brand could be electrification, says president Yoshihiro Sawa

Lexus LC - full front

Lexus may have to consider expanding its F performance sub-brand to include electrified powertrains as well as traditional petrol engines – and this could even extend to a bespoke F hybrid GT, the company’s president has revealed.

Yoshihiro Sawa admits that creating a stronger emotional connection with buyers could be the next step in building Lexus’s position as a true rival to German premium manufacturers. And he says motorsport activities, such as Lexus’s GT3 sports car programme, and its F sub-brand can play key roles in this.

Best performance cars to buy now

The F models to date – IS F, RC F and GS F – have all used petrol V8 power. But Sawa believes the division will have to embrace different powertrain choices in the coming years. And intriguingly, he suggested that one possible home for a hybrid F powertrain could be a standalone F GT.

“F is very important; with F we have to think of our own original way,” said Sawa, speaking during his first visit to the Goodwood Festival of Speed. “One solution could be a pure F GT car, which could be a hybrid with an electric motor and a strong engine, giving a different kind of drive feel. We don’t stick to V8, V10, twin-turbocharged; they’re important but we’re looking at the future. We’d like to find a way to connect to the next era.” 

“I think that now, we’re in a transitional period. At this moment people say EVs are trendy but three years later, who knows? People like the sound, the dynamics [of combustion engines]. I think we cannot stick to the one solution when it comes to providing emotion.”

Lexus’s latest creation, the urban-focused UX small SUV, could be considered a more natural candidate for a pure-electric version, Sawa admitted. But he added that this would be part of a range of powertrains, and said that Lexus is trying to work on. “We do think about it,” he said, “but Akio Toyoda [boss of Toyota] wants to provide the freedom of mobility everywhere – not just in the city but also in the jungle, or the desert. We can look to EV but also hybrid, plug-in hybrid, fuel cell and normal petrol engines also.”

“We will introduce an EV but on top of that we’re searching to decide which kind of EV will be lovable. It needs to have a luxury feeling too, because that is expected by our customers.”

Sawa said that Lexus’s ‘spindle grille’ front-end styling had helped to create more of an emotional response to the brand – even if that means splitting opinion. “Some people really love the spindle grille,” he said, “and some people don’t like it at all. That’s okay. The rate of our sales growth has gone up since we introduced the spindle grille so while we know that some potential buyers don’t like it, many more are coming into our brand.”

The next generation of Toyota Supra made its dynamic debut at Goodwood, but Sawa declined to say whether Lexus would have enough access to the project – a joint effort between Toyota and BMW – to consider using its underpinnings for a driver-focused model of its own. “I can’t speak about that,” he stated.

Take a look at our round-up of the best electric cars on sale now...

SUVs blamed for rising emissions
Posted on Saturday July 14, 2018

Hugo Griffiths 2018-07-14 17:35

SUVs emit more carbon dioxide than conventional cars and are partly responsible for rising CO2 emissions, says Government watchdog

Exhaust emissions

The ever-growing popularity of SUVs is partly responsible for rising emissions, according to the Government’s environmental watchdog.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) says “the popularity of SUVs is cancelling out emissions savings from improvements in technology, with potentially serious implications for meeting the UK’s carbon budgets.” 

The CCC’s condemnation of SUVs comes in response to the Government’s recently-published Road to Zero strategy, which sets out how new cars sold in the UK from 2040 will become “effectively” zero emission. 

Best 4x4 and SUVs

While the CCC praises Road to Zero for its focus on ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs) capable of emitting under 75 grams per kilometre (g/km) of carbon dioxide (CO2), it says the policy contains “an absence of measures to address the fast-growing market higher emitting vehicles, including Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs)”.

Figures previously released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) show SUVs, which tend to be bigger and heavier than more established types of car, have average CO2 emissions of 141.3g/km. A typical small family car, such as the Volkswagen Golf, emits 115.8g/km, and an average executive car, such as the Mercedes C-Class, emits 121.6g/km. 

Chris Stark, the CCC’s chief executive, said: “We are buying more cars in the UK and a greater proportion of these are larger and more polluting”, adding: “there needs to be a rebalancing away from the highest polluting vehicles. So far, the market has not delivered this.”

Mike Hawes, chief executive of the SMMT, defended SUVs, telling the Times the market was driven by consumer tastes: “SUVs are an increasingly popular choice, valued for their style, practicality, higher ride and commanding view of the road. 

Hawes added that SUVs have become cleaner in recent years, too, citing “massive investment into advanced engine and battery technology, lightweight materials and aero-dynamics”, which have seen “average CO2 emissions from new dual-purpose cars [the industry name for SUVs] cut by 20 per cent over the last five years — the biggest reduction of any segment.”

Do you agree? Do you think SUVs are responsible for rising emissions? Let us know below...

New Hyundai Kona diesel 2018 review
Posted on Friday July 13, 2018

Hyundai Kona diesel - front
17 Jul, 2018 2:15pm James Brodie

The diesel Hyundai Kona is available on special-order only, but while this CRDi is by no means poor, it’s not a class leader

The new Kona Electric isn’t all that’s fresh about Hyundai’s junior SUV, because the Korean brand has also just added two diesel options to the engine line-up.

You’re unlikely to see them in showrooms, though, because they’re special-order only; this indicates how slim their share of this car’s overall sales will be. Indeed, even the all-electric version could prove more popular.

Best diesel cars 2018

Both diesels feature a 1.6-litre four-cylinder CRDi motor, developing either 113bhp or 134bhp, and the latter version is linked to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox.

EV aside, we’d recommend sticking with a petrol-powered Kona in almost every case, but if you’re going to do the miles to justify it, the lower-powered diesel option is probably the better bet.

The 113bhp power output doesn’t sound like much, but 280Nm of torque is plenty in a car of this size, so the milder diesel is still a reasonable performer, 0-62mph coming up in just over 10 seconds. It will get up to motorway speeds comfortably, and even though it lacks the responsiveness of the petrol-powered Konas it’s not bad nipping around town, either.

The six-speed manual gearbox shifts sweetly, though, making it easy to recommend over stumping up extra cash for the dual-clutch automatic.

Of course, the diesel is the Kona to pick if fuel economy is your primary concern as you munch through the miles. An official average economy figure of 67.3mpg and CO2 emissions of 112g/km are impressive, although these numbers are merely in the ballpark for a diesel SUV of this size, rather than class-leading.

As for refinement, the Kona diesel sits pretty much in the middle of the pack. There’s nothing particularly amiss about the level of engine noise seeping into the cabin, and there’s probably little between this car and a diesel SEAT Arona in this regard.

• Hyundai Kona Premium SE review

However, the ride still disappoints; it’s firm and shuddery. Admittedly, an Arona also struggles with comfort but it at least is much better to drive.

The Kona is a nice place to sit, however, even if the cabin isn’t quite as funky as the exterior. Still, it’s well built, uses plenty of nice materials, and the infotainment system on the Premium SE car is straightforward.

3
Game-changing all-electric version aside, the Hyundai Kona is a decidedly mid-pack car and the diesel does little to change this. By no means is the 113bhp 1.6 CRDi a poor performer, but petrol or electric power remain our pick.
  • Model: Hyundai Kona 1.6 CRDi 115 Premium SE
  • Price: £23,450
  • Engine: 1.6-litre 4cyl diesel
  • Power/torque: 113bhp/280Nm
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel-drive
  • 0-62mph: 10.7 seconds
  • Top speed: 114mph
  • Economy: 67.3mpg
  • CO2: 112g/km
  • On sale: Now

Mercedes-AMG GT 4-Door Coupe ride review
Posted on Friday July 13, 2018

Mercedes-AMG GT four-door front
13 Jul, 2018 5:30pm James Batchelor

We get a passenger ride in Mercedes-AMG’s range-topping GT S on the famous Goodwood hillclimb

It goes without saying that the over the past 25 years the Goodwood Festival of Speed has grown in stature. And one feature that has really taken off is the chance to see the very latest and most exciting new metal on the road for the very first time.

Less than 12 hours after being the first in the world to drive McLaren’s new 600LT supercar, we were being strapped in the passenger seat of the new Mercedes-AMG GT 4-Door Coupe alongside AMG factory driver Adam Christodoulou for a run up the Goodwood hill – the first global media to be in the sleek new Mercedes-AMG before we get behind the wheel ourselves in September.

Goodwood Festival of Speed 2018 - latest news

Nudging out of the Supercar Paddock and down to the start line the big AMG attracts as many as admiring glances as the most exotic supercar. A quick donut by Christodoulou at the bottom of the drive and it’s up to the line – all eyes and smartphones once again on us.

We’re in the range-topping version of next year’s 4-Door Coupe – the GT S. That means a whopping 630bhp is being pummeled through the 4Matic four-wheel drive system – it translates to frankly astonishing acceleration pace.

Before we know it, it’s turn one and then turn two and past Goodwood House. The bi-turbo 4.0-litre V8 is bellowing, angrily snapping through the gears. Under the bridge and into Molecomb – Christodoulou is very late on the brakes, but the GT 4dr hauls itself to a slower speed, jinks left and it’s back on the loud pedal.

Acceleration in third gear is mightily impressive and you really wouldn’t think you were in a two-tonne four-door coupe. The reaction from the engine, the noise and the overall body control is more akin to a two-door sportscar. It’s really only the Mercedes CLS-like dashboard being the giveaway that this is a more luxurious model, but the sharply raked centre console – which is home to a variety of controls – is very AMG.

• Mercedes-AMG GT 4-Door Coupe: details and specs

We burst out of the trees for a second before plunging back into them and then across the chequered finish line. It’s a tantalising first taste of what’s bound to be one 2018’s star cars.

Some may think this is simply an AMG version of the Mercedes CLS thanks to some similar styling cues, but it’s far more than that. As the name suggests it’s a four-door version of the bonkers AMG GT supercar. From the passenger seat it’s clear AMG have managed to carry over the GT’s surefooted handling and sense of occasion while adding a nice dose of practicality - it’s rather spacious and has a tailgate. This ride has really whetted our appetite.

‘Will Volvo be the hottest car company of 2019? Probably’
Posted on Friday July 13, 2018

Mike Rutherford 2018-07-15 10:00

As Volvo scores two wins at the New Car Awards, it’s ideally placed to take on established premium brands, says Mike Rutherford

There’s no better place than the Auto Express awards to catch up with the great and the good from the global motor industry. And because I’m partly responsible for him entering the car business many years ago, I had a long chat with Volvo director Mike Johnstone at the ceremony last week.

He agrees his firm’s on a roll after winning Auto Express trophies, plus the World Car of the Year title a few months back. Although he’s too modest to admit it, Volvo isn’t unlike Audi was 20 years ago: taking on established premium firms, before matching or beating them. Volvo’s credentials are bolstered by the fact that, like Mercedes, BMW, Jaguar and Lexus, it has just picked up two Auto Express new car gongs, while Audi failed to win one!

Auto Express New Car Awards 2018 - the winners

Johnstone seems flattered by comparisons with the still-great company from Ingolstadt. Yet he insists Volvo is still warming up and there is much work to do. One area is convincing the public that Volvo is now a proper, fully-fledged premium outfit that deserves a place in the same league as Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lexus and Mercedes.

Some believe Volvo still isn’t quite there as a premium marque. Johnstone doesn’t dismiss the assertion, but he’s not agreeing with it, either. He reminds me that Mercedes has been leasing its high-end cars for hundreds of pounds per month, while charging around £150 a month for the A-Class. In that sense, the firm seems firmly ensconced in the premium and ‘pile ’em high, lease em ’cheap’ markets. Maybe that’s where it and Volvo need to be.

Volvo’s only one member of the giant Geely clan, which is to China what the VW Group is to Germany. Volvo has many new siblings, including the London Electric Vehicle Company, Lotus, Lynk & Co, Polestar, Proton and Terrafugia. Also, Geely owns a large and intriguing slice of the Daimler/Mercedes pie. So with all this in mind, could Geely’s strategy be to pitch Volvo as a mass-market brand (albeit a high-quality one) that’d be in the same mould as Volkswagen, rather than taking the final step of trying to turn it into a full-blown premium marque such as Audi? Possibly. We’ll see in the very near future.

And we’ll also be seeing how Volvo intends to educate and win over buyers who remain confused by cars powered in full or part by electricity. It’s started the ball rolling with the ‘Twin Engine’ tag it has slapped on its XC60 T8, which has a petrol-powered motor backed up by an electric unit. Much responsibility rests on the Swedish manufacturer’s corporate shoulders, because the brand has been more anti-diesel and pro-electric (or petrol-electric) than all of its obvious rivals. Volvo, the hottest car company on the planet in 2018? Probably.

Read why the Volvo XC40 won our Small Premium SUV of the Year award for 2018…

New McLaren 600LT driven at Goodwood FoS
Posted on Friday July 13, 2018

McLaren 600LT - front
13 Jul, 2018 10:15am James Batchelor

Auto Express becomes the first publication in the world to drive the new McLaren 600LT, taking on the Goodwood hillclimb

Goodwood is inextricably linked to McLaren’s story. The Bruce McLaren Racing Team used the motor circuit throughout the sixties to develop racing cars, and it was at the circuit where the Kiwi lost his life in June 1970. So driving a brand new McLaren, launched at Goodwood, is an extremely special experience.

This time it’s a road car though, and it’s not the Goodwood circuit but the notoriously tricky 1.16-mile hill climb course in the Duke of Richmond’s back garden – the Festival of Speed. The car in question is the new 600LT and Auto Express is the first in the world to drive it.

2018 Goodwood Festival of Speed: latest news

LT stands for ‘Longtail’ and it’s an evocative name in McLaren’s history. The first car to wear the badge was the F1 GTR in 1997 which was designed to conquer GT racing and the Le Mans 24 Hours, and the 600 is the third following on from the 675LT of 2015. It’s for this reason that the new one creates so much attention in the Festival of Speed’s Supercar Paddock.

While there’s a whole string of mad one-off supercars sitting in their garages, the 600LT has a distinctive look itself. The stretched bodywork is the most noticeable change and that fixed rear wing makes a 570S (the car on which the 600LT is based) look rather conventional.

Start up the engine, engage ‘D’ and we gently nose the car out of the paddock. With helmets on and the same carbon fibre racing seats as the mad McLaren Senna, the 600LT feels every bit like a racing car. Indeed, the seats totally transform the seating position from a 570S – you sit perfectly straight and upright, and you feel more connected to the car.

A thumbs-up from the marshal and it’s away down the famous avenue of trees. The engine sings with a more tuneful rasp thanks to a completely different exhaust system.

McLaren 600LT - full details

The 600LT uses the same 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 as the 570S but there’s an extra 30bhp and 20Nm of torque, and it’s very noticeable. We’re up to 62mph in what feels like a blink of an eye (it’s actually an incredible 2.8 seconds) before leaning on the brakes for the first corner. There’s the McLaren’s trademark brake feel and the almost telepathic steering, but in the LT it’s even crisper. It’s now a short squirt to the second corner before blasting past the Duke’s country pile. It’s here where we can open up the 600LT and let the crowd hear that fabulous engine note.

Now we’re under the bridge and down to the infamous Molecomb corner. It’s off-camber and always a strong test of a car’s balance, but this weekend it’s also quite dusty so is rather slippery. Again, hard on the brakes and it’s here where the LT feels completely different to the 570S because it brakes completely flat and true. Attack the same corner in the 570S or 570GT and the nose would dive a little and the car would shimmy when scrubbing off the speed.

Once straightened up it’s time for another blast past the crowd and then to Flint Wall, kink right, gently hold the throttle and back into the trees. The 600LT blasts out into daylight for a moment before dipping back into the woods. And then it’s the dash for the line, completing a very special drive in what’s set to easily be probably the finest driving car McLaren currently makes.

The new McLaren 600LT lives up to its Longtail name - not just in terms of body design but also in ability. It may be based on a 570S but the 600LT is a completely reworked, honed and polished product. It’s a total transformation and a longer drive when the car is launched in September, could prove this is the finest car McLaren currently makes.
  • Model: McLaren 600LT
  • Engine: 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8
  • Price: £185,500
  • Power: 592bhp
  • Torque: 620Nm
  • 0-62mph: 2.8 seconds
  • 0-124mph: 8.2 seconds
  • Top speed: 204mph

McLaren to release 18 new cars by 2025 under new Track25 plan
Posted on Thursday July 12, 2018

James Brodie 2018-07-12 17:54

McLaren's product offensive will see its entire line-up electrified and the arrival of a true P1 successor

McLaren production line

McLaren has revealed a new business plan at the 2018 Goodwood Festival of Speed, with the British supercar firm promising it will launch 18 new models and derivatives by 2025 as part of a £1.2 billion investment. 

Called Track25, the new plan is an expansion of the already established Track22 plan revealed at the Geneva Motor Show in 2016. That original strategy did not include scope for an Ultimate Series successor to the P1 hypercar, but Track25 makes it perfectly clear that a new flagship will happen. 

Best supercars on sale 2018

It’ll use a hybrid powertrain – McLaren says that its entire sports car and supercar line-up will be electrified before 2025 – and the company claims it is currently developing a lightweight, superfast-charging, high-power battery system for high performance vehicles.

McLaren is also currently developing an all-electric hypercar. Two years ago, CEO Mike Flewitt declared to Auto Express that the model will be "the most exciting sports car we have ever made." A three-seat model codenamed BP23 is in the pipeline too.

The firm’s product roadmap will include replacements for Sports Series cars (570S, 570GT and 600LT) and Super Series (720S) models. All will be electrified with hybrid powertrains as standard. 

McLaren predicts that the product drive will lift production by almost 75 per cent, and the firm is targeting an output of 6,000 cars annually by the mid 2020s. McLaren will continue to produce all of its cars at its production centre in Woking.

Follow our live coverage of the 2018 Goodwood Festival of Speed here.

Fiat staff to strike over Cristiano Ronaldo’s £88 million Juventus move
Posted on Thursday July 12, 2018

Hugo Griffiths 2018-07-12 16:30

Fiat Chrysler’s Melfi plant is owned by same company as Juventus; staff are angry investment is going to footballer, not factory

Fiat workers in Italy are to strike over footballer Cristiano Ronaldo’s £88 million transfer from Real Madrid to Juventus.

Both Fiat’s Melfi plant and Juventus are part-owned by the wealthy Agnelli family and controlled through a holding company. That holding company, Exor, owns 64 per cent of Juventus, and 30 per cent of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA).

Best performance cars 2018

But while the club and the car company are separate corporate entities, individually managing their own operations and finances, the Italian USB Lavoro Privato union considers it “unacceptable” that such a large investment has gone into securing Ronaldo from the Galacticos.

A statement released by the union said: “It is unacceptable that while the [owners] ask workers of FCA... for huge economic sacrifices for years, the same decide to spend hundreds of millions of euros for the purchase of a player”. The union added: “The owners should invest in car models that guarantee the future of thousands of people rather than enriching only one,” the union said.

The USB Lavoro Privato union does not represent all workers at Melfi and the strike will be short, running from Sunday 15 July to Tuesday 17 July.

According to Reuters, “ thousands” of FCA staff have been on “state-sponsored temporary layoff schemes” for years due to lack of new models. That’s set to change with a future focus on electrified Maseratis, while Fiat is set to take a similar approach with its popular Panda and 500 models in coming years.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has been approached for comment.

What do you think about the USB Lavoro Privato union’s decision to go on strike? Let us know in the comments… 

Maserati Levante GTS revealed at Goodwood with 542bhp
Posted on Thursday July 12, 2018

James Brodie 2018-07-14 17:40

Another V8 powered version of Maserati's Levante has landed, but again, we probably won't get it in Britain

Maserati has revealed a new version of its Levante SUV at the 2018 Goodwood Festival of Speed called the Levante GTS.

It’s another V8 powered version of the Italian brand’s Porsche Macan rival, and a sister car to the Levante Trofeo revealed earlier this year at the New York Motor Show.

Best SUVs on sale 2018

Like that car it makes use of a 3.8-litre twin turbo eight cylinder motor, though it produces a little less power - 542bhp compared to the Trofeo’s 590bhp. Peak torque of 730Nm is delivered between 2,500rpm and 5,000rpm, and power is sent to FCA’s Q4 all-wheel-drive system through an eight-speed ZF gearbox.

From a performance perspective, Maserati claims that the Levante GTS will reel off the 0-62mph dash in 4.2 seconds, while top speed is pegged at 181mph. That means it can’t out accelerate its sister car – the V6 powered Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio – but that VMAX figure makes the Levante GTS comfortably one of the fastest SUVs on the planet.

Maserati’s designers have injected the Levante GTS with similar styling tweaks to the more powerful Trofeo. It sports a new, more aggressive and lower front end, while it sits on fresh alloy wheels too, 22-inches in size.

Tweaks in the cabin are subtler. The Levante GTS forgoes any individual interior design changes, but features sports pedals and full premium leather upholstery as standard, with a Harman Kardon premium stereo with 14 speakers on the options list.

The Trofeo is not available in the UK, and Maserati has not yet confirmed if the GTS will be sold in Britain either, despite the car’s Goodwood debut.

The arrival of the GTS headlines a slightly revised 2019 model year Levante. Adaptive LED matrix headlights are on the options list, while Maserati says it has updated the car’s infotainment too, with new graphics. It should feel different to drive as well, as Maserati has equipped with Levante with the Integrated Vehicle Control stability system used on the Ghibli.

Finally, the Levante is now available in 11 exterior colours, while there are five new alloy wheel designs too.

Read all the latest news from the 2018 Goodwood Festival of Speed

Bentley announces centenary Mulsanne W.O. Edition
Posted on Thursday July 12, 2018

2018-07-12 12:15

The limited edition Bentley Mulsanne W.O. Edition will mark 100 years of Bentley

Bentley Mulsanne special - front

Bentley will be marking its centenary next year by building the Mulsanne W.O. Edition, named after Bentley’s founder William Owen Bentley. Designed by Mulliner, only 100 cars will be built, which will each contain a slice of the original crankshaft taken from W.O. Bentley’s personal car.

Launched in 1930, the Bentley 8-litre was the last car to be designed by Bentley’s founder W.O. Bentley. It featured the most powerful engine of any car available in Britain at the time – a 7,983cc straight six. W.O. was forced to sell his own Bentley 8-litre a year later in 1931.

Best luxury cars on sale

Bentley Motors reacquired the car in 2006, when it was then restored, replacing the original crankshaft. Slices of the original crankshaft will be set into the interior of each Mulsanne W.O. Edition.

The limited edition Mulsanne takes design inspiration from W.O.’s original 8-litre and includes a chrome bonnet strip and optional chrome radiator shell and grille, topped with the Flying B mascot. The car also comes with Onyx paintwork, although customers can select other colours from Bentley’s colour pallet. The Mulsanne also includes a W.O. Bentley signature badge on the lower bumper and self-levelling wheel centres and door treadplates, which both incorporate a specially designed centenary badge. 

Inside, the Bentley Mulsanne design is based around 1930s luxury living, with an illuminated cocktail cabinet which contains the piece of the original 8-litre’s crankshaft in a specially designed display window. An inscription sits just below this, detailing the significance of this piece of Bentley history.

The interior features a host of luxurious materials, including Bentley’s Fireglow hide, Beluga hide and blind stitching. Dark Stain Burr Walnut veneer panels are also used on the harder surfaces, harking back to the 1930s 8-litre.  The interior also includes Fireglow lambswool rugs, glass tumblers, privacy curtains and rear seat entertainment. 

There’s no word yet on how much you can expect to pay for one of these limited editions, but the Mulsanne W.O. Edition can be specified on any of the three Mulsannes in Bentley’s range. 

The Mulsanne W.O. Edition will make its debut at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in late August and customer deliveries will begin in 2019.  

Tell us what you think of the limited edition Mulsanne in the comments below…

Aston Martin V8 Cygnet unleashed at Goodwood with 430bhp
Posted on Wednesday July 11, 2018

James Brodie 2018-07-12 16:05

Unloved Cygnet city car gets Vantage makeover with V8 power and wider track, all for one Aston customer

Aston Martin Cygnet V8

Aston Martin will arrive at the 2018 Goodwood Festival of Speed with not one, but two all-new cars set to take on the famous hillclimb.

Joining the all-new 715bhp DBS Superleggera flagship will be a one-off Cygnet commissioned though Aston’s Q customisation service, which the firm has dubbed ‘the ultimate city car’.

Latest news: Goodwood Festival of Speed 2018

Produced at the behest of one of Aston’s customers, the V8 Cygnet struggles to hide its new powertrain – a 4.7-litre, 430bhp V8 lifted from the previous-generation Vantage S.

The new engine is a full 3.4-litres larger than the four-cylinder unit equipped under the bonnet of the original Cygnet. Produced from 2011 to 2013, the Toyota iQ based city car was used by Aston to comply with European Union fleet emissions regulations, and produced just 97bhp.

With 333bhp extra on board, Aston Martin claims that the V8 Cygnet is capable of 0-62mph in 4.2 seconds – faster than the outgoing V8 Vantage S. Top speed has been clocked at 170mph.

To accommodate the new engine, both a new front bulkhead and transmission tunnel have been fabricated from sheet metal, while the subframes and suspension are partly shared with the previous generation Vantage too.

So too is the gearbox. It’s a seven-speed Sportshift II transmission, sending power to the rear wheels through a tiny torque tube. Throw in a full roll cage and a new twin-exit exhaust system, and the V8 Cygnet tips the scales at 1,375kg.

Elsewhere, the visibly wider track front and rear is bookended by new 19-inch alloy wheels, sitting over new 380mm brake discs at the front, and 330mm pieces at the rear.

In the cabin, fixed back carbon-fibre Recaro bucket seats are found, complete with four-point harnesses. A removable steering wheel makes the cut too, and sits in front of an instrument binnacle lifted from the Vantage.

Is the V8 Cygnet the best thing to hit the Goodwood Festival of Speed? Check out the other cars at this year’s show, and decide for yourself…

 


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