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Alfa Romeo Giulia Veloce Ti trim added alongside Stelvio updates
Posted on Friday August 17, 2018

James Brodie 2018-08-17 15:20

New addition to the Giulia range mixes the Veloce and Quadrifoglio, while the Stelvio gets some mild updates too

Both the Alfa Romeo Giulia and Stelvio ranges have been reshuffled, with the arrival of a sporty new Giulia Veloce Ti to the saloon’s line-up the biggest news.

The Giulia Veloce Ti sits between the Veloce and full fat 503bhp Quadrifoglio model. Available exclusively with a turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine developing 276bhp, it shares its powertrain with the Veloce, but its exterior design is inspired by the Quadrifoglio with an optional carbon fibre pack.

Best saloons on sale 2018

Also included are paint finishes previously reserved exclusively for the flagship model, plus darkened 19-inch alloy wheels. The interior gets a similar treatment too with Alcantara sports seats, carbon-fibre doorsills and trim pieces and a full leather dashboard. It’s priced from £45,500.

Elsewhere in the Giulia range, the Giulia Speciale and Veloce models gain new 18-inch wheel designs, alongside additional trim tweaks and kit such as new aluminium door plates, keyless entry, door handle lights and a driver’s side dashboard storage cubby.

Similarly, the Stelvio SUV line-up has been altered with an upgraded Speciale model. It gains rear privacy glass, aluminium doorsills and black brake calipers, as does the Stelvio Quadrifoglio, which is completed with a set of 20-inch, silver coloured ‘five-hole’ alloy wheels.

Both the Giulia and the Stelvio are now equipped with an 8.8-inch infotainment system with navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard.

The revised cars are available to order now, with prices for the Giulia kicking off at £32,490 and the Stelvio beginning at £36,990. All cars now come with a five year/75,000 mile warranty as standard.

Read our long-term review of the Alfa Romeo Giulia

Used Renault Kadjar review
Posted on Friday August 17, 2018

Used Renault Kadjar - front
17 Aug, 2018 3:15pm Richard Dredge

A full used buyer’s guide on the Renault Kadjar covering the Kadjar Mk1 (2015-date)

When Renault first embraced the SUV market in 2008, its Koleos was a sales disaster. So when the company responded five years later with the much smaller Captur, the only way was up.

Sure enough, the Captur proved a hit and for an encore Renault came up with the Kadjar in 2015, using the Nissan Qashqai’s platform and running gear.

At launch we reckoned the Kadjar eclipsed the Qashqai, but in turn the Renault is now beaten by newer rivals such as the SEAT Ateca and Peugeot 3008. The Kadjar is still a great used buy, but build quality is proving to be an issue for some owners, so make thorough checks before buying.

Models covered

  • •  Renault Kadjar Mk1 (2015-date) - Capable SUV makes a great family car. Just watch for quality glitches.

Renault Kadjar Mk1

History

Renault delivered the first Kadjars to dealerships in September 2015. Petrol fans could opt for a 1.2 TCe engine, while diesel buyers could pick from 1.5 dCi or 1.6 dCi powerplants rated at 109bhp and 128bhp. The smaller diesel was offered with manual or dual-clutch automatic boxes, while the larger engine came with front or four-wheel drive.

Two years after the Kadjar’s launch, Renault tweaked the model range with a new 163bhp turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol engine, available only with a six-speed manual gearbox. At the same time, a continuously variable X-tronic automatic transmission was introduced for the front-wheel-drive dCi 130 diesel. 

Renault Kadjar reviews

Renault Kadjar in-depth review
Renault Kadjar 1.5 dCi review
Renault Kadjar 1.6 dCi review
Renault Kadjar 1.2 TCe review
Renault Kadjar 1.6 TCe review
Renault Kadjar long-term review 

Which one should I buy?

The smaller engines (1.2 petrol and 1.5 diesel) are all you need, but only the 1.6 dCi is available with four-wheel drive; the 1.5 dCi EDC auto is slicker than the 1.6 dCi X-tronic.

Entry-level Expression+ spec has cruise control, steel wheels, all-round electric windows, air-con, hill start assist and Bluetooth. Dynamique Nav adds 17-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control, automatic lights and wipers, a seven-inch touchscreen and extra driver aids.

Dynamique S Nav features front and rear parking sensors, 19-inch wheels, synthetic leather trim and powered door mirrors, while the Signature Nav brings LED headlights, a panoramic roof and upgraded hi-fi. The top-spec Signature S Nav features a reversing camera, leather trim and blind spot warning. 

Alternatives to the Renault Kadjar

The Nissan Qashqai is related to the Kadjar, so it’s arguably the closest rival, and a very talented one. The Kia Sportage is also very desirable because it’s well equipped and brings a class-leading warranty; its cousin the Hyundai Tucson isn’t far behind, albeit with a five-year guarantee. The Mazda CX-5 strikes a fine balance of excellent build, sharp looks, top value and a great driving experience – attributes which are generally shared by the Ford Kuga, which is widely available.

If your budget is flexible, take a look at the Volkswagen Tiguan. It’s well made and comes with some excellent engines, but prices are higher than for the Renault. 

What to look for 

Tyre kit

All Kadjars have a tyre inflation kit. Space saver spare is available, but not on Bose Edition cars.

Multimedia

R Link multimedia system isn’t user-friendly, with nav and Bluetooth issues common. 

Noise

Excessive wind noise can be due to misaligned doors, a badly fitted screen or a window not fully closing.

Key card

The key card can’t be put on to a key ring, but lanyards are available, which attach via a hole in the card. 

Interior

Generally finished in high-quality materials, the Kadjar’s cabin is conventional yet easy on the eye. It’s comfortable even if you’re tall, and in the back, there’s plenty of head and legroom. The boot serves up plenty of space, too, at 472 litres, or 1,478 litres when the seats are folded. Incidentally, high-spec Kadjars feature an easy-fold rear seat mechanism.

Prices 

Running costs

All Kadjars need a service every 12 months or 18,000 miles. The first check is £105; the next two are £69 and £139. Once a Kadjar reaches its third birthday, services alternate between minor and major, at £169 and £269.

Only the 1.5 dCi has a cambelt; change this every five years or 60,000 miles for £399. Coolant needs replacing at five years (£89), brake fluid after three years then biennially (£40) and the air-con needs servicing every two years at £150. A three-year/30,000-mile plan costs £299. 

Recalls

The Kadjar has been recalled four times so far, the first in January 2016 for possible brake servo failure – but not failure of the brakes altogether. Two campaigns came three months later, for side airbag and seatbelt problems respectively. The most recent recall came in September 2017, again because of side airbag glitches. 

Driver Power owner satisfaction

Ranking 52nd in the top 75 of the Driver Power 2018 satisfaction survey isn’t disastrous, but we’d hoped for better. Highlights were running costs, fuel economy and practicality, while Kadjar owners criticised the infotainment and safety features, plus the reliability and build quality disappointed.

We liked the Kadjar so much when it was launched that we named it our Crossover of the Year. To ensure we’d made the right choice, we then ran one for 10 months and 22,500 miles. Our dCi 110 averaged 52.1mpg and proved an ideal family car, although one or two minor ergonomic and infotainment tweaks would have been welcome. Rounding up our experience, we said: “While newer cars like the Ateca deliver more involving handling, the Renault’s supple ride and low noise levels made it a brilliant companion on typical, everyday journeys when the traffic was heavy or you just wanted to cruise.

MG gives MG3 supermini extensive makeover with 2018 facelift
Posted on Friday August 17, 2018

James Brodie 2018-08-17 16:00

MG’s MG3 updated inside and out with a new look and brand new interior styling

MG3 - driving

The MG3 supermini has received a substantial facelift for 2018 with a completely new look inside and out, and it’ll be on sale in MG UK showrooms this September.

On sale in Britain since 2013, the Chinese owned firm’s rival for everything from the Dacia Sandero to the Ford Fiesta remains positioned as a highly affordable offering relative to other superminis in the popular B-segment, with the most basic version priced from less than £10,000.

New MG3 2018 review

With MG having confirmed that an all-new MG3 will arrive in 2022, four years of life are left in the current-generation car. The design has been completely overhauled to suit the brand’s latest look, with an octagonal grille lifted from the new ZS crossover headlining the front end. It’s flanked by brand new LED headlights, and there’s also a new front bumper complete with angular and sporty vents.

Elsewhere around the car new side skirts appear and there’s a fresh rear bumper too. A new 16-inch alloy wheel is offered, while plenty in the way of customisation options exist – six paint colours, colour contrasting wing mirrors, plus roof and bodywork graphic packs are available.

Continuing the extensive overhaul, the cabin is all-new. The design has been completely reconfigured to be much more modern in appearance and centres around the arrival of a new eight-inch touchscreen infotainment unit, equipped as standard on mid-range Excite and Exclusive models.

The unit is MG’s latest and the same one fitted on the ZS, though navigation isn’t available. Apple CarPlay is standard fit, but Android Auto is not included. Also taken from the ZS is the new multifunction steering wheel. Bootspace remains at 285 litres with all seats in place and no spare tyre.

Compared to the design changes, mechanical revisions are limited. The MG3 is still powered by a 1.5-litre four-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol engine developing 105bhp and 137Nm of torque, though it has been tweaked to meet Euro 6D emissions regulations. Power is sent to the front wheels through a five-speed manual gearbox, with 0-60mph coming up in a claimed 10.4 seconds and a top speed of 108mph. MG claims 47.1mpg and 140g/km CO2.

When it arrives on sale in Britain this September, buyers will be offered three trim levels. The basic Explore car starts from £9,495 and goes without the new infotainment system. Standard equipment on this car includes body coloured bumpers, LED headlights and LED daytime running lights, electric mirrors, a four way adjustable driver’s seat and fabric upholstery.

Step up to the £11,395 Excite car and the steel wheels with plastic trims are replaced with 16-inch alloy wheels. The design also changes with the addition of a rear spoiler and side skirts. Inside, a leather steering wheel is found alongside the infotainment unit, while air conditioning, a DAB radio and parking sensors are also added.

The range topping Exclusive car is finished with part leather sports seats, and builds on the Excite model with a reversing camera, cruise control and a six-speaker audio setup. It’ll be priced from £12,795.

These are the best superminis on sale in the UK right now

New MG3 2018 review
Posted on Friday August 17, 2018

MG3 - front
17 Aug, 2018 4:00pm James Brodie

The facelifted MG3 goes on sale in September, with a major interior upheaval on the way

MG is aiming to crack 10,000 sales in the UK next year, with the firm’s MG3 supermini tasked with delivering some of that volume. This mid-life revamp is intended to kickstart sales, ahead of an all-new version arriving in 2022.

Coming five years after the MG3’s UK debut, the front has completely changed. It gets a larger grille that’s similar to the one used on the ZS crossover, flanked by fresh LED headlights and appearing above a sportier new bumper.

Best superminis on sale in 2018

The exterior facelift is rounded off by a new pair of side skirts and a revised rear bumper, which also looks suitably sporty. Personalisation options remain a big part of this car’s appeal, and it brings a new set of 16-inch alloy wheels, too.

It’s the changes in the cabin that impress the most, though, because inside it’s a totally clean sheet of paper. It feels far more up to date than before, with the adoption of an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment display with Apple CarPlay included on all but the entry level Explore model.

The display large and sharp enough, but it’s not the most intuitive system to navigate. It’s housed in a completely redesigned centre console and dash set-up, which includes fresh dials and a new steering wheel, lifted from the ZS.

The interior materials remain cheap, although at such a low price tag that’s not surprising. Step up to Exclusive trim and you get a leather steering wheel and partial-leather sports seats, which raises the bar a little and rounds off what is a thorough and worthy interior update.

On the road the steering remains decently weighted and offers a pleasant amount of feedback. But while the MG3 used to serve up a surprisingly sporty experience, the game has changed.

It means that this is a supermini that’s now just adequate to hustle around a bend, but it isn’t helped by the particularly high seating position. Elsewhere, it keeps the pre-facelift car’s major drawbacks, so that means a poor, rigid ride around town, where even small imperfections in the road surface can be felt through the seat.

Undoubtedly, the most disappointing aspect of all, however, is the MG3’s sole motor. It’s the same 1.5-litre four-cylinder naturally aspirated unit used previously, updated with a new engine management system required to meet Euro 6D emissions regulations. Sadly, it’s a unit that’s overstayed its welcome.

Sure, with 105bhp and 137Nm of torque it outguns the baby options offered in the Ford Fiesta and SEAT Ibiza and comes in at a cheaper price tag, but it’s less economical than those two, rated at 47.1mpg on so-called NEDC2, a WLTP figure converted back to NEDC. The conversion returns 140g/km CO2 as well, which is high for such a small car.

Get behind the wheel and you’ll soon realise that, despite its minor updates, this is an engine well past its sell-by date. MG’s quoted maximum power figure feels like it only hangs around for a split second, and you have to really rev it out to 5,000rpm and beyond to find that sweet spot. It’s antiquated, noisy, and 70mph on the motorway feels like the edge of its comfort zone.

The torquey, three-cylinder turbo units found elsewhere in this class roundly trounce it. That’s a shame, because had the 3 arrived with a new motor along those lines, while also keeping its edge on value and a seven-year warranty, MG could have been on to something.

2.5
There’s plenty to like about the new MG3 as this is an extensive facelift. The interior steps up massively with a much more modern design and the addition of a proper infotainment unit, while the car remains immensely affordable. Yet the package is let down enormously by the engine. It was outdated before, but now it feels Jurassic compared with the turbocharged norm in this class.
  • Model: MG3 Exclusive
  • Price: £12,795
  • Engine: 1.5-litre 4cyl petrol
  • Power/torque: 105bhp/137Nm
  • Transmission: Five-speed manual, front-wheel-drive
  • 0-60mph: 10.4 seconds
  • Top speed: 108mph
  • Economy: 47.1mpg
  • CO2: 140g/km
  • On sale: September

New Volkswagen Amarok Dark Label 2018 review
Posted on Friday August 17, 2018

Volkswagen Amarok Dark Label - front
17 Aug, 2018 9:15am Richard Ingram

Special-edition Volkswagen Amarok Dark Label pick-up truck loads up on kit

If you think special-edition specs and trims are reserved for city cars and superminis, think again. This is the limited-run Volkswagen Amarok Dark Label: a one-tonne pick-up with attitude.

It’s based on the flagship Amarok Highline, and just 200 examples will come to the UK. As the name suggests, each Dark Label truck is loaded with black trinkets – including 18-inch wheels, matt-black mirrors and black side steps. There is a choice of black or grey paint, too.

Inside, the Amarok Dark Label is less conspicuous. Aside from the bespoke floor mats, you’d be hard pressed to tell it apart from the standard VW. The seats are trimmed in Alcantara and there’s a black headlining, but it’s business as usual up front, with a small 6.33-inch infotainment screen and chunky buttons. A digital display sits between the speedo and rev counter, but the interior feels functional rather than particularly flash.

• Best pick-up trucks on sale

With 201bhp and 500Nm of torque, the V6 diesel is stronger than any four-cylinder rival. It falls short of Mercedes’ more potent X 350 d, but is fast enough for UK roads. It’ll tow a trailer effortlessly.

No amount of black trim can change the way the Amarok drives, though. With an empty load bed it can, like many pick-ups, feel unwieldy. The body moves and rolls as the weight shifts from side to side, and pitches forcefully under heavy braking.

Power delivery feels sharp and the eight-speed auto is quick, but this truck is hard to drive smoothly. Still, the diesel is refined, with only occasional turbo whistle or a roar under full throttle.

The big issue is the price. At more than £41,000 (inc. VAT), the Dark Label carries a near-10 per cent premium over the equivalent Amarok Highline. Of course, business users can offset the VAT, but this is still an expensive choice.

3
The Volkswagen Amarok is a top pick-up, whichever engine or trim you choose. However, the Dark Label’s added value will largely depend on whether you rate the styling add-ons, which won’t be to all tastes. Personally, we’d go for the excellent Highline version and spend the extra cash on a few choice options.
  • Model: Volkswagen Amarok Dark Label V6 TDI 204PS
  • Price: £41,729 (inc. VAT)
  • Engine: 3.0-litre V6 diesel
  • Power/torque: 201bhp/500Nm
  • Transmission: Eight-speed auto, four-wheel drive
  • 0-62mph: 9.1 seconds
  • Top speed: 114mph
  • Economy/CO2: 34.9mpg/212g/km
  • On sale: Now

Audi A6 Saloon, Avant and A7 Sportback get new 40 TDI engine
Posted on Thursday August 16, 2018

Alex Ingram 2018-08-16 16:15

New mild-hybrid 40 TDI diesel marks the first time the Audi A7 has used a four-cylinder engine

Audi has added a new 40 TDI four-cylinder diesel engine to the A6 Saloon, A6 Avant and A7 Sportback ranges. It’s the first time that an engine with fewer than six cylinders has found its way under the bonnet of the A7.

The headline figures are a claimed 62.8mpg and 117g/km in an A6 Saloon riding on 18-inch alloy wheels - over 10mpg better than the most closely-matched BMW 520d. The A6 Avant and the A7 are slightly thirstier: both manage 60.1mpg, while the A6 Avant emits 124gkm of CO2 and the A7 122g/km.

New Audi A6 40 TDI review

Power comes from a 2.0-litre diesel engine producing 201bhp. As with the rest of the A6 and A7 ranges, the unit is mated to a mild hybrid system: a belt alternator starter that’s connected to the crankshaft. This boots fuel consumption by recovering up to 5kw of power when coasting or braking and reusing it under acceleration. It allows the 40 TDI-engined models to coast at idle between 34 and 99mph, storing the energy in a lithium ion battery located at the back of the car.

The A6 saloon is able to accelerate to 62mph from rest in 8.1 seconds and on to a top speed of 152mph. The Avant follows two tenths and 3mph behind respectively, while the A7 Sportback matches the A6 Avant’s 8.3 second 0-62mph time and the saloon’s 152mph top speed.

Each model is available in both Sport and S line trims, with equipment levels matching the larger-engined models in the range.

The A6 and A7 40 TDI models are available to order now, with deliveries due within the next couple of months. The A6 40 TDI saloon costs £38,640 in Sport and £42,000 in S line trim. The Avant costs £1,830 more in Sport trim and £2,100 more in S line. The A7 40 TDI Sport costs £47,140, and the S line is £50,040.

Click here for all the latest on the new Audi A6...

New 2019 Peugeot 2008 leads small SUV blitz
Posted on Thursday August 16, 2018

John McIlroy 2018-08-16 12:15

Exclusive image previews new Peugeot 2008 baby SUV, which is set to offer petrol, diesel and, eventually, mild-hybrid power

Peugeot 2008 - front (watermarked)

Peugeot has scored huge hits with its two most recent SUVs: the 3008 and 5008. And now the French firm is preparing a total overhaul of those cars’ baby brother, the 2008, which is due to be revealed in autumn 2019, ahead of sales starting the following year.

The 2008’s first appearance, probably at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 2019, will be part of a logical roll-out of new chassis technology developed by Peugeot’s parent firm, PSA, and its Chinese partner DongFeng. Called CMP (Compact Modular Platform), the new architecture is specifically designed for smaller cars. It’s likely to make its debut on the new 208, which is expected to be seen at the 2019 Geneva Motor Show.

Best crossovers and small SUVs on sale

The new 2008 SUV should be slightly longer but usefully lighter than the outgoing model; the CMP chassis weighs around 40kg less than the ageing PF1 set-up that underpins the existing 208 and 2008 line-ups.

Peugeot has been working hard to nurture consistency and sophistication in its designs. So expect the next 2008 to have lots in common with the new 208, while our exclusive image previews how it will evolve the 3008’s looks.

Expect big changes in the cabin, with a hike in material quality and a totally redesigned dashboard featuring the latest evolutions in Peugeot’s i-Cockpit instrument panel. These may well extend to a fully digital display across the range, particularly in regions such as the UK, where Peugeot is pitching itself at the ‘upper end of mainstream’.

The engine line-up will be based around evolutions of the current 1.2-litre PureTech petrol motor, with power outputs ranging from around 85bhp up to 130bhp. The 2008 will also get PSA’s new generation of 1.5-litre BlueHDi diesels. An eight-speed automatic box should be offered on high-end variants, alongside a standard six-speed manual.

The 2008 will continue to be a road-focused SUV, too. The CMP platform is designed to be front-wheel drive only, regardless of powertrain.

Further down the line, probably in time for the next 2008’s mid-life facelift, we can expect 48V mild-hybrid powertrains to appear. PSA announced earlier this year that it’s working with a company called Punch Powertrain on a hybrid set-up – which is based on a dual-clutch gearbox and a 48-volt electric motor – and that it will introduce the technology on products from 2022.

In the meantime, Peugeot will also be able to offer the 2008 as a zero-emissions rival to the Hyundai Kona Electric. Speaking to Auto Express earlier this year, boss Jean-Philippe Imparato revealed he planned to offer pure-electric choices at the lower end of his range. “The rhythm of the transition (towards hybrids and EVs) will not be the same across the regions,” he said.

“The guys in Paris will be electric. The guys who do 100,000 miles per year will be diesel, and the average guy will be petrol. You will buy your Peugeot and you will choose your powertrain.”

The pure-electric 2008 should offer a 280-mile range, and arrive soon after the conventionally powered editions. PSA has promised it will deliver four EVs on CMP by 2021 – likely to be the 2008 and 208, plus the DS 3 and DS 3 Crossback.

What the new Peugeot 2008 has to beat 

Nissan Juke

Nissan Juke (watermarked) - front

Due: 2019

The car that started the small SUV invasion gets an all-new generation in 2019, and the next Juke will introduce Renault-Nissan’s latest CMF-B platform. Expect a more practical interior with upgraded infotainment and quality – but as our exclusive image previews, the styling will stay divisive.

Renault Captur

Due: Late 2019 

Recent spy shots of a test mule (above) showed how the next generation of Renault’s Captur is going to grow up when it arrives at the end of 2019. The new model is longer and wider than the current car, as Renault tries to deliver more family-car practicality from its baby SUV. 

Skoda Anuq

Skoda Vision X

Due: Late 2019

Skoda’s Vision X concept (above) is a good preview of the brand’s forthcoming small SUV, which is likely to be called Anuq. The newcomer will be large for the class, because it’s based on a longer version of the VW Group’s MBQ A0 platform. Hybrid technology could feature, too. 

Volkswagen T-Cross

Volkswagen T-Cross prototype - front

Due: 2019

The T-Cross will have been on sale for about a year before the next 2008 arrives, because the ‘Polo SUV’ will make its debut before the end of 2018. It’ll be more of an SUV than its sister car, the SEAT Arona, riding higher and featuring slightly inflated dimensions to boost practicality.

Which new small SUV are you looking forward to seeing? Let us know below...

Fitting AEB to all vans could cut accidents by 2,500 per year
Posted on Thursday August 16, 2018

Chris Rosamond 2018-08-16 10:35

Autonomous Emergency Braking installed on vans could save 1,000 lives and prevent 120,000 injuries over a ten-year period

VW Crafter 4motion - front quarter

Equipping all vans with Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) could save 350 lives each year in the UK, according to the latest analysis of Department of Transport (DoT) stats.

DoT figures on van accidents recorded over a 12-month period suggest that 2,496 accidents might have been avoided in vans weighing up to 3.5 tonnes, if, AEB had been fitted. Preventing, or at least reducing the severity of those 2,496 crashes could have saved 348 deaths and serious injuries.

What is AEB? Autonomous Emergency Braking systems explained

AEB has been described by the UK’s leading car safety research organisation Thatcham as the most significant advancement in car safety since the seatbelt. According to its estimates, AEB has the potential to save 1,000 lives and 120,000 injuries over a ten-year period, and reduce the incidence of accidents by 38 per cent.

Thatcham is funded by the insurance industry; as a result vehicles fitted with AEB benefit from 10 per cent insurance premium reduction on average compared to those without.

Currently, the only brand fitting AEB as standard to its commercial vans is Volkswagen. “Autonomous emergency braking systems mean safer vehicles, fewer accidents and therefore reduced downtime and lower costs for fleets – as well as the potential to save lives. These are vital goals for any vehicle manufacturer,” says Carl zu Dohna, Director of Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles.

VW says the latest Crafter van is four groups lower when it comes to insurance, thanks to the inclusion of AEB.

In the market for a large panel van? Then take a look at the best models on sale.

‘The new BMW 3 Series will make saloons trendy again’
Posted on Thursday August 16, 2018

Steve Fowler 2018-08-16 08:45

Saloon cars have taken a back seat during the SUV sales boom, but not for much longer believes Steve Fowler…

Opinion - BMW 3 Series

With SUVs dominating more and more buyers’ thoughts these days, the good old saloon car has taken something of a back seat.

Sales of traditional ‘three-box’ cars have tumbled, with the D-segment that covers everything from the Ford Mondeo to the BMW 3 Series propped up by sexier five-door versions like the Audi A5 and 4 Series.

New BMW 3 Series prototype review

But the saloon car is about to make a comeback, and not only because of the arrival of an all-new 3 Series – still a crucial big-seller for BMW.

A couple of months ago I was at the unveiling of a new challenger to the 3 Series: Volvo’s S60 – a great-looking car in anybody’s eyes. While I was there I got some interesting insight into the future of the saloon car from Volvo CEO Håkan Samuelsson.

His view was that there was an increasing buzz around saloons from younger buyers. These were people who’d grown up with their parents buying SUVs. And, as he told me, most young people tend to avoid doing exactly what their parents did. That’s something I can totally understand.

It’s a similar story with hatchbacks. Witness the incredible reaction – especially among young people – to Honda’s Urban EV concept at last year’s Frankfurt Motor Show. It’s a cute, but thoroughly modern, take on the three-door hatch; reaction was so good it’ll go on sale next year.

There are much more than just cyclical fashion trends at play here, though. As our first drive in a prototype 3 Series reveals, the amount of tech on board the new BMW is also likely to sway buyers. That and the fact that it’s still fantastic to drive.

What sticks out for me is the combination of a plush ride with sharp handling; the two used to be rare bedfellows. The fact you can now get both is great news for car buyers of all ages.

These are the best best executive cars on sale...

Diesel sales on the rise in second hand car market
Posted on Wednesday August 15, 2018

Chris Rosamond 2018-08-15 16:40

Despite falling new diesel car sales, demand for oil-burners remains high in the second hand car market

Used Volvo XC90 - front

While new car buyers are shunning diesel, it seems cost conscious drivers shopping for used cars are keeping faith with the once favoured fuel. New diesel car sales have dropped by 24 per cent in recent months, but far from sending residual values plummeting, demand for frugal diesel-fuelled motors is increasing on the second hand market.

Figures released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders for the second quarter of 2018 show overall used car sales holding steady in the face of economic uncertainty.

Best diesel cars on sale

More than two million used cars were sold in Q2 this year, a drop of just 0.4 per cent compared to the same period in 2017.

Used diesel car sales rose by 3.2 per cent in the latest figures, accounting for 898,573 sales. Used petrol sales fell 3.3 per cent, but demand for alternative fuel and electric vehicles rose by more than a quarter. That said, total alternative fuel sales were still low at 26,832, reflecting limited availability of new powertrain tech in the used market.

“It’s great to see the used car sector remain in robust health as motorists take advantage of the exciting high-tech models filtering down from the new sector – including some of the latest low emission diesel and alternatively fuelled vehicles,” says SMMT chief exec Mike Hawes.

“However, with used sales so closely reflecting the new car market, some cooling is expected over the coming months. Given fleet renewal is the fastest way to improve air quality and reduce CO2, we need greater business and consumer confidence to keep both markets moving.

Would you buy a used diesel car? Let us know in the comments below...

Cyclists could face same punishments as drivers
Posted on Wednesday August 15, 2018

Chris Rosamond 2018-08-15 14:40

Motoring lawyer Nick Freeman calls for new penalties for cyclists, drawing terse response from Cycling UK

One of Britain’s top motoring lawyers is demanding new penalties for cyclists, as well as a controversial scheme to register the almost eight million cyclists who use Britain’s roads.

The scheme would mean bicycles being issued with number plates, or cyclists being forced to wear numbered tabards. It’s designed to enable the authorities to track rogue riders, and punish them with the same points and penalties faced by drivers.

The best bike racks of 2018

Nick Freeman, styled ‘Mr Loophole’ by the tabloid press, is better known for representing high profile celebrities such as David Beckham and Paddy McGuinness when facing driving charges. His latest intervention follows a government consultation on creating a new offence of ‘causing death by careless cycling’.

“Though every death is a terrible tragedy, the number of cases involving collisions between cyclists and pedestrians is minute. In contrast, there are countless situations every day in which thousands of cyclists recklessly cut red lights, ride on the pavement and generally use their bikes without due care or much worse,” Freeman told the Daily Express.

“As someone who travels 30,000-50,000 miles a year, I see this all the time. That’s why it isn’t enough just to tidy up bits of the statute. What the Government currently proposes is simply a headline grabbing vote-winner. In reality, it does nothing to address the real issue of road safety.”

The comments have attracted a pithy response from Cycling UK: "In 2014, after one of his clients was convicted of causing the death of an elderly rabbi by careless driving, Mr Freeman blamed the collision on the rabbi’s traditional dark clothing,” says the organisation’s Head of Campaigns Duncan Dollimore.

“Calling on the Government to require pedestrians to light up at night, he blamed the victim for failing to be more visible rather than his client for failing to look. His plans for road safety need to be considered in that context, and with due regard to the fact that he’s earned his fortune finding loopholes to help celebrity clients evade the road traffic laws that are designed to make our roads safer, even if they’re not always perfect."

Check out the 11 car safety systems that are set to become mandatory by 2021…

New 2019 Aston Martin DBS Superleggera Volante spied
Posted on Wednesday August 15, 2018

Jonathan Burn 2018-08-15 13:00

The convertible Aston Martin DBS Superleggera Volante has been spotted testing ahead of its release next year

Aston Martin DBS Superleggera Volante spied - front

Aston Martin’s relentless new model rollout shows no sign of letting up, as engineers are busy putting the finishing touches to the new DSB Superleggera Volante.

Caught on camera by Auto Express reader James Blyth, the prototype was spotted close to Aston’s Gaydon HQ on the M40. This is our first sighting of the DBS Volante, which confirms the British brand will continue its tradition of fitting its drop top models with a folding fabric roof.

Best convertible cars on sale

When the DBS Volante arrives towards the back end of next year it will have no obvious rivals; Ferrari doesn’t offer a convertible version of the 812 Superfast, while development is still under way on the McLaren 720S Spider and Bentley Continental convertible.

The Volante will stick closely to the DNA of the coupe that launched earlier this year; under the bonnet will be Aston’s 716bhp 5.2-litre twin-turbo V12 engine, which will paired with an eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox. 

To compensate for the loss of the roof the Volante will require additional body strengthening, that means around 100-120kg of added weight. As a result performance and economy will be affected; expect the Volante’s 0-62mph time to be around the 3.7-second mark – several tenths slower than the coupe.

Following the DBS Superleggera Volante will most likely be a track-focused AMR variant, as Aston Martin bosses look to strengthen the brand’s presence in that area of the market.

Read about our first drive of the new Aston Martin DBS Superleggera coupe here...

DVLA closure to make taxing cars impossible this weekend
Posted on Wednesday August 15, 2018

Chris Rosamond 2018-08-15 12:50

Scheduled website maintenance means car buyers will temporarily be unable to tax vehicles with the DVLA

The DVLA website and call centre will be closed for a systems upgrade this weekend, potentially causing problems for anyone buying a used car and who needs to drive it home.

A notice issued by the DVLA last Tuesday states most of its services – including the 24hr phone service and call centre – will be unavailable from 3pm on Friday 17 August until the following Monday morning. The website is scheduled to come back online at 6am, but the call centre won’t start working until 8am. Because Post Offices rely on the website too, you won’t even be able to tax your car over the counter.

VED road tax: everything you need to know

The DVLA notice includes a legal reminder: “Remember, it’s against the law to drive an untaxed vehicle on the road,” it says. “If you buy a car this weekend you won’t be able to tax it until 6am on Monday. We’re sorry for any inconvenience this may cause.”

While many motorists wrongly believe there’s a ‘grace period’ to get your car taxed, this hasn’t been true for years. Nowadays any outstanding vehicle excise duty paid for by a previous owner is cancelled the moment ownership is transferred. The new owner has a legal duty to pay VED before their new purchase turns a wheel on the road.

With the prevalence of Automatic Number Plate Recognition systems, car buyers who might be tempted to take a chance and drive untaxed for a couple of days risk automated fines. The maximum penalty for driving with no VED is a hefty £1,000.

The main risk of breaking the law applies to used car buyers, as many may not even be aware the service is closed until they try to tax a newly acquired vehicle at the point of sale – potentially even having travelled a significant distance to do so.

Automobile Association spokesman Jack Cousens suggests while there’s a need to be sanguine about the closure, drivers shouldn’t expect to get away with driving untaxed. “There’s never a good time for this sort of thing, but the DVLA has been absolutely clear there is no leniency for anyone caught with an untaxed car over the period of this closure,” he says. “So yes, it’s a nuisance, but our advice to anyone buying a used car is don’t do it this weekend!”

Steve Latham, chief of operations for the National Franchised Dealers Association, says the closure shouldn’t affect new car buyers as retailers had plenty of warning to tax cars in advance. “We were notified well in advance so it shouldn’t cause any problems for new car retailers,” he says, “although if the system isn’t back again Monday I’ll be expecting a lot of phone calls.”

Will you be affected by the planned DVLA website closure? Let us know in the comments section below…

Ford Fiesta ST vs MINI Cooper S vs Volkswagen Polo GTI
Posted on Wednesday August 15, 2018

2018-08-15 10:50

The new Ford Fiesta ST slugs it out with the MINI Cooper S and Volkswagen Polo GTI for the hot-hatch crown

Ford Fiesta ST vs MINI Cooper S vs Volkswagen Polo GTI - header

If you love cars, you’ll have been looking forward to this road test. The previous Ford Fiesta ST is one of the all-time great fast Fords, so the new one has a lot to live up to.

The standard Fiesta is the best car in its class, and a big reason for that is how much fun it is to drive, so the prospect of a more powerful performance version is exciting. It follows a similar formula to its predecessor: a potent turbocharged engine and a revised chassis tuned for fun. Can the Fiesta attain instant-classic status for a second time in a row?

Best hot hatchbacks on sale

There are two new contenders that will have something to say about that. The updated MINI Cooper S is up there with the Ford for delivering fun, while the Volkswagen Polo GTI is based on the latest German supermini, and promises to bring grown-up driving manners and a hi-tech cabin to the class. It matches the Ford for power, but, like the MINI, uses a larger engine to do so. Which car will take the hot supermini crown? 

Ford Fiesta ST

Model: Ford Fiesta ST-3
Price:  £21,495
Engine:  1.5-litre 3cyl petrol, 197bhp 
0-60mph:  7.1 seconds
Test economy:  33.8mpg/7.4mpl 
CO2:  136g/km
Annual road tax:  £140

Here we’re testing a three-door Ford Fiesta ST in ST-3 trim, which is the top-spec model and costs from £21,495. That means it matches these rivals on price, but the entry-level ST-1 costs £18,995.

As a driver’s car, the ST has a superb basis in the brilliant Ford Fiesta. By adding more power and upgrading the suspension, the company has again created a fantastic hot hatchback.

Most of the ST’s brilliance can be attributed to the chassis: it’s agile and adjustable, while still riding reasonably well over rough roads. It’s firm, but it remains nicely controlled. Clever damping builds plenty of confidence to corner hard, but it’s not so harsh over bumps that it upsets the car’s balance mid-bend; although of the three models here, the Ford’s ride is the hardest.

The front-wheel-drive Fiesta turns in with real enthusiasm, working both axles to rotate itself around each bend. It feels natural and fun, but is also serious enough to satisfy even the biggest driving enthusiasts.

Even better is the steering, which is quick and precise and offers the most information of the three cars here. There’s lots of traction out of corners as well, thanks to the optional limited-slip differential, although it avoids being so tied down as to lose some of the fun factor. 

Further, the six-speed gearbox is more precise and satisfying to use than in a normal 1.0-litre EcoBoost Fiesta, and is more involving than the MINI – just.

While the Fiesta’s chassis shines brightly, the engine under the bonnet doesn’t quite match its predecessor for character. The new three-cylinder unit doesn’t relish revs as much as the old four-cylinder motor did, or even the four-cylinder engine in the MINI here. Still, the Ford unit has plenty of pull: the low-down torque means real-world performance is very strong, and the new engine has an entertaining exhaust note.

The Fiesta was the fastest of our three contenders in each gear, going from 30-50mph in third and fourth and 50-70mph in fifth and sixth faster than either the MINI or Volkswagen. But it lagged behind the faster-shifting DSG Polo from 0-60mph, taking 7.1 seconds, compared with the VW’s 6.5-second time. 

Testers’ notes: “The Fiesta ST is more serious and focused than ever, but it retains a sense of fun that’s somewhat missing in the Volkswagen. The fun stems directly from its responsive controls and sorted chassis.” 

MINI Cooper S

Model: MINI Cooper S
Price:  £20,635
Engine:  2.0-litre 4cyl petrol, 189bhp 
0-60mph:  7.4 seconds
Test economy:  32.6mpg/7.2mpl 
CO2:  145g/km
Annual road tax:  £140

The MINI Cooper S is the hottest model in the facelifted MINI range until the John Cooper Works (JCW) arrives, but it’s the least powerful car of our trio here, producing 189bhp from its 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine. While the Cooper S is the cheapest of the three at £20,635, you’ll need to add plenty of options to match its rivals’ specifications.

AS there have only been a few changes to the latest Cooper S, it remains great fun to drive. The MINI’s direct steering and grippy chassis mean barreling down a twisty road is great fun. It responds to your inputs just as you want it to, so you’re able to tighten or open your line around a corner using the throttle as well as the steering. In fact, it’s right up there with the Fiesta ST in terms of B-road thrills.

The MINI’s driving position is also great, which helps with comfort, but the well-developed damping is a big plus for the MINI as well; it gives enough compliance to keep the car composed without feeling unsettled on rough roads.

The Cooper S is slightly more forgiving than the Ford, but isn’t as smooth as the Polo and ultimately is still quite firm – but we reckon it’s worth it for the superb handling.

The engine is less vocal than both rivals’ motors, but the MINI’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit is more characterful than the Polo’s, and smoother than the three-cylinder engine in the Ford. It’s down on power next to its rivals here, but only by a small amount and you won’t feel left behind in the British car. It doesn’t feel significantly slower on the road, but at the track the Cooper S did trail its rivals.

Despite the sunshine in our pictures, we carried out our track tests in mixed conditions, and the MINI took 7.4 seconds to accelerate from 0-60mph and 6.6 seconds to go through the gears from 30-70mph, the slowest here.

While the Ford was faster in gear, the Cooper S beat the Polo’s 4.2-second 30-50mph time in fourth by one tenth. It was also faster than the Volkswagen from 50-70mph in fifth and sixth.

The MINI’s gearchange isn’t as positive and enjoyable as the Ford’s. However, it’s still much more engaging and fun than the DSG auto in the Polo.

Testers’ notes: “Adaptive suspension is only £375 and is therefore worthwhile. There’s not a huge difference between modes, but Sport is subtly stiffer. The car has a good balance between ride and handling anyway.”

Volkswagen Polo GTI

Model: Volkswagen Polo GTI
Price:  £21,520
Engine:  197bhp
0-60mph:  6.5 seconds
Test economy:  33.5mpg/7.4mpl 
CO2:  134g/km
Annual road tax:  £140

The Volkswagen Polo GTI is more expensive than its rivals here, at £21,520 in base GTI spec, but it’s also a five-door only, and there’s no manual option yet: it’s DSG automatic only for now. That accounts for the price, but is the Polo able to take class honours in its first group test?

With a 197bhp engine and dual-clutch automatic gearbox, the Polo GTI is by far the easiest car here to extract performance from: just squeeze the throttle, the DSG drops down a few gears, and you’re off. With launch control the VW recorded an impressive 6.5-second 0-60mph time in our tests on a wet track, beating both rivals, and the automated shifts meant it was fastest through the gears from 30-70mph, too.

However, while the DSG box is brilliant at firing up through the gears in a straight line, it feels out of its depth on a twisty road. It’s not as quick to change gear after pulling one of the steering wheel-mounted paddles as we’d like, and often you’re left waiting for the change at a crucial moment pre or post-corner. In a small hot hatchback that’s very frustrating, because maintaining your flow down the road is a huge part of these cars’ appeal. The manual gearboxes in its rivals are so much more fun to use as well.

Still, the VW’s engine has the most torque of the three, with its 320Nm maximum arriving at just 1,500rpm. It’s flexible enough that you don’t always need to change down to make progress. Longer gearing meant that the Polo GTI was the slowest car from 50-70mph in top gear, though, taking 8.2 seconds, which was more than a second down on the MINI and two seconds adrift of the Ford.

However punchy it is, the engine is a bit flat and isn’t as enjoyable to use as the more characterful units in the Fiesta and Cooper S, despite VW engineering in some pops and bangs from the exhaust. The Ford does this, too, but its engine note is more pleasing.

It’s a similar story with the Polo GTI’s chassis: it’s effective but leaves us a bit cold. The upgraded suspension means there’s loads of grip and it’s agile, but the light steering and more neutral cornering stance ensure it’s not as lively as its rivals. The ride is the smoothest of all three, though, particularly at low speed, where the Ford in particular can start to feel a bit bouncy over small bumps and potholes.

At motorway speeds, the GTI is the quietest car inside, so it will be easy to live with day to day. While it will work for some people, the Polo misses out on the crucial fun factor we look for in hot hatches. 

Testers’ notes: “We can’t wait to try the manual version of the Polo, as an auto doesn’t make much sense here. It takes away from driver engagement and makes the car’s performance feel more detached than in its rivals.”

Verdict 

First place: Ford Fiesta ST

The Fiesta ST is still the best model in its class – and with it, one of the best cars on sale today. It’s fast, supremely fun to drive, usable every day and above all great value for money. Few sports cars are as much fun as the Fiesta ST on British roads, let alone hatchbacks. It’s just a shame the engine isn’t an all-time great, as this could have been a true fast Ford legend. 

Second place: MINI Cooper S

With all the praise being heaped on the Fiesta ST, it would be easy to dismiss the MINI Cooper S. But it’s nearly as much fun as the Ford, while the punchy 2.0-litre engine is brilliant as well. It loses out a little due to higher running costs and pricey option packs that reduce its value for money. It lacks practicality, but if you can afford one, the MINI is a great fun choice.

Third place: Volkswagen Polo GTI

If you’re looking for a hot hatch you can drive easily in comfort every day, the Polo is worth a look. It’s practical, fast and mature, but in pursuit of those goals, the Polo is missing a sense of humour that’s desperately needed in a car like this. The others are brilliant fun all of the time, while the Polo is refined and relaxed – but for us that misses the point of the supermini hot hatch. 

Other options for similar money... 

New: Renault Clio R.S.

Renault Clio RS 220 Trophy - front action

Price: £20,300
Engine: 1.6-litre 4cyl, 197bhp 

There aren’t many supermini hot hatches that feature auto boxes like the Polo here, but the Clio R.S. does without a manual. It’s a shame the dual-clutch unit is sluggish, although the Renault has plenty of power and fun handling. 

Used: Ford Fiesta ST 200

Ford Fiesta ST200 - front

Price: From £16,000
Engine: 1.6 4cyl, 197bhp

The previous Fiesta ST is an all-time great, and you can get a used version of the most powerful ST 200 run-out model for around £16,000. It’s stiffer than the new car, but has a more exciting engine and is just as much fun to drive.

Figures

Ford Fiesta ST-3 MINI Cooper S Volkswagen Polo GTI DSG
On the road price/total as tested £21,495/£24,515 20,635/£28,950 £21,520/£23,155
Residual value (after 3yrs/36,000) £9,043/42.1% £9,975/48.3% £9,185/42.7%
Depreciation £12,452 £10,660 £12,335
Annual tax liability std/higher rate £1,189/£2,378 £1,223/£2,445 £1,148/£2,296
Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles) £2,095/£3,492 £2,172/£3,620 £2,114/£3,523
Insurance group/quote/road tax 28/£367/£140 28/£423/£140 26/£435/£140
Cost of 1st/2nd/3rd service £530 (3yrs) £299 (3yrs) £164/£329/£164
Length/wheelbase 4,068/2,493mm 3,850/2,495mm 4,067/2,549mm
Height/width 1,469/1,735mm 1,414/1,727mm 1,438/1,751mm
Engine 3cyl inline/1,497cc 4cyl inline/1,998cc 4cyl inline/1,984cc
Peak power/revs  197/6,000 bhp/rpm 189/4,700 bhp/rpm 197/N/A bhp/rpm
Peak torque/revs  290/1,600 Nm/rpm 280/1,350 Nm/rpm 320/1,500 Nm/rpm
Transmission  6-speed man/fwd 6-speed man/fwd 6-spd DSG auto/fwd
Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel 42 litres/repair kit 44 litres/repair kit 40 litres/repair kit
Boot capacity (seats up/down) 311/1,093 litres 211/731 litres 305/1,079 litres
Kerbweight/payload 1,262/373kg 1,160/480kg 1,355/485kg
Turning circle 11.0 metres 10.8 metres 10.6 metres
Basic warranty (miles)/recovery 3yrs (60,000)/1yr 3yrs (unlimited)/3yrs 3yrs (60,000)/1yr
Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos. 16th/20th 19th/14th 5th/18th
NCAP: Adult/child/ped./assist/stars 87/84/64/60/5 (2017) 79/73/66/56/4 (2014) 96/85/76/59/5 (2017)
0-60/30-70mph 7.1/5.5 secs 7.4/6.6 secs 6.5/5.2 secs
30-50mph in 3rd/4th 2.6/3.6 secs 3.2/4.1 secs 2.8/4.2 secs
50-70mph in 5th/6th 5.0/6.3 secs 5.7/6.9 secs 5.8/8.2 secs
Top speed/rpm at 70mph  144mph/2,700rpm 146mph/2,500rpm 147mph/2,000rpm
Braking 70-0/60-0/30-0mph  51.2/37.0/11.5m 55.9/41.9/10.1m 58.4/37.6/12.1m
Noise outside/idle/30/70mph  70/47/70/75dB 70/45/66/75dB 50/74/68/73dB
Auto Express econ. (mpg/mpl)/range 33.8/7.4/312 miles 32.6/7.2/316 miles 33.5/7.4/295 miles
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined  37.2/55.4/47.1mpg 33.6/54.3/44.1mpg 36.7/57.6/47.9mpg
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined  8.2/12.2/10.4mpl 7.4/11.9/9.7mpl 8.1/12.7/10.5mpl
Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket 193/136g/km/28% 200/145g/km/30% 195/134g/km/27%
Airbags/Isofix/park sensors/camera Six/yes/yes/yes Six/yes/£590/£255 Six/yes/yes/£250
Auto box/lane keep/blind spot/AEB  No/yes/£475/no £1,660/no/no/£800^ Yes/no/£255/yes
Clim ctrl/cruise/leather/heated seats Yes/yes/yes/yes £325/£185/£485/£250 £415/£285/n/£285^^
Metallic paint/LED lights/keyless go £745/£600/yes £525/yes/£215  £650/£850/£310
Nav/digi dash/DAB/connected apps Yes/no/yes/no £900*/no/yes/yes Yes/£325/yes/yes
Wireless charg/CarPlay/Android Auto £69/yes/yes £2,000**/£900*/no No/yes/yes

New BMW 3 Series prototype review
Posted on Wednesday August 15, 2018

New BMW 3 Series pre-production review - front
16 Aug, 2018 8:15am Sean Carson

We drive the new BMW 3 Series in prototype form ahead of its big reveal at the Paris Motor Show this autumn

We’ll see an all-new BMW 3 Series unveiled at the Paris Motor Show in October, but ahead of the car’s official launch in the autumn, Auto Express has already had a drive of a prototype next-generation 3 Series saloon.

To give you some insight into just how popular and important a model this is for BMW, the outgoing version (codenamed F30) enjoyed sales of more than 190,000 examples in its final full year in dealers, despite being due for replacement.

Best executive cars 2018

In fact, it’s the German firm’s best-selling product, and the UK accounts for a great chunk of that popularity (24,000 of those 190,000 cars in 2017). So its replacement has a lot to live up to, not least on what has traditionally been the 3 Series’ key selling point: how it drives.

On initial impressions the new 2018 3 Series doesn’t do anything to change that. In fact, BMW’s head of application driving dynamics, Jos van As, told us that he and his team wanted it to feel “like a typically old-school BMW” when it comes to perceptions from behind the wheel, and that this was key in outlining the goals for the new project.

Those targets have resulted in up to a 55kg weight saving over the outgoing car, thanks to the CLAR cluster architecture platform on which it’s based (this will also underpin a new Touring estate, 4 Series Coupé and M performance models), with BMW’s typical balance still preserved by 50:50 weight distribution.

The track is also 30mm wider than before, while that weight saving has helped lower the centre of gravity by 10mm. Go for the sports suspension and there’s also a 10mm reduction in ride height. These elements all contribute to a claimed improvement in agility – and the new car definitely delivers it.

There are a few more technological features as well. The new 3’s suspension dampers are sophisticated. Our test car was built to what van As called “the engineer’s spec”. That means passive dampers instead of adaptive versions and the equivalent of M Sport trim with the M Sport Plus pack; so it features 19-inch alloy wheels, variable Sport steering and four-piston front brakes.

The dampers feature hydraulic bump stops and clever stroke-dependent technology. This means when the car is empty and therefore at its lightest, the damping rate is softer. This is possible because it sits higher from the road and there is therefore more suspension travel available, so the damping doesn’t have to be quite as taut.

When it’s loaded up with luggage or people, the damping is firmer because there’s less ride height and therefore less suspension stroke is available.

“It’s the right way to get the comfort when the car is empty and control over challenging roads or when it’s full,” said van As. Adaptive dampers will still be available as an option, though.

For the first time on a non-M Division model you can now get an electronically controlled limited-slip differential. The hardware is the same as in the current M3 and M4, only with reprogrammed software to suit the new application here. And that’s where van As and his engineers have really pulled off a trick.

The integration of all this new tech is the real key and what gives this new 3 Series the potential to top its class.

On first impressions it seems to have what it takes, because BMW has nailed one key area where a 3 Series saloon should deliver: dynamics.

The Nürburgring is an industry-favourite testing ground and with two laps of the tough German track to try out the car, following van As in an M2, the control from the new 3’s clever dampers is notable. The car turns sweetly, is sharp to change direction and roll is well controlled. So is the body, and over some challenging surfaces on broken roads, as well as the track, the dampers strike a sweet balance between compliance and support. Importantly, the front and rear axle set-ups are also well matched and give a nice sense of symmetry, instilling confidence when you up the pace.

It’s on the firmer side, especially on our car’s 19-inch wheels, but the clever stroke-dependent technology definitely works. On the road, even over harsher surfaces and nasty cambers that could confuse some rivals’ suspension set-ups, the 3 Series filtered out harshness without removing its trademark connection to the road surface.

Used BMW 3 Series review

It’s not too severe a compromise to achieve the trademark response, because the damper tech means it rarely gets towards the end of its stroke – and when it does, those hydraulic bump stops reinforce the car’s plush, controlled feel. It’s fair to say it rides like a luxury car, but handles like a sports saloon should.

There are one or two drawbacks, though. While the chassis set-up is good, the steering doesn’t have that much life to it. The weight is nice in Comfort mode, but in Sport it feels a bit artificial, while the shortage of feedback is something common to pretty much all electric power steering systems. It’s an issue van As knows about and an area he and his team are working to improve before the new 3 Series is signed off.

There are no complaints about the car’s nimbleness, however. Better understanding of the alloy and steel CLAR platform has resulted in extra stiffness around the suspension top mounts, without having to add any weight into the car’s structure, which combines with redesigned suspension geometry to improve the direct feeling you get from the chassis.

The differential helps to boost agility on the way into corners and through direction changes as well, while the electronic control software means traction out of bends is also good.

Our 330i test car had plenty of power to exploit the benefits of the differential, too. Compared with its predecessor, there’s an extra 7bhp but an impressive 50Nm more torque from the 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol turbo, so 256bhp and 400Nm in total. Thanks in part to the weight reduction, claimed fuel consumption is also improved by five per cent, although efficiency figures have yet to be confirmed.

The eight-speed auto works as well as it does in the larger 5 Series, and the 3 takes plenty of inspiration from its big brother, not least inside.

Although our camouflaged prototype didn’t have production-standard materials, we got a good idea of the cabin layout. It’s very similar to the 5 Series, with a large touchscreen placed in a great position on top of the dashboard, similar controls and features on the transmission tunnel (including iDrive) and a new digital dash panel that offers more configurability and information.

There’ll also be autonomous tech that subtly evolves what’s on offer in the 5 Series, we’re told, while the 3 inherits some of its sibling’s executive qualities as our autobahn tests showed. The car’s high-speed refinement is a clear step on from the outgoing 3 Series, while it’s resolutely stable, too.

There’s more space in the rear than before and it definitely feels roomier. While final dimensions haven’t been confirmed, a look in the boot indicated that it’ll be sized competitively, too.

The BMW 3 Series has long been the benchmark in this class for handling and dynamism. This new model promises to raise that bar even higher, yet at the same time a combination of clever chassis features, a higher-quality and more refined interior packed with more tech, and greater practicality will make it more comfortable and easier to live with. BMW’s junior executive saloon is set to take yet another step in maturity and the signs are positive indeed.
  • Model: BMW 330i M Sport
  • Price: £38,500 (est)
  • Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo petrol
  • Power/torque: 256bhp/400Nm
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
  • 0-62mph: 5.5 seconds (est)
  • Top speed: 155mph (est)
  • Economy: 48mpg+ (est)
  • CO2: Less than 135g/km (est)
  • On sale: 2019

Fernando Alonso won’t race in F1 in 2019
Posted on Tuesday August 14, 2018

Joe Holding 2018-08-14 17:00

Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso won’t feature on the F1 grid in 2019, but doesn’t rule out a return

Fernando Alonso will depart Formula 1 at the end of the 2018 season, the 37-year-old has confirmed.

The McLaren driver - who won world titles in 2005 and 2006 - is widely considered to be one of the best racers of his generation, but he has toiled in the years since his move to the Woking team in 2015.

Opinion: ‘Daniel Ricciardo’s Renault move is a gamble’

Alonso had hoped McLaren’s then new partnership with engine providers Honda would propel him to a third world championship, but severe unreliability proved fatal to that ambition.

A switch to Renault engines this year was expected to revive McLaren’s fortunes, but they remain off the pace of the frontrunners, leaving Alonso on the brink.

“After 17 wonderful years in this amazing sport, it’s time for me to make a change and move on,” he said in a statement. “I have enjoyed every single minute of those incredible seasons and I cannot thank enough the people who have contributed to make them all so special.

“I want to thank everyone at McLaren. My heart is with the team forever. I have built so many great relationships with many fantastic people at McLaren, and they have given me the opportunity to broaden my horizons and race in other categories. I feel I am a more complete driver now than ever.”

McLaren CEO Zak Brown echoed that sentiment, saying Alonso is “in the finest form of his career” and “an outstanding ambassador for McLaren”.

“There is a time for everyone to make a change and Fernando has decided the end of this season to be his,” Brown continued. “I know that the entire team joins me in paying tribute to Fernando’s enormous contribution to McLaren; he is a legend both for the championship and for the team.”

Departing F1 leaves Alonso free to contest the IndyCar series in the United States; he competed at the Indianapolis 500 last year in a bid to claim motorsport’s triple crown of blue riband events, the others being the Monaco Grand Prix and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Alonso won the latter of those earlier this year, and now only needs the Indy 500 to complete a feat that has only been achieved once before, by Graham Hill in 1972.

However, while Alonso is now free to pursue other ambitions, he stopped short of calling his Formula 1 exit a retirement, suggesting he could return in the future.

“I know they [McLaren] will come back stronger and better in the future and it could be the right moment for me to be back in the series; that would make me really happy.

“Let’s see what the future brings.”

Take a look at the teams and drivers lining up on the F1 grid in 2018

In-car data: how the click of a switch shapes driving tech
Posted on Tuesday August 14, 2018

Martin Saarinen 2018-08-14 16:03

We look into the world of ‘connected cars’, where the very touch of a button creates opportunity for business

In-car data – header

The next time you turn on your windscreen wipers or switch radio station, consider the impact it has. If you’re in an old car, it’ll be minimal. If you’re in a new, ‘connected car’, this activity is likely to be noted by one of hundreds of sensors on board, sent to the maker which passes that info to a third party developing a driving app.

Big data is revolutionising the car industry, giving accurate traffic reports and cutting the emergency services’ accident response times. Yet drivers are leading this transition; they’re the ones generating all of this data. Auto Express spoke to one of the firms gathering and selling data generated by the latest cars to see how it works.

Best sat-nav apps for your phone

“To get an idea of the scale of things, consider the first space shuttle,” says Lisa Joy Rosner, chief marketing officer at tech start-up Otonomo. “It had 500,000 lines of code to break the sound barrier. In 2020 there will be cars that contain 100 million lines of code.” 

Models capable of warning owners of traffic jams ahead, service requirements and even alerting emergency services to accidents are already on the market. By 2021, experts suggest up to 98 per cent of new cars will be connected, so they’ll be transmitting data from hundreds of sensors in real time. But it’s what makers do with this information that is important for drivers to understand.

Otonomo is one of several start-ups specialising in gathering and selling data obtained from cars. Already working with 10 manufacturers, it receives real-time data from over two million cars globally. The Israeli start-up specialises in collecting, ‘cleaning’ and anonomysing this data and then selling it on for app developers and other third parties. 

The result is services such as on-demand refuelling, where parked cars are topped up with fuel by a specialist provider accessing their location and remotely unlocking the fuel cap. 

Interestingly, no brand or even model shares the same data language. “We’re the Rosetta Stone of connected car data,” Rosner tells Auto Express. “Each make and model has a different language. We unify that data so it’s one language and in one place for all manufacturers.” 

A single car can come with anywhere from five to 500 different data points that are of use to manufacturers and developers, each of which is valuable. Drivers turning on their windscreen wipers could act as a signal to weather stations in the future that it’s raining or snowing, and they can accurately change their forecasts. Changing a radio station can let broadcasters know which music is liked and disliked. 

On-demand fuel service will fill up your car at home

“In the same way, if a car gets into an accident in the future, emergency services and hospital emergency rooms will be alerted to the G-forces of the accident, which airbags were detonated, as well as where the accident took place,” explains Yael Rivkind, director of partnerships and strategic initiatives at Otonomo. “This will help them better prepare for any incoming casualties.”

But all this changes the way drivers should be perceived. As with users of services like Facebook or Instagram, they are now participating in what is called ‘productive consumption’. By driving, using the radio and even turning on windscreen wipers in the rain, drivers are creating value for other companies without being compensated for it. Otonomo counters that drivers will be offered more tailored services. 

Data privacy also lies at the heart of the debate. Before General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) gave citizens control over their data, drivers would sign over their rights when buying the car. “This was usually buried deep in the document,” says Rosner. “Now [with GDPR] the use of driver data must be front and explicitly stated in the contract.”

AA president Edmund King says drivers should still be the ones “who decide if they want to share” their data or not, and that simply agreeing to share it is not enough. Otonomo has already launched a Consent Management Hub that allows drivers to see which aspects of their data is shared with third parties, so they can choose which information is kept private. 

A Sunday drive may no longer be a solitary experience in the future. As with internet browsing, any push of a button will generate value somewhere.

What are your thoughts on sharing your driving data, are you for or against?

New Skoda Fabia 2018 facelift review
Posted on Tuesday August 14, 2018

Skoda Fabia - front
14 Aug, 2018 3:45pm Alex Ingram

The Skoda Fabia has been refreshed for 2018, but have the updates transformed it into a legitimate supermini contender?

This is the newly updated Skoda Fabia. It’s been given a quick nip and tuck for 2018, with a view to keeping it fresh against rivals like the Ford Fiesta and the Volkswagen Polo.

Even by usual facelift standards, Skoda’s designers have breathed upon the Fabia oh-so gently. The new car’s front grille is wider, the lights are slimmer, and there’s some new reflectors in the rear bumper. Top spec Monte Carlo models are now available with optional 18-inch alloy wheels, LED brake lights are standard (optional on the rest of the range) and full LED headlights are a £980 option.

Best superminis on sale

The fuel filler flap isn’t somewhere that most of us will inspect too closely, but the Fabia has a couple of neat features stuffed up its funnel. As before, there’s an ice scraper that doubles as a magnifying glass, only now it trebles as a tyre tread depth gauge too. Go for the estate-bodied Combi - a car which makes up around a quarter of UK Fabia sales - and it gets a boot light that doubles as a removable LED torch. There’s even a reversible mat with a wipe clean side.

Inside, the dashboard design is much the same as before. There are a couple of new interior trims and colours, mildly tweaked graphics for the dials and a couple of extra USB ports for the back seat passengers. It’s not the most exciting cabin to look at, but the layout is clear and functional. There aren’t any soft touch plastics like you get in a Polo, but it feels more than sturdy enough. The hatchback’s 330 litre boot is still one of the biggest in the class, too. 

Skoda has ditched the outgoing model’s 1.4-litre diesel from the updated engine lineup. The new petrol-only range is made up of three 1.0-litre three-cylinder units: two have turbos and make 94bhp and 108hp, and one doesn't and has 74bhp, while a less powerful non-turbo with 59bhp will be offered at a later date. They’ve all gained an exhaust particulate filter to reduce emissions.

Our first taste of the updated Fabia was behind the wheel of the 108bhp petrol model paired with a seven-speed automatic gearbox. The dual-clutch auto is set up with economy in mind, shifting up to high gears at the earliest opportunity making the little turbo triple feel more sluggish than it really is.

Nudging the lever into sport mode helps, but it remains very lethargic when moving off - not ideal when pulling out of junctions. Unless you really need an auto, save £1,000 and get the light, easy-to-use six-speed manual instead.

The engine itself is refined and relaxing, which makes it a fine match for a chassis that prioritises comfort over fun. Even the with the Monte Carlo’s firmer springs and 15mm lower ride height, it won’t put a smile on your face along a twisty B-road like a Ford Fiesta will. But it’s easy to drive, visibility is good, and the suspension irons out bumps while isolating noise admirably. In lesser trim levels with softer suspension, it’s among the most comfortable cars in the supermini segment. 

Throughout the rest of the Fabia range, every trim level has been reduced in price with the exception of the entry level S, which like-for-like costs around £600 more than before. It gets plenty more standard kit to compensate though, with LED daytime running lights, autonomous emergency braking, a multifunction trip computer and a 6.5-inch touchscreen with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto all included.

As before, beyond the S there’s SE, Colour Edition, SE L, and Monte Carlo trims, with the overall price drops relative to the outgoing car ranging from £55 to £355. Spec a Polo with an equivalent engine and trim level, and the Fabia is at least £1,000 cheaper than the VW - a huge amount in this class. One thing that the Polo offers is a sporty variant in the shape of the GTI. Sadly for you hot hatch fans, there aren’t any plans for a Skoda equivalent: a vRS version of this generation of Fabia won’t happen.

3.5
Updates to the Skoda Fabia haven’t transformed it into a world beater, but it remains a refined, sensible supermini. The Polo is marginally more comfortable and gets more advanced infotainment tech, but the Skoda counters with a lower purchase price. Unless you want the very latest infotainment tech that the VW Provides, the Fabia is still well worth considering.
  • Model: Skoda Fabia Monte Carlo 1.0 TSI DSG
  • Price: £18,435
  • Engine: 1.0-litre 3cyl turbocharged petrol
  • Transmission: Seven-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
  • Power/torque: 108bhp/200Nm
  • 0-62mph: 10.1 seconds
  • Top speed: 121mph
  • Economy/CO2: 61.4mpg/105g/km
  • On sale: Now

Skoda Karoq SE L: long-term test review
Posted on Tuesday August 14, 2018

Skoda Karoq - front
18 Aug, 2018 11:00am Steve Walker

First report: it’s time to put our award-winning crossover to the ultimate family test

Mileage: 477
Economy: 37.0mpg

We know the Skoda Karoq is good. Not just good in fact, it’s our Best Mid-Size SUV for 2018. It’s blitzed our road tests and faced off against some highly talented rivals to drive away with the big award in what is one of the most competitive sectors of the UK car market today.

What we don’t know yet is what the Karoq is like to live with for an extended period. Will the sheen on Skoda’s all-conquering crossover be dulled once it comes into contact with a few oily bikes, wet dogs and kids’ crayons? That’s the next stage in our ongoing evaluation of the car and the unsuspecting guinea pig that’s set to get both barrels from the Walker family is the new Skoda Karoq SE L that has joined our fleet.

Skoda Karoq 1.6 TDI diesel review

It’s a £25,000 car as standard with the lively 1.5-litre TSI 150 petrol engine in the front. With 148bhp, you’re looking at a 0-62mph time of 8.4 seconds and a 126mph top speed, not that the latter even matters. Officially, average fuel economy is 51.4mpg, but it’s always best to take these official numbers with a pinch of salt. The 37mpg figure I’m getting in mixed driving is respectable, and I’m hoping that this will improve further as the Skoda puts on more miles and the engine and transmission loosen up that little bit more.

Our Moon White Karoq isn’t standard because we felt we should try out some of the more popular options for you. That metallic paint shade is an extra £595, and we’ve also gone for Lane Assist with Blind Spot Detection to improve safety for £850; an important factor in any family crossover.

The electric boot with ‘Virtual Pedal’, which allows you to open the powered hatch by wiggling your foot under the rear bumper, is £650, and looks costly at this early stage.

What seems better value, though, is the £120 Family pack that includes heat-insulating glass in the side windows, powered child locks, a little rubbish bin in the front door pocket and a double-sided protective mat for the boot floor. Every Karoq should have one.

With all the options factored in, we have a £27,494 Skoda that includes the impressive (but prone to collecting smudged fingerprints) eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system, leather and Alcantara upholstery. It also has LED headlights and the ubiquitous Skoda umbrella stashed beneath the passenger seat, plus an ice-scraper in the fuel filler door. Clever practical touches.

First impressions are that this is yet another tidy, solid and unfussy Skoda that’s extremely difficult to find serious fault with, unless it’s on the basis that you’d rather drive something with a bit more wow-factor.

There’s no doubt that Skoda plays it safe from a design point of view, but those chiselled exterior lines are unlikely to offend anybody, and inside the fit and finish is first class, while the plush Alcantara seating does bring an element of luxury to the Karoq. On the road the 1.5 TSI petrol engine is refined and punchy when you want it to be, offering strong low-down torque and therefore plenty of flexibility.

The six-speed manual gearbox has a really slick shift action, too, which actually makes the Skoda surprisingly good to drive. It’s helped by the supple and controlled ride, which translates to good body control when cornering, meaning the extra height of the SUV bodystyle isn’t really felt.

However, now that we’ve welcomed the Karoq to the Auto Express fleet, the car’s toughest challenges lie ahead. We’ll see just how accomplished it is as a crossover that needs to take everything life can throw at it in its stride.

If the Karoq has distilled the DNA of the larger Kodiaq into a smaller but no less usable five-seat package, then it’s set to be a sure-fire winner. That’s what I’m looking forward to finding out during my time with our Best Mid-Size SUV.

*Insurance quote from AA (0800 107 0680) for a 42-year-old living in Banbury, Oxon, with three penalty points.

4.5
I’m looking forward to putting the Karoq to the test. The specification is enticing, but the Skoda will have to show more than just kit and quality to impress the Walker family. Initial signs are positive, though.
  • Model: Skoda Karoq 1.5 TSI 150 SE L
  • On fleet since: July 2018
  • Price new: £24,975
  • Engine: 1.5-litre 4cyl turbo petrol, 148bhp
  • CO2/tax: 125g/km/£140
  • Options: Metallic paint (£595), Family pack (£120), Isofix on passenger side (£35), lane assist with blind spot detection (£850), space saver (£150), virtual pedal (£650), partition net screen (£120)
  • Insurance*: Group: 15, Quote: £480
  • Mileage/economy: 477/37.0mpg
  • Any problems?: None so far

Vauxhall Grandland X Sport Nav: long-term test review
Posted on Tuesday August 14, 2018

Vauxhall Grandland X - header
17 Aug, 2018 9:15am Stuart Milne

First report: we’ve grabbed the keys to Vauxhall’s much-needed new crossover to see how it copes with family life

Mileage: 4,645
Economy: 38.9mpg

Does Vauxhall’s latest and largest SUV really have X-appeal? That’s the big question I’ll be trying to answer over the coming months at the wheel of a Grandland X.

It’s safe to say that Vauxhall has been slow to embrace the SUV phenomenon. The Antara lumbered on for several years past its sell-by date, and the big-selling Mokka X arguably majors on value more than it does mechanical appeal. Yet Vauxhall set out its stall a few years ago by revealing all its SUVs would be suffixed by an X, hence the name of my latest long termer.

Vauxhall Grandland X Ultimate 2018 review

The Grandland X shares its platform and engines with the Peugeot 3008; it’s a good start, as that model has picked up a string of Auto Express and Carbuyer awards. Yet with a few exceptions, everything you can see and touch is all Vauxhall.

From the outside, the Grandland X is handsome, yet inoffensively designed. For me, the design highlights are the shark fin-shaped C-pillars and the aggressive front end. Those 18-inch diamond cut alloy wheels, standard on Sport Nav models, look neat, too.

The interior is smartly styled, if predictably Vauxhall. Storage space is good, and rear legroom is far better than it appears at first glance. The lack of a transmission tunnel creates impressive space in the back, but whether it’s enough for three adults is yet to be discovered. The boot is large – at 514 litres it’s fractionally larger than the 3008’s.

There’s no shortage of kit, either, which is something we discovered when we collected the Grandland X from GO Vauxhall Croydon’s new showroom on its official opening day.

GO Vauxhall’s Ella Harvey showed me around our new Topaz Blue Grandland X. This is a £565 paint option that to my eyes is the pick of the colour palette. On the drive home, I was able to get acquainted with the Sport Nav trim, which is the third of five and is very well appointed. Standard kit includes a speed limiter, traffic sign recognition, front and rear parking sensors, Vauxhall’s slick Navi 5.0 IntelliLink infotainment system and OnStar concierge service.

The Grandland X is well equipped in Sport Nav trim, but there’s still plenty to be found on the options list, as our £1,655 of extras confirms.

One option that’s well worth investigating are the ergonomic ‘sports style’ front seats. They’ve been certified by Germany’s Campaign for Healthier Backs, and although I’m yet to put that accolade to the test on a long journey, I’m initially very happy. The seat fabric has a diamond pattern called Harlekin, but time will tell how well the beige upholstery stands up to family life. The inclusion of Isofix mounting points in the front passenger seat is a helpful addition, although you still need to manually deactivate the airbag.

The silver-effect roof rails are well priced at £150, and the £160 wireless phone charger should future-proof the car, when the time comes to upgrade my ageing mobile phone. Finally, the cryptically named £355 Winter Pack One will come into its own later in the year, with its heated front seats and steering wheel.

The Grandland X’s engine line-up comprises a pair of diesels in 1.5- and 2.0-litre capacities, plus a 1.2 three-cylinder turbo petrol. And it’s this triple that powers our car. It’s early days, but the engine seems eager and nippy enough around town, although with maximum torque arriving low down at a diesel-like 1,750rpm, there’s little reward in revving it out. Even so, it’s been averaging 38.9mpg so far, but managed more than 45mpg on a long motorway run with cruise control set.

It’s at moderate speeds where the Grandland X feels happiest. The suspension is fairly soft, and the steering is light, meaning the emphasis is firmly on comfort rather than speed.

*Insurance quote from AA (0800 107 0680) for a 42-year-old in Banbury, Oxon, with three points.

4
The Grandland X isn’t the kind of crossover to set your pulse racing, but it definitely gets the basics right. It’s already proving to be a comfortable and practical form of family transport.
  • Model: Vauxhall Grandland X 1.2 Turbo Sport Nav
  • On fleet since: June 2018
  • Price new: £25,360
  • Engine: 1.2-litre 3cyl turbo petrol, 128bhp
  • CO2/tax: 121g/km/£140
  • Options: Wireless charger (£160), Ergonomic sports style front seats with (£425), Winter Pack One (£355), Silver-effect roof rails (£150), metallic paint (£565)
  • Insurance*: Group: 12, Quote: £501
  • Mileage/economy: 4,645/38.9mpg
  • Any problems?: None so far

 


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