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In the News ...

New Porsche Cayenne Coupe 2019 review
Posted on Monday May 20, 2019

Porsche Cayenne Turbo Coupe - front
20 May, 2019 11:00pm Richard Ingram

What does the new Porsche Cayenne Coupe offer over the standard car? We try it out in Turbo guise to find out

The original Porsche Cayenne set a high handling benchmark in the luxury SUV class when it launched almost two decades ago. It has solidified its place at the front of the pack ever since, with the latest version retaining its dynamic honours when it debuted towards the end of 2017.

But while rivals like Mercedes and BMW have reaped the rewards of diversification, it has taken Porsche a little longer to come round to the idea of expanding its SUV range. Better late than never, the German maker stunned crowds at this year’s Shanghai Motor Show with the aptly named Cayenne Coupe.

Best fast family cars

The badge is self-explanatory, and plays on a theme BMW has owned since the first-generation X6 went on sale back in 2008. From nose to B-pillar the sleekly styled Porsche is pure Cayenne – albeit with a slightly flatter windscreen. But from the driver’s door back, it takes on an altogether more aggressive stance.

Much like the Audi Q8 with which it shares a platform, the Cayenne Coupe’s roofline tails off much sooner (it’s 20mm lower) than on the standard car. Sticking closely to the coupe-SUV rulebook, the rear window is steeply raked, fusing at the base with an adaptive tailgate-mounted spoiler. The standard car’s numberplate has been moved to the bumper for an “optically lower” aesthetic; in its place sits Porsche’s distinctive ‘Turbo’ lettering emblazoned on the bootlid.

Bosses describe the car as a “real Porsche sports car”, and there will be three models available at launch. In addition to the flagship (for now) Cayenne Turbo, Porsche will also offer an entry-level 335bhp V6 Cayenne Coupe, and a 434bhp Cayenne S. Prices start from £62,129, and rise to £104,729 for the Turbo tested here. That’s a premium of around £5,500 depending on trim.

As you’d expect, that swooping roofline has a positive effect on performance. This Cayenne Turbo Coupe is an SUV that’ll sprint from 0-62mph in 3.9 seconds (two-tenths fast than the normal Cayenne Turbo) and hit a 911-baiting 177mph. Does it feel faster the standard car? No – though that’s perhaps more of a compliment of the conventional Cayenne rather than a dig at this Coupe variant; few 2.3-tonne tanks bend the mind with such complex efficiency.

Unlike a Lamborghini Urus the engine doesn’t dominate the driving experience. It’s always there; ready to launch the Cayenne towards the horizon at a moment’s notice. But the V8 isn’t as relentlessly boisterous as it is in its Italian stablemate. Instead, it just burbles away in the background; the wave of torque never further away than a simple flick of the right foot.

• Best SUVs on sale right now

The fact the engine doesn’t overwhelm the driver’s involvement is partly due to how capable the Coupe is from a dynamic perspective. The wider rear track and permanent all-wheel-drive system – mated to our car’s clever rear-wheel steer set-up – make the Turbo feel more agile than many models half its size. The difference between the ordinary Cayenne and this new Coupe is difficult to detect, but credit where credit’s due, this is a sports utility vehicle well worthy of the Porsche badge.

Our car had the optional (£7,482) Lightweight Sports Pack, which switches the car’s standard panoramic glass roof for a full carbon fibre item – saving a substantial 21kg and lowering the Cayenne’s centre of gravity. Among other things, it adds a sports exhaust, 22-inch GT Design wheels and some extra carbon trim. It also removes some of the standard car’s sound insulation, with a notable affect on refinement. If you want a quiet SUV – something the Cayenne Coupe is perfectly capable of being – we’d avoid these options.

Regardless, turn-in is razor sharp, and on the tighter roads of our test route the Coupe displayed an astounding ability to swivel almost on its own axis. Body roll is near enough nil, and the steering nicely responsive. It’s weighty without feeling artificial, and has no trouble pointing the car where you want it to go.

In our experience, the Cayenne Coupe’s biggest issue is its tendency to fidget around town. This is likely caused, at least in part by those big rims, which force the Cayenne to follow ruts in the tarmac that are almost invisible to the naked eye. Things improve the faster you go, but given our mostly smooth Austrian route, the low-speed ride is only likely to worsen on rutted UK roads.

Inside, you’d be hard pushed to tell the Coupe apart from its conformist Cayenne counterpart. Every version gets the same 12-inch infotainment system, largely touch sensitive dashboard and 911-style analogue rev counter. As in its sports car sibling, the central tacho is flanked by four digital readouts, customisable to the driver’s taste.

Look in the rear view mirror and the differences become clearer, however. The conventional three-seat rear bench has been completely reconfigured to offer two individual chairs; that emphasises the Cayenne Coupe’s sporting intention, but inevitably affects practicality. Despite being positioned 30mm lower, there’s an obvious compromise when it comes to headroom – though it’s certainly no worse than in an X6 or Mercedes GLE Coupe.

Boot space measures an admirable 600 litres, which is 145 litres down on the standard Cayenne. However, while that may not sound much, in reality, that sloping roof will limit the SUV’s outright versatility. If you want a proficient load lugger, this may not be the right car for you.

4
Which Porsche Cayenne you go for will depend largely on your sense of style, as the Coupe is almost indistinguishable from the standard car on the road. It’s a little less practical, and a little more expensive, but for the type of buyer this car is likely to attract, that won’t matter one iota. It remains one of the sharpest SUVs on sale, and now comes in a package some customers will find impossible to resist.
  • Model: Porsche Cayenne Coupe 4.0 V8 Turbo
  • Price: £104,729
  • Engine: 4.0-litre V8 turbo petrol
  • Power/torque: 542bhp/770Nm
  • Transmission: Eight-speed auto, four-wheel drive
  • 0-62mph: 3.9 seconds
  • Top speed: 177mph
  • Economy/CO2: 25.0mpg/258g/km
  • On sale: Now

New Mercedes X-Class Element Edition trim launched
Posted on Monday May 20, 2019

Luke Wilkinson 2019-05-20 15:00

The new limited Mercedes X-Class Element Edition pick-up features more standard equipment and a unique livery

Mercedes has launched a new, limited edition variant of its X-Class pick-up truck. Called the Mercedes X-Class Element Edition, it adds a range of optional extras and a handful of unique styling features to the range topping X-Class Progressive. The new model is available for business lease in the UK now from £459 per month on a 36-month contract, with a £2,754 deposit. 

Upgrades over the X-Class Progressive start with Mercedes’s Comfort Pack. The option package adds electrically adjustable driver and passenger seats, Artico leather upholstery, automatic climate control and a complex filtering system for the ventilation system, which Mercedes claims prevents dust, soot and odours from entering the cabin.

Long term test review: Mercedes X 250 d

The X-Class Element Edition also comes as standard with the Style Pack - optional on regular X-Class models. It adds a set of 19-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, LED tail lights, privacy glass, updated running boards and anodised roof rails. Buyers also get a special edition livery, a load bed liner and a choice of three metallic paint colours.

It’s powered by turbocharged 2.3-litre four-cylinder diesel engine, producing 188bhp and 450Nm of torque. Performance is fed through a seven-speed automatic to a selectable four-wheel-drive system and, like the standard X 250d, it retains its 11.8 second 0–62mph time and maximum braked towing capacity of 3.5 tonnes.

Much like its consumer-focused stablemates, safety equipment for the commercial-minded X-Class Element Edition is comprehensive, stretching to active braking assist, lane-keeping assist, hill-start assist, a vast array of airbags, a stop-start function and a reversing camera. Buyers can also spec Mercedes’s Trailer Stability Assist as an optional extra.

Read our in-depth review of the Mercedes X-Class right here...

Used BMW 2 series review
Posted on Monday May 20, 2019

Used BMW 2 Series - front
20 May, 2019 12:15pm

A full used buyer’s guide on the BMW 2 Series covering the 2 Series Mk1 (2014-date)

BMW has built compact sporting family cars since the sixties, most notably the 02 Series sold between 1966 and 1977. By 1975 the 3 Series had been introduced and as subsequent generations grew, the firm reached the point where it needed a smaller model at the bottom of the range.

That was the 1 Series, and it went on sale in hatchback form in 2004, with the Coupé and Convertible following in 2008.

For the second generation, BMW split off the Coupé and Convertible as a separate range – the 2 Series we cover here. But we’re not including the specialist M2 from 2016.

Models covered

  • • BMW 2 Series Mk1 (2014-date) - Baby Beemer is stylish and fun to drive, with plenty of variety on offer. 

BMW 2 Series Mk1

History

The 2 Series Coupé reached UK showrooms in March 2014. Buyers were able to choose between 182bhp 220i, 242bhp 228i and 321bhp M235i petrol models, while diesel fans had 141bhp 218d, 181bhp 220d and 215bhp 225d editions to tempt them.

From November 2014, the 220d got a more efficient engine, and three months later the 2 Series Convertible went on sale in 220i, 228i, M235i and 220d forms.

By April 2015 there were fresh 2 Series Coupé derivatives; a 218i (with a 1,499cc three-cylinder engine) and a four-wheel-drive (xDrive) 220d joined the range.

A facelifted 2 Series went on sale in October 2017 with a reprofiled nose, a new dashboard and LED headlights, as well as new colours and fresh interior finishes.

BMW 2 Series reviews

BMW 2 Series in-depth review
BMW 220d SE review
BMW 220d M Sport xDrive review
BMW 2 Series Convertible in-depth review
BMW 220d M Sport Convertible review

Which one should I buy?

There aren’t any bad choices – all the engines are strong and frugal – but we’d go for an auto rather than a manual because the transmission is so good. Buy a 220d xDrive and you’ll have to have an auto.

Entry-level SE is arguably the best trim because it focuses on comfort rather than sportiness. However, it still has 17-inch alloys, climate control, DAB radio, a 6.5-inch colour display, heated door mirrors, rear parking sensors and automatic headlights.

The Sport still has only 17-inch wheels but adds switchable driver modes, sportier trim inside and out, and ambient cabin lighting. M Sport spec gets 18-inch wheels, black headlining on the Coupé, a bodykit, sport suspension and xenon headlights. 

Alternatives to the BMW 2 Series

The 2 Series has very few direct rivals. In Convertible form there is the Audi A3, as well as VW’s Golf, Beetle and Eos.

While the A3 is a credible rival, the Beetle and Eos are aimed at different markets, and the Golf sits in between. Whereas the BMW has a 2+2 configuration, all of the other convertibles on the market are either bigger cars or merely two-seaters in the first place.

As a Coupé, the 2 Series also has few rivals. The closest are the Mercedes CLA and Audi A3 saloon, whereas the Audi TT, Toyota GT86 and Subaru BRZ are hatchbacks, as is the Porsche Cayman. This is more costly but worth stretching to, because it’s sublime to drive. The VW Scirocco is a practical hatch that’s good value, very usable and agile, if not quite as sharp as the BMW.

What to look for

Stereo

It’s worth trying to find a car with the optional Harman Kardon hi-fi fitted; it sounds much better than the standard system.

Run-flat tyres

The 2 Series is fitted with run-flat tyres as standard, which means there’s no spare wheel. But the ride isn’t too badly affected.

Brakes

Squeaky brakes can affect some high-performance models and brake dust can accumulate quickly. Listen out and inspect used cars for this.

Fuel additive

Since March 2018, all diesel-engined 2 Series have used AdBlue and, at the same time, all petrol engines got a particulate filter.

Interior

Despite being an entry-level model, the 2 Series still has a premium feel in terms of the design and materials used. It has just two rear seats, but there’s more space than you might think; only tall people are likely to find there’s insufficient head or legroom. Boot space is very good, at 390 litres, and although the seatbacks are fixed, a flip-down panel between the two seats is an optional extra.

Prices

You can buy a nearly new BMW 2 Series for between £11,799 and £39,875 on our sister site BuyaCar.

Running costs

All 2 Series have variable servicing, with attention usually needed every 18,000 miles or two years. BMW lists minor, intermediate and full check-ups for the 1.5-litre petrol at £182, £252 and £486, while a three-year/36,000-mile service package costs £299.

The brake fluid should be renewed every two years (£70), but the long-life coolant should never need to be replaced and there are no timing belts to change.

Recalls

There have been 10 recalls, and all cars built up to June 2018 are likely to have been affected by at least one.

Potential issues centred on the driver’s seatbelt, fuel starvation leading to stalling, the rear axle working loose, the power steering and airbags. Later recalls related to possible front suspension failure, ECU software glitches and problems with the EGR valve. 

Driver Power owner satisfaction

The 2 Series was placed 50th in the 2018 Driver Power new car survey, which is okay, but it was below the Audi A3 and BMW 3 Series. Its only top-20 scores were for infotainment, the engine and transmission; surprisingly the ride and handling weren’t highly rated, while build quality and reliability were even worse. Running costs got a thumbs up, but everything else was mid-table.

Whether your focus is on performance or economy there’s a 2 Series for you, from the frugal 218d to the supercar-baiting M235i and M240i. Whichever variation on the theme you buy, you’ll get a car that’s good to drive, beautifully built and sharply styled. While no 2 Series is an ideal family car in terms of practicality, both the Coupé and Convertible editions are a lot more usable than you might think, because BMW didn’t try to turn the 2 Series into a five-seater. If you really need some extra space, the 4 Series Coupé and Convertible might be better suited. But if you’re after a compact, sporty car that puts the emphasis on style and driving pleasure, the 2 Series is likely to tick all of those boxes and more.

Driverless cars will improve traffic flow by at least 35%
Posted on Monday May 20, 2019

Tristan Shale-Hester 2019-05-20 12:25

A fleet of autonomous cars working together will be able to improve traffic flow by at least 35 per cent, according to researchers

driverless car study

A new study by Researchers from the University of Cambridge has shown that driverless cars will be able to improve traffic flow by at least 35 per cent by working together as a fleet.

The researchers programmed a fleet of miniature robotic cars to drive themselves around a two-lane circuit in order to observe how the traffic flow changed when one car stopped.

Renault showcases autonomous transport system on university campus

When the cars were not programmed to drive in a cooperative manner, any that came up behind the stationary car had to slow down or stop and wait for a gap in traffic in the other lane. This resulted in a queue forming that decreased overall traffic flow, just like on a real road.

The researchers then programmed the cars to drive cooperatively, so that when one car stopped in its lane, it sent out a signal to all the others. Cars in the other lane responded by slowing down slightly so that those stuck behind the stationary car were able to change lanes quickly, without having to stop or slow down significantly.

In addition, when a remote-controlled car was introduced to the circuit and driven aggressively by one of the researchers, the autonomous cars gave way to each other in order to avoid any crashes.

Ford and Amazon partner to develop connected and autonomous cars

When the fleet of autonomous cars was programmed to drive cooperatively, overall traffic flow improved by 35 per cent compared with the egocentric driving test and 45 per cent compared with the aggressive driving test.

The results of the study are being presented at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Montreal, Canada. It is hoped they will be useful for looking at how driverless cars can communicate both with each other and with human-driven cars on real roads in the future.

Michael He, an undergraduate student at St John’s College, Cambridge, designed the algorithms for the experiment. He said: “Autonomous cars could fix a lot of different problems associated with driving in cities, but there needs to be a way for them to work together.”

Driverless cars will require one billion lines of code, says JLR

Much of the hardware used in the study was created by Nicholas Hyldmar, a Downing College undergraduate, who added: “If different automotive manufacturers are all developing their own autonomous cars with their own software, those cars all need to communicate with each other effectively.”

Find out more about autnomous cars with our complete guide...

Limited edition Mazda CX-3 GT SportNav+ announced
Posted on Monday May 20, 2019

Luke Wilkinson 2019-05-20 10:05

The new special edition Mazda CX-3 GT SportNav+ arrives with a range of unique styling features and additional standard equipment

Mazda CX-3 GT SportNav+ - rear

Mazda has launched a limited edition variant of the CX-3, called the GT SportNav+. It’s marked out by a range of exclusive styling features and additional standard equipment. Production will be limited to just 500 units when the new model goes on sale in June, with prices starting at £24,095.

Exterior revisions include unique matte silver trim for the front and rear bumpers, bright silver door mirror covers and a choice of three metallic paint finishes as standard. The Mazda CX-3 GT SportNav+ also comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, rear privacy glass and LED fog lamps. 

Best small SUVs and crossovers on sale

Mazda CX-3 GT SportNav+ - white rear

Inside, the latest CX-3 gets red Nappa leather upholstery and a retrimmed dashboard and door cards finished in white, soft-touch plastic. The driver’s seat also comes with power adjustment and a memory function. 

The CX-3 GT SportNav+ is powered by Mazda’s naturally-aspirated 2.0-litre SkyActiv-G engine, producing 119bhp and 206Nm of torque. It feeds its power to the front wheels through either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission, with the former offering a 0–62mph time of nine seconds and claimed fuel economy figures of 42.8mpg. 

Now read our review of the standard Mazda CX-3. Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below…

Mercedes ESF Concept shows brand's vision of an accident-free future
Posted on Monday May 20, 2019

Tristan Shale-Hester 2019-05-20 09:00

Mercedes has unveiled a new autonomous concept car based on the GLE, and it comes with a variety of prototype safety systems

Mercedes ESF Concept - front

Mercedes’ vision for an accident-free future has been previewed by a new concept car fitted with a raft of prototype safety systems.

Perhaps the most eye-catching feature of the GLE-based Mercedes ESF (Experimental Sicherheits Fahrzeug , or experimental safety vehicle) is its hazard-warning robot. This emerges from underneath the rear of the car in the event of an accident, deploys a warning triangle from its top, then drives itself 200 metres down the road to warn approaching traffic of the danger ahead.

A laser projector in the boot, meanwhile, can project messages and symbols on to the otherwise clear rear window, telling following vehicles if, for example, the ESF’s driver has stopped to allow a pedestrian to cross the road. The projector can even display images from the front-facing camera onto the back window, giving other road users even more information about what lies ahead.

LED strips flash to warn vehicles that are approaching too quickly from a side junction at night, while an LED screen and an automated voice can communicate with pedestrians the car thinks are about to walk out into traffic.

Inside, the ESF’s rectangular steering wheel offers a better view of the instruments and retracts when the driver’s airbag deploys, allowing the ‘bag to emerge over the top of the wheel, rather than straight out of it. This design, Mercedes says, offers better protection for drivers of different heights.

Front seat occupants also benefit from “wing” side airbags that surround them in an accident, while passengers in the rear get airbags that deploy from the backs of the front seats. Also in the cabin is an interior light that simulates daylight, helping the driver stay alert, and seatbelts that are heated to encourage their use.

Mercedes has also developed a prototype connected carbon-fibre child seat, which rotates to make it easier to strap the child in, monitors the child via a heartrate monitor, and features a facial recognition camera to let parents know if the child is asleep, without them having to turn around in the car. The seat is also fitted with a child version of Mercedes’ established Pre-Safe system, which automatically tightens the seatbelt in the event of an accident, to mitigate against possible injuries.

While Mercedes has a history of fitting cutting-edge safety systems to its production cars, and the S-Class limo in particular, the ESF features such forward-thinking tech that it remains - for now at least - very much a concept car.

Designed to coexist on the road with driverless as well as conventional cars, the ESF concept can either drive itself, or be driven by a human, with the accelerator and brake pedals retracting when the car enters self-driving mode.

“We see safety as a core [value], not only to our customers, but also to society”, says Markus Schäfer from Mercedes’ divisional board. “What drives our engineers in all this is the overarching vision of zero-accident driving.”

But while Mercedes is committed to the EU’s vision to have zero road traffic fatalities by 2050, the company acknowledges that as long as there are human drivers on the road, accidents will still occur.

Do you think we'll see these new safety systems on cars in the near future? Let us know your thoughts below...

Part-worn tyres putting motorists’ lives at risk, councils warn
Posted on Friday May 17, 2019

Tristan Shale-Hester 2019-05-18 00:01

Nearly half of part-worn tyres being sold in some areas are illegal, putting drivers’ lives at risk, councils have warned

Renaultsport Clio 197 tyre

Drivers are putting their lives at risk by buying part-worn tyres, with nearly half of the ones being sold in some areas not meeting legal standards, councils have warned.

Local authorities cracking down on rogue retailers have seen part-worn tyres being sold with serious defects, unsafe repairs and incorrect labelling, with some of the ones on sale turning out to be nearly 30 years old.

Auto Express All-season tyre test

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils in England and Wales, is urging drivers buying second-hand tyres to ensure that they’re in good condition and have the correct ‘part-worn’ marking, which identifies them as having been checked and meeting the legal requirements.

It is legal to buy and sell part-worn tyres in the UK, but they must not be damaged in any way and have at least 2mm of tread depth left on them. The legal limit for tyre tread on a car is 1.6mm, but motorists are generally advised to change their tyres when they reach 3mm.

According to the latest Government figures, 17 people were killed and 719 injured in reported accidents in the UK in 2017 in which illegal, defective or underinflated tyres were a contributing factor.

With more than five million part-worn tyres being sold in the UK every year, the LGA is also warning dodgy retailers that, if they’re found to be breaking the law, they could not only have their stock confiscated, but also face prosecution, resulting in a fine or even a prison sentence.

Best tyre tread depth and pressure gauges 

Cllr Simon Blackburn, chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “Cheap used tyres might be tempting to buy but if they don’t have the correct legal markings, motorists could unknowingly buy illegal tyres which could contribute to a major accident.”

Blackburn advised buyers to visit a reputable trader and look out for any cracks, tears or lumps.

RAC patrol of the year Ben Aldous added: “We strongly advise drivers to check the tread and pressure of their tyres at least once a fortnight, and before any longer journey, to ensure they are in in tip-top condition. This will help to ensure their cars stay on the road and can stop quickly whenever needed.”

Do you think that part-worn tyres are putting drivers at risk? Let us know in the comments below...

'We need a British motor show to inspire the next generation'
Posted on Friday May 17, 2019

Mike Rutherford 2019-05-18 18:00

A British motor show is needed to help educate and inspire the future generations interested in the car industry, says Mike Rutherford

OPINION Goodwood

The car event season is upon us again in balmy Britain. And that has to be a good thing, doesn’t it?

Search hard enough and you can still enjoy and exploit freebie permanent or temporary exhibitions – often in or near holiday destinations (for example, the Whitstable Classic Motor Show in Kent on 14 July). 

Best car museums and events this summer

Alternatively, spend £20 to attend the improved London Motor & Tech Show (16-19 May); from £39 for the unquestionably upmarket Goodwood Festival of Speed (4-7 July); £144 and up for humble CarFest North (26-28 July); and another £144-plus for the equally modest CarFest South (23-25 August). 

But with due respect to the organisers of the above and other leading events in the UK, isn’t it time that they – with help from us, the paying public – cranked it up several notches by reviving a proper, national motor show with a potential audience of 50 million? That’s circa 40 million drivers plus their important, often-forgotten 10 million or more passengers.

Whether colossal and national in the future or smaller and more local as they are today, motor shows must include more for kids. They need to know about everything from road safety to existing and imminent green tech. If they’re cyclists they require formal training. As would-be motorcyclists or drivers, it’s essential they get more education and info – on first aid, roadcraft, the possible introduction of driverless tech, you name it.

Yet these informal and formal learning processes needn’t and shouldn’t end there. What better further education and career paths for youngsters in the 2020s than in ‘green transport’ (for want of a better description) and related industries?

Of course, it’s up to schools, colleges, universities and parents to help students achieve the relevant qualifications so they can enter the fast-changing vehicle design, manufacturing, sales and repair workplace, or the almost-as-exciting, new-look energy sector.

But maybe motor shows with a wider remit have a major role to play here, too. Such events will always be about road cars, motoring and motorsport. But from now on they must also focus heavily on state-of-the-art technology, education and jobs. This is how we can make such shows more mainstream – for mums, dads and their keen-to-learn kids. 

I’m assured by the Green Party and others that we’ll enjoy a massive jobs boom when electric vehicles sell in large numbers. This is thanks to the design, build and maintenance of huge projects such as ‘clean’ power stations, solar and wind farms, wave-harnessing energy systems, and carbon capture infrastructure. They’re all extremely labour intensive. This and more is what consumer exhibitions should be shouting about.

I for one look forward to the imminent arrival of The British Motor, Motoring, Motorsport, Tech, Energy, Education and Job-Finding Show – funded by business and the Government, plus adult and child showgoers who’ll surely queue up to attend. Why not? What’s not to like? What could possibly go wrong?

If you enjoyed reading this then click here to read some of Mike's previous columns...

New Volkswagen Grand California 2019 review
Posted on Friday May 17, 2019

Volkswagen Grand California - front
17 May, 2019 4:15pm Alex Robbins

It’s the biggest, best Volkswagen camper yet – but is the Grand California worth its considerable cost?

You know it’s not going to be an ordinary road test when the marketing material mentions such features as a spring-plate mattress, a pull-out fridge-freezer and a toilet. Mind you, the Volkswagen Grand California is no ordinary camper van. 

It represents a first for Volkswagen, whose smaller California has become a bit of a cult icon among campervan enthusiasts. But where the standard California is based on the Transporter, this new sibling is based on the larger Crafter van, making it just over a metre longer and, consequently, much roomier inside.

New Volkswagen California Edition review

Arguably the biggest news, however, is the addition of a small shower compartment with a built-in cassette toilet, making this a much more practical proposition for longer trips or family holidays.

There are two Grand Californias to choose from. Both come with a double bed as standard but, counter-intuitively, the shorter 600 is actually the family-friendly variant, as it comes with an extra-high fibreglass roof section into which you can add an extra double bunk.

The 680, as its name suggests, gains an extra 80cm in its wheelbase, which has enabled the fitment of a longer bed and a bigger kitchenette. But it loses the extra height and, consequently, is strictly for two.

The Crafter is one of the best big vans on sale, so it should come as no surprise that the Grand California drives beautifully. The eight-speed torque converter auto is smooth and quick-shifting, while the 175bhp 2.0-litre turbo diesel engine provides more than enough grunt to maintain your momentum, even up hills.

The steering is light and direct, and despite the top-heaviness of the 600 we’re driving, it resists body lean pretty well. As a result it’s very easy-going and almost as nimble as the smaller California; indeed, on a wide enough road, it can even be rather enjoyable. 

Mind you, most Grand Californias will spend their time on motorways, so it’s a good job it’s brilliant there, too. It’ll sit at 70mph quite happily with surprisingly little wind and road noise. The ride is more comfortable than many cars we can think of, and there’s adaptive cruise control to help smooth away those miles. All the seats are offer plenty of support, too, especially those in the front, which get flip-down armrests.

And when you decide to pitch camp, the good news continues. There are smart touches like fly screens and USB sockets throughout, and a neat touchscreen mounted on the wall, which allows you to control the heating and lighting. The extensive options list, meanwhile, includes static air conditioning, a Bluetooth speaker system, a satellite dish, and four-wheel drive.

The living quarters are furnished with the sort of tasteful fabrics and sleek cabinets we’ve come to expect in the smaller California. So, the Grand California is brighter, fresher and more modern inside than most motorhomes of its size. There’s enough space even for a six-footer to stand up straight throughout, too. 

The shower cubicle, meanwhile, is spacious enough that a large adult can wash without feeling cramped, and the clever flip-down sink and mirror/cupboard combination make the best use of what space there is. 

And when you want to bed down for the night, the Grand California becomes truly cosy and comfortable. Gas heating is standard, though you can add a diesel heater too if you want. There are blackout blinds for every window, so privacy isn’t a problem – and you won’t be disturbed when it gets light. You also get ambient lighting as standard, with four colour options to choose from using wall-mounted touchscreen.

The bed, meanwhile, is firm, but not so much so that it’s uncomfortable, while even in warmer climes, there’s enough ventilation that you don’t find yourself waking up in a pool of sweat. 

In fact, there’s very little here to dislike – with the possible exception of the price. Exact figures haven’t yet been confirmed, but expect to pay £69,000 or so for the most basic version – a significant chunk of money even in camper terms. A smaller Volkswagen California Ocean, complete with sink, hob and fridge, starts from just over £53k.

But when you consider this is probably the smartest, best-driving and most comfortable camper van going, it’s worth it. The Grand California isn’t just a must-have for camping buffs, but a truly desirable thing to own in its own right. If your next camper has to have a loo, and you’ve got a few pennies to spare, then this is where you should spend them.

4.5
It doesn’t come cheap, but the quality, attention to detail and driving experience justify the Grand California’s considerable cost. Even the most hardened camping skeptics will find they enjoy spending time with it, while for dyed-in-the-wool camper enthusiasts, this slick, smart and beautifully-appointed van will be achingly desirable.
  • Model: Volkswagen Grand California 600
  • Price: From £69,000 (est)
  • Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl diesel
  • Power/torque: 175bhp/410Nm
  • Transmission: Eight-speed auto, front-wheel drive
  • 0-62mph: TBC
  • Top speed: TBC
  • Economy/CO2: TBC
  • On sale: October

New Mazda 3 2019 review
Posted on Friday May 17, 2019

Mazda 3 - front
17 May, 2019 3:30pm James Brodie

The sleek new Mazda 3 takes the fight to the VW Golf and Ford Focus, but is it as good as it looks on British roads?

Is the new Mazda 3 the best-looking family hatchback in years? Its maker would certainly hope you think so. When it revealed the Kai concept some two years ago – this fresh model is based on that car’s squat, sporty design – reaction to it was overwhelmingly positive.

Clearly, the firm’s design and engineering teams have pushed the boat out to deliver as much of the concept’s stunning looks as possible; and in a year when we’ll see a fresh Volkswagen Golf, Mazda’s newcomer needs to occupy a desirable spot in the minds of buyers up and down the land. It’s now on sale in Britain, and this is our first chance to drive it on home turf.

Best hatchbacks on sale right now

With a few months still to go before the new Golf arrives, the Mazda 3 will need to square up to the latest Ford Focus. Both are sharp-looking and promise maximum driver engagement, although the Mazda’s launch line-up is much slimmer than the vast number of configurations you’ll be presented with in a Focus brochure.

Just two engines are available. The SkyActiv-D diesel produces 114bhp, while the SkyActiv-G petrol we drove is slightly stronger. It’s expected to be more popular, even if it lacks the diesel’s torque and fuel economy. An all-important third option will appear later this year, called SkyActiv-X; it’s a new engine that promises diesel-like fuel economy with the punch of a petrol unit, thanks to clever compression technology.

It’s a shame the new motor isn’t available at launch, because the existing engine is a weak link. There isn’t much torque, and it takes more than 10 seconds to sprint from 0-62mph, so it’s far from fast. The older SkyActiv-G engine is very refined, though. At cruising speeds the Mazda 3 is extremely quiet, and it works well with chassis, gearbox and steering settings that are fundamentally sound.

Be in no doubt, the Mazda 3 is a great car to drive. The innate tautness of the platform means that the suspension doesn’t need to be rock-solid for this to be a hatchback you can drive hard with a bit of confidence. It’s superbly composed – if maybe not as grippy or keen to turn in as a Focus – but it does it while retaining excellent ride quality.

Given the scant torque served up by the turbo-less engine, you need to work the gears to keep momentum. But the six-speed manual is a joy to use, with a short, accurate throw. You might wish the steering felt more alive, but by family-hatch standards it’s well judged. The driving position is nicely adjustable, too.

Whoever sits behind the wheel will be impressed, as should anyone in the passenger seat, given the quality of the cabin. We tried a mid-spec Sport Lux car, and although you’ll need to step up to GT Sport for leather seats, the materials used around the interior feel of a high standard.

It’s a much nicer place to sit than the latest Focus, and probably surpasses the outgoing Golf, too. Importantly, the 3 gets a new infotainment set-up as well. The 8.8-inch display is crisper than what we’ve seen in Mazdas before, placed neatly in the driver’s eye-line, and operated through a rotary dial like BMW’s iDrive. Nav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are all present, as they are on every model. In fact, every version of the new Mazda 3 is well equipped for the money. Even the basic model has radar cruise control and LED lights.

Any downsides? A couple. The Mazda’s sleek shape means space in the back isn’t amazing, and it’s dark back there, too. The thickness of the C-pillar means that rearward visibility is restricted, and the 351-litre boot isn’t among the most spacious in the class.

Overall, the Mazda is definitely worth exploring. But if your budget will stretch by another £1,500, it may be worth waiting for the SkyActiv-X to arrive in October.

4
Even with a less-than-perfect engine the new Mazda 3 is an impressive car and it feels like a very strong, well-made and excellently equipped alternative to the mainstream hatchbacks. We eagerly await the launch of the more powerful SkyActiv-X car this October. If it lives up to its promises and is competitively priced, it’ll be one of the best family hatchbacks on the market.
  • Model: Mazda 3 SkyActiv-G 2.0 122PS Sport Lux
  • Price: £22,795
  • Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl petrol
  • Power/torque: 120bhp/213Nm
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
  • 0-62mph: 10.4 seconds
  • Top speed: 122mph
  • Economy: 44.8mpg/119g/km
  • On sale: Now

Limited-run BMW M5 Edition 35 Years announced
Posted on Friday May 17, 2019

Luke Wilkinson 2019-05-17 15:10

To celebrate the 35th anniversary of the BMW M5, the German brand has released a new special edition model, limited to just 350 units

BMW M5 Edition 35 Years - front

The BMW M5 celebrates its 35th anniversary this year so, to mark the occasion, the German brand has launched a special edition variant called the M5 Edition 35 Years. Production will be limited to 350 units when it reaches the global marketplace in July this year.

Exterior styling revisions for the new model are restrained, being limited to a unique matte-metallic grey paint finish and a fresh set of 20-inch alloy wheels. The special edition M5’s brake calipers are also painted black, although buyers can spec the firm’s carbon ceramic brake package and gold calipers as an optional extra. 

Best performance cars on sale

Inside, the BMW’s latest limited edition M5 gets reupholstered sports seats finished in black and beige, a unique set of tread plates inscribed with the “M5 Edition 35 Years” badge and a laser-engraved numbered plaque for the cup-holder cover.

BMW’s 35th anniversary M5 is powered by the same twin-turbocharged 4.4-litre V8 engine as the M5 Competition. It produces 616bhp and 750Nm of torque which, like the standard car, is fed to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission, allowing a 0–62mph time of 3.3 seconds and an electronically-limited top speed of 155mph.

Now read our review of the standard BMW M5 Competition. Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below…

SEAT Tarraco SE Technology: long-term test review
Posted on Friday May 17, 2019

SEAT Tarraco long-termer - first report header
19 May, 2019 1:00pm Pete Baiden

First report: seven-seat SEAT Tarraco SUV joins our fleet and makes a good first impression

Mileage: 1,658
Economy: 44.5mpg

SEAT is very proud of its Spanish heritage, so much so that nearly every model in its current line-up is named after a town or area in Spain. The Ibiza, Leon, Arona, Ateca and Alhambra all follow this formula, and so does the latest addition to the Auto Express fleet, the Tarraco.

For the past 37 years the Iberian brand has been using place names, starting way back with the Rondo in 1982. The Tarraco is the 14th car to follow this principle, but it was the first to be named by public vote. SEAT set up a poll to choose the name for its new seven-seat SUV back in late 2017, and Tarraco, the historical name for the city of Tarragona, edged out Avila, Aranda and Alboran, with more than 35 per cent of the votes.

Best SUVs on sale

Yet while the brand’s approach to its cars’ names is unique, the same can’t be said of the Tarraco itself. The large SUV shares many of its characteristics with the Skoda Kodiaq, sitting on the same version of the Volkswagen Group’s modular MQB platform and sharing the same range of engines. But that’s no bad thing because the Kodiaq scooped the Best Large SUV honour at our New Car Awards ceremony last year.

Our Tarraco is an SE Technology model, which sits near the bottom of the range, with only the standard SE trim below it (Xcellence and Xcellence Lux sit above our car in the line-up). That doesn’t mean it’s short of kit, though, because the focus on technology really shines through.

Folding door mirrors, LED headlights and tail-lamps, daytime running lights, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, rear parking sensors, hill-hold assist, three-zone climate control and an eight-inch touchscreen navigation system with SEAT’s Digital Cockpit all come as standard, along with 18-inch alloy wheels. Stepping up in trim level only really adds leather seats, a parking camera, larger wheels and a few cosmetic upgrades, so the SE Technology specification is the sweet spot of the range.

Just like the Kodiaq, the Tarraco offers bags of space, with lots of storage and plenty of leg and headroom in the rear seats. Boot capacity stands at 1,775 litres with the rear two benches folded flat (just down on the Kodiaq’s cavernous 2,005 litres), while there is even a usable 230 litres available with the car set up as a seven-seater. Those sixth and seventh chairs don’t offer much legroom, though, and are only really suitable for kids. Adults will simply find it too uncomfortable to spend much time back there, and the seats are tough to clamber into.

Where the Tarraco differs from the Kodiaq is in the way it drives. SEAT is well known for focusing on dynamics, and this SUV does not disappoint. Its sheer size means it has some limitations, but it feels controlled when turning sharply into corners and body roll is kept in check for the most part. The SE Technology’s smaller 18-inch wheels also provide a smooth ride and the car soaks up most road imperfections without flinching.

The Tarraco’s engine line-up is standard VW Group fare. There’s the choice of a 1.5-litre TSI petrol with 148bhp, a 187bhp 2.0-litre TSI petrol or a 2.0-litre TDI diesel with either 148bhp or 187bhp. SE Technology is only available with the two lower-powered units, and our model has the 148bhp diesel. We’ve also plumped for the six-speed manual box, instead of the seven-speed DSG automatic.

The power figure might seem low for such a big car, but it copes with the demands of daily life well. So far I’ve used it around town and on some longer motorway journeys, and the engine never feels strained. In fact, the 340Nm of torque means it feels quite punchy when going for an overtake. A fully laden Tarraco might be a different story but, for most people, the lower-powered 2.0-litre diesel should be quick enough. Economy of 44.5mpg is also impressive for a 1,660kg car.

I’m looking forward to seeing how it copes with the demands of day-to-day life. My young son likes to grab and pull at anything within reach, so he’s sure to be testing the car as much as I am in the coming months.

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

4.5
Our SEAT Tarraco offers almost everything that the Skoda Kodiaq does, but is more stylish to look at and superior to drive – plus it comes with all the equipment we’re ever likely to need.
  • Model: SEAT Tarraco SE Technology 2.0 TDI 150PS manual
  • On fleet since: April 2019
  • Price new: £30,820
  • Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl diesel, 148bhp
  • CO2/tax: 129g/km/£140
  • Options: None
  • Insurance: Group: 24/Quote: £508
  • Mileage: 1,658
  • Economy: 44.5mpg
  • Any problems?: None so far

New BMW X2 M35i 2019 review
Posted on Friday May 17, 2019

BMW X2 M35i - front
17 May, 2019 11:00pm Richard Ingram

The new BMW X2 M35i has arrived to take on the Audi SQ2 and Cupra Ateca with 302bhp, but is it a hit or a miss?

The small performance SUV segment has gone from 0-100mph in six months flat. The BMW X2 M35i you see here follows the Cupra Ateca and Audi SQ2, and will be joined by the spicy Volkswagen T-Roc R before the end of the year. 

It took the world’s car makers a little while to cotton to the idea of quick SUVs, and even longer to match the charm and affordability of a hot hatch to the desirability and practicality of a 4x4. But now they’re coming thick and fast.

Best fast family cars on sale

For BMW, the X2 was the perfect candidate; the brand’s smallest and sharpest SUV is among the most dynamic cars of its type, handling neatly even in standard front-wheel drive guise.

But for the M35i, BMW has ramped things up a notch. It gets the same TwinPower 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine as the forthcoming M135i, mated to the same intelligent xDrive set-up. Like its main rivals there’s about 300bhp on tap, plus a 0-62mph sprint of around five seconds. 

However, unlike its main rivals, even the cheapest X2 M35i costs more than £40,000. Quite a lot more, too, with prices starting from £43,315. That’s £6k more than the Audi and almost £7,500 more than the Cupra.

It’s well equipped, granted, but that’s not far off what you’ll pay for an entry-level Porsche Macan. And when you consider that car’s far stronger residual values, there’s likely to be little more than a fag paper between them when it comes to monthly finance costs.

Price aside, the M35i headlines with a plethora of upgrades over the standard X2, including specifically tuned M Sport suspension and mechanical limited-slip diff, as well as a tweaked eight-speed gearbox with launch control.

All this helps the racier X2 feel like a proper pocket rocket. You sit low, and it’s alarmingly quick at times – showing little struggle in hauling well past the three-figure speeds on a stretch of deserted German autobahn. The gearbox responds well in every drive mode, delivering an characteristic thump in the back on Sport-mode enabled full-bore upshifts.

But while the X2 impresses point-to-point, it ultimately lacks excitement. Where the Ateca inherits much of the hot SEAT Leon’s scrabbly, unhinged character, the X2 feels muted and less engaging than the old M140i ever did. Part of that is down to the downsized four-cylinder engine, granted, but even compared with the identically endowed Cupra, the BMW feels a little too sensible for its own good.

The steering is accurate but not brimming with feel, though the standard X2’s squat stance means body control is good. The ride, while compliant enough in Comfort, is likely to be far too stiff for UK roads in Sport, however. The Ateca feels more fluid, and sounds fruitier, too; the X2’s exhaust noise is arguably more authentic, but closer to the standard SUV’s than anything from the brand’s wide-ranging M division.

The same is true of the M35i’s styling. The only clues to this car’s firepower are the Cerium Grey inserts for the grille, air inlets and mirror caps. There’s a set of similarly-specced 20-inch wheels, while the larger exhausts are painted in the same shade of grey. Look really closely and you’ll notice the new M rear spoiler, too. Remove the badges, though, and you’ll need to be a true anorak to separate the M Performance model from its lesser siblings.

Take a look inside and the differences are even harder to spot. There’s a set of new M Sport seats, M Sport seat belts and a new aluminium foot rest. But that’s your lot. Engine and drivetrain aside, it’s hard to fathom where your cold hard cash is being spent; the X2 M35i costs £6,060 more than an xDrive20i M Sport.

That’s even more apparent when you consider that 20i model boasts the same M Sport bodykit, LED lights, and iDrive infotainment system, as well as a similarly supportive set of heated sports seats.

So its rivals are cheaper to buy, better equipped and more engaging to drive, but does the BMW offer any advantages when it comes to packaging and practicality? Not quite. Despite its raised body, the X2 is no more versatile than your average family hatchback. The 470-litre boot is a decent size, but the cabin feels cramped thanks to the thick C-pillars and sloping roofline. The Cupra trumps it here once again.

3
BMW has missed a trick with the new X2 M35i. The maker’s M cars have historically been some of the feistiest, most un-hinged models of their type, but the X2 appears muted and a bit too sensible. It feels like little more than a faster version of the standard car, rather than an M Performance model in its own right.
  • Model: BMW X2 M35i
  • Price: £43,315
  • Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo petrol
  • Power/torque: 302bhp/450Nm
  • Transmission: Eight-speed auto, four-wheel drive
  • 0-62mph: 4.9 seconds
  • Top speed: 155mph
  • Economy/CO2: 34.0-33.6mpg/158g/km
  • On sale: Now

Used Honda HR-V review
Posted on Thursday May 16, 2019

Used Honda HR-V - front
16 May, 2019 4:15pm Richard Dredge

A full used buyer’s guide on the Honda HR-V covering the HR-V Mk2 (2015-date)

Honda has never been afraid to innovate, but when the company launched its original HR-V crossover two decades ago, the car was maybe just that little bit too far ahead of the curve for its own good.

Buyers didn’t really understand this distinctively designed compact SUV, apparently preferring to buy the bigger and more established CR-V instead.

Fast forward 20 years and SUVs are all the rage, with particularly fierce competition in the small and mid-sized sectors. With the HR-V straddling these classes, in theory it’s all set to clean up. But you see surprisingly few on the road, so it’s clearly a little more exclusive than Honda would like. And that’s a shame, because we rather rate it.

Models covered

  • • Honda HR-V Mk2 (2015-date) - Reliable, safe and well-equipped SUV should be a pleasure to own. 

Honda HR-V Mk2

History

The second-generation HR-V reached showrooms on 1 September 2015, priced from £17,995 and available only with a five-door body. Buyers could choose between 1.5-litre petrol or 1.6-litre diesel engines, both with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, and the former available with a CVT automatic transmission.

There were S, SE and EX trims, and in 2017 a limited-run Black Edition arrived. This was based on the SE, but it had black detailing, leather trim and 18-inch alloys.

A facelifted HR-V reaches showrooms imminently, with reshaped seats, upgraded interior trim and a refreshed exterior design. There’s also a new Sport version that has a 180bhp 1.5-litre turbo petrol engine.

Honda HR-V Mk2 reviews

Honda HR-V in-depth review
Honda HRV 1.6 i-DTEC review
Honda HR-V 1.5 i-VTEC automatic review
Honda HR-V 1.5 i-VTEC Sport review

Which one should I buy?

The 1.5-litre petrol engine is smooth but doesn’t have enough torque, which is why the diesel is a better bet. This also offers stronger fuel economy and, because all HR-V diesels comply with Euro 6 emissions rules, you should avoid any future restrictions imposed on diesel engines.

You may be tempted by the CVT, but it’s worth noting that the manual transmission is much nicer to use in everyday life.

The entry-level HR-V S comes with 16-inch alloy wheels, DAB radio, Bluetooth, climate control, a multifunction steering wheel, automatic lights and cruise control. Mid-range SE has 17-inch wheels, an upgraded hi-fi, dual-zone climate control, power-fold mirrors, all-round parking sensors and a raft of driver assistance systems.

Finally, the top-spec EX offers heated front seats, leather upholstery, an opening panoramic sunroof, privacy glass, LED headlights, sat-nav and a reversing camera.

Alternatives to the Honda HR-V Mk2

At 4.3 metres long, the HR-V is bigger than the Renault Captur and Peugeot 2008, but shorter than the Ford Kuga and Nissan Qashqai. As a result, the Honda straddles the B and C-segment SUV sectors, so if the former are too small, the HR-V might be preferable to a car from the class above.

We love the Kuga, because it’s a great all-rounder, and the Renault and Peugeot offer very good value. If you’ve got a decent budget, take a look at the SEAT Ateca or Arona, as well as the Skoda Karoq. But, if cash is a little tighter, we suggest you consider the Skoda Yeti, which is another multi-talented family car.

What to look for

Alloy wheels

Diamond-cut alloys are prone to pitting. Dealers have replaced many under warranty; make sure you look at them closely. 

Sat-nav

The navigation system can struggle to find satellites. A software update in 2017 should have fixed this, so don’t despair if the nav doesn’t work.

Tyre pressures

The tyre pressure monitoring system can flag up incorrect readings. Carrying your own gauge will help recognise false positives.

Spare wheel

There’s no spare wheel of any kind supplied, but if you like to have extra reassurance, you can always buy a space saver.

Interior

The HR-V’s dashboard and cabin are modern enough and generally solidly finished, but rather uninspiring, and the seats aren’t that comfy on a long drive. Rear space is good, as is versatility; the theatre-style ‘magic seat’ is something only Honda offers, and it’s a great feature. Boot space is good at 448 litres with the rear seats in use, and 1,026 litres when they’re folded.

Running costs

All HR-Vs have to be serviced every 12 months or 12,500 miles. The first three check-ups cost £210, £280 and £260 for petrol cars; diesels are £20 extra each time, while the second and third services cost £85 more on HR-Vs with an automatic box.

Once an HR-V reaches its fourth service, it’s eligible for cut-price maintenance. Services alternate between minor and major, costing £165 and £270, while diesels are £20 extra each time, and CVTs £75 more.

A service plan can also cut costs. For cars less than eight months old with no more than 8,000 miles, a plan covers servicing for up to five years or 62,500 miles.

Recalls

There has been just one recall for the HR-V so far, in October 2018 and affecting 5,097 cars built up to April 2018. The problem centred on possible chafing of the wiring loom, potentially leading to a blown fuse.

This could cause the wipers not to work or the engine not to start. Honda either repaired or replaced the wiring harness, depending on the severity of any damage. 

Driver Power owner satisfaction

The HR-V has never made it into a Driver Power survey, but some owners have left reviews on carbuyer.co.uk. Opinions online are often polarised, and that’s true here. For every buyer in love with their HR-V there’s one who regrets their purchase due to poor build quality or disappointing reliability. The result is an average score of 3.3 out of five, compared with our rating of four.

The Mexican-built Honda HR-V has a surprisingly low profile, largely because it’s overshadowed so much by its bigger and better-established brother, the CR-V. But this smart little SUV deserves a closer look, thanks to its spacious cabin, big boot and, less predictably, its towing abilities; it scooped the ‘up to 1,400kg’ crown in the 2016 Tow Car of the Year awards. Honda claims that the initials HR-V are short for Hi-rider Revolutionary Vehicle, which is definitely an overstatement. In fact, it doesn’t really offer anything that genuinely moves the game on, other than the ‘magic’ rear seats, the bases of which fold up like cinema chairs. However, if you’re looking for a high-riding compact family car that’s practical, should be painless to own, and is safe and well equipped, you should check it out.

New Hyundai Tucson N Line 2019 review
Posted on Thursday May 16, 2019

Hyundai Tucson N Line - front cornering
16 May, 2019 4:00pm Alex Ingram

We test the new Hyundai Tucson N Line to see if it can compete in the increasingly competitive warm SUV segment

This is the Tucson N Line, the second Hyundai after the i30 to receive the brand’s hot N brand-inspired treatment. It follows a similar vein to the other sporty trim levels offered on rivals like the Volkswagen Tiguan (R-Line), Ford Kuga (ST-Line) and Renault Kadjar (GT Line).

Like those cars, the Tucson gets a few choice sporty upgrades without adding performance car insurance bills. Starting from £25,995, the N Line slots into the Tucson range at roughly the same price of our current pick, the SE Nav, and below the posher Premium trim.

Best SUVs to buy 2019

On the outside, the N Line gets a unique look to spice it up compared with the rest of the Tucson range. The front gets a smart-looking bumper design which, like its i30 N Line cousin, features little ‘shark tooth’ elements poking up from the front splitter. There’s a grille insert that matches i30 N Line’s smoked metallic design, too, as well as some boomerang-shaped LED daytime running lights. Extra sporting intent is added with a contrasting black finish for the door mirrors, roof, extended rear spoiler and new 19-inch wheels.

Inside, there's extra red trim to perk up an otherwise uniformly black cabin. The seats are trimmed in a mix of fake leather and Alcantara-esque materials. Go for a manual gearbox and the gear knob is the same as the one that you get in the i30N hot hatch. Equipment levels give you everything you really need: heated front seats, keyless entry, climate control, front/rear parking sensors and privacy glass are all standard.

Elsewhere, the interior is the same as in any other Tucson. The dashboard layout is functional rather than particularly interesting, build quality is perfectly fine, and the eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system is clearly laid out and easy to use – if a little slow to respond to touches. Rear cabin space isn’t the best in the class, and the rear centre seat is firm and too narrow for an adult.

UK buyers will have two engines to choose from, one of which is new to the range. The 134bhp 1.6-litre diesel used previously has been revamped with a mild-hybrid setup; the 48-volt electrical system recoups energy under braking, which it stores in a small 0.44kWh battery. Under acceleration, it deploys up to 16bhp to reduce load on the diesel engine.

In practice, the effects of the hybrid system are pretty subtle. The most noticeable difference is that the start/stop system is more keen to engage; dip the clutch while braking to a halt and the engine can cut out at around 20mph. Move off, and the engine is much quicker to fire back into life, too. 

Best small SUVs and crossovers on sale 2019

With the electric boost there to take the load off the engine rather than boosting outright speed, performance is unchanged – so it’s a little below average for the class. Refinement is fine too, but this 1.6 is a little more audible than the larger 2.0-litre diesel (with a similar 48-volt setup) that’s offered in the Premium and Premium SE cars.

However, the diesel hybrid doesn’t get the uprated N Line suspension – for that you need to go to for the 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine. It’s a tried and tested engine in the Tucson; the 175bhp unit provides enthusiastic performance, especially compared to the class standard. It even sounds reasonable under hard acceleration, yet settles down nicely at a cruise.

The suspension changes themselves aren’t radical: the N Line is eight per cent stiffer at the front and five per cent at the rear. Push hard and it feels marginally sharper and more playful than the standard car, without any noticeable trade-off in ride comfort. Given that the Tucson is at the smoother end of the class comfort-wise, it remains a relaxing place to while away the miles.

Both petrol and diesel models are available with a choice of six-speed manual or seven-speed dual clutch automatic. In both cases, we’d pick the manual: it’s a fairly pleasing shift – helped by that i30 N gear knob which is lovely to hold. The auto, on the other hand, is laggy, easily confused and costs £1,290 more. For a car with sporty overtones, it’s a shame there aren’t any steering wheel-mounted paddles to play with, either.

But what of the fuel consumption? Officially, the new engine achieves 50.4mpg as a manual and 48.7mpg for the auto on the new WLTP test cycle - both a few miles per gallon better than before. It also manages to fairly comprehensive slash emissions figures relative to the old non-hybrid diesel: 113g/km is 12g/km lower than the best that its predecessor had to offer. For BIK users, that’s a drop of four bands, from 33 per cent to 30 per cent.

The petrol model remains as thirsty as ever, though: on our encounter, the 36.2mpg WLTP figure still seems a little optimistic in the real world. For comparison, a similarly-performing Skoda Karoq will get closer to 40mpg.

The new N Line models are available to order from 30 May, with prices straddling those of the existing SE Nav trim. At £25,995 for the manual and £27,285 for the auto, the N Line petrols are £140 cheaper than the equivalent SE Navs. You can’t get the 134bhp hybrid diesel with a manual ‘box in SE Nav trim (there is a 113bhp alternative - also with an updated 48-volt configuration) but, like-for-like, the automatic diesel costs £29,050 in N-line trim to the SE Nav’s £28,600.

 

3.5
The Tucson N Line’s minor tweaks were never going to transform the car into a sports SUV. However, take it for what it is – a capable family SUV with a smart body kit – and there’s plenty to like. As before, it doesn’t lead the class in any one area, but this is arguably the most desirable trim level Hyundai’s crossover now has to offer. While the petrol is nippy but thirsty, the new mild hybrid diesel’s low CO2 ratings will make plenty of sense to company car drivers and private buyers alike.

 

  • Model: Hyundai Tucson N Line 1.6 T-GDi 177PS 2WD DCT
  • Price: £27,285
  • Engine: 1.6-litre 4cyl turbo petrol
  • Power/torque: 175bhp/265Nm
  • Transmission: Seven-speed auto, front-wheel drive
  • 0-62mph: 8.9 seconds
  • Top speed: 125mph
  • Economy/CO2: 36.2mpg/151g/km
  • On sale: 30 May

New Hennessey Venom F5 Roadster considered
Posted on Thursday May 16, 2019

Luke Wilkinson 2019-05-16 12:13

A Hennessey Venom F5 roadster is currently under consideration as the firm starts building the first Venom F5 prototype

Hennessey Venom F5 Roadster

Hennessey Performance has started building the first Venom F5 prototypes in preparation for the car’s upcoming testing programme, which is scheduled to begin later this year. And now the firm has also announced it is considering a building a roadster variant.

The firm’s latest hypercar, due to go on sale in 2020 with production limited to just 24 units, will cost from $1.6 million (£1.25 million). The proposed roadster would also likely be limited to 24 units as well as demanding a hefty price premium over the coupe.

World's fastest road cars

Our first look at the Hennessey Venom F5 was at the 2017 SEMA Show in Las Vegas, where the firm revealed the car’s interior for the first time. The dashboard, doors and floor all made from carbon fibre, while pull cords are used instead of traditional door handles to save weight.

The F5 also features quilted yellow upholstery along the doors and on the dashboard, while the seats and the steering wheel are trimmed in Alcantara. An information screen sits on top of the centre console, along with a Formula One-style digital display on the steering wheel.

The F5 is based around clean-sheet carbon fibre that has been designed and engineered by Delta Motorsport, based in Silverstone. Hennessey claims the F5 will weigh 1,338kg and despite being almost 100kg heavier than its Venom GT predecessor, it should offer better performance thanks to new active aerodynamics and a slippery drag coefficient of 0.33cd.


Hennessey Venom F5 Roadster

Power comes from a 1600bhp twin-turbocharged V8 engine, which Hennessey hopes will give its new hypercar a 290mph top speed. Hennessey claims that the F5 can accelerate from 0-186mph in less than 10 seconds, which is faster than a Formula One car. The sprint from 0-249mph and back to zero will is claimed to take less than 30 seconds, beating the world record-holding Koenigsegg Agera RS by over six seconds.

Koenigsegg currently holds the production car top speed record of 277.9mph, which was set by the Agera RS. Hennessey previously held the unverified record of 270mph, set by the Venom GT in 2014. However, that test was run in only one direction rather than two, therefore not fitting the Guinness Book of Records criteria.

Can the Hennessey Venom F5 really top 300mph? Read our list of the world’s fastest production cars to see what it has to beat…

New Ford Focus ST Estate joins hatch in line-up
Posted on Thursday May 16, 2019

Alex Ingram 2019-05-16 11:30

The new Ford Focus ST Estate arrives with petrol and diesel choices, generating 276bhp and 187bhp respectively

Ford Focus ST Estate - front

Following hot on the heels of the debut of the Ford Focus ST hatch, images of the ST Estate have been revealed.

The Focus ST Estate takes a similar performance approach to the conventional hatch, albeit with the benefit of a 608-litre boot. From a styling point of view, the changes around the back are fairly subtle: there’s a larger rear spoiler, and the bumper design is much like the item found on ST-Line models, but it gets two large tail pipes on either side of a mock diffuser.

Best estate cars on sale

Elsewhere, the estate is treated to similar go-faster upgrades as the hatchback. From the front, it gets a honeycomb grill complete with wide air dam below, and the ten spoke alloy wheels are the same design.

As with the ST hatch, the ST Estate rides 10mm lower than the rest of the Focus range, while the dampers are 20 per cent firmer at the front and 13 per cent at the back. A quicker steering rack, Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres and an electronic limited slip differential complete the chassis changes.

Under the bonnet, there’s two engines to choose from. Performance fans will be most keen on the 2.3-litre turbocharged four cylinder unit, which makes 276bhp - 29bhp more than the outgoing car - and 420Nm of torque. The Estate’s extra weight relative to the hatch have slightly blunted the 0-62mph time, dropping one tenth to 5.8 seconds.

A diesel engine will provide a more BIK-friendly option. With 187bhp and 360Nm of torque, the 2.0-litre unit is the most powerful diesel ever fitted to a Focus and it covers the 0-62mph sprint in 7.7 seconds. The petrol is available with a choice of six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic gearboxes, while the diesel is manual only.

The new Focus ST Estate will be priced from £30,595 for the diesel and £33,095 for the petrol when it goes on sale this summer - each £1,100 more than the equivalent ST hatch.

Do you like the look of the new Ford Focus ST Estate? Let us know in the comments section below...

Volvo boss open to making smaller cars if price is right
Posted on Wednesday May 15, 2019

John McIlroy 2019-05-15 17:53

Volvo won’t rule out producing models below 40-series, as small and premium markets converge more and more

Volvo XC40 front tracking

Volvo could yet be open to producing models smaller than its 40-series, the company’s boss has revealed.

The Swedish brand has been focusing on filling its line-up across the 40, 60 and 90 ranges of models. The XC40 SUV is currently its smallest car, although a sister hatchback and saloon are likely to join it on Volvo’s most compact platform, the Compact Modular Architecture.

Best small SUVs and crossovers to buy

Volvo sources have consistently denied that the firm would even consider producing a smaller model than the XC40, to rival the likes of the Audi A1 and Q2 or even the MINI.

However, speaking at the Financial Times Future of the Car Summit, Volvo CEO Hakan Samuelsson admitted that changing customer views on the price of smaller items could yet make such a move feasible.

“I’ve said that we’ll fill our portfolio and right now we’re doing that,” Samuelsson said. “We took one step down with XC40 which is our smallest SUV. We have a very strong line-up of SUVs. So never say never. There is a trend now that premiumness is more and more decoupled from size. Small cars can also be premium. Just because you have a small suit, it doesn’t have to be polyester. So let’s see. Right now it’s not planned, but it’s a good idea also.”

Samuelsson also admitted, meanwhile, that Volvo may consider offering a charging infrastructure or an allowance of electricity as part of its Care by Volvo subscription model, once its pure-electric vehicles arrive on the scheme. “That could very well happen,” he said. “It’s an interesting idea because in some way when somebody has an electric car they need a good concept on how to charge them.”

If Volvo were to launch a sub-40-series car then it's more than likely that the model will have an all-electric powertrain.

Would you like to see a smaller Volvo car? Let us know in the comments below...

Mazda MX-5 2.0 Sport Nav+: long-term test review
Posted on Wednesday May 15, 2019

Mazda MX-5 long termer - first report header
15 May, 2019 4:30pm James Batchelor

First report: revised Mazda MX-5 sports car joins our fleet – just in time for summer

Mileage: 1,250
Economy: 40.9mpg 

It’s hard to cover up the smile on my face, because I know I have the keys to a Mazda MX-5 for the next six months.

My last three cars have been saloons, so the prospect of a two-seater sports car as the weather starts to warm up is an exciting one. You’d be beaming as much as me.

• Mazda 6 long-term test review

While I was loath to relinquish the keys to the Alfa Romeo Giulia Veloce I was running before, I did spend some time with the now-departed Mazda 6. And I concluded that, just like the Alfa, it had its flaws, but it was a deeply likeable car to live with.

The 6 offered something different to its rational rivals like the Skoda Superb and Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport: character. In typical Mazda style, it has also been steadily improved over the years, with the latest version sporting an incredibly well-built and relaxing interior, and exterior styling that for me borders on being pretty. If only that 2.5-litre engine and automatic gearbox combination were more satisfying to use, then the 6 would be my choice in that family-saloon-cum-executive-car sector.

But just like relationships, the 6 is old news and our new flame is the MX-5. It received a bit of a makeover late last year, with a few subtle changes designed to improve its usability. Things like a steering column that adjusts for reach as well as rake are now standard, as are seats with a smoother reclining mechanism (yes, really), sturdier cupholders and a reversing camera on a new top-spec GT Sport Nav+ model. At the same time, more safety kit appeared in the options list; so did Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The big news for this revised MX-5 was a new 2.0-litre engine. In the 2015-2018 MX-5, the 2.0 was a bit of a letdown, with the revvy little 1.5 the star of show. But with an extra 23bhp and 5Nm of torque, plus the rev limiter raised from 6,800 to 7,500rpm, the new unit’s figures look more promising.

Indeed, when I first drove this new engine on the car’s launch at the famous Trasfagarasan Highway in Romania last year, it immediately appealed. The next six months will reveal whether the 2.0-litre is now the better engine option for day-to-day use or if the 1.5 – the engine this fourth-generation MX-5 package was designed around – remains the pick of the range.

Speaking of the range, we’ve gone for the MX-5 slap bang in the middle. The Sport Nav+ may not have the neat little spoiler and other niceties of the new GT Sport Nav+, but it’s the one most buyers opt for, because it gets heated leather seats, sat-nav and a Bose sound system. To match our 6, we’ve also chosen arguably the best colour for an MX-5: Soul Red Crystal Metallic. It’s pricey, at £790, but it looks great and, as you can see from the pictures, it’s very photogenic.

Finally, to test out some of the latest tech, we’ve opted for the £800 safety pack as well. This bundles together a reversing camera, adaptive LED headlights and blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert.

No wonder I’m all smiles. The next six months are shaping up to be rather good.

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

4
So it’s goodbye Mazda 6 and hello Mazda MX-5 – perfectly timed with the uplift in seasonal temperatures. We’re looking forward to piling on the miles in our new two-seater roadster over the next six months.
  • Model: Mazda MX-5 2.0 SkyActiv-G 184PS Sport Nav+
  • On fleet since: April 2019
  • Price new: £25,095
  • Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl petrol, 181bhp
  • CO2/tax: 156g/km/£140
  • Options: Soul Red Crystal Metallic (£790), safety pack (£800)
  • Insurance*: Group: 31/Quote: £484
  • Mileage: 1,250
  • Economy: 40.9mpg
  • Any problems?: None so far

MG3 vs Skoda Fabia
Posted on Wednesday May 15, 2019

2019-05-15 15:45

Can the new MG3 compete in the supermini class? We test it against one of our favourite choices, the Skoda Fabia

MG3 vs Skoda Fabia - head-to-head

Superminis have become proper Jacks of all trades these days. Thanks to their swelling size (relatively speaking), they’re now more practical than ever.

Most also feature efficient, downsized turbocharged petrol engines and the kind of advanced infotainment systems that wouldn’t have looked out of place in an executive saloon just a few years ago.

Best superminis on sale right now

One of the latest models to arrive in the supermini market is the MG3, the small car that marked yet another step in the rebirth of the famous British brand when it was launched in showrooms back in 2014. The refreshed version we’re testing here promises even more, with improved infotainment, smarter styling and extra technology – and all without compromising the affordability for which the car has become known. It has price very much on its side.

However, if those are the metrics by which we have to judge a car in this class, then the MG will need to beat the supermini that’s been scoring sales in this sub-sector of the market for several years: the Skoda Fabia.

This bargain-priced, compact five-door hatchback is a known quantity, and although some of the technology inside is older than in the newer 3, the Fabia has already proven itself to be more than capable of victory in an Auto Express twin test. So let’s see how these two compare in a head-to-head battle. 

MG3

Model: MG3 1.5 VTi-TECH Exclusive
Price:  £12,795
Engine:  1.5-litre 4cyl petrol, 105bhp 
0-60mph:  11.3 seconds
Test economy:  30.0mpg/6.6mpl 
CO2:  140g/km  
Annual road tax:  £140

Revised styling and new tech mean the MG3 is back with a fresh attempt at success in the supermini class. We’re testing the facelifted car in impressively affordable £12,795 top-spec Exclusive trim to see if it’s a winning formula.

Design & engineering

Despite its long history here, MG is not a massive brand in the UK when it comes to sales volumes. However, the company is currently growing at a fairly rapid rate.

It has shifted more than 10,000 examples of its first MG3 supermini over four years, but with an expanding line-up, the brand is aiming to sell that many cars in 2019 alone – and this revised MG3 is going to help it get there, the company hopes.

Tweaked styling and improved infotainment account for the majority of the changes, while the MG retains its value-for-money appeal, with this range-topping Exclusive weighing in at £12,795.

However, there are few changes to the MG3’s mechanical set-up; it uses the same chassis and engine as before. The big news is inside, because the interior has had a fairly thorough overhaul.

The plastics are still solid, which compromises quality, but the design is sufficiently fresh that it mixes it with rivals in this sector, which is praise enough. Also worth mentioning is the car’s new infotainment system, because you get a fair level of functionality for the price.

Although its eight-inch touchscreen still isn’t the most responsive and the tile-style menu layout could be a little more logical, once you’ve worked everything out, it’s fairly simple to operate.

Apple CarPlay is fitted as standard, along with a reversing camera, parking sensors, Bluetooth, cruise control, air-conditioning and all-round electric windows; that’s a decent list of features, and ensures the MG is better specified than the Skoda as standard, despite costing £2,365 less. However, there’s much more to this than meets the eye, as we’ll see.

Driving

The spec is where the positives for the MG end, though, because it’s poor dynamically. Much of that stems from the engine, which feels breathless and old.

Although the MG has more power than the Skoda, at 105bhp, its torque figure of 137Nm is much lower, and what pulling power it has is developed much higher up the rev range – peaking at 4,750rpm – so the engine has to be worked hard to make progress.

This showed in our performance tests, because the heavier MG was a second slower from 0-60mph, taking 11.3 seconds. The baggier, looser five-speed box doesn’t help, either, while the low torque means the 3 lacks the turbo Fabia’s flexibility. In fifth gear the MG took 14.7 seconds to go from 50 to 70mph, while the Skoda needed just 11.8 seconds.

The power delivery is also inconsistent, with great holes and steps in the power curve, so it’s not nice to rev out. But you have to do that, and things get noisy at higher rpm. Refinement isn’t great, and neither is comfort; the ride is lumpy next to the Skoda’s.

The dampers thump over big bumps, and when the chassis is loaded up, these imperfections upset the car’s composure because the body control breaks down and the damping is corrupted.

The MG is not too comfy or all that great to drive, then, while its limited practicality means it’s also not as versatile as the Fabia. The steering is fairly weighty for a supermini, but doesn’t feel as direct as we’d like. Despite that, there’s just enough agility at moderate speeds. It’s just that as soon as you push a bit harder, the whole package starts to fall apart.

Practicality

Boot space is acceptable, at 285 litres with the rear seats in place, but the Fabia offers 45 litres more – and nearly as much as some family hatchbacks. Given that the Skoda isn’t the most modern car in the class, this only serves to highlight how the MG is just lacking a little of the usability you can find in the best superminis.

Like the Fabia, the MG3 is five-door only, which boosts practicality. Room in the rear is acceptable and access is good enough, but it’s not any better than in the Skoda. The MG’s window line also means it feels a little more claustrophobic in the rear, and it doesn’t boast the Skoda’s more thoughtful storage. 

Ownership

MG provides a standard seven-year/80,000-mile warranty, which shows the brand’s confidence in its car’s reliability. However, the firm recorded a poor result in our most recent owner satisfaction survey, finishing near the bottom of the makers’ chart in 27th out of 30 and well behind fifth-placed Skoda.

Safety is similarly questionable because the refreshed MG3 still only scores four Euro NCAP stars from its 2014 rating. Autonomous braking doesn’t feature as standard and isn’t available as an option, while the rest of the safety tech is limited.

Running costs

The MG only returned 30.0mpg in our tests because its old-school non-turbo engine needs working hard. In contrast, the Fabia managed 46.2mpg.

As a result, you’ll have to spend £2,278 a year over an average 12,000 miles to fuel the British model. That’s £798 more than for the Skoda, which works out at a cost of £1,480.

However, the Fabia will lose more cash, because our experts predict it will retain 40.6 per cent, which equates to a residual value of £6,152 and depreciation of £9,008. The MG is expected to hold onto 40.1 per cent or £5,124 in cash terms, which means a loss of £7,671 over the same three-year/36,000-mile period. 

Testers’ notes: “MG has a downsized turbocharged engine at its disposal – the 1.0-litre unit from the GS – and that it’s not taken the opportunity to fit it here seems like an oversight. This 1.5 is old tech and feels it.” 

Skoda Fabia

Model: Skoda Fabia 1.0 TSI 95 SE
Price:  £15,160
Engine:  1.0-litre 3cyl petrol, 94bhp 
0-60mph:  10.3 seconds
Test economy:  46.2mpg/10.1mpl 
CO2:  106g/km
Annual road tax:  £140

The Fabia excels when it comes to affordability and practicality in a supermini. And although new models have been released since it was launched, this is the car the MG3 has to beat to show it has improved. So how does it fare?

Design & engineering

Skoda’s third-generation supermini went on sale around the same time as the MG3, yet the Fabia was facelifted sooner and had more tech added to keep it competitive. Most attention went on the engines, with a new 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo unit added to boost efficiency.

It’s the 94bhp model in £15,160 SE trim that we’re testing, which is pricier than the MG but doesn’t get quite as much kit. As we’ll see, though, that’s not the full story because the Skoda claws back points in other vital areas. Superminis have to cover so much ground that this versatility is important.

Whereas most VW Group superminis sit on the versatile MQB platform, the Fabia is underpinned by the older PQ26 architecture. However, its newer engine means 160Nm of torque – 23Nm more than the MG. Importantly, it’s delivered lower in the rev range, from just 1,800rpm, and the Skoda is 154kg lighter.

Both models have MacPherson struts at the front and a torsion beam at the rear, which is standard for small, affordable cars like these. There are some similarities inside, too, when it comes to quality; both feature hard plastics but a not impractical design. And although there’s a similar level of space, the Skoda’s cabin highlights the Fabia’s relative age. Its infotainment seems to trail behind the MG’s because the 6.5-inch screen appears small.

SE trim also doesn’t get as much kit as the MG’s Exclusive, yet it’s quite a bit more expensive. CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, as are parking sensors, DAB, Bluetooth, air-con and a speed limiter.

It doesn’t sparkle in any one area, but the Fabia still makes a convincing case for itself because it’s better to drive and cheaper to run.

Driving

The extra torque from the engine meant the Skoda was much more flexible in our tests that replicate accelerating on to a motorway. For example, the Fabia went from 30 to 50mph in third in 5.3 seconds, whereas the MG took 6.4 seconds. As with the 3, the Skoda has a five-speed gearbox, but its change is nicer, with a tighter action to the shift.

The Skoda’s ride is also better. Although it isn’t the most comfortable supermini, the Fabia still has a slight edge over the MG. Over bumpier surfaces its damping feels a bit unsophisticated because the chassis bobbles about, but there’s a more absorbent quality to the way the Fabia tracks over roads that upset the MG. Of course, you still get crashes and thunks, but these are less common than in the MG.

On top of that, the steering is lighter and more precise, while the Fabia’s general agility and the breakdown of body control – and therefore its composure – feel more linear than in the MG.

What that means in real terms is that you can travel faster in more situations and in more comfort. Plus its turbo unit is much more refined than the MG’s naturally aspirated engine. It gives away 500cc and one cylinder, yet it’s more flexible and more efficient, showing the benefits of forced induction.

Practicality

A 330-litre boot means the Skoda easily has the measure of the MG3 with its seats up, but if you fold them down, the tables are turned. The Skoda offers 1,150 litres, while the MG boasts a 1,262-litre load bay. However, neither car’s back seats fold down fully flat and most owners are likely to use these superminis in five-seat form, when the Fabia is more practical.

Inside, there’s less difference between the cars in legroom, although the Skoda’s higher roofline means that it caters better for taller passengers.

Skoda is known for its ‘Simply Clever’ features and although the Fabia lacks the more useful touches of the brand’s larger and later models, the rubbish bin, mobile phone holder on the seat and an ice scraper in the fuel filler door will all come in handy. 

Ownership

Skoda is a typically strong performer in our Driver Power owner satisfaction survey, and in our most recent makers’ chart the brand ranked fifth, while its dealers took eighth place. MG’s garages didn’t rank.

Like the 3, the Fabia was originally tested by Euro NCAP back in 2014, when it scored four stars. However, it’s been upgraded over its life, gaining extra tech, with Skoda’s Front Assist autonomous braking system standard across the range. You can add blind spot detection for £395, too. 

Running costs

The lack of efficiency shown in the MG’s mediocre test fuel economy is reinforced by its high CO2 output. Both models still attract the same road tax rate of £140 per year, but although only a small percentage of buyers will run a supermini as a company car, the MG will still be the poorer choice.

Despite its low price, which obviously has a big bearing at this level of the market, the high CO2 emissions of 140g/km next to the Fabia’s much more efficient 106g/km put the MG seven Benefit-in-Kind tax brackets higher than the Skoda.

This means the significantly cheaper British model is actually more expensive to run as a company car for business users paying tax at the lower rate. It’ll cost £802 per year compared with £750 for the Fabia. This isn’t a huge margin, but combined with fuel economy and insurance it doesn’t help the MG’s case. 

Testers’ notes: “Skoda has just released its Scala model, which is larger than the Fabia, and its prices start from £16,595. If you can find a little bit more cash, this newer MQB-based car will be a much better bet.”

Verdict

First place: Skoda Fabia

The Fabia is feeling its age, but it still has the measure of the MG here, thanks to its strong practicality in a more comfortable and refined package. That latter point is largely down to its nicer engine, which makes the Skoda better to drive and far cheaper to run, offsetting its higher price (which is less of an issue when buying on PCP anyway). The infotainment and quality still aren’t the best, though.

Second place: MG3

While the better infotainment is welcome, MG hasn’t done enough to elevate its supermini to the summit of this ultra-competitive class. It’s cheap, but isn’t very comfortable or that nice to drive, mainly due to the flat engine that you have to flog to find the performance, which in turn ruins the refinement. Finally, it wipes out its price advantage with poor economy.

Other options in this category...

SEAT Ibiza

SEAT Ibiza - best superminis

Model: SEAT Ibiza 1.0 TSI 95 SE
Price: £15,970
Engine: 1.0-litre 3cyl, 94bhp

Even an entry-level Ibiza SE has plenty of kit, with CarPlay and Android Auto standard. But the 355-litre boot and roomy cabin mean it’s the most versatile supermini on sale, plus it’s good to drive, comfortable and refined. It’s also very well priced.

Ford Fiesta

Ford Fiesta - front

Model: Ford Fiesta 1.0 EcoBoost 100 Zetec
Price: £16,720
Engine: 1.0-litre 3cyl, 99bhp 

While both these rivals are pricier, we’ve seen how PCP deals can help here, and the Fiesta is the class leader. It handles brilliantly, and its infotainment is even better than the MG3’s. It’s also refined, punchy but frugal and more practical.

Figures

Skoda Fabia 1.0 TSI 95 SE MG3 1.5 VTi-TECH Exclusive
On the road price/total as tested £15,160/£16,690 £12,795/£12,795
Residual value (after 3yrs/36,000) £6,152/40.6% £5,124/40.1%
Depreciation £9,008 £7,671
Annual tax liability std/higher rate £750/£1,500 £802/£1,605
Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles) £1,480/£2,466 £2,278/£3,797
Insurance group/quote/VED 9/£363/£140 8/£383/£140
Servicing costs £342 (2yrs) TBC
Length/wheelbase 3,997/2,470mm 4,055/2,520mm
Height/width 1,467/1,732mm 1,504/1,729mm
Engine 3cyl in-line/999cc 4cyl in-line/1,498cc
Peak power/revs  94/5,000 bhp/rpm 105/6,000 bhp/rpm
Peak torque/revs  160/1,800 Nm/rpm 137/4,750 Nm/rpm
Transmission 5-spd manual/fwd 5-spd manual/fwd
Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel 45 litres/£110 48 litres/repair kit
Boot capacity (seats up/down) 330/1,150 litres 285/1,262 litres
Kerbweight/payload/towing weight 1,046/530/1,000kg 1,200/485/200kg
Turning circle 9.8 metres 10.4 metres
Basic warranty (miles)/recovery 3yrs (60,000)/1yr 7yrs (80,000)/1yr
Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos 5th/8th* 27th/N/A*
NCAP: Adult/child/ped./assist/stars 81/81/69/69/5 (2014) 69/71/59/38/3 (2014)
0-60/30-70mph 10.3/11.1 secs 11.3/12.0 secs
30-50mph in 3rd/4th 5.3/8.6 secs 6.4/9.2 secs
50-70mph in 5th 11.8 secs 14.7 secs
Top speed/rpm at 70mph  114mph/2,800rpm 108mph/3,200rpm
Braking 70-0/60-0/30-0mph  51.1/38.7/9.0m 48.8/35.9/9.3m
Noise outside/idle/30/70mph 51/65/65/73dB 71/43/70/77dB
Auto Express econ (mpg/mpl)/range 46.2/10.1/457 miles 30.0/6.6/317 miles
WLTP combined  47.1-51.4mpg 42.3mpg
WLTP combined  10.4-11.3mpl 9.3mpl
Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket 141/106g/km/25% 218/140g/km/32%
Airbags/Isofix/park sensors/camera Six/yes/yes/£265 Six/yes/yes/yes
Auto box/lane keep/blind spot/AEB No/no/£395/yes No/no/no/no
Clim/cruise ctrl/leather/heated seats £305/£185/n/£250^ Air-con/yes/no/no
Met paint/LEDs/keyless/pwr tailgate £595/£960/£325/no £545/no/no/no
Nav/digital dash/DAB/connected apps £770/no/DAB/1yr No/no/yes/no
Wireless charge/CarPlay/Android Auto No/yes/yes No/yes/no

 


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