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In the News ...

Volkswagen releases latest generation of manual gearbox
Posted on Monday July 15, 2019

Daniel Allen 2019-07-15 15:54

Volkswagen launches new manual gearbox which is more efficient than before, will be used in new Passat first

Volkswagen Passat GTE Estate - front

While many of the latest developments in the world of automotive tech focus on electric cars, Volkswagen has kept one eye on the present to improve the petrolhead’s old friend: the manual gearbox.

While many cars are showing gradual progress towards electrification, VW hasn’t neglected improving existing tech. And it’s a worthwhile step: after all, manual gearbox-equipped vehicles still hold a significant share of the automotive market worldwide.

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Volkswagen will appeal to that market with its new transmission, named MQ281. Changes have been made from the current Volkswagen gearboxes to improve efficiency, reduce emissions levels and boost refinement.

VW says that the new design can handle torque loads anywhere between 200 to 340Nm, so the gearbox will be suitable with a wide variety of engine outputs - both petrol and diesel. For reference, those numbers cover everything from the 113bhp 1.0-litre TSI petrol engine to the 148bhp version of the group’s 2.0-litre TDI.

In an increasingly environmentally conscious society, electric cars are unsurprisingly growing in popularity. However, as the government’s plans to bring the petrol and diesel car sales ban forward loom large and brands must trim their average emissions levels, improving the efficiency of the manual gearbox will enable those who still appreciate the engagement of a manual transmission to enjoy it while they still can.

Production of the new gearbox will take place at existing VW Group facilities in Spain and Argentina. The recently refreshed Passat will be the first car to benefit from the tech, but VW says that a wide range of models throughout the group - from hatchbacks to SUVs, will eventually benefit from the units.

Do you think the manual gearbox still has a place in today's world? Let us know your thought in the comments below...

New MINI Electric 2019 review
Posted on Monday July 15, 2019

MINI Electric - front 3/4 tracking
15 Jul, 2019 2:30pm Jonathan Burn

We take the new MINI Electric for a brief spin to see whether or not MINI have cracked the perfect electric car on it's first attempt

Let’s address the elephant in the room: range. The new MINI Electric will cover ‘at least’ 122 miles on a single charge, which, when you consider a Peugeot e-208 do over 200 miles, really isn’t all that impressive.  

If you put that to the man in charge of MINI, Peter Schwarzenbauer, his response is quite a straightforward one. “Nobody needs a big range in an urban car; it’s psychological,” he says. “An average drive for a MINI customer per day is 37km, so in theory, our customers can drive all week on a single charge.”

Best electric cars to buy 

There’s also the question of cost and weight; the larger the battery, the more expensive the car and the heavier it will be, which has a detrimental effect on handling and performance. So MINI has opted for a relatively compact 32.5kWh battery, which it says, gives the best trade-off between price, range and handling. 

MINI Electric - rear 3/4 tracking

And it doesn’t appear to have deterred potential buyers; MINI has already received over 40,000 'registrations of interest’ ahead of any test drives. Prices start from £24,300, inclusive of the government grant, and rise to just over £30,000. Schwarzenbauer told us:  “I have worked in the automotive industry for 35 years, and I have never seen a reaction like it.”

Our first chance to get behind the wheel of the MINI Electric is a fairly limited one - a handful of laps of the Formula E track in NYC. This is by no means a definitive verdict, but an early opportunity to see if the reaction the car has generated is warranted. 

You can make up your own mind about the way it looks, but to us, it has enough unique touches to mark it out as something different without going overboard. But if you’d rather fly under the radar you can lose the yellow detailing for body colour. 

The Electric’s architecture is a lightly modified version of what underpins every other version of the MINI. The batteries sit down the spine of the car in the housing for the transmission tunnel, as well as behind the seats; helpfully there no intrusion on boot capacity, which remains a modest 211 litres.

Climb in and the cabin will be immediately familiar to anyone who’s ever driven a modern MINI. The only real change is the analogue rev counter making way for elliptical display behind the steering wheel, relaying info on speed and remaining charge to the driver. 

It sits 15mm higher than a regular three-door hatch but from behind the wheel, it still feels compact and low. Crucially, there’s also plenty of adjustment in the steering wheel and seat to get comfortable. 

MINI Electric - front 3/4 tracking

The start/stop toggle switch remains on the lower section of the dash and brings the MINI Electric to life. Sport, Normal and Green are the driving modes, but given our surroundings and limited time, we go straight to the Sport. The first thing you notice, as with most electric cars, is the slingshot-like acceleration; MINI says the 181bhp motor will take it from 0-62mph in 7.3 seconds, but in truth it feels faster. Once beyond that there’s a noticeable tail off in acceleration but up to that point, it’s certainly brisk enough. 

Another thing the MINI Electric has going for it is it's relatively lightweight. The 32.5kWh battery has added around 130kg, taking the total figure up to around 1,350kg - making it one of the lightest EVs on sale. That means it feels just as nimble and eager to change direction than a regular three-door, but perhaps even more entertaining to drive, thanks to the punchy, on-demand acceleration. 

There’s a hint of body roll through faster corners but not too much - enough to let you know the level of grip remaining at each corner. The steering is weighty and reacts immediately to inputs, giving the Electric a real sense of athleticism; it feels every bit like an electric hot hatch and by some margin the most entertaining, ‘affordable’ EV to drive.

We’ll have to reserve judgement on the ride until we get onto the public road, but there is slight firmness to it over rougher sections of the circuit. How that will affect the overall package we will find out in January, outside the confines of a track. 

It may have been a brief encounter but you can tell MINI is onto something with the Electric. It’s feels like the first ‘affordable’ EV designed to take advantage of the benefits an electric powertrain brings - a focus on performance, agility and entertainment. Factor in a sensible £24,300 starting price and its appeal only grows.
  • Model: MINI Electric
  • Price: £24,300
  • Engine: Electric motor, 32.5kWh battery
  • Transmission: Single-speed auto, front-wheel drive
  • 0-60mph: 7.3 seconds
  • Top speed: 93mph
  • Range: 122 miles
  • On sale: Order now

Electric car charge points to be installed in every new home
Posted on Monday July 15, 2019

Hugo Griffiths 2019-07-15 11:00

England will be the first country in the world to introduce mandatory electric car charging points for new-build homes

TesLowJuice electric car charging up

All new homes in England will have to be fitted with charge points for electric vehicles, as the government seeks to facilitate the infrastructure improvements necessary for the planned mass-adoption of electric vehicles. 

The news comes as Department for Transport has announced a public consultation on the subject. If the planned changes to building regulations go through, it would force homebuilders to install charge points so potential owners could easily charge their plug-in hybrids and electric cars at home. The move would mean buyers of new-build homes would not need to make use of the Government’s home charger subsidy scheme, which has seen almost 100,000 wallboxes installed. 

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No mention has been made of how new-build houses without off-street parking would be fitted with charge points, but last week the Government invested nearly £40 million into research projects that included wireless charge points, and charge points that rise up from the pavement.

The drive towards EVs comes as the UK Government sets out to meet stringent targets for air quality and pollution caused by internal combustion engine emissions. From 2040, the £1.5 billion Road to Zero strategy will see the sale of all new cars without electrification banned. Details of this remain thin on the ground, but it is understood new cars will have to be able to travel for 50 miles under battery power in order to be allowed to remain on sale, essentially removing all cars but pure electric cars, plug-in hybrids, and hydrogen cars from new-car showrooms.

In a separate announcement, the Department for Transport said all public charge points should accept contactless payments, with no need for a subscription, from next year, saving EV and PHEV owners from having to sign up with the numerous separate companies that run the UK’s network of public chargers. The DfT is also further investigating ‘smart’ charging, which makes best use of peak and off-peak electricity rates, and could see EV’s act as a hive-like network of power storage when large amounts of electricity are generated by wind turbines, for example.

As well as Road to Zero, the Government has also announced the UK is to be carbon neutral by 2050. With transport accounting for around a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions, improving and reducing emissions from cars is a key target on the path to achieving this ambition.

Announcing the plans to mandate charge points in new-build homes, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said: “Home charging provides the most convenient and low-cost option for consumers – you can simply plug your car in to charge overnight as you would a mobile phone.”

Do you think installing new homes with their own charging points is a good idea? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below...

Electric car chargepoints to accept contactless payment next year
Posted on Monday July 15, 2019

Tristan Shale-Hester 2019-07-15 11:36

Government “prepared to intervene” to force contactless payments on public chargers; Chargemaster announces contactless payment

BP Chargemaster Ultracharge 150 - detail

All newly installed rapid or higher-powered electric car charging points should be fitted with contactless bank card readers from Spring 2020, the Government has said.

As part of its Road to Zero scheme, the Department for Transport (DfT) has signalled that it expects charging firms to offer a “roaming solution” across the network, allowing EV drivers to use various different charger networks with a single payment method, rather than having to have multiple cards and smartphone apps.

BP Chargemaster unveils new 150kW ultra-fast charger

The DfT added that it is “prepared to intervene to ensure a good deal for consumers by using powers in the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act”.

The Government department has supported the installation of more than 20,000 public charging points in the UK, of which more than 2,000 are rapid chargers, and has also said it’s working with the industry to make charging point data available more freely in order to help drivers easily locate and access them.

The news comes as the UK’s largest public EV charging network announced it will now allow customers to pay using contactless bank cards.

BP Chargemaster’s Polar network – made up of 7,000 charging points, of which 450 are rapid chargers – will offer contactless payment on all new 50kW rapid chargers and 150kW ultra-fast chargers. In addition, card readers will be retrofitted to existing 50kW units.

• All ministerial cars to be electric by 2030

The firm says it is now the first charging network to offer contactless payment, with all existing Ultracharge units to be retrofitted with card readers within the next 12 months.

BP Chargemaster hopes the move will make it easier for “occasional users” to access the network, although it intends to continue supporting and developing its Polar Plus subscription service at the same time.

Transport minister Michael Ellis commented: “It is crucial there are easy payment methods available to improve electric vehicle drivers’ experiences and give drivers choice.”

Are you glad that electric car chargers will now accept contactless payments? Let us know in the comments below... 

BMW i3 electric car may not be replaced
Posted on Saturday July 13, 2019

Jonathan Burn 2019-07-13 17:30

BMW’s i3 bespoke electric hatchback is unlikely to be replaced as the firm focuses on developing ‘mainstream’ EVs

BMW i3 front static

The future of the BMW i3 is in doubt with senior BMW bosses revealing to Auto Express that the groundbreaking electric car may not get a direct successor. 

The i3 launched back in 2013 and kickstarted BMW’s move into developing electric vehicles. However, BMW has shifted its electrification strategy to integrate future EVs into its mainstream range rather than developing bespoke models on unique architectures, like the i3.

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“It is difficult to say if the i3 will have a straight successor as it [electrification] goes more into the mainstream like the upcoming iX3,” Pieter Nota, Member of Board of Management at BMW for sales told us. “The i3 had a pioneering role - it was at the very beginning of BMW’s electrification plans but what we are seeing now is that electrification is moving more into the mainstream.”

The carbon fibre chassis the BMW i3 and i8 models are based upon is almost certain to be phased out; BMW’s new CLAR architecture will allow the firm to be more flexible, enabling it to develop conventional petrol or diesel, plug-in hybrid or fully electric vehicles all on the same platform. “We will continue to use carbon fibre but not exactly in the way that we see it in the i3 today,” Nota added. 

By 2023 BMW has confirmed it will launch 25 new electrified vehicles, more than half of which will be fully electric. The electric BMW iX3, which launches next year, joins the X3 lineup making it BMW’s first model range to be offered with a complete selection of powertrain options. 

Following in 2021 will be BMW’s Tesla Model S rival, the electric i4 saloon. It too will use the CLAR architecture and be offered with a range of battery sizes - the largest of which enabling a claimed range of 375 miles on a single charge.  

Should BMW build another i3? Let us know your view below...


New Mazda 3 SkyActiv-X 2019 review
Posted on Saturday July 13, 2019

Mazda 3 SkyActiv-X - front
14 Jul, 2019 11:00pm James Brodie

Can Mazda's clever new SkyActiv-X engine give the Mazda 3 hatch petrol performance with diesel economy?

SkyActiv-X is a brand new, spark controlled compression ignition (SPCCI) engine that has been under development at Mazda since 2015. The firm proudly insists that it’s the first true compression ignition petrol powered engine ready for production. It’s a petrol engine that uses intense pressure to combust the fuel-air mixture, like you would find in a diesel engine. Spark plugs remain in place as a control factor, but in the simplest terms, the aim is petrol performance and responsiveness with diesel fuel economy. 

The engine makes its debut here in the latest Mazda 3 - a car we’ve already heaped plenty of praise on for its style, upmarket quality, strong levels of refinement and, more than anything else, for the way it drives. It’s a brilliant family hatchback to find yourself behind the wheel of, but the car’s launch engines lacked a little sparkle. That’s a gap Mazda hopes the new  engine can bridge when it lands in the UK this October. 

Mazda Skyactiv-X prototype review

It’s also technology that Mazda’s dealers may have a hard time explaining to customers. Ultimately, how the SkyActiv-X engine feels to drive in the Mazda 3 is what will sell it, and while this car gains some much needed performance over the 122bhp SkyActiv-G with 187bhp and 224Nm of torque, it’s still a very different proposition to the turbocharged options that have become the norm in this segment. 

Start the car cold and it idles quietly like a petrol - nothing unusual here. But get on the move and the quirks and character of this brand new engine begin to become apparent. 

The engine uses a supercharger to ram as much air into the fuel-air mixture as possible to achieve that lean burn, but Mazda’s engineers have focussed on trying to create a naturally aspirated feel to the way the engine responds and delivers its power. By and large, this is exactly how it feels. 

Peak torque of 224Nm is still down a little on turbo cars such as TSI engined Golfs and the EcoBoost fitted Ford Focus, but while those cars dump the torque low down the rev band, the Mazda still requires revving out, building slowly from idle in a linear fashion to a sweet spot at around 3,000rpm where maximum power sits. From there it revs out comfortably to 6,500rpm, but it takes its time - the gearing feels quite long, and sixth is a cruising gear undoubtedly.

As the revs rise the engine note changes too. From a petrol-like idle the sound begins to mimic a diesel knock when the engine is turning over around that 3,000rpm peak torque zone, then the sound transforms back to a smoother petrol note as you get into the higher reaches of the rev band. A menu on the slick infotainment system can show you when the car is operating in SPCCI mode, and it shows that there really isn’t a certain speed or rev zone required to achieve this - just keep the car at a steady pace and eventually it’ll settle back into performing its party trick. 

What does that mean for fuel economy? In the manual car we threw caution to the wind to try and unpick the secrets of the new engine, only averaging 28mpg but making full use of the derestricted autobahn on our test route. A more realistic drive in an automatic SkyActiv-X equipped 3 threw up 40mpg on the trip computer, so stick with the excellent six-speed manual gearbox and 40+ without really trying is probably what you’re looking at. 

Does that really move the game on from the turbocharged opposition? Not really, based on our first, somewhat unscientific taste of the technology. It seems as if the SkyActiv-X car won’t be hugely more economical to run than the cheaper SkyActiv-G either. But, importantly, it is a much better performer, and almost certainly the car to budget for. The more powerful engine loses a little refinement, but finally the Mazda 3’s excellent chassis and steering have a whiff of performance to exploit. 


The new SkyActiv-X engine certainly creates the most convincing version of the new Mazda 3 yet, but it feels in some ways that the clever spark controlled compression ignition technology under the bonnet is being held back from its ultimate potential. This is the very first application of the tech though, so it’ll only get better with time. Here and now you get some much needed extra power over the SkyActiv-G car without really sacrificing fuel economy, but a little refinement is lost. It’s good enough to be our pick of the Mazda 3 bunch.
  • Model: Mazda 3 SkyActiv-X 2.0 GT Sport
  • Price: Mazda 3 SkyActiv-X 2.0 GT Sport Price: £26,500 (est)
  • Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl supercharged petrol MHEV
  • Power/torque: 178bhp/224Nm
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel-drive
  • 0-62mph/top speed: 8.3s/134mph
  • Economy/CO2: 51.4mpg/122g/km
  • On sale: October 2019

New Peugeot e-208 2019 prototype review
Posted on Friday July 12, 2019

Peugeot e-208 prototype - front tracking
12 Jul, 2019 5:00pm Vicky Parrott

The Peugeot e-208 is the electric sibling of the new 208 and we took a prototype version for a spin to see how it stacks up

This small car is a big deal. It is the new Peugeot 208, and it gets exactly the same roomy interior and smart styling as the 1.2 petrol model that you can read about here.

But underneath its bonnet is a 134bhp electric motor that drives the front wheels, and is powered by a 50kWh lithium-ion battery. There’s no petrol engine. It’s pure electric, and it is deliberately designed to look just like the other 208s in the range. Peugeot believes that electric is as normal a choice as petrol (or soon will be), and so it has made its all-new electric car look just like a ‘normal’ 208. Only a subtle blue-green tinge to the Lion on its nose and rump and the ‘e-208’ badging gives it away.

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Official WLTP driving range for the e-208 is 211 miles, and charging is done via the CCS and Type 2 port located at the back where you expect a fuel cap to be.

Plug into a 7kW charger (the standard speed for most home chargers), and you’ll have a full battery in around 7.5 hours, which will cost around £7 on an average home tariff.

Find one of the 100kW rapid chargers that are being rolled out across the UK now, and you’ll get a 20-80% top-up in some 20 minutes. The more common 50kW chargers often found on the motorway will do the same in around 40 minutes.

The interior is a strong point, too, with a smart-looking, minimalist dash and touchscreen setup, room for four adults to sit comfortably and a useful 311-litre boot – although the fact that it lacks dedicated cable storage back there is a real shame. 

And what’s it like to drive? Effortless. Electric cars don’t have gears, so of course, you get the trademark constant stream of power, and while it’s not quick off the line it’s punchier than most petrol alternatives.

You might have to get used to the brake regeneration if you’ve never driven an electric car before. This system tops up the batteries when you’re coasting or braking by harvesting the car’s own forward motion. All it means is that the car slows down automatically when you lift off the throttle.

The e-208 has only two levels of brake regen’; the default mode is very light and you’ll barely notice it. Nudge the gearlever and it switches into heavier ‘B’ mode, which is great for around town as the car slows smoothly and predictably. If you do need to stand on the brakes for harder stopping, be prepared to feel the pedal response change clunkily as it switches to the ordinary friction brakes about halfway down the pedal throttle – it’s disconcerting if you’re not expecting it.

Overall, the e-208 feels like a car that sets out to relax rather than excite. You can feel that it’s heavier than its petrol siblings in the way it heaves a bit more over undulations, and body roll is very noticeable in all of the 208s, but most of the time the suspension settles down and feels calm and cushy. 

We can’t comment on how it stacks up against the obvious rivals as the Renault Zoe is due for a heavy facelift and we’re yet to drive the Vauxhall Corsa-e that shares the Peugeot’s platform and powertrain, and is set to be similarly priced.

And about that price; The e-208 is expected to cost from just under £25,000 after the government grant, and that’s not a small amount of cash even for a car that will get touchscreen nav, air-con, cruise control and more in its cheapest trim. 

When an equivalent mid-spec 98bhp 1.2 petrol is likely to be some £7000 cheaper, it’s still a big ask to go electric despite the savings you can make in running costs. Suave and likeable as the e-208 is, the finance deals will make or break its attainability. Hopefully, Peugeot can match Vauxhall’s confirmed Corsa-e deal of £270 per month after a £5000 deposit, which will give it a chance of selling in big numbers.

Still, if the costs to a retail buyer are potentially a bit teeth-sucking, company car buyers can get their hands on an electric car virtually free thanks to super-low tax bands confirmed for the next three years. So if you’re eligible for an electric car through your company, the e-208 is a great option. 

Our drive in a prototype suggests that the e-208 is exactly the laid back, understated-yet-desirable car that it needs to be. It’s easily sophisticated enough that it’ll steal sales from the Nissan Leaf as well as other electric and petrol cars, but costs and finance deals need to be good if it’s genuinely going to make a dent in the mainstream small car market.
  • Model: Peugeot e-208 Active
  • Price: £24,500 (after government grant)
  • Engine: Electric motor, 50kWh battery
  • Power/torque: 134bhp/270Nm
  • Transmission: Single-speed auto, front-wheel drive
  • 0-62mph: 8.2 seconds
  • Top speed: 99mphs
  • Range: 211 miles
  • On sale: Winter 2019

New Peugeot 208 2019 prototype review
Posted on Friday July 12, 2019

Peugeot 208 prototype - front tracking
12 Jul, 2019 4:30pm Vicky Parrott

We get behind the wheel of the new Peugeot 208 in prototype form to see if it can drive as well as it looks...

The Peugeot 208 doesn’t need much introduction. It’s the bread and butter of the small car world, along with key rivals like the Vauxhall Corsa (which now shares its platform and powertrains with this all-new 208) and Ford Fiesta.

Peugeot is pitching itself as ‘the classy one’ in this rather crowded corner of the market. The chunky but chic styling certainly backs that up, as does a rather executive-looking interior that borrows much of its styling from the Peugeot 508.

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The 208 is also going to bring electric motoring into the mainstream like never before, since it is offered in pure electric guise with a 211-mile driving range.

Here, we’re driving a prototype version of the 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol; the mid-level option in a line-up of three petrol engines that also include a 74bhp version of this engine, and a more powerful 128bhp version that comes with an eight-speed automatic gearbox as standard. A 98bhp diesel is also on offer.

Our time in the prototype version of the six-speed manual PureTech 100 backs up the on-paper figures that suggest this is the sweet spot in the range if you don’t fancy that electric version.

The engine needs to be revved quite a bit to get the best out of it, but it’s happy to thrum away cheerfully and is both quiet enough and pokey enough to do a great job of both town or motorway travel. The clutch action is vague in our car, and the gearknob is an unnecessarily large, squared-off affair that makes it feel like you’re changing gear with your wallet. But despite all that it’s not difficult to drive the 208 smoothly and with a bit of vigour.

Select Eco mode via the toggle switch under your elbow and the steering becomes overly light, but Normal weights things up and delivers more reassuring bite as you swing into a corner. At that point you’ll also find the 208’s neutral cornering style is absolutely fit for purpose, but a lot more flat-footed than the always entertaining Fiesta, or even the sharper SEAT Ibiza.

Don’t be misled by the Peugeot marketing, then, which will shout about driving excitement and ‘unboring’ the future. The 208 is a car that majors on comfort, refinement and a classy finish. It soaks up small bumps easily, delivering a loose, spongey ride comfort that‘ll sure to make light work of scruffy town roads. The compromise is some body lean even at low-speed cornering.

The main thing that characterises our 208 (which may yet be a fraction off the final production set-up) is just how grown up it feels. It doesn’t feel like a small, affordable car so much as a truncated executive car.

That’s in part thanks to the unruffled way it goes down the road, but it’s even more thanks to the interior. Some drivers will have to play around with the seat adjustment to find a position that allows them to see the dials clearly over the top of the small steering wheel, but the dense materials and variety of finishes in our Allure test car make it feel really classy. 

There’s even a driver readout with ‘3D’ look, thanks to select information being beamed onto a reflective screen. It looks a weird initially, but within a few minutes, your eyes get used to the fact that the digital speed readout appears to be jumping out of the dials.

Overall, the minimalist design and tactile materials make the 208 feel great inside, and while final details are yet to be confirmed you can expect the 208 to be one of the better-equipped options in this class - even in its cheapest guise, which is expected to cost from around £16,000.

It’s good for practicality, too. The new 208 is a five-door only, and while the rear door aperture is a little narrow, once you’ve slid onto the rear seats there’s room for two adults to get comfortable.

A 311-litre boot makes for plenty of space to throw a chunky buggy or a Labrador (maybe not both together), although it’s a shame that there’s no variable boot floor to create underfloor storage and a flush load lip.

Still, you can add a space-saver tyre without impacting on boot space, and other standard safety equipment includes traffic sign recognition and autonomous emergency braking, while blind-spot recognition and a semi-autonomous driving mode will be standard on higher-spec cars.

The new 208 is set to take the title of the most grown-up small car on sale – set apart by a classy interior and plush ride. It’s not exciting to drive, but if loads of tech and a premium feel is what you’re after, the Peugeot should be on your list.
  • Model: Peugeot 208 1.2 PureTech 100 Allure
  • Price: £18,000 (est)
  • Engine: 1.2-litre 3cyl turbo petrol
  • Power/torque: 98bhp/200Nm (est)
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
  • 0-62mph: 9.5 seconds (est)
  • Top speed: 115 mph (est)
  • Economy: 50mpg (est)/ 99g/km (est)
  • On sale: Winter 2019

Exclusive: MINI could become a fully electric brand
Posted on Friday July 12, 2019

Jonathan Burn 2019-07-12 15:30

MINI bosses eye 2030 as a possible date for the British brand to become fully electric

MINI Electric - front static

MINI could make the radical jump to becoming a fully electric car brand, senior bosses have exclusively revealed to Auto Express. 

The news follows quickly from the launch of the firm’s first EV, the MINI Electric, which has seen 40,000 customers register their interest online.

New MINI Electric revealed with 124-mile range

Peter Schwarzenbauer, Member of the Board of Management at BMW responsible for MINI, told us that legislation in major cities and increasing consumer interest in electric vehicles could see MINI becoming an electric only brand.

MINI Electric - charging

“For MINI, the Countryman as a plug-in hybrid was the first move - it is working much better than originally planned and shows electrifying MINI is the right way to go,” Schwarzenbauer explained. “But then for MINI and small cars you have to focus yourself on emission-free, fully electric. Step-by-step we electrify the MINI line-up completely - this fits perfectly with the brand. If you have in the automotive industry one brand which you can call urban it is MINI”.

Schwarzenbauer revealed that the interest and demand surrounding the new electric MINI took him by surprise, saying that he “hadn’t seen anything like it”. He added: “I feel the best times for MINI are yet to come.”

A switch to fully electric is unlikely to happen before 2030 as consumer demand for long-range vehicles remains strong. Schwarzenbauer added: “In this transition period it is important to have this choice, but beyond 2030 is a different ball game.

“The trend to becoming fully electric is totally clear, but what is the right path? We still think there are many customers who need long range mobility. We invested a lot of money to make our production lines much more flexible,” he said.

In the meantime BMW and MINI are working hard on reducing CO2 levels from its supply chain and converting all of its factories to run on renewable energy. “By 2020 all our production facilities worldwide will be on renewable energies,” Schwarzenbauer explained.

“We are working a lot on our supply chain and making it very transparent with what is happening. We work with thousands of parts and suppliers and we are making this process transparent to see what is happening in the entire logistic chain.”

Do you think MINI would be a success as a fully electric car brand? Let us know your thoughts below...

Police to use drones to target dangerous drivers
Posted on Friday July 12, 2019

Hugo Griffiths 2019-07-12 14:42

Initiative from London’s Metropolitan police will see drones target dangerous drivers and those taking part in street races


Dangerous and speeding drivers in the UK will soon be targeted by drones, after the Metropolitan police announced it would be using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to seek out dangerous motorists.

The drones will be used to look out for drivers taking part in street racing and driving in a dangerous manner, rather than target all speeding incidents, but their deployment marks the first time such devices have been used to monitor general road users. If dangerous incidents are detected by drone operators and observers, officers on the road will be instructed to intercept and pull offenders over.

UK to adopt EU-mandatory speed limiters

Detective Superintendent Andy Cox, the Met’s roads and traffic policing head, said drones are “one of many enforcement tactics being used” as part of London’s Vision Zero action week. Vision Zero aims to reduce the number of people killed or seriously injured in the capital by 65 per cent by 2022, and bring that figure down to zero by 2030.

Cox said the aim of the drones is to “deter dangerous driving”, and added that the overall message should be “drive lawfully, stay safe and keep a clean licence”. Cox added, though, that: “deterrence is sometimes best achieved through intense enforcement and that’s what this capability enables.”

The UAVs will be used to target drivers between 22 and 26 July in known hotspots such as the A10 in Enfield, which has seen eight road deaths in the last two years. The drones are equipped with night vision capabilities, and will be used high altitudes to monitor drivers without being seen, and at low altitudes to act as a deterrent. Detective Superintendent Cox said: “The focus will be on dangerous drivers who are racing and those putting their lives and other people’s at risk.”

Do you think the use of drones to police the roads is a good idea? Let us know in the comments...

New Suzuki Swift Attitude 2019 review
Posted on Friday July 12, 2019

Suzuki Swift Attitude - front
12 Jul, 2019 1:45pm Alex Ingram

The new Suzuki Swift Attitude gives the supermini a dash of sporting flair without breaking the budget

This is the Suzuki Swift Attitude: a trim level that aims to give the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo competitor a hot hatch vibe on a supermini budget. Prices start from £14,099, meaning that the Attitude costs about the same as the most basic versions of its more popular rivals. 

Using the Swift SZ3 trim as a starting point, the Attitude is upgraded with a string of sporty add-ons. Around the lower edges of the car, the Attitude gets splitters, skirts and diffusers finished in the same sabon carbon fibre-esque trim that you get on the Swift Sport.

Best superminis on the market

Further changes include a mesh grille at the front and a big spoiler at the back. The usual SZ3 wheel trims are replaced by 16-inch alloy wheels, and the Attitude’s exterior extras are completed by front fog lights, rear privacy glass, and special badging.

Inside, the Attitude’s kit levels largely mirror the SZ3, which means that air conditioning, Bluetooth and front electric windows are all standard. However, where the SZ3 gets a very basic radio head unit which looks like a late-nineties throwback, the Attitude gets a touchscreen navigation system. It’s a bit clunky to use and the graphics aren’t the best, but it’s fine for the money, especially considering it comes with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The dashboard itself is logically laid out, but it looks a little plain and the materials feel a brittle compared to the similarly-priced alternatives.

The Attitude is only available with the Swift’s entry-level engine, however. That means that it misses out on the lively 1.0-litre turbocharged ‘Boosterjet’ engine and the mild-hybrid options offered in other trim levels; instead power comes from a 1.2-litre naturally-aspirated petrol unit. While 89bhp and 120Nm doesn’t sound like much, the Swift has weight on its side: it tips the scales at around 900kg, so performance is lively enough for town driving and the occasional motorway run. 

But unlike so many cars in this class now, the 1.2 lacks a turbo, so anyone used to a Ford Fiesta Ecoboost or the 1.0-litre TSI used in Volkswagen Group cars will find that it needs plenty more revs and a lot more gearchanging to make the same progress. However, that’s not a complete disaster, as the five-speed manual box is fun to shift between ratios.

And fun is a theme that very much runs through the Swift’s general disposition. That light weight pays dividends through the corners, where it feels agile and keen to turn in to corners. There’s not much body roll either, though some rivals do feel more composed and more relaxing across a bumpy road. Many are quieter at higher speeds, too, so the Swift is at its best around town.

It’s small for the class, measuring roughly 200mm shorter than the supermini average. This has its pros and cons: its dinky dimensions make it easy to park, but conversely it’s a little cramped in the back seats and the boot.

Fuelling costs will be low, thanks to official fuel consumption figures of 55.4mpg – a number which seemed fairly achievable in the real world during our test drive – and CO2 emissions rated at 124g/km. Insurance costs are higher though: while many rivals dip under group 10, the Swift is rated at group 25.

The Suzuki Swift Attitude is currently available to order on a zero per cent PCP finance deal. This means that with a £2,210 deposit, buyers can finance the Attitude over four years at a rate of just £139 per month.

The Attitude trim level injects a little sporty style into the Suzuki Swift range without any extra expense. As a result, the same pros and cons of the other models remain: it’s fun to drive and cheap to fuel, but it’s lags behind some rivals for refinement and the interior feels a little cheap. Still, at this price it’s easy to forgive some of the shortcomings. If you don’t need the extra power of the sweet 1.0-litre Boosterjet engine, the Attitude will be the pick of the Swift range.
  • Model: Suzuki Swift 1.2 Attitude Dualjet MT
  • Price: £14,099
  • Engine: 1.2-litre 4cyl petrol
  • Power/torque: 89bhp/120Nm
  • Transmission: Five-speed manual, front-wheel drive
  • 0-62mph: 11.5 seconds
  • Top speed: 111mph
  • Economy/CO2: 55.4mpg/124g/km
  • On sale: Now

'Manufacturers are building cars designed to last, and it's hurting them'
Posted on Friday July 12, 2019

Mike Rutherford 2019-07-13 16:00

The quality of cars today is so good that customers are keeping them longer which is hurting new car sales, says Mike Rutherford

OPINION new car sales

So well designed, brilliantly built, impressively reliable and stubbornly long-lasting are many of the cars made during the past decade or so, that owners are increasingly unwilling to ditch them – even when their motors breach 100,000 miles. 

The old adage goes ‘they don’t make ’em like they used to’, and that’s true. Fact is, in the 2000s-2010s they’ve been building them better than they used to. 

New cars sales 2019

For the cash-strapped motorist with an on-call breakdown/recovery service, plus a contingency fund for unexpected repairs and MoT scares, ageing cars are great. Those prepared to put up with the uncertainties and risks know that the right modest old car can be owned and run for ridiculously little money. 

But this is a double-edged sword and a major – and worsening – headache for car manufacturers, some of whom are already unprofitable. They desperately need to sell growing volumes of factory-fresh cars – not just a few spare parts to keep old bangers chugging along – simply in order to survive, before reinvesting their profits into products, production lines and personnel.  

Up-to-the-minute figures I’ve just unearthed provide clear evidence that cars are not only lasting longer now, but are also remaining on the road for more years than expected.

The Department of Transport (DfT) states that in the early 2000s, cars averaged a life of just six and a half years. Yet the Society of Motor Manufacturers quietly announced in recent days that the “average car on the road in the UK [in 2018] was eight years old”. Intriguingly, the DfT reckons petrol cars are now kept longer, and longest – 9.1 years.  

Look at the bigger picture and the whole of the EU, and cars are being kept even longer – 11.1 years on average. And the US revealed a few days ago that the average age of its light vehicles (cars and pick-ups) has jumped significantly, to 11.8 years. 

None of the above was in the script. The traditional business model for global mass producers is that they’re supposed to hit the sweet spot by manufacturing cars that are good enough to last about one decade (or just under), but not so damn good that they’ll happily keep going for decades. 

Best selling cars in the UK 2019

I never thought I’d think or say this, but I will: perhaps car corporations are building their cars too well, and making them too resilient these days? 

Maybe they need to do the unthinkable and build them a little, er, less well, thereby reducing production costs while ensuring that the vehicles don’t last quite as long. Alternatively, they need to make at least some of their new cars so deliciously low-priced that even used-car diehards will find them irresistible. 

Dacia has sensibly set the ball rolling with its latest £500-down, £99-a-month deal. Citroen is generously weighing in with free insurance on some factory-fresh models.

Other manufacturers must take similarly dramatic action if they’re to put more paying customers into more brand new cars. And if they don’t? They’re toast.

Do you agree with Mike that new cars are built too well? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below...

New Mazda CX-30 2019 review
Posted on Friday July 12, 2019

Mazda CX-30 - front
14 Jul, 2019 11:00pm James Brodie

The new Mazda CX-30 compact crossover is based on the impressive 3 hatchback, but is it as good on the road?

This is the car that could become Mazda’s best-seller in Europe. It’s the new CX-30, a compact crossover that slots into the gap between the CX-3 and the CX-5.

So why isn’t it called the CX-4, you ask? That already exists as a car for the Chinese market and is a different proposition, while this newcomer is looking to build on the momentum established by its hatchback sibling: the recently launched new Mazda 3.

Best crossovers on sale right now

Sizing up at 4,395mm long and 1,795mm wide, the CX-30 slots neatly into the compact crossover class, being just a little bit larger than the Volkswagen T-Roc, fairly similar in size to the Range Rover Evoque, and just a little bit smaller than the chunky Volvo XC40. But there really is no end to the list of rivals this new car faces; the Toyota C-HR, Mercedes GLA, Peugeot 3008 and more line up against it.

On closer inspection it’s certainly more than just a Mazda 3 on stilts. The bodywork is all new and subtly different, with a more practical rear third to go with the rugged-looking black cladding that lines the sills and wheelarches. Other than that, though, this car uses the same platform as the 3 and is being launched with the same engines: a 114bhp 1.8-litre SkyActiv-D diesel and a 120bhp SkyActiv-G 2.0-litre petrol, as driven here with a six-speed automatic gearbox. The new SkyActiv-X compression-ignition petrol engine will also be available when the CX-30 arrives in dealers in November, we’re told.

Inside, the layout of the dashboard and switchgear is similar to that of the Mazda 3, save for a bit of extra padding on the top of the facia. This is good news; the new 3 wowed us with its level of perceived quality when we first drove it, and it’s the same case here. Materials are strong and high-quality, switches operate satisfyingly and are logically laid out, and the new 8.8-inch infotainment display is sharp and easy to use. Overall, the CX-30 definitely steps on the toes of premium rivals for luxury, and leaves behind its more mainstream rivals.

There’s plenty of space up front, and Mazda has nailed the CX-30’s driving position. However, a tall passenger sitting behind a tall driver may find legroom a little restricted, and the transmission tunnel is quite high, limiting legroom in the middle seat. The boot opening is wide and tall, but with all seats in place the capacity is 430 litres – considerably less than you’d find in, say, a Skoda Karoq.

Get behind the wheel and the CX-30 feels every bit as strong as the 3 – although this isn’t down to the engine. The modest torque of the 120bhp SkyActiv-G means progress is a little lacklustre, with 11.2 seconds needed to hit 62mph from a standstill. On hilly roads the auto gearbox keeps the engine in the higher reaches of the rev-band, spoiling its otherwise impressive refinement. We’d stick with the excellent sharp-shifting six-speed manual gearbox in any case.

The torque of the diesel could be a tempting remedy for many, but thankfully the CX-30 is a crossover suited to carrying its momentum. With the raised ride height, there’s more body roll than in the 3, yet the basic strengths of that car’s chassis remain, along with accurate, well weighted steering.

At speed, the ride smooths out nicely and the engine is very quiet at a motorway cruise, making it relaxing away from the bends. But our test car’s damping seemed a little too keen to transmit judders into the cabin at low speeds in town.

We’ll find out about UK specs and prices shortly, but we’re told that the line-up will strongly mirror that of the 3. If so, expect good levels of standard equipment for the money. But remember, the CX-30’s rivals may not feature such impressively executed interiors or solid dynamics, yet almost all of them offer torquier, more powerful turbocharged engines.

Much like the new Mazda 3 hatchback, the CX-30 is a good car lacking a good petrol engine. However, we’re told that the 178bhp SkyActiv-X motor will be available when the car arrives in November, and it should go some way to addressing this. Interior quality surpasses that of most mainstream rivals, and the CX-30 is good to drive, but there are more practical options.
  • Model: Mazda CX-30 SkyActiv-G 122 GT Sport Auto
  • Price: £29,000 (est)
  • Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl petrol
  • Power/torque: 120bhp/213Nm
  • Transmission: Six-speed auto, front-wheel drive
  • 0-62mph: 11.2 seconds
  • Top speed: 116mph
  • Economy/CO2: 42.8mpg/126g/km
  • On sale: November

Long-term review: Ford Focus Titanium X
Posted on Friday July 12, 2019

Long term review: Ford Focus Titanium X - header
14 Jul, 2019 10:00am Stuart Milne

First report: the Ford Focus Titanium X is one of the best hatchbacks around, but how does it compare to its first-generation predecessor?

Mileage: 340
Economy: 44.2mpg 

It’s hard to believe that the Ford Focus has been with us for more than two decades. Over four generations of the model, Ford has shifted more than two million of them in the UK alone. And although the design is more than 20 years old, even the earliest versions seem fresh, with an eager chassis, steering that’s full of feel, and a sharp design. So much so that I’ve driven dozens and even owned two over the years, including the estate version in our photo.

As a cheap, spacious family runabout, the car is hard to beat. Despite the lack of power from its 1.6-litre engine and decidedly old-school ‘slush box’, I like it very much indeed. So the very latest Focus already has a tough act to follow in the Milne household.

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First impressions count, and the new car scores well. Slightly awkward front end aside, it could pass for a much more upmarket car, particularly at the rear, where it bears comparison with Mercedes’ latest A-Class.

The interior looks the part, too, especially with a crisp touchscreen and clear dials, although some of the touchpoints lack the last degree of finesse. The optional dark grey metallic paint, called Magnetic, has a deep sheen, which goes some way to justifying the rather steep £700 cost.

The doors shut with an Audi-like solidity, and the whole driving experience feels more polished than in the past couple of generations. The 2.0-litre diesel engine in our car is smooth and punchy, and quiet, too, both inside the cabin and outside.

In Titanium X spec, the ride is excellent. While the original Focus sought to rob sales from the Vauxhall Astra and Honda Civic, this new model feels quite a lot like a VW Golf.

And so it should, because our car costs £25,555. But in fairness, Titanium X models like this come with more or less everything you really need, including part-leather trim, an electrically operated driver’s seat, 17-inch alloys and tinted rear windows.

That’s in addition to the Titanium’s LED rear lights, front and rear parking sensors, heated front seats, powered mirrors with puddle lights, and the SYNC 3 infotainment system with voice control, which is operated through a responsive and clear touchscreen.

One of the most prosaic features found on high-spec Focus models is probably one of the most important. That’s because, like many new cars, the Focus comes with the kind of keyless entry system that is a much-publicised security risk

The latest set-up removes the need to store the key in a Faraday pouch, by entering a sleep mode after movement stops for 40 seconds. It’s then claimed to be impervious to scanners and Ford says the key will only work within a two-metre radius of the car.

Our Focus has a few well-priced options fitted, too. The £500 Driver Assistance Pack bundles traffic-sign recognition, auto high beam and adaptive cruise control, while the BLIS pack (blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert and braking) is a further £400. The Convenience Pack is perhaps the best value, with a remarkably clear wide-angle reversing camera, clever door-edge protectors and automatic park assist.

The decision whether to choose the B&O Play audio upgrade is slightly harder. It has 10 speakers and a 675-watt amplifier, and sounds superb, with the kind of quality and volume you’d pay a great deal more for in other cars. But it’s a shame that it eats into the boot space significantly because the subwoofer sits in the spare-wheel well. 

A reasonable 341 litres is cut to just 273, which may well be a deal-breaker for some – even if it swallows my daughter’s scooter, son’s buggy and other bits with relative ease. 

Still, none of that matters when you’re behind the wheel, because the Focus is as agile as C-sector hatchbacks come. It has the tied-down feel and stability that marked the original out as the driver’s choice in its class. 

The game has moved on, though, and the Focus and its rivals in 2019 are much closer. However, it’s still superb fun. As is the way in an economy-focused world, the original Focus’s hydraulic power-steering has been replaced by an electric set-up. This masks a fraction of delicacy – but you’ll be enjoying yourself too much to notice.

It’s still very early days, but the new Ford Focus is shaping up to be the most entertaining and stylish version for 20 years. Yes, we love the old model, but this new one is even better.
  • Model: Ford Focus 2.0 EcoBlue 150PS Titanium X
  • On fleet since: June 2019
  • Price new: £25,555
  • Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl diesel, 148bhp
  • CO2/Tax: 114g/km/£145
  • Options: Metallic paint (£700), wireless charging pad (£100), Driver Assistance Pack (£500), blind-spot assist (£400), Convenience Pack (£500), B&O Play audio upgrade (£550)
  • Insurance: Group: 18
  • Mileage/mpg: 340/44.2mpg
  • Any problems?: None so far

New Range Rover Sport HST 2019 review
Posted on Friday July 12, 2019

Range Rover Sport HST - front
12 Jul, 2019 11:15am Steve Sutcliffe

The Range Rover Sport HST debuts the brand's new 3.0-litre straight-six engine, which will eventually make its way into most of JLR's range

It costs a whopping £81,250, and for the time being it’s special order only, but the new Range Rover Sport HST is a hugely significant vehicle – not just for Land Rover, but for the entire JLR organisation. 

Why? Because its new 3.0-litre straight-six petrol engine contains technology that will, in the fullness of time, find its way into much of the maker’s range.

Best SUVs on sale right now

JLR announced recently that by 2020 every single car it sells will contain some kind of electrification or will, indeed, be a full-EV. It was a bold statement, yet the engine in this new HST proves that it’s not, in fact, hyperbole.

It’s a straight-six rather than a V6, for starters, with Land Rover’s engineers claiming that an in-line arrangement is inherently smoother than a vee. In-line sixes were, after all, a part of the Jaguar design ethos, long before they swapped to V8s. 

But the more significant aspects of this brand-new engine concern its 48v electrically powered supercharger, and its more conventional turbo, plus its mild-hybrid system, which also uses a 48-volt battery.

Together, these elements help the HST generate 395bhp and 550Nm, from a mere 2996cc. But what defines the HST’s engine is, says Land Rover, that smoothness – allied to its much improved efficiency and economy.

So while the HST manages only 30.5mpg on the combined cycle and still emits 213g/km, these are decently impressive numbers for a 2.5-tonne vehicle, especially when you consider that the 0-62mph takes just 6.2 seconds, with the top speed quoted at 140mph.

The engine works in an intriguing way, too, with the electric supercharger effectively filling in the gap where the turbo suffers a natural degree of lag. You also get mild regeneration from the hybrid system under brakes or when you lift off, so the system is constantly recharging itself, albeit subtly.

On the move it means the HST feels unusually smooth and potent, especially in the low to mid-range. It feels like you’ve got an atmospheric 4.0-litre engine beneath your right foot, and despite the technology it feels very natural in its delivery, which is something Land Rover’s engineers worked especially hard to achieve.

If there is a criticism it’s that the engine doesn’t feel or sound just as silky as it could, or should, in the very upper reaches of the rev range. It doesn’t feel particularly strained, and there are no unwanted vibrations at high revs, but neither does it sing over the last 1,000rpm. In a Range Rover this doesn’t really matter, of course, but in the more sportingly Jaguar XE or XF – both of which are calling out for this engine – it may be more of an issue. 

Elsewhere, the HST gets a unique set of design features, both inside and out. On the inside there is Alcantara on the steering wheel and gear lever, and the seat trim is bespoke. On the outside there are new alloy wheel designs (two to choose from) and ever so slightly vulgar red brake calipers to distinguish it from its lesser siblings.

It may not look much different, but beneath the bonnet this new Range Rover Sport HST is very different indeed. This engine technology will make its way into many other Jaguar Land Rover models in the next few years and, mostly, it works a treat. It's smooth, fast, and relatively economical – and in something like a Jaguar XE it should provide real fireworks.
  • Model: Range Rover Sport HST
  • Price: £81,250
  • Engine: 3.0-litre 6cyl turbo petrol MHEV
  • Transmission: Eight-speed auto, four-wheel drive
  • Power/torque: 395bhp/550Nm
  • 0-62mph: 6.2 seconds
  • Top speed: 140mph
  • Economy/CO2: 30.5mpg/213g/km
  • On sale: Now

New Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross Black Connected 2019 review
Posted on Friday July 12, 2019

Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross Black Connected - front
12 Jul, 2019 10:00am Alex Ingram

The new Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross Black Connected arrives to sit at the top of the SUV's range, but is it worth the extra money?

This is the Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross Black Connected. The new trim level sits at the top of the brand’s family SUV line-up, designed to compete against snazzier versions of the Nissan Qashqai, Peugeot 3008, and our favourite family SUV, the Skoda Karoq.

As the name suggests, the Black gets some moody-looking accessories to help it stand out from the lesser Eclipse Cross variants. The usual silver front and rear skid plates are painted black, and there’s also a black finish for the front grille, door mirrors, door trims and 18-inch alloy wheels. There are three exterior colours to choose from: white, grey and black.

Best crossovers and small SUVs

Elsewhere, equipment levels are generous. Standard features include LED headlights, a panoramic sunroof, heated front seats, a head-up display and dual-zone climate control. The Black Connected also offers an upgraded sound system and leather seats with contrast orange stitching.

All of this kit is crammed into a cabin that looks smart enough, and one that’s a step up in style and functionality compared to Mitsuibishi stablemates like the ASX. The dash top is soft to the touch, but elsewhere there’s plenty of hard, scratchy plastics. There’s a few too many random finishes, too; the window switch surrounds are covered in fake carbon fibre trim that isn’t found anywhere else, for example, which makes it feel a little fussy. It’s all solidly screwed together, though, and the front seats are very comfy.

The ‘Connected’ part of this trim level’s name hints at an uprated infotainment system. While the units in other Mitsubishis feel like clunky aftermarket add-ons, the unit in the Black Connected looks sharp, and is responsive to touch inputs. You’ll need a smartphone with either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto though - there’s no built-in sat-nav - but otherwise it gets the job done. This considered, it’s a bit annoying that the shelf below the screen isn’t quite big enough for a modern device - especially if you plug a USB cable in to it.

As with other Eclipse Cross models, practicality is a bit of a mixed bag. The inclusion of a rear sliding bench gives the Mitsubishi something unusual in this class, and it’s easy to use via a couple of levers beneath the seats. Legroom is great when the bench is set to its rearmost position, but it comes with a compromise; like this, the boot measures just 341 litres - less than a Volkswagen Golf

You can slide the seat all the way forward if you need more storage space, but that forces the rear passengers to keep their knees up by their ears – ears that themselves will almost be brushing the ceiling, as the panoramic sunroof eats into headroom. With the seats as far forward as they go, the volume is still only 448 litres - a Skoda Karoq, despite being 23mm shorter than the Eclipse Cross, offers 521 litres. The Skoda has ample cabin space, too.

Of course, you can get around the lack of sat-nav, and you won’t be loading up the car to the brim with people and things every day, but it’s out on the road where the Eclipse Cross really struggles against the class leaders. The ride does a decent job of dealing with big bumps, yet it constantly fidgets around over rougher surfaces, even at motorway speeds.

And at higher speeds, problems with the steering begin to present themselves, too. The rack feels vague, which means that it demands constant corrections to keep the car pointing in a straight line. Not only does this not instill much confidence on a twisty road, but it’s something that will become tiring on a longer run.

Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross long-term review

Power comes from a 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine, and buyers can choose from a front-wheel drive model with a manual gearbox or the four-wheel drive version with an auto driven here. The auto gearbox is a CVT unit, but one with artificial steps to make it behave more like a conventional box. In practice, it works reasonably well; it largely removes the droning effect under acceleration that usually hampers a CVT’s refinement, yet settles down to minimal revs at a cruise. It’s possible to take control with steering wheel-mounted paddles, which respond quickly.

Smooth though the gearbox is, the powertrain falls down in two key areas: performance and economy. A Skoda Karoq powered by a 1.5-litre turbo, mated to an auto gearbox and four-wheel drive, takes almost a second and a half less to accelerate from zero to 62mph. 

As for the thirst, the Eclipse Cross is achieves 32.5mpg in official tests, but even that is a number we struggled to match in the real world. Whether driving in town or on motorways, or cruising along a country road, consumption stayed pretty consistently in the mid-twenties. CO2 emissions of 175g/km puts the Eclipse Cross in the top 37 per cent bracket - five bands higher than the Skoda.

And then there’s the price. This model costs a smidge over £31k. There isn’t a free colour option on Black Connected trim, so you pay at least £555 on top of that. To put that into perspective, the Karoq 1.5 TSI 4x4 auto costs £30,990 in Scout trim; a car that is more spacious, faster, comfier, quieter, cheaper to run, more fun to drive, and with a slicker infotainment system.

In a class where there are so many talented options, the Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross Black Connected edition struggles to stand out. While it’s spacious inside, and the sliding rear seat bench adds to its practical appeal, there are simply too many compromises elsewhere. It’s too thirsty, too fidgety, and too vague to drive. In top-spec trim, it’s hard to recommend; those who really want an Eclipse Cross would be better off saving the best part of £10,000 and choosing the entry-level car.
  • Model: Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross Black Connected
  • Price: £31,040
  • Engine: 1.5-litre 4cyl turbo petrol
  • Power/torque: 161bhp/250Nm
  • Transmission: CVT auto, four-wheel drive
  • 0-62mph: 10.4 seconds
  • Top speed: 124mph
  • Economy/CO2: 32.5mpg/175g/km
  • On sale: Now

Volkswagen Beetle production finally ends
Posted on Thursday July 11, 2019

Luke Wilkinson 2019-07-11 16:01

The very last Volkswagen Beetle has rolled off the production line at Volkswagen Mexico’s facility

Volkswagen Beetle production line

The Volkswagen Beetle has ended production. The iconic car has been a staple of Volkswagen's line-up since 1945, racking up more than 21 million sales worldwide across its three generations. The last ever model rolled off the firm’s production line on Wednesday 10th July in Puebla, Mexico.

The Puebla plant will soon be reconfigured to produce a new, North American market-focussed compact SUV which will slot into Volkswagen’s line-up below the current Tiguan. The final Beetle, which features a custom dashboard and quilted seats, will live on a commemorative display at Volkswagen’s museum local to the factory.

Volkswagen Beetle Dune review

The first-generation Volkswagen Beetle “Type 1” survived a 58-year production run, with the final example rolling off the line in 2003. The last examples remained faithful to the original model, (with the exception of fuel injection and disc brakes), sharing the first Beetle’s classic styling and rear-mounted air-cooled engine.

In 1998, Volkswagen released the second-generation “New Beetle” in Europe and gradually phased out the long-lived Type 1 in Mexico and South America. It shared its underpinnings with the Mk4 VW Golf and was an early adopter of “modern retro” design, predating the BMW MINI by two years.

The second-generation model was discontinued in 2010, by which time more than 1.2 million examples had been sold. It was replaced by the third (and final) generation Beetle in 2011. Based on the Mk6 Golf, it was available in hardtop and convertible body styles and was offered with a wide range of customisation options.

Since the second-generation variant, production was handled entirely by Volkswagen’s Puebla facility, which supplied cars to 91 markets worldwide. Scott Keogh, CEO of Volkswagen America, summarised the passing of the Beetle saying: “It’s impossible to imagine where Volkswagen would be without the Beetle.

Volkswagen Beetle production line

“From its launch in 1949 to today’s retro-inspired design, it has showcased our company’s ability to fit round pegs into square holes of the automotive industry. While its time has come, the role it has played in the evolution of our brand will be forever cherished.”

Potentially, Volkswagen could revive the Beetle nameplate in the future with a new, retro-inspired all-electric model, based on the same modified MEB underpinnings as the I.D. Buggy. Official plans are yet to be confirmed, but the new Beetle could be a more authentic representation of the original car, with a rear-mounted electric motor and rear-wheel-drive.

Will you mourn the passing of the Volkswagen Beetle? Let us know in the comments section below…

New Maserati Levante Trofeo 2019 review
Posted on Thursday July 11, 2019

Maserati Levante Trofeo front tracking
11 Jul, 2019 11:15am Matt Joy

The Maserati Levante Trofeo has been given a twin turbo V8 engine, but does it have the ability to take on Porsche’s Cayenne Turbo?

Maserati’s Levante is still only three years old, but in that short time it has become the marque’s best-selling car by some margin. Now the range is expanding further with the introduction of two V8-powered models, designed with performance in mind.

The Levante GTS makes 523bhp and 710Nm of torque from its 3.8-litre petrol engine, while the top-specification Trofeo takes this up to 572bhp and 730Nm, making it the most powerful series-production Maserati ever. That puts it in direct competition with high-performance SUVs like the Porsche Cayenne Turbo and Audi SQ8.

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The V8 engine is similar to that already used in the Maserati Quattroporte GTS (not sold in the UK) and Ferrari’s 488 models, but with some detail alterations to ensure it could work in tandem with the Q4 all-wheel-drive system and eight-speed automatic transmission. 

Both the GTS and Trofeo versions of the Levante send 100 per cent of the torque to the rear wheels in normal driving, only switching to the front when required. A mechanical limited-slip differential is also fitted, while torque vectoring contributes to the Levante’s agility by braking the inside rear wheel.

To cope with the additional performance the Levante’s air suspension and electronic Skyhook damping have been recalibrated, and both models also benefit from Integrated Vehicle Control, an electronic system designed to anticipate the driver’s action and adjust the engine, brakes and steering operation instead of reacting in the manner of the ESP.

Visually, the hottest Levantes are easy to spot, with the GTS model getting more aggressive front and rear body-coloured bumpers with piano black detailing, a subtle rear spoiler and a chromed surround for the front grille. The more exclusive Trofeo adds carbon details to the larger front bumper, a bonnet with enlarged cooling ducts and carbon detailing on the rear bumper. Both models get 21-inch wheels as standard, with 22-inch versions available as an option. Inside both versions get upgraded leather, premium sound systems and a redesigned gearshifter that is easier to operate in both manual and automatic modes.

Start up the Levante Trofeo and even with the drive mode set to normal, the V8 fires with a significant rumble from the exhaust. In fact it is the engine that dominates the driving experience, whether you are cruising on the motorway or making the most of the available performance on a winding back road. With so much torque on offer it is a relaxing car to drive; the automatic gearbox shifts with smoothness and reasonable speed.

Noise levels are kept low, with only the occasional growl from the exhaust if you tread the throttle. A little less impressive is the ride quality; on most roads the Levante Trofeo feels composed and comfortable, but the air suspension sometimes struggles with larger undulations, resulting in some diagonal body movement. Even so, it fulfills the brief of offering luxurious, comfortable transport.

The Levante Trofeo is at its best when in Sport or Corsa modes, when you ask the engine to give its all. Switch the gearbox into manual mode and the 3.8-litre unit will rev with freedom and purpose up to 7,000rpm, accompanied by an intoxicating roar from the exhaust opened up in the more aggressive modes. The performance itself is equally impressive, despatching the 0-62mph sprint in a fraction over four seconds and running comfortably close to 190mph.

The engine’s enthusiasm encourages you to drive it hard, and although it is undoubtedly the Trofeo’s strength, the rest of the dynamics are up to the mark too. Although the gearbox is a conventional automatic it shifts promptly and quickly via the paddles, with only the slightest occasional pause during a downshift.

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Even during extreme use the brakes remain consistent and powerful, and the steering is improved further still in the more dynamic settings - both the GTS and Trofeo have revised programming for the electric power steering. Traction is excellent, even in slippery conditions, and the Trofeo rewards keen drivers with accurate responses to inputs.

The V8s are the best Levantes to date, with the Trofeo showing the sporty SUV in its best light. There are quality quibbles and ultimately it is not as satisfying to drive as the Cayenne, but it is a charming and desirable machine – if you can live with the price.
  • Model: Maserati Levante 3.8 V8 Trofeo
  • Price: £124,900
  • Engine: 3.8-litre V8 turbo petrol
  • Power/torque: 572bhp/730Nm
  • Transmission: Eight-speed auto, four-wheel drive
  • 0-62mph: 4.1 seconds
  • Top speed : 186mph
  • Fuel economy/CO2: 20.6mpg/319g/km
  • On sale: Now

Volkswagen ID.3 vs Volkswagen e-Golf
Posted on Thursday July 11, 2019

Andreas May 2019-07-11 10:20

We compare the new Volkswagen ID.3 to the e-Golf to see how far electric tech has come

Volkswagen ID.3 vs Volkswagen e-Golf - header

If you’re still one of those who doubts the future of electric mobility, then the forthcoming Volkswagen ID.3 hatchback should be enough to push you over the line.

That’s our conclusion after a short drive in a prototype of the new model around Wolfsburg recently. And just to confirm this opinion, we brought along a current e-Golf to help size up the first offering from VW’s pure-electric ID. sub-brand.

• Best electric cars on sale right now

To recap, the new ID.3 will be offered with a choice of three battery sizes, giving 205, 261 or 342 miles of range. And the entry point of the line-up should start from around £26,000 or less.

We begin our assessment by revisiting the current VW pure-electric hatch – but the e-Golf already feels like it’s old tech. While it serves a purpose, with a range of 144 miles and a price tag of £30,000, this really is a hard car to recommend these days.

But the Mk7.5 e-Golf won’t be replaced; instead VW will point you towards the ID.3. That feels appropriate; after a short spin in the Golf and a jump into the back to test rear legroom, we feel ready to move on, and the ID.3 is a very different experience.

VW will reveal the final car at September’s Frankfurt Motor Show, but we already know a lot about it. The ID.3 is one centimetre shorter than a Golf, at 4.26 metres, but two centimetres wider and, thanks to the batteries under the floor, a full 17cm taller.

Inside, the ID.3’s boot capacity is 390 litres – only 10 litres more than the Golf’s – but more significantly the wheelbase is 14cm longer. The Golf has never been a small car inside, but the ID.3 allows you to sit like you’re in a Skoda Superb; rear-seat occupants have space to cross their legs.

The ID.3’s facia is covered up. But we’ve had a peek and can tell you that the steering wheel has multifunction buttons, and there’s a small ‘pod’ display showing speed, battery levels and the selected gear. To the right of this is a toggle, similar to what you’ll find in a BMW i3, which you push forward for drive and pull back for reverse.

VW has learned from Tesla for the ID.3’s start procedure, so you don’t turn it on or off. You just unlock it, climb in, select ‘D’ on the gear toggle and drive off. And when you get to your destination, press ‘P’ for the parking brake, climb out, lock it and you’re done.

On the road, a few things stand out. The first is the turning circle, which feels small for a family-size hatchback; this has been made possible, we suspect, by the fact that the ID.3 is rear-wheel drive. The body control and agility are strong points, too, helped no doubt by a lower centre of gravity.

Performance is more than adequate; the car we’re driving has a higher output than the entry-level car, so 201bhp and 310Nm of torque, and we enjoy exploiting the instant response on Wolfsburg’s streets. Such behaviour would cripple battery range in the e-Golf, but based on our short drive, the ID.3’s range actually seems achievable.

Whether the ID.3 is really an electric car for the masses is perhaps questionable. But up to now, e-mobility has generally been the domain of the wealthy, thanks to Tesla, Jaguar and Audi. In that context, the ID.3 is a capable electric family car that costs the same as a well specced Golf diesel. Finally, E is within reach.

Stay up to date with the latest Volkswagen ID.3 news with our dedicated page

Tesla Model 3 review
Posted on Wednesday July 10, 2019

Great real-world range
Impressive performance
Minimalist interior
Our Rating 
Relatively pricey
Ride is slightly firm
No Apple CarPlay or Android Auto
Tesla Model 3 cornering

The Tesla Model 3 offers impressive performance, great range and a unique take on car design. It’s an expensive EV but one of the best

The Tesla Model 3 is one of the best EVs around: practical, high-tech and boasting great performance and range. Understated styling hides a sophisticated electric drivetrain and an ultra-modern interior that’s dominated by a huge touchscreen.

The Model 3 is the cheapest car in the Tesla range but doesn’t feel too far off the larger Model S in terms of quality or practicality. It’s big enough for four adults to travel in comfort; combined with fantastic refinement, the Model 3 is a relaxed car in which to spend time. It's fast too – the Performance model can give most sporty saloons a run for their money.

If you aren’t intimidated by the amount of cutting-edge technology, the Tesla Model 3 is one of the best electric cars on sale today. For a few thousand pounds more than a Kia e-Niro you get a product that feels more special.

11 Jul, 2019

Externally, the Tesla Model 3 looks much like a shrunken Model S thanks to simple, unfussy lines, curvy bodywork and a grille-free front end. It’s a design that manages to look upmarket without appearing overly flashy. In fact, those who don’t know cars probably won’t take a second look. The car features a short bonnet that’s facilitated by its ‘skateboard’ chassis – the drivetrain and its batteries are mounted as low as possible in the car, creating more interior space and decent storage areas both front and rear.

Step inside and the Model 3’s conservative exterior is brought into sharp contrast by a futuristically minimalist interior. It’s almost entirely dominated by a central 15-inch infotainment screen that controls all major (and minor) functions, while even the air vents are tucked away neatly behind an otherwise plain dashboard. The only physical buttons are those for the windows and on the steering wheel, with the latter two being used to control much of the functions displayed on-screen.

Limited trim options keep things simple in what seems to be a well built interior filled with decent-quality materials. Its simplicity also bodes well for longevity too – squeaks and rattles shouldn’t be an issue.

Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment

There’s a bit of a learning curve for users of the Model 3’s all-encompassing infotainment system, especially if you’re used to more conventional cars. We found the system largely intuitive but changing some settings proved fiddly – especially those that would have separate physical controls in other cars. The climate control system takes some getting used to in this respect but we quickly got used to its unique style of operation.

The 15-inch screen is standard on all Model 3s, as are four USB ports and docking support for two mobile phones. The screen is sharp, clear and amongst the very best we’ve ever tested. Clever features include an internet browser, sophisticated car information readouts and Telsa’s tongue-in-cheek features such as games, a virtual fireplace and even a simulated whoopie cushion (yes, really).

There's no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto support, with Tesla preferring to use its own method of smartphone integration. We had no problems with Tesla's on-board system, while the sat-nav system is particularly impressive.


Tesla has built a reputation for making cars that accelerate quicker than just about anything else on the road; the Model 3 follows suit, regardless of the specific powertrain.

The entry-level, rear-drive Model 3 is lighter than its more powerful counterpart thanks to a lack of a second electric motor, so the Standard Range Plus should feel a little more agile. Performance stats are impressive and should make sure the cheapest Model 3 is still faster than most EVs of similar size.

Those looking for the ultimate driving experience will be best served by the Dual Motor All-Wheel Drive Performance version. Acceleration is breathtaking, with incredible off-the-line performance and effortless overtaking. There’s enough power on tap to make short work of some of the fastest performance saloons around in most everyday situations.

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Ride and handling aren’t quite up to the same awe-inspiring standards but are still very impressive. The Model 3’s steering feels quite meaty in all its modes and is accurate if not terribly communicative. The suspension feels firm but not uncomfortable, with good damping that manages to deal well with lumps and bumps. The Model 3 can’t quite match the BMW 3 Series for ride/handling balance or outright driving fun, but it’s not too far off.

Elsewhere, the Model 3’s brakes are powerful, smooth and progressive – not overly grabby as in some other EVs – and the car’s considerable weight is kept under control thanks to low-slung batteries and well judged chassis tuning. Overall, the Model 3 is a great steer – just don’t expect the last word in sporty dynamics.

Engines, 0-60 acceleration and top speed

We are yet to drive the entry-level Standard Range Plus model but its performance on paper puts it ahead of most EVs of this size on the market. This model can get from 0-60mph in 5.3 seconds and go on to a top speed of 140mph thanks to a single 180kW motor.

The Model 3 Performance uses two electric motors to produce 335kW of power – the equivalent of 449bhp. That’s enough for a 0-60mph dash of 3.2 seconds and a 162mph top speed – figures that compare favourably with sports cars.


The Model 3 is so new that it’s very difficult to predict what owners will experience in the reliability department. Tesla has had a patchy reliability record in the past but its owners are famously enthusiastic and keen to extol the virtues of their cars. Tesla did not feature in our 2019 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey, so we’ll reserve judgement until the Model 3 has been on sale for a little longer. We can say, however, that our test car felt solidly put together.

Euro NCAP crash-tested the Model 3 and awarded it five stars, along with the all-time highest rating of 94% in the safety assist category. Tesla’s ingenious semi-autonomous Autopilot technology did not contribute to this rating, but the system incorporates autonomous emergency braking and sophisticated adaptive cruise control, amongst other systems. An optional ‘Full Self-Driving Capability’ pack can do just that (with active driver supervision) – the Model 3 can effectively drive automatically on the motorway, including changing lanes and overtaking. This system also includes automatic parking.


A four-year, 50,000-mile warranty is standard on the Model 3. This beats key rivals on outright length but can’t match the mileage allowances of other premium manufacturers. The car’s batteries are subject to a separate eight-year, 100,000-mile warranty.


There are no set servicing intervals for the Tesla Model 3, with the car itself alerting the driver as and when a service is required. Over-the-air updates and remote diagnostics help make some smaller maintenance jobs more convenient, as do Tesla’s Mobile Service technicians. Fixed-price Tesla Maintenance Plans are available and can be transferred from owner to owner when required.


The Tesla Model 3 is intended to tempt buyers away from three-box saloons like the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4, so it makes sense that it also takes a similar approach to housing its occupants and luggage. It’s a four-door saloon with an ample boot, plus a separate storage area under the ‘bonnet’ – one of the benefits of doing without a traditional internal combustion engine.

The Tesla Model 3 is pretty spacious inside and its minimal design helps add a sense of airiness. It’s easy to get comfortable in the driving seat thanks to plenty of adjustment options and visibility is excellent; big windows all round and an unobstructed view forward add to the car’s easy-to-drive nature.


Measuring in at 4,690mm long and 2,080mm wide including mirrors, the Model 3 is slightly shorter and wider than a BMW 3 Series. It feels far better suited to British roads than its Model S and Model X siblings as a result.

Leg room, head room & passenger space

The Model 3 is designed to carry four adults in comfort and it manages that task well: there’s loads of space in the front, while rear-seat passengers get enough head and legroom to enjoy a longer journey – though foot space is lacking slightly.


The Model 3 boasts a total of 425 litres of boot space when both front and rear storage areas are added together – shy of the BMW 3 Series’ storage space by around 55 litres. The rear boot seems large but a relatively small opening limits its flexibility when compared to hatchback EVs. The front boot is big enough for two small soft bags but can’t quite swallow suitcases like one on the Model S.

Flexibility is enhanced by split-folding rear seats and an extra storage compartment under the rear boot floor.


Most electric cars aren’t rated for towing but Tesla sells the Model 3 with the option to add a two-hitch for around £970 pounds. Tesla states that this cannot be added to the car retrospectively, however. Tesla claims that the Model 3 can tow ‘up to 910kg’.


Electric cars traditionally offer lower running costs than their internal combustion counterparts and the Model 3 won’t be an exception. You’ll need to pay to access Tesla’s network of Superchargers to enjoy the fastest charging times, but for the first time on a Tesla you’ll be able to use standard public chargers too.

Road tax is free thanks to the Model 3’s lack of emissions, while company-car users will also benefit from very low Benefit-in-Kind charges – 16% in 2019/20 and 0% in 2020/21. The Model 3 is also exempt from the London Congestion Charge and London Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) charge.

Electric range, battery life and charge time

We are yet to test the Model 3’s range in our own real-world tests but Tesla claims impressive ranges for both models. Its 60kWh battery is good for a range of 254 miles in the Standard Range car, while the 88kWh battery in the Performance version manages a claimed 329 miles on a charge.

Owners can pay for access to Tesla’s own Supercharger network, which affords the fastest possible charging options, but the Model 3 gets extra flexibility thanks to the inclusion of Type 2 and CCS ports to allow the use of generic public chargers. The charging port is located just next to one of the car’s rear lights and opens with the push of a button on the charging cable.

Charging your Model 3 should take around 107 minutes via a Type 2 cable for a full charge, or just 36 minutes from zero to 80 per cent via a Tesla Supercharger.

Insurance groups

Exact insurance information is not available at the time of writing, but we expect the Tesla Model 3 will occupy a higher insurance group than some of its more affordable alternatives. For reference, the cheaper Kia e-Niro sits in group 28 and the pricier Jaguar I-Pace occupies group 50.


Electric cars can suffer worse depreciation than some internal combustion cars, but the Tesla Model 3’s combination of desirability, high demand and relatively future-proof design mean it bucks the trend.

Our experts expect that the Standard Range model will retain just over 66 per cent of its value after three years and 36,000 miles, with the Performance model expected to hold on to an impressive 72.8 per cent of its value over the same period.


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