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In the News ...

Skoda aims to prolong growth spurt with 30 new cars by 2022
Posted on Wednesday March 20, 2019

John McIlroy 2019-03-20 09:00

Skoda wants its run of back-to-back sales records to continue and has forged a bold new model plan to make sure that happens

Skoda Kodiaq - Skoda badge

Skoda will launch 30 new models or derivatives between now and 2022, as the Czech manufacturer tries to build on a fifth straight year of record sales in 2018.

The VW Group brand delivered 1,253,700 vehicles last year, a rise of 4.4 per cent on 2017’s figures, and it recorded gains in Europe and China (both up by 4.9 per cent) and Russia (up more than 30 per cent).

Skoda’s overall profitability fell, though, from 1.6 billion euros to 1.4 billion euros, because of significant investment in new products, factory capacity and the battery technologies required for the company’s forthcoming range of electric vehicles. Skoda’s R&D bill rose by almost 50 per cent year on year between 2017 and 2018. 

Best selling cars 2019

Skoda CEO Bernhard Maier said that 2018 had been a year of “considerable challenges”, including WLTP and the trade dispute between the United States and China (Skoda’s single biggest market). He said that fluctuations in exchange rates had also played a part in the drop in profits, alongside heavy investment in future projects.

“We have actively counteracted these challenges with a comprehensive Performance programme, and we are continuing to systematically pursue this course because 2019 will also be a challenging year,” Maier said.

Skoda is gearing up for its first two electrified products, which will both be launched later this year. The Superb plug-in hybrid is likely to appear first, with the Czechs’ first pure-electric car, the e-Citigo, following at the end of 2019 (although sales aren’t likely until early 2020). 

Maier also revealed at the company’s annual conference that Skoda will spend two billion euros on electric vehicle projects and mobility services, such as ride-hailing operations. And of the 30 new models or variants planned by 2022, more than a third will be electrified or pure electric.

What do you think is the secret of Skoda's success? Let us know in the comments...

Facelifted 2019 Mercedes GLC Coupe revealed
Posted on Tuesday March 19, 2019

Luke Wilkinson 2019-03-19 23:01

The Mercedes GLC Coupe SUV gets a mid-life facelift, with slightly tweaked styling, new engines and Mercedes’s latest infotainment system

Mercedes GLC Coupe - front tracking

Mercedes has released a facelifted version of the GLC Coupe, pulling its styling, engines and technology in line with the firm’s recently-refreshed GLC SUV. When it reaches the UK later this year it sole opposition will be the BMW X4.

At a glance, its exterior looks almost identical to the model it replaces. However, Mercedes has given the GLC Coupe a subtle range of styling updates such as a new front bumper, a new grille, a redesigned diffuser and a fresh pair of exhaust tips.

Best 4x4s and SUVs on sale

Mercedes’s revisions to the GLC Coupe’s interior are much more involved, with a redesigned dashboard, a reworked centre console, an air-vent design borrowed from the new A-Class, a tweaked multifunction steering wheel and the firm’s latest MBUX infotainment system.

The new MBUX multimedia system replaces the old GLC’s ageing ‘Command’ setup. It consists of a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, a 10.25-inch centre-mounted display and a multifunctional touchpad mounted on the transmission tunnel. Voice and gesture control also feature.

From launch, the new GLC Coupe will be available with five engines: two are mild-hybrid petrols and three are regular diesels. All models will be fitted as standard with Mercedes’s 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system.

The entry-level petrol-hybrid, badged GLC 200, combines a 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol with a 48-volt electric starter-generator for a combined output of 192bhp and 320Nm of torque. Economy is a claimed 38.1mpg, while CO2 emissions stand at 165g/km.

Stepping up the range, the GLC 300 comes with the same turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder from the new Mercedes C-Class, producing 254bhp and 370Nm of torque. It’s also fitted with a 48-volt belt-driven starter-generator and claims the same economy and emissions figures as the GLC 200.

The GLC Coupe’s diesel options open with the 200d; a 1.6-litre twin-turbocharged four-cylinder producing 158bhp and 360Nm of torque. Like the rest of the GLC’s diesel range, it complies with Euro 6d standards thanks to a diesel oxidation catalytic converter, a particulate filter and AdBlue injection.

Currently, the diesel range is topped by the GLC 220d and the GLC 300d, both of which use a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine. The former produces 189bhp and 400Nm of torque, while the latter musters a claimed 238bhp and 500Nm of torque.

The GLC Coupe’s facelift is completed with a suite of new driver assistance technology, a revised version of Mercedes’s ‘Dynamic Body Control’ adjustable dampers, optional air suspension and the optional ‘Energising Comfort Control’ package, which automatically tailors the GLC’s interior lighting, climate control and seat massagers to the driver’s mood.

Prices for the new GLC Coupe are yet to be announced. However, the current model starts from around £42,000, and we’re expecting a similar entry-point for the updated version.

What are your thoughts on the new Mercedes GLC Coupe? Let us know in the comments section below…

 

Jaguar F-Pace 300 Sport and Chequered Flag editions revealed
Posted on Tuesday March 19, 2019

Luke Wilkinson 2019-03-19 15:57

The Jaguar F-Pace is now available in two special edition variants, with a focus on performance and technology

Jaguar F-Pace 300 Sport - front

Jaguar has announced two special edition versions of its F-Pace SUV called the 300 Sport and the Chequered Flag, priced from £52,980 and £46,995 respectively. The former starts adds a range of performance-inspired interior and exterior upgrades, while the latter provides a host of additional standard equipment.

F-Pace 300 Sport buyers are given the choice of two engines: a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol and 3.0-litre V6 diesel both develop 296bhp. The petrol has 400Nm of torque and a 0–62mph time of 6.1 seconds, while the diesel musters 700Nm of torque and a 0–62mph time of 6.4 seconds.

Best 4x4s and SUVs

Exterior styling tweaks for the 300 Sport include 22-inch alloy wheels, satin grey trim, satin grey mirror caps, 300 Sport badges for the front grille and rear tailgate and a choice of three exclusive paint colours.

Interior updates leather upholstery with yellow contrasting stitching, a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster, a 10-inch infotainment system, 14-way electrically adjustable front seats, a Meridian premium sound system and 300 Sport badging for the treadplates, steering wheel, floor mats and headrests.

For buyers with deeper pockets, Jaguar also offers a range of optional extras, such as 18-way electrically adjustable seats, heated rear seats, a panoramic roof, adaptive cruise control and four-zone climate control and a head-up display.

The Jaguar F-Pace Chequered Flag is essentially a better-equipped, better value version of the R-Sport model. Updates over the R-Sport include 20-inch gloss black alloy wheels, gloss black exterior trim, a redesigned front bumper and a choice of three unique paint codes.

Inside, the Chequered Flag gets a smattering of additional equipment, including a panoramic glass roof, 10-way electric seats and meshed aluminium trim. Like the 300 Sport, it also gets leather upholstery, a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster, a 10-inch dash-mounted infotainment screen and a Meridian sound system.

Buyers can choose from three of Jaguar’s 2.0-litre AWD powertrains. The range opens with a 176bhp four-cylinder turbo diesel, which claims economy figures of 41.9mpg. Jaguar also offers a 237bhp four-cylinder diesel and a 247bhp four-cylinder Ingenium petrol engine; the latter of which boasts a 0–62mph time of seven seconds and a top speed of 135mph.

For 2019, Jaguar has also updated the rest of the F-Pace range, adding Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as standard and improving emissions by up to 8g/km across the board with new low-rolling-resistance tyres and a range of ECU tweaks.

Now read our review of the Jaguar F-Pace. Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below…

New Skoda Kodiaq L&K review
Posted on Tuesday March 19, 2019

skoda kodiaq l&k tracking front
19 Mar, 2019 3:30pm Richard Ingram

Is the poshest Skoda Kodiaq SUV worth the premium over cheaper versions? We drive the top-spec L&K model to find out...

The proliferation of PCP finance deals is encouraging people to trade up; spending a little more per month gifts new car buyers equipment and luxuries they’d otherwise be unable to afford.

A decade ago, the idea of a £40,000 Skoda was considered little more than a bad joke. But 10 years later there’s a plethora of models that, with a few options, offer the ability to tip the car’s list price into the higher tax band. The latest is this: the Kodiaq L&K.

Skoda Kodiaq in-depth review

L&K stands for Laurin and Klement – the names of Skoda’s two founding partners and the nomenclature applied to only the most expensive models in the range. It’s a badge that’s been attached to the Octavia and Superb for some time now, and one that signifies the ultimate in Czech luxury.

The Kodiaq’s designers have thrown everything at this top-spec SUV – from unique alloy wheels to a glorious panoramic sunroof. All versions get special logos on the plush leather seats, as well as special stitching, badges and ambient lighting. There are chrome L&K plaques on the outside, as well as extra body coloured trim, too.

All lovely stuff, but is any of it essential in a mainstream family SUV? Even if you ignore the near-£40k list price, on one of Skoda’s popular PCP deals the L&K here is around £60 more per month (£472) than a like-for-like SE L on a 48-month/10,000-mile per year deal with a 10 per cent deposit. That’s a lot for some fancy leather and an upgraded stereo.

It’s not even as if the Kodiaq L&K looks or feels particularly upmarket alongside its more modest siblings – but that’s more a compliment of the lesser versions than a direct criticism of this range flagship. Every Kodiaq feels built to withstand the rigours of family life, and the same is true of the new L&K.

As such, it’s the lower spec levels that continue to offer the most bang for your buck. The SE L’s 19-inch wheels, full LED lights, heated front seats and 9.2-inch sat-nav system hardly shout ‘basic’ – and given the savings you’ll make on the monthlies, there’s even room to add a few desirable options.

Of course, the Kodiaq continues to be one of the easiest SUVs to live with. There’s loads of room inside, and even in L&K spec there’s a decent spread of engines to choose from. This 2.0-litre TSI is a little thirsty (it’ll do just 30mpg on the new WLTP cycle); we’d recommend one of the two (148bhp or 187bhp) 2.0 TDI diesels instead.

Regardless of engine choice, however, the Kodiaq remains an excellent long-distance cruiser, with a relatively compliant ride even on larger alloy wheels. Our car’s petrol engine is incredibly quiet, and around town the DSG box takes the strain out of stop-start traffic. The transmission isn’t as proficient when you ask for sudden bursts of acceleration, but rewards gentle driving with seamlessly smooth shifts.

 

3
As is so often the case with cars like this, the lower-spec models make more financial sense. While the Skoda Kodiaq L&K is nicely built and comes loaded with kit, our top pick remains the well-equipped SE L, which offers all the space and equipment a growing family might need. Stick with that and you’ve got one of the finest large SUVs on the market.
  • Model: Skoda Kodiaq L&K 2.0 TSI 190PS 4x4
  • Price: £38.770
  • Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo petrol
  • Power/torque: 187bhp/320Nm
  • Transmission: Seven-speed auto, four-wheel drive
  • 0-62mph: 7.7 seconds
  • Top speed: 130mph
  • Fuel economy/CO2: 31.0mpg/162g/km
  • On sale: Now

New BMW Z4 sDrive20i Sport 2019 review
Posted on Tuesday March 19, 2019

BMW Z4 - front tracking
20 Mar, 2019 (All day) Steve Sutcliffe

The BMW Z4 sDrive20i Sport is the entry point into the new Z4 range, but does its cheaper price tag mean losing out on any of the fun?

At a time when so many new cars are turning hybrid or EV – and more often than not either a crossover or SUV – the slightly old school but still brand-new BMW Z4 comes as a refreshing interlude.

Available with three different petrol engines and in three different specifications, the new front-engined, rear-wheel drive Z4 is aimed squarely at the driving enthusiast. And the engineers have an intriguing way of describing the difference between the old model and the new.

Best sports cars to buy

The previous Z4 was a machine to drive on a Sunday afternoon, they say, ideally when the sun was shining but not necessarily when there was no one else around. The old Z4 wasn’t, BMW now concedes, a full-blown sports car.

But this new model, well that’s another matter – because the new Z4, the company claims, is a car to get up early for on a Sunday morning, long before anyone else is awake.

Why the extra focus on driver appeal this time around? One reason, and one reason alone: the unceasing success of the Porsche Boxster. BMW has seen sales of the Z4 drop by almost 30 per cent since its birth in 2002, many of which have gone to the Boxster, which has long been considered the most sporting two-seat roadster in this class.

As such, weight is down by around 50kg across the range. That’s partly because the new canvas roof – which raises in just 10 seconds – is lighter, but also because the underpinnings are lighter and more focused, too. The boot is over 70 litres bigger, too – and it makes no difference if the hood is raised or lowered because the space on offer stays the same.

But it’s the extra dynamic precision of the new Z4 that distinguishes it most clearly above its predecessor. That becomes pretty obvious from the moment you turn the key – especially the entry-level sDrive20i Sport.

The 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine might not have the same muscle of the M40i M Performance model we’ve already driven – it has just 194bhp and 320Nm of torque, giving it a 0-62mph time of 6.6 seconds and a top speed of 149mph. But this doesn’t prevent it from being a surprisingly satisfying and sharp sports car to drive, with decent-enough throttle response and excellent outright acceleration. The steering is sweeter than in the more powerful six-cylinder model and, we believe, the chassis is crisper, too. It also emits just 138g/km versus 165g/km for the M40i.

While the 20i is nowhere near as bombastic in a straight line, in the corners and under braking – pretty much everywhere other than on the drag strip, then – it can’t help but be the sharper, cleaner of the two.

Elsewhere, the Z4 has grown up and got a lot more sophisticated, especially inside. All models come with a 10.25-inch touchscreen and fully digitised instruments with BMW’s latest connectivity software. This updates automatically and learns driver habits to tailor its responses to suit. After a few days, your new Z4 will know what sort of music you like, which routes you like to take via the sat-nav, and even what ambient temperatures you prefer to drive at. There’s also active parking, a full range of active and passive safety systems similar to those found in the 5 Series and, unique to this class, a head-up display.

The UK range starts at £36,990 for the sDrive20i Sport, rising to £40,690 for the more powerful (but still four-cylinder) 255bhp 30i Sport, topping out at £49,050 for the M40i M Performance model. The 20i and 30i come with 18-inch wheels and tyres, though 19s are available as options across the board.

The cheapest new Z4 is well-equipped, pretty good looking and a fair bit more practical than its predecessor. More important than that, however, is it’s now genuinely engaging to drive – even with a lowly 2.0-litre engine in its nose. It’s no wonder this very model is expected to be the biggest seller, then, accounting for at least 60 per cent of new Z4 sales.

4
The cheapest and least potent version of the new Z4 is also the most satisfying model to drive. Lighter than the more expensive M40i by a full 130kg, it steers and handles more sweetly than its big brother, plus it’s cleaner and comes with plenty of equipment. Still not quite in the Porsche 718 Boxster league for pure dynamic precision, the entry-level Z4 nevertheless has a lot going for it, and is a much more convincing sports car than its predecessor.

The Great British car insurance write-off scandal
Posted on Tuesday March 19, 2019

Hugo Griffiths 2019-03-19 23:30

Crashed cars written-off by insurers are being repaired and sold to unsuspecting motorists. Our exclusive report asks how this can happen

great british write-off scandal

Cars that have been deemed insurance write-offs following serious accidents are passing vehicle history checks with a clean bill of health and being sold to unsuspecting motorists, Auto Express can exclusively reveal.

Vehicle history checks are relied on by countless buyers every year to reveal whether a car is subject to outstanding finance, has mileage irregularities, has been stolen, has previously been scrapped or has been deemed an insurance write-off.

How to save money on your car insurance

But the damaged cars you see in these photographs were sold at salvage auction having been classified as ‘Cat S’ – meaning they were written off after sustaining serious, structural accident damage, and were only allowed back on the road after having been properly repaired.

Despite this, all of these cars passed the vehicle history checks offered by both HPI and Experian AutoCheck, and were being marketed to consumers as never having been written off.

We found 10 cars that had been sold at salvage auction as declared Cat S write-offs, making a note of the VIN plates displayed in the salvage listings. We paid for HPI and Experian AutoCheck history checks, cross-referencing VINs and registration plates with the reports. Some of the cars generated alerts for outstanding finance or mileage discrepancies, but not one check from either HPI or Experian flagged any of these cars as an insurance write-off.

Cheapest cars to insure

Auto Express was alerted to this issue by a reader who uncovered inconsistencies with history-checking companies after buying a used car he discovered had previously been sold via salvage auction. As well as a conventional history check, the reader used a company called www.vcheck.uk, which crosschecks a car’s write-off status against salvage auction records.

After we learned of this problem, we contacted vcheck and were provided with a number of cars that had raised similar concerns.

Insurance write-offs for sale with clear history checks: examples

2016 Renault Captur 1.5 dCi

Auctioned as a write-off 
This Renault Captur was auctioned as a Cat S write-off in February 2018 with significant front-end damage. Its odometer read 12,957 and it was listed with a suggested retail value of £12,370.

On sale 13 months later
By March 2019 this Captur had been repaired and was advertised with 17,000 miles for £9,750. HPI and Experian checks did not reveal its write-off history.

2015 Toyota Yaris Icon Hybrid

Auctioned as a write-off
This Toyota Yaris was auctioned as a Cat S write-off in August 2018 with significant front-end damage and a suggested retail value of £9,330. 


On sale nine months later
By March 2019 this Yaris had been repaired and was advertised for sale to consumers for £8,995. HPI and Experian checks did not reveal its write-off history.

2014 Ford B-MAX 1.4

Auctioned as a write-off
This Ford B-MAX was auctioned as a Cat S write-off in July 2018 with significant front-end damage and a suggested retail price of £7,400.

On sale eight months later
By March 2019 this B-MAX had been repaired and was advertised for sale to consumers for £6,490. HPI and Experian checks we performed did not reveal its write-off history.

2012 Skoda Superb 2.0 TDI Elegance

Auctioned as a write-off
This Skoda Superb was auctioned as a Cat S write-off in June 2018 with significant front-end damage.

On sale nine months later
By March 2019 this Superb had been repaired and was advertised for sale to consumers for £7,250. HPI and Experian checks did not reveal its write-off history.

2017 Honda Jazz 1.3 i-VTEC EX

Auctioned as a write-off
This Honda Jazz was auctioned as a Cat S write-off in May 2018 with significant front-end damage.

On sale 10 months later
By March 2019 this Jazz had been repaired and was advertised for sale to consumers for £10,950 and Experian checks did not reveal its write-off history.

2016 BMW M4 3.0 Competition Pack

Auctioned as a write-off
This M4 was auctioned as a Cat S write-off in April 2018 with significant damage to its undercarriage.

On sale a year later
By March 2019 this M4 had been repaired and was advertised for sale to consumers for £35,472. HPI and Experian checks did not reveal its write-off history.

How do vehicle history checks work?

Experian AutoCheck and HPI – the two biggest players in the business – told us that they exclusively rely on the Motor Insurance Anti Fraud & Theft Register, or MIAFTR, to determine if a car has been written off.

MIAFTR is a nationwide database run by the Motor Insurers’ Bureau (MIB), and 97 per cent of insurance companies subscribe to it. When an insurer writes off a vehicle, those subscribing to MIAFTR place it on the Register as a write-off. Some history-check businesses outsource to these two companies. The AA relies on HPI data, for example, while the RAC uses Experian.

1. MIAFTR is non-mandatory, and not all insurers use it

It is a legal requirement for insurers to inform the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) when a car is written off, but it is not a requirement for them to use MIAFTR to do so – MIAFTR acts as an electronic funnel, automatically informing the DVLA of write-offs, assuming these are uploaded to MIAFTR.

The MIB told us that “97 per cent of the motor insurance market currently subscribe to the MIAFTR database to load the details of their written-off vehicles”. There are 203 UK motor insurance companies authorised by the Bank of England, meaning six do not use MIAFTR; cars written off by these six insurers are unlikely to be detected by history checks.

2. Third-party-only insurance

The MIB suggested that a car may not be detected as a write-off “if the vehicle is not comprehensively insured”. Because third-party insurance does not pay out for damage sustained to the insured vehicle itself, such cars will not have been declared a total loss by the insurer, so may not be on MIAFTR.

3. Delays in updating MIAFTR

The Motor Insurers’ Bureau told us some insurance firms “load manually or in batches” when placing cars on MIAFTR, creating potential delays. Some of the cars we analysed were auctioned as write-offs more than a year ago and were still not detected by the history checks we ran, though.

Furthermore, data obtained via a Freedom of Information request shows the DVLA was informed of 7,676 Cat D and Cat C cars in the 2018 calendar year – even though Cat D and Cat C write-off classifications were replaced by Cat S and Cat N in October 2017.

This means that vehicles placed on the DVLA’s database as Cat C and Cat D in 2018 must have been assessed as write-offs the previous year under the old classifications, with a delay of at least three months.

4. Weak legislation

Legally, insurers must inform the DVLA when a car is written off, but the MIB says “there is no mandated timeframe for supplying write-off data to the DVLA”, creating potential delays even in the official database. The closure of the Vehicle identity Check (VIC) scheme in October 2015 could also have a part to play.

The VIC scheme saw a ‘marker’ placed against Cat C cars (now Cat S) on the DVLA database. These cars had to pass a VIC test, where an inspector would assess them before the DVLA would remove the marker and issue a new V5C logbook. The VIC test didn’t assess the quality of repairs but, if inspectors noticed a “serious defect which would make the car dangerous”, they would issue a prohibition notice, and the car could not be driven. Cat S write-offs now only need to pass an MoT test before being put on the road.

5. Paper-based write-offs

Further DVLA data obtained via a Freedom of Information request reveals that 4,870 vehicles were written off via paper notifications over the past five calendar years. These cars bypassed MIAFTR when being placed on the DVLA’s database, so would be unlikely to show up in checks.

6. History checks relying solely on MIAFTR to check for write-offs

MIAFTR is non-mandatory, subject to delays and may not hold records for written-off cars that only had third-party insurance. So for history-checking firms to rely solely on its data to determine a car’s write-off status is problematic.

How widespread is the problem?

Write-off category No. vehicles on MIAFTR No. vehicles on DVLA database Difference between MIAFTR & DVLA No. vehicles on MIAFTR No. vehicles on DVLA database Difference between MIAFTR & DVLA
2016/17 2016/17 2016/17 2017/18 2017/18 2017/18
Cat A 8,926 8,851 75 9,502 9,370 132
Cat B 105,805 115,325 -9,520 109,417 119,559 -10,142
Cat C 325,324 367,093 -41,769 152,084 177,089 -25,005
Cat D 166,718 211,100 -44,382 83,783 110,407 -26,624
Cat S 343 0 343 101,798 123,579 -21,781
Cat N 432 0 432 140,694 148,431 -7,737
Total 607,548 702,369 -94,821 597,278 688,435 -91,156

Auto Express obtained data from the DVLA showing how many write-off ‘transactions’ the agency processed during financial years 2016/17, and 2017/18. The MIB provided us with the number of write-offs it held records for over the same periods. Data from both organisations is for vehicles, so includes trucks, vans and motorbikes, as well as cars.

There is a significant difference between the two organisations’ databases, with nearly 100,000 fewer written-off vehicles a year appearing on MIAFTR compared with DVLA records. Even after removing from the equation Cat A and B vehicles – which must be scrapped and can never be driven again – these numbers give a clear idea of the discrepancies between MIAFTR and the DVLA’s database.

What do the organisations involved say?

We sent HPI and Experian details of three sample cars that were previously written off but passed their history checks. HPI consumer director Fernando Garcia told us: “Where third- party data is found to be inaccurate or factually incorrect, HPI will work with these partners to ensure that consumer safety remains the main priority and is not compromised in any way.”

Stressing that HPI “constantly monitors the quality of the data it generates and receives”, Garcia said: “If the consumer conducts an HPI Check and it did not show the Vehicle Condition Alert Register information, they would be covered by our guarantee if they adhere to our terms and conditions.”

An Experian spokesperson said the company understands “the cause for concern with the three vehicles highlighted”. Experian explained that it uses MIAFTR “to check whether a vehicle has been marked as ‘written off’ by an insurer”, but that “as none of the three vehicles were recorded as a total loss, they did not show as ‘written off’ on the vehicles’ provenance reports. We will continue to work with our data and insurance industry partners to establish the circumstances behind these three vehicles”.

The Motor Insurers’ Bureau, the organisation that runs MIAFTR, added that “Cat S write-offs will receive a V5C document from DVLA... [that] should alert keepers to the status of the vehicle”. The MIB also stressed that “CAT S and N vehicles can be repaired and legally driven again”.

The DVLA simply said: “Insurance companies are required to notify DVLA of all accident-damaged vehicles.”

What are the potential consequences for car buyers?

Safety

It is impossible to tell from photos how well these cars were repaired after their accidents, but buyers of Cat S and Cat N vehicles are typically advised to commission an independent mechanical inspection before making a purchase – a course of action far less likely with a car believed not to be a write-off.

Financial loss

Cars that have been written off are worth significantly less than their non-write-off counterparts. Anyone who bought a car at standard market value and subsequently finds out it was declared Cat S or Cat N stands to make a substantial loss when they sell it on, assuming its true history is subsequently detected in history checks, or the owner finds out it was written off. It is an offence to knowingly sell a written-off car without declaring its write-off status.

How can buyers protect themselves?

The majority of written-off cars are loaded onto MIAFTR and picked up by history-checking companies, but our investigation will undoubtedly raise concerns among second-hand car buyers. Consumers seeking additional reassurances could consider paying for a mechanical inspection, which should determine whether a car was repaired following a serious accident.

Buyers are also offered some protection by a history-check guarantee. Both HPI and Experian AutoCheck will pay up to £30,000 to ensure buyers do not suffer financial losses as a result of their checks – although terms and conditions apply to these guarantees.

A third option is to make use of www.vcheck.uk, where you can get a basic check against salvage records for free.

What do you think of the insurance write-off scandal? Let us know in the comments section...

New transport laws could allow electric scooters on roads
Posted on Monday March 18, 2019

Tristan Shale-Hester 2019-03-19 00:01

Electric scooters could be given green light as part of major transport review aimed at modernising the UK’s road network

A major UK transport review by the Government could see electric scooters being allowed on the UK’s public roads.

The Department for Transport’s (DfT) Future of Mobility: Urban Strategy will examine regulations concerning new types of vehicle, such as e-scooters and bicycle trailers. Stand-on electric scooters are classed as PLEVs (Personal Light Electric Vehicles) and, although they are growing in popularity, it’s currently only legal to use them on private land in the UK.

• Drivers face £700 annual road toll bill as EVs hit fuel duty revenue

The review will also consider how data-sharing can reduce congestion, as well as how planning and paying for journeys can be simplified. In addition, the Government will look at ways of modernising laws from as far back as the 19th century.

Part of the DfT review involves the launch of four Future Mobility Zones in towns and cities around the country. With a total investment of £90 million, these areas will be used to test new ideas for improving journeys.

Roughly 80 per cent of people in the UK now use smartphones, so the review will also involve examining mobile technology as a quick and convenient means payment for transport.

Nicholas Lyes, head of roads policy at the RAC, welcomed the review’s potential to decrease congestion in urban areas, but warned: “Clearly, much needs to be thought through before electric scooters can be allowed to use UK roads legally.

“While improvements in technology are providing many new exciting transport possibilities, the key to gaining public acceptance must surely be demonstrating they can be used safely.”

Lyes went on to say that while electric scooters are convenient and affordable, the vulnerability of riders in the event of a collision is arguably even greater than that of those on bicycles.

He added: “Care needs to be taken to ensure the safety of all road users, including pedestrians and cyclists, as new modes of transport gain popularity.”

Mike Hawes, chief executive of the SMMT, said: “The automotive industry is responding to perhaps the most significant change since the invention of the car.”

He said the strategy would give industry the necessary scope to “invest and innovate, developing exciting new services” and help “position the UK as a global leader in future mobility”.

What do you think of this new ruling? Let us know in the comments below... 

Volvo V60 Cross Country review
Posted on Monday March 18, 2019

For 
Very comfortable
Decent rough-road ability
Great infotainment
Our Rating 
4
Against 
Diesel power only (for now)
Some options should be standard
Not the sharpest drive
Volvo V60 Cross Country - front
2019

The Volvo V60 Cross Country is a classy, comfortable and capable alternative to the Audi A4 Allroad

The Volvo V60 Cross Country is hugely comfortable, well-built, relaxing to drive and as practical as a Volvo should be. Some cheaper rivals offer more standard equipment, however.

 

18 Mar, 2019
4.5

The arrival of the all-new XC90 SUV in 2014 heralded the start of push upmarket for Volvo as it took the fight to rivals Audi, BMW and Mercedes, aiming to match or better those brands for interior quality, exterior design and onboard technology.

Outside the Volvo V60 Cross Country is the latest model to offer the Swedish brands’ trademark sharp, unfussy design – albeit with added plastic cladding to protect against bumps and scrapes on rougher surfaces. The Cross Country rides 60mm higher than the standard V60, with its beefier suspension and larger wheels as contributing factors. Roof rails are standard, as are 18-inch alloy wheels.

Inside, the Cross Country matches its siblings with a focus on plush materials, simple ergonomics and strong infotainment. A minimalist design makes for a relaxing place to sit; the cabin feels especially airy when specced with lighter-coloured upholstery.

Standard equipment is good but you’ll need to delve into the options list to bring the spec up to the standard set by its closest rivals. The Subaru Outback, for example, comes as standard with front, side and rear view cameras, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus a full suite of driver assistance and active safety systems; V60 Cross Country buyers will need to select the majority of these features either as standalone options or as part of Volvo’s options packs.

Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment

A 9.7-inch portrait touchscreen sits in the centre of the dash and is used to control most key functions, including ventilation controls. It sets the class standard for ease of use, but it’s disappointing that Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity is a £300 optional extra. Good-quality sat nav comes as standard, however.

Audiophiles benefit from the choice of two optional stereo upgrades over the standard 170-watt, 10-speaker system. A 600-watt, 13-speaker Harmon Kardon system is an £825 option, while a 1,100-watt, 15-speaker system by Bowers and Wilkins is available for £2,500; the latter is one of the best we’ve tested. A CD player does not feature as standard but can be added for £100.

3.8

Settle in behind the wheel of the V60 Cross Country and you can just about feel the additional 60mm of ride height, and the cabin feels ever so slightly elevated from the road surface. The difference is most evident when compared to the low slung, new R-Design version of the V60. It feels slightly taller than an Audi A4 Allroad too.

If the A4 Allroad is a sharp-to-drive take on the posh, propped up estate, the Volvo stays true to its colours with an emphasis on comfort. A decent amount of the 60mm increase in height can be put down to the larger profile tyres equipped as standard. Few sub-SUV cars on the road today get quite so much rubber, so immediately, the V60 Cross Country’s primary ride is strong, as the revised suspension setup gets plenty of cushion to work with.

At speed it’s soft, but not totally wafty. A lick of body control has been retained through a suspension setup not totally committed to being as pliant as possible. It means that small vibrations and a small degree of brittleness can be picked up on the move, but it’s a worthwhile trade-off, and this is still a very comfortable car.

The 187bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine sending power to the all-wheel-drive system is a straightforward affair. It’s a modest but well-judged amount of power, and the V60 Cross Country never feels short of grunt. The eight-speed transmission is smooth, and while it’s not totally foolproof, it doesn’t have to be razor sharp in action given the serene nature of the V60 Cross Country, and the way this car is likely to be driven. The same can be said of the steering, which is comfortably weighted but absent of any road feel.

Away from the tarmac, the raised suspension, all-wheel-drive, cladding, the specialised off-road setting for the traction control and hill descent control mean there’s a definite sense of ability off-road. It won’t venture as far as a proper SUV, but for green-landing and rutted tracks, the V60 Cross Country is more than capable.

Engines, 0-60 acceleration and top speed

For now, there’s only one engine available in the Volvo V60 Cross Country – a turbocharged 2.0-litre diesel with 187bhp and 400Nm of torque. Four-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic gearbox are standard.

Performance is adequate if not particularly electrifying: 0-62mph takes 8.2 seconds and top seed is 130mph. There’s plenty of torque though, making for acceptable in-gear punch and good overtaking ability. It’s bound to help when towing or tackling difficult terrain, too.

4.2

The Volvo V60 was crash tested by Euro NCAP in 2018 and awarded a five-star overall rating, with impressive scores of 96 per cent and 84 per cent respectively for adult and child occupant protection. A 74 per cent score for vulnerable road user protection (including pedestrian impacts) is respectable, as is the 76 per cent safety assist score.

The Volvo V60 is too new to have been included in our Driver Power 2018 customer satisfaction survey, but Volvo itself finished in 13th place out of 26 manufacturers. The brand secured an impressive 5th-place finish for reliability – this should bode well for Cross Country buyers.

Warranty

The V60 Cross Country comes with a three-year, 60,000-mile warranty as standard. This matches Audi’s standard warranty, but can’t compete with Mercedes’ unlimited mileage warranty. By contrast, the Volvo’s cheaper Subaru Outback rival boasts a five-year, 100,000-mile warranty as standard.

Servicing

Service intervals are quoted as 18,000 miles or 12 months, whichever comes first. Volvo offers a number of service plans that can help spread the cost and as part of its Volvo Service Promise will include 12 months free roadside assistance, a car wash and a courtesy car, all organised through a dedicated personal service contact.

Free software upgrades are also included for the car’s infotainment system, although it’s worth noting that this does not include sat nav map updates. 

4.2

As with all modern Volvo products, the V60 Cross Country majors on comfort. The V60 is slightly bigger than the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series estates, meaning there’s plenty of space inside for passengers and luggage.

From the driver’s seat you’ll just about notice the higher driving position offered by the raised ride height, but this is no tall-riding SUV. All-round visibility is still good, however.  

Size

The Volvo V60 Cross Country measures in at just under 4.8m long, just over 1.9m (a shade over 2m including mirrors) and one millimetre shy of 1.5m in height. It’s a little larger than conventional executive estates from Audi, Mercedes and BMW, but around the same size as the Subaru Outback – although the latter is around 100mm taller. The V60 has a greater focus on practicality than its stylish V90 sibling, featuring a tailgate that’s far less raked and therefore a boot with a more practical shape.

Leg room, head room & passenger space

Up front, you’ll find some of the best seats in the business – something of a Volvo hallmark – while the rears offer enough space to sit two six-foot adults in comfort. The rear floor isn’t flat, so legroom becomes an issue with three rear passengers – even if shoulder space is fine. It’s worth noting too that while rear legroom is okay, it can be hampered if the front seats are set to their lowest positions. There are Isofix points on each of the two outer rear seats.

Boot

The V60 Cross Country’s boot measures in at 529 litres – larger than that of the conventional Audi A4 Avant (504 litres) and BMW 3 Series Touring (495 litres), but trails the Subaru Outback’s 559 litres ever so slightly. The Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer is the biggest near-rival, with 560 litres. It’s interesting to note that the Cross Country does not lose out on space versus front-wheel drive versions of the V60.

Folding the seats flat can be made easier with the optional Convenience Pack (£500), which adds electrically folding rear seats amongst other practical luggage organisation features and extra power sockets. A total of 1,441-litres of space is available with the seats down.

Towing

The Volvo V60 can tow braked trailers of up to 2000kg when specified with the optional retractable tow bar at just over £1,000. This also brings Volvo’s ‘Trailer Stability Assist’ system, which can use the brakes to help regain control of a snaking trailer at speeds over 31mph.

 

3.7

Though not as cheap to run as its front-wheel drive counterpart with the same engine, the V60 Cross Country offers decent economy and acceptable emissions for a car of this type. Volvo quotes an average economy figure of 42.8-47.9mpg, measured on the latest WLTP test cycle that more accurately reflects real-world driving. By contrast, the same engine and gearbox combination in the standard V60 manages 47.9-55.4mpg.

The V60 Cross Country clearly beats its Subaru Outback rival in this department, whose 2.5-litre petrol engine only returns 33mpg on average (WLTP). In top-spec 2.0-litre BiTurbo D trim, the Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer returns 36.2mp, or between 41.5 and 42.2mpg in the lower-powered Turbo D. Until the Volkswagen Group models return to their respective ranges (Audi A4 Allroad, Skoda Octavia Scout and Volkswagen Passat Alltrack), the V60 Cross Country is most economical car of its type.

Emissions are good for a four-wheel drive estate car, with an official NEDC equivalent figure of 135g/km quoted. For company car users this means a Benefit in Kind percentage charge of 32% in 2018/19, 35% in 2019/20 and 36% in 2020/21. By contrast, the petrol-only Subaru Outback brings a 34% charge in 2018/19, climbing to the maximum 37% thereafter.

Road tax is £205 in the first year, followed by the standard yearly payment of £140. Once you’ve ticked a few options boxes you’ll easily push your V60 Cross Country over the government’s £40,000 threshold and incur a £310 surcharge on in years two to six of ownership, making for a total annual bill of £450. Rivals like the Insignia Country Tourer start around the £30,000 mark and so should avoid this.

Insurance groups

The Volvo V60 Cross Country sits in insurance group 31 – considerably higher than the groups 17 to 20 of the Subaru Outback. The Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer sits in group 20 or 24 depending on which engine is fitted.

Currently discontinued but available through dealer stock, the Audi A4 Allroad sits in insurance groups 26 to 39 depending on engine and specification.

All Volvo V60 models are fitted with an anti-theft alarm with an immobiliser, volume sensor and a level sensor. Volvo’s On Call system can also be used to track the vehicle if it is stolen.

Depreciation

Our experts predict that the V60 Cross Country will hold onto a shade over 41% of its original value come trade-in time after three years and 36,000 miles. An equivalent Audi A4 Allroad is predicted to retain around 48-50% by contrast, though the Subaru Outback falls behind both with a predicted 39% after three years.

Lexus ES review
Posted on Monday March 18, 2019

For 
Luxurious, comfortable cabin
Overall refinement
Low running costs
Our Rating 
4
Against 
Lack of driving excitement
Powertrain noise
Firm F Sport model
Lexus ES - front
2019

The Lexus ES is a very comfortable and refined executive saloon to rival the BMW 5 Series and Volvo S90 with impressively low running costs

Almost all of the main rivals for the Lexus ES focus on a sporty driving experience, and judged on this criteria the executive saloon is significantly behind the competition. However, where the ES claws back ground is how comfortable it is, with a high-quality interior, low noise levels and a smooth ride - as long as you avoid the F Sport model. Add in the ES's very efficient hybrid powertrain, and it has a unique but strong appeal for those looking for a comfortable, discreet saloon that doesn’t skimp on luxuries. It also provides very low running costs alongside impressive emissions, which will be a big plus for business and private owners.

 

18 Mar, 2019
4.2

The exterior design of the ES is instantly recognisable as a Lexus, combining the distinctive grille shape and slim headlights with a curved rear roofline, giving a coupe-like feel. Despite the strong nose treatment, the ES is relatively conservative in its design, and is unlikely to put off many buyers as a result - in particular the strong metallic red paint option brings out the best of the shape.

Although a brand-new design, the layout of the ES follows the template set by the LS and previous GS models, with an unfussy design, a slim grouping of buttons on the dashboard with a large transmission tunnel housing the main controls for the infotainment system. The quality of the materials is impressive, if not quite as good as the best in the class, but the result is a cabin that is comfortable and soothing, and feels built to cope with many thousands of miles.

Standard equipment is generous across the range, and even the entry-level model comes with heated electric front seats and adaptive cruise control with level 2 autonomy – usually a cost option in this segment. The top-spec Takumi model brings a larger infotainment screen, a Mark Levinson audio system and a head-up display.

Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment 

The standard infotainment system provides an eight-inch screen, while Takumi models have a 12.3-inch display screen as standard, and other models can be upgraded to this. The display itself is clear and easy to read, but the input device is a touchpad which can be awkward to use and is less accurate than those offered by rivals. The ES can’t be specified with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, though, which will be a significant omission for some. By contrast, the Mark Levinson audio system is a particular highlight, with speakers set at shoulder height around the cabin for superior sound quality.

3

As with much of the Lexus range, the ES puts comfort ahead of other considerations, and it’s this aspect that dominates the driving experience. Everyone inside will enjoy the smooth ride that deals well with a variety of surfaces and remains composed on motorways or in town. This is helped by the excellent refinement of the powertrain, with the petrol engine and electric motor combining well to provide quiet, fuss-free motoring. This is particularly apparent when driving in traffic, where the car’s ability to operate on electric power only emphasises the sense of quiet within the cabin.

On more challenging roads, the ES retains its composure, and when driven at high speed the steering responds well, with good feedback and accurate responses to the driver’s inputs. The Lexus ES also features a new type of suspension damper called a Swing Valve Shock Absorber, the idea being that a valve inside the system helps it to respond better to bumps in the road and cornering loads. The result is that the ES corners relatively flat for a car of this size and is largely untroubled by road imperfections. What the Lexus ES lacks is the sharpness offered by rivals such as the BMW 5 Series and is more biased towards comfort than the Mercedes E-Class, which manages to be relaxing and enjoyable to drive, too.

Go for an F Sport model, and the standard adaptive suspension is firmer than in the standard model. Combine this with the larger wheels that are also fitted, and the ES’s focus on comfort is lost somewhat.

The powertrain of the ES is also not best suited to enthusiastic driving. When driven in normal conditions it operates very well, with the engine and electric motor combining with the CVT automatic transmission to keep the engine dormant or at low revs as much as possible. Demand brisk acceleration, however, and the ES struggles somewhat, with the engine revving hard but delivering less performance than diesel rivals. 

Engines, 0-60 acceleration and top speed

The ES is available with a single powertrain, a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine matched with an electric motor and battery pack, to give a total output of 215bhp. There’s a single gearbox option, too, a CVT automatic transmission. The ES accelerates from 0-62mph in 8.9 seconds, as much as a second slower than comparable rivals from BMW and Mercedes-Benz, while its top speed is also a modest 112mph.

When driven at normal speeds the powertrain delivers smooth and quiet operation, with the gearbox operating with impressive efficiency. However, when strong acceleration is demanded, the four-cylinder unit shows some harshness as it sits at high revs, with only modest acceleration delivered. The CVT is an improvement on past Lexus models, though, so will be pleasing to use for existing Lexus owners.

3.5

While Lexus doesn’t promote the safety of its products as heavily as some manufacturers, the reality is that the ES has performed well under official testing and comes with a broad range of safety equipment both as standard and optionally. 

The ES received a full five-star rating when it was tested by Euro NCAP in 2018, scoring 91% for adult occupant protection, 90% for vulnerable road user protection and 77% for its safety assist systems. As standard, all ES models come with the Lexus Safety System+ package, which includes autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, while there is also radar-guided cruise control and lane assist that provides Level 2 automated driver support. The Takumi model also adds a blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic alert as standard. 

The ES is too new to have appeared in the 2018 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey, but the Lexus brand as a whole has been a consistently strong performer over the years and was the best brand in the 2018 survey.

Warranty

The Lexus ES warranty covers a period of three years or 60,000 miles, which is broadly in line with its competitors in terms of the time period. However, some rivals offer unlimited mileage over the same period, although with its reputation for reliability this may be much less of an issue. Interestingly, parent firm Toyota offers a five-year warranty on its models.

Servicing

Lexus has yet to confirm service costs for the ES but it is likely to be in line with other models with the same powertrain, resulting in an intermediate cost of around £250 and the major services varying between £500 and £650 depending on the mileage interval. This is broadly in line with key rivals, but the bonus is that Lexus dealerships have scored very highly for customer satisfaction over the years in the Driver Power survey, so you’re unlikely to be disappointed with the level of service you experience.

The Lexus ES bucks the trend set by its main rivals by being available in saloon-form only, something that may make it unsuitable for some buyers. However, space inside the cabin is generous for occupants both front and rear. An electrically adjustable steering column and seats on all models make it easy for the driver to find a suitable seating position, and the rear seat can accommodate a smaller adult or child in the central rear seat. 

Visibility is good forwards and to the sides, but rear visibility is slightly compromised by the sloping roofline which results in a narrow rear window. This is mitigated somewhat by the standard safety equipment, though, which includes a reversing camera as standard.

Size

At 4,975mm, the Lexus ES is one of the longest cars in the executive saloon car class, 36mm longer than the Audi A6. It also has the lowest roof height in the sector, but crucially it has the shortest wheelbase, which translates to a smaller cabin overall. In terms of width, the ES sits somewhere in the middle of the class at 1,865mm. That’s narrower than the Audi A6 and BMW 5-Series, but wider than a Mercedes E-Class.

Leg room, head room & passenger space

Although cabin space is smaller overall than in its key rivals, the room on offer for its occupants is generally impressive. Legroom is good for both front and rear passengers, and while headroom for front seat occupants is good, in the rear the sloping roofline impacts on the space available to the point where taller passengers may find it uncomfortable. Isofix points are fitted to the two outer seats in the rear.

Boot 

The Lexus ES has the smallest boot amongst its key rivals, measuring 454 litres. That’s 76 litres down on the Audi A6 and BMW 5 Series and a massive 180 litres less than the Mercedes-Benz E-Class. The boot space itself is accessed through a relatively narrow opening with a significant lip at its base, while the rear seat backs are fixed in place, so longer loads can’t be threaded through into the cabin.

4.5

Lexus has long followed the hybrid route, and in the UK at least the ES will only be available with a petrol-electric drive system. Depending on the model and the alloy wheels fitted, the ES is capable of between 48.7 mpg and 53.2mpg under WLTP testing protocols, giving it a theoretical range of almost 600 miles on a single tank of fuel. Emissions are rated at 100g/km NEDC for the entry-level ES version, rising to 106g/km for the F Sport model. That makes it an appealing prospect, as it manages to compete with diesel rivals, but using petrol power. For company car drivers it also means a lower Benefit in Kind band than for similarly priced diesel executives, because the ES isn’t subject to the 3% BiK surcharge on diesel models.

Road tax rates for the ES are competitive, although the price tag can affect this significantly. The entry-level ES model costs £130 per year at the current rates which is £10 less than a non-hybrid alternative, which is a modest saving. However the Takumi version has a list price over £40,000, which means it attracts the £310 surcharge for the first five years of ownership, while other models could quite easily be pushed over the £40,000 barrier with a few options added.

Electric range, battery life and charge time

Lexus doesn’t quote an official range for the ES when operating on electric power alone, because the system is set up to use the best combination of electric and petrol power for the driving conditions. Drive around town, and the ES has the potential to travel on battery power most of the time, with the petrol engine only engaging when faster acceleration is needed. Like other Lexus hybrids you can change the vehicle mode to save the battery for later in your journey and keep it fully charged. As the ES is what Lexus terms a ‘self-charging’ hybrid, power is returned to the battery by a combination of regeneration and engine power, so there is no need to plug it in.

Insurance groups

Insurance groups for the Lexus ES vary from group 33 for the standard model to 34 for the F Sport trim and 38 for the Takumi trim, which is broadly in line with rivals. Because there is no high performance version of the ES however, the highest group 38 model is lower than equivalents from Audi and BMW. 

Depreciation

The previous Lexus GS model retained between 37% and 44% of its value after three years, but the ES is slightly better, with a retained value of 41-46%. In comparison, the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes E-Class and Audi A6 are a couple of percentage points ahead of the ES – demonstrating that the German marques are still the popular ones in the sector.

New Skoda Scala vRS hot hatch could be a hybrid
Posted on Monday March 18, 2019

John McIlroy 2019-03-18 12:30

Skoda is planning to give its Scala hatch the vRS treatment and the hot hatch may use hybrid tech to keep emissions down

Skoda Scala vRS Avarvarii

Skoda is lining up its Scala family hatchback as the next model to get the vRS treatment, according to a senior official – and requirements on CO2 emissions could mean that it becomes the first hybrid performance vehicle from the company.

The Czech brand recently launched the Kodiaq vRS, its second hot model after the Octavia vRS. But the Scala – a conventional rival for the Ford Focus and VW Golf – would in theory be a more natural base for a ‘traditional’ hot hatch than the larger Octavia.

Best hot hatchbacks on sale now

Speaking at the Geneva Motor Show, Skoda’s board member with responsibility for sales and marketing, Alain Favey, admitted that such a vehicle is now being discussed. “Officially we have not decided anything,” Favey said, “but yes, we are considering a Scala vRS. As far as I am concerned, it would make sense for us to have one.

“The reality is that we have been extremely successful with the Octavia vRS. And early signs for the Kodiaq vRS are encouraging; it is hitting its targets and more. So even in a package which is not a conventional sports car, a sporty version makes a lot of sense.”

Our exclusive image previews how a Scala vRS could look, and Favey added: “On a personal level, I would love to have [it]. But it needs to make sense in terms of profitability and it has to exist in the context of the CO2 targets we have to achieve for next year. There are a number of elements that you have to take into consideration – more than there used to be some years ago.”

That concern about the impact of a Scala vRS on Skoda’s average fleet CO2 emissions – a target the firm has to meet to avoid European Union fines – could force Skoda to take a radical approach to the powertrain. 

The concept that previewed the Scala, the Skoda Vision RS, combined a 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine with a 101bhp electric motor to deliver a total of more than 240bhp. A set-up like this in production form could give the Scala performance to match more traditional 2.0-litre cars like the Golf GTI, but with a lower impact on Skoda’s fleet CO2 emissions average.

Skoda’s board member for technical development, Christian Strube, has been pushing the VW Group hard for a hybrid system. He declined to confirm this, or say whether such a move would be designed to support a Scala vRS, but he conceded:
“A performance version of the Scala is very interesting from an engineering perspective. It’s a type of car that I’m pushing for.”

Would a Skoda Scala vRS be an attractive alternative to a Golf GTI? Let us know your thoughts in the comments...

Drivers face £700 annual road toll bill as EVs hit fuel duty revenue
Posted on Monday March 18, 2019

Tristan Shale-Hester 2019-03-18 12:10

Researchers say a national network of tolls should be implemented to compensate for a loss in fuel duty caused by EVs

M6 motorway traffic

A national network of road tolls, costing drivers £700 a year on average, should be put in place to compensate for a large loss of income from fuel duty, researchers have said.

At present, fuel duty is charged at a rate of 57.95p per litre for petrol and diesel. The Treasury has been warned, though, that as electric cars become more prevalent, the Government could stand to lose more than £14billion by 2040.

UK petrol and diesel prices: February price rise ends three months of cuts

The study, which was conducted by Bloomberg New Energy Finance and reported by the Times, says that while the Government could try to compensate for this loss by increasing fuel duty on the remaining petrol and diesel cars, or impose higher surcharges on electricity, it would be more effective to abandon the tax altogether in favour of a mileage-based road-charging system.

The researchers have suggested a levy of 7.5p per mile be introduced by 2030, rising to 9.1p per mile by 2040. Other major countries, including the US, China and Germany, have also been advised to consider the concept.

Electric vehicles cheaper to own than petrol or diesel cars

Recent political history suggests, however, that such a scheme may not go down very well in the UK. Back in 2005, the ruling Labour Government announced plans for a road pricing policy that could have seen drivers pay up to £1.34 per mile to use motorways at peak times.

The plans were subject to a huge public backlash, including an online petition in 2007 that attracted more than 1.8 million signatures. As a result, the Government was forced to abandon the scheme.

What do you think about the proposed toll network? Let us know in the comments below...

New Ford Fiesta ST gets 222bhp thanks to more Mountune magic
Posted on Monday March 18, 2019

James Brodie 2019-03-18 11:03

Latest Mountune-tweaked Ford Fiesta ST comes with a smartphone app for selectable performance levels

Ford Fiesta ST Mountune - front tracking

The new Ford Fiesta ST has finally been given the once over by specialist tuner Mountune, with a new tuning package the firm hopes will be as popular as the one offered on the previous-generation hot hatch.

Called M225, the upgrade package takes total power up from 197bhp to 222bhp, while torque swells significantly, too, up to a maximum of 340Nm.

Best hot hatchbacks to buy

A new induction kit for the turbocharged 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine is key to unlocking these new outputs. And as a result, Mountune claims that the Fiesta ST M225 is capable of 0-62mph in less than six seconds – 5.95 seconds to be precise – while a second has been cut from the car’s 31mph-62mph rolling dash. Mountune says it has altered the Fiesta ST’s torque curve, too, with torque delivered earlier and more consistently across the rev range.

Interestingly, the M225 upgrade is heavily linked to a new smartphone app called SMARTflash, and it’s a crucial part of the package.

Essentially, the app builds on the standard car’s selectable driving modes. Toggle the Performance calibration on SMARTflash, and the 222bhp and 340Nm of the M225 package is unleashed in full, alongside a more aggressive launch control function and what Mountune claims is a louder exhaust note.

Two more calibrations are part of SMARTflash: Stock and Anti-Theft. Stock returns the Fiesta ST to its factory power output and performance levels, while Anti-Theft fully immobilises the vehicle.

Elsewhere, buyers of the full kit get trademark Mountune badges, a Bluetooth adapter necessary to link the app directly to the car, and a zip-up case to keep the adapter in. The full M225 kit costs £662, but owners who have already upgraded their induction systems with Mountune parts can buy just the SMARTflash package and the driving modes as part of a light package for £479.

Do you think 222bhp is enough power for the Fiesta ST? Let us know in the comments below...

New Bentley Continental GT V8 unveiled ahead of UK launch next year
Posted on Monday March 18, 2019

Luke Wilkinson 2019-03-18 15:00

The third-generation Bentley Continental GT V8 will reach the UK market in early 2020, with 542bhp and a top speed of 198mph

Bentley Continental GT V8 - coupe front tracking

Bentley has introduced a V8-powered Continental GT. Available as a coupe or convertible, the new model will go on sale first in the American market later this year, followed by a UK launch in early 2020.

The latest addition to the Bentley Continental GT range is powered by a twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 petrol engine, producing 542bhp and 770Nm of torque. The sprint from 0–62mph takes a claimed four seconds for the coupe and 4.1 seconds for the convertible, and both models have a top speed of 198mph.

Best luxury cars on sale

Thanks to its cylinder deactivation technology (which can shut down four of the engine’s eight cylinders for fuel economy advantages) and the addition of a start-stop function, Bentley claims the new Continental GT V8 can cover 500 miles on a single tank.

Bentley’s latest Continental GT V8 also comes with an active all-wheel-drive system which varies the amount of torque between the front and rear axle, depending on the road conditions. According to Bentley, the Continental GT V8 is primarily rear-wheel-drive and only sends power to the front axle when absolutely necessary.

All V8-powered Continentals feature hollow anti-roll bars front and rear, air suspension, electric power steering and Bentley’s adaptive chassis control, which claims to improve ride comfort and reduce body roll. Buyers also have the choice of nine wheel designs in sizes measuring from 20-inch to 22-inch.

Inside, the V8 models get a walnut dash, a 10-speaker sound system and a pair of twenty-way electrically-adjustable leather seats, available in a range of colours. As an optional extra, buyers can spec Bentley’s ‘Rotating Display;’ a revolving unit behind the wheel which houses a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster as well as a trio of analogue clocks.

What are your thoughts on the new Bentley Continental GT V8? Let us know in the comments section below…

'All manufacturers missing from Geneva have lost customers and sales'
Posted on Friday March 15, 2019

Mike Rutherford 2019-03-18 07:30

Several manufacturers were missing from this year's Geneva Motor Show, and have all lost out on big sales, says Mike Rutherford

OPINION Geneva

A growing army of dissident manufacturers continues to blank car exhibitions. And if this commercially suicidal trend continues, prepare for some – maybe most – of these crucial events to vanish.

The buying public will have fewer motor shows to attend. Makers will lose priceless opportunities to build relationships with customers. An industry which already builds too many cars for too few buyers will shoot itself in both feet. How clever is that? 

Best cars from Geneva 2019 

Having attended more than 30 Geneva shows, believe me when I say the Swiss one is the best, most user-friendly car exhibition on the planet, with the added bonus of fabulously wealthy potential customers walking through the door, every day.

Yet despite its global No. 1 status, the likes of Ford, Jaguar, MINI and Volvo boycotted this month’s event. JLR was missing because it’s cash-strapped, which is fair enough, right? But why were the others MIA? 

Possibly it’s lethargy, or arrogance, or a bit of both, or maybe I’m being overly tough on them for skiving off. Perhaps it’s too much to expect companies to go to the trouble and expense of sending cars and staff to shows where they’ll come face to face with consumers on the front line? It’s easier for these professionals to languish in their offices, after all, feet on desks, as they idly let the vehicles sell themselves via the internet. 

Show me a car firm that repeatedly fails to attend and I’ll show you an ‘organisation’ so disorganised it’s turning its back on customers who are desperately needed like never before.

True, motor manufacturers can, depending on their size, spend millions or tens of millions a year attending car shows. But what’s the problem with this legitimate expense when so many of them rake in billions in annual profits? 

Show organisers can help by encouraging fewer static displays and more moving vehicles, and creating bigger retailing arenas for buying and selling on the day. So, if a motorist doesn’t whip out their credit card and order a new car on the spot, they might buy something car related – like a takeaway electric bike for the rear of the family SUV.

It’s significant – and a positive sign of the rapidly changing times – that at Geneva the embarrassing gaps left by major car firms were filled with specialist companies taking big money over the counter, via portable credit card machines, for everything from watches to high-end fashion, to automotive art, to historic vehicles. This proved that motor shows are about much, much more than factory-fresh cars.  

Having said that, this month JLR could’ve and should’ve taken cold, hard, much-needed cash from showgoers in Switzerland for exclusive ‘Geneva Edition’ all-new Evoques and Defenders. Only motorists in attendance would have earned the right to buy such limited-volume models, which would surely be wise investments.

As it turned out, consumers robbed of a JLR stand headed to Jeep’s display. How many potential Defender buyers ordered a Wrangler in Geneva instead? Plenty, I suspect. You’ve got to be in it to win it. And the fact is that Jeep was, while Land Rover was not.

Do you agree with Mike? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below...

New BMW X7 2019 review
Posted on Friday March 15, 2019

BMW X7 - front cornering
20 Mar, 2019 9:30am
Richard Ingram

The BMW X7 is BMW's new flagship SUV and is aiming to tackle the Range Rover head on, but has it succeeded?

BMW is no stranger to the SUV segment. Yet for years, the Range Rover has held its own as the ultimate off-roader; the long-standing default choice for those after the luxury of a limousine with the practicality and status of a 4x4. 

Yet BMW thinks the Range Rover’s days at the top are numbered. With the introduction of the X7, the German firm now occupies a broader spectrum of SUVs than near enough any maker on the planet. Depending on your needs and lifestyle choices, you can choose anything from the very smallest X1, to the mid-size X3 or larger X5 – with the sleeker X2, X4 and X6 sitting somewhere in between. But this X7 takes the company into unchartered territory.

Best SUVs and 4x4s to buy

Due in UK dealers next month, BMW will offer the X7 with a choice of three six-cylinder engines at launch – each mated to an eight-speed automatic gearbox. The entry-level 30d costs from £72,155 and uses the now familiar 261bhp 3.0-litre diesel unit. For an additional £2k buyers can select the 40i petrol, while just over £87,000 puts you behind the wheel of the flagship quad-turbo M50d.

Despite buyers swinging in favour of petrol or hybrid power, it’s the 30d that BMW’s reckons will prove most popular in the UK – at least to begin with. Unfortunately, that car wasn’t available to us on the US-based international launch, so most of our miles were covered in the 40i. With 335bhp and 450Nm of torque, it’s certainly not lacking punch; despite being more than 5.1m long and 1.8m tall, it’ll do 0-62mph in 6.1 seconds – and allegedly return more than 30mpg. 

BMW claims the X7 is a ‘paragon of quality’, delivering outstanding luxury and a full complement of advanced equipment features. As such, every version gets LED headlights, air suspension and a 12.3-inch digital display. Its sheer size means even the entry car gets 21-inch wheels, while the standard-fit three-part glass roof floods the cabin with natural light.

Quality is first rate, with every surface covered in leather, metal or soft-touch plastic. There’s a typically Germanic feel to the cabin – up front, especially – where it appears more clinically engineered than a Range Rover, and more logically designed, too. The infotainment system is easy to use, and it’s complemented by a row of shortcut buttons that allows the driver or passenger to quickly switch radio stations or instantly input a pre-set sat-nav destination. Like on the current 5 Series, the gesture control system feels like little more than a gimmick, however. 

Elsewhere, the kit list is generous. Every car gets the latest Parking Assistant Plus system and 360-degree cameras, but thankfully BMW’s CraftedClarity glass gear lever and associated buttons first seen on the X5, remain optional. M Sport spec, which historically has been a big money maker for BMW, adds racier trim and high gloss accents.

While it won’t waft like a Range Rover, the X7 is an incredibly refined SUV – certainly more so than the outgoing Mercedes GLS. Those air springs mean every X7 deals admirably with even the very worst lumps and bumps, and while the highways we sampled were pretty smooth, the occasional deep pothole refused to upset the grandeur or composure of the BMW’s latest SUV.

Unfortunately, our test route from the factory in South Carolina to Savannah, Georgia, comprised almost entirely fast, straight roads. While the few corners we did encounter showed it to feel much like a longer and larger X5, it’s simply impossible to pass considered judgement on what the new X7 is like from a dynamic perspective.

That said, the tried and tested straight-six petrol engine is lifted from the latest 540i and is as smooth and powerful as you’d expect. It pulls strongly in spite of the X7’s frankly absurd 2.4-tonne kerbweight, matched perfectly by the familiar eight-speed ZF box.

But the X7’s aspirations as a Range Rover killer mean this BMW needs to be as comfortable and complete in the rear, as it is up front. Gladly, there’s loads of room in the back; all UK cars get seven seats as standard, but for an extra £500-odd you can ‘upgrade’ to a six-seat layout with two armchair-style seats in the middle row. These slide and recline electrically, of course.

Four-zone climate control is standard, and you can even spec a five-zone set-up if you plan on regularly carrying a full suite of siblings. A Land Rover Discovery is perhaps marginally more spacious for those in the very back, but the X7 should prove more than sufficient for growing kids. You can specify rear sun blinds in the second row, and there are even controls to allow passengers to close the headliner.

But the biggest difference with the X7 versus a Discovery, is bootspace. Even with the rearmost seats in place, the BMW boasts a bigger load bay than you’ll find in the latest Mazda 3. Fold everything down and you’ll reveal a van-like 2,120 litres, while that air suspension system means you can lower the car slightly to make loading a little bit easier. It’s a colossal car, but the internal benefits of that huge footprint are clear as day.

4
The first-ever BMW X7 won’t worry Range Rover’s marketing team all that much, but that doesn’t stop it being a seriously accomplished luxury SUV. It’s huge inside and out, excelling as a luxury limo and posh family bus in equal measure. Our UK road test will give us a better impression of the X7’s dynamic ability, but as a refined, beautifully built and suitably imposing SUV, it looks to tick every box and more.
  • Model: BMW X7 xDrive40i
  • Price: £74,155
  • Engine: 3.0-litre 6cyl turbo petrol
  • Power/torque: 335bhp/450Nm
  • Transmission: Eight-speed auto, four-wheel drive
  • 0-62mph: 6.2 seconds
  • Top speed: 152mph
  • Economy/CO2: 32.5mpg / 198g/km
  • On sale: Now

Mercedes X-Class vs Volkswagen Amarok
Posted on Friday March 15, 2019

2019-03-15 17:35

It’s a posh pick-up showdown as the VW Amarok faces the new V6 Mercedes X-Class

mercedes x-class vs volkswagen amarok pick-up truck twin test header

The new Mercedes X-Class is making waves in the pick-up sector, as we found out in our first group test last May. It brought comfort levels more akin to an SUV, without sacrificing its workhorse credentials.

Now there’s a new model with even more grunt. This X 350 d has a powerful V6 and sits above the four-cylinder version we tested previously. To match it there’s also a new challenger from Volkswagen. The Amarok has been given a more potent V6 to match the Mercedes’.

Best pick-up trucks 2019

Both models have the same power output and cost more than £47,000, so are the priciest, most premium pick-ups around. But which monster truck is the better buy?

Head-to-head

Model: Mercedes X 350 d V6 4MATIC Power Volkswagen Amarok 3.0 V6 TDI 258PS 4MOTION Aventura
Price:  £47,412 (incl. VAT) £47,921 (incl. VAT)
Engine:  3.0-litre V6 diesel 3.0-litre V6 diesel
Power/torque:  254bhp/550Nm 254bhp/580Nm
Transmission:  Seven-speed automatic, four-wheel drive Eight-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
0-60mph:  7.5 seconds 7.0 seconds
Top speed: 127mph 127mph
Test economy:  27.2mpg/6.0mpl 27.0mpg/5.9mpl
CO2/tax:  236g/km/£240 220g/km/£240
Options:  Metallic paint (£630), COMAND Online Nav (£2,748), Style package (£1,218), Parking package (£1,128), black leather (£1,098), diff lock (£612), increased ground clearance (£270), roof liner (£264), 19-inch alloys (£600), roll-top cover (£1,772), tow bar (£325), load bed liner (£300) Aventura-specific style pack, including metallic paint (£2,862)

Mercedes X-Class

For: Comfortable ride, powerful V6 engine, high-quality cabin is more car-like than rivals’
Against: New V6 engine is noisier than four-cylinder motor, transmission is lethargic, options are expensive

This new X-Class and the high-spec Amarok offer something a bit different to most other pick-up trucks. They are designed to appeal to buyers looking for a bit more luxury and quality, without sacrificing the versatility and practicality of a truck. This Mercedes X 350 d V6 adds to that appeal with effortless performance.

While the engine revs smoothly, it’s surprisingly noisy. The X-Class’s V6 makes less of a racket at idle, but the motor is actually louder than the Volkswagen’s on the move, particularly if the transmission shifts down and flares up the revs.

The new seven-speed automatic box is a weak point, too, because it’s slow to respond. This is most noticeable at a junction where you’ve slowed down and need to speed up again quickly. The gearbox takes much longer than the VW’s unit to change down, or to transmit power when pulling away.

With one fewer ratio than its rival, the Mercedes fell behind in our performance tests as well. It took four seconds to go from 30-50mph in fourth gear, 1.6 seconds behind the Volkswagen, and 9.7 seconds to cover 50-70mph in seventh, which was 3.3 seconds adrift of the Amarok.

That’s not to say it’s slow, however; both of these high-powered trucks deliver an impressive turn of speed, but it’s the in-gear torque which will be the biggest benefit when filled with a payload. We recorded a 0-60mph time of just 7.5 seconds in the X 350 d, half a second slower than the Amarok.

Trucks like these often struggle to control their weight because their suspension set-up is designed to maximise payload, but Mercedes has managed to provide a carrying capacity of 1,067kg without adversely affecting the quality of the ride.

It’s not night and day next to the Amarok, which is also among the better-riding trucks, but the X-Class certainly has the edge for comfort. It doesn’t skip and shuffle over bumps as much as the VW, and the rear end isn’t as juddery with an empty bed. The Mercedes is more car-like to drive than the Amarok, and the extra composure means it’s a refined cruiser. But neither model is that sharp to drive.

There are more soft-touch plastics on the dash top and doors of the X-Class than in the VW, along with metal-effect trim to make the inside look more like the brand’s car range. However, this stemmed from our test model’s pricey £1,098 leather interior package option, plus Mercedes’ 8.4-inch COMAND infotainment, at a steep £2,748.  Top-spec Power trim brings a reversing camera, cruise control, electric seats, climate control and man-made leather upholstery as standard.

Testers’ notes

  • Infotainment: Optional sat-nav system in X-Class comes from older-generation Mercedes cars. It looks a little dated, although so does the VW’s smaller set-up
  • Dashboard: Soft-touch plastics and metal-effect dash give the Mercedes a more upmarket look than the Volkswagen
  • Storage: There’s no obvious place to put your phone, other than in the cup-holder. It’s not ideal

Volkswagen Amarok

For: Strong performance, relatively refined, good level of equipment fitted as standard
Against: Lesser specs better value than expensive Aventura trim, not as comfortable as the Mercedes

As with the X-Class, the Amarok is only available as a double-cab truck, but unlike its rival, the Volkswagen comes exclusively with V6 engines. While there are three outputs, the Aventura is only offered with the most powerful 254bhp model we’re testing; this also exclusively features an eight-speed automatic gearbox and permanent four-wheel drive.

The transmission is as smooth as the Mercedes’ seven-speed in auto mode, yet it shifts up and down more quickly when needed. Thanks to the extra gear, VW was able to shorten each ratio in turn, which boosts the V6’s performance further. The 254bhp, 580Nm unit is incredible. It took the Amarok from 0-60mph in seven seconds, half a second faster than its rival (and, amazingly, quicker than a Ford Fiesta ST).

The VW clocked 2.5 seconds from 30-50mph in third gear, and in fourth gear it needed just 2.4 seconds to do the same sprint, which demonstrates just how torquey this engine is. That ability will help with pulling heavy loads, aiding flexibility. The X-Class took 3.0 and 4.0 seconds respectively.

On the move the VW’s V6 is quieter, too. It’s less harsh and you can keep it in a higher gear more of the time and make use of the low-down grunt. The Amarok has a traditional ladder chassis and leaf-spring rear suspension, so it tends to shudder and crash if you don’t have anything in the load bay. While the movement of the suspension is more noticeable on a country road than in its rival, the VW isn’t uncomfortable and it’s only a little behind the X-Class’s cruising refinement on the motorway.

It’s a bit easier to drive, too, because the Amarok has better forward visibility and lighter steering than the Mercedes. Also, since the VW’s box is more responsive, you’re not left waiting for it to catch up.

But while car-like ride comfort and an upmarket interior go some way to justifying the high price Mercedes asks for its new pick-up, the Amarok still seems like a working vehicle, even in top Aventura spec. The dash is made of hard plastic that hampers perceived quality next to the X 350 d. Still, the VW’s standard Nappa leather seats feel nice and are comfortable. This trim also gets LED lights, 20-inch alloy wheels and a ‘sports bar’ over the rear window.

A £306 differential lock is available to boost the Volkswagen’s rugged performance, and there is an off-road driving mode with automatic hill descent control. This was just as good as the Mercedes’ when going through deep mud off the beaten track.  

Aventura trim also comes with a 6.33-inch Discover Nav infotainment system that includes smartphone connectivity, parking sensors, a reversing camera and trailer stability control.

Testers’ notes

  • • Infotainment: Amarok features a 6.33-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto included as standard. Handy buttons around the edges make the system easier to use
  • • Gearbox: Eight-speed auto shifts more quickly in manual mode than the seven-speed in the X-Class
  • • Seats: Both cars feature leather seats, and they’re also electronically adjustable, which helps you find a good driving position

Verdict

First place: Volkswagen Amarok

The Amarok isn’t quite as comfortable or upmarket inside as the Mercedes, but it’s a better pick-up. It has more headroom, in-cab storage and load bay space, gets more standard kit and the engine and gearbox are a better fit, too. The motor is incredibly powerful, helping to justify the VW’s price.

Second place: Mercedes X-Class

There’s no question that the X-Class is the most luxurious truck around. But this V6 version suffers from a lazy box and noisy engine that detract from the appeal. It’s not as well equipped as the VW, and the option packs are pricey. Still, it’s surprisingly comfortable for a versatile workhorse.  

New legislation introduced to clamp down on private parking companies
Posted on Friday March 15, 2019

Tristan Shale-Hester 2019-03-15 13:18

The Parking (Code of Practice) Act 2017-19 introduces new guidelines for private firms to follow and an independent appeals service

Car clamp

A new law is being introduced to regulate private parking companies and protect drivers from unfair fines.

The Parking (Code of Practice) Act 2017-19, which has been given Royal Assent, will see private parking companies subjected to a new Code of Practice which aims at making the industry more consistent, transparent and easy to understand.

Self-driving cars will lead to parking chaos

Private parking firms who breach the code could be punished by being barred from asking the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) for motorists’ details, making it much harder for them to enforce fines.

In addition, the Act will see the introduction of an independent appeals service, which drivers can use to challenge unjustified parking tickets.

Local Government Minister Rishi Sunak MP said: “For far too many drivers slapped with unjust fines, this largely unregulated industry feels like the Wild West.”

Sunak expressed his sympathy for drivers who face “awful treatment at the hands of dodgy parking firms”, condemning rogue companies for making “intimidating demands for payment” and having “baffling appeals processes”. He added that the act would “cut out rogue operators” and give drivers “greater protection”.

Councils plan to charge drivers up to £1,000 a year to park at work

Already, the Act has won the backing of a number of motoring groups, including the AA and RAC. These organisations will now help the Government write the Code of Practice.

Nicholas Lyes, head of roads policy at the RAC, commented: “For too long, some unscrupulous private parking operators have made drivers’ lives a misery with some questionable practices, which sent levels of trust in the sector plummeting.

He added: “The code will create more consistent standards across the board, which should eliminate dubious practices and create a single, independent appeals process.”

Drivers fined £4.2m for parking in disabled bays

Andrew Pester, chief executive of the British Parking Association, said the Act would “enable greater consistency and consumer confidence”, adding that his organisation would work to provide “a fair outcome for motorists, landowners and parking operators alike”.

What do you make of this new legislation? Let us know in the comments below... 

Citroen Berlingo XL vs Vauxhall Combo Life XL vs Ford Grand Tourneo Connect
Posted on Friday March 15, 2019

2019-03-17 11:00

New van-based MPVs from Citroen and Vauxhall are more practical than ever. But do they leave their seven-seater rival from Ford all at sea?

Citroen Berlingo XL vs Vauxhall Combo Life XL vs Ford Grand Tourneo Connect header

Buyers looking for a spacious family car might consider a traditional MPV or, perhaps more likely these days, a big SUV. But there is a section of the market that offers more boot space than nearly any other car, room for seven people in the specifications we’re testing and all this at a price lower than most family hatchbacks.

These three people carriers are all based on vans, and it’s the newer Citroen Berlingo XL and Vauxhall Combo Life XL that are taking on the challenge of the Ford Grand Tourneo Connect. By adding some windows, extra seats and a few more creature comforts, manufacturers are able to offer cost-effective models that boast loads of space. So if you’re not too bothered about styling and need a practical car, one of these could be exactly what you’re looking for.

Best MPVs and people carriers

The Citroen Berlingo and Vauxhall Combo Life share a platform and use the same powertrain, but there are plenty of differences between them, while the Ford Tourneo Connect is based on the Transit Connect van.

All three have been launched or updated recently, but which one manages to blend practicality and value for money best? Read on as we load up to find out.

Citroen Berlingo XL

Model: Citroen Berlingo XL BlueHDi 100 Flair
Price:  £24,125
Engine:  1.5-litre 4cyl diesel, 101bhp
0-60mph:  14.5 seconds
Test economy:  46.4mpg/10.2mpl 
CO2:  115g/km
Annual road tax:  £140

The Citroen Berlingo name has been around since the mid-nineties, attached to vans and people carriers alike. This is an all-new version, and with the 101bhp 1.5-litre diesel engine and a manual gearbox, it costs £24,125 in top-spec Flair trim.

Design & engineering

The Berlingo is based on a commercial vehicle, but the platform is used very widely. It shares its architecture with the Vauxhall Combo Life in this test, plus Peugeot’s Rifter. In fact, this EMP2 set-up underpins a number of products across those three brands’ ranges.

Here we’re testing the long-wheelbase XL model with seven seats. It has sliding rear doors for access to the rear chairs, and a big tailgate at the back.

Our test car is powered by a 1.5-litre diesel engine with 101bhp. That’s a little more than the Ford’s 99bhp, but identical to the Vauxhall, because the two models have the same motor. Still, the Citroen (and the Vauxhall) make do with five-speed gearboxes, while the Ford has a six-speed transmission.

Temper your expectations and the Berlingo’s interior is pretty good. It’s nowhere near as stylish or interesting as the rest of the brand’s range, but at least there’s some personality, while the eight-inch infotainment system – standard on Flair – adds to its appeal. The dash is huge and made of robust plastic, which exposes the MPV’s commercial vehicle roots, yet it’s no worse than its rivals’.

Flair trim also brings sat-nav, smartphone connectivity, DAB radio, cruise control, parking sensors and autonomous emergency braking as standard. Our car was fitted with a wireless phone charger (£100) and head-up display (£400) as well.

Driving

You might expect that a people carrier based on a commercial vehicle with a 1.5-litre four-cylinder diesel would be rather unrefined to drive, but that’s not quite the case here.

For a start, the engine is relatively hushed, and at idle and low speeds the Citroen is the quietest car of our trio. Once you gain some speed there’s quite a bit of wind and road noise, but it’s still quieter than you might expect on a motorway.

The Berlingo is also the most comfortable of the three models. It deals with smaller bumps better than the Tourneo, particularly at the rear axle, although bigger potholes do still crash into the cabin. The Vauxhall is very marginally worse, but it’s only noticeable after driving both in succession; these two are extremely similar from behind the wheel.

There’s very little feel or feedback in the Citroen, because its steering is very light and barely feels connected to the front wheels. Still, it is very easy to drive, with good visibility thanks to its high seating position and large door mirrors.

The five-speed gearbox actually offers one of the best shifts in any Citroen model, because it’s relatively precise and fairly smooth for a car that’s been adapted from a workhorse van. The Berlingo is never fun to drive, but there is some satisfaction to be had from making the most of the 1.5’s 250Nm of torque. You do have to stay on the ball in all of these cars, though, because the bulky bodies and relatively low-powered engines mean performance is a little sluggish. We managed 0-60mph in 14.5 seconds in the Berlingo, 0.1 seconds slower than the Combo Life but 0.7 seconds faster than the Tourneo. Each is good enough to keep up with traffic if you make sure you’re in the right gear. They require anticipation.

Practicality

Few cars are as practical as the Berlingo XL, let alone for less than £25,000. Open up the sliding rear doors, which give great access to the cabin, and there’s room for three adults. Shoulder room is a bit limited with three people sitting in the second row, but that’s true in all three cars.

Open up the tailgate and adults can easily hop into one of the two rearmost seats, something that’s a lot harder to do in the Tourneo because the seatbacks block access from the rear. In many cases folding the middle row is a better bet.

The Berlingo’s rearmost seats are also big enough for adults to sit in comfort, even though the floor is higher than it is in row two.

There’s a useful 322 litres of boot space with all seven seats in place (the same as its rivals’ in this test) and 1,538 litres as a five-seater. Fold the second row completely flat and remove the third row and a gigantic 2,693-litre load capacity is on offer.

The low centre console has no cup-holders or storage bins, but at least there’s lots of stowage overhead, and occupants in the second and third rows also have access to cup-holders and tray tables.

Ownership

Citroen finished 25th out of 26 brands in our Driver Power 2018 satisfaction survey, which was a poor result for the firm.

Yet safety is better because autonomous braking, lane-keep assist and parking sensors are standard on the Berlingo Flair, matching the Combo Life and Tourneo Connect as tested here. All three cars scored four out of five stars in Euro NCAP crash tests.

Running costs

Thanks to CO2 emissions of 115g/km, the Berlingo is the cheapest company car option. It sits in the 28 per cent Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) tax bracket, so will cost lower-rate earners £1,336 per year compared with £1,316 and £1,285 for the Vauxhall (115g/km or 28 per cent) and Ford (122g/km or 29 per cent) respectively.

The Citroen’s fuel economy of 46.4mpg was the best here, but don’t expect a high figure if you’re regularly carrying plenty of passengers.

Testers’ notes: “The 1.5-litre diesel produces its maximum torque output at 1,750rpm, which means there’s just about enough performance from low revs. Progress is sedate, but the motor is relatively flexible.”

Vauxhall Combo Life XL

Model: Vauxhall Combo Life XL 4.5 Turbo D 100 Energy 7-seater
Price:  £23,760
Engine:  1.5-litre 4cyl diesel, 101bhp
0-60mph:  14.4 seconds
Test economy:  39.5mpg/8.7mpl 
CO2:  115g/km
Annual road tax:  £140

The new Vauxhall Combo Life shares much with the Citroen, including its 1.5-litre diesel engine and five-speed manual transmission. In Energy trim it’s slightly cheaper, at £23,760.

Design & engineering

The Combo Life is based on the same EMP2 platform as the Berlingo and has an identical 101bhp 1.5 diesel and five-speed manual gearbox. So it’s no surprise that it feels very similar to its Citroen rival. Park the two cars side by side and the likeness is clear to see. The panel and door designs look identical, for example, and you can see how close the styling is in our pictures if you ignore the branded front ends on each model.

On the inside the similarities are even more striking. In the Vauxhall there’s a slightly different, cheaper-feeling steering wheel, using an alternative button layout, while the dials are also changed, but the cabin is otherwise the same as the Citroen’s.

The dashboard uses the same materials and buttons for the most part, too. That’s no bad thing because it’s a functional design and it works just as well in the Combo Life as it does in the Berlingo. It’s just a pity that the upholstery isn’t as interesting or the quality quite as strong as its French competitor’s.

There’s the same eight-inch touchscreen display screen inside, with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay included on Energy trim, but satellite navigation is an extra £450 here (it’s standard on the Berlingo).

At least you get 16-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning, lane-keep assist, AEB, cruise control and DAB radio all fitted as standard.

Driving

There’s no getting away from the fact that the Vauxhall Combo Life and Citroen Berlingo are near identical in design and engineering terms, so it stands to reason that this extends to the driving experience as well. The seating position is the same and the steering is just as light and lifeless as the Citroen’s, which is a contrast to the Ford’s nicely weighted rack.

The ride is similarly comfortable, too, although the front end of the Citroen is ever so slightly more forgiving than the Vauxhall’s over smaller bumps, probably due to the two cars having different alloy wheels fitted. Both models are slightly more supple than the Tourneo Connect, but there is still a bit of movement over bumps at the rear end when the Vauxhall has no passengers or luggage on board.

The Combo Life’s 101bhp 1.5-litre diesel engine is identical to the Berlingo’s, but it’s noisier in the Vauxhall. In our tests it was a decibel louder than the Citroen at idle, and it’s more obvious when driving at low speed around town, too, although again, both of these people carriers were quieter than the Ford at idle and both were louder at a 30mph cruise.

In our performance tests the Vauxhall and Citroen both took 16.5 seconds to accelerate from 30-50mph through the gears, which was half a second faster than the Tourneo. All of our in-gear tests saw the sibling models within 0.2 seconds of each other’s times and slightly ahead of the Ford’s, in fact.

Considering their size, all three cars also performed well in our braking tests. The Combo’s stopping distance of 46 metres exactly from 70mph was the best of the three contenders.

Practicality

The Combo Life’s seats are similar to the Berlingo’s, while the body is also the same, so interior space is identical. Citroen’s official brochure uses a different method of measuring space to Vauxhall’s, but we’ve compared all three models like for like to get accurate readings.

Line the two MPVs up next to each other, as we did, and you’ll see they’re the same. They deliver 322 litres of load volume in seven-seat form, 1,538 litres in five-seat configuration and a total of 2,693 litres with all the rear seats either folded or removed where applicable.

Both models are a little bigger inside than the Tourneo (which has a total of 2,620 litres when all its seats are folded) and access to the rearmost seats is easier. It’s more straightforward to clamber into the back of the Vauxhall and Citroen through the side doors and the boot.

It’s worth mentioning that the Combo Life and Berlingo’s seats need to be removed and stored to maximise their interior space, while the Ford’s rearmost seats fold down flat into the boot floor.

Ownership

Vauxhall finished in a disappointing 22nd place in the makers’ chart of our Driver Power 2018 satisfaction poll, although that was ahead of Citroen’s 25th out of 26 brands.

Ford was ranked 16th, but the firm’s dealerships fell behind in 20th place. Citroen’s network came in a decent 11th, while Vauxhall’s took 21st out of 28.

The Combo’s four-star Euro NCAP crash test result is on par with both rivals here, and six airbags, AEB, parking sensors and lane-keep assist are standard.

Running costs

While the Vauxhall is similar to the Citroen in terms of design, it fell behind its French rival for fuel economy, with a 39.5mpg return. That figure means you’ll spend £1,780 per year on fuel (over 12,000 miles).

The Citroen recorded 46.4mpg, which works out as £1,515 per year in diesel, and the Ford managed 42.6mpg on test, which equates to £1,651 a year.

Servicing costs are similar for the Berlingo and Combo Life; the former will cost £651 a year on a 36-month deal, while Vauxhall offers a £22-per-month plan (that works out at £792 over three years). There were no figures available for the Tourneo.

Testers’ notes: “The Vauxhall is rated to tow up to 1,250kg, but the Citroen can only pull 1,100kg. The Ford falls behind both, though, at 1,073kg. However, all three will feel sluggish if loaded up with passengers and a trailer.”

Ford Grand Tourneo Connect

Model: Ford Grand Tourneo Connect 1.5 TDCi EcoBlue 100 Zetec 7-seat
Price:  £22,410
Engine:  1.5-litre 4cyl diesel, 99bhp
0-60mph:  15.2 seconds
Test economy:  42.6mpg/9.4mpl 
CO2:  122g/km
Annual road tax:  £140

Ford revealed a facelifted version of its Transit Connect van last autumn, and the updates have also been applied to this Tourneo Connect people carrier. The ‘Grand’ version we’re testing features seven seats and a longer wheelbase. It costs £22,410 in Zetec trim with a 1.5-litre diesel engine.

Design & engineering

The Tourneo Connect comes in standard and long-wheelbase versions, with our Grand model having the biggest distance between its wheels of this group. That should mean it offers plenty of interior space.

As part of the range update last year, the Ford is now available with a set of more efficient engines, including the 99bhp 1.5-litre diesel in our test car.

The lighter kerbweight goes some way to offsetting this slightly lower figure, while the engine produces slightly less torque than its rivals, at 240Nm.

A six-speed manual gearbox means the Grand has an extra ratio over the others here, and an automatic is offered for an extra £1,750. An auto box is available on some versions of the Berlingo and Combo Life as well, but not with these 1.5-litre diesel models.

Material quality in the Ford is slightly better, but not by much, while the fussy dashboard design means it looks more old-fashioned than the others, with lots of buttons and switches. Although they boost usability, the layout certainly has room for improvement.

The Ford is cheaper than the Citroen and Vauxhall here, but it also comes with less standard kit. Add the £1,176 sat-nav and infotainment system option, for example, and the prices line up more closely.

However, you do get air-conditioning, 16-inch alloy wheels, DAB radio, Bluetooth, cruise control, lane-keep assist and a heated windscreen for quick defrosting on chilly mornings.

Driving

The first thing you notice when you climb aboard the Ford is how much lower the driving position is. That means there’s loads of headroom, of course, but also that it’s easier to get in and out of and is more comfortable, too, feeling less like a van.

Still, once you’re on the move the Ford loses out to its rivals, because those van roots do start to show through. The rear end is choppy when not loaded up, for example, and vibrations from the road surface come through into the cabin more as well.

It’s also not as quiet as the Citroen and Vauxhall. Although wind and road noise are about on par, the diesel engine in the Tourneo is very rattly and noisy, especially at idle. You have to rev it harder to get the same performance as its rivals, too, because it produces its power and torque at higher revs.

The six-speed box doesn’t come with shorter ratios to make the most of the extra gear available, either, and instead Ford has opted for long gearing to improve economy. That results in disappointing performance figures; it took 17.5 seconds to go from 50-70mph in fifth gear, two seconds more than the Vauxhall and 1.9 seconds adrift of the Citroen, highlighting a relative lack of flexibility.

But while this means you have to be in a lower gear and rev the engine harder to speed up quickly, the Ford compensates by being surprisingly good to drive. For example, its steering is very nicely weighted and you’re able to feel what the front wheels are doing, so you can drive with more confidence. Also, the slick gearshift is satisfying to use, so we didn’t mind too much going up and down through the gears often.

Practicality

Although the Tourneo Connect is the lowest of these three models, you sit lower in the cabin so headroom is still plentiful, and there’s overhead storage. Even the tallest people would fit into any one of these cars without a crooked neck.

And while the very tallest passengers might complain about legroom, for most occupants there should be plenty in each of these models. The Ford edges slightly ahead in terms of second-row room, because its seats are a little more accommodating, but the result is a compromised third row. The chairs are set into the floor and adults will find them harder to access, whereas the rearmost seats in the Citroen and Vauxhall are easily big enough for adults.

The Tourneo has the same boot space with all the seats in place as both rivals, at 322 litres, but it’s very slightly smaller when all the seats are folded. At least the sliding doors on all three cars make cabin access easier in tight spots and help when loading up.

Ownership

In the manufacturers’ poll of our Driver Power 2018 satisfaction survey, Ford came a less-than-impressive 16th. But that was still ahead of both Citroen and Vauxhall, which scored poorly out of the 26 brands ranked.

As with both rivals, the Tourneo scored four stars in its Euro NCAP crash test in 2018, and comes with AEB, lane-keep assist and six airbags, just like its competitors. But while parking sensors are fitted as standard on the other cars (a useful feature for these large MPVs), they’re a £240 option on the Ford.

Running costs

The Ford is the cheapest car here to buy, and has the strongest predicted residual values of the three, so it’s set to lose the least money after three years or 36,000 miles. Our experts estimate that it will hold on to 41.9 per cent of its list price, which means it will shed £13,020 in that time.

The Citroen and Vauxhall’s expected residual figures stand at 39.4 per cent and 38.9 per cent respectively. Those translate to depreciation costs of £14,620 for the Berlingo and £14,517 for the Combo Life.

Testers’ notes: “The Ford has a larger fuel tank than its rivals, so it will travel further on a fill-up. Our test return of 42.6mpg means a 562-mile range. The Citroen will manage 510 miles and the Vauxhall 434 miles.”

Verdict

First place: Citroen Berlingo XL

Practicality and value for money are key in this market, and the Berlingo has both. Its seven-seat layout is well considered and versatile, yet it still offers good luggage space. The Citroen rides well and is relatively quiet, plus performance is acceptable and it’s frugal, too. Sat-nav and smartphone connectivity are standard, which helps the Berlingo edge ahead in this test, and it also has the most interesting interior design.

Second place: Vauxhall Combo Life XL

The Combo Life has most of the same strengths as the Berlingo, so it’s still a fine choice, but it’s not as good value. It has less standard kit, feels dull and offers nothing more in terms of practicality or running costs. Still, the Vauxhall has an edge over the Ford on versatility and performance, while lower CO2 emissions and more standard kit, including the infotainment, secure it second place.

Third place: Ford Grand Tourneo Connect

The Tourneo Connect is still a fine choice, but its older roots are more apparent. While it’s cheaper, the expensive optional infotainment still isn’t as good. It emits more CO2 and doesn’t have the same level of flexible performance as its rivals, even if it’s the more enjoyable car to drive – although this is relative. At least it’ll be cheap to buy and run, and usefully practical, but its rivals are slightly more spacious.

Also consider...

NEW: Peugeot Rifter

Model: Peugeot Rifter
Price: £23,740
Engine: 1.5-litre 4cyl, 101bhp

The Rifter is the third sibling in this EMP2 family and shares its chassis and powertrain with the Citroen and Vauxhall. It features Peugeot’s i-Cockpit interior design with digital dials, so has the edge for tech. It’s also refined and comfortable, like its siblings.

USED: Skoda Kodiaq

Model: Skoda Kodiaq 2.0 TDI SE L
Price: £22,995
Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl, 148bhp

Skoda’s Kodiaq is our favourite seven-seat SUV, and a used model makes a great buy. We found a 2.0-litre TDI 150 with just 22,000 miles for less than £23,000. The Skoda is more comfortable and has some great tech, but it’s not as big or as practical.

Figures

Citroen Berlingo XL BlueHDi 100 Flair Vauxhall Combo Life XL 1.5 Turbo D 100 Energy 7st Ford Grand Tourneo Connect 1.5 TDCi EcoBlue 100 Zetec 7st
On the road price/total as tested £24,125/£26,120 £23,760/£25,010 £22,410/£25,542
Residual value (after 3yrs/36,000) £9,505/39.4% £9,243/38.9% £9,390/41.9%
Depreciation £14,620 £14,517 £13,020
Annual tax liability std/higher rate £1,336/£2,673 £1,316/£2,632 £1,285/£2,569
Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles) £1,515/£2,526 £1,780/£2,967 £1,651/£2,751
Insurance group/quote/road tax cost 11/£397/£140 8/£422/£140 9/£503/£140
Servicing costs £651 (3 years) £22pm (3 years) N/A
Length/wheelbase 4,753/2,975mm 4,753/2,977mm 4,825/3,062mm
Height/width 1,849/1,848mm 1,880/1,921mm 1,820/1,835mm
Engine 4cyl in-line/1,499cc 4cyl in-line/1,499cc 4cyl in-line/1,498cc
Peak power/revs 101/3,500 bhp/rpm 101/3,500 bhp/rpm 99/3,750 bhp/rpm
Peak torque/revs 250/1,750 Nm/rpm 250/1,750 Nm/rpm 240/2,000 Nm/rpm
Transmission 5-speed man/fwd 5-speed man/fwd 6-speed man/fwd
Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel 50 litres/full-size 50 litres/repair kit 60 litres/repair kit
Boot capacity (7/5/2-seat modes) 322/1,538/2,693 litres 322/1,538/2,693 litres 322/1,287/2,620 litres
Kerbweight/payload/towing weight 1,533/747/1,100kg 1,540/770/1,250kg 1,732/796/1,073kg
Turning circle 11.5 metres 11.8 metres 12.2 metres
Basic warranty (miles)/recovery 3yrs (60,000)/1yr 3yrs (60,000)/1yr 3yrs (100,000)/1yr
Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos. 25th/11th 22nd/21st 16th/20th
NCAP: Adult/child/ped./assist/stars 91/81/58/68/4 (2018) 91/81/58/68/4 (2018) 92/79/65/75/4 (2018)
0-60/30-70mph 14.5/16.5 secs 14.4/16.5 secs 15.2/17.0 secs
30-50mph in 3rd/4th 5.5/9.1 secs 5.7/8.9 secs 6.6/10.8 secs
50-70mph in 5th/6th 15.6 secs/N/A 15.5 secs/N/A 17.5/26.9 secs
Top speed/rpm at 70mph 109mph/2,250rpm 106mph/2,250rpm 102mph/1,800rpm
Braking 70-0/60-0/30-0mph 49.1/33.6/9.2m 46.0/35.5/8.9m 51.8/37.0/9.3m
Noise outside/idle/30/70mph 71/45/63/73dB 72/46/64/73dB 71/48/62/73dB
Auto Express econ. (mpg/mpl)/range 46.4/10.2/510 miles 39.5/8.7/434 miles 42.6/9.4/562 miles
WLTP fuel consumption (med) 46.1mpg/10.1mpl 45.6mpg/10.0mpl 47.1mpg/10.4mpl
Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket 163/115g/km/28% 192/115g/km/28% 178/122g/km/29%
Airbags/Isofix/park sensors/camera Six/yes/yes/£500* Six/yes/yes/£400** Six/yes/£240/£390
Auto box/lane-keep/blind spot/AEB No/yes/£500*/yes No/yes/£400**/yes £1,750/yes/£510/yes
Clim/cruise ctrl/leather/heated seats £250/yes/no/no £200/yes/no/£200 £240/yes/no/£120
Met paint/LEDs/keyless/pwr tailgate £545/no/£250/no £565/no/no/no £600/no/£420/no
Nav/digi dash/DAB/connected apps Yes/no/yes/no £450/no/yes/no £1,176^/no/yes/no
Wireless charge/CarPlay/Android Auto £100/yes/yes £105/yes/yes £114/£1,176^/£1,176^

Tesla Model Y ride review
Posted on Friday March 15, 2019

2019-03-15 11:39

We take a passenger ride in the new Tesla Model Y SUV around the SpaceX headquarters in LA

Tesla Model Y

Elon Musk playfully declared on Thursday night that he’s “bringing sexy back” in reference to Tesla’s model line-up – S 3 X and, now, Y. Following the Model Y reveal at the company’s Los Angeles design studio Auto Express had the opportunity to take a ride around Musk’s SpaceX headquarters in LA.

The styling is largely borrowed from the Model 3 inside and out, just like its platform, but the higher proportions suit it well especially from the rear three-quarter view. The interior is a masterpiece of minimalism with the Model Y getting a 15-inch rectangular infotainment touchscreen perched upon a simple dash with strip of unvarnished wood breaking up the swathes of grey plastic. The panoramic glass roof adds to the natural ambiance, and the seats, made from vegan materials, are a nod to the brand’s sustainable purpose.

Best electric cars on sale now

It’s also Tardis-like; the front boot and rear, with the split seats down, enabling 1,900 litres of cargo space, according to Tesla, and the option of seating for seven. The car doesn’t require a key; instead, it connects to your smartphone for seamless entry and exit. It also talks to the Tesla Mobile app so you can autonomously summon the car, fix the temperature, track the car remotely.

Our brief ride around the SpaceX facility was in a Dual-Motor AWD version of the Model Y, which can hit 0-60mpg in a claimed 4.8 seconds. In the US that version will cost from $51,000. Thanks to the majority of mass being below the floor, where the batteries are lined, the handling appears class-leading for a mid-size SUV and the performance will satisfy point-and-squirt addicts. Slaloming past prototype versions of Musk’s Hyperloop and Falcon 9 booster rocket making for interesting if slightly unusual scenery. 

Musk says fun, space and safety are at the heart of the Model Y. “It has the functionality of an SUV, but it rides like a sports car. It’s really tight in the corners. It’s also going to be the safest car in its class.”

It’s expected that the Model Y will be built at Tesla’s Gigafactory in Reno, Nevada and, once it’s completed, the company’s new plant in Shanghai, China. Tesla has built 550,000 cars in 11 years, but Musk’s mission is to produce a million total in just 12 months’ time. The Model Y is set to take that eye-popping ambition further still and cement Tesla as a major mass-market manufacturer in the next few years.

Read the full story on the Tesla Model Y here...

New Lexus UX 250h 2019 review
Posted on Thursday March 14, 2019

Lexus UX - front tracking
14 Mar, 2019 5:00pm Alex Ingram

We drive the new Lexus UX 250h in the UK to see whether this small crossover can match its premium rivals from BMW and Audi

The new car market’s trend towards SUVs continues to gather pace, and the latest example comes in the distinctive shape of Lexus’s latest release, the UX. The brand’s compact BMW X2 and Audi Q2 rival looks set to poach sales from the ageing CT hatchback, if not directly replacing it altogether.

Lexus says that the UX is aimed at “modern urban motorists”. As the smallest of the brand’s three SUVs, and equipped with a petrol/electric hybrid system, it seems like a perfect candidate for town driving. But is it worth considering over its more established rivals?

Best small SUVs and crossovers to buy

The UX is the first Lexus to use Toyota's GA-C platform, the same one used by the current Prius, new Corolla and the car most closely related in terms of size and shape to the UX, the C-HR.

Under the skin, the UX’s hybrid system consists of a 2.0-litre petrol engine and battery assistance: front-wheel drive models get an electric motor up front, while ‘E-Four’ versions add a second to drive the rear axle.

The result is a maximum system output of 179bhp, and its 8.5-second 0-62mph time places performance on a par with the 1.5-litre turbo petrol Audi Q2. However, the electric motors make it feel much more sprightly than the Audi over the first few feet - perfect for darting in and out of gaps in traffic.

The petrol engine and electric motors have their own torque peaks - 190Nm for the combustion engine, 202Nm for the front E motor and 55Nm the one in the rear on 4x4 cars - but they don’t all arrive simultaneously, so Toyota doesn’t quote a combined figure.

As with the vast majority of the Toyota/Lexus hybrid family, drive is transferred to the road through a CVT automatic gearbox. While efficient, in the past this has come at the expense of refinement, causing the revs to rise unnaturally and noisily compared to a conventional automatic gearbox. The good news is that this is no longer an issue in the UX. There’s a little drone if you listen hard, but for the most part the combustion engine is so well isolated from the cabin that you don’t really notice.

It’s much more refined than the diesel alternatives other manufacturers offer in this class, especially when you consider that, for extended periods of coasting or gentle acceleration, the UX runs in hushed EV mode. It could be even more hushed, were it not for the fact that road noise isn’t particularly well isolated from the cabin. Ride comfort impresses overall, but at lower speeds the UX can jiggle around over smaller bumps.

That slight fidget is easy enough to forgive however, because the UX makes up for it in other areas. All of the cars based on the GA-C platform we’ve driven so far feel really engaging to drive, and the UX is no different. It’s more enjoyable from behind the wheel than the Q2 - if not quite up to the standards of the BMW X2 - and possesses a chassis that feels both secure and adjustable. The steering doesn’t have a huge amount of feel, but the weighing, consistency and precision are spot on.

Interior design is another area where Lexus traditionally scores highly, and the UX’s modern, simple look is another hit overall. The only minor gripe is with the row of piano-like switches for the air conditioning system. They’re similar to what you get in a Peugeot 3008, but not quite as nice to look at or touch. That aside, however, the quality is excellent and the style is unlike anything else in the class.

The infotainment system in the UX is another example of where Lexus chooses to go its own way, but probably one where it should really copy its rivals. The mousepad-like touch interface, though improved, remains frustrating to use. A click wheel, a touchscreen, or both would improve things greatly. Neither Apple CarPlay or Android Auto are available, either.

While rear passenger space is acceptable, the boot is tiny. A high floor results in a volume of 320 litres - that’s 150 litres less than a BMW X2. Go for a four-wheel drive model, and the extra rear-mounted motor drops that figure to 283 litres. A Ford Fiesta offers 292 litres.

But what of mpg figures? Well, keep to driving around town and the UX will easily beat conventional combustion-powered rivals - espect mid-to-high fifties mpg in the right conditions. However, at a steady 70mph you’d be lucky to hit 40mpg, so if you cover higher mileages, a diesel would be a much better option. Company car users will appreciate the 23 percent Benefit-in-Kind rate, which is three groups lower than the cleanest petrol BMW X2.

UX prices start from £29,900, which is similar to the BMW too, and all models get adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist and road sign recognition as standard. However, climb up the range and prices soon spiral: the top spec four wheel drive Takumi model costs £40,350. For that, you could get a top spec X2 xDrive20d M Sport X - a car which is quicker and potentially more frugal in the real world - and £1,210 change.

3.5
If you do plenty of town driving and a compact SUV appeals to you, then the Lexus UX makes a strong case for itself. It’s easy to drive, rides and handles impressively and its electric-only running for short bursts makes it frugal and refined around town. It’s not without its flaws, however: infotainment and practicality lag well behind rivals, and fuel consumption at motorway speeds disappoints. Top spec models are extremely pricey, too, so we’d recommend sticking to the lower trim levels.
  • Model: Lexus UX 250h Premium Pack
  • Price: £32,100
  • Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl, twin electric motor
  • Transmission: CVT automatic, front-wheel drive
  • Power: 179bhp
  • 0-60mph: 8.5 seconds
  • Top speed: 110mph
  • Economy/CO2: 53.3mpg/97g/km
  • On sale: Now

 

 


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