Car News

  • Behind the scenes at the world windscreen repair championships Sunday 19th August 2018
    World windscreen repair championships
    Millar works fast but methodically under the judge’s scrutiny
    Windscreen replacement specialists gather for the ultimate showdown, where one will be crowned world champion

    “My trainers told me they were going to break and rebuild me,” says Dave Lyth. “I lost three stone. It takes over your life.”

    The former UK and European champion, and world number three, turns his gaze back to Ryan Millar, his colleague, working quickly and expertly under the watchful eyes of two clipboard-wielding judges, within a precisely marked-out space he cannot leave and we cannot enter.

    “I’m feeling good,” Ryan had told me an hour before he went into the ‘ring’, here at the giant Frankfurt Messe exhibition complex. “Me and Billy Johnston, my trainer, have been practising ever since I won the UK title last October.”

    Welcome to the world windscreen repair championships or, as the organisers call it, the Best of Belron. Best of Autoglass would have been clearer except that Autoglass is just one of a number of vehicle glass repair companies operating under different names in over 30 countries (for example, Safelite in the US, O’Brien in Australia and Carglass elsewhere in Europe and Russia), all of them owned by UK-based Belron International Ltd.

    Every two years, the group’s technicians who have won their country’s national championship converge at a major international location to compete for the Best of Belron world title. This year, the football World Cup might have been taking place in Russia but its windscreen repair equivalent was happening right here in Frankfurt.

    In fact, not only windscreens but also rear and side glass, and recalibration of the cameras at the heart of the advanced driver-assistance system (ADAS) disturbed by the removal and replacement of the windscreen. Each technician is scrutinised by a team of two judges keen to see they’re following the Belron way, a system contestants ignore at their peril.

    “I’m looking for adherence to the process,” says head judge Darren Hunter. “For example, there are 40 steps to windscreen replacement alone. Also, I want to see first-class interaction with the judges who play the role of the customer.”

    The technicians compete in rows of marked-off spaces, each containing a workstation and a gleaming Audi A4. I arrive on the competition’s second day when they must remove, replace and recalibrate the car’s windscreen in 90min. Points are deducted for running over time as well as deviating from the Belron way. It’s high-pressure stuff, with each competitor observed not only by the judges but also by their fellow Belron countrymen and women. Each time a windscreen is removed and replaced, they cheer loudly.

    As much as it encourages their competitor, it also panics rivals, hopefully forcing them to fluff the process and drop points. At least, that appears to be the intention...

    “They won’t bother Ryan,” says Johnston. “He’s a retained firefighter and as cool as a cucumber. He’ll be too busy concentrating.”

    That much is obvious as, clock ticking, Ryan Millar deftly prepares his A4’s new windscreen and wipes clean the suckers that will grip the glass as he lifts it from the worktable.

    An experienced tech watching Millar alongside me recalls how in the old days, you could climb into the passenger seat, put your feet on the windscreen and push it out. Not any more. Instead, Ryan assembles a complex web of pulleys wound with Belron’s special Ezi-Wire fibreline that cuts through the windscreen bonding like cheesewire.

    With the old screen removed, he prepares the channel for the new glass. Taking it to the car and manoeuvring it into place is a delicate operation. Earlier, I’d visited glass supplier Pilkington’s stand in the adjacent exhibition hall and saw just how thin a modern windscreen is. It was from a current-model BMW 5 Series. The outer layer of glass was 1.8mm thick but the inner layer was just 1.4mm. On the previous model, both layers would have been 1.8mm and the windscreen itself 15% heavier.

    Windscreen and scuttle both in place, Millar is ready to recalibrate the ADAS camera mounted in the A4’s rear-view mirror assembly. Because the car’s battery is likely to have been drained slightly by the doors being left open, he hooks up a separate power source. If he didn’t, there’d be a risk the Audi’s battery would run into management mode, closing down the ADAS system.

    Millar now checks the A4’s tyre pressures and pushes down on each corner of the car to check it’s sitting level and at the right height. Some manufacturers insist their car has a full tank of fuel as part of establishing the vehicle’s correct height for recalibration. With the car sitting just right, he stands a large target board (each car maker has its own design) in front of the A4 and recalibrates the ADAS camera to factory settings. And then, but for general tidying up, he’s done.

    “I’m tired but proud to have represented my country and my colleagues,” Millar tells me. “I don’t do nerves. I just went in and did my best.”

    Steve Marelli, his colleague who won the world title in 2012, says winning is a big deal. “I’ve worked in over 10 Belron territories since my victory. I’ve done TV ads, roadshow demos... It was a huge career boost and now I’m an operations manager.”

    I’ve got to catch a plane so I miss the awards ceremony. My phone pings a message as I land at Heathrow: ‘Ryan got a runner-up position. A great result!’

    Absolutely, but judging by the determined look in his eyes earlier in the day, I bet he’s just a little bit disappointed at losing out to Rick Beasley of Safelite America. He has no need to be. If my car has picked up a chipped windscreen in the short stay car park, I know who to call. 

    It’s getting more sophisticated: 

    Taxiarchis Konstantopoulos, managing director of Autoglass, says that although there was an increase this summer in cracked windscreens caused by air-con systems chilling hot glass weakened by a pre-existing stonechip, there has been a slight decline in call-outs in recent years.

    “Motorists’ average speeds have fallen due to speed cameras,” he says. “Also, more people are leaving their cars at home and cycling to work or taking the train.”

    He says his business is becoming more sophisticated. First, there was the company’s launch, in 2015, of its ADAS recalibration service (“insurers took a lot of persuading”) and it is currently developing artificial intelligence (AI).

    “We’ll use AI to interpret customers’ photographs of their cars’ body damage and chipped screens and generate a quotation. It’ll make the customer journey slick and simple.”

    John Evans

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  • Volkswagen Arteon long-term review Saturday 18th August 2018
    Volkswagen Arteon 2018 long-term review hero front Is this a shrewd, lower-cost route to sleek four-door luxury motoring? Let’s find out

    Why we’re running it: To see if a cut-price luxury offering can be as urbane to live with as it is to look at

    Month 1 - Specs

    Life with a Volkswagen Arteon: Month 1

    Welcoming the Arteon to our fleet – 27th June 2018

    The Arteon is a curious thing, and not only because it’s pure motor show concept from the front but looks like a taxi when viewed side on.

    Notwithstanding the fantastically slippery XL1 plugin hybrid of 2013, this is the most dramatic design Volkswagen has given us in modern times. And putting aside for a moment the new Touareg SUV, with which the Arteon shares so much of it general aesthetic, it’s also VW’s flagship offering.

    It’s a level of status at odds with the reality that success for this car largely hinges on its suitability to motorway drudgery. It’s your silver-plated porridge spoon, if you like.

    This particular Arteon’s specification differs from the norm, mind. A diet of diesel has long been the preference for big-mileage executive saloons, but our fresh-faced long-term test car is propelled by the backstop of the engine lineup: the turbocharged 1.5-litre TSI Evo petrol engine. In a Golf, it’s a compelling proposition and one we’re particularly fond of, with a levity that makes spinning it out a satisfying endeavour but enough torque to ensure you’re never asked to work particularly hard for swift progress.

    In the Golf, it can also deactivate two of its four cylinders under light throttle loads between 1400rpm and 4000rpm for improved fuel efficiency, and the same is true for the Arteon. Whether its outputs of 148bhp and 184lb ft are as suited to a four-door fastback some 350kg heavier than the hatch is something we’ll discover in due course.

    Combined fuel economy is quoted at 48.7mpg (the most efficient model in the range, a similarly powerful 2.0-litre diesel, is quoted at 65.7mpg) with CO2 emissions of 131g/km. With a 66-litre fuel tank, that’s good enough for a range of more than 700 miles.

    Meanwhile, the claimed 0-62mph is 8.9sec, which although far from shameful doesn’t quite cash the cheque written by the assertive front-end design.

    The spec we’ve gone for is the entry-level Elegance, which is one of only two available in the UK, the other being R-Line. We’ll be swapping one for t’other in a few months’ time, but for now our Arteon cuts a more restrained figure, and does without gloss black air intakes, aggressive bumpers and 19in wheels. The paint is a metallic shade called Chilli Red and costs £595.

    You can buy an Arteon variously with a manual transmission and with Volkswagen’s 4Motion all-wheel drive system, but ours channels power to the front axle alone, and through a seven-speed dual-clutch ’box that can either be left alone or controlled through a pair of stubby steering-wheel-mounted paddles. 4Motion models come with active DCC dampers and a 15mm drop in ride height as standard, although our car uses a passive set-up.

    Inside, it’s a bit of a mixed bag, with the stark, clean, expansive architecture left slightly hanging by a range of materials and finishes – notably gloss black and aluminium – that don’t do an awful lot to excite. There’s also a strong whiff of Passat in there, which isn’t surprising given that’s the model with which the Arteon shares its basic construction.

    The nappa leather seats, meanwhile, are VW’s ergoComfort models with electric adjustment for the backs and lumbar support but manual levers for height and reach. You’d get exactly the same shape in an R-Line Arteon.

    We’ve been sparing with optional extras in an attempt to hone the Arteon’s appeal as a value proposition relative to its lavish overtones. It means that along with the paint, the only other boxes we’ve ticked are those for the £900 keyless entry with the electric tailgate, which can be opened by swiping your foot beneath the rear bumper, and a £315 rear-view camera. You might have expected VW to throw in a rear-view camera for ‘free’, given this is its flagship saloon, but no.

    One tempting option we didn’t elect for is VW’s £985 Discover Navigation Pro infotainment system, and there’s a good reason why we’ve settled for the standard 8.0in display. Fact is, superb as the 9.2in glass touchscreen of the Pro might look, it does without any physical buttons or switches, so there are no scrolling dials for quick, sightless adjustments to volume and navigation zoom. We’re also far from convinced with VW’s efforts to implement gesture control, which are still hampered by inconsistent response.

    As it is, the total outlay was £34,555, which places the car, well, where among the alternatives, exactly? You could buy a base-spec Audi A5 Sportback SE for few grand less, but we reckon you’d need to spend at least £38,500 to spec it to a similar level as our Arteon. For one thing, the VW is equipped as standard not only with a 12.3in digital instrument binnacle but also a range of safety-oriented technologies such as predictive cruise control, lane-assist, pedestrian monitoring and emergency braking at city speeds.

    Of course, there’s an indefinable element to luxury that has little or nothing to do with value for money. What we’ll endeavour to discover during the next few months is whether this car has it or if those who crave the sophisticated aura of a ‘four-door coupé’ and view Arteon ownership as an inexpensive way in should steer clear.

    Second Opinion

    I wasn’t a big fan of that wing-shaped front grille on our R-Line road test car, but something about its look on this Elegance-spec long-term test car appeals more to me. And I love the way the chrome bars run over the headlights.

    Richard Lane

    Back to the top

    Volkswagen Arteon 1.5 TSI EVO Elegance specification

    Specs: Price New £32,745 Price as tested: £34,555 Options: Metallic paint £595, keyless entry and hands-free tailgate operation £900, rear-view camera £315

    Test Data: Engine 1498cc, 4-cylinder, turbocharged, petrol Power 147bhp at 5000rpm Torque 184lb ft at 1500rpm Top speed 138mph 0-62mph 8.7sec Claimed fuel economy 54.3mpg Test fuel economy xxx CO2 119g/km Faults None Expenses None

    Back to the top

  • Turning a VW Beetle into a beach buggy for £1250 Saturday 18th August 2018
    Beach buggy
    It’s built for sand but is small and nimble so ideal in town
    A beach buggy makes the world a happier place, and you don't need sand to enjoy one - just the chassis from a VW Beetle and the desire to tinker around

    People who buy Lamborghini Aventadors and then drive them backwards and forwards outside Harrods are seeking attention.

    Fine, but they’ve got it wrong. If you want to rack up a serious eyeball count, you need a beach buggy. Furthermore, if people are saying nice things about your choice of motor, you can’t hear them in an Aventador.

    You can in a beach buggy: I know because a lot of people have been complimenting me on my choice of wheels. And shirt.

    Back in 1970, the Sprinkle family moved to the UK from the US and sent their two sons to the school I was at. Along with the boys, Mr and Mrs Sprinkle brought with them their daughter Susanne, who made a major impression on me, and their beach buggy.

    I still have a vague memory of Susanne, but a very accurate mental picture of the buggy. Metalflake purple, big chrome roll-over bar, huge tyres and a loud exhaust. We all had Hot Wheels beach buggies but one in full size, in our school car park among Morris Minors and Ford Anglias, was unbelievable.

    Beach buggies were big in California but we hadn’t seen one in Woking. That would change within a year or so as these minimalist machines caught on in Britain. I don’t know what make of beach buggy the Sprinkles owned but it’s very similar to the one I’m driving now. This red metalflake marvel is owned by James May, who has had it restored after it was on the Grand Tour programme.

    My working world these days is full of infotainment, smartphone mirroring and lots of technology to do with electric cars that I don’t fully understand. It’s going to give me a great deal of pleasure to describe to you the technical spec of May’s buggy. Proper old-school stuff.

    The glassfibre body is a Prowler, which is essentially a copy of a GP body, which, as all beach buggies have been, is a copy of the original Meyers Manx. The body is ultra simple, with no doors or openings, and literally bolts to a Volkswagen Beetle chassis. Unless you’re building a long-wheelbase buggy, which doesn’t look quite right, you have to cut and shut the floorpan.

    This buggy was built using a brand-new body by a company in Birmingham called Kingfisher Kustoms, which is run by lifetime buggy enthusiast Dave Fisher. Built to stand abuse from motoring TV stars, it uses an independent rear suspension from a 1302 ‘Super Beetle’, CV joints from a Type 2 van (they’re stronger and allow more travel) and rear hubs from a VW Type 181 ‘Thing’. At the front, there are disc brakes from a standard Beetle but with four-to-five stud adaptors. The tyres are suitably podgy 215/60 R15s at the front and 275/50 R15s rear.

    The engine is bored out to 1776cc, has big-valve twin-port heads, each of which wears a Weber 40 IDF carb, and breathes out through Supertapp mufflers. The cam is an Engle 110, the pistons by Mahle and the crankshaft standard VW. To top it off, the whole lot has been lightened and balanced. It hasn’t been on the dyno but the output is guessed to be about 100bhp.

    The car hasn’t been on the scales, either, but I’d guess at no more than 650kg. It feels very light when you push it around and it feels light to drive. Now, I’m not claiming Lotus- Elise-like handling for the buggy but it feels fabulously light on its feet, with light and direct steering, a ride that’s good by modern standards and acceleration that is probably lousy against a watch but feels very sprightly through the trousers. The motor is torquey, with great throttle response once it’s warmed up.

    But where’s the beach? I haven’t looked into it but I suspect that finding an expanse of sand on which the car could live up to its name is very difficult unless you live in Scotland or near Pendine Sands in Wales.

    Churning up sand is not environmentally friendly. It’s the same problem that owners of Ariel’s Nomad must have: where to use it. Actually, the Nomad is rather like a modern beach buggy. Simple, minimalist, light and fun. Removed from modern, highly complex supercars that have performance that’s unaccessible on the road.

    Lack of sand isn’t a problem. A beach buggy is fun anywhere, even in central London. Small, squat, nimble and easy to literally hop in and out of, it’s the perfect urban transport. Especially if it’s sunny.

    Three famous buggy drivers: 

    Steve McQueen might be more famous for driving a Mustang in Bullitt, but don’t forget The Thomas Crown Affair, in which McQueen thrashed around the dunes in a beach buggy with Faye Dunaway in the passenger seat.

    The father of the beach buggy is Bruce Meyers, a surfer, engineer and artist who used his experience in building GRP boats to create the first Meyers Manx buggy in 1964. He’s still going strong, aged 92.

    Elvis Presley drove a Meyers Manx in his 1968 Live A Little, Love A Little film. Toy company AMT built a model of the car; just one of dozens of buggy models produced in the 1960s and 1970s.

    Read more

    Lee Noble reveals £18,000 Bug:R beach buggy

    Summer’s here: cars to take to the beach

    Saying goodbye to the Volkswagen Beetle

  • Video: 2018 Mercedes-AMG GT C vs Porsche 911 Carrera T Friday 17th August 2018
    2018 Mercedes-AMG GT C vs Porsche 911 Carrera T We drive both cars back-to-back on some of our favourite roads. In the process, we realise that sometimes less really is more.

    For the road, the GT C is the best version of Mercedes-AMG's V8 sports car. Is the Carrera T the sweet spot of the Porsche 911 range, too?

    To find out, we drive both cars back-to-back on some of our favourite roads. In the process, we realise that sometimes less really is more. 

    Read more

    Porsche 911 review 

    Mercedes-AMG GT review 

    Porsche 911 Carrera T: pared-back variant on display at LA show

  • Facelifted Jeep Renegade starts at £19,200 Friday 17th August 2018
    Facelifted Jeep Renegade shown at Turin motor show Small SUV has its retro rugged styling tweaked and gains a more emissions-friendly engine range

    The Jeep Renegade has been given a light facelift, with subtle changes to its exterior styling and new technology inside, and with a fleet of new engines confirmed. A £945 price hike takes its entry-level price up to £19,200.

    Jeep has previously confirmed to Autocar that there will eventually be a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol, 48V mild hybrid version of every car in its line-up. This will include the upgraded Renegade when it goes on sale in the UK in September. The American brand also has plans to give each of its models a plug-in hybrid variant by the end of the decade, as well as a smaller, sub-Renegade SUV after this. 

    A 1.0-litre, 120bhp petrol, as well as a 150bhp and 180bhp 1.3-litre petrol will also feature, bringing greater performance and efficiency than the current iteration's 1.4 and 1.6-litre petrols. The range-topping Renegade, the 2.0-litre, 168bhp Trailhawk, costs £30,805. 

    Exterior revisions include revised LED daytime running lights - the X motif from the rear lights is continued into the headlights now - and other such light tweaks, while the car’s rugged, retro-Jeep styling remains. 

    Inside, a larger 8.5in infotainment screen takes the place of the current 6.5in unit, absorbing the buttons and controls previously surrounding it, although a smaller 5in unit is fitted to lower-spec models. The new unit is still housed in the shaped surround so takes up no more space than the complete previous unit. 

    The Renegade is Jeep's most successful model in Europe, being closely related to the Fiat 500X and occupying the same market segment as the huge-selling Nissan Juke. The new Jeep Compass, a Nissan Qashqai rival, is also pivotal to the brand's success. 

    A Jeep spokesman confirmed that the updated Renegade would arrive in September 2018 after its reveal. 

    Jeep had a poor 2017 in the UK; its market share shrunk to 0.25%, a 55% decrease over 2016, with sales dropping from 14,090 to 6380 cars. The Renegade made up 4540 of these - more than 70% of Jeep's total UK sales for the year.

    That's twice the drop recorded by parent brand Fiat and far out of proportion with the overall market contraction across the year. 

    Jeep CEO Mike Manley previously said to Autocar: “With the Renegade growing in Europe, we are where we want to be. We have yet to complete the European rollout of the Compass, which is in Europe’s biggest segment. In 2018, I’m looking for significant growth on 2017.”

    Read more

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  • Bugatti Divo: full car previewed ahead of next week's reveal Friday 17th August 2018
    £4.4 million Bugatti Divo: full car previewed ahead of August 24 reveal Just 40 examples of track-focused, Chiron-based hypercar will be made by firm's new coachbuilding division; it'll be revealed on 24 August

    Bugatti has shown its Chiron-based Divo hypercar under a sheet ahead of its launch on 24 August, revealing the car's shape and some of its proportions before its styling is revealed next week.

    Few details of the Divo have been revealed so far, but the latest glimpse of the car under a silk sheet suggests that the car will have a large stability fin at the back, as well as a dominant wing extending past the back of its diffuser. It's also possible to see that the car's window line is completely distinct to that of the Chiron, with a rising shoulder underneath it, extending down from the back of the glass to the very front of the car. The wheel arches pull tension in the fabric, suggesting they're sharply extended from the main body. 

    A previous shot of the £4.42million machine's rear lights can be seen in a video released on social media, which also shows the outline of a large wing. Head of exterior design, Frank Heyl, also revealed that the Divo will move forward from Bugatti's current design: "We’ve kept and further developed our Bugatti design DNA features, but on top of that have also taken the opportunity to exercise our freedom and create a completely new form language.”

    In a clip recently released by the brand, Divo project manager Pierre Rommelfanger confirmed that the car will be lightweight, downforce-focused and will generate more G-force than the Chiron, but is intended for use on the road, rather than being a concept car, show car or track-only special. The brand has confirmed that the car is intended for road use, as well as track use.

    Another shot showing embroidered branding for the car reveals none of the performance-boosting revisions over the Chiron, but the hashtag ‘Built for corners’ suggests a set-up more suited to track driving than outright speed. Bugatti also lauds the car's "enormous downforce and G-forces".

    The name comes from French racer Albert Divo, who won the 1928 and 1929 Targa Florio for Bugatti.

    Bugatti hasn't revealed the car yet, but confirms that Divo will be the first project undertaken by its newly resurrected coachbuilding division. "New, strong design language" suggests its look will be notably distinct from that of the regular Chiron.

    Set to be revealed at The Quail Motorsports Gathering later this summer, the Divo will add to the series of editions that starts with the standard, £2.5 million Chiron and continues to the more lightweight, hardcore Chiron Sport

    The Divo is expected to follow the Sport in getting no alterations to Bugatti's 1479bhp quad-turbo 8.0-litre W16, but lightweighting measures, downforce-boosting bodywork, upgraded suspension and other corner-friendly mechanical tweaks are confirmed.

    It’s likely that the Divo will complete the brand's line-up for the foreseeable future, given that it will be the third variant launched in two years. Bugatti will charge £4.42 million for each of the 40 Divos that will be made - a heavy premium over the other two models. 

    “Happiness is not around the corner. It is the corner. The Divo is made for corners. With the Divo, we want to thrill people throughout the world. With this project, the Bugatti team has an opportunity to interpret the brand DNA in terms of agile, nimble handling in a significantly more performance-oriented way," said Bugatti boss Stephan Winkelmann.

    Last year, Bugatti set the record for the 0-400kph-0 run with a time of 41.96sec, but Koenigsegg broke this record twice a few weeks later. Koenigsegg also broke the production car speed record, which has remained unchallenged by Bugatti.

    Bugatti hasn’t hinted at any motorsport intentions with the Divo, except for the location of its unveiling, but it would likely be a contender for the production car Nürburgring lap record

    To set the record, it would have to beat the Lamborghini Aventador SVJ’s time of 6:44.97. If it were to do so, it would make four of the five fastest production car laps from Volkswagen Group products, joining the SVJ, the current second-place holder, the Porsche 911 GT2 RS, and fourth-place Lamborghini Huracán Performante.

    Porsche also recently smashed the outright 'Ring record with its modified Le Mans car, the 919 Evo.

    Read more: 

    Gallery: best of the Quail motorsport event

    Hardcore Bugatti Chiron Sport launched

    Koenigsegg Agera RS breaks its own 0-400-0kph record

    Fastest ever Nurburgring lap times - the definitive rundown

  • Kia Ceed 1.4 T-GDi First Edition review Friday 17th August 2018
    Kia Ceed 1.4 T-GDi First Edition review Kia's Golf rival is growing up, as its petrol variant looks to topple European stalwarts from their long-held high perches This is the new, apostrophe-free Kia Ceed, with a petrol engine.Kia’s gunning for the Volkswagen Golf with the new Ceed, and it shows. Just take a look at the interior, where there's not a hard plastic in sight – at least where you regularly touch, anyway. Getting into the finer details, the 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol version is aiming squarely at the Golf’s 1.5-litre TSI Evo variant, as well as downsized versions of other mass-market family hatchbacks. Kia’s aspirations of a more premium position mean the Golf is in the crosshairs, though. In £25,750 First Edition trim, it’s no bargain alternative, but it comes laden with tech and numerous option boxes ticked as standard. You’d be hard pushed to point it out from a regular Ceed, with no badging or shouty features signifying its First Edition status. It’s the petrol motor under the bonnet that matters most, however, because this is the first time we’ve driven the 1.4 in the UK. 
  • MG 3 Exclusive 2018 review Friday 17th August 2018
    MG 3 Exclusive 2018 review hero lead Aggressively priced supermini steps up interior game, but lacks performance of major rivals Examine the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders' sales figures for July compared with last year and you’ll discover MG’s rate of growth has been spectacular.No less than 167%, in fact, at a time when most marques are experiencing a slight sales slump — not least value-proposition opposition Dacia.MG, it seems, is flying, but that Bentley recorded 103% growth gives some indication of the underlying reasons for such a statistical surge. The truth is that it’s taken four long years for the Chinese-manufactured MG 3 to amass 10,000 sales in an out-and-out volume segment, and so the only way truly is up. Ford, for reference, sells the British public around 5000 examples of the Fiesta every month.But if the 3 is some way off the pace in sales, the lightly revised version tested here also remains some way off the price. Even in top-spec Exclusive trim, it comes in at only £12,795; and if that’s not thrifty enough, consider that in entry-level Explore guise this car costs a mere £9495 — almost a match for the basic Volkswagen Up, which is a full segment below the 3.You’ll need mid-ranking Excite trim if you’re to enjoy 16in diamond-cut alloy wheels instead of 14in steelies, reverse parking sensors and a sharp new 8.0in touchscreen (without navigation, but with Apple CarPlay and a DAB radio), and only Exclusive comes with part-leather sports seats.The infotainment display is sleekly integrated into the dashboard (although it still sits awkwardly below your eye line) and, in fact, the entire interior is more credible than you might expect both in terms of materials and fit. Along with exterior design tweaks, chief among them the adoption of a larger, chromed-rimmed grille, the 3 cuts an attractive figure.
  • New Cars 2018: What's coming soon? Friday 17th August 2018
    New cars 2018
    Welcome to Autocar's run-down of all the new cars heading this way in 2018
    Autocar's new cars list gives you all the information on 2018's new arrivals, rounding up all the new models going on sale in the UK

    We're a little over halfway through yet 2018 has already proved to be another exciting year for cars. We're welcomed new entrants into every major segment, and that ever-growing flock of SUVs continues to surge.

    Here is your one-stop shop for keeping up-to-date with what's coming when in the car industry. 

    August 2018

    September 2018

    October 2018

    November 2018

    December 2018

    Early 2019

    New Cars Coming in 2018:

    August

    Audi Q8

    Very large, dramatically-styled SUV will sit atop the Audi SUV range, based on the Q7. SQ8 version to follow. 

    BMW X4

    X3-based SUV-coupé shifts after just four years, with the advent of the new X3. 

    Ford Mustang Bullitt

    Bullitt's 50th anniversary has spawned the Mustang Bullitt - Ford's third attempt at a Bullitt-themed special edition, with 475bhp and throwback styling to Steve McQueen's famous hero car.

    Honda Civic saloon

    Honda bucks the anti-saloon, pro-SUV trend by introducing a new saloon to the UK market. It's already sold in markets across the world.

    Honda CR-V

    Newly turbocharged, and larger in every direction, Honda's largest SUV hopes to rack up more sales, akin to the successful US version. 

    Jeep Wrangler

    Jeep's old-school SUV is getting thoroughly modern with a hybrid variant and new tech. 

    Kia Ceed

    The Ceed is germinating into a whole family of models including a shooting brake and SUV. The hatchback remains at the core of the range, though.

    Maserati Levante Trofeo

    It's been a while since Maserati produced anything new and hardcore, but the Levante is set to be the next, with a 582bhp Ferrari V8 under the bonnet. 

    Mazda MX-5 facelift

    Power for the MX-5 gets a boost from 158bhp to 181bhp, torque also grows slightly and exhaust note has been tweaked.

    Mercedes-Benz CLS

    Newly revealed third-generation CLS does without the shooting brake this time around, but maintains the style of the original. 

    Subaru Outback facelift

    Interior tweaks will make the cabin of the facelifted Outback a much more interesting place to be. Minor exterior tweaks will keep the status quo. 

    September

    Ariel Atom

    Fourth-generation Atom gets Honda Civic Type R power, slingshotting itself (and the driver) to 62mph in 2.8sec. It's been subject to a ground-up rebuild.

    Aston Martin DBS Superleggera

    Our latest five-star car, with 715bhp, 211mph top speed and 0-62mph in 3.4sec.

    BMW M5 Competition

    Harder and faster version of new all-wheel drive M5 is quicker off the line than its Mercedes-AMG E63S rival.

    BMW X3 M

    The hot SUV brigade will gain a new entrant hailing from Munich when the X3 M arrives. Beware, Porsche Macan Turbo and Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio.

    Citroën Berlingo

    Citroën's third-generation van-based MPV - its second-best seller worldwide - gets a new SUV-like look, new front-end underpinnings and a host of driver assistance systems.

    Hyundai Santa Fe

    Fourth-generation large SUV puts a focus on technology, with a host of standard driver assistance, safety and convenience systems.

    Isuzu D-Max (facelift)

    Isuzu's workhorse will be refreshed for 2018, with styling, interior and technology tweaks. As the class heats up, Isuzu may have a fight on its hands.

    Range Rover SV coupé

    Super-luxury, SVO-built two-door coupé will hit UK shores by the end of 2018, as an eventual follow-up to the Range Stormer concept of 2004. 

    Mazda 6 facelift

    Handsome saloon is updated with tweaked styling, handling and ride, while the interior has been given more upmarket tech.

    Mercedes-AMG GT four-door Coupé

    600bhp launch version will eventually sit below a super-hybrid with 805bhp. We smell a 'Ring record attempt.

    Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (facelift)

    Mild exterior tweaks for Mitsubishi's best-selling plug-in hybrid SUV betray a new engine under the bonnet with lower emissions, boosted generator output, a larger battery pack and new driving modes. 

    Peugeot 508

    Peugeot's bold new 508 saloon now takes fastback form, with dramatic styling marking a considerable departure over its thoroughly conventional predecessor. 

    Porsche Macan facelift

    SUV handling hero reaches its mid-life stage, and there are new turbo V6 engines on the way, as well as a tweaked interior. 

    Suzuki Vitara facelift

    Suzuki's stalwart SUV has been given a minor refresh on the outside, but ditches its 1.6-litre engine and gains 1.4 and 1.0-litre units in its place. New tech and interior materials now feature, too.

    Volkswagen Touareg

    Third-generation SUV gets new technology and road-biased styling as firm targets affluent buyers in Europe and China.

    Volvo V60

    Roomier load-lugger goes up against Audi A4 Avant and BMW 3 Series Touring. PHEV version will top the range.

    October

    Dallara Stradale

    Motorsport outfit is to produce its first ever road car - it'll cost around £163,000 for UK customers when the first examples arrive in October.

    Honda HR-V facelift

    Honda's small SUV gets a new nose and upgraded interior, as well as a new turbocharged petrol engine borrowed from the Jazz Sport and updated 1.6-litre diesel.

    Hyundai i30 Fastback N

    Hyundai's fast fastback is coming, with all the talents of the hatchback and a little more practicality. 

    Kia Niro EV

    Soft launch for Kia's second EV, with the Niro EV going on sale as a powertrain option, rather than an all new model. 

    Land Rover Discovery SVX

    Mud-plugging SVX promises go-anywhere ability with a 517bhp V8 engine thrown in for good measure.

    Land Rover Range Rover Velar SVR

    Sister car to the Jaguar F-Pace gets a performance-focused SVR variant. 542bhp and 502lb ft of torque, in case you're wondering. 

    Lister LFT-666

    Devilishly powerful reworked Jaguar F-Type has been renamed from its original Thunder to be more welcoming of the F-Pace-based LFP SUV. 

    Morgan EV3

    Morgan's three-wheeled, first full-electric series production car gets a range of 120 miles, and will be available to customers from late 2018.

    Cupra Ateca

    The Cupra Ateca has been swirling around for a while now, but the performance SUV is coming, and just in time for things to get cold again.

    November

    BMW 8 Series

    BMW's new flagship with a not-so-new name. This version will actually get the supercar-baiting M8, though. Six and eight-cylinder petrols and diesels for the rest of the range, and a V12 coming later.

    Kia Ceed Sportswagon

    A Ceed with a bigger boot than a 5 Series Touring. Follows the lead of the new Ceed, with upgraded driver assistance systems too.  

    Kia Sportage hybrid

    The facelifted Sportage arrives soon, and Kia is working on a 48V mild hybrid variant of its best-selling SUV. Unlike other mild hybrids, it'll be a diesel.

    McLaren Senna

    Woking's latest Ultimate Series hypercar is a £750,000, 789bhp track-friendly weapon. Bad news if you want one - they're all sold.

    MG ZS Electric

    MG's first EV is coming in the form of an electrified ZS, which will rival the Kia Niro EV and Hyundai Kona Electric. Given its likely bargain price, don't expect the same range as the others.

    Skoda Fabia facelift

    Skoda's supermini gets a new look, new tech, new interior and - gasp - no diesels. 

    December

    Audi A1

    Audi's aiming squarely for Mini with the A1, which moves to MQB for greater refinement, handling and quietness.

    Audi RS5 Sportback

    Same 444bhp engine and 125lb ft hike, but five doors.

    Audi SQ8

    Hot hybrid version of Audi's future flagship SUV. 

    BMW X5

    Up to 600bhp in M-badged form, but entirely more conventional down the rest of the range. Gets a more X7-like look - could be divisive.

    Citroën C5 Aircross

    Citroën's Nissan Qashqai rival arrives at the end of the year, with the brand's Progressive Hydraulic Cushions suspension. Another with a hybrid version to follow.

    Ford Ranger Raptor

    Ford's first UK-bound Raptor model gets a 210bhp four-cylinder diesel with 369lb ft, heaps of on-road presence and fearsome off-road ability.

    Honda CR-V hybrid

    Honda's back on the hybrid hype after cutting the Insight some years ago with a petrol-electric CR-V. 

    Infiniti QX50

    The first car with a variable compression ratio engine, Infiniti promises all the talents of petrol with all the efficiency of diesel. Eureka. 

    Kia Proceed

    A Ceed Sportswagon-cum-coupé with a smaller boot than the 'real' Ceed Sportswagon. Part of Kia's design-led approach; an SUV is also coming 

    Mercedes-AMG GT facelift

    A power hike is certain, although it'll likely not match the E63 S's 603bhp. Exterior tweaks will be ever so subtle. 

    Mercedes-Benz A-Class saloon

    A-Class saloon will fight the Audi RS3 saloon and ever-rumoured BMW 1 Series saloon, if the latter ever comes to Europe. AMG versions to follow.

    Mercedes-Benz GLE

    Mercedes' mid-sized SUV will arrive in time for Christmas. The 4.0-litre AMG 63 won't. 

    Rolls-Royce Cullinan

    Another brand's 'first' SUV, although you can bet your Phantom that this'll be bigger and more expensive than any of those. 

    Seat Tarraco

    Seat's seven-seater has been coming for a while now, and it'll even has a name now. Expect similar packaging to the Skoda Kodiaq and Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace.

    Skoda Kodiaq vRS

    Another entrant into the fast SUV market, this time it's Skoda throwing its name into the mix. A diesel engine with lots of torque is reported to be under the bonnet. 

    Subaru Forester facelift

    Rock-solid SUV gets the same treatment as the Outback, with interior tweaks taking precedent over minor exterior changes. 

    Volkswagen Passat facelift

    Venerable Volkswagen estate and saloon will be facelifted at the end of 2018. Expect the usual raft of efficiency, interior and exterior revisions. 

    Volvo XC40 Twin Engine

    Volvo's plug-in hybrid small SUV is coming from the fourth quarter onwards, with the brand's 1.5-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine mated to a supplementary electric motor. An EV arrives in 2019.

    Early 2019

    Alpina XD3

    Alpina sticks two fingers up to the ever-forecast death of diesel with a 323bhp, 516bhp six-cylinder diesel SUV. Europeans get two more chargers, 55 more horses and 52lb ft more than the Brits, though.

    Audi E-Tron

    In a thoroughly modern Clash of the Titans, Audi will take on Jaguar in the electric market, with the E-Tron going up against Jag's I-Pace.

    Bentley Flying Spur

    Bentley's Continental-GT-with-a-boot arrives early next year. Expect the same engine setup as the Continental - W12 first, then V8, then PHEV. 

    BMW X7

    BMW's giant, Range Rover-rivalling SUV will be a seven-seat SUV, offered in xDrive30d, xDrive40i and xDrive50i flavours initially. More powertrains will follow. 

    BMW Z4

    “We wanted a Z4 with more dynamic capabilities, one that was sporty and precise. A pure roadster, a pure driving machine,” says BMW's driving dynamics expert. Sounds promising..

    Hyundai Nexo

    The UK's first second-generation hydrogen fuel cell car arrives with a fleet of improvements over the ix35 Fuel Cell and a name all of its own.

    Jeep Wrangler

    New Wrangler gets 2.0-litre petrol and 2.2-litre diesel engines, and the usual boxy styling and off-road prowess. 

    Mercedes-AMG A35

    A-Class warm hatch will fight the Audi S3 saloon and ever-rumoured full-fat BMW 1 Series M, if the latter ever happens. 

    Lamborghini Aventador SV J

    Italian car maker is developing a new version of its hardcore V12 supercar; takes aero influence from Huracán Performante.  

    Peugeot 508 SW

    The Peugeot saloon has its verve back, so the estate is expected to have the same return to form. Hybrid flagship will be expensive, mind. 

    Renault Alaskan

    The Renault Alaskan has already been pushed back once, but Renault's first pick-up is penned in for a 2018 launch. 

    Toyota Camry

    It's back! As the Avensis dies, Toyota fills its space with the plush Camry. First arrivals are early next year. 

    TVR Griffith

    It's back! Need we say more? Ok - the three figures that matter most - it's got 500bhp, starts at £90,000 and weighs 1250kg. 

    Volkswagen T-Cross

    We know roughly what to expect from it, from looking at the T-Roc. Styling in early shots shows that it may be something of a departure from its slightly larger brother, though.

    Volvo S60

    Volvo's BMW 3-Series rival will be the first under the brand's new no-diesel strategy.

    What cars are you most looking forward to? Let us know in the comments section below.

  • Alpina XD3 guns for Mercedes-AMG GLC43 at £57,900 Friday 17th August 2018
    Alpina has overhauled the BMW X3, making a performance car out of the 3.0-litre diesel-straight-six-engined SUV

    Alpina has revealed that the 328bhp, 516lb ft performance version of the X3 called the XD3, will cost from £57,900 - £5445 more than the xDrive M40d. 

    Revealed at the Geneva motor show earlier this year, the XD3 has 2bhp more than M-performance's diesel-engined X3 M40d, and a torque advantage of 14lb ft over BMW’s fastest diesel X3 means the XD3’s acceleration from 0-62mph takes 4.7sec compared with the M40i’s 4.9sec. The M40d’s top speed is limited to 155mph, where the XD3 can reach 158mph. 

    Powering the XD3 is a twin-turbo version of BMW’s 2993cc six-cylinder diesel engine, with maximum power available from 4000-4600rpm. Power is transmitted to all four wheels through a tweaked version of BMW’s xDrive system, with a ZF eight-speed Alpine Switch-Tronic automatic gearbox handling shifts, and buttons on the steering wheel allowing the driver to perform gear changes.

    European-spec XD3s get quad-turbos which hike the power to 383bhp and torque to 568lb ft, trimming the 0-62mph to 4.6sec and upping the top speed to 165mph. This format is only available on left-hand drive cars, however. 

    The previous XD3 was 2mph slower than the current car, and 0.2sec slower to 62mph, although fuel economy has taken a dip for this generation - 31.4mpg versus the old car’s 42.8mpg. Alpina says that the new, more rigorous WLTP test cycle is to blame for this. CO2 emissions have risen from 174g/km to 238g/km. Alpina claims that the two cars can return similar fuel economies, despite the different figures.

    On the outside, the car is distinguished by Alpina’s typical suite of styling upgrades, including chrome-tipped quad exhausts, Alpina badging at the front and rear and multi-spoke alloys that are 20in as standard, with 22in wheels optional. 

    Pricing rises slightly over the last car's £56,450 to around £57,900, although the brand says that the new car is higher spec than before. First deliveries are scheduled for January 2019 for UK customers. The last XD3 got a run of 150 units, with 14 making it onto UK roads. This time around, 12 will be brought to the UK per year. The previous-generation XD3 sold out for the year by April in the UK.

    Read more

    Alpina XD3 review

    Alpina B3 Biturbo review

    Alpina D5 S 2018 review

    The future of Alpina according to boss Andreas Bovensiepen

  • Hyundai Ioniq 2019 facelift seen testing on US roads Friday 17th August 2018
    Hyundai Ioniq facelift spyshots front side Hyundai set to launch an updated version of its Toyota Prius rival next year, with styling tweaks and range improvements expected

    Hyundai is expected to launch an updated version of its Ioniq late next year, with changes to the exterior design and technology upgrades.

    The Toyota Prius rival has been on sale since 2016, so a mid-life refresh is on the cards for 2019. Already, spy photographers have caught a heavily disguised prototype undergoing hot weather testing in the US. 

    Given the level of camouflage employed here, it's likely that there will be noticeable changes to Ioniq's front and rear-end designs in order to keep it fresh in the face of a glut of new hybrid and electric offerings on the way. Expect similar treatment for the interior, with improvements to materials and additional technology on offer. 

    It's also reasonable to suggest that Hyundai will make use of developments in electric powertrain and battery technology since the car's launch, improving the electric-only ranges of the plug-in hybrid and electric variants. The regular hybrid version should also remain, meaning the Ioniq continues to be the only car to be offered with hybrid, PHEV and EV drivetrains. 

    When we'll see the facelifted Ioniq is yet to be revealed, but an unveiling in the second half of 2019 fits in with the timeline. We'll see more information, plus more revealing spy shots, nearer the time. 

  • £45,500 Alfa Romeo Giulia Veloce Ti gets Quadrifoglio parts Friday 17th August 2018
    £45,500 Alfa Romeo Giulia Veloce Ti gets Quadrifoglio parts Styling of warm version of Alfa’s 3 Series rival is tweaked with Quadrifoglio hand-me-downs

    Alfa Romeo has added another warmed-up trim to the Giulia, the Veloce Ti, which borrows parts from the full-fat Quadrifoglio model for hotter styling both inside and out. 

    Most notably, the car gets five-hole Quadrifoglio wheels, previously exclusive to the 503bhp V6-engined rival to the BMW M3, as well as carbonfibre exterior trim and red brake calipers. 

    Optionally, the entire Quadrifoglio paint palette is available on the Veloce Ti, while a £1650 carbon pack adds a Quadrifoglio lip spoiler, side skirts and a carbonfibre gear selector.

    Inside, the Veloce Ti gets the Quadrifoglio variant’s leather and Alcantara sports seats with eight-way electric adjustment, carbonfibre interior trim and leather dashboard covering and a black headlining.

    No performance upgrades have been applied to the Veloce Ti, although the entire Giulia range, as well as the Stelvio line-up, have been given AdBlue addition for the 2.2-litre diesels to comply with Euro 6D standards, boosting power by just under 10bhp, taking the 148bhp and 178bhp units to 158bhp and 187bhp. 

    The Veloce Ti will have Alfa’s new five-year warranty and be joined in the coming years by a reborn GTV — a coupé version of the Giulia. It’s not known if this will be offered with a Veloce trim, but a 600bhp-plus Quadrifoglio version will be the brand’s first performance hybrid.

    Read more:

    Alfa Romeo Giulia, Stelvio and Giulietta get five-year warranties

    Alfa Romeo Giulia to be backed by upgraded aftersales service

    Alfa Romeo brings back 8C and GTV, and adds two more SUVs

  • Toyota Avensis taken off sale ahead of Camry reintroduction Friday 17th August 2018
    Toyota Avensis taken off sale ahead of Camry reintroduction Sales of Avensis, which has long been predicted for the chop, to end after 21 years

    The Toyota Avensis is no longer available for order.

    Production, which takes place in Toyota’s Burnaston plant in Derbyshire, will cease in the coming weeks as the last orders are fulfilled. After this, the only Avensis models left will be dealer stock. The Burnaston factory has been subject to £240 million in investment last year to upgrade it for production of cars using the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform.

    The Avensis makes way for the Camry hybrid, with the Camry name returning to the UK after a 14-year hiatus. Sales of the Avensis have been slow, given the decline of D-segment saloons as buyers opt for SUVs. Toyota sold 3473 examples of the Avensis in 2017, compared with 3921 RAV4s. 

    News of the Avensis’s demise follows Toyota's confirmation that the Verso MPV has been taken off sale. The two models were the last to be offered with diesel engines in the UK apart from the Land Cruiser, which is considered by the company as a more specialist product. 

    The RAV4 diesel was cut from the range earlier this year. Toyota confirmed last year that it would not launch any more diesels in Europe, as the industry turns to electrification and demand plummets amid the ongoing diesel debate.

    Toyota predicts that Avensis and Verso customers will now opt for the new Camry hybrid, the C-HR (particularly for Verso buyers) or the upcoming Auris, which arrives later this year on the much-lauded TNGA architecture. 

    Read more: 

    Toyota Camry to return to Britain as Mondeo Hybrid rival

    Toyota Verso axed in Europe

    No new Toyota diesels, says boss

    Future diesel cars could cost more than hybrids - Toyota powertrain boss

  • BMW M5 long-term review Friday 17th August 2018
    BMW M5 2018 long-term review hero front We rate the new F90 generation M5 as best in class. Will we think the same after three months with it?

    Why we’re running it: To ascertain if so much power and four-wheel drive are assets or unnecessary excess. And, well, because it’s an M5…

    Month 3Month 2Month 1 - Specs

    Life with a BMW M5: Month 3

    Never mind Alonso & Co in a Toyota: our M5 came away from Le Mans as a winner - 4th July 2018

    The M5 has been back to BMW, at the request of the people there. Just want to give it a onceover, they said, and update some software.

    Usually, we prefer to go to dealers for the full ownership experience but, well, they asked. And it’s their car, after all. Kindly, they repaired a windscreen stonechip, and replaced the two wheel centres we think had been nicked, and gave the rest of the car a once-over.

    Wouldn’t usually, lads, but y’know: it’s a 600bhp super-saloon so we thought we’d just make sure things were fine. Which they were, and the next day the M5 was taken straight down to Le Mans, in the hands of my PistonHeads colleagues. (I can’t believe they actually put a sticker on it, but there you go. It’s a thing. It has come off cleanly enough.)

    What’s good about it, though, is that it’s useful to get another set of hands and feet into the car, to give a second opinion. Knowing Le Mans, I know what the trip will have been like: supercars and sports cars everywhere, but although our PH correspondent asks “is the M5 too subtle?”, it apparently still garnered quite a lot of attention on the PH campsite, despite a Ford GT being parked next to it.

    Quite rightly. I reckon that if you’ve got a Ford GT (or equivalent), you’re probably in the market for something like an M5 as a daily driver too. Which is a job it performs well.

    “Brakes are fantastic”, although it’s “hard to measure out the throttle properly when pulling away”, which are both accurate. It has developed, though, a “screech under braking from the front right at slow speeds in stop-start traffic”, which I’d just begun to notice too.

    There’s plenty of pad all round on the £7495 carbon-ceramic brakes, which are usually slightly less refined than iron rotors, but not this much. There’s nothing obvious, so I’ll stick the front corner on a stand and take a wheel off, to check the inside of the disc to see if a stone or bit of grit is stuck in there.

    The good thing about second opinions, though, is that they don’t always agree with the first ones. PH is less impressed by the interior than I am; not that keen on the trim around the door handle or that the forward centre console lid is sometimes rattly, which I hadn’t noticed. I’ve had a play and think I’ve worked out why. It’s possible to unseat the lid from its runners very easily, but you can either push it back on or, if you close the lid, it re-seats it anyway.

    Where we do agree is that it sounds “a little tame from the inside” (true), and it’s annoying that the electrics and stereo don’t turn off when you turn the ignition off (also true, even after you open the door and shut it behind you. Apparently, the latest X2 remedies this). And we all like the way it drives.

    I have a bit of a beef with how wide the M5 feels, both parking it and down narrow lanes, but in France “you can still place it nicely on narrow roads”. It’s also “very comfortable for the whole journey” and “road noise is minimal even on the worst bits of the M25” but that there’s “noticeable tramlining on UK roads after being on the smooth roads of France”.

    These last bits are the interesting ones. The UK has particularly poorly surfaced roads, which is why a lot of car companies come to sign off vehicle dynamics here, but how a car behaves still tells you a lot about where it was developed, and who it’s meant for.

    The M5 is really very good in the UK and copes with our potholed, heavily crowned and narrow roads pretty well. But it’s even more brilliant elsewhere.

    Love it:

    ENTERING ADDRESSES So many different ways to input an address to the nav: say it, scroll the knob, use the knob as an input pad or tap it out on screen.

    Loathe it:

    HAND SIGNALS If you make flamboyant hand gestures, there’s every chance you’ll change the media volume, which has a motion sensor.

    Mileage: 11,583

    Back to the top

    Life with a BMW M5: Month 2

    The mystery of the missing roundels - 27th June 2018

    I don’t know how or when or why it happened, but the BMW roundels on the centre of our M5’s front wheels vanished. I thought somebody had changed the wheels while the car was out on a test, or they’d fallen off, but apparently not: is nicking roundels a thing? Anyway, BMW kindly replaced them: they cost £15 each from a dealer.

    Mileage: 8990

    Back to the top

    The humble car key doesn't get more useful, or complex, than this - 13th June 2018

    The M5’s key can do all kinds of things from inside your house that it would be just as sensible to do from an app on your phone. Such is the array that, inevitably, it needs charging, but so little do I use the extras that I don’t tend to realise until it has been as flat as a bean for who knows how long. It still locks and unlocks and starts the car, though.

    Mileage: 8778

    Back to the top

    A 900-mile return trip to the M3 CS launch and N24 race? Be rude not to take the M5 - 30th May 2018

    Among the blinding greenery of the Rhineland, there’s an isolated ribbon of Tarmac that flows between the sleepy spa town of Bad Neuenahr and the altogether less somnolent village of Nürburg.

    It’s well surfaced for the most part and the setting is completely bucolic. Ideal, say, for an E300 cab: stick the dampers in Comfort, Bob Seger on the radio. Not a worry in the world.

    The funny thing is that above a certain level of commitment, this same stretch becomes an utterly brutal examination of a car’s dynamic repertoire. There are second-, third- and even fourth-gear corners of capricious profile and camber changes where you wouldn’t expect.

    One sequence isn’t unlike the infamous Corkscrew at Laguna Seca, for pity’s sake, and there’s a bend whose exit is not only blind but also concurrent with an unfavourable surface change and a vicious compression on the nearside. You’re spat out of it at the top of third gear.

    It was mainly along this marvellous stretch that the new BMW M3 CS made a convincing case for itself as the most engaging device in M division’s current portfolio. But it was a close-run thing.

    Why? Because our M5 long-term test car could also be found in that precise neck of the Adenauer Forest during the same weekend of the Nürburgring 24 Hours.

    For outright zip, ultimately it failed to match a car some 400kg lighter and with a significantly lower centre of gravity, and nor was it quite so confidence inspiring when the Armco loomed. But it was arguably the greater feat of engineering purely for its astounding body control and the fact that it was actually enjoyable to punt along a road that could have been bespoke-laid for a Lotus Exige.

    As you may have surmised, our long-termer was the steed between home and a gruelling race weekend during which BMW launched its latest M-badged road car, and therein lies the true appeal of this M5. Some back-road fun sandwiched by substantial highway blasts resulted in around 900 miles and an overall fuel economy of 21.4 mpg, for a total expenditure of roughly £260.

    No, this 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 was never going to set records for frugality but, if the car impresses on more tortuous routes, it’ll blow your mind on a derestricted autobahn. How fast? An indicated (and restricted) 164mph, at which point your estimated time of arrival goes into free fall with that engine still pulling damnably hard.

    Perhaps of greater significance is that proceedings remain serene enough that you’d barely have to raise your voice to be heard by those in the back. More prosaically, the M5 simply makes things easy on this kind of trip.

    You can angle the headlights for Continental duties at the touch of a button and the head-up display converts your speed and speed-limit icons into km/h. It is comfortable, it is spacious, the Harman Kardon sound system is very good and you don’t worry about leaving the thing in a strange corner of an unfamiliar town after a mammoth day in the saddle.

    It is quite stocky, though, with a track width that’s more or less equal to that of a Lamborghini Huracán Performante. It means there’s now a small nick on one of the alloy wheels, inflicted by the ghastly width restrictors on the top deck on the Eurotunnel trains.

    Every time I’m lucky enough to drive this car, three things occur to me. The seats are set too high, the body control is simply a touch close for everyday driving, even for a super-saloon, and, God, how I wish they’d made a bit more of the wheel arches.

    But while it takes me a little time to get onto the M5’s wavelength, once there I’m pretty much smitten.

    Richard Lane

    Love it:

    CRUISE MISSILE No surprise that a 600bhp saloon with massage seats can seemingly condense international travel, but it’s a lovely sensation all the same.

    Loathe it:

    TOURING RANGE ‘Loathe’ is strong, but if the 70-litre fuel tank was just a little bigger, you’d easily manage 450 miles between cruising fill-ups.

    Mileage: 9130

    Back to the top

    Life with a BMW M5: Month 1

    Best seat in the house - 9th May 2018

    The steering column, seat back (lower and upper), under-thigh support, head restraint, plus the usual seat options – forward, back, up, down – all adjust electrically. There’s so much adjustment that I have resorted to using the memory function. Then there’s heating, cooling and massage too. I’ll bet the seat weighs more than I do.

    Mileage: 3360

    Back to the top

    Welcoming the M5 to our fleet – 2 May 2018

    I can’t remember a car that has been busier on its arrival on the Autocar long-term test fleet than the new BMW M5. With decent reason, I suppose; it’s a new M5. They are rare and we want to see, as quickly as possible, just how good they are.

    From the moment it was collected from north Wales, the M5 was being used in a group test alongside a Mercedes-AMG E63 S and a Cadillac CTS-V. It won. Then it was videoed alongside an E63 with two different testers — me included. It won again. (Albeit with a lot of love for the AMG, I’ll be honest.)

    Since then, we’ve videoed it alongside an Alpina B5, photographed it alongside the B5 for a feature and, just two weeks ago on these pages, it was subjected to a full Autocar road test. Four and a half stars, my lovely. Four minor demerits; otherwise spot on.

    Some of the highlights, then? The 592bhp four-wheel-drive 4.4-litre V8 saloon hits 60mph from rest in 3.3sec. Then there’s the 7.5sec it takes to reach 100mph, a standing quarter mile in 11.5sec at 125.1mph and a standing kilometre in 20.8sec at 159.1mph.

    So even over a standing kilometre, the M5 is no more than seven-tenths behind a Ferrari 458 Speciale. It’s that fast.

    Comfortable, too — for the most part. Our road test noted a slightly jittery ride on occasion and, mostly, I’m inclined to agree. If terrific body control is the trade-off, though, and presumably there has to be some kind of compromise in a 1940kg car that has to be an executive saloon and yet is also trying to be a sport car with supercar power, then I suppose that’s the rub.

    What I can tell you is that I can’t think of another car that, when it comes to trying to be both engaging and sporty, and yet also luxurious and comfy, is so complete in its dynamic make-up.

    Inside, it’s everything a 5 Series is as well. It’ll seat five in great comfort, there's a 530-litre boot behind them, with a can of foam beneath the boot floor in case you get a puncture because the M5 doesn’t have run-flat tyres.

    Which is one reason why, I suspect, the M5 has such a bewildering array of dynamic capabilities and why the Alpina B5 (spoiler alert) doesn’t ride night and day better — something that's usually one of Alpina’s great traits.

    You can slacken the M5’s suspension, plus its other attributes — powertrain, gearbox, steering weight — to a bewildering degree, too. On the centre console by the gearlever — on which there are three modes for upshift timing — you can select which damper modes, engine response, transmission response and steering weight you want.

    Or you can select from pre-programmed variants. Or you can pick your own set-up and programme that into two discrete red levers on the steering wheel. That’s what I’ve done.

    On the left lever is full comfort on everything. On the right is full angry on everything, stability control disengaged and a transmission that’s in rear-wheel drive mode. Sometimes I flit between these and select other things, as I get used to the car. But mostly I realise I’m doing it for experience and novelty. Were the M5 mine, I suspect I’d just rely on those two particular set-ups.

    There are lots of other things to get used to and get your head around, too, in part thanks to a raft of options that include one of my other favourite steering wheel buttons: a heated wheel rim. I do like a heated steering wheel. And, the other day, somebody left a pea under 20 mattresses and 20 feather-beds and I could still feel it at night!

    Anyway, that’s part of the Comfort pack, which our road test reckoned was a good idea to spec, unlike the Premium pack. I agree; the M5 has a carbonfibre roof to reduce weight and make it lower, so I’d steer clear of too many options — such as the Premium pack’s soft-close doors — that add the kilos back on again.

    Carbon-ceramic brakes also made the list, at £7495, and an M Sports exhaust, at £1100. The brake package is probably what provides a slightly oversensitive pedal at times — we’ll see if that improves with miles — and the ’zorst adds a welcome edge to the turbocharged motor, which otherwise resorts to relatively convincing speaker augmentation for some of its excitement.

    Aural excitement, anyway. It relies on deploying 592bhp in great unhurried strides to deliver the visceral excitement. The engine is terrific. Less overtly V8ish than an AMG it may be, but there’s no arguing with the amount of oomph it provides or how it delivers it through the eight-speed automatic 'box.

    It’s even capable, if you’re careful, of 28mpg, although 23mpg is more likely and 7.5mpg is possible on a track. I suppose owners don’t take M5s there that often, although they should, because it’s a great way to find out that BMW’s new super-saloon is unsurpassed in its dynamic abilities.

    I’m looking forward to exploring those more as we find many, many more jobs for the M5 to do.

    Second opinion

    I love this car. I struggled at first to see why a 5 Series needed to be so hardcore but, after 400 miles, I just couldn’t get enough of its near-supercar steering and body control, plus its intoxicating acceleration, given the practical package and effortless delivery. Brilliant!

    Steve Cropley

    Back to the top

    BMW M5 specification

    Specs: Price new £87,940 Price as tested £101,900; Options Premium package (including soft-close doors, massage seats, ceramic finish for controls) £1995, Comfort package (including steering wheel heating, seat heating all round) £1195, M Sports exhaust £1100, carbonfibre engine cover £1025, carbon-ceramic brakes £7495, M seatbelts £260, carbonfibre/aluminium-look trim £495, Apple CarPlay £235, online entertainment £160

    Test Data: Engine V8, 4395cc, twin turbocharged petrol; Power 591bhp at 5600-6700rpm; Torque 553lb ft at 1800-5600rpm; Top speed 155mph (limited); 0-62mph 3.4sec; Claimed fuel economy 26.9mpg; Test fuel economy 23.3mpg; CO2 241g/km; Faults None; Expenses None

    Back to the top

  • Opinion: The rise and fall of Rockingham Motor Speedway Friday 17th August 2018
    Rockingham Motor Speedway
    Rockingham hosted the CART World Series in 2001
    The £70 million circuit brought American-style oval racing to Britain in 2001, but its future now looks bleak

    Last weekend, I headed to Rockingham Motor Speedway to take in some British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) action as part of a feature for a future issue of Autocar.

    One of the major talking points among those in the paddock was the future of the Northamptonshire venue itself, which has been up for sale since owners Bela Partnerships went into administration in 2016. The uncertainly over Rockingham’s long-term future had already caused the BTCC, along with other high-profile championships, to drop the venue for 2019.

    A few days after the BTCC event, the sale of the circuit was confirmed. A statement from Rockingham said that all events scheduled for 2018 would run as planned but referenced “changes in business operations” at the venue.

    BTCC 2018: Morgan, Sutton and Smiley share wins at Rockingham

    According to the Companies House website, an investment company registered in St Helier, Jersey has bought Rockingham, and the Northamptonshire Telegraph has reported it will become a car storage centre. Whether it can continue to be used for track activities, or whether there are other long-term plans for it, is unknown. It was offered for sale as a ‘development opportunity’ and a huge housing development is being built nearby.

    That the first purpose-built banked oval built in the UK since Brooklands in 1907 could be shuttered as a venue after just 17 years is almost as hard to comprehend as the circuit existing in the first place.

    Built on a disused British Steel quarry site in Corby, Rockingham was conceived as an American-style high-speed oval test track, with a bold plan to attract the US-based CART Champ Car World Series for Indy-style machines. It took ten years of planning before the £70 million venue was built in 23 months.

    It opened in 2001, with the first CART race held there on 22 September 2001. It was a troubled start: water seeping through the track surface delayed running, and the 500km race was eventually shortened to 300km due to time constraints.

    The race itself was largely processional, with the 1.5-mile oval's tight, low-banked turns not conducive to side-by-side racing, although it was enlivened by Gil de Ferran overtaking future McLaren Automotive test driver Kenny Bräck at the final turn to snatch the win (pictured below). The CART World Series returned in 2002, with Brit Dario Franchitti taking victory.

    Feature: the Indy 500 winner who helps make McLarens great 

    The crowds for both events were decent, but CART was beginning a decline after a long war with the rival IndyCar Series (which had the marquee Indianapolis 500), and selling American single-seater racing to a UK audience proved more difficult than imagined. In 2003, the CART event shifted its UK race to Brands Hatch.

    Rockingham tried to grow oval racing with its own stock car series (originally called ASCAR, before bizarrely being rebranded Days of Thunder after the Tom Cruise film), which it ran alongside a series of high-profile concerts. Remember when rapper 50 Cent came to Rockingham?

    When that stock car series folded after 2007, only a club-level pick-up truck series raced on the oval. Rockingham’s 1.94-mile infield road course continued to host championships, and after a one-off event there in 2003, the BTCC has visited regularly since 2007.

    But despite producing some good racing, the circuit doesn’t hold as much appeal for drivers or spectators as other venues. It doesn't, for example, have the history of Silverstone (located just 40 miles away), the flowing challenge of Oulton Park or the elevation changes of Brands Hatch.

    That’s perhaps because it lacks in atmosphere: it’s as flat, featureless and glamorous as you’d expect an old British Steel quarry located next to an industrial estate in Corby to be.

    To host a crowd of 55,000-plus, the venue has five big grandstands, although two of them haven’t been open since the last CART race. They probably contain seats that have never been sat in. Due to safety concerns related to subsidence, only the main grandstand has been in use this year. Therefore, even with a decent crowd, as at the BTCC last weekend, the venue can look and feel empty.

    Yet Rockingham also has strong selling points. It’s relatively modern, it's centrally located and it has good access and decent facilities. Plus, fans in the main grandstand can see the entire track from their seats. It's also a decent testing and driving venue, hosting events such as Autocar's Britain's Best Driver's Car contest in 2011.

    As a long-time fan of American Indy racing, I attended both CART races at Rockingham. Having seen the circuit’s first major event, by a quirk of fate it seems my BTCC trip last weekend means I could also have unwittingly attended one of its last.

    BTCC adds second Thruxton date, drops Rockingham for 2019

    I can recall sitting in the Turn One grandstand back in 2001, taking in the view of the track and finding it surreal that someone had actually built a US-style oval circuit in Britain. It’s even more surreal to think that Rockingham's days as a racing circuit could be over after just 17 years.

    Read more

    BTCC 2018: Morgan, Sutton and Smiley share wins at Rockingham

    BTCC adds second Thruxton date, drops Rockingham for 2019

    Britain's Best Driver's Car 2011: Porsche Cayman R wins at Rockingham

  • BMW 8 Series Gran Coupe: M850i hits the 'Ring in new video Friday 17th August 2018
    BMW 8 Series Gran Coupe: new M850i test car takes to the Nurburgring BMW's upcoming flagship coupe will also be sold in four-door guise, and thinly disguised prototypes are already at the Nürburgring

    BMW's is bringing back the 8 Series name for a soon-to-be launched flagship coupe, and now the four-door Gran Coupe version is being tested to the limits at the Nürburgring.

    Previewed by the M8 Gran Coupé concept back at the Geneva motor show in March, the Porsche Panamera rival isn't due to arrive until 2019 - several months after the two-door variant. 

    That car will be offered in £76,270 840d diesel and £100,045 M850i petrol form, and the Gran Coupe is predicted to follow suit. A new video shows a V8-powered M850i prototype being tested by BMW engineers at the Nürburgring Nordschleife:

    The production M8, meanwhile, is tipped to top 600bhp from a more highly tuned version of the same engine and will be available in all three 8 Series bodystyles.

    The Gran Coupé is due to enter production in 2019. It appears largely similar to its two-door siblings, but with a raised rear roofline to provide more head room in the rear seats. 

    Following the unveiling of the 8 Series coupé, the convertible and Gran Coupé were all but revealed in patent images showing their distinct designs. The pictures, which surfaced on Bimmerpost, confirmed the car's look would follow its two-door siblings closely at the front and rear.

    Pictured previously during a testing stint at the Nürburgring, the design differences of the M8 coupé and convertible are visible. Aside from their differing tops, the variants also get their own bootlids to create different silhouettes.

    So far, only the two-door 8 Series has been revealed, with the other two body types and M variants to be revealed later.

    Building on the base of the new 8 Series range, which will appear on public roads in November, the M8 models will use BMW's twin-turbocharged 4.4-litre V8 engine. We know this because the racing M8 that competed in the Daytona 24 Hours earlier this year was equipped with this powerplant.

    Without motorsport restrictors to worry about, the finished road car is expected to produce 600bhp, placing it above the latest 592bhp M5 and giving it more firepower than the Mercedes-AMG S63 Coupé, which has 577bhp.

    BMW M8 concept shown

    M division president Frank van Meel revealed that development of the M8 was started at the same time as the regular 8 Series and that their programmes ran in parallel. He said the M8 builds "on the genes of the 8 Series and augments its DNA with added track ability and generous extra portions of dynamic sharpness, precision and agility".

    Van Meel added: "It all flows into a driving experience that bears the familiar BMW M hallmarks and satisfies our customers’ most exacting requirements.”

    BMW 8 Series: official development car pictures released

    He said that BMW's engineers set out "to ensure that the standard car wasn’t too sporty for its customers" because the M division "wanted the M8 to feel like a proper step up".

    "Also, because not all 8 Series customers want an M car," van Meel continued.

    “We certainly want to make a statement with this car. It will sit at the very top of our model range and, for now, we have no confirmed plans for any series production model above it, so we understand it must have a specification suiting its position in our hierarchy.”

    The M8 will carry a heavy premium over the standard 8 Series' £76,270 starting price, so a starting price surpassing that of even the i8 sports car is certain; the rial S63 Coupé kicks off at around £131,000.

    Global project manager for the 8 Series, Sarah Lessmann, previously told Autocar: "There is a big gap [between the S-Class Coupé and the 911] and we decided the 8 Series shouldn’t quite be in the middle of those: it takes the best out of everything and defines its own gap. Performance-wise, we're close to the 911, but we also offer elegant and luxurious materials to match the best of the S-Class.” The Porsche 911 Turbo starts at £128,692.

     

    BMW also used the M8 GTE, the racing version of the car, to compete as part of a factory effort in this year's Le Mans 24 Hours endurance race. It was the brand's first factory entry there in six years.

    Additional reporting by Matt Saunders and Sam Sheehan

    More content:

    BMW to produce Mini Electric in China for domestic market

    2018 Geneva motor show preview

  • Volkswagen Touareg Friday 17th August 2018
    Volkswagen Touareg 2018 road test review hero front The new version of the big 4x4 is now Volkswagen’s flagship model. Is the Touareg up to the task, and can it challenge its luxury rivals? You might have noticed that the Volkswagen Phaeton – one-time vessel of a mighty 6.0-litre W12 engine shared with Bentley – is no longer on sale.Its culling from the range in 2016 more likely passed you by entirely, such was the glacial rate at which people bought them and the model’s resulting rarity.Either way, it’s a development that promotes the subject of this week’s road test to nothing less than flagship status for one of the world’s largest car makers. We’re talking about the third-generation Touareg, which Volkswagen describes as a new high-water mark for the brand in terms of design and technology.Concerning the tech, it’s difficult to disagree, because you might say that this SUV borrows a chassis from Porsche, elements of its driveline from Lamborghini, suspension componentry from Bentley, semiautonomous driving features from Audi and, as an option, a new Innovision Cockpit infotainment system, with displays measuring no less than 12in and a Tesla-esque 15in.And yet perhaps the most interesting element of this new Touareg, which arrives 16 years after the original, is that it has been styled for China, not Europe. Perhaps that’s understandable, given SUVs now account for almost half of sales in the largest market for new cars globally.It’s why the Touareg comes bedecked with status-enhancing chrome (although European buyers will have the option of black) and why it’s even larger than its predecessor, in length surpassing the ‘five-metre barrier’ to which designers on this side of the world so diligently adhere.As if to cement the fact that this is now what we used to call a soft-roader first and foremost, the Touareg isn’t available with a low-range gearbox for the first time. Fewer than 5% ordered it last time out and Volkswagen has got the message.Superficially, it would seem there’s plenty going for this car, but does it have the luxury to compete with an Audi Q7, the dynamism to tempt BMW X5 owners or the style to bear comparison with Volvo’s XC90? Let’s find out.
  • Insight: What’s up with the UK car market? Friday 17th August 2018
    Jaguar Land Rover factory
    Jaguar Land Rover’s sales are being hit by the diesel desertion
    We delve into the stories that are causing eyebrow-raising car stats for the UK in 2018

    One statistic jumped out of the UK automotive manufacturing figures for June. The number of cars built in the country for sale here, rather than for export, fell by 47%. Have we really fallen out of love with UK-built cars that much?

    The answer is tied up in a rollercoaster half year for car sales in this country.

    “I’ve been in the industry 26-27 years and I can’t recall a year with so much distortion,” said Daksh Gupta, chief executive of the Marshall Motor Group, which has 99 dealers in the UK. On the surface, UK car sales are holding up pretty well considering the disruptive forces of Brexit, a weak pound and the flight from diesel. The numbers for January-June this year were down 6.3% to 1.3 million, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

    But behind the relative calm of the sales figures is turmoil. Diesel sales are tanking. In the first six months, the UK public bought nearly 200,000 fewer new diesel cars than in the same period last year, giving new diesel cars a market share of just 33%.

    Some car makers are suffering more than others and the key ones have British manufacturing plants. Jaguar Land Rover’s first-half UK sales were down 9%, for which it largely blames the diesel decline; 85% of its UK sales are diesel.

    Nissan’s sales were down 30%, with demand for the Qashqai SUV — the car with the highest manufacturing volume in the UK — falling 25%. Nothing mysterious about that; the Qashqai is getting too old to really compete in a red-hot segment, as is the Juke (also built in Sunderland) and the Range Rover Evoque.

    The number of cars approaching the end of their model cycle is a big reason for the June manufacturing decline. “They’re facing tougher competition and the impact is big enough to offset the gains posted by newer UK-built cars such as the Range Rover Velar and Land Rover Discovery,” said Felipe Munoz, global analyst for market researcher JATO Dynamics.

    The fall in diesel sales is affecting all premium brands. “Every year I’ve been in the industry, the premium brands are always up. This is the first year they’ve underperformed,” said Gupta. While sales to private customers fell 4.9% overall in the first half, premium sales dropped 7.9%.

    Sales of used diesels rise despite overall decline in second-hand car market

    Prior to the Brexit vote, one analyst coined the phrase 'treasure island' to describe the richness of the UK to car manufacturers. A strong pound and buoyant economy meant the UK was targeted by car makers; Ford said in July that “most” of the $1.2 billion (£992 million) profit made in Europe in 2016 came from the UK.

    The pound fell after the vote, so buyers’ money didn’t stretch quite as far at the dealers. “Now they’re not buying another top-of-the-range model. They’re buying middle of the range, coming down a model or migrating across brands,” Gupta said. Ford has said this “weaker channel mix”, along with the limp pound, will drag it to a loss across the whole of Europe in 2018.

    The UK market hasn’t had the big crash in sales that has been predicted — something Gupta attributed to the number of cars bought on finance packages.

    “If PCP wasn’t here in the UK, you’d see a much bigger decline in the marketplace,” he said. “Consumers are now used to renting their cars. It’s in their [household] budget.”

    The final factor is the new Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP) economy and emissions tests. Firms have until 31 August to sell off any cars measured under the old NEDC test, so car makers are reducing stocks of cars as they switch over. Nissan, for example, said output at Sunderland was down 7.3% in June as they “transition to a new range of engines” to meet the new regulations. Look out for deals this month as all brands scramble to sell off old stock.

    Industry insiders expect the car market to remain in upheaval for a while yet. Asked when the UK market might return to normality, Gupta said: “It won’t be this year or the next. Probably not until 2020.” 

    Nick Gibbs

    Read more

    New car registrations: first half of 2018 down 6.3%

    UK car market hits record high in March

    Sales of used diesels rise despite overall decline in second-hand car market

  • Matt Prior: Are some proposed hypercars just Photoshop fantasy? Friday 17th August 2018
    Milan Red hypercar
    Is the 1325bhp Milan Red hypercar just a Photoshop fantasy?
    This week, Prior explains why he finds it hard to believe bold claims of super car makers

    I’ve had emails from one or two of you agreeing that the ideal sports car I described in the 25 July issue — a two-seat coupé as compact as a Toyota GT86, and not much more powerful, but with a front-mounted 3.0-litre V12 engine — sounds like something you’d also like to drive.

    Disappointingly, however, no offers for me to become the CEO of a company creating this £200,000 (before options) masterpiece have been forthcoming. Which is a pity. I’d have taken COO. Head of engineering. Head of dynamics, design, catering… whatever, really.

    Such is — genuinely — the respect I have for anybody who tries to build a new sports car. It’s a more noble career than writing about them, certainly. But, nevertheless, with a heart that I fear is heavy rather than full of beans, I need to tell you more about the Milan Red, the Austrian 1325bhp hypercar that intends to show the world what Austrian companies are capable of.

    Some of them are pretty good at Photoshop, clearly. But beyond that, Austrian companies have given us Red Bull and Swarovski, Spar and KTM. This is a country I’m confident already knows about highly profitable syrupy drinks, glass and convenience minimarkets. Plus motorcycles and niche sports cars.

    The Milan Red is an example of the latter. Milan says that it’ll weigh 1300kg, will get from zero to 62mph in 2.47sec and go on to 249mph. Milan will sell 99 of them at around £1.8 million each. If it is or does all of these things, I will walk 10 metres barefoot across Lego.

    It is possible to get 1325bhp from the quad-turbocharged 6.2-litre V8 engine Milan proposes to use. People in the US do it for giggles, mostly with off-the-shelf parts. But given this 6.2-litre V8 presumably won’t come from Austria, I don’t know how that’s of particular benefit to the country’s reputation.

    The rest of the statistics are harder to digest. Some cars can have this much power and weigh just 1300kg, but they would be dragsters. A Bugatti Chiron makes this kind of power, and such are its cooling demands that it weighs two tonnes.

    More details on 1325bhp Milan Red hypercar

    The Red is said to have a tub and suspension made from carbonfibre, which would help, no doubt, but also active aerodynamics and four turbochargers. The McLaren Senna’s dry weight is 1198kg. Adding two turbos, 2.2 litres and the cooling required for an additional 500bhp sounds like more than 102kg to me.

    No rear-drive road car, meanwhile, goes from zero to 62mph in 2.47sec. And why 2.47sec, precisely? Not ‘under 2.5’ or ‘about 2.5’? Somebody has gone away with a spreadsheet and done some calculations, and they are wrong. It’s possible to achieve 250mph with that kind of power; bagsy not being the one trying it.

    Bugatti Chiron review

    But the thing about all this is the money. Bugatti will spend well over £1bn engineering and producing the Chiron; it’s a rolling laboratory for new production, aerodynamic, materials and cooling technology and even then the VW Group, with all of its engineering (if not moral) integrity, took some serious convincing that it’d be worthwhile. The Veyron had cost it lots of money.

    I’d love to be wrong. I’d love the Red to become more than what looks like a model with no interior. And for these noble, brave spirits to win. The Lego awaits.

    Read more 

    Austrian firm launches 1325bhp Milan Red hypercar

    Rimac to show production 1073bhp Concept-One at Geneva

  • Buy them before we do: second-hand picks for 17 August Friday 17th August 2018
    Fiat Dino Coupé
    This glamorous beauty may have the badge of a humble Fiat, but it has the heart and soul of a proper Ferrari
    Fancy a Fiat Dino Coupé for £49,990? These are the top bargain buys we've spotted for sale

    The used car market is brimming with tasty deals, but sometimes it can be hard to tell the wise buys from the potential money pits.

    Fear not: our used car experts have compiled their picks from the classifieds. See anything you like? Best to move fast and buy them before we do...

    Fiat Dino Coupé, £49,990:

    Would a rose still smell as sweet by any other name? This glamorous beauty may have the badge of a humble Fiat, but it has the heart and soul of a proper Ferrari.

    You see, when the Bertone-designed Fiat Dino was launched in 1967, it had, underneath its elegant bonnet, a Ferrari engine, a wonderful all-alloy, quad-cam 2.0-litre 65deg V6, good for 158bhp and 8000rpm and fed by triple Weber carburettors. Vittorio Jano had designed the car initially for racing, but when later the company wanted to use it in Formula 2, it had to overcome homologation regulations that required at least 500 production units.

    Find a Fiat Dino Coupe for sale on PistonHeads

    Ferrari hooked up with Fiat and the engines ended up – suitably modified for production by the peerless Aurelio Lampredi – in this Dino, before going on to appear a year later in Ferrari’s own 206/246 Dinos and, eventually, in upgraded form, in the Lancia Stratos.

    The engine may be a sonorous pleasure and the steering and handling a delicate delight, but the Dino was ahead of its time in many other areas, too. It had a five-speed gearbox, for one, and disc brakes all round. Above all, it had brio, and although there was a Pininfarina-designed two-seat Spider version, launched a few months before the coupé, most acknowledged this four-seater as the better-handling and more solid car.

    This example, plucked from the PistonHeads classifieds, is up for a smidgeon under £50,000 and has dropped in price since February when we featured it on this pages. A few years ago, you could have had it for a lot less, but prices have been climbing steadily for years as word of how sweet they are has spread.

    Ford Focus RS, £9000:

    You want a bit of lairy with a dollop of speed but your budget’s a bit tight? Pay below £10,000 for this old-style Ford Focus RS, which carries its 125,000 miles well and would make someone a nice 215bhp runaround. Five gears and three doors only, though. Ah, those were the days, my friend.

    Peugeot 106 GTi, £2995:

    Boot it; flick it; catch it: the 106 GTi was a tiny and lightweight hoot, beautifully balanced in its chassis and blessed with a 120bhp DOHC 16-valve 1.6-litre engine up front. It’s rare now, and still overlooked in favour of the larger 205 and 306 GTis, but this one’s a bit of a steal.

    Honda Legend, £5800:

    A Legend by name but, alas, not quite by reputation. That's a pity, because under its so-so exterior styling is a lot of high-tech goodness, including a typically lovely Honda 3.5-litre V6 and a remarkably clever four-wheel-drive system. Today, it makes for an intelligent and reliable used buy.

    TVR 350i, £5495:

    You won’t need a lot of wedge to buy this wedge. When it comes to pure hairy-chested and slightly brutish fun, TVR is without peer. A 3.5-litre V8, unassisted steering and a glass-reinforced plastic body and, as a bonus, 0-60mph in 6.9sec. All this and the wind in your hair, too.

    AUCTION WATCH

    Jaguar XJS - Jaguar fanciers will kick themselves for having missed out on this XJS, sold at auction recently for just £2544. This one dates from 1992, so it’s one of the later cars in the XJS’s long and rather chequered history. Although not the stately V12, its 245bhp 4.0-litre inline six offers turbine smoothness and graceful delivery.

    Of course, buying an old Jag requires a leap of faith and a great deal of money, but this car comes with a substantial back catalogue of MOTs (plus a current one) and a warranted mileage of 160,000, and it has been in the same hands since 2002.

    GET IT WHILE YOU CAN:

    Renault Mégane RS - Price new £28,995, price now £16,995 - The new Renault Sport Mégane is a very fancy piece of work indeed, with a 276bhp engine and four-wheel steering to make it more agile than ever in the corners. However, those with less dosh to burn might like to consider a 2017 version of the old model, itself no mean performer. What you’ll get is arguably a better-looking three-door car (the new one is a five-door hatch only) with pretty similar performance for around £12,000 less.

    CLASH OF THE CLASSIFIEDS:

    Brief: Gentlemen, the warmer weather has prompted me to desire a fun convertible car. Maximum spend £10,000, please.

    Honda S2000, £9950:

    This tidy Honda has covered only 46,000 miles and comes with plenty of history and a clean MOT. In other words, it’ll cope with a B-road thrash, no sweat. So sit back and imagine yourself with the hood down, revelling in its 9000rpm redline and outstanding rear-wheel-drive chassis. It’s a much more agreeable convertible than Alex’s front-wheel-drive Lotus, I think you’ll find... MAX ADAMS

    Lotus Elan, £6995:

    Front-wheel-drive it may be, but my Lotus has one of the finest front-drive chassis around – unlike that pre-facelift S2000, which was, shall we say, somewhat wayward. By contrast, you can press on as much as you like in this pretty little Elan Turbo, safe in the knowledge that it’ll remain responsive and exciting without ever trying to fling you into a hedge. And at just £7k with plenty of potential to appreciate, it’s considerably better value, too. A clear winner. ALEX ROBBINS

    Verdict: Loving the Lotus, but if it comes to a choice between turbocharged front-wheel-driver and rear-wheel-drive VTEC, I’m heading the Honda’s way. MARK PEARSON

    Read more 

    Renault Megane RS 2018 UK review

    New TVR V8 sports car to use manual gearbox

    Ford Focus RS review

  • Hot and open-top Aston Martin DBS Superleggeras coming Friday 17th August 2018
    Aston Martin DBS Superleggera
    Aston Martin's Palmer says hot AMR and drop-top Volante models are on the way
    Company's CEO says more variants of its new new super grand tourer are in the pipeline

    Volante and AMR variants of the Aston Martin DBS Superleggera are in the works, CEO Andy Palmer has confirmed.

    Although details are scarce, Palmer confirmed that the template set by the DB11 would be used across all of Aston Martin’s core models.

    “I’m on record as saying that there will be an AMR version of every car, so you can take that as read, and the Volante is a given. In fact, testing has already begun,” said Palmer.

    Although he declined to go into specifics, Palmer emphasised the DBS Superleggera’s superior torque to the Ferrari 812 Superfast, suggesting this could be enhanced further on the AMR – but without compromising headline power.

    Aston Martin's 'son of Valkyrie' hypercar set for Le Mans

    DBS Superleggera review

    “The standard DBS Superleggera is designed to be a car that anyone can drive without feeling intimidated, but the punch it packs from that torque is what sets it apart. It is a sensational characteristic that every driver can enjoy,” said Palmer.

    “But the engine can be turned up more and it will be on the AMR. As for how much and how, you will have to wait and see.”

    Palmer also called the Volante a “no-brainer”, adding that as Aston’s customer base grew and awareness of its new model range increased, there was growing demand for a wider variety of vehicles.

    “In 2016, we had the V12 DB11. It had 50% of the V12 market, which sounds great but isn’t a very wide base on which to sell from,” said Palmer. “As we rolled out the V8, the Volante and the AMR, we were able to stretch that vehicle’s appeal – to the point that the V12 has now moved from where it was originally pitched, so we have space between all the vehicles and room for a more diverse portfolio across the board.

    “The DBS Superleggera Volante makes a lot of sense. It’s fast and purposeful, but it's a car designed to be driven rather than be edgy and intimidating.”

    Read more

    Aston Martin's 'son of Valkyrie' hypercar set for Le Mans

    Aston Martin DB11 AMR 2018 UK review

    First drive: Aston Martin V8 Cygnet

  • Infiniti Prototype 10: single-seat electrified performance concept previewed Thursday 16th August 2018
    Infiniti's physical representation of its electrified performance future is part-revealed in new pictures, but it’s being kept under wraps until Monterey Car Week later this month

    After the retro race-inspired Prototype 9 concept of last year, Infiniti is showing the Prototype 10 - a signpost to its future of electrified performance, at Pebble Beach in California this year.

    The concept, which features an unspecified electrified powertrain, is expected to be the performance car tipped for reveal this year by design boss Alfonso Albaisa at last year’s Pebble Beach. The brand has revealed that the concept will 'bridge the divide between new and old', so is expected to be another retro-inspired car like the aforementioned Prototype 9.

    The Emerg-E was the brand’s last foray into performance car concepts, and it was revealed way back in 2012, so this car is expected to be something of a departure from the earlier concept. 

    No details have been revealed about the car, other than it was designed by executive design director Karim Habib, who moved to Infiniti last year after a six-year tenure at BMW

    The concept is a stripped-back, single-seat speedster, with the area where a passenger seat should be covered by a sculpted panel of bodywork beneath a large V-shaped vent. The placement of these vents behind the driver suggests the car's engine sits behind - a first for any Infiniti.

    A four-point harness in the driver’s seat suggests that the car will be race-inspired, track-friendly and more hardcore than the brand’s current line-up of plush, road-focused cars. 

    There’s no word on whether the car will make production or not, but given its remoteness from the cars the brand currently produces, as well as Infiniti’s description of the car as a "physical representation of Infiniti’s electrified performance future", it’s not expected to preview any upcoming sports car from the brand.

    Along with the announcement, Infiniti revealed that it will be an electrified brand from 2021, following the industry trend of ditching fossil-fuel-only cars ahead of international bans on petrol and diesel-only cars in the coming decades. 

    Read more: 

    Infiniti Prototype 9 concept revealed as race-inspired retro concept

    Infiniti to reveal electric performance model in January

    Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance news

    Hybrid Infiniti sports car due within three years

  • Unfixed Dieselgate-affected Volkswagens to be deregistered in Germany Thursday 16th August 2018
    Unfixed Dieselgate-affected VWs to be deregistered in Germany Drivers who neglect to get their cars updated will have them deregistered as Germany gets tough on emissions laws

    Owners of Dieselgate-affected Volkswagen Group cars in Germany who refuse to have the manufacturer's emissions fix applied could have their cars deregistered by authorities. 

    Automobilwoche reports that the KBA, Germany's motor vehicle regulator, has already revoked the registrations of several Audi and VW cars without the fix in Hamburg and Munich following repeated warnings to the drivers, because the cars were still emitting more NOx than was originally declared. 

    The fix is mandatory in Germany because the authorities declared it a safety recall, whereas in the UK it was labelled a 'service action’. The KBA told Automobilwoche: "The recall is compulsory. Cars that are not fixed can eventually be taken out of service. Subject to the release date of the updates, the car owner has had about a year and a half. Plenty of time to take part in the recall."

    The deregistrations are therefore not completely unexpected. Similar deregistrations are unlikely to happen in the UK because the fix was not declared a safety issue here.

    As of June, 95% of the total 2.46 million affected German cars had had the fix applied. Of the remaining cars, 0.6% are being referred to their local authorities after several warnings, and this can eventually lead to registrations being revoked.

    Owners across Europe are sceptical of the fix after claims that the software update can cause cars to become less fuel efficient and lead to faults that trigger 'limp home' mode

    An Autocar investigation carried out on a 1.6-litre diesel VW Touran found that, despite NOx emissions reducing by almost half after the fix, the car returned poorer fuel economy and emitted 6.5% more CO2.

    VW continues to claim that the fix has no adverse effect on cars’ reliability, emissions or fuel economy, backed up by verification from the KBA.

    Deregistrations will commence depending on when the owners were issued with the recall notice; this means that some owners’ cars could be deregistered next month. 

    According to a VW spokesman, the fix is not expected to reach a 100% rate, due to some affected cars having been written off or being untraceable by the government, but the rate is climbing. 

    Read more: 

    Volkswagen emissions scandal: one year on

    Autocar test shows worse economy after Volkswagen diesel fix

    Volkswagen pledges to rectify problems caused by Dieselgate software fix

    Volkswagen rejects £2.5 million congestion charge payments

    German car industry under EU cartel investigation

  • 2018's most popular cars in Europe – by country Thursday 16th August 2018
    The most popular cars in Europe In case you hadn’t heard, the Ford Fiesta has been best-seller in the UK for a number of years. Here’s what other European Union countries are buying

    The top ten best-selling cars in the UK are easy to spot; on every street there’s at least one Fiesta, Qashqai, Focus or Golf.

    What is the best-selling car in other countries, though? Find out below which cars the rest of Europe loves as much as the UK loves the Ford Fiesta, measured by market analysts JATO Dynamics:

    Austria: Volkswagen Golf

    With no mainstream car manufacturers, Austria’s top-seller can’t be from a domestic manufacturer. 6686 buyers have flocked to the Volkswagen Golf so far this year, while the next two are also VW group big-hitters; the Polo, at 5500, and the Skoda Octavia at 4750.

    Belgium: Volkswagen Golf

    The same can be said for Belgium, but clearly being wedged between France and Germany has its effects: the Volkswagen Golf is the most popular car this year, followed by the Renault Clio and Hyundai Tucson. 8404, 7145 and 5915 have found owners respectively so far this year.

    Croatia: Renault Clio

    It's all change in Croatia; in 2016, the best-sellers were the Nissan Qashqai and Toyota Yaris, while this year, the Renault ClioSkoda Octavia and Volkswagen Polo take the top three, with 2072, 1988 and 1356 sales respectively.

    Czechia: Skoda Octavia

    No two guesses which carmaker rules supreme here - the Skoda Octavia has sold 14,502 units and the second-best-seller was the Fabia, which has sold 11,141, in fact, half of the country’s top ten best-sellers are Skodas. The Rapid takes third, with 8212 sold.

    Denmark: Peugeot 208

    Peugeot’s only top spot in Europe this year is in Denmark, where 5713 208s found homes so far, while the next best-seller is the Nissan Qashqai, of which 4834 were sold. Trailing in third place was the Volkswagen Golf; 3313 have found homes this year.

    Estonia: Skoda Octavia

    Estonia has a proclivity for larger cars, it would seem, as the Skoda Octavia takes pole position having sold 589 cars, while 529 and 443 units put the Toyota RAV4 and Toyota Avensis in second and third place respectively.

    Finland: Skoda Octavia

    Skoda claims another victory in Finland with the Octavia – 3063 were sold there this year so far. Second place was taken by the Nissan Qashqai, although only slightly less – 2745 – were sold across the year. The Toyota Yaris took third place with 2361 sales.

    France: Renault Clio

    Little surprise here; France’s top car across this year is the Renault Clio, and a whopping 70,009 take it right to the top. The Peugeot 208 takes second place, with 56,242 units being sold, while the other French supermini, the Citroën C3, was overtaken last year from third by the Peugeot 3008, with 46,727 sold.

    Germany: Volkswagen Golf

    Volkswagen takes back its 1, 2, 3 in Germany, but there's change at third place - the Golf has sold 95,118 cars in the country. It sells so well that the second-place Passat sold less than half this number; 38,047, while the Ford Focus and Tiguan now fight the Volkswagen Polo for third. The Polo wins though, with 36,662, overtaking both.

    Greece: Toyota Yaris

    The Toyota Yaris takes the top spot in Greece again, with 3357 cars sold, compared to the second-place Fiat Panda’s 2494 units sold. Third goes to the Peugeot 208; 2460 have Greek homes across 2018 so far.

    Hungary: Suzuki Vitara

    Hungarian buyers are hungry (sorry) for the Suzuki Vitara, quite probably because it's made there -  the model sold 7211 units there so far this year. Meanwhile, the Skoda Octavia sold 3421 down in second place, and the Suzuki SX4 S-Cross has sold 2664.

    Ireland: Nissan Qashqai

    Hyundai had well and truly taken hold in Ireland; the Tucson was the best-selling car across the Irish sea in 2016 and 2017, but has this year been usurped by the Nissan Qashqai, which sold 3045 units this year so far to the Hyundai's 2919. The Volkswagen Golf completes the top three, with 2704 sales.

    Italy: Fiat Panda

    Nationalism wins, once again, with a Fiat 1, 2, 3 – the Fiat Panda is the best-selling car so far this year, with 66,567 finding homes. The Fiat 500X, having shifted 30,689, while the 500 was a close third on 28,932. It has been a 60/40 split between Fiat Chrysler group cars and other manufacturers in the past, with the Renault Clio, Ford Fiesta, and Volkswagens Polo and Golf in the top ten, too.

    Latvia: Volkswagen Golf

    Another win for the Golf – it claims a small victory this year, with 466 sold overall. The Nissan Qashqai - last year's best-seller - came in second, having sold 374 units, while the third-place Toyota Auris sold 285. 

    Lithuania: Fiat 500

    Fiat’s second pole position came in Lithuania, where the 500 has found 1771 homes, while the Fiat 500X overtook the Skoda Octavia last year to become second best-seller, on 906. The Octavia sunk to fourth, with the Fiat Tipo claiming third, at 833.

    Luxembourg: Volkswagen Golf

    It's almost another douze points for the Volkswagen Group from Luxembourg this year; the Volkswagen Golf takes top spot, while the Tiguan took second and the Mercedes-Benz GLC snatched third from the Audi A3 and Renault Clio. Sales were 1341, 610 and 605 respectively.

    Netherlands: Volkswagen Polo

    It's all change for the Dutch! The Renault Clio has been ousted from its top spot and into second place - the Volkswagen Polo, Renault Clio and Ford Fiesta now make up the big three, with 8632, 6350, and 6217 sales. The Kia Picanto slips off the podium.

    Norway: Nissan Leaf

    Surprise! The Volkswagen Golf was the best-selling car in Norway last year, but it's been overtaken by the Nissan Leaf, with 5791 sold. The Golf (bolstered by e-Golf sales) slipped into second place, at 4765. The BMW i3 slipped from second to third place, at 2785. 

    Poland: Skoda Octavia

    Skoda took another top two in Poland, with the Octavia and Fabia taking first and second place with the narrowest of margins separating the two; the Octavia taking 10,612 and Fabia taking 10,191 sales in the country. The Opel Astra took third, on 8209. 

    Portugal: Renault Clio

    French and small cars dominate the podium in Portugal, as the Renault Clio sold 8358 as the country’s best-seller, and the Peugeot 208 and Renault Captur sold 4274 and 4055.

    Romania: Dacia Logan

    Dacia took its home market by storm last year, and continues to do so. The Logan and Duster make up 2018's top two, with the former finding homes in 9136 garages, and the latter parked in 3911. The Sandero took third place with 2236, and the Skoda Octavia slipped off the top three at fourth in the Romanian market.

    Slovakia: Skoda Fabia

    The Skoda Fabia took pole position in Slovakia, while its big brother, the Octavia, wasn’t far behind. The Fabia was bought by 2870 Slovakians, and the Octavia was bought by 2616. The Rapid, in third place, sold 1808.

    Slovenia: Renault Clio

    The Volkswagen Golf climbed to second in the Slovenian market in 2017, but drops; with 1672 sales evaporating its lead over the now second-place Polo, which sold 1771. First place goes to the Renault Clio, though, with 2242 sales. The Clio is built in Slovenia in facelifted form, which helps it maintain its lead there.

    Spain: Seat Leon

    What’s Spanish for ‘quelle surprise’? The Seat Leon and Ibiza take gold and silver in Spain, with 21,045 and 19,300 finding a place in the sun so far this year, and the Ibiza's German cousin, the Volkswagen Polo, takes third place with 16,810. Surprisingly, though, the rest of the top ten is a healthy mix. 

    Sweden: Volvo S90/V90

    There was uproar in 2016 when the Volkswagen Golf took the lead in Sweden’s car market from Volvo, but three Volvos combined took second: the S80, V70 and XC70. Volvo was back on top in 2017, and today, the S90 and V90 are in pole position on 17,846, followed by the S60 and V60, with 11,067 sales, while the XC60 takes third on 10,085. The Golf is pushed down into fourth place.

    Switzerland: Skoda Octavia

    With no native carmakers of any large volume, the Swiss buy the Skoda Octavia, Volkswagen Golf and Volkswagen Tiguan more than any other cars. 4441 have bought an Octavia so far this year, and 3620 and 2712 have bought Golfs and Tiguans.

    UK: Ford Fiesta

    The Fiesta is perched atop the lofty list of the UK’s top-sellers, with 56,415 sold this year. 39,930 Volkswagen Golf and 30,757 Nissan Qashqai sales cement second and third places for the best-seller regulars. You can find the rest of the best-seller list here

    More like this: 

    Top 10 best-selling cars in Britain

    The best-selling cars in Europe - by market segment

    The 50 best-selling cars in the world

  • McLaren signs Sainz to replace Alonso for 2019 F1 season Thursday 16th August 2018
    Alonso and Sainz
    Carlos Sainz Jr (right) will replace Fernando Alonso at McLaren next season
    Spanish racer to succeed compatriot at Woking squad; 18-year-old Brit Lando Norris is in contention to join him

    Spanish racer Carlos Sainz Jr will switch from Renault to replace Fernando Alonso at the McLaren-Renault Formula 1 team next season.

    The 23-year-old is under contract to Red Bull but driving for the works Renault squad on loan this year. Sainz’s future had been uncertain after Daniel Ricciardo switched from Red Bull to Renault.

    He was under consideration to replace Ricciardo, but McLaren swooped to sign Sainz to a ‘multi-year deal’ after compatriot Alonso decided to leave F1.

    Opinion: should Fernando Alonso be considered an F1 great?

    “Carlos brings with him the perfect blend of youth and experience,” said McLaren boss Zak Brown. “Although he’s just 23, he’ll be starting his fifth season in the sport and will bring with him a huge amount of racing experience.”

    Sainz, the son of double world rally champion Carlos Sainz Sr, made his F1 debut with Toro Rosso in 2015 and drove for the Italian squad until switching to Renault late last season.

    Sainz’s McLaren deal clears the way for current Toro Rosso racer Pierre Gasly to be promoted to the main Red Bull team to partner Max Verstappen next year.

    It's still unknown who will partner Sainz at McLaren in 2019. The team’s release didn’t mention current driver Stoffel Vandoorne, simply saying that it would “communicate its full driver line-up for the 2019 season in due course”.

    Vandoorne is in his second season at the team but has generally trailed Alonso for pace. Drivers tipped to be in contention for the seat include 18-year-old Briton Lando Norris, who is McLaren’s reserve driver and a title contender in Formula 2 this season.

    Read more

    Opinion: should Fernando Alonso be considered an F1 great?

    Fernando Alonso won't race in F1 in 2019

    Opinion: why Ricciardo's Renault switch could be an inspired move

  • Honda Civic Type R long-term review Thursday 16th August 2018
    Honda Civic Type R It’s a warm welcome to this steaming hot hatch. But is it too fiery for Britain’s roads?

    Why we're running it: To determine whether the most ferocious front-wheel-drive hot hatch on sale today is usable on a daily basis

    Month 6Month 5Month 4Month 3Month 2Month 1 - Specs

    Life with a Honda Civic Type R: Month 6

    Is the Type R as great as they say? A doubter tests the theory - 4th July 2018

    I’ve been in a minority about the Honda Civic Type R, in that I don’t swoon over it quite as much as everybody else seems to. I just think it’s very good. My colleagues seem to think it’s the hot hatch’s second coming, the Peugeot 306 GTi-6 reincarnate or something. Me, I think I’d rather have a Hyundai.

    Still, it has two days and about 600 miles to change my mind: driving the A66, which is definitely not Britain’s version of Route 66, what with it being shorter but with more castles.

    It’s the kind of drive that the Civic is much better at than the previous generation car. The old Civic was thrown together near the end of that model’s life cycle, the sports hatch Honda never really intended to make because it thought the bottom had fallen out of the market. As a result, it pitched it as a one-dimensional, Nürburgring-lap-time special.

    This time around, the Civic is more rounded. It’s still a bit noisy on the motorway but the ride is decent and there’s a comfortable, low-slung driving position. (The body-in-white’s floor is largely flat, which helps.) On average, the car is returning 33.4mpg but you’ll see a few more mpg than that on a steady motorway run. With a 46-litre tank, you’re looking at a range of about 350 miles, which is respectable. But although the digital fuel gauge has a lot of increments, it still crept up on me.

    Top tip, though: use the sat-nav on your phone rather than the one in the car. Also, the Civic limits some of the functions on its ropey infotainment system if the car is in motion, even if there’s a passenger alongside you; and it knows there is, because it beeps at them until they’ve done their seatbelt up. So that’s quite annoying.

    Roads like motorways and the A66, which is predominantly dual carriageway or straight single carriageway, though, are still not strictly its forte. Halfway across the north Pennines, we make a small detour off the A66 just in search of some extra prettiness. ‘Look what you could find’ – that sort of thing. And, okay, maybe, at last, I’m starting to get it.

    The Civic steers really well; hefty, accurate and with very little disruption or kickback given it’s equipped with a mechanical limited-slip differential and 306bhp. Its body control is exceptionally tight, too, despite the fact that the ride is relatively pliant the rest of the time.

    Maybe that’s the biggest trick. I don’t have a problem with a Hyundai i30 N’s ride but I know people who do. And although a Volkswagen Golf GTI is more comfortable, it’s not as tied down as the Civic. Perhaps, then, the Type R is the one that does both things. You don’t have to be going stupidly fast to enjoy it, either, but it’s worth noting that if you are enjoying it, you probably end up going pretty fast, simply because of how capable it is.

    A Ford Fiesta ST or the old Suzuki Swift Sport or a Toyota GT86 would give you as much, less obviously, but, okay, I concede, this is the most capable hot hatch on sale. Still, there’s no excuse for that sat-nav.

    Matt Prior

    Love it:

    DEFT METAL Metal-topped gearlever is one of the nicest touches on any modern car…

    Loathe it:

    HOT METAL… but a metal-topped gearlever is no fun if the car has been parked in the sunshine when it’s 30deg C.

    Mileage: 9659

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    Life with a Honda Civic Type R: Month 5

    Making the infotainment a bit more individual - 6th June 2018

    Our Civic’s infotainment features some customisable options. You can upload an image to use as wallpaper, so I’ve used one of Matt Neal’s BTCC car following his recent win at Thruxton. You can also choose from various icons to represent your car on the sat-nav screen. I’ve chosen an aeroplane, which sadly doesn’t enable me to fly over traffic.

    Mileage: 6995

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    Life with a Honda Civic Type R: Month 4

    Easy to forget the looks when you're behind the wheel - 23rd May 2018

    When you’re inside the Civic Type R, it’s easy to forget how dramatic it looks from the outside. On photo shoots, I often swap cars, and it’s only when I’ve been following the Type R in something else that I realise how polarising the design is. Not everyone is a fan, but I love it. Just a shame I don’t get to see it more from behind the wheel…

    Mileage: 6661

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    Now the engine’s run in, there’s no holding the hot hatch back - 9th May 2018

    Our Honda Civic Type R has passed the 5000-mile mark. That’s the kind of distance in a car’s life where minor faults start to become full-on irritations, but not in this case.

    In fact, the Type R is actually improving with age.

    The engine has benefited from being properly run in, for one thing. When we first jumped into the Type R, the 2.0-litre turbocharged VTEC engine felt a bit tight, as such highly tuned units often are at first. But in recent months it’s begun to loosen up, making the 306bhp engine more responsive.

    That’s good for the car’s performance and it’s also been good for my wallet. Honda claims a 36.7mpg fuel efficiency for the Type R, but in our early days with the car we were lucky to average in the 28s.

    Granted, some of that is down to our desire to sample the engine’s full potential – purely in the name of research, clearly – but the vast bulk of our mileage has been normal, everyday driving. Thankfully, as the engine has been run in, so the economy has improved, and we’re now achieving an average of around 32mpg. That improvement adds up over time.

    Of course, the Type R is never going to be a particularly frugal car to run. It’s a performance hot hatch, after all. I was reminded of that when idly flicking through the owner’s manual, a document so thick it puts some novels to shame. I found an instruction telling you to check the car’s oil every time you stop for petrol. That might have been true of cars of yesteryear but it seems somewhat excessive in 2018.

    Still, the next time I was filling up I gave the oil a check and topped it up. I was quite surprised I needed half a litre of oil, which was more than I’d expected after 5000 miles, and could add up over time.

    Having to fiddle around checking my oil more frequently is a small price to pay for the sheer joy of driving the Type R, though: it’s so rewarding in that respect. That was hammered home to me when I was given the task of snapping Andrew Frankel’s recent tour of the sites of some of Sir Stirling Moss’s finest moments, a 370-mile trek that spanned from Aintree to Goodwood.

    Frankel was in a £108,780 Maserati GranTurismo MC, powered by a 4.8-litre V8 engine, while I got to follow him round in my £33,520 Type R. It shouldn’t have been much of a fight, if you went by the list price. And yet, in challenging conditions on twisting country roads, I had absolutely no problem keeping up with him.

    Frankel, who is no slouch of a driver, just couldn’t get away – and I wasn’t even pushing. The Type R just has incredible traction and speed, and the handling is predictable and consistently rewarding, with a hint of benign lift-off oversteer.

    It made what could have been a long slog of a trip hugely entertaining. I’m sure I saw Frankel give a few envious glimpses in the rear-view mirror of the GranTurismo too.

    In fact, the only real area in which I reckon it lost out to the Maserati – a car nearly four times as expensive, remember – was noise: the Type R’s turbocharged unit will never sound as good as a mighty Italian V8.

    Mileage: 5771

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    Life with a Honda Civic Type R: Month 3

    Winter windscreen wear and tear - 25th April 2018

    The winter weather caused damage to Britain’s roads and to the Civic Type R’s windscreen, which picked up several small chips from stones thrown up by cars ahead of me. A specialist windscreen firm quoted me more than £100, so I tried the chip repair service run by my local Halfords. It was quick, cost £25 and fixed the chips really well.

    Mileage: 5113

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    Road-going racer meets the real thing - 11th April 2018

    A photo shoot at the HQ of Team Dynamics, which prepares the Civic Type Rs that race in the BTCC, offered a useful opportunity to compare our road-going car with its competition sibling. The race version is optimised for the track and to meet the rules but our car’s exterior design has as much performance intent as you’d want or need on the road.

    Mileage: 4624

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    Life with a Honda Civic Type R: Month 2

    Honda's attention to interoir detail - 28th March 2018

    The Civic Type R has a useful two-tier storage area in the centre console, just ahead of the gearstick. In our higher-spec GT model, the upper cubby doubles as a wireless charging mat if your smartphone is equipped with compatible technology. If it isn’t, you might need to plug it into the USB port, in the lower cubby. A cable pass-through means no messy wires trailing around.

    Mileage: 4202

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    Cleaning off the winter grime is both an education and a chore - 21st March 2018

    The exterior design of the Civic Type R might not be universally admired as a paragon of exquisite styling, but it marries function and form to good effect, with the wings, vanes and ducts all contributing to an enhanced airflow compared with the body of the standard Civic.

    The shape of the front bumper, for example, creates an ‘air curtain’ that directs turbulence away from the front wheels. The dramatic-looking slats behind those wheels let air escape from the arches, thus reducing pressure. The front splitter and side skirts create downforce on the front axle, which is a contributory factor in this Type R being able to effectively manage its prodigious power through the front wheels alone.

    That’s the theory, anyway, but I was recently able to conduct my own (unscientific) aerodynamic testing during the milder days that followed the Beast from the East, when the snow thawed on the roads and a film of briny grime was splashed up over the Honda’s bodywork.

    When we adopted this car back in January, we speculated that the pearlescent black paint, a £575 option, might show the dirt quite easily, and so it proved. Usefully, though, the swirls of dirt enabled me to trace the flow of air. To my eyes, it seemed that there was still quite a lot of turbulent air flowing around the body of the Civic, but the quality of my aerodynamic analysis could be one of the reasons why I shoot cars for a living rather than design them.

    In any case, I don’t spend a lot of time pondering aerodynamic minutiae when I’m driving the Type R – there’s too much fun to be had. I’ve noticed that the driving mode selector seems to default to Sport when you first fire up the 2.0-litre turbocharged VTEC engine. That’s logical, given it sits between Comfort and full-bore +R modes, but I’ve become familiar with other cars in which Sport is the name of the maximum-attack mode, not the middle-of-the-road choice.

    I’m fine with it, though, because although Sport firms up the active dampers, adds weight to the power steering and sharpens the throttle’s responses, it offers the best compromise of acceptable ride quality without dulling that heady performance. For me, Comfort mode injects a degree of lightness into the steering that feels unpleasantly artificial. Perhaps that might make the car easier to drive over very long distances, where you might not want as much involvement, but it just feels like the car has been neutered.

    Having the driving mode selector as a rocker switch near the gearlever, where it is just the flick of a finger away, is preferable to the set-up on the previous-generation (FK2) Civic Type R. To deploy +R mode in that car, you had to prod a button that was partially hidden behind the steering wheel and windscreen wiper stalk.

    It’s yet another small way in which this version has made a step forward.

    Mileage: 3920

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    Life with a Honda Civic Type R: Month 1

    Innovative gear knob solutions - 28th February 2018

    The Civic’s beautifully machined aluminium alloy gear knob is an impressive thing to both admire and use. I have just one minor quibble with it, though: it is uncomfortably cold to the touch when you first get into the car on a freezing winter’s day. Two solutions I’ve thought of: invest in some driving gloves or borrow a knitted hat from an Innocent smoothie bottle. 

    Mileage: 2481

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    The 316bhp hatch doesn’t hide its roots as a practical family car - 14th February 2018

    Performance car it may be, but the Civic Type R has to provide an element of practicality if it is to live up to the ‘daily driver’ brief demanded of it by a photographer.

    If I’m heading to a shoot I need space, and plenty of it, for my kit. I have to say that so far I’m impressed by what I’ve found in the Civic. There’s a surprising amount of room under that bespoilered rear hatch and it’s certainly generous by the standards of this class. Officially, the Civic has 420 litres of boot space, increasing to 786 litres if you fold down all of the 60/40 split rear seat and pile your possessions as high as the bottom of the window line.

    One idea that I like very much is the retractable luggage cover, which puts me in mind of either a roller blind or a Bacofoil dispenser. I find conventional solid parcel shelves rather ungainly, not least because I’m often forced to remove them to free up additional space and have to find somewhere safe to stow them. That’s fine if you’re blessed with your own garage in which to put such a cumbersome item, but considerably less fine if you’re 20 minutes down the M1 before you remember you’ve left the flipping thing at Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground.

    So retractable luggage covers are the way forward, and what sets the Civic’s apart from many others is that it deploys from the side, so it doesn’t act as a barrier across the width of the car when you need more space. It’s one of those ideas that I can scarcely believe isn’t implemented more often.

    On a different note, in my previous report I mentioned the squealing brakes that were drawing unwanted attention to our Civic Type R during slow-speed, around-town driving.

    If the Type R online forums are any guide, it’s a fairly common issue with this latest Civic. Our car has since been back to Honda’s press garage, where the technicians skimmed the Brembo discs. That has alleviated the issue for the time being, but I’ve been warned that it is likely to return.

    Indeed, the owner’s manual (believe it or not, we’ve bothered to read it) states that “to satisfy the performance under a wide range of driving conditions, a high- performance braking system is equipped on your vehicle. You may hear the brake squeal under certain conditions, such as vehicle speed, deceleration, humidity and so on. This is not a malfunction.”

    So the noise is an unfortunate by-product of the car’s performance intent, then, although in my opinion that doesn’t satisfactorily explain why the Civic Type R makes it when many other performance cars do not.

    Mileage: 2189

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    Welcoming the Type R to our fleet 31st January 2018

    It’s less than two years since the previous-gen Civic Type R left our long-term fleet.

    That’s precious little time in the grand scheme of a manufacturer’s model development plans, but Honda had good reason to quickly usher its latest banzai-hatch to market.

    Not only was it conceived as a way to mark the 25th anniversary of the Type R sub-brand, which fell in 2017, but it was also produced in parallel with the cooking Civic. This made it easier for Honda’s go-faster wizards to instil the foundations of hot-hatch nuttiness from the outset, whereas this Type R’s forebear was developed long after the base model.

    As much as this is a new car, though, the fundamental technical set-up isn’t too far removed from the FK2-generation Civic Type R that preceded it, insomuch as the power is produced by a 2.0-litre turbocharged VTEC petrol engine, which is mounted transversely and mated to a six-speed manual gearbox that drives the front axle only, using a limited- slip differential to meter the power. The engine produces slightly more power than the old car’s, at 316bhp compared with 306bhp, but torque remains the same at 295lb ft.

    Beneath the surface, though, there are more significant changes aimed at refining the handling. The car is based on a new platform that enables it to be lower, wider and stiffer than its forebear, and there’s a revised suspension set-up – most notably at the rear, where the torsion beam has been replaced by a multi-link configuration – and a new adaptive damping system.

    The move to a new platform has had an effect on the interior too, because the fuel tank has been moved from its position beneath the driver’s seat to a location aft of the rear seats, enabling the driver to be seated lower, more in keeping with what you’d expect from a hot hatch.

    Another change that’s been made possible by the new underpinnings is a move to 20in wheels and 245-section tyres; our previous car ran on 19in wheels and 235/35 tyres. As much as those bigger, widerhoops should convey some dynamic advantages, I’m a little concerned at the effect they might have on the ride. As Autocar’s snapper-in-chief, I rack up a lot of miles per week and it’s fairly important to drive a car that’s as forgiving to cruise in as much as it is engaging when I want it to be.

    And here’s where one of the most significant changes between the old and new Civic Type Rs should come into play. In this new one, you get three selectable drive modes, whereas the old one simply hadtwo choices: standard or ‘R’. The latter, engaged via a red button on the dashboard, turned all of the old car’s mechanical settings up to 11. ‘R’ mode, however, often felt too harsh and uncomfortable for the majority of British highways and byways.

    Honda clearly listened to feedback from the enthusiasts who buy its performance cars – and perhaps even took a long, hard look at what its hot-hatch rivals have been doing – because this new Civic Type R has an additional ‘Comfort’ mode. It can dial down the directness of the steering feel, damping, stability assist, traction control and throttle response. At the same time, the default (or ‘Sport’, as Honda names it) and full-bore ‘R’ settings – now accessed via a rocker switch near the gearlever – have been made more extreme.

    What we expect to discover over the course of the coming months is a hot hatch with a broader spread of configurability. But can it really be capable of lapping at a supercar-bothering pace, yet comfortable enough to cover vast swathes of motorway without me needing to keep my osteopath’s phone number on speed dial? What’s also similar to the last Civic Type R we ran is the specification because, like our 2016 version, this new car is in ‘GT’ trim. For an additional £2000, you get a raft of comfort and safety features of the kind you might find useful on longer trips: blind-spot warning, parking sensors, front foglights, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror and dual-zone climate control.

    That extra kit comes with a weight penalty that means the GT-spec Civic Type R takes one-tenth of a second longer to sprint from 0-62mph. Based on our early impressions, we’re unlikely to quibble over 5.8sec rather than 5.7sec, though – so far, it has felt mightily quick to us.

    Beyond opting for the bells-and- whistles GT trim, the only cost option we’ve added is pearlescent black paint. They do say black is the new white when it comes UK motorists’ favourite car colour – although, this being a photographer’s weapon, I’m fastidious about appearances and expect to spend quite a bit of time and effort keeping the bodywork clean.

    It’s certainly an eye-catching car, but so far our Type R has also been turning heads for the wrong reasons. In the slow crawl of rush-hour traffic, there’s been a rather loud squeal from the Brembo brakes that draws glares from passing pedestrians. Could it be just a new-car issue, indicative of a deeper problem or something we’ll have to accept due to the Type R’s performance intent?

    We’ll keep an eye (or, rather, an ear) on it, although we intend to waste as little time as possible plodding through traffic jams and more of it exploiting this hot hatch on some of the nation’s best driving roads.

    Second opinion 

    I ran the previous Civic Type R on our fleet. On a specific road on a specific day when I was in a specific mood, I revelled in its raucous lack of manners, but it was a challenge to live with day to day, so I’m encouraged by talk of this one having a wider spread of ability.

    Matt Burt

    Honda Civic Type R specification

    Specs: Price New £32,995; Price as tested: £33,520; Options: pearlescent paint £525

    Test Data: Engine 4 cyls, 1996cc, turbo, petrol Power 316bhp at 6500rpm Torque 295lb ft from 2500-4500rpm Top speed 169mph 0-62mph 5.7sec Claimed fuel economy 36.7mpgTest fuel economy 24.9mpg CO2 176g/km Faults None; Expenses None

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  • Toyota Verso axed in Europe Thursday 16th August 2018
    Toyota Verso axed in Europe Turkish-built MPV succumbs to burgeoning SUV sales; hybrids sell quicker in Toyota range but Verso didn’t have one

    The Toyota Verso is the latest MPV to be axed in Europe, as SUVs lure buyers away from the formerly huge segment. 

    Toyota sold just 821 examples of the Verso during the year so far, while the RAV4, for example, found homes on 3921 driveways in the same period, with 88% of them being hybrid models. 

    Hybrids sell in greater numbers than internal combustion-only cars, according to Toyota. The Verso was only offered with a 1.6-litre diesel, a 1.6-litre petrol or a 1.8-litre petrol. The Prius+ sold even fewer units across the first half of the year, at 484, but will remain the brand's only MPV offering.

    Only dealer stock remains in the UK, with the last Versos predicted to be sold by the end of the year. 

    Sales of the Turkish-built MPV have plunged 46% on 2017 and Toyota confirmed that the significant shift from MPVs to C-segment SUVs was the reason behind the decision to pull the plug on the Verso, as Toyota reviewed its European product lineup. Production stopped in October 2017, but sales continued online until far more recently. 

    The Verso disappeared from Toyota’s UK website in recent weeks and sales will end all over Europe as the model officially finishes production. 

    Other MPVs discontinued this year include the previously huge-selling Vauxhall Zafira, while other manufacturers have trimmed slower-selling three-door models from their line-ups. Seat recently axed all three-door cars from its range

    Europe’s best-selling MPV is the Renault Scenic, which has shifted 57,559 units in the year so far. The Volkswagen Touran was second place, followed by the Citroën C4 Spacetourer

    Read more:

    The cars we lost in 2017

    2018's most popular cars in Europe by market segment

    Seat drops remaining three-door models

    2018's most popular cars in Europe – by country

  • Porsche 718 Boxster Spyder: new pictures show bespoke roof setup Thursday 16th August 2018
    Porsche 718 Boxster Spyder: new pictures show bespoke roof setup Lightened drop top will swap turbo-four power for high-revving unit of its sibling

    Development of the most driver-focused version of the Porsche 718 Boxster is now at an advanced stage, suggesting that the car is due for reveal later this year, before arriving on roads in winter.

    The upcoming sports car has been caught on camera wearing almost no camouflage, showing that engineers are finalising the settings of the model, which will use a naturally aspirated, flat six engine in place of the regular Boxster's four-cylinder alternatives. Development cars have been spotted with the roof up and down, showing the bespoke roof and rear deck.

    The next Boxster Spyder, which will be heavily related to the 718 Cayman GT4, will use a 911 GT3-sourced 4.0-litre engine in place of the current hottest engine in the 718 range, the turbocharged 2.5-litre flat four, in order to stay more closely aligned with its predecessors — which have all been hailed by enthusiasts as excellent driver's cars.

    Porsche Motorsport has stuck to this formula, which has been integrated into Spyders since the special Boxster variant was introduced in 2009, to give the car an even more responsive drivetrain, with the intention of making it the most involving Boxster to be on sale yet.

    “Natural aspiration is one of our main USPs,” Andreas Preuninger, head of GT car development at Porsche, told Autocar earlier this year. “At Motorsport, we think we can achieve throttle response and immediacy a little bit better with an atmospheric high-revving engine than any kind of turbo.”

    Output for the 4.0-litre unit is rated at 493bhp at 8250rpm in the 911 GT3, but the Boxster Spyder’s power may be slightly down on this to leave breathing space for its more expensive and larger sibling.

    The previous Boxster Spyder used a 3.8-litre flat six taken from the 911 Carrera of the time and was good for 370bhp. The recently launched Boxster GTS and related Cayman GTS use highly strung four-pot engines with 361bhp, so the new Spyder will need to produce more power to cement itself as the top Boxster. An output of around 425bhp seems likely.

    To signify its driver focus, the car will be offered with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, but those after maximum on-track performance will be able to select the option of a seven-speed PDK dual-clutch transmission.

    The Boxster Spyder will also go on a hefty diet, ditching cabin insulation and even a radio and air conditioning. The Boxster’s electric folding soft top will also go, with a manually removable ‘tent top’ in its place. These weight savings will combine with Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber to make the car the sharpest-handling production Boxster yet produced.

    Much of the design treatment applied the Boxster Spyder will mirror those featured on the Boxster GTS. The Cayman GT4 will likely get the same adjustments, along with a more prominent rear wing to signify its even harder status.

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  • Defender-esque Bollinger B1 gets facelift ahead of 2019 on-sale date Thursday 16th August 2018
    Defender-esque Bollinger B1 gets facelift ahead of 2019 on-sale date American start-up restyles its Defender-esque heavy duty SUV ahead of launch to boost efficiency

    Bollinger's B1 electric SUV has been given a facelift before the car is even on sale, to improve the aerodynamic efficiency of the Land Rover Defender-like EV. 

    The American start-up electric SUV manufacturer says its B1 SUV, which it claims to be the most extreme and durable battery-powered off-roader, has been tweaked to allow airflow through the top of the bonnet from the front of the car, and setting the headlights in a grille. 

    The SUV, which is due to launch in mid-2019, formerly generated over 400kg of lift at the front, and almost 350kg of downforce at the rear. To equalise these, the front grille and bonnet vent concept has been implemented, slightly tweaking the look of the car's front end. 

    Bollinger Motors, based in Hobart in upstate New York, is in the final stages of developing its new B1 SUV. The all-wheel-drive machine features front- and rear-motors that combine to produce 355bhp and 472lb ft of torque. The power will be controlled by front and rear electronic locking differentials, and twin two-speed range gearboxes to control the torque.

    It will be offered with a 60kWh battery, giving a 120-mile range, with the firm intending to offer a 100kWh battery with a 200-mile range.

    Bollinger engineer John Hutchinson said: “There’s no other electric SUV like this. Electric drivetrains are great for off-road use, because they offer plenty of torque at low RPM. The B1 is designed for fun off-roading, or for use as a farm vehicle. Those vehicles don’t travel great distances, so range is less of an issue.”

    The machine features a stripped-out interior with a boxy exterior design that resembles a Land Rover Defender. It features aluminium chassis and bodywork, designed to make it easy to manufacture, practical for off-road use and simple to replace panels. A steel roll cage has been added for safety.

    The B1 is designed for use in extreme off-road conditions, and as such has 15.5 inches of ground clearance and 10-inch wheel travel. It is 3810mm long and 1943mm wide, with a wheelbase of 2667mm. With the rear seats removed it has a 2690-litre capacity.

    The design takes advantage of the lack of engine up front to feature a distinctive ‘pass-through’ area in the front storage compartment, allowing long loads to fit inside the vehicle.

    The B1 was the idea of industrial designer Robert Bollinger, who founded the company that now employs ten people in 2014. The firm claims to have received 10,000 expressions of interest since the project was first announced, and is currently evaluating manufacturing partners in the US.

    While the B1 is focused on the American market, the firm is aiming to start exporting models in 2020, principally to the Middle East.

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    Land Rover Defender review 

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  • 2019 BMW Z4: more images leaked prior to next week's unveiling Thursday 16th August 2018
    BMW Z4 leaked shots rear side Further official images are posted online of BMW's drop-top sports car, co-developed with Toyota and sharing its platform with the upcoming Supra

    After a selection of leaked shots of the new BMW Z4 were leaked online via Instagram at the weekend, more official images have been posted ahead of the car's Pebble Beach reveal.

    The new shots, from an unknown source, have quickly spread all over the web, showing the Audi TT rival's exterior and interior design. They show that the production roadster takes close inspiration from the original concept, with an exterior featuring a raft of technology inspired by BMW's latest models.

    The car in the images is badged M40i, which is expected to be the range-topping Z4 model. A shot of the engine bay confirms it will use a turbocharged 3.0-litre six-cylinder unit shared with the M240i, expected to produce about 350bhp.

    BMW Z4 prototype: first drive of new roadster

    In June, a series of patent images revealed the car's styling, showing  the car's swept-back headlights, flat rear lights and wide kidney grilles, akin to the 2017 Z4 concept. However, these new pictures seem to be the first sighting of the final production model.

    BMW has previously confirmed the Z4 will be revealed at Pebble Beach in August before its specifications are announced at the Paris motor show in September..

    The Z4 model is expected to go on sale in March 2019 and has been caught on camera testing for more than a year. BMW announced the future Z4's arrival back in 2015 and revealed the concept version to preview its design last year.

    Powering the new Z4 will be a choice of BMW's latest turbocharged petrol engines. Alongside the turbocharged 3.0-litre engine of the M40i, pictured in the leaked images, there will also be a Z4 30i which will use a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder that produces about 248bhp.

    Both engines will come with standard rear-wheel drive and a ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox.

    A full-fat M version of the Z4 is not on the cards.

    The Z4 shares parts with the upcoming Toyota Supra, following Toyota and BMW's decision to co-develop a new sports car platform.

    Toyota Supra: latest pictures, performance figures and predictions

    While the Z4 will be a convertible, Toyota's new car will be a spiritual successor to the original Supra and as such will wear a hard top, as shown by spotted development cars.

    Inspiration for the new Supra's design has been taken from the striking FT-1 concept, first seen at the Detroit motor show in 2014.

    Read more:

    BMW Z4 and Toyota Supra - why we should be excited

  • Pininfarina PF-Zero electric hypercar concept heading to Pebble Beach Thursday 16th August 2018
    Automobili Pininfarina PF-Zero interior front Automobili Pininfarina's first in-house production car will launch in 2020, with EV technology from Rimac and parent company Mahindra's Formula E programme

    Automobili Pininfarina will use next week's Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance show to unveil an electric hypercar concept. 

    Codenamed PF-Zero, the model is the first production car solely branded as Pininfarina from the renowned Italian design house. A maximum of 150 examples will be produced and sold globally after it launches in 2020. It'll act as a halo product, being the first of several all-electric models in Automobili Pininfarina's product plan. 

    The confirmation of a Pebble Beach debut was released alongside sketches of the PF-Zero's interior, showing a minimalist and driver-focused layout for the two-seater. Further details have yet to be revealed, but the production car will be priced to compete with the hypercar elite, including the Bugatti Chiron

    Anand Mahindra, group chairman of Mahindra, which owns Pininfarina, previously said that the hypercar will draw “upon the pedigree and design vocabulary of the Pininfarina aesthetic heritage" to "develop a rare collector’s item that only a handful of connoisseurs will ever own".

    He said that the PF-Zero will "be an innovative and pioneering product powered by high technology" and combine "power, beauty and high-end EV technology".

    Details are still thin on the ground, but an Autocar scoop earlier this year revealed that it will use modular underpinnings co-developed by Croatian electric supercar maker Rimac and the Mahindra Racing Formula E team. Autocar understands that the PF-Zero will have an output to rival the 1479bhp offered by the Chiron.

    Rimac’s recently revealed C_Two produces 1887bhp from four electric motors, illustrating the level of performance potential for the top Pininfarina model.

    Referred to as Project Montana previously, Automobili Pininfarina will follow its top model (which could take influence from the H2 Speed, pictured below) with three SUVs that are all set to arrive within five years. The biggest, codenamed PF-One, will be a high-performance answer to the Lamborghini Urus. The other two will be rivals to the Porsche Cayenne and Porsche Macan respectively. All will use their own version of the same modular underpinnings.

    The fastest SUV will offer around 940bhp from a battery pack of about 140kWh, enabling a 0-62mph time of less than three seconds. Its smaller SUV siblings are likely to use lower-output versions of the same powertrain but their performance will still be at the sharp end of their segments.

    A source said that the Pininfarina car brand will be given an initial investment of $100 million (about £71.6m) from Mahindra to fund the creation of its model range.

    Automobili Pininfarina's CEO, Michael Perschke, has more than 25 years of industry experience. He is joined at the helm by chief operating officer Per Svantesson, who has previously worked at Volvo.

    “Establishing Automobili Pininfarina as a leading sustainable luxury brand is our strategic vision and will be a dream come true," said Perschke. "It will combine 88 years of iconic design heritage with leading-edge electric vehicle competence of the Mahindra group and Mahindra Formula E racing. It’s a powerful combination."

    Mahindra intends to invest a total of about £358m into Automobili Pininfarina over five years. The new brand will work independently of its parent’s EV division, Mahindra Electric, with operations based in Europe.

    Pininfarina's new car brand comes after chairman Paolo Pininfarina said at the Geneva motor show that he hoped the dream of his grandfather, company founder Battista Farina, to build cars would “come true in the not-distant future”.

    An insider told Autocar: “Pininfarina has always made very special cars, but usually for other people. When we have sold cars ourselves, like the Pininfarina Sergio [of which six were built in 2015 and sold for a reputed $3m each], we have always done very well. It is not difficult to see what the next step should be. The cars will be exclusive and very beautiful.”

    Read more 

    New Pininfarina SUV and saloon designs to become first Vietnamese cars

    Pininfarina HK GT: 792bhp coupe concept launched

    Pininfarina H2 Speed concept to enter production as track-only hypercar

  • Interview: Pininfarina boss on ambitions to become a global brand Thursday 16th August 2018
    Michael Perschke mugshot We chat with Automobili Pininfarina CEO Michael Perschke about his plans to turn the renowned Italian design house into a full-blown car maker

    If you haven't heard of Pininfarina, then chances are you're not a car enthusiast. The Italian design house has been responsible some of the greatest-looking cars ever produced, including myriad Ferraris, Lancias and Alfa Romeos from the 1930s onwards.

    Things are changing in a big way for Pininfarina, however. Investment from a new owner, Indian manufacturing giant Mahindra Group, and the new 'Automobili Pininfarina' division will result in Pininfarina-branded production cars built in-house for the first time. The first is the PF-Zero, set to be revealed in concept form next week. 

    Investment to achieve this ambition extends beyond a simple cash injection. Pininfarina has brought in big names to run the company such as Per Svantesson, formerly of Volvo, and CEO Michael Perschke, who has held senior positions at Audi and Volkwagen over the last 25 years.

    Autocar sat down with Perschke to discuss his vision for the fledgling car maker.

     

    You’re clearly investing big and hiring some prominent industry figures. What is your ambition for the company?

    "The strategic intention for Anand Mahindra investing in Pininfarina, and also the brand licence agreement, was always to leverage this really historic design name into an OEM in itself. This was planned way back in 2013. 

    "Mahindra’s ambition was always this: ‘look, we have a great name but we are not making full use of it'. We have a very successful and reputed B2B [business to business] model which is design and engineering services for the car industry. But now, we want to turn that into a super-luxury, ultra high-class individual household name. 

    "We want to get into the league of the supercars and the hypercars - and the brand does have that kind of pull based on 88 years of legendary heritage in design. We have a lean and mean but very attractive team. But now we need to develop a robust product range".

    What makes you think you can bring a viable electric hypercar to market when more established names are still struggling?

    "We’re trying to leapfrog rivals with a clean sheet of paper, where bigger OEMs are struggling because they have a corporate culture and challenges to overcome. We don’t have any legacy, we don’t have any scandals, we don’t have any fixed investments which tie us into internal combustion engines for the next 20 years - we have a blank sheet of paper.

    "We’re starting from scratch, but with a brand image that isn’t an unknown. Yes, we’re putting big names into the game, but it takes a winning team to build a winning brand".

    When can it become profitable?

    "Our ambition is definitely not to copy a certain electric car start-up in California, which hasn’t been making money for 14 years. The most expensive exercise is getting a brand established, and we’re already halfway there. And we don’t want to have any big assets; we want to be light on investments in brick and mortar, we want to be lighter on investments in technology, as we will do technology partnerships. 

    "Our first product [the hypercar] will be here in 2020, the second product will come in 2021 and the third product will be 2022.  Our objective is that when the second product is in the second to third year of its lifecycle and we gain traction with sizeable volume, we will still be in the league of super-luxury brands, but we will have a volume of around 10,000 [units] for sure. 

    "But we will keep our investments light, so we will quickly get to a tipping point where our revenue offsets our investment."

    How do you intend to build your brand in other markets?

    "Look, Pininfarina has designed 64 Ferraris in its lifetime. So globally, many Ferrari owners, some Maserati owners, even down to Peugeot owners, will understand what Pininfarina is. Look at McLaren, or even Bugatti: they weren’t known in China, but they have made it into the super-sports market there after a few years.

    "We are targeting brand activity where the rich and the super-rich start mingling not by nations but by income level. If we can make it into the global league of the high net worth individual, then the message will travel. 

    "We believe that the first 50 to 100 customers we have are not customers but brand evangelists and brand ambassadors, and their networking and social posts will help us leap and bound across the globe. That’s something that Elon Musk has managed with Tesla." 

    Will Pininfarina continue to operate solely in Italy as you expand?

    "We will always remain an Italian car company with an Italian flavour - the look, the feel, the smells, the surfaces - that’s the holy grail. The Italian-ness is absolutely prominent. We will make sure that we have the best technology that money can buy. 

    "The first batch of cars will be manufactured in Italy, and beyond that we are a global company so we will make decisions based on our success."

    Have you taken inspiration from previous Pininfarina designs?

    "A bit of both. You will see inspiration from the Cistalia 202 - a car on display at the Museum of Modern Art. You will also see inspiration from cars such as the Ferrari 512TB, we will have ingredients from many of our past designs in the new car. The surfaces and the proportions will reflect what Pininfarina has been doing for the last 88 years. There is a purity about this new car.

    "We are selling to customers that might only currently have the option to buy a hypercar with an internal combustion engine. We can retain our classical, timeless design heritage, but packaged over the latest EV technology." 

    Will your entire range be fully electric? 

    "Automobile Pininfarina stands for sustainable energy. Our first couple of cars will be electric, then we will look at exploring further technology such as fuel cells when the time is right. All our cars will be non-ICE cars, that I can say." 

    Is it correct to call your next model after the PF Zero an SUV?

    "I find the title of SUV too mainstream, but definitely we talk about more of a lifestyle bodystyle than a sports car. I cannot confirm anything for sure, but we will challenge a few paradigms of what people think an SUV can be with an ultra-luxury model." 

    Will this be a more attainable car than the PF Zero?

    "It will be in the six figures. Our ambition has to be in the ‘champions league’, the ultra-luxury league. But we can bring the same paradigm shift at a price point which is around the Bentayga, the Rolls- Royce Cullinan and even the Aston Lagonda. 

    "These people [our customers] buy planes, helicopters and expensive properties - they always look for something very exclusive, very differentiated and very distinct."

    Are you considering partnerships with other manufacturers?

    "We will have collaborations and partnerships with high tech, very agile, young tech startups and EV companies that have a high level of flexibility. We will look at specific component partnerships, for example with battery cells. 

    "We are not a mainstream brand, we are not about volume, we will always have a very exclusive customer experience and user interface. We have a pull for many companies looking to use the PF Zero as a concept to show off their own abilities."

  • 2019 Audi RS Q3 to keep five-pot for 362bhp-plus performance Thursday 16th August 2018
    2019 Audi RS Q3 to keep five-pot for 362bhp-plus performance Engine from current RS Q3 Performance is most likely candidate to provide power; RS Q3 remains one of only two performance SUVs in its class

    The 2019 Audi RS Q3 has taken to the Nürburgring during development and will retain the charismatic 2.5-litre five-cylinder unit from the current generation, albeit boosted to the 362bhp of the RS Q3 Performance model. 

    Other than upcoming in-house rivals such as the 306bhp Volkswagen T-Roc R and 296bhp Ateca Cupra, which are both far less powerful, the RS Q3 faces competition only from the Mercedes-AMG GLA 45. That car is nearing the end of its life cycle and will not be replaced until months after the regular GLA is revealed in 2019. 

    Sources revealed to Autocar that the new Q3 will be built in Gyor, Hungary, so the RS Q3 will follow suit. The five-cylinder engine is also assembled at the plant, so is almost certain to be used for the upcoming hot variant. 

    It’s not yet known if an SQ3 will join the range as a warm version, although no such model was made last time around; the SQ2 is the closest model in the range and is due in the coming months. 

    The RS Q3 will join a growing number of 3-badged cars as Audi prepares to replace the axed three-door A3 with a five-door liftback coupé, which is also expected to get S3 and RS3 variants. This model will take the Sportback name, with the five-door hatch badged A3. 

    There’s no word yet on whether an even hotter RS Q3 Performance will top the range as per the current generation. If that were to be the case, power could come close to the 395bhp of the RS3, given the 28bhp increase in power the current-generation RS Q3 Performance has over the standard RS Q3. 

    The standard Q3 arrives on roads in November, but the RS Q3 will not be offered until a few months after this. A reveal is anticipated to take place early in 2019, so a Geneva motor show debut, like for the previous car, is possible, but not confirmed. Prices are certain to rise from the £44,785 of the current RS Q3 and £47,850 of the RS Q3 Performance.

    Read more:

    New 2018 Audi Q3: Volvo XC40 rival launched

    2016 Audi RS Q3 Performance review

    Audi SQ2 due this year with 300bhp S3 engine

  • Throwback Thursday 1987: the Mitsubishi Debonair V Thursday 16th August 2018
    The second-generation Debonair arrived in 1986 as Japan's economy ballooned
    Mitsubishi's new flagship arrived as Japan's economy peaked. How comparable was it to luxobarges sold in Britain?

    The Mitsubishi Debonair V could not have arrived at a more opportune time.

    It was mid-1986 and the luxury saloon's home country had entered what became known as the 'bubble condition'.

    Japan had experienced decades of incredible growth, known as the 'economic miracle', transforming from a war-ravaged place into the world's second-largest economy.

    Then, in 1985, an accord was signed with the Western superpowers that reversed the dollar's huge appreciation against the yen. This was done in order to pull the US out of a recession and return its industries — primary among them automotive — to global competitiveness.

    Although this goal was achieved to a degree, the strengthened yen also contributed to incredible overexuberance in the Japanese economy. The country's stock index tripled in value, while corporate wealth ballooned. So there were plenty of wealthy executives around who would rather like a V6-powered luxobarge — especially one with a boot specifically shaped to be able to carry golf bags.

    The old Debonair — a brilliant name for such a model, by the way, given that the dictionary defines it as "(of a man) confident, stylish and charming" — had been on sale since 1964 and was looking horribly outdated. 

    Its replacement was something else altogether, with trendier styling, a much more spacious interior — thanks to the switch to front-wheel drive — and Mitsubishi's first V6 engine. Sales increased by nearly 3000% over the previous model, with a respectable 6230 units shifted in 1987.

    Five variants were available, along with two engines: a 2.0-litre V6 producing 103bhp and a 3.0-litre V6, known as the Cyclone, making a more alluring 148bhp.

    A year after launch, in 1987, Mitsubishi UK imported an example of the car and, on 8 July, Autocar took a test drive.

    "Maximum power is produced at 5000rpm," we began, "but perhaps the most impressive feature is the point at which peak torque is developed: 170lb ft at a lowly 2500rpm.

    "In comparison, the Honda 2.5-litre V6 found in the Rover 825i and Honda Legend develops its peak torque at 5000rpm.

    "All Debonair V models have the front wheels driven via a four-speed automatic gearbox with electronic lock-up control; there's no manual gearbox option. The car is designed and marketed as a luxury sedan very much in the Cadillac mould and as such is not deemed to require such a gearchange.

    "This results in reduced performance, but as it is available only in Japan, which has a well-enforced maximum speed limit of 65mph, performance is not a top priority. Response and tractability are far more important. 

    "Holding the Debonair on the brake and building up the power with the right foot is standard launch technique with automatics, but this produces a slight squeak from the front tyres when the brake is released. That way, the Debonair reaches 30mph in 3.8sec, with 60mph coming up in 11.0sec, after one gearchange at 34mph.

    "Maximum kickdown speeds are 29mph, 64mph and 87mph. These increments show the engine is tractable and responsive, with the important 50-70mph span taking 6.6sec in second gear."

    We praised the Cyclone for "being smooth and showing no evidence of the top-end harshness found with some other Japanese V6 engines". This unit went on to be sold here under the bonnets of the Mitsubishi Sigma, Galant, 3000GT and L200 pick-up truck.

    "However," we continued, "the Debonair is no lightweight, at 1393kg [an evaluation that seems remarkable when the Mercedes-Benz S-Class weighs two tonnes], and bearing this in mind it performs reasonably, but it's at the expense of economy. During its 621 miles with us, it returned an overall figure of 17.4mpg."

    There was a big disappointment from the perspective of a British driver, though: the "soggy, boulevard nature of the ride". "This may be the norm for Japanese executives," we commented, "but if the car were to be launched here, the suspension would have to be changed considerably."

    The interior could probably go untouched, though. "As befits an executive class car, the [range-topping] Royale is lavishly appointed," we wrote. "The interior is spacious for both front and rear passengers, and the driver is provided with sensible and easy-to-read analogue instrumentation. 

    "Most of the controls are electrically operated, including the sophisticated air conditioning system with a built-in air purifier that operates automatically when the cigar lighter is activated. The controls for this system are duplicated in the rear centre armrest.

    "All the seats are electrically adjustable, including those in the rear.

    "The radio/cassette player also has its major controls duplicated on the steering wheel boss for ease of operations, and these can be replaced by hands-off control for the in-car phone."

    The Debonair V continued to be a modest success sold only in its home market, until it was replaced in 1992. This coincided with the bursting of the economic bubble that led to what became known as the 'lost decade' in Japan — although these things are relative, since it remains the world's third-largest economy today, according to the International Monetary Fund.

    An interesting footnote to the Debonair V story is the 'sporting' variant: the 3000 Royal AMG. Yes, that AMG — one of the very few times the German tuning company cheated on Mercedes before being subsumed by it in 1993. This JDM oddity had a brilliantly of-its-era bodykit and AMG alloy wheels, but no mechanical modifications to speak of. This was complemented in 1990 by the super-rare 150 AMG, which had its wheelbase extended by 150mm.

  • Autocar magazine 15 August - on sale now Thursday 16th August 2018
    Autocar magazine 15 August - on sale now This week: 2019 BMW 3 Series driven, Mercedes' £9 billion electric plan, Ferrari's return to Targa tops and more

    This week’s Autocar has a 10-page BMW 3 Series special - we’ve driven the new car in prototype form, and have the verdict on whether it’s got its mojo back. 

    Over at Mercedes-Benz, meanwhile, there’s a £9 billion plan to electrify its lineup, as the industry switches to electric power. 

    There’s a duo of drop-top news pieces - Ferrari’s plans to bring back in the Targa Top, as well as more details on the upcoming Porsche 911 Speedster. 

    From the sensible: Volkswagen’s self-driving plans have been laid bare - to the ridiculous: Aston Martin’s Q division seeks more mad one-off projects. Take your pick. 

    Also in this issue

    After our go in the new 3-Series, we also had a drive in the Mercedes-Benz C-Class - has it finally got the engine it deserves?

    Two goliaths are also on test - the plug-in hybrid Range Rover Sport P400e, and the ferocious Ford Ranger Raptor. 

    At the other end of the automotive spectrum, we’ve got a full road test of the Ford Fiesta ST

    Our cars

    Say hello to the Peugeot 5008, our latest long-term test car, as we find out if there are 5008 reasons to like it. 

    Elsewhere, Allan Muir gives inside information on how to charge like a champion in the Nissan Leaf, while the Ssangyong Rexton returns to the fleet after losing a fight with a skip. 

    Deals

    Got a small garage? Want open air motoring with a touch of luxury? We’ve got your ideal used buying guide - how to buy the best Mercedes-Benz SLK

    Meanwhile, James Ruppert takes us through the long and short of luxobargery

    Where to buy

    Never miss an issue — subscribe to Autocar magazine today.

    Autocar magazine is available through all good newsagents. You can also buy one-off copies of Autocar magazine from Newsstand, delivered to your door the morning after.

    Digital copies can be downloaded from Zinio and the Apple iTunes store.

  • First drive: BMW 3 Series 330i M Sport prototype Wednesday 15th August 2018
    First drive: BMW 330i M Sport prototype Compact executive saloon icon enters a seventh generation later this year – and it’s getting its sporting mojo back

    In a car market that almost always makes it harder for a successful brand to stay on top than to get there in the first place, the BMW 3 Series is beginning to look like a car of gradually waning fortunes. Will the good times ever roll for it quite like they did in its late 90s and noughties pomp?

    For all sorts of reasons — not least because it’s hard to think of another car in recent times that has achieved such critical acclaim and sales popularity in equally phenomenal measures — we might wonder.

    For the next-generation 3 Series, due to be unveiled at this autumn’s Paris motor show and appear on UK roads in early 2019, reasserting the compact executive saloon segment dominance that its predecessors have enjoyed looks a particularly tall order. It faces a Mercedes-Benz C-Class tha's good enough in its latest iteration to comprehensively outsell the outgoing F30 3 Series. The Alfa Romeo Giulia and Jaguar XE, neither of which existed at the launch of the sixth-generation 3 Series seven years ago, are both plainly out to purloin BMW’s mantle as the maker of the best-handling compact saloon. Up until now, you might say that mantle has been ‘on loan’; first at Gaydon, then more recently in Turin. But soon it’ll be the time for Munich to either reclaim it or give it up more permanently.

    Unlike us, of course, BMW’s own executives, designers and engineers have not been wondering, or indeed worrying, about what the future holds; confident in the strength and equity built into the 3 Series brand over more than four decades, they’ve clearly been getting on with the job of bringing the world the seventh-gen version of a car whose name has become shorthand for its segment.

    And they’re almost finished. With only the finer points of software calibration and tuning still to do, BMW recently made the new 3 Series available to us in prototype form for a short test drive around German’s Eifel mountains and a not-so-short couple of laps of the Nürburging Nordschleife.

    The G20 3 Series: world leader in waiting?

    It’ll be another few weeks until BMW is ready to reveal how the exact technical details of the new 3 Series, codenamed ‘G20’, will depart from its forebear. As background for this taster, however, we were told that it’s a slightly longer and wider car, with a longer wheelbase; and that, having been built on BMW’s Cluster Architecture, it’s made of a higher proportion of aluminium, magnesium and high-strength steel than its predecessor, and is a slightly lighter (up to 55kg) and torsionally stiffer (by 15-20%) car to boot.

    The 3 Series’ axle tracks have both grown, with MacPherson strut suspension used up front and a multi-link arrangement at the rear. A wide-ranging overhaul of the suspension and steering hardware has left little untouched. There’s a new ‘variable sport’ steering box (although it isn’t speed-sensitive ‘active steering’, which hasn’t featured on a 3 Series since the E90 generation); there are new optional adaptive dampers from Tenneco if you want them; and there's firmer springing and bushing for cars with M Sport suspension than of like-for-like current-gen cars. But there are no air springs (at least not for the saloon) and no four-wheel steering. Contrary to what you might have read elsewhere, Munich is clearly content to leave features like those at the more expensive end of the executive saloon spectrum.

    BMW has, in fact, made an effort to rationalise its investment of new suspension componentry and development resource with this version of the 3 Series; to focus on the hardware that customers actually buy; and to attempt to imbue this version with a simpler, more direct and more discernably sporting character. Dynamically, at least, it aims to head back towards the 3 Series’ roots; and, as roots go, they were pretty good. For an admission of the fact that BMW is in defensive mode, ready to protect the territory it has owned for so long from the likes of Alfa Romeo and Jaguar, look no further than that.

    By and large, 3 Series drivers don’t buy adaptive dampers, and so devoting a large proportion of development time to fine-tuning those dampers, as BMW has in the past, just doesn’t make sense. Buyers tend to prefer passive suspension, often with an alloy wheel upgrade. And, this time around, those customers will get struts with both main and auxiliary springs, as well as clever shock absorbers that provide additional damping support at the extremes of wheel travel (for improved rebound control at the front axle and better compression support at the rear).

    “The suspension hardware means we’ve been able to increase the effective spring rate of the M Sport suspension quite a lot, so there’s now twice as big a gap in terms of handling response and body control between cars with standard suspension and M Sport suspension than before,” explained Jos Van As, who leads the 3 Series’ driving dynamics engineering team.

    “But we’ve also been able to take initial, low-level damping interference away in the stiffer-sprung version, because we’ve got more progressive control available later in the suspension stroke. That actually makes the car’s ride flatter and more supple, because the suspension’s freer to work and to move to begin with; the body doesn’t jostle or fidget as much. Other manufacturers use ‘selective’ dampers in an attempt to achieve something similar, but those can ‘freeze’ when the suspension inputs pass a certain pretty arbitrary frequency — and when they really needn’t.”

    The new 3 Series’ engine range isn’t likely to change too much, according to project insiders, who admit that — in spite of the uncertainties associated with the future market acceptance of diesel or indeed any sort of non-hybrid powertrain — they haven’t attempted to fix what isn’t believed to be broken. The advancements relevant to the 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol 330i they gave us for testing are, we were told, a reasonable guide for what to expect more widely. It benefits from a 7bhp improvement in power (taking it above the 250bhp barrier) and a 37lb ft increase in torque (up to 295lb ft), with incremental like-for-like gains on emissions and lab test fuel economy likely (although as yet unconfirmed).

    While less powerful versions will come with manual gearboxes as standard, at 330i/330d level and above all will be eight-speed automatics. Selected engines will be offered with xDrive four-wheel drive, and one or two might be xDrive only — although BMW won’t say which at this stage.

    Stick to standard drive and M Sport trim in your 3 Series, however, and you’ll be offered something that’s in effect been confined to BMW’s dealer-fit accessories catalogue for a while now: a limited-slip differential. The new G20-gen car has a simplified version of the e-diff you’ll find on the current M3 that uses clutches to vector torque between the inner and outer rear wheels. It’ll be available only as part of a package of options, and only in tandem with the car’s more powerful engines. Still, it seems like a very dependable and promising sign that BMW is serious about luring any enthusiast drivers who’ve strayed back into the fold, doesn’t it?

    Behind the wheel of the new BMW 3 Series

    Whatever kind of sporting driving experience they’re looking for from their executive saloon, owners of the new 3 Series will, I suspect, find what they’re after. Our test drive was quite short and only took in one engine and one combination of wheel, tyre, suspension, steering, transmission and differential. Our 330i prototype had the M Sport passive sports suspension that BMW has worked so hard on, as well as 19in mixed-width M Sport alloy wheels, Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S non-runflat tyres, an automatic gearbox, ‘variable sport’ steering and that new torque-vectoring e-diff.

    First impressions? In this configuration, a Giulia probably remains a more compact and lighter-feeling, marginally more incisive and naturally agile saloon. But then, modern BMWs are relatively complicated, more ‘specification-sensitive’ cars than most of their executive rivals; and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that, in just the right mechanical trim, this car could dive and swivel left and right just as keenly as its Italian challenger.

    It might even entertain better ultimately, given Alfa’s refusal to supply a Giulia with fully switchable electronic aids below the £60k Quadrifoglio level — something that Van As, with whom I drove, couldn’t resist commenting on. “The amount of money that’s gone into the Giulia’s suspension is very impressive,” he said. “It’s a great-handling car — though I’d have tuned it differently. But why spend all that money and then not include a proper ‘off’ button for the stability control? That’s crazy to me. It’s a waste.”

    Although the interior of our 3 Series prototype was covered with disguise almost as thoroughly as its exterior, it was possible to note a few themes about the new cabin. For one, it’ll have some surprisingly flashy, ritzy material touches — no doubt in response to the public’s apparent appetite for the more lavish/chintzy (delete according to personal taste) C-Class. There’s certainly more glossy chrome-effect plastic to be found around the air vents than there is in the current 3 Series.

    Lower down the centre console, it seems as if BMW’s had a rethink on how it presents the car’s drive mode buttons, preferring a row of discreet Comfort, Sport, Eco and DSC Off keys to the old rocker switch of the current car. And up ahead, our prototype had a proper digital instrument screen unlike that of its larger BMW contemporaries, because it doesn’t feature fixed chrome bezels. Although we didn’t have the time to fully explore its modes, that fact alone should greatly add to its flexibility and the number of ways in which the display can be configured.

    Only certain drive modes were available to try on our test drive, and on a passively suspended 330i M Sport on 19in rims — especially one described in the ‘firmed-up’ terms we’ve already detailed — experience teaches you to have realistic expectations of the car’s Comfort setting. But the new 3 Series rides with a surprisingly settled suppleness and dexterity for something of an explicitly sporting brief.

    It does feel a little bit firm at low speeds, and slightly busy over smaller ruts and bumps taken at speed. But it certainly has suspension seemingly capable of working hard within the wheel housings without ruining the level poise of the body until it really needs to. Plenty of Tarmac imperfections are therefore heard but not really felt too much from the driver’s seat — and despite the progressive settings of both spring and damper, the car’s ride frequency feels honest and predictable as the bumps get bigger. The suspension’s outright ability to absorb punishment without running out of travel, meanwhile, is quite remarkable — up there with a really well-sorted hot hatchback.

    After a switch to Sport+ mode (the only other available to test), the 330i’s steering gets meatier and a touch more precise just off centre, without risking the over-assisted pace of the Giulia’s rack or even the initial directness of the XE’s. “At big autobahn speeds, those cars just don’t seem stable enough to me,” said Van As. He explained that BMW always tries to cater for the customer who wants to relax a little at 200kph (125mph); maybe even take one hand off the wheel for a moment when he needs to.

    In Sport+ mode, in a familiar story, the 330i’s engine is drowned out by artificial engine sound when you’d sooner listen to the car’s motor, however plain-sounding — but it feels gutsy enough; capable of that level of real-world pace beyond which extra power and pace is hard to use. Responsive, too.

    It may not be quite gutsy enough, though, to easily bring to life a chassis that ought to be among the most throttle-adjustable in the class, particularly considering BMW’s equipment of that e-diff. But on that score, we’ll have to wait and see. That’s partly because the 3 Series’ delicacy of handling balance will almost certainly be better on smaller rims than our prototype’s optional 19in wheels, but also because our test car’s DSC Off driving mode (in which the car’s active diff will take on its most aggressive software calibration) wasn’t one of those deemed to be production-ready.

    What can we conclude, then? Not a great deal, perhaps; particularly as regards the lower-end petrol and diesel models that the majority of UK owners will drive over the next seven years. And yet we can be encouraged by plenty. The 3 Series is plainly the work of people stirred by competitive instincts, who’ve set out to make the very best driver’s car of its kind — and they may very well have succeeded.

    As tested, their 2019 debutant has a carefully honed blend of low-speed agility, high-speed stability, level body control, traction and driveability that makes it feel assured and capable — almost indefatigable, even — when driven hard. Both on road and on track, it showed off levels of outright grip, handling precision and dynamic composure all worthy of a proper ‘performance car’ billing; that is likely to surprise plenty of people coming from a mid-range option and something you won’t find in any other like-for-like executive saloons — whether one or two of them prove to be slightly more engaging or otherwise.

    It’s too early to be sure, but the signs are there; just when it needs to most, the humble 3 Series may be about to rediscover its sporting A game.

    New tech: the next 3 Series’ double-rated dampers explained

    Twin-rated passive dampers of one sort or another are fairly common suspension technology, many working through secondary internal reservoirs. Most of them are ‘frequency selective’, and so the damper switches from lesser to greater resistance rates depending not on the overall size of the bump it’s dealing with but is based in effect on the steepness of the bump’s profile: on how quickly it’s forcing oil to move from one chamber to another.

    The 3 Series’ passive shocks are different; they ramp up to a secondary firmer setting progressively and only at one extreme of the suspension strut’s range of travel (the rebound end on the front axle and the compression end at the rear). At the front, the effect is achieved though a secondary ring the damper piston has to push against which is governed by a separate hydraulic circuit; at the rear, the piston runs up against a cone-shaped restrictor at the bottom end of the main reservoir.  

     

    BMW 330i M Sport specification

    Engine 4cyls in line, 1998cc, turbocharged petrol; Power 255bhp at 5500rpm (tbc); Torque 295lb ft at 2000rpm (tbc) Gearbox 8-spd automatic; Kerb weight circa 1500kg (DIN, tbc); 0-62mph tbc; Top speed 155mph (limited); Economy tbc; CO2, tax band tbc; Rivals Alfa Romeo Giulia Veloce, Jaguar XE 2.0 i4p 250 R Sport

  • Tweaked Polestar software makes 4x4 Volvos more rear-biased Wednesday 15th August 2018
    Tweaked Polestar software makes 4x4 Volvos more rear-biased Polestar’s tuning now pushes more torque to the rear wheels more often for non-hybrid, all-wheel-drive cars

    Volvo’s sporting offshoot, Polestar, has updated its Polestar Engineered Optimisation Accessory software to help push more torque to the rear wheels in Volvo’s all-wheel-drive cars.

    The software only activates when the car is in its sportiest Dynamic drive mode or when the driver turns off the electronic stability control.

    Through the tweaked system, more torque is pushed to the rear and more often, meaning the car takes on a more rear-wheel drive-like feel that Volvo claims results in a sportier drive and better handling. 

    In addition to the new torque vectoring feature, Polestar Engineered Optimisation Accessory also sharpens up automatic gearshifts, holds gears around corners, speeds up the throttle response and makes the engine more powerful. 

    It is available to all of Volvo's four-wheel-drive, non-hybrid models. It doesn't apply to Volvo’s plug-in hybrids because they use only electric power for the rear axle. 

    Polestar Engineered Optimisation Accessory costs £830, with the software update adding no increase to the price. A current promotional offer has temporarily reduced the pack to £695. 

    Read more:

    Volvo XC40 T5 Twin Engine plug-in hybrid revealed

    Volvo S90, V90 and XC90 get new 247bhp petrol engine

    Volvo V60 estate priced from £31,810

  • Should Fernando Alonso be considered an F1 great? Wednesday 15th August 2018
    Fernando Alonso to leave Formula 1
    Alonso is leaving F1 after 17 years
    Spaniard is leaving F1 with two championships and 32 race wins – but he has the talent to have achieved even more

    Fernando Alonso will retire from Formula 1 at the end of this season as one of the most successful drivers in the history of the sport. And yet it’s hard not to reflect on the Spaniard’s career as a case of promise unfulfilled. To explain that apparent paradox is, a bit like Alonso himself, complicated.

    First, the statistics. Barring miracle performances from McLaren-Renault in the final nine races of the season, Alonso will finish his F1 career with 32 wins (sixth in the all-time list), 97 podiums (also sixth most of all time), 22 pole positions and 23 fastest laps. And, of course, two world championships.

    That’s a pretty fine career, all told. The conundrum is how many more wins, podiums, poles, fastest laps and championships Alonso could — or should — have scored, especially given his rise to prominence.

    Alonso shot through the ranks and, by his third season of car racing, was in F1 driving for Minardi in 2001. He switched to Renault as a test driver in 2002, securing a race seat with the team — at the expense of Jenson Button — in 2003. He claimed his first victory — becoming F1’s then youngest race winner — in Hungary that year.

    Alonso realised his potential in 2005, claiming the championship with seven race wins, ending Michael Schumacher’s run of five consecutive titles. He defended his crown the following year in even more impressive fashion, battling with Schumacher for much of the year.

    By the end of 2006, Alonso was 24 years old and already a double world champion — and poised to take Schumacher’s mantle as F1’s dominant force. Except that’s not how things turned out.

    Alonso left Renault for McLaren in 2007. But he struggled to match the pace of rookie teammate (and long-time McLaren-backed driver) Lewis Hamilton. Rising tensions between the two spilled over at that year’s Hungarian Grand Prix and Alonso’s subsequent row with team boss Ron Dennis played a huge role in the emergence of the ‘spygate’ scandal, when McLaren staff were found to have received technical information from Ferrari. The McLaren infighting allowed Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen to snatch that year’s title.

    Alonso rejoined Renault for the following two seasons, but the team had fallen down the grid and Alonso claimed just two opportunistic wins. Those included the 2008 Singapore GP and came after teammate Nelson Piquet crashed deliberately to bring out the safety car (Alonso was cleared of any involvement).

    Much was expected when Alonso joined Ferrari in 2010, seemingly the talismanic driver the team had been searching for since Schumacher retired. Alonson had control of the team (remember the ‘Fernando is faster than you’ team orders row in the 2010 German GP, pictured below?) and finished a narrow runner-up in the points three times, but his frustration at Ferrari's inability to produce a car that matched the best on the grid soon grew.

    When Ferrari found itself off the pace in 2014, the first year of F1’s 1.6-litre turbocharged hybrid engines, Alonso had had enough and forced his way out of the team, which quickly snapped up Sebastian Vettel as his replacement.

    That left Alonso to make a shock return to McLaren, believing that the team’s reunion with engine supplier Honda would make them title contenders. Instead, Alonso has spent four years growing increasingly frustrated while battling for scraps; he hasn’t finished higher than fifth.

    That’s not a reflection of Alonso’s talent; at 37, he remains one of F1’s best drivers. He may not be as ultimately fast as Hamilton, but he’s arguably more complete. His race craft, intelligence and engineering knowledge have enabled him to outperform his car on numerous occasions.

    Of course, the complication is that Alonso’s total focus on success, and singular vision in how to achieve that, also made him difficult to work with — and that hurt his career by eliminating his chances of securing drives at most top teams.

    Alonso finished a close second in the championship three times. Had a few events gone his way, he could have won five titles. Had he made better career moves, there could have been even more.

    Ironically, Alonso’s toil at McLaren since 2015 — his commitment to pushing as hard as possible despite inferior equipment — has transformed his reputation among F1 fans that, for many, was shaped by his intense demeanour and involvement in numerous controversies.

    Alonso also showed his passion in recent years by looking away from F1. He skipped the Monaco Grand Prix to race in last year’s Indianapolis 500 and is racing for the works Toyota team in the FIA World Endurance Championship, winning this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s likely that Alonso’s immediate future will involve both IndyCar and sports cars.

    His departure from F1 (for now, at least — he has hinted that he could be open to return) is a huge loss to the category. For 17 years, he was one of its most compelling characters and one of its most successful drivers. Even if he could and perhaps should — and definitely deserved to — have achieved so much more.

    Read more

    Fernando Alonso to leave F1 at the end of the season

    Toyota and Alonso win 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans

  • Skoda Octavia vRS long-term review Wednesday 15th August 2018
    Skoda Octavia vRS diesel longterm review hero front We’ve just had a diesel vRS for three months. Next up: a petrol vRS for three months. Which makes the better buy?

    Why we’re running it: It’s the first in a two-parter: diesel vRS for three months, petrol vRS for three months. Which makes the better buy?

    Month 4Month 3Month 2Month 1 - Specs & prices

    Life with a Skoda Octavia vRS: Month 4

    Two schools of thought on the vRS's looks - 4th July 2018

    The third-generation Octavia is now five years old but still a handsome car, especially in vRS 245 guise. With Moon White bodywork, two-tone wheels and a contrasting black finish to the grille, door mirrors and window surrounds, it actually looks quite tough. That said, my other half thinks it’s a bit desperate. “Who’s it for?” she asks. “A boy racer who was forced to grow up?”

    Mileage: 1533

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    Life with the Skoda Octavia vRS: Month 3

    Time to swap a vRS all-wheel-drive diesel hatch for a front-drive vRS petrol estate - 20th June 2018

    My three-month custodianship of the Race Blue Skoda has drawn to an end. I doubt I’ll miss the Octavia vRS 2.0 TDI too much, but only because it has made way for a shiny new model.

    The lasting impression from those three months at the wheel of Skoda’s diesel vRS is this: when government legislation makes diesel cars unduly expensive, and when it knackers their residual values – which seems to be the direction we’re heading in at the moment – lots of drivers, myself included, are going to sorely miss mid-40s to the gallon and virtually a 500-mile range.

    What the diesel vRS did well – and I appreciate there are plenty of other cars out there that manage much the same thing – was combine that sort of fuel economy and range with strong straight-line performance and a broad spread of dynamic competencies.

    Without really excelling at one thing in particular, my now departed Octavia vRS, which was equipped with a DSG dual-clutch transmission and four-wheel drive, had just about every base covered. It was reasonably fast, competent along a twisty road, comfortable and refined on the motorway and, if you swapped the summer tyres for winter rubber, I’ve no doubt it would be pretty indomitable in the very worst of the colder months too.

    But, alas, it has been decreed by the powers that be that diesel is the fuel of the devil and we must all move away from it post-haste. Which completely ignores the fact that every diesel car on sale today must now meet EU6 emissions requirements, meaning they’re hardly any worse for local emissions than a comparable petrol engine while being far better in terms of overall CO2 emissions.

    For the record, we at Autocar maintain that diesel still has its place, particularly for bigger cars and for drivers who cover more than 15,000 miles each year.

    Our car has now been replaced by a vRS 245, the newest model in the Octavia performance range, which was introduced just last year. As well as being the latest vRS with the most recent chassis tuning, the 245 is also the most powerful vRS so far.

    My new car looks the part in Moon White with black accents – actually, parked next to the Race Blue Octavia, it immediately made the diesel car look somewhat old-hat – and it arrived with just 458 miles on the clock.

    As I’ve said before, the new car is diametrically opposed to the old one. It’s an estate rather than a hatch and a petrol rather than a diesel, of course, but it’s also a front-wheel-drive manual car whereas the one it replaces was a four-wheel-drive DSG.

    Over the next couple of months, I’ll have plenty of time to work out which exact configuration works best for the Octavia. What’s more, the new car doesn’t have Dynamic Chassis Control, whereas the old car did. I noticed that particular omission within the first half mile. With no adaptive dampers, and therefore no Comfort suspension mode, the 245 has a tough and unsettled ride. It isn’t unbearable, but it can be irritating. Take it from me: if you’re contemplating a vRS 245, make sure you spend the extra £860.

    What you really need to know about the 245 is that it borrows the 242bhp 2.0-litre turbo engine and electronically controlled mechanical differential from the Volkswagen Golf GTI Performance. Apart from making it the fastest vRS yet, that drivetrain should also make the 245 the most entertaining hot Octavia so far too. More of which in a moment.

    The 245 comes so loaded with kit as standard that there are just two options fitted to this test car. The first is the metallic Moon White paint at £400 and the second is a spacesaver spare wheel, which costs the grand sum of £105. The total cost of this car is £29,805. The standard specification includes 19in wheels, rear parking sensors, a touchscreen sat-nav, electric seat adjustment, cruise control, climate control, Bluetooth, LED lights, heated seats and plenty more besides.

    Apart from the Dynamic Chassis Control that I’ve already mentioned, the only thing I’m missing so far from the Race Blue car is wireless phone charging (although it’s only any good on long journeys because it charges a phone at such a dismally slow rate).

    How does this car compare with the diesel version? What’s clear right away is that it’s much more fun to drive, with tauter body control, sharper responses to steering inputs and a far sweeter, more revvy engine. Actually, compared with the 245, the diesel doesn’t feel particularly sporty at all.

    The petrol model’s differential is brilliantly effective, too, especially in its more aggressive mode, when it drags the car away from corners with an energetic, terrier-like enthusiasm. Over the course of this long-term test, I’ll have plenty of opportunity to compare running costs, particularly fuel economy, between the two models. So far, it looks as though the petrol vRS averages something like 33mpg, although with the car not yet properly run in, I don’t want to judge it too harshly.

    The all-important first impressions are generally very good. I reckon a 245 estate could just be the perfect car for anybody who has outgrown a conventional hot hatch but still wants something with a bit of performance and a taste for deserted back roads.

    vRS 245 mileage: 458

    vRS TDI final mileage: 7735

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    We’re about to switch from one sporty Skoda to another - 6th June 2018

    My Race Blue Octavia vRS will soon be making way for a Moon White one. The replacement vRS is different to the outgoing one in just about every conceivable way.

    Instead of being a diesel, four-wheel-drive hatch with a DSG transmission and Dynamic Chassis Control, it’ll be a petrol, front-wheel-drive estate with a manual gearbox and passive dampers. Between them, they represent the two opposing ends of the Octavia vRS model range.

    As I write, I still have some time with the blue car and recently I had my most enjoyable drive in it so far. I was on my way to a photo shoot in Berkshire on a stretch of road that I know far better than someone who doesn’t live in Berkshire should.

    The B-road in question is one of the smoothest you’ll find anywhere on our fair isle. Rather than jinking and darting this way and that like a demented housefly, the road just meanders along, flowing gracefully through the low-set hills. In short, it was exactly the type of road that really flatters the vRS.

    The surface was bone dry and the Pirelli P Zero tyres were clawing a consistent and predictable level of grip out of the surface, while the perfectly weighted steering allowed me to position the car exactly where I wanted it.

    Those two virtues alone gave me all the confidence I needed to thread the car along at a good, but not irresponsible, speed, one flowing corner feeding seamlessly into the next. On a stretch like that, the Skoda really works.

    What it doesn’t cope with so well are sections of road featuring one tight corner after another, the sort of road that best suits very light and nimble cars. You can feel the weight of the Octavia in second and third-gear bends, and you sense it struggling for front-end grip. The same is true of undulating and cresting roads, which make the car feel floaty and loosely controlled no matter which driving mode you choose.

    It’s a pity, then, that roads like that one in Berkshire really aren’t very common in the UK. That’s why the vRS will never be much of a back road thriller; the roads you find in this country mean that, most of the time, it just feels a little out of its depth.

    In many other ways the Octavia vRS continues to be a very straightforward car to live with, proving unfussy, undemanding and comfortable. That warning message on the instrument panel exclaiming ‘Error: workshop!’ hasn’t reappeared since I first mentioned it back in May, so the car been close to faultless for the three months it’s been with me.

    It hasn’t been a breathless, steamy dalliance, but sometimes you just want a car to be, you know, a car. I’ve also come to appreciate the ‘Simply Clever’ features that make a Skoda a Skoda. They’re little flourishes that you wouldn’t necessarily notice during the first few days of ownership.

    For instance, the small rubber grips in the cup holders which allow you to unscrew a bottle cap using one hand. It’s a feature our editorial director, Jim Holder, is also fond of in his Kodiaq.

    Then there’s the neat parking ticket holder that’s tucked into the windscreen, plus the various hooks, straps and little moveable barriers in the boot that stop your eggs from flying out of your shopping bag and Humpty Dumpty-ing themselves all over your walking boots.

    Mileage: 6940

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    Life with the Skoda Octavia vRS: Month 2

    Spurious warning messages or something more sinister - 9th May 2018

    You’ll see why I thought the warning below was a serious one. The car seemed fine, though, so I ignored it and carried on. I did go straight to my local Skoda dealership, which confirmed there was nothing amiss. Since then, the message has returned just once, but quickly vanished. If it returns again, the car will get a proper health check.

    Mileage: 7138

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    Life with the Skoda Octavia vRS: Month 1

    We’ve yet to find a scenario that fazes this automotive equivalent of a smartphone - 2nd May 2018

    You’ve just landed at Gatwick airport on a soggy, misty evening in March. Your flight was delayed by a couple of hours and you still have 140 miles to drive home. You’re moody and irritable.

    It’s at times like these that all you want from your car is comfort, a level of effortlessness, plenty of fuel range – there are few things more frustrating than having to stop at a fuel station when all you want is to get home – and for the Bluetooth to just work.

    That’s exactly what the Octavia vRS does so well. As I said in the first report, it’s an undemanding car. The seats are comfortable and supportive in all the right places, the ride is composed enough, it’ll do around 450 miles between fuel stops and the infotainment stuff is all pretty much faultless.

    It also has enough accelerative punch to nip through traffic in town and overtake slower vehicles out on the open road, and it’ll return 40-something miles per gallon almost regardless of how hard you drive it.

    Now, there are lots of cars at this price point that do all of the above. The list of cars that do all of the above and also make you grin when you start giving the tyres some pain on a B-road, though, is an awful lot shorter.

    The vRS, I suppose, is all about breadth of ability. Let’s be real, though: it’s no Volkswagen Golf R on a country road. It feels heavier, less agile and slower. The damping isn’t as brilliantly resolved and the steering not quite as sharp.

    What’s important, though, is that its chassis has enough substance about it that it doesn’t collapse huffily into a mess of understeer and comedy body roll on a twisty road. It holds itself together, which means you can have fun punting it along. You can also cover ground at a decent pace.

    I don’t think that particular set of attributes will ever make you really fall for a car. That sort of car is like a good smartphone: you respect it because it makes your life easier.

    I’ve been wondering if this car’s four-wheel-drive system is actually worthwhile. You’ll pay a £1490 premium over the front-wheel-drive model for it. Sometimes, I think the 4x4 vRS really is the better car, like when pulling out onto a fast-flowing, wet roundabout.

    The two-wheel-drive car would either trigger its traction control and not go very far, or light up its front wheels and miss the gap in the traffic altogether. This model, though, leaps forward without any fuss or hesitation, so you need only a narrow gap in the flow of cars to get yourself moving again.

    That, of course, is a very specific scenario. The rest of the time, I’m simply not aware the car is four-wheel drive. Several weeks ago, however, when the vRS had only recently arrived with me and the not-so-fearsome Beast from the East was due to cover much of the UK in a blanket of snow, I cancelled all prior arrangements and instead used the Skoda to get from Bristol to Heathrow airport.

    The flight was an extremely important one that I absolutely couldn’t miss (two weeks in the sun, you see). As it happened, the snow didn’t actually arrive until the day after I flew, but the sense of security meant the journey was much less fraught than it might have been.

    Of course, that sense of security might well have been a false one because the vRS was not on winter tyres. But it made me think: a four-wheel-drive Octavia vRS with winter rubber would be pretty much perfect for the UK in our colder months. It would be sure-footed on a wet or cold road, and it would cope with a decent snow dump too.

    Love it:

    EASY INFOTAINMENT Lots of car infotainment systems are baffling and tricky to navigate, but the Skoda’s is as clear as day. Its screen icons are usefully big too.

    Loathe it:

    INSISTENT WARNING When the windscreen washer fluid level is low, the warning chime goes off every few minutes. Very annoying.

    Mileage: 6851

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    Economy expectations - 18th April 2018

    During the 1500 or so miles I’ve covered in the Octavia vRS, I’ve averaged about 43mpg. That’s short of the 55.4mpg Skoda claims for this diesel model, but it’s not too bad given the punchy performance. Fuel consumption hovers around the mid40s regardless of how I drive the car. Would I trade some of that efficiency for a sweeter, higher-revving petrol engine? More on that next time.

    Mileage: 6079

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    Welcoming the Octavia vRS to our fleet – 4th April 2018

    All things considered, this is a slightly strange time to be taking delivery of a new diesel car.

    Certainly, far fewer people are doing so now than at any point in the past few years. The stats show that sales of new diesel models were down in December by 31% year on year, the result of a persistent and, we reckon, wholly unreasonable character assassination of the black stuff both in the mainstream press and at the hands of the government.

    Just a few days ago, new tax rules were implemented that effectively make all new diesel cars more expensive to buy. For the highest CO2 emitters, the cost of the first year’s road tax will have leapt up by £500. For other diesels, the increase will be as little as £20, and the new regulations relate to that first year only, but the message from Whitehall is clear: diesel’s days are numbered.

    The unintended consequence of the government’s efforts to discourage us from buying diesels is that overall CO2 emissions are creeping up. New car buyers are favouring petrol-engined cars in this post-Dieselgate era and, typically, a petrol car emits more CO2 than a comparable diesel one.

    Several cities around the UK are pondering banning diesel cars, too, each of them citing diesel’s harmful NOx emissions, which have been closely linked to respiratory illnesses. That’s pretty tough to argue with.

    The very newest diesels are just about as clean as a typical petrol engine, though, so forcing buyers away from such models achieves nothing at all. Apart, perhaps, from giving a vague impression that something is being done. For all these reasons, we at Autocar think diesel still has an important role to play in the medium term, which is why this Skoda Octavia vRS 2.0 TDI is joining the long-term fleet. Consider it a flag-waving exercise for compression-ignition.

    This isn’t an entirely conventional long-term test, though, because after three months we’ll be chopping this car in for a petrol model. We absolutely do want to stand in diesel’s corner at a time when it’s being unfairly demonised, but if we come to the conclusion six months from now that a petrol Octavia vRS is the better overall proposition, that’s the one we’ll be recommending. Over a few thousand miles, we’ll get a good insight into the buying and running costs of each model, too, so we’ll know which one works out cheaper in the long run.

    This particular car, resplendent in Race Blue metallic, is a fourwheel-drive model with the DSG dual-clutch automatic gearbox. Its standard list price is £28,700, but the 19in wheels (£655), Canton sound system (£505), Columbus sat-nav (£1060) and the essential Dynamic Chassis Control (£860), plus a couple of other extras, lift the overall price to £32,795. The engine is a 2.0-litre diesel with 182bhp and 280lb ft of torque. Skoda claims 55.4mpg and CO2 emissions of 134g/km (which, incidentally, means the first year of road tax costs £300 more today than it would have done a week ago).

    When this car is replaced by the petrol version – the new vRS 245, the most powerful vRS yet – it won’t just be the fuel type that changes, but more or less the entire configuration. Rather than a four-wheel-drive hatch with a dual-clutch ’box, the petrol car will be a front-driven estate with a manual transmission. That way, we’ll know for certain exactly what it takes to get the best out of the Octavia vRS.

    First impressions? Mostly very positive. It feels like an effortless, undemanding car, the sort that slots neatly into your life. There’s acres of space in the cabin. The diesel engine is strong and gutsy, with a usefully wide powerband. It’s hardly a thrilling four-pot, though, and it is quite noisy, particularly when cold.

    The DSG ’box, meanwhile, is very good, although it does change down too often when you apply a little more throttle, perhaps to get past a cyclist on a busy urban street, when it could just lean on the engine’s big wedge of torque and spare you the sudden downchange, thrash of revs and jolty burst of acceleration.

    For the most part, it’s very comfortable, too, thanks to the optional DCC adaptive dampers that our road testers have found to be so important. My only criticism of the ride quality is a slight but constant patter at motorway speeds. I suspect those very big – and presumably rather heavy – 19in wheels are the cause. It’s as though the hefty, oscillating mass on the end of each limb is just a little too much for the springs and dampers to keep control of. In the cabin, it doesn’t feel like a brittle or unyielding ride, but more like there’s one unbalanced wheel.

    Everything else? I’ll report back in more detail next time but, a couple of hundred miles in, I would characterise the Octavia vRS – in this specification, at least – as a hot hatch reimagined as a grand tourer. It’s less tightly wound than the VW Golf GTI with which it shares a platform; more laid back. That should make for a pretty decent everyday car, I reckon.

    Second Opinion

    On paper, ‘vRS’ seems at odds with the Octavia’s remit. It surely needs to display the hallmarks of other great Skodas: huge range, comfy ride and unrivalled practicality. In reality, you can’t say no to the extra poke, and we’ll discover the rest shortly

    Mitch McCabe

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    Skoda Octavia vRS 2.0 TDI 4X4 DSG specification and prices

    Prices: List price new £28,700 List price now £29,015 Price as tested £32,795 Dealer value now £20,394 Private value now £18,128 Trade value now £18,355 (part exchange)

    Options: 19in Xtreme wheels £655, Canton sound system £505, Columbus sat-nav £1060, Dynamic Chassis Control £860, metallic paint £400, space-saver spare wheel £105, heated seats £255, wireless phone charging with Bluetooth and wi-fi £255

    Fuel consumption and range: Claimed economy 55.4mpg Fuel tank 50 litres Test average 43.7mpg Test best 52mpg Test worst 38mpg Real-world range 480 miles

    Tech highlights: 0-62mph 7.1sec Top speed 132mph Engine 4 cyls, 1968cc, diesel Max power 182bhp at 3500rpm Max torque 280lb ft at 1750rpm Transmission 6-spd dual-clutch auto Boot capacity 590 litres Wheels 19in alloy Tyres 225/35 R19, Pirelli P Zero Kerb weight 1475kg

    Service and running costs: Contract hire rate £222 CO2 136g/km Service costs None Other costs None Fuel costs £375 Running costs inc fuel £375 Cost per mile 13 pence Depreciation £14,440 Cost per mile inc dep’n £5.08 Faults None

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  • 2019 Ford Focus ST to use 2.3-litre EcoBoost engine Wednesday 15th August 2018
    2019 Ford Focus ST to use 2.3-litre EcoBoost engine Hot version of latest Focus will be more driver focused and come in manual guise only

    Ford is developing its most engaging Focus ST yet with the proven 2.3-litre EcoBoost engine, making the future model its last non-electrified high-performance Focus.

    Replacing the old ST’s 2.0-litre engine, the 2.3-litre unit will have close technical links to the aluminium four-pot used by the 345bhp Focus RS but will be adapted for life in the front-wheel drive ST to offer around 250bhp. Since the next RS is due to kick-start hybrid power for Ford's hot models from 2020, the upcoming ST will serve as the final chapter in pure combustion power for Focus hot hatches.

    Ford is understood to have chosen the 2.3-litre powerplant, rather than a more powerful version of the 1.5-litre three-cylinder featured in the new Fiesta ST, because the smaller engine would have to be run close to its reliable limit in this guise. The Focus ST competes against the Renault Mégane RS and Peugeot 308 GTi, which come with 276bhp and 266bhp respectively.

    The 2.3-litre, on the other hand, which offers up to 370bhp in the Focus RS Red Edition, can be more practically tuned for the Focus ST. It's due to come mated exclusively to a six-speed manual gearbox, with no Powershift automatic option.

    This change signals a clear driver focus for the new model, suggesting that the next Focus ST will be a more enthusiastic and playful car to drive. The latest Focus arrived in April with claims from Joe Bakaj, Ford of Europe’s vice president for product development, that it will offer “that fun-to-drive feel” earlier Focus models were famous for across the line-up. The ST will, of course, take this to the next level.

    Styling will also be more subdued than present, too, with the latest development car showing that the Focus will get a more conventional twin-exhaust setup in place of the car’s current polygonal tailpipe. 

    The new Focus is also said to be 88kg lighter, like-for-like, than the old car, suggesting the ST could shed some kilos from the old car’s 1437kg figure. Its structure is claimed to be 20% more rigid, with a 50% improvement around the suspension elements, which should provide Ford engineers with the opportunity to improve the ST's agility without compromising ride quality. This has certainly been the case with the new Fiesta, which has received similar improvements over its predecessor.

    Ford had planned to launch its next Focus ST at the end of 2018, but Autocar has learned that the Blue Oval brand has pushed back the car’s arrival into 2019. It’s expected to be revealed in the run up to the 2019 Geneva motor show, with a public debut at the March event. Sales should kick-off by next summer.

    The Focus ST will remain the most potent version of the Focus on sale until the next-generation Focus RS arrives in 2020. As scooped by Autocar, that car will use a smaller 2.0-litre engine mated to a hybrid powerplant that’s based around 48V architecture to offer 400bhp.

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    Aston Martin's 700bhp DBS Superleggera due in June

    Suzuki Swift Sport review 2018

  • 2018's most popular cars in Europe by market segment Wednesday 15th August 2018
    Best-sellers by body type
    We've teamed up with industry analyst JATO Dynamics to bring you the best-selling cars in Europe by bodystyle. Take a look through to see the winner of each segment
    Want to know what the best-selling SUV is in Europe? How about the most popular sports car or executive saloon? The answers are here

    The car industry expands into new segments frequently, with new bodystyles popping up all over the place. 

    What’s the best-selling in each one, though? We’ve got the latest data from market analyst JATO Dynamics to bring you the best-selling cars in Europe (EU countries), sorted by bodystyle.

    The best-selling cars in Europe: by segment

    City car: Fiat 500 - 110,585 sales

    There’s no denying the 500’s charms, even if it’s not the best car to drive. European customers agree - it’s the best-selling city car on the Continent, followed by the Fiat Panda and Volkswagen Up

    Supermini: Renault Clio - 185,234 sales

    The Renault Clio is one of the best-selling cars in Europe, the top-selling car in France, Portugal and Slovenia and the top-selling supermini overall. It tops the Volkswagen Polo in second and the Ford Fiesta in third. 

    Family hatchback: Volkswagen Golf - 257,550 sales

    Surprise, surprise: the Volkswagen Golf - best-selling car in Austria, Belgium, Germany, Latvia and Luxembourg, second-best-seller in Norway, Slovenia, Switzerland and the UK and third-best-seller in Denmark, Ireland and Sweden, is Europe’s favourite family hatchback. The second-placed Skoda Octavia and third-placed Ford Focus didn’t stand a chance. 

    Mid-size saloon/estate: Volkswagen Passat - 93,252 sales

    Volkswagen’s hold on Europe continues with the Passat, which is officially the best-selling D-segment car in Europe. The Audi A4 is in third, while the Mercedes-Benz C-Class is in second, helping Mercedes come close to three-segment domination in the sales rankings.

    Executive: Mercedes-Benz E-Class - 65,112 sales

    The E-Class has helped Mercedes to become the largest premium car maker in the world, overtaking the BMW Group for world domination. The BMW 5 Series takes second and the Audi A6 third. 

    Luxury: Mercedes-Benz S-Class - 8250 sales

    Few surprises here, too - the S-Class is where Mercedes-Benz feels most at home. There’s a (relatively) new challenger in town, though: the Porsche Panamera has overtaken the BMW 7 Series to take silver. 

    JATO Dynamics says: “No big changes in the traditional segments. However, the premium cars continue to gain share in the upper segments, with two premium cars in the top three in the mid-size segment. The new Panamera continues to attract more clients than the latest 7 Series, while the S-Class seems to be untouchable.”

    Small SUV: Renault Captur - 121,235 sales

    This is the soon-to-be big league: the fastest-growing segment in the industry. And Renault claims another win, here with the Captur. Even today, five years after its launch, it beats the Peugeot 2008 and Dacia Duster for top spot.

    Mid-size SUV: Nissan Qashqai - 134,547 sales

    A sort-of home hero takes the C-segment SUV market in Europe: the Sunderland-built Nissan Qashqai, followed by the Volkswagen Tiguan and Peugeot 3008. The Qashqai is only the UK’s third best-seller, yet the UK accounts for more than a quarter of European Qashqai sales.

    Large SUV: Peugeot 5008 - 44,633 sales

    Peugeot’s segment-leading 5008 is a new entry, as is the second-best-seller, the Skoda Kodiaq. Both lead the Nissan X-Trail. None of the three is in the UK’s top ten best-sellers. 

    JATO Dynamics says: “The SUV segment continues to be the main driver of growth in the industry. Peugeot shines in the mainstream segment, placing each of its SUVs in the top three of their respective segments. The Qashqai continues to lead, despite its age and the strong competition. Due to the new arrivals, the X-Trail lost its top position as the main seven-seater option.”

    Small premium SUV: BMW X1 - 62,287 sales

    Another rapidly growing SUV segment, this, with the upcoming Lexus UX, Mercedes-Benz GLB and second-generation Range Rover Evoque and recently introduced BMW X2, Jaguar E-Pace and Volvo XC40. But it's a relative old-timer, the two-year-old BMW X1, that triumphs, with over 62,000 sales. Stalwarts continue to excel in this class, with the soon-to-be-replaced Audi Q3 in second and the not-long-for-this-world Mercedes-Benz GLA in third.

    Mid-size premium SUV: Mercedes-Benz GLC - 66,850 sales

    Two bodystyles help the Mercedes-Benz GLC (and GLC Coupé) top the mid-size premium SUV segment, followed by the Volvo XC60 and Audi Q5. It’s another segment that’s grown considerably in the last few months, with new entries from multiple premium brands and more on the way. 

    Large premium SUV: BMW X5 - 19,174 sales

    The seriously posh end of the SUV market is presided over by the segment-founding BMW X5, which usurps the former best-selling Volvo XC90 and hugely successful Range Rover Sport for first place. It’s a fairly quiet segment compared with the other SUV realms, with the X5 finding about a quarter as many homes as the GLC. 

    JATO Dynamics says: “As the GLA and Q3 near replacement, the more recent X1 leads the compact SUV segment. The mid-size premium SUV market is no longer dominated by the Volvo XC60, despite the recent launch of a new generation.” 

    Small MPV: Fiat 500L - 33,770 sales

    The Fiat 500L is more warmly received on the Continent than in the UK, as shown by its best-seller status in the small MPV segment. The Honda Jazz and Dacia Lodgy (which isn’t available in the UK) take second and third respectively. Most MPVs are declining in sales numbers, though, as people turn to more fashionable, image-focused SUVs.

    Mid-size MPV: Renault Scenic - 57,559 sales

    Another win for Renault with the Scenic - the mid-sized MPV was Europe’s best-seller so far this year, overtaking the previous top-spot holder, the Volkswagen Touran, while the Citroën C4 Spacetourer remains at third. No MPV made it onto the UK’s top ten best-sellers list. 

    Large MPV: Mercedes-Benz V-Class - 15,717 sales

    It was formerly a tie for first place in Europe’s large MPV market, with the Mercedes-Benz V-Class and Seat Alhambra on 9540 sales apiece, although the V-Class has now overtaken the Spaniard on sales. V-Class sales are down 5% year-on-year over 2017, while the Alhambra is down only 2%. The Ford S-Max completes the podium. 

    JATO Dynamics says: “The Scénic is one of the few MPVs of any size to post positive change. As the segment demand plunges, it’s significant to see a double-digit growth posted by the French MPV, which incorporates many SUV styling features.”

    Small sports car: Mazda MX-5 - 8545 sales

    There could only be one, couldn’t there? The Mazda MX-5 clinches the win in Europe with 8545 sales, although a 10% decrease year-on-year doesn’t bode well for the segment. Its cousin, the Fiat 124 Spider, follows, while the Lotus Elise comes in third, showing just how small the segment has become. 

    Mid-size sports car: Audi TT - 8068 sales

    The Audi TT continues to reign over the mid-size sports car segment, beating the Porsche 718 models. The Ford Mustang takes third, following Ford’s savvy decision to finally bring it to Europe. 

    Large sports car: Porsche 911 - 12,734 sales

    MX-5, TT, 911 - it’s a class dominated by icons, and the Porsche 911 is the best-selling of them all. With 50% more sales than the MX-5 and TT, the 911 is Europe’s best-selling sports car of any size, let alone in its market segment. The Mercedes-AMG GT and Ferrari 488 follow in second and third.

    More like this:

    The 10 best-selling cars in Britain

    The 50 best-selling cars in the world revealed

    2018's most popular cars in Europe – by country

  • Sales of used diesels rise despite overall decline in second-hand car market Wednesday 15th August 2018
    Used diesel car sales rise despite market turndown A 3.2% increase in diesel sales suggests shrewd used car buyers are taking advantage of recent uncertainty over the future of oilburners

    Diesel sales on the used car market increased by 3.2% in the second quarter of 2018 compared with the same period in 2017. Despite the negative image cultivated by the mainstream media, second-hand oilburners bucked an overall drop of 0.4% in the market, with nearly 8000 fewer cars changing hands in the three months from April to June.

    Sales of used petrol cars fell by 3.3% over the same period, while sales of hybrid, electric and hydrogen cars reflected the new car market by recording 25.3% growth over the second quarter of 2017.

    Despite the new car market turning its back on diesels, values of second-hand variants haven’t dropped, according to figures released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

    SMMT boss Mike Hawes said: “Motorists take advantage of the exciting high-tech models filtering down from the new sector – including some of the latest low-emissions diesel and alternatively fuelled vehicles. However, with used sales so closely reflecting the new car market, some cooling is expected over the coming months.”

    With CO2 figures set to rise considerably as a consequence of the backlash against diesel and the market’s subsequent move towards petrol cars, combined with the relatively slow uptake of hybrid and electric cars, Hawes warned that air quality may bear the brunt of buyers’ decisions: “Given fleet renewal is the fastest way to improve air quality and reduce CO2, we need greater business and consumer confidence to keep both markets moving.”

    Despite the small dip in used car sales, more than two million of them changed hands between the start of April and the end of June this year. 

    The large percentage rise in electrified sales represents 5417 cars, suggesting that used buyers are even happier to embrace lower-emissions cars than new car buyers, with demand growing only 23.8% across the year so far for new hybrid, hydrogen and electric cars. Almost 101,000 new alternatively fuelled vehicles (AFVs) have been registered this year. 

    B-segment hatchbacks remain the used market’s car of choice, with five superminis in the top ten used cars. The Ford Fiesta, the UK’s best-selling new car, is also the most popular used buy. 

    C-segment hatchbacks like the Ford Focus remain strong in demand, with the Focus, Volkswagen Golf and Vauxhall Astra in second, fourth and fifth places respectively.

    Conventional hatchbacks are the prevailing dominant body style in the used market, although growing SUV sales means the trend for higher-riding vehicles will almost certainly trickle down to the used market in months to come.

    The most popular premium cars on the used market are the BMW 3 Series and Audi A3, despite Mercedes’ rivals to both cars - the C-Class and A-Class - being far more popular on the new car market. 

    Read more: 

    Affordable used convertible cars set to rise in value

    Eight affordable used cars set to appreciate

    Ten affordable future classics on the used car market right now

  • 2019 Mercedes-Benz GLB: rugged BMW X1 rival hits Nurburgring Wednesday 15th August 2018
    Mercedes GLB Nurburgring spies front Compact SUV is described as road-biased G-Class sibling and will sit above the GLA in the range when it arrives next year

    Testing of Mercedes-Benz's new GLB small SUV is well under way and new spyshots show the BMW X1 rival lapping the Nürburgring Nordschleife as engineers tune its chassis. 

    Due to arrive in showrooms next year, the GLB mixes old-school G-Class influences, including a boxy profile and an upright rear end, with contemporary details such as the brand's softer front-end design and LED headlights. 

    The GLB, a sibling to the GLA, has been given this less conventional appearance in an attempt to stand out against softer-looking rivals, including the X1 and Audi Q3.

    Recent trademark filings suggest that variants badged 200, 220 and 250 will be available, with engines shared with smaller Mercedes offerings such as the A-Class and CLA

    The engine line-up will feature an updated range of Mercedes and Renault/Nissan-sourced four-cylinder petrol and diesel units, from 160bhp in the entry-level model to more than 300bhp in the AMG-badged flagship. Also planned is a plug-in petrol-electric hybrid variant with a modest pure-electric range.

    The AMG model will likely mirror the A-Class and come in AMG 45 form, with a warm mild hybrid-powered AMG 35 model to match the same upcoming A-Class variant.

    Development of the long-mooted GLB has been accelerated in order to bring the car to market in 2019.

    The move is part of Mercedes’ plan to retain sales momentum in the lucrative premium compact car class.

    The GLB is part of a future eight-strong family of compact models announced by Mercedes chairman Dieter Zetsche at the Detroit motor show in January. The new high-riding model will slot into the range above the GLA and below the GLC. Its likely starting price will be around £32,000 when it goes on sale in 2019.

    One of three additions to Mercedes' existing compact car range of five, the GLB joins a new four-door A-Class saloon, which was shown at the Beijing motor show, along with an as-yet-unknown model — one possibility is a dedicated coupé in the mould of the Audi TT. The new line-up has kicked off with the launch of the fourth-generation A-Class.

    The GLB is known under the internal codename X247 and is said to draw heavily on the well-received Ener-G-Force concept seen at the 2015 Los Angeles motor show.

    It combines styling cues inspired by the tough military vehicle design of the 38-year-old G-Class with more contemporary flourishes from the 2014 G-Code concept, although latest shots of the development model suggest a lower, boxy appearance of the GLK, the GLC predecessor that never made it to the UK. 

    Buyers will be able to choose between a series of optional styling packages, including a rugged-looking off-road appearance, with extra cladding and increased ride height, according to insiders privy to the final design.

    Chosen by Mercedes board members over an alternative long-wheelbase B-Class, the standard GLB earmarked for sale in the UK is set to be around 4600mm in length, making it 180mm longer than the recently facelifted GLA.

    The GLB is based on a version of Mercedes’ MFA platform that will be reworked to have greater production flexibility and lower weight than today’s structure. It will be offered with a choice of two wheelbases, with either a five-seat or seven-seat layout, in a move mirroring that of the Q3, X1 and Volkswagen Tiguan.

    Details remain scarce with production a year away, but sources suggest the long-wheelbase variant, which extends to almost 4800mm, may be sold only in selected markets, such as China and the US.

    Inside, the GLB is expected to share its dashboard and appointments, including a new Comand 6.0in touchscreen infotainment system, with other new compact Mercedes models, including the fourth-gen A-Class, third-gen B-Class, second-gen CLA and CLA Shooting Brake, as well as the new A-Class saloon.

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    Range Rover Sport SVR 2018 UK review

  • Skoda Fabia 2018 review Wednesday 15th August 2018
    Skoda-fabia-2018-front Skoda's boxy supermini has been treated to a midlife refresh, but is it enough to keep it competitive? In the context of its immediate Volkswagen Group rivals, the latest Skoda Fabia supermini could almost be seen as something resembling the youngest sibling.While the likes of the Seat Ibiza and Volkswagen Polo have been treated to total overhauls, complete with newfangled MQB-A0 platforms, upgraded tech and sharp new exteriors, the third-generation Fabia — which has now been facelifted for 2018 — is still, to an extent, kicking about in last year’s hand-me-downs.Beneath that subtly revised exterior, including new headlights and bumpers, as well as a new front grille, sits the older PQ26 platform that’s underpinned the Mk3 Fabia since it entered production in 2014. It’s something of an amalgamation of the PQ25 platform used by the likes of the Mk5 Volkswagen Polo and the now ubiquitous MQB platform, This means there’s the same MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension arrangement in the pre-facelift Fabia, while power comes from a line-up of 1.0-litre three-cylinder TSI and MPI petrol engines. All of these powerplants now benefit from upgraded engine management systems and a second catalytic converter, while the TSI units also gain petrol particulate filters. With no go-faster vRS model on offer — or even on the cards, for that matter — power outputs are decidedly modest. The two MPI engines range from 59bhp to 75bhp, while the TSI units come in 94bhp and 109bhp flavours. For the purpose of this European first drive, we opted for the 94bhp unit.
  • Volkswagen Polo Beats 1.6 TDI 2018 review Wednesday 15th August 2018
    VW Polo Beats 1.6 TDI front New Beats edition aims to add youth appeal with sporty styling and a punchy sound system, but does that transform VW's strait-laced Ford Fiesta rival? Volkswagen's trendiest special edition tasked with bringing down the average age of the Polo buyer. With the under-30s flooding to other VW Group brands, such as Seat, the tie-in with Dr Dre’s (now Apple-owned) sound system company is an attempt at adding personality to one of the supermini class’s more conservative offerings. The treatment proved such a success when it arrived late in the last Polo’s life cycle that it’s gone on sale almost from launch this time around. Essentially, VW takes the standard SE-spec Polo and replaces the rather limp stereo with a Beats seven-speaker, 300W sound system, an eight-channel amplifier and a subwoofer hidden in the boot. Sick, etc…That’s not the full extent of the down-with-the-kids treatment, though, since the Beats edition also receives a two-tone stripe running along the bonnet and roof, Beats logos throughout, funkier seat trim and rear tinted windows, while 16in diamond-turned alloy wheels complete the look. Standard kit includes the Composition Media System with an 8.0in touchscreen, auto headlights, electric windows all round and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. 
  • Bentley Flying Spur plug-in hybrid seen testing ahead of 2019 release Wednesday 15th August 2018
    Bentley Flying Spur plug-in hybrid Saloon will soon be offered as a PHEV; it's set to use the electrified 2.9-litre V6 powertrain from the Porsche Panamera 4 E-Hybrid

    The Bentley Flying Spur saloon will gain a V6-powered plug-in hybrid variant at the start of next year.

    The Rolls-Royce Ghost rival has again been spotted testing in PHEV form, this time in Europe. It's clear that this is no ordinary Flying Spur due to its two fuel filler caps, one of which hides a charging port for the car's lithium ion battery pack. 

    As Autocar previously reported, Bentley will equip the Flying Spur PHEV with an electrified powertrain borrowed from the Porsche Panamera 4 E-Hybrid, instead of the system found in the Bentayga Hybrid. The plug-in SUV will also not arrive until early next year, as the new WLTP economy testing regulations mean Bentley needs to fine-tune the car's powertrain. 

    Insurance database information showed that a Flying Spur development car, caught on camera in London by Autocar reader Chris Thomson, was using the 2.9-litre V6 engine that’s also used by the Porsche saloon, rather than the 3.0-litre unit used in other hybrid models from the Volkswagen Group, such as the Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid.

    Rolls-Royce Cullinan revealed

    Bentley refrained from commenting on the car when asked why a lower-capacity engine is to be used, but Autocar understands the 2.9-litre version has been chosen because it can provide a higher maximum power output.

    This is because it features a larger crankshaft (which shortens the engine’s stroke) than the 3.0-litre unit. The Flying Spur PHEV is therefore expected to be launched with at least 456bhp and 516lb ft – those being the outputs of the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid. The Porsche is due in a higher state of tune at a later date, suggesting the pricier Flying Spur could be offered with more power from the off.

    The Flying Spur PHEV is expected to have an electric-only range of around 30 miles. This will be an essential feature if it is to comply with ever-stricter global emissions regulations, particularly in China.

    Click here for more on the next-generation Bentley Flying Spur

    The plug-in hybrid will be part of the next-generation Flying Spur range, which, as scooped by Autocar recently, will be launched next year with a more distinctive design in order to clearly carve out its own identity among its stablemates.

    The model will also be offered with V8 and W12 petrol engines, but there won't be a diesel option.

    Bentley’s push to electrification will also lead to the launch of an electric model that will have a technical relationship with the Porsche Mission E via its J1 electric architecture. This and other electrified cars, including versions of the Continental GT and Bentayga, form part of a plan to produce a plug-in variant of each of Bentley model by 2025.

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  • Alfa Romeo Mito to be axed in early 2019 Wednesday 15th August 2018
    Alfa Romeo Mito
    Alfa Mito will be withdrawn and not replaced
    With demand for three-door cars waning, Alfa Romeo will instead focus on a new era of SUVs and sports cars

    The Alfa Romeo Mito will be canned early next year as the brand makes way for a new era of SUVs and sports cars, Europe boss Roberta Zerbi has confirmed.

    In June, Alfa Romeo’s parent company, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, laid out a five-year plan for the Italian maker, which includes two new SUVs, a range-topping 8C sports car and a modern-day GTV, a four- seat coupé. The Mito did not feature in the plans but no more details were given.

    Now, Zerbi has confirmed to Autocar that it will be withdrawn from sale by early next year. “Mito is a three-door and people are choosing more and more five-door cars,” she said.

    Alfa Romeo brings back GTV and 8C

    Zerbi added that previous buyers of the Mito would hopefully migrate into the Giulia or upcoming small SUV, which will sit below the Stelvio in its range.

    She said the small SUV was the upcoming model she was most excited about: “This is the one that will allow us to talk to a wider audience, a younger audience of 30- to 40-year-olds.

    “It can help fill the gap between the Giulietta and Stelvio. And people that bought a Mito in the last couple of years – people grow up, start having children [and need a bigger car].”

    Zerbi confirmed that it won’t look like a smaller Stelvio, in the vein of Audi and its Russian-doll SUV styling, saying it will “look like a family [of cars]”.

    She would not confirm when the small SUV will be launched but we expect to see it in the next two years.

    Read more

    Alfa Romeo brings back GTV and 8C

    Opinion: Why an 18-year-old bought a 1972 Alfa Romeo Giulia

    Alfa Romeo Stelvio review

    Alfa Romeo Giulia coupe to pack 641bhp with F1 hybrid tech

  • Fernando Alonso won't race in F1 in 2019 Tuesday 14th August 2018
    Fernando Alonso won't race in F1 in 2019
    Fernando Alonso will not race in F1 in 2019
    Double world champion will step away from grand prix racing after 17 years to seek 'new, exciting challenges'

    Double world champion Fernando Alonso will not race in Formula 1 next season.

    The 37-year-old Spaniard won back-to-back titles in 2005 and 2006, and has finished runner-up in the championship on three occasions. In total, he has so far taken 32 wins, 22 pole positions and 97 podiums. Alonso has driven for McLaren since 2015, but has failed to score a podium during his time there.

    “After 17 wonderful years in this amazing sport, it’s time for me to make a change and move on,” said Alonso, who confirmed that he will complete this season.

    Alonso’s decision follows increasing frustration with his inability to land a car capable of winning races. With no seat available at Mercedes or Ferrari, Alonso’s best hopes of a competitive car lay with Red Bull or the works Renault team.

    Daniel Ricciardo’s surprise switch from Red Bull to Renault ended Alonso’s chances with the French firm, while Red Bull bosses indicated that they will promote one of their junior drivers rather than consider Alonso.

    Opinion: why Ricciardo's Renault switch could be an inspired move

    While he won’t race in F1 next year, Alonso is unlikely to retire, saying that "new, exciting challenges are around the corner". He is committed to completing the 2018-19 FIA World Endurance Championship ‘super season’ with the works Toyota team, having won the 24 Hours of Le Mans with that squad this year.

    Alonso could also pursue opportunities in the IndyCar Series; he skipped last year’s Monaco Grand Prix to take part in the Indianapolis 500 — leading much of the race before retiring — and expressed an interest to return.

    After making his F1 debut with Minardi in 2001, Alonso spent a season as test driver with Benetton before claiming a race seat with the team when it became the works Renault squad in 2003. He scored his first win in Hungary in 2003 and became the (then) youngest champion in F1 history in 2005, adding another title the following year.

    A switch to McLaren in 2007 led to a big rivalry with his rookie team-mate Lewis Hamilton, and Alonso was a key figure in unveiling the ‘spygate’ row. Alonso returned to Renault in 2008, before joining Ferrari in 2010. He claimed 11 wins with the Italian squad, but never put together a title-winning season, and split from the team after struggling in a winless 2014 season. That then led to a return to the McLaren team.

    Alonso has started 302 F1 races so far in his career and should pass Michael Schumacher and Jenson Button (who both have 306 starts) to become second on the all-time list by the end of the year. Rubens Barrichello holds the record for the most starts with 322.

    Read more

    Alonso to contest full WEC season after race moves to avoid F1 clash

    Alonso stars in 2017 Indy 500 before engine failure

    F1 2019: Ricciardo in shock Renault switch

  • Stop-start technology: what's the long-term impact on my car’s engine? Tuesday 14th August 2018
    Stop-start – the long-term impact on your car’s engine
    Stop-start systems are particularly effective in urban driving conditions
    The increasingly common technology designed to save fuel might reduce consumption, but what effect does it have on engine life?

    In urban situations especially, stop-start should be making a real-world difference, but will the durability of engines be affected in the long term?

    What is stop-start technology?

    Stop-start is a system on most modern cars that cuts the engine when the car is stationary, in order to reduce fuel consumption and emissions. The engine starts again when the clutch is engaged or the brake is released, or when the driver is ready to move again. 

    How does stop-start work?

    The system uses a computer to detect when the car is stationary or the car is out of gear, at which point it halts fuel delivery and spark to the engine. The ignition starts again when the car begins moving or the clutch is pressed.

    The process happens automatically, but drivers can choose whether the system is active or disabled by pushing their car’s stop-start button; a capital A with an arrow circling clockwise. 

    A conventional electric starter motor works by engaging a small pinion gear with a large ‘ring’ gear fitted around the outside of the engine flywheel.

    The latest stop-start technology looks much the same but the motors are more powerful, faster acting and more robust. Some are designated ‘TS’ for ‘tandem solenoid’ and designed to cope more smoothly with scenarios where the engine is about to stop and then the driver accelerates again.

    Read more: How to buy a used car - expert top tips

    Such a moment may come when the driver has decided to stop, but for whatever reason has a change of mind, such as when the traffic moves off unexpectedly.

    At that moment the engine might be ‘committed’ to stopping but is still spinning, so to avoid crunching, one solenoid fires up the starter motor to synchronise its speed with the engine before the second smoothly engages the gear.

    Disadvantages of stop-start technology:

    Does stop-start wear out my engine?

    When it comes to durability and long life, all the bases relating to the starter gear itself should be covered, but the higher number of stop-start cycles lead to increased engine wear unless steps are taken to prevent it.

    “A normal car without automatic stop-start can be expected to go through up to 50,000 stop-start events during its lifetime,” says Gerhard Arnold, who is responsible for bearing design at Federal Mogul.

    “But with automatic stop-start being activated every time the car comes to a standstill, the figure rises dramatically, perhaps to as many as 500,000 stop-start cycles over the engine’s life.”

    That’s a big jump and one that poses major challenges to the durability and life of the engine’s bearings.

    A fundamental component of the engine and also one of the heaviest is the crankshaft. It’s supported as it spins by a number of precision ground journals along its length running in ‘plain’ main bearings (no ball bearings or rollers, just smooth metal). These are the main bearings and the effect is greater on the bearing at the back of the engine immediately adjacent to the starter motor.

    When the engine is running, the crankshaft and main bearing surfaces don’t actually touch, but are separated by a super-thin film of oil, fed under pressure and pumped around the bearing surfaces by the action of the spinning crankshaft. This process is called ‘hydrodynamic lubrication’ but when the engine stops, the crank settles onto the bearing, the two metal surfaces coming into contact.

    Read more: Winter car maintenance tips

    How rust helps to prevent wear

    When the engine starts, there’s a point before the two surfaces become separated by the oil film called the ‘boundary condition’, where the crankshaft is spinning, but there’s metal-to-metal contact between the bearing surfaces.

    This is when most wear takes place. Fitting stop-start means the boundary condition (and metal-to-metal contact) could exist perhaps 500,000 times in the life of the engine instead of 50,000 and normal bearings would wear out long before that.

    Read more: How to look after your turbocharged car

    Two things prevent that happening. The first is that bearing manufacturers are developing new bearing material with greater self-lubricating properties to resist wear on start-up.

    Federal Mogul has developed a new material called Irox with a polymer coating containing particles of iron oxide (rust), which in this microscopic form is surprisingly slippery.

    In fact it’s so slippery that the coefficient of friction of an Irox bearing is 50 per cent lower than a conventional aluminium bearing and will easily last the life of an engine equipped with stop-start.

    Low friction oils help prolong engine life

    The second is improvements in lubricating oils. A modern engine oil contains an additive package comprising a complex chemical cocktail. The technical director of UK company, Millers Oils, Martyn Mann, says the formulation of these packages are critical: “We’ve reduced friction with our oils and improved durability of the oil film and we think that has to be the way forward with stop-start systems.”

    Millers began researching low-friction oils in its laboratories back in 2006. “We put a formulation together, tested it on a friction rig and found we could reduce the sliding friction between typical components like pistons and liners by 50 percent,” says Mann.

    Read more: What oil should I put in my car?

    Generally, this reduces heat, power loss, fuel consumption and wear but Miller’s new triple ester nano-technology, known as Nanodrive, goes further. Tiny nano-particles like microscopic ball bearings exfoliate under high pressure, the polymer ‘flakes’ adhering to the engine surfaces.

    So far the technology is available only in Miller’s high-end racing oils, but in relation to stop-start, it could also reduce wear during each re-start when the most wear takes place.

    With low-friction bearing and lubrication technology in place the potential threat to engine life by stop-start systems should theoretically be overcome. But the current technology is still relatively new and only time will tell whether every car manufacturer has got it right.

    Does stop-start help save fuel?

    Yes - in situations where you’re stationary with the engine idling, such as in heavy traffic or waiting for traffic lights to change, it will save however much fuel would have been used by the engine while the car is stationary. 

    How much fuel is saved is often disputed and depends almost entirely upon the type of driving undertaken with the system. Obviously, more stationary time means more fuel saved. There are also occasions when stop-start will not kick in, for example if the engine is cold, the system is less likely to intervene, to allow the engine to warm up fully. It may also not shut off the engine if the battery is below a certain level, if, like Volvo’s system, the driver unfastens their seatbelt, or if you turn the air conditioning on. 

    Stop-start is also designed to decrease emissions in urban areas where traffic is more likely to be stationary for longer, so despite the benefit to drivers’ fuel consumption, there are more benefits to the systems than monetary ones. 

    Top 13 car brands that hold their value the best

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    If you want to find out more about how much fuel your car uses, visit What Car? and try out the True MPG calculator.

  • Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer long-term review Tuesday 14th August 2018
    Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer longterm review on the road How suited is this estate to the demands of the business traveller? We aim to find out

    Why we’re running it: To discover if Vauxhall’s flagship offers an unbeatable mix of practicality, value and executive comfort in estate form

    Month 6Month 5Month 4Month 3Month 2Month 1 - Specs

    Life with a Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer: Month 6

    Like the Stones, we have our very own mobile recording studio - 4th July 2018

    I’m going to let you in on a secret. Let me explain. When you watch one of our Autocar video reviews on YouTube, you’ll hear a voiceover. In order to commit this to tape, we have to find as silent a space as possible, because the sensitive microphones pick up every squeak, raindrop and passing aircraft in glorious high definition.

    Luckily, car makers tend to spend a lot of time soundproofing their cabins to eliminate road and wind noise at motorway speeds. This makes the rear seat of a car about as good a place as you’ll find to record voiceover without building your own bespoke sound booth.

    So how does our Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer stack up as a recording studio? The truth is: quite well. As you can see, the increased rear leg room over the previous generation means there’s ample space for the microphone, stand and presenter.

    Soundproofing is good too. It’s not as well noise-damped as, say, the Bentley Bentayga that we ran on our fleet last year, but it’s certainly good enough as long as you’re not parked next to a revving V10. (Yes, we did use the Bentley as a sound booth too – spoilt, I know.)

    That reflects itself in road noise. On the motorway, the Insignia Sports Tourer is perhaps a little louder inside than more premium, more expensive rivals such as a BMW 520d Touring, but it’s certainly accomplished enough for the price bracket that it’s in. You do not, for example, have to raise voices to hold a conversation when up to speed.

    Its 1956cc twin-turbo diesel, which puts out 207bhp, does fade to a distant rumble on a motorway. But under the sudden acceleration of a quiet morning’s commute, the kickdown and resulting blow of puff to get car and driver up to speed noticeably reverberate around the cockpit, although not immoderately compared with direct rivals.

    The specification of our Sports Tourer contributes to this too. A two-wheel-drive equivalent would almost certainly be a quieter drivetrain to run, but I wouldn’t trade the car’s winter performance that we highlighted in previous reports for a more tranquil ride.

    Additionally, the 20in alloy wheels undoubtedly transfer more sound from the Tarmac into the cabin than the 18in options that you can put on a lower-spec version. These are, however, standard with this powertrain and the chosen Elite Nav level of trim. In my eyes, smaller wheels would compromise the alluring looks of the long, sleek wagon too. Call me vain.

    This trim level does have a weapon up its sleeve to combat what road and wind noise there is, however. The seven-speaker Bose sound system provides a crisp alternative to conversation and the presence of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto means you have your favourite tunes readily available, even after you’ve exhausted the exhaustive DAB radio channel list.

    So that’s the secret: a good quality video is very much dictated by the quality of cabin isolation from road noise. In this department, our Vauxhall Insignia proves more than adequate and, if you were so inclined, you could doubtlessly specify an even quieter one to come out of Rüsselsheim.

    Although it’s no Abbey Road, the Sports Tourer remains a good companion for sound recordists, or even just those after a reasonably quiet ride.

    Love it:

    FLAT LOAD LIP Using the car’s boot to move an apartment’s contents was easy.

    Loathe it:

    WINDSCREEN WASHER JETS They are aimed too low on the screen so I have to time my squirts to get maximum coverage.

    Mileage: 7746

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    Life with the Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer: Month 5

    An unlikely drag star - 27th June 2018

    It’s the end of a long day of filming drag racing at Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground and almost a mile of temptingly empty runway lies in front of our Insignia Sports Tourer. There’s only one thing for it: 210 horses drag 1.6 tonnes up to 125mph before I feel it wise to get off the gas. At that speed, the car is remarkably stable. There’s no need for it, but it’s nice to know it can.

    Mileage: 7366

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    I know where I’d rather be - 13th June 2018

    You won’t believe me, but for the 177 miles from Shrewsbury to home, I wished I was in our Insignia Sports Tourer instead of the Lamborghini Huracán Performante Spyder. True, the previous leg from Snowdonia to Greggs in Bayston Hill was one of the best drives of my life. But there’s a lot to be said for the Vauxhall’s lumbar support versus a carbonfibre bucket in Friday night’s M40 chaos.

    Mileage: 7196

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    Singing the praises of Stop/Start - 30th May 2018

    Twice in VWs I have experienced the stop/start function engaging and the power steering locking up while the speedo read three or four miles per hour. No such problem in our Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer: the stop/start system kicks in well after the car is stationary and responds quickly to any throttle input at traffic lights. Sensible, and bleeding obvious, but appreciated.

    Mileage: 6664

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    Life with the Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer: Month 4

    As the picture suggests, our car isn’t always the star of the show - 16th May 2018

    I had intended to write about Brexit and being a ‘British brand since 1903’, as the Vauxhall radio ad goes. I had intended to praise the PSA Group on investing in Vauxhall’s light commercial vehicle production in Luton. I had intended to be asleep right now.

    I am, though, sitting in A&E and I’m bored. Three hours and 58 minutes ago, I was watching another trashy late-night documentary on another conspiracy theory about another missing passenger flight, waiting for my McLaren Senna video edit to go live on Autocar’s YouTube site.

    The dog started to bark. There was banging at the window. Shouting. Not an intruder. Grandad has come up from the shed he lives in at the bottom of Mum’s garden. He’s bleeding profusely from the leg. And when I say profusely, I mean by the pint.

    The Aussie on the other end of my 999 call asks if it’s more than two coffee cups he has lost. I’m not sure if he means espresso cups or latte glasses. Either way, the answer is yes. The ex-undercover-law-enforcer who I also live with is already applying pressure to the wound.

    Three hours and 48 minutes ago, the ambulance turned up with great haste, phenomenal calm and a decked-out Mercedes wagon. Peter and John – the paramedics, not the Bible characters – note it’s a burst varicose vein and bandage him up.

    Three hours and 24 minutes ago, he’s loaded up and off he goes. Cue the Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer.

    It’s a refined waft in the wee hours, the loudest noise in the cabin being my hands on the steering wheel. Perhaps too quiet for my pale mother who’s looking like she’s going to faint. She’s not good with blood or coffee cups.

    So, to distract her, I show her how Vauxhall’s Intellilux LED headlights cleverly patch out passing traffic from the full beams so I, the driver, get maximum visibility but don’t blind other motorists.

    Two hours and 59 minutes ago, we arrived at A&E, where the staff are marvellous. If you need any further evidence of the quality work that highly qualified internationals do in our health service, come and spend nearly three hours here.

    It’s 2.49am as I start to write this. We’ve been seen by a nurse but are in the middle of a long wait for a doctor. Grandad is reading Autocar as it’s the only distraction I’ve brought and, having never driven in his 81 years, he asks when Reliant went out of business. He likes the picture of Matt Prior drifting the Morgan 3 Wheeler, you see.

    Four o’clock in the morning soon passes. The doctors patch Grandad up and discharge him with a professionalism that seems unnatural for the time of day. The Insignia feels wide as I drag it out of the concrete multi-storey car park, but every inch of the improved interior space comes in handy, loading Grandad from a wheelchair into the reclined passenger seat.

    I put the estate into its softest ‘Tour’ setting, to keep the still-bloodied patient as comfortable as possible. At this time in the morning, the roads are empty. But, still, Vauxhall’s abundance of standard safety equipment comes as welcome reassurance that we won’t be making an immediate return to Frimley Park Hospital, where I must give great credit to all the wonderful staff.

    Love it:

    COMFY DRIVER’S SEAT Electronic lumbar support for the driver makes getting comfortable easy on long journeys

    Loathe it:

    SQUEAKY THROTTLE A minor squeak has developed in the throttle pedal on longer journeys. Turn the radio up.

    Mileage: 6121

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    Keeping connected - 9th May 2018

    Business buyers are big business for the Insignia: in-car 4G wi-fi hotspot must be hot stuff to them. I’m in the imaging business, so uploading files on the go is absolutely my business, and a multi-megabit transfer proved a decent test at Beaconsfield services. A couple of minutes later, the visual accompaniment to my next long-term report was on the web. Speedy business.

    Mileage: 5968

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    Life with the Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer: Month 3

    Our estate played the perfect host on a busy Easter weekend - 25th April 2018

    It’s the Easter bank holiday. The M40 turns into its very own Highway of Death as the mass evacuation of southern suburbia feels like the single-file traffic jam of an Iraqi diaspora. Cars strewn by the side of the road, oil everywhere it shouldn’t be and Warwick services in the same state of disrepair as Basra.

    Like 19 million others, I’m spending Good Friday and Easter Monday on the road. My abandonment of south London entails the all-important quarterly parachute drop into the out-laws, stationed ‘on’t Moors’ just outside Manchester. The 500-mile round trip is a good test to see how leggy, refined and bomb-proof the Insignia is.

    Lane Keep Assist comes into its own over this distance. On the rare stretches of motorway where the 20in alloy wheels are allowed to get up to speed, the safety system takes some of the stress out of a long journey. I can feel it nudging the steering back into the centre of the lane and it allows the driver to trust the car’s positioning and relax a little.

    Up front in the cockpit, the pilot’s seat adjusts in all sorts of ways to aid the relaxed feel too. There’s electronic lumbar support and a steering wheel that moves up, down, forward, backwards and over the Persian gulf, as the old folk ditty goes.

    Our car also has a wi-fi hotspot. On previous trips, there’s been a comms blackout west of the Chiltern hills when trying to stream music on a mobile device. But when my wingwoman wants to wave her jazz hands to the depths of Spotify’s archive, we’re uninterrupted when connected to wi-fi. And that’s important because we’re the type of couple who sing along. But we’re both atrocious singers.

    As such, it’s imperative that we have a decent sound system to drown out the missed high notes. Luckily, the Bose speakers can provide. In our opening report, Steve Cropley alluded to increased road noise in this spec over other versions of the Insignia: a result, he proposed, of the four-wheeldrive transmission and, I propose, of the larger optional wheels.

    It’s true, the Insignia’s road noise is noticeable, but at this price point you can’t expect a total limousine-like experience. And when the sound system is off, we certainly don’t have to raise our voices to hold a conversation. I wouldn’t trade the all-wheel-drive performance that came in handy in the snow, as mentioned in previous reports, for a quieter ride.

    There’s one other foible of this specification on a trip like this: fuel economy. The 2.0-litre biturbo diesel is achieving 35.4mpg over a mix of London potholes, motorway chugging and a cross-country, northern A-road. Vauxhall only claims a combined figure of 40.4, so our figure is about as expected in the real world.

    While it continues to improve from our early reports as we run the car in (the range has gone up by about a third), this is arguably the only reason I’d rather be in Iraq: for the fuel prices.

    This mix of road surfaces also confirms my favoured drive mode. ‘Tour’ offers a waftier ride and lighter steering than ‘Sport’ or ‘Normal’ (although those are customisable). So, with the safety systems on, ‘Tour’ selected and the tunes ringing out, Vauxhall’s flagship chews up the miles. While the carnage ensues around us, the interior of the Insignia is a picture of serenity.

    Love it:

    IN-CAR WI-FI The network is great for streaming music and offers a so-far-uninterrupted 4G service.

    Loathe it:

    VOICE CONTROL I’ve had to learn another language to use it, memorising new pronunciations of my phone book.

    Mileage: 5466

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    On reflection, some things are worth keeping - 11th April 2018

    A colleague once pronounced in these pages: the vanity mirror is dead! He feels a smartphone set to ‘selfie’ mode is now of sufficient quality to use as a mirror when applying his blusher in the passenger seat. My bowls partner and I disagree. She styles her lippy on the way to the mats and the brightness of the Insignia’s sun-visor lights, one either side of the mirror, is important.

    Mileage: 4016

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    Life with the Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer: Month 2

    Exploring the drive modes - 28th March 2018

    Our Sports Tourer has three drive modes. ‘Sport’ and ‘Normal’ can be customised to set up the chassis, steering weight and engine response. This affords the luxury of combining maximum performance and sportier suspension with the lightest steering. ‘Tour’, meanwhile, offers a lazy waft that suits both motorway touring and speed-hump wrestling.

    Mileage: 3192

    Our wagon was well prepared for the Beast from the East - 14th March 2018

    February was freezing, wasn’t it? Well, it certainly felt it, standing on an Oxfordshire verge, filming m’colleague Matt Prior buzz up and down in a Ferrari GTC4 Lusso T, with his heated seats and his throaty V8 to keep him warm. Luckily, my load-lugger of choice, our Insignia Sports Tourer, is well equipped to deal with the ‘Beast from the East’, ‘Polar Vortex’ or any other tabloid-headline-weather-front nature could chuck at it.

    That’s largely down to the new ‘intelligent’ all-wheel-drive system. The GKN-developed system comprises a pair of clutch packs on the rear axle electronically delivering torque vectoring – the first time such a system has appeared on a four-wheel-drive Vauxhall. The torque distribution adapts to steering and throttle inputs as well as road conditions to apportion power to the inside or outside rear wheel and increase stability in all conditions. And it really works. There’s no hint of understeer in freezing temperature, in snow, or in lashing rain.

    On my commute to Autocar Towers, there’s a steep hill start out of a partially unsighted junction. Where many front-wheel-drive and rear-wheel-drive test cars have slipped before, the Insignia’s eight-speed auto hooks up on request to smoothly and briskly tackle the ascent, without hesitation or squeal. For a 1633kg large executive estate, the traction is really rather impressive.

    But it’s not just the dynamics of our Sports Tourer that coped with the Arctic conditions. We specced the optional, but feature loaded, Winter Pack 2 for £400. So the car not only has heated front seats with three temperature settings but also a heated steering wheel, front windscreen and rear windscreen.

    As part of the infotainment system, the driver can choose to receive – and trust me I have – what the Vauxhall marketing department terms a ‘Warm Welcome’. No, not a hug and a cup of char. Rather, the car judges the exterior temperature and sets the heated leather seats appropriately when you jump in. Heated buttocks are an essential part of any warm welcome, I find.

    In the Insignia, this is not a luxury consigned only to the front row either. Rear-seat passengers, who for years have been without one of the essential ingredients of a warm welcome, have been liberated by Luton’s flagship.

    Other extremities that can now be kept at an optimum temperature include the driver’s hands. Being of a generally clammy genetic disposition, I didn’t initially think I’d get on with the heated leather steering wheel. But, by gum, is it a game changer at –2deg C when you’ve just been working outdoors without gloves for four hours. Now I use it all the time.

    Interestingly, when we first collected the Insignia, I feared fighting the frost might be an area where the Vauxhall would fall short of its main Czech rival. The Skoda Superb Estate comes with an ice-scraper stowed in the fuel cover that’s one of the cleverest touches on the market. But I needn’t have worried. Very occasionally, in certain light, I can spot the fine wire element that constitutes the heated front windscreen on the Insignia. Partnered with a heated rear screen and wing mirrors, there’s no need to even consider getting your cuffs wet.

    As I stand in the cold filming my colleagues in supercars, I can’t wait for spring to have properly sprung. But, frankly, the Insignia will take your ‘Polar Vortex’ and show you where to stick it.

    Love it:

    PRACTICAL STORAGE The FlexOrganiser system of rails and divider nets makes loading my video kit easy and keeps it secure.

    Loathe it:

    BLANK BUTTONS In the climate-control cluster, there are two blank buttons that could’ve housed the two functions hidden behind the touchscreen.

    Mileage: 2448

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    Life with the Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer: Month 1

    Welcoming the Insignia Sports Tourer to our fleet – 21st February 2018

    This 67-plate Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer lands on our shores having been on quite a journey.

    As you will have read in these pages, the Vauxhall and Opel badges had long been foundering under GM ownership. They declared losses of £190 million in the second quarter of 2017 (an average of £3m a day), before the high-profile takeover by PSA Group at the end of last year. As the listing begins to settle under the new admiralty, it is paramount that the marque’s new flagship leads the incoming flotilla of models – that will in future be based on shared PSA Group architecture – to forecast profit in 2020.

    And so it’ll have been with a wide grin that PSA boss Carlos Tavares received the news that 100,000 orders of the second-generation Insignia, which we’ll be running, have already been taken in its first year on sale. The tide starts to turn. A new era begins. Exciting times. As it is for us, running the D-segment fleet favourite in Sports Tourer form.

    Ours, appropriately, has been given the honourable task of voyaging up and down the country’s motorways with a videographer and all his kit on board – similar to how a lot of business drivers will use the car (albeit with a few more lenses and tripods). And we’ve specced it accordingly. To give our car its full name, it is a Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer Elite Nav 2.0 210PS BiTurbo D 4x4 Auto.

    Let me break that down for you. ‘Sports Tourer’, as you can see, is marketing pidgin for ‘estate’. More than 135 litres have been added over the predecessor’s boot capacity.

    Larger than a Mondeo Estate’s loadspace, but not quite as big as that of the more expensive Passat, it’s suitably cavernous to swallow the entire Autocar video kit when the rear seats are folded down.

    Now, the eight-speed auto ’box was a no-brainer given the mileage that the Insignia will have to deal with. And we’ve paired it with the higher-powered turbocharged diesel unit that produces 207bhp. This engine will be remapped and re-tuned in the upcoming hot GSi variant of the Insignia due this year. Here’s hoping for a hearty blend of response, economy and cruising comfort over the next few months.

    The four-wheel-drive system will likely get a good run out on some wet and cold Welsh mountainsides. Which leads me to the first of our optional extras: Winter Pack 2 (£400). Seats front and rear are heated, as is the front windscreen and steering wheel: a luxury that’s hard to live without after it has been experienced for the first time.

    These are on top of a gargantuan list of features that come as standard with the Elite Nav level of trim, including European sat-nav, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, Bose sound system, 8in touchscreen, DAB radio, leather seats, cruise control, Isofix points, forward collision alert and automatic emergency braking.

    Also standard-fit, the IntelliLux Matrix LED headlights are breathtakingly effective. When switched to full beam, they detect traffic and patch out one LED at a time so as not to blind other road users while maximising the driver’s view.

    Driver Assist Pack 4 chucks in even more safety features. These include a blind-spot sensor, parking sensors and a rear-view camera – all handy given the large barge’s track has been widened by 11mm for this generation. At £650, these seem a bargain compared with the options lists of slightly more premium badges.

    The penultimate box ticked was another slam dunk at £120, the FlexOrganiser: a simple set of rails and ratchets in the boot that allow you to harness kit – and, in controlled environments, photographers – flexibly.

    Finally, we added the £565 Flip Chip Silver two-coat metallic paint. It’s an iridescent light blue in colder light that completes what is a rakishly handsome design.

    Now, ordinarily, we wouldn’t pass too much comment on a car’s looks. Being subjective and all that, we tend to let you make your own mind up. However, given that the bloke who designed the thing (Mark Adams, Vauxhall’s design chief) took time out of his busy schedule to hand over the keys to our new motor, we may as well pass on a nugget or two of insight.

    Adams tells us that, as with much of the current range, there is heavy influence from the ‘Monza Concept’ that appeared at Frankfurt in 2013. You can see this especially in the headlights and the stylish ‘tick’ that flows down the side of the car.

    So important is it to Vauxhall that this car creates a premium aura that Adams’ design team were involved from its very inception. Indeed, the all-new chassis architecture being used at the Rüsselsheim assembly plant was adapted geometrically to meet aesthetic requirements.

    The metallic window surround that stretches from bonnet to boot helps to make the car look much longer, lower and wider – a feat that Adams is rightly proud of. All the while, interior touches have improved rear seat space and boot capacity.

    Of course, all of these design touches will make the Insignia Sports Tourer more appealing to the business buyer and the fleet co-ordinator, and also to us.

    We regularly turn up to various manufacturer HQs with a bootload of equipment, and desire comfort, premium infotainment and unassuming looks along the way. So over the next few months, we’ll ask if the Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer will be more executive than the Superb, more practical than the Mondeo, better value than the Passat and find the sweet spot in the large executive value estate market.

    If so, it may well lead the much-needed fightback for Vauxhall.

    Mitch McCabe

    Second Opinion

    I did most of the first break-in miles in the Insignia after we took delivery. Two things stand out: a dramatic improvement in fuel mileage on the open road (the trip computer now shows 40mpg) and extra road noise because it’s a 4x4. No disaster, but worth knowing before you pay for extra traction.

    Steve Cropley

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    Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer Elite Nav 2.0 210PS BiTurbo D 4x4 Auto specification

    Specs: Price New £29,960; Price as tested: £31,695; Options: Winter pack 2 (£400), FlexOrganiser (£120), Driver Assist Pack 4 (£650), two-coat metallic paint (£565)

    Test Data: Engine 1956cc, twin-turbocharged diesel; Power 207bhp; Torque 354lb ft; Top speed 145mph; 0-62mph 7.4sec; Claimed fuel economy 40.4mpg;Test fuel economy 31.2mpg; CO2 186g/km; Faults None; Expenses None

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