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'Makers need to raise their game on EV charging'
Posted on Wednesday January 22, 2020

Steve Fowler 2020-01-22 11:30

Both the government and car makers need to improve the UK's charging network, says Steve Fowler

Opinion charging

I haven’t had the best experience with the UK’s EV charging network recently. If the government’s goal is to get us into electrified vehicles as soon as possible, it needs to do more than just leave it to the private sector. I’ve written to the transport secretary, Grant Shapps MP, about it, but am still awaiting a response; perhaps he’s trying to find a charger that works on the UK’s motorway network...

It’s not only the government that needs to step up, though. Car makers aren’t exactly jumping through hoops to make sure one of the remaining barriers to the uptake of electric vehicles is removed. The official response from the industry is that it’s not down to it to deliver
a charging network; car makers don’t have their own network of filling stations, they repeatedly tell us. 

EV charging points to be installed in every new home

This is different, though. Car companies have to sell lots of EVs to help them meet CO2 targets. To do that they need to reassure buyers that the public charging network can be relied upon. And at the moment, it can’t. 

There is good growth in the number of new chargers being installed around the country, but it could be better. Ionity, a joint venture between BMW, Mercedes, Ford, Audi and Porsche is working away, but compared with other charging companies, it’s in its infancy.

While tearing my hair out trying to get a charger working with my Jaguar I-Pace at a service station on the M4, I looked across at the myriad Tesla Superchargers, with owners happily, easily and cheaply charging their cars. 

Here’s a company taking responsibility for every part of electric-car ownership, including charging. It means Tesla drivers have more chance of worry-free journeys than owners of other electric cars from different brands.

That’s a great shame. We love electric cars and they’re getting more appealing all the time. But the government and industry need to get the charging network sorted if they want to hit their goals on electric-car take-up.

Do you think the UK's EV charging network should be invested in? Let us know in the comments below...

Find out more on electric car charging on DrivingElectric

New Peugeot 508 Hybrid 2020 review
Posted on Wednesday January 22, 2020

Peugeot 508 Hybrid - front
22 Jan, 2020 11:45am Alex Ingram

The new Peugeot 508 Hybrid promises low running costs, but does that make it the pick of the range?

With strict emissions regulations coming into force in 2020, cars like the Peugeot 508 Hybrid are soon going to become much more common. And it’s as much for the manufacturers’ benefit as the buyers - any car brands that fail to hit the CO2 targets will be subject to some eye-watering fines. 

And Peugeot has certainly managed to nail the low emissions brief with the 508. Officially, it emits just 29g/km of CO2, or just a gramme more if you go for the estate-bodied SW version. It’s cars like this, plus the all-electric e-208 and e-2008, that explain why Peugeot, unlike some other brands, says it has no worries whatsoever meeting the latest emissions rules.

Best plug-in hybrids on sale

But before we go into the details of how those emissions levels are possible, let's recap on the 508 itself. The Skoda Superb rival does things a little bit differently from others in the class - prioritising style while most competitors maximise space and practicality. At least the addition of all the hybrid gubbins hasn’t affected how much space there is: the boot still offers up 487 litres of volume.

It’s fun to drive, too, and this hybrid version doesn’t feel drastically different from the rest of the range. Grip is decent, it stays flat through the corners, and once up to speed it feels stress-free at a cruise.

Inside and out, there's not much to separate the Hybrid from the conventional petrol and diesel. The body has a couple of subtle Hybrid badges stuck to the front wings, and there’s an extra flap on the nearside three quarter panel which covers the charging port. Step inside, and the dashboard still has the wow factor of a concept car, only now there are some revised graphics for the digital dials to show the energy use of both the battery and combustion parts of the powertrain. The infotainment system - still irritating to use, not least because the heating functions are controlled for the most part by the touchscreen - gets a couple of extra menus. 

Press the piano key switch with a little lightning motif on it to access the first of the new menus: a page which displays some hybrid-specific functions. These include a real-time graphic of the hybrid system’s energy flow - how the power mix varies between electric and petrol during driving - and also a setting which allows you to hold charge in the battery for any low emissions zones later in a journey.

It’s a mode that you’ll be able to cover roughly 33 miles in, at speeds up to 84mph. Prod the starter button, and the 508 silently moves away, and the 108bhp motor is perfectly adequate for keeping up with most urban traffic. 

Should you need a little extra shove, the 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine chimes in. This makes an extra 178bhp on its own, but with both petrol and electrical pieces of the hybrid puzzle giving their best at different times, the total is 222bhp. That’s the same power output as the most powerful petrol 508, but with this car burdened with carrying a couple of hundred kilos of battery pack, outright performance is blunted slightly.

The 508’s hybrid setup isn’t quite as slick as those of some rivals. Ask for more power in electric mode, and it takes a little while for the petrol engine to wake up and then make its own contribution. Of course, you can nudge the drive select switch into Sport, keeping the petrol engine ready at all times, but this, of course, uses more fuel.

And fuel saving is what the 508 Hybrid has the potential to do exceptionally well. Officially, it manages 217mpg, but that’s completely dependant on the sort of journeys you do, and how good you are at keeping the battery topped up. If you have a readily available charging point, say at home or at a workplace, and have a modest commute, it’s possible that you may barely ever need the petrol engine at all. However, those covering plenty of longer journeys will find fuel costs to be much higher. 

The 508 hybrid isn’t available in the most basic Active trim level, but it’s offered in the other three. The Allure has all the equipment you’d really need: 17-inch alloy wheels, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, built-in navigation, a reversing camera and a safety pack featuring blind spot detection, advanced driver attention alert, and road sign recognition are all standard.

Prices for the 508 Hybrid start from £34,875 in Allure trim and climb to £40,630 for the GT. That’s a lot of money for a private buyer to stomach, and given that petrol or diesel versions cost several thousand pounds less, you’d need to cover serious mileages, (or live in a low-emission zone) before you start to recoup the cost.

However, for company car users, it makes a whole heap of sense, because new Benefit-in-Kind tax bands very much favour fully-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. It means that, for a 508 Hybrid in Allure trim, users in the 40 per cent tax bracket will be paying £1,395 per year. By contrast, even the least polluting diesel - the 1.5 BlueHDi which makes the best part of 100bhp less, will cost £2,415.

3.5
Company car users looking for a handsome, smart-driving car - that isn’t an SUV - could do extremely well by choosing the Peugeot 508 Hybrid. The latest Benefit In Kind tax rules mean that this will be by far the cheapest 508 in the range to run, and specifically, to tax. Anyone with easy access to charging will be able to benefit from potentially tiny running costs, too. For private buyers, however, this top spec GT trim does look pricey.
  • Model: Peugeot 508 GT Hybrid
  • Price: £40,630
  • Engine: 1.6-litre 4cyl turbo petrol plus electric motor
  • Power: 222bhp
  • Transmission: Eight-speed auto, front-wheel drive
  • 0-62mph: 8.3 seconds
  • Top speed: 155mph
  • Economy/CO2: 217mpg/29g/km
  • On sale: Now

General Motors unveils the Cruise Origin, its first autonomous car
Posted on Wednesday January 22, 2020

Luke Wilkinson 2020-01-22 10:55

Cruise, GMs self-driving vehicle brand, has revealed its first product – an autonomous all-electric taxi called the Cruise Origin

Cruise Origin

Cruise, General Motors’ self-driving vehicle project, has unveiled its first fully autonomous car. Called the Origin, it’s an all-electric, four-seat pod, which the company says will form the basis of its forthcoming urban ride-hailing service.

The idea is that, instead of owning your own car, you pay for a seat on the Cruise Origin, saving yourself the trouble of dealing with urban traffic. Eventually, the company aims to have a fleet of vehicles constantly touring around each city, ready to offer transport.

All you need to know about autonomous cars

Cruise also assures us that the Origin is far safer than a conventional car, thanks to an array of sensors which can supposedly keep track of obstacles and pedestrians in 360-degree space around the vehicle – even if they’re obscured by rain or fog.

There’s also a high level of redundancy in the vehicle’s autonomous driving system, so there shouldn’t be a single point of failure across the Origin’s sensing and computing network – which is important because there’s no option for a back-up human driver.

The design of the Cruise Origin was led by the company’s desire to maximise passenger comfort and practicality. Styling-wise, it’s little more than a cuboid on wheels – although this has allowed the brand’s engineers to push the seats over the front and rear axles, which they say allows plenty of leg-room for passengers.

The vehicle’s door opening is low to the ground and three times larger than that of an average car, which Cruise says makes it easier for passengers to get into. Also, the doors slide open rather than hinge outwards, making the vehicle safer for passing cyclists and bikers.

As passengers won’t engage with the Origin’s drivetrain, Cruise hasn’t released any details on the vehicle’s power output or performance. Instead, the company focuses on the Origin’s reliability and value, claiming each example will have a life-span of more than one million miles and save each passenger up to $5,000 per year when compared to a normal car.

The Origin is based on an all-new, modular all-electric platform, built by General Motors, which Cruise says will be upgradeable over the vehicle’s life-span. As such, any improved sensors, batteries or motors can be retro-fitted after the vehicle has been sold, which Cruise says will keep their cars away from the scrap-heap, making them better for the planet.

Pricing information, fare rates and an official on-sale date for the Cruise Origin are all yet to be confirmed. The Origin was originally due to reach the US market at the end of last year, although legislative issues prevented the launch.

What do you make of the Cruise Origin? Let us know in the comments section below...

Used Smart ForFour review
Posted on Tuesday January 21, 2020

Richard Dredge 2020-01-21 15:25

A full used buyer’s on the Smart ForFour covering the ForFour Mk2 (2015-date)

Used Smart ForFour - front

Ever since Mercedes subsidiary Smart burst on to the scene in 1998, it’s done its best to offer something different. The firm’s first car was the two-seater Smart Coupé (later known as the ForTwo), while the Mk1 ForFour injected some extra design flair into the supermini segment with its quirky styling and two-tone paint schemes. When the smaller, city-car-sized Mk2 arrived around a decade after its forebear, it offered more of the same: something a bit different in a segment that’s not short of talented – but ultimately rather conservative – rivals.

Perhaps it’s Smart’s relatively low profile, or maybe it’s the car’s quirkiness, but it hasn’t sold as well as most rivals, although that’s not a reason to avoid it as a used buy.

Models covered

  • • Smart ForFour (2015-date) - This quirky city car’s engine is in the boot, and there’s even an electric version.

Smart ForFour Mk2

History

The Mk2 ForFour reached the UK in March 2015 with a choice of 70bhp naturally aspirated 999cc or 89bhp turbocharged 898cc engines; both were rear-mounted three-cylinder units. Buyers could choose a five-speed manual or six-speed dual-clutch auto gearbox (the latter called Twinamic) alongside Passion, Prime, and Proxy trims.

A revised ForFour range arrived in September 2016, with Prime Sport and Brabus Sport trims added, and Proxy dropped. A month later the auto-only Brabus and Brabus Xclusive arrived with a 108bhp 898cc engine, sports suspension and sportier styling. The Xclusive brought leather sports seats and upgraded interior trim, automatic lights and wipers, plus a rear parking camera. In July 2017 a new entry-level Pure model was introduced, alongside the EV ForFour Electric Drive (renamed EQ in 2018), which has a 100-mile range.

Smart ForFour reviews

Smart ForFour in-depth review 
Smart ForFour 1.0 review
Smart ForFour Brabus Xclusive review
Smart ForFour ED review

Which one should I buy?

The smaller, turbocharged engine is the pick of the bunch, but the 1.0-litre unit is fine if you’re in no hurry. Unlike previous Smarts, the ForFour’s automatic transmission is reasonably slick, although not as good as some dual-clutch gearboxes.

Entry-level Passion gets a leather steering wheel, 15-inch alloys, climate control, electric windows and a radio with Bluetooth/USB connections. Prime adds heated front seats while Proxy features 16-inch wheels and lowered suspension. Both Prime and Proxy have a panoramic glass roof. Electric ForFours are rare, and offer less range than most rival EVs.

Alternatives to the Smart ForFour

The now-defunct Renault Twingo Mk3 is mechanically the same as the Smart ForFour, and used prices are similar – it’s certainly worth a look if you like the styling.

More conventional, front-engined rivals include the Kia Picanto and its cousin, the Hyundai i10, which have a big-car feel and come packed with equipment if you avoid entry-level models; top-spec cars even get a heated steering wheel. The Volkswagen up!, SEAT Mii and Skoda Citigo are three versions of the same car which arrived in 2012, yet they’re still desirable thanks to their relatively roomy cabins, good build quality and nippy 1.0-litre engine. The Citroen C1, Peugeot 108 and Toyota Aygo are three more city cars with the same oily bits; they’re plentiful, top value and cheap to run.

What to look for

Windows

The rear door’s windows don’t wind down as in most cars; instead they’re side-hinged and can be popped open to let air in.

Naming

This generation of Smart ForFour is codenamed 453; oddly, its predecessor, which was built between 2004 and 2007, was known as the 454.

Range

The electric ForFour will rarely offer more than 80 miles of range on a single charge; in winter, it’s not unusual for this to drop to 60 miles.

Gearlever

The gearchange can be notchy. This is typically because the linkage goes out of adjustment, but it’s an easy fault to fix.

Interior

The ForFour might be small but it has back doors, which improves rear-seat access enormously. Seating is strictly for four, but the car’s practicality is boosted by a fold-flat front passenger seat to help stow long loads; the lack of oddments space is disappointing, though. Thanks to the rear-mounted engine, the boot floor is quite high (and it gets warm), and there’s nowhere to stow a spare wheel.

Prices

You can buy a nearly new Smart ForFour for between £4,990 and £22,881 on our sister site BuyaCar.

Running costs

The ForFour comes with a three-year, unlimited-mile warranty; the Electric Drive gets an eight-year battery guarantee. Dealers were unable to provide us with servicing costs; independent Smart and Mercedes specialist Simon Light (simonlight.co.uk) charges £125, £175 and £250 for the 12-month/12,500-mile A, B and C services. Replace brake fluid after three years, then every two. There are no cambelts to replace.

Recalls

The Mk2 ForFour has been recalled three times. In October 2016, 49 cars built in April 2016 could have a faulty gear selector that prevents Park from being engaged. A September 2017 recall for defective handbrakes affected 9,181 cars made from April 2014. In October 2017 1,878 Smarts built between March and June 2017 were recalled for a steering joint issue.

Driver Power owner satisfaction

No Smart models appear in our Driver Power surveys, so the best guide as to what owners think of their cars is in the readers’ reviews section at sister title Carbuyer, where owners give an average score of just 3.1 out of five. Poor fuel economy, dim headlights, a hot boot, variable build quality and various design flaws are the things that bug owners the most.

Vauxhall Corsa review
Posted on Tuesday January 21, 2020

For 
Great engines
Good to drive
Comfortable ride
Our Rating 
3.5
Against 
Rivals are cheaper
Cramped rear seats
Confusing trim structure
Vauxhall Corsa front
2019

The Vauxhall Corsa is fun to drive, well-equipped and a great all-rounder, but steep prices hold it back

The latest Vauxhall Corsa is miles better than the car it replaced, offering a much more convincing blend of performance, economy, comfort and driving pleasure. It looks good, boasts one of the best petrol engines in its class and has benefitted hugely from the thoroughly modern underpinnings shared with the latest Peugeot 208. All of the technology on-board is bang up-to-date too, but we can’t help feeling the whole package is a little overpriced; key rivals like the Ford Fiesta and Renault Clio are similarly rounded but better to drive and cheaper to buy.

21 Jan, 2020
3.5

As in so many other areas, the latest Corsa has taken a big leap design-wise over its predecessor – a car that was based heavily on a design and technology that first hit showrooms all the way back in 2006. Using the PSA group CMP platform – also used by the Peugeot 208 and 2008, among others – the new model is 19mm wider and 44mm lower than the previous Corsa, which makes it look more squat and sporty on the road. The design is nothing revolutionary, but it’s well proportioned and looks smart in the metal.

There’s a lively colour palette to choose from, too: alongside the predictable greys and silvers, the likes of Voltaic Blue and Power Orange offer buyers more eye-catching options. Some colours are available with a contrasting black roof and door mirrors, too. Bizarrely, you have to pay for all of the paint options, so at least £340 has to be added to the car’s list price regardless.

Only the wheel size might let it down in the eyes of style-focused buyers: while some rivals get 17-inch and even 18-inch wheel designs, only the top spec Corsa Ultimate Nav gets 17-inch items. The rest of the range rides on 16-inch wheels.

Step inside, and the Corsa’s tidy if unremarkable design theme continues. The dashboard is neatly laid out, with a familiar Vauxhall steering wheel sitting beside a new PSA-derived infotainment system. Unlike the Peugeot 208, however, the Corsa still sticks with physical controls for the air conditioning system, which will be a welcome decision for many buyers.

As standard, the Corsa gets a pair of large analogue dials with a small LCD screen between them, but top spec models get a full-digital readout. It’s bright and easy to read, but the square seven-inch display looks like an afterthought within the instrument binnacle.

Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment

Carrying over the infotainment setup from new parent group PSA comes with its pros and cons. For starters, the Corsa’s new touchscreen display looks great; whether it’s fitted with the 10-inch display used by top spec models or the 7-inch touchscreen that’s standard throughout the rest of the range, they both boast bright colours and clear graphics. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also standard, and there’s a smartphone cubby at the base of the dash which allows you to connect a smartphone via a USB port.

However, it’s not the easiest system to use. The menu layout isn’t as logical as the systems you’ll find in rivals from the Volkswagen or Hyundai groups, and overall it just seems a little fiddly to use. There are some physical controls – including the climate functions – to help with some options though, so the system is less of a pain than it is in the Peugeot 208. Elite Nav models also benefit from a panoramic reversing camera to make parking manoeuvres less stressful.

4

Under PSA ownership, Vauxhall has been able to access the group’s CMP small car platform. In contrast to the underpinnings of the previous Corsa that dated back to the early 2000’s, the latest architecture is bang up to date. The chassis is both over 15 per cent more rigid than the old car’s and 40kg lighter. Add up the other weight saving measures – lighter seats front and rear, an aluminium bonnet, lighter engines – and the new Corsas weighs up to 108kg less than an equivalent version of the old car.

This brings benefits to the way the Corsa accelerates, brakes and handles, plus how much fuel it uses. Predictably then, the Corsa driving experience takes a giant leap forward.

Around corners it feels agile and responsive, and body control and grip are both strong. It’s not quite as much fun as a Ford Fiesta – the slightly numb steering lets it down a little - but it’s above the class average.

The best superminis to buy now

It’s certainly firmer than the previous Corsa, but it’s by no means uncomfortable. The likes of the Renault Clio and the Volkswagen Polo ride more smoothly, but the Corsa isn’t far behind. Refinement was always a Corsa plus-point, but the more rigid body structure means that the cabin is more hushed than ever.

The best news is that in everyday driving the Corsa remains very easy to drive. The steering and the other controls all feel light at low speeds.

In a move which, Peugeot 208 aside, is unique to the supermini class, the Corsa is available with petrol, diesel, and electric powertrains. So regardless of your driving habits, there should be a Corsa for you.

The petrol options use a 1.2-litre three-cylinder that’s available with a turbo (99bhp) or without (74bhp) and these will make the most sense to most buyers. Alternatively, there’s a 1.5-litre diesel with 101bhp and a hefty 250Nm of torque. The entry-level petrol is paired with a five-speed manual gearbox, the diesel gets a six-speed manual, while the most powerful petrol gets a choice of six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic.

Doing away with a conventional transmission altogether is the Corsa-e. Here, drive is taken care of by a 134bhp electric motor, which combined with a 50kWh battery results in a 200-mile-plus zero emission range.

Models higher up in the range – both combustion and electric - are available with a selectable driving mode. By switching to Sport mode, petrol models get an artificial engine note piped into the cabin, plus extra weighing to the steering. Prodding the Sport button in the Corsa-e allows the driver full access to the 134bhp on offer.

Engines, 0-60 acceleration and top speed

The Corsa’s weight saving measures compared to the last one haven’t just resulted in raised performance levels well beyond those of the old car, they’ve shunted the Corsa towards the top of the supermini class.

Even the entry-level 74bhp petrol doesn’t feel out of its depth on the road: officially it’ll cover the 0-62mph dash in 12.4 seconds and go on to a 108mph top speed. The turbocharged petrol offers up 99bhp and 205Nm, and slashes those numbers to 9.3 seconds and 121mph. By contrast, a Volkswagen Polo with just 5bhp less needs 10.8 seconds to get to 62mph, and has a top speed of 115mph. When paired with the eight-speed auto gearbox, the 1.2 petrol’s figures drop slightly, with 0-62mph taking 10.2 seconds and a 119mph top speed.

Turbocharged or not, the 1.2 petrol is a sweet unit. Power delivery is smooth and predictable, and these units only make their presence felt audibly under hard acceleration. Most three-cylinder units are a little thrummy, and this one is no exception - but the cabin and the controls are well insulated against vibrations.

The diesel performs just as impressively. Boasting 101bhp and 250Nm, the 1.5-litre four-cylinder takes 9.6 seconds to accelerate from 0-62mph and has a top speed of 117mph.

As the electric version is the most powerful - the single motor makes 134bhp and 260Nm - it’s also the quickest Corsa. 0-62mph takes just 7.6 seconds, while the instant throttle response means that, particularly at urban speeds, it feels much quicker than that.

3.5

The latest Vauxhall Corsa achieved a four-star rating (out of a possible five) from Euro NCAP in its crash tests, with scores of 84 and 86 per cent respectively for adult and child occupant protection. Poor whiplash protection for rear-seat passengers brought the overall score down, meaning the Corsa trails five-star rivals like the Ford Fiesta and Renault Clio.

Every Corsa comes with lane departure warning and lane assist, speed sign recognition and automatic emergency braking as standard; rear parking sensors are added on SRI cars, Ultimate Nav models get adaptive cruise control and SE Nav brings lane departure warning with lane-keep assist. Top-spec cars also bring sophisticated LED matrix headlights, but all models get standard LED items that are very effective.

The latest Corsa is too new to have been featured in our Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, while the last model languished in 92nd place in the 2019 survey; Vauxhall itself fared poorly too, finishing 29th out of 30 manufacturers. Customers had little to praise about the cars but, mercifully, a below-average 12.4 per cent reported experiencing a fault. We’d hope that the latest generation of PSA Vauxhall cars will remedy owners’ complaints in next year’s survey – we certainly think the Corsa is a cut above its predecessor in almost every area.

Warranty

All Vauxhalls are covered by a three-year, 100,000-mile warranty. This is more or less par for the course, matching that offered on the Volkswagen Polo and Ford Fiesta, but lagging behind the five-year coverage offered by Hyundai and Toyota on the i20 and Yaris respectively.

Servicing

Vauxhall offers a range of servicing packages; Vauxhall Care is the most comprehensive, offering three years servicing, two years roadside assistance and a free MoT when your car needs it. Standalone fixed-price services are also available, including all parts and labour with no hidden costs, plus a 12-month warranty on any work.

3

Unlike previous Corsas which were offered with a choice of three and five doors, the latest model comes exclusively in a single five-door body style. Up front, it’s a comfy place to be. The supportive seats have plenty of adjustment, while all round visibility is pretty decent.

Storage is fine, rather than spectacular for the class. The front door bins can each hold a big-ish bottle, while there’s a pair of cupholders in the centre console ahead of a small closed storage bin. The smartphone tray ahead of the gear selector is big enough and positioned in a way that devices shouldn’t fall out when you accelerate or brake. The glovebox is small, though – a result of making it as flat as possible to maximise knee room for the front passenger.

Size

The latest Corsa measures 4,060mm long. That’s 39mm longer than its predecessor, and 7mm longer than a Volkswagen Polo. At 1,765mm wide and 1,435mm tall, it’s grown 19mm wider and dropped 44mm lower than before. The wheelbase measures 2,538mm – 13mm less than the Polo.

Leg room, head room & passenger space

Even before you’ve got in, things start to become a little tricky. The doors’ openings are quite narrow - particularly at the back - which means that it’s not only harder to get in than some rivals, but more difficult to install a child seat.

Once you’ve squeezed through the back doors, things aren’t much better. Compared to rivals like the SEAT Ibiza, Hyundai i20 and even its predecessor to a degree, the Corsa feels cramped. The low roof means that anyone nudging six foot tall will brush their head against the ceiling, while knee room isn’t great either. The seats themselves are comfy, though.

Boot

The Corsa’s boot measures 309 litres. That’s 24 litres more than the old car, and 17 more than you get in a Ford Fiesta. However, the Hyundai i20 (326 litres), SEAT Ibiza (355 litres) and particularly the Renault Clio (391 litres) are all much more generous. The opening itself is fairly small, too, with quite a high loading lip to lift heavy items over. The rear seat backs fold in a 60:40 split, but beyond that, the space is short on clever features.

3.5

One of the benefits of PSA’s latest CMP platform is weight – specifically a lack of it. Aided by what Vauxhall claims is class-leading aerodynamic efficiency, the Corsa should offer up some of the best real-world fuel consumption figures in the class.

Based on the WLTP testing procedure, the 74bhp petrol achieves 51.4mpg. The turbocharged version matches it, though on larger wheels that figure drops to 47.1mpg. Based on our time with the 99bhp petrol, these numbers seem entirely plausible, depending on the sort of driving you do.

The diesel is more frugal still. Officially, the 1.5-litre, 101bhp unit should top 68.9mpg - a remarkable figure for a non-hybrid car. However, given that it costs roughly £1,400 more than the turbo petrol, it’s only a worthwhile choice for those who will be covering a high mileage.

Emissions are low throughout the range, too, with every model dropping under the 100g/km CO2 mark. The non-turbo petrol achieves 93g/km, the turbocharged petrol just scrapes under 100g/km at 99g/km, and the diesel emits just 85g/km.

Particulate emissions are kept to a minimum in the diesel thanks to an exhaust system which features a passive oxidation catalyst/NOx absorber, AdBlue tech, and a Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF). Of course, there’s also the fully electric version, the Corsa-e, which emits 0g/km.

Electric range, battery life and charge time

The Corsa-e is equipped with a 50kWh lithium-ion battery, which results in a WLTP-certified range of 209 miles. This depends on the driving mode you’ve selected however: the official figure is based on the ‘Normal’ setting, but Sport mode will cause this to decrease (by around 10 per cent, says Vauxhall) while drivers looking to eke out a little extra range can do so in Eco mode.

The best electric cars to buy now

The Corsa-e can accept rapid charging through a CCS port at up to 100kW. In optimal conditions, this means that charging from zero to 80 percent (about 167 miles of range) takes 30 minutes. Based on a 7.4kW home wallbox, a full charge from empty takes seven-and-a-half hours.

Vauxhall will also throw in a free six-month subscription to BP Chargemaster’s Polar Network, which from then on increases to £7.85 a month.

Insurance groups

The Corsa should be a cheap car to insure. Entry-level SE models with the non-turbo engine start in group 10, while the cheapest Turbo model starts in group 16. Diesels start in group 20.

By contrast the Ford Fiesta starts in insurance group 5 for Trend models with the entry 1.1-litre petrol engine; the more powerful 1.0-litre EcoBoost models start in group 10.

Depreciation

Cars that sell in numbers as vast as the Corsa tend not to be that great at holding onto their value. Combine this with the fact that the Corsa has an asking price that’s higher than the class average, and it means that the Vauxhall is behind some rivals in terms of depreciation.

Depending on the model, the combustion-powered Corsas should retain roughly 35 percent of their value after three years. The 1.2 Turbo in middling specs is set to hold the most, at closer to 38 percent.

While the Corsa-e costs the most to buy, it should hold onto more of its value, too; up to 41 percent is forecast for these electric versions. Still, as a whole, the Corsa range can’t match the Renault Clio, which holds as much as 46 per cent of its value.

New all-electric Renault Twingo Z.E. confirmed for 2020 launch
Posted on Tuesday January 21, 2020

Luke Wilkinson 2020-01-22 09:40

The all-electric Renault Twingo Z.E. city car is set to be launched in Europe later this year, but it's unlikely to come to the UK

renault twingo facelift front quarter

Renault has confirmed it will launch a new, all-electric variant of the Twingo city car later this year, alongside its forthcoming range of E-Tech hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles. The announcement follows Renault’s decision to withdraw the Twingo from the UK market last year, following poor sales.

Renault is yet to officially announce details on the Twingo Z.E.’s powertrain. However, given that the Twingo shares the same platform as the Smart EQ ForFour, we expect it will use the same 17.6kWh battery pack and 80bhp rear-mounted electric motor. 

Hot Renault ZOE to replace Clio RS

That powertrain should give the Twingo Z.E. a 0–62mph time of around 12 seconds, top speed of 81mph and an electric range of around 90 miles on a full charge.

We expect the Twingo Z.E. will also share Smart’s 22kW charging architecture, enabling a charge from 10 to 80 per cent capacity in less than 40 minutes. It’s also likely that buyers will be offered a similar smartphone application to Smart’s, allowing them to remotely check the status of their vehicle, providing information on the car’s charge level, location and range.

The Twingo Z.E. is expected to make its official debut at the 2020 Geneva Motor Show, before going on sale in Europe later this year. Renault currently has no plans to sell the electric Twingo in the UK.

What do you make of the all-electric Renault Twingo? Let us know in the comments section below…

 

NHS Northumbria gets fleet of 700 Jaguar I-Paces
Posted on Tuesday January 21, 2020

Luke Wilkinson 2020-01-21 13:00

Northumbria NHS Foundation Trust will lease the all-electric Jaguar I-Pace SUVs to its public sector staff across the UK

Jaguar I-Pace - side

NHS Northumbria Foundation Trust has taken delivery of 700 Jaguar I-Pace SUVs, which the healthcare organisation will lease to its public sector staff over the next three years. 

The fleet of I-Paces will be available for NHS staff to lease from April, with employees paying for their vehicles via salary sacrifice. NHS Fleet Solutions will act as the go-between for Jaguar and NHS staff, with all the income from the leasing scheme due to be reinvested back into patient care.

Best electric cars on sale now

The NHS hopes this decision will compliment its ambition to reduce its carbon footprint. Sir James Mackey, Chief Executive of Northumbria Healthcare, said: “To have a fleet of cars that are fully electric demonstrates our ongoing commitment to making decisions that reduce our impact on the environment and help us become greener.”

The £65,000 Jaguar I-Pace SUV was the Auto Express 2018 Car of the Year, due to its impressive driving dynamics, its compliant chassis, it’s fast charge times and near-300 mile range – all of which made it one of the first truly usable electric vehicles.

It’s powered by a 90kWh battery pack, which drives a pair of electric motors. The powertrain develops a combined output of 396bhp and 696Nm of torque, giving the I-Pace a claimed 0–62mph time of 4.8 seconds and a maximum range of 298 miles. Also, when plugged into a 50kWh fast-charger, it’ll recover charge at a rate of 168 miles per hour.

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

Toyota C-HR vs Peugeot 3008
Posted on Tuesday January 21, 2020

Auto Express 2020-01-21 10:30

The revised Toyota C-HR now comes with extra hybrid power. We compare it to petrol power in the Peugeot 3008

Toyota C-HR vs Peugeot 3008 - header

The Toyota C-HR has been a solid performer in the compact-SUV class, but the Japanese firm hasn’t been resting on its laurels. For 2020, Toyota has introduced a new infotainment system to the C-HR, while the old car’s 1.2-litre turbo petrol engine has been replaced by the 2.0-litre hybrid powertrain first seen in the Corolla hatchback. These updates should boost the C-HR’s appeal, so we’re testing it here against one of its key rivals, the Peugeot 3008.

The two cars have different approaches, though. The Toyota is now exclusively sold as a hybrid with a sporty-looking body, while the 3008 has traditional petrol and diesel engines, but offers an eye-catching interior design.

Buyers in this market are after a compact SUV with a wide range of ability, though, so here we’ll find out which model is best at bringing together practicality, performance, comfort, equipment and efficiency.

Head-to-head

Model: Toyota C-HR 2.0 Hybrid Dynamic Peugeot 3008 1.6 PureTech 180 GT Line EAT8
Price:  £31,890 £32,865
Engine:  2.0-litre 4cyl & e-motor 1.6-litre 4cyl petrol
Power/torque*: 181bhp/190Nm 179bhp/250Nm
Transmission:  CVT automatic, front-wheel drive  Eight-speed automatic, front-wheel drive 
0-60mph: 8.1 seconds 8.1 seconds
Top speed: 112mph 136mph
Test economy:  44.1mpg 31.2mpg
CO2/tax:  92g/km/£135 128g/km/£145
Options: None None
*Engine torque only

Toyota C-HR

For: Low running costs, smooth ride, good to drive.
Against: Could be more practical, CVT limits driver enjoyment.

The 2.0-litre Toyota C-HR hybrid isn’t simply the 1.8-litre version with a larger petrol engine bolted into place. Higher thermal efficiency makes the most of the fuel that goes in, and new battery tech boosts economy even further. This really is the headline figure for the C-HR, especially in comparison to the 1.6-litre petrol 3008: we recorded a figure of 44.1mpg when testing the Toyota, while the Peugeot only returned 31.2mpg.

This isn’t the only advantage the Toyota has, because the Japanese car also rides and handles much better than the Peugeot. Its TNGA platform features MacPherson struts at the front and double wishbones at the rear, which is a more complex set-up than the torsion beam used in the 3008.

Its advantages are fully evident when you get behind the wheel, because the C-HR rides very smoothly. It deals with low-speed bumps well and it’s perfect for driving in town – not only because potholes are kept at bay, but also because the electric motor alone drives the car at low speeds, so it’s ultra-quiet. The 2.0-litre engine isn’t as subdued as the 1.8 when it kicks in to charge the batteries, but it’s still quieter than the 1.6 in the 3008. Get up to speed and the suspension is even more impressive, dealing with mid-corner bumps well and keeping the car composed on fast roads.

The C-HR is one of the best-handling cars in its class, with well weighted steering, lots of grip and plenty of performance. In our tests the Toyota went from 0-60mph in 8.1 seconds, which was the same as the 3008. However, the C-HR’s electric motor means it feels more responsive at lower speeds, while the Peugeot feels quicker at higher speeds.

The C-HR uses a CVT gearbox, so it’s not possible to record in-gear figures. It went from 30-50mph in 3.1 seconds, while the 3008 took 2.8 seconds through the gears. The Peugeot was quicker from 30-70mph, too, with a time of 7.3 seconds, compared to the Toyota’s 7.7 seconds. While the two cars are closely matched for performance, the Toyota is much more composed, comfortable and refined, so the driving experience is ahead of its French rival’s.

The other significant change for 2020 is the addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to the infotainment system. This means you can bypass the built-in system, which is frustrating to use, although the same can be said of the 3008’s. The Toyota can’t match its rival for interior quality; the materials look cheap in places, yet build quality is excellent.

Standard kit on the C-HR Dynamic includes 18-inch alloy wheels, blind-spot assist, LED lights, heated seats, keyless go and metallic paint. 

Testers’ notes

  • • Technology: Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality rescues an otherwise poor infotainment set-up.
  • • Gearbox: CVT automatic can send the revs soaring sometimes, but most of the time it keeps things relaxed and calm.
  • • Comfort: Toyota’s seats are comfortable and the driving position is better than the Peugeot’s. 

Peugeot 3008

For: Superb cabin, good performance, practical interior.
Against: Poor economy, neither as good to drive nor as comfortable as its rival.

The Peugeot 3008 uses the PSA Group’s EMP2 architecture, with MacPherson struts at the front and a torsion beam rear axle, which is a simpler and cheaper set-up than its rival here.

The 3008 is mostly comfortable, though, keeping smaller imperfections away from the cabin and coping with big undulations on the motorway, too. However, the suspension doesn’t cope with potholes and larger bumps, because they crash into the cabin and upset the car’s balance. This is especially true while cornering, since the soft set-up has some body roll, yet mid corner-bumps cause it to hop in a way that the C-HR never does.

The small steering wheel is part of the Peugeot’s i-Cockpit cabin set-up, which means it’s harder for the driver to make small, precise movements. It’s less comfortable than the Toyota, yet also not as much fun, because the 3008 never feels fully at home in anything but a straight line.

Speaking of which, this 1.6-litre model delivered decent performance in our acceleration tests. It went from 0-60mph in 8.1 seconds, the same as its rival, but it was quicker elsewhere. For example, it took 2.8 seconds to go from 30-50mph through the gears, and 4.4 seconds from 50-70mph. The Toyota took 3.1 and 4.6 seconds respectively in those tests.

Unfortunately, while the PureTech engine is relatively refined, we prefer other versions of the 3008. In Sport mode, accessed via a button on the centre console, the car plays an unpleasant fake exhaust note through the speakers, but the driving experience barely changes. The engine isn’t fun to use, so offers no benefit over the hybrid powertrain in the Toyota, which is quieter and more efficient.

The 3008’s eight-speed auto is slow-witted, but smooth enough when driving in a relaxed way. It keeps engine noise at bay more than the CVT in the Toyota, but overall the C-HR’s powertrain is better for calm driving because it’s quieter and smoother.

The 3008’s real strong point is its interior. There are some cheaper plastics dotted around, but in the most commonly touched areas it feels like a premium product, especially the textile that runs across the doors and dash – it’s superb.

The i-Cockpit set-up features a 12.3-inch digital display in front of the driver and an eight-inch dashboard-mounted touchscreen. It has sat-nav, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, climate and cruise control and a reversing camera as standard, so the only thing that grates about the interior of the Peugeot is that tiny steering wheel. You can get used to it, but why should you when the Toyota’s driving position is so much better? 

Testers’ notes

  • • Infotainment: Peugeot’s system is better than Toyota’s in terms of menu layout, but the screen itself is just as unresponsive to the touch.
  • • Centre console: Black plastic attracts dust, but the materials are otherwise excellent and the 3008 feels upmarket inside.
  • • Dashboard: Unusual dash design places the dials above the small steering wheel. It takes some getting used to.

Verdict

First place: Toyota C-HR

The Toyota C-HR is a better car in many core areas than the 3008. While its more limited practicality is still an issue, the C-HR’s updates have improved on its infotainment, it’s still better to drive, quieter and more efficient than its rival here, and it offers better value for money. 

Second place: Peugeot 3008

Poor fuel economy, a harsh ride and a disappointing powertrain place the 3008 second here. Other versions, such as the diesel or 1.2-litre petrol, are much better. Go for one of these models, and the Peugeot is still among the best in its class, thanks in part to its stunning interior.

New Peugeot 3008 Hybrid4 2020 review
Posted on Friday January 17, 2020

17 Jan, 2020 4:15pm Alex Ingram

The Peugeot 3008 Hybrid4 aims to be the perfect blend of family practicality, stylish design and impressive economy, but is it?

This is the Peugeot 3008 Hybrid4 - a car which, emitting just 29 grammes per kilometre of CO2, has comfortably the lowest tailpipe emissions of the 3008 SUV range.

That tiny emissions figure is courtesy of a powertrain that we’re going to become very familiar with over the next year or two. This new petrol/electric setup, developing 296bhp, has been around since the arrival of the DS 7 Crossback E Tense and will later be used in all sorts of Peugeots, Citroens, DSs and Vauxhalls.

Best hybrid SUVs to buy

Perhaps surprisingly for a car with such tiny emissions numbers, one of the biggest benefits is power. The 3008’s plug-in hybrid system uses not one, but two electric motors - each drives an axle, and each produces 108bhp. They combine with a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine that makes 197bhp. Due to the fact that not every power source delivers its peak simultaneously, the overall result is 296bhp, while maximum torque stands at 450Nm.

Switch the drive mode select into Sport and it means this four-wheel-drive family crossover will sprint from 0-62mph in 5.9 seconds. It really feels it, too. Plant your right foot and - once the eight-speed automatic gearbox has figured out what gear it’s meant to be in - the 3008 surges forward with a near hot-hatch like shove.

Given that the petrol unit is related to the one previously used by the 208 GTI and 308 GTI hot hatches, it has a sound to match, too, though it does transmit vibration through the steering wheel near the rev limit. At least when you’re not pressing on, it settles into a gentle background hum and is decently refined.

Keep the 13.2kWh battery topped up and the 3008 Hybrid4 can drive around for 36 miles on electric power alone (based on the WLTP testing system), making the petrol engine almost redundant on short journeys. With only the electric motors engaged the 3008 feels smooth, silent and incredibly relaxing to drive. It’s comfortable, too, even on the 19-inch wheels of our test car.

From startup, the car defaults to ‘Electric’ mode, while ‘Hybrid’ leaves the car to work out the best way to use both petrol and electrical energy in the most efficient manner possible. There’s also a proper four-wheel-drive setting which, in addition to a hill descent control system, means that the 3008 can tackle some pretty decent off-road terrain - often without calling the petrol engine into action at all.

Another mode allows the driver to ringfence a certain amount of charge in the battery on longer journeys, saving it in reserve so that there’s enough electrical energy left to use when entering towns, cities and designated low emissions zones. A smartphone app lets users set charging schedules (to make the most of cheaper overnight electricity tariffs, for example) or to pre-heat or cool the cabin.

A full battery charge takes roughly eight hours through a regular three-pin plug, or one hour 45 minutes if you have a 7kW home charger. The battery pack itself is positioned beside a fuel tank that’s 10 litres smaller than in other 3008 models.

Unsurprisingly, It eats into boot space. The 520-litre load bay of petrol and diesel models shrinks to 395 litres, while there’s a 25-litre space for the charging cable under the boot floor. Passenger space is unaffected though - in other words, it’s not quite as roomy as a SEAT Ateca, but it’s more than good enough.

Along with the two motors, that battery also adds weight - 340kg compared to a regular 1.6 petrol 3008. So while the performance feels lively, the Hybrid4 feels too lethargic through the turns to be considered anything close to fun. At least all that mass is added low down in the car, so the neutral balance and strong grip are all that really matter for a family car like this.

In reality, the slightly unremarkable drive makes the power output seem a bit unnecessary. And so does the price: the 3008 Hybrid4 costs £46,735, a figure that puts Peugeot very much in the territory of a BMW X3 xDrive30e and Audi Q5 55 TFSI e.

That’s in part due to the fact that the Hybrid4 is only available in the top-spec GT trim. It is very well equipped though: massaging front seats, a panoramic glass roof, an automated tailgate, adaptive cruise control which works in stop/start traffic and a system that can semi-autonomously steer the car within its lane are all standard

However, those low emissions still mean that this is a cheap car to run for company car drivers. As it stands, the 3008 Hybrid4’s CO2 emissions put it into a 12 per cent Benefit in Kind rate, compared to a 27 per cent rate for the 3008 GT diesel. That means that earners in the 40 per cent bracket will pay £2,240 per year for the hybrid, while the diesel will cost almost double that.

For private buyers who just can’t stomach that asking price though, there is an answer. Peugeot offers a 3008 Hybrid that goes without the rear motor; the front-wheel-drive PHEV produces 222bhp and accelerates from 0-62mph in eight-ish seconds. Like-for-like, it’s £5,000 cheaper than the Hybrid4, but it’s offered in lower trims too, so the cheapest Hybrid in Allure trim costs a more reasonable £36,585. 

3.5
There’s lots to like about the 3008 Hybrid4. It’s well built, well equipped and has a cabin design that makes most other conventional family SUVs look ancient. It’s comfortable, economical and relaxing to drive, too. However, all of this applies to the front-wheel-drive 3008 Hybrid, and that’s as much as £10,000 cheaper. Company car users aside, this version is too expensive to recommend.
  • Model: Peugeot 3008 SUV GT Hybrid4
  • Price: £46,735
  • Engine: 1.6-litre 4cyl turbo petrol plus electric motor
  • Power/torque: 296bhp/450Nm
  • Transmission: Eight-speed auto, four-wheel drive
  • 0-62mph: 5.9 seconds
  • Top speed: 155mph
  • Economy/CO2: 217.2mpg/29g/km
  • On sale: Now

New baby Tesla previewed in official design sketch
Posted on Friday January 17, 2020

Luke Wilkinson 2020-01-17 14:15

Tesla has released a design sketch of a new compact EV, along with plans for a new China-based design studio and R&D centre

Tesla teaser

Tesla has revealed plans to build a new design studio/research and development centre in China. This design sketch was released as part of the announcement, previewing how the company’s first compact vehicle would look. Should it reach production, the vehicle would sit under the Model 3 in Tesla’s line-up, acting as a rival to the Volkswagen ID.3.

The design sketch was released in an official company document, which outlines the new design and engineering centre’s intentions and issues a call for job applicants – so this sketch could be little more than a well-engineered recruitment tool, produced to attract designers and engineers to Tesla’s new Chinese facility.

Tesla Cybertruck: full specs, pricing and images

However, back in 2018, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced to the company’s shareholders that Tesla would build a compact car to rival the Volkswagen Golf in “less than five years.” Given Musk’s reputation for delivering on his claims, it remains possible that this sketch previews an actual production model, with Tesla using its new Chinese R&D centre to break into the compact EV market.

During a launch event for the Chinese-built Model 3 and Model Y, Musk explicitly expressed his desire to design an electric car in China for the global market. He said: “I think something that would be super cool – and so we’re gonna do it, we’re gonna try to do it – would be to create a China design and engineering center to actually design an original car in China for worldwide consumption.

“I think this will be very exciting. I think China has some of the best art in the world, and I think it’s something that would be appreciated on a worldwide basis. I think it should be done, and we’re gonna do it.”

Read more about a potential new baby Tesla on our sister site DrivingElectric...

Wireless electric car charging trial for taxis launched
Posted on Friday January 17, 2020

Hugo Griffiths 2020-01-17 13:40

Nottingham project will see cab ranks and taxis fitted with wireless charging pads as part of a six-month trial

LEVC TX taxi - front

Taxi drivers in Nottingham are set to benefit from wireless charging, after the Department for Transport announced a £3.4 million trial of wireless pads at taxis ranks.

The scheme will see Nottingham City Council purchase 10 LEVC and Nissan electric taxis, which will be retrofitted with charging pads and given to taxi drivers to run over six months. If successful the scheme could be expanded to the wider population - though this would require electric cars to have wireless charging pads, which no production EV currently possesses.

• Is wireless electric car charging the future?

Nonetheless, the Department for Transport says the scheme could herald a “revolution” in EV charging. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the technology “will make using an electric taxi quicker and more convenient, allowing drivers to charge up at taxi ranks before heading off with their next passenger.” The project is a collaboration between Cenex, Sprint Power, Shell, Nottingham City Council, Parking Energy, Transport for London and Coventry University.

Wireless charging works by making use of the fluctuating magnetic field developed by the alternating current in a charging pad to create another alternating current in the receiving pad, which is then converted to direct current and used to charge a vehicle’s batteries.

While no full EVs come with factory-fitted wireless charging pads, the BMW 530e plug-in hybrid is offered with a wireless charging option - though only as part of a pilot scheme for 200 Californian BMW customers. Critics highlight, however, that wireless charging is slower and less efficient than wired charging, while the extra costs involved must also be taken into consideration. 

The LEVC TX black cab features a 31kWh lithium-ion battery that provides an all-electric range of 80 miles, with a 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine standing in as a range extender, acting as a generator to replenish the batteries for a total claimed range of 377 miles. By topping its batteries up little and often while waiting at ranks, cabbies could be saved the hassle of making dedicated charging pit stops, which can take up to 30 minutes or so when plugged into a wired charger.

Head over to our sister site DrivingElectric for more information on this story...

Mazda CX-30 vs Skoda Karoq
Posted on Friday January 17, 2020

Auto Express 2020-01-18 10:00

The Mazda CX-30 fills a gap in the brand’s SUV line-up. We see if it hits the compact SUV jackpot against the Skoda Karoq

Mazda CX-30 vs Skoda Karoq - head-to-head

The mid-size SUV sector is very popular in the UK, because these models provide the style of larger SUVs and almost as much practicality with the lower running costs and smaller size of family hatchbacks. However, Mazda has been missing from this segment; the CX-3 rivals smaller cars like the Citroen C3 Aircross, and the CX-5 is a bit larger, so it takes on models such as the Renault Koleos.

However, the Japanese brand’s latest model, the CX-30, aims to fill this gap. To do so effectively it will need to take on many key rivals – but the most important of all is the Skoda Karoq. This car is our current favourite in this class, since it strikes the best balance between the key areas for buyers: practicality, refinement, comfort and running costs.

The CX-30 has a few tricks up its sleeve to gain ground, though. The most significant of these is Mazda’s new SkyActiv-X engine, which is a petrol motor with advanced combustion technology to make it highly efficient. It also has a mild-hybrid system to boost fuel economy even further.

Here we’ll see whether the Mazda’s clever tech under the skin works as advertised, and we’ll also find out how well the all-new CX-30 compares to the best car in its class. 

Mazda CX-30

Model: Mazda CX-30 2.0 SkyActiv-X 180PS 2WD GT Sport
Price:  £28,875
Engine:  2.0-litre 4cyl petrol, 178bhp   
0-60mph:  9.2 seconds
Test economy:  40.6mpg/8.9mpl    
CO2:  105g/km  
Annual road tax:  £145

The Mazda CX-30 aims to combine the small size and lower running costs of the CX-3 with the practicality of the CX-5. However, it has a tough rival in the Skoda. With the new SkyActiv-X engine and a manual gearbox, this GT Sport CX-30 costs £28,875.

Design & engineering

SkyActiv-X is the name of Mazda’s new petrol engine that features ‘Spark Controlled Compression Ignition’. It works by using a high compression ratio, which allows for a leaner fuel-air mixture. A spark is used to ignite a tiny amount of fuel, which then increases heat and pressure to combust the rest of the fuel and make power.

This high compression is similar to a diesel engine – which should mean better fuel economy, because it makes better use of a smaller amount of fuel – yet it can automatically switch to normal spark ignition when more power is needed higher in the rev range. A small supercharger is used to get as much air into the cylinders as possible, but the 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine doesn’t have a turbocharger like most rivals in this class, including the Karoq.

It’s also joined by a mild-hybrid system, which recuperates energy under braking and adds a small boost when pulling away from a standstill.

The use of this new technology is possible because the CX-30 sits on Mazda’s latest SkyActiv platform, which shares parts with the Mazda 3 hatchback. It uses a typical suspension layout for this class: MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam at the rear. It also features Mazda’s G-Vectoring tech, which varies engine torque to improve cornering stability.

Inside, the CX-30’s cabin is excellent; build quality is very high and the materials are great. Mazda has done a great job of using the design of the dash to hide any cheaper plastics away, giving an upmarket feel. It seems much more plush than the Skoda, and even beats premium models like the Audi Q3.

Standard equipment is excellent, too. There’s an 8.8-inch infotainment display with smartphone connectivity and sat-nav, adaptive cruise, climate control, heated leather seats, LED lights and a powered tailgate on this high-spec GT Sport model.

Driving

The SkyActiv-X engine is excellent in some ways, but it’s not without its drawbacks. The compression combustion process means a slight hint of diesel-like clatter at idle and low revs, but the engine is so quiet that you really have to pay attention to hear it.

As the revs rise, it switches to normal ignition seamlessly and the engine note changes to a smooth, pleasant rasp that will appeal to fans of naturally aspirated engines. The unit thrives on revs, which ensures it’s fun to drive, but the lack of a turbo means that it can feel underpowered lower in the rev range when compared with its rival here.

The result is that you need to use the manual gearbox and rev the engine harder than you would in the turbocharged Karoq. However, this adds to the CX-30’s driving experience, because the six-speed manual gearbox is by far the best in this class, with a smooth, precise shift action and perfect placement in the cabin. Needing to use revs means refinement suffers in moments of acceleration, but the rest of the time the engine is almost inaudible in the cabin. Wind and road noise are low as well.

Performance is strong: we recorded a time of 9.2 seconds to get from 0-60mph, which was the same as the Karoq in this test. The Mazda was quicker from 30-70mph through the gears, with a time of 9.4 seconds beating the Skoda’s 12.2-second best. However, in-gear performance wasn’t as strong.

The CX-30 is still the best car in its class to drive, though. It has lots of grip, well weighted steering, plenty of agility, and the ride remains composed, comfortable and tied-down even on rough roads.

Practicality

The CX-30 has 430 litres of boot space, which is at the lower end of the spectrum for cars in this class. It’s still plenty for most families, but it does fall behind the Karoq’s. The Skoda’s boot space is further improved by the sliding rear bench seat, which means you can expand the space from 479 to 588 litres if needed.

Adults can fit into the Mazda’s rear seats, but headroom is poor – unless you sit completely upright, the angle of the roofline gets in the way. Legroom is okay, but with a tall driver ahead, this may create issues with adults in the back seats.

Ownership

In our Driver Power 2019 survey, Mazda finished an impressive fourth, which was one place ahead of its rival Skoda here. Those results mean that both cars should offer a straightforward ownership experience.

The CX-30 and the Karoq both have five-star Euro NCAP ratings, but the CX-30 edges ahead with a very impressive 99 per cent rating in the Adult Protection category. That means it’s one of the safest cars on sale, while standard safety kit includes blind-spot assist, AEB and rear cross-traffic alert.

Running costs

Mazda’s innovative SkyActiv-X engine returned 40.6mpg on test, which is ultimately a disappointment. The clever engine tech is supposed to deliver diesel-like running costs, but in the real world it was only slightly more efficient than the Karoq, which managed 38.9mpg.

Still, with emissions of just 105g/km, it’s cheaper to run as a company car; standard-rate earners will pay £1,434 in tax for the Mazda and £1,619 for the Karoq. That’s because the CX-30 sits in the 25 per cent Benefit-in-Kind tax bracket, while the Karoq falls into in the 28 per cent bracket. 

Testers’ notes: “Why isn’t this car, which sits between the CX-3 and CX-5 in the Mazda range, called the CX-4? Simple, really: the CX-4 already exists. It’s an older China-only coupé-SUV that’s based on the CX-5.”

Skoda Karoq

Model: Skoda Karoq 1.5 TSI 150PS Edition
Price:  £29,130
Engine:  1.5-litre 4cyl petrol, 148bhp 
0-60mph:  9.2 seconds
Test economy:  38.9mpg/8.6mpl
CO2:  121g/km
Annual road tax:  £145

The Skoda Karoq is an Auto Express Award-winner and our current class favourite. Here we’re testing the high-spec Edition version (although our pictures show a SportLine model) with a 1.5-litre petrol engine and manual gearbox. It costs £29,130.

Design & engineering

The Skoda Karoq is based on the Volkswagen Group’s widely used MQB platform, which means it shares parts with a variety of models, including the VW Golf and SEAT Ateca. Like its rival here, it uses MacPherson struts up front, with a torsion beam at the rear.

Adaptive dampers are available as part of the Dynamic Chassis Control option, which costs £1,025. This system adjusts the damping automatically to improve comfort and body control, and with this set-up fitted the Karoq is 10mm lower than standard.

The engine in the Skoda is more conventional than the Mazda’s. It’s a 148bhp 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol, so despite having a smaller capacity and less power than the CX-30, the Karoq has a higher maximum torque figure. At 250Nm, it’s 26Nm up on the Mazda, but this comes in at a lowly 1,500rpm, compared with 3,000rpm for the CX-30.

Like the Mazda, the Skoda has a six-speed manual gearbox and front-wheel drive. Both models can be had with four-wheel drive, but because the majority of owners won’t use them off road, we don’t think it’s necessary; it simply adds weight and complexity for little benefit in the UK.

The Karoq’s interior is well built and has a clean layout, but some will find it too plain, especially since the CX-30’s interior is better built and more visually pleasing. Still, Edition trim adds a 9.2-inch touchscreen infotainment system with sat-nav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, leather seats, a rear camera, autonomous braking, heated seats, adaptive cruise control, keyless go, 19-inch alloys and LED headlights.

Driving

The Skoda’s turbocharged engine gives it lots of flexibility, so you can keep revs low and change up early to make the most of the low-down torque. This boosts refinement, because it stays quiet inside at low revs and the 1.5-litre engine is nearly inaudible at idle.

Even with 148bhp the Karoq doesn’t feel underpowered when compared with the 178bhp CX-30 – it has more than enough grunt for everyday use, as well as the odd overtake if needed.

It went from 30-50mph in 4.6 seconds in third and 6.1 seconds in fourth, while the Mazda took 5.4 and 7.4 seconds in those tests. This shows how the turbo on the Skoda’s engine adds to its flexibility. Both cars went from 0-60mph in 9.2 seconds, despite the CX-30 being a more powerful car.

The Karoq’s gearchange isn’t as slick as the Mazda’s, but it’s precise enough and adds some involvement. The steering follows along those lines, too; it’s easy to use and accurate, but doesn’t have much feel.

In corners the Skoda is well controlled and the car remains composed on country roads, where it benefits from a well judged suspension set-up that keeps the worst potholes at bay. There’s some movement over bumps at low speed, especially on higher-spec cars with larger alloy wheels, but as you bring the speed up, the suspension gets to work absorbing imperfections in the tarmac.

The driving position is relatively upright, and this means it’s a little uncomfortable for taller drivers because the steering column eats into legroom. But visibility is good, and most drivers will be able to find a position that’s comfortable enough.

Practicality

Versions of the Karoq in SE L spec and above feature Varioflex seating in the rear. This means the 60:40-split bench seat can slide back and forth, allowing you to prioritise either load capacity or passenger legroom.

Even with the seats set to maximise passenger space, the Karoq has more room in the boot than the CX-30. There’s a minimum of 479 litres in the Skoda, but the Mazda has 430 litres. The Karoq’s boot increases to 588 litres with the seats forward, or 1,605 litres with them folded down. The CX-30 has a maximum of 1,406 litres with the seats flat.

There’s lots of leg and headroom in the back of the Karoq, and the level roofline and big windows mean it has an airy, spacious feel in the back when compared with the Mazda. Practicality is a big strong point for the Skoda, which is why it shot to the top of the compact-SUV class at launch.

Ownership

Skoda usually scores well in our Driver Power surveys, and 2019 was no exception; the brand finished fifth. In the dealer section of the poll, Skoda came in 10th, yet Mazda came in a very poor 27th place, so aftercare should be better if you buy the Czech model.

Safety is strong in both cars, and the Karoq features lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, traffic-sign recognition, AEB and a reversing camera as standard. It matches the Mazda for kit.

Running costs

The Skoda costs more to run as a company car than its rival here, and our experts predict that it will hold on to less of its value after three years as well. Its predicted residual value figure is 46.8 per cent, which means it loses £15,506 in that period, while the Mazda loses £13,926 thanks to its higher residual figure of 51.8 per cent.

The Skoda is quite a bit cheaper to insure, though. Our example driver will pay £622 a year for cover on the new Mazda, but only £429 for a year’s premium on the Karoq.

Testers’ notes: “The Karoq has a maximum braked towing capacity of 1,400kg, which is 100kg more than the CX-30 can pull. A towbar is available from the Skoda accessories catalogue, and costs £875.”

Verdict

First place: Skoda Karoq

The Karoq is the best car in its class, but this wasn’t a dominant win for the Skoda. It’s not as much fun to drive as its rival and is a bit more expensive to run, but its more flexible engine, hugely practical interior and relaxed driving experience mean it will suit SUV buyers better. Edition trim is expensive, but models lower down the range offer excellent value for money and still have all the kit you’ll need.

Second place: Mazda CX-30

The CX-30 finishes second here, but only because it falls behind in two key areas: practicality and performance. In every other area it’s excellent – it’s agile, rides smoothly, has a class-leading interior, the infotainment is great, it’s quiet in the cabin and it’s more efficient than its rival here. However, the clever new engine isn’t quite as frugal as we’d hoped, diminishing the CX-30’s appeal. 

Other options in this category...

Toyota C-HR

Toyota C-HR - front

Model: Toyota C-HR 1.8 Hybrid Design
Price: £28,005
Engine: 1.8-litre 4cyl, 122bhp

The recently revised C-HR is similar to the Mazda CX-30. Both have a sleek design and superb handling – the Toyota is the Mazda’s closest rival for fun in this class – but with limited rear-seat and boot space. The Toyota is a full hybrid, so fuel economy is excellent. 

Peugeot 3008

peugeot 3008 tracking front

Model: Peugeot 3008 1.2 PureTech Allure
Price: £27,665
Engine: 1.2-litre 3cyl, 128bhp

The 3008 is about the only car in this class that can rival the CX-30 for interior quality, while a digital dash is standard on all models. The Peugeot is nearly as practical as the Skoda Karoq, and it’s a previous Auto Express Award-winner as well.

Figures

Skoda Karoq 1.5 TSI 150PS Edition Mazda CX-30 2.0 SkyActiv-X 180PS 2WD GT Sport
On the road price/total as tested £29,130/£29,130 £28,875/£29,425
Residual value (after 3yrs/36,000) £13,624/46.8% £14,949/51.8%
Depreciation £15,506 £13,926
Annual tax liability std/higher rate £1,619/£3,237 £1,434/£2,867
Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles) £1,774/£2,957 £1,700/£2,833
Ins. group/quote/road tax cost 16/£429/£145 N/A/£622/£145
Servicing costs £342 (2yrs) £799 (3yrs)
Length/wheelbase 4,382/2,638mm 4,395/2,655mm
Height/width 1,603/1,841mm 1,540/1,795mm
Engine 4cyl in-line/1,498cc 4cyl in-line/1,998cc
Peak power/revs 148/5,000 bhp/rpm 178/6,000 bhp/rpm
Peak torque/revs 250/1,500 Nm/rpm 224/3,000 Nm/rpm
Transmission 6-spd man/fwd 6-spd man/fwd
Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel 50 litres/repair kit 51 litres/repair kit
Boot capacity (seats up/down) 479-588/1,605 litres 430/1,406 litres
Kerbweight/payload/towing weight 1,373/537/1,400kg 1,392/573/1,300kg
Turning circle 10.2 metres 10.6 metres
Basic warranty (miles)/recovery 3yrs (60,000)/3yrs 3yrs (60,000)/3yrs
Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos 5th/10th 4th/27th
NCAP: Adult/child/ped./assist/stars 93/79/73/58/5 99/86/80/77/5
0-60/30-70mph 9.2/12.2 secs 9.2/9.4 secs
30-50mph in 3rd/4th 4.6/6.1 secs 5.4/7.4 secs
50-70mph in 5th/6th 8.7/11.0 secs 10.4/17.3 secs
Top speed/rpm at 70mph 127mph/2,250rpm 127mph/2,400rpm
Braking 70-0/60-0/30-0mph 48.0/35.0/9.1m N/A
Noise outside/idle/30/70mph 72/43/61/70dB 58.2/37.0/12.2m
Auto Express econ (mpg/mpl)/range 38.9/8.6/428 miles 40.6/8.9/455 miles
WLTP combined mpg 39.2-42.8mpg 47.9mpg
WLTP combined mpl 8.6-9.4mpl 10.5mpl
Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket 168/121g/km/28% 161/105g/km/25%
Airbags/Isofix/park sensors/camera Eight/yes/yes/yes Seven/yes/yes/yes
Auto/lane keep/blind spot/AEB £1,300/yes/yes/yes £1,520/yes/yes/yes
Clim ctrl/cruise/leather/heat seats Yes/yes/yes/yes Yes/yes*/yes/yes
Met paint/LEDs/keyless/pwr tailgate Yes/yes/yes/yes £550/yes/yes/yes
Sat-nav/digi dash/DAB/apps Yes/£465/yes/yes Yes/no/yes/yes
Wireless charge/CarPlay/Android Auto No/yes/yes No/yes/yes

'Small, inexpensive cars rule the road in the UK'
Posted on Friday January 17, 2020

Mike Rutherford 2020-01-18 14:00

The 2019 new car sales figures have shown that value for money is top priority for new buyers, says Mike Rutherford

OPINION new car sales

Shock horror – the official new car sales numbers for 2019 are just in – and they’re a tad (2.4 per cent) down on 2018. No problem. It’s a blip, not a slump. Last year was a tumultuously uncertain one for Blighty, its industry, retailers, finances and citizens. With this in mind, I’m pleasantly surprised to learn that consumers here were confident enough to purchase (in round figures) almost 1.5 million petrol, 600,000 diesel, 200,000 hybrid, and 40,000 pure-electric cars in 2019. 

Those latest annual sales of slightly more than 2.3 million compare with a figure of, er, just over 2.3 million in 2018 – so all things considered, not bad. Private and corporate buyers paid to drive millions of new cars away from showrooms last year, and for that they should be thanked.

Best selling cars in the UK 2019

Ford and Volkswagen did well to each surpass 200,000 sales in 2019. Mercedes and BMW – the biggest premium players – did circa 170,000 apiece, thereby making their cars more common than humble Vauxhalls (160,000). Astonishing.

Land Rover, the specialist maker of 4x4s, was by far the most successful niche marque, with 70,000 sold. Sadly, in the UK at least, Infiniti is now toast, selling slightly less than a car a day in 2019. Meanwhile, the lowest of the low –
Chevrolet – sold little more than one a week. 

So it’s all over for Infiniti and Chevy in Britain, yet it’s game on for MG and Dacia, who proved themselves to be two of the most significant, intriguing and forward-thinking brands last year. No other firms enjoyed the same level of growth. In a year when it offered buyers inexpensive – but not the cheapest – internal combustion-engined and pure-electric cars, MG sales rocketed by a record-breaking 44 per cent. Meanwhile, Dacia was up 28 per cent, proudly and very deliberately selling some of the cheapest, most basic cars. The buying public couldn’t get enough of ’em.

Both modest companies have worked out what many of their competitor firms have failed to fathom so far – that countless consumers can only afford (or simply prefer to buy) no-frills, brand-new cars that cost about the same as slightly fancier second-hand motors from other makers. Value for money is in the minds and vocabularies of such new car buyers. Currently, MG and Dacia are the best in the world tapping into this. Former value champs such as Citroen, Fiat and Skoda, please take note and modify your ways.

Last year, 57 per cent of the new cars we bought were low-priced superminis or other small (ie comparatively inexpensive) models. This is further proof that value for money is at, or close to the top of, the priority lists for many or most real-world drivers. Fact. 

I’m also genuinely impressed that there was a 144 per cent rise in sales of generally expensive pure-electric cars in 2019. But the 740 per cent leap in registrations of more affordable mild-hybrid diesels was even more impressive. Whether you approve of the stuff or not, diesel-engined cars still make up 25 per cent of the market and the ‘imminent death’ of diesel fuel has been greatly exaggerated.

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

2020 Land Rover Discovery spied with hybrid power in pipeline
Posted on Friday January 17, 2020

James Brodie 2020-01-17 11:00

Electrified Land Rover Discovery spied for the first time, with mild-hybrid power prioritised for end-of-year refresh

2020 Land Rover Discovery - spied - front 3/4 tracking

A mid-life refresh for the third-generation Land Rover Discovery is imminent and a development mule for the more versatile Range Rover sibling has been spotted on roads for the first time, near Land Rover’s Coventry headquarters.

On sale in the UK for almost three years now the current car is very much right in the middle of its lifecycle, but this may not be a full facelift. Key rivals such as the Volvo XC90 and the Audi Q7 have received recent updates, and both those cars are now available with electrified powertrains too - something the Disco currently lacks.

Best SUVs to buy

That’s why what will be perhaps the biggest update coming to the L462 Discovery will be the availability of hybrid drivetrains, but a plug-in option may still be a wait away, with 48-volt tech to be prioritised with this new version of the Discovery coming later this year.

In a bid to reduce the company’s fleet CO2 to comply with tough new EU CO2 targets, 48-volt mild-hybrid tech is playing an increasingly important role across Jaguar Land Rover’s business, introduced on the latest Evoque and already confirmed for the all-new Defender, due on roads later this year. 

As such, mild-hybrid versions of the Discovery seem a given, but may require new engine developments. The only mild-hybrid versions of the similarly sized Range Rover and Range Rover Sport both use a 3.0-litre, six-cylinder petrol engine in combination with a 48-volt starter generator. At present, no large petrol engine is offered in the Discovery, with the petrol line-up capped to 2.0-litres in size. Diesel is still what sells the Disco, and as such, mild-hybrid adaptions of the existing, big selling 2.0-litre four-cylinder and 3.0-litre six-cylinder units may make more sense from a sales-mix perspective. 

All petrol and diesel versions of the new Evoque feature mild-hybrid tech when equipped with an automatic gearbox, but whether Land Rover can adapt the Discovery’s current underpinnings to accommodate this across the line-up remains unknown.

The car spied here is a hybrid Discovery using a petrol engine, according to registration data. There’s no obvious plug-in socket on the mule’s bodywork and the front grille - where the charging flap is located on the plug-in Range Rovers - has been masked off, denying access to a socket here and all but confirming mild-hybrid tech is underneath.

Look to the latest versions of the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport, and the “P400e” plug-in hybrid system, using a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged JLR Ingenium engine alongside a 13.1kWh battery, provides hybrid options in other large Land Rover models. However, a plug-in hybrid Discovery may not be part of the 2020 update - so far we’ve only spotted this mild-hybrid variant.

Elsewhere, this refresh - due towards the end of the year - should see only extremely mild exterior design revisions applied to the otherwise fresh third-generation Discovery shape.

Fancy a hybrid seven-seater? Then head over to our sister site DrivingElectric for their guide to the best hybrid and electric seven-seat cars...

New Ford S-MAX and Galaxy mild-hybrids set for 2020 release
Posted on Friday January 17, 2020

Luke Wilkinson 2020-01-17 11:10

New Ford S-MAX and Galaxy mild-hybrids announced as part of Ford's plans to release 14 new electrified models by 2020

Ford Galaxy and S-Max updated

New mild-hybrid versions of the Ford S-MAX and Galaxy have been announced as part of Ford's plan to roll out 14 new electrified vehicles by the end of this year. The two MPVs will use the same powertrain from the forthcoming Kuga Hybrid, which is due to reach UK showrooms later this year. Both cars will use a 2.5-litre Atkinson cycle petrol engine, an electric motor and a compact water-cooled lithium-ion battery.

The system will develop a targeted combined output of 197bhp and 210Nm of torque – and Ford says the powertrain will provide better in-gear acceleration than the equivalent 2.0-litre EcoDiesel model. Emissions figures for the new mild-hybrid powertrain are also expected to be around 140g/km of CO2.

• Best hybrid cars on sale now

As an added benefit, Ford says the mild-hybrid system won’t encroach on either car’s storage space. The five-seat S-MAX Hybrid will retain the same 2,200-litre boot as its conventionally powered sibling, while the seven-seat Galaxy Hybrid will offer the same maximum capacity of 2,339-litres.

The announcement was made following the firm’s €42 million investment in its Valencia production facility, which will fund the construction of two new vehicle battery assembly lines.

Work on the company’s Spanish production facility is due to be completed during the summer, with production set to start in September. The investment will allow Ford’s lithium-ion batteries to be constructed alongside the electrified vehicles they’re destined to be used in, which the company says will allow for better manufacturing efficiency.

Fancy knowing more about electric cars? Then head over to our sister site DrivingElectric for all things electric...

 

New Alpine A110 S 2020 review
Posted on Thursday January 16, 2020

Alpine A110 S - front
17 Jan, 2020 8:00am Jonathan Burn

We drive the new Alpine A110 S in the UK to see if the sharper version of our favourite coupe is even better

Rarely does a new car from a new (or in this case, revitalised) brand come along and give the established big-hitters a serious run for their money, but the Alpine A110 is one of those cars. The fact it’s the current Auto Express Coupe of the Year goes to show you how highly we rate it.

Not quite satisfied, the French firm has developed an even more focused, more powerful version to try and cement its place as an accomplished sports car specialist. It’s called the A110 S and this is our first chance to get behind the wheel in the UK.

Best sports cars on sale right now

The basic recipe for a car designed to give you a bit more of everything is as you’d expect. Power from the 1.8-litre turbo is up by 39bhp to 288bhp, the brakes are larger and more powerful, and the car’s ride has dropped by 4mm, while the springs are 50 per cent firmer and the anti-roll bars twice as stiff.

On paper, it’s a sizeable set of upgrades. But there’s a price to pay; the A110 S costs £9,000 more than the entry-level model. Which, as we know, is far from lacking.

There are a number of other standard features on the S, such as an active sports exhaust, front and rear parking sensors, aluminium pedals, a Focal audio set-up and a telematics system that allows the driver to see live technical data on the car. That extra kit alone adds up to £3,000.

The car doesn’t boast about its persona. Aside from black Alpine script on the rear, orange paint callipers and some carbon-fibre badges, there’s little to mark out the A110 S. It’s more interested in showing what it does rather than what it is.

But if you want the matt grey paintwork on this car you’ll have to pay a whopping £4,400. White is the only colour that comes free. Other extras, which aren’t strictly essential, include a £2,160 glossy carbon-fibre roof and 18-inch Fuchs forged alloys at £1,656. What started out as a sensible price for a sports car can escalate quickly.

Have the changes had the desired effect? Yes, and no. Where the standard A110 will glide over our pitted and potholed roads with balletic grace, the S is noticeably firmer – as you’d only expect given the tweaks to the suspension.

That doesn’t make it an uncomfortable car – far from it, in fact – but a layer of polish and suppleness has been shaved from the standard A110’s ride quality.

The trade-off is a car that corners with more precision and poise than before. There’s less roll during quick changes of direction, and more bite from the front end. Where you could provoke the rear end of the standard A110 into playful slides by balancing the throttle with more aggressive steering inputs, this S feels more stable and planted. The overall sensation is of a car that’s more focused and less playful.

Now packing 288bhp, the A110 S will cover 0-62mph in 4.4 seconds – 0.1 seconds quicker than the standard model. There’s no extra torque, but the power is now spread over a broader rev range; the engine still suffers that initial low-down lag, but beyond 2,500rpm the extra power makes itself known, the engine pulling with noticeably more force than before.

What remains unchanged is the excellent seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, which seamlessly fires home changes up and down the gears. We just wish Alpine had seen fit to change the plastic paddles behind the wheel; they still operate with a flimsy click rather than the satisfying clunk you want from a great metallic paddle-shifter.

The bump in price for the A110 S over the regular model does move the coupé beyond the list price of some thoroughly accomplished competition such as the Porsche 718 Cayman S, which packs 345bhp and is slightly cheaper, at £53,746.

Then there’s the BMW M2 Competition. As well as undercutting the Alpine, at £51,425, it also uses a more characterful six-cylinder engine that packs 410bhp.

The A110 S’s inflated price tag makes the corners that Alpine has cut with cabin quality even more difficult to swallow – especially given how well built both its rivals from BMW and Porsche are. The infotainment system in the French car would look dated and out of place in a £15,000 hatchback, never mind a £57k sports car, some of the switchgear on the dashboard is awfully cheap and, if you want to make some adjustment to the height of the driver’s seat it’ll require a coffee break and a set of spanners.

However, few, if any, of those grievances, are ever likely to be red flags in the eyes of potential buyers of this sort of vehicle. The Alpine A110 remains our favourite new sports car of the moment.

4.5
The Alpine A110 S is a more serious and focused sports car. That doesn’t necessarily make it better than the standard model, but it does give it a character of its own. However, asking a £9,000 premium means you’ll have to really appreciate its extra focus to want one.
  • Model: Alpine A110 S
  • Price: £56,810
  • Engine: 1.8-litre 4cyl turbo
  • Power/torque: 288bhp/320Nm
  • Transmission: Seven-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
  • 0-62mph: 4.4 seconds
  • Top speed: 161mph
  • Economy/CO2: 42.8mpg/147g/km
  • On sale: Now

New BMW 3 Series mild-hybrid system launched
Posted on Thursday January 16, 2020

Andrew Norris 2020-01-16 13:15

BMW introduces a raft of changes to its range including a 48-volt mild hybrid system in the 3 Series

BMW 3 Series mild-hybrid - side

BMW has launched new engine options across the 1 Series and 3 Series model ranges that will be available to order in April. 

The big news is the arrival of a mild hybrid system to the 3 Series saloon and Touring estate as well as the X3 and X4 SUVs. The 48-volt system uses a starter generator and an additional battery that provide an extra 11bhp to boost performance. The system will also allow the engine to turn off when coasting below speeds of 99mph to save fuel.

New BMW 330e review

While decelerating the car can disengage the engine under 9mph and use the kinetic energy collected while braking to charge the battery that is then used to help restart the engine.

The mild-hybrid system will become standard on all versions of the 320d. Elsewhere in the 3 Series range, the 318i ditches its three-cylinder engine for a more powerful 156bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit developing 250Nm of torque. 

Elsewhere, in the 1 Series range, the 120d now gets a 190bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel as standard. 

There are several other trim level changes across the rest of the range as the 7 Series and 8 Series now get soft close doors as standard, while the X5, X6 and X7 will be available with a wider selection of leather interiors and new leather colours for customers to choose from.

What is a mild hybrid? Head over to our sister site DrivingElectric to find out more...

Ford Focus ST Estate: long-term test review
Posted on Thursday January 16, 2020

Ford Focus ST Estate: long-term test review - first report - header
19 Jan, 2020 3:00pm John McIlroy

First Report: We do the maths and our sporty Ford Focus ST Estate all adds up so far

Mileage: 4,800
Economy: 37.4mpg

I’m not a smoker, but I am partial to the odd bit of back-of-a-fag-packet maths. And getting the keys to our new Ford Focus ST Estate had me scurrying for the spec sheets, tape measure and calculator.

The Focus is a relatively rare thing in the hot hatchback class in being offered not only as a conventional five-door but also as a wagon. And that got me thinking: where does our latest arrival stand when it comes to offering the optimum blend of a huge load capacity, a high top speed and a rapid 0-62mph dash – for sensible money?

Best hot hatches to buy

The figures in question, in the case of the Focus ST, are pretty impressive. This £33,095 car has a 276bhp, 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine, potent enough to take it from 0-62mph in 5.8 seconds and on to a limited top speed of 155mph. And this in a vehicle whose standard boot capacity of 541 litres can be extended to a very handy 1,576 litres by folding down the rear seats.

Using a ratio based on maximum luggage capacity multiplied by top speed, and then placing this figure over list price multiplied by the 0-62mph time, the ST does indeed make a strong case for itself. It comes out with a figure of 1.273, which means nothing until you start comparing it with other fast offerings. Mercedes’ cavernous AMG E 63 S, for example, trumps the Focus on load capacity and hammers it on performance, but its list price of almost £100,000 holds it back to a final figure of just 0.999.

Equally, BMW’s X5 M beats even the Mercedes on loadbay, but a limited top speed and an eye-watering £110k price drag it down to 0.690.

And at the other end of the scale, Honda’s Civic Type R GT, our favourite hot hatchback overall, smashes through the Focus’s top speed and has it matched on price, but its boot capacity is a meagre 1,209 litres, keeping it down to final score of 1.12.

The closest rival that I could find, in fact, is the soon-to-be-replaced Skoda Octavia vRS Challenge estate, which has an even bigger boot than the Focus and can almost match the Ford’s performance speeds. But it’s similarly priced and in the end, a slower 0-62mph time keeps it just shy of our car’s final tally, at 1.217.

Beyond these (sketchy) numbers, the Focus is already making a compelling case for itself. It’s already found itself subjected to a couple of runs to the local tip, not to mention the annual last-minute dash to get a Christmas tree, and the wide, flat boot floor makes it easy to slide larger items in.

The cabin is big enough to cope with my son’s car seat and, in the most part, the fit and finish are hard to fault, with squidgy plastics in all of the right places. The infotainment system seems snappy, too, and our car’s options – the orange paint, a panoramic sunroof, the head-up display and the hands-free tailgate – all seem like boxes that are worth ticking.

More than the cabin, though, it’s the dynamics that are really impressing me. This is a 155mph hot hatchback on 19-inch wheels, but the Focus’s chassis has enough compliance to dial out the worst road imperfections that my daily commute through west London can throw at it. The low-speed ride is surprisingly supple.

This helps to make the ST a really effective fast cruiser, too; not only is it comfortable enough, it’s also surprisingly refined once you crank it up to a steady 70mph. The engine is particularly polite, dropping back to the point where a bit of wind noise from around the side mirrors and door seals drowns it out. And what racket there is is comfortably surpassed by the B&O stereo.

Push harder and yes, there’s a bit of judder under hard acceleration off the line – a reminder of the torque and power going through only the front wheels.

But once the ST is up to speed on the right road, its mix of control weights, steering response and a chassis that loves to change direction quickly (yes, even in Estate form) is beguiling indeed. I can’t wait until the roads are clear of frost, rain and general winter grime.

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

4.5
We’ve fallen for our ST wagon. It shows again how Ford can nail the basics of what makes a car great to drive, with handling that matches the performance. And not to forget practicality.
  • Model: Ford Focus ST Estate
  • On fleet since: December 2019
  • Price: £33,095 (£37,090)
  • Engine: 2.3-litre 4cyl, turbo petrol, 276bhp
  • CO2/tax: 179g/km/£145
  • Options: Orange Fury paint (£800), panoramic sunroof (£995), blind spot information system (£400), Ford Performance Pack – additional Track drive mode, rev matching, shift indicator, launch control and multi-coloured ambient light (£250), head-up display (£400), w
  • Insurance*: Group: 34 Quote: £700
  • Mileage/mpg: 4,800/37.4mpg
  • Any problems?: None so far

Kia and Hyundai invest in UK electric vehicle firm
Posted on Wednesday January 15, 2020

Jonathan Burn 2020-01-16 13:05

British EV firm Arrival gets huge €100million cash injection from Kia and Hyundai

Arrival Royal Mail van

Korean car giants Kia and Hyundai have invested €100million into UK electric vehicle firm Arrival to create next-generation commercial vehicles.

Arrival, founded in 2015, designs and develops ‘Generation 2’ electric vehicles, something it classes as a ‘new product category that surpasses existing electric vehicles in cost, design and efficiency.’

Hyundai and Kia electric cars to get new platform

The investment from Kia and Hyundai kicks off a strategic partnership between the firms to accelerate the development of next-generation EVs. Kia recently announced it aims to introduce 11 fully electric vehicles in the next five years.

Kia and Hyundai will have access to Arrivla’s bespoke flexible skateboard platforms that will enable them to produce multiple vehicles across a range of segments. Arrival currently builds its Generation 2 EVs in small microfactories in areas of high demand, something Kia and Hyundai intend to make use of.

The commercial vehicle market will be one of first to adopt electric technology on a mass scale, says Arrival. The UK firm says its vehicles will cost the same, or less than, conventionally powered alternatives. 

Speaking about the partnership Hyundai’s R&D boss Albert Biermann, said: “The eco-friendly vehicle market in Europe is expected to grow rapidly. Through the joint development of commercial electric vehicles with Arrival, we will be able to gain a competitive advantage and progressively establish our leadership in the global eco-friendly vehicle market.”

Click here for our list of the best electric cars on sale right now...

UK council teams up with Honda for vehicle-to-grid electric car charging
Posted on Wednesday January 15, 2020

Tristan Shale-Hester 2020-01-16 00:01

Honda and EV charging software firm Moixa launch vehicle-to-grid charging partnership with Islington Council

Moxia

Honda has partnered with electric car charging software firm Moixa and Islington Council to launch a new vehicle-to-grid (V2G) charging scheme in London.

Five bi-directional V2G chargers - built by Honda and engineering company EVTEC, and running Moixa’s GridShare software - are being installed outside Islington Town Hall.

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The system charges the council’s electric vehicles when the power on the local network is at its cheapest and cleanest, and discharges power from the car batteries when it is at its most expensive and carbon-intensive. When there is a car on each of the five chargers, there is enough power to cover the town hall’s entire base load (the minimum level of demand on its electrical supply system over 24 hours).

At present, 24 of the 481 vehicles on Islington Council’s fleet are fully electric. The council is aiming to be carbon-neutral by 2030 and is planning to electrify its entire fleet by then, including its 77 HGVs and 61 buses, all of which are diesel-powered. This is estimated to cost around £35 million, some of which will be offset by the sale of the old petrol and diesel vehicles.

Moixa’s GridShare system enables electric vehicle smart charging, which involves optimising charging patterns based on factors such as driver behaviour, cost of energy and weather forecasts. It can also enhance the resilience of local power networks to prevent overloading and blackouts.

Chris Wright, chief technology officer at Moixa, said: “The EV revolution will put millions of ‘batteries on wheels’ on our roads in the next decade.

“By using AI-driven charging technology, we can intelligently manage these fleets of batteries, securing lowest cost charging and highest impact carbon savings. Our project with Honda and Islington shows what is possible and provides a blueprint for all large organisations to follow.”

CLLR Rowena Champion, executive member for environment and transport at Islington Council, added: “We’re working to ensure our residents have clean air to breathe, while also saving money that can be spent on delivering essential services for the people of Islington.

“We’re working with industry leaders Honda and Moixa to electrify our fleet in the most effective way for our residents and acting as a pioneer for others to follow.”

Click here for our in-depth guide on electric car charging in the UK...


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