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Forthcoming Transport Decarbonisation Plan is set to have a major impact on British motorists
The UK government has set goals of accelerating the uptake of zero-emissions vehicles and shifting people out of cars by making public transport, cycling or walking "natural first choices" for travel. It has also committed to matching the European Union’s tough fleet CO2 emissions targets.
The steps that will be taken to achieve those goals will be outlined in a new Transport Decarbonisation Plan that's due to be published at an environment summit in November. The plan will be a key part of the government’s goal to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050.
The Department for Transport (DfT) recently published an official document, entitled Setting the Challenge, that outlines “where we are today and the size of emissions reduction needed”. This doesn't set out specific policies, which will be developed as a result of public consultations and workshops, but outlines "strategic priorities". These include:
?Making public transport and active transport (such as cycling and walking) “the natural first choice for our daily activities” so that people use their cars less. This will involve reducing public transport's emissions and making it convenient and cost-effective, plus developing Mobility as a Service platforms.
?Decarbonising road vehicles, with a focus on “ensuring a supportive regulatory framework” and “building [consumer] trust in new technologies”.
?Making the UK a “world leader in green transport technology and innovation” by encouraging research and development investment in new technology.
The DfT publication claims that transport is now the largest contributor to the UK's domestic GHG emissions, contributing 28% of the total. Passenger cars were responsible for 55% of domestic GHG transport emissions, although total GHG production by such vehicles has dropped 5% since 1990 despite total miles travelled rising by 22%.
However, the report also notes that average CO2 emissions per mile for new cars has risen since 2016. While it acknowledges the dramatic decline of diesel sales has played a role in this, it cites fast-rising sales of SUVs as the main reason.
The report note that sales of ultra-low-emissions vehicles – which includes electric cars – have increased massively in recent years, from around 1300 in 2010 to more than 230,000 today.
It added that more EV charging infrastructure will be required to continue that growth, given that 20-30% of British motorists don't have access to off-street parking where private chargers could be located. It also calls for a "roaming solution" that would allow EV drivers to access any public charger through a single payment method.
The Setting the Challenge document also outlines steps to reduce GHG emissions from goods transport, public transport, air travel and maritime travel.
The publication is the first step in a planned seven-month process that will lead to the publication of the Transport Decarbonisation Plan in November. That will include a number of planned publish feedback opportunities, starting later this year. The full document can be read on the DfT website here.
Firms call for immediate EU support as coronavirus pandemic halts production, leaving them short of cash
Europe’s car makers may be facing the worst crisis they’ve ever dealt with as production ceases and retail operations close during the coronavirus-induced lockdown.
New car registrations have plummeted in the past few weeks as nationwide lockdowns are put in place. France has reported that registrations are down 72% compared with March last year.
Most national figures have yet to be released, but they're likely to be similarly low and will almost certainly be far worse still in April.
It's estimated that the production losses from production shutdowns across the European Union (EU) amount to 1.23 million vehicles so far.
European automotive industry association the ACEA has called for “strong and coordinated action” to ensure manufacturers, dealers and the wider supply chain are protected as income falls by an unprecedented amount for many.
The ACEA’s director general has called for the president of the EU's European Commission to “take concrete measures to avoid irreversible and fundamental damage to the sector with a permanent loss of jobs, capacity, innovation and research capability”.
Some 13.8 million people work in the automotive industry across the EU, with 229 assembly and production plants employing 2.6 million of those in manufacturing.
The ACEA claims the pandemic will have “grave consequences... far beyond what we can forsee now” for manufacturers and their employees.
Car makers are still spending huge amounts of cash despite not producing any cars. German media reports that Volkswagen, BMW and Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler held a crisis call with German chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday.
Volkswagen Group CEO Herbert Diess has said that jobs may have to go if production doesn't restart soon, because the company is burning through around ˆ2 billion (?1.75bn) per week.
How COVID-19 is affecting the car world: Jaguar Land Rover lending press cars, car firms expanding into ventilator and face mask production, Vauxhall extending breakdown offer
The rapid global spread of the coronavirus is having a major impact on all aspects of society, including the car industry.
Production facilities are being closed around the world, the dramatic stock market falls has hit the value of virtually every car firm, vehicle sales are dropping dramatically and most major motorsport events have been cancelled.
This is Autocar’s round-up of how the car world is being impacted, which will be updated regularly with information and links to more in-depth stories.
Thursday 2 April: Vauxhall supports NHS workers
?Nissan has extended the production halt at its Sunderland plant "throughout April". Production has been suspended at the factory since 17 March, and Nissan says the majority of employees have been furloughed under the UK government scheme.
The Japanese firm has also suspended production at its Spanish plants, introducing 'Force Majeure' temporary lay off measures at its sites in Cataluny and Cantabria.
In a statement, Nissan said it was "grateful for the financial assistance offered by national governments to support our 15,000 direct employees in Europe, our partner companies and suppliers."
?Vauxhall has extended its Roadside Assistance programme, usually reserved for owners of new cars, to all Vauxhall-driving NHS workers.
The move means NHS staff can call the manufacturer in the event of a breakdown, be it at home or on the road, and have their car repaired or recovered to an approved Vauxhall workshop. The offer is extended to all Vauxhalls, regardless of age, mileage and service history.
?Williams Advanced Engineering is one of a number of car firms part of a consortium helping to re-engineer an existing ventilator design in response to the Ventilator Challenge UK project.
The firm, which was formed by the Williams F1 team to apply technology it had developed in other industries, is working with firms including McLaren, Airbus, Rolls-Royce, Siemens and BAR Systems to re-engineer a Smiths Group ParaPAC300 ventilator design in order to rapidly manufacture 5000 units for the NHS. More than 50 WAE staff members have been involved in the project, with the firm developing 3D CAD modelling, re-engineering test equipment and working on rapid prototype development.
?Skoda is helping charities and volunteers in the Czech Republic by giving them free access to more than 200 vehicles and 150 electric scooters used by its HoppyGo car sharing platform. The firm is also working with the Czech Technical University in Prague to develop a 3D printing process to produce ventilators.
?This weekend should have been the inaugural Vietnam Grand Prix, so the sport's bosses are staging a second F1 Esport Virtual Grand Prix. Five current F1 drivers have signed up so far: Charles Leclerc, Lando Norris, Alex Albon, George Russell and Nicholas Latifi.
Those five will be joined by an assortment of random guest stars including F1 race winner Johnny Herbert (who led the first Virtual GP after massively cutting the first turn) and cricket star Ben Stokes. With the new Hanoi circuit not featured in the F1 2019 game, this weekend's event will be staged on the Albert Park circuit used for the Australian GP. The event starts at 2000hrs on Sunday, with coverage on Sky Sports F1.
?If you're looking for distractions to fill your new-found time at home, why not configure your dream Bentley? Autocar has set up a competition for those who do, and you could win a tour of the British firm's Crewe factory. Click here for full details.
?Seat is the latest car brand to start producing ventilators, having started producing units at its Martorell factory near Barcelona for local healthcare authorities.
The automated ventilators were designed by a team of engineers, and are now undergoing final testing before approval is given for mass production. The ventilators use a number of parts adapted from Seat cars, including windscreen wiper motors, gearbox shafts and printed gears. 150 employees will produce them.
?Volkswagen has extended the production suspension at its German factories by five days, saying the decision is primarily due to the sharp fall in demand for new cars and supply chain issues.
The firm is now intending to resume production at its car and components plants on 19 April, and says it is working on a number of measures to ensure the health and safety of staff.
Tuesday 31 March: Jaguar Land Rover lends out press fleet, Lamborghini makes masks, PSA helping ventilators
?Jaguar Land Roveris lending more than 160 vehicles to organisiations including the British Red Cross and National Health Service to help deliver essential supplies to vulnerable people. The vehicles are taken from the firm's press fleet, and include 27 examples of the new Defender. Full story here.
? Lamborghini is helping the health service in Italy by producing surgical masks and plexiglass shields at its Sant-Agata factory. The Italian firm's in-house saddlery is currently producing 1000 masks a day, which are being donated to the Sant'Orsola-Malpighi Hospital in Bologna.
The plexiglass shields are being produced at a rate of 200 units a day using 3D printers in Lamborghini's carbon fibre production plant and research and development centre.
? In the United States, GM is also temporarily moving into face mask production, having developed a new production line for them in seven days. It expects to deliver 20,000 masks by 8 April and says that, when up to speed, it will be able to produce 1.5 million masks a month.
? ThePSA Group is part of a consortium that is aiming to produce 10,000 ventilators in response to requests by the French government. PSA, whose brands include Citroen, DS, Peugeot and Vauxhall/Opel, is working with Schneider Electric and Valet to help ventilator firm Air Liquide dramatically scale up its production capabilities.
PSA has been working on the project sine 22 March, and will produce components for the ventilators that will be assembled at Air Liquide's base, where a number of PSA employee volunteers will be working.
?Ford has provided an update on its efforts to work with GE Healthcare to produce a third-party ventilator. The firm will begin production of a ventilator design licensed from medical firm Airon at its Rawsonville Components Plant in Michigan, with the target of producing 50,000 within 100 days – and 30,000 a month from then on, if needed.
Meanwhile, Ford has delayed plans to resume car production at its other North America plants. It has initially planned on resuming production at various dates between 6 and 14 April, but these will now be pushed back.
Monday 30 March: Car and motorsport industries ramp up efforts to help NHS, Detroit show postponed
? The Paris motor show due to be held in September has cancelled, although event organisers are still planning to run a number of smaller 'festival' and business-to-business events. Full story here.
? The Mercedes F1 team's Brixworth-based powertrain division has helped UCL to develop a new breathing aid that can help keep COVID-19 patients out of intensive care. The device took around 100 hours to develop, and is set to begin clinical trials soon.
Meanwhile, a consortium that included Ford and the seven UK-based Formula 1 teams has received more than 10,000 orders for ventilators from the UK government, after the rapid development of a version that it can produce quickly to scale. Read the full story on both initiatives here.
? The Detroit motor show is the latest major automotive event to be axed due to the coronavirus outbreak. America's longest running motor show was due to switch to a new June date this year, but organisers anticipate the exhibition centre in which it is due to be held being turned into a temporary hospital by the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). It is one of more than 100 convention centres and similar facilities across the USA earmarked for such use.
That means the first summer Detroit show will be delayed until 2021, when it is planned to run on 14-26 June. The cornavirus pandemic has already led to the cancellation of this year's Geneva motor show, with the Beijing and New York shows both postponed.
? The PSA Group initially suspended production at all its plants, including the Vauxhall factories in Luton and Ellesmere Port, until 27 March, but it has moved this back to a new, unspecified date due to the continued impact of the coronavirus.
PSA says it is developing a new health protocol to reinforce preventive measures for when production does resume. Steps will include regularly taking temperatures, wearing of masks on site, hourly cleaning of tools and work surfaces, and a three-hour waiting time during exchanges of parts.
? Volkswagen will release all of its employees in Germany with medical qualifications who volunteer to work in the country's public health service with full pay for up to 15 days.
The firm has also arranged for around ?35 million worth of medical equipment to be shipped from China to Germany, where it will be distributed to medical facilities in the Lower Saxony region.
Friday 27 March: Ferrari plots return to production
? Some positive news from Italy: Ferrari is planning to resume production at its Maranello plant on 14 April. Full story here.
? Seven UK-based Formula 1 teams – Red Bull, Racing Point, Haas, McLaren, Mercedes-AMG, Renault and Williams – have put their rivalry on hold to form the Project Pitlane initiative, responding to the UK government's call for help producing medical equipment. The teams claim to have made "significant progress" in three areas: reverse engineering existing medical devices so they can be used to treat COVID-19 patients; support in scaling production of existing ventilator designs; and the rapid design and prototyping of a new ventilator design.
In a statement, the teams said they would "pool the resources and capabilities of its member teams to greatest effect, focusing on the core skills of the F1 industry: rapid design, prototype manufacture, test and skilled assembly." They added that they "remain ready to support in other areas requiring rapid, innovative technology responses to the unique challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic."
Thursday 26 March: MG loans EVs to NHS, Goodwood Festival of Speed delayed
? MG will supply up to 100 electric ZS models to National Health Service agencies, to support the fight against coronavirus by adding transport capacity. The machines will be loaned free-of-charge for up to six month, with distribution done by MG dealers. The first six models have been supplied to Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Trust.
? One of the biggest events on the UK motoring calendar, the Goodwood Festival of Speed, has been postponed. The event was due to be held in July, but organisers are now looking at dates in late summer or early autumn. Full story here.
? Meanwhile, one of the biggest events of the US motorsport calendar, the Indianapolis 500, has also been postponed. The 104th running of the flagship event of the IndyCar Series has been switched from 24 May to 23 August. It will be the first time in the events history that it has taken place outside of May. The event has only previously not been held during the First and Second World Wars.
The Indy 500 is the culmination of a month-long build-up, which traditionally kicks off with an IndyCar race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's road course. That event has now moved to the weekend of 4 July, where it will be held as part of a double-header with the Nascar stock car race on the oval. It will be the first time America's top two motorsport championships have run at the same circuit.
Tuesday 24 March: Aston Martin, McLaren and Morgan close plants
? Aston Martin, McLaren and Morgan have all suspended production at their UK plants following the latest government advice thar people should minimise travel and only leave their homes for essential work. Read the full story here.
? Trying to work out exactly what the coronavirus outbreak means for motorists? Click here to read our essential advice for drivers during the Covid-19 pandemic.
? Around the world, the car industry is stepping in to help with production of ventilators and other medical apparatus in a bid to combat the coronavirus. The UK government continues to work with a number of firms, and in the USA Ford has teamed up with 3M to start manufacturing Powered Air-Purifying Respirators, using off-the-shelf parts used, in part for the seat-cooling systems of the F-150 pick-up.
Ford is also working with GE Healthcare to produce a simplified version of GE's ventilator. It is also starting to assemble more than 100,000 face masks for healthcare workers.
Meanwhile, Tesla's Elon Musk says he bought 1255 ventilators from China and donated them to medical staff in Los Angeles. Musk says China had an oversupply of the ventilators. Tesla, along with GM and Ford, is believed to be in talks with the US government about ventilator production.
? The Azerbaijan Grand Prix, which had been due to take place on 7 June, is the latest Formula 1 race to be postponed. That means the Canadian GP on 14 June is the first scheduled event, although it also seems likely to be postponed. F1 bosses say they are still aiming to hold a 15-18 race season, both by racing during the usual August summer break and extending the season past late November.
? The UK motorsport calendar is also continuing to be hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Motorsport UK, which governs the sport in the country, has said it will extend the suspension of permits for motorsport events until at least 30 June. Motorsport UK chairman David Richards said the body "has a vital role to play with its community in reinforcing that, at this time of national emergency, we must all stay at home to play our part in protecting the NHS and ultimately saving lives."
He added: "The government have required that we effectively lock-down for a period of three weeks, however given that the most vulnerable in our society are required to isolate for three months, it is evident that the most responsible course of action was to propose a longer suspension of our sport. When we reflect back on this time, it will be a brief, but vital, hiatus from our everyday motorsport life and we must put this in perspective."
? In line with Motorsport UK's decision, the British Touring Car Championship has now postponed the first five events of its season, with the events at Thruxton on 17 May and Oulton Park on 14 June now delayed.
Monday 23 March: More plant closures, US car firms to start ventilator production
? Driving tests and MOTs for heavy vehicles have been suspended for up to three months in England, Scotland and Wales. The move mirrors a separate decision made by the government in Northern Ireland. The UK government says people scheduled to take a test that has now been cancelled will be given first priority when they resume. But tests will still run for workers who have a critical need, including NHS staff and goods delivery drivers.
The MOT suspension applies only to heavy vehicles, such as buses, lorries and trailers. Any vehicles with a test due in this period will be issued with a Certificate of Temporary Extension (CTE). MOTs for cars remain running but "under review" with the Department for Transport promising "an update in due course."
? Ford's Dagenham engine plant will be closed from today onwards, with the Bridgend engine plant in Wales following suit on Wednesday. The break in operations is currently scheduled for a four-week period, with the firm bringing forward its regular summer closure. The shutdown will be extended across non-business critical Ford UK operations, and workers will receive "payments at least equivalent to their base pay."
? Transport for London is suspending all road charging schemes in the capital from today, to ensure critical workers – especially those in the NHS – and supply deliveries can travel more freely. The move means drivers will no longer have to pay the Congestion Charge, Low Emission Zone or Ultra Low Emission Zone fees. TFL noted that it was key to keep the roads clear for emergency services and critical workers, urging people to travel as little as possible.
? In similar fashion to efforts seen in the UK, leading American car firms are set to step in to assist with ventilator production in the United States. In a tweet, US President Donald Trump said that Ford, GM and Tesla "are being given the go ahead" to make ventilators and other metal products. Few further specifics of what role the cars firms will play have yet to be announced.
Friday 20 March: Jaguar Land Rover and Bentley close plants, China's lesson for the industry
? Jaguar Land Rover and Bentley have both closed their UK plants, effectively halting mainstream car production in the UK. Both firms are aiming to reopen their facilities on 20 April. Full story here.
? With the UK and wider European car production effectively shut down, automotive companies are facing huge financial challenges. So how can they cope? Some answers could be found in China, where the industry is slowly recovering as the country begins to get back to business as the number of coronavirus cases in the country declines. Jim Holder spoke to some car industry sources to pick up some tips. Read his in-depth analysis here.
? Volvo will close its plants in its home country of Sweden and Charleston, South Carolina from 26 March until 14 April to protect its workforce. It has already closed its Belgium factory, which will not reopen until at least 5 April. Volvo's Chinese plant reopened earlier this month.
? New Formula 1 technical rules due to be introduced next season have been delayed until 2022, to enable the tean teams to better soften the financial hit from the disrupted 2020 season. This year's championship won't begin until at least June after the first seven races of the year were either cancelled or postponed. Full story on the new rules delay here.
? If you're missing out on your Formula 1 fix, championship bosses have launched a Virtual Grand Prix esports series. Races will be held in place of every postponed or cancelled 2020 race, starting with the Bahrain Grand Prix this Sunday. Run using the PC version of F1 2019, this weekend's event will run on the Bahrain circuit and last 28 laps, half the F1 race distance. Races held on circuits not featured in F1 2019 will be replaced with alternative venues.
Oh, and the performance of all the cars in the game will be equalised, so Mercedes will be unable to run a virtual version of its controversial Dual Axis Steering system...
Thursday 19 March: Honda closes UK plant, driving tests postponed and more F1 races delayed
? Honda has suspended production at its UK plant, where the Civic hatch is built, "in light of increasing difficulties with supply chains and considering the wellbeing" or staff. The firm says it intends to restart production on 6 April, dependent on government advice and market conditions.
? Formula 1 bosses have officially postponed the Dutch, Spanish and Monaco grand prix. The expected postponement of the events, due to be held on the 3, 10 and 24 May respectively, means the season is now scheduled to start with the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on 7 June. F1 bosses are "studying the viability of potential alternative dates" for the races, having previously said they still hope to run a calendar or 17 or 18 races this year.
? The Driving Vehicle Standards Agency has postponed all driving tests in the UK due to take place today and tomorrow. In Northern Ireland, driving tests have been suspended for three months.
? Both Ford and GM will suspend production at their North American factories until at least 30 March. The two firms say they will take the time to clean and sanitise their plants in the USA, Canada and Mexico, and both are in talks with unions about keeping workers safe when production resumes. Audi has also suspended production in its Mexico plant due to supply chain issues.
? Hyundai has suspended production at its US factory in Alabama after a worker tested positive for Covid-19. The firm is working with local officials to sanitise the site and determining when it it safe for production to resume.
? With the motorsport world on hold, several race organisers are working with 'virtual' Esports series to help fill the gap. After a successful event last weekend featuring drivers such as Max Verstappen, Torque Esports will run a second All-Star Esports Battle at 1700hrs on Saturday 21 March.
Meanwhile Nascar, which already sanctions an official iRacing championship, has set up a new eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series. It says the new series will be contested by a mix of current drivers from its various series, along with 'Nascar dignitaries'. The first event will be held on the virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway at 1730hrs UK time on Sunday 22 March.
? The Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles has closed due to Covid-19, but will offer entertainment to anyone stuck at home by streaming hour-long virtual tours of its Vault. The 'tours' will cost $3 each, with the proceeds going to support staff. For a look at the Petersen exhibits in the main museum, check out Autocar's slideshow here.
Wednesday 18 March: Rolls-Royce and Toyota close UK plants as European industry shuts down
? TheLe Mans 24 Hours has been moved back from its planned 13/14 June date until 19/20 September. The organisers say the delay will involve rescheduling several of rounds of the FIA World Endurance Championship.
The world's most prestigious endurance race was first held in May 1923, but has since been run in June, with two exceptions. In 1956 the event was held in July, while in 1968 civil unrest in France caused the event to be delayed until September. The race has been cancelled ten times: in 1936 due to a labour strike, and between 1940 and 1948 due to World War Two.
? Rolls-Royce has confirmed it will suspend production at its Goodwood manufacturing plant from Monda 23 March. The suspension is currently planned for two weeks, and leads into the already scheduled two-week Easter maintenance shutdown. It added that day-to-day operations will be assured by non-production staff at the company's head office, or working remotely.
Company boss Torsten M?ller-?tv?s said: “This action has not been taken lightly, but the health and well-being of our exceptional workforce is first and foremost in our minds. We are a tight-knit community at the Home of Rolls?Royce and I have no doubt that our resilience will shine through during this extraordinary time.
"As a deeply customer-focused company we are aware that this decision to pause our production will possibly cause some discomfort or inconvenience to a few of our esteemed patrons, for which we apologise while seeking their understanding at this difficult time.”
? Porsche has announced that it will stop production for an initial period of two weeks. The decision will affects its Zuffenhausen and Leipzig plants in Germany, with the suspension starting from Saturday 21 March. The firm cited the protection of its personnel due to coronavirus, but added that bottlenecks in its supply chain no longer enabled "orderly production". The firm also said it is anticipating a decline in demand.
? Toyota is suspending production at all of its European plants, including its two UK facilities in Burnaston, Derbyshire and Deeside, Flintshire. Full story here.
? The BMW Group is also in the process of halting production at all of its European factories, along with its site in South Africa. They will all be closed by the end of the week, and is currently scheduled to last until 19 April.
?Honda will suspend production at all of its North American plants for six days from 23 March, due to an "anticipated decline in market demand". It said it will continue to pay staff fully during the suspension, and will also utilise the period to enhance deep cleaning measures. The move will affect plants in the USA, Canada and Mexico.
? The Teslafactory in Fremont, California is set to be forced to close, with officials in Alameda County having reportedly determined it is a "non-essential" business. The plant was originally set to stay open despite a "stay at home" order in the county, but county spokesperson Sargeant Ray Kelly told The Mercury News: "If Tesla was a hospital, if Tesla was a laundromat, if Tesla was a mechanic shop, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But Tesla makes cars, and that’s not essential for us to get through this health crisis.”
Tuesday 17 March: Ford and VW Group announce plant closures
? Ford will suspend production at its factories in continental Europe from Thursday 19 March. The decision, which the firm expects "will continue for a number of weeks" will affect two plants in Germany and one in Romania. The firm has already suspended production at its Valencia factory after three workers were confirmed with coronavirus. The firm's two UK engine plants are not affected.
The firm added that while dealerships in some countries have temporarily closed their sales operations, its dealers are committed to "provide essential maintenance and service across the continent".
? The Volkswagen Group is shutting down most of its factories in Europe, with boss Herbert Diess saying that it's “almost impossible” to forecast the company's 2020 financial performance. Full story here.
? The first three rounds of this year's British Touring Car Championship have been postponed following the lastest UK government advice on limiting mass gatherings. The season was due to begin at Donington Park this weekend. Governing body Motorsport UK is suspending all event permits until at lease April 30. Full story here.
? The Tesla factory in Fremont, California, US is remaining open, despite a "shelter in place" lockdown being issued for the area in which it's located. The plant, where the Model 3 is produced, has been deemed an essential business by Alameda County.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Tesla boss Elon Musk has emailed the plant's 10,000 workers saying they can stay at home if they feel unwell or uncomfortable.
? The Goodwood Members' Meeting, which was due to take place at the Sussex race circuit this weekend, has been postponed due to UK government restrictions on public gatherings. Organisers say they're “exploring a range of alternative dates” for the event and will continue planning for July’s Festival of Speed and September’s Revival meeting “in the hope that both events will be able to go ahead as planned”.
Monday 16 March: Automotive industry race to produce ventilators, Vauxhall's UK plant closed
? The UK government is in talks with major automotive manufacturers, including Ford and Honda, about producing ventilators for the NHS in their UK production facilities. Full story here.
The idea has precedent: in China, the car industry is already helping to battle the spread of coronavirus. Chinese car maker BYD has created production lines at its Shenzen facility to produce face-masks and disinfectants. It says that it's producing 300,000 bottls of disinfectant and five million masks per day, making it the world's largest producer of the latter product.
? The PSA Group will stage phased closures of all of its factories across Europe, including the Vauxhall plants at Ellesmere Port and Luton. Full story here.
? Ford has closed its factory in Valencia, Spain after three worked tested positive for Covid-19. The site was due to shut for from Wednesday to Friday anyway.
In a statement, Ford said: “We have had three positive cases for Covid-19 on the Valencia site in a 24-hour period, two of which involved more isolated workers that did not enter the assembly operations. We are taking quick action to follow the established protocol, including the identification and self-isolation of all employees who had close contact with the affected workers. We will take all other appropriate steps to ensure that risk from this situation is minimised.”
Sunday 15 March: Ferrari shutters Maranello factory
? Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is closing the majority of its European plans until 27 March, including six in Italy and those in Serbia and Poland. Ferrari will also close its Maranello factory, while Italian brake manufacturer Brembo is also shutting down. Full story here.
? The World Rally Championship event in Mexico was halted early so that the competing teams would have extra time to get home, given the increase in travel restrictions. The next event, Rally Argentina, has been postponed.
The Australian Grand Prix was cancelled hours before first practice was due to begin, following the withdrawal of the McLaren team after one of its staff tested positive for Covid-19. The subsequent Bahrain, Vietnam and Chinese grands prix have also been cancelled or postponed. Formula 1 bosses are now looking to start the season in late May or June.
Mid-sized SUV, set for an unveiling in 2020, gains Juke-inspired styling but retains overall silhouette
The next-generation Nissan X-Trail SUV, set to be revealed later this year, has been previewed in a patent filed by the manufacturer in Brazil.
The images lack detail, but it's apparent that the Skoda Kodiaq rival will take heavy styling influence from therecently revealed Juke as Nissan seeks to implement a familiar look across its model range. The main changes are at the front, where Nissan has squared off the current car's rounded nose.
Tweaks at the rear look to be much more subtle. There's a gently restyled version of the current car's bootlid, a reshaped spoiler and a new 'double bubble' roof design, but the overall silhouette looks remarkably similar.
Prototypes for the new US-market version of the X-Trail, the Nissan Rogue, were spotted testing late last year and hinted at the design of the fourth-generation X-Trail, with a more prominent grille and larger wheel arches.
Inside, the new Rogue has more technology than the outgoing model. The instruments are digital for the first time. Other additions include an updated infotainment system, large touchscreen display with sat-nav features and a black and chrome set-in-place gearstick. These details are also expected to be carried over to the new X-Trail.
We take a humble Yeti through the Kingdom of Bhutan, via the infamous ‘death road’, in search of the mystical creature with which it shares its name
There’s a traffic jam of humongous trucks in front of me, and I’m teetering between a landslide of rocks and a sheer drop off a towering cliff, adamant that I won’t be reversing.
And so begins my journey in the Kingdom of Bhutan, at which we arrived by the most grandiose border point I’ve ever seen: a golden gate befitting a kingdom, opened on command to let our convoy of Skoda Yetis through.
This article was originally published on 20 November 2016. We're revisiting some of Autocar's most popular features to provide engaging content in these difficult times.
You’ll be familiar with the Yeti, that boxy, Marmite-styling SUV launched in 2010 and one of the early contenders in a now swamped segment. But despite fresher cars such as the Kia Sportage and Nissan Qashqai, Skoda is still keeping up; it sold more Yetis in the UK in 2015 than ever before.
So what exactly am I doing in Bhutan? Well, it’s one of the most remote countries in the world, considered the ultimate Shangri-La, so it’s the perfect place to see whether a Yeti can stand up to the toughest of elements. There’s also a far more tenuous reason: Bhutanese people believe in the existence of the car’s namesake, the yeti. My destination is a wildlife sanctuary where yetis – or megoe, as they’re called in Bhutan – supposedly reside.
To get there, we – a convoy of Bhutanese guides and back-up – start at the border town with India, Samdrup Jongkhar, on the southern edge of the landlocked country. As we climb away from the quiet hubbub of the town, we quickly come to the mountain roads, full of the unexpected – wandering cows and smiling, waving people – as well as Buddhist shrines. I soon realise this isn’t a place for car spotting. There’s only a handful of vehicles. The most prevalent are big Tata trucks (see ‘The vehicles of Bhutan’, overleaf) adorned with multi-coloured religious symbolism and chugging out big clouds of black smoke.
In contrast, Bhutan’s prime minister, Tshering Tobgay, has something more sustainable planned for the nation’s vehicles: he wants everyone to go electric. It’s part of a broader environmental policy that says at least 60% of the land area must be forest – a figure they’ve already surpassed by 10% – and it’s the only nation in the world that is carbon negative. In 2014 Tobgay did a deal with Nissan to supply a bunch of electric Leafs. So committed is Bhutan that the king owns one (and a Toyota Land Cruiser, apparently) and the queen drives a Toyota Prius. Former environment minister Dasho Benji, who also owns a Leaf, told me uptake would come “slowly, slowly” and acknowledged that technology needed to improve for the cars to really take off. EVs are viable in the capital, Thimphu, but in the wilds of mountainous eastern Bhutan where we’re driving, an EV wouldn’t last five minutes.
Although Bhutan has similar issues on EV uptake to us in the UK, it’s coming from a very different standpoint. With a population of 750,000, there are no more than 50,000 vehicles on the road. An even more staggering figure came from a former tutor to the king, Englishman Michael Rutland, who said that when he arrived in 1971, there were only 47 vehicles in the entire country.
Nevertheless, it isn’t long before we hit the aforementioned stand-off on the so-called ‘death road’, as my passengers inform me that we’re inches from the edge of the cliff. Our saving grace is a friendly local in front of us, who has clearly marked us out as foreigners. He directs the oncoming trucks to the edge of the road, allowing us to squeeze through. Hallelujah. We plough on, never at more than 20mph; there’s too much dust, too many wheel-crunching potholes and that ever-present sheer drop just inches to our left.
Not long after arriving at our lunch stop, I find a lama (a monk of sorts) blessing our cars. There’s some surreal chanting and incense burning and then it’s over. I have no idea what just happened, but I’m certain our safety on the journey is guaranteed.
Later, as the night draws in, we hit a small town full of unlit streets. It makes for a stunningly starry sky, but trying to drive amid cows napping in the middle of the street while pedestrians walk along the side is tense, to say the least.
The next day, refreshed, we’re back in our Yetis. I’m driving the Yeti Outdoor 4x4 in SE L trim, which is just under ?25k in the UK, but this one is for the neighbouring Indian market and built in a plant in Aurangabad in central-west India. I was expecting a poor man’s version of the UK model, but the differences are indistinguishable. We even have leather seats.
As we climb higher, our guides have told us, the scenery becomes stunning, but I’m so blown away by the first day’s panoramas that it’s hard to believe it can be bettered. But they were right. As the air becomes thinner and we struggle to talk, let alone walk, the vistas become even more inspiring – and the roads become even more dicey.
The route to our highest point of 3530 metres is a new road, built two years ago. Visions of velvety-smooth asphalt are not to be. It is, at best, a track, and a rough, ropey one at that. Still, the locals must be pleased: it was a three-day walk before this road existed.
And so we arrive breathless at Marek village near Sakteng wildlife sanctuary, where the yetis supposedly live, and where there isn’t a single car. In fact, fewer than 30 tourists visit annually. We speak to locals about the real yeti, but most Bhutanese are non-committal, saying that beliefs don’t have to equate to ‘tangible’ things. There’s an evasive answer.
As suspected, you can’t rely on the yeti, but our Yeti is much more reliable. Honestly, I’d never have chosen a Yeti for an epic road trip, but it has been hard to fault. Its saving grace, alongside the four-wheel drive system, has been the Rough Road package, a ?210 option, which includes underbody protective cladding. Numerous ‘ouch’ moments, as we hit the sharp edge of lethal rocks or deep ravines, have been negated and hill descent control has become my best friend.
Although the Yeti will never be a Land Rover, its four-wheel drive system, which uses a fifth-generation Haldex coupling, has surpassed expectations. Almost a third of UK owners opt for 4x4 in the Yeti, but I’m doubtful many get as much of a hammering as ours has. Deployed for at least three-quarters of the journey, it has managed every hairy situation thrown at it with grace and emerges from our treacherous drive unscathed. And I’m still amazed there have been no punctures.
After two days, I’d typically be reluctant to return to a car, but the Yeti is still growing on me. Although the interior is dated compared with its siblings, it’s comfy and well specced. My only complaints are the lack of a USB port – which isn’t the case with UK models – slightly upright back seats and a high biting point for the clutch, which every single driver struggled with on some of the tough terrain.
On our final day we retrace our steps, making this a 680km (423-mile) round trip. A former navigator of this journey once counted the corners: there are 40,000. No wonder I’ve spent a large amount of time feeling queasy.
As we arrive back in Samdrup Jongkhar after 14 hours of driving, we’re all a little bit broken. The Yeti has excelled, but driving on roads capable of knocking out your crowns take their toll. True, 680km doesn’t sound like much, but we’ve averaged nearly six minutes per kilometre and never ventured above the third of six gears. Our average fuel economy, according to the car, is 25mpg.
We hug our new friends goodbye and I’m sad to be leaving this country and our transport. I’m blown away by beautiful Bhutan and its people and more enamoured than I ever thought I could be with a Yeti.
Former Autocar road tester and current bloke on telly Chris Harris recently called the Mazda 3 “the most interesting looking and sounding family car to launch in the past year”. From somebody who doesn’t hold back his distaste for many modern cars, that’s some praise. I have to agree: few models in its class look and feel so special.
The mild-hybrid (MHEV) Mazda 3 has a display that you get on full-hybrids, showing the juggling of battery and motor – although the battery can never solely propel the car. The most interesting MHEV trait is a little boost when upshifting. The display also tells you when you’re in compression ignition mode, which it usually claims to be until about 5000rpm.
A few weeks ago, I caught one of my neighbours ogling the 3 for a good while. He’s now got one on his drive. Desirability sells and, from the looks I’ve been getting, the svelte Mazda can be flogged on that alone. It got me thinking: with sub-?30k coup?s all but dead, this is probably the closest you can get to something like a VW Scirocco these days.
A comparison with the high-rise, but similar, CX-30 is revealing - 12 February 2020
Gone are the days when a new car competed with three or four core rivals in the same class.
Ever-expanding ranges and niches that don’t remain so for very long mean most mid-sized metal is cross-shopped between two or more car categories now – even within one brand itself.
So when Mazda launched the similarly sized, priced and positioned CX-30 crossover hatch-cum-SUV, we thought there was plenty of merit in living with it for a week to compare it with our long-term 3. And indeed there was.
The maker hasn’t gone to great lengths to disguise the CX-30’s platform relation. The design similarity is clear, though to our eyes the crossover trades a good chunk of the hatchback’s tight proportions and clean elegance with the adoption of plastic body cladding and a more upright stance. Interestingly, instead of making the SUV variant bigger as is usually the case, it’s actually 70mm shorter in length than the 3. Mazda claims this, along with the higher driving position, makes it easier to manoeuvre around town – and we’d agree with that claim.
An unsurprising negative, however, is that rear seat space suffers. Given our 3 isn’t exactly generous in rear proportions, the significant leg-room reduction means a six-footer would look decidedly glum squeezed behind the driver. In all other respects, the interior is faithful to our 3: smartly styled and intuitively designed. In fact, there’s very little from the inside to make you think you’re in a high-riding variant – the driver’s seat sits an inch or so higher, if that.
Mechanically, there’s little difference. Both cars are powered by the 178bhp Skyactiv-X petrol engine, although the CX-30 here features all-wheel drive (also optional on the 3). With a relatively slight 57kg weight penalty (add 71kg to that for the all-wheel-drive car), performance feels broadly similar, and indicated fuel economy on our week-long test managed to match our 3’s figure, despite the all-wheel drive.
But there’s a distinct difference in the dynamic character of the two cars. Unlike some makers who feel the need to stiffen up the SUV version to counter for the higher centre of gravity, Mazda seems to have relaxed the CX-30’s spring rates, meaning a softer ride in combination with squidgier, larger-diameter tyres. It’s more comfortable over pitted Tarmac than the 3, but the tradeoff is floatier body control and a reduced feeling of agility and composure in the bends.
Would I have the CX-30 over the 3? Personally, no. I enjoyed it, however, and there’s no question that it’s one of the more engaging and characterful cars in its class, but the lower, lighter and (crucially) far prettier 3 always wins out for me.
Back to the 3 itself, which was in the wars before Christmas after contact with a particularly brutal pothole. It actually knocked the steering wheel off-centre, so we had to take it to a tyre fitter to get the alignment sorted. While that straightened the tracking out again, it didn’t do much to fix the background humming noise from the front tyres between 40mph and 65mph. Our hunch is that we lost a wheel weight in the impact, so we’ll have to book it in again to get that sorted. In the meantime, we’ll be using that age-old temporary fix of turning up the radio a bit.
Goes like it looks The 3 is, to our eyes, far prettier than the CX-30, but it’s also more fun to drive. We know which one we’d pick.
Hard over potholes The CX-30’s softer set-up would’ve been likely to cushion the impact of the damaging pothole more.
Mazda’s instruments hit all the right notes - 15th January 2020
You can tell Mazda is run by car enthusiasts, not bean counters. It’s evident in details such as the 3’s instruments, which are superbly clear and legible. There’s a traditional engine temp gauge, too, and I like the fuel range warning. When it drops below 20 miles, the ‘miles to empty’ counts down one mile at a time. Perfect for those of us who relish a bit of fuel light bingo.
Our car has an uncanny knack of humiliating its driver - 8th January 2020
Having now recovered from my learner driver stalling tendencies detailed in my last update (I haven’t stalled the Mazda in weeks), I’ve now plumbed new depths of idiocy by managing to run the 3’s battery flat not once but twice in the space of two weeks.
The first time I was confused. Walking towards the car on my way to work, I reached for the handle to activate keyless entry, but nothing happened. A tap of the button, not a sound. My first thought was a dead key battery or locking issue, so I prised out the physical, emergency lock key, which is surprisingly tricky to slot into the door and use.
On discovering that the interior lights didn’t work, too, I realised exactly what had happened. After an apologetic ‘I’ll be late’ message to the boss, I called Mazda assist, who arrived within the hour with some jump leads (I’d just moved house and left mine behind). It turned out I’d somehow nudged the light stalk switch from auto to sidelights when getting out the night before and not noticed.
Amazingly, I did it again not long after, but this time I was prepared with a portable jump starter. I was feeling particularly sheepish until my colleague informed me he’d done the same with the Mazda. I then learned from Twitter that a few others had had a similar experience with 3s on test. The culprit? Everyone agreed the ‘lights on’ buzzer was far too quiet to be noticed. Given how clever car systems are these days, it’s amazing the car doesn’t know the battery is running flat and kill the lights itself.
Anyway, with these episodes behind me, I’m settling quite comfortably into life with the svelte Mazda. Despite a layer of winter grime and a less than distinctive paint job, it still draws admiring glances, but it’s the cabin that does it for me. I think it’s a best-in-class combination of fit and finish, simplicity of operation and design nous. Cold weather has uncovered a couple of light rattles, but it’s an early production model and I’ve driven far pricier stuff of late with worse interior noises.
Despite being full of praise for its design, I can’t help feeling a touch underwhelmed by the much-lauded Skyactiv-X motor. Economy hovering around the 43mpg mark is respectable but not exceptional given my motorway-heavy commute, but my issues are more with refinement. I love a good engine note as much as the rest, but the 2.0-litre unit’s gruff tones between 2 and 4000rpm (ie where you spend most of your time) can grate on occasion, with a diesel-like knocking noise sometimes rearing its head on part-throttle.
I’ve also had a request from a reader to comment on the 3’s torsion-beam rear-axle set-up, which he describes as “cheap and nasty” compared with the previous car’s independent rear. It’s a fair (if strong) point, but unfortunately it’s increasingly becoming the norm: even Mercedes’ A-Class comes so equipped in lesser specs, and Ford’s latest Focus is (as of last year) torsion beam only on everything except the 2.0-litre diesels. They are not only cheaper to make but far more space efficient.
That feeling of embarrassment at stalling at a junction has returned with the 3. It was happening daily at first, and I breathed a sigh of relief when I found out other colleagues had suffered the same indignity. A slightly abrupt clutch action aside, most of the blame can be placed on us for being so used to the low-down grunt of turbo motors.
Welcoming the Mazda 3 to the fleet - 27th November 2019
It’s generally been accepted for several years that, bar the odd bit of fiddling, combustion engines have largely peaked in terms of internal development. So when a company came along claiming a genuine innovation, we sat up and took notice. So much so that a first drive or week-long loan wasn’t sufficient: we needed to see this car’s ability to perform in a variety of scenarios over a longer period.
That car is the Mazda 3. Yes, as you’ve likely read if you regularly thumb through this magazine, the humble, rather left-field hatchback is the first model from the humble, rather left-field Japanese brand to make use of its groundbreaking Skyactiv-X engine tech. While six months is hardly a full verdict into its long-term reliability, we’re hoping to uncover the good and the bad of this innovative system (and the car it’s attached to) as the miles pile on. And pile on they will, with the 3 pushed into service for airport runs, long-distance trips and – more regularly – my 80-mile round-trip commute.
Missed all the fuss about Skyactiv-X? Well, here’s a brief explanation. The engine uses something other manufacturers have been unable to perfect for decades: compression ignition (like that used in the diesel combustion process) of petrol. Under light loads, a lean fuel and air mixture is pushed into the cylinder under a very high 16.3:1 compression ratio. It won’t ignite like this alone, however. So as the piston compresses the lean mix, a small amount of a richer fuel mixture is squirted towards the spark plug.
As this ignites it increases pressure further, in turn igniting the leaner mixture filling the cylinders, burning it more cleanly and efficiently. Give it the beans, however, and the system switches to a conventional petrol combustion process.
To achieve this the Mazda makes use of a supercharger, but that isn’t there for the power gains – simply to supply enough air to keep the lean burn process going. If that fearsome complexity isn’t enough, the 3 also gets a 24V mild-hybrid system that harvests energy when slowing down and uses it to assist acceleration.
Lost interest? All you really need to know is that it’s a naturally aspirated petrol engine that makes 178bhp, emits from just 100g/km of CO2 and promises 50mpg in the real world. Witchcraft made real by Mazda’s boffins.
However, there’s more to Mazda’s Ford Focus rival than clever stuff under the bonnet. For starters, the svelte looks have already won favour with the vast majority in the Autocar office. The old model was hardly ugly, but at a stroke it’s made to look lumpen and clumsy by the curvy, clean and minimalist lines of the new model. The proportions, too, mark it out from rivals: that strikingly low bonnet, the low roof and steep rake of the rear window, and the chunky C-pillar give it a distinctive identity, as do the neat front and rear light clusters.
It all means that, in my view, this is the prettiest car in its class, and despite my disappointment that we weren’t getting a Soul Red one, I’m happy with the combination of Machine Grey, black wheels and, especially, the burgundy leather. Ah yes, that interior: another reason to go for the Mazda over the more obvious class choices.
The first thing that strikes you on entering is the perception of quality brought about by everything you touch and interact with. Door cards and armrests are plushly padded, switchgear feels expensively hewn and damped and the material mix is far more Mercedes than Mazda. It’s really impressed everyone who’s been on board so far.
And unlike our now departed long-term A-Class, which I personally felt was more about superficial chintz than actual substance inside, the ergonomic execution seems near-perfect. Niggles will no doubt emerge as the months tick by, but a thousand miles in and I’m struggling to find fault.
There are physical buttons for the things you use regularly, such as the climate controls, simple music functions and some driver assist features. But even the functions that are buried in the infotainment are easily accessible, as Mazda (along with BMW) is one of the last to keep the super-intuitive rotary click wheel, which combines with simple, clear menus to make every task a doddle. Other manufacturers, take note: your cars are getting more frustrating to operate because of the over-reliance of touchscreen fingerprint magnets and dodgy voice control.
Not that the Mazda is lacking on the kit front. Our GT Sport trim is one rung below top spec, and it’s crammed with features like heated leather seats (electric on the driver’s side), a heated steering wheel, a 12-speaker Bose sound system, a head-up display – the list goes on. You don’t need to splash out on our spec, though: even base models get LED headlights, traffic-sign recognition and – amazingly – radar cruise control. The Mazda’s keyless entry is great, too, allowing you to lock the car with a swipe of the door handle – useful, as the key isn’t the most pleasant thing to behold.
Complaints so far? We have to nitpick. The driver’s seat doesn’t quite go low enough for a truly sporting feel, while I can already see there will be some complaints from those in the back due to the shortage of head room. If that’s all we can whinge about, then it’s a great start. Time well spent with the car will dictate whether the gushing reports continue to flow.
I couldn’t wait to try out the new Mazda 3, having been blown away by its fantastic design. Turns out the interior is the real star: it looks superb, feels lovely and works seamlessly. Must admit, I felt a tad let down by the Skyactiv-X engine, because I expected diesel-like torque, but it did prove frugal.
Specs: Price New ?26,675 Price as tested ?27,545 Options Machine Grey metallic paint ?670, burgundy leather trim ?200
Test Data: Engine 4-cyls, 1998cc, petrol Power 178bhp at 6000rpm Torque 165lb ft at 3000rpm Kerb weight 1411kg Top speed 134mph 0-62mph 8.2sec Fuel economy 48.7mpg CO2 no WLTP data available Faults None Expenses None
Why pick the blackest day of your national crisis to announce a return to supercar-making?
Italy is now widely hoped to be over the very worst of its tragic national ordeal with Coronavirus. It’s clearly too early to write such a thing without touching wood with just about every extremity of your body; and I freely accept that some people would probably rather I didn’t tempt fate by writing it at all.
Still, the figures I’m looking at suggest that the number of new Covid-19 diagnoses in the country peaked on March 21st. While the total number of infected people is still rising, it looks to have almost levelled off. Daily reported deaths from Covid-19 has so far surpassed the 900 threshold only once – on March 27th. The world will be watching closely in the desperate hope that it doesn’t pass that mark again.
Whatever the numbers are saying, you can barely make it through a TV news bulletin without realising just how awful the public health crisis in Italy remains. If you or I were responsible for an idling business out there, we would surely wait until certain that the worst of it had passed before we even considered calling our workforces back to the coal face; let alone announced anything. And yet March 27th was also the day chosen by Ferrari to announce that it would seek to resume car production in both Maranello and Modena on April 14th.
To give Ferrari some credit here, it is at least a distant, slightly disconnect part of a group of car-makers that has already contributed in the effort to fight the virus in Italy - and we probably shouldn’t castigate the firm for wanting things returned to normal as quickly as possible. It has business interests to protect, just like the rest of the industry; and once their lives are no longer under imminent threat, the Italian people will next quite understandably be concerned with their livelihoods.
Ferrari minority shareholders the Agnelli family has donated money to the crisis management effort, and the firm has been part of a joint effort to source ventilators and medical supplies from overseas. The FCA Group has also provided transport to the Italian Red Cross and the Italian National Association for Public Assistance.
Even so, it was both the tone and the timing of the press release from the firm on March 27th that offended me. The assertion, on what might well turn out to have been the blackest day of the entire pandemic for a country already in mourning and so clearly struggling under the crushing weight of a national crisis, that even the most serious and pressing commercial concern might still matter. It was at the very least insensitive in the extreme. The international stock markets could have waited another 48hrs, couldn’t they?
The release ended with the line that the company “remains confident that, in view of its brand equity, strong balance sheet and sound business model, it will continue to create value for all stakeholders beyond the near term uncertainties.” Well, I'd suggest that prized brand equity might have just taken a bit of an entirely avoidable hit actually, fellers.
This has never been a company held up for particular ethical rectitude, I realise. If its F1 team manages to get away from its latest engine scandal without punishment, it'll have pulled off something of a neat trick; although cheating at sport hardly seems comparable to this. I wouldn't be at all surprised if Ferrari's name ends up being added to that of Sports Direct and JD Wetherspoons in the 'how not to conduct your corporate strategy in a global public health emergency' hall of infamy. Hit that comment button and let me know if you agree.
Owning a sports car need not break the bank. Here's our choice of the top 10 affordable sports cars
Never has the choice of sports cars at the affordable end of the spectrum been greater, each offering thrills to match and in some cases exceed those of more expensive peers.
It's not all about brake horsepower at this end of the market: most of the cars in our top 10 list put driving bliss ahead of raw, straight-out performance. But we guarantee each will put a huge smile on your face.
Every significant component part of the Alpine A110driving experience – from the rasping turbocharged torque of its engine to the hilariously immersive poise and panache of its handling – is all about the F word: fun. It brings to life journeys and roads that rivals wouldn’t and has handling for which your affection can only grow as you explore it more closely.
Anatomise the car and you won’t find too many mechanical ingredients or areas you could genuinely call exceptional; but put them all together and you can’t help but conclude that the A110 is a much greater car – and achievement - than the sum of its parts would suggest. The subsequent arrival of the A110 S has also seen power rise to 288bhp and the fitment of firmer suspension, though the basic A110 remains the sweeter machine for road driving.
The new BMW M2 Competition is now the only M2 model you can buy here in Britain, and that’s no bad thing. The previous model’s single-turbo six-cylinder unit has been swapped out for the twin-turbocharged straight six (albeit in slightly detuned form) from the larger M3 and M4 models, while a handful of tweaks to the chassis and suspension mean it’s now even sharper and more controlled on battered UK roads than ever before. Weighty steering allows you to point the car’s nose into a corner with confidence, and it’s supremely adjustably on the throttle, too.The new M2 Competition is so good, in fact, that we think it’s one of the best driver’s cars BMW currently makes. You won’t be disappointed.
In that respect, Porsche can certainly be accused of dealing ill with this car. The four-cylinder 2.0-litre and 2.5-litre turbo flat fours that were pressed into service in the car in 2016 attracted a lot of criticism for sounding toneless, and also lacking the purist driver appeal of the atmospheric flat sixes they replaced. Later still, Porsche retuned the car's 2.0-litre engine for WLTP-emissions compliance and released the Boxster- and Cayman T - whose unresponsiveness made a controversial situation worse.
However, in one of the most unexpected industry U-turns in recent memory, in 2019 Porsche reintroduced a naturally aspirated flat-six engine, albeit only for the Cayman and Boxster GTS models. It’s a superb engine by any standards, though even when hampered by the four-cylinders’ underwhelming and slightly undeserving personalities, this car maintains its position right at the sharp end of our affordable sports cars chart. Practical, upmarket, superb-handling, ever engaging to drive, and plenty fast even in four-cylinder form, the 718 has it all - and it takes a car of once-in-a-generation dynamic brilliance to beat it.
Was the Toyota Supra the most hotly anticipated new car of 2019? Quite likely. After an absence lasting some two decades, Toyota’s iconic sports car finally returned to the UK. But were it not for a collaboration with BMW - out of which the new Z4 was also spawned - it’s likely this icon would never have been reborn. As such, beneath the Supra’s striking exterior, you’ll find an engine, platform, transmission, slippy diff, electrics and plenty of switchgear all distinctly Bavarian in origin.
Toyota certainly isn’t pulling its punches, then. And in many ways, it’s the Supra that makes for the superior sports car. It might not be able to quite match the handling purity and balance of the Porsche, but it isn’t far off. Its ride is impressively supple, its engine is smooth and far more characterful and it’d be far easier to live with on a daily basis.
There isn’t a single area in which this new Mazda MX-5 fails to surpass its predecessor. It’s shorter, lighter, more spacious and better laid out. It’s sharper-looking but still disarming and distinctive. It’s faster, more frugal and even more vibrant and engaging to drive.
In 2018, Mazda facelifted its iconic roadster, with the headline change being a 23bhp power hike for its fiesty 2.0-litre engine. A steering column that also now adjusts for reach was also introduced.
All that and yet the MX-5 is still every inch the same zesty and inimitable car that it was. Its character hasn’t altered at all. Nothing on this list offers a better pounds-per-smile rating.
In a recent group test, the range-topping BMW Z4 M40i actually came out victorious against a lower-order Porsche 718 Boxster T. Although we concluded that it ultimately wasn’t as composed, incisive or keen-handling as the daintier Boxster, its refinement, powerful and responsive straight six engine and bruising straight-line pace won it a great deal of affection from our testers. That it also has a distinct sense of street-fighter character also weighs heavily in the BMW’s favour.
That said, higher-order strains of the 718 still provide a purer, more enticing take on an affordable sports car. And while there’s undoubtedly plenty of scope for excitement on offer in the BMW, as a precision tool, it’s still not quite as sharp as some of the lighter, smaller contenders in this class.
The Lotus Elise is utterly brilliant to drive if you’re in the mood. It has one of the world’s best-handling chassis and exquisite steering. But this Lotus is old and could be seen as expensive if you like to judge your cars objectively.
Yes, this car does have significant drawbacks in the UK. Yes, you do have to think twice about where you’re going to park it in town, as well as factor in the far greater number of visits to fuel pump than your peers make, but no other car at this price – or several price points higher – can do what the Mustang does.
Its powertrain brings with it an appeal that engines with fewer cylinders simply cannot and its inherent chassis balance is absolutely peachy. Sensible be damned.
Coup?-crossover rides around 15cm higher than before
For those of you who’ve never got over the passing of Europe's Mustang, we’ve brought it back to life – in design form at least
Even now, 34 years on, you don’t have to search far to find pockets of hardcore Ford lovers still outraged that a bunch of disconnected bosses in Dearborn killed the Capri. The name, the image, the affordable style – plus 1.9 million sales – should have kept a great car alive, they will argue to the grave.
Sadly, this enduring love for ‘the car you always promised yourself’, along with its steadily rising classic prices, obscure the fact that by 1986 the Ford Capri had run its race. Front-wheel drive was taking over, Ford dealers were having a great time selling XR3i hot hatches and the Capri’s secret weapon, a close under-skin relationship with Ford’s volume saloons, was disappearing. The decision to kill it was hard-nosed but right.
Here’s the irony. Today, the case for a new Ford Capri could be back on the table. At least according to Autocar and its readers, that is. Last year, in an ‘icons recreated’ feature, we proposed a different kind of Capri and the idea won warm approval. The model could come back as an electric coup? crossover, we argued, especially given the fact that Ford itself had recently argued that an effective way of introducing people to electrification was to apply new technology to iconic models. There's already a Mustang-influenced electric SUV on its way to dealerships, so why not a more compact European creation called Capri CC (for Coup? Crossover)?
The more we mulled this idea, the better we liked it. Egged on by your reaction, we decided to propose it as a project to the designers and engineers at Envisage Group, a Coventry-based car creation company we know of old: a couple of years ago, Envisage helped us create a family five-door concept we called Share EV, complete with package drawings, a resolved mechanical layout and powertrain, a bespoke suspension and a detailed interior proposal. This time, however, the name and purpose would be firmer at the start, but the process would be similar.
The job took three visits to Coventry over about six weeks: the first to outline the basics of the project (a compact, electrically powered two-plus-two coup?) and to meet Envisage’s designers and engineers; the second to review progress and discuss the design options early work would inevitably raise; and the third to view the finished design shown here.
Two of Envisage’s young design team – Michael Mills and Aadil Hafiz – we’ve met before because they worked on Share EV. The third, Jongbean ‘JB’ Kim, was new to us – as was Envisage’s engineering chief, Craig Bonham. He led the team that would ensure the car was big enough but not too big, propose its powertrain and suspension, and look after essential details such as the coup? crossover’s compatibility with the myriad rules that govern all new cars such as pedestrian protection detail, crash capability, headlight heights, vision and screen angles and much, much more.
Envisage’s mantra is that they can create a new car from initial idea to production. They’re also dab hands at recreating existing cars the old way, having been heavily involved in the hardware of Jaguar’s megabucks ‘continuation’ model projects such as the Lightweight E-Type and XKSS.
Until you get into the role of commissioning a new car, you’re not prepared for just how much guidance you’ll have to provide – do you like this grille/bonnet/screen/roofline/spoiler/exhaust instead of that one? And how about competing seat styles, console shapes, fascia designs, steering wheels, instrument bezels, gearlevers and all the rest? Even down to colours and textures. By the time of our second meeting, we had decided that the car would utilise familiar but modernised Capri styling influences and be similar in length to the 4.3-metre original, though shorter to the eye because it would ride around 15cm higher. It would also be up to 20cm wider to obey modern cockpit and styling dictates, as well as to accommodate the side-intrusion structures that have become mandatory since the original Capri was new. Our chosen wheels were ‘reasonable’ 20-inchers (the designers predictably wanted them bigger but the engineers laid down the law on grounds of easy steering).
Controversially for an electric car, this would be a rear-wheel-drive design with a conventional gearbox: a seven-speed DSG-style unit with shift paddles. Craig had seen and liked the idea – of all places – in contemporary electric conversions of Mazda RX-8s (good car, problematic rotary engine). The layout would allow us to use a less powerful, less bulky engine to be mounted in the nose, with the gearbox mounted more or less conventionally, driving the rear wheels via a tailshaft. Most importantly, it would let the keen driver shift gears by paddle, or leave it to an automatic mode.
The batteries, mounted beneath the occupants either side of the tailshaft, would run to 500kg, giving the car a reasonable if none-too-petite kerb weight of 2200kg. According to Envisage’s calculations, we’d be looking at a car with a 150- mile range, a 125mph top speed and 0-60mph acceleration of around 7.0sec. These seemed decent targets, perhaps a bit light on range according to very latest fashion, but lighter and more agile because of it.
We argued over exterior details proposed on Mike’s and Aadil’s various sketches, alighting on lights from one, a bonnet and frontal treatment from another, wheel arches from a third, and adding a subtle but distinctive side-window sill detail – a descending line just behind the windscreen pillar – that I especially like from the original Capri. When you’re the client, you can make such selfish decisions.
JB’s interior we all liked from the first. It was modern-traditional with sportily styled seats and door cards reminiscent of the original, though heavily edited. A high console ran through the car. It used a much nicer steering wheel that the original, yet with overtones of the classic. The fascia was entirely screen based, as simple as the Capri always was, especially in concept.
Projects like this always make an important point about professional car designers: how sanguine they must learn to be about criticism. Critics, usually clients, can dismiss many hours of work (with implicit good ideas) in a few ham-fisted sentences. Holding back when it’s your deeply held creativity being trashed must take a great deal of restraint. Even our Capri project, whose aims were clear and which involved designers who’d worked with one another for several years, turned out to be an amalgam of ideas from different sources. Raw but not too raw. Capri, but without the pudding over-egged.
Our final proposal is shown here, and we are all delighted. Envisage deployed their well-practised expertise at car creation all over again and we think it’s very credible. The sad thing for anyone who fancies one is that coming up with a decent-looking design is only a fraction of the car production journey.
To make this machine, Ford would first have to establish there was a demand, then work out where and how it would be made, and whether a realistic price would earn profits. It would have to design the car in much more detail, then configure the manufacturing process, find the suppliers, and do more durability and compliance testing than any of us can imagine. It would be at least three years’ worth. Still, one thing you can say here and now for the AutocarEnvisage Capri CC: it looks like a damned good idea.
This article was originally published on 31 March 2019. We're revisiting some of Autocar's most popular features to provide engaging content in these challenging times.
Where the Capri came from
Ford’s two-door coup? set out to be Europe’s Mustang, and did a pretty good job of it. Designed in the first instance by Philip T Clark (a Mustang veteran), it used Cortina Mk2 underbits and engines in a model line-up that started with a 1.3-litre version, also packing 1.6s and 2.0s. In performance spec, it housed the meaty British-made 3.0-litre V6 as its biggest engine before later changing to the sweeter Cologne-made 2.8i V6. The car lived through three iterations. The first, new in 1968, has almost disappeared thanks to the ravages of rust.
The very last Capri III was made at the end of 1986, its reputation as a decent driver’s car still intact. Had Ford persisted with front engine/ rear-drive family cars, it might have lasted longer (pan-European sales averaged a decent 100,000 units a year) but, without the running gear to support it, the Capri business case simply melted away. Ford imported a deeply unsuccessful US coup? called the Probe for a year or two, but pretty soon it was concentrating – rightly – on hot hatches and not looking back.
PHEVs are fast becoming some of the most important cars on our roads as more of us switch from pure combustion to electrified power. These are our favourites
The UK company car market is in the midst of a seismic shift right now.
The adoption of the latest WLTP emissions testing standard, combined with another tightening down of CO2-based UK company car tax rules, has really marginalised the suitability of conventional petrol- and diesel-powered cars for fleet use and shifted the spotlight squarely and unflinchingly onto the modern plug-in hybrid.
As many company car drivers will have already discovered to their cost, if you want to continue paying anything like the same benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax on a company car in 2020 as you did in 2019, the only way to do it – if you haven’t already – is to move out of a petrol or diesel car and into a PHEV.
These are the cars you should be considering for that big move. All are electrified hybrid options that’ll get you into the sub-50g/km CO2 money-saving BIK club, although, depending on their officially certified electric-only range, some currently qualify for a tax liability at 8% of their P11D price, some at 12% and others at 14%. Here’s how to choose wisely.
BMW’s competitors have followed its lead so many times when seeking success in the UK fleet market over the past few decades. It makes perfect sense, then, that BMW was the first premium brand to offer the market a really convincing plug-in hybrid executive option in the shape of the previous 330e, and that it should continue to lead the field with the current one.
The latest 330e combines a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine with an electric drive motor mounted upstream of the gearbox, making it handle and behave much like any other G20-generation 3-Series. It imposes a relative penalty on boot space compared with its conventionally powered siblings, but it’s unlikely that typical business users will notice the shortage, and cabin space is unharmed.
With up to 288bhp of combined electric and petrol urge, the 330e has a fleet turn of pace and feels particularly responsive, as well as slick-shifting. The weight of its hybrid powertrain can be detected only slightly, and only really in its occasionally permissive high-speed vertical body control. Most of the time, the 330e just feels like an agile, entertaining, first-rate 3 Series in its sporting driver appeal.
The 330e has a WLTP-certified electric-only range of 37 miles, putting it in the mid-range 12% BIK tax bracket for 2020-21.
Skoda may have been busting a gut to change perceptions of its brand of late, but when the opportunity to bring some simple metal-for-the-money value to the plug-in hybrid market presented recently, it didn’t blink. It launched the new fleet-friendly Superb iV: a car that uses the engine and hybrid drivetrain with which drivers of the Volkswagen Passat GTE have become familiar in these past few years but packages them in a bigger family car that's on offer at a lower list price.
The Superb iV is surprisingly normal, considering it’s Skoda’s first plug-in hybrid. It doesn’t promise a particularly exciting driving experience, nor is it loaded with ritzy onboard technology or clothed in novel styling features in order to advertise its electrified credentials. It drives, ride and handles pretty much like any other Superb – which means it’s fairly softly sprung and comfort-oriented, and that it's easygoing rather than alert and energetic in its pedal responses.
The sheer size of any Superb ought to be a selling point for some, and the iV version is no different. Despite the fact that the battery eats into boot space a little, there’s still 485 litres available in the hatchback version and more still in the estate. Electric range is WLTP-rated at 35 miles for a 12% BIK tax rating.
If you’re looking for a roomy and cost-effective PHEV option that feels normal, rather than novel (read ‘a bit funny’), to drive, look no further.
The Hyundai Ioniq PHEV is one of this market’s better-established options. When, in October 2018, the UK government removed the ?1500 tax incentive formerly applied to plug-in hybrids, the ones that best combined usability, real-world economy and value suddenly stood out. And this was, and remains, one of them.
Even now you’ll look long and hard for a plug-in hybrid available for less than ?30,000 – and bargain-hunters really needn’t look beyond this one. At the time of writing, Hyundai was even offering finance incentives worth ?2000 on the car, the likes of which you rarely see on in-demand electrified models.
The Ioniq PHEV offers usable cabin space for four adults, plenty of boot space and a viceless driving experience that, while neither particularly polished or exciting, won’t offend. It mixes combustion power with electric pretty seamlessly most of the time.
The car has an electric-only range of 32 miles on the WLTP cycle (putting it in the same BIK tax bracket as most of its opponents in this chart) and runs economically enough the rest of the time. Not with the frugality of the Toyota Prius or the performance of a Mini Countryman Cooper S E, admittedly, but well enough, and with competent ride and handling.
Mercedes-Benz is the only player in the PHEV segment offering the combination of a diesel engine and electric propulsion. In the E300de, it also allows you to choose a saloon or estate bodystyle, which is another advantage that isn’t as widely available as you might imagine. For those reasons and others, the E300de makes the top half of this chart.
Electric range only just scrapes a WLTP-certified 30 miles, although that will depend on optional specification, so the car may well miss a 12% BIK banding if you opt for bigger wheels or a sportier trim. The fact that it’s easy to add options and turn this into a ?50,000-plus prospect will also have an impact on its tax efficiency, of course.
In the real world, our testing suggests that 22-25 miles is as far as the E300de will run without rousing its four-pot diesel engine. And yet considering it has only four cylinders, its performance is impressively swift. Clever power management makes it easy to capture and recycle energy without realising you’re doing it and the handling is quietly deft and fairly precise for what is, after all, a two-tonne car.
Mercedes’ hybrid battery installation does take up some boot space, but it doesn’t prevent the E300de being a supremely practical car – particularly in estate form – as well as a smart, desirable and real-world-efficient one.
That Audi’s first plug-in hybrids came with e-tron badges makes it a little bit confusing that the very latest don’t; instead, Audi calls them TFSIe – and there are several headed to market throughout 2020.
The one that's already in showrooms is the petrol-electric Q5, the 55 TFSIe, which combines a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine with an electric drive motor for a combined peak power output of 362bhp. Performance is predictably strong, but it's not as impressive as the general smoothness of this car’s powertrain in day-to-day operation, which reeks of the kind of attention-to-detail for which its maker is known.
The disappointments, beyond a high purchase price, are slightly disappointing real-world economy (think 35mpg on longer journeys); a slightly remote-feeling, carefully filtered and heavily assisted driving experience; and the fact that it doesn't have more than 30 miles of electric range so can’t get below a 14% BIK tax band.
After a temporary suspension of sales, the Passat GTE returned to UK sales last year in updated form. The design came in for a nip and a tuck, but the biggest changes were made under the surface.
The battery pack was enlarged to 13kWh, increasing the car's electric range to as much as 36 miles on the WLTP cycle. The list price also fell, which will please the quarter or so of Passat buyers who will opt for the plug-in hybrid version. The powertrain itself consists of a reasonably refined turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol engine and an electric motor, with the two elements combining to deliver up to 215bhp to the front wheels through a six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox.
Admittedly, this isn't the quickest or the most exciting PHEV to drive by the segment’s latest standards but, in terms of breadth of appeal and understated Volkswagen-brand desirability, it has plenty to recommend it.
Volvo was one of the first premium brands to move into the plug-in hybrid field, but it has waited to get involved with a car priced to appeal in a big way to fleet operators. With the XC40 Recharge T5, however, it has crossed that threshold: this is a compact SUV with only a three-cylinder petrol engine and yet it has combined system outputs of 259bhp and 314lb ft, plus a starting price of only just above ?40,000.
Like the Audi Q5, the XC40 narrowly misses passing the 30-mile mark for electric range and so isn’t as cheap on BIK tax as other options here. Its driving experience also leaves a little bit to be desired, delivering neither the authoritative turn of speed to make you sit up and pay attention nor the slick refinement and polish to ease your passage. Rolling refinement is only okay, with an edge of firmess and brittleness afflicting sport-suspended R-Design-spec cars in particular.
Mini is growing and maturing as a car brand, and that’s evident in the second-generation Countryman – a car that's more practical and multifaceted than its predecessor and available as an impressive, if expensive, plug-in hybrid with around 27 miles of electric range on the WLTP cycle.
Like all Minis, the Countryman Cooper S E is characterful, desirable, quite firmly sprung and spirited to drive – but it also offers decent space for passengers and luggage, four-wheel drive, a combined 221bhp of peak power, 284lb ft of torque and the potential for sub-7.0sec 0-62mph sprints.
Its off-road ability is to be taken with a large pinch of salt, but if its value for money is considered in light of everything it offers, Mini-brand desirability included, it’s an appealing option.
Vauxhall is looking to become something of a mover and a shaker in the new-age plug-in hybrid fleet market, just as it was in the company car scene 20 years ago when the Vectra was in its pomp. The car it’s looking to for success isn’t anything like a traditional family saloon, however – rather its first petrol-electric SUV, the Grandland X Hybrid4.
Sharing its platform and its all-paw powertrain with a number of new Peugeot and DS models, the Grandland X certainly has the stats to catch your eye. Between its turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol engine and twin electric drive motors, it produces 296bhp and 383lb ft and can accelerate to 60mph from rest in less than 6.0sec.
That’s quite of a lot of performance on offer in a car that, thanks to the new tax rules, might cost a company car driver a similar monthly BIK outlay as they were previously paying for a mid-range diesel Qashqai. It's a shame, then, that this Vauxhall's driving experience struggles to deliver against such a top billing. It's quick in outright terms but can be unresponsive and clunky when switching between power sources, while it's a little short on handling finesse and engine-on mechanical refinement.
Unlike the Q5 and the XC40, the Grandland X does beat 30 miles of electric range (although not out on the road, in our test experience) and so qualifies for 12% BIK tax.
As the premium makers move to incorporate plug-in hybrid power into their line-ups, it was only a matter of time before the Mercedes-Benz A-Class sprouted a plug socket. We've driven this car – which combines a turbocharged 1.3-litre petrol engine with an electric motor for 215bhp in total – only briefly on German roads in bad weather, and it didn’t impress us much. But we’re hoping for a better showing in the UK.
The reason for that hope? A 15.6kWh battery pack, which is large for any PHEV and gives the A250e an electric range of up to 42 miles on the WLTP cycle, allowing it to be the only car in this list qualifying for 8% BIK tax.
You get the same luxuriant interior here as in any other A-Class and excellent infotainment technology, which both distinguish the car amont its peers no matter the powertrain.
It remains to be seen if the engine and gearbox will improve on the disappointing smoothness and drivability that we encountered in a pre-production car last year. If they do, expect the A250e to move up this list by a fairly long way.
It’s what’s inside that counts. In this case, the Fabia’s engine bay
In around 12 months’ time, the all-new Fabia will arrive in Skoda showrooms. About time, too, since the current, third-generation model under discussion here will, by then, be six years old. Still, it has done a great job of connecting Skoda’s supermini with a younger audience.
Being a Skoda, it’s a sturdy rather than plush motor but practical with a large boot and good rear cabin space; reliable, too, as its strong showing in surveys attests. It’s also great value. Prices start from around ?4500 for a 2015-reg 1.0 MPI 60 S, the entry-level model. This version is okay for scooting around town, but the engine is underpowered and hobbled by being paired with a tallish five-speed gearbox. That didn’t stop it selling well from new, though, and there are lots to choose from all the way to 2018 when it was dropped at the facelift.
There’s a punchier 74bhp version badged 1.0 MPI 75 (it survived the facelift), but it’s rare, presumably because the 1.2 TSI, with 89bhp or 108bhp, was only a bit more expensive per month on a PCP finance deal. Whatever the reason, these two 1.2 TSI engines are the ones to aim for, especially the 108bhp (badged 110) that comes with a sixspeed gearbox. A 2016-reg 1.2 TSI 110 SE with 50,000 miles costs around ?6500 and the lower-powered but more plentiful 90 SE about ?500 less.
Which leaves the diesels. There are three, all 1.4s and producing 74bhp, 89bhp and 104bhp. We found a privately advertised 2015-reg 1.4 TDI SE 90 with 43,000 miles for just ?4000 but, generally speaking, dealers ask from around ?5500. It goes without saying that the diesels are best if your mileage is on the high side (they’ll do around 60mpg), but you’ll need to look hard for one, because they’re easily outnumbered by the petrols and were dropped with the 2018 facelift.
You want an automatic gearbox? The Volkswagen Group’s excellent DSG dual-clutch is available with the 108bhp 1.2 TSI and 89bhp 1.4 TDI. They’re reasonably plentiful and a 2015-reg 1.2 TSI 110 DSG with 30,000 miles costs around ?7600 at a Skoda dealer. In 2017, just before the facelift, the 1.2 TSI petrols were replaced by torquier and more efficient 1.0 TSI units making 94bhp and 108bhp. As before, the more powerful engine has a six-speed gearbox and is our favourite for its better all-round performance. Pay from ?7000 for an approved used 2017-reg 1.0 TSI 95 with 26,000 miles.
When it finally came, the facelift signalled the end of the 1.0 MPI 60 as well as both the diesel engines. The 1.0 MPI 75 was spared along with the new 1.0 TSI units. Meanwhile, the styling was tweaked and daytime running lights were added. SE-L trim was the biggest winner, gaining sat-nav and 16in alloys.
Need to know
Beware the pre-2018 facelift 1.0-litre, three-cylinder 59bhp and 74bhp MPI petrol engines – they’re cheap but underpowered.
Hill-hold assist is an option on manuals but standard on the DSG.
Look out for cars with useful options including the Simply Clever pack (a net system and extra storage in the boot and a small door-mounted waste bin). A variable boot floor was another option. Check the standard-issue ice scraper is in the fuel filler.
Variable servicing means some Fabias may not have seen fresh oil for 20,000 miles or two years.
Skoda Fabia 1.2 TSI 110 SE: Not only is this 108bhp unit a sweet motor but it also has a six-speed gearbox where 89bhp versions of the same engine have the long-legged five-speeder that blunts performance.
Skoda Fabia 1.0 MPI 60 S: Only wild in that this is the cheapest, slowest and least well-equipped Fabia of them all. Which is why, of all the versions, it best expresses the Skoda brand’s no-nonsense value.
Environmentally friendly compostable batteries could be coming to road cars – but not for 15 years
Radical environmentally friendly organic batteries are a “very promising technology” being evaulated by Mercedes-Benz for future use in road cars – but it's at least 15 years away from mainstream production.
Organic batteries are made from graphene-based organic-cell chemistry with a water-based electrolyte. That means they don't use any rare or toxic materials or metals, making them entirely recyclable through composting. Early testing shows they also offer both a high energy density and quick-charging capability.
Andreas Hintennach, Mercedes' senior manager of battery research, said: “It’s a very promising technology. I’ve already seen it working in laboratories, where the results look really good, but we don’t see that it’s close to being used in production technology for now. It’s around 15-20 years away.”
Mercedes-Benz has set a goal of becoming entirely carbon-neutral by 2039. To this end, it's researching a number of technologies to reduce the environmental impact of battery production – particularly by cutting down the use of controversial materials such as cobalt and lithium. All current electric vehicles, including the Mercedes-Benz EQC and the firm's other EVs, use lithium ion battery technology.
Mercedes is working to improve the efficiency of lithium ion batteries – Hinnentach estimates that range could still be boosted by up to 25% – while evaluating a number of future technologies that it aims to introduce within the next 5-15 years.
That includes solid-state batteries, but while Hinnentach said this tech “opens a lot of doors and windows”, he cautioned that “it’s not a magic solution”. He added: “Solid state adds lots of positive aspects. It’s not a miracle but would be a huge step forward.”
Hinnentach added that a major current problem with solid-state batteries is long charging times, making them unsuitable for road cars. Mercedes is aiming to first introduce them into production in an eCitaro bus in the second half of this decade.
Other technologies under investigation by Mercedes include lithium-metal anodes, lithium-sulphur batteries and lithium-oxygen batteries. Hinnentach said that all offer different benefits and drawbacks in terms of efficiency, density and weight.
He noted that different battery types would likely be used in different vehicles, with lithium-sulphur, which is lighter than lithium ion, potentially allowing for vehicles to be fitted with smaller battery packs.
Asked if there is a risk in pursuing multiple technologies, Hinnentach said: “It is challenging, but you need novel ideas. We need to be very focused on the future.
"You do risk inefficiency by looking at multiple options, and not all will make it to market, but if you didn’t take risks in R&D by backing multiple horses, then you could end up losing. We’re also keeping the pipeline open for the future."
New prototype spy shots reveal styling tweaks for estate and bespoke details for hybrid version
New prototypes of the facelifted BMW 5 Series have been caught revealing new details ahead of its scheduled launch later this year.
The test mules wear the same disguise as those snapped by our photographers last year, but this is the first time we've seen the updated Touring variant being road tested. Like the saloon, it appears to gain only subtle tweaks to the front and rear, but we can see that hybrid versions will be told apart by a bespoke front bumper design, with a horizontal vane spanning the width of the lower air intake.
Previous reports that BMW would significantly increase the size of the executive car's trademark kidney grille appear to be incorrect, as it looks to have grown more subtly than it did on the facelifted 7 Series.
The move is part of a broader strategy at BMW that aims to give each model its own individual appearance, with the latest 3 Series sporting a different front-end look.
Further design changes include redesigned headlights and a more heavily structured front bumper that incorporates newly designed air vents, including vertical air curtain ducts at the outer edges.
Changes at the rear are likely to be less significant, although the plastic wrap adorning the spied prototypes hints at styling revisions to the tail-lights, rear bumper, tailpipes and area around the numberplate.
Inside, the 5 Series is expected to receive new digital instrument graphics as well as a revised central display housing the infotainment functions.
Today’s 5 Series will get BMW’s latest iDrive 7.0 operating system as part of a running change from this month onwards, suggesting the 2020 model will carry this on until the introduction of an iDrive 7.5 system in the eighth-generation 5 Series model due in 2023.
The prototype displayed here is propelled by a plug-in hybrid powertrain, shown by the mandatory identification on its front doors as well as the flap for the charging port integrated into the front-left wing.
The current G30 5 Series is already sold with a plug-in hybrid set-up in the 530e. This has a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and an electric motor developing a combined 248bhp and providing an electric-only driving range of up to 40 miles.
As part of a push to take its plug-in hybrid drivelines into the performance car class, BMW is said to be planning a new 545e model running the same set-up as the 745e. This would use a more powerful turbocharged 3.0-litre six-cylinder engine and an electric motor making a combined 388bhp and yielding an electric-only range of up to 36 miles.
In further developments, BMW plans to equip all petrol engines with a particulate filter, while the diesels will receive new selective catalytic reduction (SCR) technology, according to Munich sources.
Pro drivers faced pro gamers in The Race All-Star Esports Battle last week
Virtual racing is becoming intrinsic to F1, with stars like Lando Norris using sims to sharpen their skills and racers transitioning from gaming to real-life cars
Nothing seems real right now, so it’s somehow fitting that motorsport offers a comforting distraction from our grim plight in a made-up dream world. What’s new, eh? Quiet at the back…
To the millions already tuned in, virtual or ‘sim’ racing was already a well-established and lucrative self-sustaining universe, but with real life on hold, it has suddenly burst into the mainstream. “How many nights does it take to be an overnight success?” as Torque Esports boss Darren Cox rhetorically puts it.
Formula 1 stars Lando Norris and Max Verstappen were catalysts for the craze when they entered a couple of sim races on the weekend when they should have been lining up on the grid for the real Australian Grand Prix. But the reality is the pair, along with an increasingly large percentage of their fellow professionals, weren’t doing anything they don’t usually do. Online racing is increasingly part of the racing driver existence, and not just for the youngsters.
Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and seven-time F1 grand prix winner Juan Pablo Montoya, 44, has years of sim racing experience.
“It certainly keeps you sharp. Both myself and my son Sebastian use sim racing in our real-world training and preparation,” he exclusively told Autocar. “The tools we have available are quite remarkable and it’s considerably cheaper than actually going testing on-track for real.
“Racing is in our DNA, so whether I’m competing for real or racing in a virtual event, I still want to win. Sebastian is now very fast on the sim and we’re very close in competition – but I certainly don’t want to let him win.
“Normally, you only get to race on weekends; with sim racing, you can be racing every day of the week.”
The burst of wellpublicised sim activity on the Aussie GP weekend attracted telephone-number viewing figures.And predictably, by the following weekend, when the Bahrain GP should have been happening, F1 was running its own virtual race ‘in Sakhir’, while Nascar was also getting in on the act.
While the ‘real’ racing drivers naturally drew the interest, sim professionals more than held their own – although it was Renault Academy and Formula 2 racer Guanyu Zhou who won the first official Formula 1 GP that didn’t actually happen.
Montoya has long had respectfor the racers he encounters online. “I was a coach on the World’s Fastest Gamer competition last year and was massively impressed with the talent,” he says. “Over 12 days, we put 10 gamers through all sorts of virtual and real-world tests.
“James Baldwin was the guy who came out on top [he will this year be racing in the real world for Jenson Button’s GT World Challenge Europe team], but on any given day there are a lot of gamers who have the raw skills to become real-world racing drivers.”
Not just a game
It’s hard to take the racing too seriously, especially when Norris suffered a tech problem during the formation lap for the virtual Bahrain GP that left his car running on autopilot for half the race – and he still finished in fifth place. But as Montoya points out, there’s still a link between ‘gaming’ and the serious simulator development work that every F1 team today invests so heavily in.
“When I first went to F1 with Williams [in 2001], we were just developing the sim, and then when I was at McLaren, they already did a lot of sim work,” he says. “Now all teams in professional motorsport use simulators to help move their programmes forward. The sims are so good that many of the programmes use a specific platform to develop the car, and they are the same that are used in sim racing.”
“It’s very realistic,” Montoya insists. “In building the virtual tracks, they laser-scan every inch of the road – every bump you feel for real, you feel in the game. The cars are also remarkably close.
“The only difference in real life is you have the fear: in the game, you can hit the reset button and try again, whereas in real life there can be massive consequences if you make a mistake.
“It doesn’t replace being in a real car 100%, but it’s a lot better than just sitting on the couch, waiting for this unfortunate situation to end.”
The stuff of Hollywood
Will this spell in the limelight help push more gamers from virtual to real-life racing? Perhaps. It has already been done plenty of times before. Reigning World Touring Car Cup champion Norbert Michelisz was a pioneering convert, as was Briton Jann Mardenborough, who was discovered through Nissan’s PlayStation-supported GT Academy. The 28-year-old has apparently now signed a Hollywood movie deal to tell his story.
His manager, Darren Cox, was a founder of the GT Academy during his time at Nissan and was behind the sim race that Verstappen took part in on the Australian GP weekend. Understandably, he’s protective of his thriving industry now that it’s hitting the mainstream.
“It’s Wayne’s World,” he says. “When Wayne was in his basement, his show was cool and everyone thought he was funny. Then the big TV executive bought it, stuck him in a studio and it was rubbish. That’s the danger: you get the over-polished F1 replica. So we have to avoid ‘Wayne’s World syndrome’. If you watched Lando’s feed [during the Veloce-run race], he was swearing. Can you imagine that? No one was bleeping it out.”
Esports motor racing is more than just a fad; it’s too well-established to be that. And as Cox points out, racing drivers might now have ‘virtual’ clauses in their F1 contracts to sim race for more than just off-duty fun. This opportunistic explosion of interest could have lasting consequences once we all return to what counts as our ‘real’ world.
Upcoming Tonale SUV is indirect replacement for hatchback, says Italian maker
The Alfa Romeo Giulietta will be axed later this year as the Italian maker focuses on expanding its more profitable SUV line-up.
The hatchback was not included in plans for the brand detailed late last year, but its off-sale date had not been confirmed until now.
Fabio Migliavacca said: “Giulietta is expected to finish its life at the end of this year. The trend is to have SUVs in the C-segment, so the Tonale SUV will be the replacement for Giulietta.”
He added that Alfa Romeo was focused on ensuring the upcoming Tonale would have the same driving dynamics as the Giulietta despite being an SUV. “We don’t expect driving dynamics to be a weak point for the Tonale,” he said.
The Giulietta, launched in 2010, has struggled to find sales in recent years. Last year, it sold 15,690 units in Europe, compared with 78,911 in 2011, its best-selling year.
The Tonale will sit below the Stelvio in Alfa Romeo’s SUV range and will be the brand’s first plug-in hybrid, employing a similar set-up to the upcoming Jeep Compass PHEV, which is promising an electric-only range of 30 miles.
Migliavacca said that although the plug-in hybrid Tonale will have commonalities with its Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) stablemate at Jeep, it will still be an Alfa Romeo: “For the performance side of things, it will be an Alfa Romeo. Every single brand in FCA keeps its identity even with shared elements.”
A quick, classy and quiet electric SUV that builds on the solid foundations of its more upright sibling
This is the car with which Audi is aiming to challenge the Jaguar I-Pace for zero-emissions SUV driving honours.The E-tron Sportback 55 quattro, as its name suggests, is a more sporting version of the E-tron 55 quattro that has been on sale here since mid-2019. Outwardly, it’s distinguished from its sibling by a more heavily curved, coup?-like roofline and liftback-style tailgate, among other subtle changes, including more aggressively styled bumpers and headlights using Audi’s new digital matrix LED technology.Together, these alterations provide the E-tron Sportback with a shapely profile similar in style and detailing to the Elaine concept that Audi unveiled three years ago.Sharing certain exterior design elements with conventionally powered Audi models, it’s perhaps not as distinctive as the I-Pace. But with a drag coefficient of just 0.25Cd, it’s among the most aerodynamically efficient series-production SUVs yet, beating the Jaguar in this crucial area by a considerable 0.04Cd margin. This is thanks in part to the availability of ‘virtual exterior mirrors’, which use a camera to project a live video feed on the forward part of the doors inside.The changes to the cabin over the regular E-tron are slight, but that’s no bad thing. In terms of attractiveness, perceived quality and tactility, the dashboard, controls and trim materials are all premium in nature.The optional front sports seats are firm and supportive, setting up a pleasantly roomy and airy driving environment. However, accommodation in the rear is compromised to the tune of 20mm by that plunging roofline.The adoption of a more heavily angled tailgate also reduces boot capacity by 45 litres over the E-tron, at 615 litres. Even so, it’s still quite versatile, with 58 litres more than the I-Pace. Like the E-tron (alongside which it’s produced at Audi’s factory in Brussels, Belgium), the E-tron Sportback is based on a modified version of the MLB Evo platform, housing between its axles a sizeable 95kWh lithium ion battery made up of cells supplied by LG Chem.At 4901mm long, 1935mm wide and 1616mm tall, the E-tron Sportback is 85mm shorter, 60mm narrower and a considerable 89mm lower than Audi’s conventionally powered flagship SUV, the Q8.The drivetrain is borrowed wholly from the E-tron. It uses two differently specified asynchronous electric motors, one sitting up front that produces peaks of 181bhp and 182lb ft of torque and a second at the rear making 221bhp and 232lb ft.Together, they provide a maximum system output of 402bhp and 490lb ft for limited periods of up to eight seconds in Boost mode, which is activated by slotting the gear selector into S. In D, the combined output of the motors is reduced to a milder 355bhp and 414lb ft to help increase efficiency and consequently extend the range between charges. The I-Pace’s two motors, by way of comparison, deliver a maximum combined 394bhp and 512lb ft.Power is sent to all four wheels via a single-speed gearbox attached to each motor and networked via a central power electrics system. In a key departure from its more practical sister, however, the E-tron Sportback features a decoupling mechanism between its front and rear axles.This enables it to send its drive exclusively to the rear wheels in everyday driving in D, giving it an additional seven miles of range over the E-tron, at 278 miles. It’s only when you call up greater reserves via the kickdown function in S that the other motor is called upon and the front wheels begin to do the driving.
The current Racing Point team today released a statement detailing the importance of a Formula 1 to the Aston brand.
"There is no better way to build the Aston Martin brand globally, and to engage with its customer base, than to have a successful works team in Formula 1. The sport demands excellence in design and engineering, and relentless innovation, much of which will be shared with the engineering and development teams at Gaydon and will progressively be incorporated into the future generations of cars, particularly the planned range of mid-engine cars."
Racing Point released a Q&A with Lawrence Stroll discussing the Aston deal and its future in F1.
Q&A with Lawrence Stroll
Events have developed quickly over the last few months, but you must be delighted to have officially completed the process.
“The process of investing in this wonderful car brand has required all of my attention and energy for a number of months. There were certainly some sleepless nights. At the same time, it has been one of the most exciting deals in which I’ve ever been involved. Cars are my passion, a huge part of my life, and Aston Martin has always had a special place in my heart.
"To stand here today and announce that the agreement is finalised is a huge privilege and one of the proudest moments of my career. With all the paperwork completed, I can focus my attention on implementing the strategy to make this fantastic brand even more successful in the years ahead.”
Formula 1 is an important part of the strategy and you have confirmed the Racing Point team will be known as Aston Martin F1 Team from 2021.
“A brand with the pedigree and history of Aston Martin needs to be competing at the highest level of motorsport. I think it’s the most exciting thing that’s happened in recent memory in Formula 1 and it’s incredibly exciting for all stakeholders in the sport, especially the fans. I can’t think of a better name for a Formula 1 team.
"Our investment strategy places Formula 1 as a central pillar of the global marketing strategy, and it makes perfect sense to rebrand Racing Point for this purpose. Aston Martin has been competing very successfully in various classes of motorsport throughout its history, but we now have an opportunity to create a works team in Formula 1. The global spotlight of Formula 1 is second to none and we will leverage this reach to showcase the Aston Martin brand in our key markets.”
You’re also keen to leverage the technology of F1 competition for the Aston Martin road cars.
“This is another important part of the strategy. Not only does Formula 1 help elevate the brand, it opens up the opportunity for technology cross-over. I’m incredibly excited to see what technology can filter down from the racing programme into the road cars. This will be particularly relevant for the mid-engine road cars that will be launched in the future. There will be a genuine collaboration to ensure that our road cars share the DNA of our success on the track as well.”
What is likely to change at Silverstone over the coming 12 months?
“The group of men and women at Silverstone are true racers and their determination and spirit is one of the main reasons I invested in the Formula 1 team. After 30 years, they deserve this opportunity to represent this legendary brand. We are continuing to invest in the team to give everybody the resources required and we will see the benefit of those efforts this year as Racing Point.
"With the Aston name comes more pressure and expectation. We will need to be competitive from the outset. But I have no doubt the team at Silverstone will rise to the challenge and do the Aston Martin name proud.”
The coronavirus pandemic presents difficult times for the whole world. How is this impacting on plans for 2021?
“I don’t think there is any area of life or business that hasn’t been touched by this devastating pandemic and the racing community is certainly adapting as best it can. Of course, as racers, we are all very frustrated not to be competing, but we all understand the bigger picture in this global fight and so we stay at home.
"The team is also supporting Project Pitlane to help accelerate the production of ventilators. In the meantime, we can rely on video conferences to keep our plans for 2020 and 2021 moving forward. I am committed to Formula 1 with a long-term vision and this is just a temporary pause in the journey.”
We help you figure out how much Vehicle Excise Duty you'll be paying on your new car, whether it's petrol, diesel, hybrid or electric
How much do you have to pay to tax your car? From today, 1 April, the amount could change because the government has overhauled the Vehicle Excise Duty system to encourage buyers to choose zero- and low-emission vehicles.
How much you'll pay depends on what kind of car you have, how old it is, and how you want to pay. This article should help you make sense of it all.
Vehicle Excise Duty, known as VED, is a tax levied by the government on every vehicle on UK public roads and is collected by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). It’s a major source of revenue for the government, totalling billions of pounds each year, which goes into the central coffers of the exchequer.
Although VED is often referred to as road tax, this is misleading. The tax isn’t on the road: it’s on the vehicles that use it. Road tax was abolished in the 1930s and the cost of maintaining the UK’s roads is currently covered by general taxation, not specifically VED.
However, in his 2015 budget, then-chancellor George Osborne announced that a new road fund would be set up whereby all funds raised through VED will go into the building and upkeep of the UK’s road system. This new system was implemented by Rishi Sunak in his 2020 budget, but scheduled road works are likely to be pushed back as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
The VED system based on vehicle emissions was introduced in 2001 as part of a push to reduce pollutants being released into the atmosphere. Vehicles emitting more pollutants cost more to tax, as part of efforts to persuade drivers to consider buying cleaner vehicles.
Changes to system in April mean significant differences for new car buyers.
How VED has changed from April 2020
The changes coming into force as of April 2020 were drawn up as a means of enhancing the appeal of electric vehicle ownership.
The government has uprated VED in line with the retail prices index (RPI) for cars, vans, motorcycles and motorcycle trade licences, but the biggest change, and the one that will be felt most by motorists and traders, is the switch from using NEDC emissions testing as the basis for the various tax band tiers to the new WLTP system.
This new method is said to deliver more realistic readings for a vehicle’s fuel consumption, emissions output and driving range, and will result in vehicles moving up a band and becoming, on average, ?5 more expensive to tax annually.
On 6 April, benefit-in-kind car tax will be removed for electric vehicles, as part of a move to incentivise fleet managers and company car drivers to choose zero-emission models.
Further incentive comes in the form of the removal of the ?320 ‘expensive car tax’ for electric cars costing more than ?40,000, which means anyone buying a new electric car from 1 April will save ?320 per year for years two to six of ownership - a total saving of ?1600.
The exemption is set to be in place until 31 March 2025 and ongoing ‘expensive car’ payments for cars bought before 1 April 2020 will be scrapped.
Elsewhere, diesel cars that don’t meet the latest RDE-2 emissions standards will be taxed at higher rates than their petrol equivalents, but a new flat rate of ?150 for purely combustion-engined cars registered after 1 April 2017 will come into effect in April 2021. A flat rate of ?140 will be applied to hybrids registered after this date.
The old system will still apply to vehicles registered before 1 April 2017.
See some examples of these changes at the end of this article.
If your vehicle was registered before 1 March 2001, then the engine size in cubic centimetres (cc) is what’s important.
•Cars with engines equal to or smaller in capacity than 1549cc (roughly equivalent to 1.5 litres) have to pay ?145 a year, assuming they pay up front for 12 months.
•Cars with engines larger than 1549cc will have to pay ?235 a year.
If your car is newer, and was registered between 1 March 2001 and 1 April 2017, then it’s the emissions that you need to think about.
Petrol- and diesel-powered cars are the most commonly taxed vehicles and they’re categorised by bands that are determined by their CO2 emissions. Prices vary slightly depending on how you pay – in one go, or in instalments. The table below shows the prices for six- and 12-month cycles and you can see the full breakdown by going to the government’s VED website.
Petrol and diesel vehicles
*Includes cars that have a CO2 figure higher than 225g/km but were registered before 23 March 2006.
Alternative fuel vehicles
If your car is powered by an alternative fuelling system, then the charges are slightly different but based on the same premise. Alternative-fuel cars include hybrids and vehicles that run on biofuel or a variant of gas, such as LPG or CNG.
Once again, the costs vary slightly depending on how you want to pay.
*Includes cars that have a CO2 figure higher than 225g/km, but were registered before 23 March 2006.
TAXING FOR THE FIRST TIME
If your car is brand new and you’re taxing it for the first time, then the costs are slightly different again. The below prices are only applicable the first time a car is taxed. After that, it follows the tables above.
The system rewards drivers of new, low-emitting cars with a lower-than-usual payment for the first year, but it smacks high-emitting vehicles with a fairly stiff initial charge.
Once you’ve figured out what you owe, you can pay your VED in a variety of ways.
The simplest method is online at https://www.gov.uk/vehicle-tax, using a credit or debit card. You’ll also need one or more of the following documents to hand:
•The V11 reminder letter that was sent to you when your existing tax was running out
•The car’s V5C registration document, which must be in your name
•The V5C/2 new keeper supplement if you’ve just bought the car
•The ‘last chance’ warning letter sent to you if you’re about to end up on the wrong side of the law for not either paying or declaring a SORN
If you’d rather use more traditional methods, you can pay over the phone by calling 0300 123 4321. There are charges for this call, which you can read about here.
You can also pay at any post office that can process vehicle tax. You’ll need to bring one of the following:
•The V11 reminder letter that was sent to you when your existing tax was running out
•The car’s V5C registration document, which must be in your name
•The V5C/2 new keeper supplement if you’ve just bought the car
You may also need your MOT test certificate, valid for the start of the new tax period, and a valid Reduced Pollution Certificate if the vehicle has been modified to cut its emissions. In Northern Ireland, you’ll need to bring your insurance certificate or cover note.
From a financial point of view, the best position to be in is to be exempt from paying any VED, and if you’re in any of the following categories, you don’t have to pay anything. The following are exempt from car tax, and have been since before the changes took place:
•Vehicles used by a disabled person
•Vehicles registered before 1 January 1980
•Agricultural, horticultural and farming vehicles
If you own a car but you don’t drive it on public roads, then you’re also exempt, although you’ll have to declare it to the DVLA. This is called a Statutory Off Road Notification, or SORN, and you can declare it here. Be aware that if you don’t let the DVLA know that you want the car registered as off the roads, you’ll be liable for road tax even if the car doesn’t move. Conversely, if you want to take the vehicle back onto public roads, you’ll need to pay the appropriate amount of VED first.
Unless you’re in the above categories you’ll have to pay. Well, almost – if your car is particularly green and emits less than 100 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2) per kilometre (g/km), then it is also exempt. But everyone else will need to cough up.
THINGS TO NOTE
Unlike in the past, you don’t need to wait for a tax disc to be sent for display in the vehicle’s window. The tax disc system was abolished in 2014.
It’s important to note that VED no longer transfers to a new owner when you sell or buy a car. The new owner will need to tax the car afresh and they’ll need to do so before they drive the car.
We round up our hottest stories, pictures and videos for you to devour in your lunch break
It’s everyone’s favourite part of the working day, lunchtime, and you’re no doubt craving a hefty dose of car-related content.
So we’ve revived our Autocar Lunchbox feature to bring you our favourite videos, stories, photos, quotes and more all in one place. Here are today’s picks:
Bentley’s first EV
Bentley has begun conceptual work on a new high-riding saloon that it’s preparing to launch as its first fully electric car by 2025. The radical model will further the firm’s ambition to establish itself as the most environmentally and sustainably led premium luxury car maker in the world.
The Ford Ranger Raptor is one of our favourite off-roaders of the moment. We'd say pick-up, but it's not much of a double-cab pick-up these days, because the sturdy leaf springs have been chucked out at the back and the whole chassis redesigned, with coil springs and Fox Motorsport dampers, to create a Baja-style rally car. Appropriately, then, we have a Bowler Bulldog, a real-life cross-country rally car, to test alongside it. See which won in our ultimate 4x4 showdown.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
Look at that, a proper 1980s hot hatch icon. The original Lancia Delta HF found its way onto bedroom walls across the land following a series of high-profile WRC successes and has become one of the most collectable cars of its era. The same cannot be said, however, for its name-sharing descendant, which sold slowly and had little in the way of kerb appeal. We’ve been considering whether reviving a historic nameplate is always a smart idea for manufacturers.
“Frankly speaking, we had a meeting on a Stelvio GTA but it’s just not in line with customer expectations. It has to be the best possible [on track]. On the Stelvio, we have a higher centre of gravity [than a Giulia] so it won’t achieve the same goals.”
Mixed news here from Alfa Romeo’s product marketing boss. On one hand, hot SUV fans will be disappointed the firm has no plans to introduce an even faster version of the rapid Stelvio Quadrifoglio, but some enthusiasts will take solace in the fact that the revived GTA nameplate will adorn only the most performance-focused models, such as the latest version of the Giulia.
Nearly every mainstream brand nowadays has a performance division that turns up the wick on their hatchbacks, saloons and estates to create true sports car baiters. Think AMG, Cupra, N and R… But did you know British Leyland was doing the same thing way back in 1970. We headed to Abingdon to sample five of the Special Tuning division’s most potent reworking.
The new lockdown rules put in place last week mean we’re unable to get out and about in the latest new cars and can’t shoot features, but Steve Cropley has noticed that we’ve quite quickly adapted to the new way of working. We’re using virtual meetings to plan the magazine and profiting from a goldmine of archive images, and none of us even has to go to the airport for a while!
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Travel restrictions have wreaked havoc on Autocar's diary, but there's a silver lining
At Autocar the diary moves fast. Every five working days we put out more than 80 pages of news and reviews, buying guides, our long-termer updates and, of course, features. Pure editorial, so that’s without counting ad pages.
And when it comes to features, much of it is necessarily long-lead stuff – stuff that, frankly, we’re pretty glad to have right now. A white-knuckle dispatch from the North Coast 500, an interview with Stefano Domenicali, an expos? on Toyota K-Series head-gasket failure: all can be researched, written and laid out on the page well in advance of the Friday evening the issue in question goes to the printers.
But the news and first drives sections work on a tighter, more fiddly schedule. And for the latter especially there are big spreadsheets crammed with details. During an average month, the road-test desks at Autocar and our sister mag What Car? will drive 85 new cars in the UK and attend around 20 international launches for big-hitters like a new Clio or the latest Porsche GT3. For every one of them, the right person needs to be in the right place, at the time, with a deadline to hit and, much of the time, a photographer in tow.
You don’t need me to tell you that for March and April this year, and for the foreseeable future, those spreadsheets are looking somewhat barren, as manufacturers have cancelled international launches and the people who travel the length and breadth of the country to deliver our test cars on home soil are stood down. For them, delivering the car isn’t the problem. Needing to then get two trains, followed by a bus or the Tube, in order to then get home is the issue. Nobody should ask them to do that, and nobody at this magazine is.
As you’ll discover in due course, Autocar is in a good position to cope with this immediate lack of test cars, though some lateral thinking has been required. Ordinarily, there’s a lull in the diary during January, as the industry reboots after Christmas, and then again in July, when so many people are on holiday, but what’s happening now is completely unprecedented. Big stories have been postponed or cancelled. Our first taste of the Ferrari SF90 Stradale, for example, has been spiked, and the full road test of the F8 Tributo at MIRA lost for now alongside the likes of the new Seat Leon and Skoda Octavia. There are countless others.
And now, the point I want to make. Sorry for the preamble. This calendar bloodbath isn’t all bad news. Why? Because Britain’s domestic tuning scene is world-class. The only thing is that, because we’ve only got so many pages to print on, and those pages are usually filled with mass-market models that people simply need to know about, rarely – and wrongly, though it’s manpower we lack, rather than the will – do these smaller companies get the attention they deserve.
But even as the foreign launches started falling like dominoes, this was changing. We visited BBR GTI earlier this year to drive its latest – and utterly brilliant – take on the MX-5, and more recently Autocar has been to Ford-honing stalwart Mountune in Essex. These two outfits achieve something that’s not at all easy: appreciably improving already excellent production-spec cars that have already been lavished with massive R&D spend, and for not a lot of your hard-earned. And better still, they’re not alone.
As this pandemic recedes and our personal freedoms return, there will be an inevitable delay before the launch diary for big manufacturer events revs back up. It’s during that time you can expect to read more about Britain's 'tuners', though that term undersells what many of them do. You'll read about Litchfield, experts in improving Nissan GT-Rs and even the Porsche 911, and Birds BMW, which is stockpiling the old rear-driven M140i and making them even better driver’s cars. We’ll get back in touch with Miltek, Revo, CSR Porsche and Autofarm. And, of course, Bowler. And if DMS is offering a 6000bhp upgrade for the McLaren 720S, we’ll drive that too.
In this country we have an embarrassment of engineering riches hidden beneath the likes of Lotus, Aston Martin and Caterham. In 2020, expect to read a lot more about it.
Volkswagen Tiguan-sized electric SUV to arrive in Europe in August; UK launch could follow in 2021
Chinese manufacturer Aiways will open European orders for its U5 electric SUV at the end of April, ahead of deliveries starting in August.
The U5 is a Volkswagen Tiguan-sized SUV with front wheels that are powered by an electric motor fed by a 65kWh battery pack. Its range is 313 miles on the NEDC cycle, with WLTP testing yet to be completed. Aiways has previously suggested that it could launch in the UK in right-hand-drive form in 2021, after the start-up company revealed strong interest.
Aiways plans to produce 50,000 units of the Kia E-Niro rival this year, but the effect of coronavirus is likely to adversely hit this target, given the Chinese factory has just been reopened following the pandemic.
In Europe, the U5 will be available for lease only, and exclusively online. Klose says a monthly lease cost of less than ˆ400 (?346) is being targeted, making the U5 the equivalent of a ˆ35,000 (?30,244) vehicle, but, crucially, that it offers all the benefits and equipment of a premium model with an electric drivetrain for the cost of a typical family SUV.
“If you look at the size and the price, it’s a spot in the market that’s empty,” Klose told Autocar at the Shanghai motor show last year. “When you see the final version and the feature list, you will understand that this vehicle is not entry-level. Yet when you compare to the electric models from Audi and Mercedes, we’re half-price.”
In time, Aiways hopes to offer a smaller battery pack to bring the cost down further, because it says most people simply don’t need the kind of ranges being offered for everyday use. Customers will be able to swap to a smaller battery pack and have their monthly lease cost reduced.
Alongisde the U5, Aiways also already previewed a larger SUV, the U7, at last year's Shanghai show.
The U5 and U7 use the same architecture, which can house different motors and sizes of battery pack and accomodate four-wheel drive.
The Italian maker hopes the renaissance of the GTA badge will help create a halo effect for the brand - especially in the absence of the GTV and 8C rebirths, for which plans were ditched last year - but product marketing boss Fabio Migliavacca said the ethos of GTA doesn’t fit with other cars in Alfa Romeo’s line-up.
“The GTA is an important name for Alfa Romeo," he said. "Frankly speaking, we had a meeting on a Stelvio GTA but it’s just not in line with customer expectations. It has to be the best possible [on track]. On the Stelvio, we have a higher centre of gravity [than a Giulia] so it won’t achieve the same goals.”
The Giulia GTA was launched to celebrate Alfa Romeo’s 110th anniversary this year. Migliavacca said: “The idea for our anniversary was to renew GTA as an important pinnacle for Alfa Romeo. The [original Giulia GTA] car from 1965 was really important. If you think about the brand’s icons in history, there is GTA. We decided to bring back the old values. The car had to be special compared to the Quadrifoglio. It had to be lighter. We worked a lot to reduce weight and have better performance in terms of lap time over the Quadrifoglio.”
Migliavacca added that reaction to the Giulia GTA has been “amazing”. Referencing the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit Italy and, in turn, Alfa Romeo hard, he said: “In this particular moment, people - not only customers - are willing to see something positive in a really difficult reality. A lot of people are raising their hands and saying, ‘I want to have one’, ‘I want to have four’. It’s truly an amazing reaction considering the timing.”
Only 500 examples of the GTA and more track-focused GTAm will be made and Migliavacca said that although orders were not yet open, it already had more than 500 expressions of interest. Currently, the split is biased towards requests for the hardcore two-seat GTAm.
Performance figures for the range-topping Giulia are yet to be confirmed, but it will eclipse the Quadrifoglio’s 3.9sec 0-62mph time and 191mph top speed. However, Migliavacca said the main focus was not to make the car faster in those terms but to achieve more speed around corners.
“We are talking about particular tracks where the car can be faster than the Quadrifoglio," he said. "It is easy to drive, unbelievably quick and effective in corners. For aerodynamics, the front and rear fascias and side skirts have been redesigned to achieve downforce not achievable on the Quadrifoglio.”
Petrol Retailers Association warns dramatic dive in sales during pandemic will make businesses “unviable”
Petrol stations could be the next victim of the coronavirus pandemic, after warnings that a dearth of business will force many to close in the coming weeks.
The Petrol Retailers Association (PRA), which represents the independent fuel retailers that make up the majority of UK forecourts, cites a government survey claiming sales of petrol have fallen by an average of 75% across the UK, with diesel down 71%.
“Many petrol stations will have to close in the coming weeks, as sales of fuel dry up and their businesses become unviable,” the PRA said in a statement.
Stations in hardest-hit rural areas will be most at risk, it claims. Motorists are advised to check that their local station is actually open before leaving the house.
The problem is compounded by the majority of retailers filling their fuel storage tanks at much higher wholesale prices prior to the price of crude oil collapsing. In the past week, fuel prices have fallen to a rate not seen since June 2003.
“Fuel retailers are having to maintain pump prices at previous levels to avoid suffering significant stock losses,” the PRA claims.
The PRA aims to keep a “strategic network of petrol stations open across the country” but acknowledges the immediate challenges many of its retailers face. As well as reduced demand and falling prices, staff shortages, competition from supermarkets and lack of delivery flexibility are all taking a toll.
New tax rules could accelerate uptake of electric cars
Electric car drivers will pay no company car tax from 6 April; experts predict big surge in demand
The electric car revolution is poised to hit the UK this year, but not because of purchase grants, green-shaming or European Union regulations. Instead, the expected sales boom is set to be driven largely by a change to company car tax regulations.
After next week's upcoming changes were announced in July 2019, sales of EVs doubled in the second half of the year compared with the first half, according to figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). Business lease firm Alphabet reported a 165% rise in orders for plug-in vehicles.
The UK’s company car market is big business. Up to the end of November last year, 53% of cars sold went to fleets, SMMT figures show. Company cars aren’t free; they're a heavily taxed perk and the government has since 2002 pegged the rate of duty to the car’s official CO2 emission figure. That move forced drivers out of thirsty petrol-engined cars and into more frugal diesels as companies sought to reduce the tax burden on their employees.
This year, however, the focus switches to plug-in cars. From 6 April 2020, people who choose electric cars will pay 0% company car tax: nothing at all.
“The fleet sector has a lot of pent-up demand, and this tax incentive could lead to a big surge in EVs,” said Gerry Keaney, chief executive of the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA).
Simultaneously, company car tax will, for the first time, be calculated using the CO2 figures generated by the new, tougher Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test (WLTP) regime. In short, the government is offering a huge, juicy carrot for drivers choosing electric and plug-in hybrid cars and an extra whack of the stick for staying with conventional diesels or petrols.
How all this is worked out will already be familiar to company car drivers. The tax, known as benefit-in-kind (BIK), is expressed as a percentage of the car’s list price. For example, a Vauxhall Astra 1.2 turbo petrol with CO2 measured at 99g/km currently falls into the 23% tax band. That figure is further modified by the employee’s salary tax band, so those who earn more pay more.
To give an idea of how generous the new tax rates are, the driver of a Nissan Leaf electric car previously would have payed between ?871 and ?1960 in company car tax, depending on their salary. From 6 April, the Leaf falls into a 0% tax band, meaning they’ll pay nothing. That generosity from the government lasts only a year, but the following tax year the Leaf bill rises to just ?54-?122, then ?109-?245 the year after that (company car taxes rise annually with the same inevitability as rail fares).
It’s even more striking when you compare the figures for EVs against combustion-engined cars. While a Tesla Model S costing ?97,700 attracts a 0% company car tax from 6 April, a slightly cheaper Mercedes-Benz S450L AMG Line costs the driver a whopping ?13,116 for the year.
Preparations have been under way for some time. Hyundai, for example, earlier this year, revised its EV range and was making sure cars are available. EVs such as the Kona Electric have been in short supply, but that was expected to have changed by now.
“We expect there to be a surge for our fully electric vehicles and we will be seeing greater availability of those models this year and beyond,” said Ashley Andrew, managing director of Hyundai Motor UK in February. However, the coronavirus pandemic is likely to have a significant impact on vehicle supply.
Businesses are also revising their electric vehicle policies, some radically. Consulting and IT firm Atos, for example, now offers electric cars only to any new employee signing up to its company fleet scheme.
Charge point firm Pod Point, meanwhile, has reported “record” demand for installations at businesses over the past six months. “With the BIK change, we expect to see a massive increase in company car drivers going electric. It’s going to turn the industry on its head,” Pod Point CEO Erik Fairbairn said.
It won’t all go smoothly. The BVRLA’s Keaney points out that a surge in demand can only come if there are enough EVs available on the market. One Atos employee, who wanted to remain anonymous, grumbled that delivery times for new electric cars were so long that the policy had in effect imposed a ban on company cars.
Some companies, however, don’t offer their employees the option of an electric car. Sometimes this is because they have a deal with just one manufacturer, which might not yet sell an EV. For example, Serco and Capita, both service companies, only use Ford, which won’t have an EV available until the pricey Mustang Mach-E arrives late in the year.
Sticking with combustion-engined cars, however, is set to get more costly. Switching to the WLTP method of calculating CO2 for tax bands means that an Astra 1.2 jumps from its 99g/km emission figure to 119g/km. After some pressure, the government adjusted the bands to account for the WLTP jump, but our sample Astra still goes from a 23% band to 26%, costing drivers more.
“The reduction in rates for two years is unlikely to compensate drivers fully for the increase in emissions,” said Caroline Sandall, chairman of fleet industry pressure group ACFO. She also pointed out that because of December’s general election, the changes haven’t yet been made law.
The changes also benefit plug-in hybrids, fleet sales of which have exploded since the July announcement. SMMT figures show that in the second half of last year, three out of four of new PHEVs sold went to fleets. The new tax rules benefit longer-range plug-in hybrids. For example, the new BMW X5 xDrive45e, with an electric range of 54 miles, will fall into the 6% tax band from the 6th of April, rather than the 12% band it would have been in if BMW had stuck with the previous version’s 20-mile range.
Of course, what the government gives it can also take away. After April 2023, it will have the power to create new tax bands. By that time, however, the temptation of cheaper motoring will have persuaded thousands of company car drivers into switching to plug-ins.
Autocar’s advice on how drivers will be affected by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic
As the UK government effectively orders the entire population to stay at home in an effort to contain the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, motorists are understandably unsure as to how the new rules affect them. Autocar has compiled this guide to help you know what you can and can’t do until the restrictions are lifted.
What is the coronavirus (Covid-19)?
Covid-19, also known as the coronavirus, is a potentially deadly viral infection that is easily transmitted between individuals. Originating in the Chinese city of Wuhan, it's highly contagious and sufferers only begin to show symptoms several days after infection.
The elderly and people with underlying health conditions can develop especially serious forms of the resulting illness, so the UK and most other countries around the world have imposed strict lockdown measures to limit its spread.
Can I still go for a drive in self-isolation?
Although driving hasn't been banned, you should take your car out only if you have no other alternative. The government has said trips to the supermarket and pharmacy are permitted, as well as commuting for key workers, but simply driving for pleasure isn't advisable until the restrictions lift. Bear in mind: if you break down, somebody has to come to recover you, and if you have an accident, you could end up in hospital where the chances of infection are much higher.
How can I stay safe when refuelling at a petrol station?
The price of fuel has fallen quite significantly because of the coronavirus pandemic – the Morrisons supermarket chain has dropped unleaded prices by an unprecedented 12p per litre – and fuel stations remain open for the time being.
Fuel pump handles have, however, been identified as high-risk touchpoints, so customers have been advised to use gloves while filling their car and to wash their hands thoroughly as soon as possible after leaving.
Can I still get my car serviced?
Under the terms of the government’s latest announcement, garages have been classed as essential businesses. This means that key workers' vehicles, which are considered essential means of transport, can still have vital repairs carried out in order to maintain roadworthiness, but garages are likely to postpone any other work until the stay-at-home rule is lifted.
What if my car's MOT runs out?
The government has now announced that MOT testing will be paused during the Covid-19 outbreak to reduce contact between garage workers and customers. Cars, motorcycles and vans have been granted a six-month exemption from 30 March, meaning that – as long as they remain in a roadworthy condition – they can be driven without a valid MOT certificate. Vehicles should still only be driven for absolutely essential purposes.
Road safety charity Tyresafe has warned drivers not to neglect the condition of their vehicle's tyres over the next few months. The legal tread depth of 1.6mm has not been suspended, and drivers still risk a fine of up to ?2500 and three penalty points for each tyre found to be excessively worn.
Do I still need to pay the Congestion Charge or ULEZ entry fee?
Central London's Congestion Charge (?11.50 per day) and ULEZ entry fee (?12.50) have been suspended indefinitely as part of a drive to reduce crowding on the city’s diminished public transport offering. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said the move will also make it easier for key workers, such as NHS and supermarket staff, to get to work. A total of 40 underground stations have now been closed, while bus and mainline train services in and around the capital have been heavily reduced. Announcements will be made before the Congestion Charge and ULEZ entry fee are reinstated.
What do I do if I've booked a driving test?
The DVSA has suspended practical driving tests for up to three months, with the exception of those booked by critical workers, including NHS workers and goods delivery drivers. Any booked tests will be automatically rescheduled at no cost to the learner, who will be notified of the new date by email around two weeks before the original scheduled test.
Driving theory tests have been cancelled for one month. The DVSA will issue refunds for any tests that had been booked and continues to take bookings for test slots from 21 April onwards.
Is now a good time to buy a new car?
Dealerships had, by and large, announced temporary closures even before the Prime Minister forced all non-essential retailers to shut down.
Lookers, one of the UK’s largest multi-marque dealer groups, said yesterday (24 March): “It has become clear that maintaining safe social distancing measures whilst continuing to operate car dealerships has become increasingly difficult. Against this background and with the support of our OEM brand partners, the Group is temporarily closing all of its trading locations with immediate effect.”
Rival firms including Sytner, Marshall Motor Group, HR Owen and Chorley Group, as well as many smaller dealers, have all now closed their doors for the time being.
Online platforms, such as our sister title What Car?'s New Car Buying service, remain in operation, offering buyers the ability to specify and order a new car without violating the self-isolation rules. It’s worth bearing in mind, however, that much of the European, US and Asian manufacturing sectors remain in a state of shutdown, so waiting times for new cars are likely to be significantly extended.
Can I still buy a used car or go to an auction house?
Various sources have reported a huge spike in online searches for used cars costing less than ?2000 as second-hand dealerships and auction houses are forced to move to a digital sales model to limit person-to-person contact.
From 26 March, BCA, the UK’s largest used car auction chain, will host all of its events online, with prospective buyers invited to place their bids via a dedicated website or app. Punters can also take their chances with a used car from the internet’s still thriving array of private sales platforms, including Gumtree, eBay and Facebook Marketplace.
It goes without saying, however, that buyers should take every precaution possible when viewing or picking up a used car: stay a safe distance from the seller, disinfect the interior thoroughly and don’t spend more time out of the house than you absolutely have to.
The most important thing to remember is this: if you can wait to buy a car until after the outbreak, you should.
A torrid week begins. Already lots of coronavirus restrictions are inhibiting out-and-about people like us. During action photography, photographers talk to drivers via phones or two-way radios to obey the law and avoid the usual chat through an open window. Then photography stops altogether.
Yet we’re finding we can manage. Car companies have pictures. So does our archive. We’ve got a decent flow of stories in the pipe. Car people are available for phone chats. Feature ideas come from all directions. Working from home, even luddite members of Autocar’s staff (such as your humble servant) learn to meet via computer: surprising how natural it feels. And none of us misses the airport. Stories start filtering out through about hacks marooned with test cars that can’t be given back because their makers/importers have closed. Mine’s a Bentley, but more of that next week.
Just before lockdown, I grab an opportunity to visit the newly opened Silverstone Experience, a museum that tells the fascinating history of Silverstone (first a monastery, then a country estate, then an RAF base, now the home of British motorsport). I’m shown around by CEO Sally Reynolds, who came to Silverstone from Legoland in 2011, saw a chance to build something fabulous from an old aeroplane hangar (Hangar Straight, geddit?) and, after many struggles, has achieved her dream. Don’t get the idea ‘museum’ means fusty: this place is packed with amazing exhibits and activities, gripping video, fascinating cars and mighty interactive displays, and ends with an Ultimate Lap that’s second only to being on track for real. It’s shut for a while, but don’t miss it.
Curious contact with one or two reader-critics taking us to task for not saying enough about Covid-19 hurting the motor industry. We’re behaving as though life’s still okay, says one. My view: apart from the fact that every screen and printed page is already packed with virus doom stories, we do feel oddly optimistic. This thing will pass and, when it does, what seemed like routine opportunities will have greatly enhanced appeal. I’m booked into an October autosolo with my Mazda MX-5 and it feels like I’ll be on the grid of the British GP.
Last activity before lockdown: a chance to drive the long-wheelbase Land Rover Defender on the road and then to have its outer-limits capabilities demonstrated by legendary engineer and wheelman Mike Cross. Ours is a poky six-cylinder prototype and – because Mr Prior has already done extensive Defender off-roading – our mission is to drive fast on smoother roads. JLR’s Gaydon high-speed track is like a slightly reduced Le Mans if you get a serious run at it (which we do) and we’ve soon proved the car is composed at 130mph, takes 100mph corners with some roll but amazing grip, feels amazingly supple over bumps but never, ever floats.
As our session ends, Mike says he has one more thing to show, then attacks a single-lane road at serious speed. It contains two large jumps. We hit the first at 90; the second at 85. Despite its generous suspension travel, the Defender flies both times but lands almost as if on a feather bed. “This is one of the best cars we’ve ever done,” murmurs Mike, never a man to overdo the hyperbole. Buyers are going to be impressed.
Into my inbox drops details of Gordon Murray’s excellent new website featuring the T50, his ‘modern F1’ hypercar. In typical Murray fashion, the site is brilliant. And uplifting.
Take a good look at gordonmurrayautomotive. com to see an open-and-shut case for the featherweight, sophisticated but essentially simple supercar.
And another thing...
A bloke with a grey, short-wheelbase, steel-wheels Toyota Land Cruiser drives past my house every morning at 6.45am. As a result, I can’t forget my regret at never driving Matt Prior’s identical long-termer last year. Note to self: call Toyota as soon as this lockdown ends.
Decisions such as launching all-electric versions of car lines, well in advance of the new regs, has allowed PSA to keep its average CO2 emissions beneath the 95g/km limit
The PSA Group has been compliant to the new EU 95g/km limit on fleet average CO2 emissions in the first two months of 2020 and as such will not pay a penny in fines if it maintains this.
PSA Europe boss Maxime Picat said that it had actually been the case since the very first working day of the year on January 2. If car makers average 95g/km or lower as a fleet average for CO2 emissions, they will pay no fines. If they go over it, the fine is ˆ95 for each g/km of CO2 over the limit for each car sold, which could run into the billions for some car makers.
PSA’s own limit is 93g/km, as the 95g/km figure is weight adjusted according to the types of car a car maker sells. It is trying to hit the target on a monthly basis to more accurately track progress towards the target; the EU only takes a yearly figure.
“We want CO2 compliance to be natural,” said Picat. “We are working normally and won’t do stupid things at the end of the year.”
Picat said that decisions taken six or seven years ago with the 2020 deadline in mind were now bearing fruit. That included launching all-electric versions of many of its car lines, which were planned to launch at the end of 2019 to allow PSA to get a perfectly-timed benefit from their sale in bringing down its overall CO2 level.
It also cut several higher-emitting models last year, chiefly at Opel/ Vauxhall which it acquired three years ago so initially would not have been part of this long-term planning towards overall compliance.
PSA boss Carlos Tavares said that the firm had modelled out a whole host of different scenarios to ensure that it remained compliant even in the worst case, such as diesel dropping to a 10% market share. At present, it has stabilised at around 30%.
Picat said the any impact on the coronavirus would not be felt on its CO2 average, as any potential drop in sales would be proportional across all model lines. However, to date he said the virus had had no impact on its operations outside of China, and even there it had not been hit as hard as rivals as China isn’t as important to PSA’s overall business as other car makers.
“We are working on the supply chain and finding solutions and issues,” he said. “So far, so good.”
How Autocar imagines Bentley's maiden electric vehicle could look
British firm aims to push eco credentials with the help of cutting-edge electric tech
Bentley has begun conceptual work on a new high-riding saloon that it’s preparing to launch as its first fully electric car. The radical model will further the firm’s ambition to establish itself as the most environmentally and sustainably led premium luxury car maker in the world.
In their bid to establish global leadership in these areas, Bentley bosses want to follow this year’s launch of the brand’s first hybrid models by revealing its first electric car by 2025. That date is already challenging designers and engineers as they wrestle with delivering a vehicle with sufficient range for customers looking for a grand touring experience along with the performance capability of today’s cars.
Heavy investment in battery technology is already helping to reduce the cost and improve the capability of batteries. However, it’s believed that the next notable step forward will come when solid-state batteries reach production, something that is not expected to happen until closer to the end of the decade. As such, Bentley is likely to launch its first electric car using a more mature version of today’s lithium ion battery technology.
However, Bentley CEO Adrian Hallmark has hinted to Autocar that his teams have already hit on one potential solution by designing a car with similarities to, but more extreme than, the Jaguar I-Pace. This machine combines a traditional saloon shape with a higher-riding bodystyle to accommodate the battery pack without pushing up into a full-SUV format, which is aerodynamically inefficient and therefore reduces range.
“If we’re to launch an electric car in the mid-2020s, then it either needs to be smaller than today’s cars or the same size but not as upright, and smaller isn’t an appealing solution, as it implies a lower price segment,” said Hallmark. “The prediction is battery technology will have moved forward again by that date and that will put us at the edge of what we think we need to give customers: 300-350 miles of range, or enough to cruise at a 65mph average for five hours.
“We need to be looking at how we can deliver slippier cars with a profile that gets the most out of it aerodynamically in order to deliver on that promise.”
The target date of 2025 and Hallmark’s comments confirm growing evidence that the first Bentley EV will crown a position of environmental and sustainability leadership that the company has been building towards in recent years.
Bentley’s Crewe factory was certified as carbon-neutral late last year, underlining an increasingly holistic approach to sustainability that has extended as far as making honey from on-site beehives.
The EXP 100 GT concept – revealed last year and created to celebrate the firm’s centenary by looking ahead to its next 100 years – also hinted at the powertrain, materials and production methods that Bentley is working towards.
The EXP 100 GT has an electric powertrain that uses four 201-335bhp electric motors and an advanced torque-vectoring system to distribute a combined output of between 800bhp and 1340bhp to all four wheels, depending on spec. Combined peak torque is just over 1100lb ft, delivering an estimated 0-62mph of 2.5sec, along with a top speed of 186mph. Although the figures should be regarded as long-term targets, they hint at the sorts of performance levels that Bentley engineers believe will be possible in time.
Likewise, the EXP 100 GT’s interior featured innovative material use, including natural woods, glass, fabrics and leather. Some materials introduced on the concept have already transferred to production in the Bacalar, such as rice pigment paint, sheep’s wool and riverwood.
Bentley is well advanced in developing alternatives to the interior styles that have dominated its cars for decades – albeit combined with technical advances such as biometric seating to monitor and potentially boost the well-being of occupants.
“Bentley has very little to fear from an electric future,” said Hallmark. “In fact, many of the facets of electrification are what define Bentley.
“Sure, today in a GT, you can hit 207mph, but that doesn’t mean very many of our customers drive around at that speed very often, if at all. We’re not a brand that is in any way defined by offering hypercar or supercar performance.
“What they do enjoy every time they go out is super-refinement, effortless pace and total comfort. Electrification will only enhance all of those, so for customers, the trade-off is about 12 cylinders for 2000 or so electrical cells. Everything else is improved.”
Hallmark said he hoped Bentley would be in a position to pioneer any major battery or electrical architecture breakthroughs made by the Volkswagen Group, of which Bentley is a member, because of its relatively small scale and its customers, who have traditionally been willing to pay a premium to be at the cutting edge of technology.
“At Bentley, we are looking to build 11,000 to 12,000 cars a year in a worldwide market of about 85 million,” said Hallmark. “Our values are about delivering the very best money can buy, and that puts us in a position where we can lead in whatever direction we turn to.
“Yes, one goal is to lead in electrification in the luxury segment, but we also feel that sustainability can be about far more than just electrification. Our customers are happy to pay a premium if they can buy a car that is truly carbon-neutral, and that is now a core mission of the company.”
Hallmark also highlighted the Volkswagen Group’s investment of $100 million (?78.5m) in California-based battery specialist QuantumScape as a likely route to the brand becoming a leader in the development of solid-state batteries, which he described as “game changing” in terms of the energy density they could deliver for the same manufacturing costs.
“Once solid-state batteries can be productionised, then the growth in capability will become exponential,” he said. “Of course, they will initially be at the top end of the price scale, but which car maker within the [Volkswagen] Group is best placed with customers to carry that cost? I very much hope that Bentley can be at the vanguard of that and it seems logical that we should be.”
Hallmark also confirmed that emissions regulations and customer tastes mean that Bentley’s iconic W12 will be phased out, although he didn’t specify a time frame. Asked if the 12-cylinder engine had a limited lifespan, he said: “Yes, absolutely. For 100 years, we’ve tried to make engines bigger and more powerful. For the next 10 years, we’re going to try to make them disappear.
“We want to do this in a progressive and customer-orientated way. We don’t hate engines, but we do love the idea of electrification. We’ll offer hybrid options alongside combustion engine options on every model by 2023.”
German media reports tech still isn't ready and Volkswagen is discussing common OS with Daimler and BMW
Volkswagen is facing an uphill battle to launch its ID 3 electric hatchback this summer as the struggle to resolve its substantial software problems continues.
German newspaper S?ddeutsche Zeitung claims that examples of the crucial EV had been rolling out of the factory in Zwickau before production was halted due to the coronavirus, but that these cars are effectively 'dead', meaning they don't have the necessary software to run or be used.
Volkswagen is hoping to introduce a basic version of the ID 3's operating system (OS) into these cars once it has been finished, the newspaper reports. However, the software project is described internally as an "absolute disaster", with the company failing to employ the software experts needed to fix the wide-ranging issues.
Volkswagen has a desire to sell 100,000 EVs globally (with the ID 3 making up a substantial portion of that number) by the end of this year. This is also vital to ensure the reduction in fines from the European Union due to fleet average CO2 emissions.
CEO Herbert Diess has been defiant, stating at last week's annual press conference his intent to deliver the ID 3 over the summer as his core project, but the likelihood of that target being hit is up for debate.
One source cited by S?ddeutsche Zeitung is a Volkswagen Group insider, who claims the cars that are being prepped for the summer aren't actually series-production models.
The increasing difficulty in developing software has lead Volkswagen, the newspaper reports, to discuss with the board of directors of Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler the idea of merging resources to create a OS for both firms' electric models.
Hyundai offshoot's new luxury flagship is lighter and packs more technology than its predecessor
Hyundai’s luxury arm Genesis has revealed the new third-generation version of its flagship G80 saloon, which is claimed to offer significant performance and technology upgrades over its predecessor.
Sitting atop an all-new, bespoke rear-wheel-drive platform, the Lexus ES rival retains the long wheelbase, short overhangs and rakish, coup?-style roofline of the previous model, but bears the results of a subtle styling overhaul influenced by the brand’s GV80 SUV.
At the front, a large, shield-shaped grille is flanked by a pair of distinctive split-cluster headlights, while the previous car’s small air intakes, positioned under each headlight, have made way for an extended lower grille that spans the width of the car.
The brand claims the new car’s window line, which slopes more obviously towards the rear of the car than that of the outgoing G80, is inspired by iconic classic cars. A full-length chrome strip is said to strengthen ‘forward visual motion’, in the same way as various styling cues featured on parent company Hyundai’s new Prophecy concept.
Larger 20in alloy wheels, dual shield-shaped exhaust tips and a prominent rear spoiler indicate the car’s performance potential, which is delivered by a choice of two turbocharged petrol engines or a 2.2-litre diesel four-cylinder, which can each be specified with rear- or all-wheel-drive.
The most potent option, a 3.5-litre turbo V6, sends 375bhp and 391lb ft - significantly more than the outgoing car’s 3.8-litre unit - to the wheels by way of an eight-speed automatic gearbox which is standard to all models. The mid-range 2.5-litre turbo four-cylinder produces 296bhp and 311lb ft, while the diesel option puts out 207bhp and 325lb ft.
Inside, the new G80 offers improved rear legroom and headroom, courtesy of a lowered rear bench which also allows for a more heavily raked roofline. The dashboard is dominated by a 14.5in infotainment touchscreen; Genesis says minimal use of physical buttons and switches improves the interior’s appearance and enhances ease-of-use.
The G80’s new platform, aside from allowing for improved interior space, also lowers the body and centre of gravity for improved driving stability. It also weighs 125kg less than its predecessor, with aluminium used for around 19% of the body components.
Safety functions featured as standard to all models include motorway driving assist, intelligent cruise control, collision avoidance assist, blind spot monitor and pre-active safety seats which automatically pull the passengers’ seat back forwards in the event of an accident to minimise injury.
There’s an emphasis on user-friendly technology, too; alongside remote parking, smartphone connectivity and handwriting recognition, the G80 offers ambient interior lighting, a pair of rear-mounted infotainment touchscreens, automated air filtering technology and a posture-correcting drivers seat.
In the South Korean market, the G80 will feature an in-car payment device which will also allow drivers to pay for things like tolls and fuel without leaving the vehicle.
Launching initially in the brand’s home market of South Korea, the new G80 will arrive in other global markets, including North America and Russia, in the second half of this year. Genesis boss Manfred Fitzgerald previously told Autocar that the brand was plotting a UK launch in 2020, though this is likely to be pushed back as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
When Genesis does arrive in the UK, it is unlikely to bring the G80, as demand for large luxury saloons is not as strong here as it is in the US and the Middle East. Hyundai managed to sell just 50 examples of the original Genesis saloon in the two years it was on sale here.
The manufacturer has already given the British Red Cross access to 57 vehicles, including 27 Defenders, for delivering food and medicine to vulnerable and elderly people. Another 65 vehicles are supporting Red Cross efforts in Australia, France, South Africa and Spain.
JLR is also loaning vehicles to the National Health Service and emergency services to support local efforts and donating protective equipment including safety glasses to a number of NHS hospitals. It's aiming to deploy futher vehicles in the coming weeks.
The vehicles handed over to the Red Cross and NHS have been taken from the JLR press fleet and include Defenders intended for use on now-postponed launch events.
Simon Lewis, head of crisis response for the British Red Cross, said the “generous support” will allow its teams “to reach even more people living in isolated communities than we could alone”.
Like other UK manufacturers, JLR is working with the UK government to offer its expertise in a wide range of research, engineering and production areas. These include digital engineering and design, 3D model printing and prototypes, machine learning and artificial intelligence.
One vehicle is stolen every four minutes on average in the UK
Despite sophisticated anti-theft tech, vehicle thefts have risen by more than 50% in the past six years and they're still increasing. We explore
One night in January, while Helen Chambers and her husband were asleep, a thief broke into the couple’s home in Romford, Essex, and stole the key to their 2012-reg Audi A6 2.0 TDI parked on the road outside. The first they knew of the theft was when they looked out of their bedroom window to be greeted by the sight of an empty parking space.
“It was done so quickly and discreetly that I think the thief must have been staking out our house,” Chambers told me when I phoned her after seeing her report of the theft and appeal for information on Stolen Cars UK, a public Facebook group.
The police were quick to respond and viewed the video footage that had been captured on the couple’s CCTV camera. Unfortunately, the thief’s face was barely visible in the poor light and he was wearing gloves so had left no fingerprints. It’s a problem that police investigating car crime encounter all too frequently. Recently, Suffolk police admitted it had failed to solve 95% of car crime in the past three years, mainly because of what it described as “limited forensic opportunities”.
Reflecting on the loss of the family’s Audi, Helen said, despairingly: “You work hard, only to have your dream car stolen.”
On the same day, around 350 other vehicle owners discovered exactly how she felt. That’s the number of cars that police believe have been stolen each day so far this year. It compares with 330 stolen each day in 2019, or 120,000 over the year, and is further evidence of the apparently unstoppable rise in car crime that has seen vehicle thefts increase by over 50% in the past six years. According to the Office for National Statistics, just 40% of stolen vehicles are recovered. Most of these are damaged and 20% written off. The UK’s car crime capital is Manchester, where there are almost 51 crimes per 1000 vehicles, a figure that includes theft from, as well as theft of, a motor vehicle.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. New technologies such as keyless entry and ignition systems were meant to make cars safe from thieves and render mechanical locking devices, such as the traditional Krooklok, redundant. What their designers didn’t take account of, however, was car thieves’ determination to overcome any new obstacle in their path and the changing nature of car crime, which has evolved from the casual thieving and joy riding of the 1990s to the organised and targeted activity it is today.
“There’s a significant amount of organised criminal activity, with cars being stolen to order,” says Clive Wain, head of police liaison at Tracker, a vehicle telematics and locater company. “Cars are stolen for one of four reasons: for export, often to Eastern Europe; to order, for their identity to be changed and the vehicle sold on within the UK; for parts, which is a growing problem and where the vehicle is stripped down in a so-called ‘chop shop’; and to be used in further crimes.”
Neil Thomas, director of investigative services at AX Innovation, a fleet management company, says car crime is like an industry. “It’s run on the same scale,” he says. “High-value models are being targeted by criminals who need specific cars to sell or to strip for sale or cloning. They’ll place their order with an associate using an encryption messaging service such as WhatsApp. Their messages will include details of a vehicle’s location and instructions on how to check for and remove tracking devices.”
Increasingly, criminals are turning to county lines techniques borrowed from the drug world to steal cars. So-called ‘clean skins’, young people with no criminal record, are recruited to steal cars from outside the criminal’s immediate area in return for cash or food for their family.
Thomas says that once stolen, many cars – a lot of them premium models including Audis, BMWs, Mercedes and Range Rovers but also hot hatches – are driven to a location and left for up to four days to establish whether a tracking device is fitted. When the all-clear is sounded, the car will be fitted with duplicate plates that identify it as an identical but legitimate vehicle so as not to trigger any ANPR cameras, started using a reprogrammed key if necessary and driven away. It might then be sold to a black market buyer, who is unlikely to pay much more than ?2000 for a stolen Range Rover, for example. A Ford Fiesta might be sold for just ?200.
Having bought the stolen car, a criminal may attempt to sell it to an unsuspecting member of the public, advertising it at less than its market value to attract interest. On arrival at what is likely to be a rented address, the buyer is told there is finance to settle, a story intended to reassure them that the seller and the car are legitimate.
Thomas tells how a 2013-reg Range Rover Evoque 2.2 SD4 Dynamic was sold in this way. It had been stolen in Oxford, cloned in Birmingham and given a new identity, before being advertised for ?8150. The criminal gave the buyer a settlement letter purporting to be from the finance company and quoting an account number and sort code. In fact, the finance company was a national charity with no connection to the car.
The buyer settled the finance, paid the criminal a balance of ?5000 in cash and in return was given the vehicle’s key and a logbook. The key was a replacement that had been reprogrammed and the logbook fake.
However, disposing of an entire car in this way is a risky affair for the criminal. That’s why breaking vehicles for their parts, either to sell to other criminals for cloning stolen cars or to unsuspecting members of the public, is an increasingly popular alternative. High-value cars including Bentleys and Lamborghinis, but also Range Rovers and Jaguars, are often disposed of in this way.
Many are broken down and stripped in chop shops. In the case of vehicles with tracking devices fitted to them, depending on the age of the car, the subscription to the service may have lapsed, allowing the vehicle to go unlocated. Thomas says that police are increasingly targeting chop shops. One recent raid by West Midlands Police yielded three stolen Mercedes E-Classes. “It’s a more effective approach than trying to solve every car theft because you get straight to the criminals who are ordering the thefts and disposing of the cars,” he says.
Other forces are reporting similar successes. In February, Essex Police raided 20 properties as part of an investigation into a gang suspected of having stolen up to 90 cars worth a total of ?4 million since 2018, including Range Rovers and sports cars. They made 15 arrests and recovered 25 stolen vehicles. As part of the raids, the police targeted criminals suspected of coding replacement keys, enabling the vehicles to be cloned and sold to unsuspecting buyers.
The police haul included the equipment that the criminals used to overcome the keyless entry systems fitted to the cars they had stolen, a technique called a relay attack. It works by one criminal holding a device up against the door of the car, amplifying the signal it broadcasts around the perimeter of the vehicle. Another criminal stands near the owner’s home with a device that picks up the signal the key emits and relays it to his accomplice, who can then open the car’s door and start the engine.
This vulnerability of keyless systems is well known and was demonstrated in a number of security tests by our sibling title What Car?. In 2019, it tested seven popular cars fitted with the systems and found that two of the cars (an Audi TT RS and a DS 3 Crossback) could be accessed and driven away in just 10 seconds. Others took up to 60 seconds, although one, a Land Rover Discovery, could not be started.
Tracker’s Wain claims that 92% of the cars stolen with the company’s location device fitted to them were taken in this way in 2019. The year before, the figure was 88%. He says keyless theft is spreading from London and the home counties to the Midlands and the north of England. The Association of British Insurers, which last year reported a steep rise in motor theft payouts, has urged car makers to tackle what it describes as this “high-tech vulnerability”.
Keyless car theft is a serious and growing problem but, arguably, car owners should be even more concerned about a method of theft known as a Hanoi burglary, named after a major police investigation of the same name into car key burglary carried out some years ago. Not only were cars broken into but, in order for the burglars to get their keys, homes were, too.
The point is this: as car makers improve their keyless entry systems with features such as motion sensors that disable the key and prevent it from transmitting when left undisturbed (using this feature, the cars that What Car? tested could not be entered or driven away), criminals may be forced to break into homes for the key itself.
“We’re not there yet,” says Thomas. “Most car thieves who use keyless entry want a quiet life but, given the scale of the industry they’re supporting, they may, if sleeper keys become more widespread, be forced to take desperate measures.
“It’s why you should leave your car keys at the bottom of the stairs. Better that than a thief going any further to look for them.”
Inside Thatcham crime lab
Since the 1990s, Thatcham Research, the insurer-funded vehicle and technology research organisation, has been testing vehicle security systems for the insurance industry. Last year, it launched a rating system to help car buyers. Called the Consumer Security Rating, it includes a relay attack test. Cars achieving the highest rating, called Superior, include the BMW 1 Series, Land Rover Discovery Sport, Skoda Superb and Ford Puma.
The centre’s crime lab is home to some of the equipment it uses for the test, much of it sourced by police forces during raids and arrests. Assorted relay attack devices, OBD (on-board diagnostic) key programmers, GPS jammers that can disrupt GPS-based trackers (this is a growing problem) and signal jammers that criminals can use to prevent a key locking a car fill one table.
“It’s a game of cat and mouse,” says Steve Launchbury, lead vehicle security research engineer. “As soon as a new car enters the market, criminals steal and strip it to learn how its security works.”
Richard Billyeald, chief technical officer, says that Thatcham’s new security tests are meant to inform and educate not only the public but also car makers.
“Our job is to help car makers understand their vulnerabilities and, partly as a result of our new consumer rating, they’re responding,” he says. “Sleeper keys with motion sensor technology that deactivates the fob when left undisturbed are a simple but effective step forward.
“The next big challenge will be the connected car that can be controlled from your phone. It’s convenient but represents a new security risk.”
How to keep your car safe from thieves
? Keep your keys away from windows and out of view but don’t hide them away. ?Have the car windows etched with the vehicle’s registration and VIN numbers.
? Remove all valuables, including portable sat-navs.
? Park in a well-lit place. If it’s on your driveway, park the car facing the house so the thief will have to reverse it.
? If your car has keyless entry, check if you can disable the system and, if not, see if a software update is available so you can. Store the key in a Faraday pouch that blocks the signal but check it works.
? Manually check the car is locked in case the locking signal has been jammed.
? Fit a mechanical lock such as a gear or steering wheel lock as a deterrent.
February saw the Volkswagen Golf outsell the Ford Fiesta in the UK for the first time in years. Here's how the rest of Europe is performing
Take a look at the UK's new car registrations - or indeed, stick your head out of the window - and you'll see the same familiar faces. On every street there's at least one Ford Fiesta or Focus, Volkswagen Golf or Nissan Qashqai.
It's not the same in other countries, though. The following list shows which cars the rest of Europe are besotted with, measured by market analysts JATO Dynamics:
With no mainstream car manufacturers, Austria’s top-seller can’t be from a domestic manufacturer. 635 buyers flocked to the Volkswagen Golf in February, while the next two are also VW group big-hitters; the the Skoda Octavia at 544 and Skoda Fabia at 542.
The same can be said for Belgium, but clearly being wedged between France and Germany has its effects: the Volkswagen Golf was the most popular car in February with 1065 sales, while the Citroen C3 made third place with 980 sales. The Toyota Yaris found itself in second place with 1029 sales.
No two guesses which carmaker rules supreme here - the Skoda Octavia has sold 1703 units and the second-best-seller was the Fabia, which has sold 1357, in fact, half of the country’s top ten best-sellers are Skodas. The Scala takes third, with 795 sold in February.
The Toyota Yaris supermini took the Danish top spot in February, with 459 cars sold, while the next best-seller is the Peugeot 208 with 458 sales. The Nissan Qashqai saw 453 sales throughout the month.
Estonia has a proclivity for larger cars, it would seem, with the Toyota RAV4 holding pole position in February with 141 sales. The Renault Clio steps up to second place with 130 sales, while the Toyota Corolla earns third place with 90 sales.
A second victory for Toyota in Finland, with the Corolla seeing 610 cars sold in February. Second place was taken by the Skoda Octavia, a former top-seller, with 319 cars finding homes. The Toyota Yaris remains in third place with 257 sales.
Little surprise here; France’s top three car in February were all French models. The all-new Peugeot 208 sold an impressive 10273 cars, giving it a significant lead over the Renault Clio in second place. Renault's supermini saw 8662 sales, while the Citroen C3 saw 5877 sales.
Volkswagen maintains its top spot in Germany with the Golf holding a significant lead over the second place Ford Focus. 10318 Golf cars were sold throughout the month, while Ford saw 5412 sales. Another Volkswagen took the third place spot with 5284 sales.
The Toyota Yaris once again takes the top spot in Greece, with 473 cars sold in February, compared to the second-place Peugeot 208's 310 units sold. Third place goes to the Citroen C3, which found its way into 286 Greek homes across the month.
Hungary: Dacia Lodgy
A win for Dacia in Hungary this month, with the Lodgy compact MPV seeing 477 sales throughout February. Skoda took second place with the Octavia, which saw 455 sales, while the Toyota Corolla earned the bronze medal position with 388 sales.
The Hyundai Tucson only just earned its first place position in Ireland in February, with 548 sales. Interestingly the Toyota Corolla and Volkswagen Tiguan shared joint second place with 508 sales each.
Nationalism wins, once again, with Fiat taking two podium spots – the Fiat Panda was the best-selling car so far in February, with 14,466 cars finding homes. The Lancia Ypsilon, once badged as a Chrysler and sold in the UK but now only sold in its home country, took second place with 5950 sales. The Renault Clio managed to see 4220 sales to earn third place overall.
One of the only European countries that hasn't seen any new car break three digits this month, Latvia's top seller was the Peugeot 308 family hatchback. 83 found homes in February, while the second place Toyota RAV4 managed 63. Toyota earned the bronze medal position too, with the Corolla seeing 58 sales.
Dacia's second country win came in Lithuania, with the Sandero seeing 162 sales throughout February. The Toyota RAV4 SUV earned second place with 144 sales, while the Jeep Renegade managed third place with 18 cars finding homes.
Another country win for the Volkswagen Group, and for the VW Golf. It took the top spot in February with 126 sales, and while another VW model earns second place, it must share the podium. The Tiguan is Luxembourg's favourite SUV this month, with 109 cars finding homes. The Mercedes-Benz A-Class also managed 109.
Electrification incentives saw the Kia Niro become the best-selling car in the Netherlands in February, with 1050 cars sold. That was enough to keep the Renault Clio in second place, with 818 cars, while the Ford Focus earned third place with 765 models sold across the month.
Surprise! Audi's first country win this month is also the most expensive car to make the top three in any European country, thanks to some major incentives for Norwegian customers to make the switch to electric. It saw 1171 sales throughout the month, pushing the Volkswagen Golf into second place with 760. The Nissan Leaf, another electric car, albeit a much more affordable one, earned third place with 484 cars sold.
The Toyota Corolla earned another top spot in Poland this month, with 1664 sales pushing the Skoda Octavia into second place. Skoda's saloon saw 1583 sales in February, while the Fabia hatchback managed 1285 to claim third position.
Small French cars regularly dominate the podium in Portugal, and February proved no different. The Renault Clio earned the top spot with 1434 cars sold, while the Peugeot 208 managed 813 sales to take the silver medal. The Citroen C3 managed the runner-up position with 694 cars finding homes.
Unsurprisingly, Dacia continues to take its home market by storm, claiming all three places in February's sales charts. The Logan earned pole position with 929 cars sold, while the Duster SUV managed 573 sales to take second place. Bringing up the rear was the Sandero, which saw 446 cars sold throughout the month.
The Skoda Fabia is a regular Slovakian favourite, and once again earned the top spot in February. It saw 451 sales across the month, pushing its bigger brother, the Octavia, into second place with 365. It wasn't a clean sweep for Skoda, however, with the Hyundai i30 earning third place thanks to 267 sales.
The Skoda Octavia's continued dominance in Slovenia shows the country still likes its saloon cars, even if a supermini and compact crossover make up the remainder of the top three. Skoda saw 264 sales, while the Renault Clio managed 245. The Volkswagen T-Cross earned third place with 212 cars sold.
All change for Spain this month, as the Nissan Qashqai unseated the Seat Leon as the best-selling car. 2550 Qashqais found homes, compared to 2464 Leons. The Vauxhall Corsa, sold in Spain under the Opel banner, took third place with 2109 sales.
There was uproar a few years back when the Volkswagen Golf took the lead in Sweden’s car market, but the home-grown brand soon took back the top spot, and has remained there thanks to the combined might of the S60 saloon and V60 estate. 1711 were sold in February, while the XC40 took second place with 1112. The Kia Niro rounded off the top three, with 938 sales.
With no native carmakers of any large volume, the Swiss bought the Skoda Octavia, Volkswagen Tiguan and Mercedes-Benz A-Class more than any other cars in February. 506 bought an Octavia, while 401 and 386 bought Tiguans and A-Classes.
While the Fiesta has perched atop the lofty list of the UK’s top-sellers for what feels like a decade, February 2020 saw the Volkswagen Golf find more homes. 3457 Golf customers pushed the Fiesta into second place with 3123, while the Ford Focus takes third place with 2764. On year-to-date sales, however, the Fiesta still holds the top spot. You can find the rest of the best-seller list here.
As I got back into the Jimny after filling up with petrol, a man slowly walked around the circumference of the Jimny, inspecting it closely. I looked at him, enquiringly, and he said: “I just wanted to see which Jimny it was.” The limited if cult-like appeal of the Jimny was confirmed by his niche car: a Dodge Caliber. One thing’s for sure: no other car I’ve driven has ever had this reaction.
The love story continues, but this is no long-distance romance - 4 March 2020
Tuning companies typically devote their time to high-end cars such as Range Rovers, Lamborghinis and the like. But just once in a while, something cult-like comes along that deserves such attention. You guessed it: the Jimny is that very car.
Walking through Mayfair recently (not reflective of my means…), I spotted a – sorry – pimped version of a Jimny, courtesy of tuner Liberty Walk, typically purveyor of bodykits for Lamborghinis and Ferraris.
There’s no point pretending I like tuned versions of models. I don’t. Yet, yet, yet… doesn’t this Liberty Walk Jimny border on super-cool? There are a few firms that offer Jimny modifications, including Jimny Style as well as Liberty Walk. I called up the latter to find out the appetite for these in the UK.
This latest Jimny has long been called a miniature Mercedes-Benz G-Class/G-Wagen, featuring the same boxy proportions on a smaller scale. So much so that Liberty Walk brazenly calls its version the G-Mini.
James Pearman, director of The Performance Company, which is the sole importer of Liberty Walk to the UK, says: “The kit is designed to make it look like a mini G-Wagen. We’ve had so much interest in it that we put it alongside a Lamborghini Aventador on our Autosport International Show stand. It gets as much attention as the supercars.”
He adds that it was probably the firm’s most successful kit last year. There are three options to choose from. They range from the most basic, with front bumper, front grille and wide body kit at a cost of ?2284 (excluding VAT), to the most extreme Premium kit, with front roof spoiler, rear wing and modified bonnet, priced at ?4456 (excluding VAT). The brand also offers a couple of other extras such as air suspension (from ?3875) and a Fi exhaust (from ?1400).
The kits are a big hit with Suzuki dealers as well, adds Pearman. “Five main dealers have converted their Jimny demonstrator to a Liberty Walk version,” he says.
Meanwhile, our standard Jimny is as popular as ever, eliciting much reaction both from readers and those on the road. Reader Mike Marwick got in touch to praise his Jimny, describing it as a fantastic “urban warrior”.
“The all-round visibility is far superior to most small cars’, speed bumps and potholes are no problem, and no parking space is too small,” says Mike.
Handily, his daughter drives a Fiat Panda 4x4 – the closest rival to the Jimny – and he concedes that the Panda is a better car for her long-distance commute. That’s no surprise, given our motorway experiences in the Jimny.
Mike also fits the typical profile of a Jimny owner: it’s a second car (the first being an Audi Q5) and it does low mileage – around 5000 miles a year, he reckons.
And so back to my Jimny experience. Having been on holiday with no driving for a week, I was thrilled to get back behind the wheel of the Suzuki. I well and truly love it, with the now-standard caveat of so long as it doesn’t involve motorway driving. As it continues to grow on me in urban and rural environments, it continues to grate on me anywhere else – to the extent that I’m mostly borrowing my generous colleagues’ long-term test cars for longer journeys. But that’s okay: we always knew this car was not trying to be the practical allrounder claimed by nearly every other car maker out there.
The positive attention It gets reactions when out and about for all the right reasons.
It’s still motorways Can I say motorway driving for the third consecutive ‘loathe it’?
There’s no faster way to confirm the Tonka Toy appeal of the Jimny than to stick it in front of a 10- and 12-year old, who would scarcely have uttered more super-mega-cool superlatives if I’d drawn up in a bright-green Lamborghini. That said, the lax body control and confined conditions left the 12-year-old feeling car sick after just a 60-minute journey.
Would the little 4x4 cope with a sludgy quarry in January? That’s an easy one - 12 February 2020
The Jimny has become an easy, comfortable companion for urban and rural journeys over the past few months, but until now we haven’t really tested its promised forte: off-road prowess.
Jimnys, past and present, have long been known for their 4x4 capability, led by light weight. In the case of our Jimny, it is around 1135kg on the scales; for comparison, a new Defender 90 weighs 2300kg.
My only off-roading in the Jimny had been some brief, tentative drives across muddy fields. So on a dreary Monday in January, I headed to the wilds of Lincolnshire – Tixover Quarry, to be precise – to see if the Jimny lived up to expectations. Alongside it was our Ford Ranger Raptor long-termer.
Both were there to create a ‘How to off-road’ video with Squires Prior and Calo, soon to appear on Autocar’s YouTube channel. Parked side by side (while we tried to get a camping kettle to work), the Raptor unsurprisingly dwarfed the Jimny. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if two Jimnys could fit into the Raptor’s footprint with a bit of contortion.
The Raptor has also been conceived for off-roading (and performance), featuring a ton of off-road modes and a locking differential. Things are simpler for the Jimny: no locking diff, no off-road modes – just the option of low- or high-ratio four-wheel drive, a ladder frame chassis and a solid rear axle, plus torque vectoring by brake.
As we started to venture around the impressive quarry, it was clear where the Raptor excels versus the Jimny: in the water. The Raptor has a wading depth of 850mm, the Jimny 320mm. The Raptor also has a more even torque line and its 10-speed automatic gearbox means you’re a lot less likely to stall…
How far can the Jimny be pushed? Very far, it turns out. Facing a couple of steep inclines, on which 4x4 veteran Prior doubted the Jimny could cope, we were both surprised and thrilled that the Jimny gobbled them up with no trouble at all. Coming back down one of those steep inclines, I engaged hill descent – the ultimate test of trust. My foot hovered nervously above the brake pedal but, again, the Jimny did the job with no assistance.
We tried to get the Jimny properly stuck for the purposes of the video. The closest we got was when it failed to climb a tricky hill on a bend, but it wasn’t truly stuck, as it ably rolled back down. Jimny 1, quarry nil.
I’ve been off road quite a few times over the years, typically in Land Rovers on carefully planned routes. Perhaps the joy here was the gung-ho approach of making up routes as we went or the charm of being in a rough and ready car that is significantly cheaper and less polished than any modern Land Rover.
The benefits of light weight and short overhangs counter the lack of a locking diff or the fairly high-revving, naturally aspirated four-pot engine, which isn’t what you’d be likely to choose for an off-road machine. But without the extra weight to propel, our Jimny skipped over the terrain effortlessly.
For car enthusiasts, driving is more than just getting from A to B. But in a world where track days are pricey endeavours, I’d argue that you can’t have much more fun than by approaching the limits of a Jimny in a quarry.
Eats tough terrain Hard to find more fun off road than in this mountain goat.
Can’t digest motorways Storm Brendan + the A1, M1, M25 = not a happy Jimny.
Small, until you see what came before - 5 February 2020
On a recent trip to a multi-storey, I happened to park next to a previous-generation Jimny. Given the tiny proportions of our long-termer, it was interesting to find the new car (at least from the rear) noticeably bigger and more boxy than its predecessor. The old Jimny has the retro-cool factor, but the styling of the new model easily wins for me. I do miss the rhino badge, though.
City slicker heads to the countryside, laden with precious cargo - 15th January 2020
Living with the Jimny in London has been a breeze, most notably because of its dinky size and brilliant visibility. But a trip to my parents’ home during the holidays gave me the perfect opportunity to spend some time in the Jimny in its natural habitat – the countryside.
As soon as I hit the familiar, rural roads of Bedfordshire where I grew up, the Jimny felt a suitable companion: petite for tight country lanes, elevated for big puddles and with no need for high speeds, which we know aren’t the Jimny’s forte.
When I was growing up in a tiny Bedfordshire village and winter came around, every night there’d be a slight uncertainty as to whether we’d be able to get anywhere in the morning. Being at the bottom of a valley, there’s a hill in every direction, but not enough people living there to warrant road-gritting. Over the years, I’ve seen plenty of cars in ditches and only just escaped patches of stealthy black ice myself.
Knowing I was coming home for Christmas in the Jimny eradicated any of those concerns. This one particular hill, on which I’ve seen many a car abandoned, was no contest for the lightweight, sprightly Jimny in four-wheel-drive mode. My parents’ house doesn’t require getting away from Tarmac but, with plenty of mud-laden fields (I very nearly lost a walking boot on a local hike), I briefly took the Jimny offroad and it coped as well as I expected. A proper off-road test, with 4x4 aficionado Matt Prior, will be on the way in the coming weeks.
Doing short journeys on Bedfordshire roads, the Jimny is the perfect runaround. Its ruggedness and no-frills approach mean I’m happy taking it anywhere, and the muddier it gets the better. Its shortcomings compared with the average new car today – such as ride comfort and stability at high speeds – also become less relevant for this sort of living. You’re rarely in the car for more than 20 minutes at a time and your average speed is probably 35mph or 40mph.
And, Suzuki reckons, this is precisely how most Jimnys are used. It says they are “invariably purchased by our customers in rural areas who use them for leisure with some winter use, too”, adding that Jimnys are most likely to be a second car that covers low annual mileage.
Based on those previous-generation Jimnys I’ve spotted, that’s correct. They tend to look rough and ready, and consistently have their back seats down, with a few seemingly permanent fixtures in the back such as old blankets, bags full of junk and more. Not that I’ve been snooping in the rear of Jimnys…
As for the interior itself, it is only ever going to win prizes for durability, but there are a few other areas worthy of note. I’ve mentioned the heated seats before: I’ll admit I’m shamelessly won over by some warmth in winter but, nonetheless, it’s a welcome feature – although I’ve also found the seats comfortable over longer journeys.
The infotainment system is a bit 2005 but still better than some Japanese makers’. Switch to Apple CarPlay, though, and it becomes an incredibly good set-up, exceeding what I’d expect of the Jimny.
Last but not least, its practicality in terms of carrying lots of luggage – in this case, many, many Christmas presents – is brilliant. The rear soon filled up but the boxy design let me use every nook and cranny, and the rear door made loading and unloading quick and easy, too.
Driving slowly No-effort low-speed motoring – perfect for both muddy rural roads and busy towns.
Driving quickly Going above 65mph on the motorway as you pass a lorry…
Winter weather wins: a small but practical advantage of the Jimny is how easily I can reach across to clear the frozen windscreen. In other cars, I often can’t get to the middle; it’s a different story in the upright, dinky Jimny. The heated seats, standard in our range-topping SZ5, continue to be my most used feature as we hit regular freezing temperatures.
Where to start? Not on the motorway, that’s for sure. If you’re happy to amble along the nation’s motorways in the slow lane, presuming there is no rain or high winds, then you’ll be fine in the Jimny. But find yourself doing 70mph in the fast lane as a gust of wind passes across the M25 and you’ll be gripping the steering wheel for dear life.
By being hugely capable off road, the Jimny is compromised on it, and nowhere is that more true than on the motorway.
Having done quite a few motorway journeys in the Jimny, I borrowed editor Tisshaw’s Range Rover Velar SVAutobiography for a weekend, amused at how two SUVs couldn’t be more different. Of course, the Velar was infinitely more comfortable, yet it didn’t have the charm of our little Jimny. Plus, the Suzuki has never returned as little as 9.9mpg in town… But, let’s remember, Jimny owners are typically rural dwellers who do low on-road mileage. Chances are a fair number of Jimnys have never even made it to a motorway. If all you’re doing is commuting up and down the M1, you wouldn’t buy a Jimny. It’s that simple.
Other downsides? It’s incredibly noisy in every way, be it on the motorway or elsewhere. It’s all relative, of course, because we lucky hacks have experienced lots of cars. The more time I spend in the Jimny, and the higher up the radio volume goes, the less I get irritated by the noise. Plus, speaking hands free over Bluetooth in the car is surprisingly good. You’d expect it to sound as if you were in a swimming pool, yet it doesn’t.
Inside, the plastics and fittings are cheap and not awfully comfortable. The lack of a proper boot has been troublesome on occasion, mostly because there’s nowhere to hide valuables in the car. But when you get used to these details, there’s something charmingly robust about the Jimny’s basicness.
So what about the upsides? Well, really, it’s just a brilliant, fun car. I’ll admit I was sceptical when I was first behind the wheel, given the absence of refinement or any driving dynamics, but it has quickly grown on me. I pride myself on carefully judging my wheel inputs to ensure the car ends up where I want it, it’s entertaining at low speeds and changing through the gears (which you’ll do a lot – again, it’s geared for off-road, low-speed driving) makes you feel like a rally driver, or an overzealous extra from The Fast & Furious.
The thrill of parking or even getting past idiot drivers badly positioned on the road has not yet waned. So petite is this car that there has not been a single space I’ve hesitated to park in.
Then there’s its appearance. I can’t say whether it’s universally liked, but it certainly stands out. The joy is that it does so for being the opposite of pretentious – and, after a few months of running a Bentley Continental GT this year, it’s refreshing for a car to get attention for a different reason.
And for all the criticisms of its cheap interior and inferior driving capabilities, every time I get in the Jimny I’m happy to be there (unless a motorway’s involved!). As we go into the colder months, the next test is how much more appealing it becomes on icy roads with its four-wheel drive capabilities.
Fun-seeking spirit There’s a sense of go-anywhere adventure in this quirky, tough and tiny off-roader, even if I’ve been mostly bumbling around town…
Lack of hidden storage There’s no out-of-sight cubbyhole. The glovebox is small so would only hold things like a phone or purse rather than a bag.?
You’ll probably be most familiar with the ‘Kinetic Yellow’ Jimny, as seen in most of the official photography. I was glad, for variety’s sake, that our test car was another bright colour: Brisk Blue. White is the most popular in the UK but the coolest on sale, I reckon, is Chiffon Ivory, a utilitarian beige. Best of all, though, is one not offered in the UK: Army Green. What better shade for a mini tank?
My partner, carrying wellies and walking boots, opened the boot door of the Jimny while I watched, amused. “Where’s the boot?” he asked, exasperated. He has a point. The Jimny has 85 litres of luggage space, less than half of a Renault Twingo’s. Still, the rear seats can be made more upright for a bit more space or reclined completely.
Every time I look at our Jimny, I love just how small it is, while not being a city car. Nowhere is it more satisfying than when parking in town. In tight car-park spaces – where my previous long-termer, a Mini Cooper S, would be touching the white line on one side – I step out of the Jimny and find more than half a metre of breathing space. It’s a similar story when parallel parking on my road.
Welcoming the Jimny to the fleet - 23rd October 2019
We’d been waiting a long time for the fourth-generation Jimny. Such was the anticipation for this 4x4 underdog that, for a couple of years, as each major (and relevant) motor show approached, we asked Suzuki: “Will we see the new Jimny there?” Finally, in the summer of 2018, a mere 20 years after the release of its predecessor, the new model was revealed. And it was as endearingly boxy, funky and compact as we’d hoped.
That’s the charm of the Jimny, isn’t it? It has never tried to be anything it’s not. It doesn’t claim to be – nor is it – a car for every scenario. And when you consider the flurry of compact SUVs available today, that’s a good thing. Few are as small as the Jimny, yet almost all are better rounded for an average day of driving.
But that would be to miss the Jimny’s unique selling point. This is an ultra-, ultra-compact SUV – it is almost identical in length and width to the Volkswagen Up – and one that prides itself on its off-road prowess. On pricing, the Dacia Duster or Fiat Panda 4x4 are the most likely rivals, but for off-roading, it’s an alternative to the far pricier Land Rover Discovery Sport or Jeep Wrangler.
My first experience of a Suzuki Jimny was a memorable one – for all the wrong reasons. I had a fairly well-used example as a hire car in Barbados; well over 50,000 miles on the clock and, as I would find out, all of those miles likely covered on the same set of tyres. The first sense that something was up was when I began turning in to a roundabout at roughly 20mph and experienced the slowest understeer of my life, heading very slowly straight into the central island. Later, I applied the brakes going downhill, only for all the wheels to lock up, sending me sliding perilously towards the bottom.
It won’t be hard, then, for our new Jimny long-term test car to surpass its Bajan equivalent. During its six months with us, it will tackle London’s urban jungle, winter weather and, of course, some off-roading, and we will have plenty of time to contemplate whether or not the quirky Jimny is worth considering as a left-field alternative to more obvious rivals.
Ours is one of few Jimnys on UK roads: only 1200 cars will be sold in a year, just one-tenth the sales of Suzuki’s biggest seller, the Vitara. That number is largely down to supply limitations and it’s the same reason why the most common paint colour is white: not because that’s what buyers have chosen, but because that’s what arrived in the UK. Such is the Jimny’s loyal following that, Suzuki says, many will take it in whatever colour they can get. That’s not a claim many car firms could make.
We have the ?650 dual-tone paint, bright blue with a black roof, which is one of the few options available. The most popular options are side body mouldings, a front skid plate and mud flaps, which tells you all you need to know about Jimny buyers.
Indeed, Suzuki reckons many of its new-Jimny customers had the old model, and there are some conquest sales, too. It is invariably purchased by people in rural areas who use the Jimny for leisure plus some winter driving. Given its off-road focus, it’s no surprise that the Jimny is typically a second household car and has low annual mileage.
It’s a simple line-up: one 100bhp 1.5-litre petrol engine and two trim levels, SZ4 and SZ5. We’re running the higher-trim SZ5, which has such a long specification list that it’d be hard to find much more to ask for. It seems especially abundant, I reckon, because the Jimny’s interior is so humble and sturdy that one expects it to be sparsely equipped. Instead, you’ll find heated seats, high-beam assist, DAB, nav, cruise control, Bluetooth, lane departure warning and much more. One missing feature I’m used to is parking sensors, but I quickly realised how absurd sensors would be given how close you are to the back of the car and its boxy nature.
All those comforts are in demand: 80% of buyers are opting for the SZ5 over the lesser SZ4, despite being ?2500 more. Our car costs ?18,499 plus that ?650 dual-tone paint. The 1.5-litre petrol unit is paired to a five-speed manual ’box, although an auto option makes up a fifth of SZ5 sales. Top speed is – deep breath – 90mph, and although there’s no official 0-60mph time, Autocar road testers recorded 11.9sec.
Early thoughts? There’s no denying it’s rough and ready, but the more I drive it, the more I’m charmed. So far, it’s mostly been used for short, suburban trips, although a brief stint on the M3 proved what I already know: stay in the inside lane at 60mph. I’ve also had one, fleeting chance of employing 4WD on a field, which gave me a thrilling glimpse of its off-road potential – something you’ll be hearing plenty more about over the next few months.
I loved the Suzuki Jimny on its European launch last year, with one caveat: that it’s a true niche off-roader and anyone using it as a city runabout will find an unrefined engine, floaty handling, annoying gearchange and unrefined interior. Given Rachel’s daily commute, I wish her good luck. That said, I’ve already hassled her to give me the keys for a spell so I can be charmed all over again.
Specs: Price New ?18,499 Price as tested ?19,149 Options Dual-tone paint ?650
Test Data: Engine 4 cyls, 1462cc, petrol Power 100bhp at 4000rpm Torque 95lb ft at 4000rpm Kerb weight 1090kg Top speed 90mph 0-62mph 11.9 Fuel economy no WLTP data CO2 no WLTP data Faults None Expenses None
Frankel was a car freak from the start, but blames a well-known car magazine for making the obsession incurable
It is down to two people, or one person and one group of people to be precise. One infected me with the car bug, the others made sure the condition was terminal.
I was born diseased, it passing down the generation from my father. I’m not sure I ever met anyone who had it worse. A person less like the stereotypical accountant you could not imagine, yet he became one simply because it meant he’d get to drive between audits. He was not obsessed with cars, but possessed by them.
But here it gets tricky because the people who took my condition beyond all hope of salvation are not only known to me, they are my friends. For decades in this business they have been known as the Australian mafia, and in the 1970s and ‘80s a succession of them changed the face of motoring journalism.
Before the mafia turned up here, car magazines were in the main at best worthy, but far more often terminally dull products. Hate to plug the opposition though I do, more than 40 years ago Car magazine changed all that. Edited first by Mel Nichols in the 1970s, then our own Steve Cropley, then Gavin Green, Aussies all, it didn’t so much raise the standards of writing in motoring journalism as transform them. For the first time while you might be drawn to a story by the car that was its subject, you’d be held to the last line by the quality its words.
Back in those days it was fearless too: cars would be dismissed by single word sum ups like ‘yawn’, ‘frightful’, ‘embarassment’ and, my favourite reserved for the Moskvich 1500: ‘Aaargh!’. Single sentence dismissals included ‘Like a bad hangover’ ( Simca 1100) and ‘Someone shoot it, please!’ ( Triumph Spitfire).
I knew the exact day Car was published every month and if, for any reason, it wasn’t there when I sprinted to the newsagent, that day would be one without worth. If it were, I’d not wait to get home before devouring it, but instead sit on the pavement until I’d read at least one complete story, which would provide me with a fix sufficient until I got back to base.
And then Nichols and Cropley came to Autocar, one just before, the other just after I joined. One helped me get my job, both helped me keep it. The debt is incalculable.
The DriveNow car-sharing scheme was closed in London earlier this year
Car-sharing schemes are expanding on the continent, but it's a different story in the UK
Car makers left, right and centre are readying car-sharing services as they look to diversify their business model beyond just selling cars.
There are predictions that 70% of the global population will soon be in big cities, which is why it’s so sensible for automotive firms to wise up to car-sharing.
But the UK isn’t playing ball. Earlier this year, French-owned Bluecity abandoned its fleet of red EVs having secured deals with only three London boroughs.
BMW and Daimler-owned DriveNow also pulled out the city, saying: “Although more and more Londoners integrated our service in their daily mobility behaviour, we had to face the hard reality that we could still not convince enough people to do so.
“Furthermore, we had to face local factors, like the high costs of operation and the different circumstances in the individual boroughs.”
But there are no plans to bring the quirky electric quadricycle here. Citro?n marketing chief Arnaud Belloni said: "In the UK, it will come later - if it comes.” UK marketing director Souad Wrixen told Autocar that British consumers aren't yet open to car sharing in the way that the French are.
Volvo is another brand that has long talked about car sharing, having launched its subscription service for cars. A spokesman said: “The technology exists for a digital car-sharing service in the UK. We're monitoring the technology, and with sufficient customer demand and the support of the insurance industry, we will consider its introduction in due course.”
Renault has a popular service in France called Renault Mobility. In Paris, the most popular age group for its service is 34-38-year-olds. But while Renault supplies Zoes to a couple of UK car-sharing clubs, it's yet to commit to bringing its own service here.
There are, of course, a number of UK-based car-sharing clubs, such as Zipcar, Co-wheels and Getaround, but the fact that car makers have already failed or are yet to commit to this country makes it very clear that the market isn't yet mature enough to make it a profitable option.
It is finished. We first anticipated writing this short, triumphant sentence about six weeks ago, when we began to conceive, with the help of top-class UK designers and engineers, an all-new Volkswagen Golf-sized family hatchback for 2025 to 2030 and beyond.
The car you see here, both as a 1:5-scale model and as a series of elaborate, almost photo-real digital drawings, is called the Share P42. It is our car for the future, a five-door C-segment hatchback proposed both for shared and private ownership by Autocar’s journalists, working with experts from the Coventry-based engineering services firm Envisage Group.
Autocar’s angle? To investigate what a car planned for two to three generations’ time might be like, and to understand the problems and thought processes the world’s real-time car creators are facing right now. Envisage’s angle? To publicise its impressive talents and skills in car design and prototype building as widely as possible – without revealing any of the confidential projects on which the business is based.
The P42’s interior and exterior design is principally the work of four young Coventry Transport Design graduates (Aadil Hafiz, Michael Mills, Ben Martin and Danny Alvarez), who have worked for the past three months at Envisage’s 2016 summer school under the tutelage of Envisage’s practising designer, Oliver Le Grice.
Engineering and feasibility work has been handled by ace software jockey Gary Skeggs, working under the creative leadership of Envisage’s dynamic engineering director, Bill Walsh. It has been an amazing experience.
Here’s a confession, though: our car isn’t finished. In motor industry terms, it’s hardly started. True, it looks believable and complete, but we’ve learned enough about car creation over the past six weeks to understand that it would take three years from this point to resolve the many technical uncertainties, do the market research, carry out the detailed engineering design, find the suppliers and prepare the manufacturing operation that could put the Share P42 to 40,000-a-year production – assuming we could find a car company that liked the idea and had the finance.
Yet many of the decisions and conclusions about the P42’s concept, features and inner workings are mature. They could work. Were we able to continue, we believe we have a good basis to do so. Here are the key features…
The Share P42 is a C-segment five-door hatchback, close in size and duty to today’s VW Golf and Ford Focus and as easy to use and own. It can be configured as a shared car or a light commercial vehicle. It is a pure electric car of about 4.3m in length because, like much of the motor industry, we are content that new cars 10 to 15 years hence will prove that the future is electric – aided by the fact that battery prices are falling fast, batteries themselves are being packaged smaller and lighter, improving chemistry adds 5-10% a year and much faster charging points are on the horizon. Multiply all that by 10 and we’re in a promising place.
Our car is much sleeker and yet much roomier – in both passenger area and luggage space – because we’ve included two hugely important features that, we reckon, will be feasible by 2025-2030. The first is deployable front and side impact protection – in effect, compact external airbags that pop out to protect when a comprehensive package of sensors detects an impending accident.
The second is the decision to design this car without a large, traditional fascia. Instead, we simplify its instruments with head-up displays, use the driver’s smartphone for personal settings and music, and give it a steering boss switchpad and a central touchscreen for primary and secondary controls. The airbags, comparatively small these days, are carried in the car’s pillars. The P42’s heating and ventilation gadgetry fits into engine bay space freed by its use of a single, compact electric drive motor, especially since much of its complex, currently bulky control mechanism will be carried in the cloud.
As a result, much more of the car’s overall length is dedicated to passenger and load carrying. Or to put it another way, the P42 rivals a D-segment (Ford Mondeo-sized) car for passenger and luggage room, except that it’s 20-30cm shorter and 10-15cm narrower. It offers flexible seating for four or five, the possibility of more conventional seating for seven, plus a completely flat floor and a huge rear boot that presents the possibility of a cavernous (and possibly extended) white van version.
One more revolutionary feature was the idea of a solitary light source, piped around the car by a series of mirrors and lenses to be used for headlights, tail-lights, signalling and interior lights – and perhaps even for messaging fellow road users. ‘After You’ displayed on a front screen might be a better message than a flash of the headlights.
The P42 is unashamedly modern and challenging, developed from an original concept by Envisage’s Mills. The brief was to be up-to-date, distinctive and highly recognisable because none of us had any interest in a ‘me too’ car for a changed world. Besides, the proportions bear little relationship to today’s Focus or Golf. Tomorrow’s designers will be freer in some ways, more constrained in others. Let them find new ways…
We’ve firmed up on the idea of a light, integrated spaceframe formed in aluminium towards the bottom and carbonfibre for the upper structure. We’re cautious about overuse of carbonfibre (CFRP, for carbonfibre-reinforced plastic, is Envisage’s more correct term) because it’s hard to recycle and recycling is about to be a bigger issue. The outer panels are made of seamless impact-resisting plastic, hopefully formed in one of the degradable compounds under serious development right now.
The side doors are a clap-hands design, human-powered to save weight and complexity. They’re brilliant for access in tight parking spaces, and the fact that they don’t need a centre pillar makes for really spectacular access, especially with the seats in a club configuration. The load space will also be spectacular. Our designers have conceived a 600-litre volume accessible from the rear either via a side-opening glass door or a much larger lifting tailgate (containing the door), which reveals a flat, wide floor space.
Instead of using what Le Grice dismisses as “ancient ironwork”, the P42’s seats have carbonfibre frames, which pick up runners integrated into the car’s aluminium floorpan, which also carries the thin, immensely strong and well-protected battery box.
The P42 is proposed as a simple battery electric car, carrying the 100kWh energy pack that, Walsh believes, will be relatively common in the electric cars of 2025-2030. The battery is likely to have shrunk to two-thirds the size of packs today. In a car weighing 1600kg, with a drag factor of around 0.28 and a modest frontal area, it should be good for an honest range of 400 miles. Ultra-fast chargers, on the horizon now, will slash charging times so that this car’s pack should be able to be charged from near zero to 80% in an hour at the most. A get-you-home charge might take as little as five minutes.
Performance? As befits a car that deploys maximum torque from standstill, the P42 will feel quick, but its 0-60mph time will probably be around 8.0sec, with a potential 100mph top speed governed to around 85mph both to save power and because regulations may well demand it. It will be smooth, seamless and almost silent power, though. Driving a manual gearbox, combustion machine from 2016 will seem like stepping back in time.
SUSPENSION, STEERING, BRAKES
By wire will be the way to go. There need be no mechanical connection between driver and motor, or steered wheels or brakes. New systems offer far greater flexibility of steering effort (probably configurable to the driver’s taste) and of integrated retardation between regenerative and friction braking, a current bugbear in hybrid and electric cars. It’s probable the P42’s driver will be offered a range of driving modes, selectable according to taste or loaded automatically via a smartphone app.
Advancing NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) technology will do much more to help: flush glass will lower wind noise, fibrous panels will absorb sound, and ever more careful design of the exterior mirrors will cut wind rush – until these are replaced by much smaller rearward-facing cameras (the kind we have on our bootlids already). In short, very little noise should disturb your conversation or audio quality.
The refinement theme offered by the P42’s near-silent powertrain will continue into the suspension and running gear: it has been configured with thin-section, low-noise tyres on 20in wheels. The all-independent suspension (double wishbones front, space-saving trailing arms rear) will have variable ride rates via magnetic dampers, whose settings are changed by both wheel movements and your sat-nav’s prior knowledge of the road. Sensing technology will sample your car’s grip in arduous conditions and configure the car, juggling its braking or limiting speed.
Although it’s a low car, the P42 is uncommonly airy because its screen and windows are large, it has a see-through roof and there’s no bulky ‘furniture’ in its cabin. The seats are skeletal, compact and easy to move. The floor is flat. The doors are large. The steering column (which is likely to stay in place because we’re unsure whether full autonomy will be around – or permitted – when this car is on the road) can be made to fold forward, leaving the screen and switchgear in accessible positions.
Of course, this car is always connected. It reads your preferences from a smartphone app. It communicates via the cloud with others of its ilk for safety’s sake. It monitors your health and tiredness by assessing your pupils. It predicts your likely journey and warns you of hold-ups. It responds to gestures and voice commands far better than today’s imperfect systems. And while doing all this, it is far more intuitive than today's systems. What is more, it is practically impervious to theft, at least as a private car, because it knows your unique fingerprints and the unique pattern of your pupils. And it is never truly ‘off’.
If this Share P42 project has taught us one thing, it is that in the next decade or two, cars will be very, very different. This will be required by the authorities’ pursuit of lower and lower CO2 outputs and toxic emissions, which are not going away.
Electrification – via batteries, hydrogen fuel cell stacks or petite on-board charging motors – is coming fast and we punters had better learn to appreciate its advantages. As Walsh puts it, “personal transport is about to become a hugely more relaxing, soothing experience,” even in a Focus/Golf-class car.
With electrification, we hope, will come the kind of deployable safety systems suggested for the P42, leading to the changed proportions we suggest here. These, we believe, are arriving just in time. Many of today’s cars have become unfeasibly large and heavy, mostly because of the crash structures they must haul about. As a result, many of them struggle in supermarket car parks and along narrow city streets.
Cars currently on the drawing board have many of the answers, especially if they can be shared by some as well as owned outright by others. We believe that many of their advantages are embodied in our dream car, the Autocar-Envisage Share P42. It’s just a shame that we can’t all fast-forward a decade or so to see if we are right.
Group calls for “shocking” warning labels showing the damage to health and the planet from pollution and climate change
Petrol and diesel pumps should carry cigarette packet-style warning labels as a shock tactic, a group of public health experts has claimed.
The Times reports scientists have called for “shocking” images including blackened lungs and flooded houses to be displayed on pumps as a warning about the negative effects of using the fuels, such as pollution and climate change.
Such labels are already in use on fuel pumps in the city of Vancouver, Canada, while Sweden is also set to introduce them in May.
The comments were made in an article published on the British Medical Journal’s website and led by Mike Gill, a former regional director of public health in south-east England. The article claims the same attitude taken towards smoking should be adopted in order to “sensitise people to the consequences of their actions”.
“Smoking is no longer viewed as a normal lifestyle choice,” the article claims, “but as an addiction which harms the individual and those around them through exposure to second-hand smoke. Fossil fuel use also harms others through ambient air pollution that accounts for about 3.5 million premature deaths per year, as well as through climate change, which increasingly threatens the health of current and future generations.”
The group is calling for labels to be brought in this year, ahead of the United Nations COP26 climate conference in November.
The first car produced, dubbed the Ultima, was designed in 1983, and three years later Autocar had its first experience of Noble's talent.
Looking like a Group C Le Mans car, the Ultima was based around a tubular spaceframe chassis and used various bits from the Austin Princess (radiator), Ford Cortina (uprights, brakes and steerings), Lancia Beta (rear brakes) and Renault 30 (engine and gearbox), plus some components of Noble's own design.
Perhaps unwisely, we decided to drive the Ultima to Leicester Square in central London (because it was built in Leicester, right?), and it was on the way that the first of several encounters of the copper kind would occur.
Apparently, this "Mulsanne refugee" didn't quite tally with the Renault family hatchback that NUT 602P showed up as on the police database. The next, rather irate constable called it "the stupidest thing he'd ever seen". "Oh well, the things we do for art," we said.
"Now, driving the Ultima around town is an interesting exercise," we said, "because you sit so low that you virtually see under Range Rovers, let alone lorries, and rearward vision is decidedly non-existent. Except for the wing mirrors, so named because all you see in them is wing.
"Moreover, the beast is pretty wide. Your ego works overtime on the outward view, all sculpted Can Am-style wheel arches, but then suffers a massive crash with the rending sound of glassfibre graunching pavement.
"At least you can be comforted that it's relatively easy to drive, docile and tractable, and the noise! Never before has a humble Renault V6 sounded so like a burbling Chevy V8. It's muscle without the tears."
Perhaps more of a challenge than threading through narrow streets was keeping away public attention. The effect on passers-by was apparently "something akin to Samantha Fox removing her dress in an army base".
On our fifth try, we finally got the Ultima parked in front of the Empire cinema with police permission, only for "what seemed like half the world to descend upon it", half of them drunk and all of them desperate to have their photograph taken with it – even if only one reveller didn't need telling exactly what the Ultima actually was.
"Forget your Ferraris, Porsches and Panther Sixes," we enthused, "this beats the lot in pure, unadultered pose value."
Okay, enough of that; time to test the thing where it belonged. So the next day we took to the country, and there the Ultima revealed itself to "handle and drive like the racing car its outward appearance suggests".
"Tractability is excellent, the car simple and easy to conduct. The fascia may be less than ergonomically perfect, but everything is there, and the driving position is sensational, as you lie prone, racing car-style, with near-straight legs and arms.
"The handling of this all-round independently suspended beast is superb. For sure, there's a little bump-steer, but the roadholding limits go far beyond the bounds of my bravery.
"The gearchange takes some getting used to, with an imprecise gate for the Renault five-speeder, but it's slick once you get used to it, while the steering is suitably precise, if slightly too light, likewise the clutch, all of which aid day-to-day driving."
The 2.6-litre six-cylinder engine had been modified only slightly by Noble, with just a peaky pair of cams and three double-choke Dellorto carburettors to boost its power output to 168bhp. However, the car weighed only around 740kg, so it recorded some "incredible" performance figures at our MIRA test track: 0-60mph in 6.5sec in the rain.
We continued: "The 30-50mph and 50-70mph in-gear acceleration times were faster than the Audi Sport Quattro we tested last year and very close to the Lamborghini Countach Quattrovalvole times as well.
"So, in performance terms, it's a Ferrari for the masses, because this slingshot will cost around ?7000 (about ?20,600 today) to build up from the basic kit; for ?3500 (?10,300), the purchaser gets a body and spaceframe kit, with all-round double-wishbone suspension.
"All that is then required is trim, wiring and fitment of the mechanics, which are all low-cost items."
For us, though, the Ultima was all about the pose value that was shown so obviously in the capital.
"You forget the fact that the car is noisy," we said, "typically kit car in its trim, the superb performance and the quibbles over brake and ride, and revel instead in the gaze of passers-by. Which, surely, is why people will pay the price of a hot hatch to own one."
Despite a big cash injection from Lawrence Stroll, the British luxury marque faces a tough future
It’s an old political clich? that a week is a long time in politics. On the stock markets, however, just a few hours can turn a company’s prospects upside down – as Aston Martin has recently proven.
Ironically, as recently as 23 January, it was reported that analysts at Citigroup rated Aston as a ‘high-risk, high-return’ bet based on the potential of the DBX, targeting a future share price of ?6.
Since Aston Martin Lagonda plc was floated on the stock market in October 2018, its launch share price of ?19 has been in decline, dropping to ?11.56 on 14 December 2018.
It had taken less than two months for the shares to lose around 40% of their value, although many analysts felt the initial launch price of the shares was over-enthusiastic.
By 18 January last year, things had picked up a little before continuing their downward journey. This was perhaps a little surprising, because Aston was reporting a generally successful 2018.
According to its accounts, the number of ‘wholesale’ cars sold for 2018 was 6441, up from 5098 in 2017. The company sold 1785 V12-engined cars and 4471 V8s. Sales in the US jumped 38% and Aston’s revenue hit ?1.1 billion, up 25%.
Excluding the ‘specials’ built by the company, the average selling price for its cars was ?141,000. That’s high, but perhaps not high enough considering Aston’s incoming investment plans.
One surprise hiding in the accounts was that the cost of placing the company on the stock market was ?136 million, helping to push annual profits down to just ?68m.
On future product launches, the investor presentation was especially bullish. As well as the DBX crossover, the line-up included two new mid-engined supercars – the Vanquish and Valhalla – as well as an electric SUV and electric saloon from Lagonda in 2021 and 2022.
The share price continued its overall descent during the first half of last year, dropping to just ?8.43 on 24 May before firming up to over ?10 by July.
But a trading update and profit warning from the firm on 23 July put an end to any hopes of a recovery. Aston revealed it had experienced a 25% drop in sales between April and June last year, with falls of 22% in the UK and 28% across Europe and the Middle East. Shares plummeted by 26% in a single day.
On 31 July, Aston announced that it had lost ?78m in the first half of 2019, in contrast to a ?21m profit in the same period in 2018. By 5 August, the share price had cratered to just ?4.54, then ?3.99 by 31 October. However, some confidence returned to investors towards the end of the year, with the price stuttering back up to ?6.30 on 6 December.
That was the recent peak for the company, and one to which it is unlikely to return for quite some time. At the beginning of this year, Aston released its preliminary figure for the whole of 2019. Sales in the UK fell from 1798 to 1429 and in Europe from 1489 to 1074. Revenue went down 9%.
The rumour in the analyst world – one later confirmed by CEO Andy Palmer – was that Vantage sales had failed to hit the mark, which might explain the recent redesign. Even a rise in sales in the US couldn’t prevent Aston’s finances taking a beating. That ambitious new model programme was biting, with the company’s debt leaping from ?560m to ?876m. Serious alarm bells rang and the company’s cash position became incredibly precarious, making the planned roll-out of crucial models such as the DBX difficult.
And then the coronavirus struck. Stroll took advantage of a well-placed clause in the original contract to renegotiate his offer, valuing the shares at ?2.25 rather than the original ?4 and taking a 25% stake. He also added an additional ?25m to the original plan to give ?55.5m in working capital in order to tide Aston Martin over.
Overall, Aston Martin intends to raise ?536 million as announced today. ?171m of that will be through Stroll’s consortium as part of their total investment of ?262m, while a subsequent rights issue will also follow.
Stroll’s new offer was, perhaps, based on the market price of ?4.02 recorded on 30 January, and his investment pushed the shares up to ?4.98. From there, though, it has been downhill all the way, as the world reacted to the spread of Covid-19.
After dipping as low as ?1.20 during one day of trading, Aston’s share price ricocheted around under the ?2 mark as day-traders took advantage of mini bounces. Despite the factory having to close as a result of the pandemic, the share price has gently risen above that figure since, but not by much.
But the value of Stroll’s holding has essentially been halved. And with global car sales almost halting during March and revenue drying up, Aston’s situation now, once again, looks critical.
Citro?n C4 Cactus: there’s no funkier way to enter a ULEZ zone
Alfa Romeo Mitos, Citroen C4 Cacti and Fiat 500 Ls are what you're looking for
The great privilege about being asked to answer car buying questions is that quite often it isn’t an Autocar reader after their next supercar fix. A very nice lady recently spotted an online article I wrote in the dark ages about how very wonderful the Nissan Figaro is. I have no recollection of writing that, but it inspired quite a wish list.
She wants a fairly small, ideally left-hand-drive car that will carry five and is around four years old, classic-looking like a Beetle or Mini, automatic, Ultra Low Emissions Zone-compliant and economical – all for around ?6k.
Seeking out a left-hooker for a town car with infrequent trips over to France seems a bit illogical. It’s better to stick with a locally sourced motor.
Petrol cars are safer to buy if you want to comply with ULEZs (it’s easy to check whether the car is compliant by going onto the Transport for London website and entering the registration number), but Euro 6 diesels from 2015 should be fine. The most difficult thing is finding a small automatic hatchback with character.
When it comes to small-car character, the Fiat 500 has it, but it won’t comfortably seat five people. In that case, the 500L is rather more accommodating. So a 2015 1.3 Multijet Pop Star with 45k miles and Dualogic transmission at ?5600 seems very reasonable. Not pretty, but sort of like an old-school Multipla.
The Citro?n C4 Cactus is an interesting sort of micro-SUV with roof rails and all that jazz. It’s still fairly big, but a 2015 example with 44k miles and the 1.2 petrol engine is ULEZ-compliant, too, and that’ll cost ?5900.
The character question always brings up Alfa Romeo. On the small side, there’s either the Mito or the Giulietta. It’s easier to find an automatic Giulietta 2.0 JTDM-2, which is ULEZ-appropriate. I found a Business-spec one with 85k miles at ?5900. When it came to the Mito, I only saw an insurance-recorded 2016 1.4 TB MultiAir Collezione at ?5500; otherwise, it would have been more than ?7000.
One day a Ford Fiesta with an Aston Martin-esque grille might be a classic, and at least it’s cheaper than a real Cygnet. So a 2016 1.0T Ecoboost Zetec Powershift with one owner and a serious 85,000 miles costs around ?6000. That seems like a pretty good compromise when it comes to economy, value for money and exclusivity if you want to play with bonnet badges.
At the moment, if you want a little automatic that’s economical and ULEZ-appropriate, some options are available. But with city cars fast becoming an endangered species, it may not last.
What we almost bought this week
Toyota Paseo 1.5 ST: Is it just us or does this old Paseo look passably attractive? It’s certainly sleek and nicely proportioned, although look inside and you’ll be greeted by the sight of floral seat upholstery. It’s a 1997 P-reg with 99,700 miles but only one previous owner, who from this distance appears to have looked after it. They want just ?500.
Tales from Ruppert's garage
BMW 320, mileage - 84,350: There has been a colossal amount of outgoings recently, so I’m looking to save some money. Rather than liquidating a member of the fleet, how about dodging the tax?
One of two V11s to arrive was for my daughter’s Golf, so at least I didn’t have to pay for that. And the Baby Shark is now well over 40 years old so should be road tax-free. But, because of the strange way the ‘rolling’ system works, I’ve had to wait until 2020 plus three months for it to qualify for a zero rating. That didn’t stop them asking me for ?265, though. I’ll go to the post office on 1 April with ‘historic’ paperwork. Hope I’m not a fool.
C is for Citro?n C3: There’s plenty to like about the C3, and many will appreciate the raised, people-carrier-like driving position. So there’s a lot of room up front with a usefully adjustable steering wheel and driving seat. The spec levels have always been pretty good; most will want the SX, which has air conditioning and a CD player, while the Exclusive even throws in climate control and sat-nav if optioned. The C3 is a reasonably lively drive and most of the engines are pretty good, especially the 1.4 turbodiesel. Ultimately, the C3 could have been the new 2CV, but Citro?n knew today’s car buyer wouldn’t be satisfied with something so basic.
Question: What road tax changes are due to come into force next month? Showrooms near me are plastered with window stickers urging motorists to beat the tax rise. Colin Thurrock, via email
Answer: The tax rise they’re referring to is the fact that first-year road tax on new cars registered from 1 April will be based on CO2 readings derived from the new, tougher WLTP emissions test rather than the old NEDC regime. The difference in the two readings averages around 25%, and duty revenue is forecast to increase by around ?200 million as a result. The change will hit some cars quite hard. JE
Question: When abroad, I notice public parking operators grant motorists an additional 10 minutes for free, I assume to allow them to walk to the shops. Why can’t British councils do the same? Dave Harris, Chippenham
Answer: In fact, they do; at least in England. A 10-minute grace period after a parking ticket has expired became law in 2015. It applies only in local authority car parks, but there are plans to extend it to private car parks throughout the UK. The regulation says: ‘No penalty charge is payable for the contravention where the vehicle has been left beyond the permitted parking period for a period not exceeding 10 minutes.’ JE
Jeep’s new 4xe PHEVs get up to 240bhp and 30-mile electric range
Plug-in hybrids of core 4x4s will be joined by electric models to make Jeep “the world’s most sustainable SUV company”
Jeep is fully ready to embrace electrification and wants to become “the greenest, most sustainable SUV company in the world”, its boss has said.
A number of electric Jeeps are potentially on the cards, including an ‘adventure’ model making full use of the benefits of EVs for off-roading: namely instant torque to the individual wheel that needs it, reduced nature-disrupting noise and the ability to provide high-voltage power for camping.
“There are so many things we need to bring together to make Jeep a modern, contemporary brand that will break through and sustain for the next 80 years,” Christian Meunier told Autocar. “That’s a big transition in our world.
“There was a little evolution every year, but there’s a big revolution happening now. To make Jeep the greenest, most sustainable SUV company is a little bit of a challenge, but it’s the most exciting one.”
Meunier added that we’ll soon see a “lot of things we are working on, like BEV”. In Europe, the focus is on three core models: the Renegade, Compass and Wrangler. Jeep showcased plug-in hybrid versions of all three, badged 4xe, at CES in January, and is now subjecting them to cold weather testing in Sweden.
Meunier continued: “PHEV has a very strong role to play for us, we believe, because it gives a lot of advantages: a 50-kilometre [31-mile] range, zero emissions and then removes the [range] anxiety.
“So I think for markets like Europe and China, it’s critical.”
Former Jeep CEO and now Fiat Chrysler Automobiles chief Mike Manley said in 2018 that there would be four EVs in Jeep’s portfolio by 2022. It’s not clear if this plan has been altered or wound back following the substantial executive reshuffling since that statement, but Meunier’s comments suggest launching EVs is still a priority for Jeep.
Meunier was quick to point out that electrification brings just as much in performance as it does ecological credentials.
“Think about a Wrangler Rubicon, full electric or PHEV,” he said. “This is a car that’s going to do 0-60mph in six seconds, potentially, so you’re going to get acceleration you’re never going to get with an engine. You’re going to get the most capable Jeep ever.
“The opportunity is two-fold, with the compliance and the ecology and sustainability, but in my mind, it’s also an opportunity to improve the capabilities of our trucks and SUVs and make it even more exciting off road and on road.”
The high-voltage batteries of EVs would also allow them to serve as external power sources – a trait Jeep reckons will appeal greatly to hardcore off-roaders, adventurers and campers alike. It would enable the car to power a variety of electrical equipment, including compressor kits, welders, lights and camping gear.
Meunier is convinced the US – Jeep’s home market and overwhelmingly its biggest – will move to electrification faster than most people predict, giving his brand the volume necessary for an extensive roll-out of electrified models and variants.
“Either you try to be compliant and do the bare minimum or you embrace it and go full speed on it,” said Meunier. “The latter is the way we should go, because we have the opportunity to make some really, really exciting products, and I think the company is convinced of that. You’ll see a lot of electrified products in the next few years. It’s not about having small cars to offset big cars; every car will have a role to play.”
Mazda's fuel-saving tech trickles down to its iconic two-seater sports car
When Mazda introduced the fourth-generation MX-5 back in 2015, driving enthusiasts were quick to bemoan a lack of power from both available powertrains – a 1.5-litre unit pushing out 129bhp and a 2.0-litre range-topper that had a barely more exciting 158bhp on tap.Fortunately, in 2018 the situation was put right, and subtle mechanical tweaks across the board saw the power of the top-rung variant increased to a nice, usable 181bhp, bringing with it added bonuses that included improved acceleration and a more distinctive warble at low revs.Mazda has lightly refreshed the MX-5 range for 2020, with the aim of enhancing the usability of a car already billed as one of the more accessible sports cars on sale, and bolstering the range of specification packages available. A new GT Sport Tech trim heads up the range, resplendent with its gunmetal grey BBS alloys, stainless steel scuff plates and a red leather interior, while Mazda’s i-Eloop KERS technology and stop-start functionality feature for the first time across the MX-5 line-up. Like all 2.0-litre models, our test car came outfitted with Bilstein shock absorbers at each corner, a front strut brace and a limited-slip differential. In second-from-top Sport Tech trim, it has a comprehensive kit package that belies its relatively low ?28,395 list price, with 17in alloy wheels, a reversing camera and adaptive LED headlights.
Our reporters empty their notebooks to round up a week in gossip from across the automotive industry
In this week's round-up of automotive gossip, Mercedes gives buyers the gift of time, Kia pours water on online sales utility, Volvo snubs wireless charging and more.
Mercedes' helping hand
Hybrid and electric car customers typically need more support from retailers before they commit to a purchase, according to Mercedes-Benz’s head of sales and marketing, Britta Seeger. “We take the time to identify if the car really suits their needs,” she said. “These are big changes, and it is right that customers take their time to be sure before they commit.”
Kia's face-to-face focus
Kia has no plans to push online sales in the UK, said boss Paul Philpott: “The complexity of products is increasing, not decreasing. There’s more need than ever to go and speak to someone face to face.”
Volvo not wiring in to wireless
Wireless charging for electric cars is an over-engineered solution, according to Volvo boss H?kan Samuelsson. “If you have a space to charge, then it takes 10 seconds to plug a car in,” he said. Volvo plans to launch five fully electric models during the next five years, including the now-on-sale XC40 P8 Recharge.
The popularity of the Honda Jazz with 20- to 30-year-olds in Asia means there is demand for a Type R version. That’s the view of Jazz project manager Takeki Tanaka. “There are no plans to launch a sporty version of the Jazz,” he said. “However, when you consider the customer profile in Asia, they tend to love driving dynamically, so there are always possibilities.”
That investment will allow Aston to put the DBX SUV into production imminently after the new St Athan facility returns to operation after its Covid-19-enforced shutdown last week, subject to any delays in the production chain. The first customer deliveries are planned this summer, should the supply chain function as anticipated.
The next 12 months is considered significant for Aston, because the DBX is seen as make-or-break for the company's future. Make a success of it and it will become the firm's biggest-selling model with likely the largest profit margins. Failure would put the very future of the company at risk, given the huge investment needed to realise not just the car but also the St Athan factory in which it will be built.
But while confirming the deal, Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd warned in a statement: "Taking into account the proceeds of the capital raise, the Company is of the opinion that the Group does not have sufficient working capital to meet its requirements for 12 months following the publication of the Original Prospectus."
Since the prospectus including details of Stroll's investment was published, the global pandemic has heavily impacted Aston. The firm said the resulting uncertainty raises questions over its future financial position - and makes the success of the DBX even more critical.
The investment from Stroll's so-called Yew Tree consortium stands at a total of ?262 million, ?171m of which has come today as part of the rights issue. The balance has come from existing company shareholders.
Aston's share price has been in freefall ever since its stock market launch at ?19 per share towards the end of 2018. It fell another 18% today to finish at ?2.26 per share before this deal was announced. It has tonight said that it would not have the funds to meet the 12 months of investment needed in its previous financial plan announced on 13 March due to the dramatic impact Covid-19 is having on its business.
"I and my co-investors in the consortium continue to believe passionately in the future of Aston Martin Lagonda," said Stroll. "This is most clearly demonstrated by our investment of ?262m which underpins the financial security of the company. This is a very significant capital raise of ?536m - due to be made by my consortium and other shareholders at a very challenging time.
"This gives the necessary stability to reset the business for its long-term future. We have a clear plan to make this happen, including Aston Martin entering an F1 works team next season and I look forward to working with the management team to deliver this programme."
Aston CEO Andy Palmer said there were 2000-plus orders for the DBX, as well as strong early demand for the recently announced Vantage Roadster. Beyond those, development would continue on the new V6 hybrid drivetrain as well as the Valhalla and Vanquish mid-engined supercars that Aston is prioritising development of ahead of the Lagonda range of electric cars that had been due to join the DBX at St Athan.
Aston's two production sites at Gaydon and St Athan are currently on shutdown due to Covid-19, and many of its staff are being furloughed where appropriate. It has said it will look at all government help and support on offer in order to protect its future.
The latest tune-up raises the Mk7 hot hatch’s output to 380bhp – 74bhp more than the previous package and 153bhp more than the standard car.
The new Stage 2+ kit, which costs ?2,062.50 excluding VAT and is produced by Mountune’s Volkswagen Group division, Mountune52, builds on the previous Stage 1 upgrade.
Stage 1 (the lowest, most affordable tuning category) and Stage 2 (a mid-stage tune-up where hardware modifications boost performance further) upgrades are common in the tuning world. Stage 2 tweaks are often followed by a hardcore Stage 3 package.
Mountune has increased the Golf GTI’s peak torque ouput to 376lb ft, over the 350lb ft of the previous stage and the 258lb ft of the unmodified car. This allows it to sprint from 0-60mph in 5.2sec, slashing 0.2sec from the Stage 1 car and 0.5sec from the standard model.
Alex Pell-Johnson, Mountune and Mountune52’s performance chief said: “The Golf GTI is an incredibly popular car with a huge community of enthusiasts always striving to take the performance of the car to the next level, and we believe that the Stage 2+ power upgrade does just that.”
The power gains are enabled by an IS38 turbocharger – standard on the Golf R – being fitted to the GTI’s usually detuned 2.0-litre engine.
Other added features include bespoke calibration, allowing drivers to adjust performance via an mTune handset, as well as the ability to fully disable their vehicles via a new anti-theft setting.
Mountune52 also offers a TCU DSG calibration upgrade for drivers whose cars have Volkswagen's dual-clutch automatic gearbox.
Organisers scrap September event at Porte de Versailles – but pledge some elements will survive
The Paris motor show has been scrapped “in its current form” for this year, with organisers citing the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic and its economic impact.
The biennial event was due to start on 29 September at the Porte de Versailles exhibition centre in the French capital. Alternating each year with the Frankfurt motor show, the event is one of the biggest on the motor show calendar, with more than a million visitors attending the 2018 show.
In a statement, event organisers said that the decision was taken due to the “unprecedented health crisis”, and the resulting “economic shock wave” it had caused for the automotive sector. Organisers cited the uncertainty over when movement and other restrictions would be eased as a reason for the early decision.
While the main event will not run as a traditional motor show, organisers said that elements of the wider Paris Motion Festival – the Movin’On innovation and sustainability summit, the Smartcity show and a number of out-of-town events – were “not in question”.
Organisers added: “We will study all the alternative solutions. The profound reinvention of the event, with a festival dimension based around innovative mobility and a strong B2B component, could offer an opportunity.
“Nothing will be like before, and this crisis must teach us to be agile, creative and more innovative than ever.”
The Covid-19 outbreak has led to the cancellation or postponement of most of the major motor shows due to take place this year. The Geneva motor show, scheduled for earlier this month, was cancelled, while both the Beijing and New York shows – due to be held in April – have been postponed. The Detroit show that was to take place in June has also been cancelled.
Along with the Frankfurt show it is paired with, the Paris show has struggled in recent years, with an increasing number of high-profile car firms choosing not to attend. It remains unclear if organisers will attempt to run a full show again in 2022, or if the “profound reinvention” means the ‘traditional’ motor show element will not return.
The organisers of the Frankfurt show have already decided to move it to Munich for its next running in 2021.
The competition between these two roadsters isn't as clear-cut as it may seem; will a new MX-5 outshine a second-hand Boxster?
A Porsche Boxsterversus a MazdaMX-5? Well, we all know which way this one’s going, don’t we? Or do we? Because the latest MX-5 is quite the thing, as you’ll know. It’s small, light, agile – at its thin-Elvis best.
We’ve ummed and ahhed about which is the perfect spec for the latest-generation MX-5 roadster, but although the purity of the base 1.5-litre model is appealing, the 2.0 is not all that much heavier and Sport Nav trim gives you a limited-slip differential, Bilstein dampers that keep its body movements better controlled than standard and a strut brace to add rigidity. As such, then, it feels more like an old-fashioned sports car, with a pleasing engine note and snappy gearshift and just about enough power to make it throttle adjustable. Equipped like this one, it cost ?23,295 when new.
That’s around ?4500 less than Chris Pyle, who generously gave up his time and use of his car for the day, paid for the white Boxster you see pictured next to it, but that makes it close enough to be a valid comparison. This Boxster is a 2.9-litre 2011 model (a facelift or ‘gen 2’ 987-series car), with 33,600 miles on the clock, which Chris bought to replace an earlier model. So good he bought another one, in short.
That it cost as much as it did is down to two things. First, Chris wanted it to come with a two-year warranty, which added ?2000 to the price, but it did mean peace of mind and the car went through a 111-point service before he took custody of it.
Secondly, as with most Boxsters, its original owner didn’t skimp when specifying it in the first place. The vast options list includes – deep breath – a Sport Chrono Pack Plus, leather seats, embossed headrests, a wind deflector, PDK dual-clutch automatic transmission with sports steering wheel and shift paddles, a Comfort Pack, heated seats, park assist, an Infotainment Pack, auto air-con and 18in Cayman wheels. Many of those are ?1000-plus options, and although I don’t have Porsche’s 2011 configurator to hand any more, it’s a fairly safe bet that together they’d have added the best part of 10 grand to the ?35,000 or so list price of the time. To those options, Chris has since added twin round exhaust pipes, because – and I agree with him – he thinks they look cooler.
At the time, as now, there wasn’t a better sports roadster than the Boxster, and we figured that the 2.9 was as good a bet as the 3.4-litre Boxster S. But, as now, the Porsche was more expensive than a Mazda that, back then, wasn’t as delicious as the one on offer today, if you follow. So the MX-5 could draw blood.
There are two things I want to know, then: which of the two is the more recommendable car to buy now, and which is the better sports car now? I have a hunch that I know the answer to both things, but it’ll want a back-to-back test to know for sure.
The Mazda, then, has the advantage of being new. That means its rubber bits and joints and bushes are all new, too, and that, I often find, makes a big difference to the way a car drives. New cars feel tight and responsive, in the way they were designed to. Buy a new one and you’ll also get a three-year/60,000-mile warranty – and if you drive 60,000 miles in three years in one, you’re a better person than I am, because the fact that there are great things about the Mazda being small doesn’t mean there aren’t some downsides, too.
First, you feel rather like you’re sitting on it, not in it. The seats don’t adjust for height and the steering wheel doesn’t adjust for reach, so you end up perched and the wheel can feel too far away.
Otherwise, ergonomics are good. Everything is in the right place, because there aren’t that many things to put in the wrong place. Worried about glovebox ergonomics? It doesn’t have one. Hence it weighs 1075kg, which is remarkable for a new car. I still remember the glee on a Mazda engineer’s face when, before he and his colleagues had released any specs, he asked me to guess how much a basic 1.5-litre car weighed. “About 1100kg?” I asked, thinking I was being optimistic. “Less than 1000!” he said. “Extraordinary,” I thought, then as now.
The Porsche weighs rather more – 1335kg – because it’s bigger (4.3 metres long versus 3.9m) and because it has an extra 0.9 litres and two cylinders, and an electric roof. And either its seats are set lower or the window sill is higher than the Mazda’s – or both – because it feels cosier yet more spacious at the same time. The driving position is great and there’s decent oddments storage.
Chris’s example still feels good, even given its age – but then, at 33,600 miles, there’s nothing tired about it. In fact, regular use is best; the car is not a leggy example but has been used enough to avoid some low-mileage Boxster problems such as corroding brake discs and a battery that doesn’t like to hold charge. By this age, the Boxster’s engine was generally sound, although some earlier cars suffered cylinder bore scoring. Overall, reliability is good. Coil springs can corrode, as can damaged wheels, and uneven tyre wear suggests things have been knocked out of alignment.
When things do go wrong, they can be expensive, mind, so it’s worth ensuring there’s a full history and you call on an expert to inspect it, should you need one. Many owners find that Porsche Club Great Britain, which has a Boxster Register (and helped to put us in touch with Chris) is invaluable.
When new, the Boxster’s flat six engine produced 252bhp at 7200rpm, and it still feels like it makes that today. The car rides well and corners flatly, with great composure. It also steers accurately and with terrific feel. The gearshift doesn’t have the rapid response of the latest PDK system, but it’s plenty good enough.
It feels, in fact, an altogether more serious proposition than the MX-5, whose roll movements fall more quickly, slightly unsettlingly, while the steering is more remote. With 158bhp, it’s slower than the Porsche, and because it has four cylinders, it doesn’t sound as good, either.
But as a road car, it’s still terrifically good fun; it’s compact, there’s a snappy gearshift and it responds with great agility. There’s also the appeal of running a new car whose problems, should it have any, you won’t have to give a thought to for three years.
Still, given the choice, I’d stick with the Boxster. How about you, Chris? Keeper of this Boxster, yes, but presented with an MX-5 in cold steel in front of you, could you imagine opting for the new Mazda over the old Porsche?
A pause. Not very long. “No,” he said. That’s that, and I am in agreement.
This article was first published on the 9th of July 2016. We're revisiting some of Autocar's most popular features to provide entertaining content during these difficult times.
Our first UK drive of Porsche's EV raises the age-old question: how fast is too fast?
Before I get into this one, I just want to state for the record: I am not one of those motoring writers who only cares about cars with more than 400bhp. Most of my daily driving is done in a Mazda 3, and I reckon the Volkswagen Up and its siblings might be some of the best cars released in the past decade.
But nor am I anti-fast car, and every now and then, I get some seat time in something seriously rapid. Monday was one of those times, as I sneaked in Autocar’s last UK first drive a few hours before Boris Johnson announced the pandemic lockdown. The new Porsche Taycan Turbo. You can read my wider thoughts on it here.
Spoiler alert: it’s fantastic. The first truly dynamically capable mass-market EV. But it made me realise that electric cars are accelerating the ‘faster is better’ mantra that has plagued the car industry for at least two decades, and they’re doing so at an unprecedented rate.
The Taycan, like most EVs, weighs quite a lot. So it needs a fair few kilowatts to get it moving at an acceptable rate. And 500kW (that's 671bhp) does the job pretty well, in my book. In fact, after half a day driving across some of the quickest, most well-sighted roads in the south-east, I’m convinced nobody needs or can make proper use of anything faster on any British road. Whether you wish to risk losing your licence or not.
The acceleration is so relentless and instant - particularly from a launch, but at any speed and in any situation - that it concerns me somebody with nothing more than a healthy bank account and a driving licence can get hold of one. Yet the Taycan is barely the tip of the iceberg. Think about Rimac’s work in taking EVs well beyond 1000bhp. And then think about the 1900bhp Pininfarina Battista. And then the 1973bhp Lotus Evija. Making an EV generate numbers that were beyond all logic only a few years ago seems too easy.
I’m aware I’m staggering down a well-trodden path here, but what possible use is 1973bhp in a two-seater in any road situation? One slip of the foot, one tiny misguided moment of showing off, and you’re either at three-figure speeds or ploughing into whatever was 100m away three seconds ago.
Such a prospect would even be daunting on some of the UK’s smaller circuits. And anyway, would you want to take your near ?2 million hypercar to Brands Hatch only to stuff it on the third lap due to the mind-scrambling straight-line speeds outpacing your braking timing, or make it another handful of laps before the battery has less charge in it than your phone?
As has been the case for years, these cars exist primarily for bragging rights or for those who simply must have the ‘ultimate’ thing. They are at their best on a deserted airfield. Fine, they have a purpose, albeit a narrowly defined and niche one. But we’ve been banging this drum for as long as I can remember: speed and fun are often not directly linked. In fact, beyond a certain point the more of the former a car is capable of, the less chance there is of the latter being sustainable on the road.
More often than not, it’s when approaching a car’s limits (either by chucking it into a bend or spinning the engine as fast as it will allow) that it starts to really come alive and give you a sense of involvement that lasts far longer, and gets old far less quickly, than a sub-3.0sec 0-62mph launch. And with the traction and chassis composure necessary to keep a mega-quick EV in check, hitting that sweet spot is becoming harder than ever on British roads.
It's for this reason that I think the Taycan is a superb piece of engineering. But I really can't wait to see what Porsche do with a small, light and not over-endowed Boxster EV.