Volkswagen Golf R estate review: 2015 first drive

Volkswagen Golf R estate review: 2015 first drive

Volkswagen Golf R estate review: 2015 first drive

Not only is the Volkswagen Golf R estate staggeringly fun to drive, it also offers remarkable value. Read on to discover why.

Andrew Brady | April 2015

This is the daddy of Golf estates. It’s the Volkswagen Golf R, unveiled at the 2014 Los Angeles Motor Show in November, hot on the heels of its hatchback twin that went on sale last year.

Like the Golf R hatch, the wagon is powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine packing 300hp through a dual-clutch six-speed DSG gearbox, and VW’s clever Haldex 4motion four-wheel drive system.

So what’s different? Well, it’s an estate, meaning it’s now even more practical. Its boot boasts 605 litres, rising to 1,620 litres with the seats down. And the price for that extra practicality? £33,585 – or, £695 more than the Golf R hatch.

What’s the Volkswagen Golf R like to drive?

What’s the Volkswagen Golf R like to drive?

In a word: awesome. Put to rest any preconceptions you may have about stodgy fast Golfs of the past. Ignore the fact that it’s not as quick to 62mph as Audi RS3 and pretend it’s a got an extra cylinder or two, if it helps.

The 2.0-litre engine is the same as in the Golf GTI (which doesn’t come in estate form, incidentally – and VW says it has no plans to change that). But it features a long list of modifications to make it the remarkably tractable unit we’ve tested here – including a revised cylinder head, exhaust valves, valves seats and springs… you get the idea. Volkswagen’s done a proper job.

Boot it from a standstill and the Golf R’s nifty Haldex coupling will act like a centre diff lock, transferring up to 100% of the power to the rear wheels if it sees fit. With a stamp of the accelerator, the gearbox will happily let you use the entire rev range and exploit its 280 lb/ft torque (which starts to wane at 5,500rpm).

Enter a bend at warp speed (which you can, and will, as the Golf R teases you to push it harder and harder) and the stability control system will transfer power between each wheel to make sure you don’t understeer into a tree.

What’s the Volkswagen Golf R like to drive?

Even equipped with the standard sports suspension (which sits 20mm lower than a regular Golf), the damping is sublime – it’s rare to drive a performance German car without feeling every single bump in the road, but the Golf R estate takes it in its stride. Even the 19-inch alloys of our test car failed to transmit anything but the most serious jolts into the cabin.

We did what most buyers won’t and took it out on track at the Ascari Race Resort located in southern Spain. Normally cars that feel immensely capable on the road soon start to show their faults when you take to a circuit. Sure, it’s not a weapon in the same way as a Porsche 911, but for a Golf estate it’s beyond competent. Its grip levels are staggering and the way it belts down the straights is laugh-out loud for an estate car.

Is the Volkswagen Golf R estate the best all-rounder you can buy?

Is the Volkswagen Golf R estate the best all-rounder you can buy?

It’s a bit of a motoring journalism cliche to say a fast, German estate car is the best all-rounder you can buy, but the Golf R really does do everything you could possibly want, short of carrying six passengers or facing the Sahara Desert.

The interior feels utterly premium. There are few hard plastics, and even if it was sporting Audi badges and a heftier price tag, there’d be little to criticise.

There’s plenty of space – even in the rear, this isn’t going to be a compromise for the family man. And the boot is mammoth.

A car like this is never going to be as efficient as the sensible diesels of the world, but a combined fuel economy of 40.4mpg is respectable compared to rivals. Not that you’ll ever achieve that – the bark of the exhaust is just too addictive.

The only thing it hasn’t got is the premium badge in the way an Audi, BMW or Mercedes-Benz have. But none of them offer direct rivals. And, going by their hot hatchbacks, they’d be significantly more expensive if they did.

Verdict: Volkswagen Golf R estate (2015)

Verdict: Volkswagen Golf R estate (2015)

This is a Golf that will make you giggle like a child, yet capable of carrying all the paraphernalia  that goes with having children yourself.

Forget that it’s ‘just a Golf’, the only question is whether you can justify spending over £30,000 on a relatively thirsty estate car. If you can, head straight to your nearest dealer, do not pass go, and buy one of the most enjoyable wagons on the market – and we’re including much more expensive premium estates there.

Rivals: Volkswagen Golf R estate

  • SEAT Leon ST Cupra 280
  • Audi S3 Sportback
  • Vauxhall Insignia VXR Sports Tourer
  • Skoda Octavia vRS
  • Ford Focus ST estate

Very few rivals successfully match the Golf R estate’s performance and practicality. The 280hp SEAT Leon ST comes the closest, while also being cheaper with prices starting at £29,860. The Audi S3 Sportback comes close on price – starting at £33,040 with the S tronic gearbox – and packs the same amount of power, but isn’t as practical. Many will snub the idea of spending over £33,000 on a Vauxhall, but the Insignia VXR Sports Tourer boasts 325hp and more practicality than anything else here. The 220hp Skoda Octavia vRS is down on power, but offers great value at £26,295 for the estate with a DSG gearbox. Meanwhile, a 250hp Ford Focus ST estate can be picked up from £23,595.

Specification: Volkswagen Golf R estate (2015)

Engine turbocharged 2.0-litre

Gearbox Six-speed DSG

Price from £33,585

Power 300hp

Torque 280lb/ft

0-62mph 5.1 seconds

Top speed 155mph (electronically limited)

MPG 40.4mpg

CO2 164g/km

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BMW 7 Series prototype review 2015

BMW 7 Series prototype review: 2015 first drive

BMW 7 Series prototype review 2015The 2015 BMW 7 Series won’t hit showrooms until autumn, but we’ve bagged an early drive in the prototype. Can it unseat the S-Class as the new limo king?

Tim Pitt | April 2015

We start by signing a non-disclosure agreement. Then our phones are seized and the cameras taped over. Only then can we enter BMW’s secret proving ground in southern France to drive the new 7 Series.

The cars are wrapped in camouflage and their dashboards are draped in unflattering grey foam. But in terms of chassis set-up and technology, these are pretty much production-ready.

First, though, a bit of background. This is the sixth-generation Seven, the first being the E23 of 1977. The 2001 E65 version is especially significant for being the car that introduced iDrive. BMW’s ‘infotainment’ system was groundbreaking then, and remains the industry standard now.

The new 7 Series will be officially unveiled at the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show in September. There’s no word on prices or performance figures yet – or indeed the rumoured plug-in hybrid version – but all models should be markedly more efficient.

As with its electric/hybrid i3 and i8, BMW has used a high-tech mix of steel, aluminium and carbon-fibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP) to cut weight by 130kg versus the outgoing car. That’s equivalent to removing two teenagers from the back seat.

Importantly, they’ve also lowered the centre of gravity, which benefits steering response and handling. To the test track, then…

BMW 7 Series prototype review 2015

What is the 2015 BMW 7 Series like to drive?

The car we’re driving is a long-wheelbase 740Li. Its straight-six won’t be that popular in the UK, where the 730d diesel is the volume seller. However, there’s something rather special about a large-capacity petrol engine and, as we venture onto the high-speed loop, the big BMW doesn’t disappoint.

Floor the throttle and the car surges forward in a spirited yet utterly civilised manner, its eight-speed automatic gearbox swapping cogs almost imperceptibly. There’s a subtle snarl under acceleration, but at motorway cruising speed the engine is all but inaudible.

We move on to the handling circuit. All 7 Series come with front and rear air suspension, plus dynamic dampers. Our car also boasted optional Dynamic Drive anti-roll control, which keeps the body flat when cornering.

BMW 7 Series prototype review 2015

And my, is it effective. For a long-wheelbase limo, the Seven changes direction with fleet-footed agility – and just a hint of rear-wheel-drive attitude. It’s remarkably easy to drive at speed, too There is none of the lurching and wallowing sometimes experienced in cars of this size.

The driver can toggle between Comfort Plus, Comfort and Sport settings for the suspension. But new for the 2015 7 Series is Adaptive mode, which analyses your driving style and uses GPS data about where you are to determine the optimum setting.

There are a host of other driver assistance systems as well. Radar-based active cruise control maintains a set distance from the car in front or can observe signposted speed limits. And Lane Departure Warning Assistant keeps you firmly between the white lines and prevents you swerving into a car in your blind spot.

Doubtless the most headline-grabbing driver aid, however, is one that doesn’t actually require any driving. BMW’s world-first remote control parking allows you to manoeuvre into a tight space from outside the car, using buttons on the key fob. Perfect if you have a tight-fitting garage.

BMW 7 Series prototype review 2015

What clever tech does the BMW 7 Series have?

Psychedelic disguise notwithstanding, it’s clear BMW has played it safe with the exterior of the 7 Series. Considering some of its radical recent designs (not least the wonderful i8), we think that’s a shame.

Fortunately, the interior is rather more interesting. Or, at least, what we could see of it is…

BMW 7 Series prototype review 2015

In common with many upmarket cars, the 7 Series has adopted a TFT electronic display in front of the driver. Thankfully, though, the dials remain models of trad-BMW white-on-black clarity. Switch the engine to fuel-sipping Eco Pro mode and the rev counter is replaced by a hybrid-style power gauge.

The air vents now have touch-sensitive sliders to adjust temperature for driver and passenger and there’s a small touchscreen in front of the gearlever for controlling airflow, seat heating and – we kid you not – in-car perfuming.

The big news, however, is the latest iteration of iDrive, which now offers a touchscreen, along with voice and gesture control. That doesn’t mean the familiar iDrive controller on the centre console has disappeared. But you can now access all the same commands via the touchscreen, which you swipe and pinch-to-zoom like an iPad.

We also tried the gesture control. This uses a camera in the roof to recognise hand signals, meaning you don’t need to take your eyes off the road. For example, twirling your finger adjusts the audio volume, prodding the dash instructs the sat nav to navigate home and a dismissive wave allows you to reject incoming calls.

It takes some practice and, in truth, isn’t vastly easier than pressing an old-fashioned button, but we can’t fault BMW’s efforts to make technology more accessible.

BMW 7 Series prototype review 2015

Verdict: BMW 7 Series (2015)

It’s too early to tell whether the new 7 Series can topple the S-class –frequently referred to as ‘the best car in the world’ – from its lofty pedestal.

However, there’s no doubt BMW has upped its game on in terms of technology, and delivered a car that will satisfy keen drivers. We can’t wait to try the finished article this autumn.

Rivals: BMW 7 Series (2015)

  • Mercedes-Benz S-Class
  • Jaguar XJ
  • Audi A8
  • Maserati Quattroporte
  • Lexus LS

The Mercedes-Benz is our pick of this exclusive bunch. A beautiful cabin, advanced safety technology and (relatively) efficient engines are its strong suits. The Jaguar XJ is less well-rounded, but arguably more characterful. And the Audi A8, while very capable, is starting to show its age.

Our two wild cards are the flawed-but-alluring Maserati Quattroporte and the Lexus LS 600h hybrid, which is refined but very expensive.

Chevrolet Volt

Great Motoring Disasters: Chevrolet Volt

Chevrolet VoltIt promised to be a revolution. A revolution of propulsion, a revolution of design and a revolution for a newly-adventurous General Motors. But today it looks like an irrelevant revolution, and a very expensive one at that. Yet there is little wrong with the Chevrolet Volt in itself, and a hell of a lot that’s right. And genuinely revolutionary, too.

But this car, and its slightly more handsome Vauxhall Ampera cousin, are that rare in Britain that it’s worth reminding ourselves of what this wheeled revolution is. Which is an E-REV, or extended-range electric vehicle.

On battery power alone, it’s capable of travelling 30-50 miles, which is more than enough for most commutes. When your volt and amp supply is exhausted, you have an 86hp petrol engine that kicks in to part-replenish the battery, and provide the 150hp electric motor with juice, enabling you to travel another 310 miles without needing to plug your E-REV into a power supply or pump petrol in its tank.

Chevrolet Volt

The revolutionary part of all this is that you have a zero emission electric vehicle with a more than decent range when the battery’s exhausted, a pretty economical car when the petrol generator is running and a spectacularly economical car when it’s running on electricity alone. And a spectacularly green one should the electricity used to recharge it comes from renewables or a nuclear source.

All of which sounds relatively simple conceptually, but required a gargantuan research and development push (and money pile) from GM to realise, its tasks including the development of lithium-ion battery packs for safe use in cars, and evolving safety systems that would enable the Volt to score the full Euro NCAP five stars.

Chevrolet Volt

Indeed, when GM triggered the serious investment phase in the programme, the project’s bosses freely admitted that they weren’t actually sure that the Volt could be developed for the showroom because the battery technology wasn’t where it needed to be.

Which might make you wonder why GM wanted to make such a large bet on a semi-unknown technology. There are lots of reasons, of course, but a major one was that this often troubled organisation began to get fed-up with the positive PR that Toyota was getting with its Prius, and how few glowing column inches GM was winning for its (admittedly unbuyable) fuel cell initiatives, the cost-effective hybrid system it had developed for its big trucks and the fact that its recently acquired Hummer brand was being vilified despite its trucks being no less thirsty than many rivals’. Including Toyota’s.

Plenty of the kicking was justified – a ‘Breaking Bad’ Pontiac Aztec, anyone? – but not all of it was and a man getting particularly cheesed off with this situation, was one Bob Lutz.

Chevrolet Volt

Car guy, business book author, fighter-jet flyer, classic car collector and serially successful auto executive, Lutz made several failed attempts to convince his bosses that GM should build a new electric car to take on Toyota.

That his bosses were reluctant is understandable when you consider their all-too recent memories of the ill-starred, patchily admired, feature film-inspiring PR disaster that was the EV1. GM eventually crushed most of these neat and rapid little electric coupes, squeezing the life out of any PR advantage they might have garnered and prompting widespread (and misguided) accusations that General Motors had killed the electric car. It hadn’t, but it could certainly have handled the project more eptly.

Chevrolet Volt

So Lutz’s attempts to trigger a new EV project were repeatedly batted away, until the day that Tesla launched its Elise-based Roadster with a lithium-ion battery pack, a 200 mile range and a 0-60mph time of 4.0seconds. That a silicon valley start-up was showing GM the way was enough to get Lutz a grudging go-ahead and the chance, he hoped, to win back some of Toyota’s hybrid advantage.

His electric car very rapidly turned into something else when engineering boss colleague Jon Lauckner persuaded Lutz, with the aid of a pad and a gold-knibbed fountain pen, that what was needed was a range-extending hybrid and not a pure EV. The batteries required to give an EV a decent range (ie, something a lot more than the 100-mile maximum that most of today’s EVs give you) would have been more expensive than the entire car at that point, argued Lauckner, who saw a range-extender as a way to reduce the size and price of the battery pack to (semi-) affordable levels.

GM showed a sexily styled concept called the Volt at the 2007 Detroit show which won the kind of headlines Lutz was dreaming of, and gave itself the headache of delivering on its promise, something this American giant often failed to do. Four long years and many press briefings later a Volt emerged that looked nothing like the sexy original, whose shape sliced air about as cleanly as a combine harvester. But it certainly contained the promised technology and what’s more, it worked.

Chevrolet Volt

True, there were some early troubles. GM’s foolish claim that the Volt only ever ran on electric power was eventually uncovered, the petrol generator engine occasionally lending a direct hand when the car was running flat-out to save the battery, and a fire from a parked test car didn’t help its case either, but mostly the reviews were positive. Positive enough to win it a heap of awards, including the 2011 World Green Car of the Year.

But none of this was enough to overcome the one big problem with this revolution. Which was that it was not a revolution of the people, the Volt and Ampera simply too expensive to silently glide onto people’s radar. Even after generous government subsidies here and in the US, the pair cost getting on for double the price of a similarly sized Vauxhall Astra or Chevrolet Cruze.

Chevrolet Volt

 

There was the further drawback of only four seats rather than the usual five, the bulky T-shaped battery pack stealing the back-bench’s middle seat. And the Lehman Brother stole much of the Volt’s PR thunder, the collapse of this bank and the subsequent whirlwind economic depression tipping General Motors into bankruptcy. Suddenly, the angst over Toyota’s perpetual PR advantage was dwarfed by GM’s need for survival.

Chevrolet Volt

By the time a leaner, more humble General Motors had emerged, the Volt’s moment in the sun was passing, and the realisation that fuel prices simply weren’t high enough to interest American buyers in amazing fuel consumption were undermining its economic case. The payback period for the extra outlay required to acquire a Volt over an equivalent Cruze has never been definitely calculated (though many have tried) but there’s no question that you’re looking at a around eight years or more. And that’s too many.

Chevrolet Volt

That led to GM selling far too few Volts, only 65,000 finding US buyers since 2010. At one point, previous GM boss Dan Akerson reckoned on selling 60,000 a year in North America alone. In Britain, few Volts and Amperas have been sold, and the model will go unreplaced later this year. In the US, however, there is an all-new new Volt that we won’t get. It goes further on amps and gasoline, fields the missing fifth seat and critically for GM, costs an alleged $10,000 less to make. And that should give the second-generation model a better chance. Especially if the oil price goes up.

2015 Vauxhall Corsa VXR

Vauxhall: ‘Most Corsa VXR buyers are under 30’

2015 Vauxhall Corsa VXRVauxhall has revealed nearly everyone who buys a new Corsa VXR is aged between 19-29 – and it’s new car finance that’s helping them ‘live their dream’.

Dougie McColm, brand manager for VXR, explained that such buyers – mainly male, likely to be living at home, “live for their car. They save hard, go without nights out and are dedicated to getting the car that they want.

“Cars like the Corsa VXR carry huge bragging rights with their mates and they want to be first in the neighbourhood with the latest model.”

And the fact list prices start at £17,995 for the new Corsa VXR – or £20,395 for the must-have VXR Performance Pack – is no barrier either, because of flexible PCP car finance.

“They work hard to pull the deposit together but then, so long as they have a few hundred pounds spare each month, they can easily cover the finance payments.”

Because it’s a modern car with ample stability control systems and theft protection, insurance isn’t as frightening as some may think, either: “It’s certainly attainable for most people in the market for one,” said McColm.

The firm will reveal what it describes as a ‘very competitive’ PCP package for the new Corsa VXR ahead of its showroom debut on 1 May. Because of the flexibility it offers, McColm predicts around half will upgrade to the track-focused Performance Pack, despite its added expense.

“£2,400 is a lot as a one-off payment, but on PCP, it’s £30 a month. For many buyers, it’s thus almost a no-brainer.”

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2015 Audi RS3

Audi RS3 Sportback review: 2015 first drive

2015 Audi RS3

The new Audi RS3 Sportback punches well above its weight in performance terms, while managing to be a docile luxury car when required. But it’s lacking that special something…

Andrew Brady | April 2015

Eventually Audi simply won’t be able to exert any more performance from its cars, but for now it’s continuing to boast staggering figures from even its most practical offerings.

The latest to get the RS treatment is the A3 Sportback, revealed in RS3 spec at the 2015 Geneva Motor Show. The last RS3 Sportback was no slouch, but while the new one uses the same five-cylinder 2.5-litre engine, it weighs 55kg less, boasts 367hp (27hp up on its predecessor) and will hit 62mph in 4.3 seconds. That’s quicker than a Porsche 911 GTS.

It now sits on Volkswagen Group’s MQB platform (which underpins everything from the Skoda Superb to the Audi TT), while buyers can opt for Audi’s magnetic ride damper system, which lets you firm up the suspension depending whether you’re wanting a relaxed cruise or aiming to tackle a twisty road at supercar pace.

To look at the Audi RS3, it perhaps isn’t as in-your-face as, say, the bigger RS6. But we like that understated look. The only giveaways are the trademark RS honeycomb grille along with a myriad intakes, diffusers and blades – along with, of course, a choice eight colours, to make it as lairy or understated as you like.

2015 Audi RS3

What’s the Audi RS3 like to drive?

We’ve established that the Audi RS3 is staggeringly quick. As a point to point car, along typical British B-roads, not a lot will beat it.

If the traffic light grand prix is your thing, it even comes with a launch control mode that lets you dial in 4,000 revs while holding the car on the brake with your left foot. Take your foot off the brake and it’ll catapult you forwards in a way usually reserved for supercars.

But staggeringly quick doesn’t necessarily mean satisfying. Speccing the sports exhaust system (prices to be confirmed) helps to add a little pizazz, but the new electromechanical steering lacks flavour and the whole package just feels a little too clinical.

We got to try the 2015 Audi RS3 on the Vallelunga circuit in Italy. Suddenly an extremely competent road car starts to look flawed.

While on road it feels like you can’t possibly enter a bend too quick, its quattro four-wheel-drive system reacting quickly (able to send up to 100% of the power to the axle that needs it), on track it starts to chirrup towards understeer earlier than you may expect.

There’s a momentary blip as the system, working with torque vectoring, tries to work out what it can do to keep you on the black stuff. By which time you’re in the gravel.

Still, no one spends £40,000 on an Audi hot hatch as a track car.

2015 Audi RS3

Is the Audi RS3 too hardcore?

What is massively impressive about the Audi RS3 is how well it combines B-road blasting ability with the kind of refinement you’d expect from a luxury German saloon.

The interior is typical Audi – by that, we mean everything feels well thought out, and there are no cheap-looking plastics to be seen anywhere in the cabin.

2015 Audi RS3

As standard, the suspension sits 25mm lower than the regular A3, meaning its as firm as you’d expect from a car such as this sporting 19-inch alloys. On the broken country roads we tried it on near Rome, the suspension made us fully aware we were driving a performance-orientated Audi. While we didn’t get to try it with the magnetic ride, we suspect this could be a worthy box to tick on the options list.

Around town, the RS3 is a docile beast. You could be manoeuvring a common-or-garden hatch through urban streets. At motorway speeds it’s a relaxed cruiser, you only know you’re driving something a little special when you give it a bootful, the seven-speed S-tronic gearbox drops down a cog or two and the exhaust barks as you’re catapulted towards licence-losing territory.

It shouldn’t cost a fortune to run, either. With CO2 emissions of 189g/km its first year road tax of £490 might be a bitter pill to swallow, but this’ll drop down to £265 by its second year. Fuel economy is up by nearly 4mpg over its predecessor, now returning an official figure of 34.9.

2015 Audi RS3

Verdict: Audi RS3 (2015)

Technically, the Audi RS3 is undoubtedly brilliant. The five-cylinder engine punches far above its weight – not only does it sound like a larger engine, it also provides heaps of torque and more performance than any sane person could want from their hatchback.

Whether it’s tackling city centres or eating up miles on the motorway, the RS3 will take it in its stride. Hit an enjoyable B-road and it’ll flatter the most hamfisted of drivers – but its utterly clinical, typical-Audi approach won’t please anyone.

Sure, specify it in a loud colour with the optional sports exhaust and it’ll stand out from your typical turbodiesel A3. But, despite the unbeatable performance figures, it is just lacking that special something.

Rivals: Audi RS3 (2015)

  • BMW M135i
  • Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG
  • Volkswagen Golf R
  • Ford Focus ST
  • Subaru WRX STI

BMW’s M135i is class-leading – its rear-wheel drive setup means it might not feel as safe to hustle along as the RS3, but it makes up for that in driving enjoyment. It’s down on power, though – 326hp compared to the RS3’s 367hp. The Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG is perhaps a closer rival, as it turbocharged four-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive layout makes for a similar driving experience, and it’s only down on power by 7hp. The Volkswagen Golf R is from the same stable as the RS3, lacks the performance and premium badge, but is also a bit of a bargain in comparison. The Ford Focus ST isn’t a direct rival, with just 250hp, but it provides a lot of fun for your money. The Subaru WRX STI is a completely different beast, but will prove entertaining for serious driving fans.

Specification: Audi RS3 (2015)

Engine 2.5-litre five-cylinder

Gearbox Seven-speed S tronic twin-clutch, quattro all-wheel drive

Price from £39,950

Power 367hp

Torque 343 lb/ft

0-62mph 4.3 seconds

Top speed 155mph (174mph if you opt to remove the limiter)

MPG 34.8mpg

CO2 189g/km

 

Vauxhall Corsa VXR 2015 review

Vauxhall Corsa VXR Performance Pack review: 2015 first drive

Vauxhall Corsa VXR 2015 reviewVauxhall perfects the Corsa VXR with the must-have optional Performance Pack. It doesn’t topple the fantastic Fiesta ST, but it puts up a spirited fight…

Richard Aucock | April 2015

In a sector dominated by the brilliant Ford Fiesta ST – an unquestionable five-star car – Vauxhall is itching for a fight. And has been to the Nurburgring to up the Corsa’s punch and give it a fighting chance.

Literally, been to the Nurburgring: the Vauxhall/Opel performance car development centre is sited on the other side of the road to Nurburgring’s iconic miles-long straight, led by Volker Strycek, whom history books record as the 1984, and first, DTM champion. Race-bred, ‘Ring-tuned? Literally.

Headline figures first. As standard, it has 205hp and a swelled 180lb ft of torque (with five seconds of overboost). The torque curve is also broader, giving it more meat throughout the rev range. This is good for 0-62mph in 6.8 seconds, a 143mph top speed and, more worryingly, a barely-improved 37.7mpg and 174g/km. Only the colour is green for the car pictured here.

While the 1.6-litre turbo has largely been breathed upon (and now breathes far better courtesy of its standard twin-pipe Remus exhaust), the chassis has, by comparison, been totally overhauled. It gets standard (and clever) Koni Frequency Selective Dampers, 10mm lower springs, new bushes, new uprights, a stiffer rear axle, new steering – even the ESC tuning is all-new.

That’s not all. There’s now a £2,400 Performance Pack option that adds more focused Koni FSD dampers, bigger 330mm four-pot Brembo front brakes (they’re 308mm as standard), 18-inch wheels with Michelin Pilot Super Sports plus, deep joy, a mechanical Drexler limited-slip differential. Serious stuff: in a sector where, say, the latest Renaultsport Clio 200 Turbo’s softness so disappoints, it’s a refreshingly extreme approach.

Vauxhall believes every other buyer in the UK will go for the Performance Pack and, as the halo car that is appreciably more focused than the standard model, we decided to focus on it for our first drive. As you’ll read, so too should you…

Vauxhall Corsa VXR 2015 review

What’s the Vauxhall Corsa VXR Performance Pack like to drive?

On the road, with initial expectations dampened by the feel-similar interior, it proves a thriller. The bombastic old Corsa VXR Nurburgring and Clubsport models upon which it’s based (and carries a £2,000 price advantage over) were fun but lairy and a bit uncouth. This delivers all the spirit of the old-shape cars but with an unexpected extra slice of sophistication.

Several things stand out. Ride quality for one. We forgive the Fiesta ST’s stiff ride because it’s such a cultured performance car to drive. The Corsa VXR PP shows that tight and occasional harshness perhaps isn’t obligatory. Sure, it’s firm and sporting, but real roughness is kept at bay despite the 18-inch wheels, and body control is very classy. Indeed, thanks to it being tied down a bit more firmly, it’s perhaps more comfortable than the softer, looser standard car here.

The effervescence given to the driving experience by the limited-slip differential is also uniquely welcome. Rivals either don’t bother distributing traction between the front wheels so well, or try to fake it by electronic means. Having such direct, mechanical input is terrifically grin-inducing; floor it into corners, feel the front end pulled into the bend and wrestle with the steering as you straighten up. It’s a blast.

The old Nurburgring had this, but the new VXR PP drops in other new areas of sophistication, such as brake linearity, power delivery, gearbox directness (not Fiesta-crisp but shorter-throw than before), refinement, interior appeal, general composure and even exhaust sound quality. Which makes it as jewel-like as a Fiesta ST, then? Well, not quite.

While undoubtedly exciting, charismatic and very thrilling, the VXR PP doesn’t quite have the subtlety and granularity of the Fiesta. That car rewards even when you’re pootling; this needs to be picked up by the scruff of its neck to excite. It’s cracking fun and very fast – the sweet-spinning engine’s low-rev flexibility is bolstered by a real surge from 4,000rpm to the (strict) 6,500rpm redline for a flood of power – but it’s still a bit blunt if you don’t have the front end and the diff hooked in.

The softness of the straight-ahead steering, fluff in initial brake pedal bite and lack of feel through the accelerator are all things you’d notice if stepping from a Fiesta ST – until, that is, the roads cleared and you got chance to find out where the VXR PP’s strengths lie…

Vauxhall Corsa VXR 2015 review

Does the Corsa VXR Performance Pack sock it to the Fiesta ST?

The Fiesta stands proud in this sector of warmer-than-hot rivals. Renault scored an own goal with the Clio 200 Turbo, the Polo GTI is Germanically satisfying and the 208 GTI is nice, but none has the all-encompassing satisfaction delivered by the Fiesta. Neither does the Corsa VXR PP. But it does dish up a bucketload of charisma lacking in its rivals.

That’s enough to see it eyeball the Fiesta, and probably nose ahead for those who value hot hatch staples of exciting looks, street appeal and a marvelous set of seats above Ford’s trick of making a sporty Fiesta feel like a cut-price Porsche.

Look at it, all spoilers, open-spoke 18-inch alloys, branded tyres, brakes and exhausts, Bi-xenon headlights combined with LED running lights and, yes, that slice of air intake at the bonnet’s trailing edge. Showroom appeal: off the scale, and a damn sight more standout than the overfamiliar Fiesta.

Vauxhall Corsa VXR 2015 review

The hard-shell Recaros are the same as before and none the worse for that, a flat-bottom steering wheel is neat and the new IntelliLink touchscreen system adds modern app-deep sophistication for free. Yup, impressively, it’s standard.

All this, combined with the fact its right-road, fast-scrabbling bang is so big and buzz-inducing, will be enough to convince some it’s the car for them. We’ll entirely understand this, and appreciate the extra depth of car they’re buying into.

But, for us, it isn’t quite enough to topple the Fiesta’s fully-formed appeal. Even if it does now get our nod over everything else in this thriving sector…

Vauxhall Corsa VXR 2015 review

Verdict: Vauxhall Corsa VXR Performance Pack (2015)

The Vauxhall Corsa VXR Performance Pack takes the highs of the old Nurburgring and Clubsport models, rounds them off, throws in an extra dose of depth and ends up being a cracking supermini hot hatch. Within five minutes of getting in it, we felt we were having the thrilling drive of our life.

The more in-depth reality is that it’s still a little route one, all about the unique front diff, particularly the sharp bite, fearsome traction and, yes, even the firework steering thrills it serves up. But there’s nothing wrong with that. Hot hatches for some are all about controlled explosions and this is the most explosive of the lot.

It’s just that, for us, the fully-formed performance composure of the Fiesta would ultimately be more satisfying, particularly if you’re living with it day to day and want to feel good on a quiet Sunday tour rather than a redline-thwacking, foot-floored-in-second, steering-wheel-fighting magnetic surge around a tight right-hander. But boy, how good it does feel in said tight right-hander…

Rivals: Vauxhall Corsa VXR Performance Pack (2015)

  • Ford Fiesta ST
  • Volkswagen Polo GTI
  • Peugeot 208 GTI
  • Renaultsport Clio 200 Turbo
  • SEAT Ibiza Cupra

The Ford Fiesta ST is the undisputed class leader, sitting far ahead of the rest. The Volkswagen Polo GTI is good, though, and the Peugeot 208 GTI is a nice choice for those seeking a grown-up hot hatch. The Renaultsport Clio 200 Turbo simply lacks the fine breeding of earlier models and is thus a disappointment; so too is the Ibiza Cupra.

Specification: Vauxhall Corsa VXR Performance Pack (2015)

Engine 1.6-litre turbo four-cylinder

Gearbox Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive (with mechanical LSD)

Price £20,395 (Prices from £17,995)

Power 205hp

Torque 180lb ft (280NM)

0-62mph 6.8 seconds (0-60mph: 6.5 seconds)

Top speed 143mph

MPG 37.7mpg

CO2 174g/km

Drivers still confused about smart motorways

Smart-motorway-cropped

The smart motorway is celebrating its first birthday, yet evidence suggests drivers are confused about how to use them.

Smart motorways allow drivers to use the hard shoulder during busy periods. Electronic signs on the overhead gantries are used to warn of incidents ahead, plus there are refuge areas for emergencies.

However, a survey from the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) found 71% per cent of drivers feel less safe on a motorway with no hard shoulder.

Equally, 40% were concerned about the ability of monitoring systems, such as traffic detectors and CCTV, to protect them if they needed to pull over and stop.

England’s first ‘all-lane running’ motorway was a stretch of the M25 between junctions 23 and 25, opened on 14 April 2014. Similar schemes are now in operation on the M1, M4, M5, M6, M42 and M62.

IAM chief exec, Sarah Sillars, said: “Some are still confused and nervous about using smart motorways – if they are aware of them at all.” The organisation has produced a set of tips explaining what the electronic signs mean on smart motorways:

  • Red cross without flashing beacons: hard shoulder only for use in an emergency or breakdown
  • Speed limit inside a red circle: a mandatory limit that may have cameras enforcing it
  • Blank signal: usual motorway rules apply
  • White arrow with flashing beacons: applies to all lanes and means you should move into the lane that the arrow points to
  • Red cross with flashing beacons: You should not continue to use the lane
  • National speed limit sign is shown: 70mph maximum speed limit, which applies to all lanes apart from the hard shoulder

According to Sillars, the best way to raise awareness of smart motorways is “to allow learner drivers to use motorways under expert supervision.”

Van safety needs to be addressed, warns SMMT

HALF of vans on British roads officially deemed ‘unsafe’

Van safety needs to be addressed, warns SMMTThe SMMT has revealed shock figures that expose worryingly poor levels of safety among Britain’s van users.

One in two vans will fail the annual MOT test due to a safety defect and, more worryingly, two in three vans stopped by the roadside by the DVSA each hear have a serious mechanical defect.

A staggering 9 in 10 vans were found to be overloaded.

The spiralling MOT safety defect record contrasts starkly with HGVs, says the SMMT – operators there have to follow strict licensing rules, which means just over one in five HGVs will fail the MOT first time round.

As vans weigh less than 3.5 tonnes, they’re exempt from this expensive Operator Licensing regime.

The SMMT is thus issuing a rallying call to van operators at the Commercial Vehicle Show in Birmingham this week: sort out your safety record or face billions in extra costs.

Safety record ‘a matter of concern’

“Britain’s 3.2 million vans are essential for the smooth running of the economy but their recent safety record is a matter of concern,” said SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes.

“Vans rack up huge distances and endure significant wear and tear on a daily basis so regular servicing is essential.” Van demand is also growing; over 34,000 were registered in March 2015 alone, a rise of nearly 24 per cent, as businesses move to vans for the greater efficiencies they offer.

But if operators don’t sort out their safety record, the DVSA and other stakeholders may take action and enforce expensive statutory licensing regulation – something the industry can avoid with effective self regulation.

“We’re launching a new campaign to promote maintenance so businesses can take the necessary steps to ensure their vehicles are safe, protecting their drivers and other road users without the need for further fines and regulations.”

The SMMT adds that “although there has been no move so far to make Operator Licensing rules apply to vans, the regulations and safety records around light goods vehicles are facing increased scrutiny”.

Over to you, van operators…

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HondaJet

HondaJet in public flight debut – and it’s coming to Britain

HondaJetThe HondaJet aircraft will make its first public appearances in Japan and Europe later this month as it begins a 26,000 nautical mile, 13-country world debut flight tour.

What’s more, the HondaJet is coming to Britain – it’s set to appear in both Farnborough and Birmingham, following its world public in Japan on April 25th.

The advanced light jet will fly from Japan to the European Business Aviation Conference and Exhibition – EBACE – in Geneva on May 19th, before then commencing a demonstration tour with HondaJet dealers in six countries.

Birmingham and Farnborough are confirmed stops on this tour, along with Geneva, Antwerp, Paris, Munich, Hamburg, Munich and Warsaw.

The fastest, highest-flying, quietest and most fuel efficient jet in its class, the HondaJet realises a dream of Honda founder Soichiro Honda. “The HondaJet world tour is a tribute to Honda’s challenging spirit to bring something truly innovative to business aviation,” said Honda Aircraft Company President and CEO Michimasa Fujino.

“The HondaJet has broad appeal in this region with its speed, superior efficiency, and a range that connects most of the major cities in Europe and the United Kingdom.”

Jaguar XE Solihull

£500 million Jaguar XE factory within Land Rover factory officially open

Jaguar XE SolihullJaguar has officially opened the new XE production facility in Solihull – a facility uniquely operating within the existing giant Land Rover factory there.

The official opening means a Jaguar is being built in a Land Rover plant for the first time.

Costing £500 million, the new plant will see Solihull’s three-shift, 24-hour production pattern continue, and means the site now employs a staggering 9,000 people.

Indeed, the Solihull workforce has almost doubled in just five years – and production has trebled.

The broader UK car industry is benefitting from the new XE’s arrival too: 55 per cent of the components used to make it are sourced from 55 UK-based tier one suppliers. This represents £4 billion of contracts (and many more new jobs in the supply chain).

It means the XE isn’t only built in Britain, but more than half of it is truly ‘British’.

Jaguar Land Rover purchasing director, Ian Harnett, said: “Jaguar Land Rover is one of the UK’s success stories, not simply because it has seen an upsurge in demand thanks to sustained investment, but because it has been able to support a burgeoning, high-tech, highly skilled supply base here in the UK.

“With each successive new or upgraded model, we are seeing the positive impact felt amongst the entire automotive sector which is great news for everyone committed to ensuring the UK remains truly competitive on a global stage.”

To help officially open the plant, Solihull operations director Alan Volkaerts was helped by Sir Stirling Moss OBE, legendary Jaguar test driver Norman Dewis OBE and serial Jaguar Land Rover owner Quentin WIllson.

The XE isn’t the only Jaguar that’s going to be made at Solihull, either: earlier in the year, the firm also confirmed the new F-Pace crossover, set to debut at the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show in September, will also be built there.