SsangYong Tivoli review

SsangYong Tivoli 1.6 review: 2015 first drive

SsangYong Tivoli review

SsangYong hopes the Tivoli will thrust the brand into our hearts. We reckon some of you might grow to love it

Gavin Braithwaite-Smith | May 2015

This is a landmark moment. SsangYong has finally delivered a car with genuine mass market appeal that can hold its own in a fiercely competitive sector. Whether enough people will care remains to be seen, but if you’re on the hunt for a good value, well-equipped compact crossover, the SsangYong Tivoli deserves to be on your shortlist.

There’s a danger here that a Tivoli review could turn out to be a rather patronising exercise. A pat on the back for SsangYong with congratulations on a job well done. But here’s the thing – in the UK at least, SsangYong has played the role of a niche player for so long, with a range of large and even larger SUVs designed to appeal to those who put practicality, value and warranties above all else. The Tivoli is an entirely different proposition – it’s much smaller, is being launched in two-wheel drive guise and is designed to appeal to young and trendy types.

Which creates a problem for SsangYong, because Fiat is chasing the same people with the 500X, as is Jeep with the Renegade, Suzuki with the Vitara, Citroen with the C4 Cactus…you get the picture. The amount of people fishing in the compact crossover pool is growing at a ridiculous rate, but it is rapidly filling up with highly credible cars. Alongside some of the more established players, SsangYong is a mere minnow.

SsangYong Tivoli badge

So the Tivoli is having to paddle upstream against the tide. Few of the buyers SsangYong is hoping to attract won’t have heard the name, let alone be able to spell it. The company has therefore invested in a £1 million TV campaign with the aim of making the SsangYong Tivoli a household name. For SsangYong this represents a significant investment. There’s a heck of a lot resting on the Tivoli’s shoulders.

On the basis of our first drive, the car is certainly up for the challenge. The Tivoli looks and feels like no other SsangYong of the past, moving the brand from niche to nice in an instant.

What’s the SsangYong Tivoli like to drive?

SsangYong Tivoli 2015

To drive, the Tivoli doesn’t excel in any area, but neither does it disgrace itself, which is a huge step forward for SsangYong. The Fiat 500X is unquestionably more fun to drive and the Jeep Renegade will provide a greater sense of occasion, but the Tivoli is perfectly pitched for the assault on the sector.

Two all-new 1.6-litre engines are available, with the petrol version available now and the diesel unit arriving later in the year. A CO2 figure of 113g/km for the diesel version is new territory for SsangYong and at least puts the brand in the same ballpark as its more illustrious rivals.

The 1.6-litre petrol engine needs plenty of work to eek the most power from it, but starts to wail in agony when you hit the upper reaches of the rev range. It’s not a pleasant sound and will certainly encourage you to take life at a more leisurely pace. On the plus side, the six-speed manual gearbox is perfectly acceptable. We’ve yet to test the automatic transmission, but as it’s the same unit found in the MINI and Fiat 500 we’re unlikely to find serious cause for complaint.

The steering is nicely weighted – especially in Sport mode – but offers nothing in the way of feedback. Body roll is largely kept in check, but there’s little in the way of entertainment value. For some inexplicable reason, SsangYong chose to send us down some of the poorest roads in Italy for the Tivoli test drive. Think of the worst road on your morning commute and throw in some craters, crevasses and worn-out surfaces for good measure and you’ll be somewhere close to the types of roads we experienced.

And the Tivoli just about managed to cope with all but the worst of the conditions. It was certainly given a proper workout. On the motorway, which was drenched with the contents of a passing electrical storm, the Tivoli felt composed with only the wind and road noise blotting an otherwise impressive copybook. It’s not as refined as its European rivals, but the gap is much smaller than you might think.

At motorway speeds, the 1.6-litre engine is having to work hard, so you may wish to wait for the diesel version if your daily commute involves motorways and dual carriageways.

Does the Tivoli put right some of the wrongs of the past?

SsangYong Tivoli interior

Historically, SsangYong has made life tough for itself. If you managed to look beyond the challenging looks of old models you were greeted with a lacklustre interior that lacked the quality and the ergonomics of rival models. As a result, SsangYong purchases were driven by factors such as load space and towing capacity, not to mention the firm’s generous and comprehensive five-year warranty package.

You can make up your own mind on the Tivoli, but we reckon SsangYong has got it right. While hardly original, the Tivoli is well-proportioned, compact and – in the right colour – almost cute. There are echoes of the C4 Cactus and Vitara in the styling. Heck, there are even hints of the Range Rover Evoque in places. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here.

However, it’s the interior where the SsangYong Tivoli shows the most amount of promise. Breaking news – SsangYong interiors are no longer rubbish. The fit and finish is excellent, especially for car in this price bracket, and the ergonomics have been significantly improved. Some of the buttons on the lower part of the centre console are out of touch with the industry’s move towards minimalism and simplicity, but some will like the ease of use they present. There’s also a useful 423 litres of luggage space.

Special mention must go to the seats – which are leather on the EX and ELX models – and offer excellent levels of side support. Apparently SsangYong has won an award for them in Korea. That’s one way of getting bums on seats.

The SsangYong is very well equipped, too. Even on the basic SE trim level, you’ll find air conditioning, 16-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, Bluetooth, steering wheel audio controls, seven airbags and engine start/stop come as standard. But it’s the mid-spec EX trim where the Tivoli starts to offer exceptional value for money. For an extra £1,650, buyers are treated to heated leather seats, 18-inch alloy wheels, dual zone climate control, 7-inch touchscreen and a rear-view camera.

SsangYong expects 90% of buyers to opt for the EX and ELX models and when you consider that it’s possible to buy a top-spec ELX diesel with four-wheel drive for less than £20,000, it’s not hard to see why. We always thought the 500X and Renegade were expensive. SsangYong has just confirmed this. You can buy a mid-spec EX diesel with 4×4 for just £17,100 and let’s remember, SsangYong’s heritage lies in the rough stuff.

Verdict: SsangYong Tivoli (2015)

If we were acting as a school headmaster and dishing out awards for the most improved pupil of 2015, SsangYong would be in with a chance of scooping the top prize. The Tivoli represents a monumental leap forward for the brand. It looks OK, feels good inside and represents astonishing value for money. It’s hard not to be seduced by the ELX model which offers 18-inch diamond-cut alloy wheels, a smart instrument cluster, keyless start, front and rear parking sensors, privacy glass, auto lights, auto wipers and TomTom sat nav. Crucially it also adds a roof spoiler which helps to sharpen up the Tivoli’s styling.

It’s not perfect. The opening to the boot is too high and of an awkward shape and the 60:40 split folding rear seats don’t fold flat, leaving a massive step between the boot floor and the seats. There’s plenty of headroom in the back, but tall passengers might struggle for legroom, made worse by the storage cables on the back of the front seats which can dig into your knees.

SsangYong Tivoli boot

SsangYong reckons the Tivoli will appeal to two types of buyers. Firstly, young mums looking for a practical and reliable car for the school run. Secondly, older buyers looking to downsize from a larger SUV. For now SsangYong lacks the brand cache required to attract the 25-35 year olds who are buying it in Korea. A low-hanging fruit would be to sell to existing SsangYong customers, but the numbers are too small and this fails to move the brand forward.

Somehow SsangYong has to find the X-factor. A tough ask for such a niche player. But with the Tivoli it has a fighting chance of success. If there’s a SsangYong dealer near you, check it out. You might be surprised.

Rivals: SsangYong Tivoli

  • Fiat 500X
  • Citroen C4 Cactus
  • Suzuki Vitara
  • Nissan Juke
  • Renault Captur

You have to feel some sympathy for the little Tivoli, for it’s going into battle against some major players. The Fiat 500X is the newest kid on the block and packs a mighty punch in terms of its styling, funky interior and the way it drives. And let’s not forget the thousands of Fiat 500 owners who may be looking to upsize in the future. The Citroen C4 Cactus upstages it in terms of style and individuality, while the Suzuki Vitara is perhaps the closest match in terms of design, price and brand profile. And the Nissan Juke isn’t getting any younger.

Specification: SsangYong Tivoli 1.6-litre petrol

Engine 1.6-litre 4-cylinder petrol

Gearbox Six-speed manual and six-speed automatic

Prices from £12,950

Power 113hp

Torque 118lb ft

0-62mph 11 – 12 seconds

Top speed 99 – 106mph

MPG 39.2 – 44.1

CO2 149 – 167g/km

MG Rover CityRover

Great Motoring Disasters: MG Rover CityRover

MG Rover CityRoverIts name was the cleverest thing about it. Or it would have been, had the Rover marque not been so stained by years of messy history.

The next best thing about the this small supermini was the neat and classy array of chrome ‘C I T Y R O V E R’ characters across it tailgate, this one of the few positives to be found in this tale of the last whimperings of MG Rover.

In the broadest sense, acquiring the rights to use this Italian-designed supermini might have seemed a good idea for a company struggling to survive. MG Rover had not launched an entirely new model since the ludicrous De Tomaso-based MG SV.

A new supermini – even an old new supermini – was a model that might sell at a decent rate and make a profit, so cheaply could it be landed at a dock ready for UK sale.

Dock? The CityRover was not made at MG Rover’s Longbridge plant but at Pune in India, this car made by Tata Motors, whose sister automotive business these days is Jaguar Land Rover.

The Tata Rover

MG Rover CityRover

The CityRover was a (very) lightly modified version of the Tata Indica, the Indian company’s first car. The Indica was capably designed for Tata by Italy’s IDEA, whose previous credits included many Fiat Auto models from the early 1990s including the Fiat Tipo and Tempra, the Alfa Romeo 155 and Lancia Delta, as well as the Nissan Terrano/Ford Maverick.

The Indica was engineered to be very affordable, was powered by a modified 1.4 litre Peugeot engine of more than average grunt and had an interior spacious enough to carry inadvisably large numbers of passengers, as was highly likely in its home country of India.

It debuted in 1998 and sold very strongly until customers uncovered its patchy quality. Recalls and a reworked version recovered the Indica’s reputation sufficiently to restore its best-selling status and it was this modified version, known as the Indica V2, that became the basis for MG Rover’s version.

Not good enough for MG Rover

MG Rover CityRover

When MG Rover’s engineers got hold of an example for evaluation their improvements list was long, and included the need to improve a gearchange that moved like a blunt carving knife through gristle, the high-riding suspension and an interior finish barely worthy of a van.

But the management largely ignored their suggestions, allowing only light modifications to the suspension, which was lowered 20mm and used stiffer spring rates, these changes complemented by a quicker steering rack and larger wheels.

The engine was cleaned up to meet mandatory emission requirements, one of its mountings reworked to reduce vibration into the cabin and the transmission’s final drive ratio was altered to compensate for the larger wheels.

MG Rover CityRover

New front and rear bumpers, the application of the nastily-cheapened Rover Viking badge and the devising of Sprite, Solo, Select and Style trim packages completed the budget makeover, save for the issue of price. Which was clearly going to need to be low, despite the roomy interior, inoffensive styling and surprisingly peppy performance, 84bhp pushing 1040kg of Tata steel along quite effectively.

The low price was needed because this car was already a five-year old design, because no effort had been made to lifts its interior and its gearchange continued to provide pesky manipulation battles for your left hand.

The £900 brand new Rover?

MG Rover CityRover

Still, the pricing should have been easy to get right. There were rumours that the unit cost of a CityRover was somewhere in the region of £900-£2000. Even £2000 sounds on the low side, but whatever the truth there seems little doubt that the cost to MG Rover was easily low enough to allow it to make a decent profit, and return to a market that it had deserted when the long-running Metro was deleted.

But the Longbridge management seemed to be in the grip of the kind of reality loss that had so far produced the unsaleable MG SV, the rear-drive MG ZT V8 and a two-season assault on Le Mans.

So at its September 2003 launch, the basic CityRover Solo was priced at least £1000 too high at £6495, and the £8895 asked for the top-of-the-range Style was laughable against a mid-range VW Polo.

Self-inflicted sabotage – and James May

MG Rover CityRover

The self-inflicted sabotage didn’t end there, MG Rover proceeded to launch the CityRover by stealth. There was no significant advertising, no proper press launch and fatally, it denied Top Gear a test car.

Instead presenter James May got plenty of laughs testing a dealer demonstrator using subterfuge and a hidden camera. It was, he reckoned, the worst car he had ever driven while working for the programme.

Despite all this, other sections of the press gave it middling to positive reviews. They liked its space, go and paint finish, but the gearchange, the cabin plastics and the mean equipment levels knocked it back.

So did the arrival of a new Fiat Panda, this neat new basic car good enough to collect a Car of the Year award.

40,000 sales a year, they thought…

MG Rover CityRover

 

With all this against it, together with MG Rover’s wavering enthusiasm, the forecast sales of 30-40,000 units annually looked about as likely as BMW deciding to buy MG Rover back.

Even a speedy stabbing of a smartphone calculator indicates profits of at least £50 million a year on these numbers, making MG Rover’s reticence weirder still.

Sales accelerated like a New Year’s day road-sweeper, the inevitable price cut soon arriving along with plans for a mildly revised model, due in 2005.

The facelift that never was

MG Rover CityRover

And that was the fateful year in which MG Rover went under, though not before a boat-load of 1200 revised CityRovers had set sail for Britain.

These orphaned cars got no launch at all, being disposed of by receivers PriceWaterhouseCoopers, which is why you can find examples registered as late as 2007.

Around 8600 CityRovers were eventually sold, some 5000 surviving today despite super-low used prices that now start from under £500. The Indica’s underlying robustness must have plenty to do with that, along with the fact that many were bought by Metro-loving pensioners.

The CityRover shambles produced a dismal book-end to the small-car history of the company that that brought us the 1959 Mini, and still more dismal for the bizarre way in which the project was handled.

Vauxhall Viva review: 2015 first drive

Vauxhall Viva review: 2015 first drive

Vauxhall Viva review: 2015 first drive

The Vauxhall Viva is a competent and sensible city car. But it needs to up its game to better the best in this sector.

Andrew Brady | May 2015

Remember when city cars were abysmal things, bought only by those who couldn’t even stretch to a Ford Fiesta? Think cars like the Chevrolet Spark, Kia Pride and, shudder, City Rover. These were the sort of cars that came with nothing as standard and could barely reach motorway speeds. Most of us only had the pleasure of driving one when tossed the keys for €10 a day during our yearly pilgrimage to Kavos.

Then the Volkswagen Up! came along and changed everything. It looked great, wasn’t painful to drive and for the first time ever, was a city car people actually wanted.

Other manufacturers followed. They realised that low-priced and small needn’t mean basic and, well, horrible.

Suddenly the city car segment became popular. It became fashionable to have the latest Up!, Aygo or Twingo. These cars were packed with kit, loaded with personalisation options and were surprisingly fun to drive. No wonder the segment has doubled in size since 2005 and now accounts for 10% of all new car registrations in the UK.

So, you’re expecting us to tell you about how Vauxhall’s latest city car contender combines a suitably retro name (the original Viva was axed in 1979), a generous amount of kit as standard with low running costs, and a low, low purchase price. Well…

What’s the Vauxhall Viva like to drive?

02_vauxhall_viva

Buyers of the Viva don’t get a choice of engine. You get the same 1.0-litre as in the Corsa and Adam (and as of later this year, the Astra). The turbocharged three-cylinder is a hoot in bigger models, and a genuine rival to Ford’s class-leading Ecoboost.

Only, in the Viva, it doesn’t get the turbo. That means it’s packing a modest 75hp and takes 13.1 seconds to reach 62mph. Not the end of the world, perhaps, as performance isn’t a priority for buyers in this sector.

Around town, it’s perfectly sprightly and flows with the traffic nicely. Out of town, though, and you’ll be wanting a downhill section to overtake. A long downhill section. A long, downhill section of dual carriageway.

You soon get used to working the Viva hard to get anywhere. But that’s not a bad thing. The five-speed gearbox is lovely, while the clutch is lighter than a very light thing. It’s all very easy to drive, as long as you’re not in a rush.

The steering feels similar to that of a Corsa, which is a good thing – fairly direct and confidence-inspiring. You also get Vauxhall’s city steering button which can be pressed to make the steering ultra, ultra light around town. That makes darting in and out of traffic really easy, but its turning circle isn’t up there with the likes of the Smart Fortwo.

The ride, however, is excellent. Vauxhall claims it’s spent about a year perfecting it for UK roads, and it certainly copes with bumps and uneven road surfaces well. Wind it up to motorway speeds, however, and while it rides well, you will find yourself having to talk a little bit louder to hold a conversation. That’s the Viva’s blocky shape for you.

OK, so what’s the Vauxhall Viva like inside?

03_vauxhall_viva

Buyers at this end of the market love choice, apparently. That’s why the Vauxhall Adam’s interior can be customised in over 82,000 different ways. But if it’s customisation you’re after, stop being miserly and buy the Adam.

The Viva gets a choice of just two trim levels. There’s the entry-level SE, starting at £7,995, which comes with a competitive amount of kit as standard. We’re talking cruise control, heated door mirrors and hill start assist – fairly impressive for an entry-level city car.

Then there’s the top-spec SL, which starts at £9,495. That adds Bluetooth music streaming, climate control and 15 inch alloys. Crucially, it also adds a leather-covered steering wheel and two-tone grey facia – both of which combine to make the Viva feel a little bit, er, less cheap.

At this price you can forgive the Viva for a few cheap looking plastics, but the Viva’s interior is almost entirely devoid of character. On the plus side, the seats are comfortable and there are a few grown-up features which make it feel like a Corsa that’s been shrunk in the wash. The steering wheel, for example, is straight out of the Corsa, while some money has been spent improving small things like the gearstick.

This goes some way to lifting the otherwise slightly drab cabin, and practicality is on its side. Even the entry-level model comes with five doors, which helps if you’re carrying rear-seat passengers regularly. While there’s not copious amounts of rear legroom, you will get a couple of adults in the back at a push. They’ll soon be complaining of feeling claustrophobic on anything more than a short, urban journey, however.

Boot space isn’t particularly generous, either, coming in at 206 litres. Access is good, but it falls short of the Hyundai i10 (252 litres), Suzuki Celerio (254 litres) and Volkswagen Up! (251 litres).

This is all starting to sound a bit average…

04_vauxhall_viva

That’s the thing about the Viva. Had it been introduced five or six years ago it would have been a revelation. But today, well, it’s a competent, sensible car for not a lot of money.

But why would you buy one when its rivals are just so good? A lot of people seem to have an affinity to Vauxhall. It’s been jostling with Ford for the position of number one carmaker for UK sales since, well, forever. The fact is you can buy a better all-rounder with a longer warranty for similar money from a Korean manufacturer (enter Hyundai i10), but some people just want a Vauxhall.

And we can respect that. With 363 dealers in the UK – second only to Ford – the chances are you’ve got a Vauxhall dealer locally. Is that enough of a reason to buy a Viva?

OK, there’s also the excellent ride, five doors and decent amount of standard specification. We could understand why you would buy one. But visit your local Hyundai dealer before handing over any money.

Rivals: Vauxhall Viva

  • Hyundai i10
  • Skoda Citigo
  • SEAT Mii
  • Toyota Aygo
  • Suzuki Celerio

The Hyundai i10 is the one to beat in this segment, and the Vauxhall Viva does fall short in most areas. The Citigo (and its Up! and Mii brethrens) has been around for a while but continues to be a strong contender, while the new Toyota Aygo (along with the Citroen C1 and Peugeot 108) offers a bit more character for the money. The Suzuki Celerio also puts up a good fight against the Viva.

Specification: Vauxhall Viva

Engine 1.0-litre petrol

Gearbox 5-speed manual (Easytronic due in January 2016)

Power 75hp

Torque 70lb/ft

0-62mph 13.1 seconds

Top speed 106mph

MPG 62.8 – 65.7

CO2 99 – 104g/km

DS 5 review: 2015 first drive

DS 5 review: 2015 first drive

DS 5 review: 2015 first drive

Revised DS 5 rides better than before, while showing the world how to do luxury interiors. But it’s no longer a Citroen.

Andrew Brady | May 2015

As you may have heard, Citroen is going upmarket with its new DS brand. That means all of its range sporting the DS badge – DS3, DS4 and DS5 – will soon be sold without Citroen chevrons to be found anywhere. Think Toyota and Lexus, Nissan and Infiniti, and you get the idea.

So what has DS Automobiles done to introduce itself as a brand and get tongues wagging? Launched an exciting new hybrid SUV? No. Replaced the brilliant DS3 supermini with something even more desirable? Nope.

It’s given the slow-selling DS 5 (note – new space, it’s no longer the DS5) a bit of a facelift. Erm…

What’s the DS 5 like to drive?

02_DS5

OK, maybe we’re being a bit sceptical. The DS 5 was already a good car, and it’s now much better to drive.

The improvement is largely down to new preloaded valve technology in the dampers, limiting sudden changes in damping force. This means harsh bumps from potholes and changes in road surface are softened, rather than being passed onto passengers.

In simple terms: the DS 5 now has the ride quality you’d expect from a big, executive French car. And that’s the biggest thing that was holding it back before.

Engine-wise, buyers get a choice of 165hp and 210hp petrol units, a diesel (with 120hp, 150hp or 180hp) and a hybrid.

On the DS 5’s launch in Paris, we tried the 150hp diesel, which is expected to be the biggest seller in the UK. It’s a sprightly, torquey diesel which leaves you wondering why you’d bother shelling out for the more powerful 180hp.

The six-speed manual gearbox is pleasant enough, with a short throw, while the six-speed auto partnered with the petrol is a big improvement over the robotised manual of its predecessor.

When it comes to handling, the DS 5 isn’t as entertaining as a BMW 5 Series when the going gets twisty, but that’s not what this car is about. It’s safe and controlled, with little body roll, and the steering provides enough feedback to tell you when sir is getting a little carried away.

Despite the DS 5’s chunky dimensions it’s a fairly easy car to maneuver – helped by a host of technology, including (for the first time) a new blind-spot monitoring system. This is a useful tool as, despite its seemingly endless windows, there does seem to be a number of chunky blindspots in the DS 5.

Is the DS 5 a genuine BMW 3 Series rival?

03_DS5

What the DS 5 excels at is feeling properly premium. This doesn’t feel like a car that’s been designed by accountants. Every little details is well-made and has been given a lot of thought.

One in five buyers of the current model opt for the ‘watchstrap’ leather seats of our test cars – as well as being good quality leather, they look the part, while feeling comfortable. The price? That’ll be £1,390 on the Prestige. £2,690 on the Elegance. Gulp.

Still, you get what you pay for. Everything you touch in the DS 5 feels upmarket. So many manufacturers are satisfied by a bit of flimsy plastic for things like the cubby box handle, that it’s a nice surprise when a carmaker has invested some time and money into giving some minor details such thought.

The technology is equally luxurious. Ambient lighting and a quality sound system are further minor touches to show where you’re money’s gone. A new seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system with sat-nav is standard on all models, and easy to operate. It’s also decluttered the dash, which now sports 12 fewer buttons than its predecessor.

Not only can mainstream brands such as Ford learn a lot from DS when it comes to make a car feel premium (ahem… Vignale). Even German brands, while exuding quality, don’t feel quite as special inside.

Verdict: DS 5 (2015)

04_DS5

It’s a bold move buying a new DS 5. The manufacturer admits that it’ll take about 15 years to truly establish itself as a premium player. For the time being, it lacks the brand image most people would want if they were to spend around £30,000 on a car.

Even if you’re not so bothered about the badge yourself, the vast majority of people are, meaning poor residual values could make the DS 5 hard to justify on paper.

If you can, or you’re reading this a few years down the line and looking at one as a secondhand purchase, we salute you for daring to be different. Numbers and badge snobbery aside, the DS 5 feels totally luxurious, and will stand out in a sea of bland, German saloons. For that, we like it a lot.

Rivals: DS 5

  • Audi A4
  • BMW 3 Series
  • Lexus IS 300h
  • Skoda Superb
  • Volkswagen Passat

On paper, the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series make a lot more sense than the DS 5. They’re dynamically stronger, too, the BMW in particular. But while they’re well-made, they lack that pizzazz of the DS. The Lexus is a strong rival to the hybrid DS 5, while the Skoda Superb and Volkswagen Passat have both been replaced recently and are now very strong contenders in this class.

Specification: DS 5

Engine 1.6-2.0-litre diesel, 1.6-litre petrol, hybrid

Gearbox 6-speed auto, 6-speed manual, CVT

Power 120 – 200hp

Torque 177lb/ft – 295lb/ft

0-62mph 9.3 – 12.7 seconds

Top speed 119 – 137mph

MPG 47.9 – 72.4

CO2 103 – 136g/km

Ford Mondeo Vignale

Ford Mondeo Vignale review: 2015 first drive

Ford Mondeo Vignale

Ford attempts to take the Mondeo upmarket with its Vignale. Don’t mention Ghia.

Andrew Brady | May 2015

The Ford Mondeo has an image problem. It’s not that it’s a bad car – we liked it when we drove the latest model for the first time last year. But it’s just a bit… generic. And no one wants generic anymore.

Instead, we want executive saloon cars such as the BMW 3 Series. Or funky crossovers such as the Nissan Qashqai. That’s why both now outsell the humble Ford Mondeo in the UK.

And that explains why Ford taking its Mondeo upmarket with the launch of its new Vignale.

Vignale takes its name from the Italian coachbuilder Alfredo Vignale, who was responsible for creating stylish, one-off designs for cars built by Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Fiat, Lancia and Maserati.

The Mondeo Vignale is the first in a line of production cars that’ll get the Vignale treatment – the next being the S-Max, due next year.

For around £4,500 more than the Mondeo Titanium, the Vignale gets a lot of extra leather. It’s everywhere – on the dashboard, covering the armrests and most places you touch. Even the seats have 110% more leather than the regular Mondeo leather seats. It’s premium Windsor leather, too, from the same factory as that found in the Bentley Continental GT.

3_Mondeo_Vignale

But the Mondeo Vignale is much than just a top-spec trim level, Ford insists.

For a start, the Vignale goes through extra quality checks at Ford’s Valencia factory. Extra attention is paid to paint quality and panel gaps… something you wouldn’t normally expect to be an issue on cars built by Ford in the 21st century, so make of that what you will.

The buying experience will be just a little more special, too. Rather than buying a Mondeo Vignale from your local dealership, you’ll need to visit one of 55 new Ford Stores that’ll be launched in the UK by the end of 2015.

There, you’ll find a special Vignale corner of the showroom, with furniture designed by the same designers behind the car. And you’ll be shielded off from the common or garden Ford customers.

Rather than a salesman, you’ll get your own ‘relationship manager’, who you’ll be on first-name terms with throughout the buying process and even as long as you own the car.

Once you’ve bought the car, you’ll have access to a 24-hour Vignale owners’ phone number should you need emergency breakdown cover or to book a service. When you do book a service, your dealership will collect the car from your home or office, and return it to you (freshly cleaned).

If you buy a used Vignale a few years down the line, you’ll be entitled to exactly the same perks. You can even (for a cost) ask your Ford dealership to detail it, so it’ll be returned to as-new condition.

What’s the Ford Mondeo Vignale like to drive?

2_Mondeo_Vignale

The Ford Mondeo Vignale drives in exactly the same way as the regular Ford Mondeo. That’s not a bad thing – there’s an engine for everyone, while the handling is typical Ford in that it’s direct and a touch sporty, if comfortable.

But, on the launch of the Vignale, we did get the opportunity to drive a hybrid for the first time.

Ford says, out of the 2,000-3,000 Mondeo Vignales it expects to sell in the UK, only around 2% will be hybrid.

Often, in a hybrid, the extra power provided by the batteries combined with instant torque means you put your foot down and scarper towards the horizon in a comical way.

But, while the Mondeo is happy to make a lot of noise when you accelerate (the curse of the CVT ’box), not a lot seems to happen performance-wise.

The Mondeo’s normally compliant ride appears to be upset by the extra kilos added by the batteries. Bumps in the road are transferred to the cabin, especially on the 18-inch alloys of our test car. We suspect smaller alloys might be a better choice, but then the handling will be even more numbed.

Is the Ford Mondeo Vignale a BMW 3 Series rival?

5_Mondeo_Vignale

No. Even Ford says the Vignale isn’t a BMW 3 Series rival. We suspect that secretly it’d like to think it is, but if it openly said so it’s opening itself up for mocking. Which we’ll do anyway.

Think of the Vignale as a top-spec Mondeo trim-level and it starts to make a bit more sense. Sure, the leather seats are very nice, as is the extra stitching.

But the interior isn’t as special as it ought to be. If anything, the upmarket additions make the rest of the interior look cheaper than it did in the first place. When the plastic centre console is surrounded by succulent leather, the centre console is suddenly no longer up to scratch.

We get the impression that accountants stopped designers really going to town on the interior in the way they probably ought to for it to be taken seriously as a properly upmarket Mondeo.

We want ambient lighting and Vignale badges everywhere. Trying to find the Vignale emblem is impossible inside the car, until you open the doors and find them on the treadplates. It’s the same reason people buy designer labels – they want to be reminded constantly that they’ve spent extra money on something premium.

Even the radio proudly boasts it’s a Sony unit. Its sound quality is excellent, sure, but you can spec the same radio in the regular Mondeo. For the full premium experience, we want to see names like Bose.

Verdict: Ford Mondeo Vignale (2015)

4_Mondeo_Vignale

When we drove the latest Ford Mondeo we gave it a four star rating.

As a car, it retains that four star rating. But Ford is so adamant that the Vignale is more than just a top-spec Mondeo – more of a lifestyle choice (cringe), and for us, it just doesn’t really work. Especially with a starting price of £29,045.

The company needs to go further if it’s to properly embrace going upmarket. The interior needs to be more special. And the service needs to be even more exclusive – we want a longer warranty and better residual values (early predictions aren’t looking good). A free wash just doesn’t cut it.

Save your money and, if you really want a Mondeo, buy a Titanium instead. If you ever find yourself longing for posher leather and brown metallic paint, think of that £4,500 you’ve saved.

Rivals: Ford Mondeo Vignale

  • Audi A4
  • BMW 3 Series
  • Lexus IS300h
  • Skoda Superb
  • Volkswagen Passat

Ford denies that it’s targeting the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series with its Mondeo Vignale, but there’s no denying that both are uncomfortably in reach for the money. The Lexus IS300h is actually slightly cheaper than the Mondeo hybrid, and is definitely a much more sensible choice if you want to go down that route. The Skoda Superb is due to be replaced and the new one makes a much more convincing case as an affordable upmarket car than the Mondeo Vignale. The Volkswagen Passat is slightly upmarket from the regular Mondeo, but stacks up well against the Vignale.

Specification: Ford Mondeo Vignale

Engine 2.0-litre diesel, 2.0-litre petrol, hybrid

Gearbox 6-speed auto, 6-speed manual, CVT

Power 180 – 240hp

Torque 128lb/ft – 332lb/ft

0-62mph 7.9 – 9.2 seconds

Top speed 116 – 149mph

MPG 38.7 – 67.3

CO2 99 – 176g/km

Tesla Model S P85D 2015 review

Tesla Model S P85D review: 2015 first drive

Tesla Model S P85D 2015 reviewTesla gives the Model S another engine, makes it even faster. How fast? Try McLaren and Ferrari fast. The results are extraordinary.

Richard Aucock | May 2015

Tesla is being good to Britain. We drive on the left, yet we’re not denied factory-built right-hand-drive versions of its extraordinary Model S full-range EV. It officially launched here in 2014 and sales are, from a standing start, already in the hundreds, growing by the week as the dealer network grows too.

We even enjoy Tesla Superchargers here, those ultra-fast (and free) recharge points that can fill the 300-mile-range battery in the time it takes to drink a latte and check some emails. London to Edinburgh in a zero-emissions EV? Not a problem if it’s a Tesla.

Now, we’re getting an upgraded model – an all-wheel-drive Model S, with two electric motors; an additional one joins the existing rear-mounted motor, sitting up front (and munching into, although not devouring, the front luggage compartment). Soon, a Tesla spokesperson told us, there will be just a single rear-drive Tesla Model S; the rest of the range goes all-wheel drive, courtesy of Dual Motor tech and signified by the ‘D’ in the name.

Why? Several reasons. One being, surprisingly, it’s more efficient. This clever car can juggle between motors, using one or both when it’s most efficient, and also flipping between front and rear motors on long trips to ensure they’re always operating at the most efficient temperature.

But the other significant reason is traction. Or, rather, the challenges of not breaking it when deploying the Tesla’s monster power and torque. The top-line P85D we’re testing here has supercar power. Genuinely. How does 701hp strike you?

Sending this through just two wheels can, at times, be sub-optimal (as McLaren’s Ron Dennis might say). Four-wheel-drive traction means grip between four wheels, not two – so more can be transferred to the road without being pegged back by traction control.

The key acceleration figure bears out the logic of this thinking: 0-62mph takes just 3.1 seconds. We have checked it, and it is correct. Extraordinary, no? This modern but unassuming saloon car is Porsche 911 Turbo S fast, yet with local emissions that match a Nissan Leaf. With deliveries about to start in the UK, and with prices starting from £85k (before the Plug-in Car Grant is taken off), what do lucky owners have in store? We found out.

What’s the Tesla Model S P85D like to drive?

Tesla Model S P85D 2015 review

We found the rear-drive Tesla Model S jaw-dropping for acceleration, response, intensity and energy. The P85D takes it to another level, one barely believable for what’s still a luxurious and urbane BMW 5 Series rival. It’s incredible.

This isn’t acceleration, it’s hyperdrive. You have two acceleration modes: Sport and Insane. Insane was our default. It really is insane. It’s claimed to generate 1G of acceleration force and, using a smartphone app, we confirmed this. It is also the only road car I can remember that ‘rollercosters’ your stomach each and every time you give it the full beans: it’s a thrilling, incredible sensation that has you shaking with excitement.

Just as amazing is the traction you sense when deploying this. There is no metering of power or torque, no restrictions from the physical grip of the tyres; the P85D bites and drives hard, on all surfaces, at all angles. Floor it out of a gravelly dual carriageway layby and you can be up to the speed of the traffic in an eyeblink – faster than either you or the traffic around you can comprehend. It’s warp drive that, thanks to all-wheel drive, now comes to virtually any situation.

It’s not all about just straight-line acceleration though. All-wheel drive makes it more tenacious on British B-roads, too. The Model S was already a surprisingly wieldy thing for one so large (4,978mm long), heavy (2.5 tonnes) and wide (1,984mm), largely thanks to the sense of a lack of mass at the front end.

The P85D further enhances this with the ability to deploy ridiculous drive forces, instantaneously, in virtually any situation. Electric drive means power is delivered hesitation-free, and 701hp means said power is colossal: distribute it between all four wheels for ample stability and you’ve something almost peculiarly tenacious on tight UK roads.

Should you buy a Tesla P85D instead of a sports car?

Tesla Model S P85D 2015 review

So, all this performance, delivered so uniquely, with added practicality, eco saviourness and standard-setting onboard tech: surely the Tesla P85D’s a smarter buy than a slower, dearer and less practical Porsche 911?

We can see why some would think so. For £85k (or, with options, £105k for the test car – reduced to £100k with the government grant), it offers supercar pace that has already led to umpteen YouTube videos showing the P85D taking on all comers in acceleration races. Y’know, Lamborghinis, McLarens, Ferraris, that sort of thing.

This is why those who like the idea of an everyday supercar such as the 911 may steer towards the Tesla as a leftfield alternative. So it would be unfair to point out the EPAS doesn’t have anything like a 911’s feel or feedback, that you notice its considerable size in a way you never would with the compact 911, and it feels decidedly saloon car-like behind the wheel rather than like a low-slung sports car. Buyers would get all that.

The fact it performs so well, offers so much practicality and has the world-saving kudos that comes from it could just clinch it in this sector that buys cars just as much for how they look and what they say about them as how they drive.

And it’s here where the Tesla could do a bit more. The interior is great, with real wow-factor, so it’s a pity the exterior can’t quite match it. A touch more finesse, a bit more sharpness of the lines, a bolder front end, all would help the Model S’ potential to sway supercar buyers. It’s a big car but could do more to hide it – and could do a lot more to shout about the fact it’s so high-tech and groundbreaking.

Oh, and why do the visual changes for the P85D amount to little more than a different badge, bigger wheels and red brake calipers? This car is a rocketship, Tesla – shout about it!

Verdict: Tesla Model S P85D (2015)

Tesla Model S P85D 2015 review

The Tesla Model S P85D is a striking, memorable car that you’ll talk about for months for one reason: acceleration. Extraordinary acceleration. The pace, and the forces it generates, are astounding and the fact this is combined with an EV range of nearly 300 miles is even more amazing. It’s an other-worldly achievement.

Buy it for these reasons and you’ll be delighted. Buy it instead of a Porsche 911, or a BMW i8 PHEV supercar, and you might yearn for just a touch more sophistication of style and final chassis tune. Here’s where Tesla’s youth arguably shows through – not in a stark way, but it’s now competing in an exalted sector, and these tiny differences matter.

But the fact many will still consider the Tesla instead of a premium alternative shows just what the firm’s achieved. And, with the P85D’s almighty acceleration bettering almost anything else on the road, it’s now far more than just a quick EV with a big range. It’s a quick EV with a big range and warp drive as standard.

Rivals: Tesla Model S P85D

  • Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid
  • BMW i8
  • Porsche 911
  • Audi R8 e-tron
  • Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid

We’ve mentioned the Porsche 911; for many buyers, the Panamera S E-Hybrid is likely to be a more obvious challenger. And if they really do want a supercar, there’s also the BMW i8 and forthcoming Audi R8 e-tron. But maybe the Tesla’s practicality is the big win for you? Then the Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid might appeal – as might the £30k list price saving…

Specification: Tesla Model S P85D

Engine Two electric motors

Gearbox Single-gear electric, four-wheel drive

Price from £85,000

Power 701hp

Torque 442lb ft (600Nm)

0-62mph 3.1 seconds

Top speed 155mph

MPG n/a

CO2 0g/km

Audi Q7 review: 2015 first drive

Audi Q7 review: 2015 first drive

Audi Q7 review: 2015 first drive

It’s as big as it ever was, but the new Audi Q7 appears less humungous, packs in the vital Q7 USP that owners love, and is now a car of its time.

Peter Burgess | May 2015

It was too big, the Audi Q7. We all said so when it was launched back in 2005. Cars this size simply don’t work on the home continent of Europe, where many streets are narrow and parking spaces in supermarkets are more suited to a Fiat 500 than a gigantic slug.

Also running against it was the styling, which had all the subtlety of a comic-book fist, ready to wipe aside anything that got it its way. There’s nothing charming about being bullied aside by an Audi, let alone one as big as a bus.

And yet. Over half a million have been sold, not just in the US where it makes most sense, but also in those congested cities of Europe and elsewhere. The Q7 obviously has its place, and now there is a brand new one. With tighter lines it’s still far from a looker, but it’s roomier, lighter and much, much cleverer.

What’s the Audi Q7 like to drive?

03_Audi_Q7

Audi is drip-feeding the new Q7 into the market, so early adopters have just one diesel choice, the 3.0-litre TDI. That’s been upgraded from 245hp to 272hp, at the same time achieving wondrous things with the fuel economy and CO2. Naturally quattro four-wheel-drive is part of the package.

The sheer thumping performance of this new engine is impressive, and with a few hundred kilos knocked off the weight by incorporating lots more aluminium and stronger, thinner steel, the new Q7 is decidedly agile too.

It does, naturally, incorporate some pretty sophisticated design elements, and if you pay more money (there are always was to pay more money when you buy an Audi) there’s the sublime air suspension package. That gives the ride comfort you’d expect from a luxury car and the ability to change settings to suit your mood. You know, those days when there’s no family and you want to emulate the Audi Le Mans drivers.

The new Q7 looks more compact than before, even if it’s only the height that’s reduced by any degree. That should open up a few more multi-story car parks to drivers of this large Audi, and there are a raft of self-parking possibilities on offer. Specify rear-wheel-steering and you can turn like a London cabbie. With Traffic Jam Assist you are well on the way to having a car that will drive itself.

Should I buy an Audi Q7?

04_Audi_Q7

That depends which way you look at it. If ‘premium’ is an essential part of the equation, plus seven seats and four-wheel-drive, your choice quickly narrows. And the new Audi Q7 really does measure up.

Despite the undoubtedly long option list, the Q7 is well equipped if you choose not to spend more than the £50,340 for the SE or £53,835 for the S line. Every model comes with eight-speed automatic transmission, with stop start and a coasting mode when you lift off the accelerator. The engine is EU6 compliant, which means all those horror stories about diesels being penalised won’t apply here. Probably.

Then there are Xenon headlights, a decent satnav, electric seats and a 10-speaker 180-watt sound system. Each of these features can be upgraded several times over, and you really should look at the top-line virtual cockpit navigation screen that sits behind the steering wheel. It’s superb.

05_Audi_Q7

The clever technology far from ends there. Apple Car Play and Google Android Auto brings much of your phone functionality to the Q7’s large screen. Rear seat passengers can play with large demountable tablets.

There are other neat features that will tease money from your pocket. The tow bar electrically folds away under the bumper. The ambient interior lighting includes a fine blue pencil line of light around the dashboard and doors that’s to die for.

But more importantly, the Q7 has more shoulder room inside. There are now six Isofix child seating points. The new seat folding mechanism on the second row makes it much easier to access the rearmost two seats. And both the tailgate and those two rear seats power open and closed as part of the standard package.

Verdict: Audi Q7 (2015)

02_Audi_Q7

It’s no longer a slug, the Audi Q7, but it still won’t win any beauty contests. But maybe eschewing a knockout style is simply a clever move that shows Audi Q7 owners are really above that sort of thing.

The competition, while not broad, is formidable, ranging from the BMW X5 to the Mercedes ML, through Range Rover Sport and Volvo XC90. Audi argues that the Q7 beats its German rivals on interior space, while the Range Rover Sport is in a different segment.

Good points, though not all buyers of these premium models are simply interested in getting the roomiest vehicle. The brand new Volvo XC90 is the unknown for Audi. It has the right credentials, is stylish and, importantly, brings some freshness to this whole arena. Not many German will buy the Volvo, but the rest of the world may well do so.

It is extremely satisfying that we have such a fine selection of cars to choose from here. Against them, the new Q7 measures up very well indeed.

Rivals: Audi Q7 (2015)

  1. BMW X5
  2. Mercedes-Benz ML
  3. Land Rover Discovery
  4. Range Rover Sport
  5. Volvo XC90

When it comes to road presence, the BMW X5 pips the Audi Q7. But the Audi now offers a serious case for those wanting a premium, German SUV. The Mercedes-Benz ML is showing its age, while British competitors from Land Rover should be taken very seriously by those considering a Q7. The Volvo XC90 is a wild card, but one that bowled us over when we tested it earlier this year.

Specification: Audi Q7 3.0TDI S line

Engine turbocharged, six-cylinder 3.0-litre

Gearbox Eight-speed automatic

Price from £53,835

Power 272hp

Torque 443lb/ft

0-62mph 6.5 seconds

Top speed 145mph

MPG 47.9mpg

CO2 153g/km

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Sinclair C5

Great Motoring Disasters: Sinclair C5

Sinclair C5The Sinclair C5 came in a cardboard box delivered to your door, it was built in a Hoover washing machine factory and it was narrow enough to drive down your hallway. Which many concluded was the best place for it.

This was a cheap new revolutionary vehicle for the masses, reckoned millionaire computer whiz Sir Clive Sinclair, whose qualifications for this forecast were founded on his successful launch of one of the earliest pocket calculators and the famous ZX Spectrum home computer. Well, the Sinclair C5 was certainly cheap compared to a normal car, and it certainly looked revolutionary. But not in a good way.

Genesis: 1979

Sinclair C5

Its emergence was the result of Sinclair’s long-running interest in electric cars, which lead to the start of the C1 project in 1979. Sinclair asked a former Radionics colleague Tony Wood Rogers to consult on the project, and design specialists Ogle to style it.

Ogle subsequently revealed that they never believed in the project, their concentration on its aerodynamic properties – critical for an electric vehicle, even with the modest 30mph target top speed of the C1 – resulting in an unhelpful weight gain that probably undid all the aerodynamic wins. That made the C1’s 30 mile range a near-impossible goal, despite a lightweight polypropylene body built only for one.

Better than a moped?

Sinclair C5

Sinclair’s aim was to build a better vehicle than a moped, and at a price vastly undercutting a car’s. But by spring 1983 he abandoned this project to raise more funds, undeterred by Ogle’s prophetic view that the C1 wouldn’t sell because its range was limited, it wasn’t weather-proof and it was too slow.

Sinclair raised £12 million by selling shares in Radionic, over £8 million of it dedicated to the newly formed Sinclair Vehicles. Within months the project was back on, and the Hoover domestic appliance company contracted to build the vehicle, as Sinclair preferred to call it, at its Welsh factory. And at the staggeringly optimistic rate of 8,000 a week – quantities to rival Ford.

Lotus engineering

Sinclair C5

The project got a boost of sorts when the government introduced legislation, lobbied for by bicycle-maker Raleigh, that allowed electrically-assisted two and three wheelers onto UK roads. But only at speeds up to 15mph. That the electric motor could only be as powerful as 250 Watts and the vehicle weigh no more than 60kg also had an unhelpful impact on Sinclair’s motor-assisted recumbent tricycle.

But within these limits, it was well-engineered, Lotus hired to develop the C5 from Wood Rogers’ prototype. Like a Lotus it had a backbone steel chassis, a welded composite two-piece body and it was built down to a weight. An electric fan motor drove a single speed, belt-driven gearbox and it was steered by handlebars that lay below you, where they were easy and relaxing to reach, an ingenious solution devised by Wood Rogers.

Sinclair C5 engine: you

Sinclair C5

But the main source of drive was not so much the motor as you, and the Sinclair’s big, square pedals. The C5 was simply a tricycle with a part-time 12-volt motor, and it should have been sold that way to avoid disappointment. But marketing it as a tricycle would never have scored the colossal publicity that came its way because it was presented as a car, all of this preceded by the usual pre-launch fanfare.

Spin it any way you like, but the Sinclair C5 launch was a disaster. Problem one was that it took place on January 10 1985, the cold not only reducing the range of its puny 12-volt battery but also treating the assembled hacks to the shivering reality of pedalling a C5 in the cold, wind and rain.

Problem two was the location. North London’s Alexandra Palace is an attractive venue, partly because it’s built on a hill. But it didn’t take long for the hacks, serial long-lunchers among them, to discover one of the C5’s many problems.

Hill-climbing often overloaded the motor to the point of cut-out – a state signalled by a forlorn electronic peeping – and when the motor wasn’t overworked a modest gradient would soon flatten the plastic trike’s battery. Some C5s didn’t decimate their batteries – but that was only because they didn’t work at all.

Still, orders came, but at nowhere near the rate needed to absorb the 8000-a-week torrent spilling from Hoover’s Merthyr Tydfil factory. There was plenty of brave talk from Sinclair Vehicles on the fizzing interest in their £399 transport revolution, and how better weather would help sales.

Surging criticism

Sinclair C5

But it wasn’t enough to staunch the surging criticism. Testers found the range was more like 10 miles rather than the claimed 20, and less on a clement day. They felt hugely vulnerable on the road, a feeling undiminished by the optional high-visibility mast, which added to the deep feelings of foolishness that swept over anyone stepping into this pedal-powered plastic bath.

Although that was nothing to the embarrassment you’d feel at fitting – and wearing – the Sinclair’s wet-weather gear, which consisted of fabric panels covering its sides and your legs, and a matching hooded anorak. Putting all this on would have added another 15 minutes to your dismally slow journey, and made you feel almost as humiliated as a naked hotel guest trapped in a lift.

There was no heater – although you’d soon get warm pedalling when the motor stopped whining – there was no reverse gear and it had the turning circle of the trucks threatening to squash it.

Beautifully designed… in parts

Sinclair C5

Examine the C5 in detail, though, and you’ll spot some subtle industrial elegance. It wasn’t a beautiful design, but parts of it were beautifully designed. Gus Desbarats, a Royal College of Art graduate hired to style the C5, later described his contribution as ‘convert[ing] an ugly pointless device into a prettier, safer and more usable pointless device.’

Its pointlessness was proven by the fact that of the 14,000 produced – less than two weeks’ production at full tilt – only 5000 were sold.

Sir Clive Sinclair: deep belief – in the wrong idea

Sinclair C5

The C5 was the product of a man with the means believing deeply in the wrong idea. No more than rudimentary market research would have revealed the C5’s flaws and near uselessness in the harsh environment of a late 20th century road network.

Its vulnerability made a superbike look safe. But perhaps the most powerful killer of C5 sales was that you looked an idiot when driving it. And cars – or bikes – that humiliate their users make a hard, hard sell.

Some might say that the C5 was ahead of its time, but it’s doubtful that a tricycle travelling at snail-speed in the company of artics would be allowed on the road today. It would face the same construction and use troubles impeding the decidedly more brilliant Segway, which isn’t allowed on the road either, but has many more uses.

Curiously, one of those is providing ‘safari’ rides in the grounds of Alexandra Palace.

Ford Mustang review: 2015 first drive

Ford Mustang review: 2015 first drive

The Ford Mustang is finally available in Europe for the first time in its 50-year history. Was it worth the wait? Hell, yeah.

Gavin Braithwaite-Smith | May 2015

The 2.3-litre EcoBoost version of the new Ford Mustang is to the V8 what diet cola is to the real thing. The V8 is the culinary equivalent of a 16oz rump steak. With extra fries.

Make no mistake, the four-cylinder version is no layered salad with a sprinkling of jus. It’s just that once you’ve experienced the full-blooded, full-fat 5.0-litre V8, the entry-level Mustang just feels a bit inadequate. Some authenticity is lost and you’re left feeling a tad unfulfilled.

If this seems unfair on the 2.3-litre Mustang, take some solace in the fact that it’s not a bad car. It’s just that it feels a little more soft-focus, especially in convertible form as tested here. Such a label could never be attached to the V8, which is 100% hardcore.

It’s worth pointing out that our experience in the four-cylinder Mustang was limited to the convertible version, which is always going to feel more boulevard cruiser than B-road bruiser. Indeed, at £32,995, the Mustang EcoBoost convertible is a surprisingly affordable way to enjoy the levels of attention usually reserved for celebrities.

Ford Mustang review: 2015 first drive

On the streets of the some immaculately presented Bavarian towns and villages, the Ford Mustang caused quite a stir. A schoolboy wandering home from school elbowed his mate and gestured across to the slice of Americana roaming through his hometown. A commuter in a Passat quite literally stopped his car in the middle of the road to grab a photo on his smartphone. Other people simply smiled, while some gave us the full thumbs up. We even got a wave from an excitable blonde lady in a fifth generation Mustang. You tend to attract gestures of a different kind in an Audi S5.

So if Ford is looking for kerb appeal – which, of course, it is – the chaps in Michigan can consider it a job well done. Indeed, UK buyers must like what they see because 1,200 customers have pre-ordered a new Ford Mustang without even driving one. Such is the initial demand, if you placed an order today you’d have to wait until April 2016 to get behind the wheel. That said, we’ve waited 50 years to get our hands on a European-spec, right-hand drive Mustang, so what’s another few months?

It’s all too easy to get lost in the positive glow that surrounds the Ford Mustang. The original pony car joins an elite group of cars that are known around the world simply by their ‘surname’. And yes, we may have been guilty of being overawed by the sense of occasion. But hey, we’re enthusiasts too and being amongst the first of a small group of journalists to drive the first European Mustang is kind of a big deal.

What’s the Ford Mustang Convertible 2.3 Ecoboost like to drive?

What’s the Ford Mustang like to drive?

We started with the Mustang convertible – the hors d’oeuvres prior to the V8 main course.

That said, the first impressions are very good. There was always a concern that the Mustang’s perceived bargain basement price tag would be reflected by a low-rent interior, but that’s not true. Sure, it’s not the last word in quality, but it’s on a par with other Fords. Even the cheap-feeling aircraft-style toggle switches and the slightly strange heater controls seem in keeping with the Mustang’s overall style. And the ’Since 1964’ badge is a constant reminder – to the passenger at least – that the Mustang has a bucket-load of heritage resting on its shoulders.

Twisting the roof-mounted lever and pressing the associated button sees the windows lowering and roof disappearing within a few seconds. Now you can enjoy the full glory of the 2.3-litre, four-cylinder EcoBoost engine. Or then again…

In fairness, Ford has done a good job of creating an artificial soundtrack to pump into the cabin. For the most part, it sounds good and you could question whether you’d miss the burble of the all-American V8. But occasionally it sounds out of step with the real engine note, shattering any illusions you may have had. The Mustang just can’t lip-sync with the best of them.

The jury is also out as to whether it’s a pleasant sound. Some people we spoke to liked it, others simply hated it. Some said it sounded better inside the cabin, others thought it was better from the roadside. Our conclusion? Try it for yourself.

Ford Mustang review: 2015 first drive

The engine itself will be used to power the all-new Ford Focus RS – hardly sloppy seconds territory. In the Mustang it produces 309hp and 320lb ft of torque, so it’s no slouch. It’s enough to propel the Mustang along at a pretty decent lick and the power is delivered in a smooth, almost creamy manner.

For the most part, the Mustang Convertible is a relaxed and feel-good type of car. The six-speed short-throw gearbox is a delight to use and you sit low in the cabin, hugged by a pair of wonderful Recaro seats. It’s only when you decide to take the Mustang by the scruff of the neck that it starts to throw a wobbly.

Chuck it into a corner and the body starts to flex and roll, even with the extra stiffness Ford claims to have applied to the European Mustang. There’s a definite knack involved with driving the Mustang Convertible, with a strong emphasis on smooth and controlled inputs. Boulevards are meant for cruising and you’ll need to remember that. Switching the steering and driving modes to Sport improves things immeasurably and should be the default setting. It’s just a shame the driving mode reverts to Normal each time you turn off the engine.

Few people will want to tackle a German Autobahn at speeds well in excess of 100mph with the roof down, but should you want to, it is possible. As you’d expect, there’s a fair amount of buffeting at motorway speeds, but it’s still possible to hold a conversation. Most of the time you’ll be talking about the bonnet, which – no matter what Mustang you’re driving – rises up and starts to shake. The first time this happened we were forced to take an Ausfahrt, concerned we were about to see the well-sculpted bonnet disappear over the roof before landing on the Audi A6 behind.

By the end of day one we felt we had explored all there is to explore in the Mustang Convertible. A slow crawl around the well-manicured banks of Lake Tegernsee suited the mood. A four-cylinder convertible Mustang is the soft-focus pony car we thought it might be. But it simply cannot hold a candle to the V8 version.

What about the Ford Mustang Fastback 5.0 V8?Ford Mustang review: 2015 first drive

First impressions are very, very good. The Mustang fastback manages to eclipse the convertible in the style department, being well proportioned and offering just enough hints of the original Mustang of 1964. Pressing the start button stirs the 412hp 5.0-litre engine into life and the entire car seems to shake with anticipation. You can’t help but smile.

This feels like the real deal. Weirdly, the huge amount of power available at your right foot seems to increase the width of the car, probably because you know that even the slightest input could unleash hellish fury. But it’s not the untamed jackhammer you might think. It’s actually possible to drive this V8 Mustang with restraint.

The 0-62mph time of 4.8 seconds tells you all you need to know about the Mustang’s off-the-line potency and there’s a selection of ’Track Apps’ – such as Launch Control and Line Lock – to help you get the best start in life. But the way in which the Mustang V8 switches from brutish to relaxed is to be applauded. You could live with the Mustang GT on a daily basis, assuming you can stomach the 20.8mpg.

What’s the Ford Mustang 2.3-litre Ecoboost convertible like to drive?

Everything feels better in the V8. The soundtrack is – unsurprisingly – more authentic, the steering feels meatier, the ride is more composed and the delivery of power is more predictable. It actually takes some effort to get the back end out of line, but the first time you do, it’ll require all your willpower to stop yourself from letting out a ‘yeehaw.’

If you’re looking for razor-sharp dynamics and driving perfection, look elsewhere. The Mustang V8 offers old-school pony car charm, suitably – if not, subtly – updated for 2015. For some reason the gearbox felt more agricultural in our V8-powered Mustang, yet this only added to the appeal. There’s a dollop of driveline shunt served at regular intervals, but again, this seems in keeping with the Mustang’s proposition.

At rest, the Mustang V8 will tick, knock and rattle as it cools down, like a beast following a hard-fought battle. Purposely or otherwise, by retaining some of the Mustang’s imperfections, Ford has managed to create a car with more character. Few cars – at any price – offer a feel-good factor quite like the Mustang V8. You’ll want to drive this again and again. A fact that will see you forming a close bond with your local petrol station, but perhaps not with your bank manager.

Is the Ford Mustang worth the cash?

Is the Ford Mustang worth the cash?

On paper we thought the £32,995 Ford is asking for the V8 fastback was a bargain. Now we’ve driven it we reckon it’s a steal. To say it’s x cheaper than this or y more expensive than that is missing the point. The Mustang doesn’t have any rivals as such. A potential Volkswagen Golf R buyer will still want the Golf. A Cayman buyer will still want a Cayman.

Once the dust has settled and the 1,200 enthusiasts have taken delivery of their new Mustangs, it will be interesting to see how the Mustang will sit in the UK. It’s a car you could use on a daily basis, heck there’s even enough room for two sets of golf clubs in the boot. But you will need to make one or two sacrifices.

The rear seats offer next-to-no legroom, the first-year road tax will cost £1,090 and we reckon you’ll struggle to economy in the mid-teens in the real world. And it’s a definite all or nothing car. By which we mean you’re constantly aware of that V8 engine burbling away in front of you. The novelty could wear off after a while.

Verdict: Ford Mustang (2015)

Verdict: Ford Mustang (2015)

We’d be prepared to take that chance. It may have taken Ford 50 years to give us a Mustang, but perhaps it was just waiting for the right moment. On this evidence, it was worth the wait.

The pedants among you will have noticed we’ve used the word ‘feel’ on no fewer than 11 occasions in this review. Thats comes as no surprise, because this is a feel-good car. You will order a Ford Mustang for emotional, often irrational reasons. Nobody needs to buy a Mustang, but spend time behind the wheel of a V8-powered Mustang and you’ll wonder if you’ll be able to live without one. It makes you feel special, in a way few cars costing sub £100k can do.

Its imperfections simply add to its appeal. And if that feels like us trying to justify its all-round brilliance, so be it. Just do yourself a favour and order a V8 fastback. The Americans will salute you for it.

Rivals: Ford Mustang (2015)

  • Vauxhall VXR8 GTS
  • Audi TT RS
  • BMW 435i
  • Audi S5
  • Jaguar F-Type

Does the Ford Mustang really have any true rivals? Many people will find it appealing for the way it makes them feel, almost as much as the way it actually drives. For the money, it’s almost hard to beat. In fact, you could increase the price further and it wouldn’t lose any of its charm. So producing a list of rivals will depend on whether you’re looking to pose or hoping to do a few tracks days. Equally, it will depend on whether you want a fastback or convertible.

Specification: Ford Mustang (2015)

Engine 2.3-litre four-cylinder or 5.0-litre V8

Gearbox 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic

Price £28,995 – £38,495

Power 309hp – 412hp

Torque 320lb ft – 386lb ft

0-62mph 4.8 – 5.8 seconds

Top speed 145 – 155mph

MPG 20.8 – 35.3

CO2 179 – 306g/km

Mini John Cooper Works 2015 first drive

MINI John Cooper Works 2015 first drive

Mini John Cooper Works 2015 first drive

The new MINI John Cooper Works is an absolute boon. If you can justify the cost, the most focused MINI ever could be a hoot to drive every day.

Andrew Brady | May 2015

Put aside any preconceived ideas you may have about MINIs being cutesy and adorable. This is a MINI that’s been tweaked by MINI’s John Cooper Works division, to produce 231hp from its 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged engine.

That makes the third-generation MINI JCW the most powerful production MINI ever. It boasts a mighty 39hp more than the regular Cooper S (no slouch itself), and 20hp more than its predecessor.

It’s not just power that it’s gained. The MINI JCW looks the part too – front fog lights have been dropped in favour of extra cooling, while the honeycomb grille and red ‘move over’ blade suggests this is hotter than your regular Cooper S.

What’s the MINI John Cooper Works like to drive?

Mini John Cooper Works 2015 first drive

MINI has successfully given one of the best-handling superminis more power and made it even more of a riot to drive.

This is a car that pops when you lift off, a car that farts when it changes up a gear (we tried it in six-speed Steptronic auto form – manual versions will follow later in the year). Despite totally 21st century power figures, this is an utterly old-school hot hatch, in the way it snubs practicality in favour of a car that’s a genuine giggle to drive.

With its launch control system, the automatic MINI JCW will hit 62mph in 6.1 seconds. Despite putting the entirety of its power through its front wheels, the grip it has is impressive, with only a hint of old-school torque steer.

This is helped by an electronic torque vectoring system which shuns a mechanical limited slip diff in favour of using the brakes to control power between the front wheels. Press hard on the loud pedal mid-corner and you’ll see how well this system works, the JCW finding more grip rather than running wide in a traditional front-wheel-drive manner.

While many snub the thoughts of auto hot hatches, the MINI’s six-speed ‘box has been tweaked so it can be driven like a proper manual. By that, we don’t mean a clutch pedal emerges the second you slide the lever into manual mode, but the paddles give you total control. Unlike most, it’ll hold onto the gear you’ve requested until you tell it to change up, even it means bouncing off the rev limiter.

Put aside any thoughts of turbocharged engines being a compromise, too – with peak torque available as low as 1,250 revs, the lag is all but unnoticeable. MINI is proud that it’ll accelerate from 50-75mph in 5.6 seconds – faster than a Porsche 911 Carrera S, making it ideal for overtaking.

02_mini_JCW

Usually taking a road car such as this on track soon reveals its inadequacies as it starts to feel out of its depth, but the MINI JCW is utterly focused and capable of putting on a good show at your local track day, if you so wish.

We attempted a slalom course on Goodwood’s test track, and it puts into context just how well the MINI JCW handles. Its nose tucks in at speeds much faster than you’d expect from a front-wheel drive hatch, while the rear-end proves to be pleasingly mobile.

This translates into a road car that exudes confidence in the bends – the harder you push it, the happier the JCW seems, helped by positively-heavy steering giving a good level of feedback (although, as is often the case, we’d like just that little bit more).

The brakes also encourage you to make progress – 330mm Brembo discs on the front make light work of stopping the 1,205kg hatch.

It rides well, too – firm, perhaps, but far from uncomfortable, even with the optional 18-inch alloys of our test car. The £240 adaptive dampers (also fitted) perhaps helped here – normal mode is a decent compromise for bumpy B-roads, while putting them in sport stiffens them up for track.

Can the MINI JCW do the sensible stuff?

03_mini_JCW

The MINI JCW is remarkably good to drive then, even on track, without being too firm or focussed for everyday road use.

But you don’t just get a brilliant driving experience for your money. The interior is premium, yet interesting, in an utterly MINI way (pay attention, Audi). This is true across the board where MINIs are concerned – they all feel special, and ooze quality. But this top-speccer has a number of special JCW to see where your money’s gone.

The seats are trimmed in Dinamica (like Alcantara but not Alcantara), as MINI decided leather seats would be too slippery. There’s a smattering of JCW logos around the cabin to remind you that this isn’t your run-of-the-mill MINI, but if you want luxuries such as sat nav or a reversing camera, you’ll have to pay extra for it.

Practicality isn’t its strong point, either – kids might be happy in the back seats for long journeys, but we suspect it wouldn’t be long before they started complaining of travel sickness. The boot isn’t huge, and access isn’t the easiest. But that’s not what this car’s about.

Verdict: MINI John Cooper Works (2015)

Mini John Cooper Works 2015 first drive

We touched at money, now let’s get down to figures. The MINI JCW will set you back £23,050 with the manual gearbox, or £24,380 with the six-speed auto.

That’s a lot for a MINI. And by the time you start to add options, you could easily spec one up to over £30,000.

But, it’s quite simply class-leading. Its nearest competitor is the Audi S1, which starts at £26,155. For the extra couple of grand you get four-wheel drive, but the S1 just isn’t as playful as the MINI.

The JCW isn’t as practical as those a size-up, such as the Ford Focus ST and Volkswagen Golf GTI, but it aces them in terms of performance. It’s also cheaper and arguably more playful.

If you’re justifying on spending such a serious amount of money on a MINI, have a look in the classifieds and see what used examples of the previous model are going for. Thanks to its iconic image, its residual values are rock solid.

You’ll either ‘get’ this hot MINI, or not. But we totally get it, and love how it manages to combine new technology with a desirable image, premium interior with an old-school hot hatch feel. Our only regret is not being able to drive one with a manual gearbox – most buyers will choose one over the auto, and we reckon it’ll be the icing on the JCW cake.

Rivals: MINI John Cooper Works (2015)

  • Audi S1
  • Ford Fiesta ST
  • Nissan Juke R
  • Vauxhall Corsa VXR
  • Volkswagen Golf GTI

The Audi S1 is the MINI JCW’s closest competitor, although it’s four-wheel drive and just not as fun. The Ford Fiesta ST is cheaper, has the fun factor by the bucketload, but not as premium. As a crossover the Nissan Juke R isn’t there dynamically, but it’s an interesting alternative. Like the Fiesta the Vauxhall Corsa VXR isn’t as premium and lacks the performance to really compete. The Volkswagen Golf GTI is bigger and more grown up, but would be more practical for families.

Specification: MINI John Cooper Works (2015)

Engine turbocharged, four-cylinder 2.0-litre

Gearbox Six-speed manual, six-speed Steptronic automatic

Price from £23,050

Power 231hp

Torque 236lb/ft

0-62mph 6.1-6.3 seconds

Top speed 153mph

MPG 42.2-49.6mpg

CO2 133-155g/km