Ford Scorpio

Great Motoring Disasters: Ford Scorpio

Ford ScorpioFord knew it had a problem. How it got to have this problem is a little harder to understand.

But in the few remaining months before the 1994 Scorpio’s launch, Ford’s communications machine realised that it must try to adjust the media’s minds – and fast.

What it had to talk up, explain or at worst excuse, was the look of the company’s new big car. Of which a few scoop pictures had appeared in the press, and with them some uncomfortably acidic words.

Before all this, the Granada had been a comfortably familiar machine, the population well used to the bold, almost Citroen-esque car that arrived in 1985. This smooth-nosed, curve-windowed hatchback was an arresting contrast to the quietly handsome, square-jawed Granada that had gone before, but the public was better prepared for the shock of the Blue Oval’s new, the jarring arrival of the Sierra three years earlier thoroughly softening their senses.

Ford Scorpio

The Granada sold well, its near-spectacular cabin space, comfortable ride and hatchback practicality winning sales, as did its standard-fit ABS anti-lock brakes and a long toy list. Those unable to adjust to its hatchback silhouette were eventually offered a saloon.

The birth of the Scorpio

But by the mid-’90s the Granada needed renewing. Ford had already performed one light facelift and should really have been replacing the car completely given its age. But the market for executive models for mainstream makers was dying, so Ford chose a light mechanical upgrade and a reskin instead. With came a rebadging to Scorpio, this name used for the high-end Granadas in Britain and the entire model line-up elsewhere.

The word ‘reskin’, however, doesn’t really describe the transformation that was effected. The usual battery of words from the designer’s lexicon, like ‘stance’, ‘dynamic’, ‘looks like it’s moving when it’s standing still’, ‘proportion’ and ‘muscular’ didn’t really do it either.

Instead, you had to reach for adjectives used to describe some of the less winsome of earth’s creatures, the Ford Scorpio resembling something that David Attenborough might reveal from a dank cave in Borneo. Especially Ford’s front-end, which your eyes would irresistibly be drawn to before your brain fought over whether to focus upon the globular triangles of its headlights, or the reptilian gurn of its grille.

Ford Scorpio

With a face like this, the new Scorpio’s oddly fat flanks were easy to pass over until you arrived at a plump rear-end resembling a giant cushion. Decorating it like an ill-chosen necklace was a gratuitously narrow strip of chrome-capped lights. Apart from the uncertain use of glitter, this was a tail that seemed to have little in common with the Scorpio’s nose beyond the doors that joined them.

Which prompted many to mouth that old cliché about the car’s front-end being designed by people who had never allowed anywhere near its rear.


Ford Scorpio

So, the new Scorpio was gargoyle-ugly. And all of a sudden the press was going to be shown the car, months before any test-drives, in an effort to persuade them that black was actually white. The (re) education was to take place at Ford’s Cologne engineering and design centre.

New European design boss Fritz Mayhew, who defended the car stoutly despite having no hand in it, kicked the proceedings off. And he gave the assembled hacks, your reporter included, an interesting and very plausible account of where car design had been heading during the past decade. Which was towards a uniformly bland, identikit look with grilleless noses, flat flanks and rounded corners that made loads of European cars – Fords included, although he didn’t say that – look two-dimensional rather than three. And he was not wrong.

Prescient Ford?

The antidote to this, Mayhew reckoned, would be the re-emergence of the radiator grille – as per the facelifted Rover 800 now outselling the Granada – the dawn of more sculptural lamps and the return of chrome. Mayhew was right about all of this – these trends are still in vogue today – and he was right about the shift towards the more sculptural, less blocky dashboards that he also forecast.

Ford Scorpio

Then came a quick-fire sequence of pictures of handsome classic cars, each with distinctive grilles. Surprisingly, given what the 800 was doing to Granada sales, the first of these was of a Rover P5, followed by an Austin-Healey 3000, a Bristol 401, a Jaguar XK120, a Facel Vega and an Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider.

There was much admiration in the room for Ford’s willingness to acknowledge the existence of good design from other car-makers, something that big corporations can rarely bring themselves to do. But admiration was in short supply when the new Scorpio was unveiled, mostly to looks of wonderment. And not of the positive kind.

Ford Scorpio

But you couldn’t argue with the design’s content. The new Scorpio was distinctive rather than Euro-clone in its looks. It had a face, it had chrome and it had a strikingly curvaceous dashboard, though much of this was filled with nasty ‘Timberlex’ wood rather than the aluminium that Ford’s designers had presciently reckoned it should flaunt.

Sales: a struggle

Mayhew considered the Scorpio a signpost towards a newly individual design trend for Ford rather than a breakthrough look, even if this was a worryingly unpromising start. The Scorpio proved worryingly unpromising in the showroom too, the new car struggling to sell despite a considerable improvement in the way it drove down the road.

Ford Scorpio

Ford’s designers gave it one more tweak, darkening its headlights to make it look less bug-eyed two years before it death in 1998.

Yet despite its unsettling aesthetics, the Scorpio previewed a rich era for Ford styling, the company’s adventurous New Edge design philosophy producing ground-breakers that included the 1996 Ford Ka and the 1998 Focus. The success of these soon eclipsed the embarrassment of the Scorpio.

Volkswagen Golf Alltrack review: 2015 first drive

Volkswagen Golf Alltrack review: 2015 first drive

Volkswagen Golf Alltrack review: 2015 first drive

The Volkswagen Golf Alltrack is a lot like a Golf… except it can go places you wouldn’t normally bother. Starting at a steep £26,790, that extra 20mm of ground clearance and four-wheel-drive system better be important to you.

Andrew Brady | April 2015

Ever wished your Volkswagen Golf estate had an extra 20mm of ground clearance, four-wheel drive, and a modicum of off-road ability? If so, you’re a rare breed, but Volkswagen has gone there with its latest niche.

The Golf Alltrack follows in the footsteps of the bigger Passat Alltrack. It’s aimed at lifestyle types. Those who want to hack the motorways day in, day out, but at the weekend head up a mountain or hit the beach.

At least that’s what the marketing types would have us believe. But there are clearly buyers out there for this new breed of crossover estates – Volkswagen is simply getting into a market already occupied by Vauxhall, Subaru, Seat and Skoda.

What’s the Volkswagen Golf Alltrack like to drive?


The Volkswagen Golf Alltrack is available in the UK with three power outputs – a 110hp 1.6-litre diesel and a 2.0-litre producing 150hp or 184hp.

We tried it in its most potent 184hp guise – the only engine available with a DSG automatic ’box. That’s the same combination as the Golf GTD – meaning you could argue this is the ultimate, do-everything Golf.

On paper, it’s even faster than the GTD. It’ll hit 62mph in 7.8 seconds (0.1 seconds quicker than its so-called ‘sporty’ diesel brethren), but that’s largely down to shorter gearing optimised for off-roading.

We put the Alltrack through a light off-road test in Spain and found it to be more than capable for the majority of buyers. Light axle-twisters encourage the Alltrack to cock a wheel, while the Haldex coupling acts as a centre diff-lock, combining with electronic diff-locks on each axle to transfer power to where it’s needed and help you maintain momentum.

Setting the driver profile to off-road mode, however, numbs the throttle response, making it hard to gauge just how much right foot you need to clear obstacles. It’s a minor complaint, but not an issue we noticed under similar conditions in the Seat Leon X-Perience.

The hill-descent system is particularly effective – allowing you to take your feet away from the pedals and let the car brake itself down hills at speeds close to standstill.

Another feature of its off-road profile is a modified ABS configuration, which allows the wheels to lock up to a degree and allow a wedge of gravel or mud to build in front of the front wheels to aid braking.

While we imagine the majority of Alltrack buyers will have a genuine reason to go off-road occasionally (farmers, or those living in rural areas, for instance), most will spend the majority of their time on the road.

On-road, it handles like a Golf estate, with little evidence that you’ve picked the off-road version. Sure, there might be a hint of body roll over the regular model, but it’s not as evident as a full-sized off-roader.

Sporty it is not, however. Despite what it says in the stats below, the short gearing means even the 184hp turbodiesel seems to soon run out of puff. We expect, thanks to the weight of the four-wheel drive system, lesser models might be a bit of a chore when it comes to overtaking.

One advantage of the extra ride height is the improved ride quality – it soaks up bumps remarkably well, and even gravel roads at speeds of 30-40mph are smoothened out nicely.

Should I buy a Volkswagen Golf Alltrack?


The issue with the Volkswagen Golf Alltrack is the competition it faces – particularly from within VW Group.

The Seat Leon Alltrack offers a very similar driving experience for less money (£24,385 versus £26,790) – as does the Skoda Octavia Scout (£25,530).

A lot of it comes down to image. Volkswagen is slightly more upmarket than its cheaper rivals, and that means it’s a little more discreet about its off-road ability.

That’s particularly true inside, where there’s little evidence that this is the Alltrack model rather than the regular GT it’s based on.

That’s not a criticism, as the interior feels upmarket, with comfortable seats finished in unique Alltrack cloth centres and Alcantara side bolsters.

But if you’re forking out this kind of money on a crossover estate car as a lifestyle statement, it might be a little too discreet for your tastes.

Practicality is good, though. Its boot is the same as the regular Golf estate – 605 litres. And it’s capable of lugging trailer loads of up to 2,000kg – perfect for caravanners who want to venture into the occasional muddy field.


Verdict: Volkswagen Golf Alltrack (2015)

The Volkswagen Golf Alltrack is exactly how you’d expect a four-wheel-drive, off-road Golf estate to be.

It’s capable, frugal and good to drive. We found the 184hp turbodiesel to be adequate, but little more, meaning the lesser-powered units may struggle to cope with the extra weight of the four-wheel-drive system.

If you can justify the very slight reduction in economy and performance, living with the Alltrack isn’t a big compromise. Certainly not compared to a full-size off-roader.

Rivals: Volkswagen Golf Alltrack (2015)

  • SEAT Leon X-Perience
  • Skoda Octavia Scout
  • Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer
  • Subaru Outback
  • Nissan Qashqai

The SEAT Leon X-Perience and Skoda Octavia Scout both share a platform with the Golf Alltrack, so are obviously very similar. Both are cheaper, however, yet seem to shout a bit more about their off-roadability. The Vauxhall Insignia is larger and more of a rival to the Passat Alltrack, but starts at nearly £2,000 less than the Golf. It’s a similar story for the £27,995 Subaru Outback, and while the Nissan Qashqai is more of a crossover it is available with four-wheel drive.

Specification: Volkswagen Golf Alltrack (2015)

Engine 1.6 – 2.0-litre turbodiesel
Gearbox Six-speed manual, six-speed DSG
Price from £26,790
Power 110 – 184hp
Torque 185 – 280lb/ft
0-62mph 7.8 – 12.1 seconds
Top speed 136mph
MPG 56.5 – 58.9mpg
CO2 124 – 132g/km

Hyundai Genesis review: 2015 UK first drive

Hyundai Genesis review: 2015 UK first drive

Hyundai Genesis review: 2015 UK first drive

Hyundai’s new super-saloon holds strong appeal, but you’d be mad if you spent your own money on one.

Gavin Braithwaite-Smith | May 2015

It’s impossible to talk about the Hyundai Genesis without first mentioning the elephant in the room that is the price. And boy what a sizeable elephant it is. Because the Hyundai Genesis costs – wait for it – £48,005. We’ll let that figure sink in for a moment.

Whichever way you look at it, that’s a sizeable wad of cash. You could get a fully loaded Santa Fe Premium and an i10 for that amount of money and still walk away with some change. And we won’t mention the fact that the Genesis costs $38,000 in the US, the equivalent of £25,000 in the UK.

But then the price is almost irrelevant. As Hyundai readily admits, the Genesis may struggle to find even a few hundred homes. Instead, think of the Genesis as one giant 3.8-litre business card. In more ways than one, the Genesis is Hyundai’s S-Class. What you see on the Genesis today, you can expect to find on the likes of the i20 and i30 tomorrow. Well, maybe not the 3.8-litre engine and rear-wheel drive.

It’s therefore curious to find that the Genesis wears surprisingly few Hyundai badges. There are a couple of references on the boot lid, but on the door sills, steering wheel, bonnet and centre caps, it’s all about the Genesis. It’s a nice enough badge, almost Aston Martin or Bentley in style, but shouldn’t a giant advertisement make more references to the brand it’s promoting?

At 4,990mm in length and 1,890mm wide, it fits somewhere between a 5 or 7 Series in terms of size, which means it’s a formidable thing to chuck along a British B-road or through a quaint Buckinghamshire village. Make no mistake, you will get noticed. The Hyundai Genesis turns heads with the best of them.

Our test car turned out to be owned by the president of Hyundai UK, who had the sense to spec it in gangster-style Onyx Black. Other colours are available, but you won’t be able to do a passable impression of a Korean Jason Statham in those. So you should stick with black. Oh, and don’t get carried away with the options list, because – aside from the choice of seven exterior colours and three interior trims – there isn’t one. Hyundai has taken an American-style all-you-can-eat-buffet approach to the specification.

It would be easier to list the things the Genesis doesn’t have. You name it, the Genesis has probably got it. Hyundai is keen to showcase the safety features, such as the active bonnet, lane keeping assist, emergency brake assist, around view monitor and blind spot detection. Naturally, the car is covered by Hyundai’s five-year warranty. Although that doesn’t cover you against sudden and rapid depreciation…

What’s the Hyundai Genesis like to drive?

02_Hyundai_Genesis_Motoring Research

Pretty much as you’d expect a barge-like Hyundai to drive. Once you’ve stopped grinning from ear-to-ear at the sheer grandeur of the thing (obscure Hyundai reference there), you step over the Genesis-inscribed sills and settle down behind the wheel. Press the start button and the electric seat and steering wheel automatically adjust to your favoured position. The car then plays an annoying Intel-style jingle as the V6 roars into life.

Slip the leather lever into Drive, press the gas pedal and the electric parking brake releases, allowing you to slip elegantly away. At first it’s rather quiet, with only a gentle hum emanating from the V6 engine. In fact, the loudest sound is that of the car park gravel being crunched beneath the 19-inch rims. The ambience is one of pure luxury car, to the point where you can even hear your hands fidgeting around the leather steering wheel. Insert clichéd ‘still want that S-Class’ question here.

The shifts up and down through the eight gears are smooth and almost unnoticeable. You can choose to use the steering wheel-mounted paddles and again, the changes are wonderfully smooth. In fact, you could probably drive the Genesis all day and discover it would never break into sweat.

Of course, the temptation to press the loud pedal is ever-present when you’re at the wheel of a V6-engined rear-wheel drive saloon, so as soon as we were out of earshot, we did the right thing. Tyres screeching away from a junction (sorry, Mr President) and with the 3.8-litre engine playing beautiful tunes out of the twin exhausts, the Genesis lived up to its 0-62 sprint time in, ooh, 6.5 seconds. But had we discovered a new performance hero?

Er, no. While it makes all the right noises and feels very well balanced, you’re under the constant impression that the Genesis would prefer to waft than to entertain. If you’ll excuse the inevitable reference to Messrs Gabriel, Rutherford and Collins, it’s more power ballad than prog-rock. Hey, we did manage to get to paragraph 12 before mentioning Richard Hammond’s favourite band.

Even with the driving mode set to sport, the air suspension wants to cushion you. There’s virtually no feeling of being connected to the road, either through the supremely comfortable leather seats, the steering wheel or the throttle pedal. For a while it’s a lot of fun hurtling down a B-road, resisting the temptation to do your best impression of The Stath. But after an hour or two the novelty would definitely wear off.

And it’s not as though the ride is perfect, either. The Genesis is easily unsettled and the vague steering can make road positioning a bit of a lottery. Which isn’t great when you’re at the wheel of something this large. Instead, you’re better off settling back into the armchair-like comfort of the Genesis, choosing between electronically-cooled or heated seats, turning on the heated steering wheel and listening to Magic FM.

Can the Hyundai Genesis justify its hefty price tag?

03_Hyundai_Genesis_Motoring Research

Of course it can’t. It sticks out like a sore thumb on the Hyundai website and most people will think the price is a misprint. But is the price a reason to dismiss the Hyundai Genesis as an expensive folly? Not at all. Think of it more as a glimpse into Hyundai’s future. The price is essentially meaningless and totally irrelevant. To Hyundai, the Genesis is a non-executive director, wheeled in to sprinkle some magic over the board.

Judged on that criteria, the Genesis is a credible and immensely likeable machine. Aside from some minor details, such as the choice of plastic on the centre of the steering wheel and top of the steering column, the interior quality is first rate. The doors shut with a reassuring thud, everything is well finished and it’s refreshing to find Hyundai has resisted the temptation to put all the controls on the 8-inch touchscreen. In fact, the four control knobs on the centre stack have a premium feel to them, something you’d never get with a touchscreen.

The full-length sunroof does encroach on the amount of headroom, but the way in which the sunroof and rear window blind open and close will please those with Alan Partridge-levels of appreciation for such things. Tiny details matter, right? We could argue the analogue clock feels like a bit of an afterthought and the touchscreen display looks a bit dated, but we’d be nitpicking.

Not that you can nitpick about the running costs. After a morning of what we suspect was enthusiastic driving at the hands of some journalists, the fuel gauge was reading just below a quarter full. Hyundai claims the Genesis will return 25.2mpg on a combined cycle, so bank on something closer to 20mpg. Then there’s the CO2 emissions. A figure of 261g/km puts it in band M. That’ll be £1,100 for the first year, followed by £505 for each year after. Ouch.

Verdict: Hyundai Genesis (2015)

04_Hyundai_Genesis_Motoring Research

So what would we pay for the Hyundai Genesis? It’s a throwaway question, because Hyundai is being totally honest about its intentions for this car, but it’s an important consideration. Our gut instinct is £30,000, maybe £35,000. At that price it pitches it against a top-spec Skoda Superb and an entry-level BMW 5-Series. In both cases, the Genesis could hold its own as an interesting alternative. Let’s be honest, it’s a handsome looking machine.

Sadly, the spectre of depreciation will be forever hanging over the Genesis owner. Remember the Hyundai Grandeur? Of course you don’t, but in 2006 you could buy one for £27,000. Few people did and nobody really wants to own a secondhand one. The game has moved on considerably since the Grandeur and the Genesis sits in a different league. But large saloons from the Far East don’t have a good track record for rock-solid residuals here in the UK.

But let’s not start and end with the elephant in the room. Be glad the Hyundai Genesis is here. With the demise of the Chrysler 300C, it’s the only car for you if you want four doors, rear-wheel drive, a big petrol engine and a overwhelming sense of Americana. And you’ll even get a supersize five-year warranty. Do you want fries with that?

Rivals: Hyundai Genesis 2015

  • Mercedes E-Class
  • BMW 5 Series
  • Audi A6
  • Skoda Superb
  • Hyundai Santa Fe + Hyundai i10

Does the Hyundai Genesis actually have any direct rivals in the UK? Probably not. The price is pitched far too high for it to mount a serious challenge to the Germans and even a Skoda Superb would make more sense. Instead, we’d suggest ranking it alongside the Citroen C6, Volkswagen Passat W8 and Volkswagen Phaeton as expensive curios that hold strong appeal, but you’d never want to spend your own money on them.

Specification: Hyundai Genesis (2015)

Engine 3.8-litre V6
Gearbox 8-speed automatic
Price £48,005
Power 311hp
Torque 293lb @ 5,000rpm
0-62mph 6.5 seconds
Top speed 150mph
MPG 25.2mpg
CO2 261g/km

DVLA to rake in millions through premium rate phone line following licence changes

DVLA to make millions through premium phone line for licence checks

DVLA to rake in millions through premium rate phone line following licence changes

The DVLA could make millions through its premium rate phone line from companies calling to check driving licences, following the scrapping of paper counterparts from next month.

Instead of the paper counterpart licence, drivers will be able to share their record through a complicated online code system that requires the driver to know their national insurance number, postcode and driving licence number.

But car dealers, garages, hire car companies and businesses that need to check driving licences will have to call a premium phone number set up by the DVLA if the customer hasn’t already shared their details online.

This phone number costs 51p per minute, and calls are expected to rise to an estimated 10 million annual calls, compared to the 2.5 million it currently receives.

With 10,000 people borrowing courtesy cars or taking test drives every day in the UK, it could make for an ‘administrative nightmare’ according to dealer solutions provider, Cooper Solutions.

Director Dean Pipitone said: “The DVLA has developed a secure online checking option for the motor industry (ADD). However, this has significant set-up costs, subsequent annual charges and substantial look-up fees.

“While getting rid of the paper part of the licence is a sensible move in theory, in practice its abolition could cause frustration for drivers and motor dealers who have not considered this issue prior to June 8th.”

The paper driving licence will be axed from June 8 2015. It follows the scrapping of the tax disc as the DVLA streamlines its services.

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BMW 116d EfficientDynamics Plus 2015

BMW 116d EfficientDynamics Plus: 2015 first drive

BMW 116d EfficientDynamics Plus 2015It’s a big plus for the BMW 116d EfficientDynamics Plus, which proves that creating an 83mpg 1 Series by dropping in a MINI diesel engine really can work.

Richard Aucock | April 2015

When BMW invented EfficientDynamics, we didn’t quite know what we were in for. MPG and CO2 black magic, that’s what. Consistently, BMWs outpoint rivals for economy and emissions, despite also toppling them for power and performance. We know from testing they’re equally good out on the road. It’s wizardry, that’s what it is.

Belatedly, BMW’s rivals have caught up with the eco performance of its range green star, the 116d EfficientDynamics. 99g/km and 74.3mpg is no longer quite the wow it once was: Audi’s matched it with the A3 and, with the A 180 CDI, Mercedes-Benz has actually gone 1g/km CO2 better.

The wizards in Munich weren’t having that. So, as part of the big 1 Series facelift, they’ve overhauled the 116d ED, upping economy further and chopping CO2 by a similar amount. Welcome to the 116d EfficientDynamics Plus. That’s plus mpg but minus CO2. How does 89g/km and 83.1mpg sound to you?

Sound impossible? Not so – not that BMW’s found it straightforward, mind. Its existing 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel certainly wasn’t able to go so low. So, instead, it’s installed a 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbodiesel instead – the same engine, no less, as found in a MINI Cooper D.

Yes, a three-cylinder BMW.

They’ll be making front-wheel drive BMWs next, you’re thinking (actually, they already are). But let’s not panic too much: the MINI-engine’d 1er still matches the old ED model with 116hp, and performance is passable with 0-62mph in 10.4 seconds.

Oh, and each cylinder is actually bigger than the old 1.6-litre, at a healthy 500c each. That’s because this is BMW’s new modular engine – so you can genuinely say it’s half a 3.0-litre straight six. Kudos is kudos.

Now the 1 Series is so much prettier, with its crisper nose, broader rear and higher quality cabin, it’s a considerably more appealing alternative to Audi A3s and Mercedes-Benz A-Class in showrooms. Can it carry this extra appeal out onto the road?

What’s the BMW 116d EfficientDynamics Plus like to drive?

BMW 116d EfficientDynamics Plus 2015

There’s something immediately very appealing about the new 1 Series ED plus: it ‘feels’ like a very efficient, friction-free, low-energy car. And the little engine is key to this. Don’t be worried by the startup shudder and trace of three-cylinder vibes at a cold idle, because that’s about as pulsating as this engine gets. Most of the time, it’s very smooth and well oiled indeed.

It doesn’t make anything like the noise of the old four-cylinder motor, and the support of turbo torque makes it a loyal partner so long as you’ve got more than 1,500rpm on the tacho. Despite 199lb ft of torque, you’d hardly call it fast, but it rarely feels ‘downsized’. It works rather well.

Only above 3,500rpm does it start to clatter, but even this is a higher-pitched castanet rattle rather than something more industrial. There’s not much point in revving it anyway, despite its impressive smoothness: snicking into a higher gear taps into the richness of torque and feels better.

For a supposed economy special, the rear-wheel drive 1 Series ED is pleasingly dynamic. There’s never the power to really exploit its rear-drive chassis, but a well set up chassis gives more pointy poise than its rivals but with a taut but very well damped and harshness-free ride in the background.

And because there’s much less weight on the nose, it actually feels a bit more pure and precise than higher-powered versions. It’s more of a fingertips BMW, with clean feedback and satisfying manners – efficient, friction-free and low-energy, in fact.

It’s the driver’s eco-special car, alright.

Can the BMW out-eco the Golf Bluemotion?

BMW 116d EfficientDynamics Plus 2015

Despite its improvements, the BMW can’t quite match Volkswagen’s remarkable Golf Bluemotion for fuel economy and CO2: the Golf does 88.3mpg and 85g/km, the BMW returns 83.1mpg and 89g/km. They’re closely matched on 0-62mph though, at around 10.5 seconds, and the BMW’s marginal power and torque advantage may prove useful.

They’re surprisingly closely matched on price: £21,500 for the Golf, £1,000 more for the BMW – which does have a few spec advantages and will also come with standard sat nav later this year.

Of course, in terms of space, you’ll still err towards the highly practical Golf. The BMW’s low-slung driving position feels great but it also feels more compact, and the rear is only just acceptable for adults – they’ll grumble far sooner in there than the Golf, which probably won’t rouse any mumbles at all.

You’ll never believe the BMW has a 360-litre boot, but the Golf’s 380-litre load bay is much more flexible and easy-access.

But when it comes to which eco special you’d rather drive every day, the BMW undoubtedly steers ahead. Partly through the way it steers, yes: it’s satisfying, pleasing and rewarding for drivers despite its planet-saving pretensions.

It’s also (now) that bit more special to sit in and, well, own. The big lift in interior quality of the facelifted car is tangible and it’s tactile in places where the old one was below par. All the controls have a nice, mechanical, well engineered feel that noses it ahead of the itself-immaculate Golf, and there’s still something nice about owning a BMW rather than a VW in this sector.

Factor in styling that you’ll finally no longer be slightly embarrassed by, and the fact nobody’ll guess this is a three-cylinder MINI-motor 83mpg free road tax BMW and, if you don’t need the space, we’d give it the nod over the still slightly hairshirt and eco-compromised Golf Bluemotion.

Verdict: BMW 116d EfficientDynamics Plus (2015)

BMW 116d EfficientDynamics Plus 2015

It’s an impressive car, the most fuel-efficient BMW ever. It’s rather stirring, the thought of it having a little three-cylinder engine from the world’s original city car, but it actually works.

OK, it’s not fast, and it can get caught out if you let revs drop too low – it won’t slug like a bigger engine. It’ll also clatter like marbles if you rev it hard, which itself is rather pointless given the relative lack of power.

But keep it sensible and real world, and it performs far better than you’d ever think a RWD BMW with a three-pot MINI engine would. And, an on-paper 83mpg seems not far removed from the real world, either: even during our very hard-driven road test (well, testing is testing…), the trip computer still showed 50mpg.

It’s the clean, pure, well balanced feel that really makes the latest 116d EfficientDynamics Plus, though. It ‘seems’ cleaner than the old one, with a lovely low-effort, high-feedback feel that’s very modern and suitably premium (and anything but paired-back and eco-spec). We were surprised by it; we also liked it.

Rivals: BMW 116d EfficientDynamics Plus (2015)

  • Audi A3 1.6 TDI
  • Mercedes-Benz C 180 CDI
  • Volkswagen Golf Bluemotion
  • SEAT Leon Ecomotive
  • Nissan Leaf

Specification: BMW 116d EfficientDynamics Plus (2015)

Engine 1.5-litre turbo three-cylinder

Gearbox Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Price from £22,030 (116d EfficientDynamics Plus 3dr)

Power 116hp

Torque 199lb ft

0-62mph 10.4 seconds

Top speed 121mph

MPG 83.1mpg

CO2 89g/km