Jaguar XE 2.0d 180 2015 review

Jaguar XE 2.0d 180 review: 2015 first drive

Jaguar XE 2.0d 180 2015 reviewJaguar vs BMW: it’s now a thing. Because the British-built Jaguar XE delivers, and how. It’s good enough to trade blows with the 3 Series. It might just now be the class-leader.

Richard Aucock | April 2015

The Jaguar XE should be the car that strikes fear into the 3 Series. And if there’s one variant that BMW should be particularly anxious about, it’s this one: the high-volume 2.0-litre turbodiesel, in optimum 180hp guise. For if Jaguar gets this one right, BMW really has got a fight on its hands. Game on, then.

Since we last drove the XE, Jaguar’s been busy polishing all the areas it promised to: engine refinement and interior finish in particular. Shorn of its prototype stickers and now fully on show to the world, the XE certainly looks interesting. Now we’ve got used to the fact it’s not going to be a styling revolution (nor did it ever need to be), it’s possible to appreciate the design for what it is.

Namely, a saloon car with alternative proportions to the three-box norm – the roofline really is coupe-like, window graphics bold and, in elegantly-formed aluminium and steel, body detailing simple and well judged. The stance is muscular, confident, more haunched and sporty than we’re used to in this sector, and people will like it when they see it on the road.

Jaguar XE 2.0d 180 2015 review

The interior was the bit we were worried about. Lacking its production-spec finishes, we felt it looked a bit plain. Panic over. Again, it’s different to the sector norm, purposefully with a more cockpit-like feel and cocooned sensation – you get this from the super-low seats (even dropping down so low when you get in feels good), the high centre console and the way the concave door panels seem to wrap you within it.

And the finish evident throughout, in the mid-range sporty-spec R-Sport, is impressive: the double-stitched dashtop, lustrous piano black centre console, precise aluminium detailing and even the fact it ‘sounds’ solid when you tap it (unlike the hollow rattle you get in a Mercedes-Benz C-Class) is reassuring. It looks premium, it’s a match for the 3 Series, Jaguar has achieved what it promised to.

The car we tested was, intentionally, a business user’s dream spec. The 2.0d 180 R-Sport retails at £33,025, emits 109g/km CO2, has touchscreen sat nav, cruise control and HID headlights as standard and even includes must-have 18-inch wheels. Add on must-have metallic paint and, for less than £34,000, you’ve a great-looking car that feels good to sit in and could topple the five-star 3 Series. Does it?

Jaguar XE 2.0d 180 2015 review

What’s the Jaguar XE 2.0d 180 like to drive?

Not a single excuse is needed. The XE delivers. It’s a great drive, with depth and ability across the board, has a front-running diesel engine, a modern-era infotainment system and plenty of surprise discoveries that delight and satisfy in equal measure.

The engine first: with the prototype, we were worried that, while smooth, it was maybe a bit too vocal and gruff. It’s cured here: apart from a bit of tickover shimmy, the all-new engine is very refined and easily a match for the new 2.0-litre diesel in the BMW; as such, it also topples Audi’s 2.0-litre TDI and the clattery, aged 2.1-litre Bluetec in the Mercedes-Benz. It revs particularly sweetly, with little diesel drone, and step-on response to the accelerator is both swift and smooth. We’re pleased to report how cultured and sweet it is.

It’s quick, posting 0-62mph in 7.4 seconds, and 317lb ft of torque gives it guts. It blends particularly well with the smooth, satisfying eight-speed auto option, but also works nicely with the six-speed manual, the same ZF gearbox as used by BMW. With a meaty clutch, positive action and mechanical feel, the stubby lever’s action will please the enthusiasts.

As will the handling. We expected it to be good; with an ultra-rigid body, F-Type-stiff aluminium suspension pickup mounts, double wishbone front suspension and Integral Link rear, it exceeds even our heavily 3 Series-influenced expectations.

Handling is agile, confident, precise, full of bite when you press hard. It seems analogue, rather than force-fed; the harder you push, the more it gives back, in a linear and predictable way. Lean hard on it and it’s beautifully balanced; prefer fingertips and it flows with inch-perfect accuracy.

This is despite the steering being Jaguar’s first EPAS electric assistance setup – but you’d barely believe it from the on-centre feel, the precision and delicacy, the fact weighting is consistent and never feels like you’re steering through two opposing magnets doing strange and unpredictable things to the assistance. It also weightens consistently and naturally in dynamic mode.

The drive is complemented by a ride quality that surely leads the class. Even the standard passive-suspension car (adaptive suspension is optional) has a fluid, flowing ride but with proper control and not a hint of float when you’re chucking it about with commitment. We’re writing this and we still don’t know how Jaguar’s achieved what it has done with the ride.

We drove across ugly-looking broken surfaces at speed, yet didn’t feel a trace of excessive harshness or noise. Across fast B-roads, it remained poised and tightly controlled, but without the stiffly-sprung jitters you get in the more focused 3 Series. It was marvelously measured and flowing on the motorway, but nicely roll-free and responsive on bends. Thank the expensive suspension hardware, says Jaguar. Thank a magnificent amount of expertise in setting it up like this, we say.

But most important of all is the overall feel of the drive: it’s premium, expensive, benefits from high-level engineering and is far from mainstream. The XE feels special to drive, feels like you’d hope a baby Jaguar would – feels like a genuine, closely-matched BMW 3 Series rival, in fact. We can think of no higher praise.

Jaguar XE 2.0d 180 2015 review

Does the Jaguar XE 2.0d 180 beat the BMW 320d?

Has Jaguar really been able to do what no other member of the establishment has done, and topple the mighty BMW 3 Series? We believe it may well have done. And, as long-time current-shape 3 Series loyalists, we’re both amazed and delighted to be saying this.

It’s not just the drive, although obviously that’s a major factor – particularly the way Jaguar’s delivered pleasing, driver-focused handling with step-up ride quality over the 3 Series that offers more suppleness with no less control. It’ll take a back-to-back to make the final call, but these two drivers’ cars are neck and neck for which pleases drivers the most; they’re certainly well ahead of any competitor.

The diesel engine is, to our relief, thoroughly on the money, which it had to be given the improvements BMW’s found in its new generation 2.0-litre 190hp unit. Again, both are clear of the competition here (Mercedes-Benz needs to take a serious look at that oil-burner of its, and soon).

But then there’s the other important parts that make up car ownership. Styling: the Jaguar is the better-looking car and, once you’re familiar with it and see them side-by-side, we’re sure you’ll agree. The proportions are more pleasing, the shape and surfaces are more interesting and, well, it’s something different in a sector that’s traditionally rather conservative – without, crucially, being too different.

They’re neck and neck on interiors, and maybe the BMW’s got a bit more space, maybe its infotainment system is a bit more well-rounded (although we understand Jaguar has plans here – think InControl Touch Pro…). The Jaguar’s a nice place to be though, and has Germanic substance combined with British warmth – it’s a welcoming, pleasant place to be that, again thanks to the proportions and layout, feels different and unique.

The twin test between them is going to be fascinating but, if we had to make a call right now, we’d give it to the Jaguar. The drive is more rounded, the engine blends performance, refinement and economy very well, it’s nice inside and the shape really is growing on us.

There are two provisos: one, in a few weeks, BMW will have a facelifted 3 Series on show. Two, we need to get them back-to-back in the UK to decide which really is the best compact executive you can buy. But the fact it’s between the BMW and the Jaguar says it all: that’s how much Jaguar has achieved with the new XE.

Jaguar XE 2.0d 180 2015 review

Verdict: Jaguar XE 2.0d 180 (2015)

Jaguar’s done it. Jaguar’s delivered a genuinely competitive compact exexutive car. Jaguar’s done what Lexus and Infiniti have failed to do, and taken on the mighty three German brands, on equal footing.

We reckon the XE is so good, it’s already beaten the Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. That’s how good it is. And it’s the fact we’re now wondering just who’s going to come out ahead when it meets the BMW 3 Series that tells you what a great car the XE is.

Jaguar vs. BMW: the fight is on.

Rivals: Jaguar XE 2.0d 180 (2015)

  1. BMW 3 Series
  2. Mercedes-Benz C-Class
  3. Audi A4
  4. Lexus IS
  5. Infiniti Q50

The BMW has been the five-star class act in this sector ever since its launch. It’s way ahead of the others, most significantly the dated Audi A4 (due for replacement at the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show). Even the all-new Mercedes-Benz C-Class couldn’t topple it. Jaguar also sees the Lexus IS as a rival, but not the Infiniti Q50: neither do we, really.

Specification: Jaguar XE 2.0d 180 (2015)

Engine 2.0-litre turbodiesel four-cylinder

Gearbox Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Price from £30,275 (R-Sport as tested: £33,025)

Power 180hp

Torque 317lb ft (430Nm)

0-62mph 7.4 seconds

Top speed 140mph

MPG 67.3mpg

CO2 109g/km

6 times Audi dared to be different

6 times Audi dared to be different

6 times Audi dared to be different

It’s fair to say reaction to the new Audi A4 hasn’t exactly been overwhelming. We’re sure it’ll be a great car, but it’s hardly Vorsprung durch Technik.

It’s a typically Audi approach – the car is still selling well, so why not tweak the looks, give it a bit more tech and revise the interior slightly?

The result is likely to be a very competent rival to the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Jaguar XE. But it doesn’t excite us in the way Audis have done previously.

Yes, ‘Audi’ and ‘excite’ in the same sentence. Audi can be revolutionary. Genuine Vorsprung durch Technik.

Here are six cars made by Audi that proved to be genuinely exciting.

1968: Audi 100

1968: Audi 100

When you think of Audi, you probably picture large, executive saloon cars. But that wasn’t the case until the Audi 100 was launched in 1968. Named the 100 to denote 100hp, it was available in two- and four-door saloon variants, as well as a sporty fastback coupe.

Within three years, the 100 had become the most successful car in Audi’s history. By the time the third-generation model was launched in 1982, it was not only successful but genuinely revolutionary. Its sleek (for the time) design resulted in a low drag coefficient of 0.30.

It was also available with Audi’s clever Procon-Ten safety system. This used thick cables wrapped around the engine so that, in the event of a frontal impact, the force of the engine moving would pull forward the steering wheel clear of the driver.

Audi claimed that this system was so effective, it actually put off introducing airbags across its range.

1980: Audi Quattro

1980: Audi Quattro

You might be more familiar with the original Ur-Quattro today for its part in TV drama Ashes to Ashes, but in its day it was known for its rallying pedigree.

It all started when chassis engineer Jörg Bensinger had been testing a Volkswagen Iltis, a four-wheel-drive military vehicle used by the German army. He had the idea that using a four-wheel-drive system in an Audi 80 could make it unstoppable in the snow.

At the time, Ferdinand Piech was Audi’s director of technical development, and he didn’t take much persuasion to give the go-ahead for the Quattro. Each car was hand-built on a separate production line to other Audi models, before going through a strict test procedure.

What really helped the car to sell, however, was its rallying success. It was the first car to take advantage of new rules that allowed four-wheel-drive cars to be used in competitions, and it bagged win after win for the following years (until the competition caught up).

1998: Audi TT

1998: Audi TT

It’s hard to believe that the design of this car is now 20 years old. First unveiled in concept form at the 1995 Frankfurt Motor Show, the original Audi TT looked like nothing the manufacturer had ever produced before.

Surprisingly, considering its bold looks, it was actually based on the same platform as the fourth-generation Volkswagen Golf and first-generation Seat Leon and Skoda Octavia. This platform-sharing is now commonplace within Volkswagen Group, with many models currently using the MQB platform, from the latest Audi TT to the Volkswagen Touran people carrier.

Early models attracted some negative press following a number of high-speed crashes in Europe, which resulted in Audi recalling the affected models and fitting a rear spoiler, as well as electronic stability control.

Today though, they’re a design icon. Their image remains so strong that early examples with high miles are only just starting to drop below the £2,000 mark.

1999: Audi A2

1999: Audi A2

Not only did the Audi A2 look quirky when it was introduced in 1999, it was also revolutionary in terms of engineering. Its aluminium construction, combined with an efficient range of engines, meant it boasted unheard of fuel economy figures. Think 64mpg from the 1.4-litre TDI, while some markets also got a three-cylinder 1.2-litre diesel – capable of around 95mpg.

That’s impressive fuel economy for today… back in 1999 it was astounding. Part of this is down to the A2’s clever design, which resulted in a low drag coefficient of 0.25. Audi proudly boasts that its new A4 saloon has a drag coefficient of 0.23 – making it only slightly more aerodynamic than the older, apparently blobby A2.

Audi even went as far as stripping the three-cylinder A2 of power steering and air conditioning, as well as fitting low rolling resistance tyres. Big steps in pursuit of efficiency, but the latter are now commonplace on eco models.

2006: Audi R10 TDI

2006: Audi R10 TDI

Diesel cars have never been sporty. But in 2006, Audi proved that it could win endurance races with a diesel racing car.

Not only did the R10 win its maiden race at the 2006 12 Hours of Sebring, it also bagged a win at the Le Mans 24 Hours the same year. And again in 2007. And again in 2008. The diesel’s (relative) fuel-sipping ability and reliability proved that sometimes it pays to do something different in motorsport. The project is thought to have cost Audi an incredible $15 million a year.

Peugeot followed the trend and won Le Mans with its diesel-powered 908 HDi FAP in 2009, before Audi won again in 2010 and 2011 with diesel prototypes. The team made the switch to hybrids in 2012.

2007: Audi R8

2007: Audi R8

Porsche has been perfecting its 911 sports car since 1963, so it was a bold move by Audi in 2007 to launch something as direct competition. That something was the R8, powered originally by a 4.2-litre V8 engine, capable of hitting 62mph in 4.6 seconds.

The R8 has been a huge success for Audi, with around 60,000 sold over its first eight years in production. Not only is it a serious rival to the Porsche 911, it’s also worked wonders as a halo model – helping the company build itself as an aspirational brand alongside competitors such as Mercedes-Benz and BMW.

The R8 was also the first road car to be fitted with full LED headlights, while last year’s LMX was the first production model to be equipped with laser headlights.

Top Gear trio Clarkson, Hammond and May confirmed for Amazon show

Greatest hits of Top Gear: in pictures

The greatest hits of Top GearSo, that is it. The last Top Gear…in the world. OK, so that’s not strictly true, as Chris Evans will be slipping into Top Gear in the not too distant future.

But it’s the final Top Gear to feature Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May.

Here, then are what we think are the greatest hits of the Clarkson, Hammond and May era. Which is your favourite? Start discussing below…

Drive across America

The greatest hits of Top Gear

In 2007, Clarkson, May and Hammond set off for a trip across America in a trio of American cars, each one bought for less than $1,000. The boys were run out of Alabama and shots were fired. It was one of the most memorable Top Gear challenges ever filmed.

Race to Monte Carlo

The greatest hits of Top Gear

Back in the day, the Top Gear challenges were properly tense and nail-biting. In 2004, Messrs Hammond and May raced Clarkson to Monte Carlo. Naturally, Clarkson drove a car – an Aston Martin DB9 – while the duo took to public transport. It was the first of the big races.

Toyota Hilux indestructible test

The greatest hits of Top Gear

Jeremy’s attempt to destroy a Toyota Hilux will go down as one of the greatest features ever to appear on Top Gear. The tough Hilux survived an attempt to kill it with fire, drown it in the Seven Estuary and drop it from a tower block in Hackney.

Motorcycling in Vietnam

The greatest hits of Top Gear

The Vietnam special of 2008 has to be up there with the best-ever episodes of Top Gear. Clarkson’s hatred of motorcycles made it even more memorable. They managed to ride across the entire country in eight days and Hammond’s bike turned pink.

Visiting the ‘Baby Jesus’

The greatest hits of Top Gear

Only Top Gear would think of taking three open-top sports cars to the Middle East and following a star to Bethlehem. The Christmas special involved Clarkson, Hammond and May flying to Iraq and racing around an ancient Roman chariot track. They even saw Jesus. Of sorts.

Ford Probe and knicker elastic

The greatest hits of Top Gear

‘The first Ford that I can remember that looks good enough to snap knicker elastic at 50 paces’ – even in 1994, Top Gear wasn’t afraid to make controversial statements. Clarkson went on to greatness. The Ford Probe didn’t.

St Petersburg special

The greatest hits of Top Gear

Series 22 opened with the brilliant race across St Petersburg. Richard Hammond rode a bike. And fell off. James May drove a Renault Twizy. Clarkson somehow managed to control a hovercraft without killing anyone. And The Stig used public transport.

Amphibious cars

The greatest hits of Top Gear

First they tried to sail their amphibious vehicles across an English lake. Then they went one step further by making an attempt to cross the English Channel. Hammond’s ‘Dampervan’ and May’s Triumph Herald were, quite frankly, rubbish. But amazingly they all managed to reach France in Clarkson’s ‘Toybota’ – brilliant stuff.

Rolling in a Reliant Robin

The greatest hits of Top Gear

Jeremy Clarkson’s Reliant Robin in Yorkshire feature is destined to become a YouTube classic. It was Clarkson at his brilliant best.

The face of the Ariel Atom

Do a Bing search for ‘Jeremy Clarkson Ariel Atom face’. Enough said.

Driving a Peel P50 through BBC TV’s offices

The greatest hits of Top Gear

Given the size of the Peel P50 (it’s the smallest car in the world), maybe Richard Hammond should have covered this feature. Instead it was left to Clarkson and the results were, predictably, brilliant. Even Fiona Bruce’s bottom got a mention.

Creating the P45

The greatest hits of Top Gear

We all enjoyed watching Jeremy Clarkson drive the mad-as-a-box-of-frogs P45 through the busy streets of London. Along with a shopping centre. A theatre. A library. A car wash. A petrol station…

The Botswana Special

The greatest hits of Top Gear

All the cars featured in the Botswana Special deserve a medal. Clarkson’s Lancia and May’s Mercedes-Benz were good, but Richard Hammond’s Opel Kadett stole the show. He liked it so much, he did everything in his power to keep it looking good. He even christened it Oliver and brought it back to the UK.

Caravanning in the New Forest

The greatest hits of Top Gear

James May and Jeremy Clarkson went caravanning in the New Forest. Seeing them racing a pair of caravan-towing crossovers was funny enough, but the scenes leading up to the race were superb. A classic episode.

Paying homage to the E-Type

The greatest hits of Top Gear

For all the nonsense, mayhem and controversies, Top Gear does the serious stuff extremely well. So when Clarkson organised a celebration for the 50th anniversary of the Jaguar E-Type, it was soul-stirring stuff.

That Peugeot episode

The greatest hits of Top Gear

Top Gear’s feature on the history of Peugeot certainly divided opinion. In truth, if you look beyond the nonsense, Clarkson and May spoke a lot of truth. The only thing missing was a recognition that Peugeot has returned to form.

Creating the Hammerhead Eagle i-Thrust

The greatest hits of Top Gear

The Hammerhead Eagle i-Thrust was supposed to represent the start of an exciting future for the electric vehicle. Even with James May involved with the project, it turned out to be brilliantly rubbish.

Trying to outrun the British Army

The greatest hits of Top Gear

Seeing a Mitsubishi Evolution VII being pulverised by the British Army was hard viewing. That was until we found out it was owned by a former drug dealer.

The ultimate test of the Skoda Yeti

The greatest hits of Top Gear

Clarkson subjected the Skoda Yeti to one of the most thorough road tests ever to appear on Top Gear. It involved a Ferrari, firefighters, ice cream, fire, dogs, tattoos and a helicopter. Skoda’s website crashed.

Creating the Hovervan

The greatest hits of Top Gear

Turning a Ford Transit into a Hovervan and taking to the River Avon, what could possibly go wrong? Well quite a lot, actually.

Driving a Toyota Hilux to the North Pole

The greatest hits of Top Gear

In 2007, Clarkson and May drove a Toyota Hilux to the North Pole. Quite an achievement, although some people couldn’t look beyond the fact that the pair enjoyed a Gin & Tonic at the wheel.

Cars for pensioners

The greatest hits of Top Gear

Clarkson and Hammond decided it was time somebody built a car for pensioners. So they took a Fiat Multipla and set about converting it. As you do. Naturally, it was painted ‘hearing aid beige’ and featured a grille taken from a Rover. Brilliant.

The ambulances

The greatest hits of Top Gear

Another feature that split opinion, but Clarkson’s attempt at being a paramedic in the back of a Porsche 944 being driven by The Stig completely stole the show.

A new breed of locomotives

We’ll gloss over the fact that two perfectly good cars were ruined during the making of this feature. In order to create a new breed of locomotives, Hammond and May chose an Audi S8, while Clarkson opted for a Jaguar XJS V12 to make his Sports Train.

The Bolivia Special

Episode six of Series 14 was truly epic. May, Hammond and Clarkson were dropped in the Bolivian rainforest with the 4x4s they bought with a budget of £3,500 each. It was hard enough getting the cars off the boat, but the subsequent and quite literal highs and lows associated with getting to the coast were truly epic.

In Search of Driving Heaven

The greatest hits of Top Gear

The trio set off to find the best driving road in the world. Seeing a trio of brightly-coloured supercars on some of the best stretches of road Europe has to offer was memorable. As was the Stelvio Pass. We should also give an honourable mention to the ‘Supercars do France’ episode.

The Source of the Nile

We’re pretty sure this challenge would have sent the Auto Trader website into meltdown. Armed with a trio of £1,500 wagons, Clarkson, Hammond and May set off in search of the source of the River Nile. We couldn’t decide what we wanted more. Clarkson’s 5 Series, May’s 850R or Hammond’s Impreza.

Vauxhall Vectra review

The greatest hits of Top Gear

‘Trying to road test the Vauxhall Vectra is like trying to road test a microwave oven’, ‘said Jeremy Clarkson, back in 1996. He wasn’t too complimentary about a later update, claiming that if his company gave him a Vectra, he’d drive it into his boss.

Racing Transit at the Nürburgring

The greatest hits of Top Gear

Jeremy Clarkson set a lap time at the Nürburgring in a Jaguar S-Type. Later, Sabine Schmitz nearly kept her promise to beat his time at the wheel of a Ford Transit. A van at the ‘Ring – classic Top Gear.

The Britcar 24-Hour race

The greatest hits of Top Gear

Deciding they needed to burn the biofuel they planted in the previous series, Jeremy, Richard and James entered the gruelling Britcar 24-Hour race. The result was a tense and genuinely compelling feature. You could tell the boys put everything into this one.

The Argentina Special

The greatest hits of Top Gear

Yes, that episode. Quite obviously, this was the most controversial Top Gear feature…in the world. A certain number plate on a certain Porsche 928 resulted in a certain amount of rocks being pelted at the cast and crew.

The £1,500 Porsche Challenge

The greatest hits of Top Gear

Another classic challenge, in which the trio were given a budget of £1,500 and told to buy a Porsche. Hammond and May played it safe with a 924 and 944 respectively, while Clarkson, predictably, went wild and opted for a 928. Clarkson’s Porsche did arrive in Brighton…on the back of an AA truck.

Budget Supercars

The greatest hits of Top Gear

Is it possible to buy a £10,000 supercar and not face financial ruin? It all looked so promising when the trio turned up in Bristol in a Lamborghini, Ferrari and Maserati. Naturally, things didn’t go according to plan.

Thank you, Top Gear

We could have gone on and on. There are many, many more classic Top Gear moments to choose from. But we finish with a thank you to Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May for years of automotive escapism. We’re going to miss you, chaps.

Hyundai Tucson : Overview

Hyundai Tucson review: 2015 first drive

Is Hyundai’s ‘new ix35’ good enough to take on the Nissan Qashqai? Competitive pricing and an impressive all-round performance mean it’s in with a strong shot.

Hyundai Tucson : Overview

If you dredge the depths of your memory, the name Tucson may just mean something to you. A dumpy old-school 4×4, it did the business as long as you didn’t have to look at yourself in a passing shop window. Its replacement was the Hyundai ix35, a name designed to banish all thought of the original.

Well, now Hyundai reckons you’ve forgotten about the old car so the latest ix35 is, again, called the Tucson. It’s a proper mid-sized SUV, of the size that gets buyers of the Focus/Golf/Astra all excited. For many car drivers, an SUV like this is the way forward, adding a bit of funk to the driveway, even the promise of four-wheel-drive if you really want it, all for much the same price as a family car.

Today this is a very hot market, and rivals are many and varied. Ford Kuga, Honda CR-V, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5, Skoda Yeti, VW Tiguan to name just a few. Then slightly to the right are the Crossovers like the Nissan Qashqai and Renault Kadjar.

So Hyundai’s new Tucson has to hit the ground running. The design is certainly of the moment, with a square, deep, chiselled nose making it look like a smaller version of the impressive new Volvo XC90. It’s bold, almost elegant, and certainly no longer a budget-looking alternative to the mainstream.

In fact Hyundai is mainstream today. The Tucson is built in Europe and is sold at prices that are only just a little cheaper than rivals. Prices start at £18,695 for a front-wheel-drive petrol model, and you can get a diesel for just over £20k. Perhaps ambitiously, the top model is now £32,345, though that gets you a 185hp diesel auto with impressive specification.

Hyundai Tucson: On the roadHyundai Tucson: On the road

The biggest selling ix35 was the front-wheel-drive 1.7-litre diesel with 116hp, and though that’s likely to remain the case, the recent undercurrents about diesel emissions may encourage buyers to look at the new 1.6 T-GDi petrol turbo instead. £1,900 more than the 1.7 diesel but with four-wheel-drive as standard, it’s a blast to drive in a way that no Hyundai SUV has been before. Power is 177hp, and there’s an excellent seven-speed new double-clutch automatic transmission on offer, which adds to the driving pleasure.

There’s a new performance diesel version on offer too. The standard 136hp 2.0 turbo-diesel has been uprated to 185hp, which is less about the outright performance than the manner in which it quickly gains speed and makes quiet, relaxed progress. Unfortunately, the 2.0 diesels still have to make do with an old-school six-speed auto box. You can still buy the standard 2.0 CRDi too, with the same power as before but more torque.

Just as significant as the new engines are the changes to the ride. It’s now more compliant, dealing better with the small bumps you find in cities. It’s really pretty good for an SUV, though a decent saloon car will still knock it for six for sophistication.

Hyundai Tucson: On the inside

Hyundai Tucson: On the inside

The interior offers no real surprises, no shock value as to features or quality. It’s all soundly built, a bit too solid where others are soft and touchy-feely, but a genuine step forward from the old Hyundai ix35.

The seats are a bit softer, which is a good thing, as the support seems undiminished. Space in the rear is generous for two adults as long as there isn’t someone huge in the front. The back seats recline and they fold dead flat onto the cushion easily. The boot space is averagely big.

It’s the equipment count that works in the Tucson’s favour. All models get a DAB radio, alloys, aircon and automatic headlights. The SE has parking sensors at the rear, heated front seats, lane keep assist and dual zone climate control. Navigation is an £800 option that includes a very useful rear-view camera and a seven-year subscription to TomTom live services.

Skipping up to the top model, the Premium SE comes with a heated steering wheel, self parking on Tucsons with automatic transmission, an electric tailgate, air-conditioned, ventilated seats and a panoramic roof. Try specifying all that on your Audi Q3 and you’ll get a nasty shock.

Hyundai Tucson: Running costs

Hyundai Tucson: Running costs

In Europe diesel is still king. The low-powered 1.7-litre CRDi will thus continue to fulfil the demands of many, even if its performance only just boarders on satisfactory.

To be fair that car wasn’t available to drive, but there’s no reason to believe it will be any different to the 1.7 in the ix35. Its big deal is price, and economy of 61.7mpg on the combined statutory calculation.

Take that last figure with a bucket of salt, as ever. More problematic is the 2.0 CRDi diesel, which in low or high-power form, has proved to have a thirst for fuel, especially when mated to that inefficient six-speed automatic transmission.

Hyundai says between 46 and 54mpg for the 4×4 versions, though the better efficiency of the revised engines still makes those numbers hard to believe. For the first time there is a 2.0 CRDi with just front wheel drive, and that offers a genuine 4mpg advantage.

A big question surrounds the new 1.6 turbo petrol engine, which supersedes the naturally aspirated 2.0. That’s not going to be near the diesels for fuel economy, yet we saw 28mpg in the 1.6 T-GDi and the statutory figures suggest 37 for the manual 38 for the auto. CO2 levels, though, are still 175g/100km or more.

Depreciation should be relatively low, much lower than for those family hatchback alternatives. New or used, SUVs are in demand.

Hyundai Tucson: Verdict

Hyundai Tucson: Verdict

Time and again Hyundai has proven that it doesn’t need state of the art engineering to produce strong selling cars, as long as the price and equipment specification meet buyer demands. Yet here with the new Tucson, the company is pretty well on the mark in most areas.

The space, comfort and ride quality all please, as do features like the standard digital radio. The fact that you can now get advanced features like self parking, a heated steering wheel and ventilated leather seats means the Tucson can bear comparison with some very pricey Land Rovers, Audis and BMWs.

Hyundai still doesn’t have the cachet of these brands, but it has successfully moved away from being simply a budget range of cars. There’s still work to be done – the only model with a decent automatic transmission is the new petrol turbo model, and the economy of the 4×4 versions is off the mark – but there’s much to like and recommend about the new Tucson.

Specification: 2015 Hyundai Tucson

Engines: 1.6, 1.6 4urbo 4-cylinder petrol; 1.7 and 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo diesel

Gearbox: Six-speed manual and six/seven speed automatic

Prices from: £18,695

Power: 116hp – 185hp

Torque: 119 – 295lb ft

0-62mph: 9.1 – 13.7 seconds

Top speed: 109 – 125mph

Fuel economy: 37.2 – 61.7mpg

CO2 emissions: 119 – 177g/km

Lexus IS 200t

Lexus reveals IS 200t turbo saloon

Lexus IS 200tThe Lexus IS is getting a punchy turbo petrol engine at last – one that delivers a BMW-rivalling 241hp, albeit with a bettered-by-BMW 40.4mpg.

Accelerating from 0-62mph in 7.0 seconds and stretching to 143mph, the 2.0-litre turbo engine is a new Lexus design first seen in the NX SUV; uniquely, it can run on both Atkinson and Otto cycles, so can prioritise green-running when performance isn’t a priority.

It isn’t as quick as the comparable BMW 328i, which can do 0-62mph in 5.9 seconds despite consuming less fuel, but it’s still a welcome option for those who like the IS but don’t like hybrid (such as our long-term IS 300h).

Sporty spec

Lexus IS 200t

It’s rear-wheel drive and Lexus fits an eight-speed automatic gearbox borrowed from the RC F coupe. This Sport Direct shift transmission even has gearshift variation according to G-forces.

Lexus argues the engine is as fast responding as the gearbox itself, thanks to four-into-two exhaust manifolds that are paired to match expansion or compression strokes so exhaust gases don’t interfere with one another.

There’s a twin-scroll turbo, air-to-liquid intercooler and trick D-4ST fuel injection: high pressure system for directly into the cylinders, and a lower pressure system for port injection.

The engine mixes injection between these two systems according to engine load, and, along with dual intelligent variable valve timing, also helps it switch between Otto and more efficient Atkinson cycles; on the latter, intake valves close later to further reduce pumping losses.

Lexus has yet to reveal prices of the new IS 200t, but has confirmed deliveries will begin later in the year.

2015 SMMT Sustainability Report

7 reasons the British car industry is booming

2015 SMMT Sustainability ReportThe £70 billion UK automotive industry has never generated more cash and, in a few years’ time, will never have employed so many Brits – those are the latest glowing statistics from the SMMT’s annual Sustainability Report.

Industry trade body the Society of Motor Manufacturers says this has put the UK car industry back on the global stage, with almost 800,000 jobs contributing a massive £15.5 billion to the UK economy. 27,000 new jobs were created in 2014 alone.

Those workers have never been more productive, and have never been safer while at work. And not only are the cars they’re building greener than ever, the manufacturing process is also more environmentally friendly: energy use per car has almost halved since 2000.

“The UK automotive industry can be proud of its achievements as it continues to set new records,” said SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes.

It’s now an industry with a £70 billion turnover – growing over 6% in 2014 alone – and “the sector is delivering growth in volumes, turnover and employment while reducing its environmental impact”.

The British automotive industry is not without its challenges, as we’ll see, but first, here’s seven ways in which it’s in better shape than ever.

1. We’re on track to make more cars than ever before

2015 SMMT Sustainability Report

With 1.6 million vehicles produced and 1.53 million cars (that’s a 1.2% rise in 2014), UK production is the highest since 2007.

Britain also makes engines, almost 2.5 million of them in 2014. This is slightly down on the year before but will grow again in 2015 now Jaguar Land Rover’s brand new Wolverhampton factory is on stream.

Van production has been hit by the closure of Ford’s Southampton plant, but Vauxhall has invested big in the new Vivaro at Luton, so the SMMT expects commercial vehicle production to start recovering.

UK car production on track to hit 1.95 million in 2017 – a record bettering 1972’s 1.92 million all-time high. Britain really will never have made as many cars.

2. 4 in 5 new cars is sent abroad

2015 SMMT Sustainability Report

The vast majority of the cars built in Britain are sent abroad. This means the industry doesn’t only boost UK employment, but it also brings tens of billions of pounds back into the UK.

Total export value in 2014 rose 1.8% to £34.6 billion. That’s up more than 100% since 2000. Such an inward flow of cash is a key reason why the industry was able to add more than £15 billion to the UK economy last year, growth of over 6%

Over half the cars made in the UK are sent to Europe, and this actually rose 10% in 2014 as the European new car market continued to grow. It helped offset the decline in the Russian car market, which until recently accounted for 10% of British exports.

The other half of UK-built cars go to the U.S., China and Asia Pacific region, all of which grew. China alone was up 10%; 137,000 British-built cars found homes in China last year – most of them high-value cars such as Land Rovers and Bentleys.

The world is back in love with British-built cars.

3. The cars are more premium than ever

2015 SMMT Sustainability Report

Britain used to make budget Minis, Metros and Micras in volume. Now it makes hundreds of thousands of Jaguars, Land Rovers and Bentleys. These sell for far more money and generate even more cash for the UK economy.

Even the mainstream makers are building posher cars: Nissan in Sunderland now makes the Qashqai in huge volumes – a car selling for well over 50% more than the average Micra. It also made 17,000 high-tech all-electric Leafs.

Nissan will soon start building BMW-rivalling Infinitis; it’s the first new brand to start production in the UK in more than two decades.

Britain also males super-exclusive McLarens, Aston Martins, Rolls-Royce, Lotus and a multitude of specialist low volume cars, alongside high-efficiency volume cars from Honda, Toyota and Vauxhall.

Even MINI is now a premium brand, not a budget brand: Plant Oxford is growing once again, making MINIs that commonly sell for more than £20,000. A far cry from the dark days of British Leyland.

4. It’s becoming a high tech industry

2015 SMMT Sustainability Report

The SMMT wants to reposition the UK automotive industry as a high-tech business, moving away from the outdated metal-bashing image of old. Car makers are reflecting this: in 2014, the average number of industry training days for new skills grew 35%.

“We want to get young people excited by the modern, high-tech automotive industry so they’ll see it as a career option in the future,” said Hawes.

A growing number of suppliers to the industry (who annually add £4.3 billion to the UK economy) are starting to produce in the UK again. Output rose 7% in 2014 and continuing to grow the number of parts built here for the cars made here remains a priority.

The SMMT reckons there’s still £4 billion of business for UK companies there for the taking, too: if it wanted to, Britain could also make 80% of the bits used to build home-grown cars in the UK…

5. The workers are on side

2015 SMMT Sustainability Report

The government sees the automotive industry as one that’s working. New Conservative Secretary of State for Business Sajid Javid has already praised the industry, considering it a good example of how to do things right.

The turnaround in employee relations from the dark days of the 1970s is a key part of this. Industry and unions, for example, now work together to secure business and jobs, with 2015’s Sustainability Report showing the success of this continued partnership.

Staff turnover fell from 10% in 2000 to 5.6% in 2014. That’s a record low and indicates that Brits are happy to work in and remain within the car industry.

Lost time incidents per 1,000 employees fell by nearly 29% in 2014 alone – a record low. They are down almost 85% on 2002, to just 2.2 safety incidents per 1,000 employees.

Safety schemes are now firmly embedded within automotive plants and they’re being enhanced all the time, to ensure industry workers are safer than ever.

6. It’s a green industry

2015 SMMT Sustainability Report

The UK car industry accounts for around 4% of all the energy by all UK industry. It’s falling all the time, and will get better still when car plant heavy consumers such as paint shops, boiler houses and heating systems are replaced.

Production used 10.4% less energy in 2014, 10.7% less water and sent a staggering 26.3% less waste to landfill. This alone is down over 90% compared to 2002.

Car makers are also making their own energy: 11 SMMT members have renewable energy facilities on site, making an average of 3.1% of energy consumed by the industry.

Jaguar Land Rover says its solar facility at its new Wolverhampton plant will eventually produce almost a third of its energy needs.

Oh, and the new cars now buy are also greener than ever. Over two in three had already met the 2015 EU CO2 target of 130g/km a year early.

7. Productivity is up

2015 SMMT Sustainability Report

Britain is a good place to build cars. Firms aren’t investing here unwillingly: productivity of British workers has improved 20% in the past five years alone.

Billions of pounds of investment in new plants and manufacturing processes means that for the past few years, 11.5 new cars were made by every single person in the industry. Back in 2005, this was down at 9.3 cars per person.

Compared to 2000, the number of jobs dependent on the industry is down 11.9%, but a big part of that is the loss of MG Rover in 2005. More productive workers are making more cars, and there’s more demand for them, so even more staff has to be employed.

Global giants are diverting investment cash to Britain because we’re now so good at making cars compared to the rest of the world – and continued improvements will further enhance this and secure yet more investment.

But there are challenges…

2015 SMMT Sustainability Report

The SMMT says that, despite the glowing Sustainability Report for 2015, UK automotive does face issues. The need to continue reducing CO2 emissions while improving air quality is one, as is the importance of capitalising on opportunities from connected cars and self-driving cars.

One of the biggest challenges is skills: making sure the industry has enough young people with high-tech training to feed the industry’s growth. We’re currently lagging here, so government and car makers are playing catch-up. Will we catch up fast enough?

“Continuing to expand in a fiercely competitive global market is a major challenge,” said Hawes, “and will depend on a supportive economic and regulatory environment which promotes investment to foster innovation and continuing productivity improvements.”

Plenty of work ahead then. But Britain’s £70 billion car industry is now better placed to capitalise on new opportunities than ever before.

Suzuki SJ - Great Motoring Disasters

The Suzuki 4×4 that cornered like a motorbike

Suzuki SJ - Great Motoring DisastersWhen it comes to road transport, four wheels are generally better than three, and if staying dry and safe bothers you, two wheels even more.

Suzuki’s baby SJ410 four-wheel drive, however, occasionally seemed uncertain over whether it was a four-wheeler or a two, a little too much of its maker’s proud motorcycle prone to sudden appearances while cornering.

See, the SJ410, a rather neat and temptingly affordable jeep-in-miniature, had a tendency to tip and fall.

Install someone young, fast and unaware behind its neat plastic wheel, show them a bend and they could rapidly learn about high centre’s of gravity and their potential effects on tall, narrow objects travelling at speed, as well as the unsuitability of off-roaders for speedy on-roading and how toppling over does not look cool.

Suzuki SJ - Great Motoring Disasters

Not that ‘cool’ was a cool word in the mid ‘80s, when the Suzuki SJ fad really took off. But the Suzuki suddenly became a very cool thing, particularly if it was white, had white wheels and was (usually) occupied by someone wearing white stilettos.

Commonly found outside night clubs in the era when George Michael, Madonna, Duran Duran and Frankie Goes to Hollywood sang floor-filling hits, the SJ was a favoured set of wheels for the legendary 1980s Essex Girl, who usually chose the soft-top version of this tiny four-wheel drive to better show-off her orange tan and peroxide streaked hair. Occasionally, this myth was even true.

Suzuki SJ - Great Motoring Disasters

The Suzuki SJ, however, was not originally designed for the cocktail-and-paper-umbrella world at all. It was a descendant of Suzuki’s 1970 LJ20, a miniature twin cylinder jeep with utility styling, selectable four-wheel drive and a price low enough to forgive its canvas doors.

Cleverly, its spare wheel was helpfully stored behind the front passenger seat so that it squeezed within the tight dimensions of a Japanese Kei car.

Despite its puny 25bhp it was an effective device in a quarry, and among others, began being bought by civil construction companies. They favoured it over Land Rovers, because the LJ was so cheap that its purchase price could painlessly be written-off over the life of the contract, the no-doubt heavily-abused Suzuki binned on the project’s completion. Others simply bought them as a cheap set of fun wheels.

Suzuki had discovered a new niche, and in 1975 enlarged the LJ’s 360cc twin to a heady 550cc, creating the LJ50. The spare wheel migrated to a mounting hung from the LJ’s rear-end, this big-engined export version not needing to comply with the Kei car rules.

It sold well in Australia, encouraging Suzuki to introduce the still more reckless LJ80, this time with a four cylinder developing a rampant 41bhp. The LJ80’s eventual launch into the Netherlands, the absence of inclines presumably flattering its performance, formed a bridgehead for an advance party of these baby jeeps into Europe.

But it was the 1982 SJ that led the invasion into Britain’s nightlife, although it took a while to warm up. Launched as the SJ410, it was propelled by a 1.0 four that could push it no further than 68mph on 45bhp and four speeds, which was fine for off-roading if less effective on the A118 towards Romford.

A separate ladder chassis, simple drum brakes and a quartet of leaf springs were designed to sustain a tough life on building sites and in the bush, spanners and a welding torch good for fixing anything that broke. Not that much did – the SJ was a tough little thing.

Like plenty of early off-roaders this Suzuki was part-time four-wheel drive, the price-reducing absence of a centre differential not only requiring you to jab a lever for all-wheel drive, but also to get out and lock the front wheel hubs.

Not good for footwear if you’d entered a bog, especially stilettos. But with low range as well you could get yourself across some pretty testing terrain and being light – just 850kg as a soft-top – the SJ could get about like a mountain goat. And without munching on the local vegetation.

In Britain sales were limited by the fact that there was a quota applied to the import of Japanese cars, the so-call Gentlemen’s Agreement largely devised in a (failed) bid to protect British Leyland’s tumbling market share.

Suzuki investigated building the SJ in Europe to circumvent it, and did a deal with Spain’s Santana Motor which ironically, also made BL’s Land Rover to its own recipe. Assembly of the SJ began in 1987, allowing Suzuki’s increasingly successful UK importer to bring almost unlimited numbers of SJs over here.

Suzuki SJ - Great Motoring Disasters

Two years earlier the SJ413 had been launched as an estate, its 1324cc motor putting out 66 ground-shivering horsepower to further tempt buyers. This and a five-speed gearbox boosted the SJ’s top speed by 10mph to 78mph, although it was still going to struggle against a white Escort XR3i cabriolet screaming its way to Millionaires.

But before that came scandal, and not of the Essex girl variety. An assortment of consumer bodies, including Britain’s Which? and America’s Consumer Reports, discovered that if you drove a tall and narrow vehicle into a bend faster than you would a Lotus, it tended to topple over.

In fact, you could be going a lot slower than you would in a Lotus and still momentarily reduce tyre-wear on the SJ’s in-board flank.

The discovery of this destabilising habit produced a small explosion of angry newsprint. And in America, a lawsuit, which uncovered the fact that Suzuki had tried to hide the truth about the SJ’s instability.

Little of which seemed to impede its sales and certainly didn’t produce a recall. Instead, salespeople were lamely told to make buyers aware of its on-road limitations.

Suzuki SJ - Great Motoring Disasters

Towards the end of the ‘80s the SJ had almost become a cult car, its UK importers cannily exploiting its appeal with the sale of special versions like the Rhino, complete with silhouette of said beast on the spare wheel cover, graphics packs, alloy wheels, bull-bars and side rails.

All of which allowed one nightclub guest to distinguish their SJ over another’s, though perhaps less successfully in a dark winter car-park.

In 1988, Suzuki supplemented by the decidedly more stylish Vitara, whose stabilising extra width usefully diminished the chance of scraping its roof. That sold well in white too.

Today the SJ is almost forgotten, partly because it became as unfashionable as shoulder pads, but also because most disappeared into the ether, their thin steel panels dissolving as fast as ice cubes after the party.

But if you want to relive some of the experience – though not the tendency to topple – you can buy the Suzuki Jimny, the SJ’s diminutive and long-running successor, debuting in 1997.

It’s not so great on road, but it’s brilliant off-it, and doesn’t cost much. Which was Suzuki’s original point.

Now watch the video that caused all the fuss…

Subaru Levorg confirmed as UK Legacy replacement

Subaru Levorg confirmed as UK Legacy replacement

Subaru has released details of its new Levorg GT sport tourer, set to replace the Legacy Tourer when it goes on sale in September.

The estate will have similar exterior dimensions to the previous Legacy wagon, but increased interior space, due to improved packaging.

Subaru UK boss: “it’s not great selling less than 3,000 cars a year”

It will come equipped with Subaru’s new 1.6 litre DIT turbocharged boxer petrol engine, producing 170 PS. This will be paired with a Lineartronic CVT gearbox. As usual, this will drive through the Japanese firm’s ‘symmetrical’ all wheel drive system.

The company claim that the Levorg will be ‘one of the most refined Subarus yet’, with a factory-fit infotainment system, bespoke sports seats and improved materials.

Technology such as blind spot detection and ‘rear vehicle alert’ will also be available.

The car made its European debut at the 2015 Geneva Motor Show in March, but has been on sale in Japan since last year. We expect it to be priced from around £25,000, putting it in direct competition with rivals such as the Skoda Octavia 4×4 Estate and Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer.

2016 Audi A4

New 2016 Audi A4 revealed

2016 Audi A4

The new 2016 Audi A4 has been officially revealed ahead of its global debut at the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show – and once again for Audi’s it’s an evolutionary approach rather than a stylistic revolution.

2016 Audi A4

But the firm is keen to stress there’s far more future-looking technology beneath the lighter-weight skin of the new A4, which goes on sale towards the end of 2015.

The design, for example, may be familiarly Audi A4, but it’s also notably aerodynamic; in its optimum trim, the Cd drag factor is just 0.23, something no other model in the class gets near.

It’s a bigger design too – addressing criticisms of the current car’s lack of space, particularly in the rear, the new Audi A4 has grown to 4,726mm long, 1,842mm wide and 1,427mm tall.

The new Audi A4 is thus 25mm longer and 16mm wider than the old one, but remains the same height – actually the lowest in the premium sector. The A4 Avant is actually 1mm shorter than the saloon.

2016 Audi A4

This give it the longest interior in its class, plus the best front shoulder room and, in the new A4 Avant, the biggest boot: it’s 505 litres with the seats up, 1,505 litres with them down.

2016 Audi A4

The Avant is, however, not as aerodynamic as the sleek saloon: its drag factor Cd is 0.26.

2016 Audi A4

One of the most striking features of the new Audi A4 is its new virtual cockpit, first seen in the new Audi TT. Now, this isn’t standard on all A4s, but does create a striking look for cars optionally fitted with it: the full-width display in front of the driver is a striking feature.

Unlike the TT, all A4 come as standard with an MMI display in the centre of the dashboard, of at least 7 inches’ diameter. Audi’s claiming the interior is now the quietest in the class.

New Audi A4: tech highlights

2016 Audi A4

Under the bonnet, there’s a fully updated range of engines that benefit from the light weight and aero efficiency: Audi claims just 95g/km for the greenest version of the 2.0 TDI 150 ultra – without hybrid assistance.

A new 2.0 TFSI 190, with a trick new combustion system, can emit as little as 109g/km CO2. There’s also a punchy 272hp 3.0-litre TDI six-cylinder. UK CO2 figures are, however, still to be confirmed: due to our love of larger alloy wheels, they might be a bit higher.

Exhaust tailpipes are an indicator of which engine’s on board: single for base motors, double for TDI with 190hp or more, or dual for TFSI engines with 190hp or more.

Audi’s standardised Xenon headlights on all new A4, previously only fitted to S line models and above. Why? Because it now offers both full LED and the trick matrix LED headlights first seen on the A8 as an option.

The body is up to 120kg lighter, with the base model (a to-be-announced 1.4 TFSI) weighing just 1,320kg (albeit empty and without a driver). Audi’s achieved this without extensive use of aluminium, either: just the tailgate is made from the material it’s strongly associated with.

Official kerbweight of the Jaguar XE, which is made from 75% aluminium, start from 1,475kg.

Audi’s promising handling has made “a great leap forward”, with redeveloped five-link axles and new EPAS power steering. it rides better too, and there’s a plethora of suspension tech on the options list including adjustable dampers that “the driver can for the first time select between two settings: sports or comfort”.

This Audi drive select suspension system is standard on new A4 with engines producing 190hp or more.

2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE

7 things you need to know about the 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLE

2016 Mercedes-Benz GLETo remove any element of doubt, the GLE is the new name for the SUV more commonly known as the Mercedes-Benz ML. Which means it’s up against the Audi Q7 and BMW X5 – both of which have been revised this year – along with the XC90, Volvo’s brand spanking new SUV.

Tough competition, then, especially for an SUV introduced back in 2011, having been in development since 2006. All Mercedes SUVs will utilise the GL nomenclature, with the E in GLE signifying that it’s the SUV equivalent of the E-Class. Later this year we’ll see the introduction of a GLS, of which Mercedes is promising great things.

But back to the GLE, which we tested having driven the new GLE Coupe a day earlier. A brief early drive in the new GLE 500e Plug-in Hybrid was followed by some off-roading in a GLE 350d and a fairly lengthy drive to Munich Airport.

Here are seven things you need to know if you are considering buying a 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLE.

1. The GLE is better than the GLE Coupe

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Sure, the GLE Coupe looks and feels like a much newer product, but it’s the standard GLE that feels more authentic. In truth, the new front grille, headlights, new front bumper and front wings represent little more than an exterior facelift, but it’s impossible not to notice the bonnet’s so-called ‘power domes’ when driving the GLE. They help to give it a more chiselled look.

Around the back, new taillights are joined by a new bumper and tailgate. So it’s hardly a groundbreaking or radical overhaul, but the overall effect is far less in-your-face than the rather vulgar GLE Coupe. It makes no pretence about being anything other than a practical SUV. And it’s all the better for it.

2. The Off-Road Package gives the GLE proper skills

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When Mercedes-Benz told us we’d be doing some off-roading, we had visions of a few cones in a gravel car park, maybe a coupe of water-splashes and some logs. What we actually got was a working Austrian quarry and a mountain. OK, so the GLE 350d in question was fitted with the optional Off-Road package, but at £1,985 this seems like an absolute steal. Especially if you happen to live halfway up an Austrian mountain.

The package adds additional Airmatic ride heights, an off-road driving mode, reinforced underbody paneling, a reduction gear and an inter-axle differential lock. You can also monitor your off-road exploits via a 360-degree camera.

On some properly challenging climbs, near-vertical descents and loose rocks and gravel, the GLE hardly put a foot wrong. Forget your namby-pamby coupe nonsense, the GLE was born to do stuff like this.

3. The 500e Plug-in Hybrid is good, but it’s no XC90 T8

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You’ll remember that the all-new Volvo XC90 was born with electrification in mind. In other words, the Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) allows Volvo to add hybrid technology to the XC90 without impacting on space inside the cabin or luggage area. It’s one of the many reasons why we rate the T8 Plug-in Hybrid so highly.

The GLE is unable to fall back on such a platform, which is why the hybrid’s battery pack makes such a significant impact on boot space. Not only does it raise the floor, it also sees a reduction in capacity from 690 litres to 480 litres. That really isn’t good.

On the plus side, the hybrid system did all it could to keep us running in E-Mode (all-electric driving), only switching to Hybrid when a burst of power was required. In fact, we managed to travel a full 19 miles on battery power alone, without really trying. Thanks to a combined 449hp from its V6 petrol engine and electric motor, the 500e will accelerate to 62mph in 5.3 seconds, going on to reach a top speed of 152mph.

These are AMG-rivalling figures, but the AMG 63 S simply can’t match the 78g/km CO2 emissions of the 500e. The 500e is also some £30,000 cheaper than the full-bore AMG.

We should also point out that the 500e didn’t feel as refined as the XC90 T8, occasionally ‘clunking’ between driving modes. Then there’s the small matter of the price. You can order an XC90 T8 for £59,955, which is £5,000 less than the GLE 500e. Plus you get the benefit of two extra seats in the Volvo.

4. The nine-speed automatic transmission can be frustrating

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There will be two diesel engines available in the UK – the 2.1-litre of the 250d and the 3.0-litre V6 of the 350d. Both are equipped with a new nine-speed automatic transmission and permanent all-wheel drive.

For the most part, the transmission is perfectly acceptable and you barely notice the up and down shifts. But it does have a tendency to get confused when exiting a junction or powering out of a corner, leaving you off the torque curve, which results in delayed acceleration.

At best, this can be frustrating on a twisty Alpine road, but at worst it can be tad unnerving when pulling out into a main road. On more than one occasion we were left high and dry by the transmission’s hesitation. Not fun.

5. The Bang & Olufsen BeoSound AMG audio system is a must-have upgrade

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At £3,495, the Bang & Olufsen BeSound AMG audio system isn’t a cheap upgrade. But given it’s one of the best in-car audio systems we’ve ever experienced, we suggest you give it some serious thought.

The tweeters at the base of the A-pillars, complete with built-in lights, are the biggest clue that the GLE has the optional audio system. That is, until you turn the volume right up to the max. There’s a complete lack of distortion, even when streaming through an iPod. Haddaway has never sounded so good. Ahem…

6. The GLE’s interior really is very good

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Mercedes-Benz knows a thing or two about putting an interior together and the GLE remains a masterclass in quality and comfort. The seats offer exceptional levels of support and plenty of scope for adjustment. There’s also stacks of legroom and headroom for rear-seat passengers, while the GLE’s boot doesn’t suffer from the same high loading lip found in the GLE Coupe.

That said, you really need to take into account the reduced load capacity if you opt for the 500e hybrid.

The infotainment screen feels more integrated and ‘at home’ in the GLE than in other models and offers a crystal clear display and supreme ease of use. We also find it refreshing to find the climate control is operated by dials, although the centre console does look rather fussy. Meanwhile, Mercedes continues to put multiple stalks behind the steering wheel, which can be a tad confusing at first.

Sadly, we have to play the XC90 card again, because the Volvo’s interior does feel more special and is loaded with the kind of details you won’t find in the GLE. It’s all very well screwed together, it just lacks that finishing touch.

7. The GLE will eat miles, but it’ll also drink fuel

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You may find yourself disappointed with the fuel economy in the GLE 350d. Mercedes claims you could see up to 42.8mpg on a combined cycle, yet on a lengthy and mostly relaxed drive through Bavaria and Austria, we achieved an average of just under 28mpg.

OK, so that should improve once the engine has loosened up, but the 2.2-tonne SUV isn’t going to get any lighter. You may need a very gentle right foot to get anywhere near the claimed figures.

In summary, we rather like the Mercedes-Benz GLE. The GLE Coupe left us scratching our heads and desperately searching for a reason to buy it. In the case of the GLE, we find it much easier to recommend. In fact, if you happen to live half way up the mountain, we’d gladly recommend a 350d with air suspension and the brilliant Bang & Olufsen audio system.

Just make sure you check out the Volvo XC90 first.