Ford Focus RS

UK to remain number 1 for new Focus RS

Ford Focus RSFord of Britain chairman and MD Andy Barratt expects the UK to remain the biggest market in the world for the new Focus RS, despite the £29,995, 350hp hot hatch now being a global Ford Performance car.

Speaking as he pulled the covers off the very first early-build production-spec car, Barrett said the UK will “without doubt take the lion’s share of production” – and confirmed that the firm already has almost 2,000 orders for the new five-door RS.

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“Without the UK, Ford wouldn’t have produced the Focus RS. We’re the dominant market for it – it was Britain that took two-thirds of volumes for the old five-cylinder RS, so it was much easier to make a business case for it.”

Barratt expects to sell around 4,000-4,500 new Focus RS in Britain during the car’s lifetime, and says it will be very hard to secure extra units for the UK, such is the expected global demand for the car. “We’re almost at daily production capacity already, and that’s before anyone’s seen or sat in a production-spec car.”

The Ford chairman – who was launch manager on the original Focus RS – is also expecting very strong retained values for the new car. Used market experts have already seen the car, “and we pointed out to them that secondhand examples of the old one are still selling for almost list price…

“We’re thus expecting to offer extremely competitive lease deals on the new car to entrepreneurs and small business owners keen to run a fast family hatchback.”

Britain v Australia

Focus RS product boss David Calder does, however, expect newfound competition for the new car – from another right-hand drive market, Australia.

“It’s being officially sold there [in full production volume] for the first time and the Australians are already responding very positively to it. We haven’t had to fight for right-hand drive cars before, but if enthusiasts down under start to demand more cars, we may have a battle on our hands.”

However, despite it being sold globally, Calder added that the UK will remain the spiritual heartland for the Focus RS. “RS is very much a strong ‘asset’ brand in Britain that commands a huge following.

“We’re already seeing thousands of enthusiasts putting their orders in and this fantastic early response will ensure the UK will be the key market for the new car.”

Skoda Citigo Monte CarIo: Two-Minute Road Test


There’s something delightfully old school about the Skoda Monte Carlo. It’s a teeny tiny tearaway, complete with go-faster stripes, stick on badges, five-speed gearbox and 60hp 1.0-litre engine. On paper, it should be all show and no go, but on the road it’s anything but. Pound for pound, this is one of the most rewarding cars you can buy.

Skoda Citigo Monte Carlo: what are its rivals?


To list a random selection of city cars would be to miss the point of the Skoda Citigo Monte Carlo. Sure, there are many city cars to choose from, most notably the Volkswagen Up, SEAT Mii, Hyundai i10, Fiat Panda and Kia Rio. But aside from the Renault Twingo SCe, few city cars offer quite the same level of fun and engagement. Fact is, the Citigo Monte Carlo looks great, especially in three-door guise.

Skoda Citigo Monte Carlo: which engines does it use?


Curiously, the Citigo Monte Carlo uses the smaller 60hp version of the 1.0-litre engine and it’s fair to say you need to work really hard to get the best from it. The 0-62mph is completed in a sloth-like 14.4 seconds, but that only tells half the story. The characterful/irritating (delete as applicable) soundtrack from the three-cylinder engine only serves to encourage you to press on.

Skoda Citigo Monte Carlo: what’s it like to drive?


In short, it’s brilliant. But it won’t appeal to all. Thanks to its lower and stiffer suspension, the Monte Carlo feels more chuckable than the standard Citigo and although the steering offers little in the way of feel, you’ll revel in the simple act of chucking it around corners. It’s all about momentum – maintain it and the Monte Carlo becomes a willing partner through a series of bends.

In fact, it only feels underpowered when overtaking or on motorways. Once cruising, it’s remarkably refined, but entry slip roads and hills will see you changing down, searching for a gear that isn’t normally associated with motorway driving. It can make the optional cruise control a tad redundant, as you really need to prepare for hills, with fourth and even third gear required for some climbs. But don’t let this put you off, because it’s wonderfully composed at speed, with very little in the way of wind and road noise.

Skoda Citigo Monte Carlo: fuel economy and running costs


Skoda claims the Citigo Monte Carlo could return as much as 62.8mpg on a combined cycle, but only the restrained will see figures anything like this. And that’s because the Monte Carlo constantly encourages you to behave like a hooligan, working through its short-throw and snappy five-speed ‘box. Over the course of a week, which included a couple of ‘dawn raids’ and motorway driving, we achieved a respectable 48.0mpg.

The CO2 emissions of 105g/km translates to £20 a year in vehicle excise duty, although it’s free for the first year. The fixed service regime means the Citigo Monte Carlo will need to be serviced every 10,000 miles or 12 months.

Skoda Citigo Monte Carlo: is it practical?


The more expensive five-door version will be more practical, but you’ll have to forgo one of the best side profiles in the business. There are a number of storage compartments throughout the cabin, including nets on the side of the front seats and cupholders at the base of the rear seats.

In a triumph of good packaging, there’s enough room inside for four adults, while the boot offers a generous 251 litres of space.

Skoda Citigo Monte Carlo: what about safety?


The Skoda Citigo is one of the safest cars in its class, achieving the maximum five-star Euro NCAP safety rating. You’ll also find switchable Electronic Stability Control (much fun to be had), side airbags for the front seats and two ISOFIX mounts for the rear seats. City-Safe active braking and a passenger airbag switch-off come as part of the £275 safety pack.

Skoda Citigo Monte Carlo: which version should I go for?


Your choice is limited to three- or five-door, plus a range of options and colours. We happen to think it looks best in Candy White – a bargain at £140. Granted, many of the Monte Carlo’s upgrades are merely cosmetic, but they combine to give it genuine standout qualities over the standard car.

The 15-inch black alloy wheels, black front and rear spoilers, chequered flag side decals, black grille and Monte Carlo badges complete the exterior. While inside, the red stitching, leather steering wheel, red and black upholstery and red centre console complete the effect.

Skoda Citigo Monte Carlo: should I buy one?


At £10,670 for the three-door and £11,020 for the five-door, the Citigo Monte Carlo isn’t the cheapest city car you can buy. Nor is it the most well-equipped (you’ll need the Elegance for all the trimmings). But thanks to some well chosen exterior and interior enhancements, on top of what is already a cracking city car, the Monte Carlo becomes something greater than the sum of its parts.

It’s a car we’re all too happy to award the maximum five stars. The fact that, on two occasions, we got out of bed at silly o’clock, simply to go for a drive, gives a clue as to this car’s junior hot hatch credentials. We’re struggling to avoid requesting a finance package calculation…

Skoda Citigo Monte Carlo: pub fact


The Monte Carlo trim level first appeared on the Skoda Fabia and was rolled out to celebrate 100 years of the famous rally, along with 110 years of Skoda motorsport. It was designed to offer the styling of the Fabia vRS, without the performance and associated running costs.

George Osborne

RAC urges George Osborne to cut costs for motorists

RAC urges George Osborne to cut costs for motorists

Tomorrow, George Osborne will announce his autumn statement – and the RAC is calling for him to stop penalising motorists through taxes.

The organisation says that UK motorists paid £40 billion in taxes last year, and has suggested that cutting costs for drivers could help the economy.

A key area in which the chancellor could do this, says the RAC, is fuel duty. In a statement, the organisation said: “Research conducted for the RAC Report on Motoring shows motorists are realistic and whilst a minority (32%) are calling for further cuts in fuel duty,a far higher percentage (46%) recognize that this is unlikely in the current economic climate and support an ongoing freeze in duty.

“The Treasury’s own modelling has confirmed the link between the cost of fuel and economic growth. The freezing of fuel duty has contributed to the UK’s economic growth in recent years. The RAC believes that it would be beneficial to the economy, as well as popular with motorists if the Chancellor extended the freeze on duty for the remainder of this Parliament.”

As well as a freeze in fuel duty, the RAC is calling on Osborne to protect the £15.2 billion budget previously set aside for investment in roads – and to ring fence more money for the repair of local roads.

The RAC added: “Around 85% of all journeys begin on local roads and the state of local roads is seen as the top issue for motorists, with Research for the 2015 Report on Motoring showing that the condition of local roads is the top concern for motorists with 10% ranking it number one and a further 20% listing it as a top-four concern. Our message is that local roads are just as important as the strategic road network and new long-term funding mechanisms should be considered.”

The organisation is also urging the chancellor to extend the £5,000 plug-in car grant, which is currently due to end in February 2016.

What do you think George Osborne should prioritise in his autumn statement? Let us know by commenting below.

Dreading Black Friday? Have your shopping delivered to your car

Dreading Black Friday? Have your shopping delivered to your car

Dreading Black Friday? Have your shopping delivered to your car

Volvo has teamed up with a number of Swedish companies to deliver Christmas toys, gifts, food and drinks to its cars.

The manufacturer says its in-car delivery will eradicate the more unpleasant aspects of Christmas shopping, such as battling busy city centres and missing important deliveries.

The service uses a digital key, which is used to gain one-time access to your Volvo. Owners simply order the goods online, receive a notification that the goods have been delivered and then just drive home with them.

Volvo’s senior vice president for marketing, sales and service, Björn Annwall, said: “Christmas is fun – but let’s be honest, it is also a busy time for most families. This service simply makes shopping easier.

“Volvo In-car Delivery provides concrete proof that connected car technologies can be used to save people time and make their lives easier.”

Although currently only available in Sweden, Volvo says its in-car delivery service will be trialled elsewhere in Europe in the future.

Vauxhall Zafira Tourer

Vauxhall: we do NOT cheat emissions tests

Vauxhall Zafira TourerVauxhall has issued a strongly-worded statement insisting its cars do not have any emission test detection devices – despite the suggestion by BBC’s Panorama that they do.

Such ‘defeat device’ software as used by Volkswagen has been proven to detect test conditions and alter engine settings to produce fewer harmful NOx emissions than in real-world driving.

The Panorama test appeared to show a disparity between tailpipe emissions of a Vauxhall Zafira Tourer 1.6 diesel when strictly run under official test conditions and when a single parameter – the temperature of the engine – was changed.

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The engine ‘outside’ test cycle conditions produced three times the amount of NOx as the test cycle-compliant engine. This could indicate the presence of software that detects a vehicle is undergoing an emissions test.

Not so, says Vauxhall. Its products “comply with all regulatory requirements, including the in-service emissions testing program, according to EU rules. These requirements are periodically audited by the approval authority.”

Vauxhall: Panorama used a poorly-performing car

So what caused the difference in emissions found by Panorama? Either a test that wasn’t correctly set up, insists Vauxhall, or a vehicle that was not performing correctly.

“Panorama has refused to share information on the technical accuracy of the test prior to the broadcast.”

This lack of information is why Vauxhall believes the car was not performing as it should: when Panorama conducted the emissions test strictly by the book, NOx emissions were still twice as high as legislation permits.

Panorama also ran the Zafira Tourer through a regular real-world procedure, and found that NOx emissions went “off the scale” of the testing equipment.

A test engineer at the Czech Republic lab used by Panorama said that although emissions will increase in real-world driving, it should be by ‘tens of percent’.

“There is no reason for the emissions to be three times, five times, ten times higher.” Vauxhall did not respond to this observation in its statement.

Brits head to France to reignite love affair with driving

Brits head to France to reignite love affair with driving

Brits head to France to reignite love affair with driving

British drivers have fallen out of love with driving in Britain and are flocking to France in a bid to escape congestion, according to new research.

Data from the Institute of Advanced Drivers (IAM) suggests a third of UK motorists no longer enjoy driving – with 41% citing congestions as the main reason.

This research is backed up by the latest statistics from Brittany Ferries. The ferry operator has seen a 10% increase in the take-up of tailored drive get-aways for cars and motorbikes in 2015.

France has a similar number of cars as the UK, but it’s far larger with a road network more than twice the size, so it seems motorists are crossing the Channel to make the most of the open roads.

And they’re heading to popular tourist areas, such as Brittany and Normandy, according to Christiane Barker, general manager Brittany Ferries.

She said: “We have seen a sharp increase in demand for driving tours in the holiday regions. As a consequence we’ve added new tours for 2016.”

One of the most popular tours of 2015 was a six-night Chateaux and Paris experience, which involves a 500-mile drive through the Western Loire and Loire Valley to the Chateau de Versailles, south west of Paris.

Retro Road Test: Skoda Octavia vRS

Skoda Octavia vRS: what is it?


Skoda’s vRS badge has come a long way in nearly 15 years.

Back in 2001, when the first Octavia vRS was launched, the idea of a hot Skoda was far too much for some people to take in. The Skoda brand was still emerging from the dark days of ill-informed jokes, continuing to find its feet under Volkswagen ownership.

With a knowing tap on the inside of its nose, the Skoda Octavia vRS emerged from out of nowhere and practically trumped anything else from the VAG stable. To those in the know, the Skoda Octavia vRS was the performance weapon of choice.

Skoda Octavia vRS: what are its rivals?


We could argue that the original Skoda Octavia vRS had no direct rivals. With a launch price of £15,100, nothing could touch it. The one notable exception was the slightly cheaper SEAT Leon Cupra, but pound for pound, the cavernous Octavia vRS stood out like a big shiny beacon.

Remember the early press cars were all painted in striking Corrida Red. And we all know red is faster, right?

Other rivals? Well the Octavia vRS trounced the MK4 Golf GTI in just about every department, while the UK’s first Honda Civic Type R was waiting in the wings. The £15,995 Ford Focus ST170 was a palatable prelude to the blistering Ford Focus RS and was arguably the Octavia’s most direct rival.

Skoda Octavia vRS: what engine does it use?


The Skoda Octavia vRS made good use of Volkswagen’s ubiquitous 1.8-litre 20v turbocharged engine, seen in the likes of the Audi TT, Audi A3/S3, Volkswagen Golf, SEAT Leon and standard Skoda Octavia.

In Octavia vRS guise, the engine develops 177hp at 5,550rpm, producing 173lb ft of torque. The 0-60 time was quoted as 7.9 seconds, with a claimed top speed of 144mph. At the time, this was the fastest Skoda ever built.

Skoda Octavia vRS: what’s it like to drive?


Seriously good. Given the mediocrity of the equivalent Golf GTI, you have to ask what wizardry was applied to transform the Octavia vRS into such a performance bargain. You could say the same about the SEAT Leon Cupra, which was also better than the Golf.

The gearing is comically long, with 70mph achievable in second gear. The engine also feels more characterful in the Octavia vRS, urging you to press on.

The steering on this 77,000-mile car seemed lighter and less communicative than it did when new and subjectively, the Octavia vRS lacks the intimacy and immediacy of a more hardcore hot hatch. But considering the size of the Octavia vRS, not to mention the double wardrobe over the rear wheels, masquerading as a 528-litre boot, the Skoda is a huge amount of fun.

Skoda Octavia vRS: reliability and running costs


The Skoda Octavia vRS offers a combined fuel economy of 35.3mpg, although figures in the mid 40s aren’t uncommon on a long run. With CO2 emissions of 192g/km and tax band J, taxing the Octavia vRS will cost £265 per annum.

The availability of parts will not be an issue and there are number of excellent Volkswagen Group specialists who can service the car for less than that of a main dealer.

Skoda Octavia vRS: could I drive it every day?


Oh, absolutely. The Skoda Octavia vRS is an easy car to drive, with a simplicity that is lost on so many hot hatches. No driving modes to choose from, no concerns about all-round visibility, just a highly practical and immensely likeable performance hatchback. And if you demand more practicality, there’s also a Skoda Octavia vRS estate.

Back in the day, these cars were the motorway patrol car of choice for many police forces. The combination of supreme pace, space and the unknown quantity of a hot Skoda made for a brilliant unmarked cop car. It helped to springboard the vRS brand into the public domain.

Skoda Octavia vRS: how much should I pay?


Prices start from as little as £1,500, which represents tremendous value for money for such a high performance car. For that money, you’ll get an Octavia vRS with a six-figure mileage and part service history. Prices go as high as £3,000 for a really good example, but it’s worth noting the MK2 Octavia vRS can be secured for upwards of £3,500.

Buy on condition and service history, rather than age. Optional extras were few and far between, but it’s worth searching for cars with parking sensors (that’s a big boot when reversing), cruise control (to take advantage of long-distance credentials) and an electric sunroof.

Skoda Octavia vRS: what should I look out for?


The ever-excellent Briskoda forum offers an extensive Skoda Octavia vRS buying guide and that should be your first port of call if you’re considering a purchase. The belt and water pump should have been replaced every four years or 60,000 miles and you should check for signs of accident damage. This is a performance car, so it may have been used accordingly.

An engine misfire could be caused by a faulty coil pack, while water in the boot may be the result of a broken rear washer pipe. Better to wait for a cherished and much-loved example than to take a chance on a cheap vRS of questionable quality.

Skoda Octavia vRS: should I buy one?


If you’re looking for a practical, spacious and quick hot hatch with a difference, you must consider the Skoda Octavia vRS. Green brake callipers may not appeal to all, but Skoda deserves huge respect for transforming an everyday hatchback into such a purposeful-looking machine. You even get a smattering of vRS goodies on the inside, such as a vRS branded gearknob, vRS seats with white inserts and silver-rimmed instruments. There’s even an ASR traction control button…

Skoda Octavia vRS: pub fact


In 2002, Skoda launched the Octavia vRS WRC, built to celebrate 100 years of Skoda in motorsport. Only 100 were sold, of which 25 were right-hand drive cars offered to the UK.

At £20,700, they were more expensive than the standard vRS, but they did offer a host of extra features, including Candy white paint, WRC replica graphics, a numbered plaque, xenon headlights and heated front seats. A future classic in the making?

2015 Honda HR-V 1.6 i-DTEC EX: how easy is it to live with?

2015 Honda HR-V 1.6 i-DTEC EX: how easy is it to live with?

2015 Honda HR-V 1.6 i-DTEC EX: how easy is it to live with?

I’ve been driving the HR-V for almost a couple of months. Just like the bigger CR-V I ran for an extended period a couple of years ago, there’s something amazingly comforting about how instantly easy this HR-V is to live with. Jump in, press the start button and off you go.

2015 Honda HR-V 1.6 i-DTEC EX: new arrival

Some will home in on the pointlessness of certain features. That button to start the car, rather than putting the key into the ignition. Keyless doors are standard on this top model, but I sense there’s antipathy growing towards this feature with the reported security implications on other cars. The handbrake is an electrical switch rather than a lever. I’ve still yet to work out what was wrong with a good old-fashioned handbrake.

Yet there’s something to be said even for this, because when you stop on a hill, the handbrake automatically stays on for a second as you move your foot from brake to accelerator, so you don’t need to manually operate the brake and go through a driving-test hill-start procedure.

Like most tall cars, the HR-V has firm suspension in order to stop the body leaning too much in corners. I’m quite happy with it, but my wife has noticed that is seems firmer than her Kia Sportage. I am sure she’ll get used to it.

2015 Honda HR-V 1.6 i-DTEC EX: how easy is it to live with?

Leather seats are standard on the top model so seat heating becomes essential too, and the two-stage system fitted to the HR-V is powerful without being overwhelming. Just as well, because the diesel engine seems to take a good while to warm through.

An overlooked area of the HR-V’s design concerns the side windows. They don’t clear condensation from the outside when they are wound down. As autumn has set in that has meant walking around the car with a sponge cleaning the windows before driving off, which becomes irksome.

I love the cargo space. There’s plenty of stowage in the front, and a really massive boot, helped by the fact that there is no spare wheel, just a pack of tyre sealant. Shopping gets lost here, and tends to roll around. I must get some type of restraint system. Why don’t car manufacturers think of this themselves? It isn’t just Honda. It’s almost every brand you can think of.

The HR-V is going into hibernation for a few weeks as I head off to Australia. Before I go, I should tell you that the economy is wonderful. 58mpg gets you a range tantalisingly close to 600 miles before a garage visit.

Specification: 2015 Honda HR-V 1.6 i-DTEC EX manual
Price (October 2015): £24,495
Price with options: £25,470 (metallic paint £525)
Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel
Power: 120hp
Torque: 221lb ft
0-62mph: 10.5 secs
Top speed: 119mph
MPG: 68.9
CO2: 104g/km

World-first: Range Rover drives over paper bridge in China

World-first: Range Rover drives over paper bridge in China

World-first: Range Rover drives over paper bridge in China

A new Range Rover has crossed a five-metre long bridge made only from paper to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the innovative brand.

Land Rover says the latest Range Rover was up to the amazing feat because of its lightweight aluminium body and suite of high-tech all-terrain technologies.

The car was put into Terrain Response 2 mode. This automatically optimises a range of vehicle settings to enhance all-terrain ability, and in this case to preserve the delicate fabric of the bridge.

All-Terrain Progress Control was used during the bridge crossing. It allows the driver to concentrate purely on steering the vehicle, by helping the car to pull away on wet, slippery and other tricky surfaces, and then maintain a selected speed.

The bridge was created by British installation artist Steve Messam.

He said: “To make the bridge strong enough we needed to get seven tons of tension on every single sheet of paper in it, and we needed to create that tension evenly right across the bridge.”

It took three days for the paper bridge to be constructed by specialist British manufacturer James Cropper. It is made entirely out of paper with no bolts or glue to hold it in place.

The jaw-dropping drive took place in the ancient water city of Suzhou, which is known as the Venice of the East. It was part of Range Rover’s 45th anniversary celebrations, this one ahead of the Guangzhou Motor Show.

Jaguar Land Rover’s Director Group Engineering, Nick Rogers, said: “China is an important market for Range Rover, so we have picked the perfect place to celebrate 45 years of our luxury SUV family. Range Rover’s advanced lightweight body and peerless all-terrain capability were crucial factors in making this unique drive possible.”

Nissan voted top car customer website in Britain

Nissan voted top car customer website in Britain

Nissan voted top car customer website in Britain

Nissan has come out top in an expert poll assessing the customer-friendliness and usefulness of car retailer websites – but it’s bad news for sports car manufacturer Porsche which came out bottom.

The survey by car dealer title Auto Retail Network (ARN) saw Nissan post a 93% score, with ARN assessors nothing its particularly strong Nissan experience and owners content area.

Vauxhall was next up, thanks to its strong overall design, with Volkswagen in third place courtesy of its personal video option for used car sales.

Porsche, however, scored a full 30% less than Nissan, with its 63% score due to a variety of reasons, not least a lack of UK-specific social media.

Alfa Romeo was next-bottom, with Suzuki also scoring below 70%.

Car makers ‘too slow to respond’

The big weakness for most car manufacturers in 2015 is response to customer enquiries, says ARN editorial director Tristan Young.

“While many websites typically provide an automated reply promising a call within a defined timeframe, we do not believe that this is an adequate response for consumers.

“In an age where customers can view, purchase and have products delivered within two hours, it is impossible to believe that car retailers are only able to guarantee a call back within 24 hours.”

Franchised retailers were also assessed by ARN: Drive Vauxhall came out top, beating Pentagon and Lookers. In the used car dealer world, Car Shop was top, ahead of Imperial and Fords of Winsford.

All websites were tested by ARN in real world conditions using desktop, smartphone and tablet. Different connection speeds were assessed too, in order to test how website functionality differs with download speed.

Many websites are developed in specialist agencies with superfast broadband connection,” said an ARN spokesman. “They don’t necessarily work very well in rural Shropshire.”