Vauxhall boss slams Brexit bid: we need to stay in the EU

Vauxhall boss slams Brexit bid: we need to stay in the EU

Vauxhall boss slams Brexit bid: we need to stay in the EU

Vauxhall’s new managing director Rory Harvey has joined the debate on the EU referendum, telling journalists that the firm ‘absolutely’ has a position on Brexit – and that position is that the UK should remain in the European Union.

Speaking on the eve of the 2016 Geneva Motor Show, Harvey said: “We think it’s the right thing to do in terms of movement of goods and supply of services and people, and we think it’s the right thing in terms of the automotive industry and us as an organisation.

“We have a position and that position is that we think that now, at the moment, we should stay in the EU.”

Brexit: Nissan, Toyota want Britain to remain in EU

Harvey’s predecessor, Tim Tozer, left the company suddenly in September following what’s believed to have been a spat between Vauxhall and GM’s European arm, Opel.

In the weeks prior to his departure, Tozer suggested that Britain leaving the EU would not stop Vauxhall from doing business in the UK.

He told the BBC’s Radio 4 today programme: “I don’t think in that event [of Britain leaving the EU] there would not be a trade agreement with what was left of the EU. We’re a very, very big market for European products, goods and services, and it would be unthinkable to us as a corporation that no such trade agreement would ultimately be negotiated if this country chose to leave.”

His successor is more reserved, however. Harvey said it would be “interesting to see what happens with the referendum,” yet refused to speculate about whether the company would continue to build cars within the UK if it were to leave the EU.

Vauxhall is GM’s fourth biggest market around the world, with 35,000 people employed by the firm in the UK. The brand’s Ellesmere Port plant in the North West produces more than 180,000 Astras a year – 52,000 of which are sold in the UK.

This figure is set to increase with the new model, which tonight picked up the award of the 2016 European Car of the Year.

Recently, Toyota hinted that it would continue production at its Burnaston plant – whichever way the EU referendum goes.

Telling the Financial Times how Toyota had buried a time capsule under the Derbyshire factory, the multinational company’s chief executive Akio Toyoda said: “From now on, like Japan, we may face some pretty tough times in the UK market.

“But we want to deepen our roots to deliver ever better cars, so when that capsule is opened after 100 years, all can see we’ve built a truly British company.”

Vauxhall Astra COTY 2016

Vauxhall Astra is 2016 European Car of the Year

Vauxhall Astra COTY 2016The Vauxhall Astra has won the 2016 European Car of the Year prize, in a closely-fought battle with the Volvo XC90.

Mazda’s MX-5 was third, following strong scoring from British COTY judges that helped it pip the Audi A4.

Revealed on the eve of the 2016 Geneva Motor Show, the Car of the Year Awards were presented in an exciting Eurovision-style presentation, where all nations’ points were revealed and totted up.

It soon became clear the two front-runners were the Vauxhall Astra and Volvo XC90.

The two were neck-and-neck before the Astra drew out a small lead – before the Swedish scores were revealed: naturally, they awarded the home brand strong scores, that narrowed the Astra’s lead once again.

In the presentation, it was down to Great Britain to cast the vote – and thanks to the UK awarding strong scores to the Mazda MX-5, but still scoring the Brit-built Astra reasonably highly, Vauxhall emerged ahead as the 2016 Car of the Year winner.

Of course, the scores were all cast at the same time and so it wasn’t really down to one nation to make the call: even so, the Astra’s overall points score of 309 saw it take an unquestionable victory ahead of the Volvo XC90 on 294 points and the Mazda MX-5 on 204 points.

Motoring Research reviews the new Vauxhall Astra

The Astra beat a long list of 35 Car of the Year Contenders, of which a shortlist of seven did battle for the overall trophy (which itself was new for 2016).

Judged by 58 jurors, Car of the Year prides itself on its transparency – all scores by each juror are available on the organisation’s website, for example.

The victory was also a genuine surprise to Vauxhall in the UK: the first they heard of the result was when Motoring Research’s Andrew Brady showed them Richard Aucock’s tweet from the Geneva show hall…

2016 Car of the Year – final scores

1: Vauxhall Astra – 309 points

2: Volvo XC90 – 294 points

3: Mazda MX-5 – 202 points

4: Audi A4 – 189 points

5: Jaguar XE – 163 points

6: Skoda Superb – 147 points

7: BMW 7 Series – 143 points

SEAT Leon Cupra 290

SEAT Leon Cupra 290 (2016) road test review

SEAT Leon Cupra 290

The Leon Cupra 290 is the most powerful SEAT ever made. The Spaniards have squeezed a further 10hp from their performance flagship, taking total output to – you guessed it – 290hp. The latest Leon also offers a broader spread of torque (pulling power) across the rev range and a lighter, louder exhaust.

Incremental improvements, then, but the old Cupra 280 was already a potent package. As we’ll see, this car’s biggest challenge comes from its increasingly formidable range of rivals…

SEAT Leon Cupra 290 rivalsWhat are its rivals?

For many, the 1980s were the halcyon days of the hot hatch. But we are currently in a second golden era for what CAR magazine used to call ‘rocket shoppers’. Cars like the Ford Focus RS, Honda Civic Type R, Peugeot 308 GTI and Volkswagen Golf R offer power to the people like never before.

The Focus RS is the new benchmark in this class. With 350hp, it’s more powerful than the Leon Cupra – and it has four-wheel drive. It is also, however, more expensive. The Civic Type R offers fast-and-furious styling and frenetic performance, while the 308 GTI is more comfort-oriented but still very quick. Lastly, the 4WD Golf R is simply a brilliant all-rounder.

SEAT Leon Cupra 290Which engines does it use?

The new Cupra packs a turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine that produces 290hp at 5,900rpm. An additional 10hp is perhaps a token gesture, but the 290’s fatter torque curve (now 258lb ft from 1,700rpm to 5,800rpm) is more significant. The new exhaust system weighs 5.8kg less and has been tuned for a ‘sportier’ sound.

A six-speed manual gearbox is standard, or – for an extra £1,100 or so  – buyers can opt for a six-speed DSG semi-automatic. The 0-62mph sprint takes between 5.6 seconds for the three-door hatch with DSG, up to 6.0 seconds for the ST estate with a manual ’box.

SEAT Leon Cupra 290What’s it like to drive?

We first sampled the Leon on a closed-road ‘special stage’ in the mountains near Barcelona. With the Drive Profile switch set to ‘Cupra’ mode, the steering and throttle response are razor-sharp, and the car dives into a series of sharp corners like an eager puppy.

Sending all that power through the front wheels could be a recipe for wayward torque steer, but the Leon’s mechanical front differential does a good job of taming those wild horses. There’s no shortage of cornering grip, and it takes serious commitment to make the front end push wide. Ultimately though, there isn’t the four-wheel-drive traction of a Golf R – or the delicious rear-wheel-drive attitude of a Focus RS.

Can you detect the extra 10hp? Perhaps, but you’d need a more finely-calibrated road-test sense than mine. The added exhaust noise, however, is immediately and delightfully apparent. And unlike some cars, such as the Ford Focus ST with its ‘sound symposer’, it doesn’t sound artificial.

SEAT Leon Cupra 290Fuel economy and running costs

Hot hatches aren’t merely weekend playthings, so sensible running costs are arguably just as important as straight-line speed. Official fuel economy for the lairiest Leon ranges from 41.5 to 43.5mpg depending on the body-style and gearbox combo. That’s reasonably good for a car of this type, although don’t forget the 290’s preference for pricier 98-octane super unleaded fuel.

Opt for the three-door Leon SC with a DSG gearbox and exhaust CO2 emissions of 149g/km mean you’ll pay car tax of £145 a year. All other versions are in a higher VED band, at £180 a year.

SEAT Leon Cupra 290Is it practical?

SEAT offers the Leon Cupra in three body-styles: three-door hatchback (Sport Coupe, or SC), five-door hatchback and estate (Sport Tourer, or ST). As you’d expect, the SC is the best-looking but least practical of the bunch, with a high window-line that makes the rear seats feel a little claustrophobic. The five-door hatch should suit most needs, and offers a 380-litre boot – expanding to 1,210 litres with the seats folded. For comparison, a Ford Focus holds from 316 to 1,215 litres.

However, the ST is the obvious choice if you need space for baby buggies, dogs or flat-pack furniture. Its 587-litre boot swells to a very-useful-indeed 1,470 litres when required. Just don’t engage Cupra mode with the labrador in the back…  

SEAT Leon Cupra 290What about safety?

Euro NCAP awarded the Leon a full five stars in its industry-standard crash tests. The 290 comes with most of the safety equipment you’d expect, including curtain airbags, a driver’s knee airbag and traction control. The only notable omission is automatic emergency braking, which costs £515 when bundled with active cruise control.

A special mention goes to the uprated brakes: 340mm discs at the front and 310mm at the rear. It’s easy to forget that, while hot hatches are good at going fast, they usually stop more quickly, too.

SEAT Leon Cupra 290

Which version should I go for?

Cupra 290 prices start at £28,375 for the manual SC, rising to £32,780 for a DSG-equipped ST. Choosing between the body types is really a question of what suits your needs. We’re suckers for a fast estate car, and the ST costs a modest £800 more than the five-door hatch. However, it does feel marginally less agile on the road.

Most of the optional extras are cosmetic. How about £505 for fluorescent ‘Orange-Line’ alloys and door mirrors? Perhaps not. The Sub8 Performance pack, however, is more serious. Named after the Leon’s record-breaking Nurburgring lap time, the £2,000 option includes uprated brakes with Brembo four-pot calipers. For a further £500, you can add super-sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres. Although both are probably overkill for normal road use.

SEAT Leon Cupra 290Should I buy one?

If we had written this review a couple of years ago, the answer would have been an emphatic ‘yes’. The Leon Cupra is great to drive and eminently practical – like a Golf GTI with added speed, style and, er, Spanishness.


Unfortunately for SEAT, the hot hatch game has moved on in the past couple of years. And the 290 simply isn’t as fast, or as much fun, as the Ford Focus RS. Admittedly, the Ford costs around £1,300 more than the equivalent Leon five-door, you can’t buy an RS estate, and there’s a waiting list. But those quibbles aside, the Ford gets our vote as the most exciting car in this class. Indeed, it’s one of the greatest hot hatches of all time.

If you want something more subtle and civilised, the Volkswagen Golf R is certainly worth a look, too. Again, it’s more expensive than the Leon, but better residual (resale) values mean it actually works out cheaper with some monthly finance deals.

The Leon Cupra is still a very capable hot hatch. But an extra 10hp sadly isn’t enough to propel it to the top of the class.

SEAT IbizaPub fact

The Cupra badge is 20 years old this year. It all started with the 1996 Ibiza Cupra, which burst into public consciousness by winning the 2.0-litre World Rally Championship that same year.

The larger Leon Cupra followed in 2000, initially with a V6 engine (not sold in the UK) – then later with a four-cylinder turbo.


Nissan Union Flag

Brexit: Nissan, Toyota want Britain to remain in EU

Nissan Union FlagNissan and Toyota have both expressed their preference for Britain remaining in the UK – although neither plans to pro-actively support any political campaign ahead of the EU referendum on 23 June.

They are the first major overseas car manufacturers based in the UK to formally comment on Brexit since the date of the referendum was announced.

“This is ultimately a matter for the British people to decide,” said Nissan chairman and CEO Carlos Ghosn in a statement.

“We respect that the UK’s future relationship with the European Union is a matter for the British people to decide, and it is not our intention to participate in the campaign,” said Toyota Motor Europe president and CEO John van Zyl.

But both firms are quite clear in the facts they present – and both agree that it makes the most sense for jobs, trade and costs for the UK to remain within Europe.

“For us, a position of stability is more positive than a collection of unknowns,” said Ghosn; “We are concerned that leaving would create additional business challenges,” added van Zyl.

And while current UK-based operations for Nissan and Toyota are not under threat, future investments in the UK could be at risk should Britons vote for Brexit. “While we remain committed to our existing investment decision,” said Ghosn, “we will not speculate on the outcome nor what would happen in either scenario.

“We obviously want the Nissan UK plant and engineering centre to remain as competitive as possible when compared with other global entities,” he added. “Each future investment opportunity will be taken on a case by case basis, just as it is now.

Nissan directly employs 8,000 people at its sites in London, Cranfield and Sunderland, plus a further 32,000 people indirectly. Toyota’s manufacturing site at Burnaston employs 3,800.

Toyota admits key reasons for choosing Britain over the rest of Europe when it chose Derby the plant in 1992 was “the open and free access to the European market, (and) the free access of a skilled workforce”. Today, Burnaston is wholly integrated into Toyota’s European operations.

8 in 10 Nissans are exported and 9 in 10 Toyota are exported out of the UK – with Europe being the biggest market for both brand’s vehicles.

Which engines does it use?

Retro Road Test: Mk1 Mazda MX-5 1.8

Which engines does it use?

This is the first generation of the world’s best-selling sports car. A car that famously offers such a pure driving experience for not a lot of money. Indeed, more than 25 years since it was launched, Mazda has returned to this car’s ethos with the latest MX-5.

What are its rivals?

That’s the thing… there aren’t really any. Sure, there’s Toyota’s MR2, but that’s more expensive, and offers feistier mid-engined handling. It’s not a proper convertible, either. Aside from that? Erm, MG tried to battle the MX-5 with the MG F, but it’s a tragic Austin Rover parts-bin that is best avoided. The older MG B might appeal to those with a more classic-car mindset, though (i.e. those with AA Gold membership).

Which engines does it use?

Which engines does it use?

This example we’re testing here uses the more powerful 1.8-litre engine, introduced in 1993. It’s not as eager to rev as the peppy 1.6-litre, although but later 1.6-litre cars were detuned to just 90hp. If you want anything close to sports car performance, you’ll want the 130hp 1.8.

What’s it like to drive?

These cars are heavily affected by things like geometry and tyre choice. This example, part of Mazda’s heritage fleet, is pretty sorted in that regard – as you’d expect. The suspension’s standard – meaning it sits higher than some would like, but that results in a compliant ride.

Without power steering, it provides oodles of feedback and encourages you to make good progress along rural roads. It’s a car that’s better suited to a twisty B-road than a more open, flowing road thanks to its limited power and extremely nimble handling. There’s very little out there that’ll handle as well as an early MX-5 for the money.

Which engines does it use?

Reliability and running costs

This is the appealing thing about an MX-5. The engines are pretty bulletproof, as long as you service them regularly and don’t skimp on cambelt changes. Due to how common MX-5s are, parts are very cheap, and there’s a good network of owners’ clubs and forums for support.

Classic insurers love them, and you’ll comfortably see in excess of 30mpg unless you drive everywhere near the redline. Which you might.

Could I drive it every day?

It’d be a bit of a shame to… MX-5s work well as weekend cars, when you’ve got a comfy commuter for the week. Roofs that can occasionally be a little less than 100% watertight, plus a small, basic cabin, might start to wear after a while, but if you can put up with this there’s no reason why you shouldn’t use an MX-5 every day. It’s unlikely to go wrong – just make sure you give it a good clean underneath with a pressure washer if you’ve been driving on salted roads.

Which engines does it use?

How much should I pay?

As ever, pay as much as you can afford. You can pick up a slightly neglected example for less than a grand, but invest a couple of thousand in a minter and you’ll see it go up in value over the coming years.

What should I look out for?

Rust. That’s the thing that kills MX-5s. Expect to replace the sills on a semi-regular basis, but rust around the wheelarches and windscreen can be costly to repair properly. Look out for bodged examples – take a magnet and make sure they’re made of metal rather than filler. If the body is tidy, anything else is comparably cheap to fix.

You should also beware that there are lots of ‘Mazda Eunos’ Japanese imports in the UK. There’s no reason why you should avoid these – they’re so common that insurance companies generally treat them the same as UK MX-5s, and they often have a better specification (including things like air-con). Having spent a shorter amount of time on salty British roads, they’re often in better condition, too. Just make sure they’ve got a decent service history.

Retro Road Test: Mk1 Mazda MX-5 1.8

Should I buy one?

There’s a reason why the original MX-5 is so popular. It’ll be a while before it draws crowds at classic car shows, but for a sunny weekend nothing will make you smile as much for the money. Find the elusive rust-free example while you still can.

Pub fact

The MX-5 holds the Guinness World Record for being the best-selling two-seat sports car in history. When the record was declared in 2000, more than 500,000 had been sold – with close to double that now produced.

Jeremy Clarkson pays more than £100,000 to producer he punched in ‘fracas’

Jeremy Clarkson

Ex-Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson has paid out in excess of £100,000 and apologised to the producer he punched in a ‘fracas’ that led to him being sacked from the BBC.

Oisin Tymon, who was attacked by Clarkson in a row over a steak dinner, brought legal proceedings against the TV celebrity in November.

The producer, who suffered a split lip following the incident, pursued his case in the Central London Employment Tribunal, in Holborn.

However, it’s believed the pair have now settled the case, with Clarkson paying £100,000 to Tymon, who he described Tymon as a “lazy, Irish, c**t”.

In a statement issued through his lawyers, Slater and Gordon, Clarkson said: “I would like to say sorry, once again, to Oisin Tymon for the incident and its regrettable aftermath. I want to reiterate that none of this was in any way his fault.

“I would also like to make it clear that the abuse he has suffered since the incident is unwarranted and I am sorry too that he has had to go through that.”

Jeremy Clarkson has since found a job with fellow ex-Top Gear presenters Richard Hammond and James May, presenting a new, as-yet-unnamed car programme on Amazon Prime. The series is set to make its debut later in the spring.

Aston Martin St Athan

Aston Martin picks Wales for new car plant

Aston Martin St AthanAston Martin will build its its vital new DBX crossover at an all-new car plant at St Athan, Wales – meaning the UK has won the fight to host the sports car firm’s second car factory.

Beating numerous other sites worldwide, construction work will begin at the new site in Glamorgan next year, with full vehicle production targeted to being in 2020.

Part of a planned £200 million Aston Martin investment drive, the 90-acre facility (located around 15 miles west of Cardiff) will repurpose what’s currently a Ministry of Defence base: three ‘super-hangers’ will be turned into a modern car factory building the production version of the 2015 DBX crossover concept.

In pictures: Aston Martin DBX concept

The decision to choose Wales was celebrated by the First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones. “I am delighted to officially welcome Aston Martin to Wales,” he said.

“We have been working closely with the company for almost two years in the face of fierce competition from other potential sites across the world.

“Today is the start of a long-term relationship between Wales and Aston Martin.”

Gaydon also boosted

Aston Martin isn’t forgetting its HQ at Gaydon, Warwickshire though. Now the home of its next generation of sports cars, Gaydon is also to build the all-electric RapidE from 2018: by 2020, Gaydon will have expanded to a planned maximum volume of 7,000 sports cars. St Athan will be incremental crossover volume on top of that.

There’s a jobs boost too: between the the sites in England and Wales, up to 1,000 new Aston Martin jobs will be created by 2020.

3,000 more jobs will be created in the supply chain and local businesses.

It’s even good news for UK plc: Aston Martin believes 9 in 10 vehicles produced at St Athan will be exported – something that’s delighted Prime Minister David Cameron: “Aston Martin is an iconic British brand and the decision to invest here shows real confidence in our economy,” he said.

Aston Martin CEO Dr. Andrew Palmer added: “During our 103-year history, Aston Martin has become famous for making beautiful hand-crafted cars in England.

“Through a detailed evaluation of over 20 potential global locations for this new manufacturing facility, we were consistently impressed with the focus on quality, cost and speed from the Welsh Government team.

“As a great British company, we look forward to St Athan joining Gaydon as our second centre of hand-crafted manufacturing excellence.”

Renault Scenic 2016

New Renault Scenic revealed ahead of Geneva 2016 debut

Renault Scenic 2016Renault has revealed first images of its all-new Scenic, ahead of its world debut at the 2016 Geneva Motor Show next week.

The fourth generation Scenic compact MPV arrives two decades after Renault invented the downsized people carrier segment back in 1996 – and while sales of MPVs may be slipping, nearly five million Scenic sales to date suggest it’s still a significant segment for Renault.

Renault Scenic 2016

The new Scenic is the first to benefit from design guru Laurens van den Acker’s influence and, like so many modern Renaults, is significantly more stylish and appealing than the boxy vehicle it replaces.

It has a higher ground clearance and shorter rear overhang, while wider tracks front and rear give it a tougher, more planted stance. Like the new Megane, it has distinctive headlights including LED Pure Vision technology.

This is the first Scenic to feature a three-part panoramic windscreen, following the lead of the larger (and sadly not-for-UK) Espace.

Renault says it’s a “completely fresh take on the compact MPV”. We can see if we agree at the 2016 Geneva Motor Show next week: doors open on 1 March.

Volvo Spotify app

Volvo’s new models will have built-in Spotify

Volvo Spotify appVolvo will be the first car company to fully integrate the Spotify music streaming service into all of its models without the use of a smartphone.

Making the announcement at Mobile World Congress 2016, Volvo said its new S90 and V90 models, which are both due to be released in the spring, will be the first to receive the service, along with the XC90 SUV.

Volvo has worked closely with the popular music streaming service to design a useable interface that does not require the use of a smartphone.

Currently, Spotify is only available by using Apple’s CarPlay and Bluetooth, both of which are available on newer Volvo models: the new service means music streaming even if (shock) you leave the smartphone at home.

Volvo announced that this feature will be available in all countries where Spotify is currently offered.

The new Kuga shows its teeth as Ford triples investment in autonomous vehicles

New Kuga shows its teeth as Ford triples investment in autonomous vehicles

The new Kuga shows its teeth as Ford triples investment in autonomous vehicles

Ford has revealed its facelifted Kuga in a bid to position it as a serious rival to premium SUVs such as the BMW X3 and Audi Q5.

Shown for the first time in Europe at the Mobile World Congress, Ford has also announced that it will be the first model to receive the company’s brand new SYNC 3 connectivity technology.

The new Kuga, which was unveiled in America as the Escape at the LA Auto Show in November last year, features updated styling with a new bold two-bar grille, front bumper and new tail lights together with revised foglamps, LED running lights and bootlid.

The interior has had some minor modifications, such as the reduction of buttons for the air-con and radio and a bigger display screen.

A new 120hp 1.5-litre TDCi diesel engine will also be available and Ford says it will be able to deliver 64.2mpg and 115g/km CO2 emissions.

The new Kuga shows its teeth as Ford triples investment in autonomous vehicles

The new car comes equipped with new driver assist technologies such as Ford’s Perpendicular Parking that helps drivers park hands free in tight spaces; an enhanced version of Active City Stop collision avoidance system and Adaptive Front Lighting System which increases visibility in poor light.

The addition of such features comes off the back of Ford’s recent announcement to triple its investment in driver assist technology and autonomous vehicles.

Ford has two distinct programmes toward vehicle automation, one that focuses on developing driver assist technology and another, which is developing fully autonomous vehicles that do not require driver input.

Ford is already the first car manufacturer to test fully autonomous vehicles in winter weather and plans to triple the size of the company’s autonomous vehicle development fleet, making it the largest of all car firms.

The facelifted Kuga will go on sale in the UK in October.