Revealed: the European Car of the Year finalists of 2017

Revealed: the European Car of the Year finalists of 2017

Revealed: the European Car of the Year finalists of 2017Forget Brexit, the big news in Europe this week is the announcement of this year’s European Car of the Year finalists. Seven cars have made the shortlist, and it won’t take a Supreme Court ruling to name the winner.

The magnificent seven will undergo a series of tests in February, before the winner is revealed at the Geneva Motor Show in March. Which car will steal the crown from the Vauxhall Astra? Read on to discover the runners and riders.

Alfa Romeo GiuliaRevealed: the European Car of the Year finalists of 2017

The last Alfa Romeo to be named European Car of the Year was the 147 in 2001. Sure, the 159 finished third in 2006 and the Giulietta finished a close second in 2011, but it’s been a while since an Alfa finished top of the tree. Does the Giulia stand a chance?

If the 58 jury members have an ounce of petrol running through their veins, the Alfa Romeo Giulia is in with a shout. It’s another ‘last chance saloon’ for the brand, only this one has a genuine opportunity to ruffle a few feathers in Germany. Hang on, haven’t we heard that before?

Citroen C3Revealed: the European Car of the Year finalists of 2017

Oh how Citroen needs the C3 to succeed. Full year 2016 registrations were down 3% in its native France, a stark contrast to the 7% and 3% increase enjoyed by Renault and Peugeot, respectively. The outgoing C3 remained Citroen’s best-seller, but registrations were down 7%.

Citroen has played a canny card with the new C3. Its chunky styling – complete with C4 Cactus style Airbumps – gives it the look of a crossover, while the innovative ConnectedCAM is likely to appeal to younger, tech-savvy audience.

Mercedes-Benz E-ClassRevealed: the European Car of the Year finalists of 2017

The only German car to make the cut just happens to be one of the best new cars of the past 12 months. There’s a Mercedes-Benz E-Class to suit all tastes, from the standard saloon through to the forthcoming All-Terrain estate.

If the E-Class wins the award, it will be the first time a Mercedes-Benz has worn the crown since 1974, when the 450SE beat the Fiat X1/9 and Honda Civic into second and third place, respectively. More recently, the C-Class finished third in 2015.

Nissan MicraRevealed: the European Car of the Year finalists of 2017

In 1993, the Nissan Micra K11 was named European Car of the Year. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, as the Micra evolved into a shadow of its former self. The fifth generation K14 was unveiled at the 2016 Paris Motor Show and it represents a radical change of direction for the Micra.

Not only does the new Micra look good – like, properly good – it also features a smart interior and is no longer likely to send drivers into a coma. Prices start from £11,995 and Nissan claims you can choose from over 100 different style configurations.

Peugeot 3008Revealed: the European Car of the Year finalists of 2017

Is this the greatest transformation since Claudio Ranieri turned Leicester City from relegation fodder into Premier League winners? Gone is the frumpy 3008 of old, replaced by something altogether more funky.

Peugeot claims the 3008 is “potentially the most trendy SUV currently on the market”, helped in no small part by the brilliant interior. Good enough for the 3008 to follow in the footsteps of the 504, 405, 307 and 308 by winning the award? We’ll see.

Toyota C-HRRevealed: the European Car of the Year finalists of 2017

According to Toyota Japan, the C-HR name is derived from ‘Compact High Rider’ and ‘Cross Hatch Run-about’, while Toyota GB claims it stands for ‘Coupe High Rider’. Whatever, the C-HR is one of the sharpest looking cars of recent years. Compare and contrast with the likes of the Auris, Avensis and Verso.

In an effort to tempt buyers out of the Nissan Qashqai and SEAT Ateca, Toyota has loaded the C-HR with generous levels of standard kit and is offering an efficient hybrid version for company car drivers. It’s not the most practical car in its segment, but it’s arguably the most interesting.

Volvo S90/V90Revealed: the European Car of the Year finalists of 2017

Volvo has never lifted the European Car of the Year trophy, although the XC90 came pretty close in 2016. If the award is based on interior ambience and a sense of calm, the Volvo S90 and V90 are in with a good shout.

Later this year, the V90 will be joined by a new, high-riding Cross Country version, set to go head-to-head with the new E-Class All-Terrain. Fans of jacked-up estate cars have never had it so good. Which car will be named European Car of the Year? Find out on March 6, 2017.

Driving to France? You're risking a £117 fine if you don't display this sticker

Driving to France? You’re risking a £117 fine if you don’t display this sticker

Driving to France? You're risking a £117 fine if you don't display this sticker

A new emissions system being introduced in cities across France could see British drivers hit with fines of up to £117 if they don’t display a special sticker that can be bought for just £3.20.

The Crit’Air vignette was introduced in Lyon and Grenoble on 1 January, with Paris following on Sunday 22 January.

It puts vehicles into six categories based on their emissions: from the cleanest electric or hydrogen-powered cars (Crit’Air 1), to the dirtiest (Crit’Air 6). The categories correspond to the six European Union emission standards for cars – dating back to 1992 when Euro 1 was introduced.

Drivers in Paris failing to display a sticker could be hit with an on-the-spot fine of between €68-135 (£58 to £117).

There’s a catch, though – the website where you can buy the vignette is only available in French, making it difficult for British holidaymakers to comply with the regulations. An English language website is expected in the near future.

The RAC’s European breakdown spokesman Simon Williams said: “Anyone caught without a sticker risks a fine of up to £117, although we understand the French police are likely to be lenient in the early days.”

If you’re expecting to drive through Grenoble, Lyon or Paris you’ll need to know the European emissions standard of your vehicle to apply for the sticker. If your car is a modern Euro 5 or 6 standard vehicle (including all cars registered since September 2009), you’ll be able to find its category in section D2 of the V5.

The ultimate aim is to ban the highest emitting vehicles from cities across France – particularly on days where pollution is particularly high.

Vehicles that are too old to be given a vignette (including cars registered before 1997) are already banned from being driven in Paris between 8am on 8pm on weekdays.

Volvo XC40

2018 Volvo XC40 first drive: watch out, Jaguar E-Pace

Volvo XC40Volvo is relevant. That’s the news that’s been coming out of the Chinese-owned Swedish car brand over the past few years. First, there was the brilliant XC90, which we said was good enough to take on the Range Rover. Then there was the smaller XC60 – not quite as convincing, but still a genuine rival to the BMW X3 and Audi Q5.

And now there’s this: the new XC40. A small, fashionable SUV, underpinned by a new Compact Modular Architecture (CMA) platform that, frankly, has the potential to make a mockery of the new Jaguar E-Pace.

First impressionsVolvo XC40

Why do we say that? Well, look at it. “Expressive Scandinavian design,” is how Volvo describes it. We call it the most attractive compact premium SUV on the market. To our eyes, anyway. It’s blockier than the bigger SUVs – and thus almost a nod to its past. Volvo has never really been above curves, while a rear end that’s wider than the front gives it an almost aggressive look. ‘Almost’, because we can’t really describe this baby Volvo SUV as ‘aggressive’.

It manages to have a clear family resemblance to the XC60 and XC90, without simply looking like a shrunken-down version. Volvo is keen to stress that it’s definitely an SUV, and not a crossover – possibly to leave room in the range for a Cross Country version of the new V40, which is due to arrive in 2018. With 211mm of ground clearance, it sits higher than the Audi Q3, Jaguar E-Pace and BMW X1, which adds to its bold look.Volvo XC40

Before we go any further, let’s pick apart the prices. The entry-level T3 petrol engine paired with front-wheel drive starts at £27,905 in Momentum trim, making it just as expensive as its German rivals. There’s a good amount of kit as standard, though: all models feature the ‘Thor’s hammer’ LED lights, a nine-inch infotainment screen (we’ll come to that shortly), rear park-assist and Volvo’s City Safety automatic braking system.

Although finance deals are yet to be announced, strong residual values (43% after three years for a D3 manual Momentum, says CAP HPI) mean it ought to be fairly competitive on PCP.Volvo XC40

Volvo’s launching a new subscription service with the XC40, too. At £629 per month and restricted to customers within the M25 to start with, Care by Volvo is not going to drastically change how we buy cars from the off, but it’s interesting nonetheless. There’s no deposit, the contract lasts 24 months, and everything but fuel is included – including insurance, tax and maintenance. For up to 14 days each year, you can even swap your XC40 for another Volvo in the range. Perfect if you wish to upgrade to an XC90 for a family holiday, for example.

First seatVolvo XC40

Just as the Volvo XC40 is refreshingly different from its rivals on the outside, it’s more of the same on the inside – in a good way. It’s not quite as plush as the XC60 and XC90 (you can’t expect that in a compact SUV that’s essentially half the price of an XC90), but it still feels premium and interesting in a ‘definitely not German’ kind of way.

All models come with Volvo’s portrait-oriented touchscreen infotainment screen in the centre of the dash, which replaces conventional buttons such as heating and radio controls. It does an excellent job of decluttering, but does make things unnecessarily complicated when driving. We’re sure with time you’d get used to accessing functions though the screen, though.Volvo XC40

There are lots of clever touches, too. There is bags of storage space, with huge door bins, a compartment underneath the front seats that can fit a tablet (or, if you’re feeling old-school, a road map), and a clever fold-out curry hook in the glove box. There’s even a little bin for keeping the footwells clear of used parking tickets and the like.

With 460 litres of boot space with the rear seats left up, it’s competitive, if not class-leading, compared to rivals. The load floor does lift to provide more space, though, and can be folded to help transport tricky items. The seats fold entirely flat at the touch of the button, should you wish to carry larger objects.Volvo XC40

There’s plenty of space for passengers, too. A couple of adults will sit in the rear without any major complaints in the head- or legroom department. It might be worth taking small children on the test-drive, though, as the car’s angular window line might make it difficult for them to see out of the back.

First driveVolvo XC40

Finally, an area in which we can be a bit critical. The XC40 is somewhat anodyne to drive. Only the higher-spec T5 petrol and D4 diesel were available on the launch, and even the 247hp petrol T5 – which sounds moderately exciting on paper – can’t rival the likes of Jag’s E-Pace for driver involvement. The steering is light, feedback not forthcoming, and you’re never going to get a buzz from driving the XC40 enthusiastically.

But, frankly, who cares? This car isn’t about being sporty. It’ll roll around in bends, but its four-wheel-drive system (standard on the D4 and T5) means it always feels secure. Driving the XC40 is a soothing experience, whether you’re threading it through city streets or sitting on the motorway. The eight-speed automatic gearbox (again, standard on the D4 and T5) is fast to respond, while very little noise makes its way into the cabin. Well, unless you start being rough with the accelerator pedal or make the mistake of putting the car in Dynamic mode.Volvo XC40

In reality, it’s the diesel that makes the most sense in this car. It’s so refined that we’d struggle to recommend the petrol, even in the current anti-diesel climate.

Ride quality is excellent, even in T5 R-Design guise with firmer dampers and 20-inch alloy wheels. In Momentum spec, on smaller wheels, it errs on the side of floaty, but not uncomfortably so. We’d be interested to try it on smaller wheels and on UK roads, though.

First verdictVolvo XC40

That brings us on to the usual caveats: these initial impressions are based on a day driving a left-hand-drive model on Spanish roads, and we’re yet to spend any time with an XC40 in the UK. It’s worth noting too that the D3 diesel with front-wheel drive, the model Volvo’s expecting to be the biggest seller in the UK, wasn’t available to try on the launch. But, cards on the table, this is the first compact SUV to get us this excited in a long time.

And that’s not because it’s exciting to drive. It’s not, but it is easy and relaxing and, in 2017, that’s more important than being fun. Especially in a car of this size and shape. It looks the absolute business, in our opinion, and the interior is brilliantly Swedish. Volvo’s radically-changing image is one that will appeal to some customers more than, say, BMW and Audi, too. The days of dull estates are long gone.

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Star rating verdict: ★★★★★

Five rivals

  • Audi Q3
  • BMW X1
  • Jaguar E-Pace
  • Mercedes-Benz GLA
  • Lexus NX

>NEXT: 2018 Jaguar E-Pace 2.0D 180 first drive: Jag’s hot hatch SUV

We took the Toyota GT86 on a road trip to find out why no one’s buying it

We took the Toyota GT86 on a road trip to find out why no one buys it

We took the Toyota GT86 on a road trip to find out why no one’s buying it

Remember the GT86? It’s that semi-affordable rear-wheel-drive sports car Toyota launched a few years ago. Car journalists all said it was the best thing since sliced bread – even better than a Mazda MX-5 – and that everyone should go out and buy one straight away.

But we didn’t. A few thousand GT86s a year are sold. An Auto Trader browse reveals loads of the things, ex-management cars, presumably (and all too often with the automatic gearbox) gathering dust and waiting for someone to come along and decide they’d prefer a Toyota to some form of hot hatch.

Now Toyota has given the GT86 a facelift. While there have been a few cosmetic tweaks – notably a revised front bumper and grille, along with new 17-inch alloys – the changes have mainly focused on making the GT86 even better to drive.

The Toyota GT86 laughs in the face of drift mode…

One of the changes for 2017 is a new ‘track mode’, allowing drivers to completely turn off the Toyota’s stability and traction control systems. However, unlike certain hot hatches, there’s no daft ‘drift mode’.

Drift mode is your right foot. I discovered this driving to work on a freezing cold morning. Cue the first of my excited tweets about the GT86.

…but it’s also a bit rubbish in some ways

For a start, the interior feels pretty nasty. It’d be fine in an MR2 from the mid-90s, but when we’re talking Mk7 Golf GTI money, the GT86’s cabin definitely falls short.

Then there’s the new infotainment system fitted to the MY2017 GT86. It’s a £750 option and it’s utterly dire. No doubt the worst infotainment system I’ve ever used – I’m sure you could pick up a better one for less money from Halfords.

The first time I used it, the screen froze completely and I had to turn the car off and on again. EVERY time I get into the car I have to deal with errors trying to connect my phone via Bluetooth. It’s infuriating.

“The car is the infotainment system,” my racing driver mate James told me in a semi-ironic way.

It did hatch a plan, though…

To Yorkshire!

7am on Friday. Two choices: turn right onto the A1 in Hertfordshire and go into work. Or turn left on the A1 and get off somewhere in the north.

I go for the latter. I stop at Peterborough services and wonder if I’m being silly. I tweet a pretty picture from outside McDonald’s and tell my boss that I’m ‘hyped’ about the day ahead.

GT86 road trip

Yeah, this car has that kinda effect.

While you know my thoughts on the GT86’s cabin, the sound system is pretty good and the seating position is super comfy for trekking up the country. It’s not all bad.

Eventually, somewhere near York, I turn off the A1 and head for the North York Moors. 

I stop and look at it

I stop and look at it

During a road trip, I like to pull over, get some fresh air, let the engine cool down (ticking away) and take in the sights. I did this in the GT86 and it was great until I looked at it. From some angles, it’s not a pretty car. Look, here’s me trying to do an impression of it.

(Yes, I know I look a bit silly. But at least I was in the middle of nowhere so no one could see me taking a selfie.)

There are other angles, however, where it looks amazing. Like the rear. Here’s a handy pic to show you what I mean.

I stop and look at it

How does it drive?

Time to get down to the serious stuff. Now, if you want to know what driving nirvana feels like, I suggest you combine a Toyota GT86 with the Blakey Road north of Hutton-le-Hole and this Spotify playlist.

Work the flat-four boxer engine hard and it sounds magnificent. Vibrations from the engine air intake system are directed into the cabin – but, fortunately, Toyota stops a stage before playing them through the speakers like some manufacturers.

Packing 200hp, the GT86 sprints to 62mph in 7.7 seconds. It wouldn’t see which way a Golf GTI went in a drag race, and even some modern turbodiesels would give it a run for its money. Does that matter? Occasionally, when overtaking, it’d be nice to have a bit more 00mph. But on the North York Moors, where traffic is light and you can see for miles, I don’t once find myself wishing it had more power.

The steering is lovely, delicate and precise, while minute throttle adjustments can tighten or widen the line. A smaller steering wheel adds to the Playstation feel, while the revised dampers prevent the GT86 being fazed by bumpy roads.

It’s an authentic driving experience – theatrical, yes, but not fake. It’s not long before I’m totally won over and have long forgotten about the GT86’s pitfalls.

Verdict: you should buy a Toyota GT86

Toyota GT86

Yeah, I think you should buy one. It’s definitely flawed, and I think it’d sell better if it was closer to £20,000. But for a generation who grew up playing Need for Speed, there is simply nothing currently for sale that has the same potential to reward enthusiastic driving than the GT86. And I’m not putting a price cap on that statement.

Buy one and while you’re feeling flush, book a track day or two. Learn how to get the best out of it: just like no one passed their International A licence within a day on Gran Turismo 2, no one learns how to get the best out of a GT86 straight away.

It’s a car that rewards careful, enthusiastic driving and while it might not impress on a test-drive the same way a Golf GTI does, spend some time with it and it will be an infinitely more rewarding car.

Ronal Teddy

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?Preparing a list of the coolest alloy wheels ever made is the easy part. Narrowing it down to 10 is more of a challenge. It’s a highly subjective opinion, of course, but we’re pretty sure you’ll appreciate the examples of circular beauty we’re about to roll out.

The emphasis here is on ‘cool’, rather than the most dramatic or extravagant. In the case of alloy wheels, bigger isn’t necessarily better, while bling leaves us cold.

Maserati Boomerang

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?

© Bonhams

Firstly, some ground rules. We’ve chosen to ignore the lure of concept cars, preferring to concentrate on the wheels that have, at the very least, made it into production.

Which means the likes of the Maserati Boomerang have to take a back seat. It might have stolen the show at the 1971 Turin Motor Show, but Giorgetto Giugiaro’s creation – complete with 4.7-litre V8 engine and trick steering wheel – remains an example of one of the best cars that might have been.

Ronal Teddy

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?

© Antti / Flickr

Secondly, we’ve chosen to omit aftermarket alloy wheels. While the likes of the Ronal R10 Turbo and many BBS rims could make the cut, we’re sticking to our guns with the whole production car thing.

Of course, this means the ‘iconic’ Ronal Teddy fails to the make the top 10. You can decide whether or not this is a good thing. Stick with us, as we take you through the wheels that made the cut, presented in no particular order.

BMW M1 ‘Campagnolo’

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?

© BMW

Today, the BMW M1 is – with very good reason – held aloft as one of the greatest supercars of all-time. Famously, it was to be built by Lamborghini, until the Italian firm ran out of lira, with only four prototype models constructed.

BMW, along with designer Giugiaro, rescued the project from the brink of collapse and displayed an M1 at the 1978 Turin Motor Show. The slatted 16-inch Campagnolo alloy wheels were unique to the M1 and so of their time.

BMW M1 Homage ‘sink strainers’

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?

© BMW

Thirty years later, when BMW paid tribute to the M1 with the M1 Homage Concept, the five-stud Campagnolo rims were a major influence on the design of the wheels. It almost seems rude to call them ‘sink strainers’, but they certainly wouldn’t look out of place in a 1970s kitchen.

Lamborghini Countach ‘Campagnolo Bravo’

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?

© Lamborghini

Sticking with Campagnolo wheels, you’ll instantly recognise these as the ‘Bravo’ wheels fitted to the Lamborghini Countach. Indeed, they graced the LP 400 Series 1 cars, and are often referred to as ‘telephone dials’ or ‘five cylinder’ designs.

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?

© Lamborghini

Lamborghini also used a very similar design on the Silhouette, although the offset and width differed from that on the Countach. Sadly, a fire at the Campagnolo factory left the company unable to continue manufacturing wheels for Lamborghini, which forced the firm into using OZ alloy wheels on the LP 500. The design was similar, but they weren’t quite as evocative as the earlier wheels.

Citroen CX GTi Turbo

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?

© Andrew Bone/Wikipedia

The Citroen CX had the unenviable task of following the legendary Citroen DS, but follow the ‘Goddess’ it did, cementing itself as one of the most technologically advanced and aerodynamic cars of the 1970s.

Indeed the streamlined alloy wheels found on the CX GTi Turbo – launched much later in 1984 – were just one piece in an overall jigsaw designed to make the CX as aerodynamic as possible. CX is the French equivalent abbreviation of Cd, or drag coefficient.

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?

© Citroen

Sadly, the trick hydropneumatic self-levelling suspension meant that the glorious simplicity of the CX GTi Turbo wheels were often hidden from full view.

We’ll also give a nod to the carbon-reinforced resin wheels found on the Citroen SM, along with the glorious alloys found on the Citroen BX GTi.

Isuzu Piazza

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?

© Isuzu

The Isuzu Piazza – also known as the Holden Piazza and Isuzu Impulse – is one of the coolest cars you might have forgotten. It was based on the equally alluring Asso di Fiori concept of 1979, a concept we can once again credit to Giorgetto Giugiaro.

The ‘cube’ design, found on some first generation cars, could only have stemmed from the 1980s. The polished effect simply adds to the appeal.

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?

© Tokumeigakarinoaoshima/Wikipedia

If you got bored, you could play a game of solitaire at the roadside, or grate some cheese if you got hungry.

The inclusion of the Piazza rims means there’s no place on our list for Ford’s iconic ‘pepper pot’ alloys, commonly found on the likes of the Fiesta, Capri, Sierra and Orion. Don’t worry, Ford fans, there’s room for a blue oval wheel on our list…

Ferrari F40

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?

© Newspress

If fame is measured by the amount of bedroom wall posters sold during the 1980s, the F40 is probably the most famous Ferrari of all time. Built to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the marque, a total of 1,337 F40s were built between 1987 and 1992.

Everything was honed to perfection, right down to the 17-inch Speedline alloy wheels.

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?

© Coys

There was a massive five-inch difference between the front and rear wheels: 17-inch x 8-inch at the front and 17-inch x 13-inch at the rear.

The centre-lock design spawned many imitators, but none could match the majesty of the F40.

Porsche 911 ‘Fuchs’

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?

© Porsche

For Fuchs sake, what took us so long to get to what is arguably the most famous Porsche wheel in history? The Fuchs wheel dates back to 1966, when a 4.5-inch rim was fitted to the Porsche 911S.

This was a proper form meets function approach, with the wheel designed to aid brake cooling.

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?

© Porsche

Throughout the 1970s, the Fuchs wheel grew wider and were still standard fitment during the 1980s. The Fuchs died when the 964 was introduced in 1989, much to the disappointment of Porsche purists.

Fast forward to 2014, when Porsche paid tribute to the Fuchs in the form of the 20-inch alloys found on the 911 50th Anniversary Edition.

Ford Escort ‘Cloverleaf’

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?

© Ford

Ford arrived late to the birth of the hot hatch, but the Escort XR3 ensured it could hit the ground running. It might have lacked the precision of the Golf GTi and 205 GTi, but the XR3 wouldn’t be left standing in the sales race.

The ‘Cloverleaf’ alloy wheels – not too dissimilar in style to the Campagnolos seen on the Countach – were set to become one of the most iconic rims of the 1980s.

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?

© Ford

It wasn’t long before the XR3 wheels were being fitted to common or garden Escorts, as owners went in search of some added glamour, while Ford fitted ‘Cloverleafs’ to the Escort Cabriolet.

The most famous Escort to wear a set of ‘Cloverleafs’? Probably the one driven by Glynis Barber in Dempsey and Makepeace.

Volkswagen Golf GTi ‘Pirelli’

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?

© Volkswagen

The ‘Pirelli’ alloy wheels found on the Mk1 Golf GTi are most commonly associated with the ‘Campaign’, a run-out special edition launched to mark the end of production. But as the Mk1 Golf Owners Club reveals, the ‘Pirelli’ wheels have a history dating back to 1982.

Volkswagen had reworked the Golf GTi in order to keep it fresh in light of new competition from other hot hatches. At the same time a new option appeared on the spec sheet: that of ‘Pirelli P’ wheels.

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?

© Volkswagen

In May 1983, Volkswagen launched what was in effect ‘Campaign’ specification, before the arrival of the ‘Campaign’ model. Meanwhile, in Germany, launched the ‘Pirelli Special Edition’, while French buyers were treated to the ‘Plus’. But whatever the history, the ‘Pirelli’ remains the coolest wheel ever to grace a Golf. Discuss…

BMW M5 ‘Turbines’

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?

© BMW

We offer no apology for including a second BMW alloy wheel on our list, because this one is a classic. Between 1988 and 1992, the E34 M5 featured five-spoke M-System wheels with directional bolted-on wheel covers.

These so-called ‘blowers’ were made from magnesium and were designed to increase the airflow to the brakes by 25%.

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?

© BMW

At the time, the covers were criticised for having the appearance of whitewall tyres, but they soon developed a cult following of their own.

As ‘Motoring Con Brio’ says: “They announce performance… the faux whitewall just looks badass. It is the anti 20-inch-rim-riding-on-30-profile-tyres”. Sure, the actual alloys are covered by a slice of magnesium, but a little bending of the rules is permitted, right?

Saab 99 Turbo ‘Inca’

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?

© Saab

And so to the final alloy wheel on our list. Start penning an angry letter if we haven’t included your personal favourite. The ‘Inca’ alloy wheel found on the Saab 99 Turbo was one of the first to the make our shortlist. A case of saving the best ’til last, perhaps?

The ‘Inca turbo-vane’ wheels, to give them their full name, made their debut at the 1977 Frankfurt Motor Show and were shod in Michelin TRX tyres. A classic was born, in more ways than one.

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?

© Saab

The ‘Inca’ wheels represent the epitome of cool, not least because they were specially made for the 99 Turbo. The design mimics the shape of turbocharger blades, which is so very Saab in its execution.

But what of the alloy wheels that failed to make the cut? The Alfisti will bemoan the absence of ‘Teledials’, while we could have included ‘Minilites’, Saab three-spokes and RX-7 ‘Rotaries’. Then there’s the wheels found on the Peugeot 205 GTi, Alpine A310, Lancia Delta HF Integrale, Mitsubishi Starion, third generation Toyota Celica and Renault Clio Williams. The list goes on…

Norfolk sports car manufacturer Zenos has gone into administration

Norfolk sports car manufacturer Zenos has gone into administration

Norfolk sports car manufacturer Zenos has gone into administration

The start-up manufacturer of the brilliant Zenos E10 has gone into administration, blaming a “recent downturn in trade” for its misfortunes.

Norfolk-based Zenos employs more than 20 employees and was originally founded by ex-Caterham and Lotus employees Ansar Ali and Mark Edwards.

“Zenos Cars Limited has appointed Irvin Cohen and Gary Shankland of Begbies Traynor (London) LLP as joint administrators of the company, following a recent downturn in trade,” explains the firm in a release earlier today.

“The appointment was made by the board of directors of the company on 16 January 2017 after cancelled export orders in late 2016 resulted in a shortfall in funding, forcing the business to cease trading.”

The carmaker’s managing director, Mark Edwards, said: “It is with great disappointment that the board has had to take this step.

“We still believe that our products offer unrivalled affordable fun and we have already made very good progress in developing the next product in our strategy.”

The company offered no-thrills sports car available from as little as £24,995 – and even offered tempting finance packages for its line-up.

When Motoring Research drove the Zenos E10 S in 2015, we awarded it five stars, concluding: “It’s brilliant to drive, exciting to look at and sit in, wonderfully purist and pleasingly modern.”

The administrators have said they’re not giving up hope that a buyer can be found.

“We are currently open to speaking with parties interested in securing a future for the business and would request that any enquiries are made directly with our London office,” said Gary Shankland, joint administrator and partner at Begbies Traynor.

2017 MINI Countryman review: driving the biggest MINI yet

2017 MINI Countryman review: we drive the biggest MINI yet

2017 MINI Countryman review: driving the biggest MINI yet

Look, we know the MINI Countryman isn’t exactly mini. We know this probably isn’t what Alec Issigonis had in mind for the future of his ADO15 economy car ahead of its launch as the original Mini in 1959. Chances are, you might not like the MINI Countryman one bit. But that’s OK because, since its launch in 2010, it’s not shied away from being controversial.

There are lots of happy MINI Countryman owners out there, however. More than 550,000 have been sold globally, while 79,000 have found homes in the UK. And that popularity is only likely to grow as the Countryman has been revised for 2017. We’ve driven it on UK roads to find out whether it’s OK to hate the new MINI crossover.

The new MINI Countryman is the biggest MINI ever

The new MINI Countryman is bigger than before – a full 20cm longer than its predecessor and 3cm wider. A 75mm longer wheelbase translates into an extra 5cm of rear legroom and 100 litres of boot space, meaning the Countryman is by far the most practical MINI on sale.

This puts it firmly into the C-segment, making it a rival to the likes of the Nissan Qashqai, Fiat 500X and Audi Q3, as well as conventional hatchbacks such as the Volkswagen Golf and BMW 1 Series.

What’s it like inside?

What’s it like inside?

Sit inside the Countryman, and it feels typically MINI. Everything’s chunky – from the huge central infotainment system (now a touchscreen) to the family-friendly door bins and hefty steering wheel. Features like the toggle start switch add a retro touch, while the rectangular air vents give it a more rugged feel, apparently.

The new MINI Countryman certainly feels upmarket – but that’s exactly what we’ve come to expect from MINI. It’s got a solid feel, with no cheap-feeling plastics to be found.

It’s easy to find a comfortable driving position in the new Countryman (helped in our test car by the optional electric adjustment), while passengers in the rear will appreciate the large windows, airy feel and generous legroom. New for the 2017 model is an optional electric tailgate, while a picnic bench can be specified to sit on the bootlid and provide seating for two people. Hashtag: lifestyle.

Tell me about the engines

Tell me about the engines

The new Countryman comes with a choice of petrol and diesel engines from BMW’s TwinPower Turbo range, similar to the line-up already found in the hatch and Clubman models. The entry-level Cooper is powered by a 1.5-litre petrol producing 136hp and hitting 62mph in 9.6 seconds, while the 2.0-litre diesel powered Cooper D takes 8.9 seconds to reach 62mph.

Sportier models include the 2.0-litre Cooper S (tested here) and a range-topping John Cooper Works. This produces 231hp and hits 62mph in an impressive 6.5 seconds.

For the first time in MINI’s history, a plug-in hybrid model is set to go on sale later in 2017. An 88hp electric motor powers the rear wheels of the Countryman Cooper S E, while a three-cylinder petrol engine sends drive to the fronts through a six-speed Steptronic gearbox. The result is 49g/km CO2 emissions and combined fuel consumption of 135mpg.

How does the Countryman drive?

How does the Countryman drive?

We tested the hot Cooper S model in four-wheel-drive All4 guise. This produces 192hp and hits 62mph in 7.2 seconds when combined with BMW’s eight-speed Steptronic auto ’box. It doesn’t feel quite as quick as you may expect, but with Sport mode selected it certainly sounds the part, while the steering weights up – albeit rather artificially.

If you’re not in a Cooper S kind of mood, you can flick between Mid or Green modes. We actually like the standard mode best – certainly with the adaptive dampers fitted to our test car. It’s less jittery than when in Sport, and – while the steering still isn’t overly communicative – at least it doesn’t make you flex your muscles just to round corners.

The Green mode works well, too, toning down the throttle response and making the steering even lighter. It makes choosing the costly Cooper S seem a bit daft, but we find the Countryman to be at it’s best when you’re pottering around town or meandering cross-country with little urgency.

Should I buy a 4×4 Countryman?

Should I buy a 4x4 Countryman?

All engines are available with a MINI’s All4 four-wheel-drive system. This works with the car’s stability control system to transfer power between the front and rear axles, depending on the conditions. Under normal load, 100% of the power will be directed to the front for maximum efficiency. During cornering, it’ll be sent to the rear to counter understeer, while up to 100% could be directed to the rear axle when required in wet or slippery conditions.

The MINI Countryman is the kind of car you’ll choose for transporting your family, so it’s important to consider how safe it is. Although the new model hasn’t been tested, its predecessor scored a maximum five stars in Euro NCAP crash tests, while the more recent MINI hatch and Clubman were both awarded four stars.

Standard safety kit on the Countryman includes a host of airbags and a collision warning system with a city braking function to prevent minor bumps. Optional equipment ranges from a pedestrian warning system to active cruise control.

Which options should I choose?

Which options should I choose?

MINI has made the new Countryman better equipped as standard – a move that follows three quarters of customers selecting the Pepper, Chili or Sport options packs for the outgoing car. Now, many former Pepper pack features are fitted as standard – including 16-inch alloys on Cooper models, as well as parking sensors and Bluetooth connectivity.

If you pick just one option we’d go for the £950 Media pack, which includes the XL navigation system, MINI Connected XL and the clever MINI Find Mate. This allows you to fix tags with wireless tracking functions to important objects you may lose – such as keys and rucksacks – and trace them on your phone or on your MINI’s on-board computer.

MINI dealers are taking orders for the new Countryman now, with the entry-level Cooper starting at £22,465. The Cooper D starts at £24,425, while the Cooper S costs £24,710 and the SD £27,965. The range-topping John Cooper Works will set you back £29,565. Deliveries will start in February 2017.

What’s the verdict?

What’s the verdict?

Are you allowed to hate the new Countryman? Hmm. Not really. Whisper it, but the new MINI Countryman is actually pretty good. The interior is more upmarket than ever before, and you get more for your money now. The downside of its increased bulk is it’s not quite the sharp handler you might expect a MINI to be. Even so, keen drivers will find it more satisfying than a Nissan Qashqai.

If you’ve got a family but want to cling onto your street cred, the MINI Countryman remains an excellent choice. Just don’t expect everyone to appreciate it.

 

Young drivers warned: lie about your insurance and lose your car

Young drivers warned: lie about your insurance and lose your car

Young drivers warned: lie about your insurance and lose your car

The RAC has discovered that almost half of young drivers are willing to name a parent as the main driver of their car in a bid to save money on insurance.

The motoring organisation’s survey of 500 17 to 24-year-olds found that 47% didn’t see the problem with ‘fronting’ – despite it being an illegal practice that could leave your car uninsured.

This is despite the majority (57%) of young motorists questioned admitting they realise the act is against the law.

“Fronting is where someone other than the main driver of a car is said to be the policyholder,” said the RAC’s insurance director Mark Godfrey. “In the case of a young driver who is the most frequent driver of a vehicle, this tends to be a parent with a longer, proven good track record as a driver and therefore attracts a lower insurance premium than their son or daughter would.”

With 18- to 20-year-old drivers paying £993 a year for car insurance on average, it’s not a surprise to see young people resorting to desperate measures in a bid to save cash.

The RAC says that young men know more than young women about fronting – perhaps because of the myth that males pay more for their insurance than women.

Godfrey added: “It’s important for anyone who has done this to realise that it could result in invalidating the policy for everyone covered by it, not just the young driver concerned. What’s more, its illegal activities like this that increase the overall cost of insurance for all young drivers.

“The fact our research shows more young males are aware of fronting may be because they think their insurance premiums will be higher than young women’s which, of course, is no longer the case since the EU ruling that gender cannot be used in determining premium prices.”

If drivers are found to be fronting, their insurance company might refuse to pay out in the case of a crash, and could force them to compensate for damage caused to other vehicles.

You could also be refused insurance in the future, be charged more – and the police could hit you with a £300 fine and six penalty points for driving without insurance. Your car could also be confiscated.

The RAC says young drivers should reduce their car insurance costs by legal methods such as buying a car with a smaller engine or having a telematics ‘black box’ system fitted to monitor their driving behaviour.

changes to road tax 2017

New 2017 road tax rules: a five-minute guide

changes to road tax 2017

From 1 April 2017, Vehicle Excise Duty – commonly known as road tax – is set for some major changes. If you’re looking to buy a new car in 2017, you really need to know about these and how they might affect you.

First things first – if you own a car registered before 1 April 2017, the changes don’t affect you. But if you’re in the market for something new, you have until the end of March 2017 if you don’t want to be stung by the reforms.

And that’s because, while there’s good news for some, the majority of drivers could be left out of pocket. Read on to find out more.

Why is the system changing?

Cast your mind back to the budget of summer 2015, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced an overhaul of the current system. According to then Chancellor, George Osborne, the changes are required to fill a hole in the Treasury’s coffers.

In simple terms, you’re buying too many super-efficient petrol and diesel cars, and with a taxation system based on CO2 emissions, the government has been left out of pocket. Indeed, Osborne claimed that, under the current system, 75% of new cars would be eligible for free road tax by 2017.

Something had to give.

What are the changes to road tax?

The rate of Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) will still be split into 13 bands and calculated on a vehicle’s CO2 emissions. Only cars with 0g/km CO2 emissions will be eligible for free road tax. This is a big deal.

Since March 2001, new cars emitting less than 130g/km CO2 have been tax exempt in the first year, and subject to a sliding scale of taxation for each year thereafter. For example, buy a car in band B (101-110g/km) and you’ll pay nothing in the first year and just £20 from year two.

From April 2017, the cost will rise considerably. Not only will you pay £140 in the first year, you’ll also pay £140 in the second year and each year thereafter. So at the end of year three you’ll have spent £420 on tax – £380 more than if you bought the same car a month earlier.

The first-year rate of tax is based on a sliding scale, ranging from free road tax for electric and hybrid vehicles, to £2,000 for cars with CO2 emissions in excess of 255g/km. From the second year, all but the zero emissions cars move to flat rate of £140.

This is potentially good news for buyers of the least efficient cars on sale. Take the Bentley Flying Spur with a V12 engine. With CO2 emissions of 335g/km, under the current system you’ll pay £1,120 in the first year and then a hefty £515 from the second year.

Using the new system you’ll have to find £2,000 for the first year, but the second year rate drops to the standard £140. Keep the car for a few years and you’ll be quids in. But there is a catch…

From April, all vehicles with a list price of over £40,000 – including zero emission cars – will attract an additional rate of £310, payable each year for five years from the end of the first vehicle licence. At this point it drops to the standard rate.

Which means a Tesla Model S will cost £310 a year – a big shock for those who might be expecting free road tax.

Is it worth buying a car before April?

If you’re in the market for an efficient petrol, diesel or hybrid vehicle, it’s almost certainly worth registering it before the end of March. Indeed, industry experts are expecting one of the busiest months on record, as buyers also rush to grab a car with a new 17-plate.

Say, for example, you buy a new Suzuki Celerio with a 1.0-litre engine emitting 99g/km CO2. Register the car before the end of March and you’ll pay no road tax whatsoever. From April, you’ll pay £120 in year one and then £140 from year two. Three years on and you’re £400 out of pocket.

The case isn’t quite as clear cut when it comes to the least efficient vehicles, and much will depend on how long you intend to keep the car. There’s also the penalty for £40,000 cars to take into consideration.

Oh, and don’t think you’ll be able to escape the £310 fee by negotiating the price down below £40,000. The government will use the published list price. Go easy on the options, too, as these could push your car beyond the £40k mark.

Do the changes affect my current car?

Tax rates for vehicles registered on or before 31 March 2017 will not be affected by the changes.

VED bands and rates for cars first registered on or after 1 April 2017

CO2 emissions (g/km)First year rateStandard rate*
0£0£0
1 – 50£10£140
51 – 75£25£140
76 – 90£100£140
91 – 100£120£140
101 – 110£140£140
111 – 130£160£140
131 – 150£200£140
151 – 170£500£140
171 – 190£800£140
191 – 225£1200£140
226 – 255£1700£140
Over 255£2000£140

*Cars with a list price of over £40,000 when new pay an additional rate of £310 per year on top of the standard rate, for five years.

Detroit Motor Show 2017

Detroit Motor Show 2017: in pictures

Detroit Motor Show 2017Detroit has seen hard times, but it’s still America’s Motor City – and home of its most important car show. We reveal the cars and trucks making headlines at the Cobo Centre, from the bold Audi Q8 concept seen here to Kia’s exciting new sports saloon.

Audi Q8Detroit Motor Show 2017

The Q8 concept previews Audi’s forthcoming SUV flagship – due in 2018. It’s sleeker than the current Q7, with a sweeping, coupe-style roof. Powered by a petrol/electric plug-in hybrid drivetrain, the 450hp Q8 will hit 62mph in 5.4 seconds.

Inside, the Q8 boasts four luxurious Nappa leather seats, plus an advanced version of Audi’s Virtual Cockpit with graphics projected onto the windscreen. Battery-charge time is two hours, with an all-electric range of 37 miles. We reckon the Range Rover should be worried…

Kia Stinger GTDetroit Motor Show 2017

Kia wants to sex-up its image, and a brawny, V6-engined sports coupe is a good way to do so. The 370hp Stinger GT will take on the Audi S4, BMW 340i and Mercedes-AMG C43 when it arrives in Europe in late 2017.

The Stinger GT’s platform comes from Hyundai’s Genesis luxury saloon, but with a stiffer chassis for sharper handling. Buyers will have a choice of four engines, including a four-cylinder diesel. But it’s that 167mph twin-turbo V6 we’re really excited about.

Volkswagen I.D. BuzzDetroit Motor Show 2017

What? Yet another VW Microbus concept? Yes, but this one stands a good chance of being built – and let’s hope so. The all-electric I.D. Buzz uses Volkswagen’s new scalable MEB platform. Quoted power output is 369hp and range is 373 miles.

The eight-seat I.D. Buzz can also drive itself. Push the steering wheel and it disappears into the dash as the car slips into ‘I.D. Pilot’ mode. This uses cameras, lasers and radar sensors to detect other road users. Oh, and the rear seats turn into a bed, so you can nap while the I.D. Buzz does all the hard work.

Lexus LSDetroit Motor Show 2017

With dramatic looks influenced by the LF-FC concept car, the new Lexus LS luxury saloon debuted at Detroit. As you’d expect, it will be available with petrol/electric hybrid power, but the big news is a hydrogen fuel-cell option – following the lead of parent company Toyota and its hydrogen-powered Mirai.

While other companies such as Volkswagen bet on electric power, Toyota/Lexus hopes hydrogen will be the fuel of the future. The LS may emulate the LF-FC, with in-wheel electric motors for dynamic four-wheel drive.

Mercedes-AMG GT CDetroit Motor Show 2017

Taking pride of place on the Mercedes stand at Detroit is the Mercedes-AMG GT C. It’s the coupe version of the GT C Roadster, revealed last year. Slotting in between the GT S and GT R, the GTC’s 4.0-litre twin turbo V8 produces 550hp – the same as the soft-top version.

That means 62mph in 3.7 seconds and on to a top speed of 197mph – even quicker than the GT S seen here. It’s 35kg lighter than the Roadster, while the rear track is 57mm wider. The GT C will initially be launched as an Edition 50 special edition, celebrating 50 years of AMG, featuring black chrome trim and two paint colours: Designo Graphite Grey Magno and Designo Cashmere White Magno.

Audi SQ5Detroit Motor Show 2017

Alongside Audi’s Q8 concept at Detroit is this sporty little number: the 354hp SQ5. It’s powered by the same 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 as the S5 – a departure from the old model, which was diesel-only.

That power accelerates the near-two-tonne SUV to 62mph in 5.4 seconds, helped by its all-wheel-drive system. There’s also an optional rear Sport differential, which divides torque across the rear axle. Combine this with Sport mode for school-run heroics.

Ford BroncoDetroit Motor Show 2017

The original Ford Bronco was never sold in Europe, but it was a popular no-thrills 4×4 on sale in the USA for 30 years from 1966 to 1996. Although Ford hasn’t taken a concept Bronco to Detroit, it has revealed a Bronco graphic on its stand – with the words ‘coming in 2020’ underneath.

The firm hasn’t revealed much more information on the new Bronco, although it has hinted that it’ll be a rugged retro 4×4 with genuine off-road ability. It’s also said it’ll be a global vehicle and, although a decision hasn’t been made, it could be sold in the UK. Fans of the classic original are suitably excited.

Infiniti QX50Detroit Motor Show 2017

This attractive SUV is the new Infiniti QX50 concept. It follows the QX Sport Inspiration seen at the 2016 Beijing Auto Show, but is closer to being a production-ready rival to the Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Lexus NX. It could be exactly what Nissan’s premium brand needs to boost its image in Europe.

Power comes from Infiniti’s clever new 2.0-litre VC-T turbocharged petrol engine, which the brand is claiming will have the efficiency of modern turbodiesels. The QX50 concept also features clever autonomous tech – but the manufacturer says it’ll work with the driver, rather than taking over entirely.

Porsche 911 GTSDetroit Motor Show 2017

The controversial new flat-six 911 has now been given the GTS treatment: meaning an extra 30hp over the regular Carrera S (and 20hp more than its predecessor). Unfortunately, Porsche decided against revealing the GTS in the metal at Detroit, so you’ll have to settle for this press photo.

As you’d expect, here are a wide range of GTS models available: coupe, cabriolet or Targa, and two- or four-wheel drive. Oh, and you can choose between seven-speed manual or PDK auto gearboxes.

Volkswagen Tiguan AllspaceDetroit Motor Show 2017

Good news: from summer 2017, you’ll be able to buy a Volkswagen Tiguan with a slightly longer wheelbase and seven seats. That extra practicality means it’ll be an interesting, German alternative to the likes of the Nissan X-Trail.

It’s difficult to spot the external differences between the Allspace and the regular Tiguan, but anoraks will spy a 110mm longer wheelbase (the overall car is 215mm longer), while the bonnet and grille are also revised.