2017 Los Angeles Auto Show preview: in pictures

2017 Los Angeles Auto Show preview: in pictures

2017 Los Angeles Auto Show preview: in pictures

The last big motor show of the year is always LA. Automotive chiefs are taking a break from the winter chill and enjoying a few days of sunshine at the annual feel-good event. It always has an end-of-term feel to it, but also serves as a great warm-up for the new cars that will start the year ahead with a bang. Read on to see what we already know will be there in 2018…

Mercedes-Benz CLS

Mercedes-Benz CLS

Mercedes-Benz invented the modern four-door coupe segment back in 2003 with the CLS. After the slightly humdrum current car sapped some of the excitement of the original, the firm is set to take LA by storm with an all-new third-generation CLS. Using plenty of tech from the E-Class again, we hope the styling has rediscovered the elegance of the original, although we’re happy to bet the drive is going to impress. With a welter of autonomous tech, it could be the CLS back to its best.

Infiniti QX50

Infiniti QX50

The Infiniti QX50 could not be more market-perfect. It’s as spot-on a replacement to its predecessor as the old one was wholly ignorable. Because not only does it look pretty, it also has a brilliant new engine, and we don’t use the adjective ‘brilliant’ lightly. Called VC-Turbo, this is a variable compression unit that can become bigger or smaller, as the needed arises. No engine on sale before has been able to do this. The QX50 looks smart but could also, quietly, be the single most significant new car revealed at LA 2017.

Aria FXE

Aria FXE

Not heard of Aria Group? Don’t worry – it’s an expert engineering firm that usually makes the concept cars for big-name manufacturers. Now it’s decided to make one of its own, and the FXE teased here is our first look at the start-up supercar. Yes, we’re excited to see more.

BMW M3 CS

BMW M3 CS

There’s a new BMW 3 Series next year, so this one is trying to go out on a high with a zippy new CS-tuned version of the M3 range-topper. Taking much of the carbon fibre styling addenda from the M4 CS, it also gets a power boost to 453hp and two criminally cool features – a ducktail-style rear spoiler and ultra-lightweight staggered wheels: 19 inches on the front and 20 inches at the rear. The current M3 has always slightly disappointed. Is BMW saving the best until last?

Saleen S1

Saleen S1

Saleen is a US performance car firm that used to make its own supercar, but more recently has tuned up versions of other hot cars, such as the Ford Mustang. The S1 was originally revealed in China, as it’s a joint venture development with Jiangsu Saleen Automotive Technology Co, and will be built from 2018 for sales in both the US and China. Boasting up to 450hp, it’s an intriguing proposition that we’re keen to see more of.

Land Rover Discovery SVX

Land Rover Discovery SVX

Even a standard Land Rover Discovery can pretty much go anywhere. We proved as much on the launch earlier this year. But the way it looks is, well, just a bit too posh and elegant for some to believe it can do all this. Enter the SVX, hand-built by the same Coventry, England division that makes ultra-posh Range Rover SVAs and ultra-fast Jaguar SVRs. Land Rover reckons it’s the most extreme car it’s ever made – yes, more off-road-ready than any Defender – and we’re going to pore over it in LA ahead of its launch in 2018.

Range Rover and Range Rover Sport facelift

Range Rover and Range Rover Sport facelift

The Range Rover and Range Rover Sport have been facelifted and LA show-goers get to see them up-close for the first time. The big news is the introduction of a plug-in hybrid model that can do up to 31 miles in full EV mode, but we’re also looking forward to checking out the new front end in the metal, and the even posher interior in all its leather-laden glory. You don’t even have to stop with the regular Range Rover: Land Rover will also be showing the SVAutobiography range-topper, aiming to redefine – again – just how luxurious you can make a Range Rover.

Genesis G70

Genesis G70

Hyundai’s premium division, Genesis, has already caused a stir with its excellent G90 luxury car, a cracking first attempt at taking on the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Now it has the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, BMW 3 Series and Audi A4 in its sights. The G70 was only revealed a few months ago, so this is still a relatively fresh first-show. It’s aimed at sports saloon drivers in the U.S. but we’ll be checking it out to see if Hyundai UK should take an interest.

BMW i8 Roadster

BMW i8 Roadster

How long have we been expecting this? A roofless i8 has been years in the making, but might at last be arriving in LA, and we can’t wait to flip-up the doors and jump straight in on the show stand floor – before possibly being escorted away, depending on the humour of the security guards. Honestly, we’ll take our shoes off.

BMW X7 iPerformance Concept

BMW X7 iPerformance Concept

LA will be another opportunity for us to see the rather large BMW X7 luxury SUV concept. This is BMW’s Range Rover, focused on the Chinese market, and all kinds of massive. LA is so connected, we might take up residence in the back of it and order some takeout once we’ve charmed the security guards.

Jeep Wrangler

Jeep Wrangler

While Land Rover dillies and dallies over the new Defender, finding itself in the bizarre situation of phasing out a model without a replacement ready to jump into its shoes, Jeep shows the way to treat an icon with the all-new Wrangler. It’s familiar, of course, but jam-packed with new stuff, to both make it even better off-road and even more connected inside.

Lexus RXL

Lexus RXL

The sales figures prove how much people love the Lexus RX SUV. But in all this time, it’s remained a two-row five-seater. No more. LA 2017 marks the debut of the three-row seven-seat RX, ingeniously called RXL. If you’re eco-thinking and have three children, each with an inseparable best mate, bingo.

Mazda 6 facelift

Mazda 6 facelift

You tell us. The Mazda 6 is a marvellous car, a premium BMW rival sold at Ford Mondeo money, but if you can tell what’s different about this one, you have keener eyes than us. Still, we will nevertheless head over to check out and admire the people’s BMW 3 Series.

Porsche 911 T

Porsche 911 T

Yes. This is the one enthusiasts have been waiting for. T means turbo, of course, but T also harks back to the 911’s 1960s heritage, where things were oh-so simple. Here, T means Touring, and Porsche’s made sure it’s a driving holiday with rear-wheel drive, a limited-slip differential and a manual gearbox. It has 20mm lower suspension than a regular Carrera, standard adaptive dampers, and is 20kg lighter thanks to thinner glass, no rear seats and even straps for the doorhandles. Where do we sign?

Porsche 718 GTS

Porsche 718 GTS

What enthusiasts really want is the return of the six-cylinder Porsche 718 Cayman and Boxster. With the GTS… they don’t get it. But they do get more power, 365hp, from the 2.5-litre turbo flat-four, which Porsche reckons will accelerate one from 0-62mph in just 3.9 seconds if you go for the fast-shifting PDK automatic. Quick enough to knobble a 911 or two, while GTS accoutrements give it a bit more focus in corners too.

Subaru Ascent

Subaru Ascent

Subaru is such a well-loved brand by people who know their cars, so why shouldn’t it too get on the modern SUV bandwagon and try to attract more of those to whom it’s unknown? The good-looking Ascent, pictured here in concept form, is its first three-row seven-seat SUV, thoroughly on-form and set, more than likely, to sell like hot cakes in North America. Those who know their cars would love it in the UK, but would it sell?

Toyota FT-AC

Toyota FT-AC

We’ve only seen a teaser of this, and it frankly looks fantastic already. Packed with LED lights and a bulging body, we don’t quite know if it’s an SUV, a pickup, a van or what, but we’re still hoping it’s the cool post-apocalyptic Toyota this image suggests it is. One to keep an eye on.

Mini Electric Concept

Mini Electric Concept

We saw this at the 2017 Frankfurt auto show, and now Mini’s showing off the battery electric concept in the market destined to take a substantial proportion of sales. Expected to use BMW i3 electric tech, it will be fast, have a decent range and generally thoroughly Mini-flavoured, just with zero emissions from the (non-existent) tailpipe.

Mazda Vision Coupe Concept

Mazda Vision Coupe Concept

Meet the future of Mazda styling. This is another car we’ve already seen, but it’s still worth a second look because of just how pretty and elegant it is. Who says they don’t make jaw-dropping and achingly beautiful cars anymore? Join us at LA to see yet more lovely pictures.

Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid Sport Turismo

Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid Sport Turismo

The car with the longest name at the show. To decipher it, this is a shooting brake Panamera with a 55 hp 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8, a 140hp electric motor and a 14.1 kWh lithium-ion battery good for 30 miles on full EV power. But, more importantly, a total system output of 680hp and 0-62mph in 3.4 seconds. Not bad for an estate, huh?

Volvo XC40

Volvo XC40

A Volvo at a motor show is a rarity – the firm has pared back the number of events it attends, preferring instead to do things its own way. Luckily, LA is one of the events it is attending, and lucky for Los Angeles, the XC40 is yet another marvellous modern Volvo. It rivals the Audi Q3 and BMW X1. It is also, according to early drive reports, better than the new Jaguar E-Pace, which isn’t quite what the British firm had planned.

Corvette ZR1

Corvette ZR1

First revealed in Dubai, the monster Corvette now gets its homeland reveal. A production Corvette has never been faster or more powerful car than this: 755hp may even see it dip beneath seven minutes for a Nürburgring hot lap, the firm hints. We’ll join the throng and lust over it in LA.

Lincoln MKC

Lincoln MKC

The posh compact Lincoln SUV gets a new look for 2018, with the same cool front end we’ve seen on the Continental. It’s much nicer than the current setup and the interior is, to follow a bit of a trend of LA 2017, said to be even posher and more luxurious as well.

>NEXT: Chevrolet Corvette: 65 years in the making

You can now buy winter tyres for your McLaren

You can now buy winter tyres for your McLaren

You can now buy winter tyres for your McLaren

McLaren has teamed up with Pirelli to offer a new winter tyre and wheel package for its Sports Series models.

Buy a set of winter tyres from McLaren and you’ll get four 14-spoke lightweight forged alloys painted grey and fitted with Pirelli MC Sottozero 3 winter tyres.

Suitable for all models of the McLaren Sports Series family – the 540C, 570S, 570S Spider and 570GT – the winter tyre package comes fully assembled and ready to fit, meaning owners can quickly swap over to winter tyres in time for the colder months. Having a second set of wheels to combat the worst of the salt and other winter road debris also protects ‘summer wheels’, says McLaren, as well extend the life of the tyres fitted.

“Choosing the right type of tyre to suit seasonal weather and road conditions should be a priority for every McLaren driver wanting to enjoy their car safely all-year round,” said McLaren Automotive’s aftersales director, Carl Whipp.

“Regardless of whether winter tyres are a legal requirement, having them ready and waiting on a second set of wheels will allow customers to switch to the optimum tyre choice quickly and easily when winter arrives – which is why we have teamed up with our tyre partner, Pirelli, to offer the McLaren Winter Wheels and Tyres set exclusively through McLaren Retailers.”

You can now buy winter tyres for your McLaren

Although winter tyres aren’t a legal requirement here in the UK, McLaren says fitting them is a wise move as the Pirelli MC Sottozero 3 tyres are designed specifically for McLaren fitment to deliver optimal grip and control in adverse conditions.

Not only do they provide extra grip in freezing conditions, they’re also more effective than summer tyres once temperatures drop below 7 degrees Celsius. They also reduce the chance of aquaplaning in wet conditions thanks to the specially-designed tread pattern.

In comparison to summer tyres, the Pirelli MC Sottozero 3 could reduce the cold-weather stopping distance of a McLaren Sports Series car by 10 percent in wet conditions and by up to 20 percent on snowy roads, says the manufacturer.

The winter wheels set is now available from McLaren retailers in the UK. How much? If you have to ask…

>NEXT: The man behind the McLaren F1 is launching a new supercar

Revealed: the reason why driving test changes are already outdated

Revealed: the reason why driving test changes are already outdated

Revealed: the reason why driving test changes are already outdated

Learner drivers will have to navigate using a sat nav for 20 minutes as part of the driving test from next week – but a survey has revealed that the new rules are already outdated.

The study of 2,000 motorists by Continental Tyres found that half of young drivers use their mobile phone to navigate rather than a traditional sat nav.

Driving test examiners will provide a TomTom sat nav for the navigation test, which will form part of the independent driving section of the practical driving test. Drivers are banned from using their own sat nav in the driving test, although one in five candidates will be required to follow road signs instead.

The survey also found that 64 percent of people think there should be a greater emphasis on understanding the laws around mobile phones as part of the test, while 57 percent want to see drivers being tested on routine checks such as the minimum tyre tread depth.

“It is clear to see that people want the new test to support improved road safety and deliver good driving practice as well as test skills,” said Continental Tyres safety expert, Mark Griffiths. “It’s good to know people want a stronger focus on safety checks, like how to check tyres, as well as the safe and legal use of mobile phones while driving.”

>NEXT: ‘Show me, tell me’ questions form part of new UK driving test

Infiniti QX50 revealed

New Infiniti QX50 revealed ahead of 2017 LA Auto Show debut

Infiniti QX50 revealedInfiniti calls it the most important vehicle it has ever launched: certainly the new QX50 mid-size SUV, which debuts at the 2017 LA Auto Show next week, is the one most focused on European customers and competitors. It looks like Infiniti may at last have a match for the Audi Q5, BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLC and Jaguar F-Pace. 

And Infiniti has an ace up its sleeve – the world’s first variable compression ratio engine. Called VC-Turbo, this 2.0-litre turbo petrol puts into production radical tech companies such as Lotus and Saab trialled years ago. The gains were obvious but nobody was quite able to make it a reality. Infiniti has.

The breakthrough engine can alter the compression ratio between 8:1 and 14:1, by means of a multi-link system that can alter the reach of the pistons. High compression ratios are efficient, low compression ratios give lots of power and torque. Infiniti thus says it has the punch of petrol and economy of diesel.

“It challenge the notion that only hybrid and diesel powertrains can deliver high torque and efficiency.” 

The 268hp engine also does 0-60mph in as little as 6.3 seconds and 143mph flat-out, although Infiniti has yet to test just how economical it is under European drive cycle tests (but is targeting a 35 percent boost in efficiency over today’s car). Take this interesting detail fact in the meantime: capacity varies between 1,970cc when running on an 14:1 compression ratio, and 1,997cc when running on 8:1. 

Replacing the forgettable current-generation QX50, Infiniti global vice president Christian Meunier says the new QX50 is “the right vehicle at the right time in one of the world’s fastest growing segments”. 

Built on an all-new platform, it’s significantly roomier inside than the outgoing model – best-in-class, reckons Infiniti – and deploys world-first use of Super-High Formability (SHF) high-tensile steel that’s strong, light and gives best-in-class structural rigidity. 

It also has autonomous tech called ProPilot Assist, but as “Infiniti’s customers have stated their desire to remain a key element in the driving equation… the brand’s vision for autonomous driving is a step removed from the notion of fully-autonomous driverless motoring embraced by some carmakers”. So there. 

Make no mistake, the launch of the new Infiniti QX50 is a big deal. Its VC-Turbo engine is a genuine world-first highlight, and it now looks stylish enough, with the right sort of onboard tech, to finally challenge the European best-sellers.

We’ll be checking it out in detail at the LA Auto Show next week: has Infiniti finally delivered the car to put it on the shortlist of Britain’s premium car buyers?

NEXT> The best Black Friday car deals

Ford Mondeo

Mk1 Ford Mondeo review: the ‘world car’ you should buy now

Ford Mondeo

The idea of a ‘world car’ wasn’t an entirely new one when the Mondeo, or CDW27 as it was then known, was first mooted in the mid-1980s. Indeed, Ford had tried it a few years earlier with its Escort, and General Motors had done the same with the Cavalier – but neither were really global products. Born from the same idea, perhaps, but each was developed by separate teams on both sides of the Atlantic – with the final products being rather different to cater for the different markets.

But research revealed that cars didn’t have to be entirely different to be sold to markets around the world. By the late 80s, the differences in what customers wanted in the US and Europe were getting smaller. Safety regulations were becoming harmonised worldwide, while buyers in all countries were increasingly concerned about fuel consumption and emissions.

Ford had two products that desperately needed replacement. The Sierra, in Europe, was dated, and losing sales to Japanese rivals. The same was true for the Ford Tempo in the US. Why then, should Ford go to the expense of developing two replacement vehicles for both models, when one would do?

Technology would make it easier for a true world car to be developed. By the late 80s, it meant video conferencing could take place between Ford employees worldwide. A dedicated TV-equipped studio set up at Ford’s Dunton Technical Centre provided a live connection to Cologne and Dearborn, negating the need for executives to take expensive (and time-consuming) flights to discuss the CDW27 project.

Fast forward to 23 November 1992, and the very first Mondeos left the production line ahead of the model’s official debut at the 1993 Geneva Motor Show. The design of the production Mondeo (taking its name from the Latin ‘mundus’, meaning ‘world’) originated from a concept drawn up by Ford’s studio in Cologne. Proposals by the Dearborn design studio, Ford’s California Concept Center and Carrozzeria Ghia in Turin were all rejected, while the interior was developed at Dunton in the UK.

How does it drive?

Ford Mondeo

Taking a seat in this 1995 Mondeo LX we’re testing here, it’s a strange contrast between old and new. It’s relatively modern – the switchgear, for example, is logical and easy to find, while the seats feel comfortable enough for covering several hundred miles with ease. But visibility is incredible – you sit a long way forward, all part of the ‘cab forward’ approach – with a raked windscreen and short, sloped bonnet.

Richard Parry-Jones, the man who would develop the original Ford Focus into arguably the best-handling C-segment car ever,  was appointed as chief engineer for the Mondeo. He was given the challenge of making the Mondeo better than the Honda Accord and Nissan Primera – both class-leading in terms of driving at the time. And what a commendable job he and his ‘drive team’ did.

An innovative suspension setup was developed, with the hatchback model here using Ford’s ‘Quadralink’ suspension at the rear mounted onto a separate subframe in a bid to improve refinement. Power steering was standard across the range – at the insistence of said drive team, which included Jackie Stewart.

Although Ford firmed up the Mondeo for Europe, it certainly feels on the softer side today. It wafts over bumps in a way that middle-management company car drivers can but dream of today – helped, no doubt, by its 14-inch wheels. Negotiate bends with any sort of gusto and it’ll lean in a way that modern cars just don’t, but don’t let that fool you – it’ll grip and grip, while providing this brilliant thing called ‘feedback’ though the steering wheel: something that we no longer take for granted.

Power in Ford’s heritage car comes from the popular four-cylinder 1.8-litre petrol Zetec engine, produced at the firm’s engine plant in Bridgend. It’s a likeable engine, especially combined with the five-speed manual gearbox, and keen to chase the entire rev range. Officially it’ll hit 60mph in 10.5 seconds and is capable of 121mph. Not quick by today’s standards, but neither is it going to be left behind on modern roads.

If it’s thrills you’re after, you’ll be wanting the US-sourced 2.5-litre V6. Although it sold in much smaller numbers in Europe, they do come up for sale occasionally. With 170hp on tap, the V6 will take the Mondeo to 62mph in 7.8 seconds and up to 139mph flat-out.

Tell me about buying one

Ford Mondeo

If you really want to buy an original Mondeo – and why wouldn’t you – you’ll be pleased to read that they’re worth peanuts today. Keep an eye on the classifieds and a budget as low as £300 ought to find you a running project with an MOT, while paying a little more opens up a wider market. We wouldn’t pay four figures for a Mk1 Mondeo unless it’s something special – a minter, perhaps, or a rare specification.

The downside of the low values is that, to many, they’re still seen as cheap sheds – and may have been maintained as such. Service history is desirable, as are wheelarches that aren’t made of filler. Take a magnet and a screwdriver to check, and have a gander through the car’s MOT history to check what it could be hiding.

Ask for evidence that the cambelt’s been changed recently – Ford advises changing it every 80,000 miles, so factor it into your negotiations if it hasn’t been done. Other than that, it’s fairly standard stuff: do all the electronics work, does it get up to temperature (and stay there), and does the suspension feel tired on the test drive?

While Ford parts shouldn’t be challenging to come by, we have heard of some obscure early Mondeo parts becoming increasingly difficult to find as the number left on the road drops. If there’s anything that the seller’s neglected to fix, ask yourself if there’s a reason for that.

Verdict

Ford Mondeo

We don’t need to tell you just how successful the original Ford Mondeo went on to be. A flurry of dealer demonstrators meant it became the sixth best-selling car in the UK in the first half of March 1993 – despite not officially going on sale until 25 March. Reviews from the time all agreed that it was an enormous step up over its Sierra predecessor while, in 1994, it won the title of European Car of the Year.

Its success meant the Mk1 Mondeo went through a period of being vanilla but, as we approach its 25th anniversary, we reckon it’s about time we celebrated Ford’s world car. While it takes a special sort of person to get excited by the Mondeo, we’d encourage anyone to save this future classic (yes, we went there) before it becomes entirely extinct.

>NEXT: We reunite Ford Lotus Cortina TV star with its owner after 40 years

Philip Hammond

Budget 2017: Philip Hammond announces diesel tax increase

Philip Hammond

Chancellor Philip Hammond has announced a series of tax changes for new diesel cars, which will see drivers pay more for the first year’s VED (vehicle excise duty).

“From April 2018, the first year VED rate for diesel cars that don’t meet the latest standards will go up by one band and the existing diesel supplement in company car tax will increase by one percentage point,” said Hammond. “Drivers buying a new car will be able to avoid this charge as soon as manufacturers bring forward the next generation of cleaner diesels that we all want to see.”

The vehicle excise duty (VED) supplement will apply to new diesel cars first registered from 1 April 2018, meaning their first-year rate will be calculated as if they were in the VED band above. This will not apply to next-generation clean diesels – those which are certified as meeting new real driving emissions step 2 (RDE2) standards.

The RAC says that diesel car buyers are being hit “relatively light” with the new tax rules announced in today’s budget.

“The chancellor has chosen to be relatively light touch when it comes to taxing new diesel cars,” said the RAC’s head of external affairs, Peter Williams.

“Any new diesel car registered from 1st April 2018 will be hit with a higher first year tax rate unless they conform to the latest real world driving standards. So current beleaguered owners of diesel cars can breathe a sigh of relief that they will not be punished further by the treasury – but they will need to keep their eyes on local authorities who may be introducing clean air zones in the near future.”

Hammond also confirmed that the measures would only apply to cars – so van drivers will not be hit by the measures. He also said that the money raised by the tax increase will go towards a £220 million clean air fund for local areas most effected by pollution.

Company car drivers will also be hit by a tax increase. A diesel supplement for benefit-in-kind tax will be increased from three percent to four percent from 6 April 2018.

Diesel

Ahead of the budget announcement, speculation suggested that Hammond could increase fuel duty on diesel in a bid to discourage people from driving diesel vehicles. The RAC warned, however, that an increase in fuel duty would not have the desired effect.

“Putting up duty on diesel is not going to stop the country’s 12 million diesel motorists driving any less and ease the air quality problem associated with nitrogen dioxide emissions from the fuel,” said RAC fuel spokesman Simon Williams.

“While the Government may think it will further deter people from choosing a diesel as their next vehicle, in the meantime it would unfairly punish existing diesel owners for responding to incentives introduced by a previous Government designed to limit carbon dioxide emissions.”

The chancellor confirmed that he would continue the fuel duty freeze for both petrol and diesel, costing the Government £46 billion since 2010. This makes it the longest fuel duty freeze in a generation.

Vehicle leasing firm Leaseplan UK has suggested that the freeze in fuel duty is not enough to help UK motorists.

“We’re glad that the Chancellor has listened to motorists and the fleet industry, and decided to extend the freeze on Fuel Duty for another year,” said Leaseplan managing director, Matt Dyer. “However, even with a freeze, fuel prices are still rising. If this continues, the Chancellor should consider cutting Duty rates for the first time since 2011.”

£540 million investment in electric cars

£540 million investment in electric cars

Hammond also announced a new £400 million charging infrastructure fund in a bid to improve the UK’s electric car charging network and encourage the uptake of electric vehicles.

It comes as part of his autumn budget, announced today, which also includes an extra £100 million to go towards the plug-in car grant and £40 million in research and development of electric cars.

“There’s perhaps no technology as symbolic of the revolution gathering pace around us as driverless vehicles,” said Hammond.

“I know that Jeremy Clarkson doesn’t like them, but there are many other good reasons to pursue this technology – so today, we step up our support for it. Sorry Jeremy, but definitely not the first time you’ve been snubbed by Hammond and May.

“Our future vehicles will be driverless, but they’ll be electric first. And that’s a change that needs to come as soon as possible for our planet. So we’ll establish a new £400 million charging infrastructure fund, invest an extra £100 million in plug-in car grant and £40 million in charging R&D. And I can confirm today that we will clarify the law so that people who charge their own electric vehicles at work will not face a benefit-in-kind charge from next year.”

Electric vehicle charging firm Chargemaster has described the budget as “good news for the EV sector”.

“We welcome the continued incentives for electric car purchases through the Plug-in Car Grant,” said Chargemaster’s CEO, David Martell. “Of course, these incentives will not be needed indefinitely, and manufacturers predict that the cost of building an electric car will drop below the cost of producing a petrol or diesel car within the next five years. It is also worth pointing out that consumers can buy an electric car for as little as £5,000 in the used market.

“The £400m announced to support EV charging infrastructure is good news for charge point suppliers and operators such as Chargemaster, and we hope that some of this funding will be directed towards preparing network connections and reinforcing the electricity grid where required.”

>NEXT: Diesel fuel duty could go up – but it won’t reduce pollution

Vauxhall Viva Rocks

Vauxhall Viva Rocks SUV-look city car now on sale for £11,530

Vauxhall Viva RocksIt seems no car sector is safe from getting an SUV makeover these days. Not many people demand a city car be tough enough to go deep off road, but the crossover look is still appealing – and Vauxhall’s responded by launching the Viva Rocks.

Based on the regular Viva city car, it gets a raised ride height and a tough set of body cladding, including black plastic bumpers instead of the regular body-colour ones. The wheels are a unique 15-inch design, they sit beneath beefier wheelarches, and it even gets a set of silver roof rails.

There’s just one model of Viva Rocks, costing £11,530. The price is more city car level than full-blown crossover SUV, which will appeal, and Vauxhall says ordering is open now ahead of deliveries beginning in early 2018.

Vauxhall Viva Rocks

It also gets OnStar and an optional R 4.0 IntelliLink infotainment system that links up to smartphones via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. “Making it among the best connected A-segment cars on the market,” reckons Vauxhall.

What will it be used for? It’s perfect for country lanes and city potholes, believes the firm, and is thus even more ideally suited to the city than the regular Viva. It doesn’t even bother with hill descent control or other SUV driving aids, preferring instead to offer a ‘city’ button that makes the steering fingertip light.

Just don’t expect to win any traffic light grands prix: the 1.0-litre engine has, at 75hp, no more power, so still drifts from 0-62mph in 13.1 seconds. Tough luck for the tough-look Viva Rocks if you want to get ahead of the rest…

2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class All-Terrain

2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class All-Terrain review: the alternative to an SUV

2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class All-Terrain

In a world where seemingly everyone wants an SUV, the idea of a high-riding estate car is certainly a niche one. But various versions of Audi Allroad and Volvo Cross Country models have proven that demand exists for an off-road alternative.

Despite a passion for covering every possible market segment, it has taken Mercedes-Benz until the fifth generation of the E-Class to launch an All-Terrain variant. With talk of ski lodges and a UK launch centred around the great outdoors, the target market for the E-Class All-Terrain is quite apparent.

If you happen to own a large country estate and enjoy pursuits such as horse riding and fishing, Mercedes wants this to be your top choice – should you be averse to SUV ownership.

The car’s niche appeal is acknowledged by the fact that it comes in just one trim level, offers just one V6 diesel engine, and comes with virtually every option available for an E-Class as part of the deal. It all goes some way towards justifying the £58,880 list price, along with the 4Matic all-wheel drive, air suspension and a nine-speed automatic gearbox.

First impressions

2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class All-Terrain

In isolation, it’s hard to notice the extra ride height that the All-Terrain carries over a regular E-Class estate. However, park them side-by-side and the 29mm additional ground clearance of the All-Terrain becomes far more apparent. Part of that is achieved by recalibrated air suspension, but 14mm comes from the fitment of sizeable 20-inch alloy wheels wearing surprisingly low-profile tyres.

Despite being so jacked up, the All-Terrain manages to avoid looking like it’s on stilts. Hard-wearing black plastic trim surrounds the lower edges of the bumpers, and also covers the wheelarches and sills, giving some protection should you get carried away while off-road. Mercedes has also fitted a grille design more commonly used on its SUVs, while silver lower bumper trim alludes to the underbody protection panels.

Roof rails contribute further to the ‘practical estate car’ vibe, plus privacy glass and a giant panoramic sunroof keep things feeling premium. Those substantial alloy wheels manage to blend into the overall design without seeming oversized, although 245/40 front and 275/35 rear Pirelli P-Zero tyres hardly scream green lane potential.  

It all adds up to a subtle impression of off-road ability, but without the obvious ostentatiousness of an equivalent SUV.

First seat

2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class All-Terrain

If the changes to the exterior of the All-Terrain are subtle, on the inside you’ll need to be a serious Mercedes-Benz nerd to notice the difference.

The only major one is the option of a silver carbon fibre trim, although this can be replaced with wood or metal if desired. As this might suggest, the All-Terrain majors on luxury, so don’t expect the ability to hose down this interior should you get it dirty. Brown leather seats do help hide the mud, though…

While clearly not utilitarian, the cabin of the All-Terrain reinforces just how good the E-Class interior is. With a standard widescreen 12.3-inch digital display, it’s akin to having a skateboard-sized iPad strapped to the dash. It’s possible to spend hours configuring the digital instrument dials to your liking, and the infotainment and navigation systems are also neatly integrated.

Also standard is the ‘Dynamic Select’ dial, offering the usual choice of Sport and Comfort modes, along with the model-specific All-Terrain setting. Selecting this displays information such as slope angle and steering position, making off-roading that little bit easier.

Standard 40-20-40 split-folding rear seats and up to 1,820 litres of luggage space prove the All-Terrain is still a serious load-lugger. Even with all rear seats in use, there is still the potential for 670 litres of boot space.

Helping meet the expectations created by the price tag are an impressive Burmester sound system, heated and electrically adjustable front seats with memory function, parking sensors, keyless entry and an electric tow bar that hides beneath the rear bumper.

First drive

2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class All-Terrain

‘Effortless’ is the word that sums up the experience of driving the E-Class All-Terrain. In fact, it’s so accomplished that it manages to make the driver feel like the least efficient part of proceedings. This isn’t a criticism, but recognition of just how seamlessly the first few minutes behind the wheel flow.

Diesel might be a dirty word today, but the 3.5-litre twin-turbocharged V6 unit in the All-Terrain is a reminder of how good derv power can be. With 258hp, plus 458lb ft of torque on offer from just 1,600rpm, it demolishes any concerns about the impact of the All-Terrain’s hefty 2,010kg kerb weight. The acceleration is as relentless as the 6.2-second 0-62mph time suggests, and there is no concern about reaching the 155mph limiter.

The nine-speed automatic gearbox switches ratios almost seamlessly, again aiding the feeling of unburstable progress. It also goes some way towards reaching the claimed 41.5mpg fuel economy and corresponding 179g/km of CO2 emissions, but there is only so much it can do against a sizeable all-wheel-drive estate.

Likewise, the Air Body Control air suspension has to fight the mass involved, and does so pretty well. In ‘Comfort’ mode there is a degree of body roll, but stiffening things up in ‘Sport’ removes this and adds additional weight to the steering. It’s unlikely the average All-Terrain driver is going to attack the Nurburgring, but it can certainly be hustled to make progress with little effort. 

On-road ability is only dampened by the 20-inch alloy wheels, which transmit the worst ruts and bumps back to the driver, plus a degree of tyre noise from the sizeable rubber.

Mercedes was keen to demonstrate just how capable the All-Terrain is off-road, and again it made tackling country tracks and unsurfaced roads across the Yorkshire Dales completely straightforward. Switching to All-Terrain mode not only lifts the ride height by 20mm, but also adjusts the stability and traction control systems. It doesn’t deactivate the parking sensors, though, which can get unduly concerned when tackling the deepest of ruts and trails.

The only downside to All-Terrain mode is the fact that it can be only used at speeds of up to 19mph. Exceed this, and the air suspension begins to lower again. Not ideal when straddling a deeply-rutted track…

Despite wearing road-biased tyres, the All-Terrain was able to tackle steep muddy slopes, even while towing a twin-axle horsebox carrying 250kg of ballast. A hill-hold function allows it to come to a dead stop on a steep slippery slope, and pull away again, even with the substantial weight attached.

It’s all impressive stuff, and proves that the All-Terrain is more than just a lifestyle accessory. Instead, it’s a luxury vehicle capable of easily covering 90% of the ground an average SUV owner might encounter, but with fewer drawbacks.

First verdict

2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class All-Terrain

The E-Class All-Terrain is a seriously accomplished car. Combining luxury, practicality and formidable performance both on- and off-road is no mean feat. The level of engineering and design have gone beyond simply adding a few inches to the ride height of a normal E-Class Estate, and the All-Terrain is resolutely impressive as a result. Mercedes may have been late to the off-road estate party, but the end product is perhaps better for it.

Although the starting price of £58,880 might seem hard to swallow, it actually represents better value than the equivalent Mercedes-Benz GLE SUV, thanks to the comprehensive level of standard equipment provided. There is also the added bonus of not contributing another SUV to the roads, something money cannot put a price on.

In fact, that is what gives the E-Class All-Terrain its ultimate appeal. This is an ‘old money’ car, for those who don’t care about impressing others with the biggest new SUV on offer. Yes, it’ll still go off-road to an extent, and has the dependable image the Mercedes badge brings, but it’s less shouty than the obvious off-roader rivals.

Clearly, the cost and off-road estate style mean it will only appeal to limited demographic in the UK, as will the single diesel engine. But those that pick the All-Terrain will genuinely be getting all the car they ever need.

Star rating verdict: ★★★★☆

Five Rivals

  • Audi A6 Allroad
  • Mercedes-Benz GLE
  • Range Rover Velar
  • Volkswagen Passat Alltrack
  • Volvo V90 Cross Country

>NEXT: 7 new laws drivers need to know

Revealed: the shocking ways drink drivers avoid the police

Revealed: the shocking ways drink-drivers avoid the police

Revealed: the shocking ways drink drivers avoid the police

As Christmas approaches, a survey has revealed that a shocking 29 percent of motorists admit to driving while under the influence of alcohol.

The survey of 2,000 drivers by First4Lawyers found that three quarters of drivers said they have risked driving while hungover, with young drivers being the biggest offenders.

It’s also revealed the shocking tactics drink-drivers use to avoid detection – with over a third (37 percent) of those who admit to driving over the limit saying they always stick to the speed limit in a bid to avoid being spotted by the police. Sixteen percent, meanwhile, will drive down rural roads to avoid being caught, while more than one in 10 (11 percent) say they chew gum to reduce the smell of alcohol on the breath.

Incredibly, two percent of those surveyed reveal that they’ve deliberately made themselves sick before driving in a bid to rid their system of alcohol. Five percent spray perfume or aftershave to hide the smell of booze, while 11 percent will drink a cup of coffee in a hope that it might sober them up.

The survey also revealed that 61 percent of drivers are still happy to use their phone behind the wheel, despite tougher penalties being introduced earlier this year.

“This data reveals that many drivers believe they are above than the law, despite the danger they pose to themselves and other drivers by breaking the rules of the road,” said Andrew Cullwick, a spokesman for the company behind the survey.

“Driving drunk, speeding and using a mobile behind the wheel are all illegal, yet it appears that attempts so far to crack down on these incidents have been largely unsuccessful. It can only be hoped that the increase in the death by dangerous driving sentencing from 14 years to a life sentence will act as a deterrent to those risking the lives of other road users through their dangerous actions.’

>NEXT: 7 new laws drivers need to know

2018 Aston Martin Vantage

2018 Aston Martin Vantage revealed: advantage Aston!

2018 Aston Martin VantageWith the arrival of the new Aston Martin Vantage, the old ‘Russian Dolls’ approach to styling is consigned to history. From now on, all new Aston Martins will be distinct, and the firm is shouting about this in the most vivid and luminous way with the new Vantage’s dramatic ‘Lime Essence’ launch colour. Aston cherishes its cool understatedness but, just so often, you really do have to shout about things.

The new Vantage, finally replacing the previous 2005-era car, is an all-new car that’s derived from the same architecture as the breakthrough DB11, but boasts 70 percent bespoke parts. It’s a two-seat rival to the Porsche 911 Turbo and McLaren 570S, hits UK roads next spring, and is yours to order now from £120,900.

For the first time, the Vantage has a turbo engine. The 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 produces 510hp and 505lb ft of torque. It makes this a 195mph Aston sports car, one capable of 0-62mph in a scant 3.6 seconds. The engine is sourced from Mercedes-AMG but it has fully bespoke Aston calibration, as does the eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox.

Aston also says a manual version will later follow – one likely to match the 911 in having seven gears.

For now, though, the engine isn’t the story. The design is. This radical new Aston, first teased by James Bond’s DB10, is a bold new sports car look that even goes so far as to eschew the traditional Aston grille. Instead, as a sign of intent, there’s a huge front splitter, inspired by the Vulcan, balanced at the rear by an enormous diffuser that looks to all intents like it’s come straight from a GTE racing car.

Aston boss Andy Palmer calls the new Vantage “our hunter”, one seeking a younger customer than the DB11 (and the old Vantage) through being more aggressive both in looks and drive. Design boss Marek Reichman underlines the newfound aggression: “this is our sports car – the successor to a Le Mans-winning race car.” It’s no coincidence that Aston is revealing the racing version of the Vantage on the same day as the road car.

The new car has a shorter nose and tail than the old one, and a longer wheelbase. “It’s the lowest nose ever on a front mid-engined car,” reckons Reichman. Unlike on the DB11 (and many rivals), there are also no visual aerodynamic features – “the body does all the work,” providing the perfect platform to make a racing car.

Aston stresses the elemental aspects of the new Vantage. The body is shorn of unnecessary addenda and lines – there aren’t even any bonnet vents, because it doesn’t need them. It’s defined by a single side shoulder line, which Reichman describes as being under tension, moving the car forward, like an arrow. Hard lines have been minimised; “it’s like the chassis is pushing itself out.”

2018 Aston Martin Vantage

The dramatic simplicity is punctuated only by the rear, which “finishes with a flourish” thanks to the eye-catching light bar and amazing stand-proud rear diffuser. Reichman clarifies Palmer’s ‘hunter’ moniker – the Vantage is likely to be hunting down other cars, overtaking them, so the firm’s given a visual treat to those being overtaken with a dramatic rear. “This is the bit everyone will see…”

It has a driver-focused interior, one again completely different to the DB11 – even down to the overall architecture. Instead of a ‘waterfall’ centre console, it’s shorter, with space clearly left for that upcoming manual gearlever. Touch-sensitive ‘haptic’ controls have also been replaced by proper buttons with proper, defined ‘clicks’, presumably at no small expense: such is the intent Aston has to differentiate all its cars. “We’re not making Russian Dolls anymore,” stresses Palmer.

2018 Aston Martin Vantage

It’s an exciting place to sit, packed with sporty-feel details like cowled dials, kneepads on the centre console, lightweight leather door-pull straps instead of cumbersome handles. Attention to detail is exquisite and it’s spacious too – there’s a 350-litre boot behind the front seats, which you can access through the cabin via a handy shelf. A Volkswagen Golf only has 30 litres’ more space; that’s how roomy the new Vantage is. The latest Mercedes-Benz electronics also give Vantage customers modern-era infotainment and functionality, at last.

It will drive as well as it looks, promises chief technical officer Max Szwaj. Despite the bonded aluminium architecture evolving from the DB11, it’s been tuned from the ground up as a Vantage, even down to getting bespoke Pirelli tyres. This is the first Aston to be fully developed under the guidance of dynamics guru Matt Becker, formerly of Lotus. Expectations are sky-high: it’s already impressed Red Bull Racing F1 driver Max Verstappen.

The new Vantage has Aston Martin’s first-ever electronic rear differential. The e-diff reacts in milliseconds, giving more precise control over the car’s handling. “It feels more dynamic, gives faster steering, less understeer,” says Szwaj. Even compared to the DB11 V8, it has a totally different character, he says – and with weight from 1,530kg and the boast of overall length being 34mm shorter than a 911 (and 284mm shorter than a DB11), it’s clear which car Aston has in its target.  

Palmer calls the new Vantage “a true sports car… (this) is the Aston Martin pure driving machine enthusiasts have bene waiting for. I’m enormously excited by what we’ve created: a new Vantage that’s more explicit in looks and intent, wrapping heart-pounding performance and dazzling dynamics into an everyday, usable package.”

One more thing: the noise. Szwaj promises us it’s going to be stunning. And nothing like a Mercedes-AMG V8. “We have given it an entirely new spectrum, matching it with the noise cues that will be familiar to Aston Martin customers. It sounds amazing.” We can’t wait to hear more: because right now, the 2018 Aston Martin Vantage sounds like it could be one of THE new cars of 2018.

Opinion: ‘I can’t wait to drive the new Vantage’

For seven weeks, potential customers have been seeing the new Vantage in secret at Aston Martin’s Gaydon HQ. The vast majority of them have subsequently signed up to buy one: having seen it myself, it’s not hard to see why.

There’s no greater signifier that the Russian Doll era is over than this new sports car. It’s more compact than the new DB11, sharper, more purposeful, much more focused. A huge stride on from the old Vantage. With its DB10 cues and dramatic Vulcan front end, adorned not with a grille but a full explosion of race-style aero, it’s little short of stunning.

The interior is gorgeous, more tactile and hands-on than the DB11, and again impeccably finished to the highest standards. It feels good to sit in, with nice, low, cosseting seats, an exciting-looking cabin, racy new steering wheel, paddleshifters that you can reach even with more than a dab of oppo on; even the ‘click’ of the paddles has been tightened up over the DB11.  

From £120k, it’s not quite as cheap as it was; it’s going up against the Porsche 911 Turbo, but seems a bargain alongside the McLaren 570S. It’s immediately clear what the extra is buying you, though. This is perhaps the sportiest real-world Aston sports car ever, and if the firm’s promise it’s as good to drive as it is to look at is true, it’s all set to be a landmark.

I can’t wait to discover more…

>NEXT: You can now buy an Aston Martin V8 Vantage for £30,000