Fast Fords at the 2018 Classic Car Restoration Show

The Practical Classics Classic Car and Restoration show is in full swing, with enthusiasts filling the halls of the NEC to see all manner of classic cars – from restored beauties to in-need-of-restoration barn finds.

One car manufacturer that is well represented is Ford, with a model to appeal to everyone…

Ford Escort RS Cosworth

With fast Ford prices rising as quick as they are, it’s no surprise to see this RS Cossie roped off at the Classic Car and Restoration Show. Finished it silver, it almost looks understated. Almost.

Ford Focus WRC

The Focus WRC is a rally car loosely based on a Mk1 Focus and driven by Colin McRae following his Subaru days. It made its debut at the Monte Carlo rally, where it was disqualified for being equipped with an illegal water pump. It soon picked up 11 world rally victories.

Ford Escort XR3i

Sunburst Red paint. Cloverleaf alloys. Do XR3is get any more perfect than DJX? It’s also got one of the cleanest MOT histories we’ve ever seen, and has covered less than 80,000 miles. It’s high on the ‘want’ list…

Ford Escort RS1600i

As is this RS1600i. Based on the non-fuel-injected XR3, the RS1600i was a homologation special built to limited numbers. This example at the NEC looks to have escaped the rust that has killed off most examples of the RS1600i. In fact, it’s mint.

Ford Taunus 20M RS Coupe

This is an exceptionally rare car in the UK: a 20M RS Coupe built in Germany in 1971. It was one of the first Fords to be given the Rallye Sport moniker, along with the Mk1 Escort RS1600.

Mk1 Ford Mustang

Mustang fever shows no sign of waning as Ford facelifts the current model, so it’s nice to see such a tidy example of what started it off originally. We particularly like the whitewall tyres.

Mk4 Ford Mustang

By the 1990s, the Mustang had got fat. It wasn’t a patch on its former self. Ford’s since restored its honour with the latest one, but if you don’t have that sort of cash, this V6 Mustang is at least a bit of a steal. You can honestly say you do actually own a Mustang – just don’t let on which one…

Mk1 Ford Escort Mexico

More than 10,000 Mk1 Escort Mexicos were built in celebration of the model’s rallying success in the late 60s and early 70s. Those who couldn’t afford an Escort Mexico wanted an Escort Mexico, so replicas were once very common.

Ford Escort RS Cosworth

Along with the McLaren F1 and Honda NSX, the Ford Escort RS Cosworth is one of THE finest cult cars of the 1990s. Its muscular styling was absolutely millimetre-perfect and the motorsport-focused chassis beneath was so ready-made for the WRC rally stage, it made light work of British B-roads. One of the most covetable fast Fords of all time.

Mk1 Ford Escorts

Take two early Ford Escorts, one in full-bore fast Ford Mexico guise and the other perfect and pristine in cooking shopping-car spec (and the most gorgeous colour). Now try to pick between them. Can’t we just have both of these beauties?

Ford Fiesta XR2

In facelifted guise, the hot Fiesta was one of the most popular hot hatches of the 1980s, along with its sportier bigger brother, the Escort XR3i. It produced less than 100hp but that wasn’t such an issue in those days, thanks to light kerbweights, and sentimental children of the 80s are now busily pushing prices up to well beyond what they cost when new.

Ford Probe

Based on the Mazda MX-6, the Probe was intended to be a modern-day Capri when it was launched in 1993. Its lacklustre styling and front-wheel-drive layout – not to mention a poor interior – meant it wasn’t the sales success Ford hoped for. Today, the Probe is a fairly rare sight, but it’s finally getting recognition as a modern day classic.

Ford Sierra XR4i

The V6-powered Ford Sierra XR4i was a pretty special thing, with a bespoke three-door bodyshell and fruity engine. With its Cosworth-style ‘whale tail’, it was a bombastic-looking thing, although it ultimately didn’t quite have the right sort of sporting edge to make it a classic. With the roll-out of the Sierra RS Cosworth, it was quietly forgotten…

Ford Fiesta Supersport

It took Ford a little while to find the fast Fiesta formula. This Supersport was getting closer, and was certainly a better package than the earlier 1300S it was based upon. But it still only had a 1.3-litre engine, so wasn’t a match for more potent rivals. That would soon change with the 1982 launch of the 1.6-litre Mk1 Fiesta XR2 (a car that actually nabbed a few styling bits from this UK-only Supersport…).

Ford Racing Puma

The Racing Puma was a limited-run model based loosely on the regular Puma. Converted by Tickford, the Racing Puma was heavily modified – with a wider front and rear track, Sparco seats and an engine producing an extra 30hp over the standard car. Although only 1,000 were planned, Ford struggled to sell them due to the high price tag. 500 were shifted in the end, and they’re increasingly seen as a solid investment today.

Ford Granada Perana V8

A Ford Granada Perana? What’s that? Why, a bona fide fast Ford that’s what – courtesy of a 5.0-litre V8 Mustang engine under the bonnet. Yes, that would do it. It’s part of the famous range of cars developed by Basil Green in South African starting in the early 1970s.

Ford Capri Perana V8

Green also popped a V8 into the Ford Capri. It really was the British Ford Mustang – and remarkably, the Windsor Small Block motor weighed barely any more than the lumpy old 3.0-litre V6 it was swapped for. Buyers could pick from Bright Yellow or the Peri Peri Red pictured here.

Ford Escort XR3i cabriolet

Those of us of a certain age, who grew up watching Dempsey & Makepeace, will always hanker for a Ford Escort XR3i Cabriolet. This later ‘Mk3.5’ was posher than anything Makepeace ever drove, but still desirable, particularly in this limited-run two-tone paint finish.

Suzuki Ant and Dec

Suzuki pulls Ant and Dec advertising deal

Suzuki Ant and DecSuzuki GB has announced it is ending its advertising campaign with Ant & Dec, following Ant McPartlin’s drink-driving charge. 

The firm says it will air no further material featuring the pair – and its endorsement deal with Ant & Dec has also ended. 

“We agree with ITV and Ant & Dec that it was the correct decision not to broadcast Saturday Night Takeaway this weekend. As a car brand. we recognise the seriousness of Ant’s charge.

“We completely support Ant’s decision to seek treatment.”

It’s not the immediate end of Suzuki on Saturday Night Takeaway, though. The car firm has agreed to continue its sponsorship of the final two series of the show, with its current advertising films. 

“Suzuki very much supports Dec and ITV’s decision to broadcast the shows and as headline sponsors we also want to support the competition winners who have won places on the Plane to Florida for the series finale.”

Ant was charged with drink-driving after being arrested last Sunday after crashing his black Mini Countryman Cooper S. A passenger in one of the other cars he hit – a green Mini – was later taken to hospital as a precaution. 

Amateur footage showed Ant emerging from the crashed Mini in a dazed state, after colliding head-on with a BMW X3. 

Kia Stinger GT-S vs. Hyundai i30 N

White goods to white knuckles: Kia Stinger GT-S vs Hyundai i30 N

Kia Stinger GT-S vs. Hyundai i30 N

Tim didn’t have the face of a man who had enjoyed his drive. We’d arranged to meet at the site of a former Little Chef on the A303; I’d be driving up from Devon in a Kia Stinger GT-S, Tim arriving from Croydon in a Hyundai i30 N.

He was late. “Rubberneckers were gawping at a crash on the other side of the road,” he complained, before muttering something about the artificial pop-pops from the i30 N’s exhaust. It’s fair to say that Tim wasn’t in the best of spirits.

I’d experienced no such problems. Leaving a cold and frosty Dartmoor, roads still lined by piles of drifting snow, I had settled into the sumptuous Nappa leather upholstery of Kia’s new flagship, climate control set to just-so, and steering wheel and seats warming my extremities.

This wasn’t a morning to engage Sport+ – which disengages the traction control – but for weaving in and out of the slow-moving traffic on the A30 and A303, the Stinger was proving itself to be an impressive GT car.

I arrived with time to spare, able to enjoy a large Americano before Tim and Bradley, our videographer for the day, loomed into view over the Wiltshire horizon. Teenager Bradley had dispatched with the i30 N many miles previously, providing further evidence that Tim wasn’t warming to the Hyundai.

If a hot hatch fails to stimulate a response to an upstart in a 1.4-litre Corsa, it’s probably not fit to wear the badge. “Do you want to swap cars?” asked Tim. I declined the invitation. I was having too much fun in the Kia and Tim wasn’t exactly selling the Hyundai very well.

From our rendezvous near West Knoyle, we made our way down the A350 to our base camp for the day: the top of Zig-Zag Hill, on Cranborne Chase. Where better than Britain’s bendiest road to test two of the more welcome ‘beasts from the east’? Drivers can expect to experience the same gravitational forces as on a rollercoaster: maybe this would be enough to lift Tim’s gloom.

Whitewalls, white goods and white knuckles

Kia Stinger GT-S vs. Hyundai i30 N

This wasn’t intended to be your stereotypical twin-test. The cars are at opposite ends of the performance car spectrum, appealing to very different demographics. Brogues and Converse, Tweed and Superdry, etc.

No, the point of gathering these two Korean missiles atop a windswept hill in Wiltshire was to mark a changing of the guard. There’s a sense that these cars represent so much more than the launch of two performance weapons: there’s a bigger story to tell here.

The Stinger GT-S and i30 N lay down a line of tyre rubber on the road: the brands are shifting from an image of warranties and white goods to wantonness and white knuckles. All of a sudden, where once upon a time people would describe Korean cars in the context of boot size, fuel economy and length of warranty, we’re discussing 0-62mph times, launch control and G-forces.

Of the two, the Kia Stinger has enjoyed the most exposure. An appearance on The Grand Tour, numerous front-page features and favourable comparisons with German rivals have given the Stinger – in particular the GT-S – more column inches and screen time than any previous Kia model. This all feels a long way from a rebadged Mazda 121 sat on whitewall tyres.

The specs are compelling: 370hp from a 3.3-litre twin-turbocharged V6 engine, enabling the rear-wheel-drive GT-S to hit 62mph from rest in just 4.9 seconds, before maxing out at an Audi-baiting top speed of 168mph. It’s the most exciting South Korean to land in the UK since Song Heung-min arrived at White Hart Lane.

Or is it? The Hyundai i30 N’s figures are no less compelling. In Performance guise, as tested here, the hot Hyundai develops 275hp from its 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, sprinting to 62mph in 6.1 seconds and going on to reach a top speed limited to 155mph.

In a drag race, the Stinger would leave the i30 trailing in its wake. But outright speed is only half the story. By Kia’s own admission, the Stinger is not a “hard-edged sports car created to be brutally fast at the expense of comfort”, and it’s worth pointing out that the i30 N was developed by none other than Albert Biermann of BMW M car fame.

For its first high-performance car, Hyundai could have taken the easy route: increase the power, stiffen the suspension, add some larger wheels and cosmetic upgrades and, hey presto, a hot hatch is born. Only Hyundai didn’t take the easy route: there would have been little point hiring Mr M to create the first N-car, only to leave a few stones unturned.

To this end, the i30 N Performance features an electronic limited-slip differential, Pirelli P Zero tyres, active variable exhaust system, reinforced brakes, multiple adjustments for the driver’s seat, 19-inch alloy wheels, an additional 25hp over the standard N, plus the same 260lb ft of torque, albeit spread over a wider rev range. There’s a £3,000 premium for the full-fat Performance version.

But both N cars get five different driving modes – Eco, Normal, Sport, N and N Custom – activated via two blue buttons on the steering wheel. Much has been made about the 1,944 different settings, but in reality, once you’ve found the optimum setting, you’ll rarely feel the need to change it. But more on the i30 N later.

GT car: Kia Stinger GT-S

Kia Stinger GT-S vs. Hyundai i30 N

For now, I’m at the wheel of the Kia Stinger GT-S, covering ground on the gloriously open, if a little pockmarked, B3081 across Cranborne Chase. There’s no getting away from the sense that the GT-S would feel more at home on a long distance dash to the south of France or the Swiss Alps, but the Kia’s ability to cover ground quickly and gracefully is nothing short of extraordinary.

It’s that man Albert Biermann again, who took charge of the Stinger’s 10,000km testing regime at the Nürburgring Nordschleife. Let’s hope the German negotiated a decent package when he arrived at the Hyundai-Kia R&D centre. On the basis of what he has achieved so far, Biermann ought to be in line for a hefty performance-related bonus.

You sit low, hemmed in by a supremely comfortable heated and ventilated driver’s seat, with four-way lumbar support and two-way side bolster support. The D-shaped heated steering wheel is electronically adjustable, enabling you to find the perfect driving position. First impressions are great.

Things take a turn for the worse when you press the start button, as the V6 engine roars into life with all the sonorous pleasure of an electric toothbrush. There’s a slight improvement when you switch to Sport mode, which relays the engine note through the audio system, but the soundtrack is not a Stinger strong point. A deliberate ploy by the engineers: less shouty and more subtle than the German rivals? Who knows.

But you’re unlikely to be underwhelmed by the cabin. From the microsuede covering the A-pillars and roof lining to the brushed metal on the centre console, the quality of the fit and finish, while not quite up to German standards, is impressive. There’s a bit of unwanted movement from the controls and switches, but I’d defy anyone who is left feeling shortchanged by the interior.

On the move, the first thing that strikes you about the Stinger GT-S is the explosive performance. Power peaks at 6,000rpm, but 376lb ft of torque is available from 1,300pm to 4,500rpm. At 1,907kg, it’s not a lightweight car, but the torque enables you to attack with real venom.

It defaults to Comfort mode, but switching to Sport adds weight to the steering, stiffens the suspension and makes the soundtrack slightly less disappointing. The Eco mode is all but redundant in a car like this and gives the Stinger a severe case of lethargy. Like clunk-clicking your seatbelt, most GT-S owners will engage Sport mode as part of their pre-launch ritual.

It’s the low to mid-range punch that is most impressive, making the sprint between corners surprisingly enjoyable for a car of this size and weight. The eight-speed automatic transmission is, for the most part, able to keep up with the ferocious pace, only occasionally selecting the wrong gear when attempting a fast exit from a bend. The paddle-shifters feel suitably weighty, but annoyingly, the system defaults to auto mode after 10 seconds. On a B-road blast, this could become a major annoyance.

The steering is well-weighted if a little lacking in outright feel, but the Stinger is more agile than you’d expect, with Sport mode granting you a dollop of oversteer to give the Kia a more playful edge. Those with more talent and courage would engage Sport+ to release the shackles, but on these roads and at temperatures barely above freezing, I wasn’t going to be that guy.

Besides, you get the sense that the Stinger is more at home fulfilling GT duties than it is mixing it with GTIs. The ride quality is supple, even in Sport mode, while only a tiny amount of wind noise from the door mirrors blots an otherwise near-faultless NVH report. The levels of refinement reach far beyond the £40,495 price tag. And, yes, it’s definitely worth the money.

Fish finger sandwiches and John Peel

Kia Stinger GT-S vs. Hyundai i30 N

By now, Bradley was itching to take some photos, which gave us the opportunity to reflect on the styling of these two jewels in the South Korean car industry crown. You wouldn’t call either of them beautiful, but the Kia is the more attractive of the two.

And so it should be. The i30 N only needs to look good at night, under the orange lights of a retail centre car park or within sight of the McDonald’s drive-thru. It falls somewhere between the sombre-suited Peugeot 308 GTI and the OK-if-you’re-an-eight-year-old Honda Civic Type R. Fine from certain angles, but that rear end is, quite frankly, a bit of a mess.

Meanwhile, the Stinger must compete in a sector where image is everything, and is suitably dripping in presence. Sure, it wears the Kia corporate grille, but it looks quite unlike anything else in the range. There’s a lot for the eyes to take in, and on more than one occasion we found ourselves just stood there, staring at the car. It has that effect on people: folk want to know more about it and what it can do. As a statement, the Kia Stinger GT-S probably says more positive things about you than any of its German rivals.

With Bradley happy with his shots, Tim was craving for his turn behind the wheel. We retired to the brilliantly retro John Peel café in Shaftesbury for fish finger sandwiches and a debrief, before switching cars for the afternoon session.

Hot hatch: Hyundai i30 N

Kia Stinger GT-S vs. Hyundai i30 N

There’s a short drive from the town centre to the bottom of Zig-Zag Hill: just enough time to get used to the switch from GT to hot hatch. First impressions aren’t as favourable: the i30 N’s cabin is bordering on dull, saved only by the sports seats, bespoke gear knob, leather-trimmed steering wheel and N-branded door sill.

But let’s not be too quick to criticise the i30 N. A hot hatch can only work with the tool at its disposal, which is in stark contrast to the Stinger, designed from the ground up to be a lavish GT car. Besides, we’re not here to compare the two cars, and the i30 N Performance is around £12,000 cheaper than its warranty-enriched Korean stablemate.

After the rich and full-bodied Stinger, the i30 N provides more of an espresso-style hit. Unable to resist the temptation to switch to full-on N mode, the i30 reached the foot of Zig-Zag with far more urgency than the Kia. Hardly surprising given that N mode means everything is set at the most intense level.

The exhaust note brings a symphonic soundtrack to the party, creating a sense of theatre that is missing in the Stinger. The burble at idle provides a bucket-load of anticipation, while the “after-fire sound” – or pop-pops, in non-Hyundai speak – is intoxicating and a tiny bit anti-social. If the GT-S could soothe you into middle-aged contentment, the i30 N takes you back a couple of decades. It’s a hooligan, and it’s all the better for it.

The twists and turns of Zig-Zag Hill must have sounded raucous to anyone within a three-mile radius of the i30 N. You’re forced into first gear to make a swift exit from the tightest bends, but the payback is a sound akin to rapid gun-fire, as the exhaust emits a multitude of pop-pops on the over-run. The noise reverberates off the trees as the Hyundai makes its way out of the gloom, blinking as it breaks into the sunlight at the top of the hill.

All the while, that E-diff is working its magic, with the limpet-like grip of the i30 N seemingly unfazed by the less than perfect surface of the hill. Switch to Normal mode, and the Hyundai is far less effective, understeering perilously close to the edge of the road if you attempt to exit a bend too quickly.

Yes, the suspension is almost unbearable in its stiffest setting, bouncing the driver up and down like Tigger on acid. However, as I discovered later, you can use the Custom setting to leave everything in the most extreme setting, but soften the suspension to Sport or even Normal mode. On the roads of the west country, the i30 N felt at home as a cream tea – jam first, cream second – and I stand by my point that you only need two modes: Custom and Normal.

Ninety-nine percent of the time you’ll be in Custom mode, revelling in the heroic rev matching and active exhaust, switching to Normal only to pass horse riders, make a quiet exit from a sleepy village, or to relax on a long and tedious schlep up a motorway. Not that you’ll spend too long on boring roads: the i30 N is the kind of car that encourages you to leave a motorway an exit earlier or to take the long way home, again, again and again.

Korean two-car garage

Kia Stinger GT-S vs. Hyundai i30 N

It was becoming increasingly apparent that Tim was finding his groove in the Stinger. As I tucked in behind, hustling Ronin-style through the tight bends, the i30’s unrelenting grip levelling the playing field, I could only watch as the Stinger catapulted away when the road opened up. Occasionally, the rear end would kick out, adding drama to the occasion. Tim spent the afternoon smiling.

From the outside, the Stinger GT-S has a formidable presence, with the quad exhausts acting like a four-barrel signal of intent. In Ceramic Grey (or primer, as some people called it), the GT-S has the look of a prototype vehicle, although opinions are divided on whether or not this is a good thing. Amusingly, the only no-cost option is Sunset Yellow, which suggests that somebody at Kia has a sense of humour. Still, at least we know the Stinger likes butter.

I could wax lyrical about these cars forever more and, blissfully free of a word count, I’m dangerously close to doing just that. But, conscious that Tim needs to add his counterpoint, and you’ve got better things to do, I’ll conclude with some passing comments about the two cars.

These aren’t just great performance cars by Korean standards, they’re great, full stop. The Stinger GT-S is arguably the more impressive of the two, and it speaks volumes that, after a week with the car, it looks like excellent value at £40k.

But the i30 N will live long in the memory. Driving back from Zig-Zag Hill, I had one of those drives when the road opens up, the traffic clears, and the planets align. Like the time I drove a Fiesta ST along the entire length of the A470, or a VX220 Turbo on an empty Klausen Pass, or a Racing Puma on the A429 through the Cotswolds – just as the sun was setting. My journey on the A30 in the i30 N gets a chapter in my imaginary book of great drives.

To draw comparisons with other hot hatches would be too miss the point. The i30 N feels like a very special, well-developed and serious performance car. Similar things could be said of the Stinger. Kia UK predicts that no more than 1,800 people will take the plunge this year, but only a small proportion will be the GT-S model. Exclusivity is guaranteed.

Both deserve to sell in big numbers, but a part of me hopes that they don’t. Many will cling to the tried and tested brands, leaving the enlightened to discover two heroes of 2018. Free-thinkers apply within: extended warranties have never looked more alluring.

Counterpoint: Tim Pitt

Perhaps I expected too much. I’d been looking forward to the i30 N for months, especially after the first slew of five-star reviews. But although it’s a credible contender – and unquestionably the most exciting Hyundai yet – it isn’t the Golf-toppling game-changer some have suggested.

The i30 N is like a Big Mac or Radio 1: fun for short periods but ultimately unsatisfying. My main beef concerns the chassis, which feels slightly leaden in Normal and Sport settings, then responsive but rock-hard in all-guns-blazing N mode. The fast-flowing fluidity of a BMW M140i or Ford Focus RS simply isn’t there.

I’m not sold on the steering either. It’s weighty, but inconsistent – lacking the finely-layered feedback that characterises a great driver’s car. From a standing start, the hot Hyundai is an impressive effort. But I’m sorry Gav, it’s not for me.

The Stinger, on the other hand, feels fit to take on the best in its class. It’s a thoroughly well-sorted sports saloon, with a muscular V6, strong Brembo brakes and playful yet progressive handling. It’s no surprise that Albert Biermann was a key player in the car’s development: remove the badges and you could be driving a BMW.

This isn’t a comparison test, and perhaps the odds are stacked anyway– given that the Kia is over £12,000 more expensive. Still it’s the car that most convincingly takes on the establishment, so the Stinger gets my vote.

Watch: Kia Stinger GT-S vs Hyundai i30 N

Specifications

Hyundai i30 N Performance

Engine: Four cylinder, 1,998cc, petrol

Drivetrain: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive

Power: 275hp @ 6,000rpm

Torque: 260lb ft @ 1,750rpm

Fuel economy: 39.8mpg

CO2 emissions: 163g/km

Price: £27,995

Kia Stinger GT-S

Engine: Six cylinder, 3,342cc, petrol

Drivetrain: Eight-speed semi-auto, rear-wheel drive

Power: 370hp @ 6,000rpm

Torque: 376lb ft @ 1,500rpm

Fuel economy: 26.6mpg

CO2 emissions: 225g/km

Price: £40,495

Read more:

Nissan Qashqai

1 in 3 new cars in Europe is an SUV

Nissan QashqaiThe march of the SUV continued across Europe in February 2018, as the region enjoyed its best February performance in a decade. Overall sales were up 4.2 percent, despite declines in two key markets, the UK and Italy.

Diesel registrations plunged by a whopping 12.8 percent last month, taking the under-attack fuel’s share down to 39.5 percent of overall sales. In Germany, sales were down 19.2 percent, and they plummeted 23.5 percent in the UK.

Petrol sales, however, grew by 16 percent and alternative fuel vehicles outpaced even this with an 18.5 percent boost.

New SUV registrations were up nearly 25 percent, to an incredible 382,600 units. That accounts for one in three sales, although not all SUV sectors are on the up: full-size and luxury SUVs actually declined 12.6 percent last month.

Bentley Bentayga

Some brands are really benefitting from the SUV craze. Volkswagen has been on a launch spree, and its SUV sales shot up 37.7 percent, to almost 69,000 vehicles – it’s now behind only Renault-Nissan in terms of overall SUV and crossover volume.

Volkswagen Group also grew its overall European market share, to a commanding 24.3 percent.

City car sales were stable: Renault and Volkswagen registrations declined, but a stronger performance from Ford, Peugeot, Citroen and Skoda helped ensure superminis remained Europe’s second-favourite type of car, favoured by 1 in 5 buyers.

Despite the frenzy to buy an SUV, though, the Volkswagen Golf remained Europe’s best-selling car, with registrations actually growing a healthy 16 percent, to almost 37,000 units. The Renault Clio was second and the Peugeot 208 third. And the best-selling SUV in the EU? Nissan’s Qashqai – which uniquely, neither gained nor lost sales.

Europe’s top 10 best-selling cars: February 2018

Volkswagen Golf

1: Volkswagen Golf

2: Renault Clio

3: Peugeot 208

4: Ford Fiesta

5: Volkswagen Polo

6: Nissan Qashqai

7: Citroen C3

8: Skoda Octavia

9: Volkswagen Tiguan

10: Peugeot 3008

Volkswagen Lupo GTI vs. Polo GTI

Pocket rockets: Volkswagen Up GTI vs. retro Lupo GTI

Volkswagen Lupo GTI vs. Polo GTIThirteen years after Lupo GTI production ended, VW has finally produced a GTI version of its popular Up city car. Common sense would suggest that as the Up replaced the Fox, and that replaced the Lupo, VW would proudly proclaim the Up GTI the long-awaited successor to its popular Lupo GTI. However, this wasn’t the case.

Instead, the Up was cited as a contemporary interpretation of the iconic Mk1 Golf GTI, with no mention of the car many assumed it shared a stronger bloodline with. The plot thickens when you realise that for the Lupo GTI launch, guess which car VW put forward as its inspiration? Yep, the Mk1 again. VW itself clearly doesn’t want to make comparisons between the two sub-Polo GTI pocket rockets, but we’ve come to the challenging roads of South Wales to do just that.

Has the Up GTI has got the makings of a future classic – just like the Lupo back in the day – or is it just a cynical exploitation of those iconic three letters to boost the company’s post-dieselgate image? This is going to be good….

Making an impression

Volkswagen Lupo GTI vs. Polo GTI

Even though it’s old enough to vote, the Lupo takes an instant lead in the eye-candy stakes. Up front, Audi RS4-style flared arches join the doors and bonnet in being aluminium, transforming the normally slab-sided Lupo into a curvy hunk. Standard gas-discharge headlamps, twin-exhaust tailpipes, sculpted bumpers, 15-inch alloys, red callipers and extended sills complete a thorough external makeover.

Inside, grey sports seats with red stitching (also available in a more inspiring red fabric) and a Polo dashboard seem a tad ordinary compared to the exterior, but snazzy silver-bezel instruments, red seatbelts (who said ‘MG Metro’?), alloy pedals and a gorgeous leather/alloy gearknob help make amends for the otherwise monochromatic theme.

The Up is textbook GTI, combining numerous subtle and inexpensive styling cues to make a package that’s sufficiently distinctive even non-fanboys will see it coming a mile off. A black panel set into the front bumper, red grille stripe and classic GTI badge do the business, while side-on there’s no mistaking the gorgeous BBS-style 17-inch alloy wheels and sill extensions. There are even some stripes that perfectly mimic those of the Mk1 Golf GTI, although black cars sadly miss out on them.

Volkswagen Lupo GTI vs. Polo GTI

At the rear, a pert roof spoiler, 3D red stripe, GTI badge and chrome tailpipe all gel perfectly. You can even have a black roof. OK, there are no flared arches, but does it really need them? The standard Up styling is a lot sharper than a vanilla Lupo’s, and the big wheels, combined with 15mm lower suspension, do wonders for its stance, emphasising those chiselled haunches.

Inside, the GTI- clan ‘Jacara Red’ tartan makes a welcome appearance, albeit looking slightly incongruous on the undernourished seats common to every Up. The red theme continues with a colourful ‘dashpad’ that spans the full width of the dashboard. The Up’s plastic gearknob lacks the glamour of the Lupo’s, while the plain pedals and seats belts are both standard Up fare.

All this can be forgiven though, thanks to a flat-bottomed steering wheel nicked wholesale from a Mk7.5 Golf GTI. While the accountants have clearly sharpened their pencils since the pricey Lupo, you get the feeling that even they couldn’t say no to this inclusion.

Heading for the hills

Volkswagen Lupo GTI vs. Polo GTI

This well-used but mechanically tip-top 2002 Lupo feels unexpectedly plush. Road noise is well suppressed and the fresh VW dampers and original springs provide an almost magic- carpet ride quality (the relatively small wheels undoubtedly help). The standard exhaust system keeps things hushed, even with a lofty 3,500rpm on the tacho when cruising at 70 mph in 6th. Clearly this extra gear, introduced in 2002, wasn’t dropped in for economy, but to shorten the ratios to keep the normally aspirated 1,595cc 16v engine spinning in the upper half of the rev range – to hell with emissions.

It’s this very old-school way the Lupo goes about its business that defines it. Drive it like a modern forced-induction car and progress will be pedestrian, with not an awful lot happening below 3,000rpm: the official torque peak. Drop a gear or two, though, and at 4,000rpm that free-spinning engine comes alive with a growl, a distinct second wind occurring at 5,000rpm that’s sustained all the way to the rev limiter – just north of the 6,500rpm power peak. Proper fun when you’re in the mood, but a little tiring when you aren’t.

The chassis harks back to the bad old Mk4 Golf days, when an overly comfortable ride was always at the expense of agility. Thanks to the new hardware fitted here, damping is well controlled, but pitch it into a corner and your head will initially go into mayday mode, the amount of roll triggering unnerving sensations unfamiliar in modern performance cars. Get used to this though, and once fully loaded, it digs in enthusiastically, the shifting of its modest 978kg unladen weight compressing the 205-section tyres into the tarmac without overloading them. Maybe the costly lightweight panels, accommodating a wider track, were money well spent after all?

Volkswagen Lupo GTI vs. Polo GTI

Sitting behind the wheel of the Up GTI, little readjustment is required. Both lack reach adjustment for the steering column, but this is soon forgotten thanks to the ergonomic perfection elsewhere. At idle, the Up actually feels more industrial than the Lupo, with the off-beat three-cylinder idle sending subtle vibrations through the bodyshell. This sensation continues once you get moving: a sound actuator pipes up, providing a pleasing R32-like crescendo at higher revs. At first, the gearchange, just like the Lupo’s, feels a little imprecise, but you soon adjust.

Where it differs massively is through the gears. While the Lupo hits 60mph at 5,000rpm in third, the Up nearly cracks it in second. Long ratios aren’t a recipe for fun, but with turbocharging bringing such an abundance of torque (147lb ft from 2,000-3,500rpm) and with so little weight to contend with (1,070kg) this really is no handicap to progress.

Rest assured that fun is also in abundance. Just like the Lupo, peak power is at the top of the rev-range (115hp between 5,000 and 5,500rpm) and the sweet-spinning 999cc engine is quite happy to reach up high and grab it. Sorties to the soft rev limiter will be a regular occurrence.

Volkswagen Lupo GTI vs. Polo GTI

While the chassis’ ingredients are similar to the Lupo, with MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam rear, it’s clear that chez Wolfsburg has had a change of chef in the intervening 18 years. The ride is undoubtedly firmer but rarely agitates, the trade off being superb body control. And yet with one-size-narrower tyres, it’s easy to unexpectedly breach the limits of lateral grip in the chilly conditions we experienced. It’s not that the Up GTI is skittish, more that its unexpected turn of speed gives the front end a lot more to do.

Managing these relatively low grip levels is what makes it such an engaging drive. Remember too, all this can be done at sane speeds, unlike in most modern performance cars.

GTI generations

Volkswagen Lupo GTI vs. Polo GTI

Wales is famous for its choirs, so it’s fitting that we found these two pocket rockets to be singing from different hymn sheets. The Lupo remains big fun and it’s totally understandable why it has such a following. While it’s an unexpectedly good motorway car, you can also grab it by the scruff of its neck, get the rev counter needle vertical and the chassis a long way from the horizontal.

It’s the bit between these two disciplines where the car shows its age, with lazy response at low revs and pretty heavy fuel consumption. Yet, as a hot hatch to get out of the garage on summer weekends and drive to great roads, the Lupo is the one.

Allowing for inflation, the Up GTI is around 30% cheaper than the Lupo was when new, yet it carries over most of the good bits while attending to any weaknesses. It has the unusual ability to satisfy both head and heart.

Volkswagen Lupo GTI vs. Polo GTI

Maybe that Mk1 Golf GTI comparison wasn’t so tenuous after all, as the Up GTI is bringing the fun back into daily driving – just as its iconic ancestor did all those years ago. No doubt in another 42 years, we’ll be coveting any remaining examples of the newbie in much the same way we do the old stager today.

Say hello, then, to the newest nominee to that future classic hall of fame: the sensational Up GTI. It’s the rocket that’s easy on your pocket.

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Self-driving Jaguar Land Rovers in Milton Keynes

Self-driving Jaguar Land Rovers go public in Milton Keynes

Self-driving Jaguar Land Rovers in Milton KeynesJaguar Land Rover has demonstrated how self-driving cars can help cut traffic in Milton Keynes, with a public trial on open roads showing how autonomous vehicles can search for parking spots by themselves – and then automatically self-park within them.

The trial is part of a project JLR is running with self-driving consortium UK Autodrive.

Experts reckon autonomous cars could significantly cut city centre traffic, by slashing the number of cars driving round simply looking for spaces. Using information from ‘connected’ parking bays, the autonomous Jaguars and Land Rovers demonstrated how futuristic cars could instantly route to the nearest free bay at the end of your journey.

The ‘self-driving valet’ would then park your car for you in the bay.

Self-driving Jaguar Land Rovers in Milton Keynes

Joerg Schlinkheider, JLR chief engineer for automated driving, said: “We’re investing heavily in automated technologies to make our customers’ lives safer and more convenient.

“Reducing the everyday stresses of driving – like squeezing into a tight parking place – means that we can all focus on the more enjoyable aspects of our cars.”

Self-driving Jaguar Land Rovers in Milton Keynes

On the roads of Milton Keynes, JLR also showed two advanced driver aid features, called Emergency Vehicle Warning and Electronic Emergency Brake Light. Both of these connected car features involve vehicles ‘talking’ to one another, and to their surroundings.

Emergency Vehicle Warning can sense when a blue light emergency services vehicle, such as a police car or ambulance, is approaching – and which direction it is coming from.

Self-driving Jaguar Land Rovers in Milton Keynes

Electronic Emergency Brake Light can detect when a connected car up ahead is braking heavily and instantly sound a warning in the car – “potentially giving drivers several additional seconds to avoid a possible collision”.

News of the JLR demonstration comes days after an autonomous Uber test vehicle hit and killed a pedestrian in Arizona. Uber has since paused all testing of its autonomous vehicles on public roads.

Watch: self-driving JLR trials in Milton Keynes

Ford is opening a showroom is a Next clothing store

Ford is opening a showroom in a Next clothing store

Ford is opening a showroom is a Next clothing store

Ford has announced a partnership with Next that will see a showroom open inside a store in Manchester.

The five-car showroom will open in the refurbished Next store in the Arndale shopping centre. A team of 15 Ford product experts and support staff will be on hand to advise customers when the store opens in July. Test drives will also be available, while new cars can be collected from the Next store.

“We have the most extensive dealership network, which has already received significant investment in new FordStores, Transit Centres and Mobile Service Vans to offer customers specialist retail, van and service assistance,” said Ford of Britain MD Andy Barratt.

“These will remain to serve the many consumers wanting to visit a dealer. There is also a growing appetite to browse for cars in other retail environments and online, which we are meeting with these new 2018 ventures.”

At the same time, Ford plans to introduce an online car sales pilot for customers to finance and order cars online. Cars will be delivered for collection from participating dealers.

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Range Rover SV Coupe

Range Rover SV Coupe: “This isn’t a vehicle for the shy”

Range Rover SV CoupeRevealed in a high-impact presentation at the 2018 Geneva Motor Show, the Range Rover SV Coupe is the fastest and most exclusive full-size Range Rover ever. Just 999 will be made, each priced from £240,000.

The SV Coupe is the latest project from Land Rover’s Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) division: creators of the Range Rover Sport SVR, SVAutobiography and Discovery SVX concept. It’s a three-door, four-seat SUV with sleek styling and a 565hp supercharged V8.

There’s also a huge range of bespoke options, from 23-inch alloy wheels – the largest ever offered on a Range Rover – to more than 100 paint colours.

Range Rover SV Coupe: design

Range Rover SV Coupe

The SV Coupe is fractionally lower than the more familiar five-door, but overall dimensions are almost identical. Seen in the metal, though, it looks sportier and more compact – yet still recognisably a Range Rover.

Its most distinctive feature is a sleek, tapering glasshouse, with gloss-black pillars to give the impression of a ‘floating’ roof. The trad-RR vertical side vents have moved from the doors to the trailing edge of the front wings to visually lengthen the car. Plus, there’s the option of two-tone paint for the ‘Contour Graphic’, which wraps around the body-sides between the waistline and the sills, and also covers the tailgate.

Those 23-inch rims are actually Land Rover’s ‘recommended option’. The standard wheels are 22s, with 21s available for those mad enough to take their quarter-mill luxury SUV off-road.

The SV Coupe’s interior provides “accommodation comparable to private jets and yachts,” says Land Rover. It’s certainly plush, with lashings of diamond-quilted leather and wood veneer, plus tactile, ‘frosted aluminium’ finish for many of the controls. The two individual rear seats provide slightly less headroom than those in a regular Range Rover, but this is no ‘kids only’ 2+2: even tall adults should find sufficient space.

Range Rover SV Coupe

Infotainment comes via a 10-inch touchscreen and 23-speaker Meridian hi-fi. The colour head-up display (projected onto the windscreen) can be customised to offer sat nav directions or off-road driving info.

At the press conference, designer Gerry McGovern was visibly proud of the car. “This isn’t a vehicle for the shy,” he opined. “It’s a lady’s or gentleman’s chariot: imposing without too much fussiness.” Referencing the original three-door Range Rover, he said: “We respect the past, but we’re not going to be harnessed by it”.

Range Rover SV Coupe: performance

Range Rover SV Coupe

Technically, the most powerful Range Rover ever is the 575hp Sport SVR. It hits 62mph in 4.5 seconds and 176mph flat-out.

The 565hp SV Coupe falls slightly short: 5.3 seconds and 165mph. Still, with 516lb ft of torque on tap, nobody is likely to complain about a lack of oomph.

Drive goes (naturally) to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic gearbox with paddles for manual shifts. A low-range transfer ’box, locking rear differential and Land Rover’s six-mode Terrain Response 2 system guarantee impressive off-road ability.

On adjustable air suspension, the SV Coupe rides 8mm lower than a standard Range Rover. A “more driver-focused edge” is promised. Mark Stanton, Special Vehicle Operations Director, said: “This is a meticulously honed vehicle that’s designed for SV clients who love driving.”

The maximum towing weight for the SV Coupe is 900mm, with a towing capacity of 3.5 tonnes.

Range Rover SV Coupe: bespoke options

Range Rover SV Coupe

Each SVO project so far has each pushed boundaries in one specific area. The Range Rover Sport SVR had hitherto-unseen levels of performance, the Range Rover SVAutobiography raised the game in terms of luxury and the Discovery SVX concept is – potentially – Land Rover’s most capable off-roader yet.

With the SV Coupe, Land Rover aims to stretch the limits of personalisation. Indeed, the number of bespoke options makes it unlikely any of the 999 cars will be exactly the same.

For starters, there’s an almost unlimited palette of paint colours available, including new ‘Liquesence’ silver with aluminium flake, plus different shades for the Contour Graphic.

Inside, buyers can also choose contrasting colours. Land Rover suggests light-coloured leather in the front and a darker shade for the rear. “That’s the opposite of what we’d generally do with a chauffeur-driven car: the Range Rover built for the Queen, for example,” explains McGovern (pictured below). “But the SV Coupe is a driver’s car.”

Range Rover SV Coupe

The choice of (beautifully finished) wood veneers ranges from sporty Natural Black Ash to Nautica: a striped, sycamore and walnut blend that recalls the deck of a Riva speedboat.

Beyond this, you’re into the realms of individual personalisation. “We can offer engraved door handles, monogrammed kick-plates, rose-gold badges, family crests stitched into the headrests – anything the client wants, basically,” explains one Land Rover spokesman.

Fortunately, designers are available to guide each SV Coupe customer through ‘bespoking’ his or her car. The whole process takes two to three hours, aided by a computer programme that allows you to visualise the finished article. Want to see if lime green paint works with hot pink alloys? The answer is just a few clicks away…

Range Rover SV Coupe: first verdict

Range Rover SV Coupe

With the entry-level Range Rover costing £76,795 and the RR Sport SVR edging just under £100,000, the SV Coupe looks eye-wateringly expensive. You could buy a Rolls-Royce Ghost for less (although the forthcoming Rolls Cullinan SUV will probably be more).

Does the price tag matter? Probably not. This is a bespoke, luxury product, and aimed at people more worried about exclusivity than money. Finding 999 such ‘clients’ worldwide shouldn’t prove too difficult, especially when the car looks this good. Indeed, one LR insider tells me several pre-order SV Coupes have already exceeded £300k after options.

We’ve turned our noses up at SUV coupes in the past, but there’s something beguiling about this ultimate Range Rover. It’s a special machine, no doubt, and a surefire future classic. The lucky few will take delivery in autumn 2018. 

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Vauxhall Corsa GSi

Vauxhall Corsa GSi revealed: VXR highlights with lower running costs

Vauxhall Corsa GSi

Vauxhall has released these pictures of its new Corsa GSi ahead of it going on sale later this year.

The sub-VXR follows the launch of the Insignia GSi, which the firm says takes a ‘performance through dynamics’ approach, concentrating on an upgraded chassis rather than outright performance.

As such, although Vauxhall hasn’t confirmed the engines on offer for the Corsa GSi, we expect it to use the 150hp 1.4-litre turbocharged unit available in the current range.

Based on the standard three-door Corsa, the GSi sits on 18-inch alloys with suspension and brakes from the hot VXR model. Aesthetic upgrades – red brake calipers aside – include large air intakes and a honeycomb grille to the front of the car, and a rear spoiler at the rear. Chrome tailpipes and carbon-trimmed features complete the sporty appearance.

Vauxhall Corsa GSi

Inside, there are leather Recaro sports seats, a leather steering wheel and aluminium pedals. There’s also Vauxhall’s Intellilink infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple Carplay connectivity.

Although developments from Vauxhall’s performance VXR brand seem to have slowed following the firm’s take over by PSA Group, bosses have hinted that the future could involve a more hardcore sports car, likely to use hybrid powertrains.

Prices for the Vauxhall Corsa GSi are yet to be announced – but expect some tempting finance packages in a bid to appeal to a younger market than the VXR.

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Range Rover SV Coupe

The Range Rover SV Coupe? What was that?

Range Rover SV CoupeI don’t do many of the media unveils at Motor Shows. Too much of a bun fight, with a thousand other journalists and wretched I-was-a-college-grad-last week-but-now-I-am-an-important-social-media-influencer types elbowing me.

But I did make the reveal of the Range Rover SV Coupe at Geneva this month. I was genuinely intrigued. This SUV coupe idea has largely been the preserve of the German luxury brands, started (and you are welcome to correct me if I am wrong) by BMW with its X5-derived X6, and then Mercedes with the GLE Coupe.

Both of these are as ugly as sin, but taste and plenty of disposable have never gone hand in hand, and both have sold well to the crowd who like to flash their credentials.

We knew that when Land Rover moved into the same game, it would bring both class and good judgement to the market. That’s what the ultimate Range Rover has always stood for, so much so that it’s hard to believe that all this loveliness goes hand-in-hand with stump pulling, mud-plugging off-road ability that is rarely surpassed, even by a tractor.

And so to the 88th Geneva International Motor Show. Finally the wraps are pulled of the quarter of million pounds Range Rover Coupe, and what do we see?

A three-door Range Rover.

No otherwise discernible changes to the bodywork. It seems like a trick, the automotive equivalent of Hans Christian Andersen’s fable of the emperor’s new clothes. And yes, everyone applauds.

Cruelly, it looks like design director Gerry McGovern spent as much time on his usual immaculate sartorial presentation as he did on this new Range Rover.

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