2019 Kia Proceed review: the shooting brake you CAN afford

2019 Kia ProCeedNobody wants family-sized three-door coupes anymore. That’s why Volkswagen canned the Scirocco for the T-Roc. And it’s now why Kia has ditched the three-door pro_cee’d (sic) for this sleek-looking replacement. Praise be, it even now has a sensible name: Proceed.

You’ll recognise its influences right away: Mercedes-Benz CLS Shooting Brake, Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo. Only instead of costing more than £50,000, you can get one of these for under £24,000. Believe me, as I found on the first drive event in Barcelona, you’ll turn just as many heads.  

The third Ceed

2019 Kia ProCeed

The Proceed sits above the Ceed five-door hatch and Ceed Sportswagon in the range. You could argue Kia now has two estates in this sector, but while the Proceed has a voluminous boot, it’s very much about sleek style over cargo-carrying clout.

It’s going to compete with its Hyundai sister car, the i30 Fastback. That’s more of a hatchback-coupe than a genuine shooting brake, though, while the Proceed genuinely bears comparison with such exalted company. Other rivals: there aren’t many. The Mercedes-Benz CLA Shooting Brake is the most obvious similar-size alternative, but the starting price for that is at least £5,000 more.

Proceed up the range

2019 Kia ProCeed

The Proceed is only being sold in ‘posh’ trims: GT-Line, sporty GT and fully-loaded GT-Line S. There are three engine choices: 138hp 1.4-litre turbo petrol, 201hp 1.6-litre turbo petrol and 134hp 1.6-litre turbodiesel. The 1.4 will sell best, and petrol versions come with the DCT semi-auto gearbox only. Diesel buyers can opt for DCT or manual. 

Kia reckons there will be two likely customers: retail buyers looking for a more standout alternative to a family hatchback (but who don’t want an SUV), and company car drivers who need the practicality of an estate but, well, don’t want an estate. Regardless, it will be a niche model: 20 percent of overall Ceed sales.

Porsche will be miffed

2019 Kia ProCeed

The Proceed’s USP is how it looks: like a compact, better-proportioned Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo. It appears long, low and elegant, but is not too big or heavy, with well-crafted lines and clean, curvaceous surfaces. In blue, with a decent set of alloys, it could pass for a car costing £10,000 more (and from a premium brand, too).

It turned heads for two days while on the Spanish first-drive event. Twitter seemed to love it, too. That you can buy a car that looks this good for less than £25,000 means full marks to Kia. It’s a machine you’ll be proud to have on your driveway.

How is the Proceed different to the Ceed and Ceed Sportswagon?

2019 Kia ProCeed

The Proceed is lower and longer than its sister cars. It rides lower to the ground and, for maximum impact, has ‘ice cube’ LED running lights and a Porsche-style LED light bar at the rear. The chrome ‘shark blade’ side window feature is pretty neat.

The rear screen is much more angled than other Ceeds. It’s 13 degrees more inclined than the squared-off Sportswagon, and sits a few degrees flatter even than the hatch. And this has benefits when you open the boot.

A boot for pros

2019 Kia ProCeed

The boot is a mammoth 594 litres, not far shy of the estate’s 625 litres. Of course, you won’t be able to carry big, boxy items – slam the tailgate and you’ll smash the rear glass – but there is another surprise benefit to this open-plan load space: you can easily lean in and retrieve things.

No ducking down and crawling into the boot here. A high, flat boot floor eases things further, and if you pick the GT-Line S, you get 40:20:40-split rear seats. And a plethora of hidden cubbies beneath the boot floor. Cars this stylish are rarely as practical as the Proceed.

Ceed inside

2019 Kia ProCeed

Inside, it’s more stock Ceed. That’s not a bad thing, as the new model has an upmarket appearance, a quality finish, and evidence of the soft-touch plastics they use on Audis and BMWs. The standard eight-inch touchscreen is easy to use (sat nav, Apple Carplay and Android Auto are standard on all) and the GT-Line S gets wireless smartphone charging.

The lower roofline doesn’t seem to hurt headroom, but rear footroom and legroom is a bit tight, due to the well-bolstered seats (and the standard power-operation on the S). Electric seats are mounted a touch high, but they’re firm and supportive, with chunky bolstering. A black rooflining and D-shaped steering wheel further up the sportiness.

Proceed to the road

2019 Kia ProCeed

Once underway, refinement is the first thing that strikes you. This is an extremely quiet and classy cruiser, with little wind noise and forgivable levels of road roar. The ride has a plush feel, with just an underlay of knobble (and the occasional bit of harshness) on the 18-inch wheels of the GT-Line S test car.

We drove the 1.4-litre petrol engine with DCT auto. It’s a very good motor, hushed at lower revs and bearable even when revved, until you go over 5,000rpm, when it becomes thrashy and weedy-sounding. There are times you wish for a bit more pull, but generally its muscle is more than ample. The seven-speed auto complements it perfectly.

Plush points

2019 Kia ProCeed

The Proceed proved to be an adept fast-road cruiser on scarred Spanish backroads. Quick steering, an engine that gives its best at mid-range revs and expensively-engineered suspension (it has a high-end multi-link setup front and rear, like a premium car) mean it punches above its price bracket.

The comfortable ride does mean it can roll a bit in corners if you chuck it around; there’s a firmer GT model (see below) if that’s your sort of thing. Better instead to enjoy the ride – oh, and the feel of the brakes, which are as nice to use as a BMW’s anchors. Again, they feel much classier than you expect in this sector. They’re a small, telling detail.

Proceed quickly

2019 Kia Proceed GT

Want to go faster? The £28,135, 201hp GT is for you. It has stiffer suspension, so it rolls less and remains better controlled at speed, with admirably limited effect on the ride quality. For fast-road motoring, it’s satisfying – again, the quality suspension makes the difference.

The aged-feeling engine isn’t great, though. A 201hp output doesn’t go far these days. It only really starts to surge above 5,000rpm, and becomes uncomfortably loud beyond 6,000rpm. And it’s thirsty: we saw 22mpg after an hour’s fast-road driving (official is a poor 37mpg). It’s a GT, not a hot hatch. Unless extra speed is all, you’re better spending a just a few hundred more on the better-equipped 1.4 GT-Line S. It’s simply a nicer car.

Proceed noisily

2019 Kia Proceed 1.6 CRDi

There’s also a diesel, supposedly a new ‘Smartstream’ 1.6 CRDi 134, complete with NOx-reducing SCR selective catalytic reduction tech (it has a nozzle for AdBlue in the fuel filler). It emits around 20g/km CO2 less than the petrol (claimed economy is 56.5mpg compared with 45.6mpg).

But it’s also not a great engine. The Smartstream makeover seems to have made it noisier and lumpier. Pulling away when cold, it sounds a little like a knackered Transit van. It hates revving much over 3,000rpm and makes a terrible racket, while only the DCT auto has the full measure of pulling power – torque is restricted in the manual, so it doesn’t feel as strong.

Unless your company car manager insists, go for the petrol (thanks to Britain’s ludicrous new diesel tax rules, the difference in your tax bill will be minimal, anyway).

What you get for your money

2019 Kia ProCeed

Kia Proceed prices start from £23,835. That gets you a GT-Line 1.4 T-GDI. The diesel is £850 more, and a DCT is £1,100 extra (it’s standard on the GT). Even GT-Line gets heated seats and steering wheel, 17-inch alloys, reverse camera and sensors plus keyless entry.

GT-Line S is top grade, only available as a 1.4 T-GDI DCT, for £28,685. It adds full leather seats (heated in the rear, too), 18-inch alloys, full LED headlights, a power tailgate, JBL audio, a large sunroof and blind spot warning. It’s a car that costs a similar amount to a basic Mercedes-Benz CLA Shooting Brake. We know which one we’d have.

Kia Proceed verdict: 4 stars

2019 Kia ProCeed

The Kia Proceed is a refreshing addition to the family car sector. Shooting brake-style ‘coupe-estates’ have been restricted to the premium sector for years, so it’s great to see Kia bringing one to the affordable family car arena. Particularly one that looks as good as this.

It’s surprisingly practical, decent value for money, drives nicely and generally offers a fittingly classy and upmarket experience. If you’re bored of family hatches, it shows you don’t need to move into an SUV to get something different – and you’ll win far more admiring glances with one of these, take our word for it.

Mazda MX-5 2.0 GT Sport review: back-to-basics driving fun

Mazda MX-5 review

The Mazda MX-5 turns 30 this year, so now seems a good time to put the quintessential sports car – in its latest, greatest form – through its paces.

The MX-5 is the Japanese marque’s love letter to the Lotus Elan. That is to say, the sports car distilled into its most basic form: as little weight as possible, an engine in the front, rear-wheel drive and an open top.

Over four generations the Mazda has, for the most part, gone without direct rival. The third-generation Toyota MR2 came closest, offering a similar, stripped-back sports car experience. The MR2 was, however, an altogether more challenging drive, thanks to its mid-engined layout.

Nonetheless, the MX-5 has always commanded respect from hardcore car enthusiasts and casual drivers alike, despite its slightly effeminate image. 

Personally, I’ve never been spellbound by it. I always read ‘slow’ when the ‘you can use all the power’ cliche was rolled out in road tests. The original cars also seemed spartan for spartan’s sake – I’ll catch hell for even suggesting that might be a bad thing.

Mazda MX-5 review

The current car, first introduced four years ago, now has more muscle in the form of an uprated 184hp 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine. The 1.5-litre motor is still available and comes mildly revised, with 132hp. Both six-speed manual and automatic gearboxes remain, although the auto is available with the folding-hard-top RF only.

Prices kick off at £18,995 for a basic SE+ spec 1.5 soft-top, but can balloon to £29,195 for a hard-top RF 2.0 with an auto ‘box in GT Sport Nav + spec. That’s without expensive paint or any other options.

The best MX-5 for your money is arguably the £25,795 manual 2.0 GT Sport Nav+. RF models are around £2,000 more expensive than the equivalent soft-top, while autos (missing the MX-5 point, we feel) will set you back a further £1,500.

The full list of trim levels is expansive. We kick off at SE+, through SE-L Nav +, Sport Nav + and GT Sport Nav +.

Sport Nav + now comes with more standard safety equipment, including automatic emergency braking and lane departure warning. GT Sport Nav + offers blind-spot monitoring, adaptive LED headlights and a reversing camera. All of the latter and more are optional on lower models as a safety pack.

In theory, that’s many of my personal issues with the MX-5 resolved, then – some power to speak of, and equipment and appointment beyond windows that wind down and a radio. But what about the looks?

First impressions

Mazda MX-5 review

The fourth-generation ‘ND’ MX-5 has received more than its share of styling accolades, and for good reason. Compared to soft-edged third- and second-generation models, it’s a revelation of sharp lines and taut proportions. Few other cars pull off quite such a combination of diminutive size and muscular styling.

The way its rump tapers backwards from the rear wheels is superb. A sprawling bonnet, sharp lighting and big sporty wheels complete the package. Image issues, begone…

We’ve got to mention that Soul Red paint, too. It’s got to be one of the nicest colours on sale. Yours for £790.

Inside the Mazda MX-5

Mazda MX-5 review

On the inside, prior iterations (especially early ‘NA’ and ‘NB’ cars) were basic and uninspiring in terms of design, quality and equipment. The current model aces all of the above. Gone is the old tombstone centre console and basic dials. In its place are sophisticated and intriguing shapes, a decent infotainment screen and just the right amount of buttons.

What made the old cars an event remains, however. The MX-5 has the feel of an exotic aperture that you have to collapse into – more McLaren than Mazda. Once you’re in, it’s snug but perfectly thought-out. You’re borderline vac-packed, but nothing digs into you or rubs you the wrong way.

Mazda can retro-fit your old car with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto

What is much nicer, is the quality of materials and design of the cabin. Our car had a very arresting tan and black leather interior, which went very well with some of the red exterior highlights that bleed into the cabin.

The cupholders are, admittedly, an afterthought. At least they can be popped out and installed in areas where your elbows won’t dislodge them.

Mazda MX-5 review

Equipment-wise, it’s a revelation. Seat-heaters, Bluetooth, a strong stereo, cruise control and auto lights go a long way towards refining what has, in the past, been something of a rough-around-the-edges proposition.

That’s the thing would-be-helmsman journalists forget about these little cars. One of their main jobs is to be an amenable cruiser. A basic and stylish car for folks who don’t need a hatchback and want a bit of wind-in-the-hair fun. There’s a reason they were named ‘Roadster’ back in the day. 

The boot is what you’d expect: inadequate to anyone used to hatchbacks, sufficient if you’re an efficient packer. The infotainment does the job – it’s easy to suss out and swift in its operation. You can control the seven-inch centre screen either with your fingertips or a clickwheel on the centre console.

On the road Mazda MX-5 review

The not-so-breaking news is that the MX-5 is as good to hustle as it ever was. The car shrinks around you and you’re soon comfortable placing it on the road. The steering is well-judged and rich in feel, while the gearshift elicits more gun-reload clichés than you can throw a B+ script editor at.

The pedal positioning takes some acclimatisation, but you’re soon firing through rev-matched shifts like it’s going out of fashion.

Let’s talk about the MX-5’s slightly roll-tastic handling. Sometimes, you wish for something a bit more tied-down and sophisticated. The rest of the time, and by that I mean 80 percent of the time, you’re thankful for suspension travel and compliance dispatching most of what Britain’s smashed roads can throw at you.

Never have I driven anything that takes care of the notorious fen roads where Norfolk and Cambridge meet with the deftness of the MX-5. It allows you to enjoy more, for more of the time. It rotates benignly, but will bite if provoked; every bit the helmsman’s training wheels.

Mazda MX-5 review

What is revolutionary for the MX-5 is a little bit of new-found muscle. In years gone by it’s been routine to swap out engines, turbo or supercharge the existing twin-cam, or else be vulnerable to the accelerative whims of diesel hatchbacks. Now, the new 184hp 2.0-litre engine gives the updated-for-2019 car the grunt it always deserved.

It’s a willing, rev-happy engine, too: enjoyable to wring out, and you’ll make serious progress when you do. The flip-side is you find yourself going quicker, and therefore notice the roll more in corners.

When you’re not in Sport mode, that topsy-turvy handling suddenly becomes a disarmingly compliant ride and you get 40mpg on a cruise. Then, the toys come in to play. A couple of two-hour night drives up and down the A1 set a stage upon which the MX-5 greatly impressed. Cruise control mitigates leg-ache, while the automatic lights that split the high beams take another job off your plate.

The easy-to-set-up Bluetooth system channels Spotify from your phone like a dream. The three intensity settings on the heated seats range from positively nuclear to a mild summer haze – excellent. Such amenities are transformative for a car that, in past iterations, was very basic.

Mazda MX-5 verdict: 4 stars

Mazda MX-5 review

Thirty years on from this car’s debut, the ultimate factory MX-5 is here. It’s the very best driver’s example, adorned with the creature comforts you want, looks that kill and driving manners that charm on a daily basis.

This latest model is everything anyone has ever wanted the Mazda to be – from adenoidal owner’s club diehards to uncompromising softies (like me). The added punch helps it come alive, while the interior amenities and improved quality make it much more appealing.

Yes, there are more sophisticated sports cars in terms of body control, roadholding and outright speed. But in the UK, as you can only find out by experiencing it, that doughy body control is often a blessing.

Mazda MX-5 review

Overall, I was very taken by the latest MX-5. It very deliberately addressed a lot of what the very few MX-5 detractors in the world have always had against it. Better quality, sharper looks, real performance and generous equipment levels.

What I will say is to be careful and know what you’re buying. This is not the last word in performance motoring. Actually, quite deliberately, it’s more like the first. If it’s what you want, the latest MX-5 is the best yet.

Two alternatives to the 2019 Mazda MX-5

Toyota GT86

Fiat 124 Spider

How much did our test car cost?

2019 Mazda MX-5 Convertible 184ps GT Sport Nav+: £26,585

Mazda MX-5 review

Which engines does Mazda offer with the MX-5?

1.5 Skyactiv-G 132hp

2.0 Skyactiv-G 184hp

Where the 2019 Mazda MX-5 Convertible 184ps GT Sport Nav+ sits in the range

SE+

SE-L Nav+

Sport Nav+

GT Sport Nav+

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Pure Highway 400 review: DAB and Spotify for older cars

Pure Highway 400 review

These days, it isn’t hard to find a new car with DAB digital radio fitted as standard. Even the £7,795 Dacia Sandero Essential offers DAB, while the now-commonplace smartphone integration has made it even easier to listen to your favourite music or radio station on the move.

However, what if you have no intention of splashing out on a new car, but want to upgrade your existing audio system? If you’re after digital radio with the added benefit of Spotify music streaming, the Pure Highway 400 might be the answer.

The Highway 400 costs £139.99 and is Pure’s mid-range in-car solution, offering digital radio, Bluetooth music streaming, a wireless display and smartphone voice assistant. For an additional £20, you can upgrade to the Highway 600, which offers hands-free calling.

Yes, you can buy DAB head units for upwards of £99, but a Highway system works with your existing audio system, which might be an important consideration if you hope to retain the OEM look or the present system is an irregular size.

Wired for sound

Pure Highway 400 screen antenna

The flipside is that you’re left with a wireless controller fastened to your dashboard and an antenna attached to the windscreen. Also, depending on the quality of your DIY install, you may have to live with a few exposed wires, but more on this in a moment.

Not that the Highway 400 is an unattractive device. In common with Pure’s range of household digital radios, the battery-powered wireless controller looks neat and obtrusive, while the OLED screen is clear and crisp, regardless of whether it’s night or day.

The system comes with a chunky instruction manual – but fear not, because only the first 22 pages are English. You will need to read it because while the installation is straightforward, it’s important to follow the instructions. Get it wrong and you risk not optimising the digital reception. Worse still, it might fail to function entirely.

It’s not worth running through the entire installation as part of this review, but there are some key things to note. Firstly, the antenna must be positioned as high as possible on the windscreen and at least 4cm from the side of the screen.

The magnetic grounding tail slots through the tap between the roof liner and the roof and needs to touch the bodywork. I chose my £100 Renault Laguna as the lucky recipient of this DAB upgrade and, if I’m honest, I’d have liked the antenna to sit closer to the A-pillar. It’s not a fault of the system, merely my inability to find a magnetic connection.

Aside from that, I’m delighted with the results. The lead is long enough to pull around the inside of the top of the A-pillar, down through the inside of the rubber door seal, behind the glovebox and centre console, and out through the ashtray. It’s a tidy job.

Power to all our friends

Pure Highway 400 BBC R5L

There are two ways to connect to the wireless controller: either using the aux-in socket – which is the recommended way – or via the FM radio. The Laguna doesn’t have an aux-in socket, so the Highway system is broadcasting the DAB signal on 87.6MHz.

The Highway name appears on the Laguna’s OEM display – at least it does when the car’s screen is functioning correctly – before being replaced by the name of the radio station. Save the Highway as a preset and it will make it easy to find if you’ve switched to another FM station.

Assuming the installation has been done correctly, the receiver will pick up the available digital stations within seconds and you’ll have filled the 20 presets in no time at all. It really is that easy.

The buttons are a little small and tightly packed together, but the central dial makes it easy to switch between stations and songs. Speaking of which, thanks to the Pure Highway 400, the Laguna now benefits from in-car Spotify. Who needs Apple CarPlay?

You’ll need a premium account to use the music streaming service, but connecting is easy. You simply download the Pure Go app, login to your Spotify account, and connect to the wireless receiver via Bluetooth.

The sound quality isn’t as crisp and clear as when listening to the radio – there’s a noticeable ‘hiss’ between songs – but it’s good (not to mention a legal requirement) to access Spotify or other apps without touching your smartphone. The songs are displayed on the wireless controller, and you can skip tracks and select playlists via the buttons.

You can even hit a ‘Go’ button if you hear a song on the radio and you want to add it to your playlist. I can’t tell you if this feature is any good, because I tend to listen to Radio 5 Live, where music tends to be off the menu. If I’m honest, I don’t think it’s something I’d ever use.

Do you want to dance?

Pure Highway 400 DAB

Overall, I’m delighted with the Highway 400. I felt pretty smug about the quality of my install – the fact that the wires are almost completely hidden behind the dashboard is a bonus. I also like the way they feed in from behind the ashtray and are therefore hidden away when the lid is closed.

The size of the power adaptor means that the lid cannot be closed when the digital radio is in use, but when I leave the car I simply unplug it, put the adaptor in the ashtray and tuck the wire into the space next to the cigarette lighter. Crucially, the adaptor has two USB ports, meaning you can keep your phone on charge when on the move.

So far, the digital radio reception hasn’t been quite as good as I’ve found when using OEM systems. There are the usual DAB dead zones in rural Devon, but the Highway 400 seems to drop out earlier and reconnect later than the other systems. 

Other gripes? The antenna and aerial look a tad unsightly on the windscreen of my otherwise, ahem, immaculate £100 Laguna, and thanks to the unique way in which the dashboard is sculpted and finished, I could only find one place to mount the wireless controller bracket. French cars, eh?

For me, it adds a little extra to the £100 Laguna. I have simple desires – Radio 5 Live and Spotify are enough for me – so this ticks two boxes. Whether or not it represents good value for money at £40 more than the price of the car is up to you. Personally, I like it.

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2019 Toyota RAV4 review: a return to its rugged SUV roots

2019 Toyota RAV4Last year, the Toyota RAV4 was America’s best-selling car. Admittedly, it finished fourth overall – outsold by three pick-up trucks – but that’s still a startling degree of success.

The UK is a different story. Here, five of its rivals (the Nissan Qashqai, Ford Kuga, Kia Sportage, Volkswagen Tiguan and Hyundai Tucson) made the top 20 chart, yet the RAV4 is nowhere to be seen. Toyota wants to change that.

On paper, it should succeed. The new, fifth-generation RAV4 is faster, roomier, quieter more efficient and better equipped than the car it replaces. Is that enough to stand out in a crowded SUV class?

Toyota doesn’t do ‘boring’ any more

2019 Toyota RAV4

“No more boring cars!” declared company CEO Akio Toyoda in 2014. His words were a tacit admission that, for years, Toyotas were the automotive equivalent of white goods: dependable but dull.

Today, Toyota is a Le Mans-winning race team with a hardcore hot hatchback (Yaris GRMN) and two pulse-spiking sports cars (GT86, new Supra) to its name. Making a mid-size SUV exciting, however, is still a challenge.

That was the task facing RAV4 chief engineer, Yoshikazu Saeki. “I want people to love this car,” he says, “to like and share it via their phones.” Ironically, this search for ‘modern love’ began 25 years ago, long before social media existed…

Its design harks back to the 1994 original

2019 Toyota RAV4

The first ‘Recreational Active Vehicle with 4-wheel drive’ was launched in 1994. Blending bolshy 4×4 attitude with the dynamics of a conventional car, it pre-empted the now-ubiquitous compact crossover. It was also a genuinely ground-breaking design, its black plastic body cladding likened to the sole of a hiking boot.

Now try picturing the outgoing, fourth-gen RAV4 in your head – impossible, right? Over the years, the RAV4 became steadily more staid and forgettable, so the new model draws upon the 1994 original.

Lower and wider than before, it has a markedly sportier stance. Distinctive details include narrow nostrils above the front grille and kicked-up, Gandini-style wheelarches. It isn’t as radical as Toyota’s smaller C-HR crossover, but to these eyes it’s a better looking car.

The range is 100% hybrid (and 0% diesel)

2019 Toyota RAV4

In 2015, 88 percent of RAV4s sold in the UK were diesels. Just four years later, this option has been dropped entirely: all new RAVs will be hybrid-powered.

Front-wheel-drive versions combine a 2.5-litre petrol engine with an electric motor for a 215hp total. Opt for four-wheel drive and an additional electric motor for the rear axle boosts output to 219hp. The benchmark 0-62mph dash takes 8.1 and 8.4 seconds for FWD and 4WD respectively.

As per Toyota convention, drive goes via a CVT automatic gearbox and the car can be driven short distances in EV mode (i.e. using electric power only). It can’t however, be plugged in, although a PHEV model may come later.

Prices start from under £30k, or £269 a month

2019 Toyota RAV4

 

 

The RAV4 range is organised into four grades: Icon, Design, Excel and Dynamic. Standard equipment on the Icon includes 17-inch alloy wheels, an eight-inch touchscreen media system, auto headlights/wipers, rear parking sensors and a reversing camera. Upgrading to Design adds 18-inch rims, keyless entry, front parking sensors and a power tailgate.

Excel and Dynamic are two sides of the same coin, the former ‘upmarket’ in appearance, the latter more sporty. Both get projector LED headlights, leather upholstery, heated seats and steering wheel, blind-spot assist and rear cross-traffic alert. Dynamic also means black alloys, chunky sports seats and a contrasting colour for the roof.

Prices for the RAV4 look competitive, starting at £29,635 for the FWD Icon and stretching to £36,640 for the 4WD Dynamic. In all cases, choosing four-wheel drive costs £2,240 extra.

Finance packages will vary, but typically range from £269 to £309 per month. A RAV4 Design, for example, costs £279 per month over 24 months with a £7,588 deposit and zero percent APR.

Its interior is practical and pleasingly premium

2019 Toyota RAV4

Inside, Toyota appears to have taken inspiration from garden tools, with a serrated rubber finish for the door handles and heater controls. This grippy finish also lines the stowage spaces. The overall effect is bordering on premium: more Land Rover than Land Cruiser.

Finding a good driving position is easy and all-round visibility is good, helped by large door mirrors. Our test cars were fitted with a rear-view-mirror camera, which allows you to see behind even when the boot is loaded to roof height. However, this option is unlikely to be available in the UK (and certainly not at launch).

There’s enough shoulder room and legroom for three overfed motoring journalists to sit comfortably in the back, while boot space has grown by 79 litres to 590 litres. For comparison, a Ford Kuga holds 406 litres and a Honda CR-V Hybrid manages 561 litres.

It can see pedestrians in the dark

2019 Toyota RAV4

The latest RAV4 hasn’t been crash-tested by Euro NCAP yet. Anything less than the five stars achieved by the 2013-2019 model will be disappointing.

A five-star result looks likely, though, thanks to a full complement of active safety systems. All RAVs come with the updated Toyota Safety Sense package, which includes automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control (to maintain a set distance to the car in front), road sign recognition and lane-departure warning with steering assist.

New for 2019 is the system’s ability to detect pedestrians in the dark – when the majority of such collisions happen. It can also spot cyclists at speeds up to 50mph.

The sat nav is awful and connectivity lags behind

2019 Toyota RAV4

No family car is complete without a plethora of charging points, and the RAV4 boasts up to three USB sockets in the front and two in the back. A wireless smartphone charging mat is optional, too.

Sadly, it doesn’t have Apple Carplay or Android Auto connectivity (“We’re working on it,” says Toyota) – so while connecting your phone is straightforward enough, you won’t get the optimum user experience.

I was beginning to miss Google Maps after going wrong repeatedly on our Spanish test route, too. Putting it bluntly, the RAV4’s sat nav is awful: slow to respond, hard to follow and dated to look at. I can only hope it’s more accurate in the UK.

It’s the best handling RAV4 since the original

2019 Toyota RAV4

Getting lost in the RAV4 wasn’t all bad, though. Indeed, once I’d escaped rush-hour Barcelona, I rather enjoyed it.

The steering has a meaty directness and the car turns in keenly, gripping hard and cornering with composure, particularly if you choose the 4WD version. Double wishbone rear suspension, a lower centre of gravity and a 57 percent stiffer chassis all help here.

Granted, it won’t trouble a Cupra Ateca or Porsche Macan on twisty Tarmac, but it’s no longer a soporific snore-fest. In line with Toyoda-san’s wishes, the RAV isn’t boring to drive.

Crucially, such relative dynamism doesn’t come at the expense of ride quality. Supple, measured damping smoothes out all but the largest potholes and ruts.

The CVT gearbox is still a bugbear

2019 Toyota RAV4

You may be lost and travelling in the wrong direction, then, but you can hustle the RAV4 along at quite a pace. The instant oomph of its electric motor means punchy acceleration from a standstill, and the petrol engine isn’t averse to revs. Near-silent when cruising, it serves up a sporty snarl when worked hard.

The weak link, if you enjoy driving, is the CVT transmission. It continuously varies the gear ratio, keeping the revs constant when you accelerate. As a result, the engine can feel either ‘on or off’, instead of providing a linear response. Shifting from Normal into Sport mode only exacerbates this effect.

The Toyota also has a pair of paddles behind the steering wheel that allow you to shift up on down the CVT’s range in fixed steps. However, the intuitiveness of the gearbox means you rarely need to kick it down, and there’s little satisfaction to be gained from doing so.

It’s better off-road than you might think

2019 Toyota RAV4

As well as a more accomplished road car, Toyota also wanted the new RAV to be better on the rough stuff. Two opposing goals, you might think. Yet the stats – and my limited experience off-road in the 4WD version – seem to support it.

For starters, the car has 15mm more ground clearance and can produce 30 percent more torque at the rear wheels (diverting up to 80 percent rearwards when required).

 

 
 
 
 
 
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New Toyota RAV4. In a monastery, but worthy of praise?

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In Trail mode, the electronics also simulate the effect of a limited-slip differential, using the brakes to prevent wheelspin across each axle.

Our off-road route was mostly dry and dusty, but shaded patches were still damp and surprisingly slippery. The RAV4 slithered sideways a little, but never lost traction, despite its standard road tyres. It’s as capable as the vast majority of owners will ever need.

The 4WD version is actually more efficient, too

2019 Toyota RAV4

An added bonus of choosing four-wheel drive is fractionally lower CO2 emissions, quoted as 105g/km for the FWD car and 103g/km for the 4×4. That’s a marked contrast to traditional mechanical 4WD systems, which always suffer in terms of fuel efficiency.

Official (WLTP) economy figures for the front-driver are between 49.2mpg and 51.2mpg, depending on wheel size. The four-wheel-driven RAV hadn’t been fully homologated at the time of writing, but is likely to be slightly better.

Lest we forget, the outgoing RAV4 D-4D diesel managed 60.1mpg. A case of one step forward and two steps back?

2019 Toyota RAV4 verdict: 4 stars

2019 Toyota RAV4

Toyota’s customer clinics highlighted five key reasons why people buy SUVs: design, space, safety, visibility and four-wheel drive. The new RAV4 scores well in each category, so the odds should be stacked in its favour.

Times have moved on and, if anything, the C-HR is now closer in concept to the much-loved original RAV4. Nonetheless, it’s gratifying to find Toyota’s SUV mainstay rejuvenated and back in the game.

It won’t be for everyone, but its triple whammy of bold styling, a satisfying drive and hybrid tech makes a compelling argument for choosing a RAV4 over its many rivals. Maybe it’ll shake up that top 20 sales chart after all.

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Cupra Ateca 2019 review: the Porsche-baiting SUV from Spain

Cupra AtecaSeat has always felt like a square peg: a car company unsure of what it wants to be. Within the Volkswagen Group’s sprawling portfolio of brands, Skoda stands for value, VW represents the mainstream and Audi is premium. Seat, meanwhile, defies such straightforward categorisation: notionally sporty (‘the Spanish Alfa Romeo’), but frequently rather staid and sensible.

That’s where Cupra comes in. The badge has been affixed to Seat hot hatches since 1997, and boasts a proven pedigree in rallying and BTCC. Now it’s become a standalone sub-brand (think what Abarth is to Fiat) and the first fruit of this separation is the 300hp, 153mph Cupra Ateca.

Launching a performance-oriented marque with an SUV seems an odd move. After all, Cupras have traditionally been harder, faster alternatives to the Polo GTI or Golf GTI. However, Cupra the prefix is, we’re told, a different proposition to Cupra the suffix. Seat UK MD Richard Harrington stresses its “uniqueness and sophistication” – thus a family-sized 4×4 apparently fits the bill.

Cynical badge engineering or the start of something special? I spent three weeks with a Cupra Ateca to find out.

First impressions

The first thing you notice is that Transformers-style bronze logo. It’s supposed to resemble a tribal tattoo, reflecting the idea of Cupra owners as bit ‘alternative’. The sort of tattooed, 40-something rebels who’d shun a standard SUV, perhaps.

You’ll spot added visual muscle, too. The Ateca’s front bumper is peppered with air intakes and its new rear diffuser encloses four beefy tailpipes. A spoiler is perched atop the tailgate and 19-inch alloys (also available in copper-effect) sit within the squared-off wheelarches. The overall effect is sporty, yet still relatively subtle.

Fortunately, there’s nothing subtle about how the Cupra goes. The 2.0-litre turbocharged ‘EA888’ engine, also seen in the Leon Cupra and VW Golf R, offers 300hp at 5,300rpm and 295lb ft of torque from 2,000rpm. With a DSG semi-auto gearbox and four-wheel drive (both standard), this 1,632kg newcomer hits 62mph in 5.2 seconds – on par with a Porsche Macan S.

Yet while SUVs such as the Macan, BMW X3M and forthcoming Audi SQ2 rival the Cupra for pace, they don’t in terms of price. At £35,900, the Ateca exists in a curious sector of its own, beneath the bombastic Germans but above everyday SUV fodder such as the Kia Sportage, Peugeot 3008 and, well, Seat Ateca.

In theory that makes the Cupra the best car in its class. But as the standard-bearer for a new brand, it also needs to be a great car full-stop.

Inside the Cupra Ateca

Inside, the Cupra feels more special than its Seat sister. The seats are hip-hugging buckets, trimmed in Alcantara, while the analogue instruments are swapped for a configurable digital display. Select the navigation map between the dials around town, then – when you’re ‘on it’ – blank out everything except the oversized rev-counter.

A dial behind the gear lever offers a choice of six driving modes: Comfort, Sport, Cupra, Individual, Snow and Off-Road. Both Sport and Cupra stiffen the standard-fit adaptive dampers, sharpen throttle response and make the seven-speed ’box hold onto gears for longer.

All cars come with an eight-inch touchscreen media system, rear-view camera, keyless entry and wireless phone charging. Options are mostly bundled into two packages. Design (£3,345) comprises copper alloys, bigger Brembo brakes and black interior styling. Comfort and Sound (£1,930) includes a Beats audio system, adaptive cruise control, heated seats and an electric tailgate. Choose both and you’ll spend upwards of £41,000 (and pay the additional ‘showroom tax’ into the bargain).

One thing identical to the original Seat is the amount of interior space. The Cupra fits a family of five in comfort, and its 485-litre boot swallows enough luggage for a week away – not something you could say for a typical hot hatch.

Cupra Ateca: on the road

There’s no doubting the Cupra’s straight-line speed, but its composed chassis also means serious point-to-point pace. The taut suspension reins in body-roll, while four-wheel-drive traction helps it blast out of bends.

Cupra Ateca

The steering is pointy and direct, if hardly overflowing with feedback, and the DSG gearbox rarely finds itself in the wrong ratio. The growly turbocharged engine is always on-boost and eager, too.

Switching into one of the sportier modes amplifies this experience. The downside is a deterioration in ride quality; I found Cupra mode a little harsh for Surrey’s broken B-roads, usually settling on Sport as a best-of-both-worlds compromise.

Despite borrowing the car in the depths of winter, I never needed Snow or Off-Road modes, but the Ateca’s slimline 40-profile tyres would, frankly, be hopeless on rough terrain.

Cupra Ateca

Overall, the Cupra can’t match the measured composure of a Macan – there’s a point-and-squirt scrappiness to how it flows along a road – but it’s engaging and exciting. Try hard enough and you’ll even hear the exhausts popping on the over-run.

The rest of the time, though, this is just an easygoing 4×4: a car that ticks the requisite boxes for family life. Light steering and sensible dimensions make it straightforward to park, and official fuel economy of 38.2mpg (168g/km CO2) is achievable with a light right foot.

Verdict: 4 stars

The Cupra Ateca has much to commend it. It’s a mid-size SUV well suited to the school run and, when conditions allow, a high-riding hot hatch with a surprising turn of speed.

Cupra Ateca

A leader in a class of one, then? Well, yes and no. It’s true that premium alternatives cost upwards of £15,000 more, especially after you take options into account. But fast estate cars, not least the Seat Leon ST Cupra 300 4Drive and VW Golf R Estate, are similarly priced (£33,260 and £37,485 respectively), equally practical and better to drive. It depends how much you want the elevated driving position and status of an SUV.

As for the Cupra brand, there’s still a long way to go. Convincing buyers this isn’t simply a hotted-up Seat won’t be easy. However, if anyone can build a brand, it’s the Volkswagen Group. It transformed Audi from also-ran to premium powerhouse, and Skoda from the butt of a hundred jokes to the budget benchmark. Perhaps it’s Cupra, rather than Seat, that will become ‘the Spanish Alfa Romeo’ after all.

Five 2019 Cupra Ateca rivals

Porsche Macan 2.0
BMW X3M 40i
Mini Countryman JCW
Seat Leon ST Cupra
Volkswagen Golf R Estate

How much did our test car cost?

Cupra Ateca 2.0 TSI DSG (Comfort and Sound): £37,830

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Vauxhall Corsa Griffin Edition 1.4 75 review

Vauxhall Corsa Griffin EditionThe Vauxhall Corsa is still the firm’s best-selling car, despite now being pretty aged. Although the current version was heavily facelifted in 2014, the basic design dates back to 2006. In 2018, the Corsa name is 25 years old – and the version on sale now has been around for half that time.

That’s why Vauxhall is so excited for 2019, when an all-new Corsa arrives. There will even be an all-electric eCorsa, and the range should finally give the Ford Fiesta a run for its money in the British top 10 best-sellers list. But Vauxhall still has the current model to sell: cue a high-value special edition.

And what remarkably good value the Vauxhall Corsa Griffin Edition is. It costs £11,695, or a staggering £2,270 less than the cheapest Ford Fiesta, yet comes packed with an incredible standard specification.

Vauxhall Corsa Griffin Edition

This is no exaggeration. The Corsa Griffin Edition incudes, as standard, touchscreen sat nav (with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto), 16-inch gloss black alloys, front fog lights, heated front seats and steering wheel, air con, black roof and door mirrors, dark rear glass, LED daytime running lights, auto lights and wipers, cruise control, even a fancy automatic anti-dazzle rear-view mirror. It’s without doubt a contender for best-value new car of the year.

Vauxhall Corsa Griffin Edition

The bright red test car looked particularly smart and, parked next to a Corsa GSi, there was little to split them in terms of kerbside appeal.

Vauxhall Corsa Griffin Edition and Corsa GSi

Four versions are available, three- and five-door with a 1.4-litre petrol engine putting out 75hp or 90hp: true to form, we drove the cheapest one, the 75hp three-door. There’s no diesel option because Vauxhall doesn’t sell a diesel Corsa anymore

Of course, it’s all very familiar fare. But the Corsa still has its merits, not least an impressive feeling of integrity. Paint finish is superb, the doors feel hefty and solid, and interior quality is excellent by supermini standards. The plastics and controls have a Germanic feel of robustness and attention to detail is good: piano black trim is rich and glossy, and the chrome detailing around the switches is Audi-like. The red dash trim is pretty, too.

Vauxhall Corsa Griffin Edition

The Griffin Edition gets a cracking set of semi-bolstered seats and a soft leather steering wheel. The light and airy feel inside the Corsa is welcome – side windows are large and the windscreen is deep – and it all feels rather pleasant in there.

That 75hp 1.4-litre engine is no rocketship. 0-62mph takes a yawning 15.5 seconds. But it doesn’t feel quite as slow as that. Unlike smaller-capacity engines, it has some semblance of response at lower revs 95lb ft of pulling power helps there), and power builds nicely as the revs rise. It’s quite lively over 4,000rpm, although it does become boomy at really high revs.

Vauxhall Corsa Griffin Edition

The gearbox is surprisingly pleasant, with a light and precise shift, steering is easy and accurate, and the ride quality is absorbent and quiet. The Corsa feels like a bigger car, in a good way, with plenty of stability and confidence. It’s refined, perfectly pleasant and, while not as fun as a Fiesta, still measures up for less demanding drivers.

Verdict: Vauxhall Corsa Griffin Edition

Vauxhall Corsa Griffin Edition

What will sell the Corsa Griffin Edition is its value for money. On that, it’s hard to fault – the standard specification is genuinely eyebrow-raising. But although it’s old, Vauxhall’s supermini still performs better than you may expect out on the road, too. If you’re looking for a supermini bargain, this car thus is well worth considering.

And no, we didn’t expect to be saying that, either.

Specs: Vauxhall Corsa Griffin Edition 

  • Engine: 1.4-litre four-cylinder
  • Power: 75hp
  • Torque: 95lb ft
  • 0-62mph: 15.5 seconds
  • Top speed: 101mph
  • Fuel economy: 49.6mpg
  • CO2: 131g/km
  • Insurance group: 4E
  • Price (1.4 75 3dr): £11,695
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