Motoring Research editors test the newest and most interesting cars to see how they stack up in the real world. Here, real-world considerations are all.

Month five: is the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV a good family car?

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (2016): long-term review

Mitsubishi Outlander (2016) long-term review

This could be one of the most controversial vehicles amongst eco-car enthusiasts since a Bluemotion-badged diesel Volkswagen. It’s the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV: a 2.0-litre petrol SUV with an electric motor and an official MPG of 156.9. Yes, that’s 156.9mpg.

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV review: UK first drive

It works by running on electric (for an official range of 32 miles) after a full charge, with the petrol engine kicking in when the battery’s flat or you’re asking more from it than the electric motor can provide.

So why’s it controversial? For a start, many owners are saying that fuel economy figure is little more than fantasy. Mitsubishi has retaliated, by saying the figure comes from the official NEDC tests – not the manufacturer. Essentially, as most of the tests are done while the Outlander’s battery is charged, it uses very little fuel.

For the same reasons, it’s classed as having extremely low emissions (42g/km). That means it works as a bit of a tax dodge for company car drivers, who pay very low (7%) BIK tax, but will spend most of their time running it as a thirsty petrol SUV without ever charging it.

If you’re reading this thinking our introduction is throwing up more questions than it’s answering – that’s exactly why we’ve added one to our long-term test fleet. Just how good is it on fuel consumption in real life? How easy it to charge? Is it better than a diesel? Read on to find out…


Month six: it’s a cracking goodbye to the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

Month six: it’s a cracking goodbye to the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

My final weekend with the Outlander. The last couple of days with a car that, even after six months, I still hadn’t really bonded with.

A road trip was in order – so a Friday afternoon dart up the M1, onto the M6 and across the M54 to visit my folks in Shropshire. A stop off at Corley Services saw me parking alongside rows of dirty diesels – stumping up £6 to charge at Ecotricity’s charge points makes no financial sense in the Outlander. Clearly I’m not alone in my thinking – a Nissan Leaf was parked nearby, away from the chargers, which remained unused during the couple of hours I spent trying out Starbucks’ delicacies.

Despite not being able to charge at Corley, a 40.0mpg average during the gentle motorway run was adequate, and I do appreciate the comfortable, leather seats and high-up driving position the Outlander offers.

A weekend ferrying my parents around and they had nothing but good things to say about the Outlander – not only was it comfortable, it also looks good on their driveway (an important consideration, apparently) and moves away in silence. How modern.

Unfortunately, the end of the weekend – and the end of my tenure of the Outlander – didn’t go to plan. A passing Audi on a rural road flicked up a stone, causing a chip in the windscreen. Within moments this had turned into a large crack. Great.

This cracking goodbye aside, what are my final thoughts on life with the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV after six months? Well, it has sort of convinced me of the merits of plug-in hybrids. I like the fact that my 20-mile commute could, in theory, be completed under electric power alone. And I enjoy the feeling of driving the Mitsubishi Outlander when it’s fully-charged – running a diesel feels like a backward step once you’re used to creeping around town in silence.

Anyone who does regular longer journeys will be better off with a diesel, however – but then, we already knew that. Plug-in hybrids make little sense if you don’t charge them regularly – and now Ecotricity has introduced its £6 charge, you’re even less likely to do that if you’re a business user.

The plug-in element aside, the Mitsubishi Outlander isn’t a bad car. The interior isn’t anything special – but it’s better than it used to be – and the infotainment system is pretty woeful to use.

There is no enjoyment to be had in driving the Outlander, either (perhaps Mitsubishi could learn from cars such as the Passat GTE – hybrids can be fun), but it does the job of being a practical mode of transport with a minimum of fuss.

Would I recommend one? Maybe. If practicality is high on your agenda, perhaps for whatever reason owning a four-wheel-drive would be handy, and you can charge it regularly, the Outlander PHEV will be worth a visit to your nearest Mitsubishi dealer.

If, however, you’re a business user wanting to cash in on the Outlander’s green credentials (and the benefits they bring), you might want to take a look at the changes about to be brought in by Phillip Hammond. You’d probably be better off with a diesel – especially if you’re paying for your own fuel.


Month five: is the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV a good family car?

Month five: is the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV a good family car?

I’m rather conscious so far that my updates so far have concentrated largely on the EV side of the PHEV – and most buyers will treat it simply as an alternative to a diesel SUV, and actually charging the thing will be a tiny part of ownership.

So how does it stack up as a family car? For a start, you can’t get an Outlander PHEV with seven seats. You can get a diesel version with an extra two seats squeezed into the back – but the battery on the hybrid version eats into the space where these seats would be. So if you’ve got a big family, it probably isn’t going to work for you.

If you’ve only got a couple of kids, don’t dismiss the PHEV just yet. Although the battery does hamper boot space to a certain extent, it doesn’t eat into it massively. With the rear seats up, you get 463-litres of luggage room – 128 less than a five-seat diesel version.

That’s still a sensible amount of luggage capacity, however. The Mazda CX-5, as a comparison, has a 503 litre boot, while the Hyundai Santa Fe has 585 litres. More, but it shouldn’t be a deal breaker.

The rear seats split 60:40 and fold down flat, while the Outlander’s huge boot opening allows easy access.

Head and legroom in the rear is good, while the leather seats (standard on our GX5h long-termer) not only look good, but are easy to clean – an important considerations for families with young children. Isofix mounts on the front and outer-rear seats means it’s easy enough to fit child seats, and children will probably enjoy the high-up seating position compared to an estate car.

Combine this practicality with a five-star NCAP safety rating and a four-wheel-drive system for when the weather gets bad, and the Outlander PHEV makes a lot of sense as a family car.


Month four: how does the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV compare to the Volkswagen Passat GTE?

Month Four: how does the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV compare to the Volkswagen Passat GTE?

The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV has been a mightily-popular plug-in hybrid, with 11,786 sold in the UK last year. Before it came along in 2013, plug-in cars were traditionally a bit weird, and only bought by early-adopters. The Outlander offers a degree of normality – along with a high level of practicality – that means conventional diesel drivers can be tempted by the Outlander’s supposedly low running costs.

But now other manufacturers are starting to cotton-on. Mitsubishi UK’s sales – a huge proportion of which are the Outlander – are down to 12,097 so far this year, compared to 15,414 at the same time last year. Along with drivers realising that plug-in hybrids aren’t always that economical (unless you regularly charge at home and only occasionally travel further than 20 miles), some of this could be down to the increase in rivals being launched by mainstream manufacturers.

Volkswagen Passat GTE (2016) review: Two-Minute Road Test

I’ve just spent a week with a Volkswagen Passat GTE. Not an obvious rival per se, especially in saloon form, but starting at £38,075 for the estate, you’d be wise to consider one alongside our high-spec £43,339 Outlander PHEV GX5h.

The crucial stats for company car drivers are very close: 42g/km CO2 for the Outlander, compared to 39g/km for the Passat. That results in 7% BIK tax for business users, and free road tax for both of them.

First impressions of the Passat, from someone who’s spent months driving an Outlander? The interior is wonderful – truly upmarket, boasting almost Audi levels of build quality. Despite being tweaked by Mitsubishi over the years, the Outlander’s interior leaves you feeling a little short-changed. It’s certainly not premium, but it does feel like it will stand up to day-to-day abuse from families fairly well.

The infotainment system is one area in which the Passat has clearly benefited from the VW Group’s expertise. It’s lovely to use, really quick to respond and even the standard 6.5-inch display is easy to read.

Like the rest of its interior, the Mitsubishi’s infotainment system is still behind the times, despite being improved when the car was facelifted last year. It takes an age to start up, is laggy to use and features are hard to find. Connecting your phone can be a challenge, too.

This should get easier when the 2017 model arrives with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto – unveiled at the Paris Motor Show. The Passat GTE is already available with this as a £125 option. A smidgen tight when you can get it as standard on a new Vauxhall Corsa.

And then there’s the common denominator: the plug-in hybrid system that explains why we’re pitching these two unlikely competitors against each other in the first place. Both offer fairly short electric-only ranges (the Passat 31 miles, the Outlander 32), and neither should take the place of a diesel if you do a lot of long journeys.

The Passat uses its system to offer that additional element, the fun GTE mode, and when the battery does run out of juice the petrol engine kicks in almost seamlessly. The Outlander makes a bit more of a fuss, grumbling into life and making its presence heard. And then there’s that CVT gearbox.

The Outlander’s CVT ’box sounds strained if you’re trying to accelerate with the slightest degree of urgency (compared to the Passat’s lovely six-speed DSG), while the light steering isn’t confidence-inspiring. No, it’s not meant to be a sports car, but the Passat GTE proves parents can have fun, too. Hitting 62mph in 7.4 seconds, it’s the fastest Passat currently offered by VW.

On the plus side, the Outlander’s high-up driving position offers an excellent view of the road that you don’t get in the Passat. It makes the Outlander feel like an airy, safe car for long trips – important for families, and great for quelling child sickness. And, of course, its four-wheel-drive system will help over the winter months or when tackling a particularly challenging campsite.

The verdict? After a week with the Passat, I was reluctant to hand it back and take back the keys to the Outlander. Not only is the Passat more enjoyable to drive, the interior is leagues ahead and the technology behind the hybrid system seems more advanced.

That’s my personal conclusion. Of course, the Outlander offers more space, and families will appreciate the high-up driving position it offers as an SUV. They’re not direct competitors and they will appeal to different buyers – but I know where my money would go.

Read our Two-Minute Road Test of the Volkswagen Passat GTE


Month three: Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV meets the Airlander ‘flying bum’

Month three: Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV meets the Airlander 'flying bum'

You may have seen the Airlander ‘flying bum’ in the news this week. It’s the largest aircraft in the world – a hybrid airship that’s more than 90m long and cost £25 million to make.

Designed to be used in long-endurance surveillance for the US government before the project was axed and it was sold to the UK, the Airlander uses helium to get airborne and sounds much quieter than a conventional helicopter or plane.

It’s stored at Cardington Airfield, around 15 miles from home for me. That’s within the electric-only range of a fully-charged Outlander PHEV – so it’d have been rude not to take our long-term Outlander to meet its bigger, flying cousin.

A tenuous link, perhaps. But, just like the near-silent Airlander can sneak up on enemies in silence (while also being good for the planet), I’m really starting to appreciate the quietness of the Outlander PHEV when it’s freshly charged.

My neighbours like the fact I can get away early, and arrive home at night, without the clatteryness of a diesel engine waking them up. The one evening I swapped the Outlander for a Porsche Cayman GT4, they picked up on how noisy it was in comparison.

Month three: Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV meets the Airlander 'flying bum'

The Outlander’s quietness isn’t always a good thing. One day, I was taking the country road route home, driving the PHEV gently and trying to maximise its electric range. There was a pigeon in the road – I didn’t want to brake (that’d have a knock-on effect on my hypermiling), and presumed it’d fly away last minute.

It didn’t. It was the slowest road kill ever. At around 30mph, I felt the poor pigeon get squished by the Outlander’s 18-inch wheel. It just didn’t hear me coming.

Fortunately for wildlife, the Outlander soon runs out of charge. Yes, I’ve already gone over the benefits of the Outlander’s hybrid system, and I get that it’ll work for those of us who regularly do short journeys. But I still find myself wishing I could travel before before the petrol engine noisily kicks in.


Month two: what’s the etiquette around charging?

Month two: what’s the etiquette around charging?

I wasn’t planning on writing my second update about the same subject as the first one. But charging is such a new thing for someone who’s so used to just filling a car with fossil fuels, there’s a lot to learn.

And I don’t mean the intricacies of what cards I need to charge where. I’ve got all that sussed now, and I’m really getting into the hang of plugging it in regularly. No, I mean the etiquette.

I use a charge point near our office regularly and, since MR’s Peter Burgess complained to the council that it was being blocked by non-electric cars, it’s now clearly signposted as a three-hour maximum parking space for charging only. That’s fine for me, I can charge almost entirely in three hours.

But, as I mentioned in my last update, one e-NV200 van driver seems to park there regularly and leave it charging for an entire day while he no doubt catches a train into London from the nearby station. I’ve even seen the van blocking the space without charging – what’s the point? To save having to pay for parking, perhaps, but then I noticed he had a ticket on the windscreen.

Conscious of people who unnecessarily block charging bays for those who need them, I’ve returned to the Outlander a few times to find a fully electric car parked next to it, clearly wanting to use my socket. Most charge points have two – a fast charge and a slow charge. Naturally, if it’s free, most prefer to use the fast charge.

But if someone in a Nissan LEAF, for example, needs a charge, their need is a little more important than mine. While I’ve got a (thirsty) petrol engine as backup, they need that charge to get home. I tweeted my dilemma, and the internet didn’t hold back…

A smidgen harsh, perhaps – what’s the point of driving a plug-in hybrid if it’s never plugged in?

Other people came up with suggestions…

And many said I shouldn’t feel guilty.

But I do. So I’ve come up with a solution.

Will it work? Find out in our next long-term update.


Month one: how easy is it to charge the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV?

Month one: how easy is it to charge the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV?

As an introduction to plug-in cars, the Outlander PHEV is proving to be a real eye-opener.

For a start, the UK’s public charging network is a bit of a shambles. Rather than being operated by one company, a number of different firms provide chargers in different places. So, the majority of chargers in the area where I do most of my driving are operated by Source East. To access those, I need a Source East card at a cost of £10 a year. For the use I’d get, that’s a bargain – so I was keen to sign up.

Only Source East’s website is useless. It’s several weeks since I tried to join without any luck, and it still doesn’t appear to be working. Their customer service department isn’t responding to pleas for help, either.

Chargemaster came forward with a solution. For £7.85 a month (after a six month free-of-charge trial period), you can use their Polar Plus network, which gets you access to 4,000 charge points across the UK (including those operated by Source East). More expensive, but it takes some of the hassle away of trying to find appropriate cards if I decide to travel further afield.

So, with my Polar Plus card in hand, I headed to the one-and-only charge point located near our office. Chargemaster’s useful Polar Plus map not only helps you locate charging points, it also tells you what kind of charger they have, as well as whether they’re in use at that moment in time.

According to the map, our nearest charger wasn’t occupied. But, despite signs saying the spaces are reserved for electric vehicles only, it was blocked by non-plug-in cars. How annoying.

With an early start, I’ve found it is possible to park at the charging point near our office and give the Outlander a full charge (which takes roughly three hours… conveniently the maximum time you’re allowed to park in this space).

But it’s not always possible. There’s one regular Nissan e-NV200 who often parks in the space and blocks it all day, ignoring the three-hour limit.

When it is possible, it works out well. With a real-life range of around 25 miles, I can commute almost entirely on electric power and rely on the combustion engine on those occasions I need to travel further.

Month one: how easy is it to charge the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV?

One such occasion was a recent round-trip to Heathrow. The only public charge points at Heathrow are located at short-term parking, limited to three hours. If you leave your car there for more than three hours, you get hit with a ticket. And what use is that, unless you’re only visiting Heathrow to collect someone?

I instead used a valet parking company, but they don’t have any provisions for electric car charging either. How difficult would it be to incorporate it into their service? It could be a huge hit for anyone with an electric car within commuting distance from Heathrow.

On the way home I could have stopped at the services, grabbed a coffee and given the Outlander a quick charge using Ecotricity’s fast charge point (using another card I’d handily registered for). But that can only charge to 80% giving me something like 20 miles electric range (probably far less at motorway speeds). That would have saved me around £3 in petrol – or, roughly the cost of a coffee I would have bought to pass time waiting for it to charge.

I couldn’t see the point, so I drove the Outlander PHEV like a big, petrol SUV carrying an empty battery in a manner of someone who wanted to get home from the airport. The result? 24mpg. Ouch.

Fortunately, we’re spending six months with the Outlander, but we’ll see if it starts to get more convincing over time. So far it’s proving to be slightly irritating to run – but that’s more down to the infrastructure rather than the car itself.

Honda HR-V long-term review: the final verdict

2015 Honda HR-V long-term review: the final verdict

Honda HR-V long-term review: the final verdict

The six months I have spent with the HR-V has quickly slipped by. My example was one of the first to hit UK roads and I was deeply interested in whether Honda could pull off this new model in its range.

There’s a definitely place on our roads for crossovers smaller than Honda’s own very successful CR-V. As such cars pump up in size with each successive generation, the current HR-V promises to be at least as effective as the original CR-V from 20 years back.

It now sensibly fills the gap between the ever-popular Honda Jazz and the CR-V, while sitting alongside the similarly-priced Civic. The HR-V makes massive sense on paper, too. It comes with all of the Jazz’s renowned versatility coupled to a high driving position and more space.

That means rear seats that fold like an origami toy, and deeply impressive packaging. To my mind I can’t think of any other manufacturer that manages to sweat so much volume for passengers and luggage from a car of this size.

Honda HR-V long-term review: the final verdict

The HR-V might look like compact off-roader, but the UK car market says that few buyers are interested in the additional costs of four-wheel drive. Thus, you get just the front-wheel-drive HR-V in the UK, and if you want automatic transmission, it has to be with the 1.5-litre petrol engine.

Our HR-V came with the 1.6-diesel coupled to a six speed manual transmission. Some years ago, I owned an Accord 2.4S with the sweetest gearchange you could imagine, and this HR-V comes close. The lever snicks satisfyingly through the gate, always easy and precise.

The engine has 120hp, which may not sound like a great deal, but diesel pulling power results in performance that is always in keeping with the whole ethos of the HR-V. Which means just fine, although not much fun.

The HR-V, for all its stylish looks, is actually a bit dull to drive. Everything works as it should, no complaints there, but this is the motor car as a dependable means of getting around, not one that you are ever likely to think “oh good, time for another drive in the Honda”.

This top-level HR-V EX comes in at £26,055 (a rise of £1,110 over the September 2015 launch price), plus £525 for metallic paint. It’s a fully-specced car, with Garmin navigation, smart entry and engine start, a full length panoramic opening glass roof, heated leather seats and LED headlights.

Honda HR-V long-term review: the final verdict

Arguably this is over-egging what is basically a straightforward crossover, one that makes more sense lower down the scale with the S and SE models that loiter around the £20k mark. The S gets Honda’s City Brake safety system that I didn’t need to utilise, thank goodness, but the Forward Collision Warning on the SE model and above is a really useful light/sound combination that strikes up when you get too close to the car in front.

There were two areas where the Honda HR-V irritated, and neither got better with long-term experience. First, the side windows, as expected, get fogged up on the outside on a cold day. On almost every car I know you simply power down the windows to wipe them clear. Not the HR-V. The design means the glass doesn’t touch the window seals so there is no alternative other than to the clean the whole lot by hand.

Secondly, the high-end media centre is frustratingly user-unfriendly. Multiple-layer menus, touchscreen buttons that often don’t respond and so on… It has all the signs of being designed by a bunch of techie kids, who play with their phones all day but don’t yet drive a car.

But let’s not let these things overshadow what is basically a very sensible family car. For those prepared to forgo the finer reaches of driving pleasure, this Honda HR-V works well on very many levels.

BMW 320d ED Plus long-term test intro

BMW 320d ED Plus (2015) long-term review

BMW 320d ED Plus long-term test intro

BMW 320d ED Plus long-term review: part four

Economy again, but this one was a surprise. Because I really wasn’t trying, honest. It was mainly through boredom driving through a 50mph zone on the M5 motorway that saw me flicking through the BMW’s trip computer. I stopped at the average mpg display, surprised: it was showing 77mpg.

77mpg! Honestly, I wasn’t trying. But if I can accidentally do that, I thought, what happens if I continue this relaxed driving? So, when the roadworks cleared, I cruised for the next 10 miles. Not going overly slowly, but sticking to around 55-60mph, ducking in and out of the trucks, smoothing progress as much as I could.

At Strensham services, I took stock. Total journey was just under 50 miles. I’d been in economy mode for, ooh, about 20% of that. Overall mpg? Check this out.
BMW 320d ED 82.8mpg

Yes, 82.8mpg. Way above this 320d ED Plus auto’s official figure of 68.9mpg – and far in excess of the usual 10% correction figure we generally advise people take off their fuel computer figure to allow for tolerances and speedo error.

With no special tricks and no hard-to-use techniques, I smashed the government figure on a sunny M5 early one Friday morning. Which has now got me thinking – if I can do that partly without trying, what can it hit if I really do go into economy mode?

I’d say it’s one to put to the test over the next few weeks, but that’s perhaps enough for economy for now, don’t you think? Think I’ve deserved a press of the Sport button and a few back-road blasts – cue an early morning charge down to the Goodwood for the 74th Members’ Meeting this coming weekend…

BMW 320d ED Donington


BMW 320d ED Plus long-term review: part three

‘So how’s the fuel economy of your BMW 320d ED Plus going,’ people sometimes ask me (OK, perhaps they don’t say the ‘ED Plus’ mouthful bit…), perhaps knowing I’m a bit of an mpg geek and love the challenge of hypermiling. Oh, pretty good, I cooly say…

BMW 320d ED Plus long-term review

It’s better than pretty good. It’s exceptional. Take one day last week: I cruised down to the office with the trip computer zeroed and, 100 miles of motorway later, I clicked on the magic number: 72mpg. Better than official combined, that, even if the likely optimism of the computer wouldn’t quite have achieved this.

BMW 320d ED Plus long-term review

A few weeks later, I checked again. Another reset, another cruise down the M6 and M1. Result? A glittering 77.1mpg – and, even allowing for the likely few percent optimism of the computer, this was more than likely better than average. See – it can be done!

I wasn’t suffering for it either. The climate control was on. I wasn’t driving ultra-slowly. I wasn’t fit to burst by the end of the trip. Simply driving gently and enjoying all that’s nice about this rear-drive saloon that can also do 0-62mph in 7.9 seconds and quickly raise a smile on a back road. Why wouldn’t you?

Is the 320d ED all about economy then?

BMW 320d ED Plus long-term review

I had a few days in a Ford Focus recently. Great car, although I’m not sure how ‘eco’ the Ecoboost engine is – 70mpg means I’m disappointed by 40mpg, particularly when it should be doing 60+mpg.

Anyhoo, the Focus is a great car, with a chassis oozing ability and composure. I enjoyed it a lot.

Then got back in the BMW and re-appreciated its feel-good driving position, tight steering, well-balanced chassis and, most of all, the sophisticated absorbency of the optional adaptive dampers.

Like the Focus, it’s firm – but there’s also compliance and cushioning there, with highly sophisticated body control that’s beyond what passive dampers could achieve, particularly on roads with complex surfaces.

It’s something you appreciate day-to-day too, not just when you’re going quickly: in many ways, rubbish city centre roads are as challenging as empty Welsh B-roads when it comes to body control and ride quality.

Wondering whether to tick the box on the configurator? Wonder no more: do it. You’ll feel the benefits each and every time you turn a wheel.


BMW 320d ED Plus long-term review: part two

7,000 miles in and the ‘eco special’ BMW 320d ED Plus is going just fine. Not that I’ve covered all of those miles since taking delivery: I actually drove this car back from the launch in Spain before it was even assigned to me.

Then another MR team member drove it to Frankfurt (another thousand-odd miles). Yes, it’s been a busy machine alright.

Now it’s settling down into a life on the M6, M1, M40, M25 and many other fine British motorways and A-roads. Doing what so many 3 Series do: 125-mile trips to the office and to meetings before turning round and doing exactly the same back home again.

Such use means you get to know cars intimately. This is the first time I’ve had a 3 Series as a long-termer, but I’ve been driving them for years, most commonly in fleet car dream spec.

As it’s partly the improvements that BMW’s made for the 2016 model year that we’re testing, I thought I’d ring the ways it’s been improved over before.

How is the 2015 BMW 320d ED Plus better than old ones?

BMW 320d LT part 2

The most obvious improvement is engine refinement. This new modular 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel (codename B47) is a significant improvement over the old N47 unit here.

Before, you knew you were in a diesel with a BMW 2.0-litre. They were a bit more gruff, vocal and gravelly than you’d perhaps expect in a premium car. Not anymore with this smooth, quiet-free-spinning unit.

Noise levels are down significantly and it’s now an engine you’ll happily rev or hold a gear in using the eight-speed auto’s paddleshifters. Before, you usually preferred the torquey shove and lower noise levels of an upshift.

In fact, the only time it’s oddly vocal is with cold starts – near-freezing temperatures and below. There, for a few minutes, there’s a sometimes eye-opening amount of clatter from the top end: a metallic rattle like an old British sportscar with worn tappets. I don’t worry too much – with a bit of heat, it soon quietens down.

BMW 320d ED Plus long-term review

Other improvements include the now full LED HID lights, which replace the old Xenon option. They’re a virtual must-have: supremely bright and crisp, it really is like driving along with your own daylight in front of you.

They’re lower power too, so don’t need headlight washers, thus saving the washer bottle level in winter…

Handling is that bit crisper thanks to tweaked settings and hardware, which I don’t get to enjoy all that much on my usual commute, but which makes traffic diversions that bit more fun.

Oh, and on that, iDrive’s RTTI traffic avoidance system is brilliant. Quick to act, it’s sent me on some genius diversions to ensure my ETA is barely affected no matter how ‘red’ the traffic on my normal route. It’s virtually invaluable.

How’s fuel economy fairing?

BMW 320d LT part 2

I say 60mpg: in honesty, rushing about on all these diversion routes means it’s dropped. Call it a regular tank-to-tank 56-57mpg. Hardly a disaster, albeit some way off the claimed 70.6mpg still.

The weather hasn’t helped: lots of rain doesn’t help eco driving. I’m also aware of the occasional chatter of the brake drying function (it touches brake pads to discs every 15 seconds or so, to clear off the water and make the brakes act faster in the wet). Wonder if this has a slight effect on economy?

With the new year and hopefully more normal commutes to the office, I’ll see if order can be restored. If I can’t nudge into the 70mpgs over a representative week’s commuting, I’ll be disappointed.


BMW 320d ED Plus long-term review: introduction

BMW 320d ED Plus long-term test intro

The BMW 3 Series celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2015 with a mid-life facelift to face off talented new rivals from Audi and Jaguar. Real world highlight of the range is the even more economical BMW 320d ED Plus model, but does reality differ from on-paper perceptions? We’ve six months to find out…

The BMW 3 Series’ 2015 facelift is all but impossible to distinguish on paper. Trust us though, YA 15 OMP really is the latest generation 3 Series, complete with fancy new headlights, more sculpted front bumper and, er, chrome bits for the electric window switches.


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BMW didn’t need to do much though. It was already the class leader. The Jaguar XE couldn’t beat it, the new Audi A4 hasn’t beat it; the 3 Series has it sewn up. With the mid-life revision, BMW has honed it, taken the edge off the ride, sharpened the handling and perfected something already superb.

It’s also made it greener, although it’s also made the range more complex. The 318i is a 1.5-litre three-cylinder; the 330i is now a 245hp 2.0-litre four-cylinder – and the diesels, well, if you’re a company car driver, we suggest speccing carefully, so myriad are the price options and CO2 configurations…

What model are we running?

Our long-termer is the greenest model you can buy, if not its ultimate fuel-saving guise: the 320d ED Plus. You can get this in sub-100g/km CO2 guise, but only if you choose an auto and only if you take the airstream-like 16-inch wheels (with eco rubber). We had the auto, but not the slippery wheels: a no-cost option are the prettier rims on our long-termer, with sportier tyres. Given the meagre 5g/km penalty, it’s the right choice.

Then it gets slightly confusing. As well as the 320d ED Plus, you can also now get a 320d ED Sport, which emits 108g/km CO2 and averages 68.9mpg (the same as our ‘Plus’). But you can also get a 320d Sport, which emits… 111g/km and averages 67.3mpg.

A 320d ED Sport is £32,285; a 320d Sport is 31,385. And with the regular car you get 190hp instead of 163hp, and a half-second faster 0-62mph time… if you’re going green, surely you’d stick with the £30,485 320d ED Plus? Or, get 190hp and still-decent economy AND a sub-£30k price tag with the £29,785 320d SE upon which the 320d ED Plus is based?

Or, by now, have you lost the will to live and wish we’d just get on with it? OK…

Why are we running it?

BMW 320d ED Plus long-term test intro

We want to find out how economical a BMW 320d is in the real world. BMW sells tens of thousands, on the promise of low tax and high economy, seemingly not at the expense of performance or rear-wheel drive engagement. Sounds like black magic but is it actually a blatant lie?

My journeys are usually high mileage, invariably varied and very representative of the use many other 320d encounter. So if I can get good economy, then hopefully you can too. Upwards of 10,000 miles’ driving should be enough to put it to the test…

We also want to see if living with a BMW is still premium and classy enough. BMW sells umpteen more 3 Series than Ford does Mondeo, yet it’s the Ford that’s perceived as the volume car and the BMW as the exclusive premium machine. Does reality still compare?

Long-term test spec

BMW 320d ED Plus long-term test intro

Press cars contain lots of equipment to help writers tell readers what the various options are like. Which is how our £30,485 long-term test car turns into one costing £40,780.

Must-haves are the eight-speed Sport automatic transmission (£1,690), BMW Professional sat nav (£900 – yes, nav is standard on all new BMWs now, but only the Pro system gives the online features we’re going to test so fully), Adaptive M Sport suspension (£750) and interior comfort package (£695 – it adds split-fold rear seats, more stowage cubbies and the lovely Extended Interior Light Package).

Nice-to-haves is the Visibility package (£850) that includes BMW’s brilliant LED headlights, Enhanced Bluetooth telephone (£350) and Internet (£95 – bargain). Indulgences we love? Anthracite headlining (£215), Head-up Display (£825) and speed limit display (£220); the rest is fancy but not essential (and surely some o fit should be standard – £330 reverse assist camera, anyone?).

What else is out there?

Audi has recently released the all-new A4, and what an impressive car it is. Extremely refined, the interior’s a step-on in terms of quality, appearance and roominess, while the tech it packs in is top-notch: some people will choose the A4 simply for the fact it gets Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard.

Jaguar’s XE vies with the 3 Series for driver’s choice in this class. An excellent first effort at a rear-wheel drive ‘baby Jag’, the XE is ultimately let down by its slightly disappointing interior and not-yet-there engine refinement and infotainment tech. Updates are coming, though…

The Mercedes-Benz C-Class is a very popular choice. It’s a little spec sensitive; choose the wrong one and it can seems surprisingly average and uncouth for a supposed premium compact exec. But ticking boxes like the bargain-price air suspension restore the class you’d expect from a car that looks not unlike an S-Class.

Other choices? Lexus’ hybrid IS 300h is a bit leftfield but pretty effective, certainly much more so than the so-disappointing Infiniti Q50. Coming in 2016 is the Alfa Giulia, which Italy promises will be a 3 Series beater (although we’ve heard that before) and, who knows, we may eventually get a new Volvo S60 to bring some of the XC90’s excellence to this sector.

Specs

Car: BMW 320d ED Plus

CO2: 104g/km

Fuel economy: 68.9mpg

Power: 163hp

Torque: 280lb-ft

0-62mph: 7.9secs

Top speed: 140mph

List price: £32,220 (320d ED Plus auto)

Price as tested: £40,780

Now configure your BMW 320d ED Plus on bmw.co.uk

Honda HR-V

Honda HR-V long-term review: update

Honda HR-VTwo interesting missives relating to the Honda arrived in February. The first was that Automotive Management magazine had voted the HR-V its 2016 New Car of the Year. The accolade commended the “coupe-like looks, impressive practicality, efficient engines and keen pricing”.

I am not surprised. The ever-popular crossover sector of the new car market seems to have no limit to its growth, and Honda’s canny entry – sitting below its cavernous CR-V – hits the nail on the head for those looking for something a bit more compact.

The big deal, as I have already found out, is the impressive interior volume, which means there’s little loss of space compared with many outwardly larger rivals.

I also spoke to another journalist who is running an identical HR-V for a number of months. She commented on her disappointment with the fuel economy. That surprised me because that same day, driving 60 miles to Farnborough airport, the trip computer told me I had achieved 70mpg through the steady but slow roadworks that blighted the journey.

But I hadn’t carried out a proper tank-to-tank measurement for some time so I checked that a day later. Sure enough, it was still firmly in the 55-60mpg range over a full tank, although that was a few mpg less than the computer claimed. But I’ll forgive it, as the difference was less than 5%.

Highly rated by owners

Honda HR-V

The second notification was from Honda, directing me to the review site ‘Reevoo’. Here, more than 350 owners of HR-Vs had posted their opinions of ownership and it made for fascinating reading. What they love are the ‘Magic’ rear seats that flip up or down to vary cargo space as you choose, along with the space, high driving position and easy driving nature.

Apart from the seats, these characteristics are what you’d expect in most crossovers and SUVs, but it does seem that Honda has gone a bit further than most in raising the bar.

Perhaps too far in some areas. Many of these owners reflect my view that the satellite-navigation-cum-media-centre is wilfully overcomplicated. Also, they note that there’s not enough oddment stowage space within reach of the driver, the tailgate doesn’t open high enough, and a fair few bemoan the fact that there is no spare wheel (which, of course, helps boost boot space).

I can understand these viewpoints, but despite the moans the HR-V gets some very strong overall ratings on Reevoo, something I find hard to argue with. Still, I do wish that I could get my Samsung phone fully linked in so I could make use of the ‘Aha app integration’. I am very curious to know just what this does.

Time for a trip to a Honda dealer, I reckon. Because, like HR-V owners, I find the handbook is simply too large and impenetrable.

2015 Honda HR-V 1.6 i-DTEC EX manual

Price: £24,495 (October 2015)

Price with options: £25,470 (metallic paint £525)

Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel

Power: 120hp

Torque: 221lb ft

0-62mph: 10.5 secs

Top speed: 119mph

Fuel economy: 68.9mpg

CO2: 104g/km

Honda HR-V

Honda HR-V long-term review: update

Honda HR-V

It’s the end of January and there’s still no snow in the south-east of England. That will probably please a lot of crossover owners, because, despite the styling, their cars will be no better than a regular family hatchback when it comes to dealing with the white stuff.

The HR-V is not even offered with four-wheel drive in the UK, which is a reflection of where Honda sees the real demand. It’s far more about style and space than off-road prowess, although a decent set of winter tyres will surely still see this compact crossover navigate itself out of most slippery situations.

I left the HR-V at Stansted airport for a few days last week, using my usual meet-and-greet service. It seems to be the same as valet parking, except you have to walk a few yards more to get into the terminal – and it’s more wallet-friendly.

The Honda, of course, disappears off to a distant car park, to be retrieved a few hours before my flight lands. This time I kept a note of the mileage and I reckon it hadn’t travelled further than one side of the drop-off-zone to the other. Yet it’s always worth doing a walk around to check for damage, as once you’ve left the airport, you are on your own.

Honda HR-V

I have this theory that, in winter, diesel fuel is less calorific than in the summer months. The fuel companies add an anti-waxing agent to prevent diesel from thickening up in low temperatures, and in my experience this goes hand-in-hand with worsening economy. That’s certainly the case with our personal 2.0-litre Kia Sportage, but with the Honda the difference seems to be marginal.

I guess that fact that the economy is now more commonly mid-fifties than high-fifties isn’t really much of a reason to worry. It means the HR-V diesel still an amazingly economical vehicle, and with fuel currently at 97.9p for a gallon, it’s makes for very cheap motoring.

Specification: 2015 Honda HR-V 1.6 i-DTEC EX manual

Price (October 2015): £24,495

Price with options: £25,470 (metallic paint £525)

Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel

Power: 120hp

Torque: 221lb ft

0-62mph: 10.5 secs

Top speed: 119mph

Fuel economy: 68.9mpg

2015 Ford C-Max 1.5 TDCi Titanium X: what happens when driver assistance systems go wrong?

2015 Ford C-Max 1.5 TDCi Titanium X: what happens when driver assistance systems go wrong?

2015 Ford C-Max 1.5 TDCi Titanium X: what happens when driver assistance systems go wrong?

Some people love to criticise any sort of driver assistance system. A lot of drivers refuse to accept that, on occasion, the car can handle a situation better than them. But even an expert would struggle to cadence brake at the rate of modern ABS systems (18 times a second, if you’re interested).

Parking assistance systems are brilliant, to my mind – from sensors that help you avoid that post that is plain and simply out of view, to those that will park for you and let you concentrate on other matters.


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Our long-term Ford C-Max is packed with clever electrical gadgetry to make life for the family man easier. We rate its superb handling, and part of this is down to the torque vectoring system. This was first developed on the Focus RS, before making it way into family cars such as the C-Max.

Essentially, rather than acting like traditional traction control (which frustratingly cuts power if it detects wheel-slip), torque vectoring can gently brake either of the front wheels to prevent them spinning up – particularly in wet or icy conditions.

[bctt tweet=”“No, I do NOT want to lift off here thank you very much”” via=”no”]

Generally, it works well. Get carried away in the Christmas rush, chuck the C-Max into a slippery roundabout with too much gusto and you can feel the systems desperately trying to prevent the wheels spinning as you understeer towards the verge.

But it’s not flawless. Electrical systems can have gremlins, as I’ve been discovering over the Christmas period. On exiting one wet roundabout, the system went all ‘1990s traction control’ on me, completely cutting power at the crucial moment when I thought I really needed it to drag the car into line. A mini argument occurred: “No, I do NOT want to lift off here thank you very much”. “Yes you do, you idiot, that barrier is about to ruin your Christmas.”

Seemingly the car knew better than I did, as I survived to tell the tale.


A day later, I pulled over to the side of a Welsh moorland road to get a quick snap of the C-Max looking all Christmassy in wintery conditions. The surface I stopped on was broken tarmac – firm, but very cold and wet. I realised that I was in danger of losing grip if I attempted to pull away too dramatically.

I edged it forward with a trickle of revs, then stalled it like a clumsy learner driver. So I started it again, and the traction control seemed to be overwhelmed by the conditions. It was a strange situation – with my left foot on the clutch, and my right foot preparing to give the accelerator the slightest of squeezes, strange noises could be heard as the torque vectoring seemed to apply the brakes to both front wheels and panic as if I were flooring the C-Max through deep mud. I was only on broken tarmac, remember.

I turned the engine off and on again. It calmed down. I drove off with a little more gas and no issues, and it’s been fine ever since. Strange, huh?

In other news, the C-Max has been a wonderful partner over the Christmas break. From negotiating Tesco car park on December 24th (its cross-traffic alert is quite literally a life-saver in these conditions) to pounding the motorways chock-full with bulky presents, it’s taken it all in its stride.

Fuel economy hasn’t been anything to shout about. Covering around 800 miles over the last couple of weeks on Crimbo duties, it’s averaged around 50mpg. And on a trip up the A1 to Yorkshire, with cruise control at 65mph most of the way, it struggled to break the 60mpg barrier. When you consider the official 68.9mpg figure, that’s not great. But then, for a car of this size and shape, it’s far from woeful.

Notepad

  • Wonder if the more powerful 2.0-litre TDCi would make for a more relaxing drive and perhaps better fuel economy at motorway speeds…

Specification

Price (October 2015): £23,395
Price with options: £25,220 (metallic paint £250, rear parking sensors £225, key free system £700, blind spot information system £400, SYNC2 DAB navigation system £250)
Engine: 1.5-litre TDCI turbodiesel
Power: 120hp
Torque: 199lb ft
0-62mph: 11.3 secs
Top speed: 114mph
MPG: 68.9
CO2: 105g/km

Honda HR-V

Honda HR-V long-term review: part three

Honda HR-V

I’m back in the HR-V after a three-week break while I was away in Australia. Like every Honda I have driven, indeed owned, it’s dead easy getting back into the groove. Hondas are so easy to drive, still with probably the slickest manual gearchange you’ll find anywhere.

I had a bit of spare time yesterday, so I got out my Samsung phone’s USB charging lead, plugged it into the Honda’s port and waited to connect it into the system. Nothing. Seems like they are incompatible, though I can’t imagine why. Android phones have been around for years now and this is supposed to plug me into a whole new world of Honda apps.

Like so much in the car business when it comes to driver-car interface electronics, there’s a void between what the manufacturer promises and what actually occurs. I am guessing here, but I bet that Honda was as pleased as punch with its button-free navigation/music/phone system in the HR-V. Yet it is so maddeningly complicated to work, requiring you to take your eyes off the road several times in order to hit the right area of the touch screen to do, well, almost anything.

It may seem churlish to touch on Honda’s dismal 2015 F1 experience with McLaren, but I sense there is a parallel here. Honda develops things in a vacuum, rather than calling in outside expertise. A few focus groups and the company would have been painfully aware of the problems with its in-car entertainment system.

Honda HR-V

Economical diesel engine

Enough of that. It was only a bit more than a decade ago that Honda didn’t have a diesel engine to its name, before hitting the ground running with the brilliant 2.2-litre unit in the Accord. This much newer 1.6 turbodiesel is similarly impressive. The performance is entirely in keeping with the car, punchy and relaxed at all times.

But it is the economy that has been astounding me. This morning on my sub-30mph, 12-mile urban drive to the office it averaged 62mpg. And yes, I have checked the trip computer and it’s very accurate. Economy never drops below 53mpg. Compare that with our Kia Sportage, which will struggle to reach 30mpg on the same run (though it does have an automatic transmission and four-wheel drive).

And the HR-V, although it is notionally half-a-class smaller than cars like the Sportage, does exceptionally well for passenger and cargo space. Honda’s ‘Magic’ rear seat is still the cleverest of inventions. The rear cushion lifts up against the backrest so tall things can be stored upright, or the backrest and cushion fold forward in one action to give a big, deep boot floor.

Just before Christmas and still inclemently warm weather. I wait with baited breath to see if, eventually, the HR-V will be caught out when it finally does snow. There’s nfour-wheel-drive option in the UK, you see.

Honda HR-V

Specification

2015 Honda HR-V 1.6 i-DTEC EX manual

Price: £24,495

Price with options: £25,470 (metallic paint £525)

Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel

Power: 120hp

Torque: 221lb ft

0-62mph: 10.5 secs

Top speed: 119mph

MPG: 68.9

CO2: 104g/km

BMW 320d ED Plus

LIVE review: 2015 BMW 320d ED Plus

BMW 320d ED PlusMotoring Research is running a BMW 320D ED Plus long-term test car, to see just how fuel-efficient BMW’s best selling model in the UK can be.

Here, we’ll share views, thoughts and videos as we live with it. Keep coming back for live life with a BMW 3er.

2015 Ford C-Max 1.5 TDCI Titanium X: a week in Cornwall

2015 Ford C-Max 1.5 TDCI Titanium X: a week in Cornwall

2015 Ford C-Max 1.5 TDCI Titanium X: a week in Cornwall

I have to confess, Ford’s MPV line-up does confuse me a little bit. Sure, there’s the Galaxy, that’s the big one. And then there’s the S-Max, which is the sporty one.

The B-Max is for those who want a Fiesta with a bit more practicality, while the C-Max is essentially a slightly bigger Focus. But then there’s the Grand C-Max, with its seven seats, and let’s not even think about the Tourneo Custom and Connect (they’re essentially Transits with windows and seats, if you must know).

2015 Ford C-Max 1.5 TDCI Titanium X: new arrival

It’s more than a tad befuddling. Buying a five-seat C-Max, like the one we’re running on our long-term fleet, is like saying “I want as much practicality as possible, but with just the five seats please.”

But for a recent autumnal camping trip to Cornwall, that is precisely what I wanted. Two seats would have done, in fact, as the rear seats were folded down to cater for a week’s worth of camping kit. And that’s quite a lot, as it turns out – comfortably filling the C-Max’s 1,684 litres of boot space.

2015 Ford C-Max 1.5 TDCI Titanium X: a week in Cornwall

When it’s full of gear, the extra weight is noticeable. But even with the 1.5-litre turbodiesel, it’s fine at making progress along the M4. It’s only when negotiating Cornwall’s steep hills that I started to wish I was in the bigger 2.0-litre diesel.

On Cornish lanes, the C-Max starts to feel a lot bigger than it actually is. At 1,828mm wide it’s only 5mm wider than a regular Focus but, even so, extra care is required on roads lined with Cornish hedgerows, full of rocks ready to jump out and scrape the C-Max’s gleaming frozen white paint.

Overall, though, the C-Max proved to be the perfect companion for a week away. Manufacturers often go a bit lifestyle in their marketing for cars such as this, but it’s certainly capable of being loaded with kit and traipsing around challenging Cornish lanes.

2015 Ford C-Max 1.5 TDCI Titanium X: a week in Cornwall

Notepad

  • The dark nights have highlighted a reluctance for the C-Max’s self-dimming infotainment screen to self-dim. I’ve had to turn the brightness down manually when driving in the dark… a bit of a hassle

Specification

Price (October 2015): £23,395
Price with options: £25,220 (metallic paint £250, rear parking sensors £225, key free system £700, blind spot information system £400, SYNC2 DAB navigation system £250)
Engine: 1.5-litre TDCI turbodiesel
Power: 120hp
Torque: 199lb ft
0-62mph: 11.3 secs
Top speed: 114mph
MPG: 68.9
CO2: 105g/km

2015 Honda HR-V 1.6 i-DTEC EX: new arrival

2015 Honda HR-V 1.6 i-DTEC EX: new arrival

2015 Honda HR-V 1.6 i-DTEC EX: new arrival

I have a bit of a fascination for “crossovers”. The bastardisation of a full-bloodied 4×4 with a family hatchback at first seems like a marketing man’s fantasy, but it actually does the business for an increasing number of car owners. So what’s the big deal?

It’s the combination of space and style that ticks the boxes for so many. Build your regular hatchback somewhat taller, and make it look like it’s capable of, if not climbing a mountain pass, at least pulling a horsebox out of a field, and you are onto a winner. By dispensing with four-wheel-drive the purchase price and the fuel economy are kept in check.

There’s now a host of what we’ll call compact crossovers. Alongside the new Honda HR-V sit cars like the Fiat 500X, Ford EcoSport, Mazda CX-3, Mini Countryman, Mitsubishi ASX, Peugeot 2008, Renault Captur, Ssangyong Tivoli, Suzuki SX4 and Vauxhall Mokka. And of course, the car that still sets the benchmark for outlandish styling, Nissan’s Juke.

Quite why anyone buys a Focus/Golf/Astra hatchback any more I am not really sure. The Honda HR-V is the newest kid on the block and it promises to match or better the interior space of these old-school cars while costing hardly any more. The HR-V looks especially good in my eyes, too.

HR-V model range

Honda has gone so far as to acknowledge that UK buyers aren’t really fussed about four-wheel-drive, as long as their car looks like it might have off-road ability. So it’s front-wheel-drive only, even though a 4×4 HR-V is available in other markets. Engine choice is simple, 1.6-litre diesel or 1.5 petrol, with only the latter available with automatic transmission. That’s a black mark against the HR-V immediately, for I like a diesel auto.

Still Honda is renowned for it’s brilliantly easy manual gearchanges, so it’s a manual diesel HR-V we’ve added to the MR test fleet. The diesel range starts at £19,745 for the S, rising to £25k for the 1.6 i-DTEC EX. The equivalent petrol models are around £1,750 cheaper, starting at £18k.

The EX probably won’t be the most popular HR-V, for the SE Navi is almost £3,000 less. You’ll miss out on the heated leather seats, rear-view camera, LED headlights and panoramic sunroof of the EX, but many will live with that for the saving. Automatic transmission adds £1,100 to the cost of the petrol HR-V.

Notepad

Roomy, easy to drive, amazing fuel economy are the positives so far. I am struggling with the integrated Garmin satellite navigation/ infotainment system at the moment, and I haven’t got a clue about “Aha” app integration. But there’s plenty of time to find out.

Specification: 2015 Honda HR-V 1.6 i-DTEC EX manual

Price (October 2015): £24,495
Price with options: £25,470 (metallic paint £525)
Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel
Power: 120hp
Torque: 221lb ft
0-62mph: 10.5 secs
Top speed: 119mph
MPG: 68.9
CO2: 104g/km