The all-electric e-Golf is now on sale in the UK. It’s like a Golf in every sense apart from the lack of an engine. And thus, it’s a very impressive EV.
Our new car reviews help new car buyers research the latest models in plain English. We avoid jargon in our road tests to help you make an informed decision
Infiniti is testing the water with a high performance version of the Q50 saloon. High performance indeed: it uses the same 3.8-litre V6 as the Nissan GT-R…
- £70 million mid-life facelift for Toyota Yaris
- 1000 new parts and three years’ development for firm’s best-selling European car
- Priced from £9995 | On sale now, deliveries August 2014
RICHARD AUCOCK | JULY 2014
If there’s one thing a Toyota is not, it’s poor quality. The Toyota Production System ensures everything it does is near-flawlessly engineered and meticulously built. So imagine the horror in Japan when first reports of the third generation Yaris were dominated by talk of its cheap, plasticky and, shock, poor-quality interior. Career pride destroyed, possibly.
Add in grumbles about the poor ride, plain design and general lack of appeal, and it was straight back to the drawing board for the brand. Literally. And immediately. But this time, for the first time, it was Europe leading the team, not Japan. Swords, fallen, etc.
Somehow, Toyota Europe convinced Toyota HQ to spend big on this facelift. Almost £70 million, in fact, for changes way beyond a normal mid-model update. Japan even tacitly agreed it needed to, that the original car was deficient, that there was plenty to do; we’ve detailed the changes elsewhere. Safe to say this is far more than just a new set of lights.
Toyota’s also brought the Hybrid design in line with the regular 1.0-litre and 1.33-litre petrols and (now nearly pointless) 1.4-litre D-4D. Because Hybrid IS now a volume model, taking 25% of sales this year and set to hit a 40% model mix by 2016. It’s still unique in the sector (c’mon, supermini rivals!) and, now it’s hit the 75g/km CO2 mark, is set to become the core of the model range.
The Yaris is already a strong seller (perhaps surprisingly so), ranking 6th in full year 2013 UK supermini sales and, year to date, sitting fourth in the supermini sales chats. But those sales have been worthy but dull ones, hardly the stuff that makes sector stardom. Enough, says Toyota: the Yaris has now got serious. So has the spend been worth it?
What’s the 2014 Toyota Yaris like to drive?
The base driving level of the Yaris has been transformed. Previously, it was a rather lumpy thing, with a nervous feel but no real engagement to show for it. By softening the springs but fitting an all-new rear torsion beam and expensive new dampers, plus extensive changes to the body structure that make it 20% stiffer, it’s now much more pliant and easygoing.
The harshness in town is much-reduced, it’s quieter over bumps and more settled at speed, both on straights and over undulations. It feels more grown up, like a more expensive car, and reprogrammed EPAS gives firmer, more confident steering without making it stiff or over-heavy.
The pay-off is pronounced body roll if you chuck it about but there’s enough accuracy for you to go quickly without doing this. Besides, it doesn’t fall apart if you do fling it into bends; body lean is no indication of lacking suspension integrity. What it isn’t is fun, though. Sophisticated and sensible, yes, but very much steering towards the Polo rather than the Fiesta.
As before, the 1.33-litre engine really needs stocking as it’s very torque-deficient at low revs. It’s a bit boomy near the redline but the mechanical sound is also quite enthusiastic. Much better, though, is the cheaper 1.0-litre three-pot. A bit of tickover shimmer apart, it’s generally smoother, quieter and more refined, while its more wakeful response to the throttle makes it feel gruntier even if, when revved, you discover it isn’t. Taken from the new Aygo, it feels like a true ‘Yaris’ engine.
The Hybrid is clever in how it so seamlessly blends electric and petrol motion in town, with the hybrid operation being broadened for 2014 thanks to changes in the system’s logic. It feels expensive in town, because of the quietness, and you get used to the CVT-petrol’s slippy-clutch drone when pressing on, although it will get on your nerves if you often drive like that. For most, much of the time it’ll be quieter and more pleasant than a diesel.
We didn’t get to drive the diesel. Not many customers will either; Toyota dealers will (rightly) advise they spend £600 more on the Hybrid instead.
Has Toyota pulled off a great automotive turnaround?
The Yaris looks a lot better than before. The big, shouty ‘X’ front end design helps – quieten it down with some MOR metallic, spice it up with a sport pack that includes black alloys – but detail tweaks throughout, such as a smoothed-out rear end and cool LED lights, help make it look classier.
The interior is leagues apart too. The old one took your breath with how craggy it all was; it was hard to believe it passed into production, so rough, cheap and shiny was it all (no wonder Toyota HQ took the project away from Japan and gave it to Europe). Now, it’s awash with soft-touch plastics, classy finishes and, if simplicity and ergonomic clarity’s your thing, real rational appeal.
Visibility remains excellent, there’s lots of space (the rear’s a bit Tardis-like: space looks so-so but a high seat bench and plenty of space for feet under the front seats means it’s surprisingly comfortable) and the Toyota Touch 2 infotainment system is superb. Big, responsive and four times the resolution of before, choosing the £650 Go nav upgrade genuinely brings the online, app-laden functionality of a premium car.
But a car transformed? Well, it’s good, but it’s still not a class-leader. The Polo has that extra layer of quality and the Fiesta, well, you know how highly we regard that. What the Yaris now does is compete very ably with cars such as the Clio and 208, and provides endless level-headed relevance to those who may be thinking about the aged Corsa.
It is an able, well-judged supermini that does ‘being a Toyota’ extremely well; a genuine level 2 alternative in a way the old one simply was not. And if transformation from an also-ran into a contender is a measure of automotive turnarounds, then Toyota is right up there.
MR VERDICT: 2014 Toyota Yaris
If we were buying a supermini, we’d still hanker after a Fiesta and try to find the extra pennies for a Polo. But we can see the merit in the Yaris now, thanks to its refreshed styling, overhauled interior and far-reaching dynamic changes. It’s a very easy car to live with, just like a Toyota should be; the old one was not.
The USP of an affordable hybrid remains too, and it’s this that lifts the Yaris into four-star ranking territory. To get decent supermini with a high-tech hybrid engine 90+ official mpg, 75g/km AND decent tax-breaks, for just over £16k, is standout stuff. No wonder Toyota’s banking on selling so many. Now, at last, we can justify the decision.
- Ford Fiesta
- Volkswagen Polo
- Renault Clio
- Peugeot 208
- Vauxhall Corsa
The Ford Fiesta is a class act to drive; the supercar of the supermini sector. It’s not the cheapest or most practical, but it doesn’t matter. The Polo is the classiest, the Clio combines Fiesta and Polo talents surprisingly well and the 208 looks cure and is interesting inside. Lots of people drive Corsas, but with the current car, it’s a white goods decision. The firm’s crossing fingers things are different for the imminent new one.
Specification: 2014 Toyota Yaris
Engine 1.0-litre petrol, 1.33-litre petrol, 1.5-litre petrol-electric hybrid, 1.4-litre diesel
Gearbox Five/six-speed manual, CVT, AMT
Price from £9,995 (including £1000 discount)
Torque 70-92lb ft
0-62mph 10.8-15.3 seconds
Top speed 96-109mph
- Introduced as concept to test public reaction
- Likely to undercut competitors if it makes production
- Prices TBA | On sale TBA
New trim variant combines sporty looks and fuel efficient engines; it’s a rival to BMW M3-like M Sport and Audi S4-like S line trims. Priced from £33,995, it’s on sale now
- 195hp diesel version of good-looking GTC Astra ‘coupe’
- Offers twin-turbo performance without the OTT turbo roar of a full-fat VXR
- Priced from £24,175 | On sale now
Richard Aucock | May 2014
The Vauxhall Astra VXR is a bit of an animal. Which is how it should be. So too was the 1980s Astra GTE, and that’s what made it so distinctly appealing alongside the Ford Escort XR3i and Volkswagen Golf GTI. It’s taken Vauxhall a few goes to discover the dose of sophistication that modern buyers demand with the VXR, but the latest one is a very well engineered machine.
But still, with 280hp, an absolute ballistic missile.
For some (many?), it’s a bit too much. One for the enthusiasts only, really. So, for those who want some of its performance potency in a slightly more daily-use package – and who’d like to benefit from the extra fuel efficiency that’s made the Volkswagen Golf GTD such a hit – Vauxhall now has another special GTC variant: the Bi-Turbo.
As the name indicates, it has two turbocharger, and 195hp. Heavens, even the latest Golf GTI only has 220hp in base guise, and its 258lb ft of torque is also dwarfed by the Astra’s 295lb ft.
Vauxhall’s not given it the full on VXR visual makeover but there’s enough bespoke stuff here to mark it out: twin exhausts, Corvette Stingray-style black edge to the rear spoiler, more heavily sculpted front bumper. Add in the already striking GTC shape and you potentially have something rather unexpectedly special.
What is the 2014 Vauxhall Astra GTC Bi-Turbo like to drive?
Vauxhall fits its expensive HiPerStrut front suspension to all Astra GTC. This is proper engineering: it gives the car a well-honed feel because it allows lots of drive to be channelled through the front wheels without the steering throwing a hissy fit.
It’s particularly impressive with the Bi-Turbo.
The engine is nice too. Vauxhall’s 2.0-litre CDTi motors are typically clattery things, but the dual turbos has taken the edge off that racket here. More impressively, it delivers its pulling power with expensive sophistication, driving near-immediately to the throttle from 1,000rpm round to the redline without hesitation or rumble. In use, it feels high-quality, even if the rather baulky and loose six-speed gearbox slightly spoils the sensation.
The flipside to the grumbly gearbox is the sensation of power coming instantly as you change gear. There’s no sense of waiting for the turbo to speed up again and this linearity feels very satisfying, particularly when you’re pedalling hard. It also responds with accuracy to tiny throttle inputs, something that complements the surprising sensitivity of the steering to small, measured inputs.
Is the 2014 Vauxhall Astra GTC Bi-Turbo a better VXR?
The Vauxhall Astra VXR is a 280hp monster. Its 2.0-litre turbo engine has never been subtle and, with that 295lb ft of torque from 2,400-4,500rpm to play with, it can seem demonic (not through an excess of torque steer, we hasten to add – that HiPerStrut again). The Bi-Turbo isn’t as fast or as fearsome as this, but still delivers usefully hot pace – and does so in a more precisely engineered way.
Some who remember woolly old performance Vauxhalls won’t believe this but the sense of precision quality (yes, we said precision) you get from the Bi-Turbo is very pleasing. It’s not Focus-like (or, perhaps, not how the Focus used to be) in its feedback-laden detail. But drivers will still draw pleasure from it, in a similar way they do from an Audi or Mercedes-Benz.
It also doesn’t have the slight Asbo appearance of a VXR (or the sounds effects of one in action). You decide if that’s a good thing or not: we’re big fans of the VXR here…
MR VERDICT: 2014 Vauxhall Astra GTC Bi-Turbo
The classy performance diesel hot hatch of choice is the Volkswagen Golf GTD. But we reckon the Astra GTC Bi-Turbo is just as appealing, mainly through the interesting and very pleasing power delivery of its more-powerful oil-burning motor. A car enthusiast will find a little bit intriguing, and certainly something that shouldn’t bore them.
We know from experience that the Astra VXR is an incredibly fast hot hatch – a level above things like Golf GTIs and Ford Focus STs. But for some, it’s too much of a hotshot. The Bi-Turbo may thus be just the thing for them – and 50mpg potential in daily running rather than half that adds not a little further bit of appeal too…
- Volkswagen Golf GTD
- SEAT Leon FR
- BMW 220d
- Mercedes-Benz CLA 200 CDI
- Audi A3
Specification: 2014 Vauxhall Astra GTC Bi-Turbo
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel
Drivetrain: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Prices from: £24,175
Torque: 295lb ft
0-62mph: 7.8 seconds
Top speed: 139mph
- The successor to the BMW M3 Coupe
- Replaces V8 with straight-six turbo; efficiency and entertainment are key targets
- Priced from £56,635 | On sale 21 June 2014
The new Kia Soul is as quirky as ever: it’s now better to drive but no less standout to look at. The choice remains as before: one of these, or a Nissan Juke?
- Second generation of Kia’s surfboard-style small crossover
- Standout styling and some outstanding family-friendly strengths
- Priced from £12,600 | On sale Now
Richard Aucock | April 2014
The Kia Soul is huge in America; they sell hundreds of thousands there each year. Fitting, really: it was designed in California after all. But for all its utilitarian cool, the first generation model never really caught on in the UK. Buyers like quirky when it’s Nissan Juke-shaped, but not when the compact crossover looks like a Soul.
The incompleteness that pre-modern era Kias used to suffer also didn’t help. It wasn’t as well rounded as cars such as the latest cee’d. Kia’s thus having another go by using the current cee’d platform for its underpinnings (good start) and rolling out honed styling that aims to round off the excess blockiness that Europeans didn’t like.
The latest Soul is now a bit longer and wider, with a longer wheelbase, but it’s a bit lower. It looks more elegant in the metal – still with the a sort of US station wagon starkness, but now with a more deft touch that you’d expect of a Schreyer-era car. There’s nothing deft about some of the colours: this vivid green is particularly striking.
Kia will offer even more from the autumn when the Mixx and Maxx models arrive – contrast roofs, graphics packs, the lot. They’re very expensive though, and we don’t think the Soul has the cult-cool status to carry them off. Best instead consider its family-friendly capabilities instead.
What is the 2014 Kia Soul like to drive?
No great surprises with how the Soul drives, but no nasty surprises either. It’s perfectly able all round thanks to its cee’d-derived platform: it somehow has lost its multi-link rear suspension but as it’s not a B-road blaster, this shouldn’t hinder it too much.
Indeed, it’s more the soft settings Kia’s chosen for the new Soul that will cap any fast charging – but the pay-off for this is a sensible one: the in-town ride quality is excellent. Particularly impressive is its refinement, its ability to take the edge off potholes and cushion things very pleasantly indeed. It’s perhaps even better than the more Germanic Volkswagen Golf here. Just keep it steady when they do start to twist, aye…
Two engines sounds a simple choice but Kia makes it even easier by forgetting to give the 1.6 petrol any torque. The diesel is the clear choice; it exhibits that loose top-end clatter that most Kia 1.6 diesels do, but it’s nicely torquey enough and the six-speed gearbox is effortless to use.
Generally, the Soul is an undemanding and cheery thing to drive. Comfort is high on the agenda and that fits the ethos of the car well. Kia proves that not everything has to be rigidly sporting in its focus, and each time you drive in the city centre, you’ll be thankful.
Is the 2014 Kia Soul a family car winner?
The Soul is theoretically a Nissan Juke alternative but it’s actually a pretty decent alternative to the cee’d, for a little less cash to boot. Whereas the cee’d offers all-round Golf-like talent, the Soul focuses on the stuff families like: ride quality’s one, but so is space, equipment, a highly flexible layout and standout-different styling.
Not everyone will like how it looks but the families that do will love it. Once inside, they have a much better quality dash to enjoy, with a modern-look and slightly SUV appearance to it. Piano black adds a quality touch and, if you go for the expected best-seller Connect Plus, so too does touchscreen sat nav.
Make that widescreen touchscreen nav: Kia’s already-excellent high-res system has been made even bigger and more appealing. It’s coming to other models in time but the Soul previews it and its breadth of functionality will certainly appeal. Other kit count pluses standard on all models include DAB, air con and keyless entry: for the money, the Soul’s very well stocked.
And it’s great to sit in. All seats are high, with loads of drop-down legroom, and massive flat windows give a great view out. There’s a particularly boost to rear legroom over the old car, thanks to a longer wheelbase, and stepping in and out is easy (an important consideration if you live in the tight-to-park city). Newfound practicality to the boot lets you make best use of its near-Golf-like capacity.
MR VERDICT: 2014 Kia Soul
The new Kia Soul isn’t quite the leftfield urban cool machine Kia GB would like (and which it admittedly is in the US). People will still buy Fiat 500s and MINIs for that. They’ll also still buy Nissan Juke in their droves too: it’s expected to still outsell the Soul 10 to 1.
So what’s the appeal of the Soul? In offering something a bit different in the small family car sector, and doing many of the things growing families will value highly. All the lifestyle and ‘radical, man’ surfboard stuff will be lost on them, which may disappoint the marketeers, but if they can get past that and discover the Soul’s gentle charms, it’ll prove an interesting addition to add on the consideration list.
- Nissan Juke
- Ford Focus
- Volkswagen Golf
- Vauxhall Mokka
- Fiat 500L
Specification: 2014 Kia Soul
Engine: 1.6-litre turbodiesel
Drivetrain: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Prices from: £16,400 (1.6 CRDi Connect)
Torque: 192lb ft
Top speed: 112mph
About Motoring Research
Motoring Research is an automotive publisher that’s been delivering the goods to clients since 1986.