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

Jaguar XF R-Sport review

Jaguar XF R-Sport review – 2014 first drive

Jaguar XF R-Sport review

Jaguar introduces new performance-look, CO2-friendly R-Sport trim line

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

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Vauxhall Astra GTC BiTurbo review

Vauxhall Astra GTC Bi-Turbo review – 2014 UK test

Vauxhall Astra GTC BiTurbo review

Bi-Turbo engine makes diesel Astra GTC a leftfield VXR alternative

  • 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?

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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?

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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

Vauxhall_Astra_GTC_10

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…

MR_4_star

 

 

Rivals

  • 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

Power: 195hp

Torque: 295lb ft

0-62mph: 7.8 seconds

Top speed: 139mph

MPG: 57.7mpg

CO2: 129g/km

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BMW M3 Saloon

BMW M3 Saloon review – 2014 first drive

BMW M3 Saloon

  • Four-door model keeps the M3 name alive
  • Is the same as the M4 Coupe underneath, just with a different bodyshell
  • Priced from £56,175 | On sale 21 June 2014

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BMW M4 Coupe review

BMW M4 Coupe review – 2014 first drive

BMW M4 Coupe review

  • 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

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Kia Soul 2014 first drive review

Kia Soul review – 2014 first drive


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?


Kia Soul 2014 first drive review

  • 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.

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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.

K_4835

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.

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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.

MR_3_star

 

 

Rivals

  • 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)

Power: 126hp

Torque: 192lb ft

0-62mph: 10.8

Top speed: 112mph

MPG: 56.5mpg

CO2: 132g/km

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MINI ONE 2014

MINI One review: 2014 first drive

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  • Smallest-engined MINI in a generation
  • Lowers new MINI entry point but doesn’t strip back the sophistication
  • Priced from £13,750 | On sale now

Richard Aucock | April 2014 Read more

Porsche 911 Targa

Porsche 911 Targa first drive review (2014)

Porsche 911 Targa

  • Third bodystyle for Porsche 911 brings back classic Targa semi-cabrio look
  • Ingenious roof operation and appealing styling enhance core 911 appeal
  • Priced from £86,281 | On sale May 2014 Read more
MINI Cooper D review (2014)

MINI Cooper D first drive review (2014)

MINI Cooper D review (2014)

  • All new MINI is the biggest BMW-led evolution since taking over the brand
  • It’s faster, greener, quieter, bigger, smarter, roomier… but still good to drive
  • Priced from £13,750 | On sale now
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    Alpina D3 Bi-Turbo

    Alpina D3 Bi-Turbo review (2014)

    Alpina D3 Bi-Turbo

    • The fastest diesel production car in the world
    • 350hp, 516lb ft of torque; 0-62mph 4.6 seconds AND 53.3mpg
    • Priced from £46,950 | On sale now Read more