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Aston Martin DB11 (2016)

Aston Martin DB11 2016 review: first drive

Aston Martin DB11 (2016)The Aston Martin DB11 is the British firm’s replacement for the aged DB9. A 2+2 GT sports car, it’s the first genuinely all-new Aston in more than a decade and, says CEO Dr Andy Palmer, is perhaps the most important car Aston Martin has ever launched.

The future of the company rests on its broad, voluminous shoulders.

Its arrival heralds the start of Aston Martin’s so-called Second Century Plan. An entire range of cars will spawn from the technological wizardry of the new DB11. In quick succession: a new Vantage in 2017, a new Vanquish in 2018 and its first-ever SUV, the DBX, from 2019.

Video: Aston Martin DB11 in action

Needless to say, the DB11 is beautiful. Crisply cut, with balanced proportions, it’s a substantial and striking machine with an elegant aggression that’s very British, very Aston Martin. No Italian fuss or Germanic iciness here. It’s roughly the same length as a DB9, but wider, with a longer wheelbase. Indeed, it’s striking how ‘old, familiar Aston’ the DB9 looks alongside it (Aston had one at the launch to demonstrate this to us).

Praise the heavens, the interior is all-new, endowed with Mercedes-Benz electronics and an infotainment system that modernises Aston’s stone-age sat nav and control layout at long last. It’s set within a similarly beautiful cabin that will have DB9 owners swooning. The quantum leap Aston Martin’s made here is immeasurable.

With a new and feature-packed aluminium architecture, a new 5.2-litre twin-turbo V12 producing a hefty 608 hp, an eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox, Aston-first electric power steering, plus the sort of aerodynamic trickery new Red Bull pal Adrian Newey would be proud of, the DB11 is formidably accomplished on paper. Here’s how it fares in action…

Tell me what I’ll notice first of all, then

Aston Martin DB11 (2016)

First things first, stepping into that all-new interior. It’s bliss. For starters, you don’t have to step over the handbrake (it’s now electronic), and you’ll also find a bigger, much more open cabin to make life easier. Comfortable, supportive seats (trimmed in the most gorgeous soft leather) go nice and low, pedals and steering wheel are well placed and the glassy, airy cabin has a great view forward and to the side. The old model feels like a cramped cocoon by comparison.

And it feels suitably special, too?

Aston Martin DB11 (2016)

Materials and build quality is exceptional, an enormous step on even from the well-assembled old car. That one used bits from the Ford parts bin. This one uses Mercedes-Benz components, delivering the step-change in integrity you’d imagine. This one also benefits from 2016-era premium feel, not 2005. Boy, it shows. Everything is beautiful to the touch – it’s a really tactile car, the DB11. The datedness of the DB9 is gone and you’ll delight in operating every control.

How about the Mercedes-Benz bits – do they stick out?

Aston Martin DB11 (2016)

The electronic architecture is Mercedes-Benz, but only the infotainment system loudly shouts this. And as previous Aston infotainment systems have been mediocre, suddenly having an S-Class system to hand can only be a good thing. If you drive a Benz, you’ll recognise the column stalks, some of the centre console graphics and a few other details. But it really doesn’t look like a Merc-ified Aston. The way Aston’s given the TFT electronic dials its unique own look is top notch. In the middle of it all is a new Aston centrepiece – a glass starter button.

What does it sound like?

Aston Martin DB11 (2016)

Yes, a glass starter button. You don’t have to insert the glass keyfob like on the old car, so starting it up is immeasurably less fiddly. So press it: ah, there’s the Aston Martin exhaust thwap, sounding like it’s clearing its throat as it fires up. There are twin turbos, but they don’t numb the start-up drama much (however if you press and hold the button, you can now have silent start – the neighbours will love the DB11, 5am commuters).

It may sound good, but is it quick?

Aston Martin DB11 (2016)

The DB11 is extremely quick. This is a 2+2 GT car, remember – but one that does 0-62mph in 3.9 seconds and has a 200 mph top speed (not many Astons have ever hit the big 2-double-0). Its 608 hp output makes it the most powerful DB Aston in history (how’s that for kudos) and its potency is further aided by the quick wits of a ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox. It’s the same transmission seen in so many BMWs, Mercedes-Benz and Jaguars, and gives the DB11 a responsive alacrity unlike any previous model. And there’s more…

The old 6.0 V12 was a bit peaky. Do you have to rev this hard?

Aston Martin DB11 (2016)

Perhaps the biggest step on for the DB11’s engine is its pulling power. The twin turbos mean the engine responds low down in the rev range, rather than demanding a few downshifts and a howl of revs. This makes it much the faster car in everyday driving. 516lb ft of torque is there from 1,500 – 5,000 rpm; surge is there with just small brushes of the accelerator. If you’re used to the old car, you’ll swear this has more than 608 hp (or weighs less than 1,770 kg). You can still rev it, and the noise is glorious, with power like a waterfall. You just don’t have to in order to make progress.

Have turbos spoiled the purity of the V12?

Aston Martin DB11 (2016)

You’re vaguely aware of the turbo whoosh, but they don’t spoil the effect of the V12; there’s still enough burble getting through. They don’t hoarsely rasp and whistle at higher revs like in some other performance cars either – it’s a very subtle turbo installation. Besides, it’s still a 5.2-litre V12 feeding them, so there’s still a lot of natural shove from the motor. The response to the accelerator is also sharp, even if the syringe-like precision of the old car isn’t quite there. The natural V12 noise is, varying as you go on and off the throttle like real noise does. Perfect.

Tell me about the important bit: how does it drive?

Aston Martin DB11 (2016)

For years, Aston Martins have been variations on a similar theme. Muscular GT cars with big engines, stiff chassis and simple manners. The DB11 is a great leap on in terms of complexity and functionality, and the driving experience alters accordingly. But in a positive way. This car has more depth of ability than any previous Aston, a greater feeling of substance, but still feels like an Aston Martin. There’s no great Ferrari-like leap into edgier dynamics and ultra-fast steering here, for example. Rather, it’s a thoroughly updated take on what you expect a big rear-drive, front-engined Aston to deliver. Well, technically, front-mid-engined; the V12’s cylinders are now set fully behind the front axle, clearly to good effect…

What does it handle like?

Aston Martin DB11 (2016)

Can a car be described as elegant through corners? The Aston Martin DB11 can. It’s such a measured, roll-free machine, entering bends cleanly with firm support from the steering and no softness from the suspension, never behaving with anything less than perfect manners. It’s fingertippy, much easier to glide and guide than the wrists-and-elbows DB9, and the taut finesse this big, muscular 608hp car displays is distinctive and very rewarding.

You described the old DB9’s steering as divine, I recall. What’s this like?

Aston Martin DB11 (2016)

The steering is very accurate and linear. This is Aston’s first use of electric power steering, and it’s pretty good, with a calm and natural feel. The ‘chatter’ of the old car is gone, sadly, so enthusiasts will feel some of the detail and engagement is unfortunately no more. But most owners will appreciate the crisp, precise directness of this new system.

But it’s certainly big. How does it cope with that through bends?

Aston Martin DB11 (2016)

The DB11 is undoubtedly a large car. It’s very wide, at 1,940 mm – that’s almost Range Rover width – and 4,739 mm makes it jolly long as well. Thankfully, the steering’s accuracy means it’s not intimidating or clumsy on narrow roads, while the feedback through the stiff platform means you don’t have to second-guess exactly where the extremities are. This is sports-car-like feedback, the sort of clarity you choose a car like this for. The DB11’s new platform has enhanced the level and quality of information being sent back to the driver. Which you’ll be thankful for on that notoriously narrow but fun backroad you so enjoy driving.

Does it cruise as a good Aston Martin should?

Aston Martin DB11 (2016)

The DB11 has adaptive dampers that give measured body control. It’s relaxed and flows nicely in normal GT mode, is tighter in Sport and tighter still in Sport+ (adjust it via buttons on the steering wheel). But even the sportiest mode, it isn’t overly aggressive. Chassis whizz Matt Becker says it’s pointless to make cars over-stiff as they’re meant to be for the road, not the track. So, with that ultra-long-legged engine, sublime seats, wonderful interior, rock-solid stability and gliding body control, it’s a very fine GT car indeed. (Well, if you overlook the excessive wind noise from the door mirrors at speed: that’ll be fixed for production cars, promises Aston. Check that is so, future owners.)

And is it a fine-riding GT car?

Aston Martin DB11 (2016)

Like all good British cars, the DB11 is adept across broken, undulating roads. You may well be driving sinuous routes more quickly than you first realise, such is the engine’s willingness to deliver drive, but the surprise will be from the speedo rather than the car checking or chocking clumsily. The one observation is, at times, a stiff reaction to Italian-grade potholes and expansion joints. This stiffness you’d forgive in a Ferrari, but it seems to spoil the calmness of the DB11. We know final tweaking is still underway: perhaps this can be tuned out. We’ll make a fuller judgement when we drive it in the UK.

Is it still a driver’s car?

Aston Martin DB11 (2016)

Compared to the DB11, the old DB9 is about old-school fun and feedback. As its name suggests, the DB11 is a couple of generations on, and some of the stuff drivers liked on old cars doesn’t really fit with modern cars, which have quieter steering, better stability, more pull and less need to for revs. They’ll miss this, but surely will appreciate the far stiffer and more able platform, grip and inch-perfect precision, plus the unruffled nature no matter how hard you fling it down nasty, twisty roads. Don’t forget the reserves of instant-access power from that great, great V12 engine either. Details such as the firm, meaty brake pedal, snap-crack of the paddleshift gearchanges and ease of control when you pass on beyond its high limits are also sure to raise a grin.

I hear it has some clever aerodynamics

Aston Martin DB11 (2016)

You’ll notice the DB11 doesn’t have a rear spoiler. Instead it has an AeroBlade – a virtual spoiler. Air enters around the rear window, is accelerated and then shoots out of a narrow outlet in the rear deck. Nobody’s ever done this away from the F1 circuit before. Judging by the rock-solid stability at Italian high speeds, it works.

Why are the cut-outs around the front side strake so big?

Aston Martin DB11 (2016)

Cleverer aerodynamics exist at the front; the DB11’s surfaces are so simple and uncluttered because the fancy aerodynamics are hidden beneath. Called ‘Curlicue’, it releases high-pressure air from within the wheelarch, which reduces front-end lift. It presses the front wheels into the ground more positively, without the need for unbecoming wings and spoilers.

You’ve seen it in the metal, what are your favourite bits about the styling?

Aston Martin DB11 (2016)

The DB11 is a striking car, much sharper and form-like than the flatter, more arrow-like DB9. I love the drama of the substantial front end – a clamshell bonnet means it’s not spoiled by shutlines – and the just-visible aerodynamics inlets front and rear are discreet but geeky touches. The shapeliness of the side is a treat to run your eyes over, and I personally think the slightly retro DB6-like height and cut to the rear, modernised with those ultra-narrow LED lights, is great.

What’s the everyday stuff like?

Aston Martin DB11 (2016)

It’s a roomier, more grown up car to be in, with better ergonomics, more advanced controls, better stowage and even an oddball electric cubbyhole in the centre console. Mercedes-Benz infotainment is magnificent – a complete quantum leap for Aston owners – and using a Mercedes-Benz column stalk is much nicer than an old Ford one. It’s better in the back for small children, although no more than that. Any of the fully integrated sound systems are excellent. Even the boot is a handy 270 litres – again, this will delight former owners.

So it’s a package that works?

Aston Martin DB11 (2016)

The DB11 is a car that oozes wellbeing. It’s skilled on the road, easier to drive and blessed with a far more flexible engine, but it’s the overall step on in almost every area that really makes it a lush GT car and ties it all together so well. Aston hasn’t been tempted to go and make something space-age or radically different from what went before and the DB11 is all the better for it. But how much better?

Aston Martin DB11 (2016): VERDICT – FIVE STARS

Aston Martin DB11 (2016)

The Aston Martin DB11 is a hugely accomplished car. It needed to be a two-generation step on: it is. The DB11 isn’t a radical diversion for Aston Martin, because one wasn’t needed. We simply needed a newer, better GT car. With the DB11, we’ve got that. Aston hasn’t missed with this one.

Aston Martin DB11 (2016): FOR

Elegant styling, simply beautiful interior, world class infotainment, natural feel of the addictive twin-turbo engine, huge breadth of abilities, step-on sophistication but doesn’t feel muzzled by tech, handles as well as you’d expect an Aston Martin would

Aston Martin DB11 (2016): AGAINST

The DB has become a very large car for 2016 (and a rather expensive one), there are some sharp edges to the ride, currently too much wind noise at speed, enthusiasts will mourn the loss of rawness (although the people who buy them likely won’t…)

Lamborghini Huracan: Two-Minute Road Test

Lamborghini Huracan: Two-Minute Road Test

 

Lamborghini Huracan: Two-Minute Road Test

Wedge-shaped, ferociously fast and unashamedly extrovert, the Huracan is Lamborghini’s ‘junior’ supercar. It replaced the Gallardo (the best-selling Lambo ever) in 2014, and sits beneath the Aventador in the Italian marque’s two-car range.

Huracan buyers can choose from a closed-roof coupe or open-top Spyder, plus two engine configurations: 580hp rear-wheel-drive LP 580-2 (£156,575) or 610hp four-wheel-drive LP 610-4 (£181,895). The LP 610-4 coupe is the car tested here.

What are its rivals?

What are its rivals?

As ever, Lamborghini’s main rival comes from nearby Maranello. The newly-turbocharged 670hp Ferrari 488 GTB trumps the Huracan for horsepower, and is a sharper tool for track days.

McLaren’s highly-acclaimed 570hp 570S and new 570GT ‘hatchback’ also pose a serious threat. Plus, of course, there’s the venerable Porsche 911. In range-topping Turbo S spec, the Porsche offers 580hp and a price tag some £36,000 lower than the Lamborghini.

What’s it like to drive?

What's it like to drive?

The Huracan is an assault on the senses. The first time you bury the throttle, it literally takes your breath away: a tsunami of V10 fury that thumps you in the back and batters your eardrums. Anyone worried that Lamborghini has been sanitised since becoming part of the Volkswagen Group can rest easy.

That naturally-aspirated V10 dominates the driving experience, lurking behind your left shoulder like Hannibal Lecter in his cell – calm and controlled, yet ready to explode at any moment. You need a will of iron to drive this car sensibly, and stay on the right side of the law.

Fortunately, the Huracan isn’t simply a one-trick bull. Switch the drive mode selector to Strada (road), leave the dual-clutch gearbox in auto and you’ll discover a car that’s surprisingly easy to drive. Yes, visibility is virtually non-existent through the louvred rear window, but large door mirrors and a reversing camera help with parking. And you needn’t be terrified of city width restrictors – unlike in the wide-boy Aventador.

Four-wheel-drive traction makes the LP 610-4 feel planted and confidence-inspiring on open roads. The steering is direct and nicely-weighted (our car had the optional variable-ratio Lamborghini Dynamic Steering) and the mid-engined chassis is beautifully balanced. Those who have driven the Huracan on-track say it understeers in extremis. But most drivers will rarely, if ever, reach those limits on the road.

Fuel economy and running costs

Fuel economy and running costs

You do know this is a 610hp supercar, right? With no turbochargers to help its cause, the Huracan is less efficient than some rivals – although we suspect few owners will care.

Official figures are 22.6mpg (we managed around 15mpg in our test), with CO2 emissions of 290g/km. The latter equates to £1,120 car tax (VED) in the first year, then £515 a year thereafter. All Lamborghinis come with a generous four-year, unlimited-mileage warranty in the UK, but be prepared to budget big for servicing every 12 months or 9,000 miles.

Is it practical?

What's it like to drive?

Again, this is hardly the Huracan’s strong suit. The small boot under the bonnet holds 70 litres – enough for a couple of overnight bags, provided you pack light – plus you could squeeze a small amount of shopping onto the narrow shelf behind the seats. A Porsche 911 is much more practical.

On the plus side, the Huracan’s compact dimensions, comfortable seats and motorway refinement mean you really could drive it every day (and why wouldn’t you?). Unlike Lamborghinis of old, it doesn’t make a journey feel like a physical workout. At 5:30pm on a wet Friday evening, you’ll probably be thankful for that.

What about safety?

What about safety?

Euro NCAP doesn’t crash-test supercars, so we can’t tell you how the Huracan stacks up in an accident. However, this Italian supercar offers decidedly Germanic build quality – no surprise, perhaps, considering it’s closely related to the Audi R8.

With 610hp on tap, undoubtedly the greatest threat to safety is your right foot. At least this particular Huracan has four-wheel drive. The two-wheel-drive LP 580-2 would certainly be a trickier beast on wet roads.

Which version should I go for?

Which version should I go for?

If you’re the sort of person who wears dedicated driving shoes and pores over Nurburgring lap times, you’ll doubtless prefer the purity of the LP 580-2. However, we’d have our Huracan with four-wheel drive.

Likewise, the Huracan coupe is probably a slightly sharper steer. But when you’re driving one of the most incredible-sounding cars on sale, why not go for the Spyder? The snaps, crackles and pops of that mighty V10 don’t deserve to be muffled.

Lamborghini can personalise each car to suit your personal taste – or lack of – and most customers will spend five figures on optional extras. Essentials include the front-lift kit (£5,148 – needed to clear speed humps!), rear-view camera and parking sensors (£2,940), DAB radio (£636) and Bluetooth phone connectivity (£732).

Should I buy one?

Should I buy one?

Driving the Huracan was an experience to savour. The looks, the noise, the performance… everything about it screams ‘supercar’.

If we’re being critical, the mechanically-similar Audi R8 is cheaper, has a nicer interior and is almost as exciting to drive. And the Ferrari 488 GTB is, by all accounts, a superior all-rounder. However, it’s the Lamborghini that turns most heads; it’s pure street theatre.

We can’t imagine ever getting bored of the Huracan. It’s a car that constantly stimulates the synapses. As personal transport turned up to 11, there’s little to touch it. And for many, that’s what supercars are all about.

Pub fact

Pub fact

You can’t have failed to notice our Huracan is painted in bright ‘Giallo Midas’ – a £5,360 option. In fact, yellow is the most popular colour for Lamborghinis ever, a fact celebrated by Aventador LP720-4 50 Anniversario.

This ‘Giallo Maggio’ yellow special edition was launched in 2013 to mark 50 years of Lamborghini. You could even opt for a yellow interior, in case the standard car was too subtle…

Unlocked: 2016 Volkswagen Tiguan driven on road (and off it)

Unlocked: 2016 Volkswagen Tiguan driven on road (and off it)

Unlocked: 2016 Volkswagen Tiguan driven on road (and off it)

Guess what – SUVs are continuing to boom in popularity, and VW’s RAV4-rival is an increasingly big deal for the German brand. The firm was slightly late to the party when the original model arrived in 2007, and sales got off to a relatively slow start – even just five years ago Volkswagen was shifting just 8,000 a year in the UK.

Since then, the Tiguan (and indeed the crossover market as a whole) has got increasingly popular, and 2015 saw the model enjoy its best year for sales – with 21,889 registered in the UK. That means more Tiguans were sold in the outgoing car’s final year on sale than ever before – unusual for any manufacturer, and unprecedented for Volkswagen, says the firm. It’s now the third most popular VW in the UK, behind the Golf and Polo, and sits alongside the Up and Passat as one of the ‘key pillars’ of the Volkswagen portfolio in the UK.

We first saw the new Tiguan in the metal at last year’s Frankfurt Motor Show, and have now visited Volkswagen’s homeland for a drive of the SUV. What did we learn?

Unlocked: 2016 Volkswagen Tiguan driven on road (and off it)

It’s no Land Rover, but the new Volkswagen Tiguan can go off road

No one really buys this kind of SUV to take it off road, but Volkswagen says that three quarters of current Tiguan buyers opt for the 4Motion model – that’s far more than the segment average of around 50%. So there might be case that the Tiguan has to have a degree of off-road ability.

To show this off, VW took us to a pop-up off-road site at a skatepark on the edge of Berlin. It was all a bit edgy and lifestyle, but it gave us a good opportunity to do what very few owners will do – try the Tiguan off road.

OK, we’ll admit – the first gravelly incline we came to resulted in a bit of a #fail. You can’t take quite the same liberties as you can in something like a Land Rover Discovery Sport, meaning it’s sometimes advised to get a little bit of a run up… while the traction control can become more of a hindrance rather than a help when things get a bit tricky.


That’s until you select ‘off-road’ mode in the Tiguan’s 4Motion Active Control system. This tweaks the accelerator, gearbox and steering to make them all more suitable for negotiating challenging obstacles. The Tiguan doesn’t intend to be a serious off roader, but we managed to clear axle twisters and some interesting ascents and descents without any real trouble.

As is now commonplace, power is directed to the Tiguan’s front wheels under normal driving. When it detects the likelihood of a wheel spinning up, 4Motion shifts power to the rear wheels within a fraction of second, via VW’s clever Haldex coupling. It’s interesting to witness this working off road… tackling a slippery ascent, you can feel power shifting to the rear to give you a helping hand. While most owners won’t do this kind of driving, you can imagine it being just as useful in the snow, on a muddy campsite, or when tackling challenging roads with a trailer attached.

Talking of trailers… the 4×4 Tiguan has a towing capacity of 2,500kg. That’s a pretty hefty caravan.

Unlocked: 2016 Volkswagen Tiguan driven on road (and off it)

It’s a bit like a Golf

Remember that advert, ‘like a Golf?’. The Volkswagen Tiguan is very much a bigger, slightly off-roady Golf. That’s because, like most things in the VW Group line-up (but the first time for an SUV), the new Tiguan is based on the adaptable MQB platform.

The interior is as upmarket as you’d expect from VW – a 12.3-inch infotainment screen is the focus of the cabin, while the Tiguan also gets the clever virtual cockpit, first seen on the Audi TT and now being rolled out across the Volkswagen Group range. This replaces conventional dials with a digital screen behind the steering wheel, and can also show a map with sat-nav directions.

Unlocked: 2016 Volkswagen Tiguan driven on road (and off it)

Unique to the Tiguan, the infotainment screen can show an off-road display. This uses cameras located around the car to help you if you’re tackling challenging obstacles – and even view a 3D view of car from above. It’s not particularly new – we’ve seen similar before, for example Nissan’s Around View monitor, but it works well if you do have to tackle tricky obstacles in the Tiguan.

Search hard, and you will find the odd hard plastic that might disappoint if you’ve opted for one of the more expensive Tiguans, but it’s largely an upmarket experience.

The new model is bigger than before – 26mm longer than its predecessor, and VW has concentrated on making it more comfortable for drivers and passengers alike. It sports a new seat design (‘ergoactive’, in Vee-dub lingo), while the rear bench slides back and forth to allow up to 615 litres of luggage space. Fold it, and that increases to 1,655.

Unlocked: 2016 Volkswagen Tiguan driven on road (and off it)

95% of buyers will opt for the diesel – and that’s OK

On the Tiguan’s European launch, we were greeted with a line-up of high-spec, high-power petrol models, finished in this case in Habanero Orange with 20-inch alloys. While these look the part, and it’s tempting to take near-GTI levels of performance in a sensible crossover package, the majority of buyers will opt for one of the sensible 2.0-litre diesels on offer.

We tried it in both 150hp (that’s the silver one in the pictures) and 190hp guises, with four-wheel drive and the DSG automatic gearbox, and a 150hp two-wheel-drive manual.

The lesser-powered 150hp 2.0-litre will be adequate for most, hitting 62mph in 9.3 seconds, while the 190hp version is preferable for Autobahn storming. Our test route close to Berlin took us on a section of the derestricted Autobahn where the Tiguan swiftly yet undramatically accelerated safely up to speeds that would be in licence-losing territory in the UK. Even at these speeds, the Tiguan felt composed and wasn’t out of it depths hustling with the Germans in their V6 diesels in the outside lane.

Around 40% of buyers will opt for the seven-speed auto ’box in the UK, reckons Volkswagen. It’s one of the best automatic gearboxes on the market, taking next to no time to find the right gear, and really adds to the premium feel that the Tiguan exudes. The six-speed manual is equally slick – with a short throw and light clutch.

On twistier roads than the Autobahn, the Tiguan is safe and predictable if bordering on dull. While that might be a criticism if we were driving a hot Golf, the Tiguan isn’t meant to be an exciting steer. The steering is heavy enough to provide reassurance, but it can be made lighter around town by pressing a button.

What really impresses about the Tiguan is its Germanic levels of refinement. Very little engine noise makes its way into the cabin, and there is no noticeable vibration through the steering wheel and pedals.

Unlocked: 2016 Volkswagen Tiguan driven on road (and off it)

The Tiguan has some really funky angles – and that means it’s good on fuel

A man called Klaus Bischoff and his team are responsible for the Tiguan’s design. You can look at the pictures and decide whether it works for you, but to us, it looks pretty spot on. Much sharper than its predecessor, the new model sits 30mm lower yet is 30mm wider, meaning it’s got (cliche clang) an aggressive stance.

It adopts a similar grille to that features on the new Passat, meaning it sports VW’s new family face (‘like a razor blade’, one Twitter user commented when we posted a pic).

Naturally, the manufacturer has concentrated on using weight-saving measures to make it lighter than its predecessor – despite its bulkier dimensions. In some models it weighs as much as 53kg less than before, while the Tiguan’s aggressive profile makes it fairly slippery – boasting a Cd figure of 0.32. That’s a 13% improvement over the old model’s 0.37.

The result is fuel economy ranging from 58.9mpg in the 2.0-litre 150hp turbodiesel with two-wheel drive, to 38.2mpg for the 180hp 2.0-litre TSI petrol. CO2 emissions officially start at 125g/km, resulting in £110 a year road tax.

Unlocked: 2016 Volkswagen Tiguan driven on road (and off it)

It’s more expensive than the SEAT Ateca and that could be an issue

Initially the Volkswagen Tiguan will start at a lofty £25,530 in the UK, but VW is promising an entry-level model (a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol) in the near future, set to start at £22,480. While that isn’t outrageous for a car with more than a hint of premium, it could face some tough competition from within VW Group.

The SEAT Ateca made its debut at the Geneva Motor Show, and is set to go on sale in May with prices starting at £17,990. Sure, we’re used to how things work at VW Group, and people don’t generally mind paying that little more for a VW with a slightly more upmarket feel (but not premium enough to tread on Audi’s toes). But the Ateca could potentially be very similar to the Tiguan, sharing the same MQB platform and engines – and might even offer a bit of pizzazz that the Tiguan lacks.

And then there’s the likes of the ever-popular Nissan Qashqai (£18,545) and Ford Kuga (19,995) – both of which sell in huge numbers and are cheaper than the Tiguan. OK, the Volkswagen starts to sound more competitive when you compared its price tag with Japanese rivals such as the Honda CR-V (£22,775), Mazda CX-5 (£23,195), Toyota RAV4 (£23,695), but it doesn’t scream ‘bargain’ in a very tough sector.

Unlocked: 2016 Volkswagen Tiguan driven on road (and off it)

2016 Volkswagen Tiguan: early verdict

We’re looking forward to giving the Volkswagen Tiguan a more thorough test on UK roads, but first impressions are favourable. To an extent, the new Tiguan is exactly as we’ve come to expect from Volkswagen. The interior will feel familiar to anyone used to VW interiors – meaning high levels of quality and comfort, while the levels of refinement are impressive.

The Volkswagen Tiguan won’t give a traditional off-roader a hard time if you feel the desire to take it on a green lane exploration of a weekend, but the 4Motion’s clever 4×4 technology will provide reassurance if you have to tackle snowy or muddy conditions.

The big ‘but’ is the price. At £22,500 for the entry-level model, while you can comfortably spend more than £30,000, you have to justify it over rivals from within VW Group and elsewhere. Based on the Tiguan’s refinement and upmarket feel, that should be pretty easy to do – but we’ll be interested to see how the SEAT Ateca compares.

For:
Looks great
Quality interior
Good engines

Against:
Expensive
A teensy bit dull
Just how good will the SEAT Ateca be?

2016 Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0 TDI 150: specification

Price (from): £25,530
Engine: 2.0-litre turbodiesel
Gearbox: 6-speed manual, 7-speed auto
Power: 150hp
Torque: 251lb ft
0-62mph: 9.3 seconds
Top speed: 129mph
Fuel economy: 58.9mpg
CO2 emissions: 146g/km

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

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV 2015

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV review: UK first drive

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV 2015Talk about right car, right time. When Mitsubishi launched the Outlander PHEV in spring 2014, Britain’s plug-in hybrid sector hadn’t broken the 1,000 annual sales mark. A year after launch, Mitsubishi had clocked up 10,000 sales and the Outlander had taken over 8 in 10 of them. It’s defined the sector for many thousands of buyers and has transformed the Mitsubishi brand in the process. It’s been an enormous success.

VIDEO: Boris Johnson test drives new Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

Being able to sell it for the same price as a diesel helped enormously: this was the UK Mitsubishi management team’s masterstroke, and the rest of the market still hasn’t caught up. Indeed, it was enough to help us overlook the Outlander PHEV’s weaknesses: hard to quibble too much about a plasticky interior and iffy refinement when you’ve a gamechanger on your hands.

But now, 18 months on, the market is starting to catch up. It’s still not there yet, Mitsubishi proudly points out, but it’s still launched its response in readiness: the new, much-improved 2016 Outlander PHEV facelift. It is, says the firm, one of the most detailed and far-reaching model year upgrades it’s ever rolled out.


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Pleasingly, it’s a facelift that looks a lot different to its predecessor. No squinting to make out tweaked grille shapes here. The new ‘dynamic shield’ front end is a new Mitsubishi family look and it’s very striking, particularly the mean-looking headlights with built in LED running lights and black-finish central section.

There are new wheels, new colours and, at the rear, new LED tail lamps that are broader, smarter and classier. It gives the Outlander PHEV a much more upmarket appearance, adding substance to the slightly weedy, tippy-toe look of the old car (although it’s a pity the slightly orange-peely paint and tinny clang when you close the doors remain).

The improvements aren’t just skin deep either and, although prices have gone up by £1,000, equipment levels have been boosted to compensate for this. More importantly, the gamechanger has upped its game throughout and is now a plug-in hybrid pioneer you need make no excuse for.

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV: on the road

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV 2015

Even if you don’t read the nuances of Mitsubishi’s thorough suspension makeover for the Outlander PHEV, you’ll appreciate the benefits, for it’s a notably more pleasant car to ride in and steer. There’s retuned power steering, new anti-roll bars plus upgraded springs and dampers, blending to give more stability, less wallowy handling and a quieter, more composed ride.

It now feels like the springs are better able to use their full travel to absorb bumps and the extra smoothness at speed is welcome. While it doesn’t steer like a sports car – it’s too slow and remote for that – the extra bite and positivity in the system is reassuring and it all makes the Outlander PHEV feel more accurate and less cumbersome to drive.

The powertrain hasn’t changed: there’s still a 60hWh motor for the front wheels and an identical one for the rear, making this the only genuine electric-drive four-wheel drive on sale. It’s the only one whose stability control system works in full EV mode and the only one with active yaw control taken from the Mitsubishi Evo supersaloon.

So it’s a sophisticated drive that, if the battery is full, will operate largely as an EV. It will run up to 70mph with the engine off, so long as you don’t floor it, and only when the batteries are depleted will the engine provide EV charge.

Because of this, and the fact those two motors combine to produce an equivalent of 164hp, the Outlander PHEV is a surprisingly swift thing. The 0-25mph time is actually 2 seconds faster than before, thanks to system improvements, making it appreciably livelier even than its predecessor.

This all comes with typical electric-drive near-silence that’s only punctuated when you come across steeper hills and the cammy-sounding engine starts up. It’s not a particularly loud engine, it’s just that the prior silence magnifies it: Mitsubishi’s worked near-tirelessly on noise isolation to quieten it down though, so it’s likely to be less anything than before when the batteries are flat.

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV: on the inside

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV 2015

Cheap. That’s how the old Outlander felt. But no more. It’s not quite a Lexus but it’s now a very nicely finished Japanese-look interior indeed. Think upmarket Honda, with similarly exacting fit and finish too.

There are more soft-touch plastics, less shiny stuff and even some nice stitched material for the dial pack. There are fewer buttons, more premium-look trim panels and a very classy-looking central console setup that’s almost as tactile as a Japanese hi-fi.

Mitsubishi has fitted comfier new seats (although they’re still too short in the swab and lacking in side support), smarter-looking door trims, new (and now heated) steering wheel, a latest-gen infotainment system that boots up in half the time and even fancy new seat trim called C-Tec that keeps you warm in the winter and cool in the summer (“but don’t ask us how it does it,” adds Mitsubishi).

It retains all the five-seat spaciousness you get from a purpose-built plug-in hybrid platform; only the lack of seven seats can be considered a compromise, because the boot is rather massive – just 3% smaller than the diesel Outlander, and only that’s because it doesn’t have as much underfloor stowage. Middle-row seat space is vast and big, glassy windows further enhances the spaciousness. It’s a great family five-seater.

What proves a big step on is the improved isolation noise, vibration and harshness. Mitsubishi has made more than 30 technical changes, from closed-up panel gaps and isolated door mirrors, to more noise insulation within the front wings and thicker glass for the windows. Even the front air dam is new, so it flows air away from the front doors to reduce booming.

It’s effective stuff. The 2016 Outlander PHEV is appreciably more refined, with the near-premium gently-damped quietness you’d hope from an electric-drive car. Yes, the roar of the engine when the batteries run down will intrude, but less to than it did and there are two counterarguments even here: at least it’s not a diesel, and at least you don’t have to stop and plug it into the mains…

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV: running costs

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV 2015

Some commentators are critical of the Outlander PHEV, calling it a 156mpg test cycle star that doesn’t produce such glittering average fuel economy in the real world. Mitsubishi’s response? Depends how you use it. Drive it an an EV and utilise its potential full electric range of 32.5 miles, and you could theoretically get infinite mpg (the firm knows of some customers who’ve covered 4,000 miles and only put fuel in once).

Drive up to 50 miles a day – well above the national average – and you’ll still get significantly more than 156mpg. Whereas if you drive longer motorway journeys, you won’t get 156mpg but you’ll still get mpg comparable to a diesel Outlander. Customers are explained all this when they buy it and not many, if they charge it frequently and use the systems to their full, have cause for economy grumbles.

Tricks to extend the battery life include Mitsubishi’s unique paddleshift brake regeneration system: flick between one of five levels of regen power to substitute for the brakes (the rear brake lights now come on when you use the two most powerful settings). There’s also a Mitsubishi app that lets you pre-heat the cabin before you get in – heating while it’s still connected to the mains means the heater doesn’t drain the battery.

Mitsubishi says it’s the most powerful Plug-in Car Grant-eligible hybrid car you can buy, one of the biggest and most practical, and certainly the only one that offers genuine four-wheel drive ability. Despite this, CO2 emissions have been cut further, to 42g/km; mindful of dieselgate and NOx emissions, it’s both potentially zero emissions in town and, being a cleaner-run petrol, likely to emit less of them when the engine is running.

Yes, prices are up, says Mitsubishi, but the car’s worth it: besides, the extra kit is compensation – posh GX4h models get LED headlights, 360-degree cameras, a heated steering wheel and fancy LED footwell lights; a new GX3h+ variant sits above the base car to add a range-extending pre-heater, Mitsubishi app and heated front seats for a manageable £1,000 more than standard.

Oh, and don’t forget, adds Mitsubishi, it’s also road tax free, exempt from the London Congestion Charge and likely to come with plentiful other benefits as the government and local councils start to reflect on eco-related motoring taxation policies.

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV: verdict

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV 2015

Mitsubishi has given us a better Outlander PHEV that’s now a genuinely good-to-live-with everyday eco wagon. It’s classier, better quality, more refined and nicer to drive; the drivetrain itself remains clever and effective, and the on-paper eco gains open eyes slighty wider even than before.

It’s not a sports SUV, and it doesn’t have the luxury of a Land Rover Discovery Sport, admits Mitsubishi: neither does it have the £6k price spec-for-spec price hike, either. And the Land Rover isn’t an EV with an onboard range extender; the Land Rover consumes three times as much fuel, emits three times as much CO2. So do all the Outlander PHEV’s other rivals: it remains unique in the marketplace.

Because of this, and because it’s even more able than before, it thus remains highly recommended, particularly if you’re the average Brit with the average daily commute and easy access to a charging point. If you are, and you’ve £30k to spend on a green family five-seater, the Outlander PHEV could be perfect.

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV: specifications

Engine: 2.0-litre petrol / 2x60kWh electric

Price: From £29,249 (including Plug-in Car Grant)

Power: 164hp

Torque: 244lb ft

0-62mph: 11.0secs

Top speed: 106mph

Fuel economy: 156mpg

CO2 emissions: 42g/km

Retro Road Test: Porsche 914

Retro Road Test: Porsche 914

Retro Road Test: Porsche 914The Porsche Boxster reinvigorated the company’s fortunes in 1996 and has gone on to be an unmitigated success. But, 27 years earlier, an entry-level Porsche with the same mid-engined template went on sale.

The Porsche 914 was launched at the Frankfurt Motor Show in October 1969 and its flatly-styled roadster body, twin luggage compartments and removable targa roof panel were a world away from the curvy 911 coupé.


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Born of a Volkswagen/Porsche joint project to serve the needs of both companies, the 914 was built by Karmann and fitted with a range of Volkswagen-derived air-cooled four-cylinder engines and Porsche-engineered six-cylinder units.

While seen by many as a failure, the baby Porsche was in production from 1969-1976 and was considered a sales success, with 118,962 examples of the two-seater made. Rare in the UK, over 80 per cent of 914s ended up in the US.

What are its rivals?

Retro Road Test: Porsche 914

The 914 was one of the first small sports cars to embrace the mid-engined idea. The little Porsche’s most notable competition was the Fiat X1/9 (pictured above) which shared the German car’s mid-engined layout and flat nose, but added a Triumph TR7-like wedge silhouette.

The Matra 530 pre-dated the Porsche and was another small two-seater which used the same configuration, while other competition included the front-engined, rear-wheel drive Fiat 124 Coupé/Spider as well as the Datsun 240Z and Opel GT. The MGC and Triumph TR6 meanwhile had the six-cylinder 914/6 in their sights.

What engine does it use?

Retro Road Test: Porsche 914

Are you sitting down? If not, take a pew: we could be here a while. During the 914’s short six-year life, there were a bewildering 10 engine options. Early four-cylinder 914/4s borrowed an 80bhp fuel-injected 1679cc flat-four engine from the unloved Volkswagen Type 4/411 saloon, while the ‘proper Porsche’ 914/6 used a carburettor-fed six-cylinder 110bhp unit from the 1969 model year 911T.

Poor sales saw the 914/6 discontinued for the 1973 model year, replaced by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit with a similar output. Two years later the 1.7 was replaced by a 1.8, and various tweaks to the four-cylinder units to comply with tough US emission laws resulted in a range of units with much-reduced power.

What’s it like to drive?

Retro Road Test: Porsche 914

Most 914s weigh around 900kg, so expect adequate rather than blistering performance from a standard car. Early four-pot cars did the 0-60mph dash in around 13 seconds, while the six-cylinder 914/6 knocked three seconds off that. Performance isn’t at the top of the 914’s agenda, though. On a sunny day, with the roof stowed away in the boot, outrageous speed doesn’t matter when you’re bowling down leafy-lined country lanes.

When it was new, the 914 earned itself a reputation for being an arguably better-handling car than the contemporary 911 due to its mid-engined layout. Sit in the snug seat, grab the small steering wheel (all 914s were left-hand drive only) and revel in the little Porsche’s nimble control as you dart from corner to corner on relatively skinny 4.5/5.5-inch-wide 15” wheels.

Long footwells thanks to the car’s clever packaging mean short and long bodies shouldn’t have much trouble getting comfortable, and while the five-speed gearbox isn’t the most positive (sorted in 1973 with a side-shifting linkage), it just about does the job. Just inches away from your ears, the flat engine throbs behind you in a similar way to a Volkswagen Beetle’s.

Reliability and running costs

Retro Road Test: Porsche 914

Just like the Volkswagen Polo featured in a previous Retro Road Test, the 914 has long lived in the shadow of more illustrious and famous siblings. Even more less well-known than other entry-level 1970s and 1980s Porsches such as the 924 and 944, the 914’s popularity is increasing.

Forty-five years since its birth and as values rise, it is now being seen as a classic in the making and even a member of the ‘proper Porsche’ club. Lots more replacement panels and parts are now available and there are a healthy number of Porsche specialists who actually know what the car is.

Could I drive it every day?

Retro Road Test: Porsche 914

The 914’s small footprint and practical body with its pair of luggage areas can make it a everyday proposition. We know of one enthusiast who does just that and uses a later, more scruffy car (from a fleet of 10!) to bumble around in on a daily basis, keeping his concours condition car stored away.

The intense driving experience – given in part by that engine noise emanating from just behind your seat – steering wheel on the wrong side and sometimes recalcitrant gearbox might be too much for some. Unless the car has been seriously rust-proofed, we’d probably recommend occasional use only.

How much should I pay?

Retro Road Test: Porsche 914

As befits their more popular and desirable status, range-topping 2.0-litre 914s are more expensive than their 1.7 and 1.8-litre siblings. Project four-cylinder cars can start at around £4,000 for a non-runner, rising to £8,500 for one which needs some spucing up. Tidier cars can command tickets of around £12,000, while restored models can fetch £15,000-£25,000.

The six-cylinder 914/6 is a rare thing and you should be prepared to pay upwards of restored four-cylinder car prices – we’ve heard of genuine matching number cars going for anything from £40,000. Always buy on condition, rather than specification.

What should I look out for?

Retro Road Test: Porsche 914

As with all classic cars, rust is one of the major enemies of the 914. Check the labels for corrosion and damage, as well as misaligned doors which can point to more serious accident-related issues. Door handles can be fragile, too.

The battery tray can be a big 914 issue as rust can creep towards the rear suspension mountings and, along with corroded suspension turrets, can cause the car to collapse on its wheels. Check too for correct fit and alignment of the removable glassfibre targa roof panel – a non-sung fit can mean sagging sills.

Body seals can also go, especially on US cars which have spent their lives in a hot climate. Replacement sets cost around £1,000. Similarly, sun-exposed dash tops can crack. Engines usually suffer few major problems, but where fitted, original fuel injection is much more preferable to carburettors.

With the earliest cars now approaching 46 years old, fuel lines will need checking for leaks if they appear to not have been replaced in the past. Four-cylinder cars should have chassis numbers starting with ’47’ (for Volkswagen Type 47), while genuine six-cylinder models will be known by their Porsche-derived ‘914’-led identifiers.

Should I buy one?

Retro Road Test: Porsche 914

If one of a wide range of 1970s motoring oddballs tickles your fancy or you want a rare piece of Porsche history, then yes. Bold colours, striking looks, a practical and roomy body, and rarity value – when was the last time you saw one? – make the 914 genuinely appealing.

Those largely reliable Volkswagen-engineered and Porsche engines mean parts can be easily sourced, with around 1,700 now available. An eager online network of 914 owners and forums will lend enthusiastic support should you have a problem.

Pub facts

Retro Road Test: Porsche 914

The Porsche 914 was badged ‘VW-Porsche’ in Europe and most other major markets thanks to its shared parentage, but only appeared with a Porsche badge in the US, removing all traces of the Volkswagen connection.

Eight Porsche 916 prototypes fitted with the engine from the 1973 911 Carrera RS were built for a suggested limited production run – before Porsche pulled the plug – while an even more powerful pair of near-300bhp eight-cylinder 914/8s were also made: a Blood Orange one for Ferdinand Piëch and a silver car for ‘Ferdinand ‘Ferry’ Porsche.

Lotus Exige Sport 350 2016

Lotus Exige Sport 350 review: 2015 first drive

Lotus Exige Sport 350 2016The amazing Lotus Exige Sport 350 completes the firm’s model range revival. It’s one of the most thrilling driver’s cars for the money

Overview

Lotus Cars is in good health. For the past two months, it’s been cashflow-positive, an incredible achievement in itself for the traditionally crisis-strewn British sports car manufacturer. It’s been busy too, launching new cars – and the Lotus Exige Sport 350 is the latest model in the new revolution.

Its arrival completes the overhaul of Lotus’ core model range. We already have the fantastic Lotus Evora 400, and more recently the Lotus Elise Sport. Now it’s the turn of the Exige; for a while now, the Lotus coupe has used the firm’s ace 3.5-litre V6 engine. Now it’s been given the focus to go with it.

A brief bit of positioning: Evora is Lotus’ range-topper, the car it wants to be its Porsche 911. Elise is its fun roadster and the Exige is its powerful hard-top cousin; to continue the Porsche analogy, if Elise is Lotus’ Porsche Boxster, the Exige is its Cayman.

And the Sport 350? Why, this is Lotus’ Cayman GT4. ‘Sport’ is a name with heritage within Lotus and it doesn’t just stick it on anything. The new Exige had to earn the right to use it; cue one massive overhaul that saw the car completely stripped to pieces, laid out in the Lotus Lightweight Laboratory and then analysed, bit by bit, to save weight.

The result is a car 51kg lighter than the old Exige S. Doesn’t sound a lot, until you remember the car’s overall weight is a scant 1,125kg. Makes even the basic Cayman 2.7, at 1,330kg, look like a bit portly in comparison.

But it’s not simply lighter. It’s also better. Boss Jean-Marc Gales has introduced a new focus on quality at Hethel that means, for example, the heater is both 3kg lighter but also faster and more efficient than any Lotus heater before it. The battery is 3.5kg lighter, but you can also leave the Exige Sport 350 in an airport car park for two weeks and it will still start. This is Lotus, thinking like Porsche.

Oh, and it looks outrageous. The Exige has always looked like a road-going race car; the Sport 350, with its new black composite louvered tailgate and matt black aero kit, is every inch the compact supercar. And if Porsche can charge nearly £65,000 for the Cayman GT4, Lotus can certainly justify £55,900 for the Exige Sport 350, surely? We visited Hethel to find out.

On the road

Lotus Exige Sport 350 2016

‘Light is right’ is the boss’s mantra. Here, it means the 345hp 3.5-litre V6 engine is good for 0-62mph in 3.9 seconds and 170mph flat out. Quick enough for you? Certainly it’s half a second faster to 62mph than that Cayman GT4, you know…

But the first thing that intoxicates you isn’t the speed, it’s the chassis and steering feel. Like all good Lotus in that respect, then. Steering is stupendous, a waterfall of ever-varying weight and pulses, writhes and wiggles through the tiny Momo rim. It’s a living thing you’re holding; this is F1-grade feedback, way beyond almost any other car on the road.

It goes without saying that it’s accurate, enhanced by a chassis that is sharper, more direct and more controllable. With extensive geometry changes and a lower centre of gravity, it right away feels more natural, more incisive, more intuitive and, interestingly ‘shorter’: you sense you’re right in the middle of the car, masses rotating around you. Again, rather like an F1 car.

You become incredibly confident in it as a result. Because it’s so light and everything’s so well-signalled, it’s easy to feel heroic driving it, and being intoxicated by the experience is virtually a default. It even makes the lack of stability control less of an issue – if you’re doing it right, you’ll be able to feel when the car’s getting unstable well in advance…

Instead of stability control, Lotus’ own traction control is standard. It’s good in full safety mode, ‘Sport’ lets you get the tail out in safety and ‘Race’ transforms the car yet again into a full-on livewire. On a cold, wet, early dawn Hethel test track, we found Sport was just enough to feel a driving god.

Like all good Lotus, it also rides unbelievably well. Brilliant damping and body control blend with unexpectedly fine B-road compliance and that mass-free light weight to deliver one of the quickest point-to-point cars on sale. You don’t fight it, just let it flow, and it hurtles stupendously quickly but with no fuss or heavy lag. Jaw-dropping.

That torquey supercharged 345hp mid-mounted 3.5-litre V6 engine helps. The multi-cylinder soundtrack naturally gives the Exige Sport 350 a classy, upmarket feel; the immediate and lag-free force it punches out is again race-inspired. The delivery itself is also rich – you don’t need to rev it to feel the instant surge which, combined with the lack of mass, makes this Lotus lively and responsive like few other cars. The thrill when you do rev it through is almighty.

The new gearshift is good. OK, it’s still not Porsche-like, but is much cleaner, snickier and positive than before. More importantly, it clicks and clacks as you shift gear not unlike an old Ferrari – it’s truly brilliant. For all the optional automatic’s surprising directness and lack of soggy slur, you’d be mad not to choose the manual.

Oh, sure, it’s intense. The ride has an underlying stiffness as a result of its racy setup (not to be confused with harshness or hardness, mind). The steering will chatter away to you even when you’re loping up a straight dual carriageway. And this is anything but a one-handed, sit-back cruiser. But you’d be disappointed if it were anything else, right? This really is the perfect Lotus.

On the inside

Lotus Exige Sport 350 2016

First things first; that brilliant heritage tartan interior. Yes, you have seen it before – on the original 1976 Esprit S1; Lotus has brought it back as an option on the Exige Sport 350, and surely it’s a default-tick for any Lotus enthusiast? It looks fantastic and is a suitably out-there touch for this brilliant British sports car.

Not that it’s all eye-popping fabrics; under Gales’ direction, Lotus has also worked incredibly hard on interior quality and tactility. This is one of the best-built, highest-quality Lotus ever; if Porsche made ultra-lightweight sports cars on a cost-controlled budget, they might feel like this.

Star of the show is the new exposed aluminium gearshift mechanism, not unlike that on a Pagani. People complained the Exige S’ shift was a bit loose, said Gales; cue an all-new mechanism made from aluminium that’s so beautiful, Lotus decided to showcase it. It’s not just for show either – it also saves 1.5kg…

But the sense of extra quality is everywhere. Trims are now hand-stitched leather, switches are more tactile, fit and finish are exemplary and even the old 1980s Vauxhall column stalks work more smoothly and positively than ever before.

It’s still tricky to get in and out of, mind, with its low roof and high, broad sill. The cabin is compact too – you sit intimately close to your passenger – but it’s surprisingly refined at the same time, even at higher speeds. Thank Gales’ focus again. There are even stowage slots for mobile phones.

Your mobile device will only have a stereo to Bluetooth with if you choose the optional audio pack, mind: to help you hear it better, this also comes with full carpet and extra sound insulation. Lotus expect most people to go for this, even if the tacky Clarion stereo is a bit too ‘old Lotus’ for our liking. Clarion does a great single-DIN touchscreen system, Lotus – AND it has sat nav…

Running costs

Lotus Exige Sport 350 2016

Because they haven’t been making all that many Lotus in recent years, retained values are sky-high. This means dealers can offer incredibly attractive finance deals on them; while the Exige Sport 350 is likely to be in much demand, the core financials should still be surprisingly decent.

Lotus’ quality revolution will also make the ownership proposition itself more welcoming. Reliability should be good, rattles few, fit and finish should remain as impressive after three years as they do now. This will also pay dividends for retained values.

More everyday running costs will be a bit higher. It averages a rather thirsty 28.0mpg (the auto does 30.1mpg) and CO2 of 235g/km means annual road tax costs almost £500 a year. Those Pirelli P-Zero Corsa tyres aren’t going to be cheap either.

Then there’s the fact it handles so well and drives so brilliantly, you’re likely to spend a fortune in track days and on visiting Lotus’ Hethel factory to get your various levels of Lotus Licence under the stewardship of chief instructor (and former F1 driver) Martin Donnelly…

Verdict

Lotus Exige Sport 350 2016

If you thought the V6-engine’d Lotus Exige S was good, you won’t believe what the firm’s done with the Exige Sport 350. It’s brilliant, both in all the ways you’d expect from a Lotus, but also in surprising new areas such as quality, interior tactility and robustness.

The handling is the star of the show, naturally. It gives so much to you and feels so natural doing it, you can’t help but feel like a hero. The engine is a forceful delight too, and the new manual gearshift an open-gate, click-tasatic triumph.

And although it’s pricey at £55,900, it’s also a bargain alongside cars such as the Porsche Cayman GT4. No, it’s not the newest of cars, and obvious hindrances such as the difficulty in getting in and out remain. But the effort is worth it, because the Exige Sport 350 is a truly great Lotus. We didn’t see this one coming, but boy, are we pleased it’s here.

Rivals

  • Porsche Cayman GT4
  • Alfa Romeo 4C
  • Caterham Seven
  • Jaguar F-Type Coupe
  • BMW M4 Coupe

2015 Lotus Exige Sport 350: specifications

Engine: 3.5-litre supercharged V6

Price: £55,900

Power: 345hp

Torque: 295lb-ft

0-62mph: 3.9secs

Top speed: 170mph

Fuel economy: 28.0mpg

CO2 emissions: 235gkm

Mercedes-Benz GLS review: 2015 first drive

Mercedes-Benz GLSIf the Range Rover is the S-Class of SUVs, where is the Mercedes-Benz alternative? Up to now, it’s been unclear. The GL-Class seven-seat SUV was launched in 2006 (this second generation arrived in 2012) as the largest, most premium SUV in the Mercedes range. And in key markets such as the US, it has sold well.

But it has never quite carried range-topper status here. It’s a big ML-Class, rather than an off-road SUV. So Mercedes has had a rethink. It’s renamed all its SUVs to tie them into the passenger car ranges they fit into: GLC is the SUV C-Class and GLE is the 4×4 E-Class.

So, the GL becomes GLS, the off-road S-Class – a genuine SUV pinnacle at last. It’s more than just a name change, too; this mid-life facelift has given it new bumpers, new lights and a big refit for the interior.

Although body panel changes are few, the new front end transforms the look of the GLS, giving it a family look and much more status. There are cool SL-style powerdomes on the bonnet and striking LED headlights. Like much of the equipment bounty, they’re standard on all.

In common with the S-Class, the vast majority of GLS sold in the UK will be diesel. The 3.0-litre V6 350d produces 258hp, and will take nine in 10 sales. The alternative is the bonkers GLS 63 AMG. Mercedes-Benz sells a V6 and a V8 petrol in other markets, but almost nobody would buy them in the UK, so they’re not offered.

Prices start at £69,100 which, for an S-SUV, actually seems a bargain. A Range Rover is much more expensive, says Mercedes. The Audi Q7 and Volvo XC90 are cheaper, but they’re not genuine seven-seaters like this. All sounds promising, but can the GLS deliver?

On the road

Mercedes-Benz GLS

The GLS is a big car; 5.1 metres long, over 1.9 metres wide and 1.8 metres tall. The wheelbase alone is more than 3 metres, and it weighs 2.5 tonnes. But while it feels big and imposing when first behind the wheel, you find it isn’t unwieldy or clumsy. Far from it.

Mercedes-Benz fits Airmatic air suspension as standard, which gives an elegant, cushioned, easygoing ride. Just as you’d expect in an S-Class, in fact. Very low noise levels add to the isolation and make the GLS a wonderfully relaxing long-distance car.

Ample drive from the engine helps. It may be a 3.0-litre diesel in a 2.5-tonne car, but it still does 0-62mph in 7.8 seconds and can run to 137mph. More importantly, 457lb-ft of torque between 1,600-2,400rpm makes light work of the mass.

The engine is quiet, creamy-smooth and clatter-free – generally all that filters through is a pleasant V6 hum – but it’s the new nine-speed 9G-TRIONIC automatic that’s the real masterpiece. An exceptionally intuitive transmission, it perfectly complements the GLS 350d.

With permanent four-wheel drive (hence the 4MATIC badge on the back), it’s a confident performer, even on the snow and ice-covered Austrian test route roads. Remarkably so, in fact: Mercedes’ advanced hardware and software delivers immense foursquare confidence.

It also handles surprisingly tidily (for a 2.5-tonne, 5.1-metre SUV), provided you tick one key option box – that for the Active Curve System anti-roll system. So equipped, and with the Sport drive system selected, the big GLS defies its mass through corners with a lack of lean and roll, and surprising turn-in alacrity.

It’s softer and wallowier in regular drive mode, so remember to turn the knob to experience this surprise: if you want the ultimate S-Class ride, though, keep it regular. It’s a mark of how much Mercedes has successfully done to the GLS that it’s now able to offer this choice.

On the inside

Mercedes-Benz GLS

The GLS’ cabin looks similar to the GL-Class in pictures, but it feels very different in real life. Much higher quality, much more premium, with almost no examples of surprisingly poor finish that you shouldn’t see in such a premium vehicle.

The lift in plushness and appearance is present throughout. The extensively revised dashboard is the star draw: Mercedes has fitted a new freestanding infotainment screen, making the top slimmer and more sculptural. The cool touchpad infotainment controller (with standard internet) is also standard.

Dials are new, with a hi-res display in between, and the finish and appearance of materials throughout is much classier and more expensive-looking. Even small details have been updated: the steering wheel centre is now Nappa leather, for example.

Space is abundant. This is the key reason why people choose a GLS, reckons Mercedes; those in the front have a very high, extremely commanding view out (enhanced by those bonnet domes) and those in the middle seats also have plush, spacious chairs (choose the design trim and four-zone climate control is standard).

It’s the third row seats that really set the GLS apart from the smaller seven-seat Audi Q7 and Volvo XC90 though. Access is relatively easy for a three-row machine: press an electric button on the top of the middle seats and the backrest folds, then the base flips up, fully automatically.

Once there, even adults find ample legroom, kneeroom, footroom and headroom. It’s surprising, how capacious it is, with big side windows adding to the airy feel. They’re far from the chairs you put the people you like least in.

The boot is 295 litres with all seats in use, quickly growing to 680 litres with the third row seats folded flat into the floor. Fold all the seats and a mammoth 2,300 litres is yours, as is a load length of over 2.1 metres. Even payload capacity is vast – the boot takes 815kg, or more than a Caterham Seven and a half.

The GLS can also tow 3.5 tonnes, putting it into the premier league of tow cars. At least one in four will thus be sold with a tow bar…

Running costs

Mercedes-Benz GLS

This is a £70k car and so running costs will not be the same as a GLC. But it won’t be too off the scale, and certainly not as expensive to run as a Range Rover.

The diesel officially averages 37.2mpg, for example, meaning sub-200g/km CO2 (an impressive achievement in itself) and lower fuel and tax bills than you might expect. And although a 100-litre fuel tank will be expensive to fill, it should ensure a decent range.

You can also almost guarantee reliability, which isn’t the case for some luxury SUVs. Mercedes-Benz even offers a 30-year anti-breakdown warranty to all those who keep it within the franchise dealer network: on the side of a snowy Austrian mountain in a -10deg Celcius blizzard, that’s reassuring.

Verdict

Mercedes-Benz GLS

Mercedes-Benz has perfected the GLS by, well, calling it the GLS. That’s all it takes to give it market clarity and definition. In becoming ‘an S-Class’, Merc’s also improved the suspension, overhauled the interior and made it much prettier, but the key thing is so clearly sectorising it, whereas before it was undefined.

This is the firm’s Range Rover rival and, while it’s not as good or as classy as a Range Rover, neither is it as expensive. Yet it still carries the class of an upmarket Mercedes-Benz SUV and, most importantly, it now carries the kudos of being an off-road S-Class. This counts for a lot.

It has taken three years, but now the capable range-topping Mercedes SUV has achieved the status it deserves. In not being a confusing muddle but a well defined model, the Range Rover may just find itself with an unexpected, pretty talented and surprisingly good value new rival.

Rivals

  • Range Rover
  • Audi Q7
  • Volvo XC90
  • BMW X5
  • Mercedes-Benz S-Class

Model line-up

  • GLS 350d 4MATIC AMG Line: £69,100
  • GLS 350d 4MATIC Designo Line: £78,095
  • GLS 63 AMG 4MATIC: £102,330

Specifications

Model: GLS 350d 4MATIC AMG Line

Engine: 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel

Price: £69,100

Power: 258hp

Torque: 457lb-ft

0-62mph: 7.8 seconds

Top speed: 138mph

Fuel economy: 37.2mpg

CO2 emissions: 199g/km

1992 Skoda Favorit review: Retro Road Test

07_Skoda_Favorit

The Favorit was the beginning and the end for Skoda. Launched in 1987, it was the Czech firm’s first front-wheel drive car, but the last before it was swallowed by the huge Volkswagen Group empire.

  • 1983 Austin Metro: Retro Road Test

As the last of the old Skodas, the Favorit shows us how far the company had come since being established in 1895. We took a factory-fresh 1992 example on a tour of some wet Oxfordshire roads for our Retro Road Test, to see if it can still cut it in 2015.

Skoda Favorit: what are its rivals?

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Back in 1992, Skoda was still the butt of some ill-judged and ill-informed jokes. It was one of a small number of cheap and cheerful cars to be imported from East Europe and could count the Lada Samara and Yugo Sana as two of its direct rivals. It was slightly smaller than a Ford Escort, but its low price (£5,000 at launch) meant it could be bought for the same price as a top-spec Ford Fiesta.

Sadly for Skoda, disputes between the communist government of Czechoslovakia and the designer, Nuccio Bertone, meant the car was delayed. The project was approved in 1982, but development didn’t start until 1985. The Favorit was launched in 1987, arriving in the UK two years later.

Skoda Favorit: what engine does it use?

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The Skoda Favorit was powered by a 1.3-litre engine, derived from the 1.0-litre engine used in the Skoda 1000MB. British firm Ricardo Consulting redesigned the combustion chambers, while Porsche engineered the engine mountings. Interestingly, the Stuttgart firm also helped with the Favorit’s front suspension. With Czech, British, German and Italian input, the Favorit was a European car in more ways than one.

The 1,289cc engine developed throughout the Favorit’s 18-year production run, with a catalytic convertor and later fuel injection having an impact on the car’s power output. As tested here, the Favorit offers 56hp at 5,000rpm.

Skoda Favorit: what’s it like to drive?

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The Favorit was parked at the crossroads of 120 years of Skoda history. It lacks the character and charm of the rear-engined Skodas of old, but it represented the dawn of a new front-wheel drive future. As a result, the Favorit is wonderfully predictable and perfectly adequate. It’s a very easy car to drive, with a decent enough five-speed gearbox (a big selling point at the time) and terrific all-round visibility.

Performance would be best described as leisurely and the Favorit can feel strained if you push it too hard. We could bemoan the lack of a rev counter (you’ll find a huge clock in its place), but the engine soon tells you when it’s time to change up. The steering is slow and you’ll find a huge dollop of understeer if you enter a corner with too much enthusiasm. Slow and steady wins the race when it comes to the Skoda Favorit.

Skoda Favorit: reliability and running costs

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The combination of a five-speed gearbox and meagre kerb weight of 840kg translates to a more than respectable average fuel economy of 54.3mpg. Classic car insurance should keep running costs to a minimum.

Bear in mind that few Favorits will be as tidy and well-maintained as this 2,500-mile example. Many will have been used as basic A to B transport, meaning services will have been skipped and cheap parts may have been used. Prices are cheap enough to warrant waiting for a good Favorit.

Skoda Favorit: could I drive it every day?

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There’s no reason why you couldn’t drive a Skoda Favorit every day. After all, people were still buying these things new in 1995. But given the relative scarcity of the Favorit, it would be a shame to subject it to the rigours of 2015 motoring. If nothing else, the winter salt could bring a premature end to an otherwise tidy example.

It’s also worth remembering that the Skoda was a cheap car in its day, so you’re unlikely to feel cosseted by the Favorit’s cabin. It’s a sea of cheap plastics which, even in this super low-mileage car, is beginning to shake and rattle. It’s also worth noting that safety wasn’t one of the Favorit’s strongest features.

Skoda Favorit: how much should I pay?

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Prices are still measured in hundreds, rather than thousands, but you will pay substantially more for a box-fresh example such as this. Expect to pay no more than £800 for a tidy Favorit with a fresh MOT.

It’s also worth hunting down a Skoda Favorit estate, known in some markets as the Forman, which offers acres of space for a bargain price.

Skoda Favorit: what should I look out for?

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Rust will be an issue, so inspect the Favorit for signs of rot. The interior isn’t particularly hard-wearing, so you may need to live with some broken trim and scratched plastics. Also look out for smoky engines and signs that the Favorit hasn’t been serviced for a while.

Sure, the Favorit stems from a time before Volkswagen played a part in the engineering of Skoda products, but this feels like a properly sorted car. Driving one today, you get the sense that age-old Skoda jokes were well past their sell-by date. The Czechs had every right to feel proud of their little Favorit.

Skoda Favorit: should I buy one?

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If you’re after a pre-Volkswagen Skoda you can use everyday, this is arguably your only option. It’s easy to drive, cheap to buy and potentially hassle-free to own. It’s a highly likeable car with distinctive Bertone style and loads of interior space. You’ll also find plenty of on-board storage bins and pockets, including a sizeable and very deep glovebox.

Skoda purists will, with good reason, flock to the likes of the Estelle, Rapid and 110R, but for a retro cool car that may turn a few heads, the Favorit is hard to ignore.

Skoda Favorit: pub fact

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When the Favorit first arrived in the UK, Skoda owned the UK importers based in King’s Lynn. This company would, depending on spec, fit a Philips car stereo, rear wash-wipe, sunroof and mud flaps. They’d also supply alloy wheels to Czechoslovakia.

As a bonus pub fact, in common with other Skoda models, the Favorit name harks back to a much older Skoda car. The original Skoda Favorit was a luxury car built in the late 1930s.

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.