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Audi RS Q3

Audi RS Q3 Performance review: Two-Minute Road Test

Audi RS Q3Crossover SUVs are one of the fastest growing sectors in the car market. With the RS Q3 Performance, Audi has combined an evocative drivetrain with a practical bodystyle and prestigious badge. But does it actually make any sense?

Price and dealsAudi RS Q3

The RS Q3 Performance retails at £47,850, although the example we tested clocked up a price of £53,050 with options. It certainly isn’t cheap for a relatively small car. Audi’s current finance offers include a £1,000 deposit contribution if buying through the Solutions PCP. With a 10% personal deposit, you could have an RS Q3 on your drive for £580 per month over four years.

What are its rivals?Audi RS Q3 rivals

Few and far between, such is the niche status of the high-performance compact SUV. Closest on size, and power, is the Mercedes-AMG GLA 45 4Matic with 381hp from its 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo engine. The Merc also undercuts the Audi, with a starting price of £44,585. The Porsche Macan S is similarly priced at £45,945, but can only bring 340hp to the fight.

Which engine does it use?Audi RS Q3

An award-winning one, with a lineage that stretches back some 40 years. It’s a turbocharged 2.5-litre five-cylinder petrol unit that, when almost everything seems to be powered by an inline-four, is a rare and soulful delight. It makes all the noises that you would expect from a five-cylinder engine, allowing you to use terms like ‘off-beat’ and ‘warbling’ freely.

This is a car that will have you take a detour through a tunnel just to hear the noise it makes, especially in Dynamic mode where an additional flap in the exhaust opens up. That exhaust is another unique RS Q3 feature in itself – featuring just one huge tailpipe, instead of the multiple tips of so many contemporary performance cars.

How fast?Audi RS Q3

The regular RS Q3 was hardly slow, but the RS Q3 Performance adds – unsurprisingly – more go to proceedings. That five-cylinder engine now makes 362hp (an increase of 27hp over the standard car) whilst torque is also boosted to 343lb ft. Although no featherweight at 1,655kg, such power means the RS Q3 Performance bellows its way from 0-62mph in 4.4 seconds, with a limited top speed of 155mph.

A raised driving position means the sense of speed is even more dramatic, added to by the thumping gearshifts from the seven-speed DSG transmission. The latter is useful for keeping the engine on-boost, meaning the RS Q3 can gain speed at quite an alarming rate, such is its mid-range pace.

Is it comfortable?Audi RS Q3

Despite riding on huge 20-inch wheels with 255/35 low-profile tyres, the RS Q3 is actually more comfortable than you might imagine. Yes, the worst stretches of tarmac will end up being transmitted back to the cabin, but not as severely as in a comparable hot hatch. The sports seats feature multiple adjustment options, including under-thigh support and electrically-adjusted lumbar support.

Will I enjoy driving it?Audi RS Q3

Absolutely, but not necessarily in a conventional performance car manner. The extra height and higher centre of gravity of the RS Q3 Performance encourage a ‘slow-in, fast-out’ cornering style, allowing you to maximise the acceleration on exit. Huge eight-caliper front brakes, grabbing weight-saving wavy discs, mean stopping ability is suitably heroic. Traction from the Quattro drivetrain is steadfast, and there’s even a launch control function.

The RS Q3’s steering is weighty, particularly in Dynamic mode, but doesn’t offer a great deal of feel or feedback. Again this pushes you to enjoy the buttock-clenching straight-line performance, but back off when things become twistier.  The RS Q3 Performance will undoubtedly put a smile on your face, even if just because of the exhaust note.

Fuel economy and running costsAudi RS Q3

Here comes the penalty for enjoying a five-cylinder turbocharged engine too much. Officially, the RS Q3 Performance records a combined fuel economy figure of 32.8mpg, with CO2 emissions of 203g/km. In reality, we experienced average fuel consumption of around 21-25mpg with longer motorway journeys nudging the average closer to 28mpg. A standard start-stop system tries to help, but there will ultimately be a price to pay for exploiting the performance on offer.

What’s the interior like?Audi RS Q3

Standard Audi fare, although that is not a bad thing. The base Q3 is one of Audi’s older models, meaning the current RS Q3 Performance lacks the latest design tweaks of the new A3 or A4. However, you do gain a set of supportive Alcantara and leather sports seats, unique carbon fibre trim with a special blue weave, and a perforated leather steering wheel. It all looks, and feels, suitably expensive, while the (£1,125 optional) panoramic sunroof helps prevent the interior appearing too cave-like.

Is it practical?Audi RS Q3

Beneath the fancy bodykit and badging, this is still fundamentally a compact SUV, meaning the RS Q3 Performance can do all the regular lifestyle things. With the seats up, the boot holds 356 litres – compromised by a shallow load space – but that increases to 1,291 litres with the seats folded flat. Rear space is suitable for kids, or adults on shorter trips, meaning you can bring the whole family along to experience how fast it is.

Tell me about the techAudi RS Q3

The RS Q3 misses out on Audi’s brilliant Virtual Cockpit, but does still boast enough technology to offset the list price. Inside is a 6.5-inch retractable MMI screen, with a second 3.5-inch colour display mounted between the instrument dials. Satellite navigation, DAB radio, Bluetooth connectivity and an Apple music interface are all standard.

Our test car also featured a brilliant Bose sound system. At £690, it is an option worth picking, even if just for the LED lighting that makes the front speakers appear to float at night. LEDs also feature in the headlights, taillights and dynamic indicators, while cruise control, parking sensors and keyless entry are all included.

What about safety?Audi RS Q3

At launch in 2011, the standard Audi Q3 gained a full five-stars from Euro NCAP testing, and this RS Q3 Performance version should be no different. An electronic differential lock is standard, helping the RS Q3 put all that power down effectively, while the electronic stability control also offers a sport mode. As noted, braking power is appropriately immense, and the Quattro 4WD drivetrain keeps things under control.

Which version should I go for?Audi RS Q3

This RS Q3 Performance is over £3,000 more expensive that the regular RS Q3 model. However, extra power aside, the Performance model does gain a number of extras, such as the distinctive Ascari Blue paintwork option, along with matte titanium finish seen on the wheels and bodywork trim. If you’re going to spend big on a fast SUV, you may as well go all-in and get the Performance version.

What’s the used alternative?Audi RS3

Used RS Q3 models are relatively rare, with the earliest 2014 examples on the used market from around £28,000. It’s worth noting these are down on power compared to the latest cars, making only 306hp. If you can live without the need for a raised ride height, the previous generation Audi RS3 Sportback will deliver five-cylinder fun from £20,000.

Should I buy one?Audi RS Q3

Objectively, the RS Q3 Performance is a very expensive answer to a question few people have ever thought to ask. Nobody needs a £50k compact SUV that will do 0-62mph in less than 4.5 seconds, and with wallet-draining average fuel consumption. Yet the sheer ludicrousness of pace from the RS Q3 Performance, along with that characterful five-cylinder engine, make it hard not to like.

It really isn’t cheap, but this is a genuine Audi RS car, and therefore one that will have appeal to a niche group of buyers. Plus, in our anodyne homogenised world, it is heartening to know car manufacturers can still be a little silly at times.

Pub factAudi RS Q3

The engine in the RS Q3 Performance is a genuine multiple award-winner. The TFSI five-cylinder unit has won International Engine of the Year seven times in the 2.0 to 2.5-litre category. That’s more than the three times the Mercedes-AMG 2.0-litre engine in the rival GLA45 has managed.

Audi A4 3.0 road test

Audi A4 3.0 TDI S line review: Two-Minute Road Test

Audi A4 3.0 road test

The Audi A4 has become something of a soft target. Thanks to a certain breed of drivers, the compact exec is a car we love to hate – the modern equivalent of the BMW 3 Series in the 80s and 90s.

“Why buy an expensive A4 when the Volkswagen Passat and Skoda Octavia are just as good?” say the critics. But the fact that Audi’s year-to-date sales are up 3.83% compared with the same period in 2015 proves that people are prepared to pay more for the Audi badge.

We’ve subjected an A4 3.0 TDI quattro S tronic to our Two Minute Road Test to find out if it’s worth the premium price.

Prices and deals

Audi A4 saloon prices start at £26,350, but very few buyers will opt for the entry-level model. In the more desirable 3.0 TDI quattro 218hp S tronic guise, the price jumps to £36,495 – £10,000 more than the poverty-spec A4.

There’s more: thanks to a few well-chosen options, the price of this Tango Red test car rockets to £45,825. That’s more than an Audi S5 Sportback. You could also build a rather lavish Skoda Superb L&K, fill your trolley with goodies from the options aisle, and still drive away from the dealer with some change in your pocket.

What are its rivals?

Given the fact we’re told that people have fallen out of love with the saloon car, there’s no shortage of competition for the Audi A4. The Mercedes-Benz C-Class and BMW 3 Series are the most obvious rivals, but you should also consider the Volkswagen Passat, Skoda Octavia and Jaguar XE.

What engine does it use?

3.0 V6 TDI engine

Audi’s 3.0-litre V6 TDI engine is a peach and feels in a different league compared with the common-or-garden 2.0 TDI. Not only is it smoother and more refined, the accompanying soundtrack is more appealing.

You can order it in 218hp guise, as tested, or with an Autobahn-storming 272hp. With 218hp on tap, quattro all-wheel drive is an option, but opt for the more powerful version and it becomes standard equipment.

How fast?

The A4 3.0 TDI will sprint to 62mph in a hot-hatch-terrorising 6.3 seconds, before going on to reach a top speed of 155mph.

Thanks to quattro permanent all-wheel drive, you can be sure that 0-62 time is accessible as and when you need it. You know, when leaving that 3 Series behind at the lights. Audi driver cliché klaxon.

Will I enjoy driving it?

2016 Audi A4

You will enjoy driving it, but not for the same reason Steve in Sales enjoys driving his 3 Series. Although the A4 feels sharper than previous-generation models, the raison d’être of this saloon is to waft occupants from sales meeting to boardroom with as little fuss and effort as possible.

In this respect, it’s genuinely hard to find fault with it. The 3.0-litre diesel is quick, punchy and quiet; the S tronic transmission is smooth, if a little hesitant in town; and the sat nav and adaptive cruise control work together to provide what is, as near as dammit, a semi-autonomous car.

It even rides in a manner that will feel otherworldly to A4 S line drivers of old, although this particular car has 18-inch rims, rather than the optional 19-inch alloys. Seriously, tick the boxes marked ‘adaptive comfort suspension’, ‘heated seats’, ‘driver assistance pack’ and ‘Bang & Olufsen 3D sound system’ and even the M4 motorway will feel as relaxing as a deep bath surrounded by candles.

Fuel economy and running costs

In theory, the Audi A4 3.0 TDI will return 61.4mpg when riding on 18-inch rims, but as we know, theory and practice are about as close as Liam and Noel Gallagher. Something in the low to mid 40s is more realistic, although 55mpg-plus is achievable on a long run.

Stick the A4 in efficiency mode and it’s like the energy-saving mode on your computer: everything goes into an eco setting as it does its best to sip its drink like a teetotaller at a wine-tasting session.

CO2 emissions of 123g/km put the A4 3.0 TDI in tax band D, meaning nothing to pay in year one, and £110 for every year thereafter.

What’s the interior like?

Audi A4 interior

Brilliant, nothing short of brilliant. Oh, there will be those who say the A4’s interior is dull and uninspiring, but to do so would be to miss the point. Everything, and we mean everything, has been honed to within an inch of perfection.

There’s no annoying touchscreen, just a series of perfectly positioned switches and buttons, along with a voice control system that doesn’t fire up Norwegian Wood on Spotify when you ask the sat nav to drive you to Northampton.

Is it comfortable?

The A4’s predecessor, the Audi 80, was comfortable. Small wheels, large tyre sidewalls, supple suspension and the most relaxing seats south of Sweden meant that Audi 80 drivers were the most chilled out people on the road.

Over time, things changed. The UK’s obsession with big rims, sports suspension and the S line badge meant that the A4 was as comfortable as rollerskating down a corrugated iron roof.

In the new A4, things are different. In comfort mode and on 18-inch alloys, the ride quality is almost perfect. You’ll need the Allroad for the most comfortable A4, but that’s a different story. The black leather/Alcantara seats (a £450 option) are both supportive and comfortable, while the diesel engine is so quiet and refined, you’d swear it was in a different county.

Is it practical?

If you opted for the A4 saloon, practicality probably isn’t high on your list of priorities – the A4 Avant is there for dog duties and family trips to the seaside. But that’s not to say the saloon is small.

The remote-control boot lid opens to reveal 480 litres of luggage space, which extends to 965 litres with the rear seats folded down. The A4 isn’t exactly loaded with generously-sized door pockets and storage bins, but is more than adequate for the salesperson on the go.

Tell me about the tech

Virtual Cockpit

Where do we start? Tick the right boxes and the A4 will do everything except brush your teeth and remind you to put the bins out before going to bed. Crucially, it does so with typical German efficiency.

The matrix LED headlights are so intelligent, they know when you’ve entered a village with streetlights or when a car with only one headlight is travelling in the opposite direction. They’re also brighter than the sun, creating a blanket of daylight over the English countryside. Birds break into a dawn chorus when this car drives by.

Knowing how much you hate traffic jams, the A4 will take over at speeds of up to 37mph, while the adaptive cruise control is so clever, you can use it on A- and B-roads without so much as a dab on the brake pedal.

Oh, and the Virtual Cockpit – you might think it’s a bit ‘look at me’, but spend some time with the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and all other dashboards seem a bit 2015.

What about safety?

Assuming the various assistance packs haven’t kept you out of trouble, you’ll be pleased to discover – if not entirely surprised – that the A4 scored a maximum five-star rating when tested by Euro NCAP in 2015.

Opt for the driver assistance pack to activate other safety nets, such as turn assist, pre-sense alert and a collision avoidance assistant. The pre-sense alert is a little on the cautious side, occasionally warning you of dangers that aren’t there. Not great for those of a nervous disposition, but at least you know it works.

Which version should I go for?

A4 badge

We’d wholeheartedly endorse a decision to upgrade from the 2.0-litre TDI to the 3.0-litre V6. On paper, the difference between 218hp and 190hp (in the higher-powered 2.0 TDI) might not seem like a great deal, but it’s the way the V6 delivers the power that counts.

As for spec, that’s a matter for debate. Needless to say, with a raft of different options and accessories, it won’t be difficult to find your ideal A4. Put it this way: we wouldn’t change a thing about this particular A4, except, maybe, the £45,825 price tag.

What’s the used alternative?

At launch, the current A4 was criticised for being too evolutionary, offering little over the outgoing model. But while the styling is hardly a quantum leap forward, it’s what’s under the skin that counts.

Not that this renders the previous generation A4 obsolete. It’s the obvious used alternative, although you might want to consider a 3 Series, C-Class or Passat.

Should I buy one?

In the same way it’s hard to find fault with the Audi A4, it’s also extremely difficult not to recommend one. That an Audi has become the default choice for so many drivers is testament, not only to the engineering, but also to the power of the brand.

Driving an Audi A4 won’t mark you out as a free-thinker or a new radical – there’s a Volvo or Lexus for such people – but it’s hard to knock anyone who chooses the obvious route. Whether you can live with becoming a cliché is for you to decide.

Pub fact

1994 Audi A4

The first Audi A4 rolled off the production line in 1994. It was an evolution of the outgoing Audi 80 and nearly 1.7 million were built before it was replaced in 2001.

You might remember the advert in which an obnoxious city trader is seen test-driving an A4, before returning it to the dealer with a parting shot of “Nah, it’s not really my style, know what I mean?” Different times.

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

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

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

The popular Volkswagen Passat saloon (and estate) is joining the plug-in party with this, the GTE. Combining incredible eco claims with mildly-sporting credentials, the GTE is the only non-diesel Passat currently offered.

Could using VW’s hybrid powertrain in the conventional Passat be a winning formula that could bring this technology to the mainstream?

Prices and deals

The Volkswagen Passat GTE starts at a hefty £36,525, although the Government’s plug-in car grant shaves £2,500 off that. A search through an online broker reveals you can pick one up for less than £30,000 – so suddenly it starts to appear more competitive against a diesel.

What are its rivals?

What are its rivals?

There’s a shortage of direct competitors for the VW Passat GTE, although similar money will pick up a Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV. It might be an SUV, but Volkswagen will be hoping some of the Outlander’s popularity will rub off on its Passat.

More conventional rivals come from a class above. There’s the brilliant BMW 330e, while Mercedes-Benz also offers a plug-in version of its C-Class, the C350e.

What engine does it use?

 

The Volkswagen Passat GTE combines a 1.4-litre TSI turbocharged petrol engine with an electric motor to provide a combined 218hp.

How fast?

This means it’ll hit 62mph in 7.4 seconds and top out at 140mph, while even the electric-only mode is good for 81mph. That’s quick, but the BMW 330e will complete the 0-62mph run in 6.1 seconds.

Will I enjoy driving it?

Will I enjoy driving it?

During everyday driving in ‘comfort’ mode, the Passat is one of the most relaxing cars on the market. Refinement levels are high, and you can flick between three E-modes: fully-electric (if the battery’s charged), hybrid (which switches between the petrol engine and electric motor) and battery charge (which sacrifices fuel economy to charge the battery).

When you’re in the mood, pressing the GTE button transforms the car. It primes both the petrol and electric motors to provide 100% effort, returning that 7.4-second 0-62mph time. It makes overtaking truly effortless: there’s next-to-no lag when you jab the throttle. It even sounds good.

The Passat GTE can’t disguise the mass of its batteries and electric motor, though. While the steering weights up pleasingly in GTE mode, the traction control light is quick to flicker if you attempt quick getaways (even in the dry) or go on the gas a trifle early. It’s fun to drive, but the BMW 330e is more satisfying if you want a true driver’s car.

That extra weight also means the ride is on the firm side. With the adaptive dampers in comfort mode, it’s not unbearable, but you will find yourself dodging potholes.

Fuel economy and running costs

Fuel economy and running costs

Under the official NEDC test, the Volkswagen Passat GTE returns 166.0mpg and emits 39g/km CO2. Of course, as with all plug-in hybrid models, the true fuel economy depends a lot on how it’s driven. With an electric-only range of 31 miles, if you charge it at home and only have a 15-mile commute, you could theoretically get away with never putting any petrol in it, ever.

Once that electric charge has ran out, you’re driving a petrol Passat with a 1.4-litre engine lugging around a load of heavy, dead batteries. If you’re going to cover a lot of motorway miles, you’ll be better off with the diesel equivalent. We still saw 40.0mpg on a long run, though – perfectly acceptable, especially if most of your driving is done under electric power with only the occasional longer journey.

Fuel bills aside, that 39g/km CO2 figure means company car drivers will enjoy minimal benefit-in-kind tax, while visitors to London won’t pay the congestion charge.

What’s the interior like?

It’s hard to believe the Passat is a Mondeo rival, rather than a contender for the BMW 3 Series. The dash is ultra-modern, while everything feels like it could stand up to years of abuse. There’s a reason taxi drivers love a Passat, after all.

The touchscreen infotainment system (6.5-inch as standard) is wonderfully slick to use, while the optional TFT virtual dials fitted to our test car provide, if anything, a little too much information.

Is it comfortable?

Is it comfortable?

Electric seat adjustment and adjustable lumbar support meant it took no time at all for us to get comfortable in the Passat. The large, comfy seats meant we still felt fresh after hours behind the wheel, too. Space is the rear is reasonable.

Is it practical?

It’s not as practical as the regular Passat saloon, with the battery pack eating up 180 litres of boot space. There’s plenty of headroom and legroom for both front and rear passengers, however, and the seats are easy to fold down if you need extra space in the boot.

Tell me about the tech

If you’re not used to plugging in your car, it couldn’t be simpler. You’ve got two options with the Passat: either plug it in at home using a typical three-pin plug, taking four hours 15 minutes, or charge it using a 3.6kW wall box, taking two and a half hours. The battery comes with an eight-year, 99,360-mile warranty, so you don’t need to worry about that failing anytime soon.

What about safety?

What about safety?

The Passat scored five stars when it was tested by Euro NCAP in 2014, while the GTE is packed with clever acronyms to keep you safe (ESC, ADL, ASR, XDSPlus… you get the idea). You can be confident that it’s one of the safest saloons on the market.

Which version should I go for?

If you’ve decided a Passat GTE will work for you, you’ve got a simple decision to make: saloon or estate? It might be wise to opt for the estate version if you plan to use the GTE for weekends away or have children and their associated gear to lug around.

What’s the used alternative?

Plug-in hybrids are a relatively recent thing, so the technology is yet to really trickle down to the used car market. The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV was the first mainstream plug-in hybrid, with early models from 2014 now available for around £16,000.

If a sporty Passat is what you’re after, you can pick up a 2.8-litre V6 4Motion for less than £2,000, while later 3.2-litre models start at £3,000.

Should I buy one?

Should I buy one?

We really, really like the Volkswagen Passat GTE. It works so well as a plug-in hybrid, providing a truly relaxing environment when sitting in traffic or covering the commute. When you’re in the mood for a drive, pressing the GTE button turns it into a true hot saloon – only missing an element of finesse thanks to the heavy batteries when you push it a bit too hard.

The biggest issue is the price. At £36,525, it’s going to be hard to justify for many people, especially when you can pick up a high-spec diesel R-Line for less than £30,000. Our research suggests there are deals to be had on the GTE – but for typical Passat drivers who cover lots of motorway miles, the diesel will work out cheaper to run.

Pub fact

Volkswagen has just revealed an electric concept car at Paris, based on its new MEB platform. Capable of covering more than 250 miles on one charge, the Volkswagen I.D. will be as revolutionary as the original Beetle when it’s launched in 2020, says the firm. VW isn’t shy about targeting Tesla – and the Passat GTE could be one of the very first steps towards achieving that goal.

Fiat 500

Fiat 500 1.2 Lounge review: Two-Minute Road Test

Fiat 500Around one in five city cars sold in the UK is a Fiat 500 – not bad for a car launched nine years ago. The 500 was updated in 2015, with minor styling tweaks and a new touchscreen media system. Can it still compete with newer, cheaper rivals? We drove the best-selling 1.2 petrol to find out.

Prices and dealsFiat 500

The 500 isn’t cheap to buy. Prices start at £11,050 for the 69hp 1.2 Pop, rising to £15,350 for the 95hp 1.3 S. There’s a big premium of nearly £3,000 for the 500C convertible, too.

Fortunately, there are plenty of discounts available. The 1.2 Lounge model we tested retails at £12,800 before options, but the same car is just £9,908 from online car broker, Drive The Deal. Equally, ‘reverse auction’ website Auto eBid offered a price of £10,056.

What are its rivals?Fiat 500 rivals

In terms of style and emotional appeal, the 500’s closest rival is the MINI. However, BMW’s retro-remake is larger and more expensive: a supermini rather than a city car.

The Toyota Aygo, Hyundai i10 and Volkswagen Up are all direct competitors. The Toyota – along with its near-identical sisters, the Citroen C1 and Peugeot 108 – also majors on style and is usefully cheaper than the 500. The Hyundai also plays the value card, and is fun to drive.

The Up, meanwhile, offers Germanic build quality and plenty of interior space. It’s also one of triplets: the SEAT Mii and Skoda Citigo are the same under the skin, but cheaper to buy.

What engine does it use?Fiat 500

Our test 500 is powered by a 69hp 1.2-litre petrol engine. You can also opt for the noisy but zesty two-cylinder, 0.9-litre Twinair – available in 85hp and 105hp outputs. Unusually for a car this size, Fiat offers a diesel engine, too: the 95hp 1.3 Mulitijet.

Fancy something sportier? The Abarth 500 hot hatch produces up to 180hp and costs from £15,090.

How fast?Fiat 500

Back in 2014, the Fiat 500 1.2 was featured on BBC Watchdog, amid allegations that it could “barely get to the tip of a hill.” It showed a presenter driving up a one in 10 incline in (what appeared to be) second gear, claiming she could “feel the lack of power.” Former Stig Ben Collins reached a similar verdict.

Fiat has since applied a software update, which is claimed to improve driveability. Nonetheless, this still isn’t a fast car. The 0-62mph dash takes a leisurely 12.9 seconds and maximum speed is 99mph.

Is it comfortable?Fiat 500

Park a 500 next to an original (1957-1975) Cinquecento and it looks huge. However, it isn’t as efficiently-packaged as many rivals – not least the mechanically-similar Fiat Panda.

We found it comfortable in the front, although the driving position is very upright: you feel like you’re sitting ‘on’ the car, rather than in it. Rear-seat passengers are likely to complain about the lack of headroom. Blame that cute-and-curvaceous roofline.

Will I enjoy driving it?Fiat 500

The 500 is a very easy car to drive, particularly in town. Its controls are light (the steering even has a ‘city’ mode for fingertip-twirling) and the lofty driver’s seat offers good visibility. A compact footprint makes it a doddle to park, too.

Escape the urban jungle and the little Fiat is less convincing. Its over-assisted steering doesn’t inspire confidence and there’s lots of body-roll in the corners. The 69hp engine hardly fizzes with enthusiasm either, particularly when it comes to steep hills…

Fuel economy and running costsFiat 500

Official fuel economy for the 500 1.2 petrol is a thrifty 60.1mpg, with CO2 emissions of 110g/km. The latter equates to free car tax (VED) in the first year, and just £20 per year thereafter.

Both versions of the two-cylinder Twinair petrol are more efficient on-paper: 74.3mpg and 67.3mpg for the 85hp and 105hp engines respectively. However, the Twinair rarely gets anywhere near these claimed figures in independent tests. Perhaps its rev-happy nature encourages lead-footed driving?

The 95hp 1.3 diesel manages 83.1mpg – but you’ll need to drive a very long way to justify the upfront cost (around £3,500 more than a similar-spec 1.2 petrol).

What’s the interior like?Fiat 500

The 500’s characterful cabin sets it apart from more strait-laced superminis. We love the body-colour dashboard, retro steering wheel and quirky seat fabrics. There’s seemingly endless scope for customisation, too.

The entry-level Pop comes with remote locking, electric front windows and a radio with USB and Aux sockets. Upgrading to Pop Star adds air conditioning, electric mirrors and a split/fold rear seat. The Lounge seen here has the Uconnect touchscreen (more on that shortly), a leather-wrapped wheel and rear parking sensors.

Is it practical?Fiat 500

Not particularly. There’s no five-door version, so rear passengers must clamber behind the front seats. And lifting child seats in and out is hip-twistingly awkward.

Luggage space is a modest 185 litres: enough for a weekly supermarket-shop, but much smaller than the 251-litre Volkswagen Up.

Tell me about the techFiat 500

Fiat’s latest Uconnect touchscreen ‘infotainment’ system is mounted high on the dashboard and proves straightforward to use, despite a small, five-inch screen. The TomTom sat nav (£350 – with DAB radio included) is particularly good, with bold graphics and live traffic data.

Our car also had the option seven-inch TFT screen in the binnacle behind the steering wheel (£350). It displays lots of useful driving data, along with a neat graphic of the car itself.

What about safety?Fiat 500

Euro NCAP awarded the Fiat a full five stars when it crash-tested one back in 2007. Standard safety equipment includes seven airbags and Isofix mounting points for child car seats.

Which version should I go for?Fiat 500

Simple is often best when it comes to small cars – and so it is with the Fiat 500. The 69hp 1.2 engine might struggle to pull skin off a panna cotta, but it’s peppy enough for pottering around town and decently economical. The 500 isn’t sporty, or even particularly fun to drive, so why pay more?

Likewise, we’d go for the mid-range Pop Star, rather than the fully-loaded Lounge seen here. With all the options fitted, our test car came to a faintly ludicrous £15,950. You could (and should) get a nice Ford Fiesta for that much.

What’s the used alternative?Fiat 500

The 500 has been on sale since 2007, so there are plenty in the classifieds. Prices start at around £3,000 for an early example with 80,000-90,000 miles on the clock. Just bear in mind that the three-year warranty will have expired and Fiats aren’t renowned for reliability; the brand is always among the backmarkers in the annual Which? Car Survey.

Should I buy one?Fiat 500

The 500 has been a sales phenomenon for Fiat. Indeed, the Italian marque has ended up modelling most of its range on it: witness the 500L and 500X.

Despite its faults, the 500 is classless and effortlessly cool. Yes, the VW Up is a better car in most respects – and cheaper, too. But many 500 customers simply won’t care. We wouldn’t buy one, yet even after nine years on sale, we’re sure thousands will.

Pub factFiat 500

More than 1.5 million examples of the current Fiat 500 have been sold since 2007. That puts it well on the way to catching the original 1957 500, which took 18 years to sell four million.

Ford Focus ST diesel estate (2016) review: Two-Minute Road Test

Ford Focus ST diesel estate (2016) review: Two-Minute Road Test

Ford Focus ST diesel estate (2016) review: Two-Minute Road Test

Looking to have your cake and eat it? The Ford Focus ST diesel estate combines sporty looks and impressive performance with low running costs and an affordable price tag. But is it, ultimately, just a diesel-engined Focus estate?

Prices and deals

Prices for the Focus ST diesel estate start at £23,845 for the ST-1, rising to £28,995 for the top-spec ST-3 six-speed auto. The ST-3 manual, tested here, costs £27,645 before options. A quick search with online broker Drivethedeal.com reveals you can knock around £5,000 off that – does a £22,500 top-spec Focus ST diesel estate tempt you?

What are its rivals?

There’s no shortage of fast diesel estates – the Volkswagen Golf GTD is perhaps the daddy of them all, while the Skoda Octavia and SEAT Leon are both available with the same 2.0-litre 184hp turbodiesel engine.

What engine does it use?

What engine does it use?

The Ford Focus ST diesel estate uses the same 2.0-litre TDCi turbodiesel as a number of other cars within the range – but with power boosted to 184hp. It falls short of the petrol’s 250hp, but has enough poke for most buyers.

How fast?

It’ll hit 62mph in 8.3 seconds in manual estate form (0.2 seconds slower than the hatch equivalent), while opting for Ford’s Powershift six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox brings that down to 7.8 seconds.

Is it comfortable?

Not everyone will find the Recaro seats fitted as standard to all the ST models particularly comfortable. If you fit in them, however, they provide a firm grip. Just don’t get too carried away if you’ve got the family in the back.

Will I enjoy driving it?

Will I enjoy driving it?

Yes. It might just be a diesel Focus estate, and its 184hp power output doesn’t sound earth-shattering, but it does a good impression of the regular petrol Focus ST hot hatch. The steering is a revelation in terms of electric power assistance, giving oodles of feedback and egging you on to act like a 17-year-old. And the six-speed manual ‘box is a joy to use.

The extra torque offered by the diesel makes it a slip-road champion, but being clumsy with the right pedal in wet conditions can lead to spinning up the front wheels quite easily. Ford’s tried to combat that with clever torque vectoring, but that can only go so far when dealing with 295lb ft between two wheels and a slippery road.

Our other gripe is the irritating engine noise, which is piped into the cabin through the speakers. Designed to make the diesel ST sound throatier, it just gets a bit annoying.

Fuel economy and running costs

Fuel economy and running costs

Officially, the manual Focus ST TDCi wagon returns 67.3mpg. Drive it sensibly and you won’t be far off that figure; even exploiting its performance, it should return acceptable fuel economy. Group 26 insurance might make it a tad pricey, but no more so than a Golf GTD, while 110g/km CO2 means you’ll pay just £20 a year in road tax.

What’s the interior like?

Inside, the Focus ST diesel is typical fast Ford – so, slightly dated with lots of plastic and a few ST badges splashed around to give it a sporting touch. Three extra dials on top of the dash help in that regard, as do the figure-hugging Recaro seats.

Is it practical?

The ST is no less practical than any other Focus estate. With the rear seats up, it has 476-litres of boot space – plenty for most people, and usefully more than the equivalent hatch. Rivals such as the Volkswagen Golf GTD offer a slightly bigger boot, however, while those desperate for practicality should consider the huge (for its class) Skoda Octavia.

Tell me about the tech

Tell me about the tech

The range-topping ST3 model has a fair amount of standard kit – including an eight-inch touchscreen in the centre of the dash, along with bi-xenon lights and electrically-adjustable front seats. Tech fans should opt for the £450 Driver Assistance pack, which includes lane-departure warning and automatic emergency braking. Ford’s SYNC2 navigation system is available for £300.

What about safety?

Euro NCAP tested the Ford Focus in 2012 and gave it a full five-star rating. It scored 92% for adult occupants and 82% for children. You should feel pretty happy to carry your kids about in the Focus ST diesel estate.

Which version should I go for?

Even the entry-level ST-1, which starts at £23,845 in diesel estate form, is fairly well-equipped. For that, you get 18-inch ST alloys, the usual ST bodykit, Recaro seats (with fabric trim) and a DAB radio.

What’s the used alternative?

What's the used alternative?

Although it sold in very small numbers, the Focus ST170 was launched as an estate model in 2002. They do crop up in the classifieds occasionally, although the newest examples will now be 12 years old – and you can’t get one with a diesel engine. Hot diesel estates of this size have only become popular recently, so look at something like a BMW 3 Series diesel as a used alternative.

Should I buy one?

The Focus ST diesel estate ticks so many boxes. It’s genuinely fun to drive and impressively good on fuel. Rivals are, at a push, more practical – and their interiors feel a little more robust. But the ST diesel looks the sportiest and could be the best-handling diesel estate this side of £25,000.

Pub fact

If you don’t need the performance, Ford has just launched its ST-Line trim level across the range. Essentially a replacement for Zetec S models, ST-Line offers sporty looks with more affordable running costs. You can pick up a 120hp 1.5-litre diesel Focus ST-Line estate for £22,395.

Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S (2016) review: Two-Minute Road Test

Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S (2016) review: Two-Minute Road Test

Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S (2016) review: Two-Minute Road Test

The much-lauded Volkswagen Golf GTI celebrates its 40th birthday this year – and to honour the occasion, VW has launched a bonkers version of the current, seventh-generation car. The limited-edition Golf GTI Clubsport S is based on the regular Golf GTI Clubsport, but with more power, less weight, and a few tricks up its sleeve.

The result is a car that broke the official Nurburgring record for front-drive production cars earlier this year. It completed a lap of the Nordschleife in 7min 49.21 seconds – quicker than a Honda Civic Type R that previously held the record. But how does it stack up on UK roads? We headed to Wales to find out…

Prices and deals

Want one? Tough, frankly. Volkswagen is only making 400 worldwide, with 150 of those coming to the UK – and all have sold out. Those lucky few will be paying £33,995 for their order. That’s around £900 more than a Golf R.

What are its rivals?

The current hot hatch market is arguably stronger than ever. Alongside in-house competition (from the four-wheel-drive Golf R and SEAT Leon ST Cupra 280), there’s the hardcore Renaultsport Megane 275 Cup-S, brilliant Honda Civic Type R, and hot hatch champion Ford Focus RS.

What engine does it use?

What engine does it use?

The Clubsport S uses the same ‘EA888’ 2.0-litre four-pot as all fast Golfs, but with power turned up to 310hp. That’s a whopping 90hp more than a regular Golf GTI, and even 10hp more than the Golf R. This is achieved using a remap and a bespoke exhaust system using 65mm tailpipes.

How fast?

The Clubsport S will hit 62mph in 5.8 seconds. That’s half a second quicker than a regular Clubsport, which in turn is 0.2 seconds faster than a GTI. The Golf R, with its four-wheel-drive system aiding grip off the line, does it in 5.3 seconds.

Is it comfortable?

It’s no Volvo XC90, but as performance cars go, the Clubsport S isn’t overly hardcore. Our test car was fitted with optional bucket seats which, while providing a firm hold during enthusiastic driving, would probably stand up to a long day behind the wheel.

Will I enjoy driving it?

Will I enjoy driving it?

This car has been developed on the Nurburgring – and that transfers perfectly to the bumpy, twisty Welsh roads where we’re testing the Clubsport S.

It’s not just the ferocious pace that makes the Clubsport S hilarious to drive. The way it handles is incredible. Turn into a corner and its perfectly-tuned electric steering provides a clear idea of what the front wheels are doing and – as they’re shod in uber-sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres – that’s generally little more than gripping as if their lives depend on it.

If you do coast into a bend a smidgen too quick, you have two options – bail by going hard on the brakes, or give it more gas. The latter is the braver move, but once you start to trust the Clubsport S, it’s incredibly rewarding. Squeeze the accelerator mid-bend and the electronically-controlled limited-slip diff transfers power between the front wheels and does an incredible job of almost eliminating understeer entirely.

When you’re not driving at ten tenths, it’s impressive how sedate the Clubsport S can be. The adaptive dampers (fitted as standard) provide a firm but certainly bearable ride, while noise levels are acceptable when you’re not nudging the redline.

Fuel economy and running costs

Fuel economy and running costs

Officially the Volkswagen Golf Clubsport S will return 38.1mpg and emit 172g/km CO2. The latter means it will cost £210 a year to tax, while the former means realistically you’ll be looking at mid-30s fuel economy with a bit of careful driving. Attempt to replicate the Nurburgring lap time and you better be comfortable with regular visits to the petrol station.

What’s the interior like?

From the driver’s seat, the Clubsport S’s interior is relatively sane. The dash is typical Golf – well made, with everything where you’d expect it to be. There’s a numbered plaque behind the gearstick identifying it as a limited edition, while you can opt for all manner of luxuries: from a rear-view camera to heated seats.

There is a but…

Is it practical?

Golfs, even in performance guises, are generally seen as fairly sensible family cars. The Clubsport S, however, only has two seats. Yup, for weight-saving reasons, the Golf’s rear seats have been removed, with a strut brace taking their place.

That aside, it’s not impractical. The boot is huge and the rest is, well, like a Golf.

Tell me about the tech

Tell me about the tech

Adding clever tech to the Clubsport S defeats the point: it’s all about weight-saving and handling improvement in a bid to save crucial seconds off its Nurburgring time. An aluminium front subframe contributes to the 30kg weight reduction, while revised suspension bushes and unique front and rear toe and camber angles aid handling.

What about safety?

The hot Golf’s tuned suspension, semi-slick tyres and advanced traction control systems mean you’d have to be trying very hard to push it beyond its capabilities. If it does go wrong, you’re in a Golf, with all the standard safety kit that entails. It’s got to be a more pleasant car to crash than a more focussed, stripped-out track car.

Which version should I go for?

If you can get your hands on the Volkswagen Golf Clubsport S, you’re limited to just three colours: red, white or black. Yes, the one we’ve driven in Wales (and pictured here) is grey… it’s a one-off prototype brought across from Germany for us to try. You can’t buy one like this, sorry.

What’s the used alternative?

What's the used alternative?

It’s hard to believe that the Volkswagen Golf Edition 30 is 10 years old now, but we’d definitely be tempted by one on the used car market. While not as extreme as the Clubsport S, 1,500 Edition 30s were built, with various bits of colour-coding and unique 18-inch alloys. Power was boosted to 230hp.

Hit the classifieds and you can pick up an Edition 30 from as little as £6,500 – or around £8,000 for a good one. While it won’t be the investment of the century, you will be buying one of the most desirable Golf GTIs ever for a relatively modest amount of money.

Should I buy one?

Realistically, we’d probably be swayed at the last minute by the Golf R and its passenger-carrying and greasy-road tackling abilities over a Clubsport S. Alternatively, if it’s a track car you’re after, £33,995 (before options) buys you a myriad of more focussed possibilities.

But if you’re a hardcore Golf GTI fan – and can somehow get on the waiting list (good luck with that) – the Golf Clubsport S is arguably the ultimate fast Vee-dub. We’d be mighty jealous of your purchase.

Pub fact

When setting its record-breaking Nurburgring time, the Clubsport S was driven with its suspension in ‘comfort’ mode. This allows the electronically-controlled dampers to absorb the monster bumps the ‘Ring delivers – and lets the driver jump over kerbs. It’s also the best setting for Wales.

Abarth 124 Spider: Two-Minute Road Test

Abarth 124 Spider: Two-Minute Road Test

Abarth 124 Spider: Two-Minute Road Test

Not heard of Abarth? You can be forgiven. It’s Fiat’s performance arm – originally a third-party specialist tuner, but bought by Fiat many years ago and resurrected in 2007. So far, it’s concentrated on churning out bonkers versions of Fiat’s 500 city car, but now its engineers finally have something a bit more substantial to work with – the rear-wheel-drive 124 Spider.

Prices and deals

Prices start at £29,565 – a substantial £10,000 more than the entry-level 1.4-litre turbo Spider, and nearly £6,000 more than the top-of-the-range 2.0-litre Mazda MX-5 it shares a platform with. Abarth is currently offering the 124 on personal contract hire for £299 per month over four years, following an initial payment of £6,877.

What are its rivals?

Obviously, it’s easy to compare it with the regular Fiat 124 Spider and the Mazda MX-5. It’s more powerful and ultimately more focussed than both, although Abarth says it’s also gunning for the more expensive BMW Z4 and Audi TT.

What engine does it use?

What engine does it use?

The Abarth 124 Spider uses the regular turbocharged 1.4-litre MultiAir engine, with power boosted from 140hp to 170hp. Torque gets a small boost to 184lb ft.

How fast?

It’ll hit 62mph in 6.8 seconds (half a second quicker than a 2.0-litre MX-5), and is good for a top speed of 143mph.

Is it comfortable?

While the Abarth 124 Spider’s cabin isn’t uncomfortable per se, those of a larger build might find it a bit wearing on longer journeys. If you can fit in, it’s quite a snug place to be.

Will I enjoy driving it?

Will I enjoy driving it?

Oh yes. With the same chassis as the Mazda, it’s a wonderfully delicate car to drive – hugely responsive to tiny steering inputs, and massively confidence-inspiring. With a mechanical limited-slip diff, it has no qualms about getting its power down as you exit corners. Even on track at Silverstone, it didn’t feel out of its depth. It sounds better than the standard model, too – thanks to its standard Record Monza exhaust system.

Fuel economy and running costs

The charm of the regular Fiat 124 Spider and its Japanese cousin is the fun driving experience on offer in exchange for relatively little outlay, in terms of buying and running costs. That’s true with the Abarth version, too. It returns an official combined 44.1mpg – the same as the regular 140hp model.

What’s the interior like?

Abarth has made a few minor tweaks to the 124’s interior to give it that scorpion touch – there’s a smattering of red stitching, as well as ‘racing’ Alcantara and a red rev counter. There’s also a red stripe on the top of the wheel, as well as a metal numbered plaque attached to the bulkhead between the seats.

Is it practical?

Is it practical?

Nope. It’s something we’ve constantly moaned about when reviewing the Mazda MX-5 and regular Fiat 124 Spider. We don’t expect family estate levels of practicality, but is a glove box too much to ask? At least the 140-litre boot will fit a weekend bag or two.

Tell me about the tech

All models come with a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system (borrowed from the MX-5), as well as a Drive Select button. This sharpens the throttle response, makes the steering even tighter, and provides a bit more give in the traction control.

What about safety?

Although the 124 hasn’t been tested by Euro NCAP yet (in Fiat or Abarth forms), the Mazda MX-5 scored a four-star rating – mainly let down by its lack of collision-avoidance tech.

Which version should I go for?

Which version should I go for?

If you’ve decided on an Abarth 124 rather than a regular Fiat 124 or Mazda MX-5, there are many further options. You can choose whether to have the black bonnet or go for a slightly more understated look, and choose between a manual or auto gearbox. We’d go for the former.

What’s the used alternative?

There’s nothing really like this on the nearly-new market. We could recommend an MX-5, but the third-generation Mazda wasn’t anywhere near as good as the latest model or its Italian brethren. If Italian convertibles are your thing, look at Fiat Barchettas or Alfa Romeo Spiders.

Should I buy one?

We’re going to be a little non-committal here… There’s no denying, if you want a real driver’s car, the Abarth 124 Spider is very good. But, at nudging £30,000, it’s getting a lot more expensive than the no-frills entry-level Fiat 124 Spider or Mazda MX-5. And, if you’re prepared to spend the money, you can buy a top-spec MX-5 and take it to specialist tuning company BBR. They’ll do wonderful things to it.

Pub fact

Pub fact

Want to take an Abarth 124 rallying? A motorsport version was shown at this year’s Geneva Motor Show, with the 1.4-litre engine ditched in favour of a 1.8 turbocharged lump mated to a six-speed sequential ’box. It produces a considerable 300hp, but performance figures haven’t been announced.

Nissan Navara: Two-Minute Road Test

Nissan Navara: Two-Minute Road Test

Nissan Navara: Two-Minute Road Test

This is the latest Nissan Navara – or Nissan NP300 Navara to give it its full name. It’s the latest in a flurry of new pickups, designed to appeal as a family runaround without losing any of its credibility as a serious workhorse.

What are its rivals?

Rivals are aplenty: there’s the recently-replaced Mitsubishi L200, its Italian brethren the Fiat Fullback, Toyota’s iconic Hilux, Ford’s affordable Ranger and the soon-to-come, Navara-based, Renault Alaskan.

What’s it like to drive?

What's it like to drive?

If you’re more used to SUVs than proper trucks, you might find the Navara disappointing. Even with interior features that aren’t that far off the Qashqai, there’s no escaping the fact that this is a commercial vehicle.

The 2.3-litre turbodiesel engine is noisy, the automatic gearbox in our test car is a little clumsy and parking it would be nigh-on impossible without the wonderful Around View Monitor.

But that’s compared to SUVs. The ride, although a bit wobbly when unladen if you’re expecting it to be car like – is virtually a revelation compared to pickups of old, thanks to the five-link coil-sprung suspension fitted as standard to the double cab model.

Compared to trucks of the past, you could drive the new Navara every day without it feeling too much of a compromise. It’s quiet at motorway speeds, and visibility around town makes negotiating traffic easier than you might expect.

Fuel economy and running costs

Fuel economy and running costs

We tested the more powerful 190hp diesel. Key stats are a combined 40.3mpg and 183g/km CO2. That’s from a commercial vehicle. Not bad, eh?

Is it practical?

Hell yeah. Or should we say, truck yeah? Boasting a 1,578mm load bed, the double cab’s load area is longer than that of the Mitsubishi L200 and offers plenty of room for lugging building supplies, lifestyle accessories or whatever you might wish to chuck in it.

What about safety?

What about safety?

The latest Nissan Navara scored four stars when it was tested by Euro NCAP last year. It was let down by its lack of technology such as a lane departure warning, and pedestrian-friendly active bonnet. Not a huge concern, really.

Which version should I go for?

It depends what you want. While the top-spec Tekna we had on test was lovely, and would be ideal for those looking to use the Navara as a family car, you might find it hard to stomach spending more than £30,000 on something as workhorse-like as this. For those wanting the practical abilities of the Navara more than luxuries such as heated leather seats, the entry or mid-range models might make more sense.

Should I buy one?

Should I buy one?

If you’re prepared to accept the compromises offered by a pickup, the Navara is certainly one of the best in its class.

Pub fact

World rally champion Colin McRae drove a Nissan Navara in the Dakar Rally Raid in 2004 and 2005 – crashing out in his second year. The firm launched a special edition Navara Rally Raid in 2004, limited to just 300 units.

Audi A3: Two-Minute Road Test

Audi A3: Two-Minute Road Test

Audi A3: Two-Minute Road Test

Another week, another ‘new’ Audi. This time it’s the A3 – a facelift, even by Audi terms, with a few tweaks to the design (the A4-esque headlights, for example, and a wider grille) and some extra tech that’s trickled down from larger models.

What are its rivals?

Rivals come from traditional upmarket C-segment contenders. So, the BMW 1 Series and Mercedes-Benz A-Class.

What’s it like to drive?

What's it like to drive?

Under the bonnet, there are two new TFSI petrol engines: an entry-level 1.0-litre and a larger 2.0-litre. Despite the current anti-diesel sentiment, most buyers are expected to opt for a turbodiesel, available in 1.6-litre (110hp) or 2.0-litre (150hp and 184hp) forms.

We tried the entry-level 1.6 diesel in a three-door A3 in Sport trim with a manual gearbox. Although it suffered from that irritating turbo lag that we’re far too used to from diesels tuned with economy in mind, it’s a good drive. Most junior executives will be happy to punt one along as a company car.

The steering is slightly numb, while you’d probably be better off opting for the standard suspension rather than the firmer sports set-up (a no-cost option) – unless most of your driving is on ultra-smooth motorways.

Fuel economy and running costs

In 1.6-litre diesel guise, the Audi A3 returns an official fuel economy of 78.5mpg (when fitted with the 17-inch alloys that come as standard on the Sport). CO2 emissions come in at 107g/km, meaning road tax will cost you £20 a year and you’ll pay 18% BIK company car tax.

Is it practical?

Is it practical?

The A3’s interior is where it really impresses. It’s always felt to be of top quality, but it’s been brought bang-up-to-date with the addition of Audi’s clever Virtual Cockpit (essentially an LCD display that replaces the conventional dials and can be used to show satellite imagery of the route ahead, media information and even social media channels), plus various other tech.

Those seeking practicality might prefer the five-door Sportback version, with its 380-litre boot (bigger than both the BMW 1 Series and Mercedes-Benz A-Class).

What about safety?

When tested in 2012, the Audi A3 was awarded five stars by Euro NCAP. German engineering combined with a host of safety kit means the Audi A3 is a very safe car.

Which version should I go for?

Which version should I go for?

As well as the entry-level diesel, we also enjoyed a brief drive of the 1.4-litre TFSI petrol in saloon form. If you’re not restricted to diesels for fuel economy or company car tax reasons, the petrol is a likeable choice. With 150hp and cylinder-on-demand tech, it’s both fun to drive and easy on fuel.

Should I buy one?

It’s not the sort of car that necessarily appeals to the heart, but the A3 is a really well-polished contender in the popular premium C-segment. There are body styles to cater for everyone: three- and five-door hatches (the latter a ‘Sportback’ in Audi lingo), a cabriolet and even a saloon.

Buy one (or, perhaps more likely, consider one as a company car), and you’ll be treated to the best interior in its class, a plethora of new tech to keep the iPhone generation happy, and sensible running costs. If you’re a keen driver, though, you might want to check out the BMW 1 Series.

Pub fact

Pub fact

The first-generation Audi A3 was launched in 1996, and was the firm’s first ‘small car’ since the 1974 Audi 50. The Audi 50 went on to become the Volkswagen Polo.

Ford Fiesta ST200: Two-Minute Road Test

Ford Fiesta ST200: Two-Minute Road Test

Ford Fiesta ST200: Two-Minute Road Test

It’s three years now since the brilliant Fiesta ST was launched. And while nothing has come along and knocked the plucky Fiesta off its perch as number one hot hatch of this size in that time, Ford decided it was time to give the ST a little extra. Coinciding with the Fiesta’s 40th anniversary (so call it a 40th anniversary special edition if you like), the Fiesta ST200 comes with more power, more torque, tweaked suspension and a shorter final drive. Is this the ultimate Fiesta ST?

What are its rivals?

What are its rivals?

Sure, there are the Fiesta ST’s conventional rivals such as the Renaultsport Clio 200 and Peugeot 208 GTi, but we already know the regular ST beats them. Its real competition comes from within – in the form of the Fiesta ST tweaked by Mountune. That comes with 215hp, more than the ST200 (on paper – we’ll come onto that) for just £599 over the regular model.

What’s it like to drive?

What's it like to drive?

But there’s more to the ST200’s performance than that 200hp figure suggests. Like the regular ST, it comes with an overboost function. This boosts power to 215hp for 20 seconds, while torque increases by 22lbft. In reality, that means the ST is pretty much a 215hp car – how often do you keep your foot on the accelerator for more than 20 seconds in the UK?

Needless to say, it’s quick. The official 0-62mph time of 6.7 seconds shaves 0.2 seconds off the regular car. If Autobahn cruising is your thing, that shortened final drive results in a 143mph top speed (in a Fiesta!). It also sounds fantastic, while acceleration comes in pretty much any gear – meaning you don’t have to drop down should you wish to overtake. You probably will, though, as the gearbox features the same short throw and slick feel as the regular ST.

The Fiesta ST’s party piece is its handling. On twisty, bumpy, broken British roads, there’s very little that’ll keep up with the ST200. It’s an absolute hoon. The regular model has recently had its steering revised, and it provides levels of feedback that we’re just not used to from electronic power-assisted steering.

It feels like an old-school hot hatch, with true throttle adjustability and compact dimensions that make it really easy to hustle along. A thicker front anti-roll bar ensures the ST200’s turn-in is wonderfully accurate, while revised dampers provide a slightly firmer but not overly harsh ride.

Fuel economy and running costs

Fuel economy and running costs

That extra power means fuel economy has taken a knock – but it’s far from bad. It officially returns 46.3mpg, while CO2 emissions are 140g/km. It’ll cost £130 a year to tax (the same as a regular Fiesta ST), while servicing should be fairly reasonable at Ford dealerships.

Is it practical?

Is it practical?

The ST200 is no less practical than a regular Fiesta. That means you can squeeze in four passengers (five at a push) and there’s more room in the boot than, for example, a Mazda MX-5. But that’s the beauty of hot hatches compared to out-and-out sports cars.

Inside, the ST200 comes with unique Recaro front seats that some might find borderline firm. But this isn’t meant to be a cosseting car. More of an issue is the dash, which is starting to look very dated – with a tiny infotainment screen and lots and lots of buttons.

What about safety?

What about safety?

When tested by Euro NCAP in 2012, the regular Fiesta was awarded a five-star safety rating. There’s no reason why the ST200 should be any less safe – apart from the fact you can be going very fast, very quickly. Not a car for 17-year-olds then, but it has got Ford’s clever ‘MyKey’ feature that can be used to enforce a speed limiter.

Which version should I go for?

Which version should I go for?

Initially, the ST200 was limited to just 400 models, all finished in distinctive Storm Grey. But demand has been so great that production has been increased. As many as 1,000 could be sold, product manager Pierre Bonnet told us.

Should I buy one?

Should I buy one?

We’ll make no bones about it – we’re huge fans of the Fiesta ST200. We nearly stopped off at a Ford dealer on the way home, that’s how much we enjoyed driving it.

The clincher is the price. At £22,745, the ST200 is £5,000 (or 28%) more than the £17,745 ST-1. And the ST-1 is going to be very nearly as much fun, especially if you get it tuned by specialists Mountune. That makes the ST200 a little difficult to justify.

But, if you can justify it (and live with the dated interior), you’ll absolutely love the ST200. It’s the ultimate Fiesta ST, which itself is the ultimate affordable hot hatch (and arguably more fun than bigger hot hatches such as the Volkswagen Golf GTI). It looks great in Storm Grey, and you’ll be given a great deal of kudos turning up at fast Ford meets in one. You could almost look at it as an investment.

Pub fact

Pub fact

The Fiesta ST200’s 1.6-litre EcoBoost engine boasts 200hp (before the overboost kicks in) – that’s twice the power offered by its Fiesta XR2 ancestor.