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First Drive: BMW’s iX3 shows off firm’s electric intent

BMW hit the ground running when it came to electrified vehicles. You might remember the striking i8 which, although a hybrid and not a fully electric car, showcased what the future of the firm’s battery-assisted vehicles might look like, alongside the little i3 which has soldiered on for many years as BMW’s core EV.

But after that duo, things fell rather silent. Until now, that is, thanks to this – the iX3. It’s the first in a whole new wave of EVs for BMW, kicking off a fleet of battery-powered models for the company. Let’s check out what this new iX3 is all about.

Okay, we’ll admit that on the outside at least, this looks like a pretty regular X3. But look slightly closer and you’ll notice the closed-off front grille, the aerodynamic wheels and the subtle blue badging BMW reserves for its electrified models. It is, of course, completely silent too – only emitting that now-recognisable ‘hum’ when it passes.

Photos: PA Media

Famous composer Hans Zimmer has also had a hand in how the car sounds from the inside. In Sport modes and under acceleration, a somewhat other-worldly sound is emitted from the iX3’s speakers – different, for sure, but it’s actually really exciting.

The iX3 forms part of a four-pronged offering in the X3 range, which now brings a petrol, diesel, plug-in hybrid and – in this case – electric options. Here, we get an electric motor driving 282bhp and 400Nm of torque to the rear wheels alone. Linked up to an 80kWh battery – of which 74kWh is usable – this setup allows for a range of up to 285 miles according to BMW. The ability to charge at speeds of 150kW means that an 80 per cent charge can be conducted in as little as 34 minutes.

In terms of performance, the iX3 will manage 0-60mph in a respectable 6.6 seconds before heading onwards to a 112mph top speed. These are more than on-par for a conventional petrol engine, let alone an EV.

It’ll be a big plus for those who don’t want an EV to feel completely alien against a conventional combustion-engined car that the driving position and general feel of the iX3 are much the same as that in the regular X3. The gear selector is in the right place, the steering wheel lacks any EV-centric buttons and even the dials ahead of you are relatively straightforward.

But push away and it’s the refinement and quiet that really strikes you. The lack of a petrol or diesel engine ahead of you brings a whole new, more calming element to the X3 experience, while the acceleration on offer is genuinely impressive. The decent range also means that plug-ins are few and far between, but the ability to charge at speeds of up to 150kW means that – when you do find an appropriately quick charger – you’re not hanging around for too long at all.

Like we’ve already mentioned, the iX3 looks pretty much identical to the latest X3, save for a choice few EV parts. If you’re not after an electric car that shouts about its battery powertrain, then this really is the car for you. It’s worth mentioning that since our drive of the car, BMW has already refreshed the look of the iX3, leaving alone its underpinnings.

Though subtle, the changes reflect those made to the facelifted X3. They bring larger front grilles and sharper, more distinguished headlights. The rear lights have been given a redesign too, though it’s still a very understated change over the car we’re testing here.

Step into the cabin of the iX3 and you’re met with a fine array of materials all pulled together with great attention to build quality. Everything feels solid and well-made, while the blue accents dotted around the interior do help to remind you that you’re in an electrified model. We’ve had some reservations about BMW’s new driver display design, but the readouts are reasonably clear and all of your key information – such as battery levels and charge time – is easy to find.

Because the iX3 has been based on the conventional X3 – rather than a bespoke EV platform – the cabin doesn’t have the same level of space that you might expect from a car without an engine, but there’s a good amount of rear legroom. There’s also a useful 510 litres of boot space which can be expanded to 1,560 litres by folding down the rear seats. A handy under-floor storage area tidies away the cables, too.

As part of that update we mentioned, BMW has transformed the specifications available on the iX3. Gone are Premier Edition and Premier Edition Pro, replaced by more familiar M Sport and M Sport Pro grades. We got behind the wheel of the Premier Edition Pro – equivalent to the new M Sport Pro setup. Here, you get a head-up display and a 10.25-inch central infotainment system which is both slick to use and easy to read.

It also incorporates BMW’s gesture control, which allows you to change aspects of the car’s system – such as the volume or track – simply by ‘waving’ your hand in front of the screen. It sounds odd in theory but actually works really well in practice.

The iX3 is a really polished EV from BMW. The real groundwork is put in by its powertrain, which offers a decent range and, most importantly, a great rate of charge. But because it’s been placed in a package that has already gone through generations of development, there are very few rough edges to speak of.

As an electric car that’ll dovetail into everyday life without an issue, the iX3 makes a solid case for itself. Given that it’s only the start of what is to come from BMW EVs, we’re excited to see what’s up next.

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You can depend on this

TONIO DARMANIN drives the new Dacia Duster.

A recent visit to Dacia’s Technocenter in Paris gave me the opportunity to meet up with the company’s top executives and better understand the strategic path it is planning for the coming years.

The company’s CEO Denis Le Vot highlighted that Dacia is in the process of transforming its corporate branding which will herald a transformation of its product offering and offensive.

Since Luca De Meo took over at Renault group in 2020, he set in motion a ‘Renaultution’ that will see Group Renault’s strategy shift from volume to value. Quoting De Meo: “This will feed our brands’ strength, each with their own clear, differentiated territories; responsible for their profitability and customer satisfaction.”

One major move involves the appointment of Miles Nuernberger as the new design director of Dacia and Lada business unit. Miles previously worked for Ford and Citroen but joined Aston Martin in 2008 in exterior design, and was appointed design director in 2018. He was in charge of design for the Aston Martin DBX, the brand’s first SUV, as well as the Lagonda brand relaunch, including the Vision sedan and SUV concepts. He will be helping Dacia expand their model range beyond the small car segments.

While in Paris, I had the opportunity to drive various vehicles, including the new 100 per cent electric A-segment crossover, the Dacia Spring which should sell in most markets for €16,900 before government incentives. This represents a massive breakthrough in EV pricing and I will write about this in a future issue of this publication.

I also drove the new Duster which is in its fourth generation, having sold nearly two million units since its launch and making it one of the major pillars in the Dacia product line-up. This is actually a facelift but it does introduce many innovations mainly driven by customer feedback and involve both aesthetic but also fundamental changes aimed towards a better ownership experience.

At the front end, the new Duster adopts the style features of Dacia’s refreshed visual identity first seen on the New Sandero and Sandero Stepway. New light units include Y-shaped daytime running lights, a new shape that also inspired the new 3D chromed radiator grille. This more contemporary front end reinforces the new Duster’s personality.

The always-on lighting at the front and rear embody the new Dacia light signature, and the Duster is the first Dacia model to be equipped with front LED direction indicators. This technology is also used for the dipped headlights (with automatic main beam activation as standard), and the number plate lights. As well as lower electricity consumption, the LEDs offer brighter lighting, day and night, providing greater visibility for both the driver and other road users.

Thanks to the advanced expertise of Dacia’s innovative designers and engineers, the Duster’s aerodynamic performance has also been improved through the design of the new rear spoiler and new 16- and 17-inch alloy rims that have been put to the test in a wind tunnel.

The new Duster improves the comfort of its occupants with a more inviting cabin. It is equipped with new upholstery, new headrests, and a high centre console with a wide retracting armrest. The new Duster also offers two multimedia systems with a new eight-inch touchscreen. The upholstery for the seats is also new, and the fabric and shape of the enhanced headrests offer improved ergonomics. The new, slim profile of the headrests improves the visibility in the passenger compartment for rear passengers looking to the front and vice versa.

A major new feature is the inclusion of a high centre console with a sliding armrest that retracts 70mm. Available on selected models, it houses a closable, 1.1-litre storage compartment and two USB charging sockets for the rear passengers.

The comprehensive standard equipment includes an onboard computer screen, automatic main beam activation and cruise control and speed limiter with backlit controls on the steering wheel. Automatic climate control with a digital display, heated front seats and a hands-free card are available on higher specification versions.

The new Duster is available with a choice of two new multimedia systems. In addition to the Dacia Plug & Radio audio equipment (radio, MP3, USB, and Bluetooth), two new, user-friendly multimedia systems are available: Media Display and Media Nav. These are accessed through the new centrally mounted eight-inch touchscreen on the dashboard.

The interface on Media Display and Media Nav has a vehicle tab that is used to access economical driving information, and on the four-wheel drive version, the 4×4 monitor which displays an altimeter, inclinometer, and compass information.

True to its heritage, the Dacia Duster is a dependable SUV for both everyday and off-road use. Its high ground clearance, new tyres and specific 4×4 monitor (on the four-wheel drive version) mean the Duster is at home on both the road and off the beaten track. The new Duster is your everyday companion and continues to offer genuine all-terrain features, including a ground clearance of 217mm on the two-wheel drive version and 214mm on the 4×4, a breakover angle of 21 degrees, an approach angle of 30 degrees and a departure angle of 34 degrees on the two-wheel drive version and 33-degrees on the 4×4. I actually had the opportunity to test the 4×4 version on a demanding off road track and was impressed by its capability.

The new Duster is now available with a six-speed automatic EDC (Efficient Dual Clutch) gearbox with the TCe 150 engine, while the capacity of the LPG tank on the TCe 100 Bi-Fuel version has been increased by 16.2 litres, extending its range by more than 155 miles.

The two-wheel drive version of the new Duster now boasts a six-speed automatic EDC gearbox combined with the TCe 150 engine. It offers the comfort and pleasure of an automatic gearbox while keeping fuel consumption and CO2 emissions close to those of a manual gearbox.

With the new Duster, Dacia have reaffirmed their credo for building attractive, robust, versatile but most of all affordable vehicles. This results in longer-than-average ownership, higher residual values and stronger brand loyalty than many of its competitors.

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Aston Martin’s DBX aims to take the luxury SUV segment by storm

Think of Aston Martin and what springs to mind? Luxurious grand tourers, perhaps, or maybe even the vehicle of choice for a certain spy? Certainly when the firm announced its DBX – Aston’s first-ever SUV – it raised a few eyebrows, but given that other companies that are usually focused on sports cars were also developing their own four-wheel-drives – think Rolls-Royce and Lamborghini – it was somewhat to be expected.

This is the first time we’ve been able to get behind the wheel of the DBX – so can it deliver everything people know and love about Aston Martin but in an SUV? Let’s find out.

Well, pretty much everything is new really. Given that it’s the first time that Aston has produced an SUV in its more than 107-year history, the arrival of the DBX is quite a big deal. Needless to say, the firm has thrown the works at it and even created a purpose-made manufacturing facility in St Athan, Wales, where it is built.

Photos: PA Media

Designed to be as agile as possible both on- and off-road, the DBX incorporates high-end technologies such as triple-volume air suspension and a 48-volt anti-roll system to ensure that it delivers the kind of driving experience that people expect from an Aston Martin.

Aston Martin has leant on its partnership with AMG for the DBX’s power. It’s a twin-turbocharged V8, bringing 542bhp and 700Nm of torque to all four wheels through a nine-speed automatic gearbox. Strong and brawny, it allows the DBX to go from 0-60mph in 4.3 seconds before heading onwards to a 181mph top speed. It’ll probably come as little surprise that a large, powerful engine powering a big, heavy car isn’t the most economical, with Aston claiming 19.8mpg combined – though push the car harder and this will quickly dwindle.

But it’s a beautifully responsive engine with loads of character thanks to a deep, gravelly noise. It’s a fitting backbone to the entire DBX setup.

Initially at least the DBX is a confusing prospect to get your head around. Is this an SUV focused on performance, or is it one with ride comfort at the forefront of its priorities? Thankfully, as you progress it soon becomes clear that it has been designed to bring a blend of both of these attributes.

It’s why the steering has a decent weight to it which, when combined with the good body control, means you’re free to enjoy corners and long, sweeping bends. But then take the DBX on the motorway and it’s frankly sublime, cruising along while the cabin remains in hushed quiet. The engine, when the car’s in GT mode, is barely audible when on the move, but crank through the settings and it really starts to make its presence known.

It must’ve been a hard task to translate Aston Martin’s recognisable styling to a larger platform, but we’d say it’s been a successful process. It’s a big and imposing thing, the DBX, but there are plenty of finessed touches to ensure that it’s not just size that makes this car striking to be around. Aston’s trademark grille is present and correct, while at the rear of the car the eye-catching LED lights provide a suitable amount of drama for an AM car.

All of the proportions are tied in well together, while the huge arches are filled by 22-inch wheels (on our test car). Even though they’re giant by ‘normal’ car proportions, these alloys still struggle to fully fill the space beneath the car – you wouldn’t want to go much smaller or it would give the DBX a certain under-wheeled look.

There’s an undeniable sense of class to the DBX’s interior. Almost every area you touch is trimmed in leather, with the hide used on the dashboard being particularly smart. Though the door bins are quite small, there’s a useful area underneath the armrest for storage. In the back, the leather-trimmed opulence doesn’t stop, but it’s backed up by decent levels of legroom and loads of headspace. A full-length panoramic sunroof really helped brighten up ‘our’ car’s otherwise quite-dark interior, too.

When it comes to boot space, the DBX packs 632 litres of room. It’s a nicely square space, though the load height is particularly high, meaning some people may struggle when it comes to loading heavier items into the boot.

In a similar vein to the engine, much of the DBX’s multimedia system is borrowed from Mercedes. There’s a 10.25-inch screen in the middle of the dashboard, backed by a 12.3-inch display ahead of the driver. While the main screen looks pleasant enough, it feels a little behind the times; it’s not a touchscreen, so using a rotary controller to select different menus is a bit clunkier than it needs to be. Connect your phone and Apple CarPlay initiates – displaying across the full width of the screen, too – but suffers from similar issues due to the lack of touchscreen capability.

The DBX comes with an impressive range of safety assistance equipment, including forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection and lane departure warning, to name but a few.

Given that it was Aston Martin’s first foray into the world of SUVs, you could’ve forgiven it if the DBX hadn’t ticked all of the boxes. That’s not the case, however, as it’s a car with a multitude of talents wrapped up in a good looking and well-made package. Sure, the touchscreen might be a little dated in its operation, but the DBX makes up for this by being both superb to drive and superb to live with, too.

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Audi’s SQ5 arrives as a performance SUV with an eye on refinement

Since 2019 Audi has seen diesel power as the ideal fit for its SQ5 performance SUV In fairness, save for a short V6 petrol blip in its middle generation, the SQ5 has always favoured the fuel from the back pump. Despite its wavering popularity, diesel remains a go-to choice for many people – mostly those who travel long distances – and it’s at these drivers towards which the SQ5 is directly targeted. Now, there’s an updated one which brings a host of new features.

As well as mild-hybrid assistance, Audi has included the usual range of tweaks to the SQ5’s styling and interior to ensure it stays fresh both inside and out.

As we’ve already mentioned the largest change here is the adoption of a diesel engine and it’s much the same as the one you’ll find in the latest S4 and S5. The fitment of mild-hybrid technology is the big change here, while the styling tweaks made have ensured that this latest SQ5 follows in the family appearances, with a full-width intake-style design at the front mirroring that found on cars ranging from the R8 to A1.

Photos: PA Media

The cabin now features Audi’s very latest infotainment setup, while a greater level of standard equipment means that the SQ5 has more of a focus on value, too.

As we’ve already highlighted, the SQ5 uses diesel power. It’s a punchy unit, all turbocharged three-litre V6 of it, bringing a healthy 336bhp and 700Nm of torque. Driven to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic gearbox, it’s got enough power to send the SQ5 from 0-60mph in 4.9 seconds and onwards to a top speed of 155mph.

Audi also claims 34.4mpg – though we saw slightly above this during our time with the car – as well as CO2 emissions of 215g/km.

The SQ5 feels like it was made for long journeys. With that buttery V6 under the bonnet, it saunters at a cruise and feels genuinely refined. There’s acceleration whenever you need it, of course, with the deep reserves of torque easily accessible at nearly all speeds. Audi has really ironed out the creases with its gearbox, too, which in previous models has felt downright disconnected from the car as a whole. In this SQ5, there’s very little delay between pressing the pedal and getting the result you want.

The ride feels a touch over-firm at lower speeds and can give a slightly unsettled feel to the car as a whole, but gain some momentum and this becomes less apparent. Through some clever sound wizardry, the SQ5 also brings a burbling V8-esque soundtrack too which, despite not being all that authentic, is quite exciting.

Audi’s range of ‘S’ models have always exhibited the kind of styling restraint that allows them to slip beneath the radar and the SQ5 is no different. Sure, this update has brought quad exhaust pipes over the odd silver diffuser found on the older model, but it’s still a very understated affair. The chrome grille does add some premium finish, while subtle badging is found at the front and rear.

It’s still recognisable as a Q5, mind you, which is no surprise given that this refresh still relies heavily on the looks of its forbear. The small tweaks which have been made do help to keep things fresh, mind you.

Though the SQ5 doesn’t get the twin-screen setup found on models like the Q7 and Q8, its cabin still doesn’t feel lacking in tech. But it’s the quality that shines through here, with a healthy use of high-end materials throughout ensuring that the interior of the SQ5 feels built to last. The front seats – which feature a massage function – are comfortable, while the well-cushioned chairs in the rear should ensure that back-seat passengers don’t feel short-changed.

In terms of boot space, there are 510 litres to play with when the rear seats are in place, rising to 1,510 litres when you fold them down. It’s a reasonably well-sized area, with a low load lip making accessing the space a little easier.

Sitting as one of the top cars in the Q5 range means that the SQ5 benefits from plenty of standard equipment. All cars ride on 20-inch alloy wheels, while Matrix LED headlights are included too. Inside, the SQ5 uses a 10.1-inch infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay connectivity, flanked by a 12.3-inch virtual cockpit display behind the wheel which can be configured to show a variety of different readouts.

This latest generation SQ5 feels like it’s really getting into its stride. Though diesel might be under the microscope at the moment, it’s a great fit for this SUV as it brings great levels and refinement and efficiency which, if you’re doing big miles, is just what you want.

Though the cabin architecture might be feeling a touch behind the times now, the SQ5 is a great proposition for those who are after an SUV with generous performance but with very few drawbacks.

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Can an update help the Porsche Macan GTS stay at the top of its game?

JACK EVANS has been behind the wheel of the Porsche Macan GTS model to see what has changed.

Porsche is a big fan of tweaking its line-up, refining and sharpening in order to keep its products at their tip-top best. It’s the case with the Macan, which has now been given a second, subtle update for 2021, prior to a fully electric version hitting the roads in 2023. So to keep things fresh up until then, the current Macan now gains revised looks, a more streamlined engine line-up and a less button-heavy interior than before.

And though the previous Macan was by no means behind the times, it was starting to show its age in some key areas. Has this updated version addressed this issue? We’ve been behind the wheel to find out.

We’ll admit that when glancing around the Macan’s well-proportioned exterior it’s hard to see exactly what has changed over the previous car. The distinctive full-width light bar at the rear is present and correct but now the front end gains a tweaked grille while around the back there’s a prominent diffuser. Still, it’s a subtle change to the car’s looks.

Photos: PA Media

But things have been given a shake-up when it comes to powertrains. Entry-level Macan versions still use a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, but the more powerful Macan S ditches its older 3.0-litre V6 in favour of a more powerful 2.9-litre version. Gone too is the range-topping Turbo, instead replaced by the car we’re in today – the GTS. This model does, however, nearly match the output you’d get from the older Turbo meaning that if you’re after pace, this is the one to opt for.

The Macan, in GTS setup, makes use of a 2.9-litre turbocharged V6. It kicks out a considerable 434bhp – exceeding by some margin the 375bhp you get in the Macan S – alongside 550Nm of torque. Driven to the wheels via a seven-speed PDK automatic, it’s enough power to send the GTS from 0-60mph in 4.3 seconds – or 4.1 seconds when fitted with the optional Sport Chrono package as with ‘our’ car – and onwards to a 169mph top speed.

In terms of economy figures, we’re talking up to 25mpg combined and CO2 emissions of 258g/km. Of course, a way of eliminating these is by switching to electric – something the Macan is doing very shortly, as we previously mentioned.

One of the best things about the Macan – and one that continues to be so in this new version – is how spot-on the driving position is. You can get low in the seat, while the thin-rimmed steering wheel – a pleasant tonic to the current trend for thicker wheels – gets loads of adjustment too. It just means you’re starting off from a good point.

Fire up the GTS and you get a metallic rasp as the engine gets going and moving off this continues on. Well-weighted steering gives you the confidence to make the most of the engine’s power, while good levels of body control ensure that you actually don’t notice its two-tonne weight as much as you may think. There’s a certain firmness to the ride at low speeds, but the quality of the damping means that larger potholes don’t thump through to the cabin. At motorway speeds, there’s some audible tyre and road noise, but it’s not too bad.

The Macan has always been a smartly proportioned SUV and these subtle changes only enhance this. Could you say the design is getting a touch stale? Perhaps. But as one of Porsche’s most popular models, you can’t really fault the firm for keeping close to the original – and very successful – design. The tweaks made to this latest version do give it added presence without completely overcooking it.

These GTS-badged cars gain a host of black-coloured accents across the car, too, while the rear diffuser surrounding the car’s four exhaust pipes is bespoke to this model as well.

It’s inside where you’ll find some of the largest changes have taken place. It was one of the real weak spots of the older Macan; a head-scrambling number of buttons littered the central area around the gear selector, making changing settings and features a bit of a cumbersome task.

Now, however, these have been replaced in favour of touch-sensitive haptic buttons – much the same as those you’ll find on the latest Cayenne – which gives the Macan’s cabin a far more minimalist appearance. The gear selector itself has been made smaller too.

And though the general architecture of the cabin might be showing its years somewhat, the attention to material quality is still excellent. Everything fits together beautifully – though we’d have to question the red-coloured plastic air vent surrounds on this particular car as they cheapen the look of the cabin somewhat.

Consistent revisions – albeit relatively small ones – have ensured that the Macan has stayed competitive along its lifetime. Porsche’s smallest SUV is going to have considerable in-house competition once the electric version arrives (the pair are set to be sold alongside one another) but these tweaks have ensured that up until that point it’ll still remain as one of the best-handling cars in its class and one that will no doubt find favour with many drivers after performance and practicality.

Sure, the options list can easily send prices skyward, but go easy with the box-ticking and this remains an incredibly appealing SUV both in terms of dynamics and – thanks to this update – interior quality.

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The Toyota Yaris Cross is a comfortable, stylish crossover

Toyota has given the Yaris a crossover version. DARREN CASSEY finds out if it’s a winning combination.

Toyota is planning to further capitalise on its success with a new Yaris-based crossover, called Yaris Cross.

It’s a recipe that has found Ford huge success – it released the Puma, a crossover based on the best-selling Fiesta, with the pair taking up two of the five best-sellers so far this year. Toyota is hoping for similar success from its effort, which brings smart styling and a hybrid powertrain to the mix.

This is an all-new model that has been built with European customers in mind. It’s built on the firm’s latest vehicle platform called TNGA, which gives it access to its hybrid engine, practical cabin options, safety equipment and fun to drive characteristics.

Photos: PA Media

The powertrain has been updated to be more efficient, it has an impressive equipment specification, excellent connectivity, a new look and the firm’s latest all-wheel-drive technology.

The engine is a 1.5-litre petrol unit combined with an electric motor to produce 114bhp and 120Nm of torque. It’s been updated for the Yaris Cross, with the battery capable of regenerating twice the energy under braking and supplying 50 per cent more power during acceleration than before.

The result is a promised 62mpg, which is decent on its own. However, incredibly, on our three-hour route of city driving and country lanes, we achieved 74mpg. When you consider this isn’t even a plug-in hybrid, that’s hugely impressive.

Behind the wheel, the Yaris Cross is a curious blend of driving characteristics. You sit high, which makes visibility great, with the steering nicely weighted, which makes slow moving traffic and country roads equally relaxing to drive.

It’s comfortable too, with the soft suspension not translating to too much lean when cornering. However, despite this, at low speeds it rather crashes into potholes, which can become frustrating on particularly poor roads. The brakes are also difficult to modulate smoothly, occasionally grabbing as you slow to a stop.

Minor irritations for the most part, but it’s worth noting because rivals such as the Ford Puma are slightly more satisfying to drive.

Toyota says the Yaris Cross takes styling cues from the regular Yaris and the firm’s RAV4 SUV, and if you look closely you can spot the subtle nods. The combination brings its own unique, stylish appearance that looks great on the road.

It’s tall like an SUV but narrow like a supermini, with chunky wheel arches giving it a more robust appearance alongside the sleek headlights and sharp creases in the front fenders and bonnet. At the rear it looks like a chunky off-roader, but also gets modern, narrow tail lights.

The most impressive aspect of the Yaris Cross’s cabin is how spacious it feels. The car feels very narrow when threading through gaps in traffic, but it feels impressively roomy from the driver’s seat, while rear passengers have an acceptable amount of legroom.

There are some useful cubby holes for storing phones, drinks and other assorted items, while the nine-inch touchscreen in our test car was clear, crisp and easy to use. The overall ambience is one of solid build quality over premium appeal, but if you’re using your Yaris Cross for family life, that’s likely just what you’re after.

Compared with others at this price point, the Yaris Cross comes very well-equipped, particularly when it comes to safety assistance. For example, it has night-time pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, auto high beam and more included as standard.

The Yaris Cross looks great, has decent practicality, is comfortable to drive and has excellent equipment. And if our testing is anything to go by, running costs should be incredibly low. Safe to say Toyota has a winner on its hands here.

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The Lamborghini Aventador S is everything a supercar should be

With Lamborghini phasing out its iconic V12 engine, DARREN CASSEY gets behind the wheel of the Aventador to remember why it’s so loved.

Supercars are the stuff of dreams. Their performance should be ludicrous and their styling should be flamboyant and extroverted enough to inspire children to plaster images of them on their bedroom walls. No-one does this better than Lamborghini, and its supercar that most epitomises this description is the Aventador.

Not for much longer, though. Introduced a decade ago, it has seen updates that have increased power and produced more and more extreme versions. Most importantly, it will be the last car to get this iconic V12 engine in its purest form and will be replaced soon.

With this in mind, we got behind the wheel of the Aventador S to say goodbye to one of the most exciting supercars ever made.

Photos: PA Media

This model was introduced in 2016 as the ‘entry level’ model in the range, bringing a few updates to its predecessor, the LP700-4. It received various mechanical upgrades as well as styling tweaks to bring a fresher, more modern appearance.

As for those mechanical upgrades, the engine was updated to provide more power, it was given four-wheel-steering to improve handling and stability, and uprated software to provide a sharper driving experience.

It also gained an ‘Ego’ mode that gave the driver the ability to tweak the driving modes to suit their own preferences.

The heart of the Aventador and what makes it truly special is the engine. It’s no exaggeration to say that this is one of the greatest engines of all time. In S form, it makes a huge 730bhp and 690Nm of torque, making it good for a sub-three-second 0-60mph time and 217mph top speed.

The performance on offer is frankly ludicrous, and if you put your foot down in lower gears there’s a violent surge of acceleration. It feels quick, of course, but it’s the sound that really gets under your skin. The wail of the engine fills the cabin and overwhelms your senses as 12 cylinders fire at an increasingly rapid pace.

Electric vehicles are great and internal combustion engines obviously have their issues, but boy will we miss stuff like this when it’s gone.

The Aventador is big, and it only feels lower and wider from behind the wheel. The first few moments on the road are incredibly intimidating, with little visibility and the fact the pedals are slightly off-centre.

Once you’re tuned in, though, it’s like little else on the road. It’s surprisingly easy to drive at normal speeds, with well-judged steering weights, but once you pick up speed the car shrinks around you, darting through corners with an agility you just don’t expect from such a beast.

There is one downside, though, and that’s the gearbox. We’re used to slick double-clutch units these days, but this auto ‘box betrays the Aventador’s age. Unless you’re in sport mode charging hard, it’s slow and sluggish to swap cogs. It’s incredibly annoying, but a small sacrifice to make for the overarching experience…

There really is nothing else quite like an Aventador on the road. The Countach of the 1970s was considered the original ‘poster car’, and its wild styling has clearly inspired what is arguably its spiritual successor.

Sharp angles dominate the look of this big Lambo, which sits so low it’s seemingly being sucked into the Tarmac. The lower front grille is wide and accentuates the car’s width, while the high-rake windscreen and roofline give it that Countach-esque ‘wedge’ shape.

The rear is similarly theatrical, with a prominent diffuser and three-spoke taillights that give it a unique night-time signature.

Climb inside and it feels surprisingly cramped considering the car’s footprint. But again, once you’re acclimated to the fact your hair is brushing the roof the claustrophobia dissipates. With the low shoulder line, it feels like you sit high, so forward visibility is decent.

The materials also feel of the highest quality, but there are a few signs that the Aventador is facing retirement. For example, the infotainment screen is pretty small and uses outdated Audi software. However, the old school button-festooned centre console is welcome in an era where everything is stuck deep in touchscreen menus.

It’s surprisingly practical, too. The front bonnet is big enough to carry a sleeping bag, tent and camera equipment, and there’s also some storage behind the passenger compartment for smaller items.

Standard equipment includes all the mechanical upgrades such as four-wheel steering, as well as an electronically controlled rear spoiler, four driving modes, digital instrument display, seven-inch infotainment screen, satellite navigation and bi-zenon headlights.

Incredibly, parking sensors and a rear-view camera are an upgrade, but given the size of the car and the poor rear visibility, it should be the first option on your list.

The Aventador has been a hugely successful car for Lamborghini. It has continued its reputation for building some of the most enthralling supercars on the market and has received upgrades over the years that have kept it relevant and fun to drive.

It’s starting to show its age now, and that gearbox is almost unforgivable in this day and age. Almost, because the styling and the engine more than make up for it. It feels so unnecessary, but that’s what makes it great. It’s a head follows heart kinda car, and it should be celebrated as such.

Lamborghini Aventador, you and your fabulous engine will be missed.

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Is the Volkswagen California 6.1 Camper the best in the business?

DARREN CASSEY takes the California on a weekend away to see if this iconic name is still a class-leader.

In the world of camper vans, one brand reigns supreme: Volkswagen. There are few more iconic images than one of the firm’s classic campers pitched up, roof tent raised, its happy occupants munching on freshly cooked bacon sandwiches.

While the classic models are quite dainty in their proportions, the California is more like a mid-sized van. That means it’s spacious with plenty of room for everything you could need for a few days away. There’s no function over form here, either, because it looks fantastic, too.

This latest ‘6.1’ model took what was already one of the best campers in the business and has elevated its quality and practicality even further. That smart styling is new, with the front end looking sharper than before, but it’s inside where the useful upgrades have been made.

Photos: PA Media

Firstly, an electronic control panel sits above the front occupants, with the touchscreen displaying lots of useful information and control functions such as the pop-up roof and auxiliary heater. Ocean versions, like what we’re testing today, also get a new digital instrument display, while all models get updated infotainment.

There are two engine options available on the top-spec California Ocean, with a 2.0-litre diesel that makes either 148bhp or 201bhp. However, the other trims only get the lower-powered option.

Each has a 70-litre fuel tank that was reading in excess of 500 miles of range at full, while in our time with the Camper we were getting a very respectable 30mpg-plus figure. When you bear in mind the weight of all that equipment, that’s very impressive indeed.

Performance is decent too, again, bearing in mind the weight. The 148bhp engine can go from 0-60mph in 14.1 seconds and on to a top speed of 113mph, while the 201bhp unit is just over 11 seconds and over 120mph, with all-wheel-drive versions slightly quicker accelerating with a lower top speed.

The VW Camper is not a motorhome, so you don’t go into it expecting it to be a slow, wallowing titan on the road. However, this is still a heavy van with lots of equipment on-board, yet it feels surprisingly nimble and stress-free to drive.

The engine pulls with little fuss and once on the road it fades into the background. There’s a little more wind and road noise than you’d get on a regular van, but it’s not intrusive, while there are no creaks or rattles from the cupboards behind you.

We’ve already mentioned we’re fans of the way it looks, particularly with the optional two-tone paint, which gives the Camper real character, differentiating it from a regular van that it shares much of its shape with.

The roof box folds neatly away so you wouldn’t even know it’s there, but when you put it in place you get that iconic camper look – it’s sturdy, too. There’s plenty of glass on the California, with the large side windows helping to give the cabin a light and airy feel.

Anyone who’s driven a van recently knows the cabin is almost up there with cars these days, and the California is no different. Up front there are excellent materials and a clear, useful infotainment display.

However, it’s the rear that’s really of interest in the Calfornia, and here it excels. There’s a bench seat where passengers can buckle up for a drive, or relax in the lounge once parked up. These also slide to increase cabin space and make the kitchen more accessible – the hob is positioned well and it’s easy to cook a decent meal, while the sink makes washing up after yourself a breeze.

When it’s time to sleep, the pop-up roof tent goes up without fuss – by hand in Coast trim or via the electronic control panel in Ocean. Once up there it’s impressively spacious, and at six feet tall I just about fit. The mattress was comfortable, too, and you can unzip the sides if you want to doze off while looking at your surroundings.

There are some incredibly clever packaging ideas, such as the table in the door and the chairs in the bootlid, which means you have everything you need without impacting space.

There are four versions of the Camper, called Beach Camper, Beach Tour, Coast and Ocean. Each has a mini kitchen and a pop-up tent that allows you to spend time in the wilderness.

However, we tested the top-spec Ocean model, which has “the best a camper van can offer”. This model includes air conditioning with an auxiliary heater that runs off a separate battery that will run all night, infotainment with built-in navigation, an electronic pop-up roof, fully functional kitchen, LED headlights, front and rear parking sensors and much, much more.

The California 6.1 Camper feels like the culmination of years of perfecting the campervan recipe. There are fantastic design touches and unrivalled practicality that mean you’re left wanting for nothing.

What’s more, the cabin looks fantastic and is incredibly comfortable, while the van itself is great to drive, meaning long road trips to the great outdoors are genuinely enjoyable.

Volkswagen already had a class-leader in this segment. The best is now better.

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Can a new hybrid powertrain add life to the Ford S-Max MPV?

Against a tidal wave of SUVs, Ford is committing to MPVs. TED WELFORD finds out if that’s the right approach.

It’s no understatement to say that the MPV market is not in the best shape. But one exception to this rule is Ford, which is continuing to plough funds into the development of its MPVs, with its S-Max and Galaxy seven-seaters both benefitting from a new hybrid powertrain that aims to keep these models going a little longer. Here we’re trying the S-Max to see if that’s the case.

Ford is investing in electrification in a big way, and this latest S-Max Hybrid comes from part of €42m of investment into the brand’s Barcelona plant, with this powertrain also appearing in the new Kuga and Galaxy.

We’ll explore more about it shortly, but it’s an all-new setup for Ford and is currently the only hybrid MPV of its kind, though given the S-Max’s few rivals these days, it’s perhaps not all that surprising.

Photos: PA Media

For the S-Max Hybrid, Ford combines a 2.5-litre Atkinson cycle petrol engine with a 1.1kWh battery and electric motor, with power being delivered to the front wheels via a CVT automatic transmission.

In total, it kicks out 187bhp, which is on par with the most powerful diesel version, and allows for a 0-60mph time of 9.6 seconds and a top speed of 115mph. But most will choose the Hybrid for the efficiency benefits, with its 147g/km CO2 emissions being 10 per cent lower than the diesel’s.

Though Ford claims a fuel economy figure of 44.1mpg, we reckon this is a rare case of an understatement, as we averaged 50mpg quite comfortably during testing. With a 600-plus mile range, the S-Max Hybrid is certainly a good companion on those longer trips.

Ford has always excelled at making somewhat mundane cars rather good to drive, and the S-Max is no exception. It certainly feels far more like a hatchback than a big seven-seater through the corners, yet at the same time is a comfortable cruiser with a compliant ride, even in this ST-Line trim level that gets a sportier suspension setup.

The hybrid system is also one of the best ‘self-charging’ setups around, as it’s largely smooth, and is quite intelligent in its ability to switch between electricity and petrol – it’ll even run as an EV for short bursts, which really helps on the efficiency side of things. The CVT gearbox – like most of this type – does somewhat sap performance when you put your foot down, but is largely quite a good fit for a car like this.

Though MPVs might have a reputation for being styled in a similar fashion to white goods, we’d argue the S-Max isn’t a bad looking thing at all.

In our test car’s ST-Line trim (the sportiest looking model of the range), it gets large two-tone 18-inch alloy wheels, a body kit that wouldn’t have looked too out of place in the Max Power era of cars, and a range of gloss black touches. Though looks are always subjective, we reckon a seven-seat people carrier has never looked so good.

While the S-Max’s exterior might be looking as stylish as ever, the same can’t be said about this MPV’s interior. The layout is very much ‘old Ford’, with none of the digital dials and minimalist layout that you get with the brand’s most modern models. While everything still does the job well, it does look a bit dated next to plenty of SUV rivals.

But one area where the S-Max can’t be criticised is practicality. Though its Galaxy sibling might be the better seven-seater (mainly because it’s just that bit longer), this model still offers a flexible seating arrangement and three rows of seats that can be maneuvered so that seven adults could still sit in relative comfort. With just two front seats in position, it also offers van-like proportions, with a huge 2,020 litres of boot space to play with.

The Hybrid is available in the same trio of trims as the standard S-Max – Titanium, ST-Line and Vignale.

Standard equipment is generous and gets you keyless entry, front and rear parking sensors and an eight-inch touchscreen, but ST-Line would be our pick, adding the aforementioned styling tweaks, along with electric and heated front seats and a heated steering wheel. The only penny-pinching is the lack of electric boot and halogen headlights – you have to upgrade to the top-spec Vignale model for those features, which also adds a reversing camera and massaging leather seats.

Though people carriers might be falling out of fashion at quite the rate, the Ford S-Max continues to prove these models are worth your attention. It’s arguably better to drive than many SUVs of a similar size, and actually more spacious too.

The addition of this hybrid powertrain certainly gives the S-Max a further lifeline, and its efficiency in particular will likely impress. Though this Ford is quite pricey these days and not the most up-to-date inside, it remains one of the better seven-seaters on the market today and a brilliant large family car.

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