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DRIVEN ➤ Skoda Scala – the value card returns

Skoda Scala

The Scala is the Czech carmaker’s first all-new car since 2017 and Skoda’s most competitive family hatchback offering yet.

Skoda Scala

The Scala replaces the Skoda Rapid and sits between the Skoda Fabia and Skoda Octavia in the UK product line-up. As SUV and crossover sales continue to steamroll global markets, the Scala’s release shows that Skoda still sees the value in more conventional family hatchbacks.

Skoda Scala

In the family hatchback class, the Scala faces an expansive range of rivals, including the Volkswagen Golf, Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra and the SEAT Leon. It is a viable alternative to the Hyundai i30, KIA Ceed and Toyota Corolla, plus B-sector models like the Volkswagen Polo and SEAT Ibiza.

Exterior

Skoda has given the Scala much bolder styling than the rather dour Rapid. The front end features a wide grille and pointy headlights – which are LED units even on the entry-level model – and, in the side profile, there’s a nice chrome kink that follows the window line. At the rear, the tail-lights spread across the width of the tailgate, the top half of which may be a full glass panel, should you prefer.

Interior

The no-nonsense cabin is one of the more appealing aspects of the Skoda Scala. All models offer an infotainment screen, but high-spec models offer a super crisp Amundsen touchscreen. Skoda has sensibly decided to retain buttons for the touchscreen shortcuts and the climate controls, so you don’t have to navigate through menus just to change the temperature.

Skoda Scala

Skoda Scala

Overall, the interior isn’t quite as plush as a Volkswagen Golf, but its lower price means you don’t feel short-changed. Material quality is markedly better than the Rapid because Skoda has placed less-expensive but more durable materials lower down, so you don’t notice them as much. The main touchpoints, like the door armrests, are made of a more luxurious soft-touch material.

Another plus for the Scala is the level of space on offer. Front and rear passenger space is superb, affording generous leg and head room – even with the optional panoramic sunroof in place. There is a chunky central tunnel – which robs foot room for those sitting in the middle of the rear – but it’s not enough to spoil the Scala’s excellent practicality.

Skoda Scala

Trim grades and equipment

No Scala is sparsely equipped. The range kicks off with the S trim which features all-round electric windows, air conditioning, a 6.5-inch infotainment screen with DAB radio and Bluetooth, 16-inch alloy wheels and LED headlights.

Step up to SE, which is proving to be the most popular spec, and Skoda adds cruise control, rear parking sensors and a larger eight-inch screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.

Skoda Scala

The current top-spec SE-L offers larger alloys, LED rear lights, dynamic indicators, tinted rear windows, digital dials and a 9.2-inch Amundsen infotainment screen.

There is no word yet if a high-end Monte Carlo or even the luxury Laurin & Klement trim grade will join the Scala line-up any time soon. This is unlikely though, as their respective prices will likely elevate the Scala into Optima territory, away from its value-led character.

Safety

All other VW Group cars were rated the top five-star score by Euro NCAP and it’s reassuring that the Skoda Scala follows suit.

It features a range of systems designed to prevent you having a crash, such as automatic city braking and lane-keep assist and offers many airbags and automatic emergency services contact if you do have a collision.

You can order extra features like adaptive cruise control and rear cross-traffic alert from the options list.

Boot space

Despite being slightly longer than the Volkswagen Golf, the Skoda Scala doesn’t use that car’s platform. Instead, it shares underpinnings with the less expensive Polo and Fabia, albeit a stretched version of that architecture. The result is a much bigger boot than the Golf; at 467 litres, capacity is almost 90 litres more with the seats up, or 140 litres (1,410) when folded down.

The boot floor can also be adjusted which allows a hidden storage compartment plus, the lip at boot entry is minimal, making it easier to slide heavy items in.

Skoda Scala

Engines and transmissions

Three petrol engines are currently available in the Scala line-up. There is a 1.0-litre turbocharged triple-pot offered in 94- and 113hp. Only a five-speed manual gearbox is offered on the lesser-powered unit, while the latter may be paired with a six-speed manual or a seven-speed DSG automatic.

There’s also a 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine with 148hp (six-speed manual or seven-speed DSG auto) that manages 0-62mph in 8.2 seconds, while the 113bhp version of the 1.0-litre manages the sprint in a reasonable 9.8 seconds. To be honest, the 113hp engine feels plenty quick enough in the middle of the rev range.

Skoda Scala

On the diesel front, there is just the one oil-burner – a 1.6-litre TDI that has seen extensive service throughout the VW Group product range. Paired with either the 6M or 7DSG auto gearbox, the engine is tuned to deliver 113hp and buyers are likely to be high-mileage drivers who need the slightly better fuel economy.

On the road

Avoid the costly and superfluous adaptive sports suspension – the Scala is not a sports car. Stick with the Scala’s standard suspension and you’ll find nothing to grumble about. It has a soft, cosseting setup that keeps life impressively comfortable, whether you’re crawling along pockmarked urban streets or cruising along motorways.

Skoda Scala

There is enough control in the suspension to prevent the body from excessive movement on undulating roads, or from leaning over too much in the bends, making the car feel suitably tidy and stable. Sure, it’s not the sharpest-handling hatchback you’ll ever drive, but the comfort level enjoyed is easily worth that trade-off.

SUMMARY

A big step up over the previous Rapid, the Scala is an accomplished family hatchback that – although not a genuine Golf or Focus rival – is a serious alternative to the likes of the KIA Ceed and a plethora of others.

It majors in space, cabin quality, technology and safety kit, plus the Volkswagen Group connection could draw in customers looking for a cut-price Golf alternative.

As much as the SE-L’s niceties appeal, it’s the mid-range SE that strikes a better balance, particularly when matched with the 1.0-litre 113hp TSI petrol engine and the smooth-shifting DSG automatic transmission.

Pick yours in a strong, bold colour and you’ve got a spacious, practical and comfy family hatch that still cuts a dash.

Skoda Scala

 
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Posted by on January 5, 2020 in Driven

 

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DRIVEN ➤ 2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

By Wayne Gorrett

2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

‘From the ground, up’, ‘new’, ‘all-new’, ‘completely redesigned’, etc. These are terms you’ll hear often in the automotive industry.

2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

In the case of this fifth generation Toyota RAV4, I would have to tick the ‘all of the above’ box. Aside from the chalk-and-cheese visual differences, all the mechanical underpinnings replace those that had been around on previous RAV4 iterations for thirteen years.

2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

The new RAV4 debuted in March 2018 at the New York auto show. It is based on the front-wheel-drive Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA-K) platform, which is also shared with the eighth generation Camry, the current Prius and CH-R, along with the seventh generation Lexus ES.

I recently spent a week with ‘YXR’, a front wheel-drive 2.5-litre Hybrid, presented in second-tier Design trim and finished in vivid ‘Cyan Splash’. More a drenching, perhaps.

2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

Exterior

With hints of the bold Toyota C-HR crossover and sporting a more sculpted, chiselled look that could well have derived from a Lexus drawing board, the new Toyota RAV4 SUV is certainly more distinctive than its predecessor.

The car has better proportions than it used to – it has a longer wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear wheels) but is shorter overall by 11mm. Not only is it as far removed from being ‘librarian’ as could possibly be, it now squares up to strong rivals in the family SUV market such as the VW Tiguan, Renault Kadjar, Nissan X-Trail and Peugeot 5008.

2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

The inside story

The first impression you get when climbing into the new RAV4 is one of improved quality. Less daring than the outside, the interior is laid out simply and sensibly and you get swathes of soft plastics across the dashboard and doors, and plenty of aluminium-effect trims on the steering wheel, door handles, around the air vents and centre console.

2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

There are a few hard, more durable plastics on the grab handles, around the glovebox and below the central armrest, but on the whole the RAV4’s cabin feels pretty plush and suitably solid. The chunky and intuitive HVAC knobs are easy to use too, but oddly the heated seat switches are tucked away under the dashboard almost as an afterthought.

Every Toyota RAV4 comes with an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system as standard. The screen is bright and relatively easy to read in direct sunlight, but the menu screens need more than a cursory glance.

2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

Navigation is standard in all but entry-level Icon models. It’s relatively easy to input an address and add a waypoint, but the maps themselves aren’t particularly clear.

Unfortunately, you can’t mirror your phone’s navigation apps because no model in the new RAV4 range facilitates Android Auto or Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring – at least for now. You can still use the standard Bluetooth connection to play music from your phone through the car’s stereo, though.

2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

The Toyota wins for practicality, with a powered tailgate standard on the Design trim and above, revealing a sizeable 580-litre boot. A stretched interior also means adults will be able to travel more comfortably in the back. Toyota hasn’t squeezed a superfluous third row into the new RAV4 either as there is no seven-seat option in the new line-up. Sensible, actually.

Boot space

Its boot has expanded by 79 litres to 580, with 1,690 litres of luggage area available when row two is folded down. That should be plenty of space for families and those figures compare well with the 497 litres available in the Honda CR-V hybrid. However, non-hybrid models like the Skoda Kodiaq and SEAT Tarraco offer more space and the option of seven seats for similar money.

2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

Trim grades and equipment

Icon, Design, Dynamic and Excel trim levels are available, with even the entry-level Icon model getting 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, rear parking sensors, the eight-inch infotainment display, rear-view camera and DAB radio. Design adds 18-inch wheels, keyless entry, a powered tailgate, front parking sensors and sat nav.

Based on the Design trim, Dynamic models give the RAV4 a sporty look with its black wheels, a black headlining and heated front sports seats. Convenience is also boosted with blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic warnings, folding door mirrors and a powered driver’s seat.

2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

The range-topping Excel adds a heated steering wheel, leather upholstery, headlight washers and windscreen wiper de-icers.

Engine and transmission

For the UK market, Toyota offers just the one powertrain – a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine paired with an electric motor. The combination offers 215hp in 2WD models, or 219hp in AWD versions. Because this car is hybrid only, no manual gearbox is available. Instead, there’s a CVT automatic with CO2 emissions ranging from 102 to 105g/km, which should certainly get the attention of business car drivers.

2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

The RAV4 is a regular, self-charging hybrid, not one of those plug-in-and-charge-up PHEVs. While it’s great for convenience, you can’t go very far on pure electric power. Even with the EV (electric-only) mode selected, you’ll not get further than a few hundred metres before the hybrid system kicks the petrol engine back in to take over propulsion duties.

To be honest, you’re better off leaving the RAV4 in its ‘normal’ driving mode and let the system decide when’s best to deploy the electric motor and petrol engine. This generally means electric power alone in stop-start traffic and a combination of both power sources at higher speeds.

2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

On the road

Being the nature of high-riding SUVs, the elevated driving position of the Toyota RAV4 affords a good view out over traffic ahead and hedgerows to the side. The A-pillars are relatively thin and the side windows are nice and large so it’s surprisingly easy to manoeuvre through city traffic.

The steering isn’t particularly heavy and every model gets rear parking sensors and a reversing camera to help make parking relatively stress-free. Pick a Design model or above and you also get front parking sensors.

The RAV4 does a good job smoothing out bumps and potholes around town and exhibits little lean on faster country roads. The direct steering makes it easy to accurately carve from one corner to another. All-in-all, the Toyota RAV4 drives pretty well for such an upright family SUV.

2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

Settle into an inter-city motorway journey and you’ll find things stay calm and relaxed. The large angular door mirrors produce a slight whistle at speed depending on wind direction, but you won’t hear much noise from the goings on underneath.

During the week’s test, I drove ‘YXR’ a total of 506 miles over a variety of M, A and B roads. Most of that distance was under cruise control, my extensive use of which is always subject to local conditions and speed limits.

2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

Toyota claims the hybrid combination of petrol and electric power lets the RAV4 return up to 51mpg. However, during the week I achieved a non-too-shabby 52mpg, with no deliberate attempt at frugality.

Safety

When crash-tested by Euro NCAP early in 2019, the new Toyota RAV4 was awarded a full five stars for safety, scoring 93 per cent for adult occupants and 87 per cent for child occupants.

2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

It comes with plenty of driver assistance systems as standard, too, such as adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and road-sign recognition. You also get automatic emergency braking to help prevent avoidable collisions with other cars, pedestrians and even cyclists.

SUMMARY

The 2019 Toyota RAV4 offers considerably more substance than the outgoing model. It’s more robust, more efficient, promises more off-road capability and has a chassis agile enough to satisfy most drivers.

Overall, the new RAV4 Hybrid is a pretty good family sized SUV and makes a worthy and compelling case for itself.

2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2019 in Driven

 

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DRIVEN ➤ 2019 Volvo S60 saloon

By Wayne Gorrett, Pitlochry, Scotland

* This review first appeared at Leasing Options on 17th May, 2019.
* Updated to current relevance on 1st December, 2019.

My peers and I have been grumbling on for some time that the tidal wave of SUVs and so-called ‘crossovers’ has stunted the growth of the traditional four-door saloon. It has and continues to do so. But here, continuing to go boldly where few manufacturers now fear to go, is Volvo’s all-new S60 saloon. Hurrah!

It follows the V60 estate launched last summer and is essentially a less roomy version of it. They’re both based on the same mechanicals as the rest of the Volvo range, including the SUV line-up.

Unless you’ve been under a sizeable rock the past few years, you will have noticed Volvo’s metamorphosis, beginning with the XC90. The S60 saloon is the firm’s seventh all-new car in five years and the brand’s regeneration is due largely to the injection of capital from new owners Geely, who acquired the company from Ford in 2010.

This is the third-generation S60 and the first model to be built at Volvo’s new plant in Charleston, South Carolina. It is also the first Volvo to be available without a diesel engine in its line-up. Instead, Volvo will offer the S60 with its own range of Drive-E petrol and petrol-electric hybrid powertrains.

Earlier this year, I met up with Volvo UK at Fonab Castle in Pitlochry, Scotland for the media launch of the all-new S60 saloon – initially in T5 R-Design Edition trim – and filed this report…

Exterior

The new S60 gives you precisely what you’ve come to expect from Volvo of late, because the new family of Volvos follow largely the same successful formula.

On the outside, you get one of the best-looking saloon cars in its class, which houses the likes of BMW’s new 3 Series, the Audi A4, Alfa Romeo’s Giulia and the handsome Volkswagen Arteon. It bears a strong Volvo family resemblance, fine saloon proportions with perhaps a hint of contained aggression and with enough differentiation from other Volvos to avoid shouts of Matryoshka cloning.

The inside story

Inside the S60, you’ll find even less of a difference between modern-day Volvos than there is on the outside. That you can hop from any one current Volvo to another and know exactly where everything is, is quite reassuring.

Volvo has settled welcomingly into a Scandi-cool way of doing things, with excellent seats, a widely adjustable driving position and clear, well-positioned dials.

The vertically-mounted central touchscreen is relatively easy to navigate but, for my liking, still controls too many touch functions – such as the heating and ventilation which ideally should be controlled by intuitive knobs and dials.

On the whole, it looks good, works satisfactorily and reacts quickly to inputs and remembers you’ve turned off lane keep assist along with a few other nannying electronics the next time you get in the car.

There’s also plenty of storage space dotted around the cabin, including two cup holders below a lidded cubby between the front seats.

In the rear, the new Volvo has less head and leg room than the 3 Series and Alfa Romeo Giulia. Anyone gifted with height taller than around 6ft will probably notice their head brushing the ceiling and that before the optional panoramic glass roof is fitted, which will exacerbate the problem.

More positively, all versions get a rear central armrest as standard with integrated cup holders, plus there’s also a reasonable sized door pocket on either side of the car.

Boot space

At 422-litres, the S60 has a relatively long boot by executive saloon standards, although the rival 3 Series has a taller and broader load bay. The powered tailgate is standard across the S60 range and there is underfloor storage and cargo hooks as standard.

The rear seats are manually split 60:40, but the optional Convenience Pack allows their folding at the touch of a button.

Trim grade and equipment

At launch, just the one trim is offered, that of the sport-oriented R-Design Edition. It is very well equipped with 19-inch alloys, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, a driver head-up display, climate control, adaptive cruise control, keyless entry, rain-sensing wipers and automatic headlights.

Additional trim grades of ‘R-Design Plus’, ‘Inscription Plus’ and a performance-oriented ‘Polestar Engineered’ (with the T8 twin engine only) will follow later (both are now available – WG).

Engine and transmission

At launch, the S60 comes with just the one engine – a turbocharged four-cylinder 2.0-litre T5 unit, paired with an eight-speed automatic gearbox.

It offers 250hp and is pretty nippy – accelerating from 0-60mph takes less than 6.5 seconds – and you shouldn’t have too much trouble matching Volvo’s claimed 35mpg fuel-economy figure, which I exceeded on the 240-mile launch test route around Scotland.

Additional petrol engines are expected to join the S60 line-up later and are likely to include the 310hp supercharged and turbocharged AWD T6, and two T8 hybrid models. These use the same turbocharged and supercharged petrol engine as T6 versions to drive the front wheels but adopt an electric motor under the boot floor to drive the rear wheels. Together, the engine and motor produce 400hp in the standard T8 and 415hp in range-topping ‘Polestar Engineered’ T8 version.

The Aisin-sourced eight-speed automatic gearbox you get in all S60 models is relatively smooth, but it doesn’t respond particularly quickly which makes the Volvo S60 feel a little dim-witted when accelerating to overtake slower-moving traffic.

On the road

A delight to drive, the S60 has natural and well-engineered control weights; there’s no learning curve to driving it because it adheres to your inputs so obediently. Ride quality and high-speed stability are right up there with the car’s German rivals.

Though very responsive and plenty quick, the S60 is not quite so thrilling to drive with a dollop of enthusiasm as, say, the BMW 3 Series but frankly, most luxury-car customers are not chasing 0-62mph times. The Volvo’s perfect balance of luxury and sportiness is better suited to everyday driving.

The Volvo S60 makes a very accomplished motorway cruiser. You’ll hear barely any tyre noise at speed and almost no wind noise makes its way into the cabin, either.

It’s especially stress-free to drive if you opt for the optional IntelliSafe Pro pack. This adds adaptive cruise control and Volvo’s Pilot Assist systems which allows the car to accelerate, brake and even steer for you on motorways – providing the steering wheel can sense your hands on it – even delicately.

Thankfully, you don’t have to pay extra for automatic emergency braking – a system that’ll apply the brakes if the car senses an obstacle in the road ahead. In fact, the Volvo S60 is the first mid-size saloon able to detect not just cars, but pedestrians, cyclists, large animals and oncoming traffic in the wrong lane, and react accordingly.

Threading the S60 through tight city streets can be a tad tricky. The rather large pillars between the windscreen and the doors produce some fairly obtrusive blind spots and you don’t get a particularly good view out of the rear windscreen, either. That said, you can get it with a 360-degree surround view camera system to help make parking as easy as possible.

Safety

The S60 received the maximum five-star safety rating from Euro NCAP when tested in December 2018. It didn’t perform quite as well as the Alfa Romeo Guilia at protecting adult occupants in a crash, but scored better marks for protecting children, and its standard automatic emergency braking (AEB) system proved better at recognising cyclists.

Other standard active safety aids on the R-Design Edition include lane-keeping assistance, blind spot monitoring, traffic sign recognition and cross-traffic alert.

SUMMARY

Highly recommended

During the all-too short time I spent with the new S60 at its launch, it felt a bit like sitting down for lunch with an old friend: Everything just works and is natural, no negotiation or explanation needed.

The new Volvo S60 looks great on the road, drives with all the confidence and maturity you could wish for and is packed with technology to keep you and yours well-entertained and super-safe.

Even more so than its predecessor, the 2019 Volvo S60 has everything needed to compete favourably against its Germanic rivals in the compact executive saloon bull pit.

Because you’re here and you have been, thanks for reading – WG.

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2019 in Driven

 

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DRIVEN ➤ Mercedes-Benz Citan

By Wayne Gorrett @WaynesWorldAuto

During the summer, I spent a few days with a Mercedes-Benz Citan Long panel van, fitted with the 1.5-litre 109CDi diesel engine and paired to a five-speed manual gearbox. Here’s my report…

With the introduction of the Citan in 2012, Mercedes-Benz Vans – along with the Vito and Sprinter – were finally able to compete in every major panel van sector, meaning whatever your requirements you can now buy a Mercedes-Benz van to suit.

Mercedes-Benz utilised their long-standing partnership with Renault in developing the Citan, which is built alongside the Kangoo in the same factory in northern France. Be aware though that the Citan is so much more than just a badge-engineered variant of the Renault Kangoo because if there’s one word that sums up the Mercedes-Benz approach to vehicle development, it has to be ‘thoroughness’.

It is a finely honed and very considered vehicle, developed with a range of specific tasks and customers in mind. It’s a hugely significant vehicle for Mercedes-Bens Vans as small vans make up around 43 per cent of the European light commercial vehicle market and without such a product in their commercial portfolio, the company’s growth aspirations have always been curtailed.

The Citan is available in three body lengths; compact, long and extra-long. A combi version, officially known as the Citan Crew Van provides up to five seats and a flexible load space, using a 60:40 split-folding rear seat. There’s also a fully glazed five-seat MPV-type version called the Citan Tourer. In contrast, Renault no longer sells a passenger version of the Kangoo.

Rivals

The Citan has a number of viable panel van rivals, but none share the premium appeal of the Mercedes-Benz badge. Alongside its in-house Renault Kangoo rival, there’s the Citroen Berlingo and Peugeot Partner. A little further up market is the Volkswagen Caddy, while the Fiat Doblo and Ford Transit Connect also offer appeal, along with the Nissan NV200.

Inside the cab

The interior is based on the Kangoo, but the dashboard is different, even if the basic layout with dash-mounted gear change is similar. Mercedes-Benz Vans went so far as redesigning the column stalk layout to include its trademark single stalk operating everything from indicators to wipers which was perhaps a little unnecessary.

On the plus side, the Citan is of course more refined than the Kangoo on which it is based, suggesting that Mercedes-Benz Vans spent some time in dealing with noise insulation – with applaudable success. The Citan also feels more taut when underway and exhibits less of the blancmange-like suspension than that experienced with the Kangoo. Overall, Mercedes-Benz Vans has done a remarkable job considering the donor material available.

Engines and drivetrains

The Mercedes-Benz Citan continues to be available with four engines: three diesels and one petrol unit.

Each of the turbo-diesels is a variant on the same basic four-cylinder 1.5-litre Renault power plant, while the petrol engine is a four-pot 1.2-litre turbo. That they are all Renault engines – rather than true Mercedes-Benz power plants – isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The diesel has been in production for a number of years now (my own Renault Kadjar has it), and is a smooth, reliable unit with adequate poke, depending on the power output choice.

It is available in three states of tune, starting with the 108CDi (75hp/180Nm). Its lower output will prove more than adequate for lighter, everyday loads and is of course the cheaper of the diesels.

The 109CDi (90hp/200Nm) is the next of the diesels, followed by the 111CDi (110hp/240Nm) which was added to the range in late 2013. Its power and torque are usefully spread across the middle of the engine’s rev range. This extra pulling power makes it easier to keep pace with traffic when carrying heavier loads. Fuel economy for the diesels hovers around the 60mpg mark, with emissions ranging from 112 to 124g/km CO2.

The sole petrol engine also arrived in late 2013 and is simply badged ‘Citan 112’). It produces 114hp and 190Nm of torque, which is not at all bad considering its size. It’s also quieter, smoother and more driveable than its diesel siblings.

Despite the current ill-informed attack on diesels by the government, they still dominate overall Citan sales, but if you plan to use the van infrequently or in the city for most journeys then the petrol version undoubtedly makes the better argument.

The two lesser-powered diesels are available with a five-speed manual gearbox, while the 111CDi and the petrol engine may be paired only with the more efficient six-speed manual ‘box. and is the only version of the Citan available with an automatic gearbox. Introduced in 2016, this six-speed unit works very well, but does impact on fuel economy.

Payload and dimensions

Payload for the 111CDi Long varies according to engine choice and ranges from 585kg to 745kg, with a cargo volume of 3.1m3 and maximum load length of 1,753mm.

Safety and security

In April, 2013, the Mercedes-Benz Citan did not perform as well as hoped in initial Euro NCAP crash testing, achieving a three-star rating out of a possible five. Issues with the side curtain airbag and a noticeable gap between the B-pillar and sliding door after impact were cited as reasons for the score.

Mercedes-Benz Vans described the results as ‘not satisfactory’ and worked quickly with Renault to establish design solutions to improve crash performance. Just seven month later in November 2013, the Citan Kombi was reassessed and improved its rating to a more marketable four stars.

As ever with Mercedes-Benz safety there are plenty of electronic safety systems. Standard across the range are hill-start assist and electronic stability control. They work alongside a battery of electronic assistance systems designed to keep the Citan stable and heading in the desired direction.

There are also standard daytime running lights and a driver’s airbag. Finally, you could go for the optional Safety Pack which includes driver and passenger thorax airbags, a passenger airbag and fog lamps.

Ride and handling

As mentioned, the Citan is much more that a rebadged Renault Kangoo and that’s immediately evident once you get behind the wheel. It’s more refined on the move with a better ride and little in the way of road noise. So while it may be a small van it’s very much at home on the motorway.

In town, the Citan is really easy to manoeuvre thanks to electric power steering and a tight turning circle across all three body lengths.

Forward visibility is good thanks to the clever arched design of the front pillars which really help at junctions. Get the Citan onto an open road and the steering weights up a bit more giving you plenty of confidence thanks to its responsiveness. It’s certainly one of the best handling small vans around helped by the fact Mercedes-Benz Vans has reworked the suspension and dampers.

As a result there’s good grip and the body is well controlled in corners with little lean. The Citan also comes with an Adaptive ESP system as standard. The electronic stability program takes the vehicle’s load into account if it needs to cut in and works alongside the electronic brake force distribution.

The Citan certainly feels robust and solid, like a Mercedes-Benz van should. Servicing intervals are long too, the diesel engine can go 25,000 miles between services while the cam belt needs replacing only every 125,000 miles.

Mercedes-Benz Vans also offers 30 years of breakdown cover. I know…30 years! As long as you get your van serviced at a Mercedes-Benz dealer, you’ll be covered for breakdowns via Mercedes-Benz own MobiloVan service. No, it’s not a third party scheme, so you won’t get an AA or an RAC mobile repair van turning up. Instead, you get Mercedes-Benz’s very own roadside assistance service who are able to fix around 90 per cent of problems by the side of the road. It even covers things such as misfuelling.

SUMMARY

The Citan is by no means the cheapest small van around – in fact it’s one of the most expensive. But, it does feel a cut above the competition in terms of quality and refinement and if you spend all day behind the wheel, you’ll appreciate the difference.

As a van for an owner-driver, the Citan is rewarding – as much for its surprisingly spritely dynamics as its competitive fuel economy and CO2 emissions.

Many fleet operators prefer to deal with just one commercial vehicle supplier and a lack of a small van has negated the three-pointed star from many shortlists. With decent practicality, clean styling, genuine flexibility and low running costs, it’s anything but a half-hearted run at the market.

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2018 in Driven

 

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DRIVEN ➤ Mercedes-Benz GLC

By Wayne Gorrett @WaynesWorldAuto

In the automotive world, being caught with your pants down can be a costly business, very costly, indeed.

When Mercedes-Benz was developing this model’s predecessor – the boxy GLK (‘08-‘15) – it decided with finite wisdom at the time, that it wasn’t worth engineering the car for right-hand drive with such little anticipated demand.

However, shortly afterwards the market for premium-badged SUVs exploded and Mercedes-Benz found itself without an answer to the likes of the Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Land Rover Discovery which have always been available in global RHD markets.

So, being unfashionably late to a premium-SUV party already in full swing, it released this GLC, a plush 4×4 (that’s the GL part) that is loosely based on the C-Class (the C part). It slots neatly between the smaller GLA and larger GLE in Mercedes’ UK model line-up.

Introduced in 2015, the GLC is manufactured in Bremen, Germany. However, that facility continues to run at full capacity, so additional production commenced at Finland’s freelance Valmet Automotive plant (formerly Saab-Valmet) from Q1, 2017.

Exterior Design

Let’s face it, no SUV is particularly beautiful…but the GLC – along with perhaps the Range Rover Velar – get closer than most. Considering its bullish and rather square predecessor, the GLC’s more dignified lines are both refreshing and remarkable.

It presents an almost identical front-end design from the C-Class and there are sleek rear light clusters that evoke sporty Merc estates. Like many latter-day cars, it suits the stronger body styling offered on higher specification model, as well as bigger alloys and a more in-yer-face colour. Still, even in base trim it’s an attractive motor.

The GLC is also available as a coupé, but I have a preference for this more conventional body style. Yes, the GLC coupé wears some lovely lines, but the steeply sloped rear roof cuts into rear passenger head- and cargo room, in the same way BMW’s X4 slights the original X3. Clearly, some things should not be dedicated followers of fashion.

Interior

Inside, the cabin is one of the best offered in the current Merc model line-up. There’s an attractive appearance to the passenger-side fascia, while the cascading centre console sweeps down into the transmission tunnel. The driving position should be perfect for all drivers, as the seats are electrically adjustable and the steering wheel alters for rake and reach, while the quality of the solid metal fixtures and fittings is beyond criticism.


However, Mercedes-Benz offers up its own quirky style of ergonomics that doesn’t suit everyone, such as a column-mounted shift lever to the right of the steering wheel, which means the upper stalk on the other side controls wiper functions, headlamps and indicators. For those familiar with these idiosyncrasies it’ll be a case of ‘as you were’, but they don’t offer any solace for conquest customers from rival brands.

The rear seats split 40:20:40 for maximum usability, they fold flat with the boot floor when dropped and there’s a neat little button near the rear hatch which stows them away when pressed. The loading lip of the boot is flat and, given the GLC isn’t the tallest of SUVs, hefting bulky items into the cargo area is more easily accomplished than some.

The commodious boot offers 550 litres of space with row two in place, or 1,600 with the rear seats folded away. It also has a lockable underfloor compartment for storing items securely, while all models get a tensioning strap in the centre console compartment, map pockets on the front seat backs, a retaining net on the boot floor, a collapsible box and a 12-volt socket in the boot.

Equipment and Trim Grades

There are currently three trim levels available on the Mercedes-Benz GLC; the range-entry Urban Edition, midrange Sport and top AMG-Line. There are four additional V6 and V8 Mercedes-AMG variants of the GLC, but I’ll leave them for another day.

The GLC Urban Edition comes with plenty of kit as standard, including five-spoke bicolour 20-inch alloys, powered tailgate, five drive-mode select, collision prevention, LED headlamps and DRL’s, auto wipers and lights, faux black leather furniture and gloss black trim, heated front seats, navigation, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, cruise control and climate control.

The mid-range Sport trim sees more sensible 18-inch alloys, but adds active park assist with reversing camera, electrically folding mirrors, five drive modes (comfort, eco, sport, sport+ and individual), interior mood lighting, courtesy door lamps, faux leather and black ash wood trim.

Step up to AMG Line and full AMG-mimicking styling inside and out adds more gravitas to the GLC’s appearance, while 19-inch AMG alloys and sports suspension firm-up the handling and ride.

Engines and Transmissions

Excluding the AMG-powered GLC models, there is just one 2.0-litre petrol and one 2.1-litre diesel on offer with the standard GLC SUV. Both are four-cylinder units and all models have 4Matic all-wheel drive and a nine-speed 9G-Tronic automatic gearbox.

The 2.1-litre turbo-diesel is an old engine by modern standards. It can be noisy in other Merc models, but in the GLC it is actually quite refined. It is available in two states of tune (170hp 220d or 204hp 250d).

The former produces 400Nm of torque, available from just 1,400rpm, and accelerates from 0-62mph in 8.3 seconds while emitting 157g/km CO2. Driven gently it’ll return up to 56.5mpg, but expect a return in the top 40s during every day use.

Those opting for the more powerful 250d will appreciate the extra 34hp and 100N. This unit allows the GLC 250d to sprint from 0-62mph in 7.6 seconds while emitting the same CO2 output and returning similar mpg.

The single petrol engine in the standard range is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged unit (GLC 250) with 211hp that rushes from 0-62mph in 7.3 seconds. It’s not overly frugal at around 37mpg and emits 173g/km of CO2.

On the road

It would be irresponsible of me to describe the way the GLC drives as fun, but be assured it’s no sports car. If you want that from your Mercedes SUV, you could opt for the GLE coupe or the smaller GLA AMG.

With the focus on comfort, the GLC in non-AMG guise provides a comfortable and relaxed mode of transport as the suspension errs on the softer side of spring rates. There’s some noticeable body roll, but it’s rarely extreme enough to warrant complaint and is to be expected of a tall-riding SUV.

Drive it with a tad too much enthusiasm on a challenging B-road and you’ll notice power being abruptly cut as the electronic nannies intrude and the orange stability control light flickers on the instrument display. Standard fit driving mode on the Mercedes GLC is ‘Dynamic Select’, which alters the throttle, gearbox and steering reactions and allows uses to tailor the experience to their tastes via the drive mode selector.

Regardless of what mode you select, there’s a dearth of genuine feedback and feel through the steering wheel. But, it always feels fully stable and deals with high-speed manoeuvres with ease, thanks in part to ‘Dynamic Corner Assist’ fitted as standard. ‘Crosswind Assist’, which works over 50mph, means it’s relaxing to drive at high motorway speeds and helps prevent the car from being blown around.

Off the road

Far from being the soft-roader it at first may appear, the Mercedes GLC can handle the rough stuff and is particularly capable off-road. 4Matic all-wheel drive is standard, but it can be specified with an optional ‘Off-Road pack’ which adds new modes for the transmission that include Off-Road, Incline, Slippery, Rocking assist and Trailer modes plus – for those models equipped with the Airmatic air suspension – a variety of different ride heights, too.

An inter-axle differential lock means you’re unlikely to get stuck in a slippery situation and the reduction gear ensures you can make the most of what traction is available to you.

SUMMARY

This handsome SUV actually feels like a more luxurious vehicle than its bigger GLE brother. It’s a refined-feeling machine as long as you avoid the lower-powered 220 diesel model and emissions are reasonable. Given the sumptuous-feeling cabin and the assuredly car-like driving manners, it’s easy to see that the GLC is a worthy choice.

 
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Posted by on October 2, 2018 in Driven

 

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DRIVEN ➤ BMW 520d M Sport

By Wayne Gorrett @WaynesWorldAuto

Forty-six years ago, BMW debuted the very first 5 Series, code-named the E12. Since then, almost six million have been sold and only last year, around 17 per cent of all BMW’s sold globally were 5 Series in one guise or another. The current 5 Series (G30) was first revealed in late 2016 and went on UK sale in early 2017.

The 5 Series goes head-to-head with similar premium executive saloons such as the Volkswagen Arteon, the Audi A6, the E-Class Merc and the Jaguar XF. This seventh-generation Five is lighter, has more power and is more efficient than its predecessor and offers all the luxury and clinical build quality expected from a premium German manufacturer.

Exterior Design

The 5 Series has never looked more like a mini-me 7 Series, which to be honest is no bad thing. The key cosmetic enhancements to the new 5 Series may not be immediately obvious, but it’s hard rtto deny that the refreshed Five is a rather handsome saloon.

A sleek saloon with strong sporty lines, the G30 is 36mm longer and six millimetres wider than its predecessor, with a wheelbase increased by seven millimetres. There’s new styling to the standard LED headlights and air slats have been incorporated behind the front wheel arch not dissimilar to its larger 7 Series sibling. The profile remains conservative with emphasis placed on drag coefficient that sets a new benchmark in this class.

Interior

The Five’s interior, particularly fit and finish, is exceptional and the quality of materials is premium to say the very least. In addition, there are options to spec your car with a selection of metal or wood trim inserts and various leather finishes for a customised appearance.

The 5 Series is a car as much to be driven in as it is to drive, so there’s plenty of room up front and the front leather-clad furniture is very comfortable and an excellent driving position easily found. The rear offers loads of legroom, given that the car’s wheelbase has been significantly stretched over the previous model, making it roomier inside than some previous 7 Series models.

At 530 litres, the boot is 10 litres bigger than the previous 5 Series, which is slightly less than the current Merc E-Class. However, there is plenty of space for golf clubs, suitcases or shopping bags. The optional, but recommended, electric boot lid is a convenient addition for when your hands are a little too busy.

M Sport Equipment

The level of standard kit on the range-entry 520d SE is lofty, yet the M-Sport replaces the SE’s 17-inch alloys for an attractive set of 18-inch ‘M’ twin-spoke wheels shod with run-flat rubber. ‘M’-designated styling elements are present such as M aerodynamic body styling, floor mats, key pedals and an M-specific steering wheel. LED fog lights and model-specific M Sport suspension increase the appeal.

Engine and Transmission

The 2.0-litre turbodiesel planted in the 520d is a range-entry engine, but with its 187hp and 400Nm of torque, it feels anything but basic. It proves plenty of punch for easy overtaking and motorway driving, yet is refined to the point that you rarely notice it going about its business, however sternly asked.

All models of the 5 Series come with an eight-speed automatic transmission as standard – and it’s excellent. Most of the time you won’t notice it going about its business as gear changes and kick downs are so smooth as to be barely noticeable.

Ride and Handling

The 5 Series is impressively comfortable in an urban environment and the M Sport – even with its larger alloys and lowered suspension – soaked up bumps and crusty surfaces with considerable ease. Opt for the adaptive dampers and the ride gets even more refined.

The car feels quite at home on the motorway where its refinement and comfort really shine through. Tyre noise is pretty non-existent and there’s an ever so slight degree of wind noise (mostly from the wing mirrors) that makes its way into the 5 Series’ very relaxing cabin.

On more challenging roads, the 5 Series feels distinctly sportier compared to the rather nautical Mercedes E-Class. The steering, suspension and chassis work well together to negate the car’s bulk and the result is handling that puts plenty of smaller, lighter cars to shame.

Accurate steering makes the car easy to place through bendy switchbacks, while the standard but exquisitely-engineered suspension means even mid-corner potholes and bumps struggle to upset the chosen path through a series of turns.

SUMMARY

Everything on board the current BMW 5 Series contributes to an impressively polished package. It’s a blend of stunning driving dynamics, efficient performance with cutting-edge connectivity and technology.

Even in range-entry SE spec, many of the headline features are included as standard – which makes the 5 Series incredibly good value relative to its competitors. Add the dynamism of the M Sport package which lowers and stiffens the car to provide an increased level of roll control and you have what many are saying is the finest BMW ever produced.

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2018 in Driven

 

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NEWS ➤ Bicester Heritage plans hotel for ‘automotive resort’


Having successfully built a reputation and devoted following as a centre for historic automotive excellence, Bicester Heritage has submitted plans for its next stage in a vision to create a home for automotive past, present and future in a unique automotive resort.

Plans have been submitted for a 344-room hotel on the former RAF Bicester site, which, five years ago, was transformed from a state of disrepair to a thriving centre for over 35 classic and vintage car specialists.

Dan Geoghegan, Managing Director of Bicester Heritage, commented “We very much look forward to welcoming enthusiasts to our motoring hotel, from which they will be able to experience a range of automotive destinations on a single site, from the existing centre of excellence for historic motorcars to private track, exhibition hangars, OEM brand centre and future technology.”

Designed by leading British designer and car enthusiast Dexter Moren, the hotel will use materials inspired by existing pre-war RAF Bicester buildings and also use the dimensions and orientation as the 1936 C-Type hangars.

Designer Dexter Moren said “Hospitality specialist architects and interior designers, Dexter Moren Associates, are thrilled to have been selected to design a landmark hotel within a former RAF base, forming part of the Bicester Heritage master plan vision focusing on motorcars and aeroplanes. The design objective has been to respond in a contemporary manner to the site’s rich and unique story, drawing inspiration from its historic position at the forefront of aviation, engineering, and innovation while complementing the existing period buildings.”

Subtle details, such as the expanded steel mesh covering the curve of the building in homage to RAF Bicester’s past as a camouflage training centre, keep the contemporary design in tune with the incredible heritage of the site, with the overall structure also following the lines of adjacent hangars. Alongside amenities such as top-tier restaurant, bar, courtyard, gym, swimming pool and sauna, the hotel will offer an immersive experience for car enthusiasts.

The stunning four-storey atrium has been conceived to showcase rotating automotive themed exhibitions and displays and, in line with the vision for the site as a whole, will not only feature cars of the past but also the very best cars of the present and the future.

Further facilitating the extensive range of events held at Bicester Heritage, the hotel will be adjacent to a raised earth bank complete with Mille Miglia-style start line, making Bicester Heritage an ideal start point for rallies and offering guests an inimitable view from their luxuriously appointed rooms.

What’s more, the addition of the hotel will allow guests to spend more time within the Bicester hub and witness all the site has to offer, from the circuit, skills, airfield and events.

Situated in the heart of Motorsport Valley, a stone’s throw from numerous Formula One teams, Silverstone Circuit and several electric and autonomous technology firms, the hotel will also allow guests to experience the UK’s pioneering automotive industry beyond Bicester Heritage.

This hotel is the next stage in Bicester Heritage’s vision to become the world’s leading automotive resort. The first component of this was the successful execution of the historic section, and its fifty buildings, with further plans in motion to showcase the rest of the automotive world in an inclusive, experiential and innovative fashion.

Further plans include the building of motor lodges, luxury leisure residencies allowing individuals to stay within the 425-acre resort with their car and adjacent to the private recreational driver’s circuit.

 
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Posted by on August 7, 2018 in Driven

 

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