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  We are all equal, insurers told
  by Pat Holliday 10 Mar 11 - 20:43

Posted in cars, driving, news 

“Women make the safest drivers, we could save a bunch of fivers,” chorused the Sheilas, those pink attired faux-Australians.

The Sheilas need a new tune. The European Court of Justice has ruled that under a statute called the ‘EU Gender Directive 2005’, insurers can no longer set premiums based on gender. (As an aside, this will also affect pension annuities – as women live statistically longer.)

It’s a thorny and divisive issue. Should a man who’s never made a claim pay a higher premium than his twin sister, by virtue of his gender? Yes, as somewhere there’s a bar chart proving the man is more likely than her to crash his car.

What the ECJ ruling highlights is the limitations of statistics: insurers can only assess the risks based on broad categories of people. Calculating individual likelihoods of a claim would be unworkable. It will be interesting to see if this paves the way for more rulings, such as those based on age.

In the meantime, companies like Sheilas’ Wheels are busy backtracking: “Sheilas’ Wheels has always insured men but most males simply aren’t attracted to our brand,” a spokesman said. Hmm, can’t imagine why…

Not that this ruling will worry car insurers. No doubt they’ll simply raise female premiums to the level of male ones. That’s equality for you.

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  Can Chevy’s Orlando MPV also become its MVP?
  by Massimo Pini 18 Feb 11 - 18:04

Posted in cars, driving 

The Orlando is a bold statement from Chevrolet, the GM-owned carmaker with a badge that is truly steeped in American history, and marks its first foray into the compact seven-seat MPV segment. The Orlando shares its platform with the forthcoming Vauxhall Zafira but Chevrolet will be hoping that its earlier arrival will help it establish itself in what has become an intensely competitive market sector.

Chevrolet Orlando MPV

The Chevy Orlando was purpose-designed to meet European tastes as it’s not going on sale in the States at all - the segment deemed simply too small to make this a profitable exercise. The styling is certainly distinctive and, for my money, the mix of classic American MPV (think Dodge minivan) with modern Euro-Japanese crossover (think Nissan Qashqai) works rather well. Rugged yet practical and not so large as to be intimidating to pedestrians.

Three engines are available at launch – a 1.8-litre petrol with 140bhp and two 2.0-litre diesels developing 129 and 160bhp respectively. Diesel models have six-speed manual transmission as standard or an optional six-speed auto.

I found the petrol version to be sluggish compared to the lower-powered diesel which is no surprise when you realise that the oil-burner is endowed with a whopping 315 Nm of torque against the petrol’s paltry 176.

This extra grunt transforms the Orlando into a first-class load lugger with decent handling and a more than acceptable ride quality, not to mention a fair turn of speed for a big car with the 0-60 sprint covered in under 10 seconds!

On the practical side, the Orlando has a few tricks up its sleeves, not least of which are the rearmost 2 seats, which fold flat into the boot floor.

When erect, these offer reasonable legroom for two small to medium sized occupants. I sat splay-legged in them myself (I’m just under 5′11″) and wouldn’t want to spend more than a few minutes in that position, but I think they would be absolutely fine for most kids.

The second row of seats can also be folded well out of the way for increased storage (up to 852 litres) but the Orlando’s canniest sleight of hand is up front in the dash where a push of a button flips the radio controls up out of the way to reveal a useful secret cubby which will shield your valuables from the gaze of opportunistic thieves.

Interior fit and finish is good throughout but the trim materials fall a little short of the current class average.

Prices for the Chevrolet Orlando start from £16,395 on-the-road for the petrol-engined model in entry-level LS trim, but if you part with an extra £1,250, you can get the Diesel which will reward you with some very reasonable running costs: combined economy of 47 mpg, CO2 emissions of 159 g/km and a 14E insurance group.

The top-of-the-range LTZ Automatic fitted with the Executive Pack and powered by the 160bhp diesel will set you back a little over £23K.

The Orlando is not as refined as the latest offerings like the Ford C-MAX and the Toyota Verso but this is more a reflection of how far those brands have come rather than an indictment of the Chevy’s shortcomings.

In diesel form it offers a good blend of performance, practicality and value for money, wrapped up in a design that will help you stand out from the crowd.

For more images of the Chevrolet Orlando, check out our photo gallery.

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  Updated Hyundai i10 shows rivals a clean pair of heels
  by Massimo Pini 14 Feb 11 - 19:06

Posted in cars, driving, news 

The i10 is Hyundai’s top-selling car in the UK but will a mid-life facelift and a new eco-friendly Blue model be enough to keep it front of mind with cost-conscious city car shoppers?

The scrappage scheme saw the i10’s sales rocket in 2009 but the momentum has hardly slowed since the scheme ended and 2010 saw the diminutive Hyundai topping its sector, shifting 19,500 units to maintain a 12.1% market share and edge out its retro-styled rival, the Fiat 500.

The 500 must be a concern for Hyundai, especially since late last year when Fiat launched the 2-cylinder TwinAir version, emitting just 95 g/km of CO2 and thereby evading the current London Congestion Charge.

But Hyundai’s response has been swift as the i10 Blue’s 99 g/km of CO2 emissions also makes it C-Charge exempt and zero-rated for road tax, whilst retaining the practical advantage of an extra pair of doors over the Fiat.

The i10’s facelift is fairly mild and principally confined to a new corporate hexagonal grille at the front, a restyled bumper and lights at the rear and body coloured door mouldings, but there wasn’t that much wrong with the i10’s looks so this should see it through until an all-new replacement breaks cover in 2-3 years’ time.

On the go, I was pleased to find that the i10 Blue did not feel gutless - as some eco cars can - quite the opposite in fact. Its 68 bhp 3-cylinder petrol engine is perkier than the official performance figures suggest.

The 0-62 ’sprint’ in the i10 Blue takes 14.8 seconds on the way to a flat out maximum of 93 mph. The handling is neat and tidy and the ride quality is quite acceptable.

Some of the interior plastics look and feel rather cheap but that may well be the compromise that i10 customers are willing to accept as this highlights the car’s key selling point - it’s cheap. Not cheap as in ‘cheap and nasty’; more like ‘cheap and cheerful’.

At £9,195, the i10 Blue is the only sub-100 g/km CO2 (5-seater) car on the market under £10K.

If you never venture into London and the Congestion Charge is of no interest to you then you’ll be pleased to know that the range kicks off at £8,195.

It may not offer the fashionable looks of its Fiat rival but the Hyundai i10 compensates with functionality and value for money – and these days, that’s bang on trend, so I’d expect to see the i10 hang on to its coveted slot at the top of the charts for a while longer.

Click here to see more photos of the facelifted Hyundai i10.

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  Juke shows Nissan thinks outside the box
  by Massimo Pini 20 Jan 11 - 12:18

Posted in cars, driving, news 

Almost a year after our first encounter in Paris, I finally got my opportunity to drive the Nissan Juke.

Having been unable to attend the International first drive last summer, I went along to Pinewood Studios where the Juke was sharing top billing with the all-new Micra.

There’s a lot riding on the success of the Juke and early signs are positive.  It went on sale on September 24 last year and more than 5,500 have been registered - predominantly to retail customers. This is more than double the sales of the MINI Countryman (which was launched around the same time) and is described as Nissan’s most successful pre-launch ever, lending weight to Nissan’s claim that the Juke is a volume seller rather than a quirky niche car like the Cube.

It’s clear that a lot of people are sold on the Juke’s distinctive styling which is like nothing we’ve seen before. Nothing, that is, other than the Qazana Concept car upon which it’s based of course.

Product Manager James Lacey described the design as a tale of two halves (top and bottom). The upper half portraying a sporting  GT-R inspired coupe while below the rising beltline exaggerated wheelarches shroud grey plastic spats over high profile rubber-wrapped alloys befitting of the rugged Qashqai crossover’s baby brother.

The elevated ride height results in a commanding driving position which affords an excellent view in traffic situations and this is complemented by the raised headlight blisters which help you pick out the corners (well, almost) of the Juke - a real boon for parking manoeuvres.

You might expect the upright stance to translate into less than tidy handling but that’s not the case. In fact the Juke possesses fine road manners and a level of composure which gives you the confidence to hustle it along through the twisty bits with ease.

I drove two variants, the top-spec petrol-powered 1.6 DiG-T Tekna which comes fully-loaded at £20,345. The turbocharged engine’s 190 PS enables a 0-62 mph sprint in 8.4 seconds and a 124 mph top speed. All-mode 4-wheel drive is standard on this model with torque vectoring which transfers traction where it’s needed most. This is particularly useful during hard cornering as I noted when joining a motorway from a slip road as the dashboard graphic highlighted the system’s decision-making which ensured maximum grip.

For the cost-conscious among you, the front-wheel drive 1.5 dCi diesel model delivers 55.4 mpg and CO2 emissions of just 134 g/km yet it still matches the torque of the high-performance petrol model with 240 Nm.

That still means plenty of useable performance (even if the 0-62 figure of 11.2 seconds might seem a little pedestrian), group 13E insurance and a more modest list price of £17,495 for the top-spec Tekna.

Juke prices start at a fiver short of £13K and for that money it’s hard to think of anything funkier that still delivers decent practicality and performance.

If you like the styling - go get one now.

Check out the photo gallery from the launch at Pinewood Studios.

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  One For All Universal In-Car Charger
  by Massimo Pini 29 Nov 10 - 18:03

Posted in cars, driving 

Neat and compact
Neat and compact

If your job involves you regularly driving rental cars or switching between different vehicles from time to time (as mine does) then this product is a godsend.

The One For All Universal in-Car Charger turns your car’s cigarette lighter socket into a charging station and works with mobile phones (including iPhones), MP3 players (including iPods), PDAs, digital cameras, sat nav, game players and other devices.

Even if you don’t drive for work purposes, how many times have you borrowed your partner’s car for a trip and then found that your mobile phone is running out of juice just as you need to make that urgent call - and you’ve no means of recharging it?

This problem can now become a thing of the past with the One For All Universal in-Car Charger.

Its neat and compact and comes with seven interchangeable tips for iPod/iPhone, Nokia, Sony Ericsson, MiniUSB (5 pin), LG, Samsung and MicroUSB*  so you get seven chargers for the price of one and it also features an auto shut off to prevent your car battery from draining.

And the whole lot fits into a slinky little felt pouch with a drawstring which you can simply keep in your briefcase or handbag. In fact, it’s small enough to fit into most coat pockets. I’m an iPhone user myself so I left the other tips in a drawer at home, making the pouch that little bit more compact so there really was no excuse for leaving it behind (although, to be honest, I did - just the once).

The One For All Universal in-Car Charger costs £17.99 and is available from selected Comet stores and online at www.comet.co.uk

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  Audi A1 goes to the top of the class
  by Massimo Pini 25 Oct 10 - 21:40

Posted in cars, driving, news 

We’ve already had A2, A3, A4, A5 A6, A7 and A8 from Audi, so it might seem perfectly logical that its smallest car yet (under 4m in length) should wear the A1 moniker.

Well I actually think there’s a more appropriate name than the one chosen - but more of that later.

Firstly, cutting to the chase, the A1 is basically Audi’s MINI killer. Although Audi officials describe the A1 as the first ‘true’ compact premium car, pointing out that Audi is regularly partnering and mingling socially with other luxury brands whilst implying that MINI is more of a funky fashionista’s favourite. I see what they mean, but it didn’t stop them referencing the MINI in all the comparison charts within the A1 press pack.

In key areas relating to running costs, the A1 seems to have BMW’s MINI licked. In the depreciation stakes, the Audi is projected to retain a range average of 60% of its value over 3 years, 30,000 miles, versus the MINI’s 50%, whilst also enjoying lower insurance group ratings than its retro-styled rival.

And while we’re on the styling theme, Audi is keen to highlight the A1’s design as being modern and edgy - definitely NOT retro.

The car is exquisitely detailed and built like a fine Swiss watch. The fascia is a little on the grey side but you can specify some glossy contrasting vent sleeves to lighten the mood. On the exterior, 4 roof contrast line colours are available on the extensive options list to accentuate the A1’s silhouette and I thought these were very effective indeed.

Dynamically, the A1 is agile and unruffled over a range of road surfaces. The larger 17-inch wheel and tyre combination really looked the part but it took the edge off the smoothness delivered by the 16-inchers, so you’ll need to decide which matters most.

Power delivery from both the petrol and diesel variants was punchy although the latter’s extra torque coupled with a 6-speed manual gearbox, meant the oil-burner got my vote - especially when you factor in 70.6 mpg and CO2 emissions of 105 g/km.

Now back to the name. I was watching an episode of ‘The Apprentice’ last week in which two of the more annoying contenders were bickering, one questioning the other’s arithmetical competence. “Actually, I got an A-star in Maths!” came the rebuttal.

Hmmm, A* (star). Yes that’s top marks as opposed to ship-shape and Bristol fashion, very good.

The only problem is that when I remember the 1 or 2 classmates from my schooldays who regularly achieved such high results, I also remember that they were the last kids to get picked at sports…so they didn’t come tops in the popularity charts.

Audi will be hoping the supremely capable A1 succeeds where the ‘Peter Perfects’ failed.

Initial order books are full so the outlook is currently rosy.

The Audi A1 range is available to order now with prices (adjusted to include the January VAT hike) starting from £13,420 for the 1.2 TFSI SE model.

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  Perfect car, the perfect road trip
  by Pat Holliday 13 Aug 10 - 15:41

Posted in driving, news 

A British man called Matthew Comer has just driven Route 66 in a Corvette.

He got his kicks on the famous trans-US highway by visiting drive-ins and eating hot dogs as he went.

He also gave the borrowed 436hp yellow Corvette Grand Sport a good spanking.

All things considered then, a damn fine car on a damn fine road. A bit like a Jaguar XKR through the Wye Valley…

What’s your favourite car/road trip combo?

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  Skoda Fabia vRS corners the market
  by Massimo Pini 23 Jul 10 - 11:03

Posted in cars, driving, news 

Skoda has practically cornered the market for small, functional high performance hot hatchbacks with its new Fabia vRS.

I choose the word practically carefully. It’s certainly not because there is any degree of doubt as to the vRS’s cornering ability - far from it – but more of that later.

No, it’s because while most hot hatch superminis can lay claim to a degree of practicality and versatility by merely possessing an upward opening rear door and folding rear seats, the Fabia vRS trumps them resoundingly with a very useful extra pair of doors for rear seat passengers.

If the rear doors really matter to you, your supermini hot hatch shopping list is a very short one indeed. In fact it seems you really need to step up to the Golf/Focus C-segment to avoid clambering through two larger front doors to gain access to the rear seats.

It seems the Fabia is Hobson’s choice here, but should you come up with a viable alternative, Skoda, in poker terms, will see you and raise you with its estate version which adds 180 litres of load-lugging ability to the hatchback’s 300 with the seats upright. Folding them will open up a cavernous 1460 litres.

Whichever bodystyle you choose, the 180bhp 1.4TSI engine delivers neck-snapping acceleration off the line covering the 0-62 sprint in just 7.3 seconds.  Aerodynamics dictates that the estate has the higher top speed by one mile per hour at 140.

I got to try the Fabia vRS at Prodrive’s Warwick facility so was able to explore its considerable talents in a safe environment before taking to the public highway for some real world motoring.

The XDS electronic limited slip differential ensured a tight turn-in for accurate cornering with less steering input when you’re wringing out the exhilarating performance of the supercharged and turbocharged motor via the wheel-mounted paddles of the fabulous 7-speed DSG gearbox.

Out on the road, slipping the DSG into auto mode allows the Fabia vRS to display a more mild-mannered demeanour. It rides 20 mm lower than regular Fabias and sits on rather fetching 17″ alloys with low-profile tyres but the ride quality is still quite acceptable.

You can see why Skoda felt quite comfortable about abandoning the diesel unit of the vRS’s predecessor as combined fuel consumption of 45.6 mpg is quite remarkable for a car with this level of performance.

The Fabia’s rather upright, tallboy design doesn’t necessarily lend itself to a hunkered down, sporty look, but its recent facelift has improved things somewhat while a host of personalisation options will allow buyers to choose different combinations of roof, body and alloy colours.

The Fabia vRS is on sale now priced at £15,685 on-the-road for the hatchback and £16,480 for the estate. What are you waiting for?

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  Testing time in Spain
  by Pat Holliday 20 Jul 10 - 13:40

Posted in cars, driving 

Like millions of Brits, I recently decamped to Spain for a week’s summer holiday. Expecting a thrashed beater, our hire car was a pleasantly surprising new 5-door Renault Megane.

With the Alliance’s 1.9 dCi lump under the bonnet, this Megane has plenty of poke, although it’s distinctly lifeless under 1,500rpm. Despite our best efforts (air con at full blast included), it refused to sup any fuel. Steering and suspension setup are excellent.

Key gripes are the headroom - (I’m 6ft tall, and banged my head everywhere I sat) - and front legroom due to a curved dashboard digging into your knees. Forget rearward visibility too: the price to pay for stylish ‘coupe-like’ design.

All in all though, the Renault Megane is an excellent car, even if the gear stick is on the wrong side.

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  Renault Wind coupe-roadster blows in
  by Massimo Pini 06 Jul 10 - 18:40

Posted in cars, driving, news 

Renault’s new compact coupe-roadster aims to put the wind up the Mazda MX-5 and Peugeot 207CC.

Renault describes the Wind as a compact, inventive, fun-to-drive coupe-roadster.

Let’s break it down:

Compact. At 3.83 m long, you can’t argue with that. It slots neatly between the Twingo and Clio.

Inventive. Hmm, I think this may be stretching it a little.  Although the folding roof mechanism is clever, it’s fairly close to the solution pioneered by Italian designer Fioravanti which saw production on the Ferrari Superamerica some years ago. Apparently, Renault has added a cover to the pivoting lid which earns the French carmaker the right to a separate patent. So I’d say more evolutionary than “revolutionary”, as Renault puts it.

The key benefit of the flip-top lid is that it takes up very little storage space so the Wind’s boot capacity remains constant at 270 litres with the top up or down. Its arch-rival, the Peugeot 207 CC offers just 187 litres with the roof stowed. Opening or closing the roof is a push-button affair and takes just 12 seconds.

Fun-to-drive. The car was developed with assistance from the Renault Sport Technologies division so the prospects for an entertaining drive were quite promising.  These are the guys behind the Clio 2 Renaultsport platform, upon which the Wind is based.

We set off in the 100bhp 1.2 TCe model in Dynamique S trim which features the larger 17” alloys as standard. The car was finished in a very modish shade of brilliant white paint, the only non-metallic option available.

Our test route took us along a mix of motorways and twisty mountain roads which allowed us to explore the Wind’s road manners in some detail. Most open-topped cars suffer from a lack of torsional stiffness which often translates into soggy handling but the Renaultsport gurus have reinforced the Wind’s bodyshell to endow it with very tidy road holding and precise turn-in.

The 153 Nm of torque on tap were found wanting a little as we climbed through some of the sharpest hairpins but they proved more than adequate as the hills flattened out.

The 1.6-litre version offers an extra 33bhp but just 7 more Nm of torque so I would probably plump for the peppy and more frugal ‘blown’ Wind.

Charis Whitcombe recently road tested the Clio fitted with the same 1.2-litre engine and shared my opinion on the virtues of the unit.

Renault officials said that no diesel variant is offered or planned since there is no diesel competitor in the segment but a glance at the Peugeot listings shows an HDi version of the 207 CC and MINI is also planning an oil-burning convertible – so Renault may wish to reconsider its position on this point.

Prices start at £15,500 for the 100bhp 1.2 model and rise to £18,200 for the 133 bhp 1.6 VVTi Collection limited edition.

The Wind is not a hard-edged machine for typical Renaultsport fans, but it is a stylish and accomplished little coupe-roadster.

The name may cause you a few sniggers initially but once you get over that, you’ll find it’s a breath of fresh air.

Click here to check out the photos from the launch of the Renault Wind.

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