Tim Tests It, Mega Review – Part 2
Two thousand eighteen was a packed year for car launches and our motoring editor, Tim Barnes-Clay, will be kept just as busy in 2019. So, without further ado, let’s dive in and see what he’s been driving since the last issue.
Jaguar XF Sportbrake
Jaguar’s XF Sportbrake is a big and beautiful estate, with bags of practicality and a pleasant drive.
The car is an executive blend of refinement and room. At 565-litres, the boot size is respectable, and the flat floor makes loading easy. Even better, there’s 1700-litres of space when you fold the rear bench, and a powered tailgate is fitted as standard. As well as a large boot, the athletically-styled XF estate has enough room to carry four people in limousine-like luxury. Soft-touch materials and leather are everywhere inside, along with in-car WiFi, ambient lighting and touchscreen infotainment.
The XF Sportbrake is a delight to drive, with sharp steering that allows you to test the limits of the car with confidence. What’s more, with a towing capacity of 2000kg, the Jaguar will lug a caravan effortlessly.
Most buyers will select a diesel, and I was handed the keys to the all-wheel-drive 2.0d 240ps R-Sport Auto Sportbrake. The £42,435 car returns up to 48.7mpg and will do 0-62mph in 6.7s. Top speed is 150mph. It’s also very grippy, so will make light work of driving on wintry roads.
The Sportbrake feels almost identical to the XF saloon in most ways. It is composed on all surfaces and at all speeds. Furthermore, it’s relatively efficient and very comfortable. Okay, the car’s sat-nav may not be quite as on-the-ball as some German executive estates, but the Jaguar is a good all-round package. Indeed, it’s an excellent alternative to the likes of BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz.
Skoda Octavia vRS 245 Hatch
The spacious, reliable, Skoda Octavia has always been the most unrelentingly sensible of family cars. But add a ‘vRS’ badge to the rear, and it undergoes a metamorphosis.
The standard Octavia isn’t unappealing, but it’s bland enough to merge into the background. The extended bumpers, black trim and boot spoiler on the vRS hike it just far enough beyond anonymity to let you know it’s something a bit sexy. It’s gritty without being boy-racer ‘chav’.
The cabin is largely benchmark Skoda fare, so it’s hardly electrifying in there. But everything falls readily to hand, and it’s well made. It is made livelier, though, by some tremendously supportive sports seats. The 2.0 TSi turbo-engined Octavia vRS, under review here, produces 245ps. This car, equipped with a seven-speed DSG transmission, achieves 0-62mph in 6.6s and has a top speed of 155mph.
So, as any good hot-hatch should be, the Octavia vRS is talented at covering tarmac quickly. Add in solid stability, and its calm manner gives you confidence. What’s more, rear seat space betters many motors from the class above, and the hatchback has a truly mammoth 590-litre boot. It will also do 44.1mpg, though if that’s not decent enough for you, you could always get the diesel. And if you need an even bigger boot, get the estate.
The vRS comes with Bluetooth, DAB radio, dual-zone air-con and rear parking sensors as standard.
There are plenty of good family cars that are rapid and fulfilling to drive. If you want those merits in a car that costs £29,490, then the Skoda Octavia vRS unifies them better than any other motor.
Hyundai i40 Tourer
This stylish and sporty motor is an uncompromised addition to the medium family estate car market. It offers low running costs as well as an intuitive and contemporary interior package.
Sitting behind the wheel of the leather-clad i40 Tourer Premium 1.7 CRDi 141ps DCT, on test here, is a pleasant place to be. Refinement and efficiency, as well as practicality, are what the estate is all about. With only a 1.7 oil-burner under the hood, it’s not a performance vehicle, but 0-62 mph in 11.0s is not outrageous, and the car cruises happily, returning up to 56.5mpg on the combined cycle.
In the countryside, the suspension soaks up our pothole-ridden British ‘B’ roads, and the i40 has decent body control with light and precise steering.
The car is exceptionally airy in the front and the rear, and there’s enough head and leg-room for even the tallest of passengers. Additionally, the 553-litre load area (1719-litres with the rear seats down) is low, wide and long – and gobbles up pretty much anything you throw in there.
Indeed, at £29,630 this i40 Tourer is good value for money and is an estate car worth considering for business or family motoring.
This is an SUV that does everything you need. It goes off-road, and it’ll tow up to 3500kg. This means it’s as good as a Land Rover Discovery.
Its high-tech four-wheel-drive system will drag you out the muddiest of places, and the hill-descent control makes it stress-free to crawl down rugged slopes.
The Rexton doesn’t feel overwhelmingly large to drive off or on the road, though – and despite it being not as plush inside as the Disco, it’s good enough. The cabin is swathed in leather, with just a load of hard plastics raining on the parade. You get a lot of kit and loads of room. The £34,995 2.2 ELX Ssangyong Rexton I tested came with seven seats. That means, there’s space for five adults – then two kids will fit in the third row of seats. The boot is vast, too, at 820-litres or 1977-litres with the rear seats down.
The Rexton’s steering is light, meaning the car is undemanding to manoeuvre in town, and the lofty driving position gives you an excellent view forward. Parking is also easy, thanks to a reversing camera.
The consequence of the Rexton’s robust ability is that it’s weighty and the only engine available (a 181ps 2.2-litre oil-burner) has a fuel efficiency figure of 34.9mpg. It’s also not a fast car, with 0-60mph taking 11.9s. Top speed is 115mph.
However, if you’re after an easy-to-drive SUV that’ll lug a horsebox or caravan over a boggy field and transport your family everywhere, then you could do a lot worse.
New Fiesta ST
Ford’s Fiesta ST is a gutsy hot hatch with a 200ps lump under the bonnet. It also wears an assertive body kit and has a snazzy interior with a flat-bottomed steering wheel.
The seats are supportive, the view out is excellent, and the eight-inch touchscreen is easy to use. The ST-3 three-door model, on test here, has enough room in the rear for a couple of adults and the boot is larger than in the withdrawing Fiesta. At 292-litres it’ll just about take a week’s worth of supermarket shopping. The £21,995 ST-3 gets athletic 18-inch alloys with red brake callipers and comes stacked with kit including, a heated steering wheel and heated leather Recaro seats. There’s also loads of tech to make the Fiesta a joy to live with, including automatic air conditioning,
rear parking sensors and keyless entry.
The car shoots from zero to 62mph in just 6.5s and has a top speed of 144mph. What’s more, selectable driving modes allow you to pick sportier or relaxing settings for the accelerator, steering and exhaust.
The new Ford Fiesta ST is a brilliant little
motor that represents great value performance for weekend fun. Only its sensitive steering
and jarring suspension might put you off using it as your daily car.
New Ford Mustang GT
Another Ford that offers good value is the latest Mustang. It wouldn’t be complete without a roaring V8, so you’ll be pleased to hear Ford offers a colossal 5.0-litre one with 450ps.
Together with its active sports exhaust, there are few lovelier tunes in the automotive world, and in convertible 10-speed auto guise, as reviewed here, it’ll race from 0-62mph in 4.5s. Top speed is 155mph. Expect it to use lots of petrol though, as although 22.49mpg is possible, that’ll quickly turn to less than that when you’re in a rush.The Ford isn’t just rapid in a straight line; the ride and handling are a revelation. A decent chassis and advanced technology help optimise driving dynamics to deliver the kind of sporty event you’d expect to have behind the wheel of a Mustang.
What’s more, you can enhance the Mustang’s performance to suit your frame of mind using selectable drive modes. And, away from the public highway, you can use Track Apps to keep an eye on driving performance. These can be operated via the steering wheel and seen in the instrument panel.
The view you get over the long bonnet is very much retro-Mustang; and, from the roomy front seats, you get a good view of the road.
Alas, if you’re expecting decent rear-seat space, you’ll be frustrated: adults will find it cramped, and even kids will feel constrained. On the plus side, while the boot’s elevated lip makes it difficult to load, the £47,645 convertible has a 332-litre storage capacity, so you’ll get a suitcase plus other bits and pieces in there no worries. I’ve already starting to save up. I need one – and it has to be the 5.0 litre V8.
Peugeot 308 SW
Peugeot’s stylish 308 SW is comfy and spacious; standard kit is excellent, too, especially on the £25,214 Tech Edition, as driven here. It includes a colour reversing camera, dual-zone air-con, and a ‘Driver Assistance Pack’ with adaptive cruise control.
The French-made estate compares with models such as the Skoda Octavia and the Ford Focus. Housed under the bonnet is a 1.2 turbo petrol engine, hitched up to an eight-speed automatic gearbox, which changes up and down the cogs flawlessly. It is also a down-to-earth motor, with 660 litres of load capacity in the boot, swelling to 1,775 litres with the rear seats folded.
On the move, the 308 SW is like a pig in clover sitting at motorway speeds hour after hour. It is just as efficient on twisty country roads, due to wholesome suspension.
The car’s 0-62mph run is achieved in 10.2s, so it’s not mega-quick – but it has enough grunt to ensure you can join fast flowing motorway traffic from slip roads easily. What’s more, there is ample grip and the car corners ably, with minimal body roll. There is a good amount of feedback submitted through the steering
wheel as well.
The Peugeot is also resourceful, especially when you consider it offers a combined fuel economy of over 52.3mpg and CO2 emissions of 124g/km. This makes it an efficient estate car and, taking into account its comfort levels, it’s a pleasurable motor to drive – or sit in – when you’re stuck in rush hour traffic.
Peugeot 3008 SUV
Sometimes it can be challenging to separate SUVs out on the road because most of them drive alike. Many are set up for comfort, and that’s what the all-new 3008 is tuned for. The small steering wheel and light handling gives a feeling of sprightliness, even if that’s not the case, as it’s a tall, heavy car. However, that’s not a complaint; the designers and engineers have done a good job covering the traditional flaws of an SUV’s dynamics.
There’s a hearty medley of engines on offer, and I drove the 1.5 Blue HDi diesel in Allure spec with 131ps, fitted with a manual gearbox. Behind the wheel of the £27,200 car, things feel dynamic, and the weighting of the steering is spot on. It grips bitumen like a cat’s claws cling to flesh, and mid-range pulling power is good, so you can pick up the pace easily. The six-speed transmission is slick shifting, and the car delivers a hushed ride. Tyre roar and wind whistle are kept out of the cabin, too. All this adds to the 3008’s sense of refinement.
The Peugeot offers a composed ride with seats that provide the sort of comfort and support required for long distance motoring. Furthermore, the car’s suspension sops up potholes without complaining. Significantly, the all-new 3008 doesn’t tip into bends. Indeed, body roll is very well contained. This surprised me, as smaller SUVs aren’t always the type of vehicle to stay so unflustered on twisty tarmac.
Factory fitted safety kit includes automatic emergency braking and rear parking sensors, and it has a top five-star Euro NCAP safety score.
A car can look great and have all the equipment in the world crammed into it – but it’s no good if it isn’t economical and it doesn’t drive decently. There are no concerns to be had in this area with the 3008 SUV.
The 1.5 Blue HDi 130’s average fuel consumption of 67.3mpg and 109g/km of CO2 means low running costs, combined with effective performance. 0-62mph is achieved in 10.8s and the Pug’s maximum speed is 119mph.
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
Mitsubishi’s Outlander Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) is a no-nonsense family motor that doesn’t cost a bomb and possesses a valuable electric-only resource. Being able to charge it up from your home wall-outlet means trips to the petrol station should be few and far between, as long as your excursions are short ones.
The main alterations for the 2019 Outlander PHEV incorporate its 300V Lithium-ion battery capacity being boosted by 15 per cent to 13.8kWh, the electric generator output being enlarged by 10 per cent, the battery output being enhanced by 10 per cent, the rear electric motor output being heightened by 10 per cent to 95ps and a bigger 2.4-litre Atkinson cycle petrol lump (compared with the former 2.0-litre engine), which remains hooked up to an automatic gearbox.
The petrol unit also manages to be more economical than before because it can change from the Otto to the Atkinson cycle – shrinking its capacity and therefore using less fuel. All these modifications have been ushered in to make sure the Outlander does well on the more realistic, WLTP fuel economy and emissions test, which is intended to reflect real-world motoring properly.
As well as being more resourceful, the greater capacity petrol unit means more power. This means better performance; with the 0-62mph time now 10.5s rather than 11.0s. The top speed is 106mph. Because the £39,500 PHEV 4h 2.4 Auto, on test here, has an electric motor for every axle, it can give 4×4 capability all the time – even in pure EV mode.
The ‘Super-All Wheel Control’ (S-AWC) technology also has sport and snow drive settings. What’s more, the suspension has been adjusted to enhance low-speed ride, and the steering has been tweaked to offer better feel and response. On the outside, the general body shape is unchanged, but new, more sparkly, 18-inch alloys freshen the car up. The cabin offers the same amount of room, meaning that there’s lots of space for you and your passengers, as well as a considerable 463-litre boot, and a 35-litre compartment under the boot for the electric charging cable.
New Suzuki Jimny
Suzuki’s latest Jimny has a certain brutishness and strength that contradicts its tiny frame. In many ways, it’s like a featherweight boxer.
Off-road, rather than in the boxing ring, is where the Jimny comes into its own. Indeed, it’s the only place where this diminutive SUV can show off the 1.5-litre petrol engine the Japanese automaker has given it.
Modernised over the decades, (the Jimny has been around since 1970) the power unit produces 101ps. This means the SUV will do 0-60mph in around 13.0s, and its top speed is just 90mph. What’s more, the five-speed manual gearbox is clunky, and it’s easy to think there’s a sixth gear there, resulting in a sharp protestation from the cogs. Getting any kind of velocity out of the SUV means a lot of right foot action is required. Stamping on the accelerator and keeping your boot there is the only way to shift the Suzuki. Forget overtaking, though – the car is just not set up for any quick manoeuvres like that on busy roads.
When the Suzuki Jimny does start producing a good turn of speed, the engine sounds strained and raucous. Add wind roar and tyre rumble to this, and you soon find yourself shouting, rather than having a conversation with your fellow passengers.
However, the Jimny name is older than me by one year, which means the SUV’s been doing something right all this time. Off the black stuff, the Suzuki’s low-range gearing means you’re not going to get stuck in the wild. It attacks tough terrain with gusto – going where many other SUVs wouldn’t dare to tread. The Jimny’s off-the-beaten-track’s talents are due to good ground clearance and the excellent traction provided by its four-wheel-drive arrangement.
Plainly, the Suzuki Jimny is made to be a slogger – not a luxury vehicle. And that shows in the car’s ride back on the blacktop. Take a road trip, and the Jimny bounces everywhere, making it a pretty uncomfortable ride behind the wheel – and for your passengers.
Speaking of occupants, the car will hold four-up – maximum – and space is tight in the back. Indeed, it’s far more suited to kids than adults. The boot is minuscule, too at 85-litres, but this does balloon to 830-litres with the rear seats folded.
The Jimny’s tall driving position means you get a great view of the road – and the car’s small, square, shape and big windows means visibility is top-notch on tight turns and at junctions. Parking is simple, too, because the SUV’s small size means you can see exactly where to direct it.
Overall, £18,000 for a top of the range Suzuki Jimny SZ5, as driven here, is inexpensive, considering it’s an out-and-out 4×4. However, day-to-day running costs aren’t cheap. 41.5mpg is what you’ll get on average – if you drive carefully, and emissions are pretty high at 154g/km. But there’s always a balance, and the Suzuki Jimny addresses its shortcomings by being inexpensive to service and insure. What’s more, no comparably priced vehicle will travel further off the tarmac. The new Jimny goes on sale in the UK in January 2019.
Abarth 124 GT
The Abarth 124 is cast from the same die as the Fiat 124, and to improve it Abarth has used the same tactic as it did to change the Fiat 500 into the Abarth 595. In other words, it has added lithe looks, noise and, most importantly, muscle.
The Abarth 124 uses the same platform as Mazda’s MX-5 and Fiat’s 124. However, while the Fiat has been constructed to be more of a cruising vehicle, the Abarth is more hardcore – and the most performance-driven of the
The new flagship version of the Abarth 124 is the GT – and only 50 of them are available in Britain. The most obvious thing that differentiates itself from the standard 124 is its removable hard-top lid.
The carbon fibre roof weighs in at 16kg, and it adds a bit of rigidity to the open-top frame – and, consequently, better body control. It incorporates a heated rear screen too which, being broader than the screen you get with the usual fabric hood, makes the 124 GT undemanding to see out of.
While the extra bulk might seem like a negative thing in a motor that weighs just over a tonne, it’s wholly compensated by the GT’s next most attention-grabbing feature – 17-inch OZ Ultraleggera wheels. They’re lighter than the 124’s regular rims and, united with the roof, give the 124 GT the look of a racing machine.
The Abarth uses the same 1.4-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine as Fiat’s 124 – except in the Abarth it produces 170PS, compared with the Fiat 124’s 140PS. The power unit spins with the proper Italian sports car vigour you’d hope for. It feels wayward and entertaining at high revs – and you’re aware of the turbocharger when you push on. The sports car is quick to respond, and the gear change is rapid and exact.
The best thing about the 124, though, is the noise it makes. Popping burbles emit from the quad tailpipes when doing the 0-62mph gallop, with the two-seater car reaching the magical figure in 6.8s on its way to 144mph.
For an added dose of pleasure, the Abarth 124 has a Sport setting. Hit the button, and things become louder, tighter and faster. The throttle feels more insistent, and weight is also added to the steering, making you feel even more united with the road.
On the whole, the Abarth 124 GT is a grin-maker, although your beam might falter for a moment when you see the price-tag – £33,635. Yes, it’s a large lump of cash, but once you’ve heard the melodious tailpipes, felt the performance and experienced the handling for yourself, you’ll appreciate that this car is worth every single bank note.