Motors »

  • A new Datsun rising

    March 23, 2012 @ 2:20 pm | by Neil Briscoe

     

    The news that Nissan is going to revive the old Datsun badge will have kicked off memories for more than a few of us this past week. After all, Datsun was really the first Japanese brand that people outside of Japan began to take seriously.

    The Datsun badge came out of the purchase of the original DAT company by Nissan Heavy Industries in the thirties. DAT came from the initials of the original three investors, the -sun because the second car DAT made was called the Datson (as in son of the first model) but son means loss of money in Japanese, so it was swiftly changed to Datsun.

    Datsun was used by Nissan for its cars in the US and Europe until 1986, when then company chairman Yutaka Katayama decided that the firm’s name should become as resonant as that of rivals Honda and Toyota, and the Datsun brand should be phased out.

    My personal memories of Datsun are a little more, well, odd. You see, back in the day when I was growing up in the wilds of West Cork, a mate of mine worked for a car hire company. The cars were Datsun Cherrys, absolutely none of which were equipped with their original engine or sometimes even chassis numbers. Cars were cannibalised to keep other cars going and the ones that were going were foisted upon unsuspecting tourists. That old trick about shoving a pair of tights into a noisy gearbox to keep it quiet? Yep, that kind of operation.

    On quiet days, when the boss was away (which was often) these Cherrys would be taken out for spins in the back yard. God, we abused those Cherrys. From banjaxed engines to cracked chassis, they suffered every form of mechanical mendacity that late teenage brains could devise. Which was a lot. But even net of having to frequently swap out engines, change heads, carry out some emergency welding, there was a sense of the sheer strength of these cars. That they were born for the abuse, able to take whatever we could throw at them. It was in the grassy, unkempt back yard, amongst the hulks of Cherrys gone and Cherrys yet to be that my appreciation for the sheer toughness of Japanese cars matured (even as I lacked any personal maturity of my own).

    There aren’t many Cherrys left now. Rust and lack of care (ahem, that’s my hand up) did for most of them, and truth be told, they weren’t exactly top of the classic car preservation list. But there was in their simple, square `80s shapes a hint of the Japanese domination to come, of the rise of the Asian car giants and the end of Americo-European motorised hegemony. Which kind of makes it ironic that Datsun itself is being reborn to take on the challenge presented by the burgeoning Korean conglomerates and the ever-present threat of cheap Chinese car inundation.

    We don’t know yet what kind of models the new Datsun will build, but they’re unlikely to be in the sporting vein of the brand’s highpoint; the classically beautiful 204Z sports car. They probably won’t be as outright awful as those Cherrys either (surely the brand’s low point) but will more than likely follow the same template that Renault (Nissan’s partner in the Renault-Nissan group, both companies personally run by the autocratic Carlos Ghosn) has taken with its budget brand, Dacia. Which is to use older technology, low-cost production techniques and simple, cheap-to-do styling to create a range of solid, simple, unassuming and in some cases surprisingly good cars.

    It will allow Nissan to flog decontented cars at rock-bottom prices without the danger of damaging the more high-tech Nissan brand or tempting customers of lower-priced Micras and Notes into less profitable Datsuns.

    Which means that we more than likely won’t see any new Datsuns in Ireland. We asked Paul O’Sullivan, Nissan Ireland’s marketing director and he told us “I don’t think so. It’s really being done just for emerging markets, where the customer’s needs are somewhat different. There aren’t any plans for Datsun in western Europe as yet.”

    Which makes sense. For all our unwillingness (inability) to splash big money on cars, Ireland has a mature car market, one wedded to classical premium brand principles. Buying a cheap-o Datsun when you could have a more upwardly-mobile Nissan simply wouldn’t work here. Oh wait, did someone just mention Skoda? Or the fact that Dacia will be coming to Ireland? Hmmmm…

  • Videoblog: Peugeot’s new 208

    March 21, 2012 @ 7:30 am | by Michael McAleer

    YouTube Preview Image
    Our video blog of the new Peugeot supermini that arrives in Ireland on June 30th.

  • All our cars are Bond cars.

    March 20, 2012 @ 7:05 am | by Neil Briscoe

    There is, as I write, a new James Bond film in the works. Called Skyfall, it features Daniel Craig in his third outing as Ian Fleming’s iconic assassin, that “blunt instrument, wielded by a government department.” Sorry to appear somewhat old fashioned, or even passé, but this is a source of rich excitement to me. I’ve been a Bond fan practically since I was first allowed into a cinema or to watch anything on the television that didn’t feature Bugs Bunny. The glamour, the action, the excitement, the gadgets, suits and cars and, yes, the good old sex and violence. Scratch even the most modern and feminist of men and you’ll probably find an unreconstructed Bond fan dwelling just below the dermis.

    Of course, for a car nut, the gorgeous vehicles driven by our screen and literary hero are like a gateway drug to the wider world of Bond. Whether it’s the book Bond and his pre-war Bentley in its battleship grey paint, its Amherst-Villiers supercharger huffing away. Or the screen Bond and his Aston Martin DB5 (with modifications, natch) the secret service wheels are an irresistible pull to the impressionable car nut.

    In the books, the cars are glamorous but relatively simple. Bond’s Bentley has no gadgets and the Aston Martin he drives in Goldfinger (a DB Mk III, not a DB5) has nothing cleverer than some hidden compartments to fox inquisitive customs agents and an under-seat holster for a Colt. 45 pistol.

    Of course, for the movie Bond, that would be nowhere near enough, and producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman (himself a wartime intelligence officer) began loading Bond’s transport with all manner of imaginative, unobtainable toys. The 1964 film version of Goldfinger was the starting point, presenting Bond with the silver birch DB5 with its machine guns, bullet-proof glass and, of course, ejector seat. The ironic thing is that Fleming considered the Aston brand to be rather nouveau riche and flash (a bit rich coming from a man who drove a 1955 Ford Thunderbird and smoked cigarettes in an ivory holder) but the badge and the fictional man have become as inseperable in people’s minds as bourbon and branch water.

    I wanted one. Any Bond fan did and for a brief while, it seemed possible. After the orgy of classic car value rises that beset the late eighties and early nineties, DB5 values fell off the shelf to the point where a decent, but hardly concours, example could be had for around STG£20,000. A significant sum, but not beyond the bounds of possibility. Now though, DB5 prices start with a one and carry on for a further five figures, so you can forget it short of a Lotto win.

    There are other options if you want some Bond wheels. The late sixties Aston Martin DBS, as driven by George Lazenby in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service can be had for around that STG£20,000 mark, or if you’re a Roger Moore fan, an eighties Lotus Esprit (not submersible capable) could be landed and registered in Rosslare for under €10,000 if you shop around a bit. Like Timothy Dalton or Pierce Brosnan? Late eighties Aston V8 values are hardening but Pierce’s V12 Vanquish will continue to fall in price for a few more years yet.

    Or you could just spend your money on a humdrum family hatchback or saloon and be said to be driving a Bond car. I’m serious, there is almost no car on sale today that has not been influenced by the good Commander and his film and literary minders. The map screen hidden behind the radio grile in the original DB5 is a TomTom in all but name. You can actually buy a Lotus that can go underwater (from lunatic Swiss coachbuilders Rinspeed) but perhaps a more realistic option is to go for a head-up display as used on Timothy Dalton’s V8 in The Living Daylights (“I’ve had one or two optional extras installed…”) which can now be specified on everything from a BMW to a Peugeot. And Bond never even got to have a car with night vision, but Mercedes (and others) can fit your new car with it today.

    It’s not just gadgets though, but style that Bond and his wheels have equally influenced. The DB5′s beautiful wing vent, bisected by a thin scallop of chrome is these days showing up everywhere, and when Ford launches the new Mondeo later this year, check out the distinctive flared shape of the grille and tell me that the designers didn’t have Sean Connery in mind when they scribbled it. Even the lowly Fiesta, albeit in souped-up ST firm, will this year get a radiator grille that apes the classic Touring Superlegerra lines of Bond’s most famous car.

    More than that, it was Bond who introduced the average reader to the idea of premium branding. It was the coming concept, with or without Fleming, but there’s no doubt that the popularity of the Bond novels was instrumental in introducing the idea of premium aspirations to a populace for whom meat was still a rationed commodity and Bond’s taste for Bearnaise sauce and scrambled eggs with smoked salmon was impossibly exciting. The uniform worn by Bond; his finely cut suits and knitted silk tie, his trusty Rolex Oyster watch and his gunmetal cigarette case, all smacked of closely attended perfectionism and a burgeoning sense of brand awareness. Without Bond’s influence, would the appeal of a finely crafted German saloon have become so important to so many of us? Yes, of course it would, but there’s equally no doubt that Fleming’s carefully honed brand snobbery has percolated its way into the general consciousness. With a third of the globe’s population having seen the films or read the books, how could it be otherwise?

    So yes, that’ll be me, first in line for tickets in November when Skyfall is released, complete with a car chase featuring a Land Rover Defender that the film’s director, Sam Mendes, has described as “pretty bruising.” We presume he means the chase, rather than the car itself.

    Social mores have changed out of all recognition since Fleming first tapped out the opening lines of Casino Royale and since Terrence young exposed the first feet of film on the set of Dr. No, fifty years ago this year. But for all that, there is no getting away from the fact that today, we are all driving 007′s cars.

    Good buy, mister Bond.

  • First drive in Peugeot’s new 208 supermini

    March 15, 2012 @ 3:54 pm | by Michael McAleer

    Michael McAleer
    Motoring editor

    Peugeot's new 208

    Peugeot has created the prodigal son of superminis. In the 1990s it was the small hatch that others wanted to imitate. Its 205 – albeit in GTi form – adorned the bedroom walls of petrolheads from Mullingar to Majorca. While we were less enamoured by the more feminine wiles of its replacement 206, with its softer lines, we still admired its cheeky appeal.
    Then came the 207. It was like meeting your childhood hero after a few years out of the limelight and finding they’ve spent too much time in the takeaway. It was fat, frumpy and well below par. There was nothing lithe or nimble about the French lion’s offering any more.
    Well the good news is that the little Pug has been to rehab, shed the pounds and is back with a bang. The new 208 harks back to the days of the 206 in its looks and the glorious 205 in its handling. Suddenly Peugeot is back again with a car that warrants the supermini tagline.
    Everything about the new car, from its exterior styling through to the small steering wheel, is in keeping with what a supermini should be. It’s a tidy little package that can cope with the functional needs of family life but does so with fun and flair.

    The 208's smart new cabin includes a smaller steering wheel and touchscreen system


    Several new features impress, not least the new cabin layout. Peugeot has moved the central dials up to the driver’s eyeline and the smaller wheel gives a far more immediate feel to the 208’s handling and charm. A new touchscreen system in the central console – offered in the second-tier specification and a feature that’s expected to be fitted on 80 per cent of 208s sold – is a smart addition. It’s not in any way the equal to the tablet computers on the market, despite the claims of various Peugeot marketing executives, but it’s great to see it replace the plethora of buttons and knobs that have long cluttered the cabins of Peugeot cars for years now.
    The firm is launching a new stable of apps for the device, including versions of the Michelin hotel and restaurant guide, but they seem to be merely expensive gimmicks, certainly too expensive – at €350 in the initial year and €150 annually thereafter – and more immobile than what you can get on a decent smartphone these days for less than one per cent of that price. Credit to Peugeot for the effort, but don’t expect a queue of customers for this particular feature.
    Where the new car really excels is in its ride and handling, harking back to the glory days of the 205. The ride is much more refined than on the 207, capable of soaking up the bumps and potholes, particularly when shod on 16′ tyres. It’s dynamically much better as well, cornering at speeds and holding a tight line in bends without too much body roll. During our test drive we pitted it against some of the worst road surfaces we’ve come across since a recent trip to Connemara and it soaked up every bump and pothole without complaint. Its cornering ability is just what you want from a small fun car, sharp and reassuring in the bends, encouraging you to kick on.
    Overall the car feels far more nimble and eager than the frumpy 207 ever was. It all bodes well for the introduction of a GTi version which is supposedly in the pipeline.
    The 208 comes in both three and five-door formats, with little design differences between the two, including the use of chrome strips on the side of the three-door. Despite being slightly smaller in stature, the 208 manages to offer greater legroom than its predecessor. An extra 7cms has been added to the backseat legroom and it’s very evident once an adult jumps in.
    The engine line-up boasts significant improvements in both fuel economy and emissions, although not all these benefits will be reaped by Irish drivers. The impressive 1.6-litre diesel and petrol powertrains may seem perfectly mated with the new look of the car but the mainstays for the Irish market will be a 1.4-litre diesel and two versions of the firm’s new three-cylinder petrol engine.
    The new three cylinder engine comes in 1–litre and 1.2–litre format. I got to test the latter and while it’s noticeably slower off the starting blocks than the larger four cylinder engines, it is neither noisier nor slower when you get it up to speed. With emissions below 100g/km, the slightly longer take–off will be regarded as a price with paying for many Irish buyers. One complaint is that the five–speed manual gearbox on the three–cylinder engines is not as precise as the one fitted to the larger engine and there’s a noticeably longer gap between the gear gates. Engage fifth gear and you feel like your reaching for the passenger glovebox. It’s the one disappointment I had with a car that otherwise put a smile on my face.
    The fit and finish of this car is far superior to what has gone before. The smaller steering wheel makes a big difference to the cabin and the driving feel.
    Other nice touches include the new speedometer and rev counter binnacle that places the dials and information in the driver’s eyeline, and the touchscreen centre console. The latter may not be in the same league as an average tablet computer in terms of functionality or form, but it’s much better than the cluttered knobs and buttons of past Peugeots. As it comes in the middle grade equipment level – expected to make up 80 per cent of sales – it will be a common sight on Irish 208s, not simply reserved for top level variants.
    While the car is arriving here on June 30th prices have yet to be finalised, but given that its main rival will be the Toyota Yaris and its ilk, we expect the new 208 will enter the market below €15,000.

    Peugeot is going through the financial wars like many of its European counterparts, struggling with overcapacity and losses in lacklustre European markets. While a restructuring seems on the cards, everyone knows that the most important recipe for recovery remains a garage of good cars. With the 208, Peugeot is dramatically improving its chances of a return to profit.

    The french brand has a winner on its hands

  • Safety takes a back seat?

    March 9, 2012 @ 7:21 am | by Neil Briscoe

    Seatbelt warnings are one of the many worthy but occasionally irritating safety gizmos that are now de rigeur on all cars. Bing-bong it will go if you or your passenger forgets to put on their belts. Helpful. Sometimes annoying. And just a tiny bit useless. Yes, I can see the utility of such a device when it comes to drivers who do not habitually wear their seatbelts, but surely such people are an ever decreasing breed. I cannot think of a single person I know from my 64-year-old father on down, who does not instantly and instinctively put on their seatbelts as soon as they sit in the car.

    For a front seat passenger, such a device is also somewhat superfluous. After all, assuming that the driver is a regular seatbelt wearer (and I am assuming that) then it only takes the briefest of glances to see if your companion is belted in or not. A bing bong is of limited utility in this case, I would think.

    But what about in the back? My kids are, God help me, clever and figuring out a seatbelt latch is less than second’s work to them. There are more than a few cars with a visual warning that a rear seatbelt in an occupied seat is not fastened, but none that I can think of that gives an audible warning. For the harassed, distracted family driver, a discreet bing bong at this point would be rather useful.

    All of this came up the other day, because of one of those small facts that usually only comes to light because of a mistake. In this case, it was a typo on a Skoda press pack which stated that that the current Octavia has a seatbelt warning system for the passenger seat.

    In fact it doesn’t, an omission that prompted a phone call to Skoda to find out why. And while you might be expecting a witch-hunting piece of angry consumer journalism here, unfortunately for the crusading journalist, Raymond Leddy, marketing manager for Skoda Ireland had a perfectly reasonable explanation:

    “Sadly, it’s not available. If it was available, even as an option, rest assured that it would be specced on the car. Something to bear in mind is that all of the Octavia’s competitors are very new, whereas the Octavia was originally introduced back in 2004. It’s a car from a different era, really, so the comparison with newer vehicles is unfair. It’s worth point out that we have an all-new Octavia coming in 2013, and I would expect that it will have all of the latest safety equipment and systems.”

    Now, Skoda weren’t trying to spoof the public here, it was a miss-print on an info sheet handed out to journalists. The spec quoted on Skoda’s website is correct and if you go to the EuroNCAP website and examine the safety ratings, you will indeed find that the Octavia scores a 4-star rating (a pretty respectable figure back in 2004) whereas its more youthful competition are all five-star holders.

    But back to my need for an audible rear seat warning. So far, the only car maker I can find that offers an audible rear belt warning is, surprise, surprise, Volvo. Tomas Broberg, one of Volvo’s safety experts told me that “Volvo provides a notification to the driver in the dash board information panel to confirm on start up which rear seat belt is used (i.e. left, right or middle).  However as there is always a risk that a child will unfasten their seat belt once the car is moving, there is an audible warning should a rear seat belt be undone in transit. Volvo first introduced this feature in 2004 with the S40.  Since then Euro NCAP picked it up and have started awarding an additional point for this feature.  As a consequence other manufacturers are starting to add this feature, driven by the NCAP focus. Give it time and most or all will be on board with this.”

    There is a another question though; how much is safety merely a marketing tool of the car makers? Clearly, if you go out and have a head-on shunt this afternoon (and I hope you don’t, believe me) then the safety equipment loaded onto your car will be of rather more import than merely a salesman’s gimmick. But while it’s a commercially sensible idea for car makers to keep their customers alive, beyond the extreme situation of having a major accident, what benefit do you actually accrue from your car’s safety kit?

    Actually, mostly you don’t get a benefit at all; quite the reverse. Safety equipment is costly both in terms of weight and raw hard cash. The cost of developing new airbags, crush cells, ABS and ESP, radar based ‘crash sensing’ systems and the like is added to and amortised by the cost of the car you buy. And the extra kilos it all adds means that there’s an extra drag on your car’s performance and fuel economy. There’s also an argument that says that fitting kilos of extra safety gizmos adds so much weight that it actually makes any impact that much worse because of the extra kinetic energy involved, but that’s perhaps a discussion for another day.

    What about insurance though? It would seem that it should only be right for a person buying a car from a maker with an unblemished safety record (some Swedish company or other, let’s say) to be in line for a discount on their insurance relative to someone buying a car with a less impressive safety record. Furthermore, if this fictional car buyer were to spend extra money on optional safety toys (lane keeping, rear side airbags etc etc) then surely they should be in line for even more knocked off their premiums. It doesn’t seem to happen though, does it?

    In fact, you’ll still have to pay a full whack of Vehicle Registration Tax and VAT on even the most altruistic of vehicle safety equipment. So perhaps insurance prices shouldn’t be the only potential benefit to those buying safe cars. After all, car crashes and their aftermaths have a wider impact than just immediate personal tragedy. A death on the road has a cost implication to the national exchequer, of around €2-million. Surely, therefore, as Ministers Noonan and Hogan are working on their new and doubtless fiendish car tax regime, they should be building in lower tax bands for those of us driving the safest cars?

  • Geneva Motor show: New Audi A3 and Bentley’s SUV

    March 6, 2012 @ 5:08 pm | by Michael McAleer
    Volkswagen used the Geneva motor show to unveil its new Golf GTi cabrio. The smart looking convertible is the final hurrah of the current Golf model, ahead of the launch of a brand new Golf at the Paris motor show this autumn.
    The brand also showcased its new Cross Coupe concept to Europe, a strikingly good-looking crossover that would seriously challenge the likes of the Nissan Qashqai were it to go into production. All expectations are that it will indeed make its way onto our forecourts in the future.

    Audi's new A3: 1.6-litre TDi diesel will have emissions of just 99g/km

    Not to be outdone its sister brands Audi, Seat and Skoda also showcased new offerings. Audi has the new A3, which will come to Ireland later this year. Slightly wider than the current model, it’s more of an evolution in terms of looks, while retaining the brand’s reputation for interior fit and finish. It is based on VW Group’s new mid-size platform that will underpin the next-generation Golf and weighs in 80kgs lighter than the current model. The big news for Irish buyers is that the 1.6-litre diesel version will come with emissions of just 99g/km and fuel economy of 3.8L/100km. In 2014 a plug-in hybrid version will be added to the range.

    Seat's new Toledo family car

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    Meanwhile Seat introduced its new Toledo family saloon, alongside its own version of the VW Up!, called the Mii. The latter is a stylish take on the VW city car and fitting for what is supposedly a youth-orientated brand, but the Toledo leans more towards practicality than stylish appeal. It’s functional, if a little mundane.

    Bentley's new SUV: a concept for now but production due in 2015


    Amid a myriad of kooky concept cars Bentley created the most talked-about car on the Geneva show floor with its first impression of what the brand’s upcoming SUV will look like.
    Due in 2015 and based on a reworked version of Audi’s Q7 platform European visitors baulked at the bling and excess of the car, not to mention its downright ugliness. However, in a clear demonstration of the differing tastes of European and Asian markets, Chinese car fans seemed to love it. And there’s no doubt that Premiership footballers will be queuing up to buy.
    Kitted out with its own cutlery and delph for those picnic days at the Epsom Derby, it’s for buyers really eager to flaunt their wealth. An early contender for the ugliest car of the decade.

    The rear of the Bentley caters for those important away-day picnics

  • Geneva Motor show: Peugeot, Volvo, Ford and Mitsubishi

    @ 12:35 pm | by Michael McAleer
    Ford has unveiled its new B-Max, a five-seater rival to the Opel Meriva, only with a sliding rear door rather than the Opel’s reverse opening one.

    Ford's new B-Max

    A smart looking car based on the current Fiesta platform, it measures in at 31cm longer than the regular supermini so there is significantly more interior space. It will arrive in Ireland in September with a 1.4-litre diesel or the remarkably powerful but frugal 1-litre EcoBoost petrol engine that Ford has developed. On the Focus this engine manages either 95bhp or 125bhp with emissions of just 109g/km or 119g/km respectively. Yet from behind the wheel it feels like it has the power o a 1.6-litre or 1.8-litre petrol. Prices still not confirmed for the B-Max, but expect them to start around €19,000.
    The blue oval brand also unveiled its new Kuga, based largely on the smart looking Escape model launched earlier this year in the US. It’s an evolution on the already smart looking SUV crossover from Ford and this time boasts the various safety equipment options you find on the new Focus. The main seller in Ireland will be the 2-litre diesel currently offered in the Focus range, but don’t expect it to hit Irish showrooms until the start of 2013, when the stonking new Focus ST and Fiesta ST will also make their Irish debuts.

    Peugeot's new 208

    Peugeot has pulled off one of the coups of the Geneva Motor show with the 208. It’s a real surprise. The rather lumpy look of Peugeot’s current crop of supermini and hatchbacks has been replaced with a far neater package in the form of this new 208. In a way it harks back to the glory days for the brand’s superminis, a halfway house between the glorious 205 and the softer 206.
    Arriving in Irish showrooms on June 30th, it will be launched with a 1.4-litre HDi diesel engine with emissions of 104g/km, with five-speed manual transmission. A 1.2-litre petrol will follow, but for now there are no plans to bring the new 1-litre petrol to Ireland, even though it manages a very impressive 99g/km. While the car is smaller than the 207, its actually more spacious inside, with an extra 20cm of legroom. The controls have also been redesigned and are more driver-orientated than in the past.

    Mitsubishi's new Outlander: plug-in hybrid on the way to Ireland in 2013

    Mitsubishi debuted its new Outlander with promises that this time it’s a proper seven-seater SUV. The new car, due in Ireland in October, will feature the firm’s revised 2.2-litre diesel engine with emissions between 130g/km and 150g/km in either 6-speed manual or automatic.
    However the big news from Outlander is that by 2013 there will be a four-wheel-drive plug-in hybrid version on offer with emissions of just 50 g/km and the ability to run solely on the electric motor for up to 50kms.
    Meanwhile work is already underway on the new Lancer, which rumours suggest is going to get a radically more sporty – and stylish – exterior look. “Maserati front styling” is a term that has been mentioned in passing: we’ll wait and see.
    Building on the work done on the development of the all-electric i-Miev, the new Lancer will also be offered with an all-electric version and a hybrid.
    Volvo has confirmed Irish prices for its new V40 family hatchback. Aimed at taking on the likes of the new Audi A3 – yes another car with the Audi in its sights – the Volvo will start at €26,995 for the 1.6-litre diesel. This engine – for the same price – comes with either 150bhp and emissions of 134g/km, or 115bhp with emissions of just 94g/km. Standard features are pretty high and include the firm’s new city safety system that will stop the car automatically up to speeds of 50km/h if it senses that a collision is imminent.
  • Geneva motor show: New Mercedes A-Class

    @ 11:42 am | by Michael McAleer

    Mercedes's new A-Class: big improvement on its predecessor

    Mercedes is showcasing its new A-Class, a proper supermini from the premium brand, far more sporty and stylish than its predecessor; enough perhaps to warrant a new name. While it’s based on the B-Class platform, the car is similar in internal space to the likes of the Audi A1.
    The official line is that it’s a cool rival to the Audi A3, but it seems too small to be a real contender in the family hatchback segment, regardless of the badge up front.
    Aimed at the prized 25-plus age group, where Mercedes has little or no customer base, the three-pointed star brand is eager to be perceived as a young and trendy brand once more, and not just the preserve of fortysomething managers.
    As part of this drive is the increasingly close relationship with Apple. The new A-Class allows you to connect your iPad to the car’s entertainment system and effectively operate all your apps and music catalogue from the cars main screen.
    The car will be launched in Ireland with a 1.8-litre diesel with emissions of just 99g/km. However it will not be arriving in Irish showrooms until the start of2013.
    Mercedes has a massive challenge to change perceptions, particularly in mature markets like Ireland, but the A-Class certainly is a step in the right direction to moving the brand towards a more cool and contemporary customer base. Pricing however, will be key. No word yet on that.

    New A-Class interior: With iPad connectivity, but similar space to Audi A1

  • Opel Ampera wins 2012 car of the year

    March 5, 2012 @ 2:48 pm | by Michael McAleer

    Car of the year 2012: Opel's new Ampera

    Opel’s Ampera has been voted European Car of the year 2012. The new car, which runs solely on electric power for up to 80kms and thereafter on electricity generated from an on-board 1.4-litre petrol engine, goes on sale in Ireland this spring.
    There has been some debate over whether the car is a fully-electric model or an advanced hybrid, but the format is designed to overcome the problem of “range anxiety” that has stymied sales of electric cars so far.
    The Ampera won out quite convincingly. With each of the 59 jury members from 23 countries awarding 25 points between the seven shortlisted cars – with a maximum of 10 points for any one entry – the Ampera secured 330 points, compared to the Volkswagen Up on 281. Third place went to the Ford Focus with 256 points, followed by the Range Rover Evoque on 186 points.
    Prices for the new Ampera are expected to be relatively high in Ireland – €40,000 or more – and while it’s not expected to sell in large volumes, it will overcome the fears of some potential electric car buyers of being left stranded once the charge runs out.
    As the Irish jury member my votes went to:
    1. Opel/Chevrolet Volt
    Whether it’s an evolution of the hybrid format or a full electric car is beside the point; the Volt priorities the electric motor, gives it an everyday useable electric-only range for most families and, overcomes the single greatest fear about electric cars – range anxiety. Many motorists like the idea of running on electric power for the daily commute but also having the reassurance of a regular engine if they need to complete a longer trip. Without the Volt that means two cars in the driveway. When running on its petrol engine the fuel consumption is nothing special, but for everyday commutes it delivers and it handles pretty smartly for a car of its size. The interior could be smarter, but that’s a small gripe. For many motorists it will be their first experience of driving on full electric at motorway speeds and they won’t be disappointed.
    2. Volkswagen Up!
    A small funky city car with a surprisingly peppy performance and a remarkably spacious cabin for its footprint on the road. It’s a great little car that’s fun to drive, nicely styled and well-priced. It delivers in terms of value for money, quality and design.
    3. Ford Focus
    Still the best of the hatchbacks when it comes to driving dynamics, even with its electric steering system. It also brought a plethora of safety features to the mainstream market. The upcoming low-emissions 1-litre EcoBoost petrol engine is also really impressive. There’s a quality feel to this latest version, but with the additional features on board, the controls are rather cluttered.
    4. Range Rover Evoque
    A stunning concept design that made it through to production. It’s handling is remarkable for an SUV format, it’s emissions levels are equally impressive and the cabin features fit with the Range Rover badge, while the whole package comes at a very competitive price. Of all the cars on the shortlist, it’s the one that scores highest in terms of desireability. We can see why they’re flying out of showrooms.
    5. Citroen DS5
    Alongside the Evoque, it’s the car tthat really turns heads in 2012. Its wide-stance and muscular external styling is surprisingly smart, while the driver-focussed cabin evokes a premium feel that’s far plusher than you’d expect for the money and there’s a real sense of opulence about a car that’s priced within reach of many family car buyers. The optional EGS gearbox is still a bugbear, the ride can be rather choppy, and the diesel hybrid system suffers from the premium you have to pay over the regular diesel versions, but it’s still a brave and impressive statement of intent from the french brand. Finally a quasi-premium French car we’d be happy to buy.
    6. Toyota Yaris
    Looks are arguably more traditional than its predecessor, the cabin is rather drab, but the advent of a small hybrid version into the supermini segment is a welcome development.
    7. Fiat Panda
    The ‘Bakelite’ retro styling is smart and upcoming versions with a city safety collision prevention system is a great addition to the city car market.

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