Motoring

Obviously it’s a Cupra Formentor

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But that answer to some just wasn’t good enough, after dodging the question, and going round in circles, I finally had to admit it was built by SEAT, and part of the VW Group. SEAT have always tried to use Spanish place names to call their cars, such as: Ibiza, Malaga, Marbella, Alhambra, Córdoba, Toledo, and some more obscure ones such as Leon, Arona and Altea.

But Formentor is a very pretty place in Majorca, and the Formentor is a very pretty car, with some bold and striking lines, the pressing of the metal is really clever engineering with the body panels having razor sharp creases.

The car I had on test from SEAT UK press office, sorry, CUPRA UK, was a 1.4 petrol plug-in Hybrid that produces 245ps (combined output, petrol engine and electric motors). It goes from 0-62mph (100kph) in 7-seconds, and boasts a top speed of 130mph. It is coupled to a very smooth 6-speed automatic gearbox.

You can charge the battery either from home using a standard household plug, or take it to a public ChargePoint. I just charged it from home, and like all other full electric, or plug-ins, it seemed to take forever to do so. It took nearly five hours to go from a range of zero miles to 21 miles. It’s meant to be able to go for 34 miles when fully topped-up. Using a swanky 3.6KW ChargePoint it takes about three hours to “electrically fill”. However, it begs the question, “3 hours to get 34 miles, is it worth it?”. When it was completely out of battery power and solely relied on petrol power, the economical 1.4-litre engine achieved just over 50mpg (4.704l/100kph).

The interior is quite exquisite with some really nice touches, with its black nappy leather heated bucket seats with copper stitching on the VZ2 test car. The whole of the interior looks and feels like real quality, a great place to sit for a long journey.

It has a large (12-inch) screen in the centre of the dashboard and a 10.5-invh Digital Cockpit in front of the driver. The infotainment system is really easy to use, and very intuitive, and much improved on some previous efforts by VW Group, I think they have learned by their mistakes.

There is a great long list of standard equipment on the Formentor, too many to list. The UK OTR price of the test car was £41,115, and does sound a hefty price to pay, but when you look at the complete package, all the nice features you get, then it begins to look reasonable value.

The Cupra Formentor is certainly a striking looking five-door hatch, with some very distinctive lines, that stand out in a crowd. The interior is stunning, and SEAT, sorry, CUPRA have gone over and beyond what would have been expected in this type of car, from the Spanish manufacturer, so well done for a brave effort.

The luck of the Alfas

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I recently had on test, not one but two QuAdrifoglios from Alfa Romeo’s UK Press Office. I was curious to know what Quadrifoglio meant, simple really, and you only have to look at the badge on the front wings, and it all becomes apparent… four leaf clover.

The Giulia arrived in a nice shiny metallic white, with yellow brake mechanism, and with this car it doesn’t matter what colour they are, but they need to be better than good.

The Giulia is a four-door saloon, similar in size to an Audi A4, or BMW 3-Series. It is powered by a whopping 2,891cc V6 petrol engine that produces 510hp, and goes from 0-62mph (100kph) in 3.9 seconds and a ridiculous top speed of 191mph (307kph) where you can actually do this is an unknown, certainly not around the United Kingdom’s motorway network and certainly not anywhere in Gibraltar!

The 2021 model has put right a lot of things that was wrong with the previous car, not much, but does benefit it, such as the infotainment system and the way you control has been improved.

Driving the Giulia Quadrifoglio is great fun, and although it has massive amounts of power, and when you put your foot down on the accelerator it really pushes you back in your seat, and you feel your face cheeks and your lips altering shape, a bit like a Disney cartoon when a character is going at massive speeds and the whole face is distorted.

The Giulia, despite its power is comfortable and is such an easy car to drive at low speeds, it doesn’t ever feel as though it wants to run away with you. The cost of the test car is £74,555 in the UK.

The second Quadrifoglio that I tried was a bright Misano blue Stelvio, and has the same engine and power output as the Giulia, but despite it being a larger vehicle, it is slightly quicker to 0-62mph, and does this in 3.8 seconds, this must be because the Stelvio has a four-wheel drive system, so more power can be put onto the tarmac. It has the same V6 engine with 510hp, coupled to a ZF 8-speed automatic gearbox; and very smooth it is too.

The Giulia felt a bit cramped in the rear, with little legroom if the driver or passenger were above average height. But the Stelvio had much more, and rear passengers could not complain. The boot was also large enough for plenty of shopping or luggage, so was a very useable SUV.

Around town, and local journeys the fuel consumption wasn’t brilliant, and I had to go to Ascot for an event in the Stelvio, and I was worried I had to stop at every fuel station on the way there, and on the way back. But driving over 400 miles it achieved nearly 30mpg (7.84 l/100 km) which I though was pretty good for a large 4×4 SUV with a powerful petrol engine. I got out of it, after sitting in it for over six-hours, feeling as fresh as the moment I had just sat down to embark on my journey. The price of the Stelvio in the UK is £79,275.

I did enjoy using both Quadrifoglios. Both are quick, fun to drive and very comfortable, but I think, purely for practicality and usefulness, it would have to be the Stelvio that I’d recommend.

Take your Pick(UP)

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In the UK, the choice of Pick-Ups is diminishing rapidly.

Many manufacturers have produced them, with some built in cooperation with others, the same Pick-Up, but with different Badges, so now there are really only Three to chose from, two of which I have recently tested.

Many manufacturers have produced them, with some built in
cooperation with others, the same Pick-Up, but with different Badges, so now there are really only Three to chose from, two
of which I have recently tested.

I had a Toyota HiLux Invincible for a week on test, and as we know these trucks are virtually indestructible. The Toyota can be seen worldwide doing a variety of jobs, and always able to cope in any situation. It is powered by a 2.8-litre 4-cylinder Diesel engine that produces 201bhp, it had a very smooth 6-speed Auto gearbox But despite it being a workhorse, the interior on the Invincible is very luxurious and comfortable, yes it’s a truck so not exactly a large premium saloon, but the ride is very acceptable. I didn’t get chance to take the Toyota off-Road, the nearest was Morrison’s car park, and to visit our local farmer, but I have driven one previously on an off-road course, and it was very competent. 

A couple of weeks later I was invited to drive the all-new Isuzu D-MAX on a press event in a quarry near Buxton. Isuzu was founded in 1916, but wasn’t until 1987 that the first vehicle was brought to the UK. 

We were each given the keys to a truck, and were alone, due to COVID restrictions and followed the lead-car around the old quarry: up steep hills, down slippery slopes, through deep water, it now has a wading depth of 800mm. Some of the terrain was just very loose gravel, so the four-wheel-Drive button needed to be pressed on some difficult and slippery areas. But the D-MAX did everything it was asked to do. 

Then it was out onto the open road to see if it was as good on tarmac as it was on gravel and in water, and as expected, it was. The interior, like the Toyota is now very ‘car-like’ and probably even more luxurious than many cars, it just had the look and feel of something very special. 

The Isuzu is powered by a much smaller engine than the Toyota, it has a 1.9-litre Diesel engine that produces 164ps, on paper it just doesn’t look right, but in reality it is perfect.

Both the Toyota & Isuzu are packed full of goodies, not a basic pick-up anymore, the list of standard specification on both is endless.

Both are exceptional vehicles, and both have their individual advantages, but both are brilliant all-rounders, can go off-road, can carry lots of heavy goods, and a pleasure to drive on-road, and all for just over £30,000, plus Taxes…a bargain..

Seat Leon

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I first saw this all-new SEAT Leon as a small clay model a few years ago at SEAT HQ in Martorell, near Barcelona.

A few  months later were invited back to see the full size plastic model under the bright lights in their design studio. It just didn’t look right; there were too many lines, going in all different directions and it looked too fussy, and a bit over the top. The studio lights were bouncing off every body line and contour… very disappointing and a real shame.

I recently had a Leon SE Dynamic on test from SEAT UK. It was powered by the efficient and economical 3-cylinder 1.0 petrol engine that produces 110ps, and coupled to a 7-speed DSG Automatic gearbox – a great combination.

This all-new Leon is a five-door hatch and is the fourth-generation (with the first being introduced in 1998), and all have been built at the factory just up the road in Barcelona.

SEAT have been having a good time recently with sales going up, but this is mainly due to the trio of SUVs it is offering: Arona, Ateca and Tarraco, and have taken the SEAT brand to countless new customers, so sales of the hatchbacks it has traditionally sold could now be cannibalised by their excellent SUV offerings.

The interior is very modern in the Leon, and SEAT have adapted many Volkswagen technologies including the digital dash and instruments. The gearshift lever, well, hardly a lever, measures only 4cmx4cm, so it is tiny, and nothing like the great big levers we are used to. But despite its size, it is very easy to use, and you soon get used to it. There are some sharp angles and creases on the dashboard and I would image these are perfect for collecting dust, but when clean it does look good. The infotainment system, including the satellite navigation is perfectly placed for easy use, and easy to see.

The boot is cavernous, and a good job too, if it wants to compete with more practical SUVs. The new Leon gets a slightly longer wheelbase compared to the outgoing model, and this is noticeable with extra legroom for rear seat passengers.

I had the Leon on one of the wettest, dullest weeks imaginable – but that didn’t spoil the driving enjoyment, it was as good on a motorway, as it was on narrow twisty roads, and town and village roads. 

The rear gets a very unusual design treatment, with the brake-lights going from one end of the boot-lid, to the other. And there is an overhang on the boot lid too, a nice bit of design and clever engineering. The side of the car has some sharp, crisp lines, and looks good from every angle.

The SEAT Leon certainly looked so much better on a dull, wet Tuesday afternoon in Huddersfield than it did under those bright lights in Spain. Maybe in future manufacturers should use a drizzly day in Yorkshire to show off their new cars, as they do look much more appealing!!

Across the Divide

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The Suzuki Across was the first new model to launch under the collaborative agreement between Suzuki motor corporation and Toyota motor corporation. Simple reasons for this new marriage: Suzuki needed the technology lower emissions Toyota can offer, and Toyota needed to get into markets that Suzuki are strong in

The new Across is in fact a Toyota RAV4, but has been Suzuki-ised, which basically means it has had all the Toyota badges removed and Suzuki badges stuck on instead.

The Across is a medium sized SUV, but does have plenty of interior space.

It is powered by Toyota’s 2.5 litre petrol engine coupled to a plug-in hybrid system. The size of the engine does sound excessive, but it’s efficient and economical. All of this goes to the E-Four electronic 4×4 system that ensures confidence and better control in slippery conditions. 

The Across has the hybrid plug-in system, which means you get a cable in the boot of the car, and a plug hidden away behind a flap. If you have a home charger you can put it on charge whilst at home, but if not, I’m afraid you have to find a public charger that is working, and wait over an hour.

The Across is a good looking SUV with nice styling, crisp bold lines and looks great from every angle. It has wheel arch mouldings and a large open grille which makes it look more muscular.

The interior is certainly gives you a sense of luxury and comfort with well-crafted upholstery and the cabin has high quality materials with good fit and finish, and has “soft-padding” on the dashboard and door trims, all adding to give it a premium look and feel.

Despite it being both petrol and electric you drive it exactly the same as you would any other car. Press the start button, put the automatic gearbox into drive, depress the accelerator … and away you go. The car does all the thinking for you, and maximises fuel consumption and reduces petrol consumption as much as possible. The car charges the batteries when you are slowing down or going down hills, it stores this energy, and uses it when needed.

Suzukis have traditionally been renowned worldwide for their price, and good value for money, but in the UK list prices comes out somewhat higher than expected at £45,599.

Vauxhall-Opel’s rebirth

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Vauxhall started life 164 years ago as a company making pumps and marine engines, and based initially in Wandsworth Road, Vauxhall – in London –  and so hence the name. You have to go way back to 1903 to find when the company built its first car. Fast forward to 2021, and Vauxhall and Opel are now part of the French PSA Groupe. And very recently Fiat Group joined the same setup, so now the whole company has been renamed the vanilla “Stellantis” with Citroen, Peugeot, DS, Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Jeep and many more falling under this made-up-word’s umbrella.

With all the technology and much more financial support, Vauxhall/Opel has managed to produce more new cars, much more quickly, due to the availability of extra platforms (chassis) and drivetrains.

I have recently tested three new cars, all UK Vauxhall badged.

The latest is the all-new Mokka, and I drove this as both the pure electric and with a 1.2-litre petrol. The Mokka is a small five-door SUV, but has plenty of interior space, and a great looking car, with lots of character. With the battery fully charged it has a range of around 200 miles (320km).

The second in the trio I drove was a Corsa electric that I had on test from Vauxhall press department, and like the Mokka has a range of 200 miles. It was quick, and as expected very quiet, but charging the car using public charging stations proved to be a bit “hit and miss” and not very reliable. But with the car charged up, it was great fun to drive, and for a small hatch, had plenty of room for five adults.

The Insignia has had a major overhaul and facelift recently and it is a handsome large five door car, with some great lines and some precision pressings in the body panels. But as good as it is, this sector of the market is losing favour with the buying public as they now much prefer a more practical SUV, and you have to wonder if the days are now numbered for this type of vehicle.

The one car out of these three that hit the right spot, and did everything right, for design, packaging and value has to be the Mokka, in either petrol or electric, they have got it absolutely right.

All these three cars were up to an exceptionally high standard, in the build quality, materials used and fit and finish, all thanks to being part of the large group with a funny name – Stellantis. As time goes on, more and more cars in the group will benefit from more advanced technology and use of shared parts, which will probably end up being not a bad thing for the consumer.

When is a Suzuki not a Suzuki?

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Looking at these two cars that I had recently on test, you can be excused for thinking they have nothing at all in common, but you’d be wrong.

Although these two cars look completely different, if you were to remove the bodies, you would be looking at almost identical components. There is a good reason for this, as, they are almost identical in every way.

The Suzuki is in fact, a Toyota, a Toyota with Suzuki badges, and there are many reasons for this.

Toyota produce probably the finest petrol hybrid system, and so they should, they’ve been doing it long enough, so have perfected the art. Suzuki don’t have a full hybrid system. They were obliged to reduce their emissions, so by using the “off-the-shelf” system from Toyota, they’ve managed to comply with environmental legislation in no time at all.

Suzuki is the best selling manufacturer in many countries where Toyota hardly sells any, so get a Suzuki badged Toyota, and hey-presto, Toyota is able to sell their cars in volumes they could only have dreamed of. A marriage made in heaven, and win-win by both companies.

So underneath the bright bodywork lurks the self-charging hybrid system. It has an economical petrol engine, some batteries, a charging system, and some very clever computers and electronics. On the dashboard there is a big screen to tell you what everything is doing, but beware, don’t concentrate on it too much, and take your eyes off the road. The engine powers the car under normal driving, but as soon as you take your foot off the accelerator or go downhill, the engine cuts out, and the momentum charges the battery. Put your foot back on the accelerator and the engine fires up again. But if you set off from traffic lights, or a roundabout, then you set off on electric power only, saving fuel and reducing emissions.

You can also press the “EV” button, and it will travel on battery power for a distance of a few miles, but not above 20mph (32kph). So if you want to creep in home late at night, nice and quietly, press the magic button, and no-one will be the wiser.

The Toyota hybrid system is so clever, and it makes changing from petrol to battery power effortless; you really cannot tell which mode of power is being used unless you double-check by looking at the screen in front of you.

Both cars were a pleasure to drive, so easy, and very economical, and as clean as you can get without having to plug it into an electric socket.

This system, in my view, is the future… as opposed to *full* electric vehicles. Others will undoubtedly disagree.

Zoom Zoom

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I recently had on test from Mazda UK press dept a CX-30 100th Anniversary Edition, and even had 100 years 1920-2020 embossed on the head rests, so you couldn’t forget this was a commemorative vehicle.

Now I must admit, I didn’t know Mazda had been in business for all that time, and so I thought I would check out its history. Mazda didn’t actually start life as a car manufacturer, but as a cork manufacturer called Toyo Kogyo Co Ltd based in Hiroshima. But in the late 1920’s the cork company had to be saved from bankruptcy. How they made the leap from cork to cars is another story.

In 1931 the cork company developed its first vehicle called the “Mazda-Go” which was a tricycle-truck, basically a 3-wheel motorbike with a box on the back.

The first car Mazda produced was in 1940, a four-seater family saloon, but production was put on hold thanks to WWII. In 1945 Mazda started making a three-wheel truck the K360, and made a remarkable recovery despite the fact there was very little  left in Hiroshima.

Mazda started producing small mini-vans and 1-ton pick-ups and did very well with these and sold many to other countries.

In 1967 Mazda launched the Cosmo Sport 110, and was the first production car to have the innovative two-rotor Rotary engine. Over two million Mazdas have been sold with a Rotary engine to date.

The CX-30 is powered by 2.0-litre petrol engine that produces 180ps, and although the engine does look big for the size of car, it was relatively economical and just as good on fuel as other competitors with much smaller engines. Mazda have spent much time, effort and money developing their Skyactive engines, which are designed to be efficient, quiet and economical.

The interior of the 100th Edition is very special indeed, with lovely red and beige leather upholstery and some very nice standard equipment. There is plenty of room for five adults, and the boot is very spacious.

The CX-30 is in a very popular yet competitive sector of the market, the SUV is now in demand from many people, both young and old, as they do offer a practical and flexible vehicle, but are generally sensibly priced, loads of room, but not too big, and easy to park.

The Mazda CX-30 is certainly a good looking car, a pleasure to drive and has more than enough power, and interior space.

It has been interesting looking at Mazda’s history. Not is all that it appears to be on first inspection from this car company celebrating its centenary.

All that Jazz

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The differences are very easy to spot from the exterior. The Jazz is the typical five-door hatch. But the Crosstar has a different front grille, black cladding around the wheel arches, lower sills and integrated roof rails. It also has a raised ride height to help it over more difficult terrain, but it is not an off-roader or 4×4, although its appearance gives that impression.

The Jazz has been on the market since 2001 and in those 20 years it has sold well, but not been remarkable, it has often been regarded as just a dull car, driven mainly by the elderly, and often seen driving very slowly. I remember clearly seeing one on a fairly clear M1, in the middle lane doing 43mph, I know because I slowed down to follow it, the driver was either being ultra-cautious, or just plain stupid.

I had each of the new cars for a week each from the press department at Honda Uk, first to arrive was the Jazz, and I have to say, I wasn’t particularly looking forward to it coming, a week in a Jazz, what will people think??

The first thing I thought when I saw it was, well this looks pretty good and modern. Then I started driving it, and quickly realised it had a brilliant Hybrid system that self-charges as you go.

When setting off it either uses just electric power, or if you push the accelerator a bit harder, the engine kicks in, and you have double the power almost.. well… I wasn’t expecting that. When you take your foot off the accelerator or braking, or cruising down a hill, the engine stops and the battery gets power put into it, to use at a later time. This very clever system makes sure you don’t waste any energy, everything gets used and improves fuel economy and reduces emissions.. the system was so much better than I thought it would be, and I wasn’t expecting that.

The interior, for a small car, is huge, probably has more leg, head and shoulder room than cars in the next “size up”, it is so spacious. Under the back seat there is a large space for storage, and if you don’t know it’s there, it is easy to loose things, as they can slide under there and could be lost forever. Which I found out after buying a meat & potato pie from the local farm shop. I put it on the floor in the rear, got home with no pie to be found anywhere.. the mystery of the missing pie..yes the interior was so much bigger than I thought it would be… and I wasn’t expecting that..

The Jazz is powered by a 1.5-litre i-MMD petrol engine that produces 97ps and coupled to a CVT gearbox, it also has the benefit of the electric motor that produces the equivalent of 109ps, so between the two power sources, it produces quite a kick, the 0-62mph (0-100kph) is a very respectable 9.4 seconds. During the time I had the car, I was alongside a boy racer in his super-up Golf, he saw me, an old bloke in a Jazz, easy he was thinking, I set off quite rapidly using petrol and electric power, and left him standing… well… he wasn’t expecting that…..!

After a week with the Jazz, the Crosstar arrived, and to look at was very different, and I did immediately prefer this model, despite it costing a bit more, but you do pay for Style. But to drive was very similar, so similar in fact, it was the same, just as economical I was averaging 68 mpg (3.459 litres per 100 km) so quite a cheap car to run… and I wasn’t expecting that..

It is certainly well put together and the fit and finish and all the materials used are up to a high quality..

It is not the most dynamic car to drive, but it certainly isn’t dull, it is just a nice car to drive, comfortable and the sort of car you could drive hour after hour, and with such good fuel economy, you don’t need to keep stopping to fill up. It does every thing you need a car to do, and is full of standard equipment, yes, lots of nice goodies.

The boot is relatively spacious, and the rear seats fold down in a very clever and unique way, and as I put it down to test it.. the mystery of the missing farm shop pie was uncovered, it was hiding well under the rear seat squab, thank goodness for that, we could have some tea.

Prices in the UK for the Jazz EX is £22,035 and for the Crosstar is £23,035 that I had on test (OTR).

I don’t really like to admit it, and it pains me to say, even feel a bit embarrassed to have to write these words, but I really enjoyed driving and using the two Hondas… and I wasn’t expecting to say that…

Motoring Insight

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At the Premiere they did tell us what a great car the new Octavia was, and now I can confirm… they were right…

It was in November 2019 that I went to the World Premiere of the all-new Skoda Octavia at the National Gallery in Prague. Many distinguished guests were there including the Czech Prime Minister. Providing the music was the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, which was brilliant, a real treat and an honour to be there. Skoda told us back then, what a great car the new Octavia is.

Over a year later and I got one as a test car for a week from the Press Office at Skoda UK. The car that I had was a SE L First Edition powered by a 2.0-litre TDI that produces 150ps and goes from 0-62mph (0-100kph) in 8.7 seconds, and a top speed of 141mph, where permitted, which is virtually nowhere at all. It has Volkswagen Group silky smooth 7-Speed DSG automatic gearbox.

There was a specification sheet in the car, listing all the standard equipment on this First Edition model, and was it long, just about filled a whole sheet of A4 paper. It had, to name but a few: 17- inch alloy wheels, Adaptive Cruise Control with follow to stop, satellite navigation with 10-inch touchscreen, LED lights front and rear, heated front seats, microsuede upholstery, and much much more.

The Octavia name has been around since 1959, as long as the MINI name, and has grown in popularity over the past 60 years. At the Premiere, Skoda had on display a couple of the original models, which did attract just as much interest and attention as the new one we had gone to see.

The new Octavia is really all-new, hardly any bits-and- pieces used from the previous car, and this does show in the way it looks and drives.

Skoda have now got a very attractive hatch, and estate in the new Octavia with some very clever and bold lines, that are pressed and engineered to perfection, and have a nice crisp look to them. The styling makes it look almost “Coupe-like” with its sloping rear design. But some cars that have similar sloping lines can lose a bit of rear headroom, but not the Octavia, still plenty for the tallest of rear seat passenger.

The Octavia has always been in the “C-Sector” part of the market to compete with the likes of the Ford Focus, VW Golf and Vauxhall/Opel Astra. But the size of the Octavia is much larger than its main competitors, it really is a big car. The interior is huge, with so much leg and headroom, and the boot is probably larger than cars in the next sector up in size, such as Ford Mondeo and VW Passat. But Skoda have always made “oversized” cars for as long as I remember, and this fact has certainly helped them improve sales year after year.

During the week I had the car, and used it quite a lot on a variety of different routes and roads, and over the course of the seven-days it achieved on average 61mpg (3.856 L/100km) so a great result for a large car, not only for fuel consumption but for emissions too.

The Octavia is such a nice car to drive, comfortable, good handling dynamics and really good fuel consumption.

UK list price for this vehicle was £28,460 OTR.

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