27 November 2020

Mercedes-Benz interviews high-profile Sprinter users

In recognition of the role that its Sprinter van plays in delivering all varieties of Christmas goods and essentials across each of the 25 years it has been on the market here, Mercedes-Benz commercial vehicles division is undertaking a series of interviews with leading Sprinter users for sharing through social media channels in the lead-up to Christmas, writes Trish Whelan

Amongst the high-profile users whose dependence on their vehicles becomes most acute at Christmas time, and whose experiences of Sprinter will be recorded, are Kerry couple, Tony and Mary Heffernan. Through their Saoirse Foundation, Tony and Mary were motivated, through tragic circumstances within their own family, to establish in 2013 the familiar Bumbleance ambulance service dedicated to the transport of sick and terminally ill children. Acknowledging the support given by Mercedes-Benz in helping to bring their brainchild to fruition, the service began with one unit and has since expanded to 13 units, three of which are operated by the National Ambulance Service. 

Taking part in the project also will be fruit and vegetable suppliers, Caterway, who serve over 300 hospitality and catering providers with dependable supplies of fresh produce. Caterway will place emphasis on the role Sprinter plays as a reliable and spacious load carrier in a sector that relies so heavily on consistency.

Caterway have been a Mercedes-Benz customer since 2001 and today, operate a fleet of 16 Sprinters out of its new headquarters at Blanchardstown Corporate Park where the company employs between 50 and 60 people.

Enterprise, Tyremaster and Reflect AutoCare are amongst those also engaging in the process.

Commenting, Mercedes-Benz commercial vehicles sales manager, Fergus Conheady, said: “Because no one but our customers can speak more assuredly about Sprinter and its performance in a wide choice of demanding applications, we thought it right that we should speak to them and record their views for others.

“In addition, we were hopeful that their real-life experience of Sprinter would validate the decision by leading journalists to award it their cherished ‘Continental Irish Van of the Year’ award on each of the three occasions that an updated version was introduced here,” Conheady said.

The interviews can be ready online by visiting www.mercedes-benz.ie/vans/en/sprinter25years with a new one due to be added each week between now and Christmas.


23 November 2020

Review: Volkswagen ID.3

This was always going to be an interesting drive, writes Brian Byrne. Volkswagen's ID.3 has been much awaited, and as the brand's first dedicated electric car, a seriously important one for them.

The ID.3's production and launch was carefully choreographed. A constant stream of information in advance of its reveal made it clear the company were intent on the car becoming a game-changer and a bench-marker.

When it came to actually opening the door to potential customers, they streamed out a social media-based programme. Would-be buyers could register interest and were then invited to lodge a €1,000 refundable deposit which would keep them in the loop for early order and delivery. In Ireland, more than 400 keen punters put up the money. A year ago they saw the car in the metal at a static presentation and got a two-month window to confirm their order.

The first deliveries here were in September. In that month, the ID.3 was the best selling car in the country, a feat repeated in October. For an electric car, that IS game-changing. It shows that the very solid appreciation for Volkswagen products generally can pull in buyers for electric cars in numbers.

As a benchmark, the ID.3 is targeted at becoming the Golf of the electric car world. It’s a stylish car, recognisable quickly, though to my eyes it is better in brighter rather than dark colours. The designers know this, and different sets of graphics are used to highlight style cues in the various shades. But they also have established a shape that won’t date for a long time.

Actually shorter than the Golf, it is wider and taller, which makes it look bigger. Feels bigger too, probably because the extra height brings it closer to compact crossovers than hatchback.

From inside, a very cab-forward windscreen adds to a sense of great space. The front cabin is dominated by now VW-familiar large centre screen. There’s a core instruments binnacle attached to the steering column that moves up and down with adjustment, maintaining visibility to all heights of drivers. Attached to the side of this is the drive selector, paradoxically not visible behind the wheel rim. The main information in big graphics is a nicely simple format for speed, drive, and traffic assistance.

The interior finish is good, the trim detail sharp but simple, and you get everything you’d get in any other car from a VW brand. The ID.3 feels, and is, very roomy, excellent head and shoulder space front and back, and a boot that’s probably a tad more than a Golf’s.

Getting it onto the road brings one immediate impression … relative silence. The ID.3 has an almost eerie quiet about it right up to highway speeds. Good things have been done to keep both road and wind noise at bay.

The driving experience is excellent, and may well become that benchmark in the electric genre which VW clearly wants. It’s not going to be a sporty drive, but for most owners will be a satisfying one.

The fast charging ability at a public facility proved excellent, with 60km pumped back into the range in a 20-minute coffee stop. Driving on normal country and urban roads rather than motorway indicated that regenerative capability could bring the range substantially beyond the 350kms or so the review car was rated for.

The ID.3 impressed, but that didn’t surprise. There are lots of reasons Volkswagen is one of the powerhouses in the global automotive world. This car and its subsidiary brand derivatives will become more of them.

PRICE: From €32,650 after grants. WHAT I LIKED: It's electric mainstream. 

21 November 2020

Skoda's Enyaq EV to arrive in June 2021

Skoda’s first electric car, the Enyaq iV, will arrive here next June with pre-grant prices starting from €46,570 for the Enyaq 60 and €54,630 for the Enyaq 80, writes Trish Whelan.
All vehicles are priced exclusively with a 3-year service and tyre plan. Skoda have also welcomed the recent grant confirmation from the SEAI for BEVs next year. Up to €7,800 of grants and incentives are available to Enyaq iV customers in 2021.

Demand is expected to outstrip supply with only 350 Enyaq iV units available in 2021. For this reason, together with the Covid-19 restrictions on showroom visits, Skoda has decided to launch an online deposit reservation process or pre-booking as it is commonly known.

On Thursday 26 November at 9am prospective customers can pay a refundable €1,000 deposit to secure priority ordering access to the earliest vehicles. Skoda have confirmed that each depositor is not guaranteed an Enyaq iV in 2021 as production is limited and cars will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. All deposits will be returned at the end of the process whether a car is ordered or not. Customers will be contacted in January/February by their selected dealer who will support them through the purchase process with the first customers expected to receive vehicles in June.

The all-electric SUV 60 has a range of 390km thanks to a 58kWh battery while the ’80’ version (expected to make up the bulk of Irish sales) has a 77kWh battery and is capable of up to 510km (WLTP rated).

Information on the car is now available on Skoda’s website so customers can research the product before paying a deposit. Skoda has also launched an Enyaq iV online configurator where customers can build their bespoke and unique Enyaq iV.



19 November 2020

Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles' 211 offers

Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles’ 211 offers include a 0pc APR Finance offer for the all-new Mark 5 Caddy, writes Trish Whelan.

Low-rate finance and purchase contributions start at €1,500 on the new Caddy 5 and a 0pc APR Finance Rate on all orders before 31 December 2020. The new Caddy has just been launched to the Irish market priced from €15,733 ex VAT and comes with a choice of Cargo, Business, Edition, Cargo Maxi, Business Maxi and Edition Maxi specifications.

The sixth-generation Transporter is priced from €22,307 ex VAT and comes with a €2,750 Purchase Contribution and an APR Finance Rate of 2.9pc. The Crafter is priced from €25,853 ex VAT and comes with a €3,500 Purchase Contribution and an APR Finance Rate of 2.9pc.

New leasing offers mean customers can get into a new Volkswagen Commercial Vehicle for low monthly costs, road tax included, no deposit to preserve cash flow in their businesses and the option to have full maintenance and tyres all built into a single payment each month. APR and Purchase Contribution are on vehicles ordered by 31 December 2020.


Volvo Cars showcases virtual tech for making safer cars

I sat in on one of Volvo Cars's Studio Talks yesterday which turned out to be one of the most slick and well-managed of recent 'remote' launch and automotive information events, writes Brian Byrne.

It was based around how the Swedish carmaker is using technology developed for gaming to provide state of the art simulated driving and allied events such as sudden braking and automated motoring. I have been to many such events 'live' over the years, but it was really pleasant — and arguably no less informative — sitting at it from the comfort of my own home and winter fire.

The 'ultimate simulator' live stream centred around technology that included a mixed reality headset from specialist Varjo that allows a seamless mix of virtual and real world 3D imagery.

A full-body 'haptic suit' from Teslasuit allows testers to physically feel small reproductions of the forces one would experience in a crash, while experiencing no actual risk. The suit also enables Volvo’s engineers to test reactions by studying how muscles, stress levels, and heart rate react under stress.

Virtual environments and objects can be created using simulation engines from Unity, one of the world's biggest developers of gaming technology.

How Volvo's own engineers are combining such technologies in their efforts to build safer cars — and safer drivers — filled a fascinating 45 minutes. That I didn't need to ask any questions at the end is an indication of how well the remote demonstrations worked.

You can watch it yourself here. Settle down with a coffee first. 

Review: SEAT Leon FR

There's a quirk in the Volkswagen Group setup that quite often means the compact hatch from its SEAT subsidiary, the Leon, is a more stylish competitor to VW's modern icon, the Golf, writes Brian Byrne. I think they have done it again this time. It might be that the company has always been very careful not to interfere greatly with basic style cues that have rolled through all the generations of the Golf and which make all of them recognisably related to each other.

The latest version of the SEAT Leon landed in Ireland in the middle of the year, and it is not just the most stylish yet, it begs consideration as the best-looking car in its class this year.

You can see that for yourself in the pictures. A front end with a lot of character and shape. Edgy and with very sporty elements but in a very coherent way. The 'S' motif in the centre of the grille is just the right size (it's amazing how much difference a detail like that can make).

The creasing of the character line across the upper profile both adds details and links the front and rear lights clusters very well, adding perceived length to the car. And from that rear, the view is once again of a stylist who really deserves to be proud of their skills. There's a lighted edge-to-edge element that connects the rear lamps when on, a much neater version of a previous Leon style theme.

The 18" alloys on the review FR grade car were the final touch, setting off the rest of the vehicle in a splendid fashion.

Inside there are nice crisp executions of dashboard and trim that also exude a sense of quality. The large digital main instruments cluster is a very nice thing to have in front of a driver, and the centre touchscreen is bright, colourful, and generally OK to navigate. I say OK because I think it could be more intuitive, but if I owned the car I'd have learned it all and it wouldn't matter.

The system is the same as in the Golf, so certain controls, including the climate management, are adjusted by a finger swipe along a ledge at the bottom of the screen. Takes getting used to, too, but it works once you have.

Full connectivity includes the capability to have internet access with the appropriate service in place via the SEAT Connect system.

It's a roomy car, though low to the ground so there's an element of dropping in or climbing out for those in the back. But they're not short of space once ensconced, thanks in some measure to a longer wheelbase than before.

The Leon is built on the same underpinnings as the Golf, which means among other things that the driving characteristics are going to be top class, whatever engine or power output is the owner's preference. My version had, as one of a suite of extras, a dynamic chassis control system which added a fun factor on a few of my safe back road excursions.

The engine in my car was the 150hp 1.5 eTSI, the 'e' standing for a mild hybrid setup that's the first in the brand and uses recovered energy to provide boosted acceleration when needed. It did seem beautifully balanced to the car, and the automatic was a treat. The neat drive selector switch between the seats must be mentioned.

This Leon turned out to be one of the real joys of my review cars in 2020 and is high on my list of vehicles driven this year. Albeit a shortened one because of Covid, but I've been trying to catch up since the first lockdown ended. If I can find a slot to try another version in the coming months, I'll be jumping at it.

Oh, and the press car came with a SEAT electric scooter in the back. No, it doesn't come for ordinary buyers. But it WAS fun, even addictive. That's a different review story.

PRICE: The new Leon starts at €23,910; FR is €30,890; Review car €35,674. WHAT I LIKED: The brand's superb style touch. 

Honda e ties up with SSE Airtricity for greener electric motoring

In a partnership with SSE Airtricity, all buyers of the new Honda e electric car will get a free home charging system, writes Brian Byrne.

The car is due to go on sale here at the end of the month, priced from €29,995 after grants and VRT relief.

Reflecting the urban direction of the new car, there are five dealerships selling the model, all in the major cities. They are Des Darcy Honda, Swords Co. Dublin; Clonskeagh Motors Honda, Clonskeagh Road Dublin 14; Kevin O’Leary Honda, Silversprings Co. Cork; T Sheils Honda, Limerick, and T Sheils Honda, Galway.

SSE owns and operates 28 onshore wind farms totalling 890MW across the island of Ireland, offsetting over 700,000 tonnes in carbon emissions annually. So the partnership means that the electricity consumed by Honda e owners will be a green as the car. 

Applegreen to carbon offset total fleet

Fuel distributor and convenience store operator Applegreen is to offset the carbon emissions from its total fleet of trucks, delivery vans, and company cars, by buying carbon credits in support of a clean water initiative in East Africa, writes Brian Byrne.

The plan will offset more than 2,500 tonnes of carbon each year, and complements the recent initiative by the company in offsetting all emissions for customers of its premium grade PowerPlus fuel. The project in East Africa is expected in total to offset more than 100,000 tonnes of carbon each year.

According to Applegreen's COO Joe Barrett, the latest move is 'a significant step' on the company's sustainability journey. "We’re acutely aware of the contribution we need to make to a low carbon future, for present and future generations,. Carbon offsetting is something we can use to limit the global impact of fossil fuels and help our customers make a positive choice for the planet now, as we continue the transition towards electric vehicles.”

Applegreen has committed to investing a minimum of €1.5 million in carbon reduction initiatives over the next three years.


18 November 2020

New Toyota Hilux makes powerful impression

Toyota's new generation Hilux pick-up is now on sale in dealerships priced from €24,258 ex VAT, writes Trish Whelan.

It comes with a bold new design for greater prestige and on-road presence and is powered by a new 2.8 powertrain which the Japanese carmaker claims has improved on- and off-road performance. This new Euro 6d-compliant 2755 cc diesel engine generates 204hp and, with automatic transmission, 500 Nm of torque while maximum torque for the manual transmission version is 420Nm.

The Hilux's one-tonne payload and 3.5 tonne towing capability has now been expanded to all 4-wheel drive body types (Single Car and Double Cab). Toyota say the engineering goal for the new Hilux was to maintain its legendary off-road capabilities whilst improving its on-road comfort. The comfort and driveability has been enhanced through improvements to the suspension and power steering systems.

The model's off-road credentials have been further enhanced by the addition of a new electronic function (that can be activated in 2WD mode) replicating the effect of a mechanical limited-slip differential for improved traction on low grip surfaces in 2-wheel drive mode (available on 4WD models only).

This workhorse vehicle has class-leading minimum running ground clearance of 310mm on Double cabs and a wading depth of 700mm.

Inside, there's a new 8-inch tablet-style touchscreen, standard from SR5 grade. The enhanced multimedia system features faster software and screen response and incorporates both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for smart phone integration.

Features include smart entry and push-button start, satellite navigation, auto air-conditioning, and front and rear parking sensors. The new Hilux will be available for test drive in January.

Since its launch in 1968, the 'indestructible' Hilux has proved its invincibility having conquered the North Pole, Icelandic volcanoes, the Antarctic and a win in the Dakar Rally Rally in 2019.



Hydrogen fuel cell bus being trialled on Irish roads

Toyota, with Hydrogen Mobility Ireland (HMI) recently announced the arrival of the Toyota hydrogen fuel cell powered bus to Ireland for the first time, writes Trish Whelan.

Members of the Hydrogen Mobility Ireland group, Toyota, DCU, CIE, Bus Eireann, Dublin Bus, BOC and ESB came together with Caetano Bus and the Department of Transport to introduce this trial of a Caetano fuel cell bus to Ireland. The zero emission hydrogen fuel cell powered public transport arrived on Irish roads for 'real world' testing.

The first trail started on 9 November and is running for a six-week period on the roads of Dublin and the surrounding area. Toyota had pioneered its Fuel Cell System (which features both fuel cell technology and hybrid technology) that is present in the Caetano Bus and which is more energy-efficient and emits no C02 or pollutants when driven. The fuel cell consumes hydrogen fuel and air to produce electrical power for the vehicle, with water as the only by-product.

Toyota is promoting the application of its hydrogen fuel cell technology beyond passenger cars, including heavy-duty trucks, small delivery trucks, forklifts and buses.

The trail, being carried out by Bus Eireann, Dublin Bus, DCU and Dublin Airport, aims to test the revolutionary, sustainable technology in a working environment.

Pictured above at the launch of the Toyota fuel cell powered bus in Ireland are Steve Tormey, Chief Executive of Toyota Ireland; and Minister for Climate Action, Communication Networks and Transport Eamon Ryan TD.



Mini's Vision Urbanaut could be better home from home

Here's an imaginary view of a future variant on the BMW Mini, with the name Vision Urbanaut, writes Brian Byrne. The company says its designers worked 'from the inside out' to create a space where -- in effusive designer language -- 'the car becomes a kind of retreat, a haven where you can relax ... or work with full concentration ... during a journey'.

Well, astronauts and cosmonauts were once in the realm of science fiction too, so there's no reason to dismiss the ideas. Developed digitally, the concept includes, of course, some automated driving, electric motor, one sliding door for all ins and outs, and a four-seat format that allows for lounge as well as transportation use. There's much hype and hope in the blurb accompanying the release, and an impression that the car can be a true home from home, maybe even better than home.

Not sure about the raisable windscreen, though ... albeit this is apparently about allowing the occupants to 'mingle' with the wider community. Maybe for drive-in concerts in a post-Covid world that has become used to such things? Anyhow, it looks good.