19 October 2020

Volkswagen reveals latest Golf GTI Clubsport

Volkswagen has given the GTI Clubsport version of the latest Golf its world premiere, providing the most powerful model in the car's latest generation, writes Brian Byrne.

With 300hp available from its 2.0 turbocharged petrol engine, a new sports running gear integrates the GTI's standard electromechanical front-axle locking differential in the Vehicle Dynamics Manager’s network for the first time. VW's Head of Driving Dynamics, Steering and Control Systems Karsten Schebsdat says the latest Golf GTI Clubsport handles even more neutrally and precisely than the classic Golf GTI.

Standard 18-inch wheels, a special diffuser, lowered body, and wide side sills showcase the car's sporty performance from the outside.


Three new Cupra dealers in Ireland

The Cupra brand of sporty cars from SEAT has announced three dealers for Ireland, writes Brian Byrne.

They join the existing Bright Airside Cupra dealer in Dublin and are James Barry Motors Limerick; Johnson and Perrott, Mahon Point, Cork; and McCoy Motors, Lucan, Dublin.

The current model lineup of Cupra Leon, Leon Sportstourer and Ateca will be joined by the Formentor in December. The Formentor is the Cupra brand's first dedicated model and will be available with a range of seven engine options, including plug-in hybrids.

Cupra was spun off from from being a SEAT performance grade and was launched as a stand-alone in 2018.


Completely driverless cars given permit for San Francisco streets

The first completely driverless cars will be on the streets of San Franciscoin California before the end of the year, following the granting of a permit to the Cruise self-driving technology company, writes Brian Byrne.

The cars will not require a safety driver under the terms of the permit. Cruise is backed by General Motors and Honda for self-driving technology, and the prototypes are adapted versions of the Chevrolet Bolt electric car.

The company says it has already completed over two million miles of testing of its technology. Only company people will be allowed in the cars on San Francisco streets for the moment.


18 October 2020

'Distraction is a fact of life', says Volvo, 'technology should be used to help stay safe'

Though screens and similar technology in modern cars can be viewed as distracting, driving safety gurus at Volvo Cars say such technology is a fact of life, and should be used to support people in their daily commute, writes Brian Byrne.

According to Malin Ekholm, head of the Volvo Cars Safety Centre, 'life as a whole is distracting'. “We know people do not get distracted on purpose, but it happens. You could be late for daycare and somewhat stressed. Or you get behind the wheel after a bad day at work. All this affects you as a driver.”

In a Volvo-organised safety webcast last week, she said the reality is that people want to engage with friends, family, work and entertainment, and everyone responds differently to distraction. “So we want to meet our customers where they are, not where we want them to be. That is why our focus is on using technology in the right way, so we can use it to help you stay safe behind the wheel.”

She gave as an example the advanced voice control on Volvo Cars new Android-powered infotainment system which allows drivers to control the temperature, set a destination, play their favourite music and podcasts or call their mum on her birthday – all while keeping their hands on the wheel. The company's experts believe that distraction should also be addressed via in-car cameras and other sensors that monitor the driver.

With such technologies, if a clearly distracted (or intoxicated) driver does not respond to warning signals and risks a serious, potentially lethal accident, the car could intervene, perhaps by limiting the car’s speed, alerting the Volvo on Call assistance service and, as a last resort, actively slowing down and safely parking the car.

Volvo Cars plans to start introducing these cameras on the next generation of Volvo’s scalable SPA2 vehicle platform.


17 October 2020

New Mustang Mach 1 for Europe

A high performance version of Ford's iconic Mustang is to be made available to European customers for the first time, writes Brian Byrne.

The Mustang Mach 1 will have a 460hp V8 under the hood matched to a special 6-speed manual transmission with rev-matching technology for faster downshifts. A retuned version of Ford's 10-speed automatic will also be available.

Retuned MagnetRide dampers and special springs will make the Mustang Mach 1 the best-handling version of the model, both for track and on-road use, according to Ford. Aerodynamic changes have been made to the front and sides to help the car cope with the increased performance potential.

The model is a nameplate derivative first used in the 1960s and 1970s for high performance versions of the car. The new Mustang Mach 1 debuted at the weekend at the Goodwood SpeedWeek event held behind closed doors for a global online audience.

There are no indications of price or availability for Ireland of this limited edition.


16 October 2020

First Drive: Honda e

It's hard to decide whether the new Honda e is futuristic or retro in style, writes Brian Byrne. But it certainly looks distinctive. And it is bigger than the square box style makes it look.

I had an introductory run in the car this week, a short one because the drive event was under Covid limitations. It wasn't enough to offer a proper review, but it made me smile. That's the thing about this little car. It's cheerful. I know it doesn't make sense to ascribe emotions to a hunk of metal, glass and plastic with four wheels, but that's how it is anyhow.

The size is between the Suzuki Swift and Toyota Yaris. In electric car terms, the Honda e is smaller than Renault's Zoe. Honda make no apology for the size, or the relatively short range which we might mention later. The car is designed absolutely for the urban owner. Nipping around city streets, easy to park (it will do it for you), enough boot space for shopping but not for long-distance luggage.

Inside is for four, though the rear doors access is easier for those of us who are trim ... nevertheless, enough headroom there even for the tall. The two up front will have a Starship Enterprise perspective. The Honda e comes with the most sophisticated and widest digital information system in the business. At either end of which are screens instead of exterior door mirrors. As standard that's a first in any class ... they are available in Audi's e-tron and the Mercedes-Benz Actros truck, but not anywhere else that I know of.

I wasn't sure I was going to like them — you just don't get the same distance perception on a screen as you do in mirror glass. But even in the short hour I had with the car, I got used to them. Though not the similar screen system used for the central rear-view mirror, which I quickly flicked to normal mirror. I didn't much like the wood-effect on the dashboard either. It has a very 60s tackiness about it. (Funny, the Tesla Model 3 I drove last year had something similarly unimpressive.)

The car's electric motor is nippy, quick acceleration ideal for city traffic. It belts along happily enough on motorways too, but the shape means it seems a bit noisier than more aerodynamic cars. Honda has set the 'e' firmly in urban settings, so that doesn't matter. The range is given as 222kms. That's short for the current breed of electric cars. But perfectly adequate for city use.

At €30,000 for the marginally lower of two grades, there's no getting away from the fact that it's expensive. Honda never did cheap, anyway. There's also no getting away from the fact that when I left it back, I was in perceptively better form than when I started out. That's going to be a big part of Honda e's attraction, I expect.

You'll be able to order it from November for delivery in January. The Irish importers have 150 units on the way, which they expect will get them through the first quarter.


Renault showcases further electrified rollouts

Renault has revealed details of two new cars and a concept over the last two days, which among other things emphasise the electrification of the Renault and Dacia brands, writes Brian Byrne.

A compact coupe-SUV car coming to Ireland in September of next year is the Arkana (below), which will be powered by the Renault e-tech hybrid system that the company says will operate in city traffic in electric mode more than 70pc of the time.

A concept Megane eVision concept (top picture) previewed a new generation of Renault cars on a new modular EV platform. Due in right-hand-drive in 2022, it will build on the Renault experience over 10 years of design and manufacture of electric vehicles. More than 300,000 EVs have been sold in Europe by the brand in that time.

The Dacia Spring is the budget brand's first all-electric car and is promised to be the most affordable electric car on the market. It is being promoted under three areas — as a solution for the growing car-sharing market, as a private car option, and also in a commercial variant which is aimed at 'last mile' delivery. Unfortunately, at this time there are no plans to sell the car in Ireland.

The event showcased the e-tech technology now available on Clio, Captur and Megane models, which will also underpin the Arkana in mild- and full-hybrid variants. A plug-in hybrid version is coming for the Megane hatchback.

The new models and the electrification programme presentations are part of a Renault eWays event online, running through these two weeks.

8 October 2020

Mercedes-Benz Sprinter celebrates 25 years

Mercedes-Benz is celebrating 25 years of its Sprinter van known for its flexibility, robustness and economy, writes Trish Whelan. It competes in the large 3.0 - 5.5 tonne van segment and is the carrier of choice amongst leading fleet operators here and in more than 130 countries worldwide.

Some four million units have been sold worldwide.

Sprinter continues to be regarded as the workhorse of the Mercedes-Benz commercial vehicles fleet, an all-rounder for the business sector with its new levels of intelligent connectivity, superior comfort and, for the first time, front wheel drive to the market.

Features include a new networked, online connectivity system that gives operators comprehensive fleet control - Mercedes PRO Connect and new MBUX multimedia system improve the process of fleet management in multi vehicle, or small company fleets, monitoring functions that include vehicle operation and supervision fleet communication, maintenance management and a digital driver’s logbook.

Mercedes PRO Connect provides eight connectivity packages that make for greater efficiency, lower operating costs, improved vehicle availability and optimised fleet communication.

Sprinter is a big brand carrier, prominent amongst high-profile names in food drinks, courier, parcels, and in engineering, manufacturing and servicing sectors. Its impressive ’who’s who’ list of customers include Coca-Cola, Tesco, Dunnes Stores, Supervalu, An Post, DHL, UPS, FedEx and more. It is also used in the health arena to transport sick and injured, used by the HSE National Ambulance Service and BUMBLEance, the world’s first interactive children’s ambulance service.

Fergus Conheady, who heads the Mercedes-Benz commercial vehicles sales division, says ’Sprinter representatives and users can look forward together with confidence to another 25 years of successful operation’. He has expressed gratitude to their many customers whose support and loyalty has helped Sprinter reach what he said is ‘this very significant milestone in its history’.

A major new development has been the recent arrival of the new, more spacious all-electric eSprinter van. Its electric power unit has peak output of 85 kW and up to 300 Nm torque. Battery capacity of 35 kWh delivers factory-quoted figures of 120kms. It can be charged from 10pc - 80pc in just 70 minutes or over a more extended six hours using a standard 7.4 kW street/fuel station charge point. Maximum speed can be set to suit the task in hand with top speed set at either 80km/h, 100 km/h or 120 km/h.

The eSprinter, with its smaller eVito mid-size stablemate, is the product of a €500m investment by Mercedes-Benz to create more eco-friendly vehicles.

Sprinter’s foundations were laid some 40 years prior to its introduction, beginning in 1955 with the Mercedes-Benz model L319 powered by a 43hp diesel engine and with a gross vehicle weight of 3.6 tonnes. The T2 ‘Dusseldorf Transporter in 1967 followed with an array of features like improved soundproofing, power steering, automatic transmission and diesel engines up to 130hp.

In 1977, the ‘Bremen Transporter’ model T1 arrived, with front disc brakes for the first time followed later by ABS and air conditioning. Then, in 1995, the brand became the first van maker to introduce anti-lock braking and ABS as standard. In 2002, ESP Electronic Stability arrived and, a year later, Crosswind Assist.

Sprinter has won successive Irish Van of the Year awards on each occasion that a new model was launched on the market here.



Review: Opel Corsa-e

Opel's new generation Corsa landed in Ireland in February, and I didn't get a chance to drive one until recently because that pesky lockdown got in the way, writes Brian Byrne. So the first version I had for review happened to be the electric one, the Corsa-e.

But let's look at the model generally first. It's the sixth generation of a nameplate which has probably been the driving instruction vehicle for two generations of young people. It may also have been the first car for many of them. And also one for many older people downsizing into retirement.

Getting the Corsa to its new space took some extra time. The sixth version was delayed pending the outcome of merger negotiations between the GM-owned German brand and the Peugeot-Citroen PSA Group. So instead of a usual seven or eight years between generational changes, this one took an even dozen. It's an all-new car, with no carryover from its predecessors, instead being a close cousin to Peugeot's new 208. But very Opel in looks, feel, and the way they've set it up.

Looking at it, you can't help feeling that it has moved up a slot in car sizes. It's partly a visual translation of the style, and partly because in its supermini segment it is the biggest. Most recent Corsas had a kind of non-aggressive cuddly look. The new one, apart from seeming more substantial, comes with 'hawk-eye' headlamps hunting prey. There's more bulk in the rear, again suggesting a bigger car. Between them a strong profile doing the same thing.

Inside we're looking at design and finish which is in many ways familiar Opel, although maybe tempered by the softer PSA influence. It's a good mix. The longer wheelbase and a decently tall rear passenger space makes for a supermini with real room for a pair of teenagers or even not too tall adults. It could be a family car for longer than most of its segment which have to be left behind when a family grows. All in all, all good.

Now, in powertrains, this is one of that increasing number of car models which offer traditional internal combustion petrol and diesel engines and a fully-electric variant. For which last it was fully designed at the outset, so the EV power doesn't feel like an afterthought. For the record, there are 75hp/100hp petrol options, and 102hp diesel. The electric motor of my review car spins out 136hp.

Even though the electric car is 50pc heavier again than its petrol counterpart, that gives it a very smart 8.1sec acceleration to 100km/h against the 9.9sec of the 100hp petrol, and very much more than the 13.2sec of the 75hp. Which is why, when I had my review Corsa-e out, I came away from every drive with a sense of having had fun. That extra weight could be felt under the floor, but added the sure-footed feel of a low centre of gravity. No, I didn't go and throw it around the mountains. Partly because of time constraints. Partly because I don't think the customers for this one will have that on their priorities list.

What they will have is range. And the Corsa comes with 330kms in Normal driving mode, and the possibility of up to 40pc more driving in the Eco mode. Punch it into Sport, and Opel say it only takes 10pc off the Normal. For everyday use, none of that matters — as I keep saying, if you own the car you'll be starting every day with a full 'tank' of at least 330kms. How many days of the week or month will you be doing the same with your petrol tank?

Of course, there's the cost. The significantly bigger cost of buying EV. In the Corsa, it's almost €10,000 more than buying the basic Corsa. Which nobody does. So it's a bit less than €6,000 more than the 100hp petrol, less than €5,000 more than the diesel. And you get an automatic drive with the EV. Now the buy makes close to sense.

PRICE: Basic Corsa €17,975; review Corsa-e €27,338 (inc grant and rebate). WHAT I LIKED: It's Corsa grown up, whatever your power preference.



Sales start for electrified Volkswagen Golfs

Volkswagen is electrifying the eight generation of the Golf with two new plug-in hybrid versions: the Golf eHybrid (pictured above) and Golf GTE, with sales for both models starting now, writes Trish Whelan.

The Golf eHybrid outputs 204hp and sells in Ireland from €36,570 while the Golf GTE performance hybrid matches the power output of the Golf GTI with 245hp and is priced from €42,330. Both prices include VRT rebate and SEAI grant for private customers.

The plug-in hybrid versions feature a 50pc higher energy capacity compared with the plug-in hybrid drive of the Golf Mk7 which allows a wider electric range. The eHybrid covers up to 71 kilometres fully electrically under WLTP while the GTE has a zero emissions range of up to 64kms. The E-Mode also allows all-electric driving on country roads and motorways. eHyrid comes with a long list of standard equipment and has C02 emissions of 21g/km so sits in Tax Band A1 with €170 Annual Road Tax.

The GTE (pictured above) can do the 0-100km/h trip in 6.7 seconds and emits 36g/km (€170 Annual Road Tax and can return 1.6 L/100kms (WLTP).

Both models feature a 6-speed dual-clutch DSG gearbox as standard. The Golf PHEV models join the existing Passat GTE and upcoming New Arteon PHEV, New Arteon Shooting Brake PHEV, New Tiguan PHEV and Touareg PHEV.



Jaguar XF gets a substantial makeover

Jaguar has given its XF saloon and XF Sportbrake a substantial makeover that includes an enhanced exterior design for a more assertive presence, new more luxurious interiors, advanced connectivity and efficient engines with mild-hybrid capability, writes Trish Whelan.

The new exterior includes a new front bumper, lower air intakes, a new wider grille, all-LED headlights, and a new rear bumper.

This top end saloon also gets a new, more luxurious interior. The new cockpit design places greater focus on the driver. There’s also a new sporty centre console. Technologies include Jaguar’s latest Pivi Pro dual-sim infotainment accessed through a new 11.4 inch HD curved glass touchscreen. Software-Over-The-Air capability means the latest vehicle systems and infotainment are installed seamlessly and remotely.

Petrol customers can choose between 250hp or a 300hp version of the 2.0 four-cylinder producing 365 Nm and 400 Nm respectively. The latter version is offered exclusively with AWD. The 250hp petrol delivers fuel economy of 8.0 L/100kms (35.2mpg); C02 emissions are from 181g/km (WLTP).

The diesel is a new 204hp MHEV (mild hybrid electric vehicle) 2.0 four-cylinder turbo that produces 430Nm torque. It is 24hp more powerful than the engine it replaces with reduced emissions and improved fuel economy. C02 is from 130g/km and up to 4.9 L/100km (57.2mpg) on the XF saloon.

All engines are paired with Jaguar’s eight-speed automatics gearbox and every XF is available with all-wheel drive. Irish pricing has yet to be confirmed.