21 July 2021

Review: Nissan Qashqai

With their new Qashqai, Nissan are really putting it up to their competition, writes Brian Byrne. Kind of apt, really, as they set the pace for the compact crossover segment with the first generation, back in 2007. With some 50,000 units of the model still registered in Ireland, it proved to be well able to keep the pace going.

I first saw this latest third generation version in a static launch a couple of months ago. It looked good. But when I got one recently for an introductory weekend, it was immediately apparent that the showroom hadn’t done it justice. The styling is, bluntly, spectacular.

From the striking front end with its edgy LED headlights to the quirkily elegant detailing of the rear, this all new Qashqai draws admiring looks from all directions. Especially in the white with black trimming of my review car. The profile shows attitude, and yet the whole effect demonstrates that there’s no need for a car’s style to be intimidating to give it the kind of presence that will satisfy owners of all dispositions.

Overall the looks are a sharp upshift while maintaining enough cues to ensure that the Qashqai identity endures. That same upshift applies inside in the thoroughly modern cabin and its fittings. In the SV Premium grade which was my version there was a good level of first class feel, a mix of padded leather and glossy surfaced infills. The grade also has a 12.3” centre screen that’s larger than the standard, and which maybe dominates a tad too much. The main instruments for the driver can be formatted in two views, I found I preferred the one that gave me a pair of analogue dials and enough other information between them to keep me happy. The flat-bottomed steering wheel has a nice heft, and its radio and cruise remote controls are well labelled and chunky.

There’s a longer wheelbase with this one, giving more room especially in the back for full-size adults and teens. And, of course, luggage space for whatever they’d need on a weekend. Getting in and out of the car is made easier by larger doors and the rear ones open to 90 degrees, which is a big help getting the smaller ones into their child seats, we’re told (long gone beyond that in my house).

The big thing about the weekend, though, was the comfort. Which was noted, unprompted, by my passenger on a day trip to the midlands through a mix of motorway, main roads, and cross-country back-roads. It was, in a word, superior. At least as good as some premium brand cars I have driven in the last year. I’ll be taking the car for a longer time later and I’m definitely going to pencil in a longish two or three-day trip for it. If the grand-teens come along, there’s enough wifi in the car for up to seven devices.

The power in the weekend Qashqai came from a 138hp 1.3 turbo petrol engine with mild hybrid electrification which recovers braking energy. It’s a smooth unit, linked in this case to a 6-speed manual that proved smooth and satisfying to use even if the bulk of my recent review cars have been automatics. There’s a 156hp option, and a CVT auto available. Coming is a hybrid that uses the electric motor to power the wheels all the time, the engine only charging the battery.

Driver Assist improvements in the new Qashqai include cyclist recognition, a junction exit warning, and a forward collision system that monitors up to two cars ahead.

Since the first Qashqai drove onto the scene, this has become a very crowded and competitive space. Nissan has now issued notice that it intends to be driving out beyond the peloton, to borrow a cycle race idiom for the pack.

I think they mean it. 

PRICE: From €30,500; review car €37,395. WHAT I LIKE: Nothing left to chance in this race.


Aston Martin Valhalla to get Merc engine

Just in case you thought the motor industry is going all soft and green-blooded, here's the latest look at an upcoming supercar from Aston Martin, writes Brian Byrne. The Valhalla, on right above with stablemate Valkyrie behind, which will be powered by a Mercedes-Benz 4.0 V8, aided by a pair of electric motors.

Output will be 937hp, and the car will also be able to travel up to 15km in electric only more.

The car was shown in concept form at the 2019 Geneva Motor Show but shortly afterwards the company hit a financial roadblock, and subsequently Mercedes-Benz increased its stake to 20pc and switched the planned Aston V6 out of the Valhalla in favour of the V8 used in most of the British brand's other cars.


'Do simple car safety checks more often' — Continental

Reminders to those driving off for holidays in Ireland to make sure their car is safe are being issued by Continental Tyres Ireland, writes Brian Byrne. These are prompted by revelations that more than a quarter of such drivers surveyed said they weren't performing any safety checks before heading away.

These are as simple as as checking the state of the tyres, oil and coolant levels, windscreen wipers, and functioning of lights. Less than half of these motorists do carry out such regular checks, though the periods can range between one and three months.

That's not good enough, warns Tom Dennigan of Continental Tyres Ireland. “We would advise motorists to get into the habit of carrying out these basic safety checks every couple of weeks. And for motorists who are intending to head off on a staycation, they really need to ensure their car is in a good roadworthy state, especially since many of us have had the car parked up for long periods during the lockdown earlier this year.

"It only takes five minutes to carry out these checks and if anything needs mending, our advice is to get it sorted before you hit the road”.


New Renault Arkana open for orders

Renault's new Arkana coupe SUV is now available for pre-order in Ireland at a starting price of €28,990, writes Brian Byrne. The car is expected in dealerships later this month.

The Arkana is the company's first purpose-built hybrid and will be available in three trim levels. All versions feature LED headlights and daylight running lights, and alloys.

 The powertrain of choice is expected to be the 145hp 1.6 petrol hybrid dubbed E-Tech and based on patents developed in Renault's Formula One racing experience. The option will be the 140hp 1.3 petrol with mild hybrid electrification.


13 July 2021

Review: Audi Q4 e-tron

Driving the Audi Q4 e-tron is an almost meditative experience, writes Brian Byrne. Especially if you're not in a hurry anywhere. Not that it can't do hurry: if you need it, it most certainly can, its 300hp offering a sub-6.3s sprint. But for a getting-to-know-you wander up through the lower Wicklow hills, it was serene.

The latest of the growing Audi range of electric cars, the Q4 e-tron adds yet another Audi SUV to an already segments-spanning range. Two more, in fact, because there's a Sportback version which curves the rear of the roof some more. I don't know why they felt the need for that, but it's what they do these days.

Audi seem to be in a state of flux for naming their electric cars. They started off with simply the e-tron, a medium-large SUV which also begat a Sportback variant. Going with a non-capitalised name is generally problematical, as Kia found with their cee'd that finally grew up to Ceed. A properly capitalised name stands out in print, has a better recognition signature.

Audi then went with e-tron GT for their sports coupe addition to the e-family, and now have relegated e-tron to a suffix for the newest car. I think they're undecided. Not a good idea when somebody has to say what they're driving and then it needs complicated explanation.

That said, there's nothing confusing about the car itself. It's very clearly an Audi, very clearly an SUV, very clearly already driving into the next stage of the 21st century.

There's a bit of a bird of prey about the front, the beady look of the headlights in the strong contrast closed grille of the white review car. The profile is quite plain but the contrasting black of the sill protectors provided a lean and hungry look that might not be so apparent on a darker paint job. There's a clean execution of the rear, with the e-tron trademark full-width lighting rig. Enough styling to look smart, not too much that it will date quickly.

I know from talking directly with designers in the past that they have reasons for every stroke and stripe of their pencils (or in these days, each mouse click on their CAD), and I suspect one could wax long and detailed on the styling of the Q4 e-tron. But suffice to say that it looks crisp and good.

The inside is what we'd expect from any modern Audi, adding the high-premium epithet to the crisp and good. The information on the digital main screen is white on black clear, with strong colours where they appear on the graphics, and a fine integrated central screen where the touch controls are practical. The climate is managed by piano key switches.

It's a roomy car, set between the Q3 and Q5, logically enough. All the comfort stuff, and a decent boot for the road trip.

Depending on whether you are a road trip kind of owner, you can choose from two batteries, offering 330 and 511 kilometres of range respectively. Audi Ireland expect that the larger one will be the main choice here. In either case the car comes with very fast charging capability at a suitable facility.

That meditative thoughtline I started with came from being in an exceptionally quiet space as I drove the car on an introductory mix of motorway and mountain roads. I'm used to the quietness of electric cars, but the road and wind noise in the Q4 e-tron are mentionable … for their almost complete absence. There's some very good insulation and aerodynamics here.

It hardly needs saying that every driver assist weapon in the business is part of the Q4 e-tron arsenal. Including an optional augmented reality head-up display that I have experienced in other Volkswagen Group models, and which is impressive.

The car is rear drive, and this allows for a turning circle that is way tighter than in comparable front-engined vehicles. That probably makes it a very easy car to manage in tight city streets and fidgeting traffic. Perhaps, though, in those spaces without the serenity that otherwise marks out this one.

I'm looking forward to a full review session. PRICE: from €41,465. WHAT I LIKED: The narrowed price gap between a standard EV and something significantly posher.


Opel reveals next Astra

Opel has released first images of its new generation Astra, due to arrive in Ireland in early 2022, writes Brian Byrne.

To be launched as a 5-door, the new car has a longer wheelbase than the current car, but short overhangs mean it is only a tad longer. The next Astra will have petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid powertrains, with power outputs ranging 110hp-225hp.

In style it follows the cues first seen in the Mokka, recently launched in Ireland. The interior features two integrated screens for driver information and entertainment management, but settings such as climate control are operated by keys.

There is a full suite of driver assist functions available in the new car, which replaces the Astra debuted in 2015.


9 July 2021

AA Roadwatch broadcast service ends

The AA Roadwatch broadcasts service is to end today after almost 32 years, writes Brian Byrne. The company says it has taken the decision as it looks to commence its next phase of growth.

"We will focus our efforts on other areas of motoring advice and editorial," says Don Brennan, Managing Director of AA Insurance, "to add a richer experience to our existing and future customers and members and become the primary source for motoring information."

Noting that new GPS technologies and traffic information sources means a 'wealth of detail' is available to motorists from various sources, Mr Brennan said the Automobile Association will still offer travel information, route planners, emergency advice, and reporting via its AA Ireland website and AA App.

The service launched the careers of many well-known broadcasters and presenters, including Lorraine Keane, Louise Duffy, Doireann Garrihy, Nuala Carey and Louise Heraghty. The AA’s Conor Faughnan, who was one of the first voices to be heard on the AA Roadwatch reports, along with Lorraine Keane and the service was helped in the early years by the “Eye in the Sky” – with information from a Robinson 22 helicopter over Dublin City from Bob Conway.


7 July 2021

Bundee Aki partners with Galway SEAT dealer

Irish International and Connacht player, Bundee Aki has signed a 12-month partnership with SEAT dealer, Monaghan & Sons in Galway, writes Trish Whelan.

He picked up a 7-seater SEAT Tarraco FR from the Galway dealership showroom prior to travelling to join his Lions Tour teammates in South Africa.

Awarded the title of Ireland’s best large SUV, the Tarraco is packed with the latest advancement in design and technology features including online-based navigation functions and services, voice recognition and the SEAT Connect app.

The FR version integrates the latest generation infotainment system including a navigation system with a 9.2-inch screen which optimises driver feedback and passenger connectivity.

The Tarraco FR also comes with electric bucket seats with memory function, a leather sports steering wheel, leather gear selector and aluminium pedals. This version is offered in both petrol (TSI) and diesel (TDI) engines.

SEAT and Leo Monaghan, Dealer Principal at Monaghan & Sons Galway wish Bundee the best of luck on the Lions Tour.


30 June 2021

Poor knowledge of EU tyre label amongst buyers

Tom Dennigan of Continental Tyres and the new label.

A new tyre label produced by the EU since 1 May gives essential information about the product's performance in a simplified way, writes Brian Byrne ... but not many Irish motorists know much about tyre labels at all.

The new label replaces one introduced in 2012. However, according to research carried out by Continental Tyres in Ireland, more than two-thirds of respondents said they had never heard of such a label.

The latest label includes detail on fuel efficiency, wet braking and noise performance for all tyres on sale across the EU. Where applicable, there is also information as to capability on snow and ice. It also includes a QR code which gives the consumer access to an EU database that gives more detail on an individual tyre.

Also in the survey, almost two thirds of respondents said price was the determining factor when looking for replacement tyres, with safety coming second or third in most cases.

Welcoming the arrival of the new label, Tom Dennigan of Continental Tyres Ireland said any move towards providing motorists with more information on tyres is 'a very positive step'. “But, the EU, national governments, road safety bodies and indeed, the tyre industry itself, all need to do a better job in informing consumers," he warned.

"Some tyre retailers are very good at providing consumers with all of the detail they need when making a tyre purchasing choice, including showing the EU tyre label for the tyres that are available, but it is clear that many tyre retailers are not fulfilling their responsibility in this regard."