23 June 2021

Kelly's Toyota, Letterkenny, receives Ichiban award

Irish Toyota dealership, Kelly’s Toyota, Letterkenny has been awarded the prestigious Ichiban award along with 43 other retailers from 32 European countries who have also secured this coveted award, writes Trish Whelan.

The award is for providing outstanding customer service and the 2021 Ichiban puts the spotlight on high levels of retailer innovation during the Pandemic crisis. ‘Ichiban’ in Japanese means ‘Number One’. Over 2,500 European Toyota Retailers compete for this award every year and the winners are those who excelled in delivering the highest level of Toyota’s ‘Customer First’ mindset.

Congratulating Kelly’s Toyota, Steve Tormey, Chief Executive of Toyota Ireland, said it is ‘a great achievement for the Toyota dealership to be acknowledged for their outstanding customer service’. Brendan Kelly, Dealer Principal at Kelly’s Toyota said: “We are honoured to be awarded the Ichiban award amongst our fellow 43 European retailers. In these challenging times, it is a fantastic achievement to be recognised for the most memorable customer service. Our customers are at the heart of everything we do at Kelly’s Toyota in Donegal and the entire team should be incredibly proud of this amazing achievement.”

This year’s Ichiban award ceremony was held virtually on June 10. Each Ichiban award winner has already received their trophy and a congratulation letter from Matt Harrison, President & CEO of Toyota Motor Europe.

Brendan Kelly is pictured below with his award.



Review: Renault Captur

More than a third of Renault's sales in Ireland are Capturs, and along with its hatchback sibling Clio they are responsible for six in every ten Renaults sold here, writes Brian Byrne. So the small car segment, and especially the small crossover part of it, is very important to the French make.

Around as a model since 2013, this second generation came to Ireland last year. It's completely new from platform up. The biggest impact, obviously, is the body. What you see is a major upshift on what was already a decently attractive style. This Captur is stronger in feature and heavier in attitude, without being aggressive. The roof bars, brightwork, and various pieces of detailing all combine to make this a seriously attractive car.

The interior of both this one and the Clio have been brought up to the standards of previous model changes in the brand's portfolio. And that's been a high standard for a while. So the car feels good to be in. That substantial centre screen is a dominating feature, but gives much in return, with strong graphics and intuitive navigation. The overall finish, instrumentation, fittings and finish are top notch. It is becoming much harder for premium cars to differentiate themselves from the masses these days. Even the driver assist tech is everywhere similar now.

New Captur is roomy, offering a compact family capacity in not much more than a supermini footprint. This is another area where the segment blurring is really showing. Crossover formats have become the norm because they offer more vehicle.

I saw the pre-reveal of this in Paris in late 2019 — the days before Covid-19 when we used to actually go to events. The advancer included detailed explanations of the technology that the new car would be bringing. In this instance, it's the plug-in hybrid that I have on review, and Renault have their own take on that.

Captur is available in petrol and diesel options. And in this version that they acknowledge as their flagship variant, the 'e-Tech' PHEV. As a matter of interest, the Clio's electrified version is a 'self-charge' hybrid.

The gearbox is not an automatic design as we understand it, but to the driver it operates exactly like one. A feature of the system is that the Captur PHEV always starts off in electric mode, whether the main drive battery is fully charged or not. It's a very smooth mover, and when it shifts to the petrol engine you have to be really listening carefully to notice.

Plug-in hybrids are getting an unsteady press at the moment, with suggestions that they don't give what they promise in electric driving. My own sense is that they do, but require disciplined 'charge always while parked' owners. That way, every time you leave home you have up to 50kms of EV charge to use. When that's gone, the car is a 'normal' hybrid. Renault suggests the average urban motoring can be 80pc electric, and overall fuel savings of 40pc on the urban cycle.

The overall experience driving Captur is as good as you'd want. It's not designed for raw sporty performance, and I don't believe many actually want that any more. We're collectively at the stage where a car should look good, work quietly and efficiently, and carry us and our families and chattels comfortably, safely, and reliably.

That'd be Renault Captur, boss.

PRICE: From €23,070; Review car €35,170. WHAT I LIKED: It fits my style.


New Peugeot estate revealed

The new Peugeot 308 SW has just been revealed, in advance of arriving in Ireland in time for the 2022 registrations in January, writes Brian Byrne.

The car has a completely new silhouette, with a strongly styled rear section that offers character as well as enhanced space.

It will be offered with two plug-in hybrid engines offering 180hp and 225hp. There will also be 1.2 petrol and 1.5 diesel engine options.

More details and pricing closer to the end of the year.


Paris Fashion Week and the silence of the DS 9

Fashion journalists and influencers are being swished around Paris for the rest of this week in the new DS 9 from the French premium brand, writes Brian Byrne.

The new large saloon from DS Automobiles is the transport partner for the Paris Fashion Week, with a fleet of 25 cars available to chauffeur guests to the presentations and shows dedicated to men's fashion.

The DS 9 E-Tense 225 cars are in saloon and Crossback format, powered by PHEV engines that will bring the guests around the city in zero-emissions mode.


22 June 2021

Windsor renews sponsorship with Leinster Rugby

Windsor has renewed its sponsorship as the Official Vehicle Supplier to Leinster Rugby for a new three-year term, writes Trish Whelan. Windsor has been the team’s Official Vehicle Supplier since 2015.

The new partnership agreement, valued at €1.5 million over three years, will see Windsor supply over 30 cars from the Nissan range to Leinster Rugby’s players and coaching staff. The cars include the Nissan LEAF EV, Micra, new Juke and Qashqai as well as X-Trail.

The team will also be supplied with vehicles from Nissan’s commercial range including the fully electric e-NV200, the mid-size NV300 and larger NV400.

The company is an authorised dealer for Nissan, Renault, Dacia, Opel, Peugeot, Citroen and Mazda and is also one of the biggest sellers of used cars. The company has showrooms in Dublin, Galway, Louth, Meath and Wicklow and employs over 380 staff. It is also home to Ireland’s first ever motor mall located at exit 5 off the M50 bringing multiple brands together under one roof.

Andrew O’Toole, Head of Nissan Sales at Windsor said: “This partnership presents a unique platform to work with Leinster Rugby in a way that engages our staff, customers and Leinster Rugby fans across the province.” Kevin Quinn, Head of Commercial and Marketing at Leinster Rugby said: “The Nissan fleet plays a huge part in the operations and logistics of the team and we are proud to have the Leinster Rugby crest and colours on the cars and team kit vans that travel all over Ireland and indeed the UK and France.” 

Kevin Quinn added: “With supporters returning to stadia and the outlook looking more and more positive, we look forward to working closely with Windsor in the months ahead as we all move on from Covid-19 together.”


21 June 2021

Review: Opel Vivaro-e van

Slowly but inevitably, the electric revolution is working its way through the light commercial vehicle space, writes Brian Byrne. From just the original Renault Kangoo ZE some years ago the market is now covered by nine brands and some 15 models. Though, while electric LCV sales year to date have increased more than five-fold over last year, they still only represent around 2.6pc in a market almost all diesel-powered. But they’re growing that penetration fast.

Electric-powered vans have a distinct place in the commercial vehicles space — local delivery. The city-to city work is going to remain diesel for the foreseeable, but in-city logistics are perfect for an electric. Short and many trips, battery regeneration in stop-go traffic. Virtually noiseless and absolutely fumeless. The only downside is cost, and I’ll come back to that.

Opel’s Vivaro-e is the latest electric LCV here, arriving last April. The model is the fourth part of the Peugeot Expert, Citroen Dispatch, and Toyota Proace set, which collectively won the International Van of the Year 2021 award. As vans go, the Vivaro and its cousins are good-looking, and the Opel ‘face’ is imposing in its own particular way … the German carmaker’s ‘blitz’ is always distinctive.

The Vivaro-e comes in two lengths, there are also two trim options and a choice from two battery sizes. Payload is up to 1,226kg and the electric van also has a towing capacity of up to 1-tonne. Two side sliding doors are standard, as is cruise control and DAB radio. Moving up to the Sportive trim gets you aircon, LED running lamps, electric folding mirrors and more.

The 136hp motor is powered by batteries which offer either 230km or 330km range, which can be longer if all work is done in city traffic conditions. There’s a governed top speed of 130km/h to maximise battery performance in motorway driving. An 80pc recharge with a 100kW DC public charging point can be achieved in 30-45 minutes depending on which battery. And an eight years or 160,000km guarantee on the battery offers the promise of a least 70pc capacity retention.

The operator’s space is comfortable, with perhaps a seatback angle issue for long-legged people. There’s a decent range of storage spaces, in doors and under-dash. Crossing the cabin is easy too. There's simple and clear instrumentation that has nice blue details. In the upper grade there’s a 7” touchscreen, but thankfully not managing the climate controls which are proper knobs and buttons. (Almost all of my colleagues are one with me on the issue of distracting touchscreens versus knobs and buttons. But it’s a matter of cost … touchscreens are cheaper to produce and fit, needing only software to change the style and features. The temptation is to cram as much as possible onto the screens.)

On the move the Vivaro-e has the silence of electric vehicles … which means that road and wind noise seem louder than in the normal diesel version, but that's an audial illusion. And after a day working around town at low speeds, operators will likely feel much less stressed than in the diesel. And because by its nature electric drive is automatic, it makes all that stop-go much less hassle. In the style of all EVs, acceleration is quick, even in the Eco mode which adds an extra quantum of range at a related cost to performance and heating.

I'm used to the various vans in this extended family at this stage, and the drive and and manoeuvrability have proved good. The electric Vivaro's nippiness in traffic is certainly an addition in the city work.

Now, that price we mentioned. The difference between the 120hp diesel and the 136hp electric, both in L1 format and Sportive grade, is a little over €10,000. How do you justify that in a very tight-margined business of small city deliveries? On a back of an envelope calculation, you could save €1,000 a year in fuel costs, depending on annual mileage. Then there's the fact that it's automatic, adding a notional valuation of around €2,000. So over five years, that's €7,000 in value. Add in lower servicing costs, and the not easily quantifiable but very real less wear and tear on the operator, and the idea becomes quite viable.

Lower emissions don't really count as much since most of our electric power still comes from fossil fuels, but running an electric vehicle does help to improve air quality in its own locality. There's a definite argument to be made in favour of running an electric van, all else in your business being equal and the range and charging fitting in with your daily needs. But you have to make your own individual assessment.

PRICE: Vivaro 100hp L1 from €25,195; Vivaro-e from €36,895 (possibility of SEAI grants to some businesses can reduce this). WHAT I LIKED: Good carrying capacity and a quiet drive.


Not in my backyard, thank you

We don't get this model on this side of the big pond, which is maybe just as well, writes Brian Byrne. It's the 2022 version of Toyota's Tundra large pickup truck, equivalent to the Ford F-250 and Dodge Ram 2500 trucks, a segment generally used by contractors needing a heavy-duty vehicle.

Would you feel intimidated seeing this coming up in your rear-view mirror?

Would you what?


18 June 2021

Review: Toyota Corolla Hatch

I wonder what difference it made when Toyota replaced their Corolla name for the compact hatchback with Auris, back in 2007? writes Brian Byrne. Probably not a lot. The important thing was that the name 'Toyota' was in front of it. Though in Ireland for some 12 years it also meant that Corolla wasn't the top-selling nameplate here. But when we combined the sales of Auris and the Corolla sedan, they were the collective top seller.

Anyhow, that's all tarmac under the wheels since this 12th generation Corolla arrived and the hatch regained its original name. On sale here since 2019, the model went back to the top last year, and so far this year has just been pushed off the perch by the latest Tucson from Hyundai.

I think they're probably happy enough at Killeen Road — the Toyota brand is comfortably leading the pack thanks to having no less that four models in the top ten sales here. And Corolla is by a long margin the Japanese maker's most popular car in Ireland.

I've driven both the saloon and the estate version since this generation arrived. I know that I liked both visually. And that means there was unlikely to be anything to turn me off the hatchback. Indeed, there isn't. It's a good looker, and follows the theme of recent years when almost every Toyota model has come well out of the stylistic doldrums which had been an issue in previous generations. Which, among other things, allowed the Korean Hyundai-Kia juggernaut to leapfrog their Japanese competition in both design and perceived quality.

Sit behind the Corolla dashboard now and there's an immediate sense of satisfaction. Perceived and actual quality, check. Good style, check. Unambiguous instrumentation, check. Good seats, check. My only inclination to complain is that the steering wheel might be a tad on the thin side — but that would be absolutely subjective.

Plenty of room in the back for a couple of adults or three teens. Decent luggage space behind them too for the dog, if they had one, and the bits and pieces of daily shuttling family around. And while crossover-SUVs have been the growing threat in car styles for some years now, it's interesting to note that five of the top ten cars in Ireland are hatchbacks. The format is far from dead.

Corolla is a hybrid, of course — nowadays you can only get that powertrain in the model. A 1.6 petrol engine mated to the electric motor and battery. That saves fuel costs over petrol alone, by more than €1,000 over three years according to Toyota's reckoning. It saves adding 1.7 tonnes of CO2 to the planet's atmosphere, or is the equivalent of planting 25 trees over that same period. It dramatically reduces nitrogen oxide emissions. And I always appreciate the fact that the hybrid system comes with an automatic transmission as standard.

One of the additions to the Corolla this year is quite tiny, a space in the settings that lets you know the percentage of time you have been driving on electric power over a journey. The idea being, I suppose, that it will encourage you to be less leaden with the right foot.

The results didn't surprise me. Hybrids are really good in some driving circumstances, not so useful in others. For instance, an hour's trip through some twisty mountain roads suggested the car was in EV only 3pc of the journey. But once on the flat, that quickly recovered to 12pc. And tipping around town it was scoring in the late 20s and probably more if I was spending much time in slow traffic. So yes, hybrid does work, and I'd say that over those afore-mentioned three years, the claimed savings will happen.

The Corolla comes with all the safety and driver aid stuff that I really don't bother mentioning any more because they've become standard. There are also three driving modes, Eco, Normal and Sport. As usual, they offer different responses to throttle, shift settings, and in the case of Eco, air-conditioning. For most of my time with the car, I found it quite fine in Eco. Getting an overall 5.1L/100km, I was quite happy with.

The car proved to be a steady and well-insulated drive, even on poor enough surfaces on some of those mountain roads. That has always been a given with Toyota, the products are essentially unbreakable. (I remember arriving at the top of a mountain in Bolivia, after a fairly rough drive, to a village where all the cars seemed to be 10-year-old Corollas. Endeth the lesson.)

PRICE: From €26,930. WHAT I LIKED: Ah, it's a Toyota.


Ford tests how people react to self-driving delivery vehicle

This Ford Transit with a gaggle of goggle-eyed sensors might look like a driverless vehicle when you meet it, but it has a hidden driver, writes Brian Byrne.

It's part of research by Ford and logistics partner Hermes to find out how other drivers, cyclists and pedestrians react to an autonomous vehicle. It will also give couriers on foot an opportunity to work as if the van was self-driving, using an app to open the load door when it is parked and accessing their particular packages by following automatic voice prompts and screens.

Ford has been testing self-driving technology in major cities across the US and plans to invest around $7 billion in autonomous vehicles during 10 years through to 2025.


17 June 2021

Check your car for summer driving: AA Ireland

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels.

AA Ireland is urging motorists to carry out a number of maintenance checks on their cars if they have been idle during the lockdown earlier this year and last year, writes Brian Byrne.

This follows figures released by the Department of Transport that the number of vehicles declared off the road has fallen by almost a fifth since the early days of the pandemic. Since the start of June, there has been a marked increase in traffic volumes, with most routes now back up to 95pc of pre-pandemic volumes.

Tyres, batteries and brakes are among the items that should be checked, especially after extended idle periods. A post by AA Roadwatch covers in detail some essential checks one can make before getting back out on the road. 


Hyundai brings forward expectation for flying taxi service

Hyundai has brought forward its expectation to have electric 'flying taxis' in operation, by 2025, writes Brian Byrne. Previously the carmaker had given 2028 as its launch date, using 6-passenger battery-electric aircraft capable of vertical take-off and landing.

Hyundai has announced a partnership with Uber's air-mobility division to develop the service. At the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show in the US, the company showed an Urban Air Port concept in full size.

It all seems a little closer to coming out of the science fiction phase ...


Mazda to accelerate electrification, continue ICE development

Mazda's PHEV gasoline powertrain.

Mazda says a quarter of its models will be all-electric by 2030, and all others will have some element of electrification, writes Brian Byrne.

This represents an acceleration of the company's electrification programme which will include five hybrid models, five plug-in hybrid models and three EV models.

The company says it will continue to develop its internal combustion engines, saying that 'all options available must be used to achieve climate neutrality'. This will include the development of a new straight-six engine.


Review: Audi e-tron GT

It was a classic traffic lights derby scenario, writes Brian Byrne. Vehicles either side of me, waiting for the green. One a powerful Merc, the other something else. Me in the new Audi flagship, the e-tron GT. The road ahead completely clear.

Green. And I pushed it. The 476hp of the Audi hauled me off the line in an amazingly fussless manner, the artificial sporty sound growling just a little louder. It seemed that almost instantly I had reached the 60km/h limit. Well, with a rated 4.1s 0-100km/h and the immediate full torque of the Audi's electric powertrain it might as well have been instant.

I think the drivers of the other two vehicles were convinced that their cars had somehow stalled.

That would not be my normal kind of driving. But the first drive in the e-tron GT was not your normal kind of car. Just once, and safely, I wanted to see what it is made of. Answer: power, performance, and ultra premium. And eminently ready for the Grand Tour if and when we get to be able to do that kind of long drive again.

With the e-tron GT, Audi has laid down a marker to the other very high-end electric cars on the market and coming to it. Very much in their sights are the pioneering Tesla S, the Porsche Taycan, and Volvo's Polestar. Rarified spaces in any case, and more so on the electric cars grid.

The looks alone leave most of the others standing at that traffic lights line. Audi has developed into premium with a capital P a long time since, and they haven't deviated from that with this one. As they shouldn't, because the price tag deserves capitals too.

It's a big car, more than it looks from outside. It's wide, low, and sleek. Four doors indicates it is meant for a full passenger load. And if the coupe roofline might suggest a headroom squeeze for those in the back, there isn't, thanks to some clever underfloor battery packs design, leaving footwell room.

The inside is classic top-end Audi, a mix of digital and electronic analogue instrumentation, seriously prestige style and trim finish, and a sense of being cocooned in a special car when doing that long drive.

It'll go the distance too, an 84kWh battery providing in the region of 480km range. If you need to go further, a 5-minute charge will get you an extra 100km, or give yourself a 22-minute relaxing coffee to get an 80pc re-boost, both at suitable high-capacity charge points. There's an RS version with 598hp and a 3.3s sprint capability. Same battery, very similar range.

Electric cars don't come with the sporty sound of a high-powered petrol engine. A rising whine is as much as you usually expect. But in the e-tron GT they've introduced a system that gives those outside and inside a sense of powerful engines. It's artificial, of course. In a way like those background crowd noises which have been introduced to big football games on TV in the absence of spectators. When acceleration calls for it, it growls louder.

In true quattro tradition the e-tron GT is an AWD car, electric motors on each axle providing power wherever it is needed. The rear transmission has a two-speed setup which under severe acceleration provides an extra launch oomph. Drive can be split in infinite ratio between front and rear.

The e-tron GT is targeting the top end of premium electric cars. Audi Ireland's marketing director, Richard Molloy, says there has been a very strong interest in the car, with a number of customers already having put down deposits. Delivery of the first cars will be in July, and Molloy says supply will be 'tight', and Audi Ireland are already negotiating for additional vehicles beyond their initial allocation.

PRICE: e-tron GT from €102,397; RS variant €140,367. WHAT I LIKED: Just letting go.