Vauxhall takes a punt down the PHEV route with AWD Grandland X

IAIN ROBERTSON

Vauxhall Grandland X hybrid

Vauxhall Grandland X hybrid

Both market and fiscal demands are directing PSA-owned Vauxhall into electrifying all of its most popular models, reports Iain Robertson, and its latest plug-in Grandland X crossover packs in the technology, with some unusually high-performance purpose.

While a full-on commitment to full electrification is coming slowly but surely across each of PSA’s brands, apart from a few concept and show cars, Vauxhall has never shown much interest in the technology. Of course, the pressure is now on, from a number of quarters, to address growing market demands. To be fair to Vauxhall, pursuing a hybrid route is actually more productive than committing to all-electric, when the numbers of recharging posts, let alone how much an EV driver might be paying for electricity obtained in a parking bay, are still pretty much up in the air.

Of course, the situation is improving all the time but, with an uptake rate for EVs and hybrids in the UK still not topping even one per cent of the total new car registrations every year, a change for change’s sake approach might be judged as being a touch ‘previous’. Of course, Mitsubishi has ruled the roost in the UK, with its Outlander PHEV; a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, by which its EV operation is prioritised, to grant it a tax-reduced bonus and free access to congestion charge zones (as a result of being to operate noiselessly and in pollution-free EV mode for upwards of 30-miles). Now, it has a direct rival from Vauxhall.

Vauxhall Grandland X hybrid

Vauxhall Grandland X hybrid

The new Grandland X Hybrid4 is Vauxhall’s first-ever plug-in hybrid and features state-of-the-art technology. Its powertrain comprises a 200bhp, 1.6-litre turbocharged, direct injection, four-cylinder petrol engine and an electric drive system with two electric motors (combined output 109bhp), all-wheel drive and an in-built 13.2kWh lithium-ion battery pack. Together, the petrol engine and electric motors produce up to 300bhp (there is always a small power loss involved in the combination of the two power sources), to offer a combined fuel consumption of 128mpg, while emitting a mere 49g/km CO2, slap-bang into Mitsubishi territory.

The largely familiar petrol engine has been re-engineered specifically for the hybrid powertrain, the front electric motor of which is coupled to a modified eight-speed automatic transmission, while the second motor and rear differential are integrated into the electrically-powered rear axle, providing all-wheel traction on demand, without the need for a weighty propshaft running down the centre of the car’s platform. Four driving modes, electric, hybrid, AWD and Sport, are available. In EV mode, the car has a range of 30 miles, which is more than adequate for most in-town situations, while in hybrid mode, the car selects the most efficient method of propulsion automatically and without driver intervention. In either AWD, or Sport modes, you can expect a 0-60mph time of around 6.0s, with a maximum speed probably restricted to around 125mph; it would do more but Vauxhall will not wish to compromise the Lithium-ion battery pack. Its four-wheel drive system will be more of a soft-road type, rather than full-on off-road capable, designed to provide enhanced stability and performance under a broad mix of driving conditions.

Vauxhall Grandland X hybrid

Vauxhall Grandland X hybrid

While the Grandland X is well-suspended and handles benignly in standard form, the incorporation of a weighty battery pack and the extra drivetrain components will alter its dynamic balance markedly. Naturally, the firm’s engineers will endeavour to retain much of the donor car’s inherent stability, although quite different spring and damper settings are going to be required.

The car comes complete with a 3.3kW on-board charger, with an optional 6.6kW version also available, which is an intriguing advancement. Vauxhall will also offer devices for fast charging at public stations, as well as domestic wallboxes. With a 7.4kW wallbox, customers can fully charge their batteries in less than two hours, which pales the up to eight hours demanded by several of Vauxhall’s rivals. In addition, Vauxhall suggests that with access to more than 85,000 charging points across Europe, owners will benefit from the company’s Free2Move Services. Included within the sat-nav system is a trip planner, which suggests the best routes based on the car’s remaining range and highlights the location of charging stations en-route, which is a practical courtesy that has long been inherent to the Tesla EV proposition.

Vauxhall Grandland X hybrid

Vauxhall Grandland X hybrid

To enhance efficiency, the Grandland X hybrid features a regenerative braking system, which can increase the electric range by up to 10 per cent and, by using the steering wheel paddles, the use of the car’s brakes will be reduced. Of course, this aspect of technology has revealed some unfortunate by-products in the form of conventional braking systems seizing and ceasing to operate efficiently but Vauxhall may have a fix in place for that occurrence. Its comprehensive list of technological advancements also incorporates the latest Vauxhall Connect telematics service, which includes ‘live’ navigation, with real-time traffic information, as well as the ability to check key vehicle data via an app. Direct connection with roadside assistance provides the driver and passengers with additional peace-of-mind, by depressing the red button on the centre console. If the seatbelt tensioners, or the airbags are deployed, the emergency call is activated without the driver having to do so. The black bonnet of the car in the pictures is available as a no-cost option; there are no stated benefits for it.

The Grandland X Hybrid4 reinforces Vauxhall’s intention to electrify and hybridise its entire product range by 2024. Later this year, the fully battery-electric version of the next-generation Corsa goes on sale. It will be followed by the new Vivaro Life MPV, new Vivaro LCV and the successor to the Mokka X crossover, all of which will feature fully electric variants. It does seem as though Vauxhall, for the first time in its existence, is able to butt heads with Mitsubishi’s PHEV model, which is going to be an interesting scenario for buyers seeking that class of car.

Conclusion:    Vauxhall’s future is looking more assured today than it did even a couple of years ago. There are no prices stated as yet but you can reckon on a Grandland X hybrid costing around £40,000, when it is launched officially in August 2019.

Vauxhall Grandland X hybrid

Vauxhall Grandland X hybrid

All-new JCW package gifts phenomenal potential to hottest Mini

BMW Mini JCW

BMW Mini JCW

IAIN ROBERTSON

Whatever diet BMW is on at present, it is sure to send Mini fans scurrying to the latest John Cooper Works variants to discover their headlining figures, which Iain Robertson suggests are now pegged at super-hot-hatch levels.

How does 306bhp sound for a start? Using BMW’s TwinPower turbocharger technology, already applied to several models in its broader range, the throttle response is no less than electric. Of course, the much-revised 2.0-litre petrol unit is not an EV but with power increased by 75bhp over the previous iteration, which could scarcely be described as ‘sluggish’, the new versions can scorch from 0-60mph in a mere 4.6s, before reaching an electronically limited maximum of 155mph.

Naturally, much of this fresh performance perspective has come from BMW adopting the Mini’s platform architecture for its comprehensively revised new 1-Series models that feature the transverse engine and front-wheel drive as part of their set-up. The 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine has been adapted for the new transverse installation but carries over all of the performance enhancements that used to apply to both 1 and 3-Series models. Hopefully, that does not understate the giant’s leap made to turn Mini into a car to compete with the hottest hot hatches already on sale across Europe.

BMW Mini JCW

BMW Mini JCW

In Clubman hatchback form, the engine emits around 161g/km CO2 but still returns up to 39.8mpg, figures that are typical of the BMW unit and the company’s dedication to efficient dynamics, despite driving through an 8-speed fully-automatic gearbox, complete with steering-wheel paddles for manual shifts. According to BMW, the larger, six-door Countryman’s figures are only a few tenths off those of the smaller and less chunky Clubman model. Intriguingly, despite the ‘hair trigger’ throttle, the new car is significantly smoother and more progressive to drive even than the regular Cooper S versions. In fact, the cars impart a strong impression of having grown-up and matured quite nicely. The JCW models benefit from a new exhaust system that can still crackle and pop on the over-run but not with as much eagerness or vigour as before.

The in-built electronic differential lock can be felt working on the front axles, although the standard ALL4 4WD system provides masterly control of the overall drivetrain, with its management of stability, grip and power apportioning capabilities. Biased towards front-wheel drive, if slip is detected, an electro-hydraulic pump brings in the stabilising effects of the rear axles. Fitted with the optional twin-mode damper control, either sport, or comfort settings can be switched into play, along with a 10mm lowering facility for an even more focused handling envelope. Of course, as the most focused of Minis, most actions still feel sword-edged in their immediacy.

BMW Mini JCW

BMW Mini JCW

Featuring bright red callipers, larger diameter brake discs are now fitted all-round, with four-pots on both front and rear rotors. The arresting power is eye-poppingly prodigious. A new design of 18.0-inch diameter alloy wheels is fitted as standard, with larger options available. The amount of mechanical grip that results is simply excellent. I was surprised by the fluency of the chassis, which feels markedly more compliant than in other Minis. However, you need not worry, given a typical British back lane, these Minis still scurry like frightened rabbits having lost none of their signature damper reactions, after all, they would not be Minis, if they did not.

The cramped cabin has been retrimmed with natty-looking JCW sports seats in a new crosshatched pattern. Regardless of model, while front seat legroom and headroom is actually rather good, shoulder-room is compromised by the position of the car’s B-pillars and you can rest assured that there is NO space behind taller front seat occupants, despite the longer wheelbases of both models. Fortunately, despite favouring occupants with narrower beams, the seats provide snug comfort and hip-hugging support.

BMW Mini JCW

BMW Mini JCW

The soft-touch dashboard is the same as usual, the driver fronted by a pair of analogue dials for rev-counter and speedometer, with the large centre dial containing the touch-screen sat-nav and other connectivity options. As the top models in the line-up, the JCWs benefit from a packed specification, which is reflected in their respective list prices of £34,250 (Clubman) and £35,550 (Countryman), when the models go on sale in July. Needless to say, there is also an extensive options list, from which to personalise the cars even more.

As with previous generations of John Cooper Works Minis, this one will sell like hotcakes. Its enhanced performance envelope will be the main attraction. However, while the name might remain for future models, this one could easily be BMW’s high-performance swansong for the Mini. A plug-in hybrid version already exists and, behind the scenes, BMW is fast-tracking its all-electric model. As a trim level, JCW carries a lot of weight for the brand, so do not discount the future appearance of a really zippy EV from Mini and BMW.

Conclusion:    Even though I am not the BMW Mini’s greatest fan, not a lot of people dislike the BMW Mini, as witnessed by the brand’s consistent growth and, in terms of ‘performance-per-Pound’ investment, the JCW versions are like the cream on the current cake.

BMW Mini JCW

BMW Mini JCW

Gareth Butterfield reviews the new special edition Toyota Yaris Y20

GB TEM y

TOYOTA is a firm that’s often been proud of its heritage, and it’s always made a song and dance about the milestones of its most popular models.

The Yaris, for example, has turned 20. Yes, that makes me feel a bit old, too, but to mark the double-decade they’ve launched a limited edition version of the popular small hatchback – and called it the Y20.

Looking back through its history the Yaris has had a few ups and downs. At its original launch it was one of the best in class. Everyone loved the cute looks, the sweet handling, the funky and fresh interior and even some of the quirky technology it introduced – there was even a version with clutchless manual transmission.

GB TEM yIts reputation hasn’t always been built on innovation and charm, however, and newer versions seemed to water down the original cutesy brief. It became, let’s not beat about the bush, a bit dull.

It’s still not exactly exciting but a recent facelift has worked wonders for its styling and other improvements have massively improved on its chassis and interior.

So, while the Yaris hasn’t exactly come full-circle – it’s still not the most charismatic car on the market – Toyota has a thoroughly decent current model on which to hang its party hat.

GB TEM yThe Y20 comes with a contrasting dark roof, 16in dark alloy wheels and a dark grille, plus dark door mirror casings and side mouldings.

There are also rear tinted windows and Y20 badging on the rear pillars. This grey colour-scheme can be applied to silver, black or white paintwork and carries over to the interior.

Inside there’s special steering wheel inserts and check-fabric upholstery along with a few nice chrome highlights around the air vents and speakers. You’ll find  bit more Y20 branding if you look closely enough, including on the seatbacks and instrument panel.

GB TEM yOK, so they’ve not exactly gone to town on their birthday boy, but Y20 buyers will get a few nice goodies in their party bags.

This being based on the flagship, you’ll get Toyota’s Touch 2 infotainment system with an eight inch touchscreen, which gives you smartphone integration and a smattering of online apps and features.

I know what you’re thinking, how much is this all going to cost. Well if you compare it to the next model down it’s a premium of roughly £1,000, depending on the engine you choose.

GB TEM yThe Icon Tech can, however, be had with the wheezy one-litre 72bhp petrol engine, which brings the price down to £15,570 – while Y20 buyers get to choose either the 111bhp 1.5-litre petrol engine or the excellent hybrid system.

Pick the latter and you’ll be knocking on the door of £20,000 before adding any extras. At least it fits the “20” theme, I guess.

Having said that, you can pay more in this sector for some of the premium brands and the current Yaris feels well made and drives very well.

Toyota is known for its solid reliability and, this being a special edition, residual values should be strong. Paying a premium for the hybrid will also deliver great fuel economy and help keep emissions low.

So if you’re after something a bit different or individual, or if you’re a long-term fan of the Yaris and you’re just as happy about its longevity, the Y20 might just be the car for you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Latest Ford Focus purports to push the envelope in compact car sector

IAIN ROBERTSON

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If there is one aspect of Ford Motor Company that used to be regarded as a ‘failsafe’, writes Iain Robertson, it was its firm grip of the compact car market and the latest, ‘everyman’ version of its popular Focus model shows that it retains some traction.

Launched off the back of long-term Ford Escort successes, when Focus first appeared in 1998, its avantgarde design stance, which Ford called ‘Edge Design’, made a major impact. It was different and carried its unique style into the car’s equally avantgarde interior. Although it was considered to possess a ‘love:hate’ polarising effect, its Car of the Year status granted a year after the launch seemed to propel Ford to new registration peaks.

The Mark Two version of 2004 was a significantly softer proposition, which did not conceal its slightly larger proportions and heavier kerbweight. Designed under a new technique, known as ‘Kinetic Philosophy’, it delivered better space and enhanced dynamics. It was replaced seven years later by the Mark Three Focus, for which Ford’s interior stylists created the ‘Third Age Suit’, which was supposed to represent the more elderly class of driver, with its padding and restricted limb movements. Highly ingenious, the individuals wearing the special clobber helped Ford to maximise on outward vision, access and egress, as well as comfort levels overall, which would be to the benefit of drivers of all ages.

DSCNow four generations in and Ford has revitalised its range offering with a comprehensive and highly judicious rethink of its big-selling Focus range. Its aim from the outset has been to provide a benchmark, by which all of its rivals would be judged. This is a fickle market sector remember, bolstered by company car registrations, which outlines the mighty task undertaken by the company, which has sought to retain its consistent Top Four position in the annual registrations’ charts.

On first acquaintance, the car looks the business, even though it does appear to have dipped into Mazda’s styling box for its even more elongated profile. Whereas the original Focus was all intersecting lines and edginess, the latest iteration is significantly more organic and none the worse for the transformation. In fact, it is a very handsome car. From the first pull on the driver’s door handle (touch the upper edge, with key in pocket, and it unlocks), to electrically adjusting the driver’s seat (the front passenger’s chair is manual) and settling into the ‘soft-touch’ and high quality cabin, the Focus feels both roomy and delightfully airy.

DSCCrystal-clear instruments confront the driver, with the dashboard moulding dominated by a top-of-centre-stack touchscreen. It is incredibly neat and very easy to use and familiarise. The driving position is no less than superb and the view outwards is exemplary, underscoring the intense effort expended by Ford’s styling teams over the past 20 years. Yet, it is the little details that enhance the package, such as the flock-lined door pockets, which means that items do not rattle annoyingly, as they would in an unlined pocket; the illuminated and adjustable drinks-holders that are easier to access on the move nocturnally; and the head-up display projecting key information onto the lower portion of the heated windscreen. Ford did its sums right for this variant.

Yet, while you take in its vertiginous, Titanium X price tag (starting at a lofty £22,820, with the modestly-loaded test car tipping the scales in the wrong direction at around £25,500), to discover that, below the mid-line, the plastics take a dip into Dacia’s pond, which is seriously budget-marketed, you start to ask questions about value-for-money. The back seat of the new Focus is certainly accommodating, with space for a couple of six-footers at least, as is the boot (which can be extended using the 60:40-split backrests), which justifies the model’s longer wheelbase.

DSCRiding firmly on its suspension, the handling envelope is as good as any previous Focus, even though this model lacks the multilink rear suspension of speedier 1.5-litre versions, relying on a simpler torsion-beam design instead. The steering is delightful, providing crisp responses and accuracy, while grip levels of the chassis are high. The six-speed manual gearbox is as slick as they come. However, on shorter amplitude road surface ripples, the Focus’s ride quality can become disturbingly harsh, even to the point of pitching the car off the chosen line. Fortunately, the overall build quality is exemplary, so there are neither creaks, nor rattles in evidence. However, below the car’s interior midline, there is a different plastics story, already mentioned. Brittle and loose trim is not conducive to the more up-market aspirations of the new Focus and it would be only a few months into ‘ownership’ before creaks and groans would make themselves felt, which I feel is a most unfortunate decision by Ford to cost-cut, when most other aspects suggest that the new model has ‘premium’ in its sight-line. Underscoring that statement is the car’s first-rate cabin refinement.

Powered by the most-popular 123bhp version of Ford’s diminutive but punchy 1.0-litre petrol turbo-triple, depressing the throttle fully, while testing the car’s acceleration (0-60mph in 9.7s) revealed a strange, ‘three-stage’ response from the motor. Armed with a substantial 147lbs ft of torque at a lowly 1,400rpm, there is an initial surge to around 2,500rpm, followed by a reduced-response levelling-out and then a final ‘on-cam’ surge from 4,500rpm to the maximum at 6,500rpm. It feels as though the engine management system has been tailored to provide a discouragement to go faster. Yet, the issue could lie with a need to overcome the car’s kerbweight, even though its fuel return is stated as a laudable 57.6mpg (111g/km CO2). Despite a week of mixed usage, the new car seemed happy to settle at around 42mpg.

DSCI know that Ford wants to project a classier image for its mainstreamer but, when compared with the truly excellent Ford Fiesta Active I tested just a few days ago, I would suggest that the latter car is also the better one.

Conclusion:     Ford has a responsibility to its customers to maintain price equanimity with its key rivals but I fear that high depreciation matched to steeper list-pricing (and heavy dealer discounting) is not a way to strengthen its market position. New Focus is good…but, disappointingly, it is just not that good.

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Jaguar XE (Mark 2) enhanced to where it should have been all along

IAIN ROBERTSON

Jaguar XE

Jaguar XE

Shoved from pillar to post, jostled by State, Ford and Tata, Coventry’s ‘finest’ has needed to carry out some retrospective reckoning, writes Iain Robertson, in order to turn its mainstream XE model into a brand new ‘Mark Two’ for a modern era.

Some brands reflect intrinsically their roots. Clydeside is a natural home to shipbuilders. Kent is a ‘garden of England’. The West Midlands is home to the British motor industry. While slightly leafier than Brum, Jaguar always seemed to be in a better place in Coventry.

While it is consummately easy to wax lyrical about Jaguar Cars, it should be remembered that, even in its real glory days, when it was winning at Le Mans in the truck-like D-Type, it was a small, specialist operator. In fact, its history is peppered with unfortunate mishaps, despite being provided with royal patronage for much of its existence. Flying a patriotic and slightly xenophobic flag has been a popular pastime in Coventry.

Jaguar XE

Jaguar XE

State ownership did very little for the brand, or its reputation. For nearly a decade and a large cash injection, Ford Motor Company, despite trying to turn Jaguar into a rival to Audi, BMW and Merc, finally raised its corporate hands in despair at being unable to do so. When the baton was passed to the Indian conglomerate headed by Ratan Tata, an almost forgotten colonial flag was flown in honour of a ‘Great British brand’ but it may have been more than a little misguided.

The real issue, which reared its ugly but unsurprised head earlier this year, with Tata having to cover JLR’s huge indebtedness, is that Jaguar Cars has spent longer as a corporate patsy than as an independent carmaker. Some body has always been a fallback zone. Some body has always been present to pick up the pieces. It is an unfortunate position, because self-reliance falls from the pram and, while the parties concerned will deny it, self-respect is also a casualty.

Launched with an enormous fanfare in 2015, a lot of internal back-patting and self-congratulation accompanied Jaguar’s return to the compact executive fold. The last attempt made by the Coventry-based carmaker to field an ‘everyman’ Jaguar occurred with the X-Type, which was Ford Mondeo-based. It was an error of corporate mismanagement, because it never really worked quite as well as it should have done, even though the runout versions were actually quite decent motorcars.

Jaguar XE

Jaguar XE

When XE was introduced, it was fortunate to receive the plaudits of the UK’s leading motoring media, most of whom ought to be feeling mighty sheepish with the abysmal performance of that car. An initial tranche of consumer interest dwindled to a point at which sales had all but halved by the end of last year. In fact, part of the reason for the agglomerated debt lies in a massive chunk of self-registrations of XE, which made it appear more successful than it was. A dramatic turnaround was needed and Jaguar Cars knew it, having received the wake-up call.

To look at the latest version, there are enough detail changes made to its exterior to warrant a ‘new car’ status. However, once ensconced within its cosseting and totally revised interior, just from a personal standpoint, I could have been in an entirely new Jaguar, it is so massively revised. Believe me, the new XE is the compact Jag that should have always been; a true rival to 3-Series, A4 and C-Class, let alone the leading quality of an equivalent Lexus. However, it is this false apprehension that the Jaguar brand has to compete at all that is most disappointing.

We, the Great British public, love Jaguar and what it appears to stand for. Being Indian-owned is a frippery. Jaguar was always a sportier rival to Rover in that era. It was a real hide and real wood exponent of the classical artisan period. Even the Yanks knew that much. Time moves on. Safety and security issues demand more up-to-date treatments. Thankfully, the new XE (Mark 2) achieves some of those unwritten remits.

Jaguar XE

Jaguar XE

For a start, it benefits from the use of the same digital and driver-flexible dashboard as the multi award-winning i-Pace. The driver can configure it in several ways. A proper F-Pace gearlever juts from the centre console and there is a fresh clarity and class now very much in evidence. The company admits that it ‘got XE wrong’ at the outset, having concentrated more heavily on its dynamic capabilities than cabin tactility. While the outside and underpinnings are important, not least from perpetuating a Jaguar signature (or myth), the cabin is where the driver and passengers reside and missing that boat had been a cardinal error.

Perhaps more importantly, Jaguar has used the model half-life opportunity to revisit its packaging. All carmakers work to a three-to-four years period before introducing mid-life model changes, full in the knowledge that the next generation would follow. The range of models (which starts at a new, pre-discount list price of £33,915) is now limited to just core and R-Dynamic, with a choice of S, SE and HSE trim levels. It is rationalised, far more concise and significantly less confusing for the consumer. The engine line-up has also been rationalised to both 247 and 296bhp versions of the Ingenium 2.0-litre petrol-turbo, with a solitary 178bhp turbo-diesel, each hooked up to an optimised 8-speed automatic transmission. The diesel is also RDE2-compliant, which means that it does not attract the 4% BIK tax levy placed on not-so-clean diesels, allied to a 57.6mpg potential, which means that significant consumer savings are made.

The driving experience is where it needs to be, with brisk acceleration and easy cruising ability on the cards. Dependent on model choice, the ride quality can vary between compliant luxury and sporting prowess, something at which Jaguar’s chassis dynamicists have always been highly proficient. Of course, even though the Range Rover Evoque now boasts a hybrid variant, there is no immediate confirmation of the same technology being applied to XE. Yet, you can take it for granted that a tech-transfer is imminent, to allow Jaguar to enter the realms of hybrid, then EV markets; it has no choice. Top marks to Jag for effecting such a major model rescue exercise. I shall keep a watching brief on how it pans out.

Conclusion:     As a British-based brand possessing a strong history, Jaguar has never really needed to enter into headlong rivalry with the German Threesome. I would contend that the new Mark 2 version of the XE reflects more of the original Mark Two model of the 1960s, which is much to its benefit.

Jaguar XE

Jaguar XE