Driving Torque

Articles, reviews and opinions about cars and all things automotive

Archive for the month “October, 2012”

Citroën DS5 DSport Hybrid4 – First Drive

Citroen DS5 OS three quarter

Citroen DS5 DSport Hybrid4

With the Citroën DS5, you can pretty much forget everything you know about French cars. In fact, with the release of this Citroën DS5 Hybrid4, you’d probably do well to forget quite a few things about cars and driving them in general. Automobiles from our Gallic cousins always attract a myriad of tired old clichés such as ‘quirky interior’ and ‘typical French flair’ but this DS5 is different. Still very, very French but, well, different.

According to Citroën themselves, they envisage the DS5 creating a little niche for itself, somewhere between ‘D’ segment cars such as VW‘s Passat and Vauxhall’s Insignia, and more premium models such as VW’s CC and Audi’s A4. Even Mercedes would be proud to create this new segment, but the overall perception of quality that emanates from the DS5 makes Citroën’s aim a realistic target.

Exterior

Citroen DS5 side view

Citroen DS5 – Many design features

When assessing the aesthetics of the DS5, I think it’s only fair to judge it on its own merits. It’s too easy to fall into the trap of comparing this model to its little sister – the DS3 and to consequently find the DS5 wanting due to its sheer size and dimensions. Taken on its own, the ‘5’ is a pleasurable car to behold with every last line and feature trying it’s best to impress. There are so many visual treats on the DS5 that to gain a true appreciation, I don’t think a picture can really do it justice. In the metal, and given plenty of time, one seems to find a new highlight with every glance. Take, for example, the ‘A’ pillar that starts in its conventional position at the base of the windscreen but then runs the length of the car and tapers to a point around the top of the boot. Or the upturned metal boomerang which forms the top of each headlight, follows the waistline and finishes half way up the front quarter-light windows in a familiar shark’s-fin style.

Interior

Citroen DS5 Interior

DS5 Interior – many more design features

Open the driver’s door, however,  and the attention grabbing nature of the exterior somehow pales into insignificance. Just when one thought that everything which could be done with the conventional layout of a car’s cabin, had been, the DS5 moves the goalposts. Citroën apparently drew inspiration from a fighter-jet’s cockpit for the DS5’s cabin – ‘that’s not original’ I hear you cry BMW and Saab did that years ago’. Well, yes, Citroën obviously aren’t pioneers in this approach but, whichever plane they used as a template, it’s not been used before. There are buttons, dials and switches aplenty, all beautifully designed and crafted but not necessarily by the same person at the same time.

In my head, I imagine artists drawing up ideas at Citroën for many years, coming up with innovative designs for everything from door handles to window switches. These fictitious artist’s ideas are consistently met with comments of approval and appreciation but then they’re invariably shelved due to financial constraint and a lack of nerve, the disappointed designer sent packing with promises that their work will be considered again in the future.

Back to reality and this car’s interior is a new home for all of those previously mothballed ideas, all of them innovative and striking but slightly head-ache inducing when presented together in such a relatively small space. It’s certainly not unattractive, it just might take a little getting used to.

From the driver’s seat

One decidedly un-French aspect of the interior is the driving position and the use of space. Once in the driver’s seat, the steering wheel seems to stand remarkably proud of the unusually deep-dash. Both then combine to give the sensation of piloting the DS5 from somewhere near the rear seats, not unlike where WRC drivers are positioned to achieve optimum weight distribution. Between the front seats is an oversized transmission tunnel, not only housing all manner of switch gear but also lending much weight to a secure, cosseted environment. A very welcome feeling but quite the opposite of Citroëns of old with their voluminous quantities of space.

Hybrid4 Drivetrain

Hybrid4 badgeOne aspect of our test car that should be paid special attention is it’s Hybrid4, 4wd drivetrain and once on the road, it can become all-encompassing. A PSA development, it differs hugely from other hybrids as, not only is its conventional engine a common-rail Diesel, but its electrical motor is completely independent and the two never meet. This means that the platform lends itself to far greater adaptability than traditional hybrids and also aids more even weight distribution.

In Layman’s terms, the Hybrid4 system utilises a conventional engine to drive the front wheels and an electric motor to power the rear. Both can work completely independently of each other or concurrently which is where the 4wd capabilities occur. There is a certain amount of driver input to govern how the car is powered and this is controlled by a rotating knob with four available modes; ZEV – electric motor only which works up to 37mph, assuming there is enough battery life left. 4wd – to provide extra traction on rough ground or in low grip conditions. Sport – this also utilises all four wheels but allows for a more enthusiastic driving style. Auto – this is the default setting and, I would imagine, the one used 99% of the time as it decides when to use Diesel, electric or both.  The batteries for the electric motor are  recharged purely by harvesting power from the rest of the vehicle, not by being plugged in as you would with an all-electric car.

On the digital dashboard of the DS5, there is a diagram of the vehicle showing which wheels are being driven at any particular moment and this is where the fun really starts. Not only will it show how much power is being used, it also displays power being returned back into your batteries – a highly satisfying experience. It’s very easy to quickly become enthralled by this demonstration of power-farming and it starts to feel like a game. I must have slightly lead feet as I struggled to keep it in electric only mode for any length of time – even if ZEV mode is selected, it will defect to Auto mode if it feels that the driver is demanding performance that the batteries alone can’t provide.

In Sport mode, it is possible to achieve some spirited performance in the DS5 Hybrid4 but I felt that it was slightly unnatural. At high revs, the common-rail Diesel engine becomes quite an intrusive noise in the cabin and this detracts from what is usually a serene driving experience. For me, the DS5 is about gracefully wafting around with the minimum of fuss, not trying to break speed records in what is, due to its extra motor, quite a heavy car.

In Conclusion

Citroen DS5 NS Three quarter

Still very obviously a Citroen

Citroën’s DS5 is a huge step forwards for the marque in terms of quality and design and I hope certain aspects are filtered down to the rest of the range. DS’ now account for a quarter of all of Citroën’s sales and surely propel them to the top of the ‘French Trio’ tree. The extraordinary levels of design that have gone into the DS5, coupled with the ingenuity of the Hybrid4 system make this particular model a force to be reckoned with. At £32,000 before options, however, I sincerely hope it avoids that most French of pitfalls – being too expensive for the brand. I feel that this car can carry it off given the chance and could provide some credible competition for its German cousins. I hope so too.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Citroën DS5 DSport Hybrid4, Price –  £32,200, Engine –  2.0l HDi + 27Kw, Power –  163bhp + 37bhp, Acceleration –  0-60 8.3s, Maximum Speed –  131mph, Economy –  68.9mpg combined, Emissions – 99g/km CO2

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Toyota GT86 Automatic – Driven and Reviewed

Scion FRS

The Scion FR-S as seen at the 2011 New York Motorshow

Way back in 2011, Toyota created much hype at the New York Motorshow by displaying their all new model, the Scion FR-S. The strategy was simple, it was to be a rear-driven, 2+2 sports car whose sole mission was to bring fun, affordable driving back to the masses. Being a joint venture with Subaru, it was to be powered by a flat four, boxer engine to provide a low centre of gravity, similar to the one found in that proven provider of smiles – the Impreza. Unlike Subaru’s old favourite, however, the FR-S was to be sold sans turbo.

Toyota GT86 Three quarter view

The resulting model – Toyota’s GT86

The final result is the Toyota GT86 and Driving Torque recently spent some time in the company of one equipped with an automatic gearbox. Could it live up to its own hype? Is it really THAT good? Here’s what we thought.

First Impression

They say that you never get a second chance to make a first impression, in the case of the GT86, this doesn’t provide too much of an issue. Whichever angle you look at it from, it’s visually startling. Some may say it’s not an especially pretty car but it’s virtually impossible to ignore. I took great pleasure in gauging reactions from all walks of society and 99% of them were dropped jaws. From the gangs of teenagers, unashamedly pointing and whooping, to the knowing nod of appreciation from a helmet-clad biker, people enjoy seeing this car – I’ll take that as a huge tick in the ‘plus’ box.

Toyota GT86 SilverIt’s a rarity in automotive terms for a car to make it through the many filters it encounters from concept to production without being watered down to the point of almost anonymity but I think the GT86 has got through pretty much unscathed. It’s laden with interesting little angles and features. From its jutting, angular jaw-line, equipped with aggressive, demonic teeth, to the bulges on the roof, cleverly highlighted by our test car’s optional stripes, to a boot spoiler which would be relatively subtle, were it not for the two skyward facing end sections, giving the impression of a forked-tail. Toyota have obviously shown resolute determination in their quest to produce an original piece of design and allow it to see the light of day. All credit to them for this.

Inside the GT86

Toyota GT86 Side viewThe focus on design stretches into the GT86’s cabin with some neat little touches such as the blood-red stitching adding to the impression of fun and mischievousness. The soft-touch plastics and general ergonomics of the cabin are a step up on most offerings from previous Toyotas although if one were to be completely unaware of the car’s origins, there is one little feature that spills the beans – the clock. Yet again, all that hard work that’s been put into making the GT86’s cabin a pleasurable environment with some clever visual treats is undone by that ubiquitous digital clock found in Asian cars. Surely it wouldn’t add too much to the car’s R+D budget to come up with a decent alternative, would it?

The occupants of the front seats in a GT86 are fairly well catered for with ample leg and head room and all controls are thoughtfully positioned and in easy reach. If it’s rear passenger or boot space you’re after though, the GT86 may represent too much of a compromise. This is a true 2+2, in every sense. Our test car had Isofix child seat anchors in the rear which are very helpful but anything larger than a child’s first car seat would struggle to be accommodated. Any adult under 6ft CAN squeeze in but, with the transmission tunnel adding to the issue, they would welcome their freedom after a short journey. After a small argument involving the boot and a standard Maclaren buggy, we proved that transport for any children onboard will just about fit in. Anything bulkier than a lightweight buggy may prove a bridge too far though.

Although quite low down as you’d imagine, visibility is generally very good. The humps atop the wheel arches provide a point of reference which is very reassuring with the GT86’s relatively long bonnet. The large C pillars do result in some slight guesswork when reverse-parking although Toyota have very kindly provided some slightly oversized door mirrors to try to alleviate any visibility issues.

6 Speed Automatic Gearbox

Toyota GT86 outside cat and fiddle

The GT86 outside the Cat and Fiddle pub on the infamous road of the same name

Our test car sported the 6 speed automatic gearbox, complete with paddle shifts and various driving modes to suit differing moods and conditions. Slip the ‘box into drive and it’s more than happy to effortlessly waft around with the minimum of driver input and hassle, seamlessly changing into the appropriate gear. There are sport and snow options available which will either allow the engine to rev all the way into the sweet 6-7k rev range before changing up or, in snow mode, will start off in second gear to avoid wheel spin.

For real driver involvement however, the gear lever should be slid across into manual mode, thus activating the steering wheel mounted paddle shifts. I’ve never been the world’s biggest fan of paddle shifts, always preferring the smooth, predictable feeling of a ‘proper’ gear-stick. This GT86 felt different though. No matter whereabouts in the rev range I was or however hard I was accelerating, this ‘box changed between ratios seamlessly and smoothly, not once feeling jerky or forced. The ‘Nanny State‘ attitude that some sequential gearboxes can adopt, changing up or down against your will, wasn’t overly present in the GT86 either. There were literally a couple of occasions when the ‘box decided I was wrong and overruled me and, in hindsight, it was probably a good job.

Just next to the centrally positioned rev-counter is a little LED, displaying the selected gear. This also incorporates two arrows, one pointing up, one down. They are essentially change-up or down lights and show which direction is available at that specific moment. These two little arrows may not sound like much but they prove to be a very welcome feature that can become addictive.

Ride and Handling

Toyota GT86 piston badge

GT86 wing-mounted badge. Note the two horizontally mounted pistons.

One attraction which the GT86 proudly boasts are it’s rear-driven wheels. It would have been far cheaper and easier for Toyota to opt for safe, predictable front wheel drive but this is where the car really shines. With all the standard safety modes selected, the deliberately skinny rubber will allow for a certain amount of slide and oversteer when pushed but it quickly reels the rear end back in before exuberance outweighs talent. Select ‘sport’ handling and the fun really starts; a warning light appears, informing the driver that the traction control is off but this isn’t entirely true. It simply allows more of a degree of sideways action before calling a halt to proceedings, inspiring levels of driver confidence that, although possibly a touch artificial, are hugely satisfying anyway. There is an option to turn all driver aids off completely but, given the fun-factor already available, I wouldn’t recommend doing this unless your self-confidence isn’t even slightly over-inflated or you’re driving on a track.

To achieve the direct, precise handling of the GT86, the suspension is obviously set up in quite a focused manner to minimise body roll and drifting. The ride is one aspect of the car that is non-adjustable, whether this is the right decision is obviously down to each individual’s point of view. Personally, I found the car just about forgiving enough, even on cobbled roads and over potholes. To add adjustable suspension to the GT86 would have taken the price up and would possibly have diluted it’s modus operandi. If it’s a softer ride you’re after, this car may just not be for you. I, for one, am all for this determined attitude.

Quiet Exhaust Note

Toyota GT86 Rear view

Large-bore exhausts could do with being a little louder

Protruding from the F1 style, Venturi effect rear splitter are two purposeful looking exhausts. As is usually the way with Japanese cars however, there seems to have been a certain reluctance to allow the decibels produced  match their visual impact. Quite contrarily, the engine noise has more of an impact from the cabin than the rear as this is one of the new breed of cars to pipe a growly tune directly into its occupants. The lack of exhaust note  represents little concern though as it’s surely the easiest of easy fixes. Toyota’s own in-house tuning wing, TRD are already offering upgrades for the GT86 which will possibly make it even more appealing for the UK market.

In Conclusion

Toyota GT86 rear badgeIn conclusion, the GT86 represents the sportiest, most adventurous model from Toyota for a long time and long may it continue. More than this though, I feel that the GT86 is a perfect reflection of the global attitude as a whole; yes, we’re in recession, no, we haven’t got the expendable income we once had but that doesn’t mean that we’re content with misery and gloom all the time. We still want to have fun and thrills, they’ve just got to be cheap thrills.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Toyota GT86, Price –  from £24,995, Engine –  2.0l Boxer 4cyl, Layout – Front engine,  RWD, Power –  200bhp, Acceleration – 0-60mph 7.7s, Maximum Speed –  140 mph, Economy – 44mpg combined.

Huge thanks to Oakmere Toyota, Northwich, Cheshire.

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