Driving Torque

Articles, reviews and opinions about cars and all things automotive

Archive for the month “September, 2013”

Volvo V40 D2 Powershift SE LUX – Driven and Reviewed

Volvo's V40

Volvo’s V40

Volvo built their envied reputation on two things; safety and boxy, set-square inspired design features. Today, only one of these aspects remains true and a solitary glance at this V40 model will expose just which one it is.

With this mid-sized, 5 door hatch, Volvo are making a play for a highly sought after segment and are going for the jugular of some pretty stiff competition – including the Golf and 1 Series at one end of the spectrum and the Astra and the Focus, to name but a few, at the other.

Volvo V40 SidePriced at £23,870 (£28,095 as tested), this D2 Powershift SE LUX model is undoubtedly aiming its sights at the higher end of the market. The 1 Series BMW and Audi‘s A3 are already major players at this level and Mercedes’ complete rethink of where it’s A Class should sit has brought that into the fray too. Tough crowd.

Light clusters and piano- black panel add an individuality

Light clusters and piano- black panel add an individuality

Styling wise, it’s classy and understated, after-all, shouty just wouldn’t do on a Volvo. There are some natty features such as the rear light clusters and piano black boot panel which attempt to set it out from the crowd but the rest of the car shares many lines with Vauxhall’s Astra. I’m not saying that this is a particularly bad thing, I just like my Volvos to be unmistakably Volvos.

Floating console and squircles (it is a word) are all very pleasing on the eye

Floating console and squircles (it is a word) are all very pleasing on the eye

Get inside the V40 though, and the sheer emphasis on creating a class-leading cabin is blindingly obvious. There’s a recurring theme in here, stemming from Volvo’s characteristically rounded font and then translated into a smattering of squircles around the cabin. Themes have a habit of becoming tacky and irritating but the way Volvo have gone about utilising this most pleasing of shapes allows the V40’s living space to be both quirky and elegant, all in the same breath.

The quality of materials inside the V40 is also second to none. From the soft, faultless leather to the grade of plastics used, even the famously commendable Audi could learn a thing or two about automotive interiors. The story’s the same at way-below eye level – usually where attention to detail is found lacking. Not so in the V40 – even one’s knees are lucky enough to be treated to a pleasing view.

Volvo V40 noseThat’s not to say there’s no room for improvement inside the V40 – no-one’s perfect. The hand brake, for one, appears to have been designed for left hand drive cars, with the budget for right-hand-drive translation being unfortunately lost down the back of the sofa. It is seriously so close to the left hand seat that a few odd looks can ensue from any unsuspecting passenger as they could easily assume that their leg has become the object of your affections and that you’re brazenly going for a feel.

Safety is still a by-word for Volvos and the levels of standard equipment on the V40 are impressive. Euro 5 NCAP ratings are obviously a prerequisite for any of the brand’s models but Volvo are understandably keen to push the boundaries and leave potential customers in no doubt as to their continuing priorities.

Some safety features work on cars, and some just don’t. I admit that when cornering headlights were resurrected from Citroen’s original DS, I was initially cynical. I was wrong to be. The SE Lux package comes complete with these clever lights and if you take the V40 down a poorly lit B-road, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without them as they intuitively illuminate your way. Couple this with the car’s optional active high beam system, which are so superior to previous models I’ve tried due to their ability to alternate between main beam and high beam at appropriate moments, and where once was dark, is light.

One safety element which is worthy of special mention is the collision avoidance system. These units are in their relative infancy and it’s no surprise that Volvo have grabbed the bull by the horns and started to utilise this potentially life-saving technology. It isn’t infallible though. Head into certain bends, in certain conditions and the system triggers, assuming that you’re continuing straight on into a car or tree. The result is all manner of warning lights – some fine tuning required here I feel.

Due to the inherent shape of the V40 and it’s oversized D pillars which are presumably packed full of safety, rearward visibility isn’t great. This is kind-of strange for a company such as Volvo who’s mantra is safety but, either way, it makes the V40’s blind spot sensors invaluable and also makes a good case for the £850 Park Assist Pilot option.

Volvo V40 frontOn the move, the V40 feels extremely planted and solid, more similar to a large saloon car than a mid-size hatch. This particular model was obviously made more for long-distance cruising than country-road attacks as this relatively small 1.6 Diesel tackles high-speed motorways with aplomb, yet can come unstuck when pushed around bends. The steering is highly assisted and, although it WILL find grip at the limits, there is a slight vagueness and lack of feedback through the wheel. That said, it is absolutely effortless when cruising at 60mph + and has an air of sophistication that you’d not really expect in this segment.

Possibly the best £100 option ever - Volvo's flexible load floor. It allows bags to be hung up safely - no more nasty takeaway stains

Possibly the best £100 option ever – Volvo’s flexible load floor. It allows bags to be hung up safely – no more nasty takeaway stains

One aspect of the V40 which must be specced properly is the gearbox. Our test car came complete with Volvo’s auto ‘box (Powershift) and it’s highly disappointing to say the least. Gear changes are sluggish and often occur at the most inopportune moments, with ‘Sport’ mode doing precisely nothing to alleviate the problem. Thankfully, there’s an easy solution and that’s to opt for changing gear oneself. Not only will it be a more satisfying drive, but the manual is quicker to 62mph, gains 11mpg over the auto and saves you a full £20 per annum due to it pulling the V40 below the magical 100g/km CO2 barrier (88g compared to 102g).

Volvo’s V40 is a highly competent hatch and if it’s safety and interior luxury that float your boat, it’s hard to beat. Just be careful when speccing your V40 though and tick the right boxes, as there’s a whole world of difference between making some wise choices and making some not-so-wise.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Volvo V40 D2 SE Lux Powershift, Transmission – 6 spd automatic, LayoutFront engine, FWD, Power – 115bhp, Torque – 270Nm, Emissions – 102g/km CO2, Economy – 72.4 mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 118mph, Acceleration – 12.1s 0-62mph, Price – £23,870 OTR, £28,095 as tested.


Peugeot RCZ GT THP 200 – Driven and Reviewed

Peugeot RCZ GT THP 200

Peugeot RCZ GT THP 200

Coupe. Once a term reserved exclusively for the type of car that set pulses racing, conjuring up images of sleek, swoopy lines and dramatic performance to do them justice. It may be fair to say that the coupe ideal has been somewhat diluted in recent times though, with manufacturers applying the moniker to anything with two doors and a roof. Two doors isn’t even a prerequisite though, with certain German manufacturers doing their best to cash in on the desirable, non-staid – coupe image by giving some large saloon cars ‘fastback’ lines and thereby transforming their silhouette from ‘3 dull boxes’ to ‘sculpted by artists’.

Note the new - non silly mouth

Note the new – non silly mouth

What we have here though is the real deal and it comes in the shape of Peugeot‘s RCZ, complete with new, non silly mouth. This is one of those cars that somehow makes the arduous journey from motor show concept to finished article, pretty much unscathed, and – oh my, pretty it certainly is.

Those lines are attractive, to say the least

Those lines are attractive, to say the least

Karmann Ghia seen on street in Faubourg Marign...

Karmann Ghia seen on street in Faubourg Marigny neighborhood of New Orleans. Side view. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lets get one thing clear though. Since its inception, the RCZ has drawn direct comparison with the ubiquitous TT, with certain corners even accusing Peugeot of a lack of imagination as their car simply apes the Audi. Even during my week with the car, many folk would glance over and dismissively state ‘oh yeah, it’s that Peugeot that looks like a TT’. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with the TT and there are certainly worse cars to be accused of looking like, but if one actually compares the two, the similarities magically disappear before ones eyes. If anything, the RCZ’s squat stance and potent looking rear arches are more reminiscent of the achingly pretty Volkswagen Karmann Ghia. But personally, I think it’s only fair to let the RCZ  stand up on its own two feet, without any help from Bavaria, thank you very much!

Peugeot RCZ GT rear and side highThe RCZ is one of those cars that impressively achieves the difficult balance between grabbing ones attention with a plethora of pleasing features, without falling into the ‘so busy, my eyes don’t know what to look at first’ trap. The basic shape is pleasing by its very nature, with an apparent symmetry achieved between front and rear, and a living space that seems to fit into the ideal shape with minimal fuss or disruption, as though the designers refused to compromise their beautiful creation with something as inconvenient as room for seats. Or people.

Attempts to ignore this roof will be futile

Attempts to ignore this roof will be futile

It’s impossible to discuss the RCZ without being drawn to that ‘double bubble’ glass roof. Peugeot should be commended for their perseverance in seeing this pleasing yet – surely, vexatious feature all the way through to production. Mounds in roofs were originally provided on racing cars to enable any inhabitants to fit their helmets in and this purpose is still valid in the RCZ – not necessarily for helmets maybe, but the extra headroom the bubbles provide in the typical 2+2 rear seats is very welcome. Aside from this, it’s ‘wrap around’ nature aids the introduction of natural light and also eliminates around 80% of the C-post blind-spot which all too often takes away from the coupe experience when negotiating a tricky T-junction.

So, a big tick in the looks box, but what about the other, all important aspect of the coupe brand – the way it drives?

Peugeot RCZ GT front headlightThis particular flavour of RCZ – the GT THP 200, shares many of its oily bits with its stable-mate – the 208 GTi. The engine, gearbox and much of the running gear are the same and yet, the whole experience is somehow……better. That’s not to say faster though – the RCZ loses nearly a second to the 208 whilst dashing to your 62mph destination, but the journey is preferable in every way. The slinky, low nature of the RCZ must go someway towards enhancing the experience, as it’s hard to imagine anything less than a comprehensive RCZ victory in that particular race.

Peugeot RCZ GT front cornerIt’s whilst negotiating the twisty stuff that the similarities with the 208 really dissipate though. The set-up of the RCZ somehow swaps the driven wheels from front to rear – or that’s how it feels, anyway. There’s very little in the way of understeer, possibly due to the wise decision to restrict the role of the driven wheels to harnessing 200bhp, whilst also tackling their directional duties – any more than this and things usually come unstuck.

One of my particular bugbears with, not only the 208 GTi, but many modern performance cars is the lack of aural experience. I appreciate that the shackles of todays legislations are restrictive to say the least, but there are ways round them (see Fiesta ST). The RCZ GT is pleasantly satisfying in this department though. Push the needle past 4000rpm and there’s an initial thrum, followed by a resonating roar that enters the cabin and seemingly bounces off every internal surface with acoustic aplomb. It’s obviously no screaming F1 car from the outside but hey, I guess you can’t have everything.

Peugeot RCZ front and side lowPeugeot have been desperately trying to abandon their dull, lifeless image for a few years now and this RCZ, especially with its new face makes huge steps in this direction. That’s not to say its perfect – some nice interior touches (clock, leather dash etc), that you wouldn’t necessarily expect in a Pug are let down by some very low-grade cabin plastics, not to mention the generic, non-special steering wheel, and that’s a shame. It’s certainly not the end of the world though and shouldn’t put any potential buyer off, although the price tag of the higher specced models such as this GT (£26,635 OTR) could possibly justify greater attention to detail.

Peugeot have recently confirmed the future production of a 267bhp ‘R’ model, so if outright power’s your thing, that may be worth holding onto your money for. Less is very often more though, and if it’s understated beauty, useable power and poise that delight – this GT model is possibly more for you.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Peugeot RCZ GT THP 200, Transmission – 6 spd manual, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power – 200bhp, Torque – 275Nm, Emissions – 155g/km CO2, Economy – 42.2 mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 146mph, Acceleration – 7.6s 0-62mph, Price – £26,635 OTR, £29,970 as tested.

Honda Civic 1.6 i-DTEC – Driven and Reviewed

Civic certainly couldn't be mistaken for anything else

Civic certainly couldn’t be mistaken for anything else

Within the last decade, Honda‘s ever-so-popular Civic has gone through something of a transformation, particularly in the identity department. It wasn’t so long ago that the Civic moniker was seemingly plonked on just about any size or shape of Honda, as if they’d actually exhausted the world’s supply of car names. Seriously – just Google ‘1990s Honda Civic‘ and the range of images that appear is strangely reminiscent of a bag of pick and mix – they may all be sweets, but no two are the same.

Not any more though. The modern-day Civic is definitely a mid-size hatchback in the Focus/Golf/Astra mould, which means it’s picking some pretty brave fights with some serious competition. This particular Civic is equipped with Honda’s much-lauded new 1.6 litre Diesel engine, dropping it right in the middle of what must surely be the bloodiest of fights, as families and businessmen alike strive to achieve as much bang for their buck as possible, either on the forecourt or in the tax office.

Exaggerated wheel- arches and hidden rear door handles add a certain sportiness

Exaggerated wheel- arches and hidden rear door handles add a certain sportiness

This generation of Civics has been with us for a while now and yet it still manages to stand out as something a little bit different. It could be said that it’s styling was deemed a little controversial upon launch and some of the previous generation’s charm had been sacrificed in favour of a flurry of awkward angles and design features. Personally, I find the Civic’s quasi-futuristic appearance and apparently absent rear door handles increasingly appealing, especially when set against the backdrop of some of its competition, many of which seem to be morphing into the same, staple shape.

Dual level instruments offer a slightly unusual sensation

Dual level instruments offer a slightly unusual driving experience

The theme continues inside the Civic with a multitude of eye-catching shapes and features that set the car apart from, well, anything else. Sit in the driver’s seat and the first detail of note is the two-stage digital dashboard, adorned with near day-glo illumination. This dual-height approach to the information one requires when driving could initially be described as a little unnerving; just as the perfect driving position is achieved and one feels very much ‘in’ the car, rather than ‘on’ it, a glance at the lowermost dials completely alters one’s perspective, encouraging more fettling of the seat and steering wheel to feel less upright. The answer is to overcome this urge to modify and stick with it, it doesn’t take long for the whole experience to feel completely natural with an engaging driving position.

Multimedia buttons are small and plentiful - strangely reminiscent of a Casio Calculator Watch

Multimedia buttons are small and plentiful – strangely reminiscent of a Casio Calculator Watch

An easy trap to fall into with the Civic’s interior, in particular it’s slightly lairy dashboard and Casio-calculator-watch-esque multimedia system, is to start wishing that the whole thing were a little more, well, German. This fondness for the subtle, understated approach to things, that certain manufacturers such as Audi have adopted is entirely understandable, if a tad unfair. Honda are proud to be Japanese and are quite rightly doing things their way. It’s good to see this approach every now and again as life would be so boring without individuality. I say – if you want a car with a Germanic approach to interior fittings, buy a German car.

This class of car simply wouldn’t work if its interior space were significantly inferior to the competition and this possibly explains the Civic’s expansion over the previous model. I felt comfortable and well accommodated in every seat, my only slight wish would be for a touch more headroom in the rear for long journeys.

Rear light cluster may look pretty but it does nothing to aid visibility

Rear light cluster may look pretty but it does nothing to aid visibility

Sit in the driver’s seat of the Civic and a glance in the rear view mirror presents something of a fly in the car’s ointment – a large bar dissecting your view of what’s being left behind. It may look pretty from the outside but the truth is that this dual-screen effect which Honda are so keen on utilising does, in reality, irritate. All but the lowest spec Civics come complete with a rear view camera and I’d say it’s almost essential to assist when reversing. Our top of the range EX test car was also blessed with parking sensors, I’d tick this option every time to counteract the compromised view and hopefully save a few trips to the bodyshop.

Civic is covered in fins - here's a sharky one.......

Civic is covered in fins – here’s a sharky one…….

So, that’s the living space covered, what about the oily bits? Honda’s new 1.6 Diesel engine has been received with much fanfare and is destined to find its way into as many Honda products as is reasonably possible. So what’s all the fuss about? Cold start-ups – traditionally the leveller of oil-burners due to unrefined rattles, present very little in the way of noise or vibration, even on the outside. Once thoroughly warmed however, you’d be hard pressed to hear which fuel you were burning, the noisiest aspect at civilised revs being the car’s air-conditioning fans.

The manual ‘box in the Civic is a joy and seems so well suited to the torquey nature of this Diesel lump. Changing gear can become something of a novelty, as the engine’s 300NM of torque pulls the car along across the entire rev-range with little complaint, even at lower revs where one might usually expect some labouring.

.........here's a not so sharky one

………here’s a not so sharky one

Honda claim that the Civic, when mated to the 1.6 Diesel will achieve 78.5mpg and 94g/km, making it VED exempt. These economy claims are sometimes unattainable though and history has taught us to take them with a sizable pinch of salt. Apparently not so in the Civic though; when brimmed with Diesel, the range is a predicted 650 miles. After two days of care-free driving with little thought for conserving fuel, the needle on the Civic’s fuel gauge was still stubbornly clinging onto ‘Full’ like a long, thin limpet, the range had also somehow crept UP to 850 miles. Have Honda secretly achieved perpetual motion? Hmmmmm…..

Handling in the Civic is civilised and reassuringly predictable. It flows through corners with constant communication through the steering wheel so that any understeer is expected and easily corrected. The power steering is massively assisted though, so don’t expect handling to be quite up to the standards of the eminently impressive Focus.

The engineering expertise that Honda are so renowned for simply screams out of the Civic in a way that belies its sub £20K starting prices. Driving one is a pleasure, with a sensation of quality that would put many, far more expensive products coming out of Bavaria to shame. All this, mated to Honda’s  excellent new engine and the usual extras found as standard, results in a package that’s very hard to argue against.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Honda Civic 1.6 i-DTEC EX, Transmission –  manual, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power – 120ps, Torque – 300Nm, Emissions – 94g/km CO2Economy – 78.5 mpg combined, Acceleration – 10.5s 0-62mph, Price – £23,175 OTR, £23,675 as tested.

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