Driving Torque

Articles, reviews and opinions about cars and all things automotive

Archive for the month “March, 2014”

Mercedes GLA Class – First Drive at UK Launch

Mercedes GLA sideAs a rule, a manufacturer develops a mainstream, run-of-the-mill model, has some success with it, and then spawns various ‘niche’ models based on the back of this success. Mercedes are perhaps the king of this school of thinking, seemingly offering a model to suit every individual’s needs. The A class has always been a little different; in an apparent fit of reverse evolution, the original, quirky A class was like nothing previously offered from, well, anybody, with it’s current incarnation having been transformed into a regular, Golf sized hatchback.

But, hang on a minute though. What we have here is an apparent return to form – it’s  the Mercedes GLA – a jacked up, SUV derivative of their now sensible ‘A’, fully prepared to jump on the small SUV bandwagon that’s taken the world by storm.

Mercedes GLA rearEvery manufacturer is keen to emphasise the real-world capability of their off-road models, regardless of size, and Mercedes are no different. I’m fairly sure that 500ft below the roads is a unique location to showcase these abilities but that’s where we found ourselves, 500ft down a salt mine in sunny Cheshire, no less.

This might sound a little extreme and, possibly a tad irrelevant, as there was none of the usual mud, deep water and nerve-janglingly steep inclines that off-road courses generally boast. In fact though, it served very well in replicating the demands that are more likely to be made of cars such as the GLA – an uneven, unpredictable surface with a few ascents, all tackled at around 20mph – more school mum than Sahara desert.

Back on top of terra-firma, away from 100% darkness, it’s easier to gain a true perspective of what the GLA is all about.

Mercedes GLA front and side


Visually, Mercedes haven’t strayed very far away from the A class recipe – it obviously sits higher than the hatch but other differences are subtle, the most obvious being some chunky aprons and wheel-arch extensions. The rise in ride height isn’t over-dramatic, rather just enough to make the GLA noticeable next to a regular hatchback.

The GLA comes with a choice of two Diesel engines – 200 or 220 CDI, and one 250 petrol. You can opt for two driven wheels instead of Mercedes’ 4Matic AWD system, and a manual ‘box, but you’ll be restricted to the lesser powered Diesel engine if you do.

Mercedes GLA sideSpeccing your GLA is fairly simple, with two lines on offer – SE or AMG. A GLA 45 AMG is due out in June, but for now, going for the latter option won’t turn your GLA into a 911-baiting monster. The AMG part equates to some sports suspension and a few visual tweaks, inside and out, it also provides you with some AMG sports seats. Having experienced both specs, I’d personally opt for the SE  – the ride seems more appropriate with a bit more ‘give’, and those AMG seats can pinch a little – especially on those of us with, shall we say, a more generous frame.

Mercedes GLAWith prices starting at £28,850 OTR, I foresee the 2WD, 200 CDI model being the pick of the bunch as it combines an admirable 119g/km CO2 output, with those sought after SUV looks – historically the two most important factors in this genre.

By Ben Harrington

For full details go to; www.mercedes-benz.co.uk/GLA_Class

Bentley Continental GTC V8 – Driven and Reviewed

Bentley Continental GTC V8 frontOf Continents – Just take the name of the Bentley Continental in its literal form, and one gets an undeniable sense of the ethos behind this large GT, which has been a massive success story for Bentley since its launch in 2003. Things have changed a little though.

Having developed an all new V8 in conjunction with Audi, prospective customers have had the option for a couple of years now to opt for a 4.0l, twin-turbo engine under that substantial bonnet, as an alternative to the 6.0l W12 available since launch. But why bother? Yes, it’s a very clever engine, seamlessly sending four of its eight cylinders into ‘sleep’ mode when not required, and yes, it’s a whopping 40% more economical than the full-fat derivative, apparently able to return a not-too-shabby 26mpg on the combined cycle. But, admirable as they are, I can’t see either of those reasons being sufficient to tempt someone with £140K + to spend on their GT, to forego the W, and opt for the V.

V8 models are distinguished by their '8' shaped exhaust tips

V8 models are distinguished by their ‘8’ shaped exhaust tips

But maybe they should; You see, what the V8 loses in displacement – 33.3%, doesn’t correlate directly with the power at the driver’s disposal – 500bhp vs 567bhp. Consequently, performance isn’t found lacking either; 0-60mph is still dispatched in 4.7, losing just 0.3 seconds, and top speed drops from 195mph to 187mph – anyone who says they genuinely need that extra 8mph is lying.

Hang on a minute here though; The V8 GT doesn’t need anyone to make excuses for what it loses to its big brother, that’s not what this review is about; what the V8 gains over the W12 is what’s important.

GT3 upgrade not yet available for road-going models.....shame

GT3 upgrade not yet available for road-going models……..shame

Bentley announced in 2013 that they would be entering the Continental into GT3 racing, a series generally graced with some noticeably more lightweight offerings from the likes of Porsche and Ferrari. Stripping weight is obviously the name of this particular game, so no prizes for guessing which engine Bentley opted to equip their racer with – a modified version of this road-going V8.

Bentley V8 engineI’ve been known to champion the ‘less is more’ school of thinking for sometime, and I’m convinced that this Bentley tows the party line. It’s not exactly featherweight but the reduction in nose-weight the V8 offers over the W12 is undeniably noticeable, especially when it’s guiding a 3 tonne car around some typically British B-roads. The whole sensation is somehow less intimidating, with the car feeling more inclined to encourage pushing on through the bends, not backing off. Slip the ‘box into the inevitable ‘S’ mode and things get even more stimulating; if you don’t fancy changing gear yourself, via either the chunky paddles or sequential-style stick, the ZF 8spd will hang onto gears for longer, keeping revs higher and therefore response from the accelerator more instant. Less GT, more weekend toy.

Bentley Contintental GTC roof upThe more observant amongst you will have noticed that this model is the GTC (I won’t explain what the ‘C’ stands for), and, if anything, it lends itself even more to the V8 than the coupe does. Bentley were evidently concentrating on road-manners and handling when the GTC was conceived – whichever engine one opts for comes complete with the accolade of being the stiffest convertible in the world. Coupled with the fact that this, like 99% of Continentals, sports permanent 4wd, it surely makes sense, therefore, to take advantage of this torsional rigidity and grip, and grace it with a lighter, more useable engine.

It’s a well-known fact that Britain is one of the most prominent consumers of convertibles in Europe and I think I may have just worked out why; It’s certainly not to take advantage of the glorious weather we’re blessed with – maybe we’re a nation of petrol-heads who relish the opportunity to hear the dulcet tunes coming from our car’s exhausts. If that sounds like a theory you could subscribe to, you’ll just love this Continental. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the song the W12 plays, but even in a Bentley, nothing beats the drama of a big V8. Coupled with the optional sports exhaust (£1,860), it reverberates and bellows in a way that the slightly woofly W12 can only dream of. Anyone who opts for the GTC V8 will be praying for balmy weather, if only to grace their own eardrums with this distinctive chorus.

Carbon Ceramic brakes: Squeaky

Carbon Ceramic brakes: Squeaky

Speaking of optional extras and the noises they make, that brings me round conveniently to the carbon ceramic brakes, a £10,405 option on our test car. I understand entirely why this could prove to be a popular option on the Continental GT; at nearly 3 tonnes, it’s not exactly flighty and at the kinds of speeds it’s capable of, you’re going to want all the stopping power you can get, without the dreaded fade. Just be aware though, there’s no escaping the fact that until they’re up to temperature, carbon brakes are noisy, and not in a good way. This isn’t a problem at all for the inhabitants when the roof’s up, but drop it down to soak up some rays and the characteristic squeals and squeaks soon become something of an irritant. I’ve driven this car with the standard, silent brakes and I don’t recall any buttock-clenching near misses because it failed to slow down; I’d therefore give some serious consideration as to whether you absolutely need the upgrade, or whether your £10k would be better spent elsewhere on the voluminous Bentley options catalogue.

Bentley Continental GTC interiorUltimately, there’s no escaping that the Continental is a Grand Tourer, whichever roof or engine it comes with, and it’s therefore essential that it fulfils the criteria that this tag warrants. If you want your touring to be done with the wind in your hair, you may have to pack a little lighter than in the fixed-head model as boot space isn’t as cavernous as one may have hoped (235 litres). The rear seats could also prove a tad on the small side for adults if some significant mileage is attempted, this is all due to the space being taken up by a 90l fuel tank, a 4wd system and the need for somewhere to stow a roof.

Bentley Continental Diamond stitch seatsOn the other hand, the levels of comfort on offer from the front seats are second to none. Even with 21” wheels filling the arches, the ride is never jarring, whichever one of the four suspension settings is selected. The seats are what you’d expect from the likes of Bentley; neck warmers are provided for our potentially disappointing climate, and they’re infinitely adjustable. A feature that stands out for me, though, is the massage function. Normally just a source of irritation, the way one’s back is kneaded and manipulated is genuinely pleasurable, I can honestly say I’ve never said that about this function before.

Bentley Continental GTC V8 sideWith the Continental GTC, Bentley have created a car that has little in the way of competition and when this happens, complacency is an easy trap to fall into. By adding the V8 to the range, they’ve not only increased the time between trips to the pumps, they’ve offered another dimension to the whole driving experience.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications;  Bentley Continental GTC V8, Engine – 4.0l twin-turbo petrol V8, Transmission – 8 spd auto, Layout – Front engine, 4WD, Power – 500 bhp, Torque – 660Nm @ 1700rpm, Economy – 25.9mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 187mph, Emissions – 254g/km CO2, Acceleration – 4.7s 0-60mph, Price – £152,900 OTR, £195,270 as tested.

For full details, go to http://www.bentleymotors.com


Peugeot 308 Feline THP 156 – Driven and Reviewed

Peugeot 308I think it would be fair to say that the design department at Peugeot have been going through what rock stars commonly refer to as their ‘wilderness years’ in recent times. Newer models such as the 208 and face-lifted RCZ aside, cars rolling off the Peugeot production line have been unfortunate enough to resemble the lovechild of a newly discovered, rain-forest dwelling amphibian, and Pete Burns.

But what’s this? Here to signal an end to taste and decency’s sabbatical, it’s the newly crowned Car of the Year, the new 308.

On face value alone, this model surely brings a breath of fresh air to Peugeot dealerships across the world, relieving their beleaguered salesmen of the need to avert potential customers’ gaze before they notice just how unsightly their potential new car actually is. I thought the initial press shots of the 308 were alluring but this is quite often the case, with the actual road-going model proving what can be done with a clever photographer and very little light. Not so the 308. Utilising the old adage that less is more, Peugeot have binned many unnecessary design cues and features and stuck to the principle of concentrating on making a car that people will find appealing.

Peugeot 308 side viewThe new 308 is lower and wider than its predecessor, and thanks to its new EMP2 platform, both front and rear overhangs have also been reduced, pushing all four wheels further towards their respective corners. These adjustments will usually add visual appeal to any model but I think it’d be unfair to solely heap praise on them without commenting on the actual lines and features of the 308. The neat double grille and absence of exaggerated jutting chin will hopefully mean an end to the ‘basking shark’ styling cues of recent Peugeots as the results are impossible to argue with. The sleek LED headlight cluster may not be the most original design on Earth, but there’s an attractive sense of organisation and purpose when combined with their slightly smaller mirror images directly beneath. Again, this is in stark contrast to the haphazard nature of the model it replaces.

Peugeot 308 rear light clusterThe rest of the 308 carries on in the same vein, with one broad line emanating from the front wing, rising up through both door handles and culminating in the central portion of some C shaped, ‘claw effect’ rear lights. At the rear, a relatively large bumper and small window combine to reduce the overall feeling of size, thus adding a more coupe feel to the whole event.

Peugeot 308 interiorIf sweeping changes have been made to the exterior of the 308, it’s fair to say the same treatment has been dished out to the living space too. Minimalist is the order of the day inside with many knobs and dials being removed and their functionality incorporated within the very iPad like central screen. It doesn’t take long to get used to this way of doing things and the screen is one of the most user-friendly I’ve come across. On the other hand, it is sometimes useful to just be able to adjust the temperature or stereo by pressing or turning a cheap plastic knob, rather than have one’s attention distracted by scrolling through numerous menus and images. The image from the reversing camera deserves special mention as the clarity is outstanding, almost HD. Conversely though, the SAT NAV system on our test car warrants special mention due to its inept approach to navigation. Why the software can’t be programmed into all systems at source to recognise postcodes is beyond me – every road’s got one. This requirement to input the desired road name and then which road it intersects is ridiculous – if I knew such details, I surely wouldn’t need a sat nav as I’d already be familiar with the area. That said, our system was quite insistent that we were 50 meters to the right of where we actually were anyway, and there was no persuading it that we weren’t rudely ploughing through the surrounding flowerbeds and gardens. Some gremlins need removing here I feel.

Peugeot 308 rear view cameraPeugeot have decided to migrate their miniature steering wheel project over from the 208, with the pretty, Evoque style jewelled dials being visible over the top of the wheel, not through it. A few people are insistent that it’s tricky to get a comfortable seating position whilst maintaining sight of the dials but I’ve no issue with it myself, having had the method explained properly to me. My only issue is how this go-kart esque wheel translates to the whole driving experience; obviously an adjustment of a smaller circumference wheel equates to a more dramatic effect at the driving wheels than a larger one would, that’s basic physics. This is all well and good in an intense, high-speed environment but it can make the 308 feel a little twitchy during everyday driving when a more relaxing ride might be what you’re after. I just feel that this diminutive wheel should possibly have been reserved for more driver-focussed Peugeots such as their Gti, RCZ and R models, and give everything else something a touch bigger to play with.

Peugeot 308 frontOur test car came equipped with Peugeot’s new 156bhp, 1.6l petrol unit under the hood and, as much as it pains me to say it, I’d opt for the Diesel if it were me. There’s nothing wrong with this petrol engine, per se, although I did find it a little reluctant to rev past 3000rpm, it’s just that when you compare the alternative, it makes more sense. The mid 90’s saw Peugeot’s 306 popularise Diesel engines when they were still the reserve of tractors and taxis, this 308 should continue where it left off. Yes, the 2.0 HDi is around £1,700 more expensive than the same spec petrol model, but the performance is very similar (8.9s – 62mph vs 8.4s), and the gains made in mpg(68.9 vs 48.7), Co2(105g/km vs 134) and bucket loads of torque easily justify the extra layout.

Peugeot 308 wheelHandling characteristics have always been one of Peugeot’s strong suits and this 308 isn’t too shabby at all. Considering this isn’t wearing a Gti badge, or any other performance led moniker for that matter, it’s more than capable of tackling the twisty stuff. The front will be tempted to understeer if anything, but the stiff-feeling rear end brings things back into line with something of a jolt before long, it just takes a certain amount of trust in the 308’s pretty sorted chassis. One aspect of this Feline spec 308 that would force me to save some money and opt for a lesser model is the 18” wheels that come as standard. There’s no doubting their visual impact – they’re cleverly designed and fill the arches nicely, it’s just the effect they have on the 308’s ride that leaves something to be desired. Coupled with the intrusive tyre noise they generate, it’s another feature I’d leave for ‘Gti’ and ‘R’ models; best to stick with 16’s or 17’s for the sake of comfort.

Peugeot 308 front 3-4 lowPeugeot 308 rearThis new 308 model is light years ahead of the model it replaces, both in terms of design and refinement. I challenge anyone to be disappointed with the cabin plastics, even out of direct sight and this is a good indication of the direction Peugeot are heading in with quality becoming more of a priority. The overall drive is good, not quite Focus standards but not a million miles away, but this isn’t why people will buy a 308; it’s the looks that have seen this model prove popular. I’ll go out on a limb here and state that this is the most attractive car in its class, didn’t think you’d read that about a Peugeot, did you?

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Peugeot 308 Feline THP 156, Engine – 1.6l petrol, Transmission – 6 spd manual, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power – 156BHP, Torque – 240Nm @ 1400rpm, Emissions – 134g/km CO2, Economy – 48.7mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 132 mph, Acceleration – 8.4s 0-62mph, Price – £21,345 OTR, £22,020 as tested.

For full details, go to http://www.peugeot.co.uk

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