Driving Torque

Articles, reviews and opinions about cars and all things automotive

Archive for the month “October, 2014”

Volvo V40 Cross Country – Driven and Reviewed

What is it?

Volvo_v40_CC_frontWe tested the standard Volvo V40 a while back and we were thoroughly impressed with the looks, the practicality and what a great overall package this mid-sized hatch – brought to you by the Kings of Estates – was.

So, what happens when it’s jacked up a couple of inches and liberally garnished with some tough, chunky looking bits of trim? The CC (Cross Country) is what happens, oh, and the price goes up by a thousand pounds.

Unlike similar models of this genre, the CC is available in 4×4 guise, for those customers who need the off-road capability to match the looks, but it’s only available with the most powerful of petrol engines. That’ll cost you a not-inconsiderable £34K, so I think it’s a fair guess that the majority of CCs sold will be Diesels, just like this D3 model we have on test here.

Chic Interior

Volvo_V40_CC_interiorApart from a ‘Cross Country’ logo above the glovebox, the interior of the CC is exactly the same as the standard V40 model, and that’s no bad thing. The more Volvos I drive, the more I’m certain that their cabins are some of the nicest places you could wish to find yourself. Say what you want about the likes of Audi and Jaguar, but the effortlessly stylish design features in this V40, coupled with some innovative, high quality materials and the most attractive multimedia system add up to provide an ambience that’s second to none.

Take, for example, the seat fabrics in our V40. It’s not leather or Alcantara, so the generic description of the material used would simply be ‘cloth’. But that’s not doing it justice. It’s like sitting on a pair of reassuringly expensive designer jeans – not the kind you’d do the gardening in, more like a pair you’d don with a crisp white shirt and wear on a first date. It’s little touches like this that put the V40 a place above most similarly sized hatches.

Road Manners

Volvo_V40_CC_rear_lightThe CC guise may add ruggedness and road-prescence, but what does that extra height do to the agreeable road manners found in the V40? Apart from the obvious advantage when it comes down to tackling speed-humps and our increasingly scarred roads,  the fact is that it still sticks to the road very well and the slight addition of body-roll is only noticeable if you really push-on. If you were to ask any potential customer whether they’d trade a tiny loss in handling for the highly sought after gain in ride height over the standard car, I’m fairly sure they’d go for the CC.

This D3 model comes with Volvo’s torquey 5-cylinder Diesel engine with 150bhp, and it does very little wrong. It’s economical enough (114g/km & 64.2mpg) and once some initial rattle at start-up’s calmed down, you’ll merely detect a pleasant, distant sounding rumble, and that’s only if you turn the excellent sound system down that comes as standard.

Volvo_V40_CC_sideskirtMated to Volvo’s ‘Powershift’ automatic ‘box, driving the CC is a far more engaging experience than you’d possible warrant in this genre. The ‘box works very well and has an uncanny knack of being in the right gear without any over-revving or labouring most of the time; it’s far more satisfying than you’d expect the sum of its parts to be. There is a ‘Sport’ mode that changes up later and down earlier, as most sport modes do, but, if I’m honest, it feels a touch out of place in the CC, especially when the driving experience is so sorted to start with.

Does it work?

It would actually have been quite difficult for Volvo to mess this car up, as the V40 it’s based on is a great car in itself. Some subtle off-roady touches and a dash of extra road presence are well worth the £1000 price tag over the standard car, but even against similar competition, the CC is a fabulous piece of kit.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Volvo V40 D3 SE Nav Powershift, Transmission – 6 spd automatic, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power150bhp, Torque – 350Nm, Emissions – 114g/km CO2, Economy – 64.2 mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 127mph, Acceleration – 9.6s 0-62mph, Price – £25,770 OTR, £31,905 as tested.

New Vauxhall Corsa – First Drive at UK Launch

How important is this?

Just to put into context how important the Corsa is to Vauxhall’s grand plan for the UK – in the last year, they shifted over 84K units – that’s more than the sum total of every model sold by some very respected manufacturers including Skoda and Fiat. Quite important then.

What’s new?

New_Vauxhall_Corsa_3_door_front_yellowErm, a lot. Every body-panel, everything forward of the A-post – including a new range of engines, and most of the interior. Vauxhall haven’t just tarted up an old model with this one, there’s some real effort and thought gone into this New Corsa. They’ve continued with the 3dr and 5dr options and their very different body shapes and target markets; the 3dr, or ‘coupe’ has a more sloping roofline which does eat into the rear headroom slightly, and is aimed at 25-35 year olds; the 5dr is the more sensible option and is expected to find homes on the driveways of 45-55 year olds who may be downsizing. Apparently, one of the major faults highlighted by the JD Power Survey in the previous Corsa was its propensity to come over all tropical and steam-up. To combat this, Vauxhall have made a heated front windscreen standard across the range. They have been listening.

Looking good

New_Vauxhall_Corsa_5_doorAs I said, every single body panel is new on this model; it’s still obviously a Corsa, and very much part of the Vauxhall family, a fact down in no small part to some features that have been borrowed from its siblings. There’s the striking ‘blades’ that run along the bottom of the doors – they’re found on both Adam and Astra. There’s the split front chin that widens the whole look of the ‘face’ – that’s taken from the Cascada. Vauxhall have quite cleverly borrowed from themselves to formulate what’s a cutting edge look whilst being instantly recognisable.

Life on the inside

New-Vauxhall_Corsa_interiorEverything’s been shifted from a vertical approach to a horizontal slant inside the New Corsa. There’s the ‘ever-so-of-the-moment‘ piano black plastic available, sweeping across most of the dash, with a flash of colour inserted that differs from spec to spec. The central touchscreen is lifted straight from the Adam – no bad thing as it’s easy to use and allows options or ‘apps’ to be added at relatively low-cost – just like a smart phone. The heater controls are slightly clumsy and aren’t quite as cutting edge as the rest of the dash, but gone is the cheap plastic steering wheel from Corsas of old – in its place is a chunky, tactile leather affair that’s far more satisfying, although the position of the steering column stalks require some hand repositioning to operate, which isn’t ideal. It’s easy to get a more low-slung, involving driving position than in previous Corsas, if that’s your kind of thing. What isn’t easy is getting the seats to provide optimum comfort, and the taller driver may find long journeys a touch taxing.

On the road

There’s quite a few engine options in the New Corsa, a few of them having been carried over from the previous generation. There is a 1.3 Diesel available, but the emphasis is undoubtedly on petrol power, and in particular that slightly left-field genre of engine that’s seemingly sweeping aside all laid before it – the three-cylinder. We road tested the 1.4l 4 cylinder and the turbo-charged 1.0l triple in 115ps guise, and it’s the latter that wins through on many levels. GM have by no means missed the boat with three-cylinder engines and haven’t either rushed one out or outsourced from another manufacturer, what they seem to have been doing is biding their time and making sure theirs picks up where others left off and improved the recipe.

It might not be quite as efficient as Ford’s EcoBoost unit (57.6mpg vs 65.7mpg), but by adding something called a balancer shaft, the engine is so smooth at both idle and high revs that it’s almost unrecognisable as a three-cylinder. Change-up indicators are frequently over-optimistic and can result in some shuddering as the fun is drained from your driving experience; not so with this clever little power-plant. Vauxhall claim that 90% of its maximum torque comes in at 1500rpm, and it’s all available at just 1800rpm. What this means in the real world is that you can keep your driving style nice and relaxed with the minimum of gear changes, safe in the knowledge that the car will pick up speed with hardly any fuss. New_Vauxhall_Corsa_3_door_rear_yellow

The Corsa’s new chassis components have altered the handling and ride over the last model, and in certain aspects it’s all very grown up. The suspension soaks up bumps admirably but the whole car does have a tendency to bounce and rebound over more uneven, changeable surfaces. On the other hand though, put the New Corsa on a motorway  and it feels far more comfortable and competent than a B-segment car has any right to; it’s more B+ than B. The electronic power steering still feels a touch wooly at times with not quite enough feedback and weightiness, but it’s surely the simplest of tasks to alter this when sportier models such as the VXR and Sting R are released further down the line.

If you are considering the New Corsa, it’s definitely worth knowing that Vauxhall have dropped their prices by an average of £1500 compared to the outgoing model. Perhaps more pertinently, this makes it roughly £1000 cheaper than the equivalent Fiesta.

By Ben Harrington

Peugeot 308 e-THP 130 – Driven and Reviewed

Anyone remember those clever Peugeot ads from the ’80s and ’90s? Well I do; there was the 306 TV ad that used the late, great Marvin Gaye’s ‘Sexual Healing’, and before that, the 205 Look and 405 ads with ABC’s ‘Look of Love’ and Berlin’s ‘Take my breath away’ providing the respective soundtracks. Look them up on YouTube if you want an instant hit of automotive nostalgia, but make sure you watch them all the way to the end; what you’ll find is that long forgotten Peugeot tagline – ‘The Lion goes from strength to strength’.

Most attractive car in its class

New_PEUGEOT_308_Feline_panning_167_450Admittedly, the last decade has made something of a mockery of this – ‘The Lion falls out of the ugly-tree, hitting every branch on the way down’ could have been deemed more appropriate with certain models, that is, until the arrival of the New 308. We tested it in THP 156 guise earlier this year and were blown away with the driving experience, the look and the overall feeling of quality that’s been sorely lacking in the marque of late. The 308 is so good, we went as far as to say it was ‘the most attractive car in its class’, and we stand by that still.

So, what happens when Peugeot invent their own take on the increasingly popular genre of engine – the three-cylinder petrol – and slot it into the already popular 308?

Well, in this case, it’s a 1.2l turbocharged affair – the most potent in the Peugeot three-cylinder range that’s been christened ‘PureTech’, generating a healthy 129bhp and 230Nm of torque at just 2750rpm., whilst cutting emissions and fuel consumption by 18% over the 1.6l equivalent.  So, the figures sound promising enough, especially with a claimed 58.9mpg combined, but how does this translate to the real world?

Three-cylinder performance

New_PEUGEOT_308_Feline_tracking_rear_141_450Pretty well would be the predominant answer. This diminutive engine does a great job of getting what’s a fairly heavy car off the line, and the power band rises steadily, keeping the 308 accelerating to speeds you wouldn’t warrant a 1.2l possible of achieving. Compared to the equivalent Ford Focus three-cylinder which is powered by an even tinier 1.0l engine, the 308 hits 62mph 0ver one second sooner. That said, the maximum amount of torque may be at your disposal at 2750rpm, but follow the 308’s optimistic change-up indicator and there’s a definite laboured feeling as you’ll be going through the ‘box a little sooner than you possibly should.

One thing Peugeot have always had a bit of a knack for is handling and feel, and the lightweight PureTech engine really adds to that in the 308. The car just seems even more accommodating when you make adjustments from that mini steering wheel, with less metal swinging around in the nose as that weight distribution moves ever-so-slightly rearwards towards the centre.

If peace and quiet’s your thing – the 308 PureTech’s cabin space won’t disappoint. Personally, I like to hear the distinctive thrum that three-cylinder engines emit manifest themselves a touch more when you press on, but the 308’s obviously a little too well insulated for that, and the engine’s hardly audible however you drive.

Strength to Strength

74834peu_450This really is a winning combination of car and engine from Peugeot, then, both of them complimenting the other perfectly. The 308 should be the yardstick that Peugeot measure all future models by, as it really does go ‘From Strength to Strength’.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Peugeot 308 Feline e-THP 130, Engine – 1.2l three-cylinder petrol, Transmission – 6 spd manual, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power – 129BHP, Torque – 230Nm @ 2750rpm, Emissions – 110g/km CO2, Economy – 58.9mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 125 mph, Acceleration – 10.3s 0-62mph, Price – £20,995 OTR, £21,520 as tested.

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

Honda CR-V 1.6 i-DTEC 2WD – Driven and Reviewed

Paris Motor Show

New Honda CR-V at Paris Motor ShowThese are certainly exciting times for Honda. The Paris motor show was something of a showcase for the Japanese goliaths as not only were new models and face-lifts presented to The World, but we saw the reemergence of what’s undoubtedly the most exciting letter in the Honda alphabet – ‘R‘.

Back to the slightly more humdrum aspects of the Honda range, the hugely popular CR-V was thrust back into the limelight with a subtle facelift and the industry standard light upgrade. Perhaps more importantly though, it was announced that the 2.2l Diesel engine is to be mothballed and the 4WD model will adopt a more powerful version (160PS, 350Nm) of Honda’s 1.6l unit.

Earth Dreams Technology

Honda_CRV_1.6_2WD_WhiteWhat we have on test here is the 2WD CR-V, equipped with the same Earth Dreams Technology 1.6l Diesel, producing 120PS and 300Nm. We’ve been big fans of the CR-V here at Driving Torque since it’s launch;  it just does everything well, without making a song and dance about it. We’ve also made no secret of the fact that their 1.6l Diesel unit is a fabulous piece of kit; when we tested a Civic with it under the bonnet, we harboured strong suspicions that it may be moonlighting as a Diesel production plant – the fuel gauge stubbornly refused to move.

So, what happens when you put the two elements together? Do they compliment each other and work in perfect harmony? Or is it the automotive equivalent of garnishing roast beef with custard – two perfectly good ingredients that should never, ever meet.

Well – it’s good news! I can’t comment on the gastronomical qualities of substituting mustard for custard, but Honda seem to have come across another winning combination with this engine in this SUV.

Anyone unfamiliar with the CR-V can read my full review here; http://wp.me/pVgih-pn. In a nutshell, it’s a practical, beautifully built, mid-sized SUV that feels a cut above the competition in terms of quality, even if it doesn’t set the world alight in terms of tyre-screeching, face-melding performance.

Does it work with smaller Diesel unit?

Honda_CRV_white_sideThe oil-burner under the bonnet really is something to write home about though. I was a little concerned that it may not have the low-down grunt to adapt to life in the CR-V, due to the car’s extra weight and loss of aerodynamics. There’s currently no auto ‘box option with this engine, and a lack of torque could easily have resulted in an over-worked clutch pedal – a tired left leg soon gets boring and that would really have put a blot on this CR-V’s copybook. These fears were thankfully completely unfounded though; yes, you can detect a slight lack of oomph compared to the outgoing 2.2l Diesel, to deny that would be folly, but it’s undoubtedly more refined than its big brother, and the drop in performance doesn’t detract from the whole experience enough to warrant a mention.

Another big plus with the 1.6l is the slight loss of weight in the nose department compared to the 2.2l. No, it doesn’t turn the CR-V into a Nurburgring attacking monster, but it is more keen to turn in when asked to, just don’t expect tons of feedback from the slightly over-assisted steering.

Honda_CRV_white_rearHonda are obviously quite proud of their Earth Dreams project, and with good reason. This 1.6l unit isn’t just pretty good, it’s genuinely one of the best Diesel engines available today. Next year it’ll be tuned up and asked to power the full-fat 4WD CR-V, but if you don’t want or need all of the wheels to be driven, this slightly milder version comes in 2WD already, and it’s more than up to the task.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Honda CR-V 1.6l i-DTEC SR, Transmission – Manual, Layout – Front engine, Fwd, Power – 120PS, Torque – 300Nm, Emissions – 124g/km CO2, Economy – 60.1 mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 113mph, Acceleration – 11.2s 0-62mph, Price – £27,315 OTR

Nissan X-Trail Xtronic 2WD – Driven and Reviewed

new_nissan_x-trail_greyAs cars progress from generation to generation, there’s usually a theme or a certain look that’s carried over from the previous model – it helps with identification and establishes a feeling of a legacy being continued. Not so – the new X-Trail. It’s undeniably a Nissan – similarities to the Qashqai and the Juke are many, but put this all-new model next to the last gen X-Trail, and you’d be hard pressed to spot the lineage.

new_nissan_x-trail_grey_sideThis is without doubt a wise decision. Nissan have moved the X-Trail’s looks out of the realms of  ‘anonymous box’, and thrust it into the limelight with some edgy, swoopy lines and shapes that scream ‘look at me!’ Not least of which being that shoulder line that drops down below the door mirror and then lifts dramatically to form the top of the front wheel arch, giving the impression that everything forward of the windscreen rises up in a quasi power-bulge fashion.

New_Nissan_X-Trail_Grey_noseThe ‘hawk-eye’ lights that some Nissans have adopted give a real look of attitude and purpose, although, from the front at least, it is quite difficult to tell the X-Trail apart from the hugely successful Qashqai. It’s a different story inside the X-Trail though. As every element is new on this model, the wheelbase is nearly 8cm longer than the outgoing X-Trail, and you can tell. For £700, you can add a third row of seats that sprout from the boot floor which, when combined with some very clever theatre-style seating in the rest of the car, is an option you’d be mad to omit.

new_nissan_x-trail_cabinThe rest of the cabin has some pretty effects here and there, and anyone familiar with previous X-Trail generations will be pleased to see the continuing presence of the cooled cup-holders for when you want to keep a can chilled. Our ‘Tekna’ test car represents the top of the New X-Trail range and it really is a tour-de-force of just what Nissan can do with electronic devices to make a car’s cabin a more pleasant and user-friendly environment. There’s the usual stuff we’ve come to take for granted these days, like auto lights and wipers and front and rear parking sensors, but then there’s a couple of toys that go somewhat beyond what you might expect in a Nissan SUV. Not least of which is what Nissan call a ‘360° Around View Monitor’ – roughly translated, this is a clever use of cameras which gives you a bird’s-eye view of the car when performing manoeuvres. Admittedly – it takes a little bit of getting used to at first, but once you’ve gotten over the initial ‘wow’ factor, I found it to be quite a handy tool.

Nissan's very clever bird's eye view parking approach

Nissan’s very clever bird’s eye view approach to parking

I don’t normally get animated at the size of a car’s turning circle but the X-Trail’s is surprisingly small, especially considering the size and nature of the vehicle. The X-Trail has been engineered to be a lot easier to ‘throw around’ than you might expect, with U-turns in relatively tight roads presenting no problems. When coupled with the parking aides mentioned above, the X-Trail is very easy to live with around town and prospective buyers shouldn’t be daunted in the slightest by its apparent dimensions.

New_Nissan_X-Trail_bootEngine choice in the New X-Trail is pretty easy as there’s currently only one available – a 130PS Diesel. It’s a tad rattly until it warms up if I’m honest, but once things settle down there’s very little intrusion of noise into the cabin, even at motorway speeds. There’s more choice in the drivetrain department though – you can opt for either 4WD or 2WD – I’m guessing the latter will be most popular – and if you do opt for 2WD, there’s also a choice of a manual ‘box or what Nissan call ‘Xtronic’; it’s a CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) system which works by constantly adapting its gear ratios to suit the situation, but to all intents and purposes, looks and behaves like a traditional automatic ‘box. Opt for the 4WD though, and a manual ‘box is all that’s available.

new_nissan_x-trail_seven_seatsOur 2WD X-Trail is equipped with the Xtronic gearbox and it all works together very well. Things have come a long way since the idea of CVT became mainstream over a decade ago, and Nissan’s system is smooth and jolt-free, just as it was designed to be. My only grumble would possibly be that it can be a touch uncertain at times, and its constant hunt for the perfect ratio gets a little irritating when that search is ultimately fruitless.

new_nissan_x-trail_rear_greyIf you’re considering opting for a 4WD X-Trail for its superior on-road handling characteristics, it’s worth knowing that every single model in the range comes with Nissan’s Chassis Control system. The system monitors the car’s ride and handling and uses a combination of engine braking, automatic individual wheel braking and torque adjustment to correct things if they go slightly awry. Unlike some driver aids, you can really feel the Chassis Control working, especially as it navigates the car through wet or slippery bends. It can feel slightly strange at first but it’s a system that definitely improves the driving experience and, unless you plan on some ‘proper’ off -roading or towing, ultimately negates the 4WD model, especially as each element of the aid can be switched off individually if you desire.

new_nissan_x-trail_grey_front_3/4Nissan have established a fairly tight grip on certain segments of the SUV market in recent times, and even invented a whole new segment with the Juke. The X-Trail has always sold well but the previous generation was looking very dated. With its striking new looks and advances in the technology department, this latest X-Trail could quite easily prove another winner for Nissan.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Nissan X-Trail Tekna, Engine – 1.6l Diesel, Transmission – Xtronic CVT, Layout – Front Engine, FWD, Power – 130PS, Acceleration – 0-62mph – 11.4s, Maximum Speed – 112mph, Torque – 320Nm, Economy – 55.4mpg combined, Emissions – 135g/km CO2, Price – £30,645 OTR, £31,895 as tested

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