Driving Torque

Articles, reviews and opinions about cars and all things automotive

Archive for the month “January, 2015”

Driving Torque’s new, shiny look.

Hello to all my lovely followers.

Driving Torque’s been under the knife recently and has undergone a whole new look and way of working.

Because of this, I’d be very grateful if you’d follow this link; http://drivingtorque.com/ and click ‘subscribe’ to continue receiving updates from Driving Torque.

Thanks in advance, and I’ll see you on the other side.

Ben Harrington

Driving Torque

Ford Fiesta 1.0l EcoBoost Zetec Powershift – Driven and Reviewed

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An automatic Ford Fiesta. My engrained reaction to this would usually be one of disdain, with just a splash of derision. Auto ‘boxes have traditionally been the reserve of the more senior driver and large, officious type vehicles, being driven by large, officious type people, in their large, officious type business suits, eating their large………you get the idea.

No more manual?

ford_fiesta_powershift_automatic_gearstickAll this could be about to change, though. Many people within the industry have referred to their crystal balls and predicted that the manual ‘box and it’s vice-like grip on the on the market may be coming to and end. Advances in gearbox technology such as double clutches like this one here, and CVT have seen the clutch pedal become slightly less common, even in Europe where we’ve subtly sniggered for years at the USA’s anxious aversion to ‘driving stick’.

If Ford have got it right, this ‘Powershift’ Fiesta should be as good as any more diminutive automatic car, then. The engine is their much-lauded EcoBoost three cylinder unit in 100PS guise; a power source that seemingly knows no bounds and marches on in its mission to change the world. The manual variant of this car is a world-beater; the Fiesta is Britain’s top-selling nameplate and with good reason (read the review here). Great place to start, then, but by taking away the need to change gear, have Ford lost anymore of the Fiesta’s appeal in the process? ford_fiesta_powershift_automatic_display

Refined and Smooth

The Powershift gearbox is refined enough; there’s no clunky, head-jarring up-changes, and it goes upwards from cog to cog with little fuss and in near silence. Higher gears are hung onto a touch too long when going back down through the range which takes a little of the fun out of cornering, but there is the option to change down yourself via a switch – this may detract from the point somewhat, though. Creeping slowly through traffic amplifies the nature of the three-cylinder engine, and there is a ‘put-put‘ feel under 5mph. Any quicker and the engine is as refined and characterful as usual, doing whatever’s asked of it dutifully. There’s even a ‘Sport’ mode available; select this and you’ll be amazed at how quickly 99bhp can propel what isn’t a tiny car anymore, whilst still giving a smooth ride.

Sounds Perfect!!……..

So, it’s business as usual with the trustworthy Fiesta, and you don’t even have to change gear yourself. Sounds too good to be true – surely every model will be this way from now on and the manual ‘box will soon become a thing of the past. Maybe not though – there are a couple of downsides to this added convenience.

………Oh

One age-old drawback of automatic ‘boxes was always the reduction in economy, and it still rings true here. Combined MPG drops from an impressive 65.7 to a slightly-less-so, 57.7, and CO2 rises from 99g/km to 114g/km. This, of course, takes the car into the realms of *shock-horror* paying VED, or road tax. Let’s put this into perspective here though; it’s still only in band C, which will lighten your purse by a measly £30 per annum, so nothing to lose any sleep over.

The addition of the auto ‘box isn’t the only reason for the Powershift’s drop in economy, though. The fact that it loses Stop/Start may not make that much of a difference in the real world, but it does affect things when the powers-that-be measure emissions. Ford themselves state that it’s not financially viable at this stage to add Stop/Start to the Fiesta but, for me, that’s not giving it a fighting chance. If the car proves popular enough, expect Stop/Start to suddenly appear further down the line.ford_fiesta_powershift_automatic_red_side

The other slight issue comes down to the price. With the manual ‘box, the Fiesta EcoBoost 5dr in Zetec trim is available from £14,195 at time of writing. Opt for this auto, and you’ll have to part with a slightly dizzying £15,445; that’s a very expensive gearbox, especially when it’ll also incur the extra running costs I mentioned earlier. It’s still cheaper than some of the competition such as the automatic Clio, but once you start adding extras to this Zetec trim, the price could easily get a little silly. ford_fiesta_powershift_automatic_red_rear

 

 

Automatic gearboxes are becoming more popular, there’s no doubt about it. For now, though, I feel that it comes at slightly too high a price in this Fiesta, both in terms of outlay and driver satisfaction. If you really need or want a smaller auto, this Fiesta is still a good proposition, but you’d have to really need or want one to forego the pretty-near-perfect manual.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Ford Fiesta 1.0l EcoBoost Zetec, Transmission – 6 speed automatic, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power – 99bhp, Torque – 170NM, Emissions – 114g/km CO2, Economy57.7mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 112 mph, Acceleration – 11.2s 0-62mph, Price – £15,795 OTR, £17,390 as tested

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

New 2015 Ford Focus ST – First Drive

2015_ford_focus_st_yellow_hatchFord‘s ‘Global Performance Vehicle’ division seem to have gone into absolute overdrive recently. Just as the price of oil quite handily drops through the floor, hardly a week goes by when Uncle Henry isn’t taking the wraps off a GT, an RS, or in this case, two STs.

Diesel?!?!

The ‘normal’ ST picks up where the 2012 model left off, but for the first time ever, there’s also a Diesel Focus ST, and both of them are available in hatch or wagon flavour and the usual range of suitably eye-catching colours, including the somewhat divisive ‘Tangerine Scream‘.

The diesel unit has apparently been introduced following the success VW have been enjoying with their Golf GTD and Ford are expecting a clean 50/50 split between the two power-plant’s sales figures.  It’s visually a carbon copy of the 2.0l EcoBoost petrol models, so you lose nothing in that department. Thankfully the petrol and diesel even wear the same badge; it can’t have taken Ford long to realise that the ‘Focus STD’  legend just wouldn’t have worked……….

2015_ford_focus_st_estate_blackLess Torque-steer

First things first though, the ‘traditional’ petrol derivative: Its 247bhp is still channeled through the front wheels without the aid of their ‘RevoKnuckle’ technology, instead relying on a revised Torque Vectoring system to keep things straight and true. This seems to do its job well, and the ‘left-right, left-right’ sensation that the previous ST suffered from under rapid acceleration has been all-but eliminated. It’ll get itself to 62mph in 6.5 seconds, but only on a dry, sticky surface; show a lack of subtlety with the loud pedal on a wet road and the petrol ST will happily spin its wheels in third gear.

Thanks to the addition of Auto-Start-Stop across the range, the petrol ST’s efficiency has been improved by 6 per cent, getting a fairly impressive 41.5 miles out of a combined gallon of petrol, and only releasing 159 grams of CO2 per km.  If it’s economy that floats your boat, though, the new-kid-on-the-block will probably be more your thing………

The diesel ST’s performance figures aren’t that impressive on paper – 181bhp and 0-62mph in 8.1 seconds won’t get it into the Fast-Ford hall of fame, but that’s not the whole story. It only produces a fleet-friendly 110g/km Co2, and where the petrol engined car produces 360Nm of torque, the diesel trumps it with 400Nm, all of which is conveniently available from just 2000rpm. What this translates to in the real world is a six-gear car that could actually live with just two of them; first for pulling away from standstill and 3rd for the rest of the time.

Both cars channel noise into the cabin via a sound symposer, giving the driver a ‘proper’ hot-hatch experience. Don’t worry about the diesel sounding like a ball-bearing in an aerosol, though; there is the inevitable clatter at standstill but it develops into pretty-much exactly the same pleasant thrum as the petrol once you’re on the move.

2015_ford_focus_st_diesel_red_hatchImproved handling

There isn’t much to split the two ST’s handling characteristics either; the ribbon-smooth roads on our test-route around Barcelona can’t possibly give an accurate indication of how the car will fare on our pock-marked tarmac, but the petrol was as responsive and accurate as you’d expect, and there was none of the usual nose-heaviness one associates with diesel cars. A nice little surprise came when we discovered that both models are happy to stick the rear end out, especially the wagon.

Ford are keen to use analogy that the new Focus ST is a pentathlete; it may not be the best in the world in any particular discipline, but it does everything well. With the Focus RS looming heavy on the horizon, they had no choice but to show some considerable restraint with the petrol ST, but the diesel ST is a different matter; rather than water down the ST brand, it’s an admirable player in the performance diesel market and, on first impressions at least, is more than fit to wear the badge.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Ford Focus ST 2.ol EcoBoost turbo, Transmission – 6spd manual, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power – 247bhp, Torque – 360Nm, Emissions – 159g/km CO2Economy – 41.5 mpg combinedMaximum Speed – 154mph, Acceleration0-62mph – 6.5s, Price – from £22,195 (5dr), £23,295 (estate)

Specifications; Ford Focus ST 2.ol TDCI, Transmission – 6spd manual, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power – 181bhp, Torque – 400Nm, Emissions – 110g/km CO2, Economy – 67.3 mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 135mph, Acceleration – 0-62mph – 8.1s, Pricefrom £22,195 (5dr), £23,295 (estate)

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

Vauxhall Adam Rocks Air – Driven and Reviewed

vauxhall_adam_rocks_air_gold_front

 

 

The Adam’s been a huge success for Vauxhall since its release in 2012 and has sold especially well here in the UK. A huge part of the car’s modus operandi was based on personalisation, with over 1 million combinations of options apparently available. This thrust it into the highly competitive area of the market that’s also occupied by the ubiquitous MINI and Fiat’s 500. Brave move.

A Little Fact

Here’s a little Vauxhall Adam based fact for you; it’s the only model in the current Vauxhall range that doesn’t end in the letter ‘A’. Feel free to use that the next time you’re on a first date or you really want to impress your mates down the pub. Alphabet based nuggets of information aside though, what is this new version – the Adam Rocks Air all about?

 

vauxhall_adam_rocks_air_sunroofRocks Air?

This Rocks Air is a quasi-SUV version of the Adam, complete with a little rise in ride height (15mm) and some rufty-tufty bits of plastic splashed liberally about the place. That explains the ‘Rocks’ part of the new title then, but what is the ‘Air’ bit all about? It’ll come as no surprise that it refers to the full length fabric sunroof that every Adam Rocks comes with. Don’t worry if you didn’t really want a soft-top though; it doesn’t impede rear visibility when it’s folded back like some similar models do, and the added noise it creates is barely detectable.

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They might only be for show, but I feel that the visual additions to the Adam Rocks really set it apart from the base model and give it far more road presence. I’m not sure what the extra 15mm ride height will achieve in terms of off-road ability, but where the Adam could get lost in a crowd, the Adam Rocks stands out, especially with the 18” ‘Twister’ wheels that our test car was shod with.

vauxhall_adam_rocks_air_door_handleRide Quality

These enhanced looks do come at something of a price though, and I don’t just mean financially. The whole setup has been adjusted and tuned to accommodate the loftier height and it’s left the Adam Rocks jittery on uneven surfaces; any bumps and potholes are felt throughout the whole car, irrespective of which wheel encountered them.

This particular Adam Rocks is powered by the same 1.0l, three-cylinder engine that so impressed us in the New Corsa recently, proving to be competent and refined in equal measures. It works just as well in the smaller Adam, as you’d expect, and when it comes down to triple-cylinder units that are so de rigueur at the moment, it really puts Vauxhall up there with the best.

vauxhall_adam_rocks_air_goldIt combines the best qualities of a three cylinder engine – decent economy and bags of character, with a useable torque curve and just enough restraint in the sound department to not be intrusive. Plus, it gets this Adam Rocks Air to the 60mph mark in a not-too-shabby 9.9 seconds

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Simply press the Griffin, et voila…..

Luxurious Touches

Vauxhall as a brand aren’t really renowned for their luxurious little touches but that’s precisely what’s so satisfying about the Adam range as a whole.

Take, for example, the exterior boot release; not an element I usually get over-excited about but I feel it deserves special mention in this case. There isn’t a button or lever as such, one simply presses the boot’s entire Griffin badge and the bodywork depresses slightly, opening the boot.

Some of the prettiest dials I've encountered

Some of the prettiest dials I’ve encountered

The basic design and materials in the cabin are satisfying both in terms of aesthetics and quality. The rubber-look eye level plastics, user-friendly Intellilink infotainment system (£275 option) and large, circular air vents put the Adam Rocks ahead of much of the competition, but it’s the fabulous dials that seem to take inspiration from both the aviation and nautical world that pleased me most. A tiny spotlight glows behind the dials, following wherever the needles go, and when the stop/start kicks in, the tachometer needle doesn’t just drop to zero like most cars – it goes to an ‘Auto Stop’ position, leaving ‘Stop’ solely for when the ignition’s turned off. It’s these little touches that add an ‘air’ (excuse the pun) of exclusivity.

vauxhall_adam_rocks_air_interiorAt What Price Though?

The Adam Rocks Air’s premium look and feel does come with a premium price tag however; this exact car would set you back a whopping £20,335. It doesn’t have to be this way though; even with this highly desirable engine option that does suit the car so, the basic price is a far more reasonable £16,695. Or, if it’s just the show you’re after and the go element isn’t a priority, you can spec your Adam Rocks with their 1.2l unit, dropping the base price to £14,695.

There’s obvious flair, and equal amounts of care that’ve been put into the Adam Rocks Air’s design – both inside and out; show some restraint with the options list and you can end up with something that’s got enough taste and refinement to put any MINI to shame.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Vauxhall Adam Rocks Air, 1.0l 12v Direct Injection Turbo , Transmission – 6 spd manual, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power – 115PS, Torque – 170Nm, Emissions – 119g/km CO2, Economy – 55.4 mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 121mph, Acceleration – 9.9s 0-62mph, Price – £16,695 OTR, £20,335 as tested

For full details, go to; http://www.vauxhall.co.uk/vehicles/vauxhall-range/cars/adam-rocks-air/overview.html

Suzuki SX4 S-Cross DDiS ALLGRIP – Driven and Reviewed

There seems to be an overwhelming requirement to pigeonhole everything these days, and cars aren’t exempt. Every brand has an underlying reputation of one type or another – some of a positive nature, others – slightly less so.

Suzuki SX4 S-Cross front and sideWhere do Suzuki stand?

But just where are Suzuki placed in the big, wide world of things; what direction would the stereotypical pub conversation turn towards if the subject was this slightly quirky Japanese marque? For years, my pub-bore fact about Suzuki has been that the Swift Gti of the ’90s was the quickest 1.3 on the market at the time, but anyone who has the slightest interest in off-roading will hold the extremely capable SJ410 and SJ413 models in very high regard as they were more than qualified to keep up with the likes of Land Rover and Jeep, despite their diminutive proportions. All of this brings us neatly round to what we have on test here; the difficult-to-put-in-a-niche SX4 S-Cross.

suzuki_s-cross_side_blueWhat exactly is an SX4 S-Cross, then?

It’s not an SUV in the truest sense of the word, it’s not even a small SUV like an EcoSport or similar, as the silhouette is more estate car than anything else. Estate car doesn’t quite cut the mustard either though – it’s more than that, thanks to an increased ride-height, some go-anywhere bits of chunky trim, and, in the case of our test car, the fact that all four wheels can aid propulsion (you’ll have to spec your SX4 S-Cross with ALLGRIP, though).

 

So, the SX4 S-Cross could be described as a slightly scaled-down Subaru Forester, and the obvious competitor in that particular little pigeonhole is the Peugeot 2008 – a car that we found to punch above its weight in most departments. suzuki_s-cross_noseYou’d be hard-pressed to find someone who’d describe the SX4 as beautiful, however much they like the car. The nose starts fairly close to the ground and then rises up over a slightly bulbous bonnet, with some cartoon-ish, oversized headlights dominating the rest of the front.

Practical enough inside – just think twice about that sunroof

Like the 2008, glazing is kept fairly sleek and minimalist with all five doors consisting of more metal, steering safely away from the ‘Popemobile’ look that does nothing to add appeal to any car. Thankfully, Suzuki have been sensible enough to raise the rear seating proportionately; there’s nothing worse than children getting bored or feeling sick because they can’t see out of the rear windows. If it’s fully sized humans that are going to be sat in the back seats, however, I’d make sure you stay well clear of the panoramic sun-roof. Pretty as it is, it eats into headroom too much and takes away from the SX4’s practical appeal. suzuki_s-cross_panoramic_sunroof

 

When it comes down to loadspace and headroom, pretty curves are the enemy and right angles are what’s required. The SX4 pulls off the clever trick of being conducive enough to fitting large objects in, without taking on the appearance of a Transit van. This basic shape, combined with a very useful dual-level boot floor and an 875 litre max capacity adds up to an eminently practical car that’ll fit in more than you’d probably warrant.

 

Inside the SX4, it’s a slightly less eye-catching affair than the exterior. There’s nothing wrong with what’s staring back at you from the dashboard per se and the materials used are of a high enough quality to not let the rest of the car down, there’s just a glaring lack of imagination and the whole thing’s a bit dull and uninspiring. That said, the standard Garmin infotainment system works a treat and does everything well, and the bright blue rings around the dials are a nice touch. Suzuki SX4 S-Cross interior

 

I doubt you’d have a problem getting comfortable whilst driving the SX4, whatever size or shape you come in; the seats are supportive and forgiving, and if you opt for a model with heated seats, you’ll be treated to the first ‘low’ heat setting I’ve found that genuinely means ‘low’ and won’t leave you wondering if your pants are about to combust.

Far more fun than you might expect

On the move is undoubtedly where the SX4 excels, and where Suzuki’s engineering prowess becomes apparent. The 1.6l Diesel unit in our test car may take an age to warm up (heated seats come into their own again here), but when it has, it’s responsive enough to the point of being really good fun – not something you’d automatically expect from this type of power plant. Throttle response from this Fiat-sourced engine is impressive and, although it may not be the most refined unit in the world, the handling is direct and honest. When combined, they have enough character to make the SX4 engaging and a bit of a hoot. Suzuki SX4 S-Cross rear light

 

This range-topping SZ5 model is absolutely packed to the rafters with standard kit including leather and auto lights and wipers, yet its £23,549 price tag may take some by surprise. I think this comes back to just where Suzuki stand in the market as, although they don’t have a reputation for building rubbish, £24K list prices aren’t necessarily what you’d associate with the brand either.

 

Suzuki SX4 S-Cross ALLGRIP system

 

The strange thing is, this still undercuts much of the competition, but Suzuki’s official figures state that the most popular spec is the SZ-T, which is priced at the £18 – £19.5K mark. It just doesn’t quite have the kerb appeal of the likes of the Qashqai or the Yeti, but when you’re paying under £20K for your S-Cross, I suppose it doesn’t need to. You still get one hell of a car at the mid-range level, especially if you can live without the ALLGRIP 4WD system; the snow mode may be reassuring for a week in January and it seems to work beautifully whilst being completely unobtrusive, but I think the majority of buyers would survive just fine without it.

Is it for me?

Overall, Suzuki’s SX4 continues the brand’s tradition of producing understated, quality items and you’d not find many faults with it at all. The 1.6 Diesel is a great engine and undoubtedly the one to go for, I’d just exercise a degree of caution with how much you spend on what should be a bit of a bargain.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Suzuki SX4 S-Cross, 1.6l DDiS, ALLGRIP SZ5, Transmission – 6 spd manual, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power – 120PS, Torque – 320Nm, Emissions – 114g/km CO2, Economy – 64.4 mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 108mph, Acceleration – 13.0s 0-62mph, Price – £23,549 OTR, £23,979 as tested

For full details, go to: http://www.suzuki.co.uk/cars/cars/new/sx4-s-cross/sx4-s-cross 

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