Driving Torque

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Hyundai Veloster Turbo – Driven and Reviewed

hyundai_veloster_turbo_front_sideBelieve it or not, the Hyundai Coupe (aka Tiburon/Tuscani) first landed on our shores nearly two decades ago, in 1996. Back then, it shocked and delighted in equal measure – Hyundais weren’t supposed to be sexy or daring, they were just, well, functional, a bit like a lump of coal. There were split opinions regarding whether this was just a temporary blip in an otherwise nondescript range, or if it really was a signal of Hyundai’s intent for the future.

hyundai_veloster_rearWell, back to the present day, and what we have here is the Coupe’s successor – the Veloster; a car that shares a slightly unusual name with an equally odd design feature. What Hyundai call a 1+2 door design is essentially a 2 door coupe, with one rear door……well, apart from the hatch, which also counts as a door, so it’s really a four door……..it’s probably best if you look at the pictures – this is definitely one of those instances where they paint a thousand, slightly rambling words.

hyundai_veloster_turbo_side_doorNon symmetrical portals aside, the Veloster’s looks are nothing if not dramatic, especially in this range-topping Turbo guise we have on test. We start off with an Audi-esque trapezoidal mouth that dominates the front end, sucking in enough air to keep the greediest engine satisfied. There are creases and slashes aplenty on the Veloster, from the bonnet, to the sides, all the way to the rear. They’re mainly for decoration and they fit the bill perfectly; there’s always something new to look at and the optional matt grey paint (£565) on our test car does nothing to detract from this.

hyundai_veloster_exhaustsThe Turbo’s rump is finished off with some purposeful looking twin exhaust pipes – a massive improvement over the slightly underwhelming efforts on the standard car. Adding a double-barrelled blunderbuss to the Veloster was always going to add menace, it’s just a shame that they’re rather ‘all mouth, no trousers’, as the tradition of Asian automotive politeness continues.

hyundai_veloster_turbo_rear_doorRight, that rear door then. Yes, it does spoil the otherwise pretty coupe’s lines slightly, but it’s only on the passenger side so as a driver, you don’t have to look at it that often. On the other hand though, Hyundai have been sensible enough to put it on the safe side for this country (we’re looking at you –  now thankfully defunct MINI Clubman). Speaking from a parent of two little girl’s point of view, it’s also incredibly handyThere is the option for them to put the driver’s seat forward like a traditional coupe if so required, but having that door there takes so much of the hassle associated with this genre of car out of the equation – far more than I expected if I’m honest.

hyundai_veloster_interiorInside the Veloster is far more conventional, with a Ford-style layout for the central control binnacle and black plastic aplenty. The seating position is low and flat, as you’d expect in a self-respecting coupe, but the seats are a tad unforgiving and I could imagine things getting slightly fidgety over long distances. The hand-brake lever is obviously still in the optimum location for LHD cars, as it’s far too close to the UK driver for comfort and, whilst I’m moaning, the way the stereo completely forgets your iPhone playback preferences after every journey gets a little tiresome.

door pulls - not usually something I get excited about.....

door pulls – not usually something I get excited about…..

On the plus side though, there’s some great little touches like the chunky, Incredible Hulk-hand friendly door pulls, and the 30mph marker on the speedo that’s otherwise marked in 20mph denominations (that should surely be law in a country with so many 30mph limits?). The rear visibility isn’t impeded at all by the split rear window, in contrast to the likes of Honda’s CR-Z which employs the use of guesswork due to a similar design.

'nuff said

’nuff said

One note of caution concerning the Veloster’s rear seats. They may have a nice friendly door providing access, but the seats are purely for passengers under 5ft in height. Anyone taller than this won’t just be a bit uncomfy, they’ll require a third-party to  unfold them to get back out – a point emphasised by the warning sticker on the boot hatch, highlighting the potential risk to loftier passengers when closing it.

hyundai_veloster_badgeThe Veloster Turbo is propelled by the same 1.6l T-GDi unit found in the KIA pro_cee’d GT we tested earlier this year, although, quite perversely, the hot-hatch is given the full-fat, 201bhp variant of the engine, whereas this ‘sports car’ makes do with 184bhp. Why they couldn’t share exactly the same engine is beyond me slightly – hopefully it’s to leave room for a fire-breathing ‘Turbo S’ variant further along the line.

Either way, the Veloster Turbo makes good use of its 184bhp and performance – although not ‘pants-on-fire’ quick, is steady and predictable throughout the gears, with no real lag or dips in torque. On dry tarmac, the car negotiates bends in a similar fashion, with no scary surprises lurking unseen, and any potential weight unbalance from the extra door goes pretty much unnoticed. Push the Turbo too enthusiastically on wet roads though, and the front wheels will claw and scrabble for grip, making the experience a touch hairy as the weight of the front end typically forces understeer.

Overall, the Veloster Turbo is quite a complete package and, for fear of repeating myself, that extra rear door is very handy. Would I buy one over a GT86 though? –  I don’t think so. The Veloster is more generously equipped for the money and it’s more economical. The GT86 though, is faster, better looking and ultimately,  more of a hoot to drive.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Hyundai Veloster Turbo, Transmission6 spd manual, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power – 184bhp, Torque – 265Nm, Emissions – 157g/km CO2, Economy – 40.9 mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 133mph, Acceleration – 8.4s 0-62mph, Price – £22,000 OTR, £22,565 as tested.

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

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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.

Scion FR-S

It was with more than a tinge of sadness that I recently realised an unerring truth; in fact, I may have even shed a tear or two. I was always told it would happen, especially when the kids came along but I never really took any notice, perhaps this was my undoing. You see, no matter how hard I searched every nook and cranny of the old grey matter, somewhere along the line over the last few years, I’d completely lost sight of what a young boy racer aspires to own. By this, I don’t mean anything exotic from the likes of Lamborghini or Porsche, I mean a realistically obtainable automobile, a working class hero if you will.

Having looked at what’s on offer though, I’m beginning to wonder whether it is me that’s lost touch or whether today’s Friday night heroes are lost in an automotive wilderness with a distinct lack of identity. Every generation can be easily ring fenced by the objects of their desire. The ‘80s had the Golf Gti, Pug 205 Gti and the Escort XR3i. My generation, the ‘90s also had the Golfs but we’d progressed onto the rally derived rockets, typically the Imprezas and Evos, earning us the ‘Playstation generation’ tag. The ‘00s gets a little hazy but the hot hatches were still in full flow and the Japanese entries simply got more and more powerful but this is where the trail gets lost.

Correct me if I’m wrong but hot hatches appear to have lost their way a little of late. They’re mostly overpriced, the old stalwart, the Golf is bland, all Peugeots are hideous and Vauxhall’s Astra is suffering delusions of grandeur. The only manufacturer which has maintained the cheap thrills ethos is Renault but seriously, what self respecting young scally aspires to own something called a Twingo?

Similarly others have lost their way. Subaru’s last hot Impreza was so expensive that for a few quid more, you could have bought a proper performance car. They’ve just displayed the all new Impreza at the New York motor show and it is the automotive equivalent of gruel. Mind you, if you think that’s bad, Mitsubishi recently announced that their next generation Evos would be doing their utmost to save the planet. Come on! That’s like marketing a child friendly nail bomb.

scion-frs

Scion FR-S

All of this brings me neatly onto what I think could just be the next symbol of a generation.  Contrasting against its surroundings like a blood red stain on a brilliant white background, their was at the New York motor show  a small, cheap, attention grabbing sports car called the Scion FR-S. Scion are Toyotas youth brand, as Lexus is their OAP brand and the FR-S is their attempt to put the thrills back into affordable driving. Developed in conjunction with Subaru who supply the engines, the FR-S has a very low centre of gravity and perhaps most importantly, it’s the rear wheels that are driven. Toyota believe that this is what will tempt buyers away from cars such as VW’s Scirocco as it will have a fun factor that’s not present in most competitors. Whatever your opinion on the looks, it’s certainly not mundane, especially against the backdrop of plain cars many manufacturers are happy to force upon us today.

If this car works, I foresee a resurgence of the Japanese sports car industry, possibly with the reintroduction of greats such as the MR2 and the Supra.  The land of the rising sun appears to have had a new dawn, European manufacturers, you have been warned.

By Ben Harrington

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