Driving Torque

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Archive for the tag “Golf”

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

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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 Civic Tourer 1.8 i-VTEC – Driven and Reviewed

Honda Civic Tourer sideCars in this mould come with a variety of monikers; there’s the good old ‘estate’, the glamour of the ‘shooting brake’, the Clark W Griswold American-ness of the ‘station wagon’, and in the case of the enlarged Civic we have here – the ‘tourer’.

Colour scheme is £200 option..........it's not really

Colour scheme is a £200 option……….it’s not really

Now, it might be down to the clever use of this shape for the factory Honda team’s current BTCC car, (albeit with a few less spoilers and stickers) but I’m inclined to think that this is one of those occasions that the darling of new parents and dog owners alike has more to offer in the looks department than the hatchback from which it was spawned. The way the roof-line seemingly dives down towards the D-pillar (it doesn’t, it’s just cleverly made to look that way), thus creating a sail shaped rearmost side window, is very reminiscent of both the Mercedes CLS Shooting Brake and the Jaguar XF Sportbrake – neither of which are renowned for their hideousness.

The rest of the Civic Tourer looks exactly the same as its hatchback sister, even down to the hidden rear door handles which enhance that sportier ‘shooting brake’ image that’s so desired in this sector. Perhaps more pertinently then, what does the enlarged rump have to offer in the practicality department?

Honda Civic Tourer bootHonda Civic Tourer underboot storageQuite a lot it would seem. The Civic hatch uses clever cubby-holes and techniques such as moving the fuel tank towards the centre of the car to optimise its load-lugging abilities and the Tourer takes it up a notch. Doing away with the spare wheel means that the cavern-like under-floor storage compartment in the boot is honestly more spacious than some car’s whole luggage area. Add this to some clever seats and the Civic Tourer provides a class-leading 624 litres of boot space with the rear seats in place, and a whopping 1,668l maximum with them down.

Honda civic tourer rear lights

Tourer’s rear visibility is far superior to hatch’s

One other aspect of the Civic Tourer that deserves mention here is the added bonus of where the rear light-bar is positioned. One of my gripes with the Civic hatch was the way they dissected the rear windscreen, creating a dual-screen effect and not really inspiring confidence when you wanted to see what was lurking behind. With the Tourer this issue has gone. It admittedly may not look quite as nifty and original as the hatch, but the need to put the lights on a near-vertical boot-lid has resulted in a more conventional approach which, when coupled with the extra glass around the boot, makes seeing out of the Tourer far less of a chore.

Inside the Tourer, it’s the usual Civic high standards again, just with a slightly lighter, more airy feel thanks to the added windows and extra space to swing a cat around in, if that’s your thing. The leather seats in our SR spec car added a feel of luxuriousness that you just don’t get with cloth and they were easy to manipulate into whichever position you feel comfortable in. Like the hatch, there’s the multi-screen, dual-level dashboard effect going on. It does take a bit of getting used to at first, but I’ve always admired its originality – I just wish that the colours and fonts used on one of the fascia’s four gauges and screens would match at least one of the other’s.

When we tested the Civic hatchback in September 2013, it was equipped with Honda’s 1.6 i-DTEC Diesel unit, and it’s fair to say that we were pretty much blown away. The Tourer we have here is powered by their 1.8 i-VTEC petrol and, as much as it pains me to say it, you’d have to be pretty adamantly against Diesel to opt for this engine.

There’s nothing wrong with it per se, in fact it’s so smooth and quiet that it’s almost impossible to notice when the stop/start technology is doing its stuff, even with the slight ‘boom box’ effect that estate cars usually suffer with.

Anyone opting for the petrol would also save over £1,200 on the list price over the Diesel unit – not a figure to be sniffed at, but when you delve further into resale values and running costs, I can’t help but feel that that financial saving would soon be swallowed up. It’s a simple numbers game, you see; the equivalent SR spec Diesel Civic qualifies in tax band B (£20), whereas this petrol emits 149g/km CO2 and is therefore all the way up in tax band F (£145).

Honda Civic Tourer frontIf you’re not covering many miles, you may decide to go for the petrol’s added refinement over the Diesel, but if you’re quite keen to keep visits to the pumps as minimal as possible, it’s worth noting that this petrol variant achieves a claimed 44.1 mpg combined, compared to the Diesel’s 72.4 – and having driven it, I can verify that the 1.6l oil burner really is as economical as they claim.

The petrol Civic also achieves the 0-62mph sprint quicker than its counterpart (9.6s vs 10.5), but that’s presuming you haven’t activated ‘Eco’ mode to make your economy figures more respectable. Doing this will make the engine less thirsty, admittedly, but the way its stunts the car’s performance  takes away from an otherwise fun driving experience, especially around town or on long motorway hills where you might find yourself changing down a gear a little more often than you’d expect.

Honda Civic Tourer rear and sideIf you opt for the SR or EX spec Civic, you get their new rear Adaptive Damper System included in the price (it’s a £500 option on SE Plus and SE Plus-T models), and it really does make a difference to the whole driving experience. The Tourer shares the hatch’s feather light gear-changes and steering feel that could do with a touch more feedback from the road but, also like the hatch, it actually sticks to the tarmac very well. Switch the dampers to ‘dynamic’ and you could argue that it’s rather fun – it’s never going to be a Lotus, obviously, but you can certainly feel an improvement in how the car responds and reacts to any changes in direction. Just don’t try throwing it around in Eco mode – the responsiveness of the ‘dynamic’ dampers and the listlessness of Eco mode are worlds apart in their aspirations. At the other end of the spectrum – ‘Comfort’ mode is so well suited to a long motorway schlep. It transformed the Civic Tourer and seemingly ironed out our less than perfect roads, making journeys of any real distance more relaxing – usually the preserve of far larger cars.

To conclude, then. The Civic Tourer, is beautifully built like most Hondas, is class leading in many aspects including interior space and, in my opinion, looks great. As is usual with Japanese cars – the standard equipment is plentiful, even on base models, but I would be inclined to either pay for the Adaptive Damper System or go for a model that comes with it included as it’s a very clever piece of kit. Having driven both engines available in the Tourer – I’d advise you forego the petrol engine we have here and go for Honda’s excellent 1.6 Diesel – it’s just too good to overlook.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications;  Honda Civic Tourer SR, Engine 1.8 i-VTEC, Transmission – 6 speed manual, Layout – Front Engine, FWD, Power – 140bhp, Acceleration – 0-62mph – 9.6s, Maximum Speed – 130mph, Torque174Nm, Economy44.1mpg combined, Emissions – 149g/km CO2, Price – £24,355 OTR, £24,855 as tested

for full details, go to: http://www.honda.co.uk

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

Anyone for Golf? Why Volkswagen’s Hatchback is truly a car for the people

Volkswagen Golf mks1 - 6

The Volkswagen Golf through the ages

Whenever anyone asks my advice regarding what car they should buy, I have a one size fits all answer. Without the need for any further questioning, I can almost guarantee that there is a car which in one of it’s many guises will suit your needs. It may come as no surprise to some of you that this seemingly magical automobile is, drum roll please, the humble Volkswagen Golf. I know, I know, surprise surprise I hear you chant but I truly believe that there’s a Golf to suit every need and I just can’t shake my own personal desire to own one.

I’ve recently decided that, excellent as it is, it’s time for the Audi to go. I can’t fault this truly amazing car but I’ve owned it two and a half years now and anyone who knows me will testify that this is the equivalent of nearly three decades in Ben’s car ownership years (it’s a little like dog years). As many men grow bored of perfectly fine women and play the field, I find a similar compulsion with cars. It’s a blessing really as changing your car undoubtedly results in miniscule financial and emotional suffering when compared to divorce.

Inevitably, one decision has spawned another question and that is which car to purchase as the Audi’s replacement? I’m fairly certain that I don’t need such cavernous proportions anymore, although reasonable storage is still necessary and five doors is still a must. I’ve made no secret of my desires to get away from diesel but a fairly frugal petrol engine is the only acceptable alternative. Having read many, many car reviews, I’m aware that the Ford Focus is an excellent all rounder, as is the Mondeo and oh my god, who am I kidding, all of this reasoning and weighing up is completely irrelevant because I just know that I’ll end up with a Golf.

I can only put this borderline-obsessive behaviour down to certain automotive perceptions developed during my formative years. As a young child, I was brought up on a strict diet of Jaguar and Ford but as my more opinionated teenage years loomed menacingly, the quality control departments at both marques were seemingly redundant. The German brands however were all conquering with their seemingly effortless cool and their reputation for indestructible build quality.

But what was the big deal about the Golf? On the surface it appeared to be an ordinary hatch like any other but we all knew that this couldn’t have been further from the truth. If you wanted ordinary, you bought an Astra or an Escort, buying a Golf simply screamed that even in an every day family hatch, you demanded excellence, and that was the fundamental difference.

Back to the present time, in my head I know that many of the Golf’s competitors are in many ways its equal, some have even surpassed it. Unfortunately though, we all know how events in our youth can leave an indelible impression upon us and for me at least, the Golf will always have a special place in my heart.

By Ben Harrington

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