Driving Torque

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All new Ford EcoSport Review – First Drive at Barcelona launch

All New Ford EcoSport

All New Ford EcoSport

The small SUV market has increased 400% in Britain in the last 3 years. It’s expected to grow exponentially in the future and Ford want their slice of this potentially lucrative pie. Bring on the EcoSport (pronounced ‘echo’, not ‘ee-co’, by the way).

Readers in South America will be well accustomed to the EcoSport as they’ve seen it enjoy massive popularity there since its launch in 2003, with over 700,000 units being shifted at last count.

The EcoSport we see here has been available in South America since 2012 and is the latest of Ford’s ‘World Car’ projects, being built in India, Brazil and Thailand – Britain will get cars built in their Indian factory – a first for Ford UK.

Aimed primarily at professional 30-somethings who’s lives are increasingly reliant on a constant online connection, the new EcoSport promises tempting collaborations to go hand in hand with their Microsoft based SYNC infotainment system, commencing with the likes of musical streaming giants – Spotify.

The EcoSport looks at its best on the move

The EcoSport looks at its best on the move

The EcoSport is based upon the excellent Fiesta – as good a place to start as any. Styling cues are also quite obviously from the Fiesta, although it’s been raised and beefed up to provide the all important SUV style that’s currently so fashionable. Ford aren’t fighting the realities of this target market though; they’ve wholeheartedly accepted that the image which SUV ownership provides is all important – but the last thing these same buyers want is the expense of running an actual 4×4. It may seem quite perverse but why swim against the tide? To this end, Ford aren’t making 4WD an option on European EcoSports, even though it is available in foreign markets. That said, jacking the suspension up does give the EcoSport the ability to wade up to 550mm – not exactly Defender territory but very welcome when caught in a flash flood situation, I’d imagine.

In the flesh, the Kuga lineage is very apparent in the EcoSport’s styling, again no bad thing, but there are a few visual aspects that I found a little difficult to love; the front wings and wheel arches are a tad slab-sided and sit a fraction forward of the actual wheels, detracting from the ‘Sport’ look which is generally a wheel at each corner. The chrome front grill may not be to everyone’s taste either and removing it or requesting a different colour isn’t an option – that’s obviously fine if you like that kind of thing but, for me, it just screamed ‘towel rail’ a little too loudly.

Ford EcoSport sideAside from that, it’s a characterful, handsome little thing and it’s definitely one of those cars that looks better on the move than stood on static display. It comes complete with some natty go-anywhere touches such as its outboard spare wheel, which could undoubtedly have been accommodated in the standard position – behind the rear bumper – but it’s these features that contribute towards the all-important SUV image.

One aspect of the EcoSport that consistently rears its, somewhat unwelcome head is the fact that it was never designed for the European markets. There are constant reminders all over the car that it’s been designed and built to satisfy the less demanding markets in South America and Asia, and then re-jigged a little for our fussier tastes.

Not least of which is the interior in general. It’s inescapably Ford and is almost identical to the inside of a Fiesta, with its smartphone-esque styling and piano-black inserts. It’s the quality aspect that’s slightly lacking though; The grade of plastics used is scratchier than we’d like and the door pulls have a tendency to creak; Want somewhere to hang your coat or hold onto around a particularly lairy bend? – tough – grab handles are curiously absent; The materials the fairly unsupportive seats are covered in feel cheap and emit a certain glow, not dissimilar to a £25, machine-washable suit.

The EcoSport tackles bends impressively, with very little roll

The EcoSport tackles bends impressively, with very little roll

The worst offender however is the SYNC system itself; its size and quasi dot-matrix appearance leave a lot to be desired when compared to the units found in today’s Fiesta and Focus. Considering its capability to link with smartphones and provide access to Spotify and TomTom, amongst others, it’s visually lacking to say the least, the EcoSport seems to have been provided with a BBC Micro, as opposed to the Playstation 4 found in other Fords.

One aspect of the EcoSport’s interior that can’t be faulted though, is its living space for passengers, front and rear. I’m 6′ and whilst sat in the passenger seat, I moved it back to a position which meant I had to stretch considerably to touch the bulkhead with the ends of my toes, and there was still plenty of room behind me for an adult or child to sit in complete comfort. Now that’s impressive in a car in this class.

On the road, the EcoSport really comes into its own and reminds us exactly where Ford’s strengths lie. It’s available with either a 90PS 1.5 litre Diesel unit or a choice of two petrol engines – a 110PS 1.5 litre or the all-conquering 1.0 EcoBoost lump. The Diesel and EcoBoost engined models were available to drive at the launch and it’s quite clear that the peppy 3-cylinder is the one to go for. It may lose out a little in the way of emissions and economy to it’s oil-burning sister (125g/km vs 120g/km & 53.3mpg vs 61.1mpg) but it’s £500 cheaper and comes free with a great soundtrack and bucket-loads of character. If you absolutely require your EcoSport to change gear itself, you’re stuck with the 1.5 litre Duratec petrol, which at £16,495, becomes difficult to justify. The manual Duratec is the cheapest in the range at £14,995 but with CO2 emissions of 149g/km and 44mpg combined, it’s a false economy to go for this model.

Ford EcoSport doors openIf you do decide your EcoSport will come equipped with an EcoBoost(this IS pronounced ‘ee-co’, by the way), you won’t be disappointed with the driving experience as a whole. It has just enough grunt to keep the performance interesting, although the extra height and weight over the Fiesta does hinder progress somewhat and you’ll find downshifts from 3rd to 2nd become more regular. When things go from straight to twisty, the Ford heritage shines through spectacularly as, even with its considerably raised ride-height, it finds assured grip with only the slightest hint of roll.

It’s hard to predict what the European market will make of the EcoSport which has proved so popular elsewhere. My initial feeling is that Ford have rushed somewhat, fearful of missing this fruitful bandwagon. It’s certainly not the cheapest (£1500 more than alternative Nissan Juke), it’s not particularly economical or sporty, and with only 4 Euro NCAP stars and a slightly bargain-basement interior, I fear it could dilute the excellent reputation Ford have worked so hard to gain over the last decade.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Ford EcoSport Titanium, Engine – 1.0l 3-cyl EcoBoost petrol, Transmission – 5 spd manual, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power – 125PS, Torque – 170Nm, Emissions – 125g/km CO2, Economy – 53.3 mpg combined, Maximum Speed –  112mph, Acceleration – 12.7s 0-60mph, Price – £15,995 OTR

For full details of the EcoSport and all other Ford models, go to http://www.ford.co.uk

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Range Rover Evoque SD4 Prestige Coupe – Driven and Reviewed

Range Rover Evoque Coupe front and sideWay back in 1970, if you’d have walked into a Range Rover showroom you’d have more than likely been greeted by a smiling, Sta-Prest salesman who’d have been more than happy to proudly demonstrate the best (possibly the only) luxury 4×4 in the world. It was big, it had three doors, it was quintessentially British and the only quandary you’d be faced with would be which shade of brown to opt for. Staying in 1970 for a little bit longer, it was a similar story if you decided a Mini was the car for you; there were some slight variations in body styles and engines to choose from, but if all you wanted was a clever, compact car for the family, you could simply decide on which particular hue to go for and that was it – your three door marvel of British engineering will be delivered ASAP, Sir.

Fast forward 43 years and things have changed a little. Well, a lot actually. Both brands have been through the British Leyland mill and come out the other side, only just though and with reputations temporarily in tatters. Foreign ownership has been the salvation of both national treasures and through this, the secret of survival has been identified in a certain, undeniable quality; diversity.

All this brings me onto what is undoubtedly the most diverse product from the Range Rover stable to date – the Evoque. Launched in 2011 with considerable fanfare (some of it Spice Girl related), it’s now an everyday sight on our roads whilst still retaining an air of exclusivity. Ironically enough, if it’s a quality SUV you’re after with comparable kerb appeal and quirkiness, realistic competition comes in the surprisingly similar sized Countryman or Paceman models from, would you believe it, MINI? How things have changed in just over four decades!

Ninja!!

Ninja!!

The ensuing popularity was such that Land Rover were moved to introduce round the clock manufacturing of the Evoque, in order to keep up with the insatiable demand it generated, and it’s not hard to see why. Just on face value, the Evoque is an attractive proposition, especially in three door, coupe guise such as our SD4 Prestige test car. The Evoque looks it’s best when viewed from the front, with its pepper pot, two-bar-grille that makes it unmistakably part of the Land Rover group. The appeal lies in its jutting chin and narrow lights, giving the impression of a stalking ninja in full, face-concealing headgear. The lines created by these feature headlights continue down the side of the Evoque, past the A-pillar, intersected briefly by some relatively oversized front wheel-arches that add a chunky, almost playful nature to the sometimes sombre Range Rover brand.

Range Rover Evoque Rear cornerA near vertical tailgate, combined with the coupe’s impressively large doors add an air of shooting brake to the Evoque. It’s an appealing shape that’s easy on the eye with enduring popularity. It’s only really the Evoque’s rear end that could be described as slightly questionable; the rear window is impossibly small and the level at which bodywork changes colour and morphs into bumper/undertray is a little too high. The result is a multitude of features seemingly squashed into a relatively meagre area. One feature I never tire of though, is the ‘comet’ style rear lights ands their ‘glowing ball with streaking tail’ design. Think you’ve seen them somewhere else? Jaguar’s F-Type sports similar lights, if somewhat exaggerated when compared to the Evoque.

Range Rover Evoque rear light clusterAnyway, enough of how the Evoque looks, the more pertinent question is possibly how it feels and how it behaves, both on and off-road.

I don’t know how they do it but Range Rover have a knack of producing incredibly comfortable seats and the Evoque continues this trend with aplomb. Various heating, cooling and shape adjustments all contribute to making even the longest of journeys as bearable as possible. Memory seats are, for me, an essential purchase in a car, as I love the guarantee of my seat returning to my optimum position after someone else has driven it. A shame then that whoever was tasked with positioning the buttons that control the Evoque’s memory seats opted to plonk them just behind the interior door pulls; it’s quite unnerving to open or close ones door and find your seat is unexpectedly moving as your knuckles have inadvertently scraped said buttons. Very frustrating.

Memory seat controls - well within knuckle range

Memory seat controls – well within knuckle range

The rest of the Evoque’s interior is the usual high quality fare we’ve grown to expect from the brand. There are splashes of metal and wood in all the right places, the still awesome dual-view TFT screen, and many niceties that all contribute towards a deeply pleasing ambience. Find much better and you’re probably sat in, well, a full-size Range Rover. The sense of space in the Evoque comes as something of a surprise; no occupant will find themselves cramped, even in this coupe model, and yet the boot, although not cavernous, is a decent shape and size too. Anyone with concerns about visibility stemming from that diminutive rear window I mentioned earlier can be reassured that the Evoque comes complete with a pair of door mirrors that wouldn’t look out-of-place on a road-train; it takes a bit of getting used to but missing something in those bad-boys would be no mean feat. One aspect of coupe ownership that could easily frustrate is the method of accessing the rear seats. Naturally, the front seats have acquired a motor for effortless movement back and forth but the rate at which they move is best described as glacial. Obviously health and safety will have legislated on the appropriate pace for this motion, to stave off any potential law suits resulting from trapped limbs etc. Sometime though, allowing access and egress from rear seats demands a certain level of stealth, i.e. in torrential rain so I can’t help but feel that this is one luxury feature too far and should have probably been left on the shelf.

Range Rover Evoque Coupe seat button

One motor too far?

I’m in the fortunate position to be able to comment first hand on how the 4WD Evoque copes with going off-road as I took one around Land Rover’s very own test facility at Gaydon. Obviously the good folk at LR weren’t going to allow me to attack the off-road course if they weren’t confident in its capabilities but rest-assured, this is no walk in the park. Some of the hills, valleys and troughs had me doubting anything would make it through, but put the Evoque into the appropriate mode for the terrain and it just goes and goes like a particularly determined mountain goat. Our intrepid Evoque was fitted with an underbody tray as height clearance is obviously not quite up to Defender levels but apart from that, you can be confident that this is by no means all show, no go.

Back in the real world and, let’s be honest, the common-or-garden speed hump is about as tasty as it’s going to get for 90% of an Evoque’s day. Thankfully, off-road prowess doesn’t have to mean wobbly on-road traits and back on the black stuff, the Evoque feels more mid-size hatch than tall lofty SUV. The suspension and drivetrain combine to give a smooth, silky ride that seemingly irons out all the creases and ridges we’ve grown accustomed to on British roads. I defy anyone to spot a change of ratios in the wonderful 6 speed ‘box, although this is due to be updated with a lightweight 9 speed ZF unit in the near future.

Devilish red jewels in Dynamic mode

Devilish red jewels in Dynamic mode

If you choose to, you can opt for a ‘dynamic’ driving mode in the Evoque, complete with red jewelled rings around the dials. This is supposed to support a more enthusiastic driving style but personally, I wouldn’t bother. I’m all for more feedback and response on the twisty bits but honestly, I felt that the standard ride blends comfort and driveability to near perfection, dynamic mode simply took away from the whole experience without enough significant gain.

The Evoque faced more than its fair share of thinly veiled criticism when it was announced, possibly not helped by a certain Mrs Beckham. Two years on, we’ve got 24 hour production lines and worldwide popularity, and it’s not hard to see why. Who’s laughing now, eh?

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Range Rover Evoque SD4 Prestige Coupe, Engine – 2.2l Diesel, Transmission 6 spd automatic, Layout – Front engine, 4WD, Power – 190PS, Torque – 420Nm, Emissions – 169g/km CO2, Economy – 43.5 mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 121mph, Acceleration – 8.0s 0-60mph, Price – £40,995 OTR, £46,875 as tested.

For full details of the Evoque and any other Range Rover products, go to http://www.landrover.com

Mitsubishi Outlander GX5 Automatic – Driven and Reviewed

2013 Mitsubishi Outlander front corner lowIt may be perceived as a little contrary to begin a car review with its conclusion but I feel its important to get one thing straight from the off, no flim-flam, no messing about; This Mitsubishi Outlander is a VERY GOOD CAR. Obviously that’s not my review done and dusted and I’m going to give you a myriad of reasons to support my sweeping statement, but there’s something about the Outlander that compelled me to want to pass this nugget of information to all and sundry.

2013 Mitsubishi Outlander sideIt’s possibly a defence mechanism as, if not all, then definitely sundry seemed determined to pour scorn on this mid-sized 4×4, with their derogatory comments mainly directed towards the Outlander’s general appearance: talk about judging a book by its cover. Unfortunately though, everyone can’t be wrong and even I’m forced to admit that it’s not the prettiest car in the world. There are some pleasant features and even some, namely the front and rear headlights that are strangely reminiscent of the latest Range Rover – no bad thing I’m sure you’ll agree. Conversely, there are reflections of the original BMW X1 – a car rarely noted for its aesthetic qualities. I’m fairly sure it’s the Outlander’s apparently small wheelbase and large front and rear overhangs that are the crux of the issue but without that seemingly voluminous rear-end, it just wouldn’t be the same car – I’ll explain why later.

It's very fashionable - piano black all the way in here

It’s very fashionable – piano black all the way in here

Inside the cabin is a breath of fresh air due to it’s easy layout and use of modern, top quality materials. Some of Mitsubishi’s interiors could be described as anything other than contemporary but a lot of effort has obviously gone into the Outlander to ensure it’s a credible competitor in its class. Piano black seems to be the colour of choice this year when picking out cabin plastics and our Outlander was no stranger to this fashionable look. All of this hard work would be for nothing if, say, the switchgear etc. wasn’t positioned correctly as little niggles can rapidly turn into big deals when they’re tackled every day but I found everything to be user-friendly and tactile.

2013 Mitsubishi Outlander frontThe Outlander is only available with a 2.2l oil-burner (unless you opt for PHEV). This could be looked upon as a somewhat brave decision as if a potential buyer takes a dislike to it, that’s the end of the story and they’ll simply move onto a different manufacturer. Thankfully, there’s very little to dislike about it: it’s smooth and refined although things can get a little clattery around the 2k revs mark. There is some noticeable lag but this is only when setting off from standstill – on the go, it’s quick to respond and surprisingly eager to power through the rev range. Perhaps more importantly, it’s easy on the wallet too; the engine is capable of CO2 emissions of 138g/km and over 50mpg. This did suffer in our range-topping GX5 automatic though, with figures of 153g/km and 48mpg, due in part to the absence of stop/start technology on auto Outlanders.

2013 Mitsubishi Outlander rearMitsubishi have managed to shave 100kg from the kerb-weight of the outgoing model – no mean feat when modern safety regulations generally mean slimming down is nigh-on impossible. They’re also very proud of the Outlander’s multilink suspension set-up, with good reason in my opinion; You see, it’s the way the Outlander drives that really sets it apart from the crowd.

2013 Mitsubishi Outlander rear cornerThere are three modes for the 4WD system; Eco, which powers the front wheels and only engages the rear ones if necessary; Auto, which Mitsubishi refer to as the ‘normal mode’, with 4WD permanently engaged, offering optimum grip at each corner, all the time; Lock, for when the going gets tough and the system requires locked differentials to get you back on the straight and narrow. I alternated between ‘Eco’ and ‘Auto’ and, to be honest, the difference from the driver’s seat is barely detectable. Whichever mode the Outlander in, it performs the great trick of abandoning it’s SUV limitations and does a plausible impression of a regular car. In fact, not a regular car but a capable car with a sorted chassis that inspires confidence and, would you believe, fun?

Top marks for the Intelligent Motion, Mitsubishi

Top marks for the Intelligent Motion, Mitsubishi

This inspiring performance on the road is really what sets the Outlander apart from the competition. Mitsubishi appear to have used some of the guile that made the Lancer such fun, and translated it into this relatively tall 4×4, the result being the best of both worlds – useable space and useable driveability. The fact that Mitsubishi have opted to supply the Outlander shod with Toyo rubber – a brand renowned for its sticky characteristics, is, for me, a true indication of just which direction they wanted the Outlander to go in when it came down to on-road performance.

So, we’ve established that it’s driving experience is class-leading and, being a Mitsubishi, it’ll be sturdy and reliable to the point of obsession, but what else makes the Outlander worthy of my initial high praise?

To answer this, we need to go back to my previous point about it’s relatively large overhangs and just why they’re necessary: The Outlander has seven seats – nothing to write home about in this sector you may think, but there’s having a third row of seats, and having a third row of seats. Occupants six and seven are treated as unwanted guests in some vehicles – tolerated but not really welcome.

That third row of seats is easily accessible and surprisingly comfortable

That third row of seats is easily accessible and surprisingly comfortable

Not so in the Outlander. Mitsubishi have gone to great lengths to ensure they’re comfortable and relaxed; they’ve extending the leg-room available to them; they’ve eliminated the clambering in aspect sometimes associated with the rearmost seats by providing a second row that slides and tilts forwards properly; they’ve also provided two sprung, inviting seats – complete with headrests, not just a big bench that appears to have been lifted from your local park. The cherry on top of this increasingly tempting cake is that the Outlander has been engineered to offer some room for your luggage, even when crammed to bursting point with people. It’s not a lot of room, granted, but compared to some of the competition, it’s better than nothing.

2013 Mitsubishi Outlander front corner highSo, the Mitsubishi Outlander drives well, is thoughtfully made and offers hitherto unseen levels of useable space for cargo and livestock. There are some drawbacks, obviously, not least of which being the lane departure warning system (LDW) which has a minor panic attack if you dare to stray over the white lines. This is very useful on a long motorway journey and could possibly save lives but on a B-road, it just gets annoying. Salvation comes slightly in turning it off but, unfortunately, it’s default setting is on and it reactivates every time the start button is pressed. Minor irritations aside though, I can’t stress enough that the Mitsubishi Outlander is a VERY GOOD CAR.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Mitsubishi Outlander GX5 2.2l Automatic, Transmission – 6 spd automatic, Layout – Front engine, 4WD, Power – 150ps, Torque – 360Nm @ 1500 – 2750RPM, Emissions – 153g/km CO2, Economy – 48.7 mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 118MPH, Acceleration – 11.7s 0-62mph, Price – £33,999 OTR.

Mitsubishi Shogun LWB DI-DC SG4, Driven and Reviewed

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution doing what it does best - rallying

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution doing what it does best – rallying

It’s time for a little mind reading: Name me a hugely successful rally car from the ’90s. Ok, ok, forget the Impreza, now name me another one. It’s the Mitsubishi Lancer, isn’t it? These two 4wd turbo-charged monsters thrust rallying back into the limelight and brought an element of excitement back to the WRC not seen since the hair-raising days of Group B.

It’s therefore fair to say that Mitsubishi know a thing or two about screwing a 4wd system together and, perhaps more importantly, getting it to work in the real world, predominately on tarmac. Step forward the Shogun. Before the X5, the Cayenne or the Touraeg had even been roughly sketched, the Japanese were providing the only really credible opposition to anything coming out of Solihull with the Landcruiser and the Shogun. They were even screwed together properly.

The Shogun, complete with extra large wheels

The Shogun, complete with extra large wheels

What we have here then is the most recent incarnation of Mitsubishi’s go-anywhere limousine and it’s time to see whether it can still cut it in today’s highly competitive 4×4 segment or if it should simply retire back to the Land of the Rising Sun.

It has to be said that first impressions are good. If it’s road presence and drama you’re after, this is undoubtedly the tank for you. Subtlety must have been having a day off when the designers dreamt this car up as there’s more shiny bling than an episode of TOWIE (!?), and those ultra-large rims give the Shogun that sense of attitude that many 4×4 owners so heartily lust after. Indeed, it was the recipient of many approving comments from image-conscious 20-somethings, which surely represents something of an acid test.

After a few double-takes though, the reason for the Shogun’s nagging familiarity dawned on me; with its flattish bonnet and wrap-around headlights, it bears a certain resemblance to the latest Range Rover. This, of course, represents a role swap of epic proportions as the Japanese have long been accused of producing uncanny facsimiles of Western cars but, in this instance, the horse seems to be following the cart as the Shogun was available in this guise a long time before the new Range Rover breathed its first. A long, long time.

So, we’ve established that, from the outside at least, it’s something of an oldie but a goodie, possibly even a trendsetter that was way ahead of its time. But what’s it like on the inside? Can it offer levels of ambience and quality, hitherto unseen on a Japanese automobile, with fixtures and fittings to make the big three German marques feel uneasy?

The Shogun's Interior

The Shogun’s Interior

Put simply – no. It’s not an unpleasant place to be, don’t get me wrong, in much the same way that a Virgin Pendolino isn’t an unpleasant place to be. But neither of them are leading the way in the field of opulence either. The seats are supportive and comfortable enough and the basic design of the cabin area is fairly inoffensive but to compete in this segment, it’s in need of something of a rethink.

Standard equipment in this range-topping SG4 model is impressive, boasting DVD players in the front and rear mated to a Rockford Fosgate entertainment system, a rear view camera and the all important hidden row of seats to transform your Shogun into a MPV. Mitsubishi’s Fold2Hide system really does make this extra seating disappear into the boot when not required and isn’t too uncomfortable when it is. For this at least, they should be applauded.

Rockford Fosgate Multimedia System - standard on SG4 models

Rockford Fosgate Multimedia System – standard on SG4 models

However, the multimedia system somehow manages to confuse and be confused, all at the same time, never appearing completely sure what’s being asked of it. It claims to be proficient in the ways of the Iphone yet gets completely flummoxed when asked to interact with one, ultimately denying almost all knowledge of their existence.

There are other aspects of the Shogun’s cabin that, although minor on the face of it, prove to detract from an otherwise pleasurable experience. There are cubby holes and storage areas aplenty, as one would expect with a tough, rugged 4×4. All good so far, until the wide variation of plastics used is noticed. Surely it couldn’t have been that hard to match a lid or door to the rest of the surrounding surface and yet they mostly stick out like a sore thumb due to their differing colour or material.

The door-bins are another bugbear. They are voluminous and would be extremely useful, if it weren’t for the fact that once the car’s doors are shut, they are rendered completely inaccessible due to the location of the door’s armrest. If this is a clever safety feature to prevent the driver being distracted by the contents of his door-bin then I apologise. But if this is the case and the vehicle should be stationary whilst keys, boiled sweets etc are being found, surely it begs the question; why not just store everything in the boot?

Back to what Mitsubishi do rather excel at – a 4×4 system. No manufacturer would be naive enough to believe that the majority of their 4x4s are going to spend much less than 98% of their lives on tarmac, but to be unable to cut it on the rough stuff when required could prove to be a SUV‘s downfall.

shogun side viewI was ‘lucky’ enough to be in a position to test this Shogun out properly as our recent Baltic weather conditions left many roads covered in an inch of ice and snow. Green-laning it may not be but it’s about as hairy as most Shogun’s will ever see so, how did it do? Well, on one occasion, in two-wheel drive mode, on its standard road tyres, it was left pretty stranded on a particularly icy back street. One press of a button engaged 4wd, but again, progress was impossible. A further button press engaged the Shogun’s very clever differential lock and this is where those years of practice bore fruition: Those road tyres all of a sudden found grip where previously it didn’t exist and the mighty Mitsubishi simply strode on where lesser cars would have been stranded and this is what it does very well; it reassures you that, ultimately, it knows what it’s doing.

Back on terra firma, at slightly less inclement temperatures, the Shogun’s 4×4 system continues to impress. If the road is wet, slippery or compromised in any other way, a simple press of a button invites the front wheels to join in and all concern is instantly dissolved as grip levels are restored to confidence inspiring standards with little loss in economy.

shogun SG4 BadgeThe 3.2l, 4 cylinder, common rail Diesel found in this Shogun has been around a fair while now and, with recent advances in engine technology, it could hardly be described as cutting edge. Mitsubishi have recognised this fact and by tweaking this and modifying that, they’ve lowered emissions from 246g/km to 213g/km and 280g/km to 224g/km on manual and automatic models respectively. MPG is also up from 30.7 to 36.2 on the manuals and to 33.2 from 26.7 on the autos. Not exactly figures to worry Mr Prius but a step in the right direction that keep this drivetrain more relevant.

One aspect of this engine that can’t be ignored, no matter how hard one tries, is the noise. There’s insulation aplenty inside the Shogun to muffle the Diesel clatter but from the outside, it’s just not acceptable in a car that retails at £42,000. 4×4 or not.

shogun off roadOverall, to dismiss the Shogun as a relic from a bygone age would be somewhat unfair and inaccurate. It has many good points, not least of which is it’s bulletproof build quality and reputation for reliability. It’s just that, this SG4 model is priced up there with some pretty tasty competition and this is where it’s inadequacies are magnified. Strip it back to it’s bare bones however, taking away some unnecessary indulgencies and leaving only the bits we like and you can have a LWB Shogun for £32k. For that money, it’s a go-anywhere 7 seater that represents something of a bargain.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Mitsubishi Shogun LWB DI-DC SG4, Engine – 3.2 TD, Layout – Front engine, 4WD, Power – 197bhp, Maximum Speed – 111mph, Economy – 34.4mpg combined, Emissions –  216g/km CO2, Price – £41,799 OTR

New 2013 Ford Kuga – First Drive at the European Launch, Valencia

Ford Kuga

Ford Kuga (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since it first saw the light of day in 2008, the Kuga has been something of a success story for Ford in Europe, selling over 300,000 units and, according to Ford themselves, attracting buyers who would previously have overlooked the brand. In such tough economic times, it’s tricky attracting sales at all so what’s the Kuga’s secret and does this new, updated model retain it’s predecessor’s magnetic pull?

New 2013 Ford Kuga

New 2013 Ford Kuga

Like it’s stablemate – the Focus, this new Kuga is a global car for Ford. It not only replaces our first generation model but is also sold in the USA under the moniker ‘Escape‘, replacing a much larger 4×4 of the same name. Think it’s impossible to tempt an American out of his gas guzzling pick-up? You may be surprised to read that the Ford dealerships in the US can’t get Escapes into their showrooms quickly enough – it’s an incredibly popular vehicle and, with 5 NCAP and also 5 NHTSA stars, incredibly safe too.

2012 Ford Escape

The Kuga is known as the Escape in the US. This is the previous model Escape

Visually, I always found the first generation Kuga very inoffensive with a certain ‘Tonka Toy’ charm that distinguished it from the opposition. It had real road presence, bulges in all the right places and a nice shiny pair of twin exhausts that hinted at a cheeky fun factor on the road. This latest Kuga has undoubtedly retained many of these endearing features but I can’t help but feel that, visually at least, it’s all got a bit grown up. Amalgamating the Kuga with the Escape has inevitably resulted in a slight compromise with it’s styling. Thankfully however, the US market have adopted our curvy Kuga more than we’ve endured their boxy Escape.

Hands-free tailgate. Works beautifully, sometimes

Hands-free tailgate. Works beautifully. Sometimes

The new model is longer (81mm) and marginally narrower (4mm) than the outgoing model which does give it a more sensible, upright silhouette and detracts from its previous squat image with its shorter, less cumbersome overhangs. Ford claim to simply be listening to market feedback who apparently demanded more luggage space. One can’t fault them for this but it just seems a shame that the trade-off for a larger boot (up 82 litres on previous model) is inevitably a loss in the looks department. On the boot subject, Ford are very proud of their new, automatic, hands free tailgate which is designed to allow items to be quickly stowed away, without fumbling around in the rain for the keys. With the ‘correct’ kick under the rear end, the system does open and close as advertised. Be warned though – looking foolish is easily achieved, either by adopting the wrong style of leg movement or, as I did, by solidly cracking one’s shins on one’s own bumper.

It’s that same story up front too. Here is where the influence of the US market is more obvious and the result is a far more angular, dramatic ‘face’. It’s all new, triangular air intakes are slightly reminiscent of Porsche‘s Cayenne – certainly not the prettiest car in the world but definitely one of the more striking.

Some fantastic design features inside

Some fantastic design features inside

Inside the new Kuga, there’s a reassuring air of quality that seems to be indicative of most current Fords. The standard of materials used and imagination in design are largely unseen in this price bracket and are testament to Ford’s commitment to forgetting mistakes made in the past and establishing themselves as a marque of quality once more.

Ford were keen to point out the various innovative features they’ve added to the new Kuga, all aimed at a more satisfying, safer driving experience. The AWD system now boasts Torque Vectoring Control, Torque Steer Compensation, Curve Control for over-zealous cornering and Active Nibble Compensation for, erm……

2013 KugaLearning the intricacies of exactly how all these systems work is both unnecessary and slightly boring. What isn’t boring however is what they all add up to on the road. Our test route, high in the hills above Valencia offered many bends with varying angles and elevations to really stretch the capabilities of a lofty SUV. Ford insist that the S in SUV stands for Smart in this instance and when it comes down to how the Kuga drives, I’m inclined to agree. Yes, the roads around Valencia offer a surface quality that we in the UK can only dream of but, either way, the Kuga was resolutely unshakeable. The AWD system on our test vehicle apparently analyses feedback from the aforementioned driver aids 40 times every 16 milliseconds and I could well believe it. The result is a sensation not dissimilar to Ford’s own Focus with its limpet like qualities; no mean feat for a tall 4×4 with running gear that’s designed to also be able to cut it off-road.

The new Kuga will be offered with a range of engines; 2.0l Diesels in either 140PS or 163PS guise and Ford’s 1.6 EcoBoost petrol with either 150PS or 180PS. Our test cars came equipped with the Duratorq Diesel engine (163PS) and I’m sad to say, this is the Kuga’s weakest link. This Diesel engine is unusually keen to rev but, even with the Kuga’s valiant attempts at sound deadening in the cabin (including thicker glass), when pushed hard, the reverberations and clatter were intrusive, antiquated and completely out of sync with the car’s funky image.

New 2013 Kuga Rear

We like twin tail-pipes

The EcoBoost engines could prove to be a real highlight for the Kuga, not only by producing a more pleasant noise but by also improving handling further due to their comparative lightness. The only stumbling block may be that Ford have decided to offer the 150PS variant in FWD only, reserving the higher output lump for 4WD. Not that I’m envisaging the vast majority of Kugas ever experiencing much more by way of off-roading than a grass verge, but any potentially adverse effect on the 4WD model’s impeccable road handling would be a real shame. If, however, the FWD EcoBoost Kuga does tow the party line and sticks to the road like glue, it’ll surely become a common sight in the UK as its economy and CO2 figures aren’t a million miles away from its Diesel counterparts, with acceleration becoming far more spirited. Couple this with the entry-level Kuga being available for £20,895, a full £1,000 less than the equivalent outgoing model and it could be a great package.

Conversely, I feel that the 180PS model will sell in very limited numbers as it offers no hike in performance due to the extra weight of its 4×4 system, whilst fuel consumption and CO2 emissions stumble to unacceptable levels in this segment (36.7mpg combined and 179g/km CO2).

With improvements in almost every area, stunning handling and a very welcome price drop, the new Kuga has little to dislike and with this segment expanding 40% since 2008, I see very little reason why the Kuga won’t continue to take a hefty bite. However, Ford predict that it’s Diesel Kugas will outsell the petrol variants 3:1. Armed with the mighty EcoBoost, I’m not so sure. I definitely plan to get my hands on one soon though, to provide my full verdict.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications as driven; Ford Kuga Duratorq 163, Price – from £25,545, Engine – 2.0l Diesel, Layout – Front engine, 4WD, Power – 163bhp, Acceleration0-60 9.9s, Maximum Speed123 mph, Economy –  47.9 mpg combined, Emissions –  154g/km CO2

New Honda CR-V – First Drive

2013 Honda CRV front side

Honda’s New CR-V

Let there be no confusion at all here regarding the importance of this new CR-V to Honda. If you are under any illusion, just count how many of them you see on your next car journey, they really are everywhere. Since it’s launch in 1995, its accumulated sales of over 5 million, over 3 generations and, being a Honda, most of them are still on the road today.

Having won over 140 awards worldwide during it’s career, one could say that this 4th gen CR-V is under a certain amount of pressure to perform and, from the offset, it seems to handle it very capably. A reduction in CO2 emissions of 12% across the range is always a good place to start these days and, although it may not set the pulse racing, it’s this fact that will probably prove to be a huge attraction to many potential buyers. The fact that the CR-V continues to be assembled right here on home soil, as it has since 2000, can only add to it’s pulling power as it adds a sense of patriotism to the mix, albeit with a Japanese twist.

The CR-V is offered with the familiar 2.2 i-DTEC Diesel and 2.0 i-VTEC petrol engines from launch but by providing stop-start technology, engine optimisation and coupling them to a choice of five-speed auto or the excellent six speed manual ‘box, emissions have been cut to a potential 149g/km and 168g/km respectively.

Honda CR-V 3 gens

The CR-V through the ages

One feature that’s available for the first time on the CR-V is permanent 2wd which historically has proven to be very popular on ‘soft roaders’ in this country. It’s only available on the petrol engined variant from launch which is somewhat surprising but if the demand was sufficient for the 2wd to be mated to the torquey 2.2 Diesel, surely this model could come into fruition?

Visually, this 4th gen model is full of clean angles and lines. The most prominent of which is the line starting at the front three-bar grille, following the headlights, running smoothly with the belt-line and rising to a point at the D-pillar before joining the roof line. Losing the ‘lantern-jaw with moustache’ look of the 3rd gen CR-V has resulted in a far prettier face and overall, it’s a combination of ruggedness and charm that’s fresh and appealing.

2013 Honda CR-V interior

CR-V interior – well thought out and attractive

The story continues on the inside of the car with much work obviously undertaken to keep the CR-V feeling innovative and modern. Everything is thoughtfully laid out and within easy reach, with ‘less is more’ being the order of the day. Honda have kept the switch-gear to a minimum which cleverly sidesteps that sensation of being overwhelmed by buttons. One button that is hugely enticing is the ‘Eco’ mode – it not only activates the essential ‘stop-start’ facility, but illuminates two boomerang shaped lights around the centrally positioned speedometer. I had pondered initially whether these lights would prove too ‘nanny state’ and result in my rapidly deactivating ‘Eco’ mode but far from it. I actually found the lights quite attractive and the game of keeping revs low and green lights lit is surprisingly addictive.

Honda CR-V eco lights

It’s actually pretty easy, being green

The interior quality is usual Honda fare but one huge improvement is the grade of material used. If leather seats are your thing, there’s no, near-ruched, cow-hide present anymore, it’s high-grade all the way. Visibility is excellent as you’d expect from a car with such a large glasshouse, the D-pillar is quite wide but the oversized nature of the door mirrors seems to combat this issue.

Space in the rear of the CR-V is excellent and it passed the ‘six-footer behind six-footer’ challenge with flying colours – at no point did I feel cramped when I sat behind my own driver’s seat. The relatively low belt-line would mean any children travelling in the rear should have a great view of outside and thus hopefully avoid any feelings of travel-sickness. The story continues in the boot of the CR-V where it’s actually class leading with a 589 litre capacity, easily beating the likes of Toyota‘s Rav4 and Volvo’s XC60.

With prices starting at £21,395 for the 2wd i-VTEC S model and rising to £32,650 for the range topping i-DTEC EX auto, we tested three models in varying guises and specs to gain a true perspective of the CR-V.

Honda are confident that petrol engines remain relevant in SUVs, a fact compounded by their reluctance to offer 2wd as an option on their Diesel variant. If petrol is resolutely your fuel of choice, the free-revving 2.0 i-VTEC on offer here does very little wrong. It’s smooth, quiet and will potentially propel its occupants from 0-62mph in just ten seconds. One area where the petrol engine does suffer is an apparent lack of torque and I found myself having to work the manual gearbox quite vigorously to maintain momentum. This can of course be avoided by opting for an automatic ‘box on 4wd variants. Doing this however, will not only make the CR-V more sluggish, but the economy, emissions and driving experience as a whole suffer to a point where the petrol engine is increasingly difficult to justify

2013 Honda CR-V frontHaving driven both, the 2.2 Diesel engine would undoubtedly by my engine of choice. Although only available as 4wd, the emissions and economy are still impressive and with the latest generation of Honda Diesel engines proving to be nearly as quiet and responsive as their petrols, it all just makes sense. The absence of Diesel rattle both in and outside the CR-V is almost eery, this coupled to some useful low-down grunt means the CR-V suits the i-DTEC engine perfectly.

If changing gear oneself isn’t your preference and you usually require an auto, I’d still give the manual a chance to shine before making a final decision. The automatic can feel lazy and sluggish in comparison and somehow doesn’t do justice to the rest of the mechanical components. When the 2.2 Diesel engine offers such impressive levels of torque, changing gear to suit a situation sometimes just isn’t required and the car will pull on through regardless.

Honda have evidently put a lot of effort into the ride quality of the new CR-V in order to achieve a more car-like quality from an SUV. They’ve utilised McPherson struts on the front and on the rear it’s multi-link suspension. I tested the ride on a particularly challenging stretch of road that runs the length of Loch Long near Glasgow. It incorporates rapid changes in camber, direction and height – oh, and it was raining too. The CR-V felt surefooted at all times, inspiring confidence. No, it’s not going to get from point to point as rapidly as, say, an Impreza but then, no-one ever said it was.  To eliminate body roll as well as Honda have here whilst maintaining comfort is quite admirable.

2013 Honda CR-V

2013 Honda CR-V

When considering which spec to kit your CR-V out in, there are four levels to choose from – S, SE, SR and EX, with EX representing the top of the range. With features such as dual zone climate control and vehicle stability assist provided as standard across the range, there really isn’t a requirement to overspend here. As pleasant as heated, electric leather seats can be, I found the SE spec to be the perfect compromise of kit versus cost, especially when any higher spec incorporates upgrading from 17” to 18” wheels. Doesn’t sound like much, I know but I felt that that extra inch had a negative effect on an otherwise compliant ride.

Overall, I’d say that this 4th gen CR-V represents a huge step forward for Honda in terms of desirability that should continue the model’s enduring popularity. If you’re in the market for an SUV but find Toyota’s new Rav4 anonymous and the Freelander’s reputation for unreliability worrying, the CR-V ticks many, many boxes.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; 2.0l i-VTEC S, Layout – Front engine, fwd, Power – 155ps @ 6500rpm, Torque – 192Nm @ 4300rpm, Emissions – 168g/km CO2, Economy – 39.2mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 118mph, Acceleration – 10.0s 0-62mph, Price – £21,395 OTR

2.0l i-VTEC EX, Transmission –  manual, Layout – Front Engine, 4wd, Power – 155ps @ 6500rpm, Torque – 192Nm @ 5300rpm, Emissions – 177g/km CO2, Economy – 37.2 mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 118mph, Acceleration – 10.2s 0-62mph, Price – £28,900 OTR

OUR CHOICE  2.2l i-DTEC SE, Transmission – manual, Layout – 4wd, Power – 150ps @ 4000rpm, Torque – 350Nm @ 2000rpm, Emissions – 149g/km CO2, Economy – 50.4 mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 118mph, Acceleration – 9.7s 0-62mph, Price – £26,105 OTR

Fighting the Disiesel – Why I’ll remain a Petrolhead

Audi A6 C5

Audi A6 C5 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I recently did something I’ve not done in quite a while. Let me set the scene. It was a Friday afternoon, the sun was shining and I had one of my favourite albums on whilst driving home from work, looking forward to a rare night out. A feeling of euphoria swept over me as I whacked up the volume, turned off the air-con and wound down all the windows to let the summer breeze blow in. It was fantastic. Driving enthusiastically shall we say, down a country lane, I was reminded of care free days when my car was really my only passion in life and as long as I had enough cash for petrol, beer and fags, I’d be alright. Inevitably this all came to a grinding halt as I joined a line of near stationary traffic and life’s tedium started to resurface. Now, my car stereo is unfeasibly loud and at this point, passers by were drawn to whatever was broadcasting INXS to half of Cheshire. This got slightly embarrassing as I noticed more and more confused faces realise that it really was the family estate, complete with baby seats, doing a good impression of the main stage at Glastonbury, a position usually reserved for Chavvy Saxos driven by gormless mouth breathers. I persevered however, telling myself that I wouldn’t have cared in the past, so I’m not going to now. My carefree attitude was returning and I was even starting to lap up the attention, that is until I heard a noise that burst my proverbial bubble completely. I’ve already stated that the stereo in my Audi is loud, almost deafeningly so, and yet over the tunes I could still hear a vile, yet familiar noise – the clatter of a diesel engine, no, worse, the clatter of my diesel engine.

I actually felt ashamed. I don’t care what anyone says or what new technology comes out, diesels will always sound dreadful. The reason I’d never really noticed my own car’s tone before is because there’s so much insulation surrounding the engine it may actually be unsinkable.   I feel so strongly about this that I’ve come to one conclusion – the Audi’s got to go. Initially this might sound like an over-hasty knee-jerk reaction but I’ve given it a lot of thought and it’s time to move on.

Without wanting to contradict myself, my Audi A6 is fantastic, possibly the most complete all round car I’ve owned. For nearly two years now it has served my purposes ideally. Firstly there’s the size. The interior and boot space are cavernous which when your family grows from a couple to a quartet is invaluable. Secondly there are the running costs. It’s averaged over 40mpg, this combined with cheap tax, two year service intervals and unparalleled build quality has been very handy whilst Mrs H has been on maternity leave. Then there’s the little things. The aforementioned stereo has allowed me to still play music at the correct volume without waking aforementioned family up. Even the multitronic (auto) gearbox has proved a godsend when the morning drive to work after very little sleep seems a nigh-on impossible task without a constant supply of coffee.

Yet, all these positives could not persuade me to keep it. I love cars, that’s obvious, and one of the main attractions to cars for me is how they sound, be it a howling V8 or an air-cooled flat six, that sound says passion and power to me. All a diesel engine says to me is that the driver is more passionate about saving money than enjoying driving. It’s not just the sound though; it’s the whole driving experience. I know things have improved recently but when you want to accelerate quickly from standstill in my car, you press the loud pedal and it’s as though you’ve sent your request by mail with your answer eventually arriving the next day. Instant response is what you need when driving and not getting it quickly becomes very boring.

If anyone disagrees with me and feels they know of a car where the diesel model not only performs better but also sounds more appealing, I’d be delighted to hear from them and put them right. In the meantime, Mrs H goes back to work next month and I’m looking forward to becoming a true petrol-head again.

By Ben Harrington

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