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The Skoda Rapid – Quality And Value

The only thing the 2014 Skoda Rapid has in common with its 20th Century predecessor is the name. This is a good thing. What is also a good thing is that this car really fits the bill for a small family; especially one that has to watch the pennies.

rapid 2 The Skoda Rapid   Quality And ValueThe Rapid sits between the Fabia and the Octavia in the Skoda family. From the back, the car looks oddly narrow but this is deceptive. Despite the saloon-like appearance it is in fact a five-door with a large easy-close hatch, a low-loading lip and an absolutely massive boot – best in class (550L with the back seats up) as it happens. Inside, there’s ample legroom and storage. The designers have made a great use of the space available. There’s  room for five adults and an absolutely masive boot. Incidentally, the rear seats split and there’s the option of a ski hatch/armrest. A nice touch is the reversible floor mat with one side carpeted and the other a mud-shrugging rubber surface. The Rapid has a space-saver spare and useful extra space under the boot floor.

There’s the usual variety of seven engine options from a 1.2L petrol with 75PS to a pokier 1.4L turbo with 122PS and the excellent DSG gearbox. If your mileage is going to be mostly local then one of the petrol engines should fit the bill. If however you are going to cover a higher mileage there’s a choice of three diesels. The tested example had the 1.6L (105PS/114g/km) driving through a five-speed ‘box and it was brilliant. Motor Blogger achieved a splendid 60.5mpg over mixed driving. Overall, a very creditable fuel economy figure.

This was not at the expense of performance either. Although by no means fast, this diesel Rapid delivers brisk, acceptable rapid 1 The Skoda Rapid   Quality And Valueacceleration and never feels like it is out of its depth at any time. The Company reckon the car will nip to 62mph in 10.6 seconds. Handling isn’t dynamic but it is safe and stable and ride comfort is good on the cloth upholstered seats, with little evidence of body roll.

The Skoda Rapid has the usual array of safety features, like ABS and ESC and so on, plenty of airbags and Isofix for the kids. The brakes needed a bit of pressure to get some bite but pulled up straight and true. The featured car had the optional 17” alloys (which look great) but for even better ride comfort stick with the standard 16 inchers.

This Skoda was in ‘Elegance’ trim and had all the accessories needed including Bluetooth, climate, a multi-function leather steering wheel, cruise, Aux, USB and parking sensors. No navigation on this model though, although it’s an option.

All of the Rapid’s electrical and mechanical components are tried and tested given the German DNA and it feels built to last too, with a solidly constructed interior and that well known reassuring ‘clunk’ when you close the doors. The Rapid is good value, with prices starting from around £13,000. Our version with a large selection of optional extras including the rather fetching ‘Race-Blue’ metallic paint has a list price of just £19610, although I expect there are some deals around.

With the Rapid, the Czech company has created a car that appeals to family car buyers everywhere. It’s practical, efficient, unpretentious and easy to drive. Clearly it is never going to set your pulses racing but there are lots of people out there in the automotive world who will need a car just like this. With the attributes I’ve mentioned and a competitive price there are few better choices on offer.

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As Long As It’s Black – New Skoda Editions

The debut of eight new models in one day usually only happens at a motor show, but ŠKODA has done it anyway with the launch of their ‘Black Edition’ cars.

A striking and ‘high-on-style’ limited edition model is now available on every one of Skoda’s award-winning cars – that’s everything from the Citigo supermini to the Superb executive Hatch and Estate.

Based on the already well-specified mid-level SE trim, the Black Edition range is available in either black or white exterior paint. Each gets at least £1,200 worth of desirable optional extras, with Superb buyers benefiting from more than £3,200 of additional specification. The customer benefit is up to £1,720 depending on the model.

The exact detail of the enhancements varies by model, but examples of equipment that features in the Black Edition range includes black alloy wheels, additional black exterior styling details, sunset privacy glass, ‘Amundsen’ satellite navigation, DAB digital radio, full leather upholstery, cruise control, floor mats and metallic/pearl effect paint.

S2 As Long As Its Black   New Skoda EditionsLikely to prove extremely popular is the ŠKODA Octavia Black Edition (pictured), available in both Hatch and Estate body styles and with a choice of 2.0-litre TDI CR 140PS with a manual or DSG gearbox, or 2.0-litre TDI CR 170PS with similar manual/DSG powertrains.

The Rapid sits between the Fabia and the Octavia in the Skoda family. It too is available in this edition. Recently, Motor Blogger had the chance to drive this car and found it to be excellent.

From the back, the Rapid looks oddly narrow but this is deceptive. Despite the saloon-like appearance it is in fact a five-door with a large easy-close hatch, a low-loading lip and an absolutely massive boot – best in class (550L with the back seats up) as it happens. Inside, there’s ample legroom and storage.

The designers have made a great use of the space available and not only was I able to load four adults (incl. self) and a child but also the boot swallowed everything we needed for a long weekend with space to spare. Incidentally, the rear seats split and there’s the option of a ski hatch/armrest. A nice touch is the reversible floor mat with one side carpeted and the other a mud-shrugging rubber surface. Our Rapid had a space-saver spare and useful extra space under the boot floor.

Overall, Skoda now have a great range of cars. Something for everyone in fact. And now you can get them in black.

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Is the Porsche Cayman Better Than the 911?

Routinely, The Porsche 911 will always have more power than the Cayman and Porsche won’t have it any other way because, in their world, the Cayman is an entry level car and it can’t be allowed to top its fire-breathing bigger brother and that’s that. Or is it?

The problem is, as anyone who has driven the 2014 Cayman S along a twisting country road will tell you, the story isn’t that simple. What it lacks in power it makes up with really truly fantastic mid-engine road holding and on UK roads that can make a difference when the jaw-dropping, shrieking performance of a 911 simply can’t be exercised.

CAY4 Is the Porsche Cayman Better Than the 911?The Porsche 911 is a prestige car with a price tag to match. It can be a bit of a status symbol. Certainly, there is a core group of enthusiasts who drive the 911 the way it was meant to be driven. But a high percentage of 911s will see more duty trundling in traffic than hurtling about on a track.

In some ways the 2014 Porsche Cayman sounds better than the 911. The Cayman’s mid-engine platform puts that wailing, high-revving 3.4L flat-6 directly behind your head, whereas the 911’s engine is right at the back, muffled by extra bodywork and the very small rear seats. Believe the hype; the sound of a Porsche is mesmerizing. And it’s that much better when the engine is literally inches from your ears. You can even specify the optional sport exhaust if you want an even more ear-assaulting soundtrack.

Porsche placed the Cayman’s engine in the correct location. With a 46/54 front/rear weight distribution, the Cayman is, at least in theory, a superior sports car platform. Not that there aren’t benefits to the 911’s rear-biased 39/61 setup. Astonishing straight-line traction, for one thing, which can be augmented by selecting the four-wheel drive option.

Early Porsche 911s were known for scary lift-throttle over-steer. It wasn’t uncommon for enthusiastic owners to find themselves travelling very quickly backward into a ditch. Over the years though Porsche have engineered away most of the 911’s evil tendencies, while still retaining its other abilities, which helps it turn in with a powerfully effective bit of rear rotation.

With the six-speed manual, the base Porsche Cayman is 69 kilos lighter than the base 911 with its seven-speed manual transmission. There aren’t gigantic differences, but as legendary Lotus boss, the late Colin Chapman, once said, “First add lightness”. That’s as true now as it has ever been. You can feel the difference and it also means you’ll spend less money on wear item like tyres, brake pads and clutches.

CAY3 Is the Porsche Cayman Better Than the 911?Both cars have their pros and cons, it’s just that, arguably, there are more cons with the 911. As we’ve seen, Porsche have no intention of letting the Cayman eclipse the 911 but, on the other hand, the Cayman is way cheaper to buy. That’s probably, on UK roads at least, the reason that the Cayman is the winner on points.

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Driving The Volvo V40

Whilst Volvo continue to put safety first, their cars these days are much more entertaining and modern to drive. The model featured in our pics is the V40 1.6L D2 SE Lux Nav with the Powershift auto gearbox.  For a small family hatchback it is not the cheapest on the market and with the plentiful optional extras packed into it our car costs a slightly eye-watering £31,730.

MB1 Driving The Volvo V40Crucially though, and as always, you get what you pay for. The subtle grey colour is augmented by the blond leather interior. The soft-touch plastic across the dash is textured which helps to soften the effect. There is very little hard plastic but where it exists it seems to of the solid and robust variety. The seats are very comfortable and the perfect driving position is easy to achieve. The interior is good quality and includes all the expected connectivity and dashboard features.

The safety highlights include BLIS, a blind spot warning system that, instead of having the illuminated warning in the door mirror, has it on the quarter light. I found this worked well because it was well within my peripheral vision. A plus point. Volvo’s SOS/On Call feature is on this car. I didn’t have occasion to use it thankfully but it seems to me to be an absolute must-have for emergency and breakdown situations. Help is just a call away.

We experienced the Level 1 collision warning alarm, inadvertently. This was during the first exploratory outing and we were unaware that it was featured at all. Red LED’s started flashing on the dash and klaxons blasted. It is certainly dramatic. The upshot of this is that whilst the system really has merit, especially in traffic, it seems to be ultra-sensitive and can be triggered by parked cars as on this occasion. Certainly keeps you on your toes though.

Elsewhere, the boot is roomy and has a false floor and, joy of joys, a proper temporary spare wheel. There’s plenty of hooks to secure luggage and the rear-seats split for bigger loads. It’s comfortable in the back with ample leg and head-room for a full sized adult.MB3 Driving The Volvo V40

The 1.6L diesel engine fitted to this model is robust (there are petrol and diesel alternatives) and has some pulling power. The car’s not quick (11.5 seconds for the auto) but it is clean and once up to speed proved to be a classy ride. Our car emitted just 102g/km of the nasty stuff and with the manual transmission is apparently cleaner still at a tax-busting 88g/km. Out on the road the engine is willing provided you keep the revs up. There is a ‘sport’ option on the gearbox which is handy for overtaking performance but it is not why anyone would buy this car. With its attractive, streamlined shape the Volvo V40 looks to be a genuine contender. Well worth considering.

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Experience The SEAT X-Perience

The new SEAT Leon X-PERIENCE is the latest offering from the popular Spanish manufacturer. It has permanent four-wheel drive and all-road equipment for general all round ability. The Leon X-PERIENCE is offered with a 2.0L Turbo-diesel with two power options of 150PS and 184PS outputs.

Alongside the latest-generation TDI engines and permanent all-wheel drive with intelligent electronic control (there‘s a differential on each axle), this new car boasts all-road suspension with extra ground clearance. A distinctive off-road look and individual interior offering an added dimension for family motoring fun.  As you would expect these days there is also an electronic stability programme and a multi-collision brake system for maximum safety.

seat2 Experience The SEAT X PerienceFurther options include full LED headlights, ACC Adaptive Cruise Control with City Emergency Brake function, a drowsiness detection and lane-keeping assistant for sleepy-heads.

It’s a car for all reasons. The luggage compartment offers a carrying capacity of 587 litres, which extends to as much as 1,470 litres with the rear-seats folded down which would appear to make it very practical. The Leon X-PERIENCE has robust protection moulding on the door sills and wheel arches. The sleek front end is adorned with substantial air intakes and integrated fog lamps with cornering light function, plus the front spoiler with its aluminium-look – as can be seen in the images.

The rear end, too, is distinguished by its new bumper with an aluminium-look insert and by the chrome tailpipes, which are standard on the 2.0 TDI 184 PS. The large wheel arches can accommodate 17-inch or optional 18-inch wheels in a dedicated five-twin-spoke design. The roof rails are finished in black.

Inside, new materials, attention to detail and a combination of strong colours give this car more personality. It offers the black and grey sporty elegance of high-quality fabric upholstery, as well as the option of brown Alcantara or all-black leather seats.

We’ve driven the regular Leon with the diesel engine and found it to be an excellent car although we feel the design is a tad conservative. Whether there is a need for a car like this when there are many, many crossover or SUV vehicles available with 4WD and a similar spec remains to be seen. We let you know the final verdict when we drive it for real.

seat3 Experience The SEAT X Perience

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Super Suzuki Swift Sport

Every so often a car comes along that, apart from meeting expectations, has a certain something extra. At first sight of the Suzuki Swift Sport it looks like fun. From the chunky rear end with its big spoiler and twin exhausts right through to the sleek front end, it ticks all the boxes for a small hot hatch. If indeed it was a small hot hatch but it isn’t. No matter, it remains a highly entertaining motor. 136bhp from the willing 1.6L engine isn’t really at the cutting edge of blistering performance but, curiously, it doesn’t matter.

This is one of the best-handling superminis you can buy. Despite only having 136bhp from the willing 1.6L engine, out on the road it is great to drive, sounds throaty and delivers plenty of smiles per hour. Twisting turning B roads are it’s stamping ground. The naturally aspirated engine is only a modest performer when you compare it to the opposition but that is part of the enjoyment as the driver needs to work at the six-speed gearbox and keep those revs spinning. The steering is accurate and direct, the brakes are more than capable and sporty dampers keep the handling flat and supple.sw2 Super Suzuki Swift Sport

Safe too, and possibly the ideal starting point for the keen new driver with deeper pockets. As you’d expect the car features ABS, EBD and ESP and there’s plenty of airbags. The back seats are, as you’d expect, a bit tight for adults but better than you might think just by looking. Plenty of room for the kids though.

In fact, everything comes as standard. This five-door version has a list price of £14,499 ( there are deals around though) and includes, well, everything really. In other words, all the options you want are standard fit. Cruise, Bluetooth, Sat-Nav, connectivity, 17” alloys, keyless entry, a cracking steering wheel with controls to name a few. Some of the plastics are bit on the cheap side but, crucially, there is no scrimping on the very well bolstered seats. Basically, everything is stylish and well bolted together. The Suzuki Swift Sport is a bit of a bargain, I reckon, and with up to 44mpg on the combined figure it should be pretty economical too.

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Civilised Civic

At Motor Blogger we get to drive some great cars and that means when the chance to drive what you might think of as an everyday motor comes along there’s sometimes a sense of being a bit disinterested. So it is great to report that, despite misgivings, the 2014 Honda Civic is in fact a cracking car.

It has been refreshed – apparently after customer feedback was considered – and the original rather angular design has had the edges softened off a bit. Mostly though the changes are under the skin; specifically to the Civic’s steering and suspension. The result, thanks to lower spring rates and more sophisticated damping, means the hatchback has sharper handling and more stability at speed – and it works. The Civic is a very good drive.MB1 Civilised Civic

The model featured in our snaps has the Honda 1.6L turbo-diesel motor with 120PS and torque of 300Nm (221lb/ft). CO² emissions of just 94g/km make the combination very desirable with a mix of frugality and decent performance. It’s by no means a fast car but progress is sufficiently sprightly to make driving a pleasure.

There’s also the option of a large ECON button when economy is the watchword. When pressed it optimizes the vehicle’s operation to maximize fuel efficiency. It also provides a driver feedback system to encourage more efficient driving.

Inside the design follows the company’s theme but now also now has improved comfort. The seats are very supportive and easily adjusted to find that ideal position. There’s new seat stitching, piano-black highlights on the dashboard and steering wheel plus a thoughtful driver’s kneepad on the central console. Passenger space is perhaps a tad snug but the boot is large.

MB21 Civilised CivicThe layout of the centre console is straightforward and there was no problems working the navigation, heating and ‘infotainment’. The car is offered with climate, cruise etc and there’s a host of safety equipment some of which are standard like ABS and so on, whilst there’s also an optional safety pack that includes seven different safety features activated via cameras and radars. This adds nearly £800 to the price but would be money well spent. N fact, the Honda Civic I-DTEC in SR trim like this one costs £24,860 including the rather fetching pearlescent paint.

The new Civic then is a true contender in the family hatchback market. Now in its ninth incarnation it is refined, well packaged and well built. It meets all the standards expected these days and is very worthy of your consideration.

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The Citroen DS3 – Fun In The Sun

The Citroen DS3 has been with us for a while now and very popular it is too. There’s one thing the French company has done well over the years – with one or two notable exceptions – and that’s car design. The funky and fun DS3 is proof of that and the design has percolated up through the entire DS range.

MB2 The Citroen DS3   Fun In The SunFull marks then for the DS3 hatchback; but our featured car is the cabriolet which has a simple and effective folding roof reminiscent of the less effective Pluriel and, of course, the legendary 2CV, beloved of hippies everywhere. Because of the soft top boot access is tricky. The lid slides neatly upwards and out of the way but the revealed opening is constrained by the design. You have to stoop to see what you’re doing.

Fortunately, the gripes stop there. This is a very good car. The version in the images is the lively DSport THP155 (HP) turbo-petrol model. On paper the rush to 62mph isn’t especially frantic at 8.2 seconds but, through the gears, the performance belies that figure.

Performance is punchy low down and this really excellent engine demands you keep the revs up and avoid the slight initial turbo lag. CO² is commendable at 137g/km and Citroen claim 47mpg. We saw numbers in the high thirties in mixed driving. More economical and less powerful engines are available and less power would not, I suspect, detract from the fun of driving this car. This model though is loaded with goodies and with the extra power would be hard to resist in the showroom.

Space in the front is impressive and three people can get cosy in the back although it would help if they familiar with each other. With the roof up headroom is limited for taller folk but the point of this car is have it open.

Wind noise is minor with the roof up, and with it down, buffeting isn’t too bad up to 70mph, a standard pop-up wind deflector at the top of the windscreen ensuring conversation volumes can remain at normal volume.

The roof can be opened or closed in sixteen seconds and at speeds of up to 75mph, although frankly we preferred to slow right down. It’s good that it worked so quickly because it was opened and closed more than a lift door, thanks to the Great British weather but we were determined to have some fun in sun – however fleetingly.MB3 The Citroen DS3   Fun In The Sun

It’s easy to get comfortable in the supportive driver’s seat and the dashboard is accessible and well laid out. All the connectivity buyers expect these days is on board as are the usual safety kit; ABS, EBA and EBD and airbags all round etc. The dramatic 17” Bellone Black alloys are standard fit on this model. The Cabriolet has poor rear visibility with the roof all the way back but the good news is that parking sensors are standard.

Out on the road it is a blast to drive. Citroen have got the suspension just right; stiff enough for handling, soft enough for comfort. The steering doesn’t impart much feedback but it is accurate. If provoked, the DS3 DSport THP155 will under-steer but in the real world nobody is going to notice this. Overall the DS3 Cabriolet is refined, fully featured and a cracking drive. All this for under £22k.

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A PHEV Of Fresh Air From Mitsubishi

Mitsubishi have recently launched the vehicle that they describe as ‘game-changing’ – the all new Outlander PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle) in their biggest advertising campaign to date. The campaign for this new car comes after the news that Mitsubishi were the fastest growing mainstream brand in the UK during 2013.

PHEV1 A PHEV Of Fresh Air From MitsubishiAmazingly, it is five years since the company last advertised on TV and not just content with promoting the new SUV in this way, they are also sponsoring TV documentaries. They are launching the Outlander as not just another car but rather as a paradigm shift for motoring and an important moment in history.

The campaign shows the vehicle coming to life and driving along a futuristic timeline. It passes major inventions and discoveries in history such as the wheel, electricity and environmentalism before taking its rightful place at the head of the timeline. This is rather a vaunting claim and it remains to be seen as to whether the Outlander is truly that ‘game-changing’.

Effectively, Mitsubishi has laid down a gauntlet to the entire car industry with the Outlander PHEV by pricing it at the same level as the diesel. The result is huge tax savings for company car drives and realistic running costs for fleets. Motor Blogger had the chance to drive it recently as you’ll find out below.

It is powered by both a 2.0L petrol engine and two electric motors, the second of which powers the rear wheels thus giving four-wheel drive capability. You can plug the PHEV in, charge it and use electric power only for short trips, and then rely on the petrol engine to take you on longer trips. The official figure says the PHEV is capable of 148mpg, but even Mitsubishi reckon this is unrealistic. Real-world mpg is still pretty impressive, however.PHEV2 A PHEV Of Fresh Air From Mitsubishi

The PHEV will be ideal for anyone who does mainly shorter trips, with the occasional longer journey thrown in. Anyone who regularly travels loner distances will, we suspect, be better off with the standard diesel Outlander. Out on the road this big motor turns out to be supremely comfortable. With the batteries low down in the body, the corner roll that afflicts these high vehicles is controlled.

The best way to drive the PHEV is to simply stick it in Drive, and let the car sort out the electric/petrol ratio. Either way, it is very quiet. There is a gauge to monitor how the hybrid is using it’s juice.

Drivers can also press a button that forces the PHEV to hold its charge for a more appropriate time – useful, say, when you need to do a motorway jaunt before going to the city. It is possible to use the petrol engine to top the battery up to 70%. You can even determine the level of brake regeneration, which boosts battery power.

We enjoyed our short spin but it has to be said that the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is never going to get your pulses racing but the market for big economical five seat SUV’s is strong so it should do well.

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Driving The Mazda 3 Fastback

This year Mazda have been keen to push the merits of their 2014 range and, it has to be said, with ample reason. They have matured into very good cars indeed. In particular, their tried and tested SkyActiv technology – which Mazda say redefines everything, every major part of their cars, from the engine to chassis and from the body to transmissions – has spread more or less throughout the range.

Under the bonnet, engine output is increased and emission levels are reduced. These technologies include high compression ratio petrol engines that, unlike the competition, do without turbochargers for a more immediate response and, conversely, diesels with reduced compression coupled with a new 2-stage turbo design. The company matches these engines with highly efficient automatic transmissions, lighter weight manual transmissions, lightweight body designs and electric power steering.

The Mazda 3 is now in its third generation and is available in a total of no less than 36 variants, spread across five trim levels and priced, depending, between £16,695 to £23,345. The list of options is vast as usual and far too much to list here but contains all you’d expect, plus some new safety features like Smart City Brake Support and secondary Collision Reduction.

There are so many diesels these days that Motor Blogger opted to drive a petrol engine for a change and tried the Fastback version. A  Sport-Nav version, the Fastback was powered by a 2.0L 120PS engine with Stop/Start and achieving the 62mph target in under nine seconds.

FB1 Driving The Mazda 3 FastbackArguably the stylish Fastback is better looking than the regular hatch with a roofline that sweeps elegantly down to the boot-lid spoiler. We are all used to the convenience of hatchbacks and it is fair to say that a regular boot is less useful, but the rear seats of the Fastback still fold so it is fine for most applications.

Upon starting the car a small, unobtrusive ‘head’s up’ opaque panel rises on top of the instrument binnacle and shows the car’s speed. This means that it is the rev counter that takes pride of place amongst the driver instruments with just a supplementary display of the mph. With navigation in use, the ‘heads-up’ also shows a direction finder. This works very well and, importantly, is not affected by direct in-coming sunlight.

Inside the quality leather interior even the most misshapen of motorists will have no trouble getting comfortable. Mazda have an option of two-tone leather seats which, IMHO, are a must-have. There’s a usefully wide range of adjustment to the driver’s seat and steering wheel, and there’s plenty of leg, head and shoulder space for all. The dashboard layout is tidy and logical, with clearly labelled buttons and dials for the air-conditioning and easy-to-read instrument dials. Various functions can be accessed using the 7” colour touchscreen that sits in pride of place on top of the dashboard.

No longer the poor relation, Mazda have put their new cars properly into the limelight. They have clearly worked hard on the interiors which are smart, comfortable and well equipped and the instant response from the SkyActiv tech makes for enjoyable driving.

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