Tag Archive | "new cars"

Connected Cars

Did you know that once upon a time during the 1950’s and 1960’s actual in-car record players were available as options. Older readers may remember the ‘Highway Hi-Fi’. Following on, there was eight-track, the cassette tape and the good old CD.

In car entertainment and infotainment has come a long way since those olden times and now it is going further.

Today’s car infotainment systems offer a panoply of great features. As far as audio is concerned, for example, the options are vast, including AM/FM, satellite, and internet radio, CDs and DVDs, and audio files you play via plugged-in or Bluetooth-enabled smart phones and so on.

Turns out we like all this stuff. We appreciate the ease with which we can connect our mobile devices to most of the cars on our roads. Now, with the arrival of Apple CarPlay for iPhones (available this year on some brands) and the forthcoming Android Auto (which will also be featured on many automotive brands) we are going to become even more connected.

Demand for connected cars is growing and apparently more than seventy percent of drivers are said to be interested in using, or are already using, connected car services. In a recent survey many people said that they would now consider connected features to be an important part of their next new car purchase. What modern motorists want the technology for is primarily increased safety, early warning systems, smarter navigation and diagnostics. Most want to access connected services through a single user point on their dashboard.

In short, drivers want to be able to access all the same features that they can get at home. They want to send and receive messages and they want SIRI to do it for them. They want up-to-the-minute traffic reports and idiot-proof navigation that doesn’t put them in a remote field somewhere. They want to play their choice of music at the touch of a button or a spoken word and they want apps for everything else. The infotainment future is here.

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Everybody Loves A Panda

Being able to offer something truly unique in the increasingly competitive SUV segment is no small achievement but in the FIAT Panda Cross that’s exactly what you get – a car like no other!

panda2 Everybody Loves A PandaIn 2006 SUVs accounted for around seven percent of the total car market in Europe whereas today they account for approximately twenty percent, and yet despite the proliferation of models in the past decade the Panda Cross remains a truly unique offering by combining the genuine capabilities of a proper off-road vehicle with the efficiency and practicality of a versatile city car.

The technological upgrades of the FIAT Panda Cross make it the most capable vehicle in its class by some margin yet it is a car that could still be chosen purely for its low running costs, day-to-day practicality and general ease and pleasure of use. The aesthetic enhancements not only provide some visual clues to the all-road potential, they also perform the functional role of protecting its bodywork, lights and mechanical components, both in extreme off road conditions and the rough and tumble of city traffic.

The Panda was the first to be offered with all-wheel drive in its segment, as well as the first to be powered by diesel, methane and LPG. More recently it pioneered City Brake Control in its segment, a safety feature that is ideally suited to city cars but until that time was reserved for larger luxury vehicles. It’s this reputation for practical innovation that has consistently kept the Panda amongst the best sellers in its class.

The front end of the new Panda Cross is dominated by a chunky new bumper which features scratch and bump resistant corner sections and a large, functional skidplate enhanced with cooling perforations. The skidplate is further embellished with a pair of easily-accessed tow hooks, finished in brilliant red, as well as new LED daytime running lights located in protective recesses. The new head-light clusters are framed with matte black surrounds and incorporate pronounced new fog lights, while the bonnet trim is also redesigned.panda3 Everybody Loves A Panda

The seats are trimmed in bespoke natural fabrics with brown eco-leather bolsters (which match the brown door panels) while the dashboard is finished in a new copper colour to set off the striking new silver “ultrashine” finish of the instrument surround and audio system facia. The same finish is also used for the centre console, where the new Terrain Control drive selector is conveniently located.

Terrain Control offers FIAT Panda Cross drivers the possibility of adjusting the vehicle’s driving characteristics according to how it is being used: There are three modes: Auto, Off-Road and Hill Descent Control all of which are self-explanatory.

The FIAT Panda Cross also benefits from versatile all-season 185/65R15 Mud & Snow tyres. Larger than those of the standard Panda 4×4, these tyres were specially developed to ensure optimum traction and responsiveness on wet and dry surfaces, as well as snow-covered roads, while also ensuring excellent off-road performance. With a selection of economical engines and many personalisation options it kind of gives you a reason to look forward to winter doesn’t it?

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Use That Air-Con!

When proper air-conditioning arrived in cars it was like a sort of heaven. No more having to open windows only to find that the air outside was as hot as the air inside; no more getting blown to bits by the wind and no more encounters with massive, dangerous insects, like wasps.

Air-conditioning is great, but there’s a problem. Because of the expense of fuel and the fact that we are told – and it’s true – that cars use more juice when the air-con’s on, we have taken to minimising the use of that chilly blaster, especially in the winter when we don’t use it at all.

This is a bad thing for air-conditioner units. The system uses a refrigerant fluid that is compressed and decompressed within a sealed system, changing it from a liquid to a gas and back again. This process absorbs heat from the air, thus cooling the cabin. Loss of fluid means the system won’t work.

If the air-con remains unused for long periods the pipes and seals can begin to dry out and start to leak. Because many people never read their car handbooks they miss the manufacturers advice to run the air-conditioning system at least once or twice a week  for between ten and fifteen minutes – regardless of the weather.

If the system stops working because it has lost fluid for the above reason – and this happens a lot to bemused drivers, especially of older cars – the car manufacturer will probably deem this to be a consumable and therefore not covered by any warranty. It will be your fault and there’s nothing you can do about it except reach for the credit card and have the system re-gassed.

On a new or nearly new car this fault shouldn’t happen. If something does go wrong then it’s probably a real fault and will be covered at the manufacturers effect.

Solution? Always run your air-con regularly, all year round. You don’t have to suffer an icy blast because you’ll have the heater on. If fact, running the air-con will help freshen the air inside a heated muggy car. Also, always ensure the system is checked – and re-gassed if necessary – at every service. That way the air-conditioner will always be tip-top and ready for work.

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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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How CVT Gearboxes Work

Although by no means commonplace, Continuously Variable Transmissions (CVT) are beginning to appear on more and more cars. The thinking presumably is that, given the rise of hybrid and electric vehicles, they are more efficient and thus more economic.

Most CVT systems replace traditional gears with a pair of pulleys – one for the engine and one for the wheels. They are linked together by a metal belt. Because the diameter of the pulleys changes the effect is of having an infinite number of gears.

In regular gearboxes the ratios are predetermined to whatever the manufacturer requires the in-gear performance to be – longer or shorter for acceleration or economy with the engine speed rising or falling accordingly; this is what we’ve all grown up with. With CVT the ratios change which allows the engine to maintain it’s most efficient speed thus making the car more economical.

Switching a CVT ‘box from auto to manual has the effect of fixing the ratios and allowing the driver to select a gear just like a regular transmission but to the detriment of the efficiency of the car. The only real advantage of doing such a thing is to maximise engine braking when descending a steep hill but, after a couple of seconds, the on-board computer should recognise what’s happening with the descent and switch to a lower ratio anyway. With CVT it is probably best to leave it to the car.

At this point it is worth mentioning some caveats to this. On the face of it CVT gearboxes are the way to go but Motor Blogger isn’t so sure. Certainly, the way the car proceeds is at first slightly odd. Under acceleration the engine note rises and kind of stays there and, because, economy is at the helm, progress doesn’t seem a brisk as with conventional gears.

This gearbox will suit drivers who have no interest in cars. They see them as just being transport and they will require the best of economic choices. Keen drivers might not be so easily pleased and I would suggest it will be harder to prise them away from their regular choices.

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What They Didn’t Tell Us About Automotive Aerodynamics

Once upon a time cars had all the aerodynamic properties of your average house brick. They cut through the air like a knife through concrete. Manufacturers considered this and realised that they could make their cars more attractive and more economic by looking at the design.

At first it was all about the dart shape; obvious but uninspiring. Now, of course, aerodynamics has come of age and most cars now have slippery, complex designs. What the car designers didn’t say though, in some cases at least, was how dirty the back of the car would get. This is especially true of hatchbacks.

air2 What They Didn’t Tell Us About Automotive AerodynamicsThe aero properties of the hatchback are different from a conventional saloon because the more abrupt cut-off at the rear-end causes the air passing over the car to swirl around at the back. This in turn creates a vortex which sucks airborne dirt and contaminants back towards to tailgate and rear window. The result is instant oily dirt.

Some hatchbacks are worse than others by dint of their shape. With saloon cars the air passing over the vehicle tends to flow away in a sort of teardrop pattern. This is why you rarely see a saloon with a rear window wiper and why the glass seems to remain clear even in heavy rain.

All hatchbacks have one of the aforementioned wipers and also the means to squirt some windscreen fluid onto the glass. This is fine as it goes but it doesn’t really shift the more oily contaminants and the as a consequence the glass smears. Meanwhile the rest of the back of the car gets filthy and invites the odd rascally finger to write disparaging remarks about automotive cleanliness. They don’t tell you this at the dealerships do they?

The answer of course – and it’s the only answer because designers are not going to change their mind – is to wash your car more often. The downside of this is that the rest of the car is unlikely to be as dirty as the back hatch. This means the unfortunate owner is doing more car cleaning than is strictly necessary and that’s a pain. The alternative therefore is to buy a saloon. You might be considered a square who is not prepared to keep up with the modern vibe but at least you won’t have to wash the car so often.

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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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