Hatchback

Alfa Romeo Giulietta Review

Alfa Romeo Giulietta Review

It now appears that, if you’re a motoring manufacturer, it’s all the rage again to have some seriously famous and seriously beautiful bits of superstar totty flogging your cars.  Kylies kicking off about how quiet her Lexus 200H is (well better the Devil you know a Kylie), Renault have decided that Thierry Henry isn’t shifting enough Clio’s on his own, so they’ve drafted in Rihanna and 40yr old stripper (all be it she’s in damn fine nick) Dita Von Teese to give Marlon Brandon an eyeful from the ceiling of a red padded wank bank, someone remind me how these ads sell us cars!  The manufacturer that revived the whole trend….Alfa Romeo!  I do have to say, Christ I wish Uma Thurman would make up her mind, she spends most of the last decade telling us she’s ‘Black Mamba’  and the Bride you would seriously think twice about leaving standing alone at the Alter, then turns up in an Alfa advert, kid’s an all, informing us that she’s now Giulietta!

Renault Clio Review

197 SPORT

If you're looking for a small hot hatch then there's a lot of choice on the market, not many of them truly float my boat though I'm afraid to say. Rarely are they as exciting as the manufacturers claim they will be, even rarer do they have the drop dead sporting pedigree and looks promised. In fact most of the time small "hot" derivatives are nothing more than the same small car but with a bigger engine, lowered suspension and have a few daft spoilers bolted on in the appropriate places. 

Then there's the Renault Clio 197 Sport, Renault have never really pulled any punches when releasing insanely "hot" versions of one of the regular model line-up.
Take the R26 Megane (please don't, let me keep it, I've been a good boy honest guvner), it looks like it eats small hot hatches for breakfast and is totally insane, its also the best there is in the "hot" hatch stable, hence why I voted it "TopGayer Hot Hatch of the Year 2006". 

So on to the Clio 197 Sport which once again doesn't disappoint in terms of looking good, extra wide wheel arches, super low slung profile and a sound from the exhaust to rival a super-club. Cosmetically everything about the Clio 197 Sport screams it means the business, it's a great looking car, it sounds great and handling wise it's one of the best out there and could be considered somewhat of a Rival to its R26 bigger brother (the R26 is better though lol). Sadly one thing lets the butch-but-still-cutesy 197 down and that's the performance, it is quick 0-62mph takes 6.9 seconds making it almost as quick as it's sibling the R26 (0-62mph - 6.2 seconds), however it just doesn't feel that quick in reality and the performance although great just feels a little lacking lustre in the thrills department. 

The interior is good with plenty of sports styling, if you could find a partner that hugged you as tightly as the seats do then you'd marry em as quick as you could.
It's also full of gadgets and gizmos, from the card key keyless entry and push button start through to the MP3 and electric everything, your left wanting for nothing.

Overall I do love the little Clio and it's a fabulous sporty little run around, it sounds amazing, looks fantastic and the performance is more than adequate even if you do feel like your not really shifting, all those headlights disappearing out of sight in your rear view tell you that you are!


200 CUP

I'm a huge fan of the Renaultsport versions of the bog standard Clio and Megane, they're great value for money and rarely disappoint.  So when I got chance to get behind the wheel of a new facelifted Renault Clio 200 Cup for a week, I couldn't say yes quick enough.  Having driven and fallen in love with the 197 it replaces I wanted to see just how much a facelift could change the monstrously performing little hatchback.   

Now I say it's a facelift, the engine has had a few more tweaks to it than the bodywork.  Yes that amazing 2.0-litre 16-valve screamer is under the bonnet, yes it still kicks out just under a massive 200bhp (hence the 200 in the name). The 0-62mph time is a Golf GTI worrying time of 6.9 seconds and it'll keep going to 141mph.  Power and strong good looks is what the 200 Cup is all about.  So with some tweaking and fiddling around Renaultsports engineers have managed to squeeze around an extra 20% more torque at low revs.  They've also played about with the gearshift and now first, second and third are rapidly quick. So it looks like Renault have listened to owners comments about the 197 being a tad on sleepy side of sporting. The other huge achievement for Renaultsport is that the gas guzzling qualities of the 197 have been improved (albeit ever-so-slightly!) on both mpg and C02 emissions.

So what's it like to drive?  Its got more grip that a drag queens hold on the last 'whore red' lippy in Boots.  It still has very slight torque steer, but only when you give it large without warning, and the balance is so beautifully arranged that manages to be both incredibly forgiving, when you push your luck too far, and highly entertaining.  As with all Renaultsport derivatives Brembo brakes are the brake of choice, after all it's no good having super quick acceleration if you can't stop in time when you need to!  So the Brembo's are top notch without being to snatchy, the steering is responsive and light (sometimes a little too light!) However you do feel somewhat of a Rally driver sat in the Recaro bucket seats, tiny steering wheel in hand.  The other huge thing to remember is that the 200 Cup is stripped out, if it doesn't need to be in there, then its not, this includes all the nice touches like air-con, reach-adjustable steering column (I'll come back to that later) electric mirrors and much lower quality dashboard and interior, all this in the name of saving weight and increasing performance.

It, without doubt, handles brilliantly, its more fun than Alton Towers and performance is enough to worry almost all hot-hatch drivers.  Not to mention the fact that in the Alien Green colour that Renault sent me the Cup in, it looks demonic and most drivers look petrified as you rocket up alongside or up behind them.  The Cup's styling is almost as aggressive as the noise that comes out the back of it.  You cant fail to hear it coming, unless of course you've been sat inside it and then due to the excessive cabin noise from that beefy engine, you'll probably half deaf.   
 
So on to a few issues I have with the otherwise superb 200 Cup… The chassis for a start, saying its excessively stiff would be an understatement akin to saying that Leona Lewis is a bit big in the thigh department (the woman has the legs of an Arabian Thoroughbred race horse).  I love a sport ride as much as the next man (minds out the gutter!), not however if the next man is bloody Jenson Button! It's a road going car, regardless of how sporty it is there is a limit to how back breaking the ride needs to be to emphasize this.  Its 15% stiffer than its predecessor's, which Renault say gives the car a more distinct more distinct personality from the standard Renaultsport 200 version.   I kid you not when I say, that so hard is the suspension on the 200 Cup, that whilst testing it I came to the end of the A417 (Swindon - which is not the smoothest of roads and it certainly wouldn't win any prizes for its flatness either) that it shook me and my passenger so hard and so violently for so long that I actually felt sick!  

My other major issue is with the optional Recaro seats, they look and feel great, they look and feel like a great idea to buy.  However, over long journeys they're uncomfortable, they're an £850 cost extra and they sit way way way too high, it's meant to be a sports car, I want to sit and feel part of the car, not sit so high that I get altitude sickness! Stick with the standard seats, I've checked it out and the driving position is way better and far more comfortable than in the Recaro's.  Finally my last issue is with the lack of rake adjustment on the steering column.  Again the steering wheel sits far too high and at an odd angle, especially when combined with the Recaro seats.  It's less-than-ideal driving position and totally removes the feeling of being at one with the car.  It makes you feel like your driving a Go-Kart whilst being sat on a kid's bumper seat.   

So do I like the 200 Cup…. Yes of course I do, I'm a petrol head! 
I can say without a shadow of a doubt I'd buy one, and I'd love every minute of driving it, I just wouldn't have the Recaro seats.  And at just over £17,000 for the top of the range 200 Cup, yes it's a great track day car, but you can drive to and from the track as well. 

SEAT Ibiza Review

ECOMOTIVE

Bless VW Group, it's obsession with Eco-motoring has now reached such a level it means that regardless of the actual main brands of its group that your buying from, be it SEAT, VW or Audi  there's now a guilt-free-motoring-you're-not-killing-the-planet-but-all-our-exiciting-and-fun-SUV's-still-are 'Eco / BluMotion / TDIe / slower than retarded cats / coma inducing-ly dull / zero fun /  blander than Gordon Brown's next speech , low emissions derivative of every car.

The latest to receive the VW Group emissions make-under is the gorgeous new 5dr SEAT Ibiza ECOMOTIVE.  The little 80bhp 1.4TDI chucks out a tree-hugging 98g/km of CO2 emissions.  If that wasn't enough they've also reduced the weight and strapped a DPF filter on the engine to further reduce harmful particle emissions.  It's got reduced-friction road tyres and improved aerodynamics to make it leaner than a supermodel on a Parisian catwalk.  Now there are obvious absolute-no-brainer benefits to choosing the Ibiza ECOMOTIVE.  For a start, due to those almost non-existent emissions its free of road tax.  So it's a big two fingers up to the current charge-motorists-into-poverty-by-taxing-every-aspect-of-anything-concerned-with-motoring labour government.  Secondly SEAT claim in its press pack that it will do 94.2mpg on motorway journeys.  So it won't cost a fortune to run, to say the least.

The other huge benefit with the little ECOMOTIVE Ibiza is that its standard equipment list is more than generous.  With it coming as standard with Air-Con, ABS, central locking, electric front windows, pollen filter, PAS and an iPod compatible stereo with AUX port its great value for money.

Now the 'aerodynamic' changes are where the problems start, for a start to make the car lighter and more fuel efficient, say goodbye to Alloy wheels and hello to 14" wheels with closed gap plastic trims  and big fat reduced friction tyres.  Which are about as sexy as your nan in lacy knickers.  Then remove the sexy new Ibiza grille and replace it with a shiny black plastic closed grille, then stick a black plastic-looking rear roof spoiler on the back to improve air flow over and under the front of the car and increase the aerodynamics of air off the back of the car, thus reducing drag, again as sexy as your nan in lacy knickers - without her dentures in.

Inside the ECOMOTIVE Ibiza, it's much the same story, lightening the car means that the spilt-rear seat is replaced by a bench folding seat,  where trim isn't essential, its been removed and I was left feeling like one of my favourite small cars was now (in ECO version) somewhat lacking.

Now I realise it sounds like I'm giving the SEAT a really hard time, I am! Compared to the standard of a non-ECO SEAT the overall trim and look of the Ibiza has been removed, and with it the fun and personality of the Spanish sexpot hatchback.  It's bland inside and out, simple as.

However, 94.2mpg is a claim I felt the need to test… damn if SEAT aren't true to every letter of that statement.  On the motorway I achieved a massive 87mpg without any hassle. If I'd really pushed it I think I would have been easily able to get 94.2mpg.  The one thing that SEAT haven't removed is the sporty feel to the actual drive of the Ibiza.  The little 80bhp engine isn't quick with 0-62mph taking 12.9secs, but it feels much fastest.  It still handles well, and its great fun to duck and dive through town traffic and cruise down country lanes.  It feels as sturdy and safe as a regular Ibiza and its still cute.  But to be fair with such amazing economy I'm hard pushed not to love the ECO just for the miniscule running costs.  It's also a group 3 insurance, which is pretty much the equiverlant of the insurance company paying you to drive it.  So its great for younger drivers and those that have just passed their test and want a brand new car.

The other huge thing is cost to buy, for once I actually got a press car through that wasn't loaded up with optional extras, in fact my press car was TOTALLY standard.  It also cost £12,205OTR, which is cheap for a 1.4 TDI that will theoretically do 750 miles on £47's of fuel, especially coupled with the no-road-tax and cheaper-than-cheap-insurance.

So do I love it? No. Would I drive it? Yes. Would I buy it? Yes, it's a great little car, its just a shame that SEAT stripped some of the fun and appeal out of the Ibiza ECO along with the weight.  Overall it's a great buy for the money.


BOCANEGRA

Seat’s Cupra range is known for producing cracking, covert looking, hot hatches.  After bringing us the new Ibiza and three-door SC, SEAT have invoked the demonic power of Cupra and brought us the Cupra Bocanegra, (meaning ‘black mouth’ in Spanish, influenced by the car’s wide black grille) appealing to those inclined towards a body kit and leaving a lasting impression on others.

The Bocanegra joins the FR and Cupra to form a trinity of Spanish hotties, all powered by VW’s nippy 178bhp producing 1.4-litre supercharged TSI plant.    Although mechanically identical to the Cupra, the Bocy benefits from some attractive unique styling features.  Inside there’s red diamond stitching on the sports seats and leather steering wheel, different trim detailing and embossed ‘B’ logos, and outside apart from the obvious aggressive open black grill, there are black inserts in the rear bumper, black gloss wing mirrors and a large Bocanegra badge sweetly set off against the choice of Dakota Red or Candy White body colours.

Finishing off the attractive styling, 17-inch smoke effect ‘Sira’ alloys compliment the sharp definition of the bodylines – a final flourish from Lamborghini Gallardo designer, Luc Donckerwolke.

On the road, the Bocanagra performs best when enthusiastically driven. It may have a half reasonable sprint from 0-62 of 7.2, but lacks the agility, sparkle, edge and matchless grip of say the Renaultsport Clio. The ride is firm and body control good, but overall it feels slightly sanitized.  Thoroughly competent, but fails to engage as its edgy, sleek looks hint it might.

The extra £700 plus cost above the Cupra, includes VW’s excellent DSG auto gearbox as standard and is a model that looks-wise, is certainly not lacking in kerb appeal.  Another reason to buy is the fact it has the lowest emissions and best fuel economy figures kicking out an impressive 44mpg, lower than just about any hot hatch currently on the market – something certainly not to be sniffed at.

In conclusion the Bocanegra is a stylish ride to be seen in, and one that will certainly get people talking.  But for just over £18k you’ll want to be noticed a lot, for all the right reasons.


ST

When it arrived, in SEAT’s questionable Tribu Yellow (Gold), the Ibiza ST looked quite uninviting, however now it has left I have to admit I kind of miss it…

Small estates are becoming quite the normal to see around town these days, Audi have always been known for the A3 Sportback and more recently Renault and Peugeot have entered the small estate market with the likes of 207 and Clio.  SEAT are not letting them carry on without a bit more competition however, the Ibiza not only looks great but performs well, even achieving versatility competitive against larger more established estate cars.

First and foremost, how does the little ST look?  Well when I started in motoring 4 years ago, I would’ve never given an estate the time of day, I thought they looked ugly – and for that sole, small-minded opinion, I was never to be seen driving one.  Fast forward to present day… the body styles have evolved to become one of my preferred styles and the extra space doesn’t hurt to have either.

Call me a convert, but I like the very rugged looks of chrome roof bars and that extra room, commanding a little more respect than a standard saloon or hot hatch.  The Ibiza is no different, the longer body lends itself perfectly to the carved kinetic lines of the bonnet and makes for a very sporty look, especially combined with SEAT’s leaf-shaped bi-xenon lights and highlighted nicely with some 5-spoke alloys.  I didn’t get any roof bars, however I did get a lovely sunroof that adds a very aggressive look to the front.  More importantly, it looks like it’s been designed from the ground up, as opposed to SEAT just sticking a bigger boot on an Ibiza just to cash in.

Solid build quality and moulded plastics carry its exterior styling to the interior very successfully, including two tone ‘Design’ seats and the theme continues on through to the dashboard elements and instruments.  Overall, SEAT has really done the small estate market justice.

Driving the ST is no chore either; the model I tested was a 1.6TDI sport, which reached 0-62mph in a respectable 10.9 seconds. With enough poke to get you out of a sticky situation, whilst still managing to return around 65mpg combined, fulfilling a tidy economical credential.  The extra car body does nothing but make the Ibiza more fun and better equipped for the journey ahead, handling is tight and steering is very stable, I have no complaint that’s for sure.

Although a bit of an all rounder, the ST is fundamentally an estate, so my review wouldn’t be fair if I hadn’t put it through its paces as a ‘space-box’.  So how better to do so, than to fit a flat-pack luxury 6-piece patio furniture set, cushions and all!  Albeit quite a squeeze, we managed, with the seats folded and my passenger sitting rather close the windscreen, to fit it in and get it home.  Granted not ideal for moving house or shifting any larger cargo, but suited to possibly carrying the dogs and a healthy sized picnic, including blankets, and even the buggy.

As mentioned earlier I had the benefit of the sunroof, which unfortunately only had a tilt function but didn’t retract to allow me to see the sky.  My press car gave me as standard AUX capability with Bluetooth phone preparation, the optional ‘Design’ pack that my car came with gave me two-tone second colour inserts within the dashboard and seats, plus some very nice adaptive automatic bi-xenon headlights, with cornering function!

Throughout the week I have to say I grew to really appreciate the Ibiza ST.  The colour, although gold, works to show off its lines and styling and its overall performance and practicality works toward being a perfectly balanced estate.  Compared to other competitors like the Clio and 207SW, I know I’d rather be driving the SEAT, and for around £18k it’s not the worst choice on the market.

Subaru Impreza Review

Subaru Impreza Review

Six months ago I got the pleasure of testing the new Subaru Impreza WRX STI, it didn’t disappoint, and in fact I’m a big enough man to admit that a fair bit of sulking happened when it had to go back.  Fast forward to last month and I found myself grinning and clapping like a trained, slightly retarded, circus monkey. Soon my Subaru Impreza WRX STI 330S Special Edition press loan would be on the drive and I, being the excitable and clappy type I am, was a tad on the happy side.

Kia cee'd

Kia cee'd

Your right, it doesn't seem that long ago that Kia caused a huge stir with its all new hatchback, the cee'd.  Maybe it was the daft name with the irritating spelling and punctuation, or (which is more likely) because it was a great little motor.  It didn't cost the earth, came with plenty of kit, looked great and it proved that not every car from Korea had to be made from recycled, and had all the handling finesse of, Tupperware.

Volkswagen Golf Bluemotion Review

Volkswagen Golf Bluemotion Review

Eco-motoring hmmm, yes I'm concerned with the plight of the planet and yes I care about the damage vehicles are dong to the environment, however I wont be forced to drive some ridiculously small cramped electric suicide death-trap (seen the unofficial crash tests on a G-Wiz?). So when VW called me up to ask if I'd like to test out their new 'Eco Golf' I agreed, mainly as it's a standard Golf 1.9 TDI, or so I thought….