Archive | Oliver Hammond

Olly’s First Drives in a Jaguar XF Sportbrake, Evoque 5dr auto & the New 2013 Range Rover SDV8

Just because I’d already sampled the delights of Jaguar Land Rover’s wonderful cars and equally superb hospitality last year, didn’t mean I wasn’t equally as excited about visiting Gaydon again. Their cars and cakes are the kind one would never tire of, the PR team always ensure a great day, and besides, I had some model gaps to fill – namely, the Evoque and XF Sportbrake.

February 2013 Jaguar Land Rover JLR media day writeup review Oliver Hammond Simons Car Spots photo - Gaydon museum

My ride down to Gaydon from Manchester was courtesy of the new Ford Ranger (full review coming very soon), and the often-nightmarish M6 was unusually kind to me on the way down. It wasn’t exactly what you’d call a warm day, though. ‘Bloomin’ freezing’ would be a better description. On my way through the car park, I stumbled into two of my main sidekicks for the day, my colleague Nick Johnson at MyCarCoach, along with marketing whiz and lovely lady, Mandy Kaur. We were lucky enough to hear the stunning new Jaguar F-type start up outside, while we feasted our eyes on its awesome styling and interior.

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Last time at Gaydon, most people restrained themselves and filled up on coffee and cake before hitting (not literally, obviously!) the cars – but not this year. My attention was only diverted for a few minutes and Nick and Mandy had already grabbed the keys to…

First Drive: The new XF Sportbrake in 3-litre V6 diesel guise

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Jaguar struck gold when they launched the XF saloon and the whole XF lineup has regularly received praise throughout the model’s life to date, from the 3-litre diesel and 5-litre ‘normal’ petrol versions, to the monstrous XFR and latterly, the 2.2-litre diesel aimed at business fleets primarily. But the XF lineup never felt complete until Continue Reading →


Alfa Romeo MiTo MultiAir Distinctive 1.4 Petrol 135BHP TCT road test review by Oliver Hammond

There’s something about Italian stuff. Most people seem to have the perception that anything from Italy is somehow better – everything from food, wine, fashion and women to history, culture, fancy coffee machines and of course, cars. So what did I personally make of the Alfa MiTo in aptly named ‘Alfa Red’, with its flappy-paddle automatic gearbox and its stop-start 135bhp petrol engine?

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To me, the MiTo looks like the lovechild of an Alfa Romeo 147 and the Italian firm’s drool-inducing beauty the 8C. The front light clusters are very similar to the 8C’s and partner the 147’s grille very well. The front fog lamps, air intakes, spoiler and other design features all work very well, too. Moving round the car, the side profile of the MiTo looks squat, purposeful and sporty, whilst at the back, the 8C-inspired LED light clusters, large Alfa badge which doubles as the boot release, the chrome exhaust tip and the mesh insert in which the parking sensors are sat, finish off the sexy little Italian’s styling nicely.

Okay, one couldn’t really miss this test MiTo in its bright red colour scheme, which perfectly reflects the spirit of Alfa Romeo. But it’s the little touches and details on the MiTo which really do make it a special object to own. The red brake callipers look great, as do the various flashes of chrome courtesy of the the wing mirrors, the bezels around the rear lights, and the door handles. Alfa Romeo cars have always oozed style and the MiTo is no exception, with its suitably distinctive alloys which look decidedly un-German. The MiTo’s design conveys the car’s sporty nature effectively, without being at all yobbish. Boy racers and chavs need not apply, when it comes to an Alfa Romeo Mito. Okay, a fair number of hairdressers and lettings agent types have subscribed to the MiTo philosophy in droves, but so have a decent number of genuine petrolheads from all walks of life, who love what Alfa Romeo stand for but don’t have the cash, the space or the conscience for a much larger Italian stallion.

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Stood still, the MiTo looks great, and on the road, it’s always a pleasure to spot one. Although it did attract some very aggressive comments from one thug who, going by what he was shouting, had seemingly mistaken me for a banker, most other motorists and pedestrians who caught sight of the MiTo looked on appreciatively. It’s a shame the Continue Reading →


Honda Accord Tourer 2-2 i-DTEC EX Automatic road test review by Oliver Hammond

Unless you happen to be an antiques dealer, someone who regularly hauls white goods around or the kind of person who doesn’t really care about cars as long as they’re practical, the majority of us are thankful that estate cars these days seldom look like boxes on wheels. Actually, most contemporary estates look very stylish, some even going as far as being sexy, many people considering them more desirable than their saloon counterparts. But not so with the old Honda Accord Tourer, unfortunately. The rear-end looked rather like an after-thought and was more or less vertical. Fast forward a few years and my car on test this week is the latest Honda Accord Tourer.

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Honda’s designers have done a great job in styling what is technically the 8th generation of their international stalwart, the Accord. Using their chisels adeptly they have managed to chip, sculpt and smooth the previous model’s estate variant into an altogether much more attractive proposition.

The new Accord Tourer looks wider, sleeker, sportier and more expensive than the one it replaces. My test car looked elegant, stylish and impregnable in its Alabaster Silver paint job. The sleek and muscular front-end with its dashing spoiler is now complemented by a massively improved rear, which actually looks quite distinct. The rear design and its wide, wrap-around light clusters at the back have got a slight whiff of Insignia about them and especially from the side profile, the latest Accord Tourer looks much more the part. Goodbye slab-bum, hello curvy one.

Thankfully the lower window line is now partnered by a down-sloping roofline, resulting in an overall design that appeals to sports-estate lovers. Honda have fairly recently fettled the new Accord line-up even further, with extra chrome garnish, new grilles, lights and other little details, which all hit the spot very well. Honda have even put thought into the attractive door handles – and it is attention to detail that prospective buyers notice.

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Okay, it’s not a radical-looking car and the face of the previous generation wasn’t ‘broken’ so Honda subsequently haven’t ‘fixed it’ much, but seventy percent of Accord buyers will be from the traditionally more conservative corporate sector and it’s fair to say that quite a chunk of the remaining private buyers will come from the brand’s faithful band of followers. Honda’s press blurb cites the D-segment Accord Tourer’s primary rivals as the Continue Reading →


Ford Focus Zetec S EcoBoost 1-litre 125PS Hatchback road test review by Oliver Hammond

You’re right. Twelve months ago, we did indeed conduct a week-long test of another Ford with ‘Eco’ in its name. That was the 1.6-litre diesel ECOnetic Mondeo. You’re also quite right that we reviewed a Ford Focus earlier this year, albeit in estate form. It was another 1.6-litre Ford, but this time a petrol. The Ford under review this time is a much-hyped one with supposedly amazing credentials, hence us being keen to give it a full trial. The one I’m talking about is the 1-litre EcoBoost. Yup, a largish family hatchback powered by a puny 3-cylinder engine. Read on!

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If you’ve read my Ford Focus Estate 1.6 Duratec petrol manual Ti-VCT 125PS Titanium review back in April, you’ll know that I think Ford have cracked it with the design of the new Focus’ front-end. This press car looked even more appealing, wearing its sports bodykit comprised an aggressive, jutty-outy front spoiler, 18” alloys, purposeful-looking rear diffuser, tinted windows, flared arches, a nice blend of angles and curves and a chunky boot spoiler.

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Most of you know I prefer discretely-coloured cars, but I actually loved the bright red (‘Race Red’, to be specific) paint job of this Focus. I still personally feel that the rear corners are too fussy, with overly-busy light clusters. But they blended into the red bodywork nicely in this case. This Zetec S model really didn’t look much different to the latest Focus ST, so if you want to buy into the sports hatch looks but want an engine that’s softer on the wallet, maybe this is the car for you.

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I won’t go into the absolute minutiae when it comes to the interior, either, having already covered a Focus comprehensively a few months ago. But suffice to say, the interior in this 1-litre Ecoboost Zetec S model was just as accomplished, solid and rammed full of technology and kit. Granted, there are too many Continue Reading →


Fiat 500 1.3 Multijet diesel Lounge road test review by Oliver Hammond

Go on – admit it. The Fiat 500 is one cute car. Even if you share my preference for large cars, you can’t deny that this little chap looks delightful. Many of my regular readers kept excitedly asking me when the Fiat 500 was coming – such is the interest created by this chic, modern interpretation of an absolute classic. Two of my friends currently own white Fiat 500 hatchbacks and are absolutely smitten by them. Theirs are both Twinair models, though, so it would be interesting to see how I got on with the £15,355, 1.3 stop-start diesel version in top ‘Lounge’ spec. After my week with the car, did I think it was just all looks and no substance?

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My aforementioned Fiat 500 Twinair-owning friends (one male, one female) are both aged under 40, so it was apt for me to gauge the opinions of slightly older folk, to see if the all-new retro version rekindled the spirit of the original. The Fiat 500 ‘cinquecento’ was born in 1957 to cater for people wanting a stylish, compact and economical car for daily life. In many ways, it was one of the very first city cars, perfect for Italy’s congested metropolises and maintained its position as an aesthetic revelation all through its life, notching up masses of sales all over Europe. Many people in the 50s, 60s and 70s craved a Fiat 500 as their coveted ‘first car’ – my dad included.

In a recent documentary plotting the success of X Factor contestants Jonathan Antoine and Charlotte Jaconelli, an original Fiat 500 passed them on an Italian street and Charlotte exclaimed that it was the most gorgeous car she’d ever seen and she simply had to have one. What about the all-new, retro-inspired Fiat 500? Does it still float the boat of people like my dad who grew up with the trend-setting original, whilst equally captivating nouveaux would-be buyers like Charlotte? In a word, yes. Just like the new MINI and new Beetle, the new Fiat 500 is larger than its ancestor. It attracted a huge amount of attention during my week with it and despite the new 500 not being an uncommon sight on UK roads, it turned a fair few heads, especially in red which is a rarer choice, not seen as often as white ones.

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Although the new Fiat 500 is larger, the silhouette and essence of the original remain intact and those lovable, circular headlights continue to recreate the cutesy face of the 50s version. The chrome handles, sporty chrome exhaust pipe, retro steering wheel and wheels positioned on the corners are all features which will both reach out to die-hard fans of the original and to those who don’t realise a previous model even existed. I love the ‘nose and whiskers’ design of the 500’s face, and the little details such as the Italian flag label on the floor mats. The sheer number of Fiat 500s on the roads is a testimony to the new model’s massive popularity. Most people I see driving new 500s are female and I definitely think in male terms that it appeals to the more flamboyant and confident, who are more conscious about how they look than other factors. But hey, as small cars go Continue Reading →


SEAT Exeo Sport Tech 2.0 TDI 170PS road test review by Oliver Hammond

Don’t worry. You’re not going mad. If the SEAT Exeo looks strangely familiar to you, that’s because it’s based on the previous ‘B7’ generation (2005-2008) Audi A4. The Exeo was originally launched in 2008 and SEAT have now decided to give it a bit of cosmetic surgery along with a few internal tweaks. The result? I reckon it now looks even more like an Audi than ever. But that’s not a bad thing, is it?

SEAT Exeo 2011 2012 facelift 2-0 TDI 170PS diesel Sport Tech road test review by Oliver Hammond - photo - external Ashton Tameside Enterprise 09


SEAT have never been ashamed about heavily basing the Exeo on the older A4, so I’m equally unashamed to start off on this admittedly well-beaten track. The Audi A4 ‘B7’ model was actually in itself not a new car in terms of chassis, but merely a new look for the existing ‘B6’ platform, which had been around since 2001. The B7 generation certainly wasn’t a bad-looker, with its ‘new-Audi’ open mouth, conservatively sporty lines and solid image. Since the B7 was replaced, the Audi range has started to look very samey. Anyway, back to the Exeo. In my view, it’s not a bad thing being based externally and internally on the older A4. To complain about inheriting such respected looks would be like a guy complaining that he looks like George Clooney or Daniel Craig.

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The Spaniards have recently given the Exeo a nose job, some eye surgery and a butt-lift – and I have to say I find all the tweaks more than agreeable. New bi-Xenon headlights with very attractive daytime running lights, partnered by equally eye-catching LED lights at the rear, make up the bulk of the exterior enhancements, save for a few re-angled creases. New alloys and paint colours are also now available and even though I’ve always been someone who prefers stealthy, discretely-coloured cars, I really took to my press car’s Emoción Red paint job. The 18” turbine-style ‘Quartz’ alloys also looked the business. The car being reviewed came in ‘Sport Tech’ trim, which is a relatively new option for the Exeo and externally-speaking, gives you sportier lower door mouldings, and tinted windows in the rear. It also came with a solar sunroof fitted. Granted, if SEAT try to squeeze many more years of life out of the B6/B7 platform and indeed the Exeo, it may be a bad move, but for now Continue Reading →


Oliver Hammond at SMMT North 2012

The main SMMT Test Day at the iconic Millbrook Proving Ground back in May felt like an eternity ago, such is the way with modern life. Fortunately, SMMT hold smaller, regional Test Days, the ‘North’ day held at Wetherby Racecourse, North Yorkshire. I shared the journey with Ben Harrington, the exceptionally decent chap and fellow motoring writer behind DrivingTorque. Our trusty steed for traversing the M62 came in the form of a SEAT Exeo 2.0 TDI 140PS Sport Tech press car, and we must say that it represented a perfectly good motorway mile-muncher.

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We arrived in time for breakfast and the obligatory recharge of coffee, before hitting the cars (not literally, of course). The manufacturers and attendees were grouped together in one large function room, so it was a much cosier and more intimate affair than back in May at Millbrook. I won’t waffle on about all the various nuances of the day, as many of the manufacturers know how much I appreciate their support. You know who you are. And it was equally nice to catch up with other fellow motoring bloggers who I hadn’t seen since the national bash in May. The Whitby seafood pie was splendid, too – thanks, SMMT.

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After spending a preposterously long time trying to decide which personally-unchartered car to drive first, I chose to take a Ssangyong Korando SX for a spin – which would hopefully make my colleague Simon proud, as he’s a big advocate of Ssangyong.

Ssangyong Korando SX

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Hoorah – the chance at last to pop my Ssangyong cherry, with their unmissable, orange (oops – ‘Vitamin Red’, to be precise!) Korando SX. Priced from £16,995, it’s aimed as a cheaper alternative to the ubiquitous and well-mannered Nissan Qashqai, stylish and solid Kia Sportage and Hyundai’s ix35. Looks-wise, I actually quite like it, the styling holding its head up alongside its aforementioned rivals and other C-segment 4×4 crossovers. The Korando SX was designed by Giugiaro, don’t you know? I climbed into the SX fully expecting the interior quality to be on the robust but cheap and cheerful side, so I wasn’t disappointed or surprised. Even Kia cars are a bit plasticky in places and the Ssangyong SX packs in loads of kit as standard, from rear parking sensors, ESP and hill start assist to Bluetooth and a clever ‘Torque on demand’ four wheel drive system. This test car was even fitted with an Continue Reading →


New Kia Rio 1.4 CRDi 3 EcoDynamics 3-door road test review by Oliver Hammond

The new Rio marks the fourth generation in the lineage of this popular model from Korean firm Kia. For the first time in the Rio’s history, a 3-door is available. The all-new Rio faces stiff opposition from the Fiesta, Clio, Corsa, 208 and Polo. We duly tested one for a week to see what it’s made of.

New Kia Rio 3 3-door 1-4 CRDi EcoDynamics diesel road test review by Oliver Hammond - photo - front grille


I’ve always viewed the design of previous generations of Kia as pedestrian and slightly bland. Not so the all-new Rio, which I think looks fantastic in both 5-door and 3-door guises. It looks conservatively sporty from every angle, which is a good start. Kia’s tiger nose family grille has now been given to the Rio and slightly reworked to flow nicely with the funky LED daytime running lights. The light clusters look suitably mean and the new Rio’s face is finished off nicely by the bumper and spoiler design, along with the fog lights.

Moving round to the side, which is one of the all-new Rio 3-door’s best angles in my view, and it strongly reminds me of the second generation Audi A3 3-door. Funny, that, as the latest Kia cars have all been designed under the jurisdiction of Peter Schreyer, who used to work at Audi. The sleek creases and coupe-like roofline flow really nicely into the solid-looking rear of the car, and the VAG-esque 17” alloy wheels look fabulous too. The all-new Rio 3-door looks poised and ready for action.

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The rear three-quarters and flat-on angles look equally as attractive, with gorgeous LED brake lights and a generally very robust-looking, high quality appearance. My car came in handsome and discrete Graphite Metallic paint, but if you want something extra special, consider a Kia Rio in Electric Blue, which looks fantastic.

So on the outside, the brand new Kia Rio 3-door gets a thumbs-up from me. It might not be an obvious contender when it comes to a sporty supermini, but Continue Reading →


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