Tag Archives | Oliver Hammond

It’s Nearly Here: Out with 2013 and In with 2014

Well, it’s the last blog of the year for us at Simon’s Car Spots and what a year it has been.

We have seen literally 1000s of amazing cars, we have had masses of superb @simoncarspots Twitter interaction and we have had some fantastic fun with our @MotorMistress blogs.

As the year draws to a close, we would like to not only wish all of our Twitter friends and website supporters the best for Christmas and the New Year, we would like to also thank everyone unreservedly for their unwavering support and encouragement.

We really feel that the “Simon’s Car Spots” website has developed into even more of a community this year; bringing car enthusiasts together to have a bit of banter and most of all, fun.

With this in mind, we have a few changes planned that will allow us to extend the “car spotting” reach even further. We thought it was only right to share our news with you on our final blog of 2013 so that we can get your opinions and of course, your backing!

Changes to Come in 2014…

Oliver Hammond Steps Down from www.simonscarspots.com



Firstly, with a heavy heart, we are announcing that the Co-Founder of Simon’s Car Spots, Oliver Hammond, has stepped down in order to focus on his other existing activities and his family. Olly has been car spotting since he was a wee nipper and he certainly won’t be stopping. With this in mind, he will continue to contribute photos from time to time, perhaps in addition to the odd blog article.

“The timing felt right but I didn’t take this decision lightly”, explains Olly, “as SimonsCarSpots.com will always be my co-baby and I will always feel emotionally involved with the site. It’s been a great few years, starting the site with Simon and seeing it grow. I am sure Debbie (oops, I’ve let the cat out of the bag a paragraph early!) and Simon will increase the site’s popularity even further and I will certainly be keeping in touch. All the best, you two!”

You can continue to keep tabs on Olly via his personal Twitter account @renaultvelsatis. For the record, Olly, we have no intention of not keeping in touch!

Motor Mistress Steps Up to www.simonscarspots.com

Debbie Mountford new co-owner of Simons Car Spots



I am delighted to announce that I will be taking on a more active role here at www.simonscarspots.com. If you like my blogs, news and other car-related ramblings then you will be finding it right here!

Both Simon & I have some exciting plans for the future and we will, of course, be looking to our friends to help us to raise the website to a whole new level. Simon’s Car Spots will always be Simon’s baby so there will be no re-branding – I will just be here to provide a bit of added interest (well hopefully, anyway!) and to help with the day-to-day running of the site.

Don’t worry though; www.simonscarspots.com wasn’t broken, so we have no intention of trying to fix it. We are just going to work super-duper hard to make it into the UK’s favourite car enthusiast website.


Come along and join us in 2014 – it’s sure to be one helluva ride.

Once again, have a fantastic Christmas and a spectacular New Year celebration – see you on the other side!

Debbie Mountford - Motor Mistress


Oliver Hammond at SMMT Test Day 2013

Waking up on what would be my second SMMT Test Day down at the iconic and really rather surreal and wonderful Millbrook Proving Ground (the place Fifth Gear and Top Gear often use) in Bedfordshire, I was just as excited as I was the first time around. How could one not be? SMMT Test Day is the main annual opportunity to catch up with and introduce oneself to most car manufacturers, drive some of their splendid vehicles of all shapes and sizes, catch up with fellow blogger friends and journalists and of course to experience SMMT and Newspress’ delightful hospitality.

SMMT Test Day 2013 Millbrook Proving - Oliver Hammond Simons Car Spots MyCarCoach review writeup photos -Yelloy Alpine Course

My First Impressions Writeup Review & Photo Gallery – SMMT 2013

Last year, a quite admirable Peugeot 3008 was our transport down to Millbrook. This year? A brilliant Mazda6. My guest this year? Mrs Vel Satis – or Izzy, as she’s really called! She’s my primary press car photographer, by the way. After a bit of a duff start to the year weather-wise, SMMT and Newspress had once again managed to pull a few strings and bring out glorious sunshine. Nice one, guys. It was excellent to see some lovely classics there today too, including Jensen Interceptor, a Datsun 240Z, Firenza HP ‘Droopsnoot’ and a Vauxhall 30-98. McLaren and Rolls Royce were also there this year, but I didn’t get a chance to sample their delights. Hopefully next time…

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This year, the plan wasn’t to drive as many cars as possible, but to prioritise thanking, catching up with and introducing myself and the SimonsCarSpots website to various manufacturers, and focusing on the handful of cars I had circled on the provided list. It was great to meet new bloggers of all ages for the first time, as well as established bloggers, seasoned journalists and motoring photographers. The constant supply of drinks and cakes, the lovely lunch and the goodies provided by several manufacturers were very much appreciated – not that I actually managed to sample any of SEAT’s sweets, Skoda’s popcorn, Newspress’ chocolate or Citroen’s apparently delicious crepes, as I was too busy yacking, driving and scribbling. Anyway, let’s cut to the chase, as I know you all really want to know what cars we drove today! And we won’t waffle on about their mechanical minutiae as we only got 15 minutes or so behind the wheel of each. So here’s our snappy, realistic ‘first impressions flavour’ overview of all the metal we tested.

S7 4.0 TFSI quattro (420PS) S tronic @ £71,045

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Hands up, yes, I have sometimes referred to recent Audi models as being rather homogenised, it proving tricky at a glance to differentiate an A4, A5 saloon, A6 or A8 from each other. I’ve always yearned after an A7, though, owing to its subtly different styling and exclusivity. After three laps round the yellow Alpine Hill Route and a couple of blasts round the red high speed ‘bowl’, what was our verdict?

  • Excellent interior which felt extremely solid, with quilted sports seats and plenty of space
  • Just the right amount of buttons, Audi’s MMI was pretty simple to master the basics and the flip-out screen is pretty cool
  • In my view the A7 is the best-looking Audi ‘saloon’ of the moment, although I know it’s really a 4-door coupe Mercedes CLS and BMW 6-Series Gran Coupe rival
  • Nicely aggressive exterior with beautiful curves and a subtly attractive ‘behind’ with sexy light clusters
  • The first car we drove today, but the handling was superb. The chassis felt great, steering was precise and it was fast enough. The official 0-62mph figure of 4.7 seconds is believable and the 7-speed S tronic direct-shift transmission got it there smoothly
  • Surprisingly for an ‘S’ model, there was no 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!

Ford Focus Zetec EcoBoost 125PS road test review by Oliver Hammond - photo - main


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?

Fiat 500 1-3 diesel Multijet Lounge 3-door hatchback road test review by Oliver Hammond Simons Car Spots My Car Coach writer - photo - front 34 03


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 →


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 →


New 2012 SEAT Ibiza 5dr FR 2.0 TDI 143PS road test review by Oliver Hammond

Having had a SEAT in our household fleet for over four years, my desire to put the Iberian firm’s new, revised Ibiza in range-topping FR guise through its paces was high – especially in light of the impressive headline figures of 143PS from its torquey 2-litre TDI engine and 0-62mph in 8.2 seconds, while supposedly averaging an eyebrow-raising 60.1mpg. Un caliente hatchback bueno?

New 2012 SEAT Ibiza 5dr FR 2-0 TDI 143PS road test review by Oliver Hammond - photo - Bolton Abbey Steam Railway front 34b

Under the wings of the Volkswagen Group, SEAT as a brand has come on leaps and bounds in the UK over the last few years and has just experienced its most successful annual sales to date, ever. I don’t know how much of it’s down to the car’s being named after one of the world’s top party islands, but the Ibiza still reigns as the top-selling SEAT around the world. SEAT is a confident brand on a one-way upward trend, so nobody can blame them for regularly twiddling with their range, gradually introducing elements from their snazzy concept cars and making other improvements. The SEAT Ibiza is amazingly now in its fourth generation and looks, well… read on!

Passionate Hispanic styling? Not half!

This is the facelifted Mk4 SEAT Ibiza, introduced in the UK only a few months ago – so think of it as the Mk4b, as it were. SEAT call their improvement programme ‘Enjoyneering’ and they’ve enjoyneered the Ibiza very well indeed. Granted, the FR version I drove for a week didn’t possess a drop of discretion in its daring, shouty (and very popular, I might add) Lima Green colour scheme. But that’s what many buyers want from a warm hatch – the ‘look at me!’ factor. And when you do look purposefully at the revised 2012 SEAT Ibiza, what do you see? A crisp, clean, aggressive and solid face, for starters, courtesy of SEAT’s ‘Arrow Design’ philosophy, with its facial features sculpted round a ‘V’ idea. SEAT’s design bods have sharpened and narrowed the trapezoidal grille, lowered the air intake, made the fog light bezels more angular and added a few effective creases to the front-end, under the watchful eyes of new Design Director Alejandro Mesonero-Romanos. The headlights on the Ibiza are new, too, and the swage line gives the car a muscular, confident stance.

New 2012 SEAT Ibiza 5dr FR 2-0 TDI 143PS road test review by Oliver Hammond - photo - Stalybridge arches 3

Face-on and from the front-three-quarters angle, the Ibiza FR looks great, dishing up enough sporty features to keep the warm hatch brigade happy without alienating more shy and retiring buyers who would go for the more conservative colours. It’s not in-yer-face design and perfectly blends Hispanic flair with Germanic quality and solidity. The FR badges on the front grille and boot let the more discerning admirers know that this is the ‘special’ model from the Ibiza range and the LED lights integrated into the swooping headlight clusters look fantastic.

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The side profile of the new Ibiza 5-door FR doesn’t look bad either, the swage line, kicked-up rear window, privacy glass and side skirts catching one’s eye, with the optional 17” Tagus wheels filling the flared arches nicely. All the lines and creases incorporated into the Ibiza’s sides flow cohesively to the rear. Okay, the back isn’t quite as aggressive and sporty as the Ibiza FR’s new face but the FR logo, twin chrome exhaust, crisp light clusters and actually-quite-attractive black bumper finish the car off suitably well. As ever, the large SEAT logo on the back acts as the boot release. And the design of the rear comes alive in the dark, with beautiful strips of LEDs which form a ‘tick’ effect.

New 2012 SEAT Ibiza 5dr FR 2-0 TDI 143PS road test review by Oliver Hammond - photo - Stalybridge arches 4

The new SEAT Ibiza FR 5-door certainly does it for me in the design stakes and when you think about its realistic rivals like the Vauxhall Corsa, Ford Fiesta, Suzuki Swift, MINI, Peugeot 208, Renault Clio, Citroen C3, Fiat Punto and the Kia Rio, the Ibiza holds its head high with pride, looking equally as good as, if not slightly better than, the best of them.

Are you SEATed comfortably?

Has the solid quality associated with cars from the upper tiers of the Volkswagen Group trickled down to the SEAT range and this latest Ibiza? Yes, it has, from the thudding doors and tight panels to the sturdy if slightly sombre interior. The sports bucket seats were surprisingly brilliant, providing a lot of support but managing to not be overly hard either. The driver’s seat is handily height adjustable and the red stitching brought some sporty flair to the cabin. I just wish the seats were electrically adjustable. The flat-bottomed sports steering wheel bears an FR badge and red stitching and the FR spec’ also gives you a leather gearstick gaiter. But that’s where the sporty touches end, really. In the same ilk as Skoda vRS models, the Ibiza FR I drove was definitely conservative inside. No bad thing, though, unless you’re someone who likes flamboyant interiors like the Kia Soul Hunter’s tartan seats.

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Space in the front was decent enough for a relatively small car, but oddment storage areas weren’t as plentiful as I would have liked, being mainly restricted to the glovebox and door bins. The handbrake and plastic area it’s seated on along with the 12V socket and cupholders were all rather cheap feeling – not flimsy, but not tactile. The grab handles weren’t damped, either. But all in all, the interior of the new SEAT Ibiza does feel like it will last and is on the whole of a good quality. The red hue to the instruments, climate control and central infotainment system provides a classy aura, the design of the air vents in the centre of the dashboard is attractive, SEAT have used soft touch materials across some of the dashboard and given the FR’s steering binnacle a glossy metallic look. The CD-radio system produced a very good sound indeed with no discernible distortion even when cranked right to the max’ and the digital climate control system worked efficiently, pumping out cool or warm air very promptly after I’d selected it.

New 2012 SEAT Ibiza 5dr FR 2-0 TDI 143PS road test review by Oliver Hammond - photo - front cockpit

I took three passengers on a 30-mile journey and the two tall rear passengers commented that although the headroom could have been slightly better, they found the back seats in the Ibiza FR very comfortable and supportive and they surprisingly had no complaints about legroom – but remember that it was a fairly short journey.

Forgetting the price for a moment, the specification of this 2012 Ibiza FR 5dr was pleasantly high, fitted with cruise control, light and rain sensors, an auto-dimming rear view mirror and auto-folding door mirrors courtesy of the ‘Technology Pack’. The Bluetooth Communications Pack came with USB and AUX sockets, handsfree phone connection with voice control and two dedicated speakers and an adaptor for full iPod integration. The Bluetooth wasn’t as easy to connect to as other systems I’ve used, ironically because it’s a rather more simple system and puts the onus on the phone handset, as the car ‘end’ is always on. A feature I always appreciate is Hill Hold Control, which this FR had, along with Bi-Xenon Adaptive headlights with washers and LED DRLs, which looked great and worked well. Other options fitted to this particular car included privacy glass, rear electric windows which I feel I should mention cost £155, a panoramic glass sunroof and a pre-installed TomTom sat nav which you could shove away in the glovebox whenever you park up or just don’t want to use it.

New 2012 SEAT Ibiza 5dr FR 2-0 TDI 143PS road test review by Oliver Hammond - photo - dashboard front stack

Practicality & Manoeuvrability

I wasn’t expecting the boot to be up to much, having made a few quick glances into it during the first few days. Then came the usual weekend supermarket shop test and to my pleasant surprise, the SEAT Ibiza 5dr’s boot swallowed our eight usual shopping bags comfortably. Thumbs up there, then – although you might struggle when it comes to fitting a family of four’s suitcases in the boot for a staycation or the like. The actual volume of the standard boot itself is 270 litres, expanding to 601 litres when the split-folding rear seats are flattened. This obviously allows you to carry much larger loads, minus any rear passengers of course – but bear in mind that there’s a pronounced boot lip hindering load-in somewhat, the wheel arches eat into some of the boot space and the exposed yellow foam undersides of the rear seats are a bit ugly. Generally speaking, it’s a good, old-fashioned, ‘does what it says on the tin’ kind of boot, with no fancy storage boxes in its walls, no bag hooks or the like, but is of a reasonably good size for a small warm hatch like this. Folding the back seats down is a doddle and a space saver tyre is stored under the boot floor.

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Manoeuvring the 5dr SEAT Ibiza FR was aided by means of its good turning circle (10.48m to be precise), good visibility and compact dimensions. This press car wasn’t specified with parking sensors, but you can get by without them on a car like this. The steering was nicely weighted at slow, town-driving speeds, so it wasn’t an effort to thread the Ibiza FR in and out of tight spaces and the modestly-sized 45-litre fuel tank will see you through plenty of miles thanks to the car’s excellent fuel consumption. The Ibiza FR 5dr is therefore an ideal car for singletons, couples or small families.

New 2012 SEAT Ibiza 5dr FR 2-0 TDI 143PS road test review by Oliver Hammond - photo - boot luggage capacity

On the road

A warm hatch like the SEAT Ibiza FR, and especially one as daringly-coloured as this one, had better perform well. And fortunately for the latest FR 2.0 TDI, it does. The clutch and pedals were nicely positioned and had a good feel to them, which definitely helps for starters. The 2-litre, 143PS diesel engine isn’t the most muted out there, but if you’re at all familiar with VAG engines, you’ll have expected that like I did. The gearstick itself felt a bit flimsy but the actual gear changes and 6-speed gearbox were very smooth, which is something that can either make or break one’s bonding with a car. In this case, it helped make it. The gear ratios seemed sensibly programmed, too, whether I drove sportily or sedately. Gears one to four are set up for brisk progress, with the longer-ratio fifth and sixth gears reserved for achieving that excellent fuel economy on the open road.

New 2012 SEAT Ibiza 5dr FR 2-0 TDI 143PS road test review by Oliver Hammond - photo - Bolton Abbey Steam Railway rear 34b

What with the FR badges, more aggressive styling and ‘look at me’ colour, I just couldn’t help myself but push the Ibiza FR from the off. And I must say that considering a 2.0 TDI engine was providing the power, it was a positive experience. There is a bit of diesel clatter, yes, but the exhaust note’s reasonably decent at the same time – and boy, the engine was pretty punchy. Generous power was on tap in all the gears, allowing you to either sprint away from the lights, pull quite nicely to execute audacious overtaking moves on A-roads and motorways and climb steep gradients without having to worry too much about dropping down the gears. A lot of the Ibiza FR’s ability to pick up its skirts and build up speed nicely is down to the impressive 320Nm of torque from the 143PS engine, combined with the smooth 6-speed manual gearbox. The quoted 8.2 seconds to get to 62mph sounds and feels about right and the Ibiza FR will apparently do a top speed of 130mph.

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The chunky sports steering wheel is attached to a well-balanced and weighted electro-mechanical, speed-sensitive steering setup which promotes confidence in you to chuck the Ibiza FR 5dr round bends. If you like pushing a car to its limits (or to the boundaries of your own limitations, more like) you’ll encounter a bit of understeer, but the majority of drivers won’t notice it, as the Ibiza FR 2.0 TDI dishes up a lot of fun even with driven a long way short of its capabilities. It’s the Ibiza range’s sporty offering so yes, the ride has been firmed up on the FR, but I honestly didn’t find it bone-shaking and thought the car tackled the UK’s pothole-ridden roads very well, not crashing into potholes with any annoying jarring, but biffing through them with confidence. The firm ride naturally works wonders on the twisty stuff, too, the FR sitting 15mm lower than other model variants and having a stiffer anti-roll bar fitted. I’ve driven several other hot or warm versions of various makes and models in recent months and was impressed by the Ibiza, which was more immediately engaging that the Fiesta Metal which really needed pushing hard to get any sporty satisfaction out of it, as did the Skoda Octavia vRS in fact. I didn’t find the Ibiza FR diesel quite as engaging and addictive as the Suzuki Swift Sport, but admittedly the SSS is a different kettle of fish – and what the Ibiza FR 2.0 TDI does bring to the table by way of USPs is frugality, punchiness and a sprinkling of Iberian individuality. Just ignore the gear change indicator and trust your own instincts, whilst realising that the Ibiza FR isn’t a rev-mad kind of car so there’s no gain to be had from pushing it into the red. Just let the mid-band torque do its thing and you’ll be happy.

New 2012 SEAT Ibiza 5dr FR 2-0 TDI 143PS road test review by Oliver Hammond - photo - Bolton Abbey Steam Railway side 34d

SEAT publish a combined fuel consumption figure of 60.1mpg and I was pleasantly surprised to have averaged 56.1mpg over the course of the week, which included a lot of spirited driving. The 45mpg I always saw on the display when tootling around town is equally close to SEAT’s official urban figure of 47.1mpg. CO2 emissions are fairly good at 123g/km, it sits in road tax band D so costs you nothing for the first year, servicing is every 12 months or 10,000 miles (and shouldn’t prove expensive, from my experience with SEAT main dealers) and BIK is 18%.

In Summary

The new SEAT Ibiza FR 2.0 TDI 5dr looks great, if not as sporty as its SC sibling nor indeed the new Cupra when it comes out. It offers the practicality of having decently-proportioned doors and reasonable amounts of space for rear passengers over short and medium journeys, combined with a more than ample boot. It’s let down a little by some poor interior plastics but does feel robust and is ergonomically sound with a good driving position and plenty of standard and optional kit. The 2-litre diesel engine is standard VAG fare but suits the small Ibiza well, giving it plenty of punchy torque and a fairly fun driving experience.

New 2012 SEAT Ibiza 5dr FR 2-0 TDI 143PS road test review by Oliver Hammond - photo - FR badge closeup

It’s definitely a warm hatch as opposed to a truly hot one, so it’s best not to compare it with the Clio RenaultSport nor any of the other hot hatch greats, leaving the Ibiza Cupra to tackle those boys. The £16,840 base price of the Ibiza FR 2.0 TDI 5dr I tested puts it at the top of price band for small warm hatches and the total price after options of just over £20,000 does make the Ibiza 5dr FR expensive, costing about £1,000-£1,500 more than rivals carrying the same options. But which of them offer a powerful 2-litre diesel engine putting out 143PS whilst returning a combined MPG figure of 60.1? Perhaps only the equivalent MINI, which costs slightly more. This sets the Ibiza FR 5dr diesel apart and certainly means it’s worth considering if you’ve got a child or two and do a lot of miles. Overall, a very good effort from SEAT.

© Oliver Hammond


Specification of the New SEAT Ibiza 5dr FR 2.0 TDI 143PS tested in this review

Engine: 1,968cc, 4-cylinder diesel
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Max Output: 143PS
Max Torque: 320NM
Top Speed: 130mph
0-60mph: 8.2 seconds
Combined fuel economy: 60.1mpg
Fuel tank capacity: 45 litres
CO2 Emissions: 123g/km
Gross Weight: 1,696kg
Max Towing Weight (braked): 1,200kg
Boot capacity: 270 litres (rear seats up), 601 litres (rear seats down, brimmed to the roof)
Dimensions: 4,082mm long, 1,693mm wide including mirrors, 1,441mm high

Standard Specification includes (but not limited to):

Height adjustable passenger and driver’s seats
12V accessory socket in centre console
Height and reach adjustable steering wheel
Illuminated boot
3 cupholders
Illuminated glovebox
Auxiliary input socket
Isofix system on outer rear seats
Body colour door handles, mirrors and bumpers
LED tail lights
Leather steering wheel and gear knob with red stitching
Child locks on rear doors and Deadlocks
MP3, AM/FM radio, (single) CD player, four speakers
Coming home lights
One touch electric windows (front)
Cruise control
Air conditioning with pollen filter
Rear wiper
Digital clock
Remote central locking
Driver and passenger airbags
SEAT logo boot release
Electric headlight adjustment
Electro-mechanical, speed-sensitive power steering
Electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors
Split folding rear seats
FR Sports seats
Sports suspension (15mm lower)
Audio controls mounted on steering wheel
Front seatback pockets
Trip computer
Front side airbags
Twin chrome exhaust pipes
Tyre repair kit
Volumetric alarm

Options fitted to this particular press vehicle:

17” Tagus alloy wheels £150
Space-saving spare wheel £95
Climate control £310

Technology Pack (cruise control, light sensor, rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming rear view mirror, electric folding mirrors) £550

Bluetooth Communications Pack and USB/AUC port with handsfree phone connection, voice control and two additional speakers, plus adaptor for full iPod integration £410

Hill Hold Control and tyre pressure monitoring £50
Bi-Xenon headlights (Adaptive Front Lighting System – AFS) £765
Dark tinted windows £155
Rear electric windows £155
Panoramic glass sunroof £490
Navigation pre-installation for TomTom sat nav £40


Peugeot 308CC Coupe Cabriolet e-HDi 1.6 Diesel 112 Active Road Test Review by Oliver Hammond

The weather in the UK had been atrocious for the past couple of months, but although an amphibious vehicle might have been more apt for my next review car, I was quite excited at the prospect of the new, revised Peugeot 308CC’s arrival – I just hoped I would have the chance to get its top off!

A Drop-Top with Drop-Dead-Gorgeous Looks?

Peugeot 308CC Coupe Cabriolet e-HDi 112 1-6 diesel Active road test review - Oliver Hammond - photo Stanneylands - front roof

Ever since Peugeot surprised themselves and many others with the runaway success of the 206CC in the UK, they’ve never ceased in their desire to continue to dominate the more affordable end of the ‘CC’ (coupe-cabriolet/convertible) market here and in other countries. But their attempts at retractable hardtop cars started long before the 206CC’s launch in 2001. In fact, Peugeot have been building them since 1934/5 when they produced the 402 Éclipse Décapotable.

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I’ve never been a fan of the styling or aspirations of the 307CC and wasn’t overly taken-aback by the original 308CC which looked fairly similar, but when I feasted my eyes on the photographs of Peugeot’s facelifted 308CC, I was very impressed. At the front, many of the design cues for the new, 2012 version of the Peugeot 308CC have been inspired by the beautiful 508. The new 508-esque floating grille of the revised 308CC looks much more sophisticated, expensive and a whole lot less cartoony and goofy than the 307CC and original 308CC. Peugeot have spent more time on attention to detail, giving the new 308CC’s grille a tasteful satin chrome surround. The headlights are sleeker and sexier, the flowing lines more sporting and aggressive, the LED daytime running lights more modern and blingy and the rear much more eye-catching, less bulbous and Continue Reading →


Ford Fiesta Metal 1.6 TiVCT Duratec 134PS Road Test Review by Oliver Hammond

Think Ford and chances are that a lot of you may well think Fiesta. Since its launch in 1976 the Fiesta has enjoyed a fantastically successful life – and still does to this day. The year 1980 heralded the first ‘sport version’ of the Fiesta, in the form of the 1.3L Supersport, which paved the way for the eponymous XR2. My first Fiesta memories are of the third generation model in the late 80s/early 90s, on family holidays in the Algarve. Around this time, ‘Zetec’ became the sporty choice of Fiesta. Twenty years on and the Zetec name, now assigned to the sixth generation Fiesta model in Zetec S guise, is still considered one of the best hot superminis on the market. Until the seventh generation Fiesta arrives in 2013 with its range-topping ST variant, Ford released a special edition hot Fiesta in the form of the ‘Metal’. What did I make of it?

Ford Fiesta Metal 1-6 TiVCT Duratec 134PS Road Test Review by Oliver Hammond - Skipton castle 02

Panther Looks

Ford’s marketing material for the special edition ‘Metal’ Fiesta usually features one in the ‘Panther Black’ colour choice, so I was delighted when my press car arrived in said colour. I would forgive the Fiesta Metal if it suddenly developed a voice and told me it was feeling a little apprehensive, as the previous car I reviewed was another warm supermini – a very good one, in fact, in the form of the new Suzuki Swift Sport. But on first impressions in the looks department, the Fiesta Metal needn’t worry as it’s a stylish and attractive car with a very respected image. The Metal edition of this 3-door, fun-oriented favourite is usually set apart by its Panther Black 17” alloy wheels, but unfortunately they had become so badly scuffed that the Ford Press Office decided to send my car out with the shiny ‘normal’ versions. I wasn’t bothered, as they still looked great. Other tell-tale signs on the Fiesta Metal include the silver-painted front grille surround, aerofoil and fog light bezels, the stainless steel scuff plates and the tasty chrome twin exhaust pipes – oh, and the sizeable rear spoiler along with the reworked, sporty rear bumper skirt.

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From the front, the Fiesta Metal looks sleek and menacing, in a cheeky kind of way. It looks classy in black, too, and the sweeping Halogen projector headlamps and chrome touches give it a kinetic appeal in line with Ford’s ‘jewel’ ethos for the Fiesta. Attention to detail can be implemented too strongly in some cases, but Ford have got the balance just right. Side-on, the doors are long, as you would expect from a 3-door hatch like this and all the lines flow nicely to the rear. The blacked-out privacy glass adds to the sporty appearance and at the rear, the light clusters are certainly attractive and trendy, including LED brake lights – and the aforementioned twin chrome exhausts let cars behind know that this is no ordinary Fiesta but a hot-ish one.


Inside the Fiesta Metal, everything really is rather nice. The first thing to catch my eye was the tasteful, elegant Ebony black leather sports-style seats with silver stitching. They looked fantastic and were very comfortable, but the side supports weren’t as cossetting as a Suzuki Swift Sport’s for example – so don’t expect to be hugged in quite as tightly around sharp corners.

The sporty edge to the Fiesta Metal is reinforced by the alloy aluminium pedals with non-slip rubber inserts, which proved very welcome during the abysmally wet week the Metal was in my custody. There’s also an attractive piano black finish to the centre stack, the air vent bezels and the door grabs. Other metallic-finish bits and pieces are dotted around the cabin, such as on the leather-trimmed gearstick, the handbrake and the 3-spoke steering wheel. The floor mats are finished off with silver piping and stainless steel scuff plates are integrated into the door sills.

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Keyless entry and start is a welcome feature, saving faffing around with keys, and everything feels very well put together in the Fiesta Metal. Okay, some of the plastics aren’t from the upper echelons of Ford’s parts bin, but they all feel sturdy, long-lasting and tactile.
Some may think the centre stack looks a bit of a fussy affair, emblazoned with hordes of little buttons and I actually found some of the rotary controls and other less-obvious buttons a bit tricky to master on the first attempt. It was worth persevering, though, as the sound quality from the Sony DAB digital radio and CD audio system was very good, and Bluetooth connected with no bother at all.

Behind the Wheel

Before the Fiesta Metal came along, the Fiesta top dogs were the Zetec S and the limited edition S1600, which both had 118bhp in standard form. The Metal builds on the feisty 1.6-litre Zetec S/S1600 setup and brings 132bhp to the party, along with a close-ratio 5-speed gearbox, a reworked exhaust system and a new low-loss air intake configuration, to eke out as much power as possible. The Fiesta Metal was launched less than a year ago and Auto Express magazine impressively awarded it 7th place out of 30, in their hunt for the Performance Car of The Year 2011.

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You already know I was impressed by its classy and well-built interior, but how did it perform on the road? The engine is refined and hushed if you’re gentle with your right foot, but push the Fiesta Metal hard and you’re in for a treat. One of the special little characteristics I loved about the Fiesta Metal was its exhaust note, which was surprisingly barky for a relatively modest and low-powered sports supermini like this. The Suzuki Swift Sport I drove last week had six gears, so it felt odd to me knowing that the Fiesta only had five – but having said that, it felt pretty refined on the motorway despite its lack of a sixth gear.

There was a fair bit of road noise at times, both at slow and fast speeds and especially over poor road surfaces, but despite the noise intrusion, the actual handling was very good indeed. The lowered sports suspension handled corners and uneven surfaces excellently, taking both in its stride. A car like this has got to be fun and the Fiesta certainly didn’t disappoint, its effective suspension, handling and nicely weighted steering contributing to its immense chuckability in corners. If driven with revs in mind, pushing it up into the 5-7,000RPM band when possible, the Fiesta Metal’s spritely, vocal little engine eggs the driver on, enhancing the engaging drive and resulting in punchy performance. Turn the wheel as sharply as you like and the Fiesta’s precise front end goes exactly where you point it, with very little body roll. The brakes, too, are nicely progressive once you get used to them.

A car for every day?

Whereas the Suzuki Swift Sport provided a good serving of sensations and smiles at low speeds even when one wasn’t particularly trying to induce them, the Fiesta Metal felt like it needed to be pushed hard to produce the same smiles. Perhaps it’s because the interior is so refined and polished. Whatever the case, it didn’t help the fuel economy. Ford quote 47.9MPG on the combined cycle. In the Suzuki Swift, I actually achieved its quoted figure, but not in the Fiesta Metal, averaging 37.5MPG. If you could stomach spending the £17,865 this particular car and spec would cost, whilst returning ten MPG less than the published figure, then you’ll like the Metal. Otherwise, perhaps look at one of the other models in the Fiesta range, offering a little less sporty behaviour but still presenting a refined, luxurious, feature-packed and great-handling package.

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Up front, the Fiesta Metal 3-door was roomy and comfortable, but in the back, passengers struggled owing to the poor legroom. Unless Ronnie Corbett is driving, the Metal won’t prove great for long or even medium-length trips, but for short trips, it’ll do. The seatbelts for front occupants are situated quite far back, requiring a long, contorted stretch to grab hold of the buckle, and the long metal runner for the seatbelts spoils the car’s interior ever so slightly.

For such a highly-specified car jam-packed with all the latest features, it was odd to have to fold the wing mirrors manually. But having said that, the mirrors themselves were lovely and wide, with an attractive and aerodynamic design. Ford’s revered heated Quickclear windscreen did a brilliant job, too. The boot managed to swallow our weekly supermarket shopping, to my surprise, and the back seats split and fold (not perfectly flat, but not bad) to allow the carrying of larger loads. The metal strut left standing in the boot is a bit of an odd one, though, and could have been tidied up by the designers. Manoeuvring the Fiesta was easy due to its compact dimensions, but on full lock it felt like the track rod ends were iffy, and rear visibility could have been better – restricted somewhat by its raked rear-end design. So it was a saviour that Ford have fitted the Fiesta Metal with rear parking sensors and also a reversing camera, which is displayed on the rear view mirror. The last small car I drove which had a reversing camera display integrated into the rear view mirror was the Kia Soul – so well done to Ford for making this available in the Fiesta, albeit as a £475 option.

CO2 emissions from the Fiesta Metal at 139g/km are better than the Suzuki Swift Sport which puts out 147g/km. Annual road tax will cost you a modest £115 and the Fiesta Metal’s boot space of 211 litres with the rear seats up compares well to the Swift’s 211 litres, whilst the Fiesta Metal offers a relatively impressive 979 litres with its back seats folded down.

In Summary

With a limited run of just 1,000 having been unleashed throughout the UK, the Fiesta Metal should prove fairly scarce if you’re into your exclusivity. It’s a few grand dearer than the Suzuki Swift Sport and RenaultSport Twingo Cup, which are very similar cars in terms of their headline figures. The Fiesta Metal may sometimes leave you feeling it’s slightly underpowered and you do need to drive it hard to get the best out of it. Nevertheless, it’s a remarkably agile car with crisp handling and a nice rorty exhaust note. Rear space isn’t brilliant, but it seldom is in small cars like this, and what the Fiesta Metal does bring to the party is a very decent dose of luxury and a strong equipment list, combing well with its sinister-but-smart appearance, resulting in quite a sophisticated warm supermini definitely worth test driving before you plump for one.

© Oliver Hammond

Specification of the Ford Fiesta Metal 1.6 TiVCT Duratec (134PS) Stage V tested in this review

Power: 134 PS
Max Speed MPH: 121
0-62 MPH (secs): 8.7
Urban MPG: 35.3
Extra Urban MPG: 58.9
Combined MPG: 47.9
CO2 Emission: 139
Tyre Size (inches): 17

Key features of the ‘Metal’ model’s specification

17” 5-spoke Panther Black alloy wheels
3-spoke leather steering wheel
4 front speakers
Air conditioning
Alloy pedals
Body colour front and rear bumper skirts
Body colour rear sports spoiler
Chrome twin exhaust tailpipes
Ebony black leather sports-style seats with silver stitching
Lowered sports suspension
Perimeter alarm
Quickclear heated windscreen
Side skirts
Silver interior trim headlights
Silver surround grille, front aerofoil, front fog light bezels
Sports front seats

Optional Extras fitted to this press car

Keyless Start £200
Privacy Glass £75
Sony DAB Radio, Bluetooth & Voice control £475.00
Spare Wheel £95
Alloy (Silver)- 17″x 7″, 5-Spoke , 205/40 tyres £50
Rear camera-Inc Rear Parking Sensors, auto dim mirror, auto h/lights and wipers £475.00
Metallic Paint – Panther Black £495.00

Total on-the-road price of this press car: £17,865.00


2012 Suzuki Swift Sport Road Test Review by Oliver Hammond

The Original Suzuki Swift Sport went down a treat in 2006, attracting acclaim and respect from virtually everybody who drove one. But for me, popping my Suzuki Swift Sport cherry with this, the all-new 2012 model, how did I rate it?

2012 Suzuki Swift Sport road test review by Oliver Hammond - Northwich rear

Pocket Rocket Styling

Whether you consider the Suzuki Swift Sport to be a ‘junior hot hatch’, a ‘warm hatch’ like I do, or simply the sporty version of a B-segment ‘supermini’, Suzuki are clearly trying to turn up the heat with this all-new Sport model for 2012. With a face-filling and sportingly-purposeful black honeycomb front grille, a short wheelbase, wide track, very attractive finned front fog lamp bezels, HID headlamps, elegant 17” alloys unique to the Sport version, a rear spoiler and an exhaust pipe either side of the eye-catching diffuser, it certainly looks the part – both as a standalone proposition and also when compared to its more realistic warm mini-hatch rivals, the Renaultsport Twingo and Fiesta Zetec S.

The ‘Cool White’ pearl metallic paint job my press car came in worked well and would especially suit those wanting a feisty little car which is relatively discrete on the outside, combining flirtations of sportiness with elegance. Sitting lower to the ground than the bog standard Swift, the Sport model also comes with privacy glass, reinforcing its cool image. Compared to most cars of similar ilk on the market, the Swift Sport to me looks more mature, which is probably why I’ve recently met a handful of people who are contemplating downsizing from their Focus RSs to one of these.

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Sure, this all-new model doesn’t look vastly different to the original, but Suzuki’s conservative approach is commendable. If it ain’t broke… The original model carved a niche reputation for itself as offering great performance for a bargain price, the ‘S’ badge not putting anyone off. So the subtle visual tweaks for 2012 Continue Reading →


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