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All-New Suzuki SX4 S-Cross SUV Crossover Launch

Location: Fawsley Hall, Northamptonshire
Date: September 4th 2013

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The Lowdown:

  • An all-new and very important model for Suzuki, who are trying to break into the lucrative crossover market
  • Primarily targeted at the Nissan Qashqai
  • Suzuki have traditionally sold to private, cash-paying buyers, but now want to focus on the leasing and Motability ‘fleet’ market, which nowadays accounts for around 40% of UK sales across the board
  • The SX4 S-Cross is claimed to tick all the boxes associated with successful SUVs, unlike any other comparative model (according to Suzuki)
  • It’s also pitched as being cheaper, roomier, just as well-equipped, more economical and greener.

The Models:

  • Petrol 1.6 or diesel 1.6, both with 120PS
  • All models fitted with a 6-speed manual gearbox but a CVT automatic transmission can be specified on the range-topping petrol model
  • Trims range from SZ3 and SZ4 through to SZ-T (with DAB radio, parking sensors and colour sat nav, aimed at the fleet market) and the top-of-the-range SZ5 with leather seats and a double sliding panoramic sunroof
  • The SZ-T and SZ5 models are available in either 2WD or 4WD with Suzuki’s new ALLGRIP system which comes with Auto, Lock, Snow and Sport modes
  • The fastest is the 1.6 petrol 2WD variant which hits 62mph in 11 seconds
  • The most economical on paper is the 1.6 DDiS diesel 2WD at 67.2mpg
  • Pricing starts at £14,999 for the petrol SZ3 in 2WD, upto £23,540 for the diesel SZ5 4WD ALLGRIP

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First Impressions:

  • Tame but nevertheless attractive design
  • No badge snobbery, so I like it even more
  • Roomy, comfortable, high quality interior, only let down by poor headroom in models with the panoramic sunroof
  • Practical boot with 12V socket and proper spare tyre
  • Loads of equipment in SZ5 models. My favourite is DAB radio. DRLs and HID headlamps also included
  • Petrol engine fine but I preferred the nippier diesel unit which proved quite good fun
  • The 6-speed gearbox can’t really be faulted and the ride and handling felt strong, too
  • Sport mode on 4WD models did sharpen things up
  • Should be reasonably good on poor surfaces owing to Suzuki’s track record in off-road vehicles

All in all, a very good car, based on my brief drives during today’s launch. My pick? The 1.6 diesel manual in 4WD ALLGRIP SZ5 trim.

Thanks once again to the Suzuki UK team for their hospitality.

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MG6 GT DTi-TECH SE diesel road test review by Oliver Hammond

Take one diesel engine developed by Chinese company SAIC, combine with a healthy dose of Brummy design, mix with a completely new chassis and garnish with an iconic badge. The result? A new MG6 diesel. Yes, at last, the new MG6 can attempt to target the fleet market now that the range includes a diesel powerplant. It’s fair to say you’ve probably not seen many new MG6s on the roads yet, but it’s a landmark model for MG, having risen from the ashes. What did I make of it, after its curtain-twitching arrival on the back of a truck?

MG6 GT DTi-TECH SE road test review by Oliver Hammond - photo - front 2

Exterior

Manufacturers’ press packs and websites often spout off reams of fancy design terminology to describe every inch of their new models, some firms even delving into philosophy, harmony with nature and a synergy with animals and the human body. The MG6 diesel press pack does no such thing. What we do know is that the MG6’s design seeks to continue the brand’s sporty focus – and that the MG6 was designed by a bloke called Tony, at the MG European Design Centre in Birmingham.

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I can’t deny it – the MG6 does look sporty, especially in Regal Red and with its turbine-esque alloy wheels. Although some may say it looks a bit cheerful, I quite like the design of the MG6’s face, with its purposeful stance, athletic lines and large lower grille. The side profile is decent enough, too, looking nicely proportioned, squat and purposeful. I’m not completely struck on the rear, but it does blend in well with the rest of the car. Perhaps the frosted light clusters make it look a little cheap and the rear window looks too small from dead-on. I wouldn’t advise you to poke around the car’s exterior too closely, as I was slightly taken aback by the poor panel gaps and fit and finish in places. But generally speaking, the new MG6 ‘fastback’ GT model is an attractive-enough family car, definitely not classy enough to punch outside its weight category, but offering an interesting alternative to MG’s main rivals the Skoda Rapid and Octavia, and also the Ford Focus segment the MG6 also straddles. Considering this is the first new MG for aeons, they could have Continue Reading →

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2013 Mazda6 2.2d diesel manual 175PS Sport Nav Saloon road test review by Oliver Hammond

An all-new Mazda6 saloon isn’t the kind of news that gets everyone excited, but being a saloon lover I for one was really eager to spend a week with one after the very positive reaction it received around its very recent launch. The ‘large family’ and ‘compact executive’ car sectors are rammed full of quite viable choices, so it would be very interesting to see what impression the new ‘6’ made on me. Soon after it arrived, it was clear Sade would approve. Read on to find out what I’m out about and learn how Mazda really is boxing clever at the cutting edge these days.

2013 Mazda6 2-2 diesel Sport Nav 175PS manual saloon road test review by Oliver Hammond Simons Car Spots - photo side Princes

Exterior

I’ve always believed that the best-looking cars are the ones which look like they’re moving, even when they’re stationary. Mazda think the same thing and this is partly what their ‘KODO’ design philosophy is all about. I guess the guy from Mazda is right when he passionately talks about animals (and in particular, racehorses), athletes, body lines which depict ‘leaping’, and strong hip muscles. The new Mazda6 does indeed look dynamic, athletic and sculpted – and I absolutely love it. It looks splendid from all angles but my personal favourites are the coupe-esque side profile with its sloping roofline down to the boot, and the front-three-quarters, with its bulging, purposeful wheel arches and chrome-accented grille, flanked with attractive LED daytime running lights.

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The Mazda6 is classed as a large family car and in my view it therefore has the best styling in its class. Rivals such as the Ford Mondeo, Vauxhall Insignia, Skoda Superb and Volkswagen Passat look far less exciting. With striking looks like these, the Mazda6 is capable of poaching a few sales from the executive saloon market and one of the biggest compliments I can pay it is that it Continue Reading →

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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 →
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Suzuki Jimny 1.3 SZ4 road test review by Oliver Hammond

Good grief – the last Suzuki Jimny experience I had was of the soft-top one we hired in Crete a few years ago! That brings back memories, including quite a few hair-raising moments on the country’s abundance of twisty and rocky country roads. Oh, and the beaches. Anyway, back to the point and here we have it, a facelifted Suzuki Jimny. No, you’re not the only one who thinks the Jimny has effectively remained unchanged for what feels like decades. But does it still carve any kind of place for itself in 2013?

2013 Suzuki Jimny 1-3 SZ4 road test review by Oliver Hammond SimonsCarSpots MyCarCoach Car Finder - photo front 34

Exterior

It’s the most compact 4×4 ‘SUV’ – if you can call it that – on the market and yes, the Jimny hasn’t changed much at all over the decades it’s been knocking around. The Jimny genealogy goes back all the way to 1968 but it was in 1997 when the version familiar to almost everyone was introduced.

Hire Rental Suzuki Jimny Crete Greece

So what’s new now we’re in 2013? The Jimny’s lovable, cheery and characterful face has been mildly tweaked, with a groovy central air intake on the bonnet, a new grille and fog lights, plus alloy wheels. Yup, sorry to disappoint, but that really is about it as far as any styling updates on the outside. One day, I saw no less than eight Jimnys drive past me within 5 miles of leaving the house, so the Jimny’s army of cult followers are apparently still happy with its tried and tested styling.

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Taking it at face value, the Jimny does look quite cool, with its chunky wheels, rugged, contrasting bumpers, square silhouette and dinky little, round, beaming headlights, with the very basic, squat rear styling, side-hinged boot and spare tyre on the back giving it a mini-macho image. It would be great to see an all-new Jimny at some point in the near future – but for now, it seems Continue Reading →

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2012 Ford Ranger Wildtrak 3.2 diesel automatic road test review by Oliver Hammond

Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely love haute cuisine, umpteen-course taster menus and the like. But I’m equally at home with a good old, honest, supersized burger and chunky fries. In fact, I’m often a teeny bit envious of the guy who presents the TV show ‘Man vs Food’. In my case, ‘All things big or beautiful’ are the order of the day. Cue the 2012 model Ford Ranger. It’s certainly big. But is it any good?

2012 Ford Ranger Wildtrak 3-2 diesel automatic road test review by Oliver Hammond photo - front Ridge Hill 1

Exterior

The new, 2012 model year Ford Ranger looks and indeed is much bigger than the previous model – which not only looked somewhat diminutive in comparison to some other pickup rivals of its day, but also looked rather Hillbilly-ish. Not so the new model, which completely dwarfs it and looks nothing but modern. Ford have done a marvellous job of styling the latest Ranger, which looks very American and will no doubt continue to go down a treat in the vehicle’s far-flung markets all around the globe, especially those in which big pickups are the norm.

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Okay, the side profile and the rear of the new Ford Ranger look more or less like its equally massive main rivals, the Nissan Navara, Toyota Hilux and Isuzu D-Max. But then they’re all designed to accomplish the same tasks, so I’ve not got a problem with that. And in my view, the styling of the front of the new Ford Ranger, especially in range-topping Wildtrak guise as tested here, blows the competition out of the water. It looks amazing. You’ll certainly never lose your Wildtrak in a car park if you order it with this press vehicle’s bright orange paint job. Nor will you forget what model you own, as Ford have tastefully etched ‘Ranger’ above the front grille, as well as printed it in huge lettering on the back.

The Ford Ranger means business, which is apparent from the moment you set eyes on it. The gaping wheel arches, large tyres and chunky body panels ooze ruggedness. And the great thing about the new Ranger is that it doesn’t seem to attract the remotest bit of animosity. Neighbours, pedestrians and fellow road-users all looked at the Ranger admiringly and with respect. People realise that it shouldn’t be classed as part of the Chelsea Tractor brigade. The Ranger is, after all, a Continue Reading →

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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?

Alfa Romeo MiTo MultiAir Distinctive 1-4 Petrol 135BHP TCT road test review by Oliver Hammond - photo front 34b

Exterior

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 →

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Mazda 3 Sport Nav 185ps diesel (is it a Q-Car) from Simon Ford @Sf4d74,

Here at SimonsCarSpots.com we like a good Challenge of Driving cars from Manufactures and Giving you our views/opinion/verdict, and today is no exception,

Over the last few Months we have Tested City cars, 4×4’s, Mid-range cars, Luxury cars, But never a Q-Car….Well untill today that is.

Now as you may or may not know, a Q-Car is a high performance model that looks (from the outside) like a standard car, and doesn’t attract unwanted attention from the Police, Eg think ‘Lancia Thema 8:32′, ‘Peugeot 405 m16′

As we also know!, Q-Cars are usually the petrol derived variants from car manufactures, these days with the economy being the way it is, why can’t we include diesels and open up the definition of Q-cars and why the ‘Mazda 3 Sport Nav 185 ps’  might! be included.

The Mazda 3 Sport Nav isn’t an out and out Sports Model, It’s Mazdas way of naming their line up, Tamura, Venture and Sport Nav being Mazdas top of the range version

EXTERIOR

Mazda have created a fresh yet Sporty look to the Mazda 3 Range, it’s good looking, understated yet Striking!, at the same time also has some neat little touches like the Sculpted bonnet and flared wheel arches, which are also present throughout the Mazda 3 Range.

What makes the Sport Nav stand out from the rest of the Range on the exterior front I hear you ask?

Well there’s Privacy Glass, 10 Spoke Alloys (17″), Honeycomb Grille, Side Skirts and a Sport Badge, But you also Get these with the exception of the Sport Badge on All Mazda 3’s,

So Far So Good as a Q-Car then!.

Interior

Open the door to the ‘Mazda 3 Sport Nav’ and the first thing that you notice are the cowled dials on the dashboard instantly giving a sporty appearance before you’ve even sat down, Once you’ve sat down you begin to notice everything else around you bit by bit.

All the information you’ll ever need, Trip computer with economy figures are directly above and to the left of the dials, next to that is your lcd  for heater settings,

Then the centre console, you have the Sat Nav (very easy to operate by touchscreen) below that are your Dual Climate Controls (many buttons), + Heated Seat Buttons, (1 being warm 5 being toasted) then there’s the Button Filled Steering Wheel for cruise control, Stereo, + Information, It’s all nicely laid out, good quality plastics and soft touch hard wearing materials, but there are just so many buttons, saying that if you like buttons, then you’ll be in button heaven in the ‘Mazda 3 Sport Nav’.

Again what makes this car a Q-Car I hear you all ask?

Well NOTHING! it’s essentially the same as the rest in the Mazda 3 range, well made, good quality product.

Ride + Driving

Now this is where a Q-Car will either be made or Broken in it’s driving experience,

I took the ‘Mazda 3 Sport Nav’ from Letchworth to Glasgow then onto Loch Lomond and Luss (in very challenging weather conditions) a distance of 460 miles .

Through the country roads of the A507 heading to the M1 the Mazda felt very good driving through all the twisty stuff, with very little body roll, no bumping through uneven surfaces, the Front Mcphearson and the rear E-type multi-Link suspension with monotube Dampers doing a fantastic job of dealing with all the hard work whilst making the driving experience sure footed and enjoyable everytime I pushed it.

Onto the Motorway itself and this is where the ‘Mazda 3 Sport Nav’ comes to it’s own,

With a (claimed) 0-60 time of 8.9 seconds the middle sized Mazda will join main carraigeways very safely and easily, demolish miles and miles of motorways with Ease, also there’s 400nm of torque available to play with, so overtaking middle lane hoggers who are doing 60mph means you’ll just blitz past.

Mazda claim a top speed of 132mph from The 2.2 litre diesel, but It’s the way the power is distributed that makes this a brilliant engine and well suited for this particular version, with the Turbo kicking in at 1900rpm once your moving it’s always there at your disposal

My only gripe with the Sport Nav was it’s Gearbox, (although a small gripe) and that was between 2nd-3rd gear the spacing seems a little stretched especially if you try to hurry your changes, otherwise very smooth indeed.

Economy wise Mazda claim a combined figure of 52mpg with a co2 of 144g/km (£135 a yeat to Tax), on my trip I managed 48.6mpg which is still good and meant my 460 mile trip cost me only £50 in diesel

With a Torquey engine, good bhp, respectful Economy ‘The Mazda 3 Sport Nav’ as a Q-Car keeps getting better.

Equipment

Being Mazdas Top of the Range Model the Sport Nav comes well equipped as Standard, some of the features include, Cruise Control, Intergrated 4.1″ Sat Nav, Premium Bose sound system, Heated seats with 5 settings, Dual Climate Control, Welcome Mode Lighting, and Everything else You’d expect from a modern car nowdays, Yet suprisingly No Parking Sensors as standard

Standard Safety Features include,

MAIDAS – Mazda Advanced Impact Distribution and Absorption System, 4W-ABS, EBD, EBA, DSC, ESS, + Traction Control

 

Overal Verdict

Mazda Have Made a Very Well Built, Well Equipped, Great Engined, Mid sector car competing with the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra and Vw Golf.

At £20,995 it’s not the cheapest car in it’s class, nor the most class leading in it’s sector, It has a couple of faults, like too many buttons, average sized boot, and a tricky 2nd-3rd gear if rushed, but it does have that Good Engine, It’s Descreet, Fast, Fun to drive, Eats the miles easily, (remember no Q-Cars are perfect thats the appeal).

Ok Ok!, I know the ‘Mazda 3 Sport Nav’ Isn’t a Q-Car, but don’t you think we should consider some modern day diesel variants from ‘Low Volume Car Manufacturers’ as Replacements, If so! then I Bagsy the ‘Mazda 3 Sport Nav’ goes in first!.

 

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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

Exterior

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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Interior

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 →

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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

Exterior

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 →

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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

Exterior

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 →

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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

Exterior

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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Suzuki Grand Vitara 2.4 Petrol Manual 5-door SZ5 road test review by Oliver Hammond

Have a guess how long the Suzuki Grand Vitara has been around? If I told you the answer is twenty four years, you couldn’t help but be impressed, right? Okay, it’s not quite as long as one of the other 4×4 stalwarts, the Mitsubishi Pajero/Shogun, but the survival of the Grand Vitara tells you Suzuki must have got something right. But in a world where SUVs have fast become fashion accessories for all kinds of different people and have become more and more blingy, is the Grand Vitara now a bit old hat?

Suzuki Grand Vitara 2-4 Petrol Manual SZ5 5-door road test review by Oliver Hammond photo - lead

Exterior

Compared to the majority of the latest wave of SUVs and most notably to that ultra-sexy, chic and must-have one designed by one Mrs Victoria Beckham, the Suzuki Grand Vitara is unapologetically boxy. But despite being styled as excitingly as a fridge-freezer in the minds of many people, it does have something about it. Its chunky, utilitarian outline reminds people that this ain’t a soft-roader – it’s a proper 4×4 off-roader. ‘All mouth and no trousers’ doesn’t apply to the Grand Vitara, as it can genuinely venture into the rocky, muddy unknown, where many of the more trendily-styled rivals would flop. And to be fair, some buyers actually value anonymity, so the Grand Vitara’s unlikelihood to turn heads and drop jaws is a selling point in their view.

This latest Grand Vitara model comes with indicators integrated into the door mirrors, slight tweaks to the rear to make it more modern, chunky 18” alloy wheels, tinted windows and a more butch front grille and bumpers. The spare wheel carrier on the back has also now been dropped, to try and make the Suzuki appear less ‘UN peace keeping’ and more ‘cool urban warrior’. HID headlights finish off the minutely refreshed look.

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Exciting, it’s not – but the Grand Vitara has an enviably robust look about it. You know it’s been around a while, you know you won’t come a cropper off the beaten track, you know you can trust it owing to the firm’s reliable image, and you know it won’t attract much angst, if any, from anti-SUV sections of society. Although it could now do with an entirely new design, The Grand Vitara is Continue Reading →

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