We drove Seat Ibiza FR 1.0 TGI: The power of nature…

OLYMPUS E 510, ISO 100, F 8, 1/160 sec.

We were keen to lay our hands on Did you know that Compressed Natural Gas has a higher energy density than petrol? That it emits almost no small particles? That it brings CO2 emissions down by a good 30 pct? That there are no NOx emissions to speak of? Indeed, nature has some very good things in store…

So it is only logical that the VW group has taken a long hard look at CNG and puts it in their cars. The fifth generation Seat Ibiza therefore also has a “dual fuel” car in its range, which runs happily on both CNG and petrol. Just to give combustion engine followers a “green” alternative.

an Ibiza in the sporting FR version, with under the hood a 90 HP “CNG/petrol” version of its well proven 3 cylinder 999 cc engine, and put it through its paces for you. Just read further…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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Stepping into this aptly styled Ibiza, one hardly notices any difference when pushing the starting knob. The smooth 1 litre unit eagerly springs to life, emitting its typical pleasant efficient sound when revving up. One is running on CNG, so the instruments tell you, as a green CNG symbol lights up and the content of the CNG fuel tanks are displayed. Actually, this display doubles in the rev counter cluster also as an engine coolant temperature indicator. On the right hand, in the speedometer cluster, the gauge of the petrol tank is placed.  

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That’s it really. One doesn’t notice anything further in particular when driving. The engine is utterly smooth, docile and willing. It revs beautifully through the gears, displaying more than decent pulling power and punch once the revs are above 2000 rpm. The consumption indicator tells you how much CNG is flowing through the injectors, and it displays it in… kilograms instead of liters.

One should know that 1 kg of CNG is the equivalent of 1,5 litre of petrol. This puts everything in perspective when you are seeing a consumption of 2,9 kg/100 km for example when driving smoothly with low revs in a high gear, adjusting to a slower urban traffic flow.

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Indeed, this engine has wonderful smoothness and elasticity, and will not protest when you select a higher gear at 1500 rpm , and then cruise along at 1300 rpm or thereabouts, when just driving along with the traffic flow is what you want to do. This will lead to astonishingly low consumption figures, and even when driving in petrol “mode”, the (instant) consumption then drops to around 4 litres/100 km. So remember, small throttle openings and low revs will get you very far indeed.

But substantial pulling power is only to be had above 2000 rpm, as we said before. When you decide to rev it up and really put your foot down, the 1 litre unit shows its mettle, and will let this Ibiza sprint from 0 to 100 km/h in 12,1 seconds under a sporting staccato. The six speed manual is a delight to use with slick and fast changes, so there is some good driving pleasure to be had. This Ibiza also stands very well its own on the Autobahnen, as it has a top speed of 181 km/h and high speed cruising is an effortless affair.

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Turning back to consumption, Seat quotes a combined CNG consumption in the region of 3,3 kg/100 km, with combined petrol consumption boiling down to around 5 liter/100 km. Our consumption was some 20 % higher than this.  

The stability and excellent qualities of the platform, shared with the Polo and the A1 Audi come into play here. One is indeed spoilt by the precision of the steering, the very predictable road holding and the ideal compromise between agility, stability and comfort.

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Seamless CNG/Petrol transition…

This CNG powered Ibiza doesn’t take any further attention from your part in daily use. Not only is CNG refuelling a breeze, with the openings of both CNG and petrol tanks sitting neatly next to each other under the tank lid, but also when the CNG tank runs empty, the system will automatically switch to petrol and you don’t notice anything at all. Only the gauges and tell tale lamp will tell you that you are now running on petrol.

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Price differences between CNG and petrol vary of course depending on the EU countries, but it will typically take something between 40 to 50,000 kilometres to recoup the price difference between the normal petrol or diesel and the CNG version of the Ibiza. Note that Seat Belgium offers the CNG version in March at the same price as the petrol version(!).

We also discovered that Belgium has now 135 CNG stations and found one about 1,5 km from our home. Let it also be said that with the CNG Ibiza, you can drive in all underground parkings and have of course accession to all urban Low Emission Zones.  

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Practical

The fifth generation of the Ibiza has a stylish and roomy body, with a slightly reduced boot space when compared with the other versions, to make room for the extra CNG tanks. It varies between 355 liters and a quite reasonable 1072 liters when seats are folded. The car we tested had the luxury pack with velvet textile “FR” seats and dashboard panels covered in artificial leather.

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The car also had 18 inch alloys which certainly added to the car’s appearance. With the premium pack came also the big touch screen with excellent infotainment. Last but not least we enjoyed the keyless function as well as the adaptive cruise control.

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Conclusion

Environmental responsibility abounds, and using natural gas as energy, something which millions of European households and citizens are doing in their homes, is a very clever solution. The style, solid VW Group workmanship , the excellent road qualities and superb willing engine are further solid arguments to convince you to take this CNG Ibiza for a spin. You might decide to make it into a drive which lasts a very long time…

Hans Knol ten Bensel            

We drove the Skoda Superb Scout 2.0 TSI 200 kW DSG 4×4: stylish panache and sportiness…

Whatever the wheater and road conditions, this Scout is your ideal companion…Shot with our second hand Olympus in bad light conditions, ISO 400, F 6,3, 1/125 sec.

Classic recipes will always stay superb. This top end Skoda literally embodies it, and its badge tells it all…

It was a unique and refreshing experience to sit behind the wheel of this well engineered break and enjoy to the full what a modern, state of the art combustion engine can accomplish in combination with an equally top notch DSG gearbox . Push the starting knob and your ears already enjoy the humming sound of this thoroughbred four. This engine excels in smooth refinement, panache, pulling power and efficiency.

The rest of the drivetrain is up to the mark. The DSG seven speed box is alert, smooth, and always puts judiciously the right gear forward. The 4 x 4 drive consists of the state of the art Haldex system. Typically, 96 % of the total power is directed to the front, improving fuel efficiency. Depending on the road conditions, the electronic sensors redirect power to the wheels that have sufficient traction. The Haldex AWD has been seen on the Octavia since about a decade, but this is the first time it is coupled to a DSG gearbox.

This Superb has personality…

OLYMPUS E-510, ISO 400, F 5,5, shot at remarkably low 1/15 of a sec at 70 mm equivalent, showing how the image stabilizer does an excellent job…

This is a car with character. Inviting you to experience its punch and performance, yet remaining docile and refined in urban driving. It will respond beautifully when you push your right foot a bit further down, but will not protest when you subject it to endless stop and go traffic.

OLYMPUS E-510 F 5,5, ISO 400, 1/10 sec and 54 mm equivalent. Amazing sharpness due to stabilizer…

Performance leaves nothing to be desired. 200 kW or 272 HP see to that. It sprints from 0 to 100 km/h in merely 5,7 seconds, hurtling further to a top speed of 250 km/h. Pulling power is abundant over a very wide rev range, with 350 Nm being available between 2000 and 5400 rpm. Almost supercar performance, which is matched by excellent handling. This Superb will not protest when you decide to take it through its paces on winding roads, the judicious set up of the suspension clearly shows. Of course, the VW group and also even more Skoda borrows from a massive engineering and last but not least sporting rally experience of their cars, and they really know how to set up a decent handling car.

OLYMPUS E-510, ISO 400, F 4,9, 1/40 sec.

The straight line stability is also excellent, and high speed driving in this Superb is a relaxing affair.

Last but not least, the brakes are of course also up to the job.           

…and is immensely practical

Of course, fuel consumption is very much in function of how much power you use. Drive this Scout with some restraint, and it will quite naturally reward you with reasonable consumption figures.

OLYMPUS E-510, F 5,6, 1/20 sec at 65 mm equivalent. Image stabilizer working hard…

The manufacturer quotes 9 litres/100 km in urban driving, and this is easily surpassed in the region of 11-12 litres when the distances are very short and the engine has not reached its operating temperature. But keep the throttle openings small and the DSG will faithfully choose higher gears and keep the revs (very) low, and then this Scout will chalk up creditable figures. On the open road, the picture looks a lot brighter, with the manufacturer quoting 6 liters/100 km. On average, we reached 7,5 liters/100 km, with mostly relaxed driving.

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But as said, this Superb Scout is immensely usable. Not afraid of open terrain, it will transport five and their luggage.

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And, in the good Skoda tradition, boot space is plentiful. From 660 liters to 1950 liter. Head room and leg room for the rear passengers has also to be experienced to be believed.

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Of course, driving assistance systems and infotainment are up to scratch. The central display can be ordered from 8 up to 9.2 inches, and the top of the range Columbus system, found in our test car, offers 3D navigation, Skoda connect, gesture control and Wi-Fi hotspot. We enjoyed the Canton sound system too…

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Besides the usual driver assistance systems, like lane assist, adaptive cruise control, practical items include 2 USB ports in the front, 2 USB ports and 230 v socket in the rear, inductive charging of your phone, just to name a few. Then there is the cooled glove box, space for 1,5 liter bottles in all the doors, and space also for your coloured safety vest…

Conclusion

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A formidable, sporting companion, this Scout, on all the roads you may take to any destination in this wide world. It has a formidable combustion engine, and one should not forget, this is what more than 90 pct of us all still drives. It certainly has its evident merits, if only one considers the CO2 footprint of making large(r) batteries, and depending on what car you need for your lifestyle and driving habits. It is beautifully built, solid and reliable, well equipped, offering tons of space. It looks (very) good too, and its sporting panache could put a (broad) smile on your face for a very long time…actually, every time you take its wheel, for years on end.

Hans Knol ten Bensel  

We drove the Mercedes E 300 de Estate: hybrid cleverness under the good star…

The Mercedes E 300 de is stylish and versatile hybrid. The photos here are shot with our second hand Olympus SLR E-510, f 7.2, 1/160 s, 200 ASA. Up to scratch!

When the oldest car manufacturer in the world goes hybrid, you can expect the best. Indeed, they use the adage in their marketing language: “the best or nothing”. And they use it…not for nothing. This we could experience behind the wheel of a sleek E Class estate, where under the hood the well proven 2 litre 4 cylinder diesel is married in hybrid fashion to a powerful electric engine. The result is indeed the (very) best of both worlds. Impressive to say the least. Just read further…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

The Mercedes engineers and strategists put their heads together and had a long hard look at what a Mercedes hybrid in today’s world has to be capable of in order to respond to the needs of its clients. It is well known that the E class sedans and estates with the good star are driven frequently at long(er) distances, and therefore the diesel engine is a (very) logical choice.

Diesel and E-power are closely married under the bonnet…

It is also a fact that this hybrid Mercedes has to be “city proof” for years to come, and therefore has to be able to drive quite reasonable distances in the city centre on lively E-power. So the choice was obvious: the well proven 2 litre four cylinder 191 HP diesel engine known from the E 220 d is also adopted here, but now alongside it is a 122 HP electric motor, which delivers more than enough zest with its 440 Nm torque.

One can monitor the energy flow on the screen…

The diesel unit doesn’t lack pulling power either, and has an impressive 400 Nm of torque. Both engines do not develop their maximum power at the same time, but nevertheless total maximum system power is not less than 302 hp and 700 Nm. You understand that this means excellent performance: your are catapulted from 0 to 100 in 5,9 seconds, and top speed is 250 km/h.

Hybrid power the Mercedes way

But the true panache of this Mercedes is the completely effortless way this performance is delivered, and the excellent comfort it offers to its inhabitants, whatever the distance travelled and the quality of the roads encountered.  

The virtual instrumentation lets you choose between displays… we liked this futuristic the most.

A reasonable action radius in urban E driving is therefore a must, and with a 13.5 kW battery Mercedes has done what is needed to achieve this. According to the altogether realistic WLTP cycle, this E 300 de can drive on E power over a distance of about 50 km.

When you charge the battery while driving, consumption goes up, here to an average of 7,5 litres/100 km, whilst gaining 3,9 kWh/100 km…

We did not quite achieve this with the heavier estate version, but came very close indeed. This means that in practice it is quite possible to meet even the strictest urban LEZ standards for years to come, as you can drive solely on E power.

But that is not all. With the push of a button on the central console, you can select between drive modes, and besides «E mode» and «Hybrid» you can opt for “E-save” and “Charge”.  

This means you can also opt to keep the battery charged at a chosen level, or even (re)charge the battery partially or fully while driving, so that you can build up enough charge to drive later a chosen distance on electric power in the city. Very clever, this absolute versatility. On top of all that, the efficiency of the diesel engine lets you chalk up very reasonable consumption figures even during this battery (re)charging on the move, staying for instance in open road driving conditions between 6,5 and 7 litres/100 km. This is about 1l/100 km more than in non-hybrid driving, which you achieve when opting for “E-save”. Of course the hybrid mode will still improve this fuel consumption, but it costs you Kilowatts…  

  

The fuel consumption varies evidently with the use of the plug-in function, and indeed it is in practice quite possible to use this E 300 as an urban electric car in a short distance scenario with frequent plug-in recharging. A neatly placed plug at the right side rear end of the car makes this recharging a breeze. In these driving circumstances, you hardly use the Diesel power, and therefore your fuel consumption will be very low.

CO2 Emissions are as low as 41 g/km, according to the WLTP cycle.  

Creature comfort

The E class Mercedes has built itself an enviable reputation as a comfortable and spacious long distance runner, and here only superlatives are called for. The suspension is set up slightly firmer to cope with the 300 kg additional weight. Very good stability is the result, with hardly any noticeable drop in comfort levels. This E Class will still excel in ironing out those frost ridden roads…

State of the art infotainment and driving aids.

The state of the art digital instruments and panoramic infoscreen across the dashboard are now becoming a hallmark for the three starred brand, as well as the commands on the steering wheel. The host of driving aids are also setting industry standards.

The steering wheel commands have state-of-the art ergonomy…

Our Mercedes came with Parktronic, an excellent head-up display, 360° camera, speed limit assistant, adaptive cruise control, collision prevention assist plus, PRE-SAFE intelligent anticipation for accidents, you name it. Of course adaptive headlight beam assistant is also provided.   

You are also pampered in the cabin: our test car came with the Burmester Surround sound system, Keyless Go, Easy pack electro-hydraulic rear boot lid, Premium ambiente mood lighting of the interior, a panoramic sunroof, and your eyes are spoilt in the AMG line interior with panels of open-pore ash wood and last but not least an analogue clock.The seats in Artico Leather and Dyamica black microfibre have 4-way adjustable lumbar support, and not to forget the dashboard surfaces are clad in Artico leather.  

Luxury: an analogue clock on open pore ash wood

GPS and GSM antenna’s are present, Apple Car Play and Android Auto as well as inductive charging of your phone is also included.

The exterior is also adorned with an AMG line package, with a matte Disegno Selenite grey Magno paint, which suited the test car very well.

Unsurprisingly, this puts the all-in price tag of our test car well above 70.000 Euros excluding VAT, but let it be said that a standard, reasonably well equipped E 300 de Break can be had in our country for 56.700 Euro (excluding VAT) at the time of writing.

Conclusion

A very impressive hybrid, which lets you enjoy E-propulsion just where you need it, in urban traffic. On the open road, you are to enjoy the smooth and frugal Diesel power, and this is one of the good reasons you drive a car with the good star. Of course this hybrid is all the more useful and appropriate when you include a fair share of urban driving in your motoring life.

Olympus E-510, F 10, 1/250 sec, 200 ASA

The Mercedes is a quality car built to the most exacting standards with legendary robustness and longevity, designed to move you over short or long distances in comfort and safety, and this is exactly what this break does.

On top of that, it is well styled, roomy and practical. Need we say more?

Hans Knol ten Bensel   

Photo comments: we used our “new” second hand E-510 Olympus with its standard zoom lens for these shots, and as you see, the results are quite up to scratch… See the presentation of this camera in our columns… This shot was taken with our Huawei smartphone.

We drove the Fiat Panda Cross 4 x 4: your cute, compact companion on any road

Who doesn’t want a car which is the quintessence of  ” less is more “and takes you literally everywhere? Such a car is the Panda Cross we drove here for you. A car which embodies all the “savoir faire” of a great  manufacturer who is an absolute genius in making small cars. This Panda we drove is moreover full of unique panache, as it combines the clever two cylinder “TwinAir” petrol engine with a very comptetent 4 WD drivetrain.

This engine with its twin cylinder sound adds to the endearing character of this Panda, as it recalls the original sound of the (also) vertical twin of the fifties Cinquecento.

Of course, this is where the comparison with its iconic predecessor ends. Because the present day Panda has sufficient room for four grown ups, is light years further when it comes to high speed stability,  comfort and last but not least passive safety.

But before we take the wheel, just a few words here about the cute looks of this Cross Panda. The front of the car already tells the story. Fog lights are snugly set into the matte black grille, the skid plate suggests clearly that this Fiat is not afraid of hitting rougher terrain. Cute accents are further found alongside this Panda, with impressive side mouldings and further culminate in the rear end, where also a skid plate is found. It also has larger mountain snow tyres, which raises the ground clearance to 161 mm and increases wading depth to not less than 410 mm.

The cabin with its typical rounded contours in the iconic Panda styling language host clearly readable instruments and knobs.

Rediscover (off-road) pleasure…

What has remained in this iconic Panda over the years is the absolute driving fun. Sliding behind the wheel you will find immediately the right knobs and handles, the cute gearlever literally falls into your hand.

The pleasant throb of the eager TwinAir is music in your ears, as it revs up swiftly and gets you going with verve.

Of course, we live in energy conscious times. So you shouldn’t let your enthusiasm get the best of you, and refrain from higher revs.  Change up at 1700 rpm or so, which sounds way too low as your ears are used to the typical throb of a four cylinder. But rest assured, you are doing the right thing. You are also well advised to choose the “eco” mode, which shifts the engine management towards efficient combustion at lower revs and partial load. The rewards are impressive. Urban fuel consumption remains below 7 litres, with enough pulling power left for an active driving style. Drive it in “eco” mode on the open road, and the consumption is dwindling to around 5 litres. A remarkable feat for any 4WD! The manufacturer quotes 117 g/km as CO2 emissions.

But Panda driving is also about (re)discovering driving pleasure. If you are in the mood, forget the eco mode, let the thoroughbred twin sing full breasted, and every metre you travel is just epic. You accelerate faster than a 500 “esse esse” Abarth Corsa of yesteryear, as this TwinAir 875 cc unit has not less than 85 horsepower, and the hissing throb at higher revs and full throttle is just about the same as its famous ancestor. Your Panda sprints under your able hand (and foot) in under 15 seconds from 0 to 100 km/h, and soon you hit the top speed of around 160 km/h. The dapper Panda will cruise all day at 130 km/h and therefore is a perfect all rounder which, despite its initial urban and off-road vocation, is also a good companion on longer motorway trips.

Long distance comfort is greatly helped by the good suspension, which admirably swallows rough tarmac and pavés, and also the fine sound deadening and vibrationless drivetrain are just right here.

In our columns you can also read more about our driving impressions  of the “Mild Hybrid” version of the Panda and 500, which have a very docile 70 HP three cylinder engine under the hood.

A true master offroad…

Due to its low kerb weight (1090 kg), which gives it about the same power to weight ratio as a Diesel Range Rover and last but not least its compactness this Cross Panda is a formidable mount in snow buried mountain villages and pass roads. Not surprisingly it is an absolute favourite in these regions. The low first gear lets your Panda climb the steepest terrain hills, (Fiat says up to 70 % and slide slopes up to 55 %) and it also has a terrain control device, sitting on a round knob between the front seats. There are three settings. One is for normal road driving, and when the road is good, 98 % of the power will be sent to the front wheels. Then there is the option/position off road, and now the car’s differential locks to offer permanent four wheel drive, and the electronic stability control acts to brake the wheels that are slipping. Of course, you also have to come safely downhill, and that is where the third position, “hill descent”, comes in. This uses the car’s electronic stability and the ABS systems to maintain a constant speed.

Conclusion

The Panda is already endearing in its cute “cross” livery. But there is more. It reveals its pleasant character once you are behind the wheel, and it is not only fun in town, it also excels offroad, and in muddy terrain, it can be more than a match for heavier (Defender) Rovers and the like. Its low weight and nimble dimensions and above all short overhangs see to that.

So to get a truly go anywhere, well equipped, compact, frugal 4×4 for a price around € 17.000 Euro’s, which is already an icon among car enthusiasts, then this Panda is a steal!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

We drove the Skoda Kamiq 150 HP 1,5 TSI DSG: the beauty of agile power…

Who does not dream about it? Owning and driving a compact and practical hatch with the power to weight ratio of an early Porsche 911? A car which comfortably seats four and has all the comfort, infotainment and driver assistance amenities we come to expect from modern mid-size cars, yet has the handling and agility of an early Audi TT?

A car which is well built and reliable, and besides all these qualities doesn’t break the bank? Well, such a car is this Skoda …

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Walking to and around the car, this Kamiq shows to you it’s a true Skoda. The angular contours of the bodywork are typical for the Skoda styling language, the overall body shape betrays the intention of the designers to offer excellent use of available space. They succeeded: its compact, 4241 mm long body, offers for four to five grown ups enough leg- and headroom, and there is not less than 400 – 1395 liters reserved for their luggage. Actually, did you know that the word KAMIQ comes from the language of the Inuit people living in northern Canada and Greenland?

It describes something that fits as perfectly as a second skin in every situation. Well this is certainly true for this Skoda…

The cabin is more than pleasant, albeit with a no nonsense Skoda flair, but being nevertheless far from spartan. On the centre of the well designed dashboard sits a large 9,2 inch touchscreen, offering all the modern state of the art infotainment one could wish for. Using the “Amundsen” navigation is a breeze, one can pinpoint a chosen destination with your fingertips, and pinch the map size with a brief finger movement. Ventilation, audio, hooking up your phone, everything is intuitive and immediate.

Driving assistance systems were in abundance present in our test car, such lane assist, ACC to name a few. It made driving this Kamiq both in town and the open road a totally “zen” and effortless experience. Driving at night is enhanced with Full LED headlights with curve illumination and dynamic indicators. Seats are excellent, and for long drives there is also Driver Activity Assistant, so it warns you when it detects any fatigue.  

Formidable engine and drivetrain

Good modern petrol engines coupled to superb automatic transmissions are still hard to beat when it comes to sheer performance and driving pleasure.

The smoothness and panache of the 150 HP 1,5 litre 16 valve direct injection petrol engine has to be experienced to be believed. It offers maximum its maximum power between 5 and 6000 rpm, its maximum torque of 250 Nm is delivered between 1500 and 3500 rpm. It revs beautifully with a smooth staccato up to 6500 rpm, and is marvelously coupled to a superb 7 speed DSG transmission, which marries alertness with velvety and fast changes.

The pulling power which unfolds immediately at the slightest hint of your right foot is abundant to say the least, and the objective performance figures amply show it: the sprint from 0 to 100 is swiftly done in 8,4 seconds, and top speed is an impressive 212 km/h. Needless to say that this Kamiq is a good companion on long, fast Autobahn trips as well as tours on curvy mountain and country roads.

But also town driving is a pleasure. Its compact dimensions, the ample torque, the smooth engine and superb transmission see to that. Of course it takes a very gentle right foot to keep consumption down in urban driving, but every soul knows that power costs money, and this is also true for E-cars, by the way. Average consumption is quoted at 5,1 liters/100 km, and it was no trouble at all for us to stay around the 6 litre mark and below it per 100 km. CO2 emissions are quoted at 116 g/km CO2.

Infotainment and driving aids…

The Kamiq in the tested Style equipment version has what it takes to keep you happy behind the wheel. As we said, you are looking at a 9,2 inch touchscreen with easy and very intuitive to handle and excellent “Amundsen” navigation.

Impressive for its class is also the digital instrumentation with a choice of different views, ŠKODA Sound System with 9 speakers, subwoofer and amplifier, DAB+ digital radio, just to name a few. We already mentioned the lane, park assist and Adaptative Cruise Control.

Conclusion

A compact but astonishingly roomy four/five seater, which handles beautifully, has with this 150 HP thoroughbred engine plenty of character and panache and offers tons of driving pleasure. On top of that it superbly built, timelessly styled and last but not least is reliable and offers very good value for money.

So of yo are looking for a practical car which drives like an agile “pur sang”, make this Skoda your own…

Hans Knol ten Bensel  

We drove the VW Passat GTE Variant: a bestseller goes hybrid…

The VW Passat is a giant. More than 30 million times sold, and it is the world’s best-selling mid-class model. When VW brings out a plug-in hybrid version of this icon, you can expect perfection.

So we were very anxious to drive the latest version of this PHEV, face lifted in autumn last year. Indeed, VW builds the GTE already a few years. Thanks to the dynamic PR people of D’Ieteren VW, we had one soon for a test drive.

With this facelift, the battery’s energy capacity has been increased by 31 percent to a total of 13 kWh. Does this mean we can drive it on E-power throughout our cities every day, and it is enough to just plug it in at night?

Also can we achieve those very low consumption values on the open road, when this Passat chooses the ideal power combination between combustion and E-power?

We were keen to find out. Just read further…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

A clever plug-in hybrid system…

The new Passat GTE has the best of both worlds: it has the latest version of the turbocharged stratified injection engine (1.4 TSI) under the hood, and of course an electric motor. This TSI engine is good for 115 kW / 156 PS.

The electric motor is quite powerful, and generates 85kW / 115 PS. The new high-voltage battery sits , like its 9,9 kW predecessor, in the vehicle floor in front of the rear axle, barely taking up luggage space. Total system power is not less than 218 HP, with a 400 Nm of torque.

As a result, performance is brilliant: 0 to 100 km in merely 7,6 seconds, and top speed of not less than 225 km/h. Need we say more?

DSG DQ400 E

Power is transmitted to the front wheels through a new version of the 6-speed dual-clutch gearbox, dubbed DQ400E, which is adapted to the hybrid layout. Indeed, it has to allow the engine to power also the generator when the driver chooses via the driving modes to maintain or raise the battery charge, of which more later.   

Zero emissions in the city?

VW claims that the purely electric range of the predecessor – determined as an NEDC value (New European Driving Cycle) – was 50 km. The new Passat GTE now has a range of around 70 km in this cycle. Under the WLTP cycle, which is considered particularly similar to practical use, this figure reaches up to 56 km.

One can choose to charge or maintain the battery at a certain charge level. This costs fuel however…

We drove this GTE under rather wintry, low temperature conditions, and the purely electric range amounted to some 32 kilometers. Heating the car and sundry takes its toll in winter. No problem however. The driver can select when starting his journey in the Driving Mode menu via the Infotainment system to charge the battery during the journey.

One has namely the choice between the E-MODE and Hybrid modes.(Indicated by a car symbol) In the hybrid mode, a battery with ten compartments lights up on the central screen and you can choose whether you keep the battery fully charged, or deplete or charge it via arrows to a pre-chosen 10-step level, indicated by the battery image on the infotainment screen.   

When the battery has enough power, the GTE Passat is of course quite frugal in the chosen Hybrid mode. The digital dial in your line of view shows clearly with its moving arrow when the engine starts working or when the electric motor delivers the power. Driving at higher motorway speeds and/or under stronger acceleration will let the engine work more, and we noted an average of 3,3 liters/100 km.

The engine charges the battery…

Of course, the hybrid consumption advantage almost totally stops when the battery is depleted, and only the recuperation of energy when decelerating gives you some extra battery power later. Even with merely 3,3 litres/100 km in the chosen hybrid mode, one has to take into account the cost of the electric energy necessary to recharge the battery.

You can drive on “pure” E-power…

Town driving under a (very) cautious right foot will still result in some 7,7 liters/100 km, on the open road when driving with anticipation and cruising at legal limits will let the consumption drop to 6,6 liters or thereabouts.

Or you can simply coast and use the kinetic energy to recharge the batteries…

Charging via the electricity grid

The Passat GTE comes with a 3.6 kW battery charger. Connecting to your home 230 volt outlet means your battery will be fully charged in six hours and 15 minutes. The charging time falls to four hours with a wall box or a charging station with 360 volts / 3.6 kW. In Belgium, this would cost then approximately 3,8 Euros.    

But VW’s hybrid is well thought out: delayed charging is another available option. The time delay can be set using either the Infotainment system or an app. You can activate the charging process directly via the app – in much the same way as a remote control. In addition to the charging process, the temperature inside the vehicle can be raised or lowered – depending on the temperature outside – via the time pre-set function.

Creature comfort

Of course the Passat, and certainly in this Variant version has style and comfort. The car’s appearance is enhanced, and indeed for the better. The front and rear bumpers, the radiator grille and the Passat logo, now located centrally at the rear, have all been redesigned.

In addition, new LED headlights, LED daytime running lights, LED fog lights, and LED tail light clusters make this Passat look the part.

In the cabin the fun continues. The dashboard and digital instrumentation is smart, the finish is impeccable, and the quality of used materials is also beyond reproach. Last but not least, in this Variant edition, there is room. Ample legroom for the rear passengers, and even with the batteries in the back, boot space is 483 l minimum, and can be enlarged to 1613 l.  

Driver assist systems galore

IQ.DRIVE is the new umbrella brand for Volkswagen assistance systems. From now on, the technologies involved in autonomous driving will be bundled under the IQ.DRIVE label. An example is the new Travel Assist. The Volkswagen Passat will be the first Volkswagen that is capable of partially automated driving across practically the whole speed range (0 to 210 km/h). Along with its assistance system, the Passat represents the most advanced version of IQ.DRIVE yet seen.

Emergency Steering Assist also sees its début in the Volkswagen Passat. The system improves safety during sudden evasive manoeuvres via braking intervention. In addition, the lane guidance with Lane Assist has been optimised with a new multifunction camera. The new IQ.LIGHT – LED matrix headlights also are a boon.

Impeccable handling

To enjoy full performance, just choose GTE mode and you have the full system power at your disposal…

Needless to say that the Passat state of the art chassis and suspension warrant excellent road manners. It will take a vigorous driving style well in its stride, has superb high speed stability and handling, with stable and progressive braking. An agile and safe companion on any road.

Conclusion

A superbly well made and engineered car, which indeed is a bestseller for all the good reasons. Performance, handling, workmanship, room, style, the Passat has it all, certainly so in the Variant version. This hybrid version gives you on top of all that a “green” ticket to all the European cities, and allows you to travel anywhere and anytime without range anxiety or (re)charging headaches. Of course, fuel economy is in function of the available E-power, miracles just don’t happen. You should also take into account that charging costs money, as we said above.

But the smoothness of its drivetrain, its state of the art superb technology, the passion for quality which is felt throughout this car in daily use, this is what impresses most, together with its “zen” E-power, as an icing on the cake…  

Hans Knol ten Bensel

We drove the Jeep Wrangler 2.2 Multijet 200 HP: only Jeep will always be Jeep…

If there is an absolute icon for rugged outdoors motoring, then it is Jeep. The original 1941 Jeep still celebrates in parades how it liberated our shores. And up to the present days, it uplifts our hearts and liberates our minds.

The Jeep Wrangler is an icon which continues to uphold the fascination for the original. Just look at it standing in front of your home. The looks are all there.

The legendary seven-slot grille, with the outer grille slats intersecting with the headlights, paying homage to the legendary CJ model. The trapezoidal wheel arches, the visible hinges, the removable top, all this continues the tradition, albeit in a very modern manner. As this Jeep is king on the rugged terrain, it is also royal to drive on the road, just read further…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Don’t you just love a car which will never, ever let you down, and just brings you to your destination whatever the weather, the road conditions? A car which breathes timeless authenticity, looks and conveys exactly what it stands for, nothing more, nothing less? Then this Wrangler is the car for you. It certainly was the car for us, all during this test.

We just love the ideal, well honed proportions of this fourth generation Wrangler. We are smitten by its wide stance and lowered beltline with larger windows, making the car look “just right”.

The windshield is tilted to an optimal degree to improve aerodynamics, and features a new four bolt design at the top of the windshield’s frame to allow the windshield to fold down quickly and easily. It is also the only authentic full open-air 4×4 SUV available on the market. It has for instance an easy-to-use Freedom Top, a removable, three-panel hard top.

Our car also had the Overland pack, and this offers unique 18-inch aluminium wheels, a body colour grille with bright accent throats and headlamp bezels, body colour hard spare tyre cover and Overland logo. The exterior of the Overland pack is complemented by dedicated leather interior and LED lights.

The cabin also breathes the Jeep purposefulness. The dashboard stands deliciously upright, and features round and very clear instruments combined with the soft-touch surface with accent stitching. The completely restyled centre console houses the gear shift selection, transfer case and parking brake. Real bolts featured on the shifter, grab handles and frame the infotainment screen highlight genuine construction methods. Yeah, this is Jeep.

One of Wrangler’s unique characteristics are the entirely washable interiors and the protective rubber cover for the infotainment system screen, that allows easy clean up in complete peace of mind.

Not that you are devoid of modern infotainment or or creature comfort. The Wrangler has heated front seats, and even a heated steering wheel. The armrests in the doors are also lengthened so you can comfortably lean back on motorway journeys.

The central console also features a 7.0-inch or 8.4-inch touchscreens (both with Android auto Car Play connectivity). The fourth-generation UconnectTM system enhances the user interface and system performance with quicker start up times and improved screen resolution. The LED display is full-colour and allows the driver to configure information in more than 100 ways. All the functions are intuitive, well explained, utterly logical and we can say this is a car which you can use in its more than basic functions without ever having to look at the manual.

Going for that unique driving experience…

Pushing the dashboard weather sealed starting button lets the latest generation 2.2-litre MultiJet II turbo diesel jump to life. A state of the art diesel unit, with second-generation MultiJet technology, four valves per cylinder, belt-driven Double Over Head Camshafts (DOHC), 2,000-bar Common Rail injection system, solenoid injectors and a variable geometry turbocharger (VGT). It is good for 200 horsepower at 3,500 rpm and a torque of 450 Nm at 2,000 rpm. Enough to propel the Wrangler from 0 to 100 km in 9,6 seconds and push it further to a top speed of 180 km/h. But in everyday driving, you just enjoy the massive torque which is artfully passed on to the wheels by a supersmooth and alert 8 speed automatic. The Wrangler invites you to adopt a relaxed and anticipatory driving style, with the engine humming along hardly above 2000 rpm. Urban driving is a pleasure: you are sitting high above the traffic, and you are almost always well noticed by many other road users, as its imposing dimensions impress but find sympathy with many. Indeed, the Wrangler is quite popular, and as soon as the car is parked, it collects interested and admiring looks.

So you can potter along, with the engine and transmission providing silky smooth progress. The suspension is remarkably comfortable too, and of course our damaged and potholed urban roads and pavés are just the thing for your Wrangler.

The driver satisfaction continues on the open road. Not that the Wrangler begs you to throw it around corners, but it will provide excellent stability at speed and fast corners are taken with ease. As expected it is an excellent motorway cruiser, and the high gearing keeps consumption well within very reasonable limits. Cruising at legal limits on the motorway delivers an average consumption between 6-7 liters, urban errands let the consumption rise to 9-10 litres, although a cool, fluent driving style can work wonders here. CO2 emissions are still within boundaries with 202 g/km.

Off road champion

Of course, the brave really get going when the going gets rough. There are stories (and films) about Wranger owners who pull 30 tonne trucks out of snowy ditches, and this Wrangler is a true champion off-road. The terrain selector tells you already the story.

By shifting this dedicated lever to the 4WD High position, the driver can switch to four-wheel drive mode This 4H mode can be selected to operate either in the new “Auto” mode – ideal for any driving condition thanks to the continuous monitoring and management of the torque and the automatic engagement and disengagement of the 4WD as needed to maintain traction -, or in the 4H “Part Time” mode that ensures the torque is always evenly distributed between front and rear axles. To tackle extremely challenging and demanding off-road tracks,you can use the 4WD Low mode with a 2.72:1 low-range gear ratio that multiplies the engine torque.

We can assure you, there are no limits to what this Jeep can do. We tested this also out already for you some time earlier in the Austrian forests around Zeltweg and the muddy quarries in the region of the Lago di Garda, and you have to experience to believe it. In open forestland terrain in Belgium this Wrangler is hardly challenged, and what a delightful feeling it is that you will arrive at your destination no matter what.

Suffice to say here that two four-wheel drive systems are available on the Wrangler: Command-Trac – on the Sport and Sahara trim levels, i.e. our test car, and Rock-Trac – which is standard on the Rubicon trim configuration. Both systems feature the new “Selec-Trac” full-time two-speed transfer case for a continuous monitoring and management of the torque sent to front and rear wheels.

Creature comfort

This Wrangler is also quite a comfortable car. Not only are the seats excellent with plenty of bolster and lumbar support, the Wrangler continues to utilize the proven five-link coil suspension configuration. Front suspension features a lateral control arm and four longitudinal control arms, while the five-link rear suspension features two upper and two lower forged steel control arms for longitudinal control, and a track bar for lateral axle control.

The long suspension travel and progressive damping warrants excellent comfort, and on tarmac potholes as well as rough and rocky terrain, passengers are never unduly jolted. It is good living with the Wrangler too. Plenty of 12 V and even a 230 V plug for your electric devices, USB connections on dashboard panel and centre console, everything is at your disposal. Luggage space is quite adequate, with 533 liter minimum up to 1044 liters. Of course, there is still the roof, and Jeeps can carry a lot there too…

On top of all this, every Jeep lover knows all too well that Mopar has all the nifty accessories you always wanted, to make your Wrangler even more terrific.

Conclusion

This Wrangler really took our heart with its authenticity, its style, its on- and offroad performance, its comfort, its endearing solidity. A companion who will bring you everywhere you want, come what may. Its timeless shape will seduce you for years to come, its Euro 6d diesel engine is future (low-emission zone) proof. Last but not least a respectful right foot, which understands what proper Jeep driving is all about, will deliver you more than adequate economy, and put a broad smile on your face when you are behind the wheel in its cool and cosy cabin, cocooning while the kilometers unroll under its solid wheels.

You would never like it to stop, really, at least we never did…

Hans Knol ten Bensel            

We drove the Audi Q3 Sportback 45 TFSI Quattro: enjoy elegance and thoroughbred performance…

We all know the Audi adage “Vorsprung durch Technik” and this is indeed what the brand masterfully embodies through its products.

The elegant Q3 we tested makes no exception to this rule. It brings you the ultimate in state of the art classic, non electrified technology, and with its 230 HP makes driving this elegant 4WD a true feast… just read further.

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Living in style.

Audi cars breathe style. Their designers carefully honed the already well proportioned Q3 to a distinct, elegant, coupé-like SUV/Crossover, with the good dimensions further enhanced by bigger wheels in the S line Quattro version we tested. The front end is angular and decidedly masculine, as Audi puts it, underlined by the trapezoidal air inlets, which are connected to each other by a narrow blade in the bumper. The sloping roof-line makes the car appear considerably longer than its sister model, the Q3, although the difference is just 16 millimeters. The Audi designers positioned the roof frame lower by 29 mm, and indeed, this Q3 looks sleek. In the S line exterior, the bumpers, the wheel arch trims, and sill trims are distinctively colored.

Here just one word about the Matrix LED headlights: Nine LEDs generate the low beam light and ten more LEDs create the high beam light.  

When the camera detects other road users, they are masked out of the light beam in a targeted fashion.

The matrix LED headlights also feature front and rear dynamic turn signals.

The cabin and dashboard also breathe the cherished Audi design language and philosophy. Clean, rakish yet fluid contours dominate the dashboard layout, and we find of course the virtual instrumentation, which is clear to read and stylish.

The instrument panel is designed in two zones, which makes it appear particularly wide. The upper zone integrates the air vents while the lower zone constitutes the operating level.

We tell you more later about the lavish array of infotainment functions, just suffice to say here that the central element here is the centre console with optional MMI touch display in our test car, which is together with the climate control unit tilted toward the driver by ten degrees.

In “our” S line, the seat backrests feature the embossed S logo, and the sport leather steering wheel bears a corresponding emblem. There is ample room for four if not five adults, the rear seats can be moved 130 mm (5.1 in) longitudinally as standard; their backrests are divided into three sections, and their inclination can be adjusted in seven stages. The volume of the luggage compartment ranges from 530 l (18.7 cu ft) to 1,400 l (49.4 cu ft). The loading floor can be adjusted to two levels, and the rear shelf is located beneath it. Our test car had the electric tailgate that can also be opened and closed with a foot motion.  

Driving is believing.

Pushing the starting knob revealed the feline smoothness of the 2 litre TFSI petrol engine. State of the art responsiveness is what you can expect from this unit: it delivers 169 kW (230 metric hp) at 5,000–6,200 rpm and 350 Nm (258.1 lb-ft) of torque between 1,500 to 4,300 rpm. Coupled to the 7-speed S-Tronic, you can expect some serious performance. And indeed, this Q3 truly delivers.

In supersmooth staccato the engine redlines and catapults the Q3 in 6,5 seconds to 100 km/h, hurtling further to a top speed of 233 km/h. Close to supercar performance, let this be said. And the beauty here is again, as befits a well engineered thoroughbred, that all this is achieved completely effortlessly, with chassis and drivetrain being always well mannered, keeping the driver in complete control. The engine is never obtrusive, and the S-Tronic always changes judiciously and at lightning speed. Of course one has the choice over different driving modes, and the consumption changes distinctly according to the selected mode and driving style. The manufacturer quotes between 7.7–7.3 l/100 km as combined fuel consumption, with CO2 emissions being 174–166 g/km.

It takes a very gentle foot indeed to stay between 8 and 9 litres/100 km in urban traffic, driving at legal limits on the open road will bring your consumption down to the 7 litres level. But of course, power costs fuel. We witness now an intensive “hybridisation” of the Audi range, and soon we will be able to drive the first Audi hybrids on the road. Suffice to say here for those enthusiasts keen on economy that the 1.5 TFSi in the Q3 Sportback 35 TFSI uses the cylinder on demand technology, which switches off two cylinders at low and medium loads.

Later this engine will follow with S tronic and 48 volt mild hybrid system. During deceleration, it recovers energy; during acceleration from low speeds, it supports the engine. In real-life driving, it can save up to 0.4 l of fuel per 100 km.

At the moment of writing, we are driving the new Passat Hybrid GTE, and to tell you right away, it is an impressive plug-in hybrid indeed, with VW manifestly knowing very well what engineering and building a state of the art hybrid is all about.

Superb agility and balance

This SUV/Crossover coupé has also all what it takes to shine on curvy roads. First of all, it’s a Quattro, so it will certainly stand its own on wet and snowy roads, but it is also a very fine handling sporty companion on dry tarmac, being able to handle effortlessly all the power you unleash with your right foot.

At the limits of performance, the quattro drive works closely together with the wheel-selective torque control, It makes handling even more dynamic and stable by gently applying the brake to the inside wheels with the quattro drive and the inside front wheel with the front drive. The central element of the quattro drive system is a hydraulic multi-plate clutch on the rear axle. Its electronic management combines outstanding stability and strong traction with driving pleasure, the manufacturer tells us, and right they are.

The Audi digital world…

Our top of the range Q3 took us convincingly into the wonders of digital infotainment, and it is intuitive and easy to use. The flat menu structure is complemented by a control unit that uses natural language and can also understand free-form communication. Entering a navigation destination and the MMI search are based on free-form text input.

The system recognizes the driver’s most frequent destinations based on previous journeys, allowing it to generate suitable suggestions. When doing so, it takes into consideration statistical empirical values regarding the traffic load and time of day. Wow!  

…and being connected

The future doesn’t stop here of course. Together with MMI navigation plus, the online services of Audi connect are made available on board at LTE Advanced speed via a permanently installed SIM card.

This includes, for example, online traffic information and the online points of interest service, which complements route guidance with photos, opening hours and user evaluations.

Thanks to the inter-connectivity of the Audi fleet, the Q3 Sportback receives and provides information about parking spaces on the roadside, hazard areas and speed limits, which are detected via the on-board camera and vehicle sensors.

Navigation with Google Earth and the hybrid radio, which automatically switches between FM, DAB and online streaming depending on the reception conditions, also form part of the Audi connect navigation & infotainment plus package. The voice control system uses the detailed knowledge in the cloud to answer the driver’s questions and commands. The future has arrived with this package!

Of course, this Audi also takes care of your smart phone. The free myAudi app and the Audi smartphone interface ensure interconnectivity between the car and smartphone. This integrates Android and iOS cell phones into the on-board infotainment system.

The content of the smartphone is shown on the MMI display via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and no cables are required if the top infotainment system is used with an iPhone. The Audi phone box and the Bang & Olufsen Premium Sound System with virtual 3D sound complete this comprehensive offer.

Of course, there is the whole array of electronic driving aids, which makes both urban and long distance touring a true pleasure…

Conclusion

A stunning compact yet roomy SUV, offering in this powerful version tons of driving pleasure, yet remaining utterly sophisticated and docile.

With its superb styling, workmanship and finish, this Audi is a car to love and behold, and care for during its long, reliable life, if you have the pleasure and privilege to own it for some time. It constitutes undoubtedly the pinnacle what classic medium size petrol engined drivetrains can offer, and as such constitutes a benchmark indeed.

Hans Knol ten Bensel   

We drove the Kia XCeed 1.4 T: above and beyond your expectations…

There are cars which indeed exceed what you would think of them. Such a car is the latest Kia XCeed. We know that at the moment of writing there are already hybrid and electrified versions being built and they are to be seen on the Brussels show. Just read our comments elsewhere in these columns.

Intrigued as we were about this bestselling Kia, we tested it for you in the 140 HP 1,4 litre petrol engine version, and to tell you right away, we were stunned by its mechanical refinement and smooth manners…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Continue reading “We drove the Kia XCeed 1.4 T: above and beyond your expectations…”

We drove the new Renault Clio Tce 100: a much awarded bestseller…

Did you know that the Renault Clio has been the bestselling car in its class in Europe since 2013? Deservedly so, we would think. It has style and panache, both inside and out. It sets new standards in its class, the automotive media world says, and we can only agree. It drives, looks and spoils you with advanced tech. Last but not least it introduces Level Two autonomous driver assistance systems to its sector.

Its interior is another highlight, featuring the option of larger 9.3-inch EASY LINK infotainment screen and a ten-inch TFT instrument cluster. We drove the lively and frugal Tce 100 HP version. Just read further…

Hans Knol ten Bensel 

Nice to live in…

The cabin and its infotainment is indeed one of the very strong points of this Clio. Its many features give you the distinct feel and impression you are sitting at the wheel of an upmarket car. The large central screen is a breeze and joy to use, and it spoils you if you want with the new EASY LINK multimedia platform featuring Android AutoTM, Apple CarPlayTM and 4G connectivity.

In our test car we were also spoiled with park assist, regulated air conditioning, keyless entry, reversing camera with 360 ° view, just to name a few.

The used materials on panels and seat upholstery have also definitely a premium look and feel to it. But that is not all. The seats are also comfortable, and there is enough room for four.

All the commands are intuitive, also last but not least thanks to the central touch screen with a myriad of functions effortlessly at your fingertips.

and to drive

Driving is (again) believing, and also here the Clio truly scores. Setting up a comfortable suspension and marrying it with excellent handling and road manners is not something you have to learn a French car builder. Indeed, here the Clio masterfully excels.

It irons out all the nasty bumps and potholes, still gives you excellent feedback through the steering wheel of the road, and handles smoothly and with precision. The steering has been made more responsive thanks to a reduction in ratio from 15.2 to 14.4, while the electrical assistance has been calibrated to provide more natural feedback.

There’s also a more solid and stable mounting of the front suspension that helps boost steering accuracy. Here is a true compact Gran Turismo which is build to whisk you over hundreds of kilometres or miles in comfort…

Mind you, this Clio is the first Renault to be built on CMF-B platform, and so you are literally driving the future, we can say. Did you know that all versions get features such as Active Emergency Braking System with pedestrian detection, Lane Keep Assist and Lane Departure Warning?

Driving at night is also a breeze, as LED headlamps standard across the range.

Smooth petrol power…

The Clio comes with a choice of five powertrains, comprising three petrols and one diesel, with, as we told you already in these columns, the E-TECH hybrid to come in 2020. We drove the 3-cylinder 1 litre 100 HP version. It is packed with a raft of cutting-edge features, including a turbocharger with an electrically controlled recirculation valve, an exhaust manifold partially integrated into the cylinder head, twin variable intake valve timing and a bore spray coating for reduced friction.

Delivering 100 hp and a muscular 160 Nm of torque at just 2,750rpm, the new-generation engine makes the Clio quite lively, providing an acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h in just 11.8 seconds. Top speed is 187 km/h. It’s clean and frugal too. CO2 emissions are just around 100 g/km, and we clocked throughout the test quite often averages of 5,1 l/100 km. Of course, we know that much depends on your driving style, but it is good to know that these averages can be achieved with the standard 5 speed gearbox, which is slick and smooth, by the way.

Practical

There is quite some handy stowage room in the cabin, to a total of 26 litres, and the boot architecture has been optimised to make load area as square and unencumbered by intrusions as possible, while capacity has been increased to 391 litres, making it in top of its class. We also liked the double-height floor.

Conclusion

“The street is always right”, investment managers and bankers say when they comment about financial markets, interest rates and asset prices, and the same we can say about cars. When the international motoring press awards it and the public across Europe makes it a bestseller, then you know that this Clio has what it takes to win over your heart too… We from our part can say that we rarely found a car which was more satisfying and pleasurable to drive and use than this Renault…

Hans Knol ten Bensel