Two Alfa Romeo F1 champions also fine- tune the Giulia GTA project…

The 2021 F1 World Championship kicks off on Sunday, March 28th, at the Bahrain Grand Prix. Behind the wheel of the C41, unveiled in Warsaw in February, will be the proven Italian-Finnish pairing of Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Räikkönen.

But there is more: The two champions are involved in fine tuning the Giulia GTA project. The racing suits of both champions feature the acronyms GTA and GTAm, evoking this project that draws all its inspiration from the 1965 Giulia Gran Turismo Alleggerita, a car that racked up so many successes on circuits all over the world.

Antonio Giovanazzi showing the GTAm logo on his suit…

The Giulia GTA project has benefited greatly from the partnership with the Swiss Sauber team, using their Engineering know-how in the prototyping and development of carbon fiber components with a bold aerodynamic impact: the new front bumper, side skirts, extractor, the GTA spoiler and the GTAm aerowing. You see here two photos taken by dynamic press officer Wim Willems of the test sessions, showing clearly the aerodynamic body parts on the cars.

The aerodynamic parts were still camouflaged during the test sessions…
Test session in full swing…

Indeed, the two drivers have also actively contributed to the project development, having completed a testing session at the Balocco Proving Ground.

Kimi and Antonio focused on the specific solutions taken up in terms of aerodynamics and handling, analyzing in depth all the changes made to the car and giving an account of their feeling on the track to the engineering team, resulting in a joint assessment of the effects on vehicle dynamics to complete its fine-tuning.

You see the champions and the here on the photo’s, at the test drives on the legendary Balocco circuit…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

We drove the Subaru XV e-boxer: with e-power into the go-anywhere future…

The XV embodies perfectly what a Subaru stands for: it is compact, styled with zest and panache, versatile, rugged and of course crammed from bumper to bumper with state of the art, innovative and exclusive technology. This legendary Subaru boxer technology, combined with unique 4WD capability comes now to you with additional e-power, to make this Subaru fit for the E future which is coming upon us.

Subaru prefers rugged no-nonsense go anywhere capability, and therefore opts for hybrid technology: the 2 litre direct injected boxer engine is coupled via a Lineartronic CVT Transmission to a 12.3 kW e-motor which sits right behind the engine and is fed by a 13.5 kWh battery pack which sits behind the rear wheels. E power is available at slow speeds up to 40 km/h. Subaru describes this as the EV driving mode. Depending on the enthusiasm of your right foot and the state of charge of the battery pack, you could drive on E power over distance of up to 1,6 kilometers at speeds, as we said earlier, of up to 40 km/h. In practice, the battery and motor just assist the combustion engine when driving away from traffic lights and in slow stop and go traffic.

When you really keep your right foot very calm, a lot can be gained here. As you servant is well trained with his Lexus 200 CTH, it was no trouble at all to eke out a consumption of 6 litres/100 km in tightest urban traffic. It just takes a good amount of concentration and anticipation.

The Subaru changes very smoothly from E- to petrol power and vice versa at varying speeds above 40 km/h in the “engine assist function.” Nice too is that the CVT transmission has 6 “steps” or ratios if you want to, so you can avoid that the willing boxer revs too high for your liking when you really put your foot down and accelerate hard on a motorway entrance for instance.

At higher speeds, the petrol engine takes over fully and charges also the battery. The beauty of hybrids is that you can use them anywhere, anytime, for any distance, just like any other petrol engined car. With a significant reduction in petrol consumption if you understand them and know how to drive them…

We averaged between 6 and seven litres/100 km on our regular routes. The manufacturer quotes 6,5 litre/100 km as average consumption, and 149 g/km in CO2 emissions.

Off road capability…

But then, this car is a Subaru. This means king of the road, off-road. The XV offers go anywhere capability with its Symmetrical AWD, and its further developed X Mode. This mode effectively remaps the 4WD system, using the E motor to modulate the traction on all 4 wheels even more finely. Taking the family out on a weekend skiing or having fun in the snow: this Subaru gets you there and back… and how!

Good performer

Although it will not invite you to throw it around corners, it certainly has the rally-bred stamina to do it. This XV has legendary on-road handling, and remains controllable and neutral no matter in what situation you put it in. The hazards of winter season and/or slippery roads simply do not exist for the XV.

Outright performance leaves nothing to be desired: 0 to 100 km/h is reached in 10.3 seconds, top speed is a healthy 193 km/h.

Of course the Subaru is an excellent motorway cruiser. The suspension is comfortable, the XV rolls on the brand new Subaru Global Platform which added considerably more body stiffness, but then a very stiff body is also prone to resonances, and there is some road/tyre/wheel noise noticeable.

Subaru’s EyeSight keeps you safe

Another point we cannot miss to mention is the superb EyeSight Driver Assist Technology. Driving in thick fog on motorways, winding forest roads has no collision risk for you anymore. Two stereocamera’s sit on both sides of the rear view mirror and keep an eye on the road ahead. Coupled with the adaptive cruise control, the system will assist in keeping a safe distance and adapt speed automatically to the car in front of you over a very wide speed range between 0 and 180 km/h.

Well-equipped and pleasant cabin

The XV dashboard has three screens, two on the centre console, and one between the nicely finished round instruments for speed and revs. Infotainment is intuitive and easy to use, and leaves nothing to be desired. The whole cabin is well finished, quality of materials used is very good, sturdy and fit for no nonsense practical use for years to come, in the good Subaru tradition.

Boot space is not enormous, due also partially to the rear battery pack, but the standard 355 litres can be easily enlarged when the rear seats are folded down. On the other hand, the Subaru still has a healthy 1270 kg braked trailer pulling power, and if you have any doubts about Subaru’s mettle, just have a look at the numerous You Tube films where Subaru’s are pulling stranded trucks out of snowy ditches…

Conclusion

Together with the Forester, Subaru now has two (partially) E-powered models in its range, and the ever so popular XV has become even more desirable now. Embodying all the traditional legendary Subaru qualities, the XV now offers excellent economy and the “Zen” driving style which comes with electric propulsion. Definitely have a long hard look at thisone when you consider buying a crossover in this segment. This car has so many unquestioned and unique talents, you shouldn’t miss it for anything in this automotive world.

Hans Knol ten Bensel

We drove the Jeep Compass PHEV 4xe: plug-in hybrid now takes you beautifully everywhere…

Jeep is building on a very comprehensive drivetrain offering across its range, with increasing emphasis on (hybrid) E-power.

Jeep has always been a vehicle which has been near to nature, and this new 4xe range comes ever closer to its vocation. It represents an important step of the brand’s evolutionary process, which is oriented more than ever towards sustainability and electrification.

In these columns you could read already about our driving impressions of the Compass with the very smooth new four-cylinder 1.3-litre turbo petrol engine made at the FCA plant in Melfi, in the Italian region of Basilicata. Just read our report titled “We drove the new Compass “Made in Europe” with the brand new 1,3 litre petrol engine…” It is part of the new FCA Global Small Engine family, launched in mid-2018 on the Jeep Renegade.  As you can read in this post, we were very impressed. But there is an even more interesting version, which we test for you today: the 4xe, with an electric motor mated to a choice of either the 190 hp and 240 hp version of the 1.3-litre Global Small Engine. What’s more, both these 4xe versions are four-wheel drive only. Just read on…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Thorough development…

The 4xe range is important for the brand, so the greatest attention was given to its development.

The painstaking development process of the Compass 4xe culminated at the Arjeplog Proving Grounds in Swedish Lapland. Up to 3,800 kilometers of road tests were clocked up to reach Arjeplog from Turin and put the Jeep plug-in hybrid SUVs through their paces in all conditions that customers might need to tackle. Tests continued in the winter of 2019 in Arjeplog and during the long-awaited Jeep Winter event in Champoluc (Val d’Aosta, Italy), where the brand provided a glimpse on the operation of the 4xe system through a cross section of a Jeep Renegade on display. The beginning of 2020 welcomed the launch of the “First Edition”, the exclusive launch editions for both Jeep Renegade 4xe and Jeep Compass 4xe.

No secrets, even for a novice…

We must admit, the results are quite impressive. Right from the first meters, this PHEV shows its maturity. What’s more, it is not only thoroughly engineered, it is also eminently practical, and understandable even for the first time hybrid and 4WD driver for that matter. The driver can easily select one of the three buttons on the center console, i.e. “hybrid”, “electric” and “e-save.” This can be done at the start, but also whilst driving, one can select between the three modes. The modes are self-explaining actually, but we describe them for you here:

Hybrid is the default mode selected when the car is started. It is designed to manage and use the system in the most efficient way, optimizing power and minimizing fuel consumption. The internal combustion engine and electric motor work together according to the road type, with braking energy recovery phases.

Initially, the system favors electric driving (so the power is supplied by the electric motor). When the battery reaches the minimum charge level (called “SOC”, State Of Charge), the internal combustion engine is used for propulsion. Throughout the drive or trip, the system manages start-up and intervention through an optimization algorithm (Hybrid Control Processor – HCP) designed to maximize the system efficiency levels.

Electric is the mode that provides a full-electric average range of around 50 kilometers at zero emissions. It is designed to maximize the electric driving experience through a different calibration of the HCP optimization algorithm. The car drives in electric-only mode as long as there is sufficient charge in the battery. The system automatically switches to HYBRID mode when the battery is completely flat or when the driver uses kick-down. A top speed of up to 130 km/h can be reached. This is the ideal mode for traveling in city centers with traffic and emission restrictions.

E-SAVE , on the other hand, is the mode for maintaining battery charge or for charging it while driving using the internal combustion engine. E-SAVE mode supports two secondary modes, called Battery Save (passive E-SAVE) and Battery Charge (active E-SAVE), both of which can be activated on the Uconnect system screen.

Passive E-SAVE or Battery Save: maintains the state of charge of the battery through the predominant use of the internal combustion engine;

E-SAVE active or Battery Charge: charges the battery up to 80% through the operation of the internal combustion engine on which the combined front electric generator acts.

We tested of course all the modes, but to measure the overall efficiency of the E-drivetrain, we opted for quite an important part of our test for the E-SAVE active mode. While keeping the battery charged on longer trips, even recharging it indeed up to 75-80 %, we clocked an average consumption of 7,6 liters/100 km, which, for a full 4WD vehicle is very, very creditable indeed. It must be said that we drove this Compass with anticipation and respected the legal speed limits. In hybrid mode, with the E-motor also delivering some work, consumption evidently drops. In the combined cycle, the manufacturer quotes 2,1 l/100 km. CO2 emissions are very low with 47 – 49 g/km.

We were also very impressed, as in our previous test with the “normal” Compass, by the outstanding level of technical refinement of this drivetrain. The Compass we tested was equipped with the 130 HP version of the smooth 1,3 litre engine, plus the 60 hp produced by the electric motor, adding up to a total of 190 hp. In terms of torque, the electric motor produces 250 Nm, while the combustion engine delivers 270 Nm. Performance does not leave anything to be desired: 0 to 100 km/h costs 7,9 seconds and top speed is 183 km/h.

E-power…

The Compass has two electric motors, one of which is located on the front axle and coupled to the internal combustion engine that, in addition to working in synergy with the engine, can act as a high-voltage generator, as necessary.

The second one is located on the rear axle and features reduction gear and integrated differential (“e-axle”). It delivers 60 hp of power and 250 Nm of torque, generating traction and recovering energy while braking. The electric motor actually drives the rear wheels, the combustion engine the front wheels.

The 11.4 kWh, 400-volt lithium-ion battery pack uses cobalt-nickel manganese/graphite chemistry. It is located underneath the second-row of seats, where it is protected from outside elements. Enclosed in a steel casing, the pack is fitted with a dedicated heating and cooling circuit to keep the battery at its optimum temperature for best performance.

The 11.4 kWh battery pack allows the Renegade and Compass 4xe to travel an average range of 50 kilometers* in full-electric, zero-emission mode. The hybrid system also includes a power inverter (PIM) housed inside the battery pack, which is also protected from damage.

Regenerative braking and…e-Coasting!

The 4xe Compass is relaxing and smooth to drive in town, where you can enjoy the “zen” qualities of pure E-power, and the six-speed auto box is super smooth when you enjoy the pulling power qualities of the 1,3 litre engine. But there is more than just smooth progress. There is regenerative braking, which is always active regardless of the driving mode (internal combustion engine or electric motor) to maximize energy recovery when the throttle and brake pedals are released. But the Compass has more upon its sleeve. It also allows e-Coasting. This function is available when the gearlever is put in “D”.  By pressing the ‘e-Coasting’ button, the regenerative braking intensity can be activated according to two different levels, more or less intense.

A warning light on the instrument panel display indicates activation through two different colors: White (“Normal”) if the “Intense” function is selected but not active (accelerator pedal not released); Green, if the “Intense” function is selected and active (accelerator pedal released).

After the more intense function has been activated, the regenerative braking calibration is more explicit when coasting. This feature reduces the speed faster than standard regenerative braking and generates more electricity to be conveyed to the battery pack.

A dedicated message will appear on the instrument panel during the transition from the “Intense” to “Normal” function and vice versa.

The absolute king off-road…

The legendary offroad qualities of a Jeep are well known to all of us. With an electric motor with its instant massive torque driving the rear wheels independently from the front wheels, 4WD torque delivery can be even more gradual and fine-tuned, and this Compass (and Renegade) 4xe even outclasses in this respect the “classic” Jeeps. The Jeep driver has the usual choice between different off-road driving modes: Auto, Sport, Snow, Sand/Mud. Remarkable is also this “Sport” mode: This is a first on the Compass and Renegade, and uses both the electric motor and the internal combustion engine to deliver sporty driving performances. It tightens up the steering, sharpens the throttle response and adjusts the behavior of the transmission via higher upshifts for full power and torque delivery. Just great!

And then here is also Jeep Selec-Terrain traction control. It combines the dynamic modes to two different 4×4 traction modes, i.e. 4WD Lock and 4WD Low. In the 4WD Lock mode, the four-wheel drive is permanently engaged at speeds up to 15 km/h, keeping the rear electric motor (P4) constantly running to provide 4×4 traction at low speeds with a constant distribution of torque between the two axles (the distribution ratio varies depending on the selected Terrain mode). At speeds above 15 km/h, AWD becomes on-demand. Jeep thought here of everything: what if the battery charge is low? Well, the full functionality of the 4xe four-wheel drive is guaranteed by the ’Powerlooping‘ function when the battery charge level is low. This ensures that the front electric motor, which is mechanically connected to the internal combustion engine, continuously generates high-voltage current to power the rear electric motor and so maximum traction is delivered regardless of the state of charge of the battery.

4WD Low mode is used when the going gets really rough: like when you are tackling big rocks for example…

Versatile

The Compass is an eminently versatile 4WD vehicle. Smoothly at home in urban and open road traffic, and a master off-road: there is nothing this Compass cannot do. It’s hybrid system is quite practical and self-explaining to use, and the Compass is also the proverbial breeze to charge: either through the normal domestic socket using the supplied cable, or by connecting to the handy easyWallbox charger the evening before. Using the “E-Control” function, the driver can set the favorite start time and the battery charging time, for instance picking the most cost-effective electricity tariffs. He can also program charging from home using his smartphone.

Easy charging

FCA is developing solutions to fulfill every requirement, starting from charge points: the around 3,600 charging columns installed at dealerships across Europe and in plant parking lots are heading in this direction, as are the agreements with Enel X and ENGIE, leading players in the energy sector, to offer simple and immediate access to public and home charge points, like the easyWallbox.

Based on another partnership with Digital Charging Solutions (DCS), customers who choose the Jeep Renegade and Compass 4xe will have access to “My easy Charge”, a digital service providing access to the largest public charging network in the world, managed by DCS.

Via a dedicated app and a single card, this solution will offer access to more than 130,000 charging stations in 21 European countries. Finally, with ENGIE Eps and Terna, FCA e-Mobility has developed laboratories for innovative technologies, such as Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G), a system whereby an electric car interacts with the electricity network to return or store energy.

Conclusion

A very clever and eminently useful Plug In Hybrid, which is totally in tune with the times, has style, panache, roominess, sturdiness, smoothness, is economical and has legendary off-road qualities. Above all, it is a Jeep, the genuine article. What are you waiting for?

Hans Knol ten Bensel

We tested the Alfa Romeo Giulia: driving is believing…

We all know that the Giulia is an absolute champion on the German “Green Hell”, the Nürburgring. That in terms of handling, it really sands out. The Giulia Quadrifoglio has been elected “Sportscar of the Year” by the specialist magazine AUTO BILD SPORTSCARS. After a test with this beautifully proportioned sedan, we can only agree…

We drove here the 2,2 liter Diesel version: does it have the charm, refinement and panache to make the Giulia remain a true Alfa?

Just read on…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

The Giulia is continuously being honed to become the 4-door sedan embodying the absolute pinnacle in sportiness and panache. To start with, let’s just focus about its looks. Our test car came in an absolutely beautiful metallic green, with matching beige interior. This good-looking color combination was further enhanced by light alloy wheels, making this Giulia have the taut and elegant stance it so befits.

The seats are excellent, really wrap around you and behind the wheel a good seating position is soon found. In the back is enough legroom, and this Giulia is a comfortable four-seater by any standards.

The large and beautiful round dials for speed and revs are still analog, and have timeless beauty. In our opinion, Alfa should never change them. They are classic and are eminently readable. To the eye, they are just perfect. In the center of the dashboard sits a well styled and beautifully integrated touchscreen, with all the state-of-the-art driving aids, infotainment and connectivity. More about this later.

We love the clean styling of the dashboard, with its tasteful wooden panels and a well-shaped center console, with the lever of the 8-speed auto box sitting in an insert which is also adorned by the Italian “tricolore”. Here you find also Alfa’s famous DNA button, letting you select between three driving modes, going from “sporting” to “normal” and then adapted to wintery surfaces and driving conditions.

On both sides of the steering column sit two very long gear change paddles, so characteristic of these pur sang Alfa’s. I like heir long length and width, so you can always easily reach and touch them, even under the most frantic cornering. Moreover, they look beautiful too. 

Diesel power…

We tested the Giulia with the least powerful version of the 2,2 liter four cylinder Diesel unit, which has proven itself totally in the FCA Group, and is found under the hood in many model ranges. The Giulia comes indeed with more powerful Diesel versions of this engine to up to 154 kW, but our 2143 cc engine developed exactly 100 kW at a quiet 3250 rpm. For any engine, and certainly a Diesel engine, it is the sheer pulling power which counts, and this is found in the torque curve. Here one sees that the 100 kW version of this engine produces a hefty 450 Nm at 1750 rpm, and this is exactly as much as its more powerful sisters. So when accelerating from lower speeds, this 100 kW unit produces the same punch, and helped by the alert 8 speed transmission, this Giulia feels and actually is just as agile. All out performance is quite credible with a 0 to 100 acceleration in some 9,5 seconds, and top speed is a good 210 km/h.

When testing the Stelvio, we already told you about the sporting merits of the Giorgio platform and suspension. One has to steer the Giulia through fast and slow curves to believe it. It is so wonderfully precise and totally well balanced and neutral. It is a wonderful Gran Turismo chassis, sits so miraculously well on the road, hugs every corner. Steering around straight urban corners or roundabouts makes you appreciate the nimbleness and light-footed panache of the Giulia. It is a thoroughbred; you feel it every meter you steer it. 

The Giulia is a wonderful companion when you decide on a European trip, taking it through the Alps to its Mediterranean homeland, for instance…

But also, a long or short urban commute will not tire you. The good seats, excellent ventilation/airco, DAB radio and all the driver assistance systems will soothe and relax you even in the tightest traffic.

Level 2 automated driving…

The Giulia is a fully fledged “smart” and connected car, fully tuned in to what modern day customers come to expect from a premium sedan. What to think a complete set of ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems) features, offering the highest level of autonomous driving which still leaves plenty of room to have pure driving pleasure. This is level 2, achieved by definition of the amount of control the car takes over from the driver, like the accelerator, brakes and steering under certain conditions. This level makes full use of electronic systems which however still require continuous monitoring by the driver, at the same time providing the support of greater comfort on long journeys. As said, the driver always remains in control, and has always his/her hands on the steering wheel.

The main driver assist systems present in the Giulia – and by the way also the Stelvio – are:

•             Lane Keeping Assist: detects whether the vehicle is veering outside its lane without any direction indicators being activated, and alerts the driver using visual and haptic signals. It actively intervenes to steer the vehicle back into lane;

•             Active Blind Spot Assist: monitors rear blind spots, reports any approaching vehicles and corrects steering to avoid a collision;

•             Active Cruise Control: automatically adjusts the car’s speed to maintain a safe distance from the vehicles in front. In conjunction with the traffic sign recognition system, this technology adjusts the speed to within the set limit, for a more comfortable drive;

•             Traffic Sign Recognition and Intelligent Speed Control: this system uses the on-board camera, recognizes traffic signs, reports them on the display, and alerts the driver of the current speed limit.

The system then suggests the driver reduce their speed to the limit detected. If the driver accepts, the cruise control settings are automatically adjusted;

•             Traffic Jam Assist and Highway Assist: To complement Active Cruise Control, these systems monitor lateral positioning, keeping the car in the middle of the lane in heavy traffic (Traffic Jam Assistant) or on the highway (Highway Assist), while also adjusting the speed according to the current limits;

•             Driver Attention Assist: this function constantly monitors the driver’s attention levels, and if necessary, alerts them if they might need to take a break.

Economy, the wonders of a Diesel

The ZF built 8 speed transmission, which is a perfect example of alertness combined with a smooth power flow, comes with a very intelligent, sensitive and subtle coasting function. Lifting the throttle from medium to high speeds, will decouple the engine from the gearbox, which then settles into an idle while the car further coasts along, using its kinetic energy to the full. When you get the hang of it, you can use this feature much to your advantage in urban boulevard traffic with its ever-varying speeds.

Anticipative driving where you concentrate on coasting instead of braking brings you wonderful consumption figures; around 6 liters/100 km is easily achieved here. Cruising on secondary roads at the legal limits gets the consumption down to 5 liters, motorway cruising at legal limits is below 6 liters/100 km. CO2 emissions are also rather creditable with 127 g/km. Never forget, this is a car with a kerb weight of 1465 kg…

We know, E-cars are all the rage, but then again, just look how good Diesels have become. This Giulia is only whispering at speeds up to 175-190 km/h… and remains then even below 10 liters/100 km, also thanks to its excellent aerodynamics of course.

Conclusion

This Giulia has it all, if you like a car with character. The Diesel engine makes this Giulia also frugal, making it fit for high annual mileages and long trips. This Alfa retains its zest and panache, even in the lowest powered Diesel version, and merits a long hard look from you, if you are opting for a Diesel.

Of course, there are the petrol engined gems, and last but not least the Quadrifoglio, which makes Alfa Giulia driving an absolute dream. We hope soon to lay our hands on one, and tell you about our experiences behind the wheel of this absolute Gran Turismo champion.  But don’t miss this one!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

We drove the Fiat Abarth 595 Scorpioneoro: a golden thoroughbred…

There are cars in our world which are worth their weight in gold. Every bit of it. These cars are called Abarths. Their creator had one principle: build absolute thoroughbreds. Pur sang engines, pur sang suspension, pur sang style and soul. Even when they were born and bred based on mass produced Fiats. Enthusiasts remember them immediately. The racing-ready 850 TC’s for instance. The 500 Abarth’s “Esse Esse”, to stay within the original Nuova Cinquecento theme, now decades ago.

The 595 “Scorpione oro” or “Golden Scorpion” is reminiscent of the exclusive A112 Abarth “Gold Ring”, better known to fans as the A112 Abarth “Targa Oro”. A truly exclusive car, only 150 models of which were produced in 1979, all featuring a black livery, golden details, sophisticated interiors and a wide range of equipment as standard, in line with the Italian tradition of “granturismo” cars.

This dapper front wheel drive transverse engined four seater started life as the Autobianchi 112, which had the 903 Fiat four cylinder under the hood. Already in standard form, it produced a healthy 43 DIN HP at 6.000 rpm, good for 0-100 in some 17 seconds. The Abarth Version actually was dubbed officially as “Autobianchi A-112 5a Serie Abarth.” Its 1050 cc four cylinder was fed with a Weber 32DMTR38/250 2-barrel carburettor, and was good for 70 HP. It already proved a good sprinter, with 0 to 100 km/h reached in 11,4 seconds.

Brilliant performance with panache

This is where all comparison ends. The actual Abarth 595 is still compact, but then again a lot sturdier with a kerb weight of slightly more than 1 tonne, much heavier than the nimble 700 kg of the A112. The engine is now the well proven double overhead cam 1368 cc unit, developing here 165 HP, and is very characteristic with its deep exhaust roar. It is very civilized in town, ready to pull away without hesitation from 900 rpm onwards, and this proved to be very pleasant in slow traffic. We tested this Scorpioneoro with the 5 speed manual transmission, and it delighted us with its very subtle and slick changes, combined with a very smooth and progressive clutch. With all this, the 595 behaves delightfully smooth and easy in tight urban traffic, and is of course an absolute dream on the open road.

The chassis and stiff and very sporting suspension truly come to their own there, and delight the enthusiast driver with precise, neutral handling and steering, which lets you take all bends and fast curves like a master.

This brilliant experience is made even more dramatic by the wonderful roar and staccato of the willing four cylinder, catapulting you from one corner to another. Suffice to say that this Abarth races from 0 to 100 km/h in merely 7,3 seconds. The brakes are of course quite up to the task, and the 17” “golden” alloy wheels are kept firmly on the tarmac in all circumstances.   

The special Abarth 595 Scorpioneoro series is a genuine “collector’s item”, produced as it is in a limited edition and bearing a prestigious numbered plate in its cockpit.

The new special series is recognizable by its black scorpion livery – available on request in Podium Blue, Racing White and Record Gray – and the matt black chessboard roof is matching the “tar cold gray” finish of the handles, mirror caps, and the front and rear DAM.

To emphasize its “Golden” or “Oro” character, this new special series includes golden details, such as the scorpion on the bonnet, the lining around its bodywork and – we already mentioned it – the 17” “golden” alloy wheels or, on request, 17” “black” alloy wheels with the golden scorpion on the hubcap.

In the interior, everything kept in sporting black, with dramatic looking new Abarth “Scorpionflage” sports seats with black leather upholstery.The centre of the seat is in special material with high friction, to better contain the body during the sportiest driving. On the front seat head restraints, embroidered “Scorpioneoro” lettering alongside the Italian flag and Abarth embroidery. The new seats combine with the Scorpion Black dashboard with matte black details, last but not least with the gold plate on the central tunnel and of course personalized mats.

State of the art infotainment

To top everything off, the Abarth 595 Scorpioneoro offers the best infotainment currently available: the 7″ HD UconnectTM system fitted with Apple CarPlay and Google Android AutoTM* – a fast platform with high definition monitor, GPS and DAB digital radio – as well as the sophisticated BeatsAudio™ system with overall output of 480 W and a 8-channel digital speaker including a cutting-edge equalization algorithm capable of reproducing the full sonic spectrum of a recording studio. 

All this to please the ears of the Abarth pilot. But to be honest, during our test we rather listened to the music of the Abarth exhaust, ranging from a deep burble to a staccato roar, which drives more adrenaline in your veins than you ever thought possible.

Modern-day panache

The beauty of these 595 Abarth’s is their stunning everyday useability. Gone are the times when these thoroughbred engines needed regular finetuning of their Weber carburettors, a delicate right foot to avoid fouling the plugs when starting up the cold engine in damp weather.

The days when the good roadholding still needed an expert and sensitive hand or “Fingerspitzengefühl” to drive it on the limit are also to some extent behind us.

To some extent, as this Abarth still will reward a masterful hand when driven as hard as it can. But at least all the electronic driving aids will keep you out of trouble, unless you totally transgress the limits of physics, of course.

This being said, this Abarth teaches you to become a better driver, make you better understand with every ride the kinetics of a motor car, the forces which act upon it. The 595 is a very forgiving teacher, which lets you climb step by step higher into the art of sporting driving and racing.

On the other hand, you can hand the keys with closed eyes to every less experienced driver, he or she will not foul the plugs or do any mischiefs to the drivetrain, the totally predictable and safe behaviour and handling of this car will also see that the car is still in one piece when you get the keys back…    

On fuel economy, this Abarth is of course as frugal or thirsty as you want it. All depends on your right foot here. When it comes to service costs, all the ingedients are well proven and reliable, so it will not be beyond what you expect from any normal compact car…

So when you are dreaming of a totally sporting but also eminently practical everyday urban and Gran Turismo car, this Abarth 595 is totally right for you. And we bet you will cherish it, for years to come.

Hans Knol ten Bensel

We drove the Subaru Impreza e-Boxer: a thoroughbred born for today’s hybrid age…

Subaru has always been synonymous with engineering excellence, resulting in truly thoroughbred practice- and rally proven cars, which have since many years won a large number of devoted followers. You can count us among them: we have always liked the cleverness of the boxer engines, coupled to superb 4WD systems. Now Subaru has gone a step further and coupled a modest 16 HP E-motor to its 150 HP Boxer, all this in combination with an excellent CVT “Lineartronic” transmission and its symmetrical 4WD.

We already told you in these columns about the pleasant drive characteristics of the Subaru hybrids. The Impreza follows suit. We were again charmed by the subdued throb of the trusty boxer, and how well balanced the whole drivetrain goes about its task. If you put your mind and right foot to it, this Subaru can truly surprise you with excellent economy.

Again it proved easy to achieve an average of 6,6 litres/100 km, as the electric motor cuts in quite often when you move your Impreza with anticipation through tight urban traffic. It will also regenerate kinetic energy under braking, and does all this without any interference from the driver. Very clever and relaxing. Under smaller throttle openings and lighter loads, the CVT transmission will spontaneously choose low revs, and keep the engine running very efficiently. When you put your foot down, the transmission will let the engine rev up eagerly, and this results in adequate sprint performance, in the region of 10 seconds from 0 to 100 km/h.  Top speed is a good 190 km/h, enough to satisfy all of us.

Comfortable and predictable handling

The latest generation Impreza now runs on the Subaru Global Platform, and this delivers very predictable handling, on all roads cand weather conditions. Indeed, you feel very safe in this Subaru, and it is not only engaging, it also makes you a better driver. Moreover, it also converts you in a safer driver. Indeed, the Subaru offers state of the art driver assistance systems. Its EyeSight system with two stereo colour camera’s gives you an additional pair of eyes on the road and steers the adaptive cruise control, lane sway and departure warning, amongst others.

The Subaru has also a clever lead vehicle start alert, which warns you when the car in front of you starts going again. The two eyes will also let you keep your lane and helps you with its pre-collision braking system. Eventually, in the worst case scenario, your Subaru will start braking automatically to limit any damage.

The 4WD is of course an asset in snowy weather conditions, and lets you also tackle many country roads with peace of mind.

Elegant and practical

Subaru styling is quite good on this latest generation Impreza, and also the cabin is altogether pleasing. The infotainment and instrumentation is top notch and practical, with everything ergonomically well laid out and a breeze to use.

One feels immediately at home in this Impreza, and this is meant to be. USB and Aux inputs are provided of course, panoramic sunroofs can be had, and this Impreza offers up to almost 1300 liters of luggage space with all seats folded down.

Dual zone automatic airco and the excellent seats provide you with comfort on long and short trips. We also liked the feeling of solidity of the bodywork and cabin of this Impreza, and we all know also that Subaru’s score very high on reliability.

Conclusion

Very well equipped, practical and easy to use, predictable handling, and last but not least superb mechanical sophistication and smoothness combined with good suspension comfort make this Impreza quite endearing. The characteristic boxer sound reminds the aficionado of the legendary sporting heritage of the brand, which is now well adjusted to the “green” eco-times we are living in right now. A reliable companion for any weather, road, with economy and reliability thrown in, this is what you get with this Impreza. Just think of it…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

We drove the new Lexus RX 450h: a favorite star on the SUV firmament…

Did you know that the Lexus RX 450h has been for many years now the absolute top choice in the luxury SUV segment? As Lexus states: “Not only it is the world’s bestselling luxury hybrid SUV and all-time best sold Lexus model, but it is also the world’s first luxury SUV that has created its own segment back in 1998.”

Indeed, it has been popular the world over, and this for all the (very) good reasons. Mechanical perfection, smoothness, performance, economy, superb finish, comfort, reliability, combined with its ease of use, and last but not least ample standard equipment. Need we say more? Maybe, after this test, we might come up with some more good experiences. Just read on…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

The Lexus RX series SUV is indeed a worldwide winner. Indeed, its looks are good, and hardly needed any changes over de last few years. It breathes the typical angular yet fluent styling language we have grown accustomed to in the Lexus model range, with pleasing proportions and an overall size which many find “just right”.

The RX is not overly generous when it comes to luggage space – but rest assured – Lexus has the right RX for you. More spacious than ever before, the RX “L” has also evolved into a seven-seat model. It is effectively a new model, with body length extended by 110 mm and the back window set at a steeper angle to ensure those sitting in the rearmost seats are as comfortably accommodated as other passengers.

Returning to “our” RX, it does offer enough room for its occupants. It seats easily four, and we can tell you it offers ample legroom in the back, you can even cross your legs effortlessly. The third passenger in the back suffers somewhat from lack of headroom, and comfort is somewhat impaired, as he/she sits on the big central, foldable armrest.

Silk smooth hybrid progress…

Under the hood of the Lexus purrs a 3 litre V6, coupled with the Lexus Hybrid system. This means a total system power of 312 PS or 229 kW at your disposal, enough to propel your Lexus in some 8,2 seconds to 100 km/h and hurtle further to a governed top speed of 180 km/h. But when you drive and own this car, it is not pure performance you are looking for. It is comfortable, whispering, vibrationless progress. And here the RX delivers. Beautifully. Via the continuously variable transmission both engines deliver the computer calculated ideal mix of power to the wheels, and the result is a smoothness in propulsion which you have to experience to believe it.

On the open road at higher cruising speeds, the efficient V6 gets into its own, and delivers honest economy. But it is in slow and tight stop and go urban traffic that the hybrid system excels. The onboard computer will choose E power more often than not, putting the combustion engine to work to either recharge the battery and/or help the E-motor, but – and that’s also the cleverness of it – doing this at an ideal rpm/throttle opening combination which lets it reach its ideal thermal efficiency.

All this without the slightest shock and with only the gentlest hum being heard when the V6 engine sets in. It is this hybrid system which Toyota has introduced in … 1997 for its first Prius, and which it has perfected ever since.

We have applauded this system already many times in these columns, and when it comes to smoothness combined with slow speed economy, we find it still among the very best.

Depending on your driving style, economy can be truly astonishing when you let the system use the E-power in the driving cycle. Urban errands driving with anticipation and restraint will not cost more than 7 litres/100 km and even less in this big 2090 kg SUV. Driving with verve on winding open roads at varying speeds will let de consumption vary between 7 and 8 litres/100 km. CO2 emissions are quoted by the manufacturer at 134 g/km. All these values are excellent, but it’s the sheer smoothness and refinement of progress which truly stands out.

For those who are interested, we can tell you here that the V6 engine develops 262 PS/193 kW at 6000 rpm, with 335 Nm of torque at 4800 rpm. The electric motor in front develops 167 PS.

As usual in a Lexus, you can chose between eco, normal and Sport (even Sport+) driving. The virtual instrumentation places then a big rev counter in your central line of vision, and drivetrain/steering responsiveness are up a notch.  

Comfort in the cabin and on the road

The seats are excellent, and will not tire you even after many hours, and the same can be said of how this RX floats over the road. Potholes, ridges, everything is nicely swallowed and hardly reaches the passengers. Add to this the excellent sound insulation and you understand that driving and travelling in this RX is a very relaxing affair. The Levinson sound system is a chapter on its own and lets you make the voyage in the most exquisite sound atmospheres.

The screen and infotainment system are also honed to perfection, eminently practical and useable. Lexus has left the central mouse knob for a touchpad system, and some find this better. Personally, we are very found of the mouse in our Lexus CT200h, but when the majority of users want another setup, why shouldn’t you change?

The Lexus RX driver gets all road info, driving assistance and infotainment he can wish for, even considering Apple and Android audio are now also thrown in.

For the 2021 model year, the Lexus RX 450h comes with a Blind Spot Monitor (BSM) and Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA) as standard across all vehicle equipment levels. We also found the overhead display also one of the best we have come across…

The RX is eminently practical too, with chargers fore and aft for your electrical equipment, large bins for bottles, beverages and small items, it is all very well thought out to make everyday a joy to drive this RX450h.

Conclusion

We said it, a top car in its segment, and it has everything to stay in this enviable position. It impressed us again, as a gentle, powerful everyday companion, built to soothe and relax you when you move from A to B, be it 5 or many hundreds of kilometers or miles, and this for years to come… with style, reliability and economy to match!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

We drove the Alfa Romeo Stelvio 2.2 Turbo Diesel AT Q4: Thoroughbred panache on any road you go…

When you are looking for a SUV with style and a sporting DNA, look no further. The Alfa Stelvio is the one you want. A true Alfa inside and out, lovingly styled to the last detail, with road manners and performance to match. We drove the 190 HP Diesel version, coupled to a smooth 8 speed ZF automatic and having what it takes for a passionate life off the beaten path: 4WD.

We lived again in the Alfa world, and enjoyed it…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

One should understand the Stelvio. It is an SUV, but with the body and soul of a thoroughbred: the Alfa Giulia. So in every respect, also this Stelvio it is a true Alfa. Undistilled. Straight. No Ice. Understandably, as it rolls on the famous new “Giorgio” platform, designed for the Giulia. 

A stunning platform with a legendary name…

The name Giorgio appeared for the first time in the automotive press back in 2013: the next Alfa Romeo generation was on its way, we were told, and Giorgio was the name of the platform on which it would be built. The romantics think it could be a tribute to Tazio Giorgio Nuvolari. Others imagine a personal choice by Marchionne.

The secret has never been explained. What transpired was that Giorgio would have a layout for both rear-wheel and four-wheel drive cars, and that it was engineered to the very high standards.

The company was planning huge investments on the platform and on the Cassino plant, where the new models would be built. Above all, it was organizing its best technical talents in dedicated “think tanks”. And was asking the planners and designers involved to set aside old rules and habits, to think outside the box.

The Giorgio platform was not only created for the Giulia. The time had also come for Alfa Romeo to prove itself in the Utility Vehicles segment, the most dynamic and innovative area of all. And so, in February 2017, the Stelvio made its debut: the first SUV in the history of the Brand. This would be an Alfa capable of driving with agility on snow and dirt roads, without losing anything in terms of performance, handling and road holding. In other words: a SUV that can be driven like a sports sedan.

Of course it has a higher floor and a higher driving position than the Giulia. But then this means more space available for passengers and luggage. Suspension travel is longer, to ensure the correct ground clearance in off-road driving. In order to increase stability, the axle track is also slightly wider. But architecture and mechanics remain the same, as do the engine range and electronic systems. The result is a car with “an Alfa Romeo soul in a SUV body”.

Driving is believing

We experienced all this behind the wheel. Outstanding steering precision, eager and sharp to direct into short and long bends, excellent stability up to very high speeds. You move swiftly with utter confidence in this Stelvio. No matter the road and the weather. The Stelvio, like the Giulia, has also earned its marks on the “Green Hell”, the Nürburgring.

The potent 2,2 liter Diesel engine is supersmooth, and coupled with the alert 8 speed auto box, it’s a gem. It just shows – or reminds us again – how good modern Diesel engines have become. It is a super silent and vibrationless cruiser at legal motorway speeds, and of course immensely frugal under these driving conditions. 6 litres/100 km are easily reached. Sedate driving lets you use anything between 5,5 (!) and 6,5 liters/100 km, using also the excellent coasting function this ZF gearbox allows you to do. Stunning, to say the least. The manufacturer quotes 5,6 liters/100 km on average and 146 g/km of CO2 emissions.

On top of all these dynamic qualities, true comfort is to be enjoyed in this Stelvio. The excellent seats wrap nicely around you and give you good support and comfort on short and (very) long journeys. The suspension travel is generous and this makes this Stelvio indeed a very smooth mount on potholed secondary roads and picturesque urban streets.

Add to this the panache and elegance of the instruments, the good layout with the center console adorned with a 8.8-inch touch-screen infotainment system offering smartphone-like ease of use. The telematic offer is completed by a suite of Mopar services for remote car management. The innovations in the field of driving technology have become even more important.

The new ADAS (Advanced Driving Assistance Systems) mark the transition from the first to the second level of autonomy: the systems do not only inform the driver, in case of need they also become active, enhancing vehicle safety.

Thoroughbred performance

Of course, this Stelvio gets truly going when you put your foot down. 0 to 100 km/h costs merely 7,6 seconds, top speed is a good 210 km/h. High speed stability is excellent, and as said, the Stelvio is a master on winding roads. Also offroad the Stelvio is very well at home.

The engine delivers its 190 HP/140 kW peak power at a conservative 3500 rpm, with 450 NM of torque already available at 1750 rpm. This means that even a very fast pace is effortless and not accompanied with high revs.

The Stelvio has excellent GT practicality, its cabin is spacious and the standard size of the luggage space is a good 525 liters.

Price winning design

The design of the Alfa Romeo Stelvio convinced recently the readers of the car magazine “Auto, Motor und Sport”.

They chose the model as the winner in the category “Large off-road vehicles/SUV” in the “Autonis” voting. Alongside the Stelvio, “Auto, Motor und Sport” has already awarded  Giulia, MiTo and Giulietta models as the most beautiful cars in their respective classes. And in two years in a row, the prize for “Design Brand of the Year” went to the Alfa Romeo brand.

Conclusion

A very endearing SUV, and very fast and practical too. A beauty with excellent manners, both in town as op the open road or Autostradas. It will guide you with confidence over snowy mountain roads, as its Q4/4WD is totally up to its task and a breeze to use.

The Stelvio is indeed a worthwhile alternative in the SUV segment, and will steal your hart for years to come when you are so lucky to own or lease it. Many financial formulas are devised not least by FCA itself to make a long-term relationship with the Stelvio a very pleasant affair. So in these Corona dampened times around Christmas, to slide behind the wheel of a Stelvio is something to look forward to…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

We drove the VW ID.3: E-power for the millions…

VW takes a big bet on the future of mobility. Europe will – or should be – driving electrified in the (very) near future. So VW got to work on an all-new platform which it will use on all its fully E-powered cars, and there will be many…

Indeed, VW is quite ambitious.  It wants to be the world’s market leader in electric mobility. The Group plans to launch up to 75 all-electric models by 2029.

It also asked its styling department to come up with a totally appealing Golf-sized car with much extra room however for passengers and their luggage, taking advantage of the space gained by the underfloor mounted engine and batteries, the short overhangs and the long wheelbase.

This car, the ID.3 should also be totally connected for the present and future generations, with all the possible driving aids and safety features included.

VW has succeeded. It builds in Zwickau a pleasantly practical, futuristic and good-looking hatchback which does it all. It has not only zesty power (150 kW) and smoothness, but also a very usable range.

We drove here for you the “1ST MAX” edition with a lithium-ion battery with a net energy capacity of 58 kWh. Good for a WLTP range of 426 km. Well, eh, in practice some 330 km or thereabouts, as in practice, one uses heating or airco…

Read further for our findings!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Pleasing styling with a futuristic touch…

We must admit that VW designers have hit the ballpark. This ID.3 looks (very) good from any angle, with its dual tone paintwork, its nice spoiler and the superb surface treatment of all bodywork panels. The ID.3 has a clean, fluid angularity which has a timeless touch, directed towards the future. Flowing lines are found at the front, with the headlights looking like eyes. The low drag coefficient of 0.27 completes the picture.

This futuristic touch is also found even more in the interior, with its all-digital and well-placed screens, both in front of the driver and on the central console. The zesty atmosphere is further enhanced with the array of different mood lighting’s one can choose in the cabin. The ID. Light beneath the windscreen visually communicates with passengers. The ID.3 is largely operated via the multifunction steering wheel, the central 10-inch touchscreen or the “Hello ID.” intelligent voice control. The whole cabin is airy, welcoming and clean.

Daily interaction with the ID is so easy. Just step in, as the car automatically opens. Put the small handle just beneath the right side of the steering wheel in “D” or “B”, which lets you recuperate the kinetic energy and effectively brakes the car with 0,3 G when you lift the throttle, and off you go. At the end of the trip, just push the “park” button and step out. The ID.3 shuts itself and all its systems off.

All the functions on the 10-inch touchscreen are there. It takes some getting used to in order to navigate and learn all its clever functions, but most of it is very intuitive. The rest you will learn and grow accustomed to in a few days! The buttons on the steering wheel spokes also host an array of commands. The sound command lacked some progressiveness, but everything is quite clever and logical.

Driving the ID.3: a “zen” experience with a sporting touch…

Sliding behind the wheel in the ID.3 sets you in this friendly futuristic world, where you immediately feel at home, having found an ideal seating position in seconds. As said, driving away is the simplest affair. Overwhelmingly pleasing is the “feel” of immediate power under your right foot. Make no mistake: the ID.3 has a 150 kW/204 HP E-motor, with 310 Nm of torque. This means supercar performance, well almost. 0 to 100 km/h is silently reached without any effort in merely 7,3 seconds. This is a full two seconds faster than a ‘70s 911 T 2 litre Porsche Targa, to put anything in perspective…

Driving at legally allowed speeds is a dream in an E-powered vehicle, as it goes so silent and vibrationless.

Especially in urban areas where the new speed limits get ever more draconian, down to 30 km/h in many European inner cities, it is a delight to glide along the boulevards with the cruise control set at this speed.

Volkswagen is also returning to its roots with the electric motor: this is located at the rear and drives the rear wheels – as was the case back in the day with the Beetle. The electric drive motor achieves a maximum speed of 16,000 rpm and is coupled to a one speed gearbox and differential.

The motor is so quiet that it can hardly be heard outside the car. For this reason, a loudspeaker emits a synthetic electronic engine sound up to a speed of around 30 km/h in order to warn passers-by. It is efficient too: the permanently excited synchronous motor (PSM) reaches well above 90 pct efficiency no matter how (hard) you drive.

On winding secondary roads, the punch of the motor makes spirited driving also an undistilled pleasure. Handling and steering precision are also quite up to the mark, and the ID.3 indeed feels quite sporting. The state of the art platform architecture has located the large high-voltage battery between the axles. This means at the lowest point of the car, with also the weight distribution very close to the ideal value of 50:50.  

The suspension as a whole is on the rather firm side without being uncomfortable, but don’t expect a softly sprung car here. Of course, to achieve stable and precise handling with a 1,8 tonne car, the laws of physics command firmer suspension settings.

Suspension-wise, VW has put in the works: the ID.3 has a McPherson front axle and a complex five-link design at the rear. In town, even with the large wheels, its turning circle is just 10.2 metres. This makes the ID.3 quite nimble to drive in town.

Our test car came with beautiful 20 inch alloys.  Disc brakes with a disc diameter of up to 330 millimetres are fitted at the front, with drum brakes at the rear. Their great advantage is their robustness: the pads are designed for the service life of the car. And corrosion is not an issue, even though the wheel brakes are used only rarely in everyday driving, assures us VW.

On the motorways, cruising at legal speeds or even below that is the right thing to do. We  settled to a restful gait of some 105-110 km/h, nestled ourselves in the excellent seats and appreciated the fold-able middle armrest (the same are found in my classic 1963 MK 2 Type S Jaguar) and literally enjoyed the music through the excellent sound system, equipped with DAB+ radio of course. This transforms the ID.3 in a four wheeled, “zen”- moving concert hall. The sedate cruising speed also made the ID.3 reach easily the indicted WLTP ranges. By the way, top speed is 160 km/h, totally in line with the character of this ID.3.

Fast recharging…

Building the charging infrastructure  in Europe is now the greatest challenge ahead for many.

There are rosier times ahead: By 2025, Volkswagen Group will install around 35,000 charge points in Europe itself together with its retail partners. Many of these will be publicly accessible.

These will be complemented by the flexible, fast charging stations from Volkswagen Group Components, which can be set up wherever there is a short-term need, such as at major events. They become fixed charge points through connection to the low-voltage network and can charge two electric cars simultaneously with up to 150 kW thanks to their fast charging technology.

In Europe, ID.3 drivers can use already more than 150,000 public charge points. They benefit from attractive conditions in the IONITY fast charging network.

When you are so lucky to have a garage with electric connection or an individual home, VW has a ID. Charger, the new home charging station from Volkswagen. It is available in three versions, all of which offer a charging capacity of up to 11 kW. This allows an empty vehicle battery to be fully charged again in around six to seven and a half hours,depending on the model. The ID. Charger base model currently costs only 388 euros. The ID. Charger Connect and ID. Charger Pro offer full connectivity and can be controlled with the We Connect ID. app via smartphone.

In Belgium, the VW Importer D’Ieteren offers installation of charging stations to its customers via its EDI (Electric by D’Ieteren) subsidiary. More info on www.edi.be. 

Roomy and connected…

The ID.3 has almost the space and legroom of a VW Passat, and that is no small feat. Also the luggage space is quite adequate, with 385 liters. Wide bins in the doors lets you pack all the bottles and small items one needs.  

The electronics platform of the ID.3 has been newly designed from scratch. Two high-performance computers bundle a large number of functions, and the software is designed to be highly flexible like on a server. This makes it easy to download updates to the car, and in future also function upgrades, via a mobile network. The services of We Connect Start connect the car to the owner’s smartphone, allow control of charging and air conditioning, supply traffic information and also display live data about charging stations on the navigation map. App Connect (standard) permits media streaming via a smartphone.

Conclusion

The ID.3 has it all. It has formidable qualities, able to convince our European drivers to take the EV plunge. It offers good value for money, considering the car’s qualities and size. Driving it has been a pleasant experience, and the “zen” character of EV propulsion and the design and roominess  of the ID.3 are most endearing.

Hans Knol ten Bensel

We drove the Toyota RAV4: the car which invented the SUV…

The formidable RAV4 has now some 10 million enthusiast owners, and now enters its fifth generation. It has gained in style, and is as hybrid as ever on our shores: 85 % of the European buyers opt for the self-charging hybrid power drivetrain.

It rolls on the new GA-K platform, allowing the RAV4 to be sleeker with a lower center of gravity and increased body rigidity. This also means both better handling and ride comfort, a more spacious interior, ample load space (580 liters VDA with seats in place) and enhanced styling with lower roof and hood lines in combination with higher ground clearance.

Indeed, the new RAV4 has the looks, and the ride too…Just read on!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Self-charging hybrid, masterfully engineered…

The RAV4 continues the successful Toyota hybrid story. Under the hood purrs a completely newly redesigned 2.5-litre petrol hybrid “Dynamic Force” engine, offering 218 DIN hp in front-wheel drive form. Indeed, this RAV4 is loaded with state-of-the-art top tech.

What to think of the Atkinson cycle technology and a 14.0:1 compression ratio (compared to 12.5:1 for the previous unit). It comes with D-4S direct and indirect (!) fuel injection and intelligent variable valve-timing – electric VVTiE for the intake and hydraulic VVT-i for the exhaust. The valve-timing range for both intake and exhaust has been increased. There are still more clever solutions put in this engine. Be astonished with us…

The cylinder heads are designed to generate high tumble of the fuel/air mixture, with an enlarged valve included angle and laser-cladded valve seats. A variable cooling system with an electric water pump and electric thermostat is used to improve combustion by maintaining the required temperature. There is also a fully variable oil pump for efficient engine oil pressure management.  

Toyota’s fourth generation self-charging hybrid system makes its debut in the new RAV4, delivering multiple benefits. Key components, including the power control unit (PCU) and the nickel metal-hydride battery are more compact and lighter in weight, and the transaxle and transmission have been engineered to reduce electrical and mechanical losses.

The new battery pack is 11 per cent lighter than before and transmission losses have been reduced by 25 per cent compared to the previous system.

How does all this work in practice? The engine is very docile, and develops 221 Nm between a very large rev range from 3,600 – 5,200 rpm. Admittedly, these are rather high revs, but the low-end pulling power is of course greatly helped by the electric motor, which develops a healthy 202 Nm.

This means that this RAV4 will pull away always with very impressive power, and this we find is the very “zen” beauty of Toyota’s hybrid system. The electric motor alone is good for 88 kW, so you can imagine what happens when you put your foot down.

Acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h is absolved in merely 8,4 seconds. But in the lower speed ranges, the velvety power is overwhelming. The hybrid system carefully manages how both engines participate in the total power delivery, and engine revs are kept especially low at partial throttle openings.

Silk smooth progress is for you to be enjoyed: even at spirited driving the engine hums quietly, and all this contributes to let you relax behind the wheel. What is also pleasant is the total smoothness of the drivetrain, not the slightest jolt or shock will disturb you or your passengers. Not many (super)cars will reach this level of total smoothness.

Besides all this smooth power, the hybrid system warrants also excellent economy. The secret is to accelerate and decelerate smoothly, to drive with anticipation. This lets the hybrid system use the recuperation function fully when slowing down, and use the electric motor as much as possible at constant speeds below, say 70 km/h. This results in excellent economy, also and even more so in slow urban driving and stop and go traffic. It proved no effort to reach averages of 6 l/100 km. Toyota quotes 4.5/4.6 l/100 km as average consumption, with CO2 emissions being 102 g/km. Oh yes, the top speed is a good 180 km/h. More than enough for all, we would say.

Driving pleasure…             

The new platform enhances handling stability and precision. The RAV4 has improved the response of the Electric Power Steering by moving the assist motor from the column to the rack, and indeed this RAV4 steers accurately. The handling is neutral and predictable.

The RAV4’s GA-K platform also distinguishes itself in its use of a double wishbone rear suspension system. What’s more, thanks to the low center of gravity and high body rigidity, the suspension does not have to be rendered stiffer to meet dynamic targets. Indeed, we found the RAV4 quite comfortable too! Its suspension travel is wide, and we know of few cars in its class which takes the many potholes and bumps on our Belgion roads with such ease.

A strong point is also the good visibility. The TNGA platform allows the hood to sit 15 mm lower, adding two degrees to the driver’s forward field of vision, and the external mirrors have been moved to a lower position on the front doors. Luggage space is 79 liters more than in the previous, fourth generation RAV4.

Flexibility is designed-in so that the space can easily be adapted to gain more cargo room when required: with the rear seats folded down, the new RAV4 can accommodate a 29-inch mountain bike without any wheels having to be removed.

Well equipped, also for safety…

The new RAV4 offers generous equipment specifications across its range, with all models equipped as standard with the latest iteration of Toyota Safety Sense and an E call emergency contact function. Quite impressive!

The improved system features a single-lens camera and millimeter-wave radar, both with enhanced performance to expand the scope of hazard detection and functionality. The unit has also been made smaller, so driver gains an even wider field of vision. We found this RAV4 delightful with the wide range of safety features.

The Toyota Safety Sense unit includes Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection (PCS w/PD), intelligent Adaptive Cruise Control (iACC), Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist (LDA w/SA), Road Sign Assist (RSA) and Automatic High Beam (AHB). In addition, it introduces Lane Tracing Assist (LTA), which provides more advanced driving support.

The system can determine collision risks at speeds from zero to 180 km/h. If it calculates an imminent risk of collision, it will alert the driver and prepare the brakes (PreCrash Brake Assist) for maximum stopping force. If the driver fails to act, it will trigger Autonomous Emergency Braking, which can reduce vehicle speed by up to 40 km/h, potentially bringing the car to a stop and avoiding an impact.

The new intelligent Adaptive Cruise Control (iACC) is also able to work in conjunction with the car’s Road Sign Assist system. When the car is travelling at a constant, pre-set speed, iACC can recognise new speed limits on major roads and let the driver adjust the speed to keep within the limit, simply by using switches on the steering wheel.

The intelligent Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane Tracing Assist work together in slow, stop/go traffic, tracking the vehicle ahead within the traffic lane, maintaining a safe distance and speed, bringing the vehicle to a halt when necessary and moving off seamlessly when traffic flow resumes. We found this feature a delight to use and indeed it takes away quite some stress in urban stop and go traffic.

Roomy cabin and creature comfort

We found the cabin quite practical; it is purpose built with all the knobs and handles in the right places. The gearlever/selector is now totally classical in looks and feel, and this is maybe a good thing for many SUV enthusiasts. Seats are excellent, the lower, more dynamic seating position was appreciated. As said, there is plenty of room inside. Of course, excellent connectivity and an intuitive to use navigation system was appreciated and makes this RAV4 a pleasure in daily use.

Conclusion

A well styled, but above all superbly engineered SUV, which is sturdy, practical, mechanically refined, frugal, and roomy.

It has a very comfortable ride, and the smoothest of drivetrains. This SUV displays lively performance and surprises with excellent economy. Its unique hybrid system makes it truly stand out, and will make it also totally future proof in our ever-greener world. The RAV4 will continue to be a bestseller, and deservedly so…

Hans Knol ten Bensel