crossover

Ford Fiesta – still brilliant in a high-tech Britain

THE future can hang on a minute.

I know that we’re supposed to boldly sailing – on a solar-powered catamaran, presumably – into a brave new world of lab-grown, meat-free burgers delivered by drones, but right now there’s still a McDonalds on every busy road and a JD Wetherspoon in virtually every town centre. Your whole life can be conducted on Android and yet sales of vinyl records are up year-on-year. Perhaps most pertinently, for all the talk that electric cars and automation are the future, last time I looked the decidedly analogue Ford Fiesta was still Britain’s best-selling new car.

At the moment all the muttering is about how the humble supermini is about to embrace zero-emissions motoring. Renault’s Zoe has been chipping away at this bit of the market for a while (don’t worry, the Clio’s still very much available), but Vauxhall is being brave and launching its Corsa in all-electric form first, and it’s a similar story for Peugeot’s latest 208.

But while there is a plug-in hybrid Fiesta on the way the current range depends on a blend of rather more familiar petrol and turbodiesel engines, and it feels all the better for it. It’s as bit like Liam Gallagher – yes, it’s the same old act, and yet only last weekend it was good enough to headline Glastonbury.

I know because last weekend I spent 700 miles thumping up and down the British road network in a Zetec-spec EcoBoost – and couldn’t, with the exception of three very minor moans, couldn’t knock it. With the current Fiesta, introduced 18 months ago, it feels like you sit on the seats rather than in them, it still lacks mid-range thump in one-litre form, and on the motorway the ride’s a bit more fidgety than I’d ideally like, but that’s about it. In other respect Ford’s taken what it had with the 2009-era Fiesta, revisited absolutely everything, and quietly made it better rather than reinventing the wheel.

So while the turbocharged three cylinder engine still revels in a few revs to get results, it managed to average a fairly hefty fifty to the gallon – and I wasn’t on any sort of eco run. On the motorways it was long-legged enough to make light work of a voyage to Scotland and back – and when it wasn’t it could still entertain me on the B-roads, offering just enough feedback through its chunky, three-spoke steering wheel. Even the little things won me over; plenty of superminis integrate their stereo systems into a touchscreen system these days but the Fiesta gives you old-fashioned buttons beneath it as well, so you could flick between Joy Division and The Cure without losing the sat nav.

I suspect the reason the Ford Fiesta, even when every other new car is a crossover, electric car or plug-in hybrid, is still Britain’s biggest seller is because it’s ruddy good at what it does. The Suzuki Swift might match it when comes to generating grins, VW’s Polo has a more premium feel and the Fiat 500 is a lot more charming, but it’s tricky to think of a better all-rounder.

Kia XCeed – I hope it’s as good as it looks

CROSSOVERS are chunky, supermarket-friendly beasts of burden. Coupes are sinewy, slippery conversation-starters that put looks above all else, and to hell with the practicality. So combining the two is about as sensible as getting Stormzy to present the next series of Planet Earth, right?

Erm, wrong, if the number of just such cars – Coupe Utility Vehicles, or CUVs, if you like your cars summed up by an irritating set of initials – on the way is anything to go by. They’re jacked-up hatchbacks with off-roader proportions, in the vein of Nissan’s Qashqai, so they should be perfect for stuffing full of mates and suitcases for a long weekend away, but then they’ve been treated to swooping rooflines that rob rear headroom and steal valuable bootspace.

That’d be fine if they looked the part as a result – and I know style’s an entirely subjective thing – but I’m not sure at least two of the latest arrivals do. The person who did the front end of BMW’s second-generation X6 has done a superb job of matching a nicely aggressive ‘double kidney’ radiator grille with some neatly-shaped headlights – but then his sketches appear to have been blown up to 300% on a photocopier and hastily attached to an entirely different car. But that’s a £53,000 flight of luxury, we’re as the key battleground here and rather smaller CUVs costing well under half that.

Ford’s Puma is rather better but I can’t help unseeing the mental image the delightfully mischievous Sniff Petrol website has stuck in my head – it’s a good-looking CUV that, judging by its facial expression, has just walked in on its parents when it shouldn’t have.

If it were my money I’d go for a crossover that nails handsome proportions and neat detailing without passing itself off as a small coupe – take a bow, Skoda Kamiq – but if you reckon a rapper really can do BBC wildlife documentaries then I’m going to have to point you in Kia’s direction.

There’s a reason why the new XCeed, which essentially the C’eed hatchback on stilts, looks far better than I’d been expecting. It’s styled by the same man who worked on the original Audi TT, and the same eye for detail that made that such a hit seems to have worked its way onto this new arrival too. I even like the little flourishes of body-coloured trim on the inside too, which definitely have a hint of Fiat Coupe about them. It’s sensibly priced, too, starting at £20,795 when it goes on sale here in September.

So if you insist on an off-roader-inspired car that willing chucks some of its practicality in the bin in favour of a rakish roofline, I’d make it this one because it actually delivers on the looks front at sensible money.

Although I’d still buy a Kamiq and a secondhand Ford Puma – the two-door coupe from the Nineties, that is – instead. Sorry if I’m being boring, but I’d rather Stormzy stuck to rapping…

Why the mid-sized Vauxhall you need isn’t this one

IF YOU’RE reading this in The Champion – as opposed to having it beamed into your eyes by a laptop or smartphone – then you’re already way ahead of me. There is still a sizable constituency of normal people who like doing things the old-fashioned way, and that includes getting your weekly motoring fix through a proper, printed newspaper.

There are plenty of us who still prefer to ring people up rather than WhatsApping them, bemoan the fact that Tesco is trying to ditch its deli counters and were quite happy with just the four channels on their analogue TVs (I suspect there are still a few poor souls out there still trying to tune into Channel 5, even now).

I know this because at the last count, when it comes to Europe-wide sales that include both Vauxhall and its continental Opel cousin, the Astra still comfortably outsold the Mokka. Which, on the face of it, shouldn’t really make sense.

The Mokka X, to give it its full name, is Vauxhall swiping right at just about every Millennial would-be buyer it finds – it’s a petite crossover with the same sort of cutesy styling that makes the Corsa such a big hit with younger drivers, it’s easy to park and get in and out of, and it has the sort of high driving position and bags of interior space that make its Juke and Captur counterparts such big sellers. The Astra, on the other hand, is the seventh generation of a sensible family hatchback that’s been around since The Jam’s Going Underground was top of the charts. Your dad probably had an Astra. And your granddad too, for that matter.

But having spent a couple of days driving around in both it’s not hard to suss why more of you are still driving around in Astras. It’s a better car.

I know that, yes, technically the bigger and newer Grandland X is the closer relative to the Astra, but it’s also more expensive – whereas the Astra and Mokka I drove both had turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol engines, similar equipment levels and cost a shade under £22,000. The Mokka X is the more 2019-relevant of the two, but the Astra has a bigger boot, a smoother ride, better composure through the corners and is much nicer to drive. It’s also easier to see out of – Vauxhall evidently listened to everyone who moaned about the enormous A-pillars on the outgoing Astra – and, for what’s supposed to be a dowdy old five-door hatch, it’s still rather easy on the eye.

I know that crossovers are meant to be the future but I reckon you ignore the good, old-fashioned Astra at your peril. I’m sure it’ll still be around in another 39 years’ time. As will The Champion, of course…

What one German car mag’s said about the new Volkswagen Tiguan will shock you

tiguanIF ANYONE knows a thing or two about art it’s the French. They gave us impressionist paintings, Les Misérables and Daft Punk.

Extend that to cars and it’s immediately apparent they know a thing or two about great design too. In 1971 someone in a turtleneck sweater stuck the original Range Rover in The Louvre and declared it a piece of exemplary industrial design. The rest of the world immediately agreed. The idea of great car designs being art earned a new currency overnight – although it makes you wonder why they hadn’t already done it with the Citroën DS.

Great car designs make wonderful works of art – you only have to look at an E-type or a Citroën SM to realise why. Yet it’s hard to imagine anyone sticking the latest bit of award-winning automotive design in Paris’ hotspot in quizzical-looking arty types.

The new Volkswagen Tiguan has been hailed – admittedly by the Germans – as a brilliant bit of design. The only thing is I’m struggling to understand why.

According to Volkswagen it ‘radiates power and authority’, but I’m still not sure what excited German mag Auto Zeitung so much that it beat 14 other new cars to be honoured as 2016’s most exciting bit of automotive design. Surely the new Morgan EV3 or the Alfa Romeo Giulia or the Ford GT were a bit more interesting?

Apparently not. What excites Germans is the use of a how the Tigun uses VW’s Modular Transverse Matrix – I know you want to yawn, but bear with me – and manages to give it ‘an unmistaken SUV profile’. In other words, they’re impressed by how the bits you know and love from the Volkswagen Golf can be made to look almost exactly like a Nissan Qashqai or a Ford Kuga.

The Tiguan does look a bit smarter than the old one and I’m sure it’s fantastic at towing a caravan along the M58 while getting a silent fifty to the gallon, but is it really the year’s most interesting bit of motoring design? When there’s a new Honda NSX around the corner? When are there all sorts of interesting developments in fuel cell cars and autonomous driving on the horizon?

I’m not convinced. Maybe I’m not German enough…