The Nissan Qashqai on test for Changing Lanes!

Nissan Qashqai Review (2021)

The Nissan Qashqai on test for Changing Lanes!
The Nissan Qashqai on test for Changing Lanes!

The Nissan Qashqai is back in 2021 with an all-new generation model. The Qashqai started the trend for crossovers and quickly rose to fame here, for a time Ireland's bestselling car and a former Irish Car of the Year.

What's new for the 2021 Nissan Qashqai?

Now in its third generation, the Nissan Qashqai has grown up. More visually imposing than the previous generation of the car, it has the kerb appeal of a top SUV. Following on from the 2020 launch of the all-new Nissan Juke, the new Qashqai translates Nissan's new design language and technology to the family SUV segment with great success.

Pricing kicks off from €30,500 for the range in Ireland, with all models powered from launch by a 1.3-litre turbo petrol engine with mild hybrid technology.

The Qashqai fits the brief for a family car better than ever with a new platform yielding a more spacious cabin as well as a number of practical features.

Driving dynamics have also been significantly improved. Qashqai matures for a new era of electrification in the motor industry and will debut more hybrid options in 2022.

The Qashqai is maturing beautifully
The Qashqai is maturing beautifully

Inside the latest Nissan Qashqai

Inside the Qashqai benefits from a new interior that feels a lot more modern than the previous generation of the car. The quality of the materials has also moved up another gear, with a solid fit and finish that will weather family life for many years to come.

Qashqai gets a suitable digital upgrade too with a digital instrument panel for the driver and a slick looking infotainment screen that's smartphone ready. The interior could perhaps do with a more distinctive character with more Nissan brand defining features, but the premium feeling cannot be denied.

Standard equipment levels are very good with the list including LED headlights, auto headlights with high beam assist, rear parking sensors, 8" infotainment screen and wireless Apple Carplay and Android Auto. Safety features include blind spot intervention, traffic sign recognition, Intelligent Cruise Control, Intelligent Forward Collision Warning, and Intelligent Forward Emergency Braking.

The SV Premium model on test (from €37,395) includes a wireless phone charger, 9” touchscreen, 18" alloys, panoramic glass roof, rear view camera and rear privacy glass.

The interior of the 2021 Nissan Qashqai
The interior of the 2021 Nissan Qashqai

Is it practical?

The Qashqai has grown in stature, which benefits passenger space too. The new car is a bit wider and has a longer wheelbase than the car it replaces, so you will find good sized footwells in the rear as a result. It feels more spacious inside than the previous Qashqai.

There's also 50 more litres of boot space and the boot has a number of clever features to boost practicality - a false floor that can be used to separate items or give a flat loading sill. A powered hands-free tailgate is also available.

The most impressive feature is refinements to the ergonomic design of the door openings - the rear doors now open to 90 degrees, making it easier to step in and out of the vehicle or manoeuvre child seats into position. Small things but it helps Qashqai function better as a family car than ever before.

Driving the Nissan Qashqai

The 2021 Nissan Qashqai sits on a new platform. My test car was powered by the 1.3-litre mild hybrid petrol engine with a 6-speed manual gearbox. The overall impression is of agility and comfort on the road. Despite the overall increase in stiffness, the new Qashqai is over 60 kg lighter than the car it replaces.

Front wheel drive Qashqais uses a torsion beam rear suspension layout, upgraded from the outgoing Qashqai to reduce vibration and ensure better bump absorption and a smoother ride, as well as providing better roll control.

Boot space in the 2021 Nissan Qashqai
Boot space in the 2021 Nissan Qashqai

The steering is faster, more defined and responsive thanks to the power assistance motor now moved to directly adjacent to the steering rack. This has reduced the feeling of friction through the steering wheel, but gives a more natural increase in steering effort as more steering lock is applied.

For a large SUV it's surprisingly agile and easy to drive with the manual gearbox, though a CVT automatic is also available (from €36,700). It's very comfortable, even on large wheels. The engine is refined and there is plenty of power from the 156 hp unit. It is very pleasant to drive. Nissan says the manual gearbox has been enhanced for a quicker, more direct and sportier shift feeling, and I can say it certainly felt good from behind the wheel.

This is the only engine option for now. Some buyers might lament the demise of the diesel Qashqai. Certainly my average fuel consumption over a week of driving of 6.8 litres per 100 km cannot rival diesel for efficiency over long distances at least. But the arrival of a new Qashqai 'e-POWER' hybrid in early 2022 will be one to watch, using the petrol engine to generate electricity, while the wheels are completely driven by the electric motor.

The Qashqai is a stylish and practical family car
The Qashqai is a stylish and practical family car

Did you like it?

The Qashqai has been an amazing success in Ireland since it launched here, with over 50,000 already on the road and a further 20,000-30,000 estimated to have been imported here in the car’s 14 year history.

Nissan has sold over 3 million units of the car in Europe since its launch 13 years ago. It's an incredibly important car for Nissan.

The new generation model has seriously grown up with the presence of a larger SUV on the road. At launch the engine range does look very narrow but the 1.3-litre petrol is fun to drive and refined, though the upcoming hybrid should be cheaper to run.

Space matters and the Qashqai has grown in all the right directions. This car is a stylish buy with a well-finished cabin to see it into the next few years. Nissan has upped the quality of this car considerably.

Competition is stiff in this segment but the Qashqai has serious reputation and recognition in the Irish market - it remains a solid and reliable buy in 2021.

The new Nissan Qashqai is available from €30,500
The new Nissan Qashqai is available from €30,500

Caroline Kidd

Model tested: Nissan Qashqai SV Premium
Price: 
€37,395
Engine:
1.3-litre turbo petrol
Power:  156 hp
Torque: 260 Nm
Top speed:  206 km/h
Acceleration (0-100 km/h): 9.5 seconds
CO2 emissions:
145 g/km
Motor Tax: 
€270 per year


The new MG 5 on test for Changing Lanes!

MG5 Estate Review (2021)

The new MG 5 on test for Changing Lanes!
The new MG 5 on test for Changing Lanes!

MG returned to Ireland at the end of 2020 with a new suite of electrified vehicles. Under a new distributor, the brand has launched three new models here - the MG ZS electric SUV previously reviewed for Changing Lanes, the MG HS plug-in hybrid SUV, and now this, the MG5, an all-electric estate car for the Irish market.

An estate car! We don't hear much about them these days as the market is obsessed with SUVs and crossovers. Yet estate cars were always the default choice for buyers seeking a lifestyle vehicle that can fit the dog and some gear, while giving a more 'active' image than a saloon or hatchback.

But SUVs these days seem to capture most of that market - though it's debatable how well they fit the brief for space and practicality.

What's so special about the MG5?

The new MG5 is discreet to look at but underneath there's an electric powertrain that is good for up to 345 km. There are no other electric estate cars on the market at the moment making the MG5 a unique proposition right now.

The MG5 sits quite low for an electric car, with the water-cooled battery pack integrated into the car’s chassis. There are dynamic benefits here too, with the low centre of gravity influencing how the car feels on the road.

With pricing starting from €27,645 for the Excite model and from €30,895 for the Exclusive model with more equipment on board, the MG5 remains affordable in today's EV market, with affordability and value being key drivers of the MG brand relaunch in Ireland.

The MG5 is on sale in Ireland now priced from €27,645
The MG5 is on sale in Ireland now priced from €27,645

What's it like to drive?

The MG5 on test used a 52.5 kWh battery with up to 345 km (WLTP) of range available, and a 115 kW motor, equivalent to 156 hp. The performance figures are good and the MG5 feels swift and responsive on the road. It is agile and simple to drive with a very conventional layout to the controls used to operate the vehicle and monitor its progress. The low centre of gravity means it feels planted at all times, behaving in a natural way in response to driver inputs.

The car is comfortable in driving on its 16" wheels and will cruise happily on the motorway. In that way it can't be faulted. The MG5 is predictable in charging and there are no massive drops in range when you get it out onto the motorway.

Ownership of the electric MG5 of course will mean acquainting yourself very quickly with charging. With a 7 kW wallbox installed at home for example, a full charge can be got in about 8.5 hours or overnight. The MG5 is also equipped with a CCS charging port so can avail of fast charging, gaining 80% in 50 minutes from a public fast charge point, charging at 50 kW. Charge points are easily accessed from the front of the car behind the MG badge.

The interior of the MG5
The interior of the MG5

What's it like inside?

Inside the MG5 there is a traditional dashboard layout with all the controls logically laid out. The cabin is nicely appointed for the price point of the vehicle. The layout and design is more traditional than avant garde, but we do like the neat rotary gear selector on the centre console.

Standard equipment includes the 8" colour touchscreen and Android Auto/Apple Car Play. Our MG 5 Exclusive had plenty of nice features like heated front seats, automatic air conditioning, leather covered steering wheel, rear parking camera and leather style upholstery.

There's a natural sense of practicality to the MG5 because it's an estate car. Rear legroom is good for the C segment also, and there's plenty of headroom from that tall roof line. Buyers will be pleased to note that there's 464 litres of space available up to the luggage cover, or 578 litres up to the roof. Other advantages include a wide loading area. There is a bit of a lip between the boot opening and the boot floor - a flat loading area would have been an even greater advantage and more practical for an estate car. The rear seats also split fold 60:40 for even more space.

Practicality is a key feature of the MG5 estate
Practicality is a key feature of the MG5 estate

Did you like it?

At the time of writing, MG has updated the MG5 range with a model with a larger capacity battery - 61.1 kWh giving an estimated range of 403 km (WLTP). This model goes on sale priced from €29,645. It features fast charging capability with the ability to reach an 80% battery charge in just 40 minutes via a 100kW CCS rapid charge point.

MG is already making impact with six dealers appointed around Ireland and over 300 cars sold in their fledgling year in this market. Affordability is a key driver, but the cars are getting out there.

While the MG ZS follows the trend for SUVs and crossovers, the MG5 seeks to offer buyers an alternative with a well-kitted out estate car.

It's fair to say the MG5 lacks some contemporary style, but it is a practical car that works very well as intended as a cheap to run electric car with a surprisingly enjoyable cabin and driving experience that should help it find good homes!

The MG5 is a new electric estate car from the MG brand
The MG5 is a new electric estate car from the MG brand

Caroline Kidd

Model tested: MG 5 EV Exclusive
Price: 
€31,595
Battery:
52.5 kWh
Power: 156 hp
Torque: 260 Nm
Top speed: 185 km/h
Acceleration (0-100 km/h): 7.7 seconds
Motor Tax: 
€120 per year


The Toyota Supra on test for Changing Lanes!

Toyota Supra Review

The Toyota Supra on test for Changing Lanes!
The Toyota Supra on test for Changing Lanes!

Caroline reviews the Toyota Supra!

The Toyota Supra. The legend returns. I've waited a long time for this. Then the stars align and the Supra is mine. All mine! For one weekend only.

The A90 edition is spectacular. Just 90 of this limited edition were made for Europe. And here I am with the keys to the one in the car park at Toyota Ireland.

Priced from €86,780, the Supra is a high-end sports car. A car to dream of driving. One I will remember for a very long time.

I grew up in the 1990s, a golden age for Japanese sports cars. Along with the Nissan GT-R and the Honda NSX, the Toyota Supra is one of the icons of Japanese car culture, one that has travelled the globe. It is Toyota's most famous sports car.

Then it disappeared.

Then it came back. Toyota President Akio Toyoda, explains:

“Back in the day, I spent countless hours driving an old Supra at Nürburgring to become a master driver. Supra is like an old friend that holds a special place in my heart. While other manufacturers were putting their beautiful new prototypes which they were going to introduce through their paces, I was driving an old Supra that was no longer in production. So even though Toyota had no plans to make a new Supra, just like a lot of other die-hard Supra fans around the world, I secretly wanted to make it happen. The new GR Supra was born through testing at Nürburgring, and I can honestly say that it is a car that is fun to drive and better than ever.”

Toyota President Akio Toyoda with the new Supra
Toyota President Akio Toyoda with the new Supra

What's so special about the Toyota Supra?

The Toyota GR Supra is the first GR model to be produced by TOYOTA GAZOO Racing for the global market, the umbrella organisation for Toyota’s global motorsports programme. The fifth generation of Toyota’s legendary sports car debuted back in summer 2019, arriving in Ireland soon after.

To revive the Supra, Chief Engineer Tetsuya Tada went to enthusiast clubs around the world for input on what format new Supra should take. The response was consistently 'a straight-six turbo and front engine/rear-wheel drive configuration'. So that's what they set out to do.

But here's where it gets a bit tricky. It's no secret that the new Supra shares much of its underpinnings and engine with the BMW Z4. Toyota did some of their own tuning of the car. The passion to create a 'supreme fun to drive' car.

To celebrate the Supra heritage and the introduction of the fifth generation code number (A90), an exclusive Toyota GR Supra A90 Edition model was built for the launch, with production strictly limited to just 90 examples in Europe.

Finished in a dramatic Storm Grey matt paint finish, with 19" black alloy wheels and exclusive red leather interior, it's surely a collector's item.

The Supra A90 special edition - only 90 were made for Europe
The Supra A90 Edition - only 90 were made for Europe

This car looks dramatic from every angle, purposeful and as if it is in motion even when it is parked. It's classically Japanese by design, with a knod to the 2000GT and even the Supra from the 1990s. The influence of the 2000GT evidenced in the long bonnet, compact body and double-bubble roof, while the distinctive look of the fourth generation Supra is captured in both the front and rear styling, in the muscular rear wings and the arc of the integrated spoiler. And the Supra font only slightly modernised for this generation.

Inside the new Supra A90 Edition
Inside the new Supra A90 Edition

Yet slipping inside is a bit confusing. Because this interior borrows heavily from BMW. Granted I'm a motoring journalist and I drive a lot of cars. I'm very sensitive to these details. The infotainment system is BMW's iDrive system, the switchgear from BMW too. It's not a deal breaker but it's clear this is no longer a grass roots Japanese sports car...maybe I shed a nostalgic tear for the cars I loved in my childhood.

Yet the fit and finish is good, the driving position sporty.

Driving the Toyota Supra

A magnificent car from start-up. The power, performance and sensational handling delivered by dynamic benefits of a classic sports car design - short wheelbase, wide track, lightweight, low centre of gravity and highly rigid body. Under the bonnet is the BMW-sourced 3.0-litre engine, fitted with a single twin-scroll turbocharger. 340 hp and 500 Nm of torque. 0 to 100 kmh in 4.3 seconds. Coupled to an eight-speed automatic transmission that rockets through the gears with lightening quick responses. All the while, the driver holding on. Eyes wide. Speechless at the mastery of the thing!

The new Supra uses a 3.0-litre straight six engine from BMW
The new Supra uses a 3.0-litre straight six engine from BMW

The performance figures only tell half the story of course. It's about the way the Supra feels on the road. The way it goes around corners. The thrust of the engine and the noise of it on full throttle. The way this car turns heads. Its inspiring presence. There is a lightness to the way this car carries itself, appealing to the driver's senses in a way that most cars miss these days. It gently caresses corners and you the driver feeling like some sort of God of Driving when all you did was turn the wheel.

Toyota GR Supras sold in Europe are fitted with an active differential that operates both when accelerating and decelerating and can seamlessly adjust from zero to full, 100% lock, with instant response. A dedicated ECU monitors a wide range of inputs, including steering wheel, throttle and brake pressure, engine and wheel speed and yaw rate, for appropriate triggering of the actuator. The torque difference between the left and right wheels is controlled flexibly and seamlessly depending on the driving situation.

Did you like it?

Yes I was having a whole lot of fun driving this car. But I was comfortable too. The Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS) enhances performance with instant response to changes in the road surface, adjusting the shock absorber force at each wheel to maintain a flat vehicle posture, excellent steering response and supple ride comfort. Sensors constantly monitor the way the car is being driven and the road conditions, controlling the damping force accordingly.

Ride comfort is exceptional for a sports car. It feels like a GT car, one you could travel across Europe in if you had deep enough pockets to pay for the fuel. Over a few days of driving my average fuel consumption was 11.8 litres per 100 km. If you want economical buy a Yaris Hybrid!

The Toyota Supra is a legend of a car. I'm so glad to see it back. The tricky part is that it's not really a Japanese sports car anymore. It has too many German parts for that. I might shed a tear for that.

But then you step back and look at it. And there are a rush of feelings, mixed with some sheer awe at the mastery of the car. Behind the wheel, the Supra's magnificent engine and beautiful handling take over. Enough said.

Yes I like the new Supra very much
Yes I like the new Supra very much

Caroline Kidd

Model tested: Toyota Supra A90 Edition
Price: 
€46,210
Engine: 
3.0-litre petrol
Power: 340 hp
Torque: 500 Nm
Top speed: 250 km/h
Acceleration (0-100 km/h): 4.3 seconds
CO2 emissions:
170 g/km
Motor Tax: 
€750 per year

The Toyota Supra on test for Changing Lanes!


The 2021 Dacia Duster now on sale in Ireland

Dacia Duster Review

The 2021 Dacia Duster now on sale in Ireland
The 2021 Dacia Duster now on sale in Ireland

The Dacia Duster is back with a comprehensive suite of updates to keep Dacia's bestselling compact SUV at the top of its game. Caroline travelled to Paris, France, to drive the latest Duster.

The Duster has been an unbridled success in Ireland and Europe since it was launched. The Duster story in Ireland begins in 2013 and since then over 14,000 of them have found homes here. The second generation model launched here in 2018, to build on the success of the first with more style and modern features.

At the launch of Duster 'Phase 2' in Paris, Christophe Lavauzelle from Dacia Europe referred to the Duster as an 'icon'. True, this unlikely hero has endeared itself to millions in a few short years, with a sort of transcendent charm that seems at odds with the bare essentials beginnings of the Duster.

Dacia also unveiled a new brand identity in Paris that echoes the brand's growing appeal among nature lovers and outdoors enthusiasts. This clear direction in a market already in love with crossover-style vehicles will help differentiate the brand further among competitors. To that end an all-new Dacia Duster Extreme will go on sale in early 2022 - a top of the range trim level featuring more rugged, exclusive styling features.

The latest Duster available from €19,990
The latest Duster available from €19,990 in Ireland

Design

Dacia say customers love the chunky, rugged design of the Duster so the facelift sees only minor changes. New light units include Y-shaped daytime running lights, which look more contemporary and seem to fit better, especially at the rear. This new shape also inspired the new 3D chromed radiator grille. Front LED direction indicators debut here for the first time in the Dacia range. There's also a new colour - Arizona Orange - that really makes the Duster pop. Duster’s aerodynamic performance has been improved with the simple design of the new rear spoiler and 16/17-inch alloy rims.

Interior

The main change to the interior of the latest Duster is a new 8" touchscreen with more modern graphics and a glossier finish, replacing the old 7" unit. It lifts the cabin though the Duster interior is still very much a hard plastic affair in line with the brand's more budget position in the market. The USB ports have moved to a neater location further down in the centre console so the cable no longer dangles across the touchscreen. The cruise control buttons have been moved to a stalk on the multifunction steering wheel. There's also new upholstery and new slimmer headrests. Some models also get a new high centre console with a wide retracting armrest housing over one litre of storage and two USB charging sockets for the rear passengers.

Practicality

Dimensions have not changed but the Dacia Duster's boxy shape still makes it great value for the money. Duster will seat five, with the rear footwells offering more space than many more salubrious rivals in the B-SUV segment. The high roofline gives loads of headroom, adding to that feeling of space. The boot is also a good size with up to 478 litres available in two wheel drive models, and 467 in four wheel drive Dusters. Isofix child-seat mounting points are fitted to the outer rear seats.

The interior of the 2021 Dacia Duster
The interior of the 2021 Dacia Duster

Engines

The new Duster is available in Ireland with petrol, diesel and bi-fuel (petrol-LPG) engines. The range kicks off with the 1.0-litre TCe 100 hp bi-fuel engine, which Dacia Ireland pitches as a petrol car - but with the benefits of having an LPG tank. LPG (liquid petroleum gas) is sold cheaper at the pump than petrol from some fuel stations around Ireland. The capacity of the LPG tank on the TCe 100 Bi-Fuel Duster has been increased by 50 per cent, to nearly 50 litres in this latest version. Combined with the petrol tank, the range of the car is 1,225 km! This entry model is two wheel drive only and uses a six-speed manual gearbox. The LPG tank is fitted beneath the floor of the boot, in place of the spare wheel.

There's also the 1.5-litre dCi 115 hp diesel available in either two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, combined with a six-speed manual gearbox.

With a bit more power, Duster is offered with a 1.3-litre TCe 150 hp petrol, which is two wheel drive only and combined with a six-speed dual clutch automatic EDC gearbox.

The 2021 Dacia Duster in Arizona Orange
The 2021 Dacia Duster in Arizona Orange

Driving it

On the road the Duster is pleasant and confident. It ticks the boxes for the segment - the seating position is high, the ride is comfortable, the steering is light. Duster's all-electric power steering has been recalibrated on medium and high speed driving so from 70 km/h, the steering becomes slightly harder. Still it's not the sharpest performer with lean in corners and rather loose steering but it never really wanted to be, nor does it have to be. All the engines we tested offered plenty of power and adequate performance, with even the entry level bi-fuel option offering a smooth and cohesive drive matched to a 6-speed manual gearbox, defying its somewhat lacklustre performance figures. The automatic also does well with its 150 hp offering a more powerful, confident drive.

We also tested diesel 4x4 models on a special off-road course where the Duster showed off its very impressive ability to traverse difficult terrain. The 4x4 Monitor as standard on these models has a number of 'toys' for extra security while off-road in difficult terrain; lateral inclinometer that shows the angle between the left and right-hand sides of the vehicle; pitch angle, keeping the driver informed during steep descents and climbs; compass and altimeter - a must for any Duster adventures!

The latest Duster features a new type of tyre, no matter which version a customer opts for. The two-wheel drive version is fitted with ‘green’ CO2-optimised tyres as standard, said to give a 10 per cent reduction in rolling resistance. On the 4x4 version, the tyres meet the official 3PMSFA (three-peak mountain snowflake) required performance criteria in snow testing to be considered severe snow service-rated so winter tyres are no longer necessary - not that they are ever really necessary in Ireland!

The Duster is available with petrol, diesel and bi-fuel (petrol/LPG) engines
The Duster is available with petrol, diesel and bi-fuel (petrol/LPG) engines

Equipment

The latest Duster is offered in three trims in Ireland from launch - Essential, Comfort and Prestige.

The Duster Essential has steel wheels, automatic headlights, and black roof bars, while inside there’s a height and reach-adjustable steering column, cruise control with speed limiter, seven-function on-board computer, DAB Radio and manual air conditioning.

Available from €22,090, Comfort adds 16-inch alloy wheels, black-painted heated and electrically adjustable door mirrors, body-coloured door handles, front fog lights, and hill descent control. The interior, meanwhile, gains upgraded upholstery, height-adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar adjustment, leather steering wheel, electric rear windows, rear parking sensors with rear camera, and an 8-inch Media Display infotainment system complete with Android Auto® and Apple CarPlay®.

At the top of the range, from €23,990, the Prestige adds 17-inch alloy wheels, Grey Quartz door mirrors and roof bars, dark-tinted rear windows, and an acoustic windshield. Inside there's automatic air conditioning, keyless entry, Multiview camera, front parking sensors, blind spot warning system, heated seats, and an 8-inch Media Nav on-board navigation system with wireless smartphone connectivity for Android Auto® and Apple CarPlay®.

The new Duster Extreme limited edition will be available in six different body colours: Glacier White, Pearl Black, Comet Grey, Iron Blue, Arizona Orange, and the exclusive Urban Grey. Orange inserts feature both outside (front grille, side-mirror housing, roof rails, and tailboard) and inside (air-vents, door panels, and centre console). There's also special fabric/TEP upholstery with orange stitching and exclusive black aluminium rims.

Boot space in the Dacia Duster
Boot space in the Dacia Duster

Pricing

Essential models go on sale from €19,990, Comfort from €22,090, and Prestige from €23,990 - all prices quoted for the entry level bi-fuel engine with 100 hp. Four wheel drive versions are available from €28,290 and automatics are available from €27,490. Motor tax ranges from €200 to €270 depending on model.

Summary

Following on from the launch of the Dacia Sandero and Sandero Stepway earlier in the year, now it's the turn of Dacia's star Duster. This is a series of timely enhancements to see Duster into 2022 and beyond.

The Dacia Duster has capably carved out its own niche in the small SUV segment - in fact there's a certain aura of desirability around those boxy looks that is seeing the brand invest further in the off-road image with the new Extreme version due also in 2022 and the offer of genuinely purposeful four wheel drive models.

Inside the Duster gets a much needed boost in the shape of the brand's latest infotainment system that surely lifts what is a sombre but durable cabin. Dacia Ireland is happy to be able to offer a petrol automatic in the range once again, while the Duster Bi-Fuel offers buyers an entry level petrol with the benefit of an LPG tank - if you can top up with LPG locally this is surely a route to more efficient motoring, which should go down very well with savvy Dacia owners!

Still charming, we shouldn't like it so much, but we do. The updated Dacia Duster is on sale in Ireland now.

The Duster 4x4 off-road showing all the other SUVs how it's done!
The Duster 4x4 off-road showing all the other SUVs how it's done!

Caroline Kidd


The CUPRA Leon on test for Changing Lanes!

CUPRA Leon e-Hybrid Review

The CUPRA Leon on test for Changing Lanes!
The CUPRA Leon on test for Changing Lanes!

Caroline drives the 2021 CUPRA Leon

CUPRA turns on a charm offensive in 2021 with a stellar line-up of new models including the Formentor, the brand’s first standalone model, and the new CUPRA Leon. The all-electric CUPRA Born is due here also.

The CUPRA portfolio is expanding, and the brand is finding its feet quickly, offering an exciting suite of cars that major on design and a sporty premium feel from behind the wheel. All good things!

Now it’s time to take a closer look at one of the new arrivals – the 2021 CUPRA Leon. Of course, these two have history, with the Cupra badge strapped to many high-performance versions of the SEAT Leon in previous generations.

The Leon has been tipped over to the CUPRA brand for a shape-up. The results are indeed very impressive.

What's so special about the CUPRA Leon?

Priced from €46,210, the CUPRA Leon on test here is a plug-in hybrid – a sporty one.

This car looks good, very good. The matte grey paint of the test car gives it a real sporty and exclusive image with chrome accents becoming a CUPRA defining feature on the road. The look is completed with magnificent 19” alloys on our test car.

Sporty features include a large front splitter, larger air intakes, side skirts, dark chrome front grille frame and side mirrors that contrast with the body colour. At the rear the plug-in hybrid has two individual tailpipes, a diffuser and spoiler.

CUPRA Leon on sale in Ireland priced from €46,210
CUPRA Leon on sale in Ireland priced from €46,210

The CUPRA Leon e-Hybrid is sold with a 1.4-litre petrol electric powertrain with 245 hp, certainly giving acceleration like a hot hatchback - 6.7 seconds to 100 kmh. But there’s none of the drama or emotion that you might get with a hot hatchback that traditionally uses a combustion engine. It’s more the hot hatchback of the future – the one that is quick but doesn’t make any noise.

If you want the full fat experience, CUPRA will plant a 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine in the Leon for you, with an inspiring 300 hp (priced from €54,245).

But hybrid is for sure where things are at these days. The e-Hybrid has a 13 kWh lithium-ion battery pack. It can be plugged in and charged via a 3.6 kW AC wall box charger, taking about 3.5 hours to get a full charge. When fully charged, the e-Hybrid can be driven on pure electric power for a range of up to 59 km, otherwise it works as a hybrid drawing power from both the engine and electric motor. Over a week of driving my fuel consumption averaged at 6.1 litres per 100 km, without a whole lot of charging.

Driving the 2021 CUPRA Leon

The new CUPRA Leon is designed, developed and produced in Barcelona at the brand’s Martorell facilities. The chassis and steering have been tuned to make the car more distinct and engaging to drive. The Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) system comes as standard - it constantly monitors the road surfaces and driver inputs, making imperceptible changes to the setup in milliseconds for the most engaging drive. The CUPRA Leon’s dynamics can be altered somewhat through the four different driver profiles: Comfort, Sport, CUPRA and Individual.

The CUPRA Leon plug-in hybrid has 245 hp
The CUPRA Leon plug-in hybrid has 245 hp

At the front there is a MacPherson strut suspension and a multi-link system at the rear for a refined ride and sharper handling. There's also Brembo brakes worthy of any performance car! The CUPRA Leon is also 25mm lower on the front axle than the SEAT its based on, and 20mm lower at the rear, meaning a lower centre of gravity for better handling.

On the road, CUPRA’s tuning has transformed the Leon for this occasion. Steering is sharper than the standard Leon from sister brand SEAT. The ride is more soft, premium, yet the handling tighter and more responsive. This one feels like a more sophisticated machine on the road, as it should for the CUPRA badge and price.

What’s it like inside?

Inside the cabin has been glossed over with more CUPRA branding and trim elements. The dashboard and door mouldings are finished in brushed dark aluminium, with copper and dark chrome featuring to define the brand. Illuminated CUPRA sill plates in the front doors complete the look.

The CUPRA Leon is pleasant and sporty behind the wheel with plenty of digital technology in the form of the digital driver instrument display and 10” touchscreen. Bucket seats come as standard setting the right note in terms of comfort and ambience. The Formentor feels a little more special inside, though the cabin design is closely related. It’s still very much a Leon cabin, it doesn’t have the advantage of the Formentor’s distinctness as an all-new standalone model.

The interior of the CUPRA Leon
The interior of the CUPRA Leon

With a five door, five seat hatchback arrangement, the Leon offers standard accommodation for five inside. The car’s platform makes good use of interior space so rear footwells are good for this class of vehicle. However, the Leon’s boot has taken a hit in terms of outright space to accommodate the battery. It is shallower at 270 litres, a bit off the class average. There’s also a CUPRA Leon Sportstourer with a more respectable 470 litres.

Did you like it?

The world is changing rapidly. The hot hatchback must evolve also. The CUPRA Leon performs well as a plush hatchback with plug-in hybrid technology. It’s swift on the road with sophisticated ride over whatever Irish tarmac has to offer.

It looks gorgeous and sporty; the CUPRA badge adds exclusivity and can only grow in recognition now the cars are here, and more good stuff coming.

Yet you will be sorely disappointed if you are expecting thrill, drama, and engine noise! The CUPRA Leon e-Hybrid is too well-behaved for that. The car looks the business but it’s so healthy for the planet when running, it just won’t quite thrill you like Cupra badged SEATs of old!

Still it’s a sign of the times. There is no doubt that this is a desirable car and a pleasant debut for hybrid in the CUPRA Leon range.

CUPRA has transformed the Leon in all the right ways
CUPRA has transformed the Leon in all the right ways

Caroline Kidd

Model tested: CUPRA Leon e-Hybrid 245 hp DSG
Price: 
€46,210
Engine: 
1.4-litre petrol electric hybrid
Power: 245 hp
Torque: 400 Nm
Top speed: 225 km/h
Acceleration (0-100 km/h): 6.7 seconds
CO2 emissions: 
30 g/km
Motor Tax: 
€140 per year


The Renault Arkana is on sale in Ireland now from €28,990

Renault Arkana First Drive Review

The Renault Arkana is on sale in Ireland now from €28,990
The Renault Arkana is on sale in Ireland now from €28,990

The Renault Arkana has just arrived in Ireland, and goes on sale now priced from €28,990. This exciting new SUV coupé for the French brand will go on sale alongside the popular Captur and Kadjar SUVs, with Renault's latest hybrid powertrains making up the range. Caroline was at the press launch in Dublin to find out more about the new Arkana range and bring it for a first drive on Irish roads.

Styling

Renault make some of the best-looking cars on the road and the Arkana is no different. SUV coupés used to be something premium brands brought to market to help their customers feel a little more unique and different to their SUV cousins. Now Renault brings this design angle to the mass market with a very stylish Arkana. It particularly 'pops' in a bright colour and certainly easily distinguishable from a Kadjar for example. The side profile is sporty with typical Renault flourish to the LED light signatures front and rear. Tinted windows, chrome trim on the wing badging, 3D rear LED lighting and 17-inch diamond-cut ‘Bahamas’ alloy wheels all feature on entry-level Iconic models, plus body-colour door handles with chrome and black lower door protection.

Interior

Inside there is a new generation Renault interior, which means there is a good fit and finish to the interior, with a significant digital presence in the cabin also. Iconic models kick off the range with a 7.0-inch display with DAB radio and Bluetooth functionality, while S Edition and R.S. Line models have a 9.3-inch portrait screen featuring navigation with live traffic services and weather information, Google address search and 4G connectivity and automatic update services for three years. The 9.3 inch screen is certainly desirable. Arkana S Edition and R.S. Line models also feature a 7.0-inch TFT Driver Information Display ahead of the driver. The interior of the Arkana R.S. Line stands out with special R.S. Line sports seats upholstered in leather and suede-effect, complemented by red stitching that also extends to the door panels, gear lever and central armrest. Red detailing is also found on the leather steering wheel with unique R.S. Line marker. Completing the interior enhancements are aluminium pedals, a carbon-effect dashboard panel with full-width red trim, plus black headlining.

The interior of the Renault Arkana R.S. Line
The interior of the Renault Arkana R.S. Line

Practicality

The Arkana has not compromised space for style and seems adequately sized inside for the C-SUV segment. Based on the CMF-B modular platform, it's longer than the Kadjar and in spite of the coupé profile offers generous interior space to complement the high driving position popular with drivers of Renault’s SUVs. The boot is surprisingly large too, packing in 480 litres on E-TECH hybrids, 513-litres with a variable-height boot floor featuring on petrol versions. For maximum interior space, the rear seats fold, leaving a level, flat load area for bulkier items.

Engines

The Arkana was built to be a hybrid from the start of development and is a key model to push forward the broadened electrification of Renault’s model range. The brand's new E-TECH hybrid powertrain features across every trim level. It uses a 1.6-litre petrol engine, 1.2 kWh lithium-ion battery and two electric motors, with a power output of 145 hp. Renault Ireland think it will be the engine of choice in the line-up for the majority of customers. It's proposed as the most efficient of the range, returning consumption as low as to 4.9l/100 km (WLTP). Arkana will also be available in Ireland with the TCe 140 petrol engine with mild-hybrid technology. This 1.3-litre engine has 140 hp and fuel consumption is officially rated at 5.8l/100km (WLTP). Both offerings are automatic by default, no manual gearboxes or diesel on offer in this range. 

Driving it

The 2021 Renault Arkana feels immediately mature and confident on the road. The handling is good with a nice flowing character through bends and body roll kept in check. On the motorway it cruises well and appears to be comfortable also, a must for a family car. What was most impressive during my drive, was the power and responsiveness of both engines - if they are as efficient as Renault claim, the brand could be on to a real winner with these models.
SUV coupé style from Renault with the new Arkana
SUV coupé style from Renault with the new Arkana

Pricing

TCe 140 Auto EDC E-TECH Hybrid 145 Auto
All-new Arkana Iconic €28,990 €30,490
All-new Arkana S Edition €31,090 €32,590
All-new Arkana R.S. Line €33,690 €35,190

Equipment

In Ireland the Arkana is available in three trim lines – Iconic, S Edition and R.S. Line. Standard equipment includes EASY LINK 7" touchscreen display with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, 17" diamond-cut alloy wheels, rear view camera, automatic air con, cruise control, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, traffic sign recognition, and full LED lighting technology. S Edition models get 18-inch ‘Pasadena’ alloy wheels, extra tinted windows and slate grey satin front and rear skid plates. Similar to R.S. Line variants across other Renault models, the Arkana R.S. Line is set apart with unique front bumpers featuring full-width Formula One-inspired aerodynamic front blade and honeycomb grille, dark gun metal front and rear skid plates, R.S. Line wing trim, gloss black door mirrors and window trim, and body-coloured door handles with lower door protection finished in black and gun metal. There are also double chromed tailpipes and 18-inch grey and black diamond-cut R.S. Line ‘Silverstone’ alloy wheels, complete with red highlights.

A contrasting black roof is available as an option on S Edition and R.S. Line models. Body colours include Glacier White, Pearl White, Zanzibar Blue, Flame Red, Metallic Black, and Metallic Grey.

R.S. Line models are also available finished in vibrant Valencia Orange.

Summary

The Renault Arkana gives a great first impression with its look-at-me styling and super smooth hybrid powertrains. With SUVs still being the hot spot of the market, it seems there can never be too many available and the Arkana brings a typically premium SUV coupé style to the mass market - with considerable style.

The Arkana feels just as mature inside with the brand's latest interior technology and a comfortable cabin.

One to watch - we will have a full review of this car on Changing Lanes before the end of the year to really put the new hybrid powertrain to the test.

The Arkana was built for hybrid from the start
The Arkana was built for hybrid from the start

Caroline Kidd


The Mercedes-Benz GLA

Mercedes-Benz GLA 250e Hybrid Review

The Mercedes-Benz GLA
The Mercedes-Benz GLA now on sale in Ireland as a hybrid for the first time

Caroline drives the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 e.

Hybrid is hot right now, appearing in just about every car manufacturer's line-up. Mercedes-Benz is just one brand who has been steadily rolling out a range of new plug-in hybrids. From the A-Class to the E-Class, there’s a Merc with a plug.

Now Mercedes-Benz takes their compact GLA crossover and fits a very on-trend plug-in hybrid powertrain. Marketed under the ‘EQ Power’ badge, the GLA 250 e combines the brand’s 1.3-litre petrol engine with a 15.6 kWh battery.

The power output is an impressive 218 bhp with the big news being that you can plug the car in and charge to top the battery up for an electric range of up to 61 km. Driving on electric power is an obvious boon for urban drivers who spend a lot of time on short commutes in and around town.

What’s new for the GLA?

But how about the car underneath? Let’s revisit the GLA.

Now in its second generation, the GLA is one of Mercedes-Benz new range of compact vehicles alongside the A-Class, the B-Class, GLB and CLA families. The new model launched in 2020 with improved design and a new cabin. The GLA is pitched as a compact SUV but really it’s more of an A-Class crossover with a fashionable raised ride height and robust styling features. This is a segment that is growing in value for Mercedes-Benz against a sales backdrop of more than 6.5 million units worldwide.

the plug-in hybrid Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 e
The plug-in hybrid Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 e

In Ireland the new generation GLA is available in a choice of two trims – Progressive and AMG Line – with a high level of standard equipment. Powered tailgate, heated front seats, MBUX infotainment system, reversing camera and 18” alloy wheels all come as standard. A host of safety and driver assistance systems are provided in a comprehensive Driver Assistance Package that includes automatic inputs to assist drivers with routine and accident avoidance emergency braking, distance control, parking, steering, lane keeping, blind spot observation, speed limit keeping, driver fatigue alerts, and more.

The new GLA is available with a suite of the brand’s latest four-cylinder petrol and diesel engine series, and now in 2021 for the first time as a petrol plug-in hybrid. Priced from €48,690 for the Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 e Progressive on test, there is a premium to be paid for the flexibility of this new hybrid technology. For reference, the petrol range kicks off from €41,215 and diesels start from €41,840. Granted those models have less power.

Inside the GLA

The GLA’s interior is a highlight of this new generation compact Mercedes. It’s a contemporary, high-quality look with stylish details among the latest digital technology at your fingertips. Mercedes has been raising the bar in compact premium car interiors for a few years now. There is a new free-standing driver instrument and infotainment display with the MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) system as standard. It can be operated by voice control using ‘Hey Mercedes’ commands as well as by using touch-control pads mounted on the steering wheel.

The interior of the new Mercedes-Benz GLA
The interior of the new Mercedes-Benz GLA

Mercedes-Benz also set out to improve the spaciousness of the vehicle in this new generation of the GLA. It’s now 100 mm taller with more interior headroom for driver and front passenger and considerably more rear legroom for rear seat passengers. For more practicality, the rear seats can now slide by up to 140 mm. Rear seats split fold 40:20:40. There’s also more boot space with minimal change in volume to accommodate the new hybrid powertrain thanks to a new exhaust system design.

Driving the GLA

The new GLA is a little bit shorter than the model it replaces but track width has been increased by four centimetres to improve handling. The seating position for driver and front passenger is higher and more upright, while all-round visibility has also been improved.

Even with a battery on board the car is agile, with light and accurate steering. Whether cruising comfortably down the motorway or nipping in and out of town, the GLA provides a high class drive though at times the automatic can feel a little jerky in slow moving traffic. Yes the electric motor makes it very responsive. There's a lot of power available so with a bit of modulation on the throttle it can indeed be a smooth drive.

For the first time on a Mercedes-Benz vehicle, the combustion engine is started by the electric motor. Starting in silence and continuing that EV drive if you take the time and have the facility available to charge. The GLA can be charged at a 7.4 kW wallbox with alternating current (AC) in 1 h 45 min. However even when running from the petrol engine mostly, the GLA 250 e will average at about 6.3 litre per 100 km.

The GLA has grown up in the right directions
The GLA has grown up in the right directions

Did you like it?

The GLA sits nicely at the premium end of the market for compact SUVs with a smart new look and a very stylish interior that brings all the best features of the Mercedes' new team of compact vehicles.

Style is a personal thing, but with the appetite for SUVs and crossovers, the GLA certainly has a market. It carries some extra distinction over the A-Class hatchback for example, and a higher driving position.

Now Mercedes-Benz adds a plug-in hybrid to the mix. Things get interesting indeed. It’s a powerful car with robust power delivery and the flexibility of EV driving for a limited range. Still there is a premium to be paid, though the gap closes to the more powerful petrol and diesel models of the GLA range.

Worth noting that a new all-electric Mercedes-Benz EQA has also just gone on sale in Ireland from €51,125 with a range of up to 426 km (WLTP)...the GLA 250 e could be a stepping stone in the transition to all-electric motoring or is it time to make the switch? I will have a full review of the EQA on Changing Lanes very soon, which should go some way to answer that question.

The new GLA 250 e is on sale from €48,690 in Ireland
The new GLA 250 e is on sale from €48,690 in Ireland

Caroline Kidd

Model tested: Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 e Progressive
Price: 
€48,690
Engine: 
1.3-litre petrol electric hybrid
Power: 218 hp
Torque: 450 Nm
Top speed: 220 km/h
Acceleration (0-100 km/h): 7.1 seconds
CO2 emissions: 
31 g/km
Motor Tax: 
€140 per year


The 2021 Peugeot 3008!

Peugeot 3008 Hybrid Review

The 2021 Peugeot 3008!
The 2021 Peugeot 3008!

Caroline drives the 2021 Peugeot 3008 PHEV!

In this review we take a closer look at the new Peugeot 3008 plug-in hybrid – a popular family SUV now with a plug!

The back story? Well, in 2020 Peugeot Ireland brought a series of new hybrid and electric models to market. Peugeot jumps on trends exceedingly well, keeping their range fresh and current in a rapidly evolving motor industry.

The French brand had already witnessed a revival in the market thanks to the launch of a trilogy of popular SUVs and a move upmarket with new design direction and rock-solid quality.

The Peugeot 3008 mid-size SUV is of course a particular highlight of that new lion brand SUV trio – a former Irish Car of the Year and European Car of the Year award winner. Now in 2021 we meet the epic facelifted edition – even better with a hybrid powertrain!

The launch of the Peugeot 3008 in Ireland back in 2017 was the brand’s best manifestation yet of Peugeot’s move upmarket. I had forgotten just how good this car was when it launched, how revolutionary the interior of the car was with its full digital instrument cluster that was standard before many rivals could offer similar.

The Peugeot 3008 has been revised for 2021 with even more style
The Peugeot 3008 has been revised for 2021 with even more style

What's so special about the 2021 Peugeot 3008?

Comfortable and practical, the 3008 competes in the sweet spot of the market where the family SUVs reside. Updated for 2021, Peugeot’s bestseller now has slightly revised exterior styling. What a good-looking car! Surely one of the prettiest SUVs of its size on the road. And the new look gives it enough modernity to stay stylish and relevant.

The updated range kicks off from €32,995 for a 1.2-litre Puretech petrol with 130 hp. The diesel range kicks off from €33,700 for a 1.6-litre diesel, also with 130 hp. The new hybrid range starts from €40,920 with 225 hp. There are three trim levels for Ireland – Active, Allure and GT – with lots of equipment from the entry into the range.

On the outside, the 2021 Peugeot 3008 has a new frameless front grille and gloss black air intakes, while the headlights, daytime running lights and indicators all use advanced LED technology across the range. At the rear, Peugeot’s trademark three-claw taillights and new sequential indicators provide a contemporary look.

Our GT test car looked particularly good with standard equipment including 18” alloys, some exclusive trim elements, alloy roof rails, black roof, and sports front bumper design. Other high-end features include ambient lighting, handsfree start, Alcantara/leather effect seats, and front and rear parking sensors with 180 rear reversing camera.

Inside the 2021 Peugeot 3008
The interior of the 2021 Peugeot 3008

Inside the 2021 Peugeot 2008

Inside, the new 3008 SUV features Peugeot’s next generation digital i-Cockpit® technology with a 12.3-inch digital head-up instrument panel, a compact steering wheel and 10-inch high definition colour touchscreen. It's dripping in class and style, a truly different cabin experience to anything else wafting around the market at this price point. Preeemium!

There is seating for five with good space inside the vehicle. There is plenty of rear leg room and even the middle seat passenger will find a flat space for their feet. However the boot has been trimmed down in size in the hybrid. Standard petrol and diesel models get 520 litres, while the hybrid can only manage 395 litres. A powered tailgate is also available.

The Peugeot 3008 plug-in hybrid on test is quite a machine, combining a 1.6-litre petrol engine with a 13.2 kWh battery to produce a healthy 225 hp. This model can be charged up and driven on electric power alone for a range of up to 62 km. Paired with the eight-speed Efficient Automatic Transmission (EAT8), this car feels great on the road. A drive mode selector gives the option of switching between electric, hybrid and sport modes; the car does the rest.

A 3.7 kW single-phase on-board charger is included as standard, with a full charge taking three hours and 45 minutes.

The Peugeot 3008 Hybrid offers buyers even more power and flexibility

The Peugeot 3008 Hybrid offers buyers even more power and flexibility

Did you like the Peugeot 3008 Hybrid?

On the road the 3008 hybrid displays its wonderful pedigree. The hybrid carries a premium over other models in the range but with the power and ease of the transmission, it is a high-end driving experience. The way the hybrid system blends with the automatic transmission adds up to an effortless, serene drive. It’s very comfortable over the tarmac and feels agile from behind the wheel.

Plug-in hybrids are at their best when you are making use of the battery, and charging between journeys to boost the overall efficiency of running this car. Drawing on power mostly from the petrol engine, my fuel consumption averaged at 6.7 litres per 100 km.

Stepping back into the Peugeot 3008 after a few years is a reminder about why this car ran away with so many awards when it was launched. It has a simply stunning interior and the high-end GT model on test feels like a truly premium offering.

The plug-in hybrid adds diversity and flexibility to the 3008 range, though as with all cars of this type, the battery is best used regularly to see a good return on the investment and make the car more efficient to run. The hybrids are now the most expensive of the 3008 range but buyers will still find a good car in the more affordable petrol and diesel models. The facelift gives this car just the right presence. What’s underneath is still a very good car indeed.

New Peugeot 3008 range available from €32,995
New Peugeot 3008 range available from €32,995

Caroline Kidd

Model tested: Peugeot 3008 GT PHEV
Price: 
€43,240
Engine: 
1.6-litre petrol electric hybrid
Power: 225 hp
Torque: 360 Nm
Acceleration (0-100 km/h):  8.8 seconds
CO2 emissions: 
31 g/km
Motor Tax: 
€140 per year


The MINI Convertible on test for Changing Lanes!

MINI Convertible Cooper Sport Review

The MINI Convertible on test for Changing Lanes!
The MINI Convertible on test for Changing Lanes!

Caroline drives the 2021 MINI Convertible!

Ireland’s heatwave of summer 2021 broke just as I was handed the keys to the Zesty Yellow MINI Convertible. It was probably a good thing, saving me the effort of applying sunscreen. In fact, the overcast skies proved a good match to convertible driving, a slight breeze adding even more atmosphere to what turned out to be an unexpected motoring highlight of the year.

MINI make good cars. I had forgotten just how good. Getting into the MINI Convertible is like discovering a part of you that disappeared when life got serious. It took ten years off me at least. The sheer fun of changing gears, the sporty steering, trendy cabin, and cool, classic good looks that have endeared the 21st century MINI to millions for now over two decades.

Reviving the MINI was a very good decision. Creating a fun and playful car that adults can enjoy whether you’re 25 or 85.

Priced from €34,424 for the day-glo MINI Convertible Cooper Sport on test, it's an expensive small car but actually seems like a bit of a bargain relative to the fun behind the wheel. Let me explain.

The MINI Convertible in Zesty Yellow

The MINI Convertible in Zesty Yellow

What's new for the MINI Convertible in 2021?

The revamp for the MINI Convertible in 2021 includes fresh new design and technology updates.

The front-view is dominated by a larger radiator grille and its black, hexagonal surround, and the hallmark round MINI headlights. The position lights have been replaced by vertical air inlets to optimise aerodynamics and the central bumper strip is now in body colour, rather than black. The wheel arch has new contours, the side indicators have been redesigned to feature LED technology and at the back of the car, the fog light is now integrated into the rear apron as a narrow LED unit. At the rear, LED lights in the Union Jack design are now standard for this market too. Zesty Yellow is an exclusive new colour option for the MINI Convertible.

Sport models like the one on test now offer Intelligent Adaptive Suspension as standard, Piano Black Exterior, additional John Cooper Works badging and Dinamica Leather upholstery. Rear Park Distance Control is also included as standard.

As part of the Piano Black Exterior option, the door handles, side scuttles, fuel cap, MINI logo on the bonnet and luggage compartment lid and model lettering and tailpipes of the exhaust system are now finished in high-gloss black, in addition to the surrounds of the headlights, radiator grille and rear lights.

The interior of the MINI Convertible
The interior of the MINI Convertible

Driving it!

Powered by a 1.5-litre three cylinder engine putting out 136 hp, this MINI Convertible will move you with great intent, with 0 – 100 kmh in 8.8 seconds. Driving the MINI is an experience, the famed go-kart handling a real thing, not a myth. This car is fun and tactile to drive. You must wrestle it a bit, pull a gear here and there, fling it in and out of the corners, with all the enthusiasm of a terrier after its favourite toy down the back of the sofa.

The six-speed gearbox is wonderfully notchy, the steering tight and sporty. There are few cars that feel this lively on the road any more, certainly in this price range. Refinement is as good as it should be for a car of this type, yet there’s a natural firmness to the suspension that adds to the atmosphere behind the wheel.

Is it practical? Well, it will happily fit you and your passenger up front but rear seating is not a strong point. If you regularly carry rear passengers, it’s going to be uncomfortable for them. The boot lid opens niftily, and will stow away a few things, but again awkward to access. But hell, it’s a convertible MINI! The fully electric roof also opens and closes in just 18 seconds. And that’s how long it takes for the real fun to begin!

The impossibly fun and glam MINI Convertible!
The fun and glam MINI Convertible Cooper Sport is powered by a 1.5-litre petrol engine with 136 hp

Inside the 2021 MINI Convertible

The interior is classic MINI – a vibe all its own – one of shiny gloss black, retro switches and that large circular binnacle still doing its job after all these years, just modernised enough for the digital era.

An 8.8-inch colour touchscreen display and Piano Black high-gloss surface are now standard and the audio control unit and function buttons for hazard warning lights and driver assistance systems are integrated more harmoniously into the circular control unit. Chrome elements have been significantly reduced throughout the interior with the two outer air outlets framed by black panels. The internal air vents have been completely redesigned and are now embedded to be flush with the interior surface. There’s also a newly-designed sports leather steering wheel with multifunction buttons. The digital display behind the steering is now standard.

Did you like it?

Yes, yes and yes! The MINI Convertible is flirty and superfluous on the surface. But then spend some real time with it. Find a deserted mountain road, let the roof down and enjoy some good, old fashioned motoring.

This car is an absolute hoot to drive even with the rather basic 136 hp 1.5-litre engine of our test car. It’s about the way you drive the car, the tactile nature of it, something that is gradually becoming rarer in modern cars.

Getting inside is like steeping into a nightclub – all shiny black surfaces and funky lighting. But it’s fun and mischievous, just like the car.

I’d choose the MINI again and again and again.

Behind the wheel of the new MINI Convertible!
Behind the wheel of the new MINI Convertible!

Caroline Kidd

Model tested: MINI Convertible Cooper Sport
Price: 
€34,424
Engine: 
1.5-litre turbo petrol
Power: 136 hp
Torque: 220 Nm
Top speed: 208 km/h
Acceleration (0-100 km/h): 8.8 seconds
CO2 emissions: 
118 - 123 g/km
Motor Tax: 
€200 per year


The Toyota Hilux on test for Changing Lanes!

Toyota Hilux Review

The Toyota Hilux on test for Changing Lanes!
The Toyota Hilux on test for Changing Lanes!

Caroline drives the 2021 Toyota Hilux.

An unlikely partnership between Changing Lanes and the Toyota Hilux. Every so often a gigantic pick-up arrives in my test schedule and all that is left to do is embrace it in the name of diversity and good motoring journalism.

Who would refuse a week with the Toyota Hilux, the king of pick-ups? Hilux is as tough as it gets, a legend that goes on and on. Since its launch in 1968, the unstoppable Hilux has conquered the North Pole, Icelandic volcanoes, the Antarctic and won in the Dakar Rally in 2019.

But what a different experience for this test driver that lives behind the wheel of suburban hatchbacks and SUVs for most of the year?

What's new for the 2021 Toyota Hilux?

For this model year, the Hilux has a new 2.8-litre diesel engine with an increase of 54 hp and extra 100 Nm of torque. Smart phone integration is now standard. There have been suspension improvements for better on-road comfort and handling, and improved off-roading with lower engine idle and a new auto limited slip differential.

More basic versions of the Hilux use a 2.4-litre diesel engine with manual transmission (single cab from €29,860, double cab from €36,805).

Priced from €50,570, the top of the range Toyota Hilux Invincible on test for Changing Lanes was indeed the full fat Hilux of your dreams with an almost luxurious spec for a pick-up and bespoke exterior. But not so blinged up to defer in any way from the Hilux tough appeal and frankly brilliant capability.

The top of the range Hilux Invincible is on sale in Ireland from €50,570
The top of the range Hilux Invincible is on sale in Ireland from €50,570

For me, it was a busy week of mixing cement, felling trees, and visiting sites. Okay not really but surely this is the sort of things Hilux drivers do! But tractors with trailers in a busy harvest would pull in to the side of the road to let me by and ‘get to work’. If I had been driving a supermini this would certainly not have happened!

The Hilux of course screams ‘werk, werk, werk’ with a 1 tonne payload, 3.5 tonne towing capacity, four wheel drive and double cab.

Invincible models have 18” black alloy wheels and other bespoke styling elements, LED headlights and fog lights, and side steps. Yes the Hilux Invincible was truly bigger than me.

Driving the Toyota Hilux

The engineering goal for the latest Hilux was to maintain its legendary off-road capabilities while improving the on-road comfort. No easy task considering the ladder-frame chassis - great for durability and off-roading but not so good for dynamic appeal.

The comfort and driveability of the new Hilux has been enhanced through improvements to the suspension, and power steering systems. On the road, the Hilux performs well for what it is. Still not the last word in comfort on rural roads – it's bumpier than an SUV for example - but things settle down for good motorway cruising. The new 2.8 engine gathers pace well and stays reasonably refined, with the extra power and torque meaning you don’t have to work it as hard to pick up speed quickly. The automatic made the drive so much more enjoyable for this test driver too. My fuel consumption averaged at 8.9 litres per 100 km over my test drive. Still a brute then!

Inside the 2021 Toyota Hilux
Inside the 2021 Toyota Hilux

Did you like it?

The interior of the Hilux is another highlight, well-built and comfortable, with this Invincible model getting leather seats/front heated, parking sensors, automatic air conditioning and 8” touchscreen with smartphone integration. The Invincible model has black metallic and black chrome trim accents, and 'clear blue' front and rear door trim illumination. It’s roomy up front but there’s not a huge amount of legroom in the rear of the Double Cab model.

The pick-up segment is steadily growing in Europe. From 154,000 vehicle sales in 2015, an anticipated segment growth of some 35% will see annual pick-up sales rising to 208,000 units by 2023. Much of this growth may be accounted for by the rise of interest in the pick-up as a dual-usage, both professional and leisure market vehicle.

With its good looks and best-of-the-range engine and transmission, the Toyota Hilux Invincible plays the part well, moving into the high-end, lifestyle market for pick-ups.  The Hilux is the world’s favourite pick-up and it’s easy to see why!

The Hilux is the world's favourite pick-up
The Hilux is the world's favourite pick-up

Caroline Kidd

Model tested: Toyota Hilux Invincible Double Cab Automatic
Price: 
€50, 570
Engine: 
2.8-litre turbo diesel
Power: 204 hp
Torque: 500 Nm
Acceleration (0-100 km/h): 10 seconds
CO2 emissions: 
250 g/km