Ford Focus Review

Ford Focus 1.0T EcoBoost (125PS) Review

Car Review: Ford Focus 1.0T EcoBoost (125PS) 5 Door Hatch Titanium

It’s hard to believe that the Ford Focus has been with us since 1998 but the ubiquity of all three generations of this car on our roads is evidence of its popularity with the Irish motorist. The Ford Focus is consistently one of Ireland’s bestselling cars but this is no fluke or product of clever marketing – it’s one of the finest handling hatchbacks around and has been since its 90’s debut.

But there has to be more to the Ford Focus than just great handling to ward off the competition in the hotly contested medium sized hatchback segment. And that’s what Ford has addressed with the new Focus, by sharpening up the styling and improving the interior, both areas where the car was starting to lag behind rivals.

You can watch a video review of the Ford Focus belowRead more


alfa romeo giulietta

2014 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Video Review

Video Review: 2014 Alfa Romeo Giulietta 1.6 JTDm-2 105bhp Exclusive

Alfa Romeo is famous for producing soulful cars that get the pulse racing - not just for their exotic looks, but also for the sheer thrill of driving them.

While the Alfa Romeo 4C is proof that the Italian marque can still do exactly the above, the Giulietta must compete in the highly competitive medium-sized hatchback segment where savvy buyers may want a little more than just a racing pulse.

I've tested the revised 2014 model of the Giulietta to see if updates to the interior, equipment and engines can make the Giulietta a savvy buy that will reconcile with both the heart and the head.

Watch my video review:Read more


Alfa Romeo Giulietta Review

2014 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Review

Review: Alfa Romeo Giulietta 1.6 JTDm-2 105bhp Exclusive

Alfa Romeo’s stylish five door hatchback has been spruced up for 2014 with some minor cosmetic surgery, some new colours and alloy wheel designs, and a mild interior update. More equipment has been added to the range and some more efficient engines. The aim is to make the Giulietta more competitive in the hotly contested medium sized hatchback segment.

Though you would be forgiven for thinking that Alfa Romeos have all but disappeared from Irish roads, there is something of an Alfa Romeo revival going on at the moment, with the arrival of the 4C sports car getting petrolheads all in a lather and also some updates to the Alfas with more mainstream appeal – the MiTo city car and the Giulietta hatch. For a car that’s been around since 2010, has Alfa done enough to keep the Giulietta fresh and desirable

You can watch my video review of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta here.

Design

Much of the Giulietta’s charm lies in the way it looks. Alfa’s stylish five door hatchback has some tough competition in this popular segment with the evergreen Volkswagen Golf and the dynamic Ford Focus being the bestsellers. Yet the Giulietta chases them under the carpet in terms of style. The styling is evocative and dramatic all the way from the quirky off set number plate and classic Alfa V-shaped grille at the front, to the sculpted profile and those muscular haunches and distinctive LED rear light clusters at the rear. It’s a seriously classy looking car.

2014 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Review
Alfa Romeo Giulietta: there's drama in that V-shaped grille!

We expect luxury from an Alfa, and inside the Alfa manages to convince with the help of some very tasty tan leather seats fitted to the top spec Exclusive trim model. The seats are new too and are fabulous – very comfortable and supportive. These things matter!

Alfa has upgraded the quality of some of the materials and trims used in the cabin and there is a new steering wheel design. I wouldn’t say that the cabin is the last word in plushness, and you will still find some hard plastics lurking where Alfa thought we would never look (!). Still it manages to come off as classy and posh and the clean, modern design is easy to navigate.

Alfa Romeo Giulietta Review
The cabin of the Giulietta feels very classy and very posh

Some of the switchgear, like the chunky temperature and fan control dials are borrowed from the Fiat 500L, but they work well in the Fiat and they work well here too. A touchscreen with Bluetooth and digital radio sits in the centre console and comes standard across the Giulietta range. It’s one of the best systems I’ve used – easy to navigate and pair up the phone to.

There are still a few frustrating things about the cabin. The driving position is a bit odd and it took me a while to get comfortable but there is lots of adjustment in the seat and the steering wheel so it’s just a case of taking the time to settle in. The driver’s armrest, standard on higher trimmed models, is hopeless because you can’t access the handbrake easily when you have it in the down position. Also there is no place to rest your foot when you take it off the clutch pedal. But look, I don’t know anyone who didn’t buy a car because there was nowhere to rest their foot when they took it off the clutch!

Space wise, the Giulietta is not the most spacious hatchback in this class but it is adequate. The rear doors don’t open out exceptionally wide but once in the back it’s really cosy and the classy feel continues with the high shoulder line of the car making it feel nicely private back there.

The boot is 350 litres, not the biggest boot in the class but again still perfectly acceptable, though the high load lip doesn’t make it the most practical. But the rear of the car looks so gorgeous, we can forgive it.

2014 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Review

Driving

The test car was fitted with the 1.6 litre 105bhp diesel unit. Other engine choices include a new 2.0 litre 150bhp diesel and two turbocharged 1.4 litre petrols, one with 120bhp and the other with 170bhp - a real gem by all accounts. Sound insulation has been improved but there is still some audible engine, road and wind noise coming into the cabin - but it is not unpleasant. The 1.6 litre engine is punchy, refined and economical with an official economy of just over 70mpg, though 60mpg is a bit more realistic for day to day driving over a variety of roads.

The steering is light around town and then weights up when you get out on the open road. The level of feel is enough to make this car enjoyable to drive and matched to tidy handling and brakes that respond well for smooth control of the car, the Giulietta feels more sporty than sedate cruiser. The ride is not overly firm but there is very little body roll and loads of grip so it will please those who like a dollop of fun with their hatchback. Despite a sports suspension and 17 inch wheels on the Exclusive model I was driving, I still found the car comfortable - thought it was a bit jarring over very rough roads.

All models get the Alfa DNA driving selector that alters the steering and throttle response depending on the mode you select – ‘D’ for Dynamic, ‘N’ for Natural (formerly Normal) and ‘A’ for all-weather. There is a notable difference between Natural and Dynamic. In Dynamic mode, you get this little surge of power and the Giulietta turns into a bit of a racer with razor sharp throttle and weightier steering for more precision. You can have a bit of fun with it. But at low speeds, it’s like trying to control an overexcited dog on a lead - the throttle is just too eager! But it’s definitely fun to experiment with it out on the open road.

Economy

The 1.6 litre diesel comes with fuel saving stop start as standard and CO2 emissions are just 104g/km so you will pay €190 to tax it per year. Official economy is 70.6mpg.

Equipment

There are three trim levels, Progression, Distinctive and Exclusive, which is the one we have here. All cars come with electric windows, LED daytime running lights and tail lights, air con, 16” alloy wheels and the aforementioned touchscreen. Go up to Distinctive trim for fog lamps, parking sensors and cruise control. Top spec models in Exclusive trim get 17-inch alloy wheels,  new leather/micro-fibre upholstery, auto lights and wipers, electric-folding door mirrors, dark tinted windows, an electro-chromatic rear-view mirror, a rear arm-rest and electric front-seat lumbar support, sports suspension, sports leather steering wheel with red stitching, aluminium sports pedals and kick-plates, darkened headlight clusters, satin-effect mirror covers and side body skirts.

Verdict

The Giulietta stands out for its style and seductive looks. The seduction continues inside with a classy, well-turned out cabin. Thankfully, the Giulietta does not disappoint behind the wheel either, and those who like a sporting feel will enjoy the tidy handing and that DNA driving selector.

But if we are talking about you spending your money on an Alfa Romeo, we need to talk about reliability. The good news is that the quality has improved in recent years but for extra peace of mind, all Alfa Romeos sold in Ireland come with a five year warranty.

With the petrol range starting at €22,500 and the diesel range starting at €24,500, the Giulietta is not the cheap option. But for those sexy looks, an extra bit of exclusivity and the prestige of the Alfa Romeo badge, the Giulietta is a refreshing alternative in the medium-sized hatchback segment.

Model tested: Alfa Romeo Giulietta 1.6 JTDm-2 105bhp Exclusive
Price: 
€28,250 (Giulietta range starts at €22,500)
Engine: 
1.6 litre four cylinder turbo diesel
Power: 
105bhp
0-100km/h:  
11.3 seconds
Economy: 
70.6mpg (4.0l/100km)
CO2 emissions:  
104g/km
Tax band: 
A3 (€190 per year)

Caroline Kidd


Honda Civic

Honda Civic: Out of this World

I had just parked the Honda Civic on a city street and was getting out to admire my handy work when a passer-by nodded in the car’s direction while speaking on his mobile phone and said “gorgeous car”. That doesn’t happen very often, not least when driving a sub-€25,000 mass market hatchback.

But the Honda Civic had more surprises in store for me aside from avant-garde looks. Read on.

Design

The Honda Civic is a little bit of a Marmite car – you will love the way it looks or you will seriously dislike it (see more photos here). It’s sharp and angular and looks like nothing else in its class, bringing a futuristic and original look to the hatchback segment. The current model is lower and wider than the previous model and has been designed with aerodynamic efficiency in mind - the result is a sporty, athletic profile. LED daytime running lights and 16” inch alloys fitted as standard add to the dynamism. The downside of the Civic's unusual exterior design is that the rear spoiler splits your view out the rear window and visibility is poor towards the rear corners of the car.

Honda Civic
Honda Civic: avant-garde looks you won't find anywhere else in this segment

Inspiration for the Civic’s interior came from cockpits of jet fighter planes and race cars and it shows - the instruments feel like they wrap around the driver’s seat and the futuristic look continues inside with attractive indigo illuminated dials and digital displays to inform you of vehicle information. While there are a lot of hard plastics about, the quality of the cabin is very good and the build quality is what you would expect from a Japanese hatchback. But it can’t match the Volkswagen Golf for classy feel and straightforward, functional layout. Again if you like “different”, then you will probably adore the interior of the Civic.

Civic interior
Interior inspired by cockpit of race cars and jets - cool!

It is very comfortable inside and spacious with useful storage spaces dotted throughout. The boot is big and deep - 401 litres in addition to a 76 litre under floor compartment that brings the total volume to 477 litres. However, there is no spare wheel - the Civic instead comes with a tyre repair kit as standard. The rear doors open at 90⁰, handy for accessing the rear seats, and the rear seats can be folded down or rearranged in a variety of ways thanks to Honda’s innovative “Magic Seats”. You can even flip up the rear seat cushions to carry tall objects. The practicality puts some other hatchs to shame.

Honda Civic
Seats can be folded in a variety of ways

Driving

The new 1.6 litre i-DTEC diesel engine has transformed the Honda Civic and the low emissions make it ideal for the Irish market. It’s an excellent engine, both exceptionally frugal (78mpg) and powerful (120bhp). It never feels under pressure and it’s easy to keep the car in its power band. And it’s quiet!

There is an enjoyable lightness to the steering and the Civic is as easy to drive on the motorway as it is in town. The Civic has a new suspension that soaks up the bumps in the road well while it still feels sporty and agile if you want to throw it around corners at the weekends. It stayed settled for me over some seriously rough roads and while it may lack some of the steering feel and preciseness that makes a rival Ford Focus sparkle in this department, it is still a lot of fun to drive when you match it to that powerful, smooth 1.6 litre diesel engine and a snappy six speed manual gearbox.

Economy

The official economy figure is an amazing 78mpg and the 1.6 i-DTEC engine comes fitted with fuel saving start stop technology as standard. The Honda Civic has been designed with fuel efficiency in mind and the diesel model even gets little gills on the rear wings to enhance air flow over the sleek body. The addition of an econometer in the driver’s line of vision that advises you on how your driving style is impacting fuel economy by changing blue to green when the car is being driven economically is further evidence that fuel efficiency was at the forefront of the engineer’s minds when building this car.

Honda Civic
Indigo illuminated dials are very nice to look at

Equipment

There are three trim levels available on the 1.6 litre i-DTEC Civic:  Comfort, Sport and Executive. Comfort models get Bluetooth, six airbags, alarm, remote central locking, air conditioning, LED daytime running lights, 16" alloy wheels, Hill Start Assist, electric front and rear windows and steering wheel mounted audio controls.

Sport trim adds dual zone air conditioning, auto lights/wipers, front and rear parking sensors, rear parking camera, cruise control and speed limiter, front fog lamps, leather steering wheel and gear knob and alloy pedals.

Executive trim adds leather interior, heated front seats, glass roof, and satellite navigation and colour touchscreen.

Verdict

The Honda Civic is a cool hatchback that deserves your attention. It's very practical but don't confuse that with boring. You can have a bit of fun with this and it's as enjoyable to drive as it is to look at. And the new diesel engine is real triumph, combining great performance with refinement and economy.

Model tested: Honda Civic 1.6 i-DTEC Comfort
Price: 
€24,195 (Range starts at €21,895)
Engine: 
1.6 litre, turbocharged four cylinder diesel
Power: 
120bhp
0-100km/h: 
10.5 seconds
Economy: 
78.5mpg (3.6l/100km)
CO2 emissions: 
94g/km
Tax band: 
A2 (€180 per year)

Caroline Kidd


Ford Focus

Ford Focus: Confident & Competent Hatchback

The current Ford Focus has been around since 2011 but with a new model just around the corner why is it still one of the bestselling hatchbacks in its class? Let’s find out.Read more


Fiat 500L

Feeling Very European In The Fiat 500L

The Fiat 500L is Fiat’s five seat MPV that promises to deliver the style of the Fiat 500 city car and the space and versatility of an MPV. It might not be an obvious choice for a young driver but if as part of your lifestyle you often or occasionally need lots of space to carry people, IKEA flat packs or stuff for hobbies (you know adventure sports and that sort of thing), then trust me, the Fiat 500L is worthy of consideration. Here’s why.Read more


Peugeot 308 Wows With Style And Finish

The new Peugeot 308 has cruised into the medium sized hatchback segment with a smart new look and the European Car of the Year crown for 2014. It certainly has the looks to compete at the very top of this segment but will we want to drive it?Read more