Opel Astra Sports Tourer Car Review Ireland

Opel Astra Sports Tourer Review

Opel Astra Sports Tourer Car Review Ireland
The new Opel Astra Sports Tourer

After the arrival of the new Opel Astra here in late 2015, the Opel Astra Sports Tourer has recently landed in Ireland. “Sports Tourer” is the posh name but what we’re really talking about here is an estate car and it makes a great buy if you need more boot space and practicality than what a standard Astra hatchback can offer.

The new Astra Sports Tourer also happens to be a very handsome car in the metal. True, the test car (pictured) was a top of the range Elite model and came with gorgeous optional 18” ‘Twister’ alloys (€550), but there’s no denying that even in basic form, the new car has a lovely, elegant shape.

The new Astra has also seen a huge step up in design and quality over its forebear, and the quality in the cabin is up there with the very best in the class. The Astra I think actually has an advantage here because the dash design not only feels well-made and all the materials are of good quality, but it’s also interesting to look at and nice to interact with. The Intellilink infotainment system is standard from SC trim upwards and the touchscreen gives the cabin a slick appearance, while also allowing easy integration with smartphones and access to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto apps.

Opel Astra Sports Tourer Car Review Ireland
Interior of new Opel Astra Sports Tourer

Entry level S cars get air con and Bluetooth but step up to SC and you get additional 16” alloy wheels, cruise control, four electric windows, steering wheel mounted audio controls and Intellilink. While SC and sporty SRi trim will probably tempt buyers most in this segment, the Elite model on test was a great showcase of how sophisticated the Astra can be should you wish to spec it up, with standard features including leather seat trim, dual zone climate control, heated steering wheel, electric parking brake, heated front seats (also with a cooling function!) and heated outer rear seats, on top of the safety tech like lane departure warning, traffic sign recognition and Opel OnStar that are standard from SRi trim up. A cool option fitted to the test car was the electric tailgate that can be released from the key or by waving your foot under the rear bumper (€500).

It’s an estate car so of course the boot is the key selling point here because it’s 540 litres compared to 370 litres in the hatchback. It’s ideal for regular use because it’s got a low flat loading area and great shape for stacking your cargo or housing your canine friends on trips to the beach or park. For your human friends, there is seating for five and the space on offer is good. In the back, head and leg room gives the impression of a large, roomy car and even the middle passenger gets a relatively flat space to put their feet.

Opel Astra Sports Tourer Car Review Ireland
Extra cargo space in the Opel Astra Sports Tourer, with a low, flat sill for easy loading

The great advantage of compact estates like the Astra Sports Tourer is that while they house generous cargo space they are also, well, compact, so you can get around easily and they are not a nuisance to park. The Astra Sports Tourer is a supremely confident drive and there is very little to complain about behind the wheel as the suspension does a great job of anesthetising the bumps and ruts of Irish roads, while the car handles with a great level of panache too. The steering is light and easy, but the grip from that front end makes itself tangible at the rim so placing the car on the road and dipping in and out of corners is actually quite fun. Compared to the hatch, the extra bit of bulk at the back makes the car feel slightly less dynamic if you’re pushing hard through tight corners because there’s more lean.

The Astra Sport Tourer is complemented by a range of petrol and diesel engines, with the best for economy returning as high as 78mpg. The engine line-up for the Sports Tourer is the same as the hatchback and includes three petrols (1.4-litre 100PS, 1.0-litre turbo 105PS, 1.4-litre turbo 150PS), and a 1.6-litre diesel with two different power outputs (110PS and 136PS). My test car had the 1.6-litre (136PS) diesel and it’s a fine specimen of the genre – super smooth power output through the 6 speed manual gearbox and excellent refinement with no annoying harshness, even stopping and starting around town. There’s also more than enough power and the car pulls strongly with great flexibility in all the gears, while returning up to 72mpg.

Opel Astra Sports Tourer Car Review Ireland
A range of strong engines for the new Opel Astra Sports Tourer, with the most efficient returning up to 78mpg

Estate cars have never really been big sellers in Ireland and certainly over the past few years many hatchback buyers have strayed further from this territory in the car showroom, migrating to similarly priced crossovers and SUVs rather than estates.

But the Opel Astra Sports Tourer certainly makes a great case for the humble estate, with a fine blend of practicality, smooth driving character and a level of refinement that would make many similarly priced SUVs and crossovers appear like false value.

Caroline Kidd

Model Tested: Opel Astra Sports Tourer Elite
Price: 
€29,195 (Range starts €21,195)
Engine: 
1.6-litre turbo diesel
Power: 
136PS
0-100km/h:
10.1 seconds
Economy:
72mpg
CO2 Emissions: 
104g/km
Motor Tax: 
€190 per year

Opel Astra Sports Tourer Car Review Ireland
Opel Astra Sports Tourer: Fine blend of practicality and mature road manners

Peugeot 308 GTi ireland review

Peugeot 308 GTi 270hp Review

Peugeot 308 GTi ireland review
The Peugeot 308 GTi

Peugeot know a thing or two about building a performance car and their sporty hatchbacks have been getting petrolheads all in a lather for over 30 years.  Cars like the Peugeot 205 GTi and 306 GTi-6 belong to the annals of greatest cars of all time, and these cars still have the capacity to strike up an emotional response in adults akin to those otherwise reserved for recollections of since departed dear friends and relatives. Great cars like great people leave lasting impressions.

So what of the new Peugeot 308 GTi? What to do with the weight of expectation on your broad shoulders?

Before meeting the Peugeot 308 GTi for the first time, it was reassuring to see that this car is now officially the “Peugeot 308 GTi by Peugeot Sport” because we know that Peugeot Sport has already done some great things, like smash the record for the Pikes Peak Hill Climb with a rally spec 208, and won the Dakar Rally in a monster spec 2008.

But could the brains behind these victories take a supermarket spec 308 and turn it into one of the best hot hatchbacks on the market right now?

Watch my video review or scroll down to read the rest of the review:

Step 1: Make it look the part. The 308 is one of the better looking hatchbacks out there so this would be easy. The new 308 GTi looks pleasingly beefy, especially from the back where two larger than life exhaust pipes declare this car’s intentions. Still there’s nothing brash here: a modest body kit, new upright grille with inset Peugeot lion, ultra-light 19” aluminium alloy wheels on the 270hp model (18” alloys on 250hp model), red Peugeot Sport-branded brake callipers, and of course the all-important GTi badging. It does look good and you can spec the 270hp model with a Coupe Franche red and black split paint job if you really want to make it shout a bit louder (but good luck trying to explain this choice to bewildered bystanders!).

Inside, the cabin feels cosy and driver focused. There’s more red detail and GTi badging, and look up, down, left, right, and you’re met with good design and quality that makes the nearly €40,000 price tag not seem like a rip-off. While you’re paying for the sophisticated engineering that goes into bringing a car like this to your driveway, there’s no reason why you should have to slum it and this car delivers. You’ll be pretty comfortable and secure too in your Alcantara trimmed seat with massage function.

But why you’ll need a massage function when I tell you the next bit, I don’t know. Power comes from a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine, and there are two variants – one with 250hp and the other with 270hp, with a six speed manual gearbox as standard. That’s 270hp from a 1.6-litre engine in a front wheel drive hatchback!  There’s obviously no time for relaxing!

Peugeot 308 GTi ireland review
Peugeot 308 GTi has a quality cabin with some sporty flourishes

The Peugeot 308 GTi 270 feels very fast on the road.  No kidding. 330Nm of torque will pull you to 100kmh from a standstill in just 6 seconds, and you can go all the way to a top speed of 249kmh. The 270 model is not just a power update, there are also bigger front brakes and the addition of a limited slip differential to improve cornering grip.

Find a series of corners and this car will show you what it’s made of. The Peugeot 308 GTi 270 is like an athlete in the way it moves and on the road when you’re pushing, it feels as if every inch of the car has been tuned for performance. That comes across to the driver as a firmness, a sort of muscularity that’s absent from your average daily runabout. But you need it because otherwise this car would be difficult to control, and frankly, dangerous. The big fat Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres and limited slip differential work to make this car really clinical and precise corner after corner.

If there is one area that could be better, it is the steering. It is much improved over the set-up in a standard 308, feeling meatier and more natural as you turn in for the corner but it’s still lacking that extra little bit of feedback of the very best set-ups.  Not acute – it’s not like you’re going to be drifting around the place wondering if the front wheels are connected to the steering wheel at all. There’s loads of grip but the steering could just do a better job of communicating it through to the rim.

For bouts of spirited driving, there is a Sport mode that sharpens up the throttle response and feeds some augmented engine noise into the cabin, but this car is fast whatever you choose to do with it. So much so that there’s that little element of menace to it, like the lion could bite you if you didn’t respect it (if you were a Golf GTI fan for example). In Sport mode, it does seem to dump all its power to the front wheels very quickly with a scream from the engine, so the car demands all your concentration. But it is so enjoyable to drive this car fast through some corners and this is when you see the magic of what the engineers have done.

Peugeot 308 GTi ireland review
Peugeot 308 GTi: Styling has been suitably beefed up

For all this car’s beastliness, it does that great hatchback thing of being a really easy car to live with - seating for five, a decent boot for everyday life, and reasonable running costs.  Rear legroom is a bit tight by class standards but the boot is one of the best - 470 litres with a practical shape and low loading sill. Emissions of 139g CO2 put the car in tax band B and motor tax is €280 per year, while this model returns up to 47mpg (I averaged an acceptable 39mpg). The beauty of this car is that when you’re not pushing it, the 308 GTi is like any other normal, friendly hatchback. Okay, there’s a firmer edge to the ride so you feel the road underneath you more, but this car is excellent in terms of refinement when you just want to cruise, with road, wind and engine noise well suppressed.

The Peugeot 308 GTi starts at €36,990 with the 270hp model coming in at €39,990. Considering the power, the engineering and the level of equipment and quality of the cabin, that actually looks like good value. Standard equipment includes cruise control, dual zone climate control, four electric windows, electric handbrake, keyless start, auto lights and wipers, touchscreen infotainment with Bluetooth and navigation, parking sensors and rear view camera, and massage function on the front seats (though we’ve established that you probably won’t need that very much!).

Of course the Peugeot 308 GTi does not stand alone, with a number of equally well-qualified competitors vying for your attention.  This can be a tough segment to make an impact in and for a lot of performance car buyers, it goes down to allegiance to a particular brand. And if your allegiance is not to Peugeot, that’s a pity because despite one or two little niggles, the 308 GTi is the real deal. It’s got the looks, the quality you expect from a €40,000 car, incredible power, agile handling, a little bit of menace to keep you senses sharp, and the GTi badge is legendary, and whether it’s fair or not, that sort of pedigree accounts for a lot in this market. If you’re the kind of driver who values the journey more than the destination, the 308 GTi is the car.

Peugeot 308 GTi ireland review
Peugeot 308 GTi: Good value considering the level of standard kit, pure power and sophisticated engineering

Caroline Kidd

Model Tested: Peugeot 308 GTi 270
Price: 
€39,990 (Range starts €36,990)
Engine: 
1.6-litre turbo petrol
Power: 
270hp
0-100km/h:
 6 seconds
Economy:
47mpg
CO2 Emissions: 
139g/km
Motor Tax: 
€280 per year


mazda3 review ireland

Mazda3 GT 1.5-litre SKYACTIV-D Review

mazda3 review ireland
The Mazda3

The current Mazda3 has been on sale in Ireland since 2014 but has new pep in its step with the addition of a 1.5-litre diesel to the range.

Mazda3 was first launched with a 1.5-litre (100PS) petrol engine and a 2.2-litre (150PS) diesel engine, but the new engine (already seen in CX-3 and Mazda2) is now the most efficient in the range. It will also likely be more pleasing to Irish buyers who tend to feel more comfortable with a smaller capacity engine.

It’s efficient for sure. Mazda say the engine will return up to 74.3mpg with emissions of just 99g CO2, and the car proved frugal during my test drive. But thankfully the Mazda3 is no bore, and the 105PS engine has enough zip to exploit the Mazda’s excellent handling.  This car feels light and agile on the road, aided by a sweet shifting 6 speed manual gearbox and well-judged steering that means that corners can be taken on in one fluid motion that is extremely satisfying to the driver. While there is road noise at high speeds and the whisper of diesel gurgle when hopping on the accelerator, the Mazda3 never feels anything less than a smooth and sophisticated car.

The interior is mature but stylish and easy navigable, and the Mazda ‘MZD Connect’ infotainment system with touchscreen and rotary controller operates like something lifted from a more expensive car.

mazda3 review ireland
The Mazda3 has a stylish interior that is extremely well-finished

The Mazda3 will seat five and rear space is competitive for the class. The boot is 364 litres, which is a little off the very best in the class. And while there is a great bottle shaped space in all four doors, I was a bit disappointed that there weren’t conventional door pockets!

Yet door pockets or no door pockets, I couldn’t help but be hooked by the Mazda3. It’s a stylish presence in this segment and without the ubiquity of say the Golf, Megane, Astra, Focus, it feels more exclusive. The entry price into the range is a bit higher than some key rivals with prices for petrol models starting at €22,995, and diesels at €24,695, though standard specification is good including 16” alloy wheels, leather wrapped steering wheel, electrically adjustable and folding door mirrors, air con, keyless start, front and rear electric windows, Bluetooth, 7” colour touchscreen and multimedia system and hill hold assist.

Executive SE (from €26,195) adds the likes of front fog lights, auto lights and wipers, bi xenon headlights, LED rear lights, LED daytime running lights, rear parking sensors, rear privacy glass, dual zone climate control and cruise control. The GT model on test (from €27,395) had an updated interior with silver dashboard decoration panel, 18” alloys, head-up display, reversing camera, heated front seats and keyless entry.

mazda3 ireland review
The Mazda3 is a car that resonates with head and heart

The addition of the new 1.5-litre diesel to the range means that the Mazda3 can square up nicely to rivals in terms of engine size and despite being a really efficient unit, the Mazda3 is no bore.

However the Mazda3 is a car that really appeals for its grown-up good looks and stylish interior. Hatchback buyers are spoilt for choice but this one really does resonate with the head and the heart.

Model Tested: Mazda3 1.5 SKYACTIV-D GT
Price: 
€30,290 (Range starts €22,995)
Engine: 
1.5-litre turbo diesel
Power: 
105PS
0-100km/h:
11 seconds
Economy:
74.3mpg
CO2 Emissions: 
99g/km
Motor Tax: 
€180 per year

Caroline Kidd


Opel Astra Review

New Opel Astra 1.6 CDTi Review

The new Opel Astra is one of the most eagerly anticipated new cars of the year and arrives here with ambitions to disrupt the compact class.Read more


Volkswagen Golf Estate

Volkswagen Golf Estate Review

Volkswagen Golf Estate
The Volkswagen Golf Mk 7 Estate

The Volkswagen Golf Estate hasn’t been sold in Ireland since 2004 but now it’s back in the current Golf Mk 7 range.

So what happens when you add a big boot to one of Ireland’s favourite hatchbacks?

Scroll down to read the review or watch my video review of the new Golf Estate:

Design

The Golf Estate has the look of a ‘sensible’ car. Like the Golf hatchback it’s based on, it doesn’t do too much to draw attention to itself and is one of the plainer looking estate cars among its rivals. Highline models look the best with 17” inch alloys and silver roof rails as standard.

Sit inside and you will be hard-pressed to find an interior in this segment as brilliantly crafted as the one in the Golf Estate. The cockpit and controls are all intuitive to use, the quality is really good, and the brushed silver effect on the dash inserts and around the doors on my mid-range Comfortline test car add an element of style.

Aesthetics aside, the USP for the Golf Estate is its big, square boot. With the rear seats in place, there is 605 litres of cargo space compared to 380 litres in the Golf hatch. It’s very cargo friendly with a wide opening and low loading sill, and you can let the rear seats down with a simple pull of a lever in the boot.

Volkswagen Golf Estate
Plain to look at compared to some of its rivals, but the Golf Estate's styling will age well

Driving

If you need more versatility from your car, the great thing about going for an estate over an MPV or SUV is that the estate is so car-like on the road.

The Golf Estate is no different. It’s a satisfying car to drive and feels agile and dynamic despite that bit of extra bulk on the back. There are reassuring amounts of grip so you get that sensation going around corners that it’s hunkering down on the road for you, and the steering responds quickly and accurately to your inputs.

The engine line-up is very straight forward for the Golf Estate. The backbone of the range is the 1.2 TSI petrol engine and 1.6 TDI diesel, both producing a respectable 110bhp. Lower powered versions of both engines are available on the entry level Trendline model and a 2.0 litre TDI diesel with 150bhp is available on Highline, the very top level trim. Volkswagen’s DSG 7-speed automatic gearbox is available on select engines too.

My test car had the 1.6 diesel with 110bhp and the DSG automatic gearbox, which turned out to be a lovely combination. The DSG gearbox made progress smooth and effortless, while the 1.6 TDI provided enough power and torque to feel swift, with much of the noise suppressed thanks to a well-insulated cabin.

Volkswagen Golf Estate
Volkswagen Golf Estate: Brilliantly-crafted cabin

Economy

The 1.6TDI DSG automatic returns up to 70mpg with an annual motor tax bill of €190.

Equipment

There are four trim levels for the Golf Estate: Trendline, Comfortline, Lounge and Highline. Entry level models have four electric windows and mirrors, aircon, Bluetooth and a 5” touchscreen infotainment system with CD player, though you need to step up to Comfortline for 16” alloy wheels. Additional equipment on Comfortline includes fog lights, cruise control and a larger touchscreen for  infotainment. Lounge has its own unique 16” alloy wheels and ‘Lounge’ interior including a panoramic sunroof. Highline gets a visual upgrade with silver finish on the roof rails and 17” alloy wheels, parking sensors and dual zone climate control. Volkswagen Ireland currently has a number of offers where you can spec up your car for less money.

Volkswagen Golf Estate Review
Volkswagen Golf Estate: Boot is 605 litres compared to 380 litres in the Golf hatch

Verdict

So we’ve established that the Volkswagen Golf Estate has a really big, practical boot that makes it more user-friendly than the Golf hatchback.

But in terms of compact estate cars, they all have that, and if you want to crunch the numbers you’ll find that the Golf Estate doesn’t even have the biggest boot in the class.

It’s also one of the plainer looking cars among its rivals, and it won’t be the cheapest to buy either.

But what makes the Golf Estate stand out from the crowd is that touch of class and air of refinement. For a start, there’s the classy, well-finished cabin that won’t irritate you.

Then on the road, the Golf Estate never puts a foot wrong. Precision and driver engagement don’t need to be sacrificed now that you need a ‘sensible’ car.

But if driving dynamics don’t impress you much, the level of comfort and refinement will; the Golf Estate simply feels like a bigger and more expensive car than what it actually is. It’s just a lovely car to drive and spend time in.

Volkswagen Golf Estate Review
Volkswagen Golf Estate: A refined load-lugger that's also good to drive

Model Tested: Volkswagen Golf Estate Comfortline
Price: 
€28,825 (Range starts €22,575)
Engine: 
1.6-litre turbo diesel
Power: 
110bhp
0-100km/h:
11 seconds
Economy:
70.6mpg
CO2 Emissions: 
102g/km
Motor Tax: 
€190 per year

Caroline Kidd


Opel Astra SRi Limited Edition car review

Opel Astra SRi Limited Edition 1.6 CDTi Diesel Review

The Opel Astra is due to be replaced before the end of the year by an all-new car, but while we wait, Opel Ireland has introduced a new sporty trim to tempt buyers into the current model, the SRi Limited Edition. And with Opel’s new 1.6 CDTi diesel unit under the bonnet that promises more power, economy and refinement, don’t write this Opel Astra off just yet.

Scroll down for the full review or watch my video review below!
Read more


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