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


Ford Fiesta vs Opel Corsa small hatchbacks

Ford Fiesta vs Opel Corsa

Ford Fiesta vs Opel Corsa: Small Hatchback Twin Test

The Opel Corsa takes on the Ford Fiesta in my small hatchback twin test.

The Ford Fiesta is consistently one of the bestselling small cars in Ireland. Sometimes popular cars are not always the critic’s choice, but no worries about the Fiesta - it’s universally regarded as a damn good supermini.

The Opel Corsa is another perennial favourite and with the recent arrival of the fifth generation Corsa, I thought it would be a good time to compare these two small hatchbacks side by side.
Read more


Opel Corsa Review

Opel Corsa 1.4-litre Petrol Excite Review

Opel Corsa Car Review

The Car: Opel Corsa 1.4i Excite 5 door

Price: €16,495 (Corsa range starts at €14,895)
Engine: 
1.4 litre four cylinder petrol
Power: 
90bhp
0-100km/h:  
13.2 seconds
Economy: 
55.3mpg (5.1l/100km)
CO2 Emissions:  
120g/km
Motor Tax: 
€200 per year

The pretty cobbled streets and tree-lined avenues of Paris were a fitting location for the debut of the stylish, new fifth generation Opel Corsa just before the 2014 Paris Motor Show. The launch was a real statement of intent by Opel and all the stops were pulled out to give the fifth generation of Opel’s bestselling small hatchback the best possible start in the world.

Aside from the smarter looks and a brand new interior, we were promised a driving experience more comparable to a larger, more expensive car in terms of comfort and precision, with a new chassis, suspension, steering and engines to deliver the goods.

I got a good impression of the car on our first drive of the Corsa in Ireland at the launch in November. Now it’s time to find out if the new Opel Corsa can really deliver, as I give it a thorough road test on Irish roads.

Watch my Opel Corsa video review:

Design

I’m happy to report that the new Opel Corsa can now definitely hold its own in fashionable company. The new lower, wider grille and new ‘wing’ shape headlamps at the front are a real highlight and give the Corsa the presence it needs to stand out and be memorable. I love the sculpting along the sides of the car (all the body panels are new), and there’s more definition at the rear too with new light clusters that lift the look of the car.Opel Corsa Review

Opel Corsa Review
A new grille and sharper styling all round gives the Corsa the presence it deserves

The test car was finished in a lovely metallic grey blue, which is more interesting to look at than grey and gave the car a grown-up, chic look. For the bold, you can choose red, lime green and even yellow - as well as some more conservative body colours. If you are prepared to sacrifice rear doors, the three door model looks particularly sporty with a more coupé-style roof line.

Opel Corsa Review
Opel Corsa: Rear head and legroom is good
Opel Corsa Review
Opel Corsa: Boot is a good shape and size

But stick with the five door model and you will be amazed by the rear headroom and easy access to the rear from the wide-opening doors. There is also generous legroom and a good sized boot of 285 litres. I would have no complaints about space in the Corsa by supermini standards.

The jewel in the crown is the Corsa’s brand new interior. It’s youthful , fresh and trendy with an interesting mix of surfaces and materials used, including classy gloss black and satin chrome. It looks particularly good with the 7” touchscreen fitted as part of the Intellilink infotainment system (more on that later). There’s a cool simplicity to the white-illuminated instrument dials and sporty steering wheel. For me, the essence of what makes it a great interior is that it’s glam without being over the top, and simple without being boring.

Opel Corsa Review
A brand new interior for the new Corsa!

Driving

Out on the road, the Corsa feels very solid and stable at speed and through corners. The car has a new chassis and Opel engineers have lowered the car’s centre of gravity by 5mm to make the car more stable.

There is also a new speed sensitive power steering system and Opel have worked hard to give us more “feel” in the steering. This was best tested on some of the country roads I always drive the test cars on – the kind of roads that swiftly show you how good a car’s steering and handling is. When you turn into a corner, the Corsa holds the road well and you can really feel the connection between the inputs you are putting on the steering wheel and what the wheels are doing. It’s very precise – I like that.

The Corsa has a new suspension and Opel has tweaked the damping characteristics to make it more comfortable. They’ve improved the roll behaviour and while there is a limit to how much speed the car can comfortably take as you are cornering, certainly on a country road driving within the speed limits you will not be disappointed. If it’s comfort you’re after, the Corsa coped well over pock marked roads and it took motorways in its stride too.

My test car was powered by a punchy 1.4 litre 90bhp petrol engine that has been brought forward from the old car. It’s well up for the job, with enough zip in the lower gears to make it nippy around town and it picks up speed easily on the open road with a good bit of flexibility in the gears so you are never too far away from the power.

Following the trend for squeezing more power from a smaller engine with the aid of a turbocharger, Opel has added a brand new 1.0 litre turbocharged petrol to the Corsa range, available with 90bhp or 115bhp. Both are mated to a new generation six speed manual gearbox. You can read more about what I thought about Opel’s new engines here. On paper, they are more economical, faster from 0-100kmh, and have a raspier engine note which petrolheads will love - but they are also more expensive and only available on top level trims in three and five door Corsa models.

Opel Corsa Review

Economy

There are a range of petrol and diesel engines with good economy and low running costs available for the Corsa. The 1.3 litre diesels have been reworked to make them more refined and responsive, and the 95bhp version has CO2 emissions as low as 87g/km. My 1.4 litre 90bhp petrol test car returns just over 55mpg from official sources and real world economy was not too far off that.

Equipment

There are four trim levels: S, Excite, SE and Limited Edition. Excite trim is expected to be popular with a spec including cruise control, alloys, front fog lights, LED daytime running lights and Bluetooth included as standard. SE is a bit posher again and adds more equipment, and is exclusive to the five door model. Limited Edition is exclusive to the three door model and is OPC inspired with sporty touches to the interior and exterior, and a sports suspension under the skin.

The Intellilink infotainment system is standard on SE and Limited Edition, though it can be added as an option for €350. It offers connectivity with your smartphone and access to a selection of apps from a 7” touchscreen.

Our test car had a “Winter Pack” added for an extra €395 that included a heated steering wheel and heated front seats (awesome). It was also fitted with an electrically operated sunroof for €961. Though that might be an expensive treat too far, it did make the cabin brighter.

Verdict

The supermini segment is an extremely competitive one so does the Corsa have what it takes to compete at the top of its class?

I think so. There is a touch of class to the styling, while inside the cabin seems to combine the best parts of simple, intuitive design with a bit of glitz and glam. There are a great choice of engines, from frugal diesels to sparkly petrol power. It is a shame that the new turbo engines will be a little out of the budget range for most Corsa buyers but that said, I didn’t feel let down by the 1.4 litre petrol I tested, with enough power at disposal, matched with decent economy and refinement.

Best of all, the new Corsa feels like a very well-engineered car, without any of the compromises one might expect in ride quality for its small size - and steering that is as sharp as any keen driver would expect. In that respect I think Opel has achieved what they set out to do with this new Corsa – deliver a driving experience more comparable to a larger, more expensive car in terms of comfort and precision. The Corsa really has grown up.

Caroline Kidd


Renault Twingo Review

Renault Twingo Review: The Perfect City Car?

Renault failed to make much of an impact on the Irish city car market with the last Twingo.  For some of you, this might be the first time you’ve even heard of a Renault Twingo! Clio yes, but Twingo?

Well sit up there, because Twingo is back with a bang. While everyone else is making front wheel drive city cars with the engine under the bonnet, Renault has moved the engine to the boot and made the Twingo rear wheel drive in the hunt for a roomier cabin, more agility and more manouvrability around town. Could this be the perfect city car?

Read my full Renault Twingo review and then watch my video to see the Twingo in action.Read more


Corsa Time! First Drive - Opel Corsa

The Corsa is an important car for Opel. Its all-round appeal makes it Opel’s bestselling model - it's the type of car that can take on many roles - a car for singles, for young families, a first car or a car for downsizers.

The new Corsa was unveiled just ahead of this year’s Paris Motor Show and the fifth generation of Opel’s evergreen supermini has just had its market launch in Ireland. I went along to the Irish launch to see the car for myself.Read 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


Renault Twingo

Twist, Swing and Tango! First Drive - Renault Twingo

Twist, Swing and Tango! First Drive- Renault Twingo

Renault’s third generation of their much-loved city car, the Twingo, has just arrived in Ireland. With a rear wheel drive layout and engine mounted in the boot - an arrangement more common in a race bred sports coupé than a diminutive city car - the Twingo demands a closer look.Read more


Review Ford Kuga

Ford Kuga Puts Sport in SUV

Car Review: Ford Kuga 2.0 TDCi (140PS) Titanium S

Compact SUVs are highly fashionable means of transport. The emphasis tends to be more on the sport side of S-U-V than utility but the four wheel drive Ford Kuga I drove had sportiness and utility.

However, the body kit that came standard on my top of the range Titanium S trim car meant that I stayed firmly on tarmac during my test drive!

So how would I rate the Kuga?

Design

The new Kuga is bigger than the one it replaces and it’s one of the best looking SUVs in this class with a genuinely sporty look to it and the sort of presence that will scare the daylights out of supermini drivers. I had the Titanium S model to test and it seriously ranks up the bling with a body kit and 19” inch wheels. The good news is that lesser specced cars look just as good from the outside.

Ford Kuga Review
Ford Kuga: Enough presence to scare the daylights out of supermini drivers

I may have had a few grievances about the interior of the Fiesta and the Focus but the smartly finished cabin with lots of gloss black and an upgraded stereo make Ford’s busy centre console design much more palatable in the Kuga. There is a real feeling of quality to the cabin and once you close the door it’s instantly comforting and homely (if that’s possible for a car!). The Titanium S model has beautiful part leather trimmed seats that are brilliantly supportive and oh so comfy.There is lots of storage in the car including a cubby in the centre console, large door pockets all round and a large glovebox. If cupholders are a priority - there are two in the front and two in the back. There are also separate fan controls for rear passengers, so everyone on board is well catered for.

Ford Kuga Review
The cabin is smart with lashings of gloss black adding a sophisticated feel

It’s comfortable to seat five with loads of head and leg room and you can recline the rear seats easily too. The boot volume has been increased by 46 litres compared to the old model, bringing the total volume to 406 litres with a mini-spare wheel included, but a Honda CRV and Mazda CX5 have bigger boots if that is a priority. The boot has a practical square shape and a handy low and flat loading sill. You can add a “hands-free tailgate” as an option which opens the boot with just a gentle kicking motion under the rear bumper with the keys in your pocket.

Ford Kuga Review
The boot has a practical square shape and a low, flat loading sill

Driving

There was a time when you could expect a 4x4 like the Kuga to lumber about and be a bit “agricultural”. But from the minute you press the start button this Kuga will impress – it’s so car-like to drive and it will hunker down on the road for you like a hot hatch. We expect nothing less from our SUVs. I drove the popular 2.0 litre TDCi with 140bhp and from the get-go it was a wonderful match for the Kuga - swift, quiet and refined. This is a mightily impressive car on the road, probably the best handling compact SUV that you will find, but the ride is a little harsher than expected. But with handling so tight, we don’t mind. Like all Fords, the steering is excellent too with loads of feel.

Economy

The model I drove was four wheel drive so it is thirstier and more expensive to tax than the front wheel drive model. The official economy figure is just under 48mpg and I averaged 40mpg while I had the car. Annual road tax costs a hefty €390.

Equipment

Zetec models get 17” alloy wheels, front fog lights, heated windshield, cruise control, daytime running lights, rear spoiler, twin exhausts, alarm, trip computer and leather steering wheel with remote audio controls. Titanium trim adds unique 17” alloys, auto lights and wipers, front scuff plates, dual zone air conditioning, driver’s lumbar support, partial leather seats, Sony radio/CD, Ford SYNC connectivity and premium centre console with sliding armrest. Titanium S trim adds a body kit, 19” wheels, roof rails, rear parking sensors and Active Park Assist.

Verdict

Ford is leveraging their new Kuga as a luxury SUV and I was very impressed with the fit and finish of the car. Out on the road it is equally impressive, more like a hatchback than a big, lumbering utility vehicle. Buyers of these sorts of vehicles don’t really care for the utility part of S-U-V. They really just want the space and 4x4 attitude. The Kuga scores for its excellent handling and refinement, tough looks and oodles of space.

Model tested: Ford Kuga Titanium S
Price: €43,370 (Kuga range starts at €33,450)

Transmission: 6 speed manual, four wheel drive
Engine: 2.0 litre TDCi, turbo diesel
Power: 140bhp
0-100km/h: 10.7 seconds
Economy: 47.9 mpg (5.9l/100km)
CO2 emissions: 154g/km
Tax band: C (€390 per year)

Caroline Kidd


Fiat Panda 4x4

Fiat Panda 4x4: The City Car That Could

The Fiat Panda 4x4 has been knocking around for 30 years, up and down hills with all the attitude of an off-roader but within the tiny body of a city car. This test drive was always going to be a lot of fun.

Read more