Setting The Standard

If you’re looking for a new car in the subcompact class, then the upcoming Audi A1 might be all the car you need …

Despite its premium price in relation to subcompact models from competitors. the Audi A1, which is the smallest car in their line-up, has been a sales success since debuting some seven years ago. With the advent of new models from both the VW Group stable and other manufacturers, the current model is beginning to date and therefore an all-new model is shortly to be released. Following trends, this is an evolution of the current model and therefore instantly recognisable as an A1.

In line with the decision of other brands including sister companies Volkswagen and SEAT, the new A1 will now only be available with five doors. In addition, it is both longer and wider than the outgoing model, and will offer increased technology and practicality. The trend to discontinue three-door models is basically down to a lack of demand as consumers expect greater functionality from cars, even at the lower end of the scale. Furthermore, as each reiteration of a replacement model has a tendency to increase in size, this renders three doors obsolete as they were invariably an indication of either smaller vehicles or sports cars.

Not only will five doors make the new A1 more accessible, but the increased size will provide more driver and passenger accommodation. The driver’s seat will be height adjustable and the steering wheel will have rake and reach movement. Rear seat space will be the most noticeable change with rumours that this could equal that of the larger A3. However, that model is due for an update very shortly. The new A1 shares the same modular platform as its sister cars the VW Polo and SEAT Ibiza. The current ŠKODA Fabia is built on an older platform and will remain so until that model is replaced in or around 2020. The A1’s measurements are 4030mm in length, 1740mm in width and has a height of 1410mm which is lower than the VW Polo to accentuate its sportiness. Normal boot space on offer is 335 litres, an increase of 65 litres over the old model. Folding the rear seats increases luggage capacity to 1090 litres.

In line with current trends, no diesel engine is proposed in the model range. The A1 will offer three TFSI petrol engines from launch, namely a 1.0 litre three-cylinder turbo with either 95PS or 115PS, the highly regarded 1.5 litre turbo with 150PS, and the flagship model boasting a 200PS 2.0 litre turbo. The car is front wheel drive and will have the option of a 6-speed manual or 7-speed dual clutch automatic gearbox, depending upon engine choice. External styling touches set the new car apart from other Audi models whilst still retaining the overall Audi-esque image. It’s the interior that really sets the benchmark, however, with even better materials than used in the current model. Technology and its infotainment system are streets ahead and, in all but entry level models, the car is fitted with an 8.8 inch screen with Apple Car Play and Android Auto compatibility as standard. The flagship model will boast a 10.1 inch satnav display which is way ahead of most of the competition.

Standard or optional safety kit will include lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control and a reversing camera. Full LED headlamps will be available as will a fully digital instrument driver display in lieu of traditional analogue dials. On top of all this, the car can be fully personalised and customised including interior mood lighting, brightly coloured trim and upholstery. With prices likely to start at around €17420 (£15500), the car should appeal to younger motorists.

The A1 illustrates that one can have a highly specced car without having to part with a small fortune. The standard has been set.

 

 

 

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The SUV Explosion

It’s hard to realise that the first SUV as we now know it was the Nissan Qashqai, launched way back in 2006 …

Almost certainly, Nissan took something of a gamble when they launched their first SUV on to the market. The model effectively replaced their Primera and Almera models, sitting somewhere in between the two in terms of size. At the time, the car market was primarily still dominated by the traditional hatchback, saloon and estate although the so-called people carrier, more correctly known as a Multi Purpose Vehicle (MPV), was making inroads. Eleven years later, and the SUV is now accounting for about 25% of total new car sales throughout most of Europe, with the Qashqai still very much in demand.

In the last two to three years, there has been a plethora of new SUV models launched by mainstream manufacturers. Things have now started to become silly with prestige marques such as Bentley offering an extremely ungainly Bentayga SUV with rumours of a smaller model to follow. Rolls Royce will be launching a competitor to the Bentley and Jaguar has launched two SUV models recently with a range-topper planned before 2020. Believe it or not Lamborghini are also rumoured to be entering the fray! Seeing as the basic purpose of a Sport Utility Vehicle is some off-road capability, it is highly unlikely that owners of such prestige models would ever take them off the main highway for fear of causing damage.

Manufacturers such as Audi and BMW already offer a full SUV model range catering for all segments of the market. Other mainstream manufacturers have more limited ranges but are quickly catching up as they all want a slice of the action. One such new model which will appear on roads in early 2018 is the newly-launched Volkswagen T-Roc and something of a variant from the design normally offered by this company. In appearance, it does have similarities to the Q2 from its sister company Audi, so in keeping with my penchant for models from the VW Group, this blog is going to compare the two vehicles.

For those in the know, Volkswagen already offer two SUVs in their model line-up, namely the Tiguan and the upmarket Touareg. Depending upon which motoring press you read, the Tiguan is described as both a medium and small model when compared with SUVs from other manufacturers. The same can be said of other makes too so the marketplace becomes rather confusing to the buyer of such models. Personally, I think it’s fair to describe the Tiguan as a medium-sized model, especially in light of the new T-Roc but doubts may well arise in the foreseeable future if a rumoured SUV based on the VW Polo sees the light of day. However one chooses to look at things, there is no doubt whatsoever that most vehicle manufacturers now want to cover every segment of the market with SUV derivatives of their model ranges. When I was growing up, most car makers offered four or five different models at most so it was relatively easy to make a choice. Today, selecting the right vehicle at the right price is bamboozling to say the least!

Looking at the T-Roc, it’s obvious that VW are deviating from their generic style. The car is somewhat avant-garde in appearance although nothing like the questionable styling cues of the Nissan Juke or Toyota C-HR, both of which are direct competitors. The T-Roc embraces new design emotion for the brand sporting a more aggressive stance, offering many personalisation options and shares its wheelbase and VW Group modular MQB platform with the Audi Q2. As its appearance suggests, the T-Roc is a fun car to drive with responsive, reactionary steering and precision road holding. It will be offered with a popular range of engines in due course although the precise selection of units will depend upon the country in which the car is sourced. Trim levels will also vary but there should be sufficient options to meet the demands of most buyers. Subject to availability, it is envisaged that the new 1.5 150PS petrol engine will be pick of the bunch especially as diesel engines are fast losing popularity but the proven 1.6 115PS and 2.0 150PS diesels will be offered.

The sporty-looking body will be offered in eleven colours and four contrasting roof colours as part of the personalisation options. Some of the exterior colours can be carried across to the interior dashboard and seat trimmings adding a little pizzazz to proceedings. The infotainment system is dominated by an 8 inch touch sensitive display featuring Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth, DAB radio and USB connectivity. Satellite navigation will be included in higher spec models. As is to be expected from VW Group cars, everything is extremely well put together and overall exudes an element of quality. However, a surprising factor is the hard plastic used across the top of the dashboard which also resonates when tapped. This is one negative aspect of the vehicle and it seems strange that VW should try and cut costs in what is hardly a budget level model.

The T-Roc is of a similar size to the VW Golf, albeit slightly wider and higher, but offers more interior space. The raised seating position offers excellent all round visibility plus there is increased headroom for driver and up to four passengers. With 445 litres of luggage space, this far exceeds the Golf and the square shape of the boot with its level lip makes loading easy. Rear seats are configured 60:40 for practicality and convenience. Overall, it’s another vehicle that will serve a typical family well but with premium prices above the Golf and other competitors, it remains to be seen whether it will lose to its sister cars or gain from competitors.

Cue the Audi Q2 if you’ll pardon the pun. In my eyes, the Audi, which has been on the market for over a year, is the car on which the T-Roc has been modelled as there are numerous design similarities. This is currently the smallest SUV from the Audi stable but offered at a premium price for its size, and for the same money, one could buy a larger SEAT Ateca, Skoda Karoq or Nissan Qashqai. The Q2 shares the same MQB platform on which the A3, Golf, Leon and Octavia are built. This gives the car good roadholding characteristics although the suspension settings mean the ride is somewhat firmer than the A3 hatchback. Engine wise, expect to find the 1.0 115PS petrol and other engines that feature in the T-Roc, subject to individual country specifications.

The dashboard will be familiar to A3 aficionados but that is no bad thing as Audi has a reputation for first class build quality giving an air of opulence. Colour customisation strips to the dashboard are also available. Infotainment is by means of a smaller 7 inch display with Bluetooth, USB, DAB radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard. Higher spec models also come equipped with sat nav. Unlike the T-Roc, the upper dashboard is finished in soft material which adds to the premium feel. Front head and legroom are perfectly adequate but the sloping roofline and rear seat layout mean conditions are cramped for taller passengers. The rear seats have a 60:40 split and the boot is relatively square and lacking a load lip as in the T-Roc. This model is being offered in twelve exterior colours.

Prices for the base Q2 start at around €22250 (£20230) to €33670 (£30610) for the S-line model. Strangely, the T-Roc has a slightly higher starting price of circa €22470 (£20425), no doubt representing better basic spec, rising to €34630 (£31480) for a sport derivative. If a small SUV is your cup of tea, there is now an array of options available, but between these two very similar products, I would opt for the T-Roc as it has the edge on design and looks more SUV-like than the Audi..

Mid-Life Crisis?

In order to breathe new life into existing models, many manufacturers give mid-life facelifts to some of their cars.

As loyal readers of my blog will be aware, I have a penchant towards cars from the VW Group. I am not saying for one minute that other manufacturers don’t produce fine products, but personally I like the understated styling of VW Group models which don’t date at the alarming rate of some design offerings available today. Take the styling of the current Ford Fiesta as an example. This model compares directly with the Volkswagen Polo and Škoda Fabia yet depreciates some 7% more in value over a three year period. Most Japanese manufacturers appear to have lost the plot where styling is concerned, having adopted aggressive front ends and protruding tail-light clusters. This is simply the trend of the moment and avant-garde designs fast lose their appeal with the buying public. Whilst some would say that many VW Group products are rather staid, they continue to hold their value over the years and rarely look out of place amidst more futuristic offerings.

The question that one must ask is why models are given a facelift. Surely there would be no need for change had the designers got the product right in the first place. In reality, car makers want to keep their products in the forefront of the market place, and it is a constant battle to keep up with new and improved products from competitors. Facelifts therefore inject new life into existing models, extending their life for 18 months up to three years. In recent months, facelifts have been announced for the Audi A3, SEAT Leon, Škoda Octavia and VW Golf. The modified A3 is already available but buyers will have to wait until early 2017 for the updated models from the other marques.

To look at the aforementioned facelifted models, it is quite difficult to spot what is different. External changes include new or tweaked grilles, restyled bumpers, improved lights and new wheel designs. Most improvements are not visible from the outside as they centre around upgraded infotainment systems and enhancements to the power output of engines on offer. None of these are a bad thing and if they generate new life into a three or four year old product, it’s good news for the manufacturer. Limited changes to the exterior are also good news for the owners of pre-facelift models as only the diehard discerning buyer will be able to spot the differences.

Let’s start with the SEAT Leon. A reshaped front bumper now features a grille that has been stretched by 40mm, and the car is offered in three additional exterior colours. Interior trim has been upgraded and an electric handbrake and ambient lighting have been added. The new 115bhp 1.0 three-cylinder turbo petrol engine, already available in the Audi A3, Škoda Octavia and VW Golf; is now offered and the 1.6 diesel engine has had a power boost to 115PS. Add-on options include wireless phone charging, Traffic Sign Recognition and Traffic Jam Assist.

Next the Škoda Octavia. This boasts a new front end which has already divided opinion. It features split headlights with LED daylight running lamps and a wider grille that more closely resembles the new Kodiaq SUV. The lower bumper section has been tidied up with crisp horizontal lines designed to emphasise the car’s width. The rear bumper has also been restyled and the tail-lights tweaked. Inside, it is the infotainment systems that boast the biggest change. All systems now come with capacitive touchscreens which are larger in size. Optional features include a customised key that can store multiple driver preferences, a heated steering wheel, folding tables in the backs of the front seats and new cup holders that are moulded to the shape of bottles allowing them to be opened with one hand.

Now for the VW Golf which has a re-profiled bumper, slightly modified grille and air duct styling, minor restyling to the front wings and revised headlights with LED daytime running lights and a new full LED main beam function. The rear receives full LED tail-lights and a newly designed bumper and the model benefits from new wheel designs and exterior colours. Inside, there are revised trims for the doors, dashboard and centre console and some models can be specified with an Active Info Display with 12.3in high-definition monitor in place of standard analogue instruments. Infotainment systems are enhanced with larger displays across all models together with new or updated driver assistant systems including  Traffic Jam Assist, Emergency Assist, Lane Assist and an updated City Emergency Braking system. Needless to say, most of these options come at a price!

Finally the Audi A3. Key updates include styling tweaks with Xenon or LED headlights as standard. The front grille has had a minor restyle along with the headlights meaning the car now more closely resembles the larger A4. As with the other marques, the Audi also boasts new exterior colours and wheel designs. The main technological enhancement is the option of a virtual cockpit display in lieu of conventional analogue instruments.

Prices for the revised models are unlikely to deflect far from existing prices although uncertainties over exchange rates may ultimately have an impact. It’s fair to say that the improvements and enhancements across all these models are good for the consumer as they reflect the latest developments in technology. They should also reap rewards for the manufacturers as they either retain or attract new customers to their product range whilst remaining competitive in a fierce marketplace so it’s hardly a mid-life crisis!

For comparison pre-facelift photos of these models, please refer to earlier blog posts.

When Less Is More

A few vital statistics …

Regular readers will already be familiar with my blog reviews and comparisons of cars from the Volkswagen Group. One aspect that I generally omit is the overall size of each vehicle, so to make amends, I am detailing the vital statistics of four comparable vehicles. These are the SEAT Leon, Škoda Octavia, VW Golf and the Audi A3. Each car compared is a 5-door hatchback, and for price comparison purposes, uses SE trim specification. Obviously, despite the same name, levels of trim in each car do vary considerably with the Skoda offering some of the highest and the Audi the least.

Leon

Firstly, the SEAT Leon. This is currently priced from £18245 (approx €23720) for a 1.4 TSI 125PS Manual in SE trim.

Wheelbase 2636mm Front Track 1549mm Rear Track 1520mm Length 4263mm Width 1816mm 1975mm with mirrors. Boot space ranges from 380 litres with rear seats up to 1270 litres with seats folded.

Octavia

Now, the Škoda Octavia. This is also currently priced from £18245 (approx €23720) for a 1.4 TSI 150PS Manual in SE trim.

Wheelbase 2686mm Front Track 1549mm Rear Track 1520mm Length 4659mm Width 1814mm 2017mm with mirrors. Boot space ranges from 590 litres with rear seats up to a whopping 1580 litres with seats folded.

Golf

Next, the VW Golf. This is currently priced from £19710 (approx €25600) for a 1.4 TSI 122PS Manual in SE trim.

Wheelbase 2636mm Front Track 1549mm Rear Track 1520mm Length 4255mm Width 1799mm 2027mm with mirrors. Boot space ranges from 380 litres with rear seats up to 1270 litres with seats folded.

Audi

Finally, the Audi A3. This is currently priced from £20700 (approx €27000) for a 1.4 TFSI 150PS Manual in SE trim.

Wheelbase 2636mm Front Track 1535mm Rear Track 1506mm Length 4310mm Width 1785mm 1966mm with mirrors. Boot space ranges from 380 litres with rear seats up to 1220 litres with seats folded.

It doesn’t take a genius to see how similar these vehicles are. The Leon, Golf and A3 all share the same MQB platform whilst the Octavia benefits from a stretched version of the same platform. The Leon and Golf are virtually identical in size, right down to the luggage capacity. Despite the A3 giving the impression of being a large car, it is actually shorter than the Octavia. As is to be expected from Škoda, the Octavia delivers considerably more for your money and offers boot space to rival cars in the segment above, proving once again that less is more! Ultimately, the final choice is down to styling as all the models are extremely well built and share the same mechanical parts.

Budget Conscious

A brief look at two other super mini models from the VW Group stable …

In addition to the super mini models offered by Volkswagen and Škoda, namely the Polo and Fabia, the group also offers direct competition from Audi and Seat. Recently, the Audi model, known as the A1, has undergone a minor mid life facelift whilst the Ibiza from Seat is now in need of a major update or even replacement.

The main difference between the A1 and the Ibiza is on price. Whilst Audi carries a premium associated with its badge, the Seat is priced at the lower end of the market although their sporting derivatives do command a relatively high price.

Both models share the basic platform of their sister cars from VW and Škoda although the new Fabia does benefit from modular improvements to the platform which contribute to a reduction in kerb weight. The A1 has been modified after four years of availability but retains its smart looks, build quality and handling capabilities. It benefits from a restyled radiator grille, new headlamps, front and rear bumpers, plus improved interior trim and in-built safety features. However, the main changes are a modified platform and the introduction of a 1.0 litre three cylinder turbo petrol engine providing power output of 94bhp. This engine will replace the less powerful 1.2TFSI unit whilst also offering increased fuel economy. It should be noted that this three cylinder unit is available in both the Polo and new Fabia but not currently offered in the Ibiza.

Besides this new engine, the model also offers three more petrol units plus two diesels, all of which Audi claim have been heavily modified for the revamped model. Availability of these engines will depend upon which model derivative is chosen as not all are available across the model range. Specification for all models includes alloy wheels, air conditioning, remote central locking, electric front windows and door mirrors, iPod connectivity and a 6.5″ retractable display screen.

There is little doubt that the A1 is a premium car at the upper end of the super mini price spectrum. It is reassuringly safe in all weather conditions and the interior trim is first class. The model is available in both 3-door and 5-door styles, but I think it looks best in 5-door form which carries a £620 price premium over the 3-door. Prices are estimated to start at £14315 for the entry level 3-door to a whopping £26110 for the S1 5-door when the revised model becomes available next spring!

Desirability is the key word with regard to the Audi A1 and most buyers won’t be budget conscious, thereby happy to pay over the odds for the badge! As with the new Škoda Fabia, the A1 can be customised with a different coloured roof and rear pillars, helping the car to further stand out from the crowd. At the other end of the price spectrum is the Ibiza, which has been the best seller in the UK for the Spanish manufacturer until recently. The model has now been usurped by the Seat Leon!

The Ibiza is offered in three distinctive body styles, namely a 3-door sport coupé, a 5-door hatchback, and unusually in the super mini category, an estate variant. However, Škoda also offer an estate derivative of the Fabia which is considerably more practical than the Seat offering. The Ibiza offers a touch of design flair, especially in the coupé version, and handles well overall. Currently it doesn’t offer the latest engines from the VW stable, instead relying upon older but trusted units. The entry level model is sparse and powered by a 1.2 litre 12v engine proving a lacklustre 69bhp. There are considerably more powerful engines available as one moves up through the range of model derivatives on offer.

The car was revised in 2012 with extras fitted as standard, thereby increasing its appeal. Suspension is quite firm compared with the Polo which does contribute to its general sportiness. It is well built although there are cheap plastics inside, has a good driving position, and in lower priced models offers excellent value for money. Luggage space is about 290 litres with the rear seats in place, increasing to 847 litres with the rear seats folded. This is far less than the space provided by the new Fabia though. The Ibiza estate offers a total 1164 litres of luggage space with the seats folded. At the time of writing, list prices start at £9910 rising to £18980 for the top of the range Cupra model.

As can be seen, the Audi stands out in a class of its own price-wise. Whether or not the car is worth so much extra money is a matter of personal choice but much more spacious and equally reliable cars are available for the money commanded by the A1. Whilst the lower specced Ibizas should be avoided, the model offers a very attractive financial proposition in mid range. It will be interesting to see what the model replacement is like once the manufacturer announces a replacement.

SEAT Ibiza Estate
SEAT Ibiza Estate
Skoda Fabia Estate
Skoda Fabia Estate

Simply Clever

At first sight the title of this blog may seem slightly bewildering …

To an extent, this is an update of my blog in May when a comparison review of three cars from the VW Group stable was undertaken. This is a more in-depth look at two of the vehicles whilst the third is recently new to the market this year. The cars in question are the replacement Škoda Octavia and the all-new Audi A3 saloon whilst bringing up the rear is the Volkswagen Jetta, often seen as a booted version of the Golf.

All three of these vehicles are very similar in size and in many ways look similar to each other despite all being unique models. This rather illustrates the fact that computer-designed cars aimed at achieving maximum energy efficiencies all emerge from the design board looking very anonymous and manufacturers are left with detailed styling tweaks to try and make them stand out from the crowd.

The latest version of the Škoda Octavia has moved the model somewhat upmarket. It is larger overall than the model it’s replaced as the manufacturer introduced a new mid segment car called the Rapid some twelve months ago. The Rapid competes more equally with the likes of the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra and with the introduction of yet another derivative under the Rapid banner in the shape of the Spaceback, the model should have a considerable impact upon that market segment.

In order to differentiate their model lineup, it was necessary for Škoda to increase the size of the new Octavia which is now closer in size to a Ford Mondeo than the previous model. So back to the blog header of Simply Clever .. it’s the tag line of Škoda and for very good reason as will be seen from reading on!

All the cars being compared here resemble a conventional saloon (or sedan for readers in the United States!) However the Octavia is in fact a hatchback which offers many advantages when it comes to versatility and luggage capacity. Whilst all models have a starting price at so-called basic level, the comparisons here are based on the higher specification models from all three manufacturers but all powered by the same 1.6 TDI 105PS engine.

For a car as large as the Octavia one might imagine an engine of 1.6 litres struggling but for everyday motoring performance is more than adequate even though it requires relatively frequent gear changing at low speed. The ride is generally comfortable and the driver has reassurance from the grip the front wheels provide. A slick gear change offers accurate selection and apart from some wind noise at high speed, the car is generally quiet even with the diesel engine. One of the Octavia’s highlights is the build quality of the cabin which is a match for the VW Golf, always renowned for its finish. Standard safety features include seven air bags including a knee airbag for the driver, five star Euro NCAP rating, electronic brake force distribution, stability control and a hill hold braking function.

The dashboard layout is clear and functional rather than a remit for the whims of designers and incorporates one of the best touch screen infotainment systems currently available. All the car’s functions can be controlled from this unit ranging from fuel consumption data to telephone connection and satellite navigation. Seats are quite supportive with lumber support available for the driver and front seat passenger. There is adequate room for 6ft adults both in the front and rear. The boot is simply cavernous providing 590 litres with the seats up and no less than 1580 litres with the rear seats folded.

Even the entry level Octavia is equipped with alloy wheels, manual air conditioning, DAB radio, Bluetooth and a multi-change CD player all for a starting price of £15990. The comparison model here boasts dual-zone climate controlled air conditioning, engine stop-start technology, front fog lights, rear parking sensors, all electric windows, cruise control, satellite navigation, automatic lights and wipers, and part leather upholstery … all for an on-the-road price of £21090!

Next we have the new Audi A3 saloon that is an addition to the established A3 range of hatchbacks and cabriolet. Whilst most models are powered by high performance engines, the manufacturer has not forgotten the cost-conscious driver, hence the availability of the 1.6 TDI unit. The standard specification for the car is with sport suspension which by definition provides a firmer ride all round but customers can opt for a no-cost standard suspension configuration. As is to be expected from a quality front wheel drive car, road grip is good although road noise can penetrate the cabin. Safety features include stability control, front, side and curtain airbags and the maximum five star Euro NCAP rating.

The quality of the cabin is first class although it isn’t as simple in design as that of the Octavia. A novel feature is the slim infotainment screen that pops up from the upper part of the dashboard. The multi media interface offers control of most of the car’s main functions via a control dial and a few buttons. Note that the Octavia’s infotainment unit is touch screen operated and as your hand approaches, a menu pops up! The front seats are both supportive and multi adjustable allowing most people to get comfortable behind the wheel. Boot capacity is 425 litres which can be increased by folding the rear seats flat but access is restricted owing to the saloon design.

The A3 saloon is available in two trim levels with standard specification including dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, and sports seats. However, in order to bring the specification in line with that of the Octavia, extras costing £3240 will be needed bringing the on-the-road price to a staggering £25520!

Finally a look at the Volkswagen Jetta. In essence this car resembles a mini Passat which is no bad thing although it looks fairly staid and anonymous. As with the other vehicles reviewed, the Jetta comes with a choice of engines but again for comparison purposes it is the frugal 1.6 TDI model that is being costed. This unit is both fuel-efficient and a willing performer, providing plenty of pace and good acceleration when overtaking. Road holding is reassuring as is to be expected from a proven front wheel drive unit and the steering light yet positive. There is some slight wind and road noise at speed. All the usual safety features are on offer including front, side and curtain airbags, stability control, and a five star rating from Euro NCAP.

Whilst this model is a derivative of the Golf, the build quality of the dashboard doesn’t appear to match that of its stablemate. This may be because the car is built in Mexico where quality control standards are not quite as high as those in Europe. However, the car will readily accommodate four adults on well supporting seats as this model grew in size from the previous generation Jetta. Boot space is remarkably generous offering 510 litres with the rear seats in place. This can be enhanced if the 60-40 rear seats are folded down.

The base model with air conditioning, full electric windows and remote central locking will set one back £19315. However, to have a comparably equipped car to the Octavia, it will cost £24079 which includes £2844 of extras on top of the Sport trim which offers alloy wheels, cruise control and automatic headlights as standard.

The diesel engine referred to in this review offers fuel consumption in excess of 70 mpg for the Octavia according to official tests. Personally I think that is extremely optimistic although careful driving should yield in excess of 55 mpg on a regular basis. Both the Octavia and A3 have Euro V CO2 exhaust emissions of 99 g/km meaning they currently fall into the zero road tax bracket whilst the Jetta emits 109 g/km putting it into the £20 road tax bracket. For those fortunate enough to be able to afford a new car, both are attractive propositions; at some point in time we all need to take positive action to help our environment rather than selfishly driving around in fuel guzzlers that pollute the planet!

Time now to summarise. The biggest car of the three reviewed is the Octavia although only by a narrow margin. With the largest wheelbase, it doesn’t compromise on interior space and also provides the largest luggage capacity. The practicality of the car is further enhanced by the hatchback styling. From a visual perspective, the A3 undoubtedly wins but at a hefty price. Whilst offering reasonable value for money, the Jetta really doesn’t cut the mustard as it is lacking in so many respects at base level. As reviewed, the A3 costs £4430 more than the Octavia and the Jetta £2989 extra. This brings me back to the title of this blog .. namely that Škoda live up to their promise of being Simply Clever!

And to reiterate that fact, you’ll find neat little touches in the Octavia such as a multi media holder, waste paper bin and ice scraper behind the fuel flap. Simply clever!

Spoilt For Choice

When it comes to choosing a new motor vehicle today, whether new or used, one is literally spoilt for choice. There are vehicles covering all market segments ranging from small so-called city cars to the almost incongruous off road vehicle that spends most of its life on the school run! In between, there are the more traditional family hatchbacks and saloons and an ever-increasing array of multi purpose vehicles aka people carriers.

There are now approaching 34 million licensed vehicles on the roads of the United Kingdom. Fifty years ago, this figure stood at 10 million and grew during the boom period of the 1970s to stand at over 20 million by 1983. It is fair to say that this phenomenal growth rate cannot be sustained by our overcrowded road network, not to mention dwindling supplies of motor fuel. Despite ever increasing demand and very high prices, the most popular choice of vehicle is still the conventional family hatchback or saloon. The only difference today is that approximately 50% of all new vehicles sold are powered by diesel engines. Such an option was unheard of in the 1960s with only a trickle of diesel-powered cars being available in the 1970s. As these engines have become far more refined coupled with the ability to offer exceptional miles per gallon, so has their popularity. In addition, diesel engines have lower emissions as measured by a European Directive and therefore attract lower annual road fund licence fees.

According to a statistical report, in 2010 the average engine size of all licensed cars was 1750cc. With the advent of smaller engines with turbochargers, this figure is likely to fall. In the UK that year, Ford manufactured 15% of all licensed cars with GM Vauxhall making 12%. According to the report, almost 50% of all licensed cars in the UK are manufactured by Ford, Vauxhall, Volkswagen, Peugeot and Renault.

On the basis that the most popular choice of vehicle is still a traditional car, this article is looking at three latest offerings from the Volkswagen Group, namely the Audi A3, Škoda Octavia and VW Jetta. I make no apology for selecting models from this major manufacturer as they constantly outshine models from competitors especially in terms of reliability. To some, their designs may appear rather staid, but this is a long term bonus as they hold their value better than current avant garde designs on offer from some manufacturers, notably Ford and Peugeot to name but two.

Given that the models all come from the same group stable, final choice can be quite daunting as in many respects the vehicles offer a choice of the same engines and transmission, even sharing the same or modified platform. So what do the individual models have to offer?

First is the Audi A3, the design of this third generation car still looking similar to the original model. This is a general trend of VW Group cars whereby their conservative styling evolves rather than changing dramatically. Not only does this maintain easy recognition of a brand name, it also helps older models retain their value. This latest model provides a stylish exterior with an excellent interior made of high-quality materials. There is plenty of kit for the enthusiast but even base models come equipped with stop-start technology for fuel saving, alloy wheels, Bluetooth connectivity and air conditioning.

Comfort in the revised A3 has been improved by tweaking the suspension settings although the firmer sport settings are available in the top end models. The stiff suspension and lack of equipment were hallmarks of the previous model so great attention has been paid to rectifying these deficiencies. Whilst the car is the same length as its predecessor, the wheelbase has been stretched to provide more interior space as well as offering a slightly higher boot capacity. This now stands at 365 litres with the rear seats in place and 1100 litres with them folded. This new model received a full five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating. This is the only car in this review to come with a choice of three or five door bodywork.

Next is the all-new Škoda Octavia. Once again this model is something of an evolution of the previous model but unlike the Audi A3, the car is considerably larger than the one it replaces. Whilst giving the impression of a booted car, the Octavia is, in fact, a hatchback. The design is best described as understated, offering smart classic looks at the expense of design wizardry. Coupled with the conservative exterior is a cleanly-designed, functional interior but build quality equals that of the VW Golf which is hard to beat. Standard kit includes air con, stop-start, alloy wheels, Bluetooth and DAB radio with touchscreen. Other details offered by the Octavia include luggage restraints, a reversible boot floor and a useful ice scraper concealed inside the fuel filler cap! Like the A3 this vehicle received a full five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating.

To drive, the Octavia is comfortable with little body roll but lacks the excitement of the VW Golf. However, for a car of its size, the engines are very frugal yet still manage to power the vehicle capably. The accommodation offered by the Octavia has always been a major selling point and this new model provides 590 litres of boot space with the rear seats in place! Additionally, rear legroom beats the competition hands down and is close to that offered by the VW Passat, Vauxhall Insignia or Ford Mondeo, all cars in the category above.

Finally a look at the Volkswagen Jetta, often described as a booted Golf but actually a separate car in its own right. From the front it shares the familiar VW face which leads into a car some 90mm longer than its predecessor. In profile the car resembles its bigger stablemate the VW Passat, itself a traditional saloon car with a boot. Driver comfort is high and passengers enjoy more rear legroom than in the Golf owing to the longer wheelbase. The dashboard mimics the logical layout from the Golf together with similar build quality. Luggage is well catered for by the 510 litre boot space  and passengers are well protected by a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating.

The Jetta offers the same well-weighted controls that drivers expect from Volkswagen products and provides good value for money especially as discounts can be obtained by shopping around. Most models come with alloy wheels, air con and cruise control.

So which one to buy? Ultimately that depends on what one is seeking from a motor vehicle. Undeniably the Audi A3 has the sportiest pedigree of the three cars reviewed as well as the prestige associated with the brand but those come at a price. The Škoda Octavia offers the roomiest car of the three and is built to the same exacting standards. It also matches the others in terms of standard equipment and for those who have hitherto snubbed the marque, the company now sports a smart new logo which is as every bit upmarket as the car itself. The VW Jetta lacks the image of its sister car the Golf but offers a traditional saloon format at a competitive price. However residual values are unlikely to match those of the Golf.

In a recent press review, both the Audi A3 and Škoda Octavia were awarded 40 points out of 45 whilst the VW Jetta only achieved a score of 37. Prices of the A3 three-door currently range from just under £17905 to over £28160. The Octavia entry level model is £15990 going up to £23240 for the top of the range whilst £19075 is the starting point for the Jetta increasing to £23410.