Let Battle Commence

After several years with only cosmetic changes, both SEAT and Volkswagen are updating their small segment models …

In recent weeks, Ford have revealed their new Fiesta model which is a welcome modification of the outgoing car. There is certainly much to admire about this updated model even if the styling continues to be a little on the quirky side. Road handling is excellent and there have been vast improvements to the interior trim but despite British motoring journalists lauding this car in contrast to much of Europe, it still suffers from the use of cheap plastics inside and will depreciate more than many of its direct competitors. Queue the all-new SEAT Ibiza and the soon to be launched Volkswagen Polo, the latter of which will set the benchmark yet again for the small hatchback.

There is little doubt that a replacement for the Ibiza was long overdue. In line with many manufacturers nowadays, the model is effectively a scaled down version of the bigger Leon but that is no bad thing given the sales success of the latter car. The new Ibiza is a handsome car with a grown-up attitude, and is sufficiently light and agile to engage with the driver. The car is built on the MQB-A0 platform which means that it offers considerably more space than its predecessor being 87mm wider and having a 95mm longer wheelbase. Boot space has increased from 292 to 355 litres.

The car clearly identifies as a member of the SEAT family with its triangular headlamp units and is generally pleasing to the eye, exuding poise and precision. For the first time, the Ibiza will come with the new 1.0 litre TSi turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine in either 94PS or 113PS guise. This is ideal for city driving and general cruising coupled with a six-speed manual gearbox but if regularly fully loaded, then the new 1.5 litre EVO 148PS engine may be a better bet. Compared with the outgoing model, this new Ibiza offers a refined, satisfying driver experience.

In line with competitors, technology abounds, albeit subtly hidden behind a sharp 8 inch touchscreen which is available on most models. This controls most functions including navigation, Apple, Android and Mirror Link, as well as media and vehicle data. There are numerous convenience and safety options available including adaptive cruise control, a seven-speed automatic DSG gearbox with some engines and cameras mounted around the car to assist with parking. Not everything is perfect though … the interior still boasts some cheaper, hard finishes especially on the doors and at the top of the dashboard. However, overall the new SEAT Ibiza is an impressive car with a willing chassis, excellent technology and decent refinement.

The Ibiza will need to impress as waiting in the wings is the all-new Polo from sister company Volkswagen. The Polo, which will officially go on sale in the UK in October 2017, shares the same platform as the SEAT and comes with a considerable growth in size and a more mature design. The car is 81mm longer than the old model, has an increased wheelbase of 94mm, is 69mm wider and boot capacity rises from 280 to 351 litres. This makes the Polo larger than the Mark IV Golf from the late nineties, bar its length!

The design of the Polo certainly mimics that of the very successful VW Golf, following what is now a trend amongst many manufacturers. Where it differs is the increased options of customisation, another development in this model segment. Buyers will be able to choose from 13 different dashboard colour inserts to either match body colour or provide a complete contrast. Additionally, there will be 14 exterior paint finishes, 12 wheel designs, 11 seat fabrics and two styles of interior trim. Other options will include digital dial clusters to replace the conventional instruments, blindspot monitors, adaptive cruise control and rear traffic alert. Touchscreen infotainment will be standard on all models with screen size varying from 6.5 to 8 inches depending upon model specification.

At launch, it is believed the car will come with a choice of five petrol and two diesel units, with diesel losing popularity due to emissions data. The two non-turbo 1.0 litre petrol MPi engines come in 64PS or 74PS guise and are really only best suited for city driving and local journeys. The other three petrol options are the same as those offered in the Ibiza, and the 1.6 litre diesel will come in either 79PS or 94PS form. In addition to these engines, a 197PS turbocharged petrol engine will be exclusively available in the Polo GTi which will launched at the same time as the ordinary model. From information to hand, it certainly looks as though the Polo has again set the benchmark for this model segment as the new model is basically a scaled-down Golf offering all the attributes of that car in a more youthful package.

Prices for a mid specification Ibiza with a 1.0 TSi engine will set you back about €16400 (£14600) at the time of writing. Prices for the new Polo have not yet been published but expect to pay about €1120 (£1000) more for a similarly specified vehicle given its premium quality and image. The forthcoming replacement Audi A1 will share this new MQB-A0 modular platform as will the new Škoda Fabia in due course.

The Rise Of SUVs And Crossovers

The last few years have seen a dramatic rise in the number of SUVs on our roads …

Sports Utility Vehicles, more commonly known as SUVs, are now a very familiar sight on the world’s roads. From humble beginnings in the hands of one or two manufacturers, almost all main carmakers now offer at least one SUV in their range. Many companies now make SUVs in all their model segments meaning that the buyer can choose according to size as well as budget.

So what exactly is a SUV? It’s a vehicle designed to carry passengers in a traditional front and back seat configuration, whilst also providing increased luggage capacity. The vehicle sits higher above the road affording both driver and passengers greater all round visibility. Some of the larger, upmarket models offer various seat configurations to either preference passenger-carrying or luggage holding. Vehicles may be adorned with more rugged outdoor embellishments and also offer the option of four wheel drive. Early models were very much of a traditional box design and based upon light commercial vehicle chassis but nowadays, most models are closely based on their related car brethren and often described as crossovers.

It will come as little surprise, therefore, that the modern day SUV and crossover is far more than a utility vehicle. One of their main attractions is their increased ground clearance for on and off-road ability, although few people are likely to avail themselves of the latter. They have fast become something of a status symbol as they command greater road presence whilst still retaining the styling cues of a traditional car. Manufactures such as BMW and Audi offer an almost complete range of SUV models to meet the needs of most buyers whilst others provide a more limited choice or are only just entering what has become a very lucrative market.

A complete newcomer to the marketplace is SEAT who have just launched their first SUV to be called the Ateca. This will be a direct competitor to the revised Volkswagen Tiguan from their sister company. Currently, Škoda only make the Yeti which has been a success for the company but is now showing its age. In a few months time, Škoda will be unveiling their new model, the Kodiaq, which will sit at the upper end of the model spectrum both in size and price. A new Yeti is due within about eighteen months plus a small SUV based upon the Fabia. As their only existing SUV does not directly compete, this article is comparing the SEAT Ateca and VW Tiguan as both share the same MQB platform architecture.

As one would expect from SEAT, the new Ateca offers Spanish design flair. The car is derived from the current Leon, a model that is undoubtedly one of the best looking hatchbacks on the road. Delays in this car seeing the light of day mean that the company has been able to study the competition and, hopefully, get the product right from launch. First and foremost, the entry level model undercuts almost everything else on the market, and even the top specification models undercut the likes of the Renault Kadjar and Kia Sportage. Modifications to the proven VW 1.4TSI petrol engine enable two cylinders to shut down when driving at lower speeds although this is undetectable by the driver. The dashboard closely resembled that of the Leon, albeit with some improvements, one of which is an increased infotainment display. In SE trim, the car boasts 17″ alloy wheels, climate control air conditioning, rear parking sensors, cruise control and a driver profile select system. Whilst sharing the same wheelbase as the Leon, the Ateca is taller, wider and longer than its sibling, meaning there is more space all round for  passengers and 510 litres of luggage capacity with the rear seats in place.

The VW Tiguan has been around for several years and the previous model underwent a midlife face lift. The new model more closely resembles the family image and has sharper styling, better performance and efficiency than its predecessor. As with the Ateca, it sits on the ubiquitous MQB platform so offering similar accommodation to its cousin. Overall, the car is longer and this translates into boot capacity of 615 litres with the seats in place. In SE trim, expect to find 18″ alloys, an 8″ infotainment display, DAB, Bluetooth, climate and cruise control. The dashboard is typical of cars from VW, being exceptionally well assembled using soft plastics and ergonomically designed. It shares a broad range of petrol and diesel engines with its stablemates but compared with rivals is on the pricey side and lacks the special design flair making it appear rather anonymous.

There is a considerable price differential between the SEAT Ateca and VW Tiguan. In almost identical SE trim level, the Ateca costs around £21015 (€25300) whilst the Tiguan commands £25260 (€30320). Neither model comes with satnav as standard so expect to pay £525 (€640) and £725 (€880) respectively for that convenience. Whilst VW are always more expensive, reflecting their image and refinery, an additional £4200 is a lot to pay for what is essentially increased luggage capacity. The Ateca has been priced to sell, and with its more aggressive styling, is the preferred choice … that is until the all-new Škoda Yeti arrives in 2018. The battle may then begin!,

Two Peas In A Pod

After nearly 8 years, Škoda has finally updated their Fabia model!

The first pea in the pod is the Škoda Fabia, the supermini in the manufacturer’s portfolio and a model that helped restore the fortunes of the company. The Mark 1 launched in 1998 proved to be very popular in the segment, most notably because of its chunky design and value-for-money practicality. Sadly, the Mark 2 model that arrived in 2007, has struggled to live up to its previous reputation. This is primarily due to styling or a lack of it … sitting fairly upright, the car has always looked somewhat incongruous and imbalanced. This in no way derides its practicality and overall good value, but it has been long overdue for replacement. So in early 2015 the Czech manufacturer releases a Mark 3 Fabia with aspirations to attract younger buyers.

This Škoda is a completely new car with revised chassis and engines. More than ever, the car closely resembles its sister the Volkswagen Polo, both in looks and passenger accommodation which makes choosing between the two cars much more difficult. With many engines shared between both models, including new three-cylinder diesels and the turbocharged four cylinder 1.2 TSI petrol, it is likely that driving and handling characteristics will be very similar.

Škoda’s design philosophy has always focused on functionality and simplicity, rather than being overtly stylish for the sake of it. The new model loses the awkward box-like image of its predecessor by more closely resembling styling cues from the Mark 1 model. This is achieved by making the car slightly wider and lower, resulting in greater road presence. From a practical perspective, this provides more shoulder room in the front, and with a slightly increased wheelbase, there’s more legroom in the rear. The boot offers class-leading capacity of 330 litres with the rear seats in place, which is 50 litres more than in the Polo.  The rear seats split 60/40 but do not lie completely flat meaning there is a slope when they are folded down. Overall, the Fabia is one of the most spacious cars in its class, beating the Polo, Fiesta and Corsa to name but three competitors, and undercuts them all on price.

Following their ethos of practicality over flair, the dashboard is generally well-designed and, for the first time, incorporates a large central display screen covering most main functions. This is very similar to the display function in the Polo. In higher specification models, there is a system called Mirror Link that allows owners of Android phones to replicate their apps on the dash screen. Quite how useful this facility proves to be remains to be seen – currently the iPhone iOS is not supported. Other facilities across the range include DAB radio, electric front windows, Bluetooth and a tyre pressure monitor with higher spec models offering alloy wheels, leather steering wheel and climate control air conditioning. Sadly, there is no soft-touch finish to the dashboard, with everything covered in black textured plastics, but all appears to be of a relatively high standard.

From a motoring perspective, the 1.2 TSI petrol engines are the most favoured. These petrol engines from the VW stable are very refined, thereby offering comfortable cruising without too much effort on the part of the driver. Whilst not as economical as diesel alternatives, they are considerably quieter. The three-cylinder petrol units also suffer from more noise when at high revs. The Fabia handles safely and confidently but lacks the agility of the Polo, due largely to greater body roll. Initially, the model will be available in S, SE and SEL trim levels. There are currently no plans to make a high performance vRS model though but an estate version will follow in due course.

What of the second pea in the pod? That, of course, is the Volkswagen Polo. It shares some of the engines with the Fabia as well as offering a 1.4 turbo petrol unit. The petrol engines are smooth and quiet, making the Polo a nice environment in which to travel. At lower speeds, the diesels are quite clattery but this abates when at cruising speed. The Polo lacks the overall fun factor offered by the Ford Fiesta owing to more body lean through bends and softer steering, but these are compensated for by all-round ride comfort and stability.

Although at the higher price bracket for superminis, few can rival the Polo’s excellent ergonomics and dashboard layout. As mentioned previously, most models boast a very good colour touch-screen system coupled with clear instrumentation and sturdy switchgear. Overall, it is built to the same high standards as the larger VW Golf giving the car an upmarket feel. Unlike the Fabia, the dashboard is covered in soft-touch plastics, but the car lacks curtain airbags and a passenger airbag deactivation facility. Most competitors offer these as standard equipment.

Rear legroom isn’t as great as in the Fabia and the boot is on the small side. Most versions provide a height-adjustable boot floor to counteract the loading lip. The rear seats do not fold totally flat either. The Polo is available in S, SE, and SEL trim levels as well as a Bluemotion and Bluemotion GT. The mid-range SE provides alloy wheels, aircon, electric windows all round and steering wheel audio controls. As can be seen, the model derivatives follow a similar pattern to those of the Fabia!

So which model to buy? As the title of the blog suggests, these two cars are basically peas in the same pod. Never before have two same segment cars from the VW stable been so close in both style, price and accommodation. The Fabia still distances itself from the Polo on price although the differential is nowhere near as great as it once was and there is little doubt that Škoda are moving upmarket. Whilst this is no bad thing, there is a danger of alienating their loyal customer base as buyers opt for models from other VW Group marques. The final choice between these two models basically comes down to the following:

For overall quality, the Polo is the one to beat.
For overall roominess, the Fabia wins the contest.
For styling, both cars are conservative although I think the Fabia has the edge with its bustle rear.
Mechanically, both cars can offer the same engines and designated trim levels.

Let us therefore draw a direct comparison between the Škoda Fabia 1.2 TSI 90PS SE5-door and the VW Polo 1.2 TS! 90PS SE 5-door … the Fabia costs from £13390 whilst the Polo is priced from £14360. That means the Fabia is a minimum of £970 cheaper despite offering more standard equipment, cabin and luggage space. The dimensions of the cars are very similar but the Fabia is 1467mm in height compared with the Polo’s 1453mm, hence the increased rear headroom in the Fabia. Škoda also offers customisation of the Fabia with contrasting colours for roof, mirrors and wheels, thereby hoping to widen its appeal. On balance, I would opt for the Fabia as it looks more distinctive than the Polo and offers several Škoda ‘Simply Clever’ features! The only downside to the Fabia is that the VW will hold its value better, but the differential is unlikely to be too great at this market level.

Daytime Running Lights

If you’re a regular road user, the appearance of daytime running lights on vehicles will be familiar …

European legislation going back to 2008 decreed that daytime running lights (DRL) should be fitted on all new model passenger cars and small delivery vans since February 2011 with trucks and buses following from August 2012. They should automatically illuminate when the engine is started and work independently of the main lighting circuit meaning that all other lights should be off. The appearance of such lights on vehicles varies considerably even though they have to meet minimum legislative requirements. They can be standalone lights or incorporated into the headlamp units and further vary from single bulbs to almost dazzling LED displays.

The concept of having lights on during daylight hours is nothing new. Volvo were the first manufacturer to incorporate such a facility into their cars because of local legislation in their native country of Sweden dating back to 1977. However, many people found them irritating and the facility could be switched off. In an effort to improve road safety, the UK introduced dim-dip lighting on new vehicles in the mid 1980s. This concept replaced the traditional sidelight but also meant that many drivers would try and drive on this reduced lighting rather than switch on headlights when dusk fell. The facility proved to be counter productive and was soon scrapped as it was not adopted throughout Europe.

So why have daytime running lights been introduced? Quite simply, they improve road safety during daylight hours as vehicles become more visible to pedestrians and other motorists alike. With numerous countries across Scandinavia and Europe demanding the use of headlights on all the time, it was inevitable that some form of new legislation would ensue. A European Commission study in 2006 claimed that road casualties could be prevented across the EU with a positive benefit-to-cost ratio when the costs of fitting the lamps and the environmental cost of running them were taken into account.

Many daytime running lights are of the LED variety that consume a fraction of the energy used by a normal headlight. A pair of headlamps could consume 110 watts, whilst LED lights typically use 5-10 watts of power. This therefore puts minimal strain on a vehicle’s alternator allegedly resulting in increased fuel economy. As with most legislative change, there are those in favour who claim they significantly reduce death and serious injury whilst those against complain of glare and the fact that motorcyclists will become less conspicuous.

From a personal viewpoint, I do find some of the lights fitted to vehicles extremely dazzling. Not only are the lights themselves too large, many are simply the whims of designers who try to make them as funky-looking as possible. Therefore, in many respects, they are nothing more than design over substance. Furthermore, manufacturers have not adopted standards for their vehicles with the type of light fitted depending upon the specification of the model. If these lights are intended to be a safety feature, then every vehicle should be equipped to the same standard. As it is, those who can afford the top of the range models drive around with the brightest DRL display suggesting they are more a status symbol than a safety feature. Some cars are fitted with single bulbs which emit a dull glow albeit complying with legislation and these are barely visible in bright sunlight thereby minimising their effectiveness. Another downside to these lights is that an increasing number of drivers are now failing to use their headlights in adverse weather conditions, meaning that their rear lights are not illuminated and their vehicles not clearly visible to following traffic!

A story widely available on the internet basically sums up the farce that currently surrounds this legislation. Many people think of a bank of LEDs when referring to daytime running lights but purchase a Vauxhall Antara and the reality is rather different …

A buyer from Oxfordshire could not get the DRLs on his Antara to work so consulted his local dealer who advised him that everything was in order. Basically the Antara’s version of DRLs simply involves switching the regular lights to their auto function! This, of course, activates all the lights on the vehicle, hence there is no energy saving. A spokesman from Vauxhall confirmed that the Antara was designed to work that way and that the lights comply with European DRL regulations.

In conclusion, that story basically sums up everything. There seems little evidence that the use of daytime running lights will save much energy and if one needs to be seen, then there is no substitute for dipped headlights. As for the effectiveness of these lights, my own vehicle has bulbs fitted but they are not connected to anything which is nonsensical! Already some drivers are finding ways to disable the function as the law in the UK only stipulates that a new vehicle must be fitted with the lights and not that they have to be illuminated.