Top Of The Pops

This isn’t a reference to the latest trends in popular music but a look at the top-selling cars in Europe and UK colour trends in 2016 …

According to Autocar® a leading UK motoring magazine, only fourteen different models of car dominated the number one selling position in twenty-eight European countries. Furthermore, fourteen of those top positions were occupied by VW Group cars which comes as little surprise given their overall reliability and relatively conservative styling that doesn’t date as quickly as some manufacturer offerings.

Top of the popularity list is the Volkswagen Golf. This model was the preferred choice of new car buyers in Austria, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. Of these countries, only Germany and Sweden boast mainstream car manufacturers but, interestingly, Germans support their home industry whilst the Swedes relegate their native Volvo into second, third and fourth places. Even then, the combined Volvo sales still fell short of Golf purchases by nearly 5000 vehicles.

Unsurprisingly, given its space, practicality and value, the Škoda Octavia triumphed in its home market of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Poland and Switzerland. In the Czech Republic, buyers are very supportive of their own product as the Škoda Fabia took second place in the sales chart and half of all the country’s top-sellers are Škoda models. The Fabia also claimed second place in Poland making that country a lucrative market for the Czech manufacturer.

The Nissan Qashqai sealed first place in the tiny car market of Croatia and narrowly beat the Octavia to second place in the equally small market of Latvia. Renault claimed top spot in their home market of France with the Clio, which also was the favoured purchase in Portugal, a country that has an affinity towards small French cars. Other European markets share a variety of different models, none of which have dominance. Denmark car buyers favoured the Peugeot 208 whilst the uninspiring Toyota Yaris was top of the pops in Greece. Buyers in Hungary opted for the Suzuki Vitara which may be because it’s manufactured there but the Octavia was in a respectable second place. A strange choice of buyers in Ireland was the Hyundai Tucson, pushing the Golf into second place.

Fiat dominated sales in their home market of Italy with the Panda. With their twisty and often congested roads, it’s not surprising that an economical small car was first choice. The Fiat 500 was most popular in Lithuania where the Nissan Qashqai reached second place. The Fiat 500L took first place in the small car market of Serbia with the Octavia again coming second. Another country supporting their home market was Romania with the Dacia Logan and Duster in first and second places respectively. The Dacia is very much a budget product and is the Romanian arm of Renault. Prices are kept low by using discarded platforms and engines from earlier Renault models and benefiting from low manufacturing costs. The downside to these models is driving vehicles which are some ten years behind the times!

The final three best sellers are the Škoda Fabia which triumphed in Slovakia although the Octavia wasn’t far behind. Sales in Spain were dominated by the home-built SEAT Leon with their Ibiza in a close second place. Bringing up the rear is the United Kingdom where the Ford Fiesta was the number one choice. I’m sure there are people who think that the Fiesta is a British product but no Ford model is built in the country. It is most likely that Fiestas sold in the UK are manufactured in Portugal. The car is a strange choice given its odd styling and the fact that it depreciates at a higher rate than some comparable models from competitors.

Staying in the UK, an analysis was taken of the most popular colour choices for new cars. Monochrome colours are the most popular as white, black and grey take the top three spots. Of these colours, white dominates the charts with 20.51% of 2016 registrations. Blue remains the most popular primary colour and stood at fourth place with 15.38% of the market. Brown has fallen out of favour with demand down by 40.1% on 2015 sales. Somewhat strangely, beige has also dropped by 27.6%, possibly because buyers see it as an unexciting colour. Silver, which once dominated new car sales, found itself in sixth place in 2016, a drop of 7.5% on the previous year.

Of the top-selling ten cars in the UK in 2016, six were finished in black, two in white, and one each in grey and blue. Given the percentages shown above, it must be assumed that more of the less popular vehicles sold were finished in white!

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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.

Brand versus Style

Regular readers of my motoring blogs will undoubtedly know that I’m a devotee of Škoda cars but here is a review of two alternative marques from the VW Group …

In a world whereby most average family cars look very similar, making an informed choice on which car to buy can be a daunting task. Some people demand every conceivable gadget and gismo available, no matter what these may cost, whilst others are content in having a vehicle that delivers a solid driving experience without too many trimmings. Nowadays, most manufacturers offer products that are light years away from their models of fifteen years ago so ultimately it comes down to individual preference or even bias! Yes I am somewhat biased as I’m a firm believer in value for money rather than paying simply for an upmarket badge.

If you exclude premium names such as Bentley and Bugatti for example, then Audi is at the upper end of VW Group marques with Škoda and SEAT holding more lowly positions. Of course, that in no way derides these makes and they more than compete with both their cousins and other manufacturers. The VW Golf made its first appearance in 1974 and has been a world best seller for most of its life, now being in its seventh generation. A Mark 8 version is scheduled for the 2018 model year. As with most models, the car has grown from its original size back in 1974, with the current VW Polo about the size of the Mark 1 Golf. Sharing the same MQB platform as the current Golf is the latest SEAT Leon and this blog will compare the two models which are virtually identical in size.

There can be little doubt that the VW Golf offers a solidly built, quality-engineered car, coming in three-door, five-door and estate guises. Virtually every new incarnation of the model improves upon its predecessor, but in so doing, the price has reached what some might describe as epidemic proportions. As with nearly all manufacturers, the model offers far more standard equipment and safety features than at the start of this century, so these will contribute to higher prices. However, the danger is that the car falls outside the affordability parameters of the family market at which it is aimed. Performance comes from a range of proven petrol and diesel power units, all of which are turbocharged, and one even has a fuel-saving device that shuts off two cylinders when they’re not needed. The Golf excels in its riding and handling capabilities and few cars within the category can equal it. This is achieved through sophisticated suspension settings although smaller engined models have to rely upon a more traditional set up. Over the years, VW have refined their engines to the point that most offer an exceptionally smooth travelling experience.

The dashboard is well put together with all controls readily to hand and plenty of soft touch material. Switchgear is well damped and the overall ambience is one of functional comfort rather than an array of gimmicky buttons found in some manufacturers models, notably Ford and GM. As one would expect, the Golf is a safety-conscious zone boasting seven airbags (including a driver’s knee airbag) and stability control. Mechanical parts are marked to deter thieves and the car achieved a 5 star Euro NCAP rating in crash tests. Basic equipment includes Bluetooth, a DAB radio and air conditioning, but opt for a mid range specification to get adaptive cruise control, automatic sensor-driven lights and wipers, plus alloy wheels. The higher spec models also offer full climate-controlled aircon which is worth considering as an option on other models if made available as it keeps the interior at a pre-set temperature. A touch screen infotainment system sits in the centre of the dashboard, from which many features can be controlled. The Golf will seat four adults in comfort and five at a pinch. Boot space is about par for the segment and benefits from a height adjustable floor which is useful for eliminating a step up to the rear seats when in their folded down position.

Sitting directly alongside the Golf is the Leon from sister company SEAT. This car can be looked upon as the equivalent of a Spanish holiday, offering fun, flair and affordability. Whereas the Golf is very conservative in design, the Leon is more stylish and distinctive, yet shares the same platform, engines and technology … so basically a Golf in disguise! It offers both style and substance in a package comprising German engineering, Spanish flair and a build quality to virtually match its cousin. As with the Golf, there is a comprehensive range of engines including high powered derivatives for the FR and Cupra models at the top end of the model spectrum. Handling is generally good thanks to the suspension and damping set up, but some may consider the ride to be slightly on the firm side. Personally, I find this advantageous as it eliminates some of the sickening motion encountered in some vehicles. Overall refinement doesn’t quite match that of the Golf primarily because of more wind noise and models fitted with larger wheels suffer excessive road noise. Safety and security features are plentiful including seven airbags, stability control, tyre pressure monitoring and emergency brake assist. To help deter thieves, all models have an alarm fitted and the Leon also achieved a 5 star Euro NCAP rating.

Interior switch gear largely mimics that fitted in the Golf. Obviously, the sharing of common components is more cost effective and if they’re good enough for a VW, that is a compliment to the Leon! The dashboard is angled slightly towards the driver and is generally a match for the Golf in terms of refinement. The model also has a touch screen infotainment system with sensory response, and whilst this serves the purpose, it would benefit from being somewhat larger. Standard equipment includes basic air conditioning, Bluetooth and an MP3 compatible CD player whilst higher spec models get alloy wheels, cruise control and bright trim on the dashboard. The FR models add dual zone climate controlled aircon, sports seats and leather trim. The Leon easily accommodates four adults but there is enough room for a fifth. The model comes in three derivatives, namely a three-door SC, five-door and estate, and rear head and legroom is slightly reduced in the coupé model. Luggage space can only be described as average offering 380 litres with the rear seats in place, and as with the Golf, there is a step up when the rear seats are folded. The Leon does not offer the adjustable floor height to compensate for this and the boot area offers no useful storage facilities unlike the ‘simply clever’ features of Škoda models!

This latest incarnation of the SEAT Leon makes it one of the best family cars around, with its blend of practicality, performance and style. It is a rewarding car to drive owing to comfortable seats and an airy cabin. Opt for one of the lower-aspirated engines to yield the greatest economy. The Leon undercuts the price of the Golf across its range but the downside is that residual values will not be as great. However, for many people, the deciding factor when purchasing a car is the upfront price, and in this respect the overall package offered by the Leon is hard to beat. A VW Golf 1.6TDI 5-door Bluemotion with climate control and metallic paint currently costs €30400 (£22420). A SEAT Leon 1.6TDI SE 5-door with similar specification has a current list price of €27500 (£20255) so it’s clear to see that the Leon offers very good value for money.

Little doubt then that it’s a choice between brand and style!

IMG_2960
VW Golf Estate
IMG_2961
SEAT Leon Estate

A Bumper Year Ahead

To compensate for regrets in not pursuing journalism as a career I present yet another blog entry with a motoring theme …

It would appear that 2013 is going to be a bumper year for new model launches from several leading manufacturers as they strive to retain market share and offer ever-increasing fuel and emission efficient engines. As I have a preference for vehicles from the VW Group, once again this article focuses on upcoming new models from that stable.

Key to these new products is the VW Group new MQB platform. This supports the three models featured and in the near future will be used for updated VW Tiguan and Touran models. A slightly stretched version will accommodate the all-new Škoda Octavia when it is launched in 2013 as this car will be targeted at the market currently served by Ford’s Mondeo and GM’s Insignia.

First model to be launched on the MQB platform was a revised Audi A3. This model is perceived as being head and shoulders above its stablemates but in reality it is mostly an over-priced derivative and offers little enhancement in performance. For some buyers of course it is all about prestige rather than value for money, but savvy customers will not be hoodwinked by such blatant badge engineering. Whilst the A3 will hold its value well, this must be considered in conjunction with the initial cost. As a simple example, an A3 costing £20000 and retaining 50% of its value after three years will be worth £10000. An identically engineered SEAT costing £16000 and depreciating by 55% in the same period will be worth £7200. The total loss on the Audi is £10000 but only £8800 on the SEAT.

There is little doubt that the A3 is a refined vehicle and is built from first class materials. It boasts both aluminium and high-strength steel to minimise weight and has a delightful interior ambience. It offers three suspension settings but whilst the sportier ones give sharper handling, the ride quality suffers. Accommodation is more than adequate upfront but rear legroom suffers and the VW Golf offers more space. Currently the new A3 is only available in three door form which always hinders rear access. The boot is very practical with an adjustable floor to provide a level loading area when the rear seats are folded.

Hitting the streets within a matter of weeks will be the seventh generation of the VW Golf. The current version has only been in production for four years and this boasted many improvements over the Mark V version. So just what could be done to improve this very successful car further? Firstly, it’s lighter, more efficient and offers greater practicality than the exisiting model. New high-strength steel and other weight-saving measures used in its construction will enhance overall fuel efficiency. In addition, with new improved engines and aerodynamics, CO2 emissions have been reduced by about 14%.

Highlights of the new Golf include a progressive steering system to aid both low-speed and higher speed manoeuvrability. Most models will benefit from four driving modes which adjust the air conditioning and engine management systems accordingly. An electric parking brake is standard across the range. Also standard is Bluetooth connectivity and a DAB radio with touch-screen versatility. It also boasts an emergency braking function which utilises sensors to detect an imminent collision and at speeds below 19mph automatically applies the brakes. Such technology is an extra cost option on the A3. Overall accommodation for passengers has been improved in both the front and rear whilst boot space has also increased by 8%. As in the A3 a two-position boot floor is standard.

Overall the new Golf offers more refinement, economy, technology and sophistication over the outgoing model. Remarkably, prices are not expected to increase and should start from around £16200. This is certainly not cheap but considerably lower than the £19200 starting price of the equivalent Audi.

The final new car launch is the SEAT Leon. The current car is certainly getting long in the tooth and way overdue for replacement. The 2013 version has a much more aggressive stance that will stand out from the crowd. Of the three different marques the Leon will offer the sportiest stance. In line with its stablemates, the new Leon will be considerably lighter than the current model and up to 22% more fuel efficient. It will share many of the engines offered in the Golf and far more choice than the Audi A3. Ultimately buyers will have a choice of five petrol and four diesel variants.

Deserved criticism of the Leon in the past has been the inferior cabin compared with many of its rivals. The new Leon hopes to address these concerns with a more premium feel and improvements in both the quality of materials and attention to detail. A highlight of the Leon will be the availability of full-LED headlamps which is a first in this vehicle category.

Whilst the outgoing model has only been available as a five door, both three-door and estate derivatives are expected in due course. The anticipated starting price for this model will be circa £15000 and much in line with the current car. This represents a saving of over £4000 on the entry level A3 and whilst individual specifications do vary, these cannot justify such a price difference. All these cars share the same major components so ultimately any decision as to which one to buy comes down to aesthetics, snobbery or the size of one’s wallet!

Finally a preview photograph of the new Škoda Octavia seen here in estate form which, as mentioned earlier, will be moving upmarket.