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Shape of things to come as VW unveils first all-electric racing car

THESE are first pictures of Volkswagen’s first all-electric racing car called the I.D. R Pikes Peak – a vehicle with technology that will percolate down to road cars in the near future. The world premier of the I.D. R Pikes Peak gives a strong indication of how electric VW’s drive systems can perform in out-and-out driving – and ultimately under everyday conditions.
The four-wheel-drive (a motor on each axle) electric powerhouse, developed by Volkswagen’s motorsport division, has just been unveiled at the Circuit Póle Mécanique Alés in the south of France.
It is scheduled to go on the famous Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in June. Since 1916 the 19.99km hill climb (also known as the ‘Race to the Clouds’) has been held near Colorado Springs in the Rockies. The route runs from a 2,800-metre start to a 4,300-metre summit. It is claimed to be the most difficult hill climb competition in the world.
The new VW racer car is regarded as a something of a ‘figurehead’  for the electric-powered I.D. road cars that Volkswagen will make from next year.
The significance of the I.D. R Pikes Peak motor lies not just in its extensive technology but also in showing that electric cars can be far from boring. Figures suggest this is devastatingly quick: 0-100kmh in 2.25 seconds, 500 kW (680PS) of power and 650 Nm of torque – all the while weighing less than 1,100kgs. By the way, that 0-100km is faster than Formula 1 and Formula E cars. Interesting too is that roughly 20pc of the electric energy required is generated during the 20km drive.
Up to now we only had an idea of how the car might look from computerised images. In the flesh it is a different proposition altogether with its ultra dramatic lines and carbon body making many a Le Mans racer looking like a family saloon beside it.
 Since getting the official go-ahead it has been built in eight months – and everything in it is new. One of the biggest challenges – always a major one for a race car – was keeping the (battery) weight down.
Experts here told me that they’ve been working with Volkswagen battery boffs to do that. One told me the technology can be described as an ‘ambassador for I.D. road cars. However, they weren’t giving too much away just yet.
The VW engineers must now get down to real-world testing – first in France and then in the US. Like being able to charge it in under 30mins in racing conditions.
Romain Dumas, who has won overall Pikes Peak victories in 2014/16/ 17 in a Norma M20D, will drive the new Volkswagen.
Underlining the relevance to future electric car buying, VW’s development chief Dr Frank Welsch says: “Customers have always benefitted from the findings made in motorsport, and we expect to take these findings and use them as a valuable impetus for the development of future I.D. models.
“The hill climb on Pikes Peak will definitely be a real acid test for the electric drive.”
Sven Smeets, VW’s motorsport director, reveals how they worked closely not just with the Volkswagen battery plant in Braunschweig but with the technical development department in Wolfsburg.

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Deciphering old riddle with Skoda’s Karoq crossover

It’s funny the way the mind works all the same. There I was driving the new compact SUV from Skoda, the Karoq, and a riddle my father told us flashed into the old brain. It went something (stress something) like: “A man walked up a hill but yet he ran. How can this be?” Of course it was a play on the words ‘yet he’. The answer was: “Yeti (!!) was his dog’s name.” I know it was childish in the extreme but being young and innocent, we loved being able to puzzle visitors with it for a while. (I admit I taught it to my own children, but it never held much fascination for them.)
Anyway, there I was driving the new Karoq and I distinctly remember thinking: “Old Yeti left a big footprint all the same.” In this specific case, of course, it was Yeti the blocky, upright utility crossover/SUV that Skoda made from 2009.
Maybe as a reflection of the really tough times back then, people bought into its hard-wearing ability and overlooked the finer points of design. It quickly earned itself a cult following. But now it’s gone; disappeared into the mists of time like a different Yeti. Creating new footsteps is its Karoq successor.
And I think the Karoq’s arrival offers a perspective of the mountainous change and expectations we have witnessed in motoring (and everywhere else for that matter) in less than a decade.
Skoda were relatively late getting to the new-world, exponentially expanding SUV market, but one benefit was the opportunity to see, and improve on, what others were doing.
Its first major SUV, the large 5/7-seater Kodiaq, was such an instant hit that people had to wait many, many months to get one.
So the Karoq, a smaller version in many ways (rivals: Hyundai Tucson, Nissan Qashqai) should have nearly everything a modern crossover/SUV needs? Well, yes and no.
Just for the record the five-seater Karoq is 160mm longer, 48mm wider and boasts a 60mm bigger wheelbase than the good old Yeti. There is 40mm more room at front, 14mm at the rear and a 521-litre class-topping boot.
It is, of course, far more than a series of bigger-n-better attributes. It’s a sculpted, stylish, modern-looking crossover (2WD, 4WD) too, with a cabin of not just decent space but sensible dash layout/instrumentation design and integration.
It’s a cliché, but pertinent nonetheless, that there’s a great driving position, the sort people expect – it is one of the main reasons SUVs are so popular.
Others aboard are well catered for too, though rear-seat room in practical application was a bit disappointing for some. That was even with the rear seats pushed back to the limit (the car has the optional Varioflex seating adjustment system).
One long, long day at the wheel to and from the south east showed how important good seats can be (excellent in this), though adjusting the front seat to suit me took long enough sporadically.
The quality of materials around the cabin was as good as most in its class, especially in areas you see and touch frequently. A vast improvement on Yeti, for sure, but an absolute ‘must’ in today’s discerning market.
The central touchscreen for connectivity/infotainment, as well as Voice Control, took care of most demands. Voice Control worked well but I was not 100pc happy with its name recognition compared with Ford’s Sync 3 system.
There is a forest of little-and-large stowage and cubbyholes around the cabin while my test car had iPad holders for rear-seat occupants – there’s no doubting Skoda know their market.
The engine in the review car was a gem of a 1.5-litre petrol: quiet, smooth and powerful. I wouldn’t be madly impressed with its fuel consumption, though. They claim the equivalent of 52mpg: Not a hope in realistic, everyday driving. However, if you’re doing 15,000km or fewer it makes real sense. Just remember, fuel consumption isn’t the be-all and end-all because petrol cars usually cost less than diesel to buy so you’ll do a lot of driving to make up the difference on MPG.
On the road, my Karoq was particularly adept at soaking up bumps and humps and was at ease at motorway cruise speed. There was a steadiness and pliancy that would only have been dreamed of in Yeti times.
Overall then, the Karoq is a good blend of key factors: looks, equipment, drive and convenience. Yet for some reason I didn’t warm to it as I did the larger Kodiaq (or old Yeti). That’s due to being spoilt with so much in our cars these days – we want more, and exceptional, all the time.
And yet it is easy to answer the ultimate riddle for the Karoq: would I change it for a Yeti?
No, I most certainly would not.
FACTS & FIGURES
Skoda Karoq 1.5-litre petrol compact SUV, 150bhp, 6spd, €270 tax, 5.4l/100km.
Price (excl options, incl delivery: €32,915). Range from €27,715.
Test car spec: dual-zone air con, 18ins alloys, Columbus satnav/ 9.2ins t/screen, WLAN connectivity, infotainment online, DAB radio, SIM card slot, park distance control/rear-view camera, light/rain assist, Smartlink + voice activation, LED headlights, fog lights. Extras: adaptive cruise control, lane/traffic assist. Style Plus Pack: electric tailgate, rear-seat tablet holders, sunroof. Comfort Pack: leather interior, Varioflex seating, reversible bootmat, ‘Phonebox’/wireless charger.

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VW’s 2-litre petrol Arteon: For those who don’t want SUVs or posh German saloons

I’ve been between two minds on Volkswagen’s large Arteon ‘saloon’ (technically a 5dr liftback) for some time. Not that there is anything wrong with the car. Far from it. In engineering and driving terms, it’s excellent.
However, I just keep asking myself why you’d spend €45,000 to €50,000-plus on it and not buy a compact Audi, BMW, Merc, or Jag for a few euro more.
As well as that, I wondered, in the course of my many drives, what circumstances would have to prevail for me not to opt for an SUV or crossover instead of this?
I would be failing in my duty on your behalf not to ask those questions, but finding answers has been a different proposition altogether.
Volkswagen says there is a market for a car like this for people/executives who don’t want to show off in a posh executive and who want to avoid SUVs.
All I can do is take the Arteon at face value against a fairly fast-changing backdrop of buyer preferences.
So far this year, 135 models have been registered (to the end of March). They expect 400 to 500 people to buy one in a full year.
Look, the argument will swing to and fro because that is the nature of cars, especially something that doesn’t quite fit in more traditional pigeon holes.
As a Volkswagen executive told me last year, the Arteon is “half a class” up on the Passat. I take that to mean it’s another step upmarket.
Its biggest attractions, for me, are the amount – astonishing – of space for all passengers and luggage (massive) and the application of executive-type touches to the interior generally.
I’m still a bit negative on the design. I think it’s too stretched-looking on the rear corners, but lots of people like it.
The real reason I was back behind the wheel of one (a gorgeous chilli red model) was the arrival of a new 2-litre 150bhp petrol. Yes, petrol (of course there’s a diesel – I’ve reviewed it previously).
How is it that an engine can so alter the feel, the whole sense of a car, so much? I still love a good diesel – it’s not dead yet, for me anyway – but a sweet petrol like this brings a different sense of a drive altogether.
We certainly clocked up the kilometres – several drops and pick-ups from the airport highlighted its attributes. Each and every arriving, or departing, passenger had praise for the room and comfort – three across the back if you need – as well as for the huge boot.
That’s not surprising really when you consider how much bigger the Arteon over the Passat (5cm longer wheelbase for starters).
Me? I enjoyed the drive, the smooth quietness of the engine and the transmission.
The drives were not madly dynamic, certainly not the way I drove the car – I didn’t want it to be despite the presence of adaptive chassis control.
No, for me, it was more a recognition of the fact that a large saloon/5dr can still provide such a seamless drive and driving environment.
Push me hard and I’d say not too many SUVs or crossovers match that level, partly of course because of their lower centre of gravity.
But is it different enough to nudge the posh saloon players aside? My R-Line version was ladled with stuff (see panel), which is why it costs so much. Thus attired, it makes a case.
But they ideally need to have fewer of the more visual elements from the general Volkswagen kit box if they want this to really stand out.
It’s a car with a difference for people who don’t want what has become the conventional.
For that reason – and the arrival of that sweet 2-litre petrol – it makes a solid case, if not an utterly compelling one.
Facts & Figures
* Volkswagen Arteon 5dr fastback R-Line; 2-litre petrol TSi 190bhp petrol, €280 tax.
* Price: €53,157. Prices start from €38,270 on-the-road for the 1.5-litre Tsi 150bhp petrol. Realistically, the average buyer will spend well north of €40,000.
* Key spec with trim: adaptive chassis control, 20in alloys, adaptive cruise control with predictive speed control, active info display, comfort R-Line bumpers, light assist, poor weather light, ambient lighting, ‘silver’/piano black inserts centre console, scuff plates/stainless steel inserts, LED headlights for high/low beam, separate daytime running lights, rear fogs.
* Technology upgrade: Discover Pro nav system, panoramic sunroof and Dynaudio Confidence sound system.

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