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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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First drive: Ford Mondeo Hybrid

Forget all the talk about technology, diesels, petrols, hybrids. When it comes to changing most people’s hearts and minds, the greatest incentive to buy a particular sort of car is MONEY. And in the case of Ford’s first hybrid version of its Mondeo, we are talking serious cash.
Directly compared with the equivalent diesel and trim, it costs up to €9,000 less. The facts and figures were confirmed by a Ford spokesman.
If that sort of price doesn’t shift a core of people from diesel to hybrid, nothing will.
They expect 200 to buy one next year. Even allowing for the perception that diesel fits long-distance Mondeo buyers better than petrol-hybrids, the sales projection seems conservative.
Here’s how the potentially mind-changing money stacks up. The hybrid I drove for a while yesterday from the Transdev headquarters at Luas Red Cow costs €35,280. That’s for the 2-litre 187PS 4dr automatic petrol hybrid in spec-topping Vignale trim. Its power, trim and transmission equivalent 2-litre diesel costs €46,080, or as near as dammit to €11,000 more. Only the diesel will really cost you around €2,200 less because of a special promotion, so the difference is nearer to €9,000. Still a huge amount of money.
Of course, the hybrid benefits from a €1,500 VRT rebate and, Ford admits, a special launch initiative, however long that lasts.
Probably more representative would be the gap between Titanium trims in diesel and hybrid. It’s €38,945 for the diesel and €32,745 for the Titanium hybrid, or €6,200 of a difference on the face of it but nearer to €4,000 when the discount on the diesel is factored in.
It’s still a big chunk of money. Surely it will spark a serious think about a switch from diesel?
It will be interesting to see how people react, especially as road tax is lower too (91g/km = €180 v €270 for Vignale diesel at 124g/km; and 120g/km = €200 for Titanium).
The Mondeo HEV is a late but fairly dramatic foray into hybrid here for Ford. There will be more as they build their electric range. One especially to mention is the fully electric compact SUV in two years’ time. It’s all part of their electric vehicle development plan to have 13 new full or partial EVs on the road by 2020. They will include a hybrid version of the Mustang.
The Mondeo was unveiled at the Red Cow headquarters of Transdev, who operate Luas for a symbolic reason: to show how people can integrate their travel. So you drive your electric-hybrid to the Luas car park and get on an electric tram. Great idea. Now if they could only do something about the traffic.
After a welcome cup of tea and lovely hot scone on board a parked tram, complete with high-vis vest, I drove to Naas in the Mondeo.
It was smooth and quiet, though I could feel the switch between battery power and engine.
It’s such a big car, comfortable and a decently lively drive.
The Mondeo HEV is a late arrival into hybrid here for Ford. There will be more, for sure.
Two electric motors work the hybrid system – one to boost the engine, the other for regenerative charging of the 1.4 kWh lithium-ion battery (behind the rear seats). They claim 4.2l/100km.
Titanium vehicle spec include 16ins alloys, SYNC 3/8ins touchscreen, sports seats, rain-sensing wipers, traffic sign recognition, ambient lighting and parking sensors front and rear.
Vignale adds 18ins alloys, metallic paint, rearview camera and adaptive LED daytime running lights.
Later, we were shown around the Luas control room with its myriad screens and feedback. Impressive.
It was fascinating to see what they can see and how they try to keep everything running as smoothly as possible. If only we could manage all our transport in that way, but that is being simplistic.
The fact of the matter is, we will need cars (electric from 2030, according to the Government) and we will need the likes of Luas to get our expanding and increasingly urban population to and from their places of work and play.
When you see a city on screens, as we did in the Luas control room, it gives you a rare overview and insight into the breadth of challenge faced every day and the bigger ones that await us.

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Subaru’s high spec sets it apart from the crowd

Subaru have long been one of my favourite cars but are not really appreciated in this country outside a few aficionados, one of whom was my late great friend the PR guru Jim Rowe who bought a Subaru Forester in 1999 to cope with life in rural Cavan. I was thinking of Jim and great days I had with him and his wife Evelyn and dogs and horses when I returned the latest version of the Subaru XV to the car’s small Irish HQ based on the National Vehicle Distribution site at Baldonnel.
I had taken the previous version of the XV up to Cavan six years ago where it appeared very modern compared to the Forester which Evelyn still had 10 years after Jim’s death. The XV is getting even better and is absolutely packed with spec including its revolutionary EyeSight system that uses two digital stereo cameras to monitor traffic movement to apply pre-collision braking as well as giving driving awareness systems, cruise controls and ability to keep in line with the car in front.
The car has great comfort – oodles of room for five, legendary off-road ability and a real feeling of being sturdily well-built.
It is let down by its powerful Boxer engines which sound a bit harsh and have heavy consumption. However, that is all going to change very soon. Subaru has long been in partnership with Toyota and is importing the latter’s hybrid system next year. So good is the Toyota system that the manufacturer’s outlets are complaining there’s not enough going wrong to keep their workshops busy.
Bringing in the hybrids could be a massive boost for Subaru. However, they are still very tasty and if you put the €33,495 starting price of the XV, or even the range topping €38,495 20i SE Premium Lineartronic CVT Automatic, against any of its competitors, you will be pleasantly surprised. It’s a marque that can be easily overlooked but definitely shouldn’t be. It offers prestige, style and sets you apart from the hordes.
When I was out at Subaru it was sad to hear that the Subaru chief in Ireland Neville Matthews is still very sick. Neville is a wonderful man, a true professional and amazingly good company. I have great memories of some brilliant times with him and his one-time Subaru sidekick Michael Kirby. I will raise a glass to Neville this weekend wishing him and his family all the very best.

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