Driven – the fabulous Fabia

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There’s no doubt that the design of Skoda’s ever-widening stable has come on on leaps and bounds over the years, as has the Czech car manufacturer itself. The Octavia, for example, has gone from strength to strength, not just in its build quality but also in terms of looks. The new Superb looks just that – superb, a hint of the higher-spec Audis creeping into its design.

The new Fabia is a lot like its elder brothers now, all sharp lines and strong curves, as Skoda seek to attract a more youthful buyer for their popular supermini. That’s also likely the reason behind the introduction of ColourConcept, which allows for some colour customisation of the wheels, side mirrors and the roof, a little similar to the Mini Paceman. The roof has been lowered by 3cm too, reducing its profile from awkward to more sporty, and reducing roll on the road.

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Review: Dacia Duster

Dacia Duster Commercial - Copy

Dacia is something of a curiosity. It’s a budget brand, there’s no doubt about it, but there’s something in there that perhaps tugs a string or two. The Dacia Duster SUV is a great example of this. Top Gear’s former presenter James May perhaps put it best on completion of a trip across Morocco in a 4WD Duster: “This is a cheap car. It’s also basic, not especially exciting, definitely not glamorous and I can’t pretend it gives me the fizz. But it is in no way nasty. In fact, I think it might be a bit cool.”

It’s not a high performance vehicle, nor is it overly fast, or good-looking, but it is practical, functional and, perhaps most importantly these days, affordable. A quick glance at the price list and you’d be forgiven for thinking there’s something of a misprint – the range starts at €16,190, severely undercutting rivals like the Nissan Qashqai (starting from €24,695) or the Skoda Yeti (from €24,490). All Irish models are powered by the same 1.5L dCi engine producing 110hp, a more frugal block that allows for a top speed of 171km/h in the 4×2 version, and a slightly slower 168km/h in the 4×4, though the engine is a little on the noisy side.

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Peugeot’s hottest hatch

308 R HYbrid

When you hear the word ‘hybrid’, it’s understandable that your attention begins to waver. There’s no blame from us – you can’t help but picture the terribly boring Toyota Prius. However, several manufacturers are determined to get rid of this negative image, particularly BMW’s i3 and i8 models, which are quite fun to drive. And it seems as though the Peugeot’s new 308 concept, known as the 308 R HYbrid, will arrive along similar lines.

A compact hatchback with a petrol-electric powertrain, it has 500hp (more than a BMW M4!) and four wheel drive, along with an electronically-limited top speed of 250km/h, not that you’re likely to get anywhere near that. Given the power bubbling away beneath the bonnet there’s no surprise that this very hot hatch is very fast: 0-100km/h takes a mere four seconds.

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Meet the Renault Twizy…ambulance

Hopefully you’ll never require the services of an ambulance but, if you do, there may come a time in the distant future when the vehicle that arrives at the scene of an accident could fit through the front door of your house.

That’s because one of the latest concept ambulances takes the form of a modified Renault Twizy Cargo, itself a commercial version of the two-seater, battery-powered electric vehicle manufactured exclusively in Spain.

As such, a number of life-saving additions have been added to the mix. The Cargo version already ditches the second rear seat in favour of cargo space, and includes a lockable 180L boot than can open to 90 degrees, perfect for storing expensive medicines or equipment you wouldn’t want to go missing. Decked out in traditional ambulance livery, you’ll also discover blue lights and a siren onboard, although you’ll forgive 4×4 drivers if they can’t locate where the sound is coming from.

We know what you’re thinking – how could a tiny little car with room for one person and the potential to be blown away by a sufficiently powerful gust of wind ever prove itself useful as an ambulance?

When you look a little closer, however, it does begin to make a little sense. For starters, it’s great for the congested roads and lanes of major urban areas: measuring less than 2.4m long and 1.19m wide, the Twizy will squeeze through gaps that prove too much for regular-size Mercedes or Ford-based ambulances. The 17hp electric motor, which offers a range of 99km, is faster than on-foot response and carries a lot more than a bicycle. And all for exactly zero CO2 emissions. According to Renault, its main use will be to drive “up and down a busy coastal town’s beach front ensuring nobody has to wait to receive life-saving treatment,” presumably while the ordinary-sized version is pushing through traffic.

It might even provoke patients into a remarkable recovery once they see what’s buzzing towards them.

A super concept from VW

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Meet the brand-spanking-new VW GTI Supersport Vision concept. Beneath that curved and flowing bonnet is a 3.0L 503hp VR6 turbocharged engine linked to a seven-speed dual clutch DSG gearbox that delivers power to all four wheels. Coupled with 665Nm of torque, the Supersport catapults from 0-100km/h in just 3.6 seconds, on a par with the Enzo Ferrari, with a top speed of over 300kph.

Meanwhile, a power-to-weight ration of just 2.5kg per horsepower means a likely kerb weight of around 1,257kg, while a rear spoiler and diffuser means the Supersport will hug the tarmac tightly.

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Mercedes’ new pickup truck: no Americans need apply

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Farmers, landscapers, builders and wannabe Americans with a passion for pickup trucks, listen up – by the end of the decade you’ll be able to drive around in style. Mercedes-style.

That’s right – the German automaker has announced it’ll be adding a mid-size pickup to its range by the end of the decade (with some help from Nissan). Its main markets, initially at least, will be Latin America, South Africa, Australia and Europe. Surprisingly, given our loveable stereotypes concerning Americans with Stetsons and bulging gun racks, the US won’t be in line for the new model whenever it arrives. Volker Mornhinweg, the moustachioed head of Mercedes-Benz Vans, said quite pointedly that “we are not going to develop a fat cowboy truck for North America.”

Them’s fightin’ words.