BMW launches emissions allowance

BMW diesel emissions

Fancy a new BMW or Mini with €2,000 chopped off the price-tag?

BMW Ireland has just announced its Lower Emissions Incentive Allowance, essentially a €2,000 grant towards a new electric, hybrid or standard model with CO2 emissions of 130g/km or less.

Available until December 31st, to qualify for the scheme you’ll need to trade in a diesel vehicle that meets the Euro-4 emissions standard or below. If you don’t have any idea what that means, BMW has developed a handy online tool to see if your old car qualifies.

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Porsche unveils hybrid Panamera Turbo S

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Hybrid technology, for the most part, tends to be associated with more sensible, environmentally friendly vehicles like the best-selling Toyota Prius, which focuses on better fuel consumption and cleaner driving.

But reducing your carbon footprint isn’t necessarily on the minds of all car manufacturers – icons like Ferrari or McLaren are using hybrid technology not for fuel efficiency, but as a tool to make their heart-racing vehicles go even faster.

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Entering the electric era

The BMW i3
The BMW i3

There’s no doubt that we live in an age of motoring evolution, watching history unfold before our eyes. Hybrid and electric vehicles (EVs) were once the butt of many motoring columnists’ jokes, discarded as a waste of time or, at their worst, as something which threatened the joy of true motoring. In a way it’s an ironic viewpoint, considering that electric cars have been around almost as long as their counterparts which rely on miniature explosions for propulsion. But they’re steadily gaining a foothold in the modern era, thanks in part to government schemes, the interest of early adopters and increasingly efficient technology.

Decisions, Decisions

Increasing choice is also attracting more buyers across the globe, though uptake in Ireland remains slow, with somewhere in the region of 2,000 EVs sold here over the past few years. The Nissan Leaf and the Renault Zoe are both affordable, fully electric cars that are comfortable, easy to drive and don’t look like spaceships among their fossil fuel brethren (although the Mitsubishi i-Miev resembles a bug that has crashed into your windscreen at speed). BMW offers two luxury alternatives in the i3 and i8, while Mitsubishi’s plug-in hybrid Outlander melds off-road capabilities with more efficient motoring. At the top of the pile sits the Tesla Model S, a pioneer in the electric vehicle market, though it’s not on sale in Ireland just yet.

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Hop in and go

Councillor Ciarán Cuffe Chairman of Dublin City Council’s Transport Committee, Shane Ross Minister for Transport, Tourism & Sport, and Steve Tormey, Chief Executive Toyota Ireland
Councillor Ciarán Cuffe Chairman of Dublin City Council’s Transport Committee; Shane Ross, Minister for Transport, Tourism & Sport; and Steve Tormey, Chief Executive Toyota Ireland at the recent launch

Ireland’s car sharing service GoCar has a new competitor – Toyota Ireland has announced the launch of YUKO Car Club (Yuko means ‘Let’s Go’ in Japanese), part of the company’s vision to help create a more environmentally sustainable future and ease urban congestion.

A range of hybrid, plug-in hybrid, EV and fuel cell vehicles will be available to hire, including the Yaris, Auris and Prius models, with the C-HR and the Prius plug-in hybrid arriving at the end of the year.

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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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Driven: The Game Changer? Mitsubishi’s Outlander PHEV

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There’s no doubt that we live in an age of motoring evolution, watching history unfold before our eyes. Hybrid and electric vehicles were once the butt of many motoring columnists’ jokes, discarded as a waste of time or, at their worst, as something which threatened the joy of true motoring. In a way it’s an ironic viewpoint, considering that electric cars have been around almost as long as their counterparts which rely on miniature explosions for propulsion. But they’re steadily gaining a foothold in the modern era, thanks in part to government schemes, the interest of early adopters and increasingly efficient technology.31

Nissan’s Leaf is an affordable electric car which has got a lot going for it in terms of comfort and ease of use, even if it isn’t the best looking vehicle on the market. Ford have an electric Focus which doesn’t look altogether different from the outside. Mitsubishi’s i-Miev might look a like a bug which has crashed into your windscreen at speed, but it’s a useful city car and isn’t all that bad to drive. Even BMW have got in on the act, with their luxury i3 and the electric sportscar, the i8. And eventually we’ll see Tesla’s beautifully crafted Model S reach European shores, looking for all the world like the offspring of a Jaguar and an Aston Martin. For the electric car enthusiast there’s quite the range of options, a list which continues to grow.

These vehicles have one thing in common – they’re all road cars, designed for smooth tarmac, urban (and rural) roads. And if you want to delve deeper, off road, via battery power? The options are limited. There’s Toyota’s RAV 4 EV, but that’s only sold in California. Porsche, meanwhile, have launched a hybrid Cayenne, although that is likely to be out of reach for the ordinary EV driver. You could always try to manoeuvre a BMW i3 around a muddy track, but you’re not likely to get very far. The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (plug in hybrid electric vehicle) is another story, however.

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The Juke’s competition

downloadIt’s been a week for concept cars, and Toyota have added another entry into the ring. Also due to be unveiled at the Paris Motor Show next month, the C-HR concept is a compact hybrid crossover. A much sportier model than the RAV4, it looks like Toyota will be going head-to-head with the similar Nissan Juke.

There weren’t any specifications included with the photos, but the C-HR does include a hybrid drivetrain, what appears to be keyless entry, muscled wheel arches and a sleek profile.

We’ll reserve judgement (it’s not mindblowing).

Peugeot’s Quartz concept

QUARTZ_1409STYP001Meet the Peugeot Quartz Concept – due to be unveiled to the world at the upcoming Paris Motor Show in October – a four wheel drive, hybrid crossover with 500bhp on tap. Following a line of some very tasty Peugeot concepts, including the Exalt, Onyx and the fantastic Dakar racer, the Quartz sounds a little conflicted about what it wants to be.

It’s powered by a 1.6L petrol engine with 270bhp, which drives the front wheels via a six speed automatic gearbox. There’s also a pair of electric motors on board – one on the front axle and one on the rear. You might be wondering where the full force of 500bhp comes into the picture. The Quartz has three drive modes; full EV (which will get you approximately 50km of travel), Road mode (only the front axle is engaged) and finally Race mode. When you select the Race setting, the Quartz harnesses the combined power of the petrol engine and the electric motors.

It’s quite the looker too, all sleek lines and curves, sitting on 23-inch alloy wheels. There’s an electronically retractable step for easy access and two rear spoilers which flow from the roof, not to mention the scissor doors. Inspired by basalt – a strong and light rock formed when magma cools – you’ll find a range of materials inside including digitally woven textile, black leather and red-tinged door frames milled from a composite material. Four bucket seats means there’s a little extra room to play with, while the driver’s ‘i-Cockpit’ includes a head-up display.

We like it already.

Driven – BMW’s i3

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Having had the good fortune to test drive several quite nice cars during my time as a motoring journalist – including Toyota’s GT86 and the frankly fantastic Audi A8 – I believe it’s fair to say that the BMW i3 is the one vehicle which has received the most attention. That’s not to say, however, that all of this attention has been completely positive. ‘Unique’ is possibly the best way of describing the exterior styling, which hovers in that ambiguous grey zone of subjectivity (as opposed to the Aston Martin DB9, which is simply and undeniably beautiful). From the outside, at least, it’s clearly a BMW – just look at the aggressive front kidney grille which is at home with the rest of the range (actually fully closed on the i3, whose electric motor doesn’t need cooling air), though the iconic propeller badge now features an electric blue rim encircling the blue and white disc. Several onlookers enjoyed its distinct looks. Many thought it was simply ugly. One preferred the styling of the Nissan Leaf, a viewpoint I still find quite puzzling. At worst, the i3’s looks will grow on you and, at best, it’s better than the Leaf.

With its tall stance on the road, you would be forgiven for thinking the i3 doesn’t handle very well at first but this notion is quickly dismissed once you get going, and the i3 handles curves and bends with confidence, helped to a great degree by the car’s low centre of gravity as the batteries are stored in the floor. The i3’s tyres are an interesting feature. Designed especially by Bridgestone they have a larger diameter and a narrower tread yet they still grip well in all conditions, and they’re more aerodynamic to boot, something which Bridgestone refers to as ‘ologic’ technology.

Tumbling Conceptions

_MAX6815To drive, the i3 is surprisingly different from what I expected. I stepped into the cabin having never driven an electric car before, and perhaps brought several typical petrolhead prejudices on board – namely that electric cars are pointless, too slow (despite the fact that torque is available immediately) and you’d only make it several miles before having to scurry about in a panic, searching for a socket. It took an embarrassingly short time for those preconceptions to disappear (mostly). For starters, the i3 is anything but slow. Gently tap the accelerator and you’ll find yourself launching forward at a somewhat alarming rate before you find the brake. The i3 has a 0-100 time of just 7.9 seconds (for the range extender (REx) version) and it’s quite eerie to be thrust forward that fast accompanied by the sound of silence (and possibly only your startled squeaks). Bear in mind that the accelerator here works more like an on/off switch – once you remove your foot from the pedal, the i3 immediately begins to slow down quite noticeably.

BMW have also included regenerative braking on the i3 and for drivers suffering from the very real affliction that is range anxiety, it’s nice to see the range creep upwards by a few km now and then instead of the opposite. Once you take your foot off the accelerator the electric motor switches from drive mode to power generation and begins feeding electricity to the lithium-ion battery. If you’re worried about a lack of warning for the car behind you, the brake lights will illuminate if the energy recuperation process produces the same braking effect as if you were pressing the brake pedal.

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Volkswagen’s XL1 baffles New Yorkers, petrolheads

Drivers and onlookers around NYC today were probably wondering if some futuristic car had time-traveled from 2050, and got caught up in traffic on their way to find some trash to fuel their Mr Fusion energy reactor. Actually, and a little disappointingly, this is the VW XL1, one of the latest of a line of more unconventional vehicles from Volkswagen, which made its debut as a prototype way back in 2002 and was confirmed for production ten years later.

This isn’t the first out-there automobile from VW; the German car maker has a reputation for building limited-run, expensive cars, often at a loss, as exercises in engineering to prove a technology’s viability, like the Bugatti Veyron (€1.4 million) and the Golf Design Vision GTI (€4 million). But while the Veyron has an 8.0L 987bhp engine, and there’s 3.0L 500bhp on tap in the superpowered GTI, resulting in some pretty frequent trips to the petrol station, the XL1 is a test of a different kind. That’s because it’s a diesel-electric hybrid with an electric range of 31 miles and overall mpg figures of 261. That’s right. 261.

The Golf Design Vision GTI: this is what happens when scientists have too much time on their hands, and start feeding steroids to cars.

Got your attention now? That’s like five times better than your average run around. Take that, Prius.

Boffins at the German company have really outdone themselves this time; combining an incredibly efficient hybrid engine, a lightweight carbon fiber structure and the most aerodynamic body of any production car in existence. It has a 48 bhp two cylinder diesel engine combined with a 27 bhp electric motor and a 5.5 kWh battery, but don’t let the small figures fool you; it’s not the fastest car you’ll ever drive, and 0-60 takes around 11 seconds, but you can still cruise comfortably along at 60 miles using only 8 horsepowers. That’s actually amazing. Somebody’s surely getting a bonus.

One of the failings of many electric cars is that they’re just so damn ugly – I’m looking at you, Nissan Leaf. Hang your battery-powered head in shame. The Tesla Model S is one of the first to realise that you can have an electric car that is astoundingly good looking while using to force of electrons to whisk you from A to B. I’ll stop short of calling the XL1 a beautiful machine – sure, the front end is captivating, the best of the new Golf/Passat face glaring at you to get out of its way. But the further down you go, the less sure you are about its design – VW decided against side and rear windows to keep those mpg figures as high as they could. It’s not terrible, but it’s not great either.

It’s almost as if the designer forgot to finish his drawing, and handed it in anyway.

Apparently 50 of a 250 run have been built already, with 200 to be sold to the public in 2014. Don’t get your hopes up – the registration process closed in October and in any case, pricing starts at around €111,000. Like the Tesla Model S, Volkswagen presume the first buyers to get their hands on the XL1 will be early adopters; tech heads with plenty of money and concern for the environment. For the rest of us, we’ll just have to make do with watching our fuel gauges visibly dropping as we resolutely hang on to our love of petrol and, logically speaking, distaste of disposable income. It’s a cruel world.