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Audi S3 Saloon 2020 UK review

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It’s clear from reeling off those facts that the development priority here was in software and fine-tuning rather than big changes in hardware. But is that so surprising, given the vast technological abilities of even modest modern metal these days?

It follows, then, that this S3 offers substantially more computing power, connected features and advanced driver assist functions than the model it replaces. But whereas its VW Group siblings fully embrace the digital revolution with a largely button-free, minimalist cabin, Audi has tread a slightly more traditional path by retaining some physical switchgear. 

This, in our view, is a correct decision. The screen is bright, clear and responsive (and no longer rises electrically from the dashboard in a way that some may consider dated) but functions that are operated more simply on the move by a button – such as the climate controls – are. General quality is respectable and the design is attractive enough, but we reckon the old S3’s cabin was more outstanding on both fronts. Maybe rivals have just caught up, or maybe the VW Group’s extensive post-Dieselgate cost-cutting regime is biting a bit. 

Regardless, it’s a roomy, comfortable and refined place to while away the hours at the wheel, and for three passengers. In fact, this remains the S3’s defining trait.

Our test route began with some town and motorway work, where – even without the optional adaptive dampers, which weren’t fitted to our car – the S3 behaves for all intents and purposes like an S line A3. Sure, there’s a touch more vertical movement and a fraction more low-speed crashiness (mainly suspension noise rather than physical feel) to remind you you’re in a performance model, but by and large, this is exceptionally livable for a 300bhp-plus hatch-based saloon.

And that’s even on the larger 19in wheel option: we can only imagine that on 18s, this is broadly as comfortable as a standard A3. Which is a very good thing. Perhaps the smaller wheel would also reduce road noise, which is noticeable rather than intrusive. 

But Audi was hardly likely to abandon the S3’s everyday civility in favour of aggressive spring and damper rates. Mainly because the hotter RS3 exists, but also because the S3’s formidable popularity is acutely linked to its usability. 

Does that mean it’s lukewarm when you finally free yourself from average speed cameras and up the ante? Not really. Granted, you’d be smiling more at the wheel of more playful and rearwardly mobile front-driven alternatives with manual gearboxes, but you have to respect the extraordinary dynamic range this car offers.

The first surprise is the steering. It was a bit of a weak point on the old model, but Audi has instilled a little more positivity and even a modest amount of feedback into what was previously a detached and aloof rack. It turns in sharply, allowing you to place the car exactly where you want to before confidently getting on the power on corner exit. Back off the power on entry and, unlike fast Audis of old, it’ll even pivot the rear around in a controlled manner.

Volkswagen ID 3 scores top marks in Euro NCAP tests

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The new Volkswagen ID 3 has achieved the maximum five-star safety rating from Euro NCAP, earning praise for scoring good results in every aspect of the assessment process.

The recently launched electric family hatchback is the first production car based on the Volkswagen Group’s new MEB platform and leads a range of electric vehicles from Volkswagen and sister brands Audi, Seat and Skoda.

Euro NCAP said the ID 3 emerged “with merit” from its safety tests, scoring well in all areas. It achieved an 87% score for adult occupant protection, 89% for child occupant protection, 71% for vulnerable road user safety and 88% for its safety assistance systems.

Its overall five-star rating matches that given to the latest Volkswagen Golf, which Euro NCAP tested last year. For comparison, the Golf achieved better scores of 95% for adult occupant protection and 76% for vulnerable road user protection but scored only 78% for its safety assistance systems. It matched the ID 3’s 89% score for child occupant safety.

Euro NCAP highlighted the ID 3’s “robust” structural integrity, wide array of sensors, along with its crash avoidance systems and post-crash safety features.

Michiel van Ratingen, Euro NCAP’s secretary general, said the five-star scored how electric cars are as safe as combustion engined ones. He added: “Euro NCAP will continue to ensure that saving the planet doesn’t come at the cost of safety, and I’m glad to see that the ID 3 doesn’t compromise in this regard.”

Euro NCAP has also tested the new Plug-in Hybrid variant of the Toyota RAV4, extending the five-star rating given to other versions of the rugged SUV to it.

READ MORE

Autocar’s Volkswagen ID 3 review

Inside the industry: could the ID 3 be VW’s missed opportunity?

Top Euro NCAP ratings for Volkswagen Golf, Ford Puma

Supercharge electric crossover racing series to launch in 2022

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A new motorsport championship for 670bhp electric crossovers called Supercharge has been announced ahead of its planned inaugural season in 2022.

The organisers of the new championship are planning eight events for the opening season, with racing taking place on short, spectator-friendly obstacle-filled circuits in urban areas. The one-day events will feature 15 short races in a one-day format, with the plan for eight manufacturer-backed teams to run each run two drivers.

The initiative has been developed by Max Welti, a former Porsche Motorsport boss and Sauber Formula 1 team director, and Rob Armstrong, the former head of motorsport at sports marketing firm IMG.

Armstrong said: “Motorsport is at a crossroads. We see a path towards electrification, and there’s a place for a road car-based race series. We see a clear space for Supercharge as a road car-relevant motorsport series. It will show that electric car racing can be spectacular and fun.”

Welti added that “car brands need a strong marketing platform to promote their latest and future cars, and to showcase EV battery technology”. He said that Supercharge bosses had consulted with a number of manufacturers when developing the series and were confident of attracting brands to take part, but he declined to say if any had yet committed.

While Supercharge will be open to manufacturers, it will use a spec car, named the SC01 and developed by former Sauber F1 and Volkswagen Motorsport technical chief Willy Rampf. The machine features an electric motor on each axle offering drive to all four wheels, and organisers claim a 0-62mph time of 2.5sec.

Although every team must use the basic SC01 chassis, teams and manufacturers will have freedom to alter the bodywork to ensure the product resembles roadgoing crossovers – with the choice of vehicle reflecting the most popular segment of the current road car market.

Similar to the technical rules for the Formula E electric single-seater series, manufacturers will be free to develop their own technology for the 40kWh battery. The racers are designed to use road-car fast-charging systems to offer further relevance to manufacturers.

Organisers have yet to say where Supercharge will race in 2022 but are planning for three events in Europe, two in the Middle East, two in Asia, one in China and one in the US.

Each event will take place on a track of around a kilometre (0.62 miles) in length and use a spectator-friendly ‘amphitheatre’ design. Each track will also feature four obstacles: a 2.5-metre jump ramp, a low-friction zone with reduced grip, a water splash and a rallycross-style ’Superloop’ track extension that each car must drive once per race.

Similar to rallycross, each event will feature a knockout format with 12 heat races of up to six laps setting the field for two semi-finals, with the top runners then proceeding to the final.

German automotive engineering firm Holzer is working with Supercharge to develop the SC01. Supercharge has also developed the format with help from the British Automobile Racing Club (BARC) and governing body Motorsport UK. Organisers say they will appliy for International Series status from the FIA, world motorsport’s governing body.

Fiat Panda updated to mark 40th anniversary in 2020

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Fiat has marked the 40th anniversary of its Panda supermini with the unveiling of the New Panda – an updated version of the current car that brings styling tweaks, new derivatives and enhanced technology.

Wearing a new front bumper, reshaped side skirts and fresh wheel designs, the updated Panda will go on sale in Italy this week, with a UK launch expected to follow by the end of the year.

Prices in its home market start at €8200 (£7450), but that factors in the Italian government’s €1500 scrappage scheme incentive, so we can expect a starting price of nearer £9000 here. 

A new 7.0in infotainment touchscreen is available, bringing smartphone compatibility and a DAB radio, while the new 69bhp mild-hybrid petrol engine option can now be specified across the range, having previously been reserved for the Panda Hybrid. Fiat claims a 30% reduction in emissions and an equal improvement in fuel economy over its non-electrified equivalent. 

Five trim levels are available in the revamped Panda line-up, which introduces new City Life, Sport, Cross and City Cross variants.

The Panda City Life is aimed at “those who are looking for the best relationship between price and product substance in a city car without sacrificing an attractive style”. It wears unique 15in alloy wheels, mudguards, side skirts and contrasting trim elements on the outside, with its cabin marked out by two-tone fabric seats and a grey dashboard.

The Panda Sport is mechanically unchanged but gains larger 16in alloy wheels, swaps its black plastic trim for colour-coded items and is available with a contrasting black roof and matt-grey paint scheme. Its dashboard is finished in titanium, its door panels covered in sustainable leather and its seats decorated with red stitching. 

Panda Sport customers can also specify the Pandemonium Pack, last available on the Panda 100HP hot hatchback, which brings red brake calipers, tinted windows and a bespoke sports steering wheel. 

Capping off the line-up are the more ruggedly styled Cross and City Cross versions, available in both front- and four-wheel-drive forms. As standard, Cross cars are equipped with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, foglights, LED headlights, a red tow hook and black roofbars. 

Read more

Used car buying guide: Fiat Panda

Fiat Panda Cross Hybrid 2020 review

New GMC Hummer EV: 986bhp electric ‘super-truck’ revealed

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The new GMC Hummer EV has been revealed, reviving the nameplate for a 986bhp pick-up that will offer “unprecedented off-road capability and extraordinary on-road performance”, the firm claims

The Hummer brand, which sold a range of road vehicles based on the military Humvee from 1992 and 2009, has been resurrected by owner General Motors as a new sub-brand to its GMC marque for a range of electric off-road vehicles for the US market. The Tesla Supertruck rival that will start the range will go into production late next year ahead of sales beginning in 2022.

The pick-up’s design blends Hummer’s traditional boxy style with some modern styling elements. Design director Phil Zak claimed it “reimagines an instantly recognisable silhouette for a modern, all-electric future”.

The Hummer EV will use GM’s new Ultium Drive electric powertrain tech and feature three motors built into two drive units. These will combine to produce a “GM-estimated” 986bhp and 11,500lb ft, although that torque figure is likely to be arrived at via the torque-multiplying effect of the vehicle’s gear ratios, with the realistic comparative figure somewhere closer to 1000lb ft. Either way, the Hummer EV will have a 0-60mph time of around three seconds. Power will be sent to all four wheels using an e4WD system, with torque vectoring used to distribute it as needed.

The batteries will be arranged in a 24-module double-stacked layout, and although GM has yet to reveal their storage capacity, it claims the Hummer EV will be able to travel more than 350 miles on a full charge. The 800V system can be charged at speeds of up to 350kW on a DC fast charger.

Al Oppenheiser, the Hummer EV’s chief engineer, claimed the vehicle will be “an absolute off-road beast”, with the e4WD system giving it “ manoeuvrability unlike anything GM has ever offered before”.

The machine features adaptive air suspension, with an ’Extract Mode2’ system that raises the ride height by 149mm to aid navigating uneven terrain. As standard, it sits on 35in off-road tyres, although it can accommodate 37in versions. To aid with off-roading, the underside of the car is strengthened with steel plates in places.

The Hummer EV has four-wheel steering as standard, which offers a new Crab Walk mode that allows its to travel diagonally at low speeds. 

GM claims the Hummer EV will feature an industry-leading 18 different camera views, which will include cameras underneath the vehicle. There are also special displays in the infotainment and driver information screen that can show torque output, pitch and roll angles, friction circle and other readings to aid off-roading.

The vehicle will be equipped with GM’s Super Cruise 8 driver assistance system, which, the firm says, allows for hands-free driving on specially enabled roads, along with automatic lane changing.

The Hummer EV will initially be launched as a special Edition 1 model that will feature a Drive Mode controller with a number of drive modes and the ability to adjust torque between the front and rear axles.  

It will also come with a new Infinity Roof as standard, which uses transparent panels that can be removed and stored in a specially sized front luggage compartment. The rear glass can also be lowered, and a tonneau cover is available for the pick-up load bed.

Steve Cropley: In defence of being a car journalist

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This week, Steve does some soul-searching regarding the purpose and morality of his trade: automotive journalism. He also ponders a glut of Land Rovers and enjoys a spin in an Audi R8

Sunday

Does car journalism matter, or is it really a tiny coterie of lucky enthusiasts indulging themselves for the benefit of a slightly larger minority? In bad moments, I sometimes think the latter might be true – but a forward peep today at my activities planned for the next two days (I always leave things late) makes me think we have our uses…

Through lockdown, you might recall, car news hardly flowed. Hope you didn’t notice it too much, but filling pages wasn’t always straightforward. The trouble for car makers was that they still had urgent news to spread – via car conferences and launch events – because tough new clean air regs are coming and nearly every company has revised models to sell. So when things opened up, Covidwise, most of them rushed to hold launch events for people like us, knowing that social distancing would dramatically cut the number of reporters they could invite. It’s been tough, but some have found ways to prosper. And Land Rover has done it best (see below).

Monday

To Heathrow’s Terminal 5 Sofitel hotel early on, with half a dozen selected hacks, to pick up my very own short-wheelbase Land Rover Defender 90 P400 – a model they want to start selling from the year-end. The route pre-installed in the excellent new nav system takes us (via a distanced lunch) to Gaydon, the Jaguar Land Rover proving ground, where a large auditorium and a short presentation await.

Outside, our Defenders have been magically replaced by a sanitised line of Evoque plug-in hybrids, one per hack, and there’s a new route in the sat-nav. We do 60 miles in 90 minutes, driving our second new model that day. Soon we’re back at Gaydon, directed to one of its back blocks, where a stunt coordinator-cum-madman called Leigh lets us drive crazily about in an authentic Bond movie stunt Defender 110 (yep, chassis No 007), proving again what a tough creation it is. Back at the Gaydon meeting space, the Evoques have been replaced by Discovery Sport PHEVs and away we go on another circuitous route to a sanitised hotel in nearby Stratford, where we’ll spend the night. That’s three cars and four experiences. My head spins and my notebook bulges. Early night.

Tuesday

Up early, we choose from a new line of red six-cylinder Range Rover Sports (powered by the new-to-us mild-hybrid D350 diesel powertrain) and depart on a circuitous electronic route to Eastnor Castle, where Land Rover has been developing off-road models since the first Range Rover. There, we change to low-spec, short-wheelbase Defender P300s, carefully sanitised, to do some serious off-road driving in little-penetrated estate locations such as Hospital Wood and tackle famously tough obstacles like the Camel Dips (built for the original Camel Trophy competition) and Nine-Rope Hill, where you use to have to join nine tow ropes together to get even a Defender to the top.

Britain’s Best Car Manufacturer 2020: Toyota

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Why Toyota won: Toyota has transformed itself into a maker of exciting enthusiast-focused cars as well as dynamic everyday models.

Toyota is just one of the winners in this year’s Britain’s Best Car Awards – see the full list here.

When a company – particularly a multinational industrial giant – claims to be undergoing a radical transformation, the changes often become apparent only after many years, if at all. But Toyota’s transition from a maker of reliable automotive white goods to a brand with a variety of exciting, enthusiast-lauded products and a leading voice in the environmental conversation about a world after the internal combustion engine is a genuine one that is nearly complete.

Much of the credit can be attributed to Toyota’s president and CEO (and former Autocar Issigonis Trophy winner) Akio Toyoda. The grandson of founder Kiichiro Toyoda, he took the helm in 2009, not only when many of the brand’s products were uninspiring but also during a corporate meltdown, due to the ‘unintended acceleration’ saga that led to millions of cars being recalled multiple times.

A racer and car enthusiast through and through, Toyoda navigated Toyota out of this crisis and started to instil emotion within the firm from a corporate level to help push his products into the realms of desirability. The impressive progress made by Toyota over the past decade has now reached the point where it can be considered not only the world’s biggest car maker but also the best.

The more emotional Toyota started with the GT86, launched in 2012 at a time when many firms were backing away from the idea of bespoke sports coupés. But for Toyota, and indeed Toyoda, the GT86 was all about empowering the company to make great-driving cars once more. At its Tokyo motor show debut, the clever slogan to accompany it still rings true today: ‘Fun to drive. Again.’

That ethos has carried over to every new Toyota since. The new Yaris and Corolla best illustrate the quite remarkable turnaround Toyota has made in creating everyday cars with enthusiast appeal, which is key to why the firm has won this award. Even driving the latest Prius can raise a smile.

The GT86 itself has been followed by a series of driver’s cars, such as the GR Supra, Yaris GRMN and upcoming Yaris GR, each the work of the Gazoo Racing division that has won both Le Mans and the World Rally Championship on Toyoda’s watch. You see, Toyota doesn’t just pay lip service to this new-found enthusiast approach.

But the Yaris and Corolla have other sides to their brilliance: their hybrid drivetrains. Toyota has long led the development of such technology, and its new economy-boosting, emissions-reducing ‘self-charging’ cars are now more drivable, without the added cost and weight of other solutions.

Hyundai i20 2020 UK review

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Style is obviously subjective, but in the near-range-topping Premium guise tested here, the i20 certainly stands out. There are sharp creases, bold lines and a two-tone roof treatment, plus LED signature daylight-running lights front and back – although the full-width rear lamp treatment already looks dated to these eyes.

This third-generation car is 30mm wider than before and has a wheelbase that’s been stretched by 10mm, which means there’s more space inside. Even taller adults won’t feel short-changed when riding in the rear, despite the roofline being 24mm lower than before.

The cabin looks the part too, with a curvaceous-design, easy-to-use 10.25in infotainment screen that’s backed by online services with a five-year subscription as standard. A full TFT instrument cluster is standard across the range, although the graphics have a very Mercedes look about them, particularly in Sport mode when the dials get a chequered backing that’s pure AMG. Speaking of similarities, the new four-spoke steering wheel wouldn’t look out of place in an Audi.

Oh, and of course there’s more kit than you can shake a large executive saloon at – there’s not much that isn’t standard on this Premium version. Less impressive is the quality of the plastics used throughout, which are either hard and scratchy or hard and shiny. There’s not a soft-touch piece of trim in sight. Not very premium.

Starting the i20 is a bit of a faff as you’ll need both the clutch and brake depressed plus the gearlever in neutral before the 99bhp turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder will fire into life, but once you’re moving, it’s a likeable unit. The electrical assist gives a useful slug of torque at low revs, helping the Hyundai feel surprisingly brisk despite rangy, emissions-friendly intermediate gearing (second runs to 70mph). There’s a characteristically thrummy soundtrack, but the engine revs smoothly and keenly, although it does its best work in the mid-ranges where a useful 127lb ft of twist action is available from just 1500rpm.

A pleasant surprise is that high-tech six-speed gearbox. The shift action is a little notchy, but the drive-by-wire electronically controlled clutch feels natural to use and works well, with the added benefit that it can disconnect the driveline automatically for efficiency-boosting coasting on the motorway – either with the engine at idle or switched off completely.

Yet this feeling of sophistication is undermined by the i20’s firm and brittle ride. At urban speeds the suspension is stiff-legged, thunking and crashing over sharper imperfections, while mid-corner bumps cause it to shake and shimmy. Some of these symptoms could be exacerbated by the Premium’s larger 17in alloys, but not all of them. Bigger, more smoothly surfaced undulations are dealt with more adeptly, but it’s a world away from the plushly damped Fiesta.

It’s a shame, because there’s a decent chassis lurking somewhere underneath the Hyundai. The steering hasn’t got a lot to say, but it’s quick and precise enough to allow easy placement of the car, while grip is strong and the i20 takes on a nicely four-square stance when pushing on. Carry too much speed into a corner and the Hyundai will start to wash wide, but lifting the throttle causes the car to tuck in quickly and obediently. There’s certainly some agility here and the raw material on display offers a glimmer of hope that the heavily breathed on N hot hatch could be a cracker.

New McLaren High-Performance Hybrid design previewed

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As McLaren gears up to unwrap its first mainstream production hybrid model next year, patent filings have previewed the car’s final production design. 

Filed with the Chinese patent office, the drawings reveal that the as supercar, referred to as a High-Performance Hybrid (HPH) will borrow heavily from models in Woking’s current portfolio, most obviously the 720S and GT, between which it will sit as a replacement for the maker’s Sports Series models.  

Details familiar from recently spotted prototypes include a gaping front air intake and sizeable rear diffuser, while new elliptical brake lights appear to sit behind a mesh grille. The exhaust exits are positioned centrally, as is the case with the Super Series flagship, the 720S

McLaren boss Mike Flewitt has recently suggested that the firm is ramping up development of electrified models: “We have experience of hybrid systems with cars like the P1, P1 GTR and Speedtail,” he told Autocar, “and that recipe of offering a car that can be both truly economical and thrilling to drive remains our goal. 

McLaren is all about building the best driver’s cars, and we see opportunities with hybrid [powertrains], in terms of the instant torque and filling the gaps in the powerband.”

The HPH’s electrified powertrain will mate a twin-turbocharged petrol V6 to an electric motor of undisclosed capacity. Performance details are yet to be confirmed, but it’s expected to be capable of travelling for 20 miles on electricity alone.

The Sports Series replacement is also expected to come with a charging port, making it a plug-in hybrid rather than the recuperative hybrid system found in the P1. It will also put both petrol and electric power through the rear wheels only. 

While it won’t be possible to fully cancel out the weight penalty of a hybrid system, Flewitt hopes to minimise it. “I’ve always said my ambition was to launch the hybrid at the same weight as the outgoing car,” he told Autocar last year.

“We’re not going to hit that, but we’re going to be within 30-40kg. When you think the P1 hybrid system was 140kg, we’ve done a huge amount to manage the weight. I’ve driven a prototype of it and the car is very compelling. We wouldn’t be launching it if it wasn’t going to be.”

READ MORE 

Autocar exclusive McLaren F1 road test: 25 years on

McLaren ‘next generation’ hybrid confirmed for 2021 launch

Hyundai i30 2020 UK review

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This is a fairly minor update, so the differences between this i30 and its predecessor are fairly minor. It’s still a car that majors on competence and ease-of-use, taking the sting out of the everyday driving grind but never adding enough sparkle to deliver any grins when the road ahead turns interesting. 

That said, the adoption of the 48V mild-hybrid 1.0-litre engine is a definite boon, the well-integrated 16bhp starter-generator giving a little fillip of torque-fill at low speeds to give the car a bigger-hearted feel than its 998cc capacity would suggest.

It’s brisk, rather than quick, but the i30 never feels out of its depth and can happily go with the flow without resorting to frequent forays to the tachometer’s 7000rpm war paint. Even in tall-striding sixth gear, there’s enough pick-up for regaining speed if you’re baulked on the motorway; there’s a useful 127lb ft of torque from just 1500rpm.

There’s the typical three-cylinder thrum, but it’s fairly muted, and the engine spins smoothly enough even if the hefty, balancing flywheel effect means it doesn’t gain or lose revs as quickly as you would like. Still, that neat drive-by-wire manual works effectively, allowing for smooth changes despite a sticky shift action. Its party trick is the ability to automatically disengage the drive on a closed throttle, allowing the i30 to coast, engine on or off, to save fuel. Squeeze the throttle and drive is smoothly taken up again. 

In combination with the 48V system, Hyundai claims the gearbox brings efficiency gains somewhere in the order of 4%. That’s marginal, of course, but there’s no doubting that the system operates effectively and unobtrusively enough.

Elsewhere, the i30 is as before, which means it’s an easygoing and composed partner, but not one that’s going to be flooding your system with dopamine everytime you hit the road. This smaller-engined car has a torsion-beam rear axle rather than the multi-link affair of the diesel and more powerful petrol (all have a MacPherson-strut front end), but exposure to both reveals that there’s little in it for agility and engagement. 

The steering is surprisingly meaty (there are driving modes, but their effect on throttle response and steering heft is only slight) and it’s direct enough, helping the i30 respond crisply to your inputs and string together corners with real fluency. However, it lacks the crucial final points of poise and polish that mark out the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf. It can be hustled surprisingly hard and will cling on gamely, but there are no tactile rewards for doing so.

As before the ride is just on the acceptable side of firm, occupants being jostled a little by some low speed resistance in the springing and damping. It improves the faster you go and as the loads increase. It’s fairly quiet, too, combining with the relatively low wind and engine noise to make the i30 a relaxing long-distance express. 

Niggles? Well, the new safety systems are welcome, but the Lane Following Assist is rather erratic in its operation. Sometimes it will almost tug the wheel out of your hand in its efforts to avoid crossing the white lines, other times it will totally ignore them and allow you to drift over as far as you like. Happily, just one long press of a steering wheel-mounted button is all it takes to disengage it. There are no multiple sub menus to navigate here; Volkswagen, take note.

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