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Autocar confidential: No mini EVs for Volvo, Kia sticks by roots

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in this week’s round-up of automotive gossip, we hear what the future could hold for the Vauxhall Insignia, Kia promises not to abandon its root and more.

Insignia is not irreplaceable 

Vauxhall designer Mark Adams has hinted that the Insignia could be reinvented or replaced entirely at the end of its lifecycle. “We’re thinking about all the vehicles in our portfolio, and the Insignia is no exception,” he said. “I’m excited by what we’re doing for that vehicle.” The current Insignia came out in 2017 and will be the only GM-designed mainstream car left in Europe once the Astra is replaced later this year.

Kia won’t abandon roots

Despite the new Kia EV6 promising an acceleration figure to beat the entry-level Porsche Taycan, the Korean firm says it won’t abandon its roots. Global brand head Artur Martins said: “This car stands for what we want to be as a brand. We’re a mainstream brand and we want to keep being a mainstream brand. It’s about making cars that carry the character of the brand we want to build, the values we want to bring to our customers.”

Volvo snubs miniature EVs 

Don’t expect Volvo to follow Citroën and Renault in developing miniature urban mobility EVs such as the Ami and Mobilize EZ-1. Volvo boss Håkan Samuelsson said: “There will be a market for access to high-quality premium mobility for a couple of days, and then more basic urban mobility. That’s a difficult market for a premium car maker to compete in.”

Efficiency is key for Mercedes

Mercedes-Benz cars boss Markus Schäfer says maximising efficiency is now the firm’s main development focus. “My key target is efficiency, to drive down the kilowatt hours per 100km,” he said. “Every design element and module is designed for this goal.”

2022 Aston Martin Valhalla hybrid kickstarts firm’s EV era

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That version will pave the way for a plug-in hybrid variant – Aston’s first – in 2023, as revealed by Moers in a call with investors following the release of the company’s 2020 results. “We plan on that in the DBX platform before 2024, but we have to adopt all the Mercedes technology transfers,” he said. “That needs time. We are implementing technology faster than anything I have done before in my life, but it still takes time. So by 2023, we’re going to have PHEV with us.”

The DBX will also provide the basis for Aston’s first batteryelectric car, which Moers expects to have on sale by 2025. Most probably based on the second iteration of the DBX, the four-wheel-drive electric SUV will be built at the firm’s factory in St Athan, Wales, and is likely to use Mercedes’ new Modular Electric Architecture (MEA) platform, as pioneered by the new EQS luxury saloon.

Expect it to have a 100kWh battery, be capable of charging at speeds of up to 350kW and offer similar performance to the V8 car.

Sports cars not to be sidelined

Although the DBX is crucial to Aston’s short-term stability, traditional front-engined sports cars and GTs are forecast to comprise 40% of the brand’s ultimate target of 10,000 sales per year.

To that end, the firm will seek to bolster the appeal of the ageing Vantage, DB11 and DBS Superleggera models with particularly comprehensive mid-life updates in 2023.

The silhouette will remain familiar for each, but heavily reworked styling, alongside infotainment, chassis and powertrain upgrades, will aim to ensure strong sales until Aston begins to phase out combustion. Moers has suggested plug-in hybrid technology could be ushered in at this point if Aston can find a way to integrate an electrified transaxle. AMG’s new P3 PHEV system could provide a solution, especially for the Vantage and entry-level DB11, which already share a V8 with AMG’s top-flight PHEV models.

Limited-run specials in the vein of the new Vantage F1 Edition and DBS Superleggera Concorde Edition will continue to play a key role in maintaining the sports cars’ market share and enthusiast appeal. The firm’s 110th anniversary in 2023 is likely to provide an opportunity for special editions of all models in the line-up.

Updated 2021 Volkswagen Polo previewed

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An updated Volkswagen Polo will be revealed on 22 April, with the firm set to introduce new styling and tech to the supermini.

A single sketch revealed by Volkswagen previews the new design of the headlights, joined together by an LED lighting strip. The signature shares traits with the Mk8 Golf, from which the facelifted Polo is expected to draw inspiration.

The new look of the Polo should hold few surprises when the covers come off on Thursday, given that a barely disguised prototype was spotted testing in January.

However, Volkswagen says that the interior will feature new digital instruments as well as technology in keeping with the latest trends.

It’s not yet clear which engines will be made available on the facelifted Polo, but a 48V mild-hybrid eTSI option is expected to join the popular 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol.

The line-up itself is also set for a shake-up, with Volkswagen suggesting that the Polo’s trim level structure has been revised. United, Match, Active, Beats, SEL and R-Line are the current offerings, with entry-level cars starting from £17,355 and top-spec models priced from £19,830.

Production of the Polo began in 1975, and Volkswagen says more than 18 million units have since been sold. The car’s long-term future is uncertain given the company’s shift towards electric vehicles, which are being sold under the new ID nomenclature.

READ MORE

Volkswagen Polo review

Volkswagen Polo 2022 facelift to get Golf styling inspiration

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Allan McNish: From sports car star to Audi Formula E boss

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Back in 2013, Allan McNish finally won the FIA World Championship that he had always craved, in what turned out to be his final season as an active racing driver. Clinching the World Endurance Championship (WEC) with long-time partner and friend Tom Kristensen and Frenchman Loïc Duval was the perfect sign-off from a long, varied and monumentally successful career as one of the world’s best sports car racers.

Now, eight years later, the three-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner has the chance to chase another world crown, this time as team principal of Audi’s Formula E team, which will quit at season’s end – just as the electric single-seater series has gained bona fide FIA World Championship status.

“Clearly you go into every year wanting to be successful, but there’s an extra focus when you already know that it’s your farewell season,” says the 51-year-old Scot, who has already tasted (non-World Championship) Formula E success with the Abt-run Audi team when it won the title in 2017/2018. “You want to deliver in your last race, as I know. There’s no doubt that we have extra energy because of that. You’ve only got one final run at it.”

Audi’s decision to withdraw from Formula E was announced in December, awkwardly just as the team was preparing for a pre-season test in Valencia, Spain. Two days later, BMW went public on its own pull-out, also at the end of this season, to complete a double body blow for a series that’s used to luring manufacturers rather than losing them.

“Obviously I knew the Audi one was coming, but I didn’t know about BMW,” says McNish. “We had a timeline for board meetings and decisions, as everybody does. When it came out was unfortunate, but the timing wasn’t possible to change. It’s a realignment of the motorsport strategy that came from a high level of where we are and where we’re going.”

While Audi will continue to support customer team Envision Virgin until at least the end of next season, its decision represents a snub to Formula E’s more powerful Gen3 regulations, which are set to be introduced for 2022/2023. Instead, its focus switches to an intriguing 2022 Dakar Rally assault with an all-new off-roader based on its E-tron electric SUV. Then in 2023, Audi will return to its old stomping ground, the sports car endurance racing scene, with a car built to the new Le Mans Daytona Hybrid (LMDh) rules.

As for BMW, its future motorsport plans – if there are any – currently remain a mystery.

“Audi always wants to be ahead of the game in the championship they’re in and with the technology they’re bringing,” says McNish. “Remember, they came to Formula E and raced a complete season before they had the first E-tron road car even to be shown to the markets, never mind being sold. So it’s about where they’re going forward into the future.”

Hyundai Santa Fe 1.6 T-GDi HEV 2021 UK review

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The facelifted model also gets new Terrain modes, such as Snow & Mud, although unremarkable approach, departure and breakover angles suggest limited proper off-road ability.

As with many hybrids, on the move this new Santa Fe gives you a useful electric stab of torque when you push the accelerator, which makes it feel a little more responsive than it otherwise might. And in general, it’s an easy thing to drive; the controls are nicely tuned and there’s body control to spare. It handles securely.

What frustrates is the lack of sophistication when the engine fires up, which happens after the car has pulled off the mark in EV, which it does neatly and quietly, and by default. The transition is smooth enough in terms of power delivery, but the engine burbles loudly at low revs, a bit like the old Fiat Twinair engines, only with none of the charm.

This powertrain also seems less potent than its claimed combined maximum effort of 227bhp and 258lb ft. The finer turbodiesels in this class feel comfortably more punchy, and so while Hyundai’s hybrid set-up can supposedly achieve 40.4mpg, it’s not particularly good for much else, despite being reasonably well-mannered at a steady cruise.

Ride quality is also average at best, despite the new underpinnings. There’s nothing plain uncomfortable here, but on its passive suspension the Santa Fe’s heavyset low-speed gait never truly settles. It’s always reacting to something, and this doesn’t improve at cruising speeds.

Verstappen wins F1 Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix: talking points

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What was truly revealing was that as Russell ran across to remonstrate with Bottas in the gravel trap, he was greeted by a proud middle finger – which was answered by a slap on the lid. 

Midfield battle is on

Imola confirmed that Ferrari has remedied its woeful 2020 car into a strong contender in the midfield for 2021, as the scarlet cars qualified strongly and then finished fourth and fifth. 

Meanwhile, the switch to Mercedes power has boosted an already great McLaren car, resulting in a podium for Norris. It was pleasing to see the teamwork and some humility from team leader Daniel Ricciardo as he was asked mid-race to let Norris past, who had unlocked a considerably faster pace in the wet.

And Williams looks to have lifted itself from the basement – although that good work was rather let down by both of its drivers having heavy crashes for which they must accept at least some of the blame.

AlphaTauri-Honda, Aston Martin and AlpineRenault all also scored points, and Alfa Romeo should have done so too, but for a technical infringement.

All in all, it appears that we have seven teams in the hunt in the midfield, each of which has one or two top drivers. What great stuff.

What’s up, Seb?

After being let go by Ferrari before last year even started, Sebastian Vettel’s F1 career looked to be in peril. His move to Aston Martin was meant to be a fresh start, a chance for the unbeatable, quadruple-title-winning Vettel to re-emerge. It really hasn’t turned out like that.

Polestar 1 bows out in 2021 with exclusive final edition

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The Polestar 1 has entered the final phase of its production run, with the last example set to roll out of the factory in Chengdu, China, later this year.

The luxury saloon arrived in 2019, used as a springboard to launch the Geely-owned company as a stand-alone brand following its separation from Volvo.

The 1 was intended from the outset to be the marque’s only plug-in hybrid model before focusing entirely on electric vehicles. It develops 609bhp and 738lb ft of torque, as well as a claimed range of 77 miles from a 34kWh battery.

“It’s hard to believe that our beautiful halo car comes to the end of its production life later this year,” said Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath. “We pushed boundaries with this car, not only in terms of engineering but also in its design and execution. Polestar 1 set the tone for our brand and its genes are evident in Polestar 2 – as they will be in our future cars to come.

“This car was not designed to fit into a box,” added Ingenlath. “We didn’t design it to compete with other cars, and neither did we design it to suit a specific target customer. Polestar 1 was about pushing our own boundaries, exploring a new era for Polestar and launching the brand with a strong statement – and it’s done a great job of capturing the hearts and minds of fans, press and the lucky customers who own one.”

A three-year production run was planned initially, with capacity to build 500 units per year. However, only 65 examples were registered across the entire European market last year.

Polestar has reiterated that only a few build slots remain for the £139,000 saloon, and has announced a limited-edition model to sign off with: bespoke, matt gold paint will be applied to the exterior, with matching brake calipers and black wheels. Gold stitching will be used inside.

Only 25 examples of the limited-edition Polestar 1 will be built.

READ MORE

Polestar 1 review

Polestar 1: final build slots for 601bhp PHEV available

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New Maserati Levante Hybrid brings improved agility and efficiency

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Maserati has taken its next step towards electrification with the unveiling of the Levante Hybrid, which follows the Ghibli saloon in adopting 48V mild-hybrid functionality for improved efficiency. 

On sale late this year, the new Levante variant pairs a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine with a belt-integrated starter-generator, which recovers energy under braking and deceleration to charge a boot-mounted battery. 

This in turn powers an ‘eBooster’ electric motor to provide a slight power boost under acceleration and at low revs. 

Despite cutting emissions by 18% (to 231-252g/km) over the non-electrified petrol V6, the all-wheel-drive Hybrid offers comparable outputs of 325bhp and 332lb ft, which gets it from 0-62mph in six seconds, and to a top speed of 149mph. 

The new powertrain also weighs less than the V6 and offers improved weight distribution – courtesy of the battery pack being mounted at the rear, so the Hybrid is “even more agile and fun to drive”, according to the firm. 

A traditional Maserati ‘growl’ is said to still be emitted, without the use of amplifiers. “Anyone on board a Maserati hybrid must still hear the unmistakeable roar of a Maserati engine,” said the firm, suggesting a similar treatment for all upcoming electrified – and possibly electric – models. 

As with the Ghibli, the Hybrid is marked out by way of subtle blue detailing – namely to the characteristic three side air vents, brake callipers and side logo. The theme continues inside, where the seats are stitched in blue and a new logo is introduced for the infotainment system. 

The Levante Hybrid is offered in a new range-topping GT trim, which brings chrome detailing for the front bumper and grille, bespoke badging and range-topping interior materials. 

The Hybrid and GT versions of the Levante arrive as part of a mid-life refresh for the entire SUV range, four years after it first went on sale. Tweaks for 2021 include reshaped tail-lights, a new grille design, a higher-resolution infotainment screen and a range of new driver aids and connectivity services.

Updated prices and specifications for the Levante range – including the new Hybrid and GT – will be revealed closer to the car’s arrival in dealerships.

READ MORE

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New Genesis Electrified G80: EV saloon arrives with luxury focus

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Hyundai Motor Group’s nascent luxury brand, Genesis, has revealed an electric version of its flagship G80 saloon

Shown at the Shanghai motor show ahead of a global launch later this year, the Electrified G80 is the brand’s first EV. It will go on sale alongside the conventionally fuelled G80, the GV70 crossover and the GV80 large SUV. 

It’s yet to be confirmed whether the Electrified G80 will be among the models that Genesis will initially offer when it launches in Europe, but further details of the brand’s global line-up are expected in the coming months. 

The saloon is visually identical to the standard G80, revealed a year ago, save for the addition of a closed-off grille and bespoke front bumper. It maintains the same premium focus inside, too, with a widescreen infotainment display dominating the dashboard, minimalistic control panel and heavy use of leather. 

The twin-motor, four-wheel-drive powertrain offers performance on a par with the new bespoke EVs from Genesis’ sibling brands, the Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Kia EV6.

Headline features include an 800V charging system allowing for charge speeds of up to 350kW, a ‘vehicle to load’ (V2L) external device-charging function and a disconnecting actuator system that switches between two- and four-wheel-drive as needed for maximum efficiency. 

Combined, the twin motors endow the G80 with 365bhp and 516lb ft, allowing for a 0-60mph time of 4.9sec in Sport driving mode.

The battery size hasn’t yet been confirmed, but the Electrified G80 is said to be capable of more than 311 miles of range on China’s NEDC test cycle. 

The Electrified G80 also has an Active Noise Control-Road (ANC-R) system that uses an array of sensors and microphones to analyse road noise in the cabin and create “sounds at opposite phase” to cancel it out.

In addition, the suspension system adjusts to suit the road surface using a front camera in combination with the sat-nav to give the “optimum driving experience”.

Various sustainability measures including a solar panel in the roof and recycled interior materials are expected to become hallmarks of Genesis’s EV line-up. 

Speaking at the model’s unveiling, Markus Henne, CEO of Genesis Motor China, said: “The world premiere of the first ever electric vehicle of Genesis here in Shanghai shows our strong dedication and commitment to the Chinese market.

“It takes confidence to create something new. In China, we see this spirit everywhere. Genesis will strive to build authentic relationships with Chinese customers through a new China-tailored business model.”

The brand’s unique retail model in China will use “an omnichannel approach based on direct sales” to appeal specifically to customers in the region.

Used car buying guide: Citroen/DS DS3

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Today we think of DS as a brand in its own right, but back in 2009, when it was launched, it was tied to Citroën and marketed as the manufacturer’s premium line.

The first model to wear the new label was the Citroën DS3 of 2010. This three-door supermini offered a variety of petrol and diesel engines and a range of trims. Personalisation was a major part of its appeal (owners could specify different external and interior colour combinations), with the Mini 3dr its primary target.

On that point, the DSport version we’re interested in here uses the same 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine, developed by the PSA Group and BMW, as the Mini Cooper. In the DSport, it made 154bhp compared with 121bhp in the Cooper.

Click here to buy your next used DS3 from Autocar

The Cooper was the car everyone wanted, but the DSport (despite its priciness, at £17,500) quickly found friends among those who appreciated its roomier, well-appointed cabin, bigger boot, accurate steering, tidy and engaging handling, slick and precise manual gearbox and punchy engine (0-62mph took 7.3sec).

It looked good, too. Personalisation generated some outrageous colour combinations (for example, yellow and black, and baby-blue and white, each repeated inside on the fascia and seats), but the more conservative-minded will be pleased to know that sober black-and-white versions are plentiful. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a bargain, the louder liveries do seem to depress prices.

The DSport got 17in alloys, electric windows and mirrors, dual-zone climate control and Bluetooth. In 2011, the DSport Plus arrived with more kit, including leather trim.

In 2014, the 1.6-litre engine was raised to 163bhp, but this yielded no discernible performance boost. Two years later, in 2016, DS became a standalone brand, so the model became the DS 3 DSport. By the end of the year, it had been dropped.

The DSport is really only warm, rather than hot, so those after greater thrills should seek out the 204bhp DS3 Racing, which was launched in 2011 and aimed squarely at the Mini JCW. Fettled by Citroën Racing, it did 0-62mph in 6.5sec. To keep it all in shape, it sat 15mm lower and had a 30mm-wider track than the DSport.

Used ones are few and far between, but we did track down a 2012 car with 52,000 miles, finished in head-turning orange and black, for £7490.

Is the Racing a future classic? Possibly, given its comprehensive performance makeover and the fact that there are so few around (150 at the last count). But before you take the plunge, it’s worth knowing that if you damage one, replacements for the carbonfibre splitter and other aerodynamic addenda are pricey and darned near impossible to source.

With the creation of the DS brand, the Racing became the Performance, now with 207bhp. We found a 2016 one with 56,000 miles for £10,990.

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