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Steve Cropley: a week of French fancies

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I drove the Dacia Duster again (so well judged and an honest-to-God bargain) plus the new Captur plug-in hybrid (Renault is brilliant at integrating petrol and electric motors). I just had to have a go in the Alpine A110 Légende GT (so refined, so discreetly quick). But that Mégane was most definitely the Renault I most look forward to. Formidable opposition for the Golf, Focus and friends just when they don’t need it (see below).

Thursday

Speaking of the Golf and Focus, I see that cars in this class are well and truly on the back foot as a result of the chip crisis. The Autovista news service says Europe’s C-segment is now fourth for sales volume behind a couple of more profitable SUV sectors, instead of its traditional second place to the supermini cluster. Ford Focus sales are down a distinctly scary 49% for the year to date, which makes this stalwart the biggest loser by a mile. No wonder Ford is betting on electric models as we accelerate towards 2030, and making lots of noise about it.

Friday

Looking forward to the arrival next week of the newest and most basic Volkswagen ID 3 – a cheapo, sub-£30k Life model with the smallest battery yet, just 45kWh of usable power. In the ritziest ID 3 Tour, you get 77kWh, but this base model is earmarked for people who’ll use it for short-haul driving.Yet the journeys need not be all that short. A bit of figuring shows the benefit of the smaller battery’s lighter weight (it saves 200kg). On the basis of Volkswagen’s claim that the Tour’s 77kWh battery yields a WLTP range of 340 miles, you’d expect the 45kWh battery to give less than 200 miles. Instead, 217 miles is promised – a nice surprise.

And another thing…

BMW i4

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Accommodation up front is quite good, although it’s compromised in the rear by a raised floor, required for the packaging of the battery, and a sloping roof line that robs head room. Boot space, meanwhile, is put at 470 litres, extending to 1290 litres when the split folding rear seats are stowed. Unlike a Taycan, there is no provision for luggage storage under the bonnet.

An electric motor on the front axle produces 254bhp and 317lb ft and another on the rear generates 308bhp and 269lb ft. Combined, they give 536bhp and 586lb ft, which is 33bhp and 107lb ft more than the latest M4 Competition can deliver. Energy comes from an 80.7kWh lithium ion battery that operates at 400V for a claimed range of 259-324 miles.

There is a familiarity about driving the i4 that will no doubt appeal to existing BMW owners. The controls and operation of many interior features are very similar to those of the marque’s combustion models.

The throttle calibration is sweetly balanced, mating excellent pedal weighting with a good degree of sensitivity. In combination with the responsive nature of the electric motors, this makes for engaging properties even at lower speeds in an urban environment in Comfort mode, where the M50 operates almost exclusively in rear-wheel drive using its rear motor alone.

However, it’s at higher speeds on the open road where the i4 really comes alive. Here, the powertrain combines the efforts of both motors to deliver rapid four-wheel-drive performance. Despite the motors being asked to haul well over two tonnes, the i4 proves very rapid when dialled into Boost mode. So configured, it is claimed to crack 0-62mph in just 3.9sec.

Ford Mustang Mach 1 2021 UK review

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It lacks the torque of turbocharged rivals, but acceleration is linear, plentiful and perfectly in tune with your pedal inputs. The combination is what makes the Mustang so appealing to so many, and that remains true here.

Equally impressive are the Mach 1’s road manners. You don’t need to be on the limit to appreciate its improved control weights, and in its most comfortable setting the adaptive suspension copes well with most road surfaces and feels rather relaxed at a motorway cruise. The sportier modes let you feel every imperfection through your backside, but you’ll want to swap when the roads allow to get the best from it. Just be prepared for the thirst that comes with exuberant use: after a track session, a full tank of fuel indicated 83 miles remaining.

Inside, things haven’t changed much from the Mustang GT, with some aluminium trim and a cue ball shift knob being the only real additions for the Mach 1. The digital instrument cluster perfectly blends modern technology and old-school analogue dials, but elsewhere you get hard-moulded plastics, an overabundance of dashboard switches and buttons, and a Sync 3 infotainment touchscreen that’s rather compact and graphically basic. The cabin is still roomy, with four usable seats and plenty of storage, but anyone expecting a certain level of material quality from a fifty grand sports car might be disappointed.

Tesla Roadster confirmed for 2023 production

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Production of the anticipated Tesla Roadster will be pushed back to 2023, meaning it will now be launched six years after its initial 2017 reveal. 

The delay was confirmed by founder Elon Musk at Tesla’s annual shareholder meeting, where he attributed the delay to the effects of the Covid pandemic and issues with parts supply. 

The Roadster, which was set to return in its second generation, was previously delayed due to the development of the firm’s new tri-motor powertrain and advanced battery technology, which are set to make their debuts in new Tesla saloon and SUV models.

Musk added that Tesla’s Cybertruck would also go into production in 2023. “Most likely what we’ll see is Cybertruck production in the next year and then reach volume production in 2023,” he said.

“Hopefully by then we can be producing the Semi [truck] and the new Roadster in 2023 as well. We should be through our severe supply chain shortages in 2023. I’m optimistic that will be the case.”

The Roadster was due to touch down in 2020, with production later moved back to once the firm had finished construction of its Berlin gigafactory, which is now completed. 

Prices are still expected to start from $250,000 (about £189,000) for the first 1000 models, which will be sold as Founders Editions. Subsequent units will be priced from $200,000 (£151,020), with reservations available for £38,000.

Tesla claims the Roadster will offer a 0-60mph time of 1.9sec with 737lb ft of torque, similar to that claimed for the Model S Plaid. The model is also touted to reach 100mph in 4.2sec and achieve a quarter-mile sprint in 8.9sec. 

The Roadster isn’t the first Tesla model to be struck with delays. The Model 3 saloon suffered production setbacks and the firm’s Semi lorry, now also due to go into production in 2023, didn’t hit roads as planned last year. 

Autocar subscription: the ideal Christmas gift

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Please note, this is a time-limited offer ending on 14 November 2021. For more details, visit www.themagazineshop.com.

Chevrolet Corvette C8 3LT 2021 review

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You’re sitting at much closer quarters with the car’s front wheels than ever a Corvette has allowed before, needless to say – and what a difference that makes. The one thing that Corvettes have never done well, until now, is steer; long steering columns and plenty of weight out front have seen to that. The new one, by the starkest of contrasts, steers in precise, instinctively responsive fashion and with really intuitive weight and pace. It isn’t darty and direct like a Ferrari F8, and it isn’t as dreamily feelsome as the hydraulic rack on a modern McLaren or Lotus. But consistent, moderate steering gearing and the linear build-up of cornering forces make this car easy to guide at pace, and satisfying to interact with throughout the speed range.

What doesn’t fit the modern mid-engined dynamic mould so well are the C8’s size and its apparent heft. The car isn’t lithe-feeling or easy to thread through a gap. It really fills its lane and rides in quite a gentle, laid-back frequency, rolling and moving around just a little as it corners, and breathing with long-wave bumps in a way that marks it out loud and clear as a versatile, daily-drivable, slightly easy-going sports car rather than any kind of cut-price supercar. There’s something a bit lazy about the car’s body control and initial change of direction – but it certainly feels dynamically expressive to drive.

Although the engineers will tell you how much stiffer the new car’s spring rates are than were the C7’s, they’ll also tell you that they were aiming for a balanced, pragmatic dynamic compromise here, and a versatile rolling character. They’ve struck that particular balance very nicely, and it makes this car a pleasant and comfortable long-distance car, and supple-riding around town and on less-than-perfect country roads; but also one that’s fluently agile, composed, and both interactive and engaging through flowing bends.

So the C8 rides nicely and handles enticingly well; more moderately than the supercars it’s imitating, but still with balance, poise and natural verve. And yet guess what? It’s still that V8 engine that is the car’s main draw. After all those millions spent on engineering and developing a mid-engined chassis, some at Chevrolet might quietly despair at that news, but it’s actually just a sign of how multifaceted this car’s appeal now is, and how much charm and distinctiveness it retains.

New AC Ace RS continuation hints at firm’s all-electric future

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AC Cars has started taking orders for a limited-run continuation of the Ace, which could be the firm’s final model to use a petrol engine. 

Named the Ace RS, the sports car is powered by a lightweight 2.3-litre four-cylinder petrol engine that produces 350bhp and 324lb ft of torque.

AC says it can achieve a 0-62mph sprint in 5.8sec, which is just 0.3sec slower than the Ace RS Electric. 

The Ace RS features a paintwork design with blue, red and white stripes stretched down the bonnet and a Union Jack on each door.

“The new AC Ace RS may well be the last ever new AC model to be powered by a petrol engine,” said company CEO Alan Lubinsky. “Already, virtually every one of our current model range offers an electric driveline as we at AC lead the sports car industry into greener territory.”

Despite the character and historic appeal of the petrol-powered Ace, which was originally produced from 1953 to 1963, AC isn’t worried about the shift to EVs. 

“Our move to electric power has proved to be more important for the brand than anything else we’ve attempted before,” Lubinsky said at the launch of the Ace RS Electric earlier this year.

“The combination of our pedigree with a new, fully electric drivetrain means we’re ready to offer brand-new cars that are undeniably historic in character yet thoroughly modern in their powertrain and performance.”

The Ace RS retains its similarities to the original Ace, with an overall weight of 1000kg and an identical appearance. It costs from £89,500, with deliveries expected to commence in summer 2022. 

James Ruppert: small cars that stand out – on a budget

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The Civic Type S is in the lead at the moment, then, and with the left-hand-drive Kia Optima due to find a new home soon, a dealer visit is in the pipeline to see it in the metal. I will let you know what happens.

Tales from Ruppert’s garage

Porsche Cayenne, mileage – 112,687 

You don’t hear much about the Flying Pig, which I would argue is a very good thing – especially for my bank balance. Anyway, its MOT isn’t far off, and as I’ve explained recently, I’ve created an MOTpocalypse by stupidly leaving the majority of garage visits to the end of the year. Apart from the odd random warning light, which always goes out, there seem to be no problems. That’s not what a Porsche agent said more than two years ago, when there was some recall work. Apparently, it needed also sorts of expensive attention, yet it has been consistently roadworthy and reliable. Long may that continue.

Readers’ questions

Question: One of my car’s rear lights is currently not functioning. Is it still legal to drive on the road, even during the day? Emma Hoxton, Loughborough 

Bentley boss: make UK a “safe haven” for battery production

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The UK should become “a safe haven, the go-to place, for battery production”, Bentley chairman and CEO Adrian Hallmark has said.

Speaking at the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders’ (SMMT) first Global Trade Conference, Hallmark suggested that the UK’s existing trade deal with the European Union would mean petrol and diesel cars would still be more favourable to sell than battery-electric cars in 2027, just three years out from the UK’s ban of new ICE vehicles.

“A battery for an equivalent car is about three to five times the cost of the engine,” said Hallmark. “And because of those materials coming from all over the world, already difficult to source in Europe and then fully make in Europe or the UK, it puts a new challenge to us.”

Both the UK and the EU are required to ramp up the amount of local components in their vehicles by 2027, including the entire battery in any EV, and failure to meet the required threshold would incur a 10% tariff, threatening the value of assembling vehicles in Britain.

The UK’s first large-scale EV battery production facility isn’t due to open until 2023, and the picture is made more difficult by British manufacturers being “quite complicated”, according to Hallmark.

“We all have different sizes of cars in different price segments, different cell technologies, and the challenge is to try and find a common denominator,” he explained. “And we probably can’t. So it needs external investment and big players.

“Today we export a million engines more than we export cars. So why can’t that be the same with batteries? Make the UK a battery centre. And to do that, you need green energy.”

EV battery production currently causes higher CO2 emissions than that of combustion engines, although this is more than offset by their lifetime use.

Bentley has committed to carbon-neutrality by 2030, when it intends to only make EVs.

As well as addressing rules of origin, Hallmark suggested that the UK’s trading relationship with the EU could be streamlined. “From my point of view, we got Brexit done, but now let’s get the relationship working,” he said, adding that smoothing and digitalising the customs process, as well as making “the data exchange much more fluid and efficient” would make things easier.

“If we can get those things working, it reduces our admin burden, which isn’t killing us, but it would be nice to do less. But make it more predictable and more manageable.”

DS 4 E-Tense 225

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DS 4 interiors are elaborate, with unique switchgear in knurled bright metal attractively arrayed across a dashboard that cleverly disguises its air vents. There’s lots of emphasis on screens – a large central unit that can handle swipe gestures, a smaller screen below it that can provide a variety of configurable shortcuts, a comprehensive display ahead of the steering wheel plus one of the best head-up displays we’ve encountered – but it’s intuitive and clear.

The overall effect is of cut-above luxury, yet even the priciest 4, the La Première E-Tense 225, costs a reasonable-sounding £43,695. The entry-level Bastille seems very affordable at £25,350, given the imposing figure it cuts on a suburban driveway. It’s evident that DS sees this first true mainstream model as its way of establishing a foothold in prime markets (such as the UK’s) rather than of earning early profits – although UK managing director Jules Tilstone assures us that the marque is already returning positive earnings to the Stellantis core.

Our main test car was a Rivoli E-Tense 225, which, like the rest of them, is based on a developed version of Stellantis’s latest (lighter and stiffer) medium-to-large EMP2 platform. Surprisingly, this one has a torsion-beam semi-independent rear suspension rather than the fully independent multi-link set-up of more expensive DS models. Still, our car was nicely made, with fine panel fit and impressive trim details, including hand-finishing of its stitched leather seats and steering wheel. The designers’ desire is that this cabin should offer comfort, convenience and decor beyond the mainstream, and they’ve achieved it.

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