Friday, April 5, 2013

Autocar Online - News

Autocar Online - News

First Honda Civic Tourer spy shots

Posted: 05 Apr 2013 05:30 AM PDT

New Honda Civic estate spotted Spy shots reveal production version of the Honda Civic Tourer estate

These are the first pictures of the production version of the Honda Civic Tourer estate, recently seen as a concept car at this year's Geneva motor show.

To be built in Swindon alongside the hatchback, the car will go on sale in the first quarter of next year. 

The production car will look much like the concept, although the front-end design will be toned down and the lights will be less ornate. But the low roofline at the rear will stay, along with the large window in the C-pillar.

Distinctive features, like the shape of the rear lights and the red bar that runs across the tailgate, will also make production. A small cutout in the disguise tape on the bootlid suggests that bar will incorporate a lighting function.

Honda is not claiming best in class load space, instead describing the Tourer's capacity as close to the best. But expect the car to feature some clever detailing.

The Civic's layout, with its fuel tank under the front seats and beam axle rear suspension, means the Tourer will have a very flat boot floor. It could use seats that copy the Jazz's, which have squabs that flip up to create a second luggage compartment and fold flat into the floor. 

The manufacturer's engineers said the Tourer will do something clever with the loading sill, which will take advantage of the flat floor. The way the boot lid meets the bumper of the test car in our pictures suggests that the company has effectively done away with the sill. 

Honda reckons the Tourer will account for 20 per cent of Civic sales. It maintains that the C-segment market, in which the Civic competes with the Volkswagen Golf and the Ford Focus, is growing, and hopes that the car will also attract buyers from the class above in the same way that the Octavia has for Skoda 

Dan Stevens

Ford Fiesta ST UK first drive review

Posted: 05 Apr 2013 04:02 AM PDT

Ford Fiesta ST UK first drive The Fiesta ST, Ford's latest hot hatch, tested on British roads for the first time. Can it be as enjoyable away from the test track? A long time coming. We've already driven the ST abroad, but it's impossible not to count down the years between its appearance in the UK (in early left-hand drive format) and the original launch of this much-lauded generation of Fiesta. Half a decade is far too long to have to wait for a model which seemed only a bigger engine output and chassis tweak away when it first appeared.The effect of this incredibly lengthy build-up is a slow-boil raising of expectations. Ford has had plenty of time to get this right, and nothing short of very good indeed will do. On paper, as we already know, it looks the part. The 1.6-litre EcoBoost engine at last provides the Fiesta with a meaningful output – 179bhp at 5700rpm – and with it comes a hot-hatch-worthy 0-62mph time of 6.9sec.Such performance could probably have been injected into the lowly Zetec S without detriment, but Ford has been busy underneath, too. As you might expect from the ST badge, the model gets unique springs and dampers, a modified front steering knuckle (to go with a slightly quicker steering ratio) and the rear torsion beam has been adapted for better roll stiffness.The car also gets Ford's Torque Vectoring Control system in place of a legitimate mechanical differential, and a three-stage traction control system, which in its Sport mode offers considerably more slip than standard (the third 'setting' is, happily, completely off). In the cabin the front seats are swapped out for Recaro replacements, but otherwise the Blue Oval has remained remarkably restrained. Likewise the ST wears bigger wheels, a protruding spoiler and brawnier exhaust, yet manages to appear rather understated on the usually garish hot hatch barometer.

New car sales figures indicate market growth

Posted: 05 Apr 2013 02:39 AM PDT

SMMT figures show growth in new car sales Monthly and quarterly sales rise above expectations, reflecting increased consumer confidence

New car registration figures for March show a rise in registrations of 5.9 per cent compared to March 2012.

The figures, released by The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), show that a total of 394,806 cars were registered last month, compared to 372,835 a year ago.

For 2013 as a whole, British new car registrations have also risen; where 563,556 had been registered in the first three months of 2012, the number for the first quarter of 2013 is 605,198.

This represents a rise of 7.4 per cent, a batter-than-expected increase. March 2013 was also the 13th consecutive month of growth in British new car registrations.

SMMT interim chief executive, Mike Baunton said of the results "consistent monthly growth in the market is an encouraging sign of returning consumer confidence."

The statistics indicate a notable growth in the sales of petrol-engined cars, reflecting increased demand for the raft of new downsized turbo petrols. In the first quarter of 2012, 271,486 petrol cars were registered.

For this year, that figure has risen by 32,570 cars, or 12.1 per cent, to 304,356. Diesel registrations climbed by 3 per cent year-on-year, from 283,872 to 292,403.

Ford's Fiesta remained the best-seller for March 2013, and for the year-to-date. Last month saw 22,748 examples of the supermini registered, contributing to its 2013 total of 34,309 so far.

Notable appearances in the SMMT figures for March include the BMW 1-Series (eighth most popular, with 7001 cars registered) and the Nissan Qashqai, which ranked sixth in the list (8465 registered) despite having now been on sale for nearly six years.

The year-to-date figures show the Mercedes C-Class is the most popular executive car in Britain; it has achieved 10,301 registrations in 2013 and therefore claimed ninth in the overall standings.

Matt Bird

Detroit Electric SP:01 sports car unveiled

Posted: 05 Apr 2013 01:58 AM PDT

Detroit Electric SP:01 sports car unveiled  All-electric SP:01 features four-speed manual gearbox, claimed 155mph top speed

Detroit Electric, revived in 2008 by former CEO of the Lotus Engineering Group Albert Lam, has unveiled its first creation, the all-electric SP:01 sports car.

It's based on the Lotus Elise platform, like the Tesla Roadster. The big difference is that the SP:01 claims to be the fastest pure electric production car so far. 0-62mph takes just 3.7sec — the same as the Tesla Roadster Sport's — but its top speed is an impressive 155mph, 30mph more than its closest relative. 

These numbers are courtesy of an air-cooled electric motor that makes 201bhp and 166lb ft of torque, while the transmission is a four-speed manual that helps improve the SP:01's performance.

The gearbox is the six-speed unit from the Elise, with fifth and sixth gear blocked off. The electric motor's instant torque means that swift progress will be made in any gear; using the clutch isn't necessary when stopping or moving off as a result.

Detroit Electric will restore the fifth cog, if a client ticks the correct box in the options list, for those "wishing to explore the vehicle's impressive top speed".

Customers will have also the option of a two-speed automatic transmission, "specially developed for electric and hybrid vehicles". The bespoke body is made out of carbonfibre to help in containing the weight down to 1090kg.

As you would expect, the car's suspension has been specifically tuned to suit the different weight distribution that the SP:01 has compared to the Elise. The battery pack has a capacity of 37kWh, which gives the SP:01 a range of 190 miles. A full recharge is claimed to be achievable in just over four hours.

Every car will feature a smartphone mounted on the dash, named SAMI (Smartphone Application Managed Infotainment system), that will allow the driver to manage the car's subsystems, such as the navigation, music player, charge status and other vehicle telemetry. 

The SP:01 also has the capability to charge and discharge bi-directionally, through a patented Detroit Electric home charging and power back-up unit, named '360 Powerback'. This allows the car's stored electric energy to power the owner's home if necessary. 

Detroit Electric says it will make 999 examples of the SP:01 in its new production facility in downtown Detroit. Prices will start at $135,000 when production begins in August, but the US-based manufacturer has yet to say whether the car will go on sale on this side of the Atlantic.  

Every SP:01 will feature a three-year, 30,000-mile warranty, with the option of an extension to five years and 50,000 miles for the battery.

"I am very fortunate to be working with a group of very talented engineers to create something really special," said Lam.

Michael Karkafiris

BMW Concept X4 revealed

Posted: 04 Apr 2013 03:01 PM PDT

BMW reveals new X4 concept New BMW X4 concept unveiled ahead of its Shanghai motor show debut, features design influenced by current X6

BMW has revealed the look of its new X4 with a concept car that will be premiered at the Shanghai motor show later this month.

Called Concept X4, the car's design is heavily influenced by the design of the four-year old X6. The two share the same basic silhouette and proportions, with a bluff front, large wheel houses, high waistline, shallow glasshouse, and a near vertical rear.

Styled under the guise of Karim Habib, head of BMW design, it attempts to combine the aesthetic of a traditional coupé with the visual robustness of a high riding off-roader. This look, says Habib, will be reflected in all of BMW's upcoming X models.

Certain elements of the concept's design will be altered before it reaches BMW showrooms. Among them are the internal headlamp graphics, front bumper, mirror housings and door handles. The rear side window will receive an additional quarter window in the style of the BMW X6.

The decision to push ahead with production of the X4 has been driven by demand for the larger X6. Indications are that it will be priced some £3000 above corresponding X3 models, with the X4 xDrive20d set to be pitched at around £35,000 in the UK.

At 4648mm long it's 227mm shorter than the X6. It's also 68mm lower (standing 1622mm high) and 70mm wider, at 1915mm wide. The 2810mm wheelbase is shared with the X3,  which it will be built alongside at BMW's Spartanburg factory in the US. But the X4 gets unique track widths to provide it with a more ground-hugging stance than the X3. 

BMW is yet to reveal the interior of the X4. However, BMW sources have told Autocar it draws heavily on the X3 in the interests of cost saving. Common items include the dashboard, centre console and infotainment head unit, although new materials will be used to differentiate the two more clearly. 

As with the X6, the X4 will come with a standard four seat layout, with individual rear seats divided by a centre console. A five seat layout will be optional. Boot capacity is also yet to be revealed, but insiders suggest it will be around 500 litres, 50 litres less than that of the X3.

The X4 concept to be shown in Shanghai is a styling model and doesn't have a driveline. The production version will be sold with a range of four- and six-cylinder petrol and diesel engines in combination with a six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic gearbox.

BMW sources indicate the engine X4 line-up will mirror that of the second-generation X3, itself set to be facelifted in early 2014. Likely inclusions for the UK market will be 242bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder and 302bhp turbocharged 3.0-litre six-cylinder petrol units along with 184bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder and 306bhp 3.0-litre six-cylinder diesels.

A plug-in-hybrid is also under development. It will use a version of the 3-series ActiveHybrid's petrol-electric system, with a 302bhp 3.0-litre six and a 54bhp electric motor.

With X models accounting for one in four sales in 2012, BMW has high hopes for the X4. Officials won't be drawn on just how many it expects to sell worldwide, but they say it is likely to be more than the larger and more expensive X6, which has sold almost 50,000 units per year since its introduction.

The X4 will extend BMW's number of dedicated four-wheel-drive models to five. But indications are it won't be the last. Preparations are already underway to add a smaller X2 model to the line-up in 2016.

Scents and sensibility for the new Mercedes S-Class

Posted: 04 Apr 2013 01:36 PM PDT

Scents and sensibility for the new S-Class Luxury cars should now be considered 'living spaces' offering 'Energising Comfort' according to Mercedes

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the first press event for the all-new Mercedes S-Class. It was one of the more unusual press events, in that the S-Class is being launched from the inside out. The new car is also no longer about shipping serious-minded German captains of industry up and down the autobahn. Nor is its primary mission all about shuttling big wigs to the airport.

No, Mercedes admits that W222 has been designed primarily as a long wheelbase car and that it is aimed at the lucrative Asian market, where owners never drive and are always driven. However, the content of the W222 has also been strongly influenced by what Mercedes calls emerging 'mega-trends' of 'health and fitness'. Apparently, it's all about the affluent who want to achieve a 'life balance' by 'relaxing and preserving their [personal] resources'.

Goetz Renner, whose full title is head of the 'Center for Society, Vehicle Concepts, and Human-Machine Interaction' at Daimler, told me that there are ìtwo sides to comfortî. ìFirst it is the minimisation of discomfort and then the maximisation of your well-being.

However, Mercedes enthusiasm for improving the 'well-being' of the passengers in the new S-Class has taken it to some unexpected areas. Sure it has exploited conventional engineering techniques, going to town on body engineering (the new shell is stiffer, has a partly aluminium front structure and a much more rigid rear bulkhead) and taken noise reduction materials and cabin sealing to new levels.

But, bolstered by research from its team in Berlin, Merc has tapped into the lifestyles of the global affluent which, unsurprisingly, heavily feature flying first class and visiting ultra-luxury hotels. Specify the executive rear seats and the passenger-side back bencher can push the front seat forward and extend the rear seat into what's close to a proper flat bed. Folding tray tables, a two-bottle champagne fridge and heating and cooling bottle holders are also on the options list.

But there are two features of the car, which are far more spa hotel than automotive engineering. Firstly, the 'Energising' massage function for the seats is based on the fashionable 'hot stone' massage, which sees very hot stones placed along the spine. Merc's Dr Gudrun Schˆnherr, a physiotherapist and psychologist, started work on replicating this technique inside a car back in 2007.

The result is a massage mat with 14 pneumatic cells that is built into the S-Class seat and extra-fast seat-heating elements. W222 passengers will be able to choose from six different massage programmes, including 'Hot Relaxing Massage Back' and 'Active Workout'. Front seat passengers will also enjoy heated arm rests, surely a world-first?

However, the crowning glory of this new direction in luxury car design has to be the 'active perfuming system', a £300 option. Part of what's called the 'Air-Balance' package (which also includes ionisation and a very advanced air filtering system), the perfuming set-up uses a glass container of scent, mounted in the glovebox, which it atomises, puffing it through the ventilation system. Mercedes even hired a perfumer called Marc vom Ende, who created four unique scents for the S-Class interior: Freeside Mood, Downtown Mood, Sports Mood and Nightlife Mood.

With fold-flat seats, hot massage and aromatherapy big features of the new S-Class, I suspect we won't being hearing much about the W222's best lap time on the Nordschleife. 

VW Golf GTI Mk7 prices announced

Posted: 04 Apr 2013 06:48 AM PDT

VW Golf GTI Mk7 prices announced The latest iteration of the iconic Golf GTI hot hatch will have a price tag beginning at £25,845

Volkswagen has confirmed prices for the Golf Mk7 GTI, which is available to order now. For the first time in the GTI's history, it is being offered with two power outputs.

The standard Golf GTI costs £25,845, just £195 more than the outgoing Golf Mk6 GTI. It's powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine with 217bhp and 258lb ft of torque. VW claims this is enough for 6.5sec 0-62mph sprint and a 152mph top speed. Allied to these performance figures are impressive fuel economy and CO2 returns of 47.1mpg and 139g/km respectively, when equipped with the standard six-speed manual gearbox.

The GTI Performance model costs £980 over the regular car. It offers a power increase to 227bhp, larger brakes and a limited-slip differential. The GTI Performance takes a tenth from the GTI's 0-62mph time and the top speed rises to 155mph. Fuel economy and emissions are unchanged.

Volkswagen has also announced the latest Golf GTI sits in insurance group 29E, five groups lower than the outgoing car.

Both GTIs feature 18in 'Austin' alloy wheels, tartan 'Jacara' upholstery and twin exhausts with a rear diffuser. Optional equipment includes a six-speed DSG gearbox, Adaptive Chassis Control (ACC), leather and 19in 'Santiago' wheels.

Matt Bird

Ford Kuga crowned best compact SUV

Posted: 04 Apr 2013 04:28 AM PDT

Compact SUV mega-test The Ford Kuga, Mitsubishi Outlander and Toyota RAV 4 are recently-launched family 4x4s designed to take on the likes of the Land Rover Freelander. Here's how they fare against their toughest rivals.

There may never have been a greater need for an Autocar group test than there is right here, right now. Six cars stand before us in a Surrey car park, in preparation for a comprehensive review. They are all what the industry calls 'compact SUVs', but to an increasing proportion of the British car-buying public, they simply represent a breed that has become the default choice for all-purpose, all-weather, all-encompassing point-to-point convenience: the family 4x4.

To a road tester, this is an intimidating bunch. In a growing segment as important as this one, the arrival of one model can be enough to trigger a big comparison test. In this case, there are three cars among the band new enough to have beaten the dealer demonstrators to UK roads: the Ford Kuga, Toyota RAV4 and Mitsubishi Outlander.

The Honda CR-V is slightly older, but not much. It has yet to pass its first birthday as a showroom model, and the Hyundai Santa Fe has yet to pass its second. In this company, our sixth inclusion – the bookies' favourite – looks decidedly long in the tooth. It's the Land Rover Freelander, appearing in 2013-model-year form but really tracing its roots back as far as 2006.

Regular readers may have already read full road tests on some of these cars, but remember that all were done week by week, in isolation. There's nothing like lining up six cars like this side by side and systematically sorting the winners from the losers. There will be surprises – plenty of unexpected relative shortcomings mixed in among the predictable strengths. There may even be a revelation or two – a new class champion, perhaps.

We've gone as far as we can to ensure a level playing field. These cars all line up with sticker prices as close to £30,000 as we could achieve, with four-cylinder diesel engines of broadly similar power and torque output, and – with one exception – with manual gearboxes. They will be road tested, performance tested,measured and thoroughly inspected both on the specification sheet and out in the real world. So by the time we reach a verdict, you can be sure that it's the right one.


You don't need us to tell you which of these cars you particularly like the look of, or which of their badges you desire the most. The road tester's job starts where 'styling' and 'brand' ends and tangible, measurable, discernible substance begins. Often, with a tape measure.

Usable space is one of the best reasons to trade up to an SUV. If you have a big family – or an active, paraphernalia-packed life – it might be the only reason you need. Just 190mm separates the shortest car (the Freelander) from the longest here (the Santa Fe). But which car can you get the most gear into?

Manufacturers' claims on boot space are to be treated with a heaped teaspoon of salt. Some measure up to the window line, others up to the roof; some even include space under the boot floor. We measure boot space more simply: load length along the boot floor up to the second-row seatback, boot height from the floor to the roof, and boot width between the narrowest points of the boot opening.

Do that and you'll find that the smallest boot here in volume terms is that of the Kuga. The largest is a less easy guess; it actually belongs to the CR-V, by a gnat's wing. The numbers don't tell the whole story, though. The Santa Fe's load bay is the moral victor, being both the longest and the widest of all six, and it loses out only narrowly to the Honda's on volume because of the loading height eaten up by the Hyundai's third row of seats. The Toyota deserves an honourable mention in this department, but the Land Rover certainly doesn't and languishes second from last.

Where passengers are concerned, the tale of the tape measure makes even more uncomfortable reading for Land Rover. Being the shortest car on test, this would make sense, but it's no less surprising that the Freelander – Autocar's class favourite, remember – offers the least front-row headroom and second-row legroom. Getting into the Land Rover is very easy, thanks to the highest ride height and resultant hip point of the entire group. But once you're in, there's no mistaking it: the Freelander does feel like a slightly smaller car than the rest of the group. And 'small' isn't what customers in this class are looking for.

This time, it's the Toyota that ties with the Hyundai as overall passenger space champion. And lower down the order, credit's due to Ford for offering the most second-row headroom overall.

The over-arching message is plain. Want the most practical 4x4 you can afford? Buy a Hyundai Santa Fe.


Owning a 4x4 is a bit like having a St Bernard. Most people don't actually treat them any differently from any other household pet. But you like to think that, if by some random act of God the need arose, 'Beethoven' could rescue you from flood, field, snow or mountain. It's also quite amusing that he makes the Labradoodle (read M Sport BMW 1-series) over the road look like a Pomeranian (or Isetta bubble car).

'Beethoven' types will naturally be drawn towards two members of our group. The lure of the Land Rover brand is clearly not to be underestimated, but only because it's based on a genuine dual-purpose remit. The Freelander has 15mm more ground clearance than the next best car. Relative to the rest, it looks like you could drive a go-kart between the axles. Its off-road angles are, by an equally generous margin, the highest here. And it's one of only two cars supplied on 'mud and sand' (M+S) tyres. If you really do have anything that even approaches serious off-roading to do, it's the only car to choose.

But you should note that the Land Rover is beaten on towing capacity and outright pulling power by the same car that makes it look like a five-door supermini on interior space: the Santa Fe. The Hyundai will tow 2.5 tonnes on a braked trailer. It's beaten on ground clearance by everything but the CR-V, so it can't be cracked up as the ultimate rugged 4x4 workhorse. But with that exception, the Korean contender seems strong where it matters.

But so does the surprise package in this 'go anywhere, do anything' section: the Kuga. It has the second-heaviest rating for towing. It also has the second-highest ground clearance. Once again, the Ford is punching above its weight.

Before we move on, a quick real-world test of torque and traction– two of the things that matter most in an SUV. We've got a 100-yard, one-in-four-graded test hill at our disposal. It's dry asphalt, so not the most slippery test that a 4x4 might face, but a tough one all the same. How quickly can they go from a standing start to 30mph on that kind of a climb?

With the timing gear in place, the Land Rover Freelander, RAV4 and Outlander all do it in precisely 6.0sec – roughly twice as long as it would have taken on a level surface. The Honda takes only a tenth of a second longer. The Ford is slowest all, taking 6.3sec; with no lockable centre diff, it's subject to a touch of initial wheelspin and then has the least torquey engine of the bunch to haul it onwards.

Biggest disappointment here is the Toyota, which throws up electronic complaints about an overheating four-wheel drive system after its second attempt at the climb. It's a sign that perhaps this car isn't as rough and ready as it wants you to believe.

Fastest of all? It's that Hyundai again: 5.2sec to 30mph up a one-in-four gradient. It's big, it's heavy – but it's got the powertrain to carry that bulk without breaking a sweat.


If it goes well up a steep hill, it'll go well anywhere. But good everyday performance is about much more than pulling power. Flexibility, response and refinement are equally important hallmarks of a class-leading 4x4, which will offer a convincing balance of all four.

The fastest-accelerating car here, according to the claims, should be the automatic Freelander. It isn't. The Land Rover is not under-endowed – far from it – but like everything else gathered, it can't match the sheer grunt of that Hyundai.

When we road tested the Santa Fe in 2011, it hit 60mph in 9.0sec dead – and this one feels every bit as brisk. That puts it closer on performance to a 2.0-litre diesel BMW X3 than the rest of this group. Hyundai's diesel engine is quiet, smooth, attentive to your right foot and so gutsy. If it's got a failing, it's fuel economy. But we'll come to that.

The next most impressive powertrain belongs not to the Land Rover, but to the cheaper, less powerful, manual Honda CR-V. You could let your granny drive this car; it's that easy to get on with. The engine is muted and unimposing, the gearshift short, light and positive of action.

Below that, the Freelander's powertrain just about manages to distinguish itself, being above average for potency and slickness and seemingly well insulated under the bonnet. For their engines, neither the Kuga nor the Outlander has much that merits praise. The Ford feels a little bit short on low and mid-range urge at times and the Mitsubishi hates being revved hard. The RAV4, meanwhile, is the only car whose engine is worthy of serious criticism. Perhaps the pace of improvement in this class has surprised Toyota. Whatever the excuse, its engine is noisy and breathless beyond 3000rpm and isn't particularly hard-working lower in the range.

The RAV4's handling is equally rough hewn. M+S tyres account for some of the stodgy imprecision, but not all of it. The car's steering is heavy and cumbersome off centre, and levels of grip and body control on the road seem surprisingly low once you bother to plumb their depths. All in all, it's a car that reminds you how SUVs used to feel. And in this class, reminiscence is no recommendation.

The same charge can be levelled at the Outlander. It feels soft and slightly wayward when push comes to shove. Both it and the Toyota are functional, secure, largely inoffensive cars to drive most of the time, but neither has the dynamic sophistication to improve the breed.

By contrast, there's unmistakable polish and class to the way that the CR-V and Santa Fe flow calmly down the road. Neither is athletic or involving; their trick is in mixing compliance with fleet-footedness and effectively disguising their mass. Of the two, the Honda is marginally the better at that trick, but both pull it off. Both are good-handling 4x4s in the modern sense.

And yet Freelander and Kuga still go one better. The Land Rover is a fine-handling 4x4 in spite of its limitations. It has the highest centre of gravity here and, like the Toyota, grips the road via M+S rubber only. But neither fact has prevented Land Rover from dialling in remarkable consistency of weight, clarity of response and general precision to the car's steering system. The Freelander rolls generously when you turn in, but it remains easy to guide towards the apex and balanced even under plenty of power. It doesn't ever seem to pitch or squat on its long-travel springs. Damping is supple but effective. It was, and remains, the traditional high-rise 4x4 perfectly house-trained for the road.

The Kuga is something else entirely. After the Land Rover, it feels like a hot hatchback: hunkered down, agile, ready to engage. Changes of direction come easily and instinctively. There's very little roll steer to contend with and never any temptation to wind on steering angle without altering the path of the car in reliable proportion. The trade-off? The Kuga is a little firmer riding, and a bit more bodily reactive, than the comfort-oriented class norm – but it's far from uncomfortable. It's a different take: a truly sporting drive, in a class where utility still predominates. Here's your revelation, folks.


There is only one car here that qualifies for a £120 tax disc; only one capable of busting through the 50mpg barrier, according to manufacturer claims. It hasn't been achieved by a fluke; the Outlander is also the lightest car here and deserves its moment of recognition. In the cold light of day, it won't deliver an average of 52.3mpg, but as our test is drawing to a close, the 41.3mpg return that its trip computer shows is unbeatable fuel economy for this kind of car.

The Honda's return is closest to it (40.6mpg) and the Ford's isn't too far behind (38.6mpg). Thereafter, the stragglers' returns are much closer to our expectations for this class. The Land Rover's 33.6mpg is poorest – but then it was penalised by that torque-converter automatic 'box.

There isn't a great deal to choose between like-for-like examples of these cars on CO2-derived company car tax. In that respect, the Mitsubishi Outlander and the Toyota are the smart buys. In terms of retained value, the Ford tops the list and the Toyota props it up.

The surprising disparity is between the cheapest and more expensive options on the cost of insurance – something that has always taken SUV owners slightly unawares. Qualifying for group 29E, the RAV4 will cost the average Brit driver £790 a year. The Ford (group 21) will cost the same driver £618 and the Hyundai (group 19) just £580.


At the end of two days of driving, measuring, testing and number crunching, our long, hard look at this increasingly enticing segment of the new car market has thrown up surprises in abundance. It has also made the new class hierarchy abundantly clear.

It's hard to separate the Mitsubishi Outlander and Toyota RAV4. Both are practical choices in their own way, and neither passes for much more than 'adequate' when you're actually driving it. With your back against the wall, you'd pick the Outlander if you had to have either, mainly because it would be cheaper to own.

But that's only assuming that you couldn't pick the CR-V. This Honda is the kind of car that'll spend years and years quietly impressing the pants off you – just being easy to use and pleasant to own, with its big boot, clever back seats, economical engine and unimposing drive. Keep your order simple – small wheels, manual 'box, no factory sat-nav – and the results will repay you. It should be cheaper to insure, and it could do with a bit more ground clearance. A bit of styling pizazz wouldn't go amiss, either.

That brings us on to the podium – and to a deposed former class champion. If you want a marker of how much compact SUVs have changed in the past decade, look no further than the current Land Rover Freelander. This car was designed before it became obvious how little genuine off-road ability matters to 4x4 buyers compared with carrying capacity, towing capacity, fuel efficiency and cabin space. It takes a test like this to realise it, but the class has moved beyond this car. And yet the Freelander's finely tuned, premium-brand ride and handling remain appealing enough to earn it a ranking berth.

Which leaves two cars: the one with all the space, utility and value for money, not to mention a cracking powertrain, and the winner. You're wondering how a car that has so completely dominated almost every facet of this test isn't getting the credit it has so evidently earned. Hyundai has never come closer to the sharp end of such an important Autocar group test verdict. But the truth is that, great as the Santa Fe undoubtedly is, it's a car that you have to have a need for. It's not a Freelander rival as much as a cut-price Discovery – engineered to tow double-axle caravans and horseboxes, to transport big families, to move student teenagers off to university. And if you don't have needs like that, you might end up wishing you'd plumped not for 'big', but for 'big enough'.

'Big enough' is what the Ford Kuga does brilliantly, and it brings a whole lot else into the equation. This car offers more than you'd expect to get, either for the price or the size – on space, when towing, off road and as an ownership prospect. On top of that, Ford's typically taut, instinctive handling remains the unique selling point – and it really is a supreme one next to this kind of competition.

Ford gets the nod, by the slimmest of margins. But Seoul sticks one to Solihull. It's been a long time coming.

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