Wednesday, 9 April 2014

COLUMN - April 2014

Here is another chance to catch my column from the April edition of The Local Herald. With the weather showing slight signs of improvement, I'm getting more chance to appreciate the cars I'm testing as opposed to sprinting to them to avoid the rain. And I had a lot to appreciate this month, because there's a nod to the Peugeot 308, which is really brilliant. And then there's a couple of big 4x4's in the Volvo XC60 and Land Rover Discovery. A lot of shiny metal for you to enjoy then...

I wish to start this month by talking about another Peugeot; the new 308. You may have seen it advertised on television recently and thought it rather nice. I know I did, and so it wasn’t long before I had a 308 sat on the drive. The styling is extremely impressive; from the sleek exterior to the minimalist centre console. It all feels well built, and of a high quality. The centrepiece in the cabin is the 9.7-inch touchscreen multimedia system which controls everything from the satellite navigation to the heater controls. I scored the Peugeot a 48, because it was nearly perfect, so go out there and see for yourself.

The other cars this month are a little, well, larger. I shall start with an old favourite of mine; the Volvo XC60. I reviewed one last year, and loved it. This year the XC90 has undergone a makeover, with new styling, new engines, and new technology. So I just couldn’t wait to test one. And what a car it turned out to be.

I had the 2.4-litre D5 diesel on test, but it had been ‘optimized’ by Polestar, and that little blue badge counts for a heck of a lot. Power is 230PS and 470Nm of torque, which hits all four wheels via a 6-speed geartronic transmission. This is one of the last surviving Volvo 5-pots, and still warbles away blissfully. Four cylinder, smaller-capacity engines are being rolled out across the line-up to offer better economy, so it may be that this engine is confined to the parts bin before long.

The exterior styling is fantastic in my opinion, and has given the XC60 a crisper look. Inside it’s great to see some proper bucketed seats to compliment the usual plush finish throughout. My test car had all the bells and whistles, with radar this, automatic that, and generally made any drive more enjoyable. It happily cruises on the motorway and is remarkably comfortable, yet has good cornering ability too; especially considering its size. I don’t think you’d be off down a muddy lane in the XC60- despite its 4WD- I mean you wouldn’t want to get those optional 20’s dirty now, would you?

But there is an alternative. Because for anyone who may ever want to venture into a field there is the Land Rover Discovery. 2014 sees some more cosmetic tweaks to a shape that’s been around for a few years to keep it fresh, as well as some changes to the running gear. The biggest change is the new 8-speed gearbox which results in a remarkably quiet motorway cruising speed, as well as gear changes that are barely noticeable.

As you would expect the finish in the Disco is from the top drawer, and feels solidly put together. Underneath the bonnet is the 3.0-litre SDV6 engine which has 256PS and a monumental 600Nm of torque. Coupled to one of the best 4WD systems around, this really is a go-anywhere car. There are specific modes for tricky terrain, and I managed to have a go at some mud ruts; which posed no problem at all for the Discovery.

On the practical side you have 7 seats, and don’t think it’s a cramped third row either; I could sit quite comfortably in the rear-most seats. The air suspension really makes the ride comfortable on the motorway too. It’s just a shame that the Discovery is let down by economy, with such a heavy body and big V6 diesel you can expect combined fuel economy in the mid 20’s.

As always check out the full reviews on my website. See you next month!

Dan

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