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Motoring - Road Tests
Continuing our new motoring column. the experienced and award-winning motoring journalist, Nick Fletcher, helps our readers to choose the best of the new cars.
BMW’s X3 and X5 crossover models have proved popular so it was no surprise that an X1 version would become available, more compact that its stablemates but still exuding a classy premium-quality persona.
With prices starting at around £25,000, the X1 is available in 11 versions, with four 2.0-litre diesel engines offering between 141 hp and 215 hp. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard, while an eight-speed automatic is an option, and while 2WD versions are in the line-up, most buyers will opt for the assurance of 4WD versions.
Crossovers attempt to combine the best of all worlds, a blend of day-to-day practicality, 4WD ability yet still having a sporty edge. The X1 certainly ticks all those boxes.
The entry-level SE version offers dual-zone climate control, USB sockets, Bluetooth, rear parking sensors and power front and rear windows among an array of equipment, so it provides excellent value. Up the price-scale, Sport and M Sport models have sharper styling, while XLine trim provides a more rugged look.
My recent test model was an XLine, at the upper end of the price scale at £32,230, and featuring the option of auto transmission. Top speed is 127 mph, the 0-60 mph time is nifty at just 6.8 seconds, while fuel economy is very acceptable at 47.9 mpg combined.
The X1 is the smallest of the BMW crossovers and you do notice that when you get in - the doors are narrow. However once inside, there is plenty of room for front and rear occupants, and in great comfort too.
The test model has standard leather upholstery as well as front, side and curtain airbags, multi-adjustable steering, alloys wheels, climate control and radio/CD/MP3/iPod.
The cabin is premium-look, and is user-friendly apart from the ignition key and start button requiring left-handed operation. There is good head and legroom, and the boot, while not vast is adequate for normal needs, and the rear seats do fold virtually flat for extra load versatility.
On the road, the X1 is composed and assured, with a well-balanced suspension set up.
The steering is a little heavier than you might expect, but gives good feedback. The auto transmission is very smooth and does have paddle over-ride if you want to get more involved. Overall, I found it responsive and nimble and over a longer distance, relaxing to be in.
The A-Class is an all-new model from Mercedes-Benz, so radically different from the previous model that you cannot even begin to compare the two.
The latest version has an elegant yet potent look and though the smallest in the Mercedes stable, still exudes premium-sector class.
Prices start at £18,970 with the flagship version topping out at £28,800. There are three petrol options offering 121hp and 154hp from 1.6 litre engines and a 208 hp 2.0-litre. Diesel buyers can choose from two 107hp engines – a 1.5 litre with a manual gearbox and a 1.8 that comes with dual-clutch semi-auto transmission. There are also 134 hp 1.8 and 168 hp 2.1 diesels.
My recent test model was the 1.8 litre, with auto transmission operated via a short stalk on the steering column and a manual paddle-shift. It was the Blue Efficiency AMG Sport version costing £25,970, but laden with more than 30 optional extras which took the total price to a breath-taking £37,510. Extra kit included a sophisticated communications/entertainment unit which alone costs £2,100.
The car - which is much lower than the old A-Class - looks terrific from the outside and gives that hewn from solid appearance which suggests the car will still be looking good and performing well 10 or 15 years down the line.
The cabin is roomy and comfortable though to some may feel mildly claustrophobic as the windows are very narrow, as is the rear screen. There is excellent occupant space front and rear and a big boot of 341 litres which boosts to 1,157 with the seats folded. It scores highly for practicality.
On the road, overall performance is very good with smooth power delivery, slick auto gearshift and reassuring handling characteristics. Engine noise from the 136 hp 1.8 litre diesel was louder than expected for a Mercedes but that is one of the few criticisms of a car which generally pleases and impresses.
Top speed of the test model is 130 mph, the 0-60 mph time 9.2 seconds. Combined fuel economy is 65.7 mpg.
All models have seven airbags, Attention Assist (which monitors driver fatigue) and a radar-controlled collision-prevention system, alloy wheels, Bluetooth and air-conditioning or climate control. The sporty AMG models feature bespoke alloys, a more aggressively styled front grille and a subtle AMG bodykit among additional equipment.
No doubt about it, the new A-Class makes a strong statement and offers a more affordable and much more stylish entry point to gain Mercedes-Benz cachet.
Small hatchbacks are selling in bigger numbers than ever and the choice is wider too. Anyone looking to buy in this crowded sector will be seeking a car that is attractively styled, fun to drive and well equipped with an alluring price-tag. Not all cars can match that demanding tick-list but one that can is the Suzuki Swift.
Similar in size to the famous Mini and just as agile to handle, the Swift makes quite an impact in the sector, offering plenty of value for money and excellent day-to-day driving characteristics.
Available in three and five-door form, and priced from £10,660, the Swift comes with choice of 1.2 or 1.6 petrol engines and a 1.3 diesel unit.
Most buyers tend to opt for the 1.2 litre model offering 93 hp, a top speed of 103 mph and a 0-60 mph time of 12.3 seconds - not that quick compared with some rivals, but the combined fuel figure of 56.5 mpg atones.
The Swift comes in three trim levels. Entry level SZ2 models have electric front windows, remote locking, electric door mirrors, radio/CD player with USB connection and steering wheel controls. SZ3 models add air-con and alloys, while SZ4 and Sport models come with push-button start, climate control, Bluetooth, keyless entry, rear privacy glass and cruise control.
My recent test model was the 1.2 SZ4, one of the flagship versions priced at £13,699.
Out and about I found it a neat and nimble car, easy to drive and with exceptionally good handling. It is much more fun to drive than most of its mainstream rivals.
Performance feels quicker than the on-paper figure of 12.3 seconds, the steering gives good feedback and the ride quality is on the firm side which helps give that assured handling.
In the cabin, the high roofline gives plenty of headroom front and rear and good access. The fascia has a smart practical layout and the plastics and trim appear durable - there is an overall impression of solidity that you do not always find in this class. Boot space is 211 litres, boosted to 528 litres with the seats folded, though they don’t go completely flat.
Standard safety kit includes stability control and seven airbags - one of which protects the driver’s knees in a crash - and all this helps earn the Swift a maximum five-star NCAP safety rating, another strong plus-point.
Swift plus-points are its sweet handling, excellent economy, and roomy interior.
First published May/June 2013 By The Dart