Category Archives: Reviews

2018 Opel Insignia Sports Tourer Review

Estate cars are, or used to be until SUVs became the norm, an Irish love affair. My father still longs for an estate whenever he is in the market for a new car. Sure, we all love a fast estate too right? Well, let me introduce you to the 2018 Opel Insignia Sports Tourer. Although it’s far from fast, it’s handsome, practical and affordable. Should you make it a priority buy for 2018?

Opel Insignia Sports Tourer Ireland

Ugly Saloon but Pretty Estate? 

I drove the 2018 Opel Insignia Grand Sport last year. I thought Opel had done a good job but I was still unsure of the styling, mainly the front overhang. This is sorted out in the estate version though with the rear end being much fuller, naturally. The car still has sleek, sweeping lines given its estate boxiness. The rear doors are long and extended, this translates to great legroom in the rear for passengers. The face is in line with the rest of Opel’s 17-long car family. The wide grille sits comfortably between the optional Intellilux LED Matrix headlights.

Opel Insignia Sports Tourer Ireland

Is It BIG Enough?

Inside, I’m immediately cocooned by the low seating position and the raised centre console. The leather seats are comfortable and supportive. Although I didn’t do any long journeys, I could tell that the seats would be a pleasant place to spend some miles. However, the road noise might be a problem. The space to the rear is very good, not on par with the Skoda Superb but it would be a close second. The infotainment up front is typical Opel but this is no bad thing. Standard across the range is Opel OnStar. This safety feature-cum-concierge service allows you to call Opel’s call centre if you are experiencing problems with the car or if you simply need to find the closest petrol station.

Opel Insignia Sports Tourer Interior

An estate is all about practicality, especially when it comes to the boot. The Insignia Sports Tourer has 560 litres on tap which can be extended to 1,665l with the rear seats collapsed. Compare this to the Skoda Superb Combi and it will give you 100l more for the former and almost 300l more for the latter. Up front, the centre console has two spacious cup holders, a choice between a centre console cubby and a large glove box for your phone and not to mention decent sized door bins.

No More Dreadful Notchy Gearshifts

As for the drive, I was pleasantly surprised. I had gone from driving the 2018 Opel Crossland X the week prior to the Insignia and couldn’t get over that the two cars came from the same company. The Crossland’s notchy and characterless gearshift was replaced with a smooth 6-speed manual mated to the 1.5 petrol in the Insignia estate. The new petrol unit produces the same 140hp as the old 1.4 unit but has upped the torque to 250Nm. Having a petrol in this size car was very refreshing and I didn’t notice the lack of a diesel.

Opel Insignia Sports Tourer Boot

I mainly spent the week doing suburban and urban driving. The large size of the car didn’t put me off driving in the city. In the test car, there were safety features such as front and rear parking sensors and pedestrian recognition. This helped while negotiating the tight Dublin streets.

€9,000 Worth of Options…

The test car I had was priced at €39,585 including more than €9,000 worth of options, quite excessive. The 2018 Opel Insignia range starts at €27,350 for the Grand Sport and €28,550 for the Sports Tourer. Would I have the Insignia over the Skoda Superb? For the refreshing interior over the Superb, yes. The Skoda uses a lot of Volkswagen parts so it doesn’t feel as special or as unique. But if it’s all about space, then the extra 100l shouldn’t be overlooked.

Opel Insignia Sports Tourer Ireland

Would I Buy One?

Overall, the 2018 Insignia is a very good attempt for Opel. They are moving in the right direction, especially shying away from the diesel. Only time will tell for what the PSA buy over will have in store for the German brand. But, I would put the Insignia Sports Tourer high up on my list of cars to consider for 2018.

Opel Insignia Sports Tourer sunroof

2018 mazda cx-3 ireland

2018 Mazda CX-3 – New Car Review Ireland

My parents are in the market for a new car. The car they’re replacing? A 2.0TDI 2008 Audi A4. But, along with the rest of Ireland, they are being persuaded towards a compact SUV. The compact SUV in question? The 2018 Mazda CX-3. As we know the crossover market, particularly in Ireland, is overcrowded. Can the Mazda CX-3 cut the mustard?

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It’s no secret that I think Mazda is a hugely under-rated brand, especially for their design efforts. The CX-3, along with the rest of the line-up, has the magic touch of KODO design. This is Mazda’s design language which makes all of its cars seem a more grown-up than they actually are. The 2018 Mazda CX-3 measures just 4.2m in length but the wide face with indented grill makes it look a lot larger and more full than it is.

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The compactness of the CX-3 plays in its favour in terms of driving but not for the interior, from the rear passengers point of view anyway. For once, I had a lot of back seat time in the Mazda CX-3 as the ‘rents chauffeured me around. Head room is good for someone like me, 6 foot-ish, but leg room was not on my side. Up front, it’s a typical Mazda affair. Mazda’s infotainment, Mazda Connect, s in full swing with Bluetooth connectivity and sat nav. The iDrive-esque system is easy to use but I think the CX-3 could be the complete package if they offered Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. As you might have gathered from some of my other reviews, brown leather wins every… single… time! So, thank you Mazda Ireland for the comfortable brown leather and alcantara supportive seats.

2018 mazda cx-3 ireland interior

As for the drive, I honestly already had it in my head that the Mazda would drive well. Every Mazda product I have driven before has not disappointed – from the Mazda MX-5 all the way to the 2018 Mazda CX-5. If I was to describe the CX-3’s drive in one word it would be tight. The 6-speed manual’s notchy gearshift compliments the weighty and precise steering well.

Although you might expect a car like this to have vague steering, you point the CX-3 in the right direction and it will bring you there. The 2.0 petrol’s song sounds familiar to the MX-5. It is surprisingly raspy. The naturally aspirated 2.0 petrol produces just 120hp and 204Nm but never did I feel as if the crossover was underpowered. On the motorway, it isn’t the cream of the crop when it comes to steadiness but I couldn’t see a long journey to Cork, which my parents would regularly do, being much of a chore. The cabin is also quiet so don’t expect to arrive fatigued. As for boot space, it is 350 litres which is down 80l on the 2018 Nissan Qashqai and almost on par with the 2018 Opel Mokka X.

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The petrol engine returned an average score of 7.4l/100km throughout my 10 days with the car. The SUV covered almost 500km between my parents and I.

So the burning question – Did my parents like it enough to buy? Well put it this way, my Dad has been on Mazda.ie speccing up CX-3s ever since I handed it back. Yes, I would like the Mazda CX-3 to have a better infotainment or possibly more power from the 2.0 petrol if I found myself in the situation of a good hoon. However, my parents don’t need or want either of them. There is the right level of luxury and comfort there for them to enjoy without spending money they don’t have. All €28,595 and brown leatherness of the CX-3 is 100% worth it.

2018 mazda cx-3 ireland rear

Opel Crossland X front

2018 Opel Crossland X Review – New Car Review

The 2018 Opel Crossland X sits in a segment which, in my opinion, is pointless. The B-Segment SUV segment consists of cars such as the 2018 SEAT Arona and 2018 KIA Stonic. What the Crossland X has in common with these two competitors is that, in Ireland, the older sibling of each is so closely related that it seems as if they are just excuses for each brand to release yet another car.

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The Opel Crossland X

When I got handed the keys of the 2018 Crossland X, I was told that it was not, essentially, as high class as the 2018 Insignia Grand Sport is believed to be. I was thankful of this information because it set the bar lower for me as I started my week with it. Despite the SUV set at being for the “more affordable” market, the one I had in SE trim was priced at €28,320. This is quite steep considering that the target market for this car is for current owners of the Corsa, which is priced from €15,750. The Crossland X starts from €21,995.

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An Out-LANDish Exterior

Up front, the Opel Crossland X looks like a skinnier, more obscure Mokka X. I particularly like the Mokka because it looks compact yet is practical on the inside. As you move down the along the 4.2m long compact Crossland, you are exposed to the bland styling to the rear. It’s 2D-like bum is not very imaginative. I know there is only so much you can do to an SUV nowadays due to safety regulations, etc. so this only backs up my point of this car in the first place, why?

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Will It Go Cross-Land?

Immediately as I sat inside the Crossland X and turned the key, one adjective came to mind; agricultural. The hard plastics that construct the interior play no part in the quality that Opel is capable of. Turn the key and Opel’s 1.6CDTi diesel unit that was once described as whisper quiet (it really isn’t…), rattles into life. In this particular car, the 99hp and 254Nm unit is coupled with a 5-speed manual with, what must be, the world’s longest throw. Selecting first, third and fifth gear is like reaching into the engine bay.

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But the whole package comes together to provide a smooth and comfortable ride. The 17-inch wheels give a little road noise on the motorway but nothing that the Crossland’s competitors can sort out. When I say that this class is pointless, isn’t fair. I know who would buy a B-segment SUV – our elders. The high seating position and ease of access to both the cabin and 410l boot makes sense for people who are tired of clambering down into their Opel Corsa. I also commend Opel on the fact the Opel OnStar comes as standard across the range – that being all two trim levels (SC and SE). The infotainment is typically Opel, its the 7-inch touch screen IntelliLink 4.0. The system is easy to use and my phone paired quickly for the first time to it. Although, the hard plastics provided a lot of rattle when listening to music at volume or with bass.

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Would I Buy One?

I stand by what I say when the 2018 Opel Crossland X feels agricultural. For €28,320, the Crossland doesn’t seem worth it. It feels like an excuse of a car. As if Opel was obliged to keep up with trends and felt the need to bring out yet another model to its already 17 car long line-up. Why not invest more money into improving the Mokka rather than just giving it a new face and adding an X to its name. Besides, the Mokka X is only a €500 jump up from the Crossland. My conclusion? Save yourself the money and invest in a Mokka X.

2018 Nissan Qashqai Exterior

2018 Nissan Qashqai Review – New Car Review Ireland

There’s a reason the old generation Nissan Qashqai dominated its segment – It was practical and cheap. Exactly what consumers look for when buying in its segment. The Qashqai has been given a makeover for 2018 and I’ve been driving it. Does it live up to its predecessor?

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I’m a single, 23 year old who has no kids so thankfully I have no need for the Qashqai but I can see why it sells so well. From the outside, the old bubbliness of the first generation has been replaced with a sleeker, muscular body painted in Vivid Blue on my press car. The B-Segment SUV sat on 19-inch black and chrome alloy wheels, standard on SVE trim. Due to the nature of larger alloys, road noise is noticeable at higher motorway speeds. I respect the fact that Nissan tried to sound proof the cabin but the reason I know this is because I could see the material used behind some exterior body panels. The grey Styrofoam material could be seen behind the wings when you opened the driver’s door. This and the fact that a lot of the interior plastics are of questionable material, it’s known that Nissan cut corners in terms of quality.

Welcome Into The Interior Of The Nissan Qashqai

Inside this highest spec car, Nissan equipped these super comfortable and great looking Nappa Leather quilted seats. Both the front two seats were electrically adjustable with the driver’s one having memory functions. This interior oozes practicality with the centre console’s armrest doubling up as a two tier cubby hole. The top part is the perfect size for a phone and wallet while the bottom part holds a couple of 500ml bottles of water. Although, the cup holders are massive, my little flat white was lost in them. Still, if you’re a fan of massive take away mugs of coffee in the morning, you’ll be more than happy to know that there are space for two up front.

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This week’s coffee spot – Ebb and Flow, Clontarf.
Said flat white came from my local – Ebb and Flow. The shop, fronting a hairdressers, has been in business since 2015 and is owned by Dave Smyth. But the faces that greet you as you walk in are what I come back for, not only the coffee. The Baristas are always full of chat and are there to brighten up your day.

Ebb and Flow stocks the Irish owned Full Circle Roasters coffee. In the grinder that day was Full Circle’s Single Origin. This fruity coffee makes the perfect flat white. It has strong tones from blueberries, cacao and violet  softly complimenting the flatty nicely.

Ebb and Flow charge €3.00 for a flat white and €2.50 for an espresso.

As For The Infotainment?

I criticised the new Nissan Micra for its infotainment system. To my despair, the system has not been updated for 2018. Although it works just fine, it’s messy. Too many buttons feature on the sides and the graphics look as if Nissan are only discovering colour screens now. There is an upside to the abundance of buttons, however. For someone unlike me who is used to the newest tech, the old school system is easy to navigate with each button doing exactly what you want it to.

 

Do You Even Practicality Bro?

Space to the rear is good. In my driving position, there was plenty of leg and headroom and the outer passengers benefit from a central arm rest. If you pull the short straw and are plonked in the middle, fear not – the transmission tunnel is small so leg room isn’t compromised too much.

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The boot features a false floor split in half so you can decrease or increase the depth of the boot. With it on the top setting, the load lip is minimal so you can slide larger items in and out with ease. To my surprise, the Nissan Qashqai had a full sized spare wheel in the boot. However, this is chucked out if you opt for the Bose sound system.

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Let’s Take to the Road

The Qashqai was never about the drive so look away now if you are looking for something more engaging. The 1.2 DIG-T is a 115hp, 190Nm turboed four cylinder petrol. The petrol makes much more sense to the style of driving I did. I mainly did city runabouts with the odd scoot down the motorway. This resulted in an average fuel consumption of 6.6l/100km over almost 400km. The peak torque of this engine arrives at 2,000rpm. This means that at lower revs, there is little power and the car feels sluggish. However, the reason I would want the petrol over the diesel is because the cabin is quieter than that of the diesel. If the joy of driving matters more to you when it comes to a family car, then lean more towards the Mazda CX-3 or CX-5.

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What Do You Get For Your Money?

The Nissan Qashqai starts at €26,070 for the XE. For this test car, expect to part with €34,320. As standard on SVE is Black Nappa Leather seats, electrically adjustable front seats and Driver Assist Pack including Intelligent Park Assist. The park assist is very intelligent, indeed. The bird’s-eye view is extremely accurate and much more convenient than just the regular parking sensors.

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Would I Buy One?

Will the 2018 Nissan Qashqai be as successful as it’s predecessor? Yes, no doubt. Although its build quality is dubious, its an overall impressive package. With competition from like likes of the Opel Mokka, Skoda Yeti (Soon to be the 2018 Skoda Karoq) and Mazda CX-3, it has a lot to live up to. If €34,320 is too strong, there is plenty of value in lower trim levels.

2018 Alfa Romeo Giulia Veloce Review

The 2018 Alfa Romeo Giulia Veloce is straight out the prettiest car, within an achievable financial reach, on sale in Ireland. The Giulia range starts from €39,995 with my test car priced at €56,645. Now, I could sit here and write 1,000 words riddled with cheesy Italian clichés like that the car is “Bello” and “Fantastico” but this car deserves more respect than that.

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You Could have a BMW 3-Series or Audi A4. But Have The Alfa!

The Alfa Romeo Giulia sits in a competitive segment. One that is saturated with BMW 3-Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class buyers. When Alfa Romeo released the 159’s replacement in 2015, after the predecessor ceased production in 2011, the world was very pleased indeed. We were hoping for another seductive Italian saloon like the 156 and 155 of days gone by. And that we got. Although, it’s too early to tell whether the Giulia will take after it’s ancestors in terms of reliability.

As soon as you are within the vicinity of the Giulia Veloce, you truly know it. The Misano Blue paint, 19” Veloce alloys with yellow calipers lurking behind is a combination that can only be described as “Offt!”. The presence that the Giulia has is rather impressive. I attended Cars and Coffee at the weekend and I watched in awe as fellow car enthusiasts expressed their interest in it.

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The triangular grill with the off-centre reg pays homage to the Alfas of old. The rear defuser with large, circular exhaust tips each side make the correct statement. They make a nice rumble from cold too, I had some comforting mornings with the 1-degree frostiness during my week.

The interior is very fresh. The centre console isn’t plastered with buttons, or blank ones at that. Instead, the faux-aluminium panel houses the infotainment scroller, radio volume controls, the DNA switch, twin cup holders and the gear shifter for the 8-speed ZF gearbox. The black leather with contrast stitching sport seats honour the ones that are found on the Alfas of the 60’s and 70’s. Alfa have taken a page out of Ferrari’s book and put the start button on the steering wheel. Behind the multi-functional steering wheel, are the massive, metal paddles. They feel like proper paddles when shifting too, unlike the buttons found on some Volkswagen AG models.

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Space to the rear is very cramped. With the driver seat in my driving position, all 6-foot of me had very little leg room. Although, the quality of materials used to the rear were as good as the ones up front, not usually found on many cars these days. As for the boot, it offers 480l. This is on par with the 3-Series and A4 but it’s shallow so feels a lot less.

The Giulia is a typical Alfa Romeo; it has many flaws that could be solved from it’s competitors but they don’t have the same charisma the Alfa does. When I first picked up the Giulia Veloce, I went for a drive. I took it to some quiet backroads, ones that would make you fall in love with an Alfa. I found that the Giulia was very tail happy and always wanted to kick out. I’m perfectly fine with this, I’m always up for a challenge. However, I’m not OK with the fact that you can’t turn off the traction control.

What this results in is a couple of seconds of laughter before the car is sitting dead in the middle of the road because the ESP kicked in a cut all the power. Not only did it do it on a backroad, similarly when I put the foot down to overtake a bus, in a controlled manner, I sat there as the ESP “worked it’s magic” not being able to do anything. From first impressions, I was genuinely disappointed, as much as it pains me to say it.

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From Alfa’s DNA switch, the Giulia has Natural, Dynamic and Advanced driving modes. In Natural, the executive saloon is a comfortable daily. The motorway miles are eaten from the comfort of the black, leather stitched sports seats. In Advanced, it makes tackling greasy or icy surfaces unchallenging. Switching to Dynamic is when I expected the Quadrifoglio-esque saloon to break loose, let it’s hair down and serenade me with the song of it’s people.

It might seem as if I am slating the Veloce over the fact that you can’t turn off the ESP and I am. But, why make a more “dynamic” version of an executive car to hold back on the driving dynamic? It’s senseless. This was until I took it onto a similarly technical road but this time with gradual bends and curves to it. In this situation, the Giulia feels planted. The saloon feels very sure of itself and confident of how you negotiate the road. The driving experience is quite bi-polar.

I learned that you have to get to know the Alfa Romeo Giulia. It’s a different driving experience from any other car I’ve ever driven. This being that it’s flaws are contagious and once you get the Giulia on a good day, you forget all the things you dislike. At low speeds, the steering is engaging, you feel where the wheels are at any given time – unlike some other cars with adaptive steering. The same goes for the hoonable roads; You’re glad to see some nice bends up ahead.

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I noticed every morning as I pulled out of the driveway, the front wheels slipped as I turned – Almost as if it was understeering but at 5km/h. This is normal for cars with a wide track as the front wheels tilt as you turn. But, it was more noticeable on the Giulia. It’s quirky too. It took three people and about 20 minutes to find the bonnet release latch. The manual says that it is in the passenger footwell when in fact, it is actually underneath the steering wheel and is discretely hidden. Oh, Alfa!

The 2018 Alfa Romeo Giulia Veloce – Would I buy one?

As my week came to an end, I had fully figured out the Giulia Veloce. I can see it as a motorway cruiser rather than a backroad bruiser. As for my verdict, you’re going to hate me. As much as the Giulia is flawed, I still want one. Every time I got into it, I loved it. I was happy to start my journey whether it was my morning commute or just nipping down to the shops. It’s toxic. Would I recommend you buy one, yes. At least consider it before you opt for an A4 or 3-Series.

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I dislike so many things about the car but I just can’t get enough of it. In saying this, it took me the whole week to come to this conclusion, the car grows on you. Yes, you can have a BMW 330i M-Sport for the same money but it’s not an Alfa. It doesn’t feel as special as an Alfa. It doesn’t get the same respect or looks as the Alfa does. It’s such a lovable car. Now I understand Alfa owners, I get you.

Buick LaCrosse Front

Buick LaCrosse – Review

Before I even begin to talk about the specifics, let’s address the elephant in the room. The Buick LaCrosse, in Premium trim, costs $50,270. In Ireland Buick is, essentially, an Opel. So that’s spending roughly €42,000 (excluding VRT) on a German-origin saloon. Similarly, when I test Skoda models people make remarks at the sheer cost of the car. For example, the Skoda Superb Sportline that I tested recently came to a shade over €50,000 and my followers were up in arms about the cost. But the quality is there so what’s the problem? If a car is worth it’s price tag then that’s that. But, is the Buick LaCrosse worth the same price as a top-of-the-range Audi A4?

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Is This American Opel an Opel?

On the outside, the Opel isn’t exactly a game changer. Painted in Quicksilver Metallic, the LaCrosse has similar lines to the likes of the Lincoln MKZ and Acura TLX. Up front, the unmistakable face of an Opel product, the new face of the LaCrosse is related to that of the new Opel Insignia. The long rear doors translate to extra leg room for rear passengers and easy access to the rear compartment. However as nit-picky as it may be, when looking at the panel gap between the front wing and bumper and it’s position on the car, it seems as if the designer didn’t care too much for the finish of the LaCrosse. The gap is half way up the front wing, above the wheel arch, rather than in a more conspicuous place like near the headlights. Just an odd observation.

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Stepping inside is somewhat of a relief and pleasant surprise. This is down to the fact that the LaCrosse’s interior isn’t just the product of a rapid raid of the GM’s parts bin. No, it is a well thought out cabin with a premium feel to the materials used. Of course this car being a press car, Buick didn’t skip over the options list. Ebony leather covers the seats with contrasting material used on the upper parts of the dash. Wooden trim lines the centre console including the soft close door hiding the cup holders. A large centre cubby is enough to hold basic bits like a phone, charger and a water bottle. This car had OnStar specced which allowed passengers to connect to WiFi. This came just at the right time as we had just lost our WiFi in our apartment that week. Numerous episodes of Rick and Morty were watched from the rear seats.

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Please May We Have This V6 in Ireland? 

Push the start button and the distant drone of a V6 bursts into life. Standard with the Buick LaCrosse is a 4-cylinder 2.5 petrol with this 3.6 V6 GM unit being optional. The engine produces 310hp and 363Nm of torque. On paper, this sounds better than it is. The premium saloon is sufficient which is what it’s buyers want. But, it is nothing of a sleeper, unlike the Skoda Superb Sportline. The optional All-Wheel-Drive helps the 8-speed automatic put down the power to the road. It suffers the same “small tank syndrome” as many Opel models where almost immediately the fuel gauge begins to drop from full giving the impression that the car uses more fuel than it actually is. I managed to get an average of 22mpg out of the thirsty V6. The ride quality is one of the best I have experienced from a car in its class. Both on the motorway and on badly paved roads, the ride is smooth and serine. Much like the whole cabin atmosphere at high speeds on the motorway; wind noise is kept to a minimum.

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Would I Buy? 

Getting your head around the pricing issue, the Buick comes as a good buy. On the top of the range model, there is tons of tech like OnStar, reversing camera and WiFi. The ride quality is unrivaled and the V6 experience is soothing, if a bit thirsty.

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Mazda Mx-5 front

Mazda MX-5 – Review

The Mazda MX-5, the Mazda Miata or the Mazda Eunos Roadster – An iconic Japanese roadster that has made its mark globally is now in its fourth generation. I had spent a little bit of time with the car last Summer with CBG in Ireland on a photoshoot . When I drove it, it was exactly what I had expected – a lightweight, open top, effortless car that is cheap. So now that I am both in Chicago and it has been a year since I last drove it, do I feel the same way? Or a better question, should it be overlooked now that the Mazda MX-5 RF is available?

Mazda Mx-5 front

Japanese Architecture Meets Japanese Engineering

For anyone who is interested in architecture will be familiar with the name Frank Lloyd Wright and his most well-known work, Falling Water. Wright began his career in the suburbs of Chicago so it was a no brainer that I had to visit Oak Park. Wright is known for his eccentric yet modern, simplistic houses constructed between 1889 and 1959. He spent some time living in Japan where he brought back some design ideas from the temples which can be seen on some of his work in Oak Park.

Mazda Mx-5 front

Similarities between the MX-5’s KODO design and Wright’s clear and crisp straight lined architecture lines can be seen. The MX-5’s squinty headlights don’t pay homage to the MK1 (NA) MX-5 that we all know and love with its innocent pop-up headlights. Nor do the rear angular lights represent the NA’s ones in all their oval-ness. No, the ND MX-5 is one that is completely new, unseen in today’s automotive world. Nowadays, we settle for the newer model of cars. The BMW 3-Series, for example. The new one is just a slightly different rendition of the previous generation one. This tactic makes previous-gen owners feel like they haven’t been cheated but new-gen buyers feel like they are getting a totally new car. Something in which Frank Lloyd Wright wouldn’t have approved.

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Even from the cabin, looking out over the bonnet the car gives a sense of purpose and presence. What, with the bonnet bulges each side giving it a sense of length. It reminds me of the Triumph TR6. Inside, you begin to see the budgeting side of the MX-5. There are cheap plastics making up the dash, A-pillar, centre console and the cubby hole between the driver and passenger. The leather seats are held together with contrasting red stitching, a familiar sight in Mazda cars. The infotainment system does the job. Mazda still hasn’t found out about Apple CarPlay or Android Auto just yet in the MX-5 but phone connectivity is easily done.

Mazda Mx-5 interior

Out On The Mother Road

But the Mazda MX-5 is best known from the moment the key is turned, or rather from the moment the Start/Stop button is pushed in the ND’s case. The four-cylinder 2.0 155hp engine bursts into life. How do you know? The gear stick vibrates with purpose and the twin-exhausts shout from a stand-still. The sound from the exhaust, is an interesting one. There is no burble or particular song from them. More just, a sound. A sound to let you know that there is an engine there ready to be worked to every inch of the tachometre.

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Illinois isn’t known for its great driving roads or iconic S bends. But none the less, I was determined to have fun. So much so, that I met up with the Windy City Miata Club (WCMC)  – A car club dedicated to the appreciation for the small British-esque roadster. But what Illinois, more so Chicago, is known for is The Mother Road. Yep, I was going to take on a whopping 50miles of the 2,451miles of Route 66 with my fellow MX-5ers. This is when I truly fell for the Mazda MX-5. My father and I are Triumph TR6 owners so I understand the sense of obsession around a particular brand or model of car. Each Mazda MX-5 owner from the WCMC had a passion for the roadster and an urgency to keep them on the road. From the 1989 NA all the way up to mine, a 2017 ND, they were each appreciated with no disregard. With an automatic gearbox or manual. Stock or modified.

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It’s in the news every day that electric cars are going to take over and that the petrol engine will be dead and gone. But I have no doubt Mazda will be able to pull off the MX-5 for another 28 years. Its iconic design, the way it drives and the fact that it costs from €27,995 makes it so desirable. Frank Lloyd Wright would have been proud to see his iconic home being complimented by something even more iconic, the Mazda MX-5.

Mazda3 Grand Touring Front

Road Trip: Mazda3 Grand Touring

Based on my last piece, I want to make the most out of my time in the USA and there is no better way of doing that than road trips. Road tripping is a broad term and usually means spending long periods of time, usually days or weeks, in a car exploring a country or area. But I am re-defining the road trip with short day trips consisting of a couple of hundred miles. What is my latest travel companion? The 2017 Mazda3.

Mazda3 Grand Touring Front

Model Tested: Mazda3 Saloon/Sedan Grand Touring.
Engine: 2.5 Petrol – 184hp and 251Nm.
Transmission: 6-Speed manual, front wheel drive.
Price: Prices for the Mazda3 range start at $17,845. Price as tested – $26,880. Irish prices start at €23,295.
Economy: Average; 31.1mpg or 7.6l/100km.

Recently I was given the keys to a unique car, by USA standards anyway; a Mazda3 4-door with a manual ‘box. A high percentage of cars here in the US are automatic with the exception of the older/vintage vehicles. So to say I was relieved that I had a manual to drive for the week would be an understatement.

Mazda3 Grand Touring Rear

The Mazda3 replaced the Mazda 323 in 2003 and is available in two variants; the Mazda3 Hatchback and Mazda3 Saloon. Although for the US market, they are the Mazda3 4-door and Mazda3 5-door.  The Mazda3 has just gone through a minor makeover giving the face a fresh look. One thing I love about cars in America is that in most states it is not obligatory to wear a front registration plate. In my case, the Californian regged Mazda3 did not have a front plate meaning the face could be fully appreciated. Mazda’s KODO design is right on par at the moment, in my opinion. Even the Mazda2, its baby model, has a strong, mature look to it.

Mazda3 Grand Touring Front

The Mazda3 I had was painted in Eternal Blue Mica with Parchment cream leather interior. Once stepping inside, it is all familiar with the exception of the steering wheel being on the “wrong side”.

Mazda3 Grand Touring Interior

 

Thankfully, I have driven left-hand drive cars before so it did not take me long to adjust to having to shift gears with my right hand. So much so that I dread the day I get back in Archie and have to re-adjust to my normal driving style. Although, what was not as easy to get used to were the road rules. The one thing I still am unsure of is being able to turn right on a red light. What makes it even more confusing is, you are allowed to turn right but at the same time pedestrians also have a green light to cross. So you must give them the right of way, which I do. But, I have had the misfortune of almost being mowed down by a Jeep Grand Cherokee who dis-obeyed this.

Mazda3 Grand Touring Manual

In light of this, I decided I needed to get out of the hustle and bustle of Chicago. I jumped back onto the I-94 and headed towards a national park called Silver Springs State Park. How did I find it? Zoomed out on Google Maps and pointed to a random part of the map; the only way to explore! After roughly 45 minutes on the Interstate; my exit was coming up. But of course I had Bastille cranked up at full volume on the Bose sound system and was wailing out-of-tune to Weight of Living as I noticed my exit pass. I figured I could just take the next exit, no problems. Thankfully the Sat Nav re-routed me to the next exit off the Interstate; which was another 20 miles away and had added an extra hour onto my journey. Not being able to do anything about this, I went back to my out of tune singing.

Mazda3 Grand Touring Bose

Eventually I came upon my exit. Seeing as I was already a good 40 miles away from my desired destination, I figured I would get myself completely lost on purpose. The Sat Nav tells me to turn left; I turned right. Shortly after riding down some dusty, gravely so-called roads, I stumbled upon a small sleepy town called Newark. What caught my eye in Newark were several cars rusting away on an old mechanics forecourt. Said cars were a Jaguar XJ6, a Fox-Body Ford Mustang, Plymouth Valiant and another  un-identifiable, to me, Jaguar peeking from under a large piece of tarp. Newark is your typical little back-arse-of-no-where town; retirees knocking around in golf carts and a corner diner/pub creating the sense of buzz.

Jaguar XJ6 and Plymouth Valiant

Jaguar

After leaving Newark, I went in search of Silver Springs again. I found myself venturing down gravel roads, passing by corn fields and even vineyards. This is what I left the city for. The Mazda3 could not have been a better companion. The 2.5 4-cylinder performed well on the back roads and the 6-speed manual added an ounce of excitement to the adventure. Eventually I arrived at Silver Springs. I took a quick look around the river and got straight back in the car. I came to drive, really. I couldn’t get enough of the freedom. I couldn’t get enough of being free of Chicago’s busyness.

Mazda3 Grand Touring SkyActiv

The Mazda3 Grand Touring Manual – The perfect exploration companion.

chrysler 300c road trip

A Road Trip in a Chrysler 300C

What happens when you get given the keys to a Chrysler 300C for a couple of days? You embrace the oversized American car lifestyle. But, what happens when you get given the keys to a Chrysler 300C for a couple of days while in the States? ROAD TRIP!

chrysler 300c road trip

I went in search of windy and twisting roads up in Wisconsin, 100 miles North of Chicago, Illinois. But once I let the 5.7 HEMI V8 burst into life, I knew that was a lost cause for this big, burly American land yacht. Still, that didn’t stop me from blasting up the I-94 (the Interstate). With it being 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius); I set the A/C to maximum, set the cruise control to 55mph and let Spotify serenade me through the Beats sound system.

chrysler 300c interior road trip

An hour and half later, my time on the Interstate comes to an end and the couch on wheels that is the 300C is back to being the muscle car that it is. I come to a set of lights and can’t help but give the throttle a little blip. The 5.7 HEMI roars back at me, I can feel the whole car sway as I rev. Green; 400hp and 527Nm come into play as I burst away from a stand-still. I refrain from losing my licence quickly. I look at the John Varvatos analogue clock positioned above the Uconnect touch screen infotainment system; it’s 11.45am. I am meeting a group of car people who have an obverse taste in cars at 12pm.

Triumph TR6 TR4 Road Trip

I roll into Silver Lake, Wisconsin, following a Morgan Plus Four. I know I’m in the right place. I arrive at a small industrial unit and outside are an array of Triumph TR4s, TR5s and TR6s, none of which I have seen since I left Dublin three weeks prior. I am meeting with the Illinois Sports Owners Association; the equivalent of the Triumph Classic Owners Club back at home.

Triumph TR6 Road Trip

As I park on the opposite side of the car park, not wanting to offend the British Glory, the 300C John Varvatos Collection’s Phantom Black Pearl paint glistens in the Wisconsin 32 degree sun. I learn that the Signal Red TR6 is a one owner car from new and is very much not standard. The whole car has had work on it over the years with the owner knowing every little detail about the car. He tells me that the front driver-side wing has been painted after someone reversed into him within two weeks of ownership. Both of the doors were re-painted at the dealership before he took delivery of the car. He assumes it was due to damage while the car was being delivered to America. Due to regulations in America, USA-bound Triumphs never got petrol injection. Instead they had dual carburetors putting out roughly 105hp. This is down 20-45hp on the European cars.

Triumph TR4 Road Trip

After we natter about cars and I drool over some of the customer’s cars in the workshop, we head off to Lake Geneva; 16 miles East of Silver Lake. Both Silver Lake and Lake Geneva are where well-off Chicagoans retire for the Summer months and this is apparent in the housing and cars that pass by. Although, the six British sports cars still cause a stir as they rumble through the 20mph zones of these well-to-do neighbourhoods. Not far behind is the Chrysler 300C bellowing through with the V8 happily singing away. Although, it fits in amongst the other American natives.

Triumph TR4 Road Trip

Once I feed on a typical American meal (a chicken salad…), I say farewell to the Brits and go in search of scenic, small country lanes to put this boat to the test. I am recommended that Snake Road is one that fits the bill but is only about a mile long. I reach Snake Road and take off in a giddy fashion only to be slapped right back into reality after the second corner. The 300C is not meant for this, it is not a classic British sports car that loves to be driven to every inch of it’s life in the high rev range. It doesn’t soak up every hair pin corner gracefully. No; it is a loud, mean-looking muscle car that’s purpose is to cause a scene and cruise along a flat, straight surface with the V8 sound track keeping you company.

Triumph TR4 Road Trip

That is the reason why the road out of Lake Geneva was most special to me. It was said straight and flat surface with scenery that made it all worthwhile. Sure, I do love a nimble and quick hot hatch or sports car but it’s good to stray away from the norm every-so-often.

The Chrysler 300C John Varvatos Collection; my choice of V8 HEMI pleasure.

chrysler 300c road trip

Volkswagen Beetle front

Volkswagen Beetle – Review

From the people’s car to a style icon, the Volkswagen Beetle has come a long way. Since the New Volkswagen Beetle was introduced into Ireland in 2000, VW and MINI have been battling it out for the most retro ride. But what gives the Beetle the edge?

Volkswagen Beetle front

A Few Facts:
Model Tested: Volkswagen Beetle R-Line
Engine: 2.0TDI diesel – 150hp and 340Nm
Transmission: 6-Speed DSG automatic, front wheel drive.  
Price: Prices for the Beetle range start at €25,075. Price as tested – €35,350

You Want a Retro Ride? Say No More…

This is the Volkswagen Beetle’s party piece. Subtle retro touches compliment the coupe’s bubble yet masculine-lined Sandstorm Yellow body. Such as, the retro “duck-tail” spoiler, the chrome and black 17-inch Spin alloy wheels and Beetle font. Up front, the big innocent yet focused-eyed headlights take dominance over the two front wings. The thin-mouthed grill breaks the front end. The only thing the New Beetle is missing on the clam-shell bonnet is the chrome handle, otherwise it pays perfect homage to the original car.

Volkswagen Beetle features

Volkswagen Beetle front

Around back, the Volkswagen Beetle features a bubble-butt much like the Volkswagen Touareg. The rounded, bubbly arches give the car the extra bit of uniqueness. Seeing them in the wing mirrors from inside the cabin gives you the feels.

Volkswagen Beetle rear

Interior:

Inside, the Sandstorm Yellow theme continues specifically on the dashboard. The old school panel stretches across the whole width of the dash housing an Original Beetle-style glove box. Above the dash are three dials; an oil gauge, turbo boost gauge and a clock/stopwatch.

Volkswagen Beetle glovebox

Volkswagen Beetle gauges

The interior helps the driver to come to the realisation of the sheer size of the car. The interior is spacious and bright, thanks to the optional panoramic sunroof. The Comfort cloth seats come as standard and are flexible so it is easy to get into a comfortable position for long journeys.

Volkswagen Beetle interior

Although, due to the “bubbliness” of the Beetle, the A, B and C pillars are chunky meaning blind spots are a problem. While the retro, gloss Sandstorm Yellow plastic panel on the dash breaks up the interior, it is surrounding by some cheap, scratchy plastics.

Volkswagen Beetle interior

Do the Beetle’s Bubbly Characteristics Translate Well onto the Road? 

The Beetle can be powered by both petrol and diesel engines ranging from 1.2 to 2.0 engines. The test car I had was the 2.0TDI with the 6-speed DSG. Although the Beetle has a sport mode and is equipped in R-Line trim, it is far from sporty. The 6-speed DSG is hesitant to change gears at times making the 150hp unit feel more sluggish than it is. Throw it into a corner and the body roll holds back your giddiness.

Volkswagen Beetle front

But rather than labeling the Beetle as a sports car, categorise it as a GT cruiser and it becomes a whole different car. The Beetle feels comfortable and composed in normal driving mode. While in this mode, the suspension is giving even with the 18-inch wheels specced. The DSG gearbox lacks responsiveness; up and downshifts can be slow. It would benefit from a seventh gear.

Volkswagen Beetle side

All of this aside, the Beetle is all about the image. The retro looks beat that of the rather dated-looking Fiat 500 and is on par with the MINI.

How Practical is the Volkswagen Beetle?

Up front, the Beetle has enough storage in the glovebox, door pockets and space for a phone in the centre console. The beefiness of the Beetle comes with benefit though as it has a 310l boot. This can increase to 905l with the rear seats folded.

Volkswagen Beetle glovebox

Is the Volkswagen Beetle Well Equipped?

As part of R-Line trim, the Beetle comes with a 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system with parking assist, cruise control and gearshifter buttons on the steering wheel. Options on this test car included the 171 Pack (€1,217). This includes a panoramic tilt and slide sunroof, 18″ Twister alloys, app connect, discover media and a reversing camera. The Discover Media pack adds Apple Car Play and Android Auto along with a reversing camera, which is built into the rear VW badge.

Now for the Numbers

Throughout my week with the Beetle, I averaged 6.7l/100km. This was mainly based off city, suburban and faster country road driving. The Beetle emits 126g/km of CO2 so costs €270 per year to tax.

Volkswagen Beetle rear

Pricing for the Beetle range starts at €25,075. The test car, including options, costed €35,350.

What Else is on Offer?

The Beetle is a strange one. Obvious competition would be the Fiat 500 and MINI Cooper. But based on practicality and size, that rules the 500 out.

Audi TT – The Audi TT has set quite a trend since it was first seen back in the late 1990’s. It has been a successful coupe for the Volkswagen owned brand but the premium status and badge comes at a price. From €44,500 to be exact.

MINI Cooper – The MINI and Fiat are the go-to-cars in this retro segment. Being an R53 Cooper S owner, I can say that MINI do produce a fun car. Although, they have been making some brave moves lately with the introduction of the 5-door Hatch and Countryman, the latter of which I actually quite like. Plenty of choice from the Brits it seems.

Fiat 500 – Has it been done to death at this stage? Yes. But the 500 still wins over buyers in this segment. Much like MINI, the 500 has expanded it’s horizons with variants like the 500L and 500X. But for me, it’s getting old now. How much life is left in the 500?

Would I Buy a Beetle?

The Volkswagen Beetle is a good Summer cruiser. The 6-speed is sufficient for bopping around town or nipping down the coast. There is also no doubting the coolness of the Beetle. Spec it in a far-out colour and you’ll have the best smile factor car around.

Volkswagen Beetle front