Spied: Fiat Panda set for mid-life update

Fiat Panda Cross facelift 1

Spy shots show new Fiat Panda Cross model, though the changes look very minor

2017-02-20 16:10

The Fiat Panda has been around since 2012 in its current form, meaning it's high time for a facelifted version to arrive - and our spy photographers have caught the new model out winter testing in Sweden.

This model is a four-wheel drive Fiat Panda Cross, with the distinctive scuff plate on the lower front bumper and prominent fog lights near the grille. The camouflage on this prototype car appears to be doing a very good job of obascuring the changes, as it appears very similar to the current model.

The Fiat badge looks slightly bigger, but we expect to see new lights and perhaps a tweaked bumper design on the finished product. It's also possible that this car is simply testing a new engine variant that would join the existing 1.3-litre diesel, 1.2-litre and 0.9-litre TwinAir petrol engines in the range. Updates will apply across the range, including the venerable 4x4 model.

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It's the same story at the rear of the new Panda here, as there are no noticable changes over the current Panda Cross. The standard Panda could benefit from a few more changes than the tricked-out Cross variant, too.

No details on the updated Panda have arrived yet, but we expect a handful of extra equipment and tech inside as well, with the possibility of a few interior styling changes. Expect to see the new car out by the end of the year, possibly making its debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show in the Autumn.

Are you a Fiat Panda fan? Let us know why below...

Sam Naylor
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New Kia Stinger GT prototype review

Kia Stinger GT prototype - front drift

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21 Feb, 2017 7:00am Dan Prosser

We drive a prototype version of the new Kia Stinger GT and the first impressions are good

Kia has long been considered a high-value mainstream manufacturer that offered cheap, cheerful and well-equipped family cars. While a prolonged push upmarket has seen top-spec Sorento SUVs nudge £40,000, it’ll take a different tack later this year, with the introduction of its all-new Stinger GT halo car. 

A four-door saloon targeting established German rivals such as the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class, the GT will act as the Korean brand’s exclusive flagship when it arrives in UK dealers later this year. It’ll come with a choice of 2.0-litre petrol and 2.2-litre diesel engines, as well as a range-topping 3.3-litre V6.

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For an early taste of the new Stinger GT, Kia allowed Auto Express behind the wheel of a development car for a handful of laps at its test track in Korea. While it was hardly enough for a definitive verdict, it gave us enough of a taster to form some key first impressions. 

The seating position is good and the cabin spacious, with enough legroom in the rear even for taller adults. Interior quality is a step forward for Kia, too, although German competitors like the new A4 still lead the way. 

The V6 engine feels strong and very responsive, although the soundtrack is a touch soulless and it doesn’t care to be revved much beyond 6,000rpm. The eight-speed auto is smooth, but the ZF unit that’s favoured by the likes of BMW and Jaguar is more responsive in manual mode. In a nod to the car’s grand touring remit, there is a fair amount of body roll in corners rather than the flat-bodied stance of a true sports saloon, but this doesn’t feel like a chassis that wants for control or precision. 

The steering is direct, and there’s no looseness in the rack, plus what it lacks in feedback it makes up for with a predictable, intuitive rate of response at the front axle. Despite its size and weight, the Stinger GT feels agile and responsive in corners. 

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In addition to the time spent in Korea, Kia’s engineers also gave us a taste of the car in Arjeplog, Sweden, during their winter testing programme. Naturally, driving the car on a frozen lake didn’t tell us a great deal about how the car might behave on the road, but a second stint behind the wheel did confirm those first impressions of the sharp, direct steering and strong, responsive engine.

The low grip conditions allowed us to explore the car’s intriguing four-tier stability control system, however. Using the test facility’s 250-metre steering pad we started with the systems fully on, whereby all the little slips and slides that you feel on sheet ice are stamped out almost immediately.

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By switching the car into sport mode, the electronic safety nets give a little more freedom, allowing you to enjoy the car’s playful rear-wheel drive balance without any risk of spinning. Tapping the ESC button once more triggers the ESC programme’s third stage. As in the previous mode the car will still nibble its brakes to keep itself under control to some degree, but it will no longer cut the throttle when the rear wheels spin excessively. That means you can hold long slides with some assistance, but if you overcook it the car will happily spin. 

The final mode removes the safety nets entirely. There’s no ‘wake up’ function, either, so even if you spin or trigger the ABS violently the systems will remain fully off. In this mode it’s clear how effective the limited slip differential is, locking quickly and preventing the inside rear wheel from spinning away wastefully.

There are still many questions to be asked of the Kia Stinger GT. We’ll have to wait until we drive the car on real roads, but on the strength of these prototype drives, there is good reason to believe that it could be a refined, fast and entertaining grand tourer to rival the best of them.
Model: Kia Stinger GT Price: £43,000 (est) Engine: 3.3-litre V6 twin-turbo petrol Power/torque: 365bhp/510Nm Transmission: Eight-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
0-62mph: 5.1 seconds Top speed: TBC Economy/CO2: N/A On sale: TBC
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Aston Martin V8 and V12 Vantage S Red Bull Racing Editions revealed

Aston Martin V8 and V12 Vantage S Red Bull Racing Editions 1

Aston Martin announces new special edition versions of V8 and V12 Vantage S with Red Bull F1 theme

2017-02-21 00:01

Just in time for the 2017 Formula One season opener in March, Aston Martin has announced two new special edition models that tie in the British brand's partnership with the Red Bull Racing team.

The Vantage S Red Bull Racing Edition is available as a V8 or V12, and comes with a special paint job in Mariana Blue (though Tungsten Silver is available, as well as a satin-finish blue) with red highlights on the grille that hint at the Red Bull livery. The yellow brake calipers and carbon fibre trim make up the rest of the exterior changes.

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Inside the cabin the Red Bull special editions get unique detailing on the headrests, carbon fibre trim around the interior and an alcantara steering wheel. You can even have your inspection plate signed by Red Bull's F1 drivers Daniel Ricciardo or Max Verstappen.

Aston Martin CEO Andy Palmer said: “Motorsport is and will always be a key part of Aston Martin’s DNA and both the V8 and V12 Vantage S Red Bull Racing Editions bring that ethos straight to our customers.”

The cars are available to order now from Aston Martin dealers, with deliveries from the second quarter of 2017.

Would you buy a Red Bull-themed car? Let us know below...

Sam Naylor
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Lexus IS vs Jaguar XE

Lexus IS vs Jaguar XE - header

The new Lexus IS adds more style to its hybrid package, but can it beat the Jaguar XE?

2017-02-20 14:30

The compact executive class is highly competitive, with numerous models vying for buyers’ attention. One of the more leftfield choices is the Lexus IS, with its uniquely Japanese take on the small saloon formula, using innovative hybrid powertrains and focusing on build quality.

Yet after nearly four years on sale, the car has slipped behind the competition. In a bid to revive its fortunes, Lexus has refreshed the model with an extra dose of style, plus some slight tweaks to the driving experience and the interior.

Best executive cars on sale

Before the brand can pop the champagne corks, though, the IS must face our current class favourite: the Jaguar XE. Mixing style, quality, low running costs and bags of driving enjoyment, the Brit means business in this cut-throat sector. 

Head-to-head

Model:  Lexus IS 300h Advance Jaguar XE 2.0d 180 Prestige
Price: £33,695 £33,025
Engine:  2.5-litre 4cyl petrol/electric motor 2.0-litre 4cyl diesel
Power/torque:  220bhp (combined)/221Nm 178bhp/430Nm
Transmission: Transmission: CVT automatic, rear-wheel drive  Eight-speeed automatic, rear-wheel drive 
0-60mph 8.1 seconds 8.2 seconds
Top speed: 125mph 140mph
Test economy: 31.1mpg 44.7mpg
CO2/tax 101g/km/£20 111g/km/£30
Options: Metallic paint (£610) Metallic paint (£635)

Lexus IS

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• For: Great refinement, high-quality interior, sharp looks. • Against: Not very spacious, poor infotainment system, dull powertrain.

Buyers looking for an executive saloon that’s not powered by a diesel engine, but are unwilling to compromise on running costs, shouldn’t ignore the new Lexus IS. At a glance, they might not twig this is the latest version, though, as the changes to the lights and bonnet are subtle.

The 300h model tested here features a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine that’s supported by an electric motor, helping keep fuel usage and CO2 emissions to a minimum. The engine itself doesn’t feel particularly potent, as it’s set up for economy, but the combined petrol-electric output of 220bhp means it’s actually slightly faster than the Jaguar on the track, going from 0-60mph in 8.1 seconds. It was quicker from 50-70mph, too, taking 4.2 seconds – three tenths up on the XE.

Unfortunately, going from 50-70mph in the Lexus feels like much more of an ordeal than the XE, because of the CVT box. There are no gears as such, and the engine revs flare when you press the throttle, creating an unpleasant vacuum cleaner-like noise in the cabin while the revs build. This hurts the Lexus’s refinement, and the IS is slightly noisier inside at 70mph than the Jag, even though it will sit at just 1,300rpm at that speed.

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While the official economy figures match the XE’s diesel engine, in the real world, we only managed 31.1mpg; the Jag returned 44.7mpg. Still, where the hybrid wins for running costs is with its company car tax bills, since the 101g/km Lexus will save top-rate earners around £500 a year.

The dull engine and CVT gearbox mean that the IS will never be able to match the XE as a driver’s car, either, as speeding up is so unpleasant. Ignore that, though, and the Lexus’s chassis is actually pretty good, with well weighted steering and decent body control in corners. The wheel just doesn’t provide much feel, and while it’s better than you expect, it can’t match the Jaguar here.

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In normal driving, the Lexus is very comfortable, with the suspension revisions delivering a well judged ride, but that’s also thanks to the excellent seating position. It feels sporty without affecting access, and there’s plenty of adjustment, too. Plus, as the electric motor powers the car on its own at low speed, it’s smooth and quiet in traffic.

We’re big fans of the IS’s cabin, as it has a very high-quality finish and a neatly designed dash. It feels more spacious than the XE in the front, but there’s not as much legroom in the back. The other drawback to the Lexus’s interior is the dated infotainment system – only the flagship Premier gets the larger 10.3-inch unit from the RX SUV.

Testers’ notes:

• Materials: There’s a high-quality finish throughout, with smart executive touches, such as the classy analogue clock and chrome accents. • Controls: Rotary dial control selects driving mode; upgraded Remote Touch interface is frustrating. • Position: There’s plenty of adjustment for the driver’s seat so it’s easy to get a comfortable position.

Jaguar XE

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• For: Great to drive, low running costs, stylish to look at. • Against: Less standard kit, fussy infotainment system, rattly diesel noise.

Buying an executive saloon is tough; there’s never been more choice. Our current favourite is the Jaguar XE, but there are some really worthy contenders from the German brands, while even the Alfa Romeo Giulia deserves a closer look.

Where the Jag gets it right is with its balance of abilities. Take the 178bhp diesel engine in our Prestige model here, for example: it’s a strong performer, managing 0-60mph at the track in 8.2 seconds. It’s fairly punchy in-gear, too, going from 50-70mph in 4.5 seconds in fifth.

The Jag doesn’t just settle for decent performance, though, and matches it with the promise of strong economy – our 44.7mpg figure on test beat the Lexus’s 31.1mpg return easily. And while the Jag’s 111g/km emissions are higher than the IS’s, private buyers will pay just £10 more a year in tax, at £30.

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But while the Lexus is a little faster in a straight line, the Jaguar is much more fun to drive, thanks to its composed chassis, quick steering and lighter kerbweight. At the same time, the XE manages to feel smooth and refined on the road, and although the ride is a little on the firm side, it’s a small price to pay for the engaging handling.

At 70mph, the Jaguar sits at 1,700rpm, and despite being at higher revs than the petrol Lexus, it proved to be quieter at 70mph. Since many executive saloon buyers spend a lot of time pounding up and down motorways, that’s key.

The eight-speed automatic gearbox feels slightly lumpy at low speed, though. For example, when you’re pulling up to a roundabout and want to move away quickly into a gap, the transmission can feel slow to react. However, most of the time it’s smooth and responsive, even when driving more aggressively.

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But because it has actual gears, as opposed to the continuously variable transmission (CVT) in the Lexus IS, you can gently accelerate with full control of the engine revs, particularly if you use the wheel-mounted paddles. That means the Jaguar feels more relaxed when you want it to, but also more enjoyable to drive quickly.

The driver sits nice and low in the XE’s cabin; the seating position is both comfortable and sporty-feeling, and the high-quality interior means the XE has an upmarket air. The touchscreen infotainment system is a bit fiddly, and it’s annoying that things like the heated seat controls have to be accessed through the screen, instead of a simple button on the console. It’s much more modern-looking than the dated system in the Lexus, however. 

Testers’ notes: 

• Technology: Infotainment system is modern but can be a bit fiddly. Items like reverse parking camera are extra – they’re included on the Lexus. • Cabin: Interior feels slightly more cramped than its rival, due to the imposing centre console. • Materials: Cabin has a high-quality finish and is full of leather and colour-coordinated stitching. 

Verdict

First place: Jaguar XE

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Jaguar’s XE claims yet another road test victory, thanks to its all-round ability. The engine is flexible and economical, while the fun handling isn’t spoiled by a hard ride. It’s not the most practical buy and the infotainment system feels dated, but even this doesn’t deny the talented Jag. 

Second place: Lexus IS

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The Lexus IS is still a leftfield choice in the compact executive class. The quality cabin, relaxed low-speed driving experience and low CO2 will all appeal in their own way, but the IS just can’t beat the Jaguar XE as an all-rounder. However, it’s a handsome and interesting alternative.

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Toyota to show new i-TRIL concept car at Geneva show

Toyota i-TRIL teaser

Teaser picture shows Toyota's latest i-TRIL concept, which will be a fully-electric city car

2017-02-20 10:30

Toyota has released a teaser picture of a new city car concept called the i-TRIL, which will be fully revealed alongside the facelifted Toyota Yaris and hot Yaris GRMN at the 2017 Geneva Motor Show.

The picture doesn't show much, but the small grille and LED lights suggest that it'll follow along from the quirky i-ROAD in being a small, unusually-shaped electric city car. It looks fairly tall and thin, but Toyota has confirmed that the i-TRIL will seat three in a one-plus-two layout.

Best city cars on sale right now

Toyota says that the concept "showcases Toyota research innovations in delivering better mobility that is also kinder to the environment," and it also features the same 'Active Lean' tech that was used on the i-ROAD. 

The car has been designed to be fun at lower speeds, and with its all-electric powertrain it's a similar concept to the Renault Twizy electric car as well. 

Best electric cars

There's no other details on the car yet, but expect a similar construction to the i-ROAD, with lightweight materials, a low-powered electric motor and a top speed of around 30mph. 

Check back on 7 March for full coverage of the Geneva Motor Show 2017.

Sam Naylor
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