Displaying items by tag: Hatchback
"BMW's first all-electric compact executive model has arrived to challenge the Tesla Model 3"
- Classy interior
- Great handling
- 300-plus mile range
- No front boot
- Confusing infotainment
The BMW i4 is a vital new model for the brand because it represents the first all-electric model intended to win over buyers of its core BMW 3 Series and BMW 4 Series models. Not only that but it also locks horns with the Tesla Model 3 and Polestar 2, and gives BMW a headstart on Mercedes in the compact executive electric car class.
Most similar in proportions to the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe, the i4 gets four doors and a hatchback but still looks low and sporty. In M Sport and M50 guise, it's also fairly muscular, with jutting bumpers, deep side skirts and a rear bumper diffuser in place of tailpipes.
At launch, there's eDrive40 and M50 versions that rival the Model 3 Long Range and Performance models respectively. The first gets a single 335bhp motor and rear-wheel drive, along with an 81kWh battery. It has a range of up to 367 miles and gets from 0-62mph in 5.7 seconds. The high-performance M50 is the first electric BMW to get attention from BMW’s M division and gets another electric motor for the front wheels, for 537bhp. This reduces range to 316 miles but also cuts 0-62mph to 3.9 seconds.
While the basic interior design is similar to the 3 and 4 Series, there's also a big upgrade for the infotainment setup, which now runs the latest iDrive 8 software. There's a new seamless curved display for the instruments and infotainment, along with advances like a 5G connection, augmented reality navigation and an improved voice assistant.
Quality is good, with plenty of upmarket materials, and the i4 is very refined, which helps on long drives. Rear space isn't quite on a par with the 4 Series Gran Coupe because the battery eats into the footwell but the i4's boot is only 10 litres smaller.
The BMW i4 is a long-awaited arrival and demonstrates what’s required to fend off arrivals from relative newcomers to the market like Tesla. The car offers great handling, superb refinement and an impressive interior combined with a competitive range and plenty of performance.
MPG, running costs & CO2
BMW is clearly taking aim at the Tesla Model 3 and the manufacturer's 81kWh battery and fifth-generation eDrive electric motors deliver the goods - on paper at least. The rear-wheel drive eDrive40 can manage an impressive range of up to 367 miles, compared with 360 miles for the Model 3 Long Range.
Find a rapid 200kW DC charger and the battery can be replenished from 10-80% in 31 minutes. A home wallbox takes around 13 hours to charge the battery from empty to 100%. A home charging cable, public charging cable and BMW Charging Card for use on the public network are included with the car. The latter includes free charging for the first 12 months.
Engines, drive & performance
A lot is expected of the i4 because not only is it the manufacturer's most focused electric car to date but it's essentially a battery-powered version of its legendary 3 and 4 Series models. As a result, BMW clearly knew the car had to be good to drive.
The steering is a key ingredient, as it's both precise and natural enough to allow the driver to accurately place the car and build confidence in the i4. It isn't especially communicative, however, so it can be tricky to judge exactly how much grip there is at the front tyres.
So far, we've driven the M50, with 537bhp thanks to front and rear electric motors. It's enough thrust to get the i4 from 0-62mph in 3.9 seconds, and under full power the M50 hunkers down on its wheels and shoots forwards with startling pace. With no mechanical limited-slip differential, the car can start to lose its composure if you accelerate too aggressively out of a slow corner, so it responds better to a more relaxed approach.
While the M50 will give a BMW M4 a run for its money, at least in a straight line, most buyers will be more than satisfied with the eDrive40 model. With a single motor and rear-wheel drive, it has 335bhp and gets from 0-62mph in 5.7 seconds.
Interior & comfort
The air suspension fitted in the M50 provides a smooth ride in its Comfort setting and refinement is excellent. Near-silent electric motors and an impressive lack of wind and tyre noise make the i4 a very relaxing car, even at motorway speeds.
These are powered by the brand's latest iDrive 8 software, with new tech including 5G connectivity, augmented reality sat-nav and an Intelligent Personal Assistant. Its graphics are very sharp and lots of processing power means it responds quickly but we found the array of sub-menus tricky to navigate while driving.
The eDrive40 is offered in Sport and M Sport trims, with the entry-level version getting 18-inch aerodynamic wheels, black exterior trim and folding door mirrors. Inside, BMW's Live Cockpit Professional is standard, along with climate control and heated front seats. M Sport adds a sports steering wheel, a more aggressive body kit, aluminium interior trim and Alcantara Sensatec upholstery. The range-topping M50 has 19-inch alloy wheels, black leather upholstery, electrically adjusting and memory seats, privacy glass, wireless phone charging and a head-up display.
Practicality & boot space
The i4 is around the same size as the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe but its all-electric nature does mean there are some differences inside. Front passengers can get nice and low, giving the car a sporty feel, but the floor-mounted battery means there isn't as much footwell space for rear passengers. Knee room still isn't too bad for taller passengers but they may find it uncomfortable for long trips.
Boot capacity impresses, with 470 litres of volume that's just 10 litres down on the 4 Series Gran Coupe. The Polestar 2 has a smaller 405-litre boot but unlike the i4 it also has a 35-litre 'frunk' under the bonnet. Both the i4 and the Polestar 2 have a hatchback opening, making it easier to load bulky items than the boot lid of the Tesla Model 3.
Reliability & safety
While BMW might not be such an obvious player in the electric car market, it has been building EVs and hybrid models for quite a number of years, including the BMW i3 which launched in 2013. The fact its eDrive electric technology is now its fifth generation should prove reassuring for buyers and we expect the car to prove extremely robust. BMW may even be hoping its EVs will give its reputation a boost, as it currently sits in 21st place out of 29 manufacturers in our Driver Power owner satisfaction survey.
The i4 is available with around 40 driver assistance features to make it safer and easier to drive and park. It's fitted with a reversing camera and Parking Assistant as standard, while the optional Driving Assistant Professional adds adaptive cruise control that can stop and start the car in heavy traffic. It can also help steer the car in its lane, reduce the likelihood of side and rear collisions and help prevent accidental speeding.
Mazda's slogan is "Feel Alive," but this hatchback doesn't yet fulfill its potential.
The 2021 Mazda 3 2.5 Turbo is a tricky car to wrap the old noggin around. Not because it produces brain-melting acceleration and cornering figures or because it'll set your hair on fire at the local autocross. That's not necessarily the case. Rather, the new Mazda 3 2.5 Turbo is so perfectly adequate in so many areas that, viewed as a car that gets you from point A to point B in comfort and with no drama, it's a fine device. Still, you can't help but feel like it needs something more.
Beautiful On The Inside ...
As we've said before, the Mazda 3's cabin is the best in its class—by quite some margin, too. The dashboard is cleanly designed, while a set of mostly analog dials and a head-up display present important information neatly to the driver. All of the car's secondary controls (volume knob, indicator stalks, and HVAC) have a beautiful, high-quality weight to them. Even when you perform a task as mundane as adjusting cabin temperature, you manipulate something that feels well considered. Mazda is working hard to be seen as a near-luxury brand, and this interior is a standout example of what it's capable of.
The Mazda 3 hatch is also easy on the eyes, offers plenty of cargo space, and, if you never touch Sport mode—which activates more aggressive throttle- and shift-map behavior—will even return an EPA-rated 31 mpg on the highway. The Bose sound system is excellent, wind and tire noise are well hushed, and the whole car has an aspirational feel that justifies its $35,020 as-tested price.
And if your test drive ended there, you'd think, "Great stuff—good job, Mazda!" But it doesn't. Even though the 2021 Mazda 3 Turbo is a high-quality item, there are other intangibles that matter to the overall experience.
Is It A Driver's Car?
A car might be executed well, but if it leaves you with a sense of "meh," is it still a good car? Most people would say, "Yes, of course." And we agree. But sometimes that isn't quite enough to satisfy, especially when we've come to expect a level of personality from Mazda products.
Maybe our enthusiast-influenced hearts inflate our standards. When we see a "Turbo" badge on a small car's rump, and a spec sheet boasting a 2.5-liter I-4 with 227 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque, plus all-wheel drive, we tend to imagine we're going to have a rippin' good time. Other hatchbacks given the same treatment over the years—cars like the Volkswagen GTI, Ford Focus ST, and the old Mazdaspeed 3—come to mind, and you think, gleefully, this could be the new Mazda enthusiasts have waited for.
The new turbo I-4 engine—well, not exactly new new, as it's been in the CX-9 and the CX-5 for years now—makes 250 horsepower and 320 lb-ft if you can find 93-octane fuel. If 87 octane is the best you can do, those numbers fall to 227 horses and 310 lb-ft. Compared to the standard Mazda 3, this hopped-up hatchback makes an extra 41 horses and an additional 124 lb-ft of twist, at a bare minimum.
In our testing, the turbocharged 3 made the 0-to-60-mph sprint in 5.9 seconds and raced through the quarter-mile in 14.5 seconds. That's right up there with the best in its class. It's even quicker than the last dual-clutch-automatic-equipped VW Golf GTI we tested, which needed 6.0 seconds to accelerate to 60.
Sounds good, so hop in and start the engine. There's no clutch to operate; the 2021 Mazda 3 2.5 Turbo is an auto-only machine. Make your way to your favorite bit of twisty road, back-off the traction control, step on it and ... wait. Sure, it goes, but not in the way we expected. We're not talking about raw acceleration, which the numbers show to be good. But the transmission is a bit of a laggard, disappointing when Mazda's ethos used to nearly always deliver great-driving, enthusiast-pleasing cars right out of the box—without needing gobs of power to be fun.
Instead of feeling alive and on its toes, the 2021 Mazda 3 Turbo feels sedate. The brake pedal is mushy; instead of initial bite coming right near the top of the pedal's travel, you find an inch or so of travel before the binders affect much deceleration. This dulls the driving experience and lowers confidence in the car's reflexes. True hot hatches have sharp responses and feedback to tell you they were developed in part by beating them within an inch of their mechanical lives, so as to to make them as engaging and entertaining as possible. But that's not present here; in fact, it feels like a thick layer of latency-exaggerating rubber has worked its way into the Mazda's nooks and crannies.
The suspension damping is the Turbo 3's sharpest trait, a characteristic that usually goes a long way toward providing a sporty personality. But like the standard Mazda 3 hatch, this car makes do with a rear torsion beam; that's in contrast to the previous-generation car and its independent rear end. The result (as we've noted before) is a car that rides somewhat poorly, and which is unsettled by small road imperfections even at low speeds. Manhole covers and expansion joints can jostle the rear out of line enough to necessitate frequent steering corrections. If power was all the 2021 Mazda 3 needed to be fun to drive, it would have delivered. Instead, the car's underlying potential feels unrealized.
There's A Lot To Love, But It Isn't Lovable Yet
We know from experience Mazda can make a maniacal hot hatch that competes with the best of them. Yes, the old Mazdaspeed 3 was deeply flawed, but it was profoundly entertaining and lovable as a result. We didn't expect the new 2021 Mazda 3 2.5 Turbo to be a direct successor to that car—Mazda has matured past its crazy teenage years—but we hoped for some of the old 'Speed 3's charm. Instead, the Mazda 3 Turbo feels like its name and nothing more, namely a 3 with a turbocharger bolted to its engine.
None of this makes the Mazda 3 Turbo a bad car; it excels at being a great car. If you want a hatchback that's quiet, usable, and relatively quick, this 2021 Mazda 3 2.5 Turbo is a great choice. But if you want something that feels truly alive, you'll have to look elsewhere. Maybe our expectations were too high. Maybe you can say that's our problem. But the fact is that Mazda's previous creations set that high bar in the first place; unfortunately, this car drives under it.
The verdict: As every SUV in the parking lot starts to look the same, the 2021 Volkswagen Arteon near-luxury mid-size hatchback stands out as a roomy, refined and refreshingly pleasant alternative for those willing to look beyond the mainstream sedan and SUV classes.
Versus the competition: Aside from its body style, the Arteon stands apart from other near-luxury mid-size vehicles with (mostly) appealing tech and loads of room — but its premium price tag can be off-putting.
The Arteon, which debuted for model-year 2019 as the spiritual successor to Volkwagen’s CC sedan, got a few changes for 2021, including light exterior styling tweaks, an updated multimedia system and more upscale cabin materials.
As the only mid-size hatchback in the near-luxury class, the Arteon doesn’t have any direct competition, but Volkwagen says it’s often cross-shopped against sports sedans such as the Acura TLX, Kia Stinger and Nissan Maxima; see the models compared. The automaker also expects the Arteon to appeal to budget-minded shoppers interested in the more expensive Audi A7, from VW’s luxury brand. See them compared.
Although the Arteon is in the A7’s extended family — and wears sleek and attractive curves reminiscent of its more upscale relative — it’s more of a distant cousin when it comes to road manners. The Arteon is all-around pleasant, but it never rises to exciting like the A7 and Kia Stinger do.
The Arteon’s sole powertrain is unchanged from last year: a 268-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. It’s peppy and responsive from a stop, with smooth, timely shifts for power on demand. Choosing Sport mode amps up accelerator response and sharpens steering feel for a little more excitement.
I tested an SEL R-Line trim level with 4Motion all-wheel drive during two weeks of endless precipitation: rain, sleet, snow and ice. It was continuously able to find its legs, with the optional all-wheel-drive system seamlessly adjusting to the elements to provide appropriate traction. Tires always play an important role when snow is involved, and in this case our test car’s Continental ProContact TX all-season tires deserve some credit, too.
The Arteon’s standard adaptive suspension system provides good cushioning from rough roads without sacrificing handling; the hatchback zips through corners with an agile, controlled feeling that’s surprising in a vehicle this long. Overall, its confident handling and composed ride shine both on the highway and around town.
With front-wheel drive, the Arteon is EPA-rated 22/32/25 mpg city/highway/combined with premium gas; AWD drops that estimate to 20/31/24 mpg. That’s in line with competitors — which also prefer premium fuel — such as the front-drive Acura TLX (25 mpg combined) and the base rear-wheel-drive Kia Stinger (25 mpg combined). The V-6-only front-drive Nissan Maxima slightly trails them all, with a combined rating of 24 mpg.
An Unexpected Family Car
In the garages of families I know, a sedan is about as common as a luxury yacht. (Maybe I have the wrong kinds of friends … ) Nearly all the families I know drive an SUV or minivan, including myself; my own car is a minivan, which easily accommodates my family of five. Sedans and hatchbacks were not on my shopping list.
To gauge real-life livability, however, I try to shoehorn my family into everything I test, and, to my surprise, the Arteon can family very well. The backseat is wide and flat, with ample headroom and legroom for two adults to coexist comfortably — or in my case, three kids. Not an easy feat. With my twins’ big boosters in the outside seats and my 10-year-old on a smaller, backless booster in the middle, we fit with no complaining (perhaps an even more difficult feat).
For caregivers with kids in child-safety seats, the Arteon’s exposed Latch anchors make connection struggle-free, and its three top tether anchors were easy to find and use. Check out our Car Seat Check.
Yes, we would’ve had more wiggle room in a minivan or mid-size SUV, but we fit fine in the Arteon — even on a long drive. What’s more, the hatchback carried much more stuff than I expected. When we went sledding, the Arteon’s cargo area swallowed all our gear — large sleds, snacks, mittens, more mittens and bags of extra mittens — with room to spare.
The cargo area is very deep and has a nice wide opening for accommodating bulky items. Also, its hatchback setup gives the cargo area more height than a traditional trunk, so it can hold taller items. The backseat folds in a 60/40 split, and there’s a small center passthrough that’s handy for simultaneously carrying people and long, skinny items.
Manufacturer-provided cargo numbers back up my experience. The Arteon’s hatchback-style cargo area offers 27.2 cubic feet of space with all its seats in place — more than the Volkswagen Tiguan compact SUV, though that car seats seven.
Utility aside, the Arteon is also a nice place to be. Updates for 2021 give the cabin a premium vibe, with a handsome design in my test vehicle highlighted by attractive two-tone Nappa leather-trimmed seats, as well as brushed metal and glossy black trim. There’s also a new ambient lighting system with 30 selectable colors, which reveal themselves through translucent panels in the doors and console — kinda cool. The changes give it a more upscale feel overall than you’ll find in other VW cars, like the Passat or Jetta.
VW’s new MIB3 multimedia system joins the Arteon cabin, and there’s a lot to like about it — but not all of it.
First, the system’s standard 8-inch touchscreen is nestled into the dash within easy reach of the driver’s seat. The screen is responsive, and the system’s menus are straightforward. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are now standard, and the integration is seamless. I also found that the system’s voice commands work accurately for navigation and audio functions.
The standard digital cockpit instrument panel was also helpful. Its 10-inch display offers a configurable presentation of vehicle information, including car status, navigation, driving data, phone information and driver assistance features. Having the full-screen navigation view right in front of my eyeballs was especially useful.
That said, a few things need work. While I appreciated the system’s large, traditional volume knob, its tuning knob is odd. It works for some functions, like changing regular radio stations, but does not work for satellite stations.
Also, some editors were disappointed by VW’s switch to touch-sensitive panels on the steering wheel and for climate control, versus traditional buttons and knobs. I mostly didn’t find these problematic to use, but I did struggle with one feature: a slider function for fan speed and temperature. I found it awkward and difficult to use with accuracy, especially compared with pressing a button or turning a dial. There is a workaround, however: To adjust most climate settings, once you’ve touched the button on the climate panel you can use either the touchscreen or the panel to make the adjustment.
Safety and Value
The Arteon is well equipped with standard safety features: Forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, blind spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert are included on all trims. Available active safety features include lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability and automatic high-beam headlights.
My favorite Arteon safety feature is among the more low-tech ones: its backup camera. Because the lens is protected under the VW badge and pops out only when the transmission is in Reverse, the camera’s view was consistently clear and free from the snow, ice, salt, etc. that otherwise plagued my time with the car. After driving through more than one blizzard in the Arteon — and in other vehicles — I appreciated this small convenience feature, especially given the Arteon’s sloping roofline and small side windows, which hurt rear visibility.
Most trims of the Arteon got a little more expensive for 2021, but its base price of $38,190 is still within range of its competitors; it’s about the same price as the Nissan Maxima and a little less than the Acura TLX. It costs quite a bit more than the Kia Stinger, however, which starts at $34,135 (all prices include destination). Also, prices escalate quickly, with the top trim approaching $50,000.
The Arteon is classy in a class of its own, and offers shoppers an exclusive mix of luxury and utility — minus the seemingly inescapable, everyone-has-one SUV body style.
"The striking Audi A3 Sportback now has the technology it needs to compete with rivals"
Since its arrival in 1997, the Audi A3 has set the template for affordable upmarket cars, selling to more than 600,000 customers in the UK alone. It goes up against a host of strong rivals, most notably the BMW 1 Series and Mercedes A-Class, while the Volkswagen Golf is a slightly more affordable alternative.
For its fourth outing, the notoriously conservative A3 has a bolder, more exciting exterior design that changes quite markedly depending on which trim level you choose. The entry-level Technik is relatively sedate, while the S line trim adds a sporty body kit and sharp LED exterior and interior lighting. There isn’t a three-door model anymore, so the five-door Sportback is offered initially and will be joined by a four-door saloon. It's also likely we'll see a coupe-like version of the A3 to rival the Mercedes CLA, and possibly even a crossover model in due course. There's a powerful S3 model in the works and an even faster Audi RS3 is due in 2021.
Best luxury small cars
The interior is similarly radical, with analogue dials replaced by a standard Virtual Cockpit instrument display and every A3 coming with a 10.1-inch infotainment screen. Rather than sitting atop the dash, this is now integrated into the centre console, and the driver has a more cocoon like seating position than before. Quality is excellent, even in versions using upholstery manufactured from recycled plastic bottles, and technology feels two generations ahead of the outgoing model.
A small increase in width and length means passengers should find there's a little more room to stretch out, but boot space is exactly the same at 380 litres, matching most competitors.
Engines are familiar but updated, and buyers can choose between regular petrol and diesel combustion engines with mild-hybrid technology for slightly lower running costs, or a plug-in hybrid ‘40 TFSI e’ model. We expect the 1.5-litre petrol with 148bhp in the A3 35 TFSI to be a strong seller, offering 0-62mph in under nine seconds and fuel economy of over 45mpg. We even managed to better this figure over several hundred miles of driving. High-mileage drivers should also consider the A3 35 TDI, which has lower tailpipe emissions than older versions and manages up to 61.4mpg, while also feeling punchier than the petrol.
Handling is assured and secure, even in the front-wheel-drive versions we've tried so far. Quattro four-wheel drive will also be available, but our prediction is that it will be unnecessary for most drivers until much more powerful versions arrive.
Audi A3 Sportback hatchback - MPG, running costs & CO2
Efficient petrol and diesel engines, mild hybrid tech and a plug-in hybrid offer plenty of choice
Audi is broadening the choices offered to A3 owners, so while petrol and diesel engines are available, these options are bolstered by mild-hybrid technology and the arrival of a fully fledged plug-in hybrid A3 40 TFSI e. The latter uses a petrol engine, electric motor and battery to provide an electric range of around 41 miles, slashing fuel use and CO2 emissions.
Audi A3 MPG & CO2
Sticking with petrol first, the 148bhp 1.5-litre '35 TFSI' petrol engine has the option of mild-hybrid technology, incrementally increasing fuel-efficiency and cutting CO2 emissions. This will arrive shortly after launch, but until then the standard engine is hardly a gas guzzler, managing up to 48.7mpg with a manual gearbox. With emissions from 132g/km, it's also affordable for company-car drivers thanks to a reasonable BiK band.
During hundreds of miles of mixed driving, we found the 1.5-litre petrol even more economical than advertised, managing exactly 50mpg. This is impressive for a petrol family car, and helps make the A3 a great all-rounder.
The smaller 1.0-litre petrol engine is badged as ‘30 TFSI’ and is capable of up to 51.4mpg when the car has 16-inch alloy wheels fitted. Its emissions figure of 124g/km places it in a relatively high BiK band.
Topping the economy charts is the 40 TFSI e plug-in hybrid, which is officially capable of around 41 miles of pure-electric running and economy of up to 282.5mpg. Emissions of 25-30g/km give the A3 PHEV a low BiK banding, meaning it’s the model that will appeal most to company-car drivers. The 13kWh battery can be charged in around four hours using a home wallbox.
Choose the 35 TDI diesel, perhaps if you have a high annual mileage, and you can expect up to 61.4mpg. BiK payments will be higher, with CO2 emissions from 120g/km, depending on which trim level and alloy wheels are selected. A 30 TDI with 114bhp is also available with even better efficiency figures, returning up to 64.2mpg with emissions starting from 115g/km.
Choose a 1.0-litre Audi A3 30 TFSI Technik and insurance groups start from 17, while a more powerful A3 35 TFSI Edition 1 is in group 26 out of 50. That's the same rating as the diesel A 35 TDI in S Line trim.
Audi provides a three-year/60,000-mile warranty, which is fairly average for the class and can be extended for an extra cost. Increasing it to four years and 75,000 miles costs £300, while a five-year/90,000-mile warranty is just over £600 extra, despite a five-year/100,000-mile warranty coming as standard with a Hyundai i30 or Toyota Corolla.
Audi typically offers customers two servicing plans: one for low-mileage drivers who are likely to take more short trips, and another for motorists who have a higher mileage and tend to take longer motorway trips. The first sees maintenance take place annually, while the latter uses sensors to measure wear and suggest a service - although these will never be more than two years apart.
Audi A3 Sportback hatchback - Engines, drive & performance
Regular versions of the A3 are smooth and controlled but not especially engaging
The Audi A3 has always been a smooth, assured car to drive, without necessarily offering the enjoyment of rivals like the BMW 1 Series. Based on an upgrade of the existing MQB platform, there's little about the latest A3 that tears up the rulebook here, and the A3 has similarly mature and slick manners as before.
Even the front-wheel-drive versions have plenty of grip, with an unflappable feel aided by multi-link rear suspension - a more expensive design than the torsion beam setup found in some cheaper cars, fitted in versions with 148bhp or more. Optional Progressive Steering needs smaller inputs at lower speeds and can be altered in different driving modes. It's a bit light and lacking in feel but switching into 'Dynamic' mode adds some weight. Buyers can also choose adaptive suspension, which works better than before, providing decent ride comfort. The standard suspension setup is also improved, so while adaptive suspension is a tempting feature, it isn't essential.
Audi A3 petrol engines
The entry-level petrol is a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo badged 30 TFSI with 109bhp. Despite its low output, it's eager to rev and gets the A3 from 0-62mph in 10.6 seconds. A surprising top speed of 127mph also means it shouldn't feel strained at the national speed limit. Just a six-speed manual gearbox is available, so the 30 TFSI is off the table if you want an automatic.
With 148bhp, the 1.5-litre engine in the A3 35 TFSI can get from 0-62mph in 8.4 seconds with a seven-speed S tronic automatic gearbox. That should be plenty fast enough for most families, and its 139mph top speed will make motorway cruising at 70mph nicely relaxed too.
It doesn't feel quite as nippy as you may expect but there's enough performance available to make it an acceptable all-rounder and our pick of the range. The six-speed manual gearbox has a light throw but can feel a bit jerky at low speeds. Luckily a high proportion of buyers are expected to opt for the automatic.
The 40 TFSI e plug-in hybrid combines a 1.4-litre petrol engine, a 13kWh battery and an electric motor to produce 201bhp. Power is sent to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic gearbox. Performance is brisk, with the plug-in A3 managing 0-62mph in 7.6 seconds and a top speed of 141mph.
At launch there was just one 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel engine badged 35 TDI, which is quieter than in the previous A3. It comes with front-wheel drive and the same automatic gearbox as the petrol at first, with four-wheel drive quattro also on the way for added traction. Power is identical at 148bhp, but extra torque makes the diesel feel punchier than the 35 TFSI in traffic and for overtaking.
This has now been joined by a 30 TDI version, which uses a 114bhp version of the same engine. Designed primarily with economy in mind, it still gets from 0-62mph in a reasonable 10.1 seconds. Like the entry-level petrol, it's also available with just one six-speed manual gearbox.
Audi A3 Sportback hatchback - Interior & comfort
The fourth-generation Audi A3 is more like a computer on wheels than before
Along with its premium badge, the A3's main selling point has always been its upmarket interior. In fact, along with the BMW 1 Series, the A3 was one of the first cars to offer an executive class ownership experience in a smaller package; a trick countless hatchbacks and crossovers now try to pull off.
For its fourth outing, Audi has focused on technology, with a big step-up in processing power for its infotainment system to keep occupants connected, provide real-time navigation updates and media, while also improving safety.
Audi A3 dashboard
There's a different feel to the driver's seat in the latest A3 because an angled dashboard, wide centre console and even the air vents on either side of the instruments, all lend it a focused, cockpit-like atmosphere. Soft-touch materials have been replaced with swathes of aluminium-style trim.
It goes without saying that it's far more modern than its dated predecessor, but retains that car's narrow, wing-like dashboard structure and minimal approach. The infotainment screen no longer sprouts from the dashboard, instead sitting adjacent to your hand on the steering wheel, while Audi's Virtual Cockpit digital instruments are also standard. Unlike the latest Volkswagen Golf with its touch-sensitive slider, many will be glad its climate controls are still physical buttons.
An automatic gearbox with a small toggle-like gear selector means designers have been able to get more creative with their design, making space for a wireless charging smartphone pad below the centre console. There's also a small iPod-style controller for the stereo system but its functions are limited to changing the volume and skipping media tracks.
No less than five trim levels will be offered, called Technik, Sport, S line, Edition 1 and Vorsprung, with Technik and S line likely to be most popular. Technik is similar to the SE trim Audi has used previously, with 16-inch alloy wheels and cloth seats, but standard features like a 10.1-inch touchscreen with sat nav, a 10.25-inch Virtual Cockpit and LED headlights mean it's still well equipped.
Sport brings an aesthetic upgrade with larger wheels and a part-leather interior, along with a choice of driving modes, dual-zone climate control and folding door mirrors. S line alters the A3's looks again with 18-inch wheels, LED rear lights with sweeping indicators, privacy glass, sports seats and ambient interior lighting. It's a desirable makeover, that seems to strike a chord with UK buyers.
Edition 1 and Vorsprung both aim to give the A3 an even more premium feel, adding technology such as Matrix LED headlights, a Bang & Olufsen stereo, Virtual Cockpit Plus and even larger wheels.
Audi has long been prolific when it comes to options, even making it possible to personalise and upgrade its smallest A1 city car to feature almost every feature under the sun. That continues here, but some options like the Comfort and Sound Pack for Technik cars look sensible, adding parking sensors, heated front seats, a rear-view camera and Bang & Olufsen sound system for £1,200. It's also a good idea to include a space-saver spare wheel for £120, although charging £25 for a tool kit and jack is stingy.
Audi A3 Sportback hatchback - Practicality & boot space
A slight size increase brings small gains inside, while the boot is on par with rivals
Shifting trends mean Audi no longer sells a three-door A3, so the five-door Sportback is now the standard car, with a four-door saloon version set to follow later.
Audi A3 interior space & storage
The latest model is slightly longer and wider overall, and the benefit of this is slightly more headroom and legroom front and rear. There's plenty of room with four passengers but the middle seat isn't as comfortable, so is best reserved for short trips only.
While passenger space is boosted slightly, boot space remains unchanged at 380 litres behind the rear seats, expanding to 1,200 litres when they're folded down. Technik trim level comes with 60:40 split and fold rear seats, but these are upgraded to a 40:20:40 design for Sport. This gives the benefit of a load-through for long items such as skis or snowboards, as well as a centre armrest with cup holders.
In the plug-in hybrid 40 TFSI e model, overall boot space is reduced to 280 litres due to the car’s battery; the boot floor is raised to accommodate it.
The A3 remains competitive in the class, with identical luggage space to the BMW 1 Series and Volkswagen Golf, while the 370-litre boot in the Mercedes A-Class is slightly smaller. The A3 also boasts a usefully wide boot opening and there’s no luggage lip to haul bags over.
A removable towbar with a 13-pin socket, that can swivel up behind the bumper when not in use, is available as an official accessory for around £800. The A3 Sportback can make a surprisingly good tow car, with even the 30 TFSI petrol rated to tow a 1,500kg braked trailer, climbing to 1,800kg for the diesel engines.
Interior and exterior updates make VW's flagship Arteon hatchback look even more like an upscale Audi but do little to invigorate its road manners.
The 2021 Arteon is by far the most beautiful machine in Volkswagen's portfolio. Its long, low, and wide proportions convey the type of elegance typically reserved for models wearing Audi's famous interlocking rings rather than VW's humbler logo. It's far more like the sultry A5 Sportback than the generic Passat.
Despite its avant-garde aesthetic and luxury-grade amenities, Volkswagen's sleekest hatchback (cleverly disguised as a fast-roofline sedan) isn't a big seller in the United States. Since arriving as a 2019 model, just more than 5000 copies found buyers through the third quarter of 2020. But the Arteon wasn't built for mass appeal. VW has an expanding roster of crossovers to satisfy the masses and protect its profit margins. Instead, the Arteon was made even prettier and more desirable for the 2021 model year, to continue to entice individualists who appreciate its Audi-adjacent style.
Under the Influence of Audi
We tested a top-of-the-line Arteon SEL Premium R-Line painted in Pyrite Silver that rode on a set of newly designed 20-inch wheels. The cabin gets a more dramatic update than the exterior, with VW adding some tasteful visual flair. The upper part of the dashboard now has a modernized design that scraps the pointless analog clock and relocates the buttons above the infotainment system to the bezel around the shifter. The cabin also looks great at night, the new ambient lighting featuring 30 selectable colors that highlight a strip across the dash, translucent panels on the doors, and even elements in the fully digital gauge cluster and 8.0-inch touchscreen. We're also fond of the new steering wheel's contoured grip and girthier rim, but our winter gloves unintentionally activated its new haptic controls more than once. Other Audi-influenced additions include standard touch-sensitive climate controls that were less distracting and more responsive than we expected.
HIGHS: Simply stunning styling, Audi-esque interior environment, crossover-like cargo space.
The raft of subtle, albeit meaningful, changes don't affect the Arteon's cargo or passenger space. The pilot's seat remains more relaxing than engaging, with front-seat cushions that err on the side of supple rather than supportive. Too bad the "massaging" driver's seat felt like sitting in front of a disgruntled toddler on an airplane. At least adults in the back still enjoy legroom worthy of a luxury car and a surprising amount of headroom despite the hatchback's diving rear roofline. The Arteon is almost as practical as a compact crossover, too, with an expansive cargo area that'll hold nine carry-on suitcases behind the back seat. Fold them down and luggage capacity tops out at 21 carry-ons—only three fewer than we fit in a VW Tiguan.
A Fine Luxury Car—for the Right Price
Those satisfied with the Arteon's one-size-fits-all powertrain—a 268-hp turbo 2.0-liter four-pot paired with an eight-speed automatic—won't care that it's unchanged. Those hoping we'd get the 315-hp version from the European Arteon R are out of luck. However, the EPA highway fuel-economy figure has swelled by 4 mpg to 31 since 2019, a figure we matched during our real-world highway test at 75 mph. Every top-trim SEL Premium has standard 4Motion all-wheel drive, which helped our test car reach 60 mph in 6.4 seconds. While neither that time nor the 4.6-second sprint from 50 to 70 mph qualifies as lazy, the Arteon isn't exactly exciting when goaded with wide-open throttle. The interior is nicely insulated from wind and road noise, but a heavy right foot reveals engine sounds that aren't racy. The automatic has polite manners and deliberate responses, but its tendency to upshift early favors fuel economy over playfulness, making the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters necessary.
LOWS: Unexhilarating engine sounds, massaging driver's seat feels like being kicked by a toddler, barely cheaper than an Audi alternative.
During our time with the Arteon, we discovered that it's best enjoyed at a relaxed pace. Sure, the hatchback can be hurried if you insist, but it's a luxury car first. Its light steering is accurate and body control is poised, but the Arteon is mostly indifferent to corners. The hatch's surprisingly rigid structure and graceful ride quality remind us that VW is really good at building cars that feel expensive. Which is fortunate, because this one actually is.
Although the Arteon is certainly a special Volkswagen and a fine mid-size luxury car, it's not really an affordable Audi alternative because, well, it's not much more affordable. Our SEL Premium R-Line had an as-tested price of $48,190, which is only $1755 shy of a loaded A5 Sportback. In a way, the Arteon is the last throwback to the Piëch-era VWs, the Phaetons and Touaregs, that sought to transcend their badges. And that it does, rewarding the select few who are paying attention.
“The Skoda Octavia vRS Estate offers great performance, technology, space and choice”
The vRS version of the Skoda Octavia hatchback might be swamped with hot hatch rivals, but the vRS estate occupies a less competitive area of the market. Its main rival for the moment is the Ford Focus ST Estate, while the Cupra Leon ST and Volkswagen Golf GTD Estate will aim to tempt you to a different part of the VW Group empire when they arrive.
So there’s not too much choice for a fast estate of this size, but settle on the Skoda and you’ve got some decisions to make. Like before, you can pick from hatchback or estate body styles, petrol or diesel engines, manual or automatic gearboxes, and whether you want the power going to just the front wheels or to all four. Now there’s yet another option, with a new plug-in hybrid powertrain promising pace and big economy gains.
The low CO2 emissions makes it seem like a good option on paper but not all of the Skoda Octavia vRS iV estate’s quirks are appealing. The battery means it has the same ride height as the standard Octavia, so its stance is less sporty, sitting higher than the petrol and diesel vRS. The battery is heavy too, adding around 250kg and blunting the car’s performance somewhat, which results in a 0-62mph time of 7.3 seconds. The positioning of the battery under the boot floor also means the PHEV loses 150 litres of boot space compared with the regular Octavia vRS estate.
The petrol and diesel versions, meanwhile, follow the same tasty recipe as before, passed down through the generations and honed over time. Shared with the new Volkswagen Golf GTI and GTD, the Octavia vRS is offered with 242bhp petrol and 197bhp 2.0-litre diesel engines. Accelerating from 0-62mph takes 6.7 seconds in the petrol and we expect a figure of around 7.4 seconds for the more frugal diesel, which is slated to arrive in the first quarter of 2021 with the option of four-wheel drive.
Whichever you decide on, all versions get pumped-up styling - like the bigger wheels, boot spoiler and black trim pieces - and a slightly racier interior than a standard Octavia. It’s quite a subtle upgrade, despite a flat-bottomed steering wheel, red stitching, more heavily bolstered seats and a couple of Alcantara suede-like trimmings. In truth, it’s probably what you’d expect from an Octavia vRS - the sportiness doesn’t get in the way of comfort and everyday usability. However, it's also noticeably less exciting than the GTI, with a muted engine and less agile handling. It's certainly a lot more practical, though, and several thousand pounds cheaper to buy.
MPG, running costs & CO2
New Octavia vRS iV plug-in hybrid promises a good electric range, while the diesel should be economical too
The new plug-in hybrid Skoda Octavia vRS iV version should be very economical indeed, as long as you regularly recharge the battery. Up to 37 miles of silent electric running can be achieved, and the tiny 27-36g/km CO2 figure will appeal to any company-car drivers eyeing up a vRS. Skoda’s claimed economy figure of up to 233mpg shows what might be achievable, but again this depends on the journeys you do and how often you top the battery up. The iV model is also several thousand pounds more expensive to buy over the conventional petrol and diesel models.
The vRS iV is fitted with a 13kWh battery, which is charged via a Type 2 connection port. A full charge takes three and a half hours when using a 3.6kW wallbox home charger. Owners can also use a three-pin domestic plug socket, which takes around five hours.
When running in hybrid mode on longer journeys, the car does a good job of stretching its battery life but you can expect it to be largely depleted after a few hundred miles. Equally, when running in pure-electric mode, if driven carefully, you can expect to have some charge remaining after around 25 miles.
With its turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine, the vRS manages significantly worse figures, returning up to 40.4mpg with its seven-speed DSG gearbox. Economy figures haven’t been finalised for the diesel version just yet but, given that the new car uses a similar engine to its predecessor, it’s highly unlikely the figures will be vastly different. Expect nearly 55mpg from the diesel, while CO2 emissions will put both in high Benefit-in-Kind tax brackets for business users, compared to the iV plug-in hybrid.
VED (car tax) costs £150 a year for the diesel and petrol, and cars costing more than £40,000 after options will incur an extra £325 surcharge until they’re six years old. The plug-in hybrid version will get a £10 annual discount. Skoda offers a pretty standard three-year/60,000-mile warranty, and you can buy service plans upfront or spread the cost out monthly.
Engines, drive & performance
Not the fastest, but the Skoda Octavia vRS estate offers decent performance
The big news for this latest Octavia vRS is the introduction of an iV plug-in hybrid. It’s the same system you’ll find in the Volkswagen Golf GTE, Skoda Superb iV and the Cupra Formentor SUV, so produces 242bhp and offers up a 7.3-second 0-62mph time. You might notice that’s a couple of seconds off some hot hatchbacks and estates, and the feeling of speed is blunted by the heavy battery. The last-gen vRS definitely feels that bit faster, even with the iV’s big torque reserve and a fake engine note pumped into the cabin.
Weight distribution is further towards the rear with the battery underneath the boot floor, but there’s little to be gained from that as it feels like you reach the end of the car’s grip sooner. We suspect this isn’t helped by the tall ride height required by the battery (petrol and diesel models get lower suspension). That’s not to say you should immediately write off the plug-in hybrid; it’s the best choice if you want the sporty styling and will spend most of your time around town, which is where the vRS iV excels; the instant power of the electric motor and whisper-quiet running make it relaxing and refined. The transition from electric to petrol power is almost seamless, and you can choose how to use the powertrain - saving battery charge for later in the trip, for example.
Selecting Sport mode in the vRS iV highlights that the automatic gearbox can be rather sluggish; it feels like it holds the car back when you want to drive it more quickly. Using the steering-wheel mounted paddles to change gear yourself and force the car to hold on to gears for longer makes it very easy to spin the front wheels, thanks to the extra torque from the electric motor.
Gearbox aside, the Octavia vRS iV estate remains composed throughout faster corners thanks to stiffer suspension. The steering also provides a sharp and positive feel, giving you the confidence to accurately direct the car into corners.
The suspension may be stiff but it’s sophisticated enough that the vRS iV makes a very comfortable motorway cruiser, with only the roar from the standard 19-inch alloy wheels noticeable inside at high speeds. The only inherent drawback of using a PHEV for longer journeys is the economy drop once the battery for the electric motor is depleted.
The petrol engine has already impressed us in the Volkswagen Golf GTI. It has 242bhp, like the iV, but a quicker 0-62mph time of 6.7 seconds - and in the GTI it’s been tuned to feel more keen to rev to the limiter. For now, the fastest family estate in this price range is the Ford Focus ST, with its power advantage and 5.8-second 0-62mph time. Start the petrol powered vRS and the lack of drama is a bit disappointing - there's little to distinguish it from a regular 1.5-litre TSI, emitting a distant drone as you pick up speed.
On twisty roads there's a reasonable amount of punch out of corners, but the DSG automatic gearbox is keen to shift up relatively quickly, making the vRS feel swift and mature rather than blazingly fast. The steering is direct and a limited-slip differential helps the front tyres find grip in corners, but bumpy roads and sudden direction changes can unsettle the chassis and the Ford Focus ST Estate and Golf GTI are both more exciting to drive.
A six-speed manual or a seven-speed automatic gearbox are offered on the Octavia vRS, while the 197bhp diesel only comes with the latter - but you can add all-wheel drive. The diesel is likely to complete 0-62mph in around 7.4 seconds because it’s a little more powerful than the last car.
Interior & comfort
All the good bits of the standard Octavia with extra sportiness
Inside, the new Octavia vRS looks more futuristic than the car it replaces, thanks to a sleek two-spoke steering wheel and a large floating touchscreen. You do have to access the climate control through the screen but Skoda has provided a place to rest your wrist on the full-width trim piece intersecting the dashboard. The vRS-specific touches include a flat-bottomed wheel, red ambient lighting and sports seats, and it looks a little more restrained than the Ford Focus ST estate.
The vRS will come with a Virtual Cockpit digital instrument display, Matrix LED headlights, sat nav and multi-zone climate control. There's also a diamond stitching pattern for the seats with integrated headrests. Options will include extra driver assistance technology, bigger wheels and a couple of equipment packs. It's also possible to add a Canton premium stereo system with 12 speakers, adjustable suspension, a panoramic sunroof, a head-up display and an electrically powered tailgate.
Practicality & boot space
Space and pace; the Skoda Octavia vRS estate offers a vast boot and lots of passenger room
Skoda didn’t need to make the Octavia’s boot any bigger - it was already class-leading - but the new car is even more cavernous. The boot capacity isn’t affected in the petrol and diesel vRS models, so you get 640 litres to fill. That’s the same as the Mercedes E-Class estate, which is class-leading itself and a bigger car than the Octavia.
Skoda Octavia vRS Estate boot20
The Octavia vRS iV plug-in hybrid doesn’t have so much to boast about, as the positioning of the batteries means you lose some of that huge boot. It shrinks by 150 litres; 490 litres doesn’t sound so impressive but it’s still roughly the same as you get in the BMW 3 Series Touring. It does however feature clever underfloor storage for the charging cables and means the vRS iV estate gets a completely flat load area.
At least there’s room for your passengers to stretch out, regardless of the engine you pick. Unlike most estates this size, the Octavia allows three adults to sit side-by-side across the back row. There are an array of storage areas, plus Skoda’s Simply Clever touches like a parking ticket holder and an integrated ice scraper.
Reliability & safety
Skoda has achieved the best customer satisfaction in the VW Group
It’s almost hard to believe that Skodas were mocked just a couple of decades ago; now, they’re customer favourites and consistently score highly in our Driver Power owner satisfaction survey. In 2020, the brand finished in fifth place out of 30 manufacturers, with build quality, practicality and infotainment all praised. The previous-generation Octavia finished 34th in the list of the top 100 cars on sale, and we’d expect the new car to build on that.
We’ll be shocked if the new Octavia scores anything less than a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating; the VW Group’s family cars all get positive scores in crash tests. Safety systems are extensive, with collision avoidance assistance, an exit warning system and lane-departure warning. You can add even more kit to the options list.
All-electric family hatchback looks funky and promises great comfort
The all-electric Citroen e-C4 is being launched alongside the petrol- and diesel-powered C4 hatchback, and is part of its maker's strategy to launch its new cars simultaneously with internal combustion engines and EV drivetrains. The first thing you'll notice is that aside from a few detail trim differences, the two cars look identical – ideal for those looking to move to electric without shouting about it.
This is a tactic that Citroen's sister companies, Peugeot and Vauxhall, are employing with the e-208, e-2008, Corsa-e and Mokka-e – which is no surprise as these cars extensively share under-the-skin technology. Citroen will be unique for now in offering its mid-sized family hatchback in petrol, diesel and electric forms from launch.
The e-C4 doesn't actually have many direct rivals, with the Nissan Leaf, Volkswagen ID.3 being the only electric family hatchbacks for now. But if you extend your horizons to small SUVs, you could include the Peugeot e-2008 and even the MG ZS EV, which major on style and comfort or value respectively.
Stylish new take on the family car
The styling of the Citroen e-C4 is definitely a talking point. It's a sleek fastback design with lots of Citroen's current design cues. It gets the interesting split-level lighting arrangement up front first seen on the C3, side cladding and wheelarch extensions that echo the company's SUVs, and a high-level rear spoiler, which gives it a dramatic profile.
Citroen says it's highly aerodynamic, which should mean low wind noise at speed and maximum battery efficiency on the motorway. It will be interesting to see whether buyers see it as a sleek SUV with a sloping roof or a chunky hatchback. Customers have the option of choosing up to 31 combinations of body colours and colour packs.
What's it like inside?
Inside, it gets a development of C5 Aircross's all-digital dash and infotainment set-up – which means extensive use of the touchscreen for many of the car's functions. The screen is big, and sits proud of the dashboard to become a styling feature in its own right.
There appears to be plenty of space in the centre console, easily-accessible USB sockets and storage bins between the seats, too. Citroen also points out a range of accessories and options that includes a wireless phone charger, head-up display and tablet stands for the front passenger.
Comfort should benefit from the latest version of Citroen's Advanced Comfort seats. They're wide and padded with high-density foam with a thick 15mm layer of textured foam on the surface. If they're similar to those in the C5 Aircross, then the C4 will be very comfortable on a longer run.
It has a 380-litre boot area with the seats up, which rivals that of the latest Volkswagen Golf, with a two-level boot floor. That split boot floor means that with the panel in its uppermost position, there is no lip to get your heavy objects over.
Citroen e-C4 charging and range
Citroen’s e-C4 features a 136hp electric motor and 50kWh battery. It has an official WLTP range of 217 miles and supports up to 100kW rapid charging, allowing 80% of the battery to be charged in 30 minutes. Citroen says the e-C4 is capable of 0-62mph in 9.7 seconds and has a top speed of 93mph.
For regular home charging a Type 2 charging cable is included as standard, allowing a regular 7.4kW charger to reach a 100% charge in seven hours and 30 minutes. From launch, all customers will be offered a Pod Point Solo Smart Charger for free. When plugged in at home on a wallbox, it will fully charge in around 7.5 hours. The e-C4 joins the C5 Aircross Hybrid, Ami, e-Berlingo and e-SpaceTourer in its electrified line-up.
What versions are available?
The e-C4 comes in three flavours, all powered by the same 136hp electric motor. The entry-level Sense model gets LED headlights, a 10.0-inch touchscreen for the infortainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard. it also comes with a impressive suite of safety it including Automomous Emergency Braking (AEB), Lane Keeping Assist and Driver Attention Alert. You can move up to the Sense Plus, which adds Citroen Connect Nav, a tablet computer holder for front seat passengers, LED interior lighting, and a rear parking camera.
The range-topping Shine model gets dark tinted rear windows, Citroen's Safety Pack Plus (with adaptive cruise control), keyless entry and start, and automatic high beam headlights. A Shine Plus trim adds a premium hi-fi system featuring uprated speakers and the addition of a subwoofer, all as standard.
The e-C4 is available to order now with deliveries to UK customers commencing in February 2021.
Should you buy a Citroen e-C4?
We'll know more once we've driven it, but the early signs are encouraging. Since the Volkswagen e-Golf went off sale, there haven't been any options for those who want a small family car that's powred by electric and doesn't shout about it. Its main rival is the Nissan Leaf, which although ageing in several areas, does still offer a competitive range and efficiency and the excellent Volkswagen ID.3. And both of those are bespoke EVs, designed as such from the ground up.
Citroen hopes that the new e-C4 will appeal to a wider range of buyers as a more-rounded product that majors on comfort and refinement. It looks well priced and comes with an impressive amount of equipment, as well as a free home charger, which should help persuade buyers to take the plunge.