Car of the week – Volvo V40 T5 R-Design

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Think hot-hatch and the chances are you probably won’t immediately head for a Volvo showroom.

Volkswagen, Mercedes, Ford, Audi, and maybe Opel are the more traditional home of hot hatchery but it might just be time to look beyond those all-time favourites and see if a curvaceous Swedish model can tempt you.

Volvo, for so long associated with safe but dull cars, have been one of the most progressive and impressive marques of the past few years, thanks to Chinese investment, with their fabulous XC90, my car of the year for 2015, and the V60 Polestar gaining huge amounts of ground in their respective sectors.

They were the two vehicles that made me think differently about Volvo and so I was interested to see what the V40 T5 R-Design would bring to the party and whether it offered a realistic challenge to comparable hot hatch icons such as the Golf GTI, and Ford Focus ST, which it most certainly does.

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It looks a lot like the very impressive and potent V60 Polestar.

It’s nowhere near as quick but it is also much cheaper and as far as aesthetics are concerned it is more than acceptable.

The unique R-Design front with its silk-metal framed high-gloss grille, front spoiler, and very cool headlights and spots, combined with a low, wide stance, and sleek side profile and distinctive Volvo rear with twin exhausts give this V40 an appealing personality, although, and this is purely a personal opinion, I think it looks a bit tame and could perhaps use a bit more of an aggressive attitude.

The car sits on 17-inch IXION wheels which complete a streamlined and pleasing look.

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Volvo interiors are generally nicely put together and this is no different. It’s more practical than prestigious but it’s well designed with all the controls on the centreconsole underneath a seven-inch display screen.

The Sensus Connect infotainment system is first class and there is a graphic instrument cluster which has an adaptive digital display. Apart from providing an impressive array of information about the car, you can change the colour of the backlighting depending on the driving theme you select.

You have the choice of Elegance, Eco and Performance, which is what most people who drive this machine will choose because it comes with a nice red background and provides the best performance.

Eco is for those who worry about how much fuel they are using, and Elegance just seems a little pointless.

The leather seats, as in all Volvos, are extremely comfortable and the Sensus sound system is impressive. In the back there is ample room for adults as long as they are not over six feet tall when it will be a little cramped and there is enough room in the boot for a reasonable amount of luggage.

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The car is powered by a twolitre, four-cylinder turbo engine with 245bhp and 350nm of torque, hooked up to an eight-speed automatic gearbox which puts the power down to the front wheels.

There are also paddle-shifts if you want to get a bit more involved. Hit the ignition button and the engine makes a half decent effort at producing an appealing soundtrack but it does a much better job when it comes to acceleration, getting you from 0-100kmh in 6.4 seconds and to a top speed of 240kmh.

The handling of the car is impressive thanks to its rigid chassis and low centre of gravity and its agility means you can push the edge of the envelope reasonably confidently without it becoming worryingly nervy.

Being a Volvo it is also extremely comfortable and safety is something the Scandinavians take very seriously. It doesn’t offer anything particularly unusual but it does come fully loaded with almost everything you could think of to get you from A to B in one piece.

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The driver assists include crosstraffic alert, roadsign information with speed alert, active high beam headlights, a City Safety System which is active at speeds up to 50kmh and automatically brakes if you fail to react in time when the vehicle in front suddenly slows down or stops, which happens quite a lot in this part of the world, or if you are driving too fast towards a stationary vehicle.

There’s not much to criticise on this car but I have to admit that having driven the fabulous V60 Polestar which, performance wise, is in a different league, my expectations were too high and I expected it to be a tad faster, but the good news is that a V40 Polestar is on the cards and that should be a little belter.

However, and this is the really good part, the V40 T5 R-Design is currently being sold for just Dh109,900 and that is astonishing value. At that price, if you want a high-quality, five-door hatchback which is a bit more subtle than some of its rivals and quick enough for the majority of the population, I wouldn’t look anywhere else.

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Available from Trading Enterprises: Dubai: 04 2066400, Abu Dhabi: 02 4147245

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Car of the week – The BMW i8 AC Schnitzer

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The BMW i8 AC Schnitzer is a real eye-opener.

I am a self-confessed performance car junkie. I like supercars, speed and an engine noise that makes the hairs on the back on your neck bristle with delight. So, when people talk to me about the future in a world increasingly obsessed with emissions and saving the planet, I admit to more than a little trepidation, particularly when the words “electric car” are used.

I imagine this nightmare scenario in the next decade or so where supercars are extinct and we are all driving around in cute electric vehicles with zero emissions feeling worthy…and bored!

I am all for clean engines and the Toyota Prius, particularly the latest model, is an amazing and very clever piece of hybrid technology but, with all due respect, it’s not the sort of car that is going to excite me.

However, there is a car out there which has succeeded in plugging me into the future with confidence that everything is going to be fine after all – the BMW i8.

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I had been looking forward to driving this machine for some time and when it was finally my turn to get behind the wheel, I was fortunate enough to be handed the fob (key sounds too old fashioned) to the AC Schnitzer version which has bigger wheels than the standard car, carbon-fibre front and rear spoilers and sideskirts, and sits closer to the ground because the suspension has been tweaked.

Make no mistake, this car, with its super-futuristic design, shark nose, laser lights and butterfly doors which open upwards like wings, looks the business and its magnetism is unbelievable.

Neighbours were quick to come over and take a look and wherever I took this car, it turned more heads than most auto exotica I have driven. One word of caution about those doors though – make sure you don’t park too close to other cars because they need a bit of room to open. It is made from carbon fibre and aluminium to save weight and every curve, overlap, and air channel you see on its gorgeous body is functional and designed to make the i8 incredibly aerodynamic and, crucially, super efficient.

The interior is as futuristic as the exterior with lovely sweeping designs, ultra-modern instrument cluster, and an excellent infotainment system with a large touch-screen sitting on the centre of the dash. There’s lots of high-grade leather and luxury trim, is really comfortable and you really do feel as if you are sitting in something unique. It is a two-plus-two but the rear seats are not practical and are only useful for very young children or a little extra space to put small bags. So, it looks great but does it deliver the kind of performance to match its supercar appearance?

The i8 is a plug-in hybrid and has a 1.5-litre, three cylinder combustion engine taken out of a Mini.

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Thanks to BMW’s twin turbo technology, it actually delivers an incredible 231bhp which powers the back wheels.

An electric motor with 102bhp powers the front wheels and combined, the two produce 362bhp which is enough to power this visionary vehicle from 0-100kmh in just 4.4 seconds. So, from an acceleration point of view there is nothing but good news, but what about the noise? That sort of speed demands a soundtrack and there is one. Okay, it’s an artificially enhanced noise, but it does the job.

From a consumption point of view BMW say it will use just 2.5 litres of fuel per 100kms with extremely low emission levels.

The i8 uses the petrol engine and energy created from deceleration and braking to charge the battery. You can also plug this car in at home using a special wall mounted charging unit supplied by BMW.

Starting this car is a bit weird because there is no noise and when you move off it sort of glides along in a stealthy sort of way which is very cool. The petrol engine will kick in if you accelerate hard.

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The push-button ignition has an e-drive button on it which, when you push it, leaves the car running on electric power alone and will travel for 37km before the battery is exhausted. In electric mode only the car has a top speed of 120kmh before the petrol engine intervenes when it can reach a maximum of 250kmh.

There is also an Eco-Pro mode which enables the car to be driven with a combination of electric and petrol engine, Comfortmode, and Sport when you get the best peformance out of this car. It handles superbly, although I have to say that the electric power-steering was ultra-light and took some getting used to before I felt really confident going into corners at speed.

After two days driving this car I was totally fascinated and hugely impressed. You could say this BMW is a real i-opener.

It looks like a supercar, sprints like a supercar yet has the efficiency of a compact car. It sets new benchmarks for the future of motoring and might just save the supercar from extinction and for that reason alone, I love it.

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Car of the week: Ferrari 488 Spider

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Ferrari 488 Spider.

The world can be a pretty depressing place at times with nothing, it seems, other than bad news, economic gloom and global crisis.

Thankfully, there are still some things which are guaranteed to put a smile on your face and shut out the grind of everyday life, and one of them is a Ferrari.

Okay, so not everyone is wealthy or lucky enough to be able to drive one of Maranello’s finest but you don’t even have to get behind the wheel to enjoy these iconic machines; just the sight of one is sufficient to excite and inspire boys of all ages, and more than a few women.

People stop and stare, point, take pictures, film them, wait to hear the engine bark into life when you hit the ignition button, and generally drool over almost every work of art that comes out of the Prancing Horse stable. And the latest Italian masterpiece to create more than a little happiness is the gorgeous 488 Spider which follows in the tyre tracks of the magnificent 488 GTB, the replacement for the 458.

I consider myself privileged in that I have driven a succession of Ferraris and I love them all so excuse me if I sound a little biased.

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They all stir the emotions like no other vehicle, thanks to the deep rooted motorsport heritage of Ferrari and their magnificent design and engineering, but I have to say that this drophead 488 is in a league of its own when it comes to an emotional driving experience.

The 488 caused a bit of a stir with Ferrari aficionados because it has a turbo charged V8 engine which, they claim, robbed the marque of its distinctive raucous engine note that comes with the naturally aspirated powerplant.

Ferrari have always shied away from turbo engines, although they have powered Ferraris before – take the iconic F40 for example – because of turbo lag which they believes takes away some of the pleasure of driving a supercar. The Maranello engineers have clearly done a great job because there is no detectable turbo lag in the 488 and although the occasional whinge about the engine note has some credibility, it doesn’t mean this car has lost its voice – oh no, it may not have the primeval howl of the 458 but nevertheless it is loud, emotive and definitely distinctive in the finest traditions of Maranello.

Take the roof down on the 488 Spider – it takes just 14 seconds – and the noise is even more enthralling as you blast through the gears with a wailing crescendo coming from that twin turbo engine,  turning heads as you do so.  It is impossible not to laugh out loud when you put pedal to metal in this car with the roof down – accompanied by that slightly different but nonetheless stimulating Ferrari soundtrack.

The Spider has a stonking 660bhp and 760nm of torque, a record for a road-going Ferrari, so clearly it doesn’t hang around. It has a 0-100kmh time of just 3 seconds and if you keep your foot in you will scream through the 200kmh mark in a little over 8 seconds and reach an exhilarating top speed of 325kmh. It is fitted with a Brembo Extreme Design braking system which provides a stopping distance nine per cent shorter than the previous Spider.

The power is delivered to the rear wheels via a seven-speed F1 dual clutch gearbox which works perfectly in full auto mode, but even better when you use the paddleshifts. There are different drive modes which are controlled via the steering wheel mounted Manettino switch. Sport is best for everyday driving and Race is strictly for the track only.

There is also a setting for driving in the wet and you can turn off the traction and stability controls if you’re driving skills are up to it, but probably best to keep them on, rather than risk a change of trousers incident. The chassis is lighter and tauter than the 458 Spider it replaces which means the car is super-agile and handles like a dream at all speeds.

The aforementioned roof is a retractable hardtop taken from the 458 Spider and it folds down into a space on top of the forward section of the engine. The design of the car is clearly a visual delight and its curves and airflow channels make this the most aerodynamically efficient Ferrari Spider ever built.

I usually say that a Ferrari has to be red to complete the full emotion but this new Blue Corsa colour is superb. This car is an adrenaline rush on wheels and frankly, represents the very best in open-top motoring which you would expect from a Ferrari that is bristling with cutting edge engineering and technology, and costs over Dh1m.

Make no mistake, this sensational Spider will entangle you in its web. Life ain’t so bad, after all.

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