A round-up of the latest news from the motoring world from Matt Joy, plus a test drive of the Citroen DS4 sparks an unexpected new admiration.
I try not to let TV make me angry – if it does, I’ll normally turn it off. But the recent piece by BBC’s Panorama on the increasing number of revenue-generating traffic cameras had me both gripped and furious in equal measure.
It brought to light some very revealing points. Firstly the statistic saying the number of tickets issued for parking offences is actually on the way down; I’m not sure that’s down to a less aggressive approach by the parking wardens, or more that us motorists are managing to navigate the tortuous process of buying parking time.
But the massive rise in bus lane penalties (three times as many fines issues for councils outside London in 2012 compared with 2007) is a worrying trend. Bus lanes are a great idea because they give the advantage to people using public transport and make it (in a small way) more appealing than driving a car – and rightly so. But the number of times I’ve seen people driving illegally in a bus lane is almost negligible.
There’s actually a bus lane less than a mile from my house, on a road often clogged with traffic and where buses can jump 20 or 30 cars ahead of the queue thanks to the lane’s presence. But this one is timed, so after 7pm and all day Sundays it is not in operation. Yet I hardly ever seen anyone driving in it, even though there are two lanes. On the occasions I do legally drive in it, I get the kind of looks other motorists normally reserve for drunk drivers.
There is also an unfortunate sheen of inevitability about the concept of bus lane fines. If a council decides it needs a bus lane – whether for good traffic reasons or not – it needs to be seen to be working and ‘paying its way’, otherwise it is a failure. So the motivation to ensure no opportunity to issue a penalty is missed is suddenly paramount.
An increasing focus on moving traffic offences is even more worrying, however. As the film clearly illustrates, drivers who use heavily patrolled roads (and particularly box junctions) are actively driving in a compromised way to avoid penalties; even stopping across a pedestrian crossing and risking lives, rather than hitting their wallet.
Just as with the speed camera debate, the purpose of a traffic enforcement camera should be to replicate the actions of a police officer, with the ultimate aim of reducing offences. It is these offences that have the potential for risk, and in a perfect world there would be no offences and no penalties issued. Some councils apprently see things in a very different light.
FIRST DRIVE: CITROEN DS4 HDI 160 AUTOMATIC
Of the DS-line model trio, the DS3 has been the runaway success, but recent updates to both the DS5 executive saloon and this, the DS4 coupe-crossover, have meant that sales for those have picked up too, says Matt Kimberley.
Maybe the DS4 concept was a little too ‘out there’ for some people. Neither a proper crossover like the class-leading Nissan Qashqai nor a proper coupe like the old three-door sporty C4 could claim to be, the DS4 has been left somewhat out on a limb. But what a difference a little time spent with it makes, because under the DS4’s skin there’s a brilliant car.
In fairness there’s a brilliant-looking car on the outside, too. It’s striking, sitting noticeably higher than a typical hatchback but with arguably Citroen’s finest styling smothered all over it. When you actually look at it there isn’t a bad angle on the thing.
As well as five doors you get a good size and evenly-shaped boot, albeit with no spare wheel underneath. Visibility backwards over it from the driver’s seat is hardly perfect thanks to the sleek coupe-like lines cutting down on the quantity of glass, but you can’t have everything.
The updates on this model are pretty significant. It has a new six-speed automatic gearbox connected to the more familiar HDi 160 2.0-litre diesel engine, making it, on paper at least, the most relaxed DS4 you can buy.
The gearbox has two modes: Drive and Sport. The difference is simply that Sport holds on to gears for longer than Drive – shifts aren’t noticeably any faster and it’s only marginally keener to kick down. The secret is that whatever your aim, Drive is the best mode to be in. It changes up nice and early under light throttle pressure, displaying the sort of seamless, genteel precision you expect only in much more expensive cars. But push the pedal harder and the gearbox tends to stay in the perfect gear to ride the wave of torque from the creamy-smooth engine, making surprisingly rapid progress possible at the drop of a hat without the engine getting too rowdy. It’s a very impressive set-up, if not the most frugal, and it feels a lot more potent than the on-paper figures suggest.
It’s clever, too, holding the gear you’re in if you head downhill and lift off the throttle, even if the revs rise as gravity pulls the car ever faster. This keeps engine braking higher and increases safety. The one imperfection is the sixth ratio’s gearing. While the lower gears are quite tall to keep revs low and fuel consumption down, sixth sits at over 2,000rpm at 70mph – which is too high for this car. The drivetrain could easily handle a taller ratio to bring that down to 1,700rpm or so.
There are other niggles on this DSport range-topping model, like stunning but incredibly vulnerable wheels that absolutely shouldn’t be taken near anything resembling a kerb. The electronic handbrake, like every other of its type, is slow to operate and when you’re doing lots of short trips on the same day it gets wearing.
However, back on the rosy side of the fence and the DS4’s brakes are incredible. Wide tyres are partly to thank for offering a large contact patch, but the way the car shrugs off speed in an emergency stop scenario is staggering. Those tyres also create lots of lateral grip and, combined with a surprisingly flat cornering attitude, the DS4 can tackle bends as quickly and safely as most other things on the road.
The ride is firm but well controlled for the most part. It’s only when hitting sharper bumps that the excess of compression damping shows up and sends a bigger bump through the cabin.
But for the most part it’s a lovely cabin to sit in. Stylish seats unlike any others out there are more comfortable than they look, but they’re also on the firm side in the same way that many German cars’ seats are. It’s designed to help them last longer without starting to sag. The interior styling is also especially fresh and different without being impractical, although the digital rev counter, which works in blocks of 250rpm, isn’t precise enough for my tastes. The materials are solid, though, and a big step up from Citroen’s non-DS cars. The whole package feels substantial and well made.
I came away from my time with this new DS4 variant massively impressed with its all-round ability, and particularly with the gearbox. It’s one of the best automatic diesel cars I’ve driven in years.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Citroen DS4 HDi 160 Automatic DSport, £25,360 on the road
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel producing 158bhp and 251lb.ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic driving the front wheels
Performance: Top speed 129mph, 0-62mph in 9.9 seconds
Fuel economy: 49.6mpg
CO2 rating: 149g/km
WHEELS AND DEALS
:: Alfa Romeo has revealed more technical information about the hotly-anticipated 4C ‘compact supercar’.
The highly-advanced supermini-sized car will weigh just 895kg dry, while producing 246bhp from a turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine sited behind the two seats. As a result its power-to-weight ratio is theoretically a very feisty 275bhp per tonne, but that will drop when the car is filled with fluids and petrol. It is still likely to be comparable to, or better than, that of a supercharged Lotus Exige.
Alfa has referred to it as ‘exclusive but achievable’ in the context of using an existing four-cylinder engine instead of developing something else. However, the extensive use of carbon fibre, composites, special lighter production techniques and thinning processes for everything possible, including the glass, mean that the 4C is not likely to cost less than a Porsche Cayman S.
Production will take place in Modena, Italy, where facilities have been put in place to build more than 1,000 4Cs per year if the demand is there. Testing and finishing procedures will be shared with the Maserati production line, to ensure that every 4C leaves the factory prepared to the highest standard.
Not only that, but each 4C that is built will be taken onto public roads for 40km by an experienced test driver, whose job it is to make sure that the chassis and suspension are perfect and that there are no undesirable rattles or shakes.
However, controversy has been ignited with the latest image released ahead of the car’s launch, where its previous headlight design has been replaced with a projector-style alternative that has polarised opinion. Alfa Romeo cannot yet confirm whether the curious additions to a design that had been universally praised will remain a part of the car, or whether it will be returned to its earlier look.
:: The iconic family-sized Volkswagen Golf has just reached another major milestone, with the 30 millionth example having rolled off the production line at the giant Wolfsburg plant in Germany.
Since the original Golf first appeared in 1974 it has gone through six further iterations, with today’s seventh-generation model offering levels of comfort, performance and economy that were beyond unheard of 39 years previously.
The 30 millionth Golf was a Bluemotion TDI, the most fuel-efficient Golf ever produced with an official combined consumption figure of 88.3mpg. This particular example went on display for during the factory open day.
Professor Martin Winterkorn, Chairman of the Board of Management of Volkswagen AG, comments: “The history of the Golf is also the history of automotive progress. With technologies such as the safe front-wheel drive of the first Golf, the debut of the TDI in the third Golf, ESC (Electronic Stability Control) and the dual clutch gearbox of the fourth Golf and the standard Automatic Post-Collision Braking System of the new generation, this car has continued to democratise progress. An optimum of safety, comfort and driving fun are no longer a question of money thanks to the Golf. And so our best-seller lives up to the Volkswagen name.”
:: Following the launch of the new IS saloon, Lexus is giving customers the opportunity to add a suite of advanced safety features and driving aids to their vehicle with an additional option pack.
Available exclusively for the flagship Premier versions of the new IS 250 and full hybrid IS 300h, the £1,540 pack adds Pre-Crash Safety system (PCS), Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), Lane Departure Assist (LDA), Automatic High Beam (AHB) and the Pre-Crash Safety system.
The PCS system uses a millimetre-wave radar sensor that operates over a 20-degree scanning radius to detect obstacles in the vehicle’s path, even when cornering.
If there is a high risk of a collision, PCS will alert the driver with a buzzer and warning on the multimedia display, activate the Pre-Crash Seatbelt pretensioners, and, when the driver begins to brake, provide Pre-Crash Brake Assist to supplement the braking effort. If the driver does not brake and a collision becomes inevitable, the Pre-Crash Brake will automatically apply the brakes to reduce impact speed.
The Adaptive Cruise Control can operate on a set constant speed or monitor the speed of the car in front and keep a prescribed distance, braking and accelerating safely and automatically.
The Lane Departure Alert system monitors road markings using a camera mounted on the rear-view mirror. If it detects the vehicle is deviating from its lane without the turn signals being used, it alerts the driver by sounding a buzzer and showing a warning on the instrument display.
The Automatic High Beam function for the headlamps maximises night-time visibility by automatically switching to low beam when the system’s camera detects the lights of an oncoming vehicle, or one travelling ahead. This means the high beam can be used for the safe maximum time.
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