The Subaru XV crossover has been facelifted for 2016, with tweaks to the engines, chassis and interior and exterior styling, as well as an improved infotainment system.
The subtle styling changes include new metal-tone front foglight surrounds and a new lower grille and bumper treatment. Tweaks to the headlight clusters also feature on the 2016 model, along with a new set of diamond-cut black and silver alloy wheels. Two new paint colours have also been added.
The rear remains largely unchanged, aside from revised LED tail-lights and tweaked boot spoiler.
The exterior upgrades mark the second part of a two-step facelift, according to Subaru, with the interior upgrades having been put in place prior to the exterior updates for the 2016 model year. The chassis upgrades are claimed to improve the ride and grip of the XV, and were implemented prior to the exterior facelift. Despite the subtlety of the exterior styling tweaks, Subaru claims that the updates ?significantly change? the original car.
Subaru says it experienced an increase in sales following the earlier interior and chassis upgrades and expects to maintain current sales of 600-700 units per year in the UK, although this is a long way off the sales figures of more mainstream rivals such as the Nissan Qashqai and BMW X1.
Inside, a new steering wheel is the most notable upgrade, with a greater amount of metallic trim replacing some black plastics in the previous model. Voice control has also been added to the XV, allowing navigation and climate control settings to be changed using voice commands, alongside full connectivity for iPhone users.
Engine updates have improved the fuel economy of the 2.0-litre petrol unit to a claimed 43.5mpg, with C02 emissions of 151g/km when equipped with Subaru?s Lineartronic CVT transmission. The 2.0-litre turbodiesel?s fuel economy rises to a claimed 52.3mpg, with emissions falling by 5g/km to 141g/km. No further engines are planned to feature as part of the XV model line-up, though.
The facelifted XV goes on sale from 1 March, with prices remaining unchanged from the previous model despite Subaru?s claim of higher-quality interior materials.
Subaru is planning on previewing the XV?s successor with an XV concept next month's Geneva motor show, although details are sparse and Subaru is remaining tight-lipped ahead of the concept?s official reveal.
For a car like no other in production, the hydrogen fuel cell-powered Toyota Mirai ? theoretically on sale for £60,000 but in reality impossibly limited by supply ? feels reassuringly easy to drive.
Once you?ve settled behind the wheel, you find the Mirai?s responses are strongly reminiscent of those of a Nissan Leaf, a Renault Zoe or any other electric car in two ways that contrast with the fuel-burning ones you?ve been in all your life. On the one hand, the Mirai?s smoothness and quietness are the equal of any high-end luxury saloon; on the other, there?s an immediacy and accuracy about the power delivery that few conventional cars can match.
But the Mirai does things differently from its battery brethren, too. It derives its power from air and hydrogen combined in the catalysing environment of a fuel cell, almost a religious ritual since it produces pure water as its only by-product.
However, what stops the Mirai from being the Holy Grail on wheels is that most of today?s hydrogen supplies are generated either from hydrocarbons or by using large quantities of energy to electrolyse water into its two elements. The former process pollutes; the latter consumes more energy than it liberates. Both encourage the sceptics.
Yet Toyota believes in hydrogen for the future and is betting billions that an economic process will be devised to provide the supplies a hydrogen-based society would need. The company has been doing fuel cell research for decades and has chosen our era to bring the Mirai to production because it believes the time is right to start selling fuel cell cars in countries where people will ?get? their advantages. The favoured markets so far are Japan, California, Denmark, Germany and the UK.
In its first year, 2015, world Mirai production amounted to 700 units. This year?s aim of 2000 will expand to 3000 next year and keep growing towards a target of 30,000 cars in 2020. In the meantime, the company is releasing around 5000 fuel cell patents it holds, believing that a critical mass of cars will bring hydrogen breakthroughs closer. Honda is already within sight of a production fuel cell model and others are close, including Mercedes-Benz and Hyundai.
So far, Britain is home to a mere 12 Mirais, already allocated to the likes of Green Tomato (a cab firm that pioneered the Prius), Transport for London (whose concerns about urban pollution are well documented) and helpful businesses such as ITM Power, already working on the hydrogen fuelling infrastructure. Toyota UK is retaining two cars for its own purposes, which include putting them (briefly) at the disposal of people like us.
My own opinion is that Toyota is right about hydrogen fuel cells having a big future; it?s only the timescale that?s debatable. I have uncomfortable memories of smirking at the original, dumpy-looking Prius hybrid saloon back in 2003, when Toyota forecast a big future for hybrids, too. That car, now in its fourth generation, has grown to become a family of models, is the most reliable Toyota of all and has found more than eight million owners. Vision brought success to the Prius, so why not to the Mirai?
Such thoughts led me, just before Christmas, to persuade Toyota UK to lend me one of its Mirais to take out onto December?s soupy roads and drive as one would a normal car. I?d collect the car from Toyota?s Epsom HQ on the southern outskirts of London, then mix it with the local traffic. The discussion brought two bonuses. Firstly, Toyota UK?s Mirai expert, Neil Spires, agreed to come with us, bringing his gold mine of info, and while out and about we?d refuel at the Heathrow hydrogen filling station, one of two in London.
The Mirai?s divisive styling strikes me as anything but beautiful. Still, like the original Prius, it?s different and highly recognisable, and no one is going to get distracted from its pursuit of efficiency by any pretensions to elegance. It?s a long car, too (4.89m), on a very long wheelbase (2.78m).
Those two dimensions alone show how the proportions of hydrogen fuel cell cars can be considerably different from those of conventional all-in-the-nose front-drive saloons. The Mirai has a snug, comfortable, Prius-sized front cabin with an instrument layout recognisable from the latest Prius. The rear doors are big and there?s impressive spreading space in the back, plus plenty of boot room. On first examination, you?re left wondering where all the mechanical bits go in such a new-tech car.
Spires talked me through the mechanical layout using a handy 3D printed model he?d had made for the purpose. The compact, cylindrical 152bhp electric drive motor (with an even more impressive 247lb ft on tap from ultra-low revs) is mounted low in the nose between the front wheels, which it drives through a reduction gearbox and differential. Above it are the boxed electronics that manage the power arriving from the fuel cell stack and battery to feed the motor, as well as dealing with regenerated power when the car is slowing.
The all-important fuel cell stack is in the centre of the car, under the front seats, fed with copious quantities of air from the twin triangular scoops in the nose. Two cylindrical carbonfibre tanks containing hydrogen loaded at 700bar are mounted farther back, one under the rear bench seat and the other between backrest and boot.
The rearmost tank carries a small nickel-metal hydride battery on top. These are no ordinary fuel tanks; they?re tested against explosions and gunfire, can be dropped from a great height or withstand (as Spires eloquently put it) the weight of 150 Aygos stacked on top. Together, they contain 60 litres of compressed hydrogen, a fuel load that weighs just 5kg ? a mighty contrast to the 40-50kg of fuel that most conventional cars carry.
Compared with a conventional car, the body design requirements are quite different. The nose can be short and low but needs big air scoops, the underseat space front and rear must be optimised, but weight distribution can be much closer to 50/50 than that of regular front-drive cars. The Mirai?s kerb weight is 1850kg, which is substantial but not disastrously porky, given the fact that your power-generating equipment is on board, so you don?t need a big battery.
Driving the Mirai, as I?ve said, is simple and precise. The car is roomy and refined. Its ride is also notably soft and well damped, not least because its mass is better shared between front and rear suspensions than usual. The steering is top-quality electric power, and the car?s lowness means it corners with little roll. Road noise is low, possibly because, like a Prius, the tyres are modestly sized. There?s a general air of sophistication that shows how Toyota has spent more time on this car?s dynamics than it might have done in the past, to show that a fuel cell car can be as comfortable and capable as a conventional one.
Refuelling was a doddle. The Heathrow refuelling station turned out to be a bare asphalt expanse with a big, angular complex of white tanks each as big as a small building.
It emitted various random chunterings while we were refuelling, an exercise that took about 90 seconds. There was a pause for some high-tech stuff at first while the car ?bonded? electronically with the pump (so everyone could be sure hydrogen wasn?t about to start flowing at 700 atmospheres where they didn?t want it to) but the process was quick and easy.The pump handle was a bit more ergonomic and high-tech than the one on your street corner, but the main thing is that it was easy to use.
Once full of hydrogen, the Mirai was good for an official 341 miles of driving, which translates into a real-world 250-280 miles, depending on how you drive. It all seemed heart-warmingly conventional, except for the fact that we?d just driven 100 miles and pumped out not an atom of carbon dioxide or toxic emissions. That bit was the miracle.
Drinking and driving
If I ever drive across the Sahara, I want it to be in a Toyota Mirai, because its only tailpipe emission is pure water. After our drive, Neil Spires showed me how to drain it into a glass, then offered it to me to drink.
We?d produced more water than this on our trip (the official output is 0.8 litres per 10km), but what was left made about two-thirds of a glass. It was encouragingly clear, but drawn as it had been from the car?s rear underside, I couldn?t help expecting some eau d?exhaust. It was very pure, though, with just the slightest tang of the plastic container in which it had last reposed. I sent it all down the hatch. For the Mirai owner, this is going to become a party trick - at least until we all get used to it.
Deep in the bowels of Ford?s Product and Development Center in Dearborn, Michigan, there?s a room ?that no security pass will grant you access to.
Not that you?d ever know to try. The room is at the end of a corridor about four flights of stairs underground. ?It?s the kind of room that only caretakers and security guards would ever walk past: unused and almost forgotten for years.
For the past two years, though, that room has been home to one of the most top-secret projects in Ford?s history: the new GT. Created to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the GT40?s first Le Mans victory, the new supercar?s launch at the ?2015 Detroit motor show was so secret that it came as a surprise even to most of Ford?s staff, including some top executives.
At the time, those involved in ?the project spoke about the secret room in which they created the car. Now, a year on, its secrets are about to be revealed.
The room may sound like the creation of something for an Ian Fleming novel, but in this instance life really does imitate art. The access corridor is lined with dusty storage racks for foam blocks that will be milled into prototype parts.
?There would be no reason to go down there,? says Ford?s Chris Svensson, design director for the Americas, ?and it would be out of bounds for most people anyway.?
The room is accessible only by ?an old-school key, the digital touchpad beside it having been disabled. ?It was very top secret,? adds Svensson, who has the key hanging around his neck. ?Very few had access to the project, and no one ?was allowed to talk about it. Out of 600 or so designers here, 12 had access to the room. It?s not a beautiful place; it?s a grafting place. It?s a real basement studio: no windows, dirty, uncomfortable, floods when it rains? but it?s beautifully functional.?
Svensson was one of the few involved in the early stages of the project, which kicked off around 15 months before the GT?s 2015 Detroit debut. According to Jamal Hameedi, Ford Performance?s chief engineer, the goal was, in essence, the same as that of the 1960s GT40: to be a tour de force of the very best Ford design and technology in order to beat Ferrari at their own game. ?And to take Ford back to Le Mans,? adds Hameedi.
The room, far removed from ?the main Ford design studio, was cleared, and the crack team involved in the project got to work, often in the evenings and at weekends so as not ?to arouse suspicions.
?We started with aerodynamic efficiency,? says Hameedi, adding that Ford has ?never done so much with CFD [computational fluid dynamics] software? to hone the ?GT?s aerodynamic form. ?We knew we were going back to Le Mans,? he says, ?so we had set criteria to go racing and have a fantastic road car. Racing is therefore at the core of our existence. I?m not sure you can say that about some of our peers.?
Three key design themes for the car were chosen, none of them retro, and then models were made off those themes, all with the same teardrop fuselage and extremely aggressive glasshouse and extreme aero packages, but with different styling. They were then put through wind tunnel and computer testing, and the best-performing one was chosen for the design, not necessarily the best-looking one. Carbonfibre bodywork allowed for some extreme sculpting.
The model then spawned a full-sized clay model, which was then used as the basis for the prototype unveiled in Detroit last year. This, in turn, formed the basis for the final verification model unveiled at this year?s Detroit show, with such small changes from the earlier model that you?d struggle ever to notice the difference. Svensson says fewer changes were required than on any other project he?s seen in his 23 years at Ford. ?And if you can spot them, you?ve got a very good eye.?
With aerodynamic efficiency ?and low weight being the top priorities in the car?s development, the engine was considered to be of secondary importance and was chosen primarily on the basis of ?fuel economy. For that reason, the team went with Ford?s twin-turbocharged 3.5-litre Ecoboost V6.
?Le Mans is a fuel economy race now,? says Hameedi, ?so efficiency is a key criteria. You can?t beat the V6 for that, and you can make the homologated 500bhp or so output in the rules easily and also be extremely fuel efficient.?
All secrets now fully out, the GT race car, in addition to its Daytona outing and Le Mans appearance this summer, will compete in the World Endurance Championship this season. The GT road car will follow by the end of the year, produced in limited numbers, each costing around £280,000. It will be a gratifying moment for the team involved.
?We didn?t want to be another Ferrari, McLaren or Lamborghini,? says Svensson. ?This is us; we can compete with the very best and represent the best of Ford.?
Italian design house Pininfarina has confirmed that it will reveal a new car at the Geneva motor show this March.
To whet our appetites, the iconic firm has released a single teaser image revealing what appears to be the new car?s nose.
Pininfarina has refrained from providing any specific details, but in an official release it describes the car as an ?innovative stylistic and technological jewel?.
Looking at the aerodynamic design of the nose, it seems likely that it?ll be a performance model, and recent history suggests it could also be a special one-off model commissioned by a private buyer.
Some of Pininfarina?S recent work includes the curvaceous Ferarri 458-based Sergio Pininfarina, and the V12 engined BMW Grand Lusso Coupé concept.
Business giant Mahindra bought a controlling stake in Pininfarina last year. The Indian company has announced its intentions to reduce the Italian firm?s ?52 million debt, and this new model arrives as the first under the new owners.
Pininfarina will pull the covers off its new design at the Geneva motor show on the 1 March.
It doesn?t seem that long ago that Mercedes SUVs came in two sizes: modest, as anyone might reasonably rate three generations of the M-Class, and massive, as anyone outside of the US would call the blimpish GL.
You could have a G-Wagen, too, of course, although no one did, because it was like buying a Land Rover Defender in Wehrmacht fancy dress. Mercedes also built something called the GLK, but you couldn?t have that in the UK, because converting it to right-hand drive was apparently too much of a bother.
Consequently, despite being in the business of turning out the kind of cars people suddenly want since the late 1990s, Mercedes, in the UK at least, has not previously made the waves it might have done.
Since 2014, however, it has begun to emphatically fix that. With the launch of the compact GLA, based on the A-Class?s architecture, the firm signalled to customers its intention to produce a crossover for every platform and attach a nameplate to suit. Thus we?ve had the GLE (formerly the M-Class), very soon we?ll have the GLS (in place of the old GL) and between the lot, appropriately, there?s the focus of this test, the new GLC.
This is the spiritual successor to the packaging blooper that was the GLK, so it represents something of an unknown quantity to British buyers.
Nevertheless, the underside (and therefore the general proportions) of the car ought to be well understood, because it rests on the C-Class platform ? albeit one slightly swollen in both length and width.
At any rate, the GLC can be concisely and immediately related to people by simply explaining that this is Mercedes? answer to the BMW X3. Mercedes makes no bones about the identity of its direct rival, and with the highly popular BMW now middle-aged in its life cycle, this is as good a time as any to introduce a premium alternative to Munich?s fattened 3 Series.
The grit in the oyster shell of Mercedes? plan comes in the form of the Land Rover Discovery Sport. Although based on the LR-MS platform (which means there?s still some residual Ford in the heritage), the Discovery Sport isn?t beholden to a saloon car ? and so it?s alone in this group in exuding the seriousness and visual heft of a ?proper? SUV. It is also the only one of the three to provide seating for seven, an advantage it?s possible to overstate but an attractive no-cost benefit nonetheless.
Despite not being as tall as the Discovery Sport, the GLC, in ?AMG Line trim, proves suitably appealing in the metal. The decision of the Mercedes press office to fit £450 running boards to our test car was doubtless an attempt to stamp some robustness on the bodyshell, but it needn?t have bothered.
Stick-on steps do not a Toyota Land Cruiser make, and the GLC?s conspicuous crossover-ness is assuaged by the fact that (with optional 20in rims filling the arches) it looks sharply engaging ? certainly more so than the X3, ?which, despite a facelift and M Sport garb, is beginning to date with ?the inelegance of a Taylor Wimpy tudor mansion.
The Mercedes? interior, inevitably borrowed mostly from the C-Class, completes the styling rout. The X3 remains unequivocally and consummately BMW: superior in ergonomics, function and perhaps even build quality. But, like the exterior, the overall design and some of the switchgear have fallen off the pace, a fact confirmed by glancing inside the GLC. Clad in slippery piano black and purged of right angles, the innards are two parts upmarket futurism, one part TIE fighter cockpit. It radiates wow factor.
That said, I will admit to still suffering the effects of mild discombobulation when sat facing the three-pointed star.
Mercedes? dogged use of the column shifter continues to rankle. There?s the very latest in nine-speed torque converter automatics connected to the stalk, nestled in a magnesium housing to save weight; why we?re forced to engage this 21st century item like Tony Danza in Taxi is beyond me. Granted, there?s more room on the centre console for other controls this way, but the extra space is apparently insufficient to show me all the buttons without having to peer over the infotainment dial and the vast wrist-docking apparatus above.
Perhaps this is why the Discovery Sport continues to lure me in. Objectively, it is the most staid of the three, its perceived quality innately hamstrung by an in-house requirement to feel less special than the Range Rover-badged Evoque. But I find its dusting of utilitarianism, even in HSE spec, very endearing.
The Disco still wants to be the Leatherman multi-tool of SUVs: expensive, solid, useful and reassuring. The quirk of its positioning, which has left it straddling both a premium and mainstream customer base, ought to have limited it ? some think it has ? but I needed to variously wear muddy wellies and later a tux during our time together and felt right at home in both.
In terms of space in the rear, all three cars qualify as effective family cars (hardly surprising, given their provenance). The X3 has a fair bit more head room than the GLC, but leg room is similarly generous in both.
The Land Rover has a shorter wheelbase but doesn?t feel any less accommodating. Filling its two jump seats ? even with small children ??obviously eats into that space, although the Sport is packaged cleverly enough for it all to still ?seem like a neat idea.
Boot volume is similarly admirable across the board. The fact that you reportedly get 60 litres more capacity in the GLC than you would in a C-Class wagon gives some indication of the increased practicality (and therefore added value) that is had from choosing the SUV.
Also thrown into the usability bargain is Mercedes? 4Matic all-wheel drive system. In the case of the 250d driven here, it?s powered by the 201bhp version of the omnipresent 2.1-litre four-cylinder diesel engine, which makes it moderately more powerful than both the Discovery?s 178bhp 2.0-litre Ingenium and BMW?s 188bhp four-pot oil-burner. Away from the mark, that difference shows.
The GLC proves a genuine sub-8.0sec to 60mph prospect, with a standing-start eagerness that not even the famously brisk X3 replicates. The Land Rover lags even further back, the gearing of its own nine-speed auto and a fair bit more kerb weight only contributing to the Ingenium engine?s power deficit. The unit?s refinement issues are hardly downplayed in this company, either.
Mercedes has successfully wrapped its own strident motor in an apparently thicker blanket than normal, its curiously chirpy thrum now consigned to moments of hard acceleration only. The engines in the Discovery Sport and the X3 are noticeably more vocal than that of the GLC, while the British car adds a dose of vibration into the mix.
The GLC?s pace is a useful ally in modern SUVs, and initially the car seems well primed to exploit it. Compared with its competitors, you sit low in the cabin ? so low, in fact, that the model seems a more likely contender for something of the Audi A4 Allroad?s ilk than a Land Rover. The pedals and steering wheel are presented in car-like fashion, too. In the X3, the steering wheel has the girth of a George RR Martin paperback and is tuned for the kind of incisiveness that can be wrung from the front end.
The Mercedes follows suit, its variable rack being quick indeed but with less life to it. Compared with the Discovery, which turns the front wheels with a crisp, emphatic heft uncannily hotwired to your expectations, the GLC is lifeless to the point of impassive. Its pedals share the condition and prove oddly numb to either getting started or finally bringing the car to a halt.
In between those two states, the GLC is better. The question of chassis character when it comes to every compact SUV perched between a mainstream crossover and a Porsche Macan is a confounding one.
BMW and Land Rover have answered it succinctly enough. The X3 tested here, inexplicably shorn of its brilliant-value £650 adaptive suspension and unfairly propped on 20in alloy wheels, rides with stiff-backed abruptness and a disdain for road surface deflections deeper than a deck of cards. It also corners flat and tenaciously and with something approaching neutrality from the rear-biased xDrive all-wheel drive system.
Side by side, the Discovery?s patient lean under duress could almost be mistaken for wallow. It demands predictably more of the outside wheel and, on slimmer 19in tyres, mislays purchase earlier. But its poise and primary ride composure are exemplary, endlessly juggling mass and speed and body movement without the requirement for a button marked ?Comfort?. The Ingenium engine finally comes into its own too, slyly and endlessly interjecting with 317lb ft mid-range gusts courtesy of the gearbox?s eagerness to unobtrusively downshift.
The GLC, one suspects, ideally wants it both ways ? although with an emphasis on the tranquillity that £1500 worth of multi-chamber air suspension ought to buy you. Sadly, that option box was left unchecked, leaving our AMG Line test car with the passive ?sports? suspension set-up, as distinguished from the ?comfort?-biased alternative on SE versions. Be that as it may, handling, in an enthusiastic sense, is not the GLC?s forte.
The right-hand-drive versions reputedly send more power to the rear wheels by default than the left-hookers, but that isn?t immediately apparent in the car?s overt preference for understeer ? a characteristic typically unaided by the vagaries of Mercedes? direct-steer electric rack and enhanced by the sportier dampers? surprisingly permissive attitude to body control.
The softly-softly approach plays well at lower speeds, though. Here the GLC?s comfort levels outshine the Discovery, which can seem oddly rudimentary when dawdling. The Mercedes? sophistication isn?t in question, yet it continues only up to a point: namely, the moment a suitably sized hole is offered up for one of the car?s big, pretty wheels to fall into.
This inconsistency leaves the GLC a patchier prospect than it otherwise might have been. Mercedes has trumpeted the availability of its Air Body Control in the segment, and it?s no great leap to imagine a better car resulting ? just as the X3 is an improved product with adaptive suspension.
Without the costlier optional solutions ? and minus the counter-intuitive selection of big rims ? neither car tested here feels appropriately specced. Forced to make a choice between them on the day, I?d narrowly take the GLC, if only because its newness and aesthetic appeal better paper over the dynamic cracks than the older if leaner X3.
The GLC is also quicker (never a bad thing) and, if the claimed figures are to be believed, marginally cheaper to run, although there really isn?t much to choose between them on that score.
Nonetheless, both cars, any way you cut their spec sheet foibles, serve to make the Discovery Sport look good. Being the slowest, least efficient option in a modern SUV test is as welcome as discovering rust on the wheel arch, yet when driving the Sport, in Land Rover?s best tradition, your attention is rarely drawn to its flaws. Its steering and faultless sense of self make it both the most gratifying to drive and the best to be in long term.
Where its rivals shine in specific conditions, the Discovery feels ready for anything ? not least the addition of two extra passengers and, lest we forget, the deeper, very occasional challenge of muddy stuff (where it is confidently superior).
The very fact that the GLC and X3 need careful finishing on their respective spec sheets only reinforces the impression that the Land Rover is the segment?s one can?t-miss, complete option.
Land Rover Discovery Sport HSE TD4 180 auto
Price £39,400; 0-62mph 8.4sec; Top speed 117mph; Economy 53.3mpg; CO2/tax band 139g/km/25%; Kerb weight 1884kg; Engine 4 cyls, 199cc, diesel, Power 178bhp at 4000rpm; Torque 317b ft at 1750rpm; Gearbox 9-spd automatic
Mercedes-Benz GLC 250d 4Matic AMG Line
Price £39,595; 0-62mph 7.6sec; Top speed 138mph; Economy 56.5mpg; CO2/tax band 129g/km/23%; Kerb weight 1845kg; Engine 4 cyls, 2143cc, diesel; Power 201bhp at 3800rpm; Torque 369lb ft at 1600-1800rpm; Gearbox 9-spd automatic
BMW X3 xDrive20d M Sport auto
Price £39,585; 0-62mph 8.1sec; Top speed 130mph; Economy 54.3mpg; CO2/tax band 136g/km/25%; Kerb weight 1820kg; Engine 4 cyls, 1995cc, diesel; Power 188bhp at 4000rpm; Torque 295lb ft at 1750-2500rpm; Gearbox 8-spd automatic