Frank Turner

Writer and Columnist

Latest articles from Frank Turner

Review Suzuki Swace: 'A hybrid-powered, estate that offers excellent efficiency'

Let’s hear it for an ace of space. The Suzuki Swace is a winning example of that versatile, load-swallowing motoring genre, the estate car. It was introduced as the second vehicle to be launched from the Suzuki/ Toyota collaborative business agreement. Based on the Toyota Corolla Hybrid Estate, the car has Suzuki signature front design elements and is manufactured in the UK with exports to Europe. A 2023 update has a new model grade structure – Motion and Ultra – which includes significant changes to the engine and hybrid system, with enhanced performance and minimal change to fuel consumption or CO2 emissions. There are also enhanced safety and equipment specifications and upgraded digital and multimedia features. I ran the rule over this latest version of the Ultra grade car on a week-long road test. Style file Handsome and versatile, the car has an athletic look with some styling elements inherited from Suzuki’s signature design. The latest car features refreshed exterior styling and lighting finishes. Inside story The interior combines style, comfort and practicality, with a spacious, premium feel to the cabin. Convenient storage spaces can be found throughout, offering ample room for storing small items such as phones and drinks. And there is generous luggage capacity, from 596 litres with the 60/40-split rear seat back in place to 1,232 litres with it folded down, offering a fully flat space. Features You will find a host of lovely, useful kit in the Swace, with an even higher standard specification in the latest model. Features include dual-zone automatic air conditioning, heated driver’s and front passenger seats with power-adjustable lumbar support, heated steering wheel, guide-me-home lights, power-folding heated door mirrors, rear parking camera, front and rear distance sensors, parking assist, auto-dimming rear view mirror, connectivity suite, LED front map light, and a centre console tray with wireless charger. Hi-tech safety features include dynamic radar cruise control, hill-hold control, lane departure function alert, steering assist function, blind spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert. Also, available as standard on the Ultra grade, safe exit assist uses the same technology as blind spot monitor and triggers a warning if a door is about to be opened into the path of an oncoming vehicle or cyclist approaching from the rear when the car is stationary. And there is pre-collision system. Updated for the 2023 model with wider range and additional motorcycle detection, it helps prevent collisions with other vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists by monitoring the road ahead with radar and a camera to apply braking assist and automatic braking if needed. This being an estate car, practicality is to the fore. For added versatility, the rear carpeted floorboard of the luggage compartment can be placed in a lower position to store taller objects and is also reversible with a resin reverse side that can be used for stowing wet or dirty items. The luggage area is also equipped with auto-illuminating lights and a 12-volt accessory socket. On the road The driving experience is one of smooth ease-of-use, the car starting at the push of a button in whisper-quiet electric mode, before the petrol engine chimes in as the Swace picks up speed. The hybrid system combines a powerful electric motor with a 1.8 litre petrol engine exclusively designed for hybrid system use, and a smooth CVT automatic transmission, delivering a seamless driving feeling with powerful acceleration as well as excellent fuel economy and low emissions. The hybrid system, which charges on the go, optimally drives the car with the electric motor, petrol engine, or both, depending on driving conditions. You can also select an EV (electric vehicle) drive mode function, the car being powered solely by its electric motor for driving short distances. And there are three easily-selectable driving modes (apart from EV): Normal, Eco and Sport. Performance figures are 0-62mph in 9.4 seconds and a top speed of 112mph. Tech time The latest iteration of the car sees a 15 per cent increase in combined maximum power output from 122hp to 140hp. The engine has a power output of 97hp at 5,200rpm, with the electric motor output now increased from 53kW to 70Kw. WLTP combined fuel consumption is 62.7 mpg and WLTP CO2 emissions 102g/km Verdict Here’s a hybrid-powered, mid-sized estate that offers excellent efficiency, space, comfort and versatility combined with dynamic styling and driving pleasure. Price: £31,399 OTR (plus metallic paint).

Review Skoda Octavia: 'An excellent family motor and a pleasure to drive'

Founded in 1895, Skoda is one of the world’s oldest car-makers. The Czech Republic manufacturer’s motors are sold in more than 100 countries. It’s a proud history and the brand goes from strength to strength, its reputation exemplified by perhaps its best-known model, the Octavia, which has been at the heart of the brand for more than six decades. I have driven several iterations of the model and ran the rule over the latest version of this admirable car in five-door hatchback form, finding that, when it comes to family motoring, the Octavia really delivers. Style file The latest model is longer and wider than its predecessor, has an even larger boot and showcases the latest evolution of the marque’s design language, with its crisp, clean lines and a dynamic, elegant profile. The interior features a redesigned modular dashboard that has been arranged in different levels, featuring a large, free-standing central display. The centre console is elegant, uncluttered and adorned with chrome details – as are the door trims and handles. Pleasing soft-touch materials lend the interior a premium look while the LED ambient lighting (an optional extra on our car) indirectly illuminates the front doors, dashboard and footwells. The driver can choose up to 30 colours and can assign a different colour to the dashboard and front doors than to the footwell. Features The generous level of equipment includes LED lights all round (headlights with daytime running lights, rear lights, front fog lights), headlight washers, light and rain sensor, electrically adjustable, heated and folding door mirrors with auto-dimming and memory function, rear privacy glass, adaptive cruise control, dual zone air conditioning, satnav with 10in touchscreen display, heated front seats, eight speaker sound system, connectivity suite and virtual cockpit with 10.25in display. Hi-tech safety features include front and rear parking sensors with manoeuvre assist, tyre pressure monitoring and lane assist. On the practicality front you will find features including five USB ports, variable boot floor and (a really nice detail!) an umbrella located in a door compartment. There are also bag hooks and cargo fasteners in the boot, holders for 1.5-litre bottles in the front and rear doors and an ice-scraper in the fuel filler flap with a tyre tread depth gauge. Tech time The 148bhp, four-cylinder, 1.5-litre petrol engine in our test car featured ‘active cylinder technology’, which automatically shuts down two cylinders when engine load is low, thus reducing consumption, while coated cylinder liners increase engine efficiency. On the road The cabin feels roomy and welcoming, with well thought-out layout and comfortable and supportive microsuede-upholstered seats. The driving experience is satisfying, with the precise six-speed manual gearchange sweetly helping lay down the smooth power. And there’s a ‘drive mode select’ feature which allows the driver to choose between Eco, Comfort, Normal, Sport and Individual options. A capacious boot (600 litres with seat back in place, 1,555 litres with it folded down) ) makes for easy load-carrying. Performance figures are: 0-62mph in 8.5 seconds and a top speed of 138 mph, with WLTP combined fuel consumption of 52.8-49mpg and a CO2 figure of 121-130g/km. Verdict Handsome, roomy, practical, comfortable, with strong build quality and top tech, the Octavia is an excellent family motor and a pleasure to drive. Price: £32,430 inc options.

Review Mercedes C 300 e: 'Where top tech meets true style and luxury'

If the Mercedes C-Class was a meal it would be a high-end fine-dining experience, served in the most tasteful manner. I spent a week behind the wheel of an AMG Line version of this accomplished saloon, enjoying discovering a byword for elegant design and a beacon of top tech. The new C-Class range is electrified throughout thanks to plug-in hybrids and mild hybrids with 48-volt technology and integrated starter-generator. Style file This is a car with an abundance of kerb appeal. Without turning a wheel, the C-Class already looks to be in motion thanks to its dynamic proportions. From the brand's hallmark radiator grille, which characterises the front, to the well-crafted rear-end via a sophisticated side-profile, the four-door car looks poised and purposeful. Being an AMG Line, our motor sported AMG features, including AMG 18in alloy wheels, front bumper with sporty air intakes, and chrome elements and body-coloured side-skirts. The inside story is one of style, comfort and luxury, with sporty touches. From the leather upholstery to the pleasingly tactile finishes, the cabin is a desirable place to be. The dashboard is divided into an upper and a lower section: into a wing-like section with new, flattened round vents reminiscent of aircraft engine nacelles, and into an opulent expanse of trim. The latter flows from the centre console to the dashboard without interruption. Driver-focus adds to the sportiness: the dashboard and 12.3in central display are slightly tilted towards the driver. Roomy and comfortable, there’s a practical side to the C300e too, with generous boot space which can be increased by dropping the split-fold rear seatback, an easy operation thanks to a couple of readily-accessible luggage-area levers. Features A wealth of lovely kit included heated seats, interior lighting package, three-spoke multi-function AMG steering wheel trimmed in nappa leather, seat comfort package and four-way lumbar support, automatic climate control with two climate zones, pre-entry climate control, and a sophisticated suite of connectivity, communications and in-car entertainment features, plus wireless phone charging. Safety and assistance systems include cruise control with variable speed-limiter, active blind-spot assist, active lane-keeping assist, active brake assist with turning manoeuvre function, adaptive brake assist with hold function and brake-drying function, dual-stage airbags, a parking package with reversing camera, and remote boot-release. On the road The C300e ticks the box marked motoring satisfaction. With smooth power and assured handling, the car is a delightful drive - at home in all road conditions from city streets to winding country lanes and the motorway haul. The slick-changing nine-speed automatic gearbox makes for seamless progress. Performance figures are 0-62mph in 6.1 seconds and a top speed of 152mph (manufacturer’s figures). Tech time The plug-in hybrid car teams a 204bhp two-litre, four-cylinder, 16-valve petrol engine with a 129bhp (95 kW) electric motor. The 25.4kWh battery gives an all-electric range of around 62 miles (100 kilometres) and a combined fuel consumption of 470mpg (manufacturer’s figures). The plug-in hybrid C-Class will operate in all-electric mode in many cases, meaning drivers will be able to cover most everyday journeys under electric power alone. An energy recovery function allows kinetic energy to be recuperated during deceleration or downhill driving. Even when the battery is completely discharged, it can be fully charged in around 30 minutes with the optional 55 kW DC charger. A standard-fit 11 kW charger (depending on the market) is available for three-phase charging at a Wallbox connected to the domestic AC mains. Verdict Top tech meets true style and luxury in the Mercedes C300e. There’s top quality too, thanks to benchmark fit and finish, combined with slick performance from the economical hi-tech power plant. Price as tested: £45,580.