The essential six new cars

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Tesla Model Y hero

A ‘roomy’ supermini, a jaunty luxe hatchback and the latest Peugeot 308 are just some of the latest machines given a thorough test by motoring maestro Paul Horrell

The car market went a bit mad in 2021. Released from lockdown but reluctant to take public transport, many folk went car shopping. And yet in the autumn, new-car sales collapsed, due to the computer-chip shortage I mentioned in the Nov/Dec issue: cars use lots of chips and manufacturers can’t get enough of them.

At the same time, the fuel-panic queues pushed people into considering electric. The result was a shortage of new cars, and some that were on sale were the wrong kind (ie, not electric). So used prices shot up, a significant proportion selling for more than their new equivalents. It’ll settle down, so hold tight if you can. 


ULEZ expands

If you’re in London you’ll be aware of this; for those who aren’t, London’s Ultra-Low Emission Zone has expanded to include everywhere within (but not including) the North and South Circular. Generally, petrol vehicles registered before 2006, and diesels registered before October 2015, must pay £12.50 a day. Check yours at tfl.gov.uk


1. Electric Crossover: Tesla Model Y 

From £54,990

Tesla model Y

The Tesla Model 3 is everywhere, so success for the Model Y is assured. It’s basically the 3, but taller and with a hatchback. The extra seat height gives loads of rear legroom, and the boot is deep. It’s much like the 3 to drive: pretty astounding acceleration, doughty traction from all four wheels, quick steering and a slightly rocky ride. Contrary to myth, Autopilot can’t drive for you, but it does give advanced and helpful support. 

Tesla’s USPs include a vast screen encompassing almost all controls and displays. I find its ‘switches’ fiddly while the speedo is too small and distant. Still, it lends a pure and elegant look to the interior. En route charging is fuss-free, and it uses both captive Superchargers and the public networks. You can see why Tesla is a cult.

SPEC LONG RANGE 

Engine two electric motors, 4WD, single-speed 

Power & torque 346hp, 510Nm 

0–62mph 5 seconds 

Top speed 135mph 

Range 315 miles 

CO₂* 0g/km 

Price £54,990


2. Family hatchback: Peugeot 308 

From £24,000

Peugeot 308

The 308 didn’t need reinventing. So this one gives us more of the same, but significantly nicer. Its sharp looks crouch to the road, and inside there are good seats, an advanced but easily managed infotainment system, and it’s all wrapped in expensive-feeling materials. It’s a bit cramped in the back compared with some rivals, though. 

Urgent steering reminds you of the fun little Peugeots of the 1980s and ’90s. But they were rattletraps – the 308 is solid and quiet versus modern rivals. Tyre and wind noise isn’t an issue, and the suspension is taut but controlled. The engines don’t make a racket and, of course, the plug-in hybrid test car is silent when it’s in electric mode. Its battery is big enough to make a real 80mpg on my 80-mile trip. 

SPEC GT HYBRID 225 

Engine 1598cc 4cyl petrol turbo plus motor, FWD, 8-speed auto 

Power & torque 225hp, 360Nm 

0–62mph 8 seconds 

Top speed 146mph 

Fuel economy 225mpg 

CO₂ 28g/km 

Price £37,200


3. Electric crossover: Hyundai Ioniq 5 

From £36,995

hyundai ioniq

People stare at the Ioniq 5. The design eschews all curves, the lighting seems like like neon signage, and there’s no family resemblance to other Hyundais. Inside, it has big, soft seats and a rolling storage unit, like some modernist hostess trolley. 

Hyundai is good at electric cars, so the step-ahead technical design is almost as brave as the body. A new high-voltage system allows it to charge super-fast: 18 minutes on the right charge post will add 200 miles. It also provides mains power output. It’ll even charge another flat EV. Fresh-brewed coffee on a picnic, anyone? Performance is very brisk but, as the lounge-like interior promises, the drive is relaxing and cocoon-quiet. The suspension carriage is soft, so it doesn’t encourage vigorous cornering. 

SPEC PREMIUM 73 KWH RWD 217PS 

Engine electric motor, RWD, single-speed 

Power & torque 217hp, 350Nm 

0–62mph 7.4 seconds 

Top speed 115mph 

Range* 298 miles 

CO₂* 0g/km 

Price £41,945


4. Premium hatchback: DS 4 

From £25,350

DS 4

DS thinks of itself as an outlier. The DS 4 shuns usual categories: higher than a hatchback, lower than a crossover. It’s a distinctive looker, with angular bodywork, a jewellery-shop window of decoration inside and out and lavish materials warming the cosy interior. Think French luxury. 

Tech includes a night-vision system, advanced headlamps and suspension that uses depth-perception cameras when approaching a bump. The fourscreen dash can be widely configured to bring your own most-used functions to the fore, so you can keep your eyes on the road. It’s a relaxing rather than sporty drive, with a smooth ride and great quietness. But it’s no blob. Accurate steering and controlled body motions mean it’ll canter when asked.

SPEC PERFORMANCE LINE + 225 

Engine 1598cc 4cyl petrol turbo, FWD, 8-speed auto 

Power & torque 225hp, 300Nm 

0–62mph 7.9 seconds 

Top speed 146mph 

Fuel economy 38mpg 

CO₂ 150g/km 

Price £34,950


5. Small hybrid crossover: Toyota Yaris Cross 

From £22,515

toyota yaris cross

Toyota’s Yaris supermini is European Car of the Year – a good omen for this taller, roomier additional version. The Yaris Cross has new bodywork that sits people higher for a better feeling of space, and a longer tail adds boot room. Those changes cost a bit in performance and economy. On the road it inherits much of the Yaris’s sprightliness, feeling light on its feet and going promptly where it’s pointed. It’s not just a town car, soaking up bumpy rural road surfaces well. 

Unusually for a small crossover, the robust styling can be backed up by four-wheel drive ability, thanks to a £2,360 option of an electric motor to drive the rear wheels. It wasn’t fitted to the test car. The fronts are driven by a smooth, quiet petrol-electric hybrid, but there’s no plugging-in needed.

SPEC EXCEL FWD 

Engine 1490cc 3cyl petrol hybrid, FWD, CVT 

Power & torque 114hp, N/A Nm

0–62mph 11.2 seconds 

Top speed 106mph 

Fuel economy 56mpg 

CO₂ 113g/km 

Price £26,745


6. Supermini: Seat Ibiza 

From £16,790

Seat ibiza

Like any good supermini, the Ibiza is small, parkable, handy and costs buttons to buy and run. But the Ibiza goes somewhat beyond the bargain basement. It’s roomier than many rivals, for a start. It’s also well equipped, even from the bottom of the range: with this recent facelift it gets LEDs, metallic paint and integration with your phone to stream music and navigation to the car’s colour screen. Car companies want young customers, and this is how Seat succeeds. 

Never mind the urban bent, it sits solidly on the road so it’s confident on the motorway. This is one of those cars that doesn’t mind being asked to give its all. Sometimes it’s more fun driving a slow car fast, than a fast car constrained by traffic and the law.

SPEC SE TECHNOLOGY 95PS 

Engine 999cc 3cyl petrol turbo, FWD, 5-speed manual 

Power & torque 95hp, 175Nm 

0–62mph 10.9 secs 

Top speed 116mph 

Fuel economy 52.5mpg 

CO₂ 118g/km 

Price £18,185


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