Europe's Volt; SMMT wants scrappage; Aston's four-door; Focus RS driven; Insight vs Prius
19 December 2009

Electric cars dominated February’s news pages. GM unveiled its Europe-bound version of the Volt, the Opel Ampera. A probable milestone in the history of modern motoring, this range-extended electric hatch is capable, GM promises, of 176mpg and under 40g/km, but sales won’t start until the end of 2011.

January 2009 in pictures

Honda was making a milestone of its own by producing the cheapest hybrid on sale in the UK, the new Insight. Volkswagen also announced details of its 3.0-litre V6 hybrid system, which will go into production in the new Touareg in 2010.

Things were less rosy for the hybrid car in the US, where falling petrol prices were persuading buyers back into big SUVs and out of petrol-electric vehicles. Evidence of this was also seen in Toyota Prius sales in North America, which had halved during the last quarter of 2008.

The car market as a whole was no better in the UK. With the economic recession threatening numerous car makers, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders attacked the government for not offering enough support to the industry, saying that the UK should introduce a £2000 scrappage scheme such as those already successfully boosting sales in Germany, France and Italy.

Still, Aston Martin seemed unconcerned by the credit crunch or fuel prices and announced details of its 180mph Rapide saloon, a 510bhp V12 Vantage and its drop-top DBS. BMW also revealed the new 5-series GT, a mix of saloon, SUV and coupé.

But the biggest news in February was that we could finally get behind the wheel of the 300bhp Ford Focus RS. The most eagerly awaited hot hatch of the past five years lived up to expectations and Steve Sutcliffe delivered the verdict that the RS “is a freakishly good car at any money. And for £24,995 it’s just rude”.

We weren’t ignoring the hybrid hype, though. We pitted the Insight against its nemesis, the Mk3 Prius, and learnt that Honda’s new hybrid for the masses was less revolutionary than expected. In fact, it lost the fight to the Prius, which was due for replacement just a few months later.

The battle of economies continued in our city car shootout, in which the Toyota iQ took on the Smart Fortwo on the streets of London. Toyota was once again the winner, with the tiny four-seater providing an argument “so strong, so complete and so compelling that not even the cheaper, more charming Smart can counter it”.

The Elfin roadster provided some less mainstream entertainment. We tested it in Australia, its native country, and found it wasn’t as sharp as a Caterham but it went “against the usual rules of pure hardcore, no frills and no comforts. It’s a good car, and it deserves its chance”.

Finally, the stylish but dynamically flawed new Alfa Romeo Mito fought it out with – and ultimately lost to – the Ford Fiesta and Mini Cooper.

Vicky Parrott

Autocar's review of 2009: JanuaryAutocar's review of 2009: MarchAutocar's review of 2009: AprilAutocar's review of 2009: MayAutocar's review of 2009: JuneAutocar's review of 2009: JulyAutocar's review of 2009: August

Twitter - follow

Add your comment

Log in or register to post comments

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • First Drive
    23 March 2018
    Fully-loaded, big-hitting diesel CLS shows the potential perils of ticking too many options boxes on your order form. A good car with a bad suspension combination.
  • BMW M5
    First Drive
    22 March 2018
    Super saloon deploys four-wheel drive to improve every facet of its driving experience. Faster and more capable than any, and more exciting than most, of its celebrated predecessors
  • Range Rover Sport SVR
    First Drive
    22 March 2018
    More power and an intoxicating soundtrack have breathed new life into our love affair with the biggest, baddest Range Rover Sport variant
  • First Drive
    21 March 2018
    The new Vantage has been developed as a Porsche 911 beater, and our first taste on UK roads suggests it can live up to that bold claim
  • Nissan Leaf Tekna
    The is the new Nissan Leaf
    First Drive
    21 March 2018
    The new version of the world's best-selling electric car gains a bigger battery and more power. How does it compare to rivals such as the Volkswagen e-Golf?