Revised Yaris coming soon

A revised Toyota Yaris will on on sale in Ireland in time for the 172 registrations, writes Brian Byrne.

The company has given new shapes to the front, including differently designed lights and grille revisions.

The interior has been upgraded with a more modern look and higher quality materials.

Active safety systems are now standard on the car, including a pre-collision system with autonomous emergency braking, automatic high beam, and lane departure alert. Road sign assist is also standard on all but the Luna grade.

The hybrid version is now quieter than before and has improved ride and steering. Hybrids account for more than a third of all sales in Ireland of the Yaris, which as a model has 14pc of the supermini segment.

Drugs and alcohol checkpoints on busiest weekend

Gardai will be focusing on drugs and drink driving over the May Bank Holiday weekend, writes Brian Byrne, with Mandatory Intoxicant Testing checkpoints being operated across the country.

Gardai have powers to carry out preliminary checks for drugs in the systems of drivers since 13 April, taking oral swabs and doing a roadside test for the presence of cannabis, cocaine, opiates such as heroin and morphine, and benzodiazepines like Valium.

Over the last five years, 14 people have died in May Bank Holiday collisions.

Meanwhile, AA Ireland is anticipating having to deal with up to 300 breakdowns a day over what is one of the busiest weekends of the year on Irish roads. That’s 50pc more than on a normal weekend.

The organisation urges motorists to take a good look around their car before setting out on a long journey, to spot defects which can be easily fixed before driving.

AA Ireland also asks motorists to be on the lookout for vulnerable roads users such as cyclists, and for other motorists who may not be familiar with the area they’re driving in.

X-Rays for crash testing being devised

Monitoring of crash tests using high-speed X-Rays is being trialled by the Vehicle Safety unit at Daimler AG, makers of Mercedes-Benz cars, writes Brian Byrne.

The initiative allows for very close examination of the interiors of components as they deform in crashes. The information gained will also be used to improve computer simulation of crash tests.

It is in association with partners Fraunhofer Institute for High-Speed Dynamics, Ernst-Mach-Institut, EMI from Freiburg from the i-protect Tech Center established last year by a number of partners, including the University of Stuttgart.

The group is also examining how occupant restraint systems will have to be evolved as more automated driving develops and more sophisticated monitoring of occupants in such an environment.

Skoda to reveal new compact SUV

Hot on the wheels of the new Skoda Kodiaq SUV, the brand is introducing a new compact SUV in Stockholm in the middle of May, writes Brian Byrne.

The video above is a teaser for the reveal, outlining Skoda’s design background and how the name Karoq has been derived … again with Alaskan links.

The 4.4m car is completely new and the company claims ‘exceptional’ space inside. There will be new driver assistance systems, LED headlight option, and a digital instrument panel.

The car will launch with five engine variants — two petrol and three diesels — in 1.0, 1.5, 1.6 and 2.0 litres displacements and in power from 115hp-190hp.

Nicely done. Like the Kodiaq, an interesting new push in Skoda’s SUV direction.

VW sponsors construction industry awards

Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles will become this year's headline sponsor for the Irish Construction Industry Awards 2017, writes Trish Whelan.

The awards take place on 9 May in the Clayton Hotel on Burlington Road, Dublin 4, with the best of the best in the Irish Construction Industry expected to attend a Black-Tie Gala Ceremony.

Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles have been providing a wide range of vehicles with bespoke specification and tailored customer solutions to Irish construction businesses for over 65 years. They now have a new generation range of vehicles.

Now in its fourth year, the Irish Construction Industry Awards recognises, encourages and celebrates original and innovative contractors, businesses, teams, consultants and projects that demonstrate excellence in the building environment.

Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles can be traced back to the early 1950s where the first Volkswagen Transporters, the T1s were assembled in Dublin. The company is now celebrating the arrival of the New Crafter which was awarded International Van of the Year 2017 and will be on display on the night of the awards.

Commenting on the partnership, Kim Kilduff, Head of Sales and Marketing, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles Ireland said the company is delighted to get on board with the Irish Construction Industry Awards and become this year's headline sponsor. She added "The awards recognise excellence and innovation which is what Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles live by day to day. On behalf of the company, I would like to wish all entrants the best of luck for this year's awards."

Toyota donates Prius to Irish Cancer Society

Toyota Ireland has donated a Toyota Prius Hybrid to the Irish Cancer Society, writes Trish Whelan.

The car will be used to help in developing the essential Volunteer Driver Service that provides transport for cancer patients to and from their chemotherapy treatments in partner hospitals.

Launched in 2008, more than 3,300 patients around Ireland have benefited from the service to date.

The service is now available in 21 hospitals nationwide and has over 1,200 drivers who covered over 1.1 million kilometres in 2016 alone.

Pictured above are Susie Cunningham, Corporate Partnerships Manager for the Irish Cancer Society; and Michael Gaynor, Marketing Director of Toyota Ireland.

BMW 5 Series plug-in hybrid coming

BMW Ireland is introducing a plug-in hybrid variant of the new generation 5 Series at a starting price of €55,900 OTR, writes Brian Byrne.

The 530e iPerformance will offer up to 50km of driving on electric power alone, and the total power output from the drivetrain will be 252hp. A 6.2s acceleration to 100km/h is claimed to be achievable.

Full charge of the battery from a standard power supply is less than five hours, and with a high-speed charging unit it will charge in under three hours.

A wireless charging unit, over which the car is parked, will be available as an option in 2018.

As in other PHEV BMW models, the system can be set for full use in EV mode, or in a charging mode to top up the battery in advance of arriving at an urban area where EV use is most efficient.

The 530e iPerformance can be ordered with all the driver assistance systems available in other variants.

Easytrip comes through for the Blood Bikes

An imminent threat to a voluntary blood delivery service in Ireland has been resolved thanks to the intervention of mobility solutions specialist easytrip, writes Brian Byrne.

The Blood Bikes organisation, whose volunteer motorcycle riders deliver blood to hospitals and medical centres across Ireland had been facing closure because of the impact of tolls on their routes.

But easytrip is now covering all their toll charges, both saving the group money and speeding up the delivery process because the riders no longer have to take detours to avoid the tolls.

All funding for Blood Bikes comes from private donations, and the group's very existence means that vehicles and personnel from emergency services are not taken out of service to do deliveries.

Pictured are Colin Delaney, CEO of easytrip Ireland, and members of Blood Bikes Leinster, at the easytrip HQ in Mulhuddart, Dublin.

EVs to lift off in 2025 — Continental

A major shift to electric cars won’t take until 2025 according to automotive components giant Continental AG, writes Brian Byrne.

Outlining its Strategy 2020 programme, the company says a continuing reduction in battery prices for EVs will have kicked in by then, and it expects around a third of all cars sold will be electrically powered. That penetration is likely to rise to 60pc just five years later.

Continental announced yesterday that it is increasing its spend on electric drive units development by €300m but will maintain its current level of commitment to internal combustion powertrain systems until at least 2025.

A decline in interest in diesel cars is becoming more evident in Europe since the 2015 Volkswagen emissions scandal, which will impact on Continental’s Powertrain Division, though not significantly across the whole company’s financial performance.

Review: Mini Countryman

My time with the new Mini Countryman last week had a number of fascinating aspects, writes Brian Byrne, not least the price of the review car — but I'll come to that later.

It was the first opportunity I'd had to spend a significant amount of road-time with the car, and it all fairly changed my perception of the direction of the model. And it has changed direction, certainly in size. This is now a car upshifted into the compact family space, the first time that the brand has been there.

So, while all the current supermini Mini styling cues are in place, this 4.3m car is directly targeting a number of small and compact crossovers — it's a bit bigger than Fiat's 500X, for example, and not much smaller than Kia's new Niro. The closest to it in size are Suzuki's S-Cross and Honda's HR-V.

Being a Mini, albeit the biggest Mini ever, it has to have a certain element of looking cute. Though the modern Countryman, first launched in 2010, could never be as cute as its hatchback sibling. There's much more bulk in the style, almost steroidal when compared to the hatch. But it grows on one, especially with the very strong details as were included in the review Cooper SD All4.

There's lots of chrome around the grille, lights, and rear, and the standard satin-finished roof rails also add to the overall premium feel. Which, of course, the modern Mini is, being a BMW-built brand, with all that entails.

Inside too, the feel and sense is all Mini heritage, though brought very much up to today. As with the latest generation of the hatch which preceded it, the iconic round centre element is no longer a speedometer, but a space for touchscreen management of various functions of entertainment, navigation, safety and comfort. A proper speedo through the steering wheel, with the usual revs and fuel indicators, have the primary instruments where they should be. I should comment that the rear-view camera delivers a very high resolution picture.

There's a very high quality and interesting design to the dashboard and the door trims, and the toggle switches guarded by hoops are typical Mini. Lots of chrome detailing here too.

The review car was automatic and there was also a selectable driving dynamics setting between Eco, Comfort and Sport, which do the usual things to steering wheel and accelerator pedal response. There were full leather sports seats, which proved very supportive and comfortable, and a multifunction steering wheel which was a very pleasant heft indeed.

The big interior change is the space in the rear, and even with myself in the driving street, there's now proper room for rear passengers. The back seat can also be moved to either have more leg room or cargo room, whichever is needed. The boot capacity at 450L is very close to class-leading. On that, the review car had a very neat 'seat' which flips out and covers the rear bumper, while one picnics or changes shoes after a hill-walk. The rear hatch was powered, just touching buttons to open or close.

There's lots of badging to indicate the version of Countryman you're in, with the 'John Cooper Works' on the door sill noting that this is an upmarket variant. With upscaled performance, the SD having a 190hp 2.0 diesel that offered very speedy acceleration. Quite satisfying and fun to drive, though I noted that the diesel is a little on the noisy side.

The overall drive, though, is right there to any BMW standard, and despite the pumped-up styling and larger size, there's true fast Mini performance and handling here.

And so to price. The Mini Cooper Countryman (they all have Cooper designations) starts at €33,580, with a 136hp 1.5 3-cylinder petrol engine. Moving through the variants swiftly to the SD All4 grade with, clearly, AWD, the price runs up to €44,270. At that, there's plenty of spec, including that automatic trans, a DAB radio system, and lots more. But the review car had no less than €12,535 worth of extras on board, including the leather at €1,500; the JCW Chili Pack for €6,939 that added in such as special alloys, seat heating, auto aircon; along with the €1,456 Media Pack for the satnav and Mini Connected.

All that puts the review car more expensive than a BMW 430d, and a wild buy for whoever gets the demo from the Mini dealer who wins it at the in-house auction. I'd say start back at the entry car, and you'll probably still have something that’s relevant and competitive against most competitors.

'The mission is to make people's lives better'

There is a certain irony in the fact that when Ford's Executive Chairman said last week that the automotive future is 'electric and autonomous', it was in the same month that the company announced a stop to building electric versions of its Focus in Europe, writes Brian Byrne. Because they aren’t selling in a still diesel-centric continent.

But William Clay Ford Jr is likely to be right. He is forward looking, and presides over a company which has won its way through 114 years of many changes since his great-grandfather set up his Ford Motor Company in the adopted home of his own Irish emigrant parents, Michigan USA.

Last week was an occasion for Bill Ford to be looking back at least a little, as the guest of honour at the celebration of his company being 100 years in Ireland, and specifically in the Cork of his forebears. In doing so, he offered his view of a legacy which locally touched and improved lives in a similar way to what the vision of his great-grandfather did on a global basis.

"To me, what a company is all about is not about the things you make," he told an audience of students, employees, and journalists at University College Cork. "It's not about the money you make. Yes, you do need to make money, and you do make things if you are a manufacturing company, but what I think makes a company enduring and relevant is that it touches people's lives in a positive way. That you do it around the world, and you can do it consistently."

Ciaran McMahon, Managing Director and Chairman, Ford Ireland, Prof Patrick G O'Shea, President of UCC, William Clay Ford Jr, Executive Chairman, Ford Motor Company, Prof John O'Halloran, Director of Quercus Student Talent Programme, at the announcement of Ford scholarships to the Programme.
The consistent element is never easy in an industry, and in a time, where there is a lot of change. Like now, where Bill Ford believes his industry and others are on the cusp of the greatest changes since Henry Ford was setting up his business. “There were lots of new companies trying to make cars. Many started up, many failed. Technology was shifting — you had electric vehicles, steam-powered vehicles, the types of vehicles were quite astounding. It was the Wild West in many ways. And guess what, that's where we are now again."

He believes the role of carmakers like Ford is going to change dramatically, mostly driven by technological advances such as self-driving cars, and also by changes in the concept of ownership of cars. Artificial Intelligence will drive not only vehicles, but also the companies making them, and how they interact with customers. "That is going to be a core competence of a company that wants to remain relevant."

However, against all that change, the company must not lose sight of what he considers the most important thing, that 'the mission is to make people's lives better'. “Companies that can do it well are the ones that will be relevant for the next hundred years."

In car manufacturing, they might not all be the same ones we know today. The Ford boss referenced companies like Google and Apple 'now in our space'. Noting that in the embryo automotive industry, when 'anybody could try anything', nobody knew who the winners would be, he suggested it will be another decade before it is known who will be winning from the current mix of developing technologies and transportation solutions.

"I love where we are. It couldn't be more fun, more interesting. It is a high wire act without a net, but on the other hand it is generating such creativity and such energy that I love it. To me it is the most extraordinary time in my career."

Bill Ford with former CNN correspondent
Gina London in UCC.
Extraordinary times bring new challenges, one of which is the whole ethical underpinning of autonomous car development. Vehicles will have the ability to make decisions that human drivers can't make. "If we see an accident about to happen, all we can do is react and hope for the best, and try to get ourselves out of it. The autonomous vehicle will have such computing power that it will actually be able to choose which pedestrian to dodge, or to choose to crash the car and injure the occupants so that the pedestrian would be saved."

Such issues will require a lot of discussion, and Bill Ford believes that it will have to start in the universities, for them to lead the way because an individual car-making company can’t make such decisions. “Imagine if Ford made one decision, and a company like Toyota made a different one for their cars ... it would be a nightmare."

Bill Ford has already addressed in public another nightmare scenario — where would all the cars go if current ownership patterns persist? In 2011, at a TED conference, he cautioned on an industry enthusiasm that increasing prosperity and the growth of a middle class meant it would be selling 'heaps more cars'. "People are already finding it difficult to drive in cities around the world. As we grow from 7bn to 9bn people, and as the world continues to urbanise, it became very clear to me that we have to change."

Ford Motor Company set up a business unit called 'City as Customer', and visited cities around the world asking 'what would make your lives easier from a transportation point of view?'. One of the common answers was 'get vehicles off the road'. Ford is addressing this in a number of ways, including a pilot scheme in Austin, Texas, with 14-seater Transit shuttles in a service called 'Chariot', which uses a 'crowd-sourcing’ technology to move numbers of people from point to point depending on demand. "It costs a lot less than Uber — unlike some of the ride-hailing companies, it actually picks up more people because you're aggregating 14 people in the vehicle."

Chariot has been deemed very successful in Austin, and the idea will shortly be tested in London as well as a number of other cities. Critical to its success is that it 'knows' the rest of the public transport system, and defines its journeys by showing up at, for instance, subway stations at the time a train arrives. "Not 15 minutes before, not 15 minutes after. Public transport can can take you linearly from point to point, but people move in a messy fashion and they want to get where they want to go, so you need coordination of all transportation assets. And the public need instant access to timetables and menus of options — whether they want to take the fastest or the least expensive option, for instance."

Autonomous vehicles will be a key part of this particular transportation future. And a key incentive for its development will be better access to jobs. "Increasingly in cities, the jobs are not where people are living. So if somebody doesn't own a car, or the transport system doesn't go from where they are to the job, there’s a problem. But in the system I'm describing, that problem should disappear. Roads will be more free, there will be more options to get you there, and we will have accomplished part of the goal to make people's lives better."

Those jobs are also going to be different. Technologies like 3D printing are already changing how things are made. Robots have already taken over difficult jobs on assembly lines, and computers handle their management. IT and software skills are going to be more relevant for employment than hardware. "There is a demand all around the world for people with these skills, and education will have to change to meet that demand. It's not just Ford that will be changing, it is every company out there. Some of them don't know it yet, but those that don't get it are really going to be left behind."

How vehicles are powered is also changing. Even five years ago, bio-fuels such as ethanol produced from crops was very topical, but that has already gone by the wayside because of various issues. Hydrogen as a fuel remains interesting, especially in fuel-cell use, but has stubborn problems including the fact that it is still petro-chemically derived. Fuel-cells are also difficult and expensive to manufacture. "As we sit here today, electrification probably makes a great deal of sense, though there is still the question of how do we get that electric power? Still, electrification is coming, and autonomous vehicles are coming — not always in sync — and we are investing heavily in both."

Efficient mobility is not just a cities matter. There are, for instance, hundreds of millions of people in undeveloped rural areas for whom transportation is critical in accessing proper healthcare. Ford has programmes running to develop ways of helping them. In India, an experiment with 'connected' vehicles brings health monitoring to expectant mothers and their children in remote villages. "The data is transmitted back from the vehicle to a hospital in the nearest city, and doctors there can send back advice to the people in the village. We're also working with some NGOs in Africa who bring food and healthcare to remote communities, helping them map their routes so they can visit three villages a day instead of just one."

In trying to predict the future, Ford Motor Company has a division working on just that. But according to Bill Ford, the real need is for every employee, at all levels, to be thinking about the future and coming up with ideas. Ideas for change, and for coping with change. "In Ford we have an amazing history and an iconic founder, so the default is always to look back. It is also particularly hard to change when things are going well, like now when we have all-time record earnings. But I think this is exactly when we should be changing, when we have the resources now to invest in change.

"In another hundred years, I'd like people to be talking again about how Ford will change in the next hundred. But if we don't get this right, it’s not certain that chance will happen. If you really have people believing that what they are working on is actually going to make society better, that's a very powerful thing.

"Every generation has to reinterpret values for the time they are in, and these will be different things. But the core shouldn't change — caring about each other, caring about the communities in which we operate, in actually trying to improve people's lives. Those things are pretty timeless. Our employees do believe in those things, and seeing the challenges in those terms, then they will grab them."

Ennis dealership to sponsor 2017 PGA tournament

Citroen & DS Ireland dealership O’Sullivan & Hansbury, Ennis, are to be a tournament sponsor of the 2017 PGA Irish Club Professional Golf Tournament which takes place in Dromoland Golf & Country Club, Co Clare on 4 & 5 May 2017, writes Trish Whelan.

Dromoland Castle’s Ron Kirby & JB Carr designed golf course will host the 36-hold professional competition which will feature a prize fund of €12,750. A Pro-Am tournament will be held on 3 May. 

The Irish Club Professional tournament was launched in 1993 and amongst the previous winners are Damien Mooney (3), Neil Manchip (3) and Leslie Walker (3). David Higgins (Waterville) was added to the list of champions in 2016 when he won on the second hole of a play-off at Dunmurry Springs.

To celebrate its involvement, O’Sullivan & Hansbury will run a competition in conjunction with The Clare Champion this week. For a competition entry form, or to keep an eye on the O’Sullivan & Hansbury, Dromoland Golf & Country Club and Citroen Ireland Facebook pages to enter online.

David Foley, PGA Golf Professional of Dromoland Castle, is a Citroen brand ambassador with O’Sullivan & Hansbury Motors, Ennis. 

Pictured at the announcement are: Roy Maguire, Sales Zone Manager, Citroen & DS Ireland; Michael McCumiskey, Secretary, PGA Ireland; Gareth Watkins, Marketing Manager, Dromoland Golf Club; and David Foley, PGA Director of Golf, Dromoland Golf Club, with the Willie Nolan Memorial Cup. 

Electric Borgward for Europe production

This will be the first Borgward built in Europe for half a century, writes Brian Byrne.

It’s an electric version of the Borgward B7 SUV, built in China by the owners of the Beijing Automotive Industry Holding Company (BAIC).

The vehicle will be produced in new manufacturing facility which the company will build in Borgward’s home city of Bremen, Germany.

BAIC debuted the B7 at Frankfurt in 2015 and began sales ion China last year. A second, smaller B5 is also now on sale.

Borgward was founded in 1929 and ceased production in 1961. It was revived in 2008 by Carl Borgward's grandson, Christian Borgward, with his partner Karlheinz L Knöss, and assistance from Chinese investment.

The brand’s most famous car was the Isabella of 1959, pictured above by Lothar Spurzem via Wikipedia.

BAIC also produces cars based on Saab 9-3 and 9-5 technology, though not as Saabs.

Review: Volvo V90

A reacquaintance with one of my favourite cars of last year has recently been possible with a tour in the estate version, the Volvo V90, writes Brian Byrne.

It proved to be as enjoyable an experience as I expected, though this time around I was able to come up with some negative comment.

First, though, this car is the spiritual successor to the true Volvo estates of yesteryear. Long, capacious to an extraordinary degree, and able to pull whatever weight its legal capacity can accommodate.

Except, or course, this is a much more premium level car than its predecessors in this format. Volvos have long since passed across the line into the territory once 'owned' by a duopoly of German marques.

Also, the famous 'square' back, which added to the extraordinary carrying capability to include even fairly large furniture pieces, has now gone, and there's a more streamlined coupe rear in keeping with its new premium station. Besides, you wouldn't want to be stuffing sharp-edged items into the high-end trim and finish of this one.

The overall look has, oddly, a little less presence than its saloon counterpart. To my view anyhow, due to that curved back end. But a colleague who had driven behind me said it still looks very good to those whom it passes.

Inside, as I've noted, all is high end and quality. Even the very large, vertically oriented centre screen looks just right in the overall context, its cool bluish theme perhaps a reflection of the kind of land where it comes from — 'Built by Sweden' is one of the car's splash lines.

That screen uses the iPad system of swiping to get to various elements, and that worked pretty well during my sojourn with the car. While a remain a non-convert to too much reliance on touch-screens in cars over physical controls, this one is big enough to tap the right virtual 'buttons' on without too much distraction.

Putting the review car into perspective, it was top of the range Momentum grade with the 235hp 2.0 D5 diesel, fully automatic, and with AWD. There's a more tough Cross Country variant available, but this one will still bring you safely through the most extreme driving conditions to be found on tarmac or ice.

There were none such in Ireland in the last couple of weeks, so my various trips — and I took a few longish ones just because I had such a machine — were just comfortable and luxurious rather than battling the sometimes Arctic environment of the car's home country.

It's a big car. Similar in length to its Mercedes-Benz and BMW competitors, and a bit wider, so there's no compromise on passenger space or the luggage they might have with them (the E-Class wagon does carry more in the boot, though).

It's a quiet car, as you'd expect, especially as with all that power under the bonnet it never has to be stressed to high revs for good acceleration.

It also had the latest levels of technology moving some of today's cars closer to self-driving capability. Again, I'm naturally loth to hand over my control and attention — and responsibility — to a computer-and-sensors system, but I do have to try them out. The active cruise control does work exceptionally well, even down to stop-go traffic in motorway tailbacks. For short stopping periods in these, it stops the car and doesn't need to be reset to move off with the traffic again.

The car also had lane-keeping available, monitoring the road markings and turning the wheels when the car is drifting towards crossing a line. But if left to its own devices (with my hands loosely around the wheel), it can drift from one line to the other depending on camber, and that looks from outside like your driving in a weaving way. So after testing it, I stopped using it.

We've a way to go yet with this autonomous driving.

Using the car in the traditional way provided a very enjoyable drive through scenic spaces in striking distances from my home. And offered exceptional comfort to my passenger, who especially remarked on the seats.

Negatives? Well, one anyway. At this level of any car, I would have expected a rear view camera as standard issue. The price of my review version is almost €60,000 and if I wanted to have a camera, it would have cost me a minimum of €2,202 for the 'Convenience Pack'. A seriously important safety feature costs nothing extra in a lot of much less expensive cars (and in the US they all have to provide rear cameras as standard anyhow). Here, its lack on any Volvo is a significant black mark to a brand that built its place on safety.

That said, this was a good week. The entry price for a V90 is €47,745, the review car without 'packs' rolls out at €59,150 plus delivery costs.

New Picanto on sale from next week

Kia’s new generation Picanto goes on sale in Ireland from next week at a starting price of €13,295, writes Brian Byrne.

Engines are a 3-cylinder 1.0 petrol and a 1.25 petrol with automatic transmission.

The new Picanto is available in two grades, and optionally with an Advanced Driving Systems pack in each grade. Road Tax bands range €190-€270.

High quality interior design.
The Picanto sells in a relatively small segment with 17 direct competitors, the most important being the segment leader Hyundai i10, Toyota’s Aygo, Ford’s Ka and Volkswagen’s UP!.

In specification terms, the entry Picanto TX includes Bluetooth, remote audio controls, electric heated mirrors, rear power windows, four speakers, leather covered steering wheel and gearshift, and body coloured mirrors and door handles.

The EX model at €14,795 comes with 15” alloys and rear power windows. The EX ADAS model at €15,195 features Automatic Emergency Braking as standard.

First Drive in new Picanto.

The three generations of Picanto.

Moffett unbeaten in National Championships

On home ground, Sam Moffett yesterday kept his unbeaten record in this year's Triton Showers National Rally Championship with his Fiesta WRC leading the Co Monaghan MC's Four Seasons Hotel event from start to finish, leaving him 27 seconds clear of former champion Donagh Kelly at the end, writes Richard Burke.

Moffett and his co-driver Karl Atkinson took an early lead of eight seconds over ex-title holders Declan and Brian Boyle on the opening stage, and increased this to 21 seconds over the first loop, with Kelly and Conor Foley having passed the Donegal cousins into runner up position.

After the second run through the three stages, the gap was three seconds larger, and while Kelly and Boyle disputed second position, Moffett and Atkinson cruised serenely on to another victory. Josh Moffett, the younger brother of the winner, was trying for three wins in a row in this rally, but he rolled his Fiesta on the second stage near Scotshouse, ending his day on the spot.

Veteran Niall Maguire, winner of a record seven Monaghan rallies, finished fourth with his Impreza getting in among the Fords which dominated the top ten positions, while another local driver, Stephen Wright, was fifth ahead of defending champion Roy White from Tipperary.

Rob Dwane from Tulla, Co Clare, took a surprise win on the opening day of the Galway MC's Hillclimb weekend at the Corkscrew, with the 20 year-old having a dream debut on his first outing in a single seater car, seven tenths of a second quicker than double champion Joe Courtney. The Galwayman reversed the positions at Ballinalacken yesterday, 1.1 seconds ahead of his young rival, with Dubliner Rory Stephens taking third place each time.

Young Racing Driver of the Year Cian Carey (pictured above) showed that he has the speed to challenge for the UK Formula 3 Cup by setting fastest laps in two of the three races at yesterday's opening meeting at Donington Park. He qualified second for the opening race, but slipped to fourth at the finish. In race two, the Meath driver retired, but battled through the field from the back of the grid in the final outing to take an impressive fifth position.

Auto industry again at 'Wild West' stage — Ford boss

The automotive industry is today at a similar 'Wild West' stage to what it was when it started out over a century ago, the Executive Chairman of the Ford Motor Company says, writes Brian Byrne.

Speaking at the 'Ford 100' event in Cork commemorating the establishment of the first Ford factory outside the US in the city, William Clay Ford Jr said it is not an understatement that the industry is now on the cusp of the greatest change since it began. He noted that when his great-grandfather Henry Ford was establishing his automobile business, there were many different technologies being tested, including electric cars, steam powered cars and more.

"Some things worked, many things didn't," he said. "Things are now changing rapidly again. Autonomous cars, ownership of cars, artificial intelligence that will drive not only the cars themselves, but the companies who make them. The rate of change is spectacular, and the skill sets that are going to be needed for the change are changing too."

He said that a hundred years ago, nobody knew who the winners of the then new car industry would be, and at this stage it won't be clear for another decade who the winners of today's state of change will be. He referenced Apple and Google as new entrants to mobility, and he said that today is 'the most interesting time in my career'. "We must keep in mind that the most important thing is to improve people's lives, and these changes are going to be different in the country and the city. The companies that do it well are the ones that will endure."

Mr Ford was at University College Cork to announce a special Ford Centenary Quercus Scholarship which will support 50 talented students of the University over the next five years.

The Quercus Programme was established at UCC in 2015, with the view of promoting excellence among the undergraduate student body. The Ford scholarships will particularly target students who show outstanding promise in the areas of Active Citizenship and Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Mr Ford said that the universities will be playing an important part in the development of future mobility. Among the areas will be those of ethics and standards in an era of self-driving vehicles, especially where computers will be deciding critical issues in an imminent crash which may have serious consequences for pedestrians or vehicle occupants. "We can't all be setting our own different standards here, and I believe the conversations to set them for all need to be in the universities."

An honorary Doctorate of Economic Science was conferred on Mr Ford afterwards, reflecting the 1927 honorary Doctor of Laws degree given to Henry Ford.

William Clay Ford Jr returns to ancestral home

William Clay Ford Jr., Executive Chairman of the Ford Motor Company, and great-grandson of Henry Ford, has returned to the ancestral home of the Ford family in Ballinascarthy in Co Cork to commemorate 100 years of Ford in Ireland, writes Trish Whelan.

Yesterday, he unveiled a commemorative plaque and bench in Ballinascarthy to mark the 100 years since Henry Ford established Henry Ford & Son Limited in Cork. The unveiling took place in the centre of the village beside the life-size statue of a Model T Ford that was erected in 2000. The site also includes commemorative plaques marking visits to the area by other Ford family relatives.

Mr Ford said “This is the metaphorical home of the Ford Motor Company. Just like Henry Ford, we could not be more proud of our family history and our Ballinascarthy roots are a huge part of that pride. That is why we are here today.”

He and his wife, Lisa (in front) and their sons, Nick and Will are pictured above at the life-size statue of a Model T in Ballinascarthy. Mr Ford is pictured below at the Ford ancestral home.

Henry Ford’s father, William Ford, and his family, emigrated to the US from Ballinascarthy in 1847 during the Famine. Henry Ford was subsequently born in Michigan in 1863. In 1903, he set up the Ford Motor Company and 14 years later, he came back to his ancestral home city and set up Henry Ford & Son Limited on the Marina in Cork.

Aer Lingus Regional adds capacity for Isle of Man TT

Aer Lingus Regional has added more than 1,800 extra seats to its Isle of Man service for the TT Race series taking place from 27 May to 9 June.

The Isle of Man TT is one of the oldest and most prestigious motorcycle races in the world and is attended by approximately 40,000 people each year.

Aer Lingus Regional is the only airline flying direct from Dublin to the Isle of Man. The expanded flight schedule will include three daily flights each Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 1 June to 10 June.

Review: Audi Q2

With its success in compact, medium and large SUVs well established, it was only a matter of time before Audi moved down the scale and filled out its crossover list with the Q2, writes Brian Byrne.

While technically a small crossover/SUV, it's actually a quite roomy car, and surprises when you pick it up in the metal. So there's a case for it in a real family situation, rather than for the couple with a brace of small children only.

It has rather more stylistic presence than its larger siblings, and that's not just because my review car was a bright yellow machine that simply couldn't be missed in the car park.

The front end is strong and square-jawed, and in profile there's more sculpting and character line work than on the larger SUVs from the VW premium subsidiary. The rear flanks and the black wide C-pillar work very well to give the car a very distinctive look. It sits nicely high too, and for a tall lank like me it was easy to get in and out of. Something I nowadays appreciate much more, as sleeker styling necessitates more ducking (and banging) the head.

Inside is also familiar to any of us who have regularly driven Audis, and that means bright and clear-graphics primary instruments, along with the typical upright screen from the top centre of the dashboard. The overall styling details of the interior are clean and there's the high quality trim we're used to from the brand.

Good seats, an interior more roomy than might have been expected, and an overall refined character to the machine quickly reinforced what had been a good feeling about the Q2 from the beginning.

The review car was pretty well loaded with technology, including active cruise control, overtaking vehicle warning, and a number of other bits and pieces which are now becoming regulars in most brands and many of their models and if I continue to list them all, there'd be no space to write anything else.

One element in the car that I particularly liked, though, was the sat-nav system that uses Google Maps for its display. Better than the usual graphic maps, that we could see actual buildings, fields, and other landmarks from overhead, gave a much better sense of place as I drove. It is also much more helpful when trying to find one's way around places like business estates.

That system also duplicates itself in the virtual cockpit system between the main instruments, or in a different format for those instruments. It's one of the ideas which Audi has been pushing ahead of the field, and one of the technologies which I really welcome.

There's a wide range of engines available with the Q2, from 1.0 turbocharged petrol with 115hp to a 190hp 2.0 diesel. Each offer the option of a 6-speed manual or 7-speed auto. The upper level engines can also be had with quattro 4WD, otherwise the cars are FWD.

The engine in my review car was the 150hp turbocharged 1.4 petrol with the autobox. That powertrain made it a very snappy drive indeed, along with the smoothness of the automatic which also meant I could amble along if that was my humour.

The ride and handling were very tidy, and that was no surprise, because that's a feature of all Audis in recent years.

What was a little surprising was the sense of fun in being behind the wheel of this one. Not because it was a particularly fun car in itself, but because I knew that from outside people were seeing a much crisper-looking Audi than we've been getting. Styles cycle, and the brand is now swinging in the direction of strong shapes rather than sleekness.

This particular car wasn't cheap, because it came with a lot of stuff. The base Q2 is just under €31,000, and this auto version starts at €35,980. With its S-Line grade and all the extras, it stood outside my house at €45,448. That's expensive for a car in this segment. But I'd be right happy with the basic SE and this powertrain, at €35,980.

Audi shows its sporty electric car concept

As part of a raft of Volkswagen Group electric headliners at the Shanghai Auto Show, Audi has its e-tron Gran Turismo Sportback, writes Trish Whelan.

With a 429hp electric motor under its svelte sheet metal, the car previews a production model that will appear in 2019.

Prior to that, the brand plans to roll out its first electric car in 2018, known at the moment as the Audi e-tron and forecast by the company to have a 500km+ range.

The Sportback concept has three electric motors, one on the front axle and two on the rear. A 4.5s sprint capability to 100km/h is expected.

Dessie Dolan is latest Renault ambassador

Former Westmeath footballer Dessie Dolan has been announced as the latest Renault Ireland ambassador.

The recently retired Dessie played for his county for over 16 years at senior level. A proud Athlone man, Dessie was awarded a GAA All-Star in 2004 and has represented Ireland on ten occasions against the Aussies in the International Rules Series. He holds the unique distinction of having received both a Leinster senior county medal and Leinster club medal, along with winning seven county championships with his club Garrycastle. He now features regularly on RTÉ's The Sunday Game as a GAA pundit and as an analyst and co-commentator for RTÉ Radio.

Dessie is now on the road in a new Renault Mégane Grand Coupé. He joins style expert Darren Kennedy, broadcaster Ian Dempsey, fashion icon Lorraine Keane, Ireland’s happiest ‘pear’ of twins, David and Stephen Flynn from The Happy Pear, triathlete Carolyn Hayes, fellow GAA legend Alan Brogan and former rally superstar Rosemary Smith as Renault Ireland brand ambassadors.

DEssie is pictured above with Renault Ireland Country Manager Patrick Magee.

Opel's Grandland X for autumn debut

Opel has revealed details of its new compact SUV, the Grandland X which will debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September, writes Brian Byrne.

The car will join the Mokka X small SUV and the upcoming Crossland X, again smaller than the Grandland X.

The car will feature the wide range of connectivity and safety technologies available in the current range of Opel vehicles.

The Crossland X is the result of a collaboration with PSA Peugeot Citroen, and shares the same platform as the 3008/5008.

New S-Class revealed

This is the reveal of the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class at the Shanghai Auto Show, by Dr Dieter Zetsche, Chairman of the Board of Management of Daimler AG and Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars, writes Brian Byrne.

The new car focuses on comfort personalisation for its occupants, as well as bringing the brand closer to providing fully autonomous driving.

It also has brand new engines, including a V8 biturbo petrol and a plug-in hybrid system.

The S-Class is a popular luxury car in China, hence its world premiere there.

Veloce version of Alfa Giulia goes on sale

Alfa Romeo Ireland has released details of its Veloce grade for the brand’s newest car, the Giulia, writes Trish Whelan.

Priced from €53,895, it is powered by a 280hp 2.0 turbo petrol engine, with an 8-speed automatic transmission. A 5.7s 0-100km/h is claimed.

Standard features include 25W Bi-Xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights, front and rear parking sensors, a rear view camera with dynamic gridlines, power folding exterior mirrors, and heated 6-way electric front seats.

Review: BMW 3 Series Grand Turismo

With the trend towards providing coupe variants of mainstream saloon cars now firmly established across the main premium brands, BMW has for...