The BIG car news highlights of 2017

We explore the car news stories that rocked the automotive world in 2017

Electric SUVs from VW, Skoda and Audi plug in 

There was another influx of crossovers making their debuts at the Shanghai Motor Show, because car makers place nearly as much focus on the Far Eastern event as they do on the European shows.

The VW Group led the way with a trio of SUV concepts that showcased its latest EV tech. First up was the Volkswagen I.D. Crozz, a crossover based on the I.D. hatchback, which featured the same distinctive EV styling cues and running gear but in a high-riding body.

Skoda also got in on the EV crossover theme courtesy of its Vision E concept. This model featured plenty of familiar styling cues, including a blanked-off version of the Skoda grille, while under the skin was the same MEB platform as used on the I.D. Crozz. Here, the Vision E comes with twin electric motors and a claimed battery range of up to 300 miles.

Finally, Audi unveiled a new e-tron, the Sportback. Unlike its sister cars, the e-tron Sportback uses its own platform, and has three electric motors. It claims a 310-mile range, while the hi-tech lighting and overall design are set to be retained when the model hits dealers in 2019.

E-Motion points to electric MG sports car

Ever since the Chinese took over MG, there have been rumours about a sports car revival for the brand – and we saw the first steps towards this at April’s Shanghai Motor Show, when the wraps came off the E-Motion coupe. This two-door four-seater features electric drive using a platform from MG parent company SAIC. The newcomer promises a 0-60mph sprint time of less than four seconds, as well as a range of 310 miles from a single charge.

The E-Motion isn’t quite the successor to the MGB that some fans might want, but it will be a showcase of the brand’s latest technology. MG is determined to get the car into production, and even hopes to have it on UK roads by the end of 2019, possibly with a price tag of around £30,000.

Citroen goes chunky with C5 Aircross

Shanghai also saw the unveiling of the next crossover to join the Citroen line-up. The C5 Aircross uses the same EMP2 platform as the Peugeot 3008, while its design takes influence from the C4 Cactus on the outside and the C4 Picasso on the inside.

That means chunky looks and Airbumps for the body, and the spacious cabin gets TFT displays and high-quality switchgear. Under the skin, the chassis has been tailored for comfort, with a Progressive Hydraulic Cushion suspension system designed to rival air suspension for cruising comfort.

Engines will major on efficiency, while the DS 5’s hybrid system could appear when the model goes on sale in Europe in the second half of 2018.

Concern over recall repair rates

An exclusive Auto Express investigation revealed that over a million dangerous cars were on the road, due to owners not getting recall work done.

Figures from the DVLA showed only 47.7 per cent of the 2.2 million cars recalled since 2012 had been fixed. For example, BMWs such as the E46 3 Series had an airbag issue, but a full 98.5 per cent of owners hadn’t got it fixed. 

Wraps off Vauxhall’s all-new Grandland X SUV 

It’s been a busy and turbulent year for Vauxhall and Opel, which pulled off several launches of key new models even while they were being sold by General Motors to PSA Peugeot-Citroen.

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Prior to the takeover going through, the two automotive giants had already agreed to pool resources to create a new range of SUVs – a deal that resulted first in the Peugeot 2008-based Crossland X, and then followed in April by the larger Grandland X.

The newcomer represents Vauxhall’s latest assault on the booming crossover market. Measuring 4.8m long and 1.84m wide and featuring a 514-litre boot, it is a rival to the Nissan Qashqai, SEAT Ateca and Renault Kadjar, as well as the Peugeot 3008 with which it shares its engines and EMP2 platform. Also making the transition is Peugeot’s Grip Control tech in place of four-wheel drive – but the Grandland X features a much more conservative design than its French cousin. 

Govt set for £1.45bn road tax windfall 

April saw the introduction of new Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) rates. These introduced higher first-year fees, but replaced subsequent annual payments for all cars with a flat £140 fee.

Only zero-emissions models are now exempt from tax, while owners of cars with a list price that’s higher than £40,000 will also pay an additional £310 a year in tax for the first five years after registration. The Treasury is expected to earn an additional £1.45bn by 2021 from the new rates. 

April 2017 in numbers

  • • 17 per cent – Incorrect MoT passes: Exclusive research conducted by Auto Express revealed that 17 per cent of cars passed their MoT test when they should have failed.
  • • One in five – Roads could close: we reported on how deteriorating roads could reach crisis point within five years, with bodged repairs and rising traffic leaving them unusable.
  • • £600 – Fines for Brits: UK drivers travelling abroad were set to face speeding fines of £600, thanks to new EU laws – but foreign drivers in the UK still escaped tickets. 

May 2017 car news

Skoda Karoq has big boots to fill as it steps up to replace Yeti

In May, we got to see the replacement for the Skoda Yeti, the all-new Karoq. Although some fans will wonder why the name was changed, Skoda has focused on the new car’s potential over the model it replaced.

While the newcomer shares its basic body and plenty of technology with the SEAT Ateca (it’s even produced in the same factory), there are some distinct differences between the two, including the fact that the Karoq features removable seats, just like the Yeti did.

In addition, the Karoq is bigger inside, and it features plenty of Skoda’s ‘Simply Clever’ design touches. Under the skin, there is a five-engine line-up: 1.0 and 1.5-litre turbo petrols, a 1.6 diesel and a 2.0-litre diesel in two outputs. Four-wheel drive is offered only with the most powerful diesel, while this car also gets a DSG twin-clutch gearbox as standard – it’s optional across the rest of the range.

Skoda chief executive Bernhard Maier told Auto Express he believed the Karoq would be a bigger success than the Yeti. “We wanted a clear nomenclature for our SUVs, starting with K and ending with Q which works for us,” he said.

Ofsted-style scores for instructors

Ofsted is a name that strikes fear into many teachers’ hearts, and the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) announced instructors could face a similar grilling in light of low ratings.

The DVSA assesses instructors, but 69 per cent received ‘merely satisfactory’ grades. Since our report, the agency has made these records public. 

Chinese fuel Midlands’ auto rebirth 

The Midlands used to be the bedrock of the UK’s automotive industry, but has fallen by the wayside since the fifties.

However, a new breed is starting in the Midlands, with the London Taxi Company opening up a new Coventry factory which we toured. A rush of Far Eastern investment has ensured MG has retained its design centres in Birmingham, while Chinese firm Changan has set up R&D centres in the city. 

Our first look at VW’s baby GTI 

Volkswagen chose the Wörthersee GTI festival in Austria to reveal what it regards as the spiritual successor to the original Mk1 Golf GTI. We are referring, of course, to the funky little up! GTI city car, which like the old Golf weighs less than one tonne and has a similar power output.

To be precise, the Golf GTI of 1976 produced 108bhp, while the up! GTI, which is due to be launched at the beginning of next year, makes 113bhp. Under the newcomer’s bonnet is a turbocharged 1.0-litre engine, which drives the front wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox to give a 0-62mph time of 8.8 seconds. Its three-cylinder thrum is enhanced by a sound actuator that pipes a synthetic exhaust note through the speakers.

As you’d expect, the up! gains some classic GTI styling cues, such as a red stripe across the gloss black honeycomb grille, 17-inch alloy wheels and a 15mm lower ride height. The cabin meanwhile features the trademark GTI tartan seat upholstery, plus air-conditioning and an infotainment system.

Razor-sharp new BMW 8 Series is go

The return of the 8 Series will result in a car that BMW chief executive Harald Krüger says “will demonstrate that razor-sharp dynamics and modern luxury can go hand-in-hand”.

The two-door coupe will be joined by an 8 Series Convertible and a four-door Gran Coupe. BMW has remained tight-lipped on details, but Auto Express understands the 8 Series will be based on the same CLAR set-up as the 7 Series, with engines ranging from six to 12 cylinders.

Dieselgate fix KO for Volkswagen 

The VW emissions scandal rumbled on in May, as owners claimed the fix for affected cars brought efficiency and engine issues.

The Volkswagen Diesel Customer Forum reported owners had problems with diesel particulate filters following the fix, while evidence from found EGR valves had failed on higher-mileage models. But a VW spokesman said “99 per cent” of owners were satisfied with the fix.

May 2017 in numbers

  • • 33 per cent – Non-4G motorways: A third of the UK’s motorway network is without 4G mobile coverage, potentially slowing down the development of connected autonomous cars.
  • • £100 million – Cost of credit card checks: Our investigation revealed some car loan companies were putting prospective clients through ‘hard’ credit checks, denting credit scores to the tune of £100million.
  • • 100 - Dash cams: The number of films submitted to North Wales police under Operation Snap, which sees civilian dash cam footage used to prosecute wayward drivers.

June 2017 car news 

Discovery wins Car of the Year

Land Rover’s all-new, fifth-generation Discovery notched up a coveted win in June, taking the Auto Express Car of the Year crown, as well as the Best Large Premium SUV award.

Its refinement and luxury are mixed with decent performance, an incredible level of tech and plenty of practicality, which together make it more like a seven-seat Range Rover with pricing at a more affordable level. These attributes helped it see off the competition from other classes.

The Citroen C4 Cactus took honours in the Small SUV category, while Volvo’s XC60 fought off its rivals to claim a new title for 2017 – Best Premium SUV – reflecting how the market continues to move towards SUVs.

Our New Car Awards recognise the best in the business across every category, from city cars to vans, and performance machines to the most economical models. The awards reflect an increasing focus on plug-in hybrid tech and EVs. BMW’s forward-thinking i3 took the title here, thanks to its cleverly packaged but premium-feeling cabin, advanced carbon construction plus usable range and impressive efficiency from its pure electric model and plug-in range-extender. 

Kia joins the small SUV revolution

Manufacturers are going crazy for small crossovers – and they’re doing so because buyers just can’t get enough of these cars. Therefore, it was no surprise to see more brands join the sector over the summer.

The Kia Stonic is one such model, and we first revealed it in June. Its blend of a higher-riding body and Kia Rio-style cabin space makes it an attractive choice, but it wouldn’t be the only new arrival... 

Hyundai gets in on SUV act as well 

Kia’s sister brand Hyundai revealed the Kona in the same month. The car uses the same platform as the Stonic, but the looks are a little more radical, with chunky plastic cladding and a more adventurous nose. Personalisation and a range of vibrant colours help it stand out.

The Kona is also available with four-wheel drive, unlike the third small crossover launched in June. 

C3 Aircross spells end for MPV

The front-wheel-drive Citroen C3 Aircross is a significant new model, building on the success of the brand’s C4 Cactus. But when it was launched it also sounded the death knell for the C3 Picasso MPV.

The Aircross is as spacious as its predecessor was, and it combines this with funky C4 Cactus-inspired looks. With these three newcomers joining the market, small SUV buyers have never had so much choice.

Skoda and Lexus triumph in Driver Power

For 2017 we improved our Driver Power reliability and satisfaction survey by making it bigger, better and more comprehensive than ever. We quizzed new car owners across nine categories and 31 areas to find the top 75 new cars to buy.

The thousands of owners taking part voted the Skoda Superb as the best new car to own, ahead of the brand’s Yeti. The former’s star performance was based on positive feedback across the board, but it was the huge rear legroom and boot that nudged it ahead. In third, the Lexus RX was ranked highly for its smoothness, space and excellent reliability.

As part of Driver Power, we also ranked the best manufacturers according to owner feedback. Here, victorious Lexus recorded the best overall scores, nudging Skoda into second place. The entire Lexus line-up was rated for its reliability, with owners heaping special praise on the company’s hybrid powertrains, exterior style, cabin tech and comfort. Lexus also impressed with its high-quality feel plus impeccable fit and finish. 

Hot GTI tops new Volkswagen Polo range 

Another month, another Volkswagen GTI. This time it was the go-faster Polo that made its debut – and, unusually, the hot model was revealed at the same time as the rest of the sixth-generation VW supermini line-up.

Not that there was any danger of the GTI being overlooked, however. Not only does its styling ensure it grabs attention, so too does what’s under the bonnet. That’s because it’s powered by the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo as the previous Golf GTI, pushing out 197bhp.

The GTI represents the pinnacle of the Polo range, which is now based on VW’s MQB platform. This means more interior space, higher levels of technology and more advanced safety kit.

Less performance-orientated Polos feature a 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine with 64bhp, 95bhp or 113bhp, a 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol with 148bhp, or 1.6-litre diesels with 80bhp or 95bhp.

Evolutionary look for new BMW X3

After missing the mark with the first generation of its X3, BMW hit the nail on the head with the Mk2. It was no surprise, therefore, to see the third-generation car adopt an evolutionary approach to exterior styling.

On the inside it’s a different story, because its dash is similar to that of the new 5 Series – with which the X3 also shares its CLAR platform. Alongside the usual versions, the X3 is being offered as an M Performance model for the first time, in the shape of the 355bhp M40i. 

Snap election weakens May’s hold 

Theresa May’s election call caught everyone on the hop, as did the strong showing of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party.

The Tories retained a much-weakened hold on power, and pledged to make the UK a world leader in autonomous vehicle tech while embarking on one of the largest-ever road and rail investment programmes. Labour’s free hospital parking and rail renationalisation schemes will have to wait.

Jag XE Project 8 wings in

June’s Goodwood Festival of Speed was the destination for the public debut of the Jaguar XE Special Vehicle Operations Project 8. The 592bhp saloon borrows its supercharged V8 and four-wheel-drive system from the F-Type SVR.

As a result, the Project 8 is by far the most extreme four-door car Jaguar has ever produced, which explains both the £150,000 price tag and why only 300 are being built. All will be left-hand drive to optimise weight distribution, and all will feature an electronic active diff to help put power down.

June 2017 in numbers

  • • 60 seconds – To take control: Drivers in semi-autonomous cars can take up to a minute to safely regain full control of the car, university researchers warned.
  • • £5,000 – For laser lamp repairs: Our report explained how optional extras could increase your next premium as insurers look to avoid surprise repairs.
  • • 100,000 – EVs on the road: Motorways and large filling stations will be required to install EV chargers under the new Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill as part of EV expansion plans.

Now jump to page 3 or click the links below to continue our review of 2017’s big car stories…

January - February - March - April - May - June July - August - September October - November


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