The BIG car news highlights of 2017

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

Audi A8 reveals latest autonomous tech 

Technology is a keyword at Audi, and the unveiling of the latest A8 limousine showcased its newest engineering feats. It promises to spearhead the firm’s autonomous driving tech – as soon as the relevant legislation allows it – while the safety advances aim to make it one of the most secure cars on the road.

Varying degrees of hybrid assistance feature on every petrol and diesel model in the range, and a plug-in version will join the line-up at a later date. The A8 also saw the debut of Audi’s new naming strategy, where power outputs are now defined by a two-digit number. Critics claim that it simply added a new level of confusion in an era where buyers are already bombarded by all sorts of naming and numbering conventions.

Lexus dealers top Driver Power chart 

Dealer service can help to make or break a car manufacturer’s reputation, and customer satisfaction in our Driver Power survey is a key benchmark for the industry.

In July we announced Lexus had pulled out all the stops to be named 2017’s best dealer network. Owners praised the spotless facilities, plus good communication from courteous staff, efficient, high-quality work and even the availability of on-site parking.

Porsche lets 911 GT2 RS off leash 

Of all the 911s ever sold, the GT2 versions have the biggest reputation for lairy handling. That didn’t stop Porsche dusting the badge off this summer by revealing the latest GT2 RS.

It made its debut at July’s Goodwood Festival of Speed, and the turbo flat-six packs 690bhp and uses a seven-speed PDK box. This helps it cover 0-62mph in 2.9 seconds and hit a 211mph top speed. 

Amazing Jaguar barrel roll as wraps come off E-Pace 

The problem with performing elaborate publicity stunts for new car launches is that the bar is forever rising. So after driving an XF across wires suspended above the River Thames, and then blasting an F-Pace around a giant loop-the-loop, what could Jaguar possibly do for the launch of its new small SUV, the E-Pace?

The answer was to perform the longest airborne barrel roll ever recorded for a production car. Following a 160-metre run to the ramp, the E-Pace was off the ground for 15.3 metres, in which time it rotated through 270 degrees. Stunt driver Terry Grant perhaps didn’t have time to appreciate the E-Pace’s sports car-inspired interior or clever packaging.

That can wait until Jaguar’s baby SUV arrives in dealerships early next year. Priced from £28,500, the E-Pace is a rival to the Audi Q3, and like that car will be available in front-wheel-drive form. Barrel roll or not, we predict it will fly out of showrooms. 

Citroen boss Linda Jackson tops our Brit List 

The 2017 Auto Express Brit List award highlighted the achievements of Linda Jackson, the automotive industry exec carving out a successful career as worldwide CEO of Citroen.

To prove the point, we had to catch up with our global high flier on a trip to Shanghai, where she found time for an interview with us between revealing the C5 Aircross to joint-venture partner DongFeng, and meeting the Citroen brand’s Chinese market design team.

It turns out the Citroen boss never planned a career in the auto industry, and expected to be a teacher instead. A summer job in the Jaguar finance department changed all that, and Linda worked her way up the ranks, earning an MBA along the way.

The call to lead Citroen came in 2014. “Jackson is a formidable operator who, as well as having her own world transformed, has done precisely that as CEO of the famous French brand,” said Auto Express editor-in-chief Steve Fowler when the award was presented. 

Mercedes’ posh pick-up has X factor

Mercedes thinks it can clean up in the fast-growing pick-up market with a premium alternative to the current offerings. Its X-Class is based on the Nissan Navara’s ladder-frame chassis, but with a body that’s slightly longer, wider and lower.

It also uses the Navara’s multilink rear suspension, tuned to replicate some of the comfort associated with Mercedes road cars. Don’t let that fool you into thinking this isn’t the real deal, though – the X-Class can still tow up to 3.5 tonnes and carry loads of up to 1.1 tonnes. 

2040 petrol and diesel ban alarm 

In July, we looked at the issues around the 2040 petrol and diesel powertrain ban. Our story highlighted challenges such as the lack of EV charging infrastructure, and the need for new taxation regimes to replace fuel duty revenues. The sales ban won’t affect hybrids, but our story also focused on the future of diesel. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders pointed out that latest Euro 6 models already meet tough new criteria, but the RAC said further anti-diesel measures were ‘possibly’ on the cards.

Quacks better than car horn honks?

Do modern car horns drive you quackers? We reported that South Korean researchers, faced with the problem of noise pollution from honk-happy drivers in congested cities like Seoul, tested a variety of warning noises on 100 volunteer pedestrians.

The sound of a duck was found to be the most pleasant noise that didn’t sacrifice road safety, and now the project leader at Soongsil University thinks gentle quacking should replace the blare of car horns. 

Volvo’s hybrid and EV commitment 

Headlines were made around the world when Volvo announced all of its new cars – including the XC40 – will feature some form of electrification from 2019.

Rather than abandoning internal combustion by that date, as was widely misreported, Volvo instead stated that every model in its range will either be fully electric, a plug-in or mild hybrid. It aims to sell one million electrified vehicles by 2025.

July 2017 in numbers 

  • • 60 per cent – NOx reduction: Claimed potential reductions in real-world NOx emissions from Continental’s new ‘super-diesel’ tech that uses electrically heated catalysts to treat fumes.
  • • £7.35 – Diesel parking cost: Hourly parking rate for pre-2015 diesels during trial scheme by City of Westminster, which hikes charges by 50 per cent.
  • • £500,000 – Drop in spending: The average amount slashed from road budgets by three fifths of UK councils, according to new AA study.

August 2017 car news

Tesla reveals Model 3 

Not many car makers are able to launch a new model and make headlines in the national press by doing so, but then Tesla isn’t your average car maker.

Back in August, the third product in its line-up made its debut. The Model 3 is designed to be a fully electric rival to the likes of BMW’s 3 Series and the Jaguar XE, and so it should be the first Tesla to appeal to the mass market.

Just like the larger Model S and Model X, the Model 3 gets a look that’s unlike anything else in the sector, with clean lines and very little in the way of exterior trim.

It’s the same story inside, with a minimalist interior that has plenty of space. The Model 3 also comes with a large 15-inch landscape-style touchscreen, rather than the portrait set-up seen in the Model S.

Two versions of the Model 3 will be available when it goes on sale in the UK in 2018: Standard and Long Range. They will be able to travel up to 220 miles and 310 miles respectively, and prices will start from around £32,000, with the Long Range version costing around £5,000 more.

Performance won’t be quite to the same level as on the Model S, but the Model 3 should still cover 0-62mph in less than 5.6 seconds.

Wraps off new Rolls Phantom 

Luxury car makers don’t come more famous than Rolls-Royce, so the launch of the all-new Phantom in August was a truly significant moment. The car sits on its own bespoke platform – there’s no sharing of BMW parts going on here – and power comes courtesy of a twin-turbocharged 6.75-litre V12 engine.

Standard and long-wheelbase cars will be offered, and Rolls has raised the luxury stakes by adding an extra 130kg of sound insulation, even though the Phantom’s overall weight has been reduced to improve economy.

Other hi-tech touches in the new limousine include self-levelling air suspension that uses stereoscopic cameras to read the road ahead and adjust the suspension accordingly, plus there’s a full suite of safety features on-board and a host of luxury items. 

Volkswagen launches T-Roc SUV 

Volkswagen added a third model to its SUV line-up in August, with the launch of the T-Roc. The newcomer sits on the same platform as the Audi Q2, so it slots in below the Tiguan in the VW range.

It also gets a funky cabin designed to appeal to younger buyers, while power comes from a choice of turbocharged 1.0 TSI petrol and 2.0 TDI diesel engines. Only top-spec cars are offered with 4WD. 

MINI plugs in with Electric concept

Ahead of its debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September, we had access to the MINI Electric Concept, and designer Christopher Weil showed us around.

While nominally based on the standard hatchback, the electric version gets a unique look and plenty of details designed to highlight its EV running gear. Power is expected to come from the existing technology found in the BMW i3

Dacia shows off new Duster ahead of Frankfurt

August was a busy month for news, as car manufacturers started to pull the wraps off their latest models ahead of the fast-approaching Frankfurt Motor Show. One of these was the new Dacia Duster, updated by parent company Renault in an effort to boost the appeal of its cheap and rugged SUV.

The new Duster doesn’t mess with that formula and is even based on the same platform as its predecessor, but has a wider track and reprofiled side panels to give it a stronger visual stance. There’s also a smarter grille, and the windscreen has been moved forwards by 100mm to improve interior space.

Initially, Dacia didn’t reveal the new cabin, but we have since discovered the Duster will gain soft-touch interior panels, repositioned air vents, a new steering wheel and a new infotainment system.

The existing 1.2-litre petrol and 1.5-litre diesel engines will be carried over from the current model, but with tweaks to improve their emissions.

Lid lifted on BMW’s next striking Z4

BMW used its striking Z4 concept to show a number of elements not seen before on one of its cars. This includes a much wider version of the kidney grille, with the vertical slats replaced by mesh, and stacked lights within the headlamp housings.

The company has indicated that about 80 per cent of what you can see in the concept will be on the production car. This will go on sale late next year, complete with a fabric roof in place of the outgoing Z4’s folding hard-top.

New M5 to use four-wheel drive

A new BMW M5 is always something to savour, and so it was when the latest G30-based model was revealed in August, complete with a 592bhp twin-turbo V8.

That ferocious power output is matched by an equally prodigious 750Nm of torque, so it was no great surprise when BMW confirmed that it was introducing four-wheel drive to the M5 for the first time to help put the power down. Thus equipped, the company’s latest supersaloon will cover 0-62mph in a claimed 3.4 seconds, matching the performance of the E 63 S from arch rival Mercedes-AMG. 

Bid to eliminate crashes

Vision Zero is a target tech companies Bosch and Continental have adopted.

An accident-free future may sound like science fiction, but we saw the tech both companies are working on now to ensure road fatalities and accidents are a thing of the past.

Full ‘level five’ autonomous driving is their ultimate goal, and much of the tech under development will form part of that objective. Our story profiled upcoming features such as automatic brake systems when reversing, anti-lock brakes for bicycles, eyesight-tracking attention monitors, and car seats that react to stress indicators and monitor driver health.

Makers start scrappage schemes 

Car makers were quick to follow up news of the Government’s 2040 ban on petrol and diesel sales with scrappage schemes designed to accelerate the take-up of new, more environmentally friendly models.

Ford joined the likes of BMW, Hyundai, Mercedes and Vauxhall with a trade-in scheme offering buyers cash to switch to a newer car. However, as we reported, not all came with a commitment to send trade-ins to the crusher. 

August 2017 in numbers

  • • 55 per cent – Drivers with illegal tyres: We revealed the shocking number of people driving with at least one illegally worn and potentially dangerous tyre, thanks to Protyre records.
  • • 5.3 million – Vehicles recalled: BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen groups agreed to issue a software update for 5.3 million cars to reduce emissions.
  • • £1 coins – Cash no longer king: Six months after its introduction, the new £1 coin is useless in car parks and meters across one in five councils, an AA study found. 

September 2017 car news

Mercedes hypercar steals the show in Frankfurt 

September is the big motor show month on the calendar, and this year the world’s car makers descended on Frankfurt to display their wares. One company that dominated the show was Mercedes, not only with one of the biggest stands ever seen, but also by revealing the Project One hypercar and shedding more light on the expansion of its electric vehicle range.

The Project One features technology from Mercedes’ hugely successful Formula One team, using a 1.6-litre turbocharged engine and four electric motors to make around 1,000bhp. Four-wheel drive is standard, while power is sent to the road via an eight-speed automated manual gearbox. This gives the Project One a claimed 0-124mph time of 6.0 seconds, while a 217mph top speed is promised. The bare numbers are big, and there’s plenty of technology on board that’s designed to make the Project One as fast as an F1 car in corners.

Closer to reality, the EQA concept gave clues to the next model in Mercedes’ EV line-up. After the EQ SUV goes on sale in 2019, this A-Class-sized hatchback will expand the range in 2020. It uses an electric motor on each axle, and the most powerful version with the biggest battery could produce more than 268bhp.

Renaultsport Megane let off leash

The arrival of the new Renaultsport Megane will be welcomed by hot hatch fans, as the last model was one of the best-handling cars in the class. The new model is a five-door hatch – a first for the Megane RS – and power comes from a 1.8-litre turbocharged petrol engine that’s shared with the new Alpine A110 sports car.

In its standard form, this develops 276bhp, but a more powerful Cup model with 295bhp will appear at a later date. Engineers at Renaultsport have given the new RS four-wheel steering to make it more agile, so while it’s not one of the most powerful hot hatches, it should still be one of the sharpest models to drive. 

BMW hints at Tesla-rivalling i5 EV

While Mercedes stole the headlines at Frankfurt, BMW was making its own waves in the electric vehicle field, with a design study that previewed a new rival for Tesla’s Model S.

The i Vision Dynamics concept is a saloon that blends the futuristic design of the brand’s current EVs with a more conventional four-door coupe shape that’s similar to its executive models’. Under the skin, the production version is likely to use a development of the 5 Series’ platform, rather than the expensive carbon fibre construction found in the i3 and i8.

Its vital statistics include 0-62mph in 4.0 seconds, a top speed of 120mph and an electric range of 373 miles, while BMW aims to give it the kind of handling for which the company is famous. 

Honda EV concept wows crowd 

One of the highlights in Frankfurt was the Honda Urban EV concept. With elements of its design inspired by small Hondas of the seventies, this is an all-electric city car with room for four that previews a new model, which is due to go on sale in 2019.

It also showcases Honda’s new autonomous tech and electrical assistance systems that can manage power supply and recharging to and from the power grid. 

Proceed points to smart new hatch 

Kia has found a new design mojo with the Stinger four-door coupe, and it’s one that will continue with the next Cee’d.

The hatch was previewed by the Proceed concept at Frankfurt; and, while some of the more exotic parts of the design won’t reach production, the look of the nose and tail is likely to be similar to the design study’s. The concept also points towards a new Shooting Brake version of the Cee’d. 

Luxury BMW X7 splits opinion

As well as revealing the i Vision Dynamics, BMW pulled the covers off the new X7 SUV concept. The looks of this Range Rover-rivalling 4x4 certainly divided opinion, but there’s no doubt that its sheer size and luxury interior will be appealing.

While the concept will lose some of its wilder touches before it reaches production, it’s as close to the X7 as we’ll get, and the US-built model will be revealed in 2018.

Advanced new Nissan Leaf

Often when a new car is revealed, the gains it has made over its predecessor are relatively small, as manufacturers increasingly lean towards evolution rather than revolution. Not so with the new Nissan Leaf, which has major technological advances for its second generation.

The most obvious is an increase in the range of this electric car to a very creditable 235 miles. That’s been made possible thanks to a new 40kWh lithium-ion battery, in place of the outgoing Leaf’s 30kWh unit.

Also new is e-Pedal regenerative braking, which, according to Nissan, means the Leaf can be driven using only the accelerator for 90 per cent of the time. Additionally, the Leaf will be the first Nissan to include the company’s ProPilot autonomous driving system as standard, enabling the car to assist the driver with steering, braking and acceleration in motorway traffic at up to 62mph.

Not only is the Leaf significantly more advanced than before, it’s also more practical, thanks to an increase in boot capacity from 370 to 435 litres. 

Yeti wins used car award

Soon after finishing as runner-up in our Driver Power New Car satisfaction survey, the Skoda Yeti topped our first ever Driver Power Used Car poll, for models between three and six years old.

The Yeti performed superbly in every category, but its best scores were for the rear legroom, the comfort of its front seats and its interior styling. Owners also raved about their cars’ versatility, while the handling, as well as the usability and layout of the controls and infotainment system, attracted further praise. 

Volvo takes wraps off baby SUV

As the compact SUV market continued to boom, Volvo added to the list of highly desirable new models with its Jaguar E-Pace-rivalling XC40.

Typical of Volvo’s design ethos, the XC40 borrows styling cues and tech from models higher up in the range, including its ‘Thor’s Hammer’ LED headlights, portrait touchscreen and 12.3-inch TFT instruments.

The XC40 is the first car to use Volvo’s CMA platform and will initially be offered with four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines. Three-cylinder petrols, a plug-in hybrid and fully electric versions will be added later. 

New fuel economy test 

A new emissions and economy test regime began in September. The Worldwide Light Vehicles Test Procedure (WLTP) replaced the New European Driving Cycle, which was introduced back in the seventies, and brings longer and tougher tests.

In the future, manufacturers will have to publish the WLTP figures, which are expected to cut the gap between real life and the lab tests from 41 per cent to less than 20.

September 2017 in numbers

  • • 310kg – Weight of flower car: We reported how a group of Dutch students built the world’s first car with a chassis made of plant flax. The aim is to reduce the reliance on metals.
  • • 40 years – MoT exemption: From next year, cars more than 40 years old will be exempt from their annual MoT test on a rolling basis.
  • • 400,000 – Jobs at risk: Over 40,000 Uber drivers had their job threatened after Transport for London declared the company unfit to operate in the capital. 

Now jump to page 4 or click the links below to continue our review of 2017’s big car stories…

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