Vehicle Comparisons

Toyota Mirai

Toyota Mirai

Toyota's innovative, fuel-cell Mirai marks another landmark in the company's relentless pursuit of progress. As convenient as a petrol car, but as clean as an electric one, the Mirai packs the future into a family saloon. Expect class-beating quality in a model that's leading the charge for hydrogen power.

Despite all the new technology fuelling the Mirai, it's essentially an electric vehicle, which means the overall driving sensation has the same characteristics as any other electric car. Power delivery from the 113kw motor is smooth, instant and consistent from zero all the way to its top speed of 111mph, and the Mirai will reach 62mph from a standstill in around 9.6 seconds.

Given its role as a compact executive saloon, ride comfort and cabin refinement take priority over sportiness and handling. That being said, the car has been engineered to have a low centre of gravity and balanced weight distribution, to counter the added weight of battery and fuel cell. This coupled with a suspension set-up more commonly found on sportier models shows that environmentally responsible driving needn't come at the expense of enjoyment.

The attention that has been paid to cabin refinement speaks volumes for Toyota's efforts to produce a car worthy of its £66,000 price tag. Even though the motor is nearly silent, Toyota has gone to great lengths to prevent outside noise penetrating the passenger compartment, and throughout the car, soft padded textures have been used to give a luxurious feel to the interior.

The Mirai saves considerable space inside by replacing physical controls with large touch-screen surfaces that dominate the cockpit. The designers have thought about the needs of the likely drivers of this car and have included neat little touches like a handy storage area that allows wireless smartphone charging for compatible devices. This is a four-seat car due to the need to keep the heaviest parts as central as possible but passengers are compensated with plenty storage areas. Boot space, however, is smaller than most rivals.

Much of the exterior design of the Mirai owes itself to the sciences of aerodynamic efficiency and electrolysis. Each surface is designed either to help the car slip through the air more easily, or to suck in more air to stimulate the process of turning hydrogen into electricity.

While the form-following-function aesthetic may be challenging from some angles, the unusual rear-end of the Mirai bears a strong family resemblance to that of the fourth-generation Toyota Prius so expect it to become a familiar site on Britain's low-carbon roads, especially in and around London. Toyota is, quite simply, the world authority on quality car-making so the reliability of the all-new Mirai model is second to none.

Named after the Japanese word for The Future, the Toyota Mirai marks the start of a new way of motoring. The four-door, four-seat saloon will come into its own as the Hydrogen re-fuelling infrastructure expands but, with a concerted effort from government and industry, that future is fast becoming a reality. A car that brews its own electricity, on-board, is a huge step forward in the quest for convenient, green solutions to deal with the scarcity of oil. The Toyota Mirai comes at the right time, as motorists look beyond traditional ways of running a car.

All this technology comes wrapped in a cutting-edge design and provides the platform for a smart family saloon with class-leading quality. It may be in the Early Adopters phase for a while, but with powerful customers like Transport for London taking on a fleet of them, the Toyota Mirai's future is looking positive.

Click here to find out more about our Toyota Mirai range
Volvo S60

Volvo S60

Sportier and more stylish, this improved second generation S60 addresses the areas where previous Volvo executive cars have ultimately failed to deliver. Crucially, the brand has also extended use across the range of its latest generation 'Drive-E' diesel and petrol engines. As a result, being larger than the German models it will count as rivals and packing Volvo's usual plethora of safety kit, this S60 must be in with a chance.

Volvos have tended to feel like the safe cars they are when you get them out on the road but with this S60, more emphasis than ever before has been placed on instilling some excitement. Interestingly, there are three chassis set-ups available to buyers which govern how the car performs on the road. The Dynamic chassis is fitted as standard in the UK. Then there's a firmer, more sporting set-up offered with the R-Design Lowered Sport Chassis option. The final option is the Volvo FOUR-C (Continuously Controlled Chassis Concept), an active suspension that allows drivers to select their preferred settings when on the move.

Volvo has at last developed its own range of 'Drive-E' engines after years of relying on Ford and PSA units. Pick of the line-up, we think, is the fastest of the three diesel engines on offer, the 190bhp D4. Rest to 62mph here takes 7.4s en route to 143mph. All the diesel units available are now from the brand's frugal 'Drive-E' family of engines, all 2.0-litre units. The D3 develops 150bhp, while the entry-level D2 manages 120bhp.

Low mileage buyers need to factor in the possibility of petrol power too, especially if they don't like the rather clattery diesel noise you get on start-up. This option is particularly worth considering now that Volvo has extended its 'Drive-E' engine family in the S60 range to include a petrol model. The manual gearbox T4 variant uses this technology allied with 2.0-litre power, generating 190bhp. At the top of the range, there's the option of a 'Cross Country' model with either 2WD or AWD traction.

This is one of the best-looking Volvos we've seen for a good few decades, so few aesthetic improvements have been necessary with this facelifted version. There are what Volvo describes as 'more focused and determined-looking headlamps', there to create what's intended to be an 'expressive' front end. The S60's horizontal lines have been emphasised at both the front and rear. Together with details such as a wider grille and daylight running lights, they give the car a striking, squat presence.

The cabin features smart materials and silk metal frames around the air vents and light controls. You also get the Adaptive Digital Display we first saw in the smaller V40 hatch: this lets you change the look and feel of the instrument dials via three 'themes' - 'Elegance', 'Eco' and 'Performance'. Plus, there's also the option of a 'Sensus' infotainment system that allows you to add connectivity and internet access into the car. This set-up turns the 7-inch infotainment display into a state-of-the-art infrared, beam-scanned touch screen that can be used even when wearing gloves - a world first in cars.

The driver can go online either via a car-mounted 3G/4G dongle or a personal mobile phone and features include the industry's first in-dash, fully integrated, voice search Spotify application. The voice-activation system works on all music sources connected to the Connected Touch. It is also possible to share a Wi-Fi network with everyone in the car.

Volvo executive cars have usually been safe, reliable and practical but sporty and stylish? In the past, buyers with those things as priorities may have felt inclined to look elsewhere. This second generation S60 has been changing that kind of thinking though, a process that'll be aided by this careful package of changes.

It incorporates the vibrant design that's been creeping into other Volvo products for a while now and accentuates it in a sleek four-door package with a driver-focused chassis and a range of high-tech engine options highlighted by the latest-generation 'Drive-E' engines. There's a roomy cabin and the bundle of advanced safety equipment we've always expected from Volvo is also in evidence, setting the S60 up as an intriguing alternative to the compact executive mainstream.

Click here to find out more about our Volvo S60 range
Mercedes-Benz CLA

Mercedes-Benz CLA

The CLA has proved to be a rather different kind of Mercedes. It's compact and coupe-like yet has four doors and a large boot. And it'll set the neighbours talking far more than if you simply bought yet another small German-badged executive saloon. It's a model to challenge your preconceptions, that's for sure. Now both four-door and 'Shooting Brake' estate variants have been lightly facelifted and made more efficient.

Mercedes markets this car as a 'sporty' alternative to its more conventional C-Class range. The CLA's sporty styling leads you to expect that. Though this car shares its chassis, steering and braking architecture with A and B-Class models, it does get its own suspension set-up, with various changes made to improve comfort and make it a bit less crashy over poorer surfaces. There's torque vectoring to help with the handling and 'Direct Steering' to sharpen things up at the helm (though it's still vaguer than we would like).

At the top of the range is a fire-breathing CLA 45 AMG model with an uprated 381bhp turbo petrol 2.0-litre engine and a four-wheel drive layout - quite a car. More conventional CLA models are powered by engines borrowed from A and B-Class models. Diesel drivers get a 1.5-litre engine used with either 109 or 136bhp in the CLA 180d or CLA 200d variants. We tried the 2.1-litre 177bhp diesel unit offered in the CLA 220d. Petrol people get a 1.6-litre turbo unit offered in 122 or 156bhp guises in the CLA 180 and CLA 200 variants - or there's a 2.0-litre 184bhp powerplant in the CLA 220 4MATIC 4WD model that only comes with 7-speed 7G-DCT automatic transmission. This same 2.0-litre unit comes in a 211bhp state of tune in the CLA 250 variant that can also be ordered with 4WD.

By any measure, this is a handsome car. Purposeful, with sporting proportions and a potent bonnet power dome. Hi-tech too, with jewel-like LED daytime running lamps fashioned to create a flare effect around the smarter black-trimmed diamond-shaped grille that now sits below restyled bumpers on this revised model. It's not just about aesthetics either. The super-sleek drag factor of just 0.23Cd makes this not only the most aerodynamic Mercedes model to date but also one of the most aerodynamic production vehicles in the world.

The cabin's virtually identical to that of an A-Class - which these days is a very good thing indeed. So, you get the same deeply-cowled twin-dial instrument binnacle viewed through a lovely, grippy nappa leather-trimmed three-spoke multi-function steering wheel. There are the same five chrome-trimmed SLS supercar-style air vents decorating the dash. And you get the same iPad-style 5.8-inch free-standing infotainment screen stuck in the middle of it, this one now slimmer, with a smarter cover. The display is controlled by a little rotary dial positioned where the handbrake would normally be if it hadn't been replaced by one of those fiddly electronic ones with a switch hidden away beneath the dash. This revised model gets some upgraded trimming materials

As for back seat accommodation, well any car that describes itself as a 'four-door coupe' clearly isn't going to have this as a top priority and it is a bit cramped. Ultimately though, I don't think this'll be a deal-breaker for many buyers. Particularly as boot room is so spacious. There's quite a high lip to lump your packages over, but once you do, there's a generous 470-litres on offer and a standard split-folding rear bench. If that's not enough, talk to your dealer about the CLA-Class Shooting Brake estate.

If you're in the market for a compact, prestigiously-badged saloon or estate and like the look of this one, then nothing I'm going to say here is likely to dissuade you away from CLA motoring. Unlike Mercedes, I think this car does have some direct rivals, but I'd agree that there is quite a lot that's unique about the way it looks. This design has really proved to be a breath of fresh air in what had become rather a staid market sector.

Which is it'll continue to sell as intended - to people who never intended to drive a Mercedes. Younger folk who don't care about the abandonment of the rear wheel drive layout that was once considered conditional for a car of this type. They'll probably care just as little about the rear seat packaging compromises and the rather firm ride. They might not even mind the premium pricing. It's all about emotional appeal you see, as I said at the beginning.

Going forward, the CLA has a massive role to play in the Mercedes model range, with huge appeal in growing markets like China. Here, it'll be more of a niche product that importantly, frees up the C-Class to be a bit bigger and more luxurious. The kind of car that'll redefine what this brand stands for in the eyes of many potential buyers. Exactly as it was meant to.

Click here to find out more about our Mercedes-Benz CLA range