Three of the best premium small SUVs meet and compete – but which one will come out on top?
First among them is the Volvo XC40, 2018’s Car of the Year and a compact premium SUV that we like a great deal. Then there’s the Audi Q3, a car that has been around for a while but one that is no less popular for that.
Diesel engines still make a great deal of sense in cars like this, which can be used for towing but just as often for covering big motorway distances and the (very occasional) light off-roading. So that’s the engines we’re testing.
Look on, then, to find who makes the best luxurious small 4×4 – is it Audi, Land Rover or Volvo?
2019 New York motor show
News, updates and launches from one of America’s biggest motoring events
The New York International Auto Show is home to some of the biggest US-market unveilings, as well as a chance to see some recently revealed European models in the flesh for the first time.
Held in one of the world’s most vibrant cities, the event always features some interesting new launches and some outlandish concepts.
We were on the ground to see everything first-hand:
New York 2019: Full show report
If chatter at this year’s New York motor show is anything to go by, the US vehicle market is holding strong, seemingly less affected by global headwinds than European brands.
US vehicle sales are predicted to fall this year – they were down 2.5% in the first quarter, but still won’t fall much below the 17 million mark. America’s all-time record sales year was 2016 when 17.55m vehicles were sold. By most accounts, the US market is in rude health.
Where saloons (or ‘sedans’ if you’re American) used to reign supreme, the US has fallen under the spell of SUVs as much as the rest of the world. Around 70% of auto sales are now SUVs or trucks. No surprise, then, that the show’s truck hall was full to the brim with monstrous trucks, while there were far more SUVs than saloons on manufacturer stands.
Stand-out cars? The Kia HabaNiro concept, which hints at the next Niro due in 2021, got plenty of attention thanks to its butterfly wing doors and funky looks. Alongside it was a bright orange Stinger GTS. It’s a special edition, limited to 800 units, for the US only. It wouldn’t be that interesting but for its new “Drift” mode, a feature we expect to see on an updated Stinger for Europe in a couple of years…
Those might have been the new reveals for Kia, but it’s still pushing its Telluride large SUV hard as it endeavours to establish itself as a credible SUV brand. The Korean maker is best known for its sedans in the US such as the Forte and Optima. US COO Michael says: “We have a stronger reputation as sedan brand but we’re repositioning ourselves as an SUV brand. Telluride is where we see a real opportunity. We need to build a capable SUV reputation and we’ve made a great start with Telluride which is exceeding expectations.”
Another popular car, going by stand footfall, was the Genesis Mint Concept. Refreshingly not an SUV, this premium city car could make production in the next three to four years, reckons brand boss Manfred Fitzgerald. He said: “I believe that there is a white spot on the map [for a car like this] that nobody is really catering to and it’s something we should really take a stab at.”
Genesis, which only established itself as a standalone brand from Hyundai in 2015, sees New York as a “second home”, having just opened a dealership and brand centre in the city. There’s also word that the brand is planning to launch in Europe next year. There’s potential there, but it’ll need to nail this tricky market far more effectively than rival Infiniti, which recently pulled out of the region…
Back to better-known brands. Mercedes chose this week’s Shanghai motor show to reveal its GLB, which should quickly become a big seller. But there was still plenty of new metal saved for New York including the updated GLC63, plus the all-new CLA 35.
The big reveal was the new GLS. It only accounts for one per cent of Mercedes sales in the UK but it’s a different story in the US, where it’s the segment leader. Merc R&D boss Andreas Zygan said the car’s focus was even more comfort and luxury for rear passengers than its predecessor, and said a Maybach version could be on the cards.
Another reveal fitting for New York was the 911 Speedster. The original 356 Speedster, which remains the inspiration for all Speedsters since, was created at the request of New York dealer Max Hoffman – the sole importer for Porsche in the US at the time – who wanted a ‘stripped-down’ version of the 356 to sell on the West Coast.
The new machines uses the same 4.0-litre flat six as the current 911 GT3, albeit heavily modified with revised exhaust, fuel and injection systems. GT division boss Andreas Preuninger told us we’d see the engine elsewhere: “We’ve invested in the future with this engine.
“Our philosophy in GT cars is to stay naturally aspirated. We want to keep that engine for the future and that’s why we’ve made such a tremendous effort to get the engine right without taking emotion and performance away from the customer.”
Nissan used the show to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its Z cars, with a great collection of heritage cars on the stand including Skylines and the Datsun 240Z. There were 50th anniversary editions of both the GT-R and 370Z. All of which couldn’t help me from thinking: couldn’t you have done better than some new stickers for the 50th anniversary, Nissan? An all-new 370Z would have gone down much better…
There was plenty of more US-focused metal too, including the Hyundai Venue compact SUV – smaller than the Kona but not coming to Europe, a new Cadillac CT5 saloon, the latest Toyota Highlander and a US version of the Yaris, which is essentially a rebadged Mazda 2.
New York followed the trend of most US motor shows these days: it didn’t have the packed, elbow-pushing rush of a Chinese or European motor show, but instead a few choice reveals to entice car enthusiasts.
It won’t be sold globally like its German rivals are, but, with a well-equipped interior, sleek exterior styling and starting price of around $46,000 (£35,150), it’s likely to make a big splash in its home market.
New York provides Ford with an opportunity to show off the new US-market Escape SUV.
The Honda CR-V rival made its European debut recently as the new Kuga, sitting atop the same C2 platform as the new Focus and making use of a range of conventional and hybrid powertrains. A revised suspension set-up and new driver assist features make the crossover “a heck of a lot of fun to drive,” according to chief engineer Jim Hughes.
Hyundai’s premium brand is showcasing the Genesis Mint, a quirky electric car with a range of around 200 miles. It’s designed to show how luxury transport might work in cities in the future, and to hint at the future design direction of Genesis – a brand that is set to be introduced into the UK.
The mid-sized saloon is due in US dealerships later this year, with a raft of new interior technology and bold new styling. The Sonata is the first model to sit atop Hyundai’s new N3 platform, which has been developed to support a four-wheel-drive powertrain. This means the latter could be a future option for the model.
The new Hyundai Venue is the firm’s seventh SUV, and the smallest it will offer in the USA. It will be offered with a 1.6-litre petrol engine, and a range of two-tone colour options.
At 4058mm, the Venue is 107mm shorter than the Kona. But despite the growing popularity of compact crossovers in Europe, Hyundai has no plans to offer the model over here.
Hyundai says the new model’s name “embodies the characteristics of ‘the place to be’”, so expect a strong urban focus with an emphasis on interior quality and technology.
Lincoln has re-entered the premium compact SUV segment with the Corsair, the company’s smallest crossover yet with a design influenced by the much larger Navigator.
The US-bound Corsair replaces the MKC in the line-up of Ford’s luxury arm. It shares a platform with the new Ford Escape, which is badged Kuga in the UK. It arrives with the same selection of powertrains, including a 247bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder and more potent 2.3-litre producing 276bhp. A plug-in hybrid is also planned.
The biggest differences are on the inside, with a premium 12.3in touchscreen on top-spec models and optional features that include 24-way adjustable leather seats, ambient lighting and a panoramic sunroof. Lincoln hopes its high-end materials and comfort will draw customers away from rivals like the Mercedes GLC and Lexus NX.
The A35 Saloon is the new entry point into Mercedes’ range of AMG performance models. Packing 302bhp from its 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, it promises a 0-62mph time of 4.8sec and a top speed of 155mph.
Mercedes-AMG CLA 35
The range-topping performance variant of Mercedes’ new CLA boasts a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, multi-plate-clutch four-wheel drive system and the company’s 302bhp 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol powertrain.
Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupé
Also appearing in the flesh for the first time is the 2019 Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupé, which has been given a light styling update, new driver safety assistance systems and a new range of mild hybrid powertrains.
The BMW X4 rival can now be had in 207bhp GLC 200 4Matic and 267bhp GLC 300 4Matic guises, which come equipped with the firm’s EQ Boost 48V integrated starter-generator. It’s expected, however, that the diesel line-up, ranging in output from 161bhp to 242bhp, will form the bulk of UK sales.
When it does, prices are expected to start from around £72,000, and just one engine will be offered: a 2.9-litre in-line six-cylinder diesel with 325bhp and 516lb ft of torque.
Taking in models including the 240Z, R34 Skyline and limited-edition GT-R50 by Italdesign, it celebrates half a century of Nissan performance models.
The model was confirmed for production last summer, and sports a retro-inspired rear roofline, 21in cross-spoke alloy wheels and the 4.0-litre flat-six engine from the hardcore GT3 variant.
The fourth-generation Highlander has gained a bold new look, while retaining a high-riding, seven-seat layout.
The Ford Explorer and Mazda CX-7 rival will sit between the 4Runner and Sequoia in Toyota’s US line-up, and uses the TNGA-K version of the firm’s new platform. The Highlander has not yet made it across to European shores, but the Japanese company is believed to be adopting a ‘never say never’ approach with regard to the new model going global.
And the Chevrolet Corvette C8 is not in New York… but (finally) coming soon
While it was widely anticipated to make its debut at New York – and at this year’s Detroit show before that – the all-new, C8-generation Chevrolet Corvette, isn’t at the show.
Additional reporting by Felix Page
The Black Series should go even further than the recent GT R Pro, a track-focused variant built with suspension and aero tweaks in mind rather than uprated power
Range-topping AMG Coupé will be beaten only by Mercedes’ One hypercar when it arrives next year
The upcoming Mercedes-AMG GT Black Series will be the fastest-accelerating AMG car yet, according to AMG boss Tobias Moers.
“It’s coming. Just last week I drove it,” Moers said. “It will be the fastest AMG yet, bar the One. Not in terms of top speed, but lap times.
“Driveability is most important but, with balance, it gets good lap times too.”
First confirmed by Moers back in 2016, the Black Series is now under development and mooted to receive AMG’s turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 engine in a state of tune offering at least 630bhp.
This is the figure offered by the current most powerful AMG model with that unit, the GT 4-door Coupé. Any growth on that would ensure the Black Series dwarfs the peak output offered by the current GT champions, the 577bhp GT R and GT R Pro (pictured).
It would also edge it towards one of the category’s most radical supercars, the 690bhp Porsche 911 GT2 RS. According to Moers, the Black Series will be “great competition with our close neighbour.”
The GT Black Series’ extra grunt will be accompanied by a more focused chassis and aerodynamic set-up, which may go even further than the track-focused GT R Pro launched at last year’s Los Angeles motor show. That car was designed with uprated suspension and aero upgrades, but received no extra power over the regular GT R.
Such a set-up should ensure the GT Black Series tips the scales at around 1575kg, in line or slightly less than the GT R Pro.
The 2020 arrival of the GT Black Series will mark a return for AMG’s most extreme moniker after a seven-year hiatus. The last Black Series model was based on the SLS and entered production in 2013.
How we think the upcoming Mercedes-Benz SL will look
Eighth iteration of the convertible will return to its sporting roots, sharing a new platform with the next AMG GT
First prototypes of the next Mercedes-Benz SL will be on roads this year, according to AMG boss Tobias Moers, the man responsible for the new sports car.
Moers confirmed the SL, which will launch by 2021, will be “aligned” with the next AMG GT. Both cars will share a new aluminium-intensive platform, known internally as the Modular Sports Architecture (MSA), in an attempt to increase the economies of scale and overall profitability of two of Mercedes’ most exclusive model lines.
Autocar first scooped the new SL last October and now Moers has confirmed details of it.
“We’re bringing back the historic DNA of the SL,” he said. “It’s far sportier [this time round]. It will have a perfect compromise between driving dynamics and comfort because it’s still kind of a cruiser too.”
This is the first time AMG has overseen development of an SL.
Moers said: “Handing over SL to AMG as the performance and sports car brand is great. There’s lots of responsibility behind that, and I’m really honoured.”
He also confirmed that the eight-generation SL would be offered only as a roadster, like its predecessor.
Autocar has previously reported that the model will receive a traditional fabric hood in place of the folding hard-top arrangement that has been used for the past two incarnations of the SL.
Overall, the SL will be revived as a lighter, faster and more engaging model, which is why AMG has been tasked with heading up the project.
SL and GT sharing
As well as sharing a common platform structure, the two upmarket Mercedes sports cars are expected to share axle assemblies, suspension, steering systems, 48V electric architecture and hybrid drivetrains, among other components, in a move to cut costs and boost production efficiency. The new SL and GT will be built alongside each other at Mercedes’ plant in Sindelfingen, Germany.
Early plans to base a successor to today’s smaller SLC off the same underpinnings have been abandoned following a recent decision not to replace the junior Mercedes roadster due to dwindling sales.
Early prototypes of the new SL were spied testing on track with the new platform underneath a shortened S-Class Coupé body. They give away little about the car’s mechanical set-up, which is rumoured to run a transaxle arrangement with a dual-clutch automatic gearbox integrated within the rear axle assembly, like on the GT. However, the overall dimensions of the engineering mules suggest the production version will be slightly larger than the existing SL, which is 4630mm long, 1870mm wide and 1310mm tall.
The adoption of the MSA platform is claimed to have had a positive effect on the styling of the new SL, whose proportions are said to be more in keeping with earlier incarnations of the classic roadster than the current model, which shares a platform with saloon models such as the C-Class, E-Class, CLS and S-Class.
A Mercedes source told Autocar that the new SL receives a longer bonnet and more rearward-positioned cabin. “The new platform has given us more freedom,” the source said. “There’s more distance between the front axle and the front firewall. This gives it more traditional proportions.”
The decision to replace the folding hard-top of today’s SL with a more compact fabric hood is also said to have provided greater scope in the styling of the rear of the new model. “It’s much more shapely, especially at the rear, because it is no longer dictated in height and width for the packaging of the hard-top roof,” the source added.
In a further departure from today’s model, it is also expected that Mercedes will provide the 2020 SL with a 2+2 seating layout. Autocar has been told that AMG is keen to give the new SL the same sort of practicality as the Porsche 911, with a set of rear seats capable of accommodating adults for short journeys or, alternatively, luggage as an extension of its boot.
SL to get hybrid line-up
Mercedes plans to offer the SL with a limited range of hybridised in-line six-cylinder and V8 petrol engines in a line-up that’s likely to include both standard and AMG models.
The range is understood to start with an SL450 EQ Boost model running a turbocharged 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder developing around 365bhp, along with an added 22bhp in combination with an integrated starter motor.
Further up will be the SL53, which will run a more powerful AMG-tuned version of the SL450 EQ Boost’s mild-hybrid drivetrain with around 430bhp and added 22bhp through electric assistance.
Among the V8-powered models will be the SL500 EQ Boost. It is due to receive a turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 with a similar power output to the SL53, but significantly more torque. Topping the range will be the SL63. It is likely to offered in two states of tune, with the most powerful model running a turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 capable of in excess of 600bhp and more than 30bhp of electric boost. It is unclear if Mercedes will continue with the V12-powered SL, although, given the potential output of the SL63, it would seem unlikely.
All engines for the new SL will come as standard with Mercedes’ nine-speed automatic gearbox, with the AMG variants set to adopt the Speedshift electronics package for faster shift times. Suggestions are that Mercedes could offer 4Matic four-wheel drive alongside standard rear-wheel drive, although this has yet to be confirmed.
Despite the SL’s market repositioning, it won’t completely abandon the luxury focus, so expect the interior to be almost as opulent as Mercedes’ other high-end models. It will be more driver-focused than cars such as the S-Class Coupé, but there could still be plenty of the brand’s latest driver assist systems drafted in, including its semi-autonomous Drive Pilot function.
Additional reporting by Rachel Burgess
2020 Yaris hatchback will be built in Mexico for the US only; features more equipment as standard
The 2020 US Yaris will be built for Toyota by Mazda’s Mexican arm and is mechanically unrelated to the Yaris models sold elsewhere.
The relationship with Mazda’s supermini can be seen in the model’s basic shape, although it has a heavily reworked front fascia featuring the “hunkered-down, bulldog-like stance” that has become integral to Toyota’s global design language.
Toyota claims that the new Yaris hatchback is designed with urban dwellers in mind and says it has 450 litres of boot space.
As with the 2-based Yaris saloon that was introduced to the US and Canada in 2015, it offers only a 106bhp 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and a six-speed automatic gearbox. A new Sport driving mode enhances acceleration response.
Inside, a 7.0in touchscreen infotainment system is fitted as standard, incorporating Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, voice recognition, satellite radio and sat-nav.
The platform sharing agreement between the two Japanese manufacturers stretches back to 2015, when Mazda began production of restyled variants of the 2: the Toyota Yaris for Mexico and the Scion iA for the US.
Scion, Toyota’s youth-targeted North American brand, was shelved in 2016, so the new Yaris bears Toyota branding.
In Canada, the 2-based Yaris saloon will remain on sale alongside the Yaris hatchback that’s sold in Europe, rather than the new Mazda-built model.
Toyota and Mazda have worked together on a number of ventures in recent years, including the creation in 2017 of a joint venture company to develop electric cars.
The Jeep story began 79 years ago. At around the time Enzo Ferrari and Alfa Romeo conclusively parted ways, the United States Department of War sought to commission the design of a rugged reconnaissance vehicle for duties in febrile Europe.Out of more than 130, just two companies, Willys-Overland and Bantam, stepped up, and it was the latter’s BRC 40 that formed the basis of not only a bona fide military icon but also, with the advent of the CJ-1 just four years later, an enduring post-war civilian sales success.The JL is the fourth generation of this remarkable machine since the ‘Wrangler’ name was first applied to the recipe in 1986, and it is the subject of this week’s road test. In the time it has taken the model to make it across the Atlantic and into British dealerships, more than 240,000 have already been sold in North America, making it the most popular Wrangler to date and something of a global commercial powerhouse for its Fiat Chrysler Automobiles parent company.Early indications are that Jeep’s improvements to the cabin ambience and more frugal engine line-up are largely to thank for this, though there is one other factor that can’t be overlooked: brand.To succeed, any new Wrangler needs to radiate its Rubicon Trail-conquering capabilities at a standstill, which is why Jeep has altered the model’s aesthetic only tentatively. And yet with the JL more than any previous generation, the real challenge has been not only to maintain and enhance this aura but also make the car a far more amenable daily companion.Indeed, solid axles and a flip-down windscreen might please Wrangler aficionados, but for wider sales success in Europe, Jeep will need to have squared such serious attributes with hitherto absent road manners and an interior one could happily live with.Time to find out whether it has succeeded.Price £48,365 Power 197bhp Torque 332lb ft 0-60mph 9.0sec 30-70mph in fourth 9.8sec Fuel economy 29.0mpg CO2 emissions 202g/km 70-0mph 53.1mThe Jeep Wrangler range at a glanceTwo engine choices are available to power the Wrangler: a 197bhp diesel and a 268bhp petrol. The two-door model will likely appeal to those after a more classic Wrangler look, while four-doors offer improved practicality and a longer wheelbase.Three trim levels are offered in the UK: the entry-level Sahara; the more luxurious Overland; and Rubicon, the most off-road-focused variant. Various roof styles are available for open-air motoring, including a three-piece removable roof.
Boxster’s chassis is ideally honed for real-world use
Previous-generation Boxster values are holding strong. Here’s why
Ordinarily you would expect a car of that age to be worth only a fraction of what it cost to buy new, perhaps as little as one-third. But were that true of Porsche’s mid-engined roadster there’d be 62-plate Boxsters kicking about on the used market with £12,500 price tags. If that were the case, Porsche would probably never sell a brand new sports car again…
The 981 has held its value better than just about any other comparable performance car. The cheapest examples offered for private sale go for around £23,000, but if you want a Porsche Approved car with a two-year manufacturer warranty, you’ll have to budget for £28,000. The 981 Boxster arrived in the UK during the summer of 2012, the entry-level version costing from £37,589 and the higher-powered Boxster S £45,384. While those original buyers will be very pleased with how well their car has held onto its value, the rest of us will find it a touch regrettable. After all, even after seven years the bargain-basement 981 Boxster doesn’t seem much closer now than it was back in 2012. There is another way of looking at it, however. These cars are depreciating more slowly now than they’ve ever done, so if you were to stick £28,000 into one today, you’d get most of that back two or three years down the line.
The 981 Boxster was a bigger car than the 987 it replaced, but it was also lighter and more powerful. While it is undoubtedly true that the earlier cars with their hydraulically assisted steering were more tactile, this newer model has a far more modern cabin, much more muscular styling and, in the way its suspension combines body control with ride comfort and bump absorption, one of the best real-world sports car chassis of recent memory.
Apart from being such a joy to drive, the Boxster has resolutely held its value, it seems, because the model that replaced it in 2016 just hasn’t been met with the same level of demand. Its turbocharged four cylinder is nothing like as sonorous as the 981’s tuneful normally aspirated flat six, and many buyers have elected not to upgrade.
For the full interactive sports car experience you’ll probably want the manual transmission, in which case your options will be somewhat limited. So many new buyers ticked the PDK box on the options list that finding a manual car today is anything but straightforward. Porsche’s approved used stock showed only four such examples offered for sale for less than £35,000 at the time of writing, although it should be said the PDK dual-clutch automatic ’box is actually very good in its own way. And if the basic 981 Boxster with 261bhp is simply far too underpowered? You’ll want to spend upwards of £34,000 on the 311bhp Boxster S.
Need to know
The 981 Boxster should be serviced every 20,000 miles or two years, whichever comes first. A minor service is around £500 at a main dealer; the major service is only a little more expensive.
In 2015 Porsche introduced the Boxster Black Edition. Aside from black paintwork and 20in wheels, these models also got an uprated infotainment system, parking sensors at both ends, cruise control, two-zone climate control and a better stereo.
Along with Porsche Torque Vectoring, other options to look for are Porsche Active Suspension Management and the Sport Chrono Package, which includes adaptive transmission mounts. Uptake was modest, though, so you might have to wait patiently.
Porsche Boxster (981): The faster Boxster S is more desirable in absolute terms, but it costs quite a bit more. The basic Boxster is fast enough and best enjoyed with the superb six-speed manual transmission.
Porsche Boxster GTS: Cherry-picking all the best performance bits from the options list, such as Sport Chrono, the 2014 GTS was the most involving Boxster of the lot (save for the super-rare Spyder). You’ll pay for it, though: the earliest cars still command £50k.
Ones we found
- 2014 Porsche Boxster, 50,000 miles, £27,994
- 2014 Porsche Boxster, 32,000 miles, £30,799
- 2013 Porsche Boxster S, 41,000 miles, £33,957
- 2014 Porsche Boxster S, 35,000 miles, £34,995
Ever-popular crossover will go further than the all-new Clio in standing out from its predecessor
The Captur, which when it launched was one of the first in a now-saturated small SUV segment, has remained at the top of the sales chart in Europe despite its age.
Van den Acker said the new model will be focused on everything: “technology, interior, exterior”.
He continued: “The Captur is in the most dynamic market segment in Europe. The car industry has become so competitive – if your product is not 100% perfect, you are going to have a very tough life.”
The Captur will launch with petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid variants. It is the second, following the Clio, in an onslaught of new hybrids in the car maker’s range. It will use an 89bhp petrol engine mated to a 40bhp electric motor and 9,8kWh battery, which promises an electric-only range of 25 to 30 miles.
The latest spy shots have given a glimpse of the upcoming crossover’s design, which despite the extensive disguise of the test mule, shows how the Captur will evolve.
The familiar curvy front end with an oversized Renault badge is clearly visible, although the high bonnet line takes inspiration from the larger Kadjar SUV. A more steeply rising waistline with a broader shoulderline can be seen behind the camouflage, as can a pinched rear window and sloping roof.
As with the new Clio, Renault will make more extensive changes to the Captur’s interior design than the exterior. A technology upgrade is the brand’s top priority for its B-segment models, and we’re expecting to see a Tesla-style portrait infotainment system adapted from that found in the latest Mégane. A raft of semi-autonomous driver assist features, shared with Nissan’s upcoming ProPilot system, will also ensure it has the high-tech appeal of premium-badged rivals.
Both the Captur and Clio will be based on a modified version of the existing CMF-B platform, shared with the latest Nissan Micra. New 1.0-litre and 1.3-litre turbo petrol engines – the latter co-developed with Mercedes and seen in the A-Class – will be drafted in to improve performance and efficiency, while a 1.5-litre diesel unit will also be offered.
Like many crossovers, sales of Renault’s Captur have been climbing steadily, with more than twice as many sold in 2016 (215,000) than the brand shifted in 2013 (84,000). Only in the past year have sales started to tail off as newer models, such as the Seat Arona, attract buyers. With the new model expected to be on sale by the summer of 2019, it could help the French car maker regain ground in the sector.
F3 race winner Jamie Chadwick has her eye on the W Series prize
Controversial all-female Formula 3 series is an opportunity for talented drivers to develop a career
Is segregation really the best means to rocket a female into Formula 1? There were plenty who said otherwise when W Series (see what they did there?) was launched last autumn. The all-female, one-make single-seater series kicks off next month and it’ll draw attention and contention in equal measure.
Devised by, among others, David Coulthard and Adrian Newey, the series is well intentioned. Unlike stick-and-ball sports, women can compete with men in motorsport, but still there’s a depressing lack of numbers and opportunity. W Series could change that.
A rigorous selection process led to 18 women being hand-picked to compete in the six-round series, which begins at Hockenheim on 3/4 May and ends at Brands Hatch on 10/11 August. Among them are five Brits, including Jamie Chadwick, 20, who last year became the first woman to win a Formula 3 race. Her profile is growing on merit, so surely she has the most to lose.
“You could say that, but I also have the most to gain,” she counters. “When I was looking at my options for this year, the new FIA F3 series wasn’t one of them because it’s €800,000 to €1 million for a season.”
In contrast, W Series entries are fully funded, so drivers don’t pay to race – and there’s big prize money: US$500,000 (£382,000) for the champion out of a total fund of US$1.5 million (£1.1m). Chadwick couldn’t ignore that.
“I’ll be open, initially the idea of racing just women wasn’t of interest,” she says. “It sounded like an awful idea. But the opportunity W Series provides is far greater than anything else. It isn’t all about the money: it’s for top F3 cars on great circuits and with the support you get, I don’t think I could turn it down.”
Coulthard and co have certainly chosen the right car to challenge their drivers. The Tatuus T-318 F3 is state of the art and powered by a 1.8-litre four-cylinder turbo, pushing 270bhp through a six-speed sequential ’box. Serious kit.
“It’s not about segregation, it’s about supporting female talent to the top,” says Chadwick. “Okay, there could have been other ways of doing it but, in terms of getting 18 girls racing in F3 cars, this was the only way.”
Her message to critics is wait and see. If a graduate springboards to a higher level – and perhaps even F1 – W Series will have justified its existence.
The British F3 race winner talks to Autocar about the new all-female single-seater series she’ll compete in this year
Ahead of the first race in the new all-female W Series championship on 4 May, Jamie Chadwick, first female to win the British GT Championship, talks to Autocar about what the series means to her, and why it’s a better idea than its most vocal critics suggest.
You have the highest profile of any driver in W Series, so is it fair to say you have the most to lose?
“You could look at it like that, but I could also have the most to gain. When I was looking at my options for this year, naturally a racing driver’s budget comes into it. I looked at what was possible. It certainly didn’t look like the new [Formula 1-supporting] FIA Formula 3 series was an option because the budget for that was out the window. We’re talking €800,000 to €1 million, and there aren’t many seats.”
So why did W Series appeal?
“I’ll be quite open, initially the idea of racing just women wasn’t necessarily of interest. But the opportunity that the W Series provides is far greater than anything else on the table. It’s a funded series, which makes a huge difference, but it’s also top F3 cars on great circuits and obviously it pays prize money at the end of the year. The support you get as a package, I don’t think I could turn it down when I looked at it like that.
The prize fund – US$500,000 for the champion from a total of $1.5 million – is something rare in motorsport today, isn’t it?
Above and beyond that, the fact that the series is funded was another incentive. I don’t want to keep dragging it back to money, because it isn’t all about that, but naturally in this sport it’s a big percentage of it. The prize fund makes a big difference too, but my incentive to do as well as possible goes beyond that. In terms of F1, the prize fund would only get you so far, whereas it’s the support and profile the W Series can offer that makes the difference.”
What were your initial thoughts when you heard about W Series?
“It is controversial. It sounded like an awful idea and I was the first person to have that response. It wasn’t very well explained to me at all. But I had a lot of people very close to me say you’ve got to take a look at it. This isn’t something to turn your nose up at. So I did some more research and listened to what they had to say. It’s not easy when you are talking about women in sport in general. It’s a fairly sensitive subject. This is not what you think. It’s not about segregation, it’s about supporting female talent to the top. Okay, there could have been other ways of doing it, but in terms of getting 18 girls racing in F3 cars this was the only way they could have done it.”
How about a programme that supports women in already existing series, like the old Racing Steps Foundation or the Red Bull young driver scheme?
“I would be biased and think ‘great, let’s have a Racing Steps Foundation idea to get us to F1’. But that’s not a fair way to look at it at all because, while I’ve had a great opportunity to race as high as F3, there are at least another 60 girls out there who haven’t. And given that opportunity, they could be half a second up the road from me, or even as good as Lewis Hamilton. You couldn’t discover someone like that without something like this. So in terms of discovering new talent at F3 level this is the better alternative to something like Red Bull or Racing Steps.”
So it’s the opportunity that appeals?
“It’s only six races over a short period of time. It is not necessarily the only racing I’m going to do [Chadwick will also race in the Nürburgring 24 Hours with Aston Martin]. My plan is to fill my year as much as possible, but W Series gives me some great security.”
How do you feel about women racing against women?
“All of us want to race against the best and naturally if I want to make it in the sport I have to race against men, as I have throughout my whole career. This year I’m looking at it that I just want to be out racing, and once they’ve got their helmets on it doesn’t matter who they are.”
So say it goes well and you win. What do you do next?
“Retire with the prize money! No, the nice thing is it ends in August, so that gives you an opportunity. Everything is getting earlier in motorsport in terms of doing deals. In an ideal world I’ll have US$500,000 in August and I’ll know how much I need to find to make the next step up.”
You have probably spent your racing career dealing with the ‘women in motorsport’ question. Do you accept that is not going to go away?
“A little bit. I race because I love it. I do it naturally, and the female thing is just a topical conversation. When I started at 11 or 12 years old in karts I was completely oblivious to the fact I was the only female and I never got asked about it because it wasn’t something that anyone really cared about at that stage. I’ve gone through my whole career like that. But now I’m at the point where people are noticing and saying I’m breaking through a few boundaries. But it’s not something I’m consciously aware of. It’s just what I do.”
Women’s sport is contentious at the moment. Does motor racing have a problem?
“Yes, but no – a terrible answer to your question! Yes, in the sense that obviously there aren’t enough women in the sport. There is no reason why it should be so male dominated. But from my experience, I’ve never really felt like it’s been an issue, and I try and relate that to younger girls coming through. It is a great sport to be involved with. You hear some horror stories, but you do in all sports. The sport is open and desperate for a female to succeed and make it to the top. We just need more getting involved. I’ve had a really positive experience.”
Tell us about the car.
“It’s the new F3-spec Tatuus and it’s a new car for me. Everyone loves the old F3 Dallara, but in terms of the way the ladder is at the moment, for learning this is the perfect car. It’s cool for me because although it’s the same chassis it’s a very different car and probably the most powerful I’ve driven. I’m really looking forward to racing it.”
The people involved in W Series, including David Coulthard and Adrian Newey, must be a big part of the attraction.
Massively. That’s what I’m saying when I talk about the support network. You now it’s a serious project when you look at the names involved, behind the scenes as well as out front. I wasn’t sure how the driver assessment in Austria was going to be and went with an open mind, and it was really professionally run. That reinforced my decision to do it.”
What do you say to the critics of this series?
“I don’t want to say anything to them. I want to wait a year, get the first year of W Series done and look at it then. It’s not about now, it’s about getting more women into the sport in the future. It’s going to be game-changing. I can’t see it as damaging. Speak to men as well and they say if there was something like this for them – if you have brown hair you can race, for example! – they would do it. Racing drives never turn down opportunities.”