Three new 5-star 2021 cars to watch

Motoring correspondent Mark Gallivan checks out three new cars hitting Irish roads in 2021 including the 2021 Alpine A110 Legende, the 2021 Kia Sorento and the 2021 BMW 5-Series PHEV.

2021 Alpine A110 Legende

Alpine LeGrande blue sports car.

“The expected Irish price of circa €80,000 is a lot of money for a small sports car. Yet the investment starts to add up once you start to drive it”

Firstly, some background. The Alpine A110 is not yet officially imported into Ireland. It’s a two-seat sports car manufactured by a small Dieppe carmaker in France. It only makes one car in three trim spec variants and you’re unlikely to have seen one on Irish roads.

The press car I tested was the A110 Legende with a 1.8-litre petrol, four-cylinder, mid-engine 16v turbocharged engine with 248bhp and 320Nm of torque pulling power. Price? When it arrives, which is now confirmed, will be around €80,000. Sounds interesting?

It should. Very quickly into the first few corners you gain the suspicion that the A110 is a mid-engined sports car that might, very possibly, offer superior overall engagement than the uncompromising Lotus Elise or the Porsche 718 Cayman. The Alpine’s A110 is emerging as one of the world’s best premium sports car you can shortly buy. How? Disparate, invisible elements conspire to take on Porsche’s finest smaller coupe through a relentless drive keep the car as lightweight as possible.

Inside view of 2021 Alpine A110 Legende.

Weighing a minimum 1,124kg, the French fancy loses nearly 300kg to the porkier Porsche rival. This matters and is felt from the first few hundred yards driving the car. The merest adjustment of the steering wheel left of right sends the car into an immediately different direction. The masterstroke by Alpine is how it never feels as exposed as the tiny Lotus Elise with bare floors and even starker controls which kills the idea of using the Lotus as an everyday car. There are cosseting seats and carpets, digital displays and a properly screwed together dashboard with sturdy levers and buttons.

Founded by Jean Rédélé in 1955 Société des Automobiles Alpine had lofty ambitions culminating in the production of the original Alpine A110 built between 1971 and 1974. Dormant for a long time the pugnacious pursuit has continued apace into 2021. The expected Irish price of circa €80,000 is a lot of money for a small sports car. Yet the investment starts to add up once you start to drive it. Assembled using bonded aluminium bonded extrusions, the level of attention to weight saving is baffling.

Certainly, the Lotus Elise does offer proper track day thrills on the road but access and exit through the narrow door aperture will a be a deal breaker for most of us. Add to that the fact that the Elise is tiny and driving one everyday would jangle the nerves. The Porsche 718 Cayman may have the chassis and name but against the Alpine it loses that last degree of playfulness in the steering and excitable fun that pours from the A110. There are three different driving modes in the car. I kept it in Sport during my test. But Normal and Track are also available. Alpine quotes 6.4 l/100km (WLTP) or 44 mpg which means you can still have the time of your life driving the car without big fuel bills.

The four-cylinder engine pops with enthusiastic zest and develops a guttural growl especially when wrung through the seven-speed automatic DCT wet clutch gearbox. Sadly, no manual gearbox option is available. The 718 Cayman’s suspension is that bit firmer to drive and misses the Alpine’s softer damping that’s unusual in a hardcore sports car. Quite how Alpine’s engineers pulled this alchemy is a wonder.

Being subjectively critical, the Alpine is a happier car to drive than the 718 Cayman. All Porsches are great driving tools engendering respect and, in many cases, a perplexing devotion. They are serious cars for very serious drivers. The Alpine A110? It just wants to have fun, gently elbow you in the side, pull you in and cheer you up. It is one of the most likeable, and by default, desirable sports cars I have driven in a long time.

To blindside a Porsche for deft, fleet-of-foot handling after years in the wilderness is an exceedingly good result. If you have the money to spend, the Alpine A110 is a must-own car. Rating? I’m giving it 5 Stars and then some.

You’ll like: Featherlight responses, brimming with personality, gutsy four-cylinder engine, driving position, rarity, au courant image.

You’ll grumble: €80,000 estimated price.

2021 Kia Sorento

Blue 2021 Kia Sorento.

“The amount of buttons, screens and onboard technology with a vast array of convenient and safety features offers top value for the money”

It’s infrequent that you’ll find me describing a large seven-seat SUV as a standout in any mainstream class. Yet the 2021 Kia Sorento has just about improved itself sufficiently to belly up to this table of New 2021 Stars.

Priced from €52,440 for the Sorento 2.2 diesel-engined K3 spec two-wheel-drive (FWD) with 200hp/440Nm torque, the range spans four variants up to the flagship Sorento PHEV (4×4 drive) €55,000 with a petrol/lithium-ion battery hybrid . Business buyers can choose a five-seat commercial Sorento 2.2 diesel at €44,730.

The new SUV used a new platform offering increased wheelbase and this is more obvious when sitting inside the new Sorento. Climb up and in the effort Kia made to make the low fifties priced SUV look premium is successful once you peer and poke around. The amount of buttons, screens and onboard technology with a vast array of convenient and safety features offers top value for the money. The main binnacle uses a digital screen and changes the dial graphics depending on which driving mode you use.

One clever touch is the blind spot indicator that turns the circular speedometer or rev counter (depending if you indicate left to right) into a camera view of the lower right or left side of the car. It’s a convenient idea if you’re parking and want to avoid kerbing the wheels while parking adjacent to a footpath. The main central touchscreen is vast and incorporates rotary knobs and levers for volume and climate controls. Take note Tesla, with your self-conscious portrait screen that incorporates all major and minor functions and distracts when driving – this is how it should be done. On my top-spec test car, the gearbox was accessed by a rotary knob that replaces the clunky gear lever.

The plug-in hybrid version will run on electric power up to approximately 35 miles/56 kilometers from the 13.8kWh battery. During the test, the real world that will drop to 26/28 miles depending on traffic and how you drive. Kia didn’t include an estimated 0-100km time but I managed to get close post 8.3 seconds. It’s brisk performance for a tall seven-seat SUV weighing upwards of two tonnes.

The Sorento is a big SUV and comfort has taken precedence and it was surprisingly easy to place on the narrowest road despite its 1,900mm width and imposing 4,811 length. This is helped by Kia’s decision to fit the Sorento with steering that offers progressive weighting, bypassing the default mistake of large SUV manufacturers by equipping their tall vehicles with lifeless tillers. The self-levelling suspension does have its work cut out keeping this 1,700mm tall SUV from leaning hard into corners and fares better than Land Rover Discovery.

Good marks for Kia delivering a cultured PHEV that never jolts when transferring from electric mode back to petrol engine power and the transaction was smooth on the test. I never carried more than two people in the Sorento but after I tried the third row of seats it is possible to squeeze seven adults inside. The seconds row seats split remotely with 60:40 split and the rear two seats with 50:50 flat folding on the third road. On the test I needed to dispose of large items at the recycling centre. The 1,988 litres virtually swallowed everything I had – it’s an enormous carrying space that increases in the non-hybrid diesel with 2,011 litres.

But think of the Kia Sorento as a five adult and two children SUV and it does exceptionally well. Everybody sits tall in the Sorento and this makes it look like great value from €52,440 when all the amount of safety tech that’s included as standard. In the value to ability equation with excellent carrying capacity the 2021 Kia Sorento surpasses itself as a seven-seater SUV. Add in Kia’s seven-year or 150,000-mile warranty and this all-new Kia SUV seals it as a recommended buy. The 2021 Kia Sorento earns itself 5 stars.

You’ll like: Vast improvement for 2021, host of useful safety equipment, ride’s composure, immensely practical, premium cabin, high driving position, low price walk from cheapest to priciest Sorento.

You’ll grumble: PHEV electric range disappointing. Sheer size of vehicle when parking.

2021 BMW 5-Series 530e M Sport PHEV

Interior of 2021 BMW 5-series hybrid.

“Charging the 530e PHEV is easy and BMW says you can charge to 100pc in three and a half hours using a standard Type 2 cable or a domestic three-pin charger”

BMW knows the action is no longer in the saloon car segment. The clever money is in producing SUVs, crossovers and electrification with new variants of familiar model names coming down the line, so much so that within three years 13 new fully electric BMW cars will be on sale across the entire brand’s segments.

This charge is being fuelled by chair of the Board Olivier Zipse and underplayed by Frank Weber that heads development and Dirk Hacker of engineering. The challenge is immense simply because today BMW has limited fully-electric (BEV) cars on sale in Ireland –like the i3 and iX3. For BMW, electrified cars are set to grow year on year by 20 per cent between 2025 and 2030. The BMW you know today will be familiar yet unrecognisable in five years.

My test car was the BMW 530e M Sport PHEV (plug-in-hybrid) at €66,997 and including options came to €84,631. Some of those options are ludicrously expensive and, objectively, unnecessary additions. The €3,537 Comfort Pack (heated steering wheel, power book lid close etc) and €795 for the fingerprint loving Piano Black console inlays come to mind. A recommendation? Rein in the options at the dealership but tick the €1,418 Technology and €4,246 M Sport Pro Pack options and you’re well on your way to configure your ultimate 530e PHEV.

2021 BMW 50 series hybrid.

So, what of this facelifted 5 Series PHEV with a 2.0 litre four-cylinder petrol/electric battery offering approximately 30 miles of electric-only driving (expect closer to 25 miles), a 0-100km of 5.9 seconds and 292hp/420Nm torque? Is it convincing enough to recommend buyers to decamp from the diesel-engined 530 diesel or the mainstay 520 diesel? BMW claims a 40g/km CO2 emissions a 1.7 l/100km (138 mpg) combined fuel economy if driven gently on electrified power all the time. In reality, you won’t get near that, so expect nearer 6.l/100km or around 40mpg. 

Charging the 530e PHEV is easy and BMW says you can charge to 100pc in three and a half hours using a standard Type 2 cable or a domestic three-pin charger. You can monitor the charging progress using the BMW app when shopping or charging up at work. Cleverly, BMW offers drivers the possibility of storing a portion of the generated battery charge. Even driving on petrol power alone the 2.0 litre engine is creamy smooth and less peaky than the equivalent PHEV in the Mercedes E-Class. The 530e’s engine is a more elasticised unit than the Audi A6 and felt less tightly wound up using an 8-speed automatic gearbox that always proved judder-free and crisply engaged between gears.

The 530e’s real supremacy over the Mercedes E-Class 300e is how better it is to drive yet delivers an equal measure of refinement and separation from the outside world. But the Mercedes takes the lead in premium status appeal. Somehow buyer perception places Mercedes as a higher status automobile than a BMW.

Apart from PHEV convenience the 5 Series Hybrid it is business as usual 5 Series and remains exceptionally rewarding to drive. As BMW’s plans to move more and more toward electrification the 5 Series and especially this 530e could be viewed in the rear-view mirror as a pinnacle off-ramp of the old days in years to come. For us, at this moment, it’s the best PHEV executive saloon for combining hybrid petrol power in a supremely well-developed package. Buy one with confidence; just be mindful of the unnecessary and expensive options. There’s now a 5 PHEV that beats the diesel version. Things have indeed moved on.

You’ll like: Best premium executive saloon on sale. Surpasses Merc E-Class PHEV for sheer refinement, betters Audi A6 in ride comfort, sensational steering and gearbox, hybrid tech never intrusive. Enters the “if you could one just one car” Hall of Fame.

You’ll grumble: Nothing other than the price.

Written by Mark Gallivan

Published: 17 June 2021