TVR render

TVR to build new sports cars in South Wales

TVR renderThe reborn TVR brand has confirmed it is building a brand new car plant in the Ebbw Vale Enterprise Zone in South Wales as part of a five-year, £30 million investment plan.

Both TVR’s backers and the Welsh Government will invest in the new manufacturing facility, the location of which will be confirmed in the next few weeks.

In deciding to choose Wales, TVR chairman Lee Edgar said it was a “fantastic opportunity both for TVR and the Welsh Government.

“South Wales is becoming a major hub for automotive and motorsport technology and development and the area is a serious opportunity for business development and job creation.”

The decision will be officially announced this morning by the First Minister of Wales, the Rt. Hon Carwyn Jones, after the contract was signed on 18 March. He said it was “yet another fantastic high profile investment for Wales and a great boost for our automotive sector.

“TVR is another iconic and much loved, world-class brand that still commands a strong and loyal international following. I am delighted the next generation of TVRs will proudly bear the label Made in Wales.”

The TVR news follows Aston Martin’s decision to locate its new crossover SUV factory at St. Athan in South Wales, 15 miles west of Cardiff.

The first Minister said it “sends out a strong, clear message that Wales is the location of choice for advanced manufacturing.

“It also illustrates that our pro-business approach is delivering results, attracting significant investment and creating high quality jobs and it is another huge boost for Wales, for our automotive sector and for our skilled workforce.”

The new TVR project was announced in early 2015 and more than 350 orders have since been taken: demand is so high (the order book is full to the end of 2018), the firm had to open its waiting list for the new car ahead of time, despite buyers having to place £5,000 deposits to secure a place.

The chassis and body is being designed by Gordon Murray and it will be the first production car to use his new iStream assembly process. Power will be ample: Cosworth is tuning a V8 engine specifically for TVR.

What will it be called? That’s still to be confirmed; currently, it has the codename T37.

History of the New York International Auto Show: in pictures

Toyota at NYIAS 2018The New York International Auto Show (NYIAS) is the oldest auto show in North America, with the first event taking place at Madison Square Garden in 1900. A total of 69 exhibitors were in attendance, with approximately 160 complete vehicles on display.

This year, Nissan is celebrating 50 years of performance at NYIAS with what it is calling a “Nissan Dream Garage”. While we wait for the dream to become reality, join us as we take a brief look at the history of North America’s first automotive exhibition.

More from NYIAS:

Staged at New York’s Javits Center

History NYIAS

Along with Madison Square Garden, early events were held at the Grand Central Palace. In 1956, the NYIAS moved to the New York Coliseum, described by mayor Robert Wagner as “one of the wonders of the modern world.” It remained at the 323,000-square-foot Coliseum until 1987, when it arrived at its present home: the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.

NYIAS: the early years

History NYIAS

At the first New York Auto Show in 1900 (the International part of the name didn’t arrive until 1956) the vehicles on display ranged from $280 – nearly six months’ salary at the average annual wage of $589 – up to $4,000. New York’s show followed in the footsteps of the world’s oldest automotive exhibition: the 1898 Paris Auto Show. At the turn of the century, there were fewer than 8,000 cars in the U.S., but a nation’s love affair with the automobile was beginning to blossom.

Evolved from bicycle shows

Auto shows evolved from bicycle shows, which were popular in the late 19th century. Indeed, the New York City cycle show of 1899 was the first in North America to use automobile in its title. It’s full name was the Fourth Annual Cycle and Automobile Exhibition. Development of the car was still in its infancy, as can be seen from this 1901 Renault.

First show held at Madison Square Garden

On show at the first New York Auto Show – held at Madison Square Garden were seven electric vehicles, two petrol-powered vehicles and a gasoline tricycle. This image shows an Australian bicycle from the period.

Curved Dash Oldsmobile

Making its debut at the 1901 New York Auto Show was the Curved Dash Oldsmobile, the first mass-produced car. Around 425 units were built during the first year, extending to 19,000 by the time it went out of production in 1907. It was the best-selling vehicle in America.

Longest drive in the US

The first Curved Dash Oldsmobile was driven to the New York Auto Show by Roy D. Chaplin, who started his journey in Detroit. At the time, this was the longest journey ever completed by a car in the USA.

Toledo Model A

Another car to launch at the 1901 New York Auto Show was the Toledo Model A, which is widely considered to be one of the best American-built steam cars. The 6.5hp twin-cylinder vehicle could trace its roots back to a bicycle, but the writing was already on the wall for steam-powered cars. Gasoline was taking over.

Cadillac Model A

In 1903, the New York Auto Show played host to the birth of one of America’s most famous automotive brands: Cadillac. The Model A was Cadillac’s first car and this image shows a car from 1904.

The first REO

The first car produced by the REO Motor Car Company made its debut at the 1905 New York Auto Show. The REO was a 16hp two-cylinder car with a detachable tonneau. Much later, REO would build the Speed Wagon, which of course inspired the name of the rock group, REO Speedwagon.

1906 Ford Model N

We often read about the Model T, but there was life at Ford before the Tin Lizzy. The Ford Model N was unveiled at the 1906 New York Auto Show and was the realisation of Henry Ford’s dream of making an affordable car. Nobody could quite believe that Ford could sell the Model N for $500 and still make a profit.

First Chevrolet to wear the ‘bowtie’

In 1913, Chevrolet co-founder William C. Durant introduced the signature Chevy bowtie on the 1914 H-2 Royal Mail and the H-4 Baby Grand, centered at the front of both models. For most people, the 1914 New York Auto Show was the first chance to see this famous badge.

Chevrolet Series M Copper-Cooled

Not all automobiles go on to become greats. The Chevrolet Series M Copper-Cooled car was unveiled at the 1923 New York Auto Show and featured a unique non-radiator grille. According to Automobile Quarterly, “the car was introduced to an intrigued but dubious public,” but a lack of testing meant they were destined for disaster. All but two of the 759 air-cooled engines built were recalled and scrapped.

Chrysler born at the 1924 New York Auto Show

Another famous American brand to make its debut at the New York Auto Show was Chrysler. There are many stories surrounding the marque’s NY debut, including Chrysler being banned from the show because its automobiles were not available for purchase. But while the company rented space at the Commodore Hotel, Chrysler also displayed three models of the Chrysler Six – or B-70 – in the main exhibition hall.

Duesenberg – back for the 1928 New York Auto Show

The Duesenberg name was revived for the 1928 New York Auto Show and the first car to be shown was the Model J. It was designed to go head-to-head with the most luxurious cars of the era, such as those made by Rolls-Royce and Mercedes-Benz. Sadly, this was just before the Great Depression and the Model J sold nowhere near as many as had been forecast.

Cadillac V-16

The Cadillac V-16 – or Cadillac Sixteen – was one of the most luxurious cars in the firm’s history. It made its debut at the 1930 New York Auto Show and production would last right through the 1930s. Each one was custom-built to order.

Pierce-Arrow Silver Arrow

By 1933, America was in the grip of the Great Depression and the luxury car brands were struggling for survival. Pierce-Arrow needed a showstopper for the 1933 New York Auto Show, so it turned to Phil Wright who created this masterpiece – the Silver Arrow. As the slogan said, “it gives you in 1933 the car of 1940.”

Chrysler Thunderbolt

The famous Chrysler Thunderbolt made its debut at the 1940 New York Auto Show. This was the era of flamboyant concept cars and the Art Deco-inspired Thunderbolt – with its retractable hardtop – was no different.

Jaguar XK120

Shortly after being unveiled at the 1948 London Motor Show, the Jaguar XK120 made its North American debut at the New York Auto Show. It overshadowed many of the exhibits on display and – much like it was in London – the XK120 was a sensation in New York.

Ferrari 250 Europa Coupe

It’s arguably one of the most beautiful cars ever to wear a Ferrari badge and it’s almost certainly one of the loveliest cars ever to appear at the New York Auto Show. This unique 1954 New York Auto Show Ferrari 250 Europa Coupe featured exclusive Michelotti-designed Vignale coachwork.

Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing

In a break from tradition, Mercedes-Benz chose to launch its sublime 300SL Gullwing, not in Europe, but at the 1954 New York Auto Show. It was US distributor, Max Hoffman, who proposed an American unveiling. The rest, as they say, is history.

1956: a year of change

1956 saw a series of changes for the New York Auto Show. International was added to the name, reflecting the increasing popularity of European cars (photo shows the 1956 Geneva Motor Show). The New York show moved to the Coliseum.

Toyota and Datsun arrive

Toyota was the first Japanese carmaker to arrive in the US. In 1959, Toyota and Datsun made their New York International Auto Show debut. As history tells us, Japanese cars would go on to become incredibly popular in the U.S., causing many issues for the homegrown brands.

Jaguar E-Type rocks the New York Auto Show

In 1961, the Jaguar E-Type made its North American debut at the New York International Auto Show. It attracted record-breaking crowds, with 47,000 people squeezing on to the Jaguar stand on day one alone. Like it did at the Geneva Motor Show, the E-Type – or XK-E, as it was known in the U.S. – completely stole the show.

E-Type is joined by a Playboy model

A gold Jaguar E-Type coupe was joined on a raised turntable by Playboy model, Marilyn Hanold, who was dressed in a shimmering gown, long white gloves and a floor-length silk scarf. As can be seen from the image above, women and the E-Type would go hand-in-hand for Jaguar.

Gold-painted MGA

MG celebrated the 100,000th MGA by displayed a gold-painted version of an MGA 1600 MkII Roadster at the 1962 New York International Auto Show. It was transported to the show on the RMS Queen Mary.

Studebaker Avanti

The Studebaker Avanti was one of the most daring and radical cars ever to come out of America. Boasting cutting edge safety features, a supercharged V8 engine and a beautifully elegant body, it was the belle of the 1962 New York Auto Show. Ian Fleming, of James Bond fame, ordered a black Avanti and shipped it to countries he was visiting.

Goldfinger’s Aston Martin DB5

And speaking of James Bond, the famous Aston Martin DB5 that featured in Goldfinger was on display at the 1965 New York International Auto Show.

New York gives birth to the MPV

At the 1984 New York International Auto Show, Chrysler showcased its new range of minivans – marketed under the Dodge brand – thus giving birth to what we now refer to as the MPV.

700 cars at the 1984 show

In fact, 1984 was a bumper year for the New York International Auto Show, with no fewer than 700 cars on display. The likes of the Honda CRX, Nissan 300 ZX, Ford Mustang SVO and Pontiac Fiero all made their debut at the show.

The move to the Javits Center

In 1987, the New York International Auto Show moved to its current address at the Javits Center. Over the years, the New York show has had its fair share of world debuts, not least because it’s the final event of the show season and showcases cars that weren’t quite ready before.

Mercedes-Benz M-Class

Mercedes-Benz had one eye on the American market when it launched the ML – or M-Class –  in 1997. One half of production was destined for the American market and by the time the last of the first generation cars was built in 2004, 650,000 units had rolled off the production line.

Disabilities and lifestyle products

The 1997 New York International Auto Show featured a display of disability vehicles for the first time, whilst in 1998 we witnessed the changing face of the automotive industry when Mercedes-Benz and BMW showcased lifestyle products for the first time.

1999 Car of the Century exhibition

in 1999, the New York International Auto Show said goodbye to the last millennium with a Car of the Century exhibition. The display featured 28 cars, ranging from an 1886 Three-Wheel Benz Replica through to a 1999 Volkswagen Beetle.

Scion launches in the US

At the 2002 New York International Auto Show, Toyota launched its new Scion brand by unveiling two cars: the bbX and ccX. The aim was to appeal to a new group of motorists who weren’t interested in buying a Toyota.

Second generation Toyota Prius

The 2003 New York international Auto Show heralded the arrival of the “greenest production car on earth”, otherwise known as the second generation Toyota Prius. The green car sector has come a long way since then, but the Prius remains as relevant as ever.

Chrysler 300C Concept

Another car that’s still going strong today is the Chrysler 300C. Back in 2003, Chrysler launched the 300C concept in New York, a car inspired by the C-300 of 1955.

The most lacklustre year in recent memory

According to the New York Times, 2005 wasn’t a good year for the car industry. It called it “one of the most lacklustre years in recent memory”, but did admit the Shelby Cobra GT500 managed to brighten up an otherwise lukewarm New York show.

Suzuki Kizashi: 2009

We’ll now take you on a whistle stop tour of some other cars to make their debut at the New York International Auto Show, starting with this, the Suzuki Kizashi, which first appeared at the 2009 show.

BMW X6M: 2009

The 2009 show also heralded the arrival of the BMW X6M…

Land Rover Discovery 4: 2009

Along with the Land Rover Discovery 4 (LR4)…

Mitsubishi i-MiEV: 2009

And the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, the first in a wave of new electric cars that would start to appear over the coming years.

Terrafugia Transition: 2012

One of the more unusual cars to make its debut at the New York International Auto Show was the Terrafugia Transition: a street-legal airliner that converts between flying and driving models in under a minute.

Nissan NV200 Taxi: 2012

The 2012 show also saw the unveiling of the Nissan NV200 Taxi, resplendent in its NYC yellow paintwork. Heralded as “New York City’s Taxi of Tomorrow”, the NV200 was said to be designed using insight from NY cabbies.

Dodge SRT Viper: 2012

Billed as “America’s most important performance car of the decade”, the Dodge SRT Viper was unveiled at the 2012 New York International Auto Show, surrounded in a cloud of tire smoke and the sound of an 8.4-liter V10 engine. The GTS (shown here) followed a year later.

Subaru WRX Concept: 2012

Subaru hinted at the arrival of the all-new WRX STI when it launched the WRX Concept at the 2013 New York International Auto Show. Looking back, it remains a wondrous thing.

Jeep Cherokee: 2013

Jeep shocked the whole of America when it revealed the new face of the Cherokee in 2013. Six years on, we’re still coming to terms with the styling, but the facelifted version – unveiled at the 2018 Detroit Auto Show – is easier on the eye.

Jaguar XJR and XKR-S GT: 2013

Many years had passed since Jaguar stole the show with the XK120 and E-Type. Times change, so Jaguar went down the POWER route at the 2013 show, showcasing the 550hp XJR and 550hp XKR-S GT.

Nissan Murano: 2014

The American-built Nissan Murano was launched at the 2014 New York International Auto Show. It sits between the Rogue and Pathfinder in the Nissan SUV range, with prices from $30,800.

Land Rover Discovery Vision Concept: 2014

Also unveiled at the 2014 show was the Land Rover Discovery Vision Concept, a car that previewed the all-new Land Rover Discovery Sport.

Jaguar XF: 2015

Officially, the Jaguar XF made its public debut a week before the 2015 New York Auto Show when it was unveiled as part of a high-wire publicity stunt over the River Thames in London. It hit the floor – not literally – at the Javits Centre.

McLaren 570S: 2015

No trapeze artists or high-wires were required for the unveiling of the McLaren 570S. Six months after it was unveiled in New York we bagged a first drive. Our verdict: it drives wonderfully well and is heroically fast, but it’s the additional usability that will make the 570S.

Lincoln Continental Concept: 2015

Did the Lincoln Continental Concept upstage the 570S at the 2015 New York Auto Show? Sorry, McLaren, but we think so. Well, this is an American auto show. The best news of all: the production version is every bit as gorgeous and imposing as the concept.

Mazda Miata RF: 2016

Moving on to 2016 and it was the turn of Mazda to wow the crowds. The RF debuted a new retractable roof for the popular Miata and is now on sale with prices starting from $32,345.

Audi R8 Spyder V10: 2016

Lesson number one in how to make your new car stand out at an international auto show: paint it yellow. The Audi R8 Spyder V10 made a big impression in New York, and not just because it was the color of the sun.

Genesis New York Concept: 2016

The Genesis New York Concept previewed the future Genesis design direction and was powered by a 245-horsepower hybrid powertrain. As concepts go, it was OK. If it was really good, they’d have named it twice. That said, the Genesis New York, New York doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

Dodge Challenger SRT Demon: 2017

If cars had egos, the Dodge Challenger SRT Demon would have one the size of the Javits Center. The 840-horsepower, 770lb ft New York Auto Show star was banned by the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) for being too fast for the drag strip, giving it instant notoriety. It was the undoubted star of the 2017 show.

Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk: 2017

They went power mad at FCA, with the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk taking a bow with what is essentially a Dodge Hellcat in an SUV suit. Soccer moms in a hurry rejoiced because this superfast SUV packed a 6.2-liter supercharged engine developing 707-horsepower and 645lb ft of torque: enough to take it from home to the school gate in 3.5 seconds.

Lincoln Navigator: 2017

Lincoln promised to elevate “family travel to first class” with new Navigator, which was rather apt given that this thing is the size of something you might climb aboard to take a transatlantic flight. It has everything you’d expect from a Navigator, including six USB ports, wireless charging, standard wifi, ‘Perfect Position’ seats and a massage function. So it’s a bit like a first-class departure lounge, too.

Range Rover Velar: 2017

The Range Rover Velar made its debut ahead of the New York Auto Show, appearing alongside new brand ambassador, Ellie Goulding, at Hearst Plaza. “I have always been a Range Rover fan,” said the pop star. “I have always been an Ellie Goulding fan,” said Gerry McGovern, Land Rover’s chief design officer. Probably.

Toyota RAV4: 2018

Arguably the most important new car at the 2018 show, certainly in terms of sales, was the 2019 Toyota RAV4. Gone was the conservative styling of the previous model, with Toyota creating a bold and radical new look for its popular SUV.

New York International Auto Show 2019

The 2019 New York International Auto Show will throw open its doors on 17 April, with debuts including a new Hyundai Sonata, Lincoln Corsair compact SUV, Toyota Yaris and Mercedes-AMG A 35 sedan. We’ll be there to bring you all the latest reveals and the hottest concepts.

Government urged to save cars traded in under scrappage scheme

Government urged to save cars traded in under scrappage scheme

Government urged to save cars traded in under scrappage scheme

Nearly 4,000 old cars were traded in under the 2009 scrappage scheme – but pictures have emerged showing that thousands of classics are still waiting to face the crusher.

The revelation has caused outrage amongst classic car enthusiasts, who are petitioning to the Government to let them save the rusting relics – some of which are increasingly rare and desirable.

Jake Dormer, the classic car fan who set up the petition, said: “Many of the vehicles bought under the scrappage scheme are still sat on unused airfields abandoned. In this state they are of no use to anyone. I propose that the cars are auctioned off to the public, or at least used for parts.”

The £300m scheme gave people £2,000 towards a new car if they traded in their old ‘banger’ – as long as it was more than 10 years old and they’d owned it for more than 12 months.

The rules stated that all cars part-exchanged through the scheme, which was introduced under a Labour government, had to be scrapped – but people are now calling for that to be overturned by today’s Conservative government.

The pictures, taken at Thurleigh Airfield in Bedfordshire, show rows of classic Minis, a desirable Peugeot 205 GTi and a rare Toyota Sera.

Dormer points out that the current low price of scrap metal makes it ‘pointless’ wasting iconic classic cars.

He added: “Many of these cars are a huge part of British motoring history. Cars such as Minis, Triumphs, Rovers and Jaguars amongst many others are iconic cars and shouldn’t be scrapped for a pittance. I believe if we acquire enough support we may be able to make a difference.”

Mercedes-Benz W123: Retro Road Test

Mercedes-Benz W123: Retro Road Test

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Drive a Mercedes-Benz W123 (officially the W 123) and you’ll never look at cars the same way again. Own one and you’ll never look back. In creating the W123, Mercedes-Benz left nothing to chance, delivering a worthy successor to the Strich Acht (Stroke Eight) that was every inch the S-Class for the family man. We added a very gold 1982 230E auto to the fleet in September 2015. Here are our initial thoughts.

Mercedes-Benz W123: what are its rivals?

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It would be too much to suggest the Mercedes-Benz W123 is a car without equal, but to some it’s the high water mark in the German company’s long and illustrious history. As the precursor to the E-Class, the W123’s arch rival would have been the BMW 5 Series, initially in E12 guise, but latterly as the E28. The BMW was certainly the sportier of the two, but the Mercedes-Benz took quality to new heights.

Other rivals would have included the Audi 200, Citroen CX, Peugeot 504, Ford Granada, Vauxhall Carlton and Volvo 244, but the W123 truly was in a league of its own. The project started way back in 1968 and Mercedes-Benz took a no expense spared approach, with the sole aim of building the world’s finest saloon car. By the time it was launched in January 1976, the W123 had been subjected to eight years of rigorous testing, with crash safety at the heart of its development. Mercedes-Benz left nothing to chance.

Mercedes-Benz W123: what engine does it use?

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At launch, the W123 was powered by a range of powerplants carried over from the ‘Stroke Eight’, but a new 129hp 2.5-litre six-cylinder (M 123) unit was developed for the premiere. Other engines included the 94hp 200 (2.0-litre), 109hp 230 (2.3-litre) and 280/280E, offering 156hp and 177hp respectively. Note, the E stands for einspritzung, which is German for injection.

The diesel range included the 55hp 200D, 60hp 220D and 65hp 240D, while the flagship derv was undoubtedly the five-cylinder 300D, which produced 80hp. The engine range was later revamped to include a fuel-injected 230E (as tested here) and – for some markets – a 125hp 300D Turbodiesel.

Mercedes-Benz W123: what’s it like to drive?

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You can tell by the power outputs that the W123 is never going to offer autobahn-storming levels of performance, although the six-cylinder 280 models are hardly lethargic. The four-cylinder diesels and 2.0-litre petrol engines can feel sluggish, especially when trying to keep up with today’s traffic, but the 2.3-litre engine offers the best compromise of performance and economy.

Time seems to slow down when you’re driving, with everything feeling more relaxed and composed. It feels big, with a huge, clutter-free steering wheel giving the impression that you’re a captain steering a land yacht. Acceleration would be best described as leisurely and you’ll be able to recite a few lines of poetry while waiting for the four-speed automatic transmission to engage the next gear. But it all adds to the appeal. Sit back and enjoy life in a W123.

It’s the ride comfort that really stands out. Today, you’d probably need to spec AIRMATIC air suspension to get anywhere close to the softness and suppleness of the W123, which seems to float over rough surfaces, smoothing things out with grace and aplomb. It’s quite literally from a different era, when steel wheels and tyres with large sidewalls ruled the roads.

Mercedes-Benz W123: reliability and running costs

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These things were built to last and intergalactic miles are not uncommon in a W123. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t approach ownership with your eyes wide open, as these cars are up to 40 years old and rust could be a big problem. That said, a well-maintained example should provide effortless reliability, with potential problems ironed out by a strong network of independent specialists.

Since buying ours in September 2015, we’ve averaged 27.7mpg, which is perfectly adequate for a large, petrol-engined car of the era. We’ve read reports that 30 to 35mpg is possible on a long run, but if economy is you’re thing, you’ll be better off with the diesel version. Or buying a more modern car. As for the six-cylinder engines, if you break into the low 20s, you’ll be doing well.

Mercedes-Benz W123: could I drive it every day?

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Absolutely. Two years ahead of its launch, Mercedes-Benz sent a number of W123s around the world for testing, including faraway places such as South America and Africa. To this day, you’ll find them enjoying active service as cheap-to-maintain runabouts and taxis in many corners of the globe. A couple of years ago, it was estimated that some 55,000 W123s could be found operating as taxis in Morocco.

It’s a surprisingly easy car to drive, with superb all-round visibility and a feeling of lightness, which is unexpected for a vehicle of this type and era. Our test car weighs a relatively featherlight 1,360kg, which is a shade lighter than a new Mercedes-Benz A-Class. Don’t expect infotainment screens, iPod connectivity and head-up displays. Do expect a comfortable and relaxed drive to work.

You’re also spoilt for choice when it comes to the choice of bodystyle. At launch, the W123 was available as a saloon and coupe (CE), but in 1977, Mercedes-Benz launched its first estate car, known as the T, for Touring and Transport. The internal designation was S123, with the S standing for Stationswagen. Today, the T is the most sought-after model, not least because it can provide reliable everyday transport for growing families.

Mercedes-Benz W123: how much should I pay?

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In common with over cars on the cusp of classic status, prices vary depending on condition, mileage and history. According to the latest Practical Classics price guide, you should expect to pay between £600 and £4,500 for a 200/230, but slightly more for a 250/280. The CE (coupe) models, which are rarer than their four-door cousins, command a higher premium.

You’ll spend even more for a low mileage estate car, which are in demand as useable, everyday classics. We’ve noticed an increase in prices, even over the past few months, so if you see a good one for what looks like a bargain price, it could be time to investigate. Look after a W123 and you’re unlikely to lose any money. Improve and enhance a W123 and you may even make a small profit. In the meantime, simply enjoy what is a useable and quite delightful everyday classic.

Mercedes-Benz W123: what should I look out for?

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Although the W123 offered better rust protection than its predecessor, corrosion still has the capacity to kill a mechanically-sound car. Standard checks apply, such a rot around the sills, jacking points and wheel arches, but there are a number of notorious trouble spots to look out for. These include the front wings, battery tray, inner sills and sunroof opening. Check beneath the underseal, which can hide a multitude of sins.

If you intend to use your W123 everyday, the 2.3-litre engine makes a great deal of sense, offering performance close to that of the six-cylinder units, but with the benefit of improved fuel economy and reduced costs should things go wrong. It’s still possible to buy new parts from Mercedes-Benz, but a specialist such as Mark Cosovich of W123 World would be a good first port of call for support and advice.

Mercedes-Benz W123: should I buy one?

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If you’re thinking of buying one, don’t hesitate. If, on the other hand, you’ve never previously considered a W123 and fancy a future classic you can drive everyday, put one on your shortlist. It might not be the most expensive, the cheapest, the quickest or the most beautiful car we’ve ever bought, but it’s arguably the best. Spend some quality time with the W123 and evidence of the craftsmanship will shine through.

Few cars offer such a supreme blend of charm and classlessness. Be warned: once you’ve own a W123, all other cars might seem rather ordinary.

Mercedes-Benz W123: pub fact

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Production of the W123 saloon came to an end in November 1985, but the station wagon lived on until January 1986. A total of 2.7 million were built, of which 2,389,140 were saloons, 199,517 were station wagons and 99,884 were coupes, with the remainder used for special-purpose bodies, such as ambulances

Around 1,080,000 were exported overseas, with the 240D the most successful model. The 230E, on the other hand, was the most popular petrol-engined W123.

Hyundai Genesis

Genesis New York Concept headed to NYIAS 2016

Hyundai GenesisHyundai is to give 2016 New York Auto Show visitors an insight into the design direction of its new premium brand, Genesis, with the launch of a special ‘New York Concept’.

Described as a four-door sports sedan, there’s speculation the concept car could preview a Genesis compact executive rival to cars such as the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

The teaser issued today shows a crisp, sporty-looking machine with tight lines and a seemingly more rakish profile than today’s Hyundai Genesis and more recent Genesis G90 models. The shutline and profiling of the bonnet is interesting and sculptural front end gives it status: we shall see with interest at New York.

In the meantime, watch the teaser video to see what else you can spot.

Officially, this is a styling preview that showcases the Genesis interpretation of ‘refined design’. Manfred Fitzgerald, head of Genesis brand, said: “The New York Concept is a progressive concept car that showcases the design quality of the brand.

“With its expressive volumes and refined design, the New York Concept truly embodies the athletic elegance, which characterises Genesis products.”

Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer 1.6T 200hp: Two-Minute Road Test

Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer 1.6T 200 (2016) road test review

Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer 1.6T 200hp: Two-Minute Road Test

This is what happens when you combine the Astra that photocopier salesmen have been waiting for (the Sports Tourer – or estate, to you and me), with the most un-company-car-friendly engine in its line-up: the range-topping 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol.

What are its rivals?

The Astra Sports Tourer is the third best-selling estate in the UK. Vauxhall is hoping that the latest model could put up a greater fight against the more popular Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf.

Which engine does it use?

So that 1.6-litre turbo we mentioned? It combines 220lb ft of torque with an almost-hot 200hp to create a 0-60mph time of 7.2 seconds, plus a top speed of 146mph. Yes, in an Astra estate with no in-your-face sporting pretensions.

Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer 1.6T 200hp: Two-Minute Road Test

What’s it like to drive?

We put the Astra Sports Tourer through the most gruelling of real-life photocopier salesman tests – by taking it for a spin along the infamous Route Napoleon in southern France. With a weight saving of up to 190kg over its predecessor (depending on spec), the new Astra Sports Tourer is a surprisingly enjoyable car to drive. It’s almost as satisfying to punt along as a Focus – while also offering a smooth, refined drive that’ll please those who spend all day pounding UK motorways.

Fuel economy and running costs

Although the 1.6-litre 200hp petrol engine’s claimed 45.6mpg and 142g/km CO2 actually sound reasonable for a car of this performance, Vauxhall says that 80% of the Astra Sport Tourer’s buyers will be company car drivers. If that’s you, you’d be better off looking at the 1.6-litre BiTurbo diesel for a potent Astra estate. If you do opt for this engine, you’ll be looking at a 25% benefit-in-kind tax bill.

Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer 1.6T 200hp: Two-Minute Road Test

Is it practical?

Yes – boasting 540 litres of luggage space with the rear seats up (40 litres more than the previous model), the new Astra Sports Tourer can fit more in its boot than a Ford Focus, but less than a Volkswagen Golf. Aside from all-out boot capacity, it’s impressive how much space the Astra estate offers inside the cabin. There’s more headroom and legroom than before.

What about safety?

As is now the norm for mainstream family cars, the Astra is packed with clever safety tech – including automatic braking and lane-departure warning. You needn’t worry about safety in the Astra Sports Tourer.

Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer 1.6T 200hp: Two-Minute Road Test

Which version should I go for?

Probably not this one – you’d be better off with the BiTurbo diesel, or the smaller 1.4-litre petrol if you must have a petrol. If you can justify the 1.6-litre, go for SRi Nav spec for the best combination of affordability and standard equipment.

Should I buy one?

It takes a lot to justify a thirsty, £21,725 Vauxhall Astra estate. But if you can, it’s an impressive car – not only worthy of winning the European Car of the Year in hatchback form, but offering exceptional levels of practicality as an estate. This engine isn’t the most suited to the car, but it’s certainly fun – providing hot hatch performance in an otherwise sensible package.

Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer 1.6T 200hp: Two-Minute Road Test

Pub fact

The Astra Sports Tourer comes with Vauxhall’s OnStar concierge service. Free for the first year (increasing to £79 in subsequent years), OnStar lets drivers phone a personal advisor at the touch of a button. They can track the user’s location and advise them on points of interest, and even re-route your car’s sat nav.

Chancellor George Osborne Budget red box

Budget 2016 key points for motorists: at-a-glance guide and reaction

Chancellor George Osborne Budget red boxBudget 2016 is rumoured to have significant implications for motorists with Chancellor George Osborne set to announce a number of policy changes.

Here we run through the key points for motorists and also bring you reaction from across the automotive industry.

It took the Chancellor almost 40 minutes of economy scene-setting to address what’s in store for motorists. What did he announce?

Top 5 motoring takeaways

  1. Fuel duty frozen
  2. Investment in driverless and connected cars
  3. Insurance Premium Tax to rise by 0.5%
  4. £230 million of motorway, A-road and Trans-Pennine Tunnel schemes in the north
  5. Severn Crossings tolls halved from 2018

Budget 2016 key points for motorists

  • From 2018, tolls on the Severn Crossings between England and Wales will be halved. Cars currently pay £6.60, vans pay £13.20 and HGVs pay £19.80. Motorcycles are free
  • £230 million set aside for road initiatives in the north will see the M62 upgraded to four lanes, and upgrades for the A66 and A69
  • Investment will go into developing a case for a tunnel road between Manchester and Sheffield – the so-called Trans-Pennine Tunnel.
  • Crossrail 2 and HS3 have both been given the green light
  • Insurance Premium Tax will rise from 9.5% to 10%. The money will go into boosting flood defences
  • Fuel duty will be FROZEN for the sixth year running
  • The surprise fuel duty freeze will, says the Chancellor, save the average motorist £75 a year and the average small businessman with a van £270 a year. It’s “the tax boost that keeps Britain on the move”
  • The Chancellor made NO announcement about investment in driverless car legislation during his Budget 2016 announcement…
  • … but Budget 2016 documentation confirmed the government will conduct trials of driverless cars on the strategic road network by 2017
  • Consultation on removing regulatory barriers to autonomous vehicles on major English roads will commence in summer 2016
  • A £15 million connected corridor from London to Dover will trial car-to-car and car-to-X communications
  • Trials of comparative fuel price signs will begin by spring 2016 on the M5 motorway between Bristol and Exeter
  • The Chancellor announced the allocation of the £50 million Pothole Action Fund for England in 2016-17: it will allow local authorities to fill a million potholes. A further £130 million has been allocated to fix roads and bridges damaged by Storm Desmond and Storm Eva
  • Company car users, listen up: the main threshold for capital allowances for business cars will be cut to 110g/km CO2 (from 130g/km) from April 2018; the First Year Allowance threshold reduces to 50g/km (from 75g/km). This reflects falling vehicle emissions
  • The 100% First Year Allowance for low emission cars will be extended for three years to April 2021
  • Company car tax will continue to be based on CO2; consultation on how to treat ultra-low emission vehicles beyond 2020-21 will get underway

Budget 2016: reaction

RAC

Chief engineer David Bizley said “motorists will be relieved that the Chancellor has not used low fuel prices as an opportunity to raise duty on petrol and diesel – but, with the government’s own evidence showing that lower fuel prices are good for the economy, we are disappointed Mr Osborne didn’t make a longer-term commitment to freeze duty beyond next year’s Budget”.

SMMT

“The 2016 Budget contained some positive measures and we were pleased to see the Chancellor recognise SMMT’s call for greater support for energy efficient technologies, through both the extension of Climate Change Agreements and a forthcoming consultation on the future Company Car Tax treatment of ultra low emission vehicles,” said SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes. “However, we were disappointed that the Chancellor has not done more on business rate reform. The removal of plant and machinery from business rates valuation would have encouraged investment in innovative manufacturing technologies, improving still further UK automotive industry productivity and safeguarding our competitiveness.”

Deloitte

Speaking of the company car implications, Deloitte’s Simon Down said “a reduction in the First Year Allowances threshold will mean that only plug-in hybrids or electric vehicles will attract the 100% first year rate of capital allowance. These are the only vehicles currently available with CO2 emissions below the 50g/km threshold.” Factor in the other fleet car details of Budget 2016 will make “employers and employees move to company cars with lower CO2 emissions a more pressing financial incentive”.

Nissan

Nissan will launch a UK-built Qashqai equipped with piloted drive technology in 2017: chairman of Nissan Europe Paul Willcox said the firm “welcomes the measures announced by the Chancellor today. These plans will support the development and growth of autonomous vehicle technology in the UK”.

Freight Transport Association

Freezing fuel duty is “good but not great” says the FTA. “The Chancellor missed a chance to give a boost to the stuttering economy by reducing the tax on an essential business input,” said FTA policy expert James Hookham. It estimates “every penny of fuel duty costs CV operators £120 million a year, and a 3ppl cut would have saved around £350 million a year for an industry that all British businesses rely upon.”

Road Haulage Association

“George Osborne does his duty” says the RHA. “The Chancellor’s decision to freeze duty will keep money in people’s pockets – money that will help retailers and provide a sound base for economic recovery.”

FairFuelUK

Quentin Willson of FairfuelUK described freezing fuel duty as “hugely significant. The Treasury now has five years of evidence to prove that keeping fuel duty low has helped improve GDP, stimulate economic activity and actually improve tax receipts. The Chancellor knows that low transport costs have had an enormous economic benefit to the UK over the last five years”.

Ecotricity

“The Chancellor forgot to mention a little thing called climate change” said Ecotricity founder Dale Vince, “and in the same week that NASA called February’s global temperatures ‘stunning’ and scientists from around the world declared a climate emergency. What is this budget, and this Chancellor, doing? Very little it seems.”

Chancellor George Osborne

Budget 2016 motoring predictions: what can car owners expect?

Chancellor George OsborneChancellor George Osborne will deliver the 2016 Budget on Wednesday 16 March at 12.30pm – with many predicting there may be some costly surprises in store for motorists.

UPDATE: Read our complete guide to the key points for motorists confirmed in Budget 2016 – and how the industry has responded

The government faces a bigger black hole than was originally forecast and the Chancellor needs to find ways of raising revenue to make up the shortfall. As motoring costs are reportedly the lowest they’ve been in a decade, motorists may well be hit to bring in extra cash.

Ironically, motoring has already caused a headache for the Chancellor during writing the 2016 Budget – when he was disturbed this weekend by the latest scenes being filmed by Top Gear in Whitehall. Here’s hoping this doesn’t affect any last-minute decisions…

Here we run through some motoring-related predictions for the 2016 Budget and how they could affect drivers and car owners.

Fuel duty

The Chancellor is expected to raise fuel duty for the first time in five years in the 2016 Budget. It is likely to be at the rate of inflation, which would add 0.75p to the current fuel duty rate of 57.95p per litre of unleaded.

Government documents already show that fuel duty is expected to raise at the rate of inflation until 2020 so an increase may not be a surprise, but it would incur the wrath of motorists, particularly hauliers: an inflation increase could add £450 a year to the cost of running a truck, says one business owner.

The Chancellor may be encouraged to raise fuel duty because crude oil prices remain low, which has cut fuel prices at filling stations. But will he go further, and impose an above-inflation fuel duty increase?

Experts say a 2p per litre increase in fuel duty could raise £1 billion for the treasury…

UPDATE: fuel duty was not increased but FROZEN in Budget 2016. Read more: 2016 Budget – key points for motorists

Insurance premium tax

An increase in Insurance Premium Tax (IPT) is rumoured for the 2016 Budget. The Chancellor last increased it in July 2015 (coming into effect in November 2015), from 6% to 9.5%; AA sources say a further 3% increase in the 2016 Budget is likely.

This would affect car insurance premiums, meaning all motorists would pay more: car insurance premiums have already risen 13% in the past year. Research company Consumer Intelligence says the average car insurance premium is now £683 and a further increase in IPT would push it up yet further.

As such, any changes to IPT in the 2016 Budget are likely to have a significant impact on motorists.

UPDATE: IPT did go up – but by 0.5%, not the predicted 3.5%. Read more: 2016 Budget – key points for motorists

VED road tax

This is unlikely to change. In 2015, one of the biggest changes to Vehicle Excise Duty in years was announced, which is set to go live in 2017.

Under the new scheme, from 1 April 2017, motorists will be charged a first-year VED rate based on CO2 emissions similar to today’s scheme: the table for this is below.

After the first year, a flat-rate £140 on all cars is charged – there are no variations for CO2 emissions (zero emissions cars are still free). There is, however, an additional charge for cars costing £40,000 or more: an additional £310 a year is charged, for the first five years of the car’s life.

The Chancellor said at the time that this new scheme was being imposed because, under today’s rules, the vast majority of new cars pay zero road tax: under this scheme, all cars apart from zero-emissions vehicles will contribute.

VED car tax bands: April 2017 onwards
Emissions (CO2, g/km)First year rateStandard rate
0£0£0
Up to 50£10 

£140

51-75£25
76-90£100
91-100£120
101-110£140
111-130£160
131-150£200
151-170£500
171-190£800
191-225£1,200
226-255£1,700
Over 255£2,000
Cars costing more than £40,000 pay £310 yearly supplement for 5 years

Driverless cars

The Chancellor is expected to announce trials of autonomous cars will begin on UK roads next year: in the 2016 Budget, he will outline how this scheme will be financed (it’s expected to be part of the £100 million Intelligent Mobility fund).

In a pre-budget announcement, George Osborne said: “At a time of great uncertainty in the global economy, Britain must take bold decisions now to ensure it leads the world when it comes to new technologies and infrastructure. That’s what my budget next week will seek to do.

“Driverless cars could represent the most fundamental change to transport since the invention of the internal combustion engine. Naturally, we need to ensure safety, and that’s what the trials we are introducing will test.”

Roads in Bristol, Coventry, Milton Keynes and Greenwich are already being prepared for autonomous cars; Jaguar Land Rover has previously said it’s eager to start testing driverless cars on roads around its engineering centres in the Midlands.

UPDATE: a commitment to driverless cars was announced. Read more: 2016 Budget – key points for motorists

Trans-Pennine Tunnel

The Chancellor is expected to announce an initial £75 million investment to explore the feasibility of a tunnel beneath the Peak District connecting Manchester and Sheffield. The 18-mile tunnel, which would divert traffic away from the crowded Peak District National Park, is expected to cost around £6 billion.

A favourable feasibility report released in November 2015 spoke of the virtues of the tunnel, although it did warn issues around monotony and fumes within the ultra-long underpass would need to be addressed. The tunnel would run beneath the A628 Woodhead Pass and would be one of the world’s longest road tunnels.

UPDATE: investment for new roads in the north and the Trans-Pennine Tunnel was announced. Read more: 2016 Budget – key points for motorists

Rail

Rail investment will also be of interest to motorists, given the promise of reducing congestion on the roads. The Chancellor is expected to confirm the Crossrail 2 project, connecting Surrey and Hertfordshire, and the HS3 line, connecting Manchester and Leeds (and reducing journey times between the two cities to 30 minutes), in the 2016 Budget.

UPDATE: HS3 and Crossrail 2 were given the green light. Read more: 2016 Budget – key points for motorists

What the experts say…

RAC

“84% of motorists believe the tax burden on fuel is already too high: at least 80% want to see George Osborne cut duty, or at least continue the freeze he has maintained since cutting the rate by a penny in the 2011 Budget. Nearly 7 in 10 of motorists polled said their driving and lifestyles would be negatively impacted by a duty rise.

“The feeling we are getting from motorists could not be clearer: they do not want to see the Chancellor announce a fuel duty rise in his Budget speech.”

FTA

The Fleet Transport Association polled motorists at a Kent filling station: most said that fuel duty was too high and it should be cut to 25% rather than the 75% rate currently levied. The FTA has already written to the Chancellor saying that fuel duty should be frozen or cut – pointing to independent research saying there would be significant economic benefits.

“Any increase in fuel duty will have far-reaching effects, not only for the logistics sector but also for the motoring public and anyone who buys goods that are delivered to our shops and homes. We already have the highest fuel duty in the EU for diesel and the third highest for petrol. A rise will make us less able to compete with our European neighbours and threatens to stall the economy’s recovery.”

BVRLA

The British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association is calling upon George Osborne to “treat company car drivers more fairly”. It wants the government to fully review today’s company car taxation regime and recognise how fleet cars are helping reduce emissions and bolster tax revenues.

Evidence indicates that since George Osborne became Chancellor in 2013, 30,000 fewer company car drivers are taking a fleet car, choosing instead to use their own private vehicles – “which tend to be older, less safe and more polluting”. In 2015, BVRLA members’ cars emitted an average of 117.8g/km CO2, below the overall UK new car average.

“The Chancellor must use the Budget to reverse some of the damaging decisions he has made recently, including the delayed abolition of the 3% diesel supplement. These measures are at odds with the government’s stated aims to increase the take-up of ultra-low emission vehicles and improve air quality in the UK.”

FairFuel UK

Fuel duty accounts for 75% of the forecourt price of petrol and diesel, says FairFuel UK – rather than increasing it, the Chancellor should be cutting it, by at least 3p per litre. He should also make it mandatory for the proportion of each fuel spend paid in fuel duty to be printed on receipts.

“UK fuel duty is the highest in Europe for diesel, and the third-highest for petrol. A fuel duty hike is opportunistic, disingenuous, economically unwarranted and will hit hard working Brits most.”

Ferrari California T Handling Speciale

2016 Ferrari California T Handling Speciale review: first drive

Ferrari California T Handling SpecialeFirstly, a confession. I’ve never driven a Ferrari before. As a child, the Testarossa and F40 jostled for space on my bedroom wall with Cindy Crawford and the Legion of Doom (they’re WWF wrestlers – don’t ask). I’ve also ridden shotgun in a 308 GTB and even waved a Ferrari flag at the British Grand Prix.

In nearly a decade of writing about cars, though, the experience of actually driving a Ferrari has eluded me. I’ve been behind the wheel of Aston Martins, McLarens, Porsches, Mercedes-AMGs and more. Yet there’s still something special – really, bucket-list special – about flying to Italy to test a car with a prancing horse on the bonnet.

That car is the California T Handling Speciale, a more focused take on Ferrari’s V8-engined GT. Available as a £5,568 option when you splash out £155,230 on a new California T, the Handling Speciale pack is designed to offer a sharper, sportier driving experience. A bit more rampante with your cavallino, if you will.

Gallery – click to view

If the notion of a sportier Ferrari sounds odd (surely all Ferraris are sporty?), remember the California is a softer and more civilised proposition than a 488 Italia or F12. As its name suggests, it’s a car for cruising top-down in LA, as well as blasting through the Italian countryside. Fortunately, the latter is on the menu today.

The Handling Speciale pack includes stiffer springs – 16% at the front and 19% at the rear – plus revised Magneride adaptive dampers. Its seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox provides quicker shifts in Sport mode, while the traction control system is tweaked to improve cornering response. The exhaust is louder, too; Ferrari has tuned the tailpipes for a harder, more aggressive tone.

Cosmetically, there’s little to set the HS apart from a common-or-garden California. Only dedicated Ferrari spotters will spot the grey front grille and rear diffuser, or the matte-black exhaust tips. There’s also a slightly naff plaque on the centre console to persuade your passengers that, yes, you really have bought the handling pack.

One thing the California T HS doesn’t offer is any additional performance. Its 3.9-litre twin-turbocharged V8 produces an identical 560hp and 557lb ft of torque, which means 0-62mph in 3.6 seconds and a top speed of 196mph. As one of Ferrari’s product team remarked at dinner: “The car is already fast enough”.

Anyway, back to the here and now. It’s a crisp spring morning, and there’s a man in a red jacket holding the keys to my first Ferrari. They say you should never meet your heroes. But now, high in the Tuscan hills, I’m about to do just that.

On the road

Ferrari California T Handling Speciale

Ferrari California T Handling Speciale

Ferrari divides its product range into two strands: sports cars (488 and F12) and GT cars (California T and GTC4 Lusso). As a member of the latter group, the California isn’t built for the race track. It’s designed for everyday usability – and crossing continents in comfort.

Despite that, driving one for the first time requires a few pointers. Twist the key in the ignition, hold your foot on the brake, then press the big red ‘Engine Start’ button on the steering wheel. Wumpfff – the engine erupts rudely into life. Now pull the right-hand paddle behind the steering wheel to engage first gear, release the foot-brake and you’re away…

Leaving the picturesque Tuscan town of Camogli, what’s immediately noticeable is how relaxed the California feels to drive. There’s lots of low-down torque from the big V8 and the seven-speed, dual-clutch gearbox defaults to automatic mode, leaving me to concentrate on squeezing between battered Fiat Pandas and the jagged cliff-face. The car may be relaxed – I am anything but…

The traffic thins as we climb a series of serpentine switchbacks, passing lush vineyards and yet more Pandas. Time to switch the Manettino dial on the steering wheel to Sport mode and shift gears myself. As the road opens into a long straight, I click the carbon fibre paddle back twice and bury the throttle. Ooooof. It may be a ‘softer’ Ferrari, but the California T still feels seriously quick. Supercar quick.

Ferrari California T Handling Speciale

Ferrari California T Handling Speciale

The steering is surprisingly light, but very direct, allowing you to dispatch most corners with little more than a wrist-flick. Gaining confidence, I push a bit harder, feeling the back end of the car come into play and the tyres begin to bite. It would take a braver man than me to unstick the Handling Speciale – especially on a dry road – but that hint of lairy, rear-wheel-drive attitude feels refreshing after several recent drives in 4WD sports cars.

Even a Ferrari can’t bend the laws of physics, though. And the California’s relative heft means that, ultimately, it doesn’t have the agilty of a McLaren 650S, or even a Porsche Cayman. But the pay-off is decent ride comfort, even in Sport mode, and effortless cruising ability. The car feels just at home on the autostrada as it does stringing together a set of hairpins.

If I have a complaint, it concerns the noise. Ferrari showed us no less than five graphs to demonstrate how the exhaust of the Handling Speciale is, well, louder. Unfortunately, while those turbos offer plenty of deep-chested roar, there isn’t the visceral, high-pitched wail of naturally-aspirated Ferraris such as the 458. With so many tunnels on our three-hour route to Lerici, that seemed a shame.

On the inside

Ferrari California T Handling Speciale

Ferrari California T Handling Speciale

You can keep your hard-backed bucket seats and skimpy Alcantara trim – California customers prefer soft seats and luxurious leather. From where I’m sitting, looking out over a long red bonnet, it’s hard to argue with that.

Unlike some supercars, climbing aboard the California doesn’t require contorting your body into the yogic flying position. And once inside, you’ll find ample electric adjustment for the driving position, plus heated and ventilated front seats, dual-zone climate control and a touchscreen media system.

The dashboard is swathed in a mix of leather and carbon fibre, creating a slightly odd ambiance that’s halfway between racing car and luxury coupe. Quality is good, but still falls short of the best Audi and Mercedes-Benz can muster. At least there’s no Fiat switchgear on display, unlike in prancing horses of old. And Ferrari’s carbon fibre is the real thing – not the plastic stuff found in hot hatchbacks.

Practicality is important for a grand tourer, so the California offers plenty of stowage spaces around the cabin, plus a 340-litre boot. That’s big enough for two sets of golf clubs, but bear in mind that going topless (the car, not you) reduces luggage room by 100 litres.

That said, you may as well consider the tiny rear seats an extension of the boot. Ferrari calls the California a ‘2+2’, as opposed to a four-seater, but even with my vertically-challenged 5ft 7in frame in front, there was barely enough legroom behind for a small child. Being entombed, roof-up, in the back of a California is a claustrophobe’s worst nightmare.

Before we move on, a quick word about Apple CarPlay. The California was one of the first cars to feature the system, which is now standard across Ferrari’s range. If you have an iPhone or iPad, CarPlay’s icons and menu system will be instantly familiar – making it one of the most intuitive ‘infotainment’ systems available.

Running costs

Ferrari California T Handling Speciale

Ferrari California T Handling Speciale

If you have to ask, you can’t afford it, right? It might have ‘Speciale’ in its name, but this isn’t one of those supercars that will start appreciating the second you leave the showroom. Unlike the 458 Speciale, for example, the HS isn’t a limited-edition that wealthy Tifosi will covet for their collections. Nor is it sufficiently different from a ‘normal’ California to command a big premium on the used market.

Still, nobody buys a Ferrari to save money, so savour the driving experience and be thankful for that turbocharged V8, which boosts fuel economy by 5.4mpg versus the naturally-aspirated engine in the original (2008-2014) California.

You want figures? Well, drive the California T in a manner that’s more Rodeo Drive than Route Napoleon and you might – just might – eke out the official 26.9mpg. Drive it as Ferraris are meant to driven and you’ll be lucky to see half that.

CO2 emissions are a Band L 250g/km, which means £870 car tax in the first year and £490 per year thereafter. And like all Ferraris, the California T comes with a four-year warranty and seven years’ free servicing (transferable to the next owner).

Verdict

Ferrari California T Handling Speciale

Ferrari California T Handling Speciale

I’ll admit, I was a little concerned about losing my Ferrari virginity. After so many years of dreaming, not driving, would the reality of the Ferrari experience prove disappointing?

I needn’t have worried. Driving the California T Handling Speciale really was the stuff that schoolboy dreams are made of – especially in Italy, where your every move is acknowleged by gesticulating arms and enthusiastic thumbs-up gestures. I even had a friendly wave from a traffic policeman and a doff of the cap from an old gent outside a cafe.

This latest California is ferociously fast and fabulous fun. Yet it’s also comfortable and easy to drive. Ferrari purists may label it ‘soft’, but when you aren’t chasing the redline on deserted mountain roads (i.e. about 99% of the time), the California doesn’t make you suffer for its art.

Yes, even in this firmer, more focused Handling Speciale specification, the California remains very much a grand tourer – albeit one with the soul of a sports car. Considering that adaptive Magneride dampers (which around 60% of customers opt for) cost £3,168 as a standalone option, a further £2,400 for the HS pack looks like money well spent.

Would I buy one? No, not even if I found £155,000 down the back of the sofa. For me, the Porsche 911 Carrera S offers slightly sharper handling and comparable comfort for little more than half the price. It’s also less in-yer-face than than extrovert Ferrari (bystanders and policemen aren’t always so welcoming in the UK) and even has slightly more commodious rear seats.

Nonetheless, the California is seductive and super-desirable. It ticked a box on my bucket list with some style. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m off to swim with some dolphins…

Specifications: Ferrari California T Handling Speciale

Price: £155,230

Engine: 3.9-litre twin-turbo petrol

Gearbox: Seven-speed semi-automatic

Power: 560hp

Torque: 557lb ft

0-62mph: 3.6 seconds

Top speed: 196mph

Fuel economy: 26.9mpg

CO2 emissions: 250g/km

2016 Range Rover Evoque Convertible review: first drive

2016 Range Rover Evoque Convertible review: first drive

2016 Range Rover Evoque Convertible review: first drive

Land Rover’s stand at this year’s Geneva Motor Show exemplified the direction in which the brand is going. Noticeably missing was the Defender – the last one rolled off the production line in January – and glitzy two-tone Range Rovers took pride of place. And there was this – the Range Rover Evoque Convertible.

Chances are, you’ve already formed an opinion on this rule-breaking car. As the youth say, ‘haters gonna hate’ – but Land Rover isn’t worried about upsetting the purists. If it were, it wouldn’t have introduced the (soon-to-be-bestselling) Discovery in 1989, it wouldn’t have introduced the (soon-to-be-bestselling) Freelander in 1998, and it certainly wouldn’t have chopped the roof off an Evoque to create the (soon-to-be… ok, that might be pushing it) Evoque Convertible.

There’s one thing Land Rover refuses to turn its back on: its off-road heritage. We wonder if any privately-owned Evoque Convertible will ever stray off the tarmac, but Land Rover’s very keen to point out that it is capable. It’s been tested in the same off-road environments as all Land Rovers, insists the brand, including loading it to its maximum capacity and putting it through gruelling off-road terrain in a bid to test how it chassis copes with immense twisting forces.

It’s also packed with the same off-road kit as the regular Evoque, including its latest Terrain Response system which lets you flick between general; grass/gravel/snow; mud and ruts; and sand modes – tailoring the throttle response, transmission, steering and the four-wheel-drive system through torque vectoring.

2016 Range Rover Evoque Convertible review: first drive

On the road

On its European launch in the French Alps, we put the Evoque Convertible through a fairly strenuous off road test. Its short approach and departure angles means it can tackle surprising obstacles – and all that bracing means there’s next-to-no flex, even allowing you to open doors while cocking a wheel in the air.

While that’s impressive, the one area in which the Evoque Convertible’s off road capability might be genuinely useful to owners is how it handles snow. There’s a reason the Evoque Convertible’s media launch was held at the prestigious Courchevel ski resort, and that there’s an optional ski hatch between the rear seats – it’s exactly the sort of car that will appeal to the thousands of Brits a year who head to Europe in search of snowy slopes.

And when confronted with the white stuff, the Evoque Convertible is impressive. The All-Terrain Progress Control (ATPC) is effectively a cruise control system for off-road or snowy conditions – and it makes progress in the latter particularly easy. Set the speed between 1.1mph and 19mph and the ATPC will monitor traction to maintain these speed, meaning all you have to do is steer. While normal cruise control shouldn’t be used in slippery conditions, the ATPC makes even the most daunting situations a piece of cake.

2016 Range Rover Evoque Convertible review: first drive

On road, it’s evident that this is a heavy car. Despite sticking with a fabric roof to save crucial kilograms (it can be operated at speeds of up to 30mph, taking 18 seconds to drop and 21 seconds to raise), the Evoque Convertible is pushing two-tonnes. This means that, powered by the 180hp 2.0-litre diesel we tried on its launch, the Evoque Convertible takes a fairly relaxed 10.3 seconds to hit 62mph (compared to 9.0 seconds for the same engine in the regular Evoque). This isn’t helped by the nine-speed automatic gearbox which has a tendency to stumble between gears.

The weight doesn’t have a huge effect on its handling, however. Considering it’s a lumbering SUV, the Evoque Convertible is an enjoyable drive – with a fair amount of feedback through the (satisfyingly-heavy) steering and understeer largely quashed by the Evoque’s four-wheel-drive and torque-vectoring systems.

2016 Range Rover Evoque Convertible review: first drive

On the inside

It’s wonderfully premium, the Evoque Convertible’s interior, but what else would you expect for its hefty £47,500 start price?

It’s not particularly practical, however. The roof eats into the boot space – which is down to 251 litres (from the normal model’s 420), meaning there’s less room for luggage than in a Ford Fiesta. Access is pretty poor, too, and the rear seats don’t fold down – although you can opt for a ski hatch should you wish to carry longer items.

There are just two rear seats, separated by a central arm rest, which are comfortable for short periods of time – although we suspect any adults travelling in the back for any period of time would be keen to get out and stretch their legs.

The Evoque Convertible is the first Land Rover to use JLR’s InControl Touch Pro infotainment system, which uses a 10.2-inch touchscreen and operates like a smartphone. It uses swipe and pinch-to-zoom gestures, and combines a Solid State Drive with 60GB of storage (enough to store up to 16,000 songs) and a quad-core processor.

It’s fairly easy and intuitive to use, and we like the Google-like location search, but it’s still not quite up to the standards we’d expect from a premium vehicle. It’s a little slow starting up, and crashed entirely on one occasion during our test drive.

2016 Range Rover Evoque Convertible review: first drive

Running costs

Let’s not beat about the bush. This is an expensive car. The entry-level HSE Dynamic with the TD4 diesel engine costs £47,500 – that’s nearly £5,000 more than its hard-top equivalent. Of course, the majority of UK buyers will opt for this engine thanks to its 49.6mpg (compared to the five-door’s 55.4mpg) and 149g/km CO2 (which equates to road tax of £145 per year).

If you don’t want to ruin your open-top motoring with the clatter of the diesel engine, £48,200 will buy you an Evoque convertible powered by the 240hp Si4 2.0-litre petrol. Unlikely to sell in big numbers in the UK, the Si4 officially returns 32.9mpg and emits 201g/km CO2.

2016 Range Rover Evoque Convertible review: first drive

Verdict

We know the Range Rover Evoque Convertible won’t appeal to everyone. But on a purely objective basis, the Evoque Convertible is a seriously impressive car. It combines a premium interior with genuine off-road (and snow-tackling) ability and the ability to drop the roof and soak up the rays.

There are downsides. It’s heavy – which has a negative effect on running costs, as well as performance. And it’s nowhere near as practical as you’d expect an SUV to be – putting it closer to something like a MINI Convertible in terms of people- and load-carrying ability.

If you can get over these minor grumbles and are willing to pay the hefty price tag for this year’s must-have fashion accessory, go for it. You’ll be the envy of the ski resort.

Range Rover Evoque Convertible HSE Dynamic TD4 auto: specification

Price: £47,500
Engine: 2.0-litre diesel
Gearbox: Nine-speed automatic
Power: 180hp
Torque: 317lb ft
0-62mph: 10.3 seconds
Top speed: 121mph
Fuel economy: 49.6mpg
CO2 emissions: 149g/km