Cars you can buy for the £748 price of Christmas

Cars you can buy for the £748 price of Christmas

Cars you can buy for the £748 price of Christmas
The average Brit is expected to spend £748 on presents this Christmas – up from £732 in 2015. With more than three quarters of us shopping online this December, we decided to do some virtual window shopping of our own. But instead of seeking out toys, electronics and socks, we’ve been on Auto Trader and discovered how far £748 goes in the world of cars…

Jaguar XJ – £600

Jaguar XJ – £600

The ‘X300’ shape Jaguar XJ is in a real sweet spot in terms of budget Jaguar buying at the moment. More reliable than both the older XJ40 and newer X308, the ’94 – ’97 XJ is in that ‘not quite a classic’ phase, and that means they’re cheap. A couple of grand will buy a really good one, but an old-man image and fairly high running costs mean there are several about for little more than a monkey (that’s £500 to you and me).

This example we found on Auto Trader claims to be rust-free (but you might want to have a poke around the sills to check) – and even comes with a suitable private plate. The downsides? The bodywork doesn’t sound to be great, with lacquer peel affecting a number of areas, and there’s “a moaning sound from the starter motor” occasionally. But it’s a £600 Jag!

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BMW 7 Series – £700

BMW 7 Series – £700

If you prefer your barges a little more German, how about a BMW 7 Series? Like the Jaguar, high running costs will put most people off, but it even comes with a phone. When an iPhone 7 Plus starts at £719, you’re basically buying a phone and getting a BMW 7 Series for free. Tell that to your family when they discover no presents under the tree this Christmas.

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Toyota MR2 – £800

Toyota MR2 – £800

Let’s step away from barges for a moment and look what £748 gets you in the world of sports cars. At this time of year, no one is buying two-seater convertibles, so the world is your oyster. You could buy a predictable (and very good) Mazda MX-5, but we thought we’d be more ambitious and see if we could find a Mk3 MR2 within our budget. We failed, but this one’s just £800 – and who wouldn’t knock £52 off a convertible in the run-up to Christmas?

Check the oil levels – oil consumption can be an issue – and ask if it’s had a new manifold fitted. The pre-cat in the exhaust manifold has a habit of breaking up, with debris being sucked into the engine. It’s particularly a problem in cars that have been driven hard from cold.

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Mazda RX-8 – £750

Mazda RX-8 – £750

Your kids might hate you now for cancelling Christmas, but in the future they’ll look back and understand your logic in buying a Mazda RX-8 for the price of a few presents. At £750, you don’t need to be Mike Brewer to knock £2 off and get it within budget.

There’s a reason they’re cheap – the rotary engine has an appetite for fuel and oil, and can go wrong if it’s not been maintained. Check that it starts OK while warm, and question the seller on their oil-topping-up habits. Spark plugs are expensive, pushing the cost of a major service to more than £500, but there’s no cambelt that needs changing.

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Perodua Kenari – £750

Perodua Kenari – £750

A PR campaign from Perodua in December 2007 suggested customers should “give the gift of Kenari” that Christmas. It went on to say “Britain’s best value mini-MPV” was available from £5,630, thanks to a £500 cashback deal. Bargain hunters will be pleased to know there’s currently a gold Perodua Kenari automatic on Auto Trader for just £750 for Christmas. You really can give the gift of Kenari this Christmas.

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Suzuki Grand Vitara – £600

Suzuki Grand Vitara – £600

As usual for Christmas, our spending is getting a little bit carried away, with the last three cars being over budget. Let’s rein(deer) it in a bit, with a £600 4×4 that will double up as a convertible when summer arrives. A Suzuki Grand Vitara should make for a trusty workhorse, although an advisory for corrosion on its last MOT means you might want to get it Waxoyled before the rot sets in.

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Volvo 850 – £700

Volvo 850 – £700

Smithy driving his Volvo 850 while singing along to Band Aid is now a traditional Christmas scene for Gavin and Stacey fans. Although his Volvo in the Christmas special is turquoise in colour, Smithy usually drives a maroon Volvo 850, but it was written off in an off-camera crash.

The actual car driven by James Corden sold for more than £2,000 in 2013, making this example we’ve found on Auto Trader look a bit of a bargain. There’s some unsightly lacquer peel on the bonnet, and the wood inside won’t be to everyone’s taste. But it’s a practical load-lugger for those Christmas presents you won’t be buying this year.

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Volvo V40 – £740

Volvo V40 – £740

If you’re not a Gavin and Stacey fan, you might be better buying a newer Volvo V40 for your £748 budget. Many will snub the Dutch-built V40 as “not a real Volvo”, thanks to its platform shared with the Mitsubishi Carisma, but this example looks to be very tidy. Take it for a good test-drive and make sure the automatic gearbox functions correctly.

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Black cab – £795

Black cab – £795

If you’re looking for a career change in the new year, why not invest your £748 Christmas budget (after negotiation) on a black cab? As a TX1, this taxi is powered by a bulletproof 2.7-litre diesel Nissan engine. We wouldn’t worry too much about the 404,000 miles on the clock, although you might want to buy an old Avensis and become an Uber driver instead.

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Mercedes-Benz C-Class – £695

Mercedes-Benz C-Class – £695

Mercs of this era have a reputation for rust, so a £695 C-Class with “no rust issues” certainly grabs our attention. An advisory on its last MOT for “slight corrosion” on the offside sill perhaps suggests an element of creative writing has been used in the ad, but it’s still potentially a bargain. That lovely straight-six engine will soon help you forget about the bodywork, but it might be one to avoid if you cover lots of miles.

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MG ZR – £750

MG ZR – £750

The MG ZR is an underrated hot hatch, with many put off by their reputation for poor build quality. One way to get around the head gasket issue that plagued the K-series petrol engines fitted to the MG ZR is to buy a 2.0-litre diesel. The L-series engine isn’t particularly refined, but it is bulletproof and, as the more powerful 113hp model, it’ll hit 62mph in 9.1 seconds. OK, the 51.5mpg figure is a little more impressive…

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Alfa Romeo 147 – £595

Alfa Romeo 147 – £595

No one has ever regretted buying a cheap Alfa Romeo. Possibly. The seller of this lovely-looking 147 says he’ll take a watch in part-exchange – so chop in your old Casio and it ought to be even more of a bargain. Check through its history: it’ll need a cambelt if it hasn’t been changed in the last three years, but you might be surprised how cheap that can be at a specialist. Budget up to £300.

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Land Rover Freelander – £600

Land Rover Freelander – £600

Old Freelanders have potential to be money-pits, but we think this 2001 V6 looks to be much more than £600-worth. It’s only covered 71,000 miles (probably because the owner couldn’t afford the fuel bills), but it’s going to be more fun to drive than the problematic 1.8 or sluggish 2.0-litre diesel. Transmission issues mean a lot of Freelander 1s have been converted to front wheel-drive by having their prop shaft removed – and the seller of this example admits this to be the case. That’s not a huge concern unless you need the four-wheel-drive ability – and it should even help you save on fuel.

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Fiat Multipla – £600

Fiat Multipla – £600

The original Fiat Multipla was crowned Top Gear’s ‘ugliest car of 1999’ when it was new, and the public’s reaction led to the car manufacturer toning its quirky MPV down when it was facelifted in 2004. But we look back at the Mk1 Multipla now and find it quite endearing. Its three front seats make it a quirky family carrier, and kids will love the bright interior of this example we’ve found.

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Honda HR-V – £750

Honda HR-V – £750

Marketed as the ‘joy machine’ when it was launched in 1999, the HR-V was a lightweight, low-emissions crossover designed to appeal to a young demographic. Today, they’re a reliable and interesting compact SUV and a number of well-used examples are creeping below our budget. The seller of this example at a dealer in Buckinghamshire admits it’s come in as a part-exchange and has a few dings, but it doesn’t look a bad buy for £750.

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Ford Focus – £745

Ford Focus – £745

Let’s be sensible for a moment. If we really were given £748 and told to buy a car we could use every day without costing a fortune to maintain, we’d probably seek out a cared-for Ford Focus. There are loads about, so you can afford to be picky, and parts are cheap. For simplicity’s sake, we’d search for a petrol, and we’ve found this very tidy example from 2003 on Auto Trader. In LX trim it’s not as desirable as a Ghia, but it looks to be in better condition than most. With a very short MOT, we’d try to negotiate a fresh MOT as part of the deal.

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Suzuki Ignis Sport – £595

Suzuki Ignis Sport – £595

Right, back to the fun stuff. The Suzuki Ignis Sport is a plucky little hot hatch – what else offers Japanese reliability combined with Recaro seats and yellow mesh in the headrests for sub-£1,000? They’re few and far between within our £748 budget, but there is an example advertised at a dealership in Leeds. Just don’t expect it to be a minter…

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Rover 75 – £725

Rover 75 – £725

The Rover 75 was actually a pretty good car, it just happened to arrive a bit late to save Rover and was hampered by a half-hearted launch. The engine you don’t want is the 1.8-litre K-series (they’re plagued by head-gasket failure) and automatics are less problematic than the manual gearbox. Naturally, we’ve picked out a lovely 1.8 K-series from the classifieds. While a V6 would be more fun and a diesel generally better in every way, the 1.8 can be bought cheaply and, if you’re careful, won’t necessarily give you any trouble. Watch the temperature needle like a hawk on the test drive and make sure there’s no evidence of oil and coolant mixing to form ‘mayonnaise’.

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BMW 3 Series Compact – £700

BMW 3 Series Compact – £700

The Compact isn’t the most desirable 3 Series, but that means you can pick up a better example than the regular model within our budget. This 2001 example on Auto Trader looks very clean, with just 95,000 miles on the clock, although the seller does say it’s showing an airbag warning light. That’d be an MOT failure, so would need fixing soon.

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Mazda MX-5 – £750

Mazda MX-5 – £750

Have you heard? Mazda MX-5s are going up in price now, especially tidy first-generation models. While this is a Mk1, we wouldn’t describe it as ‘tidy’. It’s been written off in the past, and there are various shades of red going on across different panels. The engines are very reliable, though, so bodywork aside, there isn’t much to worry about. Get on your hands and knees and check underneath for rust.

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Vauxhall Signum – £785

Vauxhall Signum – £785

The Vauxhall Signum is like a Vectra, but much rarer than a Vectra. And that makes it cool. The front bit is the same as the repmobile on which it’s based, but the rear has been extended to provide extra legroom. There’s a near-vertical tailgate, and it was priced above the Vectra when new.

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Renault Laguna – £750

Renault Laguna – £750

Old Renault Lagunas aren’t the choice for anyone who expects their car to start every morning – even the key card can be troublesome. But this example, powered by a lovely 3.0-litre V6, looks promising. It’s covered just 63,000 miles and has full service history including two cambelt changes, says the seller.

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SEAT Leon Cupra – £699

SEAT Leon Cupra – £699

With 180hp, the original SEAT Leon Cupra would hit 62mph in 7.7 seconds. That was hot hatch territory back then, even if it wouldn’t see the direction a hot Leon went today. The original Leon Cupra is relatively unloved, putting it firmly in bargain basement territory. We’re not sure about the aftermarket exhaust fitted to this example (it hints at a boy racer owner), but that’s easy enough to change.

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Lexus IS200 – £595

Lexus IS200 – £595

Yes, we could have found a Lexus IS200 with lower miles for the money, but a 240,000-mile example appeals for the novelty factor. They’re exceptionally reliable, and an MOT history search shows no major issues on the horizon. Wave £500 at the seller and see if you can get it to 300,000 miles without any big bills – we’d be surprised if you can’t.

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Mercedes-Benz World at Brooklands

Star quality: Mercedes-Benz’s incredible car collection

Mercedes-Benz World at BrooklandsMercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Porsche, BMW… most of the German brands have huge car collections housed in extravagant museums – usually free-of-charge to visit. However, Mercedes is the only marque to have opened such a showcase in the UK. Welcome to Mercedes-Benz World at Brooklands, Surrey.

Mercedes-Benz 190 SLMercedes-Benz World at Brooklands

Taking centre-stage in the foyer of Mercedes-Benz World is this 1960 190 SL, owned by British model, David Gandy. Previous celebrity 190 SL owners include Alfred Hitchcock and The King himself: Elvis Presley.

Powered by a 122hp 1.9-litre in-line four, the 190 SL had a top speed of 120mph. It cost £2,600 when launched in 1955 – the equivalent of more than £100,000 today.

Mercedes-Benz 190 E Brabus 3.6SMercedes-Benz World at Brooklands

Coolest car at Mercedes-Benz World? We think so. Owned by Brabus PR manager, Sven Gramm, this red hot 190 E is actually a replica of a 1988 Brabus 3.6S demo car that never made production.

With no rear seats or air-con, the 268hp 3.6S could hit 62mph in 6.3 seconds and a VMAX of 162mph. That makes it faster than the factory 2.5-16 Evo II – “effectively a 190 E Clubsport”, says Mercedes.

Mercedes-Benz 280 SLMercedes-Benz World at Brooklands

The W113 SL earned the nickname ‘Pagoda’ because of its curvaceous hard-top roof and is still one of the most beautiful cars ever made. This particular SL was driven by Jodie Kidd in the opening sequence to The Classic Car Show.

The Pagoda began life in 1963 as the 2.3-litre 230 SL. The 2.8-litre 280 SL seen here didn’t arrive until 1967, boasting 170hp and 0-62mph in 9.0 seconds. Power steering and servo assisted brakes make it an easy car to drive – even by modern standards.

Mercedes-AMG G 63Mercedes-Benz World at Brooklands

The Mercedes G-Class is a classic of sorts, having remained in production since 1979. The testosterone-pumped AMG versions have become the car of choice for wealthy urbanites – albeit usually in black, rather than the ‘Solar Beam’ yellow seen here.

This V8-engined G 63 makes 571hp and blasts to 62mph in 5.4 seconds. With a modest £4,750-worth of options, it would set you back £152,377. We’ll spend the cash on a Pagoda SL and an old G-Wagen for winter, thanks.

The very first carMercedes-Benz World at Brooklands

Lest we forget, the very first car was a Mercedes-Benz. This is a faithful replica of the Benz Patent Motor Car, complete with a 954cc single-cylinder engine, solid wheels, leather brakes and a tiller for steering.

In 1888, Bertha Benz and her sons drove 121 miles from Mannheim to Pforzheim and back in the ‘Motorwagen’. They bought fuel from chemists and used Bertha’s hatpin to clear a carburettor blockage. It was the first long journey ever undertaken in a car.

Smart CrossbladeMercedes-Benz World at Brooklands

The first owner of this Smart Crossblade was chirpy British pop star, Robbie Williams. Supposedly, Robbie remarked: “Wow, I just love this car. It’s innovative and unconventional, the two qualities I look for in new projects”. Hmm.

The Crossblade was a special edition of the Smart City Cabriolet without a windscreen, roof or conventional doors. Its Brabus-tuned engine developed 71hp for a (very windy) top speed of 83mph.

Mercedes-AMG GT SMercedes-Benz World at Brooklands

You can buy a car at Mercedes-Benz World – indeed, a large part of the complex is taken up by Mercedes’ Brooklands dealership. This used AMG GT S caught our eye, although it’s slightly beyond our budget…

There’s a near-identical GT S displayed inside, too. Vital stats for this 911 Turbo-rival are 510hp and 0-62mph in just 3.8 seconds. Oh, and that Solar Beam paint option? A mere £10,695.

Mercedes-Benz F200 Imagination conceptMercedes-Benz World at Brooklands

This radical concept car was based on a 1996 Mercedes S-Class. Active suspension uses sensors operating hydraulic cylinders for each wheel, keeping the car level – even when cornering.

However, the F200’s interior is where things really get radical. Two ‘fly by wire’ joysticks take the place of a steering wheel. The driver pushes forwards to accelerate, pulls back to brake and moves the sticks left or right to steer. Sounds mildly terrifying.

Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.5-16 CosworthMercedes-Benz World at Brooklands

If your budget won’t stretch to that one-of-a-kind Brabus, this 190 E 2.5-16 is the next best thing. A homologation special built for the German Touring Car Championship (DTM), the 190’s 2.5-litre 16v engine was tuned by British engineering specialists, Cosworth.

If this car looks a little tattier than the MB-World norm, that’s because it was owned by the late Mike Hall, chief designer at Cosworth. Hall designed both 2.3-16 and 2.5-16 engines for the 190 E in 1984.

Mercedes-Benz 280 SE CabrioletMercedes-Benz World at Brooklands

We finish with this glorious 280 SE Cabriolet: predecessor to the modern S-Class. A 160hp 2.8-litre straight-six wafts it to 112mph, although the later 300 SEL 6.3 is the one we really want.

In fact, the 300 SEL 6.3 was the car that made AMG’s name. In 1971, the tuning company bored-out the big Merc’s engine to 6.8 litres and took victory in the Spa 24-Hour race. AMG would eventually become part of Mercedes, and the S-Class the definitive luxury car.

Volvo LifePaint can save cyclists' lives

Volvo is the car company that saves lives. Its now taken this safety mantra into a new area – helping cyclists be seen at night with LifePaint. Here’s a video that explains more. 

Volvo XC90 T8 review

Opinion: the Volvo XC90 T8 is brilliant – but it's ruined my Christmas

Volvo XC90 T8 review

In another world, I’d have a proper job that pays proper money. Writing about cars for a living is a privileged existence, but it doesn’t pay the big bucks. And while I get to drive some of the world’s finest cars, I’m often left with a sense of crushing disappointment.

Take the Volvo XC90 T8, for example. A month to the day since I reluctantly handed the keys back to Volvo, I still haven’t come to terms with my loss. And as we know, 2016 has been a year filled with sad losses.

I’ve made no secret of my irrational hatred of the new breed of crossovers and SUVs. I’m old enough to remember a time when cars would slot neatly into categories and the world knew where it stood. The blurring of the lines has left me feeling dazed and confused.

But I still have a great affection for a proper, full-size SUV. And while the Volvo XC90 might not be the kind of SUV you’d take on a jungle expedition – I’d borrow a Toyota Land Cruiser for such antics – it’s more than capable of facing up to the toughest challenge in the world: family life.

Allow me to explain.

The XC90 isn’t new to me. I attended the UK launch in Yorkshire and have fond memories of being perched on a hillside listening to a Last Night of the Proms rendition of Jerusalem, streamed through the outstandingly good Bowers & Wilkins audio system.

Engage the so-called ‘Gothenburg Concert Hall’ setting and it’s akin to being in the front row of the Bournemouth Pavilion listening to an orchestra. I’d like to say it’s like being in the Gothenburg Concert Hall, but I’ve never had the pleasure. But take it from me, it’s good enough to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand to attention.

If you’re buying a Volvo XC90, you might as well add £3,000 to the purchase price, as it’s a must-have upgrade. Even if I do find Volvo’s decision to charge £300 for Apple CarPlay a little Scrooge-like. Bah humbug, or whatever they might say in Sweden.

I’m reliably informed – by a Volvo test driver, no less – that the word is ‘lurendrejeri’. Yes, Volvo, not offering CarPlay for free is a bit of a fiddle. But I digress.

Last Christmas I drove an XC90 D5 from Devon to Scotland (and back), before concluding that my life wouldn’t be complete until I had one parked outside my house. There are other things that would make my life complete – Keeley Hawes on speed dial, Brentford FC in the Premier League, and a lifetime supply of Hobnobs – but you get the picture.

With the benefit of hindsight, the D5 wouldn’t be my first choice of engine. Frugal it might be, but it falls just short of being able to power this two-tonne SUV without breaking sweat. A Yamaha-built V8 engine would do nicely, but Volvo is committed to a four-cylinder future, so there’s no chance of that.

Which brings me back to the T8. Right now, this is as close to perfection as you can get. There are faults, of course there are, but to point them out would be like flying to New York on Concorde and then complaining that the flight was too short.

But in the interests of balance, let me list the minor indiscretions I listed under ‘nitpicking’ in my Moleskine notebook. Weirdly, in the two XC90s I’ve spent an extended period of time with, the passenger side heated seat had a tendency to switch itself off. Annoying, if you enjoy the feeling of a warm bum.

Then there’s the sat-nav, which at first looks great in its tablet-style portrait mode. But the map is woefully short on detail and terribly disappointing to anyone who has experience with, say, a new Audi. And don’t get me started on the issue of fingerprints ruining what is a central part of the cabin.

Yes, Volvo puts a small cleaning cloth in the glovebox, but you just know that will be lost within the first couple of months. Or your youngest child will have used it to blow their nose. And by including the cloth, Volvo is acknowledging it might be an issue. A small detail, perhaps, but I told you I was nitpicking.

I could also point to the claimed 134.5mpg on a combined cycle, but surely nobody buys a T8 and expects to achieve such a lofty figure. In reality, after a week of driving, we were seeing figures in the mid 30s. An eco-hybrid this is not. In fact, be prepared to get on first name terms with your local petrol station cashier.

But that’s where the nitpicking ends. Whilst acknowledging that in this case love might be blind, I’m struggling to find any real issues of note.

Take the styling. Somehow, Volvo has managed to build a car that remains elegant and graceful – a stark contrast to the SUVs churned out by the Germans. While a Q7, X5 and whatever Mercedes-Benz is calling its large SUV these days might look brash, brutish and menacing, the XC90 somehow blends into its surroundings.

XC90 T8

It’s not that it’s small. A length of 4,950mm and width of 2,140mm pitches it neatly between the BMW X5 and Audi Q7. In other words, somewhere between a cathedral and the town hall. Yet it looks no more out of place than a tanning shop in Alderley Edge.

Then there’s the packaging. Because Volvo designed the XC90 for electrification from the ground up, the battery pack makes no difference to the size of the boot. Meanwhile, opt for the Mercedes-Benz GLE plug-in hybrid and you’re left with a box in the boot that resembles something your mate Bill knocked up in his shed.

It gets better. The fit and finish in the cabin is such that, even when your wife suggests visiting the in-laws or heading to a retail park on a Saturday afternoon, you’ll be only too pleased to oblige. Just be prepared to spend the entire day longing for the drive home.

A word or two about the engine. The T in T8 stands for Twin Engine, which means you’re treated to a 320hp petrol engine at the front and an 87hp electric motor at the rear. You don’t need to be Rachel Riley to calculate that this gives the XC90 a total of 407hp. Four hundred and seven!

The top speed of 140mph isn’t going to trouble the black luxobarges on the outside lane of ze autobahn, but the time it takes to reach 62mph might. Engage ‘POWER’ mode and this luxury appointed Stockholm penthouse suite will hit the mark in 5.6 seconds.

Think about that for a moment. This full-size, seven-seat SUV is quick enough to go hunting sports cars on a B-road. Not that you’ll want to do any kind of chasing or hunting in the XC90. The car is too well-mannered for such nonsense.

But by ‘eck does it feel quick. In power mode, it’s as though a bolt of electric runs through the XC90’s body, as if magic dust has been sprinkled on Santa’s reindeer. All of a sudden, the gas pedal requires only the slightest of touch before you’re hurtling towards the next bend.

At this point you’ll discover that the XC90 will lean a little if you’re too enthusiastic through the bend. But to complain about body roll in an XC90 is like criticising your armchair for not chilling your wine. Comfortable, relaxing and safe – three things your sofa shares in common with the XC90.

Sadly, you can’t equip your three-piece suite with four-corner electronic air suspension. On steel springs, the XC90 is perfectly fine. Add the air suspension and you’ll feel like you’re driving across a bed of marshmallows laced with the fur from a chinchilla. You could drive over Chipping Norton and not feel it.

OK, I’m fully aware that this is turning into a love letter penned for the Volvo XC90. But the internet is awash with rational car reviews about steering feel, load capacity and CO2 emissions (it’s 49g/km, in case you were wondering).

But, just occasionally, a car comes along that ticks all the boxes. Emotionally and rationally, I find the Volvo XC90 so damn appealing I just had to open my heart. Money no object, I’d buy an XC90 tomorrow and spend the rest of my life drenched in smug satisfaction.

I’ve even taken the liberty of speccing my ideal car. Sadly, it comes in at £84,200, some £20,000 more than the entry-level T8 Momentum and around £84,000 over budget.

My ideal Volvo XC90

Dear Santa, if you’re reading this, I’ll take mine in Twilight Bronze, with 22-inch rims, air suspension, Bowers & Wilkins and a few extra toys thrown in for good measure. I’ll collect it from the Volvo dealer at the North Pole, ta.

The night before I reluctantly handed the car back to Volvo, I was driving home along the M5, children cocooned in the back, wife Whatsapping in the front seat. I glanced over my shoulder at my two children, safe in the knowledge that daddy was driving the safest car in the world. If you’re a father, you’ll know there’s a lot to be said for that.

Unfortunately, this particular daddy can’t afford to buy the safest car in the world. Sorry, kids. If you work hard at school, you might get a proper job that pays proper money. Then you can afford the nicer things in life.

To Volvo, I say this: your mission to ensure nobody should be killed or injured in a new Volvo is admirable, but it can’t do much about crushing disappointment.

Volvo XC90 T8 review

Opinion: the Volvo XC90 T8 is brilliant – but it’s ruined my Christmas

Volvo XC90 T8 review

In another world, I’d have a proper job that pays proper money. Writing about cars for a living is a privileged existence, but it doesn’t pay the big bucks. And while I get to drive some of the world’s finest cars, I’m often left with a sense of crushing disappointment.

Take the Volvo XC90 T8, for example. A month to the day since I reluctantly handed the keys back to Volvo, I still haven’t come to terms with my loss. And as we know, 2016 has been a year filled with sad losses.

I’ve made no secret of my irrational hatred of the new breed of crossovers and SUVs. I’m old enough to remember a time when cars would slot neatly into categories and the world knew where it stood. The blurring of the lines has left me feeling dazed and confused.

But I still have a great affection for a proper, full-size SUV. And while the Volvo XC90 might not be the kind of SUV you’d take on a jungle expedition – I’d borrow a Toyota Land Cruiser for such antics – it’s more than capable of facing up to the toughest challenge in the world: family life.

Allow me to explain.

The XC90 isn’t new to me. I attended the UK launch in Yorkshire and have fond memories of being perched on a hillside listening to a Last Night of the Proms rendition of Jerusalem, streamed through the outstandingly good Bowers & Wilkins audio system.

Engage the so-called ‘Gothenburg Concert Hall’ setting and it’s akin to being in the front row of the Bournemouth Pavilion listening to an orchestra. I’d like to say it’s like being in the Gothenburg Concert Hall, but I’ve never had the pleasure. But take it from me, it’s good enough to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand to attention.

If you’re buying a Volvo XC90, you might as well add £3,000 to the purchase price, as it’s a must-have upgrade. Even if I do find Volvo’s decision to charge £300 for Apple CarPlay a little Scrooge-like. Bah humbug, or whatever they might say in Sweden.

I’m reliably informed – by a Volvo test driver, no less – that the word is ‘lurendrejeri’. Yes, Volvo, not offering CarPlay for free is a bit of a fiddle. But I digress.

Last Christmas I drove an XC90 D5 from Devon to Scotland (and back), before concluding that my life wouldn’t be complete until I had one parked outside my house. There are other things that would make my life complete – Keeley Hawes on speed dial, Brentford FC in the Premier League, and a lifetime supply of Hobnobs – but you get the picture.

With the benefit of hindsight, the D5 wouldn’t be my first choice of engine. Frugal it might be, but it falls just short of being able to power this two-tonne SUV without breaking sweat. A Yamaha-built V8 engine would do nicely, but Volvo is committed to a four-cylinder future, so there’s no chance of that.

Which brings me back to the T8. Right now, this is as close to perfection as you can get. There are faults, of course there are, but to point them out would be like flying to New York on Concorde and then complaining that the flight was too short.

But in the interests of balance, let me list the minor indiscretions I listed under ‘nitpicking’ in my Moleskine notebook. Weirdly, in the two XC90s I’ve spent an extended period of time with, the passenger side heated seat had a tendency to switch itself off. Annoying, if you enjoy the feeling of a warm bum.

Then there’s the sat-nav, which at first looks great in its tablet-style portrait mode. But the map is woefully short on detail and terribly disappointing to anyone who has experience with, say, a new Audi. And don’t get me started on the issue of fingerprints ruining what is a central part of the cabin.

Yes, Volvo puts a small cleaning cloth in the glovebox, but you just know that will be lost within the first couple of months. Or your youngest child will have used it to blow their nose. And by including the cloth, Volvo is acknowledging it might be an issue. A small detail, perhaps, but I told you I was nitpicking.

I could also point to the claimed 134.5mpg on a combined cycle, but surely nobody buys a T8 and expects to achieve such a lofty figure. In reality, after a week of driving, we were seeing figures in the mid 30s. An eco-hybrid this is not. In fact, be prepared to get on first name terms with your local petrol station cashier.

But that’s where the nitpicking ends. Whilst acknowledging that in this case love might be blind, I’m struggling to find any real issues of note.

Take the styling. Somehow, Volvo has managed to build a car that remains elegant and graceful – a stark contrast to the SUVs churned out by the Germans. While a Q7, X5 and whatever Mercedes-Benz is calling its large SUV these days might look brash, brutish and menacing, the XC90 somehow blends into its surroundings.

XC90 T8

It’s not that it’s small. A length of 4,950mm and width of 2,140mm pitches it neatly between the BMW X5 and Audi Q7. In other words, somewhere between a cathedral and the town hall. Yet it looks no more out of place than a tanning shop in Alderley Edge.

Then there’s the packaging. Because Volvo designed the XC90 for electrification from the ground up, the battery pack makes no difference to the size of the boot. Meanwhile, opt for the Mercedes-Benz GLE plug-in hybrid and you’re left with a box in the boot that resembles something your mate Bill knocked up in his shed.

It gets better. The fit and finish in the cabin is such that, even when your wife suggests visiting the in-laws or heading to a retail park on a Saturday afternoon, you’ll be only too pleased to oblige. Just be prepared to spend the entire day longing for the drive home.

A word or two about the engine. The T in T8 stands for Twin Engine, which means you’re treated to a 320hp petrol engine at the front and an 87hp electric motor at the rear. You don’t need to be Rachel Riley to calculate that this gives the XC90 a total of 407hp. Four hundred and seven!

The top speed of 140mph isn’t going to trouble the black luxobarges on the outside lane of ze autobahn, but the time it takes to reach 62mph might. Engage ‘POWER’ mode and this luxury appointed Stockholm penthouse suite will hit the mark in 5.6 seconds.

Think about that for a moment. This full-size, seven-seat SUV is quick enough to go hunting sports cars on a B-road. Not that you’ll want to do any kind of chasing or hunting in the XC90. The car is too well-mannered for such nonsense.

But by ‘eck does it feel quick. In power mode, it’s as though a bolt of electric runs through the XC90’s body, as if magic dust has been sprinkled on Santa’s reindeer. All of a sudden, the gas pedal requires only the slightest of touch before you’re hurtling towards the next bend.

At this point you’ll discover that the XC90 will lean a little if you’re too enthusiastic through the bend. But to complain about body roll in an XC90 is like criticising your armchair for not chilling your wine. Comfortable, relaxing and safe – three things your sofa shares in common with the XC90.

Sadly, you can’t equip your three-piece suite with four-corner electronic air suspension. On steel springs, the XC90 is perfectly fine. Add the air suspension and you’ll feel like you’re driving across a bed of marshmallows laced with the fur from a chinchilla. You could drive over Chipping Norton and not feel it.

OK, I’m fully aware that this is turning into a love letter penned for the Volvo XC90. But the internet is awash with rational car reviews about steering feel, load capacity and CO2 emissions (it’s 49g/km, in case you were wondering).

But, just occasionally, a car comes along that ticks all the boxes. Emotionally and rationally, I find the Volvo XC90 so damn appealing I just had to open my heart. Money no object, I’d buy an XC90 tomorrow and spend the rest of my life drenched in smug satisfaction.

I’ve even taken the liberty of speccing my ideal car. Sadly, it comes in at £84,200, some £20,000 more than the entry-level T8 Momentum and around £84,000 over budget.

My ideal Volvo XC90

Dear Santa, if you’re reading this, I’ll take mine in Twilight Bronze, with 22-inch rims, air suspension, Bowers & Wilkins and a few extra toys thrown in for good measure. I’ll collect it from the Volvo dealer at the North Pole, ta.

The night before I reluctantly handed the car back to Volvo, I was driving home along the M5, children cocooned in the back, wife Whatsapping in the front seat. I glanced over my shoulder at my two children, safe in the knowledge that daddy was driving the safest car in the world. If you’re a father, you’ll know there’s a lot to be said for that.

Unfortunately, this particular daddy can’t afford to buy the safest car in the world. Sorry, kids. If you work hard at school, you might get a proper job that pays proper money. Then you can afford the nicer things in life.

To Volvo, I say this: your mission to ensure nobody should be killed or injured in a new Volvo is admirable, but it can’t do much about crushing disappointment.

Ferrari 328 GTS

Ferrari 328 GTS review: Retro Road Test

Ferrari 328 GTSWe’ve covered a lot of bases in these reviews, from a £2,000 Skoda to a £200,000 Porsche. But we’ve never driven a classic Ferrari… until now. Welcome to the Retro Road Test Christmas special.

The prancing horse in question is a 328: the entry-point to Ferrari’s mid-1980s range, alongside the Mondial, Testarossa, 412 and – latterly – F40. Thirty years on, it remains one of the most beautiful ‘modern’ Ferraris – and potentially one of the most sensible, too.

This 1988 328 is a targa-topped GTS (Gran Turismo Spider), kindly loaned to us by GVE London. It’s for sale at GVE’s Uxbridge showroom, priced at £129,900.

What are its rivals?Honda NSX

If you were shopping for a new Ferrari 488 GTB, you might also look at the Aston Martin V12 Vantage, Audi R8, Lamborghini Huracan, Noble M600, McLaren 650S, Mercedes-AMG GT S or Porsche 911 Turbo S.

Back in 1988, supercar buyers weren’t so spoilt for choice. The 328 had just three rivals: the Lamborghini Jalpa, Lotus Esprit and Porsche 930 Turbo. Oh, and the De Tomaso Pantera, if you really must.

Perhaps the most obvious alternative today is the original Honda NSX. Launched in 1990, the NSX has an identical power output to the 328 and shares its mid-engined layout, wedgy profile and cockpit-style cabin. It’s a sharper drive than the Ferrari – and cheaper to buy, too. But it doesn’t offer the same investment potential.

Which engine does it use?Ferrari 328 GTS

Fire up this mid-mounted V8 and there are no theatrical throttle blips or showboating exhaust pops. Only when you approach its lofty 7,700rpm redline does this engine sound special. Well, needs must…

The 328 uses a 3.2-litre development of the 3.0 quattrovalvole (four valves per cylinder) V8 from the Ferrari 308. Maximum power is 274hp at 7,000rpm, while peak torque is 224lb ft at 5,500rpm. In a car weighing a modest 1,325kg, that’s good for 0-60mph in 5.5 seconds and a top speed of circa. 160mph.

What’s it like to drive?Ferrari 328 GTS

Ferrari’s open-gate manual gearbox looks timelessly cool, but boy it needs some muscle – especially when cold. I’m advised to short-shift from first to third until the oil is warmed-up. However, I immediately fail by forgetting first gear is on a dog-leg: down and left, where reverse might usually be. Forget your click-click flappy paddles, this car demands deliberate, decisive inputs.

The same goes for the unassisted steering, which is heavy at low speeds, and the engine, which demands to be kept on the boil. The brakes are far better than most cars of this era, though, despite the pedals being ridiculously skewed towards the centre of the car.

On damp, December tarmac, I won’t pretend I pushed the 328 anywhere near its limits. But I did escape the London suburbs and find some quiet lanes, stowing the targa top behind the seats (a two-minute job, incidentally) and relishing the rasp of the V8 as it bounced off the hedgerows.

It took a while, but here the Ferrari and I had a meeting of minds. Its gorgeous Momo steering wheel danced in my hands as we dived through a series of bends, poised and precise. If offers no electronic safety nets, and thus no excuses. Driving a 328 is physical, cerebral and utterly analogue – and all the better for it.

Reliability and running costsFerrari 328 GTS

The 328 is considered one of the most reliable classic Ferraris. An evolution of the 308, launched in 1975, it’s a relatively simple car, free from electronic wizardry. Bosch K-Jetronic mechanical fuel injection was the order of the day here.

Unlike many Ferraris, a 328 can be serviced without removing the engine. This keeps servicing costs down: GVE estimates around £750 for a new cambelt, plus oil and filter change. Taking into account wear-and-tear parts, such as tyres and brake pads, budget around £2,500 a year in total.

Fuel economy is quoted as 22.5mpg at a constant 56mph – and probably low teens if you give the car a workout. Still, look after your 328 and it should be an appreciating asset. With luck, that rise in value could outweigh the running costs altogether.

Could I drive it every day?Ferrari 328 GTS

In theory, yes. Amazingly, the 328 is shorter and narrower than a current Ford Focus, so it’s compact enough to feel nimble in the city. That’s not something you could say about the wide-boy Testarossa, or indeed the majority of 21st century supercars.

Ride quality is better than modern machines, too – thank absorbent 55-profile tyres – and the 328 has enough luxuries (air-con, electric windows, um… a cassette player) to be comfortable on longer journeys. It feels like a sports car built for the road, rather than the racetrack.

The big question, of course, is should you drive it every day? There, the answer is probably ‘no’. The rising value of 328s dictates that most owners want to keep wear and mileage to a minimum. And on that note…

How much should I pay?Ferrari 328 GTS

The 308 GTS was built in large numbers for a Ferrari. In total, 6,068 left Maranello, versus 1,344 for the hard-top GTB.

Prices vary widely depending on mileage and condition. The cheapest UK-based GTS at the time of writing was a left-hand-drive car with 60,000 miles for £59,995. At the other end of the scale, a GTS with a scant 275 miles on the clock was advertised at £169,990.

GVE’s car falls somewhere in the middle. It’s covered a modest 13,000 miles from new – the equivalent of less than 500 miles a year – and is offered at £129,900.

What should I look out for?David Rai

We asked GVE owner David Rai (pictured) and the company’s leading Ferrari expert, Guy Tedder, what to look for when buying a Ferrari 328. These are their top five tips:

  • As with all Ferraris, service history is of paramount importance. Originality is vital with older cars, too.
  • Don’t be scared off by service stamps from a specialist; they can be a better bet than Ferrari main dealers, who don’t necessarily know much about the classic models.
  • All 328s had a galvanised body, so rust problems aren’t a big issue. However, check the bottoms of the doors and the back of the rear wheelarches for possible corrosion.
  • Windows can become slow and shuddery through lack of use. This can be rectified by lubricating the moving parts inside the door.
  • Always check that the air conditioning works efficiently. It wasn’t the most well-designed system in the world, and most cars have been converted to new gas by now.

Should I buy one?Ferrari 328 GTS

The Pininfarina-penned 328 is an object of beauty. I had one on my bedroom wall as a child and, unlike yours truly, it has only grown lovelier with age.

It isn’t particularly quick by 2016 standards (a Ford Focus RS would leave it for dust), but that hardly matters. The Ferrari offers a driving experience that’s immersive, invigorating and intoxicating. It’s a car you’ll want to learn more about: to discover its abilities by developing your own. It isn’t perfect, but the quirks are all part of its character.

For the price of this particular 328 GTS, you could buy a new Porsche 911 Turbo, a car that is, objectively, better in every way. But that is missing the point. The Ferrari is a car to be enjoyed on sunny Sunday mornings and special occasions. And it’s a savvy investment, too.

So, our Retro Road Test Christmas special didn’t disappoint. Let’s just hope Santa is paying attention…

Pub factFerrari 328 GTS

Ferrari built 542 UK right-hand-drive examples of the 328 GTS between 1986 and 1989. Of these, 292 had anti-lock (ABS) brakes.

According to Guy Tedder, ABS, models are slightly less desirable due to revised suspension geometry that made the car feel less responsive. ABS cars – like the one seen here – are easily identified by their convex alloy wheels. Non-ABS cars have concave alloys.

Mazda MX-5 vx Zenos E10 S vs Alfa Romeo 4C

These are all the cars featured on The Grand Tour so far

The Grand Tour: all the cars so far

It’s Friday, which means it’s time for another episode of The Grand Tour. This week, Clarkson, Hammond and May are in Rotterdam, a place with well-dressed policemen and the home of the speed camera. Anyway, these are the cars featured this week…

Mazda MX-5 vx Zenos E10 S vs Alfa Romeo 4C

Mazda MX-5 vx Zenos E10 S vs Alfa Romeo 4C

Richard Hammond claims the Mazda MX-5 is “all the sports car you’d ever need,” and it’s a bargain – with prices starting at £18,495. The new model comes with air-con, heated seats, lane-departure assist, cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, dusk-sensing headlamps… all of which makes it better, says Hammond.

Zenos E10 S

James May disagrees. Quoting Lotus founder Colin Chapman, he says these extras add weight meaning it’s not a true sports car any more. Which is why Captain Slow’s picked the Zenos E10 S, which manages without a radio, roof or even a heater. It does, however, have a 250hp Ford Focus ST engine.

To decide which is better, the pair head to the “obvious proving ground for all sports cars”: North Africa.

Alfa Romeo 4C

And then Clarkson turns up in an Alfa Romeo 4C. He insists it’s his “favourite car currently on sale”, despite the dim-witted gearbox, lifeless steering and eagerness to chuck you in a ditch for no reason. He justifies it by saying: “Put it this way, we all could probably find fault with our children, and yet we still love them.”

It also gives Clarkson cramp, and it costs more than the Mazda and Zenos put together.

The Grand Tour

The group test concludes with a race between the three sports cars through a film set used in The Jewel of the Nile and Game of Thrones. The sandy roads make for a lot of oversteer and ends with Hammond sliding sideways into an ancient sculpture. Despite this, Hammond in the MX-5 is the fastest around the track, but admits it’s a hollow victory.

Car battleships

Car battleships

Kids of today are no longer interested in board games, apparently. But The Grand Tour trio reckoned they would be if they could play life-size versions. So, they borrowed a crane, a fleet of old bangers and a line-up of G-Wiz electric cars. The results were rather spectacular – but we can’t help wondering if the G-Wiz owners’ club might be penning letters as you read this.

Porsche 911 GT3 RS vs BMW M4 GTS

Porsche 911 GT3 RS vs BMW M4 GTS

Missed episode four? Last week’s episode started with Clarkson singing the praises of the Porsche 911 GT3 RS. “Oh, it’s very, very good,” he says, as he slides the GT3 RS around The Grand Tour’s Eboladrome test track. But is it as good as the BMW M4 GTS?

Clarkson gives the BMW M4 GTS a bit of a pasting in The Grand Tour. He slates the lack of practicality, and complains that the ride is too bumpy while the “drone from the tyres is horrendous”. You might be expecting a “but”… but it doesn’t come (yet). He complains about having to fill the water tank for the engine’s water injection, while he describes the steering as “horrid”.

It sounds like there’s a clear winner, then, with Clarkson concluding: “This competition between these two cars is like a boxing match between an actual boxer and someone who thinks he’s a boxer because they’re wearing satin shorts.”

But… and, eventually, there is a “but”, the BMW M4 is crowned the winner, solely because Richard Hammond has bought a Porsche 911 GT3 RS.

Sustainable cars

Sustainable cars

“In recent years, the world’s carmakers have made great strides to make more fuel-efficient and more environmentally-friendly car engines,” says Hammond, “but very little has been done to make more environmentally-friendly car bodies and interiors.”

This gave the team an idea. The three of them bought an old Land Rover Discovery and gave it a more eco-friendly appearance…

An old Land Rover Discovery covered in mud isn’t such an unusual sight, but what about one made of mud? This one weighs five tonnes, and chunks fall off it during driving. It soon requires a re-think, with May rebuilding it out of bricks. That doesn’t work particularly well either, so eventually James resorts to straw and cow poo. And, you guessed it, that’s not exactly problem-free.

Sustainable cars

Hammond’s attempt features a frame made out of hazel before being covered in flowers and shrubs. “It’s basically a hedgerow,” he says. The flowers are planted in compost and nutrients, meaning they’re still growing – and, as Hammond puts it, “you don’t wash this car, you water it.”

And finally, Clarkson’s attempt at being green is a little more controversial. It uses animal skin and bones, with ears for door mirrors and a cow’s rectum as the windscreen. It has its pitfalls – dogs tear it apart overnight, meaning Jeremy has to visit the local butcher to repair his car. Watch the episode to find out whose attempt at sustainable transport worked the best.

Jensen Interceptors

Jensen Interceptors

Episode three began with the sight of the three presenters making their way to Whitby at the wheel of a trio of Jensen Interceptors. It’s a fitting choice of car for an episode dominated by three British blokes gallivanting around Tuscany, as the Interceptor was very much an Anglo-Italian GT car.

Clarkson and May decided to visit Italy to embark on a very modern take on the classic Grand Tour recipe. A journey of art, of culture and of fine food is planned. The question is: what cars should the duo drive?

Aston Martin DB11

Aston Martin DB11

For Clarkson, the choice is the new Aston Martin DB11. Arguably one of the greatest GT cars you can buy today, the DB11 packs a 5.2-litre twin-turbo V12 engine, producing a mighty 608hp. It’ll reach a top speed of 200mph, a figure that gives Clarkson some much needed bragging rights later in the show. Oh, and if anybody asks, the car is Sunburst Orange. Not brown. Definitely not brown.

Rolls-Royce Dawn

Rolls-Royce Dawn

As for May, he decides to lord it about in Tuscany with the help of the Rolls-Royce Dawn. If it looks familiar, that’s because it’s the same one Matt LeBlanc drove in the latest series of Top Gear (and we tested it earlier this year). Clarkson does his best to convince May that it’s little more than a BMW 7-Series in a fancy suit, but the long-haired one is not for turning. The scene is set: Clarkson and May are ready to head into the beautifully manicured hills of Tuscany. Or are they?

Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat

Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat

No, because – surprise, surprise – Richard Hammond turns up in a very loud and very thirsty Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat. The 707hp all-American action hero isn’t your typical GT car, but then the Grand Tour isn’t your typical car show. Hammond justifies the Hellcat by likening the original concept of a Grand Tour as a little like an “18th century Cannonball Run”.

What follows is a road trip that feels very much like an episode you might have seen during the old days of Top Gear. Clarkson and May spend most of the time attempting to escape from Hammond, while Hammond himself spends most of his time in petrol stations. Describing Hammond and his Hellcat, May said: “It’s like someone being sick on you while you read a nice book.”

Jezza’s self-driving car

Jezza’s self-driving car

Back in the tent, the trio urge the buying public to stop buying cars like the Renault Kadjar and Nissan Juke, while Clarkson presents his own take on Google’s self-driving car. “How hard can it be?” asks Jezza. You can judge the results for yourself. Meanwhile, look out for a very explosive ending…

Aston Martin Vulcan

Aston Martin Vulcan

Now, let’s look back at episode two. The episode starts with Clarkson hammering around a track in Aston Martin’s rather special, track-only £1.8 million Vulcan. Only 24 will ever be made but Clarkson doesn’t seem that impressed from the start.

“You will be able to edit this out, won’t you? I don’t want people thinking I’m fat,” he jibes as he struggles to get into the hypercar. He then tears it apart for being uncomfortable and not very well equipped – the windows don’t go down, it’s noisy and “you only get half a steering wheel”.

All Aston Martin Vulcan buyers can have it shipped out to a racetrack of their choice where a team of mechanics will set it up for them and show them how to drive it – all part of the service. In typical Clarkson review style, by the time he’s spent some time driving it aggressively, he’s rather more convinced.

“I LOVE THIS THING VERY MUCH,” he concludes, shoutily.

Once The Grand Tour’s American racing driver Mike Skinner prises the keys from Clarkson’s grip, he sets a time of 1:15.5 around the show’s test track – that’s 2.4 seconds quicker than a McLaren 650S, the outgoing leader.

Audi S8 Plus in Jordan

Audi S8 Plus in Jordan

Now onto the mean feature of episode two. Jordan, in the Middle East, has built a mock town where special forces around the world are sent to compete and decide which one’s best. What’s this got to do with The Grand Tour..?

“Mr Wilman, who is the fat man who controls our lives [and executive producer of The Grand Tour], decided that us three should go and take part,” explains James May.

Now, those who were hoping The Grand Tour would be a ‘proper’ car show might be a tad disappointed with this feature. But it involves guns and helicopters, and they’re cool, right?

It also features an Audi S8 Plus used as a getaway car to transport the Queen (yes, it’s definitely her) away from terrorists. Clarkson and May can’t help but review the car, praising its ride quality and performance.

Spinning in an E30 BMW 3 Series

Spinning in an E30 BMW 3 Series

The final feature of Episode Two is what Clarkson describes as “making James May do something that he doesn’t want to do.” The first of what’s likely to be an on-going feature involves ‘spinning’, a South African thing that involves doing donuts in an elderly, rear-wheel-drive car to a backdrop of rap music.

“It’s lively, it’s interesting and it’s youthful. It’s everything he [James May] isn’t,” Clarkson explains.

Apparently, old E30 BMW 3 Series models are a popular choice for the sport, so that’s what James May is taken out in. He’s not very impressed when his driver gets out and leaves him in the car doing donuts by itself. So that’s all the cars featured in Episode Two…

McLaren P1, LaFerrari and Porsche 918

Not watched the first episode yet? The team managed to get the “hypercar holy trinity” of the McLaren P1, LaFerrari and Porsche 918 together. It’s a group test that the team never managed on Top Gear – the car manufacturers wouldn’t co-operate, apparently, and while the crew were desperately trying to convince owners to let them borrow their cars, the fracas happened and ruined it all. Until now.

McLaren P1 - The Grand Tour

The McLaren P1 is Clarkson’s hypercar of choice. The plug-in hybrid uses a twin-turbocharged 3.8-litre V8 petrol engine combined with an electric motor to produce 917hp. It’ll hit 0-62mph in 2.8 seconds and reach an electronically-limited top speed of 218mph. Without its limiter, the P1 is good for 249mph.

Prices for the McLaren P1 started at £866,000. Only 375 were made, with the last one leaving the firm’s Woking production line in September 2013. There are currently four listed on Auto Trader – but you’ll need to splash out at least £1,675,000. Call it an investment.

LaFerrari - The Grand Tour

The LaFerrari’s power (all 963hp of it) comes from a 6.3-litre V12 combined with an electric motor. The 0-62mph run is dispatched in less than 3.0 seconds, while top speed is more than 217mph. James May reckoned it would “absolutely mince” the other two…

Just 499 LaFerraris were sold worldwide at a cost of around £1 million each. There’s currently just one listed on Auto Trader, for an incredible £3.5 million.

Porsche 918 - The Grand Tour

Now onto Richard Hammond’s choice, the Porsche 918. Power comes from a 4.6-litre V8 engine combined with not one but two electric motors, producing a total power output of 887hp. In standard guise, it’d hit 62mph in 2.5 seconds and was capable of a top speed of 218hp. The one featured in The Grand Tour has the optional Weissach Package – a £60,000 pack which reduces weight and can lap the Nürburgring three seconds quicker than the standard 918.

Meanwhile, the Porsche 918 would have cost you a relatively affordable £625,000 when it was on sale. But today you’ll be looking at paying at least £1.1 million on the second-hand market.

Spoiler alert: the fastest around The Grand Tour’s new test track was the Porsche 918 (1:54.2), followed by the LaFerrari (1:54.4) and McLaren P1 (1:55.5). Clarkson promised Hammond and May they could bulldoze his house if the McLaren didn’t win.

Ford Mustang

Ford Mustang

The hypercar trio aside, what else did Clarkson, Hammond and May drive in the first episode of The Grand Tour? Well, it starts with the threesome driving through the States in red, white and blue Ford Mustangs. Powered by a 5.0-litre V8, the latest Ford Mustang (and the only to officially be sold in Europe) will hit 62mph in 4.8 seconds. It also features a burnout mode. And this wasn’t all…

Ferrari 488

Ferrari 488

New programme… new track. To show off the “eboladrome”, The Grand Tour’s unidentified driver completed a lap in a “performance icon”, the Ferrari 488. Unfortunately Ferrari wouldn’t let them time it.

BMW M2

The Grand Tour - BMW M2

It’s one of our favourite ever BMWs – and Clarkson’s now dubbed it “the best M car BMW has ever made”. The BMW M2 produces 365hp from its turbocharged 3.0-litre straight six and, as Clarkson proves on track, it’s very happy to flatter the driver in some oversteer fun.

He concludes that the BMW M2 is “an absolute masterpiece”.

James May’s Prius

James May’s Prius

Teasing the show, The Grand Tour has planted three ‘crashed’ Toyota Priuses around the world. The first one, sporting the number plate ‘M4Y’ and ‘The Grand Tour’ decals, was seen squashed against a postbox outside London’s King’s Cross station.

Richard Hammond’s Prius

Richard Hammond’s Prius

Meanwhile, a red Prius with the plate ‘H4MMOND’ was seen crashing through the ground in Berlin…

Jeremy Clarkson’s Prius

Jeremy Clarkson’s Prius

And sporting, you guessed it, a ‘CL4RKSON’’ number plate, this blue Toyota Prius was spotted in LA. Previously, the controversial presenter described Prius owners as ‘morons who think they’re saving the planet’.

London congestion charge scrapped over Christmas - but these areas will be hit by roadworks

London congestion charge scrapped over Christmas – but these areas will be hit by roadworks

London congestion charge scrapped over Christmas - but these areas will be hit by roadworks

Transport for London (TfL) has announced it will be suspending its congestion charge over the festive period – but has warned that some areas will face extra traffic caused by roadworks.

TfL said today that the congestion charge will be suspended from Saturday 24 December until Monday 2 January inclusive. The daily charge (£11.50) will apply again from Tuesday 3 January.

The charge, which normally applies in Central London on weekdays between 7am and 6pm, is traditionally dropped over the Christmas period.

These are the main roadworks being carried out in London over Christmas:

Victoria Embankment: Until the end of the day on Friday 23 December, there will be a westbound lane restriction on Victoria Embankment at the junction of Temple Avenue. This is to facilitate repairs to a gas leak.

Tower Bridge: Until 30 December, Tower Bridge is closed to all traffic while the City of London Corporation carry out major essential maintenance works. Roads in and around the area will be busier than usual. A signed diversion route is in place, via London Bridge northbound and via Southwark Bridge southbound.

A1 Holloway Road: Planned closures of A1 Holloway Road continue until mid-January 2017. This is while work is carried out to replace Upper Holloway Bridge.

Finchley Road: Until 31 December, there are lane restrictions on A41 at Finchley Road at the junction of College Crescent. This is for utility works.

Victoria: Until 27 January, there are lane restrictions on Buckingham Palace Road at the junction of Victoria Street. This is for construction works.

Archway: From 21:00 on Saturday 17 December, the gyratory around Archway Tube station will be removed and switched to two-way traffic. From 05:00 on Sunday 18 December, Highgate Hill will be permanently closed to vehicles and there will be no right turn from St. John’s Way to Archway Road or from Junction Road to Holloway Road.

Central London: From 09:00 until 18:00 on Monday 19 December, roads in the area will be busier than usual, including Great Portland Street, Regent Street, Whitehall and Parliament Square. This is due to demonstrations.

Central London: From 08:00 on Monday 26 December until 06:00 on 3 January, there will be lane restrictions on A501 Euston Road between Edgware Road and King’s Cross. This is for TfL maintenance and utility works.

More information on travelling in London over the Christmas period can be found on TfL’s website.

Revealed: the world’s favourite supercars

Revealed: the world’s favourite supercars

Revealed: the world’s favourite supercars

An incredible 1.79 billion of us logged into Facebook in the third quarter of 2016 – almost a quarter of the world’s population. While many of use the social network as a way of sharing cat pictures, it can also provide a fascinating insight into trends around the world.

Comparison website Go Compare has analysed these trends to reveal the most popular supercar manufacturers around the world.

10: Noble – 125,000

The company carrying out the research selected 10 supercar manufacturers and analysed which had the biggest audience on Facebook. Small-time British manufacturer Noble came in 10th place, with a reach of 125,000. Sure, it’s lagging behind the big boys but, curiously, they’re not all in the UK. More than 60% of Noble’s audience is in Germany.

9: Pagani – 850,000

9: Pagani - 850,000

Makers of the Zonda and Huayra, Italian firm Pagani is also a relatively small company. But its reach is a little greater than Noble’s, with a Facebook audience of 850,000 worldwide. Oddly, it’s most popular in New Zealand – where, incidentally, the highest concentration of supercar fanatics can be found.

8: McLaren – 1,250,000

Back to Britain, with the Woking manufacturer of the P1 having an audience of 1.25 million worldwide. Saudi Arabia claims 175,000 of those enthusiasts – more than anywhere else in the world. Blighty comes in 12th place for McLaren fans, behind Croatia, Qatar and Sweden.

7: Koenigsegg – 1,750,000

7: Koenigsegg - 1,750,000

With so much hype around McLaren here in the UK, it might be surprising to see that Koenigsegg has a greater reach on Facebook. The Swedish company produces supercars such as the One:1 and Regera, with most of its fans in Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria.

6: Bugatti – 12,500,000

The numbers take a huge leap now, with the VW Group owned maker of the Chiron reaching an incredible 12.5 million fans worldwide. Oddly, Hungary is home to the largest amount of Bugatti fans, with Saudi Arabia and Switzerland close behind.

=4: Maserati – 12,500,000

=4: Maserati - 12,500,000

As you’ll soon see, Italian supercar manufacturers attract a huge following around the world. Maserati is particularly popular in the United Arab Emirates, Taiwan and Saudi Arabia. It shares fourth place in the top 10 with a British carmaker, however…

=4: Aston Martin – 17,500,000

Yes, James Bond’s favourite Aston Martin is the fourth most popular supercar manufacturer around the world according to data from Facebook. 17.5 million of us interact with Aston – and it’s more popular than Ferrari in China, Kazakhstan, Myanmar, Uganda and Ghana. Its number one country for fans is Turkey.

3: Lamborghini – 42,500,000

3: Lamborghini - 42,500,000

From the Countach pin-up of the 70s to the bonkers Sesto Elemento concept of 2010, Lamborghini knows how to make a headline-grabbing supercar. Naturally, it has a huge following in its native Italy, but Lamborghini actually has more fans in wealthy Saudi Arabia.

2: Porsche – 47,500,000

Looking at Porsche’s line-up today, it’s hard to believe the firm’s first model was based largely on the original Volkswagen Beetle. The sports car manufacturer behind the incredible 918 Spyder, Porsche has a huge following around the world, with an impressive reach of 47.5 million fans on Facebook. Unsurprisingly, it’s the most popular supercar maker in Germany, but it also takes top spot in the USA – where there are 3.8 million fans.

1: Ferrari – 55,000,000

1: Ferrari - 55,000,000

Unsurprisingly, the most popular supercar manufacturer worldwide amongst the Facebook generation is Ferrari. The prancing horse has an incredible reach of 55 million people, with the United Arab Emirates being home to more of its fans than Italy. It’s also the most popular supercar company here in the UK, where 1,275,000 of us are counted as ‘followers’ of the prancing horse.

Uber under fire after self-driving cars run red lights

Uber under fire after self-driving cars run red lights

Uber under fire after self-driving cars run red lights

Transportation giant Uber has been threatened by authorities in California after a number of its self-driving vehicles were spotted committing traffic violations during testing in San Francisco.

The company has failed to get the appropriate state permit to trial the autonomous vehicles – but has argued that it isn’t needed, because all its cars have a driver to monitor the situation and take over if required.

Uber is trialling ‘a handful’ of Volvo XC90s fitted with its autonomous driving equipment in the city – with two caught on camera running red lights during the first day of the trial.

The first was caught on dashcam by an operations manager for cab company Luxor. It shows an Uber XC90 running through a pedestrian crossing several seconds after the light changed to red.

Uber under fire after self-driving cars run red lights

Elsewhere in the city, a member of the public also snapped an Uber vehicle ignoring a red light at an intersection.

The company has responded blaming the incidents on ‘human error’.

In a statement, Uber said: “These incidents were due to human error. This is why we believe so much in making the roads safer by building self-driving Ubers. The drivers involved have been suspended while we continue to investigate.”

Regulators in California have written to Uber threatening to take legal action if it didn’t stop trialling the vehicles with a permit.

“It is essential that Uber takes appropriate measures to ensure safety of the public,” the California department of motor vehicles (DMV) said. “If Uber does not confirm immediately that it will stop its launch and seek a testing permit, DMV will initiate legal action.”

The company is no stranger to controversy. It’s attracted a great deal of criticism – and legal challenges – over its use of unlicensed drivers.