First 5 Minutes LIVE: SMMT North 2013


The MR five-minute test car run is a staple challenge for the team here. We jump in, drive a short distance, then write about it.

Such quick-hit experiences tell you plenty about a car and, mindful that most car buyers’ test drives are run in a similar way to this, car makers ensure vehicles are designed to quickly please.

Today, we have the opportunity for a First 5 Minutes special. Conducted at SMMT North, I’ll be diving in and out of cars and, hopefully, writing about the as I go.

Keep coming back for more…

The afternoon – Lexus IS 300h

Lexus IS 300h

Final drive of the day was squeezed in as everyone was packing up. Possibly the most anticipated, as I was curious to find out if Lexus’ BMW 3 Series challenger actually could. Looks OK in the metal (a brighter colour would help – not white, Lexus) but the real surprise was the fantastic interior. All layered, modern sophistication and tactile, premium detailing: it’s superb. Yes, the speedo does electrically move sideways on this F Sport model too – brilliant. Being a hybrid, starting it up does no such thing and I moved silently away, sensing tight steering, a taut chassis and quality feel.

Continued on the road too: turns out the IS was the surprise of the day. There’s no piercing screech when the 2.5-litre engine kicks in (it’s much deeper, albeit still drones at times), I could almost get used to the CVT (if only it were more responsive) but it was the quality of the chassis that really impressed: it feels meaty, high-quality and a decided step up over the mainstream. A very well tied down ride that was still free from nearly all the frenetic hysteria of the CLA also felt good. All positive stuff indeed: it’s not as instantly appealing as F30 BMW, and probably not as brilliant, but there’s still a lot to like here. I’d need more time, I felt: no problem, volunteered Brooksy from the press fleet. Watch this space for more on the most positively eye-opening drive of the day.

The afternoon – Suzuki SX4 S-Cross

Suzuki S-Cross

We’re celebrating, said Suzuki. The S-Cross officially goes on sale today. What else to do, then, but drive it? First impressions were of something not quite Nissan Qashqai sized, with a slight SUV-style step-up (over very wide and thick sills) into a plain, workmanlike cabin. Didn’t seem particularly interesting, particularly for nearly £20k (see below). On the road, though, it again proved what smart engineers Suzuki has: everything is competent, capable and well engineered. The diesel’s a bit clattery but effective, it rides OK and handling shows traces of Swift-style involvement. As I locked up and turned back, I thought the front looked reasonably interesting too: a decent effort. Whether those prices are just too ambitious (particularly for the diesel) remains to be seen, though.

The afternoon – Kia pro_cee’d GT

Kia pro_cee'd GT

I run a Kia cee’d Sportswagon long-termer and have been trying to get into this hot GT for a while. How pleasing to discover an interior enhanced by deeply bolstered seats, red steering wheel stitching, a funny round gearknob and an electronic centre dial that, when you press the ‘GT’ button on the steering wheel, displays torque and turbo boost dials. Pointless but cool. It’s a corker on the go too: it feels firmer and more focused from the off, but it’s not too edgy, just very swift and very competent. The sort of everyday hot hatch you could easily live with and enjoy. The engine’s a bit gruff at the top end and the last tenth of Golf GTI-like involvement is missing, but the faster I drove, the more the Kia grew on me – there’s a lot of depth and ability within it. It looks great too and, talking to others on the day, is winning plenty of admiration. This one costs less than £20k. That’s an absolute steal.

 The afternoon – Alfa Romeo Giulietta

Alfa Romeo Giulietta

The brilliant thing about SMMT North is that there are so many people to talk to. So, as lunch approached, I then didn’t drive for two and a half hours. Quick rush to catch up meant no time for live updates. It’s thus only now I can reveal what light relief the Giulietta was after that horribly ill-sorted Mercedes-Benz. Sure, it has an Italianesque driving position (it was the only car I had to adjust at length before setting off, to no avail), has too many 1980s interior fittings below the shiny top layer and has idiotically cramped pedals that mean when you press the brake, you press the accelerator. Every time. But the chassis is eager and has surprising depth, it’s pointy and hangs on gamely, the steering is responsive and the engine – oh, the engine, is a delight. Revvy, torquey, fast and effervescent, the 170hp 1.4-litre turbo represents all that’s good about Italian cars. Making this Giulietta catch-up a most refreshing one.

1220pm – Mercedes-Benz Sprinter


The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter works as you’d hope a Mercedes-Benz van would. It’s quiet, smooth-riding, feels bulletproof, cruises nicely, has a smooth engine and has plenty in reserve. The executive car of vans, a cut above, and something that won’t scare car drivers one bit. Familiar with a B-Class? You’ll be familiar with some of this. Not the severe cab-forward feel, though, or the ultra low-geared steering, or sheer upright feel behind the wheel (blame the bulkhead). Brilliant door mirrors make it easier than you’d think to manoeuvre, mind, once you get out the habit of using the interior mirror. Lucky boys, those Mercedes-Benz van drivers.

1215pm – Mercedes-Benz CLA


Good lord! Drive a Mercedes-Benz CLA and you’ll never again say there’s no such thing as an ill-sorted car these days. It is incredible. Why? The ride. How stiff, you’ll think, as you’re thrown clear of the seat umpteen times across a rough country road. How much reliance is Mercedes-Benz placing on the fact it’s very well built to keep the dashboard and structure in one piece? The amount of energy transmitted through it by the stiff, rigid ride is quite staggering: the amount left over to throw occupants about is similarly breathtaking (sometimes literally if you land on the seat heavily). Makes the stodgy, slow steering seem a minor grumble, really, and puts the good work of the engine, gearbox, plus the interior and exterior stylists to waste. This is 2013: how has a car with this setup reached showrooms?

1110am – Peugeot 208 XY


Peugeot had sold out its allocation of GTi for 2013. It’s almost sold out of 208 XY, too. Why? The interior, mainly: very rich it is too, with lots of leather on the dash, glinting chrome-face instruments and polished metal effect plastic. The black rooflining is neat, the bolsteerd Alcantara-style seats lovely. Plenty of rough road integrity shows typical Peugeot finesse and the front end has bags of grip. Good. It needs it, given the surprise speed of the steering and the additional need to recalibrate because of the ultra-small steering wheel. Throughout my 15-minute drive, it felt odd. This isn’t a car you’ll get used to in a run around the corner (ultra-light, lifeless pedals and a baggy gearchange underline this). It’s a supermini with depth, and a rich-feeling one… but Peugeot dealers may run slightly longer test drives for a reason.

1020am – Porsche Panamera Diesel


Some are sniffy about the Panamera. They’re wrong. It’s not a real Porsche, it’s a copout, yada yada. Nonsense. This one genuinely feels like you’d imagine a four-door Porsche would: its responsive, accurate steering (quicker and more effectual than a normal saloon – and the real surprise reminder for me), beautifully tied down yet supple damping and general poise are all Stuttgart-grade. It even looks like a 911 inside: as the 911 has a Panamera interior, so the Panam’s dials, buttons and architecture now also somehow feel sportier. Bored by luxury saloons? Don’t desert them before trying a Panamera.

The coolest thing? As I took the picture, the air suspension swished down, levelling itself, Citroen BX style. Brilliant.

0745am – SMMT North LIVE

So I’m sat in Morrison’s caff, catching up on emails after a blast up the A1(M) to get here. And, musing at the car list. It’ll be over to you for part of the drives… what should I get into? Here’s the full list – I await your requests!


Alfa Romeo UK:

Giulietta 1.4 TB MultiAir 170bhp Sportiva

Bentley Motors:

Continental GT Speed W12 Convertible

Continental GT W12 Coupe


520d M Sport

435i M Sport


Camaro 6.2 V8 Coupé manual

Trax 1.7 LT VCDi five-door six-speed manual

Citroën UK:

DS3 Cabrio Dsport plus 115 petrol

C4 Picasso Hdi 115 Exclusive manual six-speed

Dacia UK:

Logan MCV Lauréate Tce 90

Sandero Stepway Ambiance dCi 90

Fiat UK:

500L 1.6 MultiJet Trekking

Ford Motor Company:

Mondeo Titanium X Business Edition estate 2.0 TDCi 163PS manual

Fiesta ST 2 1.6 16V 182PS manual six-speed

Transit Custom 330S SWB Tourneo Ltd 2.2 TDCi 155PS manual six-speed

Honda UK:

Civic 1.6 i-DTEC EX manual

CR-V 1.6 i-DTEC SR 2WD manual

Hyundai Motor UK:

Veloster turbo S 1.6 GDi manual

New ix35 Premium 1.7 CRDi 2WD


F-Type V6S


Jeep UK:

Grand Cherokee 3.0 CRD V6 Summit

Kia Motors UK:

pro-cee’d 1.6 T-GDI GT

pro-cee’d 1.6 T-GDI GT Tech

Land Rover:

Range Rover TDV6

Range Rover Sport SDV6

Lexus GB:

IS300L F Sport auto

Mazda UK:

Mazda6 2.2D saloon SE-L nav

CX-5 2.2D AWD 175PS SportNav

Mazda6 2.0 165PS Sport Nav Tourer

Mercedes-Benz UK:



New Sprinter

smart fortwo electric drive

MG Motor:

MG6 GT SE diesel



John Cooper Works Paceman

Cooper D Clubvan

Nissan Motor GB:

Micra DiG-S Tekna 1.2

Note 1.5dCi Tekna manual

Peugeot Motor Company:

208 GTi

2008 FELINE e-HDi 115

Porsche Cars GB:

991 Generation ‘Project 50’ 911

2nd Generation Panamera

Renault UK:

Captur Dynamique MediaNav dCi 90 Stop & Start

Clio Renaultsport 200 Turbo EDC LUX

ZOE Dynamique Zen

Skoda UK:

Octavia vRS 2.0 TSI 220PS DSG

Superb Facelift estate 1.6 TDI 105PS 6G manual Greenline

SsangYong Motor UK:

Turismo EX

Suzuki GB:

SX4 S-Cross 1.6 ALLGRIP SZ5

SX4 S-Cross 1.6 DDiS SZ5

Toyota GB:

GT86 2.0 TRD manual

Vauxhall Motors:


New Insignia hatch 2.0 diesel

Volkswagen GB:

Golf GTI 2.0 TSI 220PS DSG three-door

Golf Estate SE 1.6 TDI 105PS manual

Volvo Car UK:

V60 D3 R-Design Lux Nav

XC60 D5 AWD SE Lux Nav

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