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
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
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
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
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
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
DS3 Cabrio Dsport plus 115 petrol
C4 Picasso Hdi 115 Exclusive manual six-speed
Logan MCV Lauréate Tce 90
Sandero Stepway Ambiance dCi 90
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
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
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
Range Rover TDV6
Range Rover Sport SDV6
IS300L F Sport auto
Mazda6 2.2D saloon SE-L nav
CX-5 2.2D AWD 175PS SportNav
Mazda6 2.0 165PS Sport Nav Tourer
smart fortwo electric drive
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:
2008 FELINE e-HDi 115
Porsche Cars GB:
991 Generation ‘Project 50’ 911
2nd Generation Panamera
Captur Dynamique MediaNav dCi 90 Stop & Start
Clio Renaultsport 200 Turbo EDC LUX
ZOE Dynamique Zen
Octavia vRS 2.0 TSI 220PS DSG
Superb Facelift estate 1.6 TDI 105PS 6G manual Greenline
SsangYong Motor UK:
SX4 S-Cross 1.6 ALLGRIP SZ5
SX4 S-Cross 1.6 DDiS SZ5
GT86 2.0 TRD manual
New Insignia hatch 2.0 diesel
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