Ferrari Dino 'Evo'

Ferrari Dino ‘Evo’ review: a red rag to the purists

Ferrari Dino 'Evo'

Ferraris are works of automotive art, says conventional wisdom; modifying one is like daubing Dulux on the Sistine Chapel. Not that Kevin O’Rourke seems concerned. His Ferrari Dino ‘Evo’ was among the star cars at London Concours last summer, while another Dino built by his company, Mototechnique – the 400hp, F40-engined ‘Monza’ – earned a thumbs-up from Jay Leno and made the cover of Octane magazine. Is nothing sacred?

Launched in 1968, the Dino was named after Enzo Ferrari’s beloved son, Alfredo (known as ‘Alfredino’), who died of muscular dystrophy aged 24. It was Maranello’s first mid-engined road car, although it never wore the prancing horse badge (many owners added them subsequently). It was also the first ‘junior’ Ferrari, a since-unbroken bloodline that leads to the new F8 Tributo.

The original Dino 206 GT had a 2.0-litre 180hp V6, swiftly upgraded to 2.4 litres and 195hp in the 246 GT. The Evo, as you’d expect, packs a somewhat bigger punch. Its 3.2-litre V8 hails from a Ferrari 328 and uses Bosch electronic fuel injection from an F355, along with uprated driveshafts and a hydraulic clutch conversion. The result is 300hp and vastly improved reliability. “I’ve driven the car to Austria for skiing holidays and competed in three European road rallies,” confirms Kevin.

Ferrari Dino 'Evo'

The Dino’s voluptuous lines remain intact, and rightly so. The only additions are a roll cage to boost rigidity, a bespoke ‘Evo’ badge in the same angular script as Dino’s signature, plus a set of gold Ferrari 360 alloys – needed to accommodate the 360 brake discs and calipers. “Most people don’t like the wheels,” Kevin admits. The paint is a lustrous candy-flip, created by layering dark metallic red over a silver base.

I tug a delicate chrome latch and open the dainty door. The Dino’s cabin is snug and driver-focused, with simple white-on-black Veglia gauges, an evocative open-gate manual gearbox and a dashboard swathed in race car-style flock by O’Rourke Coachtrimmers, owned by Kevin’s son. Concessions to comfort aren’t immediately obvious, but include power steering (which can be dialled-down for track days) air conditioning and a power socket for a mobile phone.

The engine fires with a brusque bark and I ease gingerly into west London traffic. The pedals are skewed towards the centre and the gear lever needs a firm hand, but the Dino’s manners are reassuringly refined. It idles steadily and pulls strongly from low revs, allowing me to short-shift from first to third, while the brakes feel powerful and progressive. Ride quality, on fully adjustable suspension with Koni dampers, is firm without being brittle. Thankfully, the electric power steering still belongs to the old-school: it jostles with incessant feedback.

Ferrari Dino 'Evo'

I follow the old A3 through Esher and finally arrive at some open roads. With the lift-out Spyder roof removed, the V8 sounds magnificent. It’s multi-layered and richly mechanical, gurgles and gasps of induction augmented by zingy rasps from the exhausts. The Evo is quick enough to worry hot hatchbacks, but it’s more about sensation than raw speed. You drive it via the seat of your pants, measuring your inputs and feeling it react to road. It amplifies where most modern cars smother.

I finish the day with a tour of Mototechnique in West Molesey. Alongside numerous Ferraris, a Lamborghini Miura and a rare Porsche 356, I watch as aluminium panels are hand-beaten and a carbon fibre clamshell for an F40 is moulded from scratch. The contrast of old artistry and new technology is fascinating.

Kevin concedes that demand for modified Dinos will be limited, particularly given the £250,000 cost of a donor car. However, his latest project – tucked in the corner of the workshop – starts from around a fifth of the price. The 400hp 308 GTB Evo is, for now, a work in progress. But I can’t wait to see the finished result.

Price: £300,000+

0-62mph: 5.8sec

Top speed: 160mph

Horsepower: 300hp

Weight: 1,180kg

Ferrari Dino ‘Evo’: in pictures

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Honda NSX review: how the people’s supercar humbled Ferrari

Honda NSX classic

After 1989, sports cars would never be the same. That year, the Mazda MX-5 reinvented the roadster – with added reliability – then Honda did the same for the supercar. Its NSX was, in essence, a Ferrari without the flaws.

The New Sportscar eXperimental reached UK showrooms in late 1990, priced at £55,000. Its lightweight aluminium body was shrink-wrapped around a mid-mounted 3.0-litre V6 with forged pistons, titanium conrods and a searing 8,000rpm redline. Suspension was by double wishbones all-round, and F1 hero Ayrton Senna (racing for McLaren Honda at the time) helped hone the handling. No doubt, the NSX was the real deal.

Read more Motoring Research reviews FIRST on City AM

Reviews at the time, though, were mixed. The NSX torpedoed the myth that supercars have to be hard work, but some thought it too sanitised – complaining it lacked the character of European rivals. Yet history would prove Honda right. Today, you don’t need the skills of Senna to drive a McLaren Senna, and we have the NSX to thank. Equally, what seemed sensible 30 years ago now feels like a glorious throwback to an analogue age.

Honda NSX classic

It’s 6:30am as we board the Channel Tunnel. Two days and 478 miles of driving lie ahead, including stop-offs at historic racetracks in Reims and Rouen, plus a detour into central Paris for an overnight stay. Classic road tests are rarely so rigorous, but I’m hopeful the NSX will rise to the challenge. Me? I’ll need a double espresso first.

Honda’s heritage car hails from 2005, the last year of original NSX production. By this point, engine capacity had risen to 3.2 litres and pop-up headlights had fallen victim to US safety legislation. Metallic orangey-gold paint aside, it looks subtle for a supercar. The plasticky dashboard and parts-bin switches haven’t aged well, but its low-slung driving position is superb. The view ahead, all wraparound windscreen and plunging bonnet, is pure Le Mans racer.

With plenty of motorway miles to Reims, I’m dismayed to discover ‘infotainment’ is limited to a cassette player. Fortunately, the 280hp V6 makes its own music: a sultry snarl that swells to a rabid mechanical shriek. Beyond 5,500rpm (where many engines would shortly run out of revs), Honda’s VTEC variable valve timing kicks in like a nitrous boost, piling on speed with insatiable intensity.

We pause for photos in the evocative pitlane of Reims-Gueux – which hosted the French Grand Prix until 1966 – then drive what remains of the former circuit. The back straight is now a busy dual-carriageway, passing a retail park and drive-thru McDonald’s. The magic seems long gone.

The NSX is busy casting its spell, though. Its power steering feels light but lucid, its stubby gearlever moves with rifle-bolt precision and its pedals are just-so for heel-and-toe downshifts. Panoramic visibility and modest dimensions also mean we cope calmly with rush-hour Paris. Unlike, seemingly, every other driver on the infamous Périphérique ring road.

Honda NSX classic

If the ‘road to Rouen’ sounds like a stand-up comedy tour, the reality – 80 miles on Autoroute 13 – is less amusing. But while the old Rouen-Les-Essarts circuit has vanished almost without trace, the surrounding hills form a perfect playground for the NSX. It flows between apices like a parkour athlete, its pliant suspension and progressive chassis delivering the raw, seat-of-pants feedback that’s so often smothered in modern cars. Here, on rural roads more accustomed to tractors and decrepit Clios, the Honda feels transcendent.

This purity still appeals, some 30 years after launch. The current NSX is an altogether different beast, a futuristic hybrid with nigh-on twice the power, yet I wonder if it will ever inspire the same reverence. If driving is your drug, the original NSX is a Class A hit. After a road-trip to remember, I think I’m addicted.

Price: from £45,000

0-62mph: 5.5sec

Top speed: 168mph

Horsepower: 280

MPG combined: 22.8

Honda NSX: in pictures

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Volvo V90 T8 Twin Engine review: Bjorn to be wild

Volvo V90 T8 Twin Engine review

Time was that a top-end Volvo estate would pack a meaty five- or six-cylinder turbocharged engine and be driven by your local undercover constable. Today, things have changed. The cops are now in BMWs and Volvo has moved on.

The new V90 T8 Twin Engine with ‘Polestar Engineered’ input is a case in point. Pop the bonnet and you’ll see just four cylinders, but there’s a turbo and supercharger, plus clever plug-in hybrid electric power. The result is an Audi S6 rival with around 60hp more power, which starts from £3,000 less. 

Volvo V90 T8: First impressionsVolvo V90 T8 Twin Engine review

Firstly, the standard Volvo stuff. Spoiler alert: it’s a safe, highly accomplished family wagon. Standard kit includes Europe-wide navigation and semi-autonomous driving tech, as well as an arsenal of safety and assistance systems.

Its styling is sharp and pleasing, yet inoffensive and unpretentious. The R-Design package adds some decidedly un-Volvo sportiness, including 20-inch wheels and stylish (but fake) exhaust outlets. We love those pickaxe LED running lights, too.

Volvo V90 T8 Twin Engine review

On the inside, it’s just as smooth and sleek. The Polestar seats and leather appointment throughout the cabin are superb. On the whole, build quality is excellent, although cheaper materials are there if you look hard enough.

The touchscreen user interface is a bit quirky, and we worry whether Volvo’s infotainment is losing its edge in 2020. But it’s sharp-looking and performs well – once you learn how to operate it. 

Volvo V90 T8: On the roadVolvo V90 T8 Twin Engine review

Volvo claims the T8 will go between 29 and 35 miles on electric power alone. We found a minimum of 20 miles could be expected in normal driving from the 11.6kWh battery. Charging takes around four hours. 

Without a lead foot, it’ll happily run in EV mode in most situations, including at motorway speeds. For short trips that would leave diesel drivers shedding a tear for their DPF, zero-emission motoring is a real bonus. Indeed, we didn’t run the engine itself until three days into our week with the T8.

Volvo V90 T8 Twin Engine review

Swipe in the infotainment and you can select ‘Charge’ or ‘Hold’, either forcing the internal combustion engine to add to the battery charge, or maintaining what it has for later.

Volvo V90 T8: ‘Polestar Engineered’ modeVolvo V90 T8 Twin Engine review

To access the fruitier side of the T8, you roll the drive selector wheel past Pure (mostly electric) and Hybrid modes to Polestar Engineered. The digital display changes, from monitoring your power usage to a sporty red rev counter. Now you have access to the full might of the T8’s 400hp combined output. 

With it, you’ll see 62mph in five seconds – on par with the Audi S6 – and reach a top speed of 155mph. Electric power goes to the rear wheels via an 87hp 65kW electric motor, while the 2.0-litre engine’s 317hp heads to the front via a slick-shifting eight-speed auto gearbox.

Volvo V90 T8 Twin Engine review

It’s quick, yet undramatic. “Oh bother, I’m already at the speed limit,” you calmly mutter, as the T8 slices down the road. What sound do you hear from the petrol engine? It’s a curious concerto: mostly four-banger gruffness and the whirr of battery regeneration. Braking is impressive for a two-tonne-plus car.

The Active Four-C Chassis adaptive dampers (a £1,500 option) keep the V90 taut when cornering. Turn-in is good, but feel is non-existent. All told, the T8 does the business, but it is business – it’s no Dancing Queen. But neither are its rivals.

Volvo V90 T8: VerdictVolvo V90 T8 Twin Engine review

So… The winner takes it all, or the loser standing small? To stick with the Abba theme, we’d take a chance on the V90 T8.

You won’t go around scaring BMW M5s, but if you’re an enthusiast in the market for a fast family wagon, it’s a compelling machine. And for a competitive price.

Bought as a company car, the benefit-in-kind taxation of the 43g/km-rated T8 could be highly appealing, too. We’d suggest test-driving one first, and seeing if you like hybrid way of doing things.

Volvo V90 T8 Twin Engine review

Volvo V90 T8 Twin Engine R-Design Plus: Specification

Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder twin-charged plug-in hybrid

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, four-wheel-drive

Power: 317hp (engine) + 87hp (electric)

Weight: 2,050kg

0-62mph: 5.3 seconds

Top speed: 155mph

Fuel economy: 25-40mpg (our testing), 97-117mpg (official WLTP results)

CO2 emissions: 49/g/km

Boot size: 560 litres

Price: From £59,655

Price as tested: £67,500

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk1 review: power to the people

VW Golf GTI Mk1

In 1975, Hungarian inventor Erno Rubik patented a new type of puzzle. Within three years of reaching the shops, his Rubik’s Cube had sold 200 million. At the same time, another surprise success was brewing in Germany. A team of Volkswagen engineers had been working weekends on an unofficial project called ‘Sport Golf’. After some arm-twisting, managers sanctioned a run of 5,000 cars to homologate the Golf for racing. But the new model – swiftly renamed Golf GTI – was such a hit with press and public alike, production was immediately ramped up from 50 to 500 cars a day. One of motoring’s few true icons had arrived.

The Rubik’s Cube and the Golf GTI are both simple concepts. The Cube is three layers of coloured plastic, yet it has 42 quintillion possible permutations. The GTI was merely a Golf with a 110hp 1.6-litre engine from the Audi 80 GTE, stiffer suspension, cosmetic tweaks and (slightly) better brakes. Yet it was brilliant to drive, without sacrificing practicality or reliability. It captured the zeitgeist and defined a wholly new type of car: the hot hatchback.

Read more Motoring Research reviews FIRST on City AM

Today, that basic formula has hardly changed. The seventh generation Golf GTI has just been phased out (soon to be replaced by the Mk8, while the original has graduated to bona fide classic status. The car pictured here, owned by GTI enthusiast James Bullen, won the ‘Made in Germany’ class at the prestigious London Concours last summer, seeing off a BMW M1, Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren 722 and Porsche 930 Turbo LE. Exalted company indeed.

VW Golf GTI Mk1

This isn’t just any Mk1 GTI, though. One of 1,000 Campaign editions built to round-off production of Das Original, it boasts a punchier 112hp 1.8 engine, 14-inch Pirelli ‘P-slot’ alloys (with Pirelli tyres), a twin-headlamp grille, green-tinted glass and a leather steering wheel. It’s also in breathtaking, better-than-new condition. The first owner paid £6,949 in 1983, but a GTI of this calibre could cost £30,000 now. To think I once bought one for £800…

Those memories of my much-loved Mk1 soon come flooding back. Giugiaro’s ‘folded paper’ styling still looks fresh, while that red go-faster stripe – endlessly imitated – hints at excitement to come. Inside, it’s less evocative: upright, functional and slightly austere. Still, a dimpled golf-ball gear knob lightens the mood, and there’s no faulting the textbook Teutonic build quality. The unassisted steering feels heavy and the Golf’s five-speed ’box is obstinate when cold, but it immediately feels peppy and well-suited to city streets. At 3,725mm long and 1,625 wide, it’s actually smaller than a current VW Polo.

VW Golf GTI Mk1

On open roads, the featherweight 840kg Mk1 is plenty fast enough to be fun. Its fuel-injected engine punches confidently out of corners, revving beyond 6,000rpm with real verve, while a fluid, forgiving chassis helps you maintain momentum, despite the modest grip. Push hard and you can lift an inside rear wheel, or even provoke a slide, yet it never feels edgy or unpredictable like the equally iconic Peugeot 205 GTI. Then as now, Volkswagen has always played it safe.

Driven: the cars that shaped Volkswagen’s past – and future

As for the brakes – the Achilles’ heel of right-hand-drive Mk1s, due to a convoluted cross-linkage – they’re actually better than I remembered. Then again, my Golf GTI was hardly perfectly preserved like this one, and I too am erring on the side of caution. Much as I’ve relished driving James’s pride and joy, I’m quietly glad to hand it back unscathed.

Price: £8,000+

0-62mph: 8.2sec

Top speed: 114mph

Horsepower: 112

MPG combined: 36.7

Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk1: in pictures

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Honda NSX 2020 review: exotic, exhilarating… and easygoing

Honda NSX

There’s a feeling among some petrolheads that cars peaked in the early 1990s. It’s been downhill ever since. Writing for Autocar, Colin Goodwin went further, declaring 1994 ‘the greatest year in the history of the car’. I wasn’t old enough to drive back then, but I wonder if Colin is right.

Yes, cars today are better built, safer and more sophisticated. But as driving machines, they’re also more homogenised, sanitised and mundane. To quote Colin: ‘[1994] marks a point in time when cars were simpler, less cluttered with technology and, most importantly, had realistic performance’. One example he uses to illustrate this is the Honda NSX.

Read more Motoring Research reviews FIRST on City AM

The original NSX was no dinosaur: it was the first mass-produced car with an all-aluminium body, while its 274hp V6 used VTEC variable valve timing to boost power and economy. At heart, however, this was a straightforward sports car, with its engine in the middle, rear-wheel drive and virtually no electronic aids. Its superb steering, balletic handling – honed by Ayrton Senna – and high-revving howl left journalists in raptures and Ferrari red-faced. How the NSX felt to drive was what mattered.

Honda NSX

For the second-generation NSX, launched in 2016, Honda could have refreshed the same formula. Instead, perhaps inspired by hybrid hypercars like the LaFerrari and McLaren P1, it created something far more futuristic. The slightly by-numbers styling of the Mk1 made way for a riot of aggressive angles. And while there was still a V6 behind the seats, it was complemented by two turbos, three electric motors and a nine-speed gearbox driving all four wheels. On paper, this looked like progress.

On the road, many were less convinced. The NSX was heavy (1,759kg) and didn’t feel as raw and exciting as rivals. So Honda has obliged with a mid-life makeover, focused on righting these wrongs. Thermal Orange pearlescent paint aside, there are few visual changes – and no extra power for the 581hp hybrid drivetrain. But new anti-roll bars and rear-wheel hubs, plus tweaked settings for the steering, dampers, transmission and four-wheel-drive systems, promise a much sharper drive.

They deliver, too. Spin the Dynamic Mode dial to Sport+ and the NSX leaps to its toes: energised and agile. It turns in sharply, poised and playful mid-corner before Velcro-like grip rockets it onwards. The light steering jostles with incessant feedback and the huge carbon-ceramic brakes are easy to modulate. The suspension is also supple enough for British B-roads, transmitting every ripple and bump without making the car feel skittish. I’m not in the same universe in terms of driving skill, but I suspect Ayrton would approve.

Honda NSX

The NSX is ferociously fast, combining a wallop of electric torque with frenzied petrol power at the top end. Zero to 62mph takes 3.3 seconds, with urgent response at any speed. Being able to cruise silently around town in Quiet mode, using electric power only, feels very right-on, and helps towards impressive 26.4mpg economy. At times, I wished it sounded more special – its cultivated snarl won’t startle onlookers like a Lamborghini V10 – but mostly I was glad for its relative decorum. The novelty of constant barks and bangs soon wears thin.

It still isn’t perfect. The boot is tiny, the plastic paddle-shifters feel naff and the media system, shared with the Civic hatchback, is woeful. A price tag of £170,000, swollen by the weak pound, also makes it notably more expensive. Even so, only the more-commonplace Porsche 911 Turbo offers such easygoing usability in a supercar package. The new NSX might lack the simple charm of the original, but as the car industry rushes towards electrification, it feels forward-thinking and right for its time. The future is orange.

Price: £170,000

0-62mph: 3.3sec

Top speed: 191mph

CO2 G/KM: 242

MPG combined: 26.4

Honda NSX: in pictures

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Lamborghini Huracan Evo Spyder review: the sound and the fury

Lamborghini Huracan Evo Spyder

Two months ago in Sant’Agata Bolognese, a village near Italy’s supercar mecca of Modena, a Lamborghini Huracan was wrapped in protective plastic and loaded aboard a truck. The car itself – a grey coupe bound for South Korea – was nothing unusual. But Huracan number 14,022 had made history: eclipsing its Gallardo predecessor to become the best-selling Lamborghini of all time.

To put that number into perspective, Lamborghini built just 6,514 cars in its first 27 years. From the 350 GT in 1963 to the final Countach Anniversary in 1990, that’s an average of 20 a month. At around 260 a month, the Huracan is mass-produced by Sant’Agata standards. However, unless you’re a parking valet at the Dorchester, the littlest Lambo remains a rare sight. For further perspective, Nissan’s mega-factory in Sunderland churns out 1,000 Qashqais every day.

Read more Motoring Research reviews FIRST on City AM

Now, Lamborghini’s golden goose has received a mid-life makeover, intended to keep it fresh until its replacement – likely a plug-in hybrid – arrives in 2022. The Huracan Evo inherits the 640hp engine from the Performante, plus rear-wheel steering, a downforce-boosting ducktail and an adaptive dynamics system called LDVI. Inside, the dated infotainment has been binned for a touchscreen with gimmicky gesture control (flick a V-sign to raise or lower the volume) and far-more-useful Apple CarPlay. There’s still no Android Auto, though.

Lamborghini Huracan Evo Spyder

You’ll have spotted this Evo is the soft-top Spyder, with a fabric roof that retracts in 17 seconds at up to 31mph. With an extra 120kg of body bracing, it’s slightly slower than the coupe (3.1sec vs. 2.9sec to 62mph) and around £16,000 pricier, at £218,317 before options. However, once you hear the fresh-air fury of Lamborghini’s 5.2-litre V10 inches behind your back, details like these cease to matter. The drop-down rear window also lets you enjoy the aural assault with the roof up, and without getting drenched. Perfect for England in November.

That outrageous engine still defines the Huracan experience. In Strada (road) mode it’s surprisingly civil, shifting up early and muting the high-mounted tailpipes to a stentorian growl. Even your grandmother would scarcely raise an eyebrow. But switching to Sport or Corsa (track) unshackles a rottweiler with a ravenous hunger for revs. Unfettered by forced induction, the V10 soars to its 8,000rpm redline, gleefully goading you to go faster. The Lamborghini inhales the road like a rock star snorting cocaine. It’s pure supercar decadence.

Unlike the original car, though, the Huracan’s chassis no longer feels like a supporting act; rear-wheel steering bestows a renewed exuberance and agility. My colleague, who was lucky enough to attend the Evo coupé launch at Bahrain’s Grand Prix circuit, tells me it transforms the on-track handling. Where once there was play-it-safe understeer at the limit, now the Huracan feels poised and playful. I can, um, confirm the rear-steer makes it more manoeuvrable in London multi-storeys, too.

Lamborghini Huracan Evo Spyder

The new Lamborghini Dinamica Veicolo Integrata (LDVI) system also plays its part. It emulates Ferrari’s Dynamic Enhancer, continuously predicting your next move and priming the steering, suspension, transmission and stability systems to suit. You don’t feel it working, but that’s the point. Despite the dartier turn-in, everything seems to coalesce and flow. Compared with pulse-spiking Lamborghinis of old, the four-wheel-drive Hurcan is easy to exploit and enjoy.

Exploit that V10 too much, of course, and, rather like our errant rock star, you could swiftly end up explaining your actions to a judge. Thankfully, the Huracan feels special at any speed: its extravagant styling and shock-and-awe soundtrack make children point, boy racers salute and rev their engines, and strangers strike up conversations every time you stop. That simply doesn’t happen in a Qashqai.

Price: £218,137

0-62mph: 3.1sec

Top speed: 201mph

CO2 G/KM: 338

MPG combined: 19.9

Lamborghini Huracan Evo Spyder: in pictures

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Porsche Cayman T review: cut-price GT4 just adds lightness

Porsche Cayman T

For Porsche fans, the letter ‘T’ has mixed meanings. In 1967, the 911T debuted as Stuttgart’s entry-level sports car, replacing the four-cylinder 912. Six years later, Porsche launched the 911 Carrera 2.7 RS. In T-for-Touring spec, it was the exact opposite: a more luxurious take on the flagship road racer. Then, in 2017, came a new 911T, this time a mid-range model focused on pared-back performance. Confused? You’re right to be.

The 718 Cayman T follows the lead of that recent 911: no extra power, but less weight and a sportier chassis. A budget GT4, if you will. Additional kit includes adjustable suspension, a mechanical limited-slip diff, torque vectoring, the Sport Chrono pack, sport mode for the stability control and a ‘loud’ button for the exhaust.

You also get 20-inch alloys, retro sill stripes that evoke the classic RS, plus the all-important fabric interior door straps. They probably save the weight of a crisp packet, but reek of motorsport cool.

Read more Motoring Research reviews FIRST on City AM

Tick all those options on a basic 2.0-litre Cayman and Porsche says you’ll pay 10 percent more than the £7,265 premium for the T. Notionally it’s good value, then. On the downside, that elevates it to within £1,691 of the 2.5-litre Cayman S. So which one to buy? Let’s settle this with a race…

Porsche Cayman T

OK, full disclosure: this isn’t Top Gear and I’m not Jeremy Clarkson. So I won’t be racing the Stig up a runway. Nonetheless, I’ve set my alarm unsociably early and planned a long, cross-country loop on favourite Kent and Surrey B-roads. Frankly, if the Cayman T can’t shine here, it doesn’t deserve those stripes. Or straps.

My Cayman T came with the £2,303 paddle-shift auto gearbox, which seems less aligned with its hardcore ethos than the six-speed manual. Then again, the PDK ’box – it stands for Porschedoppelkupplung, if you must know – is telepathically intuitive and whipcrack-quick, so I hardly feel short-changed. It’s good enough for the 911 GT3 RS, after all.

Other extras fitted included cruise control, park assist and dynamic LED headlights, boosting the price from £54,358 to £66,761. Not quite such good value now…

Thankfully, none of the add-ons are really necessary; this Porsche is all about driving. Mid-engined and beautifully balanced, it’s one of the finest handling cars on sale. It corners flat and focused, its angle of attack adjusted by your right foot as well as your hands. The weighty steering, powerful brakes and modest dimensions all imbue instant confidence. Hedge-lined lanes that feel narrow in a new ‘992’ 911 are a perfect fit for the compact Cayman.

The oft-heard complaint about the 718 concerns its flat-four engine, which sounds a bit, well, like a Subaru. Pressing a button to open the exhaust baffles doesn’t change that – it simply adds volume – but it’s less of an issue than some suggest. Nonetheless, while the 300hp T feels brisk, and offers plenty of turbocharged torque, it only really comes alive beyond 4,000rpm. I’d certainly welcome the extra oomph of the 350hp Cayman S.

Porsche Cayman T

I’m not totally sold on the T’s stiffer and 20mm lower suspension either. Combined with rubber-band 25-profile tyres, its ride in the sport setting is to brittle for British tarmac. Doubtless it would be brilliant on-track, or indeed in Germany. But the more supple standard car is better suited to our roads.

And there’s the rub. Like the letter ‘T’ in Porsche folklore, this Cayman can’t decide what it wants to be. It has flashes of brilliance, yet feels compromised for daily driving. Even so, the Cayman is still the £50k sports car I’d choose, despite rivals such as the Alpine A110 and Toyota GR Supra looming large in its mirrors. Just forgo a couple of options and buy the S instead.

Price: £54,358

0-62mph: 4.7 secs

Top speed: 170mph

CO2 G/KM: 180

MPG combined: 32.8

Porsche Cayman T: in pictures

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

2020 Volkswagen Golf review: the benchmark is back

2020 Volkswagen Golf

Back in September, Volkswagen revealed its ID.3 electric car. The Beetle, we were told, was ID.1 – the original ‘people’s car’ and beating heart of the brand – while the subsequent Golf was ID.2. Now, as a new Golf is launched to the world, there’s a sense it’s already yesterday’s hero.

So it felt until I spent an hour with some VW engineers, at least. These guys, whose specialist subjects ranged from engines to autonomous driving tech, still take the Golf very seriously. And rightly so: since 1974, more than 35 million have been sold. Somebody, somewhere, buys a new Golf every 40 seconds.

The ID range and its ‘new, dynamic era in the world of e-mobility’ may be coming, but the Golf hasn’t stood still. Indeed, this is the most radical, forward-thinking version of Das Auto yet. Not that you realise it at first…

The Golf club2020 Volkswagen Golf

Arriving in Portugal, I see the Mk8 Golf lined up alongside all seven previous generations. It looks a chip off the old block. Details have changed, such as the swoopy LED headlights and spot-the-difference VW logo, but the confident creases, kinked C-pillar and hewn-from-solid silhouette are instantly familiar.

In fact, the Golf uses the same ‘MQB’ platform as the outgoing model, so its wheelbase is identical. Overall, it’s a modest 29mm longer, 10mm wider and 4mm taller. Interior space is claimed to be ‘practically unchanged’.

Like most mid-size hatchbacks, the Golf is now five-door only – the three-door had dwindled to just five percent of sales. An estate version arrives in 2020, but the MPV-shaped Golf SV won’t be replaced. The arrival of the genre-busting T-Roc Cabriolet makes a drop-top look unlikely, too.

So far, so uneventful. Still, you can hardly blame design boss Klaus Bischoff for playing safe with a best-seller. He describes the Golf “an indicator of the present” that helps “millions of people [with] feeling at home”. One can only assume his interior design team missed the memo.

Crazy Golf2020 Volkswagen Golf

Inside, the new Golf has more in common with the ID.3 than its Mk7 predecessor. Volkswagen calls it a ‘digitalised workplace’ – and while it’s brimful of showroom appeal, learning your way around does initially feel like work.

Front-and-centre is the new Innovision digital dashboard, which has few physical buttons. A 10-inch central screen is standard in the UK (other countries get an 8.25-inch version), flanked by touch-sensitive sliders for heating/cooling and audio volume. The process is rather like swiping the screen of a smartphone.

You can also use gesture control for some functions, such as waving your hand to move between menus. Plus there’s voice control with integrated Amazon Alexa: say “Hello Volkswagen” to call up a song from your playlist, turn up the heating or find a nearby petrol station.

Ambient lighting is another feature that has filtered down from loftier cars. Pick from 32 colours or choose one of five ‘moods’: Infinity, Eternity, Euphoria, Vitality and Desire. Don’t choose the latter for a first date.

Putters and drivers2020 Volkswagen Golf

If all this sounds like the result of too many macchiatos at a marketing meeting, be reassured to know the Golf’s engines are steadfastly sensible. At least until the full suite of performance models – GTI, GTI TCR, GTD, GTE and R – arrive later in 2020.

The line-up at launch comprises 1.5 TSI four-cylinder petrol (130hp or 150hp) and 2.0 TDI diesel (115hp or 150hp), with the 1.0-litre TSI three-cylinder petrol (90hp or 110hp) following soon afterwards. A 48v eTSI mild-hybrid system, which recuperates braking energy to save fuel, is available on 100hp, 130hp and 150hp petrol engines, but only with the seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox. Your other choice is a six-speed manual.

Details of the sportier versions are scarce, but we know the GTE plug-in hybrid will develop 245hp, a sizeable leap from 204hp in the Mk7. There won’t be a fully electric Mk8, as that box is ticked by the ID.3. However, Volkswagen has given the existing e-Golf a stay of execution until its new EV fully commences production.

As for trim levels, the structure now mirrors the German market, starting with ‘Golf’, then rising via Life and Style to top-spec R-Line. At the time of writing, UK equipment levels and prices had yet to be confirmed.

Time to tee off2020 Volkswagen Golf

My first instinct is to jump into the flawless Mk1 Golf and screech away in a cloud of hydrocarbons. However, I have a job to do, and the Mk8 awaits. Besides, it’s December and the new car has a proper heater. Heated steering wheel and seats, too.

I start in a 1.5 TSI petrol in Life trim with a manual ’box, predicted to be the best-selling version in the UK. As for the vivid Lime Yellow paint, that will be less common. More’s the pity.

As ever, the Golf feels impeccably well assembled – insert cliché about Germanic build quality here – although there are some plastics that wouldn’t pass muster in, say, a Mercedes-Benz A-Class. The unlined glovebox, which causes loose items to rattle around, also smacks of penny-pinching.

The firmly padded seats, with an optional massage function, are very comfortable, and finding a good driving position is easy. The digital dials are also clear, augmented in some models by a head-up display (which projects essential driving data, such as your speed, onto the windscreen). Peering out over the plunging bonnet, I ease out the light clutch and I’m away.

Fore to the floor2020 Volkswagen Golf

The turbocharged 1.5-litre engine is no ball of fire, but it revs eagerly and propels the Golf to 62mph in 8.5 seconds and 139mph flat-out. Its Mk7 equivalent managed fuel economy of 54.3mpg and CO2 emissions of 116g/km, so expect similar figures when the Mk8 undergoes official WLTP tests soon.

Where the TSI motor really impresses is refinement; it’s turbine-smooth, isolated to the point of being almost inaudible around town. At speed, this only serves to amplify wind roar from the chunky door mirrors, although the Golf remains an able and long-legged cruiser. Countless development miles on Germany’s autobahns have clearly paid off.

The manual gearbox feels well-oiled and easy to operate. It’s likely to be around £1,400 cheaper than the DSG auto upfront, and require less maintenance longer-term. However, that’s only a concern if you keep the car beyond its three-year UK warranty (also the usual term of a PCP finance deal).

Par for the course2020 Volkswagen Golf

The VW’s chassis is also geared towards easygoing comfort. Its steering, light and accurate, filters out the fingertip feedback some drivers will crave in favour of calm control. Its suspension also strikes a good balance between absorbing bumps and resisting roll.

On a series of mountain switchbacks near Porto, the car was genuine fun: its well-weighted controls and unruffled composure helping me chase down locals in careworn Renault Clios, many of whom treated the road like a rally stage.

There are some caveats, though. All the launch cars had multi-link rear suspension, while cheaper models make do with a simpler torsion beam (also true for the Focus). P;us all were fitted with Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC), which includes continuously variable dampers and four driving modes: Eco, Comfort, Sport and Individual.

Switching to Sport isn’t transformative, but it does add extra heft to the steering and more zing to the throttle response. Granted, the Golf isn’t as lively or engaging as a Ford Focus, but wasn’t it ever thus? The essential rightness of the recipe bodes well for the GTI and R.

Into the rough2020 Volkswagen Golf

I then swap into a 150hp diesel with an automatic transmission, also in Lime Yellow. This 2.0-litre TDI offers markedly more torque – 266lb ft at 1,750rpm, versus 184lb ft at 1,500rpm in the 150hp petrol – which is immediately apparent on the road. The instant oomph, combined with seamless shifts from the DSG ’box, make for a compelling combination.

Preferable to the petrol? Well, the TDI is certainly more vocal, although its subtle snarl is a world away from clattering diesels of old. Inevitably, it will also be more expensive to buy – probably by around £1,200 if Mk7 prices are an accurate guide.

Nonetheless, for all the bad press about diesel (much of Volkswagen’s own making, of course), it’s certainly no poor relation. The 0.3 seconds it gives away from zero to 62mph is amply compensated for by mid-range muscle. Plus, what’s not to like about more miles per gallon?

Help or handicap?2020 Volkswagen Golf

As for the Innovision cockpit, I’m not fully convinced. One thing I’ve always loved about the Golf – and I speak as a serial owner, with Mk1, Mk2, Mk4 and Mk5 models under my belt – is its no-nonsense approach to ergonomics. For its core audience, middle-aged and middle-class, the minimalist design and deference to touch controls may not be perceived as progress.

The slider for audio volume is a case in point. I found it only worked with a firm push, and I’d end up checking the screen for confirmation – thus taking my eyes off the road. Admittedly, there is a volume switch on the steering wheel, but that’s missing the point: technology should make things simpler. The same goes for the voice controls, which were hit-and-miss at best.

Perhaps I’m just old-fashioned. There is also much useful tech here. The optional matrix LED headlights, for example, are fantastic, actively dimming sections of the high beam so you don’t dazzle oncoming traffic. The new Car2X wi-fi function is clever, too; it allows the car to communicate directly with others nearby (only other Golfs at present, but the EU-standard tech is being trialled by other brands) in order to warn drivers of approaching hazards.

Hole-in-one2020 Volkswagen Golf

Brands within the Volkswagen Group seem to be steadily moving upmarket. Thus Skoda becomes more like VW, while VW edges closer to Audi. Where Bugatti goes next is anyone’s guess.

Prise those redesigned roundels off the Golf and it could easily be an Audi A3. Its interior has the requisite wow-factor and the technology sets new standards for a ‘mainstream’ hatchback. Build quality and refinement also measure up to premium rivals. Let’s just hope the Golf’s price doesn’t.

Much has changed, then, but the Golf still feels like the benchmark in its class. Its broad appeal and breadth of abilities make it the default ‘people’s car’ – for 45 years and counting. Don’t write this Volkswagen out of history yet.

2020 Volkswagen Golf 1.5 TSI: specification2020 Volkswagen Golf

Price: TBC
Engine: 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power: 130hp at 5,000rpm
Torque: 184lb ft at 1,500rpm
0-62mph: 8.5 seconds
Top speed: 139mph
Fuel economy: TBC
CO2: TBC
Length/width/height: 4,284/1,789/1,456mm
Boot size: 380-1,237 litres
On sale: February 2020

2020 Volkswagen Golf: in pictures

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Abarth 695 70th Anniversario review: double espresso to go

Abarth 695 70th Anniversario

“There’s a certain satisfaction in humiliating bigger and more expensive cars with a modest hatchback.” So said Carlo Abarth (1928-1979), the larger-than-life motorcycle racer and pioneer of bolt-on car tuning kits, who spent his life doing just that. Today, the highly modified Fiats that bear his name – and scorpion star sign – still squeeze feisty performance into a pint-sized package.

Abarth was always obsessed with speed. Aged 11, he wrapped leather belts around the wooden wheels of his scooter to win races against local children. He was European motorcycle champion five times, and also beat the Orient Express train on two wheels, racing 850 miles from Vienna to Ostend. In 1949, he set up his own company, preparing cars for competition and selling parts. If you owned a Fiat but dreamed of a Ferrari, Carlo ‘The Magician’ Abarth was your man.

Read more Motoring Research reviews FIRST on City AM

The new 695 70th Annniversario celebrates 70 years since Carlo nailed his name above the door. In true Abarth tradition, it’s loaded with go-faster goodies: 17-inch OZ alloys, Sabelt seats, Koni shock absorbers, Brembo brakes and a quad-tailpipe Record Monza exhaust. There’s also a manually adjustable rear spoiler that delivers real downforce, plus the option of ‘Monza 1958’ green paint (seen here) – a tribute to the first Fiat 500 Abarth. A total of 1,949 will be made, marking the firm’s founding year.

Abarth Days 2019

Before I drive the Anniversario, however, there’s more celebrating to be done. More than 5,000 Abarth fans and 3,000 cars – most of them modified – have descended on Milan for ‘the largest official Abarth meeting in history’. They have come from all corners of Europe, including the Czech Republic, Portugal and the UK. And they have come to party.

The pounding Euro-techno starts at 9am and doesn’t stop for the rest of the day. Thankfully, the cacophony of revving engines, hissing dump valves and popping exhausts mostly drowns it out. There’s boundless creativity on show, including Abarths with rust-look wraps, bouncing air suspension and upwards-opening ‘Lamborghini doors’. One crowd-pulling 595 has a 370hp Alfa Romeo 4C engine, ultra-wide wheels and four-wheel drive. I suspect Carlo would approve.

Launched at the event (in a blizzard of dry ice and even louder techno), the 70th Annniversario also turns plenty of heads. On the inside, it’s still unmistakably a Fiat 500 – a car first launched in 2007 – but the hip-hugging seats, alloy gearlever and Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel all feel suitably special. The 180hp 1.4-litre engine ignites with a throaty gargle and I swiftly leave Milan behind, heading south towards Modena and Italian supercar country.

Abarth 695 70th Anniversario

Not much happens until 3,000rpm, then the 695 abruptly necks a double espresso and races to the redline. This waaaait-for-it turbo lag seems oddly old-school, but ramps up the intensity and sensation of speed. For the record, 0-62mph takes 6.7 seconds and VMax is 139mph. The manual gearbox is slick and snappy, although it only has five ratios where most rivals offer six. It’s vastly preferable to the clunky auto ’box, however.

On rural roads, the Abarth is like an eager puppy: bouncy, boisterous and brimful of Italian brio. Turn-in is immediate, the brakes are tenacious and its mechanical limited-slip differential bites into corners. Switching to Sport mode sharpens throttle response, too. It’s a shame the light steering doesn’t offer more feedback; there isn’t the sense of connection you feel in a Ford Fiesta ST.

The Fiesta has another notable advantage: even the top-spec ST-3 is around £7,000 cheaper. And Abarth’s own 595 Esseesse, which has the same engine, costs £4,000 less. So spending £29,695 on the 695 70th Anniversario doesn’t really make sense. But as a surefire future classic that will impress the Abarthisti – and humiliate some bigger and (even) more expensive cars into the bargain – it has its place.

Price: £29,695

0-62mph: 6.7sec

Top speed: 139mph

CO2 G/KM: 155

MPG combined: 36.7

Abarth 695 70th Anniversario: in pictures

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Lister LFT-C review: symphony for the devil

Lister LFT-C

What would Jesus drive? It’s a question you see posed by bumper stickers across America. The answer, of course, is an old Honda he prefers not to talk about: “For I did not speak of my own Accord”. The devil, one suspects, has more extravagant taste, and while the scriptures aren’t specific – I checked, obviously – a black Lister LFT-C seems suitably satanic. Frankly, unleashing its 666 horses could turn anyone to the dark side. Ironic, then, that my journey begins, painfully slowly, on Chris Rea’s ‘Road to Hell’, better known as the M25.

It’s hardly a household name, but Lister has been making Jaguars go faster since 1954. Its reworked D-Type, nicknamed the ‘Knobbly’, took on Ferrari at Le Mans, with famous drivers including Sir Stirling Moss. An ill-fated takeover led to bankruptcy, but Lister returned in 1986 with an outrageous wide-body Jaguar XJS, tuned to exceed 200mph. The Lister Storm supercar followed in 1993, a 553hp V12 temporarily making it the fastest four-seater in the world. Sadly, the economic bubble had already burst, and only four road cars were completed.

Read more Motoring Research reviews FIRST on City AM

The third coming of Lister occurred in 2013 when Lawrence Whittaker – owner of car warranty provider, Warrantywise – bought the original Knobbly tooling and announced a series of ‘continuation’ cars, priced at £300,000 apiece. His Cambridge-based company then turned its attention to the Jaguar F-Type, adding bespoke bodywork, chassis tweaks and, in time-honoured Lister tradition, a lot more power. The result was the LFT-666 coupe. The £139,950 LFT-C is the drop-top version, just 10 will be built, and I’m driving the first.

Lister LFT-C

Back to the M25. While I’m not enjoying the LFT-C yet, others clearly are. Phones point and Instagram is excitedly updated: the car is a social media sensation. Admittedly, the optional yellow stripe and racing-style roundels probably help, but the pretty F-Type flaunts a newfound aura of menace. New parts include the deeper bumpers, side skirts and rear diffuser, all in flawlessly finished carbon fibre, plus lowered suspension and spidery 21-inch Vossen alloys. Note the absence of Jaguar badges, too: even the pop-out door handles wear Lister logos.

There’s yet more yellow inside – also optional, thankfully – with seats and doors retrimmed in plush Bridge of Weir leather. Jaguar’s dated infotainment system is the only black mark, but that’s swiftly forgotten when you press the pulsating start button. The 5.0-litre V8 hails from the F-Type R, delivering its devilish 666bhp via an uprated supercharger, new intercooler and carbon-tipped exhaust. Standstill to 62mph takes a scorching 3.2 seconds and Vmax is 205mph. A Honda Accord doesn’t come close.

Still, there are several Audis that could worry the Lister in a drag race. And the £118,990 Jaguar F-Type SVR convertible isn’t far behind, at 3.7 seconds and 195mph. What really sets the Lister apart is how it goes fast. Unlike some all-or-nothing tuned turbo engines, the supercharged V8 is smooth, linear and ravenously hungry for revs. At any speed, in any of its eight paddle-shift gears, it piles on speed like a runaway train.

Lister LFT-C

Thankfully, four-wheel drive, relatively supple suspension and powerful steel brakes (carbon-ceramics will be available soon) mean the LFT-C isn’t the white-knuckle ride you might fear. Even on damp roads, its nuanced steering and handling offer a reassuring feel of flow. My biggest worry was coaxing the jutting front splitter over speed humps, which must be mounted at walking pace. Consider a front axle lift-kit an essential investment.

It’s the sound of LFT-C that’s stayed with me, though. Press the ‘loud exhaust’ button and its blood-and-thunder chorus makes even a Lamborghini seem subdued. Its guttural rumble swells to a demonic shriek, concussive crackles accompanying every downshift or throttle-lift. With the roof retracted, the experience is utterly immersive, almost overwhelming.

Lister has just revealed its latest project: a modified Jaguar I-Pace called the SUV-E. A ‘more aggressive’ exhaust sound’ is promised, to artificially amplify its electric motor. It’s the future, and one we must embrace. But for now, the devil has all the best tunes.

Price: £139,950

0-62mph: 3.2sec

Top speed: 205mph

CO2 G/KM: N/A

MPG combined: 23.0 (est.)

Lister LFT-C: in pictures

This slideshow requires JavaScript.