Audi S8 long-term review: life with a classic super saloon

Audi S8 long-term review

It’s the tail end of 2001. The Millennium Bug has buggered off and the Millennium Dome will soon be sold on. Meanwhile, the coolest super saloon on the block is the original (D2) Audi S8.

Despite starring in one of Hollywood’s most epic car chases (in 1998’s Ronin), the subtle S8 flew under the radar. It’s a bit of a unicorn these days, garnering respectful nods from the sort of car geeks you’d avoid at a dinner party. We absolutely loved it.

Übermacht: meeting the Audi S8

Audi long-term review

In the over-styled, over-sized, and obese automotive world of 2019, the S8 looks modest: perfectly proportioned and effortlessly tasteful. It’s a collector of double-takes, as onlookers realise this low-slung saloon isn’t a typical old Audi. Watching it trundle into the office car park was enough to eke an ‘Ooohh’ out of several MR staffers.

The first S8 was launched in 1996, some 10 years before the R8 supercar arrived to drag Audi’s music-video appeal up by the scruff of the neck. Big wheels and those signature alloy mirror covers complement flashes of chrome on the grilles and window trims. Today, that sounds like a paint-by-numbers Audi S model. Back then, it was über-cool.

Our S8 – on loan from Audi UK’s extensive heritage fleet – is no spring chicken. In our month-long stewardship, its mileage ticked over the 157,000 mark. As such, some of the paint is a bit faded and the leather a touch tired. No matter, we love a bit of patina and it is, after all, a mile-munching luxo-barge.

Read our long-term review of the classic Audi A4 DTM

Littler than large luxo-barge

Audi long-term review

Getting inside, it couldn’t be more ‘2001’ if Ricky Martin was blaring out of the stereo. The leather chairs – yes these are chairs, not seats – absorb you. The tiny infotainment screen is dim in daylight, and outdone in the dark by quintessential Audi red backlighting. The plentiful wood shows even this most modern premium marque was chasing old-school luxury tropes back then and there’s no sign of the stylish sloping centre console of subsequent generations just yet.

The electric rear blind is perfect for shielding back-seat passengers from the sun, or hiding Justin Timberlake from prying paparazzi lenses (possibly).

For its comparatively slight proportions – it’s not much larger than a current A4 – the S8 is nicely spacious inside. The control weights are heavy, the buttons make a satisfying click and the shifter for the automatic gearbox has a hefty clunk that today’s drive buttons could never hope to replicate. Once your seat and mirrors are adjusted, it’s one of those cars that feels so right – an effect amplified once you hit the road.

Driving the S8 – a proper super saloon

Audi S8 long-term review

No starter buttons, no keyless go: the key goes in the column, kids. Turn it, and a nondescript hum fills the cabin as the 4.2-litre 40-valve V8 coughs into life. Yes, this engine would inform the unit that found its way into the middle of the R8.

Here, it’s no 420hp screamer, putting out 355hp, which goes to ground via a five-speed automatic transmission.

Engage drive, release the manual handbrake and the waft-tastic regression session begins. At the risk of outing myself for bad driving habits, the S8 is a car that inspires a spot of ‘palming’. That is, flat-handing the top of the wheel and guiding it round as you slither around urban streets.

Gear changes are a bit lurchy, exacerbated by the eager-to-rev engine. Make the V8 sing, however, and a reputation forged by Ronin is quickly justified. This is perfect early-2000s car chase fodder, as evidenced by the fact that Jason Statham swapped his BMW 7 Series for an A8 in sequels to The Transporter. What Ultimate Driving Machine?

Audi S8 long-term review

Beemer-beater, the S8 isn’t, though. The Quattro all-wheel drive is faithfully grippy and the chassis feels balanced if not pushed too hard. Its damping is compliant, but there’s just a bit more body roll than you’d want. If the driving gets any more exciting than a swift hustle, the fact that the engine sits almost completely beyond the front wheels becomes obvious. It’s definitely a super saloon rather than a sports saloon.

What the S8 has in spades (and which we sorely miss in modern cars), is a bit of tyre sidewall. It rides beautifully when pressing on, making light work of rutted British roads.

Big distances, big fuel bills

What the S8 is most good at is chewing miles. Sorry, chewing fuel. Sorry, both at once. The beautifully refined cabin, with its double-glazed windows, is the perfect place to forget that you’re doing, at best, 24mpg. If you’re exercising that V8 at all, it’s more like 15mpg.

The S8 on a long run is absolutely delightful, as reported by all at team MR. Tim took a family trip to Norfolk in it, Richard did some commuting and I ran it for miles in-between. Just as soon as you fall in love with the delicious bubble the S8 provides for a long journey, so too do you worry about its voracious appetite.

Audi S8 long-term review

The Audi S8, like the Millenium Dome, is of its time. Both represent the era from which they originate giving itself a hearty pat on the back. And both live on in 2019, with equally strong arguments for and against their suitability. You love it from afar, you enjoy it up close, but sooner or later, the novelty wears off. Almost.

You hand back the keys, quietly nursing your superleggera wallet, then you immediately have second thoughts. You’d take 10mpg if it meant you could go for one last waft. Boy, do we miss it now it’s gone.

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Beyond Skyfall: Bonding with a Volvo S60 in Scotland

Volvo S60 at Skyfall

You could justifiably buy a new Volvo S60 on the strength of its looks alone, and I’d salute you for it. Volvo’s compact saloon is, without question, the best looking car in the segment. Heck, it might be one of the best looking new cars on sale in 2019.

And the chiselled, catwalk styling might be the S60’s strongest attribute, that’s if my first drive in Scotland is anything to go by. Behind those supermodel looks lies a car that’s very easy to like, but surprisingly difficult to love.

A case of style over substance, then? Read on to find out (if you can stop drooling at the pics).

As soon as I was told I’d be flying to Edinburgh to drive the S60, I had one destination on my mind: Glen Etive. It might be as clichéd as turning up at Scottish-themed fancy dress party wearing a kilt and a Rod Stewart wig, but the area in Scotland where 007 and M went ‘back in time’ has become a popular spot for fans of the 2012 film Skyfall.

Hold your breath and count to 10

Volvo S60 in Scotland

I wanted to venture beyond Skyfall; to continue along the road past the point at which the characters played by Daniel Craig and Dame Judi Dench stood in front of the DB5, staring into the middle distance, presumably feeling the effects of spending 500 miles in a 50-year-old Aston.

They’d have had no such problems in the S60. Volvo doesn’t build uncomfortable cars; the combination of superb seats, minimalist cabins and clever use of lighting means that driving one of its cars is no less relaxing than a foot massage from Enya.

The S60’s biggest problem is familiarity. It’s five years since the Volvo XC90 debuted in Geneva, and while the interior remains a fabulous example of fit, finish and ergonomics, the wow-factor diminishes with every subsequent new car. You kinda know what to expect.

Volvo S60 interior

Not that I was complaining as I made my way out of the airport car park and into the morning commute. The first UK cars are offered in R-Design Edition spec, which means all but the most opulent and lavish equipment is fitted as standard.

The sea of charcoal that swathes the cabin is as bright and cheery as a gentleman’s wash bag, but the gloom is pierced by a metal mesh inlay running across the dashboard. Predictably, the quality is first-rate, but I don’t remember the air vents feeling this flimsy in Volvo’s larger cars. Probably my memory playing tricks on me.

Stirling work

Volvo S60 dashboard

“Don’t drive tired”, proclaimed the matrix display above the M9 motorway, a stark reminder that I’d been up since 3am and crowbarred into a crevice on a red-eye flight from Bristol. I lowered the Volvo’s seat and steering wheel heating, reduced the temperature of the climate control, and changed the sat-nav route setting to ‘scenic’. Time to wake up.

The Sensus nine-inch touchscreen remains a visual treat, but too many commands and settings are hidden away and you’re required to take your eyes off the road for too long in order to change things. Fortunately, I remembered that Volvo’s voice control is one of the best, so I used that throughout the journey.

Try doing that in your DB5, Bond. “Set passenger seat to eject…”

The sat-nav directed me through Stirling, where the S60 seemed to be as eye-catching as the castle sat atop the rugged crag. I caught sight of at least three chaps turning their heads to get a better look, and it’s not hard to see why.

Volvo S60 at Glen Etive

The S60 looks alluring from any angle: as toned as a marathon runner, curvaceous in all the right places and far better resolved than the S90. It takes a lot to upstage the magnificent beauty of Scotland, but the S60 achieves it. It warrants a closer look, too. Note the voluptuous haunches and the wafer-thin panel gaps.

The R-Design treatment certainly helps, with the S60 packing high-gloss black trim, dual integrated exhaust pipes and 18-inch diamond-cut alloy wheels. The good news is that my test car was running on the standard 18s, which proves you don’t have to upgrade to the probable-ride-ruining 19- or 20-inch rims to achieve maximum glamour.

So far, so good, then. If cars were judged on the strength of their styling and cabin, Volvo would be off to Ikea in search of another trophy cabinet for another ‘winner takes all’ victory. Other Swedish clichés are available.

Feel the earth move?

Volvo S60 T5 R-Design Edition

But it’s at this point that the S60 starts to lose some of its lustre. There’s enough here for a terrific first date, but a lasting relationship might be off the cards.

Power is sourced from a 2.0-litre four-cylinder T5 engine producing 250hp and 258lb ft of torque, which sounds great on paper, but is more ‘meh’ in reality. The engine is totally devoid of character, and although the peak power appears at 5,500pm, the engine sounds strained when you reach the upper reaches of the rev counter – there’s no reward for pushing the S60 hard.

It’s strange, because the engine is far from slow. The 0-62mph time is a not-too-shabby 6.5 seconds, and because the torque is available from 1,800 to 4,800rpm, the S60 makes light work of slow-moving camper vans, mobile libraries and coaches. Yes, I’m speaking from experience here.

Volvo S60 first UK drive

Yet it never feels exciting, even in Dynamic mode, when the throttle is at its most responsive and the entire car feels tauter and more focused. It doesn’t help that the eight-speed transmission appears to prefer a slow dance to a waltz, with even the paddles seemingly unable to inject a dose of excitement.

This might be a touch unfair: Volvo isn’t pitching the S60 as a performance saloon, but when the roads are as good as this, it should be possible to have fun.

Accelerate hard and there’s a touch of torque steer, with the front end feeling detached from the asphalt beneath the wheels. This ‘floating’ sensation is joined by steering that is short on feel and too light in anything other than Dynamic mode. It’s not unpleasant to drive, but it’s far from engaging.

This might not matter in the U.S., where the S60 is built at Volvo’s new plant in South Carolina, because corners haven’t been invented there. But if you’re touring Scotland and fancy some excitement to go with the stunning scenery, look elsewhere.

At Skyfall

Volvo S60 T5 at Skyfall

Just before noon, I was parked at the precise spot where Craig and Dench stared into the Scottish mist. It’s easy to find – just look for the ‘layby’ created by seven years of location-hunting film fans. This must be the only layby in the world created indirectly by a Dame and a 007. There’s another worn-out patch of Scotland on the other side of the road, created by folk turning around and heading back to the A82.

But I wasn’t going back. Instead, I continued beyond the famous spot, taking the single track Glen Etive Road to its conclusion. For the benefit of any doubt, Bond didn’t continue along this road – it’s a dead-end – and Skyfall Lodge was built on Hankley Common, Surrey. But you probably knew that already.

It’s just as well Bond didn’t take the Aston too much further. In places, the road resembles Belgian pavé, which would have shaken and stirred the DB5 to bits long before Javier Bardem’s helicopter loomed into view.

Volvo S60 at Loch Etive

The Comfort setting is advised if you value your spine – I dread to think what the S60 would be like on 20-inch rims. On 18s, the ride is a little on the firm side, if far from uncomfortable, but given the S60’s lack of precision, I’d have preferred it to be a little softer.

The 12-mile road follows the path of the River Etive, taking in open moorland, forests and small Scottish homesteads as it makes it way through the mountainous landscape.

The further you travel, the more you feel like you’re driving into the unknown, although the feeling of isolation is punctured by the endless stream of black Vauxhall Corsa hire cars. Still, it makes a change from the endless stream of yellow Arnold Clark stickers you see away from the tourist routes in Scotland.

Hear my heart burst again

Volvo S60 headlight

An hour or so later, not only was the weather on the turn, but the clock was ticking ever closer to my departure from Edinburgh Airport. Bond had a date with Raoul Silva – and M had a date with death – but I had little more than an Easyjet booking to look forward to.

The return leg was a frustrating mix of poor weather, coaches, roadworks and intermittent digital radio signal. I tried one last time to extract some enjoyment from the S60, but I reached the conclusion that it’s a little like fast food: quick, but lacking in substance.

A more pertinent issue would be to work out where the new S60 sits in the UK market. Will the styling, cabin and safety credentials be enough to counter the less-than-sparkling performance and the rather limited choice of engines and trim levels? A T8 plug-in hybrid, Polestar Engineered version and Inscription trim will be added in the future.

As I said at the beginning, you could buy a Volvo S60 on the strength of its looks and live happily ever after knowing that your car looks a million dollars. And you will enjoy some exclusivity – Volvo says it will “achieve higher sales than the outgoing S60”.

Volvo sold 960 previous-generation S60s last year, so the company is not expecting huge numbers from its compact exec. Standing out from the me-too German cars is almost guaranteed in an S60.

We will stand tall

Not Daniel Craig at Skyfall

Part of me doesn’t want to reach a conclusion, and not just because I’m forever being distracted by the library of S60 images on my desktop.

Please don’t get me wrong: there is so much to love about the S60. The seats in the R-Design are fabulous, the cabin is a delight and it’s probably safer than covering yourself in bubble wrap and never leaving the house.

So, like Bond, I’m going to stare into the middle distance and contemplate a more decisive future for the S60. As a trailer for the main feature, the T5 R-Design Edition is a competent teaser. Here’s hoping the Polestar version is more of a thriller, leaving the Inscription to feel as cosetting and cosy as watching a black and white movie in front of the fire on a wet Sunday afternoon.

Not much of a conclusion, is it? But what were you expecting, an exploding pen?

Volvo V60 T5 R-Design Edition

Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, front-wheel-drive
Power: 250hp @ 5,500rpm
Torque: 258lb ft @ 1,800 – 4,800rpm
WLTP fuel economy: 35.3-39.8mpg
CO2 emissions: 152g/km
Price: £37,935
Price as tested: £39,160

DS 3 Crossback review: a small SUV with big ambitions

DS 3 Crossback

DS says it wants to ’embody the know-how of French luxury into the automotive industry’. In theory, that means channelling the spirit of the original Citroen DS – indisputably one of the greatest cars ever made – along with haute couture brands such as Chanel, Dior and Hermès. In practice, it means a compact crossover. Yep, another one.

DS split from Citroen and launched the 7 Crossback last year. The smaller 3 Crossback is part two of its reinvention as a standalone brand. A high-rise hatchback with SUV styling, it starts from £21,550 (or £351 a month). Rivals include the Audi Q2, Mini Countryman and Volkswagen T-Cross.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Citroen celebrated 100 years at Retromobile 2019. This sublime DS comes from its huge heritage collection.

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This is the first outing for PSA Group’s new CMP platform, which also unpins the next Peugeot 208 and Vauxhall Corsa. All versions are front-wheel drive, so don’t get any ideas about venturing off-road.

Most buyers will opt for the 1.2-litre petrol engine, which comes in three outputs: 100hp with a six-speed manual gearbox, or 130hp and 155hp with an eight-speed auto. There’s also a 100hp 1.5 diesel (manual only), plus a fully electric E-Tense version – due later in 2019.

DS 3 Crossback: first impressions

DS 3 Crossback

The 2009 Citroen DS3 – the first modern DS – looked suspiciously similar to the BMW Mini, but nobody could accuse the French of plagiarism this time. The 3 Crossback is a riot of design ideas, some more successful than others.  

Established DS themes include the LED fangs in the front bumper, shark fin between the side windows and (optional) contrast roof. There are other influences at play here, though: spot the Lexus-look front grille and Range Rover Evoque-style tail lights.

Neat details include flush door handles, which pop out when you unlock the car, plus a hidden boot release in the number plate recess. We’re less convinced by the startled-looking headlights and horrible fake vents in the rear bumper, though.  

Inside the DS 3 Crossback

DS 3 Crossback

The Crossback’s cabin is even more distinctive – its pièce de résistance, in fact. It’s wilfully quirky in the finest French tradition, combining  flamboyance with functionality.

Most of the infotainment and ventilation controls are clustered within seven intersecting diamonds, with a seven-inch touchscreen (10-inch on higher-spec versions) perched above. Driving modes are selected via jewel-like switches on the centre console. Their unusual guilloche finish resembles ‘braided or interlaced ribbons’ (it says here).

The hip-hugging front seats are very comfortable and the main touch-points feel suitably plush. You’ll discover some decidedly non-premium plastics elsewhere, though. Rear-seat passengers may feel a tad claustrophobic, thanks to shallow side windows and limited legroom.

Standard kit on the entry-level Elegance includes 17-inch alloy wheels, Bluetooth, DAB radio, lane-keep assist, keyless start and rear parking sensors. Upgrading to Performance Line (+£1,500) gets you tinted windows, LED rear lights and Alcantara trim, while Prestige (+£2,000) adds leather, navigation, auto wipers, front parking sensors and the 10-inch touchscreen.

Fully-loaded Ultra Prestige (+£3,000) comes with 18-inch alloys, head-up display, reversing camera and advanced Matrix LED headlights. Apple Carplay and Android Auto connectivity is standard throughout.

DS 3 Crossback: on the road

DS 3 Crossback

We started out in the 130hp 1.2 petrol, the likely best-seller. It’s eager to rev and the auto ‘box reacts quickly and intuitively. Performance is modest – 0-62mph in 9.2sec and 124mph flat-out – although thrifty fuel economy of 42.2-47.1mpg (WLTP figures) makes up for that.

If you want a sporty drive, you’re better off with the DS 3 hatchback; the Crossback’s extra height and heft takes its toll in corners. It’s steering is direct but devoid of feel, while the damping is rather lumpen: firm around town, then floaty at speed. 

For everyday duties, however, the Crossback is perfectly proficient. It coped well with the cut-and-thrust of London traffic, helped by light controls and plenty of driver aids. 

That said, we would approach the 155hp petrol version with caution; it’s useful extra punch is offset by stiffer suspension, which makes the ride quite harsh. No doubt the larger 18-inch wheels of our second test car – a La Premiere special edition, only available at launch – didn’t help. As ever, try before you buy.

DS 3 Crossback verdict: 3 stars

DS 3 Crossback

The DS 3 Crossback won’t be joining its 1955 forefather in the hall of four-wheeled fame, but it’s a genuinely different offering in a crowded class. 

Crossovers sell on style as much as any perceived benefits in practicality or ability, and the DS delivers this in abundance. Pick one of the brighter colours, such as Millennium Blue or Imperial Gold (both pictured) and it will turn heads. The interior is a real talking point, too.

Prices are worryingly close to the Audi Q2, and we have some reservations about the ride. However, if the DS 3 Crossback’s outré panache appeals, you should certainly add it to your shortlist.

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Five DS 3 Crossback rivals

  • Audi A2
  • Mini Countryman
  • Volkswagen T-Roc
  • BMW X2
  • Lexus UX

How much did our test car cost?

DS 3 Crossback Pure Tech 130 Prestige auto: £27,950

Blockbuster: Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR vs greatest roads of Wales

Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR in Wales

The hot hatch is best enjoyed alone. I came to this conclusion after spending a day in the company of the new Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR on the roads of Mid Wales. It was the kind of day that might have prompted Lou Reed to write a song. Almost everything was perfect, including the weather, which was very Welsh.

I’d arrived in Crickhowell, a small town in the foothills of the Black Mountains, just before 8am, feeling decidedly jaded following a three-hour motorway slog in a diesel-powered MPV. But there’s nothing like the sight of a freshly washed hot hatch – not to mention a fresh pot of tea – to stir the soul and awaken the senses.

Before most people had finished their morning commute, I was behind the wheel of a five-door Golf GTI TCR finished in Pure Grey, a colour unique to this run-out model. No passenger, no predefined road route and no rush to get back. Just a full tank of fuel and the entire Welsh road network at my disposal.

In truth, it wouldn’t have mattered where I went, because Wales is essentially a greatest hits album of epic roads: Now That’s What I Call Great Driving Roads. But I intended to put together a playlist of Welsh gems, so I took the A479 to Talgarth and headed for Builth Wells.

T, C and R, please, Bob

Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR decals

First, a bit about the Golf GTI TCR. This is the last hurrah for the Mk7.5 Golf, its name and styling inspired by the Touring Car Racing series. Volkswagen has been successful in the formula, so it made sense to create a hotter Golf GTI inspired by the race car.

The tribute act is a lot more subtle than the track star, especially if you resist the temptation to spend £550 on the honeycomb design side decals. Maybe I’m getting old, but I’d prefer my TCR without the homage to Blockbusters plastered on the side. The letters T, C and R on the base of the rear doors are enough for me, Bob.

Other aesthetic upgrades over the Golf GTI Performance include a new front splitter, side skirts, a rear diffuser, black door mirrors and a larger tailgate spoiler. This particular car had the optional TCR Performance Pack, comprising 19-inch black alloys (18s are standard), semi-slick Pirelli tyres, de-restricted top speed to 164mph, suspension lowered by 20mm and Dynamic Chassis Control.

Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR interior

All in, my test car cost a not insignificant £41,289.19, its price inflated by the £2,900 TCR Performance Pack, £1,000 panoramic sunroof, £100 rear tinted glass, £555 decals, £300 rear side airbags and £534.19 vehicle tracker. A panoramic sunroof on a track-inspired hot hatch? No thanks.

But then everyday useability has always been one of the Golf GTI’s greatest strengths. An ability to switch from mellow roast to espresso in the blink of an eye. The TCR is no stripped-out hardcore racer in the style of the Clubsport S, it’s a car for all reasons, even if the Golf R is – on paper at least – a superior car for all seasons.

I hadn’t so much left the suburbs of Crickhowell before I had settled into a groove. Finding the perfect driving position is easy, while the TCR seats provide good initial comfort and superb long-term support. But while the red marker at the top of the steering wheel is a neat touch, I wish Volkswagen had finished the wheel in Alcantara to match the gear gaiter and door inserts.

Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR steering wheel

You can play around with the driving modes until your heart’s content, but for 90 percent of the time, I found myself in Sport mode and with the seven-speed DSG transmission set to manual. Some may bemoan the absence of a manual gearbox, but in the hills and mountains of Wales, the paddles weren’t a spoiler, they were adding to the event.

It’s not as though Sport mode turns the TCR into a rabid beast, loaded with pent-up aggression and egging you on to drive faster – this is not a hot hatch in the style of the Honda Civic Type R. There’s a noticeable difference between Comfort and Sport, but the ride quality is never uncomfortable, even on the 19-inch rims, and the exhaust pop-pops on the overrun are more pronounced.

Forget Eco mode, which is akin to exchanging the sticky Pirellis for a set of waders and asking the TCR to go bog snorkelling in Llanwrtyd Wells.

Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR seats

Not that the car ever lets you forget that we’re living in eco-conscious times. Every so often, the dashboard would display an ‘eco tip’ advising me to flick the shifter into automatic to save fuel. An unwanted distraction, especially when you’re enjoying the asphalt of Mid Wales.

The 20-mile drive to Talgarth was like a familiarisation event; like being reacquainted with an old friend, everything feels right in a Golf GTI. It might be easy to poke a stick at VW for being a little unadventurous with its interiors, but when the quality is this good, and the ergonomics are near-faultless, who’s complaining?

It puts you at ease and delivers the confidence you require to really enjoy a hot hatch. And as I peeled off the A483 at Beulah, that was precisely what I intended to do.

The Abergwesyn Pass

Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR Abergwesyn

By now, the fine weather that had greeted me as I crossed the Severn Bridge had given way to sleet. The clouds hung heavy over the peaks of the hills towering over the Abergweysn Pass, while the roads were coated in a treacherous blend of sheep mess and drizzle. Conditions more suited to the Golf R, perhaps?

Not a bit of it. Up here, in splendid isolation, this was everything a car enthusiast could dream of. No phone reception, no need to be anywhere, no Slack notifications, no four-wheel-drive. A hot hatch should be driven through the front wheels. End of story.

Just a few weeks earlier, this road had been rendered almost impassable by Storm Whateveritsnamewas, but today it created a playground for the TCR, the peace and tranquillity pierced by the tuneful burble being performed by the stainless steel exhaust system. It’s not anti-social loud, but it’s just enough to add something to the occasion.

Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR Devils Staircase

From the three fords at the bottom of the pass, the road climbs up Devil’s Staircase, a one-in-four zig-zag hill requiring the use of first gear and an ability to see around corners. Here, the TCR struggled for grip, with a shift from first into second causing the traction control light to flash up as the car propelled itself to the next switchback.

I still hadn’t been able to make full use of the 290hp 2.0-litre turbocharged engine – that would come later – but I was already enjoying the thin-rimmed steering wheel, a welcome tonic to the ‘phat’ wheels deployed on some other hot hatches.

The steering itself is hardly brimming with feel, but it’s communicative enough to let you know what the front wheels are doing. It rewards a light grip on the wheel, and there’s a noticeable difference in weight between low-speed manoeuvring and high-speed cornering.

Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR on road to Tregaron

It was from here to Tregaron that I truly appreciated the manual function of the DSG transmission. Blessed with a stretch of freshly-laid asphalt, the first section is a series of tight corners, woven together by short and snappy straights. While the shifts through the gears aren’t lightning quick, the paddles mean that you can keep your hands on the wheel, which is handy when the road is barely wide enough for one car.

Get it wrong, and a multitude of terrors lie in wait, including rolling down the hillside, wheels wiped out by roadside rocks or a head-on collision with one of the many sheep. Get it right, and it feels like heaven, even if the sleet had turned to snow and the pine forests were in full-on Narnia fancy dress mode.

Once past the long-since-retired red telephone box, the road climbs like a helter-skelter, with the fresh tarmac making way for a more pitted surface. It’s here that I discover that the TCR can feel a little skittish when cornering on the limit, a symptom of the larger wheels and lowered ride height, perhaps?

Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR 19-inch wheels

On the flip side, the way in which the TCR corners is utterly intoxicating and in many ways the raison d’être of a car of this ilk. It turns in with such precision and vigour, and the harder the corner, the more rewarding it gets.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I channelled my inner Meg Ryan on a number of occasions – remember what I said about enjoying a hot hatch alone? – and my heart skipped a beat when I laced together a series of bends to absolute perfection. And if I entered a corner too quickly, the TCR was on hand to get me out of trouble, and there was no passenger on hand to judge me.

Mountain road and the Elan Valley

Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR in Wales

Dropping down into Tregaron and below the snow line, it was back to reality. The first sign of civilisation since I left Beulah over an hour ago, and the unwanted influx of messages appearing on the crystal-clear 9.2 infotainment screen.

Not that my playlist of great roads was about to fade to grey – there were no fillers or makeweights on this greatest hits album. Instead, I took the B4343 to Cymystwyth, where I’d join the mountain road to Rhayader, via the sublime Elan Valley.

It was on the mountain road that I finally managed to stretch the TCR’s legs. It begins with a tight, technical section; the road behaving like a temptress, provoking you into a wrong decision. One minute you’re enjoying a ribbon of bends, the next minute you’re tangling with a savage cocktail of sudden camber changes, blind summits or unexpectedly tight turns.

Occasionally it’s a blend of all three…

Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR near Rhayader

It’s fun, exhilarating and at times scary, but it serves as a prelude to the main event: a fast, open section to the junction for the Elan Valley, blessed with wild vistas and, on this occasion, snow-capped peaks.

When the road is free of sheep and day-trippers, it’s possible to unleash the full force of the TCR’s 290hp engine. The 0-62mph time of 5.6 seconds seems a tad pessimistic, but it’s the mid-range pull that’s most impressive. The full 280lb ft of torque is available from 1,950rpm to 5,300rpm, so there’s plenty of pull in whatever gear and at whatever speed. Make no mistake: the TCR is properly quick.

Peak power is at 5,000rpm to 6,200rpm, so there’s a reward for holding on to a gear for longer, especially given the fact that the soundtrack is at its most raucous above 4,000rpm. Annoyingly, the DSG will change up when you approach the redline, diluting the feel of total involvement, not to mention providing fuel for the fire for those who’d argue that the TCR should have a manual option.

Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR exhaust

Not me. I was revelling into the feeling of leaving my hands on the wheel, clicking up and down through the gears, listening to the pop-pops and spits on the over-run. With the sun shining and the road blessed with a 60mph limit, the Elan Valley road to Rhayader was arguably the high note of the trip. Everything fell into place – I felt no urge to stop for pictures.

After an unhealthy snack at Rhayader, I had a decision to make: take the A470 and A479 to Crickhowell, or the longer route via Llandovery and the Black Mountain Pass. Needless to say, I chose the latter.

Black Mountain Pass

In truth, playtime was over. After the rollercoaster B4358 to Beulah, the journey to Llandovery was a frustrating mix of no overtaking zones, lorries and mid-range hatchbacks. Worse still, by the time I had reached the bustling town of Llandovery, the sun had turned to rain and, for the second time this year, I was predicting a rather wet drive along the A4069.

Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR in snow

I was wrong. The A4069 – known to car enthusiasts as the Black Mountain Pass – was in the midst of a pounding by near blizzard conditions. For the first time on this trip, I figured that a Golf R might be more appropriate.

And the Golf R is arguably the Golf GTI TCR’s chief rival. While the Megane RS Trophy, Civic Type R and i30 N might seek to tempt a Golf driver away from the safe bosom of VW, if you fancy a hot Golf, you’re unlikely to be swayed by a  temptress wearing a different dress.

Personally, I’d choose a TCR over an R. While the additional 10hp and 4Motion might be appealing, the R is also heavier and seems to be driven by every Tom, Dick and Gary living along the M4 corridor.

Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR Black Mountain Pass

The TCR feels a tad more special, even if Volkswagen could have worked harder to increase the sense that it’s derived from a successful race car. And no, I’m not talking about adding more decals.

Whether or not the TCR is worth the £2,310 extra over the Golf GTI Performance is a matter of opinion. Subjectively, the TCR is the best looking Mk7 Golf GTI – especially in Pure Grey (£595) and without the decals – and the additional 45hp is most welcome.

But you’ll want the Performance Pack, which adds another £2,900 to the price. Heck, ‘my’ test car cost an eye-watering £41,300, which is big money for a Golf GTI, especially one based on an outgoing model and without the attraction of limited-run status.

Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR at ford

I called it quits on the ‘White’ Mountain Pass and endured a slow crawl back to Crickhowell, energy and enthusiasm levels hitting the floor following 12 hours on the road. I had done around 200 miles in the TCR, mostly on mountain passes and technical B-roads, averaging 22mpg in the process.

Nearly a week on, I’m still thinking about the Golf GTI TCR. It has renewed my interest in the Golf GTI and awakened a former desire to own a new one. I have owned a GTI in Mk1, Mk2 and Mk3 flavours – and enjoyed a brief romance with a Rallye – but the newer models have passed me by.

Thanks to the TCR and the magical Welsh roads, I’ve added the Mk7 Golf GTI to the short list of new cars I would buy with my own money. And the first place I’d head to having taken delivery: Mid Wales. Alone.

Seat Tarraco 2019 review: a seven-seat SUV fit for family life

Seat TarracoOur Gav recently enjoyed three months and 3,000 miles driving a Seat Alhambra, a ‘practical and flexible’ seven-seat people carrier. He declared it a ‘prime example of a properly sorted MPV’ and ‘worthy of your attention’. Well, sorry Gav, people just aren’t listening.

Sport Utility Vehicles are where it’s at, you see. Most of us venture no further off-road than mounting a kerb, yet sales have skyrocketed in recent years – and that trend is forecast to continue. Buyers like the high driving position and perceived safety of SUVs, but mostly they love their tough, go-anywhere image. If an MPV is a sensible sandal, an SUV is an all-terrain trainer.

Seat has jumped wholeheartedly on the SUV gravy train. Its new seven-seat Tarraco sits above the (small) Arona and (medium) Ateca in a three-tier range. It’s the Barcelona brand’s new flagship – and the aspirational alternative to an Alhambra.

Two TSI petrol engines are offered – 150hp 1.5-litre and 190hp 2.0 – plus a 2.0 TDI diesel available in two outputs: 150hp or 190hp. You can opt for two- or four-wheel drive (‘4Drive’), plus six-speed manual or seven-speed DSG auto transmissions.

Tarraco prices start at £28,335 for a 1.5 TSI 150 SE and stretch to £38,055 for a fully-loaded 2.0 TDI 190 Xcellence Lux. I ventured to deepest Berkshire to sample 190hp petrol and diesel versions on UK roads.

First impressions

Seat Tarraco

‘Tarraco’ is the old word for Tarragona, following a longstanding tradition of naming Seats after Spanish cities. Underneath, however, its roots are resolutely Germanic. The Tarraco is based on the same Volkswagen Group MQB-A LWB platform as the Skoda Kodiaq, and the two cars are mechanically nigh-on identical.

The Seat has more aggressive SUV attitude, though. It rides 20mm lower than the Kodiaq, with a jutting grille, bonnet bulges, sculpted body-sides and swoopy LED light signatures. This year’s must-have styling feature – a full-width rear light bar – is also present and correct, although the central section is only a red reflector. Those ‘tailpipe’ slots either side of the rear bumper are fake, too.

Nonetheless, the Tarraco has car park kudos that no glorified minibus (sorry, Gav) can match. At 4,735mm long and 2,118mm wide, its footprint is on par with a Land Rover Discovery Sport. Few cars offer so much metal for your money

Inside the Seat Tarraco

Seat Tarraco

Here’s where Seat’s oh-so-sensible Alhambra plays its trump card. The old-guard MPV is a true seven-seater (“Whenever we’ve carried a full quota of five children, there’s been a scramble for the rear seats,” says Gav), while the young-gun Tarraco is effectively a five-plus-two. Its rearmost chairs are only really suitable for youngsters, yet have no Isofix mounting points. You do get three Isofix points in the middle row, though.

Five-up, the Tarraco feels very spacious. There’s ample headroom and shoulder width, and the optional panoramic sunroof bathes the cabin in light. The second-row seats also slide and flip forward individually. Boot space ranges from 2,005 litres in ‘van mode’ to 700 litres with five seats occupied – and just 230 litres when fully loaded with passengers. All figures, incidentally, are fractionally smaller than the Skoda.

As for the driver, you get digital dials, and a media system with Apple Carplay and Android Auto connectivity. Shame the eight-inch touchscreen, perched atop the dashboard, looks like an afterthought.

Overall, the effect is pleasingly premium, as befits the Tarraco’s range-topping status. I particularly liked the wool and Alcantara (man-made suede) upholstery of our Xcellence-spec test cars.

Standard kit on the entry-level SE includes 17-inch alloys, three-zone climate control, rear parking sensors, auto headlights and wipers, cruise control and ambient interior lighting. SE Technology adds 18-inch alloys and sat nav, while the Xcellence and Xcellence Lux push upwards into Audi territory. If you’re quick, launch-spec ‘First Edition’ cars are even better equipped.

Seat Tarraco: on the road

Seat Tarraco

If you’re expecting a lively drive to match that purposeful mien, prepare for mild disappointment. The Tarraco doesn’t transcend its SUV origins like a Porsche Macan, and unless Seat’s sporty sub-brand Cupra gets involved (as with the smaller Ateca), that’s likely to remain the case.

Refinement and long-distance comfort are more the Seat’s raison d’être. Its suspension soaks up potholes very effectively – particularly if you opt for smaller wheels – and both petrol and diesel engines are hushed. For maximum quietness, wait for the plug-in hybrid version, due in 2020.

On twisty roads, the Tarraco is planted and predictable. Its steering is nicely weighted, body-roll is kept in-check and the DSG ’box is smooth and intuitive. Its brakes also feel reassuringly robust, backed up by standard-fit Front Assist with pedestrian and cyclist detection.

The predicted best-seller – the 150hp 1.5 petrol – wasn’t available to drive at launch. However, the perky 190hp petrol would be my choice versus the slightly sluggish 190hp diesel. For starters, it costs around £1,500 less, while the quoted fuel economy is hardly leagues apart (29.7mph versus 37.2mpg). And the diesel was just 3mpg more efficient on my identical test-route.

Seat Tarraco verdict: 4 stars

Seat Tarraco

Seat has hit upon a winning formula. Its sales were up 12 percent in 2018, making it the UK’s fastest-growing car brand for the second year in a row. Given such success, it’s hardly surprising the Tarraco doesn’t break the mould.

No, it isn’t a mobile Tardis like the Alhambra, but that’s hardly the point. For better or worse, the sort of people who occasionally tackle a gravel track en route to a National Trust property want SUVs. And this is a pretty good one: comfortable, refined, well-equipped and inoffensive to drive.

The greatest threat to the Tarraco comes from within. The aforementioned Skoda Kodiaq starts from around £3,000 less, and is a cheaper option spec-for-spec. Not quite the ‘reign in Spain’, then – more like Czech mate.

Seat Tarraco

Five 2019 Seat Tarraco rivals

  • Skoda Kodiaq
  • Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace
  • Hyundai Santa Fe
  • Land Rover Discovery Sport
  • Seat Alhambra

How much did our test car cost?

Seat Tarraco Xcellence First Edition Plus 2.0 TSI 4Drive 190 DSG: £38,605

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2019 Seat Alhambra review: a seven-up MPV with just enough fizz

Seat Alhambra Xcellence

Seat doesn’t want to sell you an Alhambra. It would much rather you opted for the Tarraco, a seven-seat SUV that’s bang on-brand and totally in-tune with current trends. MPVs are out of touch, out of step and very nearly outta here.

But I’m here to tell you that the Seat Alhambra is as relevant to families today as it was when the concept was unveiled at the 1995 Geneva Motor Show. SUVs might be sexy, but they’ll never be as practical and flexible as a properly sorted MPV.

And, after living with a Seat Alhambra for three months and 3,000 miles, I can confirm that it’s a prime example of a properly sorted MPV.

The car in question is a Seat Alhambra in top-spec Xcellence trim, powered by a 2.0-litre diesel engine developing 150hp. It’s possible to get a more powerful diesel engine – the same unit is available with 184hp – but unless you raid the accessories catalogue, the Xcellence model is as good as it gets in Alhambra-land.

Taking the last Seat

Seat Alhambra review

Amazingly, the current Seat Alhambra is approaching its 10th birthday, which in automotive terms means that it should be drawing its pension and taking advantage of free bus travel.

It clings on for life partly because, until the arrival of the Tarraco, Seat hasn’t had another seven-seat SUV in its range, but also because Volkswagen hasn’t replaced the platform-sharing Sharan. The truth is, this could be the last Alhambra.

Few people will shed a tear. MPV purchases are driven through necessity rather than desire; their arrival on the driveway providing a very visual reminder that you’re no longer in the prime of your life.

What follows is 20 years of active parenthood, followed by years of providing financial and emotional support through uni and first-time-buyer schemes, then retirement, then… well, you can guess the rest.

You can understand why Mr and Mrs Two-Point-Four Family are attracted to a visually more attractive seven-seat SUV, seemingly happy to accept a little less practicality in exchange for more perceived glamour at the school gates. But before you fall for the SUV marketing twaddle, here are half a dozen reasons why the Seat Alhambra is worthy of your attention.

Sliding doors are ace

Seat Alhambra sliding doors

Sliding doors are good, but electric sliding doors are even better. Opt for the SE L or Xcellence trim levels and the doors can be operated at the touch of a button, giving joy to children everywhere.

Seriously, kids love sliding doors, while you can live out your A-Team fantasies by hanging out of the side like ‘Howling Mad’ Murdock. Warning: don’t try this at home, you crazy fools.

Aside from rekindling memories of Saturday night telly, the sliding doors are extremely useful in tight parking spaces and make getting into and out of the car very easy. The tailgate is also powered, so you can put on quite a display as you wander back to the Alhambra in a supermarket car park.

There are surprisingly few cars available with sliding doors, which is a shame because once you’ve lived with them, you’ll find it hard to live without them.

Third-row seats that aren’t third-class

Seat Alhambra third row

How often have you read a review of a seven-seat SUV only to find that the seats in the third row aren’t quite as billed in the glossy brochure? At best, many seven-seat SUVs are little more than 5+2 vehicles, with the third row designed for occasional use only.

Things are different in the Alhambra. Getting into the very back is easy, thanks to the sliding doors and the way in which the second row of seats tilt forward, but once there, there’s plenty of space even for taller children and adults.

Put it this way: whenever we’ve carried a full quota of five children, there’s been a scramble for the rear seats. There’s plenty of headroom and, thanks to the fact that the three middle seats slide forward independently, plenty of legroom, too. There’s even enough legroom if the middle row seats are slid all the way back.

Thanks to roof-mounted lights, a pair of cupholders on the left, a storage compartment on the right, and a pair of air vents, these don’t feel like the cheap seats. Remember when all the cool kids sat at the back of the bus? Things are no different in the Alhambra.

It has a boot the size of a Suzuki Swift

Seat Alhambra boot

Even with all seven seats folded up, the Seat Alhambra offers 267 litres of luggage space, which is two litres more than the Suzuki Swift. That’s pretty decent for a seven-seat bus, albeit far from ideal if you’re heading off for a family holiday with all five children in tow.

This rises to 658 litres in five-seat mode or 2,297 litres if you turn your Alhambra into a two-seater. While the Tarraco can muster 700 litres with the third row folded down, it can offer just 1,775 litres with the second row folded away. Once again, the Alhambra has its fashionable upstart well and truly licked.

And don’t think you’ll need a degree in origami to run through the various seating configurations. I’m about as handy as a chimp wearing boxing gloves, and even I managed to work it out without resorting to the manual. The seats are light, easy to operate and a doddle to fold away. You’re also presented with an entirely flat floor.

It feels like a posh bus

Seat Alhambra front seats

With the caveat that I’ve been reviewing an Alhambra in the plush Xcellence trim, there’s a distinctly premium feel to this MPV. Integrated sunblinds and aircraft-style folding tables on the front seat backrests are standard on SE and above, while 12-way electrically adjustable and heated leather front seats, DAB radio, sat-nav, rear-view camera and voice recognition are standard on SE L.

The Xcellence model boasts an opening panoramic sunroof with electric sunblind, sports-style front seats, chrome door sills, headlight washers, heated washer jets and keyless entry and go.

It’s actually pleasant to drive. No, really, it is

Seat Alhambra dashboard

I won’t pretend that the Alhambra is a great car to drive, but you’re likely to be pleasantly surprised by its road manners. It might be old, but the Alhambra is based on an old Volkswagen car platform, rather than something with its roots in the commercial sector, so it’s surprisingly agile for a car of its size.

The steering has a nice weight to it, there’s a surprising lack of body-roll when cornering, and if anything, the ride is a little on the firm side, but this might have something to do with the ‘sport’ suspension found on the Xcellence model.

Even the 150hp 2.0-litre diesel engine offers just enough in the way of performance, with the Alhambra having a decent turn of pace, even with all seven seats occupied. I’m not sure you’d need the extra poke offered by the 184hp version.

It’s never what you’d class as ‘fun’, and no matter how many times Seat peppers its press pack with the ‘sport’ word, it still feels at odds with the brand proposition. However, if your only experience of driving MPVs stems from something with the underpinnings of a van, you’ll find much to like about the Alhambra.

You can coast through life

Seat Alhambra DSG

I’m not a huge fan of the six-speed DSG dual-clutch transmission, although I’m not sure I could stomach a manual gearbox in a seven-seat MPV. Ninety percent of the time, the DSG is perfectly adequate, but it can feel flustered at junctions and when crawling in traffic, while it often selects the wrong gear for climbing or descending hills.

But there’s one aspect of DSG-equipped diesel engines I really like: coasting. When you lift off the throttle, the engine is de-clutched, helping to deliver better fuel economy. It’s why I rarely use the cruise control because even the gentlest of gradients can see you freewheeling like a kid on a skateboard.

I guess I shouldn’t get too carried away because the fuel savings are probably wiped out by the effort required to climb the hill, but it’s strangely satisfying trying to coast for as long as possible.

But… (because there’s always a ‘but’)

Seat Alhambra rear light

It’s not all chocolate and roses in the Alhambra, but what’s remarkable is the fact that I find myself nitpicking to find reasons for complaint. Many of its rivals will have been replaced, revised or refreshed in the decade since the Alhambra made its debut, and yet it remains one of the best MPVs you can buy.

Faults? Well, 36.4mpg isn’t a great return over the course of three months, and the interior harks back to Volkswagens of old, with a cabin that’s rather sombre and lacking in flair. Meanwhile, the 6.5-inch infotainment screen looks a little quaint in 2019, and there’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

Aside from these minor points, I’m struggling to find things to dislike about the Alhambra. It’s so refreshing to find a car that masters everything it sets out to do, rather than promising the earth and then failing to deliver.

When the world wakes up to the fact that the SUV isn’t the perfect family car, the MPV might have bitten the dust, and cars like the Seat Alhambra will be relics of the past. Which is a tragedy, because a full-size SUV with sliding doors is one of the most underappreciated body styles on the market, but not enough of you are buying them.

It might not be cool, but the Seat Alhambra is big and surprisingly clever.

2019 Porsche 911 Cabriolet review: no longer the soft option

2019 Porsche 911 Cabriolet

Forget Nordschleife lap-times or willy-waving top speeds. Sports cars are all about sensation: how they look, the noises they make and – above all – how they feel to drive. And nothing heightens those sensations like removing the roof.

Try telling that to Porsche purists, though. They have traditionally seen the 911 Cabriolet as a soft option: a car for boulevards, not B-roads. Granted, the drop-top 911 can’t boast a motorsport pedigree, or indeed a back-catalogue of RS- and GT-badged greatness. But its credentials as a driver’s car have never been in doubt.

So, let’s put snobbery to one side and judge the new Cabriolet simply as a sports car. Here’s hoping it’s, well, sensational.

It starts from six figures

2019 Porsche 911 Cabriolet

First, the bad news: you can’t buy a 911 Cabriolet for less than six figures. At least not yet. The two-wheel-drive Carrera S starts at £102,455, with the 4WD Carrera 4S from £108,063. That’s around £10,000 more than the coupe.

Only 450hp ‘S’ versions are available at launch, although an entry-level Carrera will follow later (and likely dip below £100k). Likewise, you must have the paddleshift PDK auto ’box for now: a seven-speed manual comes in 2020.

As you’d expect, the list of options is also longer than an orangutan’s arm. I’ll come to those later.

It does ‘schnell’ very well

2019 Porsche 911 Cabriolet

The 911 Cabriolet weighs 70kg more than the coupe (1,585kg total), but 450 German Pferdestärke – the same as a 2005 996 Turbo S – means it’s savagely quick. Nigh-on supercar quick.

Zero to 60mph takes 3.7sec in the S – or 3.5sec with the optional Sport Chrono pack, which includes launch control. In both instances, the 4S is 0.1sec swifter. Find an empty Autobahn and you’ll hit 190mph.

This latest 3.0-litre flat-six also serves up a monstrous slab of turbocharged torque: 391lb ft from 2,300rpm. Full power isn’t achieved until 6,500rpm, though, at which point you still have another 1,000 frenzied revolutions per minute left.

Not a case of copy and paste

2019 Porsche 911 Cabriolet

Designing a new 911 is, one might assume, the easiest job in motordom. A straightforward case of copy and paste. However, it’s also something of a poisoned chalice. Get it wrong and the faithful will never forgive you.

To the untrained eye, the 992 does look near-as-dammit identical to its predecessor. In fact, just 15 percent of parts are carried over and the bodyshell is all-new: now 70 percent aluminium, versus 31 percent in the 991.

The most obvious difference is the full-width rear light bar. Once the preserve of the Carrera 4, it’s now applied across the entire Porsche range. All 911s now have fulsome, Turbo-style hips, too – there’s no longer a ‘narrow body’ option. They’re needed to accommodate larger alloys, now 20 inches at the front and 21 inches at the rear.

One pleasing nod to the past is the bonnet recess in front of the windscreen. It was inspired by the original A- to G-series 911s, built from 1963 to 1989.

It’s a bit of a looker (even with the roof up)

2019 Porsche 911 Cabriolet

Unlike some 911 Cabriolets of yore, this one also looks good with the roof up. Its hood retains the iconic teardrop shape of the coupe, arcing smoothly into the 992’s bulbous backside.

Electrically lowering or raising the roof takes 12 seconds, at speeds up to 32mph. Once retracted, it lies hidden beneath the rear deck. And going al fresco doesn’t impact on luggage space because, well, the boot is in the front.

Rather than being strictly a ‘soft-top’, the Cabriolet roof consists of four magnesium panels covered in cloth. These allow for that sleeker profile, reduce interior noice and make the hood effectively slash-proof.

At last, the cabin doesn’t let the side down

2019 Porsche 911 Cabriolet

Ergonomics have never been a 911 forte. The outgoing 991, with its bewildering array of buttons, lagged at least a generation behind the rival Audi R8.

Thankfully, the 992’s cabin is a genuine step-on. Sure, there are a few age-old 911 quirks – such as the five-dial binnacle, with its outer gauges obscured by the steering wheel – but the new 12.3-inch touchscreen media system (shared with the Cayenne and Panemera) is intuitive to use and looks gorgeous. One notable black mark: there’s Apple Carplay connectivity, but no Android Auto.

Quality has taken a leap, as the 911 treads the blurred boundary between cosseting GT and serious sports car. I particularly like the kurled toggle switches on the centre console, which offer swift access to the drive modes and chassis settings.

Lest we forget, the 911 Cabriolet also has rear seats. The backrests are bolt-upright and it feels horribly claustrophobic with the roof up, but they’re still a useful advantage over many competitors.

It’s a 911 turbo that sounds like a 911 Turbo

2019 Porsche 911 Cabriolet

Among the many things to rile 911 superfans over the years (“You changed WHAT?”), the switch from naturally-aspirated to turbocharged Carreras was a notable line in the sand. Throttle response will never be as electric, they fretted, and the engine won’t sound the same.

Fire up the 992, though, and the rumble from behind your back is unmistakeably a flat-six. The difference here – particularly when you select Sport mode – is that Porsche is no longer being coy about forced induction. The new 911 whooshes and whoops, its wastegate chattering like a WRC car. It sounds overtly and gloriously turbocharged.

At higher revs, that noise swells to a full-bodied roar, the tailpipes snarling and spitting in unbridled fury. And it’s all amplified by having the roof down.

It’s good at playing Gran Turismo

2019 Porsche 911 Cabriolet

My drive starts on the outskirts of Athens, on roads peppered with potholes and forlorn 1980s hatchbacks. Time to ease myself in gently and test the 911’s grand touring credentials.

Its driving position is infinitely adjustable and very comfortable. The view ahead is framed by those voluptuous front wings and the curvaceous flanks fill the door mirrors. I select Normal mode and leave the gearbox, now with eight speeds, in automatic mode. So far, so good.

On the move, the 911 feels supple without being floaty or imprecise. The PDK shifts seamlessly and the engine remains muted. If you’ve just eased yourself out of a Mercedes-Benz SL or BMW 8 Series, you’ll feel right at home.

With the roof down, the cabin stays impressively calm, particularly if you deploy the pop-up wind deflector. You can chat to passengers at motorway speeds without straining your voice.

But scratch the surface and it’s still a 911

2019 Porsche 911 Cabriolet

Still, I didn’t come to Greece to pose topless (ahem). So I head inland for the mountains beyond Athens, and the sort of roads that resemble a hand-drawn scribble on the nav screen.

My Carrera S has Sport Chrono, so there’s a manettino-style dial on the wheel for engaging Sport and Sport Plus modes. I start off in the former and switch to manual mode, sensing the 911 stiffen and tense its fibres for action. The whole car suddenly feels emancipated.

On steeply climbing switchbacks, the combination of an engine beyond the back axle and steamroller 305-section rear rubber means incredible traction. The 911 hunkers down, then slingshots out of bends like a scalded cheetah. It makes you question the need for the four-wheel-drive 4S.

All that grip is complemented by an almighty wallop of torque, catapulting the car between bends with sustained, elastic speed. Those on-paper numbers don’t deceive: the 911 is awesomely and addictively rapid.

A car with Sports Purpose

2019 Porsche 911 Cabriolet

Nonetheless, a 911 isn’t defined by its point-to-point pace. How it goes around corners is what matters most.

You can breathe easy. The 911’s electric steering (another former bugbear of the fanboys) has evolved to the point where it feels as alert and engaging as a hydraulic system – while adeptly filtering out unnecessary white noise.

Equally, the 992 is a car you steer with the throttle, trimming its line with minute flexes of your right ankle. You feel the car pivot, sensing the available grip through the seat of your pants. It’s approachable and benign, yet aggressive and all-consuming. Having blasted to the summit, I turn around and do it again.

Our car had the optional PDCC chassis control, which all but elimates roll by actively stiffening the suspension. Even with it disengaged, however, body control feels iron-fisted. Any concerns about the 911 Cabriolet being a soft option have evaporated.

Half-way through my second ‘lap’ of the mountain, it starts to rain and the acoustic sensors in the front wheelarches suggest I switch to Wet mode. This ramps up the stability control and calms the car’s responses. I cruise back to Athens with wipers on and the roof firmly in place.

The joy of specs

2019 Porsche 911 Cabriolet

Like any upmarket German car, you can ‘personalise’ your 911 to the point of financial meltdown. The good news, as ever, is that most of it is window dressing. The basic package – including LED headlights, front and rear parking sensors, adaptive suspension and navigation – is all you really need.

Since I’m spending made-up money, I’d go for Sport Chrono (£1,646) and the gorgeous RS Spyder Design wheels seen here (£1,650). I’d also be tempted by the Sport Design Pack (£2,853), which improves the rear-end styling by relocating the number plate higher up. Oh, and perhaps by one of the eye-poppingly bright paint colours, such as Lizard Green (pictured).

My test car was fitted with rear-wheel steering (£1,592), boosting agilty at low speeds and stability as you go faster. However, without trying a 911 not thus-equipped, I can’t fully comment on its effectiveness.

Porsche 911 Cabriolet verdict: five stars

2019 Porsche 911 Cabriolet

The 911 Cabriolet is indeed a feast for the senses. Its brutally quick and deliciously tactile to drive. Against the odds, it’s aurally awesome too.

What impresses most is the 992’s sheer breadth of ability. How it can switch from calm to combative without pausing for breath. And how it’s still relatively practical for a sports car. As a daily driver, it would surely tick most boxes.

If I’m honest, I’d still err towards the coupe. But that’s more due to irrational prejudice than any discernable shortfall on the Cabriolet’s part. Perhaps I’ll just save up and wait a couple of years for the Targa.

Porsche 911 Carrera S Cabriolet: specification

Price: £102,455

Engine: Flat-six cylinder twin-turbo 2,981cc petrol

Drivetrain: Rear-engine, rear-wheel drive

Transmission: Eight-speed dual-clutch automatic

Wheels: 20 inches front, 21 inches rear

Power: 450hp@6,500 rpm

Torque: 391lb ft@2,300rpm

0-60mph: 3.7sec (3.5sec with Sport Chrono)

Top speed: 190mph

Fuel economy: 31mpg

CO2 emissions: 208g/km

Length/width/height: 4,519/1,852/1,299mm

Kerb weight: 1,585kg

Porsche 911 Cabriolet review: in pictures

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20MY Range Rover Evoque

2019 Range Rover Evoque review: Remastered original

20MY Range Rover EvoqueThe Range Rover Evoque was launched in 2011, with the help of Victoria Beckham. Nearly 800,000 sales and over 200 awards later, there’s an all-new one for 2019. And, as the saying goes, if it ain’t broke…

But don’t be fooled by the (successful, to our eyes) styling evolution. Underneath, the Evoque is all-new, and inside it’s a revelation. The car that was born as a Land Rover concept has become more authentically Range Rover than ever.

It feels more luxurious, drives with more composure, rides more smoothly and, apart from engines that are a bit noisy when revved, generates less noise at speed. At times, its comfort is extraordinary, while the interior is a triumph. Space may not be class-leading, but it’s no longer cramped, unlike its predecessor.

With prices starting from £31,600 (or, realistically, just under £36,000 for one with the must-have automatic gearbox and all-wheel drive), and with staggering used values helping keep monthly PCP payments affordable, the Evoque seems well placed to build upon the success of the landmark original.

We attended the global launch event in Greece to carry out a first drive review. Here’s what we discovered.

Styling: distilling an icon

20MY Range Rover Evoque

You don’t mess with icons. Exterior designer Massimo Frascella told us Land Rover did design a radical concept early on in creating the new Evoque, but it was soon dismissed. Customers clearly said one thing: keep it – but make it better. The design team agreed.

“So instead of changing a successful formula, we have reduced the clutter. It’s a refined evolution, giving the Evoque a modernist appearance.” Land Rover calls this reductionism, and the Evoque is the latest car to get this treatment, following the World Car Design award-winning Velar.

All in the details

20MY Range Rover Evoque

The side profile, with the rising waistline and plunging roofline sitting atop shallow windows, is 100 percent Evoque. It’s been tidied up; the black plastic wheelarch extensions have gone, for example, and the retractable door handles further help with decluttering. Marie Kondo will be in her element.

The quality of the paint is better as well, and shutlines have been narrowed by almost half. On the move, this has the effect of adding further sophistication – and, from some angles, makes the five-door Evoque appear not unlike the original three-door coupe.

Sizing up the Evoque

20MY Range Rover Evoque

The Evoque is, intentionally, exactly the same relatively compact 4.37-metre size as the original. Customers insisted it shouldn’t grow; 70 percent of them drive mainly in urban areas. This was a challenge, particularly as more space was needed inside, and it also needed to meet more strict crash regulations.

“The length has actually grown slightly,” admitted chief engineer Pete Simpkins, “by 1mm. I’m still not quite sure how that extra millimetre crept in…”

Modernist painting

20MY Range Rover Evoque

The original Evoque launched with a punchy choice of colours, including an eye-catching bright metallic green. The new one is more refined – it’s all variations of grey, white and black, with just a couple of colours including a punchy red. Frascella calls it a “more grown up palette, to complement the progressive design.”

Every Evoque gets ultra-slim LED headlights, and every variant is available with an R-Dynamic upgrade pack, for sportier looks outside and in. The bonnet vents that buyers so loved with the first Evoque are fitted to R-Dynamic cars; it’s thus expected to prove popular.

Open the door to a revelation

20MY Range Rover Evoque

The interior of the new Evoque is superb. All the clutter and clumsy detail of before has been eradicated, with a clean new appearance and the twin-screen centre console first seen on the Range Rover Velar. “We wanted modernism, with a touch of glamour.”

It doesn’t just look immeasurably higher-end, it also feels it. Material quality has been upped to a level that now genuinely qualifies as premium. Owners of the old one won’t believe their eyes, or their fingertips.

Lounge-like luxury

20MY Range Rover Evoque

Frascella says the interior is about “reductionism, sophistication and refinement. It has a lounge-like feeling, one that’s calming and easy to read”. Seat comfort is improved (the rear hasn’t been overlooked here) and the centre console has grown; it doesn’t just have space for two cupholders, rather than one, it also has two individually-sliding armrests – just like you get on a bigger Range Rover.

A large, gently-dished steering wheel contrasts with the smaller, racier rims on so many modern cars, giving a more regal air. The pistol-grip gearshifter is a welcome sporty touch, mind. Taken from the Jaguar F-Type sports car, it replaces the past-its-best rotary shifter of the original.

An Evoque fit for vegans

20MY Range Rover Evoque

Frascella is a vegan and told us with relish that there are now two sustainable seat materials available in the Evoque. The high-end Kvadrat wool blend trim first seen on the Velar continues, in combination with Dinamica suedecloth, made from 53 recycled bottles’ worth of plastic per Evoque.

A more affordable option has been introduced as well. Eucalyptus and Ultrafabrics mixes a textile made from natural fibres alongside a material that is not derived from animals. Either makes the also-available leather seem rather old-fashioned; it’s there if you want it.

Practicality points

20MY Range Rover Evoque

Rear space has been improved, and it’s easier to get in and out the back of the Evoque, too. There’s just about enough space under the front seats for adult-sized feet, kneeroom is better (it’s up 20mm) and there’s sufficient headroom even with the big panoramic glass roof.

It’s still not class-leading in there, but fewer will have cause for complaint, and it importantly feels less claustrophobic and hemmed in. The boot is 10 percent bigger, measuring 591 litres via Land Rover’s notoriously generous scale. Golf clubs now fit in sideways, as do two carry-on suitcases stored lengthways alongside one another.

Odds and iPads

20MY Range Rover Evoque

Current Evoque owners, rejoice. You can now get water bottles in the door bins. There’s a smartphone slot beneath the centre console (it’s actually big enough to store tablets). The centre cubby will also hold 4.5 litres – it’s much deeper than before.

All this has been achieved by stretching the wheelbase, which has also helped reduce the car’s overhangs – and, said Frascella, allowed bigger wheels to be optional. Launch cars were running on monster-looking 21-inch rims.

The drive: first impressions

20MY Range Rover Evoque

Apart from the lift in quality and visual appeal, the first thing you notice behind the wheel is how airier it feels. It’s lighter and brighter, and even though the rear pillars still look like a concept car, with the obvious impact on visibility, a clever ‘clearview’ mirror that doubles as a widescreen display helps eradicate blind-spots.

The above is best used in the city, however, as it made our eyes go a bit funny during faster driving, probably because they were having to refocus so much, so quickly. The jury’s still out, but it’s an interesting solution to a problem.

Despite sitting a bit lower and more ‘within’ the car than a big Range Rover – you can’t see as much of the bonnet and the base of the windows is higher – it’s still commanding and that large steering wheel, with fancy touch-sensitive controls, has a six-figure pricetag feel.

Ride revolution

20MY Range Rover Evoque

The uncanny smoothness of the ride quality in the new Evoque is eye-opening. You’ll feel this when you first drive through a big pothole – because you barely feel it. The crash-bang your body was bracing itself for doesn’t come; instead, it’s smoothed away almost entirely.

There’s less jiggly disturbance at speed as well, and the way it soaks up general disturbances with plenty of supple suspension travel is seriously impressive. Remember, the test cars were running 21-inch wheels, too. The optional Adaptive Dynamics suspension fitted to the test cars may have been a factor here. We’ll find out when we later drive cars with standard suspension.

48V mild hybrid tech for (almost) all

20MY Range Rover Evoque

All automatic Evoques have a 48V mild hybrid system (only the base D150 manual lacks it). This stores energy recovered under braking in a lithium-ion battery; it’s sent to the engine when accelerating, for an ‘instantly on’ boost of pull that Land Rover calls torque filling.

It works imperceptibly, but very well. You notice it exiting hairpin bends – there’s surge available straight away, so the Evoque starts accelerating immediately, without waiting for the turbo boost to arrive. It also switches off the engine when rolling below 11mph, saving further fuel, and fires it up again instantly, rather than waiting for a starter motor to whirr.

Despite being measured on the strict new WLTP test, CO2 emissions are as low as 149g/km are attainable and fuel economy is up to 50mpg in the greenest guise. The mild hybrid system gives a six percent fuel economy improvement and cuts CO2 by eight percent.

Driving the petrol-powered Evoque

20MY Range Rover Evoque

We drove the 250 horsepower petrol engine; a 200hp P200 is also offered, as is a top-spec 300hp P300. It’s a very smooth-revving engine, that doesn’t drone or vibrate, and feels nicely free-spinning. It’s vocal when revved, though, making a thrashy noise when you press on. A beefy kerbweight of more than 1,800kg means you need to work it, especially at higher speeds.

The nine-speed automatic gearbox doesn’t help either, by willingly changing down two or even three gears. It’s far less busy or indecisive than the flawed old-shape Evoque gearbox, but it sometimes does feel like it’s changing gear more than is strictly necessary, with the inevitable effect on cabin noise.

FAST FACTS: Range Rover Evoque P250 AWD Auto

  • 0-62mph: 7.5 seconds
  • Top speed: 143 mph
  • Fuel economy: 35.8 mpg
  • CO2: 180 g/km

Driving the diesel-powered Evoque

20MY Range Rover Evoque

The 240 horsepower D240 diesel is, surprisingly, more settled. It doesn’t need the frenetic revving of the petrol to stop the Evoque feeling leaden, and it sounds a quieter and more at ease when you do (it has more pulling power to disguise the Evoque’s weight as well). Like the petrol, it’s admirably free from vibration, and the gruff clatter of earlier Ingenium diesel engines has been lessened. We hope the 150hp and 180hp alternatives are as well-rounded.

Both diesel and petrol move up through the gearbox with satisfying smoothness. One gear blurs into the next. It’s the initial downshift that can jar a bit. On twisting roads, we shifted to sport mode, to block out taller gears and the hiccup whenever we pressed harder on the accelerator.

FAST FACTS: Range Rover Evoque D240 AWD Auto

  • 0-62mph: 7.7 seconds
  • Top speed: 140 mph
  • Fuel economy: 45.6 mpg
  • CO2: 163 g/km

Rolling down the road

20MY Range Rover Evoque

The Evoque isn’t a sports car. Jaguar has its E-Pace for those who want handling like a hot hatchback. It leans more in corners, and the front end will softly push wide with a little squeal if you do go chasing sports cars.

It still handles nicely, though. The steering is well-weighted and precise, the longer wheelbase gives a confident feel and it’s a viceless and natural car for a gentle bit of back-road enjoyment. For even more fun, do what few will ever do, and take it off road…

Off-roading

20MY Range Rover Evoque

The Evoque has an extraordinary arsenal of ability off-road, going into far deeper and more extreme terrain than you would ever believe. We waded it through water, crawled rocks, drove up and down mountain sides. It handled it all without skipping a beat.

It was, again, extremely comfortable. Off-road ride is lovely and supple, and features such as Terrain Response 2 took all the guesswork out of which drive mode to select. If you’re not confident, you can even press a button called All Terrain Progress Control and let ‘off-road cruise control’ do all the hard work: you simply steer. Like the other off-road tech, it’s standard on every Evoque fitted with an automatic gearbox.

Refinement

20MY Range Rover Evoque

The new Evoque has more Range Rover-like refinement. Aside from the aforementioned engine thrash, and a touch of wind noise from the door mirrors at speed, it’s quieter and more peaceful, and feels more luxurious as a result. There isn’t even much noise from the suspension, no matter how busy it is in dealing with grotty road surfaces.

It also feels pleasingly confident and stable at speed. It’s planted, doesn’t demand constant little steering corrections and the gentle corners can be steered with small inputs from your wrists. It allows drivers to relax. This also ups the luxury factor.

Prices and specs

We can’t imagine the basic front-wheel drive D150 manual proving popular. So the entry-level Evoque is thus the D150 AWD auto, at £35,100. And if you’re going for that, best go instead for the D180 AWD auto, at £35,850. Petrol prices start from £35,950 for a P200 AWD auto.

The Evoque is sold in standard, S (£3,150 more), SE (£3,500 over S,) HSE (£3,000 over SE) and ultra-posh First Edition guise (it starts from almost £50,000). Each, apart from the launch First Edition, offer the R-Dynamic sports spec upgrade for £1,500.

The base model is a bit light on spec (not even navigation, Android Auto or Apple Carplay) and only SE and above get the Touch Pro Duo twin-screen interior. That’s the one we’d go for, then.

Verdict: 2019 Range Rover Evoque

20MY Range Rover Evoque

Land Rover has made the new Evoque more of a genuine Range Rover. It now has the same sort of luxury and feel-good quality of bigger models – the class and design modernism of a Velar, brought down a sector. Ride quality is outstanding, it drives with more confident composure and is a lovely place to simply sit within.

The petrol engine needs more soundproofing. The gearbox still isn’t perfect. Improvements in interior space won’t be enough for some. And the Evoque you really want isn’t as affordable as entry-level prices will have you believe. But these gripes shouldn’t overshadow what a welcome step on in premium sophistication the new model is. And what an even more desirable machine it is as a result.

Like the original. Only better. Just as the customer ordered. Let’s watch the orders flood in.

2019 Range Rover specs

  • Prices: From £31,600
  • Dimensions: 4,371 / 1,904 / 1,649 mm
  • Boot space: 591 / 1,383 litres
  • Petrol engines: P200, P250, P300
  • Diesel engines: D150, D180, D240
  • Variants: Base, S, S R-Dynamic, SE, SE R-Dynamic, HSE, HSE R-Dynamic, First Edition

Volkswagen T-Cross review: a Polo with SUV attitude

Volkswagen T-Cross

Small and tall: that’s how increasing numbers of people like their cars. The market for supermini-sized SUVs is booming. And Volkswagen, with the new T-Cross, wants a slice of that crossover cake.

Nissan launched the Juke – arguably the car that popularised the compact crossover – back in 2010, so Volkswagen is late to the party. Its many rivals now include the Renault Captur, Ford Ecosport, Vauxhall Mokka X, Citroen C3 Aircross, Peugeot 2008, Seat Arona and new Skoda Kamiq.

The T-Cross is on sale from April 2019, with prices starting at £16,995. Can it stand out in such a crowded class?

It’s a pumped-up Polo

Volkswagen T-Cross

Volkswagen likes SUVs that start with a ‘T’. And it now offers five of them: T-Cross, T-Roc, Tiguan, Tiguan Allspace and Touareg (in order of size, from little to large).

The T-Cross is based on the Polo hatchback, but is 54mm longer and a lofty 138mm taller. Its footprint is roughly the same size as Mk5 (2003-2009) VW Golf, so we use the word ‘little’ advisedly here.

Four vertically-unchallenged adults – five at a squeeze – can sit comfortably, and the boot holds 385 litres. That compares to 355 litres in a Polo.

The styling is chunky and funky

Volkswagen T-Cross

Whether owners acknowledge it or not, part of crossovers’ appeal is how they look. They compress the rugged style of an SUV into a smaller, more socially acceptable package.

The T-Cross isn’t as radical as some rivals, but it’s more than simply a high-riding hatchback. Pumped-up wheelarches, chunky sills and a stocky stance bestow a suitably ‘go-anywhere’ look. Never mind that most won’t venture further off-road than mounting a kerb.

Its most distinctive angle is the rear view, especially the full-width light bar. Trend-spotters will recognise this as the must-have styling feature for 2019, seen on the new Porsche 911, Peugeot 508, Audi A8 and others.

Volkswagen calls it an ‘urban SUV’

Volkswagen T-Cross

The T-Cross won’t be climbing any mountains, then – particularly as all versions are front-wheel drive. Customer demand for a 4×4 model simply isn’t there, we’re told. The Suzuki Jimny can breathe easy.

Volkswagen calls this an ‘urban SUV’, which sounds like an oxymoron. However, an elevated driving position and squared-off bodywork do help when manoeuvring and parking. Those beefier bumpers might be beneficial on city streets, too. Leaving the airport in Palma, Mallorca’s congested capital, the T-Cross felt instantly at home.

Visibility is further heightened (literally) for rear passengers, who benefit from theatre-style seating. They’re perched around 50mm higher than the driver and front passenger, allowing a good view of the road ahead.

There’s one engine, with two power outputs

Volkswagen T-Cross

Two engines are offered at launch. Actually, if we’re being pedantic, there’s just one – a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol – but available in two states of tune.

The entry-level 95hp motor serves up 62mph in 11.5 seconds, with fuel consumption of 57.6mpg and 112g/km CO2. Trade up to the 115hp version and you’ll hit 62mph in 10.2 seconds, and economy and emissions are identical. Note these are NEDC figures, though; the more stringent WLTP stats, which become mandatory later in 2019, aren’t available yet.

In terms of transmissions, the 95hp car has a five-speed manual gearbox only, while the 115hp model offers a six-speed manual or seven-speed DSG automatic.

Other European markets get 150hp 1.5 petrol and 95hp 1.6 diesel engines. The former may come to the UK at a later date, depending on demand.

It’s practical enough for a small family

Volkswagen T-Cross

This car has the R-Line styling tweaks. Two 1.0-litre TSI petrol engines are available in the UK: 95hp and 115hp.

Not all crossovers are as capacious as they look, but the T-Cross is usefully more practical than a Polo. It would be perfectly adequate for a couple with one child.

One useful feature is the sliding rear seat. Move it fully forward and luggage space swells from 385 to 455 litres. The only downside is a large downward step in the boot floor. The front passenger seat backrest also flips down for loading long objects.

There’s plenty of stowage space for family detritus, plus up to four USB ports for charging phones, tablets and other devices. Cries of “Are we there yet?” should be a thing of the past.

The interior is packed with tech

Volkswagen T-Cross

Indeed, technology is a T-Cross strong suit. An intuitive eight-inch touchscreen media system is fitted to all models, and connects seamlessly to your smartphone via Apple Carplay or Android Auto.

Volkswagen’s Active Info Display is an option (standard on top-spec R-Line), replacing the traditional instruments with configurable digital dials. And you can download the Volkswagen Connect app for info specific to your car, such as average fuel economy and when the next service is due.

Other optional niceties include keyless entry and start, automatic headlights and a 300w Beats audio system with a large subwoofer in the boot.

But the lines between VW, Seat and Skoda are blurred

Volkswagen T-Cross

The T-Cross is less successful when it comes to perceived quality, specifically inside the cabin.

As you may know, it’s virtually identical to the Seat Arona and forthcoming Skoda Kamiq under the skin. Yet while Volkswagen has traditionally positioned itself as an ‘in-between’ brand – above the likes of Ford and Renault, and below Audi and BMW – the differences in feelgood factor here are marginal.

Nothing rattled, squeaked or fell off, of course. But the T-Cross feels built to a budget, with hard plastics that might make you think twice about paying a premium versus its VW Group cousins.

It tries to be down with the kids

Volkswagen T-Cross

Thankfully, you can jazz up your T-Cross to the extent that nobody will notice the minor details. Fancy Energetic Orange paint or Bamboo Garden Green alloys? Step this way.

Indeed, the T-Cross is a tad anonymous in silver, white or black, so we’d go for one of the brighter shades; Flash Red and Makena Turqoise look great. The latter is a minty-fresh shade last seen on modified hot hatches in the 1990s: we approve.

The interior can also be customised with tiger stripes on the dashboard and two-tone seats. A list of permitted colour combinations prevents you going too wild, however. Probably a good thing when it comes to resale value…

Yet the driving experience is very grown-up

Volkswagen T-Cross

The T-Cross feels pretty sensible on the road, too. It’s easy to drive, with the calm, measured maturity Volkswagen does so well.

As noted previously, the car feels in its element around town. Its light steering is direct, if a little lifeless, and its suspension is supple enough to soak up potholes and speed humps.

It also keeps its composure on faster roads, without the bounciness that afflicts some small SUVs. Body-roll is kept in check and the handling is safe and predictable at the limit. Yes, a Polo is slightly more agile and engaging, but few buyers will care.

The engines are peppy and refined

Volkswagen T-Cross

If you can afford it, the 115hp T-Cross is the one to go for. It’s the same engine used in the Up GTI, and feels fizzy and eager to rev.

The more powerful engine is mandatory if you want an automatic ’box, but the DSG does blunt performance. Unless you select Sport mode, it constantly tries to change up in the name of efficiency. Go for the snappy manual instead.

In either state of tune, the TSI is exceptionally smooth and refined. Rev it hard and you’ll hear a distinctive three-cylinder snarl, but most of the time it’s inaudible.

A sporty T-Cross R could be on the cards

Volkswagen T-Cross

Despite the Up engine transplant, a GTI version of the T-Cross seems unlikely. Volkswagen has always limited those three iconic letters to hot hatchbacks – perhaps rightly so.

We could, however, see a T-Cross R in the not-so-distant future. A precedent has been set by the recently launched T-Roc R, which borrows its 300hp engine from the flagship Golf. Stranger things have happened.

Possibly not so strange as a convertible, though. The T-Cross Breeze concept, a drop-top SUV in the mould of the Range Rover Evoque, actually previewed today’s production car at the Geneva Motor Show in 2016. Thankfully, there are no plans to build it.

Volkswagen T-Cross verdict: 4 stars

Volkswagen T-Cross

If you like how the T-Cross looks, it could be the pint-sized SUV for you. Volkswagen took its time, but the end result is a solid all-rounder that majors on practicality, comfort and connectivity.

It certainly has the edge over the dated Captur, Ecosport and Mokka X. Its in-house Arona and Kamiq rivals, however, are a sterner test. The Volkswagen is the most expensive of the trio, but a more upmarket image (and thus likely stronger residual values) could mean the monthly payments are almost identical.

Us? We’d stick with the Polo, or upgrade to a Golf – still perhaps the most solid all-rounder of all.

Volkswagen T-Cross 1.0 TSI 115 SE manual: specification

Price: £19,545

Engine: Three cylinder 999cc petrol

Drivetrain: Front-engine, front-wheel drive

Transmission: Six-speed manual

Wheels: 17 inches

Power: 115hp@5,000 rpm

Torque: 148lb ft@2,000rpm

0-62mph: 10.2 seconds

Top speed: 120mph

Fuel economy: 57.6mpg

CO2 emissions: 112g/km

Length/width/height: 4,235/1,799/1,584mm

Kerb weight: 1,655kg

Volkswagen T-Cross review: in pictures

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2019 Porsche Macan 2.0 review: still the driver’s choice

Porsche Macan review

The Macan is Porsche’s SUV breadwinner. It’s the car that makes 9,000rpm-revving manual 911 GT3s financially possible for the marque. 

Although some enthusiasts lamented its arrival, the cashflow the Macan generates means the cars they really love continue to get better. Indeed, the Macan triples the sales numbers of the 911.

The Macan also brought much of what makes Porsche so revered to a new customer base. We’re not talking scintillating sports car dynamics or spine-tingling engines, but a Porsche-specific design aesthetic, a high level of quality and Germanic common sense.

All that being so, the Macan was not alone in offering these traits. The Audi Q5 and Volkswagen Tiguan provide premium build quality at a more accessible price-point. The Range Rover Evoque has style previously reserved for those with the keys to a ‘proper’ Range Rover.

Yet while sporting dynamics weren’t front-and-centre to the Macan’s appeal in the context of the Porsche range, they were still class-leading among rivals.

Porsche Macan review

That was all nearly five years ago, and the car industry moves on quickly. There’s a new Evoque, Q5 and sporting rivals in the form of Jaguar’s E-Pace and F-Pace. What has Porsche done to keep the Macan relevant in this competitive segment? It’s facelift time…

The biggest change is under the skin. A new 245hp 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine joins the bottom of the line-up, taking the place of the old diesels. There is no oil-burning option this time around.

A more powerful 354hp 3.0-litre V6 turbo heads the range for now in the Macan S. All cars come with Porsche’s PDK dual-clutch transmission. A Turbo, GTS and Turbo S will be along soon, with the latter potentially sporting up to 500hp.

For now, the Macan and Macan S are all we’ve got, priced at £46,344 and £48,750 respectively, although it’s not difficult to imagine those starting prices swelling with a dusting of options. They could increase by 10 percent in the event of a no-deal Brexit, too.

2019 Porsche Macan: first impressions

Porsche Macan review

Even the staunchest of SUV detractors can’t deny the Macan is a bit of a looker. It was certainly much better received than the larger Cayenne when that first came out.

Then again, Porsche did play it safe, with a familiar face, swooping proportions, pleasing hips and a bulbous backside. All hallmarks of other – more conventionally desirable – cars it’s better known for.

The facelift goes some way to emboldening the Macan and we’re really quite fond of it. The focus of this mid-life nip-and-tuck was definitely the rear, with a width-spanning light bar bringing the Macan into line with Porsche’s new family design. The bar fills dark spaces when you unlock it at night, luminous like a lightsaber.

It’s really rather lovely in person. The Porsche lettering standing bold in the 3D light cutout is a nice touch. The front is a bit sharper, but you’d need old and new cars side-by-side to spot the difference.

Our car came with 20-inch Turbo wheels (£2,576), sports exhaust tips (£548), LED headlights with Porsche Dynamic Light System Plus (£767) and Dolomite Silver paint (£632). That’s more than £4,000 of exterior upgrades alone.

Inside the 2019 Porsche Macan

Porsche Macan review

Onto the Macan’s cabin and it’s good news for the most part. An 11-inch screen replaces the old seven-inch unit. It comes complete with excellent resolution, superb touch sensitivity and response, plus a user interface we couldn’t find fault with. The vents that used to flank the smaller screen in the pre-facelift car are now beneath it, to lend those extra inches.

Otherwise, it’s pretty much standard Macan fare, which is where our concerns begin. See, when the car came out, it was pretty much the final Porsche with the 2009 Panamera-style button fest on the centre console.

A lot of that is retained on this updated car and, teamed with the now somewhat old-school analogue dials, it serves to date the cabin from the off. This is discernibly a mid-life refresh, not to 2019 standard in the same way the brand new 992 911’s cabin is – or indeed the current Panamera.

In fairness, the Macan’s instrument cluster features part-digitisation in the form of a screen in one of the ‘pods’. It’s an easily configurable and welcome companion to the big screen, with a pleasing aesthetic. But it’s quite obviously a vestige of the previous-generation car.

Porsche Macan review

Practicality could be better, too. While front occupants should be fine (with their standard eight-way electrically adjustable seats, no less), rear passengers could find themselves a little cramped. This is absolutely fine if you want a car for your nuclear family – kids will be comfy in the back – but average-sized adults will struggle for headroom due to that sloping roofline.

The boot is far from class-leading in terms of space, but 500 litres is enough for a week’s shopping or a couple of suitcases. The opening is a little high up, although the optional (£1,860) air suspension can go some way to remedy this. An electrically powered tailgate is, pleasingly, also standard. Even in the world of posh crossovers, you don’t buy the Porsche for its load-lugging capacity or ability to carry five fully-grown adults with ease.

We fear we’re being a little harsh. There’s a lot to praise and as great as it ever was. It all feels absolutely solid, starting with the ‘thunk’ as you shut the door. The quality is second to very few rivals, if any, and there’s a real sense that everything’s been meticulously thought through.

2019 Porsche Macan: on the road 

Porsche Macan review

Let’s get this out of the way now. A fire-spitting 911 GT3, this is not. But nor does it need to be: this is the people’s Porsche. Nevertheless, a level of expectation in terms of the dynamics comes with the badge. Pleasingly, it acquits itself very well and keeps the rest of the class honest.

We first observed a surprisingly compliant ride, thanks in no small part to the comparatively small wheels. Comfort doesn’t come at the expense of cornering, though. The Macan feels wieldy for an SUV, with a remarkable lack of lean. It’s not shot-through with feel and it will push on if you’re bullish, but it’s nicely balanced.

The elephant in the room is the engine. It’s a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged unit with 245hp, going to ground via a seven-speed PDK transmission. It’ll get you from 0-62mph in 6.7 seconds, on the way to a top speed of 141mph.

Porsche Macan Review

Those are good numbers for a crossover, but it doesn’t feel that fast. Put your foot down on a run and it’ll dispatch a few downshifts with ease, but the four-pot sounds uncomfortable as the car ekes out every last rev to muster up performance. Indeed, peak power comes in at 5,000rpm, so you’re well and truly spinning it up before you get everything it has to give.

It’s not like losing a litre and a couple of cylinders does the economy any good either. Porsche quotes 34mpg, but we struggled to top 30mpg when not being extra careful. We’d go for the Macan S with the 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 – 354hp from six cylinders sounds much more like it, much more Porsche.

None of this will matter in a couple of years when the second-generation Macan comes with all electric power, of course. We’re rather looking forward to it.

2019 Porsche Macan verdict: 4 stars

Porsche Macan review

The Macan is, by virtue of its badge, subject to judgement by lofty standards.

The cabin is a very nice, generously equipped and well put-together. The performance is ample for the average SUV buyer. Yes, we’d take the V6, but it’s down to personal taste. The four-pot just felt a bit too far out of character.

As for the practicality, well, you don’t buy a Macan for class-leading boot depth, you buy it because it’s a Porsche. It’s an SUV-shaped taste of a marque so adored by many, which exhibits the style and quality, if not the purity, that the badge promises. We fully understand why they sell as well as they do.

For all its little flaws, it’s still a great car. Nevertheless, that all-new electric successor on the horizon is a bit too close for comfort. We couldn’t whole-heartedly recommend the updated Macan, based on the fact an all-new model will be out while you still have a year left on the PCP contract.

Porsche Macan review

If we were to buy one, we’d save up for the rumoured Turbo S that will see off the combustion-powered Macan. If horsepower isn’t your tonic, perhaps holding on a year for some run-out deals would be a good idea.

Five 2019 Porsche Macan rivals

Range Rover Evoque

Audi Q5

Mercedes-Benz GLC

Jaguar F-Pace

BMW X4

How much did our test car cost?

Porsche Macan 2.0: £56,977 (£46,344 without options)

Which engines does Porsche offer with the Macan?

2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder, 245hp

3.0-litre turbo V6, 354hp