2020 Bentley Flying Spur review: Spur of the moment

Bentley Flying Spur

I’ve been upstaged. As I waft into Monaco harbour aboard a chauffeured Bentley, a Russian billionaire has just dropped anchor in the world’s largest superyacht. Still, both means of transport seem apt for a principality that squeezes 12,261 millionaires into less than one square mile. And compared with the £650 million my oligarch rival has spent, the £168,300 Flying Spur looks a bit of a bargain.

Monaco may reek of unfettered wealth, but it’s also cramped, noisy and unwelcoming. An army of white-suited police officers – one per 100 residents – keeps out the riff-raff, but they wave Flying Spur through without so much as a Gallic shrug. Ensconced in a cocoon of deep-pile carpet and pillowy-soft leather, I’m enjoying the most densely-populated state on Earth in glorious isolation.

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This is how many owners will experience the Flying Spur: from the back while someone else does the driving. And it’s a gloriously decadent way to travel, with acres of legroom, electric window blinds, massaging armchair-style seats and a champagne cooler (only stocked with mineral water today, sadly). A smartphone-style remote control lets you adjust cabin temperature, surf the net, slide the front passenger seat forward and even retract the ‘Flying B’ on the bonnet.

Bentley Flying Spur

As wonderful as this is, by the time we arrive in Casino Square (part of the Monaco Grand Prix circuit), I’m itching to get behind the wheel. After all, the Flying Spur has a 6.0-litre W12 engine behind its prodigious prow. The camera-toting tourists look nonplussed as I emerge outside the famous Hotel de Paris, my home for one night only. In the morning, the sinuous Route Napoleon awaits, and I’ve given the chauffeur a day off.

As the valet hands me the keys, I feel slightly trepidatious. Monaco’s narrow hairpin bends aren’t ideal for a large limousine, but the Bentley’s four-wheel steering – which swivels the rear wheels in the opposite direction to the fronts at city speeds – makes it surprisingly manoeuvrable. The elevated driving position, half-way between ‘normal’ car and SUV, also helps. The cops give me a cursory nod and I cross the border into France, heading for the hills.

Onto the autoroute, I gun the 635hp ft W12 for the first time. Previously silent, it erupts with a cultured snarl and 2.4 tonnes of British craftsmanship rockets onward. The Jekyll-and-Hyde contrast of hushed refinement and concussive speed is remarkable – as is the utterly seamless way it switches to six cylinders to save fuel. Bentley says this is ‘probably the most advanced internal combustion engine available’ and I’m ready to believe it.

Bentley Flying Spur

There’s some very clever chassis tech, too. The available 664lb ft of torque is constantly variable between all four wheels, while Dynamic Ride decouples the anti-roll bars for softness in a straight line, then primes them for active roll-resistance when cornering. As the road climbs into the foothills of the Alps, the result is agility belies the Bentley’s bulk. Indeed, it feels little different to the Continental GT coupé, with direct steering, confidence-inspiring brakes and a pleasingly rear-biased feel if you switch to Sport mode.

After a few hours of fun, it’s time to return to Nice airport. Closer to the coast, the roads are choked with traffic, yet the Flying Spur soothes like few other cars can. There’s also joy to be found in its details: the rich wood veneer, diamond knurling on the door handles and analogue dials on the reverse of the media screen (ideal for a ‘digital detox’, reckons Bentley). I’m tempted to forget my flight and set the sat nav for Calais.

A couple of decades ago, cars such as the Flying Spur would have handled like yachts at sea. Now they deliver both comfort and dynamic prowess. You can keep your £650 million floating gin palace – and you can keep Monaco. But can I keep the Bentley?

Price: £168,300

0-62mph: 3.8 secs

Top speed: 207mph

CO2 G/KM: 337

MPG combined: 19.1

2020 Bentley Flying Spur: in pictures

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Hyundai i30 Fastback N review: life and Seoul of the party

I recently completed my first ever lap of the Nürburgring. Bearing in mind the record for Germany’s infamous 14.2-mile circuit – held by Timo Bernhard in a Porsche 919 Hybrid – is 5min 19.5sec, my time of 22 minutes looks somewhat slothful. In my defence, I was aboard a 60-seat coach. And I wasn’t driving.

The occasion was the Nürburgring 24 Hours race, which this year was held on the weekend after Le Mans. Both events last 24 hours and both attract top-level drivers, yet they could hardly feel more different. At La Sarthe, the campsites are stuffed with supercars. At the ’Ring, modified Golf GTIs blast out migraine Euro-techno. With 155 cars on-track, from Renault Clios to Porsche 911 GT3s, the racing at N24 is pretty anarchic, too.

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My tour of the track starts at Hyundai’s European Test Centre, located off the long straight at Döttinger Höhe. Here is where the Koreans decamped to develop the i30N hot hatchback, with former BMW M boss Albert Biermann leading the project. The next 22 minutes bring home what an exciting and frightening circuit this is: a non-stop rollercoaster with every conceivable type of corner. Rounding the right-hander at Bergwerk, where Niki Lauda crashed in 1976, seems poignant so soon after his death, but the banked Caracciola-Karussell is vividly special – even aboard a bus. No wonder the i30N feels so focused.

Now there is a new version of the i30N and it’s, well, slightly softer. The £29,995 Fastback N has sleeker rear bodywork, tweaked suspension and a £500 price hike over the hot hatch. However, while the latter is offered in 250hp and 275hp outputs, this car only comes in full-fat N Performance spec. Aside from the meatier 2.0-litre turbo engine, that means 19-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, sat nav, keyless entry, cruise control and electric heated seats. A stripped-out track tearaway this ain’t.

You wouldn’t call the Fastback pretty, but a squat stance, red go-faster stripes and a ducktail spoiler give it plenty of presence. It’s still a hatchback, too, with a bigger boot than the standard i30N – albeit less rear headroom. The touchscreen media system is intuitive to use, while a BMW M-style dynamic redline on the rev counter is an exotic touch. Elsewhere, plush leather and Alcantara (man-made suede) brush up against some conspicuously budget plastics.

All the work done by those serious folk in branded fleeces pays dividends on British B-roads, where the i30N serves up life-affirming fun. Its engine is raspy and eager, its steering weighty and tactile, its damping taut and unfiltered. You sense the electronic limited-slip diff biting into bends, while the rear can even be coaxed into oversteer if you’re keen. A rev-matching function on the manual gearbox (a twin-clutch auto arrives soon) makes you feel like a race driver, too.

This is a car that rolls up its sleeves and gives 100 percent, whether on the Nürburgring or the North Circular. Frankly, in maximum-attack N mode (selected via the chequered flag button) the Fastback is a bit too firm and feisty; the half-way house Sport setting is a better compromise. It’s less refined than some rivals, but that gung-ho character is a key part of its appeal.

The i30N is a formidable effort from Hyundai’s fledgling N division and the new Fastback offers something different – and dare I say more exotic – in this crowded class. While the standard i30 is as exciting as watching a kettle boil, the tenacious and vivid N makes every drive feel a bit special. It will be fascinating to see what Albert Biermann does next.

Price: £29,995

0-62mph: 6.1sec

Top speed: 155mph

CO2 G/KM: 178

MPG combined: 36.0

Hyundai i30 Fastback N: more pictures

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2019 Porsche Cayman GT4 review: old-school driving excitement

Porsche 718 Cayman GT4

A free-breathing flat-six mounted in the middle. A manual gearbox. Rear-wheel drive. And a lightweight, shrink-wrapped body tailor-made for Welsh B-roads. The old Cayman GT4 was pretty close to perfect, an instant icon. Which gave Andreas Preuninger, head of Porsche’s go-faster GT division, an unenviable task. For a car where less is more, how do you offer, well, more?

The new GT4 still has six cylinders, whereas lesser 718 Caymans make do with four. It’s still naturally aspirated, with no turbos to mute the soundtrack or soften right-pedal response. It still has a manual ’box, although a paddle-shift PDK arrives next year. And it remains lighter (1,420kg) and usefully smaller than the ever-expanding 911. The differences here are in the details, and they coalesce into something that surpasses even the 2015 original.

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Contrary to internet wisdom, this isn’t a downsized GT3 engine. The 4.0-litre six is a modified 911 Carrera motor, serving up 420hp at 7,600rpm. Zero to 62mph in 4.4 seconds matches the old GT4, while top speed increases from 184 to 188mph. A price of £75,348 is around £22,000 more than a 718 Cayman S, but don’t expect to flip it for a profit. Used examples of its predecessor were advertised at £100,000 or more soon after launch, but this is a series production Porsche, not a limited edition.

Porsche 718 Cayman GT4

This latest GT4 also has a soft-top sister in the Boxster Spyder. The open version is mechanically identical and also shares the same chassis, with variable PASM damping and 30mm lower suspension. The Cayman’s upswept diffuser and fixed spoiler (the Boxster has a pop-up wing) muster up to 50 percent more downforce with no extra drag. Porsche says both cars are ‘specifically designed for use on the racetrack’.

I won’t be venturing on-track today, but the rollercoaster roads around Wantage – close to the Cotswolds – are the next best thing. I arrive at Porsche HQ in Reading, collect a 911-shaped key and collapse clumsily into a carbon bucket seat (a £3,788 option). The infotainment looks dated and the fabric door pulls are a token gesture, yet the GT4 still feels special – particularly with a half-rollcage (part of the £2,778 Clubsport Pack) inches behind my head.

Around town, the engine sounds fretful and uncouth: a pit bull straining at the leash. Light the fuse, though, and it breaks free with a belligerent bellow, chasing the 8,000rpm redline with frenzied intensity. If super unleaded is your drug of choice, this is Class A contraband. The six-speed stick-shift is quick and accurate, blipping the throttle automatically when you change down, while the PCCB carbon-ceramic brakes (another option, at £5,597) are totally fade-free.

Porsche 718 Cayman GT4

Still, it’s the steering I savour most. Devoid of any buttons, the Alcantara-wrapped wheel has just one purpose: being a constant and joyful font of feedback. The Cayman turns in with unflappable resolve and virtually no sense of inertia. It feels taut but complaint, like a loosely clenched fist, while the lightly-treaded Michelin Cup 2 tyres form a molecular bond with the road. That said, it might be rather less reassuring on a rainy day.

Andreas Preuninger recognised the essential rightness of the GT4 and hasn’t reinvented the recipe. It’s a couple of years since I drove the first-gen car and, from memory, the new one doesn’t feel hugely different. The improvements here are incremental. Thankfully, that means this remains one of the most lucid, tenacious, exuberant and downright exciting cars on sale. Short of spending six figures on a supercar, I’m not sure anything betters it.

Price: £75,348

0-62mph: 4.4sec

Top speed: 188mph

CO2 G/KM: 249

MPG combined: 25.7

Porsche 718 Cayman GT4: in pictures

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Mercedes-Benz G 350d review: sensible nonsense

Mercedes G-Class G350 review 2019

The image of the Mercedes-Benz G-Class in recent years is that of a Sunset Boulevard cruiser kept in production by the Kardashian family, who seem to have at least one each. It’s also best-known today as the G63: an AMG V8-powered brute with garish wheels and trumpeting side exhausts.

The rise to Instagram and rap video stardom of the big G seems contrary to its original purpose. After all, Geländewagen, roughly translated, means ‘go-anywhere car’.

When we tested the aforementioned Mercedes-AMG G63 last year, we couldn’t help but hanker for the diesel version with small wheels. Well, now we’ve had one.

More refinement on the road

Mercedes G-Class G350 review 2019

For the past 40 years, the G-Class has been rivalled only by the Land Rover Defender for off-road capability. That was down to its three locking differentials and, until very recently, a solid axle at the front and rear. The G, like the Defender, has remained faithful to an old-school template – and has somewhat suffered for that as a road car.

Apart from being fitted with tyres made for supercars, the old one also handled like an old Land Rover. Indeed, grippy rubber only highlighted its limitations all the more. We’re pretty sure you could cock the inside front wheel in tight corners if you were brave enough.

The new G has gone independent at the front end, although the back retains a beam axle. The result is transformative to its road manners – and it actually has more wheel travel for when you venture off-piste.

Mercedes G-Class G350 review 2019

Also new is the 286hp 3.0-litre straight-six diesel engine, which is every bit as brilliant as we’d hoped. Coupled with Merc’s excellent nine-speed transmission, it’ll return 30mpg economy on a longer run – and shift all 2,600kg to 62mph in 7.4 seconds.

On the inside, it gets a contemporary cabin that feels like an S-Class in a greenhouse. Add it all up and you have a G-Class without compromise.

OK, maybe not entirely without compromise. The G is a bit of a brick, so wind noise can be intrusive at speed. But we’d be reluctant to sacrifice those chunky looks in the name of better refinement.

The art of articulation

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We then took to the Norfolk and Suffolk countryside in search of somewhere to test the G’s off-road skills. Although 20 inches is quite large for an alloy wheel, they still leave room for thick-walled all-terrain tyres.

Traversing the rutted forest trails, the G made short work of uneven surfaces: 40mph was smooth as silk. An old Defender would have been in bits in our dusty wake. After a bit of exploring, including a dead-end excursion into the woods, we found a suitable testing spot.

Some consumer testing today. Articulation: ☑️ pic.twitter.com/1NiQ2uSCtZ

— Ethan Jupp (@EthanIsSaying) October 3, 2019

 

A crater, which obviously saw regular use by local off-road enthusiasts, offered descents of varying levels of severity down into its claggy depths. The short overhangs and impressive articulation of the G-Class would be a real boon here.

We exited the bowl up a middle-tier ascent, with ruts part-way up, and clambered out with the suspension at full flex. It gave onlookers a nice view of the dual-reservoir shock absorbers at the rear.

Mercedes G-Class G350 review 2019

OK, so we weren’t exactly crossing the Darrien gap. But for all its bling, its ambient lighting and Burmester stereo that costs as much as a whole classic Land Rover, the Mercedes never felt out of its comfort zone. Its jutting wheelarches give a good perspective on the extremities of the car at the sides, helped by the all-round camera system. A lot of modern off-roaders feel like fish out of water in these scenarios. The G just doesn’t.

Allow us to paraphrase Jeremy Clarkson: if you have an expensive watch that can handle 2,000 feet of depth in the ocean, it makes you feel better when you drop it in the sink.

The G-Class is the watch you wouldn’t hesitate to take deep-sea diving. It’s an old-school mud-masher with a luxurious veneer, not the other way round. Then again, I had an inkling of that before even firing it up, with the industrial ‘chonk’ of the door slamming shut. It speaks of longstanding solidity.

Mercedes-Benz G 350d: verdict

For the first time, the G-Class is genuinely a car you can recommend to people over a Range Rover or an Audi Q7. It’s not a seven-seater, and it’s not as commodious, but it’ll hold its money better, looks cooler, and feels a lot more at home when the going gets rural. It’s also just as sturdy on-road the rest of the time, with a nicer cabin.

For a car with capabilities far behind what most people will need, it’s really quite sensible. It really has had what the Kardashians call a ‘glow up’ and feels, at 40 years old, in the prime of its life.

2019 Mercedes-Benz G350d AMG Line: specification

Engine: 3.0-litre straight-six diesel mild-hybrid

Transmission: Nine-speed automatic, four-wheel-drove

Power: 286hp

Weight: 2,451kg

0-62mph: 7.4 seconds

Top speed: 124mph

Fuel economy: 29.4mpg

CO2: 253g/km

Length/width/height: 4,606/1,984/1,969mm

Boot size: 667 litres

Price: £94,065

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2019 Skoda Scala 1.5 DSG review: reality Czech

Skoda Scala review

The Skoda Scala is here to tempt you away from a Ford Focus, Hyundai i30 or even a Volkswagen Golf. Can it stand out in such a congested sector?

The Scala is the underdog in Volkswagen Group’s family of mid-size hatchbacks. Next to the premium Audi A3, dependable Volkswagen Golf and sporty Seat Leon, it’s the cheapest of the set.

It starts from £16,595 for the entry-level ’S’ model, although the savings are more ‘premium bond’ than ‘lottery win’ once you reach a desirable spec. The ‘S’ isn’t available yet, anyway.

The Scala is handsome car with its fair share of double-take visual quirks. The way the black roof slopes down to end atop the number plate is neat. The lighting is a sleek and classy affair, too.

Inside, the cabin is familiar as you might expect, although the dashboard is distinctive enough to avoid VW Group déjà vu. It’s certainly a step on from the old Rapid, but remains a bit bland.

The tablet-style touchscreen has a more premium look than some German executive cars with a similar setup. As standard, you get a 6.5-inch display, but SE specification is worth the upgrade for the eight-inch version. Stepping up to SE-L brings a nine-inch screen with sat-nav and digital dials (pictured below).

The interface has slightly aged, hand-me-down Golf visuals, but is intuitive and responsive. MR’s Richard Aucock did experience a few system crashes, though, so it’s not perfect.

The Scala’s cabin is spacious and easy to see out of. Its rear seats will accommodate two adults with ease, although three might feel a little cramped. The broad boot holds 467 litres.

Skoda Scala review

Quality is better than most rivals at this price, and not too far off its premium Group-mates. There are plenty of soft-touch plastics and it feels well made.

Fire up the Scala – with a traditional key – and the 1.5-litre TSI thrums into life. Our car came with the automatic gearbox, so a smooth glide into D set us on our way.

A ride out to Kings Lynn from the Suffolk border to see The Lion King is exactly the sort of journey a family hatch like the Scala should excel at. We saw more than 50mpg from the little TSI petrol motor on the run. Who misses diesel?

Skoda Scala reviewIts performance is more kitten than big cat, but those keen for more can wait for the forthcoming vRS version.

The Scala could swap between ratios with a little more grace and its automatic gearbox is easy to confuse at lower speeds. It even juddered like it had a slipping clutch, on multiple occasions. Not so ‘Simply Clever’, then.

There are no steering wheel paddles, but a bump of the shifter to the left allows you shift gears manually. 

Skoda Scala review

Also irritating was the lane-assist steering system. For reasons unknown, it would bleep, rumble and flash as if we were driving ‘hands-off’. This happened unprompted on multiple occasions.

In terms of handling, the Scala is inoffensive, but the Mazda 3 and Ford Focus are possessed of more poise. The ride is exceptional, though. Small wheels and soft suspension make it refreshingly doughy.

Body-roll that sees the door handles reaching for the tarmac is a side effect to note, so beware when transiting kids with tummies full of popcorn.

Skoda Scala review

Overall, the Scala makes a good go of being a practical and well-equipped family car. It’s a little rough around the edges, though, and not as affordable as you might hope

Indeed, climb the Scala ladder and the price gets very Golf-ish. Ours topped £20,000. Go for the six-speed manual gearbox and a petrol engine and it’s a fine little car. But it doesn’t stand out.

Skoda Scala review

2019 Skoda Scala 1.5 DSG: specification

Price: From £16,595 (£20,000+ as tested)

Engine: Four cylinders, 1,498cc turbocharged, petrol

Transmission: Seven-speed, dual-clutch auto

Power: 150hp @ 5,000rpm

Torque: 184lb ft @1,500rpm

0-62mph: 8.2 seconds

Top speed: 136mph

Fuel economy: 40.9-45.6mpg (50+ as tested)

CO2 emissions: TBC

Boot space: 467 litres

Kerb weight: 1,200kg

Verdict: 3.5 stars

Mazda CX-30 review: small SUV is the same, but different

Mazda CX-30The first rule of car manufacturing in 2019 is that you can never make too many SUVs. So Mazda has slotted a new one into its range; the CX-30 is based on the 3 hatchback and sits half-way between a CX-3 and CX-5. “Why isn’t it called the CX-4, then?” I hear literally some of you ask. Well, there’s already a CX-4 sold in China, plus the number four is considered unlucky in Japan as it sounds like ‘death’. So now you know.

Technically speaking, then, the CX-30 is a crossover rather than a fully-fledged SUV. You can fit two adults in the back, but three is a squeeze, and you’ll need to pack light for a family holiday. Also, while you can opt for four-wheel drive, “you won’t be driving straight up Mont Blanc” (© a Mazda engineer). Rivals include the Nissan Qashqai, Skoda Karoq, BMW X2, Volkswagen T-Roc, Mercedes-Benz GLA and Toyota C-HR. Prices weren’t published at the time of writing, but reckon on £2,000 – £3,000 more than an equivalent Mazda 3 (circa. £20,000 – £31,000).

Mazda CX-30

The 3 is hands-down the handsomest car in its class, and some of that magic has rubbed off on the shorter, stumpier CX-30. Despite a lengthy press conference about “sensuously powerful forms” and “brushwork used in Japanese calligraphy”, it’s still a generic SUV shape, but a bold grille, hawkish headlamps and a tailgate spoiler help it stand out – particularly in Mazda’s signature Soul Red. Shame about all the black plastic body cladding.

Engines are shared with the 3, which means a 122hp 2.0-litre petrol with mild-hybrid tech or 116hp 1.8 diesel. The latter will account for a tiny proportion of sales, however. How times have changed… Buyers can choose manual or auto transmissions, both with six speeds, and Mazda’s clever new 180hp 2.0 Skyactiv-X petrol engine is due soon. More on that shortly.

Mazda CX-30

One key goal for the CX-30 – yes, I’m quoting from the press conference again – was “a pleasant time for all”. And it does indeed feel, well… pleasant. Climbing aboard is easier than in a conventional car and the seats are very supportive. It’s decently spacious up-front, too (the distance between the front seats matches the larger CX-5), although the rear is less accommodating – and a little gloomy, thanks to shallow side windows. A 430-litre luggage capacity is identical to a Qashqai and compares with 364 litres for the 3 hatchback.

It’s also pleasingly premium, with soft-touch materials and finely-damped controls. Knurled air-con switches look inspired by Audi, while the 8.8-inch widescreen media system is very BMW. Mazda objects to touchscreens on safety grounds and, using its intuitive ‘Commander control’ to navigate between menus, it’s hard not to concur. Large white-on-black dials, shortcut buttons on the steering wheel and the (optional) head-up display all keep your eyes on the road, too. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phone connectivity is standard.

Mazda CX-30

I sampled the 122hp Skyactiv-G petrol auto in front-wheel drive, which lopes to 62mph in 11.2 seconds and returns 42.8mpg and 151g/km CO2 in the new, more rigorous, WLTP test. It handles tidily for a car of this type, turning in keenly with feelsome steering and good body control. The ride was fine on the baby’s-bottom roads of our German test route, although I suspect it could feel fidgety in the UK. It’s no deal-breaker, though.

The Skyactiv-G engine is smooth and unobtrusive, but the gearbox – an old-school torque converter auto, not a modern dual-clutcher – is slow-witted, often hanging on to ratios when it should change up. Mazda didn’t have a manual available at the launch, but its slick-n-snappy ’boxes are the best in the business, so a stick seems the obvious choice.

Mazda CX-30

Speaking of choice, I’d hang on for the new Skyactiv-X petrol engine, which I sampled later the same day in a Mazda 3. I’ll spare you most of the technical details: suffice to say it uses both compression ignition (like a diesel) and spark ignition (like a petrol). In theory, that means diesel low-down punch and fuel economy, combined with petrol revviness and throttle response. And guess what? It works. CO2 emissions in the 3 hatch are as low as 100g/km and it feels genuinely lively.

As a car enthusiast, it’s hard not to simply recommend the 3, which more fun to drive, cheaper and only a little less practical. Still, crossovers are what people want, and Mazda reckons this could become its best-selling car, so what do I know? If you desire something medium-sized and SUV-shaped, the CX-30 – assuming prices are competitive – is a well-rounded and worthy choice.

Mazda CX-30

Mazda CX-30 2.0 Skyactiv-G FWD auto: specification

Price: TBC (circa. £21,000 – £25,000)
Engine: Four cylinders, 1,998cc, petrol
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Power: 122hp @ 6,000rpm
Torque: 157lb ft (213Nm) @ 4,000rpm
0-62mph: 11.2 seconds
Top speed: 116mph
Fuel economy: 42.8mpg
CO2 emissions: 151g/km
Suspension: MacPherson struts (front), torsion beam (rear)
Wheels: 18 x 7J alloy
Tyres: 215/55 R18
Length/width/height: 2,395/2,040/1,540mm
Boot space: 140 – 1,406 litres
Kerb weight: 1,347kg
VERDICT: FOUR STARS

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Renault 5 GT Turbo review: hot hatch hero still excites

Renault 5 GT Turbo

When I was 17, there were two things I yearned for: a girlfriend and a Renault 5 GT Turbo. I eventually acquired the former (credit: Dutch courage and Clearasil), but the latter slipped through my fingers.

Fast-forward two decades and the fast Five is no longer the darling of sex-starved teenagers, Maxers and TWOCers: it’s now a bona fide classic car. And with prices for 80s hot hatches spiralling skywards, you may have already missed the boat.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Renault 5 GT Turbo. Ever see one back in the day that DIDN’T have its yellow fogs blazing?

A post shared by Tim Pitt (@timpitt100) on

This 1989 Phase Two GT Turbo belongs to Renault UK and must be one of the few completely standard examples left. As it emerged from the delivery truck, squat and perfectly proportioned, the excitement in the MR office was palpable. How would it measure up on the road?

Can a 122hp hatchback still excite in 2019? Or is the Supercinq, like an inexpedient ex., better left in the past?

What are its rivals?

Think ‘1980s hot hatches’ and one car above all comes to mind: the Peugeot 205 GTI. However, for all the 205’s fleet-footed brilliance, the standard (1.6-litre) version is outgunned by the GT Turbo for power and acceleration. And the Renault is cheaper to buy. More on that later.

Other competitors for what Car magazine frequently called the ‘hot hatch crown’ included the Ford Fiesta XR2, Fiat Uno Turbo and Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk2.

The Golf is the sensible choice (no change there, then) while the Fiesta offers rough-and ready fun. As for the Fiat, finding one will be your greatest challenge; there is just one for sale in the UK at the time of writing.

What engine does it use?

Renault 5 GT Turbo

Unlike the original, mid-engined Renault 5 Turbo, the GT Turbo’s powerplant isn’t shoehorned behind the seats. Instead, it resides beneath the front-hinged bonnet, driving the front wheels through a five-speed manual gearbox. So far, so conventional.

But Renault had secret weapon. Clamping a turbocharger to the humble 1.4-litre lump unleashed 117hp from launch in 1985, upped to 122hp in Phase Two models from 1987.

In a car weighing just 853kg (the outgoing Renaultsport Clio weighs around 400kg more), 0-62mph took 7.5 seconds and a top speed was 120mph. As the TV ad of the time gleefully revealed, the 5 left the 205 and Uno trailing in its wake.

What’s it like to drive?

Renault 5 GT Turbo

A reminder of what good, old-fashioned turbo lag feels like. Up to around 4,000rpm, the 5 feels decidedly ordinary, certainly not quick. Then the Garrett blower takes a breath, the steering wheel squirms and you blast forwards, grabbing the next gear in a fabulous, frenetic rush.

Car manufacturers have spent years ironing out the on/off effect of turbo lag. However, for me at least, this belated blast of boost is a big part of the retro Renault’s appeal. It’s a nitrous hit for the head, one that provokes me into driving this 29-year-old classic harder than I probably should.

The car’s’s dynamic repertoire is a bit of a mixed bag, too. The steering is direct, but lacks the telepathic connection of the 205, while ride comfort is poor – despite tiny 13-inch alloys and 55-profile tyres. As with the powertrain, you need to up the pace to make the Five come alive.

Grab it by the scruff and the GT Turbo is still a quick cross-country machine. The front end bites hard into corners, pulling the rear around neatly with barely a hint of body-roll. Commit yourself and it will cock an inside wheel in classic 80s hot hatch style, but don’t worry – there are no snap-oversteer demons here. The brakes are better than many cars of this era, too.

Reliability and running costs

Renault 5 GT Turbo

Funky and flaky in equal measure, the Renault 5’s interior conforms to every cliché about old French cars. Speed humps and potholes are greeted with a chorus of plastic squeaks, while one of the minor gauges nonchalantly went on strike mid-drive.

Of greater concern is the temperamental Turbo’s dislike of hot starts. Tweaks to the Phase Two cars, including revised ignition mapping and a water-cooled turbo are said to have improved matters. Nonetheless, be prepared for less-than-perfect reliability.

On the plus side, classic insurance means the GT Turbo is no longer an underwriter’s bête noire. And fuel economy of 39.8mpg (measured at a constant 56mph) still looks respectable today.

Could I drive it every day?

Renault 5 GT Turbo

You could… but I’d advise against it. Rain and road salt will ravage any 30-year-old supermini. And while mechanical repairs to the simple, overhead-valve engine should be straightforward, fixing bodywork is a pricier problem.

I’d keep my GT Turbo garaged over winter and save it for the summer months. Indeed, secure storage is advisable year-round; these cars hail from the ‘coathanger and screwdriver’ era of car theft. Fit a tracker to protect your investment, too.

Lastly, the 5 also comes from a time long before Renault aced Euro NCAP crash tests. There’s no safety equipment to speak of, its doors are barely thicker than a biscuit tin and the interior trim has all the structural integrity of a croissant. This is a car for clear June mornings, not murky January evenings.

How much should I pay?

Renault 5 GT Turbo

‘A lot more than a few years ago’ is the short answer. Like all hot hatches of the 1980s, the Renault has rocketed in value as folks who grew up lusting after them finally have the wherewithal to buy them.

There’s another factor here, of course: attrition rate. Many GT Turbos were crashed and many more modified, leaving few good examples left. I found less than 20 GT Turbos for sale, and only a handful of those were standard-spec.

Starting price for a project is around £4,000, with decent, usable cars costing from £7,000. You’ll pay around £15,000 for a rust-free, original car like the one here: on par with a Mk2 Golf GTI, but still cheaper than many fast Fords. It’s also around half the price of an equivalent 205 GTI.

What should I look out for?

Renault 5 GT Turbo

Here are our top five Renault 5 GT Turbo buying tips:

  • Originality is key – particularly when it comes to future values. Many of these cars were modified, but turning up the boost won’t do wonders for reliability. Likewise, the last thing that fragile interior needs is stiffer, lower suspension.
  • Check for rust, particularly on doors, inner wings and behind the bodykit.
  • Look for evidence of crash damage, such as uneven panel gaps or paint overspray. Remember, many of these cars were stolen in their prime.
  • Test all the electrics and check for missing or broken interior trim. Some parts are becoming very difficult to find.
  • Join the Renault Turbo Owners Club – a great resource for parts, advice and discounts.

Should I buy one?

Renault 5 GT Turbo

Like yours truly, the GT Turbo feels its age. From its modest power output to its frankly woeful build quality, it shows just how far cars – in particular hot hatches – have progressed in three decades.

No matter. Driving this pocket rocket made me feel 17 again. And, before you ask, that’s a vibrant, devil-may-care 17, rather than a greasy, socially-awkward one. The Renault goads you into driving fast, then rewards with flashes of boisterous brilliance when you do. It’s flawed, but beguiling.

Yes, a 205 GTI is ultimately more fun. And a Golf GTI will be easier to live with. But if you grew up lusting after a GT Turbo, neither of those facts may matter. Buy carefully and Régie’s little ruffian could prove a sound investment, too. Time to hit the classifieds…

Pub fact

Renault 5 GT Turbo

The original 1980 Renault 5 Turbo was a homologation special: bred for rallying, then sanitised (a little) for the street. It had a 160hp 1.4-litre engine atop the rear wheels, making it the most powerful French car at the time.

Renault’s second bout of mid-engined madness came 18 years later, with the Clio V6 of 1998. Read our Clio V6 Retro Road Test to see how this hyper hatch stacks up today.

Renault 5 GT Turbo: in pictures

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Caterham Seven 270 track review: driving in its purest form

Caterham Seven 270“You wear a Caterham like a glove. It’s pure driving – that’s why everyone loves them.” So says Jack, my instructor for the day, as I lower myself into the skinny-fit seat of the Seven. If this is a glove, I must have oddly large hands.

At 9am sharp, the light goes green and I edge cautiously out of the pitlane. Brands Hatch is damp with morning dew and the Caterham’s Avon track tyres are cold. Fortunately, these are just sighting laps to learn the circuit. The real stuff comes later.

This isn’t my first time in a Seven, but it’s still a culture-shock after a ‘normal’ car. You feel hard-wired into the controls, every input amplified by the tiny steering wheel and taut suspension. There are no driving aids and no excuses. Which is what I’m worried about.

Caterham driving experience 

Caterham Seven 270Caterham track experiences at Brands Hatch are organised by MotorSport Vision (MSV) and a half-day costs £549. Alternatively, you could opt for half a day drifting in a Seven for £189. MSV also runs driving experiences at Donington Park, Oulton Park, Snetterton, Cadwell Park and Bedford Autodrome.

I start at 7:30am with signing on, a safety briefing and a strong coffee. This is an ‘open pit lane’ track day and around 70 drivers are here – although only 25 can use the circuit at once. Some want to test home-built hot rods, others are shaking down race cars. I studiously avoid mentioning this is my first ‘proper’ track day.

Thankfully, Jack puts my mind at ease. A professional racer and driver-for-hire, he’ll be in the passenger seat, watching the mirrors, showing me the racing line and keeping me out of trouble. Time to jump in the Caterham…

Story of the Seven

Caterham Seven 270

The story of the Caterham Seven starts with the original 1957 Lotus Seven, a back-to-basics sports car popular in club-level motorsport. When production ceased in 1972, Caterham Cars bought the rights. The company, now based in Crawley, has been building Sevens ever since.

Today, the Seven is effectively a range of cars: 160, 270, 360 and 420. Those numbers refer to each model’s power-to-weight ratio in horsepower per tonne. So, as the car weighs around 500kg, you approximately halve each figure to know its power output.

I’m driving a 270S, which uses a 137hp 1.6-litre Ford engine and five-speed manual gearbox. Zero to 62mph is quoted at 5.0 seconds, with a top speed of 122mph.

The ‘S’ refers to a £2,995 option pack aimed primarily at road use. It includes a heater, leather seats and a full windscreen, hood and side-screens. There’s also a track-focused ‘R’ pack (£3,995) with uprated brakes, stiffer suspension, four-point harnesses, a lightweight flywheel, composite race seats and a limited-slip differential. 

Re-learning to drive

Caterham Seven 270

MSV has two cars here, one standard size and one with the wider SV chassis. Being vertically challenged, I do most of my sessions in the former. I’m practically rubbing shoulders with Jack, but we still need helmet intercoms to communicate clearly above the engine and road roar. 

The pedals are packed tight, too, making it easy to press the throttle and brake at once. Still, I manage to exit the pit lane smoothly and ease right into the steep downhill at Paddock Hill Bend – “one of the best corners of any UK circuit,” says Jack. The sighting laps are a steady procession with no overtaking allowed, but getting accustomed to the Caterham’s controls takes time. 

The steering is so sensitive that at first I’m turning too much, hugging the inside of bends instead of slicing apices. Slowly, though, I begin to relax and concentrate on Jack’s commands. “Being smooth is key,” he says, “and only do one thing at a time: accelerate, brake or steer.”

A balancing act

Caterham Seven 270

My first proper session feels like a steep learning curve. It’s intimidating with so many quicker cars on-track – including a McLaren 720S, several BMW M3s and a Porsche 911 3.0 RSR replica – and I frequently pull over on the Brabham Straight to let others pass. Not that the Seven feels slow. With so little weight to shift, it revs stridently and punches hard out of bends.  

At Jack’s suggestion, I start by staying in fourth gear, concentrating solely on braking and steering inputs. The Caterham’s coil-sprung chassis is so lucid, it’s all too obvious when you get something wrong. Fail to brake in a straight line or hit the gas too soon and you instantly feel it lose focus, like a spinning top teetering off-centre. Finding its limits is, to a large extent, a game of trial and error, pushing gradually harder until grip turns to slip.

By late morning I’m shifting gears confidently and (mostly) in the right places. I even attempt some heel-and-toe blips on downshifts, although the proximity of the Seven’s pedals makes this tricky. Around the long 180-degree right-hander at Clearways, I goad the car into a slide, steering with the throttle as much as the wheel. It’s brilliant fun; I’m constantly learning more and driving faster.

How the pros do it

Caterham Seven 270

For the final session of the day, Jack has something different in mind: “Now I’m going to shut up and let you drive,” he grins. “Time to put everything you’ve learned into practice.” I’m tired, both physically and mentally, from a day of wrestling the Seven around Brands Hatch, but I soon find my flow. It’s far from a virtuoso performance, but his thumbs-up as we pull into the pit lane matters more than I care to admit.

Before I go, there’s one more surprise in store. Jack and I swap places and he shows me the huge gulf in talent between an enthusiastic amateur and a true racing driver. I bite my lip and clench my stomach as we blat between bends, clipping kerbs and even overtaking a stripped out M3 (with probably twice the power). I’m glad we didn’t attempt this straight after lunch.

I’m also quietly glad to climb into my oh-so-sensible Volkswagen T-Cross for the drive home. The reality of the rush-hour M25 bites hard, but I’ve experienced a different sort of driving today – and I’m already itching for another go.

Many thanks to Simon Reid at Fokus Media for all photos.

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2019 Skoda Kodiaq vRS review: hot seven-seat SUV driven

Skoda Kodiaq VRS

The Skoda Kodiaq was the Czech marque’s first foray into the crowded arena of the family SUV.

Three years on, it’s still selling well – and Skoda has expanded its SUV offering with the smaller Karoq, plus the Kamiq coming soon.

Skoda SUVs have so far been deserving of their success. They’re the cheapest of the Volkswagen Group cars with which they share underpinnings, yet similarly equipped and built to the same standard.

Skoda Kodiaq VRS

Both the Kodiaq and the Karoq are sharp-suited and handsome. Unlike many rivals, they don’t try to disguise their SUV silhouette, embracing its chunkiness with boxy proportions and bulbous wheelarches. 

Related: The Seat Tarraco is a Spanish Skoda Kodiaq

So, good looks, seven seats, lots of space, smart pricing, good equipment levels and an efficient engine line-up – what’s not to like?

Skoda Kodiaq VRS

Review over? Not quite. Meet the new top-of-the-line Nurburgring-conquering Kodiaq vRS. Specifically, £44,730-worth of Kodiaq VRS – we’ll get back to that later.

The vRS is Skoda’s version of Volkswagen’s GTI or Seat’s Cupra. It delivers different flavours of performance, though, with strong diesels available alongside potent petrols.

Seven-seat Nurburgring fighter

Skoda Kodiaq VRS

The Kodiaq is the latest to get the diesel vRS treatment, packing a twin-turbocharged 240hp 2.0-litre TDI with a seven-speed dual-clutch DSG transmission and four-wheel drive. It’ll get to 62mph in 7.0 seconds, plus a top speed of 136mph.

Skoda is keen to point out that this is the most powerful diesel engine in its history. It’s one of the main weapons with which the Kodiaq vRS won the title of fastest seven-seater around the Nurburgring Nordschleife circuit, with a time of nine minutes and 29 seconds. When not at the ‘Ring, it’ll achieve between 34 and 35mpg.

The vRS specification adds some aggression to the Kodiaq’s already agreeable looks. Blacked-out brightwork and 20-inch ‘Xtreme’ alloy wheels are suitably moody mods.

Sportier front and rear bumpers complete the look, with big metallic exhaust exits recessed into the back. Sharp LED lighting all-round comes as standard. Ignoring the juxtaposition of sporty styling with an SUV platform, it’s a looker.

Inside the Kodiaq vRS

Skoda Kodiaq VRS

Immediately evident inside are the Alcantara sports seats with quilted stitching, carbon-look material and strong bolstering. For all their attitude, they’re still nice and comfortable.

Flashes of red and Alcantara continue elsewhere, too. Look through the sportier steering wheel and you see the digital dials – exclusively standard on the vRS.

A nicely responsive 9.2-inch touchscreen handles sat-nav, digital media, radio and more. Climate controls sit below, along with various other physical controls in an intuitive layout. Depending on how you feel about touchscreen systems, the number of buttons will either feel refreshing or regressive. We’re in the former camp.

With all of the above, plus cruise control, climate control, adaptive lighting and more, the vRS is a very well-equipped car. Options fitted that we’d tick include the rear camera with full LED rear lights for £385, plus the Canton sound system for £405. The electric folding tow bar (£865) could appeal to others.

Driving the hot Skoda Kodiaq

Skoda Kodiaq VRS

Driving the Kodiaq vRS is a curious experience. The twin-turbo deployment of that 240hp and 369lb ft is seamless, but you definitely notice it. 

This is the first use of ‘Dynamic Sound Boost’ in a Skoda vRS – also known as ‘Mercedes-AMG G63 sound effects’. The bass and woofle it puts out just trundling around is amusing, but also quite odd. At speed, it could fool the lesser-informed into thinking there’s a V8 under the bonnet.

It feels every bit as fast as the figures suggest, but it’s not a scary or dramatic flavour of acceleration. A good job, then, that in spite of the tall driving position, the sporty seats keep you anchored where you need to be.

They have their work cut out for them when it comes to corners, though. The stiffer vRS in Sport mode covers ground at serious pace, doing well to mitigate typical SUV roll characteristics.

The steering is quite numb, which becomes a problem in the wet when the car’s significant weight pushes the low-profile tyres beyond their limits. There is next to no warning or sensation through the rim that you’re playing fast and loose with the available adhesion.

Skoda Kodiaq vRS verdict: four starsSkoda Kodiaq VRS

The Kodiaq VRS is an excellent car, but mostly because the Kodiaq is an excellent car.

Most of what it offers in vRS specification is available in a 190hp Sportline for much less. Sporty looks, amiable performance, generous equipment levels and a quality interior appointment are not exclusive to the vRS.

By no means is £38,250 – the amount that a Kodiaq 190 DSG Sportline costs – a small amount of money. Nevertheless, it is more than £6,000 less than a vRS, which costs from £42,895. The 190 Sportline offers more Kodiaq for your buck.

Skoda Kodiaq VRS

If you’re dedicated to the vRS life, we’d suggest the excellent Octavia vRS estate is more the practical performance car for far less cash. It’s more economical, better looking, faster and more fun to drive.

A full-fat Octavia Estate vRS Challenge will cost you £31,300, in fact. That’s a healthy £11,000 less than kick-off in a Kodiaq vRS. We also reckon the Kodiaq looks better in the chunky ‘Scout’ spec, but that’s your call.

Skoda Kodiaq VRS

Five 2019 Skoda Kodiaq vRS rivals

  • Skoda Kodiaq 190 Sportline
  • Skoda Octavia vRS Estate
  • Cupra Ateca
  • Audi SQ5
  • BMW X3 M

How much did our test car cost?

Skoda Kodiaq vRS 2.0 TDI 240PS 4×4 DSG: £44,730

Kia Proceed 1.4 T-GDI GT-Line S

Kia Proceed 1.4 T-GDI GT-Line S long-term review

Kia Proceed 1.4 T-GDI GT-Line SKia makes some exciting-looking cars these days. Britain loves the Sportage SUV, a regular top-10 best-seller, and automotive enthusiasts love the Stinger GT coupe, a performance Audi alternative that is more head-turning than any A5 Sportback.

It’s not letting up in 2019 either: out goes the forgettable Pro_cee’d three-door hatch, and in comes the new Kia Proceed five-door. The name is officially far less ugly and the car itself has been transformed, too – into a shooting brake that vies with a Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo for double-take impact.

Kia Proceed 1.4 T-GDI GT-Line S

I attended the Proceed first drive launch back in January 2019 and spent 10 minutes in Barcelona Airport simply walking around and tweeting it. That’s how wowed I was by the styling, which is Kia’s way of breathing life into a sector of car the market has moved on from.

Years ago, while five-door cars still took the lion’s share of sales, people did still buy three-door versions if they wanted a sportier look. Some car firms, such as Kia, made the three-door a more bespoke-lower-slung design, for added differentiation.

But these days, almost nobody wants a three-door. Ever-fewer can swallow the limitations in practicality and most hatch buyers who want something different go and buy an SUV.

Kia Proceed 1.4 T-GDI GT-Line S

Kia’s answer is to make its Ceed alternative irresistibly good-looking, packed with premium car allure – and, importantly, no less practical and even more spacious than a regular hatch.

And now, after being wowed by it for two days in Spain, I’m now spending six months living with a Kia Proceed, to see if it’s more than just a pretty face.

Kia Proceed 1.4 T-GDI GT-Line S: on test

Kia Proceed 1.4 T-GDI GT-Line S

Diesel-haters, listen up: I’m testing the 1.4-litre turbo petrol Proceed, complete with seven-speed DCT automatic gearbox.

I’m a high-mileage driver, so am the sort of person to whom diesel still stacks up. However, I’m still going for petrol to see whether it can deliver the sort of economy diesel drivers demand – and thus, whether it’s a viable alternative.

Kia Proceed 1.4 T-GDI GT-Line S

Can it really turn in high-40 mpg figures, or even regularly dip into the 50s? While also delivering smoother, quieter running, the benefit of cheaper prices at the filling station, and the up-front cash saving that helps lower monthly PCP prices? My wallet certainly hopes so.

As it’s such a good-looking car, it seemed rude not to make the most of it with fancy GT-Line S trim. This sits above core GT-Line spec and adds the key feature of 18-inch wheels, instead of the base 17-inch rims. They perfectly fill the arches and look superb, especially when enhanced by optional Infra Red metallic paint.

Other GT-Line S goodies include black leather and faux Alcantara seat trim, an 8-speaker JBL premium sound system, smart cruise control (truly invaluable through extended 50 mph motorway roadwork zones) and blind-spot warning.

It wants for nothing, particularly as it has standard Apple CarPlay, so syncs seamlessly with my iPhone.

Coming straight from a Sportage, I’m already enjoying the lower seating position, lack of diesel clatter and rattle and sharper body control. Now to start piling on the miles and find out how the rest of it fares… Proceed with the test!

Tech specs: Kia Proceed 1.4 T-GDI GT-Line S

  • Engine size: 1,353cc
  • Engine cylinders: 4
  • Power: 138hp @ 6,000rpm
  • Torque: 178lb ft @ 1,500-3,200rpm
  • 0-62 mph: 9.1 seconds
  • Top speed: 127mph
  • Fuel consumption (combined, WLTP): 42.8mpg
  • CO2: 133g/km
  • Length/width/height: 4,605/1,800/1,422mm
  • Weight: 1,405kg