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Caterham Seven 270 (2020) track review

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.

Caterham Seven 270

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 270

Caterham 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.

Caterham Seven 270

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. 

Caterham Seven 270

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

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.  

Caterham Seven 270

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.

Caterham Seven 270

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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Mercedes-Benz SL (R107) review: Retro Road Test

Mercedes-Benz SL

All cars eventually become classics, but not all classics are created equal. The ‘R107’ Mercedes-Benz SL is a case in point.

This luxurious grand tourer – we’ll stop short of calling it a sports car – was a cut above the automotive norm when new, and remains so today. Indeed, it’s one of the best classics you can buy.

The R107 replaced the iconic W113 ‘Pagoda’ SL in 1971 and ended up becoming the longest-lived Mercedes ever. By the time production ceased in 1989, it arguably held classic status even as a new car.

Initially V8-powered, it was later offered with more economical six-cylinder engines. All came with a removable metal hard-top to supplement the manually-folding fabric hood, while the vast majority of buyers opted for an automatic gearbox.

A fixed-roof SLC coupe was also sold, albeit in much smaller numbers.

Mercedes-Benz SL

The car I’m driving today is one of the final R107s: a 1989 300 SL. Steve Leigh of Essex Classic Car Auctions is clearly a fan. “They’re just so reliable,” he says. “You could jump in right now and drive across Europe.”

It’s a tempting offer, but Billericay and Basildon will have to suffice. Besides, it’s just started raining.

Clearly I watched too much Dallas and Dynasty as a child because, even roof-up in the drizzle, the SL speaks to me of sun-drenched California cool. It isn’t breathtakingly beautiful like a Pagoda, but its long, louche lines are elegant and perfectly proportioned.

I love the understated 15-inch alloys and Smoked Silver paintwork of this example, too – the latter glinting gold when it catches the light.

Mercedes-Benz SL

Inside, it’s all rather more retro, not least thanks to the beige-and-brown colour combo. If you’ve just stepped out of a modern Mercedes, be prepared for a culture-shock; there are no touchscreens or technology here, just a simple, wood-veneered dash and flat, springy seats.

Also, the large, low-set steering wheel can’t be adjusted and there’s surprisingly little headroom for those above average height. At least those ‘Germanic build quality’ clichés ring true: everything I touch feels weighty and well-made.

The SL – in 176hp, six-cylinder guise, at least – doesn’t like to be rushed. Its power steering is ponderous, its suspension feels floaty and the whole car leans like a listing ship when cornering.

Oddly, this dynamic ineptitude (at least by today’s standards) forms a large part of its appeal. It encourages you to slow down, retract the roof and take it easy, wafting along on a wave of effortless torque.

Few cars – then or now – are so easy and utterly relaxing to drive.

Mercedes-Benz SL

After an hour of subdued, comfortable cruising, I’m rather sold on the idea of an SL. Unfortunately, values have rocketed in recent years: bad luck for me, but great news if you’re looking to invest. “You can find a basket-case R107 for £5,000,” says Steve, “but the best nudge £50,000.

“Parts are expensive and certain bits of trim – such as the seat fabric – are getting hard to source. So buy the best, most original car you can afford.”

This particular SL had covered 94,500 miles and carried an auction estimate of £20,000 – £22,500.

What to look for when buying an SL? Steve explains: “Post-1986 cars have galvanised bodywork and are more rust-resistant. Even so, check the sills and wheelarches carefully, and examine the carpets for signs of water leaks.

Mercedes-Benz SL

“Engines are solid, but you’ll want evidence of regular servicing – preferably from a Mercedes specialist. Make sure the hard-top hasn’t gone missing, too. It should be stamped with the car’s chassis number below the nearside window.”

Lastly, a top tip for investors: this car’s successor, the blockier R129 SL (1989-2002) is now creeping up in price.

If a good R107 is beyond your budget, it’s a sensible and equally seductive way to enjoy the SL experience – and certainly a classic in the making.

PRICE: From £5,000

0-62MPH: 9.6 secs

TOP SPEED: 126mph

CO2 G/KM: 254

MPG COMBINED: 26.0

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Skoda Octavia vRS retro road test

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Skoda Octavia vRS: Retro Road Test

01_Skoda_Octavia_vRS

Skoda’s vRS badge has come a long way in nearly 20 years.

Back in 2001, when the first Octavia vRS was launched, the idea of a hot Skoda was too much for some people to take in. The Skoda brand was still emerging from the dark days of ill-informed jokes, continuing to find its feet under Volkswagen Group ownership.

With a knowing tap on the inside of its nose, the Skoda Octavia vRS emerged from nowhere, making the Golf GTI look expensive and impractical.

For those in the know, the Skoda Octavia vRS was the performance car of choice.

What are its rivals?

02_Skoda_Octavia_vRS

We could argue that the original Skoda Octavia vRS had no direct rivals. With a launch price of £15,100, nothing could touch it.

The one notable exception was the slightly cheaper Seat Leon Cupra, but pound for pound, the cavernous Octavia vRS stood out like a big shiny beacon.

Remember the early press cars were all painted in striking Corrida Red? And we all know red is faster, right?

Other rivals? Well the Octavia vRS trounced the Mk4 Golf GTI in just about every department, while the UK’s first Honda Civic Type R was waiting in the wings.

The £15,995 Ford Focus ST170 was a palatable prelude to the blistering Ford Focus RS and was arguably the Octavia’s most direct rival.

What engine does it use?

03_Skoda_Octavia_vRS

The Skoda Octavia vRS made good use of Volkswagen’s ubiquitous 1.8-litre 20v turbocharged engine, also seen in the Audi TT, Audi A3 and S3, Volkswagen Golf, Seat Leon and standard Octavia.

In Octavia vRS guise, the engine develops 177hp at 5,550rpm, plus 173lb ft of torque. The 0-60mph time was quoted as 7.9 seconds, with a top speed of 144mph.

At the time, this was the fastest Skoda ever built.

What’s it like to drive?

04_Skoda_Octavia_vRS

Seriously good. Given the mediocrity of the equivalent Golf GTI, you have to ask what wizardry was applied to transform the Octavia vRS into such a performance bargain. 

You could say the same about the Seat Leon Cupra, which was also better than the Golf.

The gearing is comically long, with 70mph achievable in second. The engine also feels more characterful in the Octavia vRS, urging you to press on.

The steering on this 77,000-mile car seemed lighter and less communicative than it did when new and, subjectively, the Octavia vRS lacks the intimacy and immediacy of a more hardcore hot hatch.

However, considering the size of the Octavia, not to mention the 528-litre double wardrobe over the rear wheels, the Skoda is a huge amount of fun.

Reliability and running costs

05_Skoda_Octavia_vRS

The Skoda Octavia vRS offers combined fuel economy of 35.3mpg, although figures in the mid 40s aren’t uncommon on a long run. 

The availability of parts will not be an issue and there are number of excellent Volkswagen Group specialists who can service the car for less than a main dealer.

Could I drive it every day?

06_Skoda_Octavia_vRS

Oh, absolutely. The Skoda Octavia vRS is an easy car to drive, with a simplicity that is lost in so many hot hatches.

There are no driving modes to choose from, no concerns about all-round visibility, just a highly practical and immensely likeable performance hatchback. And if you demand more practicality, there’s the Octavia vRS estate.

Back in the day, they were a motorway patrol car for many police forces. The combination of supreme pace and space, plus the unknown quantity of a hot Skoda, made for a brilliant unmarked cop car.

It helped to springboard the vRS brand into the public domain.

How much should I pay?

07_Skoda_Octavia_vRS

Prices start from around £1,500 – still tremendous value for money. For that, you’ll get an Octavia vRS with a six-figure mileage and part service history.

A budget of £3,000 will secure a really good example, but it’s worth noting a newer, Mk2 Octavia vRS is available for a similar amount.

We’d buy on condition and service history, rather than age. Optional extras were few and far between, but it’s worth searching for cars with parking sensors (that’s a big boot when reversing), cruise control (to maximise those long-distance credentials) and an electric sunroof.

What should I look out for?

08_Skoda_Octavia_vRS

The excellent Briskoda forum offers an extensive Skoda Octavia vRS buying guide that should be your first port of call if you’re considering a purchase.

The timing belt and water pump should be replaced every four years or 60,000 miles, and you should check for signs of accident damage. This is a performance car, so it may have been used accordingly.

An engine misfire could be caused by a faulty coil pack, while water in the boot may be the result of a broken rear washer pipe.

Better to wait for a cherished and much-loved example than to take a chance on a cheap vRS of iffy quality.

Should I buy one?

09_Skoda_Octavia_vRS

If you’re looking for a practical, spacious and quick hot hatch with a difference, you must consider the Skoda Octavia vRS.

Green brake calipers may not appeal to all, but Skoda deserves huge respect for transforming an everyday hatchback into such a purposeful-looking machine.

You also get a smattering of vRS goodies on the inside, such as a special gearknob, vRS seats with white inserts and silver-rimmed instruments. There’s even an ASR traction control button.

Pub fact

10_Skoda_Octavia_vRS

In 2002, Skoda launched the Octavia vRS WRC, built to celebrate 100 years of Skoda in motorsport. Only 100 were sold, of which 25 were right-hand-drive cars for the UK.

At £20,700, they were more expensive than the standard vRS, but they did offer a host of extra features, including Candy white paint, WRC replica graphics, a numbered plaque, xenon headlights and heated front seats. A future classic, for sure.

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Audi R8 V10 LMX (2014) review

Audi R8 LMX

The first supercar I ever drove was an Audi R8. It was the V10 version, with an open-gate manual ’box like a Ferrari.

The venue was Millbrook in Bedfordshire, a motor industry test-track with an ‘Alpine route’ that replicates an incredible mountain road. Writing for Which? at the time, I was more accustomed to testing family hatchbacks, so the 550hp Audi fairly blew me away.

The marshals at Millbrook were less impressed: I was shown a yellow flag and ordered to slow down or go home.

Audi R8 LMX

Today, I’m revisiting the first-generation R8, albeit in 570hp LMX spec. This special edition was the car’s last hurrah before the current R8 debuted in 2015. The ‘LM’ refers to Le Mans, the 24-hour race where it was launched. And the ‘X’… well, nobody seems sure about that.

This is the original press car – number 23 of 99 made, most painted Ara Blue – now enjoying a gentle retirement as part of Audi UK’s heritage fleet.

The USP of the LMX was its laser headlights. Audi wasn’t first with the technology (BMW beat it by a matter of weeks), but this was still groundbreaking stuff. With high-beam activated, pure white light illuminates the road for 600 metres: around twice the range of LED headlights.

A camera also detects traffic and dips the lights automatically to avoid laser surgery for oncoming eyeballs.

Audi R8 LMX

The Dr Evil lasers were partly why the LMX cost £160,025 when new – a hefty £35,000 more than the range-topping R8 V10 Plus. It also boasted a carbon fibre front splitter and fixed rear wing, that extra 20hp (a token gesture in a car this potent) and came fully loaded with every option available.

These included carbon-ceramic brakes, a Bang & Olufsen audio system and diamond-quilted Alcantara headlining. A stripped-out road racer this ain’t.

Right, full disclosure time. My drive in the R8 took place on a scorching summer afternoon, so I can offer zero feedback on the laser headlights. Suffice to say, journalists at the time seemed a little underwhelmed.

Audi R8 LMX

What certainly isn’t disappointing, however, is that naturally-aspirated 5.2-litre V10, which rockets the R8 to 62mph in 3.4 seconds and a 198mph top speed. It’s just as raw and responsive as I remembered, a torrent of stomach-squeezing thrust that doesn’t subside until 8,500rpm.

The driving experience is utterly contemporary, too. The Audi has slower steering and softer suspension than some supercars and you occasionally feel its 1,600kg heft in corners.

Nonetheless, there are few quicker ways to cover ground. A planted, predictable chassis and the security of Quattro four-wheel drive mean swift, safe progress where some mid-engined missiles would feel skittish.

Audi R8 LMX

The LMX feels its age inside, with a dot-matrix display between the dials and hopelessly dated sat nav. Frankly, though, I’m struggling to care. Switching to Sport mode, I feel the dampers stiffen, the dual-clutch gearbox kicks down and the exhaust baffles open, filling the cabin with glorious V10 thunder.

As I blast between bends, revelling in copious grunt and grip, I’m quietly thankful there are no flag-waving marshals here. I’m sure they’d confiscate the keys.

As an investment, the LMX is the R8 to have, but with so few made, finding one could be your biggest challenge. At the time of writing, there wasn’t a single example for sale in the UK.

Audi R8 LMX

Fortunately, you don’t need the uber-R8 for driving thrills: the entry-level V8 is just as visceral, almost as fast and available used from just £35,000.

For perhaps the ultimate usable supercar, that’s a bit of a bargain.

PRICE: From £70,000

0-62MPH: 3.4sec

TOP SPEED: 198mph

CO2 G/KM: 299

MPG COMBINED: 21.9

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Retro Road Test: British Motor Heritage MGB

MGB roadster: Retro Road Test

Retro Road Test: British Motor Heritage MGB

The MGB is perhaps Britain’s most popular classic car. But it’s also a victim of its own success – owners love them, but some enthusiasts turn up their noses when they see yet another MGB turning up at a classic car show.

We’ve put the MGB through our rigorous Retro Road Test to discover whether it’s deserving of the love it gets, or whether it’s overrated.

This example is owned by British Motor Heritage (BMH). The firm was originally established in 1975 as a subsidiary of British Leyland, to support owners of classic cars with parts created using original tooling.

BMH was acquired by BMW as part of its £800 million Rover Group takeover in 1994, before being sold by the Germans in 2001. Since then it has operated as a private company.

What are its rivals?

What are its rivals?

In its time, the MGB would have been a rival for the likes of the Fiat X1/9 and Triumph Spitfire. The MGB is a more appealing proposition in our eyes, but these rivals will certainly be a rarer sight on the roads.

Buyers today might also consider newer classics, such as the original Mazda MX-5.

What engine does it use?

What engine does it use?

Apart from the special V8 version, all MGBs used the same 1.8-litre B-Series engine. It produced 95hp at most (power was reduced in some versions) – not a lot by today’s standards.

Although it was considered a heavy car at the time, 95 horses are plenty for a car weighing less than 1,000kg. This example isn’t entirely standard either, using fuel injection rather than the standard carburettors.

What’s it like to drive?

What’s it like to drive?

This subject divided opinion in the Motoring Research office. If you’re used to modern cars, the answer is: not very well. The brakes are, naturally, hard work – requiring a big shove of the middle pedal to lose speed. You soon get into the habit of using gears to slow down.

For a car that can trace its roots back to 1962, however, it handles very well. The rack-and-pinion steering provides the kind of feedback drivers of modern cars can but dream of.

It’s a proper sports car driving experience – you sit low down, and its four-cylinder engine creates a pleasing rasp.

What’s really surprising is how muscular the B-series engine feels. Most of the time, you can leave it in fourth gear, flicking the overdrive on and off using the switch on the gearknob.

If you do need to shift, the gear change is a smidgen on the notchy side, but a short throw means it’s not much of a chore.

Reliability and running costs

Reliability and running costs

Being such a popular classic car, there’s a huge amount of support for the MGB in both the club scene and specialist companies.

While there’s no reason why an MGB should be unreliable if it’s looked after and serviced regularly, parts are readily available. Also, you’re unlikely to encounter an issue that isn’t covered in depth on internet forums.

Although the 1.8-litre engine isn’t the most powerful, it will be thirsty by modern standards. Don’t expect to see more than 30mpg on a regular basis.

Could I drive it every day?

Could I drive it every day?

Despite this, you’d have to be very committed to drive an MGB every day. Even this very tidy example could soon become a chore: our man Tim tried it on an M25 commute one November evening and complained about how noisy it was on the motorway – not to mention the lack of radio and heavy steering.

On the plus side, it’d be easy to make an MGB easier to live with – whether by fitting power steering, a radio, or comfier seats. The overdrive makes things quieter, too.

How much should I pay?

How much should I pay?

MGB values vary dramatically. The GT model is less desirable than the roadster, and people are happy to pay more for the earlier examples with chrome bumpers.

You can pick up a ropey rubber-bumpered GT for a couple of grand, but you probably shouldn’t. A £7,000 budget will buy a tidy roadster, or you can double that in the hunt for a restored example.

What should I look out for?

What should I look out for?

Rust. A few minor bubbles on the wings or sills can be hiding much more serious rot – and that can be expensive to sort out.

BMH can provide panels – they’re brand new, and made using the original tooling so should fit perfectly – but they’re not cheap. To give you an idea, a steel bonnet will cost £532 (and that’s not including painting or fitting). An aluminium one is more than £900.

Other than that, it’s pretty much the regular classic car precautions. Has it been looked after? Serviced regularly? Are there any modifications – if so, have they done to a good standard, and are they the sort of modifications you’d want? Track day mods won’t be ideal if you’re looking for a car to pootle around in at weekends.

Should I buy one?

Should I buy one?

It depends what you want in a car. If you get your thrills from driving flat-out on country roads, or are looking for a track-day car, there are better, newer options out there.

If you want a rare classic that’ll get lots of attention, there are lots of slightly leftfield options available.

But if you want a British sports car that’s brilliant at cruising around on a sunny day, with a huge support network, the MGB is ideal.

Pub fact

Pub fact

In 1967 MG launched a 3.0-litre straight-six version of the MGB, known as the MGC. It was intended to replace the Austin Healey but soon developed a poor reputation.

The heavy engine and new suspension meant it didn’t handle as well as the MGB, and journalists at the time criticised it. It was axed after just two years.

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Lexus LC 500h (2020) review

Lexus LC 500h

Lexus built its reputation on reliability. Its first car, the 1989 LS 400, looked instantly forgettable, yet took on the German car industry at the peak of its powers, offering build quality that was second-to-none.

The marque still majors on attention to detail today – as reliability surveys from Which? and JD Power repeatedly reveal – but well-made worthiness only gets you so far, particularly in the image-conscious premium sector. 

Enter the LC. This flagship coupe takes on the Mercedes-Benz SL and Porsche 911, with styling inspired by the 2012 LFA supercar and 477hp V8 petrol or 359hp V6 hybrid power.

The LC 500 V8 is, unsurprisingly, quicker (0-62mph in 4.7sec versus 5.0sec for the hybrid), while the battery-boosted LC 500h is more efficient (34.8mpg plays 24.3mpg). Both are priced identically, from £80,100.

Lexus LC 500h

The 500h I’m driving today is the less exciting choice on paper, but it’s equally dramatic in the metal. Long, low and wide, with a prowling, predatory stance, it looks utterly unlike anything else.

Hawkish headlights frame Lexus’ voluptuous spindle grille, muscular wings drape over mammoth 21-inch wheels and the rear lamps jut out like jewellery. This Sport-spec car has a bare carbon fibre roof, too.

In London, even a Lamborghini doesn’t turn this many heads.

The LC’s interior is also very distinctive. You sit low, cocooned by a wraparound dashboard embellished with aluminium and Alcantara (man-made suede).

The instrument panel changes depending on which drive mode you select, from battery and fuel use in Eco to a giant red rev counter in Sport+.

The widescreen media system looks the part, but you have to contend with Lexus’ jerky touchpad controller. Trying to position the on-screen cursor while driving requires a degree of hand-eye coordination that only a 14-year-old Playstation addict can muster.

Lexus LC 500h

You can’t plug the LC 500h in to charge it. Essentially, it’s like a very powerful Toyota Prius, with a 3.5-litre petrol V6 backed up by batteries and an electric motor.

The interesting element here is the gearbox, which isn’t the standalone CVT (continuously variable transmission) fitted to most hybrids. Instead, Lexus has taken a CVT and bolted a four-speed ’box onto the back. The CVT creates three artificial ‘steps’ for the first three gears, plus the fourth is an overdrive – adding up to 10 ratios in all.

If all that sounds bewilderingly complicated, it works reasonably well on the road. The Multi-Stage Shift Device (to borrow Lexus jargon) feels, for the most part, like a conventional automatic, without the ‘rubber-band’ vagaries of a CVT.

The hybrid system is smooth and multi-talented, too, combining silent, electric-only running at low speeds with snarling V6 performance at high revs.

It isn’t the unfettered adrenaline rush of the V8, but you won’t need a second job to fund the fuel bills.

Lexus LC 500h

The LC 500h, then, is a car of contrasts, and that also applies to its handling. This isn’t the soft, wafty GT you might expect; it’s firm, focused and – with enough road space – surprisingly fun. 

The steering is direct and the chassis feels balanced and sure-footed. It falls short of a 911 for dynamic finesse, but there’s decent driver feedback and ample cornering grip. The pay-off is a rather jittery and unyielding ride, not helped the sheer size of those alloys.

Lexus is still a young brand, but it has come a long way. As a ‘halo car’ for its bold future, the LC is a slam-dunk.

It isn’t perfect, and it won’t be for everyone, but this beguiling beast will make a select few owners very happy. Chances are it’ll be reliable, too.

Lexus LC 500h

PRICE: £85,300 (Sport)

0-62MPH: 5.0sec

TOP SPEED: 155mph

CO2 G/KM: 184

MPG COMBINED: 34.8

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Renault 4

Renault 4 GTL review: Retro Road Test

Renault 4

A car that could take the family on holiday, be driven as a work vehicle and wouldn’t cost a fortune to run. That was the idea behind the Renault 4 when it was launched in 1961.

Production lasted until 1992, and they’re still a common sight in rural areas of France. Just like a Citroen 2CV, a French holiday isn’t complete without catching sight of a well-worn Renault 4.

Renault 4

This immaculate example is a Renault 4 GTL. Part of the manufacturer’s massive heritage collection, it was first registered in 1980 and has led an easy life since then.

As a GTL, the car is powered by the same water-cooled 1,108cc engine as the Renault 6 TL and Estafette van.

It can be identified as a GTL by its grey grille, bumpers and plastic cladding running along the bottom of its doors.

What’s it like to drive?Renault 4

The 4 was the Renault’s first front-wheel-drive car (although the technology had previously been introduced with the Estafette), with a focus on economy and practicality over performance or driver engagement.

It’s surprising, then, just how much fun the Renault 4 is to drive. The gearstick protrudes from the dash in an unconventional manner, not dissimilar to the seventh-generation Honda Civic. This is out of necessity more than anything – it links to a rod that runs over the top of the engine before dropping down to the gearbox at the front of the car.

While it seems bizarre at first, it’s a really sweet gearbox to use. By this stage in Renault 4 production, it had a four-speed ’box with synchromesh on all ratios. Finding gears is easy once you’re used to the strange position of the lever, and the change feels wonderfully precise.

Renault 4

Although it’s not quick (it boasts just 34hp and a top speed of 75mph), it’s sprightly enough. The ride quality – a hallmark of old French cars – allows you to keep pace over potholes, while the brakes are adequate, if a little worrying if you’ve just jumped out of something modern.

Things can get a trifle concerning in corners, too, where it nudges near-2CV levels of lean.

The light steering also means you’re not entirely convinced it’ll make it around bends without running out of road. Perhaps that’s why R4s are such a common sight in French fields…

Tell me about buying oneRenault 4

Although you might see plenty of Renault 4s in daily use in France, they’re a little harder to find here in the UK – especially in good condition. We’d favour a later model, like the one we’ve driven here, simply for its extra power and four-speed synchromesh ‘box.

Prices depend on condition more than age or anything else. While you’ll pay more than you once would, they’re not extortionately expensive (or indeed as pricey as the Citroen 2CV). Expect to pay up to £5,000 for a tidy, usable example.

As with many old cars, rust is the biggest concern. It’s particularly prominent around the rear suspension mountings, so inspect carefully. If it’s been repaired (and it probably has at some point), satisfy yourself that it’s been done properly rather than a quick patch to get it through an MOT test.

Another rust-spot to watch out for is inside the rear doors, while all four corners of the floorpan can also rot (but repairs are relatively affordable). Panels also rust, but replacements are available from Renault.

Mechanically, Renault 4s are pretty robust, while the interior is equally hard-wearing. Get one that’s structurally solid and anything else can be fixed fairly cheaply.

Renault 4 GTL: VerdictRenault 4

 

The Renault 4 is a bargain of the classic car world. Utterly charming to drive, it’s incredible that you can buy such an iconic vehicle for less than £5,000. Just imagine what an original Mini of a similar vintage would cost. And the latter are a lot more common, certainly here in the UK.

Although we’d be reluctant to drive an R4 every day – and it’s certainly not the choice for long motorway journeys – it’s perfectly pleasant to pootle around in, while the interior is functional and endearing.

Finding a good one may take a little time, but you haven’t missed the boat. Running one won’t break the bank either, unless you get one with a chassis that resembles a colander…

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Maserati GranTurismo MC (2017-2019) review

Maserati GranTurismo MC

When the Maserati GranTurismo was launched, Tony Blair was in 10 Downing Street, Jade Goody was in the Big Brother house and the iPhone remained a twinkle in Steve Jobs’ eye.

By the time the GranTurismo MC you see here arrived, the Italian stallion was nearing retirement age. But Maserati gave it one last update in 2017 to take on the ever-growing ranks of six-figure sports cars. 

Costing £109,990 when new, the MC sat above the £94,355 Sport in a slimmed-down GranTurismo range. Its 4.7-litre V8 produces 460hp at a heady 7,000rpm, driving the rear wheels through a six-speed automatic ’box.

Maserati GranTurismo MC

Those initials stand for ‘Maserati Corse’ – the latter means ‘racing’ in Italian – but the MC shouldn’t be confused with the earlier MC Stradale. That car was a hardcore road-racer, this one is very much a luxurious GT.

It’s a handsome beast, too: low, louche and oozing latent aggression. The makeover included new bumpers and Maserati’s ferocious front grille, while the MC gains 20-inch forged alloy wheels, titanium brake calipers and a carbon fibre rear spoiler. Its bonnet is carbon, too: painted on top, with naked composite weave on show underneath.

The GranTurismo’s ‘F136’ engine was built by Ferrari and has served in many of Maranello’s recent (and not so recent) road cars – F430, California and 458 Italia included.

Maserati GranTurismo MC

In the MC, it exhales through a new, switchable exhaust that’s surprisingly sedate… until you select Sport mode. Then, the snarling Scooby-Doo villain is duly unmasked, the twin tailpipes erupting with a high-pitched yowl that’s the antithesis of a sturm und drang AMG V8. Even in traffic, it sounds utterly enthralling.

With a 0-62mph time of 4.7 seconds, the GranTurismo is around a second off the pace versus its key rivals. However, what it lacks in mid-range, turbocharged punch, it makes up with sonorous, high-rev hysteria.

There’s something uniquely wonderful about a naturally-aspirated V8, even if sub-20mpg fuel economy (I managed 14mpg on a cross-London commute) is a sobering return to reality.

Maserati GranTurismo MC

Engine aside, the MC is a car of contrasts. Its hydraulic power steering is chattier than the electric set-ups favoured today, and its chassis feels composed and confidence-inspiring at speed. The torque converter gearbox also suits the car, being smooth when cruising but sufficiently snappy in Sport.

On the minus side, the ride is rather jittery for a long-legged GT and the brakes don’t bite with the tenacity you’d hope for.


The interior is a similarly mixed bag: sumptuously trimmed in leather, Alcantara and carbon fibre, yet scattered with Fiat-Chrysler switchgear.

Still, the latest touchscreen media system is straightforward (including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity), the trademark Maserati clock is present and correct, and, lest we forget, the GranTurismo is a proper four-seater, with room for actual adults in the back. Take that, Porsche 911.

Maserati GranTurismo MC

Read any classic car magazine and you’ll find that flaws are habitually dismissed – even embraced – as part of a car’s character.

The Maserati, fast-approaching classic status in itself, pulls off a similar trick, masking its foibles with winsome charm. I simply couldn’t help enjoying it.

You’d have to be eccentric to buy one over, say, a Mercedes-AMG GT, but I’d gladly applaud you for doing so. Used GranTurismo prices start from around £25,000, although you’ll pay twice that for an MC.

Maserati GranTurismo MC

Maserati recently revealed teaser photos of its new MC20 supercar, powered by a mid-mounted V6. Plug-in hybrid and fully electric versions are likely to follow.

Performance will doubtless be in another league (up to 700hp is mooted), but will it tug at the heartstrings like a GranTurismo MC? We’ll know the answer soon.

PRICE WHEN NEW: £109,990 

0-62MPH: 4.7sec

TOP SPEED: 187mph

CO2 G/KM: 331

MPG COMBINED: 19.8

2020 Honda Jazz front driving

Honda Jazz (2020) review

2020 Honda Jazz front three quarter

The new Honda Jazz is back to being a proper Honda. The outgoing Jazz felt too cheap and tinny to live up to its quality reputation. This one returns to the principals of quality, spaciousness and practicality that made previous Jazz so popular.  

It’s clever, too. It has a two-motor hybrid system so ingenious, it doesn’t even need a gearbox. The engine drives a generator, not the wheels: this send electricity to a drive motor, allowing this petrol car to mimic an EV whenever it can (and that’s often).

It looks smart, with a modern front end. The interior’s come on leaps and bounds. It is as ingeniously roomy and practical as ever. Enough to justify raised list prices that now start from a rich £18,980 (we drove the EX model, priced at £21,380)? Let’s find out.

Does it still have Magic Seats?

2020 Honda Jazz side profile

The new Jazz does still have Magic Seats. You can flip and fold them up, like collapsible dining room chairs, to magic up space in the rear to swallow a bicycle. But they also fold flat into the floor like origami, turning the Jazz into a van.

They are a key USP of the Honda supermini and are made possible by a fuel tank located under the front seats, not the rear. It’s also why boot space, seats down, is almost on a par with a Volkswagen Golf, at 1,205 litres.

Seats up, it has 304 litres, little better than a Ford Fiesta (visually, the load bay ‘looks’ short and small, albeit deep), but there is a plastic cubby beneath the boot floor to hide things in.

Will passengers like it?

2020 Honda Jazz rear seat

Needless to say, there’s a terrific amount of space with them up – adults have large car legroom, even with the driver’s seat slid right back. It’s remarkable, how spacious it is back there.

The rear seat is also really comfortable. Depressingly, this isn’t always a given, where passengers are sometimes left with hard, unsupportive jump seats.

Honda instead has supportive, cushioned, ample seats that adults wouldn’t baulk at sitting in for 150 miles at a time. Who needs that executive saloon?

It still looks like a Jazz in the pictures, too

2020 Honda Jazz parked up

This is the fourth generation of Jazz and, unlike the Civic, Honda has stuck to the same formula each time. It’s a so-called ‘monobox’, or a box on wheels, with a sticky-out bit at the front for the engine.

But it looks more different in the metal than you might think. The cute headlights, with their inset LED light squiggle, resemble a Honda e in passing. There’s curvature, whereas before there were shear angles.

It looks modern, and instantly ages the old one.

Is it still disappointing inside?

2020 Honda Jazz interior

The old Jazz was downmarket and tinny. Not what you expect from a Honda. This one is back to normal, with a quality feel, shine-free surfaces and general solidity.

The central screen uses the all-new infotainment system seen in the Honda e, and is infinitely better for it. The dial pack ahead of the driver is electronic too – complicated, certainly, but undeniably comprehensive. The rest of the dash has been nicely decluttered. 

The two-spoke steering wheel, with its ivory-coloured buttons, is straight out the Honda e, and gorgeous.

What’s with those fancy windscreen pillars?

2020 Honda Jazz front three quarter

Instead of one big thick pillar, the Honda Jazz has two thin ones, and an enormous triangular piece of glass in between.

This difference this makes to visibility is extraordinary. You now have almost a panoramic view at junctions (a 90-degree forward view, claims Honda), and it feels much airier inside too.

Honda’s even made a styling feature of them by blending the bottom into the top of the front wing.

Does the hybrid drive work?

2020 Honda Jazz rear three quarter

The Honda e:HEV system is ingenious. We could talk at length about nerdy details, but will spare you. In practice, it creates a petrol car that drives as much as it can with the green ‘EV drive’ light in the dashboard glowing.

Because it’s primarily electric, with the petrol engine only supplying the electricity, it leaps off the line smartly. And no gearchanges means seamless acceleration until you lift off.

Two-pedal automatic is, of course standard. Just be careful not to pull the lever back into ‘B’ rather than ‘D’ (it’s surprisingly easily done): when you lift the accelerator, you’ll get more battery-charging regeneration, rather than gentle coasting. 

On twisting roads, the petrol engine runs constantly – and cleverly mimics regular automatic gearchanges, rather than wailing annoyingly away at constant revs like less sophisticated systems.

0-62mph acceleration in 9.4 seconds is gutsy on paper but it feels even stronger than this. And economy? After two hours of scooting around on mixed roads, we saw an average of 62mpg recorded. Convincing indeed. 

How well does it mimic an EV?

2020 Honda Jazz front driving

Honda research suggests at speeds between 0-25mph, the Jazz will run 86 percent of the time as an EV. Even away from city limits, more than half the time will be on electric, and it somehow manages to run 13 percent of the time as an EV even on the motorway.

It’s nice to use, too. There’s a linear response to the accelerator: press it more, and you get more surge (thanks to the electric motor’s punch), without more racket. Not always the case with small cars.

If you drive it with lead feet, the engine will roar, like in a Toyota hybrid. But most of the time, it won’t be doing this, and the silent-running advantages in town should outweigh it.

Does it feel like a £19k car to drive?

2020 Honda Jazz infotainment

The old Jazz felt cheap and bimbly. This one is more robust and substantial. It’s quieter overall, there’s less shudder from road bumps (although it’s still choppy around town) and it feels more stable and planted. It’s surprisingly good at motorway speeds, in fact. 

For a small car, it’s good: not in the same class as a fine-riding, beautifully-handling Ford Fiesta but, given its height and full focus on practicality, it’s unlikely to jar anyone stepping from another car.

Existing Honda Jazz owners are going to think all their Christmases have come at once.

2020 Honda Jazz: verdict

2020 Honda Jazz parked up rear

These days, a basic five-door Ford Fiesta with a weedy engine costs £16.5k. so from £19k for the new Honda Jazz isn’t so much of a shock, given standard hybrid and a lot of standard equipment.

The surprise will come to those lumbered with the old one, which was an authentic Jazz in terms of looks and space… but built down to a budge that made it feel cheap.

This one rectifies that. Better still, it brings in an ingenious hybrid drivetrain that really works. A worry-free electric car impersonator that you don’t even have to plug in.

With perfect practicality, a back-up-to-scratch drive and a genuinely welcoming cabin, the allure of the Honda Jazz has returned at last.  

Specs: 2020 Honda Jazz

Price from: £18,980

Power: 109hp

Torque: 186lb ft

0-62mph: 9.4 seconds

Fuel economy: 62.7mpg

CO2 emissions: 102g/km

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Porsche 911 GT3 RS (2018) review

Porsche 991.2 GT3 RSNot long ago, I had coffee with a Porsche collector. Back in the 1990s, he worked for a German tuning company, selling styling kits and engine upgrades for 911s.

Now, he explained, that once-lucrative market has almost entirely dried up. “After all, why build a go-faster Porsche when they can sell you one in the showroom?”

He has a point. When Porsche launched the ‘964’ Carrera RS in 1993, it produced 264hp – just 11hp more than the standard 911.

Granted, other mods such as lower suspension, a close-ratio gearbox and binning the rear seats had a transformative effect on the drive (and, um, the ride quality), but there was always potential for more.

Porsche 991.2 GT3 RS

I’m not sure that’s true today. This most recent Rennsport, the ‘991.2’ 911 GT3 RS, genuinely pushes the limits of possibility. It’s a racetrack refugee, a Carrera Cup race car with sat nav and number plates.

Every detail of its design has been honed for scalpel-sharp precision and performance. I doubt any aftermarket tuner could realistically offer more.

First up, there’s the engine: a 4.0-litre, naturally aspirated flat-six. It makes 520hp at 8,250rpm – 150hp more than the old 991 Carrera – and keeps on screaming until 9,000rpm. Driving through a paddleshift PDK gearbox (sorry, Porsche purists, there isn’t a manual option), it blasts to 62mph in 3.2 seconds and onto 194mph.

More tellingly, it’s also lapped the Nürburgring Nordschleife in 6min 56.4sec – a second quicker than the 899hp 918 Spyder.

Porsche 991.2 GT3 RS

There’s more to such speed than almighty grunt, of course. An in-yer-face aero package, including jutting side skirts and that towering rear wing, increases downforce by eight percent versus the 991.1 RS it replaced.

Racing-style rose-jointed suspension and bespoke rear tyres also boost cornering grip, while thinner glass, forged alloys and minimal sound deadening help shed vital kilos.

For the dedicated, an optional Weissach Pack added a carbon roof, titanium rollcage and magnesium wheels that save nearly 3kg per corner.

Still, forget what the GT3 RS can do for a moment and just look at it. In Lizard Green (the launch colour – eight other hues are available) Porsche’s press car is positively radioactive, a mutant mix of 911 and Incredible Hulk.

And its interior is scarcely more subtle: everything from the centre marker on the steering wheel to the trademark RS fabric door-pulls has been colour-coded.

Porsche 991.2 GT3 RS

Find the right road and your passenger’s face may turn a tad green, too. The RS is explosively quick and – in dry conditions at least – feels resolutely tied to the tarmac.

Spring rates are almost identical to its competition cousin, but additional helper springs take the edge off the ride. The result is sufficient suppleness for a British B-road, allied with ravenous turn-in and virtually no roll. At speed, the rear wheels turn fractionally in the same direction as the fronts, effectively shortening the car’s wheelbase and further enhancing agility.

For all its perfectly-judged poise, however, the star of the show remains aft of the rear axle. The engine’s insatiable hunger for revs is animalistic and utterly addictive. It simply keeps going… and going… until you run out of nerve or road. Or both.

The soundtrack is like nothing else, too: an uncultured clatter at idle, it escalates to a savage shriek that will sucker-punch your soul. Unlike the turbocharged GT2, you need to work for such rewards, but the GT3 RS scales heights no other 911 can reach.

Porsche 991.2 GT3 RS

If all the above sounds a bit gushing, I’ll make no apology for that. This RS is one of the finest driver’s cars of the past decade and, at £141,346, was something of a bargain when new. Good luck finding one for that price today. 

The 991 RS bowed out with a bang. Will the forthcoming 992 version measure up? We don’t have long to wait.

PRICE: £141,346 (when new)

0-62MPH: 3.2sec

TOP SPEED: 194mph

CO2 G/KM: 291

MPG COMBINED: 22.1