Our new car reviews help new car buyers research the latest models in plain English. We avoid jargon in our road tests to help you make an informed decision

Hyundai i30 Fastback N (2019) review

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

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Citroen C4 Cactus

Citroen C4 Cactus review

Citroen C4 Cactus

The Citroen C4 Cactus is an eccentric choice for family car buyers seeking a small, affordable five-door hatchback. It’s ageing, but still likeable.

For: Ride comfort, high spec, quirky cabin

Against: Some quality issues, poor infotainment, awful automatic

Verdict: The most soft-focus car in its class

Latest news: As 8 in 10 C4 Cactus customers choose the top-line Flair model anyway, Citroen has withdrawn the entry-level Feel variant. Flair also now gets standard keyless entry and front parking sensors – August 2019.

Citroen C4 Cactus

Citroen went out on a limb with the original C4 Cactus, a car as eccentric as some of its illustrious forebears.

For the 2018 update, the marque stripped away its identity, shrinking the Airbumps and imposing a more corporate look.

Still, pillowy suspension and lounge-like seats make for the most comfortable car in its class.

Elsewhere, it frustrates and delights in equal measure. Pop-out rear windows, the lack of a rev-counter and the reliance on a touchscreen for primary controls are minor irritations.

But other cabin details remain wonderfully satisfying.

Citroen C4 Cactus

The range has been slimmed to just one trim level, called Flair. There are two 1.2-litre petrol engines and a 1.5 diesel, with each one offering good performance and economy, thanks in part to low weight.

The 130hp 1.2 PureTech petrol only comes with a dimwitted automatic transmission, so steer clear.

We’d opt for a C4 Cactus Flair with the 110hp PureTech petrol and a manual gearbox.

KEY INFO

  • Launched: 2014
  • Facelifted: 2018
  • Due for replacement: 2021
  • Euro NCAP score: Four stars
  • Warranty: Three years / 60,000 miles
  • Available body styles: Hatchback
  • Alternatives: Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf, Vauxhall Astra

NEXT STEPS

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Toyota Corolla GT AE86 review: Retro Road Test

Toyota Corolla AE86If you’re part of the Playstation generation, or a fan of The Fast & the Furious, the Corolla GT surely needs little introduction. Thanks to a revvy twin-cam engine, rear-wheel drive and propensity for going very sideways indeed, this humble-looking coupe has become a cult car.

Commonly known by its AE86 factory codename, the Corolla is a now fully-paid-up modern classic – with prices to match. But does the reality live up to the legend?

What are its rivals?

The AE86 was described to me as the ‘Japanese Mk2 Escort’. And while there are certainly similarities with the Ford – family-car DNA, tail-happy handling and a motorsport pedigree – the Toyota was launched in 1983, two years after production of the Mk2 ended.

The Corolla’s most obvious rivals (then and now – given the price of classic RWD Escorts) are 1980s hot hatches, such as the Peugeot 205 GTI, Renault 5 GT Turbo and Mk2 Volkswagen Golf GTI.

Toyota Corolla GT AE86What engine does it use?

The Corolla GT has the same 125hp 1.6-litre engine as the original Toyota MR2. In a car weighing just 970kg (a new Ford Focus is 1,280kg), that means ‘warm hatch’ performance by today’s standards.

The 0-62mph dash takes 8.3 seconds and top speed is 122mph. A five-speed gearbox sends drive to the rear wheels, while suspension is by MacPherson struts at the front and an antiquated live axle at the back.

What’s it like to drive?

Despite having spent many hours racing a virtual AE86 in Gran Turismo, I was prepared to be disappointed by the real thing. Fortunately, this is one eighties throwback that lives up to the hype.

Let’s start with the twin-overhead-cam engine, which offers electric throttle response and revs all the way to 7,700rpm. It sounds fantastic, too, the noise hardening to a visceral snarl as the needle passes 4,500rpm. The Toyota isn’t fast by modern standards, but there’s ample performance here – if you’re prepared to work for it.

However, the AE86 legend was built on the drift circuit, not the drag strip. And it’s the way this car goes around corners that still gets enthusiasts excited. The unassisted steering feels wonderfully delicate, while a prod of the throttle adds some easily-controlled steer-from-the-rear.

We couldn’t make the pilgrimage to Japan’s Mount Fuji, but a few empty roundabouts near Crawley provided plenty of laugh-out-loud fun.

Toyota Corolla GT AE86Reliability and running costs

Well, it’s a Toyota, so reliability comes as standard. That said, even the youngest AE86 is now 33 years old, so careful maintenance is crucial. A strong enthusiast following – including a very active AE86 Facebook group – should help with sourcing parts.

Toyota quotes fuel economy of 31.7mpg on the urban cycle, 45.6mpg at a constant 56mph and 34.9mpg at 75mph. Don’t expect to get anywhere near those figures if you drive the car hard, though.

Could I drive it every day?

Forget all the tyre-smoking mythology for a minute, At heart, the AE86 is still a Toyota Corolla. And that makes it a genuine daily-driver. There’s ample space for four adults and a 255-litre boot (slightly smaller than a new Volkswagen Polo).

The soft, velour-trimmed seats are a world away from the hard-backed buckets you’d find in a modern hot hatch, while the rear bench splits and folds for added practicality. Despite a lack of adjustment for the steering wheel, it’s easy to get comfortable. I’d love to drive this car every day.

Toyota Corolla GT AE86How much should I pay?

The Corolla may be the best-selling car of all time, but the AE86 is a relatively rare beast. And its cult status means prices have been creeping upwards; expect to pay well into five figures for a good one.

I found just one listed in the classifieds at the time of writing, priced at £17,500. That kind of money buys a nice used Toyota GT86 – the car’s modern successor. That said, it’s still cheaper than an equivalent Mk2 Escort.

What should I look out for?

As with any car from the 1980s, rust is a potential killer. Check the wheelarches, boot floor and scuttle panel (at the base of the windscreen) for signs of rot. Uneven panel gaps are a tell-tale sign of crash damage, so inspect these carefully, too.

Remember,  these cars don’t have stability control – or any other electronic safety systems – so many will have left the road sideways at some point.

Service history could be patchy if the car has been imported from Japan. At the very least, you’ll want to see a folder full of receipts and evidence the car has been garaged.

Originality is key for preserving values, and indeed the purity of its RWD handling, so avoid modified examples if possible. And be wary of cars with interior and exterior trim missing – small parts can be difficult to source.

Toyota Corolla GT AE86Should I buy one?

That’s a tough one. I drove a selection of classic cars from Toyota’s heritage fleet, including an original MR2 and a bonkers mid-engined Aygo. Yet the AE86 was the car I wanted to take home.

It just looks so cool (especially to in-the-know petrolheads), and that analogue driving experience can’t fail to make you grin. I’d have one in my dream garage, no question.

Back in the real world, though, a nearly-new GT86 offers similar thrills with all the convenience and reliability of a modern car. And it’s a guaranteed future classic, too. Alternatively, you could pick up an original MR2 for around a third of the price. You pays your money…

Toyota Corolla GT AE86 rally carPub fact

The AE86 is nicknamed Hachi Roku – Japanese for ‘eight-six’. The car seen here was known as the Corolla Levin GT in Japan, while a version with pop-up headlights was called the Sprinter Trueno.

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Lotus Elise Cup 250 (2020) review

Last summer, I boarded a red Routemaster bus for a London sightseeing tour. Along with a handful of British hacks, the top deck was crammed with Chinese journalists and social media stars, many armed with selfie sticks.

Our final stop was the Royal Horticultural Halls near Victoria, where the Lotus Evija would be revealed. The most powerful road car ever, it heralded the rebirth of a famous but flatlining British brand. And China’s media were there because Geely – the world’s fastest-growing carmaker, based in Hangzhou – was bankrolling it.

Six months later, at Lotus HQ in deepest Norfolk, that balmy July evening seems a distant dream. The sleet is blowing sideways, lashing at the hoisted Union Jack outside Phil Popham’s office. Thankfully, the 54-year-old CEO hasn’t let the deluge dampen his spirits. “I had an Esprit on my bedroom wall as a teenager,” he tells me. “The opportunity to rejuvenate Lotus was one I couldn’t turn down.”

Popham joined Land Rover as a graduate trainee in 1988 and stayed until 2014, rising to managing director and overseeing its rise to global ubiquity.

He then turned around the fortunes of luxury yacht maker Sunseeker, before taking the top job at Lotus in 2018. All three companies have close connections with China, so Popham is no stranger to long-haul flights. His Mandarin, however, is still a work-in-progress.

Industry watchers will recall the last new dawn for Lotus. Under controversial former CEO Dany Bahar, it revealed five new concepts at the 2010 Paris Motor Show, yet none came to fruition.

Popham says this time will be different, citing the examples of Volvo and LEVC (manufacturer of the London black cab). Both have flourished under Geely ownership, without forsaking their core values. “Geely understands for a brand to be successful, it’s got to be distinct,” he continues. “Our British heritage is very important.”

The 2,000hp, £2 million electric Evija “makes a statement that Lotus is back”, but a more affordable petrol-engined sports car arrives in late 2020. Beyond that, Popham says every Lotus will be electrified (either hybrid or full EV) and new platforms, currently under development, will underpin a host of new models from 2022.

Will these include the seemingly inevitable SUV? The CEO remains tight-lipped, although he recognises Porsche, which makes most of its profit from SUVs, as “a good benchmark”.

The 2,000hp, £2 million electric Evija “makes a statement that Lotus is back”, but a more affordable petrol-engined sports car arrives in late 2020. Beyond that, Popham says every Lotus will be electrified (either hybrid or full EV) and new platforms, currently under development, will underpin a host of new models from 2022.

Will these include the seemingly inevitable SUV? The CEO remains tight-lipped, although he recognises Porsche, which makes most of its profit from SUVs, as “a good benchmark”.

After much talk about Lotus’ future, I drive home in the most tangible link to its past. The evergreen Elise, which celebrates its 24th birthday this year, is the bottom rung in the range: beneath the track-focused Exige and (slightly) more luxurious Evora.

For a not-inconsiderable £49,555, the Cup 250 boasts a 248hp Toyota engine and downforce-boosting bodykit. It also has a removable roof – although, as I swiftly discovered before reinstalling it, soft-tops and sleet aren’t a great mix.

Clamber over the huge sill (no mean feat with the roof in place) and the Lotus has the pared-back feel of a race car. Its carbon fibre seats are sparsely padded, its Momo wheel is tiny and the manual gearbox’s exposed linkage is mechanical art.

You’ll find no touchscreens or infotainment, save for a dated Sony stereo. But you won’t care, because the Elise is utterly life-affirming to drive: its supercharged motor gutsy and pleasingly gruff, its telepathic steering and nuanced chassis just sublime.

In part, simplicity is key to the Elise’s longevity. Company founder Colin Chapman’s maxim was “simplify, then add lightness” and Popham frequently uses “lightweighting” as a verb. Taking that philosophy forward in a world of tightening legislation and increasingly complicated cars will be a challenge, but I’m optimistic Lotus won’t lose sight of its roots.

“Ultimately, it’s all about the enjoyment of driving, says Popham. Amen to that.

Price: £49,555

0-60mph: 3.9sec

Top speed: 154mph

CO2 G/KM: 177

MPG combined: 36.2

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Kia Sportage long-term test

Kia Sportage 2020 long-term review

Kia Sportage long-term test

The Kia Sportage is a UK top-10 best-seller: we’re spending six months with the new 1.6-litre 48v mild hybrid diesel version to find out why it’s so popular.

Month 1 | Introduction | Specs

Living with a Kia Sportage: month 2

We’re now well into the coronavirus lockdown, so naturally the Sportage has not actually moved that much, for coming on seven weeks now. I’ve taken the odd trip to the shops in it, to stock up on essentials, but these have been short journeys. Otherwise, it’s been parked up.

What to report, then? Well, I can confirm it’s been utterly reliable, starting on the button each time. That’s not always a given when cars are not used for weeks at a time, particularly when the 20-minute road trips don’t give much time for the battery to recharge

Fuel economy remains surprising, hovering around the 40mpg mark (according to the trip computer) even in town. 

And I’ve been enjoying the panoramic glass roof on my irregular journeys, opening it fully to savour a few minutes out in the open. 

Kia Sportage long-term test

I took another opportunity to clean it too, giving it a good cleanse and sanitisation. It really does shine up beautifully, with Kia’s European plant that builds Sportage (and the Ceed family) showing a premium level of paint quality. Which, of course, has progressively since been dulled by all the pollen…

Kia Sportage long-term test

It took some doing, mind. Pre-lockdown driving had seen dirt accumulate, leaving the poor thing with almost a matt finish due to the grime. 

It was also showing up a particular beef of mine – getting your trousers muddy when you step out. That’s because the bottom of the sill catches road grime, and it’s tricky to get out without leaning against it. As evidenced by the clean and shiny patch on the sill, rubbed clean by my jeans…

Kia Sportage long-term test

Some car brands, such as Land Rover, have a solution here: wrap-around door bottoms that cover the sill, so you’ve a nice clean opening when you get in and out. Perhaps a design feature for the next generation of Sportage, Kia? 

Living with a Kia Sportage: month 1

Winter is tough on cars. When the Sportage arrived, it was a little grubby, so I cleaned it that very weekend. Within two weekday sessions of commuting, it was filthy again. The licence plate in particular seems to get dirty quickly, perhaps due to some mysterious effect of aerodynamics. 

Kia Sportage long-term test

Because the reverse camera is mounted above the licence plate, this too quickly gets grimey, so you can’t seem much when you’re reversing. Luckily it has bleepers as well as the video feed. Even so, maybe Kia should investigate Nissan’s clever tech, which uses a high-pressure jet of air to keep rear-view cameras clean and dry. 

I haven’t been doing much in the Sportage other than commuting. That at least has given me chance to see how fuel-efficient modern diesels can be. In this case, it’s commendable. My best is 58 mpg, and over 55 mpg is easily achieved.

Kia Sportage long-term test

I committed the cardinal sin of dashing to the supermarket the other day, which is barely a mile away (my excuse: I was picking up loads of heavy items I’d have no chance of carrying on my own). Even this, despite running on cold, showed a short-term average of 40 mpg. 

The glorious byproduct of this, as any long-distance commuter knows, is fewer visits to the filling station, because the range on each tankful is so healthy. I see well over 500 miles each time I fill up: as I hate filling up (roll on electric cars), this is a huge win in my book. 

Kia Sportage long-term test

I now look forward to the winter weather easing, so I can see exactly how fuel-efficient the updated Sportage diesel is. Reckon a 60 mpg commute is possible? If it means being able to escape the filling station for another day, I’m certainly eager to give it a go…

Kia Sportage: introduction

The Kia Sportage is an extremely popular new car in the UK. A regular top 10 best-seller, it is our third-favourite SUV of all – outselling models such as the Volkswagen Tiguan, Honda CR-V and Peugeot 3008. 

Last year, over 34,000 of them found homes, continuing its track record of success. So we’ve decided to run one as a daily driver, to see why so many tens of thousands of people buy a new one each year. 

Now is an interesting time to do so, because of the spec we’ve chosen. We’ve gone for… diesel, which until just a few years ago, was the default choice for vehicles such as this. But then dieselgate happened and, well, you know the rest. 

2020 Kia Sportage long-term test

But diesel still makes sense for vehicles like this chunky-looking family SUV. Sure, we could have gone for the 1.6-litre turbo petrol; we’d have 174hp to enjoy, and an £800 saving on the list price to boot. 

Instead, we picked the 1.6 CRDi, with a less thrilling-sounding 134hp, and a price tag in ‘4’ trim of £28,510. Why? Average quoted fuel economy of 55.4 mpg instead of 36.7 mpg, along with CO2 emissions of 114 g/km instead of 168 g/km. 

That latter point is particularly relevant given how the UK new car fleet’s average CO2 emissions have been going the wrong way for three years now. Which coincides with, yes, the drive away from diesel. 

With the latest Euro 6 diesels clean enough to be exempt from any current or planned clean air zone restrictions (they’re clean enough for the London ULEZ, for example), there’s no sound reason not to choose diesel, and plenty going for it. So diesel it is.

Do you think we’ve made a mistake? Discuss in the comments below…

48v mild hybrid tech

2020 Kia Sportage long-term test

Kia hasn’t stood still. This latest Sportage (it was facelifted in 2018) uses a new 1.6-litre CRDi U3 diesel engine, rather than the clattery old 1.7-litre. It has NOx-reducing SCR tech, plus the surprise added extra of 48v mild hybrid technology (depicted by the ‘EcoDynamics+’ badge on the tailgate). 

This comprises a 0.44 kWh lithium ion battery and a clever starter-generator. The idea is to extend the stop-start engine-off period – shutting the engine down when, say, you’re rolling to a halt, instead of waiting until you’ve stopped. 

Kia reckons it will reduce emissions by 4 percent, a small but useful real-world saving. It also means there’s no annoying starter motor whirr when the engine restarts: it simply ‘comes alive’. 

For an added bonus, electricity from the lithium ion battery can also be used to ‘boost’ the engine under acceleration, reducing the load and further cutting emissions. Such mild hybrid tech will be coming to growing numbers of cars during 2020 and I’m looking forward to seeing how it fares in everyday use. 

2020 Kia Sportage long-term test

Other niceties of picking the ‘4’ grade (the poshest non-sport trim you can get) is a marvellous amount of standard equipment. Standouts include the ultra-bright LED headlights, heated soft leather seats, and an excellent JBL premium audio system which has its own subwoofer and external amp. 

We recently commented it felt like ages since we’d spent quality time in a diesel. Such is the way of the new car market at the moment. But I do believe it still has its place, particularly for the sort of long-distance, high-mileage driving I do. 

Come back in a few weeks to find out if I’ve fallen back in love with diesel after a few thousand miles in Kia’s best-seller…

Specs: Kia Sportage 1.6 CRDi 48v 4

Engine: 1.6 CRDi 48v mild hybrid diesel

Power: 134hp

0-62mph: 10.8 seconds

Top speed: 112mph

Fuel consumption: 47.9mpg combined

CO2: 114g/km

Weight: 1,609kg

Length: 4,495mm

Width: 1,855mm

Height: 1,645mm

Fuel tank capacity: 55 litres

Spec highlights

  • 19-inch alloy wheels
  • Panoramic glass sunroof
  • Heated electric leather seats
  • Heated rear seats
  • LED headlights
  • Rear privacy glass
  • 8-inch touchscreen
  • JBL premium sound system
  • 360-degree parking camera
  • Cruise control

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BMW M3 CSL review: Retro Road Test

BMW M3 CSL (2004) review: Retro Road Test

BMW M3 CSL review: Retro Road TestThe BMW M3 CSL sounds like nothing else I’ve driven. Its baritone blare builds to a surround-sound DTM wail as air is sucked through its carbon manifold then spat out through quad exhausts. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.

Soundtrack aside, there’s little to distinguish the Coupe Sports Leichtbau from a standard E46 M3. Only the cognoscenti will spot the bespoke 19-inch alloys and subtle lip spoiler.

This is no badge-engineered special edition, though: BMW tuned the engine to 360hp, fitted a quicker steering rack, stiffened the chassis, beefed up the brakes and stripped out 110kg of weight.

Does that make a used CSL worth five times the value of an equivalent standard M3? That’s what I’m here to find out.

What are its rivals?BMW M3 CSL review: Retro Road Test

The CSL’s closest rival is perhaps the Porsche 911 GT3. Both have a track-focused ethos and are fully-paid-up modern classics.

The 996 (1999-2005) and 997 (2006-2011) iterations of GT3 cost similar money to a CSL: £50,000 upwards. The hardcore GT3 RS strays well into six figures, though.

Prefer a sledgehammer to a scalpel? The Mercedes CLK63 AMG Black is a few dollars more, while early examples of Nissan’s formidable GT-R nudge £30,000.

Don’t forget the 420hp ‘B7’ Audi RS4, too – yours from just £12,000. 

What engine does it use?BMW M3 CSL review: Retro Road Test

Cloaked in carbon and squeezed beneath a strut brace, the CSL’s 3.2-litre six is something quite special.

Power is upped from 343hp to 360hp at a heady 7,900rpm, with a modest 273lb ft of torque at 4,900rpm. Yes, this engine needs – no, demands – to be worked hard.

Find an autobahn and the uber-M3 will hit 62mph in 4.7 seconds (0.4 seconds quicker than standard) and a top speed of 161mph.

Controversially, the CSL was never offered with a manual gearbox. All cars had a quicker-shifting version of BMW’s SMG semi-automatic, which allows sequential manual changes via the lever or steering wheel paddles.

What’s it like to drive?BMW M3 CSL review: Retro Road Test

Based on a 3 Series, the M3 is already a fairly practical performance car. And while the CSL doesn’t thumb its nose at such matters – it has rear seats and a decent boot, while air-con and a radio were options – it isn’t a car I’d want to drive every day.

The ride is very firm, for starters: more akin to a tightly-damped GT3 than a regular M3. And the lack of sound deadening puts your ears under constant assault from wind noise, tyre roar and, of course, that freer-breathing straight-six.

Around town, it feels like a caged animal, the ageing SMG ’box venting its frustration with occasionally clunky shifts.

All of that is soon forgotten once you find the right road, though. With no turbo to spool up, throttle response is instant, the engine exploding to 8,000rpm, the gearbox banging each ratio home by brute force.

For all its straight-line performance, it’s the CSL’s handling that elevates it to legend status. The last car I drove that felt so tied-down yet adjustable was a Porsche Cayman GT4. High praise indeed for a BMW first launched in 2003.

The steering is sublime, too, while the chunky Alcantara-wrapped wheel and snug glassfibre buckets add to the road-legal-racer vibe.

Reliability and running costsBMW M3 CSL review: Retro Road Test

Official fuel economy for the E46 CSL is just 23.7mpg, although you’ll be lucky to see mid-teens if you drive one hard.

Likewise, CO2 emissions of 287g/km mean annual car tax (VED) of £580. Consumables, such as tyres, clutches and brake pads, are expensive too.

On the plus side, the engine – including its Vanos variable valve timing – is reliable if properly serviced. And there are plenty of specialists that cater for M cars, usually with lower labour rates than BMW dealerships.

Could I drive it every day?BMW M3 CSL review: Retro Road Test

A CSL is a bit like a Jagerbomb: stimulating and intoxicating, but you wouldn’t want one for breakfast.

As I mentioned previously, it’s a bit too single-minded for commuting or ferrying the kids to school. This is a special car best saved for special occasions.

The ideal place to experience a CSL, of course, is on-track. But I suspect very few still see action on circuits: more likely they are tucked up in air-conditioned garages. Such is the fate of the appreciating classic car.

How much should I pay?BMW M3 CSL review: Retro Road Test

Appreciating? You bet. Paul Michaels, Chairman of Hexagon Classics, says CSL values shot up in 2016, although they have stabilised since.

“You’ll pay between £40k and £50k for a car with high miles,” he told me in 2017, “but the best examples are close to £100k”. The same is broadly true today.

A total of 1,400 M3 CSLs were built, including 422 right-hand-drive cars for the UK. Only two colours were offered: Black Sapphire Metallic and Silver Grey Metallic, but black is rarer and thus worth slightly more.

What should I look out for?BMW M3 CSL review: Retro Road Test

Let’s defer once again to Paul Michaels, who sold BMWs for 46 years. “Service history is absolutely vital,” he says. “Values have increased, but it still isn’t economical to spend large sums restoring them. You could throw a lot of money at a bad CSL.”

Check the service indicator lights on the dashboard aren’t illuminated and scour the paperwork. The car should have had its first oil-change at 1,000 miles, followed by intermediate (Inspection 1) and major (Inspection 2) services at annual intervals. The Inspection 2 includes a valve clearance check: missing it could result in Vanos problems.

One well-known M3 issue, not unique to the CSL, is a cracked boot floor – caused by wear in the subframe mounts. If caught early, it’s a minor repair, but once the floor is damaged, the only option is to weld in a new one: a minimum of £1,500.

Parts are still available, but CSL-specific items, such as the carbon front bumper, can be frighteningly expensive.

Remember, originality is key to future value, so check bodywork and interior trim carefully. And steer clear of cars with aftermarket modifications.

Should I buy one?BMW M3 CSL review: Retro Road Test

On paper, the CSL doesn’t stack up. You could have 90 percent as much fun in an E46 M3 for 20 percent of the price.

However, the most iconic M Power BMWs have followed the lead of Porsches and rocketed in value. And that makes the CSL – arguably the greatest M3 of all – a potentially savvy investment.

Still, let’s forgot money and talk about the car. When the oil has run dry and we’re all moving from A to B in autonomous electric pods, the CSL will be looked upon wistfully as a legendary driver’s car. It hard-wires itself into your head like a craniotomy, leaving your mouth dry, palms damp and soul stirred.

If that sounds like hyperbole, so be it. Perhaps I’ve been swept up in the CSL’s almighty sound and fury. Ultimately, I think the lack of a manual gearbox would steer me towards a Porsche 996 GT3.

Nonetheless, the CSL has earned its place in my dream garage.

Pub factBMW M3 CSL review: Retro Road Test

The 2005-2006 M3 CS cherry-picks some of CSL’s best bits for less than half the price. These include the steering rack, brakes and springs, plus a slightly wider version of those gorgeous alloys. Pay £25,000 for a good one.

Paul Michaels also tipped the BMW Z4 M Coupe as one to watch: “Just look at what’s happened to values of the Z3 M Coupe,” he says.

“Classic BMWs don’t get the recognition they deserve at the moment, but I think that will change.”

Steeda Q500 Enforcer

Steeda Ford Mustang Q500 review: brawn in the USA

Steeda Q500 EnforcerSteeda has made America’s Fords go faster since 1988. Now, the Florida-based company has brought its modified Mustangs to the UK. Meet the Steeda Q500 Enforcer.

Its name may evoke Blade Runner or Robocop, but there’s nothing particularly futuristic about the Q500. This tuned Mustang is defiantly old-school, with a 5.0-litre V8 upfront, more torque than traction and an exhaust rumble to rouse the dead.

That all sounds very, very cool, particularly if – like me – you were raised on a diet of Bruce Springsteen records. “Well, the night’s busting open, these two lanes will take us anywhere,” sang The Boss on Thunder Road. But does his American dream still work in suburban Surrey?

Steeda Q500 Enforcer

In dark Magnetic Grey on 20-inch rims, the Steeda reeks of subtle menace. Broad of shoulder and square of jaw, it looks every inch the modern muscle car.

Cosmetic changes are limited to a front splitter, illuminated sill kickplates, a duck tail spoiler and ‘STEEDA’ lettering across the tailgate. The Velgen alloys are another US import, filling-out the Mustang’s ample haunches and wearing Ferrari-specific Michelin Pilot Sport rubber.

The car rides on adjustable suspension with beefed-up anti-roll bars and a front strut brace. Its set-up was developed at Steeda’s test-track in Valdosta, Georgia, so the firm promises good handling despite that semi-slammed stance.

Video: Steeda Q500 Enforcer on the road

Under the bonnet, Ford’s venerable V8 is treated to a cold-air intake system, ECU tweaks and a freer-flowing exhaust. The net result is an extra 64hp and 94lb ft of torque, totalling 480hp and 485lb ft overall.

Steeda doesn’t publish performance figures, but I reckon you could knock half a second off the standard Mustang’s 4.8sec to 62mph.

If you buy one new, the Q500 starts at around £53,000 – £10,000 more than a Mustang GT. A more afforable Q350 model, based on the four-cylinder Ecoboost-engined Mustang, costs £6,000 for the conversion or roughly £44,000 for a complete car.

There’s also a flagship Q850 kit, offering 850 wild horses for £36,000 (or £80,000 all-in). More on that later…

Steeda Q500 Enforcer

Like a Hollywood blockbuster or a supersized Coke, the Mustang has always offered lots of muscle for your money. Choose a Mercedes-AMG C63 Coupe with similar performance (and a soundtrack that’s almost as bombastic) and you’d be at least £13,000 lighter.

The Ford’s cabin is, however, where those cost-savings make themselves known. There’s nothing wrong with it as such, but the quality of plastics won’t keep Stuttgart awake at night and the touchscreen media system feels dated.

The wide, flat seats (designed for supersized Americans?) don’t offer much support either. I’d be tempted to fit the optional Ford Racing Recaros.

Steeda Q500 Enforcer

Steeda’s mods are minimal, but cover the main touch-points for the driver. There’s a lovely, smaller-diameter Alcantara steering wheel from the Mustang Shelby GT350R, plus a neat eight-ball gearknob.

Standard equipment on all Mustang V8s includes xenon headlights, electric seats, climate control air-con, DAB radio, cruise control and a reversing camera. Sat nav and parking sensors cost extra, as part of the Custom Pack.

It’s hard to don my road-test hat and write a reasoned review of the Steeda Q500. For starters, it’s hardly a rational car: nobody actually needs 480hp, and you can expect fuel economy in the low teens if you drive it hard.

More pertinently, though, every time I press the start button I find myself making an involuntary oooof noise and smirking like a schoolboy who’s just dodged detention.

Inhaling and exhaling through Steeda pipes, the Ford V8 is absurdly, magnificently epic.

Steeda Q500 Enforcer

At idle, it rumbles with the mighty intensity of shifting tectonic plates, while full-bore acceleration sounds like a WW2 bomber strafing the high street. Your neighbours may file for an ASBO, but anyone with a drop of petrol in their veins will be utterly besotted.

As you’d expect, the engine’s defining characteristic is torque. It’ll cruise comfortably at 30mph in fifth gear, and the long ratios of the six-speed manual ’box allow relaxed progress if you’re not in a ‘Steve McQueen’ sort of mood.

Put the hammer down and the Mustang feels properly quick, albeit not quite as head-spinning as its nigh-on-500hp output suggests. Blame the gearbox, perhaps, and a portly 1.7-tonne kerb weight.

Steeda Q500 Enforcer

With so little space under its wheelarches, the Q500’s ride is firm and fidgety around town. It soon smoothes out with speed, though, and the suspension can be adjusted for greater pliancy.

The additional roll stiffness means it turns in more eagerly than a regular Mustang V8, and, while it’s still no BMW M4 when it comes to poise or steering feedback, it feels like a machine you can grab by the scruff and enjoy without fear of the chassis biting back.

If you really want to upset your neighbours, you can, of course, use the Mustang’s standard Line-Lock function. This holds the front brakes, allowing you to spin the rear tyres up into a smokey burnout – a task the Q500 manages with hilarious ease. 

Steeda Q500 Enforcer

It wasn’t just Springsteen who eulogised the Mustang. From Wilson Pickett’s Mustang Sally to Vanilla Ice rollin’ in his five-point-oh, the Ford is an icon – as American as Oprah, corn dogs and NASCAR.

The Q500 Enforcer builds on the strengths of the Mustang V8 without ruining the basic recipe. It looks and sounds fabulous, but unlike some tuner cars we’ve tried, it isn’t too extreme for the road. The modifications feel well-resolved and worthwhile.

God knows, this car isn’t perfect. I’d be keen to dial a little more softness into the suspension – even if that means raising the ride height – and I do wonder if I could live with the sheer volume of that exhaust every day. But if muscle cars are your thing, and you want one that’s exciting, exclusive and right-hand-drive, the Q500 Enforcer is the real deal.

– POSTSCRIPT –

After this Mustang did the rounds of UK journalists, it returned to Steeda and was beefed up to Q750 Streetfighter spec. That means – you guessed it – 750bhp, or (760 metric horsepower), plus more exclusivity than any supercar: it’s the only one in Europe. 

The Streetfighter is now for sale via Philip Ireland Performance Cars for £49,995 – arguably good value for a fast Ford that outguns a McLaren 720S. Just remember to keep something back for replacement rear tyres. 

Still want more? The Q750 has since been superseded by the even-more-insane Q850 and, once the lockdown lifts, I’ll be pestering Steeda to drive one. Watch this space.

Thank you to Adrian Flux for insuring the Steeda Q500 Enforcer. 

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Rolls-Royce Cullinan (2020) review

Rolls-Royce Cullinan

Admit it: you’ve made your mind up about the Cullinan already. I know I had. Rolls-Royce’s first SUV has proved more divisive than a certain referendum in 2016.

Even if I proclaimed it the best car in the world – and in some respects, it probably is – the naysayers among you won’t budge. Luckily, we’ve all had enough of experts. Ahem.

Rolls-Royce always maintains its cars don’t have any competitors, and in the Cullinan’s case that’s true. At £100,000 more than a Bentley Bentayga W12 or fully-loaded Range Rover SVAutobiography, it exists in a rarefied super-SUV stratosphere all its own.

It will boldly go where no Rolls has gone before, too. Such all-terrain capability matters in Russia, China and the Middle East: all key markets for the Cullinan.

I’m not a fan of its slab-sided styling, but nothing this side of a Chieftain tank has more rear-view-mirror presence. That imposing ‘Parthenon’ grille is framed by laser headlights and a bonnet that sits proud of the front wings, not unlike like an early Land Rover.

At the sides, ‘coach’ doors open from the middle, providing a widescreen view of the opulent interior, while the horizontally split tailgate – which Rolls calls ‘The Clasp’ – offers a perch for impromptu picnics (bring your own Bollinger).

Rolls-Royce Cullinan

Under the skin, the Cullinan shares much with the flagship Rolls-Royce Phantom, including its aluminium spaceframe chassis, eight-speed auto transmission and twin-turbo 6.75-litre V12. The latter musters 571hp and a titanic 627lb ft of torque, enough to launch this 2,660kg land-yacht to 62mph in 5.2 seconds.

Four-wheel steering and 48-volt active anti-roll bars assist in the corners, while variable-height air suspension and an ‘Everywhere’ mode – which automatically adapts to mud, wet grass, gravel, ruts or snow – are on-hand if the car park at Pangbourne gets slippery.

My week was largely spent on the M25, and the furthest I ventured off-road was mounting a kerb. So we’ll have to take that promised rough-terrain prowess as read.

Suffice to say, nothing makes a busy motorway more palatable than a Cullinan. Pillowy-soft and whisper-quiet, it even shrugged off the concrete Surrey section. With Eleanor, the silver-plated Spirit of Ecstasy, acting as my spiritual sat nav, I felt utterly imperious.

Frankly, there’s no more pleasant place to waste time in traffic either. The Cullinan’s cabin is a hermetically-sealed cocoon of leather, wood and polished metal, and quality is second-to-none. I was tempted to drive barefoot, simply to bury my toes in the deep-pile lambswool carpets.

It’s genuinely practical, too, with ample cubbyholes and cupholders, water-resistant leather on the dashboard and doors, plus a rear bench seat that folds flat – a first for Rolls-Royce. Leave the kids at home and you could chuck a couple of mountain bikes back there.

Rolls-Royce Cullinan

On regular roads, you’re always conscious of the Cullinan’s sheer size, but body control is iron-fisted and it rarely loses its composure. Ultimately, though, it prefers not to be rushed (“A sport mode? Don’t be silly, dear – this is a Rolls-Royce”), and you’ll feel the same, enjoying the fingertip-light steering, seamless gearshifts and knife-through-butter V12.

Only in tight spaces around town can piloting a Cullinan become stressful; I was very thankful for the suite of surround-view cameras and sensors.

Changed your mind? I thought not. For many, the Cullinan will forever be too ostentatious, too arriviste: the Rolls-Royce most likely to be seen on Instagram.

Put such preconceptions to one side, though, and you’ll discover the finest SUV on sale, one that transcends mere transport and makes every journey a special event. Even a stop-start commute on the M25.

Price: £252,000

0-62mph: 5.2sec

Top speed: 155mph

CO2 G/KM: 341

MPG combined: 18.8

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Ford Focus RS

Ford Focus RS (2002): Retro Road Test

Ford Focus RSSo, it’s official: Ford has canned the fourth-generation Focus RS. Apparently, the car would require a hybrid drivetrain to keep fleet CO2 emissions down, or Ford risks heavy fines from the EU.

Sadly, for a low-volume model like the RS, the cost of investment simply doesn’t stack up.

That leaves the 280hp ST as the flagship of the Focus range. It’s talented hot hatch, as my review concluded last year:

The ST needs to tick a lot of boxes. It has to work as a daily driver, a school-run shuttle, a family holdall – and it does all of those with a similar breadth of abilities to the benchmark Golf GTI. 

…but it lacks the raw excitement and, well, focus of the RS. The time feels right to revisit the rowdy original.


Even today, few family cars drive better than the original 1998 Ford Focus. With its clever Control Blade rear suspension, this humble hatchback out-handled some sports cars.

Opinions of the first Focus RS, though, are more mixed. Launched in 2002, some rate it as one of the greatest fast Fords ever. Others, meanwhile, dismiss it as a torque-steering tearaway.

We borrowed Focus RS number 0001 of 4,501 cars made fresh from Ford’s heritage fleet to decide who is right.

What are its rivals?

Mitsubishi Evo

The Focus is a front-wheel-drive hatchback, yet its most obvious in-period rivals – the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo (pictured) and Subaru Impreza WRX – were four-wheel-drive saloons. Both offer more oomph and, special editions aside, are cheaper to buy second-hand. However, neither is likely to appreciate in value like the Ford.

Fancy something more civilised? Consider the Audi S3 or Volkswagen Golf R32. These four-wheel-drive Germans outgun the Focus in terms of horsepower, but not driving thrills.

What engine does it use?

Ford Focus RS

The Ford’s 2.0-litre turbocharged engine drives through a five-speed manual gearbox.

Peak power of 212hp arrives at 5,500rpm, with maximum torque of 229lb ft from a useful 3,500rpm. The 0-60mph dash takes 5.9sec and top speed is 143mph.

ALSO READ: Ford Focus RS M520 (2020) review

To tame those wild horses, Ford used a Quaife torque-biasing differential. It works by diverting twist to the opposite front wheel if wheelspin is detected, improving traction and agility – at the expense of some refinement. And on that topic…

What’s it like to drive?

Ford Focus RS

That mechanical front diff is essentially a sticking plaster – a solution to the absence of four-wheel drive. But it defines the character of the RS more than any other component, giving it a ravenous appetite for corners.

Find a B-road and car turns in with eager immediacy, the wheel writhing between your palms. Then the diff starts to bite, hauling it around like an arm hooked around a lamp post. It’s pointy and purposeful.

In line with its reputation, the RS also quite physical and more than a little unruly. There’s torque steer, some turbo lag and plenty of whooshy wastegate noise. But we’re inclined to see these traits as part of car’s character, rather than faults to be ironed-out  

A 212hp output is merely Fiesta ST territory now. But the 1,278kg RS is a fast car and, believe me, it still feels like one.

Reliability and running costs

Ford Focus RS

Fuel economy of 27.9mpg won’t impress your neighbours in their Focus 1.0 Ecoboost. But rebut any comments with a gentle reminder that, as your car increases in value, theirs is plummeting.

Service and maintenance costs should be manageable (this is a Ford, after all), but custom RS-specific body panels mean accident or rust-related repairs can be expensive.

Reliability will largely depend on how the car has been driven. Sounds obvious, but some will have been pampered, while others will have been thrashed (and possibly crashed).

Could I drive it every day?

Ford Focus RS

Wrestling the RS along a country road can be tiring. If you want to ‘make progress’, the car makes you work for it.  

At anything less than eight-tenths, though, it calms down and does a passable impression of an ordinary vanilla Focus. The ride on 18-inch OZ Racing alloys is firm, but not hyperactive like a Fiesta ST.  

Also practicality is a match for any mid-size hatchback save for the three-door-only body (ironically, the Mk3 Focus RS only came with five doors).

There are aren’t many classics you could comfortably commute in, but the Focus certainly ticks that box. Shame the number of Mk1 RS daily-drivers is dwindling fast, as owners eye-up the car’s investment potential.

How much should I pay?

Ford Focus RS

Just less than half the Mk1s built came to the UK, so you may find cheaper left-hand-drive examples from Europe in the classifieds. For a RHD UK car, prices currently start at around £15,000, although the best examples stretch beyond £20,000.

For that price, you could also consider the MK2 RS, which is faster and even better to drive. However, it’s also more common (with 11,500 made) and arguably less exciting.

ALSO READ: Why the Ford Focus RS is already a modern classic

Then there’s the Mk3 version, which adds four-wheel drive and yet more power to the mix. Like its predecessors, it’s one of the defining performance cars of its era. Here’s a snippet from my 2016 review:

Ford has kept us waiting a long time for this car, but it doesn’t disappoint. It’s something quite special, a genuinely five-star hot hatch that takes its place alongside the Fiesta ST, Escort Cosworth and other notable fast Fords in the pantheon of greats.

What should I look out for?

Ford Focus RS

If anything, the Mk1 RS is over-engineered. Mechanical components, including the engine and Quaife differential, are tough, but that shouldn’t stop you insisting on a fully-documented service history.

Ensure the cambelt has been changed at least once, preferably well in advance of the recommended 100,000-mile interval, and don’t dismiss cars with an additional non-standard intercooler – it can help prolong the life of the engine. Steer clear of any mods aiming at boosting power output, though. Winding up the turbo boost is a recipe for lots of lag and lots of trouble.

Check those unique RS body panels carefully, as some are becoming hard to source. Peer under the wheelarches for signs of rust where the bodykit meets the metal and look for uneven panel gaps due to crash damage.

Don’t forget to check all the RS-specific interior bits, such as the two-tone steering wheel and Sparco gearknob, are also present and correct. That garish blue trim might look a bit ‘Halfords’, but it’s an important part of the car’s identity. Remember, originality is key when it comes to value.

Should I buy one?

Ford Focus RS

Speaking of value, fast Fords are always in demand and, in theory, this longer-term gain in the car’s worth can be offset against the cost of running one. Bear in mind, however, that nothing is guaranteed, so I’d buy a Focus RS to drive and enjoy – with any rise in value a welcome bonus.

Despite my initial misgivings, the Focus RS won me over with its old-school hot hatch charm. Handing back the keys, I ached for more time behind the wheel.

For my money, the Ford Racing Puma from the same era feels even more special. But the added performance and practicality of the Focus would swing it for many.

Pub fact

Ford Focus RS

The Mk1 RS was an effective halo car, but Ford lost money on every one sold. The exact amount is uncertain; internet forums (always, ahem, a reliable source) suggest anything between £4,000 and £6,000 per car.

This hole in the balance sheet is one reason the later Mk3 Focus RS (seen here) didn’t have custom body panels and shared a higher percentage of parts with the standard car. Ford execs insisted that even the RS must be profitable in its own right. 

It’s a terrible shame that a new Focus RS apparently wouldn’t be.

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Mercedes-AMG GT 63S 4-Door (2020) review

Mercedes-AMG GT63S

Pity the poor Mercedes-Benz salesperson. The world’s oldest car company lists no fewer than 33 separate models on its UK website, from A-Class hatchback to S-Class limousine. Factor in engines, trim levels and optional extras, and the list of potential combinations is… a lot.

Such bountiful choice results in overlap between many models, too. Want a small, swoopy-looking saloon? Pick from the A-Class saloon and CLA. Want a large swoopy-looking saloon? Step forward the CLS and AMG GT 4-Door.

The latter car – which I’ve been driving this week – is a conundrum in its own right. Named after the AMG GT supercar, it shares its platform with the E-Class and CLS. Oh, and it actually has five doors. Go figure.

If all that sounds more confusing than the beer menu at Oktoberfest, the result is something quite spectacular. This four-seat family car (of sorts) has more power than a McLaren F1. Driving all four wheels via a nine-speed auto ’box, its 639hp twin-turbo V8 delivers 0-62mph in 3.2sec and nigh-on 200mph. You could lose your licence and end up behind bars without getting beyond third gear.

A rippled bonnet and Hannibal Lecter grille endow the 4-Door with formidable rear-view-mirror presence, although it’s less athletic from other angles. Inside is where it really makes a statement, with widescreen digital displays, a jutting centre console, animated switch graphics and 64-colour ambient lighting.

At night, my car’s cabin was bathed in neon pink and purple, an effect somewhere between Blade Runner and a seedy German strip club. Or how I imagine such an establishment, at least. Ahem.

No question, though, this is one of the best interiors of any new car – even for passengers sat in the two sculpted rear seats (a three-person bench is optional). Mercedes has finally trumped arch-rival Audi at its own game, blending daring design with build quality to shame the Berlin Wall. The only disappointment is the new touchpad interface for the media system, which replaces a vastly more intuitive clickwheel. Try changing a playlist at your peril.

Thankfully, the blood-and-thunder V8 is all the soundtrack you need. It exhales through four tailpipes with a belligerent bellow, piling on speed with psychotic intensity. Throttle response feels exuberant and there’s ample four-wheel-drive traction, backed up by belt-and-braces suite of active safety systems.

Navigate several sub-menus and the daring/deranged can also select Drift Mode, which effectively makes the car rear-wheel drive. I had stern words with my inner hooligan and left well alone.

Mercedes-AMG GT63S

I suspect few cars could devour a derestricted Autobahn quite like a GT 63S. However, it’s also agile and engaging at sensible speeds, helped by precise steering and a keen chassis. Around town, the rear wheels turn in the opposite direction to the fronts to aid manoeuvrability, then in faster corners all four wheels swivel in the same direction to improve stability.

There’s also selection of drive modes from Comfort to Race, with numerous configurations in-between. Mercedes-Benz does like offering choice, after all.

Apart from its £135,615 cost and 22.1mpg thirst (low teens if you enjoy yourself), the only downside here is the restless ride. Three-chamber active air suspension quashes body-roll, keeping the car poised and planted, but the pay-off is a fidgety feel at odds with the ‘GT’ side of the AMG’s character. If you want comfort, both the CLS and S-Class fit the bill better.

The AMG GT 4-door, though, defies such level-headed logic. A Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid is more rounded and no less rapid. And, if you can sacrifice two doors, the Bentley Continental GT is even more louche and luxurious. Yet for sheer chutzpah, nothing tops the bombastic AMG. Here’s one car that sells itself.

Price: £135,615

0-62mph: 3.2sec

Top speed: 196mph

CO2 G/KM: 257

MPG combined: 21.4-22.1

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