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

Mercedes-AMG A35 (2020) review

Mercedes-Benz AMG A35

The hot hatch has reached boiling point. Mercedes recently revealed a new AMG A45 S, with the most powerful four-cylinder engine ever.

Its scorching 416hp bests a 288 GTO – Ferrari’s mid-1980s poster car – in a game of Top Trumps, meaning 0-62mph in less than four seconds.

A supercar-slaying hatchback was unthinkable back in 1974, when the Simca 1100 Ti first screeched into showrooms. Arguably the origin of the species, it eked out 82hp from a 1.3-litre twin-carb engine – good for 60mph in 12 seconds.

The 110hp Volkswagen Golf GTI debuted soon afterwards, bringing power to the people like never before, hotly pursued by the 128hp Peugeot 205 1.9 GTI. By 1992, the Ford Escort RS Cosworth mustered a mighty 227hp, on par with a contemporary Porsche 911.

Today, even the lowliest Golf GTI outguns the classic Cossie, while outputs beyond 300hp are routine. Yet the horsepower race has, ironically, left a gap for something (slightly) more sensible. Meet the Mercedes-AMG A35, which slots below the ballistic A45 as Affalterbach’s entry-level offering. Could it be all the hot hatch you really need?

Mercedes-Benz AMG A35

Let’s start with the spec: a 306hp turbocharged four-pot, seven-speed paddle-shift transmission and four-wheel drive. The suspension has solid mounts to sharpen response, tyres are bespoke 19-inch Pirelli P Zeros and the four-piston brakes are borrowed from the A45.

Our car also sported the AMG Style bodykit, with motorsport-style canards sprouting from the front bumper, a high-rise rooftop wing and a functional rear diffuser. I’d save the £2,595, choose a subtle paint colour and go incognito.

Wild or mild, the A35 actually looks best from the inside. This is hands-down the classiest cabin of any hot hatch, with superb quality and game-changing tech. Highlights include two giant widescreen displays, ‘augmented reality’ sat nav that overlays directions onto a video feed from the front-facing camera, plus a voice control system that responds when you say “Hey Mercedes”.

There’s a caveat, though: most of this must-have kit costs extra. You’re even asked £495 for Apple Carplay and Android Auto phone connectivity. The £35,580 base price of our A35 had swollen to £43,660 by the time options were factored in.

If you hoped for a headstrong hooligan in the mould of AMG’s V8 models, you may be disappointed. This is a point-and-squirt sort of car, with punchy power delivery, snappy twin-clutch shifts and all-wheel traction.

Select Sport or Sport+ modes and more torque is diverted to the rear wheels, yet the chassis remains planted rather than playful. More ‘Golf R’ than ‘Type R’, in other words.

Mercedes-Benz AMG A35

Much of the time, that slight detachment is welcome, making the A35 comfortable and easy to live with. Unlike some cars of its ilk (here’s looking at you, Renault Megane RS), it doesn’t constantly shout about how sporty it is. Occasionally, you may wish for a malleability and a magic that isn’t quite there – perhaps a less civilised soundtrack, too. But you’ll rarely hanker for more speed.

On British B-roads, most drivers this side of Lewis Hamilton will cover ground more confidently – and likely more quickly – in this baby Benz than AMG’s flagship GT supercar.

Mercedes has pitched the A35 perfectly. It’s not madcap enough to overshadow the A45, nor is it too sober to justify an AMG badge.

Like the now-ubiquitous Golf R, it serves up driving fun, practicality and car-park kudos in a well-rounded package. It’s a car for the North Coast 500 and the North Circular. And that, surely, is what hot hatchbacks were all about in the first place.

Price: £35,580

0-60mph: 4.7 secs

Top speed: 155mph

CO2 G/KM: 169

MPG combined: 38.7

Mercedes-AMG A35: in pictures

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Ford Lotus Cortina TV star reunited with owner 40 years on

We reunite TV star Lotus Cortina with its overjoyed owner

Ford Lotus Cortina TV star reunited with owner 40 years onSome people remember names, others never forget a face. A select few of us even recall our online passwords. Rob Jones, though, has an uncanny memory for car number plates. Hey, we all need a party trick.

Rob knows the registration marks of every car he’s ever owned, from the MG Midget he bought after passing his test to the Seat Leon Cupra he drives today. And one of those remembered registrations – FGF 113C – led to an emotional reunion with the car he owned 44 years ago.

Like many great love stories, our tale begins on a sofa in front of the telly. The show was Car SOS, and presenters Fuzz Townshend and Tim Shaw were battling to restore a Mk1 Ford Cortina GT from little more than a bare shell.

Made in Dagenham

Ford Lotus Cortina TV star reunited with owner 40 years on

Seeking inspiration, the team visited Ford’s heritage workshop in Dagenham. Their mission: to drive the GT’s big brother: the legendary Lotus Cortina. Rob nearly fell off his sofa. The immaculate white-and-green classic, hailed by Tim as “a sensation of the era”, had the same number plate as a Lotus Cortina he’d bought in 1976.

“It had to be the same car,” explains Rob, “but I searched through my old photos to be sure.” The Polaroid print he found proved it beyond doubt. There was Rob, in glorious faded sepia, wearing a pair of turned-up flares and leaning on a Lotus Cortina, registration: FGF 113C.

The Ford heritage workshop is usually off-limits to the public, so Rob contacted Motoring Research – having seen our gallery feature on the Dagenham collection. A few excited emails later, Rob had a date in Dagenham. Even better, it was on his birthday.

From road to racetrack

Ford Lotus Cortina TV star reunited with owner 40 years on

Before our heart-warming ‘boy meets car’ moment, a few words on the Lotus Cortina. This skunkworks special was launched in 1963 and is arguably the first fast Ford. It packs a 106hp 1.6-litre Lotus engine and close-ratio Ford gearbox, clothed in lightweight alloy panels.

Tipping the scales at just 826kg, the Lotus Cortina reached 60mph in 9.9 seconds, plus a top speed of 108mph. It was an instant hit on the racetrack, with Jim Clark winning the British Saloon Car title in 1964, then Alan Mann Racing clinching the European title in 1965.

A total of 3,301 Mk1 Lotus Cortinas were built before the squarer Mk2 arrived in 1967. By this point, well-publicised reliability problems and the launch of the Escort Twin Cam meant the Cortina’s star was fading. But it has gone supernova since, with prices for concours examples stretching well into six figures.

Show some appreciation

Ford Lotus Cortina TV star reunited with owner 40 years on

Rob negotiated a rather better deal. “I paid £370 for my Cortina,” he laughs, “then sold it for £500 eight months later. I didn’t own it long as I kept having problems with the starter motor. The ring gears would slip or jam – I ended up replacing them about once a month.”

There are no such issues when, four decades on, Rob twists the key of his old car. The twin-cam engine bursts raucously into life, its throaty bark reverberating off the walls of Ford’s workshop – a huge warehouse that used to be a truck factory. Rob’s smile says it all.

“This brings it all back,” he beams. “I was a Lotus fanatic, but I couldn’t afford an Elan – so this was my dream car at the time. It’s been lowered a couple of inches since I owned it, but otherwise nothing much has changed.”

For the custodians of Ford’s heritage fleet, Rob’s visit provides a valuable chance to fill in the blanks about this Cortina’s history. “We don’t know much about the car before it came to us,” they admit.

A Christmas crash

Ford Lotus Cortina TV star reunited with owner 40 years on

One story in particular raises a few eyebrows. “Yeah, I crashed it,” admits Rob. “I’d just finished my Christmas shopping. I pulled out of a pub car park in Newbury [sober, he adds] and got sideswiped by an Austin 1100. It ploughed into the nearside wing and I ended up paying a £25 fine as it was his right of way.”

On the rain-drenched roads of Dagenham, Rob is being extra-careful: “I didn’t want to push it in the wet. I’m very conscious the car is worth a few quid more than when I owned it.”

It’s clear Rob loves being back behind the skinny wooden wheel, though. “It’s just lovely. I remember that twin-cam sound – and the smell. But the steering is so heavy compared to a modern car. You need muscles like Arnold Schwarzenegger to do a three-point turn.”

A great motoring memory

Ford Lotus Cortina TV star reunited with owner 40 years on

Rob has owned many cars over the past 44 years, including several self-built Ginetta sports cars, but the Cortina is the one he wishes he’d kept. “Just being back behind the wheel felt special. I’d have another, definitely. I just need to discover one in a barn.”

Seeing Rob reunited with his Lotus Cortina reaffirmed our belief that cars are more than just transport. They bookend periods in our lives, our memories of past journeys and destinations inexorably linked to the vehicles we travelled in.

For Rob, driving the car he owned in 1976 is the closest he’ll get to time travel. And unlike his flares, the Lotus Cortina hasn’t aged a day.

Ford Fiesta ST Performance Edition (2020) review

Ford Fiesta ST Performance Edition

“He can’t afford a Rolls or a Bentley, he has to buy a second-hand Ford,” sang Ray Davies of The Kinks in 1969. How times have changed. Today, you can buy a 1980s Bentley for banger money, while Fords of that era are blue-chip classics. Eye-watering prices paid at auction include £122,500 for a 1987 Sierra Cosworth RS500, £52,750 for a 1990 Sapphire Cosworth 4×4 and £60,188 for a 1985 Escort RS Turbo.

And it’s not only fast Fords: last year, a 1978 Fiesta 950 – formerly an exhibit at London’s Science Museum – sold for £15,200.

In such company, the new Fiesta ST Performance Edition looks good value at £26,495. That’s some £4,000 more expensive than a fully-loaded ST-3, however, and a whopping £7,000 more than the entry-level ST-1.

It also forces the car into contention with hot hatchbacks from the class above, such as the Hyundai i30N and Renault Megane RS 280. So, what makes this pocket rocket special – and is it worth the money?

You’ll spot the Deep Orange paint first. It’s compulsory on the Performance Edition, and even more dazzlingly day-glo than the Orange Fury hue on the Focus ST. New 18-inch, 10-spoke alloys are more subtle, and save nearly 2kg of unsprung weight per corner. The car also sits closer to the tarmac – 15mm at the front and 10mm at the rear – thanks to Ford Performance adjustable coilover suspension.

My mum thought it gaudy, while my 16-year-old nephew said it looked “sick”. Which is probably as it should be.

Ford Fiesta ST Performance Edition

The feistiest Fiesta also comes with the Performance Pack: usually £925 even on the ST-3. It comprises a Quaife limited-slip differential to haul the car around bends, launch control for those all-important traffic light getaways, plus shift lights to help you grab the next gear.

More prosaically, you get all the equipment that comes as standard on the ST-3, including LED headlights, navigation, heated seats, heated steering wheel and a reversing camera.

So far, so good, but these upgrades aren’t bolstered by extra power. The Performance Edition shares its 1.5-litre petrol engine and six-speed manual ’box with the regular ST. That means 200hp, 0-62mph in 6.5 seconds and 144mph flat-out, plus impressive 40.4mpg economy: the latter boosted by clever tech that deactivates one of the engine’s three cylinders under light loads. The transition – from GTI worrier to eco warrior – is utterly seamless.

You’ll be having waaaaay too much fun to worry about miles per gallon, though. The Fiesta ST is a ‘LOL’ emoji on wheels, an intravenous sugar-hit of alert steering, instant turn-in and terrier-like tenacity in corners.

Push hard and it maintains a neutral, throttle-adjustable balance that’s rare in a front-driven car. Switching into Sport or Race modes makes things still more intense, with pops and fizzes from the twin tailpipes.

Ford Fiesta ST Performance Edition

If you’re worried the coilover suspension has ruined the ride, don’t be. There are 12 bump and 16 rebound settings to tinker with, but the standard set-up is supple enough for every day. It’s firm, but rarely harsh – like tightly clenched fists gripping bicycle handlebars. And the sheer lack of inertia is just joyful. Even at slow speeds, the ST feels alive to every input.

Me? I’d save the cash and go for an ST-3. The orange is a tad ‘look at me’ for my liking and the Performance Edition only comes with three doors: not ideal when you have kids. Then again, this one-of-600 flagship will be the one fetishised by fast Ford anoraks, meaning a potential payday in years to come.

If it follows the same trajectory as that Escort RS Turbo, it will be worth £187,584 in 2049. Now there’s food for thought.

Price: £26,495

0-62mph: 6.5sec

Top speed: 144mph

CO2 G/KM: 136

MPG combined: 40.4

McLaren Senna

McLaren Senna review: ‘The best car I’ve ever driven’

McLaren SennaHours after driving it, my hands were still shaking. I couldn’t sleep that night through thinking about it. I had wondered how McLaren could justify calling a car ‘Senna’. Now I knew. And I don’t think any car will feel quite the same again.

The Senna even made the McLaren 720S feel meek. A car we’ve previously called the new supercar benchmark. That the 720S was McLaren’s chosen hack to help us learn the Estoril circuit in Portugal says it all. We could have learnt the lines in Renault Clio diesels. Nah. Only by using a supercar do you stand the remotest chance of getting ready for a Senna.

Why Portugal? Because that’s where Ayrton won his first Grand Prix, back in 1985. This is the first road-going Senna, and we’re the first to drive it, so it all seems fitting. Besides, Estoril may seem a bit faded-glory, but it’s still blindingly fast and intimidating. You don’t nudge 190mph on any old racetrack.

McLaren Senna

We’d spent the evening before talking all things Senna. McLaren’s latest Ultimate Series Car (the halo of its Sport Series and Super Series triumvirate), is a successor to the P1, of sorts. That car was about being fast and clever. This is about being fast and thrilling: the most intense, pure driver’s car ever built. A car that would justify being named after one of the best drivers ever.

They’re all sold out, so it doesn’t matter how many they’re building (500). Or how much they cost (from £750,000). We’ve even covered everything you need to know about the Senna in full, so McLaren saves the full technical briefing.

Instead, we talk watches (Senna owners get to spec a special Richard Mille timepiece) and the McLaren BP23 (the car we later learn will be christened the Speedtail).

And the Senna connection. McLaren invited Bianca and Bruno Senna (Ayrton’s niece and nephew) over to its studio, to show them the project, then codenamed P15. It was to be the ultimate track car, one with ‘the purest connection to the driver ever’. One showing ultimate commitment and focus on details, just like Ayrton. They loved it. The Senna was born.

McLaren Senna

The ‘three 800s’ headlined its tech debut: 800hp, 800Nm (519lb ft), 800kg of downforce (at 155mph). Zero to 62mph takes 2.8 seconds, 0-124mph takes 6.8 seconds, and 124mph back to zero takes 100 metres. It’s a fast stats colossus, but certainly isn’t weighed down like one. Indeed, at 1,198kg, it’s the lightest McLaren road car since the original F1.

I didn’t think of any of this as I stood there the next day, still sweaty from lapping in the 720S, as my charming, cheery instructor Jamie Wall sorted out the belts so I could duck beneath the dihedral doors and step into the beautiful padded carbon fibre shell seats (they weigh just 3.35kg; normal seats weigh more than a child). I wondered how on earth I was going to live up to it.

Driving the McLaren Senna: take one

McLaren Senna

I had two sessions. One to learn it, then take a breather, then go out again. McLaren’s proud that something so extreme is a fully road-legal car (“Many owners will drive it to the track, rather than trailer it,” said project manager Ian Howshall), but track-focused it is.

So I get my driving position right, then a man buckles up the four-point harness so I can’t move. I see his muscles quiver as he pulls down hard on the belts. I’m pinned. Necessary, in a car that can develop more than twice the force of gravity under braking.

McLaren Senna

Visibility is superb, like all McLarens. The windscreen is deep, the glass panels in the roof flood the cabin with light – and this one has the optional clear panels in the doors that add to the drama. Jamie says the passenger side one is great for helping drivers trace the corners. For now, I plan to be looking straight ahead.

The cabin is simple, with big buttons and logical layout, ideal for using with racing gloves, through the restricted view forward from a race helmet. Most of the controls are in the roof panel so, upon Jamie’s instruction via the intercom (McLaren thinks of everything), I reach up and press the starter, and immediately feel something louder, rawer and more vibey than the 720S. To the signal of the pit guy, we’re away, car taut and tight, me similarly tense.

McLaren Senna owners, your first few laps will be an overload. The intensity of the noise, the vivid acceleration, the alacrity and the sheer lack of hesitation or layers of sponge and padding between you and the car and the racetrack. Even compared to a 720S, it feels like a racing car, has the attitude of one, and everything you do in it is an event.

Yet even after a few laps of feeling my way around, it’s clear the Senna’s on my side. There’s a planted assurance to it, a sense that it’s at home on the racetrack in a way the 720S isn’t quite so. By the end of the run, I’m getting faster, yet the Senna hasn’t plateaued. It’s simply getting better.

Then there are the brakes. Stupendous isn’t the word. The meaty pedal has a race car’s firmness, and feedback, and shortness of travel, and impeccable progression. They’re made for stamping on hard then blending carefully out – and the power, combined with the feel, is ludicrous. I constantly pull up way short to corners because they’re so bafflingly good.

Wait until you really work them hard, says Jamie. But I’d need some more brave pills for that.

McLaren Senna

It’s stunning, like no other car I’ve ever driven, but it’s time for a breather – if only to get my head around the Senna’s huge downforce and active aerodynamics, that mean it gets better as you go faster, and is at its best if you can stay on the power through the fast stuff, rather than chickening out and lifting.

I’ve never experienced downforce quite like this in a road car. It takes some mental processing (that’s why it looks like it does, too: aero first, pretty stuff second).

McLaren Senna

“How was it?” says Jamie, as we cruise back to the pits on the cool-down run. I blather something, swear a bit. “It’s fast, but you’re not overwhelmed or intimidated by it. There’s never any flighty skittishness; it’s rock-solid and planted. It feels like it’s on your side. Everything is an event.”

Jamie understands. “And can you believe, it’s also road-legal?” That really is the most amazing thing of all: that it does all this, yet can still sit on the M25, getting papped by supercar spotters.

I had lunch with Ian. The Senna’s been an amazingly detailed engineering project. “We haven’t compromised.” And that was before they found it what it was going to be called. “When the Senna name was confirmed, the team became even more focused. It’s an attitude thing.”

Detail extends to matching the frequencies you feel through the seat, to the steering wheel, to the pedals, to the engine. “Nothing is out of phase.” Snippets like this abound. This is no ordinary car project. It’s been an obsession.

McLaren Senna

Parts of the Senna are hung from the pit garage roof, so we can hold them and feel their lightness. The rear wing is there. Remember how it can help generate 800kg? It weighs just 4.97kg. A hugely complex active aero programme adds to its effectiveness.

I watch one pull out the pit lane: it cycles through a calibration programme as it tours away. All that’s happening out on track too, but I was never aware of it. I just enjoyed the remarkable confidence and sky-high limits it brings.   

Driving the McLaren Senna: take two

McLaren Senna

Time to go back out on track. Jamie, the loveliest racing driver you’d wish to meet, briefs me over the intercom. “You know what to do. Let’s go for it this time.”

I do, and it’s glorious. The confidence this car inspires is ridiculous. It has 800hp! Yet I’m happy to get on the power early, correct the controlled slide, whoop, then brake deep into the next corner, hit the apex foursquare, lean on the rear out of it and savour the magic of downforce by not lifting through the next.

It’s all so intuitive, and direct. There’s no squidgy hesitancy, no barriers, and that stiff yet flowing breathability to the suspension you only get from a really well set up racing car. Chuck in steering with the meaty clarity of a kart and chassis agility and chuckability to match, and the intercom becomes a stream of thrilled expletives.

Those brakes again. They really can’t help but dominate. They’re carbon ceramic, conduct heat even better than normal ceramics, so can run 150 deg C cooler. They’re so good, McLaren had to strengthen the brake calipers to match. Even so, there’s not too much black magic behind them, says Ian – but their effectiveness is awe-inspiring. They haul away high speeds in an eye-blink, time and again.

Braking in a Senna involves being brave, feeling fear as long as you can bear, then kicking the pedal into the floor, and still coming to the corner with space to spare. They are unreal.

McLaren Senna

I do that just one more time, then feel just one more perfectly neutral and incisive explosion out of the corner, before it’s our cool-down tour. That’s my McLaren Senna experience complete, for now. I gush over the radio to Jamie, and can sense he’s beaming back. “Isn’t it amazing?” Yes, like no other road car I’ve ever driven.

The next day, I woke up, and it was still the first thing on my mind. The thrill and excitement still pulsing through me was better than any coffee shot. How good is it? Full of all things Senna, my mind wandered. Remember Senna at Donington in 1993, when he tore through the field on the first lap, then ran rings around them for the rest of the race? I was there. I went to school the next day with a similar feeling. Senna’s dominance that day was like my experience of the Senna.

Does it live up to the name? Without doubt. This McLaren is Senna. I now have a hesitation-free answer when people ask me what’s the best car I’ve ever driven.

Citroen DS ID19

Going nowhere in a Citroen DS: a lockdown car review

Citroen ID19Nobody talks to their neighbours in London, right? They do if you park a Citroen DS outside your house. This classic did more for community cohesion than a communal clapping session.

The key word here is ‘park’, because the Citroen didn’t move. Back in 2016, it silently taunted me for two days, then was removed on a low-loader. 

Stuck in COVID-19 lockdown, those feelings have flooded back. Once again, I’m at home, gazing wistfully through my window at a static car. Granted, my 2005 Golf is no DS – the neighbours have so far declined to comment on it – but I’m still revved up with nowhere to go.

Show me some IDCitroen ID19

A bit of background first. The 1961 DS you see here is actually an ID19: a cheaper, less powerful and (slightly) less complicated version of the DS19. Used for ‘press and publicity purposes’ when new by Citroen UK, it has since returned to the company’s care as part of the heritage fleet.

As the most iconic and beautiful French car ever made (discuss), the DS seemed ideal for the Retro Road Test: the weekly classic car review we used to publish every Thursday. With everything crossed, I called the ever-helpful Craig at Citroen and, just a few weeks later, the DS was delivered.

Street art in suburbiaCitroen ID19

“Lovely, just lovely,” said the man from the corner house who’d asked me to sign a petition about bin collections. “That’s my kind of car,” cooed the lady who runs the pub across the road. “Looks like it’s been lowered,” mumbled the 16-year-old lad from next door.

In recent memory, the only car that comes close for sheer street spectacle was a purple Lamborghini Aventador SVJ I tested earlier this year. But while the Lambo got envious looks and grudging remarks about “winning the lottery”, the DS drew nods, smiles and genuine affection.

Wildly futuristic yet timelessly elegant, it literally stopped traffic as drivers slowed to stare and take photos. It was probably trending on social media, for all I know. One can only marvel at how this car, with its spaceship styling, must have looked in 1955.

Feeling a bit flatCitroen ID19

The DS arrived late on a Monday afternoon, but I resisted the urge to jump straight in and cruise the streets of Croydon. I’d set my alarm early for a long, cross-country jaunt the next morning.

With 67hp and 0-62mph in 22.1 seconds, progress would be as relaxed – and as pleasurable – as a Beaujolais-fuelled Sunday lunch.

Tuesday dawned bright and fresh, the DS draped in morning dew. I sank into the soft leather seat, grasped the Bakelite wheel and twisted the key… Silence. I tried again: the dials on the (UK-specific) English walnut dashboard sprang to life and I heard the faint click of a solenoid, but nothing more.

I called Craig, expecting – hoping – there was some Gallic quirk of the starting process that I’d overlooked. “No, just put her in neutral and turn the key.” Hmm.

The battery voltage gauge showed a full charge, but I decided to attempt a jump-start using my old Ford Focus. Still nothing. Admitting defeat, I telephoned Craig again to request a recovery truck. The dream was over.

Doing the plankCitroen ID19

The nightmare, however, was just beginning. As any student of old Citroens knows, hydropneumatic suspension only pressurises and rises up when the car’s engine starts. Without power, the DS is effectively ‘slammed’. This would prove problematic.

Danny arrived with his low-loader on Wednesday lunchtime. He was sceptical about our chances: with no towing eye on the front, the DS would need to be winched up the ramp backwards. And the downturned tips of its exhaust were virtually kissing the tarmac.

Inching the DS back, it quickly became clear this stubborn lady wasn’t for towing. So, in a further boost to neighbourly relations, I knocked on the door of John the roofer, returning a few minutes later with some scaffolding planks.

Danny and I wedged them under the wheels, reducing the angle of approach. And slowly, steadily, with millimetres to spare, it edged up the ramp and onto the truck. We’d done it.

In the presence of Goddess Citroen ID19

The DS had been sent to Coventry (literally, not figuratively – that’s where Citroen UK is based) and it hadn’t even turned a wheel. But as I watched this magnificent car being carried away, a princess in a sedan chair, I felt surprisingly buoyant.

A few awkward moments with planks aside, my two days with the DS had been an absolute pleasure. I’d gazed longingly at it from my bedroom window – and met friendly, enthusiastic people every time I went outside and, well, tried to start it.

In 15 years of writing about cars, this was the only one I’ve returned one without driving it. C’est la vie.

As the current crisis has taught us, you need to find pleasure and positivity where you can. And sometimes beauty is its own reward.Citroen ID19

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Ford Focus RS M520 (2020) review

We rarely cover modified cars for Motoring Research, but this one’s a bit special. It’s a Ford Focus with more power than a Ferrari F40. Let that percolate for a moment. This four-cylinder hatchback musters 520 horsepower, versus 478 for the prancing horse. And while Mountune doesn’t quote a 0-62mph time for its M520 conversion, I’m certain it starts with a three.

That F40 alongside you at the lights? A near-as-dammit 3.9 seconds. How lucky do you feel?

ALSO READ: 10 overrated fast Fords

Mountune has been making Fords go faster since the late 1980s. The Brentwood company started with racing versions of the Sierra RS Cosworth and now offers kits for everything from the Fiesta 1.0 to the Mustang V8 – all of which can be fitted at Ford dealers.

Its best-seller is the M235 conversion, which gives the Fiesta ST an extra 35hp for £575. A near-200hp boost for the Focus RS is somewhat pricier…

Before I drive the M520, though, it’s time for a tour of Mountune’s inner sanctum. Engines for all Formula 3 racers are hand-built here, as were – until recently – those for the BTCC-winning Subaru Levorg. Other projects include modified Ford motors for the BAC Mono supercar.

Speaking of supercars, I also spy a Ford GT lurking in the workshop. Apparently, even 558hp isn’t sufficient for some.

Still, whether it’s the GT besting Ferrari at Le Mans or a Focus blitzing an F40 on the road, hot Fords often have ideas above their station. And the Mk3 Focus RS is no slouch to start with.

‘A five-star hot hatch that takes its place alongside the Fiesta ST, Escort Cosworth and other notable fast Fords in the pantheon of greats,’ gushed my review in 2016. Can Mountune really top that?

It’s willing to try. A massive ceramic ball bearing turbocharger, new valvetrain, spikier camshafts and heavy-duty fuel pump boost the 350hp Focus to 520hp. The kit costs £5,975, although Mountune says it requires ‘internal hardware modifications to ensure the RS achieves the desired performance safely and reliably’.

In practical terms, that means a full engine rebuild with forged innards. Reckon on £15,000 for the package and necessary upgrades.

The Focus RS has never been for shrinking violets (remember the searing ‘Ultimate Green’ Mk2 version?), but this one is Q-car subtle. Vented carbon fibre wheelarches, a loftier rear spoiler and Mountune M52 alloys are the only clues to its added oomph.

Inside, the race-style Recaro buckets and dated dashboard are unchanged from the standard car. It’s a classic case of ‘speak softly and carry a big stick’.

The size of that stick becomes apparent when the rev counter passes 3,000rpm. The violence of acceleration pummels the air from my lungs and makes me giggle like a schoolboy. It feels preposterously, hilariously quick, a blunderbuss of boost that teleports the car from one corner to the next.

Like trying to watch a film on fast-forward, my brain struggles to keep up.

The tyres struggle a bit, too. The RS may be four-wheel drive, but most of its 516lb ft of torque is directed forwards, spinning the front wheels and corrupting the steering. Be brutal and it feels like a bucking bronco ride: a case of hang on and hope for the best.

Thankfully, a button on the steering wheel dials down the power for damp roads – and you soon learn how to drive smoothly, rather than smoking rubber like Ken Block.

No car in recent memory has made me ‘LOL’ like the M520. Even at nearly £40,000 – including a donor RS – you’ll struggle to get more bang for your buck.

Personally, I’d opt for one of Mountune’s milder conversions, which strike a better balance between power and poise. But if you want the ultimate hot hatch, look no further.

Price: From £37,000

0-62mph: 3.9sec

Top speed: 175mph

MPG combined: 25.0

Weight: 1,599kg

Ford Focus RS M520: in pictures

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David Brown Mini Remastered (2020) review

David Brown Mini Remastered

My first car was a Mini. If you’re fast-approaching middle age, yours probably was too.

I bought my (t)rusty 1983 Mini City for £325, sprayed go-faster stripes on the bonnet and shoehorned a subwoofer into the boot.

After passing my test, I enjoyed one day of glorious freedom, then crashed it in Croydon. Result: a write-off. My Mini adventure was over before it began.

Twenty-four years later, those memories are all flooding back: the Tardis interior, the bus-like steering wheel, the whining gears, the rorty A-Series engine. I’m driving a Mini again, but this one took 1,400 hours to hand-build and its stripes weren’t applied with a rattle-can.

It’s also worth 300 times more than my ill-fated teenage jalopy, so I’m giving Croydon a wide berth.

That price tag – anything from £90,000 to £130,000 – is impossible to ignore, but the David Brown Mini Remastered isn’t a mere Mini. Its strengthened, de-seamed and rust-resistant bodyshell is all-new, a donor engine is rebuilt for 30 percent more power (71hp, plus 88lb ft of torque) and its interior is lined in plush leather and knurled aluminium.

Creature comforts include air conditioning, remote central locking, puddle lights, electric windows and a touchscreen media system. This is luxury on a Lilliputian scale: more pint-sized Rolls-Royce than rebadged Rover.

David Brown Mini Remastered

There’s no such thing as a ‘standard’ Mini Remastered either. David Brown Automotive can match the paintwork to your shoes or lipstick, embroider your family crest on the seats and offer carpets made of leather or deep-pile wool (neither sounds particularly practical).

Everything is bespoke, limited only by your largesse. My must-have from the accessories catalogue is an open-face crash helmet – colour-coded, of course – and pair of flying goggles. Chocks away!

This particular Mini has an Alpine theme and was originally supplied with a teak roof rack and hand-made skis, although they’ve been detached for a blazing July day in Battersea. Shame the matching picnic hamper is missing, too. David Brown’s PR people have prepared a ‘swinging London’ playlist, so six speakers kick into The Who’s My Generation as I press the start button. This feels like a nostalgia trip already.

Driving a Mini forces you to recalibrate your reactions. Its steering is so sharp, so hair-trigger responsive, my brain feels hard-wired into the wood-rimmed wheel. The ride is firm, bordering on bouncy, but the pay-off is handling that shamed most 1960s sports cars – and made the Cooper a giant-killer on the rally stage.

The Mini seems to pivot on its own axis, clinging to corners like an eager puppy with a chew toy. As I blast across Clapham Common, T. Rex’s 20th Century Boy on the stereo, I can’t suppress a smile.

David Brown Mini Remastered

It’s still a brilliant city car, too. Punchy power delivery and a tiny footprint (a metre shorter than a Ford Fiesta) make light work of traffic around Elephant and Castle. The fact that everyone let you out of junctions also helps; you don’t get that in a Porsche, nor will you turn half so many heads.

Despite extra soundproofing, the 1,275cc engine is still pleasingly gruff, exhaling with occasional pops from the twin tailpipes. The optional five-speed gearbox is definitely worthwhile if you plan to venture beyond London limits, though.

The Mini is the best-selling British car of all time, with 5.4 million made between 1959 and 2000. David Brown’s ambitions are modest; it currently builds just one car a week and hopes to double that later in 2020.

The notion of a £90,000 Mini is crazy, of course, yet the demand is clearly there. And after a few hours criss-crossing the capital, I’m also in thrall to its charm. Roger Daltry hoped to die before he got old, but the Mini has life in it yet.

Price: From £90,000

0-62mph: 11.7 secs

Top speed: 90mph

CO2 G/KM: 185

MPG combined: 43.0

Photos by Max Edleston. 

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McLaren 720S

McLaren 720S driven: seven days with a supercar

McLaren 720S

The email arrived late on a Friday afternoon. Would we like to borrow a McLaren 720S for a week? I pondered the question for all of about 0.01 seconds. Sure, go on then…

For the uninitiated, the McLaren line-up is split into three tiers. The entry-level Sports Series comprises the 540C, 570S, 570S Spider, 570GT, 600LT and 600LT Spider. Above that comes the Super Series: 720S, 720S Spider and forthcoming 765LT. And the suitably named Ultimate Series tops the range: Senna, Senna GTR, Elva and Speedtail. Got all that?

The 720S, then, is the middle-ground, but assuredly not middle-of-the-road. Figures of 2.9 and 212 – I’ll let you work out the appropriate suffixes – are testament to that.

We first drove the 720S on road and track at last year’s launch, declaring it ‘the new supercar benchmark’. How does it fare as a daily-driver? Here’s what we learned.

It’s brutally, brilliantly fast

McLaren 720S

Back in 2013, McLaren launched the P1: a limited-run hybrid hypercar with an £866,000 price tag. It blasted to 124mph (200kph) in 6.8 seconds and annihilated a standing quarter-mile in 9.8 seconds.

Amazingly, the series-production 720S is scarcely slower – 7.8 seconds and 10.3 seconds – yet costs £218,020. Relatively speaking, it’s a bit of a bargain.

The 720S is too fast for the road, no doubt. Opportunities to fully flex your right ankle are few and frustratingly far-between, especially in the south east of England. But then, very occasionally, the traffic clears, the planets align and oh my Lord. The 720hp 4.0-litre V8 is a furious force of nature that seizes hold of your senses.

Car journalists often wax lyrical about naturally aspirated engines in sports cars. And yes, there is joy to be had in wringing every last rev from an NA motor. However, the tremendous mid-range wallop of the turbocharged McLaren is equally addictive – and easier to exploit in the real world.

It stops as quickly as it goes

McLaren 720S

A Porsche engineer once explained to me that its cars are engineered to decelerate as quickly as they accelerate. In other words, if a 911 hits 62mph in 3.5 seconds, it must stop to a standstill in the same period of time.

The 720S exceeds this target, braking from 62mph to zero in 29.7m and 2.8 seconds – 0.1 seconds less than it takes to get there. Huge carbon-ceramic discs also stop the 720S from 124mph (200kph) in 117m and 4.6 seconds, and from 186mph (300kph) in just 260m and 6.9 seconds, aided by an active rear spoiler that deploys as a near-vertical airbrake.

Such stopping power is hugely reassuring in a car so swift. And here too, the 720S is within a hair’s breadth of the epochal P1.

The steering is sublime

McLaren 720S

With a few very minor exceptions, McLaren is the only carmaker that persists with hydraulic power steering. Even Ferrari has shifted to fuel-saving electric steering for its latest sports cars.

The advantage of a hydraulic rack is a proper, physical connection between the palms of your hands and the rubber on the road. High-pressure fluid is used to turn the wheels rather than an electric motor, and the result is usually more faithful feedback and enhanced steering feel.

The 720S has superb steering, its flat-bottomed wheel communicating every nuance of the road surface and residual grip. Frankly, in a car that manages 26.4mpg (and high teens in the real world), I’m glad McLaren decided to forgo electric assistance. Sipping fuel is hardly this car’s raison d’être.

The soundtrack is quite sensible

McLaren 720S

Actually, that’s not strictly true. The McLaren will serve up throttle-blipping theatrics on start-up, but only if you jump through several hoops first. Turn on the ignition and switch chassis and powertrain settings to Track mode. Then put your foot on the brake and press the starter button. A squirt of fuel is injected – then ignited – in the exhaust and BRAAAAP! the 720S starts with all the subtlety of a shotgun. A little immature perhaps, but fun.

Fire-up the 720S normally and it will still wake up your neighbours. But it isn’t deliberately, absurdly OTT like a Lamborghini or Jaguar F-Type SVR. Pops and bangs from the twin exhausts are fairly muted, the soundtrack dominated by the whoosh of the twin-scroll turbochargers. It sounds potent and purposeful, both mechanical and slightly synthetic.

Ultimately, the 720S doesn’t deliver the aural fireworks of a Ferrari V8 or Lamborghini V10. But after a week of living with one, I’m convinced that’s fine. You can have too much of a good thing, after all.

It’s the right size for UK roads

McLaren 720S

One of my personal bugbears is the sheer size of modern cars (and don’t get me started on SUVs). They grow larger with every passing generation, unlike our cramped and crowded streets. Many of today’s supersized supercars feel simply too wide for a British B-road.

The 720S is no Lotus Elan, but a fairly modest footprint means you can carry speed with confidence where others are forced to slow down. At 1,930mm, it’s actually 165mm narrower than its 570S sibling, and 254mm shorter and 100mm narrower than a Lamborghini Aventador. On the B488 in Bedfordshire, those millimetres matter.

Special mention also goes to the McLaren’s interlinked, ECU-controlled hydraulic suspension, which obviates the need for anti-roll bars. It’s far too complicated to explain here (indeed, it was the subject of a PhD thesis) – suffice to say it makes the 720S both pliant and utterly planted on challenging tarmac.

Drift mode is a tad daunting

McLaren 720S

Remember the outgoing Ford Focus RS and its infamous Drift Mode? Well, the 720S has a more advanced version of the same thing.

Variable Drift Control offers seven-stage adjustment for the stability control, allowing you to decide how much the car will oversteer before the electronic nanny intervenes. There’s even a graphic on the touchscreen to select your angle of attack.

Now, I’ll level with you. Variable Drift Control or not, I’m not a good enough driver to start sliding 720hp supercars on the road. My faith in technology only goes so far. However, MR’s Peter Burgess previously tried VDC on-track at Vallelunga and found it a “very effective tool”. He also noted that “ tyre smoking images you see are all taken with those systems fully disengaged”.

You could spend a LOT on carbon fibre

McLaren 720S

Got several hours to spare? Why not dream big with the McLaren 720S online configurator? As you’ll quickly discover, you can add tens of thousands to the base price with upgrades and accessories.

Our car – not pictured here – had custom paint from McLaren Special Operations (MSO) at £7,750, plus lashings of gratuitous unpainted carbon on the front air intakes and roof (Exterior Carbon Fibre Pack 3 – £3,770), body structure (£3,990) and sill panels (£2,620). Other extras included beautiful forged alloy wheels (£4,390) and the all-but-essential sports exhaust (£4,750).

As standard, the 720S has a four-speaker JVC Kenwood stereo that offers, according to McLaren, ‘the perfect blend between weight and performance’. Still, I’d willingly sacrifice a few kilograms (and £3,540) for the 12-speaker Bowers & Wilkins system fitted here. It’s a fitting accompaniment for the twin-turbo V8.

A week is not enough

McLaren 720S

Spending seven days with the 720S was rewarding and revealing. During its time in our care, the McLaren tackled lengthy commutes, school runs, M25 tailbacks, London gridlock and even, yes, the odd B-road blast – and never felt less than sensationally special.

The Lamborghini Huracan Evo has the edge in terms of outright excitement. Perhaps the Ferrari F8 Tributo does, too: I haven’t tried one. But a Lamborghini isn’t a car you’d want to drive every day, and both the Italians have – to my mind – a rather divisive image. Being from somewhere as incongruous as Woking doubtless helps, but the McLaren seems to epitomise tech-led, wildcard cool.

Three years after launch, this is still our benchmark supercar. Driving it for seven days makes one weak.

Ferrari Dino 'Evo'

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

Ferrari Dino 'Evo'

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

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

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

Ferrari Dino 'Evo'

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

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

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

Ferrari Dino 'Evo'

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

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

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

Price: £300,000+

0-62mph: 5.8sec

Top speed: 160mph

Horsepower: 300hp

Weight: 1,180kg

Ferrari Dino ‘Evo’: in pictures

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2020 Porsche 911 Carrera

Porsche 911 Carrera (2020) review

The new Carrera coupe is the meat and potatoes of the Porsche 911 range. Or perhaps a bratwurst and fries, washed down with a refreshing pilsner, for those with Teutonic taste.

Stepping up to the recently-launched 911 Turbo swaps your sausage for a spicy currywurst and beer for a full-bodied bock.

Then there’s the forthcoming, track-focused GT3: a lightweight salad with a crisp Riesling to vivify your senses.

And finally, the fearsome GT2: a liquid lunch of Jägerbombs to utterly blow your mind.

Sadly, the Carrera isn’t as cheap as chips. Have one-too-many Jägerbombs before tackling Porsche’s online configurator and its £82,793 price can swell to six figures.

Still, the basics are what matter most: chiefly a 3.0-litre flat-six located, as ever, behind the back axle. It serves up 385hp and 332lb ft of torque from 1,950rpm, driving the rear wheels via a PDK semi-automatic transmission.

A seven-speed manual arrives this summer, although most 911 buyers now prefer paddles.

Despite its same-again styling, the 911’s 70 percent aluminium body is all-new. Look closely and you’ll spot pop-out door handles and different alloy wheel sizes (19in front, 20in rear), plus a high-level brake light that illuminates like an ‘11’ alongside nine grille slats. See what they did there?

One feature you won’t find, though, is the ‘narrow body’ that used to characterise the Carrera. All 911s now share the same wide track and muscular haunches. More on that shortly.

Inside, the minimalist cabin looks futuristic and is brimful of cutting-edge tech. A traditional analogue rev counter stays front-and-centre, but is flanked by digital dials, including an (optional) infra-red night vision display. The 10.9in touchscreen looks super-sharp and connects seamlessly with your phone, while knurled metal toggle switches add some retro charm.

And, lest we forget, the 911 has rear seats. They meant I could ferry my nine- and six-year-old kids around all weekend, when most rival cars would have stayed at home.

Even this ‘basic’ 911 is blisteringly quick. Standstill to 62mph takes 4.2 seconds, or four seconds flat with the Sport Chrono pack and launch control. That’s on par with the 2001 ‘996’ GT2. The Carrera’s twin turbos use smaller compressor wheels than more powerful 911s, so they spool up faster, giving instant right-foot response.

Also, the use of forced induction, while anathema to Porsche purists, means impressive economy. Keep it smooth and you should see 30mpg.

In Normal mode, the 911 does a convincing impression of a luxury GT. Its suspension is taut, although not at the expense of ride comfort, while the gearbox shifts up early – and almost imperceptibly – to save fuel.

Twist the steering wheel controller to Sport or Sport Plus, though, and its inner sports car is emancipated. The engine barks, yelps and howls, racing to its 7,500rpm redline with gleeful abandon, and shifts are now rifle-bolt rapid. Whisper it, but for driving around my home of London, I’d choose the speed and convenience of PDK every time.

A new Wet mode is also standard, which uses acoustic sensors behind the front wheelarches to sense water spray and ramp up the car’s stability systems. In the depths of Storm Dennis, it made the 911 feel planted and predictable, without muting its nuanced steering or athletic cornering balance. This still feels like a car developed by drivers, for drivers, combining explosive performance with finely wrought feedback.

Just the 911’s size – those hips are almost wider than a Mercedes S-Class limo – holds you back on rural roads.

Faster and more focused models are coming, but only the much pricier 911 Turbo (which you’ll read about here soon) will likely match the bandwidth of the Carrera. Fifty-seven years after launch, this is still the only sports car you need.

Price: £82,793

0-62mph: 4.2sec

Top speed: 182mph

CO2 G/KM: 206

MPG combined: 31.7