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

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

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

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

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

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

First impressions

Seat Tarraco

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

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

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

Inside the Seat Tarraco

Seat Tarraco

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

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

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

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

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

Seat Tarraco: on the road

Seat Tarraco

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

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

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

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

Seat Tarraco verdict: 4 stars

Seat Tarraco

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

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

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

Seat Tarraco

Five 2019 Seat Tarraco rivals

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

How much did our test car cost?

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

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

Seat Alhambra Xcellence

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

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

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

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

Taking the last Seat

Seat Alhambra review

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

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

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

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

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

Sliding doors are ace

Seat Alhambra sliding doors

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

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

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

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

Third-row seats that aren’t third-class

Seat Alhambra third row

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

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

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

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

It has a boot the size of a Suzuki Swift

Seat Alhambra boot

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

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

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

It feels like a posh bus

Seat Alhambra front seats

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

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

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

Seat Alhambra dashboard

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

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

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

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

You can coast through life

Seat Alhambra DSG

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

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

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

But… (because there’s always a ‘but’)

Seat Alhambra rear light

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

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

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

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

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

2019 Porsche 911 Cabriolet review: no longer the soft option

2019 Porsche 911 Cabriolet

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

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

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

It starts from six figures

2019 Porsche 911 Cabriolet

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

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

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

It does ‘schnell’ very well

2019 Porsche 911 Cabriolet

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

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

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

Not a case of copy and paste

2019 Porsche 911 Cabriolet

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

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

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

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

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

2019 Porsche 911 Cabriolet

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

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

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

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

2019 Porsche 911 Cabriolet

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

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

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

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

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

2019 Porsche 911 Cabriolet

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

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

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

It’s good at playing Gran Turismo

2019 Porsche 911 Cabriolet

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

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

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

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

But scratch the surface and it’s still a 911

2019 Porsche 911 Cabriolet

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

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

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

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

A car with Sports Purpose

2019 Porsche 911 Cabriolet

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

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

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

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

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

The joy of specs

2019 Porsche 911 Cabriolet

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

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

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

Porsche 911 Cabriolet verdict: five stars

2019 Porsche 911 Cabriolet

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

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

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

Porsche 911 Carrera S Cabriolet: specification

Price: £102,455

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

Drivetrain: Rear-engine, rear-wheel drive

Transmission: Eight-speed dual-clutch automatic

Wheels: 20 inches front, 21 inches rear

Power: 450hp@6,500 rpm

Torque: 391lb ft@2,300rpm

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

Top speed: 190mph

Fuel economy: 31mpg

CO2 emissions: 208g/km

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

Kerb weight: 1,585kg

Porsche 911 Cabriolet review: in pictures

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20MY Range Rover Evoque

2019 Range Rover Evoque review: Remastered original

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

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

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

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

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

Styling: distilling an icon

20MY Range Rover Evoque

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

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

All in the details

20MY Range Rover Evoque

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

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

Sizing up the Evoque

20MY Range Rover Evoque

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

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

Modernist painting

20MY Range Rover Evoque

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

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

Open the door to a revelation

20MY Range Rover Evoque

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

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

Lounge-like luxury

20MY Range Rover Evoque

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

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

An Evoque fit for vegans

20MY Range Rover Evoque

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

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

Practicality points

20MY Range Rover Evoque

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

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

Odds and iPads

20MY Range Rover Evoque

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

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

The drive: first impressions

20MY Range Rover Evoque

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

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

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

Ride revolution

20MY Range Rover Evoque

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

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

48V mild hybrid tech for (almost) all

20MY Range Rover Evoque

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

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

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

Driving the petrol-powered Evoque

20MY Range Rover Evoque

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

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

FAST FACTS: Range Rover Evoque P250 AWD Auto

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

Driving the diesel-powered Evoque

20MY Range Rover Evoque

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

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

FAST FACTS: Range Rover Evoque D240 AWD Auto

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

Rolling down the road

20MY Range Rover Evoque

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

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

Off-roading

20MY Range Rover Evoque

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

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

Refinement

20MY Range Rover Evoque

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

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

Prices and specs

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

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

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

Verdict: 2019 Range Rover Evoque

20MY Range Rover Evoque

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

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

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

2019 Range Rover specs

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

Volkswagen T-Cross review: a Polo with SUV attitude

Volkswagen T-Cross

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

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

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

It’s a pumped-up Polo

Volkswagen T-Cross

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

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

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

The styling is chunky and funky

Volkswagen T-Cross

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

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

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

Volkswagen calls it an ‘urban SUV’

Volkswagen T-Cross

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

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

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

There’s one engine, with two power outputs

Volkswagen T-Cross

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

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

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

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

It’s practical enough for a small family

Volkswagen T-Cross

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

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

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

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

The interior is packed with tech

Volkswagen T-Cross

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

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

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

But the lines between VW, Seat and Skoda are blurred

Volkswagen T-Cross

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

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

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

It tries to be down with the kids

Volkswagen T-Cross

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

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

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

Yet the driving experience is very grown-up

Volkswagen T-Cross

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

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

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

The engines are peppy and refined

Volkswagen T-Cross

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

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

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

A sporty T-Cross R could be on the cards

Volkswagen T-Cross

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

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

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

Volkswagen T-Cross verdict: 4 stars

Volkswagen T-Cross

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

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

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

Volkswagen T-Cross 1.0 TSI 115 SE manual: specification

Price: £19,545

Engine: Three cylinder 999cc petrol

Drivetrain: Front-engine, front-wheel drive

Transmission: Six-speed manual

Wheels: 17 inches

Power: 115hp@5,000 rpm

Torque: 148lb ft@2,000rpm

0-62mph: 10.2 seconds

Top speed: 120mph

Fuel economy: 57.6mpg

CO2 emissions: 112g/km

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

Kerb weight: 1,655kg

Volkswagen T-Cross review: in pictures

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

Porsche Macan review

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

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

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

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

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

Porsche Macan review

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

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

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

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

2019 Porsche Macan: first impressions

Porsche Macan review

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

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

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

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

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

Inside the 2019 Porsche Macan

Porsche Macan review

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

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

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

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

Porsche Macan review

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

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

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

2019 Porsche Macan: on the road 

Porsche Macan review

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

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

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

Porsche Macan Review

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

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

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

2019 Porsche Macan verdict: 4 stars

Porsche Macan review

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

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

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

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

Porsche Macan review

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

Five 2019 Porsche Macan rivals

Range Rover Evoque

Audi Q5

Mercedes-Benz GLC

Jaguar F-Pace

BMW X4

How much did our test car cost?

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

Which engines does Porsche offer with the Macan?

2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder, 245hp

3.0-litre turbo V6, 354hp

2019 Bentley Continental GTC review: need for tweed

Bentley Continental GTCBentley has started its centenary year with a bang. First, it revealed the world’s fastest SUV – the 190mph Bentayga Speed – then it teased details of racing-inspired special edition, due to debut at the Geneva Motor Show in March.

The biggest story of 2019 so far, though, is the new £175,890 Continental GTC. A drop-top version of Bentley’s benchmark GT, it has a 635hp W12 (V8 and hybrid versions will follow) and top speed in excess of 200mph. With the roof up, ideally.

A grand tourer deserves a grand tour, so we tested the GTC’s mile-munching mettle on a 276-mile drive from Marbella to Seville, taking the scenic route via some of Europe’s best roads. Here’s what we learned.

The tweed roof is brilliantly British

Bentley Continental GTC

Let’s start with the insulated fabric hood, which disappears in 19 near-silent seconds, at speeds up to 30mph. Rear-seat space isn’t compromised, nor does the retracted roof encroach on luggage space. Boot volume is just 235 litres, however, versus 358 litres in the GT.

You can choose from seven roof colours, but ‘contemporary tweed’ is easily the coolest option. It’s an understated beige and brown check, as opposed to something you’d find on a hipster suit, but its bespoke Britishness sums up Bentley perfectly.

In profile, the GTC sacrifices the coupe’s flowing fastback for a three-box, saloon-style silhouette. Nonetheless, its roof is elegantly executed, tapering gently aft of the doors. When folded, it lies flush below the rear deck.

The design is all about the details

Bentley Continental GTC

In terms of overall styling, this second-generation car has played it safe. The original 2003 Continental GT reinvented Bentley under Volkswagen Group ownership, so one can’t blame Bentley for not reinventing the Continental GT.

But while the shape is familiar, many details are different. The LED matrix headlights, for example, resemble cut crystal, while the fulsome haunches kick upwards into a subtle spoiler. With overhangs that are shorter at the front and longer at the rear, the whole car looks leaner and more purposeful.

There are some unconventional colours, too. Orange Flame is the obvious choice for extroverts, while Banarto evokes classic British Racing Green – and looks fantastic with the chrome-deleting black pack. Our pick of the paints, though, is Dove Grey, a primer-like shade not dissimilar to Porsche’s Crayon.

Interiors are what Bentley does best

Bentley Continental GTC

Inevitably, the best view of the Continental GTC is from the driver’s seat. Its interior is utterly exquisite, a cosseting cocoon of five-star luxury. Not even Rolls-Royce does it better.

We’re told there are 310,675 stitches in every Continental GTC cabin, although we declined count them. The quilted leather seats are heated and ventilated, and have a built-in ‘neckwarmer’ (à la Mercedes-Benz Airscarf) for top-down driving. Usefully, the central armrest is also heated, just in case your left elbow catches cold.

Beautiful polished wood covers the dashboard and doors, or Sir can specify the new Côtes de Genève textured aluminium, inspired by Swiss watches. Reassuringly, there’s also plenty of Bentley’s trademark knurling: a machined metal finish that makes handles, stalks and switches feel deliciously tactile.

Elegance isn’t simply a veneer…

Bentley Continental GTC

Equally impressive is how the GTC’s cabin combines the fundamentally opposing forces of tradition and tech. The convenience and infotainment features you’d expect are brilliantly integrated beneath a (literal) veneer of olde worlde charm.

The main talking point is the Toblerone-shaped rotating display, which shows plain veneer when parked, then flips to a 12.3-inch touchscreen when the start button is pressed. If you fancy what design director Stefan Sielaff calls a “digital detox”, the third side comprises three analogue gauges: outside temperature, compass and chronometer.

The main instruments are a configurable TFT display, similar to Audi’s Virtual Cockpit. Audiophiles will adore the 18-speaker Naim hi-fi fitted to our test car (an indulgent £6,500 option, a 10-speaker system is standard). Apple Carplay connectivity is included, but there’s no Android Auto.

Its speed could worry a supercar

Bentley Continental GTC

Beneath that prominent prow lies the same 6.0-litre turbocharged W12 fitted to the Bentayga Speed. Billed by Bentley as ‘the most advanced 12-cylinder engine in the world’, it drives all four wheels via an eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox.

The stats are truly startling – as is the shove between your shoulder blades. With 635hp, this 2,414kg cabriolet blasts to 60mph in 3.7 seconds, topping out at 207mph. Many six-figure supercars are scarcely any swifter.

To save fuel, the engine seamlessly deactivates six of its cylinders under light loads. Quoted economy is 22.8mpg, although we managed 18.9mpg on a variety of roads.

On the road, it feels utterly effortless

Bentley Continental GTC

That variety included the famous mountain route from Marbella to Ronda (sadly now heavily policed, with a 60kph speed limit) and a loop through the rocky hills around Zufre. Here, on Teflon-smooth roads untroubled by tourist traffic, we could finally let the W12 off the leash.

With a thumping 664lb ft of torque from a toe-tickle above tickover, the Bentley makes light work of steep inclines and dawdling Seats. The dual-clutch ’box doesn’t have the treacle smoothness of the old torque converter, but it’s infinitely quicker and more intuitive. The manual shift paddles almost seem redundant.

Few cars, then, make so little fuss about going fast. Yet unlike some super saloons, the GTC isn’t all speed and no sensation. On writhing roads carved into the hillsides, it was also riotous fun.

The suspension makes more torque than the engine

Bentley Continental GTC

Key to this surprising agility is iron-fisted body control, courtesy of Bentley Dynamic Ride. The 48-volt system uses computer-controlled anti-roll bars to keep the car flat when cornering. Its electric motor alone generates up to 959lb ft of torque – around 50 percent more than the engine.

Well-weighted steering, a benign chassis and huge 10-piston front brakes (at 420mm, the largest iron discs of any production car) mean the GTC can hustled with confidence. Ironically, we preferred the waftier, looser-limbed Comfort mode to the slightly brittle Sport on twisty Tarmac.

And comfort is a grand tourer’s raison d’être, after all. Riding on huge 21-inch wheels (22s are optional), the car seems to crush the road surface into submission. If anything can solve the UK’s pothole crisis, it’s the Continental GTC.

It’s quieter than old Continental GT coupe

Bentley Continental GTC

Quietness is also an essential ingredient of long-distance comfort and, here again, the Bentley doesn’t disappoint. With the roof up, it’s even more hushed than the previous-generation coupe. Folding hard-tops – who needs ’em?

With the roof open (which is how we drove at least 90 percent of the route), you can have a conversation at 70mph without raising your voice. Keep the side windows raised and there’s very little turbulence inside the cabin, too.

We’re less convinced by the noise of the engine. It’s very obviously turbocharged, with an intake whoosh and the unmistakable hiss of a dump valve. In Sport mode, the exhaust also braaaps abruptly like a Volkswagen Golf R. Past experience suggests the forthcoming V8 will sound more characterful and cultured.

Forget Clarkson: this is the ultimate grand tour

Bentley Continental GTC

Minor quibbles and hefty price tag aside (our car was £210,925 including options), the Continental GTC is difficult to fault. It fulfils its brief of being the ‘definitive grand tourer’ admirably. After a full day on Spanish roads, we emerged fresher than a Seville orange.

Among rivals, both the Aston Martin DB11 Volante and Ferrari Portofino provide a similar sense of occasion, but neither matches the Bentley for comfort. The BMW 8 Series, meanwhile, simply doesn’t feel special enough.

The old fashioned idea of a grand tour has largely been lost, but given the choice of crossing Europe by budget flight or Bentley, the GTC wins hands-down. Roof down and W12 up front, it’s a fine way to fly.

Verdict: 5 stars

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Lexus UX review: hybrid SUV is a classier Qashqai

Good things are expensive, we all know that. It’s why we flock to buy Apple products. It’s how Rolex sells watches. And its why the Rolls-Royce is held in such high esteem. No one needs these things, but plenty of us want them.

How do you grow from ‘everyday’ to desirable? History counts for a lot: look at Rolls and Rolex. Yet Apple, which had already been around for a couple of decades, went from almost zero to hero overnight with the iPhone.

It’s that type of success that Toyota’s top brass aims for with the Lexus brand. Fortune has shined on Lexus in the States, but in Europe they still dream of selling 100,000 cars a year. The new UX is the major part of this ambition to grow.

So the Lexus UX is an SUV?

Yes, well… sort of. The trouble with the SUV acronym – which stands for ‘Sport Utility Vehicle’ – is it used to mean a full-blooded 4×4 with some creature comforts. Something like a Land Rover Discovery. Other things that looked like SUVs, but were really just tall cars? They’re crossovers.

Now SUV is the ultimate catchphrase, and woe betide any manufacturer that doesn’t have one in its range. So, led by Peugeot and Citroen, who have few scruples and even fewer proper 4x4s, the SUV tag is game for almost anything on four wheels. Basically, if you want your car to be an SUV, it is. Just call it that and you are a player.

The new Lexus UX thus qualifies as an SUV. The vast majority are likely to be bought with front-wheel drive, but you can get four-wheel drive as a £1,250 option. Brilliantly simple, there’s an electric motor that powers the rear wheels when required. So it can deal with snow and wet grass when the need arises.

Quality counts for a lot

 

In any customer satisfaction survey you care to look at, Lexus comes out very high – often top. The cars are supremely reliable and, if you do need help, the dealers are great. That’s a damn good reason to buy any car.

Yet to make its cars better than mere Toyotas, Lexus gets a bit anal. For example, neural scientists measured brain waves to create the most pleasing door closing sound. The wipers also stop when you open a door, so you don’t get splashed.

The tightness of the gaps between the doors is paper thin, and you only have to lift the bonnet to admire the neatness of all the pipework. It’s solidly good work. You feel more confident than you might in, say, a Land Rover, that it’s all going to work dependably.

It looks striking, but hardly elegant

So the Lexus UX seems well-built and is likely to be reliable, but is it really desirable? In the UK, Lexus sales have been on the slow-burn.

Pitched against Audi, BMW, Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz, Lexus has forged its own path rather than facing rivals head-on. Which means a distinctive design dominated by an insanely massive front grille that only a mother could love. Only by sticking a number plate across the middle, to break up this mishmash of chrome squiggles, does it start to look less alarming.

Elegant? I don’t think so. Of course, good design is partly down to individual preference, but the UX is unlikely to be bought by anyone desiring a great looking compact crossover.

What about the X1, Q3, E-Pace, GLA and XC40?

The UX is a direct competitor for compact crossovers from BMW, Audi, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo. Lexus is diving head-first into a busy sector already full of competence. The big difference here, though, is that every UK version of the UX is a petrol-electric hybrid.

And that’s definitely the flavour of the moment. Diesels are fading fast, and petrol engines are too thirsty, but hybrids answer the question that many are asking – without the apparent cost or unknowns of a purely electric car.

Lexus is keen on the term ‘self-charging hybrid’, which is a bit self-serving because it doesn’t have a plug-in version of the UX. No matter, though: this is the technology of the Toyota Prius, honed into its fourth generation. No-one knows better than Toyota and Lexus how to get the best out of a hybrid.

Tell me about fuel economy

The numbers certainly stack up. You should be able to get close to 50mpg in the front-wheel-drive version, although opting for bigger wheels or the E-Four (4WD) version hits economy a little. The CO2 emissions of the front-wheel-drive UX sneak below 100g/km, which is also an excellent result.

It’s all very easy to live with, too. An automatic transmission is standard, the (all-new) 2.0-litre engine is powerful and there’s extra punch from the battery when you need it. If the battery has a decent amount of charge, the UX will drive away on electric power before the petrol engine chimes in.

You won’t go much more than a mile on the battery alone. You’d need a plug-in hybrid to get 20-30 miles of electric range, and then, of course, you’d need to plug in your car once or twice a day to recharge it.

A 181hp output? Sounds like a hot hatch

It isn’t. There are people at Lexus who’d love you think the UX was a sporting drive, but it doesn’t have the engine refinement at high revs. Also, the CVT automatic gearbox works in a way that discourages getting the most from the car.

That makes what will likely be the most popular version, the UX F Sport, seem slightly incongruous. Yet this doesn’t really matter, because you’ll buy a UX for its refinement around town, relaxed motorway cruising and quiet demeanour.

The ride is also very good: best on the 17-inch wheels that come with the lesser models.

Blending the boundaries

It’s good fun going to a Lexus press conference. They desperately want you to believe their new car has some sort of magical quality that could only come from a deep-rooted Japanese fable. Here’s it’s engawe, a blending of the boundaries between the interior and exterior. Like wide-opening doors from a lounge onto a patio.

Here, though, we – rather obviously – have glass that gets in the way. Maybe it translates better at home.

Snipes aside, the interior, with a facia firmly focused on the driver, is a nice place to be, even though calling it luxurious is stretching things a bit. The seats are very comfortable. In the rear, however, it’s more of a two- than three-seater. Luggage space is a disappointment: more shopping-friendly than weekend-away usable.

How much does the Lexus UX cost?

Prices start at a shade under £30,000, rising to just over £40,000. If you want a few choice options, including leather seats, a UX is going to cost a minimum of £35k.

So the Lexus UX is far from a bargain. As a company car proposition, though, it looks a strong option. The CO2 levels are very low for a petrol car, while there is no dastardly diesel penalty to contend with.

Yet the UX has to face competition from an unexpected quarter: electric cars. The latest models from Hyundai and Kia, the Kona Electric and Niro EV, are electric cars that offer the best everyday practicality seen so far, including a range as high as 250 miles, for a touch less outlay than the UX. They are certainly worth considering.

Lexus UX verdict: 4 stars

By moving into a more compact segment of the car market, Lexus is following the well-trodden path of the other luxury brands. Affordable cars inevitably sell in greater numbers.

There’s much to admire about the UX, not least its easy nature and pleasing levels of comfort. The hybrid system is as good as you’ll find in any car, and the ownership costs – whether you buy privately or run it as a business expense – will be very competitive.

For those who aren’t quite ready to go fully electric, it makes a great deal of sense.

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Lexus UX: rivals

Audi Q3

BMW X1

Jaguar E-Pace

Mercedes-Benz GLA

Volvo XC40

Lexus UX: specification

• Price: £29,990-£39,100

• Engine: Four cylinder, 1987cc, electric motor

• Drivetrain: Front-engine, front-wheel drive

• Transmission: CVT automatic

• Chassis: Steel with aluminium doors, front wings and bonnet

• Suspension: McPherson struts

• Wheels: 17 or 18 inches

• Power: 181hp@6,000 rpm

• Torque: 140lb ft@4,400rpm-5,200rpm

• 0-62mph: 8.5 seconds

• Top speed: 110mph

• Fuel economy: 46.3-53.3mpg

• CO2 emissions: 94-103g/km

• Length/width/height: 4,495/1,840/1,540mm

• Kerb weight: 1,540-1,680kg

Last blast: a fiery farewell to the Morgan Plus 8

Morgan Plus 8

Every one of the 800-or-so Morgans built annually is covetable and collectable: a classic in waiting. The Plus 8 you see here, however, is particularly special. Soon, it will become a permanent exhibit at the factory museum. But first, I’ve been granted one exclusive last blast.

When the Plus 8 was launched in 1968, Stanley Kubrick was busy wowing cinema-goers with 2001: A Space Odyssey. Few could have guessed that Morgan’s retro roadster, its design already harking back to the 1955 4/4, would live beyond the movie’s sci-fi future.

This car is the last Plus 8: the final page in a story that spans 51 years (excluding an eight-year hiatus when Morgan switched from Rover to BMW engines). It’s also likely to be the last V8-powered Morgan. Clearly, it deserves a suitable send-off.

Wood you believe it?

Morgan Plus 8

Before that, I’m treated to the famous Morgan Motor Company factory tour. PR man James Gilbert’s abundant enthusiasm is infectious, and he’s evidently on first-name terms with everyone who works here. We start in the chassis section, moving literally downhill to the bodywork, then paint, then trim and final assembly.

The wood shop – where frames are painstakingly hand-cut, shaped and assembled – is where most Morgans really take shape. “We only use English ash,” explains James, “we tried French and Belgian wood, but fragments of First World War shrapnel kept damaging our tools.”

At one end of the room, the huge rear wheelarch press resembles something from the industrial revolution, its iron clamps bending planks of wood into a perfect curve. At the other, what first appears to be a coffee machine is actually a 3D printer, used for making prototype parts. The stark juxtaposition of old and new is fascinating.

Adjacent to the final assembly area, I spot Morgan’s one-off SP1 – a ‘Special Projects’ hot rod created for a wealthy African customer. It’s a reminder that every car here is built-to-order and bespoke, with almost unlimited options available (if your pockets are deep enough).

Tangled up in blue

Morgan Plus 8

The final Plus 8 isn’t for sale, but rest assured it wouldn’t be cheap either. Reckon on roughly £126,000 after VAT, says James.

I find the car parked beside the factory entrance, where another tour group has already stopped to admire its low-slung lines. That eye-popping paint colour is BMW Azul Blue, a shade usually seen on the M3 and M4. Together with matte-black alloys, which look like they belong on a salt-flats racer, it’s about as far from the traditional ‘BRG and wires’ look as possible.

There is a nod to heritage in the ‘MMC II’ number plate, though. The Malvern equivalent of Porsche’s ‘911 HUL’, it’s been worn by many significant Morgans over the years, including the car Peter Morgan himself drives in a photo that hangs in reception.

Ready to rumble

Morgan Plus 8

Twisting open the Land Rover Defender door lock, I fold my frame carefully through the shallow door aperture. Once inside, the Morgan feels snug rather than spacious, and there’s virtually no room for luggage. However, it doesn’t lack creature comforts, including heated seats – a real boon on a frosty January afternoon.

You sit low, with legs outstretched and the airbagged wheel pulled unusually close. It’s the opposite of the stereotypical ‘long arms, short legs’ driving position found in Italian cars, and takes some getting used to.

Quality is impressive, with none of the rough edges you might expect from a low-volume marque. Only the parts-bin plastic column stalks jar a little.

Looking out through the letterbox-shaped windscreen with its three tiny wipers, I drink in the view along that long, louvred bonnet. And things only get better when I press the start button and the 4.8-litre BMW V8 coughs into life. Its rambunctious rumble stops the tour party in their tracks.

Heading for the hills

Morgan Plus 8

Moseying through town, the Plus 8 wins an appreciative nod from an elderly gent at the bus stop, then a van driver gives a thumbs-up. I already feel like something of a local hero.

This car has a six-speed manual transmission, rather than the popular six-speed auto, but the engine’s brawny 370lb ft of torque means you can cruise almost everywhere in fourth gear. Stick it in sixth at 20mph and it’ll pull cleanly – all the way to its 155mph maximum.

Climbing into the snow-capped hills, the road finally clears and I flatten my right foot. With 367hp and a kerb weight of just 1,220kg, the Plus 8 feels indecently quick. Nigh-on supercar-quick. The challenge, as I’ll discover, is keeping it in a straight line.

Thunderstruck

Morgan Plus 8

Morgan quotes a 0-62mph time of just 4.5 seconds. And on a dry summer day, I’ve no doubt the Plus 8 could achieve that.

However, ‘my’ car is fitted with track-focused Yokohama AD08R tyres, which look like cut slicks and severely dislike damp, freezing roads. Act the yob and it’ll spin its rear wheels in first, second and third gears. A degree of delicacy is therefore required, particularly in a car with zero electronic safety aids.

Thankfully, there’s nothing delicate about that noise. It swells from a low, resonating thud to a full-blooded howl. The V8 sucks in fuel like a giant gargling with gravel, its four exhausts popping on the over-run like artillery fire. No BMW ever sounded like this.

Picture perfect

Morgan Plus 8

No BMW looks like this either, at least not since the days of the classic 328. WIth its voluptuous curves and delicate chrome details, the Plus 8 looks perfectly at home in the English countryside.

Nonetheless, snapper Bradley isn’t convinced and demands I brave the elements by lowering the roof. This requires unfastening several catches on each side, and needs to be done from outside the car.

For the full wind-in-the-face effect, I also use an allen key to detach the flimsy side screens, storing them in the boot of Bradley’s Corsa.

Clambering in and out for photo duties feels an effort, but I’m thankful the Morgan has power steering – unlike the workout-weighted AR Plus 4 I drove a couple of years ago.

Baby’s got the bends

Morgan Plus 8

With the winter sun beginning its slow descent, there’s time for a brief blat around the Malvern Hills before I point the Plus 8’s prow towards home.

The lack of grip on near-freezing roads is front-and-centre in my mind, but swift, communicative steering and a balanced, relatively benign chassis mean there are no sudden surprises. Grab the Morgan by the lapels and it rewards with a drive that’s both physical and pulse-spikingly visceral.

The downside, though, is ‘retro’ ride quality. The Plus 8’s suspension bucks and bounces over ridges and is easily unsettled by mid-corner bumps. It’s nowhere near as sophisticated as modern sports cars.

Highway to home

Morgan Plus 8

Pulling over to raise the roof, my head is spinning with an odd mix of brain-freeze and giddy euphoria. An altogether different drive is ahead, however: back to Surrey via the M4 and M25. How will the Morgan cope in the ‘real world’?

Not brilliantly, as it happens. The sliding plastic windows are draughty, the wide tyres roar, the blare of the V8 becomes tiresome over time and the 90s-spec Alpine CD player is almost inaudible over the din. To top it all, it’s started to snow steadily.

Fortunately, other drivers keep my spirits up by waving and honking their horns. Following a tunnel of tail lights through the darkness, I’m reminded of something James said earlier: “The least suitable cars are the most fun for road trips”. He has a point. A long haul in a Nissan Micra feels inconsequential. This is an adventure.

Slip-sliding away

Morgan Plus 8

The final part of my drive is on rural roads dusted by snow. I’m driving on tip-toes: slightly scared, sensing every shimmy and squirm, determined to keep this unique piece of British motoring heritage intact. By the time I arrive home, I’m utterly exhausted.

The Plus 8 closes a long chapter in Morgan history. All eyes are now on the 2019 Geneva Motor Show, where it’s rumoured the car’s ‘wide body’ successor will be revealed. Hell, we’ve only waited 51 years.

Until then, I’ll imagine the Plus 8 roaring into a sepia-tinged sunset: gone, but not forgotten. Certainly not by me.

In pictures:

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Driving my first Ferrari: does it live up to the legend?

Ferrari Portofino road trip

Ask anyone who likes cars – hell, ask anyone. What is the ultimate car brand? The car everyone knows and most people want? Love them or lump them, there is only one answer: Ferrari.

I’m not a Ferrari fan in particular. I’ve always loved the more subtle four-seat GTs (330 GT, 456 GT, 612 Scaglietti), but a Ferrari has never been my dream car. Yet it’s the marque that has always resonated as the cultural archetype for racing, luxury, success and excess. The embodiment of Italian bravado and style.

Ferrari Portofino road trip

I grew up watching the Scuderia dominate Formula One racing, in between reading gushing reviews of red road cars that seemed to have no equal. Sure, Aston Martin and Porsche occasionally had a good pop, but journalists always came running back, arms and eyes open wide, to the contemporary Ferrari.

Fast-forward some 15 years and I find myself with a Ferrari and a weekend to go and play. Now, I thought, was the watershed moment: a rite of passage. Would the real thing live up to the legend?

A fair prediction would have been ‘no’. For it wasn’t a snarling 812 Superfast or side-slip-equipped 488 Pista sat outside the office awaiting a coat of wintry grime: it was a Portofino.

The Portofino is the successor to the California, a car occasionally dismissed as ‘not a proper Ferrari’. Granted, very few buyers of these front-mid-mounted V8 cars are Ferrari veterans. It’s not got the same multi-way traction control as the mid-engined models, or indeed a blood-curdling, free-breathing V12 like the flagship GTs.

Ferrari Portofino video review

This is the drop-top, diet Ferrari that belongs on the Pacific Coast Highway, or so those drift-happy journos will tell you.

I’m no wannabe Park Lane poser, though – I wanted to actually drive the thing. So, with friends living on the Scottish border, the obvious thing was to head up north…

Getting in my first Ferrari

Friday afternoon comes and a red fob slides onto my desk. “It goes without saying… be careful,” I’m warned. No arguments there. I walk outside and, while excited, I can’t get away from the feeling that Ferraris used to be prettier. And smaller.

This so-called ‘entry-level’ car has some size and presence about it, but not the delicacy and elegance of the marque’s older models. It’s much better looking than 2009’s California, mind.

Clambering inside, being careful to avoid dinging the door and the five-figure satin paint, there’s no indication that this isn’t a ‘proper’ Ferrari. The cabin is beautifully appointed.

The lack of bucket seats (thank God) juxtaposes with lashings of carbon fibre and shift lights on the steering wheel. I’d save some pennies and take the classier standard alloy finish. It’s true what they say, modern Ferraris are an ergonomic nightmare, at least at first.

Engine: Start | Stop

Ferrari Portofino road trip

Foot on brake, press the bright red button on the wheel marked ‘Engine Start | Stop’ and the dash and wheel lights flutter into life. It’s an event, and that’s before the V8 catches with a bark and a woofle. Immediately, folks working in the same building wander over – “Superfast, right”? This was the first indication that, to anyone other than seasoned anoraks, the horse commands attention regardless of the snout atop which it prances.

The first challenge is getting out of the office car park. Obviously, it’s parked facing away from the exit, which itself is a bit of a climb. A trial by fire in terms of getting used to the dimensions and learning the control weights, then. The dual-clutch box, while whip-crack on a run, feels somewhat sluggish when crawling. One to get used to.

Ferrari Portofino road trip

Once you’re up and running, another Ferrari cliche becomes abundantly clear. The steering really is lightning-quick when you’re fresh from other cars. Otherwise, the gearbox is superb and the now-standard carbon-ceramic brakes aren’t nearly as grabby as earlier systems were purported to be. All in all, without a heavy clutch, worrying cabin heat or strong-arm steering, the Portofino seems decidedly un-Ferrari-like, at least in the classic sense.

I get on the road properly and, to my delight and relief, the Portofino lets another surprise out of the bag. It rides really quite nicely. First stop: home to show mum and dad – you would, wouldn’t you? Up the A1 and A505 I fly, in superb comfort and with consummate effortlessness – the Portofino giving a taste of its GT credentials.

I pick up a friend and make a beeline for my childhood home. Yet again, the car gets the attention befitting the badge. Local lads run up the high street to catch it. This is a front-engined silver cabriolet – a far cry from a mid-engined red supercar. Still, a Ferrari has that kind of magnetism, not to mention the noise.

The long run up to the Scottish borders

Ferrari Portofino road trip

By the time we get underway, it’s nearly 9pm and we’ve got the better part of a five-hour drive ahead. This was to be a real test of the Ferrari’s GT credentials.

Set cruise, wiggle your backside into a long-term position and watch the miles disappear. This is the side of the Portofino’s personality that I became most grateful for as I spent 16 of the next 48 hours driving. It settles down beautifully on compliant suspension and there’s no drone from the engine.

It’s not perfect, mind. Be sure to leave it a while after you’ve put the roof up. A whistle or two can be heard from the roof if the rubbers haven’t settled. That quick steering requires a bit of micro-management at speed, too.

Hours go by and you often forget you’re in a Ferrari – in my case, my first. Is that a bad thing? It took us all weekend to decide. A quick coffee stop revealed it has the car park presence. You can’t help but smile as you walk back out to it. Before we knew it, we were snaking our way up the A66 and across onto the M6.

Ferrari Portofino road trip

The final word on the Ferrari’s grand touring prowess was that, even with 250 miles behind us and a weekend’s driving ahead, we were sad this journey was ending. A new Bentley Continental GT might have done a better job still, but the Portofino is a superb long-distance tourer.

For your own mental maths, we burned through just under £60 of high-octane – a wedge over half a tank on the run up. You could do 400 miles on a tank without worrying, I reckon. The final practical test was a very steep, very tight driveway entrance. It was a nail-biting experience, but the baby Ferrari was just slim enough to get through without a graze.

Portofino in the Lake District

Ferrari Portofino road trip

It’s a foggy Saturday morning in Cotehill as we head down for breakfast in Keswick. We needed to fill up for the long day of testing, filming and photography ahead deep in the Lake District.

Our chosen arena would be a challenge for any pretender to supercar status. The Buttermere to Honister pass is tight, twisty and the surface quality is comparable to an adolescent’s face. You’ve got to watch your extremities, mitigate throttle, be exact with steering and not overstep your braking zones.

Ferrari Portofino road trip

The Portofino, where hot hatches would ordinarily thrive, gobbled it up. Superb body control with the ‘bumpy road’ button pressed gives you the confidence to push on. The traction control system when in ‘Sport’ on the Manettino is watchful but lenient – you can feel the power moving the car around its axis via the electronic e-diff, without the sense that technology is killing the fun.

The way the car limits torque through first and second gears delivers the feeling of a nitrous hit when you reach third wide open. If you flat-foot it in third from low revs, the boost really encourages the car to get away from you, even with the traction on. The brakes, handily, arrest momentum without breaking a bead.

Ferrari Portofino road trip

With getting on for 600hp, you’d imagine the Portofino to feel like a pike in a paddling pool on the B5289. On the contrary, the performance is exciting, but not overwhelming, the chassis poised, balanced and exploitable. The quick steering begins to make sense when you can only see as far as the next switchback.

When you rip it up and down the revs via the dual-clutch transmission, you come to realise there really is a 488 hiding under the bonnet, ready to be called upon. It’s the deftest of Dr Jekyll GT cars with a Hyde-flavoured supercar available on request. That’s something few other rivals can offer.

It also accrues speed like nothing from even 15 years ago. It’s at the extremes of performance you can really use and enjoy on the road.

Does it sound like a Ferrari should?

Ferrari Portofino road trip

The Portofino doesn’t quite have the vocal intricacy and rev-range of the old naturally aspirated Ferrari V8s. It is a close relation, though, as if you’re hearing an F430 through a pillow.

The soundtrack is by no means without drama of its own. High-rev gearshifts are accompanied by pops and crackles, and there’s that quintessential Ferrari bark as the valves open around 3,000rpm.

When you pile on the loud pedal, there aren’t turbo noises in the classic whoosh and chirp sense. This isn’t an Audi Quattro, or indeed an F40. The exhaust noise could only be Ferrari, if a little dulled by the turbos. Interestingly, there’s no ‘loud exhaust’ button.

Heading home: M6 and the Yorkshire Dales

Ferrari Portofino road trip

For the drive home, we wanted a back-to-back re-run of the two opposing sides to the Portofino’s character. So we traded the A66 for a few more miles of M6, before getting off at Kendall for a B-Road thrash across the Yorkshire Dales to the A1.

Much of the Dales is a bit more open than our Lake District routes so we got to open the Ferrari up a bit more. We wouldn’t be doing the Portofino a disservice to say that a ‘proper’ supercar would do really fast stuff with a bit more drama. You always get the sense that you’re munching miles rather than attacking a road, as it might feel in a 488.

Ferrari Portofino road trip

Still, added drama is a frequent bedfellow with poor refinement. We were happy with seven-tenths of the supercar experience without any of the irritants: a feeling that became abundantly clear as the final dark hours of our weekend road trip eroded away.

For the last blast back home to bed, the fact that the Portofino is capable of really settling down was invaluable to a driver who’d, by now, had his fill.

Verdict: prancing horse or phoney pony?

Ferrari Portofino road trip

The Portofino isn’t the most spine-tingling of sports cars. It will, however, put a smile on your face if you take the scenic route and let that muzzled 488 lump off its lead.

Before and after. Looks better dirty, imo… Cosetting svelte GT when you want it to be, with deployable and exploitable supercar character (and performance) there on demand. pic.twitter.com/ZCB4pvj9Fa

— Ethan Jupp (@EthanIsSaying) January 7, 2019

The rest of the time, it really is a car for all seasons: a well-judged entrance into Ferrari ownership and a supremely accomplished GT.

The smallest horse in the stable is still a prize steed, by my reckoning, a worthy introduction to this most prestigious of automotive marques.