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

Kia Soul EV (2020) review: a sensible first electric car

In late 2019 and early 2020, the electric cars that caught the imagination – where demand exceeded supply by many, many months – were the Kia e-Niro and Hyundai Kona Electric.

These two vehicles alone showed that you didn’t have to spend Tesla money to own an EV capable of getting close to 300 miles between charges.

Now, fresh from being named a World Car Awards 2020 finalist, the Kia Soul EV joins the party.

Styled much like the earlier Soul, which didn’t find many followers in the UK but was loved by college kids in the US, it’s even chunkier than before. Modern, yes, but… well you judge by the images here.

ALSO SEE: Electric cars 2020 – which EVs have the longest range?

Key stats, then. The official range is 280 miles, which at present is highly competitive. The electric motor produces 201 horsepower, which is plenty, but that comes with the territory. Electric cars usually have more power than you’ll ever need.

The price is £33,795 after the government’s £3,500 grant is deducted. That buys the ‘First Edition’, the only Kia Soul EV on sale right now. It’s simply overloaded with features.

Importantly, getting one soon shouldn’t be a problem either, as long as you like one of just three colour schemes on offer.

Your first electric car?

If this is your first electric car, have no fear. The Soul EV is extremely easy to drive and live with. Your dealer will set you up with the basics, so you don’t have to worry about the myriad controls on the steering wheel, dashboard and touchscreen. Well, not much.

Push the start button, turn the large knob to select drive or reverse and you’re off. You sit up quite high, and the all-round visibility is terrific, so positioning the Soul EV in traffic is easy, despite its bulk. There’s plenty of adjustment to the steering wheel and seats, the latter fully electric in the First Edition.

ALSO SEE: Kia launches new versions of the Picanto, Stonic and Niro

The experience is, perhaps disappointingly, not otherworldly at all. Your passengers might not even realise they are in an electric car. Even for the driver, it’s business as usual. This is an automatic much like any hybrid, and you quickly overlook there are no gear changes taking place.

The one big difference is the regenerative braking. This uses the electric motor to slow the car instead of the brake pedal (although you still have one of those). It only works in certain circumstances, and you can vary the effect by pulling on paddles behind the steering wheel. The system also helps put power back into the battery.

So, let’s talk tech

It seems a vain hope that the UK’s roadside charging system will make any more sense in 2020, or even 2021. The need to register separately with the provider of the charger, then being sure the one you drive to is vacant and not out of service, and having to pay a variable amount each time you charge, means you’ll want to do it at home as often as possible. As long as you have a driveway to make this practical.

The Soul EV comes with a ‘CCS’ fast charger built in, so if you find one of the rare 100kW public chargers, an 80 percent charge is possible in 54 minutes. The more common 50kW chargers (still classed as ‘fast chargers’) take 75 minutes. At home, the common 7.2kW wall charger will take nine hours and 35 minutes to achieve the full 100 percent. A regular three-pin plug? Come back in a day or two.

Are you going to love the Soul EV?

You’d hope so. First off, electric car owners always seem to love their cars. And the Soul has much to commend it. Significantly roomier than before, it’s a four-to-five seater with interior space that feels similar to a Kia Sportage, albeit with a smaller boot. The two-level luggage floor gives some flexibility, although charging leads tend to be stored there as well.

Kia’s interiors have been a strong selling point for a number of years, and anyone stepping from even a VW Golf is likely to be impressed. The dashboard and controls are quality items, with many functions still controllable via buttons or switches, rather than having to delve into menus and sub-menus on the touchscreen. That said, the screen has a terrific navigation display – and if you want to monitor every aspect of the battery operation, you can do it there.

Seats are leather in the First Edition: decently sized and comfortable. The suspension is a bit on the firm side, which seems to be a trait in many electric cars, no doubt partly down to the extra weight of those batteries. The climate control lacks a separate adjustment for the front passenger, which is a surprising omission, although you can turn the heating to passengers off to save power when driving alone.

Energy-saving details like this run through the Kia Soul EV, illustrating how these latest generation electric vehicles have undergone considerable fine tuning to maximise their possible range. The battery cell density and chemistry have been improved, while the latest electric motors are claimed to be 30 percent more efficient than those in the Nissan Leaf.

Fighting these efficiency gains are heated seats, a banging Harman Kardon 10-speaker sound system and tyres wider than the front rubber on my Porsche 911. It seems there’s no getting away from what buyers’ really want, even when they are wearing their environmental credentials on their sleeves.

Kia Soul EV: Verdict

The Kia Soul EV is an unequivocal contender. It kills most rivals with its range and the seven-year Kia warranty. It’s very nicely equipped in First Edition spec, and works well as a compact family car. However, the Kia Niro EV offers an even better package here, especially in the luggage area.

The exterior design will be an issue for some, we are certain, and in truth the Soul doesn’t have much in the way of, well, soul, when you drive it. It simply works like a versatile white good that happens to be a car.
The mid-thirties price will clearly be an issue for many, too. But look at the PCP rates and the Soul EV suddenly makes much sense.

2020 Kia Soul EV First Edition

Price: £33,795 after £3,500 government grant

Engine: 64kW electric motor

Transmission: Single speed automatic, front-wheel drive

Power: 201hp

0-62mph: 7.9 seconds

Top speed: 104mph

Driving range: 280 miles

CO2: 0g/km

Length/width/height: 4,220/1,825/1,605mm

Boot size: 315 litres

Mini Electric (2020)

Mini Electric (2020) review

Mini Electric (2020)

The Mini Electric is built in the same Oxford factory as the regular car. To the casual observer, it looks just like a normal Mini. You can choose to have bright yellow door mirrors, a yellow stripe across the grille, and wheels that look like plug sockets. Or you can choose not to, with only the yellow badges giving the game away.

It’s all intentional. We already love the Mini, and don’t want it to change. We simply want it future-proofed with zero-emissions electric technology. The Mini Electric does all that brilliantly – with just one major proviso that buyers alone will judge either irrelevant or a deal-breaker.

Mini Electric (2020)

At first glance, the electric Mini passes for a high-performance Cooper S model, thanks to the scoop in the bonnet (for obvious reasons, it lacks the centre-exit exhausts at the rear). The grille is sealed, so it’s slipperier through the air, and the front bumper is smoother. Differences are otherwise minimal – you don’t even have to choose the three-pin plug wheels if you don’t want to. But why wouldn’t you?.

The Mini Electric comes in three grades: Levels 1, 2 or 3. Everything is standard: you can’t add any options, so if you want more equipment, you move up through the levels. With Level 1, you can only pick two colours – grey or the silver seen here. Level 2 and 3 add more colours, like the everyday red or British Racing Green that will see you pass for just another Mini.

It’s the same inside. Little gives the game away, apart from the more feature-packed electronic display ahead of the driver. All Mini Electrics get standard navigation (so they can show nearby charging points to drivers in a panic), while climate control air-con keeps climate change discomfort away.

The differences come the moment you press the yellow-coloured starter toggle. 

Driving the Mini Electric

Mini Electric (2020)

The Mini is a little car and you’re used to the connection with its sprightly turbo engines. But with the Electric, there’s silence. Pull the auto shifter back into ‘D’ and creep eerily forward, again without a peep. The loudest noise you’ll hear is the crunch of gravel under the tyres. 

For a car that, in classic original guise, deafened its occupants, this is a massive transformation. The satisfying simplicity is enhanced by an unusual feeling of accuracy – it’s somehow easier to move the Mini Electric along at exactly the pace and distance you want. Low-speed manoeuvring is brilliantly easy.

The electric motor is basically the same as in the BMW i3, a very popular premium electric car. BMW’s years of experience with the technology shows. The Mini Electric is fast, fluid and seamless, with a sophistication lacking in some other electric cars. It has a superb traction control system, too, which lets you use its mountain of surge to the max, without the steering wheel fighting in your hands.

Mini Electric (2020)

A toggle on the dashboard lets you choose the amount of regeneration when you lift off the accelerator. It defaults to heavy regen, so taking your foot off the pedal is like tapping the brakes. This does feed energy back into the batteries, though, and once you get used to it, you can drive the Mini Electric with just one pedal. Choose mild regen for a more normal experience (the toggle glows orange, to discreetly scold you).  

It’s heavier than a regular Mini, so it’s perhaps not quite as agile. It’s still way nimbler than most cars though, responding with alacrity to the steering in that well-loved chuckable Mini way (it has, ahem, a ‘go-kart feeling’). Because the batteries are mounted so low, most of the weight is close to the ground, further enhancing stability.

The controls work impeccably, with premium engineering. Steering weight and feel are superb, the brake pedal is less sloppy and jerky than in other electric cars, and the response to the accelerator pedal is instantaneous. And while it has a taut, jiggly ride, the suspension also works quietly, and eases away any crashy harshness. 

Inside, it’s high quality, and Minis still feel special to sit in – with their long dashboard and upright windscreen. The firm front seats are lovely and supportive and the rear seats, of course, are microscopic. But although the boot is compact, it’s no smaller than a normal Mini Hatch. Indeed, the packaging of the batteries is brilliantly compromise-free. You almost wonder how they managed it.

Mini Electric (2020)

Battery capacity is how. The 32.6 kWh size is pretty much half the size of, say, a Kia Soul EV. The new Renault Zoe has 52 kWh, for an extra 100 miles of range compared to the Mini Electric. On a chilly February day, a 100 percent battery charge gave me just 83 miles’ range (although, by the end, I did add 11 miles to it, despite some eager driving).

Mini insists it won’t be a problem. This is a city car and owners are expected to charge overnight so their car is always ‘full’. Most motorists rarely cover more than 30 miles a day, anyway. Dealers will profile customers carefully to make sure they’re suited to an electric Mini.

For cautious buyers considering their first EV, though, such a limited range does nothing for buyer confidence. It’s undoubtedly the elephant in the room when considering the otherwise fantastic Mini Electric.

Mini Electric: verdict

Mini Electric (2020)

This is a charismatic, premium electric car that feels high class without, unusually for an EV, the high price tag to match. Because everyone loves Minis, this alone will generate huge interest, and the curious are guaranteed to be wowed when they drive it.

The limited range does nothing to ease anxieties, and will lose some potential buyers along the way to models such as the Renault Zoe or Vauxhall Corsa-e. But if ever a car was likely to force people to think how they actually use their cars – and realise going electric is not only perfectly viable, but actually more convenient than driving petrol or diesel – it’s the Mini Electric. It really is that appealingly, authentically ‘Mini’.

McLaren 720S Track Pack (2020) review

With the car industry mired in Brexit malaise, McLaren’s remarkable, zero-to-hero success story is cause for celebration. Since the company’s formation in 2010, its clinically clean factory in Woking, Surrey has assembled nearly 20,000 cars. And all without bowing to inevitable pressure to build an SUV.

McLaren may be a young car manufacturer, but it trades on the longstanding achievements of its racing team. Since 1966, it has won eight F1 constructors’ titles, plus trophies in Can-Am, IndyCar and the Le Mans 24 Hours. Motorsport is part of McLaren Automotive’s mindset; from the 570S GT4 to the Senna GTR, all its cars are available in lightweight, track-focused guise.

The 720S Track Pack seen here isn’t the full-house GT3 racer. Nor is it the rumoured LT (Long Tail) version, a limited-run special with more horsepower and less weight. Instead, its suite of upgrades, like the Weissach Package offered by Porsche, is pitched at amateur enthusiasts who enjoy the occasional track day. So, what do you get for an extra £28,360?

Most obviously, there’s a new active rear spoiler, finished in exquisite naked carbon fibre. A throatier sports exhaust and 10-spoke forged alloy wheels – shod with super-sticky Pirelli P Zero Corsa tyres – complete the exterior makeover. Inside, you’ll find carbon racing seats, a harness bar on the rear shelf and a track telemetry system. The latter uses three cameras to log driving data, including lap times and sector splits. Quoted performance figures are unchanged (0-62mph in 2.9sec, 212mph), although the Track Pack shaves 24kg from the car’s 1,419kg kerb weight.

I’ll level with you: the closest I got to a circuit during my week with the McLaren was a late-night lap of Croydon’s one-way system. And on track-ready rubber in deepest January, it would require road-test reflexes more finely honed than mine to detect any real differences versus the ‘standard’ 720S. Fortunately, that hardly matters: both are ballistically brilliant to drive.

Lifting the dihedral door, I lower myself into the canopy-style cockpit. The Track Pack seats are thinly-padded and, frankly, a tad uncomfortable, but the view ahead over the plunging bonnet is pure race car. Press a button and the TFT instrument display flips down, hiding all but the raw driving essentials: revs, gear ratio and speed. All three can escalate rather quickly…

The first time I flatten my right foot, the haymaker punch of the 4.0-litre V8 fairly knocks the breath from my lungs. Acceleration feels unabatingly savage – even from motorway speeds – gathering pace with licence-losing ferocity. The 720S has been criticised for its soulless soundtrack, but I loved the industrial whooshes and gasps of its twin turbos. True to McLaren’s ethos, it’s fabulously functional.

Any car with seven times the power of a Ford Fiesta demands respect: doubly so on damp roads. Yet the McLaren’s ‘semi-active’ suspension is so supple, its steering so lucid, it rarely feels intimidating. The way it breathes with the road, tightly hugging the topography like a guided missile, is genuinely awe-inspiring. Ironically, the same traits – combined with that panoramic visibility – also make it comfortable and easy to drive around town.

Should you buy a McLaren 720S? Probably, yes. It’s the most multi-talented supercar on sale. Should you upgrade to the Track Pack? Probably not. It’s a niche offering, only likely to account for 10 percent of sales. Some buyers, though, will simply want the ultimate, money-no-object 720S, and that’s exactly what the Track Pack represents. For now, at least.

Price: £253,060

0-62mph: 2.9sec

Top speed: 212mph

CO2 G/KM: 249

MPG combined: 26.4

McLaren GT review (2020): driving the soft-focus supercar

Supercar reviews don’t usually begin by discussing boot space, but this isn’t a supercar. At least, not according to McLaren.

The GT is a Gran Turismo – or perhaps the anglicised (and somewhat less exotic) ‘Grand Tourer’, given it hails from Woking. It’s designed for going far and fast, blatting across Europe on hedonistic weekends away.

So while a common-or-garden supercar has just enough room for a passport, toothbrush and spare pair of pants, the GT has 570 litres of luggage capacity: more than a Range Rover Evoque.

There are some caveats, though. The ‘frunk’ beneath the bonnet can accommodate a small wheelie case, but the main boot sits atop the mid-mounted engine. Accessed via a glassy tailgate, it’s long and shallow: fine if your weekend involves skiing or golf, less so if you enjoy mountain biking.

And unlike some ‘2+2’ rivals, there are no rear seats to stash bulkier bags. Still, there’s plenty of room for pants.

McLaren 720S review: seven days with a supercar

The £163,000 GT is easier to live with than most McLarens, too. It retains the marque’s signature butterfly doors, but they soft-close with a mechanised click. It has plush heated seats rather than masochistic fixed-back buckets. And its snug cabin is enhanced by subtle ambient lighting, premium Bowers and Wilkins hi-fi and an electrochromic roof that darkens at the touch of a button. Optional cashmere upholstery is a world-first for a production car.

It also sounds less rambunctious than you’d expect, albeit still loud enough to wake your neighbours at 5:30am (she texted me later to complain). With smaller turbochargers than the 720S, it makes 620hp at 7,500rpm, but a kerb weight of just 1,530kg – 50kg less than a Porsche 911 Carrera, mainly thanks to an F1-style carbon fibre chassis – means performance is hardly muted. Use launch control and it passes 62mph in 3.2 seconds, with a 203mph top speed.

McLaren 600LT Spider review: lean and roofless

The 4.0-litre V8 feels a little flat until 3,000rpm, then a torrent of turbocharged boost scoops you up like a tsunami. The whoosh to warp-speed is like opening a shaken-up can of cola: an explosion of energy that makes you laugh out loud before glancing worriedly at the speedo. On public roads, you’ll need iron resolve to resist it.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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‪McLaren GT on test.‬ Vital stats: 620hp, 0-62mph in 3.2sec, 23.7mpg and 270g/km.‬ Price before options: £163,000. Price as tested: £201,740.‬

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Especially once you escape the city. The GT lays siege to a B-roads with aggressive turn-in, shattering speed and abundant tactility. Proactive Chassis Control suspension is a carry-over from the 720S, and while it doesn’t inherit that car’s active anti-roll system, it feels tied-down and tenacious. The hydraulic power steering is an utter joy, too. Short of doing a handstand in the road, your palms couldn’t feel more connected to the tarmac. Only the iron brakes feel slightly soft, lacking the bite of McLaren’s usual carbon-ceramic discs (they cost extra).

As for the GT’s grand touring credentials, the picture is more mixed. Its canopy-style cockpit offers excellent visibility, the dual-clutch auto gearbox can be left to its own devices and the front splitter isn’t so low that speed humps provoke a buttock-clenching sense of fear. On the minus side, the boomy exhaust gets tiresome on motorways, its infotainment is baffling and ride quality is unflinchingly firm.

This is the world’s most immaculate McLaren F1

Ultimately, the McLaren isn’t as comfortable as the benchmark Bentley Continental GT, yet it’s more rewarding on the right road. Nor is it as outrageously exciting as the 720S, but it costs nearly £50,000 less. Assuming its well-heeled customers don’t simply buy the Bentley and a 720S, McLaren may have found a new niche. It certainly thinks so, predicting the GT will take 25 percent of sales.

Price: £163,000

0-62mph: 3.2sec

Top speed: 203mph

CO2 G/KM: 270

MPG combined: 23.7

McLaren GT: in pictures

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Porsche 911 GT2 RS review: wing and a prayer

There’s already a new ‘992’ Porsche 911 parked on every side street in west London, but we’re yet to see any go-faster versions. On past form, these will include a Turbo and Turbo S, GT3 and GT3 RS, plus the flagship GT2 RS.

The GT2 RS is the 911 at the peak of its powers. And the outgoing ‘991’ version is still the fastest, most powerful road-legal 911 to date: a hardcore hero with two seats, a titanium rollcage and an Airbus-sized rear wing. A 700hp twin-turbo engine means 0-62mph in 2.8 seconds and 211mph flat-out, plus the ability to blitz the 12.9-mile Nürburgring circuit in six minutes 47 seconds. Among series production cars, only the Lamborghini Aventador SVJ has gone quicker.

Arriving at Porsche HQ, I sign a disclaimer promising not to die, then collect the keys. The GT2 RS bristles with mechanical malice, its familiar silhouette peppered with aggressive aero addenda. The 3.8-litre motor clatters like a bag of bolts at idle, but proves even-tempered and superbly tractable around town. With the paddleshift PDK gearbox in auto mode (only the naturally-aspirated GT3 RS had a manual option), this racetrack refugee initially feels no more taxing than a common-or-garden Carrera.

Lulled into a false sense of serenity, I head west and arrive at the ‘Lambourn Triangle’ – a lightly-trafficked loop of Berkshire B-roads used as a test route by car magazines. Passing a national speed limit sign, I flatten my right foot and a wall of power wallops me between the shoulder blades. With 553lb ft of torque from 2,500rpm, the turbocharged Rennsport accelerates with the intensity of an avalanche, the industrial rumble of its flat-six amplified to a primal roar. Its sheer ferocity scrambles my synapses, pummelling the breath from my lungs. Mentally and physically, it feels all-consuming.

Thankfully, the Porsche has a chassis equal to its straight-line speed. Its ball-jointed, solidly mounted suspension is closely related to the 911 Cup car, but adaptive dampers and helper springs add a degree of civility. Brakes are huge ceramic composite discs with six-pot front calipers, while soft-compound Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres offer motorsport-grade adhesion – on dry tarmac, at least. Keep the throttle pinned until VMax and the RS generates 450kg of downforce, equivalent to nearly a third of its own weight.

The result, once I’ve recalibrated my brain to that pulse-spiking performance, is a car that’s fluid, intuitive and richly rewarding to drive. Turn-in is razor-sharp, the GT2 RS hard-wired into every ripple of the road, yet its ride is supple enough not to feel skittish. Rear-wheel steering improves stability at speed, too. As my confidence grows, I push harder, feeling the weight shift, brakes bite and tyres squirm. Despite that sledgehammer shove, everything moves with a measured directness that speaks of meticulous German engineering. I’m still in awe of this uber-911, but I’m no longer intimidated by it.

The turbocharged 911 has come a long way, from wayward ‘widowmaker’ to laser-guided missile. However much I up my game, the GT2 RS rises to the challenge. It’s a fitting flagship for the 991, and already a future classic. At present, the new 992 is only available in 385hp Carrera and 450hp Carrera S guises, but RS versions are already deep in development. How much further can Porsche push the 911? I’m not sure, but don’t bank on Lamborghini holding that lap-record for long.

Price: N/A (£228,548 when new)

0-62mph: 2.8 seconds

Top speed: 211mph

CO2 G/KM: 269

MPG combined: 23.9

Porsche 911 GT2 RS: in pictures

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2020 Ford Puma review: top of the crossover class

Take Britain’s best-seller, fortify it into something more fashionable, then add a sprinkling of off-road attitude. Catnip for car buyers, right? Not necessarily.

The 2014 Ecosport was Ford’s last attempt at a Fiesta-based small SUV. Designed primarily for India and South America, it felt woefully off the pace in Europe: a second-world car that became a first-world problem. A critical drubbing led to slow sales, which even a comprehensive facelift in 2017 couldn’t fully fix.

Despite borrowing its name from Ford’s curvy late-90s coupe – also derived from the Fiesta, of course – the new Puma is effectively a successor to the Ecosport (although, bizarrely, the latter car lives on as a cheaper alternative). And this time, Ford isn’t doing things by halves.

The Puma, you see, is more than simply a taller Fiesta. Priced from £20,545, it has some genuinely clever features, plus lively handling and bountiful boot space. Spoiler alert: I think it could be the compact crossover to beat. Let’s start with the styling…

Different by design

Distinctive design can make or break a car in this sector. Looking different to a humdrum hatchback is what counts, even if that means being willfully weird. How else do you explain the success of the Nissan Juke?

Thankfully, the Puma is easier on the eye than the Juke. Deep bumpers and fulsome haunches provide some visual muscle, while a steeply-raked windscreen adds a dose of dynamism. But its overall design is soft and friendly-faced (Ford points out the ‘optimistic’ front grille).

The luxury-focused Titanium model has black wheelarch extensions, while those of the sportier ST-Line are body colour. Both wear 17-inch alloys – or 18s for the flagship ST-Line X. You can upgrade to 19s, too, for the full pimp-my-Puma look.

There aren’t so many personalisation options as the Volkswagen T-Cross, for instance, but bold LED running lights and a bright palette of paint colours help the Puma stand out.

A family-sized Fiesta

Inside is where things get really interesting. You’ll recognise the Fiesta dashboard, but the digital dials are new. The 12.3-inch display changes appearance according to which drive mode you select. More on those shortly.

The high-mounted centre touchscreen is easy to use while driving, and is supplemented by voice controls and shortcut buttons on the steering wheel. My test cars both had the 10-speaker B&O Premium hi-fi, which is great value at £450.

The Puma’s seats are mounted 60mm higher than a Fiesta, which gives a more commanding view of the road. A 10cm longer wheelbase also liberates enough legroom for lanky teenagers in the back, although they may baulk at the lack of USB points. Removable seat covers, which can be unzipped and washed are a neat touch, albeit not confirmed for the UK market.

The boot holds a class-leading 456 litres of luggage (401 litres in hybrid versions): more than the Kuga SUV from the class above. The load area is usefully square, too, at one metre wide and up to 1.15 metres tall. Open the – optionally electric – tailgate and the flexible parcel shelf lies flat against the rear window, so you don’t need to remove it when carrying bulky loads.

There’s also an 80-litre, rubber-lined storage compartment beneath the boot floor, which Ford calls the ‘Megabox’. A removable plug means you can rinse it out with water, which then drains away beneath the car. It’s the perfect place to stash muddy shoes or sports gear.

From mild to wild

The launch engine line-up comprises Ford’s familiar 1.0-litre Ecoboot petrol in three guises: 125hp, 125hp with mild-hybrid (MHEV) tech and 155hp MHEV. This isn’t a hybrid in the usual sense; it can’t drive on electric power alone, nor can it be plugged in. That’s one-nil to the upcoming Toyota Yaris Cross hybrid already, then. 

Instead, the batteries harvest braking energy to boost the engine when needed – and power the start-stop system.

The result is useful fuel savings. The 125hp MHEV manages 43.6mpg and CO2 emissions of 124g/km in the latest WLTP tests, versus 40.6mpg and 131g/km for the same engine without electrical assistance. The 155hp version costs £750 more upfront, but there’s little penalty at the pumps: it returns 42.0mpg and 127g/km.

Frankly, neither engine is a ball of fire. The 125hp car reaches 62mph from rest in 9.8 seconds, while the more powerful model is 0.8 seconds swifter. However, fast Ford fans may not have long to wait for a Puma ST, development of which is rumoured to be well underway. If it’s as dynamically deft as the hot Fiesta, it could be a game-changer.

Less excitingly, there’s also a 1.5-litre diesel and seven-speed automatic gearbox in the works, both due in May 2020. As well as other models, this combination will be offered in the forthcoming flagship ST-Line X Vignale, which combines racier styling with a plush, fully-loaded interior. The aim, according to one Ford spokesperson, is to “tempt buyers downsizing from larger diesel SUVs”.

Handle with flair

The Puma weighs just 60kg more than a Fiesta, so both engines feel adequately brisk. Indeed, I’d be tempted to stick with the 125hp MHEV. The extra oomph served up by its mild-hybrid system compensates for its small displacement, making for eager acceleration out of bends. The downside is a lot of thrummy three-cylinder noise under load.

Cleverly, the hybrid system cuts the engine as you coast to a stop, then restarts it in 300 milliseconds (literally the blink of an eye, says Ford) when you need to pull away. The process is utterly seamless, too.

There are five drive modes: Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery and Trail, although with passive dampers their effect is mostly limited to steering and throttle response, along with stability and traction control calibration. Don’t get too carried away in Trail either: the front-wheel-drive-only Puma is no Land Rover.

In terms of chassis set-up, the Ford sits at the sportier end of the spectrum. Its ride is taut and measured – perhaps too firm on 19-inch wheels: try before you buy – and it corners with calm composure. The steering is nicely weighted, although it doesn’t fizz with feedback like a Fiesta, and its manual gearshift is notchy and tactile.

Ultimately, the Puma isn’t as much fun as a Fiesta or Focus, but there’s a pleasing coherence to its controls, and responses on the road, which makes it the small crossover of choice for those who enjoy driving. Ford has a knack for getting this stuff right.

2020 Ford Puma: verdict

Usually when writing a crossover review, I conclude by suggesting you choose the hatchback instead. Conventional cars are generally cheaper to buy and run, drive better and are scarcely less spacious. In the case of cars like the dismal Vauxhall Mokka X, not to mention the original UK Ecosport, fashion has a lot to answer for.

Today’s conclusion is less clear-cut, as the Puma offers some real advantages over its smaller sibling. It’s genuinely practical enough for a family of four, with the reassurance of a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating. It also offers technologies that aren’t available on the Fiesta, plus, it doesn’t sacrifice decent handling on the altar of raised ride height and a rugged look.

This is an extremely competitive class, with the Nissan Juke, Renault Captur, Seat Arona and Peugeot 2008 among an ever-expanding cadre of rivals. The Puma’s sportier bent may not suit everyone, but it certainly should be on your radar if you like this type of car. This time, I think Ford has a hit on its hands.

Ford Puma ST-Line 125hp MHEV: specification

Engine: 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol mild-hybrid

Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive

Power: 125hp

0-62mph: 9.8 seconds

Top speed: 119mph

Fuel economy: 40.6mpg

CO2: 131g/km (WLTP)

Length/width/height: 4,207/1,930/1,552mm

Boot size: 401 litres

Euro NCAP safety rating: 5 stars

2020 Ford Puma example prices

Titanium 125hp manual: £20,545

ST-Line 125hp MHEV manual: £21,795

ST-Line X 155hp MHEV manual: £23,645

2020 Ford Puma: in pictures

Mercedes-AMG G63 review: Rumble in the urban jungle

You’ll hear them before you see them. From SW1 to NW8, they traverse the capital’s poshest postcodes like rolling thunder. White ones often wear Arabic number plates, black ones are more likely Russian. Many are modified. Against the odds, the Mercedes-Benz G-Class – a vehicle conceived as a military workhorse – has become part of top-tier London life. And now, for the first time in 39 years, there’s a new one.

Not that it looks new, you understand. The SUV formerly known as the G-Wagen may be longer, wider and taller, but its styling is near-identical. There’s the same bolt-upright windscreen and flat glass, the familiar Tonka toy stance. Even the external door hinges and wing-mounted indicators – quirks that would ordinarily have been swept away by the demands of aerodynamics and fuel efficiency – have been faithfully replicated. I’m sure that’s exactly how the good folk of Kensington and Chelsea would want it.

Elsewhere, the G-Class is markedly more modern. The old recirculating ball steering is gone, replaced by a rack-and-pinion set-up. The solid front axle is swapped for double wishbones, while the ladder frame chassis is now 50 percent stiffer. Clamber inside and you’ll find a dashboard dominated by two 12.3-inch digital displays. There’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phone connectivity, a 15-speaker audio system and 64-colour ambient lighting. All de rigueur in a luxury car costing nigh-on £150,000.

Any pretence of civility is obliterated when you prod the starter button, though. The AMG G63 coughs into life like Ray Winstone with a head-cold. Jettisoning through shotgun-style side pipes, its gluttonous gargle ricochets off buildings in majestic surround-sound. Then the nine-speed auto ’box kicks down and a full Spinal Tap solo is unleashed. Other markets get the slightly-more-sensible 422hp G500 petrol, but we’re limited to this or the 286hp G350d diesel.

We already know and love AMG’s 4.0-litre twin-turbo ‘hot vee’ V8 from the E 63 saloon, AMG GT supercar and others. It develops 585hp here, along with a thumping 627lb ft of torque: enough to blast this 2.5-tonne behemoth to 62mph in a faintly absurd 4.5 seconds. Top speed is 137mph, or 149mph if you specify the derestricted ‘AMG Driver’s Package’ fitted here. At £2,000, it costs £167 per additional mile-per-hour…

At last, however, the AMG G-Class is about more than simply straight-line speed. The outgoing car’s steering was as ponderous and vague as the tiller on the Titanic – with a similar chance of jeopardy if you overcooked a corner – but the new G feels utterly transformed. It turns in keenly, hunkers down and grips hard. There’s still a fair bit of body-roll, of course, and it can’t match the composure of a Porsche Cayenne. But you’re no longer locked in bitter battle with the forces of physics.

This new-found dynamic prowess hasn’t, Mercedes insists, come at the expense of rough-terrain ability. The G-Class still has three locking differentials and a low-range gearbox, plus even more ground clearance than before. Granted, many UK cars venture no further off-road than a gravel driveway, but in Riyadh and St Petersburg these things matter.

As my Instagram account (@timpitt100) bears witness, the G-class already has a legion of loyal fans; the pictures I posted got more ‘likes’ than any other car in recent memory. For such people, this updated G is Mission Accomplished. It retains the indomitable character of the original, while ironing out many of its faults.

If you weren’t convinced to start with, there’s nothing here to change your mind. The G63 is a car that defies categorisation as surely as it defies level-headed logic. But perhaps that’s something to be celebrated.

Price: £143,305

0-62mph: 4.5sec

Top speed: 137mph

CO2 G/KM: 299

MPG combined: 21.4

Mercedes-AMG G63: in pictures

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2020 Honda e

Honda e review: small and perfectly formed EV… at a price

2020 Honda e

The Honda e is an all-electric concept only Honda could build. Taking a different approach to every other car company has created a model that has desirability by the bucketload, even amongst those it patently isn’t designed for or suited to.

It is small, and decidedly premium-priced (from £26,160, or £28,660 for the Advance grade nine in 10 are currently buying), and the range is half that of the similar-cost and significantly larger Kia e-Niro. But for the trend-setting urbanites it’s aimed for, this is immaterial. They want an electric car that feels a million dollars and delivers an experience that’s unique.

The Honda e is that car.

2020 Honda e

For those who might not find it suitable, Honda has an electrified Jazz coming soon that might do the trick, for thousands less. The Honda e will get them through the doors, though. And, as we discovered, if they do accept a test drive, there may be some interesting head-versus-heart decisions to be made.

First impressions

2020 Honda e

Seeing the Honda e out on the road, with normal cars around it, does not diminish its concept car appearance. It accentuates it. The vividly clean and precisely-cut lines are clarity in a car world of compromise. It is vivid, self-assured, and instantly likeable. People will fall in love with it, like they did with the original Mini.

It is small, shorter than a Ford Fiesta, and the tiny 171-litre boot (less than half the size of a Honda Jazz) just about takes carry-on suitcases, but little more. Adults can get into the rear without getting stuck, but it’s undeniably tight. For those in the front, though, it feels fine, with lots of seat adjustment, plenty of headroom and little sense you’re obviously sat in something so compact.

2020 Honda e

The dashboard is breathtaking. Screens span the full width, just like in the concept. At the outer edges are two high-resolution rear-view cameras, which take the place of door mirrors. At first, it’s hard to stop staring at the video feeds of what’s going on behind you.

Ahead of the driver is a colourful instrument display, packed with information, which will take a bit of getting used to. The stars of the show are the dual 12.3-inch HD displays alongside. So central are these to the Honda e experience, we’re given a tutorial before we set off for the drive.

2020 Honda e

They’re touchscreen, with virtual ‘hard’ shortcut keys on the outer edges of each. They work independently, so the driver can use the sat nav and the passenger can play with something else. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto give smartphone mirroring. A clever trick: the driver can open a screen then ‘swipe’ it over to the passenger side (or swap the displays at the touch of a button).

There are some Easter eggs, too. An aquarium, in which you can choose the number and type of fish. Or you can have various full-width wallpapers instead. The Honda virtual assistant (complete with cute bouncing ‘face’ icon) understands natural language. Honda Parking Pilot is an auto-park system that scans bays and shows a live video feed on the screen: if it can manage to auto-drive into one, the space lights up green – simply tap the space and the e takes over to park it up for you.  

2020 Honda e

More generally, the interior has a lovely ambience, purposefully lounge-like with melange-style seat upholstery more like sofas than cars. The wood-effect panel on the dash is convincing (you can actually feel the grain), the brown seatbelts are neat and it all feels high-quality and premium enough to justify the price tag.

Driving the Honda e

2020 Honda e

Electric cars bleep when you turn them on, rather than whirr. So pulling away (via an auto gear panel that mimics the Honda NSX) is oddly silent and uneventful. It puts you in the right mood for the Honda e experience of futuristic city motoring.

What stands out first is the panoramic visibility. Having no door mirrors is key; it’s like removing blinkers. Steering around the city seems so much easier because you can see much more at a glance – helped by the high-set seats and stubby, well-defined dimensions. Using the rear-view cameras is neat, too – they eliminate blind-spots and are particularly useful when squeezing through tight gaps or avoiding errant Valencia traffic (the digital interior mirror isn’t so crisp or useful – and goes blurry when it rains).

2020 Honda e

The e has a taut in-town ride, with a firm feel, although it doesn’t crash or bang. It also keeps the body roll-free when you’re darting through traffic, which calms down the experience for passengers. The test Advance model had the higher-output 154hp electric motor, for 0-62mph in 8.3 seconds. Punchy and immediate response means you can surge forward into gaps normal cars stumble over.

Steering has a weighty, quality feel and the Honda e is rear-wheel drive, which gives great traction away from the line, and means the steering wheel doesn’t squirm if you give it the full beans. Its party trick is in car parks: the turning circle is incredible, little bigger than the length of the car itself. You can steer from one parking space into the next-but-one, in one go.

2020 Honda e

Out of city limits, the Honda e’s high-end fully independent suspension marks it out as a car with more depth than the city car norm. The ride becomes cushioned and able to soak up nasty surfaces, and it feels very stable as speeds rise. The weight of the batteries settles it on the motorway, making it uncommonly relaxing at speed for such a small car.

Handling is great fun. Commanding steering is quick and precise, turning the car in with agility and confidence. You can go early on the power to deploy the instant, powerful surge and shoot out of corners with perfect rear-led balance. It’s like a little sports car in this respect.

You can drive it as a so-called ‘one-pedal’ car, too. In normal mode, there are four stages of battery-charging regeneration (how much it slows down) when you lift the accelerator, selected via steering wheel paddle shifters. Press a button on the centre console and you get three more, stronger, levels. Mastering it is satisfying and the ‘free’ power it puts into the battery useful.

2020 Honda e

How about battery range? On a cold, rainy day, we started out with a 99 percent full 35.5 kWh battery, showing a 153 km (93 mile) range (some way off the claimed 125 miles). After a 93 km test drive, it said 55 km (34 miles) were left remaining – that’s 37 percent charge. We weren’t hanging about, and the stretch included a blast up the motorway. The media before us were probably driving it like they stole it too, so that average range should increase. It seems, however, that you can trust the Honda e’s initial range calculations.

The Honda e is ready to take fast charging: at the stopover, we plugged it in, and it said 49 minutes to a full charge again. Find a full 50 kW charge point (they’re gradually spreading across the UK) and it will go from fully flat to 80 percent charged in 30 minutes.

And the Honda e is ready to entertain you while you wait. It has an HDMI slot, so you can plug in a Google Chromecast device or, as was demonstrated to us, a Super Nintendo Classic Mini, for brilliantly crisp Mario Kart games. Sat on firm, comfortable heated seats, in such a pleasant interior, it’s a pleasant way to wait for a half-hour fast-charge.

Verdict: Honda e

2020 Honda e

The Honda e is a class act. Probably more premium and luxurious than a BMW i3, it is a futuristic car that doesn’t short-change you on comfort or sophistication. It drives nicely, with a sporty feel that should delight enthusiasts, yet is also compliant and quiet enough for those who want to be wowed by the electric cars of the future.

The two elephants in the room are range and price. Both are unavoidable: it is a compact car precisely because it doesn’t have massive high-range batteries. And it feels so high-end because so much expensive content has gone into it. Those who understand this won’t mind paying a premium. But both factors mean it’s not an everyman EV.  

Rather, it’s an innovative and authentically unique electric car that, yes, only Honda could make. And, to its core audience and far-sighted early adopters, all the better for it.

2020 Honda e: specifications

Price: (including Plug-in Car Grant)

  • Honda e: £26,160
  • Honda e Advance: £28,860

Power: 136hp (Advance: 154 hp)

0-62 mph: 9.0 secs (Advance: 8.3 secs)

Top speed: 90 mph

Range: 137 miles (17-inch wheels: 125 miles)

Boot space: 171 litres (seats down: 861 litres)

Length/width/height: 3,895/1,750/1,752 mm

Weight: 1,514 – 1,542 kg

Porsche Cayenne Coupe Turbo review: putting the ‘S’ into ‘SUV’

There are two schools of thought here. For some, SUV coupes are a contradiction in terms. They are off-roaders that rarely (if ever) venture beyond tarmac. They aspire to dynamism, yet are blunted by bulk and a high centre of gravity. And they diminish the ‘utility’ of a Sports Utility Vehicle for a sleeker silhouette.

Then again, an arsenal of technology lends most such cars an agility that belies their bulk. Their high driving positions and rangy suspension arguably suit our crowded, crumbling roads. And they are still amply practical for family life, despite some concessions to style.

Like a certain political debate, there seems to be no middle-ground. But whichever side of the fence you sit on, high-riding coupes are here to stay. Indeed, given BMW launched the X6 in 2007, it’s a wonder Porsche took 12 years to join this very profitable party. You’ve probably made up your mind about the Cayenne Coupe already, but assuming you haven’t ‘had enough of experts’, here are a few thoughts from me.

Firstly, how it looks. The Cayenne Coupe is just that: a restyled version of Porsche’s full-size 4×4, with a racier roofline and more bulbous bottom. Look closer and you’ll spot the mildly stretched wings, steeper rake for the windscreen and active rear spoiler, which pops up above 55mph. While hardly beautiful, it’s the best take on Porsche’s ‘911 in platform shoes’ aesthetic yet. Certainly prettier than the rival X6 or Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe.

Inside, the rear seats are fixed 30mm lower to compensate for that drooping roof, while boot capacity shrinks by a modest 145 litres versus the standard Cayenne (to 1,680 litres in total). Four individual chairs are standard, with a three-person rear bench a no-cost option. My car had the optimistically-named ‘Lightweight Sport Package’, which limits you to four seats, costs £7,482 and saves just 22kg – negligible on a 2,275kg SUV. On the plus side, the carbon fibre roof and retro 911-style houndstooth trim are properly cool.

An analogue rev counter front-and-centre is also a pleasingly traditional touch, but everything else about the Coupe’s interior feels futuristic. Rather than physical switches, many of the touch-sensitive controls are concealed beneath gloss-black veneer, like a Bang & Olufsen hi-fi. The large touchscreen looks crisp, and syncs effortlessly with your phone, while the digital dials can display the navigation map. Note the chunky grab handles on the centre console, too. Your passenger may be needing those…

Particularly if the word ‘Turbo’ is on the tailgate. This is the flagship Cayenne Coupe – at least until the even quicker Turbo S E-Hybrid arrives – and packs a 550hp 4.0-litre V8 and eight-speed PDK auto gearbox: good for 0-62mph in a ferocious 3.9 seconds, plus 177mph flat-out. Prices start at £104,729, with my test Turbo costing a hefty £127,354 after options.

Many of those extras, such as the tinted taillights (£590), you really don’t need. From experience with other Porsche models, though, rear-axle steering (£1,448) is a worthwhile investment. It makes for improved manoeuvrability around town and better stability at speed: both important in a large SUV. And it helps make the Cayenne Coupe the most driver-focused car in its class.

Select one of the sportier drive modes and body control is iron-fisted, the Porsche hugging the road with steely focus. Its steering is nuanced and direct, while its brakes – £4,217 ceramic-composite discs here – are progressive and mighty. Sitting so high, you’re never totally immersed in the action, but this is the closest an SUV gets to a sports car.

Me? I’d go for the Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo estate, which is prettier, nearly as practical and even more engaging to drive. But you’ve already made up your mind, right?

Price: £104,729

0-62mph: 3.9sec

Top speed: 177mph

CO2 G/KM: 258

MPG combined: 20.8

Porsche Cayenne Coupe Turbo: in pictures

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Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio review: the closest thing to a Ferrari SUV

Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio

‘Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio’. Does any new car boast a more richly evocative name? Alfa Romeo you know: it’s the visionary Disco Volante, voluptuous 33 Stradale, Targa Florio road race and Dustin Hoffman fleeing Mrs Robinson in a red Spider Duetto. The Stelvio Pass, meanwhile, is one of the world’s great roads, a pulse-spiking ribbon of tarmac with more hairpins than Toni and Guy. And ‘Quadrifoglio’? That’s Italian for four-leaf clover, the good-luck symbol worn by Alfa Romeos since 1923.

Lest we forget, Alfa has also dished up plenty of disappointment over the decades. Cars like the 1983 Arna hatchback, a marriage of dowdy Japanese design and indifferent Italian build quality. Or the 2005 Brera, an exotic-looking coupe that was about as exciting as Ed Sheeran. Don’t get me started on rust, either. Even Alfa’s great cars – and there have been many – used to dissolve at the merest hint of humidity.

Back to the Stelvio Quadrifoglio. Affixing such a glorious name to the portly posterior of an SUV seems a recipe for Alfisti anguish. However, this isn’t just any school-run SUV. Behind that shield-shaped grille lurks a 510hp 2.9-litre V6 – a cut-down Ferrari engine, no less. You’ll also find carbon-ceramic brake discs and (optional) hard-shell carbon bucket seats. Oh, and it has a drive mode labelled ‘RACE’. Things are looking up already.

Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio

The Stelvio shares most of its oily bits with the Giulia Quadrifoglio saloon, with one crucial difference: four-wheel drive. That helps catapult this 1,830kg family car to 62mph in 3.8 seconds – and lap the Nurburgring in a scorching 7min 51.8sec. Among SUVs, only the Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S has gone quicker. Indeed, the muscle-Merc and Porsche Macan Turbo are arguably the Stelvio’s only real rivals.

From the outside, there’s no doubting the Quadrifoglio’s sporting intent. Spidery 20-inch alloys fill its stretched wheelarches and four meaty tailpipes jut from its rear diffuser. Inside, those £3,250 Sparco seats, trimmed in Alcantara with red stitching, lift an otherwise mediocre cabin. There are far too many cheap plastics for a £70,000 car, while the fiddly infotainment system feels at least a generation behind the Germans. However, a recent facelift – UK cars will arrive soon – does improve matters here. 

Prod the red starter button, pull the slender aluminium paddle and you’re away. The engine sounds undernourished at first, but its note hardens into a salacious snarl as the revs rise, punctuated by pops from the exhausts. And by God, it’s quick. An almighty wallop of turbocharged torque has it rocketing to the redline as swiftly as you can grab the next gear. This, for now, is the closest you’ll get to that much-mooted Ferrari SUV.

While the rear-driven Giulia is inclined to go sideways at the merest flick of a right ankle, the 4WD Stelvio – with its quick steering, punchy gearbox and sharp brakes – feels tenaciously tied-down. It bites into apices more aggressively than many sports cars, the usual SUV body-roll all but banished. For an average driver like me, it’s certainly a faster car than the Giulia: safer, more confidence-inspiring and perhaps more rewarding as a result. I’m not sure even the Macan matches it for B-road thrills.

Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio

The trade-off for such iron-fisted focus is a ride that’s brittle at best, downright uncomfortable at worst. Even in its more relaxed drive modes – selectable via Alfa’s usual ‘DNA’ dial – the Quadrifoglio is arguably too unforgiving for a family car. You’ll be having a blast while your partner calls the chiropractor.

After a week behind the wheel, I’ve rather fallen for this flawed Italian firecracker. It’s a heart-over-head purchase, in true Alfa Romeo tradition. Most will prefer the more rounded appeal of rivals, but the Stelvio has a bombastic charm all its own.

Price: £70,900

0-62mph: 3.8sec

Top speed: 176mph

CO2 G/KM: 222

MPG combined: 28.8

Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio: in pictures

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