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Honda HR-V

Honda HR-V long-term review: part three

Honda HR-V

I’m back in the HR-V after a three-week break while I was away in Australia. Like every Honda I have driven, indeed owned, it’s dead easy getting back into the groove. Hondas are so easy to drive, still with probably the slickest manual gearchange you’ll find anywhere.

I had a bit of spare time yesterday, so I got out my Samsung phone’s USB charging lead, plugged it into the Honda’s port and waited to connect it into the system. Nothing. Seems like they are incompatible, though I can’t imagine why. Android phones have been around for years now and this is supposed to plug me into a whole new world of Honda apps.

Like so much in the car business when it comes to driver-car interface electronics, there’s a void between what the manufacturer promises and what actually occurs. I am guessing here, but I bet that Honda was as pleased as punch with its button-free navigation/music/phone system in the HR-V. Yet it is so maddeningly complicated to work, requiring you to take your eyes off the road several times in order to hit the right area of the touch screen to do, well, almost anything.

It may seem churlish to touch on Honda’s dismal 2015 F1 experience with McLaren, but I sense there is a parallel here. Honda develops things in a vacuum, rather than calling in outside expertise. A few focus groups and the company would have been painfully aware of the problems with its in-car entertainment system.

Honda HR-V

Economical diesel engine

Enough of that. It was only a bit more than a decade ago that Honda didn’t have a diesel engine to its name, before hitting the ground running with the brilliant 2.2-litre unit in the Accord. This much newer 1.6 turbodiesel is similarly impressive. The performance is entirely in keeping with the car, punchy and relaxed at all times.

But it is the economy that has been astounding me. This morning on my sub-30mph, 12-mile urban drive to the office it averaged 62mpg. And yes, I have checked the trip computer and it’s very accurate. Economy never drops below 53mpg. Compare that with our Kia Sportage, which will struggle to reach 30mpg on the same run (though it does have an automatic transmission and four-wheel drive).

And the HR-V, although it is notionally half-a-class smaller than cars like the Sportage, does exceptionally well for passenger and cargo space. Honda’s ‘Magic’ rear seat is still the cleverest of inventions. The rear cushion lifts up against the backrest so tall things can be stored upright, or the backrest and cushion fold forward in one action to give a big, deep boot floor.

Just before Christmas and still inclemently warm weather. I wait with baited breath to see if, eventually, the HR-V will be caught out when it finally does snow. There’s nfour-wheel-drive option in the UK, you see.

Honda HR-V

Specification

2015 Honda HR-V 1.6 i-DTEC EX manual

Price: £24,495

Price with options: £25,470 (metallic paint £525)

Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel

Power: 120hp

Torque: 221lb ft

0-62mph: 10.5 secs

Top speed: 119mph

MPG: 68.9

CO2: 104g/km

Audi R8

Audi R8 V10 Plus review: 2015 first drive

Savage new Audi R8 must take on the Porsche 911, Mercedes-Benz AMG GT and McLaren 570S.

Audi R8

Audi likes to refer to the R8 is its ‘hero car’. It’s the range topper that stops people in their tracks, and helps convince them that an Audi is the car for them, even if they end up buying an A3.

This second generation car is genuinely all-new. There’s an aluminium chassis, as before, but this time the alloy is abutted with structural carbon fibre sections that help bring the weight down. Power is from a revised 5.2-litre V10, with either 540hp, or 610hp in the R8 V10 Plus.

The 4.2 V8 of the earlier R8s has gone, but there will be an all-electric version in the future. The R8 e-tron promises a range of up to 280 miles with performance close to that of the V10.

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There’s more than a notional link to Lamborghini’s recent £180,000 Huracan here; the V10 engine is all-but identical. Which means, surely, that with the technology Audi throws at the R8, it has to be at least as good, doesn’t it?

And for a full-blooded supercar, the R8 seems pretty fair value. The V10 is £119,500, the V10 Plus, with its extra power, large fixed rear wing and ceramic brakes, £134,500. Obviously, being an Audi, you still have to pay extra for things that are standard on a £10k Kia, like cruise control or an ashtray. Some things never change.

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Audi R8 V10 Plus: On the road

Forget the performance figures for the moment, and consider this. The R8 is one of the last remaining mid-engined supercars that is neither turbocharged nor supercharged. That’s important, because naturally aspirated cars sound better, and the R8 V10 Plus sounds simply gorgeous.

It’s a benign tourer when you need it, burbling along, the gears shifting smoothly with a delightful variation in sound levels to accompany each change. Then, with the oh-so-necessary sports exhaust system, you can switch into crackle-and-pop mode for extra aural fun.

All of this can take place at sane driving speeds, which is great when you can’t make use of the acceleration to 62mph of 3.2 seconds, or the 205mph top speed. But stick the shift lever into Sport, select Dynamic on the steering wheel button, and all hell breaks loose.

The first time you floor the throttle could even be alarming. There’s a short but perceptible pause, while the transmission decides it needs to shift down two, three, even four gears, then a wall of noise and acceleration as the R8 lunges forward towards the horizon. It’s not quite the civilised approach we were expecting from this Audi.

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The better way is to treat the R8 with a bit more respect, feed the throttle in less dramatically and then enjoy what is a still a very rapid machine. There’s much to play with, control-wise, too, with settings for comfort and dynamic driving modes, plus an extra Performance setting on the V10 Plus. These change the parameters for steering, transmission, exhaust flaps and more.

My major quibble is with the paddle shifts. They are so seductive to use that, even in auto, it’s nice to slip down a gear or two as you approach a roundabout or tight bend. Trouble is, it’s then stuck in manual mode forever more, unless you knock it back to auto. Cheaper Audis do this for you. I much prefer that logic.

Should you choose, you can appear like a Le Mans star and your passenger won’t even notice. Stick the R8 into Sport mode and the automatic transmission quick-shifts up and down the gears with a professional sounding blip of the throttle that makes you look like a pro.

Quattro four-wheel-drive makes the R8 feel very sure-footed on the most rain-drenched roads, and it’s now more sophisticated than ever, with variable torque control to the wheels. There’s electric power steering too, yet this shed-load of electronics does nothing to lessen the driving enjoyment. It’s safe, approachable and very entertaining.

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2016 Audi R8 V10 Plus: On the inside

Supercar interiors need a couple of key ingredients. Bespoke fittings and a great deal of drama. Porsche doesn’t crack it with the 911 (no drama) and neither did Mercedes with the SLS (too many parts from the B-Class). The Audi R8 is nearly there, though.

It’s modern, classy and interesting, with a myriad of buttons and controls  – with an extra dose on the special flat-bottomed steering wheel that’s fitted to the V10 Plus. It compares very favourably with the well-worn tradition of the 911, even though this is still very obviously an Audi interior.

The ‘virtual cockpit’ that first saw the light of day in the latest TT is fitted here as standard, and what a delightful piece of technology this is. Scrolling between a variety of liquid-crystal display screens is easy, with a fantabulous map display one of the options placed right in front of the driver.

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The test cars were fitted with the sports seat option, heavily bucketed and very firm, perfect for the racetrack but possibly too unyielding for everyday use.  It’s a surprise that seat adjustment is largely manual rather than electric, although it’s easy and saves much weight and cost.

Another option is the magnetic suspension, an intelligent way to adjust the dampers almost instantaneously, to give a comfortable ride when you want it, but much firmer suspension when you are driving quickly. This technology is well established in Audis and seemingly gives you the best of every world.

At night there are LED headlights and tail-lights, with the option of laser main beams. Think you don’t need lasers for your headlights? You might change your mind once you driven behind these monsters.

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2016 Audi R8 V10 Plus: Running costs

Supercars with credibility hold their value pretty well, or at least that’s what the industry would have us believe. Audi has some independent predictions that show the new R8 will be a touch better than its rivals, although even then you could end up losing £75,000 on the highly optioned £154k V10 Plus we were driving.

The lower weight, engine revisions – one bank of cylinders will close down in certain circumstances to save fuel – and freewheeling mode, cut the CO2 by 12% and improve economy by one to three mpg. You are still going to find it hard to better 20mpg much of the time, though.

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2016 Audi R8 V10 Plus: Verdict

Everything adds up. The Audi R8 V10 Plus takes the style of the original then toughens up its stance and attitude. It’s devastatingly fast, reassuringly secure, and as easy to drive as your Audi company car. If you are bored by the Porsche 911, it is the obvious default choice.

And yet. If you are the sort of person who chooses an Illy coffee machine over the ubiquitous Nespresso, or a Maserati Ghibli over an Audi A6 or BMW 5 Series, you will look at the competition and, maybe, come up with an alternative. The new McLaren 570S, the Mercedes AMG GT , and even the venerable Aston Martin V12 Vantage all offer thrills in more edgy packages at a similar price. We’d find the decision very hard indeed.

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2016 Audi R8 V10 Plus: Specifications

Engine: 5.2-litre V10

Price: £134,500

Power: 610hp

Torque: 413lb ft (760Nm)

0-62mph: 3.2 seconds

Top speed: 205mph (300km/h)

Fuel economy: 23.0mpg (12.3l/100km)

CO2 emissions: 287g/km

 

Honda Jazz

Honda Jazz: Two-Minute Road Test

Honda Jazz

Honda Jazz: What is it?

The Honda Jazz has always been more mini-MPV than traditional supermini. This third-generation car, launched in 2015, doesn’t mess with a highly successful formula. Its ‘one-box’ shape equates to class-leading interior space and versatility. And you can expect outstanding reliability, too – past versions are among the most dependable cars on the road.

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Honda Jazz: What are its rivals?

The bestselling car in this class (and, indeed, the UK’s bestseller overall) is the Ford Fiesta. It’s more fun to drive than the Jazz, but nowhere near as practical. The Skoda Fabia and Toyota Yaris are perhaps a better fit for buyers interested in sensible, value-for-money motoring. Unlike the Honda, the Toyota is available as a petrol/electric hybrid (the Jazz Hybrid has been discontinued).

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Honda Jazz: Which engines does it use?

The Hybrid is no more and Honda has never offered a Jazz with a diesel engine. So your choice is limited to a 102hp 1.3-litre petrol engine. Yep, just the one. It propels the Jazz to 62mph in 11.2 seconds, or 12.0 seconds if you opt for the CVT automatic gearbox (more on that shortly). Honda’s i-VTEC variable valve timing boosts performance higher up the rev range, without the pronounced ‘step’ in power delivery that characterised VTEC engines of old.

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Honda Jazz: What’s it like to drive?

The Jazz isn’t a particularly fun car to drive, but it’s far from unpleasant. The controls are light and the boxy shape offers good visibility for parking. Ride comfort is noticeably better than the old Jazz, too. Its 1.3-litre engine is adequate around town, but feels a bit breathless on the open road. That feeling is exacerbated by the CVT auto gearbox fitted to our test car, which holds the engine at constant revs when you accelerate. It make for rather noisy and lethargic progress – opt for the six-speed manual if you can.

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Honda Jazz: Fuel economy and running costs

The CVT gearbox may blunt performance, but it has a positive effect on fuel economy. The basic S model returns 56.5mpg with a manual ’box and 61.4mpg with the CVT. Likewise, CO2 emissions are 116g/km or 106g/km, which equates to annual car tax (VED) of £30 and £20 respectively. The Jazz is cheap to insure and its famed reliability should mean low maintenance bills.

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Honda Jazz: Is it practical?

Oh yes. It’s apt that the photo above looks like a huge black hole, because this car will swallow almost anything. With the rear seats in place, boot capacity is 354 litres – about the same as a Volkswagen Golf (a car from the class above). Fold the seats flat and that expands to a whopping 1,314 litres. A Ford Fiesta manages just 914 litres. The Jazz also has Honda’s brilliant ‘Magic’ rear seats, with flip-up bases that create a floor-to-ceiling loadspace.

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Honda Jazz: What about safety?

The latest Jazz hasn’t been subjected to Euro NCAP’s crash tests yet, although the old car scored a maximum five stars. An automatic emergency braking system is now standard, and all cars apart from the entry-level S come with the Driver Assist Safety Pack. This includes a lane-departure warning system, traffic-sign recognition and automatic high-beam headlights. The latter were quick to react and very effective on dark country lanes. However, we’d put a black mark against the new touchscreen media system; its clunky menus force you to take your eyes off the road.

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Honda Jazz: Which version should I go for?

There’s no choice of engines, but we’d avoid the sluggish (and £1,100 extra) CVT gearbox – especially if you drive mostly outside urban areas. Trim levels start at S (£13,495 with a manual gearbox), then rise through SE (£14,595), SE Navi (£15,205), EX (£15,715) and EX Navi (£16,325). We’d opt for the well-equipped SE and spend £100 on a portable sat nav, rather than forking out a hefty £510 for Honda’s built-in nav.

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Honda Jazz: Should I buy one?

Fans of the old Honda Jazz (and there are many) will find much to love in this practical package. And if reliability matches the two previous models, it should be utterly painless to live with. Is that enough? It depends what your priorities are. If you crave driving enjoyment, the Fiesta remain the obvious choice. Equally, the Skoda Fabia offers a better all-round blend of quality and refinement. However, the Jazz is still the most sensible supermini you can buy.

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Honda Jazz: Pub fact

The Jazz is Honda’s bestselling car worldwide. The original (above) was launched in 2001 and immediately won the Car Of The Year award in Japan, where it’s known as the Honda Fit. A stretched version of the car, called the Fit Shuttle, was also sold in Japan.

Peugeot 308 GTI

Peugeot 308 GTI: Two-Minute Road Test

Peugeot 308 GTI

Peugeot 308 GTI: What is it?

We first saw the 308 GTI at Goodwood Festival of Speed in June. Now we’ve finally driven it on UK roads – and on-track at Donington Park – ahead of the on-sale date of 5 November. Peugeot’s hottest hatch might look subtle, but it packs a 250hp punch – or 270hp in full-fat Peugeot Sport guise. Prices start from £26,555.

Peugeot 308 GTI: What are its rivals?

Fast family cars are back in fashion and the 308 has no shortage of capable rivals. First in the firing line is the Volkswagen Golf GTI, the hot hatch benchmark for nearly four decades. The Ford Focus ST and SEAT Leon Cupra are worthy alternatives, too – both cheaper and arguably more fun to drive than the Golf. And the Honda Civic Type R is our (literal) wild card. It offers furious performance speed, but at a price.

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Peugeot 308 GTI: Which engines does it use?

Powered by the same 1.6-litre THP petrol engine as the RCZ-R coupe, the 308 GTI produces 250hp, or 270hp in the clumsily-named ‘GTI by Peugeot Sport’. Both drive through a six-speed manual gearbox (there’s no auto option), hitting 62mph from rest in 6.2 seconds, or 6.0 seconds for the Sport. Top speed for both is a heady 155mph.

Peugeot 308 GTI: What’s it like to drive?

On twisty Peak District lanes, the 308 GTI was grunty, grippy and properly quick. Its turbocharged engine provides ample low-down torque, while lower, stiffer suspension means good body control when cornering. Shame the overly-light steering offers leaves you feeling slightly detached from the whole experience. Moving to Donington Park Circuit, the difference between standard and Peugeot Sport GTIs became more apparent. The Sport has a Torsen front differential that quells understeer (running wide) and really hauls it around bends.

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Peugeot 308 GTI: Fuel economy and running costs

It might offer performance on par with old-school Subaru WRXs and Mitsubishi Evos, but the Peugeot should prove considerably cheaper to run. Average fuel economy for both versions is quoted as 47.1mpg, with CO2 emissions of 139g/km (£130 annual car tax). Anecdotally, Peugeot dealers are usually open to offering discounts when you buy, too.

Peugeot 308 GTI: Is it practical?

In a word, yes. The 308 is a five-door, five-seat hatchback with a roomy 501-litre boot. A Ford Focus, by comparison, holds just 316 litres. On the minus side, space in the rear seat isn’t especially generous. And your passengers may start to complain about the rib-shaking ride – the price you pay for sporty suspension.

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Peugeot 308 GTI: What about safety?

If you can restrain your right foot (easier said than done), the 308 is a safe car. It scored a maximum five stars in Euro NCAP crash tests and standard equipment includes super-bright LED headlights, front/rear parking sensors and a reversing camera. The beefed-up Alcon brakes on Peugeot Sport versions also deserve a mention – they scrub off speed with impressive effectiveness.

Peugeot 308 GTI: Which version should I go for?

We think the Peugeot Sport version is worth the £1,600 premium over the regular GTI. For that, you get larger 19in alloy wheels, sports seats, bigger brakes and the Torsen differential. Admittedly, you won’t notice much difference between the two cars in typical road driving, but residual (resale) values for the Sport are likely to be better, too. We’ll leave the two-tone ‘Coupe Franche’ paint option seen below up to you. At £1,300, it’s an acquired taste.

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Peugeot 308 GTI: Should I buy one?

The 308 is a worthy addition to this competitive class, but its blend of subtle styling and serious speed still wouldn’t dissuade us from buying a SEAT Leon Cupra or VW Golf GTI. We suspect it would be a satisfying car to live with, but – judged as a hot hatch – the potent Peugeot is a little too sensible for its own good.

Peugeot 308 GTI: Pub fact

One Peugeot that certainly isn’t sensible is the 308 R Hybrid – a 500hp petrol/electric hot hatch that sprints to 62mph in 4.0 seconds, yet emits just 70g/km CO2. Sadly, the R Hybrid remains a concept for now, but Peugeot boss Maxime Picat has hinted that a production version is possible.

 

Lexus GS F review: 2015 first drive

Exclusive, expensive and exciting, the GS F could make you think twice about buying that M5.

Lexus GS F

Lexus is best known for fuel-sipping hybrids, not flame-spitting super saloons. And no matter how good the new GS F is, that’s unlikely to change.

You see, this flagship V8-engined GS is destined to remain a rare sight. Lexus expects to shift just 100 each year in the UK half as many as the RC F coupe. But therein lies the rub, because selling in small numbers is a big part of this car’s appeal. Put simply, you won’t spot another in the golf club car park.

Let’s start with the styling, which is angular, aggressive and distinctively Japanese. Lexus’ prominent ‘spindle’ grille is framed by gaping air intakes, while orange brake callipers hide behind 19-inch alloy wheels. At the rear, twin tailpipes hint at the prodigious performance on offer. There’s also a spoiler made from carbonfibre-reinforced plastic just like the LFA supercar.

The heart of the GS F is more conventional: a 5.0-litre petrol V8 that drives the rear wheels via an eight-speed semi-automatic gearbox. However, while its Audi RS6, BMW M5 and Mercedes-AMG E63 rivals all boast in excess of 550hp, the Lexus makes do with ‘just’ 477hp.

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Even so, that’s sufficient to catapult this luxury car to 62mph in 4.6 seconds (on par with a new turbocharged Porsche 911 Carrera) and a top speed of 168mph. A torque-vectoring differential, which constantly adjusts drive between the rear wheels, bodes well for cornering agility, too.

Perhaps the GS F’s biggest point of difference, though, is the way it is marketed. It isn’t cheap, at £69,995, but everything well, almost everything is included. That means (deep breath) adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, sat nav, metallic paint, Bluetooth, leather trim, dual-zone climate control, head-up display, automatic headlamps/wipers, a reversing camera, front/rear parking sensors and electric front seats with heating and ventilation.

In fact, the only options are a sunroof and 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio system. Beyond that, you only need worry about paint colour. Compare with the German brands, which offer a bewildering range of extras nearly all of them at additional cost.

All of the above is somewhat meaningless, however, if the GS F doesn’t deliver the goods from behind the wheel. So we took one to Jarama race circuit in Spain and the fabulous rural roads that surround it to see if Lexus really can beat the Germans at their own game.

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Lexus GS F: On the road

Road cars, even ‘sporty’ ones, often feel out of their depth on a race track. As the Lexus GS F is a large, four-door saloon weighing well in excess of two tonnes, you’d be forgiven for thinking it does, too.

But you’d be wrong. On the tight turns and cobbled kerbs of Jarama – a circuit used for the Spanish Grand Prix until 1981 – the GS F did a passable impression of something small, light and remarkably nimble.

Key to this agility is the standard torque-vectoring differential (TVD), which adjusts torque between the rear wheels to improve traction, turn-in and stability.

The TVD offers three modes. Standard is a stable set-up for regular road driving. Slalom sends more torque to the outside rear wheel when cornering to help the car turn more keenly. And Track diverts torque to the inside rear wheel, for improved stability – and tail-wagging oversteer on demand.

Lexus_GS-F_Blue_04Beefed-up Brembo brakes scrub off speed effectively, but like any car with 477hp coursing through its rear tyres, the GS F needed handling with care on a rain-soaked circuit. One downhill hairpin in particular provided several heart-in-the-mouth moments. However, our abiding impression was of a car that works with its driver, offering lots of feedback and lots of fun

The GS F also impresses on the road, but for different reasons. Yes, it’s a sports saloon, but it’s also a Lexus – and that means impressive refinement and light controls. Indeed, we found the steering a little too light in anything other than Sport+ mode. Only when you approach the limits of grip does the helm really start to bite.

Above all, though, this is a car dominated by its engine. Peak power of 477hp is developed at a heady 7,100rpm, so you need to explore the upper reaches of the rev counter. But that’s no chore – this 5.0-litre V8 loves to stretch its legs.

Floor the throttle and it awakens with a rumble, then a red-blooded roar. The noise is augmented through the stereo speakers, so you’re never completely sure what’s real and what’s synthetic. But no matter, only a Mercedes-AMG V8 beats it for deep-chested, turned-up-to-11 volume. It’s preposterously, wonderfully OTT.

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Lexus GS F: On the inside

The GS F may deliver Porsche-baiting performance, but this is no stripped-out road racer. ‘Luxury comes as standard’, proclaimed a Lexus manager over dinner and, PR hyperbole aside, he was right.

The interior of the GS F is beautifully finished. Supple leather covers the sports seats, while Alcantara (an artificial suede-like material) swathes the dashboard and door-tops. Even the flashes of carbonfibre-effect plastic look realistic.

Settle into the heated, ventilated and memory-adjustable driver’s seat and your view ahead is dominated by a large TFT rev counter. Switch to Sport or Sport+ modes and the display changes, becoming redder and angrier – another deliberate echo of the LFA supercar.

There’s also a large 12.3-inch colour screen for sat nav and infotainment functions. Its high position on the dashboard means you don’t need to divert your eyes from the road, but we still struggle with Lexus’ overly-sensitive touchpad controller. It’s much trickier to use than the ‘clickwheel’ favoured by Audi and BMW.

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For a large car, the GS F isn’t particularly spacious in the back; both legroom and headroom are limited for taller adults. The wide transmission tunnel also means a fourth passenger sits with legs splayed in a manner that could make even hardened motoring hacks blush.

You can’t fold the rear seats to boost luggage space. However, the boot’s 520-litre volume is identical to a BMW 5 Series and there is a ski hatch for loading longer objects (like, er… skis). If you want a warp-speed family wagon, though, you’ll need to shop elsewhere – start with the Audi RS6 or Mercedes-AMG E63 estate.

We’ve already touched on the GS F’s generous standard equipment, so we won’t list it all here. Suffice to say that, like-for-like, once options are taken into account, you can expect at least a five-figure price gap between this car and its German rivals.

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Lexus GS F: Running costs

Let’s not dwell on this too much, eh? You can’t expect a 5.0-litre petrol V8 to sip fuel like a Toyota Prius, even if they are distant cousins.

Official economy for the GS F is 25.2mpg, but that figure can easily plummet below 20mpg if you drive with a heavy right foot. For comparison, the GS 300h hybrid returns 60.1mpg.

Those quad tailpipes also emit their fair share of CO2 260g/km, to be exact. That puts the GS F in the top band for car tax (VED). You’ll pay a wallet-wilting £1,100 in the first year, then £495 a year thereafter.

It’s a shame that Lexus won’t match the warranty of its parent company, Toyota. It seems odd to offer five years and 100,000 miles of cover on a sub-£9,000 Aygo, but only three years/60,000 miles on a £70,000 GS F.

That said, three-year/60,000-mile cover is pretty much standard among the ‘premium’ brands and Lexus has a proven reputation for near-perfect reliability.

Near-perfect? Yes, genuinely. Regular chart-topping performances in Which? and JD Power surveys have made Lexus – and its highly-regarded dealers – the benchmark against which all other carmakers are judged.

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Lexus GS F: Verdict

The GS F doesn’t quite offer the dynamic delicacy of a BMW M5 or the gut-punching oomph of an Audi RS6. But we’re not sure that really matters.

Today’s sports saloons provide performance so far beyond what you can safely – and legally – use on the road that emotive appeal, i.e. how the car looks, sounds and makes you feel, is arguably more important.

And there’s no question, the GS F pushes our buttons. It looks fabulous, especially in the Azure Blue seen here, or bright Solar Flare orange. And you’ll never forget there’s a V8 under the bonnet; the noise under full-bore acceleration is akin to a low-flying bomber.

The fact that it will remain a rare beast undoubtedly adds cachet, too – and protects future resale values. The RC F coupe will be more popular, but the GS F is undoubtedly cooler.

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Our only real bugbear is that the GS F could have been a lot cleverer. Like most petrolheads, we’re suckers for a big V8, but surely with all its expertise in petrol/electric tech, Lexus could have produced a hybrid super saloon? A budget Porsche 918 Spyder, if you like.

Using batteries would make the GS F a truly unique proposition in this sector, boosting low-down torque while improving fuel economy and drastically lowering the car’s tax liability.

Still, the days of thirsty petrol V8s are numbered, so we should probably enjoy them while we can. Right, we’re off to buy shares in Shell and see if we can find £70k down the back of the sofa…

Lexus GS F: Specification

Price: £69,995

Engine: 5.0-litre V8 petrol

Power: 477hp

Torque: 391 lb ft

0-62mph: 4.6sec

Top speed: 168mph

Fuel economy: 25.2mpg

CO2 emissions: 260g/km

Range Rover Evoque

Range Rover Evoque review: 2015 first drive

Range Rover Evoque

Range Rover Evoque:  Overview

Like the original Audi TT or MINI, the Range Rover Evoque was an ‘It car’ – a must-have four-wheeled fashion accessory. A long waiting list followed its launch in 2011, and more than 450,000 have since found homes. In fact, one in three Land Rovers sold worldwide is an Evoque. However, fashion is fickle and, four years later, the car is due a mid-life facelift.

At first, you will struggle to spot the differences, but that’s probably a good thing. It still looks radical – like a concept car with number plates. Plus, having modelled the rest of its Range Rover line-up on the Evoque, Land Rover wasn’t likely to sanction a radical redesign.

So there’s a new front bumper with larger air intakes, all-LED adaptive headlights, a restyled grille, sparklier taillights and five new alloy wheel designs. Inside, you’ll find redesigned seats, upgraded materials and a new touchscreen media system.

The big news, though, is under the bonnet – specifically the new 150hp or 180hp 2.0-litre Ingenium diesel engine. It transforms the Evoque into the most efficient Land Rover ever made. In 150hp two-wheel-drive guise with a manual gearbox, it returns 68mpg and CO2 emissions of 109g/km – impressive figures for a car of this type.

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The Evoque is also offered with a 240hp petrol engine (not available to drive on the launch), plus six-speed manual or nine-speed automatic gearboxes. Buyers can opt for two-wheel drive, four-wheel drive or Active Driveline, which switches between the two depending on road conditions.

Trim levels start at SE, then rise through SE Tech, HSE Dynamic and Autobiography. Standard equipment on all models now includes automatic emergency braking and lane-departure warning.

The range starts at £30,200 for the eD4 150 SE. The 180hp diesel and Si4 petrol cost from £32,800 and £43,000 respectively.

Five-door and three-door ‘Coupe’ versions of the Evoque are identically priced, giving you a straight choice between function and fashion.

03_Range Rover EvoqueRange Rover Evoque:  On the road

No Land Rover launch would be complete without some hill-climbin’, mud-squelchin’, river-fordin’ off-roading. But let’s start with how the car copes on Tarmac – undoubtedly where 99% of Evoques will spend 99% of their time.

It’s a cliche to describe SUVs as being ‘car-like’ to drive, but the Evoque genuinely is. High driving position aside, it feels like a sporty hatchback, with eager steering and little body-roll when cornering. On tortuously twisty Spanish mountain roads, it was fast, confidence-inspiring and fun.

If anything, the Evoque’s steering is a little too sensitive for motorway driving; the regular corrections needed at speed make longer journeys feel tiring. We’d welcome a bit more feedback through the chunky three-spoke wheel, too.

However, ride comfort is good – certainly better than some German rivals – and wind noise is well-suppressed, despite the car’s bluff-fronted shape.

The new Ingenium diesel is also commendably hushed. Even under full acceleration, the noise from the lightweight aluminium engine is more petrol purr than commercial clatter.

04_Range Rover Evoque

The 150hp unit powers the Evoque to 62mph in 11.2 seconds, while the 180hp version shaves that to 10.0 seconds. However, that additional 30hp makes little perceptible difference on the road; both offer ample mid-range torque for swift, safe overtaking.

The standard six-speed manual gearbox has a short throw and feels pleasingly mechanical. But we’d fork out £1,800 for the smooth-shifting nine-speed automatic, which also comes into its own for off-road driving.

Ah yes, the rough stuff. You may scoff, but the Evoque’s ability to bump over boulders and slither down sand dunes is arguably more relevant than a sports car being able to exceed 150mph. At least if the apocalypse strikes, you’ll have an escape plan.

We tried both front- and four-wheel-drive models at the Les Comes Land Rover Experience centre near Barcelona. Steep gravel switchbacks, deep muddy ruts and a particularly scary bamboo bridge provoked moderate sweating and occasional swearing from driver and passenger. Yet the Evoque handled them with ease.

In the unlikely event you do want to take your Evoque off-road, the automatic gearbox offers All-Terrain Progress Control – essentially a low-speed cruise control for slow and steady progress over tough terrain. With the system activated, the Evoque feels almost unstoppable; it hauls itself up hills and over obstacles with studied nonchalance.

05_Range Rover EvoqueRange Rover Evoque:  On the inside

Interior space has never been the Evoque’s strong point – thank those bulbous wheelarches and that stylishly sloping roofline. It’s acceptably roomy in the front, but the rear bench is best suited to children or teenagers.

So its ideal for young families then? Not really. The 575-litre boot can swallow a weekly shop, but you’d struggle to squeeze in a large baby buggy. If you need space for kids/dogs/bikes/flat-pack furniture (delete as appropriate), Land Rover’s own Discovery Sport is an eminently more sensible choice – plus it has the option of seven seats.

Despite all of the above, the Evoque’s cabin is a pleasant and undeniably ‘premium’ place to be. Upgrades for 2015 include soft leather padding on the door panels and a redesigned centre console (still with Land Rover’s trademark big buttons, which are designed to be pressed by gloved hands). No mention of Victoria Beckham helping with the design this time, though…

06_Range Rover Evoque

The new InControl Touch media system is certainly a step forward. However, confusing sat nav graphics led to an unscheduled detour through Barcelona’s not-very-scenic industrial estates. We’d also prefer a separate joystick or clickwheel controller – as offered by Audi, BMW and Mercedes – rather than merely a touchscreen; they are simpler and safer to use while driving.

Standard equipment on the entry-level Evoque SE includes heated front seats with electric adjustment, cruise control, DAB radio and automatic headlights/wipers. Stepping up to SE Tech adds sat nav, xenon headlamps and a heated windscreen, while HSE Dynamic comes with a sporty bodykit, rear-view camera and premium sound system. The all-bells-and-whistles Autobiography has a full Oxford leather interior with heated rear seats and in-car wi-fi.

07_Range Rover EvoqueRange Rover Evoque:  Running costs

Land Rover is proud of its new diesel engines, and rightly so. The most efficient 150hp two-wheel-drive models are now dubbed ‘E-Capability’ and wear a blue (rather than red) Evoque badge on the tailgate.

Land Rover claims 68mpg for the Coupe in E-Capability guise – better than the most economical Audi Q3 or BMW X1. CO2 emissions of just 109g/km equate to annual car tax (VED) of £20. Comparative figures for the five-door version are 65.7mpg, 113g/km and £30.

This 16% improvement in efficiency versus the outgoing car is particularly good news for company car drivers. It translates into Benefit-In-Kind tax savings of 3%. Extended service intervals – stretched from 16,000 to 21,000 miles – drive down those all-important running costs, too.

However, don’t book that Caribbean cruise just yet; there is a caveat to all this money-saving merriment. List prices for the Evoque have jumped significantly, so the range now starts at £30,200 – an increase of around £1,000. A mid-range 2.0 TD4 180 SE Tech auto will set you back £36,600, around £1,900 more than the old 2.2 SD4 Pure Tech Pack auto.

08_Range Rover EvoqueRange Rover Evoque: Verdict

Has Land Rover done enough to keep its ‘It car’ fresh and fashionable? Well, we can’t predict the whims of fashion, but there’s little doubt the 2015 Evoque is a significant step forward. Finally, this British success story has the modern diesel engine it always deserved.

In terms of the new Ingenium unit, we have no complaints. It’s smooth, responsive and efficient. And (money-saving tip!) the 150hp version is plenty quick enough for most needs.

Unfortunately for the Evoque, Land Rover has now put the same engine into the Discovery Sport, which looks pretty similar, costs about the same and is vastly more practical.

The Evoque remains a sportier and more satisfying drive, but if we had upwards of £30k to spend on a new SUV, we’d opt for the more sensible Discovery Sport.

Range Rover Evoque 2.0 eD4 SE 5dr 2WD

Price: £30,200

Engine: 2.0-litre diesel

Gearbox: Six-speed manual

Power: 150hp

Torque: 317lb ft

0-60mph: 11.2 seconds

Top speed: 113mph

Fuel economy: 65.7mpg

CO2 emissions: 113g/km

Jaguar XF

All-new Jaguar XF review: 2015 first drive

Jaguar XFThe pre-launch hype about the Jaguar XE rumbled on for months, culminating with a car being helicoptered into a celeb-packed Earl’s Court, serenaded by pop princess, Emeli Sande.

There’s no such razmatazz for the XE’s big brother, the new 2015 XF. Just a flight to Spain to drive on mountain roads near Pamplona followed by track time in the range-topping 380hp XF S.

Fortunately, Jaguar’s luxury saloon doesn’t need the star-studded talents of Stella McCartney, the Kaiser Chiefs or, um… Gary Lineker to stand out. It may not look that different to the old XF (or indeed the XE), but it’s undeniably handsome, with squat, sporty proportions and a sweeping, coupe-like roofline.

Beneath the surface, the new XF’s body is built largely from aluminium to save weight. And new ‘Ingenium’ diesel engines promise big gains in fuel efficiency.

02_Jaguar

There are four powerplants available at launch: 163hp or 180hp 2.0-litre diesel, 300hp 3.0-litre V6 diesel and 380hp 3.0 V6 petrol. The 2.0-litre diesels come with six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic gearboxes; the 3.0-litre engines are auto-only.

The entry-level 163hp diesel is the expected bestseller, particularly for company car drivers. It sprints to 60mph in 8.2 seconds and ekes out 70.6mpg with CO2 emissions of just 104g/km. That equates to £20 annual car tax at 2015 rates (figures for the 2.0 163 auto are 68.9mpg, 109g/km and £20 respectively).

At the opposite end of the scale, the 380hp supercharged XF S storms to 60mph in just 5.1 seconds and returns 34.0mpg and 198g/km (£265 car tax).

Buyers can choose from four trim levels: Prestige, R-Sport, Portfolio and S. All come with Jaguar’s InControl Touch media system, with an 8in touchscreen, navigation and voice control. Optional InControl Touch Pro arrives later this year, with a larger 10.3in screen and ‘virtual’ instrument display – similar to the latest Audi TT.

XF prices start at £32,300 for the 2.0d 163 Prestige, rising to £35,100 for the mid-range 2.0d 180 R-Sport. The range-topping 3.0 V6 S is £49,945.

03_Jaguar

2015 Jaguar XF:  On the road

Jaguar saloons used to be softly-sprung, comfortable and, for want of a better word, ‘wafty’. The original XF marked a shift away from softness to sportiness as Jaguar tried to shake off its ‘old man’ image.

The new XF is very much cut from the same Lycra. It’s a sports saloon in the mould of the BMW 5 Series, rather than a comfy cruiser like a Mercedes-Benz E-Class.

As such, its ride is on the firm side, especially at low speeds around town. The V6 we tried had optional adaptive dampers and was noticeably better in this regard, although still a little stiff on huge 20in alloys and rubber-band tyres.

Fortunately, the trade-off for a little wiggle and jiggle is secure and confidence-inspiring handling. The XF turns in eagerly, its standard torque vectoring system subtly braking the inside wheels to really tug you around tight corners.

The steering is direct and full of feedback, while the eight-speed automatic automatic gearbox adapts seamlessly to your driving style. Only a rather spongy brake pedal lets the side down.

04_Jaguar

Frustratingly, the predicted bestseller – the 163hp 2.0-litre Ingenium diesel – wasn’t available to drive at the launch. However, we did try the 180hp version, which costs between £500 and £900 more to buy (depending on spec) and is only slightly less efficient.

The new engine is an impressive all-rounder: smooth, refined and decently quick (0-60mph takes 7.5 seconds). It’s all you really need. Just don’t drive it back-to-back with the 3.0-litre V6.

Ah yes, the V6. This flagship 380hp lump is lifted straight from the F-Type and transforms the XF into something very far from ‘old man’. Kick-down is downright savage with the gearbox in Sport mode, and the whine of the supercharger as this luxurious saloon gathers its skirts and charges for the horizon is addictive stuff.

We also sampled the – somewhat more sensible – XF 3.0-litre diesel, which occupies the middle-ground between these two extremes. Its muscular low-rev torque makes it feel almost as quick as the petrol V6 in normal driving, but you’ll pay a hefty price – nearly £11k more than the most expensive 2.0-litre diesel. And if you can afford £50k, you can afford the petrol car’s supercharged fuel bills, right?

05_Jaguar

2015 Jaguar XF:  On the inside

The outgoing XF didn’t just ditch the soft suspension of Jaguars past. It also swapped trad walnut-n-leather for an interior more akin to a trendy wine bar. Aluminium detailing and cool blue lighting were the order of the day.

The new XF keeps the rotating air vents and rotary gear selector of its predecessor, but the rest is all new. A low seating position and wide centre console make the driver feel cocooned inside the car, while the sporty, three-spoke steering wheel feels great.

There’s good news for passengers, too. Rear legroom is up by 15mm, while headroom has increased by up to 27mm. Spend a little more and you can even treat the kids to heated rear seats and four-zone climate control.

Most XFs have conventional dials, but a 12.3in ‘virtual’ display is available, in conjunction with the new InControl Touch Pro media system.

06_Jaguar

We tried a developmental version of this set-up, which isn’t available until the end of 2015. It’s bold, bright and very user-friendly, with iPad-style swipe and ‘pinch to zoom’ functionality on the central touchscreen. However, we were less enamoured with the virtual dials, which are harder to read than the old-fashioned physical type.

The XF comes with all the safety kit you’d expect, including automatic emergency braking. However, Jaguar has followed the German brands’ lead elsewhere, relegating many of the most desirable features to the options list.

Full-LED headlights, a laser head-up display, adaptive cruise control, auto parking and a ground-shaking 17-speaker Meridian sound system are all available, if your pockets are deep enough.

07_Jaguar

2015 Jaguar XF:  Running costs

Right, ignore everything we said earlier about buying the supercharged V6 petrol. If you want affordable running costs, the four-cylinder diesels are the ones to go for.

Jaguar’s 15 years of expertise with aluminium has certainly paid off. Not only is the XF 2.0d 163 the lightest car in its class by 80kg (equivalent to ditching an adult passenger), it also boasts the lowest CO2 emissions of any non-hybrid model – at 104g/km.

That’s great news for company car drivers and means just £20 annual car tax at 2015 rates. Claimed fuel economy of 70.6mpg is not to be sniffed at either.

08_Jaguar

The XF isn’t cheap to buy, though. Its starting price of £32,300 is around £1,500 more than an equivalent BMW 5 Series. However, residual (resale) values are forecast to be among the best in class and, according to Jaguar, that reduces whole-life running costs for the 2.0d to less than the Germans.

One question mark with the new XF is reliability. The marque has fared well in recent JD Power surveys, which focus on newer cars. But the – more in-depth and comprehensive – Which? Car Survey points to longer-term reliability issues across the existing Jaguar range.

09_Jaguar

2015 Jaguar XF:  Verdict

The new XF isn’t a game-changer like its predecessor, but it doesn’t need to be. It builds on the strengths of the outgoing car, with added ‘grace, space and pace’ (to quote the famous vintage Jaguar ad). Oh, and a large dollop of extra efficiency, too.

If you’re looking for the last word in luxury, you’ll be better served by a Mercedes E-Class. The XF is unashamedly a sports saloon, and it rewards keen drivers with a chassis that matches the best BMW can muster.

Nonetheless, all its main competitors are very competent cars that we’d happily drive every day. Much of your choice essentially comes down to design – and here the XF excels.

Removing our objective road-test hats for a moment, we think the XF is comfortably the best looking car in this segment. It’s sleek and elegant, with a low-slung silhouette that hints at sportiness within. The fact that it looks very similar to the smaller XE hardly seems to matter – identikit cars have done Audi and Land Rover no harm.

The XF’s cabin is gorgeous, too. And quality feels sufficiently good to allay our fears about long-term reliability. Just go easy on those extra-cost options.

From frugal Ingenium diesels to fire-breathing V6 petrol, the XF has got most bases covered. If you’re in the market for a luxury saloon, it should be near the top of your shortlist.

10_Jaguar

2015 Jaguar XF:  Specification

Jaguar XF 2.0d 180 R-Sport auto

Price: £36,850

Engine: 2.0-litre diesel

Gearbox: 8-speed automatic

Power: 180hp

Torque: 318lb ft

0-60mph: 7.7 seconds

Top speed: 136mph

Fuel economy: 65.7mpg

CO2 emissions: 114g/km

New Morgan ARP4 boasts Cosworth power

New Morgan ARP4 boasts Cosworth power

New Morgan ARP4 boasts Cosworth powerThe iconic Morgan Plus 4 is 65 years old this year. To celebrate, Morgan’s AR Motorsport division has revealed the limited-edition ARP4 – a 228hp Cosworth-powered Plus 4.

Just 50 examples of the ARP4 will be built, each costing £54,995. In addition to a powerful 2.0-litre Cosworth engine, the car features a host of chassis and interior upgrades. The result, says Morgan, is a car that ‘pushes the boundaries of the traditional classic’.

The British sports car maker hasn’t quoted figures yet, but promises ‘significantly more performance than a standard Morgan’. Each car will be set up by an AR Motorsport race technician, with adjustable shock absorbers, upgraded brakes and a different axle ratio to the regular Plus 4.

02_Morgan

The ARP4 is still built on a traditional ash-wood frame, but its aluminium panels are left untrimmed for lightness and a suitably sporty look. However, this isn’t a stripped-out track-day special. Morgan has beefed up soundproofing in the hood and throughout the body to reduce road and wind noise.

Other improvements on the ARP4 include a redesigned dashboard (fear not, purists – the retro toggle switches are still present and correct) and super-bright LED lights front and rear – which also give the car a more distinctive face.

The Morgan ARP4 is launched at the Silverstone Classic show on Saturday 25 July.

6 ways the new Vauxhall Astra hopes to beat the Ford Focus

01_Vauxhall AstraNew 2015 Vauxhall Astra – better than a Focus?

The Vauxhall Astra has traditionally taken second place to the Ford Focus – both in terms of desirability and sales. Indeed, the last time Vauxhall outsold its arch-rival was in 2011. However, that could be about to change. The new 2015 Astra is here and, although we haven’t driven it yet, the signs are it could be a Focus-beater.

Before we reveal the six key ways in which Vauxhall has improved the Astra, let’s start with something more superficial: the styling. The car looks sporty, with hawkish headlights, scalloped sides and a rising beltline. LED daytime running lights add a premium touch, while the blacked-out C-pillar – an idea borrowed from the Range Rover and Jaguar XJ – gives the impression of a separate, ‘floating’ roof.

02_Vauxhall AstraNew 2015 Vauxhall Astra – 36 years of history

The Astra has been around since 1979 and is now into its seventh generation. During that time, more than 2.9 million of us have bought an Astra – and countless others have owned one second-hand. By contrast, the Ford Focus has only been on sale since 1998.

Better still, the Astra is built in Britain. And the factory at Ellesmere Port in Cheshire will also assemble the forthcoming Sport Tourer – the estate version of the Astra, due in early 2016. Vauxhall is aiming to sell 60,000 new Astras next year, compared to around 44,000 in 2014.

03_Vauxhall AstraNew 2015 Vauxhall Astra – smaller, lighter and more spacious

Smaller, but bigger. Yes, Vauxhall has enacted some Tardis-style trickery on the new Astra, which has shrunk in size yet become roomier inside. The key is better packaging, allowing a 34mm increase in rear legroom despite a 49mm decrease in overall length. The car is lower than the model it replaces, too – helping give it a sporty appearance.

Perhaps most importantly, the Astra is significantly lighter than before. Vauxhall has saved an average 130kg across the range, with some models weighing 200kg less. More compact engines, smaller tyres and increased use of high-strength steel are some of ways in which weight has been cut. That in turn leads to better fuel-efficiency and – hopefully – more agile handling.

04_Vauxhall AstraNew 2015 Vauxhall Astra – cleaner engines, including 82g/km diesel

We’ve already been impressed with Vauxhall’s 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine in the latest Corsa. Smooth and very refined, it’s now available in the Astra for the first time, giving Vauxhall an answer to Ford’s much-hyped 1.0 Ecoboost engine. CO2 emissions for the 1.0T petrol start from just 96g/km if you opt for the Easytronic auto gearbox – low enough for free annual car tax (VED).

There are also 1.4 and 1.6 petrol engines, but the big seller is likely to be the 1.6 CDTi ‘Whisper’ diesel. Available in 110hp, 136hp and 160hp outputs, it produces CO2 from just 82g/km and 91.1mpg. That’s great news for company car drivers. Interestingly, Vauxhall isn’t marketing this car as a stand-alone ‘eco’ model, like the Focus Econetic. It’s part of the main Astra range.

05_Vauxhall AstraNew 2015 Vauxhall Astra – simpler range and more equipment

Buying an Astra could be confusing, but Vauxhall has simplified the line-up to four trim levels: Design, Tech Line, SRi and Elite. The latter two are available with sat nav, badged SRi Nav and Elite Nav respectively. The old SE, Tech Line GT and Bi-Turbo specifications have been discontinued.

Standard equipment on all models includes a colour touchscreen media system, Bluetooth phone connectivity, digital radio, air conditioning, cruise control, automatic headlights and alloy wheels. Interesting options include LED headlights, a hands-free parking system and a ventilated massage seat for the driver. Automatic emergency braking is standard on SRi and Elite.

06_Vauxhall AstraNew 2015 Vauxhall Astra – Apple Car Play and On Star tech

All Astras come with an Intellilink 7in touchscreen media system, with six speakers, digital radio and steering wheel controls. Opt for sat nav and you’ll get a larger 8in screen and voice recognition. Intellilink is compatible with Apple Car Play and Android Auto, so you can wirelessly connect your smartphone and access apps via the touchscreen.

SRi and Elite models also have Vauxhall’s On Star connected services package. This turns the car into a 4G wi-fi hotspot, allowing you to connect up to seven devices for browsing the internet. On Star also calls the emergency services if the airbags are deployed – plus it can measure oil life to tell you when the car’s next service is due.

07_Vauxhall AstraNew 2015 Vauxhall Astra – cheaper than the old one

The proof of the pudding will, of course, be in the driving, but it seems that the 2015 Astra has been improved in almost every area. Will that make it good enough to beat the Focus? We’re not sure, as Ford’s family favourite is a capable all-rounder and one of the best mid-size hatchbacks on sale. However, one way in which Vauxhall does topple Ford is on price.

On sale from today, the Astra range starts at £15,295 – £150 less than the outgoing car. The 1.0T petrol is available from £15,995 and the 1.6 CDTi diesel costs from £17,495. Some models are up to £2,200 cheaper, like-for-like, than before. And prices undercut the Focus, too – by more than £2,000 in some cases. Sounds pretty compelling, doesn’t it? We’ll know for sure after we drive the Astra in September.

Bentley Continental GT review: 2015 first drive

1_Bentley_Continental_Speed_2016Bentley Continental GT: Overview 

The Continental GT has been the saviour of the Bentley brand, responsible for bringing the company from the abyss to become the world’s most successful manufacturer of luxury cars. Today Bentley sells over 11,000 cars every year, half of them Continental GT coupes and convertibles.

This car has started life in 2003 and has undergone several major changes since then, some major, others minor. From the original GT coupe with its astonishing 6.0-litre twin-turbo W12 configuration engine, the range has grown to include a second body style, the convertible, a more environmentally-conscious 4.0-litre V8 (OK, that has twin turbos and a ridiculous amount of power too), plus race cars from which the extreme GT3 road car has been developed.

What was so clever about the original Continental GT, its trump card, was that it pitched in at £120,000, an area of the new car market where there really wasn’t much competition. Suddenly there was a true luxury car available for the price of a top Mercedes. Buyers the world over were entranced.

Naturally it’s a bit more expensive today. The V8 Coupe starts at £140,300, the Convertible £14,000 more. The step up to the GT W12 starts at £150,500, with the more powerful GT W12 Speed from £168,300. It’s still hard to pin down much in the way of direct competition – high performance coupes that offer the possibility of seating four – but the new Mercedes AMG S65 Coupe comes closest, at £183,075.

          4_Bentley_Continental_Speed_2016Bentley Continental GT : On the road 

There’s a minimum of 500hp available in every Continental GT, but the pinnacle is the 635hp GT Speed. The W12 engine is smooth and refined when you want to cruise around, but slip it into Sport mode, or simply pull on the (now larger) paddle shifters, and this Bentley surges forward with a seemingly never-ending explosion of acceleration. It can, Bentley says, reach 206mph and cover 0-62mph in 4.2 seconds.

Yet the regular GT W12 is a very fine car, too. And if you hadn’t driven a Speed, you’d surely be more than happy with this model. With its greater emphasis on comfort and refinement, it’s quieter and rides a little more smoothly.

The V8 and V8 S Continentals have a similar relationship to the W12, the 507hp V8 is more comfy, the 528hp S more dynamic. Either gives solid thrills, and you shouldn’t overlook that fact that they are still magnificently powerful even though they slot in below the W12. Slip the V8 S into Sport mode and there’s a delicious crackle from the exhaust, a really sharp throttle response and a Continental GT that many will find the most enticing version of all.

Although the V8 engine is barely lighter than the W12, it somehow seems to have greater agility. Four-wheel drive is standard, which results in tenacious levels of grip, even on the streaming wet roads of the Norway. Transmitting the power through all four wheels also means that the traction when accelerating is astoundingly good. Less satisfactory is the tendency of the tyres to aquaplane in the wet, and to follow “tramlines” in the road surface. It’s worse on the optional 21-inch wheels.

It would be churlish not to mention that the engines all have a touch more power. You’re not likely to notice the difference, though, unless you take your Bentley to a race track.

6_Bentley_Continental_Speed_2016Bentley Continental GT : On the inside 

Where the Bentley Continental is still able to frighten competitors is the way it blends that performance with fabulous levels of interior appointment. It feels like a proper, hand-built luxury car, which Mercedes might equal, even better, in terms of functionality, but remains way off for that sublime feeling of decadence.

Quilted leather seats, architectural dashboard structure, beautifully hewn metalwork. There’s now a softer, semi-aniline hide for the seats on the W12, a sportier steering wheel and on-board wi-fi for the first time. It’s only 3G, but it’s still welcome.

The Continental GT is comfortable, naturally, but you can tailor the ride to suit your mood through four grades from Comfort to Sport. If you don’t want to be bothered, well, the computer second-guesses your requirements according to your driving style. Luggage space is enormous. Rear-seat space, as ever, is tight on legroom.

8_Bentley_Continental_Speed_2016Bentley Continental GT : Running costs 

Running costs? If you need to ask, etc, etc. Tweaks to the W12 engine include ‘variable displacement’, which actually means that six of the 12 cylinders can be shut down to save fuel when deemed appropriate.

That results in 5% better fuel economy, although that still means 20mpg will be an achievement to be proud of. We saw 9mpg on the trip computer on a short stretch of closed road driving! The V8 is better, with a combined figure of 26.7mpg and CO2 emissions of 246g/km.

Depreciation is a bit of an issue with the Continental GT. The fact that a lot have been sold means they lack rarity value second-hand. Then there is the fuel economy, a concern more for used car buyers than those that can afford £150,000 to £200,000 for a new Bentley. That much? Well, yes. You need to take the list price with a pinch of salt because a nice palette of options can easily add £30-£40k.

2_Bentley_Continental_Speed_2016Bentley Continental GT : Verdict 

When it comes to weighing up the Bentley Continental GT, there’s always an elephant in the room. This car has been around for a dozen years already. Has it really established itself as an icon, something akin to a Porsche 911, a design that simply needs refreshing from time to time, rather than a radical rethink?

Bentley’s sales volumes speak for themselves. With well over 5,000 examples of the Continental finding customers each year, it’s clear that the formula has generated a genuine desire amongst buyers.

The 2016 changes of new bumpers, a smaller grille, side vents with metallic ‘B’ design, plus the engine and interior tweaks, are minor and might even be considered trivial. Yet today the Bentley Continental GT still makes a strong impact on three key levels: it looks menacing, the interior is gorgeous and the performance is breathtaking. That still makes it a very special car.

Specification: Bentley Continental GT Speed

Engine: 6.0-litre petrol

Gearbox: 8-speed automatic

Power: 635hp

Torque: 607lb ft

0-62mph: 4.2 seconds

Top speed: 206mph

Fuel economy: 19.4mpg

CO2 emissions: 338g/km