To mark the 30th anniversary of the end of Group B rallying, we select our favourite cars from the sport’s wildest era
Born in the 1970s, the hot hatch exploded in popularity during the 1980s, offering power to the people like never before. Today, these icons of their era are fast-appreciating classic cars. We’ve rounded-up the 20 greatest hot hatches of the 80s – do you agree with our choices?
Peugeot 205 GTI
Where else to start but with the Peugeot 205 GTI? Chic styling, superb steering and finely-balanced handling made for a near-irresistible package. Buyers could choose from 105hp (later 115hp) 1.6-litre or 126hp 1.9-litre engines, plus a convertible CTI. Recently voted the greatest hot hatch of all time, the best examples now fetch in excess of £20,000.
Volkswagen Golf GTI
If a 205 seems a bit fragile (or expensive), how about a Mk2 Golf GTI? With its red go-faster stripes and aspirational Volkswagen badge, the Golf encapsulates the 80s like few other cars. The 112hp 8v GTI was launched in 1985, with the high-revving 139hp 16v following in 1986. Practical and solidly-built, the Golf makes for a great daily-driver classic.
Volkswagen Golf Rallye
Looking like a GTI after several months at the gym, the wide-arched Golf Rallye was a homologation special. It boasted four-wheel drive and a 160hp 1.8-litre supercharged engine. Only 5,000 were made, although the Rallye’s G60 engine also saw service in the Corrado, Passat and super-rare 16v Golf Limited.
Ford Escort RS Turbo
Like some of its owners, the original Escort RS Turbo was a bit rough around the edges. It certainly isn’t the greatest hot hatchback to drive, but it was quick (132hp was a big deal in 1985) and looked great. All 5,000 cars were painted white – apart from a single black example built for Princess Diana.
Vauxhall Astra GTE
Vauxhall’s riposte to the RS Turbo was the Mk2 Astra GTE 16v. With 158hp, it was one of the most powerful hot hatches of the 1980s. The benchmark 60mph arrived in just 7.0 seconds, with a touch of torque steer along the way. The Astra’s aerodynamic styling has aged remarkably well – its digital dashboard, less so.
Renault 5 GT Turbo
After the bonkers mid-engined 5 Turbo and Turbo 2, the 1985 GT Turbo was Renault’s mainstream hot hatch. It packed a revvy 115hp 1.4-litre engine and blasted to 60mph in 7.5 seconds. A darling of the Max Power tuning scene, there are few standard GT Turbos left – and prices are rising rapidly.
Renault 11 Turbo
The same 115hp 1.4-litre turbocharged engine was used in the Renault 11 Turbo. Although not as quick as the lightweight 5, the 11 is much rarer – we couldn’t find a single one for sale in the UK at the time of writing. It was also a successful rally car, winning several national rally championships in the late 1980s.
Mazda 323 4×4 Turbo
Bristling with retro rally cool, the Mazda 323 4×4 Turbo had a 151hp 1.6-litre turbocharged engine and four-wheel drive. No wonder Motoring Research’s Gavin Braithwaite-Smith calls it the ‘Japanese Integrale’. Only 500 were sold in the UK and a mere 13 remain on the road.
Lancia Delta Integrale
So that was the Japanese Integrale – now here’s the real thing. The hot Delta is most famous for its success at rallying, but was also a formidable road car. The original Integrale 8v produced 188hp from its 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, although later Evoluzione models made up to 215hp. The very best Integrales now fetch in excess of £50,000.
Ford Fiesta XR2
Back down to Earth with the Ford Fiesta XR2. The original 85hp Mk1 XR2 hit 60mph in 9.3 seconds – not exactly scorching, even for 1981. The 97hp Mk2 version arrived two years later, becoming one of the most popular hot hatches of the 1980s. A mint Mk2 XR2 will set you back around £8,000 today.
Peugeot 309 GTI
While the 205 GTI grabs the headlines, the frumpier 309 GTI provides similar thrills for much less cash. The 309 borrowed the more powerful 126hp 1.9-litre engine from its little brother, and was reckoned by road testers at the time to offer even better handling. A 16-valve GTI-16 version was also built, but never sold in the UK.
MG Maestro Turbo
While we’re on the subject of unsung heroes, how about the MG Maestro Turbo? Trumpeted in advertising as being faster than a Golf GTI, the bodykitted Brit could hit 60mph in just 6.7 seconds. Top speed was 128mph. Only 505 were made and less than 20 are still on the road.
MG Metro Turbo
Another British car, another memorable ad campaign. The Metro was sold as ‘The British car to beat the world’, and the MG Turbo version was its flagship. With 94hp, it could reach 60mph in 8.9 seconds and boasted handling that was allegedly tuned by Lotus.
The Audi Quattro probably isn’t the first car that springs to mind when we say ‘hot hatch’. But this road-going rally car has a hatchback – and boy, is it hot. Launched in 1980, the ‘Ur-Quattro’ had a 200hp five-cylinder engine and four-wheel drive. The 1989 20v version upped output to 220hp, cutting the 0-60mph dash to just 6.2 seconds.
Fiat Strada Abarth 130tc
Carburettors were becoming pretty old-school by 1983, but there was no arguing with the noise of the twin Solexes or Webers fitted to the Abarth 130tc. With 130hp, the hottest Strada (called Ritmo in Europe) could hit 62mph in a brisk 7.8 seconds. Even a perfect 130tc should set you back less than £5,000 – if you can find one.
Toyota Corolla GT AE86
If you fancy a cheap Corolla GT AE86, you’ve missed the boat. Starring roles in Gran Turismo and the cult Initial D drifting film mean the best examples of this outwardly humble hatchback can nudge £20,000. Key to the Toyota’s appeal is its playful rear-wheel-drive chassis, which begs to go sideways at every opportunity.
Citroen Visa GTI
Bet you’d forgotten this one. Launched in 1985, the Visa GTI used the same 105hp or 115hp 1.6-litre engine as the Peugeot 205 GTI. With five doors, it’s more practical than a 205 – and much rarer, too. The ‘How Many Left’ website lists just four Visa GTIs as taxed for UK roads.
Citroen AX GT
Citroen also made an AX GTI, but a 1992 launch-date disqualifies it from this round-up. However, the less powerful AX GT was still a credible hot hatch; a modest 86hp from its 1.4-litre engine worked wonders in a car weighing less than 850kg. Fragile, but fun.
Daihatsu Charade GTti
No, that isn’t a mis-print, the sportiest Charade did have an extra ‘t’ to its name. In 1987, the GTti was the world’s most powerful 1.0-litre production car, with a turbocharged three-cylinder engine producing 100hp. It sprinted to 60mph in 8.0 seconds, topping out at 114mph.
Ford Sierra RS Cosworth
Bigger – and badder – than your typical hot hatchback, the mighty Sierra RS Cosworth is a fitting way to finish our top 20. It packed a 204hp 2.0-litre turbocharged engine for 0-60mph in 6.5 seconds and a heady 149mph top speed. It beat all-comers on the racetrack and its huge rear wing launched a thousand copycat bodykits. We want one.
The first production road car developed by BMW’s M division was the M1 of 1978, but the company has a history dating back to 1972 and the founding of BMW Motorsport GmbH. Later it became known as BMW M GmbH: a company responsible for developing some of the most iconic performance cars of all-time.
Selecting the best M cars ever built is a little like choosing the best Beatles song. To make things a little easier, we’ve created a list of 25, although we appreciate that some people might opt for a different group of legends. Read on to discover what made our shortlist. Oh, and the best Beatles song is ‘A Day in the Life’. Probably.
- BMW M3: a history in pictures
- BMW M3 CSL review: Retro Road Test
- BMW M4 Competition Pack: Two-Minute Road Test
BMW E26 M1
Commercial disaster it might have been, but the M1 holds a special place in motoring history as BMW’s first and only supercar, not to mention one of Giorgetto Giugiaro’s finest creations.
Quite why BMW felt it needed to build a supercar is still unknown, but it turned to Lamborghini for help with the chassis and production. But with the Italians falling behind schedule, BMW took the project in house and even created its own ProCar race series to help promote its new supercar.
The 3.5-litre straight-six engine of the BMW M1 found a new home in the M635CSi, known as the M6 in Japan and North America. The ultimate version of the E24 6 Series was developed by BMW Motorsport and featured a revised chassis and a number of cosmetic upgrades.
In 1989, when the M635CSi was in the twilight of its life, it cost an eye-watering £46,000 – a massive £9,000 more than the regular 635CSi. That meant it was battling with the likes of the Ferrari Mondial, Lamborghini Jalpa and Porsche 911. BMW obviously had one eye on the future when it developed the M1…
BMW E28 M5
The E28 M5 was one of the original Q-cars, but its discreet appearance was no accident. BMW knew that this handbuilt and costly super-saloon would appeal to buyers in their 40s and 50s, many of whom wouldn’t be turned on by big spoilers, wide arches and associated trinkets.
Even the rear spoiler was an option, while buyers could choose to delete the M5 badge from the boot lid. At launch, the E28 M5 was the fastest production saloon car in the world, with a 0-60mph time of 7.5 seconds and a top speed of 153mph. A legend was born.
BMW E30 M3
In common with the E28 M5, the development of the E30 M3 was driven by a desire to mess with the head of Mercedes-Benz, both on the track and on the road. By the time it was unveiled at the 1985 Frankfurt Motor Show, BMW was already playing catch-up, with the 190E 2.3-16 unveiled a year earlier.
Within 12 months, BMW had exceeded the 5,000 units required for Group A homologation – it was clear that it had a hit on its hands. As the M3’s racing career developed, so did the need to create more homologation specials, which resulted in the Evolution and Evolution II special editions. A convertible version signalled a shift from pure racing to a luxury product.
BMW E36 M3 Evo
The second generation E36 M3 highlights this move upmarket, presenting a more refined take on the performance saloon model. That it was built on standard production lines and not at BMW’s M GmbH plant only serves to highlight this point. All of which means the E36 M3 shouldn’t register on a list of all-time greats, right? Well, no, not exactly.
Contemporary reviews were quick to point out that the saloon felt sharper than the coupe, while special editions only served to enhance the E36’s reputation. And in the more powerful M3 Evo, with its larger 3.2-litre engine, the E36 evolved into a highly accomplished all-rounder.
BMW E46 M3
If the jury is out on the E36, there can be no such doubts when it comes to the E46 M3. This felt like a return to form for the M3, complete with ‘phat’ arches and 343hp from its 3.2-litre straight-six engine. The 0-60mph time dropped to a smidgen over five seconds. Properly quick, then.
In so many ways, the E46 could be classed as the definitive M3. It has the looks, the pedigree, the performance and – perhaps crucially – the soundtrack. The engine and exhaust combine to deliver a symphony for the ears, ranging from a rasp to a wail. Hard to beat?
BMW E46 M3 CSL
Yes, it is possible to improve on perfection, and it comes in the form of the CSL. It speaks volumes that the current M2 – widely considered to be one of the greatest M cars of all-time – has been compared to the E46 M3 CSL. Stripped of all but the bare essentials, the CSL was 110kg lighter than the regular M3, creating a more hardcore driving experience.
CSL stands for ‘Coupe Sport Lightweight’, a reference to the hugely successful 3.0 CSL of 1972. If any car was fit to wear the legendary badge, this was it. We’ll also give a special mention to the M3 CS, a kind of halfway house between the M3 and the CSL.
BMW 1 Series M Coupe
The BMW 1 Series M Coupe – or 1 M Coupe – was an unlikely hero. Created using bits from the M3 and the Z4, BMW turned the junior exec into a senior performance player. It might not be an M car in the truest sense – there’s no bespoke engine to be found here – but it deserves its place alongside the Bavarian thoroughbreds.
BMW squeezed 340hp from 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged six-cylinder engine, with a maximum 369lb ft of torque available on overboost. If you were fortunate enough to buy one new, you’re sitting on a little goldmine. Price then: £39,995. Price now: upwards of £40,000, but as much as £65,000.
BMW M2 Competition
When we drove the M2 in Malaga we came away with the view that it’s the best new M car you can buy, a continuation of a bloodline that includes the 1 Series M Coupe, E46 M3 and E30 M3.
The M2 has recently been facelifted and upgraded to the Competition variant. That means M3/4 power, with the 410hp twin-turbo S55 straight-six engine subbing in for the old 370hp single-turbo lump. You’ll get to 62mph in 4.4 seconds with the manual and 4.2 with the DCT.
Revised suspension calibration and diff software complete the M2 Competition, making it the ultimate version of one of the great M cars of the last 20 years.
BMW E39 M5
The all-time greats just keep on coming. If the E46 M3 CSL is the ‘A Day in the Life’ of the M world, the E39 M5 is probably ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’. In fact, the E39 is a far better all-rounder – as at home on the commute as it is on the track.
Power is sourced from a normally aspirated 4.9-litre V8 engine producing 400hp at 6,600rpm and 369lb ft of torque at 3,800rpm. But the E39 M5 was more than just a terrific engine. BMW’s M division tweaked the suspension, lowered the ride height, sharpened the steering and added a limited-slip diff to create one of the greatest performance saloons of all-time.
BMW E34 M5
Back in 1990 the E34 M5 was the fastest saloon car in the world, which is why Car magazine chose to pit against the Ferrari Testarossa. Perhaps predictably, the Testarossa won the day, with the magazine claiming that the M5 was “massively competent, but not really fun to drive”.
Retrospectively, Evo magazine concluded that “it takes time to uncover this precise adjustability… but it’s worth the effort. It’s a car you could spend a great deal of time with and never get bored. Phwoar.” That’ll do for us.
BMW E90/E92 M3
The introduction of the E92 – the fourth generation M3 – is the point at which the performance 3 Series jumped from six to eight cylinders. The E92 M3 coupe came first, swiftly followed by the E90 saloon, both of which were powered by a 4.0-litre V8 engine producing 420hp.
Sure, the shift from straight-six to vee-eight might have upset the purists, but the E90/E92 soon won people over thanks to its devastating performance. Another contender for the greatest all-rounder, the E90/E92 featured a ‘M’ button, unlocking the M3’s true potential.
BMW E90 M3 CRT
The E90/E92 spawned a number of special editions, including the M3 Coupe Edition, M3 GTS and the last-of-the-line M Performance Edition. Picking the best is a highly subjective opinion and – with a limitless amount of cash – we’d opt for the super-expensive M3 CRT. The CRT stands for Carbon Racing Technology, previewing new body panels set to appear on the i3 and i8.
The CRT also received uprated brakes, adjustable coilovers, titanium mufflers and less sound deadening for a more hardcore driving experience. All were finished in Frozen Polar Silver paint, but none came to the UK. Shame.
BMW F13 M6
Aside from the ludicrously vulgar X5 M and X6 M, the M6 Coupe is the most expensive current M car in the BMW range. The M6 Coupe starts at £95,580, while the M6 Convertible manages to break into six figures. There’s also an M6 Gran Coupe in the middle, but our money – nobody mention depreciation – would be on the Coupe.
Power is sourced from a 4.4-litre twin-turbocharged V8 engine developing a huge 560hp and 516lb ft of torque. Remove the rev limiter and this super-svelte M car will top 189mph, sprinting to 62mph in just 3.9 seconds. We’d add the £9,000 Competition Package for good measure. Well, if you’re going to drop the best part of £100k on a new car, you might as well do it in style.
BMW F82 M4 GTS
As the fastest production BMW ever built, the M4 GTS demands attention. Some will be unable to see beyond the slightly ‘aftermarket’ styling or the £120,000+ price tag BMW is demanding for the pleasure of owning this Top Trumps winner. But a 190mph top speed and 0-62mph time of 3.8 seconds might shift the balance in its favour.
It is, of course, at home on the track, where the GTS can make the most of its 69hp and 39lb ft gains over the standard M4. Production is limited to 700 worldwide, with a mere 30 coming to the UK. Expect the majority of these to be squirrelled away for investment purposes.
BMW Z3 M Coupe
A controversial choice, perhaps, but you only need to look at the prices being asked for the Z3 M Coupe to appreciate the greatness of BMW’s ‘breadvan’. You could understand the desire to create a Z3 M Roadster, but the Coupe required a greater leap of faith for BMW bosses.
The 3.2-litre six-cylinder engine developed between 321hp and 325hp, depending on the engine, with the 0-62mph sitting at just over five seconds. The looks might be an acquired taste, but exclusivity and the M badge will ensure classic status.
BMW E60 M5
If you want pedigree, the BMW E60 M5 has it by the bucketload. This was the first production saloon car to be powered by a V10 petrol engine, while the SMG transmission was a result of BMW’s involvement with the Sauber F1 team. Yet again, the M5 took the mantle of world’s fastest four-door saloon, with an unlimited top speed of 200mph.
The full force of 507 horses kicks in at 7,750rpm, which simply encourages you to explore the upper reaches of the rev range. And yet, the E60 M5 will happily spend its entire time on the autobahn, barely breaking sweat as it soothes away the miles. But it’s not the best all-rounder of the E60 generation…
BMW E61 M5 Touring
Because that accolade belongs to the E61 M5 Touring: the first M5 wagon to be officially sold in the UK. Everyone loves a performance wagon, right, while the M5 Touring also managed to smooth away the controversial Chris Bangle styling of the E60 saloon.
Seriously, where are the drawbacks? The performance figures are identical, and yet the Touring offers 1,650 litres of luggage capacity. BMW hasn’t built another M5 Touring, making this the last of the breed. We had a look on Auto Trader for inspiration (well you would, wouldn’t you?) where we found just two for sale, both available for less than £30,000.
BMW Z4 M Coupe
If the styling of the BMW Z3 M Coupe was a tad divisive, the Z4 M Coupe was a more sombre affair. Power is sourced from a 3.2-litre straight-six engine developing 343hp and 269lb ft of torque.
Purists rejoice, because the Z4 M Coupe and its Roadster sibling were only offered with a six-speed manual transmission, with a 0-62mph time sneaking below five seconds. Chris Bangle’s ‘flame surfacing’ has aged remarkably well, while prices start from around £15,000. Bargain.
BMW M550d xDrive
A diesel M car: whatever next? But before the purists choke on their V-Power, we should remember that the M550d xDrive features a quad-turbocharged diesel engine producing 400hp and 561lb ft of torque.
Sure, it’s a BMW M Performance product rather than a proper M car, but these are different times. Besides, a 0-62mph time of 4.4 seconds for the saloon and 4.6 seconds for the Touring will have this diesel upstart nipping at the heels of any genuine M car.
BMW F10 M5
The F10 M5 waved goodbye to the V10 of the previous model and said hello to a new 4.4-litre twin-turbocharged V8. The fact that the V8 was faster and more efficient than the mighty V10 proved just how far engine development had come.
It might not have reached the dizzy heights enjoyed by previous M5s, but it remained the benchmark in its class. For that reason it makes our shortlist.
BMW E31 850CSi (M8)
The best M car that never was? The E31 850CSi was developed by BMW Motorsport and featured a 5.6-litre V12 engine developing 385hp and 406lb ft of torque. It was, if you like, a BMW M8 in all but name.
A true M8 was planned – with a lightweight body and a 550hp V12 engine – but BMW pulled the plug.
BMW E63 M6
In many ways, the E63 M6 was a two-door M5, powered by the same 5.0-litre V10 engine. And yet the coupe featured a carbon fibre roof and new dashboard, making it 80kg lighter than the super-saloon.
When new it was criticised for being more expensive and less practical than the M5, but a decade on that hardly seems to matter. Best of all: prices start from around £15,000.
BMW E9 3.0 CSL
Without the E9 3.0 CSL there might not be a BMW M division. It is, if you like, the godfather of the M badge: the very genesis of the brand.
BMW’s Motorsport division developed and raced the ‘Batmobile’, laying the foundations for the future of performance gems.
BMW E12 M535i
Again, the M535i isn’t a true M car, but as the forerunner to the M5 it warrants a place on our list. The only M car prior to the M535i was the M1, which makes this saloon the first car to be developed with everyday customers in mind.
We’ll give a special mention to the E12 530 MLE (Motorsport Limited Edition): a homologation special developed by BMW of South Africa and BMW Motorsport GmbH.
Everyone loves a fast Ford, but who makes the greatest performance cars to wear the Blue Oval badge? Over fourteen rounds, we’ve paired up rivals from both sides of the pond. Here, they go head-to-head here in a performance face-off spanning more than five decades.
Ford Performance line-up
Today, Ford Performance is a global brand responsible for producing fast cars. Created from the previous teams developing cars for specific territories, Ford now wants all key markets to have access to the same performance vehicles. So, from the Fiesta ST to the latest Ford GT, there is no reason why the country you live in should deny you access to the good stuff. However, that hasn’t always been the case.
- Racing in the blood: the story of the Ford GT40
- We reunite Ford Lotus Cortina TV star with its owner after 40 years
- Made in Dagenham: Ford’s secret classic car collection
Round 1: 1960’s Road Racers – 1963 Lotus Cortina.
Let’s start with arguably the first real fast Ford produced in Britain, in the shape of the Lotus Cortina. A twin-cam 1.6-litre engine with just 105hp might not sound much today, but light aluminium panels kept weight down to just 850kg. This translated into motorsport success, with the Lotus Cortina taking wins in numerous touring car classes. Jim Clark picked up the 1964 British Saloon Car Championship behind the wheel of a Lotus Cortina, while still competing in Formula 1.
Round 1: 1960’s Road Racers – 1964 Fairlane Thunderbolt
Much like the Lotus Cortina, the American Fairlane Thunderbolt was built with racing in mind. Just 100 examples were created to homologate the car for drag racing, with the same 426 cubic inch (7.0-litre) V8 engine used in NASCAR racers. Officially rated at 425hp, but estimated to be far more powerful, this engine – combined with fibreglass body panels and a stripped-out interior – made the Thunderbolt a devastating road car.
Round 2: Blue-Collar Coupes – 1965 Mk1 Mustang
Developed to appeal to both men and women, the original Mustang took 22,000 orders on the first day it was unveiled at the 1964 World’s Fair. It also created the ’pony car’ segment, which spawned new rivals from Dodge and Chevrolet. A 271hp 289 cubic inch (4.7-litre) V8 made for the fastest early Mustang, until more power was added in later years. Several generations later, the original Mustang still holds just as much appeal as it did then.
Round 2: Blue-Collar Coupes – 1969 Mk1 Capri
Famously advertised as ‘the car you’ve always promised yourself’ the Capri brought the idea of ‘grand touring’ to the working man. Unashamedly intended as the European version of the Mustang, and even styled by the same person, this was the pony car in miniature. With rear-wheel drive and a range of engines from tepid 1.3-litre inline-four to potent 3.0-litre V6, there was a Capri for everyone. Later Capris were largely ignored by European markets, but it remained a part of British culture until 1986.
Round 3: Competitive Spirit – 1970 Mk1 Escort RS1600
Starting a performance lineage that’s still going strong today, the first British Ford to wear the RS badge was the RS1600 Escort. Built to go rallying, the initial RS1600 models were little more than homologation specials, with a 1.6-litre Cosworth-BDA engine that revved to 6,500rpm. The later Mexico version, made in honour of Ford winning the 1970 London to Mexico Rally, was still desirable but better suited to street use. Today, any Mk1 Escort is likely to be worth big money, and the RS1600 and Mexico models have a legendary reputation.
Round 3: Competitive Spirit – 1970 Boss 302 Mustang
Across the Atlantic, Detroit was creating a version of the Mustang to go racing in the SCCA Trans-Am series. First introduced in 1969, the Boss 302 used – as you may have guessed – a 302 cubic inch (5.0-litre) V8 engine with 290hp, connected to a four-speed manual gearbox. In 1970, it took victory in the Trans-Am series, with the Boss 302 claiming six wins from 11 rounds, during an extremely competitive season.
Round 4: Wide and Wild – 1981 Zakspeed Capri Turbo
This may look, vaguely, like a Mk3 Ford Capri, but the Zakspeed version was built to meet FIA Group 5 regulations. Only the doors, bonnet and roof had to be kept standard, resulting in the ultra-wide stance. Klaus Ludwig would drive the Zakspeed-entered car in the 1981 Deutsche Rennsport Meistershaft, taking titles for both himself and the team. Power came from a turbocharged 1.4-litre engine, producing around 500hp.
Round 4: Wide and Wild – 1981 Zakspeed Roush Mustang Turbo
No, you’re not seeing double. This isn’t the Capri again, we promise. This is the 1981 Mustang Turbo, also built by Zakspeed and entered in the GTX Class of the IMSA Camel GT Championship. Featuring a certain Klaus Ludwig as one of the drivers, the Zakspeed team was contracted to build a Group Five race car for Ford’s Special Vehicle Operations. However, the Mustang Turbo was unable to match the success of the Capri, and was replaced with a new GTP-class car in 1983.
Round 5: Homologation Heroes – 1984 RS200
Group B was the pinnacle of rallying, with crazy horsepower and exotic materials used to create the ultimate competition cars. Four-wheel drive and a mid-mounted 1.8-litre turbo engine producing up to 450hp in rally trim helped make the RS200 competitive. Just 200 road cars were built to homologate the racer, but all this was ultimately in vain. A crash involving an RS200 on the 1986 Rally de Portugal would contribute to the outlawing of Group B cars for the following season.
Round 5: Homologation Heroes – 1969 Torino Talladega
Just as the RS200 pushed Group B regulations to the extreme, Ford had been doing the same decades earlier in NASCAR. Featuring a special aerodynamic front grille and sloping fastback roof, the Torino Talladega was made to hit high speeds on banked ovals. Although it might not have the same fearsome reputation as the RS200, it was successful in taking the 1969 manufacturers’ championship. Special ‘aero warriors’ like the Talladega were later removed from NASCAR due to changes in homologation requirements.
Round 6: Tin Top Legends – 1986 Sierra RS Cosworth
Ford is often single-minded when pursuing motorsport victory, and the Sierra RS Cosworth was the product of its quest for FIA Group A domination. Taking 15 major Touring Car championships cemented its on-track ability, while a reputation for being the ultimate prize for joy-riders ensured the road car was just as revered. More than 5,000 examples were built, combining rear-wheel drive with a 204hp 2.0-litre turbocharged engine. Oh, and there’s that iconic ‘whale tail’ spoiler, too.
Round 6: Tin Top Legends – 1985 Merkur XR4Ti
North American buyers couldn’t buy the Sierra Cosworth, but they did get the XR4Ti. Sold under the short-lived Merkur brand, this was an XR4i Sierra, but with the European 2.8-litre V6 ditched in favour of a 175hp 2.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Around 42,000 examples were built between 1985 and 1989, but today the XR4Ti is often forgotten. Andy Rouse drove a Merkur XR4Ti to victory in the 1985 British Touring Car Championship, paving the way for the later Sierra RS Cosworth.
Round 7: Boosted Blue Ovals – 1984 Escort RS Turbo Series I
The third-generation Escort marked a huge change from the previous two. Ditching rear-wheel drive in favour of sending power to the front wheels was radical, as was the adoption of a hatchback body. Natural aspiration was out for the fastest Escort, with turbocharging the ‘must have’ of the 1980s. The RS Turbo was endowed with a 1.6-litre engine, making 135hp. Values today have skyrocketed, with prices of around £30,000 not uncommon for restored Series 1 cars.
Round 7: Boosted Blue Ovals – 1984 Mustang SVO Turbo
Just as revolutionary as the Mk3 Escort was in Europe, the third-generation Mustang was also a shock to the system. A modern, aerodynamically-shaped body marked a new Ford design era (a switch to front-wheel drive was even considered). The ‘Fox body’ Mustangs remained rear-wheel drive, but did gain turbocharged engines, predating the current Ecoboost ’Stang by some three decades. The SVO Turbo version was the most potent, with up to 205hp from its 2.3-litre four-cylinder motor, a limited-slip differential and adjustable Koni suspension.
Round 8: Street Sleepers – 1996 Taurus SHO
Standing for Super High Output, the SHO was the performance variant of the Taurus saloon. Perhaps to offset the shock caused by the styling of the third-generation Taurus, Ford upped things for the SHO by adding a V8 engine instead of the previous V6 unit. Developed by Yamaha, the 3.6-litre motor made 235hp and 230lb ft, with 32 valves and aluminium cylinder heads. The bodywork of the SHO was left largely untouched, masking the performance beneath.
Round 8: Street Sleepers – 1999 Mondeo ST200
Things were going well for Mondeo Man as the 1990s drew to a close, and the limited edition ST200 version launched in 1999 was as good as it got. The 2.5-litre V6 engine was developed by Ford’s Special Vehicle Team in America, and marked the move towards greater transatlantic cooperation. With 200hp, the result was quick – rather than devastating – performance, but the natural ability of the Mondeo meant it was fun to drive. Today it flies under the radar as a forgotten fast Ford, but it seems primed to become a modern classic.
Round 9: Millennium Coupes – 1999 Ford Racing Puma
Despite proving popular with the British public, the Ford Puma often came in for criticism for being underpowered. This changed in 1999 with the introduction of the Ford Racing Puma. The existing Yamaha-developed 1.7-litre engine was enhanced to deliver 155hp at 7,000rpm, with 0-62mph taking a frantic 7.9 seconds. But the Racing Puma wasn’t just about straight-line performance. Bigger brakes, wider wheels and uprated suspension meant it stopped and handled well, too. With just 500 built, the FRP is a genuine rarity worth seeking out.
Round 9: Millennium Coupes – 1999 Mercury Cougar
The original Mercury Cougar was an upmarket version of the first-generation Ford Mustang. This eighth-generation Cougar, launched in 1999, shared a platform with the Mondeo, and never quite managed to deliver the excitement promised by its bold ‘New Edge’ looks. Sold in Europe under the Ford badge, a 2.5-litre V6 with 170hp was as good as it got. Slow sales meant the Cougar was canned in 2002, less than four years after being introduced.
Round 10: Peak Performance – 2000 Mustang SVT Cobra R
Ford was on a roll with performance products in both the US and UK at the turn of the millennium, but the pressure to do more was ever-present. Enter the ultimate version of the fourth-generation Mustang. Available for just one model-year, and with only 300 examples built, the Cobra R was ultra-fast and ultra-rare. A hand-built 385hp 5.4-litre V8 was fed by a 20-gallon racing fuel cell, and exhaled through a side-exit exhaust. All cars came in Performance Red and featured a gigantic rear wing and adjustable front splitter as standard. The interior was stripped of all luxuries, including the back seats.
Round 10: Peak Performance – 2002 Mk1 Focus RS
One of the most controversial cars to wear the Rallye Sport badge, the Mk1 Focus RS divided enthusiasts and journalists alike. Most loved the WRC-inspired looks and punchy 212hp 2.0-litre turbo engine. Some were unconvinced by the aftermarket-looking blue interior trim. Yet most divisive was the Quaife torque-biasing differential, used partly due to a lack of 4WD. It made the Focus RS hugely effective on road and track, but also aggressive and physical to drive. A true old-school hot hatch, but one that’s already increasing in value.
Round 11: Transatlantic Special – 2002 Focus ST170
While the RS is most revered first-generation Focus, it wasn’t the only performance version offered. The ST170, also launched in 2002, featured a naturally aspirated 2.0-litre engine developed by Cosworth. With 17-inch multispoke alloy wheels, uprated brakes and Recaro leather seats, it ticked off a number of hot hatch requirements. An estate version was also offered, preceding the current performance wagon craze by over a decade.
Round 11: Transatlantic Special – 2002 Focus SVT
Look familiar? Minor cosmetic changes aside, the 2002 Focus SVT was the same machine as the European-market ST170. A demonstration of Ford’s desire to build ‘world cars’ even when it came to performance variants, the SVT was the result of cooperation between Special Vehicle divisions on both sides of the Atlantic. American buyers even got the option of wild colours like Screaming Yellow and Competition Orange, although they were denied the estate version.
Round 12: Ultimate Utility – 2007 Transit Sport Van
The backbone of Britain. Not just a van, but the van. Driven by everyone from bakers to breakdown services if the adverts from the 1990s were correct. The Transit is a defining commercial vehicle yet, despite its popularity, we’ve never been treated to a performance version. Yes, Ford produced a number of Supervans – laying a Transit body on the chassis of a race car – but they weren’t sold to the public. Instead, in 2007, we got the Sport Van. With a standard 129hp 2.2-litre diesel engine there was no more power, and even the twin exhaust pipes were fake. There were at least bonnet stripes and 18-inch wheels, though.
Round 12: Ultimate Utility – 2010 F-150 SVT Raptor
Cross the Atlantic and the F-150 pick-up truck has been the best-selling vehicle in the USA since 1981. Like the Transit in the UK, the F-150 is the mainstay of American life, and the Blue Oval saw fit to create a true performance version in 2010 with the SVT Raptor. With a 6.2-litre V8 producing 411hp and 434lb ft of torque, this was a serious utility vehicle. Despite the potential to terrify people off-road at speed, the Raptor can still tow 3,600kg and carry up to 800kg. Sorry Transit, the Raptor takes this round.
Round 13: Modern Masters – 2016 Mk3 Focus RS
Bringing the North American Ford Special Vehicles Team and European Team RS together in one global Ford Performance brand meant both sides of the Atlantic were involved in the creation of the latest Focus RS. It also meant UK and US buyers got the same 350hp 2.3-litre engine and, finally, a Focus RS with four-wheel drive. With the ability to hit 0-62mph in 4.7 seconds, and run to 165mph, the benefits of global thinking seem pretty clear. There’s also the small matter of that infamous ‘drift mode’…
Round 13: Modern Masters – 2017 Shelby Mustang GT350R
The latest Mustang ticked off a lot of firsts. It’s the first Mustang to have independent rear suspension across the range, the first to be sold globally and, most importantly, the first to be made in right-hand drive. It meant UK buyers have the ability to own and drive a 5.0-litre V8 (or 2.3-litre turbo) muscle car without the need to sit on the ‘wrong’ side. But it’s not all good news. UK customers are denied the chance to buy the Shelby GT350R, with its 526hp flat-plane-crank 5.2-litre V8 engine, carbon fibre wheels, bespoke bodykit and stripped-out interior. Globalisation can’t give you everything, it seems.
Round 14: Definitive Icons – 1994 Escort RS Cosworth
We’ve saved the best until last, picking out the absolute top examples of what Ford can do. Designed and engineered in the UK but built in Germany, the Escort RS Cosworth borrowed a shortened chassis from the Sierra RS, along with the same 2.0-litre turbocharged engine – now making 227hp. The four-wheel-drive system was new, but most obvious was the huge double rear wing that produced substantial amounts of downforce. That this was all wrapped in a body that resembled the regular Escort hatchback, but could hit 60mph in less than six seconds. Jeremy Clarkson bought one from new, and later regretted selling it.
Round 14: Definitive Icons – 1967 Shelby Mustang GT500
The GT350 may have been the first Shelby Mustang when launched in 1965, but there’s something special about the 1967 GT500 and its big-block 428 cubic inch (7.0-litre) ‘Police Interceptor’ V8 engine. Fitted with twin four-barrel carburettors, it produced 360hp, and had the option of four-speed manual or three-speed automatic gearboxes. Debate rages amongst Mustang enthusiasts as to which is better to drive, GT350 or GT500, but the starring role of the latter in the Gone in 60 Seconds movie cements it as the defining fast American Ford for us.
Talk about a poisoned chalice. ‘Find 25 muscle cars that aren’t American, and create a gallery,’ they said. Tough call, given that the muscle car is as American as Bruce Springsteen, corn dogs and a home run. If you’re an American with even the slightest interest in cars, you might want to look away now.
What is a muscle car?
You’re still with us? OK, so what exactly is a muscle car? Road Test magazine, June 1967, nailed it, by saying: “It is a product of the American car industry adhering to the hot rodder’s philosophy of taking a small car and putting a BIG engine in it. To balance this out, handling, braking and related essentials are modified to result in a performance machine for the streets.”
Holden HK Monaro GTS
According to the Muscle Car Club, a muscle car must be an “intermediate sized, performance oriented model, powered by a large V8 engine, at an affordable price”. Cars like the Holden Monaro, then? Along with the Ford Falcon, the Monaro is the Aussie rules interpretation of the muscle car recipe. The GTS and GTS 327 were powered by an American V8, yet uniquely Australian in character. The GTS 327 was the first Holden to win the fabled Bathurst 1000, with Bruce McPhee and Barry Mulholland racing to victory in 1968.
A muscle car is not a “British sports car, a Morgan, TVR or Jaguar, which could never be regarded as fitting the bill”, so says Jim Glastonbury in the Ultimate Guide to Muscle Cars. As a GT car, the Jensen Interceptor isn’t a classic muscle car as such, but with a Chrysler V8 at the front and classic rear-wheel drive handling, it’s arguably a muscle car in spirit. It also has the right name: Charger, Challenger, Interceptor – it feels part of the same club.
Vauxhall VXR8 GTS
It’s rather comforting to know that, alongside the Viva, Corsa and Astra, Vauxhall still offers the VXR8 in the UK. It doesn’t matter that it’s based on the distinctly Australian Holden Special Vehicles (HSV) GTS, because the VXR8 is a welcome tonic to the endless supply of eco-hybrid-crossover-type things. Its Camaro-sourced 6.2-litre supercharged engine ticks the V8 box, and prices start from below £55,000, so it’s also relatively affordable.
Mercedes-Benz 300 SEL 6.3
Some readers will be choking on their Pop Tarts at the mere thought of a Mercedes-Benz included in a list of muscle cars, but hear us out. Admire the lunacy of taking a 6.3-litre V8 engine from the S-Class of the day and shoehorning it into a smaller four-door saloon. The 300 SEL 6.3 could sprint to 62mph in just 7.4 seconds, giving it the ability to rub shoulders with the likes of the E-Type and 911. It was also the godfather of AMG.
Ford Falcon XR GT
Face it, if any country could challenge America’s claim for muscle car supremacy, it would be Australia. You can thank Bill Bourke of Ford Australia for taking the humble Ford Falcon saloon and transforming it into a performance car of merit. Launched in 1967, the XR GT was powered by the same Windsor V8 you’d find in the Mustang, developing 225hp. The Falcon XR GT was there at the birth of the Australian muscle car.
Volkswagen Passat W8
Look, we have to offer a few wild cards, don’t we? Jim Glastonbury was rather dismissive of Europe’s potential to build a muscle car, saying: “… nor is it a German Porsche, which is too efficient and too clever by half”. But what about a Volkswagen Passat? It’s powered by a flat plane crank V8 engine, so it certainly ticks the ‘big engine/smallish car’ box. You’re not convinced, are you? In truth, neither are we.
Mercedes-Benz 450 SEL 6.9
We’re not giving up with the Mercedes-Benz thing. The way we see it, the recipe for the American muscle car is deep rooted and set in stone. But for the rest of the world, a little rule bending should be allowed. The 450 SEL was powered by a 6.9-litre V8, giving this German colossus the power to give a sport car driver sleepless nights. We do concede that it wasn’t exactly cheap, but the 450 SEL wasn’t lacking in muscle.
Ford Capri Perana
As the ‘European Mustang’, you could argue that the Ford Capri was more pony car than muscle car, but that’s a debate for another day. For now, marvel in Ford South Africa’s decision to chuck a 5.0-litre V8 engine into a Mk1 Ford Capri 3000 XL and offer it for sale with a standard warranty. Ford also sanctioned a host of upgrades, including lowered suspension and a custom limited slip differential from a Ford Falcon XW. The best Ford Capri we never got?
Ford Sierra XR8
God bless South Africa for giving the world these two unlikely V8 heroes. First the Capri Perana and now this: the Ford Sierra XR8. It wasn’t exactly packed with muscle – a mere 209 horses – but a host of upgrades and the fact that it was relatively light for a V8 car meant that it was rather good on road and track. You can imagine how good it sounds.
Lancia Thema 8.32
Is this the closest Lancia ever got to building a muscle car? The Thema is front-wheel drive, which doesn’t give it the best of starts, but with a thumping great Ferrari-sourced 2.9-litre V8 engine at the front, it begins to claw back some ground. Lancia also uprated the steering, brakes and suspension, while adding a trick rear spoiler.
Rover 75 V8
You could argue, with some justification, that the Rover SD1 3500 has a whiff of muscle car about it, but we’re opting for the Rover 75 V8. The company went to extraordinary lengths in order to crowbar a 4.6-litre V8 engine into the front, while the conversion from front- to rear-wheel drive is the stuff of legend. The results weren’t altogether successful, but this was like your grandad taking up wrestling. And for that, we applaud it.
Part Mercedes-Benz, part Porsche, but 100% muscle car, right? Ditching the straight-six in favour of a 5.0-litre V8 meant that the 500E developed 326hp and could reach a top speed of 160mph. And yet it looked like a regular W124, leading Mercedes-Benz to give it the nickname ‘The Velvet Hammer’.
It might sound like the name of a domestic appliance, but once you realise FPV stands for Ford Performance Vehicles, things start to make sense. Think of the F6 as a performance version of the Ford Falcon, built between 2004 and 2014. Before you say anything, we know, the F6 is powered by a 4.0-litre six-cylinder engine and not a V8. But with as much as 417lb ft of torque available on tap, it’s not short of muscle and it certainly looks the part.
Holden Torana A9X
The Holden Torana was a medium-sized family car built between 1967 and 1980, so it provides the ideal basis for a muscle car. Step forward the A9X of 1977: an option available on the 5.0-litre V8 SLR 5000 saloon and SS hatchback. These homologation specials featured a bespoke floorpan and were stripped back to race specification. For a while, the A9X was a dominant force in Australian touring car racing.
Ford XY Falcon GT-HO Phase III
“Simply one of the best cars in the world, a true GT that could take on Ferraris and Astons on their own terms.” Not our words, Lynn, the words of Sports Car World. Draw up a list of the world’s best muscle cars and the Falcon GT-HO Phase III will be somewhere near the top. A mere 300 were built for Bathurst purposes, with the Cleveland 5.8-litre V8 developing in excess of 300hp. If you haven’t done so already, be sure to read Mel Nichol’s epic drive in the book And The Revs Keep Rising.
Chrysler Valiant Charger E38
The E38 was the first homologation special based on the Chrysler Valiant Charger and powered by a 280hp Hemi six-cylinder. Yes, six-cylinder. But the Valiant Charger was an incredibly successful car for Chrysler, with a range of engines and styling that was pure muscle. There were also V8 versions, powered by the Chrysler LA engine.
Remember when Lexus went chasing M cars and AMGs in the IS-F? We believe the Lexus IS-F has an aura of muscle car about it, although you could argue it’s a bit too polished, a bit too efficient for inclusion here. But with a 5.0-litre V8 engine up front and 371lb ft of torque being pushed through the rear wheels, it’s not without credentials.
Holden VH Commodore SS
There can be no debate about the Holden VH Commodore SS. Take one medium-size family car, add a 4.1-litre V8 and, hey presto, a muscle car is born. The VH Commodore represented the debut of the SS (Sport Sedan) badge, which has adorned the potent versions ever since. In the UK, you’ll remember the third generation car as the one exported as the Vauxhall Monaro.
Holden ‘four-door Corvette ZR1’?
At the end of 2016, GM will pull the plug on Holden production, instead offering rebadged import models from other General Motors brands. Australian website Motoring.com.au is suggesting HSV will say goodbye with the help of a GTS-R W1: an “awesome LS9 supercharged 6.2-litre V8 from the previous generation Corvette ZR1”. A four-door Corvette: how’s that for a swansong?
Ford Falcon XA GT
The Falcon XA was the first Ford to be designed and built from the ground up in Australian, making it a rather significant model. The XA GT was essentially a replacement for the fabled GT-HO Phase III, but Ford was keen to make it feel as much at home on the road as it did on the track.
Ford Falcon XB GT
The Ford Falcon XB GT formed the basis for the Interceptor in Mad Max. Even without the movie connection, this a muscle car in the truest sense, with a solid rear axle, leaf springs and an Australian-built 300hp Cleveland V8. You could add a ‘Concorde’ nose, if you fancied yourself as a kind of Max Rockatansky for the new millennium.
Holden Monaro GTS 350
“The race-bred GTS 350 was fast. It’d give you 55, 79, 99 and 130mph in the gears; 0-60mph in 7.0 sec, 0-100 in 16, and 14.8 for the standing quarter mile. Among contemporaries, only Ford’s Falcon GT-HO – another of the great Australian muscle cars of the early ‘70s – could shade it (just).” An excerpt from the aforementioned And The Revs Keep Rising. It’s a must-read book.
Chevrolet Can-Am ‘Little Chev’
According to African Muscle Cars, the Chevy Can-Am was an “insane car”. They’re not wrong – beneath the bonnet of the Vauxhall Firenza was the beating heart of a Z28 engine lifted from the Chevrolet Camaro. If you’re after figures, the ‘Little Chev’ offered 290lb ft of torque and a 0-62mph time of 5.4 seconds. It’s probably the best ‘Vauxhall’ you’ve forgotten about.
Ford Fairmont GT
Another South African diamond here, this time in the shape of the Ford Fairmont GT. According to African Muscle Cars, it was based on the Australian Ford XW Falcon GT and built from 1970 to 1973. We love the summary in Car magazine, June 1972: “It is not a family car, nor is it a street rod for the boy-racers to play around with. It is the type of car which, in America, provides ammunition (and some justification) for the legislators who want to restrict horsepower and govern engine speeds.” The Fairmont GT: what a rebel!
Opel Diplomat V8
We conclude with something fruity from Opel. As a large, luxury car, the Diplomat doesn’t satisfy the strict criteria required for a muscle car, but by using a Chevrolet V8 engine in the flagship models, Opel hoped to compete with Mercedes-Benz. This is muscle, German style.
The LA Auto Show is a feel-good show. Local hotels and restaurants are putting out the Christmas decorations, despite the sunshine and 25-degree temperatures outside, and the just-right size and just-so layout of the stands means it’s a show it feels churlish to gripe about.
Manufacturers reward it by showing some interesting cars, and bringing along Grade-A execs to present them. Sure, the list of genuine world-firsts is slight, but this doesn’t stop LA having its own share of surprises – this year, there were certainly some prominent ones on the roster that proved its status as serious car show. Such as? Let us be your guide…
Alfa Romeo Stelvio QV
America is back in love with Alfa Romeo. The Giulia was the warm-up: now, the Stelvio SUV is the car winning over hearts, few more so than the potent-looking QV version. Its V6 turbo engine produces 510hp and has, literally, more than a whiff of Ferrari about it, while the gorgeous Alfa red paint of the show stand car couldn’t help but draw onlookers. Your writer remembers when Alfa was relegated to a corridor at LA, merely in the way of the other big brands. Not anymore.
Aston Martin Vantage
Aston Martin wasn’t there in person, probably because it was still giving itself high fives over the successful UK launch of the new Vantage. That didn’t stop massive local dealer Galpin Motors convincing the firm to ship over one of the first models for it to display on its incredible hall-of-its-own stand. In what other colour, but vivid lime green? Perfect.
BMW i8 Roadster
BMW has been chopping the roof off the i8 almost as long as it’s been making the i8. But only now is it an official production car, as opposed to a concept. And it looks even better than we ever imagined. The i8 Coupe, as it’s now called, is a cool car, but don’t be surprised if the majority of buyers choose the i8 Roadster instead.
Monster power from a monster Corvette. But also a dinosaur. This is a last hurrah for the front-engined Corvette: its replacement will have an engine in the middle, one producing even more power than this ludicrous powerhouse. If that’s progress, hang the history: we’re all for it.
This is the most important Infiniti there’s ever been. Sure, it’s an SUV; god knows, how could it not be? It replaces a similarly-sized SUV that was forgettable. This one won’t be, though. Because it’s powered by the first production-ready variable compression engine in the world. A colossal breakthrough two decades in the making, that means it’s as economical as a diesel but as powerful as a V6. Infiniti’s so confident in the merits of this engine, it’s not offering the pretty new QX50 with any other motor. How rival makers must be stomping their corporate feet at the Japanese premium brand’s potential engineering-led big break into the big time.
Jaguar Project 8
It costs £150k, but for good reason. Very little of a regular XE is actually left. And the reward for Jaguar indulging its SVO engineers with this wild flight of fantasy? A record-breaking Nürburgring lap time. No four-door production-spec car has lapped the Green Hell more quickly than this. It’s 11 seconds faster than the previous record holder, the Alfa Romeo Giulia QV. Dammit, it’s even faster than a Ferrari Enzo. £150k, you say? Bargain.
The Mercedes-Benz CLS. First one, great. Second one, not so. Here’s that tricky third album, make or break for the CLS. The initial signs are good, with a sexy body shape drawing back to the reason why people loved the original, and steered clear of the ham-fisted second one. Will it sell, for upwards of £55k at a minimum? We’ll see. But we hope so. Not everything needs to be SUV-shaped these days. There’s still room for a bit of beauty.
Porsche 911 Carrera T
The Porsche 911 Carrera T has already gone on sale in the UK, and if you’re one of the people who have placed a deposit on the £85,576 stripped-back 911, you can expect to take delivery in January. That’s one way to chase away the new year blues. Speaking of which, we’d take ours in optional Miami Blue, a snip at £1,877.
Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid Sport Turismo
This is a formidable machine. With a combined output of 680hp, the all-wheel drive Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid Sport Turismo will sprint to 62mph in just 3.4 seconds, before reaching a top speed of 192mph. Driven carefully – some chance – you can expect an electric range of 15 to 30 miles. The price: £139,287, before options.
Range Rover facelift
The Range Rover’s facelift is subtle, but the big changes lie under the skin, most notably the arrival of a new plug-in hybrid version. The P400e boasts a 31-mile electric range, 101mpg NEDC fuel economy and total power output of 404hp. Prices start from £86,965, but you’ll pay £105,865 for the Autobiography.
The original XC90 and XC60 were hugely successful in North America, and we expect the XC40 to follow suit. We’ve driven the compact SUV and can confirm that it’s every bit as good as it looks. We had no hesitation in giving it a maximum five-star rating, and the word on the floor in LA is that Volvo has another hit on its hands.
Company cars are some of the hardest-working vehicles in the UK, pounding the nation’s motorways and dodging the inevitable traffic jams. Reliability is crucial, which is why the 2017 Fleet News car reliability survey makes for such interesting reading. It’s based on data from 50 contract hire and leasing companies, which is used to identify the UK’s most reliable company car. Read on if you don’t want to be stuck in Strensham or broken down in Baldock.
10. Mercedes-Benz E-Class
The Fleet News reliability survey is one of the most comprehensive in the business, using data from around 700,000 cars operated by the country’s biggest contract hire and leasing operators. The fleet managers are asked to rank their vehicles for breakdowns and warranty claims. The Mercedes-Benz E-Class is the only new entry in the top 10.
Fleet News said: “Mercedes-Benz has snuck into the top 10 with the E-Class this year, a strong performance for the newly launched model. But the ageing C-Class – which held eighth last-year – has dropped to 14th in this survey. A new C-Class is expected next year.”
9. Audi A4
The entire top 10 consists of either German- or Japanese-owned brands, with Audi the second-best performing manufacturer. But the news is less rosy for the A4, which drops from third position in 2016 to ninth in 2017.
Fleet News calls this is a “disappointing drop for the new model”, but Audi will take some solace from the fact that the C-Class is no longer in the top 10. The A4 is offered in six flavours, with the 2.0-litre diesel saloon the traditional fleet favourite. A 2.0-litre TDI Ultra offers CO2 emissions of just 99g/km.
8. Nissan Qashqai
The country’s most popular crossover also happens to be one of the most reliable company cars, according to the Fleet News survey. It’s one of two British-built cars to appear in the top 10 and follows a ninth position in 2016.
Fleet News said: “Taking eighth position is the Nissan Qashqai, a car which jumped to the top of the UK sales charts in September following a minor facelift. Early next year, the model will offer a semi-autonomous driving system, but remains a firm fleet favourite thanks to its low 99g/km CO2 emissions.”
7. Skoda Octavia
Interestingly, there’s no place in the top 10 for a Korean manufacturer, which is surprising given the acclaimed warranties offered by Hyundai and Kia. There are no such problems for the Skoda Octavia, which rises three places to seventh position in the chart. The Golf-based Octavia – which is available as a hatchback and estate – has been treated to a midlife facelift.
CO2 emissions range from 103g/km for the 115hp 1.6-litre TDI to 149g/km for the 230hp 2.0-litre petrol vRS. Meanwhile, Skoda just managed to cling on to a top 10 slot on the list of best manufacturers, dropping from seventh in 2016.
6. Volkswagen Passat
It’s been a while since the Volkswagen Passat was named 2015 European Car of the Year, but the German saloon remains a firm favourite within fleet circles. Sixth position sees it rise one place in the Fleet News reliability survey.
The Passat is available with a wide range of powertrains, including the GTE plug-in hybrid, which is powered by a combination of a 1.4-litre petrol engine and electric motor. Prices start from £34,515 after the government plug-in car grant, and CO2 emissions are just 39g/km.
5. BMW 5 Series
The new BMW 5 Series is available in 34 different flavours, including the business-friendly 530e iPerformance, which combines an electric motor and a 2.0-litre petrol engine to deliver CO2 emissions of just 46g/km.
Fleet News said: “Another model that debuted this year was the all-new BMW 5 Series. The car has jumped from sixth position to fifth; making BMW the only manufacturer with two models in the top five.”
4. Honda Civic
The new and improved Honda Civic nudges the Japanese family and fleet favourite up one position to a highly respectable fourth place. The 129hp turbocharged 1.0-litre VTEC engine emits 110g/km and could return 58.9mpg on a combined cycle.
Fleet News said: “Honda now occupies fourth place with the Civic, continuing as the only Japanese model in the top-five. Having undergone a total redesign, the new Civic was launched in the spring with a choice of two turbo-charged petrol engines. A diesel is expected early next year.”
3. Audi A3
Into the top three, where we find the ever-popular Audi A3, which is available in no fewer than 11 different body styles, from standard family hatchback to storming RS3 Sportback and saloon.
Fleet News said: “The Audi A3 made a surprise return to third place, having held fourth for the past two years. It bumped the recently re-launched A4 to ninth – a disappointing drop for the new model.”
2. Volkswagen Golf
The facelifted Volkswagen Golf – known as the Mk7.5 – stays in second position. If only everything in life was as reliable as a Volkswagen Golf, etc, etc.
Fleet News said: “Retaining second place in the reliability index is the Volkswagen Golf, which received a facelift and new petrol engines earlier this year. It also offers a choice of fully-electric and plug-in hybrid options.”
1. BMW 3 Series
And so, for the eighth consecutive year, the BMW 3 Series is named as the most reliable company car. Not bad for a car on the verge of being replaced by a new model. Fleet News said: “An all-new 3 Series is due next year, but the current model has been an overarching success since its launch in 2011. Last year a plug-in hybrid powertrain was added to the line-up, badged 330e.”
The German brand also emerged victorious in the battle to be named the most reliable car manufacturer, mirroring the success of 2016 and 2015. With Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen finishing second, third and fourth respectively, the Fleet News survey makes for great reading if you’re hoping to shift German metal to fleet operators.
Japanese brands finish top in the What Car? reliability study. We count down the top 10 car brands, including Honda and – oh yes – Alfa Romeo
While most of us dream of sports cars and hot hatches, there comes a time in our lives when we need something a little more practical. With this in mind, we’ve created a list of 20 family cars to suit every budget. Yep, we have everything from a Dacia to a Rolls-Royce, and much more in between.
- Dacia offers five-year warranty for cars bought on finance
- Skoda will give you up to £3,000 to buy a car
- Wood you believe it? The greatest ‘woodie wagons’
£5,000 – £10,000: Dacia Sandero
The Dacia Sandero is available for a headline price of £5,995, but unless you enjoy the feeling of sweaty armpits and the sound of your own singing voice, we’d avoid the Access model. Instead, upgrade to the mid-spec Ambiance for manual air conditioning and DAB digital radio.
Even with the Sandero Ambiance with the super-frugal diesel engine creeps below the £10,000 mark, but we’d save the best part of £1,500 and choose the turbocharged petrol engine for £7,995.
£5,000 – £10,000: Dacia Duster
We make no apology for featuring a second Dacia in our bargain basement category because the Duster offers exceptional value for money. Yes, the £9,495 Access is basic in the extreme, but there’s something appealing about a UN-spec SUV-lookalike for the price of a supermini.
The 1.6-litre SCe petrol engine offers as much as 44.1mpg on a combined cycle and CO2 emissions of 145g/km. This is the closest you can get to a Tonka toy for grown-ups. Just steer clear of the skirting boards.
£10,001 – £15,000: SsangYong Tivoli
The SsangYong Tivoli might be a leftfield choice, but it offers exceptional value for money. Both the petrol and diesel engine versions of the entry-level SE model are available for less than £15,000, while even the better equipped EX breaks the £15k mark by a mere £300.
At the time of writing, SsangYong is offering discounts of up to £2,155 across the Tivoli range, taking the top-spec ELX diesel with a manual gearbox down to £16,995. Prices start from just £11,995.
£10,001 – £15,000: Skoda Rapid Spaceback
Don’t be fooled by the name, because the Spaceback is smaller than the standard Skoda Rapid. As a result, boot space is down 135 litres, but the load space is a better shape, making it easier to make full use of the 415 litres on offer.
That’s a boot larger than the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus, despite the Spaceback sitting on the same platform as the Polo. The 1.0 TSI S is the only model to meet the £10-£15k criteria, although some haggling should secure an SE Tech within budget.
£15,001 – £20,000: Mazda CX-3
If you must drive a compact crossover, do the right thing and make sure it looks good and drives like a regular hatchback. You’re not exactly spoilt for choice, but fortunately, the Mazda CX-3 fits the bill.
The SE Nav version is available for £18,495 when powered by a 2.0-litre petrol engine and £19,995 for the 1.6-litre diesel. The boot offers 350 litres of boot space, which extends to 1,260 litres with the rear seats folded down.
£15,001 – £20,000: Skoda Octavia
Assuming you’re not after a crossover, the Skoda Octavia might be the ultimate family car. It’s larger than the Volkswagen Golf upon which it is based, with 590 litres of boot space, extending to 1,580 litres with the rear seats folded down. And that’s just the hatchback version.
Prices start from £17,195 for the entry-level 1.0 TSI S, while the 1.5 TSI SE slips below the £20k mark. Right now, Skoda is offering £3,500 scrappage discount on the Octavia.
£20,001 – £25,000: Citroen Grand C4 Picasso
Seven-seat MPVs are hardly flavour of the month, but if you want a proper MPV, the Citroen Grand C4 Picasso is a great option. Prices start from £23,155 for the Touch Edition, with the mid-spec Feel available for £24,530.
The Grand C4 Picasso looks good – a rare thing in this segment – and the cabin is light and airy. The middle-row seats slide individually and offer a huge amount of space, while the rearmost seats are perfectly adequate for children and occasional use by adults.
£20,001 – £25,000: Skoda Superb
The Superb range kicks off at £20,050, with even the most lavishly-equipped model costing a reasonable £35,000. Spend some time in a Skoda Superb and you’ll begin to question why anyone would fork out more on a so-called ‘premium’ car.
The boot is huge – 625 litres extending to 1,760 litres – while rear seat passengers will enjoy the limo-like legroom.
£25,001 – £30,000: Audi Q3
The Audi Q3 competes against the Mercedes-Benz GLA and BMW X1, but unlike its German rivals, it’s pleasing on the eye. The interior, while a little sombre, oozes quality, while the badge will provide some driveway appeal.
The Sport trim kicks off at £27,610, while the ultra-desirable S Line Edition creeps below the £30k mark by £150. Be warned: go mad with the options list and the Q3 becomes rather expensive.
£25,001 – £30,000: Skoda Kodiaq
Recently, Reuters reported that Volkswagen might take measures to “curb competition from lower-cost stablemate Skoda, move some of its production to Germany and make the Czech brand pay more for shared technology.” If VW bosses are concerned, the Kodiaq will give them sleepless nights.
Even a top-spec Kodiaq with seven seats costs a little over £30,000, with prices starting from £22,000. This SUV will sell like the hottest of hot cakes.
£30,001 – £40,000: Jaguar F-Pace
Speaking of hot cakes… The F-Pace is fuelling what looks likely to be a record-breaking year for Jaguar, with sales up 8% on the same point in 2016, at 401,565 vehicles sold. The Jaguar F-Pace is hot property.
Prices start from £34,730 for the Prestige model, with the range-topping S costing £52,665. Not only does the F-Pace seat five adults, but the boot is also able to carry 650 litres of luggage with the rear seats in place. More F-Space, then?
£30,001 – £40,000: Volvo V90
Thankfully, not everybody has bought into the crossover-SUV craze, which is why Volvo can produce masterpieces such as the V90. While we might miss the old five-cylinder engines, and the boot isn’t as cavernous as it was in the old days, the V90 is handsome in a way a crossover so often isn’t.
Prices start from £36,345, while the beautifully-appointed Inscription model slips beneath the £40k mark. The interior is a masterclass in fit, finish and simple sophistication.
£40,001 – £50,000: Porsche Macan
Of the 186,000 Porsche sales so far in 2017, 49,000 of them were Cayenne and 73,000 Macan. To say the SUV saved the company would be a huge understatement. Porsche can play with wild 911 creations thanks to the Macan and Cayenne.
The Macan range kicks off at £46,000 for the entry-level model, with the S and S Diesel both available for less than £50,000. That it isn’t quite as practical as some of its rivals won’t matter one jot when you reach your favourite corner of the local B-road. This is essentially a 911 in an SUV suit.
£40,001 – £50,000: Land Rover Discovery
One of the world’s greatest off-roaders just got better; it’s just a shame Land Rover forgot to finish the styling. Putting the controversial tailgate design to one side for a moment, the fifth generation Discovery offers a compelling blend of on- and off-road manners.
In seven-seat form, you’ll find 258 litres of space, although this increases to 1,137 litres with the rearmost seats folded down. Fold the second row and the Discovery could give a small van a run for its money, offering 2,406 litres of space. Prices start from £46,000.
£50,001 – £75,000: Volvo XC90
The reinvention of Volvo began with the XC90, with the smaller XC60 and XC40 soon following suit. For such a large SUV, the XC90 oozes charm and elegance, while the minimalist interior is arguably the best thing this side of a luxury car costing tens of thousands of pounds more.
Prices start from £49,905, while the T8 Twin Engine weighs in at £61,705. Three years on from its launch, the XC90 has lost none of its appeal.
£50,001 – £75,000: Audi Q7
The Audi Q7 might not be as elegant as the Volvo XC90, but it’s arguably its closest rival. If the original Q7 was a cumbersome and aggressive machine, the new version is positively featherlight, shedding 325kg between generations. As as a result, it’s more efficient and less of a threat to polar bears and penguins.
Not that it is any prettier, although owners will love the huge amount of interior space, which extends to 1,955 litres, some 100 litres more than the XC90.
£75,001 – £100,000: Range Rover
The Range Rover is the Swiss Army Knife of the automotive world, blending off-road capabilities, family car appeal and opulent levels of luxury in one iconic package.
Sure, it won’t be the cheapest thing to run, but that hardly seems to matter at this price point. Besides, few cars offer such impeccable on- and off-road manners. Go forth and climb every mountain and ford every stream.
£75,001 – £100,000: Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo
Dear Porsche, thank you for giving us an alternative to the SUV. For the first time in a Panamera, the Sport Turismo offers a central third seat, although this is available as a delete option.
There’s also more headroom in the back and more luggage space in the boot. But before you get too carried away, at 520 litres, it’s only 20 litres more than you’d find in the regular Panamera. Still, this is a very cool thing.
£101,000+: Bentley Bentayga
You probably don’t like the look of the Bentley Bentayga, and that’s your prerogative. But ask anyone who has spent quality time in Bentley’s first SUV and they’ll regale you with tales of brilliance and wonderment.
From our 2016 review: “We shuddered at the thought of a Bentley SUV a few years ago. But the Bentayga has confounded all our fears. A cosseting, rapid and satisfying to drive luxury SUV, it’s a true Bentley – the best car the firm makes. Without doubt, one of the best premium SUVs you can buy, full stop.”
£101,000+: Rolls-Royce Ghost
Into the realms of fantasy we go. Look, the Rolls-Royce Ghost has got four doors and four seats, so it must qualify as a family car. Not convinced? This thing has a 490-litre boot.
If you’ve spent a quarter of a million quid on a family car, we doubt you’ll be too fussed about the thirst, so we won’t mention the 20mpg figure. But good luck finding a space in the pre-school car park…
Buy a Japanese or Korean car to remove the stress of servicing, is the message from the What Car? Servicing and Satisfaction Survey. The car-buying brand asked more than 8,300 UK motorists about their most recent car service, with each respondent scoring their dealer on politeness of staff, quality of work and value for money. We present the top 10 in reverse order.
Satisfaction rating: 88.8%
There’s no 10 place here, rather a tie for ninth position. First up is ever-reliable Toyota…
Satisfaction rating: 88.8%
Followed by Jaguar, which finishes in a credible position, above its three German rivals.
Satisfaction rating: 88.9%
Kia might offer the most complete ownership experience in the UK. Not only are its cars very good looking, but the servicing appears to be excellent and there’s a seven-year warranty for added reassurance.
Satisfaction rating: 89.3%
Subaru owners are a happy bunch, especially when they drive cars aged 4-20 years. The off-road brand scored 100% for attitude of staff and 97.1% for quality of work. Impressive.
Satisfaction rating: 89.4%
SsangYong rarely gets the credit it deserves, so a sixth place finish is a great result. It finished top for attitude of staff at franchised dealers for cars aged 0-20 years, with a score of 98.3%.
Satisfaction rating: 89.5%
Dacia is the ultimate ‘having your cake and eating it’ brand, with low sticker prices matched by a good performance in the Servicing Satisfaction Survey.
Satisfaction rating: 89.9%
Hyundai is 0.3% away from a top three finish, but this remains an impressive result for the Korean giant. Its five-year unlimited mileage warranty is one of the best in the business.
Satisfaction rating: 90.2%
Along with a third place finish, Lexus was also rated number one for value for money at independent dealers. The question is: can you name the brand in second place?
Satisfaction rating: 90.9%
If you guessed MG, well done. The Chinese-owned company finished second overall and first for value for money at franchised dealers for cars aged 0-20 years.
Satisfaction rating: 91.2%
Honda finishes top with a satisfaction rating of 91.2%. Speaking about the result, Steve Huntingford said: “[Honda scores] well in every area. And while the level of satisfaction with many brands plummets as cars age, Honda owners can expect attentive behaviour from staff and a high standard of workmanship throughout their cars’ lives.”
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