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BMW 6 Series GT 2018

New BMW 6 Series Gran Turismo 2017 first drive: Secret estate agent

BMW 6 Series GT 2018The latest BMW 5 Series saloon is an outstanding executive car, the current sector leader. You can’t buy better – and if the only reason for it not being suitable for you is a lack of luggage capacity, help is at hand with the 5 Series Touring estate. Rightly, for many, it’s all the car they need.

This was only part of the reason, though, why the previous 5 Series Gran Turismo ‘hatchback 5’ was such a duffer. Quite remarkably dumpy looks were a bigger hindrance. You buy BMWs because you want to be envied, not pitied: how the 5GT behemoth ever left the styling studio with a thumbs-up is lost on me.

While it’s perhaps surprising that BMW decided it was worth following up, it’s no surprise to see the name has been euthanised. The 5GT is forgotten: enter the 6 Series Gran Turismo, the car to right the wrongs of the old.

But hold on, you’re thinking. If the 5GT was such a clot, do we even need a 6GT? Fair point: in Britain, we don’t. Nor does Europe, for that matter, because we all have the 5 Series Touring. But in North America, they don’t, because they don’t like estates. Neither does China.

That’s what the 6GT is – a 5 Series estate for people who don’t like estates but need more practicality than a saloon. Factor in the size of the American and Chinese markets, and the logic becomes clear. But only if the new car is actually any good. So we flew to Portugal, slowly peeled away the fingers from our eyes, and faced the new BMW 6GT for the first time.

Cosmetic surgery

Thankfully, the hunchback looks have gone. This one won’t be joining the ranks of the world’s ugliest cars, mentioned in the same breath as the Pontiac Aztec. It’s still – almost 5.1 metres long and 1.9 metres wide – but lower than the old one, with a much sleeker roofline. The silly split tailgate of before has gone, with a slinkier trunk in its place. This is now actually so low, BMW’s had to add in a deployable rear spoiler, to give it the aero kick necessary for higher-speed stability.

It’s still probably too much for many Brits. Those who want such big cars will buy an X5 instead. The white paint of the launch cars did it no favours either. But at least it’s no longer offensive and, on an expansive North American highway, you can see it working. Not least because it delivers them estate car practicality without looking like a wagon.

Space race

In the front, it’s even nicer than a 5 Series. It shares that car’s excellent dashboard, but seats occupants higher, atop plush and enveloping seats, with big windows and loads of glass to look out from their commanding driving position. There’s a cool detail for enthusiasts as well: frameless side windows front and rear. Lower the window and it’s like getting in and out of a sports car. Well, almost.

Those in the rear have it better still. Legroom is genuinely immense, and the seats are just as comfy as those in the front. It’s like a limo back there, even down to the electrically-reclining backrests. This time around, BMW doesn’t mount the rear seats higher than the fronts, stadium-style: that’s how they’ve been able to lower and de-toxify the roofline. But the car’s comfort doesn’t suffer as a result.

And the boot? Hey, who needs an estate? This hatchback has 610 litres even with the seats up, stretching to a yawning 1,800 litres with them down. Dammit, that’s bigger than a Volvo V90 estate – and also bigger than a BMW 5 Series Touring, both seats down and up. The 6GT is a more practical 5 wagon, never mind the saloon…

Putting the GT into 6GT?

BMW 6 Series GT 2018

BMW is launching the 6GT with three engines: the 258hp 630i 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol, the 340hp 3.0-litre straight-six turbo 640i xDrive, and the 265hp 3.0-litre turbodiesel 630d (and 630d xDrive) – which will take more than two in three sales. So naturally, on the first drive, we tested… the 640i xDrive, which account for a mere fraction of UK customers.

But hey, this is the engine that will be big in America and China, so it’s not our place to grumble. Besides, with 0-62mph in 5.3 seconds, the silky-smooth six is a peachy thing to drive, all hushed hum and effortless waft. The xDrive 4WD ensures it remains unruffled, and 150kg less weight adds further to the alacrity.

Not that this is a sports car, despite the GT branding. It’s one set up to waft and cruise, which a delightful ride quality soon makes clear. Normally in BMWs, you can toggle up to Sport+, for maximum stiffly-suspended dynamism. Here, you can’t: you toggle down to a new Comfort+ mode instead, which eases off the (optional) air suspension to a level of cushioned pliancy more akin to a Rolls-Royce.

It’s lovely, and rather more luscious than a 5 Series (enhanced by church-like silence). The pay-off is the absence of the 5 Series’ sharpness and driver-pleasing agility. It hasn’t become a bad-handling machine – far from it – but it has lost the crispness we so like in the 5, in the pursuit of easygoing luxury. Heavens, even the Portuguese test route itself reflected this: all straight roads and meandering cruises, rather than the twisty stuff we enjoy so much.

Cabin fever

So rather than going elbows-out through corners, we sat back and enjoyed the ride, the peace and quiet, the way that even though it’s not a sporty BMW, the firm’s sporting crispness translates here into an easy drive with accurate steering, lack of cornering body lurch and plenty-in-reserve power. Fingertips and tiny tweaks of the toe on the accelerator are all you need.

Just like the 5, quality is impeccable. In the Portuguese sunshine, with the air-con working away, the heat of the outside is filtered out, but none of its glinting light – making this a really nice place to spend the morning. For 1,500 people a year in the UK, it’s a BMW that will serve up wellbeing in spades.

But 20,000 more will prefer a 5 Series, and who can blame them? Particularly when, for the £53,970 of our test car, they could get a 540i xDrive Touring and have £4,000 left over. Even the favoured 630d is more than £50k, compared to £47k for a 5 Touring, and you’re not far off an X5 for the £46,810 start-price of the entry 630i. It’s not cheap, the 6GT. 

BMW 6 Series Gran Turismo: Verdict ★★★☆☆

BMW 6 Series GT 2018

The new 6GT is a better car, but for Brits, it remains a decidedly niche offering. Most will be better off in all regards with a 5 Series Touring, but if practicality and comfort are everything, the 6 Series Gran Turismo at least doesn’t make its owners suffer with its styling.

Faint praise, maybe, but at least BMW dealers can look you in the eye when discussing its merits, and you can look at the car without grimacing.

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2017 Volvo XC60 review: smaller SUV is a safe bet

Volvo XC60

Volvo owners will be getting very excited about the new XC60. Thing is, will anyone else?

It’s a steady, sensible buy, a Volvo, bought by steady, sensible people. The big selling point has always been safety, although they are usually pretty comfortable, too. But are they desirable?

Well, lately, yes. The current XC90, Volvo’s largest SUV, was launched two years ago and was an instant success. Despite a massive price hike over the previous model, new buyers were sucked into the Volvo fold by the winning looks, lovely interior and, even now, the best package of safety systems you’ll find in any car.

The new XC60 carries across all these attributes in a more compact package. Not that it’s small. While seven seats are not on offer, the XC60 competes with other mid-sized SUVs like as the Mercedes GLC, BMW X3, Jaguar F-Pace and Audi Q5, with the bulk of the range in the £37k – £50k price bracket.

There’s a lot of standard gearVolvo XC60

If you are familiar with the pages of oh-so-necessary ‘optional’ extras that fill the price lists of the German brands, you’ll be pleased that the XC60 comes well-equipped, even in the lowest-priced Momentum guise.

Navigation with lifetime map updates, LED headlights, heated leather seats, power tailgate, four-wheel drive and automatic transmission are all part of the package. R-Design specification adds an overlay of sportiness (sports seats, bigger dashboard display, more focused chassis), while XC60 Inscription sits at the luxury end with nicer leather, power seats and “multi-colour theatre lighting”. Gosh.

At the risk of filling this whole report simply listing the safety features of the XC60, there’s the ability to steer the car out of trouble if you are heading for a collision, even one of the head-on variety. And of course, the structure and internal safety systems make the XC60 about as good a place as you could hope to be in a crash.

A very pleasant placeVolvo XC60

Ignore the driving experience for the moment, because that’s less of the big deal here, despite what Volvo would like you to think. The interior of the XC60 is a very pleasant place to spend a few hours. Volvo is a master of building seats that seem soft and embracing, yet actually give you great deal of long-term support.

There is lots of seat adjustment, both for reach and height, and plenty of elbow room in the front. The dashboard has strong Swedish design cues (with soft, light colours in our test car) and a stylish sweep from side to side.

In true media launch fashion, all the cars were fitted with the optional air suspension, which adds £2k to the price. It’s very good, giving a comfortable ride on all surfaces and helping keep body-roll in check when cornering. Sadly, we can’t tell you how good the regular suspension is.

Rear-seat room might not look especially generous, but there’s much space under the front seats, which turns that first impression on its head. Seats in the back as just as comfortable as those in the front, too. Luggage space is around average for the class, although lacking in height versus some rivals.

Apps, widgets and gadgetsVolvo XC60

You will love the systems here. Or hate them. It all depends on how savvy you are when it comes to smartphones and tablets. Volvo’s ‘Sensus’ system is based around a large vertical tablet in the centre of the car, with just one button, like an iPhone. Everything is then controlled by touchscreen menus and sub-menus.

There are plenty of apps, including Spotify, while the navigation is very clear. The media player is fully integrated via Bluetooth for Android and Apple devices. The Bowers and Wilkins sound system is also excellent, as it should be for an additional £2,500.

However, trying to accurately press a screen when your eyes are meant to be on the road seems, well, not quite safe. How hard would it be to simply fit a set of traditional buttons around that screen for navigation, map, radio, media and phone?

Other gripes? On a brand-new car, I’d expect a wireless phone charging cradle, like I might get on a top-line Kia. But there’s none on this Volvo. And the indicators are surprisingly noisy..

Don’t ask about the number of cylindersVolvo XC60

With a prestigious car, especially one higher up the range, you’d usually expect a multitude of cylinders in your engine. Five if there was something leftfield going on, but more likely six or eight. More was better, no question.

Not any more. Turbocharging combined with highly sophisticated electronics means a humble four-cylinder engine of two litres gives the best mix of low emissions, fuel economy and performance. And so it goes with every XC60 in the range.

Volvo no longer even mentions engine capacity, instead calling the diesel models D4 and D5 – the same engine, but with either 190hp or 235hp. The T5 petrol model has 254hp and the T8 (pay attention, it doesn’t have eight cylinders, still only four) 320hp from its hybrid system.

For the time being, Volvo still thinks the diesels will be the popular choice in the UK. The more powerful D5 should have ample horsepower, although it’s a very capable cruiser, rather than giving much sense of high performance. The engine pulls well and strongly through the gears, and is very relaxed on the motorway. But there’s no denying the underlying feeling that this is a heavy machine.

This means that, despite all the clever trickery and the ability of the air suspension to switch to a ‘Dynamic’ driving experience if you choose, the XC60 doesn’t feel at its happiest when you try to drive it like a Jaguar F-Pace.

Economy and emissionsVolvo XC60

Volvo’s old five-cylinder engines were lusty but thirsty, so much emphasis has been given to these newer four-cylinder alternatives. The D5 diesel, with its eight-speed automatic transmission, gives a claimed average of 51.4mpg. You’ll have to drive like a monk to get that, but the competition doesn’t have anything in that power bracket without six cylinders, which inevitably means inferior economy.

The CO2 output for the D5 XC60 is 144g/km. Figures for the D4 are better, naturally, at 55.4mpg and 133g/km CO2. If petrol power is the preferred route, the XC60 T5 returns 39.2mpg and 164g/km.

Volvo XC60: verdictVolvo XC60

Volvo sent us up into the hills behind Barcelona on a test route designed to show off the new XC60’s prowess as a driving machine. That it failed to fully convince in these circumstances isn’t necessarily a failure. In the same way drivers hardly ever use their 4x4s off-road, few expect them to drive like a sports car.

Pitch the XC60 into its natural habitat – urban driving and long-distance cruising – and it quickly measures up, combining very high levels of comfort with equally convincing safety features and an easygoing manner. It’s a step on from the original XC60, and puts forward an entirely persuasive case against its rivals.

Specification: Volvo XC60 D5 Inscription Pro

Engine: 2.0-litre four cylinder, turbocharged
Output: 235hp
Top speed: 137mph
0-62mph: 7.2 secs
Combined fuel economy: 144g/km
Gearbox: 8-speed auto
Drive: Four-wheel drive
Length/width/height: 4688/2117/1658mm
Weight: 1846kg
Seats: 5
Boot space: 505 litre
XC60 base price: From £36,950
Price as tested: £48,150

2017 McLaren 720S review: the new supercar benchmark

McLaren is on a roll. It reached 10,000 production cars late last year, and is now taking orders at the rate that would make Lamborghini envious. Its latest, the 720S, was announced at the Geneva Motor Show this March, the replacement for the 650S, which in turn was a development of the original MP4-12C from 2011. The 720S is, however, all-new. As you can see from the dramatic design.

Sculpted by science

There’s so much to take in. The hidden air scoops, for example, pull the airflow from around the headlights to the front radiators, and in channels discreetly hidden below the side windows towards the engine compartment. The shape of the McLaren has been sculpted by air in the most dramatic manner.

The ‘Monocage’ composite chassis is all new, now extending over the roof and into the engine area. This provides even more stiffness and strength, as well as allowing for those sensational dihedral doors – which open in less space than those of the 650S and provide easier access to the seats.

Panoramic vision

Another benefit of the new chassis is it allows more freedom in the design. You can specify windows in the roof, for example, and very thin carbon fibre pillars are used to give a panoramic view that’s unprecedented in a supercar.

That’s great for city driving, with the low-set facia adding to the brilliant view of the road ahead. It can all feel a bit exposed and unnerving at first, but the ability to accurate place the McLaren in traffic is a welcome bonus.

Just add lightness

The level of luxury and quality has taken a step up in the 720S. Seats are leather or Alcantara, the knobs and switches are bespoke aluminium, and there’s very little plastic to be seen.

There’s a great 12-speaker stereo system, too. However, if you want to aim for lightness, McLaren offers a stripped-out four-speaker system that it says offers a perfect blend between weight and performance. McLaren is deadly serious about weight. One engineer revised all the hydraulic pipework to reduce the weight of the fluid in the system by just 1.24kg.

Serious statistics

Onto the hardcore stuff. The twin-turbo V8 is now 4.0 litres (up from 3.8 litres) and produces 720hp – 50hp more than the Ferrari 488. It translates into mind-bending performance statistics: 0-62mph in 2.9 seconds, 0-124mph in 7.8 seconds and a maximum speed of 212mph.

Yet the numbers can never convey the astounding sensation of sitting inside this McLaren with the throttle fully open. Yes, obviously you are thrust back into the seat, but very rarely quite like this. The automatic gear changes fly by and, although there is a paddle shift, it can be hard to keep up with the action if you change gears manually.

The optional sports exhaust is a must-have. It’s not too noisy, but it adds a sense of purpose to the soundtrack.

Road or track

The suspension is as advanced as the rest of the McLaren. It’s a whole 16kg lighter than that of the 650S, yet is festooned with more sensors than ever to feed back data to the central control unit, which then adapts the dampers to ever-changing conditions. The result is a supercar that rides like a comfortable saloon when it needs to, but handles like a race car when you set it to track mode.

On the Vallelunga race track near Rome, the 720S would readily reach 150mph on the straights before slicing though the curves at wholly improbable speeds. Its poise and balance are simply exceptional, so too is the accuracy of the steering and the power of the brakes. Alcantara on the steering wheel usefully absorbs the perspiration of fear from your hands.

Oversteer is optional

‘Variable drift control’ is a new feature. Instead of switching the stability control simply on or off, the new system gives a seven-stage adjustment to how far the tail will come out on corners before the stability control is activated. It’s an effective tool, although any tyre smoking images you see are all taken with those systems fully disengaged.

A remarkable achievement

So it’s a remarkable car, the McLaren 720S, even in the rarefied world of supercars. It so very fast, with such an able chassis that you’re convinced that it can’t be far short of a Le Mans racer on a track. Yet on the road you just need to set everything to ‘Comfort’ and it’s (relatively) easy to drive and live with. Factor in all that dramatic design, and it’s easy to see why McLaren has risen from nowhere to supercar giant in just six years.

The 720S starts at £208,000, with the Performance and Luxury models starting at £10k more. You’ll want options, though, and there is a book-full to choose from. Our white test car came in at closer to £280,000, nearly £50k of that down to exposed carbon fibre panelling and other bodywork addenda.

2017 Ferrari GTC4Lusso T review: don’t hate the V8

2017 Ferrari GTC4Lusso T review: don’t hate the V8

2017 Ferrari GTC4Lusso T review: don’t hate the V8

The GTC4Lusso replaced the Ferrari FF when it arrived last year, and now the Maranello firm is offering a watered-down version in the form of the GTC4Lusso T. That’s if you class 610hp from a twin-turbo V8 and a 0-62mph time of 3.5 seconds as ‘watered down’. The real question is… should you buy one over the full-fat V12?

Let’s start by comparing facts and figures. Prices start at £199,285 (that’s give or take £30,000 less than a standard GTC4Lusso). Its 610hp is 89hp less than the V12, while its 3.5 second 0-62mph time is just a tenth of a second behind. It tops out at 199mph, a whole 9mph below its 12-cylinder peer.

So what’s the point of the V8?

Ferrari says it’s targeting a younger audience with its GTC4Lusso T. Although the purists appreciate a V12, and some hardcore customers could use four-wheel-drive, there’s a market for a rear-drive V8 for those who don’t use their car in challenging conditions or push it beyond the limits of grip rear-wheel-drive models offer.

How does it handle compared to the V12?

The advantage of sticking a lighter engine in the front of the car and sending power to the back is a favourable 54/46 rear-biased weight distribution. That means it’s actually nimbler than the V12, and wide tyres means it’s still incredibly difficult to unstick the GTC4 T in normal conditions. Like the regular model, the T gets rear-wheel steering which helps shrink the car on twisty roads, while flicking through the Manettino dial lets you shift between comfort, sport and ESC-off modes.

Turning off the traction control brings Ferrari’s third-generation Side Slip Control into play. This allows a degree of slip before reigning it in and, although we advise against trying it out on public roads, it can make the most average of drivers look a hero on track.

Any other advantages of the V8?

Any other advantages of the V8?

Of course, the big bonus of the T over the V12 is the greater efficiency. While 24.8mpg compared to 18.8mpg might not seen a huge deal if you’re spending hundreds of thousands on a Ferrari, the 30% extra range will help when devouring continents. In some markets, the efficiency advantages of the V8 also means buyers will save a fortune in tax.

If anyone can deal with turbo lag, it’s Ferrari’s engineers. Throttle response is almost instantaneous, but we’d recommend taking control of the gears using the paddleshifters if you’re serious about driving. There’s not quite the same shove from the rear as other Ferraris with the same engine, but GTC4Lusso T buyers aren’t after that, apparently. Torque is fairly linear and it’s an easy car to drive.

It won’t sound as good, though…

No, it doesn’t, but it must be one of the throatiest V8s on sale. Press the bright red start button on the steering wheel, and it announces its presence to your neighbours. Keep revs low (below around 3,000rpm) and the exhaust baffles remain closed, and no one will be offended. Open it up towards its 7,500rpm redline, and things get a little more anti-social. Few petrolheads will complain about the sound.

It looks the business, too

It looks good, too. The only visual differences between the V8 T and V12 are the exhaust tips and bespoke 20-inch alloys. Apart from that, it’s business as usual, with its stunning shooting brake design and new quad circle rear lights. We’d almost go as far as saying it’s the most attractive car Ferrari currently sells.

If you’re expecting SUV levels of interior luxury, just go and buy a Bentayga or a Range Rover and be done with it. There are four comfortable seats, as long as your rear passengers are happy to accept a level of discomfort in return for a ride in a Ferrari. It’s not that taller passengers won’t fit – they will – it’s just they’re not going to be happy if they have to cover long distances in the back of the GTC4Lusso T.

How practical is it?

But how often do you want to carry adults in the rear? There’s plenty of practicality for a couple, perhaps with a young child or two, to head away in the GTC4Lusso T. With the rear seats up, there’s 450 litres of boot space, while dropping them expands that to 800 litres. You can, of course, buy brand Ferrari luggage gear to help squeeze as much into the boot as possible.

Should I buy a Ferrari GTC4Lusso T?

We’ve established then, that this isn’t the best grand tourer money can buy if wafting across continents is your thing. Think of it as a mildly-practical sports car rather than a family wagon. This is exemplified by the harsh ride – although the ‘bumpy road’ mode (yes, it’s a thing) did a good job of keeping the car settled on the awful Italian roads we tested it out on.

If you’re sold on the idea of a Ferrari, want a cross-continent cruiser and 610hp sounds like enough, we suspect you’d be pretty happy with a GTC4Lusso T. However, it’s not quite the relaxing GT car you might expect. Its ride is firm, its demeanor more frantic than relaxing, and it’s still anything but frugal. As a watered-down GTC4Lusso, there’s a lot to like, however. It’s almost as fast as the V12 and in some conditions, we reckon it’s actually better to drive.

Facts and figures

Engine: 3.9-litre twin turbo V8
Power: 610hp
Top speed: 199mph
0-62mph: 3.5 seconds
Combined fuel economy: 24.8mpg
Gearbox: seven-speed dual clutch auto
List price: From £199,285

The hottest hatch: new 400hp Audi RS3 driven

2017 Audi RS3

Audi has turned the screws on BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The new RS3 outguns both the M2 and A45 AMG, with 400hp to the AMG’s 381hp and the M2’s paltry 370hp. Yet this battle is more than a race for headline numbers. Ultimately it’s about which is the best and most entertaining car to own. We’ve been to Oman to push the RS3 to its limits.

First, though, the all-important visual credentials. A wider track, subtly pumped-up front wheelarches and a redesigned ‘blade’ in the bumper show sporting intent. UK cars get titanium highlights, but sinister gloss black is an option. At the rear there’s an RS-specific roof spoiler, and a deep black diffuser between the waffley oval tailpipes. The exhaust sound is all-important.

Booting it

2017 Audi RS3

Two-part big news. First is that alongside the Sportback there’s an RS3 saloon for the first time. That’s aimed at bringing more US and Chinese buyers into the fold, but reckon on seeing a fair few on UK roads, too. It’s an added dimension, although surprisingly the seats-up luggage space is a touch smaller than you get in the Sportback.

The second major development is the engine, which has had a complete makeover. Still a charismatic 2.5-litre five-cylinder, the block is now aluminium alloy rather than iron graphite. That makes a large contribution to the 26kg weight saving, and helps make the RS3 more agile in the corners.

Sensational speed

2017 Audi RS3

Enough of the static detail. What’s the RS3 like to drive? Fabulous, fantastic, awe-inspiring – you think of the adjective. Four-hundred horsepower is a mighty amount of power in any car, but in a compact hatchback sensational speed is guaranteed. The RS3 reaches 62mph in 4.1 seconds and is limited to 155mph, although you can optionally remove the speed limiter to let the Audi reach its true maximum of 174mph. We’re not quite sure where you’d make use of that, but it brings excellent bragging rights.

There’s a very easy-to-use launch control, which gets the most out of the S Tronic double-clutch gearbox from a standing start. Impressive enough from the driver’s seat, passengers will involuntarily whoop at the shock of being shoved so violently back into the seat as the RS catapults towards the horizon. There’s no manual transmission option, but that’s not a problem. The seven-speed S Tronic is well matched to the car’s power characteristics, with the ability to fine-tune the changes, as well as the steering and suspension characteristics, via the central control screen.

Get the RS3 on the right road and there’s much entertainment to be had. The 2.5-litre single-turbo engine picks up instantly, and then the speed at which your progress changes is largely down to your right foot. It would be just greedy to ask for more power, such is your freedom to exploit pretty much all the 400hp on offer.

Fire up the Quattro

2017 Audi RS3

Much of the RS3’s prowess is down to Quattro four-wheel-drive, which has undergone further refinements since the pre-facelift RS3 was launched a couple of years back. Drive to the rear wheels is dependent on the demand and, although this varies continually, you are never aware of changes. The RS3 drives like a very good hot hatchback, and this nimbleness is to its advantage over the (previous) RS4 models, which have the edge in horsepower but not agility.

Options include front ceramic brakes that bring improved high-speed retardation. However, as you’ll probably only notice the difference on a racetrack, you should question the £6k additional cost. Magnetic Ride, though, is a well worth the balance it brings between low-speed ride and agility on faster sections.

And then there’s the sound. Audi had an easy job making the RS distinctive. Five cylinders, with a firing order of 1-2-4-5-3, is all you need to build a characterful soundtrack. With the exhaust set to Dynamic, the sound is simply sublime – standing roadside next to an RS3 driving by at full throttle will send tingles down your spine.

Cabin fever

2017 Audi RS3

You’ll want some special touches to move the RS3 apart from a regular A3 inside, and it’s there for the asking – as long as you are prepared to dig deep. There are some nice colour packs that add pizzazz to the dashboard and air vents. Audi’s marvellous Virtual Cockpit may well be a standard feature (Audi UK hadn’t made up its mind as we went to press), and it includes some RS-specific features – such as displays for torque, power output, and G forces.

Seating is critical when the cornering forces are so high. The test cars had the optional diamond quilted RS sports seats in Nappa leather, which give all the support you could wish for. Space in the rear is decent for the size of car: good for four adults, but obviously roomier than the BMW M2 (which is a two-door coupe, of course).

The ultimate hot hatch – or saloon

2017 Audi RS3

While it’s hard not to like the BMW M2, or the more aggressive attitude of the Mercedes A45 AMG, the RS3 is simply the better all-rounder. Easier to drive fast, and more pleasant when all you need is a regular hatchback (or saloon) that’s nice to live with. You make fewer compromises with the RS3, and to us that makes it a winner.

The Audi RS3 goes on sale later in 2017, with first UK deliveries expected at the tail end of the year. Prices will start at around £45,000, with the saloon a little more. Don’t plan on getting away with less than £50k, though. The options list is simply too tempting.

Hyundai i30 UK review

Hyundai i30 UK review: dull just got interesting

Hyundai i30 UK review

The Hyundai i30: not exactly interesting, is it? File the first generation car as ‘dull’, the second generation car as ‘ugly’ and the all-new third generation model as… well, hang on a minute, this one has a little more promise.

For a start, it looks a damned sight more appealing than the outgoing model. Gone is the frumpy, bulbous styling of the second generation i30, replaced by a sharper, leaner exterior.

A little too generic, perhaps – Peugeot 308 at the front, Volkswagen Golf at the back – but if Hyundai wants to muscle in on a segment dominated by the Europeans, it might as well channel a little Euro-flash.

Hyundai will point to the ‘cascading grille’ inspired by ‘the flow of molten steel’ and ‘muscular wide rear design’ as evidence of a chiselled new look, but all you need to know is that the new Hyundai i30 is more Prada than Primark.

As you’d expect, the i30 looks its best in the plusher, more expensive trim levels. Order a Premium or Premium SE model and your car will come with showroom-friendly trinkets such as 17-inch alloy wheels, full LED headlights and LED rear lights. All but the entry-level S model get a black and chrome grille.

Hyundai i30: the kick inside

The positive vibes continue on the inside, with a clean and uncluttered cabin that’s leaps and bounds ahead of the old model. Quality is up a notch or two, while the specification is impressive for a car of this size and price range. You’ll pay £16,995 for the poverty-spec 1.0 S, rising to £24,745 for the bells-and-whistles 1.6 diesel in Premium SE trim.

Hyundai i30 cabin

Things start to get interesting at the mid-range SE Nav specification, which adds sat nav, an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system, voice recognition and wireless phone charging to the likes of DAB radio, rear park-assist, rear-view camera and 16-inch alloy wheels. Opt for the £1,000 Visibility Pack and the car benefits from LED headlights, 17-inch alloys and dual-zone climate control.

The infotainment system is one of the best in the segment, being simple to control on the move and easy to pair with a smartphone for the first time. The map is perhaps a tad dated, but there’s no faulting it in terms of clarity, while the sat nav was easy to program.

There are multiple storage bins and pockets, too, especially in Premium and Premium SE models, with space freed up by the fitment of an electronic parking brake. This even includes a pocket large enough to house an iPhone 7 Plus.

Hyundai i30: moving

So far, so good, then. The question is: how does it drive?

This all depends on your choice of engine and what you expect from your Korean hatchback. Forget Focus-rivalling dynamics – there’s a performance N model waiting in the wings to cater for enthusiastic drivers – and instead revel in the excellent ride comfort and poise. Over some rough Cornish roads, the i30 rode beautifully, even on the larger 17-inch rims.

It’s all adding up to a wonderfully refined car, before we mention the significant amount of tyre noise entering the cabin. In fairness, it was more noticeable in a pre-production model, and the back lanes of Cornwall are hardly velvet-smooth, but on one particular stretch of road we were tempted to tune into Radio 1 and crank the volume to the max. Yes, it was that bad.

Hyundai i30 UK road test

There are three engines to choose from: a 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol, a new 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol and a 1.6-litre diesel. We tested all three, including the 1.4 Turbo in both manual and pre-production seven-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT) guises.

Our pick would be the surprisingly enjoyable 1.0-litre Turbo, which does the best impression of a warm hatch. Hyundai quotes a 0-62mph time of 11.8 seconds, but in reality it feels much quicker. It’s the lightest model in the range, which was evident as we chucked it along the twisting roads of the Roseland Peninsula.

Hyundai i30: running up that hill?

On motorway climbs it will run out of puff – we were forced to change down from sixth to fourth when travelling up Cornwall’s ‘Hamburger Hill’ – but this isn’t enough for us not to recommend it as the engine of choice.

Neither is the fact that on a 35-mile drive to Newquay Airport we were averaging 22mpg at one point, before it settled to 26mpg once we had stopped having fun. Hyundai quotes a figure of 56.5mpg, although we suspect you won’t get anywhere near this if you use the three-cylinder engine to its full potential.

Make no mistake, this is not a true drivers’ car. The steering is too vague and lacking in feedback, while the suspension is too soft for it to feature on any list of B-road heroe. But the mere fact that we had fun in a Hyundai i30 is a reason to be cheerful.

For the majority of i30 owners – especially those who have grown up (not us, then) – the 1.4 Turbo is arguably the best all-rounder. The additional 20hp makes it more suited to long distance travel, while it should be easier to extract the best from the engine, making the claimed 52.3mpg a more realistic proposition.

As for the 1.6-litre CRDi, this was the least impressive engine on the day. There’s a welcome lump of mid-range torque, but we also noticed a significant amount of vibration through the pedals and gearstick. It’s noticeably the heaviest of the range, too.

Sure, the manual version dips below the 100g/km CO2 mark, at 99g/km, but come April that will no longer deliver the tax break of before. The figure of 74.3mpg might look good on paper, but unless you do mega miles we’d stick with the petrol versions.

Hyundai i30 in Cornwall

On the evidence of our brief drive in Cornwall, we’d also avoid the seven-speed DCT. Whilst acknowledging that this was a pre-production model, we found it to be lethargic and frustrating at low speeds, although things did improve once cruising. Attempt any form of rapid progress, however, and the transmission will take a moment to ponder, before changing down with a thud. Not great.

Again, this was a pre-production model, so we’ll reserve judgement until we’ve had another drive.

Until then, we’ll stick with a 1.0-litre manual SE Nav: a snip at £19,645. Sadly, Hyundai isn’t offering the 1.0 Turbo in plush Premium or Premium SE trim, which is a shame, as, given the level of kit on offer, that could have resulted in one of our favourite family hatchbacks on the market.

Is it perfect? Of course not. We’d have liked more in the way in steering feel, while there are still weak points to be found in the cabin. A cheap and flimsy centre storage box lid might not seem like a big deal in isolation, but attention to detail matters in a crowded segment.

We also noticed a significant amount of reflection from the dashboard when driving in the winter sunshine of Cornwall. Another minor irritation, granted, but worthy of a mention nonetheless.

Hyundai i30: moments of pleasure

But aside from that we’re struggling to find fault with the new Hyundai i30. It’s safe – all models come with a lane departure and forward collision warning system, autonomous braking and lane-keep assist – while top trim models get blind-spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert.

It’s also connected: Bluetooth is fitted as standard, while SE Nav, Premium and Premium SE models get Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Mapcare, Live services and a wireless phone charging pad. And we haven’t even mentioned Hyundai’s five-year warranty.

Hyundai is benchmarking the i30 against the Golf, Focus, 308 and Astra, and it’s more than capable of holding its own. Crucially, it no longer feels like the ‘white good’ of the segment. You can buy an i30 with your head and your heart.

New Hyundai i30 review

It manages to tick all of the boxes without excelling in one particular area. The Kia Cee’d has a longer warranty. The Megane is a little more interesting. The Focus and Mazda3 are better to drive. And, thanks to OnStar, the Astra is better connected.

But we’d choose an i30 over the ‘big three’s’ closest challenger: the Peugeot 308. It looks the same, has a longer warranty and offers loads more space for rear-seat passengers, which, let’s face it, is a big deal in a family car.

Heck, right now we’d choose one over a Volkswagen Golf. Turns out the Hyundai i30 is interesting after all. Wow.

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2017 Land Rover Discovery

2017 Land Rover Discovery review: why the Range Rover should be worried

2017 Land Rover Discovery

2017 Land Rover Discovery

Meet the car set to be another smash-hit for Land Rover: the 2017 Discovery. Replacing the strikingly aged Discovery 4, this new Discovery (there’s no ‘5’ in the name) is an out-with-the-old reinvention.

It has a fancy new aluminium platform, which cuts almost half a tonne from the kerbweight. There’s more space than ever, and more off-road ability than ever. And most notably, sleek new styling that takes the Discovery into Range Rover territory. There’s a lot to discover.

What is the 2017 Land Rover Discovery?

Land Rover has comprehensively rethought the Discovery because it wants to take on the Audi Q7 and Volvo XC90: something the utilitarian Discovery 4 increasingly was unable to do. Customers want more premium machines in this sector, it says, proven by the big sales lift when the rugged Discovery 3 turned into the posher Discovery 4. This is, by some margin, an acceleration of that process.

So plenty has changed here, then?

Sit the new Discovery alongside the old one and they appear several generations apart, not one. Lego-brick look becomes swish and sleek. Your first impressions are not of Discovery, but of Range Rover. Not without basis, either – it’s now based on the same platform as a Range Rover.

What, so it’s basically a Range Rover underneath?

2017 Land Rover Discovery

2017 Land Rover Discovery

You bet. The same aluminium architecture used by the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport is now employed here. This is 480kg lighter, taking the Disco to just over 2.1 tonnes – 20% less than before. It’s a monocoque design, so should feel much tighter and sharper on road, but Land Rover insists off-road ability has been enhanced, not lost. All it lacks is the expensive anti-roll and dynamic handling tech of a Range Rover. That’s why you buy a Range Rover Sport, it says.

Uh-huh. This sounds like it could be expensive. Have prices rocketed?

This is the interesting bit. In run-out spec, the old Discovery cost from £47,500. Lead-in price for the new one is LOWER – from £43,495. This could be the story of the century, particularly when an Audi Q7 barely scrapes in under £50k. Well, partly. That basic Discovery is now a 2.0-litre turbodiesel; the V6 diesel costs from £50,995, level-pegging a Q7. Even so, this sophisticated new Disco is anything but wildly priced, perhaps explaining why Land Rover already has over 20,000 pre-orders for it.

What are your first impressions?

Time for a first look on the global model launch in Utah. And how the Discovery has evolved. Following the look of the Discovery Sport, it has a sleek nose, beautifully-profiled sides and strong, clean feature lines. It’s curvaceous where the old one was shed-like. Panel fit is super-precise, giving it a hewn-from-solid look. It’s rich and expensive-looking. Yes, it’s more Range Rover than ever.

But is it still an authentic Discovery?

2017 Land Rover Discovery

2017 Land Rover Discovery

No, it’s not the blocky Discovery of yore. It was never going to be: that was a car 12 years old, says Discovery engineering chief Nick Collins. Everything has moved on and Land Rover was never going to make a retro Disco. There are Discovery cues, sure – the reverse-rake C-pillar, the step in the roof – but we’ll simply have to accept the Discovery is now a premium car like an Audi, not a rugged-look off-roader. Again, sales have proven this is exactly what customers want.

How does Land Rover define Discovery, then?

Land Rover argues the Discovery has never really been about being a pure, rugged 4×4. At launch in 1989, the genius of it was being a more car-like, an incredibly versatile family-friendly machine for those new to the brand – people scared off by the tough Defender or expensive Range Rover. This has perhaps been forgotten over the years as the car has aged, so the firm believes this one resets it and takes the Discovery back to what it originally set out to do – just with the flash, fancy finishes modern premium buyers expect.

Will you mistake it for a Range Rover?

You might do at first, before you get familiar with it. It looks posh and very modern, with lots of concept car cues. The tail lamps, horizontal instead of vertical, are lovely, while the headlights’ LED running lights look super-modern. The more we saw it, the more we thought it looks fantastic. But it’s Range Rovers you’ll be confusing it with, not old Discoverys. Same goes inside…

First impressions inside?

2017 Land Rover Discovery

2017 Land Rover Discovery

The interior is outstanding. All high-end finish, clean leather-covered surfaces and smooth detailing, it’s maybe the most instantly-appealing interior Land Rover offers. The finishes are smart, with features such as inlaid wood and metal, but not indulgent like a Range Rover. It’s ‘modern premium’, and very well executed. Think clean, Swedish-style design, with added Land Rover character.

This might be a silly question, but is the new Discovery big inside?

It’s enormous inside. Land Rover makes a big play on designing its vehicles from the inside out. The Discovery is big on the road, five metres long, wide and tall, but also massive on the inside. Adults feel almost child-sized up front, have limo-like room in the middle row and can even sit comfortably in the third row. Someone on the engineering team is 6ft 4ins and is fine in the seven-seat Discovery, we were told. He was squashed and had his head shoved into the roof when they tested Q7 and XC90. See: that stepped roof IS still functional.

Visibility is also excellent, as it should be in a Discovery. You sit high, the windscreen is deep, side windows are deep, the wide windowledge to rest your arm on remains: it’s very feel-good. Those in the back have big windows as well, while stadium seating still sits them progressively higher up as you go back – great for reducing travel sickness, reckons Land Rover. 

Let’s get rolling. What is the 2017 Land Rover Discovery like to drive?

The bit we’ve been waiting for. The first miles behind the wheel of a new Discovery, equipped with the classy TD6 engine. Start it up: the alarming agricultural clatter of before is gone. Pull away and it seems crisper, less lazy, lighter on its toes. The steering is transformed, from slow, heavy and spongy to light, direct and responsive (it’s the same system as a Range Rover Sport). And with standard air suspension, the cushioned ride immediately begins to cosset.

The new Discovery wafts along then?

2017 Land Rover Discovery

2017 Land Rover Discovery

If you’re used to the old model, this new Discovery will feel like, well, a Range Rover. It’s certainly as quiet as one, say Land Rover test figures, and glides along in beautiful wafting luxury. The engine barely murmurs, bumps are soaked up quietly, yet while it impersonates a magic carpet, it doesn’t wallow like the old one could.

Sounds nice. And in corners?

Naturally, this softness will mean it leans in corners. You buy a Range Rover Sport to defy logic there. But it still drives tidily and accurately, with little of the heaving heaviness of the old one. The biggest transformation is, again, the steering, which is immeasurably more precise. Positively weighted just off centre, it’s less than three turns lock-to-lock, so you no longer need armfuls to handle a Disco, and can point it with far less effort. It’s decently precise as well.

It all sounds so lovely, I’m now worried about what it’s like off road

Land Rover knows the Discovery has gone posh, and doesn’t look like it will be as good as before off-road. But it is, and then some. A total of 283mm of ground clearance, 500mm wheel articulation and 900mm wading depth are all class-leading and better than before. A mass of 4×4 tech, including surface-sensing Terrain Response 2, gives it the legs to tackle any surface.

It’s good on the rough stuff, then?

2017 Land Rover Discovery

2017 Land Rover Discovery

Anything the old Discovery 4 could do off-road, the new Discovery can do better. Climb across rocks, charge through sand, monster hills – it’s amazingly accomplished. But more refined, easier to drive and less effort than before as well. You might hesitate to take your posh new Disco across such terrains, but it’s more than up for it. Relief: the Discovery hasn’t gone soft. It remains an authentic Land Rover off-road.

What about the famed Discovery practicality?

Land Rover is super-chuffed with the new Discovery’s versatility. You can store four iPads in the front centre console, and there are little tablet pockets in the front seat-backs. The box between the front seats is a fridge big enough to house glug-sized bottles. Behind the climate control panel is a secret stowage box. Rear passengers get their own stowage cubbies. The dual glovebox has been retained. And there’s more…

The Discovery split tailgate is gone!

Mourn the demise of the split tailgate. But the massive single-piece tailgate is clever in its own right. It electric-opens to reveal a humungous load area for one thing; even in seven-seat format, it has a 258-litre boot, not far shy of a Ford Fiesta. Also, an electric fold-down panel has been added on to mimic the split tailgate. You can sit on it, or use it to slide in heavy items. Get over the cool factor of the old tailgate and this is certainly easier. Even if, visually, its asymmetric design still takes some getting used to.

Does it have clever seats?

2017 Land Rover Discovery

2017 Land Rover Discovery

Much has been made of the Discovery’s electric-fold seats, and justifiably so. They’re ingenious. From a panel in the boot, you can electric-fold the seats down in 14 seconds. This control pack also lets you raise and lower the back of the Disco at the press of a button (it’s fun supermarket car park theatre). Land Rover says you can also adjust the seats via the touchscreen and via the much-promoted smartphone app. We thought they were a gimmick but, on first use, they’re actually really cool.

What’s the infotainment like?

Infotainment is chronic in the old Discovery. This new one, with a widescreen 10in InControl Touch Pro screen, is night-and-day better. It looks good, is easy to use and is multi-layered with features and functionality. The only obvious omission is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto; Land Rover insists the system’s app-laden functionality is just as good.

Verdict: 2017 Land Rover Discovery

The new 2017 Land Rover Discovery is a car that’s hard to fault. It has bought Discovery bang up to date, giving it step-on new levels of refinement, ease of driving, premium appeal and overall ability. But it’s also enhanced the things Land Rover says is Discovery DNA – the versatility, practicality, off-road ability. Some will have to press the reset button, and get used to the fact the Land Rover Discovery is now a genuine Audi Q7 and Volvo XC90 rival. But do so and they’ll discover this is a seriously accomplished all-rounder that’s turned into exactly the sort of machine we’d hoped it would. On first evidence, it’s an unqualified bravo, Land Rover.

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2017 VW Golf GTI review: why this is the best fast Golf

2017 Volkswagen Golf GTI review: why this is the best fast Golf money can buy

2017 VW Golf GTI review: why this is the best fast Golf

Many years ago, the Golf GTI was the daddy of the hot hatches. This fast German hatch was the one every boy racer dreamed of. But today, in a market that includes the Ford Focus RS and Honda Civic Type R – not to mention extreme Golfs such as the Clubsport, Clubsport S and four-wheel-drive Golf R – the standard GTI seems a bit lacking. On paper, at least.

Along with the rest of the Golf range, the GTI has been given the tiniest of facelifts for 2017. Spoiler alert: we think it’s enough to make the GTI one of the best hot hatches money can buy. Read on to discover why.

How much does it cost?

Let’s start by looking at prices. The Volkswagen Golf GTI manual, which we’ve driven here (and, incidentally, is the one we’d spend our own money on) starts at £27,865 for the three-door, rising to £28,520 for the five-door. That increases to £29,280 if you spec the grown-up DSG automatic gearbox, or £29,535 in five-door guise. But we wouldn’t.

Keeping it simple

Keeping it simple

The Golf GTI is just lovely in standard, tartan seats and manual gearbox flavour. We overheard someone complaining on the launch that the interior could be more special – after all, you can’t see the tartan seats when you’re sat on them, and aside from a bit of red stitching, there’s not much to differentiate it from a regular Golf.

But that’s missing the point. The cheapest fast Golf you can buy is arguably the best, because it harks back to what the Golf GTI has always been about. It’s a shopping car that’s been given a fun amount of power, without being over the top.

Go on… why would you pick the manual?

The six-speed manual ’box is lovely to use, with a short, precise throw. The pedals are perfectly positioned for giving the throttle a blip on downshifts, and it feels like one of the most authentic hot hatches you can buy. While the DSG gearbox is undoubtedly brilliant – not to mention faster than a clumsy human at changing gears – it does take some of the fun away.

It’s good to drive then?

It’s good to drive then?

Yeah. The progressive steering is wonderfully precise, reducing the number of turns needed to wind lock on and off. Feedback flows through, telling you when you can get away with adding more power. And despite lacking the four-wheel drive of the Golf R, you can feed the throttle through bends quite comfortably. The XDS electronic diff lock helps here, applying hydraulic pressure to the inside wheel to mimic the effect of a proper limited-slip diff. It works well.

What about power?

Sorry, we got this far without giving you the crucial stats. Power from the four-cylinder 2.0-litre petrol engine has been boosted by 10hp to 230hp, meaning it hits 62mph in 6.4 seconds. It’s marginally quicker than the outgoing model, but not enough to tell without driving them back-to-back. With the Golf R taking 4.9 seconds to complete the 0-62mph run in DSG guise, there’s still a big enough gap to avoid treading on its heels.

If the boggo Golf GTI isn’t enough (it is) and you don’t want a Clubsport or an R, you can opt for the Performance Pack for an extra 15hp and an LSD. While we could take or leave the extra power, we’d be interested to see how a proper limited-slip diff tightens things up.

What else is new?

What else is new?

Look closely at these pictures and Golf GTI nerds will be able to spot a few minor changes. For example, there are new 17- and 18-inch alloy wheels, as well as new front and rear bumpers and tweaked LED headlights.

The fancy LED tail lights feature Audi-style dynamic indicators, too. They’re a bit flash, so to speak.

What about inside?

Another feature that’s dripped down from sister-brand Audi is the Active Info Display (or Virtual Cockpit in Audi lingo). This replaces conventional dials with a 12.3-inch colour screen, incorporating digital dials, sat-nav directions and the like. It’s not as simple as Audi’s unit, unfortunately, and goes a bit against the ‘back to basics hatchback with a powerful engine’ ethos of the GTI.

And infotainment?

What else is new?

One of the major changes to the Golf GTI (along with all Golfs) is the £1,325 option of a 9.2-inch Discovery Navigation Pro infotainment system. In theory, it can be operated using a clever gesture control feature, allowing you to simply wave at the screen to operate menus. Maybe we need more time getting used to it, but after waving madly at the screen and not being able to do anything, we soon gave up and went back to simply enjoying the GTI. It’s a bit of a gimmick.

What’s new elsewhere in the Golf range?

The biggest change is the introduction of a 1.5-litre TSI petrol engine to replace the ageing 1.4 unit. The four-cylinder 1.5 is lovely, producing 150hp and hitting 62mph in 8.3 seconds. Despite the ‘Evo’ badge, it’s not particularly sporty, but it is fun. With combined fuel economy of more than 55mpg, it’s efficient enough to offer an alternative to diesel Golfs. And, in the wake of Dieselgate, who’d want one of those?

It’s pretty much business as usual for the Golf GTD. It’s fast, efficient and a bit GTI-like inside, but also a bit boring. If you’re a company car driver it makes lots of sense, but a diesel GTI it is not.

Should I buy a Golf GTI, then?

Should I buy a Golf GTI, then?

While the Ford Focus RS might offer more thrills for only moderately more cash we’ve fallen head over heels for the standard Golf GTI. On the empty roads of Majorca in February, we didn’t find ourselves wanting more power or the gimmicky features of the ludicrous fast Ford. The Golf GTI goes overlooked in a time when even a faster SEAT Leon is available, but it remains a brilliant buy.

While the new features don’t bring a great deal to the table, they do make it more up-to-date, and the extra 10hp makes the GTI easier to justify over more powerful rivals. The prices are the same as before, with orders opening on 2 March 2017. Do it.

2017 Honda Civic review: Type R attitude for Volkswagen Golf money

2017 Honda Civic review: Type R attitude for Volkswagen Golf money

2017 Honda Civic review

The Honda Civic. It’s the kind of car that people return to their friendly local Honda dealer time and again to buy, as they rate its reliability and it looks a bit different to a Golf. Although it’s never been a huge seller in the UK (in Golf or Focus terms), it’s worked well for Honda. But the Civic is getting bold for its 10th generation.

Gone is the ninth-generation Honda Civic and everything it stood for. Replacing it, the new Civic is an entirely new car on an entirely new platform, and with a range of new engines. Built in Swindon (the firm’s UK plant is the only maker of five-door Civics), this will be global car, tweaked for various nations.

It gets quirkier looks, sportier handling and more customisation options. But is that enough to tempt buyers away from other manufacturers? Let’s find out…

Tell me about the engines

Tell me about the engines

From launch, there’s a choice of two petrol engines. There’s the 1.0-litre three-pot producing 129hp, and a four-cylinder 1.5 with an output of 182hp. Without a diesel on offer to start with (it’s on its way), the smaller engine is expected to make up the majority of sales. While we’d probably opt for the 1.5 if money wasn’t a consideration, the entry-level 1.0-litre is a likeable engine. It’s vocal in a typical three-pot way around town, but settles down nicely when cruising.

Both engines are available with a six-speed manual gearbox or CVT auto.

CVT auto… aren’t they rubbish?

Well, yes, a bit. But because we hate CVT ’boxes in Europe, Honda’s fiddled the software to make it feel like a conventional seven-speed auto. No, it’s not brilliant, and if you floor it, it will make that horrible droning noise we associate with CVTs. But it’s better than CVT gearboxes used in rivals such as the Toyota Auris, and we could probably live with it for day-to-day around-town driving. That’s quite a compliment for a CVT.

How’s the manual?

The manual, however, is lovely. Honda knows how to do a slick six-speed gearbox. If you’re one of the pre-geriatric types that the new Civic is hoping to attract, the manual is absolutely the one to go for.

Does that mean it’s a driver’s car, then?

Does that mean it’s a driver’s car, then?

It doesn’t do a bad impression of a proper driver’s car. Its steering is light but direct, while the chassis isn’t out of its depth on twistier roads. A lot of this change comes downs to the new Civic’s fully independent suspension system with a multi-link set-up at the rear replacing the outgoing model’s twist-beam suspension. It gives us hope that the Type R version is going to be uber-impressive…

The Type R version?

Yes, it’s confirmed, we’re getting the new Civic Type R from summer 2017. It’ll look a lot like the prototype revealed at Paris, with 20-inch alloys and the huge wing, scoops and vents that Type R buyers love. Power is likely to come from the same turbocharged 2.0-litre engine as its short-run predecessor, but expect it to be even quicker. And yes, it’ll be going in for the Nurburgring lap record again.

I don’t care about that – is the Civic comfortable?

Anyway, back to the regular 2017 Honda Civic. Even with 17-inch alloys fitted as standard to the higher-end models, the ride remains relatively composed, with drivers able to flick the adaptive dampers between normal and dynamic modes. Honestly? We couldn’t tell much of a difference on the smooth Spanish roads where we tested the new Civic.

Finding a comfortable driving position is easy, with more room inside than before. Boasting 478 litres of boot space, it’s one of the most practical cars in its class. Our only criticism here is the sloping roofline, which eats into headroom in the rear.

I sense there’s a ‘but’…

I sense there's a ‘but’...

Yes, that would be the interior. It’s not that it’s bad, but you can tell Honda’s cash has been spent on engineering, rather than finessing the cabin. Buttons are all in fairly logical places, while the seven-inch infotainment system does the job with minimal fuss. It’s just not a Golf in terms of perceived quality.

Tell me about efficiency

The outgoing Civic had a reputation for being ultra-efficient, especially when paired with its 1.6-litre turbodiesel engine. Expect the same when a diesel arrives in the new Civic later this year, but the petrol models still offer some impressive stats. The 1.0-litre returns 60.1mpg on the combined cycle; the 1.5, 48.7. CO2 emissions are as low as 106g/km for an S- or SE-spec 1.0-litre paired with the CVT gearbox.

How does it compare to rivals?

Despite buyers flocking towards crossovers rather than conventional hatchbacks, it’s still a tough segment to crack. The Volkswagen Golf feels more upmarket than the Civic – and is only marginally more expensive like-for-like – while the Mazda 3 pips the Civic for driver enjoyment. There’s the latest Astra, too, which is one of the best in the class, while the trusty old Ford Focus offers a more conservative image.

We need to talk about the Civic’s design

We need to talk about the Civic's design

Ah, yes, that conservative image offered by the Focus. Honda definitely isn’t going down that route for the new Civic. It’s lower, wider and longer than the previous model, giving it the kind of aggressive stance that buyers apparently love.

You can look at the pictures and decide whether it works for you. We will say, however, that there are so many angles on offer, you might eventually find one that complements the Civic. It looks better in dark colours.

Which one should I buy?

If you’re not a Type R type, the best of the range at the moment is the 1.5-litre manual. But, in truth, most buyers will opt for the 1.0-litre and that’s OK. It’s a little bit thrummy and, especially when combined with the CVT ’box, it’s not exactly a motorway cruiser, but it’s fine most of the time. We’d like a little bit less vibration through the seats, though, and the 1.5 does offer a higher degree of refinement.

2017 Honda Civic: verdict

The new Civic is leagues ahead of its predecessor. Starting entirely afresh is a bold move, but it’s one that’s paid off for Honda – with the new model being much better to drive and easier to justify against rivals such as the Skoda Octavia, Vauxhall Astra, Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf. The interior falls slightly short, and its design won’t appeal to everyone, but it’s a better car than ever before. And, as a bonus, you’ll be buying British.

2017 MINI Countryman review: driving the biggest MINI yet

2017 MINI Countryman review: we drive the biggest MINI yet

2017 MINI Countryman review: driving the biggest MINI yet

Look, we know the MINI Countryman isn’t exactly mini. We know this probably isn’t what Alec Issigonis had in mind for the future of his ADO15 economy car ahead of its launch as the original Mini in 1959. Chances are, you might not like the MINI Countryman one bit. But that’s OK because, since its launch in 2010, it’s not shied away from being controversial.

There are lots of happy MINI Countryman owners out there, however. More than 550,000 have been sold globally, while 79,000 have found homes in the UK. And that popularity is only likely to grow as the Countryman has been revised for 2017. We’ve driven it on UK roads to find out whether it’s OK to hate the new MINI crossover.

The new MINI Countryman is the biggest MINI ever

The new MINI Countryman is bigger than before – a full 20cm longer than its predecessor and 3cm wider. A 75mm longer wheelbase translates into an extra 5cm of rear legroom and 100 litres of boot space, meaning the Countryman is by far the most practical MINI on sale.

This puts it firmly into the C-segment, making it a rival to the likes of the Nissan Qashqai, Fiat 500X and Audi Q3, as well as conventional hatchbacks such as the Volkswagen Golf and BMW 1 Series.

What’s it like inside?

What’s it like inside?

Sit inside the Countryman, and it feels typically MINI. Everything’s chunky – from the huge central infotainment system (now a touchscreen) to the family-friendly door bins and hefty steering wheel. Features like the toggle start switch add a retro touch, while the rectangular air vents give it a more rugged feel, apparently.

The new MINI Countryman certainly feels upmarket – but that’s exactly what we’ve come to expect from MINI. It’s got a solid feel, with no cheap-feeling plastics to be found.

It’s easy to find a comfortable driving position in the new Countryman (helped in our test car by the optional electric adjustment), while passengers in the rear will appreciate the large windows, airy feel and generous legroom. New for the 2017 model is an optional electric tailgate, while a picnic bench can be specified to sit on the bootlid and provide seating for two people. Hashtag: lifestyle.

Tell me about the engines

Tell me about the engines

The new Countryman comes with a choice of petrol and diesel engines from BMW’s TwinPower Turbo range, similar to the line-up already found in the hatch and Clubman models. The entry-level Cooper is powered by a 1.5-litre petrol producing 136hp and hitting 62mph in 9.6 seconds, while the 2.0-litre diesel powered Cooper D takes 8.9 seconds to reach 62mph.

Sportier models include the 2.0-litre Cooper S (tested here) and a range-topping John Cooper Works. This produces 231hp and hits 62mph in an impressive 6.5 seconds.

For the first time in MINI’s history, a plug-in hybrid model is set to go on sale later in 2017. An 88hp electric motor powers the rear wheels of the Countryman Cooper S E, while a three-cylinder petrol engine sends drive to the fronts through a six-speed Steptronic gearbox. The result is 49g/km CO2 emissions and combined fuel consumption of 135mpg.

How does the Countryman drive?

How does the Countryman drive?

We tested the hot Cooper S model in four-wheel-drive All4 guise. This produces 192hp and hits 62mph in 7.2 seconds when combined with BMW’s eight-speed Steptronic auto ’box. It doesn’t feel quite as quick as you may expect, but with Sport mode selected it certainly sounds the part, while the steering weights up – albeit rather artificially.

If you’re not in a Cooper S kind of mood, you can flick between Mid or Green modes. We actually like the standard mode best – certainly with the adaptive dampers fitted to our test car. It’s less jittery than when in Sport, and – while the steering still isn’t overly communicative – at least it doesn’t make you flex your muscles just to round corners.

The Green mode works well, too, toning down the throttle response and making the steering even lighter. It makes choosing the costly Cooper S seem a bit daft, but we find the Countryman to be at it’s best when you’re pottering around town or meandering cross-country with little urgency.

Should I buy a 4×4 Countryman?

Should I buy a 4x4 Countryman?

All engines are available with a MINI’s All4 four-wheel-drive system. This works with the car’s stability control system to transfer power between the front and rear axles, depending on the conditions. Under normal load, 100% of the power will be directed to the front for maximum efficiency. During cornering, it’ll be sent to the rear to counter understeer, while up to 100% could be directed to the rear axle when required in wet or slippery conditions.

The MINI Countryman is the kind of car you’ll choose for transporting your family, so it’s important to consider how safe it is. Although the new model hasn’t been tested, its predecessor scored a maximum five stars in Euro NCAP crash tests, while the more recent MINI hatch and Clubman were both awarded four stars.

Standard safety kit on the Countryman includes a host of airbags and a collision warning system with a city braking function to prevent minor bumps. Optional equipment ranges from a pedestrian warning system to active cruise control.

Which options should I choose?

Which options should I choose?

MINI has made the new Countryman better equipped as standard – a move that follows three quarters of customers selecting the Pepper, Chili or Sport options packs for the outgoing car. Now, many former Pepper pack features are fitted as standard – including 16-inch alloys on Cooper models, as well as parking sensors and Bluetooth connectivity.

If you pick just one option we’d go for the £950 Media pack, which includes the XL navigation system, MINI Connected XL and the clever MINI Find Mate. This allows you to fix tags with wireless tracking functions to important objects you may lose – such as keys and rucksacks – and trace them on your phone or on your MINI’s on-board computer.

MINI dealers are taking orders for the new Countryman now, with the entry-level Cooper starting at £22,465. The Cooper D starts at £24,425, while the Cooper S costs £24,710 and the SD £27,965. The range-topping John Cooper Works will set you back £29,565. Deliveries will start in February 2017.

What’s the verdict?

What’s the verdict?

Are you allowed to hate the new Countryman? Hmm. Not really. Whisper it, but the new MINI Countryman is actually pretty good. The interior is more upmarket than ever before, and you get more for your money now. The downside of its increased bulk is it’s not quite the sharp handler you might expect a MINI to be. Even so, keen drivers will find it more satisfying than a Nissan Qashqai.

If you’ve got a family but want to cling onto your street cred, the MINI Countryman remains an excellent choice. Just don’t expect everyone to appreciate it.