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2017 Toyota C-HR review: a trendy crossover from an untrendy company

2017 Toyota C-HR review: a trendy crossover from an untrendy company

2017 Toyota C-HR review: a trendy crossover from an untrendy company

There’s a British-built crossover made by a Japanese car firm (not Toyota) that has dominated the sales charts since it was launched in 2006. It’s become a cliche that almost every car ever launched is trying to compete with this crossover. Which is why we’re going to attempt to get through this review without mentioning the Q-word.

Fortunately, there’s no shortage of other rivals we can mention. There’s the Renault Kadjar (which itself is based on the same platform as you-know-what), Volkswagen Tiguan, fab new SEAT Ateca, Kia Sportage and Hyundai Tucson. You could even compare upmarket alternatives, such as the Audi Q3 and BMW X3 to the C-HR. Toyota isn’t shy about using the word ‘premium’ when describing its new crossover.

So where does this fit alongside the RAV4? On sale for 22 years, the RAV4 was initially a fashionable alternative to the likes of the Volkswagen Golf. You could even say it started the crossover craze, ahead of Nissan and its Kumquat.

The Toyota RAV4 has now grown-up. It’s bigger than ever before, and is more of a compact SUV to transport families and take on the Ford Kuga and Mazda CX-5 than a fashionable crossover. And, with sales of Nissan’s crossover-that-shall-not-be-named stronger than ever, Toyota has a gap in its line-up that desperately needs filling.

And that’s where the C-HR comes in. Based on the same TNGA (Toyota New Global Architecture) platform as the Prius, the C-HR was first previewed in concept form at the Paris Motor Show in 2014.

Toyota’s not being shy with its expectations for the C-HR. The carmaker is gunning for more than 100,000 sales across Europe – taking 11% of the segment share – and is expecting it to account for around 15% of Toyota’s sales in the UK next year. When a high proportion of those are expected to be trendy buyers who haven’t bought a Toyota before, that’s significant for a manufacturer better known for selling reliable saloons to Uber drivers.

So how does it drive?

So how does it drive?

An unexpected gem in the Toyota C-HR is the turbocharged 1.2-litre petrol engine. Recently launched in the Auris hatch, the 1.2 produces 116hp and accelerates the crossover to 62mph in 10.9 seconds when paired with the slick six-speed manual ’box.

That manual gearbox is a new Intelligent Manual Transmission, making its debut on the C-HR, but set to spread across other Toyota models. It works like a heel-and-toe action, blipping the throttle when you change down a gear (and rev-matching on the way up). Many sports cars have similar features, but it’s not designed to benefit enthusiastic drivers in this case. Instead, it makes for a smoother ride.

It’s not the torquiest engine (boasting 136lb ft at 1,500-4,000rpm), but it’s refined and suits the car well. We prefer it to the hybrid…

75% of sales will be the hybrid

75% of sales will be the hybrid

Unfortunately, Toyota’s expecting most buyers to overlook the petrol turbo and opt for the hybrid. This combines a four-cylinder 1.8-litre petrol engine with an electric motor, using a CVT automatic gearbox.

Although CVT ‘boxes have a bad reputation, Toyota says it’s sticking with it because of the durability and efficiency it offers. Around town it’s fine, remaining hushed as the car automatically switches between petrol and electric modes.

Out of town, it soon starts to feel strained. Anyone who’s floored a car equipped with a CVT gearbox will be all too familiar with the intruding noise as the car gradually picks up pace.

Still, around three-quarters of C-HR buyers in the UK will opt for this set-up, says Toyota. And with official CO2 emissions as low as 86g/km, resulting in low company car tax (it’s in the 15% band) and free VED road tax (if you’re quick), it does make sense on paper. And that’s before we get to the 74.3mpg fuel economy figure.

The obvious answer for those wanting favourable fuel economy and company car tax rates could be a diesel – but being the eco-friendly brand that it is, Toyota isn’t offering one. Technically, a turbodiesel could be fitted, but Toyota’s engineers have told us that’s unlikely. What’s more likely is a sporty derivative, perhaps powered by a larger naturally-aspirated petrol engine. Now that we’d like to see.

It handles better than most other crossovers

To give chief engineer Hiroyuki Koba an idea what Europeans expect from a car’s handling, the part-time race driver apparently spent a lot of time in Europe, speaking to crossover drivers and seeing for himself how we drive compared to folk in Japan.

His conclusion? Europeans love to drive fast – and won’t slow down for anything. Roundabouts, obstacles in the road, blind bends… we’ll tear around them, and expect our car to take it.

The result is a car that not only handles better than its Sunderland rival, but also soaks up poor road surfaces with a minimum of fuss. The steering is light (a bonus around town), and there’s a typical shortage of feedback. But body-roll is well managed, helped by the C-HR’s low centre of gravity, and the car remains composed when driven enthusiastically, both in town and out.

There’s tonnes of kit

There’s tonnes of kit

A trick of many manufacturers is to offer a low-spec entry-level model that no one really buys. Sure, fleets favouring low costs over everything else like them – but private buyers generally favour higher-spec models.

As Toyota is firmly aiming its C-HR at fashion-conscious private buyers, it’s not offering a traditional low-spec entry-level model. Instead, the range starts with the £20,995 Icon trim (or, more temptingly, £229 a month on PCP, following a deposit of around 25%). This comes with 17-inch alloy wheels as standard, along with a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system and Toyota’s ‘safety sense’, consisting of an urban automatic braking system and adaptive cruise control, amongst other useful systems.

Walking up the range, the Excel starts at £23,995 and top-spec Dynamic is £25,495. The latter features LED lights, a contrasting black roof and an eight-inch infotainment system. Despite the large, upright screen on the centre of the dash (which, incidentally, seems to be the perfect location for reflecting the sun), there seem to be buttons everywhere.

It falls short on practicality

It falls short on practicality

People typically buy crossovers because they offer good interior space compared to equivalent hatchbacks. But Toyota’s unashamedly put design above practicality with the C-HR.

While there’s no shortage of headroom for passengers (front or rear), those in the back will complain about the mediocre legroom. And the car’s rising beltline results in a very small, and high, rear window – something that is begging for child sickness if you use the C-HR to transport young children.

The boot is reasonable, albeit a tad on the shallow side and, at 377 litres, not as roomy as the Nissan’s. The coupe-esque roofline, mimicking the BMW X6, means anyone looking to carry large loads would be better off with a RAV4.

Should I buy a Toyota C-HR?

Should I buy a Toyota C-HR?

We’ve deliberately steered away from mentioning the C-HR’s divisive design. It won’t appeal to everyone – us included – but there are no doubt many people wanting something a little bit obscure, ready to flock to Toyota showrooms.

Then there’s the practicality, which isn’t great for a crossover of this size, although headroom is good. If you’re the trendy young urbanite Toyota tells us this model will appeal to, that perhaps won’t be a huge issue either.

It’s a shame about the engines, though. The hybrid powertrain, while efficient, is fairly joyless to drive. The 1.2-litre is good in comparison, but it’s down on power and feels strained at motorway speeds.

Should you spend your money on one? If you’re desperate to be different and aren’t concerned about these points, then yes. Us? We’d probably stick with the Qashqai. Ah…

2016 Lotus Evora Sport 410 review: a British Porsche-beater?

2016 Lotus Evora Sport 410 review: a British Porsche-beater?

2016 Lotus Evora Sport 410 review: a British Porsche-beater?

Don’t dismiss the Lotus Evora 410 as just an Evora 400 with an extra 10hp. Revealed at this year’s Geneva Motor Show, Lotus has applied founder Colin Chapman’s philosophy of “simplify, then add lightness” to the Evora sports car. We’ve been to the firm’s Norfolk factory to find out whether it’s a successful formula.

Hit me with some stats

The Evora 410 is powered by the usual 3.5-litre supercharged V6 producing – you guessed it – 410hp. A muscular 302lb ft torque means it’s open to lazy third-gear track driving, while working through the gears allows you to hit 62mph in 3.9 seconds. That’s 0.3 seconds faster than the Evora 400.

What about weight?

So, that low-weight thing that Chapman was so keen on. An extra 70kg has been shaved off the already-lightweight Evora 400, with a number of carbonfibre panels used – including the roof, rear quarter panels (where you’d find glass on the regular Evora 400) and the tailgate. The result is a dry weight of 1,270kg.

Crucial kilos have been saved all over the place. For example, a super-lightweight lithium-ion battery knocks a considerable 11.3kg off the total mass, while 5.5kg of sound insulation has been stripped out. Even scrapping the mudflaps saved 0.7kg – and the badges on the rear of the car have been replaced by stickers.

Does it feel that fast?

Does it feel that fast?

Yes, ludicrously. You’ll have to spend close to £127,000 on a 911 Turbo before you can buy a Porsche that reaches 62mph as quickly as the Evora 410. There’s next-to-no lag when you stamp on the accelerator, while the noise combined with the steering feedback takes you back to a time when analogue sports cars were commonplace.

Does it sound good?

Does it ever? If you want to treat your ear drums on a daily basis, don’t even consider a Porsche 718 Cayman when you can buy one of these instead. “Sound is a priority for us,” said Lotus CEO Jean-Marc Gales with a smile on his face during the press conference ahead of our Evora 410 drive.

Baffles in the exhaust can be opened or shut using a button on the dash – while those wanting even more noise can opt for titanium pipes. Unnecessary, we expect, but then who cares? It could be the best-sounding car this side of an Aston V8.

Is it scary to drive on the road?

Surprisingly, not at all. Despite being a high-powered, mid-engined Lotus, it’s easy to make progress in the Evora 410. The rack-and-pinion steering tells you everything you could possibly need to know, and even the clumsiest of point-and-squirt drivers won’t find it a handful.

What about on track?

What about on track?

That docility transfers well to track. Lotus chucked us the keys and told us to go and have some fun on their test track – where we flicked between Normal, Sport and Race modes and tried to find out what the Evora 410’s like at the limit.

The answer? Fun, but not at all terrifying. Sure, it’ll squirm about a bit if you’re too hamfisted (although the ultra-grippy Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s fitted as standard prevent any serious sideways heroics). It’s easy to get into a flow of setting tidy lap after tidy lap, though. As a car that you can drive to a track day, show up exotica and then drive home again, the Evora 410 is one of the best.

What exactly do sport and race modes do?

Like most 21st century sports cars (indeed – most cars, full-stop), you can flick between different driver modes using buttons on the dash. These tweak the throttle response and allow you to play around more with oversteer before the traction control kicks in and kills the fun.

So how quick is it around Hethel?

We weren’t attempting to set any track records during our visit to Hethel, but Lotus says it’ll lap its test track in 1min 28sec. That’s three seconds quicker than a Lotus 400 – a huge chunk of time for an extra 10hp and added lightness.

Should I buy an automatic or manual?

Should I buy an automatic or manual?

We drove a manual Evora 410 on track and spent some time on the road in an automatic version. The former is obviously the choice of keen drivers – working through the gears suits the ethos of the car, and the ’box is a lovely one to use.

But, in the nicest possible way, the six-speed automatic wasn’t as awful as we expected. It’s not as slick as a Porsche PDK gearbox, and changing through the gears using the steering-wheel-mounted paddles isn’t as fun as driving stick. But it will blip the throttle on downshifts when Sport mode is selected. It does little to disguise the performance available, too.

How firm is it?

Sitting 5mm lower than the Evora 400, you’d expect the 410 to be a trifle firm on bumpy British roads. And you’d be right. But it’s certainly bearable – soaking up bumps in a manner that means you don’t, unlike in many track-oriented cars, find yourself slowing down just because it’s becoming uncomfortable.

Is it practical?

Yes and no. For a start, there are only two seats, and you’ll miss creature comforts such as a radio (we’ll come to that shortly). Parking is tricky, too – replacing glass with opaque carbonfibre has that effect. But then, we found the race-derived seats to be surprisingly comfortable, and there’s a boot big enough for a weekend bag or two. It’s certainly more liveable-with than, say, an Elise.

Tell me more about the interior…

Tell me more about the interior…

Lotus says it’s worked hard to improve the perceived quality of the interior – the sort of thing that contributes to the Porsche Cayman being the default sports car for so many buyers. While the Evora 410’s interior, which is manufactured by hand at the firm’s Hethel factory in Norfolk, isn’t exactly luxurious, it does feel special.

You sit behind the thick-rimmed, flat-bottomed wheel, while all the controls are easy to find and simple to operate. Colour-coded stitching adds a sporting element, while a large aluminium facia takes the place where there would normally be an infotainment system. It’s far from drab.

We need to talk about the price

OK, the Lotus Evora 410 isn’t cheap. It’ll set you back £82,000 – that’s £10,000 more than the Evora 400, around £18,000 more than the Cayman GT4 before it sold out, and well within Porsche 911 territory.

What about extras?

Not everyone will want an entirely stripped-out Evora. For those people, it’d be wise to save money and opt for the £72,000 Evora 400 instead, but that has a 10hp deficit and lacks the cachet of the 410’s badge. If you do want to add extra weight to the 410, you can ask Lotus to fit a radio, air-conditioning, extra sound-deadening and even leather seats. Seems a bit daft to us…

Should I buy one?

Should I buy one?

At such a huge chunk of money for a car without a radio as standard, only the most serious of enthusiasts will be able to justify a Lotus Evora 410. If you’re after a daily driver, or a car for cross-continent road trips, the lesser Evora 400 or a rival (ahem, Porsche) will be a wiser bet.

However, if you’ve got the cash to spend on an extremely competent track car and B-road blaster, the Evora 410 is one of the most satisfying cars serious drivers can buy. And you’ll still be able to use it for the odd weekend away. We’d approve.

Renaultsport Megane 275 Cup-S

Last blast: a fast farewell to the Renaultsport Megane

Renaultsport Megane 275 Cup-SVisit the Nurburgring and you’ll mostly spot three types of car in the car park: Porsche 911s, BMW M3s and Renaultsport Meganes. The Megane may have lost its front-wheel-drive lap record to the Honda Civic Type R, then the VW Golf GTI Clubsport S, but it remains a firm favourite of weekend racers.

However, a new Megane has already hit the streets and an RS version follows in late 2017. We already know it will have rear-wheel steering like the Megane GT. It may have a semi-automatic gearbox like the Renaultsport Clio. It could even have four-wheel drive. Clearly, time is running out for Renault’s old-school hot hatch.

With that in mind, we decided to have one last blast in the Megane RS: driven here in run-out 275 Cup-S spec. Join us for a fond – and very fast – farewell.

Surrey, in a hurryRenaultsport Megane 275 Cup-S

Squaring up against the 350hp Ford Focus RS, 310hp Honda Civic Type R and 300hp Volkswagen Golf R, the 275hp Megane appears to have turned up to a sword-fight brandishing a baguette. Still, we’d hardly call 0-62mph in 5.8 seconds and a top speed of 158mph slow. And it’s the way the RS goes around corners that counts.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many corners of note in south London: certainly nothing to worry the Nurburgring. So we set the sat nav for deepest Surrey, in search of roads that could at least bring those Bridgestone Potenzas up to operating temperature. Time to find out if the ageing Megane still cuts it.

A bumpy startRenaultsport Megane 275 Cup-S

We settle into the snug Recaro seat and grasp the chunky Alcantara wheel with its racecar-style centre marker. So far, so good. Then our eyes begin to wander over a dashboard that’s more akin to a mid-90s minicab. Hmmm. Creature comforts have never been the Megane’s strong suit.

Neither, it turns out, has ride quality. On stiff springs with Öhlins Road and Track adjustable dampers, the RS jitters and jars over urban pockmarks, while drain covers and sleeping policemen transmit thuds and thumps. By the time we cross the M25, we’re feeling shaken, but not stirred.

Manual labourRenaultsport Megane 275 Cup-S

We pass a national speed limit sign and, at last, it’s time to test the Megane’s mettle. Its 2.0-litre engine wakes up with a growl, punching us forward with a wallop of turbocharged torque. It may be front-wheel drive, but there’s no shortage of traction: a mechanical limited-slip differential – part of the Cup chassis pack – sees to that.

As standard, the RS has 250hp: you need to select Sport mode for the full 275 horses. Doing so also sharpens throttle response, ramping up the intensity to a level only surpassed by the Civic Type R. No doubt, the Megane still feels ferociously fast, its Akrapovic titanium exhaust popping deliciously as you stir the six-speed gearbox. It simply begs to be driven hard.

Grunt and gripRenaultsport Megane 275 Cup-S

If the Renault is quick in a straight line, that’s nothing compared to its appetite for bends. We were worried that it might simply be too taut for British tarmac, but find a flowing B-road and suddenly that stiff suspension starts to make sense. Where lesser hot hatches might float or flex, the Megane feels positively tied-down. It turns in with pinpoint precision, holding its line with the tenacity of a ravenous rottweiler. Then, that diff works its magic and catapults you towards the next corner.

Shifting to neutralRenaultsport Megane 275 Cup-S

It would be easy to get carried away, sure, but unlike many rear-wheel-drive sports cars (or indeed some hot hatches: we’re looking at you, Peugeot 205 GTI) the Megane won’t bite back. Push harder than you think sensible and it just grips. Push stupidly hard and it will understeer safely.

You’re unlikely to even get near the Renault’s limits on dry roads, although that neutral balance is reassuring in wet weather – particularly if you’ve opted for the track-focused Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres. Likewise, if you are using your car on a circuit, it’s good to know that it won’t dump you unceremoniously in the gravel the first time you make a mistake.

Steer we goRenaultsport Megane 275 Cup-S

We should also talk about the Megane’s superb steering. Instead of isolating you from the road below, it’s feels positively alive in your hands. The downside of any powerful front-driver is, inevitably, torque steer, but – for us at least – this slight unruliness under full-bore acceleration only adds to the appeal.

Besides, this is no ditch-seeking missile like the old Astra VXR. The steering weights-up consistently in corners, helping you place the car with confidence. It works with you, not against you – allowing you to explore its abilities without exceeding yours.

Beefy brakesRenaultsport Megane 275 Cup-S

What else makes the Megane great to drive? Well, there are the strong, progressive brakes, which haul the car to a halt swiftly and – so we’re told – stand up well to track-day use and abuse.

There’s also the six-speed manual gearbox, which offers a short throw and a pleasingly mechanical feel. For anyone who’s sampled the clonky EDC twin-clutch ’box in the Renaultsport Clio, that should come as no small relief. Flappy paddles? Who needs ’em?

Adrenalin shotRenaultsport Megane 275 Cup-S

Phew! We pull into a services and take a breather. The Megane might be a four-wheeled adrenalin-shot, but we still need our mid-morning dose of caffeine. Slipping a flat white and listening to the exhaust ticking as it cools gives us time to reflect. What a drive of two halves: the first an awkward and uncomfortable suburban slog, the second a riotous rural romp.

Where some hot hatches are great all-rounders (step forward, Golf GTI), the Megane is more focused, and more specific in its abilities. If said GTI is a flat white, the RS is a double espresso.

Plastic, not fantasticRenaultsport Megane 275 Cup-S

Stopping for a break also gives us time to look around the Megane’s interior. Sacré bleu. Renault must have blown its budget on the chassis, leaving nothing for niceties. The plastics are brittle, ergonomics are haphazard and build quality feels shoddy. ‘Typical French car’, you might think, but there’s no quirky Gallic charm here. Optional Recaros aside, it’s dull and slightly depressing – and don’t even get us started on that fragile, card-shaped key. No wonder Renault has had a complete re-think – including a large tablet-style touchscreen – for the latest Megane.

Track timerRenaultsport Megane 275 Cup-S

If there’s one redeeming feature inside the Megane RS, it’s the Renaultsport Monitor, a data-tracking system similar to what you’d find in a Nissan GT-R. As well as providing info about the major functions, such as turbo pressure and oil temperature, it provides real-time data about engine torque and power – plus straight-line and cornering G-forces.

With an eye on track use, there’s also a lap timer and an 0-400m and 0-62mph acceleration timer. We confess, the temptation to use the latter at traffic lights was simply too much. And yes, in case you wondered, we matched the official 5.8-second 0-62mph time after several attempts. After which we gave a clutch a well-earned rest…

Going with the flowRenaultsport Megane 275 Cup-S

Crossing the county border into Hampshire, we drove through picturesque villages linked by leafy lanes. Away from the sprawl of London, traffic had thinned and the sun finally burst through the scattering clouds. The Megane felt in its element here, hunkering down and devouring each ribbon of tarmac. One of our esteemed journalist colleagues described it as ‘the 911 GT3 of hot hatches’, and he had a point. The RS is an awesome tool at maximum attack – probably faster than a supercar on narrow roads like these – yet it ‘flows’ like only a truly great driver’s car can.

Lane disciplineRenaultsport Megane 275 Cup-S

Still, all good things must come to an end, and my patient passenger was tiring of the rock-hard ride and my attempts to play Sebastien Loeb. So we joined the M3 and headed back east, switching off the Renaultsport Monitor and switching on the radio (you can only operate one at a time).

On the motorway, the Megane felt out of its comfort zone again. Its hyperactive steering needs regular corrections to stay in lane. That radio is pretty awful, too: sound quality is tinnier than an old Renault 5. At least the exhaust offers a great soundtrack – and not one that’s augmented by the speakers, thank God.

Options add upRenaultsport Megane 275 Cup-S

The Renaultsport Megane has its faults, and there are many, but it’s certainly cheap. On paper, at least. Prices for the 275 Cup-S start at just £23,935: more than £7,000 less than a Ford Focus RS. However, much like the 911 GT3 mentioned earlier, many owners will spend big on options to transform their car into a fully-armed track terrorist.

Case in point: our test car cost a jaw-dropping £33,555, which included Recaro seats (£1,300), larger 19in alloys (£1,000), Öhlins dampers (£2,000), the Akrapovic exhaust (£2,500) and more. Sorry Renault, but at that price we’d have the Ford.

End of the affairRenaultsport Megane 275 Cup-S

We loved our brief fling with the Megane, but we’re not sold on a long-term relationship. The great thing about hot hatches is they’re multi-taskers, as capable on the school-run as the Stelvio Pass. The RS is a fabulous driving machine, no question, but it’s too compromised to be an everyday car. And frankly, if we wanted weekend fun, we’d rather put the cash towards a used Porsche Cayman. Or perhaps a Caterham for track days.

Nonetheless, we will miss the Renaultsport Megane. Its place in the history books – and in our hearts – is assured. The next Megane RS promises to be altogether different. Let’s hope it’s even half as desirable.

2016 Audi R8 Spyder review: open-air V10 thunder

2016 Audi R8 Spyder review: open-air V10 thunder

2016 Audi R8 Spyder review: open-air V10 thunder

Soft-top supercars aren’t for everyone. Floppier and slower than their coupe counterparts, some petrolheads value crucial tenths of a second on the 0-62mph run over the ability to enjoy the sun without a roof blocking its rays.

But for those of us who want to make the most of a barking V10, Audi has launched a soft-top ‘Spyder’ version of its R8 supercar. And we’ve been to Spain to try it out.

Revealed at New York

First revealed at this year’s New York Auto Show in March, we’ve finally got behind the wheel of the R8 Spyder before deliveries start in December. Essentially the same as the coupe, Audi has resisted the urge to fit a retractable hard-top to the open R8.

Why does it use a soft-top?

Using a fabric roof rather than a clever retractable hard-top might seem a strange move for a car that costs close to £130,000. But it’s all about those crucial kilos – the R8 Spyder weighs 1,612kg. While you’d certainly feel it running over your toe, it’s only 17kg more than the coupe. That’s the equivalent of carrying a four-year-old passenger.

Hit me with some figures

Hit me with some figures

So the stats: that wonderful naturally-aspirated 5.2-litre V10 produces 540hp and will propel the R8 Spyder to 62mph in 3.6 seconds. That’s a tenth of a second slower than the coupe. Meanwhile, it maxes out at 197mph (2mph slower than the hard-top).

It’s a bit slower then?

Yes, it’s marginally slower than the coupe on paper. But in reality? You’re really not going to notice the difference. At any revs, mash the accelerator and the R8 Spyder surges forward as you’re pushed back into your seat. Push it more and you start to worry that your insides are being left behind. It’s fast.

Does it sound good?

An advantage of chopping the roof off is being able to hear that naturally-aspirated V10 do its business. The sound is incredible: a satisfying ‘bwaaaaarrrrppp’ as you work through the gears (using the steering wheel paddles is equally satisfying). Lift off, with the ‘Dynamic’ Drive Select mode, er, selected, and the exhaust in sporty mode, and it’ll make pops and bangs and cracks. It’s brilliant, but could scare elderly people and children.

Can I still hear the radio?

Can I still hear the radio?

Our test car was fitted with the optional Bang & Olufsen sound system, which uses speakers in the headrests to make sure you can always hear your favourite tunes. It sounds brilliant, even above the noise of the engine popping and banging.

Tell me about the four-wheel-drive system

The R8 uses Audi’s Quattro four-wheel-drive system, with power going to all four wheels via a seven-speed S tronic paddleshift gearbox. Drivers can toggle between modes in the Drive Select menu.

How good is it at stopping?

As standard, the R8 Spyder comes with 365mm brake discs on the front and 356mm on the rear. The stopping power’s more than adequate, despite the weight (and performance) of the R8. If you’re planning to take it on track days, you can opt for carbon ceramics.

Will it drift?

Will it drift?

If you wish, you can opt for 100% of the R8’s power to go to the rear wheels. While we’ve got no doubt some spirited driving on track could get the back end out, in real-life driving conditions it feels very planted. Which is a good thing, most of the time.

Is it practical?

With just two seats, the Audi R8 doesn’t even pretend to be a practical family car. But if there’s just two of you, the cabin is easily comfortable for a pleasant European road trip. You’ll have to pack light to fit your luggage in the boot, mind: there’s just 112-litres of space in there.

It’s really easy to drive

The lovely thing about the Audi R8 Spyder is, despite its immense capabilities, it’s not at all intimidating to drive. We had the pleasure of threading it through Barcelona’s rush-hour traffic, and it felt just as happy as a TT or even an A4. Even a supercar virgin could drive this every day.

But that means it could feel a tiny bit more special

But that means it could feel a tiny bit more special

Yup, it’s a common trait of fast Audis. They’re always incredibly quick, but not quite as special or emotional as rivals from, say, Ferrari. But the latest R8 Spyder does excite us more than its predecessor, and it attracts a huge amount of attention. You’re not going to go unnoticed in one.

And it is a bit wide

At 1,940mm wide, the R8 Spyder is 60mm wider than a 911 Turbo and 36mm wider than its predecessor. On the right roads, cliche alert, it does shrink around you, but you are aware of its width in traffic.

Can I get an R8 Spyder Plus?

Although you can get the regular R8 in ‘Plus’ guise, packing an extra 70hp and hitting 62mph in 3.2 seconds, Audi hasn’t suggested it’ll offer a hotter Spyder model. Frankly, the regular one is fast enough for us.

What are its rivals?

What are its rivals?

The Audi R8 Spyder is squaring up against the Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet, which starts at £135,766 and matches the R8 for power. It hits 62mph half a second quicker, but many will prefer the R8’s image to the almost drab 911.

And there’s the Lamborghini…

There’s also the technically-very-similar Lamborghini Huracan Spyder, which shares the Audi’s platform and engine. That’s got more power, though (610hp) but it’ll cost you a staggering £205,000. We’d take the Audi.

Will it cost a fortune to run?

It goes without saying, if you’re looking at buying a V10 supercar, you’re going to need deep pockets to run it. But comparatively, the R8 does OK on the green front. Cylinder-on-demand tech has helped to reduce CO2 emissions by 10.6% compared to its predecessor, while fuel economy is improved by 13.7%.

Tell me more

Tell me more

Officially, the Audi R8 Spyder will return 24.1mpg and emit 277g/km CO2. That’s thirstier than the 911 Turbo, which returns 30.4mpg, while the £115,485 Jaguar F-Type SVR convertible is good for 25mpg. But, well, who cares?

Should I buy one?

If you’ve got a spare £130,000 to splash on a two-seat soft-top, we’d be heading straight to our nearest Audi dealer. Sure, the Porsche badge might have a little more cachet, but the incredible capability of the R8 Spyder, combined with its usability, means we’d be very happy to give one a home.

2016 Renault Scenic review: can MPVs be sexy?

2016 Renault Scenic review: can MPVs be sexy?

2016 Renault Scenic review: can MPVs be sexy?

Apparently people still buy compact people carriers. Despite typical buyers of yesteryear part-exchanging their Scenics for crossovers by droves, Renault claims sales in the sector have actually shown a small incline over the last couple of years – and it’s aiming to cash in on that by giving the Scenic ‘sex appeal’.

How is the Scenic sexy?

Yes, revealed at the 2016 Geneva Motor Show, the Scenic (and its bigger brethren, the Grand Scenic) is ‘the very last word in seductive appeal’ (Renault’s words, not ours). It features a steeply-raked panoramic windscreen, along with a two-tone colour scheme and a wider stance than its predecessor.

There’s no doubt it’s aesthetically more pleasing than the Scenic of old, but how does it drive?

How does it drive?

The new Scenic and Grand Scenic are much better to drive. No, it’s not exactly a Caterham 7 (or even a Ford C-Max for that matter), but it remains composed in corners – and the lack of bodyroll should help keep child sickness at bay. The steering is on the light side… we’d like a bit more feedback at higher speeds, but it’s a breeze to manoeuvre through town (visibility helps there, too).

It’s on 20-inch alloys

It’s on 20-inch alloys

The Scenic’s handling is helped by the 20-inch alloys, standard on all models. We’re used to seeing stunning-looking cars on huge alloys at motor shows, but the attractive looks are often a little spoilt by speccing the entry-level model with 17-inch steelies. Renault is making a bold move with its new Scenic (and bigger Grand Scenic) by only offering it on larger wheels.

Doesn’t that ruin the ride?

A little. Renault says the 107mm tyre wall is the same as the 17-inch wheel on its predecessor, meaning you won’t feel every lump and bump in the road like you do in some cars fitted with big alloys. While it’s true that the Scenic has a moderately compliant ride, it’s not exactly the French waftmobile you might be looking for. We are yet to drive it on UK roads, but we suspect we might be longing for smaller wheels.

What about the cost of tyres?

Another drawback or big alloys is the pricier tyres that go with them. Renault says it’s been working with major tyre manufacturers to ensure it won’t cost any more to replace the tyres on a new scenic than if it was fitted with 17-inchers. A quick online search suggests you’ll have to budget around £120 a tyre to replace them on the new Scenic. That’s not cheap.

It is a bit noisy

It is a bit noisy

There’s only so much engineers can do to reduce wind noise created by something the shape of the Renault Scenic, but we were still surprised by how noisy it is at motorway speeds. Both the Scenic and Grand Scenic models had us checking to see if we’d mistakenly left a window slightly open. It could get very annoying on long journeys.

How big’s the boot?

If you’re considering a Scenic, you’re likely to be more concerned by practicality than how fun it is to drive. We’ll hit you with some stats: the Renault Scenic boasts a best-in-class 572 litres of boot space, while the Grand Scenic has 596 litres.

There’s a catch…

The Renault Grand Scenic is a seven-seater, and with those rear seats in place, boot space is pretty woeful (just 189 litres, or barely half the size of a Ford Focus hatchback). That’s the norm for this sector… give a compact MPV seven seats and a big boot and it’ll no longer be, well, compact.

That aside, is it pretty practical?

That aside, is it pretty practical?

Underfloor compartments along with a clever sliding centre console means there’s plenty of storage space, and kids should be fairly happy in the back. It’s not overly roomy if you’re carrying adult passengers in the rear, however – and the third row of seats on the Grand Scenic really are for occasional use only.

It doesn’t feel like an MPV

One reason that many previous buyers of compact MPVs have turned towards crossovers is that, in the old days, they used to be pretty horrible to drive. We’re not talking about the nuances of their handling, but everything from the bus-like driving position to the plethora of wipe-clean plastics in the cabin. While there’s still some of the latter (although the cabin is fairly upmarket), you sit relatively low down in the Scenic and the huge panoramic sunroof fitted to our test car made for an airy cabin.

Is it safe?

If you’re looking for a car to carry your kids, you understandably want the safest you can buy. The Scenic’s been awarded a five-star Euro NCAP crash rating, with reinforced steels used to keep your family safe in the event of a crash. There’s a host of technology, too – such as fatigue alert, which monitors the driver and tells them to pull over if they’re showing signs of being tired.

It’s got a neat 8.7-inch infotainment screen

It’s got a neat 8.7-inch infotainment screen

Buttons are out, huge tablet-esque infotainment screens are in. We’ve already seen Renault’s latest portrait attempt in the Megane, and it’s a fairly intuitive system to use. Standard on the top two trims, R-Link 2 looks great, but can be a little slow to respond.

But there are still some buttons…

Despite this, Renault hasn’t entirely eliminated the buttons from the dash. Some are a little awkwardly-placed (the cruise control looks to have been located for the convenience of front-seat passengers, for example), and others seem to do little more than act as shortcuts to some of the R-Links functions.

Talk to me about engines

Buyers get a wide choice of engines: from a 115hp 1.2-litre petrol to a 160hp 1.6-litre diesel. We tried the regular Scenic in 130hp 1.2-litre guise, and found it to be well up to the job of shifting the people carrier. It’s a little noisy when pushed, and the six-speed gearbox is a little clunky to use, but it’s a likeable powertrain overall.

What about the diesel?

What about the diesel?

We also spent some time driving the Grand Scenic with the 160hp diesel engine with the six-speed automatic gearbox. This is better suited to the hauling around the extra mass of the seven-seater. The auto ‘box is quick enough to respond (selecting sport mode allows hastier roundabout negotiations), and the diesel engine is a refined unit.

How efficient is the Scenic?

Officially, the petrol TCe 130 Scenic we tested returns 48.7mpg and emits 129g/km CO2. The top-of-the-range 160hp dCi diesel returns 60.1mpg and 122g/km CO2 in Grand Scenic guise. While the diesel would be tempting for high-mileage users, we wouldn’t automatically dismiss the petrol.

There’s a ‘hybrid assist’ model

For those wanting maximum eco points, Renault’s jumping on the hybrid bandcamp. It’s in a slightly half-hearted manner, though, with its ‘hybrid assist’ model. This combines the dCi 110 diesel engine with a 10kW electric motor which recuperates energy during deceleration and provides as much as 11lb ft of extra torque when required.

Is the hybrid assist worth the extra?

Is the hybrid assist worth the extra?

The result is a drop in CO2 emissions from 100g/km to 92g/km and improved MPG from 72 to 80. We don’t know how much it’ll cost when it makes it to the UK, but advantages in terms of road and company car tax are minimal. Worth the extra? Probably not.

What are its rivals?

The Scenic’s main competitor is fellow French MPV, the futuristic Citroen C4 Picasso – and you should also consider the Ford C-Max and Volkswagen Tiguan. Our first impressions suggest it should be high up on your shortlist.

Verdict: 2016 Renault Scenic

We remain to be convinced that there is much of a market for the Scenic and Grand Scenic – we’d sooner drive a Captur or Kadjar – but if you’ve decided a compact MPV will work for you, there’s a lot to like about the Scenic.

While we’ll stop short of describing it as ‘sexy’, it’s certainly a more interesting and appealing proposition that Scenics of old – and more attractive than drab rivals such as the Volkswagen Tiguan, too.

Renault Megane 1.6 TCe 205 GT Nav (2016)

Renault Megane 1.6 TCE 205 GT Nav (2016) review

Renault Megane 1.6 TCe 205 GT Nav (2016)The new Renault Megane is such an important car for Renault, it couldn’t wait to let us drive it. We first drove it back in the tail end of 2015 but only now is it arriving in UK dealer showrooms. Time for a reminder of what the fourth generation of Renault’s Volkswagen Golf alternative is like.

A very good looking car indeed, that’s what it’s like. Easily the best-looking family hatch you can buy, no? The gorgeous design is particularly smart in some of Renault’s smart new colours, such as the Iron Blue hue our GT test car came in. Renault knows styling sells: the Megane will do well before people even get behind the wheel.

Prices and deals

Renault Megane 1.6 TCe 205 GT Nav (2016)

The new Megane range starts from a very keen £16,600 but we went straight to the top of the range here with the 205 1.6-litre TCe GT Nav. Boasting a seven-speed EDC automatic as standard, it costs £25,500: that’s Ford Focus ST territory. The Ford perhaps is the exception though: a Volkswagen Golf GTI costs £28,500. The GT is a warm hatch Renault: the new Renault Sport Megane follows later…

Renault will happily give you £1,750 towards the deposit on its three-year PCP deal if you’re keen: with an APR of 3.99%, this means a GT Megane would cost £359 a month, with an up-front customer deposit of £3,301. That seems a bit steep to us: deals on rivals can take the monthly cost to below £300 a month.

What are its rivals?

Renault Megane 1.6 TCe 205 GT Nav (2016)

As mentioned, the new Megane GT is priced like a Ford Focus ST but has a 45hp power deficit; it’s not the full-fat hot hatch Renault’s planning to take on the Ford, Volkswagen and others. See it instead as a well-equipped, uniquely-styled warm hatch alternative to cars such as the Peugeot 308 GT and SEAT Leon FR.

Let’s hope the Renault’s bespoke styling and kit-packed cabin convinces customers: it looks pricey compared to a £21,285 Vauxhall Astra SRi Nav 1.6T 200 or a £23,610 Kia Cee’d GT. And back to that Focus ST: it starts at just £22,750, with even an ST-2 costing £1,000 less than the Renault…

What engine does it use?

Renault Megane 1.6 TCe 205 GT Nav (2016)

The 1.6-litre turbo engine is a Renault Nissan Alliance staple used in other hot models from the two brands; the Renault Sport Clio, Nissan Juke Nismo and Nissan Pulsar 1.6 DiG-T amongst others (well, two out of three ain’t bad…). 205 hp is complemented by 207lb-ft of torque. The dual-clutch EDC transmission is your only choice.

There’s something else too: Renault fits electronic rear-wheel steering to the Megane GT. With just 2.3 turns lock-to-lock, it’s very fast and gives the manoeuvrability of a much smaller car without trading stability at speed. Sector-unique tech, it’s a real standout feature of the GT.

How fast?

Renault Megane 1.6 TCe 205 GT Nav (2016)

The seven-speed EDC’s launch control function helps it consistently run 0-62mph in 7.1 seconds, just a hair’s breadth behind a Ford Fiesta ST. As there’s more chance of them fluffing a gearchange, your traffic light grand prix status should be secure. It’s capable of 143mph all-out.

How do you use Renault launch control? Left foot on the brake pedal, pull and hold both gearshift paddles until ‘Launch Control On’ flashes on the dash. Floor the accelerator, release the brake pedal: cue the perfect launch.

Is it comfortable?

Renault Megane 1.6 TCe 205 GT Nav (2016)

Big wheels mean the ride is a bit flaky in town, but it smooths out at speed. This is intentionally more GT than hot hatch so, if anything, the suspension might feel a touch too soft when you’re really chucking it about: generally, though, it’s a reasonably comfortable middle ground, with generally good body control. It’s quiet too, and Renault’s kept road bump-thump noise at bay.

Will I enjoy driving it?

Renault Megane 1.6 TCe 205 GT Nav (2016)

You’ll find driving the Megane GT fascinating for one reason: the rear-wheel steering. This gives it stand-out agility for a family hatch: you can feel the rear end turning as soon as you move the steering wheel, making it very responsive and sharp. It’s not unnerving though: while not particularly purist, it does make the GT more interesting to drive.

Fuel economy and running costs

Renault Megane 1.6 TCe 205 GT Nav (2016)

In common with many fizzed-up downsized turbo petrols, the 47.1mpg claimed economy of this 205hp motor is impressive (and aided by the EDC gearbox’s efficient shift patterns in auto mode). CO2 of 134g/km will keep it out of 2017’s punitive £500 VED tax band and Renault’s four-year warranty can be combined with a £499 four-year service pack to further control running costs. Just be careful of those big 18-inch diamond-cut alloys on kerbs…

What’s the interior like?

Renault Megane 1.6 TCe 205 GT Nav (2016)

The dashboard is dominated by a big Tesla-style touchscreen that works really well. It’s a feature of the pricier Meganes and is worth the upgrade as it’s a treat to use. The GT’s ultra-deep, bolstered front seats are excellent, and the configurable electronic dial pack is top-notch. The steering wheel is gorgeous too.

Is it practical?

Renault Megane 1.6 TCe 205 GT Nav (2016)

It looks superb yet still has five doors and a hatchback: this is good. What’s less good is interior packaging. It’s OK up front. The problem is the rear. Getting in and out is tricky and legroom is far too tight for a supposed family-friendly car. Time and again this is a grumble of French family hatchbacks: despite its all-new platform, the new Megane is no exception.

The boot is decent on paper with a 384-litre load space (four litres more than a VW Golf, note), although the oddly broad sill might make it tricky for some – loading items in will be OK but getting them out might be a stretch. Oh, and why, Renault, is there such a large upswept wiper patch on the driver’s side, blocking inches of forward vision in the rain?

Tell me about the tech

Renault Megane 1.6 TCe 205 GT Nav (2016)

Four-wheel steering turns the rear wheels opposite to the fronts at low speeds, to aid agility, then in the same direction at high speeds to boost stability. Full LED headlights are paired with fine-looking LED units at the rear and, within the Tesla-style touchscreen, ‘multi-sense’ driving mode settings allow you to customise a whole host of settings even down to the engine sound.

What about safety?

Renault Megane 1.6 TCe 205 GT Nav (2016)

Renaults always perform well in Euro NCAP crash tests and this new one isn’t an exception: it scored five stars in 2015. Standard safety kit includes lane departure warning, traffic sign recognition, speed limiter and understeer detection: AEB automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control are a bargain £400 option.

Which version should I go for?

Renault Megane 1.6 TCe 205 GT Nav (2016)

The GT Megane currently only offers the warmish 205hp 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine. If you want anything more economical, you’ll have to go for the cheaper GT-look GT Line Nav, which has 1.2-litre petrol and 1.5-litre dCi diesel options. Next year, though, a 165hp twin-turbo 1.6-litre dCi will come in four-wheel-steer GT trim. We’d probably go for that one.

What’s the used alternative?

A Golf GTI is more expensive new but it’s certainly not secondhand: hunt out a nearly-new GTI or GTD for an appealing alternative to the Megane GT. If it’s not hot enough for you, also consider the runout Megane Renault Sport Cup-S (get one new, while you can, from £23,995, or much less if you can find a pre-registered one).

Should I buy one?

Renault Megane 1.6 TCe 205 GT Nav (2016)

We’d probably wait for that twin-turbo diesel, frankly. Or maybe the full-fat Renault Sport Megane. The GT is interesting, with its sharp four-wheel steering and beautiful styling (honestly, it’s a peach to look at). But it occupies an odd middle ground: British buyers in particular prefer hot to warm and, when a Ford Focus ST is so comparatively well priced (and, ironically, so much more practical), it’s hard to see how the Megane GT might sway you. Unless, that is, styling really does sell.

Pub fact

Renault Megane 1.6 TCe 205 GT Nav (2016)

This may not be a Renault Sport Megane but Renault Sport has still had a hand in it, fitting bespoke springs, dampers and anti-roll bars. The chassis thus shows breeding missing from lesser Meganes and is a more satisfying warm hatch than most.

BMW M4 Competition Pack

BMW M4 Competition Pack (2016) road test review

BMW M4 Competition PackHarder, better, faster and, er, more expensive, the Competition Pack cranks the BMW M4 up to 11. For an extra £3,000, the M4 coupe – and its M3 saloon sibling – gain 19 hp, adaptive suspension, sports seats, stylish 20-inch alloy wheels and a fruitier exhaust. Are the upgrades worth it, or is BMW simply gilding the lily?

Prices and dealsBMW dealer

At the time of writing, the M4 Competition Pack costs £60,065, or £62,560 with the DCT semi-automatic gearbox as tested. That’s about £500 more than an equivalent M3, or £3,000 less than the M4 convertible. However, we found discounts of nearly £10,000 on M4 DCTs via ‘reverse auction’ website, AutoeBid – so expect similar savings on Competition Pack cars.

What are its rivals?Mercedes-AMG C63 Coupe

Until the new Audi RS5 arrives, the M4 has one major rival: the Mercedes-AMG C63 coupe. With 476 hp from its 4.0-litre V8 (or 510 hp in full-fat ‘S’ spec), the muscle-Merc trumps the M4 for outright power – and has a better soundtrack. However, the BMW is a more satisfying steer on a twisty road. You could also consider the Lexus RC F and Porsche 911 Carrera.

What engine does it use?BMW M4 Competition Pack

The BMW can’t match the C63 for cubic inches, but its 3.0-litre twin-turbo straight six develops a stonking 150 hp per litre. For those who struggle with maths, that’s a grand total of 450 hp – up 19hp on the standard M4. Maximum power arrives at a heady 7,000 rpm, meaning you need to rev this engine hard to get the best from it. Note the carbon fibre strut brace to stiffen the chassis.

How fast?BMW M4 Competition Pack

You want figures? How about 0-62 mph in 4.0 seconds for the DCT version? Choose a manual gearbox and you’ll lag 0.1 seconds behind at the lights. Which serves you right for trying to save money, frankly. Either way, the M4 Competition Pack is 0.1 seconds quicker off the line than the standard car. Top speed is limited to 155mph.

Is it comfortable?BMW M4 Competition Pack

Those 20-inch machine-polished alloy wheels look fantastic, but they don’t do ride quality any favours (the regular M4 has 19s). Even in Comfort mode, you feel every ripple in the road surface. That said, the M4 doesn’t thump and bang through potholes like some sports cars. And its race-style seats are supportive and well-padded. Full marks for the M-striped seatbelts, too.

Will I enjoy driving it?BMW M4 Competition Pack

Oh yes. The M4 has faced criticism for being too soft, but the Competition Pack sharpens up its edges. It’s ferociously fast, and the chassis is a textbook example of rear-wheel-drive adjustability. Well-weighted steering and a flawless semi-automatic gearbox complete the package. Compared to the C63 AMG, you work a bit harder to experience the BMW’s ample rewards. But that’s hardly a chore, right?

Fuel economy and running costsBMW M4 Competition Pack

The most efficient non-hybrid BMW 3 Series – the 320d EfficientDynamics auto – returns fuel economy of 74.3mpg. The M4 manages less than half that, with official figures of 32.1mpg for the manual and 34.0mpg for the DCT. CO2 emissions of 194g/km mean you’ll pay £500 car tax in the first year and £270 per year thereafter.

What’s the interior like?BMW M4 Competition Pack

The interior of the 4 Series dates back to 2012. Compared with the latest Audi A4/A5 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, the plastics seem a little cheap and the design a little dated. We can’t fault the ergonomics, though. Traditional BMW white-on-black dials and a centre console angled towards the driver were supplemented by an £825 head-up display in our test car. There’s also the excellent iDrive media system, which we’ll come to in a minute…

Is it practical?BMW M4 Competition Pack

For anyone who’s ever squeezed into the back of a Porsche 911, the M4’s two proper, adult-sized rear seats will be a revelation. It’s a little dark back there, and access is awkward behind the bulky sports seats. But if you regularly carry passengers, you could always buy the M3 saloon instead. The M4 also has a decent 445-litre boot – about the same as a Nissan Qashqai.

Tell me about the techBMW M4 Competition Pack

We rate BMW’s iDrive media system as the joint-best available, along with Audi’s MMI. Its widescreen display is mounted high on the dashboard, and the ‘clickwheel’ controller is easy to operate without taking your eyes off the road. It’s far superior to Mercedes’ Comand, and we prefer it to the various touchscreen systems available, too. Standard kit includes Bluetooth phone connectivity, DAB radio and in-car wi-fi. We’d also be tempted to splash out £675 on the premium Harmon Kardon hi-fi.

What about safety?BMW M4 Competition Pack

The closely-related BMW 3 Series scored a full five stars in Euro NCAP crash tests, and there’s no reason to think the M4 would be any different. All cars come with side and curtain airbags and advanced stability/traction control. Even so, with 450 horses on tap, the biggest threat to your safety (and driving licence) will be your right foot…

Which version should I go for?BMW M4 Competition Pack

The obvious question here is: should you go for the Competition Pack? We certainly would, and BMW expects 70% of buyers to follow suit. With improvements to performance, handling, noise and appearance, the Competition Pack simply makes for a better M4. And its £3,000 additional cost looks modest in the context of a £60,000 car. The only downside is the firmer ride, but we think that’s a fair trade-off for improved agility.

What’s the used alternative?BMW M3

If you don’t have £60,000 to spend on a new M4, the E46 M3 offers just as much fun – perhaps more – for a fraction of the cost. Built from 2000-2006, it’s powered by a 343 hp naturally-aspirated six redlined at 8,000 rpm. Responsive and rear-wheel drive, the E46 remains one of our favourite BMW M cars. Prices start at just £7,000, although we’d budget at least five figures for a good one.

Should I buy one?BMW M4 Competition Pack

Cards on the table, we prefer the titanic torque and aural drama of the Mercedes-AMG C63 to the subtler charms of the M4 Competition Pack. The BMW would best for a track day, but the more exciting Mercedes has the edge on the road. There’s also a BMW M2-shaped elephant in the room. Smaller, cheaper and more fun, the new M2 is our current favourite M car.

Pub factBMW M4 GTS

Even the Competition Pack enhancements don’t make this the hottest M4. That honour goes to the M4 GTS: a lightweight, 500 hp rival for the Porsche 911 GT3. With two seats, a front splitter that doesn’t do speed humps and a price tag of, ahem, £122,000, the GTS gives two fingers to everyday usability in favour of track-focused performance. One for the lottery-win garage, perhaps?

2016 Hyundai Ioniq review: high-tech hybrid/electric car takes on Toyota Prius

2016 Hyundai Ioniq review: high-tech hybrid/electric car takes on Toyota Prius

Hyundai has done something very clever. It’s jumped on the anti-diesel sentiment currently being felt across the car industry, launched an eco-friendly car that caters for all people (in hybrid, plug-in hybrid and fully-electric guises) and offered it at a very reasonable price. The question is, should you buy one over its obvious rival, the Toyota Prius?

It’s cheap

We touched on the price. It starts at £19,995 for the hybrid model in entry-level SE guise. That’s more than £3,000 less than the Prius, and a smidgen more affordable than the cheapest diesel Volkswagen Golf. Suddenly futuristic tech is within reach of the everyday company car driver, or private family buyer.

What about the other models?

The fully-electric version starts at £28,995 in Premium trim – that’s before the plug-in car grant, potentially saving you £4,500 and bringing it close to the popular Nissan Leaf.

It’s very normal to drive

It’s very normal to drive

We don’t mean this in a bad way, but unlike many futuristic electric cars, the Hyundai Ioniq feels very normal to drive. That means you don’t have to be an early-adopter making a statement to buy one. Anyone who wants to switch out of a diesel Golf should feel comfortable driving it.

The electric version is more convincing than the hybrid

In reality, most buyers will opt for the hybrid (or plug-in hybrid, due to follow in 2017) as range-anxiety will influence their buying decision. But we say, if you’re prepared to take the leap, and don’t regularly trek across the country, do it properly and opt for the electric version. It’s a more enjoyable experience without the noisy petrol engine kicking in when you give it the beans, and it’s surprisingly fun in a ‘futuristic spaceship’ kinda way.

What’s the electric Ioniq’s range?

So, the killer question: how far will the electric Hyundai Ioniq travel on a charge? The answer is a claimed 174 miles. Even allowing for an element of ‘real life’, how often do you complete journeys longer than that? And when you do, the UK motorway network is now covered with fast chargers at service stations.

It features clever regen braking

It features clever regen braking

We’re used to electric cars featuring regenerative braking – essentially, it captures the car’s kinetic energy and pumps it back into the battery when you’re slowing down. But the electric Ioniq allows you to ramp up the regen using paddles behind the steering wheel – similar to the Outlander PHEV. On maximum ‘stage-three’ regen, you can practically drive around town without using the brakes.

It’s very aerodynamic

Of course, all eco-friendly cars are designed with aerodynamics in mind, but the Ioniq’s drag coefficient of 0.24 Cd is genuinely impressive. It’s gone a step further than simply being a sleek shape – we’re talking an active air flap in the grille of the hybrid and plug-in hybrid model, while all versions come with a rear spoiler and diffuser, as well as a sleek underbody cover.

Tell me about the hybrid Ioniq

The hybrid Ioniq combines a 105hp 1.6-litre petrol engine with an electric motor producing 43.5hp. It’ll hit 0-62mph in 10.8 seconds, while drive in a sensible manner and you’ll see 83.1mpg. That’s as long as you don’t get carried away with the Sport mode…

Yes, it has a Sport mode

Yes, it has a Sport mode

You won’t find one of these in a Prius: the Hyundai Ioniq features a Sport mode, which holds onto gears for longer, changes the colours of the dials and makes the steering heavier. OK, it’s a teeny bit pointless, but it’s fun. Hyundai is marketing the Ioniq has a car that’s fun to drive. It’s no sports car, but it’s certainly not as painful for enthusiastic drivers as many hybrids.

The hybrid model has proper old-school body-roll

If you do drive enthusiastically, you’ll notice a lot of body-roll in the hybrid model. The electric version seems tighter, somehow – presumably those heavy batteries located low down help lower the centre of gravity. Indeed, the Ioniq has a lower centre of gravity than a Mk7 Golf GTI.

It’s got a proper gearbox

There’s a tendency for manufacturers to use CVT transmissions in hybrid cars – they’re both cheaper and an easier way to reduce CO2 emissions. But Hyundai UK CEO Tony Whitehorn told us ‘driveability was more important’, so the Ioniq comes with a six-speed dual clutch transmission. It’s fast to respond, although you’ll be disappointed if you’re expecting racing-car-style paddles for gear changing…

Talk to me about emissions

Talk to me about emissions

The hybrid Ioniq officially emits 79g/km CO2, meaning it won’t cost you anything in road tax, while company car users will benefit from its 15% BIK band. At 70g/km, the Prius is marginally better, meaning it’ll cost slightly less in company car tax. The Prius will qualify for London congestion charge exemption, too – for now.

The interior is fairly normal

Just like the driving experience, the Ioniq’s interior is relatively normal (in both hybrid and electric guises). It’s certainly not premium, but standard specification is good, with DAB radio, cruise control and a rear-view camera standard on the entry-level model.

It features recycled bits

Despite feeling relatively normal, the interior of the Ioniq is rather friendly towards the environment. The headlining and carpet use materials extracted from sugar cane, for example, while the interior door covers are made of natural plastic combined with powdered wood and volcanic stone. Again, you can’t really tell… in a good way.

It’s fairly practical

It’s fairly practical

In the Uber age, it’s crucial that cars like the Prius and Ioniq are just as pleasant for rear-seat passengers as the driver. The cabin has an airy feeling, with plenty of room for adults in the rear.

What about the boot?

By hiding the batteries under the boot floor in the hybrid Ioniq, luggage space is fairly impressive – at 550 litres. That’s bigger than the Toyota Prius, although it does seem on the shallow side compared to conventional rivals.

So, should I buy one?

It’s very convincing, the Hyundai Ioniq. It’s not hugely ground-breaking… most of the tech we’ve seen before, but it’s a very complete package offered at the right price at the right time. We suspect Hyundai’s onto a winner.

For

  • Good value for money
  • Not as weird as you might expect
  • Impressive range from electric version

Against

  • The hybrid version isn’t as convincing as the electric model
  • Toyota Prius has lower CO2 emissions than hybrid Ioniq
  • It’s not particularly exciting

2016 Hyundai Ioniq hybrid: specifications

Price: £19,995 (from)

Engine: 1.6-litre petrol combined with electric motor

Gearbox: six-speed automatic DCT

Power: 141hp

Torque: 108lb ft

0-62mph: 10.8 seconds

Top speed: 115mph

Fuel economy: 83.1mpg

CO2 emissions: 79g/km

Length/width/height: 4470/1820/1450mm

Kerb weight: 1370kg

2016 MG GS review: can an MG be an SUV?

2016 MG GS review: can an MG be an SUV?

2016 MG GS review: can an MG be an SUV?

‘Can an MG be an SUV?’. It’s almost like Matthew Cheyne, MG’s sales and marketing chief, was reading our lips. But at a time when upmarket Brit brands such as Bentley and Jaguar are selling SUVs, and most mainstream manufacturers have had a crossover in their line-up for years, the question is more like ‘why has it taken MG this long?’.

Since the MG6 was launched as the brand’s first new car under Chinese ownership in 2011, the firm’s had a slow start. Last year it sold slightly more than 3,000 cars. In 2016, it wants to sell 5,000 cars. That’s almost a healthy number – at least, it is compared to the 782 it sold in 2012. By 2017, it wants to be at 7,500. The future? Who knows – it could be looking at the dizzying heights of tens of thousands (for context: Skoda registered roughly 75,000 cars in the UK last year, Nissan 154,000 and Ford 335,000).

The firm is being realistic about its sales expectations. But how is it going to grow? Much to the anger of enthusiasts, it needs its own Nissan Qashqai. And that’s where the MG GS comes in.

Haters gonna hate

Haters gonna hate

As Cheyne pointed out in the press conference ahead of our drive, MG founder Cecil Kimber described his cars as affordable and fun to drive – but, crucially, didn’t mention anything about them being two-seat sports cars. So if you’re reading this review ready to light up the comments about how the GS ‘isn’t a real MG’, that’s how the firm’s justifying it in terms of its heritage.

It’s not enthusiasts that the brand needs to chase, however – not if it’s going to sell in serious numbers. It’s Qashqai man on a budget. Qashman, if you will (OK, let’s not).

If Qashqai man feels strongly about buying a British car, he should head to his Nissan dealer. Ironically, the Qashqai is built at the firm’s plant in Sunderland, while the MG GS is produced entirely in China. Previously, MG has tried to sell itself as British by bringing in the 3 and 6 as knocked-down kits and putting them together at the old MG Rover factory at Longbridge, Birmingham.

That pretence has been dropped with the MG GS. Although designed in the UK in cooperation with China, and developed for European roads, the MG is made entirely in China. Haters gonna hate. But is that such a bad thing?

You can’t get a diesel

You can’t get a diesel

Straight-talking Cheyne is open about the GS’s approach: it needs to be cheap. There’s no talk of premium aspirations here (refreshingly) – it needs to offer more for less. One way they’ve tried to achieve that is by keeping the options to the bare minimum.

There are three trim levels: entry-level Explore, mid-range Excite and range-topping Exclusive. All come with the same engine, a 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol unit, and all are front-wheel drive. By limiting powertrain choices, MG says it’s making savings that it can pass onto the buyer. Why spend money developing a suitable diesel engine when diesel’s popularity is in decline – and why offer four-wheel drive when very few crossover buyers need that?

It’s a strategy we’ve seen before with the MG6 and MG3. Interestingly, at launch you could only buy a 6 with a petrol engine. Some blamed poor sales on the lack of a diesel offering – so they eventually introduced one, and quietly dropped the petrol. They’ve reportedly this week given up on the MG6 entirely.

There are two gearboxes available: a six-speed manual or a seven-speed dual-clutch auto. On its launch in Oxfordshire, we only drove the GS with the automatic gearbox. It’s not the premium experience we’d expect from a top-spec SUV, even if it is only £20,995. The gearbox is jerky and easily flustered.

The engine, however, is a bit more likeable. Once the gearbox untangles itself, it’s happy to make progress, although an uncomfortable amount of engine noise makes its way into the cabin. There’s also a degree of vibration passing through the throttle pedal, while the steering is lighter than we’d like and has a bit of a dead-spot around the straight ahead.

Ride is OK – but no more, especially on the 18-inch alloys of our test car. On broken rural roads, it gets flustered easily, struggling to smooth out imperfections in the road surface. Things are better on the motorway. At 70mph, the GS cruises well and wind noise is adequately dampened.

It’s a bit cheap inside

It’s a bit cheap inside

We drove the top spec Exclusive, meaning our test car had electrically-adjustable electric seats, DAB radio and satellite navigation. But it still didn’t feel remotely premium.

There are lots of hard plastics inside, as well as an overwhelming number of buttons. The dash looks very old fashioned – it wouldn’t have been out of place 10 years ago. The infotainment system feels like a cheap, own-brand iPad – but it functions fairly well, and is simple and intuitive to use. It’s a step in the right direction for MG.

It’s easy to get comfortable, with plenty of adjustment in the seat and steering wheel. People buy crossovers for their commanding driving position – and they’re not going to be disappointed here. Visibility is very good, meaning family buyers will feel safe driving the GS – and kids shouldn’t get car sick.

Space is good, too. The boot is bigger than a Qashqai, while rear legroom is brilliant – no doubt helped by the GS’s lengthy wheelbase. Those with longer legs might find the seating position in the rear slightly awkward, however.

MG GS: Early verdict

MG GS: Early verdict

MG is a little late to the party with the GS. There are plenty of crossovers to choose from, and most are better. The engine is a bit unrefined and the interior is adequate at best.

It makes the most sense, we feel, in entry-level Explore trim. As a practical, family crossover for £15,000, it represents fair value for money – especially when you consider its five-year warranty. It’ll stand out in a car park of Nissan Qashqais, and also offers decent practicality. You might want to keep hold of it for a while, though – residual values will probably make it look less of a bargain if you sell after a few years.

For:

  • Good value for money
  • Rarer than a Nissan Qashqai
  • More convincing than previous MGs

Against:

  • Feels very cheap
  • Automatic gearbox is poor
  • Ride is easily unsettled

2016 MG GS Exclusive auto: specification

Price: £20,995

Engine: 1.5-litre turbo petrol

Gearbox: seven-speed dual clutch auto

Power: 140hp

Torque: 166lb ft

0-62mph: 9.6 seconds

Top speed: 112mph

Fuel economy: 45.5mpg

CO2 emissions: 141g/km

Volvo V90

2016 Volvo V90 review: luxury estate takes on the Germans

Volvo V90

The year is 1986 and I am seven years old. I’m in the back of our Volvo 240 GL estate as ‘Hip to be Square’, the new hit from Huey Lewis and the News, blasts over the two-speaker radio/cassette. We’re heading to a National Trust garden, the sort of place that, as an adult, I would probably enjoy but at the time I thought deeply uncool. In my eyes, the Volvo is deeply uncool, too. It’s square, but it certainly ain’t hip.

Fast-forward 30 years and I’m in Spain to drive Volvo’s latest estate, the V90. It’s a sleek machine, with a steeply-raked tailgate that prioritises style over luggage space. It has advanced self-driving technology and a luxurious, minimalist interior. And it’s available as a 407hp ‘Twin Engine’ plug-in hybrid. I think the seven-year-old me might consider it cool.

It’s undeniably upmarket, too. After years in the wilderness between mainstream and premium, Volvo is aiming its flagship estate squarely at the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, Jaguar XF and Mercedes-Benz E-class. Prices at launch start from £34,555, with a choice of two four-cylinder diesel engines, plus front- or four-wheel drive. Cars arrive in the UK in October 2016, with the T8 hybrid following a few months later.

Volvo V90

A lack of six appeal?

The V90 and S90 saloon use the same SPA (Scalable Product Architecture) platform as the highly-acclaimed XC90 SUV. That means a mixture of aluminium and steel construction, plus double-wishbone front suspension with a composite leaf spring at the rear. Air suspension is a £950 option, fitted to our test car.

The front-drive 190hp D4 reaches 62mph in 8.5sec and returns 62.8mpg with the standard eight-speed automatic gearbox. CO2 emissions of 119g/km equate to free car tax in the first year, then £30 a year thereafter.

Spend an extra £7,000 on the 235hp D5, available with four-wheel drive only, and you’ll hit 62mph in 7.2sec and achieve a (theoretical) 57.6mpg. Emissions creep up to 129g/km, meaning no tax in the showroom, but £110 a year beyond that. We don’t have figures for the 407hp T8 hybrid yet, but expect 0-62mph in less than 5.5sec and (very theoretical) fuel economy of around 140mpg.

You’ll notice the glaring absence of a six-cylinder diesel engine to match rivals. Can Volvo’s turbocharged fours justify a premium price-tag? Time to drive the V90 and find out…

Volvo V90

A car that doesn’t like to hurried

Volvo expects the entry-level D4 engine to account for 70% of sales. Predictably, though, only the gruntier D5 (20% of sales, with the T8 taking the remaining 10%) was available to drive at launch.

Thanks to a compressed-air injection system Volvo calls Powerpulse, turbo lag is virtually non-existent and the D5 provides brisk acceleration and punchy overtaking ability. The engine is all-but inaudible at cruising speeds, but work it hard and there’s no doubt this is a four-cylinder diesel. It lacks the creamy smoothness of, say, a BMW six.

The V90 isn’t billed as a sports estate and, frankly, it isn’t. There’s a fair amount of body-roll when cornering and the auto ’box gets flustered if rushed. Switching to Dynamic mode sharpens up the chassis, but gives the steering an oddly inconsistent feel.

Volvo V90

Cosseted in class-leading comfort

So it’s no BMW to drive, but that’s missing the point. Comfort is the V90’s raison d’etre and where it excels. Volvo seats really are the best in the business, with supple leather, plenty of padding and standard Swedish-spec heaters. They’re like your favourite armchair with a bit more lateral support.

The news is nearly as good for rear-seat passengers. Unlike my parents’ 240, which had two pop-up, rear-facing child seats in the boot, the V90 only has space for five. If you need seven seats, you’ll need to trade-up to the XC90. However, three adults can get comfortable in the back, as long as the middle passenger doesn’t object to having his/her legs splayed either side of the wide transmission tunnel.

Ride comfort isn’t quite so impressive, although our test car was fitted with optional 20-inch alloy wheels (£1,700). Doubtless the standard 18-inchers would be more forgiving.

Volvo V90

The boot could be bigger, though

Say what you like about the old 240 (and trust me, I did), its set-square design meant it had a huge boot. When I eventually went to university, we crammed my entire worldly goods in there.

The V90 is slipperier, more curvaceous, more aerodynamic and undoubtedly more stylish. But valuable boot space has been sacrificed for that sloping rear end, meaning it isn’t quite the wardrobe-swallowing wagon you might expect.

Volvo quotes boot capacity as 723 litres with the rear seats in place, or 1,526 litres with them folded flat. That compares to 560 and 1,670 litres in the BMW 5 Series Touring, or 695 and 1,950 litres in the (soon-to-be-replaced) Mercedes-Benz E-Class estate. And the much cheaper Skoda Superb estate offers 660 and 1,950 litres.

Volvo V90

High-tech and high quality

A premium car in 2016 needs to be stuffed with tech, and here the V90 doesn’t disappoint. It inherits a large portrait-oriented touchscreen from the XC90, which keeps the number of buttons on the centre console to a stylish minimum.

Anyone who has used a smartphone will have no problems swiping and scrolling their way around the Sensus operating system, which has clear graphics and intuitive sub-menus. Sat nav is standard and an in-built app allows you to stream music from Spotify. Phone connectivity options include the excellent Apple CarPlay, which replicates your iPhone screen in the car. The rival Android Auto system is promised soon.

On balance, we still find Audi’s MMI media system easier to use particularly on the move, where its separate rotary controller helps you stay focused on the road. Volvo is genuinely up there with Audi for interior quality, though. From open-pore wood on the doors and dashboard to the knurled metal trim on the starter switch, the V90 is decisively more Habitat than Ikea..

Volvo V90

It can drive itself… sort of

Volvo has a proud history of safety firsts, from three-point seatbelts in 1959 to side airbags in 1994. The V90 hadn’t been crash-tested by Euro NCAP at the time of writing, but we’d be very surprised if it doesn’t match the five-star score of its platform-share sibling, the XC90.

Among the arsenal of active safety systems is Pilot Assist, which allows semi-autonomous driving on motorways at up to 80mph. In practice, that means the car will regulate its speed, accelerating and braking as necessary and nudging the steering to keep you within the white lines. It works well, provided the road doesn’t become too twisty. You need to keep one hand on the wheel, though – the dream of having a snooze while the car commutes for you is still a long way off.

A world-first for the new V90 and S90 is large animal detection for the City Safety automatic braking system. We didn’t get opportunity to test it on the Costa del Sol, but if you met a moose in Sweden, we’ve no doubt it would prove very useful…

Volvo V90

Volvo V90: Early verdict

This is Volvo doing what it has traditionally done best: large, comfortable estate cars well suited to family life. Taking the kids and dog to a National Trust garden? Easy. Driving across France with a boot full of camping gear and a pair of mountain bikes on the roof? Pas de probleme. It makes you wonder why anyone would need a larger and less efficient SUV.

The V90 doesn’t raise the bar for luxury cars. The BMW 5 Series and Jaguar XF are both more rewarding to drive, and the Mercedes-Benz E-class is still a more accomplished all-rounder. But the Volvo feels sufficiently different to stand out from its established rivals, appealing on an emotional level as well as a practical one. It’s a properly premium car and maybe – just maybe – a cool one, too.

Volvo V90

2016 Volvo V90

For:

Very comfortable

Spacious and practical

Stylish – both inside and out

Lots of safety equipment

Against:

Diesels are a little uncouth

Handling won’t satisfy keen drivers

2016 Volvo V90 D5 AWD Inscription: Specification

Price: £44,055

Engine: 2.0-litre turbo diesel

Gearbox: eight-speed automatic

Power: 235hp

Torque: 354lb ft

0-62mph: 7.2 seconds

Top speed: 145mph

Fuel economy: 57.6mpg

CO2 emissions: 129g/km