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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

Volvo V90

2017 Volvo V90 review: luxury wagon takes on the Germans

Volvo V90 2017The year is 1986 and I am seven years old. I’m in the back of our Volvo 240 GL wagon 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 an historic 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 wagon, 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 407-horsepower ‘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 wagon squarely at the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, Jaguar XF and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. At the European preview launch it was presented with a choice of two four-cylinder diesel engines, plus front- or four-wheel drive. Cars arrive in the United States in 2017, by which time the T8 hybrid will be available: also expect a T6 version of Volvo’s 2.0-litre four-banger gasoline turbo.

A lack of six appeal?

Volvo V90 2017

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

The front-drive 190-horsepower D4 reaches 62mph in 8.5sec and returns impressive European-spec mileage with the standard eight-speed automatic gearbox. CO2 emissions are so low, the United Kingdom considers this big wagon road tax free. 

Spend an extra £$10,000 on the 235h-horsepower D5, available with four-wheel drive only, and you’ll hit 62mph in 7.2sec and achieve. Emissions creep up a little but not dramatically so. We don’t have figures for the 407-horsepower T8 hybrid yet, but expect 0-62mph in less than 5.5sec and ultra-high but ultra-theoretical mileage which will plummet if you don’t plug it in…

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…

A car that doesn’t like to hurried

Volvo V90 2017

Volvo expects the entry-level D4 engine to account for 70% of sales in Europe. Predictably, though, only the gruntier D5 was available to drive at launch. There were no T8s.

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.

Cosseted in class-leading comfort

Volvo V90 2017

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. Doubtless the standard 18-inchers would be more forgiving.

The boot could be bigger, though

Volvo V90 2017

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 liters with the rear seats in place, or 1,526 liters with them folded flat. That compares to 560 and 1,670 liters in the BMW 5 Series Touring, or 695 and 1,950 liters in the (soon-to-be-replaced) Mercedes-Benz E-Class wagon. 

High-tech and high quality

Volvo V90 2017

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..

It can drive itself… sort of

Volvo V90 2017

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: Early verdict

Volvo V90 2017

This is Volvo doing what it has traditionally done best: large, comfortable wagons 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.

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

Will a four-pot gas engine cut it alongside rivals’ sixes?

Kia Sportage

Kia Sportage: Two-Minute Road Test

Kia SportageThe Sportage is Kia’s best-selling car in the UK, meaning this fourth-generation model has a tough act to follow. The recipe is a familiar one: a five-seat family SUV with a choice of diesel and petrol engines, plenty of equipment and a long warranty. We’ve tested the 114hp 1.7-litre diesel in modest ‘2’ spec – priced at £22,050.

What are its rivals?

This is one of the most hotly-contested areas of the new-car market. The Kia’s rivals include the ubiquitous Nissan Qashqai, Ford Kuga, Mazda CX-5, Renault Kadjar and Volkswagen Tiguan. It also squares up to the mechanically-identical Hyundai Tucson, which is better looking (to our eyes, at least), but comes with a shorter warranty (five years, versus seven for the Kia).

Kia SportageWhich engines does it use?

Our 114hp Sportage 1.7 diesel gets to 62mph in 11.1 seconds and returns 61.4mpg in official tests. Pay around £2,300 more for the 134hp 2.0 diesel and those figures drop to 10.1 seconds and 54.3mpg respectively. There are also 130hp and 174hp 1.6 petrols – the latter with a turbocharger. And you can choose from six-speed manual or automatic gearboxes.

What’s it like to drive?

The Sportage’s high driving position offers a commanding view of the road ahead, although visibility to the sides and rear isn’t so good. Its controls are light and nicely-weighted, and suspension effectively cushions you from speed humps and potholes. However, the pay-off is more body-roll than some rivals when cornering. The engine has plenty of low-down oomph and performance feels adequate for a car of this type. It sounds quite gruff, though – even when warmed-up.

Kia SportageFuel economy and running costs

The Sportage is relatively cheap to buy, but running costs could be higher than many competitors. The 1.7 diesel manages 61.4mpg and CO2 emissions of 114g/km – equating to car tax (VED) of £30 a year. Compare that to the 110hp Nissan Qashqai 1.5 dCi, which ekes out 74.3mpg and a tax-free 99g/km.

Is it practical?

Space is one of the Sportage’s strengths. It can accommodate five adults with ease (there’s no seven-seat option), and reclining rear seats add a touch of luxury-car comfort. The 491-litre boot is one of the largest in the class, with a low lip and square tailgate making it easy to load large objects.

Kia SportageWhat about safety?

As you’d hope, the Kia scored a full five stars in Euro NCAP crash tests. Mindful of the car’s potential for driving off-road, Hill-Start Assist and Downhill Brake Control are standard, along with Trailer Stability Assist for towing. Our ‘2’ spec car also gets automatic headlights and Lane-Keep Assist, but you’ll need to upgrade to the top-spec ‘4’ for Automatic Emergency Braking.

Which version should I go for?

Diesel engines make most sense in SUVs, and the entry-level 1.7-litre unit tested here is perfectly up to the job. Considering its cost and efficiency advantages over the larger 2.0 diesel, it looks like the obvious choice. Kia offers virtually no extra-cost options (apart from paint colour), so you need to choose your spec-level carefully. We think ‘2’ offers everything you need, including sat nav, dual-zone air conditioning and a rear-view camera.

Kia SportageShould I buy one?

The latest Sportage builds on the strengths of the outgoing car, with good road manners, lots of space and impressive value for money. Shame they made it uglier in the process; the old Sportage was a bit of a looker. It wouldn’t be our first choice in this closely-fought class (the Renault Kadjar is currently top of our list), but it’s certainly a strong contender – especially for buyers on a budget.

Pub fact

Kia may be a relatively new name in Europe, but the marque has existed since 1944. For many years, Kia built bicycles – its first car (a rebadged Mazda) didn’t appear until 1974. It’s now Korea’s second largest car manufacturer, after parent company Hyundai.

2016 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S 7-speed manual

2016 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S manual: a change for the better

2016 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S 7-speed manualThe Aston Martin Vantage is not a new car; it was launched in 2005 and is due for replacement in a year or so’s time. The V12 Vantage S is not a new car either; it was launched in 2013 (after an earlier V12 Vantage in 2008). So why are we claiming a first drive in a £140,495 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S?

Because this one has a manual gearbox – a seven-speed manual at that. Enthusiasts still want stick-shifts and Aston Martin is keen to position itself as the enthusiast’s sports car brand. The V12 Vantage S is the first to go big on a manual gearbox option, but it’s not going to be the last, vows CEO Dr Andy Palmer.

2016 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S 7-speed manual

Aston isn’t dropping the existing Sportshift III automated manual. That will be offered alongside the seven-speed manual, at the same price, and probably still sell in greater numbers than this. It’s both a statement, this car, and also a toe in the water to help define the all-important Astons of the future.

Seven speeds, you’re probably thinking. Like a Porsche 911? Yes – that’s another brand that has committed to the manual gearbox, in contrast to Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren et al.

But for enthusiasts, it’s even better than the Porsche. Not only does it have seven gears, first is on a dog-leg: down bottom-left.

Steeped in heritage vibes, that makes this the coolest manual gearbox on sale.

But if you’re paying £140,495, cool only takes you so far. Aston’s Sportshift III paddleshifter is better than it’s ever been. The manual’s got to be good to stand alongside it and not be labour in vain. We spent a day driving it: here’s what you need to know.

It feels weird to drive at first

2016 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S 7-speed manual

For what seems like forever, Aston Martins have had gearboxes controlled by buttons on the dashboard, and no clutch pedal. Here’s one with a meaty clutch and not only a gearlever, but one that moves in initially mysterious ways.

Your muscles know first is left and up, not double-left and down. Forcing them past two spring indents to bottom left doesn’t feel right. Time and again, your tense, clumsy arm will go from second to fifth. The gearchange feels blocky and gnarly as a result.

Give it time. You’ll learn the new logic, not have to double-think every gearchange and, with a lighter grasp and more relaxed arm, discover it’s actually quite a slicky, snickety shift. And bottom left for first is not weird. It’s cool.

It’s remarkable how much more interactive it feels

2016 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S 7-speed manual

Closer involvement with gears somehow makes the rest of the V12 Vantage S feel tighter and more natural. There’s a sense of far more control over the engine and, as a consequence, the attitude and handling of the car. It’s less stage-removed tech marvel, more purist sports car.

Literally the only change is the gearbox. It shouldn’t make this much difference. But it does, because you’re more involved and realise still how much feel and feedback this Aston has to tap into. It may be getting on, but this is the very reason why it’s so appealing. Digitised modern alternatives are lacking compared to this (take note, Aston).

The meaty feel of the clutch, the intricate, weight-shifting flow of the steering, the fluidity of the gearchange all create a beautifully well-matched and experiential drive that, if you’re an enthusiast, will delight you constantly.

You don’t care about 0-62mph times

2016 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S 7-speed manual

Launch control this, seamless shift that – all immaterial. The howling, wailing V12 Vantage S manual claims the same sub-four-second 0-62mph time as the Sportshift III auto, but you’ll more likely be pulling five seconds at best and enjoying every split-second far more.

Driving the peaky V12 manual fast requires the driver to really drive it. Here, the pleasure comes from doing this well, not necessarily doing it as fast as possible. Besides, the brutality required to clock-watch manual cars is simply anathema on a car this tactile.

The gearbox will flatter you at the press of a button

2016 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S 7-speed manual

Had enough of trying to be an auto-matching driving god? Turn on Aston Martin AMSHIFT. This uses a battery of sensors to auto-blip on downshifts like a pro; it’s more convincing/less irritating than some such systems.

It also, bizarrely, allows full-throttle gearshifts. You still pump the clutch but can keep your right foot planted. What did we say about muscle memory? Like rubbing your chest and patting your head, just you try to do this without fluffing something. This is a curious extra feature we didn’t like.

For 2016, Aston has fitted better sat nav and Apple CarPlay for iPhones

2016 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S 7-speed manual

Aston may be busy developing all-new cars like the DB11 and this car’s replacement, but it hasn’t forgotten the current Vantage. For 2016, all models get the new AMi III infotainment system. Aston’s improving its once-awful sat nav by degrees and this is the best yet.

It is faster, has better graphics and far easier destination input. It also incorporates Apple CarPlay, so iPhones can be paired with an Aston – and controlled through the infotainment screen at last.

… But the interior deserves modern classic status

2016 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S 7-speed manual

The oh-so familiar interior is beautifully made, a real credit to the Gaydon craftsmen – but boy, they’ve had practice with it. The architecture is aged, spidery displays hard to read and the once jewel-like dials are now simply dull. The lack of a decent dial pack information display is glaring. Supplementary sat nav directions before your eyes? Forget it.

Then there’s the infuriating Aston glass key, the old JLR column stalks, Volvo switches, and fly-off handbrake by the driver’s right thigh that could come straight off a 1970s Jaguar XJ-S. The new-era Aston interior, underpinned by Daimler tech, can’t come soon enough.

Aston Martin made a manual because they’re all enthusiasts

2016 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S 7-speed manual

So why did Aston Martin go to the expense of producing a manual-gearbox V12 Vantage S so late in its life? Because “the true purist will always hanker for the tactility and connection offered by a manual transmission,” says product development director Ian Minards.

“At a time when manual transmissions have almost entirely disappeared in high performance cars, this makes the manual V12 Vantage S a very special car indeed.” He’s right.

Verdict: Aston Martin V12 Vantage S manual

2016 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S 7-speed manual

For years, we’ve been told paddleshift gearboxes are where it’s at. Stick-shifts are old-fashioned, grandpa: F1 drivers change gear with paddles and no sporty supercar worth its salt should do otherwise.

Aston proves that’s not the case. There is still a low-volume place for a manual gearbox, for those who want to enjoy the experience rather than just the lap time. Like us, such people will find the V12 Vantage S surprisingly more engaging as a result. Aston’s onto something here.

For:

  • Greatly enhanced engagement and interactivity
  • Sense of greater, more natural control
  • Dog-leg first cool-factor is off the scale

Against:

  • Old interior
  • Familiar car
  • Dog-leg shift pattern takes some getting used to

2016 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S manual: specification

Price (from): £140,495

Engine: 6.0-litre V12

Gearbox: 7-speed manual

Power: 573hp

Torque: 457lb ft

0-62mph: 3.9 seconds

Top speed: 205mph

Fuel economy: TBA mpg

CO2 emissions: TBA g/km

Ford Edge

2016 Ford Edge review: what the heck is it?

Ford EdgeFord will already happily sell you a couple of SUVs, the Indian-built EcoSport and the somewhat nicer Kuga. If you thought that covered the bases of what Ford might reasonably achieve, you’ve overlooked an important point. Ford wants a slice of the Audi Q5’s pie. Ambitious? Maybe.

More reasonably, there are other contenders here: notably the Koreans in the shape of the Hyundai Santa Fe and the Kia Sorento. Ford’s Edge may lack their seven seats, but it’s a tougher, broader-shouldered beast that packs its American-inspired punch rather impressively.

The Edge comes to the UK from North America, which, with the high profile of the new Mustang, gives it some leverage. Ford needs to expand its SUV range in Europe. The outstanding success of these vehicles means they now account for a quarter of all new cars sold, and their popularity keeps on climbing.

So what you get here is a £30k-£40k five-seater that’s big as a Volkswagen Touareg, but hides its bulk in a more elegantly styled body. Space is a key selling point – there’s lots of it – but so too is the fact that the Edge is a fully committed 4×4.

You are buying into the off-road image here, so there are no namby-pamby front-wheel-drive models to save a couple of thousand on the purchase price, and a few grams of CO2 to the atmosphere.

Ford EdgeDo you even care about driving off-road?

The statistics say it’s unlikely you do, but the Edge has the ability to make you feel good if you need to tackle a wet field or sandy track. It does that mild off-road thing with confidence, although as soon as it gets bumpy you’ll get shaken and stirred inside the cabin and want to head for some smooth Tarmac.

The Edge is really about comfortable cruising, with the extra reassurance of all-wheel-drive, or AWD as Ford calls it. Most of the time, most of power is directed to the front wheels, with rear-wheel drive jumping in only when it’s needed.

That’s the way of the world with SUVs and crossovers these days, because only driving two wheels reduces fuel consumption and CO2.

Ford EdgeSo this Ford Edge is clean and green?

Well, sort of. If ultra-low CO2 is important to you, the Edge counts itself out. With the numbers only just nudging under 150g/km, it may be average for a 4×4 of this size, but it’s some way up the company car benefits scale.

The economy, inextricably linked to CO2, is around 48mpg for manual and automatic, according to the daft statutory tests. Reckon on 40mpg on a good day and you won’t be disappointed.

Ford EdgeWhy no choice of engines?

The power is from a diesel, obviously. You can’t sell a car like this with a petrol engine unless it has a Porsche or Range Rover badge. It’s a 2.0-litre with plenty of oomph: 180hp with the manual gearbox, 210hp if you opt for the six-speed auto.

The car’s weight – just shy of two tonnes – precludes a smaller diesel, and Ford doesn’t have anything bigger in its stable. But that really shouldn’t worry you. Today, performance is all about tuning smaller engines, rather than using the large capacity lumps of yesterday.

The Edge performs satisfactorily in nearly every circumstance, although it does get a bit loud when you demand full power moving into the outside lane of the motorway. At other times it’s an easy car to drive, particularly the automatic (the gearlever on the manual cars is a bit awkward).

Ford EdgeEasy to drive? What about its much-vaunted size?

That is an issue. The length and height are not the problem, but the width might be. The Edge feels like a very wide car, and what gives it so much presence on the road can be intimidating in places where you’d simply slip through in a Ford Kuga.

The upside is interior space, which really is deeply impressive. There’s shoulder room aplenty, while rear legroom is gargantuan. Recline the rear seat and you could sleep from London to Leeds.

The Edge’s length also means that it has a generous boot capacity of 602 litres, and that’s with a space-saver spare wheel under the floor.

The divided rear seats fold flat at the touch of a button from the boot area, but lifting them back into place is a herculean job. The springs that help flip the seat forward need to be fought when pushing it back up. Some muddled thinking here from Ford.

The Titanium and Sport models come with a hands-free tailgate – with the key in your pocket you simply wave your foot under the back bumper.

Ford EdgeYes, but it’s a Ford, not an Audi, so the quality will let it down

Not true. According to Which? Ford and Audi reliability is as close as it could get. As for the touchy-feely bits inside, well, the Audi Q5 does feel more premium, but Ford keeps on getting better and what you have here is really rather good.

And you might forsake some of the German glitz because the Ford Edge comes packed with equipment that would make the equivalent Audi the thick end of £10,000 more expensive. Rear-view camera, front and rear parking sensors, hands-free tailgate, navigation, heated seats, DAB radio, keyless start, privacy glass and ‘active noise control’ are standard on the Titanium version. The £2,000 Lux pack adds leather, heated rear seats, power memory front seats and a panoramic roof.

The Edge is comfortable too, the large front seats providing a layer of plushness with an underlying level of support. The ride is quite acceptable in an SUV sense; that is, it’s firm but comfortable nearly all of the time.

Sport models get ‘adaptive’ steering, which varies the weighting according to road speed. It’s an acquired taste and you may well prefer the regular steering fitted to the Edge Zetec and Titanium.

Ford Edge2016 Ford Edge: early verdict

First impressions of the Edge are positive. While it lacks seven seats, that’s not that unusual if you look at the rivals like the Q5, BMW X3, Mercedes GLS and Volvo XC60. These are all significantly more expensive yet also offer only five seats.

The two rivals from Korea, Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento, do offer a great capacity but fall short of the Ford’s panache – both worthy but ultimately dull.

The Edge is far from that. Stylish, aggressive even, it’s no utilitarian wagon, even though under the skin it offers great practicality. The space, interior design and pleasing driving characteristics all give it significant appeal.

If you drive a Ford Galaxy, S-Max or indeed any other large people carrier but don’t need the full seating capacity, Ford’s Edge could bring a lot more fun into your life.

For:

  • Extremely roomy
  • Good value for the specification
  • Seems nicely built

Against:

  • It’s a bit wide
  • Some rivals offer seven seats
  • Does it have the badge you are looking for?

2016 Ford Edge Titanium Powershift auto: specification

Price (from): £29,995

Engine: 2.0-litre turbodiesel

Gearbox: 6-speed auto

Power: 210hp

Torque: 332lb ft

0-62mph: 9.4 seconds

Top speed: 131mph

Fuel economy: 48.7mpg

CO2 emissions: 149g/km

Audi SQ7

2016 Audi SQ7 review: meet the world’s most powerful diesel SUV

Audi SQ7In a game of Top Trumps (Monster SUVs edition), the Audi SQ7 represents a very strong hand.

Ingolstadt’s four-wheel-drive flagship is the world’s most powerful diesel SUV, with 435hp and a tumultuous 664lb of torque. To put that into perspective, the Range Rover Sport SVR limps along with a paltry 502 lb ft.

All that oomph equates to 0-62mph in 4.9sec, out-trumping a Porsche Cayenne S diesel by 0.5sec. Not bad for a seven-seater the size of Surrey.

And because the £70,970 SQ7 drinks from the black pump, fuel economy isn’t horrific either. It manages 38.2mpg, versus 35.3mpg for the Porsche and (ouch!) just 22.1mpg for the petrol-engined SVR.

CO2 emissions of 195g/km mean car tax (VED) of £500 in the first year and £270 per year thereafter.

Behind this Top-Trump talent lies some very clever tech – including active anti-roll bars and a world-first electrically driven turbocharger that, according to Audi, ‘consigns turbo lag to history’.

All very impressive on paper, but how will the SQ7 fare on challenging mountain roads, at the corner where Switzerland, France and Germany meet? Time to fire-up the Quattro…

Audi SQ7It has three turbos – and one is electric

The SQ7’s 4.0-litre diesel V8 uses two conventional exhaust-gas turbochargers, one for low loads and the other for sehr schnell, bitte.

The third turbo is, in fact, an electrically-driven compressor, powered by an additional 48v battery under the boot floor. Spinning at up to 70,000rpm, it keeps air passing through the engine to reduce lag (the delay in engine response while a turbo spools up) when you back off the throttle.

Does it work? Oh yes. With maximum pulling power from 1,000rpm, the SQ7 surges forward with barely a twitch of your right angle. From standing starts or three-figure speeds (when in Germany…), the big Audi just gathers up its skirt and goes. It’s utterly effortless.

The eight-speed Tiptronic gearbox is impressively smooth, too. It’s a traditional torque converter auto, rather than a DSG dual-clutcher, but none the worse for that. You can take control using the paddles behind the steering wheel, but the ’box is so intuitive it’s rarely worth the bother.

You might occasionally drop a couple of cogs to savour the growl of that V8, though. Exhaling through four square tailpipes, it woofles and rumbles like a bona fide muscle car. Then, as the revs rise, it wakes up with a hard-edged snarl that’s pure petrol V8. Forget rattly diesels; this oil-burner sounds more Maserati than minicab.

Audi SQ7The handling is electric, too

Audi also uses electrickery in the SQ7’s suspension. Select the optional Driving Dynamics package (fitted to our test cars) and you get a torque-vectoring Sport differential and electromechanical active roll stabilisation.

The latter system works by automatically uncoupling the anti-roll bars on uneven surfaces to soften the ride. Chuck the car into a corner and the tubes reconnect in a fraction of a second, reducing body-roll and improving handling. Incredibly, the electric motors for the anti-roll bars produce up to 885lb ft of torque – even more than the not-exactly-puny engine.

On standard 21-inch wheels (22s are optional) the SQ7 takes potholes and sleeping policemen in its long-legged stride. But head for the hills (the Alps in our case) and it sharpens up its act, particularly in Dynamic mode, turning in with surprising deftness and agility.

The steering has more heft than we expected, and is much more communicative than Audis of yore. Ultimately, the Cayenne S diesel still feels sportier and more involving – but the Audi outguns it for sheer speed.

Audi SQ7Size matters – but does bigger mean better?

On a British B-road there would be no escaping the Q7’s sheer size. Its 1,968mm girth stifles your speed more effectively than any limitations of the chassis could do. However, on wide Alpine hairpins that climbed relentlessly towards the clouds, this 2,330kg SUV did a passable impression of a sports car.

When you’re not playing Michèle Mouton (a famous Audy rally driver – look her up), standard four-wheel steer makes the Q7 more manoeuvrable around town. The rear wheels swivel in the opposite direction to the fronts when parking, effectively shortening the car’s wheelbase. Then, as your speed increases, the wheels turn fractionally in the same direction to aid stability.

The Q7’s dimensions have advantages when it comes to interior space, of course. Fold the rear seats and you’ll find a bigger boot than any rival apart from the Mercedes-Benz GLS, while only the BMW X5 and GLS offer seven seats.

Audi SQ7We tried to drive off-road… and got stuck

The sheer number of mechanical and electronic weapons in the Audi’s armoury make it a safe and confidence-inspiring drive – even when the mountain weather closes in. You have to be pushing seriously hard to get the SQ7 out of shape.

However – a word of warning – all that technology can’t compensate for rugged tyres and a proper locking differential if you drive off-road. We parked the Q7 on a few inches of snow for some photos – and promptly got it stuck.

With its front wheels scrabbling helplessly, the Audi diverted 100% of traction to its rear tyres. They simply dug a deeper hole and soon the car was beached on a bed of snow, much to amusement of couple of passing road maintenance workers.

Two shovels, a lot of wheelspin and some multi-lingual swearing later, the Audi was free. But the experience served as a salutary reminder of the difference between a serious off-roader (think Land Rover Discovery or Toyota Land Cruiser) and a Tarmac-biased SUV.

Audi SQ7New Audi light signature: coming soon to a fast lane near you

For most people, their first view of the SQ7 will probably be its new LED ‘double arrow’ light signature in their rear-view mirror. It reminds us of the old British Rail logo, which probably isn’t the effect Audi was aiming for…

You can also opt for adaptive Matrix LEDs, which swivel with the steering and dim sections of the high-beam automatically to avoid dazzling oncoming cars. Put the light switch in Auto mode and the car does all the work for you.

Lights aside, the Audi looks surprisingly subtle. Some aluminium-look trim on the front grille and sills, a wider rear spoiler, those quad tailpipes and a couple of V8T badges are all that distinguish it from a cooking Q7. It’s tasteful, but hardly handsome. A Range Rover Sport still trounces it for high-street appeal.

Audi SQ7It has one of the finest interiors known to man

Prodigious power and bewildering technology aside, the SQ7 remains a large, family-focused SUV at heart.

Audi interiors really are the best in the business and, with plush leather and ample space to stretch out (in the first and second rows at least), the SQ7 feels opulent and very comfortable. Unlike lesser Q7s, seven seats are standard.

It ticks the ‘Germanic build quality’ box, too. The doors slam with a softly-damped thud and every surface is wrapped in leather, suede or brushed aluminium. There are smatterings of lightweight carbon fibre as well, a laughable conceit in a huge SUV.

Now familiar from the A4 and TT, Audi’s Virtual Cockpit still looks fabulously high-tech. A 12.3-inch display behind the steering wheel replaces the traditional dials, and can be configured to show the navigation map, keeping the central screen free for ‘infotainment’ functions. Our only gripe is that it should be standard, rather than a £600 option.

A huge array of driver assistance systems (24, to be exact) and a five-star score in Euro NCAP crash tests should put the minds of family buyers at ease. If we really had to drive head-long into a brick wall, the Q7 would be near the top of our most-wanted cars to crash.

Audi SQ7It’s a car we loved despite ourselves

The SQ7 is impressive on paper, and on the road (let’s not dwell on our off-road experience, eh?).

We were worried this technological tour-de-force would feel remote and dull to drive, but that’s far from being the case. Its numerous systems work with the driver to improve feedback, agility and safety.

It’s hard to avoid the suspicion that Audi is trapped in a vicious circle, using ever more tech to tame a car that’s bigger, taller and heavier than it really needs to be. But buyers have an insatiable appetite for large SUVs, so you can’t blame the Germans for meeting that demand.

Unless you live in Dubai, a powerful petrol-engined SUV is a short-cut to bankruptcy. So a diesel makes more sense. And besides, all that torque is addictive. The SQ7 feels like it could tow a tower block, and its sheer shove-in-the-back muscle can’t fail to make you smile.

For keen drivers, the Porsche Cayenne S diesel still edges it in this class. But if we’re talking practicality or performance, the Audi wins hands-down. Never mind Donald J., the SQ7 is literally the Top Trump.

Audi SQ7Audi SQ7: Early verdict

For:

Mighty V8 diesel engine

Rewarding to drive

Spacious, beautifully-built interior

Seven seats

Against:

Expensive to buy and run

Many desirable features cost extra

2016 Audi SQ7: Specification

Price: £70,970

Engine: 4.0-litre turbo diesel

Gearbox: eight-speed semi-automatic

Power: 435hp

Torque: 664lb ft

0-62mph: 4.9 seconds

Top speed: 155mph

Fuel economy: 38.2mpg

CO2 emissions: 195g/km

 

BMW M2

2016 BMW M2 review: best M-car since the E46 M3?

BMW M2For a new car, the M2 comes steeped in history. It’s the follow-up to the much-loved 1 Series M Coupe of 2011, but BMW also draws comparisons with the original 1986 E30 M3 and 1973 2002 Turbo. An illustrious bloodline, then.

The smallest fully-fledged M-car looks like a pumped-up M235i, but much of its hardware comes from the larger M3 and M4. A 3.0-litre straight-six turbo petrol engine sends 370hp to the rear wheels via a manual or DCT dual-clutch automatic gearbox.

You want stats? Try 0-62mph in 4.5 seconds and a top speed of 155mph. Official fuel economy is 33.2mpg, while CO2 emissions of 199g/km mean £265 annual car tax (VED). Figures for the DCT version are 4.3 seconds, 35.8mpg, 185g/km and £230 respectively. M2 prices start at £44,070 – around £13,000 less than the M4 coupe.

BMW M2A traditional performance car

This is ‘a car for purists’, says BMW – hence the traditional front-engine, rear-wheel-drive format. Yet the M2 is that rare thing: a car with no direct rivals.

BMW usually squares up to fellow Germans, Audi and Mercedes-Benz. But its competitors at this price-point – the RS3 Sportback and A45 AMG – are four-wheel-drive hot hatchbacks, not rear-driven coupes. The three cars are comparable when it comes to price and performance; all cost around £40k and hit 62mph in less than 4.5 seconds. But there the similarities end.

In fact, the M2 is conceptually closer to another fast German: the Porsche Cayman. Porsche’s compact coupe is a benchmark for driving dynamics and one of our favourite cars full-stop. However, it gives away two seats to the more practical BMW – and in new ‘718 Cayman’ guise, two engine cylinders as well.

BMW M2Subtle styling tweaks make a big impact

Like a hormone-pumped Bavarian bodybuilder, the M2 looks almost as wide as it is long. Bulging wings (80mm wider at the rear) are stretched over 19-inch alloys, giving the car a squat, purposeful stance.

At the front, a square-jawed bumper houses enlarged ducts that divert air into the wheelarches and along the sides of the car. There’s a splash of chrome on the front grille, plus the obligatory blue, red and purple ‘M2’ badge.  Moving rearwards, you’ll find shapely side skirts, a steel roof (the M3’s is carbonfibre) and a small boot spoiler. Four shotgun exhausts confirm – if there was any doubt – that this is no bodykitted 220d.

Although relatively subtle, the body mods reduce drag by 5% and high-speed lift by 35% versus the 2 Series Coupe. They also give the M2 the visual clout to match its no-punches-pulled performance. The mouth to match its trousers, if you will.

BMW M2It makes an M235i seem slow

Spec your M2 with a six-speed manual gearbox and – with some deft cog-swapping – you’ll hit 62mph in 4.5 seconds. That’s 0.5 seconds swifter than an M235i and just 0.2 seconds behind the manual M4. Splash out £2,500 on the seven-speed DCT semi-automatic gearbox and that figure is cut to just 4.3 seconds.

A top speed of 155mph is fast enough for most, but BMW also offers a optional Driver’s Package, which removes the speed limiter, increasing the VMax to 168mph. If you regularly commute on the Autobahn at 3am, it’s a must-have.

I suppose you’ll be wanting a Nurburgring lap time, too? The M2 circumnavigates Germany’s most notorious racetrack in seven minutes and 58 seconds, a modest 12 seconds behind big-brother M3. As we’ll discover, it’s the way this car goes around corners that makes it genuinely special.

BMW M2The M2 is a car you’d just drive for the hell of it

Or should I say the heaven of it? Screaming up Spanish mountain switchbacks, feeling the tyres squirm and tail twitch as we exit each hairpin, is an experience I will remember for a long time. Yes, it has a turbocharger (doesn’t everything these days?), but this is a pure, undiluted M-car – and all the better for it.

Key to the M2’s impressive agility is near-perfect 51% front, 49% rear weight distribution. Its electric power steering is light around town, but gets heavier as speed increases, offering plenty of feedback through a chunky M-badged wheel. The slick manual gearbox blips the throttle automatically for smoother downchanges (tell friends it’s your expert heel-and-toe technique), while the DCT ’box is excellent, too – certainly one of the quickest and most intuitive automatics available.

Even on the road, you can explore the limits of the M2 in relative safety. For a chassis with a short wheelbase and 370hp at the rear tyres, it’s remarkably benign. It turns in with eager immediacy, and you can adjust your cornering line using the throttle without undue fear of the car biting back.

The engine is hushed at low revs, but builds to a classy straight-six roar as the needle surges towards 7,000rpm. There’s ample mid-range grunt for overtaking and, unlike some turbocharged engines, it doesn’t run out of puff near the redline.

BMW M2It needs handling with care in the wet, though

Part-way through our test-drive of the M2, the heavens open and the smoothly-surfaced roads suddenly feel like they’re coated in Teflon. You know what they say about the rain in Spain…

In these conditions, the M2 needs handling with care. A tail-happy car at the best of times, it’s very drifty indeed on damp Tarmac. Only a Toyota GT86 feels so eager to go sideways – and that has 170 fewer horses. Thankfully, unless you neck a Brave Pill and select Sport Plus mode, the DSC stability control does a sterling job of keeping you on-track. It allows a small degree of slip, but the safety net is certainly there.

Traction is perhaps more of an issue. The Active M Differential juggles torque between the rear tyres, giving impressive traction out of corners in the dry. In the wet, though, the M2 struggles to put all its power down. You need a delicate right foot to keep the wheels from spinning.

BMW M2As performance cars go, the M2 is pretty practical

Sadly, few people apart from car journalists regularly drive on deserted mountain roads. They’re more likely to lap the M25 than the Nurburgring. So what’s the M2 like in this ‘real world’ I keep hearing about?

Well, it’s more practical than most driver-focused cars, with comfortable front seats, a sculpted rear bench that accommodates two adults (at a squeeze) and a 390-litre boot (about the same as a VW Golf). BMW’s Professional Navigation package is standard, along with leather trim and super-bright xenon headlights. Shame the 2 Series interior doesn’t feel worthy of a £40k+ car.

The ride is on the firm side of comfortable, and the exhaust is too noisy in Sport mode on the motorway. Official fuel economy in the low-to-mid 30s won’t win any plaudits from Greenpeace either, but is what about you’d expect for a car with this level of go. We saw closer to 20mpg on our ‘spirited’ test-drive, though…

BMW M2
It has a ‘smoky burnout’ mode

If that all sounds a bit sensible, don’t worry; the M2’s ‘smoky burnout’ function is evidence that Germans really do have a sense of humour. Available on M2s with the DCT auto gearbox, it allows for full-bore, tyre-shredding getaways. If you so feel the need.

On cars with a manual ‘box, you can replicate this effect by dumping the clutch, of course. And the retro six-speeder would certainly be our choice. It adds an extra layer of involvement, and saves you £2,500 for your trouble. A quarter of customers have chosen a manual so far – much higher than in the M3 and M4. And BMW expects that figure to rise to 40% over time.

The M2 is well-equipped, particularly for a BMW. So your other big choice is colour. There are four shades available: Long Beach Blue, Alpine White, Black Sapphire and Mineral Grey. For us (and around 50% of M2 buyers), it has to be the blue – it looked stunning in the Spanish sunshine.

BMW M2It’s a future classic

After several disappointments, the latest M3 and M4 among them, M GmbH has come up trumps. The new M2 is fantastic – a car dominated by its superb chassis, such as we haven’t seen since the 2000 (E46) M3. Finally, a BMW that feels worth of the old ‘ultimate driving machine’ tagline.

Enthusiasts are already queueing up, chequebooks in hand, so you’ll probably wait until 2017 if you order now. However, BMW plans a generous production run of 15,000 cars (with 1,900 allocated for the UK). That’s good news if you want one, although less so in terms of the car’s long-term value.

Let’s go back where we started by talking about the M2’s predecessor: the 1 Series M Coupe. With only 6,000 built, prices are higher now than when the car was new in 2011. The 15,000-strong M2 is unlikely to appreciate quite so readily, but hold on long enough and it’s a dead-cert future classic.

So, that’s the M2. Would I choose one over an RS3 or A45 AMG? Oh yes. Is it the best M-car you can buy? No question.

BMW M2BMW M2: Early verdict

For:

Very quick indeed

Superb rear-wheel-drive handling

More practical than a Cayman

Against:

Tricky on wet roads

Interior doesn’t feel special

Limited investment potential

2016 BMW M2: Specification

Price: £44,070

Engine: 3.0-litre turbo pterol

Gearbox: six-speed manual, seven-speed DCT semi-automatic

Power: 370hp

Torque: 343lb ft (369lb ft with overboost)

0-62mph: 4.5 seconds (4.3 DCT)

Top speed: 155mph

Fuel economy: 33.2mpg (35.8 DCT)

CO2 emissions: 199g/km (185 DCT)

 

2016 Range Rover Evoque Convertible review: first drive

2016 Range Rover Evoque Convertible review: first drive

2016 Range Rover Evoque Convertible review: first drive

Land Rover’s stand at this year’s Geneva Motor Show exemplified the direction in which the brand is going. Noticeably missing was the Defender – the last one rolled off the production line in January – and glitzy two-tone Range Rovers took pride of place. And there was this – the Range Rover Evoque Convertible.

Chances are, you’ve already formed an opinion on this rule-breaking car. As the youth say, ‘haters gonna hate’ – but Land Rover isn’t worried about upsetting the purists. If it were, it wouldn’t have introduced the (soon-to-be-bestselling) Discovery in 1989, it wouldn’t have introduced the (soon-to-be-bestselling) Freelander in 1998, and it certainly wouldn’t have chopped the roof off an Evoque to create the (soon-to-be… ok, that might be pushing it) Evoque Convertible.

There’s one thing Land Rover refuses to turn its back on: its off-road heritage. We wonder if any privately-owned Evoque Convertible will ever stray off the tarmac, but Land Rover’s very keen to point out that it is capable. It’s been tested in the same off-road environments as all Land Rovers, insists the brand, including loading it to its maximum capacity and putting it through gruelling off-road terrain in a bid to test how it chassis copes with immense twisting forces.

It’s also packed with the same off-road kit as the regular Evoque, including its latest Terrain Response system which lets you flick between general; grass/gravel/snow; mud and ruts; and sand modes – tailoring the throttle response, transmission, steering and the four-wheel-drive system through torque vectoring.

2016 Range Rover Evoque Convertible review: first drive

On the road

On its European launch in the French Alps, we put the Evoque Convertible through a fairly strenuous off road test. Its short approach and departure angles means it can tackle surprising obstacles – and all that bracing means there’s next-to-no flex, even allowing you to open doors while cocking a wheel in the air.

While that’s impressive, the one area in which the Evoque Convertible’s off road capability might be genuinely useful to owners is how it handles snow. There’s a reason the Evoque Convertible’s media launch was held at the prestigious Courchevel ski resort, and that there’s an optional ski hatch between the rear seats – it’s exactly the sort of car that will appeal to the thousands of Brits a year who head to Europe in search of snowy slopes.

And when confronted with the white stuff, the Evoque Convertible is impressive. The All-Terrain Progress Control (ATPC) is effectively a cruise control system for off-road or snowy conditions – and it makes progress in the latter particularly easy. Set the speed between 1.1mph and 19mph and the ATPC will monitor traction to maintain these speed, meaning all you have to do is steer. While normal cruise control shouldn’t be used in slippery conditions, the ATPC makes even the most daunting situations a piece of cake.

2016 Range Rover Evoque Convertible review: first drive

On road, it’s evident that this is a heavy car. Despite sticking with a fabric roof to save crucial kilograms (it can be operated at speeds of up to 30mph, taking 18 seconds to drop and 21 seconds to raise), the Evoque Convertible is pushing two-tonnes. This means that, powered by the 180hp 2.0-litre diesel we tried on its launch, the Evoque Convertible takes a fairly relaxed 10.3 seconds to hit 62mph (compared to 9.0 seconds for the same engine in the regular Evoque). This isn’t helped by the nine-speed automatic gearbox which has a tendency to stumble between gears.

The weight doesn’t have a huge effect on its handling, however. Considering it’s a lumbering SUV, the Evoque Convertible is an enjoyable drive – with a fair amount of feedback through the (satisfyingly-heavy) steering and understeer largely quashed by the Evoque’s four-wheel-drive and torque-vectoring systems.

2016 Range Rover Evoque Convertible review: first drive

On the inside

It’s wonderfully premium, the Evoque Convertible’s interior, but what else would you expect for its hefty £47,500 start price?

It’s not particularly practical, however. The roof eats into the boot space – which is down to 251 litres (from the normal model’s 420), meaning there’s less room for luggage than in a Ford Fiesta. Access is pretty poor, too, and the rear seats don’t fold down – although you can opt for a ski hatch should you wish to carry longer items.

There are just two rear seats, separated by a central arm rest, which are comfortable for short periods of time – although we suspect any adults travelling in the back for any period of time would be keen to get out and stretch their legs.

The Evoque Convertible is the first Land Rover to use JLR’s InControl Touch Pro infotainment system, which uses a 10.2-inch touchscreen and operates like a smartphone. It uses swipe and pinch-to-zoom gestures, and combines a Solid State Drive with 60GB of storage (enough to store up to 16,000 songs) and a quad-core processor.

It’s fairly easy and intuitive to use, and we like the Google-like location search, but it’s still not quite up to the standards we’d expect from a premium vehicle. It’s a little slow starting up, and crashed entirely on one occasion during our test drive.

2016 Range Rover Evoque Convertible review: first drive

Running costs

Let’s not beat about the bush. This is an expensive car. The entry-level HSE Dynamic with the TD4 diesel engine costs £47,500 – that’s nearly £5,000 more than its hard-top equivalent. Of course, the majority of UK buyers will opt for this engine thanks to its 49.6mpg (compared to the five-door’s 55.4mpg) and 149g/km CO2 (which equates to road tax of £145 per year).

If you don’t want to ruin your open-top motoring with the clatter of the diesel engine, £48,200 will buy you an Evoque convertible powered by the 240hp Si4 2.0-litre petrol. Unlikely to sell in big numbers in the UK, the Si4 officially returns 32.9mpg and emits 201g/km CO2.

2016 Range Rover Evoque Convertible review: first drive

Verdict

We know the Range Rover Evoque Convertible won’t appeal to everyone. But on a purely objective basis, the Evoque Convertible is a seriously impressive car. It combines a premium interior with genuine off-road (and snow-tackling) ability and the ability to drop the roof and soak up the rays.

There are downsides. It’s heavy – which has a negative effect on running costs, as well as performance. And it’s nowhere near as practical as you’d expect an SUV to be – putting it closer to something like a MINI Convertible in terms of people- and load-carrying ability.

If you can get over these minor grumbles and are willing to pay the hefty price tag for this year’s must-have fashion accessory, go for it. You’ll be the envy of the ski resort.

Range Rover Evoque Convertible HSE Dynamic TD4 auto: specification

Price: £47,500
Engine: 2.0-litre diesel
Gearbox: Nine-speed automatic
Power: 180hp
Torque: 317lb ft
0-62mph: 10.3 seconds
Top speed: 121mph
Fuel economy: 49.6mpg
CO2 emissions: 149g/km

BMW 225xe

BMW 225xe: Two-Minute Road Test

BMW 225xe

You could argue that this is a practical BMW i8. It shares its three-cylinder petrol engine with the i8, combined with an electric motor (just the one, unlike the i8 – plus its drivetrain is the opposite way around). It’s not quite as fast as the i8 either. However, it does come within the spacious, compact-MPV package that is the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer.

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

What are its rivals?

There aren’t many, if any, direct rivals for the BMW 225xe. It lives in its own little ‘plug-in hybrid compact MPV’ niche. Diesel-powered cars such as the Mercedes-Benz B-class and Volkswagen Golf SV are perhaps its most obvious rivals. Then there’s the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV which, although larger, is leading the plug-in hybrid revolution in terms of sales.

BMW 225xe

Which engines does it use?

The BMW 225xe combines a 1.5-litre petrol combustion engine – providing power to the front of the car via a six-speed steptronic auto transmission – with an electric motor at the back, driving the rear wheels. This essentially creates an ‘on-demand’ 4×4 system, with the two separate motors capable of producing a combined 224hp.

BMW 225xe

What’s it like to drive?

That results in a 0-62mph time of 6.7 seconds, and a top speed of 126mph. The nicest thing we can say about this car is that it drives exactly like a regular 2 Series Active Tourer. Sure, there’s an element of i3 about its power delivery, but it lacks the harsh regenerative braking and would be easy to live with, even if you’ve never driven an electric or hybrid car before. Its darty nature makes it a joy to drive around town, while wind and road noise is well managed at higher speeds.

BMW 225xe

Fuel economy and running costs

The result of all this hybrid gadgetry is a CO2 emissions figure of just 46g/km and official fuel economy of 141.2mpg. In real life, though, you won’t achieve these figures. Just how efficient the 225xe is will depend heavily on the kind of driving you do, and how often you plug it in. But these figures do result in favourable tax rates for both private buyers and company car drivers: a 7% BIK rate for the latter, in fact, and free car tax (VED) for the former.

BMW 225xe

Is it practical?

Yes – just as practical as the regular BMW 2 Series Active Tourer. With the rear seats up, it has 400 litres of boot space (the same as a petrol- or diesel-powered model), stretching to an impressive 1,350 litres with them folded down. The interior has the premium quality you’d expect from a BMW, without any sacrifices for the plug-in hybrid system.

BMW 225xe

What about safety?

The regular 2 Series Active Tourer achieved a maximum five-star Euro NCAP safety rating, and the 225xe is packed with safety kit. This includes stability control, six airbags, tyre pressure monitors and a system that will automatically apply to brakes to prevent low-speed collisions.

BMW 225xe

Which version should I go for?

There are just two versions of the BMW 225xe: the entry-level Sport, or the Luxury (with a price premium of £750). For the latter, you forgo sports seats for extra comfort, and some extra chrome on the outside. We’d be tempted to stick with the Sport.

BMW 225xe

Should I buy one?

There’s a lot going for the BMW 225xe. Just like the regular model, it combines family-car practicality with a typically BMW driving experience. It handles well, and the interior is suitably premium. Best of all, there are no sacrifices for the plug-in hybrid system. The biggest downside? The £35,155 asking price.

BMW 225xe

Pub fact

The BMW 225xe’s battery can be recharged in just two hours and 15 minutes, when using BMW’s i Wallbox. Alternatively, a conventional charger will replenish it in three hours and 15 minutes.

BMW 330e

BMW 330e: Two-Minute Road Test

BMW 330e

BMW has taken its company-car-favourite 3 Series, fitted it with the 2.0-litre twin-turbocharged petrol engine out of the 320i and added an electric motor, with the ability to be charged like an electric car. The result is potentially staggering fuel economy figures, but also a quick and enjoyable drive.

Mercedes-Benz C350e

What are its rivals?

Audi is yet to launch a plug-in hybrid A4 (although it’s on the horizon), so rivals come down pretty much solely to the Mercedes-Benz C350e. There is an outside contender, however: the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV. Sure, the Japanese 4×4 is not a conventional BMW 3 Series rival, but people are buying them by the bucketload for its low tax bracket. And the Outlander’s figures square up neatly against the 3 Series.

BMW 330e

Which engines does it use?

The 330e combines a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine in the front (from the 320i), with an electric motor under the boot floor. It’s rear-wheel drive all of the time, with power distributed through an eight-speed automatic gearbox.

BMW 330e

What’s it like to drive?

When you set off in the 330e, it runs entirely on electric power, keeping in automatic eDrive mode all the way up to 50mph, when the petrol engine kicks in. It’s a near-silent, refined drive around town – more pleasant than the equivalent diesel. When the roads open up and the speed limit increases, it has plenty of power for overtaking and spirited driving as the engine quietly kicks in. However, the weight of the batteries is definitely noticeable if you’re used to a regular 3 Series.

BMW 330e

Fuel economy and running costs

Disregard the official figures (148.7mpg in SE guise) – the fuel economy will come down to how often you charge it up and what sort of driving you do. If you charge it regularly and only do short journeys, you’ll end up using very little petrol. On longer journeys, the petrol engine will work as a generator to charge the electric motor, so it’ll be more economical than the equivalent 320i.

What’s more relevant is the 44g/km CO2 figure, which puts it in the 7% company car BIK band. It’ll also be free to tax for private users, plus it’ll be exempt from the London congestion charge.

BMW 330e

Is it practical?

This is where the 330e starts to fall apart compared to the likes of the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV. Of course, it’s based on the regular 3 Series, so it’s not impractical per se, but 110 litres of boot space have been eaten up by the batteries. For solo company car drivers it will be fine, but families might find it a struggle.

BMW 330e

What about safety?

As you’d expect from a BMW, the 330e is packed with kit to make it safe in the event of a crash (as well as technology to prevent a collision in the first place). Features include lane-departure warning and city braking function, which can apply the brakes if it detects a pedestrian stepping in front of you.

BMW 330e

Which version should I go for?

Unfortunately, you can only get the 330e as a saloon for now. An insider told us he saw no reason why it couldn’t be offered as a Touring (estate) in the future, but for now it’s targeting American and Chinese markets – both of which prefer saloons.

We’d probably opt for the entry-level SE model, as it’s got plenty of kit as standard and buyers of the 330e are all about keeping costs low.

BMW 330e

Should I buy one?

Spend your own money on one? The £33,935 start price (before Government grant) is a lot of money. But as a company car, it makes so much sense. There’s a reason why fleet users crave a 320d to cover the miles, and this is nicer to drive and will get fewer scowls as diesel resentment builds. We’re surprised BMW is only expecting to sell just over 1,000 in the UK in the first year.

BMW 330e

Pub fact

The 330e is able to cover 25 miles using electric-power alone. In theory, if your commute is less than this, and you have a charger at home and work, you may never need to start the petrol engine at all.